Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» Futures: Maurice Hurst

A heart condition discovered at the combine has put the Michigan lineman's career in limbo, but Hurst had the best film of any defensive tackle in this year's draft class.

17 Nov 2010

Scramble for the Ball: Robot Snowmen

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Yeah, It's Like That

Tom: So, Mike, who fared better this week? My preferred Titans, with shiny new acquisition Randy Moss, throwing for under 2.5 yards per attempt in the first half? Or your Steelers and their vaunted defense getting shredded for the best DYAR game this year?

Mike: The Titans, because of lower expectations. Both teams were awful, though. I'm getting really sick of losing to New England at home.

Tom: I'm not so sure about that. The Dolphins were winless at home before Sunday, and Moss had Titans fans thinking 11-5 at worst.

Mike: That's because Titans fans are insane.

Tom: All fans and fan bases have their elements of insanity. Such as, for example, the two of us both being very cranky about two-score losses two days later.

Mike: Such is fandom. Thankfully, we have fantasy football to cheer us up.

Fantasy Football Update

Tom: Fantasy hubris tried to strike me down again this week. With the first Thursday night game coming last week, I forgot that also fixed my lineup. So, I ended up starting New York Football Steve Smith, even though he was hurt, and Mason Crosby, even though the Packers were on bye. Of course, had I noticed Smith was hurt, I probably would have started Ryan Torain, who got hurt in warm ups and didn't put up any points anyway. The good news is, my opponent also failed to adjust his lineup and started a couple players on bye of his own. I had the seventh-highest score with 58 points, but managed a win because my opponent only had 56.

Mike: Better to be lucky than good.

Tom: I'd rather be both, but this week I'll take lucky.

Mike: I won despite being extremely unlucky.

Tom: Facing Michael Vick?

Mike: Rashard Mendenhall only gave five points in the Steelers Sunday night disaster. Matt Forte gave a more-predictable six, but still awful, and then Torain. How does one even get injured during warm-ups? And then the great Baltimore defensive collapse, although I did profit off that, since I started Matt Ryan.

Tom: I started ... the Chiefs defense.

Mike: Ouch.

Tom: No points. Not even a sack.

Mike: Yeah, it was a pretty pathetic performance.

Tom: I'm just lucky we don't lose points if defenses give up a lot of points.

Mike: Fortunately, Matt Ryan put up 32, as did Dwayne Bowe in garbage time, plus 11 points from Sunday waiver pick-up Jabar Gaffney. My opponent just couldn't keep up, and lost by 11, despite my abysmal running back performance. As for Vick, he single-handedly won the game for his owner. It will be the last time that happens. Interestingly enough, I have yet to clinch, although I did move up to No. 3 in the league. Next week, I get to play a team which, despite being in ninth place, has more points than I do. On the upside, the No. 2 team and I are the only two that have beaten the No. 1 team, so the end result isn't a foregone conclusion (even though he has outscored me on the season by 231 points, nearly a quarter of my total).

Tom: I'm tied for first in my league and ahead of the team I'm tied with on points. I'm third overall in points, so I'm effectively two games plus from out of the playoffs. And, as you will soon learn, Wagstaff's Ringers had a great week.

FO Staff League Update

That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 7-3) 73 def. Team CBORG (ZOG, 2-8) 52

Not only did Sean start Kansas City's defense, he pulled them off waivers to do so! I'd say it was nearly fatal, except he was playing CBORG. CBORG's top scorer was Sam Bradford, who was pulled off waivers to replace the resting Drew Brees. This one wasn't even close.

Phanatic CodeBreakers (Tanier, 4-6) 89 def. Triple Asian Flu (Doug, 6-4) 62

This blowout was the second-most surprising result of the week (spoiler: Tom won! Holy crap!) powered by Kyle "Imagine The Bears Offense With Me And A Draft Pick" Orton and the 27 points he sucker-punched out of Sean. Doug received just one point fewer from Ben Roethlisberger in his valiant garbage time stat-padding against the Patriots. The main factor in this game was Frank Gore's 20 points for Tanier, which overcame Beanie Wells's zero.

Remain in Matt Light (Barnwell, 8-2) 98 def. Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 6-4) 80

Barnwell wins the battle of the boss-men on strong performances by Roddy White, Mike Thomas and Eli Manning (what?). Ironically, Aaron was undone by his normally stalwart Pittsburgh defense. This week, I don't think he minds.

Scramble Forever (Ian & Al, 7-3) 108 def. Malice Aforethought (Will, 3-7) 50

Ian and Al had Michael Vick. And Andre Johnson. And Arian Foster. Vick by himself had nearly as many points as Will's entire team (49), so the rest was just gravy.

Consensus Picks (Elias, 6-4) 93 def. Team Verhei (5-5) 50

I'm sure Elias was just as astounded by Knowshon Moreno's 21 points as the rest of the world (and your Scramble writer is including Moreno himself in that group), while Matt Ryan beat up the Ravens' secondary for 24 points and Jerricho Cotchery said "take that!" to FO by scoring 10. I guess he won't be repeating as LVP. Vince had an interesting week and allowed us to witness a truly rare event -- a tight end as a team's high score (Kevin Boss, 14 points).

Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 2-8) 103 def. Better Call Saul (Rob, 4-6) 101

Yayifications, Tom actually won one! He is now tied with the ESPN robot by record (but still behind in points). Rob looked like he was finally going to break his losing streak and claw his way back to the top of the league, where he had begun. He was going to do it with a fantastic all-around effort: six of his team's nine slots contributed at least 11 points. Sadly, the Steelers garbage time train made a stop at Gower Station, putting up 25 points in the form of Mike Wallace.

Do Robot Snowmen Dream of Electric Reindeer?

Mike: I don't want to know what kind of twisted minds devised this commercial.

Tom: I assure you I had nothing to do with it.

Mike: I don't think even you are capable of it. I mean, I understand Droid's "edgy" campaign, especially as a reaction to Apple's pop-soaked soft edges, but I think this is where they went too far.

Tom: What exactly triggered you on to that? The reason you immediately know I didn't make this commercial is that these Droid phones are electronic gadgets. Electronic gadgets often react negatively to getting wet.

Mike: That's because you're a frighteningly literal-minded person.

Tom: This snowman is made with two "$150" phones. Snow is wet. That strikes me as a potentially very ill-advised use of your limited amount of money. I'm not quite as literal-minded in real life as I am while thinking about commercials for this column. But I sometimes wish I were.

Mike: The main question, though, is "Why?"

Tom: Why what? Why would you pointlessly risk "$300" (and perhaps much more) in water-based substance like this?

Mike: No, I politely ignored that train of thought.

Tom: Fine.

Mike: Why would you make a snowman terminator out of phones? Why would it just be hanging around children? Also, nobody risked the phones, as the phones are clearly self-aware.

Tom: This commercial actually reminds me of a scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Specifically, the part where the Nazi villain steps into the tent to interrogate Marion and whips out this nasty-looking thing that will presumably be used as a torture device. Then it folds into a portable coat hanger and he takes his jacket off. Droid creates this very menacing-seeming snowman, only to have him do very mundane things like look at a spreadsheet.

Mike: It could be a spreadsheet of DOOOOM?

Tom: Yes, "ACME Worldwide Unit Sales" could be sales of doomsday machines.

Mike: Anvil-based doomsday machines.

Tom: I hope these anvils also come with special awareness-related gravity suspension devices.

Mike: I imagine that Droid could get rid of one or two and still be feared. Can't say no to the globetrotters.

Tom: See, I begin to question the premise that this is a normal snowman. I've never been a big fan of making a snowman, so maybe this is due to my limited experience. But when I have made one, I've never given him a metal endoskeleton.

Mike: You're just not making the right kinds of snowmen.

Tom: My conclusion has to be that this snowman somehow just showed up by this house, to fulfill some "Til Birnam Wood to Dunsinane come"-like prediction.

Mike: Remember sticking rocks in the snowballs to throw at kids you didn't like? These kids mean business.

Tom: Yes, but go back to my Raiders analogy: IT starts off seeming menacing, but ends up not actually being so. Another problem with literalism: The robot snowman has two "eyes," both of which are phones. So how does it see the phone it does the typing and document accessing demonstration on?

Mike: Does it really need to? It's a magic snowman robot.

Tom: Great, A Wizard Did It. I need to meet one of those wizards in real life.

Mike: Any sufficiently awful commercial about technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Tom: I'm not asking you in your commercial to explain how a cell phone works. I'm asking you to, well, tie in your promotional thing with real life. Then again, I guess this commercial actually does work.

Mike: That's kind of a silly position, though. The most awesome commercials have nothing to do with real life, like the one where guys jump into the TV and challenge the martial artists to poorly-dubbed paper football.

Tom: I know it's for a Droid, so it works that it raises Droid awareness in my mind. And it's really just advertising a price in a memorable way. The one problem is, Verizon is not very strongly branded. The commercial is directed all at the Droid.

Mike: I don't think it's a Verizon commercial

Tom: I guess that makes sense, but I didn't actually realize before just looking it up that Droid was exclusively with Verizon.

Mike: I think it's a Motorola commercial.

Tom: It's Verizon's commercial, and the website is run by Verizon. The website also has this really annoying mechanical thing-happening humming sound that plays continuously, so I strongly recommend against visiting it.

Mike: I get the feeling it's a joint advertising venture. Both phones are Motorolas.

Tom: Sure, and the early exclusive deals are often heavily branded around the product much more than the service provider. I just feel like Verizon is getting too short a shrift here, or more to the point the customer is being under-informed about where to get the shiny product.

Mike: Well, it's not really about Verizon, it's about Motorola's shiny new phones in arguably the Android flagship line. Verizon is along for the sweet, sweet service contract.

Tom: I get that. I just think a commercial should tell me, in a way that's hard for me to ignore, where to get the product. This commercial is otherwise effective, if as unrealistic as many other commercials, but fails at that key task.

Mike: See, I don't think people have trouble finding Droids. I think the main problem with the commercial is that it's Nightmare Fuel. We have a weird normal family activity which is moved off-camera and, like a stalker, phone-snowman comes to life and starts processing data, like recommending a "restaurant" (eating the children and posting it on Yelp, because that is Yelp's purpose).

Tom: One day I will figure out what exactly the root of your issue with Yelp is.

Mike: Useless reviewers. The site itself is a pretty great database of restaurants among other things.

Tom: If you're not starting with a baseline of Sturgeon's Law ^2 for random Internet reviews, you're starting in the wrong place.

Mike: Well, it crossed the line when someone was complaining about the service at a French restaurant. I agree, the service was awful. But that's a feature, not a bug.

Tom: But the snowman doesn't actually eat the children. They go away and the snowman starts doing non-snowmany things.

Mike: Well, Tom, as we discussed in our conversation regarding the not-featured-in-Scramble Call of Duty commercial, you can't actually show dying people in commercials, much less children being eaten by robot snowman. So we have to extrapolate a bit.

Tom: I maintain there's a Birnam Wood-style connection that doesn't involve children-eating. Maybe the snowman is looking to expand his ACME business and trying to hire Dad away from a competitor.

Mike: Less plausible but still possible. Of course, the snowman could just destroy the competitor with its robot laser eyes, but Motorola is not known for elegant solutions.

Tom: And that's one down, several left to go of the commercials the companies refused to post.

Loser League Update

KICKER: Ah, Rian Lindell, you have to kick in Buffalo, where the weather conditions, especially late in the season, are often horrible. You play for a terrible offense. But, hey, your team finally won a game, so your 0 points are nothing to be too ashamed of.

WIDE RECEIVER: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Jordan Shipley, Chansi Stuckey, and Justin Gage each had 1 point. Did you really expect otherwise from any of them?

RUNNING BACKS: Remember last year, when the Bengals had an effective running game? Cedric Benson didn't put up 2 points that often last year. Michael Turner, Chester Taylor, and Jahvid Best each only put up 3 points of their own.

QUARTERBACK: Old quarterbacks are often ineffective quarterbacks. No, he's still not Vinny Testaverde for the 2007 Panthers, but Brett Favre's 4 points still earned him Loser League honors this week.


KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: With 9:26 to play in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Rams, 49ers quarterback Troy Smith threw an apparent game-tying touchdown to Michael Crabtree. Alas, the touchdown was called back, as Anthony Davis was flagged for holding, and the 49ers had to settle for a field goal. Though it was Joe Staley who was flagged for the holding penalty that wiped out another fourth-quarter 49ers touchdown, Davis also could've been cited on the same play. For making Chris Long look like an All-Pro, we salute the rookie first-round pick.

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is a fine motto at the proper time. It's less fine a motto when you're an NFL coach sending your kicker out to try unlikely field goals. Kicking a 24-yard field goal is fine. Kicking from 48 and then letting your kicker try from 47 yards away from the left hash on fourth-and-1 in overtime is not a decision your Scramble writers think highly of, Rex Ryan.

COLBERT AWARD: Lost in the hullabaloo of the Jaguars' exciting victory Sunday was Jack Del Rio's decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 43 in a tie game with fewer than eight minutes to play. He risked giving the Texans a crucial possession, but David Garrard repaid his coach's favor by converting on a quarterback sneak, then hitting tight end Zach Miller (Yes, there are two tight ends named Zach Miller) for a 52-yard touchdown to take the lead.

Scramble Mailbag

Jim: I need your help picking a defense. I have two on my team right now, KC against Arizona and I also picked up New Orleans because they're playing the Seahawks. Which one is better?

Mike: I can't recommend Kansas City's defense for anything, including against a number of Division II teams. Plus, Arizona at least has some potential for unleashed dragon-related big plays. The Seahawks have ...


Tom: That's the annoying thing, though. As a Chiefs DST fantasy owner, they've been a solid play most of the time. They're a better defense than the Saints, and it's not like Arizona is a very good offense.

Mike: I've been much more down on the Chiefs from the start than you have, for context.

Tom: I'll be riding with the Chiefs again this week most likely and decided against picking up the Saints D. It's not a riskless play, but that's the way I'm going.

Mike: Fair enough.

wildbluefan: I have a very good team, but after losing Jermichael Finley at TE, I've been getting by with Ben Watson and Aaron Hernandez. After Hernandez's zero this week, though, I'm getting worried. Should I stick with those two, or drop one or both of them and try to pick up Rob Gronkowski or Anthony Fasano?

Tom: Ugh, tight ends. Fasano's big production against the Titans is probably a product of playing the Titans and exploiting some of their defensive weaknesses. That said, what I want out of a tight end is some reasonably consistent production and a starter. New England's tight ends would drive me crazy, as you don't know from week to week who's going to get the catches.

Mike: Yeah, my opinion on tight ends is that as long as you have a starter, you may as well take pictures and throw darts to determine who gets the start.

Tom: If you want to be pseudo-scientific about it, you can also use the DVOA TE matchups page as a guide. But otherwise, yes, darts.

Mike: Or you could just stick with Hernandez and recognize that last week was probably a product more of game plan than looming problems.

Will Brett Favre try to right the ship by shouting at caterers? Will Troy Polamalu's hair become self-aware and try to kill us all? Will fantasy players send questions to Scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com? These questions and more will be answered in the next episode of ... Scramble For The Ball!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 17 Nov 2010

24 comments, Last at 29 Dec 2010, 5:20am by jinhui


by Scott P. (not verified) :: Wed, 11/17/2010 - 6:31pm

"as we discussed in our conversation regarding the not-featured-in-Scramble Call of Duty commercial"

I wish you would discuss it, because that is one disturbing commercial.

by agreed (not verified) :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 3:26am

i totally agree. in general i'm not sure what to make out of the fact that people actually want their entertainment to be simulate being in a war as closely as possible, but this commercial really skeeves me out.

"does normal videogame violence bore you? well, would it help to know that the people you're killing all have jobs and families?"

by jtduffin :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 11:18am

Do you mean this one?


(I hadn't seen any Call of Duty commercials before looking on youtube after reading this discussion)

I don't know, maybe I'm giving them too much credit/benefit of the doubt, but I read this one as suggesting that, via their game, you can play an exciting game about war with other "regular people" while not actually risking death and dismemberment.

Though personally I do also have some reservations about the appeal of games simulating violence as realistically as possible, yeah.

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 6:21pm

I don't know, I find the thought of Jimmy Kimmel armed with a bazooka intriguing. Imagine if all talk show hosts had to go through combat. Jay Leno would probably be a sniper. Letterman could be the skipper of the PT 73. Jimmy Fallon would probably get fragged by The Roots.

by Mr. Show (not verified) :: Wed, 11/17/2010 - 6:36pm

Chris Long has looked like an All-Pro for much of the year.

by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 6:18am

This is true. Except, oddly, against the Raiders RT (Mario Henderson?) where he looked very ordinary, which was disappointing.

Long V Clabo this week should be quite a fun matchup.

And to be fair to Davis, Long was obviously beating him all day. If he could tackle he'd have had about 5 sacks. The 49ers HAD to give Davis some help at some point, especially when they were looking to pass downfield and didn't. Repeatedly. I know their TEs aren't actually TEs, they are just fat WRs, but at least chip him once or twice so he can't just run round Davis.

As I said though, Long could have had about 5 sacks, but kept missing the tackle. Seems to be something he's pretty poor at - he always seems to aim at where the QB is, which gives him a chance to step up and make Long miss. He must be somewhere near the top of the league in hurries though.

by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 11/17/2010 - 9:35pm

It should also be mentioned that the Triple Asian Flu team had the Packers defense on a bye, so I started the Redskins' D instead. You guessed it. Wound up with -5 on that one. Thanks a lot, Haslett. In addition to whatever you owe Chad Dukes, you owe me five fantasy points.

by Anonymous485 (not verified) :: Wed, 11/17/2010 - 9:55pm

so where are the loser league standings?

by Marko :: Wed, 11/17/2010 - 10:19pm

"Kyle 'Imagine The Bears Offense With Me And A Draft Pick' Orton."

That should be "Kyle 'Imagine Me in a Full Body Cast Had I Played Behind the Bears OL This Year' Orton."

by dbt :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 1:28am

That's why the "and draft picks" disclaimer. Oher was available last year when Denver took Robert Ayers with the Bears pick. The 49ers took Anthony Davis with the Bears first round pick this year.

by Marko :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 2:04am

Yeah, I saw the disclaimer and was well aware what it meant. However, in light of Jerry Angelo's draft history (especially with regard to offensive lineman), I disregarded it. I have very little faith that he would have drafted an offensive lineman (or if he did, that he would have drafted the "right" lineman) with those draft picks. Instead, he probably would have traded down for two draft picks, which he would have used to draft a defensive lineman and a wide receiver, neither of whom would have panned out.

by Sid :: Wed, 11/17/2010 - 11:48pm

two things:

1)I have no problem with Rex Ryan trying a 47 yard field goal.

2)"Mike: I can't recommend Kansas City's defense for anything, including against a number of Division II teams. "

Talk about exaggeration. The KC defense isn't that bad, and even if they were historically awful, saying you wouldn't recommend them against Division II teams is a huge and unnecessary exaggeration. This defense would dominate Division I-A teams, let alone Division II.

Oh, and Arizona's offense sucks. I would recommend KC's D.

by dryheat :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 9:09am

Hyperbole....in an internet article? Zounds man, call the authorities!

by Sid :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 6:37pm

I'm saying it's more than just simple hyperbole.

Hyperbole would be saying I couldn't recommend Arizona's offense even if it were opposing some college teams. He's saying an average NFL defense wouldn't stop Division II teams? Way over the top.

by Xao :: Fri, 11/19/2010 - 11:06am

hy·per·bo·le   /haɪˈpɜrbəli/ [hahy-pur-buh-lee]
–noun Rhetoric .
1. obvious and intentional exaggeration.
2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”

"Way over the top" is just a subset of hyperbole. Mike used it to adequately communicate his point: he wouldn't recommend starting the Chiefs' defense.

by Sid :: Fri, 11/19/2010 - 3:24pm

There is a such thing as excessive hyperbole, if you ask me.

by Jimmy :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 12:21pm

The call of duty advert is a little weird but it is at least clearly supposed to be a wierd advert. The ad that I find most troubling is the toyota ad where the kids are ashamed of their parents because they can't afford a good car. What a horrible message to use to use to sell cars.

by mrh :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 1:02pm

The worst car-selling message I've heard is a local (Wash, DC) Mercedes dealer ad: "What you drive says a lot about who you are." I guess if you're selling Mercedes, you might as well equate personal worth with personal possessions.

by trill :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 1:57pm

I started KCD this past week (-10pts in my league) and lost by 9. Still would've won if not for Garrard's hail mary.

by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 2:29pm

Snow is not wet. Snow is dry. Water is wet. Snow gets wet only when it melts. If it's cold enough, snow will not melt. If it's cold enough, snow is a good, dry insulator.


by Xao :: Fri, 11/19/2010 - 11:01am

And by sticking two heat generating electronic devices inside that insulating snow you wind up with...

Yeesh indeed.

by Jeff Fogle :: Thu, 11/18/2010 - 2:54pm

"Tom: I'm not so sure about that. The Dolphins were winless at home before Sunday, and Moss had Titans fans thinking 11-5 at worst.

Mike: That's because Titans fans are insane."

Heading into the game, Tennessee was 5-3...yet ranked #3 in DVOA. The defense ranked 3rd in the league, but the offense just 13th before the acquisition of Moss.

Their estimated wins at that point were 6.4, meaning they were playing better than the 5-3 record would suggest based on FO's statistical indicators. Their schedule was due to be easier in the second half of the season than the first (though far from a cakewalk).

#3 in DVOA would be playing:
#5 (a misranked KC)

What's the difference between what FO's metrics were suggesting about a potential final record...and what Titans fans were thinking about a potential final record? If DVOA ranks a team #3 in the league BEFORE the acquisition of Moss, isn't an 11-5 finish reasonable in the eyes of DVOA? For the third best team in the league pre-Moss? With a "real" record of 6.4 and 1.6 through eight games? Isn't it reasonable in the eyes of DVOA even without Moss?

If one is insane, aren't they BOTH insane?

by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Fri, 11/19/2010 - 1:36am

Note: when you square numbers between 0 and 1 (like, say, percentages), they get smaller rather than larger.

If Sturgeon's Law is "90% of everything is crap,"

then Sturgeon's Law^2 is "81% of everything is crap.