Point Blank – October 20, 2016
What if Jordy simply isn’t a Full Nelson…Matthew Stafford looks like a Lion on the Fantasy board…The MTS Raiders should be feeling Blue when the Saturday scoreboard goes final…
A night after one major televised debate brought the focus of the nation to our fair city of Las Vegas (and no, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton came over for breakfast this morning, despite me having sent each a cordial invitation), another debate goes in front of the cameras in Green Bay – just what is wrong with Aaron Rodgers and that passing offense. Today I have a particular take on that notion, something that runs against what I was believing before the season started, and there is also some ground to cover on the Fantasy QB front and Game #5 of Cubs/Dodgers, as well as getting an NCAA ticket into play.
With all of that going on time to plug in the jukebox as Bob Dylan Week continues, and this time the focus goes to one of the single most important moments for one of his songs to be covered. It is also a song that we should be listening to in this country as the election approaches, with many of the mindsets not in the proper place in terms of who we have been, who we are, and who we can be. So we go to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with “Chimes of Freedom”, in front of over 200,000 in East Berlin in 1988, behind a wall that was to come down a little over a year later (for a recent take on the scope of that event you can go here).
Far between sundown’s finish, and midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
And for each and every underdog soldier in the night
We gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Give the entire song a read through and you will get a chance to appreciate some of Dylan’s best work. It isn’t easy to drop from that level down to the scoreboards of sporting events, but there is some money to be made…
Item: The uniform says Jordy Nelson, the performance doesn’t
The decline in the Aaron Rodgers numbers has been a major topic across the Sports Mediaverse, and it is a major one in terms of how it impacts the betting markets, so naturally it has been covered here as well. But it may be time to start bringing a sub-plot into play, in particular for assumptions that I made, along with many others.
Back when it was time to sort through the Packers as part of the NFL preview, I made it a focus to show how much the Rodgers numbers declined in 2015, vs. 2014, and attributed much of that to the absence of Nelson, which seemed logical. Now Nelson is back, and the numbers have continued to decline, which means that was not the reason, right? Perhaps not. What if Nelson really isn’t all the way back? It is one thing to come off of an injury, but it is another to come off of an injury when a WR is 31 years old. Might he have lost a step?
Let’s look at the numbers, because they are striking, with the focus on Yards Per Catch, and the Completion% of passes thrown in his direction -
2012: 15.2 67.1
2013: 15.5 66.9
2014: 15.5 64.9
2016: 12.0 55.3
Not only was the quality of the Rodgers/Nelson hook-up so strong prior to the injury, so was the consistency. Now there has been a significant drop in each category, and note that they are truly stand-alone measures that don’t impact each other. There are fewer passes being completed when Nelson is the target, and when completed they are going for fewer yards.
The difficulty in getting a better measurement is that isolating WR play is still in its infancy. In a better world there would be “separation stats” that show the ability of each WR to get open, but while groups like Pro Football Focus will likely get there eventually, that is not available to us yet. Hence why opportunities like tonight do help in terms of the Eye Test, although it will still be limited to the camera angles that are available.
As for Nelson’s take on the state of affairs, here is how he responded this week when asked about the play of Rodgers - “He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game, he’s a leader of our team, he can make every play there is to be made, and everyone’s got to do their part to help him out, and we’ll be fine.”
Yes, Nelson does have to do his part to help out his QB. The question is how much he is capable of at this stage.
Fantasy QB Week #7 – MATTHEW STAFFORD
We certainly got our money’s worth out of Drew Brees last week, and now it is time to return to the QB that we opened with in Week #1, Stafford throwing for 340 yards and three TDs in that game against the Colts, bringing a nice return for where he sat on the draft boards that day.
Since then Stafford has continued to show a comfort in the Jim Bob Cooter schemes, and in the last two games it has been 75.0 percent completions and seven TD passes without an interception. Yet he only comes in at #7 on the DraftKings board this week and #9 at FanDuel, which makes him a solid value as the chemistry of that passing game continues to build – there are four different Detroit pass catchers with 25 or more receptions, while Eric Ebron is at 18 despite missing last week, and is expected to return. That will tax a Redskin pass defense that has lost DeAngelo Hall and David Burton to IR, and may be without Dashaun Phillips this week, and will have their depth tested when being forced into a lot of nickel coverages.
Item: On to Game #5 in the NLCS
We won’t get a chance to talk about the Indians for a few days, but their pitching was sensational in the Toronto series, managing to win in just five games despite only scoring 12 runs, and with players other than Francisco Lindor batting .138. It was so fitting that Andrew Miller got rewarded with a series MVP nod and he is going to be a major factor in the Word Series after showing that he is more than comfortable working multiple innings. When Miller is on, and he certainly has been on in the playoffs, his stuff if close to being unhittable.
Tonight the focus goes to Los Angeles, where the Cubs didn’t just win on Wednesday, but got the win the way that they needed it to happen most, with Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell combining for six hits, four runs and five rbis, after each of them had entered the game in horrific slumps. They also got multiple hits from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. Unfortunately we could not get our Dodgers Team Total ticket to work, although the notions of John Lackey struggling were there – he left with two runners on and no one out in the bottom of the fifth, but the Dodgers struggled against the Chicago bullpen.
Tonight we get a rematch of the series opener with Jon Lester against Kenta Maeda, with neither starter getting a decision in that one but Lester far out-performing his Dodger counterpart –
IP ER H BB K HR
MAEDA 4 3 4 3 2 0
LESTER 6 1 4 1 3 1
Both of those outings played to the prevailing storylines going in, Lester being on form against a Los Angeles offense that has struggled against left-handers this season, and Maeda seeming to run low on fuel down the stretch. For perspective on the latter, Maeda has only managed 13.2 innings across his last four starts, with an ugly 9.88 ERA and a corresponding 2.12 WHIP.
None of this has been lost on the betting markets, with -155 the common offering, which makes this setting an unlikely one for me to come out of pocket. I may look to Cubs Team Total Over if a 4 becomes available at even money or plus vigorish, but even there I have a concern of Maeda getting a quick hook – with Friday off, Dave Roberts won’t have to worry about taxing his bullpen by getting the relievers involved early.
So I may not play on the diamonds, but I will take a lead on something on the gridirons…
In the Sights, Saturday NCAA…
For a program like Middle Tennessee State to compete on the road when stepping up in class requires an element of surprise. The Blue Raiders like to speed the tempo, which is the wrong way against better competition, so they need to bring their best, and hope to catch the other side flat. That is not the setting I see when they venture over to Columbia on Saturday, and that puts #394 Missouri (4:00 Eastern, note the time change) into pocket, with -6.5 available across the board this morning (-7 is fine). The Tigers are bigger, stronger, faster and deeper, and this particular week is not one in which MTS is set very well to overcome that.
First note that talent gap for when someone takes the Blue Raiders seriously – an earlier trip into SEC country against pedestrian Vanderbilt saw Rick Stockstill’s team get literally run over 47-24. Vandy hasn’t scored more than 24 points in regulation in any other game, and the 231 rushing yards are by far a season high. Yet in that game the Blue Raiders were all out to pull the upset, only coming in off of Alabama A&M, and with non-conference lightweight Bowling Green on deck. The issue was that the Commodores also wanted it, and took them seriously.
This week it is much different for Stockstill and his players. MTS comes in drained off of a bitter double-overtime loss in that CUSA showdown vs. Western Kentucky, a major revenge affair for the Blue Raiders on their homecoming night. I’ll let the HC take it from there - "Players hurt, and as a coach you hurt because you lost but you also hurt because you see how much it hurts your players. The investment that they put into that game and then to not have the success they worked so hard to achieve makes it tough. But you have to man up, be a man and move forward."
And as for having to play a non-conference road game this late in the schedule he offers more - "You played three in a row right there with LA Tech, North Texas and WKU, and you kind of get in a conference flow. You can't always draw it up how you want it or how you like it, but I've always like playing nonconference games early. That's just the way the schedule falls this year."
The defense is overmatched in a major way here, not having the leverage up front nor the speed in the secondary to counter the Missouri talent, and note that the Tigers will be attacking multiple ways, not just with the passing of Drew Lock, but now also the running of Zander Davis, both coming from the QB position. Meanwhile one of the MTS weaknesses is depth at WR, losing projected starters Jocquez Bruce and Terry Pettis back in August, and that will show here against an aggressive defense that has already come up with 10 interceptions.
The markets aren’t asking us for anything special here – Missouri does not have to play a great game to win by 7 points. But with the talent gap, and the freshness and focus edge, the Tigers should be able to pull away into double figures, especially with a fast tempo from the underdog opening up opportunities for the superior players to take control.
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