Scramble's Turkey Day Showdown

Scramble's Turkey Day Showdown
Scramble's Turkey Day Showdown
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: Well, Mike, this is Thanksgiving week. A week of family, turkey, the stresses of holiday travel, and multiple games on Thursday. And for our lifetimes, those Thursday games have featured the same two teams: the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys and the Lions have their historic playoff meeting after the 1991 season, but other than that, they haven't had much in common else in common beyond the fourth Thursday in November. The Cowboys have won a lot, and the Lions haven't won a championship since before the Cowboys started playing. But these teams do have something in common, aside from turkey and playing in the lesser conference: They both had a running back on the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s. Yes, it's time to talk about Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.


Tom: I know there's no way you have strong feelings on this, so who do you prefer, the guy who led the league in rushing in 1990, 1994, 1996, and 1997, or the guy who led the league in rushing in 1991-93 and 1995?

Mike: I actually do have strong feelings about this! What a coincidence! How about you?

Tom: Actually, no, not really. I mean, they're both really good, just in different ways. I'd take either on my team.

Mike: Well, no question you would take either. What is lost often in these debates is that both players are amazingly talented and at the apex of the game, so saying that Player X is better than Player Y really isn't an insult to Player Y. It's like picking between The Beatles and the Rollling Stones -- a fun exercise in breaking down two all-time greats.

Tom: Yes. This isn't like comparing Eddie George to Chris Johnson.

Mike: That said, Barry Sanders was better than Emmitt Smith.

Tom: Well, he did have a better yards-per-carry average.

Mike: On a vastly inferior team. That is the big thing that always comes to mind. Smith played on a team with Hall of Famers and near-Hall of Famers. If not him, then Irvin and Aikman could beat you, and he ran behind an all-world line. Barry Sanders was the Lions. Like I hear (I'm not old enough to have seen) was the case with Jim Brown, it was Sanders versus the opposing defense, and Sanders regularly won.

Tom: Yes, but we also have reason to believe that Emmitt Smith was actually really good. He was amazingly durable for most of his career, but he did miss time holding out and the Cowboys couldn't run without him.

Mike: No question, Smith was a great player. Barnwell actually did a quick study on the subject this year

Tom: Yes, but that's using yards per carry.

Mike: True. It's not the best metric, but it is a useful one.

Tom: If we assume that a great deal of Sanders' value came from his Second Level yards and Open Field yards, then we may be unfairly discounting Smith's performance on yards shorter than that. I think part of this issue comes back to my "hypothetical questions I would ask Bill Polian" about running backs. We only have the offensive line stats going back to 1996, but the Lions are tops in the league in the Sanders era in Open Field Yards and Second Level Yards. Neither player was nearly as valuable as a receiver as he was as a rusher. Smith did have slightly more receptions, especially as a percentage of his team's receptions.

Mike: What's interesting is that DVOA didn't love either of these rushers.

Tom: I wouldn't go quite that far. Smith finished second, first, and second in DVOA in 1993-95 and fifth in 1998.

Mike: Smith was Top 5 DVOA for four years, Sanders three.

Tom: We're also missing the beginning of both of their careers.

Mike: True, but Sanders wasn't appreciably better at the start of his career. In fact, his 2,000-yard season was the year before he retired.

Tom: Well, he did lead the league in rushing in 1990, albeit with the lowest total of the 16-game era.

Mike: I think one reason people think highly of Smith is that his touchdown numbers are ridiculous. He scored 21 touchdowns in 1994 and 25 in 1995.

Tom: And 18 in 1992. Somehow only nine in 1993 though. The Cowboys as a team had 20 rushing touchdowns in 1993, as opposed to 26 in 1994. 1995, 29 rushing touchdowns as a team. So even in his off years, the Cowboys seemed to score a good number of rushing touchdowns.

Mike: Well, like I said, the Cowboys were a powerhouse.

Tom: I'm looking at the Field Zone stats for both teams (available as part of FO Premium, now on sale!), and the Cowboys were a better rush offense team in the Red Zone and a better team in goal-to-go situations. The Cowboys did decline from among the league's best toward average or below in the second half of the 1990s. But the Lions were mediocre or bad almost every year when they got close to the goal line.

Mike: And while I know you will retch, Sanders was judged extremely well during his career. He made the Pro Bowl every single year and was a first-team All-Pro six years, per Pro-Football-Reference. Smith was not selected to the Pro Bowl in 1996 or 1997, and was only a first-team All-Pro four times. In short, a longer career with fewer Pro Bowl selections and All-Pro honors.

Tom: I've said before in this column, I think, that I look primarily at a player's six best years. And for running backs, they don't even necessarily have six great years, even among Hall of Fame backs. Earl Campbell is a great example of that. Sanders was clearly the best player on the Lions. That helps the perception of how good he is, I think. If he had a good year, it was seen as clearly being because of him, so he got the league-wide acclaim. Smith, though, we were never quite sure how much of it was him and how much was the offensive line, the quarterback, and the guys catching the ball.

Mike: You said earlier that they were different types of backs, and that's true, but I do think a lot of that is also perception. Sanders had decent power, but more importantly, he had a disgustingly low center of balance and the ability to leverage his power against the defender. He didn't power through defenders so much as he leaned into them and used his speed and their momentum to ricochet and stay upright. It's something you really had to see to even believe.

Tom: Hm ... the Lions were third in Power in 1996, but middle of the pack in 1997 and 27th in 1998. I wonder if he felt that going away and that had something to do with him walking away.

Mike: That may be part of it, although he still had the devastating speed. Despite his excellent conventional numbers, his advanced metrics did fall off sharply in his last year. He may have felt the decline before others recognized it, and decided to quit while he was on top. Either that, or he didn't want to break the record. It's all speculation, and likely always will be.

Tom: Unfortunately, 1996 is as far as we can go back right now for Power and the other offensive line stats.

Mike: This is probably the best reel I can find, although the quality is awful, but there are a few examples of what I'm talking about. Awful music, seriously.

Tom: I think YouTube has an informal rule that every amateur highlight video is required to have awful music.

Mike: The second half of the video is where all the really cool stuff is, incidentally.

Tom: I wonder how much of your affection comes from Sanders having a very visually appealing style.

Mike: Part of it is certainly that, but even looking at the statistics, he was as or more productive than Smith, again, on a worse team. I'm actually surprised that you're staying so neutral in this. I thought you'd be advocating more forcefully for Smith. Here is a highlight reel for Smith. It's pretty good, but it repeats a few plays far too often, which is the cardinal sin of highlight reels. The music is much, much more suitable, however. For some reason "embedding is disabled by request." Whatever that means.

Tom: You want an Emmitt Smith argument? Look at Barry's postseason statistics. Then look at Emmitt's postseason statistics.

Mike: Yes, Emmitt Smith played on an all-time great team.

Tom: It's not all the team.

Mike: He was in the playoffs a lot. Playoff games are against generally higher-quality teams.

Tom: One of the things we list under the FO Basics is that teams will score fewer points against a good defense and give up more points against a good offense. We should expect a player to have worse statistics against a good playoff opponent. That's generally true. Barry has games like 13-(-1) in a 16-12 loss against Green Bay. But Emmitt Smith actually had a higher per-carry average in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. The opponents got harder, he did better. He was fortunate enough to basically play a full extra season in the playoffs -- 17 games. His statistics: 349 carries, 1,586 yards, 19 touchdowns. That's an All-Pro-type season (not least because of the, again, ridiculous amount of touchdowns), against the best the NFL has to offer.

Mike: Right. And to the point, what do you think Green Bay's strategy for that game was? "Sell out completely to stop Barry Sanders." How else is Detroit going to beat you? Being one-dimensional is the kiss of death against good teams. By the way, the music on the Emmitt Smith highlight reel is so much better, which should probably count toward his total.
Tom: Hm, Herman Moore made the Pro Bowl that year and had more touchdowns and a higher per-catch average than Michael Irvin. But, yes, Smith was on the better team. That's why this is such an enduring debate.

Mike: Well, and because Sanders retired early.

Tom: I think part of it is the great imponderable question: Is it better to more regularly get four yards instead of two and six yards instead of four, or to get 12 instead of two less often?

Mike: Well, now, I don't think we have that. I don't think it would be nearly such a debate if Smith didn't actually hold the record, which I strongly, strongly suspect would not be the case had Sanders played a few more years

Tom: See, I don't care so much about that debate.

Mike: The theory on Sanders was that he was a boom-or-bust back, but taking the line out (as much as we currently can), they're fairly even DVOA-wise, which famously values consistency.

Tom: I esteem Smith for the above average-value portion of his career, not the accumulator stats in Arizona. And, yes, DVOA does value consistency, but it also values big plays if you go boom enough. DVOA hated, e.g., DeShaun Foster because he didn't go boom nearly often enough and was vastly overrated by people who didn't realize how often he went bust.

Mike: Also, in defense of Smith's Arizona stint, he had 937 yards and 9 touchdowns in 15 games his last year at 3.5 yards per attempt. Not great numbers considering his former glory, but respectable for a good, if aging, back.

Tom: Here's another hypothetical question: What if Smith, rather than going to Arizona, either retired or had a Curtis Martin-style career-ending injury? He wouldn't have broken Walter Payton's career rushing mark. Does that make him a worse back? It doesn't in my eyes. The Arizona years bother me aesthetically, but they don't make him a worse player.

Mike: No, and if anything they show considerable durability.

Tom: In the first 11 years of his career, he missed five games, at least two of them due to holding out. I already knew he was durable.

Mike: I don't bring the record up to suggest that Smith somehow actually or metaphysically doesn't deserve it -- he does -- but to point out that I think the number itself is used to counter so many of the things we've brought up.

Tom: I'm consciously not making that argument, though. The stats accumulator arguments don't sway me in football.

Mike: I know. I'm just saying why this debate has persisted.

Tom: I'd rather see a player who was really great at his peak, does not have an unusually short peak, and performs well against the best competition.

Mike: You do have a thing for peaks.

Tom: This isn't baseball, where you see players play at a really high level for eight, 10, 12 years. Even the best players are rarely great for more than 4-6 years.

Mike: I think both of these players were, though.

Tom: I'm just trying to explain my philosophy. I'm not questioning that.

Mike: Fair enough. Anyway, I think I've explained pretty thoroughly why I think Sanders wins this one.

Tom: And this is a different argument than if we were arguing Emmitt against, say, Terrell Davis or somebody who doesn't have very good durability. Both of these guys had excellent durability.

Mike: Yes.

Tom: I tend to think the early-1990's Cowboy teams were somewhat overrated -- they were great, but not the 1946-55 Browns in terms of being ahead of the league and dominant. But Emmitt Smith was the best back of the 1990s. I think.

Mike: Oh right, one thing I did forget to mention. That second-to-last year with Sanders was when they finally killed the run-and-shoot offense. Sanders got a fullback, and promptly gained 2,000-plus yards.

Tom: And offensive DVOA remained unchanged. Oh sorry, it went up from 0.1% to 1.2%.

Mike: He added 84 DYAR. That is a lot of YAR. His yards per carry also went from 5.06 to 6.13.

Tom: OK, so they ran a little more and because Sanders had a great year, the offense didn't decline.

Mike: It certainly seems that way.

Tom: Although "playing Don Majkowski less" was probably also part of the equation.

Mike: Haha.

Fantasy Football Update

Tom: Another week, another win for 1941 Orange Bowl Loser. I didn't have a great week, as Ahmad Bradshaw and Ronnie Brown (my flex start) combined for two points, but I had a comfortable win behind Ben Roethlisberger's 34 points.

Mike: Who was the actual 1941 Orange Bowl loser, anyway? I could look it up, but I am lazy.

Tom: My undergraduate alma mater Georgetown Hoyas.

Mike: Ah.

Tom: They dropped football in the early 1950s, and the only bowl they've been to since they resurrected the program was the ECAC-IFC Bowl.

Mike: Anyway, yeah, I was really surprised by Aaron's comment in this week's DVOA commentary about the Steelers-Raiders game, so I suppose it's unsurprising that Roethlisberger had a great fantasy day.

Tom: With the win, I'm now one game up on everybody else and two on the pack with three games left in the season. I still like my chances, but I may need to scour the waiver wire for an additional wideout with New York Football Steve Smith injured and Steve Smith, Esquire with a mess at quarterback.

Mike: Yeah, CBORG is kind of stuck in that situation, but I'm not sure there's really anything for that team. And it badly needs to focus its efforts on running back. Anyway, my family league team clinched a playoff spot this week. Which isn't that impressive, considering only two teams don't make the playoffs.

Tom: We'll have to have a CBORG discussion at some point after the season is over, and talk about how effective it was. And what is your family league, MLS?

Mike: Sadly I have screwed up a few weeks, but the CBORG experiment is largely intact. MLS?

Tom: Yes, Major League Soccer.

Mike: Oh.

Tom: It just had its championship game.

Mike: A joke about soccer playoffs. You should have gone with the NBA joke, much more accessible.

Tom: You may have heard about it, but (a) it was played in Canada, and (b) was on at the same time as Sunday Night Football. At one point, MLS had eight of 10 teams make the playoffs.

Mike: Exciting.

Tom: This year, its Eastern Conference Final was played between Colorado and Dallas.

Mike: In Canada.

Tom: No, the Eastern Conference Final was played in Colorado.

Mike: I see. I guess that makes more sense?

Tom: But Colorado and Dallas are both in the Western Conference.

Mike: What.

Tom: Exactly. It's kind of the logical extension of "Should a 7-9 NFC West champion really deserve to make the playoffs?" MLS had a set number of playoff berths per conference and then wild cards from among both conferences. And it so happened that six of the 8 best records were posted by teams in the Western Conference. Thus, four semifinalists from the Western Conference. Anyway, your fantasy team made the playoffs, that's good but not very meaningful.

Mike: ... Yes.

Tom: About as meaningful as Wagstaff's Ringers pulling a Buffalo Bills, winning the second in a row after a horrible start.

Mike: I'm trying to find my train of thought. It left the station right after the MLS was mentioned. Anyway, my awesome Dwayne Bowe plus Greg Jennings strategy has borne fruit to the tune of 59 points this week.

Tom: I can see that, as I watch Dwayne Bowe catch a pass on AFC Playbook from Saturday off the DVR right now.

Mike: Plus Baltimore's 27 and a surprising 15 from Matt Forte. That said, I'm back in quarterback hell, again. Kyle Orton had a decidedly mediocre game against San Diego, although that may not mean too much going forward.

Tom: Well, San Diego's pass defense isn't awful, so it just means Orton isn't an auto-start.

Mike: True. I thought he was the best option, and I was only slightly wrong, so I guess it may not bode too poorly going forward. But so long as Darren McFadden and Rashard Mendenhall can get their acts together, I think I'll have a pretty scary team going forward into the playoffs. It is interesting that teams have once again lined up largely by total points, at least in the top 5.

Tom: Yes, that is good, or at least right. It would make me less interested in rewriting how you determine standings, as would my team being in the lead despite being third in points. Which, hey, is the case right now.

Mike: At this point, we're playing for seeding. I am tied, record-wise, with the team in second place, 24 points behind. There's a realistic chance of getting into the second seed, and hoping someone else takes care of the top team.

Tom: I feel like the whole seeding race isn't very important. Are teams really that much better or worse?

Mike: Yes. The top team has lost two games all year, to myself and the No. 2 team. He has 227 more points than the guy in second, which is fully a fifth of the No. 2 guy's total. Seriously scary team.

Tom: Fair enough.

FO Staff Fantasy League

Phanatic CodeBreakers (Tanier, 5-6) 57 def. Team CBORG (Sad Panda, 2-9) 48

This was a massive dual failure by your Scramble writer and the ESPN projection system. First, DeAngelo Williams is on IR. He should not be on the roster. Second, Nate Burleson beat all of the team's other wide receivers, plus Marshawn Lynch by a massive margin, exceeding the margin of victory. That said, Tanier left 13 points on the bench by starting Ahmad Bradshaw over Darren Sproles, so it's not like either team was ideal.

Remain in Matt Light (Barnwell, 9-2) 116 def. That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 7-4) 109

Another team wilts in awkward terror before Barnwell's mighty match-making machine. Fortunately for Sean, he had a cushion in the Non-Scramble Alumni Division, so despite this heart-breaking loss, he still reigns supreme. The teams came to similar totals in different ways -- Barnwell had only one slot at 20 or more (TB DST, 20 points), but five slots between 10 and 20. Sean had more single-digit totals (four, including one 0), but had Peyton Manning's 25 and Dwayne Bowe's 22 points to help. Hilariously, this was one of the few weeks where Jon Kitna (27 points) was a better play than Eli Manning (7 points).

Scramble Forever (Ian & Al, 8-3) 124 def. Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 6-5) 118

The battle of top teams was mirrored by the battle of not-quite-top teams, and once again the Scramble Alumni Division solidifies its position as the AFC of FO Fantasy Football, largely on the wings of Greg Jennings's monster 33-point game. While Michael Vick certainly didn't hurt the team, Ian and Al have a mini-controversy on their hands between Vick and Rodgers (30 points), which they are hoping to resolve through a last-minute trade. Aaron's team proved once again to be a model of consistency, between Matt Forte (15 points), Maurice Jones-Drew (23) and Steelers DST (23), but fell just short.

Team Verhei (6-5) 63 def. Malice Aforethought (Will, 3-8) 54

Compare to Vince, who had Philip Rivers (23 points), Braylon Edwards (14) and a whole lotta nothing. In the MIN DST case, less than nothing (-1 points). Remember when The Vikings defense was a terror and a great fantasy pick-up? Yeaaaah. Unfortunately for Will, he sat Santonio Holmes (24) and Mark Sanchez (24), the heroes of Week 11, plus Thomas Jones (19) to boot. In their place, he started a cast of eight characters, none of whom scored higher than 10 points. BAL DST (19) managed to keep things relatively close, but that was it.

Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 3-8) 101 def. Consensus Picks (Elias, 6-5) 88

Tom won again! CBORG is once again the worst team in the league, and the peasants rejoiced. Of course, he won on the arm and hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick (25 points) and Fred Jackson (24), so I wouldn't get your hopes up for a Wagstaff renaissance. Elias had good production from Matt Ryan (20 points) and Marques Colston (23), who finally has become a real fantasy factor again, but was wiped out by Randy Moss's zero. Not having a kicker definitely doesn't help. Remember, Elias, you have to put the claim in before Thursday!

Better Call Saul (Rob, 5-6) 96 def. Triple Asian Flu (Doug, 6-5) 81

Rob has finally stopped the bleeding with an all-around game that was made much closer by Roethlisberger's fantasy heroics (34 points). Ray Rice gave Doug 18 points, but behind that, there was nothing. Rob didn't have any standouts (Carson Palmer was tops with 14 points), but had enough players score in the teens to seal the victory.

You'd Think That With a Car Like That, They'd Have Longer Scarves

Mike: Yeah. You know the two things I think of when I think "fashion."

Tom: "Out" "of"?

Mike: Feasts and clown cars.

Tom: Ah, well, I guess those count too.

Mike: Because seriously, WTF?

Tom: Yes, but in this commercial, these people are all wearing clothes. Hilfiger has sufficient brand awareness that showing it at the beginning tells you this is sort of a clothes commercial.

Mike: Yeah, it makes sense.

Tom: And you can decide whether or not you want to buy these clothes based on what these people are wearing.

Mike: Plus other clues, like the woman walking down the table like a catwalk

Tom: Yeah. This feast seems to have one crucial problem, though: I thought a feast included food.

Mike: That might suggest that people who eat food could wear their clothes.

Tom: Actually, I take that back. We do see red and black grapes, and bread. Maybe apples as well.

Mike: An elfin feast!

Tom: Hm, the bread looked normal, not like lembas. Not that I'm hugely confident I'd recognize lembas.

Mike: It's like bread, but better.

Tom: Oooooooooof course.

Mike: Although it sounds like Tolkien was talking about hard tack, which he would have been exposed to during the war, but definitely does not taste good.

Tom: Yes, it's like hardtack only actually really good. Which would make it not hardtack at all.

Mike: And has Orlando Bloom for a pitchman. So, somewhat, but not completely, entirely unlike hard tack. In any event. This commercial hits two nerves. First, those ridiculous, intentionally huge sunglasses that women wear. The effect is that they all look like they're hiding domestic violence.

Tom: Well, aren't they?

Mike: It definitely gives the impression. Also, sunglasses on film. Those really do nothing, because you never film on a day that's sunny enough for them, so you just have people sitting around in normal lighting wearing gigantic sunglasses. Normally it would look really silly, but America has a weird sunglasses fetish. I blame Jack Nicholson.

Tom: Add in Jim McMahon and Chris Moneymaker. At least we have that other commercial that makes fun of somebody for wearing sunglasses indoors.

Mike: True. As awful as that commercial, and the entire series is, it has that.

Tom: Despite my complaint about unrealistic things, this commercial doesn't really bother me that much.

Mike: Really? Not even the non-Euclidean car?

Tom: Clearly the car has some sort of Enlargement Charm on it like the Weasley car in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. But that's just the gimmick. What bothers me more is the table. It has no legs.

Mike: True.

Tom: Unless it has some exceptionally strong hidden support, it should decline a lot more than it does.

Mike: I'm not even sure there's one thing about this commercial. It's just ... everything.

Tom: Well, sure, it doesn't make me want to buy anything from Tommy Hilfiger. But that's because they don't make clothes like I like.

Mike: I'm fine with the clothes. But yeah, blah.

Tom: They've actually made three different versions of this commercial: the 60-second version embedded above, a 30-second version for when they don't feel like spending so much money, and a separate 30-second version with a slightly different ending. Instead of "Chloe" driving the car away, it's the dog. As you might guess, that REALLY bothers me.

Mike: It could be a reference to the great Clerks animated episode.

Tom: I deny that such a thing as a "great Clerks animated episode" is possible. And after watching that clip, I now strongly deny it.

The Famous T-Shirt

Mike: You hate fun.

Tom: Yes, I do.

Loser League Update

KICKER: If your team gets shut out, you get 0 points. Congratulations, Joe Nedney and Dan Carpenter!

WIDE RECEIVER: Anquan Boldin and Louis Murphy both had fewer than 30 yards receiving and a fumble -- 0 points for them, too!

RUNNING BACK: Ahmad Bradshaw continues the 0 points trend, though alas Willis McGahee and Chester Taylor each had 1 point.

QUARTERBACK: Remember a couple weeks ago, when we talked about how the Arizona quarterbacks were among the top Loser League players for the First Half of the year? Well, this week Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski pulled off the two lowest Loser League scores of the week with 1 and 3 points, respectively. Combo Breaker!


KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Seventy-two yards, 48 seconds, no timeouts, the league's 21st-best passing offense, and you need a touchdown. Sounds like a tall order, and it probably is unless you're playing the Houston Texans pass defense. The Jets threw the ball five times. One of those was a spike. The other four plays were all successful, and the clock stopped after three of them. But don't worry, Gary Kubiak still believes in you!

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Starting their third-string quarterback, the Miami Dolphins called 41 passes and seven rushes on Thursday's game against the Chicago Bears, despite never being down more than 16 points the entire game and spending most of the contest within two touchdowns. Despite having a mobile quarterback and a shaky offensive line, the Dolphins also simply had Tyler Thigpen drop back and throw. Why, Dan Henning, why?

COLBERT AWARD: Trailing by one with 4:34 to play in Sunday night's game against the Giants, Andy Reid faced a decision -- punt, use your two timeouts, and get a stop, or go for it on fourth-and-1. Reid elected to go for it with a toss-pitch to LeSean McCoy. The Giants overplayed the run inside the tackles, and McCoy got the edge and raced downfield 50 yards for what proved to be the game-winning score.

Scramble Mailbag

Red Hedgehog: What will give first? Houston's awful pass defense (especially against tight ends) or the fact that Tennessee will be starting someone named Rusty Smith. I'm in desperate need of a TE this week (in a PPR league) and Bo Scaife is tempting. My other decent options would be Anthony Fasano or Jeremy Shockey.

Mike: Never bet on a guy named Rusty.

Tom: What we actually saw last week from the Titans is Randy Moss drew coverage deep, which created space underneath for Scaife. Jeff Fisher said Vince Young missed Moss some of those times, but Young appeared to be checking off of those deep routes. I don't know what the Texans will do, but Bo Scaife will probably be open on Sunday.

Mike: Space for Rusty to clank one without throwing an interception, perhaps.

Tom: That said, I have ZERO confidence Rusty Smith will find him if he's not the primary read, and he should not be the primary read.

Mike: Yeah. With the Saints' weird running back situation, I like Shockey in a PPR league. He'll be the dump-off option.

Tom: Oakland is the best of those three teams against opposing tight ends, and they're still not good. But Dallas is really bad against opposing tight ends. Not quite Texans bad, but bad enough and the Saints running back situation means Shockey will be an attractive option. If the Titans had a competent quarterback, I'd say go with Scaife. But they don't, so that means Shockey.

Sundar: I play in a standard scoring league with an RB, a WR, and two flex RB/WR. I have Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, and Beanie Wells. I'm leaning towards the first 4, what do you say?

Also, Mike Vick or Roethlisberger? I'm leaning towards Roethlisberger due to his match-up.

Tom: I don't trust Vincent Jackson the first week back.

Mike: Agreed.

Tom: The Colts have also been a surprisingly decent pass defense this year, ranking 10th against No. 1 wide receivers and seventh against No. 2 wide receivers in DVOA.

Mike: DeSean Jackson is also established enough that he's a solid play. Although you're stuck with a quarterback-wide receiver combo either way, it seems.

Tom: Yes, I'd start DeSean and not Vincent Jackson. I would also go with Roethlisberger over Vick. The Bills are awful on pass defense.

Mike: Yes. We're in agreement here.

Tom: One thing about Vick that may or may not help him is the Bears do have a decent run defense. Reid may go pass-whacky, and Vick may find running room.

Mike: The Bears have great talent at defensive end and linebacker, and most importantly, fast and disciplined players at those positions, so I wouldn't risk it.

Tom: You watch the Bears more than I do, so I trust your analysis there.

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Strange football-related dreams? Your Scramble writers are here for you at Contact Us.


31 comments, Last at 30 Nov 2010, 8:15pm

#1 by Overrated (not verified) // Nov 24, 2010 - 7:16pm

Pretty sure he broke the rushing record before going to Arizona, so not sure what all the talk about his stint in Arizona as a stat-accumulator has to do with anything?

Points: 0

#2 by IanH (not verified) // Nov 24, 2010 - 7:46pm

I can be rational about just about any football argument except for this one. I grew up in Detroit in the 90s so my love for Barry and (admittedly undeserved) hate for Emmitt runs deep. However I am totally willing to admit that my favoritism is rooted heavily in style over substance. I understand Barry's deficiencies in being able to pick up consistant yards each carry but he was just so fun to watch. Plus in the age of Brett Farve how can you not like a guy who announces his retirement while still near the height of his career by faxing a letter to the Wichita Eagle newspaper.

Also while Barry and Emmitt both had excellent college careers I would give Barry the advantage there for his insane 1988 season. He's still in the (D1) record books for most yards in a season, most games gaining over 300 yards in a season, best per-rush average (282 min carries), and most touchdowns in a season all for that one year. There are a couple of fun youtube videos to watch of his OSU years that show a little different side to Barry's running. A little bit more pure speed and a little less juking. Which is to be expected against college opposition I guess.

Points: 0

#3 by Noahrk // Nov 24, 2010 - 7:58pm

Well, this. Except I don't have any favoritisms, so it's Emmitt hands down. Yes, Sanders was way more fun to watch and much more likable in general, but Sanders was so frustrating for his own offense because he would pick up all of his 120 yards in 3 or 4 carries and not gain a single yard in the rest.

Points: 0

#4 by MilkmanDanimal // Nov 24, 2010 - 8:21pm

Smith-Sanders was Manning-Brady when Manning-Brady wasn't cool.

I always argue that Sanders was the most dynamic, exciting runner I've ever seen, but there's a lot more to being a running back than being dynamic and exciting. Smith was better at lots of little things like blitz pickup, short yardage, and always seemed to get just enough, plus the playoff performance. So, in my world, Sanders was far more exciting as a runner, but Smith was the proverbial total package.

Of course, neither of them is worthy to carry Walter Payton's jock.

Points: 0

#6 by matt millen's brain (not verified) // Nov 24, 2010 - 9:12pm

Amen re Payton.

He was, like Sanders, the only offensive threat on his team the majority of his career. He was a better blocker than Smith, and his 492 receptions is still a Bears record, I believe. He even threw for 8 TD passes and was asked to run the 2 minute offense out of a Wildcat type formation in an 1983 game against the Packers late in the season. Granted, the Bears had played Rusty Lisch for the rest of the half. The opposing QB was Rich Campbell, meaning that this game might have featured the worst QB duel of all time...the only thing missing was Steve Piszarwicz (sp?)

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#7 by MilkmanDanimal // Nov 24, 2010 - 9:39pm

Herman Moore had 100+ receptions three consecutive years (back when it was actually unusual), and averaged about 85 catches/year for a seven-year span when he was on the team with Sanders. Perriman and Morton were pretty serviceable as well. I always find the "Sanders had absolutely no help" thing kind of funny, mainly because of Payton. I mean, on that classic '85 team, Payton led with 49 receptions. I always remember thinking Willie Gault was so cool, but he had 33 catches that entire year to lead the WRs. Two a game!

Sanders didn't vaguely have the talent around him that Smith did, but it's not like he was playing with the 2010 Panthers or anything.

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#8 by Noahrk // Nov 24, 2010 - 10:11pm

...and Payton always gained positive yardage, even when it seemed there was no way he could do it. That's what I remember the most about him: how he would be surrounded by 2 or 3 players behind the LOS and still manage to gain a yard. He was at his best when the play seemed lost.

Agreed. Payton was clearly better than either of those two.

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#12 by ammek // Nov 25, 2010 - 5:21am

The Lisch-Campbell duel was in 1984 in fact. Campbell was benched during the game and replaced by Randy Wright, making it probably the NFL's only game to feature bad QBs called Rusty, Randy and Rich.

The Bears threw, I think, only five passes in the second half, completing one (for a touchdown). Payton had 40 touches by himself, including a sack.

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#19 by matt millen's brain (not verified) // Nov 25, 2010 - 10:57am

Thanks, I should have known that it was 1984 not 1983.

Here's the greatest run I've ever seen, Walter Payton vs the Chiefs. A combination of the best of Barry Sanders and Earl Campbell. (13 secs)

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#10 by Bobman // Nov 25, 2010 - 3:43am

"Smith-Sanders was Manning-Brady when Manning-Brady wasn't cool"

Well, partly because Manning was in HS when they started and a promising youngster when they were wrapping things up, while Brady was unknown outside of Ann Arbor (and even there too).

Also, Manning's better hands-down and there's no real debate about it.

Wait, was the Peytom Branning debate EVER cool? An obsession, yeah. Are you a scion of the Hatfields or McCoys by any chance...?

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#11 by Theo // Nov 25, 2010 - 4:25am

I'd vote Sanders in the first half and the first drive of the second half.
Then I'd sub in Smith to grind it out.
Game would be over in 2 hours.

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#5 by milo // Nov 24, 2010 - 8:31pm

Shockey's got busted ribs. Saints have David Thomas, Jimmy Graham, and Tory Humphrey healthy.

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#9 by Bobman // Nov 25, 2010 - 3:36am

That video is just nuts. I was pre-watching before showing it to my son who had a good year as RB this fall. Most of it is WHAT NOT TO DO for a kid--once most mortals make three consecutive jukes, it means they're standing stock still and are easy targets. Not Sanders. The thing that really struck me is that he NEVER extends his legs straight. Even at full sprints to the EZ. Like early Mike Tyson, he was always in a ready-to-spring stance. What legs. What genetic un-laziness.

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#29 by jtduffin // Nov 26, 2010 - 4:15pm

No kidding. I don't have a child that plays football, but watching the Sanders highlights, I was also thinking "wow, that is amazing and awesome to see.... and it is also what you yell at the TV when you see the guy on your team trying to do it, because he ends up going down when the first guy tries to wrap him up, instead of breaking the tackle, dodging two more defenders, and getting to the end zone."

Really amazing that he could make that kind of thing look not just cool, but easy.

The one NFL game I ever saw in person, actually, Sanders was probably playing (Lions-Vikings, early 90s) - but I knew basically nothing about football at the time and can't even say for sure if he played that day, let alone conjure up memories of how well he did. I think he most likely played, because I remember being disappointed at how badly the Vikings were being beaten...

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#13 by Seesaw // Nov 25, 2010 - 5:26am

The great Satriani is awful music? Really?

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#14 by Theo // Nov 25, 2010 - 6:01am

can't see it here at work... to call Satriani awful music is like calling Barry Sanders an awful runner

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#17 by Noahrk // Nov 25, 2010 - 10:26am

I'm more of a Jeff Beck guy myself. I find Satriani kind of boring. Even silly, like a dude trying to impress his dad with how well he plays the guitar but without really saying anything.

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#22 by JonFrum (not verified) // Nov 25, 2010 - 12:30pm

Technically proficient - and absolutely awful. A guitarist only guitarists can love. Satriani is the guitarist for young males with delusions of grandeur. Leave your taste at the door.

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#31 by Spielman // Nov 30, 2010 - 8:15pm

I love how pretentious douches have managed to turn a lack of skill into something to be admired.

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#15 by Spielman // Nov 25, 2010 - 8:40am

Somehow, I doubt I'd have much respect for what Tom and Mike called good music.

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#16 by Theo // Nov 25, 2010 - 9:20am

Happy 40th Birthday Mike Tanier!!

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#18 by Snack Flag (not verified) // Nov 25, 2010 - 10:45am

"One of the things we list under the FO Basics is that teams will score fewer points against a good defense and give up more points against a good offense."

Did Tim McCarver start writing for FO?

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#20 by Nathan Forster // Nov 25, 2010 - 11:11am

Barry's biggest obstacle was not the supporting cast per se. The Lions had fair talent on the lines and the skill positions (pre-voting HOF nominees in Lomas Brown, Herman Moore, as well as pro bowler Kevin Glover and a good number two receiver in Brett Perriman). What the Lions lacked was a decent quarterback that could keep defenses honest. It didn't matter that you had Moore and Perriman on the perimeter with Lomas Brown protecting your blindside if your quarterbacks were Bob Gagliano, Rodney Peete, Scott Mitchell, Chuck Long, Andre Ware, Charlie Batch, Don Majkowski, Ty Detmer, and end-of-the-line Dave Krieg. Erik Kramer was a passable quarterback, but the Lions inexplicably kept him from entering the lineup.

If you want to see an amazing set of statistics, check out the 1995 Detroit Lions. Teams sold out to stop Barry to a ridiculous degree a la the blueprint of that famous Wild Card loss to the Packers where Barry went 13 for -1, and a clever Tom Moore made defenses pay. Scott Mitchell (yes, Scott Mitchell) had over 4,000 yards passing and 33 TDs that year. Chris Johnson is a good running back, but not even he could affect defensive schemes so much as to turn a Kerry Collins led offense into the number two scoring offense in the league. Barry was that good.

Yes, SackSEER has become self-aware.

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#21 by Temo // Nov 25, 2010 - 12:17pm

Why would defenses continue to sell out to stop the rushing attack when the passing attack is in turn torching them? Detroit was ranked 5th in passing DVOA that year but 12th in rushing DVOA.

Evidently a whole lot of defensive coordinators used inefficient gameplans that year.

Edit: That's an honest question by the way, because what you're saying makes sense. '95 was the only good year of Scott Mitchell's career, and '95 was the only average year of Barry Sanders from '94-'97 (he was top 3 in DVOA in '94, '96, and '97, but 11th in '95).

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#24 by Nathan Forster // Nov 25, 2010 - 1:40pm

I think that opposing teams were right to continue to key on Sanders and hold out hope that Scott Mitchell would turn back into a pumpkin. Sanders' sample size of awesome was huge at that point, while Mitchell's was a few games. When teams switched back to just placing eight in a box in 1996, rather than placing multiple spies on the perimeter, leaving the middle wide open, Mitchell had a very Derek Anderson-like regression.

Yes, SackSEER has become self-aware.

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#23 by JonFrum (not verified) // Nov 25, 2010 - 12:37pm

Sanders was a human highlight film, but his variance was the killer for me. If the 'highlight' video consisted of all his runs in an average game, you'd get 2-3 highlights, along with 10-15 0-2 yard gains. As sexy as all that juking is, you need consistency to move the chains and keep possessions going. I'd take fewer total yards from Eric Dickerson any day. Sanders deserves the acclaim - he was that special - but there are several other backs I'd pick to start my team.

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#25 by Noahrk // Nov 25, 2010 - 9:36pm

That's two things we agree on in this thread already!

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#26 by Dean // Nov 26, 2010 - 9:17am

The arguement has always been absurd to me.

Barry Sanders is one of the 2 greatest RBs I have ever had the privlidge of watching (along with Payton).

I don't think I would put Emmitt Smith in the 20 greatest RBs of all time.

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#27 by DGL // Nov 26, 2010 - 12:00pm

"Seventy-two yards, 48 seconds, no timeouts, the league's 21st-best passing offense, and you need a touchdown."

And it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses. Hit it.

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#30 by who is driving? (not verified) // Nov 28, 2010 - 8:19pm

how can that be?

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