by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: We did one Scramble tradition last week, the Super Bowl Prop Bet Extravaganza, which means it's now time for the other post-conference championship games, pre-Super Bowl mainstay: the 2012 All-Keep Chopping Wood team.
In addition to the weekly award named after Jack Del Rio's locker room experiment gone awry (thanks to punter Chris Hanson), Scramble for the Ball annually picks a full starting lineup of players who did the most to help their team lose games in the year. Players are selected based on a combination of their on-field and off-the-field contributions to not winning games, with the ideal selection being a terrible player who is also a locker room cancer and gets other players in trouble.
Mike: This year, however, we have swapped the two columns chronologically! I'm sure you, an intelligent reader, sees what your Scramble writers did, there.
Tom: Ah, but nobody expects the Scramble column flip-flop!
Tom: As we normally do, we will do this position by position, beginning with the quarterbacks.
Mike: And as Tom never bothered to share the nominations list with me, he gets the honor of playing MC. So there.
Tom: There are, I would say, approximately three viable nominations at this position (well, more if you count subsets thereof): Arizona Cardinals QB, Kansas City Chiefs QB, and New York Jets QB. Ryan Lindley finished last in DVOA, Mark Sanchez had the worst DYAR, and Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn were both in bottom four in both DVOA and DYAR.
Mike: It is quite difficult to choose between them. However, I believe the guiding principle of this exercise is very helpful. Given how all of these quarterbacks were cover-your-eyes awful, which of them had the best supporting cast? It stands to reason that a marginally less-awful player on a significantly better team would be doing more to help his team lose than a player who would otherwise be considered inferior.
Tom: Ah, I wasn't sure to which guiding principle you were referring to, that or "pick the one who did the funniest thing."
Mike: Sadly, there were no backwards passes to no one or cannoli sprints this year. There was, however, a butt fumble!
Tom: In some ways, the ridicule for that is completely unfair. There are a number of fumbles in any given NFL season that bad or worse; is it really worse to fumble when you unintentionally run into somebody than it is to fumble because you just drop the ball on your own?
Mike: Yes, because Jay Cutler is actually a decent quarterback.
Tom: That said, my spontaneous reaction to that latter category of fumble is to roll my eyes, not to start laughing like I did on Thanksgiving night and to keep laughing.
Mike: And laughing, and laughing, and laughing...
Tom: And while Cutler may be a decent quarterback, Chad Henne is not, or at least was not appreciably better than, Blaine Gabbert this year. Anyway, last in DYAR, (tied for) last in the AFC East, and first in laughter caused, I believe Mark Sanchez is the choice for both of us.
Tom: I did the Raiders chapter for Football Outsiders Almanac 2012. I envisioned Darren McFadden getting to the edge on outside zone runs in the Raiders' new zone blocking scheme, finding creases, and ripping off big chunks of yards. If I kept better notes, I could go back and point you to specific 2011 runs that I thought were good evidence for that opinion. That, um, didn't happen in 2012.
Mike: No. No it did not. That said, was that really all McFadden's fault?
Tom: Entirely? Well, no. But he had a rushing DVOA significantly worse than that of any other Raiders back this year. And, while he seemed like a nice outside zone runner, he struggled badly to do what Arian Foster does so well: identifying and attacking the right rush lane in the zone scheme. Despite McFadden's physical gifts, it ended up being a horrible mismatch of player talent and scheme. I'm not sure it helped that Carson Palmer tried to set an NFL record for "most unproductive dumpoff passes to a single player," as McFadden pulled the rare double of finishing last in both rushing and receiving DYAR (among qualifying running backs).
Mike: Surely, though, there are players who screwed their team in more obvious and spectacular fashion. Like Rashard Mendenhall, who thought fumbling was part of his rehab assignment.
Tom: As my parenthetical implied, there was actually a player with even worse receiving DYAR than McFadden. That was a Steelers back with major ball security issues. And it was actually not Mendenhall! By fumbling a remarkable three times on 22 passes, Chris Rainey finished with -102 receiving DYAR. The Steelers' dilemma, like that of the Arizona Cardinals, was that all of their running backs were ineffective.
Mike: It didn't help that their line was so injured they had to re-sign Traffic Cone midseason. But I agree that it was a sub-standard showing.
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Tom: If you have reviewed the FO awards ballot (go vote! And if you voted before noon Tuesday, go vote over again!), there are two receivers there, Kenny Britt and Titus Young. Young actually had a positive DVOA, but was too much of a knucklehead for even the Detroit Lions and is well-deserving of a spot on this team. Britt ended the season 83rd (of 86) in both DVOA and DYAR and in general spent most of the season playing like a player who was coming off an ACL injury and hadn't played football since last September.
Tom: Kenny Britt was the Titans' best, most dangerous offensive player in 2010 and (the two-plus games he played) in 2011. Perhaps I'm letting that color my view of things. He also had some good on-field moments in 2012, though obviously not many. I submit that while he's not much of a knucklehead off the field, Donnie Avery had an even worse season. There was a lot to like, and plenty to criticize, in Andrew Luck's rookie season. Avery had a game-winning touchdown against the Lions, but contributed only a very modest amount to Luck's positives. More noticeable were the plays he didn't make, the passes he didn't haul in, the reads and adjustments he missed. The gap between him and every other Colts receiver in efficiency was not as large as that of Raiders running backs, but it was still noticeable.
Mike: I'm going to go out on a ledge and recommend Greg Little. The Browns were in a shaky situation on offense this year. They had a decent offensive line and an exceptional running back paired with ... well, Brandon Weeden. Weeden needed his receivers to execute the game plan tolerably, run relatively simple routes and -- most importantly -- catch the ball. This most basic of skills was Little's downfall. Pass after trivial pass was bobbled, alligator armed, or simply whiffed on. It was a masterpiece of fundamental ineptitude.
Tom: Perhaps he was just living up to his internalized Browns-ness?
Mike: Perhaps. If that is the case, maybe he should be the team's new mascot.
Tom: I'm not so sure that's a good idea. If he is to be the new symbol of the Browns, UPS might have issues with the idea that brown is associated with dropping.
Mike: I would think the Bengals would have a stranglehold on that association, at this point.
Tom: Ohio, can't live with it, can't kill it. But at least we've both moved away from it!
Mike: It is the most important state for some reason!
Tom: We have two options here, both from the NFC North. One of them is Brandon Pettigrew, who had as many fumbles as any other two tight ends in the league put together (and several more than most dyadic pairs of even starting tight ends). He also had a superlative eight drops. Even more impressive than Pettigrew's eight drops on 102 passes, though, was Kellen Davis, who somehow had 7 drops on 44 passes.
Mike: Exemplary use of dyadic!
Tom: Thank you. I saw a list recently of alleged vocab snob-type words that included such pablum as screed, smorgasbord, and defenestrate, and have made a minor effort to use real vocab snob-type words lately. Because, really, who doesn't love The Defenestration of Prague?
Mike: It's also very difficult to use defenestrate appropriately.
Tom: It's a perfectly useful, but niche word. Like dyadic. Anyway, do you have a preference between our NFC North non-superstars?
Mike: It's just so hard to choose ... especially after Kyle Rudolph's quasi-coming-of-age at the Pro Bowl, otherwise known as "look what happens when I have a real quarterback!" So it's kind of embarrassing for these two to be in the same division. And I'm pretty sure defenestration is the most niche word because, seriously, how many people are thrown out of windows?
Tom: The only person who comes to mind as being thrown out of a window is Axel Foley (editors note: NSFW: language).
Mike: Anyway, Pettigrew was supposed to be a lot better than what he ended up being, so I feel compelled to choose him.
Tom: Brandon Pettigrew it is then.
Mike: It is tempting to just say "the Arizona Cardinals" and leave it at that.
Tom: It is. Fortunately, we tossed this out to the rest of the FO staff and got some good nominations, even some who didn't play for the Arizona Cardinals. That said, we need at least one Cardinals offensive lineman on the team. The most deserving player is probably left tackle D'Anthony Batiste, who showed why he's been kicking around the league since 2006 and had four starts coming into this season.
Mike: He's a good choice, considering Arizona's daunting 58 sacks allowed this year. That's eight more than even Jacksonville!
Tom: Cardinals right tackle Bobby Massie was another nomination we received, but there's much better depth to choose from at that position.
Mike: Astoundingly, the Cardinals were so confident in their quarterback position that their passing volume was high enough to raise the adjusted sack rate to 8.1 percent, or 26th in the league. I'm at a loss for words.
Tom: Well, the run game put them in a lot of third-and-longs. Teams tend to get sacks more often on third-and-long. Beyond Massie, the right tackle nominations we received included Derek Newton, Doug Free, Jeff Linkenbach/Colts right tackle, and I'll throw in my choice for the position, Jeromey Clary. As bad as A.J. Smith's misjudgment in not having a better Plan B at left tackle than rookie undrafted free agent Mike Harris was, his decision to pay Clary before last season was even worse. He was awful once again, which shouldn't have been much of a surprise considering he'd led the Chargers in sacks allowed each of the past four seasons.
With our tackles in place, we need interior linemen. Leroy Harris did not magically become a better right guard than he was a left guard in his first season at the position, and lest you think this is one of us overrepresenting our teams in our column, (a) it's our column, so deal with it and (b) he was nominated by staff offensive line guru Ben Muth. At left guard, we have another NFC North choice, between Chilo Rachal of the Bears and T.J. Lang of the Packers. The Packers were 25th in Adjusted Line Yards and 31st in Adjusted Sack Rate, while the Bears had a better season at 16th and 24th, respectively. Any thoughts on Rachal v. Lang, Mike?
Mike: I think the Packers numbers are somewhat skewed by the fact that everyone knew the Packers were going to throw. They had no serious running game for basically the entire season, which does not lend itself well to protection. So while even our adjusted numbers have the Packers much lower by ASR, I don't think the Bears' line was any better. That said, the Bears did have some success running with Matt Forte. And were fairly good at left tackle ALY (4.17, or 12th) despite being pretty bad at middle-guard (3.9, or 23rd). That, plus the eyeball test, tells me we should go with Lang.
Tom: T.J. Lang it is, then. Do you have a center nominee? I do, if you do not.
Mike: I'm actually somewhat tempted to go with Lang's teammate, Jeff Saturday. Although I'm not sure if it's because of the absurdity of him making another Pro Bowl.
Tom: Not who I was thinking of, actually, but another fine choice considering he was benched late in the season. I was pondering Colts center Samson Satele. While he didn't get much help from the guards on either side of him, I thought he played poorly, and the Colts were abysmal running up the middle this year (30th in ALY).
Mike: A fine choice.
Mike: I doubt we'll see any noticeable difference.
Tom: Or, "annually about the hardest part of this exercise".
Tom: Looking at our individual defensive player statistics, Cowboys defensive lineman Sean Lissemore stands out as particularly ineffective. The Cowboys weren't bad by ALY, and had a good ASR, but he's one candidate. Staying in the NFC East, whatever happened to Justin Tuck? Despite playing every game but one, he only had 4.0 sacks as the Giants went from 10th to 22nd in ASR. We also don't have him doing much against the run.
Mike: I think Tuck's issues are related to the relative ineffectiveness of Jason Pierre-Paul. Last year, Pierre-Paul was a monster that demanded a tremendous amount of attention from the offense. Without as present a threat, resources can be spread more evenly, to Tuck's benefit. Detriment. The bad thing.
Tom: Perhaps I'm just overly-influenced by the memory of him wrecking Logan Mankins in the Super Bowl last February. In terms of a star who should have been but wasn't, I think he qualifies. Trent Cole, who had 1.0 fewer sacks, is another player in the same category, though he fared slightly better against the run by our numbers.
Mike: Perhaps. I have no problem giving the honors to Justin Tuck.
Tom: One thing I should have noted about Lissemore is he was only a part-time player. Among defensive lineman, the Cowboys had Jason Hatcher, who played 74 percent of the time, and a quintet including Lissemore that played between 25 and 38 percent of snaps. We could use at least one more defensive tackle, and I'd like to nominate Tyson Alualu of the Jaguars. The top-ten pick should be a standout by this point in his career, but was instead pretty ineffective as the Jaguars defensive collapsed after a strong showing in 2011.
Mike: What does that leave us with?
Tom: Lissemore. And if you like Trent Cole and Tuck, we have a foursome.
Mike: I think we're good with those.
Tom: The other fun position to fill! We could field an entire defense of cornerbacks and safeties without too much difficulty, but finding the right front seven players is a more interesting exercise.
Mike: The problem, really, is all the overlapping responsibilities. That makes it difficult, even on a bad team, to assign blame without some doubt.
Tom: Exactly. Sometimes we can figure some things out. By our individual defensive player statistics, Quincy Black has the league's worst stop rate.
There were two linebackers who had at least 50 total plays and did not have at least five Defeats. For those of you who've forgotten, a Defeat is a play that stops the offense from gaining first-down yardage on third or fourth down, stops the offense behind the line of scrimmage, or results in a fumble (regardless of which team recovers) or interception. One of them is actually quite prominent this week. Yes, Ray Lewis, we're talking about you. The other one is another honoree from last year's team, Keith Brooking.
Mike: I can get behind the Ray Lewis pick. We have discussed amongst ourselves the wild inflation of Lewis's assist numbers. A truly bizarre occurrence, considering he seems to be getting an incredibly favorable definition of "assist" even when away from his home scorer.
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Tom: Perhaps that hurts him here, actually, giving him all sorts of downfield tackles he does not deserve but which reflect badly on his efficiency. Still, if you get 14 tackles (6 solo), you must take the blame along with the credit.
Mike: It would also give him credit for good plays by Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs at the line. While Lewis is doubtlessly contributing some ineffable positive quality to the defense, I'm sure Ravens fans would be happier if he provided more, you know, defense to the defense.
Tom: Perhaps. Another strong candidate would be Raiders middle linebacker Rolando McClain. Another top-ten pick, he's been a poor player, and his latest run-in with the law does not speak well of his off-the-field judgment either.
Mike: I'm trying to figure out which of the rather bad St. Louis linebackers I want to pick on.
Tom: Why do you want to pick on a Rams linebacker? James Laurinaitis is okay, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar is a Sam who shouldn't be in coverage. Maybe Rocky McIntosh had a really bad year, but I didn't notice anything KCW-worthy.
Mike: Because they're not very good? St. Louis has an amazing stuffed rank, and a good power rank. They're third in the league in ASR. Their defensive line is quite good.
Tom: The Rams were seventh in defense, eighth in against the pass and tenth against the run. The weak links I saw were the safeties, corner Bradley Fletcher, and at times Janoris Jenkins. And, yes, they could use a better linebacker for the sub packages. Dunbar is not that guy. I watched the Rams a fair amount and didn't see anything KCW-worthy on defense.
Mike: Their second-level yards? Bad. Their pass defense against tight ends? Bad. Against running backs? Ultra-bad. Their deep running ALY isn't much higher than second-level, and safeties aren't generally covering tight ends and running backs. Everything we have to measure linebacker performance stinks for this group.
Tom: I've mentioned in the past that I've struggled with just how good Laurinaitis is. He didn't have a great year, but it wasn't KCW-worthy in my book. I thought Craig Dahl was part of the issue with tight ends. Those are the two guys with mediocre success rates by the charting data.
Mike: Do you have another suggestion?
Tom: I've defended him in the past, but Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon was deservedly benched at midseason for mediocre performance. He had the third-worst Stop Rate in the league among linebackers and ended up with a 32 percent Success Rate in coverage per the game charting project. Those numbers are really bad.
Mike: They are. Go ahead and add him.
Tom: Wonderful. We have linebackers.
Tom: At cornerback, we have the usual suspects, namely the players who gave up at least 10 yards per play in coverage per the game charting project. When I started thinking about this team, I thought Colts cornerback Cassius Vaughn was an absolute lead-pipe lock, but his numbers ended up simply mediocre instead of terrible. The awards ballot has two cornerbacks on it, DeAngelo Hall and Corey Webster. Both were members of that elite 10-plus yards per play group, and are well-deserving. Yes, Hall was on last year's team as well. He was awful in coverage once again, and deserves to be on this year's team, too. Webster, meanwhile, had a pretty good year last season, but was exposed a lot in 2012.
Mike: Hall was also awful in coverage on national television. That has to count for something.
Tom: Awful in coverage on national television, awful in coverage not on national television, it's all the same.
Mike: Hey, you're the one that wanted to bring in visibility of awfulness.
Tom: No, just visibility of amusement. The third cornerback who had at least 40 charted passes in coverage and gave up at least 10 yards per play was Minnesota injury fill-in A.J. Jefferson, who also finished last in Stop Rate at the position.
Mike: I feel bad giving the award to a player who is obviously overmatched and really shouldn't be there, like Jefferson.
Tom: Well, in that case, I have another nominee. He didn't get to 40 charted passes, but he did allow over 10 yards per play. You wanted to honor Stanford Routt last year, but I kind of put my foot down. He was lousy in 38 charted passes for Kansas City this year, giving up 11.8 yards per play. He was also a big free-agent signing, which I think you could hold against him if you wanted to.
Mike: Oh, will I.
Tom: Fine by me, though perhaps getting cut from the Chiefs this year was actually a bit of a blessing in disguise, at least in terms of living a happier, more productive life.
Mike: Well, it means he missed out representing the Chiefs in the Pro Bowl. Along with the four Chiefs named on defense.
Tom: Damn you, NFL, for changing your schedule because of Christmas and not letting us have fun kicking Chiefs out of the Pro Bowl to make room for representatives of other teams!
Mike: Yes, a defense ranked 31st against the pass and 28th against the rush. As reader Travis said, if the defense is that bad with four Pro Bowlers, imagine how bad the other seven guys are!
Mike: Anyway, I will take my Stanford Routt with a side of "I told you so," and lump him in with DeAngelo Hall, about which you from three years ago can tell me from three years ago, "I told you so." And we move on to safeties.
Tom: Watching as many games as possible and trying to watch teams that don't end up on national television all the time, you learn the joys of certain players. Sometimes, that means defending a player like Routt you feel is being unfairly maligned. Sometimes, that means reveling in just how terrible a player who is otherwise completely under the radar is. If this were a true and just world, Jaguars safety Chris Prosinski would be the new Sabby Piscitelli.
Mike: I would really like to have a new Sabby Piscitelli.
Tom: To be fair, his 26 percent stop rate is not the worst in the league among safeties. His 32 percent charting success rate, albeit in only 19 charted passes (numbers not necessarily final), may not be the worst in the league either. He may not actually lead the league in missed tackles, in part because you have to be in position to miss tackles in the first place. But if I had to pick just one player in the league as the worst starter, he would be it.
Mike: Sadly, he does not have Ed Reed's ability to be wildly out of position but in the perfect spot to intercept a tipped ball. He should work on that.
Tom: As for the other safety, we gave the weekly Keep Chopping Wood award to two this year. One of them was, of course, Rahim Moore, for his massive oopsie against the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs. The other was Haruki Nakamura of the Panthers, for his terrible oopsie against the Falcons. Teams that start a possession in the final minute inside their own 10 with no timeouts do not win games very often. The former Cincinnati Bearcat also had the third-worst Stop Rate in the league among safeties, so it wasn't like that was the only time he failed to have a positive impact on the game for his team. Did you want to say anything more about safeties, Mike?
Mike: No, I think that sums it up very well.
Tom: David Akers and Mason Crosby were nominated on the FO awards ballot. There's a third kicker who's a reasonable candidate, Shayne Graham, who was poor on field goals and utterly dreadful on kickoffs.
Mike: It's really hard to not vote for Crosby, considering how incredibly and publicly bad he was, and the weird defenses Mike McCarthy would erect for him.
Tom: Both Akers and Crosby came out a bit below average on kickoffs while being dreadful on field goals. Akers actually came out worse by our numbers. Inside of 50 yards, Crosby was 19-of-24 while Akers was 26-of-35.
Mike: Akers was injured.
Tom: Akers was not so injured he couldn't kick.
Mike: No, just injured enough that he couldn't kick effectively.
Tom: When was he injured, all season? He struggled early and late, and I'm not seeing reports of an injury until later in the season. I suppose Crosby's ineffectiveness was slightly more humorous, but Akers was the worse player.
Mike: He was injured late in the season, so I have no idea what his early-season struggles were about. On the other hand, Crosby was just bad all the time. Considering the incredible embarrassment his season was to the organization, I just can't go with any other kicker.
Tom: OK, Mason Crosby it is. Limiting ourselves to punt distance and punts that were actually kicked, instead of those blocked or aborted, Carolina's Brad Nortman came in worst by our ratings by a good amount. Unless you have any objections, he's the punter.
Mike: I know literally nothing about punters outside of the north divisions not named Scifres or Zoltan. No objections here.
Tom: Now, we could use a coach or two for this monstrosity. I suggest that we go with Romeo Crennel. If he needs help, he can get it from Todd Bowles, though I'm not sure it would be literally possible to get a Romeo-led team to get the same kind of dropoff Bowles got after taking over as Eagles defensive coordinator.
Mike: Let's just leave it at Romeo Crennel. He doesn't need any help fielding a horrific team.
Tom: Okay, and there we have it. To recap things, here's the final team:
QB: Mark Sanchez
RB: Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall
WR: Donnie Avery, Greg Little, Titus Young
TE: Brandon Pettigrew
OL: D’Anthony Batiste, T.J. Lang, Samson Satele, Leroy Harris, Jeromey Clary
DE: Trent Cole, Justin Tuck
DT: Tyson Alualu, Sean Lissemore
OLB: Quincy Black, Will Witherspoon
MLB: Ray Lewis, Rolando McClain
CB: DeAngelo Hall, Stanford Routt, Corey Webster
S: Haruki Nakamura, Chris Prosinski
K: Mason Crosby
P: Brad Nortman
Head Coach: Romeo Crennel
FO Staff Playoff Fantasy Update
Your Scramble writer's delusions of a competitive staff league were mostly shattered last week, as Danny continues to hold a big lead of 42 points over second-place Sean. Aaron, tied for third place, probably has the best shot of catching him, but will need outstanding games from Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, and Torrey Smith.
|FO Playoff Pre-Super Bowl Results|
|QB||Aaron Rodgers||Tom Brady||Peyton Manning||Russell Wilson||Colin Kaepernick||Matt Ryan|
|RB||Ray Rice||BenJarvus Green-Ellis||Arian Foster||Marshawn Lynch||Adrian Peterson||Frank Gore|
|RB||Alfred Morris||Vick Ballard||Michael Turner||DuJuan Harris||Knowshon Moreno||Stevan Ridley|
|WR||A.J. Green||Eric Decker||Andre Johnson||Demaryius Thomas||Michael Crabtree||Roddy White|
|WR||Reggie Wayne||Sidney Rice||Randall Cobb||Wes Welker||Brandon Lloyd||Jordy Nelson|
|WR||Pierre Garcon||Golden Tate||Julio Jones||James Jones||Torrey Smith||Brandon Stokley|
|TE||Jermaine Gresham||Aaron Hernandez||Jacob Tamme||Dennis Pitta||Rob Gronkowski||Tony Gonzalez|
|K||Justin Tucker||Josh Brown||Mason Crosby||Stephen Gostkowski||Steven Hauschka||Matt Prater|
Best of the Rest Update
After being tied for the lead heading into the conference championships, mjb rode a surfeit of Ravens to what is likely a commanding 24-point lead. He has Joe Flacco, Bernard Pierce, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones, and Vernon Davis remaining, and is only 13 points behind Danny. He seems poised to become the first Best of the Rest team to beat every Staff League team. Zac is in second place, and has Flacco and Boldin remaining. We will run full Best of the Rest standings next week.
Keep Chopping Wood: None, really. Matt Ryan had an interception that probably was not his fault and fumbled a snap in the second half, but played very well in the first half. Michael Crabtree fumbled at the goalline, but it did not cost the San Francisco 49ers that much, and they still won the game. In the AFC contest, the key play was Stevan Ridley's fumble, but he was concussed on a legal hit. Tom Brady threw two fourth-quarter interceptions, but at moments where the Patriots' chances of winning were already poor.
Mike Martz Award: The San Francisco 49ers took a 28-24 lead with 8:23 to play in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game. Mike Smith's Atlanta Falcons team then tried to exhaust the rest of the fourth quarter with that single possession, showing no sense of urgency and burning 7:14 of the game clock without making it to the end zone. Even after a defensive stop, they had :06 to cover 59 yards. That strategy of putting all of his eggs in one basket with DVOA’s twelfth-ranked offense had one of your Scramble writers screaming at the television and hurt Atlanta's chances of winning the game.