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» Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

Instant replay review is one of the cornerstones of the modern NFL. The process and its myriad special rules have been internalized and constantly debated. Mike Kurtz wonders: is it worth it?

15 Oct 2004

Scramble for the Ball: Don't Call it a Comeback

Al: I thought the most surprising thing that I saw this past week would be the two huge leads blown in the fourth quarter by the Cardinals and Seahawks. But then you went ahead and drafted Lebron James with the #6 overall pick in our fantasy basketball draft. Thanks Viv, I didn't think I'd be able to get Dirk "center eligible" Nowitzki at #7, especially since we have to start two centers every week. I know you'll enjoy starting Mehmet Okur and Radoslav Nesterovic every night.

But back to those two blown leads. In Seattle, Mike Holmgren did an awful job by not running the ball and taking time off the clock, but that subject's already been addressed elsewhere on the site.

Poor clock management aside, there's no way you can leave the Ram wide receivers as open they were late in that game. What happened to the Seahawk cornerbacks? Were they worn out? The Seahawk defensive backs were simply outrun by Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald on the Rams last two TDs. You just can't let those two receivers beat you with a divisional game on the line. Curtis and McDonald had a combined 139 career receiving yards entering the game. You have to stop those two.

Vivek: Well I made the pick to set up a good Scramble opening for you. I was just helping a brother out, which is not at all what the Seattle corners did against the Rams. That was the first time all season that Ken Lucas and Marcus Trufant were beaten deep for touchdowns. Perhaps they were underestimating the value of Curtis and McDonald. That and the fact that they were on the field more than they should have been with Joe Gibbs-like clock management. Excluding the last play of regulation, the time of possession for three of the last four Seahawks' drives were 0:50, 1:37 and 1:59.

At least you knew that the Rams had the firepower to make that comeback, but San Francisco? Yes, it was against the Cardinals, but where did Tim Rattay's performance come from? Rattay recorded two touchdown passes and got two 2-point conversions in the final 4:35 to cap the 16-point comeback, setting the stage for Todd Peterson's game-winning field goal in overtime.

Rattay looked very comfortable in the no-huddle offense, which played to his strengths coming out of college -- quick decision making and a good breakdown of defensive alignments. With the lack of a constant deep threat in the Niners' game, Rattay took advantage of having targets (Eric Johnson, Brandon Lloyd and Curtis Conway) who are suited to ball-control passing situations.

Al: You can't stop Eric Johnson, you can only hope to contain him. He's putting up some ridiculous receiving numbers. But he's not the only tight end doing so. Seven tight ends are averaging over 45 receiving yards per game. That list doesn't include Daniel "Touchdown Machine" Graham and his five scores. Last season, only three tight ends averaged that many yards per game and only three had as many touchdowns over the entire season as Graham does after only four games.

So is this real or imagined? An oasis or a mirage? I'd go with oasis. Three of the names are players who were expected to be the top three tight ends going into the season -- Jeremy Shockey, Tony Gonzalez, and Todd Heap. I'd expect Alge Crumpler to continue to put up good numbers as Michael Vick seems to be taking a little longer than expected to become comfortable in the West Coast offense. Nothing like a tight end with good hands as a safety valve for a quarterback uncomfortable with his gameplan. Randy McMichael was well hyped as a rookie, at least in fantasy football circles. Maybe he's finally living up to his promise. In the case of Johnson and the number two receiving tight end in the league, Antonio Gates, they're the best receiving options that their young quarterbacks have.

Vivek: Let's take a look at a few other people who are overachieving and see if they will continue or fall back to earth in this segment that we call...

The Segment Formerly Known as Oasis or Mirage

David Carr, QB, Houston -- 1375 passing yards, 7 TD

Andre Johnson, WR, Houston -- 525 receiving yards, 4 TD

Vivek: Carr is for real. This is someone who has a higher upside than Carson Palmer and Joey Harrington. I think he'll have a better career, especially if he teams with Andre Johnson for a long time. Carr and Johnson have hooked up for six plays of 25+ yards already, and that is with Johnson facing the opponents' top defenders.

Al: I have to agree with you. Houston has played some bad pass defenses, the #25 (SD), #24 (OAK), and #31 (MIN) pass defenses according to DVOA, but Carr and Johnson have put up good numbers against two of the tougher pass defenses in the league, Detroit (#4 in DVOA) and Kansas City (#9). Over those two games, Carr put up a 94.3 quarterback rating and Johnson averaged 26 yards per catch.

Javon Walker, WR, Green Bay -- 535 receiving yards, 5 TD

Vivek: It is hard to consider any Brett Favre wideout as a mirage, since someone will have to pull in a big chunk of 4000+ passing yards annually. This is Walker's third year in the league, and it is well documented how receivers traditionally blossom in their third season. This is the start of a great career. Al touches upon Walker more in this week's mailbag.

Al: Why don't people call him J-Walk? It's a great nickname. I'm going to start doing it. When everyone is talking about J-Walk in a few weeks, remember where you heard it first.

Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis -- 434 receiving yards, 3 TD

Vivek: Wayne has 138 more yards receiving than Marvin Harrison, but do not expect that to stay the same much longer. Wayne's numbers look great at first glance, but they are inflated by a 184-yard game against the woeful Packers secondary. He has big-play potential, as is evident by four catches of 35-plus yards, but Harrison will still be the man.

Al: I've never been that high on Wayne. He's on pace for his first 1000-yard season, but this is also the only time he has had two legitimate receiving threats running down field with him. Marvin Harrison has been arguably the best receiver in football over the past two seasons, and as such has been constantly double teamed. Yet Wayne wasn't able to take advantage of being faced with single coverage by the opposition's weaker cornerback to get over the 1000 yard plateau. It wasn't until this season, with Brandon Stokley taking even more of a defenses attention away from Wayne that he has been able to put together receiving numbers like these. If Stokley stays healthy and effective, I'd expect Wayne's success to continue but not because of any increase in skill of his own.

What Did We Learn from Week 5?

Lesson 1 -- The Edge is Back

Vivek: 1259 yards was a pretty good 2003 season for Edgerrin James, but we were all waiting for him to return to the upper echelon of NFL backs. It looks like 2004 is that year, Edge is on pace for 2000-plus total yards, and he is the reason that the Colts will give the Pats a run for the AFC title.

Al: Let's not forget what happened to the last running back you said was "back." After Marshall Faulk's Week 1 performance, he's been held to under 4.0 yards per carry in three of his past four games.

Lesson 2 -- Carolina is Getting a Good Draft Pick Next Year

Al: I expected the Panthers to take a step back this year after they improbably made the Super Bowl last season, but no one could have expected the rash of injuries that have hit them this year. Are you going to be in the Philadelphia area on Sunday? You might be able to start at running back for Carolina against the Eagles. DeShaun Foster is out for at least six weeks with a broken collarbone, Stephen Davis hasn't returned yet from his knee injury, even He Hate Me has been out of action. Add those injuries on top of the ones sustained by Steve Smith, Kavika Pittman, Kris Jenkins, etc. and you can see why Carolina won't be improving their place in the NFC South standings any time soon.

Scramble for the Ball Mailbag

Al: Remember that you can send us your fantasy and other NFL questions to us at scramble@footballoutsiders.com. Our first email is from William in Indianapolis:

I'm first in my league (shocker!) so I'm giving Outsiders all the credit. Zereoue or Barlow?

Al: Thanks William. It's nice to know someone out there is doing well in their fantasy leagues this year. Anyway, if you're looking for either Amos or Kevan to play for your team this week, I'd go with Zereoue. The Raiders are at home against the Broncos, while the 49ers are on the road against the Jets. According to DVOA, the two teams are about even against the run. Looking at conventional statistics, the two teams are separated by less than two yards rushing allowed a game. Opposing running backs haven't done well gaining receiving yards against either defense, either.

So neither defense jumps out as being especially vulnerable against the run. When in doubt -- go with DVOA. Kevan Barlow is currently ranked #43, behind such luminaries as Ron Dayne, Artose Pinner, and Leonard Henry. Amos Zereoue is #3 in DVOA and #13 in DPAR, despite not starting until last week. Neither back is going to carry your team to victory, but Amos will give you the best shot at a win this week.

Al: Next up is Stan who takes us to task:

Quality pass protection is far more important to a QB's success than the quality of his receivers or the quality of his RBs. Last year, Steve McNair had the best pass pro I have seen in the NFL in years. Tom Brady has consistently gotten outstanding protection for the last several years. When Kurt Warner had great pass pro he was MVP. Without it he was a bum.

When can we look forward to reading your column without having to read this silliness about Brady or McNair not getting any help from offensive teammates?

Al: Thanks Stan for your feedback. I completely agree that quality pass protection is essential to a quarterback's success. See Bledsoe, Drew. I guess what you're referring to is this statement from Viv last week: "There is now a lot of talk about McNabb being the league MVP in his first season with Terrell Owens. But who has been there to help Brady the past few years? You could argue for Troy Brown, but there was no running back to support the air attack either. To throw in another Jeter analogy, you don't have to be a fan of his, but you have to respect him." Viv, I'll let you answer your hate mail here.

Vivek: Pass protection is absolutely vital to the success of a quarterback, but in your Warner reference, he also had some guys named Faulk, Holt and Bruce around him. Carolina has only allowed six sacks so far, and I don't see Jake Delhomme having an All-Pro season. The Lions allowed the fewest sacks in the league last year. Maybe I should have said that Brady did not have other weapons around versus help.

Al: No more hate mail this week, but we have something from our regular contributor Ian from Braintree:

Can Mark Brunell be any worse? Every time he took a snap to pass the ball on Sunday night, he immediately ran backwards as fast as possible. Whenever he completed a 5-yard pass, it was actually a 20-yard throw to get there. And every time he got sacked, it was because defensive ends were able to run straight upfield around his blockers, who foolishly assumed Mark would be in the pocket.

The Skins offensive line looked terrible, but I think it was Brunell making them look terrible by not stepping up in the pocket. It's like playing someone in Madden who complains they get sacked every down because as soon as they snap the ball they run straight backwards.

Al: I have no idea why Brunell runs around so much. You're right, scrambling around seems to be his default behavior when he goes back for a pass. Maybe this could have worked for Brunell in his younger days, but at 34, he's not as spry as he used to be.

I don't see what alternative the Redskins have, though. Patrick Ramsey looked terrible in the one game he played in against the Giants earlier this year and his coach reportedly isn't a big fan of his game. If not for the three interceptions he threw, Washington could have easily won that game.

Vivek: Tim Hasselbeck? At least we'll get to see shots of his wife after every pass attempt.

Al: Our last email this week comes from Reinhard, who wrote us a few weeks ago about his fantasy team. This week, Reinhard writes:

I wrote you a few weeks ago and sent you my fantasy team, I don't know if you remember. It doesn't quite matter, in short, I was very deep at running backs, and you advised me to trade Quentin Griffin, but unfortunately he fell off so fast i had to release him instead. My receivers are Eric Moulds, Javon Walker, and at tight end I have Eric Johnson. Where do you think these guys go in most drafts? But they have combined for (our league rewards receptions) 98 receptions, 1291 yards, 10 touchdowns

I'm not saying I'm a genius :) but I tried to draft remembering that most of the time breakout years are had by veterans than young players. You might do a little follow-up on that article at this point in the season. The receiver studs are most of the guys that have always been good.

Al: Thanks for checking in again, Reinhard. As we talked about earlier, Eric Johnson has been great. J-Walk is also quietly putting up a very good year. All the talk out of Green Bay is about their disappointing record, but J-Walk isn't getting the attention he deserves. 31 receptions, 535 yards and 5 TDs makes him the third best WR in fantasy football this year, right behind Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. According to antsports.com, J-Walk was drafted in 12 team leagues, on average in the middle of the fifth round. That's some great value right there. Outside of Johnson and Gates at TE, J-Walk may be the best value in fantasy football so far this year.

Keep Choppin' Wood Award

Al: This has to go to Mark Brunell. The Washington defense did a great job against Baltimore's offense. Sure, Jamal Lewis put up 116 rushing yards, but the defense kept the Ravens out of the end zone for the entire night. Mark Brunell is arguably responsible for 10 of Baltimore's 17 points. The Ravens scored their first touchdown after Brunell lost the ball after an Ed Reed sack, allowing Reed to scamper in for a touchdown. The Ravens last score came on a field goal at the end of a drive which was started by a Brunell interception. The Redskins had 13 third down attempts where they attempted a pass. Brunell was able to pass for the first down on only three of them. Just a brutal performance that cost the Redskins a much needed win.

Vivek: Brunell is worthy, but I am going with Michael Vick, who we all really expect more from. His lack of a handle on the offense cost his team the win against Detroit last week. Vick fumbled three times, losing two of them and tossed an interception that led to a touchdown in the second quarter. Perhaps his most costly fumble was with less than a minute left in the game at the Lions' 25-yard line.

Best Bets

Vivek: (1-2 last week, 4-11 overall) Go figure. I finally pick the Jaguars, and they lose for me.

Miami +6 over BUFFALO

The Miami defense will stifle Buffalo. The Bills offensive line has yielded 18 sacks already. How much more can Bledsoe take?

Denver -2 over OAKLAND

Danny Sheridan has over/under on turnovers by Kerry Collins set at 4. I'll take the over.

Washington PK over CHICAGO

If the Redskins cannot beat a Bears team with Jonathan Quinn at the helm, maybe Marty Schottenheimer and Steve Spurrier were not that bad.

Cincinnati +2.5 over CLEVELAND

Chad Johnson has already proclaimed that he is going to make the Browns' secondary sick on Sunday.

ST.LOUIS -6 over Tampa Bay

There won't be any letdown on the Rams part after that come-from-behind win at Seattle last week. How far the Bucs have fallen. Perhaps Jon Gruden should have spent less time on his film career this year and more on getting his team ready.

Al: (3-1 last week, 7-9 overall) I'm almost at .500 and I think I have a great shot at getting there this week. There are a ton of lines that I really like.

PHILADELPHIA -9 over Carolina

The Eagles are 4-0 against the spread this year and are playing a Carolina team that, as I mentioned earlier, is decimated by injuries. Seriously, who will be at running back for them this week? Former WCW champion and Florida State football player Ron Simmons is available. For just $50 he'll give you a phone call. He only guarantees a three minute conversation, but that should be long enough to convince him to suit up for the Panthers. I'd expect Brian Westbrook to take advantage of the depleted Carolina defensive line and put up huge numbers this week.

NEW ENGLAND -4 over Seattle

I expected this line to be much higher, especially after the Seahawks blown lead in the fourth quarter against the Rams. New England looks to end a fifteen-year losing streak against Seattle. The Rams showed the league how to beat the Seattle secondary last week. I think Bill Belichick and his staff will be able to capitalize on that and win by at least a touchdown.

DETROIT -2.5 over Green Bay

Detroit should be giving more points than just the standard home field advantage. Historically, Brett Favre just hasn't played well indoors. The Packer pass defense is awful and will struggle to contain Roy Williams.

Houston +6.5 over TENNESSEE

I need a good dog for the week, and there doesn't look to be a better one than this. Thanks to the Titans taking advantage of the awful Packer pass defense this line is completely out of whack. I wouldn't be shocked if the Texans pulled off the upset here.


Scramble Survivor League Update

Al: I successfully predicted that my team that drafted first would be eliminated because of the Chief bye week. Without Priest Holmes, Eddie Kennison and Tony Gonzalez, and with continued poor performance from Michael Vick, this squad had no chance to survive. Ian's Fear Factors won the last immunity of the season, after being the high scorer for the second week in a row. This is the last single elimination week. After Week 6, we get rid of immunity and one team is eliminated every two weeks. Unfortunately, I think I'll be going into this with only two teams. My team Jailbait has been operating without a quarterback since Tommy Maddox went down with an injury. Thanks to Jamal Lewis, Chris Brown and a solid group of wide receivers, the team has managed to stave off elimination. With Lewis on bye this week, and suspended during the first two week scoring period, I don't see this team lasting for long.


Loser League Contest Update

Al: The Steve Spurrier All Stars were the clear winner in Week 5 with an astounding 19 points:

QB: Kyle Boller (-2 points, 9-18, 81 yards, 3 INT)
RB: Willis McGahee (4 points, 8 carries, 42 yards)
RB: Eddie George (7 points, 15 carries, 75 yards)
WR: Brandon Stokley (4 points, 3 catches, 41 yards)
WR: Ike Hilliard (3 points, 2 catches, 31 yards)
K: Josh Scobee (3 points, 0 FG, 3 XP)

Here's the All-Loser team for Week 5. If you had this squad you would have scored a whopping five points:

QB: Kyle Boller (-2 points, 9-18, 81 yards, 3 INT)
RB: Ahman Green (1 point, 10 carries, 33 yards, 1 fumble)
RB: Travis Henry (3 points, 12 carries, 33 yards)
WR: Tai Streets (0 points, 2 catches, 7 yards)
WR: Corey Bradford (1 point, 2 catches, 13 yards)
K: Sebastian Janikowski (2 points, 0 FG, 2 XP)

Our very own Vivek Ramgopal came in second with 31 points, thanks to everyone's favorite QB, Kyle Boller. Pretty mediocre week for me, thanks to Jerry Rice pulling a penalty.

Mark Stinks grabbed a hold of first place in the season-long contest and opened up a 15 point lead. Our new second place team is the NH Militia. However, with three regular penalty candidates at RB -- William Green, Tatum Bell, and Ron Dayne -- I don't like their chances of overtaking Mark Stinks. Hell Spawn, who was tied for the lead with Mark Stinks last week, and the Dayton Ducks, last week's second place team, both took dives in the standings, dropping to sixth and fifth place respectively.

Posted by: scramble on 15 Oct 2004

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