Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
25 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.
Mike Tanier: The Texans have the first five minutes of the game down to a science. Now if they can only master the next 55, they'll be great.
The Redskins threw a lot of junk at them this week: draws, reverses, lots of receiver screens, that full-house waggle to Randle El for a touchdown, the long shovel pass. Their offense is full of these kinds of plays, but at some point they will have to throw the ball downfield against a real defense. Mark Brunell's 22 straight completions look more impressive until you realize that most of them were screens and quick outs. One of his long downfield completions went through a defender's hands. Great win, but did they show off every wrinkle in the playbook to achieve it?
Doug Farrar: I remember watching the game in which Gannon set the completion record that Brunell just broke -- he was throwing underneath non-stop on a Monday Night against the Broncos, when Ray Rhodes had his defense playing back just about all night. That was pretty much the death knell for Rhodes in Denver.
Mike Tanier: The Jaguars were killing the Colts with draw plays early in the game. The Colts kept stunting with their front four, and Byron Leftwich kept giving the ball to Taylor and Drew for big yardage. The trouble is, draws only work if the defense is scared you will throw it deep. Once it became clear that no one was getting open for Leftwich, the Colts started using a simpler rush with their front four and closing down the running lanes.
Michael David Smith: I noticed the same thing about Colts-Jags. The Colts were playing pass a lot early and letting Jacksonville run all over them, but the Colts made adjustments and the Jags didn't.
Will Carroll: The Jags had a very strange set for their punt and it just bit them in the ass. They had almost a "U" shaped set with the gunners outside. On the snap, the gunner to the left ran IN to the center with one of the wing blockers coming from the "TE" position to cover the outside. The punt went to the left and the outside cover was still 10-15 yards back. The far gunner had one shot, missed, and Wilkins went untouched to the end zone.
Ned Macey: I thought the Colts were outplayed by the Giants, but it was nothing compared to the first half of this game. It looked like a high school game with the lanes that the Jaguars running backs had. Maurice Jones-Drew obviously had a big day, but his best play was this little extended pitch where he broke a half dozen tackles -- not bad for a little guy.
The Colts were tied at halftime despite being unable to run the ball and getting gashed by the Jaguars. Leftwich threw a terrible pick when they finally let him pass, Scobee missed a gimme field goal, and Wilkins ran back the punt return. The Colts offense and defense are both significantly off from a year ago, but at least their special teams are better.
The announcers didn't seem to notice that Matt Jones basically didn't play the whole game. Reggie Williams' main contribution was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (which set up a second-and-25 that the Jaguars got out of on consecutive draw plays).
The Colts defense was much better in the second half. The Jaguars offensive coordinator obviously had no faith in his line holding up to the pass rush. As was mentioned before, once the Colts realized that the Jaguars liked to run draws (and I've never seen as many as I saw in the first half), the offense was useless.
By the way, Aaron's prediction of beating the Jaguars deep almost came very true in the first half. Wayne had a long pass ruled incomplete on a review, and Harrison missed a touchdown catch by two inches on a play where he had beaten Mathis.
Michael David Smith: Special teams made a huge difference as the Colts got an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown from Terrence Wilkins, while Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee missed field goals of 24 and 49 yards.
I've thought Maurice Jones-Drew was going to be really, really good for a long time. I lived in California when he was in high school and saw him then, and I thought he was incredible. But he might be even better than I thought. Guys that quick aren't also supposed to be that good at running through tackles. My only question is why didn't Del Rio give him the ball more.
I was really impressed with Peyton Manning, especially considering Wayne and Harrison dropped his two best passes of the day. I've seen all three of Jacksonville's games this year, and I think they've got a very good pass defense, but Manning was finding soft spots in it. It's funny how dropped passes can change a quarterback's stats. If the Giants had intercepted all the Peyton Manning passes they had a hand on in Week 1, his numbers would have looked terrible. If the Colts had caught all the Peyton Manning passes they had a hand on today, his numbers would have looked phenomenal.
Mike Tanier: I'm not as negative on the Colts' performance as you were, Ned. Yeah, the Jaguars could run the ball, but as you said, the Colts shut down the passing game completely. And the Colts should have had some points before half. There was a near catch by Reggie Wayne that was ruled a drop, plus a "should've been" pass interference when Williams or someone grabbed Marvin Harrison from behind.
Ned Macey: If Harrison "dropped" the throw from Manning, MDS and I have very different definitions of the word. I'll buy Tanier's explanation, but the contact was minimal -- just that the pass was so close to a completion it may have been enough.
Mike Tanier: Weird game. The Bengals try to establish the run early, and they have some success. Then, when they are down 17-14, they stop running the ball (except on second-and-15) and Palmer starts getting hammered every time he drops to pass. There was a period of 3 or 4 possessions when the Bengals offense looked horrible, and it looked like the Steelers were about to take over (this was right after the hit on Tab Perry and the long runback by the Steelers, which looked like it blew the Bengals' composure). Then, Ricardo Coleslaw loses that punt in the wind, and it's all Bengals.
Other notes: Perry looked very good throughout the game. Roethlisberger is goofing off in the pocket too much and should probably dump the ball off more often instead of scrambling. In the first half, the Bengals weren't containing running plays to the outside at all, and Willie Parker had some nice runs by bouncing to the outside. I don't know what adjustment was made, but Parker couldn't get the corner as easily in the second half.
Michael David Smith: Don't let Palmer's four TD passes fool you; he had a lot of trouble with Pittsburgh's D. On one three-play stretch Palmer had two fumbles and an interception. Late in the first half Palmer spiked the ball to stop the clock, then called a timeout -- he seemed flustered at times.
After a Monday night loss in which they never sustained a drive longer than 26 yards, the Steelers' offense had an 80-yard touchdown drive to start the game against the Bengals. They were running very effectively when they went up the middle behind center Jeff Hartings. Have I mentioned lately that I hate Matt Millen for getting rid of Hartings? He's only been the most consistent member of one of the best offensive lines in the league the last five years. I'm sure the Lions couldn't have used him.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know how much to add on this one, but one thing I did notice when I wasn't watching MIN-CHI was that Madieu Williams seemed to be having problems making run support tackles on Willie Parker.
Also, after an interception by Dwight Smith in one game I was watching and another by Deltha O'Neal in this one, I would like to call for a ban on the phrase "he was a centerfielder out there" when a guy throws a pick in the middle of the field. Enough already, it was a stupid metaphor to begin with.
Mike Tanier: I have one note: the Panthers now use their full house package on some passing downs. They used the full house (fullback and TE in the backfield with Foster or Williams) late in the game when driving for the game winning field goal. Very odd. Even if you are worried about your pass protection, that's a little extreme.
Michael David Smith: Keyshawn Johnson looked really good in his return to Tampa Bay. Steve Smith played well despite trouble with both hamstrings. I still think the Panthers can be a good team this year, but that 0-2 hole is pretty big considering how surprisingly well the Falcons and Saints have played.
Michael David Smith: The Lions are the worst team in the league. The defense was supposed to be the strength of this team, and the Packers moved the ball at will all day.
Mike Tanier: Every time the highlight of Jennings scoring that first TD (the play with three defenders tripping over each other) appeared on one of the TVs at the local sports bar, the whole bar cracked up. All I could think was, "Poor Mike Smith."
Michael David Smith: So I'm sitting here trying not to think about the Lions, and out of the blue my wife asks me, "Do you think the good players on the Lions resent having to be on the Lions?"
I don't know if I've ever seen a bigger difference in one team within two weeks than I saw in the Packers' offense against the Bears two weeks ago and the Packers' offense against the Lions today. Against the Bears I thought the 2006 Packers were going to embark on one of the all-time worst offensive seasons. I mean they just literally couldn't do anything. Now against the Lions they just had a dominant game. I guess it's the quality of the opposition.
Aaron Schatz: I swear, I've seen this movie before. Folks might remember that last year, I wrote an article after the first three games saying that 3-0 Washington was doing it with mirrors. The Redskins barely beat Chicago and were lucky to beat Dallas and Seattle when they were outplayed by both. In Week 4, they went out and actually played their best game of the season -- and narrowly lost to Denver. Now I was forced to talk about how their loss was actually better than their wins.
That's how I feel about the Vikings. I mostly watched this game instead of CIN-PIT because I wanted to figure out if I was completely wrong about the Vikings, and they played really well, and looked like they would take this game and then a fumble, and the bad luck of the bounce into the Bears hands, and now they're 2-1. The Minnesota D does look much faster this year. They're stopping outside runs with great movement side-to-side, and they pressured the hell out of Grossman with blitzes up the middle.
Brad Johnson pulled an intentional grounding at one point that showed why the Vikings are screwed long term. Not only should he just have taken the damn sack, but he put the ball up and the defender went right into his ribs, and afterwards he looked completely winded. He's going to get hurt.
By the way, this game was Mike Smith's other nightmare, along with yet another Detroit loss. The game was stopped over and over, first by two absurd challenges and then by penalty after penalty after penalty. The first challenge had Minnesota actually challenging that Chicago DIDN'T fumble, because the Bears gained an extra TWO yards when they recovered their own fumble. Absurd. There was a horse collar call that was mostly BS because the tackler was pushing the guy down forwards instead of jerking him backwards, and then a silly offensive PI on Williamson when he didn't even come CLOSE to pushing off a defender.
Doug Farrar: Note to Chris Gamble -- watch what Rashied Davis did against Minnesota on that 35-yard kickoff return. Fake the lateral, freeze the gunner. I guess we now know why Chicago is #1 in the NFL in special teams DVOA by about 500 percentage points.
Bill Barnwell: At the beginning of the game, Eric Mangini looked like a kid who couldn't put together the Silver Monkey on Legends of the Hidden Temple. He seemed forthright and noble -- but absolutely clueless.
When CBS did the graphics with the Jets defensive alignment, they listed Bryan Thomas as a DE even though he was on the LB page with all the other LBs. I don't know if that was a commentary or a typo.
The Bills had two chances to put away this game -- they had awful execution on a fake field goal, and Losman fumbled with the first sign of pressure the Jets had all day. The Bills offensive line had a field day with the Jets today - McGahee was going for five or six yards at a time, and the Jets didn't collapse Losman's pocket until halfway through the third quarter. Losman repeatedly had eight or nine seconds to throw while Pennington was feeling the rush by his third step.
It was clear that the Jets were terrified to throw an out pattern with Pennington on a gusty day -- Pennington threw one to a WIDE open Jerricho Cotchery at the end of the second quarter and one to Coles in the fourth and that was it. They worked both times, too. Otherwise, it was slants to Coles, screens, and dump-offs over the middle to Chris Baker. They clearly don't feel too confident about Pennington's arm strength, and are building the offense around avoiding extending him.
On the other hand, J.P. Losman has a freakin' howitzer. Of course, his mind isn't there -- he threw a couple of terrifying (for Bills fans) blind screen passes, and made an awful throw for a big third-quarter interception in Jets territory.
Andre Dyson has not looked good at all this season. Example -- the Bills have a third-and-4 at midfield and Dyson is on Lee Evans. Dyson plays six yards off the line. Evans runs a five yard curl, catches the ball for the first down, and then runs by Dyson and gets four more yards. What was the point of having Dyson play off the line, then?
The play that may have saved the game for the Jets was when the Bills had a third-and-goal from the one-yard line, down 10 with 14 minutes to go, and they decided to run a fake pitch/naked bootleg with Losman. Bobby Hamilton held his lane from right end and snuffed Losman out for a nine-yard loss. Absolutely awesome play.
Doug Farrar: I haven't seen anything from Eli Manning today that shows me that he's any better in two important categories -- dissecting even slightly complex defenses (his first interception to Ken Hamlin was predicated on his averse reaction to a zone blitz) and knowing when to throw what where (pick #2 to Hamlin happened when he should have thrown to Toomer's right side near the sideline and threw inside instead). He's lucky he wasn't picked off again at the end of the half -- throwing another one of those jump balls to a receiver who hadn't even turned his head yet. He's got a succession of quick outs and that jump ball, but I don't see much else, and that's pretty much where I was with him last year.
Bill Barnwell: Every play that Manning got lucky on last week, he's not getting lucky on this week. That last minute was really the perfect summation of when everything goes ugly in New York: Manning looking utterly befuddled, Burress scowling on the sidelines, Shockey ranting about how he didn't get a chance to drop another ball he was wide open for, Petitgout looking for someone to hold, it's all awful.
Mike Tanier: The Giants have a new thing: instead of scripting their first 20 plays, they script their LAST 20 plays.
Aaron Schatz: New York's ability to score weird lucky touchdowns in the second half has reached the point of absurdity.
Sam Madison for the second straight week just looked awful.
I'm not sure why he was doing it, but I think that after making a big tackle on a kickoff return, Josh Scobey was pinching his nipples.
Ned Macey: Kurt Warner is d-o-n-e done. Start the Leinart watch -- I've got Week 5.
Aaron Schatz: As I write this, he's 12-for-19 with 200 yards. What are you seeing in this game that the stats aren't seeing?
Ned Macey: Warner just looked permanently confused in the pocket. By the end of the game, it looked like they had the wide receiver screen and not much else. He got popped under the helmet early in the game, and it got to the point where I think he may have been concussed. His first interception was a throw into double coverage. His last interception was the worst (right-handed) pass in history unless there is something left unexplained. He fumbled on their last play when they were just running out the clock to kick the game-winner. I wasn't paying 100% attention to the game, but the good-looking throws down the field were few and far between. Having Boldin and Fitzgerald breaking tackles off of short passes left and right will do wonders for your stats.
Mike Tanier: Is it over? Can I look? Can I also point out that Donovan McNabb is having an absolutely incredible season right now?
Aaron Schatz: A pregame note. Sterling Sharpe just said one of the dumbest, most contradicted by facts statements I've ever heard on a pregame show. He said that the Broncos are arrogant thinking they can keep getting rid of 1,000-yard rushers, and that it is finally hurting them, and they are losing because, QUOTE, "They can't get the running game going, and so they're putting it all on Plummer's shoulders."
I don't know what is going to happen tonight, but I know this: In the first two games, Tatum Bell has 172 yards, 5.5 yards per carry. Mike Bell has 102 yards, 4.4 yards per carry. I never played in the league so maybe I'm just a stupid outsider, but Sterling has to explain to me how 274 yards over two games qualifies as "can't get going."
Will Carroll: Why is the straight-arm not called hands to the face? That said, Laurence Maroney is scary good.
Aaron Schatz: If there's supposed to be something colossally wrong with Jake Plummer, I'm just not seeing it. This is the second straight game where blown tackling has led to huge touchdowns against the Pats. I hate the stupid Broncos.
Bill Moore: It's 2am, and I just got home from a trip to Foxboro. I haven't yet read any of the other audibles, so I won't comment on the game per se. However, I will say this: Dynasty's goodwill must last a year and three games. I couldn't believe the negativity and complaints among the crowd, especially considering it was directed at none other than Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Maybe NE fans are sore about the Red Sox situation or seeing Deion Branch playing in the 4:00 game, but there are plenty of fans -- not all, I assure you, or even a majority, but plenty -- who should be embarrassed at how they reacted to last night's game. Isn't it Bill Simmons who wrote that there should be a 5 year grace period from boos and complaints when your team wins a championship? Therefore, shouldn't the Pats have 12 or 13 years left? Yet, fans were yelling "you suck" at freakin' Tom Brady. I almost expected to hear "We want Cassell." Incredible. I swear I felt like I was in the Meadowlands during the Herm Edwards years. Goodwill -- it ain't what it used to be.
Mike Tanier: Holy crap. Bill. I thought that was a Philly thing. Sit in a Philly sports bar and you will hear how McNabb is the worst QB in the league and how we win all of our games with defense, plus how he and Andy Reid cost the team a Super Bowl (like we would have been anywhere near a Super Bowl without them). I used to play a game where I would ask, "Who should we have taken in the draft instead of McNabb?" They used to say Culpepper, believe it or not, then the answer became Edge. I wonder who it is now. But I figured Brady would be cannonized like Favre is.
Ned Macey: I'm pretty sure it is universal. Unless I'm mistaken, it certainly sounded like Indy fans were booing in the first half of a game they never trailed by more than 7 points. These are three of the probably five best franchises of this decade. I'm not quite sure what fans expect.
Aaron Schatz: Ugh, I thought that was just the local media trying to stir things up. I am embarassed if fans are really acting like that. The Pats always lose to Denver. They're going to go 10-6 and win the division anyway. What, are New England fans really worried about the Jets? Do they feel they are entitled to win the Super Bowl every single year? That's pathetic.
Michael David Smith: At this point, if the Lions could have even one season as good as an average Pats/Eagles/Colts season this decade, I'll happily sign a pledge never to complain about them again.
Any Given Sunday: Broncos over Patriots
Every Play Counts: Chicago's Passing Game
191 comments, Last at 27 Sep 2006, 11:10am by B