Von Miller and Deshaun Watson: Deadline Dos and Don'ts
NFL Week 9 - Here is some #Analysis you can only get from Football Outsiders: with the acquisition of Von Miller, the Los Angeles Rams are all-in to win Super Bowl LVI!
Oh, you thought they were "all in" when they traded for Matthew Stafford, burning draft picks and eating a fat gristly hunk of Jared Goff's salary in the process? They just pushed all of their chips into the middle of the poker table with that trade. Now there's the deed to the ranch, the title to a pickup truck, one of Sean McVay's kidneys, and a litter of golden retriever puppies in the kitty. The Rams are all all all all in.
It's hard to criticize the Miller trade for the Rams without sounding like the type of person who writes editorials about how twenty-somethings should deny themselves avocado toast so they can save for a mortgage. Win Now mode is completely legitimate when you are 7-1 and loaded with proven superstars. The marginal increase between an overall DVOA around 31% and 35%—the difference that locks in home-field advantage throughout the playoffs or provides an edge against Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady—is incredibly difficult to attain, and it's worth the marginal decrease in potential DVOA the Rams will suffer down the road after they spend the first two days of the 2022 draft partying at one of those music festivals that ends up the subject of a Hulu documentary.
As for the Broncos, this is where six years of halfhearted rebuilding gets you. They entered the season as wild-card contenders, and a mushy schedule, the recent decline of the Chargers, and the inevitable upcoming Raiders course correction could have helped the Broncos climb into something resembling contention. But Miller's departure nerfs their defense, robs the franchise of its face, and signals both an inevitable 2021 surrender and the likely end of the Vic Fangio era.
Miller's departure suggests that George Paton now has full control of football operations; John Elway would have interpreted Sunday's win over Washington as a sign that the Broncos were turning the corner. In the long term, Paton's arrival and ascendance may prove to be a very good thing. In the short term, however, it's a disappointing "let's start the rebuild that we should have started in 2016" thing.
Let's examine some other developments from around the trade deadline.
Kansas City Chiefs acquire Melvin Ingram from the Pittsburgh Steelers
It sounds as though the plan is to use both Frank Clark and Incrementally More Motivated Frank Clark (a.k.a. Ingram) in a NASCAR-type package on passing downs, and to slide Chris Jones back inside to pick up the pieces of the run defense after spending much of this season as an edge. That plan would have sounded much more exciting in August. Now, it's like adding a spoiler to an old PT Cruiser.
Titans sign Adrian Peterson to replace Derrick Henry
- Produce a few 10-carry-for-8-yard games, including one against the Saints in two weeks.
- Produce one stunning 163-yard, two-touchdown game, probably against the Texans in three weeks.
- Spend the remainder of the season rushing for about 45 yards per game while broadcasters gush about the leadership he is providing a team which never appeared to be lacking in leadership before he arrived.
The Titans will then lose in the first round of the playoffs, which is what they would have done with Henry anyway.
Deshaun Watson trade never develops
The Dolphins made the right move by not making a move here: better to try to salvage Tua Tagovailoa by conventional means (replacing Heckle and/or Jeckle with one real offensive coordinator) than mortgage whatever future they may have in pursuit of potential vaporware.
The prevailing wisdom among those who try to make sense of the Texans is that the team plans to wait and see if Watson's legal and league discipline outlook is rosier in the 2022 offseason. If so, presto! Bidders galore for his services!
Of course, there's a chance Watson's legal situation will be worse by then. Or similarly muddled. Both scenarios seem more likely than "he's totally exonerated and on the Commissioner's Live Your Best Life List." Watson also has a no-trade clause in his contract, so he can still exert some leverage if he decides he doesn't want to play for, say, the Detroit Lions.
Most importantly: the Texans are a terrible team that just squandered a year of either Watson's services or whomever/whatever they would have received in a trade, and they did so due to a combination of procrastination and insular thinking, not some clever Moneyball tactic.
Time is a precious NFL resource. Waiting, seeing, and stinking for multiple years makes sense if the Texans are just some team that generates fantasy stats or column topics to you. It makes no sense to someone trying to sell tickets or jerseys, attract or motivate players, convince agents to work with you or coaches to work for you, or, heaven forbid, build a decent roster.
The Texans won't have the "last laugh" if they trade Watson for three first-rounders next March. They'll have another year of gross mismanagement from which to dig out from under, and another year of leaving their customers with a nauseating taste in their mouths. They'll also be stuck with the harsh reality that the folks that fouled up their last set of big decisions will be the same folks making their next set. Those things may be hard to quantify, but I can guarantee you they add up to more than a couple of draft picks.
Walkthrough Tank Watch: Washington Football Team
Every Wednesday, Walkthrough checks 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 Washington Football Team Story So Far: Washington entered the season as potential wild-card challengers with what was expected to be a top-quartile defense and adequate offense. They proved almost immediately to have a bottom-quartile defense and an injury-ravaged, inadequate offense.
Washington's only victories so far were tight wins over the Giants and Falcons, both former Tank Watch subjects. Week 8's 17-10 loss to the Broncos was a cavalcade of blocked field goals and failed fourth-down conversions.
What's Going Wrong? A little bit of everything:
- The back end of the defense has fallen apart. Washington defends the run well enough and can apply pressure, but they get picked apart if their front four cannot get home.
- Chase Young has performed as well as an edge rusher with 1.5 sacks through eight games can possibly perform.
- Injuries to Logan Thomas, Curtis Samuel, Brandon Scherff, and Ryan Fitzpatrick have nerfed the Washington offense.
- Taylor Heinicke, like many career backup quarterbacks with a scattering of starter's traits, started out somewhat impressively but looks a little bit worse each week.
- The organization is run by a character from a 1930s pulp novel about a series of murders in a creepy burlesque theater. While the off-field ramifications of what's going on with Washington are a wee bit beyond the scope of Tank Watch, it's safe to say that organization-wide unprofessionalism and mismanagement has been seeping onto the field for decades.
Is Anything Going Right? Much more than what is going right for, say, the Jaguars:
- The front four remains stout. Washington ranks eighth in run defense DVOA and ninth in pressure rate, per Pro Football Reference.
- The 2021 draft class is promising. Linebacker Jamin Davis and cornerback Benjamin St-Juste look more like potential long-term solutions than problems on the back-end defense. Offensive tackle Sam Cosmi played well in between a rough opening day and a Week 5 injury. Receiver Dyami Brown has had moments, and undrafted running back Jaret Patterson is now starting to see the field.
- The special teams ranked second in the league before Halloween Blocked Figgie Fest.
What Needs to Be Done? Again, let's not pretend we're a crackerjack human resources department and instead pretend we're a crackerjack front office and coaching staff.
- Get Fitzpatrick Back: There's a 3-yard discrepancy between Heinicke's intended air yards and completed air yards, which means he likes to throw deep but only reliably connects when throwing short. Fitzpatrick is the fully evolved form of Heinicke: splash highlights, creativity in a disintegrating pocket, no consistency, tons of wacky mistakes. If he can return from his hip injury, Fitzpatrick can correct that air-yard discrepancy and keep Washington's offense from stalling so often.
Oh, and all you tankologists can eat lemons: losing on purpose won't push Washington below teams such as the Lions or put them in position to draft a nonexistent franchise quarterback next year, and is also profoundly stupid.
- Straighten out the Landon Collins situation: Collins has been playing a box safety/Will linebacker/slot corner role all year. It's not all that different from his role in the past or with the Giants, though he rarely lines up deep anymore. The Washington media has become obsessed with Collins' theoretical "move" to "linebacker;" it feels like we have read six articles per week about Collins' position change, casting it as some sort of mystery or controversy.
Collins has lost a step, and Washington is on the hook for one of their typically zany contracts through at least 2022. Call Collins a safety but use him in the old Thomas Davis role, make sure he never covers anyone faster than the typical No. 2 tight end without deep support, and shut the heck up about it.
- Budget wisely: Washington's long-term goal should be to keep their front four intact without overpaying them. Jonathan Allen is already under contract through 2025. Daron Payne and Montez Sweat are next in line for extensions, with Young waiting in the wings. Ron Rivera and Martin Mayhew need to get these linemen to the table early to lock them in at a discount and line up the dollar values of these contracts just right so the team can start planning to allocate resources elsewhere.
- Prepare for several years of iffy quarterback play: There is no long-term solution on the roster or in the draft. The idea that Washington could "woo" Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers is laughable. Rivera needs to keep building a team that can win with defense and skill-position playmakers, then hope he can find a version of Heinicke who can hit the broad side of a warehouse more often. In addition to building out from their front four, Washington should make itself a factory for Antonio Gibson-types, find their Deebo Samuel, and attempt to build their version of the 2019 49ers.
How Bad is the Washington Football Team? They are better than the true flatliners but a notch below teams such as the Eagles or Panthers who display a flicker of inspiration now and then.
What's Next? The bye, then the Buccaneers, then a relatively tough slate of games until an Eagles-Giants season finale. Washington will likely end up selecting about fifth to eighth overall in the 2022 draft.
TebowMania: 10 Years After
Throughout November (and possibly beyond), Walkthough will look back on what was happening when Tim Tebow took the NFL and nation by storm—and forced Football Outsiders to defend analytics against a tidal wave of magical thinking—10 years ago this week.
Dating the precise start of TebowMania is like dating the precise start of the Renaissance. Such a complex cultural phenomenon can not have one pinpoint date. But make no mistake: TebowMania was percolating during the first week of November in 2011.
Tebow led the Broncos to a win over the Miami Dolphins in his first start of the season On October 23. But that was a soft launch. The Broncos endured a frightful 45-10 beating at the hands of a strong Detroit Lions team on October 30, with Tebow suffering seven sacks. The game did not merit much commentary in that week's Audibles at the Line:
Ben Muth: I know you can't use stats when discussing Tim Tebow's game, but 4-of-13 for 37 yards at halftime pretty accurately describes his play. Or you could use 24-3, which is the score at the half.
Vince Verhei: Early in the third quarter, the Broncos have given up more sacks (five) than they have completed passes (four). They have two passing first downs and -7 net yards through the air.
Oh, and Tebow has fumbled twice.
Ben Muth: On the final play of the third quarter Tebow runs for a first down. Notable because it was the Broncos first third-down conversion of the day.
Mike Tanier: There is something transcendant about a team in the full house backfield while down 38-3.
I misspelled "transcendent" at the time, and the error was saved for posterity, so I chose not to correct it here.
The Broncos defeated the Raiders 38-24 the following week. The game was more notable at the time for being Carson Palmer's Raiders debut than for anything Tebow-related. Tebow's numbers were downright respectable: 10-of-21 for 124 passing yards and two touchdowns, 13-108 rushing. The Audibles crowd again had little to say about the quarterback who was about to rewire all of our brains:
Mike Tanier: Don't look now, but Tim Tebow just put together a swell drive, capped off by a strike of a touchdown pass.
Danny Tuccitto: Anyone have a guess at what Tebow's Total QBR was this week? I'm setting the over-under at 85.
Rivers McCown: I know you have to play the threat of Tebow running, but if that's all it takes to get Willis McGahee to run for 163 yards on you, your team has problems.
It sure sounds like the Football Outsiders gang didn't see the storm clouds on the horizon. Or perhaps we were all just keeping calm and carrying on, or fulfilling our mandate to focus on the things we thought actually mattered to analysis-minded football fans.
Over at the New York Times, on the other hand, my (distressingly wordy) remarks in the preview capsule for the Broncos-Lions game would prove prophetic:
Young quarterbacks have been winning "bottom-line" games since the dawn of N.F.L. history. In a "bottom-line" game, the youngster stumbles haplessly through the afternoon, then gets bailed out by his teammates in a low-scoring victory. Coaches, television analysts, writers and fans then give empirical evidence and common sense several compound fractures in an effort to credit the quarterback for some intangible contribution. "Bottom line: he's a winner," we often say, write or injure ourselves trying to believe.
Any inexperienced passer can have a bottom-line game, but only Tim Tebow possesses the unique talents to produce the greatest, most bottom-worthy bottom-line game in history. Few quarterbacks have looked worse for 54 minutes, then gotten more support from diving catches, onside kicks or opponent incompetence, causing as much cognitive dissonance among those who automatically equate victory with quarterbacking achievement. To top Sunday's 18-15 overtime effort, Tebow must take the snap and simply roll the ball to Lions defenders this week, then wait for a meteor shower to force the Lions to evacuate their bench and forfeit the game. With Tebow, anything is possible (except possibly three consecutive accurate passes), and after their actions in the last two weeks, the Lions may have it coming.
I cannot remember what Lions "actions" I referred to: they were coming off back-to-back losses, but it sounds like Ndamukong Suh was tossing opposing quarterbacks into woodchippers or such. Leave a comment if you remember.
Next Week in TebowMania: The cloud bursts thunder in our ears. We shout and no one seems to hear. And our heads explode with dark forebodings.