leveon-bell2

In this space yesterday I discussed what we knew about the Le’Veon Bell injury at the time Wednesday morning, and then expanded on it again in bold, screaming update form later on in the afternoon when USA Today’s Mike Garafolo reported that he was seeking a second opinion. Then the doom and tears came: he has a Lisfranc injury (or mid-foot sprain, whatever), and he’ll likely be out for six-to-eight weeks.

In an offseason and an August that’s provided plenty of them, this is yet another reminder of the proper fantasy draft procedure. I understand that annoying obligations like “life” and “a job” can get in the way, but do whatever you can to avoid drafting until after the third preseason game. Hell, if I could hold a draft an hour before the opening night kickoff on Sept. 5, I would. Kicker speed rounds for all.

Now, many lost souls who drafted Bell as a fine RB2 pick in the fourth round are left with a player who likely won’t be back until after the Steelers’ Week 5 bye at the earliest, and possibly much longer. So the best case scenario is an absence that keeps the rookie waiting and watching for a quarter of the season.

Worse (yes, worse), for those who have already drafted there’s no easy solution. There’s no “OK sweet I’ll just pick up Bell’s backup and bingo bango”. He was being counted on to become the Steelers’ shiny new cowbell wearer, and now that title will belong to no one.

Last year, both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman were equally vomit-inducing, with the former averaging 4.0 yards per carry on 156 carries, and the latter 3.7 on 110. From that workload distribution it’s clear a committee is likely forthcoming, with Dwyer and Redman teaming up to suck back whatever value exists in the Steelers’ backfield.

What’s worse (yes, worse) is the dirty deception from both as we look back on last year and try to read the warped mind of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Both missed time (a combined five games), which contributed to outlier weeks that skewed overall results.

With Dwyer out in Week 9, Redman rushed for 147 yards on 26 carries against the Giants (5.7 YPC, significantly higher than his season average), and that included his season high run of 28 yards. In one day then and in a situation removed from the norm, Redman accumulated 35.9 percent of his total rushing yardage on the season.

The lie is predictably similar with Dwyer when Redman missed weeks seven and eight. That’s when he rushed for 122 and 107 yards at a yards per carry pace of 7.2 and 6.3, which is also a meteoric rise from his season average (again, 4.0). That booming YPC was pushed by two +30 yard runs, and outside of those two games, Dwyer’s longest run was 17 yards. In those weeks then, Dwyer had 36.8 percent of his overall rushing yardage.

This exercise in the most depressing kind of nostalgia has done little to ease your tears. There is no calming shoulder to rest your weary head on here, and instead the numbers above should remind Bell owners to gather all their belongings, and run from the Steelers backfield. Here’s the final fancy stat blow from NumberFire’s J.J. Zachariason:

Dwyer and Redman both finished with negative rushing net expected points per attempt last season, a measure that looks at how well a player contributed towards his team’s output on a per play basis. A lot of running backs fall below zero in this metric, but not all of them drop down to Redman and Dwyer levels.

Redman finished 58th of 72 50-plus attempt runners in terms of rushing NEP/attempt, losing .11 points per rush for the Steelers. Dwyer wasn’t much better, finishing with a -.09 value and ranking 55th out of the same 72 guys.

There’s no safe haven here. Move along now, ye sorry drifter.

More notes, stray thoughts, and other such randomness

Those gamblin’ Cowboys

The desire to secure an all-purpose linebacker who can both stuff the run and drop back in coverage is a pretty natural one. But so is the hesitancy to pay said linebacker when he’s missed 13 games over just a three-year career.

The Cowboys partly ignored that last bit yesterday, signing Sean Lee to a six-year extension worth $42 million that will keep him in Dallas until 2019 (the contract could rise to $51 million through incentives). Unless he breaks something, or begins to suck, and he can discarded.

I’m not sure why I ever feel obligated to tell you the overall number when discussing any NFL contract. That’s a useless and misleading habit us writer types have fallen into. My deepest apologies, as the only number that matters is the $16.1 million which is guaranteed, and that significantly cushions the blow if Lee keeps breaking. With the incentives and possibility of the deal increasing to $8.5 million annually, it’s a rare NFL deal that’s actually fair.

Still, despite the rightful desire to secure someone of Lee’s stature while his value is lower, forcing him to make it through this season would have been the more conservative approach.

Fact: the word “conservative” is banned in Texas, and cannot be used in any manner.

Never change, Jets

This exists…

jets media card

Coming to us by way of Manish Mehta, it’s a “media bridges” card distributed to Jets players, with the suggested standard phrases to be used while deflecting a difficult question. It is, perhaps, the most useless piece of dictatorship propaganda I’ve ever seen.

We get it, Rexy. You want to eliminate the glowing toxic mess that’s grown in your locker room over the past two seasons, and go all Belichickian. Fine, but no amount of slick marketing catch phrases will change the sideways personalities assembled.

When asked, most humans can understand the concept of saying something, but really saying nothing at all, and they can do it without glossy cards. It’s cliché speak, a rich language that’s existed throughout sports locker rooms since a time before math when people actually thought it was possible to give 110 percent.

Either the specific humans in the Jets’ locker room won’t ever grasp that concept, or they are real robots incapable of thought.

Where the ball rolls

Forcing fumbles is a skill, and holding onto the ball is a skill. But recovering fumbles is wholly and purely luck.

This a mistake we make often while sifting through a players’ stats from the previous year. Particularly with running backs, we should care about fumbles and not lost fumbles, as the latter is the foremost example of an egg-shaped ball bouncing in wicked ways.

Every year Football Outsiders posts a fumble luck chart of the previous season, showing what percentage of fumbles each team’s offense and defense recovered. The table for 2012 went up earlier this week, and it again serves as an annual reminder that lost fumbles is a useless metric on a year-to-year basis.

The difference between the highest recovery percentage on offense and the lowest is significant, with the Broncos losing 80 percent of their fumbles (recovery only three), while the Bucs lost only 27 percent (losing only three).

On hacking to the bone

Oddly, it turns out that following Dustin Keller’s potentially career-threatening injury, it seems football players on non-guaranteed contracts who need their limbs to, you know, make money don’t enjoy being hit in the knees and ripping stuff.

After that hit, rookie D.J. Swearinger said that while Keller’s injury is obviously unfortunate, he was playing within the new rules which penalize defenders for targeting the head and going high. Instead, during the lightening fast movements of a single play, Swearinger has retrained his instincts, teaching himself to go low. A rookie has done this, showing that for the next generation of Ed Reeds or Troy Polamalus who are paid to dislodge the snot from receivers, the knee era is quickly upon us.

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is the latest to call bull crap:

“I saw his (Swearinger’s) remark, ‘That’s just football,’ and he showed a little bit of grief for the guy – I’m not buying it at all,” Gonzalez said. “Don’t tell me that the rules prohibit you from hitting a guy up top. You have a whole target area above his knee up to his neck that you can hit. I’ve watched that play a bunch of times.

“I’d rather have a guy hit me head than knife at my knee. You’re talking about a career-ending injury.”

“I just don’t want defenders to be able to hide behind, ‘Well, I can’t hit high. I have to go low.’ No, you don’t,” Gonzalez said. “That’s not what the rule is saying at all. It’s not saying to go low.

“I keep seeing the debate (on TV) and all these people saying, ‘They’re forcing defenders to go low.’ No, they’re not. That play was ridiculous. All you have to do is hit him right in his waist and knock him back.”

A slow clap for you, fine sir.

Gonzo is right, but I think the Swearinger hit — and likely (and unfortunately) a few others to follow — is a byproduct of the instinct retraining process.

Our view of football through TVs while sitting on couches for eight hours every Sunday doesn’t properly relay the speed of the game. Decisions have to be made in split seconds, and defenders are now aware that when they’re lining up a ball carrier to halt his forward progress, their target area has to be lowered.

The problem lies in talent disparity, and youth. The Pro Bowl level tacklers in the open field like a Polamalu can set their cross hairs to a highly specific area and unload, and the safe area in play is anywhere between the shoulders and knees. That should be enough to avoid crippling careers, but other less talented or less experienced defensive backs and linebackers (like a rookie) just go “low”, a destination with a vague definition.

This will fix itself in time, but for now there could be casualties.

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