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.
09 Nov 2011
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: One of the interesting things that sometimes happens is a single school produces a large number of good players at a particular position.
Mike: You're going to have to list people, because I am terrible with colleges. I also believe that players should stop being associated with, and introducing themselves as from, college teams. Mostly because it just encourages people in the mistaken belief that college football is actual football and not an unholy amalgam of nonsense.
Tom: One of those players, though, is better than the other players. Which player is better isn't always clear, but that's why we're here: to decide this question.
Mike: Why does this happen? Superior positional coaching? Heavy recruiting in a certain area?
Tom: For example, we'll take a look at the University of Miami, which should provide for a decent debate at the only positions that matter: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end. To answer your question, it depends on the school, but a lot of Miami's success came from being located in the same area as a lot of very highly talented recruits, and then recruiting them to stay home. Then again, that isn't always true, and it really isn't with their quarterbacks. Penn State wanted Jim Kelly to stay home and play linebacker, but Miami recruited him away from Pennsylvania to play quarterback. Vinny Testaverde was from New York, and ended up at Miami as well. Bernie Kosar was from Ohio, but his career kind of fell off a cliff around age 30 and he didn't end up at the same level as Kelly or Testaverde.
Mike: Football Genius Bill Belichick was displeased with him.
Tom: And, adding a nice bit of serendipity, benched him for Testaverde.
Interestingly, PFR's career AV statistic has them fairly close, with Kelly at 130 and Testaverde at 142. Testaverde has more career AV, and more touchdown passes, thanks to his longer NFL career.
Mike: Much, much longer career. Twice as long. I just don't see these two in the same league, honestly. Testaverde was very much a stat accumulator.
Tom: 214 starts as opposed to 160. Four seasons as a starter, really. Testaverde may have been a better quarterback than he appeared to be early in his career, because it took a long time until he was on a team that was actually good. I'm with you, though, Kelly was overall a much more consistently good quarterback, and I think if you added in his USFL days, he'd look even better. Testaverde was a better quarterback after age 35, though.
Mike: Do we really care about that, though? That's hardly peak for either.
Tom: His niche is probably that he's among the best "old" quarterbacks in NFL history, particularly compared to what he did before then.
Mike: True, but even recognizing that, I am forced to say "so what?"
Tom: Fair enough.
At running back, there's some fairly interesting depth. O.J. Anderson, Chuck Foreman, Frank Gore, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, and Clinton Portis are the biggest names. Unfortunately, I don't really know much about Chuck Foreman. O.J. Anderson is probably more famous as "Ottis Anderson," and won Super Bowl XXV MVP while he was playing for the Giants.
Mike: I also must admit that I don't know much about Foreman. It is interesting that he apparently went from fullback to tailback and then back to fullback.
Tom: That is curious. And regardless of where he was listed, he did lead the Vikings in carries the first six years of his career.
Mike: Yeah, that's actually a pretty impressive career. How did I avoid knowledge of this guy?
Tom: He got lumped together with the rest of the 1970s Vikings, where Fran Tarkenton was the offensive star and the Purple People Eaters got the rest of the publicity.
Mike: I suppose that makes sense. Honestly, just looking over the numbers, I'd say it's between him and Edgerrin James.
Tom: I've never quite figured out what I think of Edgerrin James' career.
Mike: James more than anyone suffers from Peyton Manning Association Syndrome.
Tom: Absolutely, especially because our only memory of him separate from Manning is of the normal "severe decline" late phase of a running back's career. Was he better than Foreman? Neither of us knows enough to really rate them, so we’ll move on to wide receivers.
Da U has had a number of standout NFL wide receivers. Michael Irvin is in the Hall of Fame. Reggie Wayne is still playing and may or may not join Irvin. Andre Johnson is also still playing. Santana Moss has been a good NFL player, but doesn't belong in the same category. Brett Perriman was another guy who had a decent career, and I'm leaving out some others as well.
Mike: Yeah, it sounds like you're kind of stuck with Wayne or Irvin. Johnson's career is still too young to stack up against theirs and everyone else just doesn't compare.
Tom: If Johnson can stay healthy, which I think will unfortunately increasingly be a question, I think he gets to the same ballpark.
Mike: Oh, I agree he eventually should. But he may also suffer a career-ending injury, so it's hard to tell prospectively.
Tom: Like James, Wayne is stuck with the issue of separating Manning's greatness from his own, plus he was more of a technician as a wide receiver than a physical specimen or true burner.
Mike: Exactly. Irvin and Wayne each have similar arguments for and against them, but I think Irvin's association problems are far less severe, so I have to go with Irvin.
Tom: Was Wayne considered clearly one of the best couple wideouts in the league for a number of years like Johnson has been?
Mike: A couple years, yes, but not consistently, and always marginal. And always with the asterisk of Manning.
Tom: I absolutely agree with you that right now Irvin is tops. I thought the Cowboys system may have depressed his numbers a little, but of the "Triplets," I thought he was the best player. DVOA has been kind enough to support my argument, as he ranked first, fourth, first, and second for 1992-95 and first, first, second, and first in DYAR in those same seasons.
Mike: Isn't it great when statistics back up your preconceptions?
Moving on to tight end, with honorable mention to Bubba Franks and Greg Olsen, the two candidates are Kellen Winslow (Jr.) and Jeremy Shockey. Shockey has been in the league longer, and played basically 50 percent more games (129 to 84) with 136 more receptions (533 to 397).
Mike: While Shockey has better overall stats, Winslow has had a more impressive DVOA over his young-ish career.
Tom: Just don't look at this year. His DVOA is awful. I think the deciding factor for me here has to be health. This is Shockey's 10th season (Winslow's 8th), and he's managed to stay on the field much more often. Winslow may be a little more productive when he's on the field, but he just hasn't been on the field enough.
Mike: Shockey has also played for better teams, which makes Winslow a bit more impressive in comparison.
Mike: I'm actually going to go with Winslow.
Tom: I think that for high first-round picks, both guys have kind of underwhelmed. They've been solid receivers, but I'm not sure they've been the kind of difference-makers either the Giants or Browns expected. And of course they both kind of got ditched by the team that drafted them.
Mike: Few tight ends are, but I think Winslow has come closer, even if he has had injury issues.
Tom: If only the Browns hadn't given up a second-round pick to move up one spot to pick him!
Tom: Remember how I decided I was giving up on one of my teams last week? That was a really prescient call. I got annihilated this week. At running back, Ryan Mathews and Ahmad Bradshaw were out, so I started Delone Carter and waiver wire pickup Chris Ogbonnaya. They gave me a combined 0.9 points. I had Ben Tate's 17.5 on my bench. I also started Chiefs DST against the formerly mediocre Dolphins offense, and got -1 points off them. My opponent, meanwhile, got 31 points from Aaron Rodgers and 28.3 from Willis McGahee, and that was more than I got from my entire team.
Mike: So you're just going to let that team rot, then?
Tom: I'll finish out the season, of course, but I'm no longer the least bit emotionally invested in how that team does.
Mike: Have you told your players that they are dead to you?
Tom: Nah. I'm treating it instead as a failure of my Matt Millen-style draft: I took wide receivers with my first four picks (start 3WR/2RB).
Mike: Fair enough.
Tom: My other fantasy game was also a little disappointing, as I'd gotten used to my game featuring the league's highest score. Instead I finished third in points for the week and had to settle for a solid victory.
Mike: I am waiting eagerly in the shadows for your final good team to falter, just to see what your reaction will be.
Tom: I'm averaging outscoring every other team in the league by 20 points a week. My wrath will be quite powerful.
Tom: Of course, I average 307 points per week, so 20 isn't really that much. How did you do? Did you righteously smite your enemies?
Mike: This week saw a return to dominance for both of my teams. I had the most points in one league and second-most in the other. In each league, I finished second in margin of victory. This despite Kansas City DST, as you know, laying a massive egg.
Mike: Really, all my players just played really well. Special mentions go to Julio Jones, Vincent Jackson and Rob Gronkowski. I am now up a game and 119 points on the second-place team in one league and in second place, albeit two games and 112 points behind, in the other.
Tom: I hope you've sent them all thank you cards. Or do you wait for the end of the season for that?
Mike: The judge says I can't do that anymore, Tom.
Tom: That's too bad. That just seems like the right thing to do. I'd probably do it on Twitter, though, to save on postage.
Mike: True, but if I start using Twitter, what am I supposed to do with all these "Mike <3 [player]" Beanie Babies I have lying around?
Tom: Don't worry, your nemesis Rex Grossman is not on Twitter. Show off your Beanie Babies to your heart's content!
Parts Unknown Mufflers (Ben, 1-6) 91 def. Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 2-5) 58
I should have mentioned that, at some point, Ben would get to play against Tom. Congratulations on your first victory, Mufflers! Tom's lack of faith in Miami was well-founded but did not pan out, as he earned -2 points from Kansas City DST and left Reggie Bush's 20 points on the bench. Ben, like many of us, played the Wheel! Of! Shannahan! and lost, receiving 0 points from inexplicably underutilized tailback Ryan Torain.
That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 6-1) 109 def. Reverse Jinxes (Elias, 6-3) 90
A meeting between two of the top two teams in the league did not end well for Elias, as Sean's dominance continued unabated on the backs of Matt Ryan (21 points) and Vincent Jackson (32). Fred Jackson (nine points), Miles Austin (five) and Vernon Davis (two) simply could not get the job done, and Elias loses ground to Will in the Eastern Division. I guess that means something, but considering many teams have played two more games than the others, the standings don't make a whole lot of sense, anyway.
Dyscalculia Plus Ones (Will, 7-1) 107 def. Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 3-4) 74
This actually wasn't an impressive outing for Will, aside from one important player: Julio Jones and his 28 points. It was sort of a messy win absent fantasy league all-everything Cam Newton, but Matt Cassel somehow managed 13 points in a 31-3 loss, so that's pretty impressive. Matt Schaub, on the other hand, only earned Aaron eight points in a 30-12 stomping of Cleveland, so I suppose that tells you everything you need to know about those two teams.
Edmonton Eulers (Tanier, 3-4) 92 def. Los Pollos Hermanos (Rob, 2-5) 85
Eulmentum! Catch it! Usually when we're discussing fantasy results we talk about how many points the loser left on the bench, but this week we have the opposite; poor starts lost the Eulers 17 points, compared to Rob's 13. Of course, the players in question are Marshawn Lynch, Jacoby Ford and Torrey Smith, so "poor starts" is more akin to "being sane."
Mike: So, I'm actually surprised we don't see this sort of thing that often. You have a product. The ancient Romans and Greeks were famous for having a ton of really lame gods, (like Jeff, the God of Biscuits), but they were still gods, so you, marketing person, could easily just make up a silly ancient god and link your product to that deity. Yet we only see a handful. For some reason magic football fairies come up more often.
Tom: How do you get to be the god of hamburgers? Is there an application you have to fill out? How does the god of Hamburgers get the power to shoot crispy onion strings from his hands?
Mike: That is true. You would think he'd have to farm that job out to Frenchy, the god of fried onions.
Tom: Shouldn't he have the power to shoot hamburgers from his hands, and have to reach down into the mortal world to get the onion strings?
Mike: True. Also, shouldn't he be making hamburgers for other, more powerful gods? The gods were constantly jockeying for position amongst themselves, using their abilities and power to one-up or control each other. He makes hamburgers. That has to be really low on the totem pole.
Tom: Yes, but after he makes the hamburger he gets to go sit on his gigantic St. Bernard and yell into the air. I'm sure that gigantic rideable St. Bernard with a cask of A-1 steak sauce is a valuable status symbol.
Mike: I guess it's the little things in life.
Tom: Wouldn't you want a gigantic rideable St. Bernard? I know I would.
Mike: Didn't we already establish that riding dogs is simply unsafe?
Tom: Well, okay, I'd actually prefer a gigantic rideable Bernese mountain dog, but I'd take the St. Bernard.
Mike: I'd probably go with a gigantic Shih Tzu or Westie, just so people laugh when they see it. Right before my dog eats them.
Tom: Are you sure your dog wouldn't rather eat the mountaintop made of bleu cheese?
Mike: No. My dog is very well trained.
Tom: Bon appétit!
We start with our normal weekly recap.
QUARTERBACK: The ineligible Curtis Painter and his 2 points were low honors for this week, but the lowest score you could've had was 5 points from Tarvaris Jackson.
RUNNING BACK: Jason Snelling has been mostly a forgotten man this year, as his 1 point would attest. Another forgotten one, Joe McKnight, doubled that total with 2.
WIDE RECEIVER: The spoils of Aaron Rodgers' dominance this year did not go to Donald Driver this week. Another player not blessed by his fine quarterback's generosity this week was Devery Henderson, who matched Driver's 1 point.
KICKER: Tom started Adam Vinatieri in the league where he got destroyed, and thus was well aware that Vinatieri only had 1 point, from a made extra point. Laugh at him in the comments section, and maybe he'll drop Vinatieri and get a different kicker.
After Week 9 of the season, we have now concluded Loser League 2011: Part I. Your Losingest players the first half of the season were:
QUARTERBACK: Blaine Gabbert and Curtis Painter were the lowest-scoring signal-callers of the first nine weeks, but neither was eligible for your selection. Of course, you could have instead just chosen their teammates Luke McCown and Kerry Collins, who accumulated the fewest points of all eligible passers.
RUNNING BACK: The worst Loser League running backs tend to be players in a committee who get enough carries to avoid the penalty but don’t have many big games. That’s how James Starks became the Loser-est running back this time around. Only three points behind him was Chris Johnson.
WIDE RECEIVER: With two quarterbacks at the bottom of the rankings, it’s not too much of a surprise to see two Indianapolis Colts near the top of the receiver rankings. Yes, Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne are the two lowest-scoring receivers this year, even after Wayne’s 16 real fantasy points in Week 1 convinced you he might be a decent real fantasy option.
KICKER: Really, feel free to yell at Tom in the comments section, as Adam Vinatieri was the lowest-scoring kicker of the first half by a fairly sizable ten point margin (38 points to Matt Prater’s 48).
And your Loser League 2011: Part I winner, by a margin of one point, is ... Count on Losing This Sunday! Congratulations to Jon Weaver of Chicago. In addition to super-losers Jones, Wayne, and Vinatieri, Count on Losing included third-ranked quarterback Matt Cassel, Matt Hasselbeck, running backs Mark Ingram and LaGarrette Blount, wideouts A.J. Green and Mike Thomas, and Graham Gano.
If you didn't win, don't fret, you've got eight more weeks to pick your Losers. Click here to join Loser League Part II. The deadline is Saturday night, November 12.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: As your Scramble writer was tying this, another member of the St. Louis Rams punt coverage team just missed an oppportunity to tackle Patrick Peterson in overtime.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Late in the game, leading by four points, Mike Tomlin decided he'd rather have a four-point lead and try to pin the Ravens deep than risk a field goal to give his team a seven-point lead. The Ravens did start the drive inside the 10, but nonetheless drove the ball down the field for the game-winning touchdown. You play to win the game.
COLBERT AWARD: Facing a fourth-and-3 at the Bengals 10 midway through the second quarter of Sunday's game, Mike Munchak decided the Titans needed to do more than cut the deficit to 7-6, and went for it. The Titans converted on a pass to Lavelle Hawkins, and scored two plays later to take a 10-7 lead. Where that Mike Munchak was when the Titans punted on fourth-and-1 near midfield while trailing in the fourth quarter? Well, let's just say he's a gut feeling kind of guy.
Chase: Hey guys! Army captain and Titans homer writing from Kuwait. First, thanks for the content you contribute to FO; it's been my go-to source for intelligent football discussion from around the world (Korea, Iraq, now Kuwait), even if I catch it a day or two late. Anyway, question: In a 16-team Yahoo PPR league, trying to fill the flex spot. (Matt Forte/Steve Smith/Marques Colston are locked in as my RB/WRs.) Options are (with season-to-date points) Jordy Nelson (91.9), Cedric Benson (84.2), Chris Johnson (78.4) and Percy Harvin (77.8). With bye weeks mostly wrapped up, do you see any of these being clearly superior, or should I just play matchups for the rest of the year? Thanks again! (And Tom, double thanks for the writing at Total Titans as well!)
Mike: Aw man, I want double thanks too. No fair.
Tom: Start or join a Steelers blog, write there, and maybe you'll get a double thanks in a couple years as well.
Mike: That would not work, because this is the only website that can contain my awesome.
Tom: Of your options, I like Cedric Benson the best as a regular starter. He'll get most of the carries, including the goalline work, and the Bengals will run the ball as much as they can.
Mike: Anyway, thanks for writing, Captain Chase, and thanks for your patronage! I agree with Tom's assessment to a point. Benson is clearly the best starter now, but Cincy's schedule does get (slightly) more difficult in the second half, where it faces Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice each. Our stats really dislike the Steelers defense, but that's because they never met a third-down conversion they didn't like. As far as raw numbers (the more important numbers in fantasy), they are extremely stingy.
Tom: Yup, what Mike said, thanks for your service and thanks for the kind words. On Titans’ enigma Chris Johnson? I'm not sure there's a matchup I like enough where I'd feel comfortable starting him. He had a couple successful carries where he found himself with a bunch of green grass and a defender he could easily avoid, so he got a good gain.
Mike: Do you really think Johnson won't improve at all in the second half? He's such a talented back, it's hard to imagine him just being bad for a whole season
Tom: I think at halftime of this week’s game against the Bengals the Titans thought he was "back", whatever that actually means. In the second half, they abandoned the rotation they'd been running with him and Javon Ringer, and Johnson rewarded them with five carries for nine yards. Subjectively, I thought the offense as a whole looked less in-sync with him in there the entire second half. If the Titans are smart, they'll go back to essentially platooning him with Ringer and alternate drives. He's not really playing like an incredibly talented back, and I have no confidence he'll put up more than a modest number of points in a given week. The Titans were also maintaining the fantasy that he's an effective back near the goalline, which wasn't true even in 2009, when he actually was awesome.
Mike: The problem is that the other options are wide receivers, and not receivers that get constant attention.
Tom: Nelson by week has had 19, 15, seven, 20, four, 16, and nine (assuming it's a normal full PPR league). CJ has had 10, nine, 11, 13, 15, nine, 7 and 14. I guess he is a better back in a PPR league, which rewards him for the primarily ineffective dumpoffs, but Nelson I think gives you more upside.
Mike: I'm not sure Nelson has greater potential to have a randomly huge game, which is really what we're debating. I suppose the answer is play your matchups between those two and be wary of Benson.
Tom: Just to mention Harvin, I think he may have the more potential to have a randomly huge game, but the Vikings seem to have been consciously limiting his work, so I don't like him as a consistent option.
Flores: So many question marks this week. (standard PPR, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 W/R). WR choices: Julio Jones vs. NO (NO's pass D isn't very good, so I'm thinking yes), Wes Welker vs NYJ (they defended against him pretty well in their last match up ... but ...), or Santonio Holmes (I still hate Mark Sanchez, I still hate the Jets O. And DPI yardage does not give me fantasy points. I'm leaning towards my hatred for the Jets outweighing my fear of Revis Island for Welker). As always, I'm in Andre Johnson limbo, but I'm beginning to 100% despair of seeing him before week 12.
RB choices: Steven Jackson vs Cleveland (they have a decent run D...but at least they can't cover RBs as receivers), DeMarco Murray vs. BUF (was great last week...but I saw a few places suggest Felix Jones might be back this week - how far does his value drop if Jones comes back?), Darren Sproles vs. ATL (ATL has good rush D, but is only mediocre at defending RBs as receivers), Mike Tolbert vs OAK (was great against GB, OAK has bad Run D....but another limbo: how far does his value drop if Ryan Mathews is good to go?). And if the Jones/Mathews conundrum weren't enough, there is as always the decision of who to kick out of the lineup if by some miracle AJ manages to play.
DEF: I don't like the idea of playing CIN D against PIT and Jacksonville and Houston's Ds are both available. The DVOA disparity is bigger between Jacksonville's D and Indy's O, although Houston's D has been the better "fantasy defense". Thanks as always!
Tom: Last year the Patriots beat the Jets 45-3 in their second regular season matchup after losing in the first game, and Welker had seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Play him. I'm iffy on Jones/Holmes, but would probably play Jones because I think little of Saints corner Patrick Robinson. That said, the Falcons will try to run a lot and the Patriots are awful against WR1s (No. 32 in DVOA).
Mike: Didn't we have this exact conversation about Jones last week?
Tom: Maybe, but I don't think so. They played the Colts last week, who can't cover anybody who happens to be better than Titans' wideouts.
Mike: Well, more that Jones is getting more and more looks as the season goes on, and starting to capitalize on more of them. He's only going to improve going forward while still drawing the No. 2 cornerback. And Welker, of course.
Tom: At running back, the Browns are 25th in DVOA and 30th in rushing yards allowed. Play Jackson.
Mike: I always find it easier to look at a slot and exclude players. So really, it becomes: which one of those running backs do you not want to start? To me, it's a game-time decision considering Murray and Tolbert are both platoon threats.
Tom: Except the Chargers play Thursday night.
Mike: What the what? I really, really hate Thursday Night Football
Tom: Honestly? The Raiders are a bad run defense. Tolbert gets the goalline carries even if Mathews is in the game. Play him, put your worrying about Murray off for another week.
Mike: I personally don't care about the NFL Network. In fact, more power to them, stick it to the man, whatever, but stop screwing up my fantasy league with an awful midweek game that I can't even watch.
Tom: You're welcome to come to my place, and I'm sure you could find a closer alternative.
Mike: I probably wouldn't watch them, anyway. Like I said, they're generally terrible. All things being equal, I would be heavily favoring Murray.
Tom: Well, where do you slot in Sproles?
Mike: W/R. Jones, Welker, Jackson, Sproles, Murray/Tolbert. Probably Tolbert. Devil you know, at least. I hate Thursday football.
Tom: If Andre Johnson doesn't play, I'd go Welker, Jones, Jackson, Tolbert, Sproles, and send Jones to the bench if Johnson is healthy. If Tolbert played Sunday, I'd make him and Murray a gameday call, but if you don't play Tolbert you end up with a potentially limited Murray and Holmes at flex.
Mike: I'd probably bounce Tolbert. Wait, Thursday. Ugh. Probably Jones, then, yeah.
Tom: At QB, yes, play Roethlisberger. Defense? I've found Josh Freeman an acceptable marginal fantasy starter, but he's played poorly enough as a real quarterback that I'd go with the Texans DST. The Colts aren't consistently bad enough on offense, so I don't like them as a "start whoever's playing them" choice.
Mike: I say you play whoever is playing the Colts that week. I think Tampa Bay's offense at least has some potential to make you hurt in a matchup whereas Indy might make some noise, but is still going to be largely incompetent. I agree with you on Roethlisberger.
Shawn: I'm currently in a standard-scoring non-PPR league and am struggling to figure out which TEs are worth starting from week to week. I've been going with Scott Chandler, but he's just inconsistent enough that it doesn't seem worthwhile. This week, I'm considering pulling either Fred Davis or Brent Celek off of the waiver pile, but I'm hesitant to trust pretty much anyone on Washington (although his matchup against Miami is fantastic this week) and I haven't paid enough attention to Celek to know whether his recent boost is going to last. What would you guys recommend?
Mike: Celek is by far the best talent of that group and Vick is turning to him more often as an outlet rather than running the ball.
Tom: If you ignore that he had 13 or fewer yards receiving in four of the first five games this year, I agree with you.
Mike: That was rather my point.
Tom: That said, the DVOA matchups page says Arizona has been horrible DVOA against tight ends. I'd trust Celek's recent hot streak to continue and gamble with him this week. That said, Dallas is weak against tight ends, especially with Sean Lee out, and I think Chandler could have a good game. Then again, he could easily be lousy again.
Mike: That's a risk with all tight ends.
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39 comments, Last at 10 Nov 2011, 8:33pm by 0tarin