Scramble for the Ball: 2015 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team
by Andrew Healy and Sterling Xie
Andrew: OK, we're going to do our All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team here -- and you can skip to that part below, where we list the players who went to particularly great lengths to help their teams lose -- but I'm still a little depressed after the Patriots' loss in Denver, and I want to declare myself eligible for All-KCW as a fan. I'm now 0-for-7 when making a substantial effort both monetarily and time-wise to get to a game. Many of these cover other sports, back when I cared tons about hockey and baseball. My poor investments of fan resources over the years:
1994 Devils vs. Rangers Game 6: I'm in high school and drive to the arena the day of the game in my 1982 Nissan Stanza hatchback. Looking for tickets, I get directed to a seedy guy who's driving around the parking lot in a loop to evade detection and has a stack of maybe 200 tickets. I give him $65, a shockingly high share of my net worth at the time. My Devils lead 2-0 late second period before Mark Messier gets a third-period hat trick to fulfill his pregame guarantee. This was made extra annoying by there being 60 percent Rangers fans at the Brendan Byrne Arena.
1996 Yankees vs. Orioles Game 1: I don't even like the Orioles, but friends and I slept out for tickets in the Bronx, maybe one of the last times it was actually possible to do that. Jeffrey Maier, Jeter, the team I hate the most.
1996 Yankees vs. Braves Game 6: The start of the dynasty by the team I hate the most.
2003 Nets vs. Spurs Game 5: Three days before my wedding, I drive from Boston with my buddy to see the Nets in a series where they're tied 2-2. Tim Duncan is guarded by a guy who drove me insane at the time, but then turns out to have been pretty heroic even if he was the master of the stat line filled up only with minutes. Jason Collins and the Nets lose the game and the series in six.
2011 Super Bowl: Covered this last week a bit. Last-minute trip to Indy, this time alone. Watched the Super Bowl fall off Wes Welker's fingertips.
2013 AFC Championship Game: Yecch.
2015 AFC Championship Game: Yecch.
Now, I've had successes when the investment was less as a share of my money and time (notably the Marlon McCree game, a pretty short drive from L.A. to San Deigo), but my team always loses whenever I make a huge effort to go.
I'm not asking for your sympathy. This is what they call a First World problem. I just think my resources could be better invested given the outcomes of these games.
Given that you're young enough to think Messier is an adjective, you must be asleep by now.
Sterling: I would give my All-KCW of losses, but as Patriots fans, no one really wants to hear it from us. True misery isn't three conference championship losses in five years. True misery is everything below this paragraph.
One of Scramble's two annual pre-Super Bowl traditions, the All-KCW team will field a lineup on both sides of the ball. We're looking for both on- and off-field problem children, with the KCW MVP ideally being a malcontent who causes headaches for fans and teammates alike. I think we can probably figure out the captain for this team right away.
Andrew: I hear you striking up a sarcastic symphony of tiny violins. All right, on to the 2015 All-KCW Team.
Sterling: To steal an old segment from Mike and Mike, Johnny Manziel has to be a Stone Cold Lead Pipe lock for this spot. Manziel was a bottom-10 quarterback by both passing DVOA and DYAR, and embarrassed himself enough to make the cast of Ballers blush. Considering he even reputedly got Josh Gordon suspended last year, I don't think the Manziel era could have gone much worse in Cleveland.
Andrew: Purely on the field, you could make a case for the DYAR cellar-dweller Nick Foles, but we have to go with the perfect storm of extreme douchebaggery with onfield suckitude.
Sterling: I really want to hand this out to every first-round fantasy running back not named Adrian Peterson. But while we can't blame those who fell to injury, Eddie Lacy and DeMarco Murray were massive disappointments who appeared to play with all the urgency and enthusiasm of an Initech employee filing TPS reports. Both were bottom-10 backs by both rushing DVOA and DYAR, and Murray's rumored chicanery in getting Chip Kelly fired doesn't make him any more endearing.
Andrew: I think the top choice at wide receiver is Andre Johnson. The former Texans receiver looked pretty uninterested in 2014. The hope that the trip to the Colts and competent quarterbacking would resuscitate Johnson's career was misplaced. Disgruntled players rarely become gruntled. Johnson was not the rare exception, and looked done even when Andrew Luck was healthy.
Sterling: Any issue with Roddy White for the other spot? The rapidly diminishing wideout complained multiple times about his role in the offense, and ended up with arguably the worst year of his career despite somehow starting all 16 games. Josh Norman garnered a lot of negative attention for his role in provoking Odell Beckham's hissyfit, but when he called White the Falcons' No. 5 receiver, I almost didn't mind him putting White down.
Andrew: No problem at all with White, but I think we've got to carve out a third spot at wide receiver. Randall Cobb was shockingly unable to do anything this year when asked to assume the No. 1 receiver role. In 2014, with Jordy Nelson healthy, Cobb ranked first in receiving DVOA. This year, without Nelson, Cobb fell to 60th. After getting No. 1 receiver dollars in the offseason, Cobb showed that he wasn't worth it. Davante Adams was worse, but Cobb was more disappointing given expectations.
Andrew: After signing a big contract with the Jaguars in the offseason, Julius Thomas didn't do much. He dropped seven of his 80 targets for the worst drop rate of any tight end with at least 50 targets. His DYAR ranked third from the bottom this year. Below replacement-level play for a cool $24 million guaranteed. And Thomas isn't exactly Rob Gronkowski as a blocker.
Andrew: At left tackle, we'll go with Jason Peters. On the field, he played poorly, contributing to an Eagles line that ranked 28th on runs to left end and 29th on runs over left tackle. He also may have quit at the end of the Week 16 game against Washington, choosing not to play over risking injury. Given that he battled injuries all year, however, I think we should be careful with the criticism there. I wish more players were more careful. Peters did make the Pro Bowl, but so did Brandon Meriweather twice. (More on him coming later.)
This could be recency bias talking, but I'm going with Marcus Cannon at right tackle. The Patriots' offensive line managed to finish 20th in adjusted sack rate this year even with a quarterback who sometimes gets rid of the ball so fast I'm not sure it touches his fingertips. On Sunday, Cannon seemed to me to be the worst offender on the single worst line performance of the season. Maybe that's a little harsh given that the task of playing tackle against Von Miller is too big an ask for Cannon, but he, not Stephen Gostkowski, seems like the biggest single goat.
Sterling: We need an interior for our Swiss Cheese unit, so we'll go with Dallas Thomas and Cameron Erving as our guards, with Drew Nowak as our center. I wonder if Ryan Tannehill's wife feels about Thomas the way Brent Grimes' wife feels about Tannehill, considering how much distress he's caused her husband as a starter the past two seasons. The first-rounder Erving, meanwhile, looked hopeless at right guard this season, and doesn't offer much assurance for the Browns if Alex Mack departs in free agency and forces him to kick inside to center. And it's not fair to blame Nowak entirely for Seattle's offensive line woes in the first half of the season, but considering how drastically the Seahawks' offense improved upon his release, there has to be at least a little cause-and-effect.
Andrew: I feel like we missed something by not having a Titan on this list for trying to get Marcus Mariota killed in his rookie season. So dishonorable mention to the entire Titans offensive line.
Andrew: The MVP of this team in my book has to be Mario Williams. Nobody worked more diligently, primarily by not trying at all in many games, to drive the Bills' No. 2 defense from 2014 down to No. 24 this year. In five of his last eight games, Williams registered no sacks and no unassisted tackles. He announced to the press that he was unhappy with Rex Ryan's scheme and then showed it by no-showing. As my favorite remaining New York sports radio guy Joe Benigno would say, "What a disgrace."
Sterling: If Williams is one rush end, let's select Greg Hardy as his bookend. Hardy is on this team for the second consecutive season, and while he didn't get in legal trouble this time around, his chilling lack of remorse doesn't make him any less despicable than he was 12 months ago. The Cowboys' support for Hardy waned along with his production as the season went on, which bodes ominously for his future in Dallas or anywhere else.
It looks like we're playing a 4-3 with the edge defenders we've picked. Who ya got for the interior?
Andrew: Mario Williams will at least be happy to hear that he doesn't have to deal with the onerous demand of playing in a 3-4 scheme anymore. If we're looking for a couple of 4-3 defensive tackles, I'm going back to the Bills for one and taking Marcell Dareus at one spot. This one is not as clear-cut as Williams, but after getting paid just before the season in a no-upside contract for the Bills, Dareus posted just two sacks. His dropoff from 2014 (10 sacks) played the other biggest role in the Bills dropping from first to 31st in adjusted sack rate. Dareus's part in that incredible drop-off was pretty predictable, too. With his off-field history, not a guy to whom you want to be devoting huge long-term dollars. Now the Bills have that albatross of a contract wrapped around their necks for a while.
Sterling: Most of the knuckleheads on the defensive line this year seemed to play on the edge. It's either hilarious or depressing (or both) that the Giants played both Jason Pierre-Paul and personal foul magnet Damontre Moore at defensive end this year. Actually, that's probably just depressing. So for our other defensive tackle, I'll pick Cleveland's other first-rounder from this season, Danny Shelton. Shelton did nothing to help a front that finished 29th in adjusted line yards in 2014, as the Browns regressed to 30th in the category this year. This feels a little harsh -- he had less exposure than Erving, for example -- but Cleveland first-round picks should probably end up here on principle.
I can start the linebacking corps with one player on whome I think we can both agree. Balloting for real-life awards doesn't take the postseason into account, but Vontaze Burfict gets no such reprieve here. He's our Will linebacker, and this should go without explanation.
Andrew: Burfict did this to himself, but it's hard not to think of the "What if?" of Jeremy Hill not fumbling, leaving Tez to be the hero against the Steelers. But the football gods clearly want him on the All-KCW Team. Amazing he managed to commit fineable offenses three times in five weeks.
With another option not jumping immediately to mind, I'll go with Curtis Lofton at middle linebacker. Lofton's terrible pass coverage anti-helped the Raiders to rank 30th in DVOA on passes to running backs.
Sterling: I always wonder how on earth Lofton manages to finagle himself a three-down role every year, at least at the start of the season. Kiko Alonso sure looked like a true three-down linebacker during his rookie season, but in his Philadelphia debut, Alonso looked nothing like the rangy player who impressed everyone in Buffalo two years ago before tearing his ACL. When Jordan Hicks went down, the Eagles run defense collapsed, and Alonso generally appeared clueless about his run fits and tackling form. Signing Murray may have been Chip Kelly's biggest personnel failure of the past offseason, but trading LeSean McCoy for Alonso was a close second.
[ad placeholder 3]
Andrew: Miami corner Brent Grimes deserves a spot even if the Dolphins' front office made the mistake by going into the season so thin at corner. The Dolphins ranked dead last against No. 1 receivers in DVOA this year and Grimes ranked 78th (out of 83) cornerbacks with a 44 percent success rate this year, per charting data from Sports Info Solutions. The Dolphins put all their chips on Ndamukong Suh and gambled on an already on-the-downside Grimes being able to hold together the secondary. That gamble failed and things get even harder now with Suh's contract likely already needing a rework with his cap hit ballooning to $28 million this year.
Sterling: Considering the Saints put out literally the worst defense we've ever measured, New Orleans needs some nominees in this spot. Kenny Vaccaro and Brandon Browner played the most snaps in the Saints' secondary, and not coincidentally, were two of the most actively harmful starters in the league this year. Depressingly, the Saints wouldn't really save money by cutting Browner, who would leave $5.35 million in dead money on the cap. Vacarro is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie deal, and unless he reignites memories of his impressive rookie season, both will probably be goners by 2017.
Andrew: Yeah, Browner might be the ultimate lock for All-KCW with his record-breaking 24 penalties this season. That could even be an all-time record, but we only have individual penalty data back to 1999. Since we need another safety, I'll go with the Giants' Brandon Meriweather. On top of his history of gutless headhunting, Meriweather this year ranked fifth from the bottom in the league with 0.224 tackles broken per tackle made. He has always been terrible in coverage, too.
Sterling: Maybe you disagree with me, but I don't think Blair Walsh can have a spot here solely because of his season-ending shank. I think Jason Myers did much more to earn the kicker spot, missing the most extra points in a season since Tom Little in 1979. Myers wasn't the only one to struggle with the lengthened PAT -- looking at you, Dan Carpenter -- but considering we once started a column trying to figure out how the hell he was employed, Myers takes the cake.
Andrew: That part's easy. We can punt on punter since the All-KCW team turns it over on every possession. In fact, let's make Johnny Manziel our punt returner on this team so we don't have to waste a roster spot there.
Andrew: I am proud to have the league's shakiest strategic (now ex-)coach, Mike Pettine, leading the All-KCW Team. And for our defensive coordinator, we get the two-headed Robex Ryan monster. Rob is a no-brainer, having coached the Saints to a historic level of defensive ineptitude. Given that Rex started with last year's No. 2 defense, his performance this year amazingly might be even worse. And it's certainly much more shocking given all his success on defense in previous years. So for a truly disappointing performance, Rex gets demoted to co-defensive coordinator here.
Sterling: I'm sure Buffalo fans are very excited for the Robex monster. I thought about going a couple different ways for the OC on this staff. Scott Linehan and Pep Hamilton (before his firing) commandeered extremely disappointing offenses, but I'm absolving them a bit because of quarterback injuries. Kelly ran the show in Philly, so I'm not throwing Pat Shurmur under the bus either.
Tom Clements may have called plays for a team that finished a respectable 11th in offensive DVOA, but that's also the Green Bay Packers' lowest ranking since Aaron Rodgers' first season as a starter in 2008. The Packers reeked of unimaginative play calling all season, and while Green Bay's problems weren't entirely on him -- things didn't really change when Mike McCarthy seized play calling duties, after all -- Clements had the keys to the Bugatti but insisted on driving in the right lane.
|2015 All Keep Choppin' Wood Team|
|QB||Johnny Manziel||DE||Mario Williams||K||Jason Myers|
|RB||Eddie Lacy||DE||Greg Hardy||HC||Mike Pettine|
|RB||DeMarco Murray||DT||Marcell Dareus||OC||Tom Clements|
|WR||Randall Cobb||DT||Danny Shelton||DC||"Robex" Ryan|
|WR||Andre Johnson||LB||Vontaze Burfict|
|WR||Roddy White||LB||Curtis Lofton|
|TE||Julius Thomas||LB||Kiko Alonso|
|LT||Jason Peters||CB||Brent Grimes|
|LG||Dallas Thomas||CB||Brandon Browner|
|C||Drew Nowak||S||Brandon Meriweather|
|RG||Cameron Erving||S||Kenny Vacarro|
FO Staff Playoffs Update
Sterling: Unless the Broncos blow out the Panthers in the way the Seahawks blew them out two years ago, I think I'm gonna be alright. Everything went my way in the NFC Championship Game. Even David Johnson had 18 fantasy points in defeat, while every Panthers player/unit I had scored in double-digits.
Andrew: Yes, an impressive debut performance. Your strategy made a ton of sense and it has paid off with an almost-certain win. We now have you at -1,200 in our prediction market. Little drama left now. Only Tom has a non-zero probability of knocking you off, which would require the Broncos to hold the Panthers to single-digits. Very well played, sir.
|QB||Carson Palmer||Russell Wilson||Tom Brady||Alex Smith||Cam Newton||Ben Roethlisberger|
|RB||Marshawn Lynch||Jeremy Hill||DeAngelo Williams||Jonathan Stewart||David Johnson||C.J. Anderson|
|RB||Ronnie Hillman||Charcandrick West||Steven Jackson||Spencer Ware||James White||Eddie Lacy|
|WR||Larry Fitzgerald||Jeremy Maclin||Julian Edelman||Antonio Brown||DeAndre Hopkins||Demaryius Thomas|
|WR||John Brown||A.J. Green||Michael Floyd||Doug Baldwin||Ted Ginn Jr.||Randall Cobb|
|WR||Emmanuel Sanders||Jermaine Kearse||Markus Wheaton||Tyler Lockett||DeSean Jackson||Martavis Bryant|
|TE||Heath Miller||Tyler Eifert||Jordan Reed||Travis Kelce||Greg Olsen||Rob Gronkowski|
|K||Chandler Catanzaro||Cairo Santos||Steven Hauschka||Stephen Gostkowski||Graham Gano||Mason Crosby|
Best of the Rest
Just like last week, Scramble writer emeritus Ian Dembsky (idembsky) remains in the lead with 122 points. Tragically, second-place Sid has 121 points, but can't catch the leader, since they both have only Brandon McManus and the Broncos defense remaining. However, the overwhelming favorite is bedforp, who still has seven of his original nine entrants remaining (the only eliminated ones were Giovani Bernard and Danny Amendola) and 115 points. In addition to both McManus and the Denver D, his entry has Devin Funchess, Corey Brown, Owen Daniels, Peyton Manning and Mike Tolbert. That group garnered him four receiving touchdowns, two passing touchdowns and a two-point conversion. With just eight points from those five players, he'll end up the winner. You can see the full results through the conference championships here.
Jim Tomsula Award
For a coach universally acknowledged to be unusually good at his craft, Bill Belichick has made a fairly shocking number of big mistakes that have contributed to Patriots' playoff losses. We have four different times in the last decade where Belichick made unambiguous errors that derailed Patriots teams with very realistic Super Bowl chances. Imagine the criticism Andy Reid would have gotten for these kinds of mistakes.
[ad placeholder 4]
1) 2006 AFC Championship Game: Belichick fails to call his timeouts as the Colts get close to scoring the go-ahead touchdown. The Patriots could have gotten the ball back with just about the right amount of time to have a realistic shot at the touchdown to win it. Instead, the Patriots ended up in a desperation scenario. They lose 38-34, with Rex Grossman waiting in the Super Bowl.
2) 2007 Super Bowl: Belichick goes for it on fourth-and-13 from the Giants' 31-yard line. A successful field goal attempt from second-year kicker Stephen Gostkowski would have put the Patriots up seven halfway through the third quarter. The Patriots also slowed the pace down rather than snapping quickly, helping to limit them to just nine offensive drives for the game. The Giants' pass rush contributed, but the Patriots' pace was poorly suited to a game where they were a heavy favorite.
3) 2010 AFC Divisional Game: Belichick sits Wes Welker for the first series for being legitimately funny with foot innuendos. Vince Lombardi might have fined him, but it seems unlikely he would have been so tone deaf as to deflate his team with a benching like that. And the Patriots played very flat. Belichick also called off the dogs, blitzing almost never against a quarterback who couldn't handle the blitz. Rex Ryan outcoached him by changing his blitz-happy strategy to adapt to the Patriots. Maybe Belichick's worst set of mistakes, as he entered the playoffs with a team that was far and away the best in the league, even moreso than 2007 given the late-season trends.
4) 2015 AFC Championship Game: Not deferring was strange, like the Welker benching. But the bigger mistake happened in Miami. Home field is worth so much that Brady needed to play. He also needed to throw more than five times in the first half. You can even argue that the injuries on one level made it more imperative that the Patriots grabbed home field. Their margin for error was smaller than last year, given the injury uncertainty. Shooting for home field was the risky play at the right time. If things had worked out, the Patriots might have squeezed through those first two games and then had two weeks to rest up for the Super Bowl.