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?
12 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.
Tim Gerheim: We have a Reggie Williams sighting! He made a nice play for a first down on a third-and-long and then, true to form, jumped around and celebrated in much the same way that defensive linemen do when they get sacks. Yes, Reggie, it will be a good year if you get double digits in receptions.
Michael David Smith: Funny how tight end Brian Fletcher was supposed to be a nobody, but in the Colts' offense he looks damn good. Marcus Pollard was supposed to be damn good, but in the Lions' offense he looks like a nobody.
I'm usually not a big Dan Dierdorf fan, but it was nice to hear him praise Edgerrin James for his blitz pickup, then see James pick up a blitz on the very next play to give Manning time to hit Reggie Wayne for a big gain. That opening drive by the Colts was the most impressive series I've seen a team run this year.
Aaron Schatz: When I saw Jacksonville punt on fourth-and-1 from the Indy 43-yard line, I thought, well, yeah, they're not going to be daring enough to win this game. They kept it close, 14-3, until the self-immolation in the second quarter when they had an unsportsmanlike conduct and two unnecessary roughness calls in the space of four plays. Yes, that's how you beat the Colts, you give them free yards with unsportsmanlike conduct. Good job there, kids.
Michael David Smith: The Colts are playing so well right now that they look like the only thing that could stop them would be an injury to Peyton Manning. The way Indianapolis right tackle Ryan Diem played, an injury to Manning looked likely. Jacksonville's Reggie Hayward dominated Diem for two sacks in the first half.
Ned Macey: If the Colts are going to lose, the team that beats them is going to throw early to set up the run late. The Jaguars decided to copy Pittsburgh's very effective game plan of running early. That leaves Bob Sanders in the box where he makes play after play. Del Rio clearly was trying to protect Garrard, but the way he played late, it didn't look like he needed to be protected.
I agree with MDS that Hayward was dominant. His signing has really transformed the Jaguars. They are first in adjusted sack rate, and the defensive ends are providing pressure they didn't a year ago thanks to Heyward and a healthy Paul Spicer. Last year, the team ranked 12th in sack rate and got no more than 5.5 from any of their defensive ends. Hayward now has 7.5 as does Spicer.
I don't know whether the Colts should rest their players or go for 16-0, but if they do play their starters, they need to rest James more during games. He had 30 carries and 9 receptions today. He's on pace for 405 carries which are just too many. He should not touch the ball more than 15-18 times a game the rest of the year.
Does anyone else think Manning effectively locked up the MVP today? Palmer struggled, LT struggled, Plummer was average. Maybe voters will want to go to Shaun Alexander, but I doubt it. If Brady plays huge down the stretch and Manning sits, then maybe voters will look to him. Sports Illustrated says that Brady always buys the first round of drinks when he goes out with his receivers. What a great guy!
Michael David Smith: Kyle Orton just threw a perfect pass to Justin Gage ... if Justin Gage were 25 feet tall.
Tim Gerheim: Hey, so this is the first Bears game I've gotten to watch this season. I heard something about them having a good defense. What was that all about? These guys aren't very good.
Does Chicago even have a special teams coach? Bobby Wade has fielded two punts inside his 10. Do you really think that in two-inch-deep snow the punting team is going to be able to make one of those pin-it-at-the-one plays? Tell him not to catch one inside his own 10!
Ryan Wilson: I really had no idea what to expect going into this game. Given how Chicago's defense has dismantled most offenses this season, and that Pittsburgh's O-line has been less than mediocre, I was half expecting a 4-3 game. Apparently, somebody forgot to tell the Bears that when you bring 10 guys to the line of scrimmage, the Steelers are still going to run the ball. And for the first time in a long time, they ran effectively. What's interesting is that even though RG Kendall Simmons and RT Max Starks have taken most of the criticism, Pittsburgh's most effective when running right. And today was no different (the Bus scampering 39 yards off the left was the notable exception).
Because the weather went from Pittsburgh in December to Antartica during halftime, the last 30 minutes was basically a waste of time. It was snowing so hard you couldn't see the field, and there was no way Orton was going to be able to throw for 250 yards with his team down by 18. Speaking of Orton, I was expecting Kyle Boller after seeing some of his stat lines, but he didn't make any big mistakes, even though he was off on a couple of passes, and did a pretty good job of getting rid of the ball.
Michael David Smith: Sorry, Tim. The Texans sure do find creative ways to lose. This is the third straight week that, even with better teams on, I've watched the end of the Texans game just for the excitement, and in all three they've managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Amazing.
Tim Gerheim: It's always different too. I think it's getting slightly better each week. First it's a game-winning touchdown after a mega-comeback. Then it's a game-winning field goal. Now it's missing a game-tying field goal. Next week they'll get stuffed at the goal line or drop a pass that would win a game from a deficit of more than three points. Then a big comeback that falls short, then ... Reggie Bush.
Aaron Schatz: Not a good week of evidence defending the use of schedule strength in DVOA. At least I can put up this disclaimer: WARNING -- DVOA NULL AND VOID WHEN VETERAN QUARTERBACK IS BENCHED FOR MARQUES TUIASOSOPO. It's hard for Marques to win when his TO's outnumber his O's. Washington, on the other hand, has no excuse for letting Arizona almost win.
Aaron Schatz: This was an ass-whuppin'. It's hard to tell if the Patriots defense is finally coming around or if we're just seeing the result of playing two very bad offenses. I think the answer is both the former (front seven) and the latter (secondary). Healthy Richard Seymour was a monster today. I'm not sure there was a single play in this game where the Patriots only rushed four -- it was five and six on every down. They know that if you put any pressure on Losman whatsoever, he'll pull the ball down and get the happy feet. And if you try to run the ball, all those guys you send will hit McGahee. Before he got injured, McGahee had a magical THREE YARDS on EIGHT CARRIES.
Buffalo's one huge play was a 58-yard pass to Lee Evans that had nothing to do with the blitz. Evans put it into an extra gear as the pass was coming down and ended up a couple steps ahead of both cornerback Asante Samuel and safety Michael Stone. Impressive. In the book, I said that Evans was either going to end up a perennial 1000-yard receiver or like Chris Chambers, always making a few highlight plays while he wants for a good quarterback to finally come to his team. At this point, it's looking like he's on Chambers' career path.
The Pats offense was interesting. Tom Ashworth started at LT for the injured Nick Kazcur and was much better than the rookie. He kept driving Aaron Schobel back and around Brady, and Brady was getting more time in the pocket than I can remember in any game this year. His rushing TD was basically a coverage sack where the line blocked and blocked and blocked some more while Brady sat there for ten seconds looking for an open receiver and then discovered there was open space between him and the end zone. The announcer (Randy Cross) noted that the Patriots RBs always improve in December when it gets cold and the games get important. This sounds like typical announcer BS but it is actually true. In 2003, Antowain Smith suddenly woke up in December after being terrible for three months, and last year Dillon was very strong down the stretch. The Pats offense is also much better with Kevin Faulk available to catch those screens, especially on third down.
Did Charlie Weis come back for a visit with the Notre Dame regular season over? The Pats ran a fake end-around and then a reverse on consecutive plays, wacky calls straight out of the Charlie Weis playbook.
Pat Laverty: Good line from Phil Simms today in BUF-NE game after the Bills got two false start penalties in three plays (at home): "Usually there's a beeping noise when you back up like this."
Michael David Smith: Larry Johnson really is something. I know a lot of people think highly of the Chiefs' offensive line, but remember, Priest Holmes was running behind the same line early this year and didn't look anything close to this effective.
Aaron Schatz: Very funny to see the final touchdown throw go to Dan Campbell after Al's comment about Campbell in the book. Awesome play fake where ALL 11 CHIEFS came up to try to get the runner while Campbell sauntered into the end zone all alone.
By the way, I'm curious, has anyone watched a lot of Dallas this year? What's going on with Julius Jones and Marion Barber? Is Barber really playing better? He had that Big 10 rep coming out of school -- can't wait for his blocks, runs straight ahead. Has that changed?
Mike Tanier: Parcells has said several times this year that he plans to go with the hot hand at running back, and he usually gives a lukewarm opinion of Barber and Julius whenever he is asked.
Tim Gerheim: Marion Barber tends to run a little better than Julius Jones. He seems a little smarter somehow. Jones always seems to run a little impatiently. Jones is bigger, and has better all-around physical skills, but Barber seems to have more football savvy. Who knows, maybe Julius will be like Thomas and just take a while to get it all figured out in the NFL. It seems like Parcells is trying to give him that chance, because he probably figures he has more upside than Barber does.
Al Bogdan: Parcells is also big on a running back's blocking ability, which is understandable with a completely immobile quarterback like Bledsoe and two poor offensive tackles in front of him. Barber seems to be a bit better at picking up the blitz than Jones.
Mike Tanier: Yes, Barber is better both in blitz pickup. He's supposed to be a good receiver, too, though he hasn't caught many passes in the last few weeks. Considering how well he was playing earlier in the year, I was surprised to see Julius getting the 20 carry treatment in the past few games.
Russell Levine: Wow, I didn't think the Bucs had that kind of effort in them today, not after all the trouble they've had with Carolina.
It's really remarkable how far Simms has come, at least as a game manager. Those who recall him all the way back to Texas remember a human turnover machine. The bigger the game, the more turnovers you could write him down for. It was a trend that looked like it would continue in the NFL. But Gruden really has him playing smart football, reading defenses, taking checkdowns, not forcing balls into coverage.
I'm also impressed that Galloway continues to be as effective as he has been with virtually no other threat at WR. Clayton has had a miserable year, has developed a case of the drops, and has fallen into Gruden's doghouse if you believe the scuttlebutt. He had off-season surgery and it sounds like he never really got into shape.
I think Kenyatta Walker gets credites a co-star role in Julius Peppers's personal highlight film, but he did a much better job today. Peppers worked an outside-in on him a time or two to get to Simms, once for a sack, and batted down at least one ball, but he wasn't the game-changing force he usually is against Tampa Bay. His ankle might have had something to do with that.
Cadillac has found his second wind -- he's really finishing runs the way he did the first four weeks, breaking through a lot of arm tackles or spinning off the pile for that extra yard. And when he gets a crease, which isn't all that often behind this line, he gets through it in a big hurry.
Ronde Barber had a game-sealing interception that was a thing of beauty. That's four picks in two weeks, all when he read the QB and jumped a route. He also had a sack, making him the first DB ever with 20 picks and 20 sacks in his career. What an underappreciated player. He's never been considered an elite corner because he doesn't play a lot of man-to-man "shutdown corner" defense. But does anyone do that "on an island" stuff much anymore? Barber plays man, he plays zone, he becomes the nickel guy on third down, and he does a lot of run blitzing. He absolutely eats up short passes and screens because he's a great tackler. He seems like the ultimate corner to deploy vs. all the West Coast teams, and it's a wonder he's never cashed in with a huge payday. That could change this offseason, as I believe he's a free agent.
Aaron Schatz: I was completely bored by this game during the first half but apparently so were the Chargers. Then in the second half, the Dolphins scored a field goal, the Chargers fumbled the kickoff return, and all of a sudden the Chargers woke up and realized perhaps they should try to play hard.
It's very strange how an offensive line will look completely impenetrable one week and look like a bunch of rookies the next. San Diego's line was terrible today. MDS has talked about how well Keith Traylor is playing, and he really owned SD center Nick Hardwick. (Ed. note: Whoops, that big fat guy wearing #75 was actually rookie Manuel Wright.) I think I made this comment in a power rankings commentary earlier in the year, but Miami's safeties really come on strong to stop the run, it just seemed like Tomlinson couldn't go anywhere without running into three guys in white jerseys. His longest run of the game came on a draw play, which makes sense, that time the safeties were playing pass. Which leads to the question, why did the Chargers hardly play fake all day? They also kept throwing short pass after short pass. They only completed three passes over 15 yards â€“ and one was on that final drive down by nine, and one was a 16-yard pass on third-and-17, and they didn't really have long incompletions either. Why not go deep and move the safeties back to give LT room?
I have never read anything negative or positive about LT as a blocker, but the Chargers were trying to march down the field for a last-second win and second-year backup safety Yeremiah Bell just went right by Tomlinson to sack Brees, knock the ball from his hands, Dolphins recover.
One last note. I finally figured out what role Philip Rivers plays on this team now that Brees is the clear starter. Rivers gets to be the guy who jumps up and down and points emphatically after onside kicks.
Ned Macey: How hurt do we think Tomlinson is? The Dolphins did always have a guy there, but he looked a little unsure of himself. A hurt Tomlinson is an average back, see 2004.
Aaron Schatz: Can we just repeal the stupid horse collar rule? If the refs aren't going to call the stupid thing, why is it even there? If Jevon Kearse's tackle on Tiki Barber doesn't count as a horse collar, I have no bloody clue what counts as a horse collar.
Russell Levine: The official announced "there is no flag for facemask on the play." ... Uh, what about the horse collar? Why is the horse-collar rule even in the book?
Giants went for it on fourth-and-3 from the Philly 35 in OT rather than attempt a 52-yarder. Is the potential risk of seven yards of field position worth not trying to end the game right there? If you're not comfortable kicking the FG there, you really should punt.
Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora may be the best pair of DE's in the league, but they both wear hand warmers, which for a lineman looks, well, really less-than-manly.
Al Bogdan: I have to disagree. The Giants made the right call going for it on fourth-and-3. You can't kick the field goal there. Aside from Feely's recent troubles, he's never been especially good on long field goals. The Giants punt coverage has been great this year, but even so, you're not going to gain in field position punting from the 35 yard line. The benefits of making that fourth-and-3 outweigh whatever slight field position advantage you'd gain.
That fourth-and-4 was ugly, though. Eli barely got it off before the game clock expired and it didn't really seem like everyone knew what was going on, especially Shockey. I'll have to see it again to confirm, but it looked like only two Giants went out to run a pattern while everyone else was back to block.
That's about as costly of a win that the Giants could have. Losing Pierce, Petitgout and McKenzie for any significant time is going to really hurt their chances going forward.
Ned Macey: I will never be able to appreciate how good the Giants are because I cannot believe some of the errors their coaching staff makes. I find the continued use of Brandon Jacobs exasperating, but even worse is continually putting the game in Manning's hands when they should ride Barber. 3:35 left, second-and 5 up by three points, they have Manning throw. Bad throw, interception. Three picks from Eli today which gives him 15 for the season.
Al Bogdan: It doesn't bother me so much that the Giants keep giving Jacobs chances, but do they have to give him repeated goal line opportunities on the same set of downs? If you want to give Jacobs one chance to run it in on the goal line, fine. But when he shows that he can't even get a single yard on goal to go from the one-yard line, don't give him the ball again on the next down so he can screw it up once more.
Why not play fake at the goal line with Jacobs in there? Defenses are keying in on the run, because they know they can stop Jacobs. A little play action pass to Shiancoe could work wonders there.
Ned Macey: Kyle Boller had as bad a three-play sequence as is possible at the end of the first half. In a 3-3 game with a minute left in the first half, Baltimore had the ball at the Denver 24. First down, Boller overthrows Clayton and only what should have been offensive pass interference by another Baltimore receiver prevents an interception by Champ Bailey. Second down, errant throw that Derrick Mason barely gets a hand on to prevent a Bailey interception. Third down, Boller trips, falls downs, gets up, rolls left and throws a badly underthrown ball into the end zone that is picked off. The Ravens had an easy three points that he blew. To add insult to injury, they lost the game by two.
Ryan Wilson: Every week I say that Kyle Boller can't throw a worse pass than the one I just saw him throw, and every week he makes a liar out of me. His two interceptions against Denver should be 15-yard penalties. I really can't envision a scenario where, if Billick loses his job and Boller gets cut, another team will pick him up to compete for a backup QB job.
Michael David Smith: Tonight is the absolute least I have ever cared about a Lions game in my life as a Lions fan. What's the point? Two crappy teams playing a crappy game called by crappy announcers. The thing that amazes me about Garcia is that he plays like he's a rookie -- he's good at stuff like scrambling around and using his feet, but he's horrible at stuff like recognizing blitzes and managing the clock.
I think it would be funny if the Packers' fans started a pro-Millen chant. If you're a fan of another NFC North team you've got to love him. Detroit fans have started to chant "Fire Millen" when cheering on Detroit teams not just in other sports but in other cities.
Tuesday's Any Given Sunday: Dolphins over Chargers
Thursday's Every Play Counts: Carolina defense
119 comments, Last at 18 Dec 2005, 9:15pm by Dave Coon