Bill Connelly looks at the college offenses, defenses, and overall teams that have improved (Air Force!) or regressed (North Texas!) the most in 2014. Year Zero is a real thing (sometimes).
25 Jan 2012
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom It is time for one of Scramble's annual traditions: the All-Keep Chopping Wood team. In addition to the weekly award named after Jack Del Rio's locker room experiment gone awry (thanks to punter Chris Hanson), Scramble for the Ball annualy picks a full starting lineup of players who did the most to help their team lose games in the year. Players are selected based on a combination of their on-field and off-the-field contributions to not winning games, with the ideal selection being a terrible player who is also a locker room cancer and gets other players in trouble.
Mike: Thank you, Tom, for telling us what we already know. Another important thing that your Scramble writers look for when choosing the AKCWT (that's A.K.C.W.T. for Tanier) is a level of consistent awfulness that undermines the competitiveness of the team, yet, for one reason or another, is tolerated. We try hard to fill out the roster with full-year starters, because it's very hard to chop wood while riding the pine. This also explains why the team is not merely all the recipients of this year's weekly awards. That, and the team would only have 18 players. And about half of them would be Blaine Gabbert. For the impatient or those who would like a quick reference, the roster can be found below.
Anyway, where should we start?
Tom: How about quarterback?
Tom: And, what do you know, one player ended up with almost twice as much negative DYAR as any other quarterback.
Mike: I get a feeling I know to whom you're referring.
Tom: Are you thinking of a player who looks like he could be in a boy band? Or at least has that kind of hair?
Mike: No, Tim Tebow wasn't that bad.
Tom: Not even close. We are of course talking about Blaine Gabbert, who both had terrible results and looked terribly uncomfortable in the pocket.
Mike: Yo Gabba Blaine Gabbert! Which of his many, many awful statistics should we highlight? I imagine he's pretty angry with Tebow, since Tebow (46.8 percent) was the only quarterback with over 100 passes who sported a lower completion percentage (51.1).
Tom: See, I'm actually having trouble here, because late in the season, I thought Gabbert actually started playing a little better. He was terribly not ready to play in the NFL, thrust into the starting lineup by a coach on the hot seat, with a terrible offensive line, maybe the worst receiving corps in the NFL, and a tight end who had been good but had an awful year.
Mike: Calling what happened improvement is like saying it was an improvement when your murderer moved on from stabbing your gut to less painful areas.
Tom: He also had a much better DVOA than the man he supplanted, Luke McCown. I grant you, McCown only threw 62 passes, but those were some bad passes. I almost want to instead make Kyle Boller the All-KCW quarterback.
Mike: I can't believe you're making excuses for Gabbert.
Tom: Jason Campbell had a pretty good year (at least for Jason Campbell). When he went down, the Raiders had to go to Boller, and he was so terrible (-87.2% DYAR), Hue Jackson could get away with terribly overpaying for Carson Palmer.
Mike: He was also playing in Oakland, where the starting running back also went down. Also, by definition Boller cannot have chopped the most wood, as he only had 32 opportunities to do so.
Tom: Yes, Darren McFadden did go down, but Michael Bush was among the league's better backup running backs and the Raiders receivers were effective for both Campbell and Palmer. Boller only got 32 opportunities because he was so godawful atrocious.
Mike: I get the feeling that if there were any real escape hatches, or any belief the team could do anything, Gabbert would have been gone just as fast. Boller was a bad player on an average team. Gabbert was a bad player on a bad team. He shouldn't get credit for the suckitude of his peers.
Tom: After benching McCown so quickly, they were kind of stuck, and had trouble improving the situation he was in. It was just sad all around.
Mike: Absolutely, but also absolutely KCW material.
Mike: Thomas Jones was just offensively bad.
Tom: Jones was bad in 2010. And 2009. Sooner or later, I think we have to stop blaming Jones for being offensively bad and start looking at whoever is responsible for Jones getting the football.
Mike: That is a very good point.
Tom: Rather than Jones, I am looking at the player who ranked 49th in the league in DVOA and got paid $13 million.
Mike: Frank Gore is actually a promising candidate. Gore is supposedly an elite running back, but he was extremely bad this year, a year when the 49ers practically screamed "play great defense and run the ball." He failed to live up to his side of the bargain. While Chris Johnson was not good, the Titans otherwise weren't a great team. Gore was somehow the weak link on the 49ers.
Tom: I think Gore is getting to Thomas Jones territory c. 2009, a back whose shelf life is rapidly running out. His DVOA this year is actually slightly better than it was last year, though (-8.1% v. -8.9%).
Mike: Last year and this year were very different years for this team, especially since this year the 49ers faced the easiest schedule in the NFL. Go ahead and make the case for Johnson, though, aside from being hideously overpaid, which I agree he is.
Tom: I'm not trying to make the argument Gore had a good year, just that he's not KCW-worthy.
Mike: He was definitely not the worst running back, but his team really needed a strong running game, and he failed to deliver in spectacular fashion.
Tom: Part of the reason I believe Johnson is an absolute lock is he held out and got paid $13 million because he wasn't just one of the league's best running backs, but one of the league's elite "offensive playmakers." Four times this season, he had at least ten carries and failed to gain 25 yards on the ground. He had six games where he averaged fewer than 3.0 yards per carry. The Titans ranked 31st in the NFL in second-level yards and 18th in open-field yards. Back in 2009, when Chris Johnson was actually good, the Titans were seventh in SLY and first by a big margin in OFY. There's been a big debate among Titans fans as to how much of Johnson's struggles are the result of Johnson and how much are the fault of the offensive line. The answer, unsurprisingly, is both, but Johnson isn't even good at the things he was once awesome at.
Mike: But did it really matter? A great Johnson would have just been a replay of every year of Barry Sanders' career.
Tom: The Titans went 9-7 and were one game short of making the playoffs.
Mike: Sorry, I don't think the Titans had any chance of doing anything in the playoffs.
Tom: I went to the Titans-Colts game this year, and if the Titans had employed Donald Brown while the Colts had Johnson, I believe the Titans would've won that game.
Mike: They would have won the right to lose in the first round.
Tom: Just like the Steelers. Would you have rather missed the playoffs?
Mike: No, but that isn't the question.
Mike: Of course I would be unhappy. I'm not saying Titans fans shouldn't be unhappy, but I think Frank Gore's miserable performance was more responsible for his team losing. That, after all, is what KCW is all about.
Tom: Johnson got paid $13 million and I saw him voluntarily dive head-first into the ground rather than try to break a tackle by a cornerback. That kind of lack of effort is absolutely All-KCW worthy.
Mike: In the interest of actually choosing a player, I will assent to Chris Johnson since we do have other positions to shout at each other about.
Tom: We can name Frank Gore as well, but we should move on before I spend the rest of the column ranting about Johnson.
Tom: It seems like pretty much every year there's at least one wide receiver who lives up to the position's diva reputation and absolutely demands a spot on this team. Every year except this year.
Mike: I would nominate Chad OchoJohnsonCinco, but he didn't do anything, much less chop wood.
Tom: Chad this year is like Randy Moss in Tennessee last year: a complete non-event despite the initial hoopla.
Tom: I guess the one receiver who did eventually stand out this year was Santonio Holmes.
Mike: Now, are you just mentioning that because Scramble Pen-Pal Flores mentioned him derisively every week? (We will call in that round of drinks, by the way. Do not doubt it.)
Tom: No, but given that his quarterback was Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan apparently decided to make team captains an aspirational award rather than one based on actual achievements, I think that qualifies as a collective effort.
Mike: To be fair, he decided to get rid of captains altogether, but I imagine was thwarted by the fact that the rules of football actually require them.
Tom: Pesky rules, always getting in the way of things.
Mike: I'm sure Jim Harbaugh can give him a shoulder to cry on.
Tom: But yes, it came out late in the season that Holmes eventually started yelling in a team meeting and stopped putting in even a Chris Johnson level of effort on the field. Beyond Holmes, we have a couple options. There's Tampa Mike Williams and his deeply disappointing sophomore campaign. There's our last-place finisher in DYAR, Devin Aromashodu -– but did you really expect anything different from Devin Aromashodu? We could go with the deeply miscast-as-a-top-receiver Jacksonville's Mike Thomas. Chiefs rookie Jonathan Baldwin of training-camp-fight fame and lousy numbers also has a case.
Mike: Baldwin would've had to be much, much worse to make KCW as a rookie. It's like the actual All-Pro squad. We have high standards!
Tom: I guess you could also throw Lee Evans' name into the mix, though I think his limited regular season impact was more injury-related. See, I actually liked Baldwin more than the other candidates, because his candidacy was more than just ineffective play.
Mike: My personal punching bag, Braylon Edwards, didn't even have enough targets to qualify for the discussion.
Tom: For me, he falls into the Ochocinco-style disappointing-but-anodyne category.
Mike: Yeah. Remind me of the Baldwin incident. My memory is a bit fuzzy.
Tom: I'm not sure there was ever a good explanation of everything, but he supposedly really annoyed teammates with a very entitled attitude, got into it with a couple teammates, and eventually had a fight with Thomas Jones where he ended up with a hand injury.
Mike: See, I'm totally willing to blame Jones for that, astoundingly enough.
Tom: Baldwin ended up missing the first five games of the regular season. The day before the fight, Baldwin reportedly had gotten into a screaming match with Jamaal Charles, so his problems were not just with Jones.
Mike: What? I did not hear about that.
Tom: Money quote: "Diva, spoiled, doesn't wanna listen. Can run a Go and a Slant, and doesn't wanna work."
Mike: How the heck do grown men get in screaming matches?
Tom: Should they proceed immediately to fistfights?
Mike: Yes. I'm sure the Miller Lite guys would have a thing or two to say about the situation.
Tom: Screaming matches are strategic. If Baldwin's a good player -– and the Chiefs did draft him in the first round for a reason -– you don't want him hurt. Whatever you want to say about Jones' on-field performance, he's apparently a respected veteran in the locker room and a hard worker.
Mike: I suppose that is true. All right, Jonathan Baldwin is in.
Mike: Wow, Marcedes Lewis had an AWFUL year.
Tom: This is often a hard position, becuase how much damage can a tight end really do? But Lewis I think is far and away the winner. Especially if you look at it in terms of how much he did compared to how much you'd expect from him. Remember, he was 11th among tight ends in DYAR last year, and he was last with a bullet this year. A tight end should be a young quarterback's best friend, yet Lewis simply had an atrocious season as a pass-catcher.
Mike: Indeed. The one thing a non-prime-time tight end is supposed to do is serve as a reliable outlet in the flat, or even short passes over the middle. Lewis used to be able to do that, but apparently no longer can.
Tom: I don't think Lewis was a head case this year, but I don't know of any tight end that really was. We're therefore picking tight ends by ineffectiveness, and I think he tops the list.
Mike: This is the part where everyone starts yelling at us.
Tom: Yes, and it could be either because we've overlooked how good their team's lineman is and have unfairly denigrated them, or we've overlooked how bad their team's lineman is and have unfairly not named him. Take, for instance, left tackle. In the NFC West, we have two excellent nominees in the perennially problematic Levi Brown of the Cardinals and the Rams' Rodger Saffold, another player who had a horrible second season after a strong rookie year.
Mike: There's an underlying problem that you cannot really judge line play without actually watching tape of it.
Tom: Exactly. We do have J.J. Cooper's sack data, so I can you tell you he credits Saffold for 8.5 sacks and Brown for 10.0 sacks.
Mike: That should probably be dispositive, especially since St. Louis was a complete disaster, largely due to its line.
Tom: That's really only two plays over the course of the year. Even though Roger Saffold gave up fewer sacks, I'd give the honor to him. At right tackle, we have a clear winner in the Jaguars' Guy Whimper, who gave up 13.5 sacks and was the subject of multiple FO columns on just how awful he was.
Mike: He is powerful bad, and also has a very KCW name.
Tom: The thing about Whimper is, the Jaguars drafted offensive tackles in the first two rounds of the 2009 NFL draft. Eugene Monroe started at left tackle and had a decent, if not great, year. Eben Britton, whom Ben Muth reminded me received the second-most All-Pac-10 votes of any left tackle in 2008, couldn't beat out Whimper and was moved to left guard. Britton eventually went on IR and was replaced by rookie Will Rackley, who was poor in his own right. I don't know how you feel about having two Jaguars linemen on the squad, but I think there's a good chance they deserve it.
Mike: I dunno. That seems a bit extreme.
Tom: Maybe it is, but Whimper in my mind unquestionably deserves it, and Britton should've been able to beat him out.
Mike: Hrm. There has to be someone.
Tom: I'm not in love with any left guard nominees.
Mike: What about Traffic Cone, LG, Pittsburgh Steelers? Wait, traffic cone was injured.
Tom: Rackley gave up 6.5 sacks. I think Whimper at right tackle and a split Britton/Rackley nod at left guard is perfectly fair.
Mike: Fair enough.
Tom: Right guard, I have a candidate I like. The Falcons lost last year's starter Harvey Dahl in free agency and replaced him with third-year player Garrett Reynolds, who was awful before getting benched for Joe Hawley. As much as you think Frank Gore held back the 49ers, I think Reynolds held back the Falcons at least as much.
Mike: Excellent choice.
Tom: Center is another very difficult position.
Mike: Personally, I think we should be looking at a center with lots of responsibilities, like one working with a rookie quarterback, who is responsible for line calls.
Tom: The person I want to nominate is the Rams' Jason Brown, who signed a lucrative free agent deal before 2009. He got benched, and then was moved to left guard. When they signed him away from the Ravens, he was supposed to be the linchpin to build the line around, not somebody they replaced. If you want to kick Saffold to the curb for Levi Brown to get Jason Brown on the team, I'm fine with that.
Mike: Fair enough.
Tom: Brown it is, and we're done with the offense. Now to the other side of the ball.
Tom: And we finally get to talk about the Cleveland Browns!
Mike: How have we avoided the Browns thus far?
Tom: They were mostly just garden-variety bad instead of ridiculously awful? And Gabbert out-classed Colt McCoy in awfulness.
Tom: The Browns were terrible defending runs up the middle this year. Both defensive tackles, Ahytba Rubin and rookie Phil Taylor, make their average tackle well downfield and had terrible stop rates. Taylor, in fact, ranked last among defensive tackles. Are you comfortable picking on the rookie, or shall we take the veteran?
Mike: Oh, Taylor, by a mile. I've seen few players who looked so completely lost on so many different occasions.
Tom: Rubin was bad enough I don't think it can be by a mile, but I'm on board with the Phil Taylor pick. At the other tackle spot, while we try not to make this about our teams, I think the Titans' Shaun Smith is another player who deserves strong consideration. He had a terrible stop rate, made his average tackle well downfield, did essentially nothing in terms of rushing the passer, and more or less got benched as the year went on.
Mike: Benched players cease to chop wood.
Tom: If Smith were a little bit better, he'd have kept playing as much as he was earlier in the year, so that makes him a worse player? I can see the logic there, when we're judging players in terms of career value. So if you want to say Joey Harrington is the worst quarterback in NFL history and Norv the worst coach because their teams didn't move on to other options, I'm fine with that. That's why I didn't mention J.P. Losman as the league's worst quarterback even though he was last in DVOA.
Mike: How about Antonio Garay, who is both an awful player and completely insane?
Tom: Shaun Smith once punched a teammate in the nuts and a local news reporter claimed part of the reason he was benched was because he was an annoying loudmouth. Sorry, let me correct myself: he previously punched his team's quarterback in the face, and grabbed a former teammate's nuts. The reporter comments were indeed from this year, plus Smith spent a lot of Twitter time talking to Kansas City fans who for some reason yearned for his return even though the Chiefs were terrible against the run when he played for them.
Mike: Smith is the kind of guy whose idiotic infractions tend to blend together.
Tom: Granted, the quarterback was Brady Quinn, and neither the punch nor the nut grab occurred in 2010. There's just evidence he's not the best locker room presence, while Garay is probably just weird.
Mike: Garay is also San Diego's nose tackle, and they were a team which had the worst power success rate (75 percent) and near-worst stuffed rank (28th), despite having a pretty good crew of linebackers and defensive backs.
Tom: San Diego's linebackers and defensive backs, outside Eric Weddle, aren't actually that good. The Chargers had both overall talent and injury issues on defense.
Mike: Tenth in second-level yards, below-average 19th in open field, but average adjusted sack rate.
Tom: If you want Garay, I won't complain too much. I think he's more mediocre and weird rather than bad and harmful.
Mike: You can't be last in the NFL in power success without your nose tackle being terrible. It simply is not possible.
Tom: I think Garay is better suited as a rotational defensive linemen with some good players than as a starter. I think the Chargers knew that, but Luis Castillo got hurt and I think they were expecting more from first-round pick Corey Liuget than they got. But, sure, Antonio Garay it is. At defensive end, how about the Bills' right end Dwan Edwards? The Bills were bad playing runs to the offensive left and horrible rushing the passer, and he had 2.5 sacks.
Mike: I'm not going to count low sacks against a defensive end in a 3-4, even a hybrid.
Tom: I was thinking of him more for his run support work, with lack of sacks a contributing factor. Plus, with him at defensive end, we can run a 3-4 and pick four linebackers, or choose three linebackers, run a 3-3-5, and pick on everybody's least favorite defensive backs.
Mike: We already have two nose tackles, so I'm not sure that would work, unless we're fielding an all-tackle defensive line -- which could actually be pretty awesome.
Tom: Garay played more nose tackle this year, but the Chargers still run more of the Wade Phillips-type front where they do things like shade their nose tackle instead of having him play zero-tech and two-gap all the time. I think Edwards, Taylor, and Garay is a good bad 3-4 line.
Mike: Fine, fine.
Mike: I was going to go with Akin Ayodele, but we've already picked on Buffalo's defense.
Tom: Let's leave him in the bag and see if we can fill a team without him.
Mike: Of course, it's probably difficult to not fill the entire roster with Bills linebackers, so we should probably leave well enough alone.
Tom: There are some good non-Bills options. Casey Matthews was ridiculously overmatched for the Eagles, and I think he is a great choice.
Mike: I agree. May I suggest Scott Shanle?
Tom: Scott Shanle is a fine choice at outside linebacker.
Mike: Bad against the pass, bad against the run, and has not even rushed the passer for Gregg Williams.
Tom: What are you talking about? He had his first sack since 2008 this year.
Mike: Wow, a whole sack! I mean, you have to be really bad to look bad in the Saints defense, but he managed it.
Tom: I didn't think the Saints' other linebackers were anything to write home about either, but we'll just stick with Shanle. If we're running a 3-4, we could use another inside linebacker next to Matthews, and I suggest Keith Brooking.
Tom: Brooking is now in the Thomas Jones territory where his veteran savvy can no longer compensate for his declining physical ability. He's OK as a run-stuffer, but is almost hilariously bad when he ends up in pass coverage and did not have a sack to show that his pass-rush ability makes up for it.
Mike: Wow, I had no idea. Good call.
Tom: We need another outside linebacker. We could stay in the NFC South and choose either one of the Panthers' injury replacements or a member of the Bucs. I suggest either Omar Gaither from the Panthers or Quincy Black from the Bucs.
Mike: I don't think Gaither is really all that awful, so let's go with Black. I wish I could come up with a better candidate, but I can't.
Tom: I ended up seeing a little bit of the Bucs this year and think Quincy Black is a fine choice.
Tom: So now we're at the defensive backs.
Mike: Sabby Piscitelli! Sorry, just had to get it out there.
Tom: I laughed. He did start two games for the Chiefs this year.
Tom: At cornerback, I think we can start with the select players who gave up an average of close to or in excess of 10.0 yards per pass play or more. And what do you know, there's our old friend DeAngelo Hall!
Mike: He can be joined by Stanford Routt, who yes, I know, was featured in our "top success rate" column. However, Oakland was atrocious on third-and-long, the down you rely on your cornerbacks to step up, and based on what I saw, Routt failed miserably.
Tom: That excellent success rate would seem to sort of invalidate him from All-KCW, I'd think.
Mike: So you're willing to give Routt a pass based on his first- and second-down performance, then?
Tom: I thought Routt actually had a decent, though not great, season. The biggest liability the Raiders had in pass defense was Rolando McClain. And really their linebackers in general.
Mike: Linebackers are a different scale on pass defense, though.
Tom: None of them could cover at all, though McClain was the one most often seen in coverage.
Mike: Seriously, Oakland's defense had 121.7% DVOA on third-and-long.
Tom: It wasn't Routt, though, but McClain and general defensive issues, including holes in zone.
Mike: There is no way that was a middle linebacker. In fact, that's not on any of your linebackers. That's a secondary problem. But I'll relent.
Tom: McClain ended up second on the team in targets, which is not usual for a linebacker. Yes, splitting the non-Routt cornerback starts contributed to that, but McClain was bad in coverage and targeted frequently. Without leaving the world of greatly hyped NFC East corners, we get to Terence Newman, who allowed an average 10.8 yards per pass with a lousy 40 percent success rate. If you want to get outside the NFC East, there's also Vikings corner Cedric Griffin, 10.6 yards per pass and 39 percent success rate.
Mike: I was actually looking at Griffin.
Tom: From what I saw of the Vikings, he was indeed quite bad this year.
Mike: Benny Sapp may have been worse, but was a midseason acquisition and was pretty invisible compared to Griffin, who is a kind of in-your-face awful.
Tom: And besides, he's Benny Sapp. C'mon, really?
Mike: I know!
Tom: It's like mentioning Ashton Youboty of the Jaguars. He was a mid-season acquisition and only started after they lost Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis to injury. He was on the street for a really, really good reason: he's atrocious.
Mike: That was some epic wood chopping.
Tom: It really was, and from listening to Jets fans, he's responsible for approximately two-thirds of all big offensive plays against them this year.
Mike: Of course, if you listen to Giants fans, every single running play was a tragic mistake which should result in a river of blood flowing from the front office.
Tom: Bringing up Kevin Gilbride is probably the only way to get Giants fans to agree with Buddy Ryan. Ryan, of course, once famously punched Gilbride in the face while there were both coordinators for the Houston Oilers.
Mike: One of the best -- and worst -- moments in the sport's history.
Mike: Somehow we have not yet punished the Packers for fielding such an incredibly awful (no, your turnovers do not make up for it!) defense. This is a good chance to do so.
Tom: Matthews already represents the Eagles, so there you go. Charlie Peprah it is.
Mike: Imagine if they had won the Super Bowl with that defense. We'd never hear the end of it.
Tom: Instead we get the Patriots, whose secondary was roughly as bad. Given that a number of teams play with five defensive backs as much as they play with seven defensive linemen and linebackers, let's also mention Devin McCourty, who was another member of the elite 10-or-more yards per play group and played both corner and safety this year.
Mike: Don't you mean Pro Bowl Cornerback Devin McCourty?
Tom: Ryan Longwell ranked last in our FG/XP ratings, and the Vikings ranked worst in our kickoff ratings in large part because Longwell had only 19 touchbacks on 77 attempts.
Mike: In a year where we were supposed to see every kick go into the end zone, no less!
Tom: So if you finish last in FG/XP and last in kickoff distance rating, you're the kicker on the All-KCW team.
Mike: No argument there.
Tom: Hopefully that kind of bold precedent will not come back to bite future All-Keep Chopping Wood teams. At punter, the Jaguars let Adam Podlesh, an excellent young directional kicker, leave in free agency. They replaced him with Matt Turk, an old punter who can't kick the ball very far. Turk was almost indescribably bad, so the Jaguars cut him, and he was later picked up by the Texans, where he got to be terrible again.
Mike: How old is Matt Turk, at this point?
Mike: Impressive for a 43-year-old, really, but sadly, this is not adjusted for age.
Tom: Matt Turk made his NFL debut in 1995 as a member of the Washington Redskins. One of his teammates on the Redskins was placekicker Eddie Murray. Murray made his NFL debut in the Jimmy Carter administration. Combined Murray and Turk outlasted Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes, and Bill Clinton.
Mike: I'd call you on politics in football, but good lord, those two were old.
Mike: Now, the real question: is Kyle Williams the worst returner in the league, or the worst returner in history? Or perhaps the worst returner that could possibly exist?
Tom: Joe Lefeged averaged 18.6 yards per kickoff return this year. I literally have almost no idea how that's possible.
Mike: ... Are you serious?
Tom: He had 31 kickoff returns. 11 of them gained 20 or more yards. Yes, 20 of his 31 kickoff returns gained no more than 19 yards.
Mike: I know that returners are taking the ball out from far deeper than they should, but that just doesn't compute.
Tom: Lefeged's continuing hold on the kickoff returner job was one of the reasons I didn't dismiss as completely crazy the idea that the Colts were tanking the season to ensure they got Andrew Luck.
Mike: On the other hand, Williams has finally created an acceptable usage for that stupid Skyrim meme: "I used to be a punt returner, but then I took a football to the knee." I suppose I should relent, though, because a sub-20 kickoff return is just magical.
Tom: Yup. He also returned punts some of the time. Nine returns for 42 yards, and half of those yards on one return.
Mike: What an exciting and terrible player you have discovered.
Tom: Oh, Colts fans loved him as much as I loved Chris Johnson. We should probably also mention the Bucs' Preston Parker, who had six fumbles or muffs on 36 punt return opportunities. That's why the Bucs were last in the league in our punt return measure.
Tom: Now all we need are coaches. Offensive coordinator: Josh McDaniels, Boy Genius.
Tom: Defensive coordinator: Chuck Bresnahan. He was thrown under the bus by Hue Jackson -- not that he didn't deserve it.
Mike: What? No.
Tom: Oh, fine, I'm sure we really have to give that one to Juan Castillo.
Mike: Yes. He's not even a real defensive coordinator! Unless "think about what you know and then imagine what it looks like in a mirror" is qualification.
Tom: Really, though, naming Castillo defensive coordinator because he wanted to coach defense is like naming Holmes an offensive captain because you want him to show more leadership. It may work out, but you are just asking for trouble.
Mike: Yeah, that has to win our award for boneheaded front office decision of the year. And head coach?
Tom: Oh, yeah. Todd Haley or Jack Del Rio?
Mike: I want to name Jim Harbaugh for repeatedly calling illegal plays, but the team was too successful for him to take this honor.
Tom: It was.
Mike: Jack Del Rio then. It's only fitting.
Tom: Indeed. We have finally made it to the end, and somehow without mentioning Albert Haynesworth, whose departure from the Patriots seemed to launch them to greater success and whose acquisition doomed the Buccaneers to a season-ending winless streak. Perhaps with Del Rio moving out, it is time to harmonize the award names and rename "Keep Chopping Wood" the "Albert Haynesworth Award" and make this the "All-Fat Albert Team."
Mike: I don't know, the Keep Choppin' Wood incident will always hold a place in my heart. Plus, it gives us an opportunity to relate the tale to a new generation of football fans, and nothing can replace the "Wait, that actually happened?!" look on people's faces. Not even our own football version of Patrick Ewing. For those who couldn't keep up (including me!), here is a your 2011 All-Keep Chopping Wood Team:
|2011 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team|
|QB||Blaine Gabbert, JAC||DT||Phil Taylor, CLE|
|RB||Chris Johnson, TEN||DE||Dwan Edwards, BUF|
|RB||Frank Gore, SF||DE||Antonio Garay, SD|
|WR||Santonio Holmes, NYFJ||OLB||Scott Shanle, NO|
|WR||Jonathan Baldwin, KC||OLB||Quincy Black, TB|
|TE||Marcedes Lewis, JAC||ILB||Casey Matthews, PHI|
|OT||Rodger Saffold, STL||ILB||Keith Brooking, DAL|
|OT||Guy Whimper, JAC||CB||DeAngelo Hall, WAS|
|G||Garrett Reynolds, ATL||CB||Cedric Griffin, MIN|
|G||Will Rackley, JAC||S||Eric Smith, NYFJ|
|C||Jason Brown, STL||S||Charlie Peprah, GB|
|P||Matt Turk, HOU||DB||Devin McCourty, NE|
|K||Ryan Longwell, MIN||DC||Juan Castillo, PHI|
|P/KR||Joe Lefeged, IND||OC||Josh McDaniels, STL|
|HC||Jack Del Rio, JAC|
Danny has taken a double-digit lead over Rivers, and with Eli Manning and Aaron Hernandez still alive should manage to hold on. Rivers needs Manning to not put up his third straight game of at least twenty points and good games from Victor Cruz and Rob Gronkowski to have a shot.
|FO Playoff Divisional Round Results|
|QB||Aaron Rodgers||Drew Brees||Ben Roethlisberger||Eli Manning||Tom Brady||Matt Ryan|
|RB||Ahmad Bradshaw||Darren Sproles||Ryan Grant||Arian Foster||Michael Turner||Ray Rice|
|RB||Willis McGahee||Stevan Ridley||Pierre Thomas||Frank Gore||Isaac Redman||Cedric Benson|
|WR||Jordy Nelson||Victor Cruz||Antonio Brown||Greg Jennings||Mike Wallace||Marques Colston|
|WR||Hakeem Nicks||Anquan Boldin||Wes Welker||Calvin Johnson||Julio Jones||A.J. Green|
|WR||Torrey Smith||Roddy White||Andre Johnson||Michael Crabtree||Donald Driver||Lance Moore|
|TE||Jimmy Graham||Rob Gronkowski||Heath Miller||Aaron Hernandez||Jermichael Finley||Jermaine Gresham|
|K||Mike Nugent||Billy Cundiff||Shaun Suisham||David Akers||Mason Crosby||Matt Bryant|
Best of the Rest Update
Former Scramble writer Al Bogdan is doing his best to put everyone but Danny and Rivers to shame, as he has 210 points and a commanding lead, plus BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brandon Jacobs, Deion Branch, Stephen Gostkowski, and Giants defense remaining. Al in fact came close to picking the ideal Best of the Rest team, only choosing Kyle Williams instead of Mario Manningham. The K is in a distant second with 176 points, but needs Giants defense and Jacobs to combine for -35 points to pass Al. A player with a more promising shot is Podge, with 172 points in third place, who could make up that 38 point deficit with terrible games by Green-Ellis and Giants defense and a superlative game by Manningham. For complete results, see the page put together by Al's former writing partner Ian Dembsky, whose scores finally match those of your Scramble writer.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: After the AFC Championship Game, your Scramble writers were prepared to have a long and strenuous debate about the relative culpability of Joe Flacco, Billy Cundiff, and Lee Evans, but then unfortunately for him Kyle Williams made that whole debate moot. It should still be noted that Flacco, with a timeout, over 20 seconds on the game clock, and an open field, failed to jog the three yards and slide to give his team at least one shot at the end zone before trying the ill-fated kick. Most people will focus on Cundiff's terrible shank on that field goal attempt, but Flacco not only failed to execute but made a completely boneheaded decision in the process.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Bill Belichick's decision to opt to take a knee at the end of the first half is not that shocking considering the Patriots were starting at their own 11. What made it curious though is that the Ravens had two timeouts remaining. With 58 seconds left, the Patriots could not simply take a knee and go to the half. Unless, of course, John Harbaugh decided to bail Belichick out by not using either of his two timeouts. If nothing else, the Ravens would have had enough time for a fair catch kick, where Cundiff could showcase the distance he had on kickoffs.
COLBERT AWARD: None, really, as Sunday's games were by and large defined by conservatism, with both John Harbaugh and Belichick opting to take field goals rather than go for it on fourth-and-short from inside the opposing 10-yard line. There were three fourth down attempts, and none was particularly bold, as the Giants and Ravens both elected to go for it from inside the opposing 35 but outside reliable field goal range, and the Patriots elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 while down four in the fourth quarter.
72 comments, Last at 28 Jan 2012, 12:40pm by Andrew Potter