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Guest columnist John Kinsley breaks down the tape of every deep pass in the NFL in 2017 and comes away with a shocking conclusion: even without Andrew Luck, the Colts had the best long-ball quarterback in the league.

19 Oct 2011

Scramble for the Ball: Get Off My Lawn

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

They Changed It, Now It Sucks

Tom: So, Mike, we've been getting stories like this one we recently XP'ed about how there's lots of offense this year. Curious, I decided to look into this a little further. And you know what? The average drive through five weeks ends short of where the average drive last year did.

Mike: I hope you would. These articles are full of things like "NFL quarterbacks are averaging 7.41 yards per attempt this season. Not only is that a 5.8 percent increase over last season (7.0), it is also a 3.2 percent increase over the previous record (7.18 in ’83)." So, passing is spiraling so out of control that it is worse than ... 1983? It makes one wonder if the author is happy with any era of post-merger football.

Tom: Well, it's probably not a surprise to learn that passing is even more efficient in 2011 than it was in 1983.

Mike: So your theory is that teams have more yardage to work with and because of the efficiency of modern passing attacks, they simply gain those extra yards?

Tom: It's slightly more complicated than that, but that's part of it. One of the things we know is that running back yards per carry can be deceptive because they're skewed by long runs. Part of the reason stats look good is because long plays are now slightly longer, because offenses are starting farther back because of the new rules. The other part of the equation, which may be skewed by generally better weather early in the year, is that passing is particularly efficient. We'll see if it holds up over the course of the year, and if so why it does. Using the latest data from Pro-Football-Reference, completion percentage thus far in 2011 is 60.75 percent, when back in 2010 it was ... also 60.75 percent. Any increase in yards per attempt is thus purely the result of more yards per pass. The distance from the line of scrimmage to the end zone puts an upper bound on yards. That upper bound is longer. Thus, more yards are available for offenses to gain.

Mike: Interesting.

Tom: One thing I'd be curious about is if passing is more efficient on drives that start farther back. I'm sure we'll be writing an essay for Football Outsiders Almanac 2012 to see if interestingly different things happened on drives that start after a kickoff in 2011 as compared to 2010.

Mike: What I would be interested to see is a comparison of first-down pass percentage over the years, particularly on passes to the middle and deep zones, and if they're becoming more frequent.

Tom: That's what I want to see. Are passes in particular situations being more efficient, or are teams just calling more of the more-efficient plays?

Mike: Or are coaches for some psychological reason looking to eat up chunks of yardage more quickly, because they have longer fields? Are they finding, in the process, that they can because of the past few years' liberalization to the passing game?

Tom: Or is it just that the level of NFL quarterbacking is at an all-time high thanks to the propagation of seven-on-seven drills and pass-heavier offenses at lower levels? I'm not sure there's a good way to test that, but thought I'd just throw that out there before people start blathering about how rules changing are ruining Their Beloved Game.

Mike: Well, again, one of the records he references was set in 1983. People will latch on to whatever statistic they find and try to cram it into their preferred narrative.

Tom: Yes, and that's a bad argument.

Mike: That is always the danger of statistics.

Tom: Compared to 2010, teams averaged more yards per attempt in 1983, but were sacked more frequently and threw more interceptions, so passing was less effective than pure YPA makes it seem. That just goes to show we need to be able to put the statistics in perspective. Is a passing revolution in place in the NFL, or is it just more of the same, only with a different mix? We'll keep an eye on that as the year goes on, and I'm sure we'll be revisiting these issues again later this year or in FOA 2012.

Fantasy Football Update

Tom: So, Mike, this week I had the league's third-highest score in one league and the league's second-highest score in my other two leagues. Naturally, I lost all three games. Thanks to the Miami Dolphins for their complete and utter ineptitude. In one league, my game has now featured the league's highest score for the week four times. Twice I've had the league's highest score, and now twice my opponent has.

Mike: At least you get exciting matches.

Tom: Screw exciting. I want to destroy people.

Mike: You are always the sport.

Tom: Ah, whatever. It's just frustrating. My team should continue to be good, and hopefully my luck will improve.

Mike: We always hope that. This was a pretty dire week for me in fantasy, which is what happens when both of your teams are anchored by the two same players.

Tom: Bye week fun!

Mike: Actually, not even that, just a bad week. To be fair, Ray Rice had a decent week, but Drew Brees was somewhere between "bad" and "Rex Grossman."

Tom: Brees was actually OK for me in the league where I had him, just not great.

Mike: He had decent yardage, but one touchdown to three interceptions is very not good, especially since, as I said, Brees is a cornerstone of my team.

Tom: That's the league where I got points for completions and yardage bonuses, so even with a big penalty for interceptions he had a good week. I guess without those he was just OK, which isn't good enough.

Mike: Exactly. That said, even with bad weeks I was still ahead of my opponent going into Monday Night Football. As expected, however, four points is simply not enough cushion.

Tom: Curse you, marine mammals!

Mike: On the bright side, I still finished second in points in the other league, beating the second-place team, so I am first in both standings and points now with a win on my closest competitor.

Tom: Good.

Mike: I fall to the middle of the other league, but well above everyone in that range points-wise, so I'm confident I'll bounce back.

Tom: I'm third in the division in one league, but only one game back of, and with a lot more points than, the two teams on top. I just don’t need any more encounters with the league’s highest-scoring team that week.

FO Staff League Update

That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 4-0) 104 def. Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 2-4) 101

Yes, Sean has played four games to Tom's six. I'm not sure how that works. The other bad news for Tom is that he finally posted something close to the league-high score! That means, by some sort of karma, that it came against the lone remaining undefeated team. The Ringers' faith in Frank Gore has begun to bear fruit, but all-everything Adrian Peterson let him down against a suddenly staunch Chicago defense, earning a mediocre nine points. No player did the Hustle to great effect this week, but Sean had more double-digit performers, and that gave him the ultimate three-point edge.

Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 2-2) 87 def. Known Chumpsky (Rivers, 3-3) 62

Ugly, ugly week for the Chumpskies, possibly due to byes (Larry Fitzgerald, Ryan Mathews), but mostly because his top performers were Ben Roethlisberger and Jimmy Graham(!) with 12 points. Aaron was likely swearing at Mario Manningham as much as your Scramble writer, but received some oompf from Darren McFadden's 15 points and LeSean McCoy's 19, more than enough to put Rivers away.

Intentional Rounding (Danny, 2-4) 81 def. Los Pollos Hermanos (Rob, 2-2) 53

Apparently this week features teams that have had two byes against teams that have had none. Rob really, really needs to unload some of his quarterbacks. His trio of DeAngelo Williams, Cedric Benson and Peyton Hillis just aren't going to get it done in the long term, and Sam Bradford and Ryan Fitzpatrick are never going to play over Aaron Rodgers. Roddy White is a solid WR1 and Santana Moss is a not-atrocious WR2, so make a move, Rob! Danny's Fantastical Adventures with Michael Vick continue unabated, although it didn't really matter because the grand total of seven out of Rob's nine roster spots came out to be 19 points. While Danny didn't have anyone who cracked that number, that was almost Rob's entire team! There also must be something strange about this league, maybe a rule that requires all owners to keep three quarterbacks at all times. Josh Freeman or Jay Cutler on the bench behind Vick? Sure. Both of them? No good reason, especially since the bench is only seven-deep.

Reverse Jinxes (Elias, 5-1) 79 def. Parts Unknown Mufflers (Ben, 0-4) 72

I know you won, Elias, but come on. James Starks over Rashard Mendenhall? Really? Starks' five didn't help much, but Elias didn't need much help after all, as Ben continued his losing streak. His top player was Connor Barth. I think that speaks for itself.

Night of the Living Blancmange

Tom: Snickers aired this commercial last year, but unfortunately we never got around to writing about it. When I saw Snickers re-running this themed commercial this year, I put it on the list.

Mike: The sad part is that until I saw the one really long arm, I thought the woman was actually Julia Child.

Tom: Yes, because Julia Child really loved Snickers.

Mike: I hear they have an entire class on Snickers at Le Cordon Bleu. "Things that idiots deep fry." They have paramedics on hand for all the fainting.

Tom: One year I will go to the Texas State Fair and give myself a head start on a heart attack by trying deep fried everything. And, really, I do encourage people to give out Snickers as their Halloween treat. Whatever you do, none of those orange and black candy things nobody likes.

Mike: Hey, hey, wait a minute. Are you bad-mouthing candy corn?

Tom: No. Absolutely not. Just those things in the orange and black wrappers. I think they may have been peanut buttery.

Mike: Ooh, ooh! I know what you're talking about! Those things are dire.

Tom: Yes. I tried one when I was four or five, and it scarred me badly enough I haven’t even thought of trying one again.

Mike: We're considering taking our daughter trick or treating. The downside is that in the neighborhood we live in, we'd probably get tofu snacks and fruit leather. On the upside, babies seem to be adorable candy magnets.

Tom: I've seen pictures of my older niece dressed up for her first two Halloweens. I've been tempted to throw candy at the computer both times to compensate her for her adorableness.

Mike: Strange and mystical powers, children have. Back to the commercial: What is it with composite people? This is the second composite person commercial we've featured. Do you have some kind of body horror issue?

Tom: I don't think this is really a composite person, just one kid sitting on another kid's shoulders. Maybe standing. That's actually something like a trope, though I doubt it's on That Evil Time-Sink (Don't click through, trust me.). The Prius composite person thing was on a whole different level.

Mike: More the World's Most Giant Doctor than anything else, then.

Tom: Ah, well.

Mike: At least that supermarket is giant-accessible!

Tom: We haven't mentioned the creepiest part of this commercial: the way the giant woman caresses Mrs. Jensen's face when talking about how the neighborhood kids love Snickers.

Mike: Well, clearly there's a Stacey's Mom situation going on with the kid on top.

Tom: That's not really the vibe I got, maybe because I'm just overwhelmed by the creepiness.

Mike: It is pretty darn creepy. But really, what else could it be? It's not like neighbors casually caress each others' faces when discussing Halloween plans.

Tom: Maybe revenge for some kind of parental touchiness.

Mike: This commercial interlude is going to a very dark place I think we have to extricate ourselves from. This site could not withstand an attack from a portion of the internet roughly the size of Ireland.

Tom: Yes, we probably should. Buy Snickers, as the neighbor kids love Snickers. And don't put razor blades in them.

Mike: And if you ever see Julia Child in the supermarket, run! Because she is dead, and something has gone horribly wrong.

Loser League Update

KICKER: Josh Brown decided to emulate his Rams teammates Sunday at Green Bay and just be overmatched by the Packers. One field goal made, one missed, and 1 point for low honors this week.

WIDE RECEIVER: Davone Bess was one of the Dolphins who had a miserable time Monday night, netting 0 points after a fumble to go with his 21 yards receiving. The Victor Cruz bandwagon also had the emergency brake thrown on it as Mario Manningham's strong game left him with 12 yards receiving and 1 point.

RUNNING BACK: Felix Jones, Michael Bush, Bernard Scott, and Ryan Torain each had 2 points. Mike started Torain! Pity him.

QUARTERBACK: "Screw it, I'm throwing deep," which too often meant throwing to Kurt Coleman of the Eagles, left Rex Grossman at -1 points and John Beck inserted into the game in his place.


KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Was Pierre Garcon really trying to lateral the ball while being tackled late in Sunday's game against the Bengals? It certainly appeared that way.

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Up 14 points in the fourth quarter with less than five minutes to play, Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson elected to bypass the near-automatic field goal in favor of going for it. Michael Bush was stuffed, the Browns took the ball over on downs, and ended up with possession in Raiders territory in the last minute with a chance to either tie the game or take the lead with a two-point conversion. There are times to go for it, and times to take the points. Jackson should have taken the points there.

COLBERT AWARD: Hue Jackson, though, is not just unafraid to go for it when it's strategically unwise. He's also unafraid to go for it at unconventional times when football analysts say you should be unafraid to go for it. One of those moments came Sunday, with the Raiders holding a 14-7 lead with 3:26 to play in the second quarter at their own 34-yard line. Kyle Boller converted the quarterback sneak, and the drive continued. Though the Raiders didn't get another first down that drive and punted away, we still award Jackson's boldness.

Scramble Mailbag

bill: Scoring rules: 10 yards rush/rec 1 pt and .2 of a pt per rec. 6 pts for Tds. Would you trade Calvin Johnson for either Ray Rice or LeSean McCoy? I have Arian Foster and Steven Jackson at RB right now with Megatron, Jeremy Maclin, Dez Bryant, and Santana Moss at WR and Aaron Hernandez at TE. I start 2 WR 2 RB and 1 WR/RB. I think Megatron could cool off some. Right now Calvin has 117 pts, Rice 98 pts, and McCoy 121 pts. I know McCoy is on bye this week (week 7). I know I weaken my WRs but three good RBs would be nice. I could trade SJAX if need be for WR. Thanks.

Mike: Honestly? No. Detroit has a pretty easy slate of defenses considering how good Stafford-to-Megatron has become. While Rice may be slightly favored in your league's pro-RB scoring, as you just pointed out, Johnson is still ahead of him.

Tom: The key to Johnson is he's getting consistent productivity at wideout. That's why lead backs are so valued in fantasy, because they're extraordinarily unlikely to screw you over in any given week. You trade Calvin Johnson to pick up a running back if you have four good wideouts and one good running back. I don't think that's the situation you're in.

Mike: I concur. If anything, I'd say you should be looking for a third wide receiver. Just stick Johnson in the flex and leave him there.

Flores Salicis: Week 7: Andre Johnson not expected to play (and apparently has said he could be out for up to 6 weeks; excuse me while I hide in a corner and cry for the next hour). NE is on a bye week, so I'm without Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. I think at this juncture, it is appropriate to say, FML. I think the only saving grace is that somehow my opponent managed to have half his team on a bye this week. So the depressing WR situation: the only WR I've got playing for sure right now is Santonio Holmes (ugh, I think I need to hide and cry some more). I grabbed Doug Baldwin off of waivers: Jacoby Jones is still available and was better last week, but he's so wildly inconsistent I'm hesitant to trust him. Torrey Smith is available as well -- if Lee Evans still can't get past his injury, would he be a better choice? His upcoming schedule is certainly more favorable than Baldwin's.

Now my RB and flex situation (I'm betting that my flex spot this week is better off as an RB than WR, given my sad, sad choices at WR No. 2) situation: given PPR, Darren Sproles is a no brainer, especially vs Indy. So which two of: Steven Jackson, DeMarco Murray, Mike Tolbert? If Bradford isn't playing, Jackson will probably get a lot more work. On the downside, he's also not going to get anywhere near the end zone. Granted, he managed to be one of my most productive players last week simply via yardage and receptions (incredibly sad, I know; thank god Cundiff [thanks KUBIAK!] saved my team). Murray is apparently supposed to be getting most of the workload over Choice and has a great match up. I'm worried about Tolbert losing playing time to Mathews (especially after he so kindly continued my streak of losing players to injuries every week in week 5; it's like my fantasy teams want to resemble the team I root for in real life!), but the Jets haven't been good against the run.

Lastly, I've been so irritated with Mark Sanchez (I'm sorry, if you can barely move the ball against Miami, I don't trust you to manage to move the ball -at all- against anyone else) I'm considering switching from Dustin Keller to Dallas Clark for this week: NO is going to put up a ton of points, and since Curtis Painter has actually managed to not be an unmitigated disaster (12th in DVOA! Trade him for 2 first rounders!!) and NO seems to have issue covering the middle of the field, I thought Clark might actually outproduce Keller.

Mike: Your Scramble writers have been beating the "Mark Sanchez Really Isn't Very Good" drum for so long that they easily should be eligible for an upgrade to some kind of gong. Clark isn't an overwhelming force in the fantasy world, but I agree that Keller's chances of having a good game are exceedingly slim. These might not be "The Colts," but their pass rush is still so blistering Sanchez is going to have El Saxo Hablador playing on infinite loop every snap.

Second, I'd have to go with Jackson and Murray. Jackson isn't going to have as good a year as I had hoped, just because St. Louis is a much worse team than I originally thought. On the other hand, he's an elite back, so given the choice between him and two marginal characters, the choice is clear. I have to say Murray is your second back, although I'm holding my nose as I do so. Be wary.

Finally, I'm not recommending any Ravens receivers. They don't get in the end zone and Joe Flacco has become a Jekyl and Hyde figure of Quinnesque proportions. Jones is playing Tennessee, so even if you could get him I wouldn't bother. That leaves Baldwin and yet more praying. Good luck!

Tom: Jacoby Jones seems like to get targets, so don't be afraid to play him. Yes, too many of those targets might end up incomplete, as they did against the Raiders, but he had 13 fantasy points against the Ravens. That's more WR2-like than you'd prefer, but you're not likely to find a better option off the waiver wire.

I can't believe DeMarco Murray gets enough work to make him a better option than Jackson or Tolbert, who's still been getting work in goal-to-go situations. I'm not sure the Chargers view Mathews as a 25-carry 10-catch a game guy, so I expect Tolbert to stay involved in the offense.

Dallas Clark seems like a week-to-week proposition. If it's a good matchup and they don't need him to stay in and block, he can get catches. If it's a bad matchup and/or they need him as a blocker, he likely won't. The Saints are a mixed bag, weak against opposing tight ends but Gregg Williams' blitzes might overmatch Painter and the blocking schemes. If you want to play him instead of Keller, I don't think that's clearly wrong or clearly right, so exercise your frustrations and bench Keller.

Send your questions to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com or post in our thread in the fora! We do accept questions submitted via carrier pigeon, although there is a convenience surcharge.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 19 Oct 2011

19 comments, Last at 22 Oct 2011, 3:44pm by buzzorhowl


by Guido Merkens :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 5:04pm

In that Snickers commercial, I didn't see Julia Child so much as I saw Jocelyn Wildenstein. With really long arms.


by Drunkmonkey :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 11:03pm

Holy Cow, yes!!!

Although that last one... that has to be fake. Her face is twice the size her body suggests.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 8:03pm

Peanut Butter Kisses (The black and orange wrapped candy) are, in fact, the best Halloween candy ever. Well, after Circus Peanuts.

by Marko :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 8:12pm

Better than apples that might have razor blades in them? No way.

Actually, the best Halloween candy is any good candy that you like (Snickers, Milky Way, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Nestle Crunch, etc.) left in a giant bowl outside someone's front door along with a sign saying, "Please take one and leave the rest for others."

by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 10:02am

I left a bowl of candy outside once, because I was going to a party. I should have left a note saying "please take one and leave the rest for others...and please don't take the stinkin' bowl you good for nothing delinquents!"

by Shattenjager :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 11:37pm

I've been arguing with my mother for 20 years that no one likes the, as I call them, "disgusting vomit-flavored orange and black sticky, squishy things that everyone in [name of my hometown] calls saltwater taffy but aren't." She doesn't like them herself but insists everyone does. I keep telling her they just make them to sell to old people to give away at Hallowe'en.

However, I was until this moment also convinced that she was the only living person who liked Circus Peanuts. Apparently there are two of you.

by tuluse :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 12:33am

I think Tom was referring to this crime against sugar.


by Shattenjager :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 12:31pm

Those are apparently called peanut butter kisses: http://www.groovycandies.com/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=793

by RickD :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 10:36pm

They give out Cincinnati Bengals for Halloween in your neighborhood?

by BaronFoobarstein :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 2:30am

Well, they try.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 10:53pm

If Julia Child turned into a zombie, would she still use lots of butter in preparing her meals?

by Snowbound (not verified) :: Wed, 10/19/2011 - 11:20pm

She might have a long reach, but not long enough to take Mr Rogers.


by holman :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 9:51am

In my defense, Mendenhall had been horrible the last few weeks, and I was worried about the PIT offensive line collapse and the opposing run defense. Meanwhile, Packers had been giving Starks steady carries, I saw that juicy STL defensive DVOA, and I figured if anything he'd get a bunch of garbage time yards. I rolled the dice a bit, but what can I say, I over-thought it.

by Duke :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 11:51am

A guy in one of my leagues is trying to trade Andre Johnson for RB help...I have Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, and Ryan Matthews for 2 RB starters and a flex. My starting WRs are Mike Thomas and Arrelious Benn. I'm thinking of offering Ryan Matthews for Johnson and Jonathan Stewart...thoughts? (He already rejected Johnson for Thomas and Vernon Davis)

by Eddo :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 1:18pm

So you have to choose between the following sets of starters:



A. Johnson

I do think your second set is better (though *only* because you're getting Jonathan Stewart back; I'd value Mathews higher than Johnson right now).

So I think that's a fair trade to propose. I'm very high on Mathews, but he's clearly a lesser option than Forte and McCoy (and damn, you have sweet RBs).

I'm not sure your opponent would do the deal, though. And if I were you, I wouldn't make the same deal giving up Forte/McCoy in place of Mathews.

by Duke :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 1:49pm

That all goes with what I'm thinking. My only concern is when Andre Johnson is going to come back, and how good he's going to be when he gets back. Matthews is giving me very good value now, not sure that Johnson or Stewart will.

It's not a keeper league, though, so that takes off the sting of giving up Matthews.

One additional thing I didn't mention is that the Flex can take TEs too, and I have both Vernon Davis and Dustin Keller, which helps a little.

by Not Anonoymous :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 2:21pm

Reposted from the fantasy forum.

Can't decide between the Detroit and Chicago D/STs. Every week I guess wrong and the one on the bench scores a ton better than my starter. What do you all think?

by Tom Gower :: Thu, 10/20/2011 - 6:23pm

Whatever my level of annoyance with them, I think Atlanta's a better, more functional, more consistent offense than Tampa Bay, which to me says you play Chicago even though they're on the road.

by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Sat, 10/22/2011 - 3:44pm

I left two comments on this article on Thursday. They were still here Friday morning, but had disappeared by last night. What's going on?

Anyway, that particular trope IS on TV Tropes: Totem Pole Trench

The other comment was asking whether to start Schaub or Freeman at QB this weekend, but I doubt I'll get any help this late. Oh well.