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24 Dec 2014

Scramble for the Ball: A Representative Pro Bowl Roster

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: So, Mike, the Pro Bowl rosters were just announced. If you're interested in a quick reaction to the nominations, you can read Scott's take on that subject.

As we have discussed before, having an All-Star Game in a sport like football where intensity is the selling point is kind of a silly exercise. Last season's Pro Bowl was apparently better than usual, but I didn't watch it.

Mike: That was largely because the players were told that the game might be canceled if they all phoned it as per usual.

Tom: Still, our take is that if you're having a silly exercise, you should go for maximum silliness. Every team, no matter how bad, must be represented in the Pro Bowl.

Mike: But yes, this would bring the Pro Bowl more in line with the superior MLB All-Star Game

Tom: From what I know of it, the MLB All-Star Game has trended in its own direction of silliness, which is what prompted Bud Selig to link its result to home-field advantage in the World Series in the first place. Your wacky enjoyment of baseball aside, this column gimmick is indeed a direct ripoff of that game's requirement.

Thankfully, the Pro Bowl's hodgepodge selectorate did a reasonable job for us, picking at least one player from 28 of the 32 teams in the Pro Bowl. The four teams excluded were the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, and Tennessee Titans. Three of those actually have a fairly clear-cut choice for who we can stick in. Jacksonville's best candidate is defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, whom Cian profiled in Film Room back in October. The challenge is figuring out which of the large men who are very good at playing football we want to kick out of the Pro Bowl to make room for him.

Mike: The official page is a mess of scripts. That have now crashed. Seriously NFL. L2internet.

Tom: I had no issues with it. Alternate link.

Mike: That is much better, thanks. Let's actually start with the easy one.

Tom: Odell Beckham?

Mike: A list without Odell Beckham is not a real list.

Tom: OK, who are you kicking off to make room for him? The receivers list is most of the top guys by DYAR, plus A.J. Green (23rd) and Calvin Johnson (17th).

Mike: I'd go with Green, honestly. He has had an unimpressive year. And it would still leave one Bengal on the roster ... a punter! Kevin Huber.

Tom: Well, Green has missed three games and been active for two others where he didn't have a catch, including on Monday night.

Mike: Yes, if you have no impact on a third of your team's games, you should not be in the Pro Bowl unless those last two-thirds are really amazing. Green's weren't.

Tom: Absolutely. I was prepared to make a similar sort of argument about Megatron, but it's probably even more true for Green. We're settled, Beckham is in and Green is out.

For Tennessee, the only player that really makes sense is tight end Delanie Walker. Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Julius Thomas, and Jimmy Graham are all ahead of him by DVOA and DYAR, but even a banged-up Cam Newton isn't Jake Locker, Zach Mettenberger, and Charlie Whitehurst.

Mike: That is a really rough list.

Tom: Thomas is the candidate who first shows up to me -- he has only played in 12 games and has less than 500 yards receiving. He does lead the Broncos with 12 touchdown grabs, but is that enough to make up for 350 more yards and Walker's bigger role in his team's passing game?

Mike: Does it matter? He's the weakest of that bunch, so he must go!

Tom: Delanie Walker in, Julius Thomas out, and hey, there are other Broncos on the team.

Now we must find a spot for Marks and a Vikings representative.

Mike: The Vikings are going to be the hardest. I can't think of anyone on that team I would honestly say is a Pro Bowler.

Tom: That's kind of why this is an exercise in silliness.

Mike: To be fair, the Vikings are just incredibly terrible.

(Ed. Note: Actually, they really aren't. The Vikings are 24th in DVOA, roughly even with Cleveland at this point. But they have no standout players. Just a lot of average and below-average-but-not-horrible. -- Aaron Schatz)

Tom: The standouts may be Everson Griffen, justifying the contract they gave him based largely on potential with 12.0 sacks, and safety Harrison Smith, not that I've really watched enough of the Vikings to evaluate their safety play this year.

Mike: The Vikings secondary has been ... all right, I suppose

Tom: From what I've seen, their safety lapses in coverage have mostly come from Robert Blanton.

Mike: Yeah. The problem is finding someone from that list of safeties to push off. It's a pretty good list.

Tom: It is. Tashaun Gipson is the only non-name, and he has had a good season from what I've read and seen. Plus, he has one more pick and more interception return yards than Smith, so we can't knock him off because of that like it's the Pro Bowl or something. If that made any sense.

Mike: Absolutely none.

Tom: I was trying to make fun of the silliness of Pro Bowl voting, and how they'd judge safeties by interceptions and interception return yards, because those are numbers you can easily find. And we can't even use that flimsy metric to say Smith was better than Gipson.

Mike: Flimsy, even by Pro Bowl standards.

Tom: The one thing to say, though, is that the Browns secondary has two representatives between Gipson and Joe Haden, while Glover Quin is the only Lions player on the team. If you want to find a space for Smith, it's probably Gipson, or we kick off an edge rusher for Griffen.

Mike: Johnson is the other Lion, and that's where I was looking. It's ... a hard list also. Honestly, they did a really good job this year.

Tom: Sorry, Quin is the only Lions secondary player. And we should recognize that pass coverage unit. It hasn't all been the front four, good as they are.

Mike: I think it has to be Robert Quinn, unfortunately.

Tom: It's bizarre, because Quinn is such a good player who has been playing so well lately.

Mike: It is, but the only option I can see is Mario Williams, considering Buffalo has two tackles on the team, but that just doesn't seem right.

Tom: But St. Louis is still represented, and the other guys have been so good. On an absolute basis, even this season and disregarding their age, I'd take Quinn over, say, DeMarcus Ware, but in terms of their play and impact on the team over the course of the year, Quinn probably is the guy.

Mike: Agreed.

Tom: Everson Griffen in, Robert Quinn is out.

And funny you mention those two Buffalo tackles. We need a space for Sen'Derrick Marks still, and that's where I was looking.

Mike: Poor Bills. They finally get their act together and we try to kick them all out

Tom: That defensive line is fantastic. They deserve to have three Pro Bowlers.

Mike: Yes. Thank god our game doesn't mean anything. Still, one of them must go.

Tom: But we're committed to our exercise, even if it makes the Pro Bowl team worse. Marcell Dareus has 4.5 more sacks.

Mike: That is almost certainly the only difference we're going to find. As stupid as it is, goodbye, Kyle Williams.

Tom: Welcome to the Pro Bowl, Sen'Derrick Marks.

Aggrieved we kicked one of your favorites off the Pro Bowl roster? Think there is somebody else we missed from the four snubbed teams who should have made it instead? Correct our correction in the comments!

Lessons Learned

Mike: I suppose my lesson is that Rex Ryan still has a lot of fight left in him. His defensive game plan against the Patriots was great. His offensive game plan was unfortunately "the Jets' offense." Which probably is less a plan and more a sequence of increasingly unfortunate events. But he said he would get to Tom Brady. And he did. And it worked well. He's going to make someone an outstanding defensive coordinator next year.

Tom: If he has any interest in being a defensive coordinator for no net money, instead of going to TV for millions of dollars that don't offset what he'll be due from the Jets.

I'm tempted to make the argument that we saw serious cracks in the AFC's acknowledged top two, in that the Patriots struggled with the Jets and the Broncos lost to the Bengals with Peyton Manning thowing four interceptions. Then again, we have seen the ongoing evolution of the Broncos offense, and Rex Ryan has a long history of playing quality games against the Patriots (any Pats fan who brings up 45-3 will be sentenced to watch the Jets-Pats game that followed that one).

I mentioned this in Audibles, but it has now been in my head for a week. I always wonder why coaches are so intent to fail conventionally. Ryan Lindley wasn't going to do anything against the Seahawks. It's hard to do things against the Seahawks for even good players, and all available evidence on Lindley is that he's a very bad one. When I wrote the Arizona Cardinals chapter for Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, I was very skeptical about Bruce Arians' prospects. He has done great, but at a certain point you have to recognize the limitations of your own genius.

Mike: Well, what else is he going to do?

Tom: That, in effect, is Bill Belichick's genius, that the limitation of his own genius is the recognition that other teams are really good too, so you should beat them however you can. We saw this notably earlier in the season, when the Patriots rolled the Colts with Jonas Gray and then sent Gray, and the six offensive lineman sets they used so effectively, and the run game in general, to the bench as they rolled the Lions the next week. Be really good at and believe in what you do, but recognize the limits of what you are best at, and if that's not your best option for achieving your goal, then try something else.

Loser League Update

Full Loser League results for every team for this week and the season to date are available on the Loser League results page. Each week, Scramble for the Ball highlights the top performers at each position.

Quarterback: If you inexplicably picked Andrew Luck for your Loser League team, this may be the only week of the season you come out looking smart, as he had 1 point thanks to no touchdowns, no rushing production, and a pair of interceptions. Josh McCown's 5 points was the lowest among quarterbacks who might have been taken in Loser League.

Running backs: Arian Foster is very good. Alfred Blue is not, picking up just 6 yards on eight carries against Baltimore's strong defensive front for 0 points. (For the curious, the post-merger record for fewest rushing yards on eight or more carries seems to be -14 by LaRod Stephens-Howling as part of the great 2012 Arizona Cardinals offense.) Doug Martin (no fumble) and Julius Randle (fumble) were runners-up with 1 point each.

Wide receivers: Ricardo Lockette, Donte Moncrief, and Josh Morgan each had multiple receptions and fewer than 10 yards receiving for 0 points. Of those, only Moncrief was started by a current Scramble writer as part of a winning championship effort.

Kicker: The Seattle Seahawks almost completely shut up the glass-completely-empty pessimist in their dominating win against the Arizona Cardinals. The reason they could not completely shut them up: Steven Hauschka's lousy performance, in which he missed three field goals and ended up with -1 despite making five extra points.


Keep Chopping Wood: There was a lot more to the Vikings' loss to the Miami Dolphins than long-snapper Cullen Loeffler bouncing a snap to punter Jeff Locke in the final minute to create the situation for a punt block and a game-deciding safety, like the offensive tackles' toreador-like performances in pass protection on the drive that created the punting situation in the first place, or a defense that gave up four touchdowns on four second half possessions, but none of that carries quite the same sort of You Had One Job implications.

Mike Martz Award: As head coach of the Chicago Bears, Marc Trestman has control over the starting lineup. We learned that this past week, when he made the call to bench Jay Cutler and play Jimmy Clausen, only afterward informing general manager Ray Emery he decided to play Jimmy Clausen, so awe-inspiring as a Panthers rookie that he had not started since said rookie season, against a fearsome Lions defense. The result: 14 points, with one scoring drive starting at the Detroit 11 after a bad turnover and the other getting to fourth-and-23 and only ending up in any points because the Lions roughed the punter. Bonus: Clausen got hurt, so Cutler is back in the starting lineup. Thus endeth perhaps the most obvious "starting quarterback as organizational power play" move this side of Josh Freeman on Monday Night Football.

Fetal Position Lock of the Week

Tom: Mike and Tom's "no money down, guaranteed to be wrong or your money back" picks lived (insert direction here) to their reputation last week.

Mike: Sideways.

Tom: The Jaguars, favorites for the first time in more than two seasons, beat the Titans and covered. The Ravens not only didn't cover, but they were defeated by a Case Keenum-led Houston squad.

Mike: We're not even reliably useless.

Tom: We are now both 4-10 on the season. As always lines are courtesy of Pinnacle Sports and were accurate as of time of writing. All picks are made without reference to the FO Premium picks.

Mike: +5 seems really optimistic for the Kyle Orton machine, but New England has less than nothing to play for. They already have the first seed locked up. They're healthy but not tremendously so. The Patriots will not have a functioning offense and the Bills will be playing to vent some frustration after they fell out of the playoffs picture.

Tom: Yes, the great Week 17 dilemma. Do you try to pick a line in a competitive game, or do you try to pick a game between teams with nothing to play for?

Mike: I think that the Bills' defense is good enough and motivated enough to cover. Buffalo Bills +5 at New England Patriots. Even if we did kick half of them out of the Pro Bowl.

Tom: Hmm. The San Francisco-Arizona line is in line with what Weighted DVOA suggests it should be. That's with Logan Thomas starting, but it's Week 17 and a game that scares me given Arizona's status. If Miami wasn't eliminated, I would take them, but they are.

Instead, I'll bite on one of the games that matters most. Atlanta beat Carolina earlier in the season. They have one solid cornerback in Desmond Trufant, which is enough to match up to Carolina's one quality wide receiver. Matt Ryan is the better quarterback in the game, and Julio Jones is the most dangerous receiver. Weighted DVOA suggests this line should maybe be a point higher than it is. Atlanta Falcons -4 vs. Carolina Panthers.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 24 Dec 2014

33 comments, Last at 27 Dec 2014, 6:27pm by BJR


by andrew :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 3:32pm

The vikings secondary has had issues, but what they do right mostly centers on Harrison Smith. He has played extremely well at times though he has to devote more than he should to run support due to deficiencies elsewhere (though this is based on the few times I was able to see them this year). Someone mentioned he ws the only player with 3+ sacks and 3+ints in the league.... at any rate the pick he had of Tannehill this last week was a standout example of him at his best.

by Tim F. :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 4:03pm

"The official page is a mess of scripts. That have now crashed. Seriously NFL. L2internet."

The NFL site does suck but you guys do realize that your site may be the only site on the Internet that can't get the white content background to load at the same time or before the dark green "background" background... or, at the very least, have the text load with the white content area, meaning every time I load an FO page it's unreadable for a half to 3 seconds because it's black text on a dark green background? Can anyone point to a single other site made after 1997 that has this basic, fundamental problem?

by Duff Soviet Union :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 4:20pm

You're seriously complaining that this site is unreadable for a half to three seconds? Three whole seconds? Geez, people will complain about anything, won't they?

by Tim F. :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 4:40pm

That it's a braindead, stupid problem that no other site has that causes minor frustration... Yes. I'm not boycotting the site because of it, but it is a real frustration that I encounter every single time I load any single page on FO... it's an annoyance that keeps getting more and more annoying because it's entirely avoidable. Is it huge? No. Does it genuinely suck and can it be fixed in 10 seconds by someone who supposedly has "L2Internet"ed? Yes. Does it make "L2internet", when complaining about an issue that was just as likely caused by Mike's browser as it was by the NFL site, sound idiotic, juvenile, and ... something about glass houses? Yup.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 4:50pm

Have to say ... I don't get the issue of FO loading slowly that you mention. This on a laptop bought in 2010 running Windows 7 and Google Chrome.

However ... I rank NFL.com as the worst website I visit on the whole of the internet.

It is graphic heavy, ad heavy, slow to load, too many dropdown menus that appear out of nowhere as you're about to click on a link thereby sending me to the wrong page. I rarely even bother to watching game videos anymore as I get bombarded by 30-second ads every 2nd or 3rd video and the site never seems to show me the video I'm acutally trying to watch!

I see it as highly representative of how overly commercialised the NFL has become to the point where the core product can now hardly be found.

by Theo :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 8:55pm

It's also representative for the fact that consumers find other, better ways to get the product.
All the NFL that I watch nowadays is from torrents or pirate sites, because I don't trust Gamepass to run how I want to.

As for the ads on NFL.com; install adblockplus and you're good to go. I also use flashblock plus to prevent flash movies from playing automatically.

by Lance :: Thu, 12/25/2014 - 12:37pm

I don't seem to have that problem on my 4 year-old MacBook Pro using Chrome. But I also don't know what "L2internet" even means. I think that at this point, I am now my dad and technology has passed me by.

by pablohoney :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 6:41pm

Not to gang up on Aaron, but I have the same issue with the site -- sometimes it'll hang loading (probably from the Flash ads) and since it loads the green background before the white, the text stays virtually unreadable. It's a nuisance and not something I run into anywhere else. It is what it is.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 8:41pm

Ahhhh now ... I just paused my ad blocker and I can now see why some of you are complaining about this site. It was slow loading.

NFL.com had previously convinced me that I couldn't use an adblocker on their site. Even with that re-enabled to block ads it was still slow as some ads got through but I got to articles quicker.

by Joshua Northey :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 5:05pm

Honestly, this very website is by far the most technically poor website I regularly visit. Has been for years. I always felt like Aaron must have a brother or cousin who does web development, because FO is just not professional, at all, and I cannot think of another reason it hasn't been improved.

by Raiderfan :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 6:06pm

Sports Illustrated on an iPad is worse. I have stopped visiting it. Much worse than the green screen.

by RickD :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 8:32pm

si.com has embraced the new model for web design, where you have blocks of things you have to click to reach a second page that you have to click, and....well I usually give up at that point. It's the result of a click-based economy - the web has turned into crap.

FO is wonderful by comparison.

by Dave Bernreuther :: Thu, 12/25/2014 - 4:07pm

What sucks is that if they're making everything click bait they should at least make sure you can actually click it. On Chrome on my iPad I'm unable to click anything on that site once the "bookmark the new SI.com" bubble loads.

by TheSlinger :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 3:43pm

Vikings fans seem to think that Xavier Rhodes is a guy that should've made the pro bowl, and cornerback gives you an easy guy to kick off - Patrick Peterson, who's in purely based on reputation and is not the only Cardinals representative (Calais Campbell, Justin Bethel).

by andrew :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 8:07pm

Xavier Rhodes is superb.... compared to what the Vikings had at cornerback before he came along. This can cloud how we viking fans gauge him. Objectively he is good, but I wouldn't put him in the pro bowl just yet. He may well get there.

by Tom Gower :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 3:04pm

This was pretty much my take-the best they had, not Pro Bowl worthy like Smith and Griffen.

by Tim F. :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 3:57pm

As for Cullen Loeffler, here's a good article that explains it. He had been getting beat or at least pressured throughout the game by Dion Jordan. The Dolphins had recognized this and planned accordingly. Even though Fede seals it, Jordan never engages anyone and Loeffler had to contribute by getting the yips and whiffing in thinking that Jordan would be in his face in a split second from his left, the Dolphins's coaches give Dion Jordan as much credit on the blocked punt-safety as Fede. It's not just a breakdown on Loeffler's part on a single play; it's him consistently getting beat on similar plays throughout the game by the opponent, trying to do what he thought was necessary to compensate for that known deficiency as best as possible. This is the type of contribution that could never be measured in any advanced analytic.


by Tim F. :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 4:01pm

Eh, follow the first result on this Google page to bypass the stupid paywall:


Stupid paywalls!

by howest26 :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 4:54pm

I believe Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith deserve an apology from these writers. Research advanced analytics on both. They are playing at an elite level this year. Griffen is one of the top pass rushing 4-3 ends and also one of the top 4-3 ends against the run.

Smith is elite in run defense, pass coverage, and maybe the best pass rushing safety in the league.

If you think neither belongs in the pro bowl you really don't know what you're talking about. Do more research and rewrite this.

by andrew :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 11:52pm

Look, I am a vikings fan and I like Griffen... however, when you call for advanced analytics... we are on FO after all.

The vikings defensive line currently ranks dead last in the NFL in adjusted line yards, with 4.62: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/dl

They are 29th in Running Back yards (ahead of the Saints, Giants and Chiefs).

Their stuff % (percentage of plays in which they stuff the RB)? 14%, dead last.

Specifically for Everson Griffin, who plays Right defensive end, that position's adjusted line yards (which is listed as runs to the left end, because they are from the offense's perspective) is 3.99, or 22nd in the league. Now that is much better than they are vs opponents running theo ther way, at Brian Robinson on the other end, where they give up an ALY of 4.79, or 29th in the league. THe NFL average for Griffen's position (RDE) is 3.68, and the top team is Detroit at 2.38.

Now pash-rush wise, there is an argument. Griffen may well make it on as an alternate on his pass rushing resume.. But saying Everson Griffen is "one of the top 4-3 ends against the run" simply doesn't hold up.

by howest26 :: Thu, 12/25/2014 - 12:32pm

None of those statistics you shared properly narrowed down to Griffen's individual impact. They regarded the defensive line as a whole and even that can't be completely isolated because it depends on the scheme. If the lineman work in more of a set-role for the LBers to make the play for instance. Now the Vikings have struggled at LB outside of Barr and sometimes Hodges, but that doesn't mean that the scheme isn't set up for them to be making most of the plays against the run.

That applies with your statistics which talk about the run going in Griffen's direction, that can be the fault of the LBers as well.

Now, notice I say could. That's why I think we need to look deeper and to really isolate a player's impact, the best method involves some subjective judgments, which is why Pro Football Focus's run D grade for Griffen I believe most accurately isolates Griffen's contribution in run d. It also is confirmed for me from watching the games. Griffen is a handful for opposing offenses against the run. Seriouly go look at how he grades against the run over at PFF where they more properly isolate his contribution in contrast to the rest of the line or the LBers.

(Yes Advanced Analytics also has him as the 3rd highest rated DE for winning percentage added, but I still think PFF has a huge advantage in this regard as to more fully isolating his individual performance.)

by CaffeineMan :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 4:56pm

PFF is not advanced analytics. It's scouting together with a scoring system. It's subjective. Setting aside whether one thinks their scouting is any good or not, comparing PFF to either FO's metrics or Burke's WPA/EPA is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

by CaffeineMan :: Wed, 12/24/2014 - 10:21pm

I'm guessing it's a reference to Burke's Advanced Football Analytics site? Apparently Griffen is 3rd in his +WPA stat among DE's. Don't know anything about that stat, so I won't attack or defend it.

Hopefully it's not a reference to Pro Football Focus, because I'm half convinced they just make sh*t up.

by jmaron :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 8:44am

I watch every Vikings game and then at least once more to see which players are playing well or poorly (yes I'm a nutty fan). Everson Griffen has had a great year. I think anyone who watched Viking games would see that. It's pretty clear these writers have not.

Harrison Smith has also had a great year, he not only makes big plays, and is a sure tackler.

Xavier Rhodes also had a good year. A few too many big plays given up and to many penalties to be a pro bowler in my mind.

Add in Barr and Floyd and I think the Vikings have the best defensive core since the 1987 group with Doleman, Millard, Lee and Browner.

I really appreciate all the free info I get at this site. I enjoy it, but I don't take very seriously any statistical info about individual play. This site suggests the Viking defensive line is horrible - AdvancedNFLanalytics says Griffen and Floyd are two of the best defensive lineman in the game (have Smith and Barr rated very highly as well). Such stats are interesting but I don't think they really tell us much about individual performance.

by Perfundle :: Thu, 12/25/2014 - 12:05pm

Mike: Well, what else is [Arians] going to do?

Tom never fully answered this question. Of course Belichick can change strategies for different teams because he has enough talent in his personnel to do it. What could Arians have done? Play Thomas for the whole game? Go to the triple-option? They have a horrible running game, and with either Lindley or Thomas at QB a horrible passing game as well. I think Seattle was sitting on all the short routes, so their strategy of heaving it deep and hoping for pass interference or an accurate pass is pretty much their optimal one.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 12/25/2014 - 1:41pm

He has enough talent? Or he uses players to their potential?

The awful running game ... when LeGarrette Blount was cut by the Steelers he was available to be picked up by Arizona ... instead the Patriots picked him up even though they were just coming off a 200-yd primetime game by Jonas Gray.

I agree it's tough when you get down to your 3rd string QB. I'm not sure who BB has pencilled in for that. Probably they'd play Vince Wilfork and he'd throw for 300 yds, 5 TDs and complete 80% of his passes ;-)

by LionInAZ :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 1:39am

Perhaps you didn't notice that Blount's production has fallen off a cliff in the four games since the Pats signed him -- to the extant that Gray is now ahead of him in the lineup.

by Bromo_Sapien :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 2:41am

What makes you say Gray is ahead of him in the lineup? Gray played last week pretty much only because Blount was out with an injury. In the five games Blount has been on the Pats, Gray has gotten 0, 1, 2, 11 (almost entirely towards the end of a 41-13 blowout), and 6 (when Blount wasn't playing). Blount is clearly the number one back in NE, with Grey in mop-up duty.

As for Belichick, he and Josh McDaniels are fantastic at creating the right schemes (McDaniels' godawful playcalling is a whole 'nother matter). On a micro level, like Bright Blue Shorts mentioned, they develop game plans to attack weaknesses unlike almost any other coaches in the league; most other coaches plan towards their own strengths whereas Belichick and McDaniels plan towards their opponents' weaknesses. That's what Tom was saying. Now, easier said than done and doubly so against the Seahawks, but still.

by Perfundle :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 2:57am

How did that work out in 2008 when Belichick lost his starting QB? He's not some invincible tactician that can win regardless of how much talent he has. And I'm sure every coach attacks the opponents' weakness. Maybe Belichick does it better than the other coaches, but he's not unique in that aspect. I presume this is coming from that ESPN article, but that article has the quote:

[I]t's clear the Patriots are not the only ones who ride a game-plan attack. But I would be hard-pressed to find an offense that is as willing -- and capable -- of changing what it does from one week to another.

Even then, the evidence provided of the Patriots' uniqueness includes this next line:

This isn't anything new from the Patriots, but consider the recent three-game stretch against Denver, Indianapolis and Detroit. The Patriots threw the ball 53, 30 and 53 times in those games, respectively.

So... not much different from when Green Bay threw it 22, 42 and 24 times in one of their winning streaks. Or when Seattle threw it 22, 37 and 24 times consecutively. Or when Denver threw it 26 times against Kansas City, 47 times two games later, and 27 times two games after that.

by Bromo_Sapien :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 11:37am

2008 was arguably his greatest coaching season ever. He went 11-5, becoming only the second team to not make the playoffs with 11 wins since the NFL switched to 16 games in '78. And again, that was with Matt "Benched for Brady Quinn" Cassel. That's the perfect example of taking subpar players and creating a scheme to maximize their limited abilities.

Another example is '06, when he and Brady got to the AFC Championship game with Reche Caldwell (760 yds) and Ben Watson (643 yds) as their top receivers. No other receiver topped 400.

And sure, if you're facing the Browns, obviously every coach is going to run it more than they would against the Detroit. But Belichick and McDaniels fundamentally changes their offense on a week to week basis. Think about the old fantasy adage: Never trust a Bill Belichick running back. That's because you don't know how he's going to use them on a week to week basis. One week it could be all Shane Vereen on swing passes. Next week, Lagarette Blount. After that, Edelman gets a bunch of dink and dunk passes to move the chains. Then Gronk gets fed for 10 catches.

Every other good offense has some sort of identity, usually focused on their QB. Belichick and McDaniels not only change their identity year-to-year based on personnel but change their game plan week-to-week more than anyone.

by Perfundle :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 2:50pm

2008 was arguably his greatest coaching season ever. He went 11-5, becoming only the second team to not make the playoffs with 11 wins since the NFL switched to 16 games in '78. And again, that was with Matt "Benched for Brady Quinn" Cassel. That's the perfect example of taking subpar players and creating a scheme to maximize their limited abilities.

So Arians making at to least 11-5 and possibly 12-4 with a slightly above-average QB that only played 6 games this season, with massive injuries and suspensions throughout the season and against a very difficult schedule (3rd in DVOA, compared to 28th for the 2008 Patriots) isn't much different, is it?

Every other good offense has some sort of identity, usually focused on their QB. Belichick and McDaniels not only change their identity year-to-year based on personnel but change their game plan week-to-week more than anyone.

I don't deny that they change their identity more. I have to wonder, though, whether it actually helps. Who's to say that mainly playing to their strengths and taking what the opponent gives them wouldn't be just as successful? I'm always wary of people finding something that successful teams do differently and pointing to that as the reason for their success. There was Chip Kelly's sports science, and Carroll's meditation, and many others too. I don't think they make that much difference.

by jmaron :: Fri, 12/26/2014 - 8:53am

"Mike: To be fair, the Vikings are just incredibly terrible."

It's a really odd comment as there really isn't anything to suggest that.

The Vikings have been in tight games almost every single week. They are 4-5 in their last 9 games. Their 5 loses in that stretch are by a combined 16 points and 2 of their wins in that stretch have been in OT and one was a 3 pt win over Washington.

They lost heartbreakers to Buff, Mia, and Det on the road. Held GB to 3 pt loss at home.

What the Vikings have been this year is competitive in just about every game they played. They had a couple of easy wins and a couple of dreadful loses (one vs GB included Ponder as the starter - I'd give them a mulligan in that one).

by BJR :: Sat, 12/27/2014 - 6:27pm

Yeah, I don't follow that team closely at all, but I'm not sure where the idea that they are "incredibly terrible" could possibly come from. Just look at their DVOA, or even simply their record.

I thought the common consensus with the Vikings is that, whilst they are a below average team this year, their core of young players and well-respected coaching staff puts them on an upward curve. In fact I'm expecting them to be a trendy 'dark-horse' pick amongst pundits going into next year.