Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
24 Oct 2012
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: Last year was the year of the great rookie quarterback. This year, the three quarterbacks taken at the top of the draft are all faring relatively well (in DVOA's top 15), and while Brandon Weeden isn't doing well, he may not be quite as terrible as he looked Week 1. This stands in sharp contrast to 2009. There were three quarterbacks selected in the first round: Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman. All of them were terrible as rookies.
Mike: Two of them are just plain terrible!
Tom: One of the stats I used to determine terribleness was ANYPA+ (the plus indicates indexing to league average) from pro-football-reference.com. Sanchez came out best at 80, with Freeman at 76 and Stafford at 75. All three of them were particularly prone to turning the ball over. All three had horrendous seasons by interception percentage. The trio were in the bottom 10 out of all rookie quarterbacks who attempted at least 160 passes.
Mike: The problem is that I've seen all three of these players play and there is no way Sanchez is a better quarterback than Stafford.
Tom: Well, players who threw the ball to the other team a lot as rookies tend to be really bad. Yes, Terry Bradshaw was up there, and Troy Aikman came out just behind them, but the other guys were all terrible.
Mike: Wait, we're just talking about rookie years?
Tom: Yes, this is just as rookies. This is when I started to become concerned that maybe these guys were all incredibly terrible, like 2011 Blaine Gabbert-style bad. (And Gabbert didn't throw as many interceptions as any of these guys did.)
Mike: Why are we talking about their rookie seasons?
Tom: This is why I started caring about them, and part of the impetus for my arguments in the offseason that it was too early to give up on Gabbert. Since then, we've added almost two-and-a-half years of data. Freeman showed great improvement in his second season before regressing some last year. Stafford did better in a limited sample size in his second year and had a very good third season. Sanchez threw interceptions at a better-than-average rate in his second season, though his ANYPA+ has yet to crack 100. Mike, what should we make of these players who aren't nearly as terrible as they were as rookies?
Mike: I hope you're referring to Stafford, because, again, the other two are still really bad. And I think that really explains most of this. Stafford was an NFL-caliber talent. The other two were not, but they were the best of what was left.
Tom: I said "aren't nearly as terrible as they were as rookies." That's a really low bar.
Mike: True, that is a low bar. Their improvement, however, has been fairly anemic.
Tom: I have a great deal of sympathy for Freeman. The Buccaneers last year were deeply dysfunctional, and a hard offense to be very successful in. Outside of a terrible performance against the Cowboys, he's thrown the ball relatively well this year.
Mike: Sanchez in particular was never going to be an elite quarterback, but the Jets convinced themselves he would be. I'm still not entirely sure why or how.
Tom: Yes, Sanchez's career has always been a mystery. A good Rose Bowl performance after a collegiate season I viewed as mostly up-and-down seemed to boost his draft stock into the relative stratosphere. And given who the Jets seem to want to be, a Sanchez who didn't throw interceptions seemed like an acceptable player.
Mike: I think it's also hard to undersell his media savvy. Which is actually the most damning part of this whole episode for the Jets, as they clearly got caught up in the ridiculous whirlwind Sanchez drummed up among sportswriters desperate for pre-draft stories.
Tom: There are elements of his game that aren't that bad. I recall our own Doug Farrar praising his play-fake ability even as a rookie. He's also made some fairly respectable throws this year. Not all the time, not perfectly, but enough that he could have some success in the right circumstances.
Mike: "Right circumstances" meaning "2000 Baltimore Ravens?"
Tom: Of course, I don't mean to suggest the Jets should have guaranteed his full salary this year and the next. One of the reasons I want to talk about these players is that they're now in their fourth season. Rookie contracts under the new CBA are four-year deals. For players picked in the top ten like Stafford and Sanchez, the standard fifth-year option is the transition tag amount. The quarterback transition tag amount was about $12.5 million this year. Retaining either of them the year after that would require the franchise tag, or 20 percent more, which is $15 million. That $27.5 million guaranteed becomes your baseline for negotiating an extension with a top-ten pick. Obviously these guys are not in that environment, but I'm trying to think through quarterback progressions and how teams evaluate players in such a high stakes environment.
Mike: Honestly, half of the time it's desperation. It may be for Freeman. On the opposite end, Detroit is convinced they have a star in Stafford, so he is going to get a contract near the higher end of the quarterback range. Whereas Sanchez ... I have no idea what the Jets' strategy is. I suppose it depends on how badly they perform this year, and how much faith Rex Ryan has in him.
Tom: Well, these guys are locked up for a longer. What Sanchez's fate is after 2013 is a very interesting question. He's no longer quite a punchline; the punchline is instead the offense as a whole, of which he is a part. Then again, the first quarterback on that list was Alex Smith. The same Alex Smith who is now part of DVOA's fifth-ranked offense.
Mike: We'll see how that holds up.
Tom: Well, the 49ers are only 11th in passing DVOA. They're first with a bullet in rushing DVOA.
Mike: That is true.
Tom: They also tried to upgrade to Peyton Manning in the offseason, so we'll see how Smith's future progresses in San Francisco.
Mike: I think they're stuck with Smith, now. He's not playing amazingly well, but he's done enough to make a risky replacement unpalatable. That could be a huge problem for them in the end, but a competent quarterback is hard to find.
Tom: The 49ers do have Colin Kaepernick, who's sort of the forgotten man from last year's quarterback class. In the playoff game against the Saints last year, I put the over/under on his first start at this coming week. Obviously, that's not happening now. We'll see, of course. Many second-round quarterbacks don't amount to much.
Tom: So, knowing I had no 49ers or Seahawks, I didn't bother to set my fantasy lineup before Thursday's game. Then, I went out of town. And had worse internet connectivity than I expected. Which meant I got to a sports bar about 15 minutes before Sunday's games and had to set my lineup. At which point I realized (a) LeSean McCoy and Ryan Mathews are both on bye and (b) I had the Rams defense, and the Rams were playing the Packers. Commence panic! I started Ben Tate, grabbed Andre Brown off waivers, and, going off the thin gruel of waiver defenses, picked up the Patriots because they were playing the at-times inept Jets. Tate didn't do much, but Brown scored a touchdown and Patriots defense gave me 16 points.
Mike: Wait. Did you just qualify "inept Jets" with "at times?"
Tom: Remember when they put up 48 points in Week 1? Granted, it was against the Bills, but it still counts.
Mike: Oh, right. That was a thing that happened.
Mike: Those are the best victories, and victories are scarce for me lately. After finally putting up a win in my competitive league, I then get stomped by the highest-scoring team this week. Coming in second by points, of course.
Tom: Of course.
Mike: While I would complain about forgetting to fix my roster and leaving Jimmy Graham in, it would seem a bit childish considering my opponent did likewise for Rashard Mendenhall. In the end, it was a lot of flashy numbers by all of our slots, except for James Starks and Jermaine Gresham. That made the real difference. In the other league, 5 teams are now tied for second at 4-3. That is somewhat remarkable.
Tom: In my league, five of the ten teams are tied for second at 4-3 as well, plus three other teams are 3-4.
Mike: I was very pleased to grab Andy Dalton off waivers as a replacement for Philip Rivers in that league. Perhaps I should have reconsidered my strategy this week. The main difference was Vincent Jackson, however. I simply did not have an answer for his 31.1 points.
Tom: And somehow the New Orleans Saints did!
Mike: I think that says everything you need to know about the Saints. On both sides of the ball.
Tom: That commercial is dumb.
Tom: I'm not sure what the point of that commercial is. "If you drink Miller Lite, you'll lose to a girl at video games"? "Miller Lite is not a video game PED"?
Mike: Honestly, I think this commercial started out as a joke, about showing a woman ("girl" in video games parlance) beating up men at a video game. The problem: the marketer did not work for any video game company. They also remember how hard Nintendo was smacked down for its sexist commercial for The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.
Tom: And then they made a commercial about it without trying to figure out any way to connect that with Miller Lite beyond obnoxious product placement?
Mike: Yes, because no video game company will accept sponsorship from a beer company. Not because of a moral or regulatory stance. Just because the most engaged segment of that market is too young to drink alcohol. So yes, it results in a strange shoehorning of video games into a bar setting, with some labels for gamers that honestly I am completely unfamiliar with. Despite being a life-long and avid gamer myself.
Tom: I don't think it's actually a bar. I think it's somebody's apartment.
Mike: Are you serious?
Tom: It could have been much more obviously bar-like. And what kind of bar has a big video game setup like this, anyway? I'd also think the bar would prefer not to have wireless controllers, though maybe you could just require people to put down a credit card or some other deposit before playing.
Mike: That is rather the point, yes. In my long history of game-playing and my significantly not-as-long history of drinking in bars, I have never really mixed the two. And if they did, it would probably be a Wii. Which just isn't cool enough for Miller's audience. (The people Miller wished drank their beer, not the people who actually drink Miller Lite.)
Tom: (The people Miller's advertising pretends drinks their beer.) The problem with video games as a bar distraction is it leaves no time for drinking. When you're playing the video game, you're playing the video game. When you're, e.g., playing Golden Tee or shooting pool, there are pre-designed breaks in the game during which you're free to consume your beverage.
Mike: Precisely. The other problem is that playing an active video game like an FPS or a console sports game requires a decent amount of concentration. And the fun involved is highly dependent upon the skill of those involved. So mixing alcohol and gaming, while amusing, usually results in really bad games.
Tom: Playing video games also tends to be only interesting to the people involved.
Mike: Despite constant protestations from those who disagree, it is very true and a big reason why pro gaming will never be viable outside of Korea.
Tom: Which raises the question why it is popular in Korea, but I'm not sure I want to get into that.
Mike: Oh my, look at the time! That wraps up this week's commercial!
Quarterback: Sadly for Christian Ponder, Loser League does not include a Just Winning bonus. Throwing for two interceptions and only 58 yards is a great way to put up a marvelous Loser League score, though his passing score did bump him to 2 points.
Running Back: Trent Richardson was your clear low man with only 19 yards and 1 point before the Browns sat him back down. At a more respectable 4 points were Ben Tate, Jonathan Stewart, Delone Carter, and Kendall Hunter.
Wide Receiver: Jacoby Jones, Josh Morgan, Kendall Wright, Doug Baldwin, Mike Thomas, Early Doucet, and Dez Bryant each put up only 1 point without the benefit of a fumble to lower their score.
Kicker: Jay Feely is now 0-for-2 on field goals after hitting from 61 yards last week to tie the Cardinals' game against the Bills. He did make two extra points this week to offset his miss, and that leaves him with a net of 0 points.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: A week after suffering key defensive injuries to cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens needed a good performance by their offense if they were going to knock off the Houston Texans. It seemed like they had a chance, as the Texans secondary had struggled a bit the past two weeks against Aaron Rodgers and, more disconcertingly, Mark Sanchez and the Jets receivers. Enter Joe Flacco, who in the first half completed 7-of-20 passes for 52 yards and two interceptions, and was also sacked twice. One of the interceptions was returned for a touchdown. One of the sacks was for a safety. The Texans were up 29-3 and would go on to win by the second-largest margin in (short) franchise history.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Facing fourth-and-1 at the Colts 41 with 6:38 to play in Sunday's game and his team trailing by four points, Browns head coach Pat Shurmur elected to burn one of his three timeouts, then punt. Writing about how coaches should go for it more often on fourth down is boring, but Shurmur's decision was really, really bad. Leslie Frazier thanks Shurmur for taking the attention off his own error (which also involved a foolish use of a timeout).
Joe: "Hey guys. Team Defense question this week: MIN DEF vs. TB or ATL DEF vs. PHI. I'm leaning towards TB based on the reputation of a lousy defense and Philadelphia will be coming off a bye. Also, with Maurice Jones-Drew down, I'm down to LeSean McCoy and Shonn Greene and no RB depth. (I'm in a 10 person league, seven of them are idiots.) I have these lovely options to pick up from waivers (standard scoring, PPR): Andre Brown, Shaun Draughn, Danny Woodhead, or Pierre Thomas. Thanks!"
Mike: I think Andre Brown is the go-to "panic waiver pickup" option at the moment, just because he's the only player you're likely to find in most leagues with any upside who is still riding the pine. On one hand, I like Minnesota's defense this year. I think it has had a resurgence which, timed perfectly with Adrian Peterson's, has resulted in some very impressive football. Tampa Bay also has a pretty bad defense and in particular a quarterback that they should be able to rattle.
Tom: I just want to note that Pierre Thomas finally scored a touchdown last week.
Mike: He did! Break out the fireworks!
Tom: It was part of a day where he gained only 32 yards rushing and 0 receiving (on one reception), though he did lead the Saints in carries. As head honcho Aaron Schatz noted on the Peter King podcast (gratuitous plug alert!), the Bucs do have a very stout run defense.
Mike: On the other hand, Michael Vick has been a turnover machine. I'm not sure whether the bye will help to fix Vick's issues or just make him overthink them, leading to bigger problems. I want to avoid comparing Vick to Vince Young too much, so I'm going to say the bye helps him, and the Vikings are the better play.
Tom: I think the Vikings' run defense is legitimate, their hiccup against the Redskins notwithstanding. I'd go with them. As we've said before, Brown's value depends on Ahmad Bradshaw's injury status. If Bradshaw is injured, though, he's a good play, which is more than can be said for anybody else on your list.
evenchunkiermonkey: "Hi guys, a few quick questions... I overheard some fans in town talking and from what I gathered, I can drop my entire defense and pick up a completely different defense to replace them off the waiver wire. First off, is this true? Because it sounds too good to be true, as my defence is getting older and falling apart as we speak. Second question, Which defense do you think I should pick up for my game against Cleveland this week?"
Thanks in advance,
John H. in Baltimore, MD
Tom: John, thanks for the question. Your ability to drop and add another defense depends on your league rules. My understanding is your league plays individual defensive players rather than team defenses and has very large rosters with a very large number of teams. That means your injury fill-ins probably will not be very good, and it is even more difficult to find good players freely available when you have injuries. You'll have to depend on the rest of your team to make up for any dropoff you suffer from those injuries. From what we wrote elsewhere in this column, I don't think that worked very well last week. So, good luck with that!
Mike: Alternately, have you tried shouting at them? I hear shouting usually works.
Tom: Last week, you picked against John's Baltimore Ravens and they lost badly. You are now 3-3. I picked the Buccaneers. They ran LeGarrette Blount from the 1-yard line three times in a row. They lost. I am now 2-4. As a reminder, all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing, and all picks are made without reference to FO's Premium Picks.
Mike: Remember when I said I didn't trust the Patriots? I still don't.
Tom: I'd distrust the trip to London at least as much as I distrust the Patriots.
Mike: But the Rams are very bad in a way that the Patriots can easily exploit, and their offense simply cannot keep up. See, I don't think the trip will be much of a problem for New England. I do think the transition from turf to soccer pitch is going to wreak havoc on the Rams, however. New England Patriots -7 at St. Louis Rams (in London).
Tom: Looking at the lines, there aren't many I really like. I refuse (at least at this point of the season) to pick a game involving my team, especially if I'll be attending said game, so I'll bypass the Titans-Colts matchup. And I will instead go to another divisional matchup: the game being played in Kansas City. The Chiefs are bad. Like really, really bad. They are voluntarily starting Brady Quinn. They are favored. The Raiders are bad, but their run defense is not that bad. I don't care that the Chiefs are coming off a bye. I am taking the Raiders and the points. Oakland Raiders +2 at Kansas City Chiefs.
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38 comments, Last at 11 Feb 2013, 8:32pm by Oralia Hearne