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?
25 Dec 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.
Originally, the plan was to post Audibles on Tuesday, but we realized that none of us will actually be near a computer while watching tonight's games, so enjoy some Christmas morning reading...
Aaron Schatz: Larry Johnson: 383 and counting. He's so talented, so fun to watch, and he seems like a good guy. I really, really, really hope that he can be an ED-like exception, but I wouldn't count on it.
Bill Barnwell: I was just listening to Herman Edwards' post-game press conference and the KC radio guy asked him about his usage of Johnson today and he responded with something like "How many yards did he have tonight? 100?" The radio guy informed him he had 133 and then Edwards asked, "How many carries does he have now? 400?"
Doug Farrar: It was difficult for me to focus in on the action, because I found Bryant Gumbel's presence more distracting than I normally do. In this case, he had an ex-coach in the booth (Dick Vermeil) who coached one of the teams playing in the game until last season. He coached Trent Green in St. Louis AND Kansas City. He knows more about football than just about any other analyst, and you'd think that Gumbel would either a) Defer to Vermeil as much as possible in technical football matters; and/or b) Know enough about group dynamics in a booth to know when and how to lob some big, fat Chiefs questions for Coach.
Nope -- didn't happen. Gumbel would occasionally, almost accidentally, mention that Vermeil might have some basic familiarity with his ex-team, but it wasn't nearly the engaging thread of dialogue it should have been. Beyond all the criticisms of his actual play-by-play ability (which have been repeated in a thousand reviews), I think the real problem with Gumbel is that he believes he can attain an elite knowledge of football in a relatively short time. But his lack of easy familiarity with the sport is howlingly apparent every time he opens his mouth. The NFL Network really needs to do something about this -- they've made some really questionable hiring decisions in "Total Access" hosts/co-hosts this year, and the Gumbel thing is even worse. There's no redeeming factor here. In an era of predominantly bad football play-by-play guys, he's still a real "standout."
I wanted to find this game interesting -- I wanted to watch Oakland's historically bad offense, and I wanted to see Herm push Larry Johnson over the 370-carry mark. I saw both, and then I changed the channel. Couldn't stand it anymore.
Tim Gerheim: The LJ situation blows my mind. I remember a quote a few weeks back saying something like "Johnson had 300 carries after 10 games last year. He has 300 carries now. There's no problem." Except that he only played 10 games last year (or whatever it actually was) so he had no opportunity to get another 100+ carries and die on the field last year. If Herm can't understand that distinction, I would be terrified if I were a Chiefs fan knowing he was the steward of my team.
Russell Levine: Coaches simply cannot look beyond this game or this season when it comes to the usage of players. When LJ breaks down in three years, it'll probably be someone else's problem.
Doug Farrar: For the sake of the next running back Herm gets to coach, I hope someone in a personnel department realizes that he did the same thing to Curtis Martin two years ago.
Russell Levine: I'm trying to decide on my lineup for the fantasy semifinals. (Yes, I'm in one of those odd leagues with a Week 17 championship.) I need to pick two of three: Maurice Jones-Drew, Edge, or Joseph Addai.
Will Carroll: I'd go definitely MJD and flip a coin on the others. H&V has both Edge and Addai with 16 (86/1 for Addai, 94/1 for Edge), while Accuscore has them both at 11. (BTW, is there a FO viewpoint on Accuscore?)
Aaron Schatz: I have no idea what Accuscore is. What's Accuscore?
Mike Tanier: I am vehemently opposed to Accuscore. Accuscore is destroying the American way of life. What is Accuscore?
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots apparently saw something in the Jaguars that reminded them of the Minnesota Vikings, because they came out with the exact same offensive philosophy that they used in that Monday night blowout: spread the field, nearly every play in shotgun, 3-4 wideouts, Faulk or Dillon motioning wide, and then Brady just finding the open guy against the zone coverage.
Unbelieveable play in this one. Maurice Jones-Drew goes down, except that he ran into his own guys, and the Pats never touched him. As he's getting up, you can see Tully Banta-Cain has his hands on him and it looks like he's trying to make a decision: "If I tackle this guy, do I get an unnecessary roughness penalty?" He lets Jones-Drew go to avoid the penalty. 74 yards, touchdown. Otherwise, Jones-Drew isn't getting anything on this defense, and this game is entirely one-sided. The New England receivers have saved Brady with some good catches on low/underthrown passes, but they are moving methodically up the field with short stuff and quarterback sneaks -- I think four of them so far, all successful. At a certain point, isn't that no longer supposed to be sneaky? Meanwhile, the Jags have no offense other than that one fluky long run and a couple of screens to Jones-Drew. Then again, hit a couple of those and the Pats will stop falling for them.
Patriots intercept David Garrard, but they blow it when Richard Seymour gets a somewhat questionable roughing the passer. That's followed by a long completion to Ernest Wilford on a play with a BLATANTLY obvious Kyle Brady hold. Maybe I'm sounding like a homer here, but come on already with this nonsense.
End of the third quarter, Laurence Maroney took a pitch right and shortened up like it was an option play and he was going to pass -- and then he looked forward again and kept going. I think that I just saw that rarest of all species, the running back who knows not to throw into coverage when the option pass isn't open.
Mike Tanier: I remember that Walter Payton always knew when to eat the ball on a RB option. Of course, Payton was generally an exception to everything.
Aaron Schatz: Laurence Maroney with a 27-yard touchdown, untouched. Great blocks on the left side by Daniel Graham, David Thomas, and Heath Evans coming out of a 3-TE, 2-RB set (with the other TE being, yes, Mike "The Decoy" Vrabel). We'll have to see if Vince Young can lead another big comeback today, but his old teammate David Thomas had a big coming out party today, as a receiver and a blocker.
Greg Gumbel: "Where would this team be without number 12, Tom Brady ... he was clutch in every big situation today."
What, like the third-and-long where he overthrew a completely wide open Troy Brown when a reception would have finished off the game for good? I love my Pats, but the man is just a human being.
Bill Moore: He actually threw a lot of balls well over the head of receivers, including sometimes open receivers. You could attribute it to the rain and wet weather. However, as Steve Young pointed out in ESPN Countdown discussing Rex Grossman, a good quarterback has the ability to throw strong spirals in all weather conditions. I'm not suggesting Brady is not a good quarterback, but something has been bothering him this year. I'm no Will Carroll, but his throws this year have not been as accurate as years past. He also hasn't been throwing deep. It has been attributed to the fact that he doesn't have connection with his receivers, but that's getting old. I have been critical that the Patriots don't have a deep attack playbook, and I'm beginning to worry that it is carried out of necessity rather than game planning.
On the other side of the ball, take three plays away from Jacksonville and this game isn't even close. Without the "non-tackle" run, Jones-Drew had three yards per carry for 56 total, and Garrard had something like 150 yards passing.
Bill Barnwell: So I was, in fact, actually watching the game at Logan International and got to hear the wonderful insights of the guy behind me at the sports bar. "Wide right! Wide right!" he said to his kid (yes, at the bar) when Josh Scobee's kick went, in fact, wide left. But, you know, it's right on the TV. Maybe it was Marshall McLuhan and his kid.
And also, two reasons why JetBlue is the greatest airline alive:
I was so giddy. I almost refused to get off the plane. Somehow, I went from my house to being on a freaking PLANE and had more access to football. It was amazing. And the channel rules. The guy hosting it is as smarmy as can be ("Dick? Jaur-on the hot seat after that play call!" he said, and I wept) and I now, for Christmas, only want a view of the Southern sky.
Mike Tanier: Saints offense looks real flat in the 1st quarter. The timing seems off on the passes, and the Giants are slicing up the line of scrimmage against the run. They got three points off a muffed punt. As I recall, they got points off a muffed punt against the Eagles. The little things that make a season...
Doug Farrar: Brees is rounding into a slight rhythm, especially on the longer throws. Unfortunately, his receivers used the Koren Robinson Brand Reverse Stickum and are dropping balls all over the place. The Saints had a first-half stretch in which they called 13 straight pass plays.
Watching Eli Manning get into one of those places again where he simply throws to zones and seems incapable of adjusting to any variance in circumstance ... this just happens too often. Throwing to a fullback who hasn't even turned around yet on a little dump pass, throwing to a place where a receiver's already vacated or isn't there yet -- it shouldn't be this frequent with a quarterback who's been in the league this long and has this many weapons. What's he going to do when Tiki isn't there?
Marques Colston made up for past drops with a beautiful touchdown catch near the end of the first half. Brees, from the New York 2-yard line, threw it to the left side of the end zone on Colston's back shoulder, and Colston flipped himself from back to front in the air to grab it. R.W. McQuarters is going to have nightmares about that one.
It's only fair to say that not only does Accuscore taste great, but it's also less filling. However, Accuscore cost the Seahawks the Super Bowl last year. What is Accuscore?
Mike Tanier: Darn. Missed the Colston catch but saw about 10 drops, including the Devery Henderson drop of what looked like a touchdown. Cooking and watching here. Remind me to share the Buffalo Dip recipe with our readers.
Back to back personal fouls by Giants offensive linemen. One turns third-and-3 into third-and-18. The Saints aren't playing a particularly good game but are up 20-7. The New York crowd may soon turn ugly.
Troy Aikman is now speculating that the Giants are playing like they don't want to go to the playoffs. Normally, I would say that's nuts, but watching the Giants over the last six weeks, he may be on to something.
Michael David Smith: Clip and save, I'm going to say something positive about the Lions: Dan Campbell was a nice pickup at tight end. Good blocker, good hands, good speed. The Bears look like a team that just wants to get to the playoffs without getting anyone hurt.
I love how every week an ex-Lion has a big game against the Lions. Alfonso Boone just sacked Jon Kitna. If you don't know who Alfonso Boone is, that's because he's never done anything worth mentioning before because he's never played against the Lions before.
Doug Farrar: If we don't hear from MDS again, it's because he left his house with 8:57 left in the second quarter and never came back.
Michael David Smith: Yeah, my wife didn't want me to walk out of the house.
Aaron Schatz: What a comeback! Ron Dayne has finally rediscovered his Heisman Trophy form! Hint: This may involve playing the Colts.
Mike Tanier: My wife could jog through that defense for a touchdown wearing the new iPod I bought her for Christmas.
Doug Farrar: The gift that keeps on giving? The Alleged Indianapolis Run Defense! The Texans scored the game's first two touchdowns -- Ron Dayne on the ground in both cases. Dayne picked up 55 yards on 10 carries in that quarter, just a bit better than Indy's three total rushing yards.
Aaron Schatz: The June kids always know what they're getting on Christmas Eve, cause daddy can't wrap anything up.
Doug Farrar: Gary Kubiak is giving in to the obvious down in Houston. The Texans responded to the Colts' first-half tying drive with a 14-play, 75-yard scoring trip down the field. Two passes, twelve runs. Teams aren't even giving the impression of offensive balance against the Colts, and why should they, when the weakness is so glaring? Get used to it, Indy -- here it comes again, right up the middle.
Michael David Smith: Texans go for it on fourth-and-2. The announcer says "They're in an area of the field where they'll go for it." Wouldn't that be any area of the field where the defense across the line from you is the Indianapolis Colts?
My family has a blood feud with Accuscore after it killed my brother. What is Accuscore?
Ned Macey: Christmas Eve is my wife's birthday, so we don't spend the whole day in front of the TV. The good news is that we're a fair amount richer because she was in the finals of a fantasy league with Bulger, Bruce, Jackson, Betts, and the KC defense. Better than any present I can buy her. Nevertheless, a fair number of drinks into my night, I'll contribute my thoughts on the Colts debacle.
I could just say "See my Titans-Colts Any Given Sunday" except Houston is terrible. The Colts offense had six possessions the whole game and scored 24 points. In a regular game, they would have had over 40 points. This is just so embarrassing a level of performance for the defense. Any thoughts of Bob Sanders or Rob Morris being the savior have to be out the window. They now have to win at home against a wild card team (hard enough) before going on the road to Baltimore and San Diego. Their Super Bowl hopes are a pipe dream.
One funny thing about today was that the Texans had Robinson on Wayne. I imagine he generally plays the left side or something, but Harrison had quite the field day on Faggins. The Colts are unique because Harrison and Wayne are always on the same side. As good as DPAR is for receivers, Wayne does not get Pac-Man or Champ or Rashean Mathis. That's five games where he has a significantly weaker corner on his side. (Ok, maybe Williams isn't significantly worse than Mathis.)
Anyway, the best season ever for Manning/Harrison/Wayne is being wasted, and it is kind of sad.
Too bad SD lost, because I have nothing to say about the HOU-IND game for AGS. Maybe Tim sees something quality in that team, but if the bright spot is Ron Dayne, you don't have a bright spot. Andre Johnson is an excellent player, but otherwise, the 5-10 record appears well-earned.
Tim Gerheim: Well, I'll take Ned's invitation to extemporize on the Texans.
I really don't know where this team is going. It's clear that Gary Kubiak has no faith in David Carr, which is weird considering that not drafting a quarterback was a vote of confidence for him. But he never lets him throw the ball down the field. I can totally see Carr getting cut this off-season and catching on with a team with a good offensive line but no quarterback, like Kansas City (after Trent Green), Minnesota, or Carolina (if they tire of Delhomme, which they seem to have) and winning like eight Super Bowls. Basically, I see us becoming the Detroit Lions. If we aren't already. Never mind, this is too sad to think about on Christmas.
Incidentally, the Colts had Rob Morris in basically all game. So he's not the answer.
Mike Tanier: These guys could be really scary in the playoffs if their offense is no longer Captain Checkdown and the Hitch Routes. McNair just went up top for a nice post pattern.
And that kid Koch just sewed up rookie punter of the year. He can really angle it out at the 5-yard line. Looks like he gets a lot of hangtime too.
Every time I flip to this game, the Steelers are punting.
Mike Tanier: Wanna cry? Read the Panthers-Falcons stat line. Then realize that neither team is technically out of the playoff chase as of 4 PM on Sunday. Wow.
Just in case someone missed this game, the Panthers ran the ball 12 straight times on their first drive. Their second drive started with five straight runs. They spent the whole second half nursing a 10-3 lead and never bothered passing the ball. I think Jim Mora Jr. better take whatever college job he is eyeing up.
Aaron Schatz: The fact that Michael Vick went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season, an NFL record for quarterbacks, in the same game where the Falcons scored just three points, well, that pretty much sums up the whole Jim Mora-Michael Vick era right there, doesn't it?
Doug Farrar: Sean Locklear was beaten by Shawne Merriman for a sack on the first play of the game. One three-and-out later, the Seahawks are punting. Their defense is getting a lot of flak for falling apart, especially late in games, but there is something to the fact that they're just on the field too much. The offensive line has been horribly inconsistent, and the running game has been pretty much nonexistent. The only sure thing on offense has been D.J. Hackett, the third-year wide receiver who has played the part of Joe Jurevicius this year as the receiving corps has struggled with injury again.
Uh, Randy Cross? Chris Spencer's a center, not a guard. But I agree, having him block Merriman on a pull to the left wasn't a great idea. Sack #2 for Lights Out.
One thing I have to say about Seahawks offensive line coach Bill Laveroni is that I've been very disappointed in the lack of adjustment, schematically, for all the personnel turnover. There's that Alex Gibbs school of coaching in which you can seemingly plug in different people and still have some measure of success, and it goes beyond chop-blocking. The Chargers, for their part, have a rookie left tackle (admittedly, Marcus McNeill is NOT playing like a rookie at all) and they're just banging people around every week. I see that ex-Seahawk Steve Hutchinson is having difficulty adjusting to zone blocking in Minnesota and I wonder why. I'm starting to understand just how much ridiculous talent the line had last season, because I don't suspect it
had a lot to do with coaching. Seattle started the same line all year until the last regular-season game in 2005 when they had the NFC one-seed sewn up, and you can't ever expect that to happen.
On the good side, I think Shaun Alexander is running harder this season than I've ever seen.
In the second quarter, Walter Jones was called for holding after Merriman beat him outside, Jones bulldogged him to the ground, and Merriman STILL got up to add pressure with Jacques Cesaire on Cesaire's second sack of the day. Jones' one true weakness is the speed rush outside, and that's as true now as it was when Osi Umenyiora beat him for two sacks last year. Still, that play was the closest I've ever seen Jones to being totally dominated. An incredible performance on Merriman's part.
Last week, Seattle held the 49ers to six straight three-and-outs at the start of the game. Against the Chargers, Seattle forced the first five drives to end in punts. Halfway through the second quarter, Lorenzo Neal blew up Leroy Hill up on the outside, and Tomlinson found the open gap up the middle for 62 yards. With L.T., it's as simple as that. One good block, one seam, and it's all over. Rivers threw a nine-yard TD pass at the end of that drive to Vincent Jackson after starting the game 0-for-9. On that play, Jackson had enough time to run from one side of the end zone to the other, as no pressure came from the line and the linebackers just hung in the middle.
San Diego gained 30 yards on their first five drives. They gained 86 yards on the sixth. Hasselbeck, Alexander, and 2005's best offense could do nothing with those first five chances. That's how defenses die.
Aaron Schatz: Do you mean that Alexander is running harder in this game than any other game this season, or that he's running harder this season than previous seasons?
Doug Farrar: Harder this season than in previous seasons, and harder since he returned from injury, and most likely because he's had to.
Aaron Schatz: It's possible that Doug is sitting in front of his television in shock. How is Seattle beating San Diego? How is Philip Rivers 6-for-22???
Doug Farrar: Yes, that's quite possible. For Rivers, starting the game 0 for 9 helped. Also, rookie CB Kelly Jennings has been playing out of his mind in place of the injured Marcus Trufant. He's broken up several good throws to Vincent Jackson.
Seattle has shored up their blocking in the second half, and it's possible that this is the first time since Week 1 that Shaun Alexander has been completely healthy. Again, he's running with a punishing style I haven't seen too often from him in the past.
In truth, this game should be 24-13 right now with two minutes left in the game. Nate Burleson's 96-yard kickoff return in the third quarter was nullified by a completely bogus holding penalty on TE Bennie Joppru. Now, it's one more stand for Seattle's defense. We can only hope that the first-half offensive inefficiency didn't wear them out. They know that the 49ers lost, so they know they won their "division." Now, they need to find out if they're worthy of anything more.
Mike Tanier: So I loaded up the net and I saw that Rivers just threw a bomb to Jackson. WTF is going on?
Doug Farrar: So ... As I was saying...
On the winning TD to Jackson, Kelly Herndon gave up too soon on the route, and Michael Boulware just got flat-out beaten downfield. Jackson was able to beat TWO GUYS deep for the score -- he was a good five yards in front of Boulware when he caught the ball. Seattle really needs to evaluate the secondary situation in the off-season. Herndon is nothing more than a nickel corner miscast as a starter, and Boulware's been a liability against the pass all year. I know that Seattle GM Tim Ruskell is a believer in the idea that a strong pass rush can mitigate flaws in the defensive backfield, but your front seven has to be far better than Seattle's for that to work.
And I'm not blaming the penalty on the kickoff return for this, though it may have made the difference on the scoreboard. The penultimate play of the game was Merriman's third sack of Hasselbeck. Pretty much emblematic of the whole season, sans a few bright spots. Even in the weak NFC, this is a team begging for a road butt-kicking in the playoffs.
Aaron Schatz: I'm switching between DEN-CIN and ARI-SF. Yes, that's really our second game. Matt Leinart was injured in the middle of the second quarter, but before that, he just looked much more comfortable in the pocket and much less like a rookie compared to Cutler. Yes, I know Cutler has started for only a few weeks, and he can throw the deep ball which Leinart cannot throw, but I would still rather have Leinart.
With the exception of the Bears MNF game, which I think everyone believes was a little weird, this is the first time since Football Outsiders started where I have seen the Cardinals and said, "You know what, all that 'Arizona can make the playoffs next year' hype might actually be realistic." I know that the 49ers aren't a good team -- nobody in the NFC West is a good team -- but the Cardinals look like they could maybe possibly make something happen with a couple more pieces and some more experience. The defense hits. The offense has the weapons. The offensive line is playing better, although this doesn't mean they are playing well -- Leonard Davis had one play where he tried to cut-block the guy because he just had no shot whatsoever of stopping a speed rush. It was sort of pathetic for an alleged NFL starting left tackle.
Aaron Schatz: Carson Palmer looks awful today. He overthrew T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the end zone, and it went right into the hands of Darrent Williams. Later, he had Housh one-on-one against John Lynch on a corner, open, and over threw him so Housh was stepping out as he caught the ball. And he threw one to Chad Johnson with Champ Bailey practically sitting in Johnson's lap. DON'T THROW THE BALL NEAR CHAMP BAILEY!!!!
Also, Denver RT George Foster sucks.
Bill Barnwell: Is Denver's secondary always this bad? Cincinnati is getting people open and moving the ball but shooting themselves in the foot with drops, penalties -- a Chris Henry 71-yard TD was wiped out by Chad Johnson tapping his foot on the line -- and overthrows.
Aaron Schatz: Darrent Williams has just been awful the last few weeks. He seemed a lot better than this as a rookie. The Broncos actually pulled Williams out of the lineup in favor of Karl Paymah when the Bengals went on their game-tying (almost) drive. Could he be playing himself out of the starting gig, even if they make the playoffs? By the way, the first time the Broncos run the end around to Javon Walker, it's a surprise. The second time, it's not so much of a surprise. By the third time, the Bengals are tackling it for lost yardage. By the 12th time...
And now, an impressionist interlude on the wacky end of the game, by Mike Tanier.
Mike Tanier: Palmer on fourth-and-9: Strike.
And the Bengals are running with a minute fifteen left ...
Touchdown, Bengals. Honey, take over with the kids ...
Bill Barnwell: You can take the kids back, Mike. Wood has been chopped.
Mike Tanier: The long series of question marks represented the bobbled extra point.
Michael David Smith: Which teams will rest their starters next week? Which game will NBC want? Taking a quick glance at the week 17 schedule, it looks like another crappy close to the season.
Aaron Schatz: Jags-Chiefs (both should still be in the playoff hunt) or Eagles-Falcons (same).
Bill Barnwell: Falcons are out -- at least, I'm pretty sure they are.
Aaron Schatz: The Falcons are still in it, as far as I know. Remember -- only five NFC teams have winning records. Also, if the Eagles win tomorrow, that Eagles-Falcons game is for the NFC East title for the Eagles. Another reason for NBC to choose it.
Mike Tanier: Reason not to move Eagles-Falcons game to New Years Eve night: extra hours for the Philly Phaithful to get tanked.
Bill Barnwell: By the way, while I was traveling. I began to feel a little uneasy about the flight as we were over the Cape and suddenly the stewardess handed me a package with two tablets of Accuscore inside. Soothed, I merrily sang carols with the crew and passengers the rest of the way home. What is Accuscore?
96 comments, Last at 13 Jan 2007, 9:39pm by AccuScore