Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
30 Nov 2007
compiled by Doug Farrar
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 2008. 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.
Each Friday morning, the FO staff doesn't usually put together a full Audibles, but between the game itself, the officiating, and one Bryant Gumbel in the booth, we had more than enough commentary from the Thursday night Packers-Cowboys game to do a stand-alone article.
Doug Farrar: Two early officiating questions. First, why is a crew run by a rookie official (John Parry) calling the two most important regular-season games of the year? I can understand that the league might not have thought that Green Bay-Dallas would essentially be the NFC's version of Pats-Colts in 2007, but Pats-Colts itself? Even if these assignments are as randomly generated as I assume the league wants us to think they are (which I'll believe when I see that Bill Leavy has called another Seahawks or Steelers game since Super Bowl XL), I think that some sort of "flex scheduling" would make sense if there's an obviously important game coming up. There are enough veteran crews who haven't called a game by either team this season if that's the concern. If a game's important enough to move in the time slot to get better ratings (obviously, we're not talking about THIS game!), it's important enough to be called reasonably correctly.
Second, I have no idea why Mike McCarthy, once told that he couldn't challenge possession of the T.O./Al Harris fight for the ball early in the first quarter, instead decided to challenge whether it was a catch or not. That Owens caught the ball looked very obvious to me -- that Harris may have torn the ball away, and forward progress was apparently involved, should be challengeable. That challenge just seemed very weird to me.
Michael David Smith: I thought that was a horrible call -- I thought it was very obvious that Harris stripped the ball and possessed it before anything happened that would have caused the play to be blown dead. The official who had the best view made the right ruling and was overruled by an official who had nowhere near as good a view. I really hate when that happens.
Mike Tanier: I just want to point out what a well-officiated game this has been in the first half. The stripes have not misinterpreted an interception as a catch, missed a running into (at least) the kicker call, completely ignored T.O. using popcorn as a prop after a touchdown, or missed a facemask penalty in the open field. None of this has happened. It has been brilliantly officiated.
Now the refs can't get the line of scrimmage right within 10 yards after a challenge. Where did they find these guys?
Bill Barnwell: Allow me to steal a line Baseball Prospectus stole from someone: Ken Hamlin is Magellan.
Doug Farrar: The NFL should have an award for the player whose value is only truly recognized in his absence (2006 winner: Marcus Tubbs), and either Charles Woodson or Albert Haynesworth should win it this year. To paraphrase Tanier in Rundown, Green Bay's secondary now consists of Al Harris and the Wal-Mart Greeters.
Bill Barnwell: Tubbs over Tommie Harris? The NFL Displacement Player of the Year!
Doug Farrar: Great name. And yes, just barely. Seattle's front seven had a bigger performance drop without Tubbs than Chicago's did without Harris. Especially against the run.
Ned Macey: I disagree on Woodson. He's a big loss, as the Packers obviously have no depth there, but the problem is Romo has 10 seconds in the pocket every time he throws. The bigger loss today is KGB. Both teams are trying to throw the ball down the field. One quarterback has all the time in the world, and the other is getting constantly hit.
Maybe only 30 percent of the world is watching this game, but I would suspect that every person with an NFL Coach of the Year ballot is watching, and I think Mike McCarthy is losing many a vote.
Brett Favre leaves the game in the second quarter with an elbow injury, to be replaced by Scott Stapp look-alike Aaron Rodgers.
Mike Tanier: I am watching Prince Valiant play quarterback for the Packers. Be still my beating heart!
Michael David Smith: A.J. Hawk just had back-to-back tackles for loss, both on completed passes. When's the last time a defensive player did that?
Doug Farrar: Well, there ya go. T.O. was so offended by the earlier bad call, he handed the ball to Al Harris in the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter. Who says he's a jerk?
Michael David Smith: Every time a Cowboys receiver goes in motion, the Packers' defense looks confused. They miss Woodson.
Bill Barnwell: I think it's because they're desperately, desperately trying to avoid a T.O. mismatch, and want to make sure of it at all times -- and a lot of the motioning going on has to do with T.O.
Mike Tanier: It's the same motion each time. T.O. motions inside behind Crayton. Every time, Al Harris and the other defender try to switch off. The result has either been T.O. open or Crayton open.
After the game has ended, and the 42-yard fourth-quarter defensive pass interference call on cornerback Tramon Williams has had time to sink in...
Doug Farrar: Well, MDS, would you like to start beating the "Nobody knows what pass interference is" drum, or shall I? It's really sad when two great teams face off in a tightly-contested game and the primary post-game story has to be the horrible officiating. John Parry and his crew should be raked over the coals for this game, and I hope that we've finally seen the pass interference call that will make it reviewable when the Competition Committee meets next spring.
Still, there were some great sub-plots. Aaron Rodgers showed outstanding pocket presence and efficiency -- he didn't look rattled at all out there. Green Bay really does have a running game. The Dallas offense is everything it's cracked up to be, and this T.O. may be even better than the one we saw in Super Bowl XXXIX. Their defense may be the difference in the NFC. I'd like this game to be replayed next week with Ed Hochuli's crew, just to see how it would actually turn out.
Mike Tanier: After all the junky calls, I don't think the Packers would have won with better refs. They would have lost a drive to a roughing the punter call. Favre still seemed intent on throwing five picks if he stayed in the game. The pass coverage was terrible with or without a tacky PI to give the Cowboys a scoring opportunity. The refs didn't cost anyone the game, they just came across as bumblers who couldn't communicate and agree on a reasonable call.
I am also not sure I want pass interference penalties reviewed because I don't want seven-hour games. I hate the PI lottery and I wish the refs would let them play a little more on long passes, but the thought of a ref going under the hood with a 20-page set of rules to review makes me think it wouldn't help.
Doug Farrar: I don't know -- it seems to me that if a crew can get together, discuss a penalty and throw a late flag based on what they think they saw while the play was happening, review is a logical next step. Maybe the league makes any PI penalty over fifteen yards reviewable. Something where a team isn't essentially gifted four downs from goal-to-go range.
Mike Tanier: I was happy to see them discuss the calls. But in both cases the guy who made what looked like a better call was overrules. On the T.O./Harris interception catch, the guy who saw the whole play was overruled. On the Williams call, the guy who was emphatically signaling "no interference" was waved off by a back judge 20 yards further away. Discuss, then make the right call. Or, here's an idea, back judge: if you thought it was interference, THROW THE FLAG instead of walking up, talking to everyone, then throwing the flag after the crowd convinces you it was pass interference.
Aaron Schatz: This was the same official as Colts-Patriots? Holy mackerel. Now that pass interference call makes more sense. I am so, so, so sick and tired of games being decided by questionable 30-50 yard pass interference penalties. I vote for "uncatchable." On the other hand, the Packers do have something like twice as many DPI penalties as any other defense.
Somebody needs to smack some sense into Atari Bigby. Look, kid, there is a difference between playing aggressive and playing too aggressively. He may not lead the league in penalties, but he absolutely leads the league in "penalties in games Aaron was watching." Get your hands off the face mask, dude. The guy makes me scream at the television, and I'm not even a Packers fan.
Doug Farrar: Right. According to the handy-dandy FO Penalty Database, Green Bay came into this game with 11 defensive pass interference flags. Bigby has four of them, which is the most this season by anyone (the ubiquitous Mr. Woodson actually has three). Cleveland is second by team with seven. In addition, John Parry's crew came into this game tied with Tony Corrente's and Terry McAulay's for the league lead in DPI calls with 10. So, there's your match made in Heaven.
Bill Moore: Yes, Bryant Gumbel just referred to him as "Rick Romo."
Aaron Schatz: Well, once we've smacked some sense into Atari Bigby, we need to smack some sense into Bryant Gumbel. Seriously, who the hell is "Rick Romo?" I hate it when fans start lambasting writers or broadcasters for innocent mistakes, but there is a difference between making an innocent mistake once a game and making mistakes every five minutes. When the Cowboys tied the game at three, Gumbel said "the Packers will settle for the field goal here." A few minutes later, he said about Marion Barber "Mike McCarthy characterized him as the heartbeat of Green Bay's offense." I also liked when number 57 got injured. "That looks like Akin A... I'm sorry, Bradie James... no, Kevin Burnett."
Bill Barnwell: That's not on Gumbel, that's on his spotter.
Doug Farrar: And "Rick" is now officially the next Brett Favre -- Cris Collinsworth went on this big rambling riff about how he's "just havin' fun out there."
Aaron Schatz: I thought it was pathetic at the end when Gumbel and Collinsworth started looking for reasons to turn this game into "the Cowboys can beat the Patriots." They said about the Cowboys, "This is a far different team than the team of six games ago." What the hell are you talking about? This is the exact same team as it was six games ago!!!
17 players started both this game and the game against the Pats, and other than Greg Ellis, the differences are based solely on what scheme Dallas was playing on the first play of each game (i.e. Fasano started against the Pats, Hoyte against the Packers). If the Cowboys beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, they're going to do it with the same players that lost to the Patriots in the regular season.
Doug Farrar: When it comes to Gumbel in the booth, there's one Elvis Costello line that expresses it best. "I used to be disgusted, and now I try to be amused."
Michael David Smith: I'll just add that I'm glad Aaron Rodgers played well. I thought before the 2005 draft that Rodgers was a better prospect than Alex Smith, and although we obviously haven't seen enough of Rodgers to know what kind of player he is, I certainly didn't see anything tonight that would change my mind.
192 comments, Last at 04 Dec 2007, 1:20am by Nathan Z