Scramble for the Ball: 2019 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week your intrepid Scramblenistos have a special treat for you. That is, the plural you, y'all, our dear readers. Well, technically, next week we have the special treat, but that means this week is also a ... oh whatever, yet again I'm using too many words to say something really very simple.
Bryan: The schedule is complex. Let's just say that this week, and the next two weeks, are all special treats, making all of them just the new standard expected level of treat, one we'll undoubtedly fail to live up to in the future.
Andrew: Ordinarily, we reserve the annual All-Keep Choppin' Wood team for Super Bowl fortnight. At that point we're all super-busy and the schedule is hectic, so it's handy to have something prepacked that we can bung in the microwave and release to the masses when time allows. This year, however, we have something slightly different for that slot, so you're (mostly) spared another week of our inane ramblings in favor of oven-fresh woodchoppings.
Bryan: And, indeed, 2019 gives us a fine crop of the worst of the worst. On-field struggles, free-agent busts, floundering rookies, and some of the most bizarre and unprecedented off-field shenanigans we've seen in recent years. Some times, it's difficult to find enough names to kill out the All-KCW team. This year, the competition at some positions was fierce.
Andrew: Without giving too much away, we genuinely considered one of this year's nominees for no fewer than three spots, equivalent to the number of teams he has blighted with his antics this calendar year. And that guy isn't even a bad player!
Bryan: It's a long one, so you don't need us blathering at you any more than this. Once again, Scramble for the Ball is proud to present the All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team:
Bryan: We had a very crowded field to choose from this season. It looked like the end of an era for the cream of the 2000s crop, with Tom Brady and Philip Rivers struggling. Nick Foles ended up as a free-agent bust in Jacksonville, outplayed by a sixth-round rookie. Baker Mayfield shied away from the hype. Joe Flacco had no business starting for anyone. Jameis Winston was the first player with 30 interceptions since the 1980s. Josh Rosen proved that no, he's not a viable prospect. Dwayne Haskins was last in both DVOA and DYAR.
But in the end, we had to go for someone who should be entering the prime of his career. Someone who started the season as the most popular bet for MVP, only to backslide to a negative DVOA and DYAR in his third season in the league. No, Mitchell Trubisky may not have been the worst quarterback in the league last season, but he was certainly the most disappointing, as it's becoming painfully clear that he will not end the Bears' run of mediocrity under center. It's a struggle to find any metric where Trubisky didn't regress in Year 3, and watching him on film is a depressing experience; checkdown after checkdown, inconsistent throw after inconsistent throw.
Most depressingly, the game hasn't seemed to slow down for him yet. He struggles to read defenses pre-snap, he struggles to process coverages post-snap. His slow first-half starts were particularly painful, often putting the Bears out of contention early before padding his stats with second-half comebacks against softer defenses. Trubisky had a -22.2% DVOA in the first half, second-worst among quarterbacks with at least 250 first-half passes; only Kyle Allen was worse. And Allen isn't being considered a long-term answer in Carolina; the Bears brass have already confirmed that Trubisky will be their 2020 starter.
It is not out of the question that Trubisky could improve in Year 4; he was dealing with a number of nagging injuries all season long, and will undergo shoulder surgery this offseason. Still. By Year 3, most quarterbacks have shown who they are. While it's not Trubisky's fault he was drafted over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, he certainly pales in comparison.
It's been an adventure for Mitch Trubisky since he's returned from injury. pic.twitter.com/N5tWaIN4od
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) November 8, 2019
Andrew: The Dolphins running game was atrocious this season. Miami's -26.9% rushing DVOA was the worst mark since the 2013 Ravens, and the fourth-worst since the turn of the century. The worst player on this awful unit was Kalen Ballage, a 2018 fourth-round pick who made a splash in his rookie season with a 75-yard touchdown against Minnesota, but who averaged a mere 3.3 yards across his other 35 carries.
The Dolphins gave Ballage every opportunity to earn the starting job for 2019 -- he led the team in carries and started more games than any other back on the roster. In return, Ballage was horrendous -- he averaged an incredible 1.8 yards per carry, his longest run gained just 8 yards, he had the worst DVOA of any back with at least 60 attempts, and his -76 DYAR would have been enough to rank next to last in the main running back table despite barely half the carries of anybody else in the bottom four. Every other back on the team had at least one double-digit gain, and the rest of the team averaged 3.7 yards per carry, more than double Ballage's figure.
He was even worse in the passing game, where his -66.7% DVOA ranked worst of any back with at least 16 targets and his -65 DYAR again ranked second-worst despite not enough targets to qualify for the main table. Ballage ended the year on injured reserve, and we expect the Dolphins running back depth chart to look very different next year.
Bryan: Oh, where to start with Antonio Brown? I feel like all we have to do is go "Antonio Brown is our team captain this year," and everyone will nod their heads and say yes, that makes sense, no explanation necessary. But dang it, this is a historic document, and we owe it to future generations to try to explain, or at least recount, what happened to arguably the best receiver of the past decade in 2019. We don't like going into this much detail about anyone, but dang it, this was the most bizarre year for any player either of us can remember, and it needs to be preserved.
Brown earned All-KCW honors last year, sitting out-slash-being suspended from Pittsburgh's must-win Week 17 game. He had skipped practices that week, and was done with the Pittsburgh Steelers, demanding a trade in the offseason. Brown had very little leverage in this situation, with Pittsburgh gaining almost no cap space in the move. Surprisingly -- at the time, at least -- the Steelers agreed to trade him, either making a deal or coming very close to making a deal with the Buffalo Bills. But Brown nixed that deal, going to the Raiders for third- and fifth-round picks instead. So far, so standard Diva Receiver; these are the kinds of things teams have shown that they are willing to put up with for someone of Brown's talent.
Brown showed up to Oakland's training camp in a hot air balloon, and that was pretty much the high point of Brown's career as an Oakland Raider. In early August, Brown posted a nasty picture on Instagram, showing his frostbitten feet -- an injury he suffered from not wearing proper footwear during a cryotherapy session in France, a somewhat experimental replacement for ice baths. This caused him to miss all but one of Oakland's training camp practices. Or, theoretically, that's what caused his absences.
Also causing issues at this point in time was the helmet drama. Before this season, the NFL updated its helmet policy, phasing out older, less safe models, like the Schutt Air Advantage that Brown, and several other notable players, favored. Most players grumbled about it and started adjusting to their new helmets. Not Brown. Brown threatened to retire over the issue. He filed multiple grievances with the league, all of which were denied. He attempted to take the field after repainting his old helmet in a design which almost, but not quite, matched the Raiders' color scheme to fool members of staff (it did not work). He attempted to buy a version of his helmet manufactured after the NFL's cutoff date, only to be told that wouldn't be allowed, either. One unnamed teammate called this "honestly the most insane thing I have ever heard. I don't know why it's so important to him. It doesn't make any sense."
The helmet saga and the injured feet were beginning to take their toll on the Raiders' front office. In addition, Brown would routinely show up late to meetings, and spend the time messing around with his phone on Instagram -- when he would bother to show up at all, going dark for several periods. As a response, the Raiders opted to fine Brown $54,000 for conduct detrimental to the club. Brown accepted this, paid the fine, and everything went smoothly from there.
Wait, no, I meant he posted Mike Mayock's letter reporting the fines on Instagram, complete with a confusing retort. The next day, Brown showed up at Raiders headquarters and confronted Mayock, and the two had a loud, verbal confrontation. Brown threatened to hit Mayock and reportedly called him racial slurs, charges which Brown has denied. After being restrained by noted voice of reason Vontaze Burfict, Brown punted a football away, and said "fine me for that."
They did. They fined him $215,000 more, and voided the guaranteed money in his contract. So, a day after apologizing to the team, Brown recorded a phone call he had with Jon Gruden (which was rumored, at the time, to be a crime, though it later turned out Gruden was aware of the recording); posted a bizarre, professional video about his desire to be "set free;" asked for his release on Instagram; and celebrated when it was granted. He then signed with the New England Patriots, because of course he did. In his first game with New England, Brown caught a touchdown pass, and everything was fine. And then the story stops being funny.
Three days after Brown joined the Patriots, a lawsuit was filed against Brown stating that he had sexually assaulted his former trainer. One day after his first game with the Patriots, new reporting revealed more sexual misconduct allegations facing Brown against an artist painting in his home. Three days after that, intimidating texts from Brown were released. Brown was released the same day, as the NFL began an investigation under the personal conduct policy.
Since then, Brown has filed more grievances against both the Raiders and Patriots for his voided salary. He has lashed out against the NFL, first saying he's done with the league for good and calling it racist, and then recanting after attending multiple meetings with the league. He has burned Robert Kraft on social media, only to apologize a few days later. He has filed countersuits about his sexual assault accusations. He has feuded with JuJu Smith-Schuster. He has teased a fight with controversial YouTube star Logan Paul. He has released a (terrible) music video. He has broadcast, live, his confrontations with police, the mother of his children, and the children themselves. He is in a terrible place, and is spiraling out of control.
And, of course, during all this, the Seahawks considered signing him and the Saints brought him in for a workout, because who wouldn't want to be part of all this? What possible red flags could there be against bringing Antonio Brown into your locker room?
Andrew: It is no coincidence that our second player here is another member of that New England receiving corps that looked oh-so-enticing in early September, nor that the Patriots ended up in passing-game purgatory after both of their most talented receivers were released by the end of October. I wrote, in Josh Gordon's player comment for this year's Almanac, that "Gordon's football career, both college and professional, stands as an agonizing cautionary tale against the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. ... If he can ever truly conquer his illness and get back on the field for good, the 28-year-old just about has time to salvage a career that once had oh-so-much potential." Sadly, it appears safe to say that time has now run out.
We knew that something was amiss when the Patriots unexpectedly released Gordon without much fanfare in mid-October. Seattle picked him up, and things seemed to be getting back on track ... until the inevitable announcement that Gordon was suspended indefinitely after violating the NFL Policy on Substances of Abuse. This marks the fourth time Gordon has been suspended under that policy, and may well be the last. We simply don't have space nor expertise here to provide nuanced analysis of Gordon's situation, but he may be one of the all-time greats in the Hall of Squandered Potential.
Bryan: Our third receiver makes the team for more traditional reasons: being bad at football. Three receivers make up the bottom three of both DYAR and DVOA -- Nelson Agholor, Jairus Wright, and Geronimo Allison. Wright's starting quarterback missed most of the year. Agholor played on the most injured offense in the league. Geronimo Allison has no such excuse. While Aaron Rodgers had a poor year by his lofty standards, he's still Aaron Rodgers. After starting the year as the slot receiver, Allison failed to record as many as 40 yards in a game after Week 6.
Andrew: We had a lengthy discussion on the topic of our All-KCW tight end this year. The bottom end of the DYAR table is filled with players whose teams have major question marks at quarterback -- should we penalize Vance McDonald for not being a duck, or Trey Burton for having to catch passes from our All-KCW quarterback? Luke Stocker has the worst DVOA of any tight end in our tables, but he is primarily a blocker. In the end, we settled on Jesse James. The Lions signed James to a four-year, $22-million contract to be their top option at tight end. James caught a grand total of 16 passes in 2019, recording a 59% catch rate on his 27 targets, good for a -23.3% DVOA. He had one catch or fewer in 13 of 16 games, no scores, and less production than either rookie T.J. Hockenson or backup Logan Thomas. Unlike the others on our list, quarterback issues are no excuse -- two of his multi-catch games came after Matthew Stafford was injured. James is a reasonable blocker, but nobody needs to pay $22 million for a reasonable blocking tight end -- he's being paid to catch passes, and by that measure, his first year in Detroit was a bust.
Bryan: We're trying not to pick on Miami too much, as the Dolphins were not trying to field the most talented players in the league this season. Still, J'Marcus Webb went above and beyond. Per SIS charting, Webb blew 33 blocks this season. That would be bad enough, tied for ninth-most in the league, but Webb only managed 509 snaps this season. That means he blew a block once every 15.4 snaps, worst in the league among players with at least 400 snaps. By the end of the season, he was a healthy scratch, and for good reason.
Andrew: Our second tackle is Cordy Glenn, whose entire situation with the Bengals this season was bizarre. Glenn began the year in the concussion protocol after being injured in the second preseason game. He missed a month and a half, but was cleared by multiple doctors to return ahead of Week 7. According to various reports, Glenn claimed that he was not ready, skipped meetings and practices, refused to travel for the road game against the Steelers, and got into a fight with a coach and demanded his release. The team suspended him for the game -- remember, he had refused to travel anyway -- but reinstated him the following week. He did not play until Week 12, when he unexpectedly started against those same Steelers. He started the next five games, but was benched in the loss to the Dolphins for Fred Johnson, a midseason waiver-wire pickup from, once again, the Steelers. His entire situation was described as a cloud hanging over the team -- a team that, frankly, needed no help looking weather-beaten. Glenn played only two snaps in the season finale, and the former first-round pick is not expected to return to Cincinnati next year.
Bryan: This offseason, the Atlanta Falcons signed Jamon Brown to a three-year, $18.8-million contract, with $12.8 million of that guaranteed. That's an expensive deal for someone who never really shone as a starter in Los Angeles or New York, but he's young, and the Falcons needed at least one new starter with Andy Levitre leaving. It wasn't supposed to be Brown -- he stepped in when Chris Lindstrom got hurt -- but at least the veteran would provide consistency for Atlanta, right? Wrong. Brown was benched for good after the Week 13 loss to the Saints, struggling both with Dirk Koetter's inside zone scheme and with pass protection in general. Brown wasn't the worst guard in football, but he was getting paid far more than his production could justify. A questionable move coming in, and a questionable move given the results.
Andrew: Former Dolphins interior lineman Jamil Douglas began the season as the starting right guard for the Tennessee Titans. By Week 4, he had already been benched for a third-round rookie -- Nate Davis, who was no great shakes himself. Douglas' lowlight was on Thursday Night Football in Week 3 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, in which he was the weakest link in a clearly overmatched Titans line that allowed nine sacks and 12 hits on Marcus Mariota. Douglas returned to the starting lineup against Carolina in Week 9, and against the league's worst rush defense Derrick Henry promptly posted his worst rushing total of any game with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Douglas was far from the only problem on the early-season Titans offense, but he clearly has no business being in the starting lineup.
Bryan: We debated between Billy Price and Austin Blythe for this slot. Blythe had more blown blocks, but Price was worse in his relatively limited action. What tipped us away from Price is the fact that he lost his job in preseason, and thus was more forced into action as a guard out of necessity more than anything else. We wanted our center to have spent more time at center, and so we're going with Blythe. The Rams website credits Blythe's poise, moving from guard to center after Brian Allen's season-ending injury. We credit him with 30 blown blocks, most among centers by a significant margin (though we should note that some of that comes at guard, where players generally rack up more blown blocks than centers just due to their assignments). He was particularly poor as a run-blocker, struggling to win at the point of attack. Some of it comes from playing out of position, some of it comes from the rest of the Rams' line being injured and/or bad, but we can't take all the blame off of Blythe's injured shoulders.
Bryan: By performance alone, Myles Garrett shouldn't have made this team. He's a great pass rusher! No, he's on this team because of one of his attack on Mason Rudolph, one that drew an indefinite suspension. That suspension is currently the second-longest suspension for on-field actions in NFL history, and he hasn't been reinstated just yet.
Myles Garrett just hit Mason Rudolph in the head with Rudolph's helmet. Yikes. He has to be suspended multiple games for this. That's wild. Never seen it before. pic.twitter.com/BWPKxUAKOc
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) November 15, 2019
Garrett also punched Delanie Walker after the whistle back in Week 1, and a late hit ended Trevor Siemian's season in Week 2 -- neither is anywhere near the balllpark of the helmet hit, but both are worth mentioning. There's more to the Rudolph play than just Garrett going off with his helmet -- accusations of Rudolph starting the fight, of using slurs, of tearing at Garrett's own helmet -- but none of that remotely justifies using the helmet as a weapon.
Andrew: Our second edge rusher takes us back to Miami. Avery Moss played in 11 games for the Dolphins this season, starting eight of those. He played over 350 snaps on defense. Typically, the statistical success or failure of edge rushers is judged on three figures: sacks, quarterback hits, and tackles for a loss. Moss' combined total across all three categories was ... zero. Yes, zero. He was credited with only two pass pressures all year, and he was the only edge rusher to qualify for our main defensive stats table who did not record a single defeat. Miami became the first team since the 2001 Cardinals to have the worst pass defense DVOA, defensive adjusted line yards, and adjusted sack rate in the same season, and Moss was clearly the least effective significant contributor on the league's least effective defensive front.
Andrew: The Panthers run defense was historically terrible in 2019. Gerald McCoy was part of a big investment they made, along with a scheme change, in trying to restore their previously dominant front seven. That investment was not successful. At least McCoy, Vernon Butler, and Dontari Poe contributed as pass-rushers, however; Kyle Love occupied a roster spot primarily as a run plugger on the defensive line, and played over 420 snaps ... for a grand total of eight tackles and one tackle for a loss. He added two quarterback hits but no sacks, nowhere near enough to offset his prominent role in one of the worst run defense DVOAs of all time.
Bryan: We tend to try to avoid highlighting rookies too much here, but we're making an exception for Jerry Tillery. A powerful, athletic lineman who was compared to DeForest Buckner during the predraft process was essentially invisible during the season. Tillery barely worked his way into the lineup, playing just 36% of the Chargers' defensive snaps, and had just 17 tackles on the year. Considered a pass-rushing force, Tillery had just six pass pressures on the season. If that's all it was, maybe Tillery escapes this list, but he was even worse in run defense. Struggling to get off his blocks, he was essentially a sieve up the middle, even becoming a healthy scratch some weeks against some run-heavy teams. It's not Tillery's fault he was asked to play as much run defense as he was (he probably should have only rotated in on clear passing downs), but he was really quite bad at stopping ... anyone. A bad season as a rookie does not a bad career make, and there's plenty of time and hope for Tillery to bounce back after a terrible rookie season, but man, this was a terrible rookie season.
Bryan: We mentioned that Garrett had the second-longest suspension for an on-field incident in NFL history. Well, it's time to meet No. 1: Vontaze Burfict, who received a de facto 12-game suspension for multiple helmet-to-helmet hits against the Colts. The hits themselves were suspension-worthy, but the length comes from Burfict's long, and we do mean long, career track record of dangerous, dirty play. The Raiders took a lot of chances on players with red flags in their history this offseason, with decidedly mixed results. Burfict's was just probably the least surprising flop. His suspension has ended, so he could move with the team to Las Vegas. This would not be an ideal outcome.
Andrew: Telvin Smith's decision to take a year off ahead of the 2019 season left the Jaguars in a precarious spot. Smith had played at least 80% of defensive snaps in every season since 2015, paired in each of those years with either Paul Posluszny or Myles Jack. His 2019 replacement, Quincy Williams, was a third-round rookie who had not been drafted to start immediately. Williams' backup, Donald Payne, had played only four defensive snaps in total across his first two seasons. When Williams was hurt in late November, Payne finally got on the field on defense, and we saw exactly why he played so few defensive snaps. Jacksonville's worst three DVOA performances all came in the first five games that Payne played, with the third-year player consistently exposed against both the run and pass. He made his average tackle 7.4 yards downfield, which is the second-worst figure for any linebacker in our table behind only Kansas City's Ben Niemann, and only Niemann had a worse stop rate than Payne. Niemann, however, is a situational coverage linebacker whose average tackle we would expect to be quite far downfield; Payne was an every-down player who was subpar on each of those downs. We still have no idea whether Smith will return to the team in 2020; the Jaguars should probably have a stronger contingency plan in place than Payne.
Andrew: Sometimes, these picks are quite simple. Cincinnati's B.W. Webb allowed 11.9 yards per pass target, the worst figure of any cornerback. He was the worst cornerback on the league's worst defense against the deep pass, one component of a secondary that somehow was worse than the deliberately talent-shy Dolphins. Webb did not get any help from his safeties -- we'll get to them in a minute -- but boy did he need it: he allowed the third-most yards after catch to opposing receivers, to go with a bottom-12 average depth of target and a bottom-10 success rate. Overall, his average tackle came 10.7 yards downfield, which again ranks in the bottom five among qualifying cornerbacks. The Bengals have too many holes to fill for one offseason, but secondary was meant to be one of their relative strengths and it very, very much was not that in 2019.
Bryan: Success rate is one of our favorite metrics for cornerbacks -- it counts the percentage of plays where a cornerback was targeted in coverage that did not meet our baseline for offensive success. At the very bottom of the list, with a success rate of just 30% on 66 targets? Xavier Rhodes, the one-time All-Pro who collapsed this season. That 30% rate is the lowest we've recorded in our four years partnering with SIS for these stats. And don't think Rhodes is just a victim of one bad stat going against him, either; Rhodes was 82nd out of 91 qualified corners in yards allowed per pass at 9.8, despite ranking near the bottom in air yards per target at just 10.7. You didn't have to throw deep to beat Rhodes over and over and over again.
Andrew: This season, one theme has come up quite consistently in coverage of the Jets secondary: Trumaine Johnson may be the worst free-agent signing in the history of the franchise. That covers some impressive ground, but it is not hyperbole: the team guaranteed Johnson $74 million to join from the Rams in 2018, and Johnson has been nothing but a headache since. His play varies between inconsistent and "effortless" -- Jets observers don't so much question Johnson's effort as deny its existence -- and he can now add injuries to the list of reasons for his ineffectiveness. This year, he missed preseason with a hamstring injury, was benched in September, and was reinstated to the starting lineup three weeks later, but finished the season on injured reserve with an ankle injury. In terms purely of cash outlay versus reward, we aren't sure what the case would be for anybody other than Johnson as the worst free-agent addition in Jets history. Cutting Johnson this offseason would incur $12 million in dead cap for a $3-million savings; there's a good chance Jets fans would want Johnson cut even if it cost an extra $3 million.
Bryan: For our on-field winner at safety, we debated between the duo from Cincinnati. The Bengals had the worst deep pass defense DVOA in the league at 74.0%, and their safeties ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in broken tackles among defensive backs, with only teammate Nick Vigil keeping them from being the top two among all positions. Cincinnati couldn't tackle at all, is what we're saying. But which to choose? Both Jessie Bates and Shawn Williams are more than worthy of winning this award, and we briefly considered splitting it between them. Eventually, though, we decided on Williams. While both were equally poor in run support, Williams was just a bit worse when asked to drop into pass coverage. Williams allowed a 78.4% completion rate to Bates' 62.5%, with more yards per target (11.3 to 10.6). The Bengals asked Bates to cover more than Williams, but not enough for us to excuse Williams' poor performance; Williams was targeted more times than Bates was! The poor performance of this duo makes safety a pressing need for the Bengals, right after they fill their similarly pressing needs at quarterback, wide receiver, offensive tackle, offensive guard, center, nose tackle, three-tech lineman, edge rusher, and cornerback.
Andrew: Our final spot on the major units technically was earned last season, but between appeals and the player's roster status it didn't actually affect either him or his team until this. Cardinals safety Josh Shaw was on injured reserve last year following a preseason injury when he and some friends went to Vegas, where Shaw placed a bunch of bets. Nothing unusual so far, except Shaw placed a bunch of bets on the NFL, including bets against his own team. Shaw became the first NFL player suspended for gambling in 35 years, ensuring an ignominious legacy that far outstrips his achievements on the field. A broader playing field for sports gambling means we suspect that it will not be another 35 years before another player falls foul of these rules, but somebody had to be the first.
Bryan: You could make a strong argument for Ryan Succop, who went 1-for-6 on field goals in between injuries, but we do feel that those injuries are at least a decent excuse for his lack of success. You can recover from injuries. But sadly, you tend not to recover from age. You can count the kickers with careers in the same ballpark as Adam Vinatieri on one hand -- Morten and Gary Anders[o/e]n, Jan Stenerud, maybe Jason Hanson or Nick Lowery. And yet, all those careers had to end, and I believe we witnessed Vinatieri's career thud to the ground in 2019. Vinatieri's clockwork reliability vanished, as he missed eight field goals and six extra points in his 12 games. He set career lows in accuracy in both categories by significant margins -- his worst field goal percentage dropped from 73.5% to 68.0%, and his worst extra point percentage plummeted from 91.4% to 78.6%. This will presumably be the last we see of the 47-year-old, unless he wants to crack George Blanda's record for the oldest player ever in a game. That would require Vinatieri to play on opening day of 2021. We think he's done, though.
Andrew: This year's worst punt unit by our numbers belonged to Carolina's Michael Palardy -- the Panthers finished with -18.2 points of expected value from punts. Palardy's squad allowed returns of 10 or more yards on over 20% of his punts, including three return touchdowns. Palardy's nomination may say as much about his coverage teams as it does about Palardy himself, but he takes the fall for what our numbers considered comfortably the worst special teams unit in the league in 2019.
Bryan: The worst kick return unit, by our numbers, belonged to Dallas, with -7.1 points added. That terrible score can be blamed on the entire unit, not just the returner, but man, Tony Pollard did not help. Pollard's 17.5 yards per return was the worst of anyone with at least 10 kick returns, and his long of 30 yards didn't exactly set the world on fire, either.
Andrew: The Panthers weren't very good at returning punts either, finishing second-from-bottom in those numbers. The outstanding failure here is Ray-Ray McCloud, who muffed three punt returns in two games against the Buccaneers at the start of the season. After the third of those fumbles led directly to a Jameis Winston touchdown, McCloud's 8.2 yards per return could no longer offset his mistakes, and McCloud was cut the next day.
Bryan: Normally, we give this award to the first head coach fired, but we don't think the struggles in Washington had as much to do with Jay Gruden as they had to do with the front office and ownership. So instead, we're going with Adam Gase. A 7-9 record isn't all that bad -- it's the best the Jets have had since Todd Bowles' first season. So, why crown Gase? Well, the supposed quarterback guru's passing offense ranked dead-last in DVOA at -21.9%. Perhaps you think that's overly harsh, as Sam Darnold did miss a month with mononucleosis which, fair enough. But take that month out, and that pass offense is still just -12.3%. That bumps the Jets ahead of Carolina, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Cincinnati, but all four of those teams had to deal with injured and unavailable quarterbacks, too; it's not an excuse unique to Gase's situation. Overall, the Jets finished last in total yards for just the third time in their franchise's history.
What was the offensive identity Gase brought to New York? How can you excuse the team's letdowns against Cincinnati or Miami, as the Jets became the first ever team to lose to two winless teams that late in a season? Where are the in-game adjustments? -- the Jets had the worst second-half offensive DVOA in the league at -32.3%.
We're already seeing the beginnings of a repeat of the terrible relationship Gase had with his star players in Miami, with at least one unnamed player saying that Gase has lost respect in the locker room with his "tough guy bullshit attitude" and the team's lack of an offensive plan. As for named players with problems with Gase, Kelechi Osemele was angry that the team was making him play through a torn rotator cuff, Quincy Enunwa put Gase and the organization on blast on Twitter, and Le'Veon Bell has had multiple frustrated conversations with Gase about his lack of role in the New York offense; Gase would not commit to wanting Bell back in 2020. Oh, and the New York Daily News has reported that Gase has said his "give-a-shit meter" is low when it comes to his critics, as he is now "rich as fuck."
Other than that, a great start, coach!
Andrew: You can blame Gase if you prefer, but the Jets had the worst offense this year of any team that didn't lose its franchise quarterback for the season in Week 2. Dowell Loggains was the coordinator of the offense that failed to use Le'Veon Bell effectively, saw Sam Darnold post an even lower DVOA in his second year than he did in his first, and defied the general trend that saw teams have at least some measure of success when forced to use backup quarterbacks for portions of the year. The Jets somehow finished the year with a worse pass offense even than the Duck Hodges/Mason Rudolph Steelers, and the second-worst rush offense ahead of only the aforementioned Kalen Ballage Dolphins. That's an impressive coaching job, but not in a good way.
Bryan: The worst defense of the year belonged to the Miami Dolphins, but we're giving them a pass thanks to the complete lack of talent they had on that side of the ball -- by design. Right behind them were the Oakland Raiders, so come on down, Paul Guenther, you've just run the worst defense we've ever recorded for the Raiders' franchise, at 14.6% DVOA! Jon Gruden may have given you a pass, but we won't. Yes, the Raiders were bad on defense in 2018, but they spent significant resources trying to improve it -- Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram, and Trayvon Mullen were draft picks; LaMarcus Joyner, Brandon Marshall, and Vontaze Burfict were veteran additions. And yet, the Raiders' defensive DVOA still dropped from last year. Oakland still has a talent deficiency on the defensive side of the ball, but they are not helped at all but Guenther's uncreative play calling and poor fit of talent to scheme.
SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR
Andrew: You would think that Carolina's double failure in the punting game would mean that their special teams coordinator would be our All-KCW selection, but the Panthers fared quite well when the ball was kicked from the ground rather than dropped onto somebody's foot. Only two squads were below average in every single facet of special teams, but the Seahawks still finished in the middle of the pack overall: the Chargers, however, have still not overcome whatever hex was placed upon them around the time they fired Marty Schottenheimer, and George Stewart's special teams unit underperformed in every single area last season. Some of that was injuries. Some of it was roster depletion. Some of it was the team's traditional bad luck. All of it needs to be fixed.
Andrew: In all of the years that we have been covering this sport, we have never seen a statement quite like the one the NFL Players' Association issued in December about the Jacksonville Jaguars. That statement discussed the outcomes of a grievance against the Jaguars, which is not abnormal, before concluding:
In the last two years, more than 25% of grievances filed by players in the entire league have been filed against the Jaguars. You as players may want to consider this when you have a chance to select your next club.
Yes, the NFLPA specifically warned its members against joining the Jaguars because of then-general manager Tom Coughlin's rules-agnostic approach to offseason player discipline. When Coughlin took over, Jacksonville was one player away from being the champions of the AFC. Two years later, the roster quality is declining precipitously, the team's best player forced a trade to the Rams just to get away from Coughlin, and that possible
corrupted timeline AFC Championship feels like roughly 802 lifetimes ago. Coughlin is no longer in Jacksonville, but the damage is done and it will likely take the franchise years to recover. If only they could reset the past few attempts and try again.
|2019 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team|
|QB||Mitchell Trubisky||CHI||EDGE||Myles Garrett||CLE||K||Adam Vinatieri||IND|
|RB||Kalen Ballage||MIA||EDGE||Avery Moss||MIA||P||Michael Palardy||CAR|
|WR||Antonio Brown||OAK/NE||DL||Kyle Love||CAR||KR||Tony Pollard||DAL|
|WR||Josh Gordon||NE/SEA||DL||Jerry Tillery||LAC||PR||Ray-Ray McCloud||CAR|
|WR||Geronimo Allison||GB||LB||Vontaze Burfict||OAK|
|TE||Jesse James||DET||LB||Donald Payne||JAX||Position||Coach||Team|
|OT||J'Marcus Webb||MIA||CB||B.W. Webb||CIN||HC||Adam Gase||NYJ|
|OT||Cordy Glenn||CIN||CB||Xavier Rhodes||MN||OC||Dowell Loggains||NYJ|
|OG||Jamon Brown||ATL||CB||Trumaine Johnson||NYJ||DC||Paul Guenther||OAK|
|OG||Jamil Douglas||TEN||S||Shawn Williams||CIN||ST||George Stewart||LAC|
|C||Austin Blythe||LAR||S||Josh Shaw||ARI||GM||Tom Coughlin||JAX|
Keep Choppin' Wood
The Ravens receivers chose the worst possible week to turn in their worst performance of the season. The most noteworthy example from the game is this interception tipped off the hands of Mark Andrews:
Lamar Jackson threw a interception?
— Sports ON Tap (@SONTHighlights) 12 January 2020
There were numerous other examples throughout the game, however, and many more egregious than that. The Ravens were criticized after the game for their fourth-down strategy -- more on that in a moment -- but much of that would have been rendered moot if their receivers had simply caught more of the passes that hit them in the hands.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
Jesus' recorded words that "those who live by the sword die by the sword" have become something of a cliché in modern parlance, and a cliché that does not quite match up with the original meaning. Still, the clichéd form certainly applies to this year's Ravens, who have appeared under this headline all year long for their analytically sound decision-making on fourth downs. All that good work came unraveled in just one game against the Titans, as the Ravens failed on fourth-and-1 for both the first and second times all season, in addition to two other fourth-down failures at critical moments. We rightly laud John Harbaugh for his sound decision-making, but we lament that his team chose the worst possible moment to roll snake eyes.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
We're beginning to question whether Pete Carroll will ever again see a punt he doesn't like. Against the Packers, trailing by five late in the game, a 6-yard sack brought up fourth-and-11 at the Seattle 36 -- a dire situation, to be sure, but hardly impossible. Carroll elected to punt instead of going for it, trusting that his defense would give Wilson the ball for one last drive. It did not. Two third-down conversions later, Aaron Rodgers knelt out the clock on Seattle's season. Maybe it's just us, but if we were Seahawks fans we would much rather have the ball in Russell Wilson's hands needing 11 yards in one play than face it in Aaron Rodgers' hands needing two first downs.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
Oh, Bill O'Brien. Where to begin?
Kicking the field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Chiefs' 13 was wrong. It cost the Texans -2.5% GWC, per EdjSports' numbers, and I don't think we need to explain for the nth time why, over the long run, going for it on fourth-and-tiny is the right call. We suspect O'Brien was still stung from the failed fourth-down conversion against Buffalo and made the conservative call here as an overreaction to that failure. That being said, with a 21-point lead in the second quarter, there's an argument to be made that if the Texans could get some points on each drive, they'd be able to outlast a potential Chiefs' comeback. Avoiding a big turnover and a "change of momentum" is not a great argument, but it is at least an actionable philosophy.
It does not mesh at all, however, with attempting a fake punt deep in his own territory on the very next drive. We get that such calls are usually based on scouting, something caught on film, but it's clear that the Chiefs had some film of their own, with Daniel Sorensen tracking Justin Reid the entire way, even before the snap. Whether they thought they had the advantage or not, however, the aggressive play call makes no sense when compared to the conservative field goal earlier.
O'Brien later clarified his decision to kick, saying first that he thought the Texans had picked up a first down, that he was considering challenging the spot, and later that he didn't have a play he liked for fourth down. Bill O'Brien can't come up with a play to gain 1 yard after a timeout to think about things? Add in the multiple wasted timeouts on fourth down, the questionable play calling down 17 points, and Houston's inability to make any defensive adjustments whatsoever (Jacob Martin and Charles Omenihu barely saw the field, despite being two of the Texans' better pass rushers, and the Chiefs basically only passing), and ... well, Rivers, can you sum it up for us?
The magic of Bill O'Brien is that I had no belief the Texans would win this game and somehow am still disappointed.
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) January 12, 2020
'Shanahan Shuffle' Fantasy Player of the Week
We should probably give this award, once again, to Deshaun Watson -- but we did just highlight him last week, and we are still giving the Texans-Chiefs game a lot of attention. We'll go elsewhere for this one, just for the sake of variety.
So hello, Tevin Coleman! We warned the Best of the Resters that they should find a way to squeeze Coleman onto their rosters, but only five of you took us up on that. For shame! Coleman's 22 points ties Marshawn Lynch for the best running back you could currently have after the Staff Draft, and he still gets another game! For long-time fantasy football players, you remember this is the good ol' Shanahan Shuffle. The post-Terrell Davis Broncos were infamous for shuffling running backs, making it nearly impossible for fantasy players to predict just who would get the workload in any given week. The 49ers have had five different running backs have 10 or more fantasy points in a game (Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson, and Kyle Juszczyk), tied with Miami for the most in the league. And four of those Miami backs were one-game wonders; all but Juszscyk have had multiple big games for the 49ers. Maybe Coleman will reproduce his two-touchdown game this week, or maybe he'll spend it all on the bench. That's the risk you take when you play the Shanahan Shuffle.
— NFL (@NFL) January 11, 2020
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
There are many reasons the Texans lost this week. None of those reasons were Deshaun Watson. Watson finished as the second-most valuable quarterback of the week by DYAR. While he took more than his fair share of sacks, he also kept bombing the ball around the field -- good enough to beat most teams, if not enough to catch the red-hot Patrick Mahomes. Watson threw for 213 yards and ran in a touchdown -- and that's only if you start counting near the end of the third quarter, when the Chiefs pulled out to a 41-24 lead. Had the Texans defense been able to carry their weight -- or some of Bill O'Brien's bizarre coaching calls been slightly less strange -- we'd be talking about Houston hosting their first AFC Championship Game ever, Oilers or Texans. Get this man some cornerbacks, Houston! You know, with all those draft picks you have…
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) January 12, 2020
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week
The 2019 Ravens are the third-best team in DVOA history to lose in the divisional round. The previous two teams, the 1987 49ers and 2010 Patriots, both recovered to reach the Super Bowl the following year. Indeed, the 49ers won the next two Super Bowls, while the Patriots made the Super Bowl or AFC Championship Game in each of the next eight seasons. If Lamar Jackson can replicate his 2019 form over the remainder of his career, the future looks very bright indeed, even if this year's star flamed out early.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
Alright, Houston. You've jumped out to a 24-0 lead, but the Chiefs are firing back. That's OK, that happens -- they're the Kansas City Chiefs; they're not going to stay down forever. They scored a real quick touchdown after your field goal on fourth-and-1. They just scored another quick touchdown after your failed fake punt. But it's OK; you've still got a 24-14 lead. All you need to do is take the ball on the ensuing kickoff and grind out a drive -- take the crowd out of it, score another field goal. Game on. All of that can happen as soon as DeAndre Carter returns this kickoff...
I have aged many moons in the last 10 minutes. pic.twitter.com/DvK2BI3lL3
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) January 12, 2020
To come back from a 24-0 deficit, you need a combination of skill and luck. Getting a fumble like this fulfills the luck quotient, though I suppose Daniel Sorensen would argue with that description. Between sniffing out and stopping the fake punt and forcing this fumble, Sorensen was responsible for arguably the two biggest individual plays in the comeback portion of the Chiefs game (as opposed to the "Texans surge" or the "Chiefs blowout" portions of the game). Not a bad day at the office.
Staff Fantasy Update
Bryan: I promise, if I draft again next year, I will remember the Titans.
|2019 Staff Playoff Fantasy Standings|
|QB||Lamar Jackson||30||Drew Brees||10||Patrick Mahomes||41||Russell Wilson||47||Jimmy Garoppolo||8||Tom Brady||8|
|RB||Damien Williams||24||Latavius Murray||2||Alvin Kamara||11||Dalvin Cook||25||Aaron Jones||18||Mark Ingram||2|
|RB||Raheem Mostert||5||Gus Edwards||2||Devin Singletary||12||James White||5||Derrick Henry||49||Sony Michel||6|
|WR||Mecole Hardman||1||Tyreek Hill||2||Michael Thomas||7||Davante Adams||28||Tyler Lockett||25||Julian Edelman||10|
|WR||Emmanuel Sanders||3||Marquise Brown||12||Cole Beasley||4||DeAndre Hopkins||20||DK Metcalf||27||John Brown||9|
|WR||Willie Snead||5||Deebo Samuel||4||Allen Lazard||0||A.J. Brown||0||Stefon Diggs||12||N'Keal Harry||2|
|TE||Hayden Hurst||11||Dallas Goedert||7||Jared Cook||5||Travis Kelce||31||George Kittle||1||Mark Andrews||3|
|K||Robbie Gould||9||Wil Lutz||9||Harrison Butker||9||Mason Crosby||4||Jason Myers||12||Justin Tucker||7|
|DEF||Philadelphia||-1||Baltimore||-3||New Orleans||1||Kansas City||3||San Francisco||9||New England||1|
Bryan: Tennessee eliminated eight of my nine players. Derrick Henry has outscored my entire team. I'm not sure this is the worst performance in Staff Playoff history, but I'm certainly in with a shout. Out of players, with just 48 points, I'm going to finish behind the lion's share of Best of the Rest players, not just the staff themselves. Oops.
We do have three close races going -- one for first, one for third, and one for fifth. At the top of the order, Vince and Andrew see just two points separating them, each with five players remaining -- it's hard to get much tighter than that. Andrew may have the advantage here, however. Both players have had one guy score about 30% of their points -- Derrick Henry for Andrew, and Russell Wilson for Vince. Wilson, however, is out, while Henry gets another go against a team that gave up 128 rushing yards per game this season. In addition, Andrew still has his quarterback, and while Jimmy Garoppolo's eight points aren't exactly something to write home about, I'd rather have a quarterback than not, especially if I got to pair him with two running backs. Andrew and Vince are the only players guaranteed to have at least one player in the Super Bowl -- Aaron Jones and A.J. Brown, respectively -- so we'll see where they stand after this week.
Scott and Aaron are battling for third place at the moment. Baltimore's loss delivers a big blow to Aaron's team, but he does still have both running backs going, and he's honestly a bit unlucky that San Francisco's touchdowns went away from Mostert and Sanders last week. Scott's only still alive because Patrick Mahomes can always go crazy. With the Chiefs falling behind early, Mahomes had to throw and throw, picking Scott up 41 points in one go! With just three players remaining on Scott's team, I think I'd rather be Aaron, but having the best quarterback remaining is worth a hell of a lot. Aaron needs a Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl to be competitive; Scott is rooting for a Chiefs-Packers game.
And then there's me and Rivers, both of us essentially out of contention. Rivers needs just three points from Tyreek Hill and Deebo Samuel to pass me, and they've combined for six points so far. This is not a high-level competition, but I do like Rivers' chances of not being dead last.
Best of the Rest
Bryan: We have a real close race atop the Best of the Rest standings at the moment -- two teams tied with 153 points, and one just behind with 152. But just because teams are doing well right now, doesn't mean that will continue. All three of our leaders -- in fact, the entire top 11 -- all got here by riding Deshaun Watson, but he's gone now, giving the chance for some teams in the middle of the pack to rise up.
Tied at 153 points are Jcypess and Smilerz' Lone Star Losers, each with 153 points. The difference? Smilerz is now out of players, so will be stuck at 153. Jcypess still has Tevin Coleman, Kendrick Bourne, and Jimmy Graham alive, so he's in much, much better shape. Still, I suppose it's theoretically possible for all three players to be shut out over the next two weeks, so Smilerz still technically has a shot at tying for a victory. That puts him in better position than the nine other rosters who saw their last player lose out this week, and now have no chance of winning.
Your current top 5:
T1. Jcypess: 153 points (Coleman, Bourne, and Graham remaining)
T1. Smilerz' Lone Star Losers: 153 Points (Out of players)
3. Spybloom: 152 points (Watkins and Tennessee remaining)
4. Eddo: 148 points (Coleman, Valdes-Scantling, and Smith remaining)
5. MC2: 147 points (Out of players)
By my calculations, 13 of our 16 remaining teams with players have a mathematical chance to still win this thing, ignoring the possibility of negative points -- so make that 17 possible winners, with Smilerz still technically in the lead. Our three top-five teams with players left are all well in the mix, as are a number of Aaron Rodgers-led teams lurking below them.
Mountain Time has 102 points, plus Rodgers, Coleman, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jonnu Smith. He's the Rodgers-division leader, though he doesn't quite lock out RfT (86 points, Rodgers+Williams+Valdes-Scanting+Packers DEF) or Big Richie (just 65 points, but Rodgers+Williams+Sammy Watkins+Jake Kumerow+Jimmy Graham+Packers DEF), to name the best remaining Packers-heavy lineups. You also have Robbbbbb lurking as the one and only Ryan Tannehill believer, though 73 points + Tannehill and Coleman likely won't be enough to catch Jcypess. Your winner will likely be one of the teams named here, though crazy things have and often do happen over the final three games.
At least all but one of you beat me.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date
Bryan: I'm letting it ride, and taking San Francisco (-7.5) versus the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. The line for Titans-Chiefs started as Titans +10, and I would have been tempted at those odds, but so was everyone else in Vegas. With that line now floating around a touchdown, I'm sticking in the NFC. I don't think we'll quite see a repeat of the 49ers' 37-8 victory over Green Bay back in Week 12 -- it's never wise to bet on a team repeating their worst performance of the season, even against the same team. That being said, the Vikings were better suited to beat the 49ers than the Packers are, based on both their specific strengths and weaknesses and just their overall talent level, and San Francisco handled that test just fine. The returns of Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford, and Jaquiski Tartt made a huge boost for the 49ers' defense; they had their best defensive game since Week 5 by DVOA, and looked like the 49ers defense we saw over the first half of the season for the first time since arguably the Ravens game back in Week 13.
The last time the 49ers' defense was entirely healthy was Week 9. At that point, they led the league with a 36.8% DVOA, and looked like the best team in football. I'm not quite willing to say that they're back to that form now that they're healthy again -- football's obviously much more complex than that -- but if they are, this is a three-score win for the 49ers.
Andrew: We're really out of ways to clash, here. Even the college football playoff, which I've sometimes used to scrape out some disagreement, has already been played. You've explained the reasoning for this boring, matched pick just fine. I'll only add that San Francisco is the best team remaining, whereas Green Bay is the worst. Sometimes, it really is that simple. San Francisco (-7.5) over Green Bay.