Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
29 Sep 2005
by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
Editor's note: Welcome to the first Scramble of the Fox era. If it looks a little remedial, that's why -- it's reprinted Fox, where nobody know what Scramble is about or what DVOA and DPAR are.
Al:You ready for the Brooks Bollinger era in New York, Viv? I didn't think so. And it doesn't look like the Jets are ready for it yet either. Have you seen the names they're trying out this week? Jesse Palmer? Brock Berlin? Doug Johnson? With players who would struggle to start for the Rhein Fire at quarterback, an offensive line that isn't close to as effective as it was a year ago without Kareem McKenzie, and a 32-year old starting tailback, the Super Bowl Champion New York Jet bandwagon has come to a screeching halt.
Vivek: What a great lineup of former college quarterbacks who played ball in the state of Florida. I'm glad the Jets stayed consistent with the tryout process by signing U of M's and Long Island's own Vinny Testeverde. At least my college buddy and budding sports journalist Jordan can use his â€œJust Vin Baby" headline again. I wonder who was next on the list for the Jets? Gino Torretta? Charlie Ward might be ripe for the picking after taking some time off from professional sports. Call me the pessimist here, but I am not seeing any story like 1999 when Kurt Warner came out of nowhere after Trent Green's injury to win the Super Bowl.
All sarcasm aside, the Jets should have taken a good look at Billy Volek if they wanted to salvage the 2005 season. Volek knows Mike Heimerdinger's offense and was a good replacement for Steve McNair last year. Despite the 2-8 record as a starter, Volek had eight quality starts with injuries and diminishing talent around him. He does not have the ideal arm strength for Heimerdinger's deep routes, but his poise and feel for the game more than make up for that. Unless Steve McNair takes the field each week with some space-age armor, though, this trade is not happening.
Another candidate should have been Patrick Ramsey. Ramsey was never allowed to succeed during his tenure in Washington. Ramsey's accuracy on short-to-medium range passes and his strong arm would have been assets in the Jets offense. If the Redskins hold onto Ramsey, the organization truly believes that they can make a playoff run and can use Ramsey to continue the season in the event of an injury to Brunell. Now I disagree with that mentality for the simple reason that the Redskins can get more for Ramsey now than they will after the season. If Ramsey is pressed back into action, there is no way that his psyche is ready to lead this team to the playoffs. If Brunell gets hurt for a prolonged period of the time, let's start the Jason Campbell era.
By no means at all am I suggesting that the Jets should trade a second round pick or package multiple mid-rounders for a stopgap quarterback. If the price is right, go for it.
These are all pipe dreams, though. We know the odds of any in-season trade are as high as Terrell Owens's inviting Donovan McNabb over on Thursday nights to watch the The OC.
Healthy or not, Chad Pennington did not work with the Jets new offense. All of the excitement from that 9-for-10 passing day in the preseason against the Vikings has been tempered ever since. The regular season did nothing to put the Jets at ease, starting with six fumbles and a lack of timing between Pennington and Laveranues Coles. Pennington's fantasy numbers were not a true barometer of his on-field performance in Week 2. He lacked any authority on his pass attempts, simply tossing floaters up in the air (which of course causes any safety to salivate). And then we get to last Sunday and more of the same.
Al: I can't believe I'm going to defend Vinny Testaverde here, but picking him up was easily the best decision the Jets could have made. None of the players you've mentioned are significantly better than Testaverde was last season. If you take out his performance in fourth quarters, Testaverde was an effective quarterback for the Cowboys last season. Based on DPAR (what's DPAR? It's the number of points a player is worth over a replacement player, adjusted for defense. Click here for a full explanation), Testaverde was worth 45.7 points above a replacement quarterback over the first three quarters of games last year, a level that would have put him right between Jake Delhomme and Carson Palmer. In the fourth quarter, however, Testaverde was 9.2 points worse than a replacement player, about where Mark Brunell and Ken Dorsey finished last season. If Testaverde can avoid such a huge fourth quarter collapse with the Jets this year, he'll be a perfectly capable quarterback. At the very least, Testaverde will be as good as the other quarterbacks freely available right now.
You mentioned a bunch of backups around the league as targets the Jets should go after, but they're all going to cost at least a third round pick, in the case of Ramsey, or multiple high round picks, in the case of Volek. And neither of those are guaranteed to be any better than Testaverde will be. It's not worth trading away draft picks to marginally upgrade your chances of making the playoffs and losing in the first round.
Al: Each column, we list a few things about the NFL, fantasy football, or life in general that we learned from watching games over the weekend. Not to get too philosophical here, but you really can learn something you didn't know before every week if you really try. Of course, the things we thought we learned usually turn out to not be true a week or two later, but it's the thought that counts.
Vivek: I'm not officially off the wagon because of a relatively light schedule, but as evidenced by their Team Efficiency ratings, the Panthers have not shown much all around. The loss of Kris Jenkins will allow teams to run more against this defense, and Jake Delhomme hasn't lived up to my expectations. Nine wins and the division crown is still attainable in a very weak NFC, but as each week passes, it is harder for me to see the Panthers knocking off the upper echelon of the conference.
Al: Four weeks ago you would have been laughed out of the room if you said you thought Miami had a chance to win the AFC East. Now? The Jets are down to their third string quarterback after not playing that well with their first stringer. Buffalo's quarterback of the future doesn't look like he's the quarterback of the present, and the man in the heart of their #2 ranked defense from a year ago, Takeo Spikes, is done for the season. New England has one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. With a healthy roster, that wouldn't normally be a problem for the two-time defending champs. But with more members of the Patriot secondary in the infirmary than on the field, and with newcomers Monty Beisel and Chad Brown not coming close to replacing Tedy Bruschi's production at linebacker, that difficult schedule is more likely to rear it's ugly head.
That leaves us with Miami, a team that is undefeated at home after beating two teams most everyone thought would at least make the playoffs this year. They have a defense in the top five of the Football Outsiders defense efficiency rankings. Gus Frerotte has been surprisingly effective at quarterback, Ronnie Brown has shown flashes at running back, and the offensive line has outperformed everyone's low expectations, allowing the second fewest sacks in the league. I'm not saying Miami is ready to replace New England at the top of the division just yet, but right now, they might just have the best chance of any team in the AFC East to do so.
Vivek: Maybe I'm just having flashbacks to the original â€œWake Up With The King" commercials that debuted during the summer, but I still flip channels when I see the King doing the Prime Time dance in the end zone. Perhaps this is also tied to my fear of clowns . . .
Al: Sorry Viv, those BK commercials are brilliant. If only Hootie was there to sing about the Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch sandwich with the King in the endzone, they'd be perfect.
Send us your general football or especially your fantasy football questions each week, and we'll answer them in this very space. If you want us to help you figure out whom to bench or start or whom to pick up off the waiver wire each week, contact us by Tuesday so we can answer the question in this space every Wednesday. You can either email us at email@example.com, or fill out the contact form.
Based on FO projections I landed Domanick Davis and Kevin Jones in our 12 team draft. Needless to say, after two bad weeks and now the bye week things aren't looking good. Do I stay the course and hope things pick up in the next 10 weeks or do I offer one up for trade and try to get a more reliable back in return? If I were to offer one which one would you suggest? The waiver wire is not a real option in this league, it is basically picked clean with most teams carrying at least 5 RBs on their roster.
Al: For those new readers who may not have picked up the international bestseller Pro Football Prospectus 2005 (don't worry if you haven't, it's not too late), our highly sophisticated KUBIAK projection system (yes it's named after the former Bronco backup QB and current offensive coordinator) projected that Kevin Jones would lead the league in rushing yards and that Domanick Davis would finish as one of the top five backs in fantasy football.
After the first two weeks, those projections aren't looking so hot, especially if you drafted both of them, which really doesn't make much sense considering they shared the same Week 3 bye week. I can understand your frustration with the slow starts of both of those players, but it's really too quick to press the panic button just yet. As you said, Walt, it's not like you can grab a starter off the waiver wire just yet. If you make a trade now for a starting RB, you'll likely end up on the short end of the stick as you'll need to package either both of your running backs or a running back and top wide receiver to grab someone like Willie Parker from a team that has an extra RB that they're willing to trade.
If you thought Davis and K. Jones were good enough to start for your fantasy team four weeks ago, two games shouldn't be enough to have you completely jump ship on them. Let's not forget that Houston played two solid defenses in Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Kevin Jones had a decent game in Week 1, putting up 87 yards. He was only given eight carries against Chicago in Week 2, as Detroit threw the ball 43 times to try and catch up with the three touchdowns the Bears scored in the second quarter. Jones has some tough matchups over the next few weeks, but starting in Week 7, he has as good a schedule as you could hope for a fantasy running back to have. Stick with Jones and Davis and I think you'll be rewarded.
Vivek:: Al's right on point. Right now is the time when the other vultures in your league are trying to buy low and sell high. Expect offers of Terry Glenn and Trent Dilfer for one of your running backs. Plus, you got your bye weeks out of the way last weekend, so you won't be shorthanded at this spot the rest of the way.
Andy from Needham, MA asks:
I'm in an IDP Keep-3 league with a very short bench, and I need to drop someone to make room for a bye-week pickup at linebacker.
With 6 pts. per TD and 1 pt. per 20 yards rush/rec, which of these guys do I vote off the island: Kevin Curtis, Justin McCareins, Kevan Barlow, Tatum Bell, or Aaron Brooks? (Note: dumping Brooks would leave me with no backup QB).
Al: Last week I might have given you a different answer, but with the Brooks Bollinger experience going on in the Meadowlands, get rid of Justin McCareins. The chances of any Jet being a valuable fantasy performer plummeted because of the injuries to Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler. I'd be shocked if McCareins averaged more than four fantasy points a week from here on out.
Vivek: No brainer â€“ McCareins.
Steve from Fishers, IN writes:
I've got Matt Hasselbeck against the Redskins and Drew Brees against the Pats. Who should I start?
Vivek: Haven't I learned to not go against the Pats? Apparently not. Without Rodney Harrison, the secondary is susceptible to the Chargers' passing attack. Keenan McCardell, Antonio Gates and a revitalized LaDainian Tomlinson could be too much for New England to handle.
Al: Tough call, but I'd go with Brees. I'm a big Hasselbeck fan, but I think San Diego's passing game matches up well against New England's injured secondary.
Russ writes in with an Eliminator Pool question:
Thanks to San Francisco and Miami this year, I'm one of the final 15 left in my office elimination pool. I've used up Pittsburgh, Indy and Philadelphia already. Thoughts on this week? And should I save up the Patriots for one of the last weeks of the pool?
Vivek: I'm going to guess that you picked in this order: Pittsburgh versus Tennessee, Philadelphia versus San Francisco and Indianapolis versus Cleveland. You've always gone with the strong team versus a weak opponent, and that is how you win these pools. What is the use of saving New England for Week 11 if your pick of Arizona over San Francisco knocks you out this week? This week's matchups feature a lot of even matchups, but the one team that jumps out at me is Cincinnati at home against Houston. As you will see below in Best Bets, I'll even give the Texans the points.
Al: I made the mistake of trying to save teams for later in the year and was knocked out of my pool after Week 1. If you think New England will win this week, don't be afraid of using them.
Our friend Ian from Braintree, MA asks:
Advice time here- Who do you like better for this Sunday, Warrick Dunn @ Minnesota, or Mewelde Moore vs Atlanta. Or I could be stupid and bench Shaun Alexander at Washington to start both of them. 1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving, 6 per touchdown. Of course, Al knows the scoring, since he's currently looking up at my 1st place team in the standings.
Al: You just haven't faced my team yet. In any event, I could tell you to bench Alexander in hopes that you would lose this week, but I'll be nice and hope you're still undefeated in a few weeks so I can be the one to deliver your first loss of the year. One of the few cardinal rules of fantasy football is â€œAlways Start Your Studs." Shaun Alexander is a stud. If Alexander is on your team, you either used a top three draft pick or a huge percentage of your salary cap to get him. If you were that confident in his ability, you should be confident enough to start him against a good defense. As far as Dunn vs. Moore, I'd go with Dunn. Both Minnesota and Atlanta have been poor at stopping the run so far this year. I'd go with the player who has the more defined role in his offense and the better expectations to get a significant number of touches.
Vivek: Finally, a point of contention between Al and me. I'm going to use Al's point against him. Dunn has averaged 18 touches per game so far, while Moore finally ended the RB carousel last week with a 22-carry 101-yard effort. With TJ Duckett on board, his touchdown chances will also be limited. Moore's role is defined for me â€“ full time back.
Tommy S. writes:
I need your help with week 4. 1) In regard to QB's this week, do I start D.Brees , J.P. Losman, or pick up J. Harrington from the waiver wire ? 2) Which TE do I start, T.Heap or L.J. Smith ? 3) I'm in a flex league so which 3 of these 4 players would you select to start : K. Barlow, C. Brown, Mewelde Moore, and Reggie Williams ? 4) I have N. Rackers as my kicker, should I search for a new one since J.McNown has taken over as QB for Arizona ?
Al: 1) Stay with Brees. Against the beat up New England secondary, he's a better option than either Losman or Harrington. 2) I'd go with Smith, for the reasons I go into below in discussing my Best Bets. 3) Wow, those are bad options. Go with the running backs. They're at least guaranteed to touch the ball 8-10 times. Williams could easily end up with only one or two receptions. 4) Stick with Rackers, even with Kurt Warner's injury downgrading the Cardinals offense. The Arizona/San Francisco game is being played in Mexico City, 7000+ feet above sea level. Rackers has a strong leg as it is. Arizona will have to get the ball to their opponent's 40 yard line to get into field goal range. With the extra elevation, he has a legitimate shot at setting the NFL record for longest field goal on Sunday night.
Finally, R.P. asks:
I was hoping that you would be able to help me out this week. Which Wide Receiver should I start over the other, Reggie Williams or Justin McCareins? Or should I drop one of these players and scour the waiver wire for the likes of Joey Galloway, Robert Ferguson, Antonio Chatman, or Terry Glenn?
Also, should I stay put with the Chargers Defense or seek solace in the waiver wire for Washington, NYJ, or Cleveland? And last but not least, should I stay pat with Josh Brown this week or seek other alternatives?
Al: Can I pick option C â€“ â€œNone of the wide receivers you mentioned"? Drop McCareins for the reasons we discuss earlier in the mailbag and grab Glenn, who has a great matchup against Oakland this week. I'm a big proponent of playing matchups each week with your defense, unless you have the Ravens or some similar team. The Jets should be able to generate some turnovers playing against the Ravens and Anthony Wright, so they'd be my pick from the teams you mentioned. As far as kickers go, Brown's as good as any other kicker you'll likely find on the waiver wire. If Neil Rackers is out there, I'd be tempted to grab him for the Mexico City game Sunday night, but other than that just hang tight with what you have.
Al: For those of you just joining us on FOX, the Keep Choppin' Wood Award is given out every week in honor of the NFL player who has done the most to keep his team from winning, or has done something notably stupid. The award was first handed out in 2003 after Jaguar punter Chris Hanson injured himself by cutting into his leg with an axe in the Jaguars locker room. What was an axe doing in the Jaguar locker room you ask? It was part of coach Jack Del Rio's motivational plan encouraging his team to â€œKeep Choppin' Wood." To drive the metaphor home, Del Rio put a tree stump and an axe in the locker room, and players were encouraged to take swings at the wood. It wasn't long before the inevitable happened and someone missed the log and instead chopped his own leg.
Vivek: My off-field winners this week are the two unnamed clock operators at Heinz field, who inadvertently added 52 seconds to the clock in the fourth quarter, leaving plenty of time for Tom Brady to add to his legacy as the best clutch QB in the NFL. So much for home field advantage.
Al: There are a bunch of worthy candidates this week, but whenever I'm watching a game with a group of people who have no rooting interest for either team and everyone screams at the television because they just witnessed a mind numbingly awful decision, we have ourselves a Keep Choppin' Wood Award winner. This week, it goes to Oakland kick returner Chris Carr.
When David Akers limped on the field to kick the go ahead field goal for Philadelphia, there were nine seconds left on the clock. To the surprise of no one, backup tight end Mike Bartrum, filling in for the injured Akers, squib kicked the ball to about the Raiders' 32-yard line. If there was a team built to pull of a hail mary pass with little time left on the clock, it is the Raiders. With the cannon arm of Kerry Collins, and the speed, jumping ability, and hands of Randy Moss, there isn't a team in the league better equipped to complete a last minute, 60-yard touchdown pass. All Carr needed to do was run straight ahead and let the oncoming Eagles tackle him around the 40-yard line with a few seconds left on the clock.
Instead, Carr tried to win the game all by himself. When faced with Philadelphia's coverage team rapidly approaching, Carr didn't make the smart play and allow himself to be tackled. Instead, Carr ran backwards for ten yards, trying to find an opening that would allow him to run 70-yards to the end zone so he would have the glory of scoring the game winning touchdown to himself. Of course, that didn't happen, and Carr ran aimlessly around the field for nine seconds before being tackled at the 34-yard line, gaining a mere two yards on the play as time expired.
Vivek: I'm not even a Steelers fan, but I've been assigning blame left and right for Sunday's loss to the Pats. The on-field KCW-worthy performance came from Antwaan "Hey Look, It's Hines Ward!" Randle El. Early in the second quarter when the Steelers were up 10-7, Randle El inexplicably lateraled the ball to Hines Ward after a 49-yard gain into the New England red zone. Ward, as expectant of the toss as the rest of the world, never got a firm handle on the ball, and the Patriots' Eugene Wilson recovered. You all know the rest â€“ Patriots take the lead, we go back in time without a Flux Capacitor, Steelers tie the game late, and Vinatieri does his thing.
Al: Here are the top Loser League performers from Week 3. We'll have the team-by-team contest results available on FootballOutsiders.com later in the week.
Week 3 Losers
QB: -5 points: Kyle Orton, CHI (149 passing yards; 1 INT; 5 fumbles)
RB: -1 point: Larry Johnson, KC (8 carries, 13 yards; 1 fumble)
RB: 4 points: Steven Jackson, STL (12 carries, 48 yards; 1 catch, 6 yards)
WR: 0 points: Lee Evans, BUF (2 catches, 7 yards)
WR: 1 point: (8 players tied)
K: -2 points: (tie) Jose Cortez, DAL (3/4 XP); Ryan Longwell, GB (1/2 FG; 1/2 XP)
Vivek: Are you tired of looking at the NFL ticker on Sunday and hearing Warner Wolf in your head?
â€œIf you had the Cardinals plus 25, you lost!"
Well, Al and I might not completely drown out that voice, but we will give you our best bets each week here using the lines from FOXSports. As common courtesy would dictate, the one with the lower score from the previous week will pick first. (Read: me)
Vivek: (1-2 last week, 4-5 overall)
Stephen Davis was back. Steve Smith was back. The Panthers were coming off a win against the Super Bowl champs. Three points seemed like nothing, right? Tell that to the first place Dolphins. My lock for the week was upset on the road, keeping me under .500 for the season.
We all love the word potential, and this matchup shows how much of a disparity there can be between potential and reality. Potential is what happens when you have David Carr, Domanick Davis and Andre Johnson at the helm of an 0-2 team. Reality is a 3-0 record when Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and Rudi Johnson are close to reaching their full potential.
Houston has the dubious distinction here of having offensive and defensive lines that rank towards the bottom of the league. Even though this was an issue last year on both the offensive and defensive sides, the Texans still cannot protect the quarterback, nor can they sack opposing signal callers.
I'd take Cincy here even if I had to give two touchdowns.
I see this as a straight up win for the Vikings. Mewelde Moore has taken hold of the starting running back job, making life a lot easier for Dante Culpepper. You only need to look back a few days to see what effect that had on Culpepper. With a much improved pass defense and for all of us still waiting for Michael Vick to become a great quarterback (versus athlete), expect Minnesota to stuff the box and blitz heavily in passing situations. Focusing on the running game should keep Atlanta in check.
The Colts are going for their fifth straight win versus the Titans this Sunday, and expect Payton Manning to finally outshine his brother against a suspect pass defense. Combine that with the fact that the Colts have not allowed a sack all year, and you have the makings of a big day for the offense.
Detroit's inability to stop the run + Cadillac Williams + rejuvenated Bucs' defense = 10 point win for Tampa Bay.
Al: (1-2 last week, 5-4 overall)
After an undefeated first week, I've given my lead back with two 1-2 weeks. Time to make up for it.
This will likely be the only time I pick New Orleans for the rest of the year. No way they lose this one. I can't believe this game is a pick â€˜em. The Saints are playing their first real home game of the season, in front of 50,000+ San Antonians rabid to see live NFL action. The Bills offense was ineffective at home last week against Atlanta and can't be expected to fare much better this week on the road. The loss of Takeo Spikes will be a huge hit to the Bills run defense. Deuce McAllister may be overrated, but he's good enough to have a huge game against Buffalo on Sunday.
The Rams will be able to put points up on the Giants. The Giants don't have anyone in their secondary that can cover Tory Holt. However, the Rams are awful on the road. St. Louis managed only two wins away from the Edward Jones Dome last season, both against their division rivals in the terrible NFC West. Over the past three seasons, Marc Bulger has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns away from home. If the Giant defense has done one thing well this year, it has been creating turnovers. New York is fifth in the league with eight takeaways, and fourth with five interceptions.
The biggest advantage the Giants have in this game, however, is their special teams. New York has had the best overall special teams in the NFL this year by a huge margin. Under Mike Martz, the Rams have consistently had terrible special teams, including a last place finish in the Football Outsiders special teams rankings a year ago.
Strangest line of the week. I'm a big believer in the Chiefs this year and love what they've done to improve their defense, but I don't see them beating the Eagles, even at home. Philadelphia is one of the few teams in the league with enough depth in their secondary and at linebacker to adequately contain all of the Chiefs' weapons on offense. On defense, Kansas City doesn't have anyone who can cover Terrell Owens, although I do think Derrick Johnson and the rest of the Chief linebackers will be able to contain Brian Westbrook. That will, however, open up some room for L.J. Smith, who could have a huge game.
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