Broncos on the Brink, Cousins to Crash and a World Series Game 3 Bet

Point Blank Thumbnail Wednesday

David Malinsky

Friday, October 27, 2017 2:17 PM GMT

Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 2:17 PM GMT

The Broncos on the Brink: How a Bad Offense is Damaging a Great Defense. … The World Series shifts to Houston, but will the momentum turn again. … Panic is actually a good thing in Las Vegas this weekend (and for those that aren’t here, sometimes you can get what you want anyway)

Point Blank – October 27, 2017

The weekend before Halloween brings us a splendid sporting board to attack, a high-level World Series now shifting to Houston, some major showdowns across the NCAA landscape that includes a playoff setting in Columbus, and then an NFL board that will bring plenty of opportunity, if not football grace (Thursday night continued what has been a truly wretched offensive cycle).

It is a weekend that also brings something special to Las Vegas, the annual Halloween shows by Widespread Panic coming to our fair city, a three-gig weekend at the Park Theatre at the Monte Carlo. It has been a conundrum for me since the dates were announced, the desire to see a show up against the time crunch that a football weekend brings, with the only prospect being on a World Series Friday night. But as it turns out for some of us it is Treat, and not Trick, with a live webcast available for each of the shows. It won’t be quite the same as being there, but it is an acceptable alternative.

There may come a football season in which I turn the Friday jukebox entirely to Widespread Panic, with the integrity and quality of the music, and the length of the jams, ideal for the purposes here. Hell, it could be a season of nothing but their covers and it would still be difficult to narrow it down. For today the tie-in is an easy one, because for my Friday evening, I will be able to get what I want. This is from Danville, Ill. in 2014:

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Now let’s get to work. I’ll start with some general handicapping that we can study through the vehicle of the current Denver season, and then get into a couple of games that will have me heading to the windows if the prices hold up.

 

Item: On the Broncos, and understanding how bad offenses hurt their own defenses

There is going to be a lot of bad offensive football over the second half of the NFL season, a running theme here from the opening kickoffs that is becoming more pronounced. And, yes, there will be some good defense contributing to that. It will bring some intriguing handicapping approaches into play, and one of the subtler ones is how a bad offense can impact the performances of its own defense. There is a prime way to probe this issue by studying the current Denver Broncos, their season on the brink as they head to Kansas City for a key AFC West showdown on Monday.

I believe Denver has the best defense in the NFL. When it was time to project the 2017 Broncos as part of the team-by-team preview across the summer, I pondered whether this was the best pass defense in NFL history, and now under the direction of Joe Woods the rush defense has become dynamic as well. The Football Outsiders rate that rush defense #1 this season, which should mean brilliant numbers when combined with that pass defense, right? Except for this, going to the FO pass defense counts:

Season    Rating
2015            #1
2016            #1
2017          #17

They have fallen from #3 to #11 in Sack% and are only #20 in interception percentage. What has been the problem? It hasn’t really been their defense, but actually their offense creating most of the issues.

Here is the gist: Because opponents do not fear Trevor Siemian and the Broncos offense making plays, they can approach games against them conservatively, just trying to hang around as long as they can and then make some plays to win it late. That is playing out, with the Denver offense not generating the kind of working margins that has forced the opposition into having to attack the teeth of that defense. Let’s start with the frustrations felt by All-Pro CB Chris Harris:

“They don’t even give us any plays to gamble with. Everything comes out fast, pick plays. They’re not really throwing the ball. Think about it. They don’t throw the ball down the field, really. They’re scheming us, they’re setting pick plays and they’re figuring out ways to empty us out with three tight ends. They throw it fast to the tight ends. When have you seen a ball — other than the Raiders and the first Chargers game — go down the field 40 yards? It doesn’t happen.”

And to lay it out in more detail, let’s go to first-year HC Vance Joseph: “When you don’t score points, it’s hard for our defense to cause havoc because everything is being played close to the vest. The Giants threw one pass over 8 yards. It’s hard for us on defense to be the difference if it’s not with a lead because teams are just going to run the ball, run the ball, third down, try their luck and punt it back. That’s what we’ve seen in the three losses.”

This is worth delving into not just with Denver, but with all of the teams around that league that are facing offensive struggles right now, and there are many. It is in understanding the perspective of how good either an offense or defense is, based on the circumstances they are having to play through via their own team, that a bettor can go a long way towards enhancing their portfolio.

I will be attempting to build my own portfolio in Houston this evening,  so let’s move over to the diamond next. …

 

Item: On to World Series Game 3 (with Yu Darvish early, and a big bullpen edge late, does the momentum turn again?)

Wednesday brought us a true Fall Classic, a game that will linger into the memory banks for quite some time. I believe some of the particulars from it may also bring some opportunity into Game 3.

One of the notions I alluded to earlier in the week was that Dave Roberts might have tilted his Game 2/Game 3 pitching rotation based on Rich Hill’s home/away patterns, and also the fact that Yu Darvish brings something that is rare in the World Series: a starter who has plenty of experience in the opposing ballpark. Given how frenzied the atmosphere should be in Houston on Friday, the fact that Darvish is a pretty unflappable guy overall and also sports a 4-1/2.16 from this mound, it made sense, though Hill not working deep on Wednesday became a domino that caused others to fall as that classic played out.

How much weight do I attach to that Darvish history here? Not a huge amount, with the issues associated with any small sample in play, but I believe it will be good for his psyche, which can be substantial. What matters more to me is his current form. Over the last five starts it has been a 4-0/0.88 in which all of the supporting numbers reflect the dominance: 30 strikeouts vs. only 14 hits and 2 BB allowed. He has relished his opportunity to get fitted for a ring.

I have faith in the Darvish form, and despite the hiccups by Morrow/Jansen on Wednesday I have faith in them as well. Where I believe the playable edge is in Game 3 is the Houston bullpen. That group didn’t win Wednesday, it only survived, which makes the already fragile confidence of Ken Giles (8.22 postseason ERA) and Chris Devenski (8.44) even more of an issue. Those two recorded 38 of the 45 Astro saves during the regular season, so there aren’t alternatives and now the pressure simmers at a hotter temperature.

That bullpen is likely going to be needed, even if Lance McCullers brings his best stuff. McCullers has only had one start in October and hasn’t worked beyond the sixth inning of a game since going on the DL back in early June. Yet the money has been trickling to the Astros, with as high as +134 available in Las Vegas this morning, so it will be #905 LA Dodgers (8:05 Eastern) going into pocket. I get value at +115 or better, which is an easy find right now.

Now back to more of those NFL issues that will be a part of our lives for the next few months, with something I believe we can take advantage of on this board.

 

Item: I don’t believe the passing numbers for Kirk Cousins will hold up, even with a healthy OL
Sub-Item: Cousins doesn’t have a healthy OL this week

I am going to connect a couple of notions up here. In Tuesday’s NFL review there was a focus on the OL issues for the Redskins, and that has indeed been a headache for Jay Gruden in what was already a difficult turnaround from facing the Eagles in Philadelphia to hosting the Cowboys on Sunday, one of the most challenging back-to-backs for any team this season. Gruden chose to only have a walk-through on Wednesday, and when the pads went back on for what should have been a regular Thursday practice, Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff, Spencer Long, Morgan Moses and Ty Nsekhe weren’t on the field.

Gruden was succinct: “It has its challenges, that’s for sure. You walk out of the tunnel with Long, Nsekhe, Scherff, Williams and Moses and those guys aren’t practicing, it’s a little bit different when you go in the huddle.”

At this stage the Redskins don’t know what their lineup will be. The only healthy tackles on Thursday were T.J. Clemmings, whom they picked up on waivers just before the season started, and Andreas Knappe, whom they signed to the practice squad last week. Undrafted rookie Tyler Catalina may be in the mix, along with Tony Bergstrom, who was signed Wednesday after being released by the Ravens.

It isn’t a positive situation, but I believe it may be even worse because there are some holes in the Washington passing statistics that the marketplace doesn’t see. That leaves us with the ability to play the Cowboys in a setting in which an outright win almost guarantees cashing a ticket, and that will call for #269 Dallas (Sunday, 4:25 Eastern) going into pocket.

Here comes the theory. Losing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon looked like a crippling blow to a Washington passing game that did not step up well in terms of replacing them. Yet the numbers have been fine, the Redskins #7 on the FO passing efficiency charts, and Cousins appearing to have stepped up his game big-time:

Cousins    YPP      PR
2016          8.1     97.2
2017          8.3   107.2

I don’t believe it will hold up, and I wish I could short that passer rating, looking for a decline ahead, though there will be alternative ways at the windows. How has a weaker WR corps managed to show improvements over Jackson/Garcon? They haven’t. Let’s look at receptions per game from just those two, and yards per reception, compared to the production of all Washington WRs this season:

Players                RPG    YPR
Jackson/Garcon  9.0    15.2
All 2017 WRs       8.6    11.3

That dynamic duo in 2016 caught more passes per game than the entire 2017 WR roster has, and for perspective on that Jamison Crowder caught 67 passes last season, to add to the Jackson/Garcon mix.

The key is the big drop in yards per reception, which is the way that things are going to be, especially with Terrelle Pryor not working out. So how has Cousins put up better overall numbers? There has been a bit of a fluke, production from tight end Vernon Davis and running back Chris Thompson that is atypical both for their positions and their career patterns. Thompson is second on the team with 23 receptions and Davis has 15, major cogs in the machine to this point. But let’s look at the yards per catch to those two, compared to their career counts:

Player                 Career   2017
Vernon Davis      12.9      19.5
Chris Thompson   8.7      15.9

Are they going to maintain these numbers? No, especially with Davis being 33 years old. Their yards-per-catch production is going to come back to earth, while the WR corps won’t necessarily get any better than they already have been. Combine that with what will be emerging struggles to pass block this Sunday against a talented Cowboys rush (DeMarcus Lawrence is #2 in the league in sacks, and David Irving’s presence has quickly made a difference), and the recipe is there for some serious struggles by this offense.

There is a sloppy forecast for Sunday that favors the Cowboys even more if this becomes a slug-out in the trenches, and merely asking them to win the game is a reasonable proposition.

 

For your listening pleasure …

Cowboys-Redskins is one of several key NFL games that Matt Landes and I sorted through on this week’s House of Yards, which also includes our Moment of Troy, something that has been awfully good for the pockets over the past month but may face a plot twist now, as well as the Beer of the Week. You can listen to Matt talk about one of my true favorites, Sip of Sunshine, and you can read below for his tasting notes on that bit of loveliness in a glass (and yes, you do want to take your Sips from a glass, to get that aroma).

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And for your drinking pleasure …

Matt was an underdog to get access to Sip of Sunshine. It cannot be found on the West Coast, so we first had to rely on a crew from back east making their way here for an annual festival of golf and dining (I took part in the latter, a caloric overload that I look forward to each year), not only bringing some, but not drinking what they brought. With that crew, the latter was an open question. But they generously brought more than usual, which left plenty for me, and I generously decided to save a few for Matt, which I may regret as my stash dwindles.

Here are Matt’s first tastes of a fantastic product, and if you want to follow along as he hops through the hops, you can go to Just_here-for_the_beer.

Brewery: Lawson's Finest Liquids
Beer: Sip of Sunshine
Style: Double IPA
ABV: 8%

Pour a glass of Sip of Sunshine if you can get your hands on one and you'll see that Lawson's Finest Liquids calls it "a tropical vacation in a glass." For all the false advertising in the world, this claim comes to life from the very first sip.

It doesn't get much finer than Sip of Sunshine, which goes down as easily as 8 percent ABV possibly could. Sip of Sunshine pours a cloudy gold with a fluffy, brilliant white head. Its juicy, tropical fruit and bright floral notes prove to be a match made in heaven, especially when balanced out by a subtle hint of pine and a crackery malt. Factor in the silky smooth mouthfeel and it's a beer worth seeking out, giving Julius some company on the top shelf of House of Yards Beers of the Week.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

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