Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
30 Oct 2003
Have you been missing Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback since ESPN.com stopped publishing it? Well, look no more. Here is Tuesday Morning Quarterback, as put together by the readers of Football Outsiders as part of our Homage to TMQ Contest.
First things first. With many of the entries to the contest referencing the San Diego-Miami game that was moved to Arizona, I felt it was my duty to include a link where you can make donations to the San Diego Red Cross.
Second, for those who have not yet seen the explanation for why the Tuesday Morning Quarterback contest results are actually appearing on Thursday, my daughter Mirinae was born on Sunday. These are very exciting times in the Schatz household.
If you are coming here from various blogs and locations around the Web specifically to read the TMQ contest entries, please also take the time to look around Football Outsiders. Today we've also posted a new Scramble for the Ball, a new Loser League midseason report, and the Week 8 Team Efficiency Ratings. If you enjoy the site, please add your name to our email notification list (it's over on the left) so we can let you know when we add new original analysis (usually Tuesdays and Thursdays). The other part of our site, the Extra Points weblog and associated NFL discussion threads, are updated randomly all week long.
The lead for our TMQ article is probably the best example of TMQ-like writing we received. Unfortunately, we cannot declare it the winner because it mentions some of the things we specifically said not to mention. That's too bad for the writer, a Mr. "G. Easterbrook." This guy really knows how to get into TMQ's head.
All TMQ entries list the name of the person who wrote the item, and where they are writing from if given. Contest winner is listed at the end.
-- Aaron Schatz on behalf of the Outsiders
FEBRUARY 2, 2004. The NFL's new "flash mob" game site policy proved a resounding success as hundreds of thousands of people converged on George P. Miller Stadium, at the campus of Indiana of Pennsylvania University, to watch the Denver Broncos defeat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Beginning in October, when a Monday Night Football game was moved at the last moment from San Diego to Arizona owing to wildfires -- and the game became a ratings smash despite a lackluster pairing -- the NFL adopted a policy of not announcing game sites until as little as hours before kickoff. For instance, the planned November 16th Pittsburgh at San Francisco game was moved at the last minute to a high-school stadium in Ottumwa, Iowa. "Flash mob" instructions went out via Internet, and hundreds of thousands of people descended within hours on the town, causing a global media event that set ratings records. Some complained when the planned December 1st Tennessee at Jersey/B Monday Night game was moved at the last minute to a hockey rink in Alberta, Canada, but others said that playing on ice made the Jets look fast for the first time since the 1960s. "Setting aside some minor inconvenience to ticket holders and grounds crews," said commissioner Paul Tagliabue, "ratings have gone through the roof. This is the greatest promotional idea in league history."
Through the second half of the NFL season, "flash mob" instructions for the last-minute moves have been announced via the wildly popular Tuesday Morning Quarterback column. As everyone knows, Tuesday Morning Quarterback appears weekly on the web site of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Following the Super Bowl, President George W. Bush, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and retired film director Quentin Tarantino all called TMQ columnist Gregg Easterbrook to congratulate him. Miramax announced it planned a movie based on TMQ's life.
Denver quarterback Tom Matte was named Super Bowl MVP. "After Jeff George, Ryan Leaf, Heath Shuler, Don Strock, Roman Gabriel, Billy Kilmer, Gary Beban and Garo Yepremian all got hurt playing quarterback for us in the same week, it just seemed natural to turn to Matte," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan told reporters. The 65-year-old Matte became the first Medicare recipient ever awarded Super Bowl MVP honors.
Sweet Play of the Week #1: Jersey/B trails the Eagles 7-3 late in the first quarter, with a first-and-10 at their own 40. Aged starting/backup quarterback Vinny Testaverde hands the ball to Curtis Martin who charges toward the line of scrimmage, and -- oh my, flips it back to Testaverde. It's a flea-flicker!
Too many runners (and coaches) forget that the flea-flicker is fundamentally based on selling the run first, this mistake evidenced by the numerous flea-flickers that fail to net seven points each week. Martin sells the run fake so well that Jersey/B has not one, but two receivers deep downfield past the Eagles coverage. Santana Moss is the lucky gentlemen who gets to catch the TD pass. Curtis Conway, who is also past the secondary, throws a great block for good measure.
Added bonus: This play worked so well, Testaverde was removed from the game one series later! (Robert White)
Sweet Play of the Week #2: Jersey/A trails the Vikings 17-16 early in the fourth quarter and are forced to punt from their own 12-yard line. Jeff Feagles steps up to kick and -- blocked! -- by Jack Brewer. Another special teams collapse by Jersey/A! But wait, Vikes rookie Nate Burleson weakly reaches for the ball, only to see Jersey/A linebacker Wes Mallard pick up the ball and run forward, alertly realizing that the kicking team can advance blocked kicks that don't go past the line of scrimmage. Mallard does his best Tiki Barber impression, following blocks and ending up with a 13-yard gain -- first down, Jersey/A! Instead of a guaranteed figgie or a probable touchdown, the demoralized Vikes head back on defense. The rejuvenated Jersey/A ultimately scores twice more to ice the game.
So why is this the sweet/ sour play of the week? Mallard was supposed to block Brewer in the first place, but the young gentleman whiffed on his block.
Added bonus: Jersey/A head coach Jim Fassel makes his special teamers watch a film every Saturday night of wacky special teams events -- special teams see more wacky plays per snap than any other unit. Mallard said the required film study was one reason he instinctively grabbed the ball and ran with it. (Robert White; others mentioned this play also)
Sour Play of the Week: New Orleans Boy Scouts win the toss in overtime, causing Aaron Brooks to beat his chest in front of the opposition in great joy. About the coin toss! The football gods do not look kindly on this kind of rotomontade and exact their justice quickly. Michael Lewis returns the kick past midfield, which makes one think that the Scouts could get in field goal range easily. Wrong! Fourth and one at the Carolina 37-yard line. This is TMQ's famous Maroon Zone, where teams show their character. New Orleans goes for it, eschewing the long 54-yard field goal. Good idea, bad execution. Deuce McAllister up the middle, STUFFED behind the line by Julius Peppers causing a fumble. Carolina drives for the game-winning field goal. Scouts fans, prepare for a new coach next year. (Michael Murphy) This play also deserves mention as part of...
Best Example of Penance Before the Football Gods: In the first quarter of the Panthers-Boy Scouts collision Carolina faced a first and goal on the Boy Scouts' 7. This was after a poor punt by the Boy Scouts' Mitch Berger and the Panthers started on the Boy Scouts' 47. A field goal here is a victory for the defense while a touchdown sets the tone for the entire game. Since a run averages 3 yards (and Stephen Davis averages 5.1 yards), do the Panthers pound, pound, pound for the score? Run stuffed, incomplete, incomplete, field goal and a moral victory for the defense on a short field.
Two series later after an Aaron Brooks fumble, and a first and goal from the Boy Scouts' 1, the Panthers make up for their past transgression. Having failed to run in their last opportunity, what do they do? Run stuffed on first, Stephen Davis over right guard for the TD on second. They would repeat this scenario later in the game. Having now repented before the football gods twice in one game what would be their reward? The football gods would smile on them in overtime. After a huge kickoff return to the Panthers 46, and knowing that a first down by the Boy Scouts would practically seal the game, the Boy Scouts' Deuce McAllister fumbles on fourth and 1 at the Panthers 37. In homage, the Panthers pound, pound, pound to the winning field goal. (John Weilbaecher)
In another connection to a regular topic of TMQ obsession, Stephen Davis was cut by the 3-4 Indigenous Persons in the offseason for salary cap reasons, and now runs the football for 6-1 Carolina. The Carolina game also inspired this item...
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!: The Carolina Panthers face 2nd and 6 from their own 46 yard line with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter. Complete pass from Jake Delhomme to Walter Young, good for 37 yards to New Orleans 17-yard line. Wait: offensive pass interference means no play and a 10-yard penalty enforced. Now Carolina has 2nd and 16 from their own 36- yard line. IT'S A BLITZ! Delhomme completes a pass to Ricky Proehl for 9-yard gain to the Carolina 45 yard line. But wait: roughing the passer! 15 yards and an automatic first down at the New Orleans 40-yard line. Ye gods! Carolina scores a touchdown on a Stephen Davis one yard run to go up 20-17 with 3:46 to play. Since the average pass completion is only 7 yards, had the Saints not blitzed, the drive would have likely stalled and who knows what would have happened. ("Billy," Chicago, IL)
Invasion of the Body Switchers: It seems that les Mouflons have been playing better lately. Watching Marc Bulger zip lasers down the field was truly awe-inspiring. It seems as if the Alien Starcruiser didn't not take "Kurt Warner" back to the home world after all. It just transferred him into a younger, fresher body. Which moves me to Haiku:
"Kurt" back to home world?
No. Alien Starcruiser
gave him fresh body.
Of course there is another possible explanation. Again I Haiku:
Rams: No Marshall Faulk;
No Kurt Warner; Double up
The Ewing Effect.
(Bo McCroskey, New Orleans, LA)
'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Than Never to Have Rushed at All: While playing Jersey/B and leading 17 to 16 early in the 4th quarter, the Vikings face 3rd and 4 on Jersey/B's 33-yard line, the area of the field where logic dictates going for it on 4th down, do the Vikings pound, pound the ball? No! Vikings line up in shotgun formation. Result - incompletion, penalty, punt. Vikings give up two 4th quarter touchdowns and lose. (Raliegh Grantham, Ashland, OR)
Worst Pass-Wacky: The Pittsburgh Steelers seemed to signal a renewed commitment to the running game when they named Jerome Bettis the starter for Sunday's game against Les Mouflons. So what happened on the pass-wacky Steeler's first possession? Incomplete pass, incomplete pass, incomplete pass, punt. Ye Gods! (Eric Engler)
Best Block: Trailing 7-0, the Pittsburgh Steelers receive a punt from Les Mouflons de St. Louis on the Steelers 16-yard line. Antwaan Randle El moves towards the sideline avoiding defenders and is suddenly sprung free by a Pittsburgh defender slamming the last remaining Mouflon in Randle El's way. Result: 84-yard touchdown. (Andrew Rimby, Lansdowne, MD)
Who You Gonna Believe, The Referee or Your Own Lyin' Eyes?: When is a touchdown not a touchdown? This season, it depends on whether the football is run or thrown into the end zone. Recall the end of September's Texans vs. Jaguars contest. Two seconds left, 4th and inches. Texans QB David Carr jumps into the air and fumbles the ball at the top of the pile. Touchdown. Ball game.
Carr's TD was indistinguishable from a five-year-old jumping up in the air to drop Mommy's letter into the mailbox: jump and drop. "Breaking the plane" of the goal line for a nanosecond now equals touchdown, no matter what happens next.
Yet pass receivers are expected to do considerably more than just catch the ball in the end zone to earn the same touchdown. On Sunday, Baltimore Raven TE Todd Heap caught a pass in the Denver end zone and took at least one full step. After being blasted by a defender, Heap fell to the ground on his back and dropped the ball. Touchdown? No. After replay, officials ruled incomplete pass. Yet Heap had possession of the football in the end zone for several more seconds than Carr. A little consistency, please. (Jim Boulet, Jr.)
Great Googly Moogly: The Monday night game was played at Sun Devil Stadium, home of the Arizona (Warning: May Contain Football-Like Substance) Cardinals. The Cardinals generously allowed the putative home team, San Diego, to paint "Chargers" logos in the end zones because, hey, Arizona isn't using them. (Greg "Nacho Man" Jacobs, Woodberry Forest, VA)
Football Outsiders Homage to TMQ Exclusive: Well-regarded blogger (and former housemate of Outsiders Jason and Aaron) Chris Mooney was a high school fullback for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning at the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans (where Michael Lewis and Walter Isaacson are also alums). That gives him a connection to fellow left-leaning journalist Gregg Easterbrook! Chris Mooney writes about politics and science and has caught a pass by an Indianapolis Colt, while Gregg Easterbrook writes about politics and science and has made a pass at an Indianapolis Colts cheerleader. Not to mention a few from other teams. Remember, this is a Football Outsiders Homage to TMQ Exclusive!
It's Not a Double Reverse, It's a Squamish: In the Monday night game between the Miami Marine Mammals and the San Diego Chargers, David Boston of the Bolts lined up on the left side of the line. Tim Dwight was on lined up on the right side of the line. After the snap Boston headed RIGHT and received the handoff from quarterback Drew Brees. Boston continued right, then handed the football to Tim Dwight who was headed LEFT through the backfield. Announcer Al Michaels screams " it's a double reverse!" No, it's just a reverse. The ball headed right then changed direction once and headed left. (Kyle Wilson, Cary, NC; other readers sent in similar comments)
Worst Failure to Read TMQ: With the sun barely having gone down in the scorching Arizona desert, San Diego -- owners of the best throwback uniforms in the league -- inexplicably dressed head to toe in dark blue. The Chargers not only had the option to choose their white uniforms as the home team, but argued this point in a Week 2 game against the Broncos. The cooler Marine Mammals seemed more alive on every snap, and the rout was on from the opening series. (Jordy Singer, Brookline, MA)
More on Worst Failure to Read TMQ: Many of TMQ's objections to nouveau uniforms can be traced to teams opting to wear monochrome -- colored jerseys with colored pants. Proper dress for a football team is either (a) dark jersey with light, contrasting pants; (b) white jersey with colored pants; or, if necessary (c) white jersey with white pants. Therefore, I proposed a new TMQ immutable law: Dark Pants Plus Dark Jerseys Equals Ugly Loss. Cheerleaders may add skin tones as needed. (Greg "Nacho Man" Jacobs, Woodberry Forest, VA)
Second-Worst Failure to Read TMQ: At the start of the fourth quarter between the Miami Marine Mammals and the San Diego Chargers, the Chargers had first and goal inside the Miami 10 yard line. So did the Chargers run fake on first down and pass the ball, as TMQ advises? No. When Miami was expecting run, the Bolts ran for no gain. On second and goal, Miami is now expecting a play action pass. That is exactly what they get, and San Diego gets an incomplete. San Diego runs for one measly yard on third down, and forced to pass on fourth and goal down 24-3, they throw yet another incomplete. Miami takes over on downs and TMQ writes "game over" in his notebook. (Kyle Wilson, Cary, NC)
Those Who Do Not Learn From Game Film Are Doomed to Repeat It: Twice this season the Buffalo Bills have taken themselves out of close games by throwing incomplete on third and one, rather than just pounding the ball; TMQ analyzed those errors here and here. (Wait, the links don't work; TMQ seems to have disappeared from the ESPN website!) Throwing incomplete on short-yardage downs has been a recurrent theme for the Bills since they brought in pass-wacky offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Last season at Kansas City, Buffalo took itself out of a close game by reaching first and goal at the five and, rather than pounding the ball, going incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, field goal. TMQ analyzed that error here. (Hmm, that link doesn't work either.)
So did the Bills learn anything from their repeated pass-wacky collapses in short-yardage situations?
Trailing the undefeated Chiefs 21-2 late in the first half, Buffalo reached second and goal on the Kansas City two. All the Bills needed to do was pound, pound -- they averaged 5.1 yards per rush in the contest -- and a touchdown was likely. Plus, Buffalo had to score a touch in that situation; settling for a field goal would have waved the white flag. The fact that Buffalo had to score a touchdown meant coaches should have been thinking in four-down terms: and three straight runs from the two-yard-line was 90 percent likely to succeed. What did Buffalo do? Incompletion; incompletion; field goal. TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook, and so it was. Emboldened by Buffalo's mincing fraidy-cat approach, Kansas City marched the length of the field for a touchdown with 10 seconds left in the half, and the rout was on. Ye gods. (G. Easterbrook, "Chesapeake Watershed Region")
Cheerbabe of the Week: Tefeana of the San Diego Chargers is half Samoan but 100% gorgeous! Once again, the beach cities (Miami, San Diego, Tampa) have the best cheerbabes. I strongly encourage you to checkout her swimsuit photo. (Kyle Wilson, Cary, NC)
One haiku references the Denver Cyberponies' (gracefully aging) offensive coordinator, who was also historically Denver's best backup quarterback. Another references the startling revelation on Monday Night Football that Lighting Bolts signal-caller Drew Brees nearly attended football powerhouse Brown University, the official alma mater of most of the Football Outsiders. The last references this comment from the last ESPN TMQ column: "Every management decision [Daniel Snyder] has made with the Persons has been a boneheaded blunder."
What a cool contest!
Maybe the winner can have
Lunch with TMQ?
(Benjamin Muschel, New York, NY; Don't think that's gonna happen, Benjamin, sorry!)
Maybe Broncs should consider
(Jordy Singer, Brookline, MA)
Third Down and just Two;
Browns run a zero yard post?
Coach Butch job-watch starts...
(Brian Pokorny, Cleveland, OH)
Brees almost at Brown?
Drew, try learning distinction
Between blue and white.
Injuries! No more
(Joe Greenwich, Washington, DC)
Vermeil jacketed in cold,
Tastefully-named Williams in shirt sleeves,
Skimpy cheerbabes win it for Chiefs.
(Phil Agius, Crawley, England)
Fans in Atlanta
Are very happy this week;
Falcons had a bye.
(Sarah Brainerd, Atlanta, GA)
Hey, Lord Voldemort!
Think, then do the opposite--
Worked for Costanza!
Obscure College Score of the Week: McKendree 42, William Penn 23 Well, of course an entire team beat one guy, especially a guy who's been dead for nearly three centuries. Located in Oskaloosa, Iowa, William Penn broadcasts its games over the Internet at www.wmpenn.edu. According to its Web site, William Penn strives "To actively sustain an open and questioning learning community at the undergraduate and graduate level dedicated to excellence that will allow students to fully participate in the construction of their own futures." I'm glad William Penn wants students to have full participation as they construct their futures. I guess at other colleges students just sit idly by while their futures are constructed for them? (Mike Smith, Chicago, IL)
Bonus Obscure College Score of the Week: The official Obscure College of TMQ and alma mater of Boy Scouts' coach Jim Haslett, Indiana of Pennsylvania, defeated Lock Haven 45-20. This substitute TMQ would like to remind readers that this week's game against Shippensburg is Family Weekend at IUP, so bring the kids. (John Weilbaecher)
Superfluous Star Trek Mention: Well, as far as I know none of the Outsiders are big Trek fans, and nobody emailed any Trek comments in, but there has been an interesting discussion comparing the various Star Trek shows going on at the Volokh Conspiracy. (Aaron)
Oblivious Local Affiliate Watch: In Chicago, where football fans in high-rises can't get DirecTV even if they are willing to pay for it just for NFL games, NFL fans got only one game at noon, Lions-Bears, whose combined record was 2-10. After that game came to its merciful end, did the local Fox affiliate switch to the thrilling overtime conclusion of Panthers-Saints? Nope. Instead Chicago got the final few meaningless plays of the Giants-Vikings blowout. At 3 p.m., Chicago residents also got only one game, Eagles-Jets, whose combined record was 5-7. When will the NFL stop subjecting Chicago, the third-largest city in America, full of football fans, to terrible games? Why does DirecTV, a satellite system most Americans can't get, have a monopoly on the NFL Sunday Ticket pacakge? I'll vote for the first presidential candidate who says he's going to bust the DirecTV-NFL monopoly. Even if that candidate is Dennis Kucinich. (Mike Smith, Chicago, IL)
Most Embarrassing Dennis Miller Moment: Now, that's an old school TMQ item, but one worth bringing up this week now that California Republicans are urging Dennis Miller to run for Senator. Personally, I like Dennis, although fellow Outsider Jason hates his new pro-administration stance. If Dennis is elected to the Senate, he will bring the number of moderate, socially tolerant Republican senators not marginalized by the GOP leadership to one. (Aaron)
TMQ Grammar Snob: California is notorious for drivers who drive incredibly fast. Johnny Carson once reacted to the news report that 50.1% of CA drivers were found to observe the (then) 55mph speed limit (thus qualifying CA for renewal of federal interstate highway funds) by deadpanning that "the only time people out here drive 55mph is when they're changing a tire." Perhaps this is because throughout the great state of California there are highway signs that read "Speed Enforced By Aircraft". One presumes that in other states the aircraft are engaged in enforcing the speed limit, but in the Golden State our tax dollars are used to enforce speed. What will the aircraft do if your speed is not acceptable?
"Speed Enforced By Aircraft" signs
'cause fear of strafing.
Hidden Indicator of the Week: In the 16-13 upset victory by the Arizona (Warning: May Contain Football-Like Substance) Cardinals, Arizona kicker Tim Duncan missed three field goals while Squared Sevens kicker Owen Pochman missed two (after missing three against City of Tampa the week prior). This is the kind of hidden indicator that is essential to an insider's understanding of the sport. This time, you all know what it means, especially if you play in the Loser League or your name is "Todd Peterson." (Aaron)
Hidden TMQ Archives of the Week: Earlier in this column, we joked about the TMQ archives disappearing from ESPN.com. Actually, blogger Tien Mao has taken it upon himself to try to archive as many 2002-2003 TMQ columns as possible. Please go visit and bookmark his site.
AND NOW, PRIZES: We're going to give the rare TMQ Slate-era hat to Robert White for his Sweet Plays of the Week. He shows both a facility with language, a knowledge of TMQ obsessions, and a real understanding of football strategy. Robert, send us your address so that Gregg can get you one of his last remaining hats.
Since Gregg told us we could give away two hats, we'll also give one to Michael Murphy, whose TMQ-like entry in the discussion thread for the Week 7 team efficiency ratings gave us the idea to run a whole TMQ homage contest. His entry this week is pretty good, too, bringing back the Maroon Zone from the last TMQ column at ESPN.com. Michael, send on in your address as well.
Although we can't give him a hat, Greg Jacobs gets Honorable Mention for an entry that definitely had the Outsiders all laughing out loud. Great googly moogly! You can never, ever go wrong making fun of the Cardinals.
NEXT CONTEST: In a couple weeks, we'll run our second Football Outsiders homage contest, Homage to Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback. We recommend spending the next few weeks drinking lattes in preparation.