Brady, Gronk, and the Season's Best Commercials
NFL Week 12 - Andrew: Hello, and welcome to this slightly trimmed version of Scramble for the Ball, cutting a slimmer figure just in time for the start of the holiday season.
Bryan: Considering the sheer amount of food I'm making this year, and the lack of people to eat it, this is also probably the last week of the year when my figure could be reasonably described as "slim."
Andrew: I was talking about the article length, Bryan.
Bryan: And I was making a clever joke by intentionally misinterpreting you in the name of humor.
Andrew: This is how we end up with 12,000 words about a random late-round fantasy pick, isn't it? Ah, but not this week! This week, we're assailing you with videos you otherwise expend inordinate amounts of energy and Chrome extensions trying to avoid! No seven hours of commercial-free Week 11 football for us. Instead, we got to do research. The things we do for
Bryan: Of course, the odd part about your humble Scramblers reviewing commercials is that Andrew lives far away across the sea, and thus is not exposed to our ads on a regular basis. And my main screen during football Sundays is on NFL RedZone, the better to prep articles talking about the league as a whole. Between that and channel-flipping, I don't see much in the way of commercials either. Gonna be seeing a heck of a lot more of them this week, with three island games on Thursday to work through, and it's entirely possible the commercials will be more interesting than the actual games. So it's as good a time as any to get our heads around the content that makes up a good third of a football game these days.
This will be something of a blind review as we intentionally keep things light on a holiday weekend. Heck, by the time this goes up on Wednesday, I'm fairly sure all the other staff writers will have finished their work for the week and gone home—we'll be sure to get the lights out when we're done.
Andrew: As ever, we prefer to keep the commercial review to those that feature NFL personalities—whether players, coaches, broadcasters, or whatever—but we'll also feature one or two exceptionally brilliant or (more likely) exceptionally annoying examples that come up frequently during our Sunday viewing.
Andrew: Let me begin with this provocative question: is there any other aspect of modern life in which the phrase "like a good neighbor" evokes the image of Aaron Rodgers?
Bryan: Well, if you cross out the "good" part, I have certainly had neighbors talk my ear off about Joe Rogan while I have desperately tried to pay attention to literally anything else.
Andrew: If we ignore all of the external noise and focus just on the commercials themselves, I quite like this campaign. I particularly enjoy that the commercial we just linked plays on Rodgers as the Jeopardy! guest host and not just the famous quarterback; that's some smart scheduling right there.
Bryan: I will also say that Rodgers has a little more of a comedic personality than his co-pitchman Patrick Mahomes does at this point. Not a ton, mind you; these won't go down in history alongside some of the Manning ads of the past, but there's a little more to play off of there.
Andrew: Agreed fully on that. I was going to comment that the Mahomes solo commercials are generally much weaker than the Rodgers ones. Aaron Rodgers pretending to be a grungy guitarist is far more convincing than Mahomes trying to pass as floor staff at a shoe store.
Bryan: It's not that Mahomes has no presence—he was decent in the Hy-Vee commercials from a few years ago—but he's just a little stiff, all things considered. He hasn't developed kind of a go-to persona for these sorts of things yet; he ends up just sort of standing around and giving half-hearted responses to things.
Andrew: Right. They haven't really found a schtick for Mahomes yet. The Rodgers commercials are not only playing off his Jeopardy! stint, but also his reputation for being—how to put this?—less than receptive when things don't go his way. It's Rodgers' reputation as a grouch who would, say, ditch his best friend for giving somebody else access to his exclusive rate that makes the commercials work. Mahomes doesn't have that, so he feels a little shoehorned into somebody else's campaign.
Bryan: He's young and has time to develop this—and I hope he will, because goodness knows we're going to be seeing Mahomes ads for a decade to come—but this is one place where he's being outshined by veteran craftiness and experience.
Andrew: I will note that I began to find the Jeopardy! commercial annoying after the first few views, so I'm glad they appear to have moved over full-time to the aspiring musician ones. I know a lot of people didn't like this campaign, but I found it quite good as these things go.
Andrew: From one insurance company to another, and this advert is hilarious.
Bryan: You mentioned that you found that State Farm ad annoying after a few views. That's where Geico has you covered—they have a pretty extensive catalog now of dumb pun commercials, all of which are varying degrees of funny for a few weeks before getting old. Rotate these things out, keep them fresh—if I had to hear about an aunt infestation or issues with the neighbors fencing for years on end, I would go insane.
Andrew: You say "dumb pun" commercials, and I'm hoping you do so with approval. I love this series. You're right that the aunts commercial got a bit old, but as a Scot, the pipes making strange noises almost killed me via laughter-related cardiac arrest the first time I saw it.
Bryan: I'm a big fan of the clogging problem too. I think my sense of humor is too well-documented for me to pretend I'm above stupid, stupid puns, and nearly every one of these Geico bundling commercials has me actually laughing out loud the first time I saw them—which is extraordinarily rare for an ad! The Animal one might be the best of the bunch, but that's simply because it's using the Muppets, and the Muppets make anything better. That's scientifically proven by this point.
Andrew: It really does help that there's an extensive catalog, so you aren't just groaning at the same joke 20 times a football game, but I too am a sucker for a good pun, and this campaign is my very favorite.
Bryan: If you're going to take 30 seconds of my life to try to sell me something, at least make it entertaining. That's all I ask. These commercials succeed basically every time, and there's enough rotation for it to not drag me down too much.
Andrew: And even better, none of them feature that stupid gecko. Every Geico advert that doesn't include that is a win for my sanity.
Bryan: Oh, he's around, because I'm fairly sure the ad execs at Geico would explode if they didn't have five different ad campaigns running simultaneously:
As a connoisseur of both DVOA and trick plays, those last two ads are personal affronts.
Andrew: Scoop! There it is! Was the greatest commercial of 2020, bar none. The teenager's expression when her parents joined in was perfect. But that's last season. The puns are current, and clever, and change often enough to keep me amused.
Andrew: Another company with a broad array of different campaigns, Progressive's new sequence features Dr. Rick the Parental Life Coach trying to stop people from turning into their parents. I turn 40 next year and I just bought a house, so I am slap bang in the middle of the target market for this campaign. Some of these are wry-smile-inducing, but that's about as good as they get. Some give me that full revulsive body shiver that makes the TV want to eat my remote.
Bryan: I loathe Dr. Rick. While the Geico ads are the same style of joke over and over again, they are, in fact, different jokes. The Progressive ads are the same damn joke, repeated 10 times a commercial, just in new settings. It's lazy joke-telling. I'm not expecting a tight five or something from a commercial, but a step above "what's the deal with airline food?" would be very much appreciated.
I'm half-convinced they only exist to make the Baker Mayfield ad campaign look tolerable in comparison. That, too, is the same joke over and over, but it's a broad enough topic that at least the individual jokes are different enough from one another to not be quite as grating. And taking things back to the Mahomes talk from a few ads ago, Mayfield does at least have a character he's playing, which gives the ad something to build around. They don't really work for me on the whole, but compared to Dr. Rick, they're works of art.
Andrew: See, I find the Mayfield ones just plain dumb. Maybe I don't get the joke? What is the "at home with Baker Mayfield" tagline trying to communicate to me? That he lives in Cleveland Browns Stadium (no, sorry, not using the sponsor name, hate that)?
Bryan: We're objecting to using sponsor's names while reviewing commercials. Nope, don't see any hypocrisy in that, we're good.
Andrew: That's a whole other track to ride down. Seriously though, what's the point of the "at home with Baker Mayfield" sequence?
Bryan: Well, see, he lives at the stadium! You know, like all teachers live at school. It makes sense if you're six years old. Maybe that's the target market for insurance these days?
Andrew: If I don't have a clue what persona Mayfield is trying to pull in his ads, at least I know exactly what Rob Gronkowski is going for in the USAA campaign. But unlike the Rodgers set for State Farm, the Gronk set for USAA lacks one vital ingredient: subtlety.
Bryan: While I agree 100%, I'm not entirely sure asking Gronk to play things subtly would be a winning strategy. I think you either go full Gronk or don't get Gronked at all.
Andrew: No, sure, I get that subtlety is probably not his forte, but there are ways you could be clever with that. Having Gronk call excitedly down the phone, "oh, but I'm special!" is not one of them. You could play off his wrestling gigs, or the party boy persona, or something that isn't "look how thick I'm pretending to be."
Bryan: I think, if you want some diluted Gronk, you want the T-Mobile ad with him and Tom Brady, one of the very, very rare set of "good Brady" ads that exist. You get Gronk playing dopey Gronk, you get Brady playing super-perfectionist Brady, the whole 9 yards. That's the way to use Gronk; as a complementary player, rather than the focal point of your ad campaign. For that matter, it's the way to use Brady as well.
Andrew: That commercial is superb, hitting all the right notes. It's topical, it makes a point about the company in an entertaining and memorable way, and it makes very believable use of the two famous athletes in a way that also makes it plain why those are the athletes they chose. It's a shame it hasn't been around during this season, at least not that I have seen.
Bryan: Instead, we get Gronk schilling USAA and Brady standing vaguely in the same room as a Subway sandwich. For shame, advertisers. For shame.
Andrew: When it comes to food commercials, I'd take Marshawn Lynch over Tom Brady any day, and not just because I'm confident that my diet is far, far closer to Lynch and Uber Eats than Brady and The TB12 Method.
Bryan: I agree with that, though I think we're also damning a bit with faint praise here. It helps that Lynch's style makes it look like he's not even really acting—like he just showed up and they happened to film him talking about things. That's not what happened, mind you; dude's got a public persona like anyone else, but it feels much more lived in and natural (and not too far off from what we got on, say, the ManningCast) compared to Dez Bryant's version of the same ad (though the Catch 88 joke is a good one, and I acknowledge the propmaster).
That being said ... eh, this one has never done much for me. It started off with Patrick Stewart and Mark Hamill, and you would think such blatant pandering to me and my interests would have me enjoying this significantly, but no, I have always found them ranging between bland and annoying. Better than Subway! But bland and annoying notwithstanding.
Andrew: I think that's pretty much it for commercials featuring NFL players, though, which is itself rather disappointing. Even Corona appears to have moved on from Tony Romo, who was never as good at that slot as Jon Gruden anyway. That was another "best actor in somebody else's role" spot. There is one other commercial it would be remiss of us to omit though, because A) it's horrifying and B) it's about something horrifying.
Bryan: I will say one thing about it that I agree with: visiting an art museum may well be better on acid. That's what the commercial is about, right? At least, that's the immediate takeaway I get.
Andrew: On one level, Facebook is certainly about something surreal and artificial taking on a life and persona of its own. On another level, this is hypnotic and, as one of the other staff in our top-secret (d'oh, not anymore) staff discussion thread commented, feels like an attempted brainwashing. I have never dabbled with drugs, but that commercial is the first thing that has ever made me feel like maybe I should have. After re-watching, my eyes are trying to shrivel into the back of my skull in protest. It's a migraine given form.
Bryan: It reeks of middle-aged men trying to appeal to the Kids of Today without having any idea how to do so. Kids doing freaking Night at the Roxbury-esque moves to 1990s dancehall music definitely looks and sounds like the wave of the future to me.
Andrew: So we can all agree that the advert is creepy and weird, but not as creepy and weird as Facebook, and definitely not as creepy and weird as Mark Zuckerberg, right?
Bryan: The number of things as creepy and weird as the Zuck are few and far between, and as for their promised "Metaverse," the less said now the better, perhaps, or we're likely to go into another thousand-word rant.
Andrew: We have already wasted far too many words on this topic as it is. We promise, we'll get back to discussing actual football in some form next week. We wish everybody a very happy Thanksgiving, and we'll leave you with this week's awards.
Keep Choppin' Wood
With San Francisco already up 10-0 and driving in the second quarter of Sunday's game, it's likely that the continued on-field presence of Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins would not have had a significant impact on the outcome of the contest. However, it would be remiss of us not to highlight just how idiotic it is for any player, and especially a veteran starter, to get himself ejected for throwing a punch.
Rayshawn Jenkins has been ejected pic.twitter.com/6vUoatu02k
— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) November 21, 2021
49ers backup receiver Jauan Jennings was especially pleased with himself after goading the Jaguars starter into earning himself an early shower. Even worse, that was the second third-down stop negated by a penalty against Jenkins in just the first three drives.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
San Francisco's opening possession against the Jacksonville Jaguars was not so much a drive as a voyage, a 22-play odyssey that consumed the most clock time of any drive so far this century. At the end of that glacial migration, the 49ers faced fourth-and-1 from Jacksonville's 2-yard line. To that point, 15 of the 20 plays that hadn't been negated by penalty had gained at least 1 yard, so it seemed the obvious move when Kyle Shanahan had his team line up to go for it. However, Shanahan then not only second-guessed his decision, he burned a timeout to avoid turning a 20-yard field goal attempt into a 25-yard field goal attempt. He claimed after the game that the decision to go for it was "emotional," presumably to differentiate it from the rational, logical, analytically sound decision ... which would still have been to go for it. If Shanahan being emotional results in better fourth-down decision-making, somebody needs to sit that man down for a Bambi/Watership Down doubleheader before the Vikings come to town in Week 12. Or maybe Rudy, or something.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
Neither the Chargers nor the Steelers defense covered itself in glory in Sunday night's 78-point shootout. Sixty-eight of those points had already been scored when the Chargers faced fourth-and-1 in their own territory with the game tied at 34 and 3:48 remaining. Almost all other head coaches would punt in that situation—the only other coach we can find who attempted a fourth-and-1 from inside his own 35 with less than four minutes remaining in a tie game was, ironically, Staley's opposite number, Mike Tomlin, against the Raiders in 2012. The numbers suggest quite strongly that Brandon Staley made the right decision to go for it and try to convert. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, the resultant Steelers possession was the shortest scoring drive of the night, leaving the Chargers ample time to complete a game-winning drive of their own.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
Listen. Mike Tomlin (and Matt Canada). The Chargers entered the week dead last in rush defense DVOA. They were 26th against runs in the red zone. They were 30th in adjusted line yards up the middle. Run. The Ball. Down. Their. Throats. Instead, inside the Chargers 5-yard line, Pittsburgh ran 11 plays: seven passes, two Chase Claypool jet sweeps, and two Najee Harris runs into the middle of the line. The passes are what they are; I don't know why you use a first-round pick on a running back not to trust him at the goal line, but you do need some variety in your play calling. But two Claypool jet sweeps? Run the dang ball up the gut, Steelers; you don't need to overthink everything.
'Ernie Nevers Lives Again' Fantasy Player of the Week
Typically, we save this award for someone whom no one rostered going off—probably would have been Marquise Goodwin's 104 yards and touchdown this week, had we stuck with those guns. But we have to acknowledge Jonathan Taylor, with five scores and 204 yards from scrimmage, going well over 50 points in most formats. By Stathead's reckoning, Taylor's 53.4 points was the 22nd-most since 1950—not quite as much as Alvin Kamara managed on Christmas last season, but Taylor didn't touch the ball after the 6:30 mark in the fourth quarter.
When Taylor scored his fifth touchdown, I thought he had a chance at the oldest* unmatched individual record in the NFL: Ernie Nevers' 40-point day from Thanksgiving 1929. Nevers scored six touchdowns and kicked four extra points to set the record, but Taylor had 30 points ending the third quarter—he just needed two more scores to top Nevers for good. Sadly, Taylor was stopped on third-and-12 from the Buffalo 22 on the Colts penultimate drive. If he scores a touchdown there, maybe the Colts starters come out for their last drive to try for the record. As it is, the great 1920s fullback lives to see another day.
— NFL (@NFL) November 22, 2021
*There are a couple old records from the 1920s which have only been tied, such as Al Nesser's two fumble recovery touchdowns in a single game, which Jeremy Chinn matched last season, or Nevers' six rushing touchdowns in a game, matched by Kamara in his big day on Christmas. There's also Fritz Loven's record as the oldest person to return a blocked punt for a touchdown, which happened about a month before Nevers' 40-point day, but that record is boring and not something just anyone can break, so I'm not counting it.
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
Basically, the entire Jacksonville offense was made out of garbage time, considering the 49ers had more points than the Jaguars had first downs in the first half. We'll go with James Robinson, who gutted through an injury to ... well, not do very much, gaining 29 yards on the ground and catching a couple of short passes. He did score the Jaguars' only touchdown of the game, though, with 3:09 left and the backups in, so he at least made a bit of a dent on the fantasy sheet. And that helped at least someone out there…
— Dimers.com (@DimersCom) November 21, 2021
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
Oofdah, that 41-15 blowout was painful for a Bills team that has suddenly lost three of its last five games, all three against an AFC South that was broadly considered the weakest division in the conference. That defeat dropped the Bills from No. 1 in DVOA all the way down to No. 5, from prospective division leaders to firm second behind the Patriots, and they now go from a past schedule that ranked as the league's easiest by DVOA to a future schedule that ranks 11th-hardest. Fortunately, despite Indy's 41-point haul, the Bills still have the league's No. 1 defense by DVOA, which should be enough to keep them in the black against the struggling Saints, Panthers, Falcons, and Jets offenses over their final seven games.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
The Chargers were well on their way to Chargering, having surrendered a 17-point third-quarter lead and letting the Steelers actually jump out in front. We have all seen this script before, throughout multiple Charger administrations—no one, anywhere, finds a way to turn wins into losses like the ex-San Diegans. But maybe, just maybe, with Justin Herbert, we have turned over a new leaf.
Justin Herbert Mike Williams 53 yard TD!! This game is WILD! pic.twitter.com/iTi2Qw3RtD
— (@FTBVids_YT) November 22, 2021
On this play, reserve corner Arthur Maulet blitzes, leaving no one on Keenan Allen. That's OK, though, because Cameron Sutton moves inside to pick Allen up. But that leaves no one on Mike Williams. That should be rookie Tre Norwood's responsibility, but he doesn't move over at all, letting Williams get wide open and score. Maybe Sutton was supposed to stay outside, with Devin Bush supposed to cover Allen? That wouldn't explain why Jalen Guyton was being released free on the other side of the field, though—the entire coverage scheme was just a disaster from the beginning. Not so much a Steel Curtain as an Iron Pile of Fabric.
The winner of this game was going to move into a wild-card slot, so Williams' touchdown has the Chargers in and the Steelers out as we head into Thanksgiving. It's also a huge win for the Chargers as they try to keep pace with the Chiefs in the AFC West race; both teams have easy schedules the rest of the way, so it's important for Los Angeles to stay as close as they can in order for their Week 15 matchup to be for the division title.
Bryan: Perfectly balanced, as all things should be. Andrew and I are now tied in both the Lock of the Week and the Double Survival League as I took a hit with the Raiders' loss to the Bengals, erasing Andrew's loss of the Raiders to the Giants back in Week 9. Ah well. Makes for a more interesting stretch run at any rate.
For the record, Andrew can still gain ground with his Saints pick, as I saw New Orleans lose to Atlanta in Week 9, while I have room to gain ground on my Bills pick, as Andrew saw Buffalo fall to the Jaguars the same week. Week 9 made no sense.
Records to Date:
Bryan: I have had the ... dubious pleasure of watching all the Atlanta games this season as we prepare for next year's Almanac. I am still trying to figure out what exactly Atlanta does well, other than win games they're really not supposed to win. With a -42.7% DVOA, they are the worst 4-6 team of all time by our numbers, just pipping the 1992 Colts and 2017 Dolphins to the line. They don't do much well—basically, just get the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson, and his status for Week 12 is still up in the air as of press time. The Jaguars, at least, do do one thing well: they get pressure. They're very good at getting guys into the backfield and forcing quick decisions from opposing players, both in the pass and the run—at least, very good compared to the quality of your standard 2-8 team. They can't catch a pass to save their life, and they look quite frequently discombobulated and disorganized, but dang it, they can force errors. And against a Falcons team that likes to commit errors, that's enough for me to take Jacksonville (+1).
Andrew: I also like the Jaguars to cover that line, but it's not much of a contest if we pick the same teams. Instead, I'll look to the other NFC South bottom-feeder. Their win in Tennessee was undoubtedly a fluke, aided by a Titans team that was again without its top two wideouts for a significant portion of the game, but it also demonstrated that the Houston Texans are a completely different prospect with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback rather than Davis Mills. The Jets, meanwhile, are completely over the Mike White mini-revival, having faded back to the Joe Flacco doldrums. (And now both are out and Zach Wilson is starting again.) I like Houston as favorites, and I like them by more than three points. Houston (-3) over the N.Y. Jets.
Double Survival League
Records to Date:
Bryan: ATL, BUF, CAR, CHI, HOU, IND, JAX, NYJ, PHI, SF, TB, TEN
Andrew: CHI, DAL, HOU, JAX, LAC, MIA, NO, NYJ, PHI, SEA, TB, TEN
Andrew: With just six weeks of double survival left, we're starting to get down to the dregs of the league: teams we haven't been able to justify picking up to this point. Fortunately, both of my picks for this week are in more favorable situations than I had anticipated when I mapped out the picks. As I already noted, the Houston Texans just defeated the Titans in Tennessee behind a strong defensive performance and a much-improved offense with Tyrod Taylor back. They play ... uh, another team that beat the Titans earlier in the year, the New York Jets. I'm loathe to double down, but the Texans with Taylor at quarterback are a much stronger proposition than the Texans with Davis Mills, and they should still be too strong for Gang Green.
My second pick is the Chicago Bears, if for no other reason than to give me some incentive to watch the early game on Thursday. The Bears are playing the only winless team in the league, with starting quarterbacks Justin Fields and Jared Goff both likely absentees. Though Andy Dalton isn't exactly the greatest quarterback in football, he should be competent enough to let the offense function as a spot starter. I'm not sure the same can be said of Tim Boyle.
Bryan: By Immutable Scramble Law, we share a pick yet again—this is the last week I have the Houston Texans with a significant puncher's chance, unless the Seahawks just totally implode from dysfunction by mid-December. Not that the Texans' wins to this point have come in predictable games, mind you! But the Jets are capable of losing to just about anyone, and the Texans nearly qualify.
I'm certainly not taking the Bears with the rumors of Matt Nagy's employment circulating—and I might well be tempted to take the Lions here, had I not already used them back in Week 6. But I will cross off another dregs team: the Jacksonville Jaguars, who basically did nothing for three quarters last week. That means they're well rested, right? Their opponents are the Atlanta Falcons, who are technically still in the NFC wild-card hunt, but are fading like a poorly printed T-shirt left out in the Atlanta sun. Urban Meyer has always owned Georgia, going 5-1 in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in his time at Florida. Why should things in the pros be any different?