Scramble for the Ball Week 7: The Frogurt is Also Cursed
by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball, where, this week, I believe I owe all of our fans an apology. I fear it is my fault that Week 7 was so unwatchable. You see, I was bemoaning the fact that, on a good day, we only get 12 or so hours of our beloved pastime, and I just so happened to be walking by that old curio shop. You know the one, located in the back alleyway of that one deserted road with the flickering streetlight in the Bad Omens district?
Andrew: You mean the Chicago equivalent of Skinner & Hyde?
Bryan: Something like that! Curious, I stopped in, and the wizened old man behind the counter told me they sold forbidden objects from places men fear to tread. That sounded like a great deal to me, so after browsing through a collection of creepy curios, including Jack Del Rio's tree stump, Lester Hayes' vat of Stickum, and Mike Singletary's trousers, I finally stumbled upon a dried, wrinkled monkey's paw. It can grant wishes, you know. So, I did what anyone would do if they possessed an unspeakable talisman of unimaginable power -- I wished for more football. I mean, it's the logical decision, yes?
Andrew: Well… maybe. You're a 49ers fan. I'm not convinced others would see it the way you do.
Bryan: A failure of imagination on their part, I'm sure. Anyway, how was I supposed to realize there would be unintended ironic consequences? A sloppy game in London to start things off, a five-quarter touchdownless tie to end it, and turnovers and penalties throughout the rest of the day in an U-G-L-Y week of football. It was the longest day in NFL history, by which I mean it felt like it lasted 327 years.
Andrew: Did this really happen in 2014 and you're only telling us about it now? Because that would also explain basically the entire past three years of Thursday Night Football.
Bryan: Maybe Roger Goodell had the Paw before I did! It would explain a lot.
Anyway, so now I've got this creepy paw, and it's still got some more wishes on it. You gotta help me out, Andrew; we need to come up with some ironic-consequence-proof ideas here. There must be SOMETHING we can improve that won't backfire.
Andrew: Oooh, oooh, like clarifying the catch rule! Emphasizing illegal contact in the secondary! Or drafting a first-round quarterback for the Cleveland Browns!
Bryan: OK, you're just confirming at this point that this paw has made its way around the NFL. But we're not a bunch of front office execs or NFL dignitaries. We're a couple of dudes on the Internet! Surely, we must know better.
Andrew: We can try, at least. Let's start on the field. The league needs less emphasis on quarterback play, so let's adjust some of those rules. Throwaways to avoid sacks should be removed completely: if the ball's not in the area of a receiver, it's a foul. Throwing it directly over a receiver's head counts as in the area, otherwise Jameis Winston's entire career will consist of nothing but 30-yard bombs to Mike Evans and 10-yard grounding penalties… which will be completely different to now because of reasons I haven't thought of yet. Just throwing the ball directly out of the field of play to nobody without consequence though? Nah, I'm not having that.
Bryan: Of course, without the ability to dunk the ball off and avoid sacks, we're going to quickly run out of quarterbacks. Say goodbye to the era of Manning, Brady, and Brees; with nothing positive ever coming from throwing the ball away, quarterbacks will take more hits and start dropping like flies. "Starting quarterback" becomes something of an oxymoron; if a player ever gets four healthy games in a row at the position, it's worthy of epic poetry and gushing praise on sports talk radio. Teams regularly carry five quarterbacks on their active roster; otherwise, they're not guaranteed to get through the season. So, basically, what Cleveland's doing now.
Ironic consequence, then, is your starting quarterbacks for Super Bowl LI: Joel Stave and David Fales, the last two healthy quarterbacks in America. And even then, both would be listed as questionable with a series of nagging injuries.
No no no, we can do better than that. Let's get rid of two or three preseason games. No one watches them, they're not competitive or interesting, they really don't help teams winnow their rosters down. We can get rid of 'em, and add an extra week or two to the regular season. Win-win for everyone, right?
Andrew: Of course, to balance the schedules they can't be divisional games, and they probably shouldn't be intraconference games either. So we're adding interconference games, putting the first-place teams from each division against two more first-place teams from the other conference, fourth versus fourth, and so on. With a lower percentage of games within the division, the AFC South never again has a team with a winning record.
But it gets better. The NFL, in its bountiful wisdom, sees the marketing potential of adding two more regular season games to the calendar for each team. Instead of building them into the existing home-and-away scheduling pattern the league office adds the games to the International Series. All 32 games. Twice a season, we get the following spiel: "Sixteen games, 16 countries, ONE weekend of NFL football! From Yokohama to Aloha, one kickoff every 90 minutes, 24 hours of NFL football … STARTS NOW. ( (c) Scott Hanson)"
No, instead, let's cancel the International Series altogether before this madness goes any further.
Bryan: That sounds like a great idea! Of course, this is a cursed monkey paw we're talking about, and there's no idea it can't twist.
The logical replacement for an International Series is, of course, actual international franchises. Why ship a few home games a season when you can have the AFC Far West and the NFC Middle East? Get ready for your London Redcoats, your Emirates Jets and your Sydney Operatics. Eight expansion teams, further diluting down the NFL talent pool, located all over the world! Of course, this will require hours and hours of international travel and massive logistical headaches, but all that doesn't matter compared to the benefits of expanding the NFL's brand to China. And when the Shanghai Noon and the Buenos Aires Gauchos -- because you know the NFL would have cheesy names for these things -- meet in Super Bowl LVI, the experiment will be deemed to have been a massive success.
Andrew: Both a logistical and security nightmare! No matter how much turmoil envelops the host countries in some of the more volatile regions, though, it's probably still safer than being a fan of the road team at the Oakland Coliseum.
Bryan: Heck, don't count out the Raiders being one of those international franchises. They're looking for new digs, remember? The Tripoli Raiders might well be a thing in our future.
Andrew: Sure beats the Triple-X Raiders we saw under Art Shell.
Bryan: Well, maybe we should make a less fundamental change to the NFL. Like, getting rid of excessive celebration penalties. The Icky Shuffle is great! Everyone enjoyed the Dirty Bird! Victor Cruz's salsa gets its own theme music, and Chad Johnson brought props! People like props. So, ban celebration penalties for touchdowns, and have the players dance! After all, this is supposed to be entertainment; let them entertain! What harm could possibly come from that, he said, actively ignoring the conceit of this article.
Andrew: This is, however, the NFL. The league of no half-measures (except when it comes to
oh hey look, an elephant!). In veering away from penalizing celebrations, the league office shifts too far the other direction. Extra point attempts are removed, and Simon Cowell and Cheryl Tweedy Cole Fernandez-Versini are hired to judge celebrations with a view to awarding either one or two points based on technical proficiency, creative ambition, and the result of a crowd cheer-o-meter. The experiment is abandoned when the New York Giants win the NFC East on a game-saving rueda featuring their entire roster and staff in three concentric circles.
Bryan: To be fair, that sounds amazing. Not football, but amazing.
Bryan: Having to choose is the true curse of the Monkey's Paw.
Andrew: Alright, let's try one more: commercials. There are too many, and the breaks are too long. I want to watch football, for goodness' sake, not Ice-T at a lemonade stand (no longer surprising) or Peyton Manning selling something that supposedly masquerades as pizza. I'm pretty sure that couple who called their baby Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki should be in trouble with social services, and if (heaven forbid!) I ever need to cure E.D. I have an entire Hotmail spam folder chock-full of options. So no more commercial breaks during games. (Halftime is fine.)
Bryan: As much as I loathe commercial breaks, the NFL is still going to find a way to monetize their games. So, if they can't sell time, they'll sell off everything else they can. You thought naming rights produced monstrosities like the "O.co Coliseum?" Just wait until the NFL gets started.
First to go will be the team names themselves. This is quite common overseas: if you're ever watching Japan's X-League, you could see a thrilling clash between the Mejii Yasuda PentaOcean Pirates and the -- I swear I'm not making this up -- Tokyo Gas Creators. So prepare yourself for the IBM Giants -- go Big Blue! -- facing off against the Dannon Panthers, because yogurt apparently is the key source of protein for NFL players. The Nike Seahawks would at least have interesting uniforms to look at, I suppose, but the 7-11 49ers are bound to cause all sorts of issues in the box score.
And then there's the individual quarters. The Energizer Overtime, because it just keeps going, and going. Penalty flags -- it's holding, as brought to you by AT&T, when you just have to reach out and touch someone. The two-minute warning, brought to you by Coca-Cola (the pause that refreshes). You'd end up with players wearing sponsors' names on their backs, like a twisted, corporate version of the old XFL's nicknames on their nameplates. Forget about Nationwide, imagine what Peyton Manning could have done if he was able to come out as "Papa" Peyton every week!
Andrew: You missed out conventional jersey sponsorship. You, too, can support a team with a jersey like this:
Bryan: I think we need to preface this column with a warning for any graphic designers in our audience. Eesh.
No, I think it's best, in the long run, if I shelve the Monkey's Paw and only use it for something that people don't have strong feelings about. Like the upcoming presidential election.
Andrew: And Fantasy Football.
Loser League Update
Quarterback: For really the first time all season, Carson Wentz looked like the rookie he is. Quick Reads talked about his disastrous first half, with two interceptions and a fumble. On the plus side for Philadelphia fans, he won't be facing Minnesota's defense every week. They'll hope his 4 Loser League points this week was an aberration more than anything else.
[ad placeholder 3]
Running Back: Welcome to the goose egg club, Matt Jones! Rushing for just 27 yards on 10 carries would be bad enough, but Jones had a very costly fumble, losing the ball as he tried to dive into the end zone for a score midway through the fourth quarter. Jones has now fumbled three times on the season, and bobbled quite a few more carries, and Washington coach Jay Gruden says that Jones' carries may be cut going forward.
Wide Receiver: Four receivers recorded zeroes this week, each ending up with less than 10 yards receiving on multiple targets. Allen Robinson is most notable; Jacksonville threw at him nine times for a grand total of 9 yards, which isn't exactly stellar. He's joined by Tyler Boyd and the Green Bay duo of Jeff Janis and Jordy Nelson.
Kicker: Expecting one of Sunday Night's goats to end up here? No, even with their crucial, last-second misses, both Chandler Catanzaro and Steven Hauschka avoided notable Loser League performances thanks to their two field goals. Not so for Stephen Gostkowski, however, whose second missed extra point in as many weeks gave him minus-2 points.
The Loser League page is now updated for 2016, and you can check out your team's score here.
Keep Choppin' Wood: This past Sunday was not the greatest for fans of good special teams play. Sandwiched between Jeff Fisher's bizarre punt team antics in the early game at Twickenham and the flurry of blocked/missed/shanked/snakebitten field goals on Sunday night, we also got to see:
- Stephen Gostkowski miss his second extra point in as many weeks;
- the Jaguars allow Raiders punter Marquette King to run for a first down on fourth-and-24 after a bad snap;
- and Blair Walsh do whatever it was Blair Walsh was trying to do to distract Josh Huff on his way to a kick return touchdown.
No NFL weekend would be complete without the obligatory Roberto Aguayo miss either, but Aguayo's was not the worst special teams play in the Buccaneers' 34-17 win in San Francisco. Neither was Ryan Smith's 15-yard kickoff return from the end zone to the Buccaneers 14, nor even his 6-yard return from the end zone to the Buccaneers 5. Instead, the honor goes to 49ers backup receiver Aaron Burbridge, in as a blocker on Tampa Bay's first punt of the second half. Even after returner Jeremy Kerley had signaled for a fair catch on the short Bryan Anger punt, Burbridge attempted to cross Kerley's face to block Buccaneers gunner Josh Robinson. In so doing, he instead collided with Kerley and sent him sprawling to the floor. The ball hit the Burbridge's leg, the muff was recovered by Buccaneers safety Keith Tandy, and the whole mess ultimately turned a Buccaneers three-and-out into first-and-10 Tampa Bay at the San Francisco 36.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: Faced with fourth-and-1 at his own 45-yard line on the first drive of overtime after the Chargers had erased a 17-point second-quarter lead, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn faced a dilemma. On one hand, going for the fourth down had a massive dichotomy between risk and reward: either the Falcons would still be driving for a potential game-winning touchdown, or San Diego would have only 20 yards to go to get within range for a game-winning field goal. On the other hand, punting was hardly much better, as the Chargers had gone at least 50 yards on each of their previous three drives. The numbers aren't much help either, with a similar likely outcome for punting or going for it. With Atlanta's offense playing much better than his defense, Quinn opted to go for it -- the decision of a coach who wants to win rather than avoid blame for the loss. Unfortunately for Quinn, Denzel Perryman stuffed Devonta Freeman in the backfield and the Chargers gained the 20 yards they needed for the game-winner. Hopefully, that won't discourage Quinn from trying again if a future situation merits it.
John Fox Award for Conservatism: Last week's handing of the Fox award to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was probably a little harsh, really given only to illustrate the contrast between his approach and that of Hue Jackson. This week, however, he made up for it and then some. Fifty-four-yard field goals are not gimmes. Fifty-four-yard field goals in Heinz Field are not even high percentage. Attempting a 54-yard field goal at Heinz Field, on fourth-and-2, down 11 in the fourth quarter, on a day when no fewer than 15 of Le'veon Bell's 21 carries had gained 2 or more yards, is bordering on malpractice. That Chris Boswell then missed the kick only serves to re-emphasize just how poor was the decision to kick in the first place.
Mike Martz Award for Confusing Coaching: We could give the award to Jeff Fisher -- again -- for whatever his fourth down strategy was in London, but let's broaden our canvas some.
Last season, LeSean McCoy missed significant time with a balky hamstring, resulting in his lowest rushing yardage total since 2012. So, with McCoy leaving Wednesday's practice with yet another hamstring injury, you'd think Rex Ryan would play it a little conservatively; hamstring injuries have a tendency to linger, and it's probably better to lose McCoy for a week rather than have a gimpy McCoy for the rest of the season. Instead, Ryan put McCoy out there just four days after the injury, and McCoy ran for just 11 yards on eight carries before hobbling back to the sideline, where he probably should have been the entire time. Now, McCoy's status for this week's game against New England is in question, and Ryan's decision to rush his star runner back to action seems all the more irresponsible.
"He's Hulking Up!" Fantasy Player of the Week: Kevin Hogan has been saying his prayers and eating his vitamins. All the Brownsamaniacs out there got the thrill of their life, brother, as Hogan was running wild, putting together 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in his first NFL action. Let me tell you something, brother; Hogan'll keep flexing those 24-inch pythons this week, as he's listed atop Cleveland's depth chart thanks to the numerous injuries the Browns have suffered. But you can't keep Kevin Hogan down; he'll just flex and pose and wag his finger in your face. So, New York Jets, whatcha gonna do, when Kevinmania destroys you?
Jon Snow (We Know Nothing) Lock of the Week
Bryan: After a rough week, I need a vacation. So I'm heading out to Jolly Ol' England where I'll be taking Washington +3 against Cincinnati. While Washington may be without Josh Norman, leaving them vulnerable to A.J. Green-related shenanigans, they'll be getting Jordan Reed back, which should help. I'm also sensing some potential weaknesses on Cincinnati; they allowed 180 rushing yards against a Browns team down to their fifth passer of the season last week. I think Matt Jones and company find room on the ground to keep this game close, and in a close game, you take the points.
[ad placeholder 4]
Andrew: I'll stay in the U.S. and take Seattle -3 at New Orleans. No, this isn't me hedging my bets again. I really think the Seahawks will be too strong for the Saints, even on the road, even following the longest game they could possibly have played on Sunday night. Russell Wilson is banged up and the Seahawks offensive line is still more of a squiggle, but the Saints are not the defense to take advantage of that -- without their top two cornerbacks, with real problems at safety, a pass rush in the bottom third of the league, and with a propensity for dumb penalties at inopportune moments. The days of receiving backs like Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush taking apart underneath coverage are long gone -- though Mark Ingram has improved beyond measure in that area -- and the Seahawks pass rush should have both the time and the ability to get to Drew Brees. That places even more load on a quarterback who has already been caught out trying to do too much, and that's how games against good defenses get nasty.
Records so far:
No new teams join the pile this week -- most teams bad enough to essentially have their season over by the end of October have already crashed and burned, with Week 7's performances not particularly adding to their plight.
This week does, however, bring us our first game between two teams that are more or less out of contention already. The 2-5 New York Jets take to the road to face the 0-7 Cleveland Browns in this week's least important matchup.
Why should you watch anyway? There's the chance to see Kevin Hogan join a very exclusive club of players with two 100-100 games. There's the chance to see Ryan Fitzpatrick try to top his six-interception game from earlier this season. And, of course, there's the continuing saga of the Browns' quarterback situation. They have already used six different passers through seven weeks, a once-in-a-generation style feat. There's really only one good comparison to the speed at which the Browns have gone through their quarterbacks:
It's like, how much more bad could the Browns' season be? And the answer is none. None more bad.
Football Outsiders doesn't answer fantasy questions on Twitter, so if you don't have a Premium subscription and access to the 24-hour Fantasy Answering Service, the Scramble mailbag is one way to get a Football Outsiders answer to your fantasy questions! Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, Shawnee cures for injury hexes, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at Contact Us.