Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Sep 2004

Scramble for the Ball: Beltway Fortunes Reversed

by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal

Al: I'm sure you spent the opening Sunday of the NFL season where all good red-blooded Americans should be - parked in front of a TV somewhere, watching the games. Me? I was watching tennis. A few weeks ago, the Mrs. asked me if I wanted to go to the US Open men's finals. I'm not a big tennis fan, but it was the final of a major championship, so I said what the hell. Of course, when I agreed to it I didn't realize that the men's final was on NFL Kickoff Sunday. So instead of watching the Jets and Giants live, I was watching Roger Federer deliver a beating the likes of which I haven't seen since watching pretty much everyone destroy the St. John's men basketball team this past season.

But luckily for me, my brother bought me the greatest invention of the past ten years for my wedding gift -- TiVo. Thanks to TiVo, I was able to watch both the Giant game and the Sunday night game in the amount of time it usually takes to watch one game. I can't recommend Tivo enough. I never really understood just how much time is spent on nothing during your average NFL game. I watched every play of the Giant/Eagle game in less than an hour and a half. That's including the time I spent rewinding and watching plays Fox for some reason decided weren't worth replaying.

Plus, you can completely eliminate most of the annoying analysis. Take the Sunday night game for example. Paul McGuire starts saying "Now look here...," I can fast forward to the next play. Joe Theisman talks about his conversation with Gunther Cunningham for the tenth time, I'm all over the fast forward button. I can't wait to try it out on Monday night.

So thanks to TiVo, I unfortunately was able to watch the Giants game. I didn't think they necessarily played that poorly, they were simply overmatched. Brian Westbrook was faster than anyone New York had out there on defense. When New York blitzed to try and get some sort of pass rush, their corners weren't good enough to handle Terrell Owens, Freddie Mitchell or Todd Pinkston in single coverage. When the Giants kept their defense back to blanket Philly's wide receivers, they left L.J. Smith or whoever was coming out of the backfield wide open underneath. Philadelphia TEs and RBs combined for 164 receiving yards against the Giants.

On offense, it was the same story from last year. The offensive line was erratic. They had a few good plays run blocking - specifically the drive that resulted in the Ron Dayne TD and the Tiki TD during garbage time - but they couldn't handle the Philly pass rush. Luke Pettitgout was manhandled on a number of occasions by Hugh Douglas. I was pleasantly surprised by Kurt Warner's play. If the Giant receivers knew how to catch a ball thrown right into their hands, Warner could have ended up with 300 yards passing on the day. Outside of his TD run and one or two other rushes, Ron Dayne reminded everyone of why he barely played last year. Tiki's numbers look much better than they should. He was on his way to a quality loser league performance before the Eagle defense stopped caring in the fourth quarter.

So, overall the Giants showed that they can't hang with the Eagles in the NFC East. But with a few less mistakes on offense and against a team without top flight receivers or a speedy running back, the Giants might be competitive this year. So what did you watch this weekend?

Vivek: Al, both you and I were close to turning in our Football Outsiders press passes this weekend, as I too did not catch the games live because I was with my other half. I was with Scramble Chick (if anyone has a better witty nickname for my girlfriend here, email suggestions to scramble@footballoutsiders.com) at the Yankees-Orioles game. While I haven't caved in to the force they call TiVo (yet), I took advantage of my buddy's TiVo when I got back from Camden Yards.

It didn't look like I missed that much though, as I could only catch the Ravens and Skins games live here. The Ravens showed why they needed Terrell Owens so badly during the offseason. A depleted wide receiver corps got even weaker with the loss of Travis Taylor. Third-year man Randy Hymes will be pressed into the starting lineup next week against the Steelers. Add that to the possible absence of Jonathan Ogden, and the Ravens could find themselves in a big hole in the AFC North race. You could see how much Ogden's presence means to the Ravens' offensive line with Jamal Lewis failing to reach 60 yards against his favorite defense.

Al: You're right, it will be very ugly in Baltimore if they can't get Lewis some holes to run through. You know your offense is in bad shape when you're bemoaning the loss of Travis Taylor, a receiver who's only cracked 800 yards once in his four-year career. What's the over/under for the number of weeks Deion lasts in Baltimore? I'd say seven. At least you'll get to watch one good team regularly down there.

Vivek: And moving about 35 miles south, we all saw the return of the coach who is being hailed as the savior, or the second coming of, well, himself. For the first time ever, Daniel Synder is being praised for a personnel move with his hiring of Joe Gibbs, and so far so good. The Gregg Williams-coached defense made every Bucs' offensive lineman look like they were from the Giants O-line. While only recording four sacks, Matt Bowen and friends forced Brad Johnson into quick passes, resulting in only 169 yards on 24 completions. We all know what Clinton Portis will bring to the offense, so I won't go on about him. As long as Mark Brunell does not commit many mistakes, the Skins can live with low yardage games from him. See Trent Dilfer's Super Bowl season in 2000.

Al: The Dilfer comparison is good, but I'd expect Brunell to be better than that. With good protection and a solid running game, there's no reason Brunell can't return to his old 3000+ yard form. Dilfer was never a 3000-yard passer.

Are the Redskin fans down there still upset about their new seats? I don't understand how in the year 2004 a team can build a stadium with giant poles blocking a person's view. I can understand a little when I pay $45 for a ticket in Fenway Park and can't see second base -- at least that stadium is 90 years old. But if you're renovating a park, wouldn't you use modern technology to make sure that there aren't giant poles directly in front of a seat? I'm no architect, but if everyone else can avoid this problem, I don't see why the Skins can't.

It's typical to overreact after the first week of the season. Just remember what people were saying last year after the Pats were shut down in Buffalo. While you can't overreact to what you see on the field after just one game, there are things that you can learn about a team after watching them for the first time. So here's the first installment of a possible regular feature of the All New Scramble for the Ball:

What Did We Learn From Week 1?

Lesson 1 -- Curtis Martin Isn't Done Just Yet

Vivek: Curtis Martin took my preseason prediction that Lamont Jordan would be getting a good chunk of the Jets' carries to heart and used that as bulletin board material last week. He is making good on his promise to hit the 1,500-yard mark and join Barry Sanders as the only players to start their careers with ten 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Al: He may have looked good, but let's not get carried away about Curtis Martin just yet. He was running against the Bengals, who were awful against the run last year. They ranked dead last according to DVOA. If we learned anything from Martin's performance it's that Cincinnati hasn't improved in that regard from last year and that I should have realized this when I predicted they'd win the AFC North.

Lesson 2 -- It's Tough to Pass Above 5,000 Feet

Al: The Denver/Redskins trade could turn out to be a win/win for both teams. Portis put up great numbers against Tampa, but Champ Bailey was almost transcendent against the Chiefs. He single-handedly shut down one of the greatest receiving tight ends of all time. That allowed the rest of the Bronco secondary to concentrate on shutting down Eddie Kennison and Dante Hall. The #2 team in passing yards and the #3 passing attack according to DVOA from a year ago was held to 174 yards on the day, 57 of which came on the second play from scrimmage. The Denver secondary could be good enough to carry this team throughout the season, even if Jake Plummer decides to impersonate Jesse Orosco again.

Lesson 3 -- The Rams Will Be Fine

Vivek: Kyle who? You guys are probably thinking of Boller, not Turley, which proved my point. Rams QB Marc Bulger did not go down once during the season opener, Marshall Faulk looked like the Faulk of three years ago, and the offense piled up 448 yards. Even if Faulk goes down, the Rams have the luxury of plugging in Stephen Jackson behind a solid o-line. Combined with playing Arizona and San Francisco twice each, it could be a very good regular season for the Rams.

Lesson 4 -- Never Bet On Blue

Al: It's going to be a long season in Giant-land. If they're playing a team with a speedy running back, and/or an offensive line that can handle an occasional blitz, the Giants are a virtual lock to give up 30 points a game.

Vivek: Despite all the hope of Tiki, Toomer, Shockey & Co. making up for the horrendous offensive line and instability at QB, don't bet on the Giants this year, which segues nicely into . . .

Best Bets:

Vivek: (1-2 last week, 1-2 overall) A .333 average would get me $10 million per year in baseball, but with picking against the spread, it might cost me that much. Tennessee giving three points was my only correct pick of the week, as the Rams could not manage more than a seven-point win over the lowly Cardinals. And to quote the legendary Warner Wolf, "If you took the Giants plus nine, you lost!" My only consolation is that Al did just as well as I did, with the Packers easily knocking off the defending NFC champs. And now for this week's picks, which yes, are brought to you by the number three and the wrestling tag team, the Road Warriors.

Denver -3 over JACKSONVILLE
The oddsmakers are giving the Jaguars too much credit for having the home-field advantage. If it wasn't for Leftwich's last-second miracle in Buffalo last week, the team would be looking at 0-2.

Houston +3 over DETROIT
Houston's defense isn't that good, but last week's loss to the Chargers was a fluke. Look for them to contain Detroit's suddenly weaker offense and easily cover.

Jets -3 over SAN DIEGO
Another team that will go on the road and be a winner. Curtis Martin is making me eat my words from the Outsiders pre-season picks. Plus, how many people can name the Chargers' starting wideouts? The offense will be nonexistent outside of LT.

Seattle -3 over TAMPA BAY
This game suddenly is a lot harder of a pick with Shaun Alexander most likely out with a knee injury. Mo Mo, aka Maurice Morris, will be a more than capable fill-in back and take the pressure off Hasselbeck and company.

Al: Do you remember that year when the Road Warriors were in the WWF as the Legion of Doom and their longtime manager Paul Ellering came back with a ventriloquist dummy named Rocco? If it wasn't for the "Hawk's an alcoholic and is threatening to jump off the TitanTron" incident during LOD's last run in the WWE, that would have to be the low point in the storied career of Animal and Hawk.

I'll stick with just three games this week as nothing is really jumping out at me.

Washington -3 over NEW YORK GIANTS
I hate picking against my team, especially at home, but this should be ugly. If the over/under for times Kurt Warner is sacked was 4.5, I'd take the over. I'd look for a huge game from Laveranues Coles against the putrid Giant secondary.

ARIZONA +8 over New England
Now I'm not saying the Cardinals will win this one, but I don't see New England running away with it. The Cardinals kept it close on the road against St. Louis last week. New England's last six road games from last year were decided by less than a touchdown. Arizona is my choice for the team that oddsmakers don't get a good handle on until Week 5 or 6. I'm taking them every week until then.

Pittsburgh +4 over BALTIMORE
Cleveland showed last week that if you can contain Jamal Lewis, the Ravens will likely not be able to score enough points to beat you. The Steelers held Oakland to 61 rushing yards in Week 1. Granted, none of the Raider running backs will ever be confused with Jamal Lewis, but Pittsburgh was good against the run last year as well. They were a top-10 team in yards/carry allowed and were #6 in rushing defense according to DVOA.

Scramble For The Ball Mailbag

Al: Remember that to send your questions, comments, etc. to scramble@footballoutsiders.com. We'll be sure to answer as many as space allows for in each week's column. We have four emails this week. Two people sent us their fantasy teams to review after our fantasy auction review last week, one reader has a rules question and someone has a quesiton about Charles Rogers.

First up is Barry:

Hi Al, Welcome Vivek:
I got your comment on Scramble about emailing my fantasy teams. I have 4 teams and I am listing them in descending order of my opinion of them. They are combined yardage/TDs and straight 10-team draft leagues. I have put the draft position of each player in parenthesis.
Please feel free to comment if you have the time; I welcome both praise and criticism. Thanks.

Team 1
QB - Byron Leftwich (93), Jake Delhomme (128), David Carr (133)
RB - Fred Taylor (13), Domanick Davis (28), Michael Bennett (48), DeShaun Foster (148)
WR - Randy Moss (8), Koren Robinson (53), Eric Moulds (68), Andre Johnson (73), Justin McCareins (108), Larry Fitzgerald (113)
TE - Tony Gonzalez (33)
K - John Carney (153) waived, replaced by Jay Feely
D - Baltimore D (88)

Team 2
QB - Marc Bulger (44), Tom Brady (acquired by trade), Joey Harrington (waiver pickup)
RB - Clinton Portis (4), Fred Taylor (17), Corey Dillon (24), Tatum Bell (97)
WR - Darrell Jackson (37), Koren Robinson (57), Ashley Lelie (104), Lee Evans (117), Jerry Porter (waiver pickup!)
TE - Boo Williams (84)
K - Josh Brown (137)
D - Miami (77)

Team 3 (Keeper League, 1st year)

QB - Daunte Culpepper (18), Eli Manning (103)
RB - Ahman Green (3), Kevin Jones (43), Tiki Barber (58), Julius Jones (63), Tatum Bell (98)
WR - Chad Johnson (23), Darrell Jackson (38), Justin McCareins (78), Roy Williams (83), Reggie Williams (138), Tyrone Calico (158)
TE - Marcus Pollard (118)
K - Ryan Longwell (143)
D - Jacksonville (123)

Team 4
QB - Steve McNair (50), Jake Delhomme (130)
RB - Fred Taylor - (10), Stephen Davis (30), Chris Brown (31), Steven Jackson (110), DeShaun Foster (111)
WR - Marvin Harrison (11), Amani Toomer (71), Larry Fitzgerald (90), Justin McCareins (91), Reggie Williams (151)
TE - Kellen Winslow (50), Antonio Gates (131)
K - Adam Vinatieri (150)
D - Baltimore (70)

Al: Thanks Barry for the email. First, though, four fantasy teams!?!? That's definitely not enough. You should own at least five fantasy teams and be in at least one picks pool if you're serious about this sort of thing. What do you have, outside interests or something?

Other than your apparent unhealthy obsession with Fred Taylor, I think you did fine with the teams. If Team 1 can address their backup RB problems, they should be able to fight for a championship in a ten-team league. I don't like having two WRs from the same team (although Bruce/Holt did carry me to a fantasy championship back in 2000). I'd try to package one of them, maybe with Dillon for a RB upgrade. Team 3 did a pretty good job for a first year keeper league. Plenty of young RBs and WRs with potential and two definite keeper QBs. My only concern would be that your #2 RB could be a bit weak this year for you to make a serious run at the title. I'm down on Tiki, Kevin Jones didn't do much in Week 1 and Julius Jones and Tatum Bell could spend most if not all of the season on the bench. Team 4 is the weakest of the group. I'd try to package one of your TEs, Davis and Foster for an upgrade at RB.

Vivek: Al, don't be too harsh on Bar. He could also be doing a few pick'em or survivor pools. I think you should try to move Leftwich to a team that overvalues him, and stick with Carr and Delhomme as your top QBs. While a good keeper, I don't think that Leftwich will be close to a #1 QB. Al's theory about two wideouts from the same team is 90% true, but I think that there is enough love in Hasselbeck's arm to spread around. You might not get a 1,400 yard stud, but, two 1,000-yard receivers are pretty solid. Team three should be fine in the long run with Kevin Jones. His career is only one game old. Team four's chances of a title rest on the legs of Chris Brown.

Al: Next we have John who also wants our opinion on his fantasy squad:

i don't know how interesting this team would be to talk about but here it is:
QB: Donovan McNabb, Jake Plummer
WR: Chad Johnson, Santana Moss, Darrell Jackson, Isaac Bruce, Donte' Stallworth, Brandon Lloyd
RB: LaDanian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry, Tatum Bell
TE: Randy McMichael
K: Jason Elam
DEF: Denver

Everyone in my league was terrified of Jamal Lewis, including myself, but as
a second back, I couldn't pass him up. McNabb slipped to the 6th round, so
again, I had to take him. I like my recievers, and if Tatum Bell ever starts
in Denver, I think he could be a nice last-round pick.

Al: I'm hesitant about Lewis as well. I think your team's success will depend a lot on Travis Henry. If he keeps the job in Buffalo and is productive, this is a pretty good team. If he's not, you're going to be relying too heavily on a RB that may miss a part of the season because of a drug trial and who opposing teams will devise their entire game plan around stopping. If you can package Lewis and Isaac Bruce for a safer #2 RB, I'd do it.

Vivek: As long as Jonathan Ogdan comes back early, Lewis will be fine. I know Al is the resident legal expert here, but I cannot imagine his trial beginning during the season. That being said, Al is right about trying to leverage Lewis and your depth at WR for a top 5 back.

NEPAT1 Don adds this question.

Can someone check and see if Charles Rogers's collarbone is made of paper mache?

Vivek: Don, we're running some forensic tests now to confirm, so we'll get back to you.

Al: Our final email this week comes from Rusty:

Did you see the end of the Giants/Eagles game?

On the play where Manning got knocked silly, he fumbled the ball. Dayne picked it up and ran out of bounds with it, but the clock kept moving, eventually going to 0. As a person who had the Giants +8 ½ in my office pool, I had a vested interest in the Giants picking up one more score. Do you know why the clock didn't stop?

Al: Thanks Rusty! I feel your pain, that game looked like it had backdoor cover written all over it.

Longtime readers have read my complaints about how poor the version of the NFL rules on NFL.com is, forcing fans who have a rules question they want answered to buy the NFL rulebook. Have no fear, though, I received a copy of the NFL rule book for Christmas. So if you have any NFL rules questions feel free to send them along. The answer to this question, however, can be found in the abridged version of the rules on NFL.com. If a player on offense fumbles w/less than two minutes to go in the half, and another player on offense recovers the fumble, the ball is dead. The NFL doesn't want players getting away with illegal forward passes with the game on the line by letting them "fumble" towards a teammate.

Scramble Survivor League Update

Al: Here's the latest update on the Survivor League Ian and I drafted in the pre-season.

After only one week, my team It Worked Last Year won't be working any longer. Poor passing numbers from Mark Brunell and Josh McCown combined with zero production from the tight end position made the team an easy elimination this week. All was not lost for my squads, however, as First, Last, Everything rode dominating performances by Quentin Griffin and Priest Holmes to immunity for the Week 2 competition. A great performance from the Tennessee defense carried FLE past Ian's Fear Factors who had above average weeks from Daunte Culpepper and Tiki Barber.

I'd expect Ian's team U Can't Touch This to be eliminated this week. The team is down to two wide receivers with Joey Galloway and Steve Smith out because of injuries. With Chicago going up against the tough Green Bay defense, I wouldn't expect big numbers from Thomas Jones either. They'll need big weeks from Brett Favre, Fred Taylor and Randy Moss to last until Week 3.

Posted by: scramble on 16 Sep 2004

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