Friday, May 7, 2010

The Thing You Have To Understand About Football Teams, Vol. 2

If you’d rather not expend the effort to scroll down and read Vol. 1, let me do a little catch-up and introduce an analogy I thought of this morning as I was heading to work. Without putting too fine a point on it, I have a day job. I work in health stuff. As health stuff goes, it’s not as engrossing or uplifting as finding a cure for cancer or feeding the hungry. Definitely not feeding the hungry. If those are the Peyton Mannings of health stuff, I work in the Anthony Dilweg Division.

Like most health-stuff companies, we have a corporate mission statement. It goes something like this: “We believe dum-de-dum that people should be healthy dum-de-dum, and so we strive to provide solutions dum-de-dum for their … uh … health.” That statement has always bothered me, and not simply because it positions health as a problem that we could somehow solve. I’ve always believed we should come right out and say, “We want to be the best health-stuff provider on earth, because if we are then everyone wins – providers, organizations, and patients.”

Football teams have mission statements, too, and like my health-stuff mission statement they sound like George W. Bush reading from Finnegan’s Wake. And they’re not published anywhere; you have to divine them from coaches’ and GMs’ statements. That’s a good thing, too, because they almost always sound like this: “We supply offensive and defensive solutions for … uh … offense and defense. We run to set up the pass and pass to set up the run and rush seven and drop eight back in coverage.”

Just like my health-stuff company, football teams are the victims of fuzzy thinking, of a mission as keenly focused as a cassette from Osama bin Laden. Again, what is wrong with saying, “We are the Chicago Bears, and we run the football. We have run the football for 90 years, and we will keep running the football. Our linemen will smash your linemen in the mouth, because that’s what Bulldog Turner did”?

The reason why football teams should come right out and say it is that they come right out and do it. Chicago runs. Arizona throws. There’s really nothing to be gained for a football team to deny its destiny, which is why making Mike Martz the Bears’ O-coordinator is the most ludicrous move since Reagan made James Watt steward of the environment. So Mike Martz is going to install an Astroturf offense on a team that plays in Soldier Field and whose best receiver would be sixth-string in Indianapolis? Is he really? Let’s see it in late November, with the wind screaming off Lake Michigan and Jay Cutler screaming at Devin Hester to catch something for a change, and Mike Martz screaming at Devin Aromashudu because that’s what Mike Martz does. Marty Schottenheimer and Chicago are a match made in heaven, but it’ll never happen because it would require the Bears owning up to their identity, and only successful teams do that.

Believe it or not, there is a use for this rambling prologue: fantasy football. Now, saying something has utility for fantasy football is not like saying something has utility in corralling an oil slick. It won’t help you drill a hole in a plank without splinters or make a flan that doesn’t taste of charcoal. But it is a wet match in that insignificant mildewed corner of the basement storage room of the sports world.

Enough. As a fantasy footballer, if you had the thought after the Rams drafted Sam Bradford, “Yeah, baby! More touches for Donnie Avery!”, put your league entry fee in an envelope and send it to me, because it’ll wind up here eventually. Instead of thinking conventionally (hotshot collegian = hot rookie) you should be moving Steven Jackson five notches up your draft ladder because all the Rams know how to do right now is run, and Sam Bradford will not teach them to pass. This is not Matt Ryan being drafted by the Falcons and given Roddy White on the right, Brian Finneran on the left and Alge Crumpler down the middle. This is a skinny, bum-shouldered QB who feasted like a 12-pound newborn on leaky Ds in the Big 12 being dropped into an offense with one real talent (Jackson), an O-line full of consumptives and a group of receivers with the raw talent of Amy Winehouse and half as much discipline.

How about some others? How about Dez Bryant to the Cowboys? Eh. If the Falcons are a passing team that likes to run, the Cowboys are a running team that likes to pass. Tony Romo forgets that sometimes but over the course of a season he remembers more than he forgets, so the ‘Boys’ posse of receivers has plenty of time to work on their Terrell Owens impersonations.

Jordan Shipley to the Bengals? Eh eh. If he had gone to the Pats you’d think, “Hmmm … Wes Welker.” With the Bengals you think, “Hmmm … Peter Warrick.”

Jahvid Best to the Lions? Good. Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson works only as a counterpoint to Kevin Smith or someone getting 3.3 per carry. Smith’s in rehab. Best has the chance to be that someone.

Andrew Quarless to the Packers? Also good. One can envision a three-tight-end set with Quarless, Jermichael Finley, and Donald Lee on third-and-goal from the two, where the Packers never, ever run it unless they want to back it up to the five for a more makeable field goal.

Ryan Matthews to the Chargers? The Chargers certainly need it to work. Ever since Marion Butts the Chargers have relied on a dynamic running game to set up the pass. Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates are simply not good enough to turn that dynamic inside-out, and Norv Turner, who wears the offensive-genius label like a pair of Jimmy Choos, isn’t coach enough to create an offense where it might happen.

Toby Gerhart to the Vikings? Much better. The fallacy is that when Brett Favre arrived the Vikings stopped being a running team and became a passing team. The truth is they were still a running team; they were simply worse at it with Favre at QB. Protecting Brett Favre from being sacked is a full-time job. (Protecting Brett Favre from himself is impossible. Bah-dum-DUM.) Ever since he woke up with Liz Taylor’s ankles Favre moves like he has 10 pounds of Mississippi mud sucking at each foot. It’s difficult for a pro O-line to block for that and then crank it into hyperdrive and kick out the middle linebacker so AP can find a seam before he lays the pigskin on the hallowed plastic of the Humpdome. Gerhart can act like Brett Favre’s Depends, and he can also kick out his own middle linebacker. Until a mobile quarterback arrives in Minnesota (ooooh … Jake Locker) Gerhart is the next best thing.

In general, any player is a fantasy value – this is important, hence the italics -- when he makes a team better at what it already does well. Scan the transactions and draft lists and see which players fit that description. There are your fantasy sleepers.

So to return to the intro for the outro, the thing you really have to understand about football teams is that 95 percent of the time they add new personnel to complement their existing personnel, not to take them in an entirely different direction. And nothing, not even the freest days of free agency, can change that.

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