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» Scramble for the Ball: With All the Fixings

An idiot's (two idiots'?) guide to Thanksgiving football, prepped and primed for the monsters-in-law who only watch these three games in a year.

27 Sep 2017

Scramble for the Ball: Keepin' 'Em Keenum

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew: Week 3 of the 2017 season is now in the books, and what a stunningly bizarre and entertaining week it was! Remember when everybody was complaining that this season was boring? Was that really only five days ago?

Bryan: It feels like there are always these sorts of worries early on in the season -- "oh, this year is the worst ever!" -- until, well, the game proves otherwise. Part of it, I think, is a bit of recency bias. We remember the good games from last year and the year before, and forget that some games were a slog to get through then, too. There might also be something to the idea that the lack of regular preseason work or contact in practice means teams get off to a more sluggish start. That's worth looking into in the offseason.

But one thing that can't be denied is that this week's Quick Reads table is all wonky.

Andrew: Surely you don't object that strongly to Kirk Cousins ranking third?

Bryan: I object strongly to the implication that the quarterback battle for the 2016 Los Angeles Rams was apparently between two of the greatest quarterbacks the NFL has to offer. Keenum-Goff is the new gold standard, replacing Montana-Young. Apparently.

Andrew: It might actually be the gold standard ... for the weirdest 1-2 pairing in Quick Reads history. I went back through the aeons of time (well, through the Quick Reads spreadsheets as far as 2013), and the closest I can find to this week for weirdness is either:

Yes, 2013 was a strange season. That last one came during Foles' unstoppable half-season in Philadelphia, though, so wasn't that odd at the time. Maybe, in time, we'll have a different view of this week too: the week Hall-of-Famer Jared Goff finally overcame his historically inept rookie season, or suchlike. Crazier things have happened.

Bryan: And, to be fair, it's not all that rare for a bad quarterback to have a good week. Sure, it feels weird to see Case Keenum doing well against the Buccaneers here in 2017, but he's been good before. There was the time he beat the Buccaneers in 2016! And that time he beat the Buccaneers in 2015! And ... you know, are we sure he just doesn't really hate red and bay orange?

Andrew: Just one more proof that wins are not a quarterback stat: Case Keenum has a 3-0 career record against Jameis Winston.

Bryan: If Winston really wanted to come out victorious, he would have been out there playing free safety and knocking down the well-known beautiful deep ball that Keenum throws. Something something lack of passion for the game ... or something.

Andrew: Well to be fair, he could have just not thrown his own deep passes to Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, and Trae Waynes, but we digress.

Bryan: The more interesting note at the top of the list is Goff, of course. Coming into the season, Goff had -881 DYAR, 18th worst in NFL history. He's climbing out of that hole with his performances so far, but it just goes to show you -- there's a reason why all of these guys are NFL quarterbacks. Even the ones who have become punchlines and jokes are capable of playing great football; otherwise, they wouldn't have been drafted to begin with.

Andrew: And they certainly would not have been allowed to throw nearly enough passes to qualify for the worst-ever passing DYAR table.

Bryan: That's the worst kind of bad quarterback though, isn't it? The one who does just enough to keep the front office and coaching staff believing.

Andrew: The one who Bortles up his incompetence just so, making coaches believe they can eke out superior performance with a bit of offseason TLC.

Bryan: It's much better, in the long run, to be stuck with a Craig Krenzel -- someone who craters so hard and so quickly that it's readily apparent that no, this isn't the answer. Unless the question is "how bad can a football team be?" The quarterbacks at the bottom of the list have flashed enough potential, here and there, to dazzle observers into ignoring the ever-mounting evidence that they're not actually any good.

Andrew: Heck, sometimes that potential has even been flashed in actual, professional football games. Even Blaine Gabbert, king of the negative DYAR, has managed the occasional solid performance. It doesn't necessarily look like Case Keenum's this week, but take his two-touchdown performance in Jacksonville's 41-14 victory against the ... no, this can't be right. The Buccaneers AGAIN?!?

Bryan: They are catnip for terrible quarterbacks.

Andrew: That also wasn't actually a good performance. In fact, Gabbert's best performance -- by DVOA at least -- came in a 19-13 loss against the excellent 2015 Cardinals. He also managed two positive-DYAR performances last year, in his five weeks as the starter before Colin Kaepernick restructured his contract recovered from his offseason surgery.

Bryan: That Cardinals game gets extra note because it was the second time the 49ers had played Arizona that season. The first time, they were led by Kaepernick, who threw four interceptions in a 47-7 loss. So, for at least one week, Gabbert was in fact a much better option behind center than Kaepernick, which just feels wrong. You can see why Chip Kelly got suckered into the "maybe Gabbert is alright as my starting quarterback" narrative last year. And maybe why Bruce Arians got suckered into the "maybe Gabbert is alright as my backup quarterback" narrative this year. Guy knows how to audition, apparently. If he knew how to convert a third down from time to time, maybe he wouldn't be riding the pine.

Andrew: As for his competition for worst quarterback DYAR of all time ... maybe we should run a refresher on the list first:

Worst QBs, 1989-2016
QB DYAR Years Teams
Blaine Gabbert -1928 2011-2016 JAC/SF
Ryan Leaf -1388 1998-2001 SD/DAL
Josh McCown -1331 2002-2016 8TM
David Carr -1328 2002-2012 4TM
JaMarcus Russell -1261 2007-2009 OAK
Rick Mirer -1242 1993-2003 5TM
Trent Dilfer -1191 1994-2007 5TM
Kelly Stouffer -1158 1988-1992 SEA
Akili Smith -1140 1999-2002 CIN
John Skelton -997 2010-2012 ARI

(Ed. Note: We haven't had a chance to add 1986-1988 into totals yet, but Kelly Stouffer had an additional -23 DYAR in 1988. -- Aaron Schatz)

Bryan: Ryan Leaf's best day came on an October afternoon in 1998 against the division rival Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks ranked fourth against the pass in DVOA that season, with Shawn Springs locking down receivers and Cortez Kennedy, Michael Sinclair, and Chad Brown dominating at the point of attack. They couldn't shake the rookie Leaf, though. Despite bruising his ribs on the first play from scrimmage, Leaf went 25-of-52 for 281 yards and a touchdown in a controversial 20-27 Chargers loss. The winning margin came on a very questionable "simultaneous reception" ruling, when Joey Galloway and Terrance Shaw were fighting for possession. The referee fell down, but ruled it Seahawks ball at the 2. Galloway even later admitted that Shaw had more possession than he did.

Wait, the Chargers lost a controversial game at the end? You're kidding me. Have they been snakebit forever?

Andrew: You remember Marlon McCree and Troy Brown, right? Or Nate Kaeding in the 2009 Divisional Round against the Jets? What I'm saying is yes, yes they have.

Bryan: Leaf was robbed! Robbed, I say! Which means his career record as a starter should be, uh, 5-20.

Andrew: Josh McCown may well prove the best example of our point about these guys all being professionals for a reason, as McCown's best game was a bona fide, legitimate, honest-to-goodness good day, rather than merely "a good day by Josh McCown's standards." In fact, without it, he would be a clear second-worst on our list, and a genuine threat to Gabbert for the overall title. Against Dallas in Week 14 of -- you guessed it -- 2013, McCown posted a career-high 238 DYAR, second only to Peyton Manning for that weekend. On that day, he completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions and only one sack. He also had a rushing touchdown, thus accounting for all five of Chicago's end zone visits as the Bears crushed the Cowboys on Monday Night Football, 45-28.

Bryan: McCown has been living off that game, and that season, ever since. He managed 669 DYAR that season (passing and rushing combined). He has never been above 123 in the rest of his career, and usually is in the triple-digit negatives. Maybe you can give the Buccaneers (again!) the benefit of the doubt for thinking that 2013 was a turning point in his career and not an aberration. But what about the Browns and Jets signing him since then? Baffling.

David Carr's best game, of course, came last year with the Oakland Rai-- wait, David Carr. My mistake.

To find a good David Carr game, you're looking for days when his offensive line kept him from being flattened into the pavement. Let's take a trip back to 2004, when we had a battle between, and this is a direct quote, "emerging young quarterbacks" Carr and Byron Leftwich. I'm not entirely sure what Carr was supposed to be emerging into, but he looked very solid in a 20-6 Texans victory over the Jaguars. He went 26-for-34 with a touchdown and, most importantly, no sacks! Finding a no-sack game for Carr is like finding a needle in a haystack; he only had seven in his 79 career starts, but he held his own against an above-average Jacksonville pass rush and delivered a key divisional win. In fact, three of his top 12 ANY/A days came against the Jaguars. Maybe bad quarterbacks should just find ways to play the Florida teams as much as possible.

Andrew: Looking at recent history for the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Jaguars, that's probably a safe bet.

The final guy on our bottom five might be the most extreme. JaMarcus Russell only had one complete season as a full-time starter for the Oakland Raiders: 2008. That wasn't when he set his record though. In fact, he actually had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2008. It was 2009 when he completely imploded, tossing a mere three touchdowns to 11 interceptions, completing under 49 percent of his passes, and accumulating -835 DYAR in only nine starts. It's not quite the worst per-game figure ever seen -- in only seven starts each, Kelly Stouffer managed -837 DYAR in 1992 and Alex Smith had -866 DYAR in 2005 -- but it was definitely the worst half-season we've seen from a guy who already had more than a season's worth of starts under his belt. Every single player to have had a worse individual season than JaMarcus Russell's 2009 was a rookie (David Carr, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles, Alex Smith, and Stouffer) except Bobby Hoying in 1998, a third-round pick in his third season with only six starts to his name.

Bryan: There's a strong argument that Russell is the biggest bust in NFL history, but that's an article for another time.

Andrew: Anyway, Russell's best game as a professional probably came in Week 16 of 2008, when he was 18-of-25 for 236 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-16 road win against the Houston Texans. Russell's Raiders took the lead on their opening drive with a 20-yard strike to Chaz Schilens. Vonta Leach tied things up with a 1-yard plunge on Houston's opening drive, then the teams hit two field goals each before Russell hit Johnnie Lee Higgins deep left for a 29-yard strike. Houston punted, Higgins returned that 80 yards for a touchdown, and a late Texans field goal gave us the 27-16 final score. It was the final multi-touchdown game of Russell's career, as he flamed out spectacularly the following season.

Bryan: I suppose the moral of the story is to not get suckered in by a solid performance or two from your quarterback, especially if it's out of character for them. Just because a Jacoby Brissett or a Blake Bortles shows up in the top 10 of a Quick Reads doesn't necessarily mean they're the long-term solution.

Andrew: Only Josh McCown wasn't taken in the top ten of their respective drafts. There are many, many component morals to this story. Only one of those is that anybody can have a good day. If we were meaner of spirit, we would look at the very, very bad days the best five have ever had, but then we would be denying ourselves a free future article this article would probably be too long.

Bryan: And as we all know, brevity is the soul of wit. And so we've cut this article in half, which makes us half-wits.

Andrew: Or merciful. However you want to word it.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: I mean, it's Joe Flacco. You knew it was Joe Flacco, I knew it was Joe Flacco, everyone knew it was Joe Flacco. He threw for 28 yards and two interceptions! You've got to back nearly a decade before you can find performances that bad, down to the Bruce Gradkowskis and Joey Harringtons of the world. Flacco scored -3 points, which takes over as the lowest score of the year so far.

Running Back: Jay Ajayi did briefly leave the game with an injury, so maybe he can use that as an excuse for his poor day. The Dolphins fell behind early, so Ajayi only had 11 touches for 25 yards, leaving him at just 1 point on the day.

Wide Receiver: Goose Egg Brigade roll call! With no catches, welcome J.J. Nelson. With single-digit yards receiving, say hello to Mike Wallace, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Jeremy Maclin. And, with a key fumble, it's Seth Roberts. Oakland having three receivers on this list might go a way to explaining their loss to Washington.

Kicker: When your team can't score points, your kicker isn't going to do very much. So don't worry, Justin Tucker. Your 1 point doesn't mean we're calling you a loser. It means we're calling your team losers for driving their London fans stark Raven mad.

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: We have a correction! Cody Parkey managed to avoid the Loser League's watchful eyes with a clever disguise -- to be precise, he changed uniform numbers this offseason as he changed teams, and so the spreadsheet missed him. That disguise has now been compromised, so he's stats now do in fact count for the Loser League. That means his missed extra point gives him a score of -5, making HIM this week's loser. Your subterfuge has been discovered, Parkey! We're on to you!

Check out the score for your Loser League team here!

Awards

Keep Choppin' Wood: There is nothing your humble Scramble team could write that would make this any crazier, funnier, or stupider than it already is:

This is not just a "this season" All-KCW Moment, this is truly an all-time All-KCW Moment. A DeSean Jackson-level KCW Moment. The fact that the Bears took a false start on the ensuing play, after a massive delay as the referees figured out what to do, only makes it funnier. Congratulations, Marcus Cooper. Your name is now etched firmly into NFL folklore.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win The Game: This would have gone to John Fox, had his Bears scored a touchdown on the untimed down after Cooper's Folly. Alas, a false start deprived him of the opportunity, and bravado was in short supply elsewhere, leaving this award vacant for this week.

John Fox Award for Conservatism: Bill O'Brien's decision to kick a field goal in New England was conservative, but it was at least defensible for O'Brien to force a Patriots offense that had gone three-and-out in its previous two drives to drive the length of the field for a touchdown. No such defense for Ron Rivera who, when faced with fourth-and-5 from the SAINTS' 35-yard line, down 24-6 in the middle of the third quarter ... punted. The punt, unsurprisingly, resulted in a touchback, netting the Panthers a gargantuan 15 yards of field position. Against the Saints, even with his quarterback still struggling to get started this season, that decision is indefensible. Sounds like Riverboat Ron needs a new boat.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: Seventeen seconds aren't a lifetime in the NFL, but it's not nothing, either. It's enough time for two or three plays down the field, especially if you have a timeout sitting in your pocket. The Eagles, for example, scored their game-winning field goal this week on a drive that started with just 13 seconds left. It's not nothing!

This was the situation that Marvin Lewis found himself in. Green Bay had just scored a touchdown to make the score 24-23, and were lining up for the game-tying extra point. But Cincinnati was going to get the ball back, and still sat on a timeout -- that's enough time for a deep shot to A.J. Green, a timeout, and then a shot at a game-winning field goal, right? Instead, Lewis opted to use that last timeout to … ice the kicker. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work. Lewis also burned a timeout before the first play of overtime to add to his clock management woes.

"Pirate Killer" Fantasy Player of the Week: Case Keenum has a 7-18 record as a starter against 31 NFL teams … and a 3-0 record against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has beaten them in each of the last three seasons, playing the best football of his career. His career passer rating is 80.3, but that rises to 128.9 when playing against Tampa Bay. He has two games in his career with at least 13 adjusted yards per attempt; both came against Tampa Bay. So maybe it isn't shocking he threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in relief of the injured Sam Bradford. The Vikings are not currently scheduled to play the Buccaneers in 2018, but Keenum is a free agent this offseason, so expect him to lead the 49ers to victory at Raymond James Stadium next year.

Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: Well, at least the Buccaneers showed up for the second half. After the Stefon Diggs touchdown that gave Minnesota a 28-3 lead early in the third quarter, Jameis Winston finally woke up. Against softer defenses, Winston was 17-for-21 for 196 yards and both of his touchdowns the rest of the way, with each of those scores coming with Tampa Bay down at least 21 points. That's more yardage than six starting quarterbacks managed in an entire game this week, and it didn't matter because the Buccaneers simply couldn't buy a stop.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: There's not much joy to be found in a 44-7 blowout at the hands of a team quarterbacked by the immortal Blake Bortles, but the Ravens did at least achieve one thing color guys love at Wembley. That's right, they were able to Establish the Run! Well ... sort of. Baltimore had only 19 yards at halftime, albeit on a meager seven attempts. After the interval, however, the Ravens racked up a further 115 yards on 18 plays to finish with 134 rushing yards on 25 attempts, a respectable 5.4 yards per carry. That's a very good number in ordinary circumstances. Sadly, what happened at Wembley was far from ordinary circumstances.

Game-Changing Play of the Week: The NFL rule book is a deep and confusing tome at times, but we all know Rule 88.d -- all controversial game-ending touchdown calls must go against the Detroit Lions.

Scott already said plenty about this play and the drive in Clutch Encounters, but there are a couple other points to make with a play like this:

  • I'm glad I'm not a referee. I do believe the call was the right one -- it looks like Golden Tate's knee brushes the grass. But man, is it close.
  • Running a pass route short of the end zone when a stop ends the game may not, in fact, be ideal. A slant is the best route to run short of the yard to gain, but it still leaves you open for getting tackled in the field of play.
  • You need a clock runoff rule of some kind in these situations. It's unfair for a team to get a free timeout because of referee error.
  • A ten-second runoff is somewhat arbitrary. It was a standard set in the 1950s, and the game has changed since then. It's worth looking into the offseason, to see if adjusting the amount of time taken off the clock makes sense. Could the Lions have gotten to the line of scrimmage if the refs had made the correct call? I doubt it; the confusion about whether it was a touchdown or not would have eaten a second or two, and then you've got to get lined up properly and everything. But it's not a definite no, and the fact that they didn't get to try feels unfair.

By PFR's win probability metric, the Lions lost 49.4 percent of win probability on the play. By our numbers, the Lions lost 10.4 percent in their odds to win the North. You could argue, then, that this one play cost them more than five percentage points towards the division title. That's not good.

It also cost Bryan his Lock of the Week, so therefore, it must have been the wrong call.

Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Andrew: Never bet on the Browns, kids; much as they are tempting against the offensive line-less Bengals, I've learned my lesson. Instead, I'm going with something much more traditional: picking against the Chargers. The Eagles are this week's visitors to wherever it is Philip Rivers plays his home games nowadays. If the Lachers' game against the Dolphins is any indication, Philly may bring most of the crowd with them, too. There's no point spread on this one, and I like the Eagles to win outright, so that's a pick of Philadelphia (even) at L.A. Chargers.

Bryan: Had Golden Tate's arms been 6 inches longer, I would be undefeated. C'est la vie. I'll stick with the NFC North and predict a Thursday Night snoozefest and take Green Bay (minus-7.5) over Chicago. I'm aware Chicago just beat Pittsburgh, but they certainly didn't outplay Pittsburgh. The sorts of mistakes the Bears made (i.e., the fumbles and interceptions) against Pittsburgh are unlikely to be unpunished two weeks in a row. I would more comfortable if this was an even touchdown line, but I still like Aaron Rodgers and Co., with or without their starting tackles.

Records to date:
Bryan: 1-1
Andrew: 1-1

Football Outsiders doesn't answer fantasy questions on Twitter, so if you don't have a Premium subscription and access to the 24-hour Fantasy Answering Service, the Scramble mailbag is one way to get a Football Outsiders answer to your fantasy questions! Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, great games by terrible quarterbacks, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter on 27 Sep 2017

16 comments, Last at 29 Sep 2017, 3:46pm by Happy Fun Paul

Comments

1
by Travis :: Wed, 09/27/2017 - 12:43pm

Kicker: When your team can't score points, your kicker isn't going to do very much. So don't worry, Justin Tucker. Your 1 point doesn't mean we're calling you a loser. It means we're calling your team losers for driving their London fans stark Raven mad.

Cody Parkey's only attempt of the day was a missed extra point.

2
by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 09/27/2017 - 12:52pm

Good catch! For some reason, the missed extra point wasn't listed on the spreadsheet. We'll fix that.

5
by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 09/27/2017 - 1:16pm

Aha! We figured out what happened.

Cody Parkey changed his uniform number. Every year, we go through and make sure that no one has done this, so everyone shows up in the system correctly. We go through the stats from Week 1 and find any mysterious blanks; that's a sure sign that someone has changed their number and needs to be updated in the system.

But...Miami didn't play in Week 1. So Parkey's uniform switcheroo went unnoticed. His clever ploy to avoid Loser Leaguedom has now been squashed!

((We've also gone back and updated his score from Week 2))

3
by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 09/27/2017 - 1:09pm

I give you a running gag and you thank me by focusing on that game. Sigh.

To filter down Case Keenum's stats, Keenum has led his team to eight wins the past three seasons, meaning Tampa is responsible for 37.5% of his win total since the start of the 2015 season.

Also, fun fact; of Tampa's 11 defensive starters (as of the first game), three of them didn't suit up due to injury. Seven of the others went out for at least one play during the game. The only guy who didn't get injured? Chris Conte.

I guess it's hard to get injured when you're either constantly whiffing on tackles or five yards away from the guy you're supposed to be covering.

4
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 09/27/2017 - 1:15pm

"Running a pass route short of the end zone when a stop ends the game may not, in fact, be ideal. A slant is the best route to run short of the yard to gain, but it still leaves you open for getting tackled in the field of play."

Be be fair, WR Kenny Golloday got jammed into Tate's intended path, forcing him to alter his route to get around him:

https://twitter.com/twitter/statuses/912810398080004096

Brian Poole was quite the hero for Atlanta on the final play: not only did he make a great play on jamming Golloday, he also touched Tate down right before he went into the endzone.

6
by xydux :: Wed, 09/27/2017 - 8:01pm

If you're still taking suggestions for awards to give out, I have one.

The Dennis Green Award for Letting 'Em Off The Hook
A team has a game where they just play lousily and confirm the bad impressions given of them all year, but still win. This award would go to their opponents for letting them off the hook. My nominees for this past week would be the Steelers for letting the Bears win despite having no passing game whatsoever (although the Steelers might plausibly later be on the giving end of this award if their offense continues to be stagnant) or the Bengals for not taking advantage of the Packers defense and allowing Rodgers a chance to come back.

"They are who we thought they were, and we let 'em off the hook!"

7
by Ivarsson.se :: Thu, 09/28/2017 - 6:41am

If you're taking suggestions for that award this week, how about the Texans not trying for the game-icing first down - giving Brady a shot at a comeback?

8
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 09/28/2017 - 9:14am

Clutch encounters quoted the win percentages for Houston as 81.2% going for 4th&1 vs kicking the FG (72%)

Both of those figures are good but neither is so surefire that I'd consider it "icing the game" any more than the other.

I also don't think coaches are supercomputerlike enough to be able to tell the difference between two decisions that have less than 10% difference.

9
by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 09/28/2017 - 10:12am

Coaches are also conditioned by their environment to take the option that results in least blame if their team goes on to lose. I've just been typing up some notes on that today, for my own edification, and it really is remarkable just how many NFL coaches -- and I mean top-level, successful guys like Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells -- are quoted stating that the despair of defeat is greater for them than the joy of victory.

I'm beginning to think of self-preservation as a much bigger part of why coaches are so wary of making unconventional moves, like it would have been for O'Brien to go for that fourth down. Their environment conditions their thinking such that they view anything unconventional as something else they can be blamed for when they lose, rather than something that will support their endeavor to win. That's a difficult obstacle to overcome, both for the coaches themselves and the analysts attempting to persuade them.

That's one of the reasons I personally prefer the Hermie award to the Foxie (and I was gutted when Fox himself was deprived of the chance to win the Hermie).

10
by Alternator :: Thu, 09/28/2017 - 11:19am

Look at the heat Belichick took after he went for it on 4th and 2 against the Colts, a very similar parallel (playing against a team with a much better offense than defense, conversion perceived as ending the game), and that's In Bill We Trust! Nobody else in the NFL has his job security or pack accomplishments to minimize blame.

I don't blame O'Brien in the slightest for taking the three points.

14
by jtr :: Thu, 09/28/2017 - 4:00pm

Mike Smith's Falcons went for it on fourth down twice against the Giants in the 2011 Wild Card game, and failed both times on QB sneaks. Smith took so much heat for those decisions that it completely broke him on fourth down, and he became terribly risk-averse from then on. Ironically, one of those failed fourth-down conversions set up the only Falcons points of the game, as the Giants managed to drive backwards for a safety on a drive that started on the Falcons 24 yardline!

11
by Eddo :: Thu, 09/28/2017 - 11:30am

The "icing" bit would be if they converted the first down. I'm not sure what the win probability would be in that case, but certainly higher than 81% (which was accounting for the outcome of not converting).

12
by Bryan Knowles :: Thu, 09/28/2017 - 1:12pm

Assuming they had exactly gotten the first down, with no extra yardage, their win probability would have been about 98%.

Now, I'm using PFR's numbers, which are slightly different than what Scott uses. It's also worth noting, of course, but it's close enough for government work. If you were SURE you could convert the fourth-and-1, going for it is the only logical decision. Under the circumstances, I think it's just about as obvious -- even if you fail, you're pinning them deep. The field goal keeps it a one score game, so either way, you're going to have to trust your defense to bail you out. And the Patriots would likely have worse field position on a failed conversion attempt than they would on the ensuing kickoff after a field goal.

Whenever you can keep the ball out of Tom Brady's hands, it's pretty much the right call.

15
by Eddo :: Fri, 09/29/2017 - 1:35pm

Agreed.

13
by xydux :: Thu, 09/28/2017 - 3:19pm

I don't think that would quite count; while the Patriots defense proved to be worthy of its last place DVOA, their offense hummed along nicely (or looked to do so, I don't know, I didn't watch the game). That's more of a "John Fox" award, and even there I'd say it was a defensible move. There, the Patriots were who we thought they were: a team that can still pull off a comeback with Brady under center, even if the defense is questionable. The game-icer would have helped if they make it, but I don't think that's an automatic call, and I don't think that the Texans "let them off the hook" so much as the Patriots offense took care of business on the final drive.

The REAL thing that annoyed me–and this is something that left me angry AND I ONLY CAUGHT THE LAST TWO MINUTES OF THE GAME–was the end of game sequence. Down 3, the Texans throw a quasi-deep pass caught at about midfield and brought down in-bounds; well, with one timeout that's acceptable. What's UNacceptable is the fact that NOBODY on the Texans sideline or on the field was prepared to call timeout with thirteen seconds left. Watson only realizes nobody's called timeout when there are six seconds left, and then the officials don't notice until there are two seconds left. Those lost ten seconds (later, the clock was reset to three seconds) were painfully incompetent in terms of mismanagement. The refs deserve a fair amount of blame for not noticing Watson calling timeout with six seconds left and letting four (later adjusted to three) seconds run off; that's a screwup on their part. But on the Texans part, you HAVE to use your timeout as soon as the knee touches down!

I realize I'm preaching to the choir, but this was just FRUSTRATING to watch. The mismanagement there turns it from having two, maybe three plays (completion and step out of bounds, field goal attempt/hail mary) to one play–and that play is going to be either a hail mary or a hook-and-ladder. Either way, it was horrible coaching from Bill O'Buttchin, and it's one of those things that convinces me that maybe teams should hire a coach whose entire job is to manage the clock. (Not all teams need this, sure, but clock mishaps like this happen often enough that it would improve the game. Marvin Lewis using a timeout before the first play of overtime is another example from just this week.)

16
by Happy Fun Paul :: Fri, 09/29/2017 - 3:46pm

The way I interpreted the end-of-game sequence was that (with 13 seconds remaining) Watson was attempting to rush everyone up to the line of scrimmage, spike the ball, throw one pass (possibly to the middle of the field, since they would have had one timeout left), then attempt a field goal to tie. Watson then realized, "Crap, there's no way we're going to be able to spike it in time, much less have a pass and a kick afterward" and only then called a timeout. But yeah, the coaching staff should have realized that was going to happen, and called a timeout immediately after the end of the previous play.

Regardless, as a Patriots fan, I commented at the time, "Ah yes, our most effective defense this year seems to be 'incompetent offense by the other team.'"