Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
15 Jan 2007
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: Well, apparently the FO game charters are not the only people who think that Samari Rolle is the weakness on the Baltimore defense. Clearly, Peyton Manning thinks this, and even Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf understand the situation.
Michael David Smith: We're all intelligent, articulate fans. I defy anyone to explain, in plain English, what constitutes contact that would be illegal contact if the QB still had the ball, but isn't enough to be pass interference once the ball is in the air. If none of us can do it, I kindly suggest to the NFL that they have a serious problem with badly written rules that the officials don't know how to enforce. It was bad in last year's playoffs and is starting to look bad again this year.
Aaron Schatz: Clearly, MDS is just a bitter Seattle fan, angry that the refs are costing the Seahawks this game against the Ravens ... wait a minute ... the Seahawks aren't in this game and MDS is a Lions fan. Do you mean that this problem with the officiating goes beyond last year's Super Bowl? I'm shocked!
Doug Farrar: A problem with officiating? Nah. Oh, there might be the "ingredients" of a problem, but that's never conclusive...
According to the Football Outsiders penalty database, Ron Winter called the most defensive pass interference penalties in the 2006 regular season with 15. Bill Carollo called the fewest, with five. Meanwhile, Larry Nemmers and Terry McAulay tied for the most illegal contact calls with 12. The fewest? Bill Leavy, with two. Carollo called 10 contact penalties, and Leavy called 12 DPIs. It's not only that the officials have a serious problem with the rules as written, I would contend that -- to differing degrees on either end -- they're blurring the line between contact and interference without a second thought. I think they're clueless enough about the boundaries of the rules that they're going with the idea that close is good enough.
Given that, I'd classify what Leavy just did as "screwing up in reverse."
Michael David Smith: Dan Dierdorf has been impressed by two things so far:
1. Adalius Thomas can keep up with Dallas Clark.
2. The Colts' defense actually looks at the Ravens' offense when they're lining up.
I'm somewhat less than impressed by those two things.
Tim Gerheim: I'm reasonably impressed that Adalius Thomas can keep up with Dallas Clark. Clark is barely a tight end -- he's basically a squat wideout -- and Thomas is a pretty big linebacker. Linebackers don't run with Clark very well. However, on that play that impressed Dierdorf, Thomas was pretty comfortably beaten, so I'm somewhat less impressed by that play.
The Ravens look a lot better on this drive where they're running to the outside a little bit. Who'da thunk it?
Michael David Smith: Clark is listed at 252. Dierdorf claimed Thomas outweighs him by 40 pounds.
Will Carroll: If Clark is 252, then I weigh what I said on my drivers license. Much like Freeney, the list and the reality are WAY off.
Bill Barwell: There has been a whole lot of bad throws to tight ends so far. Does Indy ever go max protect? Today might be a good day for it.
Aaron Schatz: Hot damn, was that one awful throw right there by McNair. I do not know how he didn't see that Heap was sandwiched between two guys.
Tim Gerheim: Dierdorf keeps mentioning how deep Ed Reed is playing. I wonder if he's playing any role in run support. On that last play where he mentioned it, it was a slow-developing stretch handoff, but I didn't see Reed in at the end of the play. That would be interesting, and probably pretty smart, if he were a pure pass defender.
Aaron Schatz: Halftime report: When did Marty Schottenheimer become head coach of the Ravens? The Baltimore offense is exhibiting every kind of conservative look that makes people criticize Martyball. Sitting on the ball at the end of the half was just one of many examples. Steve McNair isn't Captain Checkdown today, because to be Captain Checkdown you have to be checking down from your first couple reads down the field. Does McNair even make reads down the field? Are Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton even playing today? Billick better grow a pair at halftime or the Ravens are toast, because McNair running a diverse offense was the difference between them and the Ravens of the past few years.
Speaking of toast, Samari Rolle was just toasted by Aaron Moorehead. Score one for game charting.
As far as the Colts offense, the big story here is one we should have been talking about earlier -- Manning has discovered mobility. It was very noticeable when they beat the Patriots and we're seeing it here too. Now when the offensive line blows their blocks, he's not a sitting duck, he's moving around and still finding guys open or, god forbid, actually running. It's like his one weakness is gone â€“ the 3-4 thing doesn't matter as much if Manning can make plays even when the protection breaks down.
Ned Macey: I have been mightily impressed with the Baltimore defense. If you told me Manning would not be sacked (admittedly pressured) in the first half, I would have expected more. Chris McAlister has done well on Harrison so far. What I would give for either Aaron Moorehead to be better or that pass to be one foot shorter. Clearly Manning was choking on that throw.
Also, I've watched 95 percent of the Colts games for the past four years, and I can't remember seeing a flea flicker. I like that trickery better than their lame attempts to put Wayne in the slot on the right.
I'm completely jinxing the Colts here, and I realize the game plan has been conservative, but at what point does the defense get credit?
Ryan Wilson: You know, early in the season McNair was only throwing short passes and not really looking to go deep. That said, if he played the Steelers every week, he'd average 40 yards a completion and throw for 500 yards. I wasn't all that surprised to see him only throwing 6-8 passes.
Did anybody see "NFL Matchup" this morning? When discussing the Ravens D vs. Colts O, Jaws showed a play from last year where Manning looked to the other side of the field from Ed Reed, Reed read Manning's eyes and literally tried to sneak to the area he thought the ball might be, but Manning ended up throwing the ball where Reed started. The play went for a big gain, but it made me wonder: does Reed get so many "wow" interceptions because he's basically freelancing and trying to "sneak up" on the QB while neglecting his coverage responsibilities? I didn't see a replay of Manning's pick today, but it wouldn't surprise me if Reed was cheating.
Aaron Schatz: Man, this is making me nostalgic for the days before Jamal Lewis got all used up, when he was really good and I didn't make fun of him all the time.
Will Carroll: Freeney on that power rush got killed. Good analysis -- what Dierdorf didn't see is why. Even on that play, Ogden is playing on his heels and staying off his toes. He's got no push at all. Just watching him walk, he's pulling his toes up.
Doug Farrar: I haven't seen as much of Jonathan Ogden as I've seen of Walter Jones, but I'd generally guess that straight-on bull rushing any elite left tackle when you'd need to double your caloric intake to keep up with Jared Lorenzen on the scale isn't really a great idea. It's quite possible that when Mr. Freeney gets his wits about him again, he'll re-consider the strategy he tried halfway through the third quarter.
Bill Barwell: Dierdorf also just had a wonderful comment about that fourth-and-4 from the 41. "You wouldn't gain that many yards if you punted!" Well, if you didn't ^$%# up, you would...
Aaron Schatz: Well, for a second there, I thought Billick had his balls reattached, but he changed his mind and punted.
The only question about the Colts defense playing well is, if they could play like this, WHY DIDN'T THEY FOR THE ENTIRE REGULAR SEASON???? The answer is not Bob Sanders, because they played like crap during the weeks Sanders was healthy.
Will Carroll: I've been thinking about this question. The general media idea has been sandbagging, which I just CAN'T believe. Sanders was held back for much of the second half, but you're right, not the difference, but does it signal some attitude? Has any team ever had such a dramatic turnaround in the playoffs?
Aaron Schatz: Oh, the 2003 Carolina Panthers, because they dramatically improved on both sides of the ball. The Colts were already good on one side.
Assuming this is not overturned, that's four fumbles, all recovered by the Colts, plus that field goal that bounced off the crossbar. That horseshoe is lucky tonight.
Doug Farrar: And then... Ray Lewis deflects a HORRIBLE Manning pass that would have been caught by Ed Reed. Ouch, babe!
Aaron Schatz: OK, is it me, or have there been roughly 10 play-action passes since the last time the Ravens actually handed the ball to a running back?
Bill Barnwell: Jamal Lewis has actually looked kinda agile tonight -- he made some nice moves on that swing pass.
Ryan Wilson: This is the best tackling, hardest hitting Colts defense I've seen this year. I think they've found their ... SWAGGER.
Doug Farrar: Hmmm... a moronic holding call by Bill Leavy's crew early in the fourth quarter that pretty much killed a huge drive? In the postseason? I've never seen THAT before!
Tim Gerheim: "Big interception by the Colts" ... balderdash! That was a hidden punt. That thing went from the Indy 12 to the Baltimore 39. That would be a net 49-yard punt, which would be epic. Peyton hasn't set the field on fire, but that was a good play.
I haven't seen hardly any Ravens games this season. I'm going to have to take your word for it from the previews that their offense has actually been good. They look awful today except for those occasional Colts-mediated 10-yard runs.
Aaron Schatz: Yes. Terrible. Awful. They choked. I'm still stuck on the same question: Where as this Colts defense been all season, and why should I believe that these two games are a better indicator of how good they are than the 16 previous?
Bill Barnwell: You know what's scary?
Peyton's made a couple of throws tonight that have been ugly -- in the face of pressure, off his back foot, chucks to no one or nowhere in particular (the one that Reed caught out of bounds specifically comes to mind).
Who does that remind you of? Mm hmm...
Ryan Wilson: This game reminds me of last year's Colts-Steelers playoff game. The underdog comes in, pretty much controls the game, and pulls out the win. And you know the common link? Dan Dierdorf. That's right, if you're an underdog playoff team playing in the AFC Divisional game, you might want to that request Dierdorf does the game.
Aaron Schatz: Still trying to figure out where this Colts defense came from. How is this the same team that was killed by Houston and Jacksonville a month ago? Bob Sanders played in the game against Tennessee and Travis Henry hit some long runs anyway.
Ned Macey: Which Tennessee game? The second one, wasn't Henry the lowest DPAR? The Colts defense was usually bad, but they played well occasionally during the year. McNair played no worse than Brady, and the Colts shut down Rudi as well. Also, they have clearly shifted the strategy with their DEs, almost no outside rushes.
I'm not saying there aren't some play-calling issues here, but why is the Colts defense playing well different than the Ravens offense playing poorly? They were 11th in weighted offense. Without an overhead camera, who knows who was open down field? McNair is a smart quarterback. Do we think he was missing people downfield? They hit the one big pass to Clayton, but he fumbled leaving them with the penalty.
The one that confuses me still is the Ron Dayne game. Otherwise, I could argue that the Colts are particularly susceptible to elusive backs. Jamal Lewis is not elusive.
As for the breaks, clearly the Colts were lucky in this game. I'm curious to see what the DVOA numbers are, but I won't feel bad either way because they had a higher DVOA than Pittsburgh a year ago.
Dominic Rhodes did a hell of a job on that last drive. The Ravens knew the run was coming, and he still got enough first downs to both get the field goal and run down the clock. I think he'll be a big factor next week no matter what because he does run well up the middle. He sucks at the stretch play, but they can't run it on a 3-4 team anyway.
Finally, all Peyton Manning does is win playoff games.
Russell Levine: Wow, how bad was Greg Gumbel today? Misidentifying players, took him about five seconds to realize the flea flicker had been completed and not thrown away out of bounds.
Yes a couple of those Peyton throws were Eli-esque, but I was actually fairly impressed with him today. He never appeared to get frustrated; you never saw the negative body language (think of those Pats losses). I think he realized they could grit this one out and he's got to be thrilled to have the defense playing this way.
Did anybody notice on the first-half ball that Peyton nearly had intercepted that Harrison appears to stop rather than run right into a space occupied by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed?
Does Vinatieri's performance give the Pats fans in the group a queasy feeling?
Michael David Smith: Russ, you pointed something out that I've been meaning to mention for a while: I think about half a dozen times this year I've seen Marvin Harrison quit on balls or at least not look like he's going full speed running out his route when the ball wasn't exactly where he wanted it. The types of plays where if it had been TO or Randy Moss we'd never hear the end of it from the announcers. Obviously, in general Harrison looks like he is a much better teammate than either of those guys, but it does make me wonder if maybe he gets a free pass on some things that he shouldn't.
Ned Macey: I do think Harrison gets a free pass to some extent, but maybe it also shows that running out each route is an impossible task. If he finished that route he would be standing directly behind Lewis and had no separation on McAlister. What the hell is Manning throwing the ball there for?
Will Carroll: That's his read --- he isn't supposed to be running into coverage, but when the ball is thrown, he seems to get confused. He's just too small to have much of an effect on anyone "defensively."
Aaron Schatz: Isn't "will Peyton Manning continue to throw as many bad passes as he did against Baltimore and Kansas City" just as good a question as "will the Colts defense continue to play as well as it did against Baltimore and Kansas City?"
Ned Macey: Yes. I could certainly see a 34-31 shootout against whoever wins the NE-SD game.
Russell Levine: Nice to see FOX train the cameras on the chick in the half-shirt for about 3 seconds.
Umm, except her shirt read "F*$K DA EAGLES"
You stay classy, Saints fans!
Bill Barnwell: 9 field goals. 0 touchdowns. Oof.
Russell Levine: Reggie Bush. I mean, wow. He's not supposed to be able to do that in the NFL.
He does need to learn not to leave his feet in the field of play though -- that leads to injuries and fumbles. Save that for the goal line, Reggie.
Aaron Schatz: I liked when Dick Stockton said that Bush was hemmed in. Reggie Bush is NEVER hemmed in.
We should have a burn-a-thon between Fred Thomas and Samari Rolle. Not sure how the rules would work, but it would be fun.
I like to bring attention to stupid plays by quarterbacks where they get lucky and there isn't a turnover. That ridiculous backhanded flip by Garcia trying to not take a sack could have easily ended up as a pick six. That was really dumb.
Ned Macey: When did the light turn on for Bush? I wrote about him for Any Given Sunday when his DPAR still sucked, but I looked the other day after MDS's article and it was suddenly respectable. Tonight, he's an absolute bad-ass.
To fix their run defense for next year, I think the Colts are going to trade for Sean Considine. He'd fit right in.
The struggles of Rolle and Thomas tonight certainly make the game-charting project worth it.
Russell Levine: I remember seeing Bush in Week 9 against Tampa, and he was still trying to bounce every single carry to the outside and not getting anywhere. He had 11 carries for -5 yards in that game.
The next time I saw him, about two weeks later against Cincinnati, he didn't have big numbers but he had stopped bouncing everything. He had a bunch of good, hard three-yard carries up the middle in that game, IIRC.
Now he seems to have figured it out -- taking the sure yards inside when that's all that there is, and picking his spots to bounce things outside, reverse his field, etc.
Doug Farrar: One thing I find interesting from a penalty perspective is how many false starts road teams have at specific stadiums, especially stadiums in which crowds are known for extreme volume. In 2006, Qwest Field led the NFL in road false starts with 27, and Soldier Field was second with 18. No shock there. Meanwhile, teams going to New Orleans this season have only 13 false starts. Facing a rabid, extremely motivated crowd in a dome? The relatively small number surprises me.
Bill Barnwell: The 12-13 year old boys Punt, Pass, and Kick champion has clearly tried to hook up with the 12-13 year old girls champion. He has been summarily rejected. He reminds me of Rusty from Full House. Not good.
Aaron Schatz: I'm not sure what I am enjoying more: Hank Baskett jumping around in the end zone like a kid in a sandlot game, screaming "I'm open, I'm open!!!" or the constant camera shots of the minyan in Jeffrey Lurie's box.
Otherwise, unlike the other game, this one has gone almost exactly according to my preview. McAllister slicing through Eagles defense? Check. Burn Fred Thomas? Check. Trouble with passing to running backs? Check. Drew Brees not fazed by pass pressure? Check. Close at the half? Check.
Bill Barnwell: Billy Miller's playing well, but he doesn't do a good job of protecting the ball. He's very vulnerable.
Can anyone think of a player who's changed his style as dramatically as McAllister? He's a totally different back. Maybe someone should tear DeShaun Foster's ACL.
Will Carroll: I'm curious about the style thing --- could you expand on that, Bill? At the start of the season, McAllister was effective, but was running straight ahead. He didn't trust himself to cut (though the knee was probably fine). He was running then like Alexander is now.
Bill Barnwell: McAllister never moves horizontally behind the line of scrimmage anymore. He was the king of that before the injury.
Russell Levine: On that carry with about four minutes to go, Reggie Bush made a cut that nobody makes. He turned more than 90 degrees in a single step, restarted himself, and nearly got the corner. When he didn't, he had the good sense to go down in bounds. I'd say he's definitely figuring things out, and I love how the Saints are using the two backs.
Finances will probably dictate whether they can afford to keep them both for a few more years, but if I'm Bush, I don't want McAllister going anywhere. Bush can become a feature back in a few years, when he'll probably be a little bigger and stronger. He also won't have that much mileage on him when he eventually becomes the full-time guy. And if he's lucky, all that will occur right around the time he needs to start worrying about his second contract.
Aaron Schatz: And then, trying to run out the clock, the Saints decide to get funky with the pitch, and I didn't even realize that there were no turnovers during the first 56 minutes of this game, and here we go...
Russell Levine: Ugh, looked like a good enough pitch that Bush should have caught it, but that's a HORRENDOUS play call in that situation. How about pounding McAllister straight ahead instead of going with the tricky misdirection option pitch? JLS Trophy worthy.
Great response by the Saints defense after the turnover. Just when you think everyone in the stadium was probably thinking, "oh, that's right, we're the Saints" they come up with a three-and-out.
And then the Eagles go for it -- and that was a ridiculously good pass by Garcia with a man in his face, but the false start wipes it out.
Aaron Schatz: It came down to that second-and-1. The Eagles should have been able to push that in for a touchdown, and they couldn't. The Saints are just an amazing story. I think they're going to the Super Bowl. This is a totally different team from last year. Most of the time, even if you can change so many players from a losing franchise, you won't end up with a team like this, but the Saints did so many of the right things over the last few months. Just amazing.
Doug Farrar: Mickey Loomis: NFL Exec of the Year. If anyone else wins it, I want a recount.
After watching this game, I really want Shaun Alexander to get involved in every possible off-season pass-catching drill. The Seahawks should be envious of teams with backs this versatile. Screens to Alexander are generally either drops, or 2-yard losses.
Two people who never got the credit they deserved during the post-Seifert/pre-Erickson 49ers era, when the team had to bail out of a salary cap implosion and was able to return to competitiveness with many new faces from 1999-2002, were Steve Mariucci and Jeff Garcia. I know Garcia's numbers aren't necessarily indicative of any great professional rebirth, and his regular-season DPAR is worse than Eli Manning's, and the fact the offense around him has become more balanced is a big part of the equation, but there was something very cool to me about a story in which a guy got one more chance to succeed in a system that worked for him. No particular FO slant to that -- I just liked watching that story develop.
I also hope Mariucci gets another shot at coaching with a team that doesn't have a chimpanzee for a general manager.
But this is about the Saints, as it should be. They've got some issues with outside contain on running plays (obviously) and the cornerback situation is iffy at best, but the sheer determination on both sides of the ball when it was needed was wonderful to see. As Russell said, that stand after the Bush fumble was a real beaut. Just an amazing team to watch.
Aaron Schatz: One more note: Andy Reid made a big mistake punting. The defense was tired. They had a better chance of making that fourth-and-15 than they did of keeping the Saints from a first down AND then scoring in the final 40 seconds or whatever would be left after that.
Mike Tanier: I didn't like the punt call either. But I liked just about every other call in the game. I liked the way we handled second-and-1 at the goal line, with a run, then a quick set up and snap to try to get a pass off before the Saints defense was set. We just didn't execute the plays. I like the screen call and the pitch call when we got the ball back after the Bush fumble, but Fred Thomas and Scott Fujita made great plays.
When I saw Bush fumble, I thought I was watching a miracle. When I saw Baskett make that catch, I thought I was watching a miracle. But maybe I'm watching a Saints miracle and I am just looking at the wrong side of the coin.
As for my beloved Eagles, great effort. I hope this off-season doesn't turn into every other of-fseason in the last five years, where fans forget to enjoy how amazing this team was at the end of the year (and in September) and instead dwells on "why did Reid punt" or "why didn't we use Buckhalter at the goal line" or whatever. Obviously, the Eagles have some personnel work to do, and I hope (Lance Briggs) they plan to do something interesting (Lance Briggs) in free (Lance Briggs) ag(Lance)enc(Briggs)y. But I'm not miserable like I was after the other playoff losses in recent years, and I hope Eagles fans aren't either. This system that Reid and Joe Banner and Jeffrey Lurie put together works, It gives us a shot -- a good shot -- every year. The last seven years have been the best run of Eagles football in my lifetime, and it doesn't look like things are slowing down. One of these days, it will be Philly's turn.
Until then, go Saints.
Ned Macey: I agree with Aaron. I was surprised when the punter came out. Best case scenario, they have to go 50+ yards in less than a minute just for the field goal.
I agree with Doug that the Garcia story was a great story, but he struggled tonight. There were plays left on the field against Thomas in the first half. The accuracy wasn't there. He never looked 100 percent comfortable (thinking of the throw from beyond the line of scrimmage when he probably could have made the first on his own.)
For all the talk about Bush, Deuce abused the Eagles. I thought Hood played alright except for the early big play, but they clearly were protecting him. Both safeties were deep, and the front seven was just not good enough to stop the Saints run game. McAllister should have had about eight extra carries, but they got the win, so I guess that's nitpicking.
Just like in the Super Bowl, the Eagles abandoned their big back. I love Westbrook. He's an amazing player, but Buckhalter has a role in the offense. He got three (admittedly ineffective) carries. They should have brought him in on the second-and-1 that cost them the game.
Good defensive call on the third-and-1 where the blitz blew up the throw to Tapeh. We analyze and analyze the games, but in the end, these teams were incredibly close and either team could have won. That's what makes playoff football fun.
Aaron Schatz: Honestly, the difference between the 2001-2006 Eagles and the 2001-2006 Patriots comes down to a few random bounces of the ball, slightly better game plans, and quarterback injuries.
Mike Tanier: And a tuck!
Mike Tanier: Bears first drive: third-and-3 and third-and-4 are running downs for the Bears. Really, they should be neutral downs, but I bet most teams are throwing about 75 percent of the time on third-and-4. The Bears ran to convert two of these situations and a third-and-1. At some point in this game, they'll play action off one of those running plays.
Did anyone notice the fullback flat pass from this week's TDZ on that drive? Grossman threw late and it was incomplete.
Doug Farrar: Babineaux is a better safety than a corner, and you saw why on the Rashied Davis 37-yard catch. He looked to be in perfect position to make a play on the ball, but almost surprised to be there. That last little hesitation seemed to be the difference.
The Bears are beginning the game able to push Seattle's front four off the line of scrimmage, which has been a major problem for the Seahawks all year. Marcus Tubbs, their best interior run-stopper, was hampered by injury and then put on IR with a knee injury in early November. Since then, Seattle's formerly strong DT rotation has been a mix of guys who are better with pass-rushing (Rocky Bernard), undersized overachievers who wear down (Chuck Darby) and reserves. This has greatly affected the play of Lofa Tatupu as well. Tatupu requires good push from the front four so that he can get a first couple of good steps instead of having to shed blocks. Last season, the Seahawks were the top-ranked NFL team in defensive adjusted line yards -- this year, they're tenth. They've allowed a great deal more yardage, especially in the mid-guard area.
People talk about receiver injuries when deciphering what's wrong with Seattle's offense, and that's been a factor -- but Darrell Jackson missed several games last season, and he's been Hasselbeck's #1 guy for a number of years. The difference was that there was a Joe Jurevicius to pick up the slack. This season, there was Deion Branch, but he hasn't really found the tempo of this offense, especially when Seneca Wallace was in there for four games.
The main problem for this offense is been a line that has been depleted by injury and personnel churn. More than losing Alexander for six weeks, or Hasselbeck for a month, this is what has been the real killer. When they got all their stars back, protection was still a major issue. You're seeing this early on for Hasselbeck, and Alexander, a patient cut-back runner who doesn't overrun his blocks because he's used to having blocks, keeps getting caught up in the mess.
Still, that was a great drive to tie the game at 7. Hasselbeck had enough time to the middle in Chicago's pass coverage, and the safety was late on that Burleson touchdown. As long as the Seahawks take advantage of every possible Bears mistake, they have a chance.
Michael David Smith: On that PI on Jordan Babineaux, the official closest to the play didn't throw a flag. I think any time the official closest doesn't throw the flag and they call a penalty based on an official who was farther from the play, the referee needs to explain specifically why the official closest didn't see a penalty. Of course, none of us really knows what constitutes pass interference anymore. The three major questions of this NFL season are "What is pass interference?" "What was the Chiefs' coaching staff thinking about against the Colts' defense?" and "What is Accuscore?"
Doug Farrar: Outstanding delayed blitz by Peterson on the Grossman fumble with 4:20 left in the half. He's so good at waiting and knowing when to go, and he's fast enough to make up a whole lot of ground in a big hurry. Seattle's ability to convert on fourth down, like the sudden Indianapolis defensive surge, is definitely a postseason phenomenon. Through the fourth-and-inches Alexander touchdown, the Seahawks were 3-of-4 in the postseason. In the regular season, they were 2-of-8 on fourth down.
The Seahawks don't have a defense solid enough, personnel-wise, to throw fancy stuff like fake blitzes right now. Especially in the secondary. Just bring it or don't.
Back to my trepidation about Seattle's interior defensive line -- I'm surprised there was any talk of strategy from the Bears on that fourth down Jones touchdown. Just run it down their throats.
Seattle's in good position here, down only a touchdown at the half. But the Bears have outgained them by 110 yards, they've had the ball four minutes more ... this reminds me of the first half of the Jets-Patriots wild card game, when everyone thought the Jets were in it down just a score at the half, but the ground was rumbling beneath their feet. If the rest of the defense can match the efforts of the linebackers and Kelly Jennings, and Nate Burleson can continue his fine returns, they're not out of it. They are, however, a bit more out of it than the scoreboard says.
Aaron Schatz: Thoughts from Ian Dembsky's house (me, Ian, Bill Barnwell).
I definitely think that with Hasselbeck being injured, and the WR being injured, you've got timing issues where Hasselbeck looks for the hot read WR to be one place and the WR is somewhere else, and a lot of the bad throws are coming from that.
Bill Barnwell would like to point out that Shaun Alexander just scored on Doug's least favorite play, the third down draw. Although the third down draw in the red zone to Shaun Alexander is not as bad as the third down draw in the middle of the field to Mack Strong.
We also loved the corner to Deion Branch. Perfect pass: space on either side of the cornerback and safety in the Cover-2, right on the sideline.
Doug Farrar: I liked the way Seattle came out in the second half -- better run-pass balance, and high-percentage passes to Engram. That Briggs made a great stop on Alexander on third-and-1 to force the field goal doesn't negate that.
Great defensive stop against Chicago's first drive -- and a nice call to send everyone back and put the burden on the front four to get pressure on that third-and-long. They're susceptible against the run, but they're engineered to disrupt the pass.
Okay, everything I said last week about the "stupid" draw calls on third-and-long? I guess the Alexander TD that put the Seahawks ahead late in the third quarter is the one that shuts me upâ€¦
In my head, I'm hearing Stu Nahan say, "I've got to give that round to Balboa." The third quarter has been Seattle's. They have made up the halftime deficits in yards and time of possession with five minutes left in the quarter.
Aaron Schatz: Joe Buck: "That's the first catch for Jerramy Stevens ... I have to admit, I thought that Jerramy Stevens would play a much larger role in today's game." Somebody needs to start reading Football Outsiders...
Doug Farrar: Wow -- Hasselbeck throwing off his back foot to a covered Bobby Engram on the Manning interception. That was positively Eli-esque. A horrible play in the middle of two wonderful Seattle defensive stands.
That was a really stupid audible by Hasselbeck on the third-down play where he was sacked. He motions Heller (TE as FB) behind him and looks like he's trying to do some kind of play-action/sprint right option thing. Bad news.
Will Carroll: Alexander seems to be able to move to his left, but not his right. There has to be some equivalent to the hoops defense that makes a guy go to his weak hand on the dribble.
Doug Farrar: I'll put myself on the hook before the play happens and say that I completely disagree with the call to go for it on fourth down here. Holmgren is totally ignoring what his defense has done in the second half. Hope I'm wrong, but I think it's a really bad call.
Aaron Schatz: I agreed with the call. They were on the Bears side of the field. The play didn't work because of the bobbled snap, and Lance Briggs got great penetration anyway, but I agree with the call and even the specific play.
Doug Farrar: MDS, or anyone who's seen more Bears games than I have: Chicago's defense seems to have a weaknesses with any lags in timing on running plays. Was that the case before Harris got hurt?
Michael David Smith: I think Harris is the biggest part of it, Doug. I really think his injury set the Bears back a lot on defense.
Aaron Schatz: 24-24 with :24 left. FOX could not ask for a better free advertisement.
Doug Farrar: Every time the Seahawks get a good run from Alexander, they go back to him and get stuffed. I'd call that a tendency, Mr. Holmgren!
Well, I don't have much else to say except that I'll go "homer" for a minute and say that I didn't expect the Seahawks, with everything that's happened to them this year, to be within a play or two of the NFC Championship game. I'm proud of the team, and I'm personally ending the season, as a fan, with less of a hollow feeling than I did last year.
Aaron Schatz: Alexander was really great today. I said that there was always this little itchy feeling that Hasselbeck and/or Alexander would finally play like they did in 2005, and Alexander, at least, did. Like the Eagles, the Seahawks have nothing to feel awful about. They raised their game in the playoffs, and not everybody gets to win the Super Bowl.
Mike Tanier: On that third-down draw: The Bears had a six-man front and a nine-man box, then Urlacher and someone else bailed out into a Cover-2. I saw that against the Vikings and Bucs and wanted to write about it but didn't: they love showing a big box and counting on their linebackers to drop into coverage. I am sure Holmgren saw that and wondered how they would defend a draw while bailing so quickly into their zones.
Once in overtime and once before the half, the Seahawks showed a very vanilla coverage scheme to Grossman and dared him to beat it. Before half, they left a slot receiver uncovered in a hurry-up situation, and Grossman threw a slant for a good gain. In overtime, they left Russell Davis in single coverage on somebody (was it the loan officer, the hunter, the bail bondsman or Professor Plum) in a Cover-1 where the safety would be busy elsewhere, and Grossman hung it up for a 30-yard gain. Grossman makes mistakes but he isn't completely clueless.
You know what I want to write an article on? Cleats. Buck announced that the Bears were switching to 5/8th inch cleats after the first quarter. In five years, I predict that I will hear that some team switched from 1/5 inch to 129/256 inch cleats at halftime and it made the difference in the game.
Bill Barnwell: I predict some team goes to 12 inch cleats and stabs the opposition. Stab to win! Stab to win!!
Ned Macey: I have nothing to add about this game other than hell of a kick by Gould. I thought the Bears pulled a bit of a Marty there, but I guess it worked out.
I also think it was hilarious that Hasselbeck didn't go out for the coin toss. For all I know he never does, but with about two minutes left I started thinking about the "we're gonna score" line from the Green Bay game.
Complete aside, the Eagles organization is as good as any in football, but I really think they should have kept Al Harris. Can't help but think about it when they show the replay.
Grossman played pretty well. They definitely got in his head to throw the ball away when the pressure comes. He gets another weak secondary next week and should not be the problem. If the defense was still the best in the league, I'd like them by a touchdown next week.
Given how the defense is, are the Bears the favorite next week? That defense is nowhere near the defense they had pre-Tommy Harris injury. Should be a big day for Deuce up the middle.
Tim Gerheim: One of my favorite plays in all of football is the short-yardage run where the back busts through the traffic at the line and gets into a fairly wide-open secondary for big yardage. Plays like that might be part of why Michael Turner looks so good by DPAR and yards per carry.
Michael David Smith: The announcers love to throw around the phrase "football move" without defining it because they don't know what it means. And neither do I.
Bill Barnwell: A football move is any move that would require you to press a non-directional pad button to initiate it in Madden.
Tim Gerheim: Did the Chargers stop blitzing on that touchdown drive at the end of the half? They couldn't get any pressure, and it seemed like their pass rush was a lot less diverse and creative than the rest of the half.
Aaron Schatz: Yes. We all noticed that too. Shawne Merriman didn't come in that last drive except for one time, and they had Matt Light on him one-on-one and he almost got to Brady.
That was some SWEET blocking by Marcus McNeill, especially on the Turner run. He actually is handling Seymour one-on-one on a good number of plays.
Nobody at Ian's house understands why Marty went for it on fourth-and-11 from the 30. I believe in going for it on fourth but 11 to go???? You spent a third round pick on Nate Kaeding and don't feel you can trust him from 48 yards???
Then the Pats kick the 50 on fourth-and-2 from the 32 instead of going for it. Weird.
When the Pats big blitzed on third-and-7, I thought for sure Rivers would find Gates open for a huge gain. Shocked that they got to Rivers.
Prior to that last drive, my summary of this game was: both QBs look rattled but their two RB are much better than our two RB. But this looks a little different at 14-10 than it did at 14-3.
No matter who wins though this is the third straight GREAT game this weekend. Only the Colts-Ravens was sort of boring at times and head-scratchingly crappy at others.
Michael David Smith: When Merriman does blitz, both Light and Kaczur have gotten the better of him. He's been on both sides of the line and he's not having a good day at all today.
Tim Gerheim: I don't think Rivers has been bad at all. He definitely seems to have outplayed Brady. Unless all the drops by the Chargers wideouts are due to some quirky thing that he's doing with his throws, Rivers is doing very well. This looks a lot like your typical Pats-Colts playoff game, but with the Pats playing the role of the Colts.
The Chargers receivers pretty much suck today. That was tough on that deep pass to Vincent Jackson, but you have to get your foot in if you're an NFL wideout.
Aaron Schatz: Brady is awful today. Just terrible. He threw the second INT off his back foot, and he just missed a WIDE open Ben Watson. He's getting time to throw and he just looks awful.
And where did the running game go? The Pats have given up on it almost entirely. There have been some wide around blitzes here by SD on first and second down where a draw would get big yardage.
Michael David Smith: I thought missing Watson was his worst throw of the day. That could have been a game-changing play, and the throw wasn't even close.
How did they pick up the flag when Tomlinson facemasked Colvin after the interception? It clearly was a facemask, and the official who threw the flag had a clear line of sight. Who talked him out of it, and why?
Aaron Schatz: OK, we're trying to figure out how you can put your fingers in a guy's facemask and not get a facemask penalty because it wasn't, what, "grabby" enough?
If you are going to punt on fourth-and-2, why not take a Delay of Game and punt five yards back and keep your timeout?
Michael David Smith: I was just thinking the same thing. When you're behind by one point in the fourth quarter and you're facing the choice between losing a timeout and losing five yards, that seems like a really obvious choice to me, but apparently the Patriots disagree.
Clutch interception by Brady.
Mike Tanier: Yep. Belichick is a genius for calling the pick-and-fumble on fourth-and-5. And Schottenheimer's a choke artist for not anticipating it.
Aaron Schatz: OK, you got me. McCree intercepts a bad pass. The Pats strip it and recover. Marty challenges that he was down by contact? The ball is so obviously stripped before he's down by contact. And if the Pats are going to go for it on fourth there, why not run on third-and-5? Why does Brady not even scramble for 1-2 yards? And where the hell are Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney?
Tim Gerheim: I think Marty was just throwing shit at the wall trying to see what would stick. Challenging was another example of Marty getting panicky.
This game is amazing. It really feels like the Chargers have annihilated the Patriots, yet as I write this it's a two-point conversion away from being tied.
Aaron Schatz: I'm in a room of Pats fans, and if the Pats hold LT to six yards we're all clapping and saying "good play, good play." He's that good.
Tim Gerheim: Simms is praising Vincent Jackson's physique, or something. Here would be my summary: Body of steel, hands of stone.
Michael David Smith: Are those GMC Keys to Victory supposed to be a parody of idiotic sportscasters or something? Wow, you mean making big plays on offense and stopping the run on defense will help a team win? I didn't know that.
Tim Gerheim: Those were EXACTLY the same keys to victory as for the Colts-Chiefs game.
Aaron Schatz: What can you say about Stephen Gostkowski. He's money in the playoffs.
Vin Gauri: So after the Pats tie the game at 21, SD takes over at its own 29. First down, six yards for Tomlinson. Check. Second down, pass to Jackson which he drops. Um, okay. Third down, pass to Parker batted away by Samuel. Huh? Simms mentioned something about the Pats not letting Gates get the ball (I didn't see replay of the pre-snap coverage, so maybe he's right), but don't you have to at least let LT touch the ball again before you punt?
Tim Gerheim: I know it's hindsight, but if the Chargers hadn't challenged that McCree fumble that didn't have anything that even looked challenge-worthy, that field goal would have been the first play after the two-minute warning. Maybe that 45 seconds isn't important, but it sure seems like it would be nice.
Aaron Schatz: Watching the Chargers try to bait the Pats into a 15-yard flag is embarrassing, especially Rivers' little flop.
Tim Gerheim: OK, I defy anyone to explain this game with anything other than magic beans or "clutch."
Aaron Schatz:That was amazing, I love my team, and we totally did not deserve to win that game over a better team. And I'm not looking forward to yet another week of Colts-Pats crap.
Pat Laverty: Didn't deserve to win? Just because of the interception/fumble lucky play? Other than that, it was straight football. The Parker muff, that's football. I heard the San Diego police have issued an APB for Antonio Gates. Anyone seen him today? Coming into the game, I knew there would be problems stopping both LT and Gates, but I thought it'd be the other way around. I thought there'd be more of a focus on LT, and less on Gates. But you didn't hear either Bruschi or Gates' name being called very often, so I was guessing that it was Bruschi who neutralized him. I don't have a tape of the game to go back and watch either. LT had a typical LT game, Rivers didn't have a horrible game, yeah Brady had three picks, but to say they didn't deserve to win? I'm not so sure I'd agree with that. Phil Simms really hypnotized you today, it seems.
Aaron Schatz: Also, if they blame this on Schottenheimer that will suck because except for 4th-and-11 he did nothing wrong.
Mike Tanier: Except for the fourth-and-11 he did nothing wrong, and if his defensive back holds onto the interception it's a Chargers win. Of course, that fourth-and-11 was pretty mysterious.
I agree with Tim's point about the extra timeout instead of the challenge, but the coaches might have said, "Look, we need a timeout to regroup after that fluke play, so we might as well challenge at the same time and hope for a miracle."
And I am with Aaron. Patriots-Colts rhetoric. Hooray Hooray.
Michael David Smith: Disagree about Schottenheimer. Should have given it to LT more, shouldn't have wasted the timeout on the challenge, shouldn't have allowed Rivers to waste another timeout, etc. I think he coached himself out of a job tonight.
Russell Levine: I think we've seen the last of Marty. Whether it was his fault or not, I believe this is the third time he's had the no. 1 seed and not won a playoff game. I just don't see how they can bring him back and present him to their fanbase as the coach that can get them to the Super Bowl.
Weird, weird game, but I was almost positive at halftime the Pats would win. The Chargers dominated for 28 minutes yet barely led -- never a good sign with a team with no history of playoff success going against one with all kinds of it. Especially when you add in the Marty factor.
I was really shocked how poorly Brady played for much of the game. Simms kept harping about the pressure, but several of his worst throws came when he actually had some time. Yet when they really, really needed one, he uncorked that beautiful deep ball down the right sidelines to set up the game-winner.
San Diego should have spiked the ball after their first long completion on the final drive. They wasted 20+ seconds trying to get the next play off. You have to trade a down for time there.
Michael David Smith: The Chargers' clock management was atrocious, and clock management is one of those things that I really think the coaches have to get the vast majority of the credit or blame for. It sounds like Russ and I saw this game completely differently from Mike and Aaron. I'm curious to hear other thoughts, but I really think if it's ever OK to fire a 14-2 coach, now is that time.
Bill Moore: How? How? How does Brady throw the ball like crap for series after series and then just throw bullets, only to turn around and look like shit again. Only to turn around and do it all over again? Magic Beans? Maybe he was down to only a few left and did a "break glass in case of emergency."
What was with LT at the end of that game? Did someone get in his grill or was he the instigator?
Russell Levine: It looked like LT was just reacting in frustration after the Pats were wolfing it up pretty good.
I caught one Pats player, not sure who it was, running towards the SD bench grabbing his throat in the choke sign. My guess is LT was pissed off, and maybe somebody said something and he just wanted to get out of there.
It was a fairly testy game. Those were two HUGE personal fouls the Chargers took in the fourth quarter -- the idiotic head butt and then who knows what happened on that extra point.
I'm no real fan of either team but I'm already fatigued from the coming Pats-Colts hype. If the Pats win, maybe San Diego and Indy can trade head coaches. They might both get axed.
And I fully expect Schottenheimer to get fired -- I wasn't exaggerating. He's not on the best of terms with the front office anyway. I think there were some hard feelings over the Brees/Rivers thing.
Aaron Schatz: They were interviewing LT after the game and he is very angry about the Pats players doing the Shawne Merriman dance. He said it was low class. But what's weird is that he blamed Belichick for it. That was really odd.
As far as Schottenheimer, there were clock management issues, sure, but it should never have been an issue to begin with. The Chargers players blew it, plus the awful luck. Schottenheimer gave it to LT plenty, and LT got plenty of yards. I certainly thought Belichick gave up on the run more than Schottenheimer did.
Ned Macey: They can fire Schottenheimer if it helps the team going forward but firing him for his performance today is inane. They averaged 5.2 to 4.4 yards per play. Tomlinson was dominant against a team with a strong run defense. His young QB didn't play great but didn't make the killer mistake. His one interception was a great individual play by Colvin. The Patriots (like the Colts) picked up all five fumbles. The interception on fourth down-to-10-yard gain is one of the luckiest plays in recent NFL history. His defense made Brady, the greatest playoff quarterback of the past 15 years play terrible. He threw three picks and could easily have had another one or two. Schottenheimer outcoached Belichick. His team, which weighted DVOA said was roughly equivalent, played MUCH better.
In a losing effort, I'd like to mention Scifres who did an excellent job giving the Chargers superior field position all game.
Pat Laverty: Marty very unnecessarily wasted a timeout on the challenge that he lost. That's one more clock stoppage they would have had at the end there.
And if you want to talk about great punters, look at what Sauerbrun did for the Patriots today. I think that might have been the greatest day a Patriots punter has had in years. One shank and the Chargers put up another score and they win.
And I even said at the time, you've been going away from Samuel all game long, why do you think you should go after him in such a must have spot? I didn't get that decision by Rivers. I know Simms said it was because it was a one on one matchup, but yeah, that's Samuel's job to be all alone with a receiver.
Mike Tanier: Fire Schottenheimer after three straight winning seasons because his team lost because McCree fumbled a game-winning interception. What website am I working for?
Russell Levine: I'm not arguing that he should be fired on the merits of that game, I'm arguing that he will be fired. He and GM don't get along. The butted heads over Brees/Rivers.
That's a tenuous fan base -- ticket sales have been dicey unless the team is really good, and they're desperately trying to get a stadium built. The whole football watching world thinks that Marty is a boob in the playoffs who will never get a team to the Super Bowl. If you're th GM, trying to tell your fans to buy tickets because Marty is THE guy that can get them to a Super Bowl is a really tough sell.
I know they were tremendously unlucky yesterday. Marty was also unlucky in "the dive" and "the fumble". But at some point, his history trumps the fact that they dominated the Pats yesterday. Three times he's lost his first playoff game with the no. 1 seed. Even yesterday, they seemed a little tentative, and it was the Chargers, not the Pats, that made the killer mistakes: the personal fouls, the clock mismanagement. To me it all adds up to a team that will be looking for a new coach.
Any Given Saturday: Colts over Ravens
Every Play Counts: Bears defensive line
406 comments, Last at 18 Jan 2007, 11:38pm by erik