This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.
Quarterbacks Don't (Usually) Matter
Watching last year's No. 1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield, Monday night it dawned on me maybe he's just a guy. An undersized, not especially mobile passer who struggles under tough conditions. Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins can also light defenses up when circumstances are favorable, but what separates Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes is what they do even when things are falling apart around them.
Most quarterbacks fall into the Dalton/Cousins tier. They're competent enough, but they cannot transcend their environments. Mayfield seemed to transcend his environment last year, so there's still hope, but he should be getting better at this stage, not worse, especially with Odell Beckham in the fold.
But this is not about Mayfield per se. It's about the modern NFL with its QB-friendly rules and how to best build a team. The Colts lost a transcendent QB, Andrew Luck, to retirement before the season, and they're 3-2 behind Jacoby Brissett. The 49ers are 4-0 with Jimmy Garoppolo, and the Saints are 3-0 with Teddy Bridgewater under center. Brissett, Garoppolo and Bridgewater are just guys – sorry @daltondeldon – but their coaching, schemes and offensive lines are good. Put differently, you only need a great quarterback when conditions are bad – or if conditions are temporarily bad because you're facing an elite defense. The downgrade from Luck to Brissett would have been much more massive without Frank Reich and Quenton Nelson.
If this is true, the implications for building a team are profound. Given the cost of quarterbacks, it's a huge mistake to long-term a Cousins, Dalton, Matthew Stafford or Jared Goff type. It's also a mistake to squander top draft picks on whoever the best college QB happens to be in a particular year. Not only are you likely wedded to that draft gamble for a few years, but you've passed on the chance to get a Nelson, a Myles Garrett or a Nick Bosa. If you can hire a Frank Reich, Kyle Shanahan, Doug Pederson or Sean Payton, a good line, a good defense and just a guy is probably enough:
Someone soon will realize that and build a team with a couple of veteran backup QB's and a 2nd round draft pick and spend that 20-25M on the o-line or defense. Last year it was Foles and Mullens, this year it's Brissett, Minshew and maybe even Bridgewater.
— Phil Dussault (@PhilDussault27) October 8, 2019
That's not to say you can't win with an elite quarterback. Russell Wilson is worth every penny the Seahawks paid him because he can carry the team even when conditions – or the system – are merely average. And he's dangerous even against a top defense. But because quarterback is arguably the hardest position to project, it's almost impossible to know whether that early first-round pick is likely to be one of the rare transcendent QBs, and the odds are overwhelmingly that he is not.
Week 6 Trivia
Apropos of five players breaking the 40-point PPR barrier for the first time ever last week, can you name all the active players who have put up a 45-point PPR game in their careers?
Guessing the Lines
|Game||My Line||Guessed Line||Actual Line||ML-AL||O/U||Actual O/U||MO-AO|
|Giants at Patriots||13||14||17||4||46||43||-3|
|Panthers vs. Buccaneers||-1||-2||-2||-1||50||48.5||-1.5|
|Seahawks at Browns||-3||-3||2.5||5.5||47||47||0|
|Texans at Chiefs||4.5||6.5||5.5||1||58||55.5||-2.5|
|Redskins at Dolphins||0||-3||-3.5||-3.5||41||41||0|
|Eagles at Vikings||0||3||-3||-3||44||43.5||-0.5|
|Saints at Jaguars||-2.5||-3.5||1||3.5||43||44||1|
|Bengals at Ravens||13.5||13||11.5||-2||48||48||0|
|49ers at Rams||2.5||3.5||4.5||2||51||49||-2|
|Falcons at Cardinals||-2.5||-3||-1.5||1||54||52||-2|
|Titans at Broncos||3.5||3||2.5||-1||40||39||-1|
|Cowboys at Jets||-8.5||-9||-8.5||0||43||43.5||0.5|
|Steelers at Chargers||3||3||6.5||3.5||44||41.5||-2.5|
|Lions at Packers||6.5||7||5||-1.5||44||46.5||2.5|
For now, it looks like I'm on the Giants, Seahawks (I expected that line to change after Monday night's game), Dolphins, Saints and Steelers.
Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating the Book.
Week 5 Observations
• The Colts were better than the Chiefs Sunday night. They got constant pressure on Pat Mahomes while protecting Jacoby Brissett, they controlled the line of scrimmage on the ground and the time of possession. Mahomes' lone TD was on a miraculous play, and very little came easily, especially in the second half. The Chiefs miss Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, and Frank Reich outcoached Andy Reid.
• Marlon Mack was questionable all week, but racked up 29 carries, broke tackles and willed his way to first downs. He also caught three passes.
• I mocked the Mahomes regression police for three weeks, and I really hope they don't have the last laugh. But he's had only one TD pass over his last eight quarters. Some of that is circumstantial — the Lions pass defense is excellent, the Chiefs got a fumble-six in that game, and the Colts bludgeoned the Chiefs and controlled time of possession. But unpredictable circumstances are an argument for, not against, regression. I would still re-regress Mahomes back to his 2018-Week-3, 2019 pace going forward, especially with Hill due back.
• Dak Prescott was this week's Jared Goff — monster stats, but an unimpressive overall game. Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup got 14 targets each. Cooper, who just missed being the sixth player with 40 PPR points, looks like a steal for a generic first-round pick right now.
• Aaron Jones was the Packers entire offense, with 107 rushing yards and a team-leading eight targets, seven catches and 75 receiving yards. He also scored all their non-kicker points. I'd love to see when the last time a player checked those boxes in a win where the offense scored more than 30 points.
• I made the Chargers seven-point home favorites over the Broncos, and when I saw the line was 6.5 (putting me on the Chargers), I immediately regretted it. Obviously, the healthier, hungrier Broncos were going to cover at the Chargers' non-existent home field. I should have switched it, but I didn't want to undermine my incredibly unsuccessful process.
• Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon split snaps evenly, but Ekeler had 16 targets and 15 catches for 86 yards. When your leading receiver is getting fewer than five yards per target, you're liable to lose the game.
• Matt Ryan had another 46 passing attempts — he's a great fantasy quarterback on a team that's going nowhere.
• Deshaun Watson is unfair against a terrible defense, and he draws the Chiefs next week. I'd have to imagine the total will be close to 60, especially if Hill is back.
• Christian McCaffrey used to have Alvin Kamara-level usage, and now he's gone full Lev Bell, replete with all the goal-line carries too. I grudgingly took him at 1.2 in the NFFC, frustrated the guy at 1.1 took Saquon Barkley. McCaffrey would have had even more carries and yards had he not cramped up for the two final drives. He's on pace to be the greatest PPR fantasy back of all time.
• Leonard Fournette isn't likely to live up to his pedigree, but has proved himself competent behind a credible offense.
• I don't know why I keep taking the Redskins, Dolphins and Jets and the points against the Patriots and other massive favorites. No matter how big the line is, they cover it easily, and this is the case even when the Redskins score the first TD of the game and keep it close for most of the first half. It's a matter of when, not if, the terrible team blows the cover. Fifteen and a half on the road used to be an unthinkable line, but now there's one like that every week.
Maybe the league is different now, wherein the disparity between good and bad is more stark. Or maybe it's that teams are throwing more, so the disparity in final score is larger even if the disparity in quality is the same. Or maybe it's just a five-week sample which will regress as soon as I start making lines big enough to put me on the favorites.
• Sony Michel finally showed a pulse, likely closing the buy-low window. Buy-low only works when you're legitimately worried you might be getting a lemon.
• I have no idea why Mike Tomlin elected to kick in overtime, and I was especially aghast, given I had Steelers +3.5.
• I picked up the Eagles defense for very little in two leagues this week (already had them in a third.) People broke the budget for Wayne Gallman two weeks ago, and yet getting a 15-point favorite defense at home against Luke Falk isn't worth four percent of your FAAB budget? (Of course, I had the Jets with the points, too.)
• Daniel Jones had a bad stat game, but even his incompletions were usually on the money, and the Giants receivers had some drops. I'm still as bullish as ever.
• You always hate to see a player you started get a concussion — in the first quarter.
• Fifth-round pick Darius Slayton (4.39 40) looks like a player.
• The Raiders are 3-2 and would be a Wild Card team were the playoffs to begin today (h/t Ted Bell.) And two of their wins came on a neutral field against the Bears (who killed the Vikings last week) and in Indianapolis who just beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead. But Jon Gruden doesn't understand analytics!
• I had the Titans minus three, and if the Titans don't release Cairo Santos and fire Mike Vrabel, I will. Vrabel made arguably the worst coaching decision in NFL history (a bar as high as, for instance, most painful death in Game of Thrones), electing down seven for a 53-yard field-goal attempt on 4th-and-4 with 6:31 left. It would have been a garden-variety terrible decision if his kicker were Justin Tucker, but Santoast was already 0-for-3 in the game, having missed from 36 and 50 earlier in the game, not including one he had blocked.
• At least the Cardinals covered for me, though even they nearly blew it at the end too. Kyler Murray is living up to his billing as a runner if nothing else.
• Freddie Kitchens' vanilla offense (other than the first play from scrimmage where Odell Beckham got to throw the ball) isn't doing Baker Mayfield any favors.
• Nick Chubb had a 37-yard run but otherwise didn't have much room to operate and was gang-tackled in the red zone. It would have been nice to see him get more than one target, though. Another indictment of Kitchens is not throwing to Chubb, especially in the face of the rush.
• Garoppolo might also be just a guy, but he's in an ideal situation. Kyle Shanahan is the most unpredictable play caller in the league. You never know whether it's a run or a pass, which direction it's coming from or even which player is getting the ball once you have the run/pass part diagnosed. The Browns were off balance all night.
• Matt Breida ran a 4.37 40 at his NFL Pro Day, and he looked faster than that on his 83-yard TD run. But Tevin Coleman is nearly as fast and saw 16 carries to his 11, though Breida out-targeted him 3-0. Breida/Coleman has to be one of the fastest backfields in NFL history.
• George Kittle is the only startable pass catcher for the 49ers right now. He finally caught a TD and was a tackle-breaking beast near the first-down markers.
• Robbie "fools" Gould missed three field goals and looked shaky on an extra point when the 49ers had to re-kick after a 12-man-on-the-field penalty by the Browns. Odd that a penalty on the other team could have cost them a point.
• Kitchens punted down 28 on 4th-and-7 with about eight minutes left. I get letting a game go and moving onto next week, but then why leave Beckham in the game to field a subsequent punt, or Chubb on the field for the subsequent series?