Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
04 Nov 2009
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: So, it's midseason, and we're starting to get a feel for how good teams are (or aren't). Many of this year's results were pretty predictable -- Indianapolis was clearly going to be good, Cleveland was clearly going to be bad -- but there have been a lot of surprises. New Orleans has really got its act together, and Baltimore has survived the loss of Rex Ryan: Greatest Coordinator Ever with the help of its resurgent offense. While there are a lot of "haves" and "have-nots," there are also a ton of teams on the bubble. How good is Pittsburgh? Is Denver for real? What is going on with the Giants? It's frustrating that we now have eight weeks worth of data and we can't even answer basic questions about a sizable number of teams. Of course, that's probably part of the fun. We should be able to see if one or both of Pittsburgh and Denver are really top-flight teams when they play this week, at least.
Tom: Mea culpa on the Broncos, and kudos to Mike Nolan for turning dross into a reasonably good defense.
Mike: "Reasonably good" is a very apt phrase. They're not world-beaters, but they're serviceable, and if Denver's offense is chugging along, that's all they need to be for the Broncos to be a serious threat.
Mike: Probably. One big question is whether they'll use Kyle Orton as their Official Quarterback of the Future or spend one of those shiny first-round picks they received from Chicago to pick some quarterback value in the middle of the first round, or trade up to get someone like Sam Bradford.
Tom: As someone with a fantasy team named "Josh McD Boy Genius," I'm inclined to see McDaniels masterminding things and showing he can win with unheralded Kyle Orton while developing Tom Brandstater. Speaking of Pomblus, he's part of an interesting trend you see with NFL teams: picking up players from local schools. Pomblus played at the University of Colorado, for instance, and Matt Lepsis was another Buffalo who ended up on the Broncos. The Bears have Garrett Wolfe, who graduated from Northern Illinois, and off the top of my head it seems that the Titans also like to draft players out of local schools.
Mike: It's my impression that most of these players are late-rounders, however. I guess that teams feel that they've seen more of the local universities, so have a better shot at picking out diamonds in the rough.
Tom: Well, Haynesworth was a Volunteer, and second-round pick Tyrone Calico went to Middle Tennessee State. It does generally seem that way, although I wonder how much of it is scouting hubris; that they're overrating players who are likely to be seen more often by non-scouts. I wonder just how efficient the post-college market for NFL players is, and local favoritism suggests to me that it's not very.
Tom: Well, sure, not perfectly efficient, but Warner, at least, was a guy who benefited greatly from the AFL game. The problem with many college quarterbacks is that they're "college accurate." If Warner was able to greatly improve his accuracy through Arena ball, then that's a major change in his NFL prospects.
Mike: I assume that "college accuracy" means "not accurate at all but playing against inferior competition."
Tom: Well, inferior competition in that they're playing against worse players, not necessarily against cupcakes. It seems kind of banal, but that's the biggest thing with college quarterbacks, that they don't need to be that accurate. It takes a much higher degree of accuracy to play in the NFL than it does in college. You can get away with throwing a fade on the front shoulder, because the cornerback isn't likely to be in as good a position, or throw an imperfect slant because he can't close that quickly or doesn't have good enough technique.
Mike: You would think that the consolidation of talent at the top-tier schools would combat that disparity to some extent.
Tom: College teams can succeed at the elite level relying upon the running game much more than NFL teams can.
Mike: That's true, a number of college quarterbacks at big-name schools are just glorified running backs.
Tom: Quarterback seems like it's a particularly hard position to evaluate just because of the level of improvement needed between college and the NFL is so much greater than other positions. The "market" for other positions seem to be reasonably efficient. Of course, Marques Colston could tell you that pissing off your coaches will certainly get you drafted later than you should be.
Mike: Well, as we saw last week, internal politics plays a much greater role in college football.
Tom: I gladly watch college ball -- it's still football -- but I'm not going to make any of the weak-efficiency claims I will with respect to the NFL.
Tom: So, "FF" no longer stands for "Fantasy Football," but "[Expletive deleted]. [Expletive deleted]." I lost to the worst team in the league, in the league where I'm actually doing well. That I moved from second place to first? Irrelevant.
Mike: Oh, this week was insane. I would like to mention that Gary Kubiak is now on the Official Enemies list.
Tom: Well, Jack Del Rio hasn't been vulturing enough, so another AFC South coach had to take over the label of "Fantasy Football's Least Favorite Head Coach." And no, you drafting LenDale White does not make Jeff Fisher a candidate for that list.
Mike: You know what's a great feeling? Not drafting LenDale White. So, even with a big fat 0 for Slaton, I managed to win the CBS league by a couple dozen points without him. I was still tied up in the Yahoo! league leading in to Monday Night Football, and had Marques Colston going up against Jeremy Shockey and Jason Elam, playing for the top spot in my league. One minute left, I'm up by 1 point, and the Falcons kick a meaningless field goal that gives Elam 5 fantasy points. So I lose by 4.
Tom: Come on, kicking at that point was the right decision. Down by 11, you need two scores. Now, the field goal down 28-21...
Mike: I think you should always go for the touchdown. Putting off the touchdown for the second score just won't win you games. You need a touchdown anyway and you're running out of time. You're already in your opponent's territory. Either you fail and it doesn't matter (since you needed a touchdown anyway), or you get the touchdown, leaving you with a much more clock- (and playcalling-) friendly field goal. A drive that the defense can easily label as "touchdown drive," when you have limited time, just gives away too much to the defense unless you have a Peyton Manning at quarterback. You could (and usually would) end up with a drive that takes forever and doesn't get you anywhere close to the end zone.
Tom: They did, but they got to the point where they wouldn't have enough time to run more than one or two plays. It's also not guaranteed that a field goal is more time-friendly, as they can always throw a Hail Mary.
Mike: Hail Marys almost never work.
Tom: I also lost my own fantasy game on Monday night. I was up by about 10 points with Colston and Carney, going up against Brees, Roddy White, and Henderson. I figured I was in trouble, and I was.
Mike: Ouch. White had a monster game.
Tom: 16.80 points, and I lost by 10. The semi-gratifying part about this loss is that I didn't make any bad start/sit decisions that cost me the game. I started Holt over Burleson, which cost me 5 points, but that's below the margin. In the league where I was in first, I would've gained a whole 2 points had I started Julius Jones over Felix Jones. That was an 18-point loss. I blame bye weeks; Welker and Ochocinco both on bye meant I started Sidney Rice at wideout (over Burleson, which cost me 3 points). But seriously, Peyton Manning didn't even throw a touchdown pass. And Green Bay's defense gave me a big fat goose egg.
Mike: Manning's score this week was pretty crazy, yeah. As for Green Bay's defense, I'm really high on Minnesota, so I wouldn't play anyone against their offense.
Tom: I generally like Green Bay as a fantasy defense and I didn't feel like risking losing them and grabbing someone else. I also didn't have anyone I felt like cutting to keep Green Bay on my roster. I did that in the other league, dropping Hasselbeck to play Houston's defense so I could keep Pittsburgh's defense.
Mike: True, I started the season carrying both Green Bay and Minnesota's defenses, and when I had to drop Green Bay for space it was taken pretty much instantly. Bye weeks can really make a mess of things.
Tom: This upcoming week is going to be fun for me. Both my tight ends, Justin Keller and Zach Miller, are on bye.
Mike: I can think of worse problems. Tight ends are fungible.
Tom: Sure, they're fungible, but are they any moreso than a No. 5 wide receiver?
Mike: That is true, but on the other hand, Bo Scaife may be available. Good call on that.
Tom: So long as you're in a PPR league.
Tom: My favorite PPR game was turned in by Titans tight end Shad Meier against the Chargers back in 2004. Nine catches, 31 yards, one touchdown. Yes, that really was a receiving line.
Tom: The long catch was for six yards. That needs to be celebrated like Bettis' 5-1-3 game.
Mike: It's true, that game was magic.
Tom: Oh, I'd also like to thank Curtis Lofton for putting up 13 points this week and not making me regret picking him up as my IDP when D'Qwell Jackson went on IR.
Mike: 13 points seems like a lot for Lofton, something out of left field.
Tom: It wasn't that unusual a score for Jackson.
Tom: OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but he did have double-digits in three of the first five weeks, and had 7 points in the first half before he went out with an injury. His high was 15.5. KUBIAK approved of the pick, too.
Mike: Well, at least he turned out to be useful. Personally, I'm looking forward to getting Polamalu and Farrior back in the CBS league.
Tom: It's always nice to get players back from bye, and to have a nice confluence of rooting interests. It's almost enough to make me wish that the Titans (non-Chris Johnson division) had viable fantasy players other than maybe Bo Scaife in a PPR league. That said, one of the reasons I held out so long on fantasy football was because I didn't want a potential division of rooting interests. Steve McNair went from eight rushing touchdowns in 1999 to zero in 2000. The team still went 13-3, but if I had him in fantasy I would have been royally torqued all year.
Mike: Fantasy is at its best when playing with or against random players and teams you really don't care about. Even when your team is doing well, it's annoying to focus on raw stats when you should just be enjoying your team's performance.
Tom: The perfect confluence for me is players I think are good who aren't playing against my team.
Mike: Yes, like watching the Red Zone Channel. It's just good, mindless fun with no strings attached. And nearly as much caffeine.
Tom: In an attempt to gain football overload, I've taken to streaming the Red Zone Channel on DirecTV's Supercast. Without doing that, I would have only seen Brett Favre walking off the bus on Sunday six times instead of seven. Yes, as part of the Red Zone Channel rotation, they showed Brett walking off the bus.
Mike: It makes sense. Last week the Vikings secretly renamed their bus to "The 20-yard Line."
by Bill Barnwell
Bill (6-2) 112, Vivek (4-4) 87
In the glamour matchup of the week, I took out Vivek despite the fact that he started a very nifty 1-2 combination of backs in Chris Johnson (35) and Frank Gore (19). It helped that no one else on his team scored more than eight points, and he got a -5 from the Packers defense.
Aaron (3-5) 90, Pat (5-3) 58
Pat fell into a tie for first place in the Virgil Parks Division when he managed to get four combined points from his three wide receivers (Kenny Britt, Brandon Marshall, and Pierre Garcon) and team defense (Arizona), and Aaron got 21 points from the Dolphins defense.
Vince (5-3) 66, Doug (3-5) 63
Vince was saved by his team defense, Chicago, which put up 26 of his 66 points. Meanwhile, Doug's plans to ride Steve Slaton to victory were foiled when Slaton was benched early on. Had Slaton scored even three points as opposed to the -1 he put up, Doug would have a win.
Elias (5-3) 107, Will (3-5) 79
A comprehensive win for Elias saw five players in double figures, and while Will had four players with more than ten points, he left Jonathan Stewart (20 points) on the bench in favor of Austin Collie (six).
Sean (3-5) 91, Mike (2-6) 60
Mike's freefall continued with another player on bye in his lineup, Buccaneers halfback Derrick Ward. In all fairness, Mike's only other options would have been to play an injured Brian Westbrook, a questionable Anquan Boldin, or Kevin Walter, and none of them scored more than three points. A resurgent Sean rode the Jacksons (DeSean, 13, and Vincent, 16) to the win.
Ian/Al (5-3) 103, Rob (4-4) 100
It was tough luck for Rob, who had the fourth highest score of the week, but still got the L. You can blame Lee Evans, who only scored two points when Greg Jennings picked up 14 on the bench. Team Ex-Scramble got one combined point from Donnie Avery and Mike Sims-Walker, but picked up 29 from MJD and 22 from the Panthers defense.
Mike: Awesome, using Bing will facilitate you being eaten by a vampire. If that's not going to sell, I don't know what could!
Tom: Don't you know anything about Twilight? Vampires are now nice and friendly creatures who don't eat humans. In fact, not only do they not eat humans, but they now protect them from lycanthropes.
Mike: Ah, right. I had forgotten how the classical Vampyr myth wasn't really about sexual violence, but rather, handbags.
Tom: I'm too busy enjoying the splendor of Monday Night Jihad and its sequel, Broken Coverage, to get around to the Twilight books.
Mike: Following Tanier's glorious lead, or did you also make a stupid bet?
Tom: Hey, the local library had them, and I needed some light fiction. One thing that really annoys me about this commercial is that she's favorably impressed by Bing's splash screen. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but when I access a search engine, I don't want a big fancy picture of a city skyline.
Mike: Having a big ol' image on the front page is, amazingly, another selling point. Because we all have trouble finding pictures on the Internet, and need them displayed prominently on the browser's front page. Apparently Microsoft doesn't quite understand just what people are using Bing to find.
Tom: You know, this image fad would end pretty quickly if everybody just used Lynx.
Mike: Hail Unix!
Tom: After doing a quick comparison of Bing and Google, I see Bing's revolutionary new invention: Instead of using letters to designate the top restaurants, Bing uses numbers.
Mike: This is important, because people have difficulty with the alphabet, primarily the beginning of it. I bet they spent millions on consultation and focus-group testing to come up with that.
Tom: At least the commercial is accurate: Browsing restaurant search results, I see that dim lighting is one of their atmosphere options. Is that something that non-vampires really look for in a restaurant? Do people really say "You know, I don't really like being able to see the people I'm having dinner with. I want a dark restaurant?" Or is it just a way to camouflage that the food isn't the color it's supposed to be?
Mike: You'd be surprised how often both of those answers are "yes." I should say, however, that strange-colored food is as often as not a selling point, also. In any case, people have some strange ideas about restaurants. Yelp has earned by eternal enmity due to its user reviews. I looked for a review of a French place and they raved about the food but gave it two stars because of the service. These people don't seem to understand that poor service is part of the deal.
Tom: Yes, a French restaurant wouldn't be French if it didn't feature a snooty waiter, preferably one who had been smoking Gauloises. The problem with finding quality reviews is a widespread one, especially if you have idiosyncratic tastes.
Mike: I suppose that's true, but understanding this dynamic is a basic part of any gastronome's education.
Tom: I know you'd rather be writing a food column, but people do review things other than food, you know.
Mike: Non-food-related reviews are much less interesting.
Tom: I find movie reviews particularly frustrating. I remember one of Slate's year-end colloquiums where one of the critics seemed aghast to find that the readers didn't really care if the critic liked the movie, but only if the reader liked the movie.
Mike: We're getting pretty far afield, now. This is all Yelp's fault.
Tom: True. I'm not sure what Microsoft is trying to accomplish with this commercial.
Mike: Really? It's pretty obvious what they were trying to achieve: a cash-in on vampire mania.
Tom: Well, I don't really get vampire mania, and I don't see it happening with the new movie the way it was with the first movie or whatever the last big event was. Then, I saw promo materials out when I went to lunch or whatever, this time I see nothing. It's like they're trying to promote the movie with the search engine commercial.
Mike: Well, it's twisted the traditional vampyr myth of sexual violence into a happy kind of dangerous sexy. The ultimate bad-boy thing, and the woman who wants to give in but can't, but she's not a shrew because he's a vampire and therefore it's OK.
Tom: Sure, that's what Twilight is, but that's not the feeling I get from this commercial. It seems to just play on the sinister side.
Mike: The sinister side is part of the attraction. The new happy sexy vampire time thing is very disturbing, believe me. And my scale of "disturbing" already includes large portions of Japanese culture.
Tom: So he flashes his fangs and talks about being hungry and she's not going to die? I feel like I could wake up next morning and finding that Stephenie Meyer will say "Ha ha, I was just kidding, thanks for making me rich and famous!"
Mike: No, he just wants her blood, which doesn't require killing her.
Tom: So, it's like a blood donation to someone you love?
Mike: Of course. Anne Rice is the real culprit, here. Although I can't imagine she thought her new vampire mythos would be used to whip teenagers into a frenzy or shill for search engines.
Tom: I think we need to find a different pop culture phenomenon that could be used to flog Bing, like Voldemort saying "Avada Kedavra" to a Google rack server.
Mike: That commercial would be awesome. It would also confirm one of my pet theories, that Steve Ballmer is really an evil wizard.
Tom: Well, Tony Kornheiser did warn us that the Washington NBA franchise changing its name could bring black magic to the streets of Washington, D.C. It's well past time for his prediction to be proved right in a television commercial.
Mike: I thought he was referring to bribed refs. I suppose I give Tony less credit than he's due. Microsoft needs better material in general. Their marketing strategy seems to be random pop culture references and cute children/"look! These people don't hate us!"
Tom: I dunno, it's hard to come up with a good commercial. That's the whole point of this feature, that there are a lot of bad or annoying commercial shticks out there.
Mike: True. Microsoft needs something special, though. Something big. Something that cannot fail. Microsoft needs ... Peyton Manning.
Tom: Search that Internet! Search that Internet! Peyton has really turned into a commercial star, though. Aside from one of the Oreo commercials, I can't remember a bad commercial he's been in.
Mike: He's like magic. We really should all just pay into a fund to hire Peyton Manning to do every commercial there is.
Tom: One of the great things about a Peyton-Microsoft combination is that we could combine both irrational arguments: PC vs. Mac and Manning vs. Brady.
Mike: Great idea. There have to be more irrational arguments we can shoehorn in and make this the irrational argument commercial to end all irrational arguments. Perhaps, in this way, we can silence them all. That or just shoot them all into outer space. Whichever is easier.
Tom: A great big spaceship with all the middle managers and the hairdressers and whatnot. Of course, in the U.S, the lawyers would probably get lumped in there.
Mike: You know, it might be worth being shot into space, so long as we had a TV and could watch people actually try to work out problems between themselves. Now that would be some great reality television.
Keep Chopping Wood: It's a rare and impressive feat to earn a Keep Chopping Wood when your team wins the game, so congratulations go out to Rams safety James Butler! Butler earns the KCW for violating two basic principles of football: (1) Following a turnover in the end zone, take a knee unless it's really obvious that you're going to get to at least the 20 yards or you're in a desperation situation; and (2) run forward! Kevin Smith alertly tackled him after he retreated back into the end zone, and the Lions went from having a scoring drive snuffed out to getting 2 points and the ball back. While the Lions were unable to score on the ensuing drive and the Rams still won the game, Butler provided a memorable example of what not to do, and for that he earns this week's KCW.
Mike Martz Award: The Atlanta Falcons faced a fourth-and-4 from the Saints 23-yard line with 14:04 to go in the game. Trailing by seven points, Falcons coach Mike Smith elected to go for it. The Atlanta Falcons faced a fourth-and-5 to go from the Saints' 7-yard line with 11:42 to go in the game. Trailing by seven points, Falcons coach Mike Smith elected to kick the field goal. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Still, your Scramble writers are at a loss as to how the same coach can make both of those decisions in such rapid succession.
Colbert Award: Be bold. Be daring. Be interesting. HAVE BALLS. These are the hallmarks of the Colbert Award. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano took these words to heart, and, after his team scored a touchdown to go up 30-19 with 8:48 to play in Sunday's game against the Jets, decided to go for two. Bold. Daring. Interesting. Ballsy. Sure, the skeptical may note that William Krasker's chart indicates you need to be 80 percent sure you'll make it for the decision to make sense, but Sparano wanted to be aggressive. B E aggressive!
Kicker: Week 8 was a watershed for poor kicking performances. Usually you get a 0, maybe a -1, sometimes a -2. This week we have the pleasure of honoring two kickers who broke through the -4 barrier! Phil Dawson takes the award by a nose at -5 points. Cleveland, as they are wont to do, scored only a single touchdown in their game against Chicago. Dawson, apparently startled by this show of basic offensive competence, walked onto the field and had an extra point blocked. Josh Scobee almost shared a similar fate, but since he doesn't play for Cleveland he got another extra point attempt and hammered it through, leaving him with an impressive but sadly upstaged -4.
Wide Receiver: This whole process is really unfair to the Browns and the Jaguars. There are plenty of bad teams out there, but they always seem to rise above the chaff and serve as shining examples of incompetence. This week's top wide receivers were Mohamed Massaquoi and Mike Sims-Walker, each clocking in with 0 points. Browns fans can take some comfort, however; the inactivity penalties at least hid the rest of their offense from our basilisk-like gaze, while Jaguars fans had to deal with Torry Holt finishing a solid No. 3 in the standings with one measly point.
Running Back: As we'll discuss below, jumping to conclusions in fantasy football is a very, very bad move. Your roster is tiny and, unlike a real coach, you don't have the option to pull your guys when they fall apart. Condolences to everyone who picked up Shonn Greene after his dismantling of the Raiders, and threw him right into your lineup. I'm sure his eight rushes for 20 yards with a fumble, for a total of 0 points, was a Kubiak-sized anchor weighing down your team. But hey, that's what the Loser League's for, right?
Quarterback: Cleveland is a disaster. There is nothing more that can be said on this subject. Derek Anderson. 1 point.
Red Hedgehog: With Steve Slaton looking at a severely diminished role, I would like to try to trade for a quality running back. Chris Johnson has a very easy schedule the rest of the way (though unfortunately just had a monster game). I'm thinking of trying to trade Vincent Jackson straight up for him. Would that be a fair trade? My league is non-PPR. My RBs are Slaton, Jackson, Jerome Harrison, and Jamaal Charles and my WRs are Jackson, Colston, Burleson, Anthony Gonzalez, and Jeremy Maclin.
Mike: Whoa there, Mr. Fake Ultimate Life Form. There's no solid evidence that Slaton's role is going to be severely diminished. We have no idea what's in Kubiak's head at the moment. This could be a motivational stunt, like benching him last year. In a few weeks, we may all be talking about how silly this all was and filing the entire incident under "Gary Kubiakington chastiseth thine fumbling running backe Steve Slaton."
Tom: Kubiak hasn't decided who he's going to start this week, as of the Monday press conference. Even if he's not playing games and Moats gets the majority of carries, the coach still had nice things to say about Slaton as a receiver, which would make him a good start in a PPR league regardless of what happens.
Mike: Even if this is for real, Kubiak can still reevaluate his decision a few weeks in, like Tomlin or McDaniels or Phillips. Ryan Moats may have had a monster game, but he's really not a solution. Correcting Slaton's fumblitis is the solution, and I think Kubiak knows that well enough. Even if you've been riding Slaton to fantasy victory, it's important not to overreact to things like this.
Tom: Right. Mr. Hedgehog didn't say what his league setup is, but if it's 2RB/3WR, Slaton and Jackson is an OK combo, I think.
Mike: He's heavy on wide receiver, so a third running back, at least for matchups, would be nice.
Tom: I don't know the composition of the team he's trying to get Johnson off of, but unless he's really needy for a wide receiver and strong at running back, that's a fast "no" from me.
Mike: Yeah, unless you're in a PPR league, you're never going to get a quality running back for a quality wide receiver, unless your target is desperate.
Tom: Right. I'd trade Reggie Wayne for Julius Jones, for instance, but looking for Chris Johnson from Colston or Jackson isn't a realistic hope, barring special circumstances. Especially if the Titans plan on using Johnson more than usual, as I wrote about in Audibles.
Mike: It really depends on the other team. He might be able to swing Colston/Harrison.
Tom: That's the thing, he doesn't have an attractive third running back somebody could use to platoon. Charles and Harrison are both non-starters on bad teams.
Mike: Harrison isn't as bad a low-end third running back option as you'd think.
Tom: Eh. Jamal Lewis still gets too many carries.
Mike: Stafford is clearly the best option if Megatron gets the green light. He makes that offense work, and even with Stafford's lingering injury, he'll get something against Seattle. Barring that, or if you're worried about that injury, I'd go with Cassel.
Tom: All three have pretty good matchups, or at least are playing bad pass defenses according to DVOA. I agree with you, though, that Stafford is the best play with Calvin Johnson. As a Tennessee fan, I'm curious to see if the pass defense's strong performance against Jacksonville continues, but San Francisco is so run-oriented that I think they'll pound the ball and won't go into the spread formations where Smith is most comfortable. Of course, now that Kansas City has Chris Chambers, they'll surely become the league's best passing offense. A league consisting of Oakland, Cleveland and Kansas City, at least.
Mike: So, like a small(er) UFL.
Tom: Exactly, only with uniform differentiation beyond palette-swapping.
Mike: What would Cleveland's weakness be, then? "Doesn't taste like orange tang?" On the other hand, UFL teams at least have nicknames that make sense.
Tom: Come on, more teams should be named after their original owner. This week, the Jacksonville Weavers take on the Houston Bobs!
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24 comments, Last at 06 Nov 2009, 3:18pm by John