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?
09 Oct 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.
Ned Macey: Nice start for the Colts defense, giving up an 88-yard drive exclusively on the ground. And yes, the crowd was definitely booing (they seem to really not like giving up plays on the draw). Vince Young gets the rushing touchdown, eluding Freeney and then going in untouched for 19-yard touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: What the hell is going on in Indianapolis? I'm not talking about the Titans running on the Colts, that makes sense. Why haven't the Colts been able to score on the Tennessee defense???
Michael David Smith: Titans have basically been playing a prevent defense all day, and the Colts haven't been taking advantage of all the room that allows to run and throw short passes. As I write this, they look like their halftime adjustments were to do exactly that, and they're driving down the field.
Will Carroll: The Colts run defense is abysmal. Inside, they're just getting bulled. I guess Corey Simon would help. Hell, Tony Siragusa would help.
Do we have any numbers on Freeney vs. a mobile QB? It's like he doesn't know where to aim and his rush is screwed. They are covering him with the TE/FB, but usually that opens up Mathis, and it's not happening.
And Travis Henry just re-injured his toe.
Ned Macey: Yikes was that a bad game by the Colts. Basically, Tennessee played their safeties deep and on the outside. Manning almost never looked down the field, so given camera angles it was hard to see exactly what they were doing. Announcers failed to notice, but Pac-Man Jones played great on Harrison. Jones goes out for one play on an injury and Manning immediately goes after Woolfolk and hits a TD to Harrison. Jones came back and Harrison made one more catch the rest of the day.
The Colts worked better in the second half going to Stokley in single-coverage underneath. But then Stokley got hurt again. Manning threw a pick inside the five on a ball that bounced off Wayne's hands, or at least the Colts would have gotten 20. In the first half, the Colts were 0-for-6 on third down.
As for the defense, this does seem to be opposite year. Last year they gave up big pass plays early before settling down. This year they are getting gashed early before holding their own late.
Vince Young did not look good. He's jittery in the pocket and inaccurate -- i.e., a rookie. He did make one beautiful downfield pass that Bobby Wade let go right through his hands.
Doug Farrar: Dick Jauron calls a fake punt with 3:20 elapsed in the first quarter, after a false start penalty on fullback Daimon Shelton turned fourth-and-1 into fourth-and-6. The snap on the punt was bad, and the Bears' excellent special teams capitalized and picked up the ball on their own 40. The Bears would pick up an easy 3 on the drive. Dick, when you're playing against the best defense in the NFL, field position is more important than razzle-dazzle ... especially early on, and especially when your own guy puts you five yards further in the hole.
It's rare that you see a defense playing this well and this much in sync. Things can change through a season, but I don't see how any offense could hold up against Chicago's D right now -- certainly not an offense run by J.P. Losman. One week after making Matt Hasselbeck look like the 2002 "Help!" version of himself, they've drilled into Losman's brain and have him rattled to death. The pick he threw straight to Briggs on third-and-9 with 11:24 left in the second quarter was just plain goofy -- there wasn't a Bill within five yards of Briggs.
Ian Dembsky: The intro music for today's game: "Smack My Bitch Up," by Prodigy. Excellent selection.
Will Joey Harrington spark an offense that's been terrible, or will the Pats eat him alive? Discuss.
Bill Moore: Harrington has done nothing spectacular, but has been efficient. But for a holding call, he would have driven the dolphins to the 1 yard line with a nice 20+ yard pass to Booker. One Ronnie Brown fumble and one Orlando Mare blocked field goal is the difference in this game. Brady on the other hand still seems to be taking his time to get a rhythm.
Aaron Schatz: It seems to me that the Patriots are playing a good deal of zone defense, and Harrington is doing an excellent job of finding the holes in there, especially when Wes Welker is the guy sitting in the hole. Also, the Miami offensive line is doing a good job of picking up the pass rush, although they really suck at run blocking.
The Patriots are making up for the lack of wide receivers by motioning out all kinds of weird people. Heath Evans made a first-down catch as a wide receiver. Heath Evans???
Bill Moore: New England pulled in their second interception off a rushed Harrington pass. We'll see how the game progresses for Harrington, but I don't think it was a totally stupid throw by him. Asante Samuel dropped off the outside streaking receiver (passing him off to the safety) and stepped under Harrington's pass. Frankly, it was a perfectly timed (coincidentally timed?) play by the defense. Harrington was hurried -- looking left -- and saw an opening in the slot right. Without much time to set, he threw a pretty good pass. I'm not even sure Samuel had broken his coverage at this point or not. Even in the replay, Samuel doesn't enter the picture until the last minute.
Brady, on the other hand, has picked up the rhythm that I referred to earlier. Troy Brown has gotten much more involved in the offensive game plan.
Aaron Schatz: Near the end of the third quarter, the Patriots switched their offense. Brady went into shotgun and started audibling and changing every play at the line depending on what he saw from the defense. That finally put their offense into gear. As for the running game, I'm curious why the Patriots have spent so much time running straight up into the middle, right at Big Daddy Dan Wilkinson and Robert Traylor, instead of trying stuff around the edges, or counters. They're not getting a lot of yardage that way.
Twice now, the Patriots have earned 15-yard facemask penalties to extend Miami drives. Ellis Hobbs yanked Ronnie Brown's helmet backwards as he was riding him out of bounds. You've already got the guy out of bounds, what the hell are you grabbing onto his helmet for? Then Jarvis Green had an awesome sack on Harrington, but grabbed the face mask when Harrington was, I don't know, three inches away from the ground? Guys, you have to control yourselves. When the tackle is assured, stay away from the damn face mask.
The CBS guys said Wes Welker reminds them of Brandon Stokely. Later in the evening on ESPN, Tom Jackson said Welker reminds him of Tim Dwight. For crying out loud, is it somehow against the law to compare Wes Welker to a black man? It's so bloody obvious from today's game, Wes Welker is Miami's version of Troy Brown. I mean, Troy Brown is one of the smartest players in the NFL and he has deceptive speed! You know if the Patriots suddenly needed an emergency kicker, Brown would do it. I bet if the Dolphins needed an emergency defensive back, Welker would do that.
Doug Farrar: Good point. For example, were I to compare anyone to Pat Robertson with his 700 Club booth mannerisms, it would be Deion Sanders.
Al Bogdan: I guess I'm the only one watching this exciting 9-3 Giants/Redskins game. New York's offensive line is having its best game of the year. The Redskins have been trying to rush the passer with only their front four and it hasn't been working. The running game has been outstanding, with the line opening huge holes for Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs to run through. Eli's having a nice game. He's throwing the ball deep well -- that is, when he knows which routes his receivers are running.
I've been very surprised that Washington hasn't tried to do more downfield. Corey Webster has been on Santana Moss a lot, leaving Sam Madison on Brandon Lloyd. Why they haven't picked on Madison, I don't know. Gibril Wilson has done a good job on Chris Cooley thus far. Cooley has done a good job containing Michael Strahan when blocking in the first half. Strahan's only sack came when Christian Fauria was lined up against him, and Fauria decided he didn't need to block the future Hall of Famer.
These officials are really inconsistent today. They're making a lot of ticky tack calls, like the helmet-to-helmet hit on Mark Brunell, but missing anything done by either offensive line. Both lines are holding to their hearts' content.
Ryan Wilson: Shawn Springs might be the most important player on Washington's defense. Without him, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams admitted that he doesn't like to blitz, leaving Carlos Rogers all by himself to give up big play after big play.
Also suffering is the Redskins' run defense, which was on the field for the first eight minutes of the second half which ended in a TD pass from Manning to Burress. Other than those two glaring issues, this team looks exactly like last year's version.
Al Bogdan: Plus, they have to leave Kenny Wright in on every play. Eli has been picking on Wright all day, leading to another nice day from Amani Toomer.
Bill Barnwell: I've been traveling all day but the goofiest thing I saw all day was the Giants throwing a bubble screen to a split-out Brandon Jacobs. I thought I was hallucinating.
Will Carroll: For the first time this season, Deuce McAllister is starting to look like a real back. He was fine numbers-wise through the first four weeks, but I hadn't seen him make a cut. On his TD run today, he wasn't Barry Sanders, but he was moving. That's a massive positive.
Ned Macey: Flipped over to this game in time to see Pat Williams storm in untouched to force a game-changing fumble by Kitna. Good to see Martz was up to his old tricks. 10 rushes for Jones (admittedly ineffective), 42 attempts plus 5 sacks for Kitna.
I charted last week's Minnesota game which was admittedly a loss, but Brad Johnson is just afraid to throw the ball down the field. He's so nervous the second he sees any pressure. 7.7 yards per completion against a team that was scorched by Favre and Bulger isn't going to get it done. Fortunately, they got two defensive touchdowns.
Ned Macey: Favre-haters are going to be emboldened by this one. Fumbling in the last minute when in field goal range? Is he Kurt Warner? I don't know how hampered Driver was, but Favre looked often to Jennings who was running free all game.
Al Harris and Charles Woodson did a good job. Holt and Bruce combined for 5 catches for 63 yards. The rest of the Rams offense had 12 catches for 157 yards unfortunately.
After a one game plus one half aberration, it was nice to have order restored with the Rams stalling three times inside the 15-yard line in the second half. According to Yahoo Fantasy Sports, Jeff Wilkins is the third-highest "Key to Success" in fantasy football.
By the way, my wife may have a fight on her hands for Marc Bulger's affection. Brian Baldinger loves the guy in a Peter King-Brett Favre kind of way. And, who the hell is Rich Baldinger, and why was I subjected to multiple Baldingers on the same day?
Bill Moore:Lots o' turnovers is making this a pretty exciting game living up to its big game billing. Philly is blitzing the crap out of Bledsoe. In the first half, he's been hit in motion at least three times, two of which were ducks. One was to T.O. and intercepted, and one was intercepted by Sheppard -- Oh wait, no it wasn't. Sheppard dropped the easiest INT he'll have all year. T.O. has seen tight man coverage by Brown, and has only seen the one ball (INT) thrown his direction. Glenn, as many fantasy guys expected, is seeing a good amount of action.
On the flip side, McNabb has been hit -- including one that resulted in fumble/INT TD -- but for the most part has had time to make throws. His receivers aren't exactly doing him justice. A bunch of dumpoffs/screens to Westbrook and one long wide-open pass to Smith make up 2/3 of his yards.
Holy cow, check Bledsoe's blood vessels, he ran a 10-yard bootleg TD taking a three defender hit.
Something to watch: Dallas is having a problem with the long snap. Twice McBriar has mishandled L.P. LaDouceur's snap, one resulting in a fumble. LaDouceur, who was signed to fix Dallas' snapping problems last year, has been snapping the ball pretty high.
Ryan Wilson: On Bledsoe's first half TD, all I could think was, "Bring on Romo," because Tom Brady got his start on a eerily similar hit. Of course I have no idea what I was talking about because Bledsoe stayed in the game, but it didn't look good at the time.
I also noticed McNabb loves throwing the ball as hard as possible, no matter the distance between him and his receivers. That, coupled with L.J. Smith going catch-optional, makes for a lot of incompletions.
Bill Moore: I agree. McNabb is making some throws like my kids. They get as close to me as possible and throw as hard as they can. Twice, maybe three times, Smith has had the ball ricochet off his equipment, including once on a play action, wide-open goal line throw. Um, Donovan, get your therapeutic throws out during practice.
However, Smith has made up for it with two nice long receptions.
Also, is there any sillier-sounding penalty in football than "group celebration?"
Aaron Schatz: Is there any sillier penalty in football than "group celebration," period?
Al Bogdan: I know Dallas is only down 24-21 at this point, but they have to consider bringing in Tony Romo. The Dallas line can't handle Philly's blitzes, and Bledsoe is useless if he's pressured at all.
Bill Moore: Now there's a picture. Mike Vanderjagt counseling a frustrated T.O. on the sideline. I can hear the conversation now:
"Hey, I know what its like to have a quarterback who can't win the big game. Trust me. We'll have a drink later..."
Aaron Schatz: You know, I swear I read an article somewhere about what great decisions Bledsoe makes. Does anyone else remember that one?
At what point does Owens completely throw Bledsoe under the bus during a press conference? Tonight after the game? Next week? A couple more weeks?
They showed Pat Watkins on the sideline, and he was quite emotional after giving up both of the big touchdowns. Well, the first one was a cornerback blitz, which left Watkins one-on-one with Hank Baskett. The second one had Watkins one-on-one with Reggie Brown, although on that one Roy Williams was providing deep zone coverage and took a crappy angle in his attempt to help in the end zone. Anyway, Watkins did not play well but isn't this in large part the fault of the coaching staff for putting him in a position that didn't play to his strengths? You have to know that if you leave a rookie safety in man coverage on a wide receiver, you are taking a risk. If Watkins was good playing man coverage on wide receivers, he would be a cornerback.
Trent Cole is awesome. Darren Howard is awesome. I don't know who those guys were in the first few games but this is the Dallas offensive line we all expected. By the way, props to Lito Sheppard for looking much better than I expected today (despite the dropped interception) -- and Joselio Hanson, for crying out loud, was on Terrell Owens for much of the day and did a great job (helped by the pass rush, of course).
Ryan Wilson: Watkins is 6'5" and ran a 4.42-forty at the combine. I think he's a little too tall to play CB (see Mike Rumph) although with his size and speed he should be able to stay with Baskett. Plus, Baskett's a rookie too, and he was undrafted, although that's starting to look like a mistake.
Anyway, the Baskett TD showed why 40 times are so overrated. Baskett ran a 4.5-forty at the combine and part of the reason he went undrafted was because he was slow. Yeah, he didn't look so slow on the TD.
Bill Moore: It was very interesting to see that Bledsoe immediately threw to Owens after his interception tirade. One problem: Owens wasn't open.
Ned Macey: My question is why did Dallas seemingly abandon the run? By all accounts, Parcells has no faith in Bledsoe, and then he calls almost 50 pass plays compared with 33 handoffs. 38 seconds isn't a lot with no timeouts, but what about a draw down at the end of the game? After the Eagles took the 3-point lead in the third, Dallas threw on 8 of the next 10 plays. They go five passes, four runs and tie the game on a field goal. The Eagles score again, and starting a drive with 9 minutes left, they throw on four of five downs. Even the final drive started with 4:26, and they ran one time (successfully for 6 yards on 2nd-and-10). Terrible offensive play calling.
As for the Eagles, McNabb does make a handful of no-touch/inaccurate throws each game, but he's definitely playing at a high level. In all the hubbub of the T.O. leaving, nobody noticed that the Eagles have much better receivers than the Thrash/Pinkston/Mitchell era. In the playoffs, we will not see a repeat of the NFC Championship vs. Carolina from the 2003 season.
Doug Farrar: Always been a big Jim Johnson fan, but I have to give him special kudos today. He called a host of creative blitzes -- especially up the middle -- frustrating Bledsoe all day. The positioning of the blitzes gave the quarterback less time to read without pressure, and the Eagles came away with seven sacks. While Dallas' offensive line has been a liability all season and Bledsoe is well-known as a quarterback who will fold and throw dead ducks under pressure, coaches have played the Cowboys honest due to all the weapons -- Owens, Terry Glenn, Jason Witten, the two-headed rushing attack of Julius Jones and Marion Barber. Johnson threw out the â€œbookâ€? and went straight after Bledsoe with everything he had. He banked on the ability of his injury-depleted secondary to cover Owens and Glenn straight up with the pressure as the primary factor, and it worked like a charm. He directed his defense to get in Bledsoe's grill until it didn't work, and it never stopped working. That's the kind of coaching performance, and faith in his players, that could define a season.
Mike Tanier: OK, Eagles notes:
1) The pregame atmosphere in the parking lots before the game was electric but not insane. I checked out the Holiday Inn lot, the Citizens Bank lot, the Linc lot, and about 3 other lots within 10 blocks of the stadium. Only saw about five Cowboys jerseys, zero fights, very little drunken insanity. Lots of great tailgating. I love my fellow fans.
2) The early game came down to Demarcus Ware vs. Darren Howard. Neither player could be blocked. Ware was just too quick for William Thomas III. The Cowboys line looked stunned every time Howard and Darwin Walker executed a simple stunt.
3) The snap to Mat McBriar wasn't that bad. The kid had the yips I think.
4) The Cowboys went to an empty backfield a few times and got burned. Twice, they split Jason Witten as the widest receiver to the right. I think they were trying to isolate Toastolio Hanson against T.O. or Glenn. The Eagles shifted like mad before the plays to get the matchups they wanted. I think all of the empty backfield plays in the first half became sacks or turnovers, so we didn't see it again.
5) Drew Bledsoe spent the first half feeling a very dangerous pass rush. He spent the second half feeling a largely imaginary pass rush, at least until the last two drives. Bledsoe was short arming passes, throwing off his back foot, and hurrying throws.
6) Someone asked why the Cowboys abandoned the run. I want to know why they are so devoted to it? This is the flip side of the frustration Eagles fans feel when Andy Reid throws the ball 55 times. You have two of the best WRs in the NFL, one of the three or four best tight ends. Why not come out guns a-blazing more? Granted, their empty backfield formations didn't work, but there is a happy medium between an empty backfield and "let's just line up in the I and give it to Julius."
7) The Cowboys had their best pass rush when Todd Herremans was hurt in the second quarter. When Herremans came back, they had a harder time getting to McNabb.
8) That Watkins kid had a hand in three Eagles TDs. 1) He was clearly out of position when L.J. Smith went right up the seam on the catch that led to the McNabb sneak. 2) He bit badly on a hitch-and-go to Baskett when there was a cornerback blitz. Always keep that play in front of you, kid. 3) Bit pretty hard on the flea-flicker handoff, then did a poor job of ball location when Reggie Brown had a half step on him. All told, Parcells is going to slay that secondary: if you factor all of the drops in, look at the game this bunch of #2 and #3 receivers had on them.
9) Toastolio actually had a good game.
10) There is no more rapturous sound in this world than a hundred Eagles fans at a bar reacting at once to an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Aaron Schatz: I'm going to write more about this in the Dallas comment for the DVOA ratings, but in his GM Jr. scouting guide, our friend Russ Lande specifically called Watkins a tweener between linebacker and safety and said that "he could be a good safety who usually lines up closer to the line of scrimmage and doesn't have as many coverage responsibilities." To me, that sounds like the coaches aren't using him right. (It also sounds like he has the same skill set as Roy Williams, which might be part of the problem.)
Ned Macey: Token Jet comment: someone's going to have to explain to me why Chad Pennington was in until the last drive of the game. The Jets were down 34. 34!
Michael David Smith: Seeing that horrible facemasking penalty that injured Larry Johnson, I've never understood why the league doesn't levy more fines for facemasking. I think I'm on record as taking the potential for head injuries as seriously as anyone, but based on my experience playing in high school, I can say I would much rather have someone drill me with a helmet-to-helmet hit than drag me down by my facemask. But the league seems to take helmet-to-helmet hits much more seriously.
Ned Macey: I agree that facemasks are super dangerous, but the purpose of the head-to-head fines is, I think in part, to change the way people play. Nobody ever intentionally goes for the facemask, and with the 5-yarder, they stay away from the head in general. Don't a lot more people in a given year get hurt on head-to-head hits than facemasks?
That being said, KC almost lost the game because of the play because they brought Dee Brown (minus the Reebok pumps) in and he fumbled inside the 5-yard line. KC recovered and got the field goal.
From what I saw, Leinart looked much more ready than Young, but he did take a costly sack late that ended up knocking them out of field goal range.
Will Carroll: Several years ago, there was discussion of a breakaway facemask. You had to tug it pretty hard, but in a situation like that, it's perfect. I get on baseball for a lack of research, but the NFL -- well, besides reacting to injuries and death -- is no better. Michael Lewis nailed the culture in his new book: everyone and every thing but the QB is disposable in the NFL.
Aaron Schatz: Man, it really is ridiculous -- if you can somehow protect your quarterback from their pass rush, you can pass on that San Diego secondary until the cows come home.
Doug Farrar: As Steve McNair found out on the final drive last week, no?
It's when I know I've at least temporarily separated my "Seahawks fan" self from my "Guy who watches football and is expected to produce somewhat intelligent commentary based on what he sees" self when I can look at Pittsburgh's defense and really appreciate when I'm seeing. Like Chicago's defense, it really is a treat to watch when they're not doing what they're doing to your team. That run defense is absolutely claustrophobic.
Aaron Schatz: The Steelers are really having a problem tonight getting their blockers out in front of their screens.
Ned Macey: It seemed like LeBeau decided he was going to blitz the crap out of Rivers. For one quarter it worked perfectly, but now they are getting killed and he's not calling off the dogs. I'm very happy to see Eric Parker and Jamal Williams getting their due. Both are good players (very good in Williams' case) who nobody ever talks about.
Where does Roethlisberger rank in those bad decision rankings? It is only one game, and Rivers is short a Super Bowl ring, but doesn't he look like the better quarterback tonight? Both are facing excellent defenses applying all sorts of pressure, and Rivers looks more confident and more capable.
By the way, what happened to all of Marty's quotes that he'd do the same thing this week if they had the lead?
Mike Tanier: Roethlisberger will make some bad decisions here and there. He's a guy who will force some passes. Some people think that every forced pass is a big mistake; but show me a quarterback who never tries to throw into a tight spot and I will show you Joey Harrington. Great QBs sometimes force passes; the trick is learning when to pick the right spots. This is Roethlisberger's first run of on-field adversity. I think he bounces back in the next few weeks.
I saw Philip Rivers scramble. I think I'm blind. He has made strides in his overall mechanics, but he still runs like Joe Namath circa 1974.
Any Given Sunday: Colts survive Titans
Every Play Counts: Miami offensive line
Too Deep Zone: Special "The Game Charters Speak" Edition
217 comments, Last at 12 Oct 2006, 12:47am by Travis