Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Impact of the NFL's Kickoff Rule Change

After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?

18 Nov 2009

Scramble for the Ball: In a World ...

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Mad Scientists

Your Scramble writers were going to embark in a meaningful, candid discussion of the fourth quarter of the Patriots-Colts game, but Doug and Bill have done an excellent job of discussing both aspects of that fateful quarter. Instead, you will be treated to a tale of a renegade robot cop...

Mike: This was a pretty rough week for Steelers fans. Well, a rough year, really. Of course, we will all be vindicated when the league wises up and abolishes special teams.

Tom: Or, "my team is bad at this, so I want less of it."

Mike: There may be some bias involved, yes, but I think this is a principled stand. There are good reasons to get rid of special teams. First, they are much more likely to result in non-predictive events than other plays. While I'm sure some will be up in arms, yelling about nerds and statistics and Rex Ryan's sandwich and how this would take excitement out of the game, I ask them to think about what makes a football game great. The Bills for years had some of the best special teams in the league. As did the Bears. The Browns, similarly, have a good special teams unit. All three relied upon their special teams to score at various points in the past few seasons. Were these great teams? Good teams, even? Did the one (or sometimes two) touchdowns off returns make the game any better, or did it just make the final score closer than it otherwise would have been? The mark of a great game, (like Sunday's Colts-Patriots affair) is a drawn out give-and-take, a contest of equal skill, and the uncertainty of which team will outperform the other and achieve victory. The uncertainty of a kick return doesn't have the same excitement, because it's not an indicator of the overall skill of the team like a deep bomb or a long run is. It is simply there.

Second, special teams plays are incredibly heavily-penalized. It's my impression (I haven't had a chance to look this up) that free and scrimmage kicks are the most penalized types of plays in the game.

Tom: Perhaps, but how much of that is simply because the penalties are more visible? Is holding really that much more common on returns, or is it just that returns are more obvious and more likely to affect the play?

Mike: Well, I think that it's important to note that the penalties on special teams plays are much more important. For good or ill, penalties -- particularly the offensive procedural penalties (holding, false start, illegal shift, illegal formation) -- are a balancing act. There is some level of holding that occurs, as famously stated, on every play. What the officials look for are particularly egregious instances of these penalties, or less-serious infractions that had a significant impact on the play. Nobody wants to watch a game where every other snap is an offensive penalty, but on the other hand nobody wants to watch a game where the defenders are held and thrown to the ground every down, either.

Tom: That's kind of self-fulfilling on special teams, however. You see holding called during the punt -- that automatically affects the play, so it gets called, even if the guy ends up fair-catching the punt.

Mike: My point is that it doesn't seem that the standard is any different, it's just that there is a much higher chance of one penalty affecting the return because of the way coverage works. Ideal return coverage is the team spreading out and essentially sweeping down the field, with some convergence once the returner has been "trapped." This is essentially a one-man-deep line of players running down the field, so if one man is taken out by a penalty, that creates a massive disruption in the play. Compare this to most defenses, where one man being taken out of the picture, even at the point of attack (such as a defensive lineman), typically won't result in disaster (that's what linebackers and safetymen are for).

Tom: Maybe what we need are separate special teams holding rules.

Mike: Any thoughts on what those rules would look like?

Tom: Excellent question, defined as one to which I do not know the answer.

Mike: The final point is somewhat related to the first -- looking at the year-by-year strong special teams ... er ... teams ... they're almost all bad teams. These are teams that not only spend coaching resources on special teams, but also personnel resources. Special teams for elite franchises are a training ground for rookies and projects to hang around, adjust to NFL speed, and be active while riding the bench and learning the system. In contrast, some of these teams devote personnel to special teams; there are special teams players, who are there to play special teams. It is an end unto itself.

Tom: I don’t really get this objection. We have teams like the Colts that emphasize offense over defense, or the Ravens that emphasis defense over offense, and yet the universe still continues to function. Maybe that bad teams emphasize special teams is part and parcel of why they’re bad -- because they think special teams play is more important than it really is. Granting you your premise that the NFL would be better without special teams, what do you do about punting, then? Just go for it on every fourth down?

Mike: Just give teams the option to go for it on fourth or give the other team a touchback. Say all possessions start at the 20-yard line, except for turnovers on downs.

Tom: Fourth-and-29 from your own one-yard line? I'll put the other team on their own 20-yard line every time. At least make punts 39 yards long or the opponent's 15-yard line, whichever is nearer. Or just 37 yards net.

Mike: That's way too clumsy. The best rules are elegant and use nice, comfortable numbers. How about if you're within your own 30-yard line the ball is placed at midfield? Otherwise your opponent gets it at their own 20.

Tom: Fine, use 35 yards, a nice simple number. If you're past midfield, make it your opponent's 15-yard line.

Mike: That still doesn't change the fact that you're adding yards to position to determine the succeeding spot. That's not a good way to go, especially since it makes the succeeding spot very unclear.

Tom: Yes, but if a team drives from their own 20-yard line to the opponent's 45-yard line it makes no difference in your world.

Mike: That just gives them an incentive to go for it on fourth down. How about this (A is the team with possession, numbers are yard lines): A1-A30, B receives possession at midfield; A31-50, B receives possession at B20; B49-B30, B receives ball at B10.

Tom: No, no, no to step functions.

Mike: Step functions are much better than sums, especially considering they make the succeeding spot clearer instead of forcing referees to eyeball the ball's position off a yard line and reposition it after adding to yardage, when the ball ends up a whole 40 yards away. They also give the coaches a much more concrete idea of what's going on.

Tom: I don't want to give coaches any incentive to challenge a spot at the 29-yard line instead of the 30-yard line.

Mike: They'll challenge those spots, anyway. No matter how useless or asinine. That knowledge is an integral part of this column.

Tom: Not if it's fourth-and-4 instead of fourth-and-6. But OK, it's third-and-10 from your own 26-yard line. What do you do? The answer is that you'd like to convert, but you really want four yards, because it means 30 yards of field position. As a league, we don't want to give incentives for that behavior.

Mike: Teams already think that way, though. Constantly. We even have a name for them: give-up runs and screens.

Tom: Yes, if they believe their chance of converting is really small, like third-and-15-plus.

Mike: I don't think that's a fair characterization. You see draws and screens and bad runs on all manner of thirds-and-long, not just third-and-10-plus.

Tom: Fine, so teams will run give-up plays three times as often as they will already, and you like that?

Mike: Those types of plays will only be incentivised in certain situations, involved three different yard lines. It may increase, but three times as many is an extreme estimate.

Tom: Yes, potentially including one where you're putting everybody on a change of possession. It's an exaggeration, sure, but I want fewer of them, and you're creating a potential incentive for more.

Mike: It's a trade-off. Just tacking on some random number as a "punt" isn't really changing anything, however. It's just pretending that all punts are average.

Tom: What about field goals, then? Do we ban those? What about scrimmage-kick tries? Do teams always run scrimmage conversion plays?

Mike: I'm fine abolishing points after touchdown.

Tom: Are scrimmage conversions still worth two points in your world, then?

Mike: There's no real reason to do two, one point is fine.

Tom: Well, the logic of them being worth two points to compensate for the risk is gone.

Mike: On the other hand, I think field goals would be fine. On the third hand, we want to make this system as consistent as possible.

Tom: If you want to get rid of special teams, get rid of special teams, not just the parts you don't like

Mike: Well, field goals aren't problematic.

Tom: Why not? They result in non-predictive events, and I'd guess they see penalties at a higher than average rate. Plus, there are special rules like leaping that only apply to them.

Mike: Field goals don't necessarily result in non-predictive events. Opponents' missed field goals, for instance, are non-predictive. Your own made and missed field goals are, if I recall, predictive.

Tom: The level of your own quarterback play is largely predictive. The level of your opponent's quarterback play is somewhat non-predictive, because it's based on the quality of the opponent you're playing, like opponent field goal kicking is based on the quality of the opposing kicker. Scheme matters here, but I think, however, if we could really separate out the "own" quality there would be a predictive core and a non-predictive penumbra.

Mike: Part of it is that field goal rates for most tried field goals are really high, and the few misses are semi-randomly distributed. That's the problem with opponent misses.

Tom: So should we try to make field goal kicking harder, then?

Mike: I'm still mulling schemes for replacement. I'm having difficulty with this, which is likely why I haven't invented my own sport and made millions off it.

Tom: Or made millions, and then gone bankrupt.

Mike: You could perhaps have a separate "Scoring Down" that teams could opt to take, and award points based on yards you get on that down. Let's say 0 points for 0- to 5-yard plays; 1 point for 5- to 10-yard plays; 2 points for 10- to 20-yard plays; and 3 points for 20-plus-yard plays.

Tom: And, instead of having a coin toss, you could have a scramble for the ball where two guys fight for a ball 10 yards downfield! XFL 3-point conversion ahoy!

Mike: Very funny. Anyway, you could make it an option from B30-B10 or B30-B1. This would actually bring up interesting strategic questions. If you have a defensive team, do you try for points and hand it over to your opponent at their 20-yard line, or do you take the "punt" (whatever you'd end up calling it) and place them at their own 10?

Tom: Where on the field am I making this decision? Let's say that A has the ball with fourth-and-4 at B27. Rather than go for it, A can try to run this scoring play?

Mike: Yes. If you go for it and fail, they get the ball as a turnover on downs at the succeeding spot of the play. Or you can try a scoring play and give it to them at their own 20-yard line. Or you could just hand it to them at the 10 and leave it to your defense.

Tom: Well, you'd never lack for Martz Award candidates under this system.

Mike: It would definitely be an adventure. Maybe move the max range for a "Scoring Down" out to B40.

Tom: My feelings on this are kind of like the way I feel about cumulative voting for board of directors, in that I can sort of see why somebody would think it's a good idea, but I still want to punch them in the face. Not, of course, that I'm going to punch you in the face next time I see you.

Mike: ...I'll keep that in mind. The Browns have a higher chance of winning the Super Bowl than this system has of being implemented, but it's an interesting exercise in a type of football that could be. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves in the comments section.

Fantasy Football Update

Tom: Fantastic week for me in fantasy, as I played Kevin Smith over LaDainian Tomlinson and Chad Ochocinco over Sidney Rice. That's two 20-point scorers on my bench. Naturally, that was the only league in which I managed to win last week. Thank you, Peyton Manning.

Mike: Peyton Manning is indeed some manner of football god.

Tom: I guess this sort of makes up for no touchdown passes against the 49ers. Oh, this is also the league where last week I had one touchdown by my combined skill-position players. This week, Tomlinson was my only skill-position player to score a touchdown.

Mike: This week was a giant disaster for me. Ben Roethlisberger? 5 points. Julius Jones? 1 point. Jared Allen? 3 points. Troy Polamalu? 1 point. It would be a lot less frustrating if Randy Moss' unreal 38-point week hadn't put me within 22 points of my opponent.

Tom: Nate Burleson? 0 points. And I lost by 3.5 points. I wasted 30-plus points from each of Reggie Wayne and Steven Jackson in that league. Derrick Mason was my top guy on the bench; his 8 points would have given me the win.

Mike: At least you're not dealing with injury. Ronnie Brown put up 15 points, but was injured. So this week, I lost Jones, Brown and Polamalu. All three are out next week. I get Slaton back, but lose my other two running backs, and one of my top defenders. With this loss, I'm second in my division, behind the overall points leader, in third place overall.

Tom: Amusingly, in the league where I won my opponent started Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. My win kept me in third place overall, one game behind, but sitting the two guys hurt me in the tiebreaker. Big game this week in that league against the other 7-3 team (second place).

Mike: I'm up against the top team in the other division, so if I can beat them I'll be in good shape. I feel really bad for the second-to-last guy in my division. He's at 4-6, three games back, but second place by points.

Tom: Thankfully I don't have any big disparities like that.

Mike: I'm falling like a stone in the Yahoo! league. I'm in third place, but I've lost three in a row.

Tom: What's your issue? Just bad luck, somebody hurt, or what?

Mike: Two close losses, and then Julius Jones/Miles Austin/Marques Colston/Ben Roethlisberger disaster this past week.

Tom: I've been thinking about a hybrid roto-matchup standings format. Something like 1-10 or 12 points based on most points, and the winning team gets a bonus equal to half of number of teams in the league. A winning team in a 12-team league would get nine points, the loser three.

Mike: I'm not sure what that would actually accomplish.

Tom: Well, continuing to think aloud, one alternative would be awarding points based on point disparity between the two teams. So you have a 12-1 roto ranking, plus 6.05-5.95 points for a really close win or 8-4 for a blowout.

Mike: I'm just not sure how much that would move away from wins and losses. I do like the disparity score, however. It also has the advantage of not rewarding a team for a few random, massive weeks.

Tom: Maybe I'll play around with alternative scoring methods once my leagues finish. I also want to do an insane fantasy league next year: one quarterback, one running back, two wide receivers, one tight end, one flex, three defensive linemen, three linebackers, one defensive flex, four defensive backs, one kicker and one punter. The goal would be to make the fantasy team look as much like an NFL team as I can.

Mike: Punting? I've never actually been in a league with a punter slot. On the other hand, there is some elite punting talent in the league right now, so maybe it's the time to try.

Tom: "You took Shane Lechler in the third round?!"

Mike: Of course, this will all be irrelevant after the league sees the light and adopts my crackpot system for the abolition of special teams.

FO Staff Fantasy Update

by Bill Barnwell

Bill (7-3) 98, Aaron (4-6) 76

In true fantasy "expert" style, I benched my two highest-scoring players of the week (Donovan McNabb, 24, and Beanie Wells, 23), but used the combination of Kurt Warner and the newly-acquired Larry Fitzgerald (as a result of a straight-up trade for Reggie Wayne), along with 21 points from the Titans defense, to beat out Aaron.

Will (5-5) 118, Vince (5-5) 82

On the other hand, Will used the combination of Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne to get 49 points, and while Vince had Tom Brady and Randy Moss beating that pair out with 52, Will won 69-30 with the rest of their respective lineups.

Ian/Al (7-3) 74, Mike (3-7) 45

It wasn't exactly a pretty week for Mike -- his team scored a total of one touchdown, while Jay Cutler threw five picks. Ian only had three players in double figures, but it was enough for a win in a weak week.

Doug (4-6) 109, Elias (6-4) 29

That's not a typo -- Elias scored a full 29 points, and was nearly outscored by his bench, which put up 28 points. It includes a -1 from Marques Colston, and a -5 from the Buffalo Bills. Doug got more points out of the Ravens defense than Elias did from his entire team.

Rob (5-5) 65, Sean (3-7) 61

The Pythagoras-busting start Sean went on has now given way to sleepy performances in the middle of the year. Is he the fantasy version of the 2008 Eagles? He left LaDainian Tomlinson's two touchdowns and the 49ers' five picks on the bench, and only got six combined points from replacements Mike Bell and the Jets D. Rob won thanks to the kick returned for a touchdown by the Saints' defense/special teams; he receives a demerit for leaving a bye week Kris Brown on his bench.

Vivek (5-5) 103, Pat (6-4) 76

The losing streak is over! Vivek continues to ride his MVP combination of backs, as Frank Gore and Chris Johnson contributed 51 points; on the other hand, Pat's combination of Michael Turner and Kevin Smith combined for only 15.

Shankopotamuses? Shankopotami?


Tom: Confession: I actually kind of like "Broken Wings." Of course, I like way too many of the songs on this list. I do not claim to have any taste.

Mike: That is ... unfortunate. I will say that there is a conceit running through all the E*Trade commercials.

Tom: That babies can talk?

Mike: No, that's a scientific fact. They just don't when they're around adults, because it would expose their diabolical plans. The conceit is that random people on the Internet with tools vaguely equivalent to those available to brokerages will make wiser decisions than brokers.

Tom: Oh, you want to start the "Everybody should buy index funds only" talk already?

Mike: I think that's a bit beyond the scope of this column. Anyway, this idea is kind of ridiculous.

Tom: But a baby told me about it, and babies are cute. Everybody loves babies. The only thing everybody likes as much as a baby is a dog, and I'm not going to take investing advice from a dog (although hopefully that will be E*Trade's next commercial gimmick).

Mike: I'm sure there are people who are just as anti-dog as you are anti-cat. I know there are people who are as anti-baby as you are anti-cat. They're mostly in jail.

Tom: Toddler Murder: It may be easy, but you still shouldn't do it.

Mike: Anyway, I'm not one to say that members of a professional class are particularly adept or skilled or competent or sober or capable at anything (I know too many attorneys to think that), but there is a reason brokers are brokers. It seems to me that the right way to go about it is to tout control/interaction with brokers, rather than just giving them the finger. Or, alternatively, do whatever Sam Waterson tells you to do.

Tom: Jack McCoy would absolutely be looking out for my interests.

Mike: In-between randomly shouting at criminals and ignoring the law to serve the cause of awesome, certainly.

Tom: Actually, the nice thing is that the E*Trade baby doesn't tell you he's going to make money. Just that you can take control and do your own research. Maybe people are willing to pay a five-percent premium just to have control.

Mike: That is some small credit in its favor. Then again, it's pretty much implied that you are. Especially in the other one where they all have a good laugh about brokerage fees at the black baby's expense. Because E*Trade is super-racist.

Tom: But one of the babies laughing at him is black, too!

Mike: Uncle ... Nephew (?) Tom?

Tom: These are babies, though. How much money do they really have under their control? It's all in trust funds under other people's names and whatnot.

Mike: All the money they make off skins games. Although they make it sound like the baby just moved the ball, rather than a drop.

Tom: I defer to your knowledge of the Official Rules of Golf.

Mike: That's probably unwise.

Tom: Have I ever mentioned I played golf?

Mike: I guess it's a definition problem. Did the baby move the ball under the rules for relief without penalty, or just move the ball to another spot? Then again, my terminology is hardly precise.

Tom: Way to go, shankapotamus, E*Trade baby beats you.

Mike: I haven't been golfing in ages, which is kind of a shame, even though I'm pretty awful at it.

Tom: I took lessons when we were living in North Dakota, and after they were done, my parents took my sister and me out for a round. I shot an 81. They were kind enough to not make me play the back-nine.

Mike: Very nice.

Tom: I haven't played anything other than mini-golf since.

Mike: My father and I played a course in Northeast Ohio with a back-nine that's essentially in a forest. Except they didn't do a very good job clearing out the leaves in Autumn, so you could hit a perfect shot on the fairway and you'd never find your ball.

Tom: Awesome.

Mike: Of course, you would go looking for yours and find seven others, so at least you didn't waste a lot of balls. Golf is a lot of fun with people of roughly equal skill.

Tom: If you say so. I'll have to ask my 11-month-old niece how her game is when I see her over the holidays.

Mike: Anyway, I don't know why lead baby hates on black baby so much.

Tom: Singing "Broken Wings" isn't enough? He says "it's not the venue," so it could be the song. Maybe he just doesn't get the awesomeness of its supposed badness.

Mike: I'm not sure there is an appropriate venue for that song. You'd think, however, that an awful commercial and an awful song would just go together.

Tom: It's been over 20 years since ITT used a takeoff of "We Built This City" in a commercial. I do have to say one thing: I recognize this commercial, and know it's about E*Trade, so the baby really has been a successful commercial gimmick, whereas Ram, well, until we wrote about it, I didn't even notice the commercial.

Mike: Everyone notices babies. They are powerful marketing tools, which is why baby-based marketing requires great responsibility. E*Trade does not exercise this responsibility.

Tom: Give me another example of baby-based marketing gone bad.

Mike: Are you for serious? Roller Babies? Terrifying Dancing Baby-Monsters?

Tom: I only count the ones I see on television, and I never saw Roller Babies. It's just as much a TV commercial to me as the dancing hamster.

Mike: Bah, excuses.

Tom: That second one isn't supposed to be a real baby, that's just a guy watching a random internet video, like one of us watching the Evian commercial on the smartphone we don't have.

Mike: I actually plan on getting an N900 sometime soon. I am sorry, my luddite brother. This commercial falls to the cardinal sin of advertising, however.

Tom: Connect the ad to the product?

Mike: Yeah. We know that this is an E*Trade ad just because it says "E*Trade" at the end. Even the dialogue really doesn't mention E*Trade, past the debut commercial.

Tom: Sure, but that's the first 12 seconds of a 30-second commercial, and the baby's using the same language E*Trade's been using. "Rise up and take control of your own investments." It's the equivalent of GEICO's "15 minutes can save you 15 percent."

Mike: But they don't show us E*Trade. GEICO at least has something understood by all: automobile insurance. I have no idea what tools to expect or demand from E*Trade. I have no basis for evaluating them.

Tom: Actually, that's a good point. I don't know quite what E*Trade offers. Market surveys probably show people don't know what they're looking for, either. So you either keep it simple and lose the experienced people or keep it complicated and lose the new people. Much like the economics of pinball.

Mike: So, they've done a good job selling the name, but we don't attach that name to anything in particular except vague notions of securities trading. We are once against foiled by market analysis and focus-group testing! Really, though, this commercial is just obnoxious because it tells me nothing and has annoying, racist babies.

Tom: Racism and ignorance: the perfect combination for E*Trade.

Awards!

Keep Chopping Wood: This award is normally the province of a single player, but it's boring to give the award out for bad quarterback play every week. Besides, we feel sorry for him behind for having to play behind the Bears' offensive line, so Jay Cutler isn't the winner. Instead, we have dual winners: the entire Cleveland Browns organization except for Josh Cribbs and Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning. The award to the Browns should be easy to understand for everybody who stood watching 10 minutes of Monday Night Football, while Henning gets the award for the counterintuitive call of a Chad Henne pass on third-and-7 from their own 25 up 6 with 1:52 to play. Yes, you're going against tendency to pass and it might be a good move, except that: You have an inexperienced quarterback, inexperienced and/or bad wideouts, and you're playing a bad opposing offense with a rookie quarterback. It's clear why the Dolphins made the call, which is why it's a KCW instead of a Martz, and in some cases it would make sense, but not within this context.

Mike Martz Award: Challenges are rare and valuable commodities for NFL coaches, and their use should be husbanded for key moments when they provide the greatest benefit. When your alternative is first-and-goal from the 1, a challenge probably isn't worth it unless you have an excellent chance of winning it. We're looking at you, Mike McCarthy. Honorable mention also goes to Jeff Fisher, for deciding that if you're taking a time out in the fourth quarter of a game, you might as well challenge the play too, even if the challenge is an all but certain loser. After all, it's not like you'd want to challenge two calls in the fourth quarter like McCarthy wanted to.

Colbert Award: A couple good candidates this week, but only one coach made two decisions that would each be Colbert-worthy, and that was Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Telling Maurice Jones-Drew to take a knee rather than score a touchdown wasn't completely overwhelmed by the Belichick-related yappery this week, but what does seem to have been overlooked was that he also called for the onside kick after the Jaguars' first touchdown, barely 3 minutes into the game. Playing a road game against an equal or near-equal opponent, that sort of boldness can prove to be the winning edge, even if the boldness, like Josh Scobee's onside kick, doesn't quite work out.

And They Said Brunnhilde Was Too Burly To Sing Soprano...

Loser League Update

Kicker: Aw, Steven Hauschka, we we will miss you. Haushcka continued his reign of kicking terror (inflicted, of course, on his own team) with another missed field goal and a blocked extra point. The Ravens managed to score two touchdowns, so he received (and made good on) a second extra point attempt, which helped, as did the successful field goal. No amount of polishing can hide -3 points, however. Too bad for your Loser League team he's now on the street.

Wide Receiver: Santana Moss is a regular in this space; he's a rare receiver that is primarily a burner but still gets a lot of quick hitches and other generally-useless touches. His 0 points is unsurprising. The top of the list, however, is the esteemed Marques Colston, who put up a staggering -1 points this week. Unlike most of our losers, this was a total that sunk a great many fantasy teams in Week 10. Never forget where you were this day.

Running Back: An impressive week (by Loser League standards) for running back leaves us with a six-way tie for first place. 3 points is bad, but weeks like this happen to any back in the league from time to time. Don't be too down on yourselves, Willis McGahee, Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, Rashard Mendenhall, Derrick Ward and Jamal Lew -- wait, Lewis plays for the Browns ...

Quarterback: On that note, 0 points for Brady Quinn. This has gone beyond beating a dead horse. It's like beating the space the horse once occupied, but is now empty due to aforementioned beatings pulverizing the horse-matter into nothingness.

Scramble Mailbag

Eli Sprecher: I have a lot of favorable matchups with my running backs, but not sure who to play for RB2 and flex. I have Mendenhall (vs. KC), Moreno (vs. SD), and Wells (vs. StL), plus the (resurrected?) LdT (vs. Denver). Which two of those four do you think I should go with? I can also go with Sims-Walker against Buffalo for flex, but worried about the Bills' #1 DVOA against #1 receivers (not sure if MSW is a 1 or a 2). Thank you for your help!

Tom: Mendenhall's a really easy pick there.

Mike: Yeah, he's a no-brainer. Wells may actually be a good option, also, as much as I usually don't like him.

Tom: Normally, I'd say go ahead and start a fantasy running back against the Rams. I wonder if Tomlinson's game was a one-week resurgence.

Mike: I'm not a believer in Tomlinson, and Moreno has burned me a whole lot thus far.

Tom: Moreno's been ensconced on my bench most every week.

Mike: He has good weeks, and then just disappears.

Tom: Yeah, I've found more consistent guys. I think Whisenhunt has realized that Wells is a decent rusher, so he should get chances against a bad team.

Mike: I'd go with Wells as the second back, yes.

Tom: I do have to express my displeasure with Pierre Thomas this past week. Call it a tentative nod for Wells from me.

mrapollinax: Okay, Ronnie Brown is out for sure this week. Who would you rather start in his place? Marion Barber or Ricky Williams?

Tom: You have a team that's good at running who still has a running back who's pretty good at running. Don't over-think this one.

Mike: Yeah. Not even close, in favor of Williams.

Tom: Dallas is splitting carries, Williams loses the guy he's splitting carries with. Clearly Williams.

ezorn33: Ray Rice vs. Indy OR Steven Jackson vs. Arizona? Philip Rivers @ Denver OR Eli Manning vs. Atlanta?

Mike: Will the "Jackson gets carries no matter what?" Theory hold true when St. Louis is down by roughly seventy-billion points?

Tom: Keenan Burton is now out for the year, so they're down yet another "alternative to Jackson getting five yards a carry."

Mike: Jackson, probably.

Tom: And, yes, part of that is probably my strong preference for clear No. 1 running backs over guys who will split carries, like Rice.

Mike: Honestly, that's a good preference to have. As for the quarterbacks, I'd probably go with Rivers, although you have some risk, now that Orton is out, that Norv will just give Tomlinson 50 carries a game after Rivers scores the initial touchdown. Because he's Norv.

Tom: That doesn't change Denver's defense.

Mike: You missed the memo where we said that Denver's defense was good, apparently.

Tom: Atlanta's 27th in pass defense, and you can definitely exploit them. Denver is clearly good, but Rivers is really good, too.

Mike: The question is whether Rivers is better than Denver's defense to a larger degree than Manning is better than Atlanta's defense. I'm not sure he is.

Tom: I'll be starting Rivers in the league where I have him, but Eli's a good starting option.

Mike: I think I'd actually go with Manning, but both are perfectly viable, nay, excellent options.

Tom: I'd actually tentatively lean toward Eli in advice-giving mode, but would still start Rivers just because I think he's better.

Phew! What a long, strange trip that was! If you want in on the insanity, send your questions to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 18 Nov 2009

52 comments, Last at 01 Sep 2010, 8:52am by uggs online

Comments

1
by dedkrikit (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 12:08am

Not quite sure I understand the point of the whole "get rid of special teams" tirade. Are the 2009 Vikings and Devon Hester Bears not good enough examples to warrant their inclusion? A vast majority of a football game is a battle for field position.

How are Brady/Moss bombs any different than any of the players running it back on the Steelers this year? It's one play for massive yardage - usually due to one or two players missing their assignments.

It's a part of the game and the coaches and players are responsible for their decisions and actions. Get over it. (Titans fan here - so I'm enjoying taking a shot at a Steelers fan. :p)

4
by Alexander :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 1:01am

/agree

In fact, most big plays on offense are even more random than ST big plays. Cornerback tripped, safety tripped, etc. On ST it is usually something like: Great move, great blocks, or an all around failure by the defending unit.

Also, they need to change illegal block in the back on ST. A simple shove to the shoulders should be allowed, half the time it looks like a player being blocked from the side turns his back to try and draw the penalty.

28
by DEW (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 2:07pm

Plus, they never justified the underlying assumption--that it's better to have elements of the sport be predictive rather than non-predictive.

2
by Key19 :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 12:23am

I'm surprised that McCarthy's challenge when he had no challenges left didn't somehow merit an award of some sort. Or maybe Jeff Triplette could've gotten the KCW Award for not even knowing that McCarthy had no challenges left and proceeded to go to the hood until someone with half a brain tapped him on the shoulder and said "uhhhhh... bad news, Jeff..... about that challenge....."

Keep Special Teams. Creating rules to determine field position sounds like a terrible idea.

3
by JohnnyTecm0 :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 12:55am

McCarthy's illegal third challenge didn't merit an award or a penalty. The rules do call for a penalty in that situation, but hey, the officials in that game clearly had given up any sense of order by that point.

17
by Temo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 10:57am

"Holding? What's holding?" - Jeff Triplette

He should have been KCW award winner.

5
by Still Alive (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 1:07am

I have often thought football would be better with no kicking. No FG, no XTRA points. No kickoffs or punts.

You simply start on the 20 go as far as you can, change possession, until a td is scored, then the other team gets the ball on their 20, repeat. Maybe under this system a TD is 2 pts and a safety 1? I know that sounds boring, but I personally would enjoy it, and I think people with no experience of football as it is would like it more too.

In fact I might even be so bold as to suggest this is eventually where football may end up.

14
by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 10:21am

So the game devolves into a 60 minute college OT? Also, can you even call it "football" anymore if no one kicks?

30
by Still Alive (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 4:05pm

NO you start on YOUR 20, go forward, when you score a TD they get the ball at their 20. if you lose it on downs they get the ball there. If you throw an INT they get it there. If you take a safety they get a pt and the ball on their 20 (or 33 of whatever the even money scoring position is).

Anyway it wouldn't be anything like college OT.

And yes it would still look exactly like football? In fact for intermurals we did played football this way from time to time.

6
by Eddo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 2:11am

Two weeks in a row, you had me laughing. Well done, guys.

I'll abstain from the special teams discussion, though. And I kind of like the E*Trade baby, even though children-being-used-in-commercials-for-products-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-children [COUGH Michelin COUGH] is one of my pet peeves.

That's a lot of hyphens.

7
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 2:23am

Blender's bad songs list is one of the most evil assaults ever committed against the human race. I will never forgive their stupidity for saying that "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" never explains what "that" is.

Because I know someone will argue that they are right, here is the relevant portion of the lyrics:

"Miss Loud: After a while you'll forget everything,
Just a brief interlude, and a mid-summer night's fling,
Then you'll see that it's time to move on.

Meat Loaf: I won't do that.
I won't do that.

Miss Loud: I know the territory - I've been around,
It'll all turn to dust and we'll all fall down,
Sooner or later you'll be screwing around.

Meat Loaf: I won't do that!
No I won't do that!"

Now you may carry on with more important discussion. I bring this up every time that Blender list is mentioned, because it so angers me. I like 11 of the 50, by the way (though not "Broken Wings"), so don't feel too bad Tom.

13
by billsfan :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 10:19am

I have at least five of those songs on cassette.

That list reeks of laziness. They barely got to 1980, and the 1970's contains enough awesomely bad songs for its own top-50 list.

(I also like the Eagles)

16
by Fontes of Wayne :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 10:47am

And all this time, I thought your sig referred to the Philadelphia Eagles.

8
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 2:45am

"While I'm sure some will be up in arms, yelling about nerds and statistics and Rex Ryan's sandwich"

What on earth does Rex Ryan's sandwich mean? Do I want to know? Does it involve Laveranues Coles and Chad Pennington?

9
by Jerry :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 5:09am

This was a pretty rough week for Steelers fans. Well, a rough year, really.

1969 was a rough year for Steelers fans, Mike. (The preceding five, or even thirty-six, years were ugly, too.) 1988 wasn't very good. But even having lost twice to the Bengals, this season's been good so far. January and February were excellent. Yeah, special teams could be better, and there are still questions about the offensive line. But you should appreciate what we have; it's not like we're talking about the Browns or Bills or Rams or Raiders or Chiefs or Buccaneers or Pirates here.

10
by Theo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 5:11am

About special teams:
4 down football, just like you play Madden with your friends. No kicking, no punting. Only special teams are kickoffs.

11
by bubqr :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 5:42am

Unpredictability of ST is not a good reason to get rid of it. I mean, it's what makes sport special to me. If not, just hand the game winning ball to the best team, don't waste 17 weeks of regular season, just play right now the Colts-Pats/Vikings Saints championship games.

Eli Manning to Tyree was the best illustration of "random, unpredictable" play, and I don't see anyone wanting to ban helmet catches.

12
by nat :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 6:52am

In a week when one coach's decision showed balls like Hoppity-Hops, you give the Colbert Award to a coach for calling an onside kick and taking an obvious knee?

When I saw you do that, I wrote "game over" in my notebook.

18
by jebmak :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 11:19am

I don't know what "Hoppity-Hops" are, and I don't know that I want to. But I am certain that I agree with you.

26
by nat :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 1:19pm

Hoppity-Hop was an old name for the U.S. version of Space Hopper - otherwise known as Hippity-Hop, Hop Ball, Kangaroo Ball, and various other names. Imagine two of these beauties to bounce along the sidelines on!

I sympathize with FO wanting to avoid further discussion on a topic that has dominated the week. But Belichick's decision was over-discussed precisely because it was ballsy to an extreme seldom seen. Either it was wrong and very very very aggressive, or it was right and a direct challenge to the conservative status quo in coaching. You would have a hard time finding any commenter who viewed it as run-of-the-mill or obvious or boring or the "safe" call.

Belichick: Too ballsy for the Colbert Award.

19
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 11:27am

This deserves an extended rant from me (not related to you personally, but just in general), but Belichick's decision not to punt is the most ridiculously over-discussed decision in football history. Personally, I found it significantly less bold and less interesting than, say, his decision to go for it on 4th and 1 from the 26 during the Falcons game earlier this year, for which we did award him the Colbert Award. Worse, the reaction to it has been mostly unbearable, with far too much of "numbers have no place in football" and "they hate numbers, so we're better than them." The decision had already been addressed three times on the site-in Audibles, where in dominated the comments section, in Bill's intro to Quick Reads (republished separately), and by Doug (the latter two of which were linked at the top of the column).

23
by Temo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 12:22pm

Belichick's decision not to punt is the most ridiculously over-discussed decision in football history.

Holy hyperbole! Especially after a few summers of discussion regarding #4's career decisions.

It's a fairly significant moment in the Great Punt Debate, I think it's deserved most of the discussion that have followed. Especially in a site of this nature.

The incessant repeating of arguments that's come of it is mostly what happens in most debates, it's not unique to this one. It's the rare football-related topic that deserves more than a day or two of debate, but that doesn't mean it won't be talked to death anyway.

24
by dmb :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 12:58pm

Agreed. I understand and completely respect the decision to leave it out of this column -- I think most of us have seen enough discussion about it in the comments threads this week -- but in general, I'm glad it got some of that discussion going.

29
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 3:19pm

Sorry, I should have specified tactical/coaching decision.

36
by Temo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 6:31pm

Well, Switzer's 4th and a foot call still gets brought up to this day. I suppose you can include the Lions taking the end zone instead of the ball in that one overtime game. Or Wade Phillip starting Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie in that playoff game. And then there's the 1925 NFL championship!

Just kidding with the last one, it wasn't a coaching decision (it was tactical, however!). Though you have to admit that a decision that occurred in 1925 that is then revisited by the NFL in 2003 had some legs.

34
by nat :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 5:32pm

No offense taken.

But keep in mind it wasn't Belichick who over-discussed the play. He merely made the ballsy call. And didn't make a big deal of it.

You're letting your frustration over the discussion cloud your judgment about game.

It would have made so much more sense to give out a "Colbert Runner-Up Award" this week, if you wanted to change the subject. There's no denying that the obvious winner had been discussed to death. This just makes you look petty, which I'm sure wasn't what you intended.

35
by Temo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 6:01pm

I actually agree with the Colbert award if only to reinforce the point that the no-punt decision there should not be discussed as some sort of extraordinary gesture.

44
by nat :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 9:02am

In a sane world, you would be right. As we've seen in countless analyses, reasonable assumptions about the probabilities imply that the decision was a near-wash. So why celebrate Belichick for making a decision that did not matter much either way?

But in this world, one choice was conventional wisdom and would have deflected blame away from the coach if the Pats lost. The other was almost universally considered shocking, and put all of the blame on the coach.

Besides, since when do Colbert Awards only go to coaches who make bad decisions? Or only go to coaches whose decisions work out well? And when did they ever go to coaches who make obvious decisions?

15
by bingo762 :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 10:27am

Worst Scramble ever.

BTW, can someone from the site answer my question from last week: Why weren't both Buffalo QBs available for Loser League?

22
by Temo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 12:11pm

Stock brokers aren't the same as money managers, Mike. Also:

Oh, you want to start the "Everybody should buy index funds only" talk already?

There's no talking about it, just buy index funds and shut up, IMO.

31
by Still Alive (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 4:09pm

unless of course you have some inside info or expertise, but then that is typically illegal right?

32
by Temo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 5:10pm

It's "illegal". Actually just a huge grey zone.

20
by Phil O'sopher (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 12:00pm

Agreed on Browns award...especially allowing for a Josh Cribbs is good, so don't punish him for his suxor team, but rest of them are so awful its hard to fathom/understand

21
by White Rose Duelist :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 12:06pm

I think the best baby (well, young child) commercial of recent memory is the little girl making LOLcats of Windows 7 quotes to "The Final Countdown".

25
by dmb :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 1:08pm

If I were to change anything about special teams, it would probably be to eliminate the kickoff. In addition to being heavily-penalized, kickoffs also seem like particularly dangerous plays, wedge or no. Add in the fact that it's probably the least-connected play to the rest of the game (FGs and punts are at least part of the four-down sequence), and I would be perfectly comfortable with having teams start at their own 25 or 30 by default, rather than returning a kickoff.

27
by Temo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 1:57pm

There's still the question of what to do with onside kicks, which serve as a mechanism to make late-game scenarios more interesting to the fan.

Also, I would be in favor of banishing the punt if only to force teams to play 4 down football. THAT would make the game way more fun to me.

33
by dmb :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 5:18pm

Good point about the onside kicks, but even though they add excitement, it's always seemed like a gimmicky way to allow games to remain artificially close.

As for getting rid of punting, I like that teams have an option to essentially surrender on a drive and just try to set themselves up in better position for the future. I wish teams paid more attention to the math and weren't so quick to use it, but I like that the option is there.

37
by Lover (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 6:47pm

If you're going to eliminate 1 aspect of the game it should clearly be PATs. Kickoffs and punts lead to exciting plays every week, PATs take almost as long, and lead to exciting plays maybe once a year. They could just allow teams to skip the PAT and get an automatic point.

38
by Temo :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 8:47pm

Punts might be exciting every now and then, but most of the time it's just a 35-45 yard net field position gain and that's it. 4th down conversions with ball possession on the line would be way more exciting, every time.

I just think punts ruin a lot of the potential fun/strategy in the game, only we're so used to them that we don't notice it.

43
by Still Alive (not verified) :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 3:21am

Exactly

46
by DGL :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:02pm

Punts will not be eliminated in my lifetime. The NFL has not made a rule change of that magnitude since it decided to legalize the forward pass (in 1906, if Wikipedia is to be believed). Heck, they still allows a dropkick field goal or conversion, even though the last one (besides Flutie's gadget) was done almost 60 years ago.

Instead, they tinker and fiddle with rules to make certain parts of the game more or less desirable. In that light, what rules could be tweaked to make punting less desirable? I'm struggling to think of any. Perhaps a change to illegal man downfield that would say that ineligible offensive players can't go downfield until the ball is caught, rather than kicked? Other ideas?

48
by Temo :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 4:08pm

A rule that forbids all media outlets from criticizing punt decisions would be a good start.

49
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 7:10pm

We would have to get around that silly Constitutional issue, but otherwise it's a great idea.

50
by Temo :: Sat, 11/21/2009 - 12:07pm

Herr Goodell bound by the Constitution? Never.

39
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 9:03pm

I agree. I would rather just keep all of them, though.

The only major rule change I would support is the elimination of overtime. I would be happy with that one.

40
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 9:14pm

No punting, kickoffs, PATs or FGs, and you have 4 downs to make a first down or turn the ball over right there. Make a big defensive stand worth something.

I mean, what does punting and kicking have to do with football? Nothing! Wait... I forgot: foot-ball...

41
by Noah of Arkadia :: Thu, 11/19/2009 - 9:24pm

@ KCW award for Henning: It's obvious nobody who has criticized the Henning decision to pass on 3rd and seven has watched much Dolphins football this year, or the Tampa game in particular. The Bucs had scored 10 unanswered points including a long TD drive on the previous possession, and the Miami defense has given up points non-stop in the 4th quarter all year. Or to put it another way, the very same Henne-led Turtles... er Dolphins... moved 80 yards in 50 seconds to set up the game-winner, so what was to stop the Freeman-led Bucs from doing the same (only with fewer yards to go and more time)?

I think I finally understand what Herm meant when he said "You play to win the game! (and not simply to try not to lose it." Personally, as a Dolphin fan, I loved the call.

42
by Dan :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:29am

I propose eliminating the clock as well. Each team gets 11 possessions; halftime comes after the first team's sixth possession.

45
by Kevin from Philly :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 11:11am

No clock? No way!! I'm not giving Peyton Manning twenty minutes of his chicken dance before each play.

47
by Dan :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:28pm

Keep the play clock and delay of game penalty, ditch the game clock.

51
by Jonisverytall (not verified) :: Wed, 11/25/2009 - 11:56am

I've never read such intelligent banter that lowered the collective IQ of all its readers with every word. Well done. I didn't read any commentary on the real reason to abolish ST...kickers aren't real football players! There's nothing more aggravating than battling on the gridiron for 59 minutes only to have some nancy-boy kicker, who hasn't broken a sweat yet, shank the winning kick. I say keep ST (because let's be honest its a field position game and not a game of Madden), but add a rule that all kickers must also play at least 10 downs on offense or defense each game! Yeah, I love it! You would see the return of the QB punt-option play which is far more interesting than a regular punt.

BTW- Mike has gone down to defeat to me in the Yahoo league by a combined 81 points in 2 games. Take his fantasy advice with a grain of salt...or a large brick of salt whichever is handy. JK - enjoy the Scramble, keep it up Mike.

52
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