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» Clutch Encounters: Week 3

New respect for Nick Foles after another GWD. Also: four-minute blues for Browns, glory-hole day for Dallas, Jets seeing red and Bruce Arians' magic beans.

31 Oct 2012

Scramble for the Ball: Phantoms

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Mike: In a year where the elites of the NFL are suddenly very vulnerable, one team in particular has been singled out for repeated scorn.

Tom: Friend of FO Chase Stuart, who used to write for Pro-Football-Reference's blog and now maintains his own site, Football Perspective, noted on Twitter yesterday that the New Orleans Saints lost an All-Pro guard (Carl Nicks) in the offseason and nobody's talking about it.

Mike: Nobody talks about guards not named Steve Hutchinson

Tom: I immediately responded that, well, the Saints signed a Pro Bowl (or at least pretty good) guard in Ben Grubbs as a replacement. Then I checked something. The Saints were great in Adjusted Line Yards last year in every direction except right tackle, where they were still average. This year, things have changed. A higher percentage of runs are going up the middle, 69 percent instead of 58 percent. And the Saints have gone from 4.94 ALY on runs up middle, which was first in the league, to 3.77, which ranks 24th. Maybe there's something to that idea after all.

Mike: Sadly, our resident line expert has not taken an in-depth look at the Saints offensive line this year, so information is scarce. On the other hand, running 70 percent in one direction makes your team very predictable, so another possible explanation is that other teams have caught on to the Saints' dedication to running up the gut and have simply stacked the middle or employed more aggressive run blitzes. Predictable is stoppable, even for a bad defense.

Tom: They're actually second in terms of frequency of runs up the middle, slightly behind your Steelers at 71 percent. It's also worth noting that only two teams have called fewer run plays than the Saints. (Yes, part of that is they've already had their bye. Aren't you clever for mentioning that.)

Mike: I think part of that is that they've ... yes. The really quirky bit about this is that New Orleans has enjoyed phenomenal Power success, 87 percent, second-best in the league. For a team mediocre at running up the middle, they are great at pounding the ball through. Which seems very un-Saints-like.

Tom: I wonder how many Power plays they've had. They finished 12th in Power last year. My eye remains focused on Mark Ingram.

Mike: Unblinking and wreathed in flame, I'm sure.

Tom: To the extent that Ingram is a between the tackles back and not as good as Pierre Thomas (averaging 1.5 yards per carry less and has a DVOA 15.2% worse), the Saints are running the ball up the middle too much to try to establish an identity. They traded up into the first round to take Ingram, even though they had a perfectly effective rushing attack when they had less than five backs injured. (Yes, I remember the Seahawks playoff game. Julius Jones was OK. They were only playing Jones because they were ridiculously injured at running back.)

Mike: I wonder how much of this was Aaron Kromer trying very hard to not be Sean Payton. Attributing it to Kromer's influence might make sense, being an offensive line coach.

Tom: I wonder. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael was still calling the plays. They promoted Kromer specifically so they didn't have to change that.

Mike: While that is true, calling the plays is different from deciding the run/pass and situational play-calling. Unfortunately, there's really no way to know whether this theory has any merit. It's also not just running, although we got a bit caught up on that. The Saints' passing DVOA is 25.5%, tenth in the league, compared to 2011's tally of 50.1%, good for third-best in the league.

Tom: We, or at least I, touched a bit on that in our preseason over/unders.

Mike: It's true. And I didn't really buy into your theory that Sean Payton has magic beans that make the Saints offense work, but this is basically the same team as last year, and here we are. It's starting to look like I was wrong.

Tom: They're actually better than they were in 2010. It's weird. We had what seemed like valid personnel-related reasons to think last year's Saints were different and better, with the additions of Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham. Sproles is within shouting distance of precisely as valuable a receiver as he was last year, though he's a much less efficient runner. Graham, meanwhile, has been very inefficient, with his catch rate plummeting from 66 percent to 58 percent, he ranks 39th (of 50) in DVOA among tight ends. Obviously some of that may be injury related.

Mike: But still a pretty good fantasy option!

Tom: Yup. He's still fifth in targets, even with the injury issues.

Mike: But yes, not tremendously valuable to the actual Saints football team.

Tom: Perhaps. As we've written before, though, DVOA can be an imperfect guide to player quality.

Mike: I suppose the question is, then, will things snap back under Joe Vitt? Is this really a coaching issue at all?

Tom: Vitt is the linebackers coach. Unless there are actual technical issues with the offensive line, I doubt Kromer's return changes things.

Mike: True, but he was chosen for a reason, and my guess is it's because he is the most in-sync with Payton's coaching style and methodology. Although that reason may also have been "the only qualified guy left." But as it is, your earlier assessment about the Saints seems to be eerily and completely counter-intuitively correct.

Tom: Even a blind dog finds a bone once in a while. I'll savor this victory while it lasts.

Fantasy Update

Tom: Autodrafted Second Round Quarterback Matthew Stafford finally had a great game!

Mike: Everything's coming up dudebro!

Tom: It didn't help much in the end, though, as my opponent had five players score in double-digits and won by almost five points. His key decision was starting Andrew Luck instead of Philip Rivers, so Luck beat both my fantasy and actual teams this week.

Mike: That is possibly a gutsy call.

Tom: Yahoo! actually projected Luck to score more points than Rivers last week, so I'm not sure how gutsy it really was. We saw on Monday Night Football in Kansas City a while back what rain does to Rivers' play, so starting Luck made some sense.

Mike: I'm not sure Rivers has done much better out of the rain, honestly.

Tom: Well, Cleveland doesn't have a great pass defense. Playing him would have been far from clearly wrong. Since it came up in an earlier column, I'll point out Yahoo!'s projections were amazingly accurate this week. I had 99.18 compared to 99.24 projected, while my opponent had 103.98 compared to 103.83. Obviously there's a great deal of individual volatility involved, but on the whole that's pretty good.

Mike: Yahoo!'s projections are very consistent for me. Consistently 20 points above actual performance. Including this week.

Tom: The fault, dear Mike, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Mike: Luckily for me, my opponents also performed poorly, and I managed to eke out wins in both leagues, albeit one by fewer than two points. I actually did start Rivers, which wasn't great. And Victor Cruz, who had an off night, and Hakeem Nicks due to a bye week, who didn't actually benefit from Cruz's lack of productivity. Instead, it was guys like Mike Williams and Shonn Greene that carried the day. Oh, and the New York Football Giants' DST, with a whopping 22 points.

In the other league, I wisely started Ben Roethlisberger over Robert Griffin, and reaped the benefits of that. Very bad days from Vincent Jackson and Jeremy Maclin threatened to sink me, but Jimmy Graham came through and I won a nail-biter when David Akers only managed eight points in San Francisco's rout of the Cardinals.

Tom: And assuredly your team's clutchness for pulling out a close win won't be respected in the standings.

Mike: Considering I'm still last? No. I am in a four-way tie for best record in the other league, however, so there's hope for at least one of my squads.

Tom: Well, I'm pretty much still hopeless, so good luck to you.

Loser League Update

QUARTERBACK: It was actually a pretty good week for the league's signal-callers. Brandon Weeden was still an unsurprising last, but with a respectable 6 points.

RUNNING BACK: LeGarrette Blount was last with 1 point, while DeAngelo Williams (without fumble) and Reggie Bush (with fumble) were your runners-up at 3 points each.

WIDE RECEIVER: Too bad for the Lions Scramble posts Wednesday, as they might have reconsidered their decision to trade for Mike Thomas if they realized he only had 1 point last week. Joining him there were Brandon Stokley and Jerome Simpson.

KICKER: Greg Zuerlein and Phil Dawson got to 1 the traditional way, by playing on teams that had terrible offensive performances that let them attempt an extra point but not a field goal. Nick Folk got there the Jets way, by missing one of the two field goals he attempted.

Awards!

KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: One, two, three, four, five ... middle linebacker Colin McCarthy appeared to be counting how many players the Tennessee Titans defense were fielding on a crucial third-and-10 play while holding a 13-6 lead in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Colts. He stopped at 10. The Colts picked up nine yards that play and lined up for a crucial fourth-and-1. The Titans substituted, but McCarthy's counting efforts the prior play were in vain. The Titans still had 10 players on the field, and the Colts converted fourth down easily and then tied the game up before winning in overtime. It's not clear which player was at blame on either play, or even that it was necessarily the same player, but either way they committed a major oopsie.

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Hey, Andy Reid, how did that "firing Juan Castillo" thing work out? It turned out to be about as meaningful as your "perfect record coming off a bye week?" Huh, who ever saw that one coming!?

Scramble Mailbag

jkdalrymple: Trade Advice: I would trade Adrian Peterson for Brandon Marshall and Alex Green. I have Trent Richardson, Reggie Bush, Brandon Lloyd, Anquan Boldin, Brandon Pettigrew, Hawkins [I hope Andrew Hawkins rather than Lavelle Hawkins], William Powell, and Cedric Benson. Good deal?

Tom: In the absence of somebody specifying, we assume you're in a standard 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 flex, non-PPR league.

Mike: Yes, with those assumptions I say no. You're pretty good at wide receiver and you have two great and one pretty good running back that you can play matchups with.

Tom: And if you do this deal, your running back corps is very thin. Alex Green is getting 20-to-22 carries per game, but has put up 65, 35, and 54 yards rushing the last three weeks, with no touchdowns. It's like Chris Johnson without the random upside.

Mike: Moving Peterson would not only disrupt that, but the Browns still have to play Pittsburgh and Baltimore this season, twice each. And Reggie Bush might remember that he is Reggie Bush, although that is becoming less likely as we go.

Tom: You've seen Reggie Bush's name elsewhere in this column. Keep that in mind.

Mike: Right, there is also the problem that Marshall and Green simply aren't worth one Peterson. Marshall is the top dog receiver in Chicago, sure, but Chicago's passing offense just isn't great anyway. Pass.

Lock of the Week

Tom: Last week, we both did a marvelous job of picking "road" teams. You took the Patriots -7. They covered. I took the Raiders +2. They beat the Chiefs in a game actually played in the opposing team's home stadium. You are 4-3. I am 3-4. As a reminder, all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Mike: Bears at Titans is a fairly attractive line, just because I think the Bears defense will eat Tennessee for lunch. To clarify, I do not believe Chicago will have another defensive touchdown this week. Everyone expecting that to be a regular occurrence is insane. That said, I just don't trust Chicago's offense to give them four on the road.

Tom: You don't have to trust the offense. You just have to trust the Titans defensively.

Mike: Instead, I'm going to re-jump on the bandwagon and give a measly four points to a Broncos team that is better than the Bengals in nearly every way. Sure, it's on the road, but Peyton Manning does not care. Denver Broncos -4 at Cincinnati Bengals.

Tom: There were a couple lines that stood out to me as potentially fairly attractive. You took one of them. We've already mentioned another. For the second straight week, the line is roughly 3 points more favorable to the Titans from the one I would have set. Given we already know the Steelers will be without Troy Polamalu, it's probable the Giants playing at home should be favored by more than 3.5.

Mike: You're going to be that guy who always bets against his team, aren't you?

Tom: I didn't pick the Titans last week, and I'm not picking them this week either. I'm not picking against your team either. While I believe DVOA speaks truth when it's telling us the Falcons are not the league's best team, I don't believe the Cowboys are anywhere close to the league's best team either. Playing at home, they should be favored by more than they are. Atlanta Falcons -4.5 vs. Dallas Cowboys.

Send your questions, comments, and tapenade recipes to Scramble-at-Footballoutsiders.com!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 31 Oct 2012

22 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2013, 1:58pm by Michael Perry

Comments

1
by Jonadan :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 6:31pm

Last year Martz' offense came up for I forget what reason several weeks in a row. I don't remember what DVOA thinks of it overall, but by standard stats it was very good for a couple years, then fell off the face of the earth to a reliable 20-something. While it's possible teams adjusted, what I turned up was that the year it suddenly went bad was the year St. Louis traded their pro-bowl right tackle to Cleveland. What I'm saying here is, line play matters, not that we didn't know that already.

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

2
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 6:50pm

"It's probably because Sean Payton i suspended" - Dr. Ockham.

Sometimes the simple explanation is the right one.

5
by Eggwasp (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 5:43am

Indeed - we all have to deal with work disruptions from time to time, I don't think its unreasonable that the turmoil & sanctions from Bountygate has led to reduced effectiveness of both practices and off-field activities. Players aren't in videogames, the mood and environment around them affects their ability to do their jobs as much as the rest of us.

11
by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 11:14am

They also, imo, made some strange decisions regarding filling in for Payton. I'd have opted for the route that would have provided the most continuity, meaning a single interim head coach. Instead, Vitt was the first interim before the season started, then Kromer took the title while Vitt served his 6-game suspension, then Vitt is back again. I have no way of knowing if that was a big deal to them internally or not, but from the outside it looks to me it was just throwing more changes into a situation already overflowing with them. It may mean absolutely nothing, but they won the last two games with Kromer as coach. (Possibly a sign they were getting their legs under them?) But then he's gone and Vitt is in charge and they go out and get destroyed by the Broncos.

It's interesting to me that on the one hand they clearly acknowledge that the head coach is a huge deal in bemoaning Payton's absence, yet on the other they downplay the head coach's importance by deciding it'll work out fine to swap interims every few weeks.

13
by nath :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 9:55pm

Well, Vitt has the title of Assistant Head Coach, so he's basically Payton's #2 and the person who can provide the most continuity from Payton. Picking Kromer for the first six games was a reaction to Vitt's suspension. It would have been stranger, IMO, to have Vitt come back as Payton's #2 but not actually be the man in charge while Payton was gone.

3
by Sifter :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 7:35pm

Advice time. I'm almost guaranteed to make the playoffs and I'm already looking ahead to week 15, the first playoff game. Here's my problem: I have Calvin Johnson, Gronkowski and the Chicago D. Not so bad on the face of it, but in week 15 Calvin plays Arizona ie. Patrick Peterson, Gronk plays SF, Chicago plays GB. 3 pretty bad matchups. What would you do? Try to trade? Get a backup in Wk 15 to have an option? Play the top guys regardless of matchup? Just so happens that two of the better FAs in my league right now are TE-Keller (vs Ten) and Def-Miami (vs Jax) who have pretty good Wk 15 matchups. Carrying the extra players on my roster will derail my 'gamble on a RB til I hit' strategy a bit, which is keeping my RB corps on life support. But carrying guys for 6 weeks when they probably when they'll just ride pine in that time seems a bit extreme. Plus, you never know what is going to happen 6 weeks down the road eg. a Rodgers injury would make the Bears D a good play. Share with me your wisdom in this matter before I start talking myself into doing something rash!

7
by Ryan D. :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 9:03am

Grab the Miami D now and stash them away. You have to play Calvin and Gronk, no matter what.

9
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 10:49am

I agree with grabbing the Miami D. But the Bears have done ok vs the Packers in Chicago the last few years. The worst they've done is giving up 27 points last year, and even in that game they intercepted Rodgers.

8
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 9:11am

I don't think you bench Megatron, no matter what. Miami against Jacksonville sounds a lot more attractive than Chicago against GB. And I think I'd probably stick with Gronk, on balance.

4
by dbostedo :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 8:42pm

"...Marshall and Green simply aren't worth one Peterson."

Maybe... but many people play in PPR leagues. So far Brandon Marshall is averaging 17.0 points per week in my PPR league (1 point per 10 yards rushing, and per 15 yards receiving).

And Adrian Peterson is averaging.... drum roll............ 16.47.

Marshall is on a pace for 114 receptions, 1542 yards, and 9 TDs. That's a pace for very slightly less yards than AP, and more TDs.

So you could make an argument that Marshall and Green for AP is a fine trade, depending on the team need.

6
by FrontRunningPhinsFan :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 8:11am

Need some advice from the gurus: Pick 1 - 0.5 point PPR

M. Leshoure vs. Jax
J. Stewart vs. Was
F. Jones vs. Atl

Do I trust Stewart to REALLY get all the carries AND Carolina to actually be able to move the ball? I struggle with that.

Do I believe in Felix Jones as bad as he's been against a great defense and the probability of playing from behind? Not so much.

My gut says go with Leshoure, but I can't see him getting the carries the other two will.

Fire Jeff Ireland.

10
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 11:13am

I'd go with Stewart. I can't trust Felix, though Atlanta's run defense is only 28th by DVOA. Leshoure's murky injury situation bothers me.

12
by QCIC (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 4:23pm

I am 1st in pts for and in 9th place in a 10 team league with a 2-6 record. I also pulled Crabtree out of my lineup last week at the last minute. Should I quit fantasy football?

14
by dbostedo :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 10:31pm

Clearly, yes. There's no luck involved in fantasy football, so it's all your fault. You are terrible.

16
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 10:14am

At this point in the season, unless you're in an MLS-style league that sends 8 teams to the playoffs, I recommend salvaging your season in a way that's fun rather than most optimal to win. Trade your underachieving star, even if it's for a lesser player! Pick up or trade for your favorite player and start him, even if he won't put up many points! Bench players playing your actual team so you don't feel any conflict!

17
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 10:17am

Double posting: It can happen to staffers, too.

15
by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 1:16am

Quick question for the writers (or anyone else who wants to answer): In a 1 point PPR league, I need to play one of these 3 players in my flex position. Pierre Thomas, Ryan Broyles, Devery Henderson. I've pretty much ruled out Henderson because in any given week Thomas gets more targets than he does and ends up with a higher score. But the Broyles matchup vs Jax is somewhat attractive. Should I stick with Thomas's limited upside vs Eagles, or take a flyer on Broyles? Thomas seems like the safer play but I'm just not sure.

18
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 2:37pm

With Nate Burleson out, Broyles should see a boost in his targets. Titus Young may get some of them, but Mike Thomas probably won't steal any. I concur Pierre Thomas is the safer play, but I like Broyles' upside enough I'd start him.

EDIT: With Darren Sproles ruled out for Monday night, play Thomas.

19
by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 11:18pm

Yeah, Burleson's injury is why I grabbed Broyles off waivers in the first place. Didn't know Sproles was out, though--that's good info! Thanks!

20
by BigCheese :: Sun, 11/04/2012 - 4:07pm

Bears at Titans is a fairly attractive line, just because I think the Bears defense will eat Tennessee for lunch. To clarify, I do not believe Chicago will have another defensive touchdown this week.

Would you beleive a Defensive TD, a special teams TD and a Hester return to the 5 which leads to a Forte TD? Plus whatever they do in the second half, of course... :P

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

21
by Sifter :: Sun, 11/04/2012 - 4:35pm

As someone who drafted the Bears D, mainly on KUBIAK's recommendations, I say let the good times roll!

22
by Michael Perry (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 1:58pm

Football is always an interesting game. But football scramble or mix up in 2012 has been the issue of debate.

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