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.
18 Dec 2009
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: We spend a lot of our time on this site second-guessing coaches. I've always wondered what makes us think we're the least bit qualified to do that? NFL coaches may make some odd (or interesting) decisions, but they rarely do things that make no sense at all. Pretty much every decision made by an NFL coach, or even an NFL GM, fits within the range of reasonableness.
Mike: It's true. One of the biggest problems with the Mike Martz award is the misconception that it's for poor coaching decisions, when in fact it celebrates the strange and inexplicable in the coaching profession. The reason we see this is because truly crazy, inexplicable, nonsensical decisions occur so rarely, especially after the award's namesake was drummed out of the ranks of head coaches. We generally don't help, because due to this scarcity we often have to go with decisions that seem both questionable and bad, in retrospect. Of course, retrospect is pretty awesome.
Tom: Well, we do try to make it at least low-percentage decisions.
Mike: True, but it's a lot of armchair quarterbacking, which we as fans have to an extent overcome with regard to players but apparently not with coaches, and most assuredly not with officials.
Tom: I've been making a little bit of an effort to not criticize officials for any quick decisions. Replay, when they have time to look at something more than once and think about it, is one thing, but making split-second decisions while watching 22 players interacting plus that all-important football ... I'd be really terrible at that.
Mike: To be fair, the league has officials' responsibilities very well regimented, with in my opinion the exception of the referee. Since the league has made it clear that quarterbacks have a stack of special rules, I understand devoting a large majority of the most experienced official's time to play involving that position.
Tom: I think the general level of officiating is actually pretty high, as watching too much Saturday football makes clear.
Mike: True. Officiating is a different subject, however, one that could easily command its own column.
Tom: Yes. Go back to Bill Belichick's decision to go for it; I didn't really participate in much of the discussion about it. Mostly because, to me, it wasn't that interesting.
Mike: My problem with the whole discussion is that our biases kick in far too easily, because things are a bit more visceral and a bit less ... well ... analyzable.
Tom: The percentages were at least pretty even, and probably slightly in his favor, and he had knowledge of other factors that go beyond the percentages.
Mike: Well, that's the thing. The entire debate was centered mostly around people making up percentages, usually to support their preconceived conclusion.
Tom: Generally the percentages were such that a highly skilled, experienced and intelligent coach could use the factors beyond the straight percentages to justify his decision.
Mike: Also keep in mind the sheer volume of decisions. We tend to single out one or two "important" decisions in a game, much like we try to single out one or two "important" plays.
Tom: When, really, for the coach that's just one of ten or even hundreds of potentially crucial decisions he has to make during a game.
Mike: Exactly. So even if they were mistakes, who can say with any sort of certainty that in a stressful situation they could perform their job without errors over the course of a hundred-odd different tests? It's a pretty demanding standard, even if we admit to clear groups of "correct" and "incorrect" decisions.
Tom: Even for guys like Andy Reid, who make bad end-of-game decisions, they're also making even more decisions in building their team and preparing for the game. Based on the Eagles' record this decade, he's doing a pretty damn good job of making those decisions.
Mike: And good decisions even in the game. That does raise a good point, however: Where does our Monday morning quarterbacking end and legitimate criticism of a coach begin? Surely it can't be everything or nothing.
Tom: I almost hate to say it, but it leaves us as outsiders with largely results-oriented viewpoints. NFL coaches are paid to win games and put their teams in position to win games.
Mike: There's definitely a difference between coaches and players. We all understand how players play, at least on a basic level; we've all run, kicked, caught things. Many of us have played football at some level. We can watch a football game and even those of us who care the least about stats can gauge a player's performance, but very few of us are coaches. We don't understand how large parts of the process works, what's involved.
Tom: And our coach was some random guy's dad or the math teacher who didn't actually know anything about math, so we may be predisposed to think of the coach as an idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about, because that's what our experience was.
Mike: What we end up doing, really, is associating "good" coaching with a mixture of success and appropriate coach-like bearing. Herm Edwards was a bad coach because he said silly things, and did slightly worse than league average. Bill Belichick is a good coach because he's won a lot of games, and acts "like a coach."
Tom: Yes, although I think that Jeff Fisher is a better example than Belichick.
Mike: True. In the end, Ithink it says a lot more about the speaker than the coach.
Tom: Quite possibly. We're still going to be handing out a Martz Award every week, however.
Mike: Of course. Coaches are certainly never without their lapses and share of blame, but it's always good to keep a word of warning in mind, that these coaches, even the ones we think buffoons, have forgotten more about football than most of us will ever know.
Tom: Even the really bad ones.
Mike: I lost my playoff game!
Tom: So did I!
Mike: Interestingly enough, I didn't lose due to any sort of sit/start decision, although Rivers over Roethlisberger would have made things a bit more close.
Tom: Same here!
Mike: I just had a miserable week. On the upside, neither of our weeks were as bad as Barnwell's!
Tom: Touche. Actually, I did hurt myself with start/sit decisions. Quinton Ganther outscored Steven Jackson by 14.5, Bradshaw outscored Pierre Thomas by 5. If I had started those two, I would have lost by 22 instead of 42 points. I was up by five going into Sunday night against DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. Seven of my ten players scored below their Yahoo! projections. I also ended my lousy season's term with yet another loss, thanks in part to Lee Evans' fantabulous 1.1 points. Going against Brandon Marshall's 32 points didn't help. I even lost in the league where my team isn't terrible, to one of the worst teams in the league.
Mike: I take solace that my margin of loss was the least of any of the losers.
Mike: Small victories, I guess. Actually, barring Rivers, I made all the right starts. Which tells you how horrible a week my team had. C'est la vie. Now I have to go have my ridiculous, ostentatious trophy engraved.
Mike: In 2005, when my uncle won the league, he went out and bought a huge, gaudy trophy for our fantasy league, with a placard, where he had his team's name engraved. So when my sister won the next year, he handed it over to her, and she had her team's name engraved. And so on and so forth until last year, when I got it. Since I'm not going to win, I'll have it engraved to memorialize last year's victory, and pass it on.
Tom: This is why I'm in fantasy leagues with people I've never met.
Mike: All long-term leagues have their own weird things. It's part of the charm.
Tom: As I I used to sing: People/who need people/must die.
Mike: It's worked out better since you changed your name from Killer Evil Death Spybot 5000.
Tom: Anyway, I'm hoping I just got my terrible week out of play and my team will now return to its usual awesomeness. I'm facing the Peyton Dilemma in that league. I'm hoping Jim Caldwell sticks to his word and plays him.
Mike: There's always the chance that you'll get Sorgi'd.
Tom: For the record, Sorgi's on IR, I'd be getting Painter'd.
Mike: Sorgi'd is a term of art.
Tom: Anyway, I picked up ... Kyle Orton.
Tom: I also picked up Alex Smith previously for Week 16, so I could go with him against Philadelphia's shaky-seeming pass defense. So I have options, just facing risk with all of them.
Mike: They're good options to have.
Tom: Yup, and you'll see me in this space next week, talking about how I chose the wrong one.
Mike: It'll be an exciting adventure!
by Bill Barnwell
After a long regular season, the playoff teams have been decided.
Ian/Al (9-5) 114, Bill (9-5) 29
No, that's not a typo. No, I didn't forget to take injured players out of my lineup. With a full roster, I pulled in a grand total of 29 points this week, thanks to the following lineup:
For reference, my bench of Donovan McNabb, Matt Forte, Beanie Wells, Hakeem Nicks, John Carlson, and the Cardinals D combined for 65 points. It's good I don't believe in momentum. Ian/Al nearly beat me with either Ryan Grant (25) or the Titans D (23) by themselves. By virtue of their win, Ian/Al clinched the No. 2 spot in the playoffs.
Elias (10-4) 100, Rob (7-7) 77
Elias clinched the top seed, though, by beating Rob and winning the regular season trophy without requiring a tiebreaker. Andre Johnson scored 31 for Elias, and while Rob got 25 from Adrian Peterson, his four wide receivers and tight ends combined for only 16 points.
Aaron (8-6) 70, Will (8-6) 65
Aaron beat Will with four players in double figures, but Will kept it close enough to win a tiebreaker over Aaron by 31 points and claim the fourth and final playoff spot.
Vivek (7-7) 106, Sean (5-9) 62
Sean's bench came within one point of his total, with Matt Schaub and DeSean Jackson's big games going for naught. Vivek claimed second place in the Virgil Parks Division with 58 points from his feared running back combination of Chris Johnson and Frank Gore.
Pat (7-7) 100, Doug (5-9) 92
Mike (4-10) 69, Vince (5-9) 29
Vince's team fell to their sixth consecutive loss with a performance I'd be making fun of if my team hadn't matched it. Vince got nine points from Tom Brady, six from the Bears D, and a combined 14 points from Julius Jones, Jerome Harrison, Kelley Washington, Randy Moss, Bernard Berrian, Zach Miller, and Neil Rackers.
The playoffs are now upon us. We're playing two weeks of playoffs, one round per week. The semifinals pit Elias against Will, and my team versus Ian/Al's in a rematch of last week.
The consolation bracket also starts, although I think it goes through Week 17. That features Aaron vs. Vivek, Pat vs. Rob, Sean vs. Doug, and Vince vs. Mike in another rematch with one team that scored 29 points.
Tom: This commercial is actually kind of effective, because I wasn't expecting how it would end up. But he talks about it as where it all happened, and Cancun is normally more of a kind of "What Happens in Vegas" experience.
Mike: Yes, overall a very effective commercial, despite the complete lack of chicken wings. Although, what does that tell us about old people? That we can only imagine them as the heroes of war films? That we can't even imagine a time when they were young?
Tom: Well, he's talking about it with his wife and his son, but the Cancun Experience is supposedly drunken debauchery, and his story seems to fit with that.
Mike: Well, it works because every single word in the English language can be used in some sort of double entendre.
Tom: "A woman walked into a bar and asked for a double entendre. So the bartender gave her one."
Mike: So, double entendres and bad jokes. Good to know our language is good for something.
Tom: And eleventy-thousand ways to say absolutely anything.
Mike: Anyway, the strange thing is that the son apparently knows nothing about his father.
Tom: Well, that just plays to the war bit; people didn't talk about that or something.
Mike: But he would surely know whether his father was in the war. It's not like kids ask "What did you do when you were in Europe?" and they answer "Sorry, the years 1939 to 1945 are strictly off-limits." This is a sneaky commercial. I do not trust it.
Tom: As opposed to every other commercial, which you trust implicitly?
Mike: That is the point, isn't it? Hold on, I have to call my dog to get my remote for me.
Tom: Tailgate Companions are still available! Alas, the Grooler is still sold out.
Mike: I know, I had to try and make my own. I think the neighbors have recovered from the PVC poisoning. Mostly.
Tom: Neighbors. Who needs 'em?
Mike: The police apparently think I do. Oh, and by the way, if anyone asks, you and I were surfing in Alaska on giant sharks, which can be corroborated by our mutual cousin, who is also our barber/business manager. Anyway, I suppose returning to the scene of youthful escapades in your golden years makes about as much sense as visiting former battlefields. I mean, it's not like a bunch of old guys fly over to France and shoot Germans. At least in Cancun you can sit and look. I'm pretty sure even France has laws against shooting random people.
Tom: Crazy Germans.
Mike: "Das Uber Patron" is a great name for a band.
Tom: Except it sounds too much like "the best tequila."
Mike: It works on two levels!
Keep Chopping Wood: After last week's big win on Sunday night against the Vikings, the Cardinals traveled to San Francisco looking to not only clinch the division but maintain an outside shot at a first-round bye should the Vikings stumble. Alas, it was not to be, thanks in part to the efforts of quarterback Kurt Warner, who played the role of old quarterback looking old, played the week before by Brett Favre. Two interceptions and two of Arizona's seven fumbles later, the 49ers were still alive and Arizona was looking more like a No. 4 seed again than a potential No. 2.
Martz Award: Be bold, but be intelligent. Sean Payton had the opportunity to make the Falcons use up their timeouts, and then kick a field goal to go up by 6. Instead, it's incomplete pass on second down, incomplete pass on third down, and with 2:11 left, the Falcons have plenty of time to drive for a potential game-winning touchdown. Payton instead goes into his bag of tricks and calls for a fake field goal. Which just happened to be Mark Brunell's first pass attempt since 2006. As Gary Kubiak learned last week, if you have somebody who hasn't thrown a pass the last couple years throw, your chances of winning this award are probably pretty good.
Colbert Award: Jack Del Rio went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 35-yard line, down by 4 points with time to go in the fourth quarter. The Colts went for it in intermediate range. Ditto the Broncos. The Jets went for it twice on the same drive early in the game. All told, 24 of the 32 NFL teams went for it on fourth down at least once this weekend, many of them more than once and outside of the late-game situations when every team goes for it. This week, that means everybody is a winner!
Kicker: Misery seems to love company, indeed. Every week, we talk about a team that completely fell apart, and nearly every week the kicker shows up in the Loser League standings. Have we found the new Kneel to Win? Or an analogue, at least, where Neil Rackers and his -2 points are concerned.
Wide Receiver: One of your Scramble writers picked up Davone Bess on a lark, just to see where things would go. The answer, apparently, was nowhere. Actual nowhere, as in 0 points.
Running Backs: The Loser League is a cruel mistress, as often the player in question is a decent performer on a bad team, or at least during a bad week. This week FO Romance Novel Cover Jerious Norwood finished second, and the talented (but injured) Cadillac Williams took the top spot with 1 point.
Mark Adams: I've got to start two of three: Pierre Garcon, Robert Meachem, and Randy Moss. Moss has been a lock all season until last week, and he's got a bad matchup against Buffalo. And Garcon and Meachem both have good matchups. Would I be wise to bench Moss this week?
Mike: Moss has been neutralized by top corners in the past, so avoiding him is probably for the best.
Tom: I'm going to say something crazy: If I had to pick one of these three, I'd pick Meachem. Buffalo is actually the top defense against No. 1 wide receivers. The question is how much you trust Garcon.
Mike: I'm not sure if I'd go with Meachem over Garcon, but fortunately we only have to choose two of the three.
Tom: Jacksonville isn't a tough matchup, but it's not a tough matchup for any wideout position, so it's not like Wayne will have a bad game and Garcon will benefit.
Mike: It's kind of random who has huge days, past Wayne.
Tom: Garcon burned me earlier this year, when he did squat and Collie had big days.
Mike: It's a roulette, agreed.
Tom: My brain says Meachem and Garcon, my pique goes with Moss and Meachem.
Mike: I'm going with your brain, here.
BucNasty: I have Wayne, Moss, Holmes, Meachem and Sims-Walker. Assuming that I give Wayne and Moss the benefit of the doubt, who do you like out of Holmes, Meachem and MSW?
Tom: Give Moss and Wayne the benefit of the doubt at your own risk.
Mike: I think Wayne is a solid play. Moss, as we discussed, is not, regardless of where you fall in the psychology question
Tom: Sims-Walker is a quick flunk for me; his injury has definitely affected his level of production.
Mike: Agreed, which gives you Holmes, Wayne and Meachem. Holmes is a big question mark, though. He may not be injured, but his quarterback is in la-la land. Is that really any better than Sims-Walker?
Tom: He was a solid play for me last week. Holmes, to me, depends on how Ward is, although I wonder if Green Bay will give him extra attention.
Mike: They probably will. Green Bay has the skill at corner to keep up with Ward, but I'm not sure they have the skill at safety to combat Holmes/Wallace packages. I imagine they'll cheat a bit in favor of covering Ward up airtight.
Tom: Enough to make Moss or Sims-Walker a better play, though?
Mike: Probably not, so yeah, bench Holmes and Sims-Walker.
Ten Drink Drunk: Do I start Steve Breaston (@DET) or Derrick Mason (CHI) over Reggie Wayne this week? Caldwell has said "healthy" starters will play, but that's a little ambiguous. How long will they play and does Wayne's nagging foot injury make him less of a clear start?
Breaston is a tempting option with Fitzgerald injured Monday and a good matchup, but I don't want to over manage my team only to ruin my shot at Fantasy Football glory.
Mike: Breaston really does seem like over-thinking it. Then again, Detroit is a joke. I actually like the idea, the more I think about it ... Wayne is injured, that's clear, and Indy has little to play for, so even if he starts, he might get limited touches; enough to keep him sharp, but not so much to increase the risk of injury. Baltimore and Arizona are in playoff fights. Mason is injured, and Breaston has been promoted to starter on a much better offense.
Tom: I think I actually like Mason a little more. With Fitz limited, I don't think that's as good a situation for Breaston as with Fitz and no Boldin.
Tom: Fitzgerald is a big game-changer. Mason was shaken up, but I'm not sure that it's anything serious. I think they're both good plays, just that Mason is a little better.
Mike: Fair enough.
drobviousso: I have to start two of the following. Scoring is per 1 pt per 10 yards, 6 per touchdown and 1 per 18 return yards! (DJackson and Harvin are the top 2 receivers in the league, Cribbs is a top 10). Sticky Rickey @ TEN, Fred Jackson VS NE, Darren Sproles VS CIN, Pierre Thomas VS DAL. I'm leaning toward Rickey and Sproles, but not sure.
Tom: First off, leagues that award points for return yards are bad and wrong.
Mike: Horribly, horribly wrong. On at least eight levels.
Tom: Well, start Ricky Williams. He'll get the carries and the goal-line work.
Mike: Williams is a must-start.
Tom: How much do you like New England's offense? Since Jackson has been getting kickoff return work, that could make a big difference in his results.
Mike: New England's offense is pretty Moss-based. I think it's a pretty risky proposition in the face of Buffalo, so I'm not sure if you can count on second-hand points from it. Especially with the randomness from return yardage.
Tom: If you don't trust New England's offense, then I think you go with Pierre Thomas.
Mike: Cincinnati's received a lot of press for its defense, but that's mostly about their pass defense. Then again, Norv obviously has Tomlinson on his fantasy team, so I suppose Sproles isn't a great option.
Tom: Last week betrayed the ugly secret that Cincinnati's pass offense has struggled this year -- they may be 12th in DVOA, but they're 23rd in yards and Palmer's barely above-average in yards per attempt. They're 19th in points scored, so don't count on many kickoffs.
Mike: Thomas, then.
In another league with normal scoring I have Denver Def vs. Oakland and NO vs. DAL. I usually just play the matchup, and if this was Week 4, it would be Denver as an easy pick. But Oakland has been playing something approaching real football, and Dallas may have once again turned into a pumpkin.
Tom: Oakland is starting Charlie Frye. Do not mistake him for a real NFL quarterback.
Mike: INVISIBLE QUARTERBACK.
... I think that's actually my only thought on the matter.
Tom: Really, fantasy defense is about matchups. Play against the offense with bad players, and don't over-think things.
Mike: Dallas might be turning into a pumpkin, but they are a lot more dangerous than Oakland.
Tom: So we're agreed, play Denver?
mrapollinax: Okay, flex start question. I am going to be benching Roddy White as his jersey this week will have the name "REVIS" stitched onto it. So my remaining flex options are Brandon Jacobs or Fred Davis. This is a PPR league so I'm leaning Davis as it seems Washington is trying to funnel as much production through him as possible. The rest of my starters are: Brady, MJD, Benson, Colston, Wayne, Welker, Clark.
Tom: The whole concept of starting a tight end over a running back, even in a PPR league, just sets alarm bells flashing in my mind.
Mike: True, but the flip-side of funneling through a player is that the defensive game plan will be centered on him.
Tom: Davis in the last three games averaged four catches and 49 yards, but he also has four touchdowns, so his good performances are as repeatable as him catching touchdowns.
Mike: In the red zone, mainly, where an opponent can most effectively plan him out of the game. This is an iffy proposition. I'd go with Jacobs.
Tom: And the Giants, for all their well-chronicled secondary problems, are league-average against tight ends. Jacobs has been mediocre, as I can tell you from unhappy experience, but he'll get some work and red zone carries.
Mike: Better than dealing with Roddy Revis, to be sure.
Now that Mike's bounced from his playoffs, he has even more time to answer questions mailed to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com!
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