This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.
Quarterbacks Don't (Usually) Matter – Part 2
I wrote about this a month ago when Jacoby Brissett and Teddy Bridgewater didn't cause their respective teams to drop off all that much from superstars Andrew Luck and Drew Brees, respectively, but even I didn't expect Kyle Allen, Gardner Minshew (last week's showing in London, notwithstanding), Matt Moore, Matt Schaub, Ryan Tannehill and even Brandon Allen this past week to more than hold their own. Even Brian Hoyer did enough to win in Pittsburgh had Adam Vinatieri not botched an easy kick.
It's conventional wisdom to dock a team bringing in a backup at least several points against the spread, and we saw this with Allen and the Broncos getting four points at home to the Browns in a game they'd probably have been favored by two or three points the previous week with Joe Flacco of all people. But maybe we should re-think that equation – that replacement value at QB, given the new rules protecting quarterbacks and receivers, is higher than ever.
In fact, it used to be rookie quarterbacks like Carson Palmer had to sit entire seasons (or more) sometimes before being deemed ready, and now high-pedigree rookies are usually expected to start Week 1, the idea being that college programs are increasingly running pro-style offenses, making the learning curve less steep. It's not a huge leap then to assume Minshew, Allen and the next QB (Ryan Finley?) might be more ready than backups of yesteryear.
But the veteran backups are also playing better, and veteran starting quarterbacks many had left for dead like Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford are playing the best football of their careers. Teams can use up their top draft picks, hoping to hit on the rare transcendent talent that will carry them for a decade, but the easiest path seems to be finding someone relatively competent and surrounding him with enough good players to give him a chance.
Incidentally, other than Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and maybe one or two others, the biggest difference makers at the position are actually on the other end – no one knows better than the Bears how much quarterback matters.
Cheat Code Teams
A 17-point-margin game doesn't seem like one of the best of the year on its face, but I really enjoyed the Pats-Ravens matchup Sunday night. It was a contrast of styles – the Ravens with their impossible-to-stop read-option/running game, and the Patriots with their insanely up-tempo short passing.
Early on, it seemed the Ravens had the cheat code – avoid the Patriots all-world secondary, and keep the chains moving on the ground with arguably the best running quarterback in NFL history. But once the Patriots got control, the Ravens defense was visibly gassed, and Tom Brady was able to move down the field with ease. Even the Julian Edelman fumble that was returned for a TD didn't hurt them, as it kept the Ravens defense on the field for yet another series, and New England quickly scored another TD to cut the lead to four, midway through the third quarter.
The Ravens offense re-asserted itself, held the ball for most of the remainder of the game, gave the defense a desperately-needed rest and closed it out. But there was a key 4th-and-4 play with 3:33 left in the third quarter that showed how narrow the Ravens' margin really was. If Lamar Jackson doesn't complete that ball to Willie Snead, the Patriots take over on downs, down four, against a defense that was hanging on by a thread.
One idea that sometimes gets lost in the over-simplified "passing is more efficient" argument these days is the cumulative effect of different play styles and play calls in combination. It's not the most efficient play over and over again against a fresh defense, but tempo and calls that make the defense work harder, expend finite energy until the field feels like a hill. We saw this in the Super Bowl when the Falcons failed to close out the game, and I had that feeling Sunday night before that key fourth-down conversion. The cheat code isn't a short pass to a slow Mohamed Sanu or a shifty James White. It's running those plays at tempo, reliably, unpredictably and before the defense can catch its breath.
Week 10 Trivia
Apropos of Christian McCaffrey's historic season in the making, can you name all the running backs in NFL history to average more than 25 points per game in PPR scoring?
Guessing The Lines
|Game||My Line||My Early Line||Guessed Line||Actual Line||ML-AL||O/U||Actual O/U||MO-AO|
|Chargers at Raiders||2.5||3||3||-1||3.5||46||48||-2|
|Ravens at Bengals||-13||-9.5||-14.5||-10||-3||45||46||-1|
|Bills at Browns||2.5||3||3||3||-0.5||41||40.5||0.5|
|Lions at Bears||4.5||3||4||2.5||2||42||42.5||-0.5|
|Giants at Jets||-3.5||2.5||1.5||-2||-1.5||47||43||4|
|Chiefs at Titans||-8.5||-4.5||-7||-4||-4.5||48||48.5||-0.5|
|Cardinals at Buccaneers||3||3.5||3||4.5||-1.5||53||52||1|
|Falcons at Saints||13.5||17.5||14.5||12.5||1||47||51||-4|
|Dolphins at Colts||9||13.5||9.5||10.5||-1.5||38||44.5||-6.5|
|Rams at Steelers||-3.5||-2.5||0||-4||0.5||44||44.5||-0.5|
|Panthers at Packers||6||7||5.5||5||1||46||47.5||-1.5|
|Vikings at Cowboys||4.5||3||3.5||3||1.5||47||47||0|
|Seahawks at 49ers||6||6.5||4||6||0||49||46||3|
It looks like I'm on the Raiders, Chiefs and Ravens, based on the early numbers. Notice I made the Giants absurd three and a half point "road" favorites as I realized I could not be on the Jets against my own team, barring a truly insane line. As usual, I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating the Book.
Week 9 Observations
• The Patriots traded a second rounder for Mohamed Sanu, but I now understand why. He's perfect for their quick strike, dink-and-dunk offense — basically a second Julian Edelman, reliable, smart, tough, good hands. It's crazy to think how good the quicker, more explosive Antonio Brown might have been in the role, though.
• I was surprised when the Browns failed to convert on 4th-and-4, down five on their final drive, but Baker Mayfield forced a short throw to a covered Jarvis Landry rather than taking a shot downfield to Odell Beckham who had a step. Mayfield played like a guy with nothing to lose last year.
• The Chargers always take about half a season to round into form. The returns of Hunter Henry and Russell Okung were huge, and even Melvin Gordon looked better. Unfortunately, Derwin James is still at least a few weeks away.
• I don't see the purpose of present-day Jimmy Graham. He doesn't block and when he catches the ball, he's got no speed and no wiggle.
• Davante Adams' return was a dud. I'm not sure if he's still hampered by the toe injury or whether a good corner like Casey Hayward is just too much for him. Even with Adams, the Packers still have below average receivers.
• Derek Carr played an efficient, mistake-free game, spreading the ball around to eight different receivers. It looks like I was wrong about him last year.
• Matthew Stafford seemed to make big throws at will, but it's hard to win when the other team doesn't make a mistake, out-rushes you 171-90 and your team turns it over twice. Stafford, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay should continue putting up big fantasy numbers, though.
• What a sickening push if you had the Buccaneers plus six. If the Seahawks make the 40-yard FG in regulation, it's over. If the Bucs win the coin toss, it's probably over too, though Jameis Winston is a pick- or fumble-six waiting to happen.
• In fact, Winston nearly had a fumble six on a play where he was untouched, but the ball just slipped out of his hands and was returned inside the 20. Otherwise, he played a clean game.
• Top-five all-time player Russell Wilson had another monster game. I had zero hope the Bucs would stop him in overtime.
• It'll be interesting to see if Josh Gordon can make an impact, but D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett might already be enough. Lockett already has more targets through nine games than he did all of last year. Too bad they lost Will Dissly for the year though.
• The announcers in the Bills-Redskins game mentioned two of the greatest backs of all time were playing, Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore. While Peterson's shortcomings as a pass catcher might preclude him from inner-circle consideration at the position, he's is almost certainly one of the greatest runners of all time. Gore? One of the greatest compilers. Peterson had his second straight big game, incidentally, while Gore had 11 carries for 15 yards.
• Devin Singletary saw 20 effective carries and four targets and might have wrested the feature back role away for himself, though Gore is like an unkillable zombie, so I wouldn't count my chickens yet.
• Kirk Cousins was great for a few weeks against bad defenses, but didn't do much against an improving Chiefs unit. It didn't help that his best receiver, Adam Thielen, aggravated his hamstring early, or that LaQuon re-Treadwell was his leading receiver.
• At this point making fun of the Jets is just cruel. It's like kicking a corpse that's been run over by a bus.
• It was huge the Eagles opted for the 38-yard field goal up five on 4th-and-2 with 25 seconds left, making it a cover instead of a push. I thought Doug Pederson might go for it and seal the win that way, and if not, leave the Bears with 20-odd seconds to drive the length of the field.
• Tough beat in Steelers-Colts. Not only did Adam Vinatieri miss the game-winning 43-yard kick (and badly), but he also missed a extra point, the Colts lost their starting QB in the first half, and Brian Hoyer threw a pick six from the Steelers red zone and lost a fumble.
• Jacoby Brissett is Exhibit A in my thesis that systems and offensive lines matter more than all but the elite QBs in the modern NFL. We'll see whether Brian Hoyer cements the case or is a bridge too far if Brissett misses more time.
• It's amazing how many injuries the Colts have suffered from Andrew Luck's retirement to Brissett, to Darius Leonard, Malik Hooker, Hilton, Campbell and Devin Funchess (possibly returning) and yet somehow are still in first place and probably should have two more wins but for Vinatieri's shaky kicking.
• Jaylen Samuel had eight rushes for 10 yards and 13 catches for 73 yards, setting the standard for inefficiency.
• Christian McCaffrey is peak Priest Holmes/LaDainian Tomlinson, the guy it's unfair someone else got to draft.
• Ryan Tannehill threw a couple picks, but at least the Titans passing game has some life again.
• I didn't see much of the London game, and I'm not sorry I missed it. I am sorry I swamped in Gardner Minshew for Derek Carr at the last minute. I tuned in at the end to see if Minshew could get me some garbage-time production, and he turned it over three times in five minutes.
• Daniel Jones passed the eye test for me again, no matter how much the booth was railing about turnovers. His interception was on third down, and it was a downfield throw (though Xavier Woods returned it past midfield.) He also lost two fumbles, but one was knocked out of his hand in garbage time as he was attempting to throw, and the other was on a scramble as he was going to the ground. Sure, he should have had better ball security on the going-to-the-ground one, but he's not a running back — ball security when running won't be a major factor in his career.
Mostly, he was accurate, and he had no running game, bad down and distance, and a rush that was in his face all day. It will get better for him.
• Barkley had nowhere to run at all. It was like the Cowboys had 13 defenders on the field. I have no idea why the Giants offensive line is so bad — they paid Nate Solder, drafted Will Hernandez in the second round and traded for Kevin Zeitler. It shouldn't be this terrible. The Giants also rarely go to Barkley in the passing game as the primary target — he's often blocking and used as a check-down afterthought. I'd like to see more designed screens instead of Jones looking downfield all the time and waiting too long to get it to Barkley short.
• Dak Prescott was okay — he made some big throws on the move, but his receivers were wide open, and he also missed a couple. The Giants defense isn't a great barometer to measure against in any event.
• Ezekiel Elliott has an easy time of it, but he didn't score and didn't see a single target.
• The booth was going above and beyond even its usual ass-kissing toward professional class-act and former colleague Jason Witten. As a Giants fan and someone who had them plus-seven, I was hoping for plays to Witten (nine targets 58 yards) to keep the game in reach.
• I wonder how many totals bets and fantasy matchups that last defensive TD swung. Garbage time miracle for somebody.