Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
02 Nov 2011
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Mike: By now, everyone is familiar with the Saga of Tim Tebow: 45-55 minutes of putridity followed by mere mediocrity. That mediocrity did result in a win two weeks ago, so a miserable game is magically turned into an inspiring comeback victory.
Tom: Because everybody knows it's way better to be super-awesome the last 10 minutes of the game and win than be super-awesome the first 10 minutes of a game and build a lead that your team keeps for the rest of the game.
Mike: The next week, a similar pattern emerges, but instead of a victory, the Broncos pull defeat, and Tebow is thoroughly panned despite an eerily similar performance. Much more telling, however, is this past week's Ravens-Cardinals game. The Ravens were being absolutely slaughtered by one of the worst teams in the league, but in the second half, Anquan Boldin catches fire and the Ravens eke out a close victory. Again, against one of the worst teams in the league. This performance is hailed as a gritty show of mettle, and Joe Flacco, like Tebow, is lionized, despite a putrid first-half performance. I could sit here and give examples until we're blue in the face, like the absurd situation where John Elway is measured not by his incredible success in all metrics, but because he had a large number of victories where his team was losing at some arbitrary point in time, but there's no need to belabor the point; Football fans are obsessed with comebacks.
Tom: It's the power of narrativity.
Mike: Narrative is part of it, but I'm not buying that it is the complete picture. The Arizona meltdown this week reminded me of another Arizona meltdown, where somebody let someone else off the hook, despite the other party being who they thought they were.
Tom: Rex Grossman Just Wins (when his defense and special teams can score all the points for him).
Mike: But that wasn't it. Everyone was talking about Arizona's epic collapse. Grossman wasn't the savior, he was (at that point) just a quarterback who did enough to win. There was no lionization, only mockery of an inept Arizona squad. Clearly, just staging a comeback is not enough to become the narrative's darling.
Tom: Which I think is just more narrativity, only this time it's the emphasis of offensive scoring. The Bears' comeback came on defense and special teams, which are more the other team's fault.
Mike: I think that's way too simple an answer, in addition to simply disagreeing. Defense feeds into the narrative just as well, often more, when there are a ton of turnovers involved. There is just something special about comebacks. We'll call it Captain Kirk Syndrome: We have a hero, we know he's great, but he's getting beaten up. We see he's losing, but in our heart of hearts we know he is the superior man and cannot conceive of a universe in which our hero fails. This dovetails nicely into the American aversion to dramatic tragedy, but that's a conversation for another time. More relevant is that we know that our hero must eventually prevail. The Ravens had that in spades this week, and the Bears of yesteryear did not. Tebow is an interesting case, but I'm inclined to say his personal popularity and newness put him in the former category, at least for one week.
Tom: I'm not really meshing this storyline real well with what I've seen of Flacco this year.
Mike: It's not about Flacco, though, and that's my point. It's not a rational analysis of the teams. We "know" the Ravens are great, so even though they're getting curb-stomped by a bunch of losers, we expect them to come back from any deficit.
Tom: Flacco is capable of melting down and playing horribly. Elway was the comeback legend, the guy you knew was capable of a sustained stretch of above-average play despite what had happened earlier in the game. Comebacks are a useful narrative framing device, but I only like them to the extent they reflect actual inflection points in something that happened on the field. For example, the Titans came back to beat the Ravens in 2008 in a regular season game in Baltimore. Their comeback started when one of the Ravens corners went out and Frank Walker came in as a replacement. That was not a coincidence. That's a comeback that's not just narrative. The comeback story strikes me as mostly pretty silly exercises in narrative.
Is there something in Tebow's game, or what the Broncos do offensively, that really changes in the fourth quarter? Or is it just the semi-random hot streak you might see that for whatever reason happens to show up in the fourth quarter in two consecutive games?
Mike: But you just said that Elway had valid comeback skills!
Tom: Elway was a very good player who could put together a sustained stretch of very good play. That could come in the second quarter as easily in the fourth quarter. Unless you accept the idea that Dan Reeves shackled the offense except when trailing in the fourth quarter, in which case the comeback isn't just narrative.
Mike: I'd actually be interested to see the second vs fourth-quarter stats on Elway.
Tom: Unfortunately, I don't think we yet have play-by-play data for his career.
Mike: Yes, too much of it is missing, sitting in some poorly formatted and non-machine-scannable gamebook somewhere.
Tom: On a related note, I've been remiss not to mention thus far the work on comebacks done by Scott Kacsmar written up at Pro Football Reference. Thanks to Scott, we at least have great lists of the comeback and game-winning drives for quarterbacks like Elway. Another thing that I think about is that the second and fourth tend to be the "longest" quarters. Well, the fourth sometimes is a "long" quarter, sometimes a "short" quarter, depending on which team has the ball and what they're doing.
One thing that I think drives the comeback narrative is that a team trailing in the fourth quarter generally takes the opportunity to do a lot to maximize their chance to win by speeding up and running more plays. Even if the quarterback is only marginally more productive, he may end up with more opportunity to do more and thus appear a lot better for your narrative.
Mike: I think it's far more visceral than you're letting on, based more our opinion of the team and the result the team receives than any coherent, rational process. People aren't looking at stats to find the source of the comeback magic. All they care about is the victory, and how that victory fits their preconceptions.
Tom: Aren't we back to Guts and Stomps?
Mike: Not really. A good team playing a bad team close doesn't get the same kind of credit it would if it were down big and came back.
Tom: Baltimore didn't even get a Gut, they got a Skate, but they're being rewarded for it like it was a Stomp because it's the mystical "comeback." It's a Skate, sure, but it's a "more valuable" Skate because of their "will to win" or whatever it is that give teams the comeback narratives.
Mike: That's just mixing analytical frameworks. Well, an analytical framework with a narrative. I'm not sure it's helpful to look at what seems to be primarily a psychological effect within the context of an analytical framework.
Tom: The real psychological effect is something like the endowment effect, where fans internalize their team's in-game win probability, and the comeback is valued because it's a reversal of that expectation of losing.
Mike: This is primarily a construct of the media, however. Perhaps the media is simply packaging games in a way they think will be easily digestible by their audience, but the internet is alight with people who are neither Broncos fans nor Ravens fans, accepting the narrative. There is very little internalization, just reaction.
Tom: Guess what? For I believe the sixth time in eight weeks, my team in one league was involved in the matchup with the league's high score for that week. Drew Brees may have had a mediocre game by his standards, but LeSean McCoy's great game and strong performances by Anquan Boldin and Richard Marshall, among others, put me over the top.
Mike: Brees had a pretty mediocre game by anyone's standards.
Tom: We get points per completion, so he actually outscored my opponent's quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, even with a big penalty for interceptions.
Mike: True, I guess he had a decent game if your league is insane.
Tom: Insanely awesome. Maybe it's just because my team is really good, but I like these settings. They feel like real football. Quarterbacks are way more valuable than other players, and IDPs aren't worse than non-quarterback offensive skill position players.
Mike: Points per reception and completions really have no comparison to football. If you want quarterbacks to be more important, than give them more favorable yardage scoring or touchdowns. 50 completions for not-first-downs would be fantastic in your league but insta-cut on a real team.
Tom: I'm not defending the mechanics of the settings, only the results.
Mike: All right.
Tom: Unfortunately, I think I'm pretty much sunk with my other team, as I again put up a below-average score and lost. Bye week fill-ins Curtis Painter, Heath Miller, and Kansas City D/ST put up decent scores, but my regular players all disappointed. None of Miles Austin, Stevie Johnson, or Ryan Mathews lived up to expectations. I'm now tied for seventh in a ten-team league, two games out of the playoffs.
Mike: Ouch. I dominated both leagues this week, despite Brees' generally miserable day.
Mike: Robert Meachem and Jermaine Gresham were duds, but they're not my starters, anyway. Aside from them, the only disappointment was Vincent Jackson. Steven Jackson and Ray Rice had huge days, negating my opponent's duo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
Tom: Meachem unfortunately makes an appearance later in today's column.
Mike: I'm willing to bet everyone knows where! The other league was basically a laugher, despite my opponent (somehow also) having Calvin Johnson. No roster spot had fewer than 10 points, including my IDP (Jared Allen) with 12. The end result was a 148.20-80.84 clobbering.
Tom: You know what? The team that beat me also had Calvin Johnson!
Mike: WHY, MEGATRON? WHY MUST YOU STALK OUR REPOSE?!
That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 5-1) 107 def. Intentional Rounding (Danny, 3-5) 67
Just as Danny's team (yes, yes, we know, it's an autodraft) started crawling back towards respectability, it hits a Ray Rice-shaped brick wall. Reinforced by a three-inch thick sheet of Matthew Stafford. Throw in Calvin Johnson and Sean's top three slots outperformed Danny's entire team, even with Michael Vick's 24 points.
Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 3-3) 122 def. Reverse Jinxes (Elias, 6-2) 115
This was largely a slugfest between exceptional games by running backs. While Elias had a slight edge with Steven Jackson (30 points) and Fred Jackson (19) against LeSean McCoy (31) and Maurice Jones-Drew (13), the Jefes just had too much production across the board for the Jinxes to keep up.
Dyscalculia Plus Ones (Will, 6-1) 99 def. Los Pollos Hermanos (Rob, 2-4) 80
Wait, Will is 6-1? How did that happen? Isn't there some kind of rule against that? Rob probably missed Aaron Rodgers, despite a decent game by Ryan Fitzpatrick, and definitely missed Roddy White, but he had no business being in this game in the first place. Aside from Fitzpatrick (14 points) and Lions DST (a whopping 28 points), no other roster spot had more than seven points to show. The DPOs were, by a small margin, the weakest victors this week. It took a pretty huge game from Bengals DST, but they still easily surpassed El Hermanos.
Edmonton Eulers (Tanier, 2-4) 102 def. Parts Unknown Mufflers (Ben, 0-6) 56
Yes, Ben has still yet to win a game, even against the second-worst team in the league. To be fair, the Eulers had a good game despite the loss of Matt Forte and Bears DST, but it's hard to be fair because the Mufflers are just so bad.
Maybe the favorite commercial we’ve covered in this column concerned Jake Delhomme’s delivery of Biscuit Justice. Well, we weren’t the only ones who appreciated what Delhomme did in Carolina for Bojangles.
Unknown soul on the internet, your Scramble writers thank you.
KICKER: If Mike Shanahan were really wrathful, Graham Gano and his -2 points would be getting the boot this week for giving the Ultimate Leader his first shutout as an NFL coach by missing a field goal.
WIDE RECEIVER: Robert Meachem and Golden Tate combined for four catches for 23 yards for 1 point each. Volunteer doughnuts all around!
RUNNING BACK: This week's loser on ... Wheel ... of ... Shanahan? Ryan Torain, eight carries for 14 yards and 1 point. Even better news? The Redskins grabbed Tashard Choice off waivers, so the wheel is now back to its normal complement of three players.
QUARTERBACK: A disappointingly good week for quarterbacks, as even players who struggled still had decent fantasy games. Your low player is the ineligible Blaine Gabbert with 5 points, while your low man is the sack master himself, John Beck with a still pretty good 7 points.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: We were tempted to give this to Tim Tebow because, well, "Come on – that’s your quarterback? Seriously?" Really, though, Tim Tebow is starting because John Fox is starting him, and we mentioned Fox in last week's awards section. Instead, kudos to John Beck and the Washington Redskins offensive line, who only allowed the Buffalo Bills on Sunday to register more than twice as many sacks as they'd had in all of the previous games put together.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: It takes a finer mind than your Scramble writers possess to come up with a coherent theory of risk from Pete Carroll's decisions Sunday. While trailing 17-3, he went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Bengals' 3-yard line with 14 seconds to play in the first half, then while still down 17-3, he punted on fourth-and-4 from the Bengals 36-yard line with 8:03 to play in the third quarter. Then, just for good measure, he kicked a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the Bengals 7-yard line with :08 to play in the third quarter, while still down 14 points. Carroll also twice inserted and removed both Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.
COLBERT AWARD: In any given game, an NFL team may throw passes to a couple wide receivers, a tight end or two, and maybe a couple backs out of the backfield, and that'd be enough. Not for Jim Harbaugh, not Sunday, as the 49ers completed passes to wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree, tight ends Vernon Davis and Justin Peelle, and left tackle Joe Staley and defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga. And, yes, Staley and Sopoaga's receptions both gained more yardage than Edwards' longest grab of the day.
alexbond: I am considering starting Tebow. My options are Ben Roethlisberger vs Ravens or Tebow vs Raiders. Roethlisberger is of course the superior player of the two but Ravens is a real tough matchup. Whereas the Raiders D sucks versus QBs, and despite Tebow's real life suckiness, he's actually put up decent fantasy numbers with all the running. And he can't really be worse than last week, right? Or do I give up on both these two and surf the waivers for an Alex Smith or Andy Dalton type guy?
Mike: The Ravens' passing defense is still pretty bad. It would have to be really, really good to even consider starting Tebow. Seriously, what is wrong with you?
Tom: The Ravens are No. 1 in DVOA by a good margin, third in yards allowed, and first in yards per attempt.
Mike: Yes, and they've played .... the Steelers, in one of their worst games in a decade. The only other serious passing offense they have faced was Houston minus Andre Johnson. The rest of the schedule has been a parade of passing ineptness: Tennessee, St. Louis, the New York Football Jets, Jacksonville and Arizona.
Tom: The premium DVOA database isn't updated with Week 8 as of this writing, but the Ravens have put up a Pass Defense DVOA well negative every week except the game against the Titans. The Raiders are below-average in DVOA, middle of the pack in YPA, and teams pass the ball against them a lot. Tebow clearly has a much better matchup.
Mike: They have a high DVOA because their mediocre-to-bad secondary hasn't been tested. I'm not saying DVOA is junk, I'm saying that it's hard to get an accurate read, statistically, on a defense that has played so many soft offenses.
Tom: We'll just agree to disagree on the Ravens' pass defense. But the Raiders' defensive line has been playing great this year, and it's not likely Denver will see the garbage time where Tebow accumulated his fantasy value against the Lions last week. Play Roethlisberger despite the matchup.
Mike: There is absolutely no reason to play Tebow in any situation, regardless of matchup, so unless you can find Dalton on waivers, this is a no-brainer.
Tom: I'd even play him over Dalton.
Mike: I think it's a closer race, but I agree
0tarin: My current WR collection includes Nate Washington, Antonio Brown, Andre Johnson, and Robert Meachem. I get to start three of them, and since Meachem's absolutely worthless, I'm trying to figure out who his replacement should be. I've used Deion Branch as an effective plug-in before and while he's inconsistent, I'm optimistic that NE will provide a revenge beatdown in compensation for their dismal showing last week. Other available options include Early Doucet (although he might be gone by the time waivers subside) or Jonathan Baldwin, who might have good upside against Miami. Also, any chance Scott Chandler will be worth playing again this year, or should I drop him for Dustin Keller?
Tom: Contrary to my expectations, Nate Washington had a decent fantasy game last week thanks to two touchdowns to make up for less than 40 yards of offense. I think the 40 yards is more likely to be repeated than two touchdowns. Then again, I have no affection for mediocre receivers behind better No. 1 options with mediocre quarterbacks like Baldwin and Doucet.
Mike: I like Baldwin as a WR3 this week. Whether you would replace Washington or Brown, I don't know. Probably Brown.
Tom: Of your waiver pickups, I like Baldwin best as a longer-term replacement, but you may be better off playing matchups.
Mike: Washington isn't as good a player, but Pittsburgh is lousy with wide receivers right now, and Roethlisberger won't have the same kind of time as he did against New England. Yeah, I don't think his receiver corps is so bad that he needs long-term replacements off waivers. He should see what he can get with trades, if his bench and running backs are deep enough.
Tom: I'm not sure a trade is the right answer if the rest of his team is good enough. In terms of tight ends, as a frustrated Keller owner, I’m not sure he’s a good weekly option, or at least any better than Chandler.
Flores: Full PPR, 2 WR, 2 RB, 1 W/R, and I'm agonizing over the choices, compounded by the fact that I'm still stuck in the "Is Andre Johnson going to play or not" limbo. WR choices: Julio Jones vs. IND (Indy's secondary is a DISASTER, but Falcons seem to like their running game), Wes Welker vs NYG (should I be concerned about how he's been bottled up the last two games?), or Santonio Holmes (I hate Sanchez. I hate the Jets offense. Enough said). For now, I assume Johnson doesn't start (if only to spare myself continued disappointment and heartbreak). I'm thinking Jones and Welker.
RB choices: Steven Jackson vs ARI (thinking yes), DeMarco Murray vs. SEA (he ran well this week, just didn't get chances because Tony Romo is awful ... but even Romo can't screw up against SEA ... right?), Darren Sproles vs. TB (TB shut down NO last time they played ... and they were obviously dysfunctional against STL, though Sproles managed an ok game for me thanks to PPR), Mike Tolbert vs GB (assuming he plays). So which 2 of the WR, which 3 of the RB (I'm assuming my RB choices are better than the odd man out from the WR crowd)? And if Johnson plays, who gets kicked out of the line up then?
Finally, Eli Manning vs. NE and Ben vs. Ravens...Eli is definitely the choice here, right? And for defense, I have CIN D against TEN, but DAL D is available - since they play SEA this would that be the better play? They looked pretty shaky against the Eagles, but Seattle is far more dysfunctional than the Eagles. As always, thanks!
Mike: I agree with the wide receivers. The Falcons love them some running, but Jones got a lot of targets before he was injured, and was very effective.
Mike: He's bound to start picking up touchdowns as Matt Ryan becomes more comfortable with Jones.
Tom: Welker is still leading the NFL in receptions and yards per game.
Mike: Yeah, don't let one mediocre game against a very good defense spook you.
Tom: Sproles is second in the NFL in receptions per game. Andre Johnson is third in the NFL in receptions per game.
Mike: I don't think receptions is the end-all for running backs. Even in PPR, it's nice, but we like running backs because they're go-to red zone options. That said, even a healthy Tolbert vs. Green Bay isn't that great an option.
Tom: If Andre Johnson is healthy, I'd play Johnson, Welker, Jones, Sproles, and Jackson. If Johnson isn't healthy, I'd put Murray in flex.
Mike: I agree with your assessment.
Tom: At QB, you have a good quarterback (Eli) against a horrible secondary (Patriots). We've discussed Roethlisberger. Play Eli.
Mike: I don't think it's quite so clear, but yes, the game will be on Eli's shoulders. Pray it isn't windy.
Tom: In terms of defense, I would go with Dallas against Seattle, especially if Tarvaris Jackson is at all injured.
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44 comments, Last at 03 Nov 2011, 9:12pm by nibiyabi