Measuring by the stats as of Sunday morning, the league’s highest-scoring offense, New Orleans, met the league’s best scoring defense, Baltimore. Offense won a close, tense battle. Offense has been winning a lot of battles this season: Going into the Monday Night Football contest, scoring per team, per game was up to 24.1 points, versus 21.7 points last season and 21.3 points two decades ago.
In the new NFL’s new normal, does offense best defense? That would reverse a longstanding trend.
“Offense sells tickets, defense wins titles” is a standby of football thinking. The number-one offense has faced the number-one defense eight times in Super Bowl lore, and defense is 7-1. Patriots over Falcons (2017), Broncos over Panthers (2016), Seahawks over Broncos (2014), Bucs over Raiders (2003), Giants over Bills (1991), 49ers over Dolphins (1985), and Steelers over Cowboys (1979) were the best defense defeating the best offense, with the top offense prevailing against the top defense only in 1990 (49ers over Broncos).
Denver is the primary Super Bowl leading indicator. The Broncos’ 2014 Super Bowl entrant had a fast-paced Xbox offense that was the highest-scoring ever—then Denver got crushed by the Seattle power defense. Two years later, Denver had converted itself into a gritty power defense club with a traditionalist clock-control offense—then defeated the Panthers, that season’s highest-scoring team.
Here’s another leading indicator. Two offseasons ago, coordinators Sean McDermott (defense) and Sean McVay (offense) were the hot names on the coaching carousel. The Rams went offense and look where they are. The Bills went defense and, for humanitarian reasons, don’t look.
Why is the pendulum swinging from offense to defense?
1). New rules for player safety favor the offense, since the rules reduce the kind of vicious hits once used to intimidate receivers and quarterbacks.
2). The Children of Seven-on-Seven have come home. Many in today’s generation of NFL players grew up in the year-round seven-on-seven leagues that are all-passing.
3). Because NCAA play has gone high-scoring and most Power Five powerhouse college programs (Alabama is the notable exception) use some version of the Xbox, top recruits want to be on offense.
4). Head coaches are finally getting the message about going for it on fourth down, and this development benefits the offense.
Last season the Eagles won the Super Bowl largely on the basis of going for it twice in situation when most NFL head coaches would have sent out a kicker.
Sunday at Baltimore, New Orleans went for it five times, converting four. Ravens leading 17-14 in the fourth quarter, the Boy Scouts faced 4th-and-1 on the Nevermores’ 18. Ninety-nine percent of head coaches in NFL annals would have done the risk-averse thing and deployed the placekicker to go for a tie. Sean Payton went for it. The conversion led to the touchdown that put New Orleans into its first lead.
Essentially all analytics show that going for it on fourth-and-short in most situations causes a football team, over the course of a season, to score more than it otherwise would. That’s what is being observed so far in the 2018 NFL season.
In other NFL news, new Raiders head coach Jon Gruden traded away his best player, Khalil Mack. Now he’s traded away star Amari Cooper, and the rumor mill—if it’s on Twitter it must be true!—says he’s trying to offload 2017 first-round draft choice Gareon Conley too. Why the housecleaning? Blame-shifting!
Gruden the Elder returned to Oakland after a long absence from coaching, plus a shift to media celebrity at ESPN. He’s earning around $10 million per year at Oakland. His hires are showered with lucre, too: The Raiders now have the highest-paid coaching staff in NFL history.
Gruden clearly expected his return would be a coronation akin to a monarch assuming the British throne. Instead the Raiders are awful. Last year’s head coach, Jack del Rio (Jack of the River to this column), was fired because Raiders fans and management were furious that a team widely viewed as stacked wasn’t running away with the conference. Suddenly Jack of the River seems like the good old days.
So Gruden is trading starters away. That nearly guarantees a losing season, but allows him to claim, “Look at the mess I inherited, I had to stage a housecleaning.” NFL housecleanings require two to three seasons. If you were receiving $625,000 per game (Gruden’s pay) to do a terrible job running an NFL team, wouldn’t you use any gimmick to hold your job another year or two?
His contract may have an NCAA-style buyout that would mean a payday even if he’s fired. But holding onto the job means about $10 million a year. If Gruden creates a crisis by trading away prominent players, he gives the front office cover for saying “be patient, this rebuild will take a couple years.” That helps him keep his job, while eliminating the pressure to win now.
Gruden the Elder is nothing if not wise to the NFL’s internal byways. If the trade rumors are true, it’s because Gruden the Elder wants a cover story to keep his job.
Stats of the Week #1. Since the start of last season, the Rams are 7-5 at home and 11-1 on the road.
Stats of the Week #2. In the first three quarters at Philadelphia, Cam Newton was 9-of-17 for 68 yards. In the fourth quarter Newton was 16-of-22 for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
Stats of the Week #3. Jacksonville is on a streak of being outscored 0-57 in the first half.
Stats of the Week #4. Tom Brady is 5-0 versus the Bears.
Stats of the Week #5. The Chargers are on a 14-5 stretch.
Stats of the Week #6. Sixteen of the roughly 100 NFL games played so far have been decided on the final snap. (This counts missed last-second kicks.)
Stats of the Week #7. Cincinnati is on an 0-8 streak on Sunday night.
Stats of the Week #8. Larry Fitzgerald now has a reception in 218 consecutive games, which is second-best all-time. To pass Jerry Rice for first, Fitzgerald only needs to make a catch in every game through the end of the 2021 season.
Stats of the Week #9. After having no 100-yard rusher in the entire 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 seasons, Detroit has two already this season.
Stats of the Week #10. Undrafted Adam Thielen of the Vikings is on a pace for 1,878 yards receiving, which would be second-best all-time.
Stats of the Week #10 Bonus! In addition to being undrafted, Thielen played college ball at Division 2 Minnesota State, which is so obscure that the old ABC Craig Nelson sitcom Coach was based at what was presented as the fictional Minnesota State because producers didn’t realize there was an actual Minnesota State.
Sweet ‘n’ Sour Overtime. Once again the hapless Browns went to overtime, this time losing to City of Tampa on a 59-yard field goal. Trailing in the fourth quarter, Cleveland went for it on 4th-and-goal on the Bucs 1. Baker Mayfield just plowed straight ahead and was stuffed; the stuff helped set up the overtime.
Tom Brady often just plows straight ahead on 4th-and-1 situations, and this usually works. So too do plow-ahead short-yardage sneaks by Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. But these quarterbacks are tall. Mayfield is six-foot (listed as 6-1, but …). The not-tall Drew Brees is effective on short-yardage sneaks. Brees always leaps above the pile and extends the ball. That’s what a not-tall quarterback needs to do on one-yard sneak situations—and what Brees did, successfully, on a 4th-and-1 sneak at Baltimore.
Sour for the first overall choice of the 2018 draft for not following the Drew Brees example, and sour for the Cleveland staff that did not coach up Mayfield properly.
Sweet for City of Tampa head coach Dirk Koetter, who played for the win on the 59-yard attempt, though a missed kick would have given Cleveland possession at the midfield stripe with 1:50 remaining and a chance to win with a field goal in the other direction. Victories don’t come in the mail—go win the game!
Sweet ‘n’ Sour Last Second Plays. Two games—New Orleans versus Baltimore and LA/B versus Tennessee—came down to the trailing team scoring with seconds remaining and having the choice, on its try, to kick for overtime or attempt a deuce to win. Victories don’t come in the mail—go win the game!
Ravens trailing Saints 24-23 after a Baltimore touchdown with 28 ticks showing, head coach John Harbaugh sent out the placekicker. Maybe this was classic NFL head coach risk-averse behavior—if the coach orders a try to win and it fails, he gets blamed; if the coach sends in the kicker and there’s a miss, the kicker or holder or snapper get blamed. Maybe this was because the contest was in Charm City, where the crowd was roaring. Coaching lore says the home team usually wins in overtime. I don’t know if that’s true statistically (City of Tampa, the home team, won in overtime Sunday), but it’s what coaches believe.
As Baltimore placekicker Justin Tucker lined up, Fox play-by-play guy Chris Myers said, “Tucker has never missed an extra point in his career.” Of course you know what impact that comment had. More important, neither Myers nor partner Daryl Johnston so much as mentioned the possibility Baltimore would go for a deuce and victory.
Both NFL head coaches and the house-men who broadcast their games are so programmed to think that kicking is the “safe” thing that it never came up that Baltimore—home team, home crowd roaring—left on the table a golden opportunity to gain two yards and win the game. Sour for Baltimore, sour for the Fox announcers.
Over in London, a Tennessee touchdown with 35 seconds remaining made the count Chargers 20, Flaming Thumbtacks 19. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, who’s from the Bill Belichick School of Coaching—“class, here’s your first assignment, stare into a mirror for an hour without ever smiling”—faced the choice of kicking for overtime or going for two and victory. Vrabel went for it.
The Titans’ try failed and was lacking in analytics. Vrabel’s staff called a pass; Football Outsiders, the best analytics site, has shown that rushing plays are more likely to succeed in deuce situations. The result of the try was the Titans had to endure that long plane ride home on a three-game losing streak. But Vrabel had shown his team he wasn’t fretful about job security, he’s playing to win. TMQ wagers that the failed deuce will revive the Titans’ season. Sweet!
Year of the Geezer Quarterback. Thirty-nine-year old geezer (in athletic terms) quarterback Drew Brees has now defeated every one of the NFL’s 32 teams. The two other quarterbacks to match this feat, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, did so as geezers. (Geezer quarterback Tom Brady has defeated 31 of the league’s teams but has never faced New England.) So far the 39-year-old Brees has 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
In the Year of the Geezer Quarterback, if you’ve got a problem behind center, call a geezer. Thirty-five-year old Derek Anderson started for the Bills, just his fifth start in the last seven NFL seasons. He committed four turnovers and threw no touchdown passes—a perfect fit for the Bills’ program!
Highly touted Buffalo rookie quarterback Josh Allen is hurt. Still, Anderson behind center represented the fifth time in 24 games as Bills head coach that Sean McDermott has changed his mind about who should start at quarterback. Constant coaching mood swings is not generally associated with success in the NFL.
McDermott spent the entire offseason working with Nathan Peterman as Allen’s planned backup. McDermott traded away veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron based on spending an entire offseason working with Peterman as Allen’s planned backup. The moment Peterman got into a game and was terrible, McDermott had a mood swing and called a geezer.
In 2010, Buffalo’s then-coaching staff spent the entire offseason working with Trent Edwards as the starting quarterback. Then when he was terrible in the first two games, the Bills put Edwards on waivers. While spending an entire offseason working with him, why hadn’t they noticed he was terrible? Something in the water of Orchard Park, New York, causes head coaches to have quarterback mood swings.
As for the current Bills, they are on a 3-27 stretch versus Tom Brady, and on a 0-6 stretch when appearing on Monday Night Football. Next Monday, Buffalo’s long-running quarterback fiasco faces Brady on Monday Night Football.
Mall Christmas Decorations Are on a Pace for Appearing by Memorial Day. Preparing bags of candy for trick-or-treaters can only mean one thing: Christmas specials season is about to begin. In fact, it kicks off on Saturday on Hallmark Channel.
No one can hold a Christmas candle to Hallmark Channel, which will roll out 22 new Christmas movies for the 2018 holidays. Hallmark Channel foundered around for a while trying to make a living with reruns and Tom Selleck staring off into the distance. By switching to mass production of Christmas movies, the network found its niche.
You won’t want to miss A Shoe Addict’s Christmas, premiering November 25. To get you in the mood, Hallmark Channel will re-air last season’s hit, The Christmas Train with Danny Glover.
Because Christmas movies have proven what works for Hallmark Channel, each year the company jumps the gun a little sooner. This season’s pre-Halloween start will work out to nearly 20 percent of the 52-week year having season-specific Christmas programming on TV.
All iterations of Hallmark Channel Christmas fare bear haunting similarities. There’s always a super-successful, very attractive and yet oddly available young professional woman—perhaps what the channel’s focus-group research shows Hallmark’s median viewer wishes she were. There’s always a handsome, studly and yet super-sensitive guy who’s running from some emotional crisis and needs the right woman to guide him. Both always swear that because of past hurts, they want nothing to do with Christmas—and the two always get together on Christmas Eve.
On The Christmas Train, the pretty girl and studly guy who both hate Christmas are brought together by a mysterious movie impresario who turns out to be Santa disguised as Danny Glover. He arranges to have the train stranded in a snowstorm in a Colorado mountain pass; the lovebirds must come to terms with their pasts if they’re ever going to escape! Operation Christmas offered Tricia Helfer, history’s best-looking robot on Battlestar Galactica, across from Marc Blucas, history’s best-looking zombie hunter on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They were both running from past hurts and both hate Christmas and …
The core plot of Hallmark Christmas movies endlessly repeats in the same way as countless music videos that start with a bunch of tense, hung-up people going about their dreary lives of quiet desperation and then suddenly a trendy new song makes them get up to dance!
The quaint, charming small towns in which Hallmark Channel Christmas movies occur bear haunting similarities. Perhaps every film is shot on the same small-town stage set, surrounded by snowflake machines constantly reloaded. That means to produce 22 Christmas movies, Hallmark can give each cast and crew about four days on the set. To grind out the scripts, the green-light meetings can take no more than 45 seconds.
Here is Tuesday Morning Quarterback Enterprises’ pitch memo for a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie:
The Christmas Fish Slice
Marlene is a super-successful, attractive yet oddly available 30-ish female executive, with plenty of money and really fabulous clothes, who HATES CHRISTMAS!!!! This is because—and she doesn’t like to talk about it—years ago on Christmas Eve, her ruggedly handsome boyfriend left to live in an orbital yurt as part of a NASA experiment.
Todd is a mysterious, ruggedly handsome yet super-sensitive man who HATES CHRISTMAS!!!! This is because—and he doesn’t like to talk about this—he is trying to forget his fiancée, who was killed on Christmas Eve when her Tesla crashed into a genetically mutated ferret that escaped from a secret government experiment.
Marlene and Todd become stranded in a magical town where it's always the holidays. In the magical town they encounter a sweet old lady who collects Christmas ornaments and somehow knows everything about Marlene and Todd. She urges the couple not to repeat her own youthful mistakes. Probably the old lady means her mistakes in romance, though maybe she means that syndication release she signed as a young actress after playing a walk-on role during the first season of Star Trek.
Bickering nonstop while shopping in an antiques store of the magical village, Todd and Marlene find an 18th-century fish slice that has their exact names engraved on it. Plus there is a wedding date—December 25th, 2018!
They take the fish slice to a wizened scientist who for some reason lives in the magical village and has an advanced laboratory there. He confirms that their names, and their wedding date of Christmas Day 2018, were indeed etched in the 18th century, probably by Benjamin Franklin. It must have been Christmas magic!
When they hold hands, the old lady vanishes and her Christmas ornaments start to glow. When they finally kiss, snow falls.
As music wells up an offstage voice yells, “Let’s wrap, the next crew needs the set to begin shooting Return of the Christmas Old Lady.” In a post-credits scene, the orbital yurt falls on some smug Ivy League types who don’t believe in Santa Claus.
Philly Crowd Warming Up Early for Santa Claus. When the Eagles botched a fourth-down try near the Carolina goal line in the closing seconds, the Philadelphia crowd booed loudly. Sure you just won the Super Bowl, but what have you done for us lately?
Fortune Favors the Bold! Many TMQ readers, including Jared Pike of Lafayette, Indiana, noted that Purdue, leading mega-favorite Ohio State 7-3 just before intermission, went for it facing 4th-and-3 at the Buckeyes 13. The Boilermakers converted and recorded the touchdown that made the score 14-3 at halftime. Fortune favors the bold!
Money Favors Ohio State! After the game, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer was self-absorbed rather than focused on complimenting the school and coach, Jeff Brohm, who out-performed him. Meyer makes around $7 million per year, much of it effectively from Ohio taxpayers, so is well-paid to care exclusively about himself.
Some Buckeye faithful ascribe the game’s result to the decision, announced a few days before, of junior star Nick Bosa to leave Ohio State halfway through the season, in order to prepare for the NFL draft. Bosa has been denounced for throwing off the harmony of the team by treating college football like a business.
Golly gee willikers, where did he get that idea? From Meyer? From the $52 million profit that Ohio State cleared, nearly tax-free, on football in the most recent reporting year? (Find any Division 1 college’s sports numbers here.) From Ohio State’s 48 percent football graduation rate? (This stat is not meaningfully impacted by junior-eligible departures.) Good golly Miss Molly, where did Bosa get the idea that this celebration of amateurism is a business?
Tuesday Morning Quarterback doesn’t mind the absurd excesses of Power Five collegiate football. What TMQ minds is the academic hypocrisy. For every Division 1 NCAA football player like Bosa who will go on to wealth in the NFL, there are 50 who will never realize one cent from professional sports, and yet are throwing away their chance of something of tangible economic value—a bachelor’s degree—in order to please some spoiled, vain, overpaid head coach like Meyer.
Not only is the graduation for Meyer’s team pathetic: Division 1 football players ought to graduate at a higher rate than students as a whole at their colleges, since football players get five years rather than four, and never run out of tuition money. Running out of money is the primary reason most students don’t reach the moment of walking to Pomp and Circumstance. Ohio State students overall graduated at 81 percent in the most recent reporting year. For the football team—with an extra year and no money worries—it’s 48 percent. Meyer should be ashamed of himself.
And the Ohio State board of trustees should be ashamed of themselves. Michael Glasser, Abigail Wexner, Alex Shumate—why aren’t you ashamed of Ohio State’s failure to educate athletes?
But let’s all denounce Nick Bosa for following the example Ohio State sets!
As Part of Brexit Talks, London Demands End of Cheap, Low-Quality NFL Imports. Eagles versus Jaguars next week will be the 24th NFL regular season contest played in London—and still no London game has paired two teams with winning records at kickoff.
Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk. This column contends NFL coaches should go for two more often. In the pros a deuce try is from the 2-yard line, which is more appealing than in NCAA play, where all tries are spotted at the 3. Some NFL coaches may send out the kicker because they believe they’re better off taking one. But the core reason for so few deuce attempts is that head coaches know that if they order a try for two and it fails, they will be blamed; if they do the expected and send out the placekicker, and he misses, the kicker or holder or snapper will be blamed.
Denver visiting Arizona, the Broncos scored first for a 6-0 lead, and lined up to kick for a PAT. The hosts jumped offside. That meant Denver could have elected to switch from trying for one to trying for two. The spot would have been moved to the 2-yard line, then advanced to the Cactus Wrens’ 1—half the distance to the goal line for the penalty.
Under the NFL’s try option, if there is a down-over foul, the offense can make its selection over. So, for example, suppose Team A lined up to go for two, scored, but was flagged for holding. Team B would take the penalty. Team A would face a down-over choice-over—it could go for a deuce from the 12-yard line (the 2 plus 10 for holding) or elect to kick from the 25 (the 15 plus 10).
By the same standard, any flag against the defense during a successful one-point try kick gives the offense an option of going for a deuce from the 1-yard line. Some NFL coaches may not know this. Some may not want to know, because they’d rather not have to make decisions that invite criticism. And as you’ve surmised, Denver took the point and did not try for two.
So is my idea crazy? Buffalo at Indianapolis, the Bills were called for a penalty as the Colts launched a PAT kick. Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich, offered the do-over, opted to go for two; the penalty advanced the ball to the Buffalo 1; deuce conversion good. (See 9:35 of the second quarter.) Reich, of course, came to Indianapolis from the Philadelphia Eagles, who have gone for two more than any other NFL team since the start of the 2016 season.
“There’s a United States Senator Who Wants to See You” Has Always Been Bad News for an American Indian. Elizabeth Warren’s elaborate declaration that tests showed she is one-zillionth Western Hemisphere indigenous—not American Indian, the tests detect DNA associated with Mexico and Central America—was so ridiculous, it was as if her worst enemy had staged the whole thing. But she did it to herself!
The MSM’s mangling of what the test showed was so ridiculous that it led to Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact-check columnist, explaining his own errors by saying, “We should have not relied on media reporting.” When the Washington Post warns that people shouldn’t expect newspapers to get the facts straight, that’s ridiculous.
And Donald Trump’s welshing on his promise to donate $1 million to charity if a test showed Warren has indigenous DNA is so ridiculous that it made the president of the United States seem like even more of a liar than before. You lost the bet, 45. Pay up!
Considering the history of American Indians, Warren’s claims about her DNA—and apparent past use of minority-status assertions for preferential treatment—would be funny if they weren’t sad. For four centuries, being an American Indian amongst Europeans was a curse. Now in 2018, there’s a way that pretending to be an American Indian can benefit a powerful white person who sits in the United States Senate via Harvard.
That Warren’s weird DNA self-flattery comes at the expense of the Cherokee is doubly perplexing. Many American Indian nations and tribes have legitimate grievances against the United States Senate, which ratified and then ignored treaties with them. The most-abused Indian nation is arguably the Cherokee. Now the abuse continues, courtesy a senator from Massachusetts.
The Cherokee had a civilization when Europeans arrived, including controlled agriculture. Beginning about the year 1800, the Cherokee adapted liberal democracy as their form of government—becoming a democracy long before many European nations did so. American whites systematically destroyed what the Cherokee had built, then forced most onto the Trail of Tears to what was then Indian Territory (the official name, not slang).
At least a fourth of the Cherokee died on the Trail of Tears; the survivors ended up in a place totally unlike the woodlands environment they had chosen for themselves. The ones who remained behind in the Old South were victims of Jim Crow. Today, the United States Senate still doesn’t honor most treaty obligations to the Cherokee. But a member of the United States Senate is happy to claim victimhood for herself by pretending to be a Cherokee!
Your columnist commends the Smithsonian’s fairly new National Museum of the American Indian, which has outstanding exhibits on American Indian history, culture, art, and tormented relations with the White House and Senate—which almost always lied to American Indians, including to those who fought on our side against the French, British, Japanese, and others. The museum’s political exhibits are understated, not PC hectoring. You should go and spend some time.
Last week while Senator Warren was reveling in her one-zillionth victimhood, right-wing celeb Jason Chaffetz was mocking her via the accompanying tweet with a cigar-store Indian. The Cherokee did not wear headdresses! The Colorado-boy part of me knew that. Why didn’t Chaffetz, who represented Utah, know? He might have learned by visiting the National Museum of the American Indian, which is practically visible from his old Capitol Hill office.
At Disneyland today with Senator Elizabeth Warren pic.twitter.com/37rvaSOVGl— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) October 18, 2018
Double Evil Twins in Jacksonville. Since defeating New England, Jacksonville is on a 1-4 stretch. Last season, as Jax reached the AFC title contest, the Jaguars had a good quarterback named Blake Bortles and an evil-twin Bortles. When Bortles was careful with the football, Jacksonville won; at other times, well, you know. In the last three weeks evil Blake Bortles has been a turnover machine. Sunday versus Houston, he was benched for Cody Kessler.
But Bortles isn’t the only evil-twin problem at Jax. Last season head coach Doug Marrone was ultra-conservative, especially in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game. Then versus the Patriots this season, Marrone made unpredictable calls and Jax prevailed. Now evil-twin Doug Marrone is back.
At Houston, he had the Jaguars punt on 4th-and-short in Texans territory; then had them punt on 4th-and-inches; then had them punt on 4th-and-4 at midfield when Jacksonville was trailing by 13 points. This team is having trouble scoring but possesses stout defense. Nothing’s going to change until Marrone becomes aggressive on offense.
The 500 Club. Visiting Emory & Henry, Shenandoah gained 565 yards on offense, scored 50 points, and lost. This contest paired the Hornets versus the Wasps.
Next Week. What if you went to Inverness and fell into a time portal? That was the premise of Brigadoon and is now the premise of the Starz hit Outlander.