Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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Two NFC teams were hit hardest by injuries last year. One already set the AGL record in 2016, while the other has a coach with the worst AGL since 2002. Also: the Rams' incredible bill of health in L.A., and Tampa Bay's questionable injury reporting.

23 Oct 2013

Scramble for the Ball: Misunderestimation

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: Well, Mike, back before the season began, we both picked the Colts to go under their 8.5 over/under mark. Currently sitting with a record of 5-2 and atop the AFC South by a couple games, it looks like we were both wrong in that call. Hallowed tome Football Outsiders Almanac 2013 was in agreement, giving the Colts a mean projection of 7.8 wins. And here we stand, seven weeks in, and the Colts have the third-best DVOA in the league. Mike, do you agree with DVOA the Colts are the third-best team in the league?

Mike: I agree that they will win four more games. After all, they haven't played Tennessee, Arizona or Houston yet. On the other hand, they've squeaked by Oakland (4-point victory) and lost to Miami (by 4) and San Diego (by 10).

Tom: Such a weird resume. They have wins over Denver, Seattle, and a San Francisco team that's looking a lot better of late ... then, those three games that make them look pretty average. Surprisingly, they're just 13th in variance, while I expected them to be at the bottom of the league.

Mike: The interesting thing about Indy is that they have a fairly average passing offense, despite the screen time Andrew Luck has received. According to our numbers, they're winning thanks to a third-ranked rushing attack. A rushing attack that features 27th-ranked Trent Richardson, followed by some small sample size antics from Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw.

Tom: Well, their passing offense DVOA is still better.

Mike: Still better than what?

Tom: Rushing offense DVOA. They're almost the same, but they're still more efficient passing, in absolute terms, than they are running. It's just there are more teams than them that are better at passing than there are teams better than them at running.

Mike: Well, no. The deviation for passing is much larger...

Tom: Sure. In relative terms, they're more powered by their run game.

Mike: ...so you really can't compare them in absolute terms.

Tom: In absolute terms, they're balanced.

Mike: But these statistical issues underpin my suspicion about Indianapolis.

Tom: What suspicion is that? That there really was a pact with dark forces to get Andrew Luck right after having Peyton Manning?

Mike: The running game is powerful, but seems to be powered by a pair of previously underperforming running backs who have had great success in a very iffy sample size. The rushing defense is just as bad as last year, but suddenly a bottom-five passing defense is seventh in the league. It feels like a team playing as far more than the sum of its parts, which has always in my mind gone hand in hand with a team playing over its head.

Tom: Yeah. Rivers covered the surprisingly good defense for ESPN Insider a little while ago. That's what's surprised me the most. From the TV broadcast on Sunday, it seemed like Vontae Davis and Darius Butler, both guys who've failed to live up to their supposed physical talent levels in the past, seemed to be playing particularly well. Their only pass rusher is Robert Mathis, and he has 11 sacks. He's a guy who really stood out to me as a terrific all-around player when I first started watching games in real detail, but I don't expect him to come too close to breaking the single-season sack record.

Mike: Right. It's gone very well for the team thus far. It just doesn't seem sustainable. It's not how great defenses have been built in the past, and a few players are vastly exceeding expectations. The beauty of football is that there are so few games it might just happen! But I can't expect these results to continue.

Tom: I'm still ordinately fascinated by the NFC South. Maybe even inordinately fascinated. The Buccaneers are down to 24th in the latest version of DVOA.

Mike: Sadly, the Cardinals are in the West, so you can't be ordainedly fascinated.

Tom: We can talk about the Cardinals if you want, but between Thursday night and watching them for FOA2013, their offensive line makes me sad. I should point out they're somehow 10th in Adjusted Line Yards, including second in Power, and have posted an average Adjusted Sack Rate. With the Bruce Arians system. Somehow.

Mike: I don't think anybody wants to talk about the Cardinals, the Cardinals included.

Tom: Yes, let's move along. How do you feel about the Cowboys? They're 3-0 in the division and 1-3 outside it.

Mike: I thought you wanted to talk about the NFC South.

Tom: I decided the only interesting thing about the Buccaneers is whether they give up on the season. Atlanta's mix of injuries and offensive line woes make them not so good, so we should probably stop with the "we totally nailed this team" back-patting, even though we did. I want to see Carolina beat up on a good team the way they've beaten up on the Vikings, Giants, and the Rams (at home), so I'm reserving judgment on them. I know, Guts and Stomps and all that, but the question I have relates to coaching, preparation, and the mental side of the game that's so hard to measure. Beat the Bucs on the road on a short week, the Falcons at home, and play respectable at San Francisco, and we'll talk. But, yes, I'm ready to throw in the towel on Tampa Bay over 7.5. Notwithstanding what I think this team could have done in an alternate universe.

Mike: I think that's a somewhat harsh appraisal. Tampa still has a good defense, last week's stomping at the Falcons' hands notwithstanding. They lost very close games to the Jets, the Saints and Arizona, so they are hardly in Jacksonville territory.

Tom: Tell that to the fans who took defensive coordinator Mike Sheridan up on his offer to show up at 5:20 to the facility and were denied. I think their upside looks more like last year's Arizona: a potential wild card team undone by a disaster on offense. Especially now that Doug Martin may be out for the year.

Mike: I don't see the offense improving, unfortunately. Also, they only have 10 more games to play, so yeah, winning eight is ... unlikely.

Tom: I will note the 2009 Titans managed that feat. I was about the only person who expected that, but they made some real and effective changes (at quarterback, a change the Bucs have already tried, and at running back, where they stopped trying to pretend LenDale White was a viable alternative to Chris Johnson and the Bucs are, uh, going from Doug Martin to Mike James for injury-related reasons).

Mike: The real issue is that Carolina's offense is at least average. What we really need is a Cam Newton injury or something so that the NFC South can host the three worst offenses in the league. That would have to be some sort of record!

Tom: I feel like the NFC West probably accomplished that.

(Tom hits the books.)

Tom: Nope, just the bottom two with the Rams and 49ers in 2007. The 2010 Panthers ruined things, as the Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals ranked 29-31. The 1992 AFC East had the 26th and 27th-ranked Colts and Patriots, while the AFC West had the 25th and 28th-ranked Broncos and Seahawks. The 1998 AFC West matched the 2007 NFC South, as the addition of Ryan Leaf failed to move the Chargers out of the basement, while the Raiders were runners-up.

Mike: Sadly, the Panthers ruined our dream. As they are ruining this year's dream!

Tom: Indeed. Going back to the Cowboys, we both picked them to go under a line of 8.5. I'm just uncertain about how good they are because of that division/out of division split.

Mike: I'm actually pretty high on Dallas right now. Which is something I never thought I'd say early on this year.

Tom: DVOA likes them, as they blew out the Rams, played Denver tough, and dominated the Redskins and Eagles. "Pretty high" as in "actually" high or as in "they're the best team in the NFC East" high? Or maybe just "somebody has to win the NFC East" high, a designation we both bestowed on the Redskins because we did not expect the defense would be this bad?

Mike: Actually high.

Tom: Okay. I like some of their talent, but I'm still just "somebody has to win the NFC East" high on them.

Mike: Well, the horrible state of the NFC East plays into it. But Dallas is finally a generally all-around above-average team.

Tom: Thirteenth in offense, 14th in defense by DVOA. The special teams have performed well, which is why they're ninth in DVOA.

Mike: Ninth in rush defense, and their passing defense numbers are 15th despite facing the Peyton Manning Experience as one of their seven games. I don't think they're going to win the Super Bowl, but this is a real football team.

Tom: Over 8.5, though?

Mike: I believe so. The rest of their division is bad, bad, bad.

Tom: You're probably right. I just need to see a little more before I'm convinced. A win in Detroit this weekend will help with that. And will also help convince me the NFC East winner will be better than 8-8.

Many Manly Men Died to Bring You This Beer

Mike: Avalanches are the new explosions, apparently.

Tom: Actually, watching the making-of video, these avalanches are actually just the new instantiation of explosiveness. As these avalanches are actually created by a helicopter dropping explosives.

Mike: A stunt that Xzibit would be proud of.

Tom: This Coors Light ad campaign is not new, but lately it's just gotten to me. When I order a mass-produced beverage, I'm making an intentional trade-off: choosing something that's familiar and I know I like, and can be provided to me without too much hassle. Coors Light's ad campaign is ... that bars do not have sufficiently cold freezers to keep Coors Light fresh, so they must rely on experienced and skilled mountaineers to retrieve their beer and pass it through dimensional portals?

Mike: To be fair, Coors Light's only real selling point is "it's cold."

Tom: I know, one of the other commercials has the beer cans actually being filled by a dispenser in the side of a mountain.

Mike: Granted, it is only really as cold as the storage area in which it is kept.

Tom: Fortunately, we have amazing technology that lets us create cold spaces to store things. It's called a freezer. Or, as the case may be, a refrigerator.

Mike: It's interesting, actually, since the whole thing is a metaphor for their brewing process. But nobody cares about the brewing process, aside from what they've been saying for years (that it's cold-brewed).

Tom: If this commercial series had been about how they were making beer in arctic conditions, I'd probably approve of that.

Mike: They need something immediate to bridge the gap between cold beer and cold-brewed, which leads to absurdities like the three different things on the Coors Light cans that inform you how cold your beer is. The cynical among us will note that the colder a lager is, the thinner its taste. Not that we would accuse Coors of making beer that is nearly indistinguishable from water.

Tom: The ultra-cynical will point out that the beer snobs (which is what people who do not drink beer call people who like good beer) don't think Coors is a good beer and Coors is actually telling you how best to drink their not very good beer.

Mike: In any case, it would be interesting to see this sort of beer delivery system in action.

Tom: Coors after all is a cynical company that wants to extract profits from hapless idiot consumers. But, yes.

Mike: Ignoring that the Coors would almost certainly freeze in the conditions depicted.

Tom: Considering the number of establishments that could potentially sell Coors, they must have an incredible number of mountaineers and portals. The polar regions of the world must be replete with Coors-employed mountain men.

Mike: My main concern is how this would affect the cost of Coors. Coors cannot compete in the same price range as, say, Goose Island. Can a bottle of Coors Light compete with the price of a middling-to-large subatomic particle collider?

Tom: As a non-beer drinker, I know which one I'd rather have.

Mike: Everyone needs a particle accelerator. Everyone.

Tom: Yes. I'd also like to point out that the sun is shining in all of these Coors Light beer retrieval commercials. Apparently Coors Light is only available during arctic daylight hours. Then again, I guess you can get around that with antarctic facilities.

Mike: Lightning technically needs two, but she's always been greedy.

Tom: Well if Lightning needs two, then I don't want to know how many Thundarr needs!

Loser League Update

QUARTERBACK: As ugly as Josh Freeman's night looked Monday, it comes as no particular surprise he is the low man in Loser League among quarterback this week. Once again, though, that Loser League score is a very respectable one, this time 7 points. The runner-up to Freeman for the week also played in the Meadowlands, as Tom Brady had 9 points.

RUNNING BACK: Since there is no actual judgment in noting which eligible running backs posted the lowest Loser League score, it's back to open season on Trent Richardson for Tom! Who ever thought you could get 14 carries for 37 yards and a fumble at the low, low price of just one measly first-round pick!? With twice as many points as T-Rich (2 as opposed to 1), another back who played his football in the Southeastern Conference: BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

WIDE RECEIVER: Davone Bess, Ryan Broyles, Larry Fitzgerald, Austin Pettis, and Kenbrell Thompkins each had precisely two receptions for between 11 and 17 receiving yards for 1 point.

KICKER: After setting an NFL record for the most field goals made from 50 yards and beyond last year, it was odd to see Blair Walsh leave even a 53-yarder short as he did against Monday night. The left hamstring injury that made him probable on the injury report seemed to affect Leslie Frazier's maroon zone fourth down decision-making the rest of the game, giving the Vikings yet another reason they have not been as successful in 2013 as they were in 2012. -1 point.


Keep Chopping Wood: Tennessee Titans return man Darius Reynaud had a 5-yard kickoff return, an 8-yard kickoff return, dropped a pass on third down, fair caught a punt with no one in his immediate vicinity, and muffed a punt San Francisco recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. All that, combined with misadventures earlier this season, was enough to make him a former Tennessee Titan on Monday.

Mike Martz Award: While on balance the NFL is a passing league and teams should pass the ball more than they throw it, there are exceptions to that general rule. One of those exceptions is when you have a particularly talented running back and a quarterback who has been on the team for about two weeks. Why, then, did Leslie Frazier or whoever actually made this decision call several times as many Josh Freeman passes as Adrian Peterson runs (16 v. 8 in the first half, 53 v. 13 for the entire game)?

Todd Haley Dink and Dunk to Victory Lock of the Week

Tom: For the second week in a row, a tragic result. The Buccaneers, with two field-goal drives down two scores in the fourth quarter, did enough to cover the nine-point spread in Atlanta, while the Bears lost the Redskins. Yes, I was right and you were wrong. As a reminder, all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing. All picks were made without reference to FO's Premium Picks.

Mike: I'm hanging my hat on the Cutler injury. I can't be held responsible for that.

Tom: No, you cannot. We will, however, hold you responsible for Chicago's inability to defend the cross off the bootleg, after you took up Mel Tucker on his Bill Sheridan-like offer.

Mike: Mea culpa. This week features a lot of huge lines. I count four above 10, and one of the games hits 17. That dampens my enthusiasm for a number of the games I would otherwise go for.

Tom: Yes. Multi-score lines are dreadful things.

Mike: Instead, I will piggy-back on our earlier discussion and opine that the Panthers and the Buccaneers are as two ships passing in the night. Granted, they're both in the middle of a bay without a lighthouse and heading straight toward opposite, rocky shorelines. But for the moment, Carolina has a very good defense, and Tampa's offense is putrid. Tampa's defense is still pretty good, but the Panthers have a real offense. I hate 7-point spreads, but I like Carolina Panthers -7 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tom: Sadly, we do not have a current line for the aforementioned Dallas-Detroit contest that intrigues me so much. I'll take instead one of those multi-score lines that bothers me. Quarterbacks who presented a bit of an unknown threat have had initial success against Kansas City the last two weeks, then been completely shut down. Brandon Weeden presents no unknown threat, or even barely a threat. His processing speed and difficulty getting off a first read, plus the fact that he's not particularly mobile even in the pocket make him a sitting duck for a Chiefs defense playing like they have six first-round picks on the roster and, unlike last year, aren't playing for a coach who does nothing for them. Alex Smith still leads a popgun offense that keeps me a bit pessimistic on their long-run chances and even this week against a Ray Horton defense that could limit them. Still, I'll lay the points and take Kansas City Chiefs -9 vs. Cleveland Browns.

Obviously this pick was made before Jason Campbell was announced as the starter. This game is now off the board at Bovada, and Tom is waiting on that new line before deciding if this is his official pick.

Scramble Mailbag

evenchunkiermonkey: Hey guys, I have all kinds of injuries and bye weeks to deal so there's quite a few waiver pickups to make and not so many trades to consider as my fantasy bench has more red than Twitter's quarterly report. I'm really high on the prospects for Zac Stacy and Jarrett Boykin for pretty much the rest of the season. I like Stacey's prospects for the rest the year more than say Lamar Miller or Giovanni Bernard. I also have the feeling that Boykin will see 8-12 targets a game from here until Randall Cobb comes back. Am I crazy for thinking that Stacey could be a legit RB2 and Boykin could be a decent FLEX play?

Tom: Through about 2 p.m. Central Time Sunday, I was thinking Stacy could indeed be a viable fantasy option going forward. And a better option than Miller and Bernard, both of whom I like talent-wise, but who aren't getting the volume necessary to sustain them in fantasy terms. Then Sam Bradford tore his ACL. Based on what I've seen of his overall body of work, Kellen Clemens immediately becomes the worst quarterback currently starting in the NFL.

Mike: I think your instincts are right regarding Boykin. Even early on in the season, Rodgers was trying to feed the ball to Boykin when opportunities presented themselves. Unfortunately, early on those opportunities were missed, partially due to inexperience and partially due to growing pains in the offense. Which I suppose is a factor of inexperience, really.

Tom: Yes. I think Boykin was a long-term proposition that's been accelerated to a present-day option due to those injuries.

Mike: Agreed. In any case, the danger with Green Bay receivers is that you're always playing Rodgers Receiver Roulette. Injuries have tightened up your odds, to the point where I believe Boykin, with his increasing familiarity with Rodgers and the offense, is a perfectly cromulent flex option.

Tom: I think you'll see those growing pains continue, and the Packers will live with them. You'll certainly see Rodgers Receiver Roulette, but I'm growing used to the proposition that this is true with many receivers these days, even some ostensible team No. 1s you'd think would be more consistent than that. I'd throw Boykin in my lineup.

Mike: And I agree that Stacy has no place in said lineup.

Tom: Stacy with Clemens just scares me, as I don't see any part of the Rams offense being good enough to be successful on its own. Of course, we're far enough into the process that I've almost given up hope on the idea the Dolphins will realize Daniel Thomas isn't very good this week or next week in or four weeks. (And I say that as a Miller owner.) I wouldn't drop Stacy at this point, but my guess is your best bet going forward would be playing matchup roulette with the three backs.

Chris: Regardless of need, should I add Jarrett Boykin or Mike James?

Tom: Regardless of need, this is a tough question, and my answer is highly need-related. Boykin is a good option if you need immediate receiving help to get through bye weeks, but I don't like his long-term value. James is in a situation not too dissimilar from Stacy -- a moderately-talented back hamstrung by a bad offense thanks to some dismal quarterbacking (and thinking about it, Mike Glennon may be worse than Clemens).

Mike: I actually disagree, there. Boykin is worth keeping around even if you plan on socking him away and seeing where the next few weeks take him. I think he's a great midseason sale candidate. Worst case, he'll be worked into Rodgers' game more effectively; he was being targeted even before the (most significant) injury to Cobb. So you at worst have a bench guy with very high perceived upside because any week his quarterback might throw him all of the passes. That's a great sell to another owner who might have some desperate need.

Tom: See, I think James is the best back on Tampa with Martin out, and if the Bucs do figure out how to manufacture offense, he could get enough carries on a weekly basis he's worth playing over one of those committee backs we were just talking about. In the abstract, that's worth more to me than Boykin as a long-term proposition.

Mike: I think "if the Bucs do figure out how to manufacture offense" sums that position up succinctly.

Tom: In the specific, a bird in the hand is worth maybe two in the bush. You're probably better off with Boykin.

Keith: I'm new to Football Outsiders.com and I'm totally impressed with the wealth of information presented and the time it must take to gather that information. Am I able to use the info to help my fantasy football team? For example, can I look at the stats for defense and decide what WR or RB to put in my lineup (Wash. rush rank @ #25 so I play Matt Forte)? Also, are the RB stats for the second chart on the "Team Defense" tab for RB's who are active in the passing game (like Forte)? I know the first question might sound stupid, but I've noticed a defense might be ranked high in the first chart, but low in the second chart when broken down to covering individual players. If I can use these stats for FF, any other info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to answer my email. FootballOutsiders.com rocks!

Mike: First, I should note that this email isn't from any of our family members. Just to put that out there. The most important split our basic stats have are defense vs. type of receiver. Ignore cumulative pass defense entirely. Figure out the player's role in his offense and make sure that matchup works. Many teams that are good against a top receiver are bad against tight ends, for instance. Or vice versa.

Tom: That's my go-to, especially with tight ends when I don't have a premium player like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski or need a bye week fill-in. Pay attention to both the DVOA and the numerical data. If teams throw an above-average number of passes to the tight end against that defense, it's probably a good idea to start him even if the DVOA may not be that great.

Mike: Or if your tight ends just suck, as many do. I think offensive line stats are also helpful for a number of positions, but are particularly helpful in vetting matchups for defense. Because you should be playing matchups on defense. A good defense vs. a bad offensive line creates all sorts of great things for a fantasy team, since sacks give points and sacks lead to turnovers which also give points which occasionally lead to touchdowns and safeties, which, again, score more points.

Tom: I also want to put in a plug for our Fantasy Matchups column. I know, it's on ESPN Insider, but it's our content. Information Wants to Be Free and all that, but you get Insider with an ESPN: The Magazine subscription, and it's fairly easy to find cheap deals for the Mag. I hate sounding like I'm selling, but you get a lot of content for a fairly modest price.

Mike: Capitalist pig-dog.

Tom: But that's really the best and most direct place to see where we quantify how players are affected in fantasy terms by schedule strength. If you subscribe to our Premium service, you can get that for your team specifically. Just make sure your submit your question in time for us to answer it. /End of selling.

Even our statistics, though, are no substitute for knowing a team, a player, and their roles. Use our statistics as a tool to make you smarter and your fantasy team better. But use your brain, don't just outsource your thinking to us.

Mike: Are you done?

Tom: Did you want me to continue?

Mike: God no.

Tom: See y'all next week then!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 23 Oct 2013

36 comments, Last at 25 Oct 2013, 8:11am by Revenge of the NURBS


by Jon Goldman (not verified) :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 2:57pm

The bye week is going to score 50 on the Bears' defense.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 3:01pm

"While on balance the NFL is a passing league and teams should pass the ball more than they throw it"

The NFL is clearly a passing league if we've reached the point of differentiating between passing and throwing. Is this like how Eskimos supposedly have like 57 words for snow?

by Insancipitory :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 5:19pm

I thought it was a sly observation on the difference between what a quarterback does and what the Vikings had Freeman do hiding in plain sight as a typo.

by RoninX (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 1:07pm

Cracked me up. The really question is, are teams mixing enough slinging and tossing in with their passing and throwing?

by barlow_S (not verified) :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 3:05pm

See, that's just it. You all are judging everything on stats. While stats are fine and dandy and a good indicator, football is played on the field. You cannot just a player just on his stats, and you can't just say the Colts will only win 4 games because they play the titans, houston, St Louis and Arizona. (btw, that's 6 games, not 4). See, before the season I had the Colts going 4-3 to this point with losses to Denver, San Fran, Seattle and wins against Jax, SD, Miami and Oakland. The Colts beat the three teams I thought they would lose to and lost to three games I had as likely wins.

Lets look at a couple factors.

Oakland and Miami - Mathis changed positions and Landry, Jean-Fanc, Franklin, Toler are all new starters. That's 4 new starters and Mathis in a new position. Same for the offensive line... they must get used to playing together. That took a few weeks.

San Diego - I think San Diego is a lot better than you guys think.

Run Defense: Many of these yards came from Russell Wilson and Pryor. There was no tape on Pryor 'prior' to this game.

I think the Colts are top 10 for sure, even without Wayne.

KC? I don't think they're all that. Throw out the stats for KC. I don't believe they are a top 5 team. The only half way decent team they've played is Dallas, maybe the Titans without their starting QB.. and both those games were close. The rest? Raiders? Giants, Eagles and Jaguars? Eagles and Raiders are bad... Giants and Jags horrible. Sack numbers are great... but I think their numbers are top loaded as much as Robert Mathis. That pace won't continue. They will go 11-5 or 12-4. Not a bad team by any means, but they weren't last year either, they had what? 8 pro bowlers on a 2-14 team?

by speedegg :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 4:19pm

"San Diego - I think San Diego is a lot better than you guys think." BWHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

No, they are definitely not. I mean, really, when you put a guy that can be a Pro-Bowl Guard at Tackle that just reeks of desperation. They are doing a lot of schematic things to make up for their lack of talent.

And this is coming from a San Diego fan.

by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 5:42pm

San Diego's offensive line is, well, offensive. However, Philip Rivers has really put together a great season so far, and his receivers are catching balls and playing to their potential. He isn't going downfield like he did in 2009, but he has been very efficient.

San Diego easily could have handed Jacksonville a 40-point loss, but they were running out the clock starting in about the second quarter.

I'm not sure about the defense. They seem to be very dependent on an on-again, off-again pass rush.

by Bolts Homer (not verified) :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 7:25pm

As a Chargers fan I have been really impressed by this team's offense. If it continues or even improves, the marriage of Whisenhunt and Rivers is a happy one. I like our receivers but he has done this with a line without much talent (Fluker has held up at T, btw) and throwing to guys like Allen, Brown, an older Gates and Woodhead. Not exactly household names outside of SD.

They have successfully played keep away from opposing offenses to compensate for a pretty awful defense.

The Bolts never get much love here and furthered with a rather dismissive pre-season assessment that completely ignored the fact that the team totally re-tooled their coaching staff, removing one that had proven mostly incompetent.

by Scott C :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 10:09pm

The new coaching staff on offense has proven to be very good at putting the talent they have in position to succeed.

Rivers went from having a poorly performing o-line in 2012 with horrible sack rate and running performance, to having one that is equally replacement level, but he now has a completion percentage that would set an NFL record and the _lowest_ number of QB hits in the league.
The coaching gets all of the credit for that -- leveraging Rivers' ability to read defenses and make checks at the line, using 3 step drops and Rivers extremely fast release (very high percentage of balls out before 1.5 seconds) to neutralize the pass rush.

NORV now is in charge of creating schematically induced sacks for his QB in CLE.

NORV needs a very good o-line to succeed. He had one in Dallas, and he had one in San Diego from 2007 to 2010.

Also, Joe D'Alessandris should be a candidate for coach of the year. Or is it typical to have an o-line with near the top run and pass blocking working with guys off the street -- 5 left tackles, 4 left guards, 3 right guards, and 2 right tackles in 5 weeks.

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 10:04am

San Diego's offensive line is, well, offensive.

#3 in run blocking, # 4 in pass blocking for a top 5 offense despite multiple injuries at every position except center. Coach Joe D deserves a raise and a better parking spot.

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 10:00am

I mean, really, when you put a guy that can be a Pro-Bowl Guard at Tackle that just reeks of desperation.

THAT'S your issue with the Chargers, that Fluker is (arguably) playing out of position? The Charger offense is fine. Better than fine, actually. Its downright good, good enough to mostly balance out the real issues on the other side of the ball.

I would call the defense a tire fire, but I'm not sure that you can technically put burning tires on Injured Reserve.

by speedegg :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 3:36pm

Bro, you either don't understand what I'm saying....or you need to jump back to SI's Truth & Rumors comments section.

Chargers have to scheme their offense and defense because they lack talent. It's a credit to the coaching staff because they are successful, but scheme will only take you so far (see Texans, Titans, Raiders games).

On offense they are running a quick passing, 3-step offense because the O-line is a turnstile and Rivers has the mobility of a telephone pole (no Play Action Rollouts, Bootlegs, Sprint-Outs, etc). Their receivers are not the best, most are probably better in the slot (Brown, Royal), their former #1 WRs are injured or cut, their rookie #1 WR Keenan Allen is inexperienced, TE Gates has lost a step, and it's King Dunlap at Left Tackle....who had a concussion and might be out for the next game. They are limited by what they can do with their current roster.

It's funny because OC Ken Whisenhunt is an Air-Coryell type guy, which consists of deep QB drops and deep passes, AND it was started by San Diego Chargers Head Coach Don Coryell, continued by Norv Turner. So don't you think, if San Diego is #3 in run blocking, #4 in pass blocking they would still be a deep passing attack like a REAL Air Coryell offense? If talent wasn't an issue, I'm sure King Dunlap and DJ Fluker can hold off the dynamic duo of OLB Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.

by Ben :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 8:47pm

The article glossing over the Colts rush defense as "just as bad as last year" is really mischaracterizing the unit. They aren't fabulous by any means, but by looking at the DL stats on this site, you'll see a lot of improvement:

RB Yards: Improved from 5.10 to 4.03. Over a yard per carry is a big difference. The Colts this year have been gashed by Pryor and Wilson, but have played fairly well against RB's

Open field Yards: Improved from 1.49 to 0.50. This is going from worst in the league to above average. The Colts haven't been giving up a ton of long runs like they have in the past.

Power: Improved rank from 19 to 5. The Colts have done well in short yardage situations this year. This has been a weakness of theirs forever.

Certainly the run defense isn't fantastic, but it's gone from terrible to slightingly above average which is far from "just as bad as last year".

by Bobman :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 1:04am

It really sounded like Mike and Tom were trying to defend their mistakes from August. ("Yeah, they'll win 4 more..." FOUR GAMES?! I ask in a Jim Mora Senior voice. I ask you which ones they'll LOSE. They should win 5-7 more and will surely be favored in seven of the final nine--not KC and Cincy could be a toss-up).

Nearly certain wins (as certain as anything in the NFL) would be Houston X2, Jax, Ten X1, St Lou, and AZ. That is indeed six. Add in another Tennessee game they'll likely win (split the difference and call it a half win) for a total of 6.5 really very likely wins. Cincy and KC are left, and a split would not be out of the question, but call it a half win there, for a total of 7 more wins, or a 12-4 season, with wins over three top-5 teams, or more depending on the Cincy/KC outcomes.

12 wins is 50% more than they predicted in August and 33% more than they're projecting today, and they cannot admit to a mistake. Might as well run for political office with that attitude. Let's revisit this in January when Indy has the #2 seed....

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 8:36am

I interpreted the "they'll win 4 more games" comment as meaning they'll beat their 8.5 wins O/U. As in, they'll win AT LEAST 4 more games. Maybe I'm being overly kind though, since I don't really know what they meant.

I am a little wary of calling any divisional game a "nearly certain" win, especially on the road. Something tells me Houston isn't going to just roll into a ball and accept a 4-12 season. At the very least, they'll settle into their familiar role of trying to play the spoiler when the Colts come to town. The AZ game worries me a little bit too, just because of Arians.

by bernie (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 10:28am

When the schedule came out, I had them being 4-3 at this point of the season, and 11-5 overall, based off last years results, and a few other factors.
However, even though they are above where I had them predicted, I am still not super confident in their ability to keep it going. The main concern hanging over them for me, is the injury situation. Until we see what effect the loss of Wayne will have, and the net effect of the niggling injuries our defenders all seem to have, it's hard to just straight out declare likely wins and losses over thes rest of the scehdule.

As badly as they've played, Houston still matches up really well with the Colts, so a loss there isn't too hard to imagine. Same with Tennessee.

I like how the team is playing so far (they've exceeded my expectations), but I can't help feeling it's premature to label them as a top seed just yet.

by Perfundle :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 12:41pm

You really need to look at past NFL games to see how misguided calling anything "nearly certain" is. 8-1 Houston against 1-8 Jacksonville last year should've been nearly certain (Houston won in overtime). 6-1 New England against 2-5 Cleveland in 2010 should've been nearly certain (they didn't just lose; they got blown out). And to bring up an especially painful loss (or memorable win in your case if you'd watched it), an 8-2 Green Bay team that ended up being the heavy favorites in Super Bowl XXXII against 0-10 Indianapolis should've been nearly certain.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 1:48pm

Wow, memory lane. I distinctly remember that Packers/Colts game in 97. I still mention it occasionally, as the moment when my younger self fully realized that TV sports announcers are basically idiots.

For those that don't remember, the set up is as follows. Defending SB Champion Packers @ terrible Colts team which would go on to earn the #1 pick. Back and forth game, a shootout. Improbably, it's tied 38-38 late. Colts end up with the ball at the GB 1-yard line. It's inside of the 2-minute warning, and GB is out of timeouts.

Keeping in mind that the score tells you what kind of game this was, and that GB had a QB closing in on his 3rd consecutive MVP award, which strategy would you employ in the Colts situation there? Colts take a knee. Announcer cries "I don't understand this at all! You're 0-10! You've got to punch it in!" Colts take another knee. Announcer: "You've got to punch it in!" Colts take a third knee, call timout with a few seconds left, and kick the chip-shot FG to win the game. Then, and only then, does Mr Announcer figure out the oh-so-complicated end-of-game strategy the Colts were employing, but makes sure to punctuate it with "I still think they should have punched it in".

by Xao :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 3:09pm

Jeez Bobman, that post makes you sound like some of the more ardent Pat fans around these parts. In context it's pretty clear that Mike meant he was sure the Colts are going to beat their win projection by winning at least four games (note that they have five games against the three beatable teams that Mike mentioned, plus one against the Jags). They were up front about missing on Indy's projection, cut 'em some slack!

by collapsing pocket (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 10:08am

San Diego - I think San Diego is a lot better than you guys think.

No, I think DVOA has it pretty spot on for them. Great offense, horrible defense, balances out to be average or maybe slightly above average on a good day.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 3:07pm

Coors is not "cold-brewed," whatever the hell Miller-Coors says. It's cold fermented, like every other lager on earth.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 3:20pm

"Like every other lager on earth" -- I think you've hit on Coors' next marketing blitz!

I always love it when advertisers (and beer companies are notorious) come up with meaningless words that sound like something. My favorite was the Miller Lite campaign that said it had "more taste" than other beers. Not GOOD taste, just MORE taste. These days, Miller has come to their senses, and just advertise that you can put a second hole in the top of the can in order to chug beers at a higher rate of speed. They added rifling to their glass bottles for the same reason. Now that's branding.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 3:32pm

Well, to be fair to Miller, that's the sort of branding/utility that the segment of the market is looking for. When you're spending $12 on a 30-rack, you're looking for beer you can chug.

Its like the "Tastes great/less filling" thing. Being able to slam a whole lot of them is what most of their market is looking for.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 4:52pm

Oh exactly. I meant the branding comment in a good way -- that's Miller Lite knowing their market and not being coy about it. That market isn't looking for interesting taste, or more taste, or even taste in general. It's looking for BAC > .10, cheaply and efficiently.

Ah... I'm getting nostalgic for my college days.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 7:31pm

Slamming seven beers to hit .1 BAC is hardly efficient when you could do the same thing with a single Everclear neat.

Either way I think I'd skip it. I've seen people drunk before, and it looks thoroughly unappealing.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/25/2013 - 8:11am

Well, at that point, you've crossed the line between social binge drinking and straight-up alcoholism.

Although, I would love to see that ridiculous commercial with all the guys sitting around singing about the virtues of Miller 64 re-done with them drinking out of Everclear bottles and lighting their vomit on fire.

by Bobman :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 1:12am

That is priceless.

Like Eric Idle said in Monthy Python's "Live at the Hollywood Bowl," Why is American beer like having sex in a canoe? Because it's f-ing close to water.

by Sakic (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 9:02am

My personal favorite was Miller (I think)advertising that their beer is triple hops brewed...EVERY beer is triple hops brewed. It's like saying "our beer has water in it!!!"

by Anchor Steam Beer (not verified) :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 4:54pm

I'm not!

by wiesengrund :: Wed, 10/23/2013 - 7:11pm

What we really need is a Cam Newton injury or something so that the NFC South can host the three worst offenses in the league.

With three offenses in the Top 14, and two in the Top 6 right now, that thought seems kinda silly.

by dbostedo :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 12:05am

It's a sad state of affairs (and byes), but I need three of these 5 receivers : Harry Douglas, Terrence Williams, Kenbrell Thompkins, Stevie Johnson, Steve Smith


by Anonymous7458674 (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 2:29am

Just out of curiosity? Why are you even trying with a wr core like that.

by dbostedo :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 8:51am

Pretty much for the good of the rest of the league (nothing worse than teams that pack it in and go home once they're out of it). And because it's still fun to root for the players I start.

by Tom Gower :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 5:02pm

Steve Smith, sure. It's not like Revis will be shadowing him all night. I also like Terrance Williams, since he's been getting volume lately and the Lions have given up yards through the air this year.

Picking one of the other three... will the Cardinals use Patrick Peterson to smother Douglas? I feel like they should, even if that seems like nuking a fly-level overkill. The Saints have done a great job on #1 wide receivers, plus given the QB situation I don't expect too much from Stevie J. Thompkins goes down a peg or two in the pecking order with Gronk back, plus New England is as week-to-week as any time in the league outside of the biggest core pieces. Personally, I'd probably go Stevie over Douglas, just because I think he's the better player.

by edge (not verified) :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 2:45am

The Colts offense was "supposed" to be pretty good, and it is. The defense and special teams were "supposed" to be bad to terrible, and they aren't. I chalk it up to being the 2nd year of a complete system overhaul and they have players like Mathis, Davis, Freeman, and Butler fitting into their roles where last year they had a lot of people who weren't on the same page yet being new to the system and/or new to the team. I don't see any evidence that the defensive improvement isn't sustainable. Mathis has always been an excellent pass rusher for example.

by turbohappy :: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 3:36am

They seem to really have put players in a position to succeed and are playing to their strengths. I see the "more than the sum of its parts" on defense as good coaching and not unsustainable luck, but maybe I'm just optimistic :o)