Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
14 Nov 2005
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2006.
By the way, the discussion thread for this roundtable is an excellent place to suggest injuries you would like to see Will Carroll cover in this week's Black and Blue Report. And at the end we'll give you a little preview of what games we're analyzing later in the week.
Mike Tanier: Am I the only one watching this mess? Eli can't seem to throw the ball straight.
Al Bogdan: Nope, I'm sitting through it too. The one accurate pass he's thrown so far was dropped when Jamaar Taylor was planning out his run to the end zone instead of actually worrying about catching his first catch of the year.
Edinger's on pace for an amazing Loser League week. Two missed field goals and we're not even out of the first quarter yet. Nice block on the second one, but the first miss was all on him. It's a good thing the Giants are playing Minnesota and not an actual NFL team or they would be down by at least 14 by now.
Tim Gerheim: Reminds me of watching Marcus Vick spray his aerial detritus against Maryland and Miami. It must be some kind of younger brother bad karma thing.
Vivek Ramgopal: Did people just catch that Vikings stat? 212 yards on special teams and 63 yards total offense. Lot of sprints during practice on Tuesday.
Ned Macey: I am waiting to read the first person who seriously comments that Brad Johnson is 2-0 or the Vikings are better off without Culpepper or any other such nonsense. Johnson is done. He has no arm strength, and he gets rid of the ball so quickly as if he is in constant fear of being hit.
As for the Giants, when Eli is playing this badly (and he was terrible) why throw 48 passes when you were never down by more than 8 points? The Vikings doubled Burress, and Manning was rendered helpless. Is it really that easy? All year, it seemed to me that Manning would just throw to Shockey or Burress with no concern about how well covered they were. As I say every time I watch a Giants game, this is still Tiki Barber's team, and Manning still needs to improve a fair amount to deserve to be the focal point of the offense. After Manning threw a pick in the red zone, they drove back down and went to Barber for both the touchdown and the two-point conversion. Unfortunately for them, this was too little too late.
Al Bogdan: Has the horse collar tackle penalty been called at all this year? On the Giants' kickoff return after Koren Robinson's TD, Willie Ponder was brought down by what looked to me like a clear horse collar tackle, yet no penalty was called and no one seemed to complain about that either.
Russell Levine: I think I saw one horse-collar called in the preseason, but can't recall seeing one since, and I've seen two or three obvious examples go uncalled.
Mike Tanier: The Vikings have a terrible offensive line. And watching Koren Robinson and Travis Taylor run routes is kind of sad. They need to pick up R. Jay Soward, Marcus Nash, and FredEx. Though yes, I know, Koren had a touchdown.
But, Curtis Deloatch wears a "kick me" sign on his back. I think neighborhood kids must throw footballs in his direction when he walks down the street.
Al Bogdan: I thought Deloatch looked pretty good for most of the game. He got faked out of his shoes by Koren Robinson on one TD, but had some great pass defenses otherwise.
Eli was terrible today. In many ways, this was almost the complete opposite of most of the Giants' games this year. The offense and special teams killed them, while the defense just dominated the Vikings. Minnestoa really misses Birk at center. The Giants were able to get great penetration up the middle of the line most of the game. Manning had open receivers, and plenty of protection, but he just couldn't complete a pass. For some reason, he seemed to completely forget that Plaxico Burress was covered by two players the entire game. Manning had one beautiful pass to Burress streaking down the sidelines, if only there wasn't a Minnesota defender sitting exactly where Manning was throwing the ball.
Michael David Smith: The Lions scored on their first possession and were driving on their second possession until an illegal formation penalty pushed them back and they had to punt. The penalty came when Charles Rogers lined up in the backfield when he was supposed to be on the line of scrimmage. What are they doing putting this guy on the field? He's killing them. And what does it say about the Arizona defense that they need that to stop the Harrington-led offense? And why did Steve Mariucci tell the sideline reporter, "It's nice to get our receivers back, Roy and Charles"? Roy Williams, yes, it's nice to get him back. Charles Rogers, it would be nice to hear that the Lions finally wised up and cut him.
Neil Rackers had a 51-yard field goal and a touchback and two tackles on kickoffs. Is there anything this guy can't do?
Mike Tanier: How does DVOA adjust for a 50-mph wind? I think we should turn all the spreadsheet rows into columns and columns into rows for that Bears game, as if the whole formula was just blown sideways.
Al Bogdan: How do you attempt a 52-yard field goal in that stadium? Didn't the 49ers see Gould's hysterical missed FG attempt earlier in the game in the same direction? The short field goal returned for a touchdown is easily my favorite football play.
Michael David Smith: My wife says the Bears' orange jerseys clash with the 49ers' uniforms.
Mike Tanier: I agree with MDS's wife. Bears in orange ... next, instead of helmets, their heads will be stuck in honey pots.
Aaron Schatz: This is the ultimate irony. Tom Brady really has become Peyton Manning. He's almost the entire team right now. Although the defense was better today for two reasons:
1) Ellis Hobbs is not Duane Starks.
2) Richard Seymour was back. In one of the the threads last week I think someone criticized me for picking the Colts over the Patriots in last year's playoffs because offensive teams don't win in the playoffs. Actually, I was picking the Colts over the Patriots because I think Richard Seymour is the second-best player on the team and he was injured in that game. They've missed him a lot more this year than they did when he was out last year because the linebackers and secondary were a lot better last year to make up for his absence.
I'm not sure when Heath Evans became Jerome Bettis. That has to rank as one of the strangest sudden outbursts of the year. Miami's run defense is very good, but they seemed to overpursue a lot of the Pats run plays, which involved some delays and counters. Maybe they thought a lot of them were play fakes because why on earth would the Pats be running with Heath Evans?
On the other hand, a little criticism. At one point early on the Pats ran a slow-developing handoff on third-and-1 instead of just lining guys up in the I and stuffing it in there. It's not as bad as passing on third down, but still, why get fancy? Just get the yard and let's get on with our lives.
Eugene Wilson dropped an INT. Ellis Hobbs, I think, dropped an INT. Willie McGinest dropped an INT. I think that the Pats defense has more drops than the Pats offense has catches.
Phil Simms said, "Two running backs who both want the bulk of the carries; when they get along, it's good for your football team." Um, I don't think Ricky Williams cares how many times he gets the ball, he just doesn't want to owe the Dolphins all his money.
Mike Tanier: Ricky Williams carried 11 times for 13 yards. But he's underrated, and if he got the ball 25 times he would have had a good game.
Aaron Schatz: Have we mentioned this year how awesome Zach Thomas is? According to the individual defense stats, he's been involved in a higher percentage of his team's plays than any other defender (a better measure than total defensive plays or tackles). On one play he easily sniffed out a running play before the snap and stuffed it for a loss. On another play he didn't fall for a fake screen left and when the screen was thrown right he just went right through the blocker to make the tackle.
Department of unfair calls: There should have been a face mask penalty called on New England on a late third-and-11 Frerotte incompletion. Pats got away with that one. On the other hand, Wes Welker's heel went out of bounds on his big catch and run right before the two-minute warning. I rewound my DVR and watched it in slow motion twice. The Pats should have thrown the red flag there, I think that would have moved Miami back about 15 yards.
Pat Laverty: I'd like to think that Belichick could even consider it, cornerback Michael Stone would be sent packing for his constant "Canty-dance." He has wide receivers that run him over and slip by him on the sideline, yet he'll make a downfield tackle and dance like he just won the Super Bowl. You'd think that if you suck and you're only on the team because the team has five guys at your position on IR, you'd keep pretty quiet. Can't stand the guy. Plus I see #24 running around and I just want to think "Ty Law's covering him ... oops, nope." At one point yesterday, it looked like 2000 all over again as the cameras showed the pre-snap from behind the Patriots' defensive backfield and I saw #24 talking with #36 (James Sanders??) talking. Oh how did I want that to be Law and Milloy.
Do any of you have comeback stats off the top of their head? If not, I'm going to go look it up. While watching the game yesterday and seeing Miami take the lead with 2:39 left, I looked over to my father in law (who HATES the Patriots), and said "You can't feel too good about this now, can you?" He said no. Sure enough, Brady does it again. I think that's his third late in the fourth quarter comeback win this year. Out of five. Everyone talks about Elway and Montana being comeback kings, but how many did they pull off? Where does Brady rank? I'd also want to look into tandem comebacks. Do the Brady/Vinatieri combo have more tandem come from behind wins than any other QB/K pairing?
Bill Moore: More injuries for the Pats including Ashworth, Graham, and Givens. Ugh. Ah Heath Evans, where did he come from. First carry for 21 yards. Mike Cloud? Not so much. I've always marginally liked Cloud as a slasher, but when you have it third and 1, run the bruiser not the slasher. When the announcers talked about how he's never fumbled, I was sure that was a jinx.
Ellis Hobbs starts at CB. I like it. I watched Hobbs in the preseason and really liked him -- both as a DB and a return guy. He played well today. For once, the Pats DBs are actually somewhere near the ball. Samuel who plays inconsistently didn't have his best game, but on one play he LEVELED Ricky Williams. 185 lbs vs. a listed 228. I guess E=mc^2 works. Yet a quick fumble by the QB and he basically FORGETS to cover his guy.
Pats OLBs do a good job at containing RBs to the outside. Coverage is their weak spot.
Bruschi saved seven points when he outta nowhere tipped a sure-TD on third down. Mare missed a rare easy FG.
Brady. What can you say? Clutch, yet not particularly consistent today. I was a non-believer when the doubters said that losing Charlie Weis was going to hurt him. Yet the offensive inconsistency surely makes me wonder. I was never real high on Weis, I always thought his "weird" play calling was unnecessary. However, I have begun to think this year that maybe the offense is too predictable. Then Brady goes out and throws two passes for 76 yards to take the lead with three minutes to go. Are you kidding me?
Michael David Smith: Indianapolis looked bored in the middle of the game there, then realized Houston was getting back into it and quickly put the Texans away.
Ned Macey: This game was not as close as the score, as sad as that is for the Texans. They scored 10 of their points when they covered two separate muffed punts (neither of which were touched by the actual return man). Otherwise, the Texans were not going to let Carr be sacked, so they threw short, short, and short again.
Colts scored at will when they were trying. Early it looked like they were making a concerted effort to attack Phillip Buchanon with Wayne, and I was going to write about how impressive Dunta Robinson was. Then, the Colts come back to Harrison, and he has his way with Robinson. I was really afraid after the St. Louis game that Harrison had lost a step and that was really hurting the Colts offense. After his play the last two weeks, he looks like he is still among the top receivers in football if no longer the best.
By the way Edgerrin James picked up 122 yards on 26 carries with a long of 12 yards. He is absolutely relentless, and his ability to consistently get yards is ruining the plan of letting James run wild while holding down the passing game.
Tim Gerheim: I do recall one Harrison touchdown where Harrison beat Robinson, but Dunta's body language made it look like he expected safety help, which is why he let Harrison past him. Maybe this is just the man-crush talking, but I'm quite confident that Dunta can run with Harrison. Last week, though, he did look a mess, missing tackles like it was his job, whereas he's usually a great tackler (like on that huge highlight reel hit on Wayne today).
Jonathan Wells had pretty good success against the Colts. Jonathan Wells! The Colts still don't have a good run defense, and maybe this game, where Houston sort of made a comeback until Indy decided they did need to show up for the second half after all, will show teams that they mustn't abandon the run against the Colts. Perhaps the only reason games like this don't turn into college blowout scores is the lack of an NFL BCS, since there aren't any pollsters to impress.
Ned Macey: I think a lot of Dunta myself, which is why I was impressed with Harrison. Even taking out the TD, he had six catches for 78 yards, and he caught seven of nine passes intended for him. For the most part, Manning was definitely looking left, so they clearly respected Robinson.
Aaron Schatz: Atlanta's second touchdown was a play fake where Vick pretended to hand to Warrick Dunn, stood there whistling and minding his own business while everyone tackled Dunn, then ran right and into the end zone with the ball. Aboslutely, positively beautiful, both in design and execution.
Russell Levine: Saw that, and it was a thing of beauty by Vick, but in other highlights I've seen, he continues to take unnecessary punishment. He's got to learn to protect himself.
Michael David Smith: Damn, too bad the Falcons couldn't come up with Roddy White's fumble. They're usually so good at recovering fumbles. I wonder what went wrong.
Bill Moore: "[Vick] likes to get hit." - Jim Mora. Well he must have LOVED this game. Going into the last drive that was basically run against a prevent, Vick was a 16 for 20 (great) for 140 yards (not so much). We won't have the data really until after the season, but I would love to know what Vick's yardage (and completion) stats look like without YAC. He throws so many dump offs. When did Atlanta hire Paul Hackett?
After last week, Vick wanted to keep his critics off guard by staying a pocket passer. Oh well.
Darryl Johnston noted late in the game that one thing that made Atlanta good in the first half of the year was that it didn't turn the ball over much. With three fumbles by Vick and three by the rest of the team, it seemed to be going the other way. Hmm, where have I heard that before?
Russell Levine: Tampa Bay is turning back the clock today. The fans and media have been calling for Alstott to get the ball more in recent weeks, in part because the home crowd goes beserk every time he gets a touch. Perhaps because the o-line doesn't seem to be able to create lanes for Cadillac, they're giving the ball to Alstott since he just kind of looks for people to run into anyway. He's got a couple short TD runs already, and some nice places on check down passes. The crowd is as loud as it has been all year.
Simeon Rice also came to play today, causing all kinds of havoc, two sacks, two forced fumbles and an INT.
Tim Gerheim: Edell Shepherd is Tampa's Ernest Wilford.
The end of this game was nuts. Blocked game-tying extra point, but it didn't count because Washington was offside. So it would be an easy tie. Then Gruden decides to go for two to go ahead by one, and Alstott barely makes it. The only thing that would have made it better would be if the booth review overturned it, but that didn't happen.
The thing that makes the least sense to me is that Buck and mostly Aikman thought Tampa shouldn't go for two because there are still 58 seconds on the clock, leaving Washington time to drive for a winning field goal. But that's equally true if they go for one. The only thing I can figure is that Aikman expects that if the game is tied, Washington would be content to go to overtime rather than try to win it in regulation. And if that's what he, putting himself in Gruden's shoes, is afraid of, then wouldn't Washington want to go for it no matter whether they had overtime available? (The easy answer is that Aikman is an idiot, which given that he's a commentator is a highly reasonably conclusion, but I don't think it's the case.)
Aaron Schatz: No, no, Aikman is definitely NOT an idiot. Remember, this is the guy who went to a statistician he knew and said, "listen, this ranking teams by yardage thing is crap, let's design something that does a much better job of showing which teams are really doing the things that win games." Thus, the Aikman Efficiency Ratings, which are computed very differently from DVOA but end up with similar results.
(As an aside, the main differences are: opponent adjustments, fumble randomness, special teams, and considering all plays equally instead of splitting rushing and passing, which causes the Aikman ratings to have strong ground games and run defenses higher than DVOA would.)
Derrick Brooks is still damn good. Broke up a screen with an awesome hit. I love when guys blow up screens. Next year, with the game charting, we should have a new stat: Screen Blowups.
Russell Levine: Every time I watch TB I'll see a couple tackles during the game that I just know were made by Brooks without even seeing him. It's just the way he explodes into the ballcarrier.
Juran Bolden had a very nice day at nickel corner today too, with an INT and a pass break up that led to another one. He's really been a nice find for them this year after Mario Bates didn't work out last year.
Really, really good stuff out of Simms today, bringing them back down the field three times after the defense couldn't stop anybody. He was careful with the football, but still went down the field quite a bit. 279 on 15 completions, not too shabby.
The Bucs have been trying to find some playing time for Shepherd for years, but he kept getting hurt. Nice to see him have an impact. I continue to be amazed by Galloway. The guy's 33 and still routinely runs past corners like he's jogging. He's got to be one of the five fastest players in the NFL.
As a Bucs fan, today was special for Alstott. I've always been an Alstott defender because I think he had the Favre Syndrome. In other words, he became so known for being overrated, that he was actually underrated. He went through a lot to come back from a very serious neck injury and a knee injury last year and I'm sure he was wondering if it was worth it if he was never going to see the ball except in garbage time. But you could just hear the crowd go nuts every time he touched it today and I loved that they gave it to him on the two-pointer, when everyone in the stadium knew he was getting the ball. A vintage Alstott run, too. He absorbed a huge hit and rolled off, and maybe, maybe made it by an inch.
Mike Tanier: I watched a lot of an unwatchable Panthers-Jets game. Zzzzzzz. I did see one beautiful interception by Ray Lucas. I watched for an hour and saw about six Panthers offensive plays. Their defense won the game, Delhomme and company sleep walked.
Bill Moore: I didn't watch the whole game, but saw most of it. It was a game until Bollinger turned into Zeke Bratkowski. Actually if Bollinger just leads Coles in the endzone, this is a tied game with seven minutes to go in the third quarter.
Maybe its just all the Jets games I've watched this year, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone have so many gimme INTs than Ty Law.
Amazing stat, that I hadn't realized. Curtis Martin fumbled today. I knew it was a rarity, but I didn't realize he hadn't fumbled in two years. (According to the announcers. Yet, I look up the stats and he had two last year, so hmmmmmmm. Moral of the story: never believe the announcers. You'd think I'd know that by now.)
Speaking of announcers, they noted that with five minutes to go and down by 27, the Jets were running out the clock (YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!). I didn't disagree. They were just trying to get out of there. That sat Martin and rolled out back up Houston, they went to rollout their backup QB and realized he's already in the game.
Aaron Schatz: I'm sure the announcers were talking about Martin losing fumbles, because if you lose the ball and your lineman happens to pounce on it, golly, it's like you never dropped the thing.
Ned Macey: This game was much closer than the score. St. Louis was just inept in the red zone and on the Seahawks side of the field in general. All but one of their drives included plays in Seattle's territory, and only one of those did they not have the ball in the red zone. On that drive, Curtis was blatantly held by Herndon leading to Bulger's only interception. (Which was only fair since Hassebleck had been intercepted after Stevens had been bumped after five yards). On the Seahawks score to go up 24-6, the Rams stopped the Seahawks on a third down play, except a blitzing Tinoisamoa had lined up offsides. He did not get anywhere near the quarterback. On the clock-killing drive that made it a two possession game and clinched the win, the Rams jumped offsides on a third-and-8 leaving the Seahawks with a third-and-3 that they completed to, as always, Bobby Engram. Engram typically came through with four first down conversions on third down. Also, not sure where Will gets his info, but he was right about Torry Holt. Holt was definitely not 100 percent in his first game back. A healthy Holt would have had two more touchdowns.
Alexander was great as always with 165 yards and three touchdowns. The announcers were big into whether or not he was the best running back in football. I am not sure how I feel about the issue, but I do think it is odd that Tomlinson is just universally considered the best back, particularly given his injury-plagued season a year ago. Alexander is so improved over where he was a few years ago. The only knock on him is that he is not a receiver, which would lead me to consider Tomlinson and James (who also is never in this conversation despite averaging more yards per scrimmage per game than any player in history) over Alexander.
Tim Gerheim: I just want to briefly give the refs some props. Their job is so ridiculously difficult, I can't even imagine doing it successfully. How do you simultaneously see when a guy's knee goes down, and also where the ball is at that exact point in time, like on Droughns' touchdown? Or where a guy's feet are, and also whether he has possession of the ball. I'm surprised they don't all have lazy eyes so they can look at two points, about 5 feet separated, at the same time.
Mike Patrick: "I'll tell you what, there's no place for anybody afraid out there tonight. If you're afraid, go home and get a dog." WHAT!?!?
That was great, watching L.J. Shelton literally pull Droughns into the end zone. I think from now on I'm going to call Shelton "Bull" just so that I can refer to that as the "Bull Pull," as opposed to the "Bush Push." (I think I've watched too much college football this season.)
Russell Levine: Too much college football? There's no such thing!
Tuesday's Any Given Sunday: Packers over Falcons
Thursday's Every Play Counts: Pittsburgh Front Seven
105 comments, Last at 16 Nov 2005, 5:17am by Jeff F