Are the best defenses against play action the best against regular passes too? How much impact does play action really have in an NFL game, and does it correlate from year to year?
05 Dec 2012
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: So, Mike, the Hall of Fame just announced its list of 27 semifinalists for this year's modern-era Hall of Fame class.
Mike: As is their custom.
Tom: Since we also wrote about the Hall of Fame last year, I thought it would be best if we concentrated this column on the six first-time eligible candidates. Those are guard Larry Allen, kicker Morten Andersen, safety John Lynch, tackle Jonathan Ogden, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, and defensive end Michael Strahan.
Tom: For more information on Allen, here is his Pro-Football-Reference page. If you want guards in the Hall of Fame, Larry Allen should be in the Hall of Fame. I'm not sure it's much more complicated than that.
Mike: That basically is the long and short of it. I suppose it comes down to whether you believe some positions are simply more important than others.
Tom: I don't think there's any disputing that that's the case.
Mike: Actually, now that I think about it, that's a really bad way to do this. It's not the Hall of Greatest Players as Adjusted For Their Total Value to Their Teams.
Tom: Philosophically? Theoretically? In actuality, it seems to be "very good players on teams with great playoff success or really great players or pretty good players who ran the ball a lot."
Mike: Well, in practice we know that the selection process is completely shonky, so of course we're talking about theory, unless you beat up Peter King and stole his vote, or something.
Tom: OK, here's your example. Let's stipulate Ray Guy is the best punter of the 1970s. We have a couple quarterbacks whose key moments came in the 1970s already elected to the Hall of Fame: Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, Roger Staubach, those guys. Ray Guy was probably better relative to the average punter than the worst, or maybe even the best, of those guys was to the average starting quarterback. If you believe in positional equality, Ray Guy is unquestionably a Hall of Famer. I don't believe in positional equality. At all.
Mike: I believe in equality. I don't think Guy should be competing with Bradshaw. They did very different things, and each did those things incredibly well.
Tom: Where's your diving line between groups, then? Let's bring Allen back into the discussion; can we talk about Bradshaw and Allen, or Allen and Guy, or are all three of them in separate discussions?
Mike: I think they should all be in separate discussions. As far as where I draw the line, I think the classes need to be expanded.
Tom: Sure, but sadly, right now we lack the power to do that.
Mike: And there should probably be less attention given to running backs and wide receivers.
Tom: Playing along as mock selectors, we're stuck with the five guys who get the yes/no vote. And I'm with you on running backs. I'd be perfectly fine with the Hall of Fame selecting no recently retired backs aside from LaDainian Tomlinson.
Mike: I understand that. And honestly? I'm not even sure about Tomlinson.
Tom: Forget I brought him up, we can have that argument when he's eligible.
Mike: Fair enough. For what it's worth, Allen needs to be in the Hall.
Tom: Yes, we're both in agreement, Allen should be in the Hall. I don't care if he gets in this year or next year or in three years. Either way, he's a highly-qualified candidate.
Tom: For reference, his PFR page. And now we get to a player where our positional value discussion really matters. There's one kicker in the Hall of Fame, Jan Stenerud. A couple years ago, Chase Stuart tried to figure out how valuable kickers were relative to league average. By his calculations, Stenerud came out on top, followed by Nick Lowery and then Andersen. Andersen also has extraordinary longevity. He's made more field goals than anybody else in NFL history and has also attempted more field goals than anyone else in NFL history.
Mike: Interesting article, I haven't seen it before. I always figured that Andersen was more of an accumulator. It seems I was wrong.
Tom: Looking at our FG/XP numbers, he ranks as above-average most of his career. His 1994 season seems to be an example of inconsistency, as he posted a bad mark after three strong seasons in a row. The Saints parted ways with him, and he was the most valuable kicker in the league for the Falcons the next year.
Mike: I think that inconsistency is a big knock against kickers in general for Hall of Fame discussions.
Tom: In looking at a player's candidacy, though, I tend to look at their six best seasons. It depends on position, but I think that's a good peak length. Quarterbacks, for instance, may start for 10 years, with a couple not-so-great seasons at the start of their career and then a couple down seasons at the end. With kickers, I'd say it's likelier their peak seasons are non-consecutive.
Mike: I think that goes without saying based on what we know about kickers.
Tom: What I'm leading to is that we don't think less of quarterbacks for having four great seasons, two very good seasons, and two average seasons at the start and end of their careers, because they make sense narratively. Whereas kickers may have the same total seasons, but they're not as predictable. Do we think the kicker is a lesser player because his better seasons are less predictable?
Mike: No. Because that's how all kickers are. And we need to judge kickers as kickers. Not as some theoretical kicking construct. So what are Andersen's peak seasons, then?
Tom: I'm not sure. We have FG/XP numbers going back to 1991, so we're missing the first nine seasons of his career. By FO numbers, his best seasons are 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 2001, and 2002. In those seasons, pretending we can accurately compare year to year, he averaged 7.3 points of value, which would be in the top-three or -five kickers almost every season.
Mike: I think those numbers, combined with Chase's, make a very compelling argument for his inclusion.
Tom: I wouldn't really object to seeing Andersen in the Hall, but I think he runs up against the large number of other qualified candidates. Realistically, it's hard for me to see him making it. While I think he's qualified, that he won't make it won't bother me that much.
Mike: I don't think he'll make it. But now that I take a good look at his case, I think he really should.
Tom: PFR page. The Hall of Fame selectors hate safeties. Of the safeties who began their career after the merger, Ronnie Lott is the only one in the Hall of Fame, and he even played corner early in his career. Lynch made the Pro Bowl nine times. That's impressive, though I seem to recall a couple of those trips with the Broncos were perhaps less than completely deserved.
Mike: I have no issues with safeties in the Hall of Fame. I don't think many safeties are actually good enough to warrant induction, however, which is a combination of the prominent defensive schemes in the NFL and the fact that safety is often a dumping ground for failed corners to many coordinators. I think Lynch is on this ballot more on reputation than actual dominance, and it doesn't help that he is going to end up being compared to Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. Which is probably unfair, but you know they will.
Tom: During his last two Pro Bowl seasons, he didn't have any interceptions, which surprised me. Looking it up, though, it's more common than I thought. Both Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis made it in 2010 without any picks. And, yes, Lynch was a good player for a while, but was not Allen-level dominant. Bill James came up with the Keltner list for baseball Hall of Famers. While some of the questions don't translate so easily to football, "was he the best player at his position?" does. If Lynch was, it wasn't for very long, and there are contemporaries and near-contemporaries he, I think fairly, is considered worse than.
Mike: Agreed. I can't get behind Lynch.
Tom: I don't think he'd be the worst player in the Hall if he makes it in, and I'd be happy if there were more safeties in there, but he's not at the top of my list.
Tom: PFR page. Eleven Pro Bowls, though of course offensive linemen often keep making it to the Pro Bowl once they've made it once, and four-time All-Pro. Part of the great tackle class that entered the league in the mid-1990s, with Tony Boselli, Orlando Pace, and Walter Jones. Unlike Lynch with Reed and Polamalu, I think you could have a conversation involving Ogden and those other guys, though of course Boselli had a much shorter career than the others.
Mike: I agree. Although I always rated Ogden below Pace and Jones, for one reason or another. I'm not sure why.
Tom: I had him behind Pace for a while, then would probably have put him first, and in 2005 or so, I would have had Jones first. Offensive linemen don't really get conventional statistics, and it's going to be hard to separate them, I think. Conveniently enough, Ogden last played in 2007, Jones in 2008, and Pace in 2009, so they'll come up for the first time in different years. As opposed to, say, all three of them being among the 15 finalists in the same year, causing a massive fight that leaves most of the selectors dead.
Mike: One could only hope. For what it's worth, I think Ogden is the odd man out in all of this. Not in.
Tom: I don't root for people who haven't killed people to die. I root for them to suffer chipped fingernails that cause them to rethink their lives. Anyway, I think Ogden's a very fine candidate and would gladly support his candidacy.
Tom: PFR page. John Randle is in the Hall of Fame for his work as a penetrating defensive tackle. Sapp was a penetrating defensive tackle. I wasn't a big fan of Randle's candidacy. I think Sapp is pretty well-qualified. Am I nuts?
Mike: Yes. Why do you support Sapp over Randle, for starters?
Tom: Randle bothered me because I saw how he was hell-bent for leather on getting upfield, to the detriment of his team's defense. Sapp was also more of a penetrator, but I never got the sense his penetration hurt his team the same way I saw Randle's hurt his. Maybe the Bucs (and then the Raiders, but mostly the Bucs) were just better at compensating for that. Maybe it's because the 2002 Bucs are the best pass defense in DVOA history. Maybe I'm just wrong to think so.
Mike: I do think his time with the Raiders helps that discussion. It is unlikely that if Sapp's game were disruptive he would still be effective on a different team. Defenses are not designed with one tackle in mind.
Tom: True. I'm not sure how much his off-the-field persona and personal financial issues will affect things. It's not supposed to, but I can't help but think it will.
Mike: I'm not so sure it will, honestly. He isn't a pariah, and that is really the only off-field issue that sinks a candidate.
Tom: You might be right. Anyway, I'm a supporter. How about you?
Mike: I think I agree with you that if Randle is in, Sapp should be in. I don't personally think either should be, but it would be unfair to single Sapp out.
Tom: PFR page. Like Sapp, he went to seven Pro Bowls and was voted first-team All-Pro four times. His record-breaking sack of B**** F**** was a bit of a joke, but he was only in a position to get that record-breaking sack because he spent much of that season destroying offensive linemen.
Mike: Absolutely obliterating offensive linemen.
Tom: I spent too much time finding him annoying and believing that players in New York tend to be massively over-hyped to appreciate most of his career. That 2001 season got me to turn the corner.
Mike: See, I always enjoyed watching him play. Ignore every single word he has ever said, but watching him play, during his prime, was amazing. I can't imagine him not being in the Hall.
Tom: Because of the way I perceived his career, I don't see him as quite at that level. Then again, that just means I find him very, very worthy instead of an extraordinary slam-dunk candidate who just needs his name mentioned before everybody agrees he's in.
And those are the six first-year-eligible semifinalists. We've passed judgment on them, though of course mixing them with the 21 non-first-year eligibles and getting to a finalist class of 15, then the subsequent cutdowns to 10 and to 5, are further complications. Until Mike and I are the selectors, though, that's not our problem, so direct your hate mail for that elsewhere.
Tom: Well, it wasn't pretty, but my fantasy team got to play spoiler this week. I underachieved my projection by 25 points, and two of my three double-digit scorers were on my bench. Nevertheless, my opponent underachieved his projection by 40 points, and I eked out a three-point win.
Mike: You truly are the Chicago Cubs of fantasy football. Meanwhile, I managed to somehow back into the playoffs in one of my leagues. It helps that we have an eight-team playoff in a ten-team league. I recognize this is somewhat silly, but who am I to mess with tradition? As for as my actual game, I was absolutely slaughtered. Bad games for Vincent Jackson (5.5), Jimmy Graham (5.9), Jeremy Maclin (3.8) and Roddy White (2.0) completely sunk me. Robert Griffin had a decent but very disappointing game at 19.72 points. My opponent had a mediocre game, but it really didn't matter.
Tom: Well, you're in the playoffs, and that's what matters.
Mike: Yes, as the last seed. It would be nice to make a run of it, but my chances are rather slim. This team just isn't very good.
Tom: Perhaps your team will be inspired by the 2011 and (especially) 2007 Giants, not-so-great teams that played well when it counted?
Mike: We only have a four-team playoff in the other league, so I need a very good game next week to get that last spot. Fortunately, that team is pretty good, even if bad matchups sunk me this past week. Matchups and Baltimore's defense. And Tony Romo's inexplicable 25.52 points. We'll see how that plays out.
Tom: Good luck. As my streak of making the championship game every year I play fantasy football will come to an end, I'm stuck living vicariously through your team.
Mike: That bad, huh?
Tom: Actually, I have a shot at playing spoiler again this week, though I'm going up against the league's top-scoring team. Given my running back options this past week were Ryan Mathews, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Ben Tate, I'll need every bit of luck I can get, especially since Quizz will probably get hurt on his second carry given my running back injury luck.
Quarterback: A series of classic 1990's DHL commercial featured what their competitors' European delivery drivers were like. One of them featured a motorbike rider, an aspiring bullfighter, who declared "One day, all the ladies of Spain will know the name Sanchez." This week Mark Sanchez was about as effective at playing quarterback as this aspiring bullfighter was at safely delivering packages. -2 points.
Running Back: The Jaguars did not run the ball much, but they did so just enough for Rashad Jennings to avoid the penalty. Eight carries, 22 yards, 2 points. Also at two points, the reason the Cardinals let Ryan Lindley attempt 31 passes even though 21 one of them fell incomplete, Beanie Wells, who matched Jennings' yardage on seven extra carries.
Wide Receiver: Josh Morgan, Dexter McCluster, Eric Decker, Brandon LaFell, and Early Doucet all attended BCS conference schools. All also put up 1 point this week.
Kicker: Nick Folk could have been responsible for 37 percent of the points scored in Sunday's Jets-Cardinals tilt. Instead, he missed two field goals and was responsible for just eight percent of the scoring. In another sport, though, he would get credit for the game-winning point.
Keep Chopping Wood: Do you know what happens if you throw no touchdown passes and five interceptions in a game? Well, ok, if you're Matt Ryan, your team might still win the game. If your team is playing against Ryan's team, though, you have no chance. Yes, Drew Brees was a bit unlucky to throw five interceptions. But a number of those interceptions were on Brees, and the Saints lost a winnable game because of it.
Mike Martz Award: Ray Rice's next-to-last carry of the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Steelers: 34-yard touchdown. Ray Rice's last carry of the third quarter: 10-yard run on first-and-10. Ray Rice's fourth quarter production: nothing. Cam Cameron, why did you neglect your best offensive player in the fourth quarter of a game where you were leading or tied?
Tom: Luck is a fine young quarterback. Rodgers is better. Tennessee has a bad pass defense. Detroit's is also not very good. Detroit will move the ball, which means Green Bay will probably have to throw. Luck isn't a bad option. Rodgers is a better one.
Mike: I agree, Rodgers is also a much more known quantity. It's really hard to not play him.
Tom: To be fair, Luck did put up 18 points in the first Titans game. Of course, Rodgers had 17 points in the first Lions game, and didn’t really have that great a game. Luck is not a bad start; Rodgers is just a better one.
Tom: You picked the Texans to win and cover. They did. I picked the Redskins to cover. They won. You are now 8-3. I am 7-5. As a reminder, all lines are courtesy of sites where you can bet on the Super Bowl and were accurate as of time of writing. All picks are made without reference to the FO Premium Picks.
Mike: This isn't good. I don't see any lines I really like.
Tom: I know. I went through these lines and didn't find many where I just thought "This is a great game to pick."
Mike: Part of me wants to go with the Browns, because the Chiefs are just so bad. But can I in good conscience ever pick the Browns? I think not. If I was a big believer in New England's DVOA, I would think Patriots -4 is a no-brainer. But honestly, I'm not. I'm extremely skeptical of the team and honestly I don't think they can beat Houston in a shoot-out just because Brady doesn't have a very good deep ball.
Tom: That actually is one of the three games I considered. I'm not not picking it because of Brady's deep ball, and in fact find it a tempting game because I think the Texans defensive injuries could really get to them. The Texans have gotten good enough performances out of one side of the ball to compensate for weaknesses on the other side of the ball their past four games. I don't trust the same not to happen this week.
Mike: That really leaves me with the Falcons, who I think are still overrated (but not by a whole lot), against a thoroughly unimpressive Panthers team. And no, I'm not saying this because I need White to have a good game to make it into the fantasy playoffs. Atlanta Falcons -3.5 at Carolina Panthers.
Tom: And then you picked another one of the games I was considering, only ... the Falcons have a weighted DVOA of 2.1%. The Panthers' weighted DVOA is -2.0%. The Panthers are playing at home. That line does not look right to me. Rather than going up directly against you, though, there is a third game that appeals to me. Dallas had a fine win on national television this week. The Cowboys are still a very flawed team at 6-6. Cincinnati is not great either, but they're better than Dallas. They're playing at home. They're favored, but probably not by quite as much as they should be. Cincinnati Bengals -3.0 vs. Dallas Cowboys.
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