Scramble for the Ball
Fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness

Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Andrew: Hello and welcome to the first "proper" Scramble for the Ball of the 2017 NFL season! We've arrived at the beginning of a truly historic campaign, and not just because Bryan and I have picked our team over/unders together for the very first time.

Bryan: We've already seen the convergence of two heavenly bodies this year, with the solar eclipse finding the moon and sun in perfect alignment. But we have an even less common convergence to talk about now.

Andrew: As alluded to in the teaser for this week's Audibles at the Line, the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Los Angeles (formerly St. Louis) Rams all won their opening games, and all three teams sit proudly atop their respective divisions with identical 1-0 records. If only the playoffs began this weekend!

Bryan: The last time all three teams managed simultaneous 1-0 records was 2000. Bill Clinton was president. Kurt Warner, Mark Brunell, and Rob Johnson were the starting quarterbacks. Keenan McCardell, Marshall Faulk, Az-Zahir Hakim, and Torry Holt had 100-yard receiving days. It was an entirely different era.

Andrew: To put that in further context, the last time these three franchises won their opening games, Tom Brady was a rookie sixth-round draft pick and the Patriots' fourth-string quarterback. The Patriots had been to two Super Bowls in their history, and lost by margins of 14 and 46 points. (Coincidentally, New England also started 0-1 that year.) Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers were college freshmen. Steve Smith and Ed Reed were still in college, and Chad Pennington and Brian Urlacher were rookies. Jim Harbaugh, Jason Garrett, and Doug Pederson were still players!

Bryan: The Steelers still played in Three Rivers Stadium. The Broncos still played in Mile High Stadium. The Houston Texans didn't exist -- and neither did Football Outsiders, for that matter. The NFL had only 31 teams, and the Seahawks played in the AFC West. The Cleveland Browns were terrible!

Andrew: OK, so maybe some things haven't changed.

Bryan: 2000 was "only" 17 years ago, but that's a lifetime in football terms. In many ways it was a different game.

You can kind of break down offensive football into various eras. The 1978 season is one of those major epoch-defining times, as rules were put into place to open up the passing game. That's when the rule stopping defenders from contacting receivers beyond 5 yards downfield was put into place, for example, along with rules that gave more leeway to pass blocking. The result was a passing explosion, which helped foster Bill Walsh's West Coast offense and opened up the possibility of short passes being a thing. You can see similar moments in 1950 (when free substitution was introduced) and 1920 (when the shape of the ball was altered to make it more aerodynamic). Big sea changes that alter the way the game is played.

Another one of those major epoch-defining moments occurred in 2004, opening the way for the offensive explosion we've seen in the modern era. That's when the enforcement of illegal contact, pass interference, and defensive holding were all tightened up, in part thanks to the Patriots' mauling of the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. As a result, the offensive leaderboards have changed somewhat dramatically since the last time the Jaguars, Bills, and Rams all started their seasons off on the right foot.

Andrew: So with that all in mind, your humble Scramble team decided to fire up this old DeLorian we found lying on the slope of a mountain near Andrew's house, and take a look at just how much -- or perhaps, how little -- has changed since the last time the three franchises we mentioned at the beginning tasted victory on the same opening weekend.


Andrew: The obvious place to start with all that is the league's passing explosion over the past roughly 15 years. As FO EIC Aaron Schatz in particular is often quick to point out, the NFL has been a passing league for almost all of its post-merger history, and was even so for roughly a decade prior to the AFL-NFL merger. (This is discussed further in Pro Football Prospectus 2007, for those of you who can track it down.) Still, the past 17 years has seen a definite explosion in the passing game at the expense of running, as demonstrated by this table:

All but one of the nine individual 5,000-yard passing seasons has occurred since 2008, just over halfway back through the period we're looking at here. Efficiency has also climbed substantially: in 2000, per Pro Football Reference, 16 quarterbacks averaged at least 7 yards per attempt on more than 100 passes (out of 44 total passers). In 2016, that number was 24, out of 39 total passers with at least 100 attempts.

Bryan: In the year 2000, the all-time passing leaderboard had Dan Marino sitting on top at just over 61,000 yards, and Dan Fouts, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Dave Krieg, Boomer Esiason and Vinny Testaverde all in the top 10. They've been bumped out by Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger; you've got to sniff 47,000 yards to hit the top 10 today, nearly 30 percent more than you did at the turn of the millennium.

Year 10th Best Passer Yards Increase
2016 Ben Roethlisberger 46,814 16.3%
2006 Johnny Unitas 40,239 13.5%
1996 Jim Kelly 35,467 15.2%
1986 Norm Snead 30,797 13.8%
1976 Joe Namath 27,057 43.5%
1966 Tobin Rote 18,850 74.6%
1956 Frankie Albert 10,795 220.7%
1946 Bernie Masterson 3,366 262.3%
1936 Benny Friedman 929 N/A

Yes, you would expect numbers to gradually go up over time, but that's a ridiculous increase. And it's not just quality of passers; Montana and Unitas were generally listed as 1 and 1A in the "best quarterback of all time" conversation before Peytom Branning came along. Today, they're in danger of falling out of the top 20 as Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford continue to climb.

Andrew: In 2000, a 300-yard passing day was still relatively rare -- around 1 in 10 games featured a 300-yard passer, and that mark was hit 57 times by only 21 teams. Last season, that figure had almost doubled to 105 separate occasions, and only one team did not have a single 300-yard passing day. No, it wasn't the Browns, or the Jets, or the 49ers, or even the Rams, Texans, or Vikings. It was, of course, the Dallas Cowboys, with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, providing further evidence that teams typically run more when they're winning.

Bryan: In many ways, the Cowboys were a throwback-type team last season -- a single bellcow running back, a well-built and highly-developed offensive line, and a quarterback asked to do just enough to keep everything rolling. Elliott had 32 percent of all of Dallas' yards last season -- second most in the league. David Johnson was ahead of him, but he had a more significant chunk of his yards come through the air; 82 percent of Elliott's yards came on the ground, and that's just not how offenses work anymore.

Andrew: Which naturally leads us onto the topic of rushing numbers.


Bryan: The added emphasis on passing does not mean the amount of rushing has gone down -- far from it. Over the past 10 years, NFL teams have rushed for an average of 113.3 yards per game, compared to 109.6 in the '90s. The difference, however, has come in how those yards are distributed.

In 2000, 21 different running backs had 240 carries -- that's an average of 15 per game, which is about the bare minimum you can ask for in a bellcow running back. In 2016, that number dropped to just 11. It gets even more dramatic if you up the threshold to 300 carries. That covers nine backs in 2000, but just one -- Ezekiel Elliott -- last season. That's not a fluke, either; we've only had one or two 300-carry backs every season since 2013. You just don't see any single back getting that kind of a workload nowadays; it's all about committees.

Andrew: We mentioned earlier that the efficiency of passing has improved markedly, but from a pure yards-per-attempt perspective, rushing efficiency has barely changed. In 2000, the league averaged 4.1 yards per rushing attempt. In 2016, that number was 4.2, and the league-wide figure has hovered between 4.0 and 4.3 yards per carry over the entire 17-year period.

Bryan: The biggest change, then, is not team efficiency but where it's coming from. NFL teams are getting the same level of performance at running back without having their offense rely on One Guy. This makes a lot of sense; it's easier to replace 30 percent of your rushing performance if someone gets hurt then it would be to try to replace 80 percent of it. This is why there's only one active player in the top 10 all-time rushing leaders (Frank Gore) and just one more in the top 30 (Adrian Peterson). In 2000, it was two and eight, respectively.

Andrew: Some of that, you'd expect because there were fewer players to eclipse in 2000 -- that gap accounts for a quarter of the Super Bowl era, and LaDainian Tomlinson's entire professional career has come and gone in the intervening period -- but teams are certainly taking a different approach to the idea of a featured back nowadays. Larry Johnson's 26 carries per game in 2006 was beyond the realms of sanity even for that era, but even 20 carries per game almost never happens now.

Bryan: It's all about "touches per game" now, but even that's a bit nuts -- you wonder what the Cardinals were thinking, saying that David Johnson was going to get 30 of them a game. In 2017? That's crazy talk, because if he gets hurt, there goes your entire offense.

Oh, wait.

Andrew: Exactly. A big part of modern coaching is sports science -- keeping your guys healthy and effective throughout a grueling season. It's a lesson some coaches learned even in the dim and distant past -- one chapter of Bill Walsh's The Score Will Take Care of Itself discusses him learning that lesson in San Francisco -- but with modern conditioning and analytics, it's now a core aspect of the game for all but the most old-school of head coaches.

Bryan: Of course, there's a flipside there. With more and more of a team's yardage coming from the passing game, it makes your quarterback more and more crucial. So, perhaps it's not that NFL teams have learned not to put so much importance on one player so much as it is they've more and more put all that importance on quarterbacks instead of running backs.

Andrew: True. I wonder if coaches are going to have to adjust there too, as quarterbacks play more and more often into their late 30s. It's not the same level of hitting, of course, but our former colleague Cian Fahey has written at length about the difference in Drew Brees' and Tom Brady's arm strength between the middle and end of their seasons last time out.

Bryan: Somehow, I doubt we'll ever see a quarterback-by-committee approach really take off like it has at running back -- it has been tried in the past, most notably by Tom Landry in the '60s, and it didn't really work. At all.

Andrew: Well isn't the old adage that "if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback?" I'm not really talking about committees, but rather specifically managing games and practice to keep your old quarterback below a certain threshold of throws. I'm not sure we'd ever really hear about it if it was happening -- and it may well be already -- but it's an interesting concept in the context of this conversation.

Bryan: Of course, 17 years ago, you'd probably have heard coaches go "what do you mean you don't want a running back to carry the ball 400 times? How could you possibly win?" Maybe the next time the Bills, Rams, and Jaguars all go 1-0, in the year 2034, we'll be talking about how crazy it was that teams used to rely on just one quarterback to get them through a 16-game season.

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Andrew: Make that an 18-game season. There's no way the league isn't going to eventually squeeze at least one more game into the calendar, and it'll end up being two because we sports nerds prefer even numbers. Incidentally, make it two regular-season games, cut two preseason games, expand rosters slightly, and give teams an extra bye, and I think I'd be quite happy with that series of changes.

Bryan: I think we might see some more substantial rule changes between now and then. After all, every major rule shift we've seen throughout football history has been to open the game up and turn it into less of a scrum at the line of scrimmage, from the legalization of the forward pass back in 1906 up to the "look at the quarterback and that's a personal foul" penalties of the modern era. There has never really been a rule change that benefits defense and hard hitting; at least, not on a long-term basis. And with the league becoming more and more cognizant of player safety -- or, at least, more and more cognizant of the public relations nightmare of not caring about player safety -- I think we'll see more rules to open up the game, and possibly see our current passing records blown out of the water.

Bold prediction: Offensive tackles will eventually be made eligible receivers, functioning like tight ends used to before the modern trend of tight ends being "wide receivers with slightly chunkier frames." So much research is being done into the effect of the constant micro impacts of lineman smashing against lineman contributing to CTE and other negative long-term effects that it would make sense to me for the league to try to open up even more, spreading players out wider and encouraging them to be smaller, which pass-catching tackles would have to be.

Andrew: Fumbles that land inbounds will eventually be automatic turnovers, dead at the spot where the ball hits the ground, to discourage piling onto the loose ball. This will only apply after the snap is complete, however; fumbled quarterback exchanges will be a specific exception, dead at the spot of the fumble with a loss of down but no loss of possession. Whether it happens before 2034, I'm less confident. There will be a natural cap on the amount of passing possible in a game, but I have no idea where it will top out. Somebody will have had a 6,000-yard passing season by then, possibly even Matthew Stafford. 6,000 yards is still under 400 per game.

Bryan: It had better be Stafford, to justify that massive new contract. But no, it'll probably be some kid in high school right now, and we'll all be arguing whether Bryce Young is the greatest quarterback of all time or if he's just benefitting from the new, more open passing rules when we're doing our 40th Anniversary Scramble.

Andrew: Running will be very, very situational. Fullbacks will be specifically a subcategory of tight ends. (NOT defensive ends. I'm looking at you, Tyson Alualu!) And somebody, somewhere will finally figure out that if you want to gain 1 yard, pulling all 22 players to within 10 square yards of that 1 yard you're trying to gain is actually a terrible idea.

Bryan: Let's not go crazy here.

Andrew: Are we talking more crazy or less crazy than the Bills, Jaguars, and Rams all being 1-0 while the Patriots and Seahawks are 0-1?

Bryan: Rams-Bills Super Bowl coming up. You read it here first. And probably also last.

Loser League Update

Note that the addition of Loser League scores to the website has been delayed because tech director Dave Bernreuther, who loads up the database, is in Miami recovering from Hurricane Irma. We'll get things updated as soon as we can.

Quarterback: By DYAR, Andy Dalton had the fifth-worst game by a quarterback since 1989. But don't think he just looked bad by advanced stats, oh no! Four interceptions and a fumble without a score to offset it is plenty terrible in regular fantasy stats as well, and Dalton opened up the season with a score of -2. Honorable mention goes to Tom Savage, who put up -1 point in just one half of action.

Running Back: Jamaal Charles played in just eight games in 2015 and 2016, and may still be shaking off the rust and injury history as he tries to salvage his career in Denver. His 40 yards on 10 carries isn't bad at all, actually, but his fumble hurts him -- he ends up with just 2 points in a week without much failure at the running back position.

Wide Receiver: The Goose-Egg Brigade is back in full force for 2017. Four players ended up with 0 points on the day: Marqise Lee didn't catch any of his five targets, while Breshad Perriman, Kevin White, and Tyler Lockett were all held to under 10 yards receiving.

Kicker: Missed extra points will kill you. Adam Vinatieri missed one after the Colts' only touchdown of the day, and added on a missed 38-yarder, to boot. At least he hit one from 20 yards, but that wasn't enough to save him from -2 points.


Keep Choppin' Wood

Keep Choppin' Wood goes to the player who hurt his team's chances to win in the most ludicrous way, as inspired by the time Jaguars punter Chris Hanson injured himself with an inspirational ax.

A lot is wrong with this week's award winner. Firstly, and most importantly, somebody is being paid to record the 2017 Jets play against the 2017 Bills. Tyrod Taylor's lone interception arrives late, well after Charles Clay breaks open, and leads Clay into a crushing hit from safety Jamal Adams. The ball ricochets off Clay into the waiting arms of Juston Burris -- who returns it out of his own end zone, weaves through the traffic, and appears to have broken free until...

Yes, that is teammate Marcus Maye being blasted into Burris to bring him down just beyond his own 40-yard line, denying him what looked a sure pick-six. Because who doesn't love a video of a Jets player being knocked to the ground by the backside of another Jets player?

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win The Game

The Hermie goes to the head coach who makes the most inspired or otherwise bold coaching decision designed to maximize his team's chances of winning, in contrast to the normal conservative nature of NFL head coaches.

We blame coaches all the time for being afraid to go for it on fourth down, instead punting the ball away in very makeable situations. It's clear why coaches are afraid to do it, of course -- fail a fourth-down conversion or two, and you get crushed by the media. That's why we should give props not only to coaches who go for it regularly, but who do so even when previous attempts have failed.

Kyle Shanahan's 49ers found themselves in five fourth-and-short situations against Carolina. They punted in the first quarter, but after that, Shanahan kept his offense on the field every time. The first attempt failed, as Brian Hoyer was sacked. The second attempt failed, as Kyle Juszczyk was stuffed. The fourth attempt failed, as Carlos Hyde was stuffed at the goal line. It wouldn't be at all surprising if, after one or two failures, a coach had gone back to his punting unit -- we saw Bill Belichick do that very thing against Kansas City on Thursday. But Shanahan kept faith in his offense despite the lack of success, and we have to give him credit for that -- for trying to get something going to win the game, rather than punting to try to keep the score more respectable. The 49ers are going to lose a lot of games this season, but at least it looks like they're going to go down fighting.

John Fox Award for Conservatism

The Fox goes to the head coach who shies the most away from anything remotely resembling danger -- the scaredy-cat punts, the give-up draws, and the first-half kneels that are designed to prevent embarrassment rather than win football games.

We're going to shamelessly copy and paste the description for this award from this week's Audibles at the Line:

Aaron Schatz: I realize none of us are watching Bills-Jets but I need to share these tweets from Chase Stuart because hey, maybe Todd Bowles *is* in on the whole tanking thing.

If this were abnormal for Todd Bowles then perhaps we would give him some benefit of the doubt. This is not abnormal for Todd Bowles.

Mike Martz Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching

Renamed for the 2017 season, with one Rams coach replacing another. The award formerly known as the Martz goes to the coaching decision that is least explicable in a given week.

You are the head coach of a professional football team. It is your job to identify the best players to play in your system. You have an entire offseason to study film. You have a free agency period to attract quarterbacks to your team. You have a draft in which to add prospects. You have minicamp, training cam,p and preseason to evaluate which quarterback will give your team the best chance to win. That's months of data, evaluation, and planning to get ready.

If you then make a quarterback switch halfway through Week 1, what does that say about your player evaluation skills? Nothing good! Chuck Pagano, you get a slight pass because it's the entire organization's fault that they didn't acquire a plausible alternative to Scott Tolzien until a week before the regular season. But Bill O'Brien? This is the second time in three years you've benched your opening day starter in the middle of the first game of the season. Plus five points for being willing to make a change when a change is needed, minus several million for putting his team in this position year after year after year.

'Air Yards? I'll GIVE You Air Yards' Fantasy Player of the Week

Fantasy football can be a cruel sport. Every week, someone you've never heard of or are actively shunning in your league goes off, scoring dozens of points while sitting on benches or waiver wires across the country. These are their stories.

Alex Smith does not have a reputation of a fantasy stud. He's more dependent on yards after catch than any other starting quarterback in the league -- only 45 percent of his passing yards came through the air last season, and he has been in the bottom three in air yards since 2013. It's the reason ALEX is named what it is -- Smith plays it safe, which doesn't always equal huge fantasy performances. You probably weren't starting Smith on Thursday night against New England; there were more prolific passers going up against softer fantasy defenses. That means you probably missed out on Smith's third-greatest fantasy performance: 368 yards and four touchdowns in Kansas City's shocking upset. It doesn't matter how deep you throw as long as you find your receivers open in plenty of space. If you can mix in a few 30-plus-yard bombs there, too, you're doing alright. Game-manage that.

Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week

Not all stats are created equal. The Bortles goes to the player who shines the brightest when the spotlight is the dimmest.

The Houston-Jacksonville game was essentially over by the middle of the third quarter, so of course Blake Bortles and the Jaguars had plenty of garbage time to ... wait, what? The Jaguars blew out the Texans? Are you sure about that? Huh. OK.

After the Texans made the move to put rookie Deshaun Watson in at quarterback after the half, Watson did what any wise rookie would do: lock in to his top receiver and throw him the ball whenever he's even sniffing the concept of "open." Eleven of Watson's 23 pass attempts went to DeAndre Hopkins, resulting in six receptions for 48 yards and a key touchdown that brought Houston within 11 points for exactly one drive. Perhaps if Tom Savage had forced everything to Hopkins, he would have survived more than the first half of the first game of the season.

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week

Even the worst teams and players need some possible reason for optimism. This category is dedicated to sweeping up whatever crumbs of comfort we can find from the table under which the week's worst performers are hiding.

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The worst performance of opening weekend is sometimes debatable, or at least vaguely arguable. This season, there is simply no question. The Los Angeles Rams, themselves the worst performers of 2016's opening weekend in losing 28-0 to the 49ers, shellacked the Indianapolis Colts 46-9 to get this year's campaign underway.

Almost nothing went right for the Colts. Both of Scott Tolzien's interceptions were returned for touchdowns, putting him on pace to throw 32 touchdowns for Colts opponents this season. The defense allowed four touchdowns, and those went to four different players. Even the ever-reliable Adam Vinatieri doinked a 38-yard field goal off an upright. The sole consolation for Colts fans is they may not have to watch Tolzien again this coming Thursday. Jacoby Brissett made his Colts debut and completed 67 percent of his passes for an average of 17 yards per attempt on three dropbacks. Extrapolated to a 500-attempt season, that puts Brissett on pace for approximately 8,500 yards -- which may even be enough to keep games competitive against the decidedly patchy Colts defense. There's reason to expect that YPA figure might drop a smidge over his next few appearances, but as long as he isn't directly spotting the other team 12 points per game, that's at least an improvement over Tolzien.

'We Were This Close' Play of the Week

Every year, one or two plays can be the difference between a team making the playoffs and staying home in January. This award highlights the plays that have the most impact on the playoff race -- big plays in critical moments in crucial games.

Icing the kicker does not work. Study after study has shown that the difference in success rate between iced field goals and non-iced field goals is negligible, at best. Kickers are just as likely to miss the first kick and make the second as anything else. But the Chargers have never let statistics, odds, or the laws of basic probability affect their outcomes before!

A couple things:

  • Icing the kicker did work in one sense here. Derek Wolfe nearly blocked the first kick, and made an adjustment with Shelby Harris that ensured one of them got through to block the second kick. They iced the field goal protection, not the kicker.
  • There really isn't a reason the Chargers should have been settling for a 44-yard field goal attempt to tie. They had the ball on their own 38 with two minutes left in the game and a time out, and proceeded to have one of the most lackadaisical game-tying drive attempts in recent memory. If Denver had made their field goal on the prior drive and gone up six points, the Chargers may actually have been in better shape, because they would presumably have taken more shots at the end zone. But no, they settled for the edge of field goal range, and, welp...
  • According to PFR, the Chargers had a 41.5 percent chance of winning on third down from the 26 with eight seconds left. That fell to 23.7 percent when they failed to advance the ball at all on their next play. And then that fell to 0.1 percent when YoungHoe Koo's kick was blocked.

The Chargers are now 5-18 in their last 23 games decided by one score. New year, new stadium, new city, new head coach, new kicker. Same Chargers.

Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week

Once again this year, all picks are made without reference to FO's
Premium picks
, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Andrew: Oakland (minus-14) vs. New York Jets. Heavy favorites are always uncomfortable when choosing picks against the spread, because usually a team lets up when leading by more than two scores. Garbage time has been the ruin of many a poor boy, and God, I know, I'm one. Well, not really. But if there's one team I trust to screw up garbage time just as much as they screw up the rest of the time, it's the Jets, so I'll go with the Raiders to more than cover.

Bryan: My Week 2 strategy is always to look for someone who got blown out, and then bet on them. The betting public generally over-weighs the small sample size, and the lines end up reflecting it. That means, I'm ... gulp ... going with Indianapolis (plus-7.5) at home against the Cardinals. The Cardinals just lost their one key offensive player in David Johnson, and Carson Palmer looked sub-2016 Palmer against the Lions. Yes, that means I'm either going with the Return of Scott Tolzien or watching Jacoby Brissett take over on offense after only six practices. I've felt more comfortable.

Records last season:
Bryan: 10-9-1
Andrew: 7-11-2

Scramble Drill, Thursday Night Edition

Your loyal Scramble team highlights one game of limited appeal and explains why you should watch it, regardless and even in spite of the participants.

The Game: Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals (Thursday Night Football)

The Context: Houston lost by 22 points at home to Jacksonville -- JACKSONVILLE!!! -- on opening weekend. Starting quarterback Tom Savage was benched midway through the game in a move so surprising it had analysts everywhere recalling the last time Bill O'Brien did the exact same thing.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, lost at home by a mere 20 points against the Baltimore Ravens. The kicker is that Baltimore's 20 points were the only ones scored by either team. It's Week 2, and the Bengals are still looking for their first points of the season.

Why You Should Watch: Thursday Night Football sucks. It's bad for the players, bad for the viewers, and bad for Andrew's circadian rhythm. It's at its worst when two good teams go head-to-head and a prime matchup is ruined because the players have not yet recovered from their previous game. (See, potentially, Weeks 5, 7, and 14.) No such fears this week! Both offensive lines were terrible in Week 1, so pick up those IDP pass rushers or team defenses and watch the points roll in. Bet the under and plead with your oddsmaker to discount defensive scores. Keep a close eye on Cincinnati field goal attempts to learn how the Texans special teams can turn a Randy Bullock field goal miss into points for the Bengals. And of course, we get to watch dozens of replays of the incredible playoff interception against Andy Dalton that turned J.J. Watt into a star. If you're sick of all this easy-completion, points-scoring, arena football malarkey, this could very well be the game for you!

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, better names for some of these dang awards, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at Contact Us.


36 comments, Last at 15 Sep 2017, 11:18am

3 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

Bold Rule Changes - all in the name of safety:
1) Maximum playing weight of 300 lbs
2) Player snap counts (maximum per game or maybe per season) - I actually like this one, leads to some interesting strategic decisions.
3) Maximum of 5 players on each team within 5 yards of the ball at snap.


4 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

None of these are crazy, certainly. I think the "maximum playing weight" is probably the least likely, because the NFL would try to encourage that in other ways rather than just setting a strict limit, but if you came from THE FUTURE and told me all of these things, I think I'd believe you.

I do believe, ultimately, the long-term survival of the NFL will depend heavily on the development of new equipment and new treatments. There was a time when a torn ACL was career-ending and life-altering. Now, players are back in a year and back to full speed in 18 months. May we one day be able to say that about brain injuries.

9 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

I assume rule (3) means five horizontal yards. The reason the current rules require seven offensive players on the line of scrimmage is to prevent the "flying wedge" and reduce the momentum of the initial collision.

In the same vein as (2), I've read proposals to the effect of expanding the season to 18 games, but mandating that each individual player can only play in a maximum of 16 games. This would allow for in-season rest and recovery, and add to strategy. The only downside is that the league's broadcast partners probably won't like the potential of featuring a Packers game in a prime time slot, only to find out that they'll be watching Brett Hundley instead of Aaron Rodgers.

5 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

There has never really been a rule change that benefits defense and hard hitting

Not true.

The ban on flying wedge plays and chop blocks were about protecting defenders.

As for that 300-lb player thing mentioned above, the first 300-lb player played in 1926.

6 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

You guys have convinced me that TNF will be worthwhile this week. What could be more entertaining than two teams getting no time to practice or recover from their first inept games.

Would point out that one of my favourite games of recent times was last year's equivalent week 2 TNF game between the Bills and Jets. Long bombs and defense. Felt like an old school 80s game.

35 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

I think your prediction was right. 16 punts, 16 accepted penalties, 27% percent 3rd down conversion rate (each team), and 1 TD. There was 1 exciting play, the Watson QB scramble for a TD and one entertaining play, the last play of the game with multiple laterals and JJ Watt blowing up the Center (summarized as "A.Dalton pass short middle to A.Green to CIN 17 for -3 yards. Pass back to A.Dalton to CIN 15 for -2 yards. Pass back to G.Bernard to CIN 28 for 13 yards. Pass back to A.Dalton to CIN 28 for no gain. Pass back to R.Bodine to CIN 28 for no gain (J.Watt). {Green reception was at the 28, ran back to the 26 before lateraling, Dalton caught it at the 17, lateraled from the 17 to Bernard at the 15, who ran it to the 30, who lateraled it to Dalton at the 28, who ran it to the 35 before lateraling to Bodine}")

8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

Another note: You may have noticed there are new awards! A BUNCH of new awards.

We're experimenting a little here, and trying to figure out which awards to keep, which to give out occasionally, and which to toss.

You're the readers! We value your input -- if there's anything you particularly want to see or DON'T want to see, let us know!

12 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

I don't know if you're looking for feedback on current awards, or ideas for new awards, or both..but here goes. Week 1's terrible QB performances made me think that maybe we can have a Blaine Gabbert award for the quarterback who torpedoed his team the most (maybe KCW can be for non-QB's, like how MVP is usually for a QB, and offensive/defensive player of the year is for non-QB's). Or maybe a Rex Grossman award for quarterback who plays poorly, yet his team still wins.

Maybe I need to seek professional help, but I enjoy the analysis of terrible quarterback play the way David Cronenberg enjoys car crashes.

29 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

Yeah, between that and being quoted in the NFC South preview, I feel honored. I should get a T-shirt or something.

Wait, my new T-shirt showed up yesterday, so never mind.

I do know a Jaguars fan who hangs out here, and part of recommending the Garbageman stat had nothing to do with annoying him. No, really. Probably. Maybe. Um . . .

18 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

In 2000, a 300-yard passing day was still relatively rare -- around 1 in 10 games featured a 300-yard passer, and that mark was hit 57 times by only 21 teams. Last season, that figure had almost doubled to 105 separate occasions, and only one team did not have a single 300-yard passing day. No, it wasn't the Browns, or the Jets, or the 49ers, or even the Rams, Texans, or Vikings. It was, of course, the Dallas Cowboys, with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, providing further evidence that teams typically run more when they're winning.

Dak Prescott had a couple of what the NFL would consider 300-yard passing games last year, but the team netted less than 300 yards due to sacks. (According to the NFL, there were 118 300-yard passing performances in 2016.)

36 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

I would not have thought was true. I would have thought there were more running QB's in the 70's-80's e.g. Booby Douglas, Greg Landry. But then again more of something is usually less efficient, if you only run when it is unexpected and at QB's discretion it is better than knowing Bobby Douglas is going to pass 10 times per game and run 15 times.

28 Re: Scramble for the Ball: An Unlikely Convergence

One thing we were messing around with on the slack channel was coming up with other acronyms (ala ALEX) for quarterbacks to describe something about how they play when they do something that is very like them, since Alex Smith wasn't very ALEXish this week...

Maybe a kind of acronym stat of the week...


Sub Average Virtuoso At Generally Everything
Beyond Obvious Recognized Tendency Level Exceeds Statistics
Barely Registered Adjusted Deflation Yield