Sunday's upset was the latest in a series of unexpected wins for Jeff Fisher and the Rams. How do they keep pulling this off?
05 Dec 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.
Some monologues this week: Only Michael David Smith watched the Lions game, and only Tim Gerheim watched the Texans game. Whoda thunk it?
Michael David Smith: Vikings: One play, one touchdown, a long ball from Brad Johnson to Koren Robinson, the Vikings' longest play of the season. (The announcer just helpfully informed us that the Lions are leading in time of possession.)
(Time passes. The Lions get no better.)
Michael David Smith: And Koren Robinson just caught a 52-yard pass, with Dre Bly in man coverage. Robinson, generally considered a bust, suddenly looks like a star when playing against the Lions. Does that mean Charles Rogers is going to catch on somewhere else next year and light up the Lions?
The Lions are terrible at several positions. Dre Bly and the many Lions fans I know who think Harrington is the sole problem don't know what they're talking about. They have six points at halftime, and both field goals were set up by long Eddie Drummond kick returns, not anything the Garcia-led offense did. My worst nightmare as a Lions fan is that they play just well enough over these five remaining games that Millen thinks he's just one player away from going to the Super Bowl, makes some huge trade or free-agent signing for one star, and then a year from now when they're 3-8 the Lions will find some other guy to be the scapegoat and not acknowledge that the whole damn team needs to be torn down and built back up.
Aaron Schatz: Do we need to send someone over to Mike's house to remove his shoelaces?
Michael David Smith: My final comment on the Lions, for Dre Bly and everyone else who thinks the whole thing is Harrington's fault: Jeff Garcia averaged 3.6 yards a pass today. Do you think, just maybe, there are problems on the Lions other than Harrington?
Mike Tanier: Some guy carrying a "Fire Millen" sign was chased all over the stadium by security, then decked when he tried to escape. Mike, was that you?
Michael David Smith: My sign would have said "Imprison Millen." I think he deserves a five-year sentence for the five-year sentence he's given Lions fans.
Tim Gerheim: I'd have thought your sign would have said "Fire Rogers."
Tim Gerheim: I have to be impressed with the Texans' creativity. I didn't know there WERE this many ways to lose a football game. They took a two-point lead with about a minute remaining, and then managed to give up a 66-yard drive TO BALTIMORE for a game-winning field goal. I think the Ryan Fitzpatrick bandwagon just lost some momentum, since it became clear that his achievement wasn't so spectacular after all.
The Texans playing the Ravens must be like looking into a mirror. Sacks galore on both sides. Fumbles, penalties. Houston's defense is worse than Baltimore's, but Kyle Boller isn't good enough to take advantage. I think the Ravens use the same offense as Utah; they scored their touchdown on a six-yard QB draw by Boller.
If you like watching punt teams down the ball inside the 5, though, you'll love the Texans. They downed a punt at the 2, then there was a penalty, so they had to re-kick. So they downed the re-punt at the 1. That plus a good punt return by Jerome Mathis (cough ... Pro Bowl ... cough) got them in range for a field goal that even their offense couldn't screw up, much though it tried.
The Ravens had four sacks before Houston had two completions, yet Houston kept calling pass plays. Yeah, they know you want to run it since the passing doesn't work, but you're good at running!
The commentators today have been talking a lot about the question of whether the Texans take Reggie Bush if they have the #1 pick. Surprisingly, I found myself generally agreeing with Solomon Wilcots: adding Reggie Bush to a team with Domanick Davis doesn't really change this team. Personally, I think that if you replaced Bush with Davis on the current USC team, the results would be the same, with the possible exception of Bush's kick returning. And you put Reggie Bush behind the Texans line and he doesn't do any better than Davis.
I didn't realize until the announcers started talking about it, but they Ravens are really hurting on the offensive line. Edwin Mulitalo, Keydrick Vincent, and Orlando Brown have been out all game, and Jonathan Ogden left in the first series. Their only real starter left in this game is center Mike Flynn. And they look just like the Texans offensive line. It's depressing to realize that we have a clearly replacement-level line. That's why you don't take Reggie Bush. You trade back and take D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Then in the second round you take Jonathan Scott. Then in the third round...
Tim Gerheim: I don't have Sunday Ticket, or HD, but I'd pay good money to watch the all-11 shot of all the football games I watch. FOX used it to showed a great adjustment by the Giants defense, who looked like they were in a big-blitz defense with only one middle safety but then shifted both safeties back into a cover-2, which wound up pretty much busting Bledsoe's read. Watching football on the network broadcasts with the sideline cameras is like listening to Pink Floyd with one speaker unplugged. (Seriously, listen to Dark Side of the Moon sometime with just one speaker; "Time" never sounded so weird.)
Al Bogdan: The Cowboys can't handle the Giants defensive line. Kendrick Clancy just had a sack on a running play. Clancy came in over the center's right shoulder. The plan was a run right, so Marco Rivera was moving away, leaving a huge hole for Clancy to go through. Clancy almost beat Bledsoe to the handoff, and he was able to grab his arm to screw up the exchange, leading to a fumble and a Pierce touchdown. The Giants defensive ends are lining up very wide and haven't had too much of a problem getting around the Dallas tackles.
Bill Moore: Brandon Jacobs finally is getting low. His 1-yard drive for a touchdown was a run with leverage, getting low and driving his body over the line â€“ much different from his previous goal line runs.
Al Bogdan: I was listening to the game on the radio when this happened. The Giants radio commentators spent a good ten minutes talking about how great Jacobs looked on that play.
Michael David Smith: The Cowboys have third-and-1 at the 40, throw a long pass, incomplete. Then on fourth-and-1 they punt. That just seems weird to me. If you were going to go for it on fourth, I understand the pass on third, but if you're going to punt, why not just run it up the middle?
Aaron Schatz: Hopefully at this point everyone understands how well the Giants defense is playing right now, particularly on the defensive line.
On the other side, Roy Williams had a couple of rushing plays where he seemed to come from the other side of the field to tackle guys at their feet and take down runners in the open field. One was an end around, the other was Barber. He really is remarkable against the run.
This one had one of the worst penalty calls I've seen: an illegal contact where the ball was thrown 10 feet out of bounds. I think the flag came out after the ball had already gone over everyone's heads.
Michael David Smith: So will the Giants be auditioning kickers soon?
Al Bogdan: Somewhere, there's got to be a 45-year-old guy named Anderson that can kick the ball straight.
Vivek Ramgopal: Tom Coughlin's quote in the post-game press conference was (paraphrasing as best as my memory serves): "He missed right this week, left last week, so it'll get straightened out soon." What happened to the mean old Coughlin?
Pat Laverty: Any truth to the rumor that Dallas saw Eli in the red jersey and thought it was one of those "don't touch the quarterback" practices?
Al Bogdan: Bledsoe couldn't get rid of the ball fast enough today. Even when he had seven people back blocking for him, Drew would throw the ball to the nearest white jersey at the first sign of an unblocked Giant. Strahan and Osi had nice games, but so did Justin Tuck. They use Tuck mainly as a pass rusher in nickel and dime situations, and he does a great job of putting pressure on the QB when he's one of only three Giants rushing the passer.
The offense did everything they could to keep Dallas in this game in the second half. Eli threw some awful looking passes, but even when he was accurate New York had some horrible dropped passes. Tim Carter had two bad drops, including one where Eli put it right into his hands 50 yards downfield. All the Giants receivers had bad drops in the second half. If they had caught any of those balls, this game wouldn't have been as close as it ended up being.
Bill Moore: Carolina has done a very good job of getting to and tackling Vick. On a fourth-and-1 in the second quarter, Carolina stacked the line, and Mike Rucker came off the guard unblocked. Vick was actually running a rollout and got hit for about a 10-yard loss.
A few plays earlier Carolina got completely screwed â€“ although it didn't end up in Atlanta points. Hoover ran a short slant then appeared (to me) to drop the ball while lying on the ground. While Hoover was getting up, DeAngelo Hall grabbed the ball and jammed it in Hoover's facemask. Somehow the ref called unsportsmanlike conduct on Hoover. They showed three replays, and I didn't see Hoover do anything. So instead of third-and-1 its third-and-16. The next play, Delhomme's arm got hit in the process of throwing and the ball was picked off.
Ned Macey: The Brad Hoover taunting call was probably the right call. On about the 10th replay, it became apparent that he tossed the ball directly to Hall. Didn't look like taunting, but tossing the ball to an opponent generally gets the violation.
Mike Tanier: The American Pediatric Association warns that parents should not wipe their children, particularly their daughters, the way Steve Smith wiped the football after his touchdown. Parents should always use a downward wiping motion to prevent dangerous cross-contamination.
Oh, and Smith caught that pass out of a three-back formation, I think.
Michael David Smith: Look up "mismatch" in the dictionary and you'll see Reggie Wayne covered by Pacman Jones. Or, at least you will if we ever get around to expanding our Football Outsiders publishing empire and doing that football picture-dictionary I've been thinking about. The Colts' first drive after halftime was a clinic: Edgerrin James keeps picking up the tough yards, the Titans' safeties keep playing back, Edge keeps running, finally the Titans move a safety close to the line, and as soon as the Titans do that, Manning knows he's got Wayne one-on-one with Pacman. Touchdown.
Ned Macey: Ben Troupe was supposed to be this great weapon for the Titans, and now he is about their third most valuable tight end. Bo Scafie, a sixth rounder, is playing as well as Troupe. Today, Troupe juggled a ball going out of bounds and then dropped a touchdown. His overall numbers were good, but a team starting Roydell Williams at wide receiver could use more consistent performance from their top pick a season ago.
In Pacman Jones' defense, the Colts came out picking on Reynaldo Hill. Then, after running James five straight times. they went play-action, and the Titans had rolled coverage to Harrison. Reggie Wayne beats 90 percent of corner backs on that play. Also, the Titans punt and kick returns are much improved over a year ago even with Jones' propensity for fumbles.
Aaron Schatz: For the 500th time, we cannot allow Adam to muddy the memory of our favorite video game characters with his total disregard for punctuation. It's "Pac-Man" with a f$%^in' hyphen. I'm going to have to talk to Jim Schwartz about this in the off-season.
Aaron Schatz: Copying the Colts as expected, the Bengals are playing eight in the box on most plays. I think I've seen them playing nine in the box a few times, and one play had 17 people in the box including Marvin Lewis and, if I'm not mistaken, Jim LeClair. They even had the safeties playing close on third-and-9, which was a little bit too much for my taste. Big Ben is taking advantage of this, which is why he has excellent numbers, and the injuries don't seem to be causing him any problems; he's accurate and throwing a nice spiral. (The interceptions were not caused by bad mechanics.)
Cincinnati center Eric Steinbach is quite underrated. The Bengals are excellent running up the middle. Also, Chris Perry had very good blitz pickup on Cincinnati's second and third touchdowns. It's another reason why he's become an excellent third-down back.
There seem to be a number of plays where the Pittsburgh defensive backs are giving a cushion, so the Cincinnati receivers just cut with a quick break to the middle for a mid-range gain. Ryan, has this been a general issue all year, or just recently, or only in this game?
Ryan Wilson: Nope, that sounds about right. I don't know how DVOA will break down, but the Steelers defense wasn't the problem. Spectacularly crappy special teams and jaw-dropping turnovers were the problem. Cowher had his moments, but you can't blame him for the loss. Duce Staley should be starting, and Pittsburgh should think about throwing the trick plays in the Thomas Crapper. And let this be Exibit A as to why Big Ben doesn't need to throw the ball 50 times a game. Too many bad things can happen. There was a positive however: they kept Chad Johnson out of the end zone. Also, there's nothing like having to win out with a quarter of the schedule to go. By the way, the offensive line wasn't awful today, but Roethlisberger could leave Heinz Field in a wheelchair if things don't get markedly better next week against the Bears.
Mike Tanier: As Aaron mentioned, the Bengals did an exceptional job on blitz pickup. I think a lot of those quick hitches came on plays where the Steelers were hoping to get a sack.
The Steelers recovered three of their own fumbles, I believe.
The Bengals rarely blitzed on passing downs. They seemed content to rush four, leave everyone back in zone, and wait for interceptions. Big Ben completed a lot of passes, but he also spent a lot of time sitting in the pocket and waiting for receivers to get open, then getting flushed.
Ned Macey: Does anyone else think Ben Roethlisberger and Jake Delhomme have a lot in common? They both throw the ball beautifully, take their shots down the field, and make the occasional terrible throw. Roethlisberger has been protected for most of his career, but today, all three of his interceptions were mental, not physical, mistakes. Only one was even a justifiable throw.
Michael David Smith: Moose Johnston just said of Favre, "He makes bad plays, but he just shakes it off and doesn't worry about it." Funny how the tone of voice sounded like he was saying that's a good thing. I could envision another announcer making the same comment about another player, only the tone of voice would tell you it's a bad thing.
Mike Tanier: At P.J.'s Pub, two televisions next to each other were showing Colts-Titans and Packers-Bears. I watched McNair get hit. Then, Favre get hit. McNair. Favre. Over and over again. I never thought I could feel sorry for two millionaires like that.
When the Bears try a screen pass these days, the opposing defense just blows it up, with two defenders chasing Orton and two others converging on the running back. If they have no respect for your passing game, they aren't going to be fooled on a screen. Luckily, the Bears defense can win games singlehandedly.
Vivek Ramgopal: I caught the ESPN radio guys basically giving a live play-by-play of the last few drives. Ditka went from saying that "Rosenfels should be tending bar somewhere, not playing quarterback" (after getting picked off by Schobel) to praising him for leading the Dolphins back.
It seemed like Buffalo went to the "hey, let's try to get a yard at a time and run the clock down" strategy on their last drive and forgot about that whole first down concept. Sage had plenty of time (almost two minutes) to engineer the winning drive.
Anyone else kicking themselves for keeping Chambers on their fantasy bench?
Aaron Schatz: Or Lee Evans. I had Lee Evans on my bench.
Tim Gerheim: Wow. The Broncos left receivers uncovered on two of the last three plays on the Chiefs' first scoring drive. Once again, three cheers to the all-11 shot, that showed the mistake on the Dante Hall touchdown. Denver was lined up in a Cover-2, but Nick Ferguson came up toward the line at the snap for some reason. Champ Bailey thought he was still back there, so he released Hall when he went deep, and there was nobody to cover him. Two plays earlier nobody had covered TE Kris Wilson. Call it a hunch, but I bet the Broncos get those assignments worked out.
The intensity level in this game is really high, thanks in part to the fact that it's at Arrowhead. (I would just like to thank the Chiefs for not selling naming rights to their stadium.) Both teams are throwing deep, Denver has already run an end around, I'm sure both teams have more tricks up their sleeves for this game. I love the AFC West.
Michael David Smith: You know, I don't want to pat myself on the back or anything, but I'm really proud of the fact that right after I wrote that piece about how Johnson was a better runner than Holmes and the Chiefs should give the ball to Holmes more, Johnson became their full-time back and has been much better than Holmes was this year.
Tim Gerheim: Now that's football. Ron Dayne lost his helmet on one of his only carries in the first half, and they showed him getting worked on on the sidelines during the next play; I think he had a broken nose. He's playing with some kind of plug in one side of his nose in the second half.
One of my favorite things to do lately is watch backs pick up the blitz. Some of them are great; some of them embarrass themselves like nobody's business. Tatum Bell had a weak but effective block where he ran into one of the KC linebackers and bounced backward. It only worked because the linebacker's momentum wasn't affected at all by Bell, so he wound up tripping over Bell, now on his back, on his way into the backfield.
Mike Tanier: Did you see that fourth-and-1? Is Dick going to challenge the spot? Can he? The two-minute warning just sounded...
Tim Gerheim: That was the rule from the Saints-Rams game: when the play starts before the two-minute warning, it requires a challenge to overturn. Good thing Vermeil didn't challenge the touchdown run in the second quarter, after he had just challenged the Plummer touchdown run, and won.
Mike Tanier: Eh, never mind about the spot. After the last two plays, I think the rumors about Kawika Mitchell figuring things out are true.
Tim Gerheim: I can't really explain it, but Denver looks nervous. I think it started on the first KC drive when they blew a couple assignments in the secondary, leading to the first touchdown. Then Plummer has thrown two interceptions, which is a lot for this season, and at least one of them was a poor or at least questionable decision. The Broncos defense has looked frustrated at a lot of points in this game, most notably when John Lynch got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing with a ref; I don't think they're used to being behind. They just haven't shown a lot of composure. I don't think it augurs well for them in the playoffs, where obviously the competition gets stiffer and they're more likely to face adversity.
Ned Macey: I didn't watch all of the Denver game, but does one big run against Dallas really justify giving Ron Dayne more carries than Tatum Bell?
Michael David Smith: Brian Baldinger just said, "Clinton Portis doesn't watch any TV except Family Guy." Somehow I don't think we would have learned about Portis' TV habits if his favorite show weren't on FOX, but still, this makes me like Portis a little more.
Mike Tanier: I dont watch any TV but Family Guy either, plus football and children's shows. Unfortunately, I cannot watch the Broncos right now because my son is watching Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. Firestar is hot, though.
Aaron Schatz: What a boring game. The first interesting thing that happened came in the middle of the second quarter when there were roughly eight penalties at the same time, and the ref got to announce them, explain them, and then point out they were all offsetting. I went to write this down in the notebook and realized I had not written a single thing about this game yet because it was so dull. Basically, the Jets suck and the Patriots finally found a quarterback who couldn't throw against them.
Bill Moore: That NE game was a snoozer. It was like watching a Jamie Pressley movie, where an hour into it you realize that nothing has really happened, but you feel OK watching anyway.
Aaron Schatz: Two questions here. One, Ty Law came out of the game in the second half and there was no explanation given. There was no injury report, so did he take himself out for the heck of it or did the Jets take him out to get Justin Miller more experience? Two, what in the name of all that is holy and not on the injured list was Tom Brady doing in that game handing off at the end? What, Doug Flutie was in the bathroom or something? It wasn't worth taking even the teeny-tiny chance that someone would fall on his leg in mid-handoff.
Bill Moore: Law pulled himself out of the game at the very end of the third quarter. He had what looked to be a slight limp (the previous play had just gone against him -- he pushed Andre Davis out of bounds after a catch). I hadn't noticed that he didn't return.
Hell -- Brady ran a QB sneak to end the game! What!?
Aaron Schatz: By the way, when the Patriots offense took the field, Kevin Harlan says, "Here's number 11, this year's Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, quarterback Tom Brady." Um, number 11 is in Dallas, dude. Brady is number 12. Oh, and Randy Cross referred to running out the clock as "going lowbrow" which has got to be the first time I've ever heard that one.
Tim Gerheim: Ahh, the spoiled Northeast gets a taste of the Texans curse: games covered by Kevin Harlan and Randy Cross. It's still better than anyone and Steve Tasker though.
Bill Moore: Collins misses Porter on a deep route by overthrowing him by at least 7 or 8 yards, leading Theisman to this thought:
"See, I have a theory. When quarterbacks overthrow receivers, they are throwing the ball not to throw an interception. If you throw it to try and throw it to the guy in stride, and the defender is fairly close, there is that chance that maybe the interception will come up. But if you overthrow him by a great margin, you're almost throwing the ball away."
Well Joe, call me crazy, but you surely limit the chance of an interception, but you definitely limit the chance of a catch to about zero. It's like the old golf clichÃ© - 99 percent of all putts that come up short hardly ever go in.
Aaron Schatz: Michael Turner scores a touchdown. Joe Theismann says: "Now, do you see what San Diego did there, that was almost like an unbalanced line. You had two tackles, a guard, and a tight end all on the right side."
Um, Joe, that isn't ALMOST LIKE an unbalanced line. That IS an unbalanced line.
Ned Macey: Theismann also said outright that Drew Brees is one of the five best quarterbacks in football. Who feels that he would have said that if he were covering Manning, Brady, Palmer, McNabb, Plummer, Favre, Hasselbeck, Green, Vick, and Leftwich?
Tim Gerheim: Bhawoh Jue, at least the way Paul Maguire says it, sounds like he would go great with prime rib.
Bill Moore: I know Punters should be seen and not talked about. So you know it's a backhanded compliment when I say, "boy, I noticed two good punting performances today."
The first was Jeff Feagles. With only two touchbacks all year, it should not be surprising to see where he stuck punts today. But in the Dallas game, he pinned at least two back-to-back punts on the two-yard line.
And I continue to be impressed with Ben Graham of the Jets. He too placed at least two punts inside the 5 today. He boots the ball really high. Although I don't have his hang time info, it must be significant.
I have always been surprised that more kickers don't try more coffin corner punts. Trying to down the ball inside the 5 seems so much harder. However, after today, maybe I stand corrected.
Mike Tanier: I saw two "whoops" punts this week, where the snap was awful, the punter had to chase the ball all over the place, but still got off a decent kick. I think one was Klewe from Minnesota and the other was the Bears punter, Maynard.
Tim Gerheim: I've noticed a lot of good punting and punt coverage this season, mostly of the down-at-the-one variety. I think it was Len Pasquarelli in Tip Sheet last week saying that the league is starting to consider adjusting the punting rules to stop that sort of thing and try to encourage more punt returns rather than fair catches. (Not exactly the same issue, but generally a matter of punters playing well enough to unbalance punt plays.)
Tuesday's Any Given Sunday: Bengals over Steelers
Thursday's Every Play Counts: David Garrard
113 comments, Last at 07 Dec 2005, 10:53pm by Sid