Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
09 Nov 2006
by Bill Barnwell & Ian Dembsky
Ian: Greetings, Rotohead Nation, and once again welcome to another installment of Scramble for the Ball. For those that haven't been involved yet, I highly recommend you sign up for the 2006 Loser League Part II by following this link. It's free, it's fun, and it could win you a free copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2007! Also, in case you missed it, a first-half season recap can be found here.
On to the field, and where better to start than with a good ol' fashioned knee to the groin? For those that didn't see it, what have you been watching over the past few days? ESPN has replayed it a million times; Tyler Brayton had enough of Jerramy Stevens taunting and shoving him, and finally gave him a solid knee to the groin. If only he'd thrown a football at Stevens' groin, then Homer Simpson could vote it for best indie film of the NFL season. One lingering question remains... After taking such a solid shot, why was Stevens hopping around with a ridiculous grin on his face? Shouldn't that hurt? In watching the replay, the knee connected pretty well, and the only conclusion I can come up with is that like the ability to catch passes, Jerramy Stevens lost his nads a few years ago.
Bill: Well, it's either that or we'd be speculating on Jerramy Stevens' potential BDSM tendencies, which would be bad. In fact, I think our spam filter just ate the column. It's funny, that's where I always had Shockey pegged...
Ian: The game of the week in New England turned out to raise more questions than it answered. Why did the Patriots run the ball so little? Why did Brady repeatedly throw into heavy coverage downfield? And why did Adam Vinatieri miss two key field goals in his return to his old home stadium? You have to wonder if his misses were mentally impacted by the team he was facing -- conditions were fine, and he almost never screws up under pressure like that.
Bill: I presumed it was some sort of Papa Gino's-related issue. Of course, Vinatieri could always argue that the kicks weren't clutch enough for him to make.
Ian: Fortunately for him, Brady threw his fourth interception with a chance to tie the game late. Sure, everyone agrees that it's Kevin Faulk's fault the last pass was intercepted, but let's not ignore the fact that the pass was a bit high and wide, which led to the non-catch. Sure, that's being picky, but if we're gonna argue about whether or not Brady is the best quarterback in football, he's gotta deliver throws like that to the breadbasket.
Bill: Yeah, that's being real picky. Let's assume Faulk catches that pass -- it did hit him in the hands -- and the play goes for a few yards. Does anyone say "That was a nice catch there by Faulk?" No. When you make your living in the NFL as a third-down back who can catch balls out of the backfield, that is a pass you simply have to catch.
Ian: I'm astounded at how teams so often fail to hand the ball off when it makes sense, and fail to pass when they shouldn't hand off. Watching Oakland get killed by Seattle was infuriating, simply because I couldn't believe Oakland wouldn't give LaMont Jordan the ball more often. Jordan had nine carries for 63 yards, a nifty 7.0 yards per carry. Walter was getting killed in the pocket because the Seahawks were ignoring the run and running upfield chasing after sacks. And yet down only two scores in the third quarter, it was pass, pass, pass for an offense that simply couldn't pass the ball. With the defense stepping up the way they did (hey, it's a Warren Sapp sighting!), a couple of solid drives could have seriously given them a chance to win.
On the other hand, in Cincinnati, the Bengals wouldn't give up on the run until it was too late. Fourth quarter, Cincy down six, no timeouts left and 3:21 on the clock. First-down play: Rudi Johnson to the right end for a one-yard gain. 30 seconds ran off the clock before second down. What kind of a call was that? You've got as much talent at wide receiver as any other team in the league, and you're handing off in that situation? A very strange call, and the results were what the team deserved.
One of the more bizarre performances of the season had to come from Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger ...
Ian: ... threw for over 400 yards, and managed to have a bad game while doing it. Wait, Bill, what the heck was that?!?
Bill: Sorry, excuse me, never mind. Like Yogurt trying to read Lone Starr's medallion, I was just clearing my throat.
Ian: Oh, ok. Anyways... Big Ben was actually very impressive. He showed mobility in the pocket that we haven't seen from him before, extending plays by evading the rush and sometimes turning a sack into a big play, like the time he found Willie Parker in the end zone after Fast Willie had run from the middle of the field to the right sideline, then run all the way back to the left side of the field. On the other hand, like many quarterbacks in his position, he feels obligated to try and make a play after evading the rush, and this was his downfall. His interceptions were poorly thrown forces, when he would've made a nice play by simply throwing the ball out of bounds instead. Mobility = Good. Forcing Passes = Bad. Ben must learn the ways of the Force.
Bill: Hopefully for Ben, the force doesn't involve putting passes right in Champ Bailey's hands. Did you know he's actually really good? Even without throwing him the ball!
Ian: Like any NFL prognosticator, I am certainly wrong from time to time (especially when picking against the spread, but we'll get to that later). I really felt that the Vikings were going to win their division this season. A strong defense, a solid run game led by Chester Taylor and Steve Hutchinson, and the consistent, conservative quarterbacking of Brad Johnson would lead the way. I was wrong. Brad Johnson is simply not playing smart football. Last season he had 12 touchdowns and four interceptions; so far this season he has four touchdowns and eight interceptions. The defense is giving up under 16 points a game, which should lead to a better record than 4-4. The 9-3 loss to San Francisco was an embarrassment; it may be time to see what Minnesota has in Tarvaris Jackson.
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive for the early adventures of Wee Brooks Bollinger.|
Ian: I feel I haven't been giving fantasy footballers enough love lately, so it's time for another edition of The Stock Report. If you'd read the last edition of the report, you hopefully acquired the soon-to-return Shaun Alexander and the running-wild Tiki Barber, while trading away Jerricho Cotchery, Frank Gore, and Keyshawn Johnson while their value was high. You also hopefully held on to Marques Colston, who continues to shine. The key to winning at fantasy football is knowing when to buy low and sell high, and here's some more advice on who to target in trade talks.
Shaun Alexander -- Why not start again with the main man in Seattle? His return is imminent, but again has been pushed back one more week. Alexander owners are surely tired of waiting, which gives you one more chance to pry him away from them. Look, the season is only half over, and he has plenty of time to regain value. For those of you in playoff leagues, a Week 15 matchup at home against San Francisco has to look mighty nice.
The Lions' Offense -- Shhh ... Mike Martz really is getting Jon Kitna going. Roy Williams is absolutely tearing it up, Kevin Jones is finding the endzone often, and Mike Furrey is consistently catching passes. With a defense that's struggling due to some missing players and a lack of talent in general, it's often a shootout with the Lions, making everyone (including Jason Hanson) a nice fantasy play.
Joseph Addai -- For those that haven't noticed, Addai is now The Man in Indy's backfield. Not only has he relegated Dominic Rhodes to a backup, he's fresh from not having taken nine weeks of punishment so far, and he looks tremendous running the football. We all know Indy can put points up with the best of 'em, which should lead to many more touchdowns for Addai in the second half than in the first half. The time table for picking him up is shrinking rapidly, so act while you still can.
Jason Witten -- For most of the season, Witten has been a fantasy dud. He hadn't caught more than four passes in a game and hadn't reached the endzone once until Tony Romo arrived. Now all that's changed. In Romo's first start, Witten caught for 80 yards and a touchdown. This past week, five catches for 50 yards. The two of them room together on road games and are good friends, so don't think that Romo doesn't look to Witten often on the field. Terry Glenn's pass targets are vanishing, and Witten and T.O. are the beneficiaries. Take advantage.
Javon Walker -- Look, Javon's value simply can't get higher than it is now. After shredding the Steelers defense (and mainly Ike Taylor), he is among the league leaders in receiving. It won't last. He's only topped five catches in a game twice -- the Pittsburgh game, and against Cleveland. Against solid defenses like Oakland and Baltimore Jake Plummer's been held in check, and so has Javon. The schedule down the road is a tough one, including at Oakland, San Diego twice, and at Kansas City. If you have a reasonable alternative, I'd get top value for him and help my team elsewhere.
Clinton Portis -- Portis has erased any early-season doubts about his shoulder problems, rushing for nearly 500 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season. Unfortunately for him, defenses are starting to realize what makes the Redskins offense tick, and that's short passes and the running game. Teams are crowding the line of scrimmage, and Mark Brunell isn't making them pay downfield. As a result, Portis has topped 100 yards in a game only once all season. He's a solid back, but his reputation is greater than his performance, and it's not a bad idea to see what you can get for him.
Terry Glenn -- I mentioned him earlier; the fact is that Tony Romo looks to T.O. first, Jason Witten second, his running back third, and then maybe to Terry Glenn. He's becoming a forgotten man in the Dallas offense, but that's not a problem since they've been generally effective. No one other than Terry is going to complain that he isn't getting the ball as long as the offense continues to move the ball. Throw in the fact that he caught a touchdown this past weekend, and it's the perfect time to deal him while he still has perceived good value.
Tony Gonzalez -- He's in a contract year, and he's playing like it. He's torn it up for three weeks, and thanks to the ground game getting going, it's hard to see his performance tailing off. I was skeptical of Tony G's value before the season began, and for weeks it looked like I was right, but he's really turned it on lately, and with the Chiefs winning ballgames I expect that to continue.
Drew Brees -- If you drafted Drew Brees, you have to be loving the production you've gotten lately. The offense has done a tremendous job of balancing Deuce McAllister's power with Reggie Bush's agility and Marques Colston's downfield skills. The other wide receivers are also chipping in to help spread the field. Brees has been incredible, throwing for three touchdowns in three straight games. Expect him to keep it up, and ride him as long as you can.
QB: Tom Brady, as our readers are aware, has been inextricably linked to another quarterback over the last several years, so much so that there's been an absolute moratorium on discussion of comparisons between Brady and this fellow quarterback on threads on this website, and with good reason. With all that said, though, it is my duty as a writer to inform you all that the debate has been completed. After much scrutiny, we can determine that Brady is, in fact, better than Alex Smith, as the former's 4 beat Smith's 3. We can all now go back to debating the injured Matt Hasselbeck versus healthy Tim Hasselbeck issue now. The shocking thing is, though, that they were both soundly defeated by Brad Johnson, whose interception and two fumbles led him to the quarterback low of the week with a solid 1 point. Keep in mind that you can get a 1 by throwing a screen pass and having your running back go for twenty yards. You could get a 1 by running for 10 yards on third-and-32. A freaking 1! Jesus!
RB: I am sure that the Saints' play fakes to Reggie Bush work out really well for them. That doesn't mean Reggie Bush is doing an even remotely competent job of running the ball. His -5 rushing yards (on 11 carries) were sadly only halfway to a full negative point, but 22 receiving yards did give Hot Sauced a 2 for the week. Runners-up include frequent targets Reuben Droughns, who didn't get to play the Jets defense this week, Cadillac Williams, who didn't get to run behind the Auburn offensive line this week, and Cedric Benson, who had 70 total yards against Edmont... oh. Wrong guy. They all had 3's.
WR: It wasn't a good week to be an old wide receiver. Actually, it's almost never a good week to be an old wide receiver, but this one especially stood out. Amani Toomer and Eddie Kennison were kind enough to combine for 35 yards of receiving on the day, earning them each a sole point. A verifiable bounty of receivers earned two points, including Michael Jenkins, Derrick Mason, Eric Moulds, Antonio Bryant, and Scott McDonald. Mason also managed to have me, Ian, and Aaron all yelling at him for something or another during his performance on Sunday.
K: Want to know the best way to lead the Loser League? Be the kicker on a team that gets shut out. Sebastian Janikowski does have a strong leg, and Oakland did punt three times inside Seattle territory, including a fourth-and-1 from the 39. But, apparently, Art Shell ... um ... maybe he was sleeping. I'm not really sure. Sea Bass is your Losingest Loser of the Week. Rob Bironas hit the lone extra point he attempted, giving him a single point to finish second.
This week's Keep Choppin' Wood Award goes to the Cowboys' Kyle Kosier. Now, granted: his penalty realistically should have only been a five-yarder instead of the 15-yard variety. That being said, if he doesn't face mask Taylor at all, he doesn't leave it up to the refs for them to make the decision.
Our runner-up this week is Republican eight-term incumbent Charles H. Taylor. Mr. Taylor managed to be the first person to lose to Heath Shuler since Shuler was at Tennessee. Congratulations, Charles H. Taylor.
On a side note, Heath Shuler's Wikipedia page notes that, "He trains competitive hunting dogs in his spare time." What does that actually mean? How do these hunting dogs compete?
Josh: I need this game for my life: Do I start Marc Bulger @ Seattle, Tony Romo Horror @ Arizona, or Trent Green @ Miami? (OK, so that one's obvious since the defense got their soul back and Green might not even start and if he does he'll be ginger.)
Bill: He ... I ... don't ... think Trent Green is a daywalker? I mean, you would figure he wouldn't be as accident-prone, no? I'm going to go with Bulger here; Seattle's pass defense is worse than Arizona's, Bulger's a better quarterback than Romo, and I think Dallas is likely going to be beating Arizona and running the ball a lot; St. Louis will be competitive but behind Seattle at home, which means more throws.
Bill: (3-0 last week, 18-8-1 overall)
Let's see if I can avoid jinxing myself before I get to 20.
Buffalo's defense is decent against the pass -- 14th in the league -- and against #1 WR's, they're 11th! Unfortunately, they can't stop #2 or #3 WR's. I wonder if Peyton Manning will take note of that. Maybe Buffalo can sign Roc Alexander off the Texans practice squad so Manning can feel even more comfortable. Willis McGahee being hurt just makes this even more of a good bet.
Vegas still believes in the Steelers. This week, they won't go down 14 points in the first quarter. Steelers by a touchdown.
Say it with me now -- the dream is gone but those eyes are real -- this is your Catholic Match Girl Staredown Lock Of the Week. The Giants are all banged up and Eli Manning (not coincidentally, a grown man of 25)'s top two targets are either out (Amani Toomer) or questionable (Plaxico Burress), which means that it'll be a long night for Lil' Manning. Bears bounce back here.
Ian: (0-3 last week, 9-15-3 overall)
I really thought I'd turned a corner after last week's 3-0, but it seems that was more a mirage than an oasis. Oh well. For good advice, seek Bill's picks. For a good laugh, here's what I think will happen this weekend.
Carolina's coming off a bye week. Tampa Bay is coming off another embarrassing performance. The Panthers have had plenty of time to watch game film of Gradkowski, and I'm sure they'll put it to good use Monday night. Also look for Steve Smith to have a breakout game, as he's been relatively held in check all season.
I don't think the Jets will actually win, but I do think it will be closer than 11 points. This game pretty much has the division title on the line, so expect a hard-fought game on both sides. Missing Rodney Harrison won't be a big enough problem to cost the Pats the game, but it will likely be closer than they'd prefer.
I mentioned this in the Stock Report, but the Detroit offense is seriously clicking right now. Look for them to put up plenty of points at home against San Francisco and win by double digits.
59 comments, Last at 12 Nov 2006, 2:39pm by cjfarls