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?
11 Sep 2006
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 2007. Games are chosen based on our own personal viewing preferences, and are going to reflect the teams we support and the cities where we live.
Aaron Schatz: How long will it take John Madden to realize that, in fact, Miami is not avoiding Ike Taylor, that they keep throwing at whichever receiver Taylor is covering? It just doesn't happen to always be Chris Chambers.
Bill Barnwell: Madden's also been making some statements that have been begging for refutation -- teams rush worse at the beginning of the season than they do at the end of it for one.
Aaron Schatz: My god, can we just chart this immediately? At this point, EVERY SINGLE PASS is thrown at Ike Taylor. Michaels says, "Chambers with the catch and Taylor is right there." Um, yes, but Taylor let Chambers catch a FIRST DOWN, Al.
Doug Farrar: Uhhhh ... guys in the booth? Do you think Saban might have been "tentative" in throwing the flag because he was yelling at the official to turn around and see him throwing the thing? Why does he have to run all over the field, screaming bloody murder, on a borderline OB call that changes the tempo of the game? If you're a zebra in that instance, doesn't the slightest hint of the notion that he might challenge waft across your mind like a summer breeze? Sheesh.
Anyway, Polamalu looks great. And Culpepper dun got suckered again.
And yes, this is very much the same defense that beat the four best offensive lines in the NFL -- every one on the road -- on their way to the Big One. Wow.
Aaron Schatz: After the game, Joey Porter had to pull out the no respect card, "Nobody's pickin' us to do nothin', everyone said we were gonna lose." What the hell are you talking about, Joey?
Ryan Wilson: Other than the Oh God Don't Throw It To Me drop in the end zone, I thought Ike Taylor played pretty well. Yeah, the game charting might say he gave up some first downs, but what the game charting doesn't tell you is that the Steelers play a lot of three-deep zones behind all the blitzing schemes. Ike's job is to keep the play in front of him. So take that for what it's worth.
And I wouldn't listen to Joey Porter talking about being disrespected because that's about as predictable as Rodney Harrison bringing it up. Just a bunch of talking.
Bill Barnwell: In all fairness, it's a better card to pull than the "I'm going to get ejected before the game for throwing down" one.
Tim Gerheim: So I don't know whether it's the Dolphins offensive line or the Steelers defense, but Miami's run blocking was terrible today. Ronnie Brown looked like a stud, as much as you can while running for two yards a carry. Almost all of the yardage he made was on his own. If he went down at first contact, or didn't make sharp, sudden, well-timed upfield cuts, he would have had negative yardage for the day.
Chris Chambers and Daunte Culpepper are not on the same page at all. During the Chambers drought in the first half, Culpepper threw at him a lot but it didn't look like they had the same route in mind at any point.
Doug Farrar: Seattle S Ken Hamlin, who should get some serious consideration for Comeback Player of the Year, missed a tackle on a Kevin Jones 9-yard run but recovered nicely in coverage on a pass to Jones later.
Floyd Womack is having some real trouble with Shaun Rogers.
Michael David Smith: Shaun Rogers is absolutely dominating this football game. I don't want to get too excited 18 minutes into the season, but Seattle just has no answer for him right now.
Doug Farrar: Josh Brown has now had TWO field goals blocked in the first two quarters. On the play before the second blocked FG, Shaun Rogers got around Womack and Mack Strong and rang Hasselbeck's bell pretty good on third-and-3 from the DET 28. Matt is 9-of-10 for 104 yards. Let's try and protect him, guys...
... Time passes, as time is wont to do ...
Walter Jones had a Lions defender roll up on the back of his legs and went off the field (sort of) on his own steam at about 12:40 remaining in the third quarter. Replaced by Tom Ashworth. After a false start on Chris Spencer, James Hall just went right by Ashworth first play and sacked Hasselbeck. Drive over after a perfunctory Alexander third-down run. Everyone in Seattle just aged about five years.
Michael David Smith: Either having your position coach drive around nude makes a defensive line turn into the 70s Steelers, or the Seahawks really, really miss Steve Hutchinson. The Lions' D-line has destroyed the Seahawks' o-line.
The Martz offense doesn't look quite so impressive when run by the Lions' personnel. The best play Jon Kitna has made was pouncing on a Kevin Jones fumble that it looked like Seattle was about to recover.
Doug Farrar: Seattle has been running right without the cutback. Be interesting to see if that's a season-long adjustment or just a Rogers adjustment.
It took the Seahawks - the NFL's #1 team in points in 2005 - four trips into Detroit territory before they could score, and that was on a 20-yard chip shot by Josh Brown. Detroit is bringing bricks in their briefcases - maybe the most obvious early effect of Marinelli's influence.
Seattle was very lucky to win this game. Unusually poor line play (five sacks), abysmal tackling and their usual spotty special teams. Plus, Mike Holmgren usual dunderheaded two-minute clock management at the ends of both halves. It's as if, at the 2:00 mark, a switch in his brain goes from "Change Brown Right Slot A Right 322 'Y' Stick" to "Oh, look at the kitty!"
Hasselbeck's audible at the line set up the Maurice Morris 17-yard run which was the backbreaker, one play before the winning field goal.
Aaron Schatz: For what it's worth, Seattle actually was number one in kick returns and net punting this week by our special teams ratings.
Aaron Schatz: The Buffalo Bills have not solved their run defense problems, despite the return of Takeo Spikes. The Patriots are creating huge holes, and then once the running backs get through the holes, Bills are missing a ton of tackles. Add to this that Maroney is just amazing, shifting one way, then the other to get around people. 50 yards in his first two carries.
Four fumbles in this game before the first quarter ends. Bills recover the first one for a TD. Then Losman fumbles two straight snaps, one goes over his head (actually, the center fumbled technically) and then the next one he drops a play-fake. Then Brady fumbles a second time but Dan Koppen recovers.
Doug Farrar: I'm so glad I picked Maroney for my fantasy team.
Bill Moore: Despite major hardware problems, I did actually see 5 minutes of the Pats/Bills. Maroney looked good, but was making moves you just shouldn't be able to make in the NFL. Normally, moves like that get shut down and some announcer says, Mr. XYZ halfback, you're not in college anymore. Time will tell if that tells us something about Maroney or the Bills.
Bill Barnwell: Daniel Graham is such a great blocker. Forget the Bills' run defense problem, though. How about the Patriots'? Willis McGahee is getting to the second level on every carry. The Patriots linebackers basically haven't shown up - Mike Vrabel totally bailed on his lane on a screen play and it costs the Patriots fifteen yards. If you're going to be regarded as this smart LB, well, you don't do things like that.
Banta-Cain has been absolutely anonymous, and the defensive line has done absolutely nothing. I don't think they even have a tackle at this point, and it's halfway through the second quarter.
On the other hand, maybe the Bills should snap every ball over J.P. Losman's head.
Aaron Schatz: The Pats o-line looks bad on pass plays. The Bills are really confusing them with various LB blitzes and DL stunts, and over and over again there are plays where two offensive linemen are blocking the same guy while some other defender is coming in to get Brady untouched.
Losman looks much better than last year. Nearly everything he's throwing is short, but he is not looking to scramble immediately like he did last year.
Bill Barnwell: Simms has some weird Laurence Maroney agenda going on. "Quite a few NFL GMs would've taken Laurence Maroney as their first running back in this draft", he said. I find that slightly difficult to believe. Later he said, "How many times did you hear Laurence Maroney's name before the draft?" Jim Nantz confirmed that, in fact, Laurence Maroney's name had not graced his (or Simms') ears before the draft. Apparently they've never, ever watched college football coverage. "It's cause his team didn't win every game! You don't get coverage if you don't win every game!", Simms said.
Aaron Schobel is a class above Matt Light right now.
The Patriots game plan seems to be to spread the ball (I know, not surprising) in Branch's absence, but Watson's been absolutely silent, Reche Caldwell isn't getting open, and their screens, outside of one, have had very limited success. The Bills DL, Schobel in particular, are beating the Patriots OL 4-on-5 and even 4-on-6 and there's no way the Patriots can win if that's the case.
Also -- something I noted but I didn't do a full through-and-through check on without TIVO installed yet -- WR pre-snap motion seems to indicate a Patriot passing play with a pretty strong consistency.
Aaron Schatz: The difference between the first half of the Bills-Pats and the second half of the Bills-Pats was astonishing. Maybe, like they say, Belichick is the best coach in the league at halftime adjustments. Suddenly, the offensive line was blocking all the right people on Buffalo's stunts and blitzes. They confused the Bills with plays that motioned Faulk out as a receiver, including the one he caught for the touchdown.
Weird call of the day: Donte Whitner intercepted Brady on a pass to Watson -- either Watson ran too far, and forgot to turn around, or Brady underthrew, but it looked like miscommunication. Anyway, Whitner brings it back, and very early on they throw a flag for block in the back, and he keeps going, and the officials whistle the play dead. Why? Whitner never goes close to stepping out of bounds, and you aren't supposed to whistle an interception return dead on a penalty.
Robert Royal, who last year dropped an absurd percentage of passes according to the game charting project, had another one go right off his hands today. He also had the most obvious block in the back I've ever seen in my life, which cost the Bills a third-down conversion when they were trying to come back after the Pats safety.
Bill Barnwell: The real difference, I thought, in the Bills-Pats game came after the second Bills touchdown. The Patriots' defensive line was a totally different animal after that, and the Bills' offense stopped going.
Whitner went sorta close to being out of bounds, just not at the spot they marked it at. I think it was just ref miscommunication.
Aaron Schatz: OK, someone tell me why I allowed people to talk me out of my original KUBIAK projection that had Michael Jenkins as this year's biggest breakout wide receiver? "Oh, no, Roddy White is the number one guy," everyone said to me.
Benjy Rose: Watched the second half of this one here in Atlanta, and here are my thoughts:
We've secretly replaced the Panthers' defense with Folgers Crystals ... let's see if anyone notices the difference. Wow, did they suck. No penetration from the line, no tackling from the LBs. Just awful.
There were three mentions of DeAngelo Hall as "one of the best cover corners in the NFL," without anything to back it up. Hmmm.
Dunn was a monster ... finding holes, blasting through them, shifting, cutting ... it was beautiful.
Vick was his usual self -- fired a fantastic laser-beam TD to Crumpler, overthrew 5 or 6 wide-open receivers baaaaadly with his typical floaters. Same old Vick, even though the announcers kept telling us how much more comfortable he looked.
I wish I remember who said this -- it was a local radio announcer (I caught the last 5 minutes on the radio in the car), but someone had a great quote: "Steve Smith just made a terrific argument for MVP by his absence today."
Delhomme looked lost. His passes were ugly, he was not very comfortable at all ... you could see what he was thinking as he was going through his progressions: "Steve? No, not there ... crap ... Steve? No, that's Keyshawn, can't throw him the damn ball. Steve? Where are you? Steve? Steve? Ouch. Hi, Mr. Abraham, can you help me up, please?"
Tim Gerheim: "All the great coaches throw more in the first half to get the lead, and then run in the second half to preserve it," said the color commentator during the Texans-Eagles game. I can't remember if I've ever heard a talking head say that before. Maybe we're having an impact.
Based on quarter of one game, the Texans offensive line has done a complete 180. Their pass protection has been very solid, but their run blocking is atrocious.
Mike Tanier: Random Eagles Thoughts:
1. Jimmy Johnson pulled his entire starting defensive line after the first series (a cakewalk touchdown by the Texans) and replaced them with four subs. I though this was punitive, as did local color guy Mike Quick, but that was how he subbed for most of the game, four at a time.
2. Lito Sheppard sprained his ankle early in the game. The defense played better after Rod Hood replaced him.
3. After the Texans took a 7-0 lead and McNabb threw an ugly pick, they were handing out cyanide capsules at my sports bar.
4. That D'Meco Ryans kid for the Texans looks like a legit prospect at MLB.
5. Matt McCoy played very well at linebacker for the Eagles.
6. Weird fact: I taught at Overbrook High when Ron Dayne was there. My wife taught at Holy Cross High when Wali Lundy was there. I just bet one of my ex-girlfriends taught Verand Morency.
7. What was the Eagles gameplan supposed to be before we got Stalloworth? Was Jabar Gaffney supposed to run those routes?
8. Bobby Clarke was in my sports bar. A bunch of the drunks were planning to bother him about someone named Simon Gagne. I don't follow hockey. In fact, it might not have been Clarke, just some impersonator. A Flin Flon artist, if you will.
9. It was good to see Greg Lewis involved and playing hard, The local sports talk guys have been hard on him. He lowered his shoulder on a first down catch and looked good on special teams.
10. Bruce Perry isn't much of a kick returner. Hurry back, Reno Mahe. Wow, my keyboard just burst into flames!
Aaron Schatz: A Flin Flon artist? Like Mark Robinson?
Ryan Wilson: I was skeptical that the Ravens' o-line would be able to keep Steve McNair upright for more than a quarter or so, but through the first quarter he's only been touched once. Jim Fassel did a nice job of mixing in both runs and short passes during the first series that ended in a Jamal Lewis TD.
The Ravens defense looks as stout as ever and the Bucs are playing like this is their fifth preseason game. Simms has already had three dropped passes and has been hurried plenty through the first 15 minutes.
It'll be interesting to see how opposing defenses adjust when they realize McNair hasn't thrown a pass of more than 15 yards all preseason.
Will Carroll: That will happen when both starting guards are out. I'd expected Caddy to look like a Chevy, but Simms doesn't look like he's made the big step up that many expected.
Russell Levine: Ugh, what an ugly half of football from the Buccaneers. As seems to happen to them a lot, they got pushed around by the run game on the first drive before settling down on defense.
The TB offense has been horrific. Two bad Simms interceptions, one returned for a TD, one 60 yards on a tipped ball. Normally you'd say tipped balls aren't the QBs fault, but since Simms gets roughly one in three passes batted at the line, I'm hanging that one on him.
I actually think Tampa Bay's replacement right guard, Jeb Terry, has played pretty well. The replacement left guard is Sean Mahan, who started at guard all last year.
Simms looks totally out of sync. He's been late, forcing balls, batted balls, throwing behind people. And the pass protection hasn't been that bad. He looks more confused by the defense than he does rattled by the pass rush.
Odd play in the first half. Following a touchback, the Ravens came up just short of the 30 on third down. They brought out the sticks to measure. How do you measure after a touchback? If the ball's brushing the 30, first down. End of story.
Russell Levine: And the ugliness continues for the Bucs on their first possession of the 2nd half. Blown oline assignments on back to back snaps, resulting in a five yard loss for Cadillac and a sack.
I'd just like to add that this is my first time having Sunday Ticket in HD. I'd always heard rumors that DirecTV amps up the bandwidth for all the HD games (which look insanely good) at the expense of pretty much everything else -- also true ... Tampa Bay-Baltimore in standard def looks a little bit like watching TV underwater. Probably better for me in this case.
Ned Macey: The Rams offense with Bulger plus Scott Linehan made it pretty obvious that they would have some red zone struggles. This is absurd, however. Five possessions, five trips across midfield, five field goal attempts--three of those inside the red zone. They recovered a fumble at the 3-yard line and ended up missing a 44-yard field goal (intentional grounding plus a holding penalty). The Rams defense has dominated the Broncos but only lead 12-0.
As a result (or maybe just because he is smart), Shanhan had the confidence to go for it on fourth-and-1 on his own 30-yard line. Dan Dierdorf was shocked that Shanahan would go for it, but it was actually the percentage play. And even if they got stuffed, it could only cost 3 points. Now, on the same possession, they're driving inside Rams territory.
The Rams, by the way, are running almost exclusive two wide receiver sets with either a fullback or two tight ends. This is certainly not the Mike Martz Rams.
Aaron Schatz: I really hope that the NFL shows STL-DEN as one of their midweek replay games on NFL Network, as part of that new feature. I want to know what the heck happened to the Rams defense: massive improvement, or luck, or just one-week fluke?
Doug Farrar: Nice shoulder-shiver on Torry Holt by The King.
Ned Macey: The St. Louis-Denver game was extremely odd. The D-Line of St. Louis just dominated the Broncos offense, particularly on passing plays. I think Denver could have run more, but they were losing the entire time. A couple well-timed blitzes also helped. With Plummer constantly under pressure, the bad throws were almost inevitable. The game-clinching interception came off a beautiful deflection by Witherspoon -- an incredible individual play. The Broncos also seemed to be obsessed with throwing to Walker who looked like someone that hasn't played in two years. The physical tools are there, but he definitely dropped some balls.
Jason Beattie: I will try to remind myself that the Broncos looked MUCH worse in last year's opener against Miami than they did today. The St. Louis defense was able to apply enough pressure to reincarnate the Jake Plummer of 2004 ... attempting one of his ridiculous left-handed passes on the second Denver possession, and generally forcing more plays than he should. And I agree, Javon Walker looked like he still needed to shake off some of the rust. The fact that the Denver D gave up no touchdowns after all those turnovers was pretty impressive at least. Not sure how much of that was due to the conservative Rams offense though. Yep, that's about as deep of analysis as you can get from me ...
Will Carroll: Trent Green just took one of the most evil hits I've seen in a while. It wasn't a dirty hit -- the defender was committed to the hit before Green was sliding. His head bounced off the turf like a basketball and I still haven't seen him move. Green was unconscious before he even stopped sliding.
Russell Levine: Aye Carumba. Trent Green just took one of the worst "whiplash" hits you'll ever seen. Watching his head bounce off the turf was blurry even in slow-motion.
Will Carroll: Did that sound like a boo when Trent Green was being wheeled off the field?
Russell Levine: It did. I have to think that was a reaction to the replay being shown in the stadium or something.
Will Carroll: Always listen to Jaws. Jaws said earlier this summer that Pennington was looking healthy, with good velocity on his ball. I bet that Pennington's available in a lot of leagues and while he's no elite QB, he does look healthy.
Aaron Schatz: Early in the game, it looked like the list of "players praised highly in PFP 2006 who sucked today" would have Brian Williams right at the very top. On one play, he was caught looking in the backfield, but I'm not sure what for, since the running back was STREAKING BEHIND HIM AT THE TIME. Julius Jones, 39-yard reception. Three plays later, Williams is on T.O., doesn't follow his cut in, should have given up a third-down conversion, except safety Deon Grant came in on a nice play to slap it away.
Doug Farrar: The Tuna threw a challenge flag right before the snap after a Reggie Williams catch to the right in the fourth quarter, no official saw it, the next play (Wilford catch to the left) went off, Tuna called Austin over and found out that whatever he was challenging was "unchallengable". Thus. Parcells lost a timeout on a challenge that nobody saw.
So now you know that when a flag falls in the forest and nobody sees it, you will still burn a timeout.
Benjy Rose: How to stop the Jacksonville Offense: bring rain. In the first half, they were pitiful. Just awful. Bad. No running game, Leftwich can't pass a wet ball. Speaking of Leftwich, has he always had that odd roundhouse throwing motion? It's like he doesn't use his elbow when he throws.
How to Stop Drew Bledsoe: well, we all know this ... bring pressure. Yikes, he just folds. On the other hand, though, his 50-yarder to Glenn (about 45 yards of which was in the air) was a thing of beauty.
Aaron Schatz: Brian Williams played much, much better in the second half. For most of the second half, Dallas didn't try passing to Owens.
Matt Jones looked good, using his body to shield passes from defensive backs. Reggie Williams looks like he's running crisper routes this year. The Dallas o-line looks much better this year. Bledsoe threw his second and third interceptions right at Jacksonville guys. The second one was right at TWO Jacksonville guys at the same time. Golly, Bledsoe sure does make good decisions.
Aaron Schatz: Edgerrin James in the first quarter: 8 carries, 4 yards, but of course a touchdown so nobody will think anything is wrong.
Michael David Smith: Alex Smith hasn't looked bad at all. I thought he was terrible last year, but watching him today and watching the Packers today is making me think his real problem was Mike McCarthy's offense.
Russell Levine: Congratulations to Mike Nolan for knowing that when you're down 10 or 11 points and out of timeouts in the final minute, you kick the field goal as soon as you get within range, then hope to recover the onsides kick. Someone please forward today's SF-ARI game tape to Mike Holmgren, who butchered this same scenario in the Super Bowl.
I didn't see too much of hte game, but the little I saw, Alex Smith has come miles from last year. He actually looked like a competent NFL QB today. Every time I saw him last year, he looked completely lost out there.
Aaron Schatz: It looks to me like Eli is still having accuracy problems, in particular sailing his deep passes. He got lucky on the one where Plaxico Burress jumped and tipped it to himself. Then Plaxico did the same thing again, a few plays later, in the end zone for a touchdown.
Will Carroll: Did Madden just say "cankles"?
The Colts running game is as bad as Peyton Manning is commercially overexposed.
Al Bogdan: Fred Robbins is having a great game for the Giants. I was worried he would be the weak link on the line this year, but he's done very well this week.
The Giants offense would be unstoppable if they had a quarterback who could regularly throw accurate passes to open receivers. I've counted three of those so far this game out of Eli's 21 attempts (as of now).
Ned Macey: If the Giants lose this game, it will be entirely their own fault. Penalties, dropped interceptions, and now a fumbled handoff. They've dominated both lines of scrimmage and have never really been stopped by the Colts defense. Now, Peyton is throwing on basically every play. If the Colts can hold onto this game, I will take great pleasure from the fact that the supposed players' coach's team wins because the disciplinarian's team made a dozen mental mistakes.
By the way, can Edge and the Colts get back together and re-think this whole letting him go to Arizona? Neither can be too happy about it after one game.
Bill Barnwell: Pre-game show thoughts:
Aaron Schatz: In the Nike Briscoe High commercial, who is "Brian," the kid who is supposed to be Deion Sanders's son? Is that just some actor, or a player I don't recognize?
Doug Farrar: This is the tagline for the "Mannings in the kitchen" commercial for NFLShop.com:
The Manning's are ready for the season. Are you?
I will be, just as soon as I figure out what to do with this darned apostrophe.
Bill Barnwell: If I was a groupie following Big & Rich's tour bus around, Prilosec wouldn't be the pill I'd be worried about taking.
Any Given Sunday: Rams over Broncos
Every Play Counts: Mario Williams
Plus the premiere of Doug Farrar's Manic Monday column on FOXSports.com.
112 comments, Last at 14 Sep 2006, 10:19am by B