After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?
16 Jan 2008
by Bill Barnwell
Each week of the season, we nominate a player or coach for the "Keep Choppin' Wood Award," our shrine to suck dedicated to then-Jaguars punter Chris Hanson and motivational expert/NFL head coach Jack Del Rio.
At the end of the year, though, we have a whole season to look back on and far too much mediocrity to revel in. Therefore, it's only suitable for us to answer the NFL's All-Pro teams with the exact opposite: The Keep Choppin' Wood team. This year's team features a crossover star who will play in both Hawaii and Hades (proverbially, on both counts).
Remember that the Keep Choppin' Wood team is selected based upon several principles. We note a player's performance relative to that of his price tag and expectations, so a guy can make it like Pat Watkins did last year, even on a rookie salary, just because he sucked that much. However, someone like Darrelle Revis didn't make it this year -- his struggles were the usual rookie struggles, nothing special. We also place a high regard on players who commit crimes as potential All-KCW team members, which leads us to our starting quarterback.
This one should be simple enough.
Alexander's running style at this point of his career is real easy to break down. Take ball. Look around wild-eyed, as if handoff was unplanned and new. Take step in one direction. Take second step in same direction. Notice big men in front of potential fifth and sixth steps. Take step in other, farther away direction. Take second step in same direction. Notice big men in front of potential fourth and fifth steps. Take step in previous direction. Take second step in same direction. Notice big men standing on your feet. Fall down. Jump up. Clap hands. Make Ben Riley cry. Repeat.
(Ed. note: Bill forgot the final step, "Whine about role in offense after the game.")
On All-KCW, we're in a lot of (insert down)-and-long situations, so we're just going to start off in three-wide and go from there. These three players were failures, each for their own reasons.
Jackson was supposed to be Tim Ruskell's big mistake of the off-season, a veteran player dealt to a division rival that needed exactly what Jackson was supposed to be: a possession receiver and safety blanket for their young quarterback, Alex Smith. Instead, Smith imploded and Trent Dilfer sucked, and although we'll get to further reasons why below, Jackson didn't help out, either. Jackson had the lowest catch rate of any receiver in football with 50 or more attempts at 44 percent, an astounding drop exacerbated not only by the quarterback play, but the return of Jackson's butterfingers. Meanwhile, Seattle managed to do just fine despite missing Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett for large portions of the regular season. Advantage, Ruskell.
Meachem was the Saints' first-round pick and expected to play as, at least, the third receiver in the Saints high-powered passing attack. Instead, Meachem showed up to training camp out of shape, got hurt, and never really recovered, failing to suit up for a single game all year.
Matt Jones was a player who we highlighted as a potential breakout star in the Jaguars offense this year. Instead, the workout wonder was essentially a zero for Jacksonville this season, becoming the subject of trade rumors and nearly stepping in at quarterback during an injury crisis. It appears that if Jones is going to become a receiver as opposed to an athlete playing one, that won't be happening in Jacksonville.
It's not that Stevens' performance on the field this year was bad, because he was actually superb when he did play; instead, Stevens gets a KCW nod for being run out of Seattle following his arrest for driving under the influence and possessing marijuana and being so non grata that no team would take on the talented tight end to be a key player on their team.
Barron's streak of being among the most penalized players in football continued this year with 16 penalties, second behind only Robert Gallery on the offensive side of things. On the other hand, Jennings was an absolute locker room cancer, with the 49ers placing him on injured reserve with a somewhat minor injury just to get him away from the team. Despite his talent, Jennings won't be returning to San Francisco come 2008.
A pair of legal issues befell these two guards. Terrell was charged with assaulting his wife at a Houston hotel and was released by the team the next day, while Pitts was pulled over for making an illegal turn, then sped away and had to be chased down and stopped once more. That, my friends, is a felony charge of evading arrest.
Mahan was a rare Pittsburgh foray into the other side of the free agent market, where you actually sign other team's players as opposed to having yours signed away. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, they got to experience another fun lesson of free agency: Sometimes, you pick the wrong guy. Mahan was brought in to replace the retiring Jeff Hartings, only to fail miserably in the process. On the bright side, Ben Roethlisberger still has his spleen.
Rice chopped three different pieces of wood this season. After he made noise about not giving way to first-round pick Gaines Adams, the Buccaneers cut Rice. He shopped his services around and went to Denver, who promptly found that their draftees were far superior to the pass-rush specialist and cut him after weeks of inactivity. He signed on with the Colts, who needed a pass rusher following the season-ending injury to Dwight Freeney, only to be cut after two games and one sack. Rice's career appears to be over in somewhat ignominious fashion.
Anderson, meanwhile, gets nominated as a rookie for his utter lack of a mark in the dire Falcons defense. Replacing Patrick Kerney, who led the NFC in sacks, Anderson managed to start 16 games without recording a single sack. Then again, it's not really too fair to say that such a raw player coming out of college should have been polished by the abortion of a coaching staff put together in Atlanta this year.
Speaking of careers that ended in ignominious fashions, it's hard to find a worse ending than Sapp's, whose last game on an active roster was under suspension for starting a fracas with a ref the week before, earning him an ejection. Sapp lost 50 pounds before the year, and apparently he thought he left them on the sides of offensive linemen, since he did a great job exploring them this year.
The Jaguars' Stroud was considered one of the top defensive linemen in football coming into the season, but he had an atrocious year, playing poorly, getting suspended for a flunked steroid test, and coming back only to get hurt and find a comfy spot on IR.
Porter was the "star" here; after receiving $20 million in guaranteed money from the Dolphins to play outside linebacker for them, Porter beat up Levi Jones at the Palms and followed it up with a piss-poor season, picking up all of 2.5 sacks in the first 13 games of the season before finishing with three more in the final three games.
Vilma had his second straight poor year in the 3-4, which is also arguably an issue of the scheme, but brings up another, somewhat similar question: If Vilma's such a poor fit in the 3-4, can we really say he's that great of a linebacker in the 4-3? Can a system make a player look just as good as another system does bad? We'll see when Vilma recovers from injury and gets sent to a 4-3 scheme somewhere. It's amazing how much better the Jets defense looked with rookie David Harris in the middle.
In a year with a relatively innocuous group of linebackers, June's DUI charge in November made him the somewhat unfairly-named linebacker in this group. He actually had a fine year on the field.
Corey Ivy was an absolute disaster for the Ravens, becoming an out for teams who couldn't find a way to move the ball against an relatively otherwise-excellent Ravens defense.
Hole in Zone struggled some this year against bigger receivers. Well, and smaller receivers too. The quick ones. And the slow ones. He did better against guys with poor hands than on guys with good ones, but even the poor-handed guys did well.
Even the KCW team realizes that starting a blank is better than putting Jason David out there, though. David gets to be our nickel back.
It's odd to pick two safeties from the NFC's two most successful regular season teams on the All-KCW team, including one who made the Pro Bowl, but there's not a more laughable "reputation" pick for the Pro Bowl than Williams, whose utter inability to cover anything was the problem the Cowboys defense had to hide all season. The Cowboys' weakness in pass defense was their number 28 ranking against tight ends, a direct reflection of Williams, who was often isolated against those tight ends with much flailing ensuing. At this point, Williams is not only not a Pro Bowler, he's a net negative to a fantastic Cowboys defense.
Meanwhile, rumors that a Bigby Fathead would consist of a flag with dreadlocks on it were unfounded as of press time, mainly owing to the superb Divisional Round game he had in terrorizing the Seahawks, which illuminates the problem in analyzing such a player: Bigby has plus speed and great range, but if he didn't, he wouldn't be in the NFL, because he can't cover, has an awful feel for zones in the passing game, and draws penalties at a Gallerian rate.
The good news for Adam Vinatieri this year was that his kickoffs (ignoring the coverage schemes of the Colts) were average. The bad news was that he wasn't signed for his kickoffs, but instead for his clutch godliness and field goal accuracy, and he didn't deliver on either. He missed a chipshot game-winner against San Diego in what was likely his most important kick of the year, and overall, his -12.39 FG/XP points were worst in the league, nearly three points worse than Olindo Mare, who finished 31st.
Sauerbrun departed New England to return to Denver, kicked to Devin Hester, failed miserably, and was arrested after an altercation with a taxi driver that resulted in his release. When he wasn't doing all that, he was the sixth-worst punter in football after adjusting for altitude. Maybe he should've just agreed to have the Patriots match the contract offer he got instead of filing a grievance with the NFLPA.
My favorite description of Stutz's snaps, which arguably cost the Seahawks at least one game, is from the AP: "Stutz was powerful -- too powerful. His snaps got back quickly but often not in the right place, like a fastball pitcher who lacked control. He was especially wild on field goals." Saying he was especially wild on field goals isn't really a good subset considering it's, oh, about 40 percent of his job. Drummond was the worst kick returner in the league and the third worst punt returner.
Our KCW MVP this year, though, isn't a player. It's a coach. Bobby Petrino's utter disappearing act in Atlanta put the girlfriend metaphor I wrote up last year in the Dolphins chapter to shame, as Petrino not only burned his NFL bridge, he set it on fire again, dropped things on it with a crane, and then dragged it into the middle of the ring and gave it three Earthquake splashes before the refs came in. The only redeeming factor was the utter vitriol spewed by the media towards Petrino.
Thanks to the wonderful SignOnSanDiego database for details on some of the arrests, as well as members of the FO staff for contributing their suggestions.
|Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.|
Well, at least I went down in a blaze of ... suck. As if 47 points through two rounds isn't embarrassing enough, I am down to all of two players now: Come on, Donald Lee and Stephen Gostkowski!
On the winner's side of things, Doug leads with 150 points, owing to the late defensive touchdowns Seattle picked up against a demoralized Redskins team, while Jason's a close second. The scores:
|2008 Football Outsiders Playoff Fantasy Teams|
|WR||Welker, NE||11||Driver, GB||1||13|
|WR||Burress, NYG||3||Chambers, SD||24||17|
|RB||Grant, GB||34||Maroney, NE||22||10|
|TE||15||Watson, NE||13||Lee, GB||1|
|K||Crosby, GB||6||5||Gostkowski, NE||7|
|DEF||San Diego||13||New England||5||1|
We'll be following up later this week with Best of the Rest leaders in an XP.
KCW for the Divisional Round goes to Cowboys wideout and subject of much FO love Patrick Crayton, for his somewhat dire performance on Sunday. Crayton's known for a bit of trash-talking, and for a player whose resume still reads "excellent number three wideout," that's not exactly in line with his performance. Crayton's drops on Sunday were a huge factor in curtailing Cowboys drives, while his inability to get open against an admittedly mediocre Giants secondary was also an indictment of his desire to be a starting receiver next year.
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