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.
18 Oct 2006
by Bill Barnwell and Ian Dembsky
Bill: At what point does it become acceptable to hate a beautiful play because it ruins one of the ancillary football products you're involved with? Torry Holt's catch this week was a thing of beauty -- concentration, incredible agility, hand control, and throughout it all ... I was cursing my television. Why? Because Torry Holt's catch all but ensured my Slightly-Named Lock of the Week would, in fact, not be a winner. When Seattle marched down the field and kicked a game-winning field goal, was I amazed at Josh Brown's stupendously clutch kick? Nope -- still angry about the catch. What does that say about me as a football fan? Should I be rooting for football to provide the most exciting action possible, or is it OK that I'm drafting threatening letters to Maurice Morris? And furthermore, what does that say about the future? Betting's old hat, but fantasy football's a pretty young enterprise; are we going to see fans in ten years with no allegiance to anything but touchdowns? Long field goals? Who count receiving yards in twenty-yard blocks?
Ian: It's true that there are lots of us out there now -- guys with four fantasy rosters, paying attention to every game, and after every score wondering in which leagues it helps us or hurts us. Then there's pick 'em pools, survivor pools, the Loser League, and who knows what else. I think we need a new noun for these kind of people, myself certainly included. "Fantasy nut" is the most common way I describe myself in this manner, but that doesn't quite cut it. I'm gonna go with "Rotohead." Even though few people do rotisserie football, roto has become the uber-term for all fantasy sports, and hey, there's "head" involved. Everyone likes head.
Bill: Especially if you can crown them...
Ian: All that being said, as many of us as there already are, there are many, many times more people who are purely loyal to their local team, and that's it. Football will have no shortage of fans who just want their team to win, who will root for a score any way they can get it, and will never be happy when the other team scores, even if the game is already in hand.
Football stadiums don't fill up with Rotoheads -- we prefer the comfort of a TV and live internet updates of how long Rian Lindell's field goal was against Detroit (over 50-yarders are worth six fantasy points). We prefer to be able to rush to the waiver wire to grab Kyle Boller when Steve McNair goes down with a concussion. We prefer to remember if we have Seattle favored by 2.5 or 3.5, so we know whether or not we care about Josh Brown's game-winning attempt. What we don't care about is the experience of being at the stadium, then being stuck in traffic for hours on the way out so that we have to wait forever to see who scored what. I am a member of Rotohead Nation, and I'm proud of it.
Bill: Who knows, though? Just think of the things you can do in Madden with your team in ten years. They offer seat-side PVR-enabled TVs there, so I mean, why can't they be around in real life by then? Maybe they'll have the Goalposts of Light, too. Enough about Madden, though. It really was quite a week.
In Boston, since I wasn't watching The Cosby Show with the local brewmaster, I got to watch my beloved Giants beat the Falcons while the scores of several much more exciting games passed by on the ticker, with scores changing rapidly while I tried to figure out what had transpired. The great thing, of course, was that what had actually happened was even more fantastic than what I'd fathomed, what with Torry Holt juggling and Todd Heap catching impossible throws and Jake Delhomme throwing the ball as high as he possibly could and all. Meanwhile, I was watching Brandon Jacobs gaining PAR.
In all seriousness, I know I spoke some about this in Audibles this week, but I really can't fathom what Tony Siragusa is bringing to an announcing booth -- well, a stadium, but the proverbial announcing booth. He will butt in randomly, say something entirely irrelevant, and then disappear again. I am all for networks breaking out of the typical talking head formation they employ, but if you're going to use Siragusa in a non-typical comedic role, why not have him do things that are actually relevant and interesting? Have reports with him trying the food at each stadium. Let him interview a cheerleader. Do a feature with him interviewing the linemen who don't normally get coverage. Let him introduce the cheerleaders to the linemen who don't normally get ... coverage. While he eats a brat. Doing his goofy Russian accent from 25th Hour. Just do something different.
Ian: Yeah, I know he's trying to give you that "on the field" viewpoint that the guys up in the booth can't get, but it doesn't really work for me either. Speaking of things I don't get, what was up with the fish at the Giants-Falcons game? For those that didn't notice, several times during the game FOX superimposed (at least I'm pretty sure it was superimposed) a huge Jumbotron of swimming fish over the seats of the Georgia Dome. Then, when coming back from commercial, they showed the whole city of Atlanta, but with the swimming fish superimposed over the sky. What was that all about?
Bill: It's FOX. Let's just be happy it wasn't a robot fish stretching. Mike T. needs to do an interview with the FOX graphics team at some point. Or maybe MDS needs to do an Every Play Counts analyzing the FOX graphical robot world.
Ian: On to commentary about the actual football games, of which I have plenty. Where else to start but in Tampa? A fantastic finish, and the Buccaneers are finally off the schneid. For those that didn't see it, on fourth-and-3 on the Cincinnati eight-yard line, a completion to Michael Clayton was initially ruled incomplete, as the ball came loose when he hit the ground after stretching out to cross the goal line. Thankfully, instant replay correctly changed the play to a completion and a touchdown, as stretching out for the end zone was ruled a "football move." Cincinnati made a desperate attempt to convert a late field goal, but it fell short and Tampa came away with the victory.
Of course, the ending is what will be talked about most, but more important was the return of the Buccaneers defense we've come to expect. Rudi Johnson was held in check. Carson Palmer didn't have much time to scan the field. There weren't many missed tackles. The storyline of Tampa's season has been the downfall of a perennially dominant defense, so it will be very interesting to see if this past week was a return to form, or a one-week special.
Bill: Well, Ned Macey begins his column this week by pretty much stating the latter, and I'm inclined to go with Ned. Five weeks of mediocrity outstrip a single week of competence in my book. I also read your statement in the above paragraph at first as "Rob Johnson was held in check," which got my mind racing. I'm pretty sure Rob Johnson could get tagged out playing Ring Around the Rosie with a group of four year olds. I'm pretty sure he could be held in check by an Apple IIe. Rudi Johnson, however, is slightly more difficult to corral, yes.
Ian: Speaking of teams playing excellent defense for one night, you have to hand it to the Arizona Cardinals. Sure, they're depressed and pissed off about the way they lost on Monday night (as I think most non-Bears fans are), but now lost in the shuffle was a dominant (yes, dominant) defensive effort from Arizona. The two sacks-turned-fumbles were both deftly executed, and the tackling was impeccable. The interceptions were mostly gift-wrapped; more on that later.
After watching all the Monday night games this season, is it just me, or is there a trend of home defenses playing better than usual? Week 2: Jacksonville shuts down Pittsburgh. Week 3: New Orleans shuts down Atlanta. Week 4: Philly shuts down Green Bay. Week 5: Denver shuts down Baltimore. Week 6: Arizona shuts down Chicago. Visiting offenses are averaging a total of only 217 net yards per game, passing and rushing combined! There seems to definitely be something to the effect of the big stage on Monday night along with the home crowd. Let's see if Dallas eats up Eli Manning this next week, and if Minnesota can control Tom Brady and the Pats in Week 8.
Bill: Well, since I'm betting on the Giants this week, I am utterly sure they will hold him to 97 yards passing. OK, Ian -- the floor is yours.
Ian: For the record, my thoughts on the collapse in Arizona: This falls mainly on the coaching staff. Criticize Edgerrin James if you want, but it's not like he was missing nice cutback lanes or falling on first contact. The Bears were all over him, usually just after he touched the ball. Criticize Neil Rackers if you want, but it appears the kick was tipped, not to mention a 40-yard attempt from the left hashmark was ridiculous to begin with.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This is the message I want to deliver to the geniuses that decided to run down the clock just because they were in position for a 40-yard attempt. Had they been watching the game? Did they notice that out of the shotgun, Leinart was carving up the Bears? Anquan Boldin couldn't be stopped, and the running game was at its best out of the shotgun formation.
By going to the I-formation and watching the clock run down, the Cardinals announced to the Bears that they were handing off up the middle, which made no gains on their last two runs absolutely predictable. If they'd stayed in the three-wide, shotgun formation, they probably could've tacked on another 10 yards by simply running handoffs; the plays wouldn't have been so obvious.
What were they worried about anyways, that they'd leave too much time on the clock for the Bears? Last time I checked, Chicago had almost as many turnovers as first downs. The coaching decision to take a virtual knee on the 30-yard line was terrible. If you didn't see Dennis Green's post-game tirade, check it out here. Sure, Dennis, the Bears are what you thought they were, but you are also what we thought you are -- a bad coach.
In Carolina, Jake Delhomme and the Panthers beat the Ravens with a surprisingly potent passing attack. Seriously, does any non-quarterback matter as much to his team as Steve Smith? The Panthers looked lifeless while he was injured; now they look once again like playoff contenders. I'm one of the likely many people who had Delhomme on my fantasy bench this week (in favor of Jake Plummer, no less), but I won't be making that mistake again any time soon.
Speaking of Denver, what a terrible win against Oakland Sunday night. It turned out that Mike Shanahan was able to get away with relying on his defense, but the game shouldn't have been that close. Early on, Jake Plummer looked very effective throwing to Javon Walker, as well as rolling out and finding the open man the way he loves to. For some reason, once Denver was up by 10, it was decided that the Denver offense should consist solely of handing off up the middle, and occasionally passing on third down. It was as if Shanahan didn't trust Jake not to give away the game. They escaped with a win, thanks in large part to Lamont Jordan's untimely fumble. Conservative play like this, however, will not pay dividends down the road.
Then we had the other end of the spectrum in New Orleans, where Donovan McNabb tested the Saints secondary early, often, and even more often. McNabb was launching bombs all over the field. Unfortunately for him, the vast majority were unsuccessful, and all those incompletions led to stalled drives. It was strange they were throwing deep so often, with Westbrook running so effectively. The Eagles also failed to use L.J. Smith's pass-catching abilities as often as they should have. It's one thing to test a defense now and then to keep them honest; it's another to go crazy stretching the field.
Finally, some quick hits: I heard lots of people question the Unsportsmanlike Conduct called on Larry Johnson for the hair takedown. The penalty was for L.J. yanking Polumalu up after he'd already been tackled, which indeed deserved the flag ... Why is it Eli Manning constantly throws passes just high enough so that the 6'5" Plaxico Burress can get his fingertips on them, but can't bring them down? ... Brandon Jones of Tennessee looks really good every time I see him on the field. I'm already projecting him as a third-season breakout candidate next year ... Time to give Roy Williams his due. When the Detroit offensive line buys some time, Williams can really tear apart a defense ... What was with Marty leaving Tomlinson in for his fourth touchdown with the game already well in hand? Was he sending a message of some kind? Maybe he was up against Michael Turner in his fantasy league ... San Francisco gave up on the run way too early. Gore was averaging over five yards a carry; no reason to go exclusively to the air until the fourth quarter at least ... Miami-New York was such a boring game that I barely watched it even though it was the only close late game. Laveranues Coles was pretty amazing though; his fake slant-turned-long touchdown was a thing of beauty.
Bill: We didn't really have a particularly poor performance in Loser League this week ... and then Monday Night rolled around. And all was right in the world again.
QB: Rex Grossman, it turns out, isn't perfect. Who would've thought? Oh -- right -- Mike Kurtz. Grossman's 7 points earned through passing were counteracted by four interceptions and two lost fumbles, leading to a woeful -5 for the man who could do no wrong. With that number, Grossman takes the lead for worst performance of 2006. And somehow, his team won. The magic that Neil Rackers can do.
RB: Ron Dayne barely earned a lone point this week, recording 14 yards on 10 carries against the Cowboys. I'm sure he hit the hole real hard on those 10 carries. No other running back had below 4 points, leaving Dayne on an island of his own this week. Maybe this is the Giants fan in me, but I feel if Ron Dayne were alone on an island, he'd probably die real quick. That is, unless they shipped five really big guys to the island to stand eight feet in front of him and clear his path everywhere he walked. Then he might last a year. A question, though -- who had the worse receiving day? Kevan Barlow had three catches for three yards, or Willie Parker, who had one for -11. Which would you choose?
WR: Finally, Amani Toomer falls back down to Earth. A single point for the week is more like it for STEVE HOLT!. Roddy White, meanwhile, continued to not be the #1 receiver for Atlanta while earning a 2. Honorary mention to Tim Dwight, who isn't on many Loser League teams, but scored a 0 for the week despite having three catches. He was a damn good sprinter, but he isn't all that great of a receiver.
K: Sebastian Janikowski has been one of the positive things for the Raiders this year. Actually, he might be the only positive thing the Raiders have produced so far this season. Unfortunately, though, even Seabass can't overcome the vortex of suck that is Oakland. His 1 is the low score of the week for kickers. Teams that drafted Michael Koenen, meanwhile, are on a run of +15 performances because of his benching as a kicker, which means they're basically out of the running. Of course, I drafted Robbie Gould and he hasn't missed a kick all year. So I'm just out of the running because I'm bad at Loser League.
V. Runnels: One owner in my league picked up Marques Colston off waivers earlier this season. He's been starting him as a TE all season, since my league has Colston listed as a TE/WR even though everyone knows Colston isn't a TE. The commissioner of the league sent out an email calling the team owner a cheater, and declaring that the owner would no longer be allowed to start Colston as a TE and would lock the owner out from making any further roster moves. I was curious to hear your response to this situation.
Bill: Did the commissioner take the owner off his Top 8, too? Geez. See, I think a player being listed under a category he realistically never plays at is one of the fantastic parts of fantasy sports -- it's a subtlety that separates real fantasy aficionados from the casual player. I like to think there are uptight parties where people are talking about their fantasy roster, somebody lists Marques Colston as a wide receiver, and someone else snickers haughtily and remarks that they'd never dream of using him anywhere but at tight end. Work gets boring sometimes; I imagine these things.
I also had a related idea a couple of years ago with regards to fantasy baseball in an entirely opposite vein: If Major League Baseball is going to collect a billion dollars from fantasy sites and companies in rights fees, that money needs to go to good use. I demand a Fantasy Player Discretionary (Slush) Fund. This would mean that teams receive bonuses for doing things to improve the quality of fantasy baseball. Does a team have a closer-by-committee? The Fantasy Baseball Discretionary Fund would give them $3,000,000 to decide on a closer, announce their choice, and give that closer 90 percent of all save opportunities for the rest of the season, barring injury. That way, the team gets a little extra money that outweighs the marginal risk of picking a closer, and fantasy players get another option for saves.
It has tons of possibilities -- on all kinds of scales. For $75,000, Carlos Beltran has to attempt to steal every time he gets on base for one game. Or, to do the opposite. For $150,000, Andy Pettite isn't allowed to do his pickoff move in a game. The Josh Phelps problem is where this came up in my head first: that would've been the most expensive one of all. When he first came up and was slugging .560 or so, the fund should've coughed up $6,000,000 to turn him into a catcher for 20 games. I am sure this will happen one day because it simply has to. The lobby will get too strong.
Brad: Still high on selling Greg Jennings, or is he a keeper now?
Ian: Early in the season, Jennings was rarely targeted by Favre, he just made the most of his opportunities. Now, it's almost like Favre looks to him before Driver. I'd absolutely hang on to Jennings at this point. Looking ahead at the schedule, Green Bay has some juicy matchups down the stretch with the Jets at home, at San Francisco, then Detroit at home in Weeks 13-15.
Adam B.: I have Pennington, Plummer, and Rivers all at QB in a 12-team keeper league. Do we know enough yet to determine whether any one of the three is drop-worthy?
Bill: At this point, I don't think dropping any of the three is a good idea, mainly because the best of the three (Plummer) is at his lowest ebb, while the worst (Pennington, or if you don't believe, Rivers) is at his highest. The most important rule in fantasy football is to buy low and sell high. Cutting Plummer just isn't a good idea at this point; his next few weeks are against the 21st, 17th, 14th, and 29th-ranked pass defenses in football. Meanwhile, Pennington's got Detroit and Cleveland coming up, which are good games for him, but that might be the perfect time to get rid of him; he has a bye, then New England and Chicago back-to-back. There's gotta be somewhere I can place a bet on Pennington getting hurt in one of those two games. Rivers plays three of the top ten pass defenses in football in the next five weeks as well, so he'll probably see at least a slight dip in his numbers. I would deal Pennington while he's healthy. Try and target a team with an under-performing quarterback -- maybe Matt Hasselbeck or Carson Palmer owners, or Kurt Warner if the sad sack owner didn't grab Matt Leinart with him.
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.|
Ian: There weren't many good candidates on Sunday. We considered giving KCW to whoever it was that was the twelfth man on the field in Philly, which cancelled a sack and led to New Orleans' game-winning field goal. We considered the entire Washington defense, which allowed future Hall of Famer Travis Henry (surely I jest) to rush for an amazing 178 yards en route to an embarrassing home defeat at the hands of the formerly winless Titans. Pittsburgh guard Kendall Simmons did his part, missing Sunday's game because he froze himself. Then, of course, the Monday night game happened.
Neil Rackers certainly put in his bid for the award, thanks to his missed 40-yarder at the buzzer. It's unclear if the kick was partially deflected though, and he should not have had to kick from that distance anyway, so he's out. Then I thought: Edge clearly deserves the award. He set an NFL record for most carries with an average of less than two yards per carry. He also fumbled into the Bears' second touchdown. Really, though, how much is it his fault? I discussed it earlier: He had nowhere to run. And while the fumble was bad, I'd like to see you hang on to a football with Brian Urlacher ripping it out of your grasp.
The Keep Choppin' Wood award is based on a premise: who did the most in an effort to help his team lose this week? That's why this week's Keep Choppin' Wood award winner is none other than Rex Grossman. This may be the first time we've given the award to a player on a winning team, but a week after the Grossman love-fest reached its peak (and I was also a believer), he was horrible. When the pressure came, he had no feel for it. When it didn't come, he couldn't find open receivers. The score should have been 7-0 after the first play of the game, but he overthrew a wide open Bernard Berrian on a bomb. And it's not as if his interceptions were tipped balls, or well-disguised coverage; he simply threw it over and over again right to the defense. The Cardinals even managed to drop a few easy picks. As Aaron Schatz points out on the Football Outsiders FOX blog, this might have been the worst passing game in the past decade. Congratulations Rex Grossman, you're the first ever winning Keep Choppin' Wood award winner!
Bill: (2-1 last week, 11-6-1 overall)
Stupid Torry Holt. Almost another perfect week. So bitter. And now, I can't even bet anywhere. Stupid port security bill.
Every week, pretty much without fail, there's always one line that makes me absolutely shake my head and wonder what I'm missing. This week, we have a Philadelphia team that's barely lost two close games at a team that's barely won one. Furthermore, the weaker team is starting a rookie quarterback against a team with the third best adjusted sack rate in football. And, somehow, they're only getting five points? Are you serious? This is -- wait for it -- my Catholic Match Girl Staredown Lock Of the Week. That's right.
Picking a road dog worked last week with Carolina, so let's try the Giants here. Want a reason why? Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan versus Drew Bledsoe and two tackles who might be wearing Pettiti jerseys. Are Pettiti jerseys ironically cool yet? I want to go to South by Southwest next year and see a band of bloggers all wearing Rob Pettiti jerseys. Of course, I'd also like to see Tony Romo stay out of this game until the third quarter. Hopefully, the Giants will put together a whole game for the first time all season.
Well, Seattle did jilt me last week. But with that being said, I can't see Minnesota's offense being able to cope with the crowd noise in Seattle, Brad Johnson or not. If I had to pick an exact line, I'd say Seattle by 11. And no, this is not a pity pick so Doug Farrar can feel better. At least, not entirely.
Ian: (1-2 last week, 6-10-2 overall)
Ya know, if you'd spent your season picking with Bill, and against me, you'd be an incredible 21-12-3 against the spread? We're here to help.
Jacksonville is playing some excellent football right now. Their run game is clicking, it's setting up the passing game, and the defense has been excellent. Houston doesn't even know who their starting running back is, much less how to move the ball down the field against the Jaguars. This looks to be a heavily lopsided affair.
The Colts have had only one win this season by more than a touchdown, and that was at home against Houston. Washington may have problems, but they're certainly in better shape than the Texans. Teams have been running the ball well against the Colts, which is what Washington will certainly look to do on Sunday. They should bounce back from last week's loss to Tennessee and at least cover against Indy.
Tampa showed that defensive line pressure was the key to slowing down the Bengals offense. Enter Julius Peppers and the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers offense is also back firing on all cylinders, with Keyshawn providing that missing ingredient that Carolina needed from last season, an aerial threat other than Steve Smith. They'll be tough to stop as long as they stay healthy.
93 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2006, 3:43pm by Xian