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13 Oct 2010

Scramble for the Ball: Rules and Regulations

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz


Tom: So, in our backyard, relatively speaking, the NFL owners had a meeting. One of the fruits of that meeting was that the competition committee would look at the going-to-the-ground rule. As lawyers and NFL fans, one of the things we talk about a lot, though not necessarily in Scramble, is the NFL's rules. Contrary to some people's complaints, what the rule on a Calvin Johnson-type play should be isn't clear to me. The refs did get the call right, interpreting the rule as it exists right now, but maybe the rule should be different.

Mike: True.

Tom: So, Mike, what do you think? Should that rule be different?

Mike: On the other hand, the rule was put in place for a reason.

Tom: Troy Polamalu's "interception" against the Colts in the playoffs?

Mike: Without going to the ground, the ball is received when the player gains control over the ball in bounds.

Tom: "Gains control" is such a wonderful phrase.

Mike: There are a few other things at play, such as the definition of control, but the absence of the rule would mean a great many incompletions would turn into receptions.

Tom: How large would the practical effect really be, though? My casual impression is that most "going to the ground" cases come when the receiver has been touched on his way to the ground.

Mike: Well, it only applies when he is hit. So you are right there, it doesn't loom quite as large as many believe. You'd just see a whole lot more completions because control would be established and the ball being jarred out would almost certainly involve a shoulder or elbow hitting the ground.

Tom: Which would just go in with the general tone of where the NFL has been trending since the 1978 passing rules liberalization.

Mike: True. But on the other hand, you would make it much harder to defend routes over the middle where there is generally a hard-hitting linebacker in coverage or maintaining the zone. That's where you see a lot of awkward hits and balls popping out on the ground.

Tom: I'm just not sure, as an empirical matter, that it's really that frequent an occurrence.

Mike: No, it's not a huge deal in the end.

Tom: You just happen to end up with some high profile catches where the precise contours of the rule do matter.

Mike: Sure. Of course, I think the rule should be gone anyway

Tom: Gone how?

Mike: Gone in that the rules for possession would be greatly simplified. Instead of treating the rules like individual case studies, how the NFL has been, treating them more like the principles guiding a sport.

Tom: Did you watch the World Cup? Soccer has 17 laws, and some incomprehensible hooey as to how those laws are interpreted.

Mike: Yes, as opposed to football, which has Rule 3 Section 2 Article 4 Ruling 3.1, which explains that if the defensive player grabs the ball away from the offensive ball carrier, it is a fumble.

Tom: So long as the offensive ball carrier is not already down, you mean.

Mike: If he is down the play is dead. Sorry, the ball is dead, and nobody can grab it from anyone. There's also a ridiculous amount of redundancy.

Tom: I'm not sure it's really redundancy so much as overlap caused by fixing errors or perceived undesired imbalances.

Mike: For instance, 3-2-4 A.R. 3.2 is "While running A1 is in possession, defensive player B1 kicks the ball away from him" and the ruling is "A foul during a fumble. Kicking a ball in player possession is a foul." All that says is "kicking the ball is a foul, and losing the ball after possession is a fumble," both of which are other rules and easily applied without any need for clarification.

Tom: See, that just strikes me as bad and/or imprecise drafting.

Mike: But the rule book is full of little corrections to fix errors and perceived imbalances.

Tom: And it just came up in some weird way such that a poor official got confused.

Mike: Well, the point they're getting across is that the penalty that caused the fumble is assessed during the fumble. It's about resulting possession, but it's completely unnecessary. And the more of these little things you have, the more you risk unintended consequences, ones that can directly affect the outcome of a game.

Tom: It also bothers me that the NFL, college football, and high school football have different rules.

Mike: Well, there are differences that make sense. A lot of the differences between NFHS and NFL rules are safety related to provide extra protection for children. Some of them are also there for competition. NCAA and federation rules only require one foot in bounds for a completion. That wouldn't work in the NFL, where you have a much higher class of athlete. Giving the receiver an extra foot or so of real estate in the hardest area to defend against passes would be a disaster.

Tom: See, that's a competitive-balance reason, not anything inherent to any of the real distinction issues between NFL and the lower levels. It's just like moving kickoff distance.

Mike: I don't see any problem with that.

Tom: It's not that it's a problem per se. I'm just not sure how much it's truly necessary. Would scoring and passing efficiency really be increased that much in the NFL by a "one foot only" rule? And would college and high school football be harmed that much by the reverse?

Mike: I believe it absolutely would. Just look at the physical ability required for some of these sideline catches where you see a second-foot drag. No high school player and nearly no college player could manage that. And, in the NFL they're relatively common: You'll see one or two pretty much every game with a decent passing offense because, like I said, that's the hardest bit to defend.

Tom: Fine, so we're rewarding the teams at the top end of the passing and physical skill problem. I'm not so sure that's a big problem.

Mike: Well, like I said, nobody in high school can do it, so you're really just slashing part of the offense out in the name of some ephemeral desire to have uniform rules in non-competing leagues.

Tom: Non-competing leagues all ostensibly playing the same sport and at progressively higher levels. It's like baseball having different rules in the minor and major leagues. I know the NHL does use different rules for the AHL, but that's because those are rules they're attempting to experiment with.

Mike: No, it's like baseball having different rules in MLB, NCAA and, federation. Which they do. Differences that actually have an impact on the game far more than football's. E.g., metal bats.

Tom: OK, fair enough, that's a serious competitive balance issue. I get graduated kickoff distance, since that makes intuitive sense. The foot thing just doesn't make sense to me.

Mike: It's true that it's much less immediately apparent, but it's a huge effect.

Tom: I'm well aware that "what makes intuitive sense to somebody" is how you get a lot of complaints about reasonably well judged and well written NFL rules.

Mike: Going back to my earlier point, the NFL rulebook is more than 100 pages long, and vast swathes of it are rulings or hyper-specific rules.

Tom: I could condense that down to fewer than 100 pages, probably under 50, if I got to use the right font and type.

Mike: You could probably cut it down to something like 30 if you actually evaluated how rules are applied and how much you actually need.

Tom: But what you're really saying is that 80 percent of the rulebook only matters when it comes to a relatively specific instance. The rulebook is only selectively complicated, then. Most rules are either easy to officiate (most of them) or inherently hard (holding, pass interference), and then you have lots of specific cases where the Competition Committee has tried to make an ad hoc balance.

Mike: Yes, which is really the opposite of what you want when managing a sporting event. It's pretty clear where it's coming from, however. There is an extremely loud echo chamber of fans and writers (including this site) constantly harping on what is always called "consistency." Ah, but that's the problem. The more you try to tinker around the edges of a difficult rule, you're not addressing what is really going on. You're just telling officials that if that specific thing happens, they have to do X. There are a million specific things that can happen whenever a rule is applied. You are never going to get all of them, even if you made the rule book a thousand pages. Now, there are some clarifications that are necessary, like the two-foot rule. That is a legitimate consistency issue. But by trying to anticipate future situations, you run into big problems, like Megatron's catch.

Tom: Thus we have arrived at your Scramble writers' real NFL ambition: To be the lawyers on the Competition Committee who get to re-write the NFL Rulebook.

Mike: In all likelihood, on that play, you had (I'm speculating here) an official who honestly believed he had possession, a world that largely believed he had possession, and a rule which thwarted both of those conclusions, and then the league itself taking that situation and talking about changing the rule. The problem isn't that the rule doesn't have enough caveats; it's that the rule is too inflexible.

Tom: If the rules always produced the obvious result, do you really need rules in the first place?

Mike: Well, yes. Otherwise kicking the ball would be legal.

Tom: We're stuck in the old rules-standards argument we both (I assume) re-hashed a thousand times in law school.

Mike: My point is that the football-consuming audience has become so obsessed with the idea of consistency, and the league so defensive about it, that they're shooting themselves in the foot in an attempt to turn officials into robots. But you're never going to have the kind of consistency the complainers want, for the same reason you'll never have holding called according to the rule.

Tom: So, the complainers are the problem. The officials are agents of the NFL, and the NFL is sensitive, maybe overly so, to people who complain. Agents not in the legal sense, but in the public view they serve as instrumentalities enforcing the rulebook to the NFL's liking.

Mike: Well, no. People complain about the strike zone all the time, pretty much every game, but MLB doesn't break out the lasers to make sure every umpire is calling the same zone. They have the guts to say "Yes, it's a judgment call by the umpire, and he'll treat everyone in this game the same way, so it will be fair."

Tom: See, I'd argue the MLB strike zone is actually more inherently subjective at the margins like holding, but that's a critique of the MLB rules.

Mike: The NFL, in contrast, is running scared and trying to set up a complex system whereby every single play would be called the same way in every single situation by every single official. My point is that subjectivity isn't bad. The comparison is not in calls between crews and between games. It's between calls within each individual game. So long as that is consistent, both in the sense that similar actions are penalized similarly -- within context, and context is all-important -- the game is fair. And there is room for subjectivity under that theory.

Tom: We already see this in the NFL, as some crews call more or fewer of different types of penalties. And NFL teams supposedly adjust their game plan (at the margins) accordingly.

Mike: Right. So that's a roundabout way of saying that the complainers are the NFL's fault for trying to create an unrealistic system. And when they invariably fail, are criticized for it.

Tom: In that case, I'm back at being cranky at the complainers. There will always be more of them, because they expect the NFL to be able to do something that simply isn't possible. We'll probably have to agree to disagree on that one.

Mike: The take-home point is that the NFL should just admit that the majority of calls and non-calls are up to the officials' judgment and stop trying to hide from that fact.

Tom: And they're never going to stop trying to hide from that fact, because they're the ones taking the blame and they don't want to alienate the customer. And we could go back and forth all night, so I'll just leave you the last word with that.

Mike: The league and fans in general would be much better served if they actually learned to embrace a little legislative vagueness.

Fantasy Football Update

Tom: It was another mediocre week for The Fantasy Team I Kind of Care About, and it cost me. I lost 94-81. My opponent only had two double-digit scorers to my four, but he got 27 from Malcom Floyd and 20 for Jets DST. Meanwhile my top scorer was Steve Smith with only 14. And, once again, I ended up with my fantasy defense giving up more than 30 points. Yes, playing the Dolphins last week was a mistake. But the Chargers? Against the Raiders? The Chargers had nine sacks the week before.

Mike: With the Raiders missing their top running back and eventually their quarterback.

Tom: I had a chance until the fourth quarter of Vikings-Jets. Then Brett Favre threw that pick-6, and I was pretty much sunk. The good news is, I get Ben Roethlisberger back this week and my waiver wire quarterback saga will hopefully be at an end.

Mike: Amusingly, Favre's pick-6 sunk me, too. My game was tied up going into Minnesota's last drive. In our league, teams lose points when they give up 21-plus points, so had Minnesota scored, I would have won, barring heroics by Santonio Holmes.

Tom: That seems like a low threshold for points allowed.

Mike: Well, you start out with 15 points, then gain points for fumbles forced, interceptions, sacks, and scores. You lose a few points after you lose the shutout, then 15, then 21, then 30. Anyway, the problem could have been averted had I not been a moron and not started Kyle Orton.

Tom: Well, we still think Baltimore has a decent pass defense. Who'd you start instead?

Mike: Matt Ryan, but I should have believed in Orton. I feel I have failed the neck beard.

Tom: Well, now you know. He may have just been another Chicago Bears Quarterback (TM), but now he's a Real NFL Quarterback.

Mike: Yeah. Ryan and David Garrard had decent weeks, so the time has come to try to ship them off and get some help with my WRs. My RBs are pretty set, with Matt Forte, Rashard Mendenhall, Darren McFadden, Ryan Torain and Shonn Greene.

Tom: Hey, Garrard is on pace to set a record for most touchdown passes ever by a Jaguars quarterback. Who wouldn't want him in their starting lineup?

Mike: Ha!

Tom: As for Torain, I started him in my flex position instead of Santana Moss this week to poor effect. Granted, it wouldn't have changed the outcome of the game.

Mike: I suppose the flipside of it is that I had BAL DST, so that factored into my decision. But yeah, dumb.

Tom: Starting Orton would've hedged that!

Mike: I didn't want to start my QB against my DST. That's just a recipe for mediocrity.

Tom: Speaking of mediocrity, did you know that in Staff League you can't do Sunday add/drops?

Mike: You were warned.

Tom: What do you expect me to do, read the rules?

Mike: If you want to be a staff attorney for the competition committee, you'd better!

Tom: Any fantasy league where you can't do the Sunday morning add/drop and at least look like you're caring must be wrong, and that's all I have to say about that.

FO Staff Fantasy League Update

Remain in Matt Light (Barnwell, 3-2) 131 def. Team CBORG (Jemaine, 1-4) 90

CBORG put up its best game of the season, with 12 points from Percy Harvin and 16 from Vernon Davis, but it wasn't even close to Barnwell's total, the league leader for Week 5. Malcom Floyd's 27 points will do that, especially paired with 19 from Eli Manning, 17 from LeSean McCoy and 18 from Josh Scobee. Your Scramble writer would write more, but CatholicMatch girl is freaking him out and he needs to switch pages, like, now.

Triple Asian Flu (Doug, 4-1) 106 def. Scramble Forever (Ian & Al, 3-2) 72

It looks like the wheels may be starting to come off Scramble Forever, with heavy reliance on Houston's offense letting our boys down. Arian Foster (2 points) and Andre Johnson (9) came crashing down to Fantasy Earth this week, and an eyebrow-raising 16 points from Terrell Owens couldn't make up for it. Of course, injuries to Jermichael Finley and Aaron Rodgers certainly did not help. Of course, it would have taken a lot to overcome Doug's duo of Ray Rice (27 points) and Hakeem Nicks (25), who spearheaded an all-around quality performance and dethroned our antiheroes. This, of course, means that Doug is now this section's prime target. Enjoy your prize!

Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 1-4) 57 def. Team Verhei (Vince, 3-2) 53

This game was a mess because it appears both players forgot that the league's rules simply do not allow last-minute additions to the roster on Sundays, due to the bid-waiver system Barnwell implemented to make things more complicated and probably cheat. As such, both teams had miserable weeks with two players missing, who couldn't be replaced in a timely fashion. Tom lucked out because he was just missing Miami DST and Heath Miller; Vince lost out of Rashard Mendenhall and Ricky Williams, and production in their slots. (Yes, Vince has bench running backs. None of them were active).

Better Call Saul (Rob, 4-1) 114 def. Phanatic CodeBreakers (Tanier, 1-4) 50

Look who else didn't start Kyle Orton! Not that it would have made much of a difference, as two of Rob's players (Chris Johnson and Brandon Lloyd) combined to nearly equal Tanier's entire squad. Wait, Brandon Lloyd? What? Stop doubting the neck beard, people. It has some serious juju.

Consensus Picks (Elias, 3-2) 60 def. That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 3-2) 54

Pretty sure Sean thought he would get more than five points out of Peyton Manning. I imagine that's a common sentiment on this rare week where Peyton Manning wasn't just the best play, but was one of the worst. Elias was nudged to victory by a surprisingly healthy 11 points from Shonn Greene, who is out of the spotlight but not entirely forgotten in New York. Of course, he'll probably have one or two points next week, but he and Elias will always have Week 5.

Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 3-2) 99 def. Malice Aforethought (Will, 1-4) 58

This blowout was brought to you by the letters M and F, and the number 22. Matt Forte manhandled Carolina on Sunday before sacrificing runs to Chester Taylor/running into a 10-man front, and his owners were well rewarded. Aaron in particular gained more than half as many points from Forte (30) than were earned by Will's entire team. It's a good thing, too, since usually reliable quarterback Matt Schaub put up a pathetic one point. On the other hand, nobody on Will's roster gained more than 11 points, so Forte's absurd number was largely overkill.


The staff league is developing a clear division between the haves and the have-nots, with Aaron, Barnwell, Ian & Al, and Doug slugging it out. Most of the action is in the Scramble Alumni division, which pleases your Scramble writer greatly.

At Least We Know It's Not Set in Hawaii

Tom: There are so many things wrong with this commercial. First, if you want us to like your commercial, don't make half of it annoying screaming.

Mike: Well, the other thing is why GEICO needs four different marketing campaigns. When a man named Carol is criticizing your public relations, you're in trouble.

Tom: Are they really up to four?

Mike: The cavemen, the gecko, the googly eyes, and the weird fake Rod Serling guy.

Tom: Ah, yes, that is four. That's at least two too many.

Mike: Yeah. They could just go with one or two and then keep using the cheap carpet-bomb approach.

Tom: Exactly.

Mike: And they would have much stronger brand awareness.

Tom: More importantly, they're not tying them in a strong way. We've ripped on E*Trade before, but at least they stick with the same slogan in their different ads.

Mike: Yeah. On one hand, they've obviously done a decent job, they even got a bad sitcom based on their original campaign.

Tom: Which just goes to show that, as my aspiring screenwriter college roommate says, Hollywood is Officially Out of Ideas.

Mike: But we were oversaturated by cavemen and everyone was sick of them so maybe this is a reaction.

Tom: It was a fine ad gimmick. There just wasn't any there there.

Mike: Hollywood has plenty of ideas.

Tom: Fine, they just don't fund any of them.

Mike: It's just that 90 percent of anything on any medium is crap and there are fewer extremely marketed films.

Tom: Yes, I'm familiar with the existence of Sturgeon's Law.

Mike: So there is an illusion that film is somehow a less quality medium, but I digress.

Tom: Yes, let's talk about this annoying little piggy. And his pinwheels.

Mike: Seriously, who thought screeching for 20 seconds was a good idea? Also, WHY does he have pinwheels? Is this some sort of obscure Animal Farm/30 Rock joke?

Tom: Did you know pinwheels are banned from NBA stadiums? I learned that from the great Japanese gameshow Sekai Fushigi Hakken.

Mike: Good ole Japan. ... Wait, why are pinwheels banned?

Tom: Because they can distract players who are shooting free throws, or at least that was the explanation given as I understood it.

Mike: And the weird foam wiggly things don't? I thought that was the entire point.

Tom: It's easier for parts of a pinwheel to come off, which makes the stadium harder to clean.

Mike: I suppose that is true.

Tom: How long, I wonder, have piggies had opposable thumbs?

Mike: I'm still waiting for "Could you really save 15 percent on your car insurance by switching to GEICO? Is the Space Pope reptilian?" Actually, my main question is whether this is a normal thing. You would think that the other parents would cease giving the pig rides after being exposed to his screaming the first time.

Tom: No kidding. Maybe it's just a one-time thing.

Mike: Or at least that the kids wouldn't offer. The pig's classmate seemed pretty freaked out.

Tom: Maybe the other little piggies just go to the market. Really, Driver's Son looks absolutely miserable. This is probably some stupid mom thing. Where Piggy's Mom did a favor to Driver Mom, and Driver Mom repays the favor by driving Piggy home. And Driver's Son tries to warn Driver Mom this is a terrible idea, but Driver Mom does it anyway. The Suburban Mom Mafia is a fearful thing, if you've never been exposed to it.

Mike: I'm generally contemptuous of the suburbs, so it falls under that general feeling.

Tom: Though the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth, I'm a cheerful suburbanite. As with every other place, though, there are tradeoffs and better and worse aspects. Anyway, back to the commercial. You notice Driver's Son has this big backpack with him. Piggy has no such thing for some weird reason.

Mike: He's a happy, fun-loving dude. He has no use for homework!

Tom: I'll save my homework-related rant for my sixth or eighth book and simply note that homework seems to be omnipresent even in elementary schools. From his seeming lack of backpack and homework, I assume that Piggy's (adopted?) parents have used his lack of opposable thumbs to have him classified as learning disabled.

Mike: I'm not sure this is where we want to go.

Tom: Maybe not. Does GEICO realize what kind of weird things they do to people with a commercial like that?

Mike: That's probably part of the plan.

Tom: I suppose our commenters will probably say this is, like Ray Lewis flying through space without oxygen, a dream sequence.

Mike: Wait, Ray Lewis flying through space was a dream sequence?

Tom: I didn't think so.

Mike: I thought that was an approved use of Old Spice Body Wash.

Tom: I mean, it was clearly meant to be not realistic. But I'd say the second half of Laura was much more clearly a dream sequence. I'm not at all convinced it was, though I do need to see it again.

Mike: Now THAT is obscure.

Tom: It's one of the classics of Film Noir!

Mike: True, but Noir itself is pretty obscure nowadays. Of course, in the age of screaming middle school pigs, I'm not sure things have become any less weird. Tangentially, I need a new headset.


KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Most teams in clock-killing mode are extraordinarily run heavy, especially when the opposing team is out of timeouts. The Jets had an enviable opportunity to salt the game away against the Vikings. With the opportunity to snap the ball at 2:03, they could call any play in the playbook, and Brian Schottenheimer and Rex Ryan opted to call a pass. Just one problem: Quarterback Mark Sanchez snapped the ball too early and threw too quickly, incomplete, forcing the Jets to run another play before the two-minute warning and giving the Vikings 40 extra seconds they sorely needed.

MARTZ AWARD: Holding on to a 17-10 lead, the Eagles faced a fourth-and-2 at the San Francisco 35-yard line as the fourth quarter started of Sunday Night Football. Andy Reid had, in the third quarter, opted to punt on fourth-and-9 from the 33 and gone for it on fourth-and-1 from the 30. The 49ers had moved the ball past midfield after the punt, and the fourth-down try had fallen incomplete, so Andy Reid apparently decided that Candlestick Park's frequently swirling winds meant kicker David Akers should try the 53-yard field goal, even though Akers hadn't made one from that distance in three years. Akers unsurprisingly missed, and the 49ers had excellent field position.

COLBERT AWARD: Kudos to Chiefs coach Todd Haley and Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo for opening their games Sunday with onside kicks. Though both efforts failed, it truly is the effort that counts. Just don't do it too often, or it'll be unsurprising and we'll have to find a new way Colbert Award nominees can distinguish themselves.

Loser League Update

QUARTERBACK: Hey, Jake Delhomme finished with 0 points. Who would ever have guessed he'd have the worst Loser League score one week, aside from "pretty much everybody"? Todd Collins was even worse, putting up a -7, but wasn't eligible.

RUNNING BACK: Jamaal Charles may have gotten twice as many carries as Thomas Jones this week, but Jones still got enough to avoid the inactivity penalty and earned a mere 1 point. Arian Foster put up 2 points as he was caught up in the Texans malaise on Sunday.

WIDE RECEIVER: Devin Hester, Jason Avant, Harry Douglas, Devin Thomas and Dexter McCluster were all drafted in 2006 or later, and each had 1 point this weekend. D-party!

KICKER: You know it's a boring week for kickers when the name in this space actually made his only two kicks. Yes, Ryan Longwell, your 2 points earned you low man honors this week.

You Knew It Was Coming

Scramble Mailbag

drobviousso: I have Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger in a league with pretty standard scoring and one QB slot. As this may be the only week ever where Rodgers has brain damage and Ben doesn't, should I start Ben? He also gets to go up against Cleveland, but I don't know how conservative his game plan is going to be in his first game back.

Tom: Well, I already mentioned I'll be starting Ben.

Mike: Roethlisberger got a mountain of first-team reps in the preseason in an attempt to get him comfortable with the offense before his suspension, then spent the month he was suspended working every day with a mechanics coach, then had two weeks to study and prep with the first team offense. He'll be executing the full playbook, and about 70 times better than Charlie Batch did, as cool and nice a person as Batch is.

Tom: Yup, yup, yup. The big issue will be how he responds to pass pressure. The Browns are eighth in ASR, which mildly concerns me, though not enough that I won't be starting him. The early news out of Green Bay also indicates you may not have much of a choice in terms of Rodgers. And I'm nowhere near confident in Matt Flynn to say you should grab him for a spot start over Ben.

Mike: Agreed.

J.C. Rodriguez: Guys, as I write you, there has not been a clear message regarding Megatron [Calvin Johnson]. In the meantime, I need your opinion regarding my options to sub him if he can't go in the short term. I have Kevin Walter and Donald Driver, and I am trying to snatch Tampa Bay's Mike Williams. Standard scoring applies. Thanks for your thoughts.

Mike: Driver is normally a good option, but as we just mentioned, Green Bay is in a weird place.

Tom: Yup.

Mike: As skeptical of Tampa as I am, I like Mike Williams against New Orleans.

Tom: I do like Kevin Walter, especially if Jacoby Jones does end up limited because of an injury.

Mike: I don't think the New Orleans defense is good enough and tricky enough to take advantage of Tampa Bay's youth.

Tom: Roy Williams is also a good option, I think. Driver, especially with Flynn starting, is just too unpredictable of an option

Mike: It's probably a toss-up between the two, really. I'm just leaning toward Williams, if getting him isn't too dear.

Tom: New Orleans is better than you think on pass defense, but Kansas City isn't a hugely attractive matchup either. I agree, lean Williams.

Passball: In a tough situation here because of byes. I'm in 10-team PPR league. I have Dwayne Bowe (@Texans), Donald Driver (@Dolphin), Peyton Hills (@Steelers), Thomas Jones (@Texans), and Ricky Williams (@Packers). I need to fill 1 WR slot, 1 RB slot, and a RB/WR. I am thinking of starting Driver, Bowe, and Jones. Does that sound like the best choice? I could also try to pick Roy Williams off the waiver wire and start him @Vikings.

Mike: That's a rough draw. I think Bowe and Jones are sure starts. I really don't want to say Ricky Williams, but I think I have to. There are few backs to start against the Steelers, and Hillis isn't one of them. We just went over Driver's problems. You could try Roy Williams, but that's a dicey proposition, so I'd go with Ricky.

Tom: Bowe is playing against the Texans. Start him. Agreed on Driver. I do think Roy Williams is a more attractive option than you do, especially with Minnesota's injuries in the secondary. You just saw Jones on the Loser League leaders list, but I don't think Hillis against the Steelers is a particularly good option. I'd actually lean slightly in favor of Ricky Williams over Jones, in part because I'd want to avoid Chiefs over-concentration.

Norv! That's really all that we can say. Send your questions to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 13 Oct 2010

59 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2010, 3:56pm by ABW


by Kevin from Philly :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 4:30pm

I think Geico has been phasing the "caveman" ads out. The only new ones I've seen lately were when they had with the guys from "Deadliest Catch".

The REALLY bad development in car insurance advertising is the apparent demise of Erin Esurance. Too bad - sexiest woman on TV.

by sundown (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 4:50pm

Her early commercials were awesome but they jumped the shark when they changed her from being a spy and teamed her up with the dude and made them cops. (Or whatever they were.) The creativity was completely gone then.

by BucNasty :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 4:47pm

I think Marvin Lewis is more deserving of the Martz award. Up by 7 with 2:28 left to go in the game, at their 41 yard line and Tampa Bay out of timeouts, he opts to throw for it on 3rd and 13 rather than running the ball to get to the 2 minute warning and punting the ball away. Rather than pinning the Bucs deep in their own territory with no timeouts and likely getting a win, his decision leads to a Carson Palmer interception that let Tampa come back and tie it.

by Joseph :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 5:42pm

Gotta say that I agree--although watching the MNF I couldn't believe what the Jets did--at first (wasn't paying 100% attention) I thought that I must have seen the game clock wrong, and that Sanchez snapped it at 1 or 2 secs. Now, I know that I was right.
Having said that, the Bucs had no business winning that game. With 3rd and 13, if you want to pass, why don't you run a safe screen (normally completed, even if you don't pick up the 1st). Don't throw a somewhat risky pass--an incomplete is almost as bad as an INT! (According to your data, the clock stops ~2:20--then the punt takes it to 2:10--then the Bucs can run ANYTHING on 1st down, since the clock will stop for the 2:00 warning.) I mean, I understand, if you pick up the 1st down, you can kneel it, game over. 3rd and 3, I get it--maybe they're thinking run, let's playfake and get a short completion, game over. 3rd & 13--um, isn't everyone thinking PASS??? Either run a draw, a simple, high completion percentage pass, run the clock down to 2 minutes; punt, pin them way back with no TO's, ~1:50, and AT LEAST make Freeman play like PM, TB, DB, BF, etc. to come back and TIE IT UP. If he does, then good for him--and OT still gives you a 50/50 chance of winning. I wonder what Lewis will need to do to keep his job.

by Kurt :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 6:29pm

Eh. A first down wins the game, a completed pass short of the first down gains a few yards, and an incomplete pass costs them about twenty seconds. I'd put that one on Palmer for throwing the pick.

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 8:19pm

This was the logic behind not giving Lewis the Martz Award. Palmer was a KCW candidate, but because Rex threw Sanchez under the bus, and Sanchez's move was (at least to me) more clearly an easily avoidable error, Sanchez won that this week.

by BucNasty :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 8:51pm

But it's not 3rd and 5, it's 3rd and 13. That's beyond the point where a gutsy call to go for the jugular becomes a dumb move that costs your team the game. You're more likely to throw incomplete or take a sack than you are to convert. By running a draw, you can let the clock run down to the 2 minute mark and then punt from roughly midfield. This wasn't some crazy shootout, the Bucs' offense had only managed 7 points (the other 7 came on a pick 6) while trying to be balanced. What are the odds they drive all the way down the field in under 2 minutes, with no timeouts, on the road against arguably the best corner tandem in the league? And that's just to tie it up. The game was over before he made that call. It's up to the players to execute regardless, but Lewis should not have put Palmer in that position.

by Kurt :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 9:56pm

You're also more likely to make the first down than throw an interception. As it was, they drove half the way down the field, against the best corner tandem in the league, and scored a touchdown in 52 seconds. Whatever the difference is between Tampa having the ball on their own 20 and at midfield, it can't be as great as the difference between Tampa having the ball on their own 20 and the Bengals having the ball whereever and taking a knee.

Also, you have more faith in the 3rd and 13 run run than I do, if you're assuming a punt from midfield. The play started on the Bengals' 38.

by tuluse :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 4:54pm

"If he is down the play is dead."

This isn't college. He has to be down by contact, not just down.

by Kramer (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 5:03pm

Going to the ground applies whether or not the receiver is touched.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 5:07pm

"The comparison is not in calls between crews and between games. It's between calls within each individual game. So long as that is consistent, both in the sense that similar actions are penalized similarly -- within context, and context is all-important -- the game is fair. And there is room for subjectivity under that theory."

I disagree. A team that passes a lot and has an undersized offensive line will be hugely advantaged by playing with a crew that calls fewer holding penalties. Just like a umpire with a large strike zone will advantage teams built a certain way but not others. I don't see how that's fair. It may be a necessary evil, but it's not fair.

by Pat Swinnegan :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 5:19pm

Contrary to some people's complaints, what the rule on a Calvin Johnson-type play should be isn't clear to me. The refs did get the call right, interpreting the rule as it exists right now, but maybe the rule should be different.

As I understand it, the rule is: Hitting the ground can't make you lose the ball, or the pass is incomplete.

The very first time I saw Calvin Johnson's catch, at full speed, it looked to me as though hitting the ground had caused him to drop the ball. I conclude that the call on the field was not unreasonable.

In slow motion (and millions watched it only in this way) it appears more clear that, although the ball was in his hand and touching the turf, he let go of it intentionally. I conclude that the play not being overturned was probably more of an 'indisputable visual evidence' thing.

Finally, I conclude that the rule is just fine. A lot of controversy results from people trying to infer details of the rule just from observing how it's enforced, but the enforcement of any rule is imperfect, and therefore never precisely reflects the rule itself.

by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 12:04am

Well said. I actually want them to work on that rule, but you present your case very well. Regarding the application of the rule, I do believe the Johnson play comes out completely differently if it happens again tomorrow; it's all in where you consider the play being over. Getting up off the ground is clearly after everything is over, which is how I viewed the replay. The problem I see with the entire thing is there will always be borderline, controversial calls. In this case, the NFL actually made things less clear for the officials calling the game, which is either the result of a terrible rule or bad training of the officials. Or both. One thing is for certain: The "second act" nonsense either needs to be put in the rule book or never heard of again. You simply can't have officials "quoting" rules that don't exist.

by Pat Swinnegan :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 12:35am

I do believe the Johnson play comes out completely differently if it happens again tomorrow; it's all in where you consider the play being over. Getting up off the ground is clearly after everything is over, which is how I viewed the replay.

I agree on both counts, and that's why I'm bewildered by suggestions that it was a "good call of a bad rule" -- the rule itself seems perfectly reasonable to me, but the call didn't seem consistent with it, given the replay evidence. I do feel 100% sure that if the call on the field had been a touchdown, that that would have held on review as well; probably it was just one of those deals where the call on the field stands unless the replay evidence leaves no room for ambiguity at all. (Which is not a principal I'm crazy about...)

by Jerry :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 3:27am

On the Johnson touchdown, everything was visible on replay, so it's up to the referee's interpretation. The "indisputable visual evidence" principle guarantees that a call isn't overturned because it looks like the other call MIGHT be better; the referee has to be certain, which is a good thing.

by dbostedo :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 8:43am

"...he let go of it intentionally."
Here's the issue - I disagree that it was intentional. And that shouldn't need to be determined for the correct call to be made - it should only be did he maintain control of the ball or not.

by bubqr :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 9:54am

I agree on both sentences. I also don't think it was intentional, and that doesn't matter.

by zlionsfan :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 2:48pm

I do think it was intentional, but agree that it doesn't matter: if he let go of the ball on purpose, he could have resolved the issue simply by not touching the ball to the ground. If he didn't let go on purpose, then it wasn't really a catch anyway.

The problem with changing a rule based on a play like this is that it's an outlier: no matter what the rule says, it's going to be difficult to decide it. I feel like there might be a better way to indicate what "control" means, but I can't give an example myself, so I'll accept the rule as it is.

(With respect to the game, the Lions could have resolved the problem by scoring on a subsequent play ... if that had happened, would the play still be talked about? I doubt it.)

by Dan :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 6:00pm

Are this week's Loser League results going to be posted soon? They're usually up by the time Scramble is published.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 7:05pm

I LOVE that ad with the Geico pig.

Wheeeeeeeee! Wheeeeeeeeeeee! WheeEEEEEEEEEEE!

You Yanquis just don't get surreal.


On a slightly more serious note, I think these two writers would be better suited looking at legal issues surrounding the NFL. The sort of stuff that Florio used to do really well before he became a smug, opinionated git. This week you could have done a long look at the repercussions of that agent's article in SI. Now back to the pig.


by dmb :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 8:46pm

I get surreality; I just don't get how one could enjoy being subjected to that godawful high-pitched racket several times in the course of a couple hours. (It doesn't help that the ad has been playing on the Hulu shows I watch...) Really, that's the only problem I have with the commercial, and I actually like the "sister" ads in the campaign ... though I do agree that it's weird for a company to have four simultaneous advertising "trademarks."

by tuluse :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 10:42pm

Do you vote no on the ads you don't like on Hulu? I find it helps.

by dmb :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 12:01pm

Usually, though sometimes I take the opportunity to go get a glass of water, etc. I used to give any 15-second commercial a "thumbs up" when they were still using that system.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 8:47am

Yup, seconded. The concept's funny but the noise is so horrific that I just can't stand the commercial.

It's still not as bad as the Burger King breakfast ones.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 1:07pm

OK I should clarify. A couple of years ago I became so annoyed by the way ads ramp the volume up (apparently they are allowed to use the loudest part of the program they are inserted into as their baseline) that I now hit the mute button for every ad break and only listen if the ad looks kind of interesting. The pig ad was different to the constant stream of pick-up truck/cordon blue school/vile looking fast food ads so I listened to it once and I laughed. It hasn't reached the stage where I've heard it too much because I've only heard it once.

Hit the mute button folks, it's the future. Well either that or DVRs.

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 2:15pm

Maybe you'd like the ad better if the pig had a better personality?

by Arkaein :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 8:34pm

Not so sure I would start a committee RB against GB (Ricky Williams). GB has been very good against RBs this season, it's QB scrambles that have hurt them. Here are the leading RBs against GB this season (carries/yards/avg/TDs):

LeSean McCoy - 7 - 35 - 5.0 - 1
Marshawn Lynch - 17 - 64 - 3.8 - 0
Matt Forte - 11 - 29 - 2.6 - 0
Jahvid Best - 12 - 50 - 4.2 - 0
Ryan Torain - 16 - 40 - 2.5 - 0

McCoy did add 47 yards receiving, Best had 34 yards, and Torain 27. No receiving TDs. Fred Jackson did have a rushing TD for Buffalo.

Overall, GB has had a pretty good defense against RBs, both in real and fantasy terms.

by N8 (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 9:26pm

Still think that it is ridiculous that DPI can be a 30-40-50 yard penalty, but this one is really only a 15 yarder - easily offset by a penalty on the other side...


by DGL :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 9:39pm

Didn't Matt Moore put up -3 in Loser League? 5/10, so didn't take the penalty; 35 yards (+1) and 2 INTs (-4).

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 10:28pm

It looks like the parser used to create the Loser League scores applies the FO play adjustments, which means his spike is removed and he gets the penalty.

by DGL :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 3:10pm

Well, that sucks. Good thing there's nothing more than bragging rights involved, or I'd be kind of pissed that the rules say "less than ten attempts", not "less than ten attempts not including spikes".

Does it also not deduct two points for interceptions on hail mary passes?

by Alexander :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 10:04pm

All the rule changes I want see see are rollbacks of rule changes the NFL has made intentionally. Particularly I dislike the way defensive holding/illegal contact is called on cornerbacks.

More pressing though:
League 1: Orton vs. Roethisberger
League 2: Orton vs. Roethisberger vs. Rodgers
League 2 #2: Jennings, Santonio Holmes, Driver, Crabtree, Dez Bryant, Hines Ward (Pick 3)

Right Now I'm going with Ben, and the 1st 3 wideouts

by Eddo :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 11:12am

"All the rule changes I want see see are rollbacks of rule changes the NFL has made intentionally."

So, you want every rule rolled back? Because I don't think the NFL made any rules unconsciously, did it?

by Alexander :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 2:39pm

Yea, it has made several rules because it didn't understand its old rules.

On the other hand, they have made playing defense a penalty.

by Tom Gower :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 8:09pm

I think Orton's a much more viable play than you do-the Jets are only 21st in Pass D DVOA, and have actually given up more yards passing than the Browns this year. As mentioned in the column, I'm worried about how Ben will look in his first start back.

I'd assume the Raiders will look to match up Asomugha on Crabtree, though Davis is also a possibility. Either way, it's not worth the risk. I think Ward is actually a viable play, as Ben may look to him more. Bryant is a viable play, and I'd play him over Holmes-likely a similar rank in priority, but probably more time on the field and a more productive overall passing attack. Driver over Jennings, I think, and if Flynn starts I'd lean Driver.

With Rodgers: Driver, Ward, Jennings, Bryant, Holmes, Crabtree
With Flynn: Driver, Ward, Bryant, Jennings, Holmes, Crabtree

by mansteel (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:14pm

To people complaining about the pig commercial (or any other commercial, for that matter): why do you watch them? I'm not trying to be a smartass here. I really want to know why anyone watches commercials. Do you not have the stomach-churning hatred of them that I do? Is the DVR feature not available in your area? I mean, I haven't watched a commercial in three years* and the only thing I missed is the Red House commercial which FO was kind enough to show me last year.

At ~20 min of commercials/hr, ~10 hrs/week of TV, over three years that's about 10,000 minutes or 170 hours over the last three years that I haven't spent watching failed comedy writers' pathetic attempts to be clever while insulting my intelligence, undermining my self-esteem, and urging me to waste my money.


*claim may not be true

by dbostedo :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:36pm

It's tough to avoid commercials when watching live sports unless you like to flip away and try to get back in time. Do you actually record all the games you watch for enough time that you can fast forward all the commercials? I find that that drives me nuts, since I know things have already happened that I could just fast forward to see.

by Alexander :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 12:26am

I honestly don't find sporting events that are not live compelling. Sure, I can not check my fantasy teams, but that ruins the compelling nature of that as well.

Commercials are a small price to pay to have my sports be compelling.

If I actually want to analyze the game the NFL network cuts out all the BS for me on the replays.

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 12:55am

DVR costs money. Some of us don't have much of it.

by mansteel (not verified) :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 10:41am

All reasonable points. Perhaps--well, probably--I am a bit extreme in my distaste for commercials.

And yes I do actually record everything and watch it later, although "later" is often only <30 min later. In some senses that is as "live" as actually watching it live since technically the "live" feed is on a few seconds delay and in either case I don't know what's going to happen next. IMHO, that--along with the expense of DVR--is far preferable to sitting through commercials but of course it's just a matter of preference. I just can't get my head around the fact that people can watch commercials without being disgusted.

by DFJinPgh (not verified) :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 3:04pm

I *literally* have not seen a commercial in 10 years.

I have this button on my tv, skip, where whatever channel it is on when you press it, after the countdown, it returns to that channel.

Press it again to increment the counter by 30 seconds.

NFL and MLB commercial breaks are 2 minutes (except in the playoffs, or sometimes weekend national baseball games). Press skip 4 times, go to any other channel.

If no other channels have anything interesting, go to a channel that has nothing (I mean, literally, snow). That's a mute, and the volume comes back without having to pay attention to when the commercials end.

My TV was not digital-ready, and it's less efficient when you have a box intercepting your incoming stream (I always had cable plugged directly into the tv when I had cable), so now I just pretty much don't watch tv, except football, and the 2-minute mute works perfectly for that.

I cannot fathom how people can watch commercials at all. I'm sickened and disgusted by how little they respect my willpower and intelligence, and just do not understand how anybody else is not similarly offended.

by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 12:30am

You guys blew my mind with the Laura reference. Never heard of it before just now, but looking it up on IMDB, it immediately became clear that the plot of Twin Peaks was just a huge reference to that movie (confirmed for me by tvtropes.com). Thanks for putting that particular piece of pop-cultural trivia in my head. I assure you I'll use it wisely.

by Key19 :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 12:43am

I was humming "Subdivisions" during Calculus class today. Great reference, Tom.

by ChaosOnion (not verified) :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 9:42am

I have not sat in a Calculus class since 1996. I have not taught a Calculus class since 2003. Frell, how old am I?

by Shattenjager :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 12:59am

Best part this week: "due to the bid-waiver system Barnwell implemented to make things more complicated and probably cheat." It's made even better by the fact that it could be true.

And I approve of all noir references. I expect mentions of Irene Jacobs, Sidney Greenstreet, and Nora Zehetner* (I mixed in a neo-noir there, yes.) next week.

*Mentions/pictures/sound clips of her are always good, whether you're making noir references or not.

by azibuck (not verified) :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 10:06am

"Giving the (NFL) receiver an extra foot or so of real estate in the hardest area to defend against passes would be a disaster."

Disaster? Really? Way overstated.

"Just look at the physical ability required for some of these sideline catches where you see a second-foot drag. No high school player and nearly no college player could manage that."

Absurd. They don't because they don't have to. I disagree with the degree of difficulty involved. It's a technique that requires reps, nothing more.

by Eddo :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 11:25am

The part I don't understand is that, if we really do want rules to be consistent across all levels (which I don't agree with), why the NFL would have to adopt the rules of lower leagues? Why couldn't the NCAA and high school associations modify their catch rules?

by canadrian (not verified) :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 10:26am

A tangential issue with regard to the Johnson catch is how replay itself affects our perception of NFL rules. Certain rules, like the catch rule or, probably more famously, the "tuck rule" serve as bright-line standards designed to make it easier for officials to make consistent calls during a fast paced game. At full speed, it's incredibly difficult to tell whether or not a player had possession, was touched, and then lost control as he hit the ground or if he never had possession to begin with. The problem is that the introduction of replay gives the viewer more information.

Think back to Brady's tuck. In slow motion, it is clear that Brady no longer intended to throw the pass and that what happened was a fumble. Replay, however, is not used to make an accurate assessment of whether what Brady did was fumble or pass. Instead, replay is used to enforce the bright-line standard that was created to compensate for the difficulty in making consistent judgments in the absence of the increased information that replay provides. This could be a rules-standards question, but it also begs the question as to whether the bright-line standards themselves should be reevaluated now that we have a tool that gives us the ability to make more accurate ex-post judgments about a play.

by Southern Philly :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 10:29am

There are so many brands out there that have no instantly recognizable ads, and here Geico has multiple ones (they haven't used the googly eyes in at least a year). That's a job well done, not terrible.

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 2:14pm

Yeah, the googly eyed stack of money was kinda creepy, and that song - much more annoying than the pig.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 3:17pm

To me that borders on blasphemy, googly eyes are funny on anything.

by Kevin from Philly :: Fri, 10/15/2010 - 9:34am

Not on Andrea Kramer.

by zlionsfan :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 2:54pm

The NHL does have different rules than the NCAA does, some ostensibly for safety reasons and some because whatever. Same with the NBA and the NCAA, also (I think) MLS and NCAA ...

Also, MLB strike zones = aaaaaaargh. A great example of officials throwing the rulebook out the window and league caretakers studiously avoiding any acknowledgment of it. They're almost as bad as ball-control rules in the NBA, if there are any these days.

by Jeff Feagles is God (not verified) :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 5:00pm

Shaun Hill has been impressive lately; I picked him up off the waiver wire because my normal QB, Brady, had a bye. Am I crazy to keep Hill in against NYG and keep Brady on the bench because he's facing the BAL defense and just lost his only serious downfield threat?

by Eddo :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 5:43pm

I'd say you're overthinking things. The Giants just had very good games against the Bears (Cutler had negative points) and Texans (Schaub had less than five). I think you have to stick with Brady.

by ABW (not verified) :: Fri, 10/15/2010 - 12:20pm

I have the following WRs: Austin Collie, Andre Johnson, Hakeem Nicks and Wes Welker. I can only play 3 of them. I'm leaning towards leaving Andre Johnson and his matchup vs. Brandon Flowers on the bench, simply because I think all the other guys have much better matchups. Am I crazy to do so? Flowers has been pretty ridiculously good this year...

by Tom Gower :: Fri, 10/15/2010 - 3:20pm

I'm pretty sure Johnson's still playing through his injury, so it's not Andre Johnson with a bad matchup but Andre Johnson At 80 Or Something Percent with a bad matchup. Without looking at matchups for Collie, Nicks, and Welker but assuming they're not bad, I'd feel comfortable sitting him (and be prepared to say "I knew what I was doing and why I did it, and it wasn't crazy of me" just in case he goes 10-172-3).

by ABW (not verified) :: Fri, 10/15/2010 - 3:56pm

Thank you for the reply!

by Badfinger (not verified) :: Fri, 10/15/2010 - 1:05pm

*Well, no. People complain about the strike zone all the time, pretty much every game, but MLB doesn't break out the lasers to make sure every umpire is calling the same zone. They have the guts to say "Yes, it's a judgment call by the umpire, and he'll treat everyone in this game the same way, so it will be fair."*

I WISH they were able to say that.

MLB addresses the increasingly loud and insistent call for expanded replay and consistency by severely limiting the amount of time controversial calls get on the scoreboard replay, and people have speculated they've attempted to limit them on television as well.

After pawing through it, I think the rulebook is in severe need of a full rewrite to condense all of the clarifications just to make it more parsable. With that being said, the fact that the NFL is very fast to identify things that don't pass the sniff test even when they're ruled exactly correctly is refreshing.