Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
23 Jan 2006
Each weekend, 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.
Aaron Schatz: It must be unpleasant in the Denver locker room after the game, what with the gigantic monkey on Jake Plummer's back flinging crap at everyone.
Bill Moore: Although his rank in DVOA was the same as last year (#3), I've always thought of Roethlisberger as a situational passer behind a good running program. However, I have to admit Big Ben has much improved from last year. Prior to last week's performance against the Colts and today against Denver, I remained confident that if Pittsburgh needed his arm to win, they were doomed. Not only was I wrong, but Cowher game planned to use his arm. Some credit needs to be given to Pittsburgh's offensive line, which gave him good protection, but he greatly impressed me over the past two weeks.
Mike Tanier: The Steelers have a wide receiver named Washington who went to Tiffin University. Had to look that up:
Location: Tiffin, Ohio
Conference: Independent Football Alliance (Division II)
Record in 2005: 6-5.
Fast Fact: The Dragons averaged 246.7 rushing yards per game in 2005.
Michael David Smith: I really liked how the Steelers came out with six offensive linemen on Bettis's short touchdown run. And I loved how they pulled Faneca to the right and had Roethlisberger run to the left on Roethlisberger's touchdown run. The offensive game plan was great all day. Ken Whisenhunt played for two years for Joe Gibbs in Washington, and you can see some of the Gibbs influence in the way he uses a lot of motion and counters to keep the defense guessing. How come I haven't heard Whisenhunt named as a head-coaching candidate?
Mike Tanier: Whisenhunt. Beat me to him, Mike. I plan to talk this guy up in Rundown. What a gameplan. Every time they threw to Ward, he was working in a zone against a linebacker and a safety. On that first touchdown, when Champ Bailey was peeking in and ignoring his receiver, that was excellent design. I bet Bailey was peeking because a back (Kreider?) motioned to the far side on that play. Bailey was expecting a run or a throw to that slot receiver.
Roethlisberger was really prepared. The third-down throws in the first half were impressive, but the check downs were even more impressive. More than once, he dumped to a back for six yards or ran up the gut for a few yards. He did throw one or two bad balls in the first half (the Ward tip drill, the fade to Washington in the end zone) but he was hitting wide open receivers constantly in the first half.
The Steelers defense, of course, played a great game, and they did it without blitzing constantly.
Bill Moore: I thought the same thing about Whisenhunt. There's a number of Coordinators who I'm surprised aren't getting consideration, especially considering the number of vacancies. Yet Eric Mangini basically gets a job due to association. No matter how smart he is, and I agree he is very smart, he doesn't get that Jets job without working under Belichick. Part of his intelligence is turning down a job with Nick Saban last year to stay with NE. If he's the Def Coordinator of Miami in '05, he is not the HC of the NYJ in '06.
Aaron Schatz: Pittsburgh had real trouble on third downs this year, not just when Big Ben was injured, but all year. Now they're making all kinds of plays on third-and-long to sustain drives. Is this just Wisenhunt doing new things? If the Steelers from the regular season all of a sudden can convert third downs with that kind of regularity, they are clearly the Super Bowl favorite.
Russell Levine: Whisenhunt has certainly been impressive during this postseason, but he might be one of those guys who wasn't on the short list going into the postseason. He'll certainly be a "hot" coordinator next year.
Ryan Wilson: Ken Whisenhunt had a phone interview with the Rams early in the proceedings (after the wild card round, I think) and apparently he's very big on Oakland's radar right now. I'm all for Steelers guys getting shots at head coaching jobs, but Oakland just doesn't seem like the place to have a successful career.
Bill Moore: RYAN! You're sober enough to type? As the resident Steelers fan, you deserve a congrats.
Ryan Wilson: Actually, my wife is typing this while I'm dictating. And I'm supine. With one of those double-action beer helmets on. Need nap ... more later.
Aaron Schatz: In my preview, I said that Denver had to learn from the Colts' failures, and leave back extra blockers to get the Pittsburgh linebackers. And they did that most of the time and Porter and Farrior kept running over the blockers anyway. Is George Foster always this bad? I don't remember ever noticing him as a weak link before, but he was beaten a lot today. The sack that led to the Plummer fumble saw both Foster and TE Stephen Alexander blow blocks. Alexander is supposed to be a receiving TE, for crying out loud, and he's not even good at that anymore, but was he ever supposed to be a good blocker?
Sometimes, Denver didn't leave back extra blockers, instead they did play action thinking they could get Joey Porter to bite on the run and then throw a pass. Porter never bit on it. They did it on two straight downs at one point and Porter just headed straight for the quarterback.
My biggest question now is this: where was this Pittsburgh defense at midseason? When they were playing close games with Green Bay and Baltimore and Cleveland, and those teams were picking up Pittsburgh blitzers and finding guys open? When the Steelers lost to the Colts and Bengals? What has changed between now and then? What is Pittsburgh doing differently -- and can Seattle find a way to neutralize it?
The PIT running game really got nothing on the Denver front seven until late in the first half when the Denver defense was just exhausted from being on the field so much. It's strange to say this, but that's the Steelers weakness, and I don't think they will be able to run on Seattle at all.
Someone has to explain to me why Denver would throw screen passes in the end zone, risking a safety, and why Denver constantly had its cornerbacks playing like 10 yards off of Cedrick Wilson and Antwaan Randle El. On one third-and-2, Big Ben just flipped it over to Randle El for the easy first, because the cornerback was so far from the line of scrimmage. He may have been in Utah.
Finally, watching the game with friends, Ian (ex-Scramble writer) brought this up: what is the screen that they use for instant replay? Is it HDTV? Because you can see so much more detail on HDTV, when a fast replay gets slowed down to see whether a guy's knee has touched the ground or something, it would be stupid to not have a little high-def screen in there.
Ned Macey: Is it possible that we are witnessing greatness with Roethlisberger? He had the consensus best rookie season since Marino. This year, he's playing with Randle El as his second receiver and Willie Parker as his running back. Sure he still has the great defense, but he is the offense. I still think odds are good that if they fall behind against Seattle, he'll throw some costly picks, but he is the real deal.
Was it my imagination, or did Cedrick Wilson play a lot more than usual? It seemed Randle El was more effective playing back out of the slot where he is more comfortable.
The question about Roethlisberger is whether or not he is just capitalizing on teams playing run against him. I bet the Seahawks will be expecting it. Of course, if they worry about the pass, then the ground game may actually be productive in the first half.
Dick LeBeau was just a bad head coach, I guess. He certainly is a great defensive coordinator. Guess it proves that great coordinators don't always make great coaches. Green Bay certainly hopes the converse is true.
Joey Porter was disruptive as seemingly always. It will be interesting to see how he does going against Jones. Do we know how the Seahawks do against the 3-4?
Russell Levine: I'm also very impressed with the development of Roethlisberger, especially given how bad he looked in the postseason last year. By the end of last season, he was a liability, but he really was their main weapon these last two weeks. Looks calm, never rattled, avoids the big mistakes, finds the open man. And he clearly doesn't mind having the game on his shoulders.
Ryan Wilson: I certainly didn't expect the Steelers to jump out to a 24-3 lead, but it was certainly a lot less stressful than last week's game. I really have no explanation for why the defense is playing so much better than it did during the middle of the year. I think part of it has to do with injuries -- Porter and
Farrior were both less than 100% around the time of the first Indy game (and Farrior missed the Packers
game), and neither got really healthy until the last few regular season games. Also, it looks like the secondary has tightened up it's coverage, forcing QBs to make near perfect throws.
What's interesting is that the Steelers' running game is average right now, but the passing game is clicking. Whisenhunt is basically having his "Larry Brown moment" (the Dallas DB not the NBA head coach) during this post season and he'll probably parlay that into a head coaching gig either this year or next. And even though Pittsburgh isn't running all over opponents -- at least in the fashion they're used to -- Whisenhunt calls pass plays that are basically so low-risk, they're just like running plays. Little dump-offs to the RBs or WRs, and screens have all become staples of this new fangled offense.
Am I the only person who thought Plummer wasn't dreadful? He made one BIG mistake on the pick at the end of the first half (the other pick in the second half was a great play by Larry Foote), but he had a lot of dropped passes, and I give the guy credit for not going down easily. He should've been sacked at least three other times, but he found a way to get out of it and try to make something happen with his feet. Of course he had two fumbles (although not much he could do about the first one), so that didn't help things. But nobody showed up on Denver's offense, so I don't think you can place all the blame on Plummer. The guy got knocked around, but kept playing. I give the guy credit for taking a beating and still getting back up.
Concerning Cedrick Wilson, he plays a lot every game, they just usually don't throw him the ball. I think it's some combination of the Steelers finally getting comfortable with what Wilson can do and the Broncos stopping Hines Ward. I mean, Nate "I'm from Tiffin!" Washington caught a pass today.
Aaron Schatz: I went and checked the Pittsburgh DVOA on third downs, comparing the playoffs to the regular season, split between Big Ben games and Maddox/Batch games:
|Pittsburgh DVOA and Conversion Rate on 3rd/4th Down||DVOA||Conv. Rate||TO|
|Regular season (Week 6, 9, 10, 11)||-72.2%||24%||3|
|Regular season (not including Week 6 and 9-11)||3.7%||40%||5|
Michael David Smith: Lofa Tatupu is looking great today. Are we sure Goings didn't fumble on that huge collision he had with Tatupu? It sure looked like he fumbled to me, but I didn't see a replay that confirmed it.
Bill Moore: Delhomme needs to watch out doing the Michael Jordan thing with his tongue. One blindside hit, and there's going to a gang search for the missing appendage.
Mike Tanier: Is Ray Rhodes calling plays for the Seahawks defense? They are really doing a good job. On that Tatupu interception, one linebacker plays Steve Smith on the line with a defensive back deep. Delhomme, I reckon, thinks double coverage, but it is a zone for everybody but that linebacker. When Smith breaks in, he looks like he beat the coverage, but two zone defenders are actually on him. The Seahawks keep mixing things up like that.
Rocky Bernard would look great in Eagles Green.
Michael David Smith: Since Rhodes' stroke it's been linebackers coach John Marshall doing almost all of the Seahawks' defensive playcalling. He's another one who I think should be considered a potential head coach.
Russell Levine: You know, I don't know if Ed Hochuli got that call correct or not, but how bad does it look when he starts to announce the penalty, stops, then announces no flag on the play? I can't recall seeing that before.
Tim Gerheim: As one of the guys I was watching the game with said, it took that long for Tagliabue's call to get down to him, telling him to call it for Carolina to keep the game at least kind of interesting.
Russell Levine: The more I watch Hasselbeck in the playoffs, the more similarities to Favre I notice. The exaggerated pump-fakes, the carrying out of pass fakes after the handoffs, even little things like unbuttoning his chin strap after every play just like #4. It's clear he studied Favre pretty closely when they played together in Green Bay.
Bill Moore: I'm sure Holmgren has a little to do with that too.
As an aside, I think FOX has done an excellent job at camera angles from the camera in the sky. Much better than the CBS AFC broadcast (if they had one, I can't recall). I especially liked the Delhomme sack where he had Smith open on a crossing route. The angle of the camera was perfect to show how Delhomme couldn't get to Smith. Plus, I like the in-huddle shot. I know they are a little goofy, but I'm sucked in by them anyway.
Mike Tanier: Russ, when you talk about similarities to Favre, I am noticing similarities to the way that Holmgren used to call games in Green Bay. Up 27-7, the Seahawks were still executing a lot of their offense, and they drew a late hit against the Panthers after a pass completion.
Aaron Schatz: This is exactly what I said, Carolina has no offense whatsoever without Smith and Seattle ended up putting tons of guys on him. I was going to mention the Tatupu INT also, it looked like it was not just a zone but almost a "follow Smith zone" that would move around wherever he moved. When Tatupu caught the pass, there were five Seattle defenders on the screen. And the Seattle defense just destroyed the Carolina running game, pre- and post-Goings hit.
Seattle is getting great blocking on offense, which will be important when we talk about whether they can somehow control Farrior and Porter. On Jackson's first catch, Alexander was going forward then cut over to pick up a corner blitz that would have slammed Hasselbeck before he got the pass off. Nice. Another play about 12:00 of Q3, Mack Strong actually took out two Carolina defenders at once during a right side sweep. I think Ryan Hannam, the Seattle blocking TE, will be important during the Super Bowl.
At this point anything else I have to say is a random joke. SEA RG Chris Gray either has the pinkest skin in the NFL or has a sunburn. Ken Lucas has the thinnest head in the NFL. Who had Seneca Wallace on their fantasy "best of the rest" team? And what's with the Bud ad that says Bud has no fat? What beer has fat in it
Michael David Smith: Safeties are hard to judge by watching on TV, but Carolina safety Thomas Davis had a pretty bad game. Jerramy Stevens got past him for a key first down on third-and-three, and he just seemed like he was never involved in plays, even when they were right in the middle of the field where presumably he should be.
Russell Levine: Looks like the Panthers didn't bring their sea legs to Seattle. Something about the six-hour flight to Seattle seems to take an awful lot out of East Coast teams. I'd love to be in that crowd -- it looks insane, and the Seattle defense is just feeding off the noise.
Ned Macey: I thought it was interesting on an early third-and-1 when Carolina blitzed multiple people all at the left side just knowing that the Seahawks were going to run that way. It worked, but I doubt they are the first ones to do this, and it was the first time Alexander had been stopped in that situation.
It just seems so easy to beat Carolina, and yet they just went 13-6. I don't know if that is an indictment of the organization or a credit to their coaches. They have one good offensive player. That's it. Take him away, and Delhomme is suddenly a terrible QB. Sure his secondary receivers are bad, but when his first read isn't open, he is a turnover machine.
While Skip Bayless may think DeShaun Foster's injury was a factor, the line just got dominated. Is the Seattle defense good? Our stats say they are very average. I saw them play St. Louis a couple times and the Eagles game, and they dominated the bad team but got beat up by a Bulger-led Rams team. I can't believe the secondary will hold against the Steelers.
Maybe I was swayed by Aikman gushing about him, but it is hard to watch a Seahawks game and not think Hasselbeck is their best player. When you just look at the stats, even after today, you say Alexander is amazing, but watching the game, it is clearly Hasselbeck's team.
Russell Levine: I was asked in a radio interview what the spread might be if the sixth-seeded Steelers played #1 seed Seattle in the Super Bowl. Back in the 80s-90s, that would have been about an eight-pointer. After Seattle won today, I'm guessing they'll be favored by no more than three.
Al Bogdan: Nope. Opening line has Pittsburgh favored by 3.5 to 4.
Russell Levine: Wow, I'm really surprised by that coming off that performance by Seattle. They looked as good as they have all year yesterday.
Al Bogdan: If it was Denver, I think the line would be much smaller, but Pittsburgh has such a big following across the country that the average fan that decides to put a few dollars on the game is going to naturally lean towards them instead of Seattle. I'd expect the line to move towards the Seahawks by a point or so as the week goes on.
Michael David Smith: As Russ indicated, if you've been a football fan for more than 10 years or so, you remember a time when the No. 1 NFC team would be favored by anywhere from 14 to 20 points over the number six AFC team. I remember the 49ers being favored by something like 17 over the Chargers and Vegas took a beating because everyone was betting on the 49ers anyway, and they won by 23. (I remember hearing that year that Vegas just got killed because all season people parlayed the 49ers against the spread and took the over, and nearly every game was a big 49ers win and a high-scoring game.)
Vivek Ramgopal: Vegas doesn't usually lose money. Seattle plus the points seems like the surprising/popular bet right now, so people might load up on Seattle now before the line shrinks. Then we'll see the heavier action on Pittsburgh.
Russell Levine: What's the over/under on percentage of the XL crowd that will be Steelers fans? 90 percent? Give me the over.
Vivek Ramgopal: How about the over/under on how many times we see Plummer nicknamed as Jake "The Mistake" Plummer in Monday's articles? I'll take the over with 10.
Aaron Schatz: Here's my prop bet for the Super Bowl: Will there be more commercials with penguins in them, or camera shots of the Bettis family?
|Conference Championships DVOA|
185 comments, Last at 30 Jan 2006, 6:56pm by Larry R.