Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Nov 2012

Scramble for the Ball: Little Rascal

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: Well, Mike, we've come to the end of the first half of Loser League. Since we occasionally do actually talk about things we're supposed to talk about, as opposed to whatever bright shiny object catches our fancy, let's talk about that.

Mike: Hah. For those of you curious, the results will be available here.

UPDATE: Hey! The final results are now posted for your viewing pleasure!

Tom: Congratulations to Joshua Duffin and The Los Angeles Football Vikings for coming away with the hard-fought triumph.

Mike: I'm not in love with the name, but it is a nice combination of silly and fail.

Tom: Sadly, with the new stadium being approved, we won't get to see another Minnesota team move to Los Angeles and keep their now-terribly-inappropriate nickname. Let's take a look at each Loser League position's first-half superstars and who might be good candidates for a second-half team.

Quarterback

Tom: First, at quarterback. Unlike last season, Blaine Gabbert has not once had the lowest score in any given week. That relative excellence didn't help him that much, as he still put up the lowest cumulative score.

Mike: That is sustained losertude. He has become a professional loser.

Tom: Subjectively speaking, he is improving a little bit. The passing offense around him, even with some upgrades at wide receiver, still makes it awful hard, though. His cumulative total of 108 was only two lower than Matt Cassel. Mark Sanchez and Brandon Weeden, which was Joshua's quarterback tandem, were only five and six points behind Cassel, respectively. For your second half Loser League quarterbacks, though, I'd seriously consider Christian Ponder. He's put up two and three points in two of his past three starts, and Percy Harvin is likely out for at least this week's game. The lack of depth at receiver in Minnesota makes Ponder looks like a player who is likely to put up low numbers going forward.

Mike: Ponder isn't a bad option. That said, the prime losers from the first half are going to continue losing in the second. There really is no option behind Cassel or Sanchez, and Weeden is getting a lot of rope because he's a rookie on a very bad team. I can't in good conscience pick against any two of those three.

Tom: I don't think you can go too far wrong with any of the top five. I would recommend not going with both Sanchez and Ponder, though, as they both have a non-zero benching risk.

Running Back

Tom: Moving on to running back, your low scorer was Ryan Williams. Yes, even though he last played in Week 5 and took the penalty the last four weeks. BenJarvus Green-Ellis posted the second-lowest cumulative score.

Mike: That is really surprising. That penalty is in place for the express purpose of disqualifying players like Williams.

Tom: The tricky part with backs in a committee is that they need enough carries to break the barrier, but not too many they'll put up a lot of yards. Williams only had 58 carries in 5 games, but had at least 8 in every game.

Mike: Right, and most of the bad backs are in committees, now.

Tom: Including now, sadly, Alex Green, who's posted five straight weeks of single-digit scores.

Mike: Honestly, I think Chris Johnson is a good flyer for upside ... er, downside, although you might have a better handle on this season's arc than I do.

Tom: He tied for sixth-fewest points this time around, but has had at least ten points in each of the last four weeks. He's not doing the same incredibly terrible things he was doing this time last year, so I'm not sure he's worth the gamble. I should know more when I have the chance to watch the all-22 from this week's game.

Mike: Fair enough. The main issue I have is that it's just hard to find another player that is guaranteed to start but has a significant chance of being so atrocious.

Tom: Steven Jackson has been a pretty strong Loser League player. Jeff Fisher is likely to want to continue to run the ball, and the potential for a timeshare seems pretty strong.

Mike: I think that's another good option. And, of course, there's still Green-Ellis.

Tom: I should also note Joshua, our winner, didn't have any of the bottom ten running backs this time around.

Mike: That is rather impressive.

Tom: His worst performer was Donald Brown, who ranked eleventh. He also had Reggie Bush, who finished 13th, and Isaac Redman, who did well but had some bad weeks.

Mike: What are your picks for second-half running backs, then?

Tom: I'm not sure. I'll probably go with Jackson, Alex Green, and Michael Turner. Turner wasn't in the bottom ten, but had a reasonable number of pretty low scores mixed with a few high scores. As with my bye week quarterback fill-in, I'm as interested in the score that gives me a chance to win as anything else.

Wide Receiver

Tom: At wide receiver, your low man with a bullet was Jason Avant. Even with the Eagles only playing eight games, he put up just 39 total points in nine weeks.

Mike: Might I suggest someone we will be dealing with later in the column, Antonio Brown?

Tom: Emmanuel Sanders was second! Ok, Sanders had 49 points, Brown only 58. With his ankle sprain, I would go with Sanders instead.

Mike: Really?

Tom: Depending on Brown's injury status, he may miss multiple games. Sanders hasn't gotten the penalty once.

Mike: I suppose that is true, although it might be an asset if he plays a more limited role.

Tom: Even though the Titans have not yet had their bye, I suggest Kendall Wright. He only had one point more than Sanders and is unlikely to hit the penalty. Even if the Titans have to throw him the ball seven times to get his two catches, as happened last week against the Bears.

Mike: Speaking of the Bears, I'm wondering if Devin Hester may be a decent option going forward.

Tom: He only has 13 catches this year. I think he'll get hit with the penalty too often.

Mike: Well, my thought is that in the second half, teams are just going to start quadruple-covering Brandon Marshall.

Tom: Yes, but Jay Cutler will throw him the ball anyway.

Mike: ...Good point. Nevermind. Arg, whatsis name. Browns guy. Lots of drops.

Tom: Greg Little!

Mike: Yes! For some reason Weeden is still throwing to him!

Tom: He hit the penalty Week 1 because he couldn't catch the ball!

Mike: He is quite bad at doing that, yes!

Tom: If you want to pick him, go ahead.

Mike: Oh, but I do!

Tom: Justin Blackmon, who's hit the penalty too often, is a more intriguing option to me. The other question is: do you trust in the power of Jason Avant? With the Eagles' offensive line problems and perhaps more of a controlled short passing attack, I think I do.

Mike: I'm with you, there. Of course, most of the Eagles are loser league candidates at this point, so there's an embarrassment of riches.

Tom: I'll probably end up with Avant, Wright, and Blackmon.

Mike: Avant, Little and Sanders.

Kicker

Tom: Would you believe your low scorer the first half of the season was Mason Crosby?

Mike: I would. He was on my team.

Tom: He's missed five of his 15 field goal attempts on the year. Even with 12 more free points, he finished one point ahead of second-place Jay Feely.

Mike: Fortunately for him, that sort of ineptitude is just unsustainable.

Tom: You mean Crosby, I assume?

Mike: Yes.

Tom: Probably. One thing that seems to be key for kickers is guys who don't have their bye. Crosby, Feely, and Steven Hauschka haven't had their bye week. For the second half, you should probably look at kickers who have had theirs, like Justin Medlock, Josh Scobee, and Garrett Hartley.

Mike: Oh, Garrett Hartley.

Tom: Fine, maybe his 7-10 performance was just unlucky and you should just go with Medlock and Scobee, who play on more reliably worse offenses.

Mike: Probably the more sound option. I'd go with Scobee.

Special Announcement for 2012 Loser League II: The Failening

Tom: We have prizes for you! Yes, prizes! Not just the normal prizes, either, but extra prizes. We're going to give away two copies of Gary Myers’ latest book, Coaching Confidential; Inside the Fraternity of NFL Coaches.

Coaching Confidential chronicles a year in the life of an NFL head coach. But not just one head coach. A composite portrait is drawn through interviews with at least 20 current and former head coaches (including Super Bowl winners such as Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin, Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy, Sean Payton, Mike Shanahan, Dick Vermeil, Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick, and Joe Gibbs), taking us through the professional and personal challenges of the job. This book covers the draft, free agency, big trades, training camp, family crisis, player troubles, coaching relationships with members of the staff, coach-owner dynamics, rivalries, Xs and Os, the playoffs -- all the way to the Super Bowl.

The winners will be the two Loser League Part II team names that Mike and I choose as the most clever and witty.

Fantasy Update

Tom: For the second week in a row, a performance against my real team powered my opponent's fantasy team to victory. Last week, it was Andrew Luck. This week, my opponent got 27 points from Bears DST in a five-point win. He won despite not getting any points from Domenik Hixon or the inactive Jonathan Dwyer.

Mike: You are a self-hating ... I suppose you're not really a volunteer.

Tom: I actually benefited from the Bears' explosion, as Robbie Gould was my high scorer with 16 points. My team still underachieved their Yahoo! projection by 26 points. The player who most underachieved their projection was, of course, Autodrafted Second Round Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was unable to find the end zone against a Jacksonville Jaguars team missing their top two cornerbacks and thus only had 11.2 points.

Mike: This week I beat up on someone who forgot to set a defense and kicker!

Tom: Wins against lesser competition still count! I mean, the Bears got a win for beating the Titans.

Mike: Of course, I won by 40 points, and the defense was New England, so I'm not affixing any asterisks or anything. What I got was basically a solid contribution from everyone on the team except Jeremy Maclin and Baltimore DST. Yes, Baltimore's DST is so bad that it's not worth starting against the Browns. Clay Matthews put up 0 points, but that's just the way of the IDP. I have no idea what I'm going to do about Maclin, however. I have Victor Cruz, Mike Williams, and then ... Hakeem Nicks and Robert Meachem.

Tom: Well, it might be safe to go ahead and cut Robert Meachem if you need the roster spot.

Mike: I'm not a fan of starting two WRs on the same team, and as far as Meachem goes, Nooooooooooooooooooooooorv! What I might do is try to move Jermaine Gresham off my bench with Meachem for a bona fide WR2

Tom: Yeah, good luck with that one.

Mike: I had a much closer game in my other league, but largely because I kept Robert Griffin in a week longer than I should have. Gresham is the fourth-highest scoring tight end in my league. He's having a fine year. We also don't have flex positions. Everyone needs a decent tight end. Anyway, Minnesota imploded, which was disappointing, and of course I have to deal with Maclin in that league too, so that's fantastic. That said, I picked the right week to pull Redman off the bench. I actually do think the Steelers have figured out run blocking. Not to the point where they're elite, but to the point where their running game is a thing that gains yards. Which could open up the play-action game for deep balls to Mike Wallace. (If he can actually hold on to them.) So that's exciting in multiple ways.

Tom: I was thinking more of Meachem's almost complete lack of value. Gresham, after coming out close to replacement level by DVOA, is putting up much better efficiency numbers this year.

Sadly, that won't help my fantasy team with Antonio Brown put up more points.

Mike: Matt Forte is awesome, the end. Third place in the first league, third-last in the second, but not nearly out of it. You should not be starting Brown. That's basically the long and short of that. He's making very valuable football plays that have basically no fantasy value.

Tom: We've covered how my draft strategy got screwed up. We start three wide receivers, and I only drafted four because I took too many running backs.

Mike: He's late-career Hines Ward. We all know what happened to fantasy teams that tried to play Ward in the twilight of his career.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: Even 23 rushing yards was not really enough to salvage Christian Ponder's day, as his 63 yards passing and an interception were enough for him to get only 3 points total.

Running Back: The Bears may have scored 51 points, but Michael Bush was not the beneficiary of any of that. He ended up with 13 wasted yards as part of his 2 points. Delone Carter contributed two fewer yards than Bush, but because all of his production came on the ground, he ended up with 3 points.

Wide Receiver: You saw the quarterback earlier, now see the wide receivers! Michael Jenkins had 0 points, thanks to only eight yards receiving. Percy Harvin's fumble offset his 26 yards receiving, but he had ten yards rushing to earn 1 point. Tying Percy were Devin Hester, Steve Breaston, Antonio Brown, and Damian Williams.

Kicker: What does the two-point conversion chart say when you're down 24? Go for it! The Jacksonville Jaguars scored 14 points, but by going one-for-two on conversions, rather than by letting Josh Scobee get off 0 points.

Awards!

Keep Chopping Wood: Doug Martin is a bad, bad man, but the Oakland Raiders secondary made his life easier than it would have been. Matt Giordano, Mike Mitchell, and Tyvon Branch, to name just three players, made his life much easier than it should have been with a combination of bad run fits, poor pursuit angles, and bad tackling. That's a good way to allow 35 second-half points.

Mike Martz Award: C.J. Spiller is first in the league in rushing DVOA. Ryan Fitzpatrick is seventeenth in the league in passing DVOA. The Texans have a better pass defense DVOA than run defense DVOA. Why, exactly, did Chan Gailey call 44 passes and hand the ball off to Spiller six times in Sunday's game, a contest that was within one score for the first three quarters? It was not just Fred Jackson, either, as he had just six carries. No, for whatever reason Gailey went pass-whacky even though the Bills were gaining roughly as many yards on the average handoff as they did on the average dropback.

Adventures in Announciating

Brian Billick was very complimentary of the graciousness of the people of Nashville while serving as the color commentator on Fox's broadcast of the Bears-Titans game. Which is curious, considering when he was head coach of the Ravens he was probably the single most hated person among Titans fans. Coach Billick, More Than a Game is a fine book, and your diplomacy towards Nashvillians is probably appreciated in some quarters.

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, Dan Dierdorf declared that players these days were wearing their helmets looser than players used to. Later in the game, he noted a crucial momentum swing on consecutive kicking plays, a Bengals missed field goal and a Broncos kickoff return for a touchdown. How are those consecutive plays? Why, by having halftime in between! No explanation as to how the two are related, aside from having a kicker on the field. I suppose everything was his fault.

Scramble Mailbag

NTG: Should I trade Percy Harvin and Mike Williams for Miles Austin and Hakeem Nicks? 0.5 PPR league, start two receivers and a flex spot, I have Torrey Smith, Lance Moore, and Donnie Avery in addition to Harvin and Williams. At RB, I have Ray Rice, Doug Martin, Darren Sproles, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Bernard Pierce.

Tom: With both Harvin and Sproles out, I see why this trade might be intriguing to shore up your team in the short run. Unless you’re in a rough situation record-wise where a loss this week or next could kill your playoff chances, I would not make this move.

Mike: I agree, you'll be trading one potential WR1 for a much more marginal potential WR1, and a WR1/2 for someone who may not even be thrown to. The value just isn't there.

Lock of the Week

Tom: You picked the Broncos to cover. They did. I picked the Falcons to cover. They did. You are now 5-3, while I remain a game behind at 4-4. As always, picks are made without reference to the FO Premium picks and all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Mike: I know I'm going to get a lot of flak for this, but the Texans are probably the class of the NFL, and the Bears are a decent team that has been unbelievably lucky. The idea that this is an even contest strikes me as absurd. Chicago's defense is unlikely to score even once this week, and J.J. Watt is going to be Jay Cutler's personal nightmare. Houston Texans +1 at Chicago Bears.

Tom: The Bears have a better DVOA than the Texans and are playing at home.

Mike: The Bears have won a bunch of close games thanks to scoring defense.

Tom: Yes, the Bears have been fortunate, but their special teams advantage this game will be massive. The Texans have looked vulnerable at times defensively.

Mike: True, that is a real liability against the mighty Bears offense.

Tom: I'm not saying Bears -1 is as obvious a choice as the DVOA plus home edge makes it seem, but the Texans would be far from my first choice as lock this week. Unfortunately, I've forsworn their Jaguars, or else I'd say them getting 3.5 points against the Colts would be an attractive line. I'd guess that's being affected by the home struggles, which I don't trust are the product of something real rather than a fluke. I am instead going to do something I'll probably regret. The Falcons are not that great a team for being 8-0, as Aaron chronicled in yesterday's DVOA column. The Saints are not as bad as their record might indicate. The DVOA gap is pretty slight, and the Saints are playing at home. I'm going to take the points and go New Orleans Saints +3 vs. Atlanta Falcons.

Send questions and comments to Scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com. Mike is definitely anticipating some colorful correspondence from his neighbors.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 07 Nov 2012

9 comments, Last at 10 Nov 2012, 2:42pm by dbostedo

Comments

1
by Ryan D. :: Wed, 11/07/2012 - 4:43pm

I went and looked at a bunch of stats to select my LLII team, and then you guys came along and pretty much named my entire squad. I wish I had waited for this article.

2
by Adam S. (not verified) :: Wed, 11/07/2012 - 5:30pm

I was thinking the exact same thing. Now I'll have to submit a second team...

3
by kbukie :: Wed, 11/07/2012 - 5:47pm

"Mike: The Bears have won a bunch of close games thanks to scoring defense."

Through 8 games, the Bears have played a total of two games that ended within one score, and one of them was due to a garbage time TD by Detroit to break up a shutout.

The Bears have won one close game thanks to scoring defense, and actually have the largest scoring margin in the NFL, ahead of the #2 Texans by 19 points.

4
by kbukie :: Wed, 11/07/2012 - 6:41pm

I mean, if you don't buy into the Bears because of all the unsustainable defensive scoring and the weak schedule to this point, it's understandable, it's just strange that the public perception of the team is that the defense is winning them a lot of close games, when they didn't even play a close game until Week 7.

8
by Duke :: Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:04am

This.

The Bears have been getting a lot from their defense, but that doesn't mean they've been winning games close, like they have in years past. They've won most of their games by 2 TDs or more.

The whole "Stomps vs. Skates" metric LOVES the Bears so far this year.

9
by dbostedo :: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 2:42pm

[nitpick]It's actually "Stomps vs. Guts"...[/nitpick]

5
by Jonadan :: Wed, 11/07/2012 - 7:53pm

Funny, I would have taken the Bears over the Texans as a lock for the week. If I were going to do such a thing. I suppose we'll see who's right.

---
"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

6
by Taking A Knee w... :: Wed, 11/07/2012 - 11:10pm

"An embarrassment of riches" is totally my new LL team name!

7
by JohnD (not verified) :: Thu, 11/08/2012 - 2:13am

Thanks, you're inspiring me to think of a few more. I don't play LL, but if I did...

  • A murder of crones
  • My name is Lesion
  • Jean Luc Gerrard
  • Piccadilly Circumlocution

I probably need to start thinking about sleep.