Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

by Bill Barnwell

This week's Miami-Pittsburgh game reminded me a lot of the game Miami played at home last year against the Jets. That Christmas night game was an exercise in futility, with neither team executing offensively until the fourth quarter, when they traded touchdowns and a 64-yard Leon Washington scamper on a screen pushed the Jets to a game-winning field goal and, eventually, the playoffs.

The Monday night game this week was similar. Offenses weren't really running plays as much as they were running hopes and prayers. When a player was able to make a catch, they were usually wide-open because someone slipped, or lost their assignment and then slipped. It looked like a high school football game, full of punts that went nowhere and ineffective offensive schemes.

So, then, what can we take out of it as analysts or fans? When South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Ethan Skolnick asked Boomer Esiason what he thought about John Beck's performance, Esiason responded, "How can you evaluate anybody in these conditions? The conditions aren't fair for any quarterback, let alone a rookie quarterback." Esiason's right.

Does the game have any predicative value? And what does the weather do to teams? To answer the former, I don't think so. If you watched any of the players and how they performed on Monday, I can't think of one who looked any bit like the player they normally are. Without having done research on the latter, I think what such extreme weather does is take the abilities of all players and level them to the point where they're relatively equal. Basically, it seems like it turns running backs into DeShaun Foster, where they can pick up a big play if they get lucky, but otherwise don't garner consistent positive yardage, while receivers become Troy Brown. It takes the difference in talent and situation between Willie Parker and Jesse Chatman, between Hines Ward and Marty Booker, and eliminates most of it.

We still need to do more research on it as a topic, but I'm open to suggestion as to whether that makes any sense or not.

Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.

Loser League

QB: I think it's safe to say that David Carr is on the Tim Couch career path at this point. A total of 95 yards and two interceptions for our favorite statue earned Carr a donut this week. Runner-up was poor John Beck, who had to face the Steelers in the Mud Bowl Monday Night. Beck still put up a very respectable four. If we adjusted Loser League numbers for absurd weather conditions, he'd be way ahead of Kellen Clemens and his five.

RB: If Carr wasn't enough, Carolina's offense is still saddled with the suckhole that is DeShaun Foster. Remember when it looked like Foster had some promise in the new zone-blocking scheme Carolina was installing? Yeah, that was an amusing exercise in delusion. Would Foster still be Carolina's starter if it weren't for that famous last burst of effort in the playoffs in 2004? He was never the same player before or since. Foster had 16 yards and a fumble this week, on a play where he lost, yes, 26 yards. That's -4 on that play, and -1 overall. Jesse Chatman was another casualty of the Mud Bowl, with an impressive 17 yards rushing and -4 yards receiving. He had a single point. LenDale White trucked his way to a two, as did Cedric Benson, who may have killed some Loser Leaguers hopes with his season-ending injury on Sunday.

WR: Is it Vince Young who struggles because he has no wideouts, or Roydell Williams who struggles because he has Vince Young? I can't answer that question, but Williams sure looked like the problem this week. His two catches only earned him nine yards this week, which is good for, well, nothing. In other news, Mark Clayton continues to disappoint, Lee Evans puts up another seemingly-abbreviated game, Bobby Wade and David Patten return to their previous ways as below-replacement-level receivers, and Brad Smith's explosive spaciness goes relatively nowhere. They all earned a lone point this week.

K: It's hard to fault Jay Feely, as he didn't get a chance to do a single thing this week besides his lone kickoff. That's a zero in Loser League, though. His counterpart was the Naked Kicker, and Jeff Reed's successful field goal topped Feely's missed one to earn him a single point. For all I know, Reed might have been naked out there Monday night. I wouldn't have known the difference outside of Reed interrupting plays to take pictures of himself on his cell phone while he insisted that he was Brian St. Pierre. Oops, sorry, getting my embarrassing Steelers sex stories confused again. My bad.

Keep Choppin' Wood

Wood was chopped this week by the combination of Arizona long snapper Nathan Hodel and coach Ken Whisenhunt. When Neil Rackers lined up for what should have been a game-winning field goal, neither Whisenhunt nor Hodel noticed that the play clock was winding down. Either should have called a timeout. Neither did. Rackers converted the field goal, but was served with a delay of game penalty during what ended up being a meaningless kick. He missed the resulting field goal (one that, granted, was only from 32 yards, but not one he should have taken). San Francisco punted with aplomb after going three and out, downed the ball inside the Arizona 5, and claimed victory when Kurt Warner fumbled on the Cardinals' next play from scrimmage.

Best Bets

Last Week: 3-0, 16-15-1 overall

The lesson for those of you who come into comment threads and taunt about how you were right about something the week before: You will invoke the FOMBC. Count. On. It.

MIAMI (-1) over New York Jets

It's a little sad when you're an underdog to a winless team. Vegas isn't dumb. Neither are we. The Dolphins may very well be a better team than the Jets, and this is their best chance at a victory.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) over NEW ORLEANS

I would take this line outright for the Buccaneers, who are a significantly better team than the Saints. My only concern is Jeff Garcia's health, because if he's at 100 percent, the Saints aren't going to have an answer for him.

CHICAGO (+2) over New York Giants

OK, so maybe Eli doesn't throw four interceptions this week. Chicago's at home, and they aren't stuck with Cedric Benson anymore. The real Adrian Peterson has a nice day, and I think Chicago wins outright here.


27 comments, Last at 02 Dec 2007, 12:57pm

3 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

The sad thing about DeShaun Foster is that his backup, Willams, makes him look like a consistent power back by comparison. So he really is the Panthers' best option right now. Carr on the other hand is inexcusibly bad. I'm starting to think that must have been a truly great Texans team he played for because they actually did win a couple games a year.

4 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

Hard not to pick against the Giants at this point isn't it? Once they start to implode, they seem to find it hard to stop.

5 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

I'm just glad the Colts are off the BBBB board for a change.

And the NYC blackout panel in the cartoon is a gem.

6 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

San Francisco punted with aplomb after going three and out, downed the ball inside the Arizona 5, and claimed victory when Kurt Warner fumbled on the Cardinals’ next play from scrimmage.

Not quite. The Cardinals' returner fielded the ball on the run at his own 2 (a KCW-worthy play in its own right), and returned it to the 6, but a penalty on the play moved them back inside the 5.

7 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

"It looked like a high school football game, full of punts that went nowhere and ineffective offensive schemes."

Huh? High school games almost always have at least one team with HUGE numbers--and frequently it's both teams. The poor punting, I'll grant you, but they certainly don't struggle to gain yards or score points.

And I've seen lots of high school football on some pretty lousy fields, but nothing to compare to that swamp at Heinz Field.

8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

#4... Their implosion in 2004 was the result of not being good in the first place. In 2005, they didn't implode despite a similar "return for TD" filled mess against the Vikes at home. In fact, they won the division. Last season, was due totally to injuries. For example, the players who will play this week against the Bears who missed last year's matchup are Strahan, Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Amani Toomer. Sam Madison and Luke Petitgout both were injured midway through the Bears game. The Vikings game, as ugly as it was, is just one game.

The Bears game will be tough, but they don't have any DTs named Williams.

10 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

I'm guessing you don't come from Massachusetts, where our high school football DOES tend to look like the MNF game (due to a combo of bad weather, bad fields and bad play)
(But I bet our hockey teams could beat yours!)

11 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

I'm in a 12-team league and on the just barely squeezing into the playoffs despite being 2nd(!) in overall points. This weekend is somewhat critical for me, and I need help with the following:

QB: Cutler or Campbell? I've been starting Cutler all year and just nabbed Campbell off the waivers. I know this site's someone high on Campbell as a QB, but how is the fantasy matchup against Buffalo compared to Cutler against Oakland?

RB: Westbrook's a lock. I just got A. Peterson (Lite - Bears version) off the waivers as soon as I read that Benson is out for the year. I dropped M. Morris as he hasn't been doing anything with Alexander out - I figured his days are probably numbered anyway. So this weekend is Westbrook and Peteron. The question is, does A.P. make a decent RB for the stretch or do I go back to Jesse Chatman when he's recovered from injury?

Thank you from the one with the green teeth, who isn't lost at all.

12 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

Re 10: Yeah, I'm guessing he didn't come to any of my high school football games either. Both sorts of games were fairly common. One sided blow-outs, and shared incompetence.

13 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

Re: 11 Cutler, definitely. Who knows how the Redskins as a team come out after this weeks tragedy. It's just way to risky a play

14 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

Had a running argument with myself (a die hard Browns fan) while standing next to a co-worker (a die hard Steelers fan) where I was debating if it was pure stupidity or just arrogance that led the Steelers to allow 6 football games in four days on their natural grass field. I concluded that Pittsburgh fans/officials weren't smart enough to be arrogant. That was a fun debate.


15 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds


While Peterson isn't a better RB than Benson he will probably put up slightly better numbers as;

1- The Bears will be more balanced, throwing more on first down as AP is better at blitz pickup. More balance generally means more production.

2- I doubt Fred Miller will start this week, and he has been awful this year. How awwful? Well lets just say that when fans of your team think John St Clair is going to be an improvement that you aren't playing very well.

3- AP will get the vast majority of the carries as the backup running back is tiny, weeny Garrett Wolfe.

16 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

the bad weather was brutal, and it was hard for me to tell exactly how bad it was, but it did not seem entirely out of place in the NFL.

I remember the monday night game last year between Denver and Baltimore when the weather was brutal. Fumbles a plenty, lots of slipping and missed passes, cuts, runs etc... but baltimores D was absolutely fantastic, and Darrent Williams was amazing returning punts.

I dont thing games like that are a good way to measure/predict team talent, but I think they really help a ton in evaluating individual talent. This means its useless statistically, but a goldmine to scouts. Maybe I am wrong, but I actually really enjoyed watching the game monday night.

17 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

It definitely hurt Miami to lose about all of their running backs to injury. It was interesting though how Bruce Ariens kept Miami in the game. The evaluations I came to during the game were Steelers should can Ariens, and Miami might have something with Beck. I was impressed that Miami playing in adverse conditions did not roll over. Even if they don't win a game this year, perhaps they should not be relegated.

18 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

Follow link. Jets suck. Be educated. Thank you.

Be educated? You think we need to follow a link to find out that the Jets suck? Dude, have you been living under a rock for the last 30 years? Everybody already knows the Jets suck. It's not exactly news, considering they rank 27th in DVOA.

19 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

Early in Favre's career, I used to hope for bad weather. It seemed that he and his receivers were able to perform at an acceptable level while the opposing offense struggled immensely.

Also in the favor of the Packers was the fact, yes fact, that Edgar Bennett was a mudder. His best games were in bad weather. He seemed to be able to keep his feet while others were slipping and sliding and falling all over the place.

20 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

#19 - Bennett was amazing in bad weather. Overall, he was a mediocre runner, decent receiver for a RB, and great at blitz pickup. But he truly shined in bad conditions. One of his best games was on a Monday night in Chicago when he gained over 100 yards in what looked like a monsoon.

21 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

The field on MNF - I was so hoping it ended in a 0-0 tie!

It still would have been the worst record ever if Miami lost out the rest of the way, but everyone would have had to decide how to report it - "Winless"?

22 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

No mention of the Panther's 32nd ranked Special Teams?

Foster makes up for it, though. I had always thought it was because the Panthers had a "Power" O-line and he and Williams were cutback runners, but the new zone blocking scheme was supposed to take care of that.

Somebody get me Mel Kiper on the phone!

23 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds

Living outside the market, this was my first chance to watch a Miami game this year. While I do need to curb my enthusiasm a bit because of the weather, I was a LOT more impressed with John Beck than I thought I would be.


He hasn't thrown an interception... yet. Both the Eagles and Steelers have complex pass rushing schemes, but Beck hasn't panicked and made a stupid mistake.

One one play on Monday night, a Steeler (Larry Foote?) came straight up the middle at Beck, either unblocked or very poorly blocked. Beck still got the pass off; it was a little low and wound up being incomplete to Marty Booker over the middle, but may been caught in dry conditions. What really impressed me on that play was how quick his release was. I don't wanna jinx it, but, for a split second he looked like he could have been wearing #13 (not that I'm even remotely comparing him in any other way)

Jaws said he liked him! That's pretty huge, especially considering in the MNF game when Jaws was critiquing Alex Smith's mechanics, he basically called a bunch of NFL scouts morons for not recognizing the flaws he had.

Jaws did point out that he made a few throws late, specifically one out route to a certain crappy 1st round pick that would have been a 1st down but was broken up. Hopefully playing time will help him with those sorts of things.

Anyone else have an opinion?

Overall I was suprised with what I saw, and I feel this strange sensation I haven't felt about the Dolphins in a long time. What's the word? Hupe? Hape? Oh wait, Hope. That's it.

Now if only they don't screw up their 1st overall pick next year...

25 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Sloppy Seconds


I remember that strange feeling...I got it when I was watching the Lions draft Joey Harrington.