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.
07 Dec 2011
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: So, Mike, the Hall of Fame recently announced the list of 26 semifinalists for the modern era version of this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class. The only first-year eligible candidates are Bill Parcells and Will Shields, so there aren't the same number of slam-dunk candidates you know are going in that there have been in the recent past.
Mike: You don't think Bill Parcells is a slam-dunk?
Tom: I think Parcells has an excellent chance of getting in. As I recall, it's something of a misnomer to refer to him as a first-year eligible, as there was discussion about him between jobs in the past. This is just his first year as an eligible candidate after what, I think, everybody now thinks is his last NFL head coaching job.
Tom: The difficulty with the Hall of Fame list is there are few players who make even the semifinalist list that I don't want to see in the Hall of Fame.
Mike: It's true, although I will say that Dermontti Dawson needs to get in.
Tom: The only two people on the list that I'd really object to being enshrined are Roger Craig, who I'm not convinced was more than a good player in a great system, and Eddie DeBartolo, who I'm not sure did more than cut checks. And you could probably convince me otherwise. As I recall, I mentioned in a past discussion that I'm a big supporter of Dawson's candidacy. Beyond Craig and DeBartolo, the other guy I'm not sold on is Steve Tasker. Our mantra is that special teams are roughly one-seventh of the game.
Mike: You're not opposed to Jerome Bettis? I think most people are.
Tom: Would I vote for him? No. Would I picket the Hall of Fame voters for putting Bettis in? No.
Mike: Fair enough.
Tom: If I were the kind of person who picketed people, I would picket them for putting Ray Guy in. But Guy's not a semifinalist this year, so I don't want to talk about him again.
Mike: Fair enough.
Tom: The argument for Tasker runs along similar lines, though. Special teams are so much less important than either offense or defense that a player has to be much more dominant to be worthy of enshrinement in my eyes.
Mike: Well, that's only if he's competing with offensive and defensive players. Shouldn't being the best at special teams be worth something?
Tom: Sure, it's worth something. In the Hall of Fame discussion, though, you have to judge whether a great special teams player is more worthy of enshrinement than a great center like Dawson, a great left tackle like Willie Roaf, a great wide receiver like Cris Carter, or a great coach like Bill Parcells. And I don't think I'm willing to enshrine somebody because they're the best at something just because they're the best. Unless I think that being the best was particularly valuable.
Mike: Fair enough.
Tom: Lorenzo Neal was considered the best blocking fullback in the NFL for a long time. He has no shot at the Hall of Fame.
Mike: Personally, I'm much more opposed to Terrell Davis.
Tom: I'm actually pretty open to Davis's case.
Mike: Just because of his short shelf life and the great situation he had in Denver.
Tom: I think the player you compare him to is Earl Campbell. They had in some ways a similar career: a very short but very high peak, and then not much after that. Campbell had more volume after his peak, but not much added value. I'm not sure he was an above-average back after 1980. Davis, of course, didn't have much volume after 1998, but he had some particularly exceptional playoff performances in 1997 and 1998. Obviously, he was in a great situation, but his peak value is about as high as it gets. I don't think I'd vote for him myself, but I see a good argument for him.
Mike: See, I think "exceptional playoff performances" really sums up his candidacy. I try not to weigh playoff heroics more than exceptional regular season play.
Tom: Sure. His 1997 numbers aren't 369 carries for 1,750 yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 games, but rather 481 carries for 2,331 yards and 23 touchdowns in 19 games, with 112 carries for 581 yards and 8 scores in four particularly important games. Ditto 1998. Not 392 carries for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns in 16 games, but 468 carries for 2,476 yards and 24 scores in 19 games. Even in a great situation, to me those are just mind-boggingly great numbers.
Mike: I see your point, but I don't think we'll agree on him.
Tom: I did say I don't think I'd vote for him, but I see why his candidacy makes a lot of sense. The only running back I can think of not in the Hall of Fame I want to see enshrined is LaDainian Tomlinson, and I'm not too worried about him. Adrian Peterson is also on track, but it's much too early for me to think about his candidacy.
Tom: The other position group that will probably plague the Hall voter this year and in years to come are the wide receivers. How do you sensibly sort out Tim Brown, Cris Carter, and Andre Reed, plus all the other guys who with great numbers who will come up for election in the future.
Mike: I think at some point the elections are going to have to take into account the absurd passing environment we have been in for quite a while now.
Tom: I think in the past the selectors have been able to rely on volume as a proxy for quality, and with the candidates coming up now, that relationship basically doesn't exist. They're instead stuck relying much more on subjective standards of quality, which is a much more difficult, amorphous task. Especially because every player will have smart people testifying in favor of their candidacy about how awesome they were. And half of it will be true even for guys like Jimmy Smith.
Tom: So, voter, good luck with that!
Tom: Well, I had the meaningless-but-momentous showdown against the second-highest scoring team in the league for the top seed and the regular-season title. As you expect from a good team, he had a couple of strong performances, particularly Aaron Rodgers, Rob Gronkowski, and James Harrison. No matter, though, as I got 20-plus points from Drew Brees, Wes Welker, LeSean McCoy, Robert Meachem, and Clay Matthews, and won by 38 points. I also withstood a strong Monday night performance by another team to finish with the league's best score for I believe the sixth time. For the season, I averaged 310 points. My vanquished foe averaged 287. My first-round playoff opponent averaged 240. The league's third-highest scoring team averaged 268. If I don't win the league championship, I'm going to be really, really angry.
Mike: Thinking like that is just setting yourself up for disappointment.
Tom: I'm sure this week DeAngelo Hall, Patrick Peterson, and Aqib Talib will all have multiple interception returns for a touchdown, Michael Turner will destroy Carolina's run defense, and I'll lose in the first round of the playoffs. But dammit, this is my championship, and any other outcome would be wrong.
Mike: Hah. I went into this week thinking that I had to win to make the playoffs, but I didn't realize that I could knock my opponent out in the process.
Tom: I hope you did.
Mike: That is precisely what I did, on strong games by Brees, Ray Rice and a decent game by Vincent Jackson. Enough, even, to overcome Cam Newton's absurd 40.26 points, which accounted for nearly half my opponent's total.
Tom: I could have used Newton in that game in my other league.
Mike: Still, I won convincingly, got a better seed in the now-starting playoffs, and I've pulled a relatively weak third seed. My other opponent was only saved from curb-stomping status by Maurice Jones-Drew's 27.8 points and Rodgers' 31.96, but it didn't matter, because I had five roster spots put up more than 20 points ... Brees, A.J. Green, Rice, Shonn Greene and Rob Gronkowski.
Tom: Well, I did get curb-stomped. My opponent also had Vincent Jackson, who was only his fifth-highest scorer.
Mike: Jackson actually didn't have that great a game.
Tom: Eli Manning, McCoy, Jones-Drew, and Gronkowski all had more than 20 points for him.
Mike: My main concern going into the playoffs is what to do about Steven Jackson. I'm really not sure I can trust the Rams offense against anyone at this point, but there just aren't many options.
Tom: I'm sure Tom Brandstater is going to really put a scare in the Cardinals' defense next Monday night. Who else do you have?
Mike: The only back I have on my bench is Ryan Torain. I've lost three running backs to injury at this point.
Tom: Ouch. I think you're still better off starting Jackson in that case.
Mike: I'm all right at receiver with Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson and Julio Jones. But it's a glaring weakness on a marginal team, unlike the receivers in my other league, where I get to pick and choose between Green, Mike Wallace, Jones, Jeremy Maclin and Deion Branch.
Tom: That's terrible, having to pick between those players every week.
Mike: I know! First world problems.
Known Chumpsky (Rivers, 6-5) 123 def. That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 8-3) 93
A sound thrashing for the formerly-top team in the league, continuing a disappointing late-season slump. Interestingly enough, the "ideal" start/sit for this game would have resulted in a close win for Sean, due to Pierre Garcon's mind-bending 27 points left on the bench, paired with a few minor upgrades. Still, props to Rivers, who is somehow second in the East with a 6-5 record. The East kind of stinks.
Intentional Rounding (Danny, 5-6) 107 def. Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 5-6) 97
Not even a blue-moon performance by the Steelers DST could get Aaron over the hump this week, although Mario Manningham's injury didn't help. Hakeem Nicks was at least the partial beneficiary of Manningham's absence, to the tune of 20 points. CJ-1.5-ish-K came up big for the Roundings, with a team-high 27 points.
Los Pollos Hermanos (Rob, 6-5) 79 def. Reverse Jinxes (Elias, 6-5) 63
Like two embarrassing ships passing in the night, so does Rob's ascendant team pass Elias's severely under-performing outfit. Although this victory is nothing to write home about, considering Los Hermanos' ideal roster would only be 11 points richer (thanks to Robert Meachem) and lose any of this week's other games. Still, he managed to do better than Elias and his powerhouse running back, James Starks. Wait, what?
Dyscalculia Plus Ones (Will, 8-2) 109 def. Parts Unknown Mufflers (Ben, 2-9) 107
With this victory and Sean's loss, the Plus Ones take over sole spot at the top of the league, in part due to aforementioned insane day by Newton (at least the Panthers won, this time). Ben's downfall was surprising Loser League feature back LeGarrette Blount and his mighty one point. It must be really depressing for Ben to come so close in such a big game, but to fall just short. C'est le football d'imagination.
Tom: To be honest, I'm not sure why we haven't discussed one of these Subway commercials yet.
Mike: The premise of this doesn't even make sense. Although, to be fair, they're by no means the worst offenders.
Tom: It was bad enough when it was "just" ridiculously annoying whiny kid voices. Now they're trying to add elementary-school soap opera to the commercial.
Mike: Which doesn't even make sense. This coming from a connoisseur of elementary-school soap opera. On a more serious note (ha!), I remember elementary school, and I never remember any boy giving his lunch to any girl. Girls still had cooties then.
Tom: Lunch, no. I think I do remember the sharing of dessert items being a sign of affection. Or at least the communal bounds of friendship, for sure.
Mike: Yes, sharing being the important part.
Tom: True. And that looks like a footlong sub, not a six-inch one. If you're going to give a sub away, share half your footlong.
Mike: Also I'm pretty miffed about the portrayal of women in this. Both female characters are harpies bent on stealing the man's lunch with their feminine wiles, but they sound like children. Which both makes it creepy and gives the impression that we are training girls to be this way.
Tom: Note the plot. The first woman is the evil harpy, and in giving his sub to the other woman, the man's made his protest against her evil ways. In a ridiculously over-the-top Clio Awards presentation, I call this "the Modern Lysistrata."
Mike: See, you're making a key assumption, that the brunette isn't just as bad. You're giving too much impetus to the clearly spineless man.
Tom: Well, we have no evidence one way or the other. We just know that she has his sub. It could have been a gift freely given.
Mike: I don't know ... note the look the second woman gives the first. That is the "there is nothing you can possess that I cannot take away" look: insane fictional female version.
Tom: Well, she is in the next cubicle to him. She may have to listen to him pining after Samantha all day, about how she takes his sub and never does anything for him. And taking Todd's sub and giving Samantha that look is just a way of improving her work life.
Mike: I can't believe you're the one not playing the cynic.
Tom: See, it is sort of cynical. By taking Todd's sub, Sally is doing her best to reject all of this soap opera nonsense that's preventing her from getting her work done.
Mike: Now you're just making up epileptic trees to cover your tracks. I'm on to you, Gower.
KICKER: Small consolation for the Rams: Your shutout didn't make Josh Brown the league's lowest-scoring kicker. Mike Nugent was this week's low man with the traditional -1 from one made extra point and one missed field goal.
WIDE RECEIVER: If you don't think receivers the quality of Lavelle Hawkins and Early Doucet could finish with 0 points because they couldn't get ten yards receiving on two catches, well, I have bad news for you. They are.
RUNNING BACK: LeGarrette Blount and Jackie Battle each had 1 point. You were probably unsurprised by one of those names.
QUARTERBACK: Yo Gabba ... wait, you mean it's not Blaine Gabbert this week? You'd have been better off picking Matt Ryan than you would have Blaine Gabbert? No kidding? Instead, it's ... Joe Flacco, who threw for 158 yards, no touchdowns, and fumbled for 5 points.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: We weren't really sure what to think of him last week, but after he missed this week's game with a reportedly unrelated injury, what was Josh Freeman thinking going shooting with a heavy-duty pistol after he suffered an injury to his throwing hand that affected his play? While it isn't literally an axe, this is as close to KCW purism as it comes.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: As difficult as Jason Garrett tried to make this decision (ask Marv Levy about the wisdom of deciding to settle for long field goals), your Scramble writers are still choosing to honor John Fox and Leslie Frazier for the final series of this week's Broncos-Vikings game. The Broncos had first-and-goal at the Minnesota 4-yard line with 1:12 to play. The Vikings could not prevent the Broncos from running the clock down to the end of the game and kicking a short field goal for the win. Naturally, Fox decided not to settle for a 97 percent chance or so of winning the game and decided to run the ball. The Vikings could have let the Broncos score and tried to use a minute or so of clock and a timeout to get their own touchdown. Frazier, though, remembered when the Vikings had blocked a kick in a similar situation and thought the same quite-rare event would happen in this case. It did not, so Fox was saved from the consequence of his own sub-optimal decision-making by even worse decision-making. Hooray!
COLBERT AWARD: Midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Falcons, Gary Kubiak had a dilemma on his hands. His Texans faced fourth-and-1 at the Falcons 9-yard-line in a tie game. The obvious decision is to kick the field goal, take the lead, and rely on your defense to hold the Falcons. Kubiak, though, eschewed such a conservative choice, and chose to rely on his offensive line's ability to convert fourth down (and probably also was influenced by his concern about having to rely on his untested rookie quarterback to drive down the field for another score). The Texans converted, and Arian Foster went into the end zone two plays later for a touchdown and a 17-10 lead. The Falcons then failed on fourth down in field-goal range later, and failed again on a Hail Mary at the end of the game. Instead of the Falcons kicking two field goals that could have given them a 16-13 lead if the Texans had settled, Kubiak's boldness forced them to go for a tying touchdown.
Flores: Last week was a disaster for my RBs. And Andre Johnson getting hurt. Again. So this week, Wes Welker and Darren Sproles (who saved my team) are locks, but my other slots are a mess. I think I have to trust DeMarco Murray for the second RB slot. But for WR and flex, not sure about: AJ ( I assume yes if he's healthy, but what if he's not?), Julio Jones (easy match up but they could just run all day on the panthers), Santonio Holmes (blegh), S. Jax (did awful against SEA last time and thinking with that offensive line it's pointless to try playing him), Mike Tolbert (good match up, question is snap count).
For QB, I apologize to everyone for asking this again but I admit to being horribly indecisive and a worrier, so...Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger? :) Eli's game is more likely to be a shootout, but CLE pass D is worse (although surprisingly only by a bit).
Tom: From what I've seen of them, Cleveland's pass defense is Joe Haden and a lot of people you can exploit. Maybe I'm just paranoid, though, but I'm worried about divisional games on short weeks.
Mike: I am the wrong person to ask about that game, but Pittsburgh's offense just has so many weapons, and Cleveland's defense is worse than Dallas's.
Tom: The University of Michigan blog MGoBlog has a 1-10 meter of fear/paranoia/desperate need to win each week. I'm guessing yours is at 9.9 for this game.
Mike: The Steelers need to win out, really. Well, don't need, but considering their schedule, they should be expected to.
Tom: Oh, I expect them to win this week. I'm just not confident Roethlisberger will put up big numbers in doing so.
Mike: I like his chances more than Eli.
Tom: There's a much broader range of uncertainty in my mind in Ben's numbers than there is in Eli's.
Mike: That seems strange. Roethlisberger has been pretty consistently very good this year.
Tom: I can see the Steelers' going with a run-heavy gameplan, and something like 200 yards passing and a touchdown. Or 300 yards and four touchdowns as Ben shreds the secondary. I think Eli is more likely to get both volume and numbers.
Mike: Fair enough.
Tom: Beyond Welker and Sproles, go ahead and start Murray at running back.
Mike: I think for your receiver you go Jones if Johnson isn't healthy, and then Tolbert for your flex. Past Murray, yes. Your other options just aren't that great.
Tom: Yeah, what you said.
Remember that mailbag responses after crushing playoffs losses are always 75 percent more hilarious and angst-ridden than the norm! Send your questions to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com or on the forum now!
131 comments, Last at 10 Dec 2011, 8:25pm by nibiyabi