Are the best defenses against play action the best against regular passes too? How much impact does play action really have in an NFL game, and does it correlate from year to year?
27 Oct 2010
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: I don't know if you noticed this, but we're approaching Week 8. By this point, we've seen 29 of the 64 interconference games, and the AFC is 17-12.
Mike: This is nothing new, really.
Tom: Oh, absolutely not.
Mike: We have long known that the AFC was the superior conference.
Tom: If this holds up, it will be 15 seasons since the NFC had a winning record in inter-conference play. Which leads us to the basic question: Why does the NFC suck so much?
Mike: I really don't even have a theory.
Tom: I actually have two hypotheses about this, neither of which I'm the least bit confident in. First, it's really the incredible and sustained awfulness of the NFC West. If we just disaggregated the NFC West's interconference record, the NFC might have actually won a season. For more on that awfulness, see yesterday's DVOA Ratings commentary by Aaron.
Mike: "Won a season" is a really low bar, though.
Tom: Well, sure, but the NFC can't even clear that bar. The second hypothesis is a little odder. But if you look at the members of the AFC and the NFC, they still have their roots in the AFL and NFL, respectively. The NFL was the older league, so it effectively got the first pick of cities. The AFL put franchises in some of the same metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles, the Bay Area), but other than that, they had to deal with smaller markets. Given the enormous popularity of football, it makes some sense that older teams in larger markets can rely on that history and larger fan bases to be financially successful. Take, for instance, the Bears. One of the big unobserved things about the NFL as a business operation is the Bears should be vastly more commercially successful than they are. They have a huge market to themselves and should be the league's most valuable team. Instead, they're run by a bunch of cheapskates and are much closer to middle of the pack in terms of their estimated value.
Mike: Well, the problem is that Chicago is a baseball town.
Tom: No way. That's only because of the Bears' ineptitude. The Bears could do a much better job of marketing themselves and extracting dollars from fans. But they're making a decent amount of money as it is. Continuing with my hypothesis I'm not sure I believe, AFC teams tend to be in smaller markets and need to work harder to have financial success. So, what we're seeing is AFC teams need to win to achieve financial parity.
Mike: I don't see anything deficient with the Bears' marketing. They have billboards and signs everywhere, and they charge usual rates for things at Soldier Field.
Tom: Ah, that's where the trap is: they're not visibly terrible as a business. They're just not actually good. I mean, look at the Forbes rankings -- they're behind the Baltimore Ravens. Chicago is much larger than Baltimore, and the Ravens date back to all of 1996. The difference is, the Ravens are superbly well-managed in terms of their football operations. They have to be.
Mike: Except Baltimore had football well before the Ravens. I think you're making some massive assumptions coming to these conclusions.
Tom: I'm not saying I totally believe this hypothesis, but I'm not totally sure it's insane. AFC superiority has just been the norm since 1972 (with the exception of 1989-95) that I want to look for reasons beyond it's a simple fluke or coincidence. The NFL's establishment and occupancy of the largest markets is the most obvious of those explanations that I can't easily dismiss out of hand.
Mike: It may be important, sure, but there's no real quantifiable evidence that has any effect on the teams themselves. Especially since, unlike MLB, the NFL has a hard salary cap. Like I said, I don't have any theories at all, but I don't think either of those make sense. What do you, the viewers at home, think?
Tom: I got the interesting dilemma of facing the offensive star of my team's game in fantasy this week. Kenny Britt put up 40 points for my opponent.
Mike: Wait, your opponent started Kenny Britt?
Tom: He did. Fortunately for me, Britt almost put up half his team's total this week. He actually had a strong second scorer in Matt Ryan and his 23 points, but his third leading scorers only put up five points each. Meanwhile, I got 23 from Adrian Peterson, 17 from a Sunday morning pickup of Chiefs DST, 16 each from Ben Roethlisberger and The New York Football Steve Smith, and had three more guys put up double-digit scores.
Mike: Did you win?
Tom: I did. With all my good performances, I put up 112, the second-best score in the league, and won by 27.
Mike: Cool. So, "game-time decision" is now a four-letter word around my household. I chickened out on Darren McFadden because I was afraid of taking the zero, though I would be relatively safe because I was playing the worst team in the league.
Tom: Tsk, tsk, tsk.
Mike: McFadden put up 45 points.
Mike: Now I have another quarterback controversy, after Kyle Orton put in a decent game, but Ryan blew the doors down. Either McFadden or Ryan would have handed me a victory.
Tom: My fantasy opponent actually went ahead and started Ryan over Orton this week.
Mike: The best part? I still had the fourth-best total in the league. My opponent, the worst team in the league, had the second-highest. So this week was a complete disaster.
Tom: So you were like this week's Saints, losing to the Browns.
Mike: Pretty much. And thanks to Baltimore, my defense is about as good!
Tom: Look at the bright side. At least you didn't give up a 67-yard run to a punter.
Mike: That's really all I have to say. I just can't believe I lost this week.
Tom: I don't really have much to say either. After this week's strong performance, I'm atop the league at 5-2, and 50 points ahead of the other 5-2 team. If I can navigate the bye week gauntlet successfully, I'm feeling well-positioned for another championship run.
Mike: If I can start the right people, I'll be in a good position going into the playoffs. That's a big if, apparently.
Tom: Well, at least you didn't have Tony Romo as your quarterback.
Consensus Picks (Elias, 5-2) 100 def. Team CBORG (ZOG, 2-5) 65
And once again, all is right with the world. Despite a goose egg from Eddie Royal, Elias coasted to victory on the shoulders of Matt Ryan's unsurprising 21 points, and Knowshon Moreno's extremely surprising 20 points. Two scores by the Bears DST chipped in an extra 20 points. Although we are all fallible (just see the fantasy update for evidence of that), it should be noted that the ESPN projection system gave the edge to Steve Smith, Esq. (1 point) over Percy Harvin (16).
Scramble Forever (Ian & Al, 4-3) 93 def. Phanatic CodeBreakers (Tanier, 1-6) 79
Nothing better to get a team off the shneid than playing the CodeBreakers. Ian and Al join the trio (quartet, I guess?) of past and present FO fantasy football writers who sat McFadden in one of the biggest performances of the season. This error cost Scramble Forever 43 points, and made the game much, much closer. In the end, it was the Bengals' pathetic defensive performance against Atlanta that put the game out of reach for Tanier. Zero points from your defense in a game you lose by 14 is a bitter pill to take.
That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 5-2) 65 def. Team Verhei (Vince, 4-3) 35
Probably the worst game of the week. Sean failed to capture the Dwayne Bowe renaissance we are in the midst of, losing out on 20 points. On the other hand, he at least had three slots with more than 10 points, while Vince only had two: Philip Rivers (11) and Rob Bironas (13). A zero from DeSean Jackson and somewhat predictably awful games from Rashard Mendenhall (3) and Ricky Williams (4) made Team Verhei a non-starter this week.
Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 4-3) 120 def. Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 1-6) 79
This was actually a pretty good performance for Tom's team -- only three other teams had higher totals this week. Unfortunately for the Ringers, one of those three was his opponent. Fully one-third of Aaron's 120 points came from Kenny Britt (40). While it worked out very well for Britt owners this week, your Scramble writer finds this Britt-starting trend to be most disturbing. Lee Evans racked up 28 points on Aaron's bench, but I don't think we'll see him starting any time soon. As far as Tom goes, it was another bland and uninspiring performance. A couple slots in the low teens, a few hovering around three, but nothing impressive.
Triple Asian Flu (Doug, 5-2) 71 def. Malice Aforethought (Will, 2-5) 63)
Doug's team seems to have bi-polar disorder. Every week he receives extremely inconsistent numbers from his players, usually some kind of breakdown between his good wide receivers and his extremely mediocre running backs (Ray Rice, Jason Snelling, C.J. Spiller, and Pierre Thomas). Will continues to run with Adrian Peterson, a hope and a prayer. It almost worked this week, when Anquan Boldin chimed in with 15 points, and Will could have actually won the game had he started Thomas Jones (18 points) instead of Michael Crabtree (3), but who is really going to start Thomas Jones?
Remain in Matt Light (Barnwell, 5-2) 136 def. Better Call Saul (Rob, 4-3) 44
I'm going to call this the Curse of CBORG. Only Vince managed a lower point total this week, and Rob left a boatload more points on the bench, between Michael Bush (12), Dez Bryant (23) and Carson Palmer (28). Not that it matters, because Barnwell absolutely crushed him with big games out of players compelled to perform by the eerie glare of their terrible overseer. Eli Manning gave 20 points in a shoot-out, but the big winner for Barnwell was Atlanta, to the tune of 58 combined points from Michael Turner and Roddy White. To add insult to injury, Barnwell even left 10 points on the bench by sitting Jason Witten in favor of Aaron Hernandez.
Mike: How much longer must we put up with these stupid babies? At least the cavemen died after a few years, and they were at least amusing for a time, instead of just creepy and aggravating.
Tom: Remember when we discussed last year's E*Trade commercial, though? We suggested the next logical step in the marketing campaign was to add a dog to the mix. Now, they've done just that.
Mike: I think you suggested that while I was busy smashing my head against the desk.
Tom: Why, yes, I was the one who suggested that, how kind of you to remember. Did your family ever have a dog when you were the same age as the E*Trade baby?
Tom: A real-sized dog, not a little toy thing?
Mike: To the best of my knowledge, a collie/golden retriever mutt.
Tom: Are you trying to tell me you never tried to ride the dog like a small horse?
Mike: Not to my knowledge.
Tom: We didn't have a dog until I was older. But I knew people who had dogs. And if their dog was reasonable sized, and the kid was small, riding the dog like a small horse was expected stupid kid behavior. The key was that the kid be large enough they could put themselves in a position where they wouldn't fall off and break their neck, but, of course, not so large that they burdened the dog.
Mike: This kid is way too small for that.
Tom: Well, maybe. But the kid was energetic and able enough to put himself in that position in the first place, so I'd be willing to reward that kind of ingenuity.
Mike: Perhaps if the kid actually did, or this were actually about the kid. This is a commercial about trading stocks, and based on the premise that we should be sitting with our iPads in the odd chance that someone notices we're a junkie and takes away our PC just so that we are never, ever not trading stocks.
Tom: See, it's not, not really. We've reached the meta stage. This is a commercial about the spokeskid.
Mike: Not really, because I'm pretty sure most people hate the spokeskid.
Tom: It's like the Geico commercials. The spokesthing (caveman, gecko) takes on a life of its own, and it's about enhancing brand awareness. I admit it, the kid has grown on me.
Mike: That is the most depressing thing we've run in this column.
Tom: You know what else can grow on you? A cyst! Ha, I kill me!
Mike: I'm not sure that the "what else" is warranted. I consider the two to be too similar.
Tom: A cyst can probably be medically removed. You, meanwhile, are stuck with a co-writer who has a distressingly high level of affection for The E*Trade Kid.
Tom is left in abeyance as Mike hurriedly goes off to e-mail Aaron and Bill to see if they can break up the Scramble duo.
Mike: I'm going to go back to my headdesking. Anyway, that is the message of this commercial: You should be on E*Trade all the time, forever.
Tom: Oh, how much of my credibility does it ruin that I didn't recognize what that device was until I saw the Apple trademark?
Mike: Not much, but it is pretty strange.
Tom: Actually, by pausing the commercial on the trademark notice, I see yet another horrible example of something on TV that is not like the real world would be. We see the shelf in the background, with books and blocks. If they're in California, those blocks and books could kill baby in the event of an earthquake. Even if they're not in California, baby could pull shelf objects down on himself. Or hurt himself climbing up onto the shelf.
Mike: You mean E*Trade didn't do the research for its insidious awful baby commercials? LE SHOCQUE.
Tom: No, it's just my broader complaint. (And I'm still not clicking on that link.)
Mike: Gotta keep the combo going.
Tom: When I watch anything on TV, I can accept your basic deviations from reality. Talking bears, talking babies, I can handle that. A toilet in the main room, I don't ever see that. All these neurotic parents, like the ones who have a problem with their kid riding the dog like a small horse, would never have anything like that shelf. I subjected you to some of my ranting about "The Event," and how it doesn't conform to reality. I expect my TV to make reasonably well thought out, rational changes, and otherwise to be normal. It's why I have such a problem watching sitcoms. People on sitcoms tend to act like sitcom characters, not actual people.
Mike: Whoa, whoa. Not putting bookshelves near a crib isn't neurotic. It's, well, basic not-child endangerment.
Tom: Exactly! Somebody neurotic like mom obviously does protects her kid well, well beyond the basic "avoid child endangerment." Yet, in this case, she actually didn't.
Mike: Anyway, I have nothing else to say about that awful commercial.
Tom: Fine, I will just remind our readers that they should not leave within baby's reach objects that baby could pull down onto themselves. And for more helpful tips, they should consult this book.
Kicker: Robbie Gould is actually a pretty good play in regular fantasy. Your Scramble writer is certain that he was drafted in your league, unless your league is strangely small. Matt Prater is less high-profile, but considering the way Denver's offense has been operating in garbage time, it's a good bet someone was starting him. Both kickers garnered 2 points this week. Adding insult to injury, both of them came by those points honestly. Neither missed a field goal or an extra point, but their teams only managed two touchdowns and no field goals even attempted.
Wide Receiver: The Rams' close loss to Tampa was largely the Steven Jackson show, although Sam Bradford managed 126 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately for Laurent Robinson, those targets went to Danny Amendola and Michael Hoomanawanui. And yes, your Scramble writer mentions them solely for the opportunity to write out "Hoomanawanui." Like his compatriot Chansi Stuckey, Robinson managed a meager 1 point this week.
Running Back: While Ryan Mathews certainly did not have a great week, at least he didn't do anything incredibly stupid (unlike his compatriots below) en route to a respectably loserish 1 point.
Quarterback: We at Football Outsiders are still wondering how Arizona is winning games. It is completely baffling, to be honest. Technically, Drew Carey Show castoff Derek Anderson is the loseringest loser this week with 4 points, but special mention must be given to Arizona's other quarterback, Max Hall, who only managed 36 yards on 16 throws, with an interception and a fumble thrown into the mix. In the end, that leaves Hall with -3 points, and Ken Whisenhunt wishing he could do the Time Warp.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Somebody should alert Richard Goodman and Jacob Hester of the San Diego Chargers that, if they have the ball, or have a shot to get the ball, they should keep it and keep after it until they're really, really, really sure the play is over and not, say, give the other team a free possession.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: On the Bears' opening possession of the second half, Jay Cutler hit Earl Bennett for what was ruled to be a 48-yard pass out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Mindful of the Bears' struggles in and-goal situations, Lovie Smith elected to challenge despite the relatively low upside of winning a challenge. The Bears lost that challenge. The next play, Jay Cutler tried to sneak the ball into the end zone. He lost the ball after getting hit, and the Redskins recovered. Even though Cutler quite possibly was across the line, and despite having time to view replays after the change of possession and the (very likely) benefit of replays on the big screen from the hometown crew, Lovie Smith elected not to challenge despite the very large upside of winning a challenge.
COLBERT AWARD: Halfway through the second quarter of a tied game on Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers faced a decision in one of those intermediate zones; fourth-and-7 at the Vikings 37. Mike McCarthy sent out the team in field goal formation, then surprisingly shifted the team out of field goal formation into an offensive set and had holder and backup quarterback Matt Flynn throw a pass. The Vikings were discombobulated by the shift, and Flynn found an open tight end Andrew Quarless for a big goal. Or, at least, what would have been a big gain if only Quarless had not fallen down and failed to catch the ball. Ah, well. It's the thought that counts.
MikeJ: Tony Romo was my starting quarterback. Am I completely screwed? Should I keep him, since I'm stuck picking the waiver wire?
Mike: Considering how marginal he was before the injury, there's not much point in keeping Romo around.
Tom: Yeah, I think I agree with you there.
Mike: Even if he does come back with an optimistic time table, that's still four or six weeks away, at which point the Cowboys season will pretty much be over. And he won't be putting up great numbers anyway, because the team will be more concerned with his health than with winning.
Tom: The other issue is, we're still going through bye weeks. Depending on how many extra roster spots you have, it's unlikely somebody else will pick him up and stash him.
Mike: The Colts just have so many options.
Tom: I'm actually more interested in their dilemma in real football terms than in fantasy terms. Clark was a big key to their offensive flexibility, in that they could credibly go Ace with two tight ends and have Clark as a decent blocker and serious pass catching threat. They could also flex him out wide, and teams could stay in base or go nickel and risk their run defense. I'm not sure if they play more three-wideouts, or if they throw Tamme and Eldridge out there and try to stick with what they've been doing. My best guess is they'll play more three-wide with Anthony Gonzalez coming back and playing the slot role and running the same kind of routes Clark did. I'd guess he'll be the big beneficiary, and Addai actually might be the guy whose production will be hurt the most.
Mike: I'm not sure it will change that much, honestly. Even with Clark, the Colts have awful pass protection.
Tom: But, Mike, how can you say that? The Colts rank first in the league at avoiding sacks!
Mike: Largely because Peyton Manning is the anti-Roethlisberger.
Tom: Yes, well, there is that. Anyway, I think you're overrating the importance of the awful pass protection, and Clark's effect on it. Robo-QB will be as fine as he's been this year, and Gonzo will be the guy to watch because of it.
The questions, send them to us! Scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com!
76 comments, Last at 29 Dec 2010, 5:23am by jinhui