Friday, 11 December 2009

Mooching off Meachem

When Drew Brees threw his only interception of the game in New Orleans’ amazing win over the Washington Redskins last Sunday little did he know that he was setting off a very unusual play that had massive repercussions in the fantasy world, not just for owners of Robert Meachem and the Saints defense in tight games, but also for commissioners and corporations in the way that they score fantasy games.

Here is a brief description of the play for those that somehow haven’t seen it: Drew Brees, the Saints quarterback, takes a snap in the shotgun formation, scrambles in the pocket and throws a pass intended for Jeremy Shockey which is intercepted by the Redskins safety Kareem Moore. Moore attempts to run the ball back but is tackled by Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem and stripped of the football. Meachem recovers the fumble and takes it to the end zone for the score.

At first glance on Sunday I myself thought it was an offensive fumble recovery touchdown (or OFRTD) since Robert Meachem as an offensive player on an offensive snap recovers a fumble and scores the touchdown. I was smiling to myself as I’d started him in two fantasy leagues. But then, as a Saints DST owner, also in two leagues, it crossed my mind that Meachem’s score was not at all an OFRTD. Essentially, the difference between an OFRTD and a defensive fumble recovery touchdown (DFRTD) is that the former comes from a player fumbling the football, resulting in a live ball which is then picked up by another - or indeed the same - offensive player and taken to the house for a touchdown (the clue is that there is no change of possession) and a DFRTD occurs when a defensive player returns a fumble for a touchdown.

This is because after a fumble, when the football is not possessed by either team it is live, but while it is live the definitions of offense and defense are retained until the ball is recovered by one team or another. This is exemplified by what happens when it goes out of bounds (is retained by the offense) or enters the end zone (reverts to the defense).

So, if Robert Meachem is an offensive player at the snap, how does he become a defensive player and therefore a representative of the New Orleans’ defense? It’s simple; the moment Kareem Moore secures the interception he becomes an offensive player because in running the football back towards the Saints’ end zone he is attempting to score a touchdown. The Saints’ offense is now attempting to “defend” this end zone and in a literal sense is now the defense. On a very basic level this is what football is about; two sets of eleven players who at all times are both attempting to score on the opposition and stop them from scoring themselves. Designations of player positions are immaterial and only relate to subsequent codification of the rules of the game.

I have read several arguments, including one written here with regards the NFL rulebook’s definition of offense and defense that I’ve butchered in the above paragraph that asks, if a player who has the football is always on offense how does a defensive player (or team) ever score a touchdown?

Well, that link had one major flaw, and that is that defenses do score points, off the back of interceptions and fumble recoveries and in fantasy football we score these. Had Kareem Moore scored a touchdown off of his interception it would be a defensive touchdown and in that regard, Meachem scores one off of the subsequent fumble - as an addendum, only defenders can tackle a ballcarrier. It is the link to how possession of the football was obtained that defines the type of score. Ironically enough, if the Saints wideout then goes on to fumble the football himself, pick it up and still score it becomes an OFRTD (more on this below).

In fantasy football, there are strict rules governing how points are scored and in spite of it seeming intuitive to give Meachem points for his magnificent play the fairest thing to do is to rule according to the various ways teams are given points (rushing touchdowns, passing touchdowns, receiving touchdowns, return touchdowns, etc, etc...). This is because every league has a set of rules which everyone agrees to when they play the game and Meachem cannot be given an OFRTD when he hasn't scored one.

Is this satisfactory? Well, no, not really. No one who drafted (all three people) or picked up the Saints DST had this sort of thing in mind and someone playing against the New Orleans unit probably wasn’t accounting for their offense to start getting their opponent points too. Nor does anyone disagree with the notion that Robert Meachem scored two touchdowns on the day, both while he was on the field during a non-DST snap.

The best solution I can think of is that in order for plays of this nature to be properly accounted for in future (ie; without debates every time it happens) is for the creation of the following scoring category: Offensive Player Touchdown (OPTD). All offensive scores self-evidently fall into this definition already (rushing, receiving – incl. laterals - and passing) and so does Meachem’s because these are defined as having resulted from an offensive snap as designated by down (1st thru 4th). This would then leave DTDs – and any other type of crazy play score on special teams - to the following kinds (punt, kickoff, interception and fumble returns).