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.
02 Dec 2009
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: So, the Hall of Fame semi-finalists are out, and the debate has begun.
Mike: The semi-finalist period is fun, or as I like to call it, "Ray Guy Time."
Tom: OK, Guy did have three seasons where he led the league in gross punting. He also has the 96th-best punting season in NFL history in terms of gross average.
Mike: You seem to have deep-seated Ray Guy issues.
Tom: Shane Lechler has only had eight seasons with a higher gross average than Guy, plus this year. It hearkens back to the ROBO-PUNTER discussion, except the starting point there was "we all know that punters aren't generally that valuable, so let's create an extreme example of what a punter could be." The Ray Guy Hall of Fame discussion, on the other hand, is "this guy went to a lot of Pro Bowls and was All-Pro and was voted to the All-Decade team" or somesuch. He's 64th in gross punting average for his career. The 64th running back in career yardage is Neal Anderson. Plus if you elect Ray Guy to the Hall, there's no way to keep out Shane Lechler, since he's clearly been better. If you really want to put a punter in, put in Tommy Davis, who is ranked first of all full-time punters and kicked in the 1960s, when kicking wasn't as easy as it is now.
Mike: I don't like gross yardage as a stat, for starters. Players have gotten stronger and punting mechanics have changed and advanced dramatically. The way teams play punt coverage is also very different nowadays.
Tom: I don't like it either, but we don't have punting DVOA before 1994, and even net yardage is difficult to find.
Mike: Right, that's why people rely on awards that compare players to their contemporaries.
Tom: And so Ray Guy gets a lot of credit because he played for a winning team and hit the gondola. Big freakin' deal.
Mike: Well, how do you suggest we adjust for the passage of time? It seems that your theory is that we should just ignore great players who played under different circumstances or levels of physicality.
Tom: No, just that we should be wary of over-reliance upon Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in terms of assessing how good players are. This is something you see on FO every year as we rip some of the Pro Bowl selections, yet 25 years later those same Pro Bowl selections become the best evidence we have for determining who should get the sport's highest honor.
Mike: Right, but usually the selections we mock are those players who are past their prime, and while they may get in on reputation, it's still a sign that they were, maybe a year or two ago, the best in the game. Sure, Derek Anderson has a Pro Bowl, but he doesn't have the history of Pro Bowls that a Ray Guy has.
Tom: Yeah, but it's not quite the same. You see a lot of turnover at running back and wide receiver, and some at quarterback. Rushing defensive ends get in on sacks and defensive backs get in on interceptions. Offensive line is probably a better example than punter, but some positions just don't turn over. Somebody has to be playing noticeable and substantially worse for them not to make the Pro Bowl, and even then it's often late. Of course, fan voting now counts for one-third of the Pro Bowl voting now.
Mike: Looking at Pro Football Reference back through the years, the 2000s were actually quite varied. Lechler, Moorman and Bidwell were the highlights, but none of them made it every year, and there was a lot of variation.
Tom: I'm going to take the optimistic view and claim that shows learning on the part of voters, plus greater accessibility of games, though I do have to point out that Sauerbrun went to the Pro Bowl in 2003 when Carolina was ranked 29th in the league in Punting DVOA.
Mike: Of course there are going to be guys who don't deserve it, or who get in on past years' efforts, but looking back I'm not seeing the data to back up your theory. There's incredible turnover in the punter position, and even guys with many Pro Bowl appearances usually don't have them in a row. A lot of it is probably the fickleness of punting statistics and problems properly assessing good and bad years of punting, but nobody seems to be getting the nod every year on reputation alone.
Tom: Sure, but when Guy was making it every year, Tom Wittum went in 1973 and 1974 for the NFC, John James was selected from 1975 to 1977, and Dave Jennings got the nod in 1978 and then from 1980 to 1982. Before Guy started his run, Jerrel Wilson was the AFC representative from 1970 to 1972.
Mike: Three years of dominance can be, as Freud would surely say, just three years of dominance. Plus, even if we accept that standards were more lax in the 1970s, nobody except Guy went on a huge streak.
Tom: The other thing is that Pro Bowl nominations are by conference and it may so happen that four of the five best players at a position may be in the same conference, more or less as a fluke. So the one guy makes the Pro Bowl every year and the other four make it every other year or every third, and he looks better even though he isn't.
Mike: The probability of that seems somewhat low over the course of a decade, and even then, that's why the guy with the most Pro Bowls doesn't automatically get in; there are a lot of people who say Guy play who think he's Hall-worthy. Personally I don't have an opinion one way or the other, but it seems you're selling Guy short.
Tom: Sure, but let's say Guy deserves to make it three non-consecutive years and gets a benefit year each time, which seems reasonable, given the lack of turnover in the 1970s. This whole discussion still treats him like a Pro Bowl nod is equally meaningful for a punter as it is for a wide receiver.
Mike: Why is it not, though? Your turnover theory seems to be soundly defeated. In fact, one would think that it would be more meaningful, since there are three wide receiver spots and only two starting wide receivers per team, whereas there is only one punter spot and only one starting punter per team.
Tom: Because the difference between an above-average and below-average punter is less than the difference between an above-average and below-average wideout. Look at DVOA: Special teams is one-seventh of DVOA, and punting is one-fourth of that. Punting plus coverage is therefore one-twenty-eighth of a game's outcome. Is a quality wideout worth one-twelfth of an offense?
Mike: If we're going by DVOA there's no real way to tell, since we don't have team DYAR, but keep in mind that the wide receiver would have to be three times more valuable to the team than the punter.
Tom: Well, he's on the field 10-plus times as much as the punter is.
Mike: It's just interesting that you use All-Pro selections as criteria for Dermontti Dawson. I get the feeling that the main thing is that you saw Dawson play and you didn't see Guy play, since center play is probably even more unquantifiable. Either that or hatred of special teams, which I am totally cool with.
Tom: Not hatred of special teams, just that centers are under-appreciated and matter much, much more than punters. If Guy had made seven Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams, that's to me more indicative that he truly was the best, rather than seven and three, respectively (all consecutive). Especially when two of the All-Pro nods came after he did something superficially spectacular, i.e., hitting the gondola in the Superdome.
Mike: Post hoc ergo propter hoc? Anyway, one nice thing about these lists are the players that you did actually see playing, but never noticed for whatever reasons. Cortez Kennedy comes to mind. Kennedy was on really bad teams, and I love great players on bad teams, so I'm sad that I don't have many memories of him. I believe Barry Sanders is the best running back in NFL history. I may just be a sucker for great players on awful teams.
Tom: In 20 years, we'll be irate at how Nnamdi Asomugha is getting nixed at the semi-final stage because he only made one Pro Bowl in the first six years of his career, and people ripping him for his lack of interceptions (11 career, 8 in 2006).
Mike: Thankfully, football media and statistics are a lot more sophisticated than they were back then, and we'll have better data to use in our decisions. Sadly, interceptions will always be greatly overvalued.
Tom: I suspect either way I'll continue to be frustrated with how it goes. One of these years I'll have to make it to Canton to register my disgust in person.
Mike: Even with great statistics, we still have debates over which of two players is better, because different people value or see different things in each player. That's why it's "Football Outsiders" and not "A Wall of Numbers About Football." Although the latter would be pretty awesome. As for the Hall of Fame, it's pretty fun, as is the Hall of Fame game, just to see which player horribly maims himself on the awful playing surface.
Tom: And maybe if that had been Kerry Collins, the Titans would be 11-0 right now!
Tom: I have to celebrate my Monday night victory this week, because I got to play spoiler. I was virtually tied, with Marques Colston and John Carney going up against Tom Brady and Randy Moss. I thought I was totally screwed, but came away with a 13-point win. Naturally, I'm still in ninth place.
Mike: I almost had a great Monday Night Football moment, when Marques Colston managed to bring me within seven points of my opponent. Sadly, he couldn't quite do it, and despite having the second-most points in my league this week, I lost and fell to sixth place. There is a very real chance that, four weeks removed from playing for the top spot in my league, I will miss the playoffs. Thankfully, I'm playing the second-to-last place team this coming week, so I may be able to sneak in.
Tom: It definitely didn't hurt this week that two out of my three opponents started Ben Roethlisberger. I did start Sidney Rice this week, and he put up nine points. He outscored my starting wide receiver, Wes Welker, but since it was a flex spot, I'd have been better served by playing Rashard Mendenhall or Felix Jones.
Mike: Roethlisberger ruined many a fantasy team this week, especially for people whose backup is, say, Tony Romo. And it seemed like the best quarterback available off waivers was Chad Henne.
Mike: This hypothetical person would be pretty angry with Thanksgiving in general, I can tell you that. In a 12-team league with a huge bench, however, starting quarterbacks are hard to come by ... I think
my that random, imaginary person's second-best choice was Brady Quinn. Big fun. Thankfully in the Yahoo! league I was starting Philip Rivers, anyway.
Tom: The Chargers were a great play in general. LaDainian Tomlinson had another nice week for me, and Green Bay's defense did well. In my other league, I started Free Rock Cartwright over Felix, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, but I had enough to make up for that. Rivers had 317 yards with 2 touchdowns and Steven Jackson had 89 yards with 1 touchdown plus 5 receptions, for 27 points.
Tom: I ended up starting Shonn Greene because I thought Benson would play, and my alternatives were Jacobs and Knowshon Moreno. On the other hand, Monday night would've been a lot less interesting if I had started up by 15 points.
Mike: I'm just hoping I make the playoffs in my leagues. I'm within 40 total points of the top team by points, so I really don't have a bad team ... I just need a change of luck.
Tom: We're entering the last week in one of my leagues, and I've clinched a playoff spot there. I've virtually clinched a playoff spot in the league where I'm in second place, but I have a big matchup this week with the top-place team.
Mike: I've found that seeding isn't as important in fantasy football as it is in real football, unless you have a really big playoffs in your league.
Tom: True. I need to prepare for the playoffs, however. I think I'm going to put in a waiver claim for a quarterback for Week 16, because I have Peyton Manning.
Mike: That is very wise. Get to it early, so that you can avoid teams with injuries making claims. I've come to hate the waiver wire this year due to all of my injuries, but it can work to your advantage. I'm not sure what the new sheriff in town will do regarding Manning, however. Remember that we're not dealing with Ol' Man Dungy anymore.
Tom: I had Julius Jones sitting on my bench doing nothing, so it's worth a flier.
by Bill Barnwell
Will (7-5) 105, Bill (8-4) 48
This was a mauling. The only member of my team with more than six points was the Seahawks defense, who scored 15. Five players on my bench scored more than six points. Kurt Warner can't come back soon enough for fantasy purposes. Will also moved within one game of me for the final playoff spot in the Kubiak Division...
Ian/Al (8-4) 84, Vince (5-7) 58
... because the new leader in the Kubiak Division is Scramble Forever, which took out the free-falling Team Verhei (loser of four straight) thanks to 23 points from Antonio Gates. (I'm not sure how the ESPN tiebreakers work, considering I beat Ian and Al 98-63 in Week 4.)
The playoff race gets interesting over the next two weeks. Next week, I take on cellar dweller Mike, while Ian and Al take on Will. Then, as the regular season ends in Week 14, Will takes on 6-6 Aaron, who could make it to the playoffs if he wins out and results go his way, while I take on Ian and Al.
Aaron (6-6) 82, Mike (3-9) 58
Aaron's at 6-6 after beating up on Mike, who only had one player over ten points, Thomas Jones (14). Aaron got 41 points from his running back trio of Ricky Williams, Steven Jackson, and Marion Barber.
Elias (8-4) 108, Vivek (5-7) 80
Sean (5-7) 113, Pat (6-6) 94
After starting 6-3, Pat's lost three straight and is in danger of missing the playoffs; famously hard-luck Sean, meanwhile, has an outside shot at 5-7 with the second-highest point total in the league. Is he the fantasy version of the Eagles?
Doug (5-7) 87, Rob (6-6) 62
Rob essentially punted this week, but considering that his kicker slot was left empty, that might not be the right word. He also got a donut from Matt Ryan and -2 from Jason Snelling, so his hometown Falcons did not treat him very well. He was actually ahead heading into Monday night, but Doug got 34 points from Drew Brees to pick up the win.
Mike: Wow, one of the YouTube comments is a restatement of our Cardinal Rule of Advertising! Maybe we're having an effect ...
Tom: Hey, Community made fun of SilverSonic XL-style hearing devices after we did. I'd say we're making several small steps toward world domination.
Mike: You sell us too short, fellow Scramble writer. I'd say there are large steps! Today, a city block ... tomorrow, a larger city block!
Tom: I don't know, to me a large step is something like Brian Billick referencing FO in More Than a Game. These people are agreeing with us, but they may be agreeing with us because we're self-evidently right than because they know our work. Although maybe they're putting in secret references to our work that I'm missing because I'm just too humble to look for them.
Mike: Humble Scramble writers? Unpossible. Also, the entirety of the Internet is referential, either to one's self, pop culture, or whatever random thing pops up in Google.
Tom: Apparently Jeep's world is also completely devoid of people. You know, the people who would otherwise be driving your automobile. Maybe this commercial is a sneaky commentary on poor sales?
Mike: Well, they're off doing things. Important things. Like not watching television. Yes, Jeep is trying to shame and cajole you into buying a car, so you'll be as cool as whoever the heck it is does this strangely first-person voiceover. It's the "pimp slap" theory of marketing. The other commercial, I think, epitomizes this. "I'm off being totally awesome, which of course includes not watching television or looking at things on the Internet. Unlike some people. (Those people being you.)"
Tom: Yes, but that Jeep commercial neglects an important part of reality: sitting in traffic.
Mike: There is no traffic in "the now." That may be because "the now" is really just an insane fantasy of suburban dads, but this is difficult to confirm. Like swagger.
Tom: I think Jeep is just refusing to tell you how you'll really use their car.
Mike: True, it's like the difference between "the past" and "The Past." There is a real "the now" and there is a mythical "the now," which is the place where you are a mountain man and not some guy talking to a window about erectile dysfunction.
Tom: And on enough SSRIs to see the window talking back at him.
Mike: True, true. The other thing is that the "next big thing" can also be used to describe the next news story.
Tom: Godzilla attack?
Mike: Never Godzilla, because Godzilla is copyrighted by whatever the heck company owns Godzilla. Probably the Japanese Ministry of Tea Research. But yes, apparently people in Jeeps have no need to keep up with current events. After all, Jeep has probably convinced them they're ready for the apocalypse.
Tom: I guess since they're living in the now and not watching the clock, they'll be prepared for the dystopian future of The Road and that Levi's commercial.
Mike: Synergy! The other theory is that they've figured out how to manipulate time, as the commercial clearly implies that Jeep owners' time is worth more than others'. The only question now is if Jeeps come with a robotic dog or if you have to steal one from some random dead scientist.
Tom: Well, culling all the non-Jeep owners would be an effective way of convincing people to buy a Jeep. Like God and the plagues of Egypt, however, it'd be more effective if you announced them first, so people would have a chance to repent.
Mike: Pfft, Hyundai would just lead them astray, with demonstrations of "the when," which is something almost, but not completely, entirely unlike "the now."
Tom: I'm not buying a leisure activity, or a lifestyle, I'm buying a damn modern convenience that gets me from Point A to Point B in reasonable comfort and is reasonably effective for the range of tasks I plan to perform. Instead, people are trying to sell me not just a lifestyle, but a meta-lifestyle, like Pepsi advertising it's "for those who think young." No, it's "for people who think Pepsi tastes better than Coke." They don't taste the same, and pretty much everybody prefers one over the other.
Mike: I actually disagree to some degree there. They taste pretty much the same, we accentuate the differences for psychological and sociological reasons. There's a very narrow band of flavor that colas operate on, in order to appeal to as many people as possible.
Tom: OK, within that narrow band of flavor that colas operate on, they taste different.
Mike: Right, which translates into a pretty minor difference. I suppose it says something about our addiction to fizzy drinks that most people with unrefined palates can detect the rather subtle difference.
Tom: Because I've been drinking colas long enough, I can tell which is which and express a preference between them.
Mike: Or at least think they can.
Tom: You're welcome to test my ability next time we see each other. I'm kind of disappointed that in the clocks commercial, we don't see a sundial.
Mike: Sundials are outdoors. Outdoors is better than indoors. You don't want to ruin the theme.
Tom: We see an outdoor clock, just an analog one.
Mike: Oh, that is true. That looks like it's by an office, though, so it doesn't count, due to lack of proximity to bears.
Tom: Why would there be? Orlando Pace hasn't officially retired yet, much as his play on the field may lead you to believe otherwise.
Mike: Nor will he ever. He has realized that he's still getting paid with this level of play, and since I doubt he'll get any worse until about his 70s, I don't see how he can't continue to do so indefinitely.
Tom: Just like Jeep's marketers.
Mike: For every generation, there is a dissatisfied man with escapist fantasies.
Tom: Yes, and to satisfy these escapist fantasies, we've gone from Walter Mitty to drinking heavily to drug use to World of Warcraft. Progress, in a way.
Mike: Mr. T has a Night Elf Mohawk, and that's good enough for me.
Keep Chopping Wood: Dennis Dixon and Jake Delhomme both made valiant attempts to claim this prize for their efforts at handing the ball to the other team, but instead this week's KCW makes a side trip to the college game to visit the Auburn Tigers' end of game offense. Alabama took a 26-21 lead, and Auburn took over at their own 25 with 1:24 to play. Since the clock stops in college on a first down, that should be plenty of time to drive down the field and get in position for a couple cracks at the end zone. After a first down incompletion, quarterback Chris Todd hit running back Brandon Tate underneath over the middle. Tate can't get the first down, and it takes Auburn 30 seconds to snap the ball. Tate does convert on a run for the first down, so the clock stops with about :39 left. Since that's a couple-yard run, it should be easy to snap the ball and get another play off. Tick, tick, tick, the clock runs down to :27 before Auburn false starts. Alas, the offense apparently doesn't know that the clock restarts after the penalty re-set, so it's tick, tick, tick again before the ball is snapped with about :22 left. While that play picked up a first down, the Tigers burned over a minute to net 8 yards. Verily, wood hath been chopped.
Mike Martz Award:
Dear Mike Tomlin,
If a player is healthy enough to play, he plays. If he's not healthy enough to play, don't put him in uniform. This serves no purpose, and only leads to said player being mocked by teammates.
P.S. Check with Ken Whisenhunt about what he did with Kurt Warner earlier today if you're not clear on this.
Colbert Award: The Baltimore Ravens faced a fourth-and-5 from their own 46 with 3:31 to go in the game. They'd just used their second timeout, but still had two guaranteed clock stoppages. After a punt, with a defensive stop they'd still get the ball back with over two minutes to go, needing a field goal for the tie. Not good enough for John Harbaugh, as he elected to go for it. Ray Rice beat James Farrior's coverage, Flacco hit him, and the Steelers couldn't get him down until after he'd gone 44 yards down to the 10. Billy Cundiff then tied it, and they won in overtime.
Kicker: It was actually a pretty weak week for kickers across the board. Out of the 31 kickers who didn't draw a penalty, only five of them broke double-digits. Fortunately, in a week of bad kicking, there was a definite lowlight. Josh Scobee did manage to put one through the uprights, but his two missed field goals more than counterbalanced that, leaving him with a much-coveted negative week at -1 points.
Wide Receiver: So much for the all-Josh Cribbs offense, although I suppose there still is some manner of quarterbacking present in Cleveland, so we can't blame Cribbs and his 0 points for everything, especially since he didn't fumble or anything devastating, just got enough touches to avoid the penalty, but not enough (18 passing yards, 7 receiving yards) to actually get points for anything.
Running Back: Hey look, it's Shonn Greene! Unlike Cribbs, Greene did fumble, which erased most of the points from his 36 rushing yards and left him with a total of 1 point on the week. Tom is not amused.
Quarterback: When your Scramble writers put together the All-Loser team at the end of season, it will be a pitched battle between Browns QB and Jake Delhomme. Delhomme got the better of the losing deal this week, as Brady Quinn made some quarterback-like noises. That shouldn't take any of the shine off Delhomme's -2 points, an impressive total in any week. 130 passing yards couldn't overcome the massive weight of four interceptions. And hey look, there's Chad Henne at 6 points. Mike is not amused.
Patriotsgirl: Slaton, F. Jackson, Maroney? I'm in a PPR (.5 per reception) with QB, WR1 and WR2 set (Brees, Wayne, Marshall). My running backs are, shall we say, problematic:
Slaton v. Jac, F. Jackson v. NYJ and Maroney v. Mia. And then there's Reggie Bush, who might be inactive anyway. I'm leaning toward Maroney and Jackson -- Maroney because I like the matchup, Jackson because Buffalo seems to have realized that he's a bit of a monster -- with Santonio Holmes as my flex rather than Slaton.
But playing Pats RBs drives me crazy, especially with Sammy Morris back (and playing his old team); and, Slaton always has good catch potential.
Mike: Slaton is a terrific PPR running back, because that seems to be the only thing Kubiak trusts him to do.
Tom: Even at .5?
Mike: Think of it as value-added. He's a serviceable fantasy running back who gets some receiving yards, and you're essentially getting free points when he catches passes.
Tom: True. I do like Fred Jackson, as Buffalo seems to have realized he's better than Lynch.
Mike: Agreed. I would also never start a Patriots running back, and Holmes has a good matchup. So, a good fantasy running back, decent upside running back against an imploding team, and a good wide receiver against a bad team.
Tom: While Miami is 29th in rushing defense DVOA, they're still 12th in rushing yards allowed.
Mike: Yeah. Sadly, the fantasy world has not adopted DVOA as the standard measurement, so we must rely on traditional statistics.
Tom: You'd need DYAR, since it's too easy to have a high DVOA on few attempts.
Mike: See, I feel that if you're going to go away from traditional stats, may as well get away from counting stats altogether. It would be a really interesting league, at least.
damitjohnson: Say you're out of contention of your fantasy playoffs due to a tough year, and someone in your league messaged you and told you who to start in your lineup this week because he needed you to win to get in the playoffs, all in a tone like you don't know squat. Would you help him out and try to win, or fill your entire roster with scrubs?
Mike: Raid the waiver wire for comedy players.
Tom: If you've shown any signs of competence or alertness at all, that kind of request is to me out of line.
Mike: Try to create something like the all-name team. Is BenJarvous Green-Ellis still in the league?
Tom: Of course.
Mike: Sadly, I don't think Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala is.
Tom: I'd suggest the All-Jackson team, but too many of them are probably owned. Create a Big Ten team, or an SEC team.
Mike: Yes, preferably the conference that your harasser hates. If you want to get really clever, you can carefully select players so that the first letter of their names, when read on the scoreboard, spell out something like "screw you." I'm not sure how many players in the league have last names that start with "Y," however. Or first names, for that matter.
Tom: Alas. But we're agreed on the basic idea.
Mike: Yeah. If he needs your help to get into the playoffs, why on earth does he think he's better than you? Screw him.
Tom: Here was somebody's idea: Tell the owner of the other playoff contending team what happened, and let him pick my lineup. Though he'd probably tell you to pick up Ronnie Brown and Ladell Betts and Owen Daniels off IR and start them. Still effective, but much less interesting.
Mike: I wouldn't ask anyone, though. Unless you're actually clueless, why would you ask someone who knows roughly the same as you about the subject and probably in the end has exactly the same chance of guessing correctly as you do?
Have a fantasy football question? Need a good method to humiliate or aggravate other players in your league? Your Scramble writers are here to help at scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com.
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