A look at fourth-down decision making in 2014 highlights Sean Payton, Marc Trestman, and... wait, this can't be right... Jim Caldwell? Plus: Chip Kelly may be less aggressive than you think he is.
05 Oct 2011
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: In honor of an end of an era for Monday Night Football, Tom and I thought that we'd kick it old-school all up in this Scramble by getting down to some good, old-fashioned fake gambling!
Tom: Every NFL team has played one-quarter of their games, so it’s time to check out some of the players who might be experiencing breakthrough seasons, and to see if they might reach the "magical" 1,000-yard threshold. There are currently three running backs on pace to crack 1,000 yards for the first time, and fifteen pass catchers. Of the receivers, we’ll discuss the top six, those on a pace for 1,200 yards.
Mike: Think of it as a series of over/unders where the line for all listed players is 1,000 yards. Just to drive home how painfully olde-timey this is, we'll provide headings for you in The New Dungy Football Dialect, so grab a chair, get ye flask, and read up:
Tom: Ryan Mathews has 288 yards on 61 carries. His previous career high came last year, as a rookie, with 158 carries for 678 yards.
Mike: I say he makes it.
Tom: If you recall, I was very high on him last year, but very disappointed by how he played. This year, he seems to have lost most of the hesitation that plagued him, and the fumbling problems seem to have disappeared. Norv Turner has been very complimentary of his play and whatever Norv's other deficiencies, I think he's a good offensive mind. Over.
Mike: The San Diego passing game doesn't seem to be as potent as it once was, and The Norv is clearly looking to Mathews to set up a balanced attack. Over.
Tom: Last week's fantasy hero, Beanie Wells. He currently has 59 carries for 321 yards. His previous career best came in 2009, when he had 176 carries for 793 yards. Coming out of The Ohio State University, I thought he'd be an excellent NFL back, but it hasn't happened.
Mike: Nor will it this year. I think teams are slowly starting to think that maybe they're not all that scared of Kevin Kolb, and by extension maybe a bit less scared of Larry Fitzgerald. That is a big problem for a mediocre back like Wells.
Tom: I think his chances are boosted by the lack of a decent alternative. Ryan Williams is on IR, and are they going to give LaRod Stephens-Howling or Alfonso Smith the carries? I think if Wells stays healthy, he gets enough carries for a LenDale White, circa 2007-style season. Over.
Mike: Oh, he'll get the carries, but it won't matter. Wells is just not a very good running back. Under.
Tom: Tied with Wells at 321 yards, but on 68 carries is Ben Tate, who's effectively in his first year after missing his rookie season with an injury. Of course, Tate is now hurt again. While his injury doesn't seem to be serious, his numbers thus far are a product of Arian Foster's injury. Unless Foster goes down again, for a significant length of time, Tate's not going to get close to 10,000. Under.
Mike: That is a solid call on Tate hitting the under on 10,000 yards. I can't imagine your return on that is very good, though.
Mike: Anyway, I agree, Tate is definitely the bridesmaid. Hope he enjoyed his time in the spotlight. Under.
Tom: Currently at 26 receptions for 310 yards. His previous career highs in each category are 63 catches and 547 yards. If you look at Forte's career history, he hasn't averaged more than his 10.7 yards per catch in a season, and he was under 8.5 the first two years of his career. If he matches last year's 10.7 yards per catch average, he'll need 94 catches to get to 1,000 yards.
Mike: Past history might not be too predictive in this case, however. Forte is clearly more a part of the offense, including the passing offense, than he was last year.
Tom: Yeah, but will he lead the team in catches?
Mike: Maybe not, but I think his average might be higher, because he’ll be catching significantly more designed passes.
Tom: Oh, here you go: Forte and Johnny Knox tied for the team receptions last year with 51. Will Forte double that this year?
Mike: He won't, no, but I wouldn't be too surprised if both his targets and yardage increased over last year. I'm still going to say under, but I think he has some shot.
Tom: You watch the Bears more closely than I do, but I don't think he comes that close. Under.
Tom: The Bengals rookie has 19 catches for 312 yards. I assume you haven't watched the Bengals much, if at all, outside of highlights.
Mike: "Not at all" is an accurate statement.
Tom: Well, from watching him at Georgia, I thought he earned his draft status and would be an awesome player. Thus far, he's living up to expectations.
Mike: He's also, frankly, Andy Dalton's only option.
Tom: I've mentioned I don't think much of Dalton, but he's going to get to 1,000 yards the same way Fitzgerald got to 1,000 yards last year. Green is going to get thrown a ton of passes, because him double-covered is a better option than Andre Caldwell single-covered, and he's good enough to catch passes double-covered. Over.
Mike: Agreed. Over.
Tom: His previous career highs are only 47 catches and 687 yards. For a veteran, that doesn’t suggest this kind of potential, but I find this an interesting call. With Kenny Britt out, he's the Titans' top receiver.
Mike: Yes, but on the other hand, he is still a Titans receiver.
Tom: He's been really, really productive thus far, and I feel like I've mentioned this a lot, but he's the one receiver on the same page with Matt Hasselbeck on the option routes and automatic adjustments. It seems like the Titans are going to throw the ball a little more than I thought, so I feel like he could get a lot closer to 1,000 yards than I expected him to get. Still, I don't think he'll get quite get the volume to get there. It wouldn't surprise me to see him to over, but I think he'll end up a little under.
Mike: I think that being the only credible receiver on a team that just handed a massive paycheck to their all-world (albeit currently underperforming) running back is more of a death sentence than a chance to shine. I think he’ll be well under.
Tom: Maclin has 26 catches for 334 yards. His previous career best was last year, when he had 70 catches for 964 yards. Interestingly, he has those 26 catches on 36 attempts, which is a 72 percent catch rate. He had a 61 percent catch rate each of his first two seasons.
Mike: Considering his quarterback, that's somewhere between super- and mega-unsustainable.
Tom: It seemed like the Eagles were throwing him the ball a lot on the three-step stuff they went to later in the 49ers game. If he's really rounding out his game to be more of a full-field threat, he could actually finish on the 1,300 yard pace he's currently on. Even with the expected drop-off in the catch rate, with how close he was last year, I bet he makes it. Over.
Mike: I agree completely. Over.
Tom: Jones has 24 catches for 342 yards, and no touchdowns. As Playmaker Score indicated, all Julio Jones does is not catch touchdowns.
Mike: As a moderately satisfied Jones owner, I could've told you that. Possibly while accompanied by violins.
Tom: For the record, Roddy White has 26 catches for 302 yards on 45 targets, while Jones has had 38 targets.
Mike: That's why I said moderately satisfied.
Tom: Like Playmaker Score, I was kind of down on Jones, and when I've watched the Falcons, it feels like they're making a concerted effort to get Jones involved in the offense.
Mike: He's also been open, from what I've seen, which is partially opponents' focus on White and partially the fact that he's playing pretty well.
Tom: I feel like I should note Matt Ryan has attempted 164 passes. That's 42 or more in the three non-Eagles games.
Mike: That is pretty odd.
Tom: I like to think my general sense of frustration with the Falcons is not completely irrational. Discounting the nine official Matt Ryan rushes, since I'm not sure how many of those are scrambles, the Falcons are throwing the ball 63 percent of the time. Per Football Outsiders Almanac 2011, they threw the ball 58 percent of the time last year, ninth-fewest in the league.
Mike: What was 63 percent last year, ranking-wise?
Tom: Roughly ninth. So if they kept up throwing 63 percent of the time, based on last year's numbers, they'd be roughly as pass-heavy this year as they were run-heavy last year. That doesn't comport with my mental image of what the Atlanta Falcons are. Under.
Mike: To be fair, what the Atlanta Falcons "are" is not a recipe for league championships, as we ourselves pointed out in FOA 2011. That would be a weird bit of symmetry, though. Over.
Tom: Our final pass-catcher is our first tight end. The former basketball player has 24 catches for 367 yards. His previous best was last year as a rookie, when he had 31 catches for 356 yards. Yes, he has a career high in yards in four games.
Mike: Not remotely a chance. His numbers have been ridiculously inflated by all the injuries the Saints have suffered at wide receiver.
Tom: He has 36 targets in the first four games. If he ends up with 144 targets, I bet he ends up with 1,000 yards on the season.
Mike: But he won't, because those receivers are going to come back and he will be ignored.
Tom: I wouldn't say ignored.
Mike: Fair enough. Severely curtailed.
Mike: Probably more of Colston's, but he's under all the way.
Tom: I think he'll be closer than you think, but still under.
Tom: In one league, it seems pretty straightforward: I have the league's highest score or I lose. I got buried by Michael Vick and a cavalcade of good defensive performances led by Paul Posluszny, Desmond Bishop, and George Wilson. I finished near my projected total, and had the league's fourth-highest total, but lost in a blowout. I'm outscoring the league by 85 points now, but am only 2-2.
Mike: I ended up smack in the middle of each of my leagues this week, winning one, losing one. I must admit, I lost to Simon, my friend from the Netherlands, who of course only first saw a football game three weeks ago and had Yahoo! autodraft his team because he has no idea what's going on. On one hand, this is a source of great shame and dishonor, which will take my family decades to purge. On the other, however, somehow Jordy Nelson, Eric Decker and Jimmy Graham had ridiculous weeks, which is out of my control, and probably shouldn't be legal.
Tom: Sometimes autodraft can put together a pretty effective team. And if we'd done receivers with 250-299 yards, Nelson and Decker would have been on that list.
Mike: Oh, what fun that segment would have been! Drew Brees had a substandard week, and in the end I lost by 3.3 points, 130.94-127.64, after Ray Rice EXACTLY hit his projection, and then basically stopped, because Baltimore hates me. And that ... thing with Pittsburgh happened.
Tom: I won my other league this week, thanks to Josh Freeman's 24 points. 94.08-90.44. It wouldn't have been nearly that close, but I chose Sunday morning to play Dustin Keller's 1.2 points over Jared Cook's 15.3 points.
Tom: With my comeback win, I'm now 3-1 in that league, holding second place on points. And if you ever feel like leaving the Staff League results out of the column, please, by all means, feel free.
Mike: I'm sorry, I can't do that, Tom. I managed to pull out a win in the other league, thanks in part to Julio Jones. I was quite pleased with Steven Jackson's return, which means I finally am back up to speed, running back-wise. Still, I fell to fourth in the league despite the win because the league-high team leapfrogged me into third with a 4.76-point advantage. Then, today, I checked my lineup for Week 5. Byes: Rice, Jackson, Ryan Torain, Brandon Marshall. Up against the top team in the league Huzzah! This is not going to be pretty. My main question is: Robert Meachem or Moore? Non-PPR.
Tom: I have an idiosyncratic liking for Meachem, but Moore seems like a more reliable fantasy option, especially in PPR leagues. But I can see both sides of the argument, so play whichever guy you prefer.
Mike: This isn't a PPR so I went with Meachem; higher upside and I'll need upside if I'm going to win with this motley crew.
Tom: That league? Ah, yes, you do. Have fun!
Dyscalculia Plus Ones (Will, 4-0) 135 def. Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 1-3) 94
This was actually a banner week for the Ringers, with solid performances by Tony Romo, Frank Gore and Greg Jennings. That said, a banner week for Tom is a mediocre week for basically everyone else, and his team was blown out of the water, with four of Will's slots (Cam Newton, 31; Michael Turner, 20; Wes Welker, 21; and NYJ DST, 21) coming within one point of Tom's team's total. Interestingly enough, this wasn't the largest margin of victory. In fact, it was the second-lowest.
Reverse Jinxes (Elias, 3-1) 115 def. Edmonton Eulers (Tanier, 1-3) 92
If you just look at the Eulers' headliners, this seems like it would be a good week: Drew Brees was good for 15 points, Arian Foster managed 22 and Matt Forte broke out 28. The problem? Tanier's other six roster spots all put up single-digit totals, and only one of those broke 5 points. The six combined for a total of 27 points, fewer than Forte alone. Elias's group didn't have a huge week, but they didn't need one to top that kind of futility.
Intentional Rounding (Danny, 1-3) 147 def. Known Chumpsky (Rivers, 2-2) 103
Danny finally won one! Hooray! An all-around beat-down where the low score on the Rounding ... ers ... was Chris Johnson's 11 points. In fact, even the majority of Danny's bench put up double digits. Barring something crazy like actually starting Jay Cutler, there really wasn't any way Danny lost this game. As for Rivers, the contest was kept a lot closer than it probably should have been, thanks to BAL DST's absurd 32 points. No one else on his roster broke 19.
Los Pollos Hermanos (Rob, 1-1) 111 def. Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 1-2) 52
This, ladies and gentlemen, is your domination of the week. Which is a bit odd, considering 111 is the lowest total for any of these victors. What is really astounding is the Goweresque 52 put up by Aaron's pretty good team. Matt Schaub's team won, but he only came up with 9 points. Maurice Jones-Drew was playing the Saints, but only managed 8. The King of Walrii forgot that LeSean McCoy existed, resulting in a disappointing 10, and New England-Oakland was a high-flying quasi-disaster for the Raiders, so the usually reliable Darren McFadden only eked out 11. Nearly half of Rob's total came from Aaron Rodgers' 45-point game, so Rob should really just bank this victory, move on, and hope that Peyton Hillis won't have too many more 6-point contests.
After last week’s surfeit of nonsense, this week’s Scramble for the Ball features neither a cartoon nor a breakdown of a commercial. Come next week, though, talking money will be served with Biscuit Justice!
As a reminder, you can access the full results here.
KICKER: It was a pretty good week for kickers, honestly, as 2 was the lowest score this week. Steven Hauschka, David Akers, and Shaun Suisham, you weren't terrible this week, but you're still low men on the totem pole.
WIDE RECEIVER: Nate Burleson, Austin Collie, Andre Caldwell, Jarett Dillard, and David Nelson each had two receptions and between 16 and 18 yards receiving this weekend, giving each of them 1 point.
RUNNING BACK: Ah, Mike Shanahan, fantasy players love you so. Ryan Torain puts up 19 points and putative starter Tim Hightower gets 2. Down there with the former Arizona Cardinal was Shonn Greene, about whom your Scramble writers will no longer say nice things.
QUARTERBACK: Don't worry, another column on the quarterback class of 2009 is coming later this year. Mark Sanchez will be discussed, though his putrid -3 this week will probably not be.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Late in the game against the Lions, trailing by four, Felix Jones stepped out of bounds to preserve time for the Cowboys' comeback attempt. Unfortunately, it was fourth down and Jones was well short of the first-down marker. Turnover on downs, ballgame, Lions win. Oops.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: We're not trying to pick on Pete Carroll, but the Seahawks burned a down with a spike and ended up on fourth down attempting a 61-yard field goal attempt with :13 left and a time out in their pocket. Honorable mention to Andy Reid and his continuing aversion to running the football.
COLBERT AWARD: When your offense has trouble moving the football, it's important to take advantage of every opportunity you can. Steve Spagnuolo knows this, as the St. Louis Rams went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Redskins' 35-yard line while down 7-0 in the second quarter of Sunday's game. They converted, but of course, being the Rams, ended up losing yardage on the ensuing set of downs before fumbling the football away.
MJ: Hi, PPR league dilemmas again. Of course, I drafted Andre Johnson in the first round (thanks KUBIAK!), and he was a fantastic guaranteed 22-plus points a week. Sadly, it looks like I'm out of luck for the next couple of weeks. I pray to god Santonio Holmes does something against New England, or I am in very deep trouble. Crying aside, would Dustin Keller or Rob Gronkowski be the better bet next week? The Patriots are bit worse against TEs than the Jets, but I also trust New England to throw (successfully) more than the Jets. Also, with the offensive line problems, I'm not sure Mark Sanchez will be able to get any throws off at all.
Secondly, I need to find a replacement for Andre Johnson. Waiver options do not look great. Preston Parker as a slot receiver vs SF? Victor Cruz vs. SEA? Wondering if Cruz will suffer repercussions for his dumb move that nearly cost the Giants the game. Johnson’s real life "replacements," Jacoby Jones & Kevin Walter, maybe James Casey, are also available but I'm not sure any of those would be better choices over Parker and Cruz (I expect Houston just to lean more heavily on Owen Daniels and Foster).
Finally, I have DET DEF vs CHI, but should I pick up KC's D vs Indy this week? I don't know if Martz will somehow not call passing plays again that leave Cutler to make awful decisions and/or get killed by his line. Indy's line is a total disaster right now with injuries to Anthony Castonzo and Benjamin Ijalana, and their QBs are beyond disastrous. They could barely move the ball against the terrible TB D. I don't see them doing any better vs. KC.
Tom: Question No. 1: I don't care about Gronkowski's low total last week against Oakland. He's a better option than Keller. The Jets are ranked 22nd in DVOA against tight ends. Yes, the Patriots are worse, but Tom Brady v. Mark Sanchez settles that argument.
Mike: Thank God there's no chance of an Irrational Brady vs. Sanchez thread. I agree regarding Gronk. One off-week is not a real problem, especially for a tight end on a high-octane offense.
Tom: Question No. 2: The pecking order of the Texans offense has been Andre Johnson, the running game, and whatever the good matchups are. I don't think there's an overwhelming edge with either Walter or Jones, and concur Daniels may be the matchup edge they try to exploit. I actually ... kind of like Cruz as a waiver wire pickup.
Mike: As much distaste as I have for Cruz, I agree. He is by far your best option of that ... mess. Unfortunately, your subsequent email indicates you could not pick up Cruz, but that Antonio Brown is available. Honestly, I'd take the flier on Brown, and pray. Hard.
Tom: Question No. 3: Kansas City is a bad enough real-life defense I can't recommend them as a fantasy defense. Indianapolis's offense, to me, isn't at the point where you just play the defense against them. Especially if said defense is 31st in the league in pass defense VOA.
Mike: See, I disagree that there is no reason to play KC DEF against Indy. Not that Kansas City's defense is anything other than putrid, but now they've had a long look at Curtis Painter, and even Romeo Crennel can't screw that up.
Tom: He's had, this year, not really two week's worth of starts. In a month, I might agree with you. Now, I'd just go with the better defense that's a good fantasy defense.
Mike: Probably wise but I am in the mood for DANGER.
mrapollinax:Sit Start questions: Josh Freeman vs Matt Hasselbeck? This is a question I'll probably be asking all year. I've tried offering up a trade but no one is biting. On the wire are the likes of Blaine Gabbert, Painter, Dalton and Rex Grossman.
Gronkowski vs Jermichael Finley? Both underperformed last week but both are beasts at their positions. Ceiling is high for both but which has a better matchup?
Tom: I'm a lot more confident in the Steelers’ eighth-ranked pass defense DVOA rating than I am in San Francisco’s 11th-place ranking. As noted above in my tale of woe, Vick had an excellent fantasy game against the 49ers last week. Perhaps I am scarred by the Titans' last appearance against the Steelers, where Vince Young and Kerry Collins tried to throw 11 interceptions and were sacked 57 times. Numbers approximate, as some of the near interceptions came on the same drive.
Mike: I'm surprised you aren't suggesting Painter.
Tom: He has Freeman. I think Freeman's a very solid option.
Mike: I agree, although check and see what level of suckerdom your league has handy and maybe pick up Grossman if you think a strong week will get someone on the Rex Cannon train, enough to swing him for some depth or something. Too many people are buying into Grossman right now.
Tom: I bet Rex won't be sacked this week.
Tom: Tampa Bay has their bye Week 8. The Redskins face the Bills that week. Grossman might not be a bad pickup. On your second question, we've already mentioned Gronkowski has a fairly favorable matchup. Atlanta is also tops in the league in DVOA against tight ends. There's also not a big quarterback advantage one direction or the other, so the matchup to me dictates Gronkowski over Finley.
Mike: That about sums it up.
That's a wrap! Hie thee to thy internetbox and sendeth thine questions to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com!
20 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2011, 5:27pm by tuluse