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29 Sep 2010

Scramble for the Ball: Let Them Score

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Let Them Score

Tom: Both of this week's prime-time games featured interesting end-of-game scenarios. The Jets had first-and-goal at the 5-yard line with 2:24 to play, leading by one, and the Dolphins having all three timeouts remaining. Meanwhile, the Bears had first-and-goal at the 9-yard line with 1:44 remaining in a tie game with the Packers, who had one timeout.

Mike: Yes. Conventional wisdom states that you must fight tooth and nail to prevent your opponent from scoring, and that any time you give up points, regardless of context, is a failure. But does there come a time when it makes more sense for a defense to fall on its sword?

Tom: We actually have a famous historical example of a defense choosing to do just that: the Packers against the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. Mike Holmgren ordered his defense to let Terrell Davis walk into the end zone in order to preserve time for a comeback.

Mike: There is also a corollary of intentional safeties, which are not unheard of and are actually even less advantageous for the team since they surrender both possession and good field position afterward.

Tom: Intentional safeties can make a great deal of sense, depending on the amount of time left and the score. For example, Jeff Fisher opted to take the safety with three-point lead and less than 10 seconds to play in the Titans' win at Jacksonville in 1999. I'd almost venture to say any coach who didn't take an intentional safety to run out the clock in that situation was wrong.

Mike: And the intentional safety is nearly a central part of the mystique that has developed around Bill Belichick. Clearly, there are times when you have to retreat in order to move forward.

Tom: Right.

Mike: The question is, then, when should a team pack up its defense and let them score? As you noted, this week gave us some good material on this subject.

Tom: More importantly, I think the two games gave us different situations with different results in terms of whether or not to let them score. To me, there are two differences between the two situations. First, the Jets were up one point. A touchdown would mean the Dolphins needed a touchdown -- itself difficult -- plus a two-point conversion, merely to tie. Whereas if Miami played defense, they could hold the Jets to a field goal and win the game with a touchdown. With a (roughly) 60 percent chance of a two-point conversion and 50 percent chance to win a tied game, their chance of scoring a touchdown needs to be vastly decreased by playing defense for "let them score" to make sense. And they had two timeouts, plus the two-minute warning.

Mike: Quality of offense also must be taken into account, as well your opponent.

Tom: You got right to the crux of the matter. There is no hard-and-fast rule for when letting them score makes sense. Instead you have to look at game and clock situation, field position, and the opposing team.

Mike: So it's worth mentioning that neither the Jets nor Dolphins generally have quick-strike offenses.

Tom: The Dolphins did hit a nice deep pass to Brandon Marshall, but I generally agree with you.

Mike: What's the second difference?

Tom: Sorry, two differences. First, the score. Dolphins down one, which means they'd be down eight with a Jets touchdown. That's a much less favorable situation. Second, the clock.

Mike: OK.

Tom: The Packers were in a tie game and could tie with a touchdown and just an extra point.

Mike: To which I add the type of offense to the difference, as the Packers do have the kind of offense that can get down the field quickly. That's settled.

Tom: Yes, but by playing defense, the Packers forced the Bears to kick a field goal with eight seconds left. No matter what kind of offense you have, that's not enough time.

Mike: Right, that's why letting them score made sense. Because they could go down a touchdown and be reasonably confident in their offense's ability to get the touchdown. It's kind of the corollary to the "go for it" calculus, where you're confident enough in your defense that giving up points in exchange for field position is a positive outcome. Well, plus potential points.

Tom: Or at least much more confident than they could be in their chance of winning the game by playing defense. Or your relative confidence in your offense's ability to convert and your defense's ability to stop the other team. Part of Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 last season was probably preserving time after Peyton Manning's Inevitable Go-Ahead TouchdownTM.

Mike: I think it comes down to the point where there are no good defensive outcomes. You have to look at the best possible outcome and the worst possible outcome, figure out how likely you think each is, and how close to winning each gets you. In the Packers' case, the best-case defensive scenario was a field goal with little time left. The worst was down a touchdown with some time to try and tie the game. In that case, the best-case scenario led directly to the team losing.

Tom: Had Mike McCarthy been thinking like that, he'd have seen the benefits of "let them score." But, well, he wasn't.

Mike: Indeed. The worst-case defensive scenario still gave some hope of victory. Once realizing that, the logical thing to do is hasten it and let them score, thereby maximizing the positive aspects of the strategy.

Tom: Exactly. The Dolphins example shows, though, that "let them score" isn't always an ideal strategy in late-game situations.

Mike: Right. the best-case scenario is down by four points, and with timeouts and the two-minute warning, they could preserve time and have a chance to win via a touchdown on the resulting drive.

Tom: Yup, yup.

Mike: Whereas the worst-case scenario is down by eight, with time to drive but with a relatively slow offense and the uncertain proposition of a two-point conversion against a stalwart red-zone defense. In that case, the best-case defensive scenario gave the team a much more clear -- and likely -- path to victory.

Tom: As it happened, the Dolphins ended up with an absolute worst-case scenario, giving the Jets a fresh set of downs with a defensive penalty and still permitting the touchdown to go down eight.

Mike: And losing extra clock due to the new set of downs.

Tom: Right. It's an unfortunate reminder that the team on the other side of the ball is trying, too, and sometimes you lose. Still, that doesn't change the fact Tony Sparano made the right call.

Mike: Yeah, in the end all you can do is put your team in the best position to win and hope for the best.

Tom: Yup. Coaches just need to keep in mind that "let them score" can be the right strategy. Which means this is just another situation where coaches can show off their lack of tactical acumen and end up as nominees for the Mike Martz Award.

Fantasy Football Update

Tom: After my 2-0 start, I got curb-stomped this week, 129-95. I had Reggie Wayne with six points, my opponent had Austin Collie with 29. Dolphins DST, no points. I picked up David Garrard off the waiver wire, and he gave me 2 points. I got 31 points from Adrian Peterson, but he got 32 from Anquan Boldin, Collie's 29, and 24 from Chris Johnson.

Mike: Ah, the magic of Indianapolis wide receivers.

Tom: Champ Bailey was on the injury report this week. That was supposed to mean he would throw the ball to Wayne.

Mike: There's your problem: trying to predict the dark arts of Peyton Manning.

Tom: Ah, well, he could have started DeSean Jackson instead of Donald Driver and I'd have lost even if Wayne and Collie's scores were reversed. I would, however, like to register my displeasure with John Fox, for benching Matt Moore. I cannot in good conscience start Steve Smith for at least four weeks.

Mike: To be fair, Steve Smith, Esq. was definitely not going to be a good player this year, or at least not a consistent one.

Tom: I didn't agree with you there. I thought Moore was competent enough to complete the occasional pass, and that Smith, as clearly the best option, would get enough targets to be viable play pretty much every week.

Mike: Well, hindsight is 20-20.

Tom: Sure. I'm just cranky about it. And the less said about Wagstaff's Ringers, my entry in Staff League, the better.

Mike: We'll get to that later (and it will be fantastic).

Tom: I thought about trading for Ben Roethlisberger, but I didn't want to give up Reggie Wayne, and I think it might be more interesting to play waiver wire quarterbacks the rest of the year. Admittedly, though, that's probably a strategy that works better when you're not dealing with 10 other people who have a job writing about football, plus Elias.

Mike: Yeah, although probably not well advised in general. Anyway, I won my league's game pretty handedly.

Tom: Good.

Mike: Won by 33 points, got good production out of Matt Ryan, Rashard Mendenhall and Darren McFadden. Still, extremely disappointing games by Greg Jennings, Matt Forte and Baltimore DST, which is cause for future concern. Also the fact that my team is the lowest-ranked of the 2-1 teams.

Tom: Jennings kind of scares me, because Green Bay has multiple credible wideouts. He'll have good weeks, and weeks where the targets will be spread out.

Mike: True.

Tom: I suspect you'll end up playing matchups between McFadden and Forte.

Mike: On the other hand, Green Bay has one of the league's elite offenses. We also play with three running backs, so I will usually be playing both.

Tom: Oh, right. Well, you still have three good ones.

Mike: Yeah, just need them to all go off at the same time. Also, my Kyle Orton/Matt Ryan plan seems to be going pretty well. I think in a few weeks I'll have enough cred for both of them that I can pick one and unload the other for possibly a more consistent receiver.

Tom: Do trades happen in your league? Like real NFL trades, it seems to play a much larger role in how people think things will happen than in what actually happens.

Mike: We generally play close to the vest, but there have been trades. The waiver wire is pretty much churning constantly so we're much more about getting players off waivers on spec, and it generally works well. Like I said, it's a competitive league.

Tom: That's what my experience has been, but I wasn't sure if leagues where people actually knew people worked the same way.

FO Staff Fantasy League Update

Scramble Forever (Ian & Al) 96 def. Team CBORG (HAL) 67

Part of the CBORG experiment is a test of human ability to gauge matchups compared to whatever algorithms ESPN has developed in their (largely successful) quest to make large piles of money off our fantasy football-obsessed culture. How has it done? This week, CBORG left a boatload of points on the bench in Austin Collie (29 points) and Eagles DST (15) in favor of Steve Smith, Esq. (2 points) and Jets DST (7). The only mistake Insufferable Ian made was playing Aaron Rodgers (22 points) over Michael Vick (32), which only the craziest Philly fan could criticize him for. This week, the decision-making favored the human by a margin of 10-35. The previous weeks also went for the humans, 9-15 in Week 2 and 14-20 in Week 1.

Remain in Matt Light (Barnwell) 93 def. Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom) 55

And the hurting continues. The league's last-place team was disintegrated under the terrifying glare of Barnwell's disturbing mascot. The really sad part is that Tom's starters lost to Barnwell's backups, which included Malcolm Floyd (15 points), Eli Manning (11), Leon Washington (12), Jabar Gaffney (14) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (15). Tom's best play this week was Mike Williams (22 points), who sat on the bench. On the upside, that was the only star/sit problem Tom had, since the rest of his bench (Ryan Mathews, Fred Jackson, Laurent Robinson, Mohamed Massaquoi, and Anthony Dixon) contributed 0 points each.

Team Verhei 108 def. Triple Asian Flu (Doug) 76

Doug was somewhat hurt by Visanthe Shiancoe's early exit from Monday night's game, but in the end it didn't make too much of a difference, as Vince had too many players (Philip Rivers, Rashard Mendenhall, DeSean Jackson and Braylon Edwards) firing on all cylinders.

Malice Aforethought (Will) 112 def. Phanatic Codebreakers (Tanier) 84

Mike is clearly not a believer in Chicago's defense or Denver's offense, and it burned him badly, losing 14 points between Brett Favre and Kyle Orton. Strangely, Will was slightly dinged by his faith in Chicago's offense, and fear of Miami's defense, dropping nine points between Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez. In the end, however, Will owned 30-plus point games from Adrian Peterson and Anquan Boldin, which proved to be the difference.

Equipo del Jefe (Aaron) 95 def. Consensus Picks (Elias) 76

Unlike most of this week's matches, neither of these teams had any real break-out performances. All the points were relatively well distributed between the starters, and the highest performer on either team was amusingly a tight end, Tony Gonzalez, with 17 points. On the other hand, consistency is a key to fantasy football victory, so Aaron has to feel good about this performance.

That's Great Hustle! (Sean) 121 def. Better Call Saul (Rob) 80

Rob fell victim to the random and still unexplained benching of Devin Aromashodu, explaining the big zero on the scorecard. Good performances (Tom Brady for 22 points and Chris Johnson for 24) were mixed with awful performances (Miles Austin with two points and Tim Hightower with four) to show that Rob's team isn't about to fall off a cliff, even when things go poorly. Consistency was also the name of the game for Sean this week, but his across-the-board totals were more impressive than the other teams, with 20-plus point performances by Peyton Manning, Jeremy Maclin and Dustin Keller. Sean also successfully unloaded Roethlisberger to Doug, netting an elite receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and giving up basically nothing. Well played, Sean!


The rankings finally have some meaning. As predicted, the big losers are Wagstaff's Ringers and Team CBORG. Scramble Forever is the lone unbeaten team, although Equipo del Jefe is putting together a nice streak and stands in first place in the Non-Scramble Alumni division (second overall in points). For some reason, ESPN schedules fantasy "games" with home and away teams. ESPN is run by crazy people, but they are nice enough to occasionally give us a check.

Who Ya Gonna Call? ... The Super Mario Brothers?

Mike: So, I had occasion to watch a British broadcast off Sky.

Tom: That's a bad idea. Few good things have come out of Britain since 1800 other than Benny Hill music.

Mike: There's all sorts of weird stuff going on, like describing a player as "a tough so-and-so."

Tom: Not too weird; "tough little monkey" is how Billy Packer described Allen Iverson in an NCAA basketball broadcast.

Mike: Still completely weird. Anyway, while we were watching, we were struck by how different British commercials are.

Tom: I believe you.

Mike: On the whole, they're more demonstrative than ours, which are more aspirational.

Tom: Isn't being demonstrative what we tend to make fun of the most on here?

Mike: This is true, probably because our advertising from 30-40 years ago was entirely demonstrative so the style is old-fashioned and hokey for us. It is good evidence of how terrifyingly good we've become at advertising.

Tom: Have we? I feel like we're just hitting our cultural touchstones, and other countries' commercials are hitting their cultural touchstones.

Mike: Oh, we're ridiculously good at it. We can sell things without actually talking about what the things are or as we saw last year, without even showing the product.

Tom: Yes, but our commercials almost always have one thing in common -- they're in the local language. Sure, you get the occasional NFL Latino promotion that's mostly in Spanish or something, but other than that all the major commercials are in English.

Mike: I'm not sure what that has to do with anything, British commercials are also in English.

Tom: Not this one.

Mike: That's because this one is completely insane. Anyway, there are a few bonkers ones in Merry Olde England ... e. Like the investment one where your money was little pound-note birds and this one which is just ... what. It gives the ANA commercial from last year a run for its money, despite its brevity.

Tom: That investment one accurately describes the state of my 401(k), but I suppose that's neither here nor there.

Mike: Good ole sack of $100s under the mattress. Nothing bad could ever happen to you ...

Tom: See, the ANA commercial actually sort of told a story. This commercial is only 10 seconds long, and is a good example of why you don't tend to see commercial spots in the U.S. under 15 seconds.

Mike: True, the only super-short commercials I can think of over here, recently, are the fake Rod Serling Geico ads.

Tom: The 15-second commercials tend to be stripped down versions of longer ads, so they're connecting to something else. Compare this other 118 advert, which is also only 10 seconds. It's just as nutty, but on a completely different topic. The only commonality is the Ghostbusters theme.

Mike: I discussed this with a British friend of mine. Apparently the commercials started off as goofy but somewhat sane and have since slowly devolved into this kind of insanity.

Tom: Kind of like this column, then?

Mike: No, we started out at this level. How's that for sad?

Tom: Right, good point.

Mike: Anyway, what the heck is with the Ghostbusters theme? Seriously.

Tom: It's instantly recognizable, but apparently not close enough to get them sued.

Mike: But still. Why?

Tom: Why ask why, try Bud Dry. There are things in this world that make no sense and/or which we are better off not knowing. Why 118 uses Ghostbusters is quite likely one of those things.

Mike: Yes. Although, I can at least understand the weird Japanese setting. England has had a strange fascination with fast-paced Japanese TV since the 90s. Anyone who has seen Banzai! knows what I'm talking about.

Tom: I've never seen Banzai!, so I'll take your word for it.


Tom: I bet $100 I've never seen it.

Mike: It's a love story about a stupid dog and some sausage. Also about motorized scooter road rage. But mostly it's about stupid bets.

Tom: I don't drink heavily enough to watch knockoffs of Japanese game shows.

Mike: True. On the other hand, Banzai! is pretty much the pinnacle of the genre.

Tom: I don't understand, though, how you get from game shows to this commercial.

Mike: Well, I was talking about the insane Japanese setting for the 118 commercial and commenting that it works more in England because of shows like Banzai!.

Tom: Sure, but Spike TV has shown that one game show, and Japanese-language commercials aren't on US television.

Mike: Huh?

Tom: MXC.

Mike: Weeeird. It also sounds like a complete disaster, concept-wise.

Tom: I'm not a fan of Takeshi's work, generally, so MXC didn't appeal to me at all.

Mike: The sushi-plate contest also looks like it would never be resolved since both sides would just keep slamming the buzzer over and over again, keeping the plate in the middle.

Tom: You're over-thinking this, Mike. It's about people acting stupid, not developing a good game.

Mike: I suppose

Tom: What they're lacking in length, they're trying to make up in incomprehensibility. For some reason, I'm doubtful of that as a good marketing strategy.

Mike: True. On the other hand, 118 is an easy number to remember, unlike British emergency services' 0118 999 881 999 119 725.

Tom: Couldn't they have just gone with 867-5309?

Mike: 3.

Tom: That 0118 ... 725 3 seems like it should be trying to get people to sign up for Life Alert.

Mike: England is complicated.

Tom: If you say so.

Loser League Update

KICKER: Lawrence Tynes missed two field goals as part of the Giants' quest to score only 10 points despite never punting. This offset his successful field goal attempt and extra point and left him as the low man with zero points.

WIDE RECEIVER: Among the 284 players compared to Wes Welker in Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 were the Jaguars' Mike Thomas, a reasonably successful slot receiver as a rookie who the team hoped would develop into a starter opposite Mike Sims-Walker, and Julian Edelman, Welker's injury replacement. Both had multiple catches on Sunday, and neither exceeded 10 yards, leaving them both 0 points.

RUNNING BACK: Matt Forte, Joseph Addai, and Shonn Greene were all fairly high picks in many fantasy drafts this spring. Sorry if you drafted them, as none made the end zone and each put up a mere 3 points this weekend.

QUARTERBACK: Alas and alack, Jimmy Clausen was not on the original Loser League roster so you couldn't have his 4 points this week. Next on the loser totem pole was David Garrard at 5 points.


KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Missing a 58-yard field goal is perfectly understandable. Missing a 41-yard field goal, well, that kind of thing happens from time to time. Missing a 31-yard field goal smack dab in the middle of the field, in a domed stadium, that's very unfortunate. Do all three of those in one game, and you, Sebastian Janikowski, get this week's Keep Chopping Wood Award.

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Monday Night Football was tied at 17 points with just over two minutes to play. Jason Jones caught a pass from Aaron Rodgers and turned upfield, but lost the ball after a hit by Brian Urlacher on the Packers sidelines. The ball bounced near the sidelines, but stayed in bounds and was recovered by the Bears' Tim Jennings. Despite several Packers, including John Kuhn, having an excellent view and immediately reacting in disappointment, and clear if mind-boggling replay footage, Mike McCarthy elected to use a challenge -- thus wasting a scarce and valuable timeout on a sure loser. As a Packer fan friend said: "Dock McCarthy's pay by $100,000 and use the money to hire someone to stand on the sidelines with the sole responsibility of keeping the challenge flag out of his hands."

COLBERT AWARD: Already leading 27-16, the Rams faced third-and-20 at their own 49-yard line with 2:52 remaining in Sunday's game against the Redskins. The Redskins had just used the first of their timeouts, and the safest play was to give Kenneth Darby or Keith Toston another carry. Whether head coach Steve Spagnuolo or offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, though, the man who made the decision chose to put the ball in the hands of The Fifty Million Dollar Man, Sam Bradford, and called a bootleg pass. Bradford hit Mark Clayton, who made a move on DeAngelo Hall and picked up the first down. The Rams burned another minute off the clock, forced the Redskins to use their final two timeouts, and kicked a field goal to extend their lead to 14 points, all because Spagnuolo and Shurmur were willing to take a risk.

Scramble Mailbag

StayMcCool: On draft day, I looked up in Round 3 and all of the stud quarterbacks were gone so I'm stuck with Kyle Orton and Mark Sanchez until Ben Roethlisberger returns. Orton has kept me in the game but not too confident this week. Question is: In Week 4, Kyle Orton vs. Tennessee or Mark Sanchez vs. Buffalo? Thanks!

Tom: My attitude is simple: trust in Mark Sanchez at your own peril.

Mike: Yeah. And while Orton's having trouble getting in the end zone, he has run the offense on the rest of the field with pretty brutal efficiency.

Tom: Buffalo also had one of the league's best pass defenses by DVOA last year. Yes, they're 30th so far this year, but 18th in yards allowed. Eli Manning threw for 386 yards against Tennessee last week. There's a reasonable chance Orton goes over 300 this week.

Mike: Yeah, Orton all the way.

kenstall: I thought I drafted well but after three close losses, it's time for a change, and I'm looking for help. My running backs are Ray Rice and Matt Forte and my bench is Darren Sproles. We start two backs and no flex.

Free agents include: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Leon Washington, Mike Goodson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Should I start Sproles? Pick up a free agent? Throw my computer away and forget the season?

Tom: You have three close losses -- it's absolutely not time to give up on the season. We'll see how Rice recovers, but against the Steelers this week, he wasn't a great start anyway.

Mike: I'm not sure where the question is. Getting rid of Sproles for Green-Ellis?

Tom: Green-Ellis can be an attractive player this week, because of the Patriots' other injuries at running back.

Mike: I think I may support that.

Tom: We don't know what your bench is. I presume you have more than 3 running backs on your team. That, or you're carrying some marginal wideouts. It's probably worth dropping one to play Green-Ellis for a week or three.

Mike: Or a small roster.

Tom: With small rosters, unless it's like a 20-team league, I'd expect to see better free agents than those guys.

Mike: I agree to some extent, but there's a comparative dearth of sure-fire top-shelf fantasy running back talent this year, so there's a lot of marginal talent on everyone's waiver wire. But I think dropping Sproles for Green-Ellis, at least temporarily, is a good play.

Tom: Play him, see if you can skate by for a couple weeks, and don't be the guy who gives up on his team this quickly no matter how much you want to (*cough*me*cough*Staff League*cough).

Mike: Heh.

Soko: My team is currently 3-0 and first in points scored but I think this might be the week I fall. I'm in a PPR league and my starting receivers (DeSean Jackson and Randy Moss) and running backs are set (Rashard Mendenhall, Matt Forte); however, for my flex R/W and T/W for the week, I have a choice of Steve Breaston, Devin Hester, Tim Hightower, Devery Henderson and Mike Thomas. Talent and matchup-wise, I see pros and cons for each but it's really a coin flip with me leaning toward Henderson and Hester.

Tom: Well, Breaston had surgery and is out for a couple weeks, so he's obviously out.

Mike: Hightower and Hester.

Tom: Agreed. Henderson's targets will be too variable. Hightower will get carries, and the Bears will throw enough and Hester looks like he has a solid role in the offense.

Mike: Hester is a bit of a wild card, largely because of Aromashodu ... well, the Aromashodu situation. Because if he is playing, Cutler for some reason likes to target him.

Tom: You watch the Bears more closely than I do, so I'll your word for that.

Mike: Still, he's part of a functional offense, unlike Breaston, so he's probably the best bet of the wide receivers.

Key19: I have to fill a RB spot and two RB/WR spots with four guys (PPR, big 100-yard bonus): Mendenhall (vs. BAL), Forte (at NYG), Devin Hester (at NYG), Jerome Harrison (vs. CIN)

Mendenhall has a nightmare matchup, but I feel like there's no one else that'll be good enough to merit benching him. I currently have Forte and Harrison in the two Flex spots, but Harrison has been killing me all year.

Tom: As a fellow Jerome Harrison owner, I hate you, Eric Mangini. He's clearly out of favor, and even bad matchups are better than sitting on the bench all the time. Mendenhall, Forte, and Hester would by my choice.

Mike: I disagree regarding Mendenhall as a nightmare matchup. Peyton Hillis, of all people, just put up 140 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against Baltimore. I should know, I play their defense. In any case, Harrison is clearly the odd man out. That means there's not much of a choice.

Tom: Nope.

devlindeboree: The weekly What-QB-do-I-pick-up-while-i-wait-for-Big-Ben question ... Who would you recommend out of the following waiver wire QBs: M. Sanchez (@BUF), Chad Henne (vNE), Sam Bradford (vSEA), Aaron Smith (@ATL), Bruce Gradkowski, (vHOU), or Vince Young (vDEN)? 4 points for a passing touchdown and 1 point per 20 passing yards.

Also, perhaps to save you my repetition of this question with each passing week, can you generally recommend one of those quarterbackss for the next two weeks, or do you think it's best to just keep playing match ups? Thanks.

Tom: Whee, what a fun dilemma, and one I'm experiencing.

Mike: First, you should play matchups. Second, New England's secondary is at least five different kinds of awful.

Tom: Yes, play matchups. This week, though, your best matchup is Bruce Gradkowski against the Texans.

Mike: While I'm not sold on Henne, I think he'll have a big game this coming week.

Tom: The Texans "held" Romo to only 284 yards, first opposing QB under 400 yards this year. My worry about Henne is the Dolphins will run the ball, meaning fewer attempts for Henne and fewer goal-line attempts.

Mike: Romo and the Cowboys are a lot better than Gradkowski and the Raiders. And one of those previous games was against Peyton Manning.

Tom: Darren McFadden is a good receiving weapon, and Gradkowski's had some success passing of late.

Mike: I do agree that Henne is a problem in the red zone but I just can't get behind Gradkowski.

Tom: He had 255 yards passing, 13 yards rushing, a touchdown, and an interception against the Cardinals. That's 15 points, probably.

Mike: Against the Cardinals.

Tom: I think he'll be a solid 10-15 point play against the Texas most likely.

Mike: 10-15 makes sense. I think Henne will do better.

Tom: The Texans have given up 1,106 yards passing this year. I'll probably be starting Gradkowski myself.

Mike: Fair enough.

How many questions will be sent to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com next week? A. One, B. Two, C. Three, D. Over nine thousand! Make comments now!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz on 29 Sep 2010

63 comments, Last at 30 Sep 2010, 5:13pm by Kevin from Philly


by Q (not verified) :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 6:18pm

People do not understand that McCarthy is probably the Worst Time Management Coach in the League. He makes Andy Reid look like a a Time Management Expert. Saying that he believed Chicago would miss the kick or that they would block it shows how out of touch with Reality he is.

The 1 thing I do not understand is the Free Pass that he ha sbeen given for Clock Managment at the end of the 1st Half. Chicago's 3rd down play ended with approximately 1:10 minute left and McCarthy decided to not use his last timeout which caused GB to only get the ball back with slightly more than 20 seconds left on the clock. With so little time, GB utimately had to throw the Hail Mary from midfield. GB would hav ebeen much better off having the ball with 1 minute and No TimeOuts as Opposed to 20ish Seconds and 1 TimeOut.

by horn :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 4:05pm

There's definitely a large part of the 'Reid' blame that should rightfully go to Marty Morn esp as he's called the plays in some/most of the games since he arrived in PHL. Of course, the Head Coach takes ultimate blame, but still.

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 4:55pm

Nah, Reid's been screwing up time management since he got here.

by sfckoski :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 6:25pm

Made my first appearance on the Loser League weekly leaders!

by JasonK :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 6:32pm

The Pack failing to Let Them Score actually cost me a fantasy victory. In a very tight matchup, the GB D/ST allowing 20 points instead of allowing 24 points made the difference...

by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 6:55pm

I disagree that Miami shouldn't have let them in. No matter how NY scored, Miami would still need to get a TD to have any chance at winning. Even if you add in the necessity of a 2pt conversion, the odds were much more in their favor with 3 TOs and over 2 minutes left than under two minutes with 1-2 TOs. They were just lucky NY scored so soon after the penalty.

The other thing about that game that made no sense to me is Miami failing to run at the end. They had nearly a full minute and still two TOs! NY was playing a dime package that Miami could have eaten up, even more so considering 2-3 defenders would have been taken out of the picture simply by Marshall being on the field.

With Manning or Brees you hand the keys to your QB. Henne? Not so much.

by Temo :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 7:04pm

First Tom claims to not appreciate cheese, and now he admits he's never seen Banzai. We come from different worlds, Mr. Gower.

by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 7:17pm

Fantasy question: at tight end, should I start Chris Cooley against the Eagles, or Greg Olsen against the Giants? My feeling is that Cooley is more likely to get targets, but Olsen has the better matchup where defensive secondary is concerned. I'm leaning towards Olsen. Am I wrong? Anyone?

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 4:58pm

Check to see if Ernie Sims is activated by the Eagles. If so, start Coolie.

by FireOmarTomlin :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 7:30pm

While the Packers should have been trying to let the Bears score given the Bears play calls, the Bears should have been kneeling it out to avoid a Bettis like meltdown (Steelers Colts playoffs game). Minimize handoffs/exchange. Minimize defender strips. Etc. Still kills the clock. Actually gives the kicker a slightly better angle... etc. Why people making $M a year can't understand such simple strategy is beyond me.

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

by Marko :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 7:33pm

Why does everyone assume that the Bears actually wanted to score a TD at the end of the game? Perhaps the Bears realized that scoring a TD quickly might ultimately benefit GB, so maybe they were just setting up the field goal and would have had Forte down himself at the one yard line if the defensive line had parted like the Red Sea.

And before someone says, "Well, they would have just had Cutler kneel down a few times then," my response is that the Bears wanted to run a few more seconds off the clock, so they ran the ball rather than taking kneeldowns. Bears fans remember, and I'm sure Lovie Smith does, too, the Bears' game in Atlanta in 2008 when the Bears took the lead with 11 seconds to go. They used a squib kick which was executed very poorly, taking only 5 seconds off the clock and giving the Falcons the ball around their own 45 yard line with 6 seconds left. Matt Ryan threw a deep out to a receiver who got out of bounds at around the 32 yard line with 2 seconds left, and the Falcons then kicked the game-winning field goal. That may have been the most frustrating loss I can remember.

The lesson that Lovie hopefully learned that day is to leave as little time as possible, as even a few extra seconds can make a difference. So on Monday night the Bears left only 4 seconds on the clock after the field goal, rather than leaving 10 or 15 seconds if they had just used a few kneeldowns.

by TomC :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 11:33pm

You might be right about the reasoning, but I personally don't think that 2-3 seconds per play is worth the risk of a fumble.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 2:19am

The first down run was defensed with all the energy of a team letting their opponent score. I remember thinking watching that first down run that the Packers were trying to let the Bears score.

If I was Lovie Smith, I would have kneeled three times, hit the gimme field goal, and given the Pack about 40 seconds (not sure what the actual time would have been) with no time outs to try to get a game-tying field goal. Seeing how Rodgers was averaging 7.7 yards-per-completion in the second half, that would have been quite diffucult for a QB of Rodgers alleged ability to pull off.

by dbt :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 8:23pm

FYI: Devin Aromashodu is in the doghouse with Martz/Lovie (unknown to what percentage each but my guess is that Martz is being given free rein to enforce discipline by Lovie). The reason? Poor blocking and several drops in the Detroit game, plus presumably continued drops in practice. He was active in week 2 but only on the field for 1 play.

I really can't tell you when he'll be active again. I hope he cleans up his act and gets back on the field soon.

by mm (not verified) :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 9:20pm

Many years ago the Falcons let the Saints score at the end of the game to give Vick enough time to lead the Falcons back to score another TD. It worked.

On the other hand, Brian Westbrook avoided scoring at the end of the game a few years back so they could kill the clock with a lead.

by Dennis :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 11:38pm

And don't forget last year when Maurice Jones-Drew took a knee at the 1 when the Jets were letting him score. I still think it's dumb in a tie game not to take the points in that situation because there's no guarantee you'll make the FG, but it worked out for the Jags.

by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 11:59pm

The fact that there's no guarantee you'll make the field goal is irrelevant.

If the chance of you hitting the field goal is higher than the chance of the opponent being able to score on a full drive, then you kneel the ball. Running the ball in only to have the opponent march down the field and score doesn't win you the game.

by Southern Philly :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 1:33am

Or when Brian Westbrook downed it at the 1 against the Cowboys a few years ago to eat up time.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 5:56am

So that's the question ... if it ever becomes recognised strategy to allow the opposition to score to leave time on the clock ... will offensive coaches start ordering the offensive not to score immediately to take more time off the clock ...

by erniecohen :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 7:53am

Westbrook's was a particularly impressive disply of thinking because it wasn't a play that began near the goal line; he broke off a long run and knelt down at the 1 or something. Of course he was probably already thinking about staying inbounds, but staying out of the endzone was probably an improvisation.

by tuluse :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 7:56am

One of the offensive linemen (Jon Runyan?) told him to do that.

by ChaosOnion (not verified) :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:03am

Yes, it was Jon Runyan.

by Dan :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 10:50pm

Soko is starting Vincent Jackson? Is this a test to see if anyone is paying attention?

by Mike Kurtz :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 11:00pm

Or a test for your sleep-deprived Scramble writers. Don't just use common last names in mailbag entries, or everyone involved will end up looking silly!

by Sokojoe@hotmail.com :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:36am

Yeah, should have wrote Desean Jackson, my apologies, thanks for the advice, I'm going with it.

by Dan :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 10:57pm

Calvin Johnson for Michael Vick - who wins that trade, assuming that the alternative players who each team would otherwise start at wr & qb are only adequate?

by Alexander :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 1:03am

Calvin has been pretty abysmal this year...so vick?

by DaveRichters :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 11:26pm

Hi, can someone explain this column to me?

by tuluse :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 7:08am

They're supposed to give fantasy football advice and talk about the experience of watching football (discussing side elements like commercials), and apparently insult as many people as possible each week.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 1:37am

Last week: "And lo, all things are possible under the disturbing glare of Catholic Match Girl."

This week: "The league's last-place team was disintegrated under the terrifying glare of Barnwell's disturbing mascot."

I'm noticing a theme about Barnwell's team.

I wish I had seen Catholic Match Girl once. The comments about her make me very curious.

by billsfan :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 7:53am

It's not that it was even that bad, just that in the early days of the site, there weren't that many advertisers, so Catholic Match Girl was always there, piercing your soul with her papist glare.

IIRC, the original Scramble writers would call one of their picks the "Catholic Match Girl Mortal Lock of the Week".

(I also like the Eagles)

by LT (not verified) :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 3:27am

I agree with many of the points made in the article and I was thinking the same things while watching the games. Another point I thought was interesting is if the Jets scored a touchdown to go up 7 with an extra point pending, at what point do you think they would go for 2 to try to clinch the game completely. As you mentioned, assuming the success rate of the conversion is 60% and the extra point is like 95%(wild guess): attempting the 2pt conversion yields a win expectancy of: .6+.4((1-p)+.05p+.95p*.5) = 1-.19p where p = the probability of the dolphins scoring a touchdown in the time remaining, whereas taking the extra point leads to: .95((1-p)+.6p*.5+.4p) + .05((1-p)*.05p+.95p*.5) = 1-.30875p.

The numbers for if the Dolphins were go for 2 after scoring every time (to maximize point expectancy with the 60% conversion rate assumed) are Jets going for two: 1-.24p and Jets taking the extra point: 1-.315p.

Even if extra points were assumed to be guaranteed (overestimate) and 2pt conversions were assumed to be 50% (probably overestimating), the expected outcome is to break even.

Someone should probably check my math, but nonetheless should kicking the PAT while up 7 already be an automatic decision? Why don't you think the approach of going for 2 to put the other team away is taken more often?

by zlionsfan :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 11:54am

Well, the numbers from 2009 are even farther in the "other" direction, FWIW: one-point conversions were successful 98.3% of the time, and two-point conversions were successful 44.6%* of the time. The article goes on to explain that this may be partly because teams pass too often on these attempts, given that runs are more successful; this is probably related to teams throwing too often in short-yardage situations in the first place.

(* - according to this NY Times article, 5 of the 58 attempts last year were not called plays but reactions to bad snaps on one-point conversions; I could only identify 2 of the 5, so the actual success rate could be as high as 47.2%.)

Looking at it from a purely strategic perspective, if the chance of clinching the game is greater than the chance of losing it (significantly so, in this case), it would seem that the better decision would be to go for 2. However, NFL strategy isn't (yet) evaluated by looking at long-term patterns, but instead by individual outcomes ... or at least that is the belief that coaches seem to have (with good reason, I suspect). Even though many other events would contribute to the loss (like the fact the defense gave up two scoring drives: the one in regulation to tie the game and the one in overtime to lose it), the one most likely remembered would be the failed two-point conversion attempt.

Give it time. We're already seeing coaches make more aggressive decisions now than they'd seem to make 5 or 10 years ago.

by Malene, Copenhagen (not verified) :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 5:43am

Not many things are as hilarious as Americans trying to talk themselves into feeling culturally superior. Based on the ... quality of your tv ads?

Mm, yeah, ok then.

by TomC :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:21am

Whereas you evidently feel culturally superior by just waking up in the morning.

[I understand that English is probably not your native language, but THEY'RE JOKING, FOR GOD'S SAKE!]

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 5:13pm

Wow, steering dangerously close to the "No Politics" danger zone.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 6:18am

Disappointed by the FO discussion on England / British TV ... very uninformed ... And I thought you even came to visit in May ...

Firstly if you dial a number beginning 0118 ... you're going to get someone who lives in Reading ... now I'll give that to phonetically it's Redding like the singer from the 60s. (Don't worry I still can't pronounce r-kansas).

Our emergency number is pretty easy ... it's 999. Actually that's even simpler than 911 ... over here we just press the same button three times ... for someone reason over there you make it complicated that people have to change from the 9 to the 1 midway through ... perhaps you should change it to 915 to make it genuine test of how desirable assistance is ...

If you dial 118 118 you get a directory enquiries service where you can ask them for a phone number. Once you understand that it's directory enquiries perhaps the use of Ghostbusters theme begins to makes more sense ... (if I have to spell it out W-H-O Y-O-U G-O-N-N-A C-A-L-L?)

Brits have a lot of commentary on what they think is wrong with America. Your discussion doesn't really go anywhere to dispelling those concerns. You may feel your advertising is superior, but to be honest the commercials I put up with while watching a game on the Gamepass are lame, laughable and irritating from my Brit perspective. I can't believe people would actually be suckered into buying products by them. But that's the point, it's cultural differences.

Rant ends ... off to watch the Ryder Cup in Wales, Londonshire ...

by tuluse :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 7:06am

These are the same two people who were arguing that the physics of a commercial which was clearly set in a dream didn't make sense.

by ammek :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 7:40am

It's not the commercials so much as the products. I am genuinely frightened by great tank-like SUVs, and nothing incites me to go to the gym like watching a slice of pizza being slurped upwards out of a pan. Also, what's with adding 'Light' to the name of a beer? Isn't it bland enough already?

Yes, judging a nation by its commercials is to be avoided. Plus, you were watching a minority-interest sports channel. It would have been more interesting to read your verdict of the presentation and commentary. I'm on the other side of the Channel and rarely get to see the Sky game, but I watched this week's Saints-Falcons presentation, and was left wondering who the broadcast was targeted at. The presenters don't explain any terms or rules (as they do, for example, on French tv); but at the same the discussion feels very lightweight. This week, the main presenters managed to get the score wrong twice; and there was lots of banter about their fantasy football teams, which we didn't get to see. Is this normal? What happened to Mike Carlson?

by BJR :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 8:20am

Mike is lead pundit/co-presenter on Channel 4 who broadcast the Sunday prime-time game each week. That game starts at 1.30am Monday morning over here, so is clearly only directed at a very niche audience (hardcore fans/students/insomniacs), which allows Carlson a free license to tee off on his analysis, and it's usually very good. It's not unusual for him to completely pre-empt Cris Collinsworth whilst diagnosing a specific play (some people may think that is not saying much, but I think Collinsworth is on-the-ball most of the time). Mike is also to be found provinding voice over commentary of apparently randomly selected college football re-runs on Eurosport at obscure times throughout the week. Now that really is a niche market in the UK.

I agree with you about the Sky coverage - it tries too hard to be all things to all people, and really succeeds in nothing. When it comes to analysis it seems they are mostly just regurgitating stuff they read on NFL.com. I'm grateful for their commitment to the sport over the years so am loathe to be too critical, but most of the time I mute it when it goes to the studio.

by Mike Kurtz :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 8:47am

Check the link on the '3'. It's an IT Crowd joke.

by qsi :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 6:53am

Looks like an emergency shipment of humor detection units is urgently needed eastward across the Atlantic!

As for 911 vs 999: I thought the 1's in 911 were a remnant of rotary phones... dialing a 9 T A K E S F O R E V E R. In most of Europe it's now 112, although the harmonization came well after rotary phones had started their obsolescence.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 9:36am

Of course it's also a well noted fact that few of those west of the Atlantic understand get the British sense of humour (usually dry and self-deprecating) as well as struggling with the concept of irony ...

by TomC :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:27am

That is a slightly odd statement, given that this entire column is (this week and every week) drenched in irony. (And I mean irony in the literary-device, let's-eat-the-Irish-poor sense, not the Greek-dramatic, Alanis-Morrisette sense.)

by adw (not verified) :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 12:33pm

112 works in the UK too (by law it has to work anywhere in the EU), alongside 999.

by ammek :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 7:21am

That's a bad idea. Few good things have come out of Britain since 1800 other than Benny Hill music.

Don't know what the link is referring to, since it's broken, but Yakety Sax is as American as a Kwame Harris faceplant.

by Tom Gower :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 1:55pm

The broken link (to Yakety Sax) was unintended and I'll fix it, but yes, I was aware that Yakety Sax is American.

by erniecohen :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 7:55am

Wouldn't everybody be better off with a rule change that simply allows the team without posession to give a touchdown to the other team with no time off the clock? This allows such scores to be treated in a statistically appropriate way, saves the defense the humiliation of having to let the other team score on them, etc. I'll bet this strategem would be used all the time, and would make for more exciting games. (To keep things from getting out of hand, you'd probably have to limit it to one or two times per game.)

by dbostedo :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 9:47am

Why should you force the offense to accept what the defense wants to do? It would have to be decline-able by the offense to make sense to me. It's likely they'd want to hold on to the ball. Then you also wouldn't need a limit. Either way, it seems weird to me, since it would involve scoring without anyone actually, you know, scoring.

by erniecohen :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:22am

I was going to say that it should be un-declineable, but I realize that it's fine to have it declineable, as long as the clock still stops.

I agree that it is wierd, but I still think that it would improve the game. Isn't that what matters?

by tuluse :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:25am

So really, you just want to give each team more timeouts?

by erniecohen :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:29am

No, I want the other team to accept the TD and play defense.

by tuluse :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:36am

If they decline and it stops the clock, it's just a timeout though.

I don't see the point of this at all, other than you like to see hurry up drills and want to see more of them.

by tuluse :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 9:59am

Going to have to veto this one. A large part of the strategy from an offense is time management. You hear every week about the "4 minute offense" of trying to run down the clock with a slim lead and around 4 minutes left in the game.

Plus it would be unlike anything else in football.

by erniecohen :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 10:27am

It wouldn't remove this aspect of strategy. Keep in mind that the defense has to give up a TD, so in the 4-minute scenario, they would have to drive all the way to a TD and then recover an onside kick before it begins to pay off. In a 4-minute situation, they'd be better off to just play defense and try for a stop.

What it would prevent is a team from winning by simply kneeling on the ball to kill the clock. wouldn't you rather be watching the other team trying to catch up?

by dbostedo :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 3:07pm

"wouldn't you rather be watching the other team trying to catch up?"

No - not in that circumstance I wouldn't. That seems to badly penalize a team that has done its job and secured the win. Why shouldn't they be allowed to run out the clock while playing by the normal rules? It changes the game a LOT to do what you're suggesting; So no, I don't think it improves the game.

by tuluse :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 8:55am

I think the concept behind MXC is great. Take a ridiculous looking show, dub funny lines over it to make it even more ridiculous, profit!

Kind of like Mystery Science Theater 3000.

It's the execution that doesn't work out.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 9:50am

MXC was great! It was one of the funniest shows on TV. I wish they'd bring it back.

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 5:09pm

All these types of shows owe a debt to "What's Up, Tiger Lilly?" a redubbed Japanese film that Woody Allen put out in the 60's. Yes, a Woody Allen movie that was funny. Those were the days.

by mrapollinax :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 9:01am

As a Harrison owner do I just give up or hope that he has a huge game and try to sell high? In other disappointing FF performance news, where has Brent Celek gone?

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 5:11pm

Apparently, Andy Reid's deprogramming has also led Vick to not throw to the TE. Somewhere, Alge Crumpler weeps.

by dancingeek@gmail.com :: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 11:20am

I'm surprised the Chargers special teams didn't get a mention for the KCW award. Not only were there the two TD runbacks, but there was a third that would have gone for a TD had the returner not slipped. After giving up a TD, then giving up a return that would have been another TD, why are you still kicking it to the returner?!