Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

28 Jan 2015

Scramble's 2014 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: We did one Scramble tradition last week, the Super Bowl Prop Bet Extravaganza, which means it's now time for the other post-conference championship games, pre-Super Bowl mainstay: 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 annually 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 (basically, Richie Incognito last year).

Mike: Like last year, we have swapped the two columns chronologically! I'm sure you, an intelligent reader, sees what your Scramble writers did, there.

Tom: As we normally do, we will do this position by position, beginning with the quarterbacks.

Quarterback

Mike: Kyle Orton or EJ Manuel?

Tom: Do we just name all Buccaneers?

Mike: Oh. Yeah, that's actually a good point.

Tom: As I see it, we really have two options at quarterback. Blake Bortles finished with the third-worst passing DYAR ever. In his defense, (a) he had the best passing DVOA on his team, and (b) there's an argument to be playing him over Chad Henne, a known mediocrity.

Mike: Eeeeh, Bortles is a rookie. Well, was. On a really bad team.

Tom: We also have Josh McCown, who finished next-to-last in DYAR, had a DVOA a hair worse than Bortles' (-41.9% to -40.6%), and was significantly outplayed by Mike Glennon (-2.4% DVOA, 109 DYAR).

Mike: If we're jumping into "rookies who were dumpster fires," Johnny Manziel is probably better and has off-field nonsense, plus ridiculous and unwarranted hype. His only saving grace is that his coaches realized this and kept him from helping them lose more often than absolutely necessary.

Tom: OK, but he only had -145 DYAR because they only let him on the field for 38 passing plays.

Mike: It's not the "worst DYAR award!"

Tom: The Browns also had Brian Hoyer, who was comfortably mediocre (-4.8% DVOA) enough for them to win games with him. I know it's not the worst DYAR award. We don't have to mention the players who had the worst DYAR. But how much did Manziel really do to hurt the Browns this season? Not that much, I don't think.

Mike: I would say that EJ Manuel or Kyle Orton are more deserving than McCown or Bortles. Unlike those two, Manuel and Orton were playing on what otherwise has the potential to be a legitimately good team instead of two of the worst teams in the league.

Tom: How so? Are you putting all the blame for McCown's playing when he was much worse than Glennon on Lovie Smith?

Mike: There's also that, yeah

Tom: If you're going to go with Manuel, when why not go whole hog and pick Ryan Lindley?

Mike: Because Lindley was the emergency backup quarterback. Yes, he was the major point of failure for the Cardinals, but he was also the third option. In a league where you don't have a third option.

Tom: Well, OK, Orton. Playing for the same reason, they didn't have anybody good and needed a quarterback immediately.

Mike: I think that's a good argument for Manuel, more than anything

Tom: Manuel was bad, but by DVOA he wasn't quite that bad.

Mike: He was 38th in the league, with the second-smallest sample. He was benched in favor of Kyle Orton.

Tom: Maybe I'm just jaundiced because my team went 2-14 and was mostly dreadful and had two of the quarterbacks with a worse DVOA than Manuel. I just can't pick him over McCown.

Mike: I forget, do we have one quarterback or two?

Tom: Checking last year's column, we only picked one. Ditto the previous two seasons, though in 2010, we didn't settle on a single name. We've done this long enough our precedents are like an appellate court's -- you can find one to support whatever argument you want.

Mike: Indeed. That is why I find that the 2014 KCW quarterback is Adrian Peterson.

Tom: Congratulations, you've shown enough grasp on reality to be an Illinois judge.

Mike: In the spirit of lawyering, how about a compromise? Say ... Robert Griffin?

Tom: Fine, Robert Griffin it is. We encourage you readers to fight it out over McCown and Manuel in the comments.

Running Backs

Mike: Ray Rice is a shoo-in.

Tom: Does Justin Forsett playing as effectively as he does weaken Rice's case?

Mike: Were Rice just doing something stupid like, say, Josh Gordon, then no. But Rice created a maelstrom of media outrage and controversy. I can't imagine it didn't have a serious impact on the Ravens.

Tom: In a sense, I think it does. Their run game was fine. But I still agree we put him on the team. Adrian Peterson seems like about as much of a no-brainer, maybe even more because he was that important to the Vikings.

Mike: True, but the Vikings were so terrible

Tom: Especially with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater forced to play before they wanted him to, with a line that will be mentioned later, the Vikings needed him.

Mike: We're going to get dragged into another McCown vs. Manuel argument, aren't we?

Tom: We pick two running backs. We don't need to decide between Rice and Peterson. We just need to decide between Peterson and Trent Richardson. And if we can't mention T-Rich because we picked him last year.

Mike: Richardson was pretty atrocious this year, too. It would also probably be good to have someone on the team for terrible play instead of off-field boneheaddery.

Tom: OK, Ray Rice and Trent Richardson is our backfield.

Wide Receivers

Tom: You'll never believe it, but a Jaguars receiver, Cecil Shorts, finished last in DVOA and DYAR.

Mike: Quelle surprise.

Tom: Of course, we have other nominations. You already mentioned Josh Gordon, who had -22.9% DVOA when he finally did make it on the field. Percy Harvin went from focal point on the offense of the NFC's top team to being traded for beads. Meanwhile, Tavon Austin is still awesome'ing his way around St. Louis. Austin and Harvin produced some rushing value to offset their catching issues. I don't know how you feel about that.

Mike: You know what a purist I am regarding wide receiver carries.

Tom: As a Titans homer, I feel obligated to mention only one receiver finished with a sub-47 percent catch rate on at least 50 targets. Justin Hunter was down at 42 percent.

Mike: As a Steelers homer, I'm wondering what changed about four years ago that made the Steelers awesome at identifying wide receiver talent. But that is a story for another column!

Tom: Catch +/- will probably view him somewhat more favorably, as he was often targeted downfield, and his DYAR/DVOA weren't that bad (72nd of 87 ranked players). Still, he was quite bad.

Mike: That is quite bad.

Tom: We picked three players last year. I don't know if you feel more favorably about any of the players I've mentioned than the others.

Mike: I think Gordon is a solid pick, as he is a great triple threat; off-field headache and poor performance on a team that really, really needed him to perform to have a shot at the playoffs

Tom: I should mention Hunter's season ended prematurely with a spleen injury. That isn't any part of my nomination of him.

Mike: Harvin is interesting, because this is the first time we've seen a good team completely jettison a KCW-caliber player in the late season. Which speaks highly of the Seahawks' organization, but leaves us with a bit of a conundrum.

Tom: How so? This isn't a "let's praise John Schneider and Seattle" column. Even good general managers can make mistakes.

Mike: Well, had they kept him he would clearly be a terrible player holding back a weak team, but he didn't hold them back that much, because once they recognized he was terrible they got rid of him.

Tom: Are we going to exonerate him because his team was smart?

Mike: I was considering it, but no. Screw that guy.

Tom: Josh Gordon, Percy Harvin, and we need one more.

Mike: I'll let you pick the last one.

Tom: Justin Hunter it is, then.

Tight End

Tom: I don't know just how Jacob Tamme finished last in DVOA playing with Peyton Manning, but it happened.

Mike: Mostly being an extremely un-surehanded outlet receiver.

Tom: From what I've seen, lots of short passes and a low catch rate, I guess.

Mike: Yes.

Tom: Levine Toilolo finished last in DYAR, still an accomplishment playing with Matt Ryan.

Mike: True, but a bit less of one, I think everyone would agree.

Tom: Sure, but Tamme was a key special teams player and only played as much as he did because Julius Thomas was hurt. The Falcons had Tony Gonzalez last year, and Toilolo was his replacement.

Mike: Honestly, I'm fine with either. They were both terrible.

Tom: Or we can say that Toilolo wasn't that bad, and we're fine choosing five eligible receivers like a real NFL team has and lining up in 20 personnel.

Mike: Last in DYAR isn't "not that bad."

Tom: OK, Levine Toilolo it is.

Offensive Line

Tom: Last year, picking five offensive lineman was really easy. At some positions, like left guard, we could have gone three deep without any difficulty at all. This year, I didn't think offensive line play around the league was nearly that bad.

Mike: I think a large part of that is that perennial offensive line whipping boys like the Steelers finally got some semblance of their act together

Tom: There are still plenty of individual down spots, of course, plus some teams where the line as a whole really struggled, but I didn't see quite the same plethora of really awful players.

Mike: As always, this is probably the hardest part of the team to fill.

Tom: No, we'll get to that.

Mike: We at least have statistics for the defensive line! Even last year, with a ton of black holes playing O-line, a lot of it was help from fellow FO writers.

Tom: I actually felt good about last year's line selections. Since they don't generate conventional statistics or publicity in the same way, it's not as easy or as obvious as running back or wide receiver. Still, we do have some easy nominations, including a pair of left tackles drafted in the top four in recent drafts.

Mike: Schadenfreude is the best kind of freude.

Tom: Luke Joeckel had a disappointing injury-plagued first season where he played first right, then left tackle. His second season he was on the left side, but it was not good. Plus we haven't named a Jaguars offensive player yet, and we need to. Matt Kalil, meanwhile, was a solid enough player for the Vikings as a rookie, and showed signs of being the excellent player I thought he would become. The last two years have been downhill. He was kind of mediocre last year and turned in an All-KCW-worthy performance this year.

Mike: He is an excellent representative for an offensive line that finished 29th in Adjusted Line Yards and dead last in Adjusted Sack Rate. Kalil is one of the players who needed no recommendation. I feel like I saw way too many Vikings games this year, and the ones I did see were largely consumed by me shouting at Kalil through the television.

I can't think of one thing he actually did well this year, which is astounding. Usually a lineman muddles through one or two poor aspects of their technique and hangs around because the team is bad. I didn't see anything redeeming in Kalil's performance this year.

Tom: Well, he did play every Minnesota offensive snap.

Mike: I think that just makes Zimmer a candidate for this team's head coach.

Tom: I wouldn't go that far, given that I saw in Tennessee what left tackles of the sort you find on the street in December do.

From covering the Rams for his column this year, Ben Muth nominated Davin Joseph. If you wonder about the worthiness of this nomination, see Ben's column on the Rams against the Cardinals and despair.

Now we just need a left guard and a center. The Falcons ended up giving a lot of center snaps to undrafted rookie James Stone, who I did not think was very good. On the other hand, he was forced into the lineup by injuries.

Mike: Yeah, that's the biggest story with centers.

Tom: I'd like to nominate Evan Dietrich-Smith of Tampa Bay, who I know had line issues all season and finished last in ALY and last in ALY mid/guard specifically. But I just didn't watch the Buccaneers enough to know with confident just how bad EDS and Logan Mankins were. Yes, we could have mentioned Anthony Collins as a candidate with Joeckel and Kalil at left tackle.

Mike: Someone on Carolina's line probably deserves a mention, but that's another injury story.

Tom: San Diego went through centers like Spinal Tap did drummers. Cleveland was another injury issue; they just didn't have a replacement for Alex Mack on the roster.

Mike: We may need to just scapegoat someone in the absence of a clear favorite.

Tom: Maybe I just watched him too closely, but I would put Titans center Brian Schwenke up there. He showed some promise as a rookie and didn't improve in his second season the way I thought he would, and the way Chance Warmack did later in the year.

At left guard, I nominate Jonathan Cooper. Picked seventh overall, he was supposed to be a big upgrade for Arizona's line. Broken leg as a rookie, fine, injuries happen. But bone breaks aren't supposed to linger. He struggled to get on the field. For the highest pick at his position in almost two decades, when you're not being blocked by a star, that's not good.

That would give us a line of Matt Kalil-Jonathan Cooper-Brian Schwenke-Davin Joseph-Luke Joeckel. Sound like the right kind of bad to you?

Mike: I was toying with Scott Wells, but honestly I think that line is fine.

Tom: Since we took Joseph at right guard, I would have preferred not to go with Wells as well. Schwenke is a good enough choice.

Defensive Front

Tom: Now the positions we annually struggle with the most, especially defensive linemen.

Mike: Also great fun for me, watching a lot of a division that by and large plays 3-4.

Tom: One name is fairly easy: Greg Hardy. Off-the-field issues took him away in 2014 after he had 15 sacks in 2013.

I don't know how you want to align this defense, but Aldon Smith's suspension makes him another candidate.

Mike: Jeremiah Ratliff was pretty terrible.

Tom: Are you looking at the same table of individual defense statistics I am?

Mike: What, you disagree?

Tom: No, I was just about to mention his name.

Mike: Oh, yeah. He was the centerpiece of Chicago's "break but also break more" rushing defense.

Tom: He also finished with the sixth-worst Stop Rate of all Bears defensive linemen. That's an imperfect stat, but I think it was illustrative of his level of performance.

Mike: Also, his nickname is somehow not "Bullfrog." I think that is the most prominent reason he is on our team.

Tom: He went by "Jay" for many years, perhaps to avoid just that.

Mike: I'll take Aldon Smith, too. Since we haven't had a spot go to a player for pure idiocy in a few hundred words.

Tom: Aside from Greg Hardy, you mean? Speaking of idiocy-related nominations, Daryl Washington is a lock for an inside/middle linebacker spot, what with the whole "getting suspended for a year" thing.

Mike: Yyyup.

Tom: Going back to the AFC North, how did you feel about Ahtyba Rubin's play this year? He was one of a handful of defensive linemen with no run Defeats.

Mike: He's a clogger. He was also injured.

Tom: OK.

Mike: He was unimpressive, even so, but it's hard to put a player on the team who was playing through significant injury.

Tom: For another front seven player, how about Brian Cushing? He looked like a shell of the player he was before his injuries.

Mike: Probably because he keeps getting re-injured. What was the sequence? Torn ACL, then broken leg, then ... something with his knee this year. I think that's the right sequence.

Tom: I thought this year was mostly just continuing issues from the most recent knee injury.

What did you think of Vince Williams' play this year? He had the worst run Stop Rate in the league among linebackers, though with not many plays.

Mike: There's a reason he was demoted to make way for a rookie. He was generally a non-factor.

Tom: Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, Browns? Similar in some ways to Rubin in that he didn't make many plays, and even fewer of them were high impact. I'm having the same issue with defensive linemen I had with offensive linemen, that while they weren't all great, I didn't see many low floors. Or maybe I just didn't recognize them when I saw them.

Mike: Actually, Kitchen is a good sleeper choice. Cleveland's defensive line had a pretty bad year to follow up 2013's progress. Kitchen was always a low-ceiling guy and he was basically invisible as the floor fell out in both run defense and the pass rush. Good choice, Tom.

Tom: Great. If you want to play nickel, we just need another linebacker to go with our two D-linemen and pair of edge rushers.

Mike: I'm sure there's a terrible Titans linebacker you're dying to nominate. We should probably avoid piling on the Titans, though.

Tom: No linebackers really worth it on the Titans. Wesley Woodyard was, to pull a phrase from the past, Bears bad -- not the impact player the Titans wanted him to be but not actively bad.

From the charting files, a nomination for Atlanta's Paul Worrilow. Our charting data for him may not be complete, but we have him with a 32 percent Success Rate in coverage. On the other hand, he had a lot of successful plays in the run game, so focusing on pass coverage may be unfair unless those run plays were an example of the DeMeco Ryans Problem, where a linebacker on a bad team who plays a lot of snaps piles up a bunch of tackles because somebody has to.

Mike: Even with success in the running game, it's worth noting that Atlanta finished 30th in both power success and runs stuffed. So he clearly wasn't doing that amazing of a job stopping the run, along with the horrible coverage skills.

Tom: Defensive front seven six: Isma'aily Kitchen and Jeremiath Ratliff at defensive lineman, Greg Hardy and Aldon Smith are the edge rushers, and Paul Worrilow and Daryl Washington the linebackers. Now, everybody take the field. No, not you Aldon. Not you Greg. Not you Daryl.

Mike: So it's the Pro Bowl!

Cornerback

Tom: We have two cornerbacks nominated in the FO Awards (vote now if you haven't already!), the Eagles' Bradley Fletcher and the Jets' Dimitri Patterson.

Mike: I'd nominate Cortez Allen, based on a large video library of him directly causing his team to lose games.

Tom: Looking at the charting data, Lovie Smith's decision to part ways with Darrelle Revis and bring in Alterraun Verner looks even better than you'd think from the description. With the charting data we have, Verner is allowing an adjusted average of 10.5 yards per play in coverage.

Mike: To be fair, I'm not sure Lovie Smith had much of a say in parting ways with Revis.

Tom: What? I'm sure that subject was covered at length in the Bucs' official website's longform on Lovie's first 100 days as Bucs head coach. Didn't you read and study that whole thing?

Mike: I ... uh ...

Tom: The fabled article, which I did not bother to read. It was only 32,774 words long.

Mike: My backup quarterback thought it was a cannoli?

Tom: Thoughts on Fletcher and Patterson's status? Just because they were all-KCW nominations doesn't mean we have to pick them. I'm on board with the Fletcher selection, though of course you could note that Billy Davis did not have to put him in position to get burned with no help repeatedly.

Mike: I like Fletcher, less fond of Patterson.

Tom: Patterson I'm less convinced about. He was not the first player to decide in August he doesn't really want to play football that season, and while it put the Jets in a bad position, "counting on Dmitri Patterson in the first place" was probably not the best decision either.

Mike: I'd go with Fletcher and Allen. The Steelers were surprisingly a pretty good team this year that kept falling just short because of really bad secondary play. Allen was the heart of that disaster.

Tom: Since we're playing nickel, we could use a player in the slot. I like Verner there, perhaps because I saw him play there for the Titans in 2010 and then not be allowed to play there regularly again.

Mike: If the 2010-2014 Titans do not want your services, then you are on a special level of bad.

Safety

Tom: Is it just too easy to say Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd and be done with it?

Mike: Considering Chris Conte gets an injury excuse, perhaps not. I hate it when really bad players hurt themselves in order to avoid the ignominy of being named All-KCW.

Tom: Actually, it probably is too easy. Josh Evans was really bad for the Jaguars. Plus, I don't want to overload on one team. If you want to nominate a Bears player, though, I'd suggest Brock Vereen instead of Conte.

Mike: Rookie backup? Nah.

Tom: Rookie backup is a fair excuse.

Mike: I feel that Kenny Vaccaro is also a good candidate. The Saints basically set up a people mover in the middle of the field and let their opponents go for it. Run the ball? Sure, go for it. Outlet pass to convert third-and-one-zillion? The VIP quick-screening section is this way, sir!

Tom: Evans is listed as a free safety, so he and Vaccaro would be a good pairing.

Mike: I think that is a good match

Tom: Great.

Special Teams

Tom: Do you have strong feelings on any kickers or punters, or shall we just follow the numbers?

Mike: No feelings whatsoever.

Tom: How do you feel about the balance between kickoff value and FG/XP value? Nick Novak was average on scrimmage kicks and incredibly bad on free kicks.

Mike: I feel that free kicks aren't as important in all-touchback world we now live in.

Tom: He somehow finished with -15.85 Weather-adjusted Kick Points. Cairo Santos was second-worst at -5.44. He had 10 touchbacks on 78 kickoffs. He plays his home games in San Diego!

Mike: Amusingly, I picked up Cairo Santos in fantasy at one point.

Tom: I hope your fantasy league doesn't include kickoff-related points.

Mike: I am terrified at the idea of a fantasy league that gives points based on kickoffs.

Tom: If you want to focus on FG/XP value, Caleb Sturgis was the worst regular kicker, and was also below average on kickoffs.

Mike: He has both bases covered, then.

Tom: Caleb Sturgis it is then.

Mike: Also his name sounds like a weird non-FDA-approved fish that you might accidentally buy at an eastern market. Yes, that is a valid reason to include someone on the All-KCW team.

Tom: Drew Butler somehow survived as the Cardinals' punter basically all season. He was mediocre at best for pretty much all of it. Excluded blocking and aborted kicks, he is neck-and-neck with Jeff Locke of Minnesota, except Locke did an excellent job of limiting returns.

Mike: Calling Drew Butler mediocre is the kindest thing you have said about any player in our years writing this column, Tom.

Tom: Butler did average 48 yards per punt on five kicks against Atlanta, and didn't have any blocked. He averaged almost 46 yards a kick the next week. That's two straight non-terrible games.

Mike: Throw out Ray Guy's bust! We've got a new token punter for the Hall!

Tom: Did you know there have been more pure punters who began their career after the 1970 AFL/NFL merger elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame than there have been safeties?

Mike: That will be changing soon, though, as safety has gone from an afterthought to the centerpiece of more than a few great defenses.

Tom: OK, it was a bad idea to bring up that tangent.

Mike: Yep!

Tom: The profusion of teams with separate punt and kick returners has made it difficult to select a single player for a "return man" spot. The Cowboys' Dwayne Harris came out with below-average results on both jobs, which may be him or the players blocking for him, or both. There was not a single player like Joe Lefeged of the Colts a few years ago, who was really incredibly terrible at either job.

Mike: Not even Ted @#$%^#$ Ginn, Jr.

Tom: Alas. We can just let Percy Harvin return both punts and kicks for us. After all, he did finish last in kickoff return value by our numbers.

Mike: Thor: Kick Returner was pretty terrible.

Tom: Brenton Bersin?

Mike: Sssh, don't reveal his secret identity. (Does Thor even have a secret identity? Are there people who still actually care?) Anyway, small sample size, but he was atrocious in the limited time I saw him

Tom: He actually ranked OK in regular season kickoff return value, a job he split with Philly Brown. He also split the punt return job, where he had negative value in the regular season.

Mike: Fair enough.

Tom: We didn't pick returners last year. Just let Percy do it.

Mike: All right.

Head Coach

Tom: Hiring a previous head coach who has been to the Super Bowl is a great recipe for turning around your franchise after putting up with an inexperienced, underqualified head coach. Just ask the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, who replaced Greg Schiano and Mike Munchak with Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt and earned the first two picks in the draft! Other head coaches from the Keep Chopping Game Film nominees list include Jay Gruden, Mike Smith, and Marc Trestman.

Mike: It's hard to blame Trestman. I know he's an easy scapegoat, but the Bears' front office has been a mess for a while, and his team was based on an offense full of headcases. Even really cool headcases like Black Unicorn are still headcases!

Tom: The thing with Trestman is the way the team came apart, supported all the concerns, previously raised by Tim Brown, about whether he had the personnel management ability to be a good head coach.

Mike: It's frustrating that I can't give this award to Mike McCarthy.

Tom: Mike McCarthy's name will be appearing later this column, since we didn't include the awards last week.

The egg Atlanta laid in the season finale was embarrassing, but I wouldn't put Smith in the top tier of candidates. Jay Gruden, meanwhile, is coaching the NFL's most dysfunctional organization. The problems were not all of his own making. I like the coaches with the top two picks in the draft.

Mike: It's hard to argue against Lovie Smith, honestly. Yes, I know the Titans were in the end the worse team. But the Buccaneers sucked out loud, whereas the Titans just kind of limped along in their usual Titans way.

Tom: I actually voted for Whisenhunt when I cast my vote for the awards last week, just because his inflexibility and preferences helped turn an offense that was average in 2013 into a lousy one. On reflection, though, Smith is the better choice. The makeup of the offensive staff, and their inexperience and struggles to find a good play-caller after Jeff Tedford's health issue, are black marks against him. His inability to separate quarterbacks from their results is another one. The defense, always organized even when it wasn't great in Chicago, is a third. Yes, there's a story where the Buccaneers were close to winning a lot more games, and maybe they'll win a lot more games in 2015.

Anyway, since we're both on board with Smith, we have a full team and a coach to run them into the ground. Remember, there is no "I" in "team," just in "win."

Mike: There are two, however, in "epic failure."

Staff Playoff Fantasy Update

With most of his team around for championship weekend, Aaron got another strong performance from many of his players and moved into the overall lead. Tom is in second place, but trailing by 43 points with no players remaining, he has no shot at winning. Scott could have a chance with another big game from LeGarrette Blount, and plenty of Russell Wilson-to-Doug Baldwin passes. But, no, this contest is over barring something very odd happening.

FO Playoff Fantasy Update
Aaron Scott Vince Mike Andrew Tom
QB Tom Brady Russell Wilson Peyton Manning Tony Romo Ben Roethlisberger Aaron Rodgers
  56 43 12 39 17 34
RB Marshawn Lynch Jeremy Hill DeMarco Murray Le'Veon Bell Shane Vereen Eddie Lacy
  28 10 31 0 7 18
RB Jonas Gray LeGarrette Blount Justin Forsett Jonathan Stewart Joique Bell C.J. Anderson
  0 32 20 25 8 10
WR Jordy Nelson Demaryius Thomas Emmanuel Sanders Dez Bryant Antonio Brown T.Y. Hilton
  9 11 4 7 11 20
WR Brandon LaFell Doug Baldwin Calvin Johnson Martavis Bryant Randall Cobb Kelvin Benjamin
  14 17 8 12 23 22
WR Terrance Williams A.J. Green Torrey Smith Reggie Wayne Julian Edelman Wes Welker
  30 0 14 1 23 2
TE Gregg Olsen Heath Miller Coby Fleener Jason Witten Rob Gronkowski Julius Thomas
  8 5 8 13 24 5
K Adam Vinatieri Connor Barth Stephen Haushcka Dan Bailey Stephen Gostkowski Mason Crosby
  24 9 9 12 14 28
D Seahawks Cardinals Bengals Panthers Patriots Broncos
  14 8 0 7 5 1
Total 183 135 106 116 132 140

Best of the Rest

It was a bad week for most Best of the Rest selections. The most common players left were on Indianapolis, and Andrew Luck and Dan Herron did very little. The race for top Best of the Rest team is very tight; puffbronfman leads with 178 points, while justanothersteve, Sid, and surebrec each have 176 points. Of the four, though, only justanothersteve has a player left, Jermaine Kearse. A decent day from him could crown a champion. Lurking behind but still with potential dreams of a championship is Alec B, who has Robert Turbin, Danny Amendola, and Luke Willson remaining. Full scores may be seen here.

Awards!

Keep Chopping Wood: While we just named the All-KCW team, we still need to honor a player from the conference championship games that were. Your Scramble writers would love to be edgy and cool and hip and come up with a fascinating new nominee. Really, though, it has to be Brandon Bostick for fielding an onside kick he was coached not to field and then failing to possess it.

Mike Martz Award: Mike McCarthy coached the entire NFC Championship Game like he had the far superior team and it was just a matter of ensuring his squad did not screw things up. He kicked on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and the 2 in the first quarter. Even if you accept his later field goal attempt on fourth-and-1 from outside the red zone is a reasonable call (your Scramble writers had no issues with it), running the ball from the full house on the preceding third-and-3 was conservative. The entire fourth quarter was conservatively called on offense. Claiming after the game "The one statistic I had has as far as a target to hit was 20 rushing attempts in the second half, I felt would be a very important target to hit for our offense," does not make your Scramble writers feel any better about his performance.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 28 Jan 2015

39 comments, Last at 04 Feb 2015, 7:00am by dbt

Comments

1
by LyleNM :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:07pm

The defensive front seven has six names. Keep chopping arithmetic, boys.

4
by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:41pm

The subhead reads "Defensive Front," not front seven, and Tom says "If you want to play nickel, we just need another linebacker to go with our two D-linemen and pair of edge rushers."

I made this nomination, but since Tom and Mike didn't go with it, I'm listing it here: Based on our latest charting data (which is still not 100 percent complete), Seahawks RT Justin Britt led the league in blown blocks on passing plays ... despite playing for the team with the fewest pass plays in the league. That seems impossible.

10
by LyleNM :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:53pm

I quote:
Tom: Defensive front seven: Isma'aily Kitchen and Jeremiath Ratliff at defensive lineman, Greg Hardy and Aldon Smith are the edge rushers, and Paul Worrilow and Daryl Washington the linebackers. Now, everybody take the field. No, not you Aldon. Not you Greg. Not you Daryl.

And I agree with you about Britt. They probably didn't choose him because he ended up not preventing the team from winning enough. (Ugh, keep chopping sentence structure, Lyle.)

11
by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 3:04pm

Fair point. I'll fix that.

16
by Insancipitory :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 6:28pm

And only two clipping penalties for Britt too. Literally, more than 10% of the clipping called over the whole season.

2
by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:09pm

I don't why Mike keeps pounding on the "Vikings were so terrible" drum this year, unless he has determined that "so terrible" is a pretty big group. They were certainly below average, but 7-9, with four losses by 3 or less, 24th in DVOA, with a substantially higher DVOA than the typical 24th ranked team of the past decade, really isn't "so terrible" unless that term is drained of a lot of meaning. Hell, absent Peterson's wood chopping or (ugh) child whipping, the Vikings almost certainly have a winning record, and I'd argue a better than 50% chance of getting a wild card. I've already argued that the last 10 seasons are the worst 10 consecutive seasons any Vikings fan has witnessed, so I'm not homering here. They were just a a little better than a run of the mill 25th percentile team, with some young talent, and perhaps a returning top notch talent, to suggest the post season next year wouldn't take a huge leap.

15
by Steve in WI :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 6:17pm

Yeah, my reaction to saying that Ray Rice's absence hurt his team more than Adrian Peterson's is total disbelief. Rice had a terrible season in 2013, was replaced by a back who had a better-than-average season, and played on a team with a reliable veteran QB and a strong defense. AP is without question the biggest star on his team, and his absence completely changed the way teams had to defend against the Vikings.

18
by theslothook :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 7:40pm

They might have won that NE game had Peterson been playing. Seriously - that game unraveled purely because Cassel had a large say in the outcome.

19
by theslothook :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 7:40pm

They might have won that NE game had Peterson been playing. Seriously - that game unraveled purely because Cassel had a large say in the outcome.

23
by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 7:58pm

I think there is about a 95% chance they get 9 wins if Peterson plays 16 games, about a 80% chance they get to 10, and about a 65% chance they get to 11, because I think their offense would have climbed into the midteens by DVOA ranking, and their defense would have benefitted as well, maybe getting into the high teens. Combine that with top 10 special teams, and you can get to 10 wins without stretching much.

22
by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 7:52pm

I completely overlooked that assertion, it being so divorced from observable reality.

28
by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 12:27pm

The Ravens were in the playoffs so they could have been better, while the Vikings weren't, so they were hopeless. Bad logic.

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Who, me?

3
by jonnyblazin :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:30pm

Matt Elam at S for the Ravens makes a strong case to be on the team. If he wasn't a 1st round pick he never would have received the playing time he got, and he was just abysmal in every facet of the game. After he blew a tackle that led to a TD vs. the Pats he was benched, much to my amazement. It takes the Ravens coaching staff 18 weeks to figure out that this can't play?

20
by theslothook :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 7:40pm

Is this the first FIRST round defensive player that ozzie newsome has failed to hit on?

24
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 11:55pm

After watching Kareem Jackson's rookie season, and his subsequent career to date, I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be calling a DB a bust based on their performance as a rookie.

5
by Ben :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:46pm

I'd like to nominate Laron Landry for S. Starting with a PED suspension (to no one who's looked at his Instagram account surprise). Followed by his continued inability to cover and tackle, with a nice large contract to cap it off.

6
by jtr :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:46pm

I think Steelers DE Cam Thomas deserves a mention on the d-line. He seemed to get pushed way off the ball every single snap. Eventually the Steelers realized how terribly he was playing and tried to keep him off the field even after Keisel's injury left them with very little dline depth. I don't think it's a coincidence that Pittsburgh's run defense improved a bit late in the season as rookie Stephon Tuitt started taking Thomas' snaps.

7
by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:48pm

Oh, come on now, Tampa was terrible enough for multiple starters. Sure, Manuel was awful, but Josh McCown committed enough, "Hey, guys, I'm still Josh McCown" stupid plays to easily take the crown. I mean, Manuel's young and you can expect struggles. The simple fact the Bucs were dumb enough to anoint McCown the starter in the preseason should say it all.

12
by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 3:34pm

McCown also had a signature play.

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Who, me?

8
by oaktoon :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:52pm

I may be getting soft because the man lost his younger brother last week, but I've come to a far different view of McCarthy's role in the Packer defeat. By my count in what will, I hope, be forever known as the "No Mas" game (Peppers command to Burnett and the symbol of GB's futility from that point on in the game) there were 18 different "Stations of the Cross", where if any one of those plays or situations go differently, Green Bay almost certainly wins the game. McCarthy bears direct responsibility for only 2 of the 18-- one can hold him partly responsible for Shawn Slocum's position as special teams coordinator, and for the failed goal line offensive formations-- but in terms of direct playcalling impact I see 2 or 3 at the most.

Here we go:

1. Mike Daniels foolish taunting penalty following Clinton-Dix' first INT in he opening quarter. Daniels was not even on the field for that play. Instead of 1st and goal from the 4-- it became 1st and 10 from the 19. Yes they would get a 1st and goal two plays later-- but from the 7, not the 4. Yes, their failures from near the goal line might have reared their head anyway (see below)-- but 3 yards is 3 yards;

2. 2nd and 1 play to Kuhn on same possession. Originally ruled a TD-- replay showed him 6 inches short. Missed block by Bakhtiari or it's an easy score;

3. Next play--Lacy for nada. MM deserves partial blame here-- the two extra TEs-- Tretter (he's an OL, actually) and Taylor-- were both backed up. But how much did Rodgers' calf and decreased mobility play in these calls (Again, see below)?

4. Next play-- kicking the FG from 4th and 6 inches. OK-- here's the context. Until Rodgers hurt his calf vs TB, GB was 7 for 8 successful on plays from the opponent's 1 yard line. After that point, they were only 2 for 13 (one TD was Rodgers overruling MM and scoring on a sneak)in the final 4 games, culminating with the two previous plays. yes, not a misprint. 2 for 13 from the 1 yard line. Pretty astounding change-- I suspect MM simply lost confidence in his offense.

5-7. Three passes on subsequent drives that could/should have been TDs in the first half. Rodgers missed Adams over middle who had beat Sherman for an easy score. Nelson stumbled off the line and only got a hand on an out at the goal line. Rodgers led Cobb badly at the 33 where with a correct pass Cobb breaks the Seattle defense and probably scores. As it was, Packers come up a yard short of a first down. Two of these three are 100% on Rodgers and the third at least partially. As for the other two 4th and shorts-- a) they weren't less than a yard (the goal line play was a yard and a half/the play after the Cobb catch about exactly a yard) and see above for MM's thinking about his offense.

8. Second half-- Rodgers gets tangled up/trips-- unable to complete screen pass to Lacy with blockers and room ahead-- could easily have been 20-25 yard gain or more, and would have put GB in field goal position.

9. On their one 2nd half scoring drive, Starks drops a ball going into EZ on a wheel route. Packers settle for FG instead.

10. The dead ball foul that wasn't. Matthews sacks Wilson and with Wilson lying on ground a Seahawk (Sweezy?) leaps on him with a very late block. 15 yards but ruled part of play so Packers decline it. Mike Periera said later it should have been a dead ball foul and Seattle would have been 2nd and 46.

11. Two plays later-- 3rd and 19 and Capers elects to rush 3 with Jones actually playing spy, effectively making it a 2 man rush. After downing several cups of Seattle's Best, Wilson finds Baldwin for the first down. This becomes the fake FG drive.

12. The fake FG. Nothing more needs to be said about this breakdown.

13. Ha Ha's missed 3rd pick. True, Burnett would get one just a couple of minutes later, but Clinton-Dix had plenty of running room and who knows how the Packer offense-- in good field position-- plays it with 7+ minutes left. As it was they were pinned deep after a stop and....

14. Quarless' drop. 3rd and 4 and probably more on Rodgers since Quarless was well covered and this may not have been a drop, actually. Rodgers had Adams on a slant on the other side of the field. Bad decision. (And I didn't even count his two first half INTs in this list-- a very very mediocre game from the MVP) First down there and maybe McCarthy opens things up more in a game-clinching drive.

15. "No Mas". Painful that for all the good he did this season, Peppers will be most remembered for these two words, but he can ask Roberto Duran about that one day. The All 22 reveals a wide open left sideline and blockers available for Burnett against a Seattle offense that was mainly on the other side of the field. A TD was quite possible, a long gain inside the 25 or 30 probable, a gain at least to the other side of the 50 definite.

16. The Play-Calling on the subsequent series. Only mystery is whether or not Rodgers could/should have checked out of the runs, particularly the first two... And Bakhtiari blew a block on the first down give to Lacy that blew that play up. He executes and Lacy might have gained 5+ yards and everything is different.

17. Masthay's punt. Packers just signed a competitor for the off-season, which speaks volumes. Masthay's second half of season plus playoffs performance was the worst in his 5 year tenure in GB, capped off by a 31 yard stinker at the end of this series. Perhaps the Gb defense was going to be torched at this point anyway-- but the 10 yard line is very different than the 31 for Seattle's starting point;

18. Brandon Bostick. Nuff said here too.

I also don't include Clay Matthews' curious absence in the two subsequent Seattle scoring drives-- it may have been a concussion or Matthews so worried about a concussion he was avoiding the medical staff, but how is a player this valuable not on the field at the most important stage of the entire season? And I can't blame McCarthy for that.

Point is-- it is exhausting, isn't it? Think of the drag on the coaches, players and fan base for the next many months revisiting it?-- I don't think McCarthy is anywhere near the main culprit in this-- just one of many. If I had to identify two, it would be Rodgers and Slocum in some order, followed by Bakhtiari, Bostick and Peppers. And then and only then McCarthy.

25
by Anon Ymous :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 10:23am

The fake FG is on the coaches and it alone pushes it into all-time coaching blunder territory.

30
by oaktoon :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 1:11pm

Ha Ha-- forgot the "19th Nervous Breakdown"-- 19. Clinton-Dix's whiff on the 2 point conversion, though I maintain Seattle defends Rodgers very differently if they know he can drive for the win as opposed for the tie, with a FG....

33
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 5:55pm

No question, there were a large number of potential turning points and plays that could have gone one way or the other. There are in most close games, and there were probably particularly many in that game. I'd list the fourth down calls at the 1 as the most glaring, plus given that it's a weekly award, nobody else came close to McCarthy in my view.

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by oaktoon :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 10:29pm

with all due respect, this game blows the lid off 99% of games I've ever seen for turning points, many of them near-bizarre. And while Seattle made a boatload of mistakes, the Packers' errors both a) failed to build a safe lead early, and b) contributed to an historic collapse late.

As for the 4th and 1's, again I'll give you the first-- it was only 6 inches. And I'll duly criticize both the offense and the play-caller for their failures from the 1 in the final 4 games (TB/DET/DALL/SEA) while noting that I don't think Rodgers' calf-injury is entirely coincidental. If you believe your QB can't roll out, or run a bootleg, or maybe not even a sneak (though he did vs. TB-- but that was early in the injury's progression), and certainly not a QB draw-- it does both limit your play-calling and limit the options the defense must account for.

That said, when your team has gone 2 for its last 13 plays-- which is shockingly bad by anyone's standards from the 1, what coach is really going to then go for it from the 1 and a half (that was the placement for the second 4th down play)? And if you are building on a lead, doesn't the formula move to the FG in terms of expected points given the recent improving success rate (check out 538 on this a few days ago) from the third 4th and 1 spot-- which I think was near the 25??

I just think that, aside from the very first decision, McCarthy's other 4th and 1 judgments were much less important than allowing a fake FG TD, blowing an onside kick assignment, sitting down on a potentially game-sealing INT return, whiffing on a desperation 2 pt pass, and Rodgers' failure to execute normally successful passes that would have produced multiple TDs...

36
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 7:17pm

As a side note, Rodgers first int was due to a blown call. Michael Bennett was offsides. Rodgers assumed the refs were going to call it, and took a shot thinking he had a free play. Quite a few articles out there that talk about it, but it gets very little notice amongst the slew of other things from that game.

I didn't notice it watching live and thought it was a terrible throw, but if that gets called and the int on the first possession doesn't happen and that could be a major change in the complex, not to mention the outcome, of the game. It explains why Rodgers made what appeared to be one of his worst decisions as a QB in a long time, and while his performance was still not great, that play changing pushes him closer to average.

9
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:53pm

"Mike McCarthy coached the entire NFC Championship Game like he had the far superior team and it was just a matter of ensuring his squad did not screw things up."

And he was right. They lost because they screwed things up.

21
by theslothook :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 7:46pm

I didn't think GBs offense was good at all. It just was hidden by the fact that Seattle's was even worse.

13
by borntorun87 :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 4:01pm

Playoff fantasy scores link not working for me. Anyone else having this problem? Could just be my computer if not. Error is "the connection was reset".

The Separation is in the Preparation.

34
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 5:58pm

Try this link if you're having issues. I just double-checked, and it's set to "anyone can view" and working for me.

14
by BJR :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 5:34pm

Riley Cooper should be on the team for a) his terrible play, and b) the laughable decision to award him a rich contract and let DeSean Jackson walk.

17
by Steve in WI :: Thu, 01/29/2015 - 6:37pm

The comment about Jeremiah Ratliff's stop rate should be that he was the sixth-worst of all linemen, not all Bears linemen, right? Anyway, I'm surprised to see him on there because I actually thought he was one of the better parts of the Bears' defensive line...he missed time due to injury, but other than that, I'd take him over anyone else on that line except Willie Young.

Other Bears thoughts...I'd put Conte up for the safety award in spite of his injuries. And in fact, the way he kept getting injured was part of his overall badness too; since he kept getting hurt in ways that kept him out for only one game, or even just part of a game, the team never had the opportunity to move on from him and try somebody different. (Not that I expect that they had anyone notably *better* than Conte on the team, but could anyone else be worse?)

I think Trestman should not only win this year's KCW award, but if there's ever a lifetime achievement award for inept head coaching I'd put him at the top of that list. How anyone ever thought that he was qualified and capable of leading a team, I'll never know.

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by TomC :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 4:29pm

Agreed about Ratliff. The entire DL played pretty well; the tire fire was in the back seven. I would put up one of the LBs---either Briggs (for the BBQ restaurant fiasco then being bad then getting hurt) or McClellin (for being a black hole of suck at yet another position and sticking on the team only because Emery wouldn't admit his first ever pick was a bust)---instead of any DL.

[edit] Also, eff you, Kurtz, for getting that truly detestable song in my head. Though it's not entirely inappropriate, as Three Dog Night is definitely in the running for all-KCW band.

35
by Duke :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 6:07pm

Thirded for Ratliff actually being decent-to-good. And for sure, the worst part of the Bears D was in the LBs.

Also, I was shocked that Jay Cutler didn't receive even a mention at QB. Was his DYAR just too good to warrant a mention? I feel like you'd want to have someone to represent the tire fire that the Bears season became, and I don't know who else could do so.

37
by Steve in WI :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 7:19pm

I could probably be fairly accused of being a Cutler apologist, but I would submit the following in his defense (or at least, in defense of the point that he shouldn't be a KCW candidate):

1. The worst judgment you can make about his play was that it didn't live up to the unrealistic expectations of Emery and Trestman when the Bears decided to give him $54M guaranteed. He was basically the same Jay Cutler he has always been, somewhere around 15th best in the league, not terrible and not very good. Statistically, he had one of his best seasons in many of the conventional stats, with the exception of the number of turnovers (which, yes, is bad, but I would argue that so many of them came in out-of-hand games that he didn't really hurt the team enough to be a KCW kind of guy).

2. While, again, you can argue that he's not a leader, he also didn't do anything (that I've heard) to throw fuel on the fire with all of the locker room shenanigans that went on this year. He was accused of calling unauthorized audibles both into and out of running plays, his offensive coordinator threw him under the bus, and he responded pretty professionally to all of that. I know it sounds like faint praise to say that he didn't say anything stupid or inflammatory about the team, but the way 2014 went for the Bears, that's at least enough to elevate him about KCW status.

3. If you were to list all of the players/coaches who, for on-the-field or interpersonal reasons, significantly damaged the Bears in 2014, Cutler would have to be pretty far down the list. Marshall was a head case, so many players on the defense were terrible, Mel Tucker couldn't scheme to save his life, Trestman was completely out of touch with reality, and Phil Emery (I know there's no KCW award for GMs, but still) put all of this together and extended generous guaranteed-money contracts based on not much more than the fervent hope that guys could improve.

26
by Michael.Edits :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 11:27am

How does an all-KCW offensive line not include Byron Bell? I know my Panthers could be difficult to watch this year, but if I suffered through them, so can you? Byron Bell, human turnstile. Keep Chopping Wood.

(And you know who I'd have catching punts back there.)

27
by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 11:49am

You could easily build an all-KCW offensive line using only Tampa and Carolina. Dietrich-Smith was bad. Oniel Cousins and Anthony Collins were complete and utter train wrecks in every conceivable way. Cousins was occasionally spelled by Garrett Gilkey, who was even worse.

29
by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 12:33pm

For the Dolphins I nominate Philip Wheeler. Dallas Thomas would be a shoe-in if he hadn't been inserted in the lineup due to injury. Your stinky offensive linemen have nothing on him.

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Who, me?

31
by barf :: Fri, 01/30/2015 - 1:53pm

Mike McGlynn is a KCW Hall of Famer. Man does that guy stink at blocking.

39
by dbt :: Wed, 02/04/2015 - 7:00am

Sigh, I'm late to the party here, but I'm going to agree with those upthread that Ratliff was not the right pick. I'd actually suggest Lamarr Houston, who after being extra bad for half the season, missed the second half after injuring himself celebrating a sack -- on NE's backup QB when the Bears were down by 25.

Keep Choppin' Wood, Lamarr.