Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
26 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.
Green Bay Packers 37 at Detroit Lions 26
Sean McCormick: I haven't seen a ton of Calvin Johnson, but he reminds me of a young Terrell Owens more than a young Randy Moss. He doesn't seem to be the explosive deep threat Moss was, and he's willing to let the ball get into his body rather than snatching it.
Ben Riley: I agree, Sean. And, like Terrell Owens, it appears Calvin Johnson doesn't have the best hands. While on the subject of Lions wide receivers, can I just say that Shaun McDonald is quietly having a very good season, and is deserving of his own Transformers-based nickname. Shockwave, maybe.
Michael David Smith: This is by far Calvin Johnson's worst game. Trust me, he usually makes the play whenever the ball gets close to him. Today he looks like a totally different player than he's looked the rest of the season. Very disappointing because today is the day they're really trying to feature him.
Sean McCormick: I also remember Mike Mayock of the NFL Network talking about how good Johnson's hands were and pulling out a bunch of clips of Johnson going out and getting the ball at its highest point. But it's just not happening today.
Ben Riley: Aaron Kampman already has two sacks, and he's going to have more by the time the game is over. I didn't realize how strong Kampman is -- thought he was sort of a Patrick Kerney-like edge rusher -- but he's absolutely dominating the Lions' backup right guard right now.
Doug Farrar: FOX showed Detroit center Dominic Raiola jawing with Nick Barnett before the game. Too bad Raiola was still in a combative mood when he tried that first-quarter chop block, the penalty for which moved the Lions out of a sure touchdown from the one-centimeter line. Of course, Jon Kitna got sacked on the next play.
A few weeks ago, Sean McCormick wrote in Audibles that "there is no Brian Griese or Rex Grossman, there is only 'Chicago Quarterback.'" In that spirit, I'd like to report that there is no Jonathan Scott or Blaine Saipaia, there is only "Detroit offensive lineman who is about to be victimized by Aaron Kampman."
Vince Verhei: An unheralded reason the Packers are one of the top teams in football: Great downfield blocking by their receivers. On all those quick slants that turned into big plays, and on all of Ryan Grant's big runs, there were two or three Packers downfield knocking guys out of the way.
Ben Riley: I'm trying to imagine the marketing discussion for today's halftime show. "OK, everyone, we've got Detroit playing Green Bay, two teams whose fans epitomize the working-class tradition that makes the NFL on Thanksgiving one of our country's special and unique traditions. So, I'm thinking we have the Goo Goo Dolls sing a couple of instantly forgettable ballads while little kids prance around in blue tutus. Sound good?"
Sean McCormick: Dallas is basically overwhelming the two guards, which is killing the running game and the passing game. Whereas last week everything was along the sidelines, today Clemens' preference is to throw over the middle while falling backwards, invariably in the direction of Chris Baker. Baker has made a few terrific catches and been unable to reel in the other erratic throws. Clemens is at least reading the field well -- he tried to take advantage of single coverage on the sidelines when Dallas was stacking the box. But on the whole, not much is going on.
The defense, on the other hand, is playing lights-out after the first drive. They're getting good pressure with delayed blitzes, and they're playing the run well. On the second touchdown, they got caught with Dallas running both tight ends up the seam when they were blitzing the safety, so there was only one guy to shade on both tight ends. It happens.
Aaron Schatz: I couldn't believe how badly Matt Chatham got lost trying to cover Jason Witten when Witten caught his touchdown. Chatham was close, turned around to find the ball, and completely slowed down, turning back to defend. He was so slow that by that point Witten was already in the end zone. This is the guy who started the Mangini-Belichick war? (The story is that when still technically under contract with the Pats, Mangini told Chatham not to re-sign because he would give Chatham more money to become a starter with the Jets.)
Sean McCormick: I don't think it's a coincidence that the Jets ended up down big pretty early in two of Clemens' four starts. When you take a quarterback who completes 70 percent of his passes and replace him with a quarterback who completes 50 percent of his passes, you're going to end up with a lot more three-and-outs, you're going to put your defense in worse field position and ultimately you're going to get blown out instead of hanging around in games. It makes sense for the Jets to play Clemens at this point, but it's a decision that is going to have an impact on how the games unfold.
And now we know that it's not just a weak arm that causes pick-sixes on the quick outs -- it's the inability of the receivers to threaten defenses down the field.
Michael David Smith: If the Anthony Gonzalez we're seeing tonight is the Anthony Gonzalez we'll see through December and January, I think the Colts are going to be in very good shape.
Aaron Schatz: Gonzalez is a good receiver, but I think this is more a function of the Falcons' coverage problems. The Falcons were 30th in DVOA against number-two receivers going into this game. While DeAngelo Hall is overrated in coverage, it's pretty clear that he's by far the Falcons best cornerback and offenses are avoiding him. The Colts are no different, and Wayne is having a somewhat quiet night while Gonzalez catches bombs against Lewis Sanders and Chris Houston. The ESPN Numbers Crunching piece also pointed out Atlanta's troubles against tight ends... and wouldn't you know it, Clark and Utecht each have a touchdown catch.
Vince Verhei: I thought, all in all, Houston played OK. Yes, he got beat for the long touchdown, but he also broke up several passes. I thought his pass interference call was totally bogus. Really, that's about the best you can expect from a second-round rookie going against Reggie Wayne and Peyton Manning.
At least the Falcons haven't lost their sense of humor. I mean, Keith Brooking's open-field whiff on CFL runner Kenton Keith, that was supposed to be a joke, right?
Cheering for Joey Harrington is just so sad. He seems to be a good person, the kind of guy you want to see do well, and he has shown flashes of talent for, well, half a decade now. And then he hits the big-play touchdown to Roddy White, and I swore I heard chants of "Joey! Joey!" in the Georgia Dome. Then you see him overthrow receivers in the end zone, or throw the ball as hard as he can at his receivers' feet, or lob passes into the bellies of defenders, and you know that unfair as it is, he'll never get any better.
I also like that Cris Collinsworth said, concerning the Falcons' woes, that no team could lose three starting linemen and function. Meanwhile, here's Peyton Manning down two starting linemen, three if you count Tarik Glenn, and he's still ripping the Falcons to shreds.
Michael David Smith: The fans weren't chanting "Joey! Joey!" because they think he's better than Peyton Manning. They were chanting it because they think, correctly, he's better than Byron Leftwich, and it frustrates them that their head coach is too stupid to see that. When the fans are getting behind the guy with a 13.0% DVOA instead of the guy with a -69.8% DVOA, that's a sign that the Georgia Dome has smart fans.
Oakland Raiders 20 at Kansas City Chiefs 17
Bill Barnwell: Daunte Culpepper doesn't look great in his delivery, but he's getting the ball into spots where his receivers need to be making plays, and they're not. Ronald Curry had a big third-down drop, and Jerry Porter had one that was ruled catch-drop-catch, challenged by Herm, drop. Zach Miller also fumbled on an outlet pass. Culpepper's started nine-for-12 in this game, and it's all underneath stuff, but that's still reasonably impressive against K.C.'s defense.
Of course, later in the game, Porter made an absurd one-handed catch on the sideline, but that would go against my point, now, wouldn't it?
Did Culpepper have small hands coming out of college? He just looks totally uncomfortable when he throws the ball, like it's difficult for him to throw the ball. He doesn't really step into his throws, which doesn't help, but he also seemingly struggles to get a good grip on the ball (on a gorgeous day), shuffling it around in his hands.
I can't wait for the "Kolby Smith, Future Star" articles tomorrow. You would think someone in the media would put it together and notice that guys have big games against the Raiders defense. Smith looks solid, decisive in his cuts, but this is the Raiders, who turn two-yard gains into six. Smith also dropped two consecutive screens.
Why I'm not on the "Herman Edwards is underrated" bandwagon -- third-and-5, 4:34 left, 20-17 game, you're at midfield against the worst rush defense in recorded memory. You go five-wide and throw? Really? And then you only get four and have to run on fourth-and-1, which is an OBVIOUS run situation, and you get stuffed? No thanks.
Stuart Fraser: Herm Edwards is underrated. The point is that his teams keep winning games and edging into the playoffs despite the fact that he makes stupid gameday decisions like that one. Conclusion: Edwards is very good at the bits of coaching we don't see -- motivation, education, etc.
Bill Barnwell: Oh, I understand -- but what I'm saying is that he's SO bad at the stupid gameday decisions (an easily correctable flaw) that even though he's underrated as the unseen aspects of coaching, he's so awful at the obvious parts that his value is actually perceived pretty accurately.
Mike Tanier: So why did Herm go for it, down by three, about 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter? Was the kicker hurt or something?
Stuart Fraser: I guess it depends how you think Herm is rated. I generally think he is pretty much what his record says -- 52-55, three playoff appearances in seven seasons (the Chiefs are not going to the playoffs this year). He's an average head coach -- which, like an average starting quarterback, isn't a bad thing to have -- and I think the public perception of his is as a clown who doesn't really know what he's doing but somehow lucks into a few wins every year.
Ben Riley: I've spent many a Wednesday evening curled up with the electronic version of the Kansas City Star, combing through articles for Herm quotes, and I've learned a couple of semi-surprising things about the This Week In Quotes workhorse in the process. One, he's remarkably even-keeled, given his bombastic reputation: He expects young players to make mistakes, and he doesn't panic when they do. He's also not afraid to answer tough questions from journalists, and answer them honestly -- e.g., his quotes this week regarding the need to have a conservative offensive game plan because the Chiefs aren't the Patriots.
None of this excuses the fact that he makes horrible strategic decisions during games, or that he likes to plow his backs into the ground, through the earth's crust, until they hit the upper mantle.
Stuart Fraser: When I think about it, I'm beginning to think the decision to kill Larry Johnson last year wasn't as horrible as we made it out to be at the time. Johnson was going to struggle this year anyway, as the O-line that Dick Vermeil built finally gave out. By the time that Edwards or his successors can rebuild it Johnson may well have recovered somewhat, just as Edgerrin James and Jerome Bettis did.
Of course, there is the issue to consider that no free agent running back is likely to want to play for Herm Edwards ever again. Or there might be. Running backs seem to like being given the ball -- whenever you ask a player about 370 they never seem worried about the risks of overwork.
(Willie Parker watch: 233 carries, on course for 372.8. Hmm. Parker plays for Tomlin, Johnson for Edwards. Those are both Dungyspawn coaches. Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli don't seem to be terribly prone to running back overuse. Then again, Marinelli's offense is run by Martz, who never seems to be entirely sure what the halfback is there for.)
Mike Tanier: Herm is an even-keeled guy, and he's a player's coach who inspires a lot of loyalty. He also trusts his players to a fault, so if L.J. said "I want the ball 45 times per game," Herm didn't feel the need to question the wisdom of it.
Herm also has a rep in the industry of going soft on his players when they have some success, giving them too much time off or letting them have scaled-down practices. Those tales whispered up the lane aren't worth much (when a team wins, the coach made a shrewd move to keep the guys fresh; when they lose, he went soft) but they are part of the knock on Herm.
Bill Barnwell: I think the outside forces are totally irrelevant. There was no reason to overwork Johnson. The difference between 50 carries from him and 50 carries of Michael Bennett is not costing them a game. What makes it horrible is the fact that it was totally unnecessary and flew in the face of what should have been obvious.
Stuart Fraser: The Chiefs won five games last year by a touchdown or less, and had three losses by a field goal (and of course they made the playoffs by a single game). Now, there's absolutely no reason Johnson needed to be in the game against the 49ers whilst up 28-0 in Week 4, but Kansas City were in an awful lot of close games last year.
Bill Barnwell: The fact that they played close games doesn't excuse Johnson's overuse.
Doug Farrar: Will Witherspoon's starting out hot. He sacked Matt Hasselbeck twice in Seattle's first drive. The Rams have him coming up as a right defensive end, and he got through free on the first sack and beat guard Rob Sims on the second. With Leonard Little out and James Hall hurt, Witherspoon and Adam Carriker -- who was playing nose in a three-man front and dropped Maurice Morris for a safety early on -- are getting good penetration. St. Louis seems to like different looks from a three-man front these days. And I think we're seeing one downside to that pass-heavy offense in that the Seahawks will find it far more difficult to make teams pay for blitzing by running the ball. The Eagles don't seem to blitz like they used to, but you have to wonder how that will work next week. Conversely, Seattle's defensive coordinator seemed to get more conservative about calling blitzes after the Steven Jackson touchdown run detailed below.
The Seahawks looked out-of-sorts in just about every way in the first half. Their protections were extremely vulnerable (both guards, Rob Sims and Chris Gray, were beaten badly). Steven Jackson gashed the left side of the Seahawks defense for a 53-yard touchdown run in the first quarter when Julian Peterson departed on a blitz. Even Seattle's one early score, an 89-yard kickoff return by rookie cornerback Josh Wilson, came about as Wilson inadvertently got in front of Nate Burleson and took the ball out of his hands. Marc Bulger left the game with a concussion in the first quarter, and Gus Frerotte started taking it to Seattle as if he were the starter.
Vince Verhei: The most annoying part of watching the Rams blitz St. Louis to death was that blitzers kept coming up the middle untouched. I understand that when you have seven rushers (as the Rams often did) against six blockers, guys are going to get to the quarterback, but you've got to make them take the time to at least go AROUND the line, not through it. Hasselbeck spent most his day getting harassed by defenders who breezed through center and guard before he could finish his dropback.
Doug Farrar: Seattle got its offense together later in the second half, scoring 17 unanswered points, but it was a rejuvenated defense that won this game for the Seahawks. They made a great goal-line stand at the end of the game, and Patrick Kerney enjoyed an unbelievable day. Seattle's defensive end had three sacks for the second straight week. Two of those sacks were on third down and ended St. Louis possessions, and the one on first down caused a Frerotte fumble which Kerney himself recovered. He also had an interception on an ill-advised shovel pass. Kerney had a great move on Rob Petitti -- he would move slowly off the snap as if he was going to back into a zone blitz, and then he'd shift up about three gears and just blow right through to the quarterback. The Seahawks gave Kerney a lot of free agent money in the off-season, and we're starting to see why.
Vince Verhei: I liked another Kerney move even better. A few times he used a great rip move to get outside and underneath the tackle on his way to the quarterback.
Ben Riley: The Rams blitzkrieg worked wonders in the first half, but Holmgren adjusted and started calling draws to Maurice Morris, which were very effective. If anything, Seattle probably didn't run enough in the second half.
Some other random thoughts on this game:
Vince Verhei: Trufant was blanketed on Holt on his third-quarter interception. That pass never should have been thrown.
Russell Levine: Wow, what a weird game. Tampa Bay was +6 -- +6!!!! -- in turnover margin, yet needed an interception in the end zone in the final 30 seconds to secure the win. Why? Well, Jeff Garcia went out on the third play with a back problem and only returned when Washington got within one score -- but he was a shell of himself.
Once Washington figured out that Bruce Gradkowski was at quarterback, they loaded up against Earnest Graham and that was it for the Tampa Bay offense. The Bucs did not have a single first down the entire second half, and they surrendered over 300 yards of offense after intermission.
Tampa's MVP in this game was easily Josh Bidwell, who kept pinning Washington deep and making them go the long field. They did it a couple times, but on the last two drives, Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly came up with interceptions.
Mike Tanier: The Bucs play a very disciplined defense. Their defenders maintain gaps and stay at home on counter plays. Run a screen on them, and there will be two defenders waiting to tackle the receiver. There aren't many cutback lanes available on stretches. It's refreshing to see. I just see too many 15-yard runs on cutbacks these days because backside linemen and linebackers just get carried along the line of scrimmage by the flow of the play and their blockers.
The Redskins dropped a lot of passes in the first half. Santana Moss had a fumble and a drop, Keenan McCardell had a drop, Clinton Portis had a fumble and a drop. They also failed to convert a fourth down near the goal line and made some other mistakes. What a flat performance from a team that could have gotten themselves back in the playoff picture today.
Mike Tanier: I have this mental block about the Jaguars. Does it make sense to say that a team doesn't win memorably? I watched about three quarters of this game, but I have absolutely no comments about them. They can win, and win big, yet each play instantly evaporates from my mind. All I remember is Fred Taylor's big run early in the game, Maurice Jones-Drew getting stuffed on third-and-short near the goal line, and lots of field goals. I remember David Garrard looking pretty sharp, but it's just a vague impression, not a concrete sense of what he did right or wrong. I could sit here and write about the Giants and Vikings blitzes today or all the bad passes Bruce Gradkowski threw. I could even talk about the Seahawks and how bad they looked offensively in the first half because their timing was off. But I have nothing on the Jaguars.
Aaron Schatz: Except for the struggles of Lee Evans and Maurice Jones-Drew, this game played out pretty much exactly how you would expect. The Jags are just a better team, but the Bills defense plays hard and leaves a lot on the field with some underrated guys like Donte Whitner and John DiGiorgio. It was pretty close for three quarters, but Buffalo was losing, so J.P. Losman started pressing, and making bad decisions, and that gave Jacksonville the field position to pull away at the end. Every time we go to NFL Films, Jaws and Greg Cosell talk about how an NFL quarterback has to be able to make all the throws. Well, Losman can make all the throws, but he can't make all the decisions. If they could put Losman's arm on Trent Edwards, they would have a hell of a quarterback in Buffalo.
The MJD thing was really strange. If you look at the offensive line numbers, Jacksonville is number two in Adjusted Line Yards left end, below average everywhere else. Yet every time MJD tried to bust it outside left, there were three Bills there waiting for him. And here we are, a week after I celebrated Jack Del Rio for having the balls to go for it on fourth-and-short, and now I have to question the Jags' play calls on short yardage. Why so many outside runs instead of just stuffing it up the middle to get the one? With a big quarterback like David Garrard, why don't the Jags sneak more often on those short-yardage downs? I'll need to run some numbers but I think the Jags have only four quarterback sneaks this year, which seems awfully low for a team that goes for it on fourth so much.
The Bills have terrible sack numbers this year but they were definitely getting the pressure on Garrard today. Of course, it didn't matter, he's great at feeling the rush and getting off the pass in time. He got knocked down three times in one drive in the first quarter but only took one sack all day.
Pete Morelli's crew is having some problems. Last week they had the thing with the field goal in Cleveland. Today, after challenging a fumble and changing the spot of the ball, they stick the ball on the Buffalo 45 instead of the Jacksonville 45 until someone finally reminded them, you know, that's not actually where the fumble was.
Michael David Smith: Trent Dilfer is just throwing lots of short underneath stuff to the backs and tight ends (through three quarters Gore and Davis have combined for 12 catches and 94 yards), which indicates that the 49ers' offensive game plan is "just don't let Dilfer throw the game away." So far, he hasn't thrown the game away. Seeing the 49ers' offense look competent (if not particularly exciting) with Dilfer at the helm does not make me feel good about Alex Smith.
Sean McCormick: In fairness to Smith, the Cardinals are playing a deep zone and leaving the middle of the field wide-open for checkdowns, and Dilfer is taking advantage. It's possible that other teams have defensed the 49ers differently (say, with man coverage and heavy pressure) when Alex Smith is in. The guy completed 66 percent of his passes in college -- you'd think he could take advantage of an open safety valve.
Bill Barnwell: The Cardinals have also spent most of the game without Adrian Wilson, which might explain their reluctance to come out of that scheme.
Sean McCormick: Am I the only one who loves watching Kurt Warner gunning it? Six seconds left, the Cardinals have one timeout and will have the ball inside the one. Is that time for two plays, a fade and a run? I'm thinking yes.
Michael David Smith: No, you're not the only one. I love watching Warner.
Ben Riley: Am I the only one who loves watching Kurt Warner fumble in the end zone?
Stuart Fraser: This was, I think, the logic behind Ken Whisenhunt's quarterback platoon in the first place. Warner will gun the ball down the field and make the most of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald's skills; he'll also fumble snaps, get sacked (and get injured), and generally be a large risk. So if Arizona could win with Matt Leinart, who is generally a much safer bet, Whiz was content to give Leinart the ball. When there's nothing to lose, at the end of a half or down big, give it to Warner and see if he can pull something out.
Mike Tanier: Whisenhunt's decision to platoon had everything to do with trying to get Leinart to quit chasing skirts and start studying the playbook. It was supposed to be a wake-up call.
Aaron Schatz: I don't want to alarm anyone, but the San Diego Chargers just went for it on fourth-and-3, in field goal range with an 18-point lead and less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Doug Farrar: In the newest ESPN the Magazine, Aaron did a few inset things in an article about taking risks in the NFL. One of the subjects he took on was the real risk of kicking/punting to Devin Hester in which it was ascertained that teams are doing more harm than good by squibbing or kicking away from him. The first-quarter muff of a punt return, in which Hester put his hand on a ball that was too far away from him to catch, had me thinking about Aaron's numbers on Hester's punt returns. Of course, we're not done yet.
Hester then goes 75 yards for a touchdown on a third-quarter punt return.
Vince Verhei: Let it be known that Aaron advised kicking to Devin Hester on kickoffs.
Aaron Schatz: Although the muffs are a bigger problem on punts.
Doug Farrar: True. I think you have to pin him to a sideline so it's harder for him to pick a side, though. Todd Sauerbrun just punted it right down the middle, which doesn't make a lot of sense.
Michael David Smith: As I wrote at FanHouse, I think you can kick to Hester, but you can't do what the Broncos have done, which is give him the ball right in the middle of the field in a spot where he'll have a full head of steam before your coverage unit gets to him. I think if you keep him near the sideline and get enough hangtime, you can have success against him.
Ten minutes later, Hester returns a Denver kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. The ball was kicked right down the middle.
Doug Farrar: Well, it didn't make any more sense the second time.
Ben Riley: Don't kick to Devin Hester. Don't punt to Devin Hester. I know what the numbers say, but give the Bears a short field and make "Chicago Quarterback" beat you.
Stuart Fraser: I think it depends on who you are. If you're Pittsburgh, with no coverage ability to speak of and the best defense in the league, you squib kickoffs and punt out of bounds. If you're the other way around (hello, Cleveland), kick to him as your defense needs every bit of field position it can get.
Mike Tanier: I said this before, right? If I were preparing my special teams to face Hester, I would ask to have the starting safeties and cornerbacks join the coverage units, then have them practice with them all week. I want the fastest, best tacklers out there. The punter pooch-punts or directional punts, while the kickoff guy kicks normally.
Aaron Schatz: Well, like a lot of strategic questions, we may do analysis at FO with statistics, but you always have to reconsider that analysis based on your own personnel. I mean, I wouldn't follow the "run more on third-and-short" advice if I had no running game and was facing Minnesota. And I would feel better kicking to Hester if I had one of the better kickoff men in the league (Steve Gostkowski or Neil Rackers or somebody who gave me more of a chance at a touchback), and a lot worse kicking to Hester with a poor kickoff man and/or a poor kick coverage team. (Through 10 games, Denver was +2.9 points on kickoffs this year.)
Vince Verhei: We saw the best and worst of Devin Hester today -- two touchdowns, two fumbles. The first fumble was just a bad play on Hester's part, a wave at a ball that was destined to pass him by. The second, near the end of the game, looked like poor execution by the punt return team. Chicago had a wall of four blockers set up in front of Hester, but they weren't watching the ball and it came down nearly on top of their heads. Hester ran up behind them, but if he had gotten under the ball, he would have collided with his blockers and they would have fumbled for sure. So he played back and tried to catch it on the bounce, and ended up fumbling anyway. So that one still needs some work.
Doug Farrar: I don't know if this says more about Chicago's offensive line or Elvis Dumervil, but Dumervil drew offensive holding penalties on two straight pass plays on a Chicago drive halfway through the second quarter -- the first on left tackle John Tait, and the second on beleaguered right tackle Fred Miller. Dumervil then crashed through the line for a co-sack that was credited to Kenny Peterson, and a Bears drive that started at the Denver 16 after a Mike Bell fumble ended on fourth-and 20 with a Robbie Gould field goal after a third-and-37 (!). Miller was pretty much owned by the Seahawks last week, and I'm seeing Adrian Peterson out to the right, chipping to help Miller out at the end of the second quarter.
Aaron Schatz: OK, as someone who didn't switch to this game until the last three minutes, may I ask the rest of you: How has Rex Grossman been the rest of the game? If he's playing better than he was earlier this season, why? He looks a lot better right now, definitely.
Ben Riley: The answer is, very Rex Grossman-like. A few mental mistakes, some horrific turnovers, punctuated by a few beautiful deep balls that make you think what might yet be. Rookie tight end Greg Olsen didn't help him any by dropping a few critical passes.
Doug Farrar: Not that great. Lotta drops, but also some really questionable decision-making. In the first half, I thought that he and Jay Cutler were lobbying for the abolition of the forward pass. But he's got just enough skill to pull it out of the fire, and that Bernard Berrian catch near the end of regulation was preposterous. Cutler benefited from a great touchdown catch by Tony Scheffler as well, and neither quarterback could take advantage of early field position benefits.
Vince Verhei: Lovie Smith has no confidence in Rex Grossman. There were a number of third-and-longs where Lovie called a running play so Rex wouldn't turn the ball over. Of course, one of those running plays was a quarterback draw, and Rex fumbled. Sometimes, you can't protect Rex from Rex.
As much credit as Denver's system gets for creating running backs, I thought Andre Hall looked really, really good. He went 65 yards on a screen pass just before halftime to set up a Denver field goal. First of all, the screen was set up perfectly, with Hall catching the ball right behind two linemen. Those linemen took care of their guys and Hall ran about 15 or 20 yards. For your average NFL running back, the play ends there and everything's fine. But Hall cut back across the field, making two guys miss and took off up the left sideline, where he found Brandon Marshall blocking a Bears cornerback. A lot of guys would have run right past their blocker and into a tackle, but Hall did a great job of setting up Marshall's block, running right up his back for maximum gain.
It seems to me that Denver runs more cute misdirection runs than anyone else. I saw fakes to the fullback preceding pitches to the tailback, I saw several runs that started right and then became pitch plays way outside to the left, I even saw a number of quarterback/ tailback option runs. It all worked great for a while, but by the end of the game the Bears had figured it out and started stuffing Denver runners for losses.
Doug Farrar: As an aside, I think this was the most enjoyable game I've seen all year. Two teams fighting their guts out for postseason hope. This is why time can stop when the weather turns.
Vince Verhei: That was the most thrilling, exhilarating game I've seen in a long, long time. That game had everything I watch football for: big hits, long runs, spectacular catches, dramatic turnovers, clutch performance, late-game heroics (by Rex Grossman!) (!!!)... Just an incredible, amazing, breathtaking game. I watched the last quarter and overtime while pacing back and forth, unable to sit down, and I didn't even have a rooting interest in the game.
Bill Barnwell: I should note (now jinxing the Eagles) that I picked them to win on IGN all week. They have the front four and blitz schemes to harass Tom Brady and the offensive threats to attack the Patriots' weaknesses (namely threats in the short passing game).
Aaron Schatz: Well, this game is 14-14 right now because of the Eagles offense, not the Eagles defense. Which is very strange with A.J. Feeley at quarterback.
Mike Tanier: Haven't you heard? Feeley is better than Donovan McNabb. Jeff Garcia is better than Donovan McNabb. Kevin Kolb is better than Donovan McNabb. Andy Reid has only started McNabb for the last seven years because he is trying to cover for the high draft choice he wasted on him. I know it is true because I heard it on the radio.
Vince Verhei: My dad also says McNabb is no good, because he has no passion. So now it's confirmed by a reliable source.
Mike Tanier: He has no passion. He's also a coward who is sandbagging it with minor injuries so he can skip this game because he doesn't want to look bad against the Patriots.
Bill Moore: NBC has this game miked very well. Brady's at-the-line calls are very clear including a, "Hey Gaff! Omaha. Go." The result: A quick wide receiver screen to Jabar Gaffney.
Aaron Schatz: This is really shocking. The Patriots' defensive backs can't seem to cover anyone tonight, and when they play zone instead of man, Feeley is finding the holes. The Pats' offense is fine. They've had three drives and scored all three times. This is all about defensive issues.
Meanwhile, the Jabar Gaffney touchdown to end the second quarter -- that's the second time in two weeks we've seen the replay officials neglect to stop and review a play that probably should have been reviewed, right? It drives me nuts when the review people don't stop and review questionable plays in the final two minutes.
Ryan Wilson: Last Monday night, the Titans' Bo Scaife made what looked to be a nice one-handed grab, the officials ruled incomplete, and there was no review.
Aaron Schatz: Yep, that was the play I was thinking of.
Stuart Fraser: I think it was a touchdown, but that absolutely should have been reviewed. Oh, just a thought: Colt Brennan passes for Hawaii at the half against Boise State: 27. Tom Brady passes for the Patriots at the half against the Eagles: 25. People who know more about the college game than me (so, everyone) -- are the Patriots running the spread offense here? If not, what's different between this and the classic spread?
Mike Tanier: This is practically a run-and-shoot offense. The terminology is different, and it is built off a different set of principles, but what the Patriots are executing is essentially a run-and-shoot. There aren't as many receiver screens or five-yard out routes, but it's "potato-potahto" at some level.
There are several kinds of spread offenses, by the way. The Hawaii spread is similar to the old run-and-shoot. The spread that teams like Kentucky and Perdue ran for years, the one with all the bubble and slip screens, is a slightly different duck with different genes. The five-receiver spread that you see a lot at the I-AA level is closer to the Purdue spread, but it has lots of quarterback draw plays and shovel passes to compensate for the near absence of a running back. And the Florida spread option that is now everywhere is a whole different beastie.
Vince Verhei: I actually like this halftime stat: New England rushes: Two. And one of those was by Tom Brady.
Aaron Schatz: The strangest part of that is the fact that tackling on running plays is clearly the weakness of the Eagles defense. Why wouldn't you challenge them on the ground? Part of the answer seems to be "so we can surprise them by doing it in the second half," but I'm not sure why you wait so long.
Vince Verhei: I think the answer is, "because we can score however we want, and today we wish to pass." I love, love, love watching New England execute screen passes. Every blocker in step, the receiver in the right place at the right time, the pass placed exactly where and when it needs to be.
Mike Tanier: I think the idea is that the Patriots know they can pick on Joselio Hansen and J.R. Reed, and that's just a better way to move the ball than to try to run. Offensively, the Patriots have been fine. We've just gotten a little used to the 56-point standard.
Ben Riley: And yet, J.R. Reed seems to be having a good game. The real story here is the Eagles quarterback. What's gotten in to A.J. Feeley?
Bill Barnwell: Not really Feeley. It's more the scheme. The Patriots are much better vertically than they are horizontally defensively. They're a very slow team horizontally, but a great team when you try to stretch them vertically. The Eagles are a team that does a great job of stretching defenses horizontally with Brian Westbrook.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, but this isn't a lot of Westbrook. This is a lot of finding holes in zones downfield, particularly with those in routes. This is by far the worst defensive game the Pats have played this year. Nothing else even comes close.
Ben Riley: All that may be true, but Westbrook has 25 receiving yards. Feeley is reading the blitz and finding the hot route, which, tonight, seems to be the property of Greg Lewis. The Patriots secondary is looking very human tonight, and this game is generating game film a-plenty.
Mike Tanier: The Eagles' blitz pickup has also been good all game. That's been a big part of Feeley's success.
Aaron Schatz: OK, non-Pats fans. Was that Randy Moss non-touchdown our "I have no idea anymore what constitutes pass interference" moment of the week, or does that seem like a clear call? Contact is still OK within five yards, right? Oh, and look, the field goal was actually good. Fun!
Bill Barnwell: That was seven or eight yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The line of scrimmage was the four-yard line and that was two to four yards into the end zone.
Stuart Fraser: The pass interference call to me seemed to be the type of ticky-tack OPI which is only ever called in the end zone, a "push-off" where the receiver had his hands on the cornerback for about half a second and then managed to get some separation. This type of call debuted in Super Bowl XL, and I'm surprised the Seahawks fans haven't already mentioned it.
Doug Farrar: I think we've trained ourselves to block out when it happens. There was one on Todd Heap earlier this year that mirrored the Darrell Jackson/Chris Hope call pretty well, and Mike Pereira said later that week that it wasn't the right call. That was a good way to trigger my inner Keith Moon!
Bill Moore: The Moss pass interference didn't have a good enough camera angle to tell; however, what I saw looked clean. It looked to me like the ref was screened to the actual play, but saw Moss' hands move around in near the defensive back's body, and assumed it was pass interference. However, again, NBC showed no camera angle with a clear view.
As Aaron points out, Feeley is doing well picking holes in the zone, but they have also found New England's secret defensive weakness: Randall Gay. He has made a number of bad plays this year, and is getting toasted tonight.
Will Carroll: I think it comes down to this: The Eagles are playing a near-perfect game, the interception being the notable exception. Feeley's out of his head, Westbrook is the best back in the NFL right now, and the defense looks like it has about two extra guys on every play.
And the Eagles are still down a field goal.
Assuming that the Eagles are playing at their max and that there's a couple teams with higher talent levels (Colts, Cowboys, Brett Favre), then a perfect game by them SHOULD beat the Pats. Unless the Pats play a perfect game.
Stuart Fraser: Hmm. In previous seasons I would inform Joey Porter of such disrespect for the Steelers. I'm not sure who gets the forward these days. Rodney Harrison is, of course, already aware that you are disrespecting the Patriots.
Bill Barnwell: Nah. Feeley's nowhere near out of his head. The two interceptions aside, he's been off on a few other throws high, he's forced a couple of throws that have fortunately worked out well... Again, this just seems a total schematic match to me.
Ben Riley: At what point do you think NBC will stop telling us that it's 38 degrees in Foxboro? It's the northeast in winter. We get it.
Bill Moore: Soon after they stop calling NE's starting cornerback/returner "Ellis Hobbs-who-ran-back-a-108-yard-kickoff-return-this-year."
Doug Farrar: All I know is that I watched Seattle-St. Louis, Chicago-Denver, and Philadelphia-New England, and I'm going to have difficulty remembering when I've seen three games this exciting/interesting/compelling in the same day.
Aaron Schatz: Clearly, you did not watch San Diego play Baltimore.
If my ears don't deceive me, Madden and Michaels are criticizing Andy Reid's clock management. And all around the world, Eagles fans beat their heads against the closest table, wall, or cement block.
I feel really bad for the Eagles fans. Man, they must be so damn frustrated. I can't believe this is the same team that came out so flat when Tanier and I were at the Linc for Sunday Night Football three weeks ago. This team has so much talent and plays so well at times, but also has some huge holes. The coaching staff makes some great decisions and some stupid ones. Cris Collinsworth is right, what the hell are the Eagles doing running a slant-and-go in field goal range, with three minutes left to keep working towards the goal line?
How obnoxious is the quarterback controversy talk going to be on Philly radio this week? Bad enough to make you want to kill yourself after listening to it, or bad enough to make you want to kill yourself and every single person in a five-mile radius after listening to it?
Stuart Fraser: I was wondering if we were going to have to put Tanier on suicide watch if the Eagles won. Now that they have lost, Feeley is clearly not clutch, doesn't know what it takes to win, etc. With regards to feeling for Eagles fans, that horrible, horrible, throw did kind of give me Neil O'Donnell/Super Bowl XXX flashbacks for a couple of seconds there.
Mike Tanier: The worst thing is that I will hear it in my classroom. I will hear it in the lunch room. My mom, who gets her information from the doctors in the office she works at and believes everyone else's opinion over mine, will tell me about it while trying to make chit-chat.
All that stuff I said earlier about McNabb: That's real talk radio fodder. People are actually saying that McNabb was scared and ducked the Patriots this week. The McNabb haters apply every negative in the world to him: indifferent, lacks leadership, selfish. Cowardly is just the latest and most inane. And the McNabb Haters are legion, because the casual fans who don't really follow the game just feed off the barstool logic.
Back in 2002, when Feeley replaced McNabb and won three or four games, people actually claimed Feeley was better than McNabb. OK, you want to argue that now, after McNabb has missed parts of three seasons with injuries, go for it. It's stupid, but go for it. In 2002? You seriously heard the talk back then. Then, last year we had Garcia. The funniest thing was Mike McMahon in 2005. He came into that first game and completed three or four passes. Swear to God, sitting in the bar, I heard a couple of guys start saying, "this kid is good, really finds those open receivers, we might be better off with him in there." That lasted about a half-hour, but it was amazing how fast they wanted to lay the groundwork. I think if my dog came off the bench and replaced McNabb and somehow tossed a one-yard pass to Westbrook with her mouth, the Haters would start talking about her leadership and guts and intangibles and intelligence and accuracy.
Aaron Schatz: I will say one other thing about "the game plan for beating the Patriots." Offensively, sure, but the Eagles' defensive game plan was not as good as it looked. If you blitz the Patriots, you simply can't count on their receivers dropping this many passes next time. That's not an excuse, but it is an explanation, or at least a partial one.
Ned Macey: To me, it seemed that the Pats assumed that 95 percent of the offense would go through Westbrook and were going to take that away from them. Then, the Eagles start throwing the ball down the field where the middle has been vacated worrying about Westbrook. Throw in the aforementioned blitz pick-up (which also empties the middle of the field), and we have an explanation for the oft-noticed open middle of the field.
As for Feeley, he obviously played great for him, but were he McNabb, he would have been considered the goat of the game. You lose by 3 points, and you throw an interception returned for a touchdown and an interception into your own end zone when driving for, at least, the game-tying interception? I didn't think that play call was horrendous. Everyone assumed the Eagles would be methodical, so you see if you can slip one in. If the Patriots don't bite, you have Samuel and a safety covering what amounts to a decoy. It appeared on a replay that someone (L.J. Smith?) was running free underneath for a short gain that would have gotten a first down. Of course, your quarterback cannot make that monumental mistake.
I know the Eagles defense didn't exactly shut the Patriots down, but they did only allow seven (should have been 10) second half points. Sure there were drops, but they basically made the Pats a receiver screen and quick dumpoff offense. Brady had nothing down the field. If the Eagles still had Rod Hood or some third cornerback who had a prayer of staying with Welker, then they may have won.
Moss only caught five out of 12 intended passes and nothing down the field. Considering the Eagles' overall defense ranked below average in DVOA and was pretty bad as a pass defense, this was one heck of a game plan. For perspective, the Eagles ranked right below the Bills in overall DVOA and four spots below them in pass defense DVOA, and that's after last week's beat-down by New England.
Bill Moore: This so-called "game plan" that NBC jumped on late and often is such a glib media concoction. New England, like many good teams in the NFL, comes into each and every game with a scheme specific to that game. From the Patriots' offensive perspective, they had to plan for Jim Johnson, who is among the best defensive minds in the game. He knows his personnel and how best to use it. The Patriots schemed for one thing, and likely saw another. They did a decent job at pressuring Brady, but as Aaron has shown elsewhere, pressuring Brady doesn't equal success. They were also aided by a few Patriots drops. They still scored 31 points (24 from the offense). Their drive charts hardly show a successful blueprint:
First half: TD (10 plays), FG (11), TD (9)
Second Half: Punt (3), FG Attempt (15), Downs (10), TD (10), Punt (6)
From the Pats' defensive perspective: Again, they prepped for one thing, and likely saw another. If one had said before the week began you had a choice to plan for, "take away Westbrook, and let [A) an injured McNabb, B) a career backup, or C) rookie] beat out", or "take away A, B or C, and let Westbrook beat out," which do you choose? Who'd have thought that A/B/C would put together a stretch that reads Touchdown, Touchdown, Punt, Touchdown, Punt, and Touchdown? The Philadelphia offensive line held up well against the rush and, as Ned points out, created holes in the middle.
There's a decent chance someone will beat the Patriots this year; it's unlikely they will do so because they "figured it out" watching the Eagles game.
Mike Tanier: Rocky went the distance with Apollo. Feeley played very well, but it wasn't some other-worldly performance. He had three touchdowns and three interceptions, including one in desperation. Weren't those McNabb's Super Bowl numbers? In the end, you have to be more careful when you throw to Asante Samuel's side of the field.
As an Eagles fan, I am a little happy to see the effort, particularly on offense. But I am also ticked. This offense would have beaten the Packers and the Redskins in the first meeting. It would have taken the ball out of the Bears' hands. It would have made those fumbled punts irrelevant against the Packers. This was the offense of a seven- or eight-win team. Where has it been?
McNabb haters know who they will blame, but it's not just about the quarterbacking. Where have these receivers been all year? Where has this offensive line been? Saw 'em against the Lions and a little bit against the Redskins. DVOA has seen them much of the year, and I guess they have been there when the team has been between the 20s, but I haven't seen it in the red zone, and I didn't see it against beatable opponents early in the season, when the Eagles could have made this game more meaningful.
And the next morning, when Mr. Tanier heads back to school...
Mike Tanier: The custodian stopped me at 7:30 to talk up Feeley. My homeroom aide is talking up Feeley. They aren't saying: Well, if McNabb is banged up, we can win a game or two with Feeley. It's: Feeley is better, reads the field better, more accurate. I guess not only is Andy Reid an idiot, but the front offices of the Chargers and Dolphins are idiots for letting a potential franchise quarterback like Feeley slip through their mitts.
Aaron Schatz: If you want to see a major football fashion faux pas, find a station showing the Grey Cup. Oh, Winnipeg. There's a reason you aren't called the "Yellow Bombers."
Ben Riley: Aaron, are you sure the Washington Huskies aren't wearing their throwback jerseys? And unless you tell me that the other team is the Saskatchewan Slugs, I'm not sure how to explain the green team's helmet logo.
Aaron Schatz: Now now, don't dis on the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Those uniforms are pretty good, and both Paul Spicer and Kenton Keith played up in Regina before coming to the NFL. I know this because whichever announcer did the Jacksonville-Buffalo game today must have mentioned this something like ten times. Yes, yes, Paul Spicer played in Canada; we're all glad you have a research department.
Michael David Smith: Why is it so much more common to take intentional safeties in the CFL than in the NFL?
Doug Farrar: Little-known fact: Kerry Joseph, the quarterback who led the Roughriders to victory, played safety for the Seahawks from 1999-2002. It was good to see his name again.
221 comments, Last at 28 Nov 2007, 10:41pm by Sid