By Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week your humble Scramblanimae are, in theory, extremely well rested following a snoozefest of a second half on Monday night. (Theory and practice, we will note, are very different things, as evidenced by the week's Jets offense.)
Bryan: Frankly, I was kept up all night by Sam Darnold's admission of being that kid from The Sixth Sense. He's seeing ghosts out there! And just in time for Halloween, too. How considerate of him to put on a seasonally appropriate performance.
Andrew: Meaningless pedantry alert: Haley Joel Osment saw "dead people," not ghosts. That was Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd (et al).
Bryan: I would argue that ghosts fall pretty squarely into the category of "dead people," both in the context of the film and otherwise. I also would argue that Murray or Ayrkroyd would have put in a better performance under center on Monday Night than Darnold did; an 11-year-old Osment may be a wash.
Andrew: "Dead people," of course, refers just as accurately to the Giants defense as the Jets offense. Same city, same stadium, all-too-similar outcomes.
It could also refer to around a quarter of the league's quarterbacks, including at one point Mr. Darnold himself. As a fellow veteran of mononucleosis, I can relate all too well. Perhaps he was simply looking in a mirror instead of at the team
iPad Surface Pro.
Bryan: It has been a hell of a season for in-game quarterback injuries. We've seen Matt Ryan, Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Trevor Siemian, Ben Roethlisberger, and Mason Rudolph each go down in the middle of a game, forcing their backups to play significant minutes. In many cases, that backup was the only active quarterback left on the roster at the time, leading to a sort of morbid fascination as to what should happen if the backup had to leave. Run out of other positions, and you can sort of adjust your strategy and formations to hide it -- the Patriots ran out of both fullbacks and all but one tight end against the Giants, forcing them to use 11 personnel the rest of the way, for example. But run out of quarterbacks? That's a horse of a different color.
Andrew: Now that the old emergency quarterback roster exception has been discontinued in favor of a 46th active player, most teams are more likely than ever to see a non-quarterback forced into action. It's still not especially likely -- for all those injuries, we haven't seen anybody's pre-game backup forced out yet -- but here at Scramble, we don't only deal in what is likely (see: Lock of the Week, at least sometimes) but what is also very, very unlikely (see: Double Survival).
Bryan: The rare occasions when a team has been forced to turn to a non-quarterback are nearly always memorable. Think Tom Matte coming in for the '65 Baltimore Colts, becoming the first player ever to have a wristband with the plays written on it. Think Brian Mitchell forced to finish out the infamous Bodybag Game; the impetus for the emergency QB rule to be written in the first place. Think Bill Parcells, forced to turn to quarterback-turned-punter Tom Tupa after playing one too many games with the emergency QB slot, and nearly pulling out the win anyway. There's great drama in watching a player do something they are in no way prepared to do.
Andrew: For some teams, evidently, this crisis would be worse than for others. The Patriots could probably field Mike Nugent at quarterback and a receiving corps of Jake Bailey, Matt Slater, and Joe Cardona and still beat half the teams on their schedule. The Dolphins and Bengals can't buy a win even without an injury to their starting quarterback. Most teams lie somewhere in between, and that is where the fun comes in. Whether former quarterbacks at punter and cornerback, or the more traditional option guy turned wide receiver (of which the aforementioned Patriots have roughly a gazillion), some teams have legitimate options. For others, they better hope their Wildcat package is worthy of the name.
Bryan: The somewhat disappointing answer for who comes in in an emergency situation is usually "a running back with some knowledge of the offense." This is why the Chiefs' emergency QB on Thursday night was reportedly fullback Anthony Sherman, who isn't exactly quarterback-shaped, but can be trusted to run the ball forward. Well, here at Scramble for the Ball, we turn our noses up at such concepts. We want to find the teams' emergency quarterbacks, not emergency snap-takers-and-runners. So, picture this scenario:
The NFL does, in fact, get their 17th game added on to the season; an extra week of revenue is just too much to pass up. In a nod to player safety, however, they mandate that this extra game requires each team to sit all of their quarterbacks; they're the faces of the league, and they don't want them getting hurt just before the playoffs. This makes as much logical sense as any other decision they've made in the past five years, so it's frighteningly plausible.
Andrew: I'm sure I've seen a couple of those games before. Are you sure you aren't just describing Bortles-era Jaguars-Bills?
Bryan: I said "all quarterbacks," not just "all competent quarterbacks." There's a key difference there.
Andrew: You also said, "running back with some knowledge of the offense," which sounds awfully like a Bortles to me. Maybe a Trubisky? (Those two really are the same team.)
Bryan: I think we generally call such a player a "Tebow," but no -- if teams continue to insist they're quarterbacks, they are ineligible by this new Goodell decree. And no Belichickian trickery, converting Tom Brady to nose tackle just before the special game.
Andrew: Fine, we'll do it your way. Any further obscure and contrived rules for us, Mr. Riveron?
Bryan: There are always more rules, Andrew.
A player must be actually on the roster to count. They can be hurt, they can be on a practice squad, but they cannot be on injured reserve -- there must be a chance we'll see them again this year. Also, there are nearly 1,900 non-quarterbacks in the league; I've done my best to find all the live arms out there but it's entirely possible I've missed one or two somewhere. Leave grainy high school YouTube videos set to early 2010s rap in the comments to point out the hidden gems I've missed.
We're going to do this like a mini-tournament here; finding the best emergency option in each division, before coming out and declaring the best emergency quarterback in the league. Let's dig in to the noodle-arms of the league.
Bryan: Arizona has cornerback Patrick Peterson, who has been competing in the Arizona quarterback competition since at least the Carson Palmer era, and has occasionally beaten out the likes of Matt Barkley in the trash can toss competition, in which the loser had to dress up in ridiculous costumes. The Rams boast punter Johnny Hekker, who has the most passes by any active non-quarterback. He's 12-for-20 for 197 yards with a touchdown over the course of his career, which wouldn't be a terrible day at the office for a professional passer. The Seahawks have rookie wideout Gary Jennings, who was a quarterback and safety at Colonial Forge High School -- a lot of high schools will just stick their most talented athlete under center, because getting them the ball early and often is a key to tons of wins against overmatched opposition.
As for the 49ers? Normally, we'd go with Jerrick McKinnon, who played triple-option quarterback at Georgia Southern, but he's hurt. Again. So our emergency emergency quarterback is receiver Richie James, who has done this before -- he was forced into emergency action at Middle Tennessee State, where he went 5-for-6 for 76 yards, ran for 207 yards on 22 carries, and caught four passes for 120 yards from the other emergency passers.
Andrew: Didn't the Seahawks recently have another converted quarterback at wide receiver? Tanner McEvoy, if I remember correctly. You'd think a team with options like that would be more creative than Seattle generally is.
Bryan: You'd think a lot of things about the Seattle offense that don't mesh with reality. No team leans harder against their strengths than the Seahawks, though I wouldn't really call a potential Jennings option pass a "strength," per se.
Andrew: Neither was McEvoy, actually. One of his two passes was a 43-yard completion. The other was intercepted. That's about as boom-and-bust as it gets. I remember when Peterson was meant to become a feature of the Cardinals offense, too, albeit as a receiver. That feels like an eternity ago.
Bryan: His one pass attempt was in 2013. They never tried again, for perhaps understandable reasons. Sticking a defensive player on offense screams "here comes a trick play!"
Andrew: Unless it's Tyson Alualu, when it screams "jumbo I-formation halfback dive," but that's beside the point. As this weekend once again showed us, there is a clear winner for this division, at least in terms of NFL success.
Johnny Hekker is an offensive weapon. #LARams
— NFL (@NFL) October 20, 2019
Bryan: The most impressive thing about Hekker, I think, is that the Rams are willing to let him pass out of actual formations. Yes, it's still against the punt coverage team, but just this week, they ended up motioning into a more traditional offensive set for him to pass. With Sean McVay in his ear until just before the snap, I think you could get a decent drive or two off with Hekker back there. He's clearly the most proficient non-QB passer in football today -- we'll see if he holds up as the best.
Bryan: This was pretty clear up until about an hour before we started writing Scramble, as the Falcons traded away Mohamed Sanu. They're left with rookie high school option quarterback John Cominsky, who now plays defensive end and really isn't in QB shape, per se.
Andrew: I wonder, if the Falcons used Cominsky at quarterback, would they have to stop using him at defensive end? And if they did, would anybody notice? In fact, if they didn't use any defensive ends at all, would anybody notice? The Falcons have only four sacks all season, and none since Week 2.
Bryan: So you're saying Cominsky has missed his true calling? I mean, Matt Ryan's hurt, is this time for him to limber up the ol' arm? It's not like that Falcons defense could get any worse down a man.
I couldn't find anyone on the Buccaneers or Saints with previous quarterback experience, so I turned to everyone's favorite source of trivia: Madden NFL 20. They list punter Bradley Pinion and receiver Austin Carr as the top options which, sure, why not. That just leaves the Panthers, who, uh, win. They have running back Reggie Bonnafon, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country as a high schooler. He started a couple games for Louisville as a freshman, but then some guy named Lamar Jackson came to town, and Bonnafon's services as a passer were no longer required.
Andrew: They also have one Norvell Turner at offensive coordinator, he of the famed LaDainian Tomlinson halfback option that went down a storm in Madden 05, and Christian McCaffrey, who had a 50-yard touchdown pass against the Saints last year.
Bryan: Forget Madden; Tomlinson was a hell of a passer in real life, too, with seven touchdown passes in his career -- and mostly solid intermediate ones, not little dump-offs or blind Hail Marys. Now I really want to see a package with CMC, Bonnafon, and a healthy Cam Newton in the backfield all at the same time.
Frankly, I just want to see a healthy Newton again, but I mean, while I'm wishing for impossible things...
Bryan: This is the best competition in the league, by far. Forget the Vikings for a moment, who don't really have anyone -- Madden again suggests receiver Adam Thielen, because if you're down a quarterback, you really want to lose a wide receiver from your starting lineup as well.
Andrew: The only non-quarterbacks to attempt even a single pass for the Vikings since 2010 -- Joe Webb jokes duly acknowledged -- are the aforementioned Jerick McKinnon, now in San Francisco, and punter Ryan Quigley in 2017. They had one attempt each, both fell incomplete. We can eliminate the Vikings on principle.
Bryan: The other three teams all have legitimate options. The Packers boast rookie linebacker Ty Summers, a dual-threat high school quarterback who actually committed to Rice as a quarterback before instead switching to a higher-profile program in TCU and becoming a linebacker. The Bears have Trey Burton, who was recruited as a spread quarterback for Urban Meyer at Florida and threw a handful of passes in jumbo formations. Heck, his NFL career highlight is a pass, hitting Philly Philly in Super Bowl LII. Neither are bad options to have.
On this date 1 year ago, the Eagles ran the Philly Special, and later raised the Lombardi Trophy for the very first time. #FlyEaglesFly
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) February 4, 2019
But the Lions? They have tight end Logan Thomas, now on his second stint with the team. Unlike, well, everyone else listed here, Thomas was drafted as a quarterback coming out of Virginia Tech, which seems to bode well for someone's future as a passer. There was some doubt on his ability to become an NFL quality passer; Mike Mayock said that he had starting quarterback credentials; Mel Kiper said that he'd be a tight end by 2016. Score one for Kiper. Thomas actually has fewer NFL pass attempts than Johnny Hekker does, and is only 2-for-10 on NFL passes, but surely, he has to be the winner here, right? Even if he turned out to be sub-Ryan Lindley level.
Andrew: Being drafted as a quarterback might bode well for somebody's future as a passer, but I'm less sure about the "out of Virginia Tech" clause in that statement. Michael Vick and Tyrod Taylor don't exactly inspire the confidence of -- let me take a stab in the dark as somebody ignorant of college football -- let's say the Cal alumni.
Bryan: You're right; Kyle Boller had a much better career than Michael Vick did. That's inarguable.
Andrew: Vick is the best professional quarterback Virginia Tech ever produced. Boller is what, fifth behind Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff, Steve Bartkowski and Craig Morton? Anyway, Thomas is probably the player with the best credentials of those three, and the most suited to our purposes.
Bryan: Injuries have ravaged the emergency quarterback situation throughout the NFC East. Had we written this article before the season began, we could point out Giants receiver Russell Shepard, an All-American high school quarterback at Cypress Ridge. We could look at Washington tight end Jordan Reed, recruited to Florida as a quarterback -- Urban Meyer loves turning quarterbacks into tight ends, apparently. Instead, with no one else on the roster with passing experience, uh, anymore, the Giants would probably just stick running back Saquon Barkley back there and hope; gone are the days of OBJ and Dwayne Harris. At least Barkley did shot put in high school, so he can throw objects forward with some velocity. As for Washington? Punter Tress Way is 2-for-2 in the NFL, and Stephen A. Smith apparently thinks he started games at quarterback before. And if anyone would know football, it's Stephen A. Smith.
Andrew: Washington at least has some recent history with receivers throwing passes: Pierre Garçon, Jamison Crowder, Josh Morgan, and Brandon Banks all have recent attempts. None of those players play there now though, and only one of those was completed, so I guess that gives Way the edge.
Bryan: The player I would most want to see at quarterback in the division is Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson. He has relatively recent experience, having played quarterback at Kilgore Junior College, and he, too, was a good high-school shot putter. I mean, the Eagles aren't going to put their right tackle under center … but please, please, Philadelphia, put your right tackle under center.
The answer, however, is probably Cowboys' receiver Randall Cobb. Cobb started four games at quarterback for Kentucky, and actually took snaps at quarterback this summer in training camp. He has only attempted two career passes in the NFL, but don't be shocked at all if he gets a trick play tossed his way at some point in the season.
Andrew: If I recall correctly, he was also the Packers emergency quarterback during his stint in Green Bay, and has done at least some prep work for the gig. He isn't the best option in the NFC, but he probably is the best option in the East.
Bryan: I still want it to be Lane Johnson, but fine. We'll let reality and not losing a starter on the offensive line win the day. Spoilsport.
Bryan: Alright, so we've got Hekker, Bonnafon, Thomas, and Cobb as the champions of their respective divisions. Do we go for the player with the most NFL experience? The drafted college quarterback? Or one of the college quarterbacks who changed positions midway through?
Andrew: Changing position midway through is less of an endorsement of their college quarterback ability than staying the course, so I put Thomas ahead of Bonnafon and Cobb; but NFL experience also trumps college experience, and the fact that Hekker, as a punter who has always been a punter, has more experience and better numbers than a guy who was actually drafted as a quarterback makes him the clear winner.
Bryan: A short list of active players with more completions than Logan Thomas: Hekker, Sam Koch, Jaylen Samuels, Julian Edelman, Odell Beckham, Mohamed Sanu. I know most of Hekker's completions have come out of gimmick sets, but at least he has the completions to his name. Hekker and the Rams are the clear NFC champions.
Johnny Hekker, a man of many fake punts for the @RamsNFL.
— ESPN (@espn) January 24, 2019
Bryan: Scratch the Chargers, as the days of LaDainian Tomlinson are long gone. Again, Madden suggests running back Troymaine Pope for reasons passing understanding.
The Broncos probably don't compete much either. Wide receiver Courtland Sutton has a twitter video where he hucks the ball a billion miles, so at least that's something, but I'm told there's more to quarterback play than throwing really hard -- again, see Boller, Kyle.
Andrew: The Broncos keep letting go of the guys who've attempted passes for them, too. Emmanuel Sanders is the latest example: he had a 28-yard touchdown pass last year in his only attempt for the Broncos. They traded Demaryius Thomas (0-for-1) last year, and Eric Decker left in free agency in 2014. As for the Chargers, quelle surprise! Their non-QB chucker is on injured reserve: Travis Benjamin was the last non-QB to throw a pass for them, back in 2016.
Bryan: The Chiefs have said that Anthony Sherman was their guy, but I mean ... tight end Blake Bell is right there. Bell backed up Landry Jones at Oklahoma. I'm sure Sherman knows the offense better than Bell, having been there for longer and being a more involved player, but if emergency quarterbacks actually were a thing that mattered? I think Bell would be getting those snaps and practicing to step in. The other option is Raiders wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who was named one of the top quarterbacks in the southeast when he playing at Tucker High. He went to East Carolina with goals of becoming a quarterback, redshirting to try to get a chance under center. It didn't work, however; not just anyone can replace, uh, Patrick Pinkney.
Andrew: I'll take Bell being on a roster over Harris redshirting, but this is an uninspiring bunch. I'm not even sure Andy Reid would stick to a single quarterback if worst came to worst: he has had Tyreek Hill, Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce, and even Dontari Poe famously throw a pass during his time in charge. It's a pity Poe isn't still in Kansas City; he might actually have won the nomination from this division.
— 𝙹𝚎𝚜𝚜𝚎 𝙱𝚒𝚌𝚔𝚎𝚛𝚜 (@jessebickers) December 26, 2016
Bryan: Oh, you like Big Man Touchdown Passes? Well, sir, let me introduce you to the AFC South.
Bryan: This is probably the worst division in football for finding emergency quarterbacks, but that means the competition for the top spot is the most entertaining. The Jaguars and Titans do not have live arms at the emergency quarterback position. Heck, the Titans arguably do not have live arms at the actual quarterback position, but that's another story.
Andrew: I legitimately miss the days of Denard Robinson, Ace Sanders, and Cecil Shorts throwing ridiculous trick plays for the Jaguars. Though it is funny that of those three, only Robinson never completed one. Current Jags receiver Marqise Lee has also been in on the act, as has Dede Westbrook. The Jags have four touchdowns on such plays since 2010 -- one each for Sanders, Shorts, Lee, and Maurice Jones-Drew. MinshewMania is tame by comparison.
Bryan: We'll call Titans running back Dion Lewis and Jaguars running back Devine Ozigbo the options here and just quickly skip past them to the fun stuff.
In Houston, first-round rookie right tackle Tytus Howard was a high school quarterback, and a damn good one, apparently. He wasn't 322 pounds in high school, but he was still a big boy -- another case of high schools just putting their best athlete by far under center and letting Hulk smash. Would you want to tackle Tytus Howard running straight at you? I wouldn't want to tackle Tytus Howard running straight at me. I value my bones and tendons too much.
High school quarterback NFL Offensive Tackle
— Hudl (@Hudl) April 26, 2019
As for the Colts, they don't really have anyone with quarterback experience, but they do have someone with throwing experience. Nose tackle Margus Hunt came from Estonia to America to throw things. At one point, he held the junior world record in the discus throw, with a toss of 66.35 meters (~220 feet). At the 2006 Junior World Championships, he won gold in both the discus and the shot put. He only switched to football in the US because SMU dropped its men's track program. A 6-foot-8 athletic marvel with massive arm strength? It's shocking John Elway hasn't traded for him yet and placed him under center.
Andrew: This is probably our toughest decision so far, but I think I give the edge to Hunt for extremely selfish reasons: we simply need another non-US quarterback option for the Rest of the World select. Robert Griffin is fine and all, but what's good enough for Elway is ... OK maybe not. But still Hunt.
Bryan: It's shocking how bare the Steelers' bench of emergency QBs has become. At this point, they keep having Jaylen Samuels throw the ball which, uh, hasn't worked out so well. Tight end Zach Gentry was recruited to play quarterback at Michigan by Jim Harbaugh, so I'll give him the nod instead, but it's a far cry from the glory days of trick passes in Pittsburgh. Cincinnati has receiver Tyler Boyd, who played a little bit of everything in high school; he was listed as a quarterback-slash-running back-slash-wide receiver-slash-defensive back-slash-punt returner. Again, if you have one NFL quality guy, you give him the ball wherever physically possible. Cleveland probably would go with receiver Odell Beckham, who was really the Browns' best quarterback against the 49ers a couple weeks ago; he played some high school quarterback and has gone 3-for-5 in the NFL.
Andrew: The Browns also have Jarvis Landry, who has gone 2-for-5 in the NFL, with a 63-yarder last year his career highlight. Maybe they could just have their two star receivers throw passes to one another like a backyard game. Or maybe they could bring back Terrelle Pryor, who did actually play a substantial portion of a game at quarterback a few years back while rostered as a wide receiver, and who would suddenly become a hot free agent commodity.
Bryan: Now the Ravens have what we'd call an emergency quarterback controversy, if such a thing could exist. Wide receiver Willie Snead was a dual-threat passer in high school, and was the Saints' emergency guy in the past. But punter Sam Koch has been John Harbaugh's guy for years at this point. He's 5-for-5 on pass attempts; only Hekker and Sanu have completed more among active non-quarterbacks. Snead has only thrown two passes, so we'll give the advantage to Koch.
— InstantSports (@LetsGoIS) November 28, 2017
Andrew: Advantage for both the Ravens spot and, by extension, the division. I'm not enamored with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and Koch is more consistent than either Beckham or Landry. Man, the AFC options are really underwhelming so far. I guess it must be time to mention the Patriots.
Bryan: Yeah, about that...
Bryan: You know how there's a perception that the Patriots have had an easy time over the past two decades because of the shambles that is the AFC East? And how the counterargument is that the Patriots have been really good and would do well even against solid competition? Yeah, that kind of is echoed here in miniature.
The Bills have no one, unless they try to trick the NFL into thinking their Josh Allen is actually Jacksonville's Josh Allen. It's probably a better shot than sticking receiver John Brown back there, which is probably the actual answer.
Andrew: They are former employers of Logan Thomas, and in our ridiculous hypothetical would probably regret letting the Virginia Tech product go.
Bryan: First time for everything, I suppose.
The Jets don't have a regular quarterback, much less an emergency one. Both Demaryius Thomas and Le'Veon Bell have attempted one pass each, all falling incomplete. They list Bell as their emergency option, which probably makes as much sense as anything else, but neither exactly sparks confidence under center. Miami's actually decently solid, with Kalen Ballage having done quite a bit out of the Wildcat at Arizona State. They've used him in the Wildcat in the NFL, too, but not to the same passing level.
Andrew: That's all well and good, but as with most things Miami does, it just isn't going to cut it in this division.
Bryan: New England has a freaking emergency quarterback depth chart. It simply is not fair.
For years, the emergency quarterback was Julian Edelman, who was a three-year starter at quarterback for Kent State. A 54.5% completion rating and a 30/31 TD/INT ratio is why he wasn't drafted as a passer, but he's got more credentials than nearly every other emergency passer here, and has completed four of his five passes in the NFL. This year, however, the Patriots drafted rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers, who redshirted at quarterback for North Carolina State. There'd be some debate as to which guy to put under center and which guy to stick as a wideout if the situation called for it. And that was the debate we were going to have until a couple hours before we started writing this article.
Andrew: The Patriots are so far ahead of the rest of the league that they are even miles ahead of our ridiculous hypothetical crisis NFL. Sure, some other teams have a player or two who could do a job for them in an emergency. The Patriots now have at least three with actual credentials, even if only Edelman has thrown a pass for them in live action.
Bryan: On Tuesday, the Patriots traded a second-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. They needed help at wideout, for sure, but it's possible Belichick knew we were going to write this article, and went out and got himself a stud.
There are 65 passers in NFL history with a perfect quarterback rating. Forty-five of them were 1-for-1 for a touchdown, and 17 more only attempted two or three passes over their careers. Kerwin Bell was a third-string quarterback pushed into emergency duty for the Colts in 1996; he completed all five of his passes for the best rating of any quarterback ever. Frank Wycheck went 5-for-6 on trick plays for the Titans. But Sanu tops them all. With a career line of 7-for-8 for 233 yards and four touchdowns, he has the most pass attempts of any player in NFL history to maintain that perfect passer rating. While Edelman and Meyers know the offense better, Sanu has been the most efficient non-quarterback passer at least in the current NFL, and quite possibly ever.
Mohamed Sanu finds Julio Jones for a 51-yard TD pass!pic.twitter.com/8CWFYS222W
— LeadingNFL (@LeadingNFL) November 26, 2017
Andrew: Which makes this choice considerably tougher than it appeared on Monday night. Edelman has the reputation and the history, but Sanu has the production. This being the Patriots, there's no way they don't go with production over reputation. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you your new Patriots starting quarterback: Mohamed Sanu.
Bryan: Edelman would probably be the emergency option this week because of time in the offense, but Sanu will get up to speed sooner rather than later.
Bryan: Do we need to go through this? It's not Sam Koch. It's not Blake Bell. It's obviously Margus Hunt.
Andrew: It's the Patriots guy. It's always the Patriots guy. Le sigh.
CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS
Bryan: So, we get a Super Bowl rematch to figure out the best emergency option in the league.
On the one hand, we have Johnny Hekker, with more complete passes than any other non-QB in football. On the other, we have Mohamed Sanu, with the best passer rating of any non-QB in football. Volume versus efficiency going head-to-head here.
Andrew: This is a tight, cagey contest. A clash of styles, too: Hekker the traditional dropback passer, Sanu the gadget option scrambler and efficient thrower. If we put the two teams head-to-head, I know who my money would be on: Belichick won a game with rookie Jacoby Brissett running a college option offense, and that offense with Sanu at the helm would be far more dangerous than even Hekker's best day passing.
I think I lean that way in isolation too. We're an advanced stats site: efficiency over volume, and the mobile quarterback also benefits the run game. Exasperating as it is, I think the Patriots have the field lapped even in this most absurd of hypotheticals.
Bryan: The Madden guys brought in Sanu to test out his arm strength; he managed to throw the ball further than 28 different starting NFL quarterbacks. He has accuracy. He has a little bit of touch. He has shown he can line up under center and throw it, or get the ball on trick plays. While Hekker can move a little bit, Sanu can move a lot. In a battle of ex-high school quarterbacks who found their NFL calling elsewhere, I think we do have to give it to Sanu.
Can we please see that matchup in this year's Pro Bowl?
Keep Choppin' Wood
There are many, many situations in which punching another person is a bad idea. Dolphins rookie Christian Wilkins found one of them, being ejected after just 31 seconds against the Bills for swinging a punch. Wilkins, at least, might have had a chance in a fair fight; Falcons halfback Devonta Freeman was ejected from his game for swinging a punch at man-mountain Aaron Donald -- Freeman's ejection being presumably for his own safety. Swinging a punch is a bad idea. Swinging a punch at a guy wearing a helmet with a metal facemask is an extremely bad idea. Swinging a punch at a fully armed and armored Aaron Donald is a monumentally bad idea.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
According to Edjsports' Game-Winning Chance calculations, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had two of the worst five coaching errors of the week:
This was a 5.1% error, tied for 5th (though, not pictured), BUT this wasn't even the worst error he made.
Carroll had the worst decision of the week when he punted on 4th down, near midfield, while trailing by 7 early in the 4th quarter. pic.twitter.com/wSeNSyeSMg
— EdjSports (@edjsports) 21 octobre 2019
The worst of those decisions, per Edj's numbers, was the punt on fourth-and-4 near midfield while trailing 20-13 in the fourth quarter, but we are more interested in Carroll's quote about the missed Jason Myers field goal earlier in the half. With the score tied at 13 apiece, Seattle faced fourth-and-3 from the Ravens 35, and opted for a 53-yard field goal attempt (which Jason Myers missed). More and more coaches are coming around to the idea of going for it in that situation, but not Carroll: when questioned after the game, he stated that the only alternative they considered to kicking the field goal was ... to punt:
"We're kicking it. That's what we do. That's what our mentality's going to be and there's no reason to change."
There are many, many reasons to change, Pete.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
The man on the opposite sideline from Carroll demonstrated one of those reasons immediately following Myers' miss. The Ravens drove from their own 43 to the Seahawks' 8-yard line, where a Lamar Jackson scramble brought up fourth-and-2. They initially lined up to attempt a field goal, but John Harbaugh seemed to remember his own team's professed identity after calling a timeout. The Ravens went for it, and Jackson carried the ball off right tackle to pick up not only the 2 yards for a first down, but also the other 6 for a touchdown. Seattle would not get within seven points again, and the Ravens ultimately ran out comfortable winners. Hey Pete, that might be a good reason to go for it in future. Not sayin', ya know, just sayin'.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching
Most major decisions this week were less confusing than they were obviously wrong, so let's talk about a real fun play we see maybe once or twice a year -- Bill O'Brien's intentional safety!
Intentional safety the Texans took overlaid with Bill O'Brien comments. He talked both after the game and today on the intentional safety he took to go down seven points. @edjsports had a deep dive on why it was mathematically a poor move here: https://t.co/JRsqoTqwpA pic.twitter.com/RDmrW7bu1W
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 21, 2019
The logic is easy to understand -- the intentional safety turns a five-point deficit into a seven-point hole, so it's still a one-score game. Rather than punting from the five, the safety kick comes from the 20, so you're buying 15 yards of field position for your defense to get the stop. All well and good, but O'Brien botched a couple things here.
First of all, don't use a timeout to set up the intentional safety. You need those to stop the Colts from running out the clock. Even with the timeout, 39 seconds elapsed between the sack of Watson on third down and the safety, and then the Colts were able to drain 35 more seconds off the clock before the two-minute warning after the safety kick. The time ended up not mattering because the Texans threw an interception, but still.
Taking a safety to go from a four- to a six-point deficit doesn't change your offensive requirements. Going from five- to seven-, however, realistically takes away the possibility of winning in regulation. That makes the intentional safety a lot less desirable
The ball was on the 5, as opposed to the 1 or 2, meaning there was room for Bryan Anger to get a punt off with his normal routine; one benefit of the intentional safety is getting more room for your punter, and that wasn't really required here.
Finally, and perhaps most notably of all, the Texans had to keep the Colts out of the end zone either way, right? So why not try to pick up the first down? If they failed, sure, the Colts would have been in field goal range -- but field goal range to turn a five-point game into an eight-point game. That's bad, sure, but it's still one possession. The potential benefit of keeping the ball far outweighs the dangers there with less than three minutes left in the game.
All in all, an interesting strategy, but poorly executed and really not the right time for O'Brien to be pulling it out of mothballs. We appreciate the creativity, but it backfired for Houston this time around.
'Lounging on the Bench' Fantasy Player of the Week
Chase Edmonds is kind of borderline for this award -- we highlight players who are probably unowned in your league, both to laugh at points wasted and to say whether or not they're worth scooping up. Well, Edmonds was owned in about 50% of fantasy leagues last week, thanks to the ongoing uncertainty about David Johnson's health. Most people, however, sat him -- no need starting a backup running back, right? Of course, after the game, we learned that Johnson would only have played significant snaps in an emergency, which would have been kind of nice for Edmonds owners to know. Instead, Edmonds' 126-yard, three-touchdown day mostly ended up frustrating owners who could really have used those points in their starting lineups, Kliff! With Johnson's ankle still questionable, projecting Edmonds' workload next week against New Orleans is a tricky, tricky business.
Chase Edmonds x2. pic.twitter.com/AHiBLF4XX6
— Arizona Cardinals Türkiye (@AZCardinals_TR) October 20, 2019
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
We're going back to Darren Waller again this week, fresh off his new contract extension; this is the second time he has won this award. Waller caught seven of his eight targets on the day, with the only failed target coming when Derek Carr decided that, yes, double-coverage was a great place to throw in the end zone. Carr did hook up with Waller while the game was somewhat competitive, but it was backup Mike Glennon in mop-up duty who propelled Waller to the award this week, hitting him for a touchdown with less than two minutes to go to make the final score 42-24. That's not even significant for Vegas!
Darren Waller's week:
2 touchdown game pic.twitter.com/VA0woZp2vX
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 20, 2019
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
Seventy-five points allowed in two games has the Eagles in a tough spot ahead of their third straight road trip, this time to the overachieving Bills. Philadelphia looked like one of the deepest rosters in the league ahead of the season, but they have just about exhausted their depth at far too many positions already in the first half of the campaign. One bright spot against the Cowboys was the performance of second-year tight end Dallas Goedert: with Zach Ertz blanketed and the receivers a non-factor, Goedert led the team in receiving with the second-best yardage total of his young career. If the team can ever get its wideouts healthy, they in theory have a deep and diverse set of targets for Carson Wentz. The problem, as always, is the sheer size of such a small word: if.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
Russell Wilson had not thrown an interception all season long. As a matter of fact, he had only thrown three interceptions going back to Week 3 of 2018, a span of 22 games. Wilson has always been very, very good at taking care of the ball; only four passers with at least 1,500 attempts have better interception rates than Wilson does, going back to when he entered the league in 2012. That's what made this throw, in the second quarter with the Seahawks sitting on a 12-10 lead, all the more surprising.
Marcus Peters HOUSED his first pick as a Raven.
Russell Wilson's first interception of the year.
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) October 20, 2019
Not a bad way for Marcus Peters to introduce himself to his new teammates, having just been traded from Los Angeles earlier in the week. Not that it took much effort on his part for this one -- it was a terrible decision by Wilson, bypassing a wide-open DK Metcalf on the vertical route that would surely have gone for six. I mean, the throw did go for six, but, uh, not in the right direction. Seattle never led again.
Victories are so precious in the NFC, where 10 wins might not be enough to guarantee a wild-card berth. Instead of breathing right down San Francisco's neck in the division, the Seahawks are now tied with the Vikings for a wild-card slot, just a half-game ahead of the Panthers with the toughest future schedule in the league looming ahead of them. Baltimore, meanwhile, maintains their lead over Indianapolis in playoff seeding, and remain tied with a Chiefs team that suddenly finds itself going to a backup quarterback for at least a few weeks. It's an opportunity for Baltimore to earn a bye, and dodge the Patriots until a potential AFC Championship Game matchup -- huge, huge win on the road for the Ravens, who get to rest up for a week before what's looking like one of the games of the year in two Sunday nights.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Andrew: I wanted to take Seattle here at Atlanta, almost regardless of the line, because I don't think even a flawlessly healthy Matt Ryan is saving the empty shell of the Falcons in this one. Alas, that game is off the board at time of writing. Instead, I'll look to one of the many big lines on the board. In any normal year, the Bengals would be the worst team in the sport. Their receiving corps and offensive line are both depleted and decrepit. At one point last week, Andy Dalton threw three interceptions in just six passes. The 31st-ranked DVOA defense is every bit as bad as the 30th-ranked offense; only Miami is keeping the Bengals from being the worst team in the NFL. They travel to Los Angeles to take on a rejuvenated Rams squad encouraged by the acquisition of Jalen Ramsey and the road beatdown of the Falcons. In a year of big lines, any line smaller than 14 points is a line too small for the occasion. L.A. Rams (-13.5) over Cincinnati.
Bryan: Kansas City (+5.5) at home against Green Bay. Yes, the Patrick Mahomes injury obviously changes everything, but Andy Reid has had some success working with backup quarterbacks. Excluding '99, when Donovan McNabb went from backup to starter for Reid's Eagles, Reid is 20-22 all time when forced to start a backup. I think Reid gets Matt Moore ready to play; dusting off the old Alex Smith playbook and playing a more conservative, yet effective style of football. I'd still expect Green Bay to beat the Mahomes-less Chiefs, mind you, but by a field goal or so. I'll trust the points.
Double Survival League
Bryan: No Drew Brees, no Alvin Kamara, the Bears coming off of a bye week, and they still lose? Good lord, Chicago is garbage. It means I'm back behind the eight-ball here; we're not, uh, supposed to be batting .500 here, though at least I'm burning through most of the terrible teams already.
Andrew: I'm a teensy bit happier with this week's outcomes, thanks to a road win for an awkward Jaguars squad who are no sure thing against most opponents. Picking against the Bengals appears only marginally a worse strategy than picking against the Dolphins, which makes those teams' Week 16 matchup especially appetizing. That is a ways off, however, so the immediate business continues with a pick against the Dolphins -- even as they face a team somewhat infamous for their failure to dispose of even the supposed aperitifs on their schedule. Surely, not even Pittsburgh can screw this up.
Cincinnati's opponent, alas, is a team we both blew it on in the very same week: the Rams lost at home to the Buccaneers in Week 4 in perhaps the biggest single upset of the season so far. We commented at the time how foolhardy it was of us to trust the Buccaneers, whether to win or to lose, and were duly both burned. It's almost as foolhardy to trust this season's Titans, capable of blowing out the Browns by 30 and losing in Denver without scoring a single point, but they have to win some time and this currently looks like the best opportunity on their remaining schedule. I'm grimacing in anticipation of the inevitable letdown as I pick Tennessee.
Bryan: I, too, am taking Pittsburgh, because picking against Miami is the default position of this little game. But while you're trying to score points off of my Tennessee loss (I had them over Indy back in Week 2, before we learned that the Colts were going to be alright without Andrew Luck), I'm going to try to do what you couldn't and find a win for Detroit. The Lions are better than their 2-3-1 record. Their defense ain't great, but they're an above-average team that has had terrible luck to this point in the season. The Giants are, uh, not. They've dropped three straight games, as some of the shiny newness of Daniel Jones has worn off. They don't do anything particularly well, especially with Saquon Barkley banged up. The Lions may be struggling against fate this season, but even fate shouldn't stop them from picking up a win.