Scramble for the Ball: Keepin' 'Em Keenum
by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Week 3 of the 2017 season is now in the books, and what a stunningly bizarre and entertaining week it was! Remember when everybody was complaining that this season was boring? Was that really only five days ago?
Bryan: It feels like there are always these sorts of worries early on in the season -- "oh, this year is the worst ever!" -- until, well, the game proves otherwise. Part of it, I think, is a bit of recency bias. We remember the good games from last year and the year before, and forget that some games were a slog to get through then, too. There might also be something to the idea that the lack of regular preseason work or contact in practice means teams get off to a more sluggish start. That's worth looking into in the offseason.
But one thing that can't be denied is that this week's Quick Reads table is all wonky.
Andrew: Surely you don't object that strongly to Kirk Cousins ranking third?
Bryan: I object strongly to the implication that the quarterback battle for the 2016 Los Angeles Rams was apparently between two of the greatest quarterbacks the NFL has to offer. Keenum-Goff is the new gold standard, replacing Montana-Young. Apparently.
Andrew: It might actually be the gold standard ... for the weirdest 1-2 pairing in Quick Reads history. I went back through the aeons of time (well, through the Quick Reads spreadsheets as far as 2013), and the closest I can find to this week for weirdness is either:
- Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown being ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in in Week 5 of 2015;
- Geno Smith and Jake Locker being 2-3 in Week 3 of 2013;
- Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel being 2-3 in Week 15 of 2013;
- or maybe Nick Foles and Case Keenum (again) being No. 1 and No. 3 in Week 9 of that year.
Yes, 2013 was a strange season. That last one came during Foles' unstoppable half-season in Philadelphia, though, so wasn't that odd at the time. Maybe, in time, we'll have a different view of this week too: the week Hall-of-Famer Jared Goff finally overcame his historically inept rookie season, or suchlike. Crazier things have happened.
Bryan: And, to be fair, it's not all that rare for a bad quarterback to have a good week. Sure, it feels weird to see Case Keenum doing well against the Buccaneers here in 2017, but he's been good before. There was the time he beat the Buccaneers in 2016! And that time he beat the Buccaneers in 2015! And ... you know, are we sure he just doesn't really hate red and bay orange?
Bryan: If Winston really wanted to come out victorious, he would have been out there playing free safety and knocking down the well-known beautiful deep ball that Keenum throws. Something something lack of passion for the game ... or something.
Bryan: The more interesting note at the top of the list is Goff, of course. Coming into the season, Goff had -881 DYAR, 18th worst in NFL history. He's climbing out of that hole with his performances so far, but it just goes to show you -- there's a reason why all of these guys are NFL quarterbacks. Even the ones who have become punchlines and jokes are capable of playing great football; otherwise, they wouldn't have been drafted to begin with.
Andrew: And they certainly would not have been allowed to throw nearly enough passes to qualify for the worst-ever passing DYAR table.
Bryan: That's the worst kind of bad quarterback though, isn't it? The one who does just enough to keep the front office and coaching staff believing.
Andrew: The one who Bortles up his incompetence just so, making coaches believe they can eke out superior performance with a bit of offseason TLC.
Bryan: It's much better, in the long run, to be stuck with a Craig Krenzel -- someone who craters so hard and so quickly that it's readily apparent that no, this isn't the answer. Unless the question is "how bad can a football team be?" The quarterbacks at the bottom of the list have flashed enough potential, here and there, to dazzle observers into ignoring the ever-mounting evidence that they're not actually any good.
Andrew: Heck, sometimes that potential has even been flashed in actual, professional football games. Even Blaine Gabbert, king of the negative DYAR, has managed the occasional solid performance. It doesn't necessarily look like Case Keenum's this week, but take his two-touchdown performance in Jacksonville's 41-14 victory against the ... no, this can't be right. The Buccaneers AGAIN?!?
Bryan: They are catnip for terrible quarterbacks.
Andrew: That also wasn't actually a good performance. In fact, Gabbert's best performance -- by DVOA at least -- came in a 19-13 loss against the excellent 2015 Cardinals. He also managed two positive-DYAR performances last year, in his five weeks as the starter before Colin Kaepernick
restructured his contract recovered from his offseason surgery.
Bryan: That Cardinals game gets extra note because it was the second time the 49ers had played Arizona that season. The first time, they were led by Kaepernick, who threw four interceptions in a 47-7 loss. So, for at least one week, Gabbert was in fact a much better option behind center than Kaepernick, which just feels wrong. You can see why Chip Kelly got suckered into the "maybe Gabbert is alright as my starting quarterback" narrative last year. And maybe why Bruce Arians got suckered into the "maybe Gabbert is alright as my backup quarterback" narrative this year. Guy knows how to audition, apparently. If he knew how to convert a third down from time to time, maybe he wouldn't be riding the pine.
Andrew: As for his competition for worst quarterback DYAR of all time ... maybe we should run a refresher on the list first:
|Worst QBs, 1989-2016|
(Ed. Note: We haven't had a chance to add 1986-1988 into totals yet, but Kelly Stouffer had an additional -23 DYAR in 1988. -- Aaron Schatz)
Bryan: Ryan Leaf's best day came on an October afternoon in 1998 against the division rival Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks ranked fourth against the pass in DVOA that season, with Shawn Springs locking down receivers and Cortez Kennedy, Michael Sinclair, and Chad Brown dominating at the point of attack. They couldn't shake the rookie Leaf, though. Despite bruising his ribs on the first play from scrimmage, Leaf went 25-of-52 for 281 yards and a touchdown in a controversial 20-27 Chargers loss. The winning margin came on a very questionable "simultaneous reception" ruling, when Joey Galloway and Terrance Shaw were fighting for possession. The referee fell down, but ruled it Seahawks ball at the 2. Galloway even later admitted that Shaw had more possession than he did.
Wait, the Chargers lost a controversial game at the end? You're kidding me. Have they been snakebit forever?
Bryan: Leaf was robbed! Robbed, I say! Which means his career record as a starter should be, uh, 5-20.
Andrew: Josh McCown may well prove the best example of our point about these guys all being professionals for a reason, as McCown's best game was a bona fide, legitimate, honest-to-goodness good day, rather than merely "a good day by Josh McCown's standards." In fact, without it, he would be a clear second-worst on our list, and a genuine threat to Gabbert for the overall title. Against Dallas in Week 14 of -- you guessed it -- 2013, McCown posted a career-high 238 DYAR, second only to Peyton Manning for that weekend. On that day, he completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions and only one sack. He also had a rushing touchdown, thus accounting for all five of Chicago's end zone visits as the Bears crushed the Cowboys on Monday Night Football, 45-28.
Bryan: McCown has been living off that game, and that season, ever since. He managed 669 DYAR that season (passing and rushing combined). He has never been above 123 in the rest of his career, and usually is in the triple-digit negatives. Maybe you can give the Buccaneers (again!) the benefit of the doubt for thinking that 2013 was a turning point in his career and not an aberration. But what about the Browns and Jets signing him since then? Baffling.
David Carr's best game, of course, came last year with the Oakland Rai-- wait, David Carr. My mistake.
To find a good David Carr game, you're looking for days when his offensive line kept him from being flattened into the pavement. Let's take a trip back to 2004, when we had a battle between, and this is a direct quote, "emerging young quarterbacks" Carr and Byron Leftwich. I'm not entirely sure what Carr was supposed to be emerging into, but he looked very solid in a 20-6 Texans victory over the Jaguars. He went 26-for-34 with a touchdown and, most importantly, no sacks! Finding a no-sack game for Carr is like finding a needle in a haystack; he only had seven in his 79 career starts, but he held his own against an above-average Jacksonville pass rush and delivered a key divisional win. In fact, three of his top 12 ANY/A days came against the Jaguars. Maybe bad quarterbacks should just find ways to play the Florida teams as much as possible.
Andrew: Looking at recent history for the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Jaguars, that's probably a safe bet.
[ad placeholder 3]
The final guy on our bottom five might be the most extreme. JaMarcus Russell only had one complete season as a full-time starter for the Oakland Raiders: 2008. That wasn't when he set his record though. In fact, he actually had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2008. It was 2009 when he completely imploded, tossing a mere three touchdowns to 11 interceptions, completing under 49 percent of his passes, and accumulating -835 DYAR in only nine starts. It's not quite the worst per-game figure ever seen -- in only seven starts each, Kelly Stouffer managed -837 DYAR in 1992 and Alex Smith had -866 DYAR in 2005 -- but it was definitely the worst half-season we've seen from a guy who already had more than a season's worth of starts under his belt. Every single player to have had a worse individual season than JaMarcus Russell's 2009 was a rookie (David Carr, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles, Alex Smith, and Stouffer) except Bobby Hoying in 1998, a third-round pick in his third season with only six starts to his name.
Bryan: There's a strong argument that Russell is the biggest bust in NFL history, but that's an article for another time.
Andrew: Anyway, Russell's best game as a professional probably came in Week 16 of 2008, when he was 18-of-25 for 236 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-16 road win against the Houston Texans. Russell's Raiders took the lead on their opening drive with a 20-yard strike to Chaz Schilens. Vonta Leach tied things up with a 1-yard plunge on Houston's opening drive, then the teams hit two field goals each before Russell hit Johnnie Lee Higgins deep left for a 29-yard strike. Houston punted, Higgins returned that 80 yards for a touchdown, and a late Texans field goal gave us the 27-16 final score. It was the final multi-touchdown game of Russell's career, as he flamed out spectacularly the following season.
Bryan: I suppose the moral of the story is to not get suckered in by a solid performance or two from your quarterback, especially if it's out of character for them. Just because a Jacoby Brissett or a Blake Bortles shows up in the top 10 of a Quick Reads doesn't necessarily mean they're the long-term solution.
Andrew: Only Josh McCown wasn't taken in the top ten of their respective drafts. There are many, many component morals to this story. Only one of those is that anybody can have a good day. If we were meaner of spirit, we would look at the very, very bad days the best five have ever had, but then
we would be denying ourselves a free future article this article would probably be too long.
Bryan: And as we all know, brevity is the soul of wit. And so we've cut this article in half, which makes us half-wits.
Andrew: Or merciful. However you want to word it.
Loser League Update
Quarterback: I mean, it's Joe Flacco. You knew it was Joe Flacco, I knew it was Joe Flacco, everyone knew it was Joe Flacco. He threw for 28 yards and two interceptions! You've got to back nearly a decade before you can find performances that bad, down to the Bruce Gradkowskis and Joey Harringtons of the world. Flacco scored -3 points, which takes over as the lowest score of the year so far.
Running Back: Jay Ajayi did briefly leave the game with an injury, so maybe he can use that as an excuse for his poor day. The Dolphins fell behind early, so Ajayi only had 11 touches for 25 yards, leaving him at just 1 point on the day.
Wide Receiver: Goose Egg Brigade roll call! With no catches, welcome J.J. Nelson. With single-digit yards receiving, say hello to Mike Wallace, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Jeremy Maclin. And, with a key fumble, it's Seth Roberts. Oakland having three receivers on this list might go a way to explaining their loss to Washington.
Kicker: When your team can't score points, your kicker isn't going to do very much. So don't worry, Justin Tucker. Your 1 point doesn't mean we're calling you a loser. It means we're calling your team losers for driving their London fans stark Raven mad.
WEDNESDAY UPDATE: We have a correction! Cody Parkey managed to avoid the Loser League's watchful eyes with a clever disguise -- to be precise, he changed uniform numbers this offseason as he changed teams, and so the spreadsheet missed him. That disguise has now been compromised, so he's stats now do in fact count for the Loser League. That means his missed extra point gives him a score of -5, making HIM this week's loser. Your subterfuge has been discovered, Parkey! We're on to you!
Keep Choppin' Wood: There is nothing your humble Scramble team could write that would make this any crazier, funnier, or stupider than it already is:
— Someone's An Idiot (@SomeonesAnIdiot) September 24, 2017
This is not just a "this season" All-KCW Moment, this is truly an all-time All-KCW Moment. A DeSean Jackson-level KCW Moment. The fact that the Bears took a false start on the ensuing play, after a massive delay as the referees figured out what to do, only makes it funnier. Congratulations, Marcus Cooper. Your name is now etched firmly into NFL folklore.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win The Game: This would have gone to John Fox, had his Bears scored a touchdown on the untimed down after Cooper's Folly. Alas, a false start deprived him of the opportunity, and bravado was in short supply elsewhere, leaving this award vacant for this week.
John Fox Award for Conservatism: Bill O'Brien's decision to kick a field goal in New England was conservative, but it was at least defensible for O'Brien to force a Patriots offense that had gone three-and-out in its previous two drives to drive the length of the field for a touchdown. No such defense for Ron Rivera who, when faced with fourth-and-5 from the SAINTS' 35-yard line, down 24-6 in the middle of the third quarter ... punted. The punt, unsurprisingly, resulted in a touchback, netting the Panthers a gargantuan 15 yards of field position. Against the Saints, even with his quarterback still struggling to get started this season, that decision is indefensible. Sounds like Riverboat Ron needs a new boat.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: Seventeen seconds aren't a lifetime in the NFL, but it's not nothing, either. It's enough time for two or three plays down the field, especially if you have a timeout sitting in your pocket. The Eagles, for example, scored their game-winning field goal this week on a drive that started with just 13 seconds left. It's not nothing!
This was the situation that Marvin Lewis found himself in. Green Bay had just scored a touchdown to make the score 24-23, and were lining up for the game-tying extra point. But Cincinnati was going to get the ball back, and still sat on a timeout -- that's enough time for a deep shot to A.J. Green, a timeout, and then a shot at a game-winning field goal, right? Instead, Lewis opted to use that last timeout to … ice the kicker. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work. Lewis also burned a timeout before the first play of overtime to add to his clock management woes.
"Pirate Killer" Fantasy Player of the Week: Case Keenum has a 7-18 record as a starter against 31 NFL teams … and a 3-0 record against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has beaten them in each of the last three seasons, playing the best football of his career. His career passer rating is 80.3, but that rises to 128.9 when playing against Tampa Bay. He has two games in his career with at least 13 adjusted yards per attempt; both came against Tampa Bay. So maybe it isn't shocking he threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in relief of the injured Sam Bradford. The Vikings are not currently scheduled to play the Buccaneers in 2018, but Keenum is a free agent this offseason, so expect him to lead the 49ers to victory at Raymond James Stadium next year.
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) September 24, 2017
Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: Well, at least the Buccaneers showed up for the second half. After the Stefon Diggs touchdown that gave Minnesota a 28-3 lead early in the third quarter, Jameis Winston finally woke up. Against softer defenses, Winston was 17-for-21 for 196 yards and both of his touchdowns the rest of the way, with each of those scores coming with Tampa Bay down at least 21 points. That's more yardage than six starting quarterbacks managed in an entire game this week, and it didn't matter because the Buccaneers simply couldn't buy a stop.
'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: There's not much joy to be found in a 44-7 blowout at the hands of a team quarterbacked by the immortal Blake Bortles, but the Ravens did at least achieve one thing color guys love at Wembley. That's right, they were able to Establish the Run! Well ... sort of. Baltimore had only 19 yards at halftime, albeit on a meager seven attempts. After the interval, however, the Ravens racked up a further 115 yards on 18 plays to finish with 134 rushing yards on 25 attempts, a respectable 5.4 yards per carry. That's a very good number in ordinary circumstances. Sadly, what happened at Wembley was far from ordinary circumstances.
Game-Changing Play of the Week: The NFL rule book is a deep and confusing tome at times, but we all know Rule 88.d -- all controversial game-ending touchdown calls must go against the Detroit Lions.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 24, 2017
Scott already said plenty about this play and the drive in Clutch Encounters, but there are a couple other points to make with a play like this:
- I'm glad I'm not a referee. I do believe the call was the right one -- it looks like Golden Tate's knee brushes the grass. But man, is it close.
- Running a pass route short of the end zone when a stop ends the game may not, in fact, be ideal. A slant is the best route to run short of the yard to gain, but it still leaves you open for getting tackled in the field of play.
- You need a clock runoff rule of some kind in these situations. It's unfair for a team to get a free timeout because of referee error.
- A ten-second runoff is somewhat arbitrary. It was a standard set in the 1950s, and the game has changed since then. It's worth looking into the offseason, to see if adjusting the amount of time taken off the clock makes sense. Could the Lions have gotten to the line of scrimmage if the refs had made the correct call? I doubt it; the confusion about whether it was a touchdown or not would have eaten a second or two, and then you've got to get lined up properly and everything. But it's not a definite no, and the fact that they didn't get to try feels unfair.
By PFR's win probability metric, the Lions lost 49.4 percent of win probability on the play. By our numbers, the Lions lost 10.4 percent in their odds to win the North. You could argue, then, that this one play cost them more than five percentage points towards the division title. That's not good.
It also cost Bryan his Lock of the Week, so therefore, it must have been the wrong call.
Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week
[ad placeholder 4]
Andrew: Never bet on the Browns, kids; much as they are tempting against the offensive line-less Bengals, I've learned my lesson. Instead, I'm going with something much more traditional: picking against the Chargers. The Eagles are this week's visitors to wherever it is Philip Rivers plays his home games nowadays. If the Lachers' game against the Dolphins is any indication, Philly may bring most of the crowd with them, too. There's no point spread on this one, and I like the Eagles to win outright, so that's a pick of Philadelphia (even) at L.A. Chargers.
Bryan: Had Golden Tate's arms been 6 inches longer, I would be undefeated. C'est la vie. I'll stick with the NFC North and predict a Thursday Night snoozefest and take Green Bay (minus-7.5) over Chicago. I'm aware Chicago just beat Pittsburgh, but they certainly didn't outplay Pittsburgh. The sorts of mistakes the Bears made (i.e., the fumbles and interceptions) against Pittsburgh are unlikely to be unpunished two weeks in a row. I would more comfortable if this was an even touchdown line, but I still like Aaron Rodgers and Co., with or without their starting tackles.
Records to date:
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, great games by terrible quarterbacks, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at Contact Us.