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Do defenses really wear out over the course of a game? Do defenses benefit from long drives that give them more time to rest on the sideline? Guest columnist Ben Baldwin investigates.

19 Nov 2004

Scramble for the Ball: Being Joe Gibbs

Vivek: Put yourselves into the shoes of Mr. Gibbs prior to Sunday's home game against Cincinnati. You have done some scouting, and see the following chart on how opposing rushers did against the Bengals' defense through October:

Date Opponent Rushing Yds Allowed Leading Opposing Rusher - Yards
9/12 NY Jets 219 Curtis Martin - 196
9/19 Miami 25 Lamar Gordon - 22
9/26 Baltimore 254 Jamal Lewis - 186
10/3 Pittsburgh 165 Duce Staley - 123
10/17 Cleveland 139 William Green - 115
10/25 Denver 123 Rueben Droughns - 110
10/31 Tennessee 163 Chris Brown - 147
11/7 Dallas 109 RaShard Lee - 39

Let me do the math for you -- 149 rushing yards allowed per game, and that factors in the Dolphins and the Cowboys. Even more telling is the fact that only one rushing attempt (a Jamal Lewis 75-yard TD run) was more than 25 yards. Teams have been pounding the ball against Cincinnati and obviously succeeding.

So what do you decide to do come kickoff time -- pass the ball. Yes, pass the ball. At least that is what Gibbs decided to do. Maybe Gibbs had taken whatever Anna Nicole Smith took on Sunday. The Redskins had run 11 pass plays and only six runs when Gibbs finally switched to Patrick Ramsey. By that time, the Redskins were already down 17-0 and were forced to pass versus giving the ball to Clinton Portis. Portis only had twenty attempts on the day.

At least Gibbs has already accepted the fact that the Mark Brunell project failed, and named Ramsey the starter for next week against the Eagles. This move was just the first of three, which coincidentally occurred right after we ran through the QB controversies last week.

Al: Yet even more evidence that this is the greatest column in the history of columns.

I fear for Washington that the Brunell contract will be what keeps them from contending with Joe Gibbs back as coach. Now as a Giant fan, I'm happy, since it is weakness in the NFC East that will lead to a Super Bowl championship in 2009. If the Skins cut Brunell after this season, which I think they almost have to at this point, he'll be worth about $9 million on the Redskin cap for next year while he's backing up A. J. Feeley in Miami.

This is a team that has some major holes on the offensive line that might not be filled with $9 million in dead money taking up cap space. When you think of a Joe Gibbs offense and running attack, you think of the counter trey. But Gibbs' offenses of the 80's were also great at running John Riggins right up the middle behind center Jeff Bostic (who might have a good case for the Hall of Fame. How is it that only four centers who played their careers in the Super Bowl era have been inducted into the Hall? Do balls just snap themselves? Yet, I digress). This year, no one has been worse at running behind center than the Redskins have been this year.

So like I said, I should be excited about the failures of the Redskins since it means that the Giants have an easier road to the playoffs, right? Maybe they would, if they stop deciding that games are over once they score 14 points and have a lead. The past two weeks, once that has happened, NY has gone penalty crazy. The Giants handed the Cardinals nearly 100 yards on penalties. On the Cardinals' three scoring drives, the Giants gave Arizona 57 yards on penalties. Combine that with another poor pass blocking day from the offensive line, a quarterback that looks more punch drunk than Evander Holyfield, and a fake punt attempt that even Miss Cleo could see coming and the Giant playoff hopes are dwindling away.

Speaking of playoff hopes, it's about time again for us to revisit or playoff predictions. Before the season, the Outsiders staff gave their picks as to who would make the post season. After Week 3, we revisited our picks and I jumped off two playoff bandwagons. The one catch, though, was that once we said a team was out of it, we couldn't come back later in the year to say they'd make the playoffs. So, are our playoff picks as of Week 4 and the teams whose bandwagons we jumped off:

Al Vivek
AFC East Jets Patriots
AFC North Steelers Ravens
AFC South Colts Colts
AFC West Chiefs Broncos
AFC WC Jaguars Chiefs
AFC WC Patriots Jets
NFC East Redskins Eagles
NFC North Vikings Vikings
NFC South Buccaneers Falcons
NFC West Seahawks Rams
NFC WC Eagles Packers
NFC WC Cardinals Seahawks
Off the Wagon Ravens
Off the Wagon Titans

Vivek: My NFC picks are staying exactly the same. I was worried about the Giants getting into the wild card slot, but thanks to a Swiss cheese-like offensive line, that worry has been put to rest. The Packers' secondary will help the Vikings fight off that charge in the NFC North.

The AFC does need some reworking though. I thought that the Chiefs would be able to overcome an 0-3 start, but they are three games off the pace for both the Wild Card and AFC West title. Replacing the Chiefs in the playoffs are the Steelers, who will hold on to the AFC North title and bump the Ravens to the wild card round.

Al: I guess I have to come to the realization that the Redskins aren't winning the NFC East. So, the Eagles go there and that opens up a NFC Wildcard spot. I also can't hold onto the hopes that Tampa will somehow overcome a four game deficit and take the NFC South. Atlanta's the easy choice there. The Panthers are going nowhere and the Saints are a complete mess. I might as well keep the Vikings as the NFC North champ, but I'm not crazy about that pick. They haven't won since Randy Moss went out with an injury. If he can't come back at close to full strength in the next couple of weeks, they might not even make the playoffs. Same thing with Seattle. I picked them to be in first, they're still in first, so I'm not running away. I still think the Cardinals have a great shot at making the wild card. They should take the Panthers this week to make it to .500. After that they have four out of six games at home, where Arizona is 3-1, only losing to New England.

For the final NFC Wild card team, I'm also going with Green Bay. Their defense has been much better since Grady Jackson returned from an injury while their offense has been respectable the entire year. There are only two games on their remaining schedule, @PHI and @MIN, where the Packers wouldn't be a serious favorite. The Rams have some tough road games the next two weeks and don't have any pushovers at home. The Giants will be lucky to win two more games this year. The Bears would need to play flawless defense over the second half to squeak into the playoffs, and I don't see that happening with Brian Urlacher possibly gone for the year. Detroit? I can't take any team seriously as a playoff threat when they're thinking about voluntarily starting Mike McMahon.

In the AFC, my picks are a little more solid. I have to replace the Jets with the Pats, since I don't see New York picking up two games with Quincy Carter at the helm for at least another month. I was one of the first to jump on the Steeler bandwagon and I'm not getting off now. The Colts should be able to squeak out a division title over the Jaguars. Indy won't face a tough defense on the road until Week 17. I like Jacksonville's schedule as well, but it looks to be just a bit tougher than Indianapolis', so the Jaguars end up with one of the wildcard spots. I have no idea what to think about the West. I'd love to stick with the Chiefs, but unless they somehow beat New England this week, they could be four games out with only six to play. So, it's between Denver and San Diego. I'll take the Chargers. Both teams have easy schedules remaining, but they place each other once more in San Diego. That's enough to push things over into San Diego's camp for me.

However, I do think that the Broncos will beat out the Jets and Ravens for the final wildcard spot. The Jets defense isn't good enough to carry them while Quincy Carter is behind center. He looked a competent quarterback for a half against Baltimore, but at halftime someone reminded him that he was Quincy Carter and he quickly returned to form. Plus New York finishes with four very tough games -- at Pittsburgh and St. Louis and home against the Seahawks and Patriots. As for the Ravens, I can't in good conscience pick a team that almost allowed Quincy Carter to beat them a week ago. One of these weeks Ed Reed is going to stop intercepting balls in the end zone and returning them past midfield. When that happens, Baltimore will be in big trouble. Plus, I jumped off their bandwagon after Week 3, so I can't jump back on now.

So, here are our updated playoff predictions with changes in italics:

Al Vivek
AFC East Patriots Patriots
AFC North Steelers Steelers
AFC South Colts Colts
AFC West Broncos Broncos
AFC WC Jaguars Ravens
AFC WC Chargers Jets
NFC East Eagles Eagles
NFC North Vikings Vikings
NFC South Falcons Falcons
NFC West Seahawks Rams
NFC WC Packers Packers
NFC WC Cardinals Seahawks
Off the Wagon Ravens Chiefs
Off the Wagon Titans
Off the Wagon Jets
Off the Wagon Redskins
Off the Wagon Buccaneers
Off the Wagon Chiefs

What Did We Learn from Week 10?

Lesson 1 -- Payton Manning Will Break Dan Marino's Touchdown Record

Vivek: Pop quiz: How many of Manning's last 11 touchdowns have been caught by Marvin Harrison? Answer: None. The fact that Payton Manning can make Brandon Stokley, his third option, an All-Pro receiver is amazing. The fact that the Colts are on pace to have three 1100 yard receivers is amazing. The fact that the Colts could have five players who catch ten touchdown passes is amazing. Put those targets together and you have potentially 55 touchdown tosses for Manning. Just amazing.

Lesson 2 -- The Terrell Owens/Desperate Housewives Opening Was Blown Out of Proportion

Vivek: To be honest, I did not find that offensive at all, but I understand the fact that viewers were turning in expecting to see football and had Nicollette Sheridan propositioning TO in the locker room. Add that to the fact that the spot aired at 6 pm on the West Coast, and I'll see where some people are coming from. My biggest knock on the spot was that I just thought it was plain dumb and unrelated to football. But for Tony Dungy to declare the skit racist is ridiculous. There were no racial overtones when the league decided to use Terrell Owens. Thank god that Dungy is not running ABC's promo department, or else we would have seen Joy Behar coming onto David Akers.

ABC was trying to be edgy and succeeded. I guarantee that the network will see a huge increase in viewership for Desperate Housewives this Sunday for the 18-34 male demographic.

Al: And now people will start tuning in to MNF at 9 pm instead of waiting for the pregame crap to finish and play to begin at around 9:15. This is a perfect story for the media to grab a hold of during the middle of the football season. No one cares about basketball yet, there haven't been any significant baseball deals and hockey has completely disappeared. What else is there to talk about on sports radio or PTI this week?

Scramble for the Ball Mailbag

Vivek: Remember that you can send us your fantasy and other NFL questions to us at scramble@footballoutsiders.com. Sid from Queens (no, not that Sid) asks:

Who should I start? I have to start two QB this week. My options are Marc Bulger at Buffalo, Matt Hasselbeck at home against the Dolphins and Michael Vick at the Giants. I guess my biggest decision is Vick or Bulger. Bulger might have difficulty on the road in Buffalo but Vick has been so inconsistent this year that I'm nervous to start him. I'm only a game out of the playoffs so I can't afford to make a mistake.

Al: Thanks Sid. I'd go with Bulger and Hasselbeck. You just don't know which Vick is going to show up this week. I agree that Bulger might struggle at Buffalo, but he's been pretty good on the road this year.

Our next question is from Lou in Stoughton, MA. Lou asks:

I'm in a keeper league and I'm already thinking about next year. Are there any backup running backs that you'd suggest picking up who might be starting somewhere next year? Thanks.

Al: Travis Henry is an obvious choice. I just can't see the Bills holding onto both him and McGahee. There's also Michael Bennett in Minnesota. The Vikings will have no use for him next year with Onterrio Smith, Mewelde Moore, and Moe Williams already on the roster. For a real deep sleeper, I'd look at Maurice Morris in Seattle. I'll give a hat tip to my former partner Ian for this one. Alexander's going to be looking for a big contract this summer and I'm not so sure the Seahawks will be willing to pay it. Seattle's offensive line is good enough that whoever they have back there running the ball should be successful.

Vivek: Al, I was expecting you to go with Ron Dayne (note extreme sarcasm). Morris was my suggestion for a sleeper pick, but I'd also keep an eye out for Marcel Shipp. Emmitt Smith is having a solid year, but the race for the starting RB spot will be up for grabs in the offseason.

Keep Choppin' Wood Award

Vivek: A 60-yard field goal can end an overtime game. So can an interception returned for a touchdown, an 80-yard run, a Hail Mary... but a safety? Billy Volek let himself get sacked on back-to-back plays within his own 10-yard line, the last resulting in a fumble and the game-ending safety.

Al: In a world where a halfback doesn't throw a pass directly into the hands of the best safety in the league with his team up two touchdowns, maybe Volek gets the award. But Lamont Jordan epitomized what this award is all about. The Jets had victory in their grasp but Jordan quickly snapped that away and put the Ravens right back into the ballgame. Instead of a virtually certain 17-0 lead if Jordan realized no one was open and just threw the ball away, the Ravens had a measely 36 yards to go before pulling within a touchdown. Even an offense as putrid from Baltimore will get into the end zone if you let them start a drive at your 36 yard line.

Survivor League Update

Al: I'm still hanging on. My one remaining team had some great Week 9 performances to carry them through this latest scoring period. These Guys are Good were knocked out, leaving Ian with a four teams to one advantage over me. Poor performances from the team's wide receivers in Week 10 and two weeks of bad point totals out of the team's tight ends, defenses and kickers lead to These Guys are Good's demise. I'm not planning on winning this thing, since my team has no backup running back or wide receiver with Stephen Davis and Deion Branch on the sidelines, but at least I'm making Ian a little nervous.

Loser League Update

Al: First off, congratulations to Pat Laverty for his tremendous performance in the weekly loser league draft among the Outsiders crew that inspired our open Loser League Contest. Pat scored an amazing 106 points. I had actual fantasy teams that didn't do that well last week. Here's the record-setting squad:

QB: Kyle Boller-- 18 points (213 yards, 2 TDs)
RB: Onterrio Smith -- 24 points (21 yards rushing, 13 yards receiving, receiving TD, and the penalty)
RB: Emmitt Smith -- 18 points (67 yards, 2 TDs)
WR: Muhsin Muhammad -- 30 points (123 yards, 3 TDs)
WR: Cedrick Wilson -- 10 points (101 yards)
K: John Kasay -- 6 points (2 FG)

As for our second half Loser League contest, it started off with a bit of a whimper. No one had a truly impressive week with the Dayton Ducks scoring 42 points for the low score of the week. Here are the Loser League All-Stars for Week 10:

QB: Drew Bledsoe, BUF -- 0 points (10 completions, 50 yards, 1 INT)
RB: Chris Brown, TEN -- -2 points (10 carries, 29 yards, 1 catch, 6 yards, 2 fumbles)
RB: Warrick Dunn, ATL -- 3 points (9 carries, 34 yards, 1 catch, 5 yards)
WR: Donald Driver, GB -- 0 points (1 rush, 14 yards, 2 carries, 19 yards, 1 fumble)
WR: David Givens, NE -- 0 points (2 catches, 8 yards)
K: Kris Brown, HOU -- 0 points (2 XP, 0-1 FG)

Best Bets

Al: (2-1 last week, 15-15 overall) Wow. Good job there, Viv. I 'm in awe of your perfect 0-5 performance. I almost had a perfect week myself. If only my slam dunk, lock of the season pick, the Packers, didn't allow the Vikings to pass all over them in the fourth quarter I would have gone 3-0. Nevertheless, I'm back at .500. Normally the person with the worst record the week before picks first, but that hasn't seemed to work too well for you, so I'll change things up in hopes of improving your luck so maybe you can make a contest out of this.

CHICAGO +7 over Indianapolis

I'd be a lot more confident about this pick without Brian Urlacher on the sidelines. However, I think the Bear defense is good enough that they can still cover without him. The Bears have covered for three straight weeks, while the Colts have missed the spread in three of their last four. Plus, you have a dome team playing on the road, outdoors in the cold weather. Always a good bet.

JACKSONVILLE -3 over Tennessee

Tennessee is still getting way too much respect from oddsmakers. I just don't see how the Jaguars are only getting the three point home team boost from the line. They should be at least a six point favorite here. The Titans defense is one of the worst in the league in stopping the run. Fred Taylor has put up 100+ rushing yards in two of the last three weeks. I like his chances of doing it again this week.

NY Jets Pick 'em over CLEVELAND

On the one hand, it's Quincy Carter on the road. On the other hand, the Browns are just a bad football team. They do nothing well. I've been scouring statistics to try to find something they're above average at, but there's nothing there. The best thing I can say about them is that they have a good kicker. That's not enough to beat the Jets.

Vivek: (0-5 last week, 11-25 overall) I'm by no means a betting guru, but this is getting ridiculous. Remind me to scratch Mark Brunell, Jerome Bettis, and Luke Petitgout off my Christmas card list.

Washington +10.5 over PHILADELPHIA

We commence with the Patrick Ramsey era... again. I think we'll see a much better performance from the Redskins' offense than we did last week against Cincinnati.

New England -3 over KANSAS CITY

Chiefs - Priest Holmes - invincibility factor for Arrowhead + the Pats starting another long winning streak = New England winning by nine.

San Diego -4 over OAKLAND

Drew Brees & Co. spooked the Raiders on Halloween and will do the same this week. The Raiders' pass defense cemented Brees' place as an MVP candidate.

St. Louis -1 over BUFFALO

J.P. Losman anyone?

Posted by: scramble on 19 Nov 2004



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