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.
22 Dec 2010
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: I thought we could do something this week about holiday wishes, particularly things we wish would change in football and football fandom. The chief one in my mind is the phrase "made the mistake of kicking to X." It's probably the most result-oriented comment one can possibly make.
Tom: This is, of course, invariably said after Player X has a long return, and not after Player X runs around for eight seconds trying to make a play only to lose four yards.
Mike: Exactly, especially since a lot of these guys are home-run hitters. Devin Hester in particular.
Tom: Home-run hitters in the Rob Deer, 25 homeruns, .179 batting average style.
Mike: Yeah. Let's actually take Hester as an example. He gets two or three returnable punts per game, which is average for a returner, since "returnable" means not out of bounds and not fair caught. There really aren't many per game. In his career, he has had 175 punt returns and 10 punt return touchdowns.
Mike: So every 17.5 returns, he has a touchdown. That is ... very infrequent.
Tom: On his 56 returns in 2008 and 2009, he didn't have any touchdowns. So if you throw out those years, he's averaging a touchdown every 12 attempts, or one every 4-5 games. (Because after all, those returns don't really count.)
Mike: Less infrequent, but still pretty infrequent. If there is an actual argument around, it's that by kicking to a good returner, you're risking extra yardage on the return.
Tom: You're missing the sheer excitement value of the returns.
Mike: I acknowledge it, and agree that it is exciting, but we really need some perspective.
Tom: Perspective? How do you feel about ratatouille then?
Tom: I'm assuming you haven't seen Ratatouille. In that case, don't worry about it. And yes, absolutely, punt returns for touchdowns are very rare events, and we shouldn't overrate them.
Mike: Fair enough. Anyway, just browsing the P-F-R entries for punt returners, the divide between elite and mediocre punt returners seems to be 3-4 yards per return. Aside from the extremely rare touchdown, which of course can happen with any returner, are we really that scared of 3-4 yards? Especially since those 3-4 yards come with some -- albeit low -- chance of a fumble.
Tom: Well, here's the issue. The 3-4 extra yards generally aren't lots of returns 3-4 yards longer, but instead the rarer extremely long run.
Mike: True. Then again, the difference between .250 and .300 is one dying quail a week.
Tom: It's like the distribution of running back carries. People value the ability to break off 60-80 yard runs, not consistently get four yards instead of two. It's just that unless you can break off the really big play at insanely high rates, the latter is more important.
Mike: True, but if you're getting extremely long runs and only have a slightly higher average, you're either having a lot of negative runs to offset a lot of extremely positive runs, or your extremely positive runs are also really rare. My wish is that people would stop treating every punt as a momentous event and certain returners as sacrosanct god-men who will end games. Teams have lost kicking to elite returners. Teams have also won doing the same. Teams have been burned with touchdowns, some teams have been granted huge breaks by negative plays or fumbles
Tom: Even by one of those great return men.
Mike: If you don't have enough faith in your coverage team to kick to an elite returner, you shouldn't kick to anybody. In reality, the difference on that particular play is overwhelmingly likely to be minimal. So announcers, please shut up about it. Do you have a wish, Tom?
Tom: Yes. The NFL should be willing to admit it has rules, and help make those rules available to the public. If you're going to sell rules, do not sell us a digest of the rules, and only make the actual rulebook available to the media.
Mike: Would the public having the rulebook really help anything? I mean, the rulebook is arcane and incredibly dense.
Tom: Sure, it generally is, but not everywhere. Take, for instance, the recent memo Ray Anderson sent out about the sideline restrictions, specifically where people could stand. On page vi, there's a very simple diagram showing the area six feet back from the sideline is for "CHAIN CREW AND OFFICIALS ONLY." The next six-foot area is "COACHES AND SITUATION SUBSTITUTION PLAYERS ONLY."
Mike: Those lines are never obeyed, just as a practical matter.
Tom: Well, yes. But I saw people react as though the idea that the NFL would have rules about such things is an incredibly arcane point no one would ever think of.
Mike: I guess it would be good for people to have access. I'm just concerned that nobody will read it until something comes up, at which point it's probably too late since people will go with their gut reaction before reading the actual rule. And then the rulings. And then flip back to check any points of emphasis.
Tom: I admit I haven't really sat down and read the whole rulebook. But when a situation comes up, I can go to my computer, open up the PDF, and see what the rule is. More people should have that opportunity.
Mike: Fair enough. It's true that more information can't hurt. Things can hardly get more confusing than they already are.
Tom: I'm not sure I would go quite that far, but please, NFL, tell everybody the rules.
Tom: I hate Leslie Frazier. I hate our stupid league settings.
Mike: I'm out of my league, although it looks like the Nos. 1 and 3 seed will be playing for the championship. Both were beatable in the run-up to this week. I hate Denver. The end.
Tom: Despite those, I got lucky and headed off to the championship.
Tom: Our lineup locks on Thursday, and I forgot to fix it from last week.
Mike: That is pretty much insane, as I have said before.
Tom: So, I ended up sitting Ryan Torain, who had 15 points, and Santana Moss, who had 19. And Adrian Peterson gave me zero. Fortunately, I got 17 points from Chiefs DST and 13 from Ben Roethlisberger. Plus, my opponent was kind enough to bench Cedric Benson's 21 points and got five points from Steelers DST with Bears DST's 26 on his bench. I only had 74 points, but that was more than my opponent's 66.
Mike: Like I said about your team before, better to be lucky than good.
Mike: Then again, luck has very un-ladylike way of running out.
Tom: The other semifinal's score was 114-113. Either, of course, would've destroyed me. I'll likely lose next week, but, hey, my streak of making the finals every year I've played fantasy football is still alive.
Mike: Not bad.
Tom: Well, it's only been two years, and I've played in multiple leagues both years. Wait another five years, playing only one league at least some of the time, and then I'll make you all bow down in obeisance.
Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 8-5) 104 def. Remain in Matt Light (Barnwell, 11-2) 85
There is a Scramble Mailbag special below that deals with this game and the personnel decisions made by Bill. As for Aaron, Vincent Jackson just lit it up, rewarding Aaron's patience with 29 points and a spot in the staff finals.
Scramble Forever (Ian & Al, 9-4) 110 def. That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 9-4) 96
This one was a bit closer than the other semifinal, but Ian should be worried for a different reason: 38 (over a third of his team's total) points came from Michael Vick. Granted, Vick is a great start and the magic might continue for another week, but relying on one player is never good. Ian and Al can take solace in the fact that they won't have to deal with another zero from T.O., who was injured in the middle of last week's game and is now on IR. Whether Ian and Al start Steve Johnson or Greg Jennings is going to be a question weighing heavily in the next week. Sean put up a good fight, with great overall production (double-digit scores from five of his roster spots), but he just couldn't get over the hump.
Better Call Saul (Rob, 6-7) 76 def. Consensus Picks (Elias, 7-6) 51 (Consolation)
I think this is the best-ever finish by a team that lacks a kicker. While a kicker would have helped, it definitely wasn't the difference: Elias received zero points from Justin Forsett, Knowshon Moreno and Eddie Royal. Rob's team didn't have that great a week, either, but he did have enough to win the day and claim his crown as king of the losers!
Mike: Haha, guaranteed second date with Pizza Hut pizza? Just because you have a woman say it, Pizza Hut marketing people, doesn't mean even the dimmest of men will believe it.
Tom: So, you're the married guy and I'm not. But let's assume that it's actually right. Would you want to date the person for whom Pizza Hut guaranteed you a second date?
Mike: This is an important consideration.
Tom: That's really what drew me to this commercial in the first place. That said, I must applaud Pizza Hut for their truth in advertising. After all, one of their employees does mention "This isn't a pizza."
Mike: Food commercials really shouldn't try to get too metaphorical. It never ends well.
Tom: I also don't get the happy worker bit at the end. You have the employee montage where they say, "My favorite thing is serving you your favorites." If your product was really good, employees' favorite thing would be eating the employer's wonderful food, not getting rid of that food by giving it to customers.
Mike: I'm not sure that you can create a viable business model by having your employees eat all your food, so I don't think that would be a great advertising point.
Tom: You do have a point there. It's just like the people who work at places that serve food and how they try to discourage anybody from ever eating there. It feels like Pizza Hut is backhandedly doing the same thing in their own advertising. We hit this last year in the Howie Long car commercial, where the people at the advertising agency had clearly never driven the kind of car Howie was advertising and came up with ill-conceived notions of what made the car good.
Tom: Also, "This will make the best sleepover ever?" The supposed delivery driver who says that is driving around in what from the bright sunshine outside the car appears to be mid-afternoon. Is Pizza Hut supporting the vampire population?
Mike: Well, you know how people enjoy pizza the day after, when it's cold? This is just the latest development in that trend: You order the pizza at noon and then eat it at 11!
Tom: See, I thought the reason people ate cold pizza the next day was because they were too hungover to operate the microwave, whereas I tend to associate the idea of slumber parties with giggling tween girls, who I tend to assume are not hungover.
Mike: You live such a sheltered life.
Tom: Yes, I do. This is not news.
Mike: It is interesting how we have a pizza culture, though. I mean, maybe McDonald's could pull this commercial off, just because it's so ubiquitous, but because pizza is quintessential group and celebration food, one fish in a big pond can make the claim that their food is somehow this important.
Tom: I guess.
Mike: I guess it's because it's extremely cost-efficient to feed large numbers of people with it, so people tend to get pizza in groups.
Tom: I think the national pizza chains are stuck by trying to be national pizza chains, and their goal is to satisfy relatively large numbers of people. That's roughly true of all national chains, but some handle it by having a more diverse menu.
Mike: True, although I'm not sure how pizza can really be that specialized. Even in Chicago, where we have a strong and proud tradition of (superior) stuffed pizza, we still have plenty of thin-crust.
Tom: Well, you do tend to see regional variations in pizza. It's tough to find quality Chicago-style deep dish pizza outside of Chicago in my experience.
Tom: Even when Uno's tried to go national, after a couple years of presumably disappointing results, they de-emphasized Chicago-style deep dish pizza in favor of a more casual bar/restaurant-style menu.
Mike: But again, the inverse isn't true. It is easy to find non-Chicago-style pizza in Chicago, and they do quite well with it.
Tom: Sure, pizza, it's great. There was even a time in life when I greatly enjoyed going to Pizza Hut. That happened to be the woebegone days called "living in North Dakota." Sorry, I'm now burned out on almost all pizza. Just today, at lunch, I went out and bought a sandwich instead of eating free pizza.
Mike: That is kind of depressing. Thankfully, I am never burned out in any food, and I live within easy driving distance of two of the best pizza parlors in the world, one specializing in thin-crust, the other in stuffed. So yay for me.
Tom: Congratulations. Which two?
Mike: Great Lake Pizza and Art of Pizza. Great Lake was recently featured in GQ and Art of Pizza regularly wins city-wide awards.
Tom: Ah. I am juuuuuuust out of Gino's East delivery range.
Tom: They deliver to the southeast and southwest corners of the stoplight near which I live, but not to the northwest corner.
Mike: That's ... pretty lame.
Tom: Yup. I've considered trying to get them to deliver it to the guy standing on the corner on the south side of the street, but I haven't actually tried it yet.
Mike: Have it delivered to the broom closet and pose as the cleaning lady.
Tom: Am I missing a reference?
Tom: Yup, that's a reference I would miss.
Kicker: OK, now this is embarrassing. Missing a field goal? Sure, bad luck, things happen. Missing two? Not unheard of. How about missing four? This is Dan Carpenter's new reality. Add in two extra points, and you get -6 points.
Wide Receiver: Laurent Robinson comes in just above the penalty line, with two receptions for eight yards. No scores, so that gives him a big 0 on the week and the hearts of loser league fans everywhere.
Running Back: Why is Chester Taylor getting carries? Seriously. Forte has about 200 carries, late in the season, so it's no longer about keeping him fresh. For some reason, Martz seems to love the guy, even though he doesn't have any skills that Forte doesn't, and averages about two yards fewer per carry. The coach's devotion was rewarded with ... 11 carries for 5 yards (roughly half a yard per carry), and his owners netted 0 loser league points.
Quarterback: Usually there is a bit of a logjam near the bottom of the quarterbacks board, but this week Matt Hasselbeck pretty much has it all to himself. While even Sam Bradford put up decent yardage in a relatively miserable performance, Hasselbeck managed a paltry 71 yards with an interception and two fumbles. That's -3 points, for those keeping score at home.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: The Giants had multiple failures in losing a game they led by 21 points with eight minutes to play, but Keep Chopping Wood this week goes to punter Matt Dodge for failing to punt out of bounds at the end of the game.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: With his team trailing 24-10 early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, Michael Vick hit DeSean Jackson for a 31-yard gain. Jackson, though, was ruled to have fumbled, and the Giants took over at midfield. It was a questionable call, but despite the big benefit of a challenge and an already unfavorable game situation, Andy Reid decided to save his two challenges and three remaining timeouts for a rainy day. Well, the Eagles still won, so I guess we can't criticize him too much, right? Former NFL officiating czar Mike Pereira also points out Reid missed two other successful challenge opportunities on Sunday.
COLBERT AWARD: When your chance of winning the game may be doubtful, one thing you can do is take high-risk gambles that, if successful, improve your position. Packers coach Mike McCarthy may make other mistakes, and if not for Reid could've taken the Martz Award this week, but he gets this week's Colbert Award for the surprise onside kick to open Sunday night's game against the Patriots.
MCS: Hey Guys, Championship Game and looking for a little advice. I had some lucky breaks and managed to build a pretty strong roster. Unfortunately, that means I leave a lot of points on the bench.
Mike: I think Mendenhall is the clear start there, the question is whether to start Rice or Charles.
Tom: I would've said Rice was the auto-start. He's been putting up some incredible numbers lately.
Mike: Wow. Tennessee's rush D is a lot better than I thought it was. You're right, Mendenhall and Rice.
Tom: Bill's written about the great year Charles is having, and he could go off against Tennessee, but he's too risky when you have guys who are great plays and you know will get more carries.
Tom: Oh, wideout. This is a tough one. I lean in favor of, and will be starting myself, Santana Moss.
Mike: I can't in good conscience recommend starting any receiver who has Rex Grossman as his quarterback.
Tom: Tim Tebow looked less awful than I thought he would, but not enough for me to start a Denver wideout, even against the Texans.
Mike: Tennessee's pass defense is pretty good, but I have to go with Bowe. He has an actual quarterback, and he's the quarterback's safety blanket.
Tom: I think Tennessee's pass defense is worse than you, and DVOA thinks it is, so Bowe is definitely a solid option.
Kyle Turley's Flying Helmet: I've improbably reached the championship as the No. 6 seed in my league, but I have to face the top team -- and I could use a lot of advice. At the QB position, I need to make a decision between Matt Cassel and Matt Ryan. In my opinion, the latter probably has a tougher matchup, but I'm concerned about Cassel after his recent surgery and his relatively mediocre performance last week. Finally, for my WR flex spot (the league is a PPR format), I'm faced with a choice between Danny Amendola, Davone Bess, and Lance Moore. Which one should I go with?
Mike: While I think Bowe will do well fantasy-wise, I'm not sure Cassel himself will do all that well, so I'd probably go with Ryan. He might have lower upside, but he's extremely consistent.
Tom: I don't think Ryan has that much tougher of a matchup. He's a better quarterback, and he will probably be throwing more. At wideout, I'd go with Moore. St. Louis's limited passing game is being exposed right now, and I trust nothing in Miami.
Mike: You're really just rolling the dice with these three, but I agree, Moore is the most likely to actually do something
DNy: Hey guys, two questions this week for the championship: (1) I picked up Jon Kitna to spell Aaron Rodgers this past week because my backup was Matt Cassel. Now I have a quarterback controversy: Rodgers, Kitna, or Cassel? (2) Tebow's top target Brandon Lloyd or Thomas Jones for a flex play?
Mike: See my earlier comment about actual quarterbacks. Lloyd may blow up and have a great game. On the other hand, there is a relatively high chance that Tebow gets absolutely nothing going. So if your options are Lloyd or Jones, I'd have to go with Jones, sadly.
Tom: I would concur, especially with Haley's affection for Jones. At quarterback, the Giants are No. 1 in pass D DVOA, or at least they were before the Eagles game. They've also knocked several quarterbacks out with injuries this year. That worries me.
Mike: They get a lot of quarterback hits to go with their impressive sack totals.
Tom: I think Rodgers is still an OK play, but I will once again suggest starting Kitna in the fantasy playoffs.
Mike: As much as I want to go with Rodgers (and I love Green Bay's offense), I have to agree.
Ian Dembsky: So what do you think -- Did Bill intentionally start Kerry Collins, Hines Ward and Mike Williams of Seattle over Eli Manning, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Jacoby Ford last week in an effort to let the boss win, as if it was some kind of corporate golf outing? Or did he do it to avoid having to face Scramble Forever in the championship?
It's championship in most normal leagues, so send your questions in to Scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com, and we guarantee that we will complain about Denver!
60 comments, Last at 24 Dec 2010, 12:21pm by Mike Kurtz