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?
24 Dec 2009
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: So, consideration has begun for this decade's all-decade team.
Mike: I appreciate his candor, but I disagree that 53 players out of everyone who played the game over a decade means there is a lot of fluff.
Tom: In the past I think they picked a 22-player all-decade team. It seems that the process is more inclusive, giving more people honors.
Mike: That is true, and it's a good step, although all-decade teams must be a nightmare at the returner positions, since returners by and large have one or two huge years and then disappear.
Tom: Most players have a six-year peak. Good returners either fade away or become good regular players.
Mike: One concern that I have with figuring out an all-decade team right after the decade is that you run into a lot of the same problems that you have with draft analysis. They're different, but similar biases. A great player who played at the start of the decade will not get the same treatment as one that played his best at the end of the decade.
Mike: True, that is more of a general criticism than aimed at Gosselin in particular. On the other hand, he also falls into the "great moments" trap. Adam Vinatieri is on the all-decade team, I ather from the article, because his team put him in position to kick memorable kicks.
Tom: Who would you put on there instead? Somebody asked me last month who I'd put there, and Vinatieri was the first name that popped into my head.
Mike: I'd go with David Akers. He's a model of consistency and a good all-around kicker.
Tom: Matt Stover is another possibility.
Mike: The problem with kickers is that it's hard to gauge greatness, so you can excuse a good writer like Gosselin for relying on great moments and a team's situation, especially when advanced statistics are still not mainstream.
Tom: Yes. New England with Vinatieri was No. 1 in field goals and extra points in 2002 and 2004, but No. 31 in 2003. On the other hand, the first half-decade FO stats don't show Vinatieri as being clearly worse than Akers. Akers hasn't been above 0 lately, either, before this year.
Mike: Not clearly worse, no. But yeah, kicking is insanely random.
Tom: So it is. I think it's actually closer than your anti-Vinatieri bias thinks it is, and that makes him a very reasonable choice.
Mike: I'm not sure where this accusation of anti-Vinatieri bias comes from.
Tom: You just seemed to have an immediate negative reaction to the idea.
Mike: Vinatieri is an above-average kicker who is given a lot of credit for a small number of kicks his team's situation put him in. If there's any bias it would be dislike for the whole idea of "clutch," which, granted, is a concept fairly intertwined with Vinatieri.
Tom: Well, when you're choosing among fairly close candidates, I think that's a reasonable tiebreaking factor.
Mike: I think it hurts more than it helps. It obfuscates what you're talking about. We're supposed to be talking about great players, not great teams.
Tom: If you had two identical kickers, only Vinatieri had the opportunity for four playoff game-winning kicks and made them all, and the other guy played for the Raiders and never made the playoffs, you'd pick the Raiders kicker.
Mike: In that case you admit they are identical. I don't see how you can look at two admittedly identical players and say that one should get the edge because of factors almost completely out of his control. There is no personal greatness in that.
Tom: Fine, Raiders kicker made his four kicks while down 47-6. Vinatieri made his in the playoffs to win games. I hate that I'm doing this, since I normally agree clutchiness is grossly overrated by most fans, but it matters.
Mike: Again, that tells us nothing about the players. It matters because we try to create narratives about players and teams, instead of assessing them as players and teams. This is a fine way of discussing things, but if we're saying we're doing candid appraisals of players, we should do candid appraisals.
Tom: That's what I'm doing. You're just saying one of the factors I'm using in my candid appraisals isn't valid.
Mike: I'm saying that if they are identical, you could switch in the Raiders kicker in place of Vinatieri, and the same result would occur. If you made two sandwiches with the same ham but one had better mustard and cheese, you wouldn't say that the second sandwhich's ham was better.
Tom: No, but I'd say it's a better sandwich.
Mike: But we're not talking about the sandwich. We're talking about the ham. That is my entire example. Everyone understands the sandwich is better, but that's not helpful information about the ham.
Tom: I dispute your entire example.
Mike: I don't see how you can possibly say that one thing is better than another thing because of something extrinsic to that thing. It doesn't logically make sense.
Tom: I don't believe it's extrinsic to that thing. That's the whole point.
Mike: You admitted they were identical in every way except their situation, their team, which for this example is fixed and outside of their control.
Tom: Yes, and that makes them not identical in my eyes.
Mike: So a player should be considered better than he is because he's on a better team? Because if you stuck Vinatieri on the Raiders, he'd be kicking those good kicks in blowout losses, and he would be the exact same player he was in New England.
Tom: We make hugely contextual judgments of players all the time. Every player's career depends upon the team that drafted him. If Peyton Manning had been drafted by a dysfunctional Chargers team led by Bobby "I'm 15 years out of date" Beathard, rather than Bill Polian, I doubt he has the same career.
Mike: If we were talking about quarterbacks, I would admit that there is far too much going on, both in development and play, to ever figure out how good a player "really" is. On the other hand, kickers are by and large not developed. They're isolated from most of the team, which includes the coaching staff. They come in and kick.
Tom: Special teams coaches? Do they matter?
Mike: They have a huge effect on coverage.
Tom: And that's it? No advice to kickers and punters, just "go out there and kick?"
Mike: Compared to the amount of work "skill position" players get, it's negligible. You don't have kicker or punter projects. You only very rarely have kickers reworking their kicking style or, after running into a breakdown in fundamentals, doing anything other than being cut and replaced. Kickers and punters are expected, more than even running backs, to immediately come into the NFL and perform.
Tom: That just suggests that kickers aren't valuable, and they shouldn't be on the all-decade team.
Mike: It also suggests that little coaching is needed or expected. If there were gains to coaching up a kicker as opposed to grabbing some random guy off the street, we'd see more hands-on coaching. If there were gains similar to talented quarterback tutelage, we'd see the emergence of "kicking gurus" or "punting gurus" similar to "quarterback gurus." The well-known special teams coaches are all known for exceptional coverage and return blocking. Not for exceptional work with kickers.
Tom: It suggests little coaching is expected, because the range of kicker variability isn't high.
Mike: Which in turn suggests that the team's situation has little to do with the development and performance of a kicker. If coaching gave some sort of advantage, wouldn't someone be expending effort on it?
Tom: For the record, I'm not perfectly confident Vinatieri should be on the all-decade team, and yes, we should have taken kickoff distance into account.
Tom: Does your league have consolation games?
Tom: I had a consolation and regular game this week and won both of them. I won the championship bracket game thanks to a couple of key waiver pickups. I dropped Robbie Gould and picked up Matt Prater, who gave me 16 points in contrast to Gould's 1. I also dropped Dustin Keller to pick up Fred Davis, who put up 12.5. My third move was grabbing Quinton Ganther and playing him instead of LaDainian Tomlinson, but that actually cost me 1.7 points. Still, I came out 23.7 ahead of my roster from last week, and won by 15.6. Thankfully, my opponent played Michael Turner and left Jerome Harrison on his bench, or else I would have still been sunk.
Mike: Harrison is always a weird play, as was mentioned last week.
Tom: Yeah, he had a 3 percent start rating on Yahoo! and around 1.4 percent on ESPN. That's just the cruel mistress that is fantasy football playoffs. Still, it's on to the championship game for me and the third-place match for him.
Mike: Very nice. Who else is in the championship game?
Tom: The fourth-place team, powered by Matt Scaub and Andre Johnson. Go Dolphins defense! In the other league I'm in, the No. 5 and 7 seeds are in the championship, the former after knocking off the undefeated top team.
Mike: A similar thing happened in my Yahoo! league. Not quite as extreme, but the fourth and third seeds knocked off the first and second seeds in the semis. The No. 3 seed at least finished the season third in points behind the second seed and myself.
Tom: Well, that is something, good teams being rewarded ... or at least less deserving teams being punished.
Mike: I'm actually rooting for the third seed.
Tom: Family fued?
Mike: Survey says no. The fourth seed won a few years back, and the third seed beat me in the playoffs. You always want to lose to the eventual champion.
Tom: Oh, sure, I guess. Honestly, I'd rather win the loser's bracket than see the team that beat me win it all.
Mike: True, but if you're going to lose, you want both.
Tom: And a pony.
Mike: I suppose in most leagues that's mutually exclusive, however. Losing to the champion and winning the loser's bracket. Not losing to the champion and having a pony. Unless your pony is in your fantasy league.
Tom: I really have no use for a pony. Give me the loser's bracket championship. There aren't many things I really know, but one of them is this: Winning kicks ass. I want the championship. If I can't have the real championship, give me the loser's bracket championship.
Mike: Ponies also kick ass. Where exactly does this pony rank, then?
Tom: Third. I don't really ride, and ponies require upkeep.
Mike: I think I'd rank ponies second.
Tom: I'll be sure to remind you of that should you ever have children.
Mike: Consolation wins won't help you drive your enemies before you and crush their fallen corpses.
Tom: Sure, it's small favors, but at least it's not a drag on resources like a pony.
Mike: This is why stats will never rule the sports world. Ponies have intangibles off the charts.
Tom: Plus, they'll be eatin' when the zombiepocalypse comes!
Mike: Yer-huh. Astoundingly, this is the week where my patched-together CBS team would've absolutely destroyed. Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Harrison, Randy Moss, Nate Washington, to some extent Mewelde Moore. Of course, I didn't make the playoffs in that league, due to playing all of those players!
Tom: Cruel, cruel fate.
Mike: I'm going to take that as evidence of my prescience and move on. Similarly, after taking a week off, my Yahoo! team put up great numbers. Unfortunately, the egg they laid last week ejected me from the playoffs. Putting up a great score when there is no game really doesn't mean much.
by Bill Barnwell
Ian/Al 89, Bill 83
I knew I was up against it when Maurice Jones-Drew picked up 26 points on Thursday night, and while I took a 83-80 lead into Monday night, hoping that the Redskins would hold Lawrence Tynes to two points or less was naive. I was done by the end of the first half.
In the long run, my midseason moves to deal Brett Favre and Reggie Wayne for Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, they of the great fantasy postseason schedules, failed me. I would've started Donovan McNabb (18 points) over Warner (13), and Wayne (19) blew away the production of a clearly hobbled Fitzgerald (9). Even the Cardinals defense failed me with five points, while the Giants picked up 23 on my bench. Starting Matt Forte (2 points) and Mohamed Massaquoi (0) in my flex and WR2 spots were the wrong moves; starting Santonio Holmes (7) and Hakeem Nicks (6) instead would've given me the win.
It's even more frustrating because, well, I had a chance. Ian and Al's team mostly tanked on Sunday, with Matt Hasselbeck scoring four points against the Bucs, Cedric Benson finishing with six, and no one besides Chad Ochocinco heading into double digits. They left Carson Palmer (18), 89 (21), and Mike Sims-Walker (12) on his bench. Of course, they also left Arian Foster there, which ended up being the wisest move of all.
Elias 110, Will 93
I thought I was in trouble against Ian and Al, but Elias was in real dire straights as Sunday morning approached. Will picked up 74 points from five players (Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Miles Austin, Reggie Wayne, and Jason Witten) by the end of Saturday night, setting a pretty difficult target for the regular season champs to hit.
And then, Elias smashed that target. Ben Roethlisberger scored 32 and Rashard Mendenhall added 16 in the Steelers' dramatic win over the Packers. Andre Johnson had 19. Derrick Mason chipped in with 14. He had the confidence to bench DeAngelo Williams and start Mason, a move which ended up being wise when Williams went down with an injury. He got his lineup absolutely right -- while I left 74 points on my bench, Ian and Al left 62, and Will left 57, Elias left only 32 points from seven players on his bench, and 19 of that came from Vince Young. His "optimal" lineup was the actual lineup he put in by Thursday. Get that right and you'll win most weeks.
Consolation Bracket Scores:
Aaron 107, Vivek 47
Rob 72, Pat 54
Sean 82, Doug 65
Mike 87, Vince 82 (despite starting and getting 47 points from Jerome Harrison)
This week, No. 1 plays No. 2: It's tech guy Elias versus ex-Scramble duo Ian and Al for the FO League Championship. Elias is currently favored by three according to ESPN's projected lines for the game, but he's listed as the home team, so it's a wash.
I play Will for third place. The loser's consolation ladder sees Aaron play Rob, Vivek play Sean, Pat play Mike, and Doug play Vince.
Mike: Every year, Christmas carols take over the airways. Every year, someone thinks they have come upon a new and clever idea of redoing them with lyrics flogging their stuff. Every year, it makes the audience cringe.
Tom: Hey, I like the barking dogs! Although, me liking something still does not mean I will argue it is good. I also object to the characterization of staring at the TV frozenly. My eyes my be captive to the television screen, but I'm animated.
Mike: It's true, these are football fans we're talking about. They are anything but passive.
Tom: HDTV and 1080p is a pretty sweet deal, though.
Mike: $800 for a 46-incher? No.
Tom: Well, sure, don't buy your TV at Worst Buy.
Mike: It's another interesting view of what we as a society consider masculine.
Tom: Actually, I'm not sure whether this commercial is directed towards women or men.
Tom: That's where I was leaning. That, or people with high tolerance for annoying things (e.g, parents).
Mike: Men want a big television because for some reason that is now manly. Women are reminded that men are now obsessed with this new kind of status symbol. It's actually very effective, or would be if its delivery weren't so annoying.
Tom: Effective in the same way "Our Country" is, in that it's impossible to ignore.
Mike: I suppose that's true, but "Our Country" is pretty universally reviled, even among non-FO readers. Every time it has come in conversation with anyone, no matter whom it was with, it was panned. It is also worth mentioning how that basic marketing campaign has continued, but with the music greatly de-emphasized. I do like the clutch triangle. The "moo," however, ruins everything. This is serious stuff. Animal sounds are verboten.
Tom: Yeah, the moo just goes to underlie the incredible lameness of this commercial, though perhaps we're not appreciating Best Buy's holistic brand image. They have a unit called the "Geek Squad." Clearly, only a social nincompoop would make that "moo" noise. Only social nincompoops know computers or electronics. Best Buy, therefore, knows technological things.
Mike: I thought the point of all that was to make nerds cool. Remember, fancy technology is now a male status symbol.
Tom: No, owning fancy technology is cool.
Mike: I disagree. Nerds are like your technology sidekicks. Even testosterone-washed NCIS: Los Angeles has a prominent role for the nerdy sidekick, who is viewed as not as awesome as the guys with guns, but useful and awesome by association.
Tom: ONI has the JFK assassination conspiracy theories, NCIS has the nerds.
Mike: The other problem is that they don't even rewrite the songs in their entirety, they just have snippets. Which they then string together randomly. It's not just a bad idea, it's a bad idea with really sloppy execution.
Tom: Which means it could have potentially been good in some hypothetical world. Which takes us right back to the pony.
Mike: Which is, sadly, one of the things Best Buy would not recommend as a gift. This shows how bankrupt the entire process is.
Tom: Come on, would you buy a pony from a bunch of nerds? They'd tell you about its bloodlines and ability to run fast instead of how gentle and pretty it is.
Mike: Perhaps some manner of ROBO-PONY, which combines both excellent breeding and prettiness.
Tom: Yes, but prettiness would mean 可愛い, which adds a whole new level of disturbing if you're not careful. These are nerds, remember.
Mike: We must always be vigilant against the Germano-Japanese pervy threat.
Mike: Both cultures seem to have recovered from the horrible revelations of what they did in World War II by throwing all their energy into sexual deviancy, so let's avoid any more talk of ponies.
Tom: I think we need to pull the plug on this. See what you have wrought, Best Buy? Do you see what you have done?!
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: NFL Rule 4-6-5 provides, in relevant part: "Other examples of action or inaction that are to be construed as delay of the game include, but are not limited to, the following:
(a) a player unnecessarily remains on a dead ball or on a runner who has been downed."
If someone would please notify Gene Steratore's crew, who missed such a delay in the last minute of the Browns-Chiefs game, and Albert Riveron's crew, who missed such a delay at the end of the Raiders-Broncos game, your Scramble writers would be most appreciative.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: With the game tied at 24 late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, the Tennessee Titans punted the ball away, pinning the Dolphins at their own 2-yard line. Holding all three team timeouts, the Titans stood an excellent chance of getting the ball back in good field position if they were able to stop Miami. After a four-yard gain on first down, with about :50 left to play, Jeff Fisher elected not to call time out. After all, as he said in the post-game press conference:
"My gut feeling a lot of times I make decisions like that, I gut feel. What I didn't want to do was call timeout, send a signal to them and force them to take a shot and make a big play down the field because then they had three timeouts."
There is one problem with that, though: the Dolphins only had one timeout, not three, making the use of a timeout a much more palatable proposition. This serious lack of situational awareness is unusual from the longest-tenured coach in the NFL, but that makes it no more defensible or explicable.
COLBERT AWARD: The Pittsburgh Steelers kicked a field goal to take a 30-28 lead with 3:51 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Packers. Following the touchdown, Mike Tomlin, having seen his defense fail to protect fourth quarter leads several times this season and probably knowing the Packers had already used two of their timeouts, elected to call for an onside kick. Surprise onside kicks tend to be successful, and the downside was a defense that had struggled might give up a score quickly and leave the Steelers enough time for a comeback. Or maybe because that's just what happened, it seems likelier than it was. Either way, kudos to Tomlin for the attempt. (You can find more discussion of this here.)
Kicker: Akers and Vinatieri you are not, Messrs. Kasay and Feely Jay missed two field goals en route to his -3 points, whereas John took the more exotic route of a missed extra point.
Wide Receiver: Jacoby Jones should actually be honored by his inclusion in this list; by showing up here, he has successfully avoided the non-performance penalty, which means he was at least part of the game. On the other hand, he didn't do much in his time to distinguish himself. Pierre Garcon is the exact opposite, a decent performer who just couldn't get it done this week. This antipode is joined with Bryant Johnson and Brad Smith at 1 point.
Running Back: While running the ball and stopping the run as the end-all, be-all of football success is outdated, its opposite, sucking at running offense and defense, definitely doesn't help. We're looking at you, Buffalo, Marshawn Lynch and that 2-point Loser trophy. Shonn Greene at least has the excuse that he's not nearly as established a back to hide behind when the subject of his 3 points is broached.
Quarterback: It's almost over, Jay Cutler. It's almost over.
patriotsgirl: Should I start 2 of Snelling (BUF), Holmes (BAL) and Bush (TB) over Reggie Wayne in my .5 PPR? Reggie's normally a no-brainer, but the combination of Revis and Caldwell's ambiguous statements on the Colts' starters gives me pause, particularly given that Holmes was great against Baltimore last time, and the Buffalo rush defense is weak (this is assuming Turner isn't able to go, obviously). Am I overthinking? Thanks in advance!
Mike: If the Steelers are going to have any chance of winning this week, Holmes will need a big game. Which doesn't really help with the underlying question, I suppose.
Tom: If Turner is out, and it seems likely he will be, Snelling is a no-brainer.
Mike: Yes, that is a great matchup.
Tom: Consistency of production is also a concern ... I don't trust Wayne to put up points this week.
Mike: And I'm concerned that he'll see just enough snaps to keep him sharp, but not enough to put up a huge game, especially in a PPR league. If Turner is in, though, I would see Holmes and Wayne being your best plays.
Tom: Yeah, in that case it's probably best to roll the dice with Wayne.
Mike: Nothing like obsessively watching the injury wire for fantasy purposes.
Tom: At least all the relevant games are on Sunday.
49ers4tw: Championship time. Should I start Ochocinco vs. KC or Sims-Walker @ NE? All things equal, I would probably prefer Ochocinco, but KC is sneaky good against top WR's (#8 DVOA). Sims-Walker has a great matchup @NE (#32 DVOA vs. top receivers), but hasn't done much on the road. Thanks for the help!
Mike: Ochocinco is usually a good play, but has a frustrating habit of disappearing.
Tom: I've been satisfied with him this year.
Mike: As have I, but he hasn't been dominant, and Kansas City has a glaring weakness against not-passing. Which means LARRY JOHNSON REVENGE GA -- oh lord, my head hurts. All signs point to Sims-Walker.
Tom: Never trust a Jaguar. I'm still going with Eight-Five.
(Since this is Championship Week for so many folks, questions posed right before this article goes to press will be answered in the comments section Wednesday evening. Truly, your Scramble writers are beneficent!)
We know some of you are in (completely insane) leagues that end in Week 17. Your Scramble writers strongly suggest dropping that league like something that is heavy and easily dropped. These poor, unfortunate souls (crazy people) can e-mail questions to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com, or drop in on the Scramble board for help.
60 comments, Last at 30 Dec 2009, 12:05pm by Noah of Arkadia