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At last it has arrived! The final position (excluding special teams) of my mid-season search for the best contract in football, a recurring Economics and Sports Management feature. It’s the last post (until the season is over), and it focuses on the last men to beat in the defensive backfield: safeties. As always, players’ on-field performance grades come from the experts at Pro Football Focus and players’ average annual contract salaries come from the databases at Spotrac.com.

These are the Top 10 safeties this season, through Week 14 (PFF grades in parentheses):

  • 1. Devin McCourty, NE (17.3)
  • 2. Donte Whitner, SF (13.5)
  • 3. T.J. Ward, CLV (13.1)
  • 4. Will Hill, NYG (12.3)
  • 5. James Ihedigbo, BAL (11.8)
  • 6. Eric Berry, KC (10.7)
  • 7. Jairus Byrd, BUF (9.2)
  • 8. Earl Thomas, SEA (5.7)
  • 9. Kam Chancellor, SEA (5.5)
  • 10. Rashad Johnson, ARI (5.4)

I was a little surprised to see Whitner, but it looks like he’s put in the work this year after getting torched in the Super Bowl. I would guess Troy Polamalu is the most famous safety, but despite being big for Head and Shoulders he hasn’t been among the very best on the field, earning a 4.4 grade, good for 17th in the league.1 Here are the Bottom 10:

  • 74. Reshad Jones, MIA (-9.8)
  • 75. Dashon Goldson, SF (-10.9)
  • 76. Bacarri Rambo, WAS (-11)
  • 77. Thomas DeCoud, ATL (-11.2)
  • 78. Josh Evans, JAC (-11.5)
  • 79. Chris Conte, CHI (-12.2)
  • 80. Brandon Meriweather, WAS (-13.1)
  • 81. John Cyprien, JAC (-18.1)
  • 82. Brandian Ross, OAK (-21.8)
  • 83. Major Wright, CHI (-24.3)

Rough times in Chicago and Jacksonville. There are actually 85 safeties who’ve played 25% or more of their potential snaps. Will Allen was released earlier this year by the Dallas Cowboys, and Ed Reed was released by the Texans only to be signed by the Jets. I dropped them both from the analysis, although Reed’s substantial drop in pay will be worth mentioning in a bit. Among the other 83 safeties, the average grade was a -1.25, with a standard deviation of 7.32. And here are the Top 10 safety salaries (average annual salary in millions of dollars in parentheses):

  • 1. Troy Polamalu, PIT ($9.125 million)
  • 2. Eric Berry, KC ($8.341m)
  • 3. Dashon Goldson, TB ($8.25m)
  • 4. Eric Weddle, SD ($8m)
  • 5. Antrel Rolle, NYG ($7.4m)
  • 6. Reshad Jones, MIA ($7.34m)
  • 7. Michael Griffin, TEN ($7m)
  • 8. Jairus Byrd, BUF ($6.916m)
  • 9. Antoine Bethea, IND ($6.75m)
  • 10. LaRon Landry, IND ($6m)

Goldson, 9th worst safety on the year, is the third highest paid, with Jones joining him in the worst-play-best-pay clubhouse. And both Colt safeties also have performance grades below the -1.25 average. Not what you want for top dollar. Here are the Bottom 10 paid safeties:

  • 74. Antonio Allen, NYJ ($0.537m)
  • 75. Jaiquawn Jarrett, NYJ ($0.525m)
  • 76. Robert Lester, CAR & Jeff Heath, DAL ($0.495m)
  • 78. Rodney McLeod, STL ($0.481m)
  • 79. Will Hill, NYG, Tashaun Gipson, CLE, Duke Ihenacho, DEN, & Brandian Ross, OAK ($0.48m)
  • 83. M.D. Jennings, GB ($0.466m)

The average safety’s salary is $2.422 million, with a standard deviation of $2.334 million. As with many positions, salaries vary much less than performance. Now, before awarding another general manager with another award for one of the best contracts in football, I give you Ed Reed.

This past off-season Reed signed a three-year contract with the Houston Texans, averaging $5 million a year, a little less than his previous seven-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens, which averaged $5.726 million. In 2008 (as far back as PFF data goes), Reed was the 4th highest graded safety of 83 who had significant playing time; in 2009, 2nd of 88; in 2010, 9th of 85; in 2011, 12th of 87; and last season, 59th of 88. A 12-year veteran, the Ravens let him go, but the Texans paid him well above average. Through Week 10, in seven games with the Texans Reed graded at -6.3, a -0.9 per game. The current league average among safeties is roughly a -0.09; Reed was playing much worse. Houston released him (still owing him about two million dollars), and the Jets signed him to a one-year contract worth only $0.94 million. With the Jets he’s still played poorly, a -1.5 grade through four games, but his current contract is much more favorable to the Jets than his old one was to the Texans. I estimate that his current contract quality is actually 0.59, a good move for the Jets (as it was a good move for the Texans to cut him). While Reed may be one of the better known safeties, in the period of a season and a half, as his play declined sharply, teams’ willingness to pay him declined sharply as well. On-field performance matters a great deal (duh).

On to the Top 10 safety contracts this season, so far (contract quality2 in parentheses):

  • 1. Devin McCourty, NE (2.72)
  • 2. Will Hill, NYG (2.68)
  • 3. James Ihedigbo, BAL (2.49)
  • 4. T.J. Ward, CLE (2.45)
  • 5. Robert Lester, CAR (1.72)
  • 6. George Iloka, CIN (1.58)
  • 7. Donte Whitner, SF (1.37)
  • 8. Ryan Mundy, NYG & Glover Quin, DET (1.34)
  • 10. Andrew Sandejo, MIN (1.28)

Another ESPM congratulations to New England Patriots General Manager (and head coach) Bill Belichick. Those top six contracts are all top 16 performers (the first four are top five performers) who make less than the average safety. Note that Baltimore, having moved on from Reed, is getting excellent value from Ihedigbo. In a similar play from the losers of last year’s Super Bowl, the 49ers let Dashon Goldson go in free agency, keeping Whitner3 and drafting rookie Eric Reid in the first round, currently the 25th best contract with a +3.3 grade on $2.12 million. As for Goldson, well… here are the Worst 10 contracts this season:

  • 74. Morgan Burnett, GB (-1.71)
  • 75. Thomas DeCoud, ATL (-1.82)
  • 76. John Cyprien, JAC (-1.85)
  • 77. Brandon Meriweather, WAS (-1.87)
  • 78. Brandian Ross, OAK (-1.98)
  • 79. Troy Polamalu, PIT (-2.1)
  • 80. Antoine Bethea, IND (-2.33)
  • 81. Major Wright, CHI (-2.39)
  • 82. Reshad Jones, MIA (-3.28)
  • 83. Dashon Goldson, TB (-3.82)

Yup, the Bucs rewarded Goldson with the third most money among all safeties, and he’s been, in a word, bad. It is worth pointing out that while building through the draft and getting some cheap contracts and all are usually good ideas, they aren’t foolproof. Cyprien went 33rd overall to the Jaguars, the first pick of the second round. Brandian Ross and Major Wright both make well below a million dollars, but they have just been really, really bad out there.

Once again, the data suggest that there is no ironclad, golden rule to attain success in the NFL. If there was, it would be easy. And boring.


  1. Of course, his popularity may benefit the Steelers in other ways, but for now I won’t be getting into it. It’s not a simple task. 
  2. CQ = # SDs a player’s performance grade is above/below the mean – # SDs a player’s average annual salary is above/below the mean 
  3. Soon to be HITner! Oh never mind. Thank goodness, I sure thought that was dumb. 
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On this morning of December 4th, the ESPN ScoreCenter iPad application announced that the NFL had fined Mike Tomlin $100 thousand1 for his little sojourn onto the field and into the path of Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return on Sunday Night Football. What a perfect lead for looking at player fines!

The good people at Spotrac.com2 indicate that Mike Tomlin makes $5.75 million a year. It is troublesome when people manipulate numbers like that ($100 followed by $5.75) so to be clear: the NFL fined him $0.1 million, and he makes $5.75 million. It is a fraction, though not a very pretty one, and works out to 1.74% of his annual salary. $100 thousand is the biggest in-game fine in league history, with only Bill Belichick’s $500 thousand for Spygate outstripping it among all fines.3 The language in the NFL’s press release officially stated that Tomlin’s actions were “like, a pretty not-so-good thing to do”. But exactly how bad? Well…

Most NFL fines target players. Through Week 12, there have been 163 fines (including 16 in the preseason), ranging from uniform violations to physically engaging an official. The fines total $2.37 million, averaging $0.015 million ($14,543). The most common fines have been for roughing the passer– 34 fines, $0.534 million total, $0.016 million average ($15,691)– and hitting a defenseless player– 21 fines, $0.421 million total, $0.02 million average ($20,068). Tomlin was hit with a 1.74% salary reduction this season. How does that stack up with the players?

The average NFL salary is $2.016 million ($2,015,942), with a median of $0.753 million ($753,229). The average fine ($14,543) is 0.72% of the average salary, and 1.93% of the median salary.4 For half of all players, the average fine is a harsher punishment than Tomlin’s 1.74% loss. But are those the guys getting fined? Most fines occur on the defensive side, specifically at defensive end and safety (the guys hitting those quarterbacks and defenseless receivers). Defensive ends average $2.577 million a year, with a median of $0.933 million, and safeties average $1.634 million a year, with a median of $0.715 million.

The average roughing the passer fine costs the average defensive end 0.61% of his yearly take, and the median defensive end 1.68%. The average hitting a defenseless player fine costs the average safety 1.23% of his salary, and the median safety 2.81%. Starters make more than backups, are on the field more, and presumably receive most of the fines, but not all of them. Another thing to consider is that fines escalate for repeated offenses. Still, while in terms of absolute value, Tomlin’s fine is the biggest in the league this season, in relative value it is certainly not. For example, though released a few weeks ago, Ahmad Black, safety of the Buccaneers, was earning an average of $556,685 and was fined $21,000 in Week 2 for hitting a defenseless player, a 3.77% pay cut. To my knowledge, the ESPN ScoreCenter iPad application has never informed anyone where Ahmad Black’s losses rank in league history.

Lastly, the NFL does not announce their fines, nor disclose them without being asked (making Spotrac.com’s work even more impressive). At the beginning of each season they issue guidelines concerning fines, and there are minimums for certain offenses, but basically an NFL fine is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. Lots of economists have studied lots of things about risk analysis, decision-making, etc, but in terms of policy it basically comes down to two things: you can increase enforcement, or increase the fine, and your action depends on whether you want the behavior to stop, or whether you want to collect money.

Given the relative secrecy, and that we keep hearing more and more about how officials are cracking down on dangerous hits, and that all suspect hits are reviewed after the game anyway to bring enforcement to 100%, and that the league has not significantly altered fine values, and that 134 of the 163 (82.2%) player fines this season have been for illegal hitting or tackling, and that we all have no trouble believing that the league does not give a damn about player safety anyway, I think it is clear what policy the NFL has chosen. Making sure every illegal hit receives a fine brings in money; making fines so expensive that the players actually change their behavior does not. If the NFL really wanted these hits to stop, they would raise the price.


  1. Apparently the NFL may also take a draft pick or two away from the Steelers, but has not made a decision yet. 
  2. Unless otherwise noted, all information concerning fines and salaries in this article comes from the good people at Sportrac.com. They are pretty cool. 
  3. Apparently head coaches Wade Wilson and Mike Tice also received fines of $100 thousand. So we have either got alliterative initials or guys named Mike T. COINCIDENCE? YOU DECIDE
  4. How dies that compare to us mortals? Per the U.S. Census Bureau, the average household income is $72,555, the median $52,762. That is an average and median of $84,422 and $64,293 among family households, respectively, with a non-family household averaging $45,893 with a median of $31,749. A speeding ticket varies, but a seemingly reasonable estimate is $150. That is 0.28% of the median household income. A first-time DUI offense similarly varies, but a seemingly reasonable estimate is $10,000, accounting for all fines, necessary classes, legal fees, increasing auto insurance rates, etc. That is 18.95% of the median household income. 

Last night the 49ers beat the Washington D.C. Football Team1 27-6, and this morning Thanksgiving is in two days. Things are looking up! With that I am back with my recurring feature, Economics & Sports Management Presents: The Search for the Best (& Worst!) Contract in Football. The last couple weeks I’ve looked at quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends. Today, we’ve got the last of the “skill position”2 players, which some teams don’t even bother with anymore. Today, I look at fullbacks.

With performance data through ten weeks on quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs, and eleven weeks for tight ends, the best contracts so far have been quarterback Russell Wilson, SEA (contract quality 2.35); wide receiver Doug Baldwin, SEA (2.26); running back Giovani Bernard, CIN (2.2); and tight end Jimmy Graham, NO (3.17). The worst have been quarterback Joe Flacco, BAL (-3.13); wide receiver Mike Wallace, MIA (-3.83); running back Darren McFadden, OAK (-3.78); and tight end Jared Cook, STL (-3.02). To review, contract quality measures the number of standard deviations a player’s on-field performance (as determined by Pro Football Focus) is above/below the average for his position, minus the number of standard deviations a player’s average annual salary (as reported by Spotrac.com) is above/below the average for his position. CQ = #SDs +/- in performance – #SDs +/- in salary. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, 23 have had the same fullback in on at least 25% of their offensive snaps through Week 12.3 Here are the Top 5 performing fullbacks (PFF grade in parentheses):

  • 1. Anthony Sherman, KC (14.3)
  • 2. Collin Mooney, TEN (9)
  • 3. Mike Tolbert, CAR (8.9)
  • 4. John Kuhn, GB (7.4)
  • 5. John Conner, NYG (6.3)

Alright! Fullbacks! … Yeah. Tragically the 49ers’ Bruce Miller just missed the list, at 6th with a 5.9 grade. Mike Tolbert and John Kuhn probably get the most attention, but it’s Anthony Sherman, in his first season with the Chiefs4, traded after his first two years with the Cardinals, comfortably leading the way. And that’s on a fair foundation, as by now all teams have played exactly 11 games. (There are no more bye weeks.) Here are the Bottom 5 performing fullbacks:

  • 20. Derrick Coleman, SEA (-3.1)
  • 21. James Develin, NE (-3.2)
  • 22. Erik Lorig, TB (-5.7)
  • 23. Vonta Leach, BAL (-7.5)
  • 24. Tommy Bohanon, NYJ (-9.9)

Vonta Leach I’ve definitely heard of, and I’m not sure why he’s playing so badly this season. (Last year, he was the best fullback in the league.) The average grade among fullbacks is a 0.89, and the standard deviation is 5.66. As with other positions, there is enormous variation in the quality of play among different players. How about how much they make? Here are the Top 5 paid fullbacks (average annual salary, in millions of dollars, in parentheses):

  • 1. Marcel Reece, OAK ($3.113 million)
  • 2. Mike Tolbert, CAR ($2.725m)
  • 3. John Kuhn, GB ($2.533m)
  • 4. Jerome Felton, MIN ($2.5m)
  • 5. Vonta Leach, BAL ($1.875m)

This is the fifth position I’ve looked at, and it never fails: there is always someone on the bottom of the performance list who makes the top of the salary list. Way to go, Vonta Leach! You have successfully pulled a Flacco. (I know he was just the Super Bowl MVP but actually it’s not a good thing.) And here are the Bottom 5 paid fullbacks:

  • 20. Erik Lorig, TB ($0.456m)
  • 21. Jamize Olawale, OAK & Will Ta’ufo’ou, JAC ($0.435m)
  • 23. Collin Mooney, TEN & Jed Collins, NO ($0.43m)

Olawale and Ta’uf’ou!5 Alright! The average salary among fullbacks is $0.992 million. The standard deviation is $0.86 million. There is much less variation among how much fullbacks are paid relative to how well they play. Generally this has been the case with other positions as well. So, which general managers have gotten the most out of their investment? The ESPM Award for Best Fullback Contract (so far) goes to… John Dorsey, General Manager of the Kansas City Chiefs! Chiefs’ fullback Anthony Sherman has a contract value of 2.87, comfortably in the lead through Week 12. Here are the Top 5 fullback contracts (contract quality in parentheses):

  • 1. Anthony Sherman, KC (2.87)
  • 2. Collin Mooney, TEN (2.09)
  • 3. Bruce Miller, SF (1.43)
  • 4. John Conner, NYG (1.38)
  • 5. Jamize Olawale, OAK (0.91)

And it’s “All the Way” Olawale by a nose! Also whooo Bruce Miller! With Bruce, four of the top six performers are tops in contract quality as well. This has not been the case in other positions; a number of receivers and backs, while being among the best in the league, were still overpaid. I suspect this is because fullbacks aren’t usually stars the way other offensive players are. A franchise may feel compelled to keep a star (or farmer star) quarterback or wide receiver for whatever cost, due to their relationship with the team or the fans, their popularity, etc. Yet those aspects fall outside this analysis. And in any case, those qualities may not be a significant factor (especially) among fullbacks. Here are the Worst 5 fullback contracts, based on play through Week 12:

  • 20. John Kuhn, GB (-0.64)
  • 21. Tommy Bohanon, NYJ (-1.4)
  • 22. Jerome Felton, MIN (-1.68)
  • 23. Marcel Reece, OAK (-2.34)
  • 24. Vonta Leach, BAL (-2.51)

I know Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome got them a championship, but future prospects may not be so bright, being firmly in the running for two of the worst contracts among the five positions I’ve examined. Although I guess Leach isn’t quite as spectacular as Joe Flacco himself, who was the best paid and the worst quarterback. Four of the five most expensive fullbacks find themselves on the list. Again and again, we see that high-priced free agent signings usually aren’t worth it.

That’s it for fullbacks. Later this week I’ll tackle the offensive line positions and try not to get flagged for defensive holding. Stay tuned.


  1. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious I’m waffling on this whole Redskins name issue. Hopefully I’ll have reached a decision soon. I definitely want to go back and listen to what Mike Tirico said on Monday Night Football, also maybe actually see what Native Americans themselves have to say on the subject. 
  2. I hate that term. Blocking J.J. Watt, and even most other defensive players, takes skill. Weighing 300 pounds helps, but there’s A Lot more to it. 
  3. OAK has actually had two different fullbacks each play 25% or more of their snaps. The teams without a qualifying fullback are ARI, ATL, CIN, DAL, DEN, DET, MIA, PHI, and SD. 
  4. Apparently this is the more racist name? Like I said I need to look into it more thoroughly. 
  5. Patenting the nicknames Jamize “All the Way” Olawale and Will “Tougher Than You” Ta’ufo’ou. 

I love sports, and of course I love sports announcing. Though a San Francisco Giants fan1, I’ll definitely watch any west coast Dodger game just to enjoy the magnificence that is Vin Scully.2 And where would I be in the Olympics without Bob Costas guiding me along in the studio? I’ve never had quite as much love for any football game commentators, with the possible exception of Pat Summerall and John Madden. Generally, I feel they do a good job– it actually isn’t easy to sit down for three hours and talk during a football game while being appealing to millions of viewers– but they say many silly things. Or things that are just wrong. I find this most aggravating when it’s the “expert” color commentator, guaranteed to be a former player or coach, whom I feel people usually, often wrongly, trust. While they may offer some fascinating insights, they may also offer some terrible ones. It is rare that I watch a game and at no point think to myself “That’s wrong,” or “That doesn’t make any sense.” Yesterday as usual I started watching football at noon, and unusually finished at 11:30 pm thanks to an overtime thriller in Foxborough. While not a comprehensive list, I tried to make a note when a commentator said something silly.3 Here we go.

With the Ravens trailing the Jets 3-0 and 4:10 remaining in the first quarter, Ray Rice gained two yards on a 2nd&1 from the Jet 28.

CBS play-by-play man Greg Gumbel remarked:

Ray has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.

And color commentator Dan Dierdorf, 13 year NFL veteran, five-time First-team All-Pro selection, replied in his infinite wisdom:

Well he did, an- and because the criticism was all on him, when in reality I saw a whole bunch of tape on these guys where there were no holes whatsoever. Ray Rice was being met at the line of scrimmage.

At the moment Ray Rice has the worst Pro Football Focus grade4 among all running backs in the NFL, and it’s not close. With a -0.2 in the passing game, a -11.6 in the run game, a -3.1 as a blocker, and a -0.5 in penalties, he totals a -15.4. The next worst running back, C.J. Spiller, checks in with a -11.2, and third worst, Darren McFadden, registers a -7.9. PFF’s “Elusive Rating” is a statistic designed to gauge how well a running back evades tacklers, controlling for the quality of his blocking. Ray Rice is dead last among the 50 running backs with enough snaps to qualify with a 7.0; tops is Marshawn Lynch with a 72.7. (The rating roughly scales from 1-100.) So I know Dan Dierdof “saw a whole bunch of tape” and I believe him. But a whole bunch of guys at PFF saw all of the tape, and firmly conclude that Ray Rice has played abysmally this season. So if you caught a few Ravens’ games and heard Dierdof’s remarks and thought “Oh, it isn’t on Ray Rice, it’s the people around him,” rest assured: it is on Ray Rice. He has truly earned the second worst running back contract in football. Which is to say, he has not earned his contract at all.

With the Steelers leading the Browns 10-3 on a 2nd&10 from the Brown 14 with 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Ben Roethlisberger’s pass for Antonio Brown in the end zone was broken up by Joe Haden.

Solomon Wilcots, six year NFL veteran and color commentator of CBS, broke down what happened:

This is a great play by Joe Haden. Watch him knife in underneath. He understands that down around the goal line, look at that play! You have to get between the quarterback and the receiver. He allowed himself to slip underneath, he had great position.

It’s great, except CBS is showing the replay as Wilcots is saying this, the replay in which Haden very clearly grabs Brown’s jersey with his left hand and holds on for a good moment. It wasn’t blatant pass interference, but it was pass interference. It’s one thing for the officials to miss it live; it’s another for Haden to miss it during the slow motion replay, as he remarks what a terrific play it was by Haden. And even though this is the type of penalty that may not be called most of the time, Wilcots doesn’t acknowledge that Haden grabbed Brown at all. Fans at home, Joe Haden is a very good corner in the National Football League, but that doesn’t always mean “slipping underneath”. Sometimes it may mean “gets overly physical without getting whistled”.

Down 10-3 at home after an incomplete Case Keenum pass on 3rd&goal from the Jaguar two yard line with 8:34 remaining in the third quarter, the Texans took their offense off the field to kick a field goal.

Said CBS color commentator Steve Tasker, 13 year veteran, seven-time All-Pro:

And that’s going to force the field goal, the fans aren’t happy about it but it’s the right move.

Of course if you’ve ever heard of Brian Burke, or know the difference between actual good strategy in the NFL and the still-prevailing conventional wisdom, you know that’s the wrong call. A quick rundown of the numbers: on average going for it in that situation produces a win probability of 0.38; kicking a field goal produces a win probability of 0.31.  From up in the press box Kubiak’s decision cost his team a 7% chance of winning the game.5 For going for it to be worthwhile in this situation, the Texans need to convert only 26% of the time. It’s two yards, and lest we forget, THEY’RE PLAYING THE JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS! For Tasker to dismiss this as “the right move” is just… how can he… it’s so obviously… RAGE!!! Furious George, L.O.L. I didn’t watch the end of the game, which the Texans went on to lose 13-6, but I bet at no point during the Texans’ final drive6 did Tasker point out “HEY, the would only need a field goal right now if they had gone for it on fourth down earlier and scored a touchdown, as was quite likely given that they only had two yards to go. And as it is, they STILL need to score a touchdown and are in a situation where they have to go for it on fourth down anyway, even if it’s way more than two yards to go. Jeez, I guess I was just saying what I always say and talking out of my @#$ earlier, huh Bill?” Of course if he did point that out, then, well, tip of the hat to him. But I kinda doubt it.

On a 1st&10 with 8:22 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Packers, down 20-7 to the Vikings, replaced Scott Tolzien with Matt Flynn, who promptly completed his first pass for nine yards.

Fox play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt stated:

A completion. And it’s got this crowd back in the game.

Color commentator and 15 year NFL veteran, four-time All-Pro safety John Lynch chimed in:

He goes to Matt Flynn and they get a little momentum right away.

Whether or not you “believe” in momentum in sports or not, you probably know there is no factual evidence for it if you feel strongly about it one way or the other. Bill Barnwell, of the great Grantland.com, has sort of made “Nomentum” a thing this year, bringing facts a bit further into the mainstream. I’ll only say this: what do you mean when you refer to “momentum”, exactly? Lynch said they got “a little momentum right away.” Scott Tolzien, just benched, had pulled off two nifty moves on a six yard touchdown run earlier in the game. Did that play accrue momentum? And if so, it must have disappeared, since Tolzien was benched? So was the momentum from this pass from Flynn more noteworthy than any momentum Tolzien had gained, an indication that the Packers’ fortunes would be reversed and cause for the fans to rejoice? I, uhh, kinda doubt it. On the next play James Starks ran for 34 yards, setting up 1st&10 from the Viking 37. The momentum must really be going now, right!?! Then Starks ran for two yards, Flynn threw an incomplete pass, and Flynn threw a pass for a loss of five yards, leaving the Packers with 4th&13 from the Vikings 40. They punted. Tragically neither Burkhardt nor Lynch explained where that momentum had gone, and what impact, if any, it had on the game.

Up 24-3 facing 3rd&1 from the Colt 45 with 4:13 remaining in the 2nd quarter, the Cardinals’ Andre Ellington was stuffed for a loss of two.

After the play, CBS color commentator Dan Fouts, 15 year NFL veteran and two-time First-team All-Pro, praised the Colts for the stop, saying:

It looked like the Colts- er, the Cardinals had momentum.

What a curious statement! It LOOKED like the Cardinals had the momentum. But in fact, the Colts now have the momentum? The Cardinals had the momentum because they were up by three touchdowns at home and driving in their opponent’s territory? But then, in one fell swoop, the Colts got a stop and now they have the momentum? Or some momentum? The Cardinals have less momentum now? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, DAN??? You know, I think I know. I was never the quarterback for any football team, let alone the San Diego Chargers, and I’m not in the NFL Hall of Fame, but hear me out: “momentum” is when a team improves their situation, relative to the previous situation. And it gets thrown around for a variety of situation types: momentum accrued from a winning streak (sometimes dating back to last season!), unanswered points, a string of good plays, or just one good play, or penalty, whatever. So far as I’m aware, there is A LOT of anecdotal, personal claims that such “momentum” helps a team or player perform, but actually zero (scientific) evidence that it does. Certainly, that’s the case in other sports7, and given the fickle nature of momentum’s tangible effects on performance, I sure don’t see a case otherwise.

On 4th&4 down 27-3 with 11:14 left in the third quarter, Andrew Luck’s pass from the Cardinal 36 was batted into the air and nearly intercepted on the Cardinal 20 before hitting the turf.

Fouts pointed out:

Well they’re better off not catching that ball.

And good for him, it’s a good point and he is totally right. On 4th down, unless there’s a good run back opportunity, the defense improves field position by batting the ball down instead of catching it. And then play-by-play man Ian Eagle chimed in:

It doesn’t matter other than the yardage. So you can pad your stats as a defensive player, but you actually are going to benefit if it’s incomplete.

Eagle sort hits on the right point (after Fouts brought it up), but uhhh… “It doesn’t matter other than the yardage”? Yeah, that’s what the teams are doing in football, trying to gain yards and get to the end zone. The yardage matters! According to Advanced NFL Stats‘ Win Probability Calculator, in this situation the yardage matters to the tune of a single percent chance of winning. Starting on their 36, the Cardinals had a win probability of 95%; starting on their 20, it would have been 94%. That’s not a lot, but disregarding yards in a football game, especially 16 of them (nearly a fifth of the field), is pretty silly.

With 4:52 left in the fourth quarter of Sunday Night Football, down 31-24, Wes Welker dropped a pass over the middle on a 1st&10 from the Patriot 36.

Cris Collinsworth, eight year NFL veteran and three-time Second-team All-Pro selection, wondered of Welker’s drop:

How many times do you see that?

Fortunately, NBC play-by-play caller Al Michaels jumped right in:

Once too many for some New England fans.

Fans who don’t obsess over the numbers but just enjoy watching football (God bless ’em) may well think Wes Welker has terrific hands, because nearly without fail, every time he drops a pass, whoever is announcing the game remarks “Oh, a rare drop from Wes Welker!” Except Welker’s drops are hardly rare, so over the course of a season it is a pretty regular occurrence to hear a rare Wes Welker drop proclaimed on television. Going as far back as PFF data goes, through the 2008 season, Welker’s drop rate is the following (league-wide rank among players with 25% of their team’s targets or more in parentheses):

  • 2008: 6.03% (19th of 81)
  • 2009: 4.65% (24th of 101)
  • 2010: 13.13% (70th of 89)
  • 2011: 9.63% (48th of 95)
  • 2012: 11.28% (58th of 82)
  • 2013: 9.72% (54th of 97)

Welker certainly doesn’t have the worst hands in the NFL, but he’s hardly elite. Larry Fitzgerald, for example, finished 13th or higher all of those seasons except 2012, when he finished 24th. To answer Collinsworth’s question, counting 2013, the last four seasons Welker has dropped 9% or more of his catchable passes. Counting last night, so far in 2013 he’s dropped seven passes; only seven players have dropped more than him this season. Kudos to Michaels for hinting to Collinsworth that, in fact, a Wes Welker drop is not all that unusual.

Lastly, I just thought I’d remind everyone who the Top 10 quarterbacks have been in fantasy football this week, pending MNF (standard points in parentheses):

  • 1. Philip Rivers (27.78)
  • 2. Tom Brady (24.76)
  • 3. Ryan Fitzpatrick (24.4)
  • 4. Alex Smith (21.46)
  • 5. Carson Palmer (20.56)
  • 6. Cam Newton (20.06)
  • 7. Drew Brees (18.52)
  • 8. Josh McCown (18.48)
  • 9. Ryan Tannehill (18)
  • 10. Matthew Stafford (16.48)

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, and Josh McCown all cracked the Top 10. What is the world coming to? Although to be fair, yesterday at mid-afternoon Mike Glennon, Christian Ponder, Kellen Clemens, and bad quarterback superstar Brandon Weeden were also in the running. Mike Glennon actually scored more points (16.18) than Peyton Manning (13). I give up. Go 49ers!


  1. And also a Seattle Mariners fan. That Pacific Northwest life, being close to the homeland in Alaska. Incidentally my mother’s two favorite baseball teams are the Washington Nationals, where she grew up, and the Mariners, closest to where she lives now. They are the only two active Major League Baseball franchises that do not have a single appearance in the World Series. (Yes, even before when the Nationals were the Montreal Expos.) It’s a hard life. 
  2. Also, Vin Scully had the call for “The Catch”, so it’s even more okay. 
  3. How did I catch calls from so many different games? DirecTV’s NFL Red Zone Channel. God bless DirecTV’s NFL Red Zone Channel. 
  4. Among running backs who’ve played 25% or more of their team’s snaps. PFF has multiple analysts grade every player on every snap of every game. Click here to learn more about PFF’s grading system. 
  5. Poor Kubiak. His recent health scare is keeping him from the sidelines, and after losing to the Jaguars, at home, you’ve got to wonder if he’ll be coaching the Texans next season, or even at the end of this one. I only take issue with his chosen strategy in this case; I’m sure he’s a wonderful human being and I wish him and his family the best. 
  6. Which ended on a Case Keenum interception from the Jaguar 41. If the Texans had only needed a field goal to tie then, they might have squeaked it out. 
  7. See all scientific findings regarding “the hot hand”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot-hand_fallacy 
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