Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
07 Oct 2009
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: What a weird game on Monday. We've all come to expect the all-Peterson game plan, and the Vikings just open the Favregates. I'm wondering if we'll have to spend the rest of the year guessing at which Minnesota offense will show up.
Tom: Brad Childress seems to have limited Peterson's touches the past two weeks; 15 carries in Week 2 at Detroit and 19 (compared to 46 passes) against San Francisco.
Mike: Perhaps Childress just doesn't want to overuse him. He got a lot of touches last year.
Tom: Of course, Peterson did have 25 carries in Week 1, although that game against the Browns was competitive longer than I thought it'd be. If Childress was avoiding overuse, I'd expect Chester Taylor to have more than the 17 carries he's had through the first three weeks. It seems to me that Childress has much more confidence in Brett Favre than he had in Frerotte or Jackson.
Mike: It makes sense. Brett Favre is "Childress's Guy," much like Jackson was before he demonstrated a complete lack of ability to quarterback at the professional level. It wasn't that long ago that everyone was marveling at Childress's blind loyalty to Jackson and discussing how this single-minded focus would destroy an otherwise excellent team. I suppose if you're going to go all-in on a player, I'd much rather do it with Brett Favre, as old as he is, than Tarvaris Jackson, whose name I can't even consistently spell correctly.
Tom: Maybe I'm overreacting to a very small sample size, but it seems like teams are adjusting to the fact that passing just wins games, a realization interacting with a growing concern about running back overuse. This would lead to No. 1 back carries going down a little, but without No. 2 back carries increasing.
Mike: Perhaps, although it doesn't seem that passing is more prominent this year thus far, just more effective. That could be due to any number of things, including defensive injuries in the early weeks, teams adjusting to unfamiliar personnel or schemes, or blinding neon-green uniforms.
Tom: Early data per Pro Football Reference is that attempts are 53.6 percent of plays, compared to 52.1 percent last year. In 2007, it was 53.0 percent, so still up from the past two years.
Mike: 1.5 percent and 0.6 percent certainly aren't huge numbers, however. I'm not sure those are margins of increase that we'd just notice.
Tom: No, it's not a dramatic trend, but with 1,000-plus plays over the course of a year, it is a significant difference. Checking back through the previous few years, they were all in the 51-51.5 percent range, so if this does keep up, it would seem to indicate a real trend.
Mike: Of course, the number might snap back to reflect what we've seen the past few years, over the course of the season.
Tom: It does seem like the sort of thing that might go down as the year goes on, with the weather and cold. I may just be noticing this because of the Titans. Normally the run-heaviest teams in the league, in terms of total play calling, are Tennessee and the teams with the best records. Yet this Sunday, Collins had 48 attempts and they ran the ball 19 times. Most of the disparity came in the second half; the first half had 15 called passes and 15 called runs.
Mike: We may also be seeing an increase because there are more blow-outs, league-wide, although I'm not sure that's actually true. At least, the scoring seems to have settled down a bit in the past two weeks.
Tom: Looking back through this data, I see that 1995 had 53.9 percent passes.
Mike: I imagine long-term changes in pass/run ratio are affected closely by changes in what defenses teams are running, and significant rules changes either in favor or to the detriment of the passing game.
Tom: If this is a trend, I'd be interested to see if it could dethrone the running back as the king of fantasy football, especially in PPR leagues. We'll have to wait and see. Back to the Monday night game, I'm somewhat disappointed by the points I left on the bench in Berrian. Thankfully, it didn't really affect my team this week.
Mike: Benching top performers is always part of the roulette of fantasy football. One of the interesting bits of the CBS fantasy package (which I generally don't like as much as its Yahoo! counterpart, I must add) is that it rates owners by something called "Coach Rating," which I believe is a measure of how well you start and sit your players. It's kind of cool, although playing Romo over Roethlisberger completely trashed my ranking, dropping me from second in the league to seventh. Thankfully, it doesn't really affect anything, and our team is sitting on top of the league, albeit by a relatively small margin of 29 points.
Tom: I also cost myself 27 points by playing Julius Jones instead of Mendenhall this week.
Mike: I've loved the Julius Jones honeymoon, but I should probably start looking for replacements. I think this past week was a preview of things to come.
Tom: A co-worker told me about his crazy league the other day ... QB total yards 0-149: 0 points, 150-249 yards: 1 point per 25 yards, 250-299 yards: 2 points per 25 yards, 300-plus yards: 3 points per 25 yards. I'd just love to lose the game on a kneel-down. Say Drew Brees has 326 yards passing but two kneel-downs at the end of the game, which cost him three yards. Because that puts him below 25 yards in the 300-plus bracket, you lose three points in the process.
Mike: That is really bonkers. It cuts horribly against efficient quarterbacks on good teams.
Tom: The same league also gives you points based on total punt return yardage and kickoff return average.
Mike: I really like that idea. The CBS league has a separate ST slot, but only counts scoring and fumbles, not yardage. As a result, ST points are completely random and even then pretty anemic. With the exception of one guy who made a mistake, everyone took ST in the last round, because it's pretty much useless in that system.
Tom: I do kind of see the point -- awarding teams that force a lot of punts and not punishing them for not getting opportunities to return kickoffs -- but frankly I still consider fantasy football a fundamentally ridiculous and silly activity, so trying to make it reflect real football doesn't make sense. You would have to go with wildly unpopular rules, like 2 points per pass touchdown and -5 points per interception.
Mike: You'd have to adjust for position on the field. I think the more realistic you make fantasy, the more annoyingly and uselessly complicated it becomes. All the fun just gets sucked out of it.
Tom: Oh, sure. It just doesn't seem like this league is doing a good job of embracing its silliness.
Mike: My Yahoo! league is a giant mess of 2-2 teams, and then four others, two at the top and two at the bottom. Everyone has roughly the same number of points, and it's far more hotly contested than the CBS experts' league. Fortunately, I'm starting to overcome my disastrous Week 1 performance and hopefully am clawing my way to the top. This week was a great start: My team, fueled by Ben Roethlisberger and the Vikings defense, easily took the top score of the week.
Tom: The Yahoo! public league I'm in is like your Yahoo! league, except not quite so tightly packed. The other two leagues I'm in are even less so. I'm 3-1 in one of them, with my only loss to the undefeated team, but only 1-3 in the other, although the knowledge that I've played three of the four top-scoring teams gives me some consolation.
Mike: This is when things start getting tricky, fantasy-wise. Teams begin taking their bye weeks, and often taking your top performers with them. A good, deep draft strategy will show its merit down this stretch, as your bench will have the chance to step up and give you at least moderate production. If you slept through the second half of your draft, you're going to be in for a world of hurt. The problem inherent in all this is that while your star is doing his parrot impression, your opponent's star is putting up massive numbers that your bench just can't keep up with. One of the sad and unavoidable realities of fantasy football.
Bill (4-0) 83, Mike (0-4) 73
I caught Mike at the right time, considering Brian Westbrook and Anquan Boldin are on bye for him, and Devin Hester got hurt without scoring any fantasy points. Of course, Darren McFadden didn't produce anything for me, either.
Vince (3-1) 78, Aaron (2-2) 76
Ian/Al (2-2) 126, Will (1-3) 81
The team of the week was Ye Olde Scramblers, who got 20-plus from Mike Sims-Walker (21), Antonio Gates (24), and Houston's defense (24).
Elias (2-2) 82, Sean (1-3) 78
Sean continues to lead the league in points, but 78 couldn't get it done. Elias' team had a pretty middling week, but got 30 out of Rashard Mendenhall for the W.
Pat (3-1) 83, Rob (1-3) 72
After being made fun of during the draft as "Team AutoPick," Pat's broke off three consecutive wins to tie for the lead in the Virgil Parks Division. Rob looked like he was in good shape when he headed into Monday night with three players down only 31, but Adrian Peterson (9), Percy Harvin (3), and Greg Jennings (3) didn't do enough.
Vivek (3-1) 104, Doug (2-2) 76
Mike: I'm not sure it's really a great idea to brag about how anyone could know exactly what they're getting at your restaurant. Usually a rotating menu on at least a seasonal basis is a mark of distinction; never changing your menu may be sound from a business perspective, but bragging about it seems ridiculous. "Yeah, we know you don't want anything particularly interesting, so we won't bother trying to give it to you."
Tom: I remember one of the late night hosts giving a fairly accurate description, something to the effect of "the Olive Garden is where they give mediocre Italian food fancy names and upcharge you for it." I'm reminded of the Wendy's commercial where they show the price of the item increasing as it's carried around by additional people.
Mike: My friend and I have often joked about opening an Italian restaurant with a menu consisting entirely of expensive dishes with made-up names. Not "oh, we've decided to make up a name to describe our new dish" made-up, I mean "Herpes Gemelli fra Diavolo."
Tom: The problem with making up names is that it's too easy to make them sound ridiculous.
Mike: To be fair, we planned on giving a free dessert to anyone who figured out that half of the dishes were named after horrible infectious diseases.
Tom: Here, have some Lime Scurvetto! Anyway, this commercial was nominated by Mike Tanier, who demanded, inter alia, that we figure out how all the couples got started. When I first saw this commercial on TV, I was half-paying attention, as I normally am, and thought there were like six or eight people at dinner. Apparently new girlfriend only has one friend, or one ethnic friend willing to go to the Olive Garden with them.
Mike: Well, she's very efficient, so she doesn't need more friends. As evidence, I note that ethnic male friend is a card-carrying member of the Cheeky Black Guy Union.
Tom: Maybe. She may also be running into the mid- to late 20s singles versus couples friend split.
Mike: She could be friends with the two of them separately and trying to hook them up? Perhaps by impressing them with how each other is more sophisticated and intelligent than her boyfriend?
Tom: Yes, but would you take people to the Olive Garden to show off sophistication and intelligence?
Mike: There is a standard. By God, the bar is low, but there is a standard. And the Olive Garden is the perfect venue to demonstrate spectacular failure to meet even that low threshold.
Tom: I really don't spend nearly as much time in kitchen supply stores as you do, but I feel I can whip up a good mediocre spaghetti just as well as the Olive Garden does. Then again, like Captain McCluskey, I don't really get Italian food. "How's the Italian food in this joint?"
Mike: This might be a good time to mention that Scramble is turning into a food column, starting next week.
Tom: I just love the shifting time and space of the commercial. He says he knows exactly what he's getting as they're walking into the restaurant. You can clearly see that he's saying it then, and that it's not just some sort of voice-over. Then, suddenly, she's sitting in her chair as she says "he always knows exactly what he's getting here."
Mike: This is all Farnsworth's fault.
Tom: Oh, and when they sit down, their wine glasses have already been poured.
Mike: Apparently the waitstaff also knows exactly what they're getting. These may be the most boring people ever spawned. Of course, a reasonable explanation for this sequence of events is that their entire conversation at dinner consisted of:
"I know exactly what I'm getting!"
"I know exactly what I'm getting!"
"Yes, good for you."
"I know exactly what I'm getting!"
"OH MY GOD SHUT UP I'M GETTING A DIVORCE."
The only other explanation I can think of is that this is some kind of anniversary tribute to Rod Serling. "You are entering a dimension, not of sight and sound, but of breadsticks."
Tom: Re-watching this commercial, I'm starting to think that the black people aren't actually together. They're not walking next to each other as they go into the restaurant, and they're sitting with a huge gap between them, unlike our lead couple.
Mike: True. Also, the white woman touches the white guy on the shoulder early on in the commercial, a sure sign of romantic attachment in commercial-dom.
Tom: There are a few other options. The white guy could be her brother, who's been in a mental institution/graduate school for the last nine years or so and is slowly being reacclimated to society. He always orders the same thing at a decent yet unspectacular restaurant as part of his method of keeping his bearings in the "outside" world.
Really, if I had to guess what was going on here, Cheeky Black Guy has an unrequited crush on her. The black female is a co-worker or something and being fixed up with him just because they're both black, so they'll obviously get along great. Maybe our heroes are the couple from Black People Love Us?
Mike: Oh, Cheeky Black Guy, when will you learn? On a related note, this commercial feels kind of jerky and incomplete. There's a punchline in the middle, then some pictures, then a half-assed joke to buttress it.
Tom: Well, it is a food commercial, but it's true, we're certainly missing out on the narrative arc about these people. The ad is really just pictures of wine glasses and food, encouraging you to buy some of the really high-margin stuff.
Mike: I'd at least expect something snappy at the end from Cheeky Black Guy. Instead, we get nothing. The only way it could be more jarring is if the commercial just cut to a placard with "a questo punto il maestro è morto."
Tom: Of course, this could be a play off the Sopranos, which would give new meaning to the tagline "when you're here, you're family."
Mike: That would make the place really interesting. The menu wouldn't have any dollar amounts by entrees, but rather what kind of crime they expected you to perform in payment.
Tom: "Oh, yeah, you can have the veal tips, but there's this guy running a book down on 7th Street who hasn't been paying his dues lately..."
Mike: That gives a horrible and terrifying new meaning to "never-ending pasta bowl."
Tom: "I thought I was out, but they pulled me back in!"
Mike: Of course, now it is impossible to consider eating any of the meat sauces.
Tom: And now we know the real reason Clemenza taught Michael how to make meat sauce.
Keep Chopping Wood: Titans cornerback and now former return man Ryan Mouton could tell you that if you're a rookie who gives the other team, purely through your errors, two touchdowns in a competitive game, you stand a pretty good chance of winning that week's KCW. Hear that, Mark Sanchez? "Sanchize" fell to Darren Sharper's baiting for a crucial red zone interception that was returned for a touchdown, then showed off the same lack of ball security that cost him possession last week against the Titans in his own end zone.
Mike Martz Award: Last weekend's Browns-Bengals game presented an interesting tactical puzzle for both coaches. Down 20-14, the Bengals faced a fourth-and-goal from the two with about 2:35 left in regulation and the clock running. They had two timeouts remaining, the Browns one. If the Bengals convert, they want as little time left on the clock as possible, which means letting the clock run to the two minute warning. If they fail, they want as much time left as possible. Marvin Lewis apparently decided that he'd prefer to eliminate time for a potential Browns comeback, and be content with getting the ball back with 1:00 or so left after a three-and-out, and let the clock run down. A defensible decision. Eric Mangini was the counterparty and had a simple decision -- to keep his timeout for a possible comeback drive, or use it to preserve time. Instead, he did neither, taking the timeout with 2:02 remaining. The Bengals certainly didn't appear to be about to run another play, but apparently those :02 and not, say, the previous :33, were worth a timeout. That sort of inexplicable decision-making is exactly what the Martz Award is all about.
Colbert Award: The Chiefs were big underdogs at home against the Giants and played like it in the first half, falling behind 17-3. Knowing his team's chance of winning the game with conventional play was rather slight, coach Todd Haley called for the surprise onside kick to start the second half. While his gambit failed, surprise onside kicks have an excellent recovery rate and this was a great and unusual way to try to win a game his team didn't have much shot of winning. For that, we applaud him.
Kicker: It really isn't Shayne Graham's fault that his long-snapper is bad at long-snapping, and he did make the game-winning field goal, but in LL he still gets dinged for having a field goal and an extra point blocked. Also clocking in with a -2 is Rams kicker Josh Brown, who missed the only field goal he tried against the 49ers.
Wide Receiver: It's not quite last week's crowd of nine, but this week the sextet of Patrick Crayton, Davone Bess, Mark Bradley, Eddie Royal, Rashied Davis, and Miles Austin each had 1 point. Rather than come up with something interesting about these players, I will note that Steve Smith did NOT put up this week's highest Loser League score among wideouts, even on his own team. That honor instead went to Hakeem Nicks, who managed only a 54-yard touchdown catch. That's 15 points for the penalty, 5 for the yards, and 6 for the touchdown, for a total of 26, or 1 more than Smith and 5 more than any non-Giants wideout.
Quarterback: It's finally JaMarcus Russell time! The much-maligned Raiders quarterback finally finishes among the worst scorers in LL. Also with 2 points were this week's KCW winner, Mark Sanchez, and Daunte Culpepper's second half relief effort against the Bears.
Running Back: In a way, it kind of stinks to be Justin Fargas. He's the feature tailback at USC, a school with a great tailback legacy, but spends most of his career playing in mediocrity. He's decent, but overshadowed by quarterback Carson Palmer, then succeeded and bested by the great college combo of Reggie Bush and LenDale White. In the NFL, he's drafted by the Raiders, then when he finally looks decent, the Raiders draft Darren McFadden and also Michael Bush. Rodney Dangerfield got more respect than this! Scramble is thus pleased to honor his 3 Loser League points on the now-rare week where he doesn't incur the penalty. Also at the same total was preseason KUBIAK favorite Julius Jones against the Colts.
And how the hell does MJD only get 6 carries in a 37-17 blowout? I was looking at the box score the whole day happy, then I come home to find out he gave me a whopping 10 points.
Tom: Despite Tennessee's 0-4 start, they've been pretty stiff against running backs this year. Parker made Loser League mention the first week, Chris Brown the second week, and Jones didn't do much the third week. Jones-Drew did have a touchdown on the ground, but with the pass defense the way it is, teams won't, or at least shouldn't, bother running much. You may see more value from guys who catch passes, like Mewelde Moore or Leon Washington.
Mike: Provided you're in a PPR league. Without the reception points, you're still going to end up with a relatively anemic total. Start running backs against Tennessee at your own risk. Start wide receivers against Tennessee with wild abandon. Anyway, Cincinnati's defense isn't nearly as horrid as Cleveland's.
Tom: Did you see Benson's stat line? It was very disappointing, at least to those of us who are Benson owners. If you have to pick one of those Bills, which of Lynch or Jackson do you start?
Mike: I'd have to say Lynch.
Tom: I think Bradshaw's actually a reasonable option -- Ryan Moats, who's never been confused with anybody good, put up 15-56, and Slaton's a larger chunk of committee than Jacobs is.
Mike: I don't see that as any more risky than starting Lynch against a bad defense, though, and with less upside.
Tom: And Ray Rice? I admit it, I haven't really seen the Ravens play this year, and I don't have a good feel for their offense.
Mike: All the talk of Flacco has kind of blinded us to the fact that Baltimore has been pretty darn good at running the ball. With regard to Rice, he doesn't get many goal-line carries, those go to McGahee. So while Rice may put up big numbers, you're sacrificing potential touchdowns.
Tom: Lynch it is, then.
Fontes of Wayne: I'm playing mix-and-match all year with my defenses. Who's the pickup of the week? SF v. ATL, NYJ @ MIA, or JAC @ SEA?
Mike: Your Scramble writers would like to take this moment to salute Mr. Wayne's spectacular username. Excelsior! I'm feeling the Jets versus Miami this week. Miami has to really rely upon its trickeration and wildcattiness at this point, which should work out decently against undisciplined teams. Rex Ryan's Jets have been, thus far, one of the most disciplined and fundamentally sound defenses in the league, which could mean disaster for the fins.
Tom: As a fantasy n00b, it feels like the thing to do is pick a defense going against a bad quarterback. So even though San Francisco put up a lot of points last week, that was more because they were playing the Rams than the 49ers being a generally great fantasy defense. Miami has an untested young quarterback playing against an aggressive, attacking defense.
Mike: I'm not sure the attack will be especially effective against the Miami offensive line, but I trust them to at least shut down the Miami offense. I think that's a better play than the 49ers against a relatively dangerous Atlanta club, or our friends the bi-polar Jaguars.
Tom: Especially if Matt Hasselbeck is back.
Anonymous11 (not verified): Matt Schaub @ Arizona or Big Ben @ Detroit?
Mike: Arizona occasionally makes pass defense-like noises. Detroit does not. Plus, Roethlisberger is a heck of a lot better than Schaub.
Tom: Yes, but Steelers football consists of running a lot. And with Mendenhall, they could actually be competent about that. The Texans don't have a good defense, so they'll have to be scoring points. I think Schaub's a better play than you think he is.
Mike: Even with Mendenhall playing wrecking ball this week, Roethlisberger still put up great numbers. At the very least, Tomlin has shown a willingness to let it fly in the first half. The second half is where the running and the gigantic collapse comes in.
Tom: Arizona has a competent run defense, but they're bad against No. 1 WRs, and Andre Johnson's a pretty good No. 1 wide receiver.
Mike: Good point. I'm still wary of the "will have to pass a lot" argument, because it also means their opponents will be able to key in on the pass, which is death to mediocre quarterbacks.
Tom: Sure, but against Detroit, I can see Roethlisberger ending up with 180 yards and one touchdown and not having to do anything else. Schaub's flawed, sure, but I don't think Arizona's a team well positioned to exploit his flaws.
Mike: I suppose. I still think even a half of carving up Detroit will give you enough points to be happy.
Tom: I'm just trying to point out that you can't assume every quarterback up against Detroit will be Drew Brees Week 1. I think Schaub is probably the riskier play, but I just feel he has higher upside from a fantasy perspective.
Mike: Fair enough.
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