Lamar Jackson Vs. the Steel Curtain
Walkthrough would like to apologize for an unfortunate incident which went viral over the weekend.
[Head down, shoulders slouched, mumbling.]
We were supposed to fly home from Week 4 with the rest of the Football Outsiders team. But we stayed behind to spend time with the family. Our plan was to order takeout, watch Star Wars: Visions, sip hot cocoa, play a little Uno, and perhaps some non-denominational prayer and tithing. But one thing led to another and we decided to go to the local tavern. There was another party there, and they wanted to take some selfies with a famous NFL media personality. Next thing you know, a charming young lady with an Aerosmith tattoo across her bosom offered to tie my shoelaces with her tongue. As saying no might be construed as some form of shaming, I felt obligated to allow her to do so.
Then she took me back to her apartment, which turned out to be the cellar beneath a vape shop, so she could show me her collection of limited edition Civilization VI DLC. She offered me something called an avocado/absynthe/indica smoothie. Two hours later, I was walking along the beach in North Wildwood with bloody hedge clippers in one hand and a briefcase full of doctored Arizona absentee ballots in the other. A one-armed accordion player on the boardwalk then lured me onto a tramp steamer by claiming they had half-priced loaded nachos. And that's how the documentary film crew later captured footage of me harpooning sushi-grade endangered species off the coast of Heroin Smuggler Island.
We have already apologized to the Football Outsiders team for becoming a distraction. Our family, too. Heck, when we dropped our son off at college, we warned him: crack is whack, don't believe the pipe, Tide pods aren't food, all the facts of life. It's inexcusable to make the kind of mistakes we made this weekend, including the one involving the M-80s and Instagram models at the abandoned amusement pier that has not been made public yet and I probably should not even be bringing up.
We assure you that, despite this weekend's indiscretions, Walkthrough remains the ideal tactician, front-facing spokesperson, and decision-maker to lead your organization into a new era of dazzling success, and at no point should anyone be experiencing mutual regrets about my employment.
Lamar Jackson Meets the Steel Curtain
John Harbaugh ordered Lamar Jackson to run for a short gain instead of kneeling on the final play of Sunday's Ravens victory over the Broncos in order to keep a rather obscure streak alive: the Ravens have tied the 1974-1977 Steelers with 43 consecutive 100-plus-yard rushing games dating back to 2018.
— NFL (@NFL) October 3, 2021
The streak is no longer obscure, of course. Broncos coach Vic Fangio fumed about the final play in a Monday press conference, accusing Harbaugh and the Ravens of everything from bad sportsmanship to borderline war crimes. Harbaugh's response boiled down to "Scoreboard, Chump." No one cares much about a consecutive-game rushing streak, but we all love a good coaching feud.
Now, risking Jackson's health to extend a nigh-meaningless and highly esoteric streak was dumb. "Consecutive 100-yard performance" streaks are fodder for team media guides and fun framing devices for math-oriented historians (hi), plus grist for the willfully misguided "Team X has a 138-8 record when rushing for over 100 yards" crowd. No one knew this record existed or who held it three weeks ago.
That said, this was the same game in which Fangio burned timeouts and exposed Drew Lock to risks (he was sacked once on the final drive) in a quest for a meaningless touchdown after Teddy Bridgewater entered concussion protocols. So spare us all the lecture about player safety, Coach. Furthermore, the NFL record book is built on garbage-time production and stats compiled in Week 16 contests with no playoff implications. Line-item vetoing records because of some "meaningless" yardage would be a very time-consuming, unfulfilling, and thankless task.
At any rate, since the Ravens' streak is still alive, it's worth noting what an unusual accomplishment it is.
The Steel Curtain Steelers set the record thanks to Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, a defense that allowed them to preserve commanding leads each week, and the prevailing offensive philosophies of the era, which dictated that "preserving a lead" meant "never, ever throwing the ball." The Ravens have tied that record thanks to Lamar Jackson and an offense unlike anything seen in the NFL before. Jackson's brilliance has allowed the Ravens to plug in Ty'Son Williams and Latavius Murray this season and keep on running to the tune of 5.2 yards per carry.
The Ravens have also been able to run out the clock plenty of times over the last three seasons, but few leads are safe in the modern NFL. The classic Steelers could win Super Bowls by averaging around 24 points per game. The Ravens running game has driven an offense that averaged 29 and 33 points per game in 2019 and 2020. What the Ravens have done over the last 43 games is far more impressive—and certainly far more interesting—than what the Steelers did.
The Buffalo Bills of the O.J. Simpson era rank third on the all-time consecutive 100-rushing-yard games list, with 37 such contests between 1973 and 1976. Somewhat shockingly, the 2014-2016 Panthers are tied for fourth with 30 such games thanks to Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and that charmed 15-1 season in 2015. Jim Brown's Cleveland Browns also had a streak of 30 such games from 1957 through 1960.
The 2014-2015 Seahawks (Russell Wilson, Beast Mode, the Legion of Boom) cracked the top 10 with 25 straight 100-rushing yard games, but you can see how short the streaks have gotten before we have even left the top 10. Even for the great, run-heavy teams of yesteryear, rushing for 100 yards every single week was difficult.
The Steelers were 32-11 in the regular season during their streak; the Ravens are 34-9. Any time a team has a better record than the Steel Curtain Steelers at their historic peak, it bears mentioning. We also need to keep cause and effect straight in our minds, though at this level of success the relationship between rushing and winning approaches a type of causality event horizon. Teams like the early 1970s Dolphins, mid-1970s Raiders, and Steel Curtain Steelers all had the luxury of running out the clock because they were outstanding teams, but they were also outstanding teams, in large part, because they ran the ball so well. The Ravens clearly belong in this rarified category. This streak is NOT "Cowboys are undefeated when Ezekiel Elliott rushes X times" silliness.
One team stood out on the list: the 1975-1976 Lions, who managed to go 13-14 while rushing for 100-plus yards every week. Greg Landry was the Lions quarterback of that era, Dexter Bussey their primary running back. The Lions finished between 6-8 and 7-7 every darn year as if it was their mission statement. A fullback named Altie Taylor received 14 carries per game despite averaging 3.3 yards per rush for part of that streak. The 1975 Lions rushed for 183 yards and passed for just 27 in a 36-10 loss to the Cowboys, among other unlikely achievements. I can imagine the 2021 Lions putting up similar splits with their strong running game and Jared Goff fumble-fest of a passing game.
After the Ravens, the mark for the second-longest active streak is held by the Browns with five consecutive 100-yard rushing games. The record the Ravens currently share should stand for a very long time.
While the record itself remains a little bit niche, it underscores just how long the Ravens have been doing what they are doing. Talk of opponents "figuring out" Jackson and the Ravens is reductive and silly. Teams, players, and tactics don't get "figured out" after 43 games. If they stop working, it's because players aged or got hurt, or other circumstances changed.
Jackson and the Ravens are historically unique, and they should be appreciated as such, especially as they hover quietly near the top of both the AFC standings and the DVOA ratings.
Walkthrough Tank Watch: Atlanta Falcons
Every Wednesday, Walkthrough will check in on one of the NFL's worst teams to determine what's going wrong, what (if anything) is going right, and what (if anything) they can do to start heading in the right direction.
The Falcons Story So Far: The Falcons upset the Giants and their Every-Situation-is-a-Punt-Situation game plan two weeks ago. They led Washington much of the way before a fourth-quarter collapse (future generations will call fourth-quarter collapses "a Falcons") last week. So Arthur Smith's team was just a few plays away from rising to 2-2 and escaping Tank Watch ignominy. But overall, their prebuilding year under Smith is going as expected. The Falcons are performing some salary-cap credit repair, waiting to get out from under the balloon payments on their Matt Ryan mortgage, and generally biding their time until they have enough resources to really tear down their roster and start over.
What's Going Wrong? Plenty!
- The offensive line is made out of used coffee filters, though it stabilizes a little more each week.
- All of the wide receivers not named Calvin Ridley have hands like knees.
- The defense lacks speed and playmaking ability. Deen Pees wants to be blitz-happy but appears to be holding back, partially because the Falcons struggle to get opponents into must-pass situations, partially because he may not want to expose his secondary.
- Punter Cameron Nizialek was injured against Washington. Dustin Colquitt was signed this week to replace him and give Ryan a canasta partner.
- Overall team speed is a problem, as evidenced by DeAndre Carter outrunning the entire Falcons special teams by about 5 yards on his Week 4 kickoff return touchdown.
- Some of Smith's game-planning decisions have been puzzling. Cordarrelle Pattison gained 116 scrimmage yards and caught three touchdown passes against Washington but did not touch the ball once while the Falcons were trying to seal a win in the fourth quarter. Hayden Hurst has been a non-factor in the passing game. Rookie quarterback Feleipe Franks took the field for one random Wildcat carry, then disappeared. It's hard to figure out what Smith wants to do offensively.
- Matt Ryan has not entered his Ben Roethlisberger/Eli Manning sad grandpa phase just yet, but his deep passes are taking an awful long time to arrive, and he moves outside of the pocket like a cherry picker.
Is Anything Going Right? Not much.
- Patterson is having a remarkable year as an all-purpose back.
- Kyle Pitts is having a hard time with contested catches and isn't ready for a role as the second option in an NFL passing game, but the potential is obvious.
- The Falcons have kept their last two games close and threw a brief scare into the Buccaneers, though that all may have just been part of their ongoing effort to pulverize their fans' will to live every week.
What Needs to be Done? There's not much to be done until the Falcons escape Ryan's tapeworm of a contract. But here are some little things they can do:
- Find an identity. Smith wants to hammer the line of scrimmage and set up play-action with 12 and 21 personnel while Pees blitzes everyone but the waterboy. At least, that's what we think Smith and Pees want; it's hard to tell based on what we have seen this month. If the Falcons are a slobberknocker team, they need to start knocking some slobber. That may start with accepting that running back Mike Davis was a two-game wonder last year and giving more opportunities to Patterson or someone else. (Not Wayne Gallman, for the love of heaven).
- Emotionally detach from Ryan. The Falcons can't afford to get into a Roethlisberger/Eli scenario where the coaching staff doesn't feel empowered to bench Ryan but Arthur Blank refuses to be the bad cop. Ryan will need to be replaced as the starter before he becomes financially cuttable. Maybe Josh Rosen gets an audition later in the year. Maybe Franks gets more cameos. Maybe Patterson should just take direct snaps. Whatever they do, the Falcons can't just look busy for two solid years while they wait for Ryan's dead-money hit to become manageable.
- Trade anything that's not nailed down. The Falcons did the right thing by trading Julio Jones. Grady Jarrett would likely fetch some tasty draft capital from a contender.
How Bad Are the Falcons? They are worse than the Giants team they defeated and worse than the Lions. They may be better than the Jaguars and Jets, but of course those teams have fully embraced rebuilding. In a troubling way, the Falcons are a little like the Texans without the gross unprofessionalism, which is sadly on brand for them.
What's Next? Breakfast with the Jets. It sounds like a Supertramp/Elton John collaboration from the late 1970s but sadly is not.
Walkthrough Prop Watch: Super Bowl Odds
Every Wednesday, Walkthrough will handicap the field in an NFL awards race or some other type of futures bet.
Let's keep things simple at what used to be the quarter-way mark of the season by breaking down the Super Bowl winner prop bet moneylines:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +500
Kansas City Chiefs +600
Buffalo Bills +750
Los Angeles Rams +800
Green Bay Packers +1200
Baltimore Ravens +1200
Cleveland Browns +1400
Arizona Cardinals +1600
Dallas Cowboys +2000
Los Angeles Chargers +2000
Seattle Seahawks +2800
San Francisco 49ers +2800
The big news here is that Football Outsiders gives the Bills a 19.7% chance of winning the Super Bowl, so a +750 payout is a solid value. If you like the Bills, then you likely also expect them to beat the Chiefs next week; therefore, you must play them now before that moneyline shrinks.
The Buccaneers have a 14.3% chance of winning the Super Bowl, making them a less unappealing play at +500. The Cowboys are far more interesting at +2000 with a 7.7% chance of winning the Super Bowl; when it comes to a futures prop, Walkthrough doesn't mind sacrificing half the probability for four times the payout. But Walkthrough also doesn't like to wager on Tom Brady or the Cowboys.
Our methods like the Cardinals (6.1%) better than the Rams (5.1%). The house and public tend to be more risk-averse, which is why the Cardinals have twice the payout of the established contenders they just trounced. If you are a true Cardinals believer, you can still get them to win the NFC West at +175. If you have a Kliff Kingsbury shrine in your mancave, you can get them at DraftKings to go 17-0 at +10000, and also keep your kinks to yourself.
The Chargers crept up from +2200 to +2000 after Monday night's win. DVOA loathes the Chargers, giving them a 0.9% chance of winning the Super Bowl, lower than what's left of the Broncos at 2.3%. The house is at +4000 for the Broncos and +6000 on the Raiders, meaning oddsmakers give the Broncos a better chance of overcoming multiple injuries than the Raiders get for overcoming being themselves. At any rate, anyone betting on the Chargers to win the Super Bowl must be a very optimistic and lonely individual.
We wrap things up with the lowly Steelers at +15000: lower than the Bengals, Washington Football Team, Vikings, or Colts. An organization can kid itself. A coaching staff can rationalize. Fans can indulge wishful thinking and nostalgia. But a terrible team on the brink of a crisis cannot hide from the house.