The FO crew takes on the top contenders as the playoff field rounds into shape. Plus: the great Drew Brees debate of 2014.
12 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.
Mike Tanier: I am Cleo Lemon, standing in the end zone, watching Chris Kelsay come unblocked.
Chris Kelsay is still unblocked. He is coming to get me.
He is still coming, Maybe I should throw.
Oh my, here he comes.
Dumbest safety I have seen in a long time.
I am still undecided on J.P. Losman vs. Trent Edwards, and I know Losman brings the long bomb factor. But with Losman, it seems like the Bills have no drive capability. There's no sequence to their offense, just a few bombs punctuated by punts. Today, they played down to the Dolphins and nearly lost. I feel like if Edwards were in there, they would have scored about 22 points on drives into field goal range.
Doug Farrar: I think it's safe to say that the Broncos are mistake-prone. In the first quarter, they put up 119 yards in total offense, but they also had six penalties for 35 yards. The second quarter began with a blocked Todd Sauerbrun punt that went out of the Denver end zone for a safety. Rockies lead the Royals, 5-3, with Brian Fuentes warming up in the bullpen. It's a nice ValuPak of penalties, as well -- no boring hold-after-hold. We have ineligible downfield pass, illegal block above the waist, offensive holding (on a punt return), offensive holding (on a kickoff return), encroachment, and illegal formation.
So far, my impression of Jay Cutler has been that this is a guy who's going to have to be talked out his love of the deep ball in favor of work on shorter passes. He overthrew Brandon Marshall horribly in the second quarter, and Marshall didn't have a Kansas City defender within 10 yards of him. He's already had two balls batted down on shorter passes halfway through the second quarter. What I do like about him is his pocket presence -- he doesn't get happy feet, and he'll run out of pressure. He can then throw accurately across his body, and that's where the arm strength is valuable.
Mike Tanier: Cutler tends to overthrow some guys. I've seen him do a good job of checking down and taking what he's given in other games.
Doug Farrar: People are going to look at his stats and wonder what I'm smoking when I say what I'm about to say, but ... Priest Holmes has great burst and wonderful escapability. He's making some incredible cuts, making Denver defenders miss badly. He's not going to put together world-beating numbers behind this line (dead last in Adjusted Line Yards by a sizeable margin), but it's nice to see him looking that good for his first start in two years. Many of his three- or four-yard runs really should have been stuffs or losses.
Jared Allen is messing up Matt Lepsis' day. On a third-and-8 from the Kansas City 45 near the half, Allen beat Lepsis so badly off the edge that Lepsis could have been called for holding on two different occasions. Cutler threw incomplete, and Allen went cleanly to the back of Cutler's legs. Didn't look deliberate at all. Fortunately, Cutler didn't have his feet planted, or he wouldn't have been walking off the field at halftime.
After Selvin Young's third-quarter touchdown makes this one of the better battles between undrafted running backs, Damon Huard comes back on the field to a rousing chorus of boos. On K.C.'s first play from scrimmage, Elvis Dumervil clowns Chris Terry and causes a Huard fumble which is returned by Denver's Nate Webster for a touchdown. There is perhaps no better indicator that your quarterback situation is a major problem than when your fans are chanting "Bro-die! Bro-die!"
Croyle comes in due to a Huard injury, but all involved would be better off if either Huard or Croyle could block. Croyle throws sideline dinks and little screens and takes the Chiefs downfield. On this drive, Holmes runs left and pulls off an incredible cut -- he juked right for a second and cut left so quickly that John Engelberger and Hamza Abdullah collided in the empty space where Holmes had been a second before. He's really a pleasure to watch. The Chiefs have to settle for another field goal on this drive, but I'm sure that the Brodie Croyle stalled drives are much more dynamic than the Damon Huard stalled drives. Or so Herm will surely tell us in The Week in Quotes.
Vince Verhei: The Chiefs need to go to Croyle full-time now. He seems to throw much better under pressure, and that's an important skill in Kansas City. I saw a number of plays where completed passes sidearm, falling down, on one foot. He gives the team their best chance to win now, whatever that's worth, and more importantly, the Chiefs need to spend the rest of 2007 deciding to go with the guy they've got or entering the Derek Anderson bidding war.
Ned Macey: I didn't watch this game, but I was surprised to read the positive comments about Priest. He averaged 3.3 against one of the worst run defenses in football. Did he actually look good despite the poor overall stats?
Bill Moore: I only saw one Priest Holmes run. It was third-and-2 from the 5, and he ran to the left end, mistakenly tried to cut back across the opposite side and then couldn't get free. He lost 13 yards. It was a case of Holmes not being Holmes of a few years ago. Otherwise, looking at the PBP, it was lots of three- and four-yard runs. There were only three runs greater than six years, and two greater than 10 (both 11).
Doug Farrar: Yeah, he did. It was sporadic, and he had to do a lot himself because that line is so bad, but his burst and his ability to cut were surprising given the long layoff. There were times when he'd go into a mess of Denver defenders with nowhere to go, but he'd pull out a few extra yards with his own effort. Some of those three- or four-yard runs Bill was talking about should have been stuffs or losses.
Michael David Smith: I agree about Holmes. Other than that terrible play where he ran backwards, he was surprisingly good when you consider that the Chiefs' offensive line is a disgrace.
Doug Farrar: The AFC West seems like the NFC West this year: filled with teams that seem to want to give the division to each other. Kansas City has major issues with its offensive line and some strange defensive game-planning (I really loved the "11-in-the-box" strategy that led to Cutler's final touchdown pass to Daniel Graham, and Denver's receivers were wiiiiiiiiide-open far too often), while Denver has the obvious run defense problem that the Chiefs' horrid line couldn't exploit. Neither team is yet close to the kind of quarterback situation that would lead to reliable success, though Denver's is obviously more settled and Cutler does have a great deal of potential. The Raiders are the Raiders, and San Diego's problems are so obvious, they're barely worth taking about anymore. They can't always count on beating Peyton Manning with half a team around him and an injured Dwight Freeney. One game is not a panacea, though it's fascinating to see how long they'll get these kinds of results out of their special teams. You put any of these teams in the AFC South, they'd be 3-6 or 2-7 right now. Except for the Raiders, who are currently 2-7 and would probably have a negative Pythagorean win projection.
Doug Farrar: The current strategy for stopping Adrian Peterson seems to be that you have to attack and hope for the best, because he's so fast with his cuts that he'll freeze you if you stand there and wait to make a tackle. I saw one highlight of his record performance against San Diego in which he simply ran by both safeties, and there was another play where four defenders had him in a box at the second level, but because of hesitation and poor angles, nobody could make the stop.
On the first series for the Vikings in this game, Green Bay took the more aggressive approach -- Brady Poppinga came off the left side with great speed and stopped Peterson on the edge of the line on third down. The Vikings went three-and-out. They did a lot of that -- Minnesota's offense didn't convert a third down in this game -- and proved again that if your passing attack is a joke, all you can do when you're down by a couple of scores is hope that your starters don't get hurt. Unfortunately, even that didn't go too well -- in the third quarter, Peterson suffered what has initially been diagnosed as a sprained right knee.
Bill Barnwell: Brady Poppinga is the Hunter Hillenmeyer of the Packers.
Doug Farrar: On Green Bay's corresponding opening drive, their supposedly non-existent rushing attack put up 49 yards on Minnesota's defense by running outside. Ryan Grant gets good yardage up the middle by way of a play-action draw on the second drive. They're doing very well with little delays, getting a center and a guard on either the left or right Williams "brother" and bouncing off the edge. Green Bay with an integrated run game has to scare the rest of the NFC. Ryan Grant seems to fit the idea perfectly. The Vikings have averaged 70.4 rushing yards allowed per game, and Grant has 81 yards on 10 carries in the first quarter.
Bill Barnwell: Kevin Williams is so good. Who makes a play five yards downfield on a screen pass? Kevin Williams! Not, say, a safety or a corner. Kevin Williams!
I love the way Favre uses the pump fake to set up defenders. There was a deep slant that Favre set up not only with his eyes but with two pump fakes, creating three yards of separation for Jennings who, unfortunately, dropped the easy touchdown. Probably too much heat on the throw, too.
Favre's not fast, but he still has great motion within the pocket. He knows exactly where to move and improvises well with his head up, allowing him to still progress through his reads while, say, Henderson has come free on a blitz and is around Favre's ankle.
Packers are actually running all kinds of really weird formations -- a shotgun two-back formation with a fullback pretty much a yard behind the offensive linemen is strange to me, at least. Before that, they motioned into a full house backfield and then ran off-tackle to the weak side for nine yards. It's weird -- the Packers aren't throwing at all on the outside, only on the interior to Donald Lee and Jennings, strange considering Winfield is out.
Aaron Schatz: They actually use that one a lot. They also have a formation where the running back is not exactly a slot receiver but ends up sort of on the side right behind the linemen. I think the Packers have more unique formations than any other offense.
The general theme of this game, I think, is that Green Bay showed how to run against the Vikings. They were running all kinds of draws, delays, misdirections, screen passes, and so forth. Those were successful. The regular runs were generally unsuccessful, except for a couple where the Packers had two double teams on the two Williamses, and one where the wide receivers were all really tight so Grant ended up running behind a whole host of blockers. Watching the first half of this game, I got the feeling that the Vikings linebackers may not be as good as they look in the numbers. If Grant could get past the defensive line, the linebackers weren't so successful at taking on blocks and getting to Grant.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers showed what you can do to the Vikings if you have enough confidence in your cornerbacks to leave them in man one-on-one. I made fun of Atari Bigby last week and someone pointed out in the comments that he is known to be a much better run defender. Well, he was basically stapled to the line of scrimmage today, they were eight in the box pretty much anytime Adrian Peterson was in the game. The Vikings passing game is so impotent that there's really no reason for any other strategy.
Vince Verhei: Note to all teams playing Atlanta in the future: In all passing situations, drop your team into deep coverage. Joey Harrington will always throw underneath the zone. He had FIVE completions on third downs today that failed to pick up first downs. So knowing this, in the game's final seconds, with the Falcons in position to kick a winning field goal, the Panthers rush seven. Alge Crumpler gets separation, Harrington finds him, and Crumpler scores the winning touchdown.
The Steve Smith-DeAngelo Hall matchup is always entertaining. Both guys have that little-man chip-on-the-shoulder thing going, and they each desperately want to prove they're superior. It looked like Smith was going to win the matchup today. The only time the Panthers offense came close to scoring an offensive touchdown was in the first quarter, when Smith beat Hall on fourth down and looked to take the ball into the end zone. Hall never gave up on the play though, and at the last second forced a fumble that went into the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback. The Panthers never reached the Falcons' 10-yard line for the rest of the game. Smith finished with just five catches on 61 yards, for a team that threw 29 passes on the day.
Aaron Schatz: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Harrington was the king of the pointless third-down checkdown in Detroit.
Vince Verhei: Here's my theory on the collapse of the Saints: Last year, Reggie Bush was an unknown commodity, and teams were scared to death of him. So they always devoted their attention to him, leaving Colston and Henderson and company relatively unnoticed. Now, with a year's worth of film, teams have realized that Bush is good, but he ain't THAT good. They've also realized that the Saints running game went down with Deuce McAllister, and that if you cover the short routes, the offensive line can't give Drew Brees enough time to find receivers deep downfield. I can't explain why Brees is good for a handful of poor throws to open receivers, though.
Also, the Saints defensive backs are very, very bad.
Bill Barnwell: So, since the Rams won and the Dolphins lost, what do the 1976 Buccaneers do when Miami DOES win? Go to the corner store, bust out $1.99, and drink 40s to celebrate their place alone at the bottom of the NFL history barrel? Boone's Farm?
Aaron Schatz: The 1976 Bucs always celebrate the last team to get a win with a big bottle of Cold Duck.
Bill Barnwell: Daryl Johnston criticized Philly's decision to go for two with the score 15-13 and three minutes left in the third quarter. Now:
A) That seems like a pretty decent decision to me.
B) Don't the Eagles have people on staff who do way more research into this sort of thing than, say, Moose has by playing in a few hundred games?
There was a Chris Cooley catch that got erased by a defensive penalty where he dragged two Eagles defenders three yards to the one-inch line. Chris Cooley rules. The Eagles follow it with a great defensive stand, though, pushing Clinton Portis back on both first down and second down, and before third down (with Campbell lining up in the shotgun, ugh), Cooley false starts. Maybe he doesn't rule so much. The Eagles jump the snap count on third down perfectly, with both defensive ends getting a huge jump, but the Redskins run a draw and get it back to the 3 for a Suisham field goal.
Eagles score on an awesome screen that the Redskins sell out almost their entire front seven on. Great block by Andrews to spring it, but there were four guys within one step of McNabb, he took one perfect step backwards to avoid the rush for the half-second he needed, and the ball was out to Westbrook before he took his second step. Just perfect execution.
On the other hand, the Redskins run these obvious screens that the Eagles have two guys sprinting towards before the ball's even released.
The irony is Johnston saying that the Redskins have respect for the Eagles defense because they're running screens, and teams run screens against good defenses. No they don't. The Redskins run screens against EVERY defense.
Mike Tanier: The Eagles decision to go for two is certainly arguable. Like you say, the Eagles have their stats department, and they drill down to the best odds on plays like that. I would have been happier getting the extra point there, because I think in terms of things like "two Redskins field goals make this a seven-point game."
This was a pessimistic Eagles victory. The run defense gave up eight yards on every cutback. The pass defense was only effective when the Redskins had to throw. The front four did not play well. The whole defense looked pretty weak.
Aaron Schatz: See, this ties in to what I was saying about the Eagles last week. They won -- they beat a team with a winning record, a division rival, on the road. That's a good win. I think those of us who are fans of winning teams tend to mentally move our definition of "average."
There's no doubt that Packers fans have had this problem in recent years, for example, constantly bitching about Brett Favre when Favre has been an above average quarterback. Seriously, who can name a dozen teams that are definitely better than Philadelphia? After watching them today, would anyone say the Vikings or Browns are better than Philadelphia? How about the Saints, who lost to the winless Rams, and the Bills, who nearly lost to the winless Dolphins? The Eagles are probably still a top-12 team, weird as that sounds.
Mike Tanier: Run the DVOA on the Eagles-Redskins and I bet the Redskins come out on top. The Eagles really didn't look good for most of the game. You asked me last week who would win Eagles-Browns, and I said Eagles. After today, I say Browns. When you watch the Shortcuts of this game, count the number of seven- and eight-yard runs Portis has on cutbacks. I will bet the DVOA special teams edge is big too, except for that missed extra point. The Eagles never get the ball after a kickoff past the 30 yard line, but opponents always seem to be at the 34 or something.
Ned Macey: The Eagles defense is bad. For those who have watched them on a regular basis for the whole Reid era, it is painful to watch at time. Receivers are running free in the middle of the field. Potentially excusable when it was Cowboys players, not so much when it is James Thrash.
That said, I still insist Donovan McNabb looks better each and every week. He still holds the ball too long and makes errant throws, but he is moving much better in the pocket. Washington is down some injured players, but that's still a good defense, and they moved the ball decently. McNabb, by the way, is near the top 10 in DPAR with NO quality receivers, yet somehow he's the problem. The defense, meanwhile is one of the ten worst in football. The arc on McNabb is perfect for how quarterback-focused people are since he was second in the MVP voting when he was not as good as he is now, when people think he should be benched.
In college, people talk about winning with another team's recruits. The early success of the McNabb era was largely fueled by a great defense. In Ray Rhodes' last season, the Eagles had Brian Dawkins, Hugh Douglas, Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Al Harris and Trotter. In the nine years under Reid, they just haven't found that kind of defensive talent: Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, and then who, Trent Cole or Corey Simon?
It should be no surprise that a defense that ranked in the DVOA top 10 every year from 1999 to 2002 (including first in 2001) has not been in the top 10 since 2002? Ironically (hope that's not an Alanis Morissette use), their offense was never in the top 10 until 2003 and then has been every year since except 2005. The Eagles need to improve their defensive talent acquisition skills or Kevin Kolb will also never win a Super Bowl.
Aaron Schatz: By the way, DVOA for the game: Philadelphia 5.5%, Washington -6.2%.
Vince Verhei: Take away Albert Haynesworth, and the Titans' defense goes from historically great to above-average. Haynesworth sat out with a hamstring injury, and as a result, Jacksonville center Brad Meester and guards Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams dominated the middle of the field. Maurice Jones-Drew ran up the gut for an 8-yard touchdown in the second quarter and wasn't touched on the play. The Jags spent most of the second half nursing a two-score lead, and the rushing average suffered as a result (3.9 for the game), but you can still see their production in 10 rushing first downs and three touchdowns on the ground.
Tennessee was behind the entire game, and as a result ran only 19 times with 45 pass plays. This is a bad thing when your quarterback is Vince Young. Their only touchdown came in the fourth quarter when Young threw into double coverage in the end zone. The ball was tipped straight up and fell into the hands of Justin Gage, who was lying on his back at the time. That fluke play was all that separated the Titans' offense from the Raiders' today.
Bill Barnwell: It's weird. We define offensive players by how great they are when they perform on the field, but it's almost as if we define great defensive players by how their teams do when they're not around (Bob Sanders being the first example that comes to mind). There's something very strange about that.
Vince Verhei: That's an interesting observation. At one point today I thought to myself, "I guess this locks up the defensive player of the year award for Haynesworth." It is weird that a guy's standing would increase because he missed a game.
Michael David Smith: One thing I've noticed about Kellen Winslow is that he has definitely mastered the art of pushing off just enough to get an advantage but not enough to get called for offensive pass interference. He's a smart player, almost as if he's had a Hall of Fame tight end as a personal tutor for his entire life.
Aaron Schatz: I switched over from GB-MIN at halftime and it is impossible to believe that this game was 21-9 Cleveland. The Browns offense is having a hard time getting people open, and the Browns fans must be sick and tired of watching dumpoff passes bounce off Jamal Lewis's hands. Was Pittsburgh's offense having problems in the first half?
In the second half, Pittsburgh is getting guys open fairly frequently. Of course, there's also Ben Roethlisberger's habit of trying to hit the smallest passing windows imaginable. The touchdown to Heath Miller to go ahead 31-28 was a good example, I think Wimbley had great, great coverage on that one and he still got it right ahead of Miller for the catch.
I think Roethlisberger's habit of throwing to tiny windows is a good reason why every so often he has those horrible, interception-filled games. If you play with fire, you may become the most successful fire-eater in the history of the circus, but you are still occasionally going to get burned.
Ryan Wilson: I thought the Steelers would come out with their Matt Hasselbeck game plan. Namely, rush three and four guys all day and make the quarterback force throws. As Doug pointed out in EPC, the Browns are great pass blockers, and Derek Anderson takes short drops and gets rid of the ball. He's also known as the Anti-Frye around Berea.
Pittsburgh blitzed on a handful of plays in the first half with little success. Anderson was methodical, and killed the Steelers on third down. Worsening special teams play set up the second Browns touchdown, and a bad Roethlisberger pick deep in Pittsburgh's zone made it 21-6 before the half. After the break, the Steelers dropped everybody into coverage, and when Anderson's first read didn't come open, he got happy feet, which seemed to result in some inaccurate throws, most of the shortish variety.
Roethlisberger looked like he was having a pity party in the first half, maybe because of his sore hip, but he got it together in the second half, including a 30-yard touchdown run that wouldn't have happened 10 years ago. Since nobody can touch the quarterback, it looked like several Browns defenders let up as Ben made his way for six.
The touchdown to Heath Miller was a great throw. Roethlisberger has this habit of looking defenders off with his head during his drop, while eye-balling his intended target. It was a tough throw, but only Miller could make the catch. And other than Hines Ward, probably the only guy on the team that hauls it in. Still, it doesn't matter what the offense/defense does, the special teams is atrocious. Absolutely awful. Josh Cribbs is a top-five returner and he was facing what I can only imagine a 32nd special teams unit looks like. Take a guess how that worked out.
Doug Farrar: Strange day around the league for time management issues and weird challenges. Apparently, Romeo Crennel burned a timeout in the fourth quarter to decide whether he'd challenge Heath Miller's two-yard TD catch. He then challenged it and lost, burning another timeout. That may be a first.
That said, there's such a thing as a loss to build on. When you've been a truly abysmal team for a number of years, and you're suddenly flush with success, however one-sided it may be, and you get waxed by a team that's obviously more well-rounded than you, that's one thing. But Cleveland was absolutely destroyed by the Steelers in the season opener, made some necessary changes, and lost a very close game in Pittsburgh this time. They were decisively ahead early on, withstood what was probably an inevitable comeback, and found themselves a missed field goal away from overtime. For the second straight week, Cleveland's offensive line kept Derek Anderson's jersey clean against a sack-happy team, and the Browns' special teams are very solid. Pundits seem to be fooled by one team per year that appears to be a few players away from real legitimacy (hello, San Francisco), but this Cleveland team has some good things in place. They just ran into a team that has more and better things in place.
Vince Verhei: The Cincinnati Bengals have a very bad defense. They came into today 29th in defensive DVOA, 26th against the run, 26th against the pass. They are mediocre in ALY (14th), but the big runs they give up are BIG runs; they're next-to-last in 10-plus yards. They're 25th in Adjusted Sack Rate. They can't cover wide receivers. They can't cover tight ends. They're actually pretty good covering running backs (inexplicably, given the decrepit state of their linebacker corps), but other than that, they are bad at everything.
Against that defense, the Baltimore offense turned the ball over six times and scored just seven points, and those came in garbage time. Their quarterback is 34. Their leading receiver is 33. Their coach has been trying to establish a consistent offense for literally his entire tenure with the team. It's time to blow this up and start over.
Vince Verhei: In the third quarter I saw a graphic that said the Lions had negative rushing yards. I started watching, trying to see what the Cards were doing. It turns out, the answer is: Nothing. I never saw the Lions run. The Lions ran four times in the first half, all Kevin Jones, for a total of -4 yards. Jones did not get a carry in the second half, but four players got one apiece: Aveion Cason (1 yard), T.J. Duckett (0 yards), Jon Kitna (0 yards) and Shaun McDonald (-15 yards). So more than anything else, it looks like the Cardinals were successful on a small number of plays, and then the Lions just gave up. As a result, the Cards were free to tee off on Jon Kitna, collecting four sacks, nine quarterback hits and forcing Kitna to fumble three times.
Aaron Schatz: The Lions are who we thought they were.
Bill Barnwell: Great play fake by Josh McCown and he runs for 20-plus yards on a naked bootleg. He follows this with the most awkward emphatic first down signal you'll see. That poor other Adrian Peterson had a screen pass for no gain on third-and-19.
I'm not impressed with the Bears' game plan against a Raiders defense with obvious flaws. Smoke passes to Hester: not a great idea. Just give the ball to Cedric Benson and let your line push Warren Sapp into the opposing end zone. Yes, I know that Benson refuses to hit a hole without tapping his toes four times, but it's bound to work at least once or twice. I promise.
Vince Verhei: Remember earlier in the year when the Raiders were alone in first place and it looked like they were on their way? Ancient history. The passing attack of McCown to Porter/Curry/Williams, etc., produced a total of 14 completions, and four of those were on the Raiders' final drive when the game was over.
The Raiders were the first team in, well, maybe ever to kick to Devin Hester and not regret it. He had one 60-plus-yard return called back on a holding penalty (committed while the punt was still in the air), and other than that, nothing. The Raiders' coverage teams were great, never allowing Hester any air. He even had two returns for negative yardage.
Mike Tanier: Aaron and I were going over the "Squib Kick Away from Hester" strategy and while I don't think he has all the data worked out, it looks like a bad strategy overall. My gut tells me that you are giving away the chance of a fumble, a holding penalty, and an ordinary return out of fear of a big return, and that the trade-off isn't worth it when you hand the Bears about 12 yards of field position every kickoff. Aaron's preliminary work says the same thing.
My theory is this: If you are afraid of Hester, why not put extra starters on your kick coverage team that week? Sure, some teams have full-time gunners who are better at kick coverage than the starting defenders, but there are always one or two backup running backs and wide receivers out there who can't possibly be better than your starting free safety or weakside linebacker at kick coverage. Put them out there all week in practice and you probably decrease the chance of a long return by several percentage points.
Aaron Schatz: Yep, did the Hester research. I'll stick it in tomorrow's DVOA article. It's also going in the next issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Bill Barnwell: Dallas' first touchdown is a throw from Tony Romo where he is at least a full yard, maybe two ahead of the line of scrimmage. Coughlin does not challenge.
Aaron Schatz: I can't help but think that the Giants are getting screwed with all these delay of game calls on Eli Manning. Last year they changed delay of game -- if the offense called the play right after the clock went to zero, the officials were supposed to keep the flag in their pocket to keep the game moving. They've been doing that this year too -- until this game, where suddenly if Eli Manning snaps the ball one second late, it is a penalty. It seems off.
Mike Tanier: Overall, there were about 100 sloppy penalties in this game. At the end, they called a personal foul facemask on Mathias Kiwanuka on a third-and-20-something when the Cowboys were trying to sit on the clock. Smart football.
Stuart Fraser: For a Steelers fan with Roethlisberger as his comparison for quarterback play, it was interesting to watch Romo tonight (first time I've seen Dallas this year). The Romo vs. Roethlisberger debate could well be a lively one in the coming years. It did seem to me very much like watching a Steelers performance on occasions -- Romo and the Dallas receivers do less ad-libbing on what I will call "undesigned scrambles" than I'm used to as a Pittsburgh fan, but it's definitely there.
Romo made some really ugly throws -- almost certainly the worst looking touchdown pass this season (as well as being thrown from beyond the line of scrimmage) which only worked because the wide receiver was more open than anybody should ever be in the end zone (I think the flanker and slot receiver crossed over and the corner followed the flanker inside leaving the slot guy alone, though the replay was kind of lousy). Of course there was also the interception, which was A) forced into double coverage and B) severely underthrown. Which, come to think of it, is another similarity he shares with Roethlisberger (though actually when Ben forces a deep ball into double coverage he more commonly picks out the deep safety, I think).
Romo is more conventionally mobile than Roethlisberger. He evaded pass rushers on several plays tonight, but it was evasion -- stepping up, scrambling outside, not Roethlisberger's frequent brute-strength approach to avoiding a sack. If nothing else this should extend Romo's career in comparison.
Eli did make some very good throws. One in particular to Plaxico Burress which he dropped over a linebacker who was sitting halfway down the route, and then fit the ball between the safety and the corner, actually caused me to sit up and applaud, but it did seem to be another not-quite-consistent-enough Eli night.
Ned Macey: Last week, my theme was the defensive line is important. This week it is wide receiver. Terrell Owens first became a high quality wide receiver in 1997. Starting then, his quarterback has made the Pro Bowl every year except 1999, 2003, and 2005. That includes four separate quarterbacks under (counting this year) five different coaches. Randy Moss isn't quite as impressive, but Brady will be his third different quarterback and fifth Pro Bowl selection in 10 years. Kerry Collins throwing to Moss ranked 11th in DPAR in 2005. What Brady is doing this year is obviously the clearest example.
The thing is that wide receivers were devalued by smart analysts because the model franchises earlier this decade were New England and Philadelphia, both of whom devalued it. It seems to me that the offensive experience of those teams and their exceptional quarterbacks shows that they undervalued wide receiver.
Stuart Fraser: In non-quarterback-related thoughts, the Giants kept trying to jam Owens at the line of scrimmage. It never seemed to work (of course we don't get so many replays of the times when it did work), and on both of his touchdowns Owens just blew by the cornerback trying to jam him. On the first the cornerback was in man and that was that. On the second, bizarrely the safety came up and jammed too, almost running into the cornerback -- I've never seen so weird a pass coverage scheme.
In All-Rookie related thoughts, Aaron Ross made an incredible play in diving to tip a ball away from Owens on a slant route which caused a Cowboys punt (a rarity in this game). I don't recall seeing much more of him than that, which is normally a good thing for a cornerback as it means he isn't identifiably being torched (and I'm guessing the weird jamming T.O. thing they were all doing was a coaching decision, and a lousy one much of the time).
Aaron Schatz: MY GOD. Aaron Moorehead has stolen Reche Caldwell's eyeballs.
Michael David Smith: Does Reggie Wayne lead the league in pass interference yards? It sure seems like it.
Doug Farrar: According to the FO database (info through Week 8), the Colts have drawn one pass interference penalty -- Week 5 against the Bucs on Ronde Barber. Wayne was the receiver. Through Week 8, the Ravens (!) and the Broncos have drawn the most PI penalties with five each. Yeah, go figure.
Bill Barnwell: I've done some research for a future article, and pass interference for specific quarterbacks and receivers seems to be completely random from year to year.
Aaron Schatz: Wow. Peyton Manning is melting down out there tonight. There seems to be a feeling among a lot of Colts fans that it doesn't matter how many players they lose, as long as they have Manning you can plug in anybody and have success. Tonight would seem to be a piece of evidence that this is not the case. And yet ... the only major difference between this week and last week is Dallas Clark. Remember, last year, the Colts were 1-3 without Clark and 15-1 with him. Maybe he's the exception to the rule about only noticing defensive players when they are missing.
Ned Macey: I love Dallas Clark, but I'm a little skeptical about Clark's uber-importance to the team. First, last season's 1-3 stretch featured four games with offensive DVOAs of 24.8%, 32.4%, 38.2%, and 41.9%. I don't think they missed Clark too much other than in the "Vince Young just wins" way.
They also started last game with Anthony Gonzalez, who they don't have here. In the second half, once it was clearly only Moorehead over there, the Colts got more than one first down on a drive only once (the short-field touchdown drive). Plus, the fact they're huddling this game takes away some of Manning's ability to change the play.
I'd also say that the seemingly questionable pick of Gonzalez seems inspired now considering the defense is playing at a top 10 level, but they appear short of offensive weapons. Too bad he got injured too, but that one is hard to predict. I will say that losing Harrison is much less of a big deal if Clark is healthy and vice versa.
Stuart Fraser: I think it's a timescale thing. Indianapolis can pretty much replace anybody (maybe except Clark) if you given them long enough, but a spate of injuries over a short time is going to bite because they start having to simplify the offense and take away some of Manning's audibles just because half the team no longer understands them.
In short, "it doesn't matter who lines up with Manning, provided they stay healthy."
One might also point out that Manning vs. the 3-4 has never been a good matchup, and his only notable successes have come from using Clark underneath (and that was the New England 3-4, where more of the rush comes from the defensive line than it does in the Pittsburgh or San Diego 3-4).
Doug Farrar: Will Quick Reads explode if Peyton Manning is the least valuable quarterback? I mean, will the DVOA database literally blow up?
Great series of calls by Gene Steratore's crew on the Clint Session interception. Tip interception, inadvertent (stupid) whistle, spot, touchback. Precisely. I don't know WHAT Norv was challenging there.
Vince Verhei: Great series of calls, sure, but they still blew it (the call) by blowing it (the whistle) in the first place.
Aaron Schatz: Yes. The Colts were monumentally screwed by that call. In the long run, it sure doesn't look like it makes much of a difference.
Ned Macey: We never got the visual on who blew the whistle, but the ref actually on the play got it right and threw the beanbag or whatever. If they hadn't blown the whistle, I doubt Session would have gotten that big a return.
Michael David Smith: It's impossible to know how long a return he would have gotten if it hadn't been blown dead, but from the replay angles I saw it didn't look like the Chargers had anyone in position to tackle him. That was a really boneheaded whistle by whichever official blew it dead, since, as Ned says, the official right on top of the play clearly threw his beanbag to signal that it was an interception, not an incompletion.
Doug Farrar: I think that's why they finally made down by contact challengeable - one dumb whistle and the recovering team used to be even more screwed by not getting the ball at all.
Michael David Smith: I don't get how it's possible for the Colts' special teams to be this bad, year after year. It just makes no sense. They're a smart franchise in player evaluation in almost every other respect, but they're totally incapable of finding a few guys who can fly down the field and hit somebody on kickoffs and punts.
Mike Tanier: They've never cultivated any full-time gunners. That comes with the idea that you don't pay bench players more than the minimum, so you don't get or keep a Gary Stills or Ike Reese type. The Greatest Show Rams also started having lousy coverage teams as time went on. They rarely kept receivers, backs, or tight ends around who were top special-teamers. They always wanted guys they could plug right in on offense. I wonder how the Colts choose their back-of-the-roster guys at those positions.
Bill Barnwell: They choose their back of their roster guys with the idea that they're going to be the starters in a couple of years (especially at outside linebacker/cornerback), so their guys are the ones suited to the Cover-2 and the Manning offensive scheme, not necessarily guys who are special teams guys.
Ryan Wilson: If the Colts and Steelers played this year, the score would be 450-443, all touchdowns via kick returns. The team with the ball last, wins.
(However, all was not lost for the Colts. Down 23-14 early in the fourth quarter, Indianapolis' defense found San Diego pinned deep in their own end zone...)
Doug Farrar: That sequence reminded me of the goal-line stand against the Chiefs that caused me to give Norv the Keep Choppin' Wood when I did that guest turn at Scramble. Wet ball, Freeney is beating Marcus McNeill like John Bonham on a 26-inch bass drum, and they go pass-pass-pass. The fumble recovery touchdown, or some other catastrophe, was almost inevitable. Good Lord.
Ned Macey: Did TMQ say that Manning was always throwing out of shotgun and running out of traditional? I saw the formation on the two-point conversion, saw the fake audible, and I knew it was a run up the middle. Sadly for me, so did the Chargers.
(Actually, everything WAS lost for the Colts. Instead of taking an easy field goal -- well, MAYBE an easy field goal under the circumstances -- Manning and Dungy tried to draw the Chargers offside from the San Diego 7-yard line, Ben Utecht was called for a very odd "simulating a snap" false start, and Vinatieri subsequently missed a gimme 29-yard field goal.)
Sean McCormick: Sacre bleu!
Ned Macey: Dungy certainly could have used the timeout he burned to argue the Utecht penalty. That is a Keep Choppin' Wood-level mistake which may have cost the Colts the game.
Michael Tanier: Well, shut my mouth. What a way to go down.
Aaron Schatz: I seem to remember reading an article by Michael Lewis where some guy talked about how Vinatieri's clutch field goal history was not an indicator of whether he would hit clutch field goals in the future...
Michael David Smith: Is Vinatieri ever going to stop getting universal praise in the mainstream football media? He has to make that kick before halftime. He's a below-average kicker getting paid as the best kicker in the NFL.
Aaron Schatz: I know this sounds insane, but with the Colts losing tonight and the Jaguars winning, I'm wondering if my predictions of a Jaguars division title might actually come to pass. The Colts are just decimated by injuries right now. I feel like we're living through my Indianapolis chapter from PFP 2007. I talked about how guys like Harrison and Freeney had never been injured. Now Harrison is injured, Freeney is injured -- who knows how badly? -- the guy they drafted in case Harrison got injured is also injured, Clark again, all the linebackers, defensive linemen... I said that nobody wants to build a team like the Colts because if you don't have Peyton Manning, you end up with the Redskins. This is starting to look worse than last year's Redskins, except that when you have Peyton Manning you can be down to having no backup offensive or defensive linemen left and still almost win. Even when Manning has a bad game. I mean, despite the injuries, he was completely missing guys at times, which you almost never see.
Seriously, if Freeney is out for significant time, and David Garrard is back next week, Jacksonville is actually going to win this division. There are only so many injuries you can take.
259 comments, Last at 15 Nov 2007, 4:25pm by thestar5