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21 Nov 2012

Scramble for the Ball: Flying Solo

by Tom Gower

I'm flying solo this week since Mike's busy with the Thanksgiving holiday and other commitments, so I thought I would take this week's column to review the book we've plugged the past two weeks in this space, Gary Myers' Coaching Confidential.

The book is billed as one of those "year in the life" books, but rather than focusing on one coach in particular, Myers talked to a number of the most famous and successful NFL coaches, including Sean Payton, Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Tony Dungy, Andy Reid, Dick Vermeil, Mike Shanahan, and Brian Billick. Plus, he also talked to a couple owners, Robert Kraft and Daniel Snyder, who have experience with different coaches and different coaching styles.

Coaching Confidential does not have a particularly strong unifying narrative throughout the book. Rather, the individual chapters are in some cases more about the actions of a single coach, while in other cases they are more thematically-oriented. The first chapter, for instance, covers the rise and fall of Sean Payton. Myers had clearly been working on Coaching Confidential for a while before the Saints' Bountygate scandal came to light, and had already talked to Payton, leading him to recast the first chapter.

The second chapter is more thematically-oriented and is one of the more intriguing ones: the late-night phone call no coach ever wants to get. Brian Billick explains what it was like getting the phone call about Ray Lewis's arrest in Atlanta following Super Bowl XXXIV. Myers also tells the story of Joe Gibbs, Sean Taylor, and the 2007 Washington Redskins, who made a surprise postseason trip following the shooting death of the star safety.

Additional chapters cover Bill Parcells' relationship with new owner Robert Kraft and the subsequent Patriots-Jets coaching movement involving Parcells and Bill Belichick, Parcells' mind games with his players, Tony Dungy's second chance in Indianapolis (plus Dungy and Reid's relationships with their children and Michael Vick), Jimmy Johnson's tenure in Dallas -- a subject I found more engagingly done in NFL Network's recent A Football Life documentary on Johnson, if only for the actual footage of the Cowboys' outdoor weight room, moments from the careers of Mike Shanahan, John Elway, and Brett Favre, burnout and Dick Vermeil, getting fired, and the antics of Rex Ryan, whom Myers covers as an NFL columnist for the New York Daily News.

The chapter on getting fired is a good example of the at-times-discursive nature of Coaching Confidential. It begins with Brian Billick going into more detail on the Ravens 2000 season and coping with the aftermath of Lewis's involvement with the Atlanta police, a topic first broached much earlier in the book. Billick talks about the dedication of that season, then dealing with the aftermath of some early postseason success, which Myers uses to launch into a discussion of Dan Marino's career and Don Shula's eventual departure as head coach of the Dolphins in favor of Jimmy Johnson.

The topic of what to do after some postseason success could have made for a terrific chapter, with coaches like Johnson and Shanahan who won consecutive Super Bowls, Parcells and Gibbs who won multiple non-consecutive Super Bowls, and Billick, Payton, and Dungy, who won one and haven't won again yet. However, Myers moves on to more of Billick's own history as the "hot" assistant after serving as the offensive coordinator of the 1998 Vikings and the rest of his Ravens tenure, up to and including his surprising (to him) firing after a disappointing 2007 season. From Billick, Myers moves on to Mike Shanahan and his bitterness after his surprise and quick firing by Al Davis, as well as Davis' unsurprising refusal to pay him the rest of his contract amount, leading to Shanahan's revenge as chronicled in the excerpt in a recent Monday Morning Quarterback. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Shanahan's current employer, Dan Snyder, and his extensive history of firing coaches.

Like that chapter, too much of Coaching Confidential is a series of vignettes and anecdotes. Rather than a comprehensive book on what it is like to be an NFL coach, the result instead feels more like "Storytime with Famous Coaches." For what it is, it is at times a terrifically entertaining book, and one I read through quickly and with pleasure. I did not find it, however, to be the great book I was hoping it would be.

FTC Disclaimer: I read a review copy by the publisher. The publisher also provided additional copies to give away to our readers.

Loser League Update

QUARTERBACK: In what may be a first, a pair of teammates tied for the lowest score among quarterbacks this week. Yes, Chiefs fans, both Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn threw for 90-something yards without a turnover or an interception for 4 points.

RUNNING BACK: We continue our spat of teammates atop the Loser League leaderboard with one of the strangest performances of the week. Namely: perhaps the league's worst rushing defense holding a running offense that had been somewhat competent at times in check. Yes, in what should have been a favorable matchup against the Buffalo Bills, both Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush had 30-something yards of offense and put up 3 points.

WIDE RECEIVER: We would suggest Mike Wallace's two fumbles and -2 points were signs he was not really that interested in getting paid, but we previously chronicled DeSean Jackson's apparent indifference in his contract year and the Eagles still chose to pay him. Runners-up to him in Loser League this week were Jacoby Jones (who is disappointed Loser League doesn’t value return scores), the aforementioned DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and T.J. Graham, each of whom had no more than five receiving yards and 0 points.

KICKER: Dan Carpenter is the third Dolphin among this week's honorees, as his missed field goal offset two made extra points for 0 points.

Your Weekly Awards

KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Cleveland Browns defensive back Buster Skrine is normally frequently involved in the action. That's normally not a good thing, but it was even moreso the case this week with him pressed into the starting job in Joe Haden's absence. The result was three penalties, including illegal contact penalties on consecutive plays and a pass interference call on a drive that led to a Cowboys score, plus the normal active day in coverage.

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: What time is it, NFL coaches? It's time to kick on fourth-and-one! Gary Kubiak kicked a field goal down 10 in the third quarter from the Jaguars 10. John Fox kicked a field goal from the Chargers 1 in a tie game in the second quarter against an offense that hadn't done anything all game, and again from the Chargers 12 with an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. Ron Rivera once again punted on fourth-and-one near midfield when a conversion would have given his team the win, even after punting and losing against the Falcons.

Adventures in Announcing

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell for sure what announcers are paying attention to in any given game. Take, for instance the Chargers-Broncos game. Chargers right guard Louis Vasquez goes out with an injury in the second quarter. Play-by-play man Kevin Harlan starts talking about how the Chargers have a good veteran backup on the interior in Rex Hadnot. There’s a slight problem with this, though: Hadnot was already in the game, playing left guard for the injured Tyronne Green. The actual replacement for Vasquez was seventh-round rookie David Molk, an undersized collegiate center. That's a problem, and two plays later Philip Rivers is sacked on third down when the patchwork offensive line fails to respond to Rivers' prompting to adjust to a Broncos overload. Vasquez would return to the game after halftime. Midway through the third quarter, Harlan finally realizes Hadnot is playing left guard, though he still claims he was playing right guard earlier. It's a disappointing sequence from Harlan, who's earned some love on this website in the past for his greater-than-average attention to just the kind of substitution he botched here.

Scramble Mailbag

supershredder: Struggling with my flex this week (non-PPR, long TD gain bonuses):
DET Mikel LeShoure vs HOU - Like the line matchup in this one (DET strong up the middle and HOU vulnerable in ALY at the nose).
GB Jordy Nelson vs NYG - I feel like I just can't trust Jordy this year.
SD Danario Alexander vs BAL - Picked him up 2 weeks ago and yet to start him. If I do I'm sure this will be the week he slips up.
Planning on starting Dez Bryant and Eric Decker in my WR slots. Would appreciate any help on this - especially the two WR matchups! Thanks.

First off, let's deal with Alexander. He had 31 yards receiving in the first 55 minutes of the game against the Broncos. If you have options, I would prefer to stay away from any Chargers receiver given the offensive line issues right now, and I would rank Malcom Floyd over Alexander in any event. On Nelson, I think you can afford to be conservative with him until he shows he's recovering from his hamstring injury. I don't think he’s that bad of a play this week so much as that Leshoure is a better one. He's been getting the carries, and the goalline carries, and as you noted the Texans have issues on runs between the tackles. I would start Leshoure.

Richard Strauss: I need a replacement for Rob Gronkowski. For the rest of the season, should I go with Dustin Keller or Jermichael Finley, or Martellus Bennett off the waiver wire? Thanks.

Keller has a juicy matchup this week against a Patriots secondary that's below-average against tight ends by DVOA and giving up more yards to tight ends than the average defense. The rest of the schedule is less promising for Keller, as even Tennessee has been more hit-and-miss for opposing tight ends lately. Finley, meanwhile, is a better player who plays in a better, more consistently productive passing offense. Bennett has been a consistent producer lately, but a consistent producer at tight end means about 40 yards per game. Given the Giants' current offensive woes, especially in pass protection, I doubt that changes quickly. I like Finley's upside best.

Lock of the Week

Mike pulled ahead of me last week with the Saints' destruction of the Raiders, while I foolishly took the Rams to beat the not-yet-hapless, as it turned out, Jets. He is now 7-3 on the year, while I am only 5-5. With him taking this week off, though, I have my choice of games.

There are a couple lines that stand out. The quality difference between Jacksonville and Tennessee is not so large that the Titans should necessarily be favored on the road by 3 points, though I have forsworn picking the Jaguars. Green Bay and the Giants looks like more of a toss-up than the Giants favored by 3 points. Weighted DVOA has the Falcons as a worse team than the Buccaneers, which does not quite comport with Atlanta being a 1.5 point favorite on the road. I will instead, however, take the Detroit Lions +3.5 versus the Houston Texans. It's not that the Lions are particularly good on Thanksgiving or because it's a Thursday game, but because of the questionable health status of Johnathan Joseph and the flaws players like Danieal Manning and Brice McCain showed in pass coverage on Sunday.

Posted by: Tom Gower on 21 Nov 2012

22 comments, Last at 26 Nov 2012, 8:52pm by Mr Shush


by DEW (not verified) :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 3:36pm

Among the Martz Award specials, why is the decision to kick on 4th-and-1 from the 12 in the fourth quarter up 8 a bad one? That makes the game a two-score game instead of a one-score game, meaning one single fluke play (eg. Trindon Holliday fumbling) will not allow the aforementioned lousy offense to tie it up. It's not an aggressive choice, but there seems to be upside to the conservative play, so long as you don't have Dan Carpenter or Mason Crosby kicking for you.

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 3:52pm

Oh, it's far from an unbelievably terrible decision and wouldn't have been Martz worthy on its own. An 8-point lead is already a pretty good one, though, and the odds of converting fourth-and-one are so good, especially with a good offense, that I thought it was worth mentioning.

by TimK :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 8:16pm

A good offense with primary running back seriously hurt...

I can go both ways with either of the Denver 4th&1 calls. The defense was playing well enough to make taking a 3 point lead a worthwhile thing early, and taking a two score lead late seems OK to me. But had they both been gone for and one of them lead to a TD (which is not too great a reach) then Denver gain at least 1 point in doing that. Maybe it was just a fairly quiet week for Martz Award worthy calls?

by JohnD (not verified) :: Thu, 11/22/2012 - 8:55am

Bruce Arians continued his cowardly ways. Sometimes punting on 4th and 4 or longer is far more egregious than punting on 4th and 1.

by nick thunderdome (not verified) :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 7:00pm

Defenses in a league where you basically only get points for turnovers / sacks and D/ST TDs:

Minnesota @ CHI
Jets vs NE
Miami vs SEA

Waiver wire option is the Rams @ ARI.

by Ryan D. :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 7:56pm

If there is no Cutler, you have to play Min D vs Chi. The chance for Jared Allen to work the turnstyles for strip sacks is too great to pass up. Plus, you have the chance for a Percy Harvin return TD.

by dmb :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 7:58pm

I second the vote for MIN, but STL is probably a decent second choice. The Arizona tackles are extremely "generous," and a team resorting to Ryan Lindley mid-game just screams total disaster.

by nick thunderdome (not verified) :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 10:25pm

Thanks guys - I was inclined to go with the Vikings, too.

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 11:37pm

I concur MIN is a good choice given Cutler's status, and STL is another good option.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 11/22/2012 - 8:12am

I'd rather be facing Cutler than Campbell, with that scoring system. Campbell won't put a lot of points on the board, but I wouldn't expect him to turn it over or get sacked a lot either. 3rd and 10 checkdowns may help the real Vikings, but they don't help you. Go with the Rams.

by BigCheese :: Mon, 11/26/2012 - 2:20am

Regardless of which DST you started, my suggestion would be to pick one for next week and drop the other two for more caluable players. You can still play the match-ups week to week and yo won't be burning two perfectly good bench spots on defenses!!!!

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

by dmb :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 8:02pm

I have two Thursday-related start/sit decisions; any opinions are greatly appreciated. This is a league with pretty standard scoring; no PPR, yardage bonuses, etc.

QB: Brady vs. NYJ, or Luck vs. BUF? Sitting Brady would be a big risk, but is the disparity in matchups worth it?

TE: Hernandez vs. NYJ, or Graham vs. SF? Hernandez has a very significant matchup advantage in terms of both DVOA and fantasy scoring, but I don't read much about NE and can't read tea leaves well enough to know if he's likely to see much usage.

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!

by Tom Gower :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 11:41pm

QB: NYJ's D isn't good enough that I think seriously about benching Brady. I also don't trust the non-Wayne portions of IND's passing O enough to go Luck against a top-tier starter even with a favorable matchup.

TE: I don't trust Hernandez to play that much, and SF's DVOA against tight ends isn't that great. I would play Graham.

by dmb :: Fri, 11/23/2012 - 12:55am

Thank you, and not just because the results were so sound! I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful.

by BigCheese :: Mon, 11/26/2012 - 2:23am

I too have Brady and Graham in a league. One of the best parts about that is that I don't have to roster a back-up QB or TE. Why would you ever even think of starting either Luck or Hernandez over Brady and Graham?

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 11/26/2012 - 7:57am

Because Graham was injured, Brady was playing the Bears in a 40mph winds and torrential rain, and Luck was at home against the Saints?

Depends how deep your league's rosters are, as well. I have 14 bench slots, so . . .

by LionInAZ :: Mon, 11/26/2012 - 4:34pm

The last time Brady faced the Bears in terrible weather (2010, 30 mph winds, swirling snow), he dismantled them 36-7. So, never give up on Tom Brady.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 11/26/2012 - 8:52pm

2010 Bears pass defense: -7.8% DVOA
2012 Bears pass defense through 11 weeks: -41.9% DVOA

I would not start Brady against that unit if I had a quality back-up with a favourable match-up.

This may in fairness be coloured somewhat by my league's unusual scoring (0.5 points per completion, -0.5 points per incompletion, heavier than usual penalties for picks, sacks and fumbles). But I still think there are (rare) situations where I would bench Brady even with regular scoring.

by dbt :: Thu, 11/22/2012 - 12:14am

I figured with the title of the column we'd get at least one jerramy stevens reference, but nooooo....

by BaronFoobarstein :: Thu, 11/22/2012 - 1:35am

Mike Martz Award:
Mike Tomlin. Down 13-7 at the end of the third quarter of a game where neither offense can get going, you managed to find yourself in 3rd and goal at the 2. A TD probably wins the game. A FG probably loses it. Your running back has done decently in short yardage. Your QB is a backup who has barely practiced, is injured, and can't throw a ball at anything under 45 miles per hour. What do you do? Throw a fade, a pass that requires touch and a route that requires timing coordination then kick the field goal, predictably resulting in a 13-10 loss. You should have run twice and won 14-13 instead.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Thu, 11/22/2012 - 2:20am

Or maybe it was 3rd and 2 at the 4. Either way 2 downs, 2 yards, close to the end zone.

by supershredder :: Thu, 11/22/2012 - 10:17am

Thanks for the input and recommendation, Tom. Happy Thanksgiving!