Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
19 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: Great news! I now own a hi-def television. Bad news! I have to watch Eagles football on it.
Philly talk radio will be particularly poisonous this week. If you didn't see it, Donovan McNabb played like garbage for about a half, and then hurt his ankle. A.J. Feeley came in and played badly at first, but then came around and led some scoring drives. McNabb isn't seriously hurt and should be healthy for next week. I can't wait to hear the Feeley bandwagon pull up alongside the Kevin Kolb bandwagon and start revving its engines.
Michael David Smith: I have long insisted that the Dolphins are not going 0-16, that they're really not a horrible team, just a bad team that has had bad breaks. But now I actually could see it happening. John Beck looked like he's definitely not ready to play this season. Maybe he'll be good some day, but I doubt that day will be in 2007. I thought the team just looked really sluggish. The Eagles were giving them opportunities to win and the Dolphins weren't taking those opportunities. And the two teams on their schedule I thought they had the best opportunities to beat -- the Jets and Ravens -- both showed signs of life today. If I had to guess, yes or no, I'd guess the Dolphins will win a game this year. But it's not a sure thing at all.
Bill Barnwell: I watched the Oakland Raiders play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. I was, admittedly, very hung over when I watched this game, and about halfway through, I decided the best thing to cure the hangover, the heartburn, and discomfort that this game caused was to start sniffing $20 bills in the hopes that one of them would have enough cocaine fibers to get me high, and therefore, awake.
The things I saw: Jumping pump fakes. Blocks made of jazz hands. Passes off back feet. Leg whip. Throws five yards deep into the sideline. Piles on wheels. Features on Lane Kiffin's high school yearbook. Wes Welker-Tim Dwight metaphor. Fumbled snaps. Fumbled otherwise-game-ending-interception returns. Unabation. Blown tackles -- not even blown good tackles, blown tackles that wouldn't even have worked. Like blown ankle tackles. What's the opposite of improvisation? Deprovisation? Declinisation? I saw that. Waggles that didn't waggle. Illegal procedure doesn't cover it -- downright offensive, grotesque procedure.
This game should be recorded and shown as part of deprogramming techniques and interventions. It was an embarrassment to the NFL and NFLPA, an affront to my personal values, and every advertiser whose product was featured during the commercials of this game has my pity but not my business, since their sponsorship of this debacle meant that it had to remain on television. This was a waste of three hours of my life that I could've spent in a stupor staring at the wall. I'm too young for this.
Sean McCormick: Welcome to Bay Area football! The 49ers are up next!
Mike Tanier: Kiffin graduated from high school?
I got to see the shine off Brad Childress' head in high-definition. It was a religious experience. And while we make fun of the Vikings, their offensive line is clearly great and they have an excellent and a good running back. The defense isn't bad. Next year, with Donovan McNabb at quarterback...
Doug Farrar: In the meantime, it seems that Minnesota's best quarterback is rookie receiver Sidney Rice. Glad we got that settled. And that line is outstanding. Chester Taylor isn't too bad, either -- he looked like he was crowd-surfing on one of his rushing touchdowns.
Aaron Schatz: This game began with one of the most frightening visuals in the history of NFL broadcasts: a 300-pound woman with her face painted like a jaguar and what looked like a crown of eucalyptus. Oh, man. Not good.
Doug Farrar: The Jaguars absolutely dominated San Diego's defense on the ground in the first half. Jacksonville's offensive line won the physical battle over and over. People tend to think of San Diego's front seven in positive terms because of their linebackers, but they came into this game ranked 28th, 32nd and 30th in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards to the left end, left tackle and mid-guard areas. They can be run around. They can be driven back.
David Garrard got things going a bit more in the second quarter as the Chargers adjusted to the run, but they were able to run out the clock at the end of the first half on the ground. And I hope nobody blames Antonio Cromartie for the second-quarter touchdown to Reggie Williams; Cromartie led him inside and Marlon McCree was about five days late with the safety help.
I haven't watched every Chargers game this season, but I've seen several short passes where the offense just seems out of sync, especially screens or swing passes. Either Philip Rivers is letting the ball go too quickly, or there's some miscommunication about the number of steps or yards the receiver is supposed to go. San Diego used to be a great screen team; certainly L.T. was one of the best at catching the ball out of the backfield. I don't know if Norv's offenses traditionally have issues with these plays, but L.T. finished sixth in DPAR among receiving running backs last year. This year, he's 20th. They can run the simple stuff, like inside slants and skinny posts, but on anything else, it seems harder that it should.
Third-quarter note to Jacksonville's defense: You cannot cover Antonio Gates with a linebacker. You will lose. On the other hand, San Diego has no answer for David Garrard on the third-quarter touchdown drive where he went four-for-four for 85 yards. Believe it or not, Jones-Drew knocked Shawne Merriman flat on the one-yard touchdown pass. Just demolished him on a play-action. He's Pocket Hercules, all right.
Jeez, Norv. You go for it on fourth-and-2 at the start of the fourth quarter, down two touchdowns, from the Jacksonville 37. OK, I'm with you so far. But you call a counter pitch far right to Tomlinson? On the play before, L.T. went up the middle and just avoided getting stuffed, as the Jags got great penetration up the middle, So, yeah, great, call something that takes even more time when you need short yardage. Jacksonville had about five defenders on him right away, and that actually might have been a halfback option, because L.T. stopped for a second as if to throw. What in the name of Rich Kotite were you thinking?
Aaron Schatz: That fourth-and-2 play was definitely meant to be a halfback option. What a weird play call. And L.T., the rule that a running back should never throw if the man isn't wide-open does not really count when it is fourth down. Don't run out of bounds without getting to the sticks. Throw the ball.
Speaking of fourth downs, let's give Mr. Del Rio credit for having the balls to run at the goal line on second-and-short, third-and-short, and fourth-and-short, rather than running some kind of fancy pass or weird counter-draw. Pound the rock. If you can't get one yard in three tries, you deserve to go without a score.
Mike Tanier: From what I saw of Rivers -- which was only the last few minutes -- his delivery is worse than usual (it was never exactly a clinic). He was shot-putting short passes, throwing with all arm and not a lot of legs or body. That will lead to all kinds of errant throws.
With all Norv's flaws, I thought quarterback and receiver mechanics were the things he was going to fix. Maybe he looked at Rivers' wacky delivery, said "this guy is no Troy Aikman or Trent Green," and didn't even try to make alterations. Or, he is trying to turn Rivers into Aikman instead of finding a way to deal with that elbows-and-knees style of his.
Aaron Schatz: The folks I was watching with, the feeling we got watching Rivers was that when he could set his feet and throw, he was getting the ball to the right place. That was primarily seam and in routes. But he can't throw on the run at all, and he seems to have serious problems throwing passes to the outside. Man, what happened to this guy?
Sean McCormick: Rivers seems to be very sensitive to the pass rush. He makes a lot of throws while falling backwards.
Doug Farrar: The final score shows a closer game than actually happened. San Diego's fourth-quarter touchdown was the result of Jacksonville playing a soft zone, and an inexplicable unnecessary roughness penalty by Larry Nemmers' crew on Reggie Nelson. Apparently, you can't lead with your shoulder on a receiver going over the middle anymore.
Vince Verhei: That David Garrard drive in the third quarter was a thing of beauty to behold: A quarterback standing tall in the pocket, making strong throws DOWNFIELD into very small windows in the coverage. If you'll forgive me a moment of play-by-play: 22 yards to Dennis Northcutt! Deep post to George Wrighster for 36! Deep post to Reggie Williams for 26! And at the goal line, a play fake and an easy lob to a wide-open Marcedes Lewis for the score. Just awesome. As long as he's healthy, I'm with Aaron, this team's going to beat Indianapolis and win the division.
Aaron Schatz: Earth to Priest Holmes: Stop trying to bust everything outside. You are not 27 anymore. Trying to bust a third-and-1 carry outside is a bad move. Trying to bust a draw play outside is a bad move. The whole point of a draw play is that you WANT the outside defenders to come into the backfield! When you try to bust that outside and run right into one of those defenders, it is not a surprise.
It seems that Brodie Croyle seems to throw a lot of balls just slightly too much out of bounds. And we can talk about all the injuries as an excuse, but Peyton Manning was just plain off today. He was completely missing guys and looked awful.
Michael David Smith: I love the loud cheer Colts fans gave Adam Vinatieri after he made a 27-yarder. They sounded like they were surprised he made it. No team has ever spent more for less on kickers than the Colts in the last few years.
Aaron Schatz: After Vinatieri missed those two field goals, all I could think about was just how nasty the third MDS "Seriously, do people understand that Vinatieri just isn't that good anymore?" Fanhouse post was going to be. It's us against the world, Mike. Us against the world.
Ned Macey: These past few Colts games are funny as a fan. It is like a flashback to pre-2003 Colts where Manning is mortal, and they only have one very good receiver. The book on Manning used to be pressure him. The Colts got so good at picking up pressure and finding hot reads that teams moved into passive defense. Down Marvin Harrison and a left tackle, suddenly pressure appears to be in vogue again.
The Chiefs blitzed Manning a lot and almost always from the offense's left side. Addai actually did a great job of picking up the blitz, taking Allen one-on-one on multiple occasions (when the tackle had shifted in for the blitzing linebacker). But if Addai is pass-blocking, he's not in routes. Clark had a pretty bad game, dropped a couple of balls. Wayne generally had two guys on him which left Moorehead/Thorpe in single coverage. That's not a winning combo. Also, Manning has no confidence in his protection, and he always gets rid of the ball so quickly, but these receivers aren't good enough to get open that quickly.
Croyle looked reasonably good for a rookie. I believe he attempted at least a half dozen quick hitches which had some success to Dwayne Bowe. Of course, as the color commentator (Steve Tasker?) pointed out, the Chiefs never ran a hitch-and-go, which they definitely had set up. Their one offensive touchdown was just a great throw and catch to Bowe picking on the Colts No. 5 cornerback, T.J. Rushing, who had good coverage.
The Colts defense covers well. They've got seven really fast people back there at all times. But on a late field goal drive, it became clear what will happen against better offenses without Dwight Freeney. Croyle was getting time in the pocket and found some holes in the zone. The pass rush was noticeably less consistent against a mediocre line. Simeon Rice never pressured the opposing quarterback, but did make a nice play to foul up a screen pass.
If you're looking for AFC linebackers for your Pro Bowl ballot, you could do a lot worse than Derrick Johnson. I'm charting a number of Chiefs games this year, and he's everywhere. He's a great blitzer, very good in run defense, and a pretty good cover linebacker. No basis for this statement, but I feel that outside linebackers in 4-3 defenses sometimes take a few years to emerge, but Johnson is definitely one of the better ones now.
Michael David Smith: Derrick Johnson is an incredibly talented linebacker, extremely fast. I sometimes look at him and think he relies too much on his speed, sometimes running around plays when he needs to run through them, but I have always liked him.
Aaron Schatz:Honestly, you could do a lot worse than Gary Brackett, too. He had another very impressive game today for the Colts.
Stuart Fraser: The best joke of the weekend was managed by the referee who called Michael Strahan for "unabated to the quarterback." The Lions didn't abate Strahan all game. Kitna seemed to be scrambling away from pressure as soon as he took the snap.
Calvin Johnson is going to be good. Right now he's mostly just showing flashes. The Lions' touchdown was one such moment. Johnson beat his man deep, then when Jon Kitna underthrew the ball, Calvin turned around and grabbed it from behind the defensive back. Reminded me of one of those ridiculous Brady-to-Moss bombs against Miami where the ball was thrown in the general direction of Randy and he somehow comes up with it.
Speaking of which, on the Lions' subsequent drive, Kitna was intercepted in the end zone having somewhat underthrown a deep ball to Shaun McDonald. Yes. You have Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson available, and you throw your would-be go ahead Hail Mary pass to Shaun freaking McDonald. The announcers blamed Kitna, I'm not sure if this is Kitna's fault or Martz's, but somebody is getting KCW-nominated over the play. (The Lions actually got the ball back after a three-and-out, and Kitna again went to McDonald -- who batted the ball up in the air for another interception).
Reuben Droughns is a lousy running back. I realize this isn't exactly the sort of cutting-edge analysis you can only get from Football Outsiders, but it was really noticeable that after Brandon Jacobs went out (hamstring, no idea about future games), suddenly the Giants running game wasn't a threat. I don't know if Droughns waits longer than Jacobs does for holes to develop, but I do know they weren't there for him.
Is it me, or is there nothing at all remarkable about the Giants' offense as it normally is? There just doesn't seem to be anything in particular to say about it. Oh, except that I'm sure somebody called a quarterback scramble for Eli. Or maybe it was a rollout. The play call certainly seemed to rely on Eli Manning's mobility, whatever it was.
Ben Riley: During a break, there was a commercial featuring Eli Manning, an "Echo Citizen" watch, and the tagline "Unstoppable!" Which prompted my girlfriend to say "Uh, stoppable."
Bill Moore: Derek Anderson is really making things difficult for Phil Savage. Although his stats today were good, not great, he orchestrated both the game-tying drive with a great under-pressure throw to Braylon Edwards and then made a great throw on the game-winning drive to Kellen Winslow. All this against arch-enemy Baltimore.
However, Cleveland signed Brady Quinn, their first-round pick (albeit their second first-round pick), for 5 years and $20 million. Clearly, Quinn is supposed to be the Cleveland quarterback of the future. David Lewin's system loves him, but there's a decent chance he won't play at all this year. Anderson is a restricted Free Agent following this season. I expect Cleveland will make a top tender offer, but I can't imagine they can afford top dollar. Does anyone give up a first-rounder for him?
Doug Farrar: Depends on how Cleveland tags him. As much as Anderson's proven, and as dismal as the quarterback situation is for so many NFL teams, I'd think there will be more than one team with interest.
Sean McCormick: No one is giving up two No. 1s for Anderson, and it's unlikely that any team with a top ten pick will be willing to give it up for him. So you're looking at a midlevel or upper-level team with a dubious quarterback situation and no recent draft pick on the bench. There aren't that many teams that qualify.
Mike Tanier: Anderson could get interest the way Matt Schaub generated interest: second-round pick territory. Or the Browns could keep Anderson around the way the Bengals kept Jon Kitna for an extra year when Carson Palmer was coming up.
Vince Verhei: This is a league with one team that has to play Vinny Testaverde, Matt Moore or David Carr, and another team that has to choose between Byron Leftwich and Joey Harrington. There are plenty of teams desperate to acquire a good quarterback. I think the state of Minnesota would be happy if the Vikings pulled a Ricky-Williams style trade for Anderson.
Ben Riley: I'm not sure that Derek Anderson isn't worth two first-rounders. If Tim Ruskell can spend a first round pick to get Deion Branch, it's not hard to imagine someone paying the steep price to get Anderson, who should go to the Pro Bowl this year.
Mike Tanier: Any general manager who gives up two number one picks for Anderson should be fired immediately. He would make Matt Millen look like Einstein.
Ned Macey: I hate to be Mr. Negativity, but Derek Anderson was below replacement level last season and 41st out of 45 eligible quarterbacks. The only worse quarterbacks played for Oakland or Tampa Bay. This year, he is completing only around 57 percent of his passes. Braylon Edwards has 10 touchdowns and is averaging 17.5 yards per completion. If I could have a healthy Edwards and Anderson, I'd gladly give up a first-rounder.
Also, Anderson is just killing bad pass defenses but has been pretty rotten against good ones. Anderson has played five top-10 DVOA pass defenses this season: Pittsburgh twice, New England, Seattle, and Oakland. In those five games, he has thrown seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, and only completed more than 51.2 percent of his passes against Seattle. In other games, he has thrown 13 touchdowns and three interceptions, only below 60 once -- when he completed 55.6 percent against Baltimore and averaged more than 20 yards per completion. I suspect there are more than 20 quarterbacks in this league who could kill weak defenses with weapons such as Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow.
Stuart Fraser: In terms of supporting cast, Anderson has Edwards, Winslow, and a Cleveland offensive line that's fifth in pass protection and eighth in run blocking (a combined rank beaten only by the Colts and Patriots). He has a solid possession reciever in Jurevicius. Realistically, if he's an average to above-average quarterback, he should be lighting things up - how many other teams have Cleveland's mix of offensive talent?
It feels really weird to have typed that. But seriously, New England, Dallas, Indianapolis (when they aren't all injured), then who? Arizona, maybe, except that everyone is underperforming. Pittsburgh and Cincy have good skill position players but porous lines.
Bill Moore: I'm not suggesting that Anderson is a great quarterback, but rather that his good play this year has put the organization in a a tough spot financially. Clearly he's not worth two number ones, but Cleveland needs to submit a tender to him worthy of two number ones. (anyone know the tender levels and their respective compensation?) Savage has to find a delicate balance of making Anderson an offer that sets the bar too high for someone else to take him, while managing the cap impact of paying what may well be your backup quarterback.
Sean McCormick: This is a deep quarterback class; Andre Woodson, Brian Brohm, Matt Ryan and Colt Brennan all figure to be first-rounders. I think most teams would rather take a crack at one of those guys than spend two first-rounders to get Anderson, who, as it was noted, is completing less than 60 percent of his passes with a terrific supporting cast of receivers. There will also be options like Chad Pennington or perhaps McNabb, who will be available as short-term veterans to mentor a younger player and who will be much cheaper to acquire. And there is the very legitimate possibility that Brady Quinn beats out Anderson in camp.
Ben Riley: Who in the world is Devard Darling? Seriously, I thought I knew every skill position player in the NFL, and this guy caught me totally unaware.
Aaron Schatz: Devard Darling is the player about whom we joked in last year's book, "The back of his jersey reads, 'RAW BUT GREAT UPSIDE.'" He was a third-round pick in 2004, and he had as many receptions today as he had in his first three-and-a-half seasons.
Sean McCormick: Wow, we're about to get a replay on a field goal. I don't think I've ever seen that before. I thought Phil Dawson's kick hit the back section of the post, which means it should be good.
Bill Moore: Crazy non-ending here. Dawson kicks a 51-yard tying field goal; it hits the left post, bounces through, hits the back of the goalpost, and bounces OUT! The refs in the end zone rule it no good. The announcers say that their NFL official claims it's not reviewable, but then the ref on the field says, "We will review it." He comes out of review, and says "After discussion on the field ... the field goal is good." I presume you can't review whether a field goal is good or not. This was more a question of what is the actual ruling based on what occurred.
Russell Levine: That one falls under the rare category of "things I have never seen occur in a football game before." Unbelievable. I don't know if Pete Morelli actually went under the hood, but at least they got the call right. Should be fun to see Mike Pereira explain that one on NFL Network this week.
Doug Farrar: Pereira's going to be a busy man this Wednesday.
Mike Tanier: The CBS guys talked a lot about that. Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason were confused by the call. It sounds like the ref said, "Screw the rulebook, I want to make the right call." And good for him. Let's officiate the GAME, not the RULEBOOK.
Russell Levine: Do we know for a fact a field goal is not reviewable? The TV announcers clearly thought so, but that doesn't make it so. The more I think about it, I believe I have seen a made field goal challenged before -- you know, one of those ones that went right over the post.
Bill Moore: I don't know the answer to your actual question, but just for clarification, it wasn't the announcers' opinion, but rather their network's league official liaison who said it wasn't reviewable.
Michael David Smith: Field goals are not reviewable, that is definitely in the rule book. Morelli claims he didn't actually review it, just "discussed" it.
Russell Levine: Weird, weird sequence in this game. First Tampa Bay appears to have recovered a Warrick Dunn catch-and-fumble. Atlanta challenges, and the call is overturned as Dunn's second foot had not hit the ground before fumbling. Close call, but looked correct. (The Bucs earlier lost the same challenge on a Michael Pittman drop/catch-and-fumble play).
On the next snap, Atlanta completes another pass, runner is hit, fumbles, Brian Kelly picks it up for the Bucs. As he's being tackled, he pitches it to Cato June. As June is being tackled, he hits the ground and the ball comes out. Atlanta recovers in the scrum. Now, Jon Gruden throws the challenge flag. And here's where it gets weird. Once the ref goes under the hood, isn't he supposed to be able to review every reviewable aspect of the play?
Ben Riley: Actually, it's not clear that he can. I blogged about this earlier this year after a weird Vernon Davis play, and according to what the NFL told me, the referee is supposed to just look at the specific aspect of the play that the coach is challenging. But I'm not sure all the officials know this is the rule.
Russell Levine: On replay, it is quickly evident that there are three dicey aspects of this call. One, the receiver may or may not have had possession. Two, Kelly may or may not have been down when he pitched the ball. Three, June may or may not have been down by contact when he fumbled. Part one looked too close to overturn. Part two was also too close to call, but part three was obvious. Roddy White tripped June with his foot, June hit the turf and the turf caused the fumble. Now, if he's not down by contact, that's a live ball. But since he was tripped, it's not a fumble. Yet, after a quick review, Walt Coleman rules that "No. 25 was not down by contact before he pitched the ball." The announcement made it sound like he wasn't even looking at the most important part of the play. And to raise a point I know Michael David Smith loves, why, if they're reviewing everything, can't Coleman call the tripping penalty on White?
A titanically stupid play by Kelly, but still, an awful misuse of replay. The Falcons, given this immense break, promptly punted back to Tampa Bay four plays later. Oh, and on an entirely separate note, can't somebody teach Byron Leftwich to pitch from the stretch? He has the slowest release in the history of football. The crowd actually cheered when they showed Joey Harrington looking for his helmet on the sidelines, but alas, he wasn't coming in.
Michael David Smith: The crowd in Atlanta is obviously a lot smarter than the crowds in Detroit, then.
(After throwing an interception to defensive tackle Chris Hovan halfway through the third quarter, Leftwich is indeed pulled in favor of Harrington.)
Sean McCormick: I see that the Byron Leftwich experiment has come to a speedy conclusion.
Mike Tanier: Russ, Byron Leftwich's numbers look pretty awful. Was it as bad as it looked?
Russell Levine: It was, but he didn't have much help. The pass rush got to him, the receivers dropped passes, and they fell behind so had to abandon the run. His greatest sin was standing in the pocket forever, combined with that incredibly slow windup.
Aaron Schatz: I don't think Leftwich's performance was all his fault. It seemed like every time I looked at that game, Leftwich was throwing a perfectly fine pass which was either dropped by a receiver or caught and then fumbled away by a receiver. On the other hand, he had another couple sack-and-fumbles which definitely seemed related to his loooooonnnnnngggggg windup.
Vince Verhei: I was in a sports bar watching this game on one television, and the Jacksonville game on the television right next to it. This meant I got to watch Byron Leftwich and David Garrard at the same time. OK, it's time to admit this: Jacksonville chose the right quarterback. Now, this was a team loss in every sense of the word, and it was not Byron's fault. But he looked confused and flustered the entire game, he often hung on to the ball WAY too long, and the one attribute I liked about him -- an ability and willingness to throw passes that traveled more than 10 yards in the air -- disappeared. As noted, Harrington got a standing ovation when he entered the game. He promptly went three-and-out.
Let's take a moment to examine the Falcons' quarterback rotation:
Yes, they have made a change at quarterback seven times in 10 games.
Jerious Norwood only got two carries in this game. I am convinced that Bobby Petrino was concerned that the Falcons' two-game winning streak was ruining their draft position in 2008, and he had to try and climb back up the board.
Sean McCormick: The change in the quality of the Jets defense since David Harris took over for Jonathan Vilma is palpable. He is able to hold his ground against a guard in the run game, which provides much less room for runners to bounce outside. He's been a force on the pass rush as well -- he sacked Ben Roethlisberger to end Pittsburgh's first series, and he nearly had a second sack on the following series. Ben got free, but the play had broken down and he ended up chucking the ball downfield for an incompletion.
Speaking of guys who have gotten better, Thomas Jones seems to have found a style that suits the Jets' offensive line. For the past few games, he's aggressively come up to the line, paused and then made a single cut. He's finding a lot of open space with those cutbacks and breaking off runs of eight to 12 yards, which is something he was completely unable to do early on in the season.
Pittsburgh did something nice formation-wise. They wanted to run a deep play-action play (which they've been doing a lot of on early downs), so they brought in tackle Max Starks as an extra tight end. Not only did it help sell the run, but Starks stonewalled his man, allowing Roethlisberger to throw about 60 yards downfield on the money (where the play was well defensed).
Stuart Fraser: The Steelers are using Starks as their third tight end because they only have two tight ends -- Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth -- on the active roster, Jerame Tuman having been put on injured reserve.
Sean McCormick: Strange offensive game plan for the Steelers so far. They seem to have assumed that they could run at will and that the Jets would be so concerned about the run that they could go play action over and over with ease. The problem is that the Jets have stoned the run so far, and they're not having any problems generating pressure while maintaining coverage against two-wide receiver sets. Pittsburgh's only big offensive plays have come either from Roethlisberger making something out of absolutely nothing or when they have gone shotgun and spread the field. The Jets defend against the deep pass very well, but they've been killed all year by long drives sustained by short, efficient passes. I would expect Pittsburgh to come out in a lot more spread formations and try to let Roethlisberger make some rhythm throws.
Pittsburgh is pooching all their kickoffs to avoid Leon Washington. It's certainly worked better for them than kicking to Joshua Cribbs.
Ryan Wilson: As my buddy just said to me: "That's embarrassing." It's like running a gimmick defense in basketball, basically admitting: "Yeah, we suck, but this is our best chance." I was actually thinking the Steelers should give serious consideration to drafting a kickoff specialist. Sure, it's a waste of a roster spot, but it's pretty clear they have no idea what special teams coverage is all about.
(And in ooooooooovertimeâ€¦)
Sean McCormick: You can't hide from Leon Washington forever.
Stuart Fraser: So being stuck without my Sunday Ticket feed, I obviously didn't see the game, but this seems to be something of a pattern for Pittsburgh. All three losses this year have come against road teams to which they are (on paper and in terms of Week 10 DVOA) clearly superior in every phase not called Special Teams. In particular the Steelers have totally failed to manifest a ground game against the horrible run defenses of the Broncos and Jets. I'm guessing we'll get an Any Given Sunday on this, which I'm looking forward to.
I was willing to write off the Arizona game as a result of fluke circumstances. After the Denver game, things were a bit more worrying, and three times isn't a coincidence. It's hard to point to a specific weakness in personnel -- I mean, there's the offensive line, but the offensive line is lousy every week and they're comfortably above average in both facets of offensive production on the full season. Which obviously leaves coaching.
Mike Shanahan is a veteran and one of the best coaches in the league. Ken Whisenhunt obviously had a superb knowledge of the Pittsburgh offense since he ran it until last year. Mangini has at least a very good reputation as a game-planner. I'm not going to say Mike Tomlin is bad at planning and making adjustments for opponents, but I'm beginning to think that way. Overall I think he's a good coach and will probably have a long and successful career in Pittsburgh, and he doesn't do any of the really obviously clueless things that cause various people here to tear their hair out (I have no comment to make on the allegations that I am looking at Seahawks fans Doug and Ben at the moment). However, if you keep losing to teams you're obviously better than in fairly similar ways...
Doug Farrar: The Seahawks would have appreciated it if the Bears had brought the Cedric Benson who has been sucking just about every week, as opposed to the guy who gashed their defensive line in the first quarter. And I don't know why teams don't run misdirection plays on Seattle all the time. If you have a counter, or a reverse, or anything where you're zigging and then you zag, you'll have an open area as 11 defenders bite on the fake and go the other way. The Bears had scored 10 points total in every first quarter of the season, and they put up 10 in this first quarter. Benson had been averaging 60 yards per game, and he put up 66 in this first quarter.
I have to say, though, this pass-all-the-time thing is working for Seattle's offense. Matt Hasselbeck is efficient enough to make it work as he zings short passes all over the place, and with Deion Branch back in the lineup, he's got all his weapons. Wonderful work by 543-year-old right guard Chris Gray on Tommie Harris on the touchdown pass to D.J. Hackett. Blocked him right out of the play. Hasselbeck seems to be far more comfortable with this system, and with running back Maurice Morris in it. For those who haven't seen Morris, think "Brian Westbrook Lite," though he actually bears a striking physical resemblance to the guy who played Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
I don't want to try and read anyone's thoughts, or try to put words in anyone's mouth, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's a slight sense of relief in Shaun Alexander's inability to play due to injury. He's not anywhere near the player he used to be, he doesn't fit this new offensive game plan as well as Morris does, and Seattle would have a lot of 'splaining to do if he were healthy and on the bench. This is what happens when you have a superstar on a very steep decline.
Ben Riley: Let me be more blunt: The Seahawks offense is vastly improved with Shaun Alexander on the bench. Maurice Morris is more Brian Westbrook near beer, but it's amazing how much easier it is to convert third-and-5s instead of third-and-11s. Also, fullback Leonard Weaver can actually catch passes in the flat, which is something Shaun forgot how to do three years ago. Oh, and D.J. Hackett is what KUBIAK thought he was: really good.
Doug Farrar: Just to recap: I've seen Maurice Jones-Drew knock Shawne Merriman right on his ass and Josh Brown tackle Devin Hester on a kickoff return. Definitely an interesting Sunday.
Vince Verhei: I think Brown tackling Hester and performing a "Holy crap! I just tackled Devin Hester!" celebration was my favorite non-Kevin Everett moment of the weekend.
Doug Farrar: For a brief moment, he was Spartacus.
After the early debacles with Benson, Seattle's defense impressed me. I think the secondary is one piece away from real greatness. Second-year cornerback Kelly Jennings has really come along, Marcus Trufant is having a Pro Bowl season, and strong safety Deon Grant is the proverbial wily veteran this backfield has needed for a while. Not as impressed with Brian Russell (I tend to shy away from safeties who can't tackle), but it's looking pretty good back there. And it was nice of Patrick Kerney to finally show up. Tackle Fred Miller is going to have Kerney tattooed on him all week.
Ben Riley: I'm convinced that Rex Grossman's DVOA against the Seahawks must be two standard deviations above his mean DVOA performance. Consequently, I think I am the only person in the world who actually fears a Rex-Grossman led team. He played well today, and made a couple of deep passes and critical moments that kept his team in the game.
Vince Verhei: I've been saying for weeks that Seattle should go all short pass, all the time, and I still feel that way, but I did notice one flaw in that strategy today: It leads to a LOT of third downs. Fortunately, the game plan used a lot of play action and bootlegs to get guys open on third downs, Hasselbeck made good throws on third downs, and the receivers made catches on third downs. But when it basically takes two completions to pick up a first down, it forces the offense to execute over and over and over...
But as long as they do execute, it's going to be tough to beat. The Seahawks' radio guys were talking after the game about how teams had to be afraid to blitz Seattle, because Hasselbeck will read the defense, find the open receiver and make an accurate throw. Meanwhile, you can't just rush four and sit back in a soft zone, because the receivers know how to find the seams, and Hasselbeck has the arm strength to pick zones apart. Teams that can get pressure with four rushers will give them a hard time, but everyone else will be in trouble.
Stuart Fraser: The problem with this is that Pittsburgh did just rush four (or even three) and sit back in a soft zone, and they shut the Seahawks out.
Ned Macey: Just to avoid potential accusations of anti-homerism from our various Seahawks fans, I'll point out that a) they were down D.J. Hackett that game (Branch got hurt as well); b) they were still in their Shaun Alexander offense at the time; and c) Pittsburgh can get pressure with four rushers. The Seahawks' ability to go with four good to very good wideouts is what makes that offensive scheme dangerous.
Doug Farrar: The Steelers game was a big reason they shelved the 50/50 run-pass ratio in the first place. And even with the new scheme, I could see them having a problem with a team like Pittsburgh with fast outside linebackers because they now throw those quick outs all the time. But who do they have left on their schedule? The Rams, Eagles, Cards, Panthers, Ravens and Falcons. The Ravens could make it interesting (short passes won't reveal the secondary liabilities as much), but I like their chances elsewhere. It's a good system for the rest of their season, however long it lasts.
Stuart Fraser: Andre Gurode cannot execute a shotgun snap. Two snaps have flown over Tony Romo's head, others have forced him to make adjustments, one came while Romo was audibling (Romo is just so clutch that the ball bounced off his helmet straight to Jones -- strangest handoff I've ever seen). Isn't a basic skill for an NFL starting center the ability to snap the ball from any offensive formation? Romo seems surprised now to get a shotgun snap to his hands.
Aaron Schatz: Shawn Springs has been one of the biggest differences between a good Washington defense and a bad Washington defense over the last couple of years, but man, he is just getting killed out there today. When T.O. isn't getting open against him, Patrick Crayton is.
Stuart Fraser: Speaking of T.O., his third touchdown was just embarrassing. It's hard to be sure, but it looked like the Redskins were in a fairly normal two-deep zone, which means the primary job for the safeties is to keep the play in front of them. Naturally, Owens streaks between both of them as they kind of look at each other and say "he was so your assignment." I'm just guessing that if Sean Taylor was in, that probably wouldn't have happened.
Mike Tanier: Last year, teams used a lot of straight coverage schemes, like basic Cover-2, against the Cowboys, even when they had both T.O. and Terry Glenn. I know the Eagles did very little in terms of "special" coverage against those guys, and the Seahawks (with that off-the-street secondary they used in the playoffs) played a lot of 2-Man-Under and Cover-2. Things were different last year. Bledsoe was out there in the first half of the season waiting for guys to get open by 30 yards, and Romo hit that late-season wall where he was trying to force everything and fumbling a lot.
Times have changed. You can't just go vanilla and wait for Romo to screw up. You can't expect T.O. to drop every third pass. Someone has to rewrite the book on beating the Cowboys, and it has to start with having a special cornerback available to cover T.O. Who has that special cornerback? The Patriots have Asante Samuel. Al Harris isn't that guy anymore in Green Bay. Who has that guy in the NFC? Is it Ronde Barber coming underneath with a safety deep, jumping the route? We are sure now that it is not Lito Sheppard or Shawn Springs.
Aaron Schatz: Al Harris could be that guy, I suppose, if he had safety help deep. The Packers generally only play with one deep safety, though, and depend on Charles Woodson and Harris to play man. They probably play more man coverage than any defense in the league, but that might be the best strategy against these Cowboys, especially if you double T.O. For crying out loud, people, don't let T.O. beat you. At least force Sam Hurd to beat you.
Stuart Fraser: So, you're down 23-28, 3:45 to go, facing a Dallas offense that you have not had much success stopping all day. Joe Gibbs kicked deep. Wade Phillips would, apparently, have kicked onside -- he had the hands team out.
I'm with Phillips. Washington's defense stepped up and got a three-and-out, but was it really the right call?
Aaron Schatz: The Lewin Career Forecast loved Jason Campbell because of his accuracy, but man, he was constantly throwing it behind guys today, ahead of them, one foot too high, whatever. That last drive, he had Santana Moss open in the end zone and overthrew him. Then he had wide-open space in front of him on third-and-10 -- dude, SCRAMBLE and set up the fourth-and-short -- and instead he throws slightly behind Antwaan Randle El instead of slightly in front of Antwaan Randle El. Terrence Newman, of course, was also slightly behind Randle El.
Aaron Schatz: What the hell is Mike Nolan doing with two minutes left, kicking a field goal on fourth-and-10 from the 28? You have to get the touchdown anyway!!!! You really think your horrible offense, which barely managed to score field goals against one of the worst defenses in the league, is going to get a shot at this again?
(Strangely enough, they actually DID get a shot again, and Trent Dilfer threw a pick.)
Doug Farrar: After the game, Nolan said that he was concerned that the Rams would bring the house on fourth-and-10, and he didn't like his offense's chances in that case. He was looking at the team's success rate on onside kicks as well (I don't have the number, but it must be pretty good), and he had all three timeouts. I don't know that it was so crazy except for the fact that his receivers couldn't catch a ball all day, and his running back was going nowhere.
Ned Macey: Poor Frank Gore is starting to dance in the backfield because the holes aren't there, and the 49ers are desperate for a big play. Obviously, it is not working. The 49ers are trying everything to get him the ball "in space" which works as well as that plan ever does. The 49ers have not scored an offensive touchdown in over two games which is just embarrassing. As for the fourth-and-10 call, I was against it when Nolan made it, but maybe he was right. First, as mentioned, they ended up back inside the 20 with a chance to win. More importantly, what are the odds Trent Dilfer could have completed a fourth-and-10? I don't think it was a bad call. All in all, the lesson of this game is that the franchise is a disaster.
Doug Farrar: Oh, goodness. They just had a pre-game video message from Kevin Everett at Ralph Wilson Stadium. I don't care who you're rooting for, that's just completely freakin' awesome.
Aaron Schatz: There's really nothing to say about this Pats-Bills game, is there? We all expected the Pats to destroy the Bills, and they are. I guess the only thing I might say is that John DiGiorgio seems to be doing some things and when Paul Posluszny comes back next year, the Bills should find room to use both of them.
Ned Macey: Do we really think NBC is making wise decisions by taking all these Patriots games? I love the Eagles, but considering their weakness is pass defense, won't next week's game be just as ugly? Imagine if it features a hobbled McNabb or Feeley or Kolb? I feel like they're hoping they get the 1985 Monday Night Football game between Chicago and Miami, but more likely they're getting two blowouts. The wins to go to 10-0 and 11-0 aren't that interesting. I could see if they took the Week 16 game to see if they go to 15-0 if the Pats make it that far.
Doug Farrar: All I know is that the Seattle-Chicago game they "flexed" was one hell of a lot more competitive than this one.
Aaron Schatz: In NBC's defense, FOX protected the Redskins-Cowboys game, and next week's Eagles-Patriots game is the originally planned Sunday night game, not a "flex" game.
Russell Levine: This is like watching Florida play Furman. The 2007 New England Patriots: Turning the rest of the NFL into Division I-AA.
Ned Macey: To make matters worse, the three presumptive "challengers" to New England all struggled today. Eking out a 13-10 win over Kansas City? Losing to the Jets? Winning by five against Washington? What's the biggest gap ever between No. 1 and No. 2 in DVOA? The Patriots have to be getting there awfully soon.
Doug Farrar: I was trying to think of something -- anything -- to write about this team at this point. One thing that occurred to me is how truly amazing New England's offensive line is. Over and over, I'm watching Brady drop back, scan left, scan right, scan left again, order a pizza, do his taxes, etc. The last quarterback I've seen with this much time consistently through a season was Ken Stabler of the 1970s Oakland Raiders. He could do a read on every eligible receiver and then scan the stands for the lady he'd be taking to dinner that evening. Back then, Oakland probably had the best offensive line in NFL history -- four Hall-of-Famers in the starting five from 1972 to 1974. As great as Brady is, I think we may be looking at a line of similar quality.
Mike Tanier: We are also looking at a lot of opponents terrified to blitz.
230 comments, Last at 21 Nov 2007, 8:21pm by Mike D