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.
17 Dec 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.
Doug Farrar: Another Bryant Gumbel Confusion Item. He keeps referring to halfbacks as "deep backs" and fullbacks as "upbacks." There's an upback on punt coverage, and maybe these terms were used in the Pudge Heffelfinger days to describe offensive backs (what's Carson Palmer, the up-up-back?), or maybe they're terms that refer to positions in the sport that the rest of the world calls football (Stuart, please feel free to chime in here). Does this sound strange to anyone else?
Never mind. He just said "Tully Bunta-Cain." Twice. And there's the "Frank/Al Gore" thing again. I give up. He thinks it's funny.
Stuart Fraser: From FO's "Rest of the World" correspondent: As far as I'm aware, no sport other than (American) football has upbacks. This is just Gumbel being weird. Disclaimer: I know nothing about Australian- or Gaelic-rules football.
But since you asked ... In what for the sake of clarity I shall call "soccer," there are full-backs and occasionally wing-backs; there used to be half-backs but it's rather archaic these days other than in the construct center-half. Rugby has half-backs, three-quarters ("back" is generally omitted) and fullbacks. This is a pet peeve of mine because in the standard attacking formation the scrum-half stands significantly forward of the fly-half and is obviously a quarter-back, but...
If I had been listening to this broadcast I would just have assumed that "deep back" and "upback" were amongst the things they used to be called when Paul Zimmerman was a lad, and are these days only used on special teams. But I'm used to translating commentators on the fly.
Doug Farrar: Well, after watching that game and not having seen a great deal of the Bengals this season, I saw nothing of the team that came into this game ranked 12th in DVOA with 7.7 Estimated Wins. Are they the Great FO Mystery of 2007? And what on earth has happened to Carson Palmer? He was botching screen passes, throwing early, looked like he and his receivers were running different plays ... We all know that their defense is subpar, but what's up with the offense?
Aaron Schatz: Well, if there is one thing I've learned today, it is that I have to get some sort of weather adjustment into standard DVOA for rushing and passing, especially passing. Three of the top passing offenses in the league looked terrible today, with Tom Brady, Derek Anderson, and Ben Roethlisberger all putting up terrible numbers in the bad weather.(David Garrard's numbers actually seem reasonable, which is a bit of a surprise.) Wait... let's also add Matt Hasselbeck to my list of quarterbacks getting screwed by wind today.
Ryan Wilson: David Garrard's numbers aren't a surprise if you're watching this game. The Steelers miss Aaron Smith, have generated no pass rush to speak of, and Garrard just toasted Anthony Smith on a long bomb to Dennis Northcutt. I smell a recurring theme for the rest of the season.
Aaron Schatz: Is the wind not as bad there as it is in Cleveland and Foxboro?
Ryan Wilson: Nah, the wind's not an issue. It's just snowing a bit. In fact, the field is holding up pretty well, all things considered.
Good Lord. With the Jags killing the Steelers run defense, Jack Del Rio has Garrard put it in the air. Result: Anthony Smith interception returned down to the 10-yard line. Steelers score three plays later, and it's an eight-point game with about 12 minutes to go. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Mike Tanier: I think the Jaguars' time of possession in this game was 63 minutes. I think I saw 10 Steelers offensive plays, all of which were Roethlisberger scrambles. The dude next to me in the bar was complaining about that Garrard interception too. But look at the play: A waggle off play action after several runs in a row, second-and-9, start of the fourth quarter. It's the exact type of low-risk pass you are supposed to throw in that situation, but it went through Greg Jones' hands. There was nothing wrong with the call, it was just bad execution.
Ryan Wilson: Well, if the Jags had lost the game, there would've been everything wrong with that call. Again, the Jags were treading the Steelers on the ground. Given the sloppy field conditions, why not continue to run it? The throw was high -- Jones should've caught it, but it's hard to blame him for whiffing on it -- and it only takes one dumb play to give a team that has no business being in a game a chance to do exactly that. Aaron Smith was out and the Jags had no issues with his replacements. In fact, they had no trouble with any of Pittsburgh's front seven.
Vince Verhei: I thought the pass call was aggressive, obviously, but I had no problem with it. If you're going to run a play-action pass, don't you want it to be at a time when your running game looks unstoppable? You knew the Steelers' pass rushers were going to bite on the fake, so a sack seemed unlikely, and your quarterback was coming into the game with one interception on the year. In hindsight it's easy to knock the call, but I thought it was a perfectly reasonable, well-timed gamble.
Mike Tanier: I'm just not sure what the argument is on that interception. Were the Jaguars never supposed to throw the ball again in the fourth quarter with a 15-point lead?
Doug Farrar: I love me some David Garrard. That throw to Dennis Northcutt was beautiful. Hopefully, people will start to say more about Garrard than, "Why doesn't anybody talk about him?"
Ryan Wilson: Why throw it when up by 15 with 13 minutes to go and driving in Pittsburgh territory with Taylor and Jones-Drew gaining chunks of yards on just about every carry? If the score is closer, or it's the first three quarters, or the weather isn't an issue, sure, throw it. Even on Garrard's touchdown bomb to Northcutt, the pass was down the field, so worst case, it's a punt deep in Steelers territory. I'm not saying the Jags should never throw it again, but it was a curious decision given the score, conditions, dominant ground game and time left on the clock. And it almost cost them the game.
Mike Tanier: There was 13:30 left. This isn't 1977. Are we really suggesting that the Jaguars should not have called a single solitary passing play in the entire fourth quarter?
Ryan Wilson: The Steelers were reeling. The game was over. There was no way Pittsburgh was coming back, barring something like an interception returned to the Jags' 12-yard line. Pittsburgh had eight guys in the box and still couldn't stop either back. Why not run it?
Mike Tanier: They did run it. The Jaguars had just run it four straight times. It was second-and-9. It was early in the fourth quarter. It was a play-action, rollout pass; about as conservative a pass play as you can run.
Ben Riley: Fred Taylor may be the toughest back to bring down in the NFL right now. Fred Taylor! Tough! What a weird year for running backs.
Vince Verhei: Underreported story of the game: On their 20-play touchdown drive to open the third quarter, Jacksonville converted two fourth-and-1 attempts. They also converted one on a touchdown drive in the second quarter. Most teams would have ended those drives in punts or field goals. Del Rio's boldness and his players' execution on those three plays added an extra 8 to 11 points on the board.
Mike Tanier: Didn't see the game, but looking at the Falcons stats, that looks like the biggest shoulder-shrug-and-quit I have ever seen.
Aaron Schatz: I believe that in the preseason, when I (wrongly) predicted this reaction from the Giants, I referred to it as "going full Kotite."
Vince Verhei: Chris Redman looks like a strong candidate for worst DPAR of the year. Eleven incompletions! Two interceptions! Four completions -- for one first down! And that doesn't include the sacks or the fumble!
However, I also see 9 carries for Jerious Norwood and 8 for Warrick Dunn, and I feel like Emmitt Thomas is already a better coach than Bobby Petrino.
Doug Farrar: I was hoping to hear from Russell by now, but be must have been rendered speechless by that Tampa Bay kickoff return touchdown!
Russell Levine: Well, that and Rich Freaking Rodriguez to Ann Arbor. Bring on the spread option! (Rich Rodriguez hire discussed further here.)
The last time I celebrated a Tampa Bay play like the kickoff return, it involved Derrick Brooks in the Super Bowl. Micheal Spurlock crosses the goal line, no flags on the field, Tampa Bay lines up and kicks the extra point, and suddenly the challenge flag is on the field. Officials huddle. No replay is shown. I'm thinking, this can't be. Referee decides the challenge came too late -- the touchdown stands!
It was a blowout thanks to turnovers, special teams, general post-Petrino, we're-mailing-it-in malaise, but there were some warning signs for Tampa Bay today. The protection was not good at all, and Garcia did very little. They also got gashed a little bit in the run game before the game got out of hand. Tampa Bay also settled for a bunch of field goals. There's a reason why they've only beaten one team with a winning record all year.
Still, at home in the wild card round, I like their chances against Minnesota or the Giants. They're very opportunistic on defense, the pass rush from the front four is really coming along -- another big sack/strip from Gaines Adams today, and Arena League refugee Greg White also got in the backfield a bunch. If Tampa Bay can get pressure without blitzing, they're be a threat against just about anybody, because that defense won't give up much if they can drop seven into coverage.
Oh, and I love, love, love Earnest Graham. He runs so hard, and is picking up some feel for finding the holes, unlike Michael Pittman for whom every run is like getting shot out of a cannon.
Aaron Schatz: Speaking of Tampa Bay, I realize I'm commenting here on a game played six weeks ago, but I charted the Week 9 Tampa Bay-Arizona game Friday and I definitely noticed that Graham is pushing forward for extra yards on nearly every run. Very impressive.
I also thought that Jeff Garcia was shockingly Vick-like in his need to pull the ball down and run at the slightest suggestion of pass pressure. The tackles would push the defensive ends around behind Garcia, the kind of thing where Tom Brady or Drew Brees will calmly take two steps forward and find a receiver, but instead Garcia just takes off. He gets away with it because he runs well and because when he does stay in the pocket to throw, he's good in that offense. Still, this is the kind of thing we always criticize in young quarterbacks, so it is a little astounding to see it from a guy in his mid-30s.
Vince Verhei: Garcia has always had a tendency to scramble, and always will. As long as he's getting production out of his runs, I don't see why this is inherently a bad thing.
Doug Farrar: The Seahawks really need to fix their guard situation in the off-season. Chris Gray, Seattle's right guard, let Maake Kemoeatu and Jon Beason through on Seattle's second offensive play as Kemoeatu hit Shaun Alexander like a truck for no gain. Why do they run behind Gray? The only possible excuse was that Gray intentionally chipped Beason and let Kemoeatu through, thinking that fullback Leonard Weaver would be helping out play-side instead of heading left. Given his overall performance this year, I'm not inclined to give Gray the benefit of the doubt.
There's a heavy wind in Carolina, and the ball's sailing on Matt Hasselbeck early. I don't know what Seattle's DVOA is on screen passes this year -- it's hopefully better than last year's minus-136.4% -- but they might want to find a way to rely on screens today.
Ugh. Mike Holmgren called for an end-around on a first-quarter third-and-3. Nate Burleson got two yards. Punt. Wood successfully chopped.
The Panthers spent most of the first quarter on offense helping Jordan Gross block Patrick Kerney with a tight end -- they've been alternating their three early -- and providing good protection for Matt Moore. Moore is Carolina's fourth starting quarterback this season, an undrafted and slightly underweight rookie from Oregon State. Seattle switched Kerney to coverage in a second-quarter zone blitz, but Moore was able to complete the pass. I didn't think we were in for another Shaun Hill story since the Seahawks, unlike the Bengals, actually have a pass defense, but Seattle's tentative scheme told a different tale. Gross was able to take Kerney out of the pass rush one-on-one later in the game, and he played the best game I've seen by a tackle this season since Joe Thomas' performance against the Seahawks on November 4.
Second-quarter third-and-24 for the Panthers, and Brian Baldinger asks why the Panthers don't just take a shot downfield. Bad snap in shotgun, fumble, and Moore has to scramble to pick up the ball and throw an emergency pass back to the line of scrimmage. Guess that's why, Baldy.
In a preview for this game on another site, I wrote that the fundamental difference between this Seahawks team and the one that went to the Super Bowl two years ago is this team's inability to control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. Actually, I wrote pretty much the same thing in PFP 2007. Problem unsolved. And that's what upended them on this day. Gray's poor play was matched by Rob Sims getting absolutely stoned by Kris Jenkins as the Seahawks tried to drive in the second half. On defense, they inexplicably went away from the blitz and gave up the flats, allowing Matt Moore to dink-and-dunk them to death. Their one touchdown came at the end of the game, when the Panthers were already mentally off the field. And as Aaron said, Hasselbeck was undone by the elements, because his team can sustain no consistent running game, and he's forced to pass, no matter how bad the weather may be. That's all well and good in September, but more balance is needed as the weather turns. Yes, even if you're the Patriots.
Ben Riley: What's that line TMQ has in his autotext about a game being played over and over in hell? You can bet he's firing up for this game. Basically, the Seahawks followed up their best game of the season with their absolute worst -- it's amazing that they even had a shot at winning it in the end. The biggest surprise was seeing Patrick Kerney shut down by Jordan Gross. I remember Gross having a great rookie season but I haven't heard much from him since -- but that's because I find it hard to watch the Panthers. Is he a dominant right tackle?
Doug Farrar: I don't know about "dominant," but Carolina's line isn't the problem with that offense. Actually, the line's performance has been an indictment of the skill position players, and Gross is the best player on that line.
Ben Riley: The absence of any defensive pressure made Matt Moore look pretty good today. He seemed to struggle handling snaps in the shotgun, but he didn't make any major mistakes and his numbers would have been better if he had an actual wide receiver besides Steve Smith to throw to.
Doug Farrar: This, of course, can be said about every Carolina quarterback since the beginning of Smith's tenure with the team. Except David Carr.
Bill Barnwell: Man, is Atari Bigby awful. He had one of the most ridiculous interceptions I've ever seen today on a play where a tight end settled in ten yards in front of him without Bigby reacting, but Bulger threw it behind the receiver, who tipped it into Bigby's hands.
Doug Farrar: Awful and awfully lucky. He had a tipped interception last week as well.
Bill Barnwell: It reminds me of the whole Bill James bit on Lonnie Smith talking about how he's subtly brilliant and how he knows exactly how a ball will carom off his knee and how he takes a perfect angle to have a ball go two feet over his head.
BIGBY DID IT AGAIN. He had another tipped pick. Of course, the announcers say he's "always around the ball," which is true. He's always seven yards behind the ball.
Ned Macey: If you go to Atari Bigby's player page on NFL.com, his stats would list six interceptions while Brian Dawkins has one. It lists eight passes defensed before today's games; Dawkins had five. Based on those freely available stats, one would think Bigby is the better pass defender, when he really is among the very worst safeties in the league in pass defense.
As for today's picks, the first one was embarrassing since he left Drew Bennett (big white guy exhibiting stone hands, but alas not a tight end) wide-open for a long first down. The second one, however, was not his poor coverage, as the receiver was tightly covered (by someone else). Still, he was just there to pick up the free gift. Bigby is an excellent run-support safety, but I fear these interception numbers will make somebody somewhere think he is good in pass defense.
The Rams did get blown out, but the real Steven Jackson was back. On several runs, I was waiting for the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack to start playing. How does a team with a healthy Jackson, Marc Bulger, and Torry Holt only score 14 points? Oh yeah, the offensive line. The Packers started bringing pressure, and the offense did nothing after touchdowns on their first two drives.
Aaron Schatz: I feel very happy for the Miami Dolphins, who did not deserve to be considered the worst team of all time.
Ned Macey: I also feel really good for Miami. They had to make it hard for themselves with the KCW-worthy Jay Feely kick out of bounds in the last minute. Then allowing Troy Smith to march the team down to the one-foot line? Who thought Brian Billick should have gone for it there? With the way the second half played out and with Smith as my quarterback, I would have tried to just shove it in right there. Billick "played the percentages," which means going against the higher chance of making you win but increasing the odds that you won't be second-guessed.
Vince Verhei: I was about to nominate Billick for KCW there. Your offensive line is 11th in power situations, the Dolphins defense is 23rd. You had already picked up nine first downs rushing on the game. And even if you don't trust Willis McGahee to pick up one yard, you had Troy Smith at quarterback to run a sneak or bootleg or something. What are the odds of scoring a touchdown there and winning the game? 70 percent? 80 percent? Instead he kicks the field goal, goes into overtime and is right back at 50-50.
Ben Riley: I'm trying to imagine what it would have felt like to be Jay Feely had Miami lost tonight. I've never forgotten how he melted down against the Seahawks two years ago and missed three game-winning field-goal attempts. Today, with Miami's season of infamy in the balance, he honks a kickoff out of bounds. Feely: You're suspect.
Aaron Schatz: Jay Feely is still the only NFL kicker ever lampooned in a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Ben Riley: Of course, Brian Billick bailed him out by refusing to rise to the challenge. You have the ball at the half-yard line and 12 seconds to play. You aren't going to the playoffs -- run the ball, man! Jam that thing down the Dolphins' throat! Billick had to scream at Troy Smith to get off the field. Way to show your cojones, coach.
Speaking of Smith, he seems to have some of those "intangibles" you want in a quarterback. While Kyle Boller looked like a corpse on the sideline, Ravens players were rallying around Smith and seemed far more energized when he was in the game. Plus, he's good at avoiding sacks and he threw a couple of perfect passes in tight windows that should have been caught but weren't.
Doug Farrar: So, here's a hypothetical question. If Cam Cameron was basically unemployable had he gone 0-16, and Brian Billick's team lost to Cam Cameron's team for their eighth straight loss (now taking over Miami as the team with the longest losing streak in the NFL), how happy are we in Baltimore about THAT coaching scenario?
Bill Barnwell: If the Jets are going to run the option all game, then I am rooting for the Jets.
Mike Tanier: That Brad Smith option routine was just ugly. This isn't the Division III title game. Leave the junk in the junk drawer. Then again, Chad Pennington was throwing soap bubbles into the wind.
Bill Barnwell: I think that's kinda ridiculous, though. Obviously, the Jets can't compete with the Patriots with a standard scheme. That's exactly what junk plays are designed for -- to use deception, which is one of the ways you beat a superior opponent. Disregarding the outcome of how it actually played out, I think this is exactly the time you take the junk out of the junk drawer.
Aaron Schatz: Agreed. The first play certainly worked, the Pats were totally fooled by the first play fake and Leon Washington went 49 yards. The biggest problem with the Brad Smith option is that Brad Smith poses zero threat through the air, especially in that weather. So once you realize what the Jets are doing, you can stop pretty much every play from that formation. The Patriots were getting to the Jets in the backfield every time, but Smith was great at breaking tackles so the Jets picked up some positive yardage.
Once again today, the Pats offense sputtered due to hubris. Tom Brady was looking past completely open receivers short to take shots with Randy Moss deep, and in these winds, those just weren't going to end up complete most of the time. When the wind didn't screw with the throws, the Jets actually had excellent coverage and defensed them anyway, with one exception late in the game. At least the Pats were comfortable running a lot more than in earlier games, and Laurence Maroney was putting up four, five, six yards on every carry. Jets run defense is not good.
Pats fans are so used to blowouts, and they really wanted to just clobber the Jets, and this game was way, way closer than it had any right to be. But, as a Patriots fan, I feel pretty good coming out of it because of the appearance by some players who had been MIA. Pro Bowl Richard Seymour was back instead of mediocre Richard Seymour. (Part of that, although not all of it: Jets left guard Adrien Clarke is awful. I have no idea if Pete Kendall was worth whatever money he was asking for, long-term, but short-term that contract squabble just destroyed the Jets line.) Eugene "Healthy Scratch" Wilson had a nice game, replacing the injured James Sanders. Maroney was big too. Kelley Washington has yet to catch a pass but he's become a special teams force.
Sean McCormick: Obviously, the weather was a factor in limiting the Patriots' ability to go downfield, but that probably shouldn't be overstated, as Brady took multiple deep shots at Moss. It definitely did influence the Patriots' offensive play calls and formations, however, as they were running the ball a lot and were in run formations for much of the game rather than operating from empty shotgun sets.
The Jets offense was limited in its vertical attempts, too, but in this case it was because of the way the Patriot defensive linemen dominated all game long. On the second offensive play, Richard Seymour threw Adrien Clarke aside and went on to body slam Kellen Clemens, knocking him out of the game. On the final play, Clarke escorted Junior Seau straight back to Chad Pennington for the sack that ended the game. The rest of the plays pretty much looked that, too. The Jets were completely unable to run the ball without the aid of gimmicky option plays from Brad Smith.
Give the Jets credit -- they lost the game, but it wasn't for lack of trying. They got very exotic with both their offensive and defensive personnel and formations. They ran a lot of Angry Man on defense, keeping one or two down linemen and having everyone else mill around the line of scrimmage. It didn't convert into many sacks, but it did convince the Pats to run against it rather than throw, and that in turn helped keep the score down.
On offense, the Jets made extensive use of Brad Smith as an option quarterback. They may actually have showed the league how you can get away with incorporating the modern college sets into NFL play: Have someone who isn't making $50 million come in to run it. Smith spent several series at quarterback, and all his plays were quarterback option plays out of the shotgun. He only threw one pass, a fourth-down play where he threw the ball at the feet of an open Chris Baker, but he did have some success running.
I would also add that under the conditions (the offensive line conditions, not the weather conditions), the Jets were clearly better off with Chad Pennington playing quarterback. Sure, he can only throw the ball five yards past the line of scrimmage, but he placed the ball very, very well. Jets fans were tired of endless four-yard passes, but string those together as Pennington did in the third and fourth quarter and you get solid drives. I don't think the game would have stayed as close as it did had Clemens played the entire time.
Ned Macey: Of all the great plays Brady has had this year, none could have shown the reason for his true greatness then the late third-down completion to Wes Welker. Pocket collapses, Brady moves around, keeps his cool, and fires a strike to the open man for a clutch first down. If he gets sacked there, the game would have been very interesting.
Stuart Fraser: Buffalo is at a clear advantage here. Not only does the snow and wind put a serious dampener on Cleveland's mostly passing-based offense, but the Bills are camouflaged in their white road uniforms...
Right, so Brian Moorman just got a snap that was so far above him you'd think Eli Manning threw it. Instead of trying to pick it up, turn around and kick (it was around his own 5), he kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety. I am still not sure if this is the smart thing to do, but on the grounds that Moorman did it I'm thinking probably yes. Opinions?
Doug Farrar: I just saw the weather on a highlight -- yikes! In those conditions, it's probably OK either way, but I'd generally want a punter to get the ball the heck out of the end zone on a busted play before an opposing player can fall on it. Better two points than seven, or a first-and-goal.
Sean McCormick: It didn't look like there was anyone around Moorman, but there was no way for him to know that. I thought it was a heady play.
Stuart Fraser: Moorman's post-safety free kick went out of bounds. The game was subsequently delayed by three or four minutes whilst the officials tried to locate the halfway line. This is a truly impressive amount of snow.
Somebody needs to inform the Browns play callers, though. Fourth-and-2, from the Buffalo 21. Can't kick a field goal into this wind, so they go for it. The problem was that the call was a play-action pass. Derek Anderson is completing somewhere around half his passes, and this one wasn't close to being complete. I hear Jamal Lewis is pretty reliable in short-yardage situations, Mr. Crennel.
Buffalo shows how to complete a fourth-and-short -- Brian Moorman picks up five on the ground on a fake punt on fourth-and-4. I love this game.
I may have to start keeping notes on all the stupid things the Sky (UK local TV) "analysts" say. This has been prompted by a discussion on the Cleveland offensive turnaround, with the names mentioned in connection being Jamal Lewis, Braylon Edwards and "the tight end." All of whom, of course, were there last year, or, in Jamal Lewis's case, are performing pretty much identically to their backup. Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach? They might know who these players are, I suppose...
Great announcer lines of our time: "The wind is blowing in both directions here."
Buffalo's problem is that they can't force the Browns to respect the possibility that Trent Edwards might pass, so Cleveland is free to play run every down and Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson are doing about as well as you'd expect. Even when the Bills do pass it's sufficiently short enough that it doesn't matter that the Browns are playing run, so it isn't going to get them out of the run-first mindset. For the Browns, Anderson is completing fewer than half his passes, but the threat is enough (mostly because all the passes are 10-plus yards downfield) that it's allowing Cleveland to keep more balance and Jamal Lewis isn't facing nine-man fronts. What isn't helping is that the running seems to be pretty much downhill -- cutbacks, counters and general misdirection would probably work better.
Since my previous comment the Bills have started taking shots downfield; the problems now are that A) they're taking far too many of them, and B) Trent Edwards isn't very good at deep or even intermediate passing in this sort of weather. I hate the term "pass-wacky" with the fervor of a Pittsburgh fan who is fed up with commentators telling him that his team need to get back to "Steeler football" and "focus on the run," but Buffalo's offense has never looked as balanced as Cleveland's has.
Mike Tanier: The Bills' receiving corps is not built for bad weather. There's no big possession guy who can plant his feet and catch the short pass over the middle. And Edwards looked pretty lost as to how to handle the conditions as well. What a way to lose when the playoffs are on the line.
Ben Riley: Is Jamal Lewis the new Corey Dillon? It seems like his stat line is either something insane -- like rushing for more than 150 yards through fresh powder that would excite Warren Miller and Jeremy Bloom alike -- or putting up a Loser League wondrous 25-carry, 38-yard performance. What a fun game to watch. Football. Snow. Sweet.
Aaron Schatz: I know there are some readers who hate it when I "blow my horn," and of course there were plenty of wrong predictions this year (yes, I drafted Donovan McNabb too) but Jamal Lewis is one KUBIAK definitely got right. There were complaints about projecting a mediocre, over-the-hill back for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, but fantasy football is not the same as real football. He's at 1,100 and 9 right now.
Stuart Fraser: Since I picked Jamal Lewis as my player who wasn't going to make his KUBIAK projection, I feel the need to respond to that. This projection didn't really have anything to do with Jamal Lewis, and it's almost a misnomer to talk about him that way. The projection was "Cleveland RB1," and clearly KUBIAK saw the coming together of the Cleveland offensive line, so good for it.
Ned Macey: I too projected Lewis as a player not going to make his KUBIAK, and not only was I wrong, but I was bounced from my fantasy playoffs last week on his game-clinching touchdown against the Jets.
Vince Verhei: Last week we noted the downfall of Vince Young, and wondered where the Vince Young of 2006 had been hanging out. Apparently, he's been in Kansas City. Vince never went into "action figure" mode. He looked decisive and in control, confident, not panicky. He never turned the ball over and was only sacked once. He was very accurate, and while he still doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, he had no trouble hitting downfield passes, including the 41-yard touchdown to Roydell Williams in the third quarter.
Bill Barnwell: Awful, awful, awful play call by the Colts on fourth-and-goal from the Oakland 1. You have the No. 1 power line in football (remember when they sucked at that? Not anymore). You're up against the worst run defense in football by a large margin. And you run a play-fake off the stretch play and throw to Ben Utecht? That's way beyond suboptimal play calling.
Aaron Schatz: How on earth are the Raiders keeping Joseph Addai to eight carries and nine yards, as of halfway through the third quarter?
Sean McCormick: They're hitting his legs with two-by-fours under the pile?
Mike Tanier: The Raiders' rush has been awesome. They've overwhelmed the Colts' line and have gotten to Peyton Manning on numerous occasions. That's extending to the run game. He also only has eight carries. The Colts' scheme (stretch play) doesn't really lend itself to running against the Raiders' scheme (circuitous trips around blockers to ball-carriers), I've discovered.
Ned Macey: Speaking of hubris: Against Oakland, the Colts threw 39 passes, plus three sacks and a scramble, and only handed off 18 times. I was only half-watching -- because of the expected outcome I volunteered to play with my daughter -- but it appeared that the Raiders were staying with three linebackers. Manning sees three linebackers, he always calls pass. Unfortunately, these linebackers can really run, i.e., cover Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, and Utecht. Add in Nnamdi Asomugha playing tight on Reggie Wayne, and all the Colts really had was Anthony Gonzalez.
Addai did struggle in his limited opportunities, but he didn't get consecutive carries until the fourth quarter. What did the Raiders do besides leave in three linebackers? Let's just say that the Warren who appeared to be on the field most of the time was Gerald, not Sapp. There were many Terdell Sands sightings as well. The defensive tackles got good penetration, and the linebackers cleaned up.
Doug Farrar: I'm impressed by Snuggly Bear. Gaining 1,000 yards in 14 games isn't usually an especially momentous event, but it is when you do it behind that offensive line. Justin Fargas runs really, really hard, and he's 10th in DPAR. Who knew?
Vince Verhei: I also thought Fargas looked good. Unlike, for example, Adrian Peterson, who gains a lot of easy yards through gaping holes before he ever has to make a defender miss, it seemed like Fargas was doing everything on his own, finding little cracks in the line and getting everything out of every run. Where has this guy been for the past two years?
Aaron Schatz: Keith Olbermann: "The game started 0-0 -- and that was the highlight for Detroit." Score one for DVOA when it comes to the Lions. Six straight losses. Eek.
Doug Farrar: On the Ken Hamlin hit to Matt Schobel, it looked like he led with his shoulder and not his helmet. Good no-call, or did he lead too high anyway?
And there's Roy Williams falling victim to his own rule after giving Donovan McNabb the most textbook horse-collar tackle you'll ever see. I swear, the players have to be laughing at the NFL about this -- "Oh-oh, here's the penalty they call one time in five! Here's a $7,500 fine, and I'm only making $5 million this year!"
Aaron Schatz: Attention: For today's performance of "Donovan McNabb Is Sacked," the part of Winston Justice will be played by Max-Jean Gilles. Thank you.
Mike Tanier: I am now officially surprised when the Eagles score a red-zone touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: Mike, we were both at the first game between these teams. Maybe I'm just not paying enough attention due to a very needy little girl, but I can't quite figure out where the differences are here. McNabb is definitely healthier, which gives him scrambling ability and confidence. Tony Romo's having some problems, but I'm not exactly sure what the cause is. Yes, the Eagles are paying a ton of attention to Terrell Owens, but that's leaving Jason Witten open all the time, just like last week against Detroit, and Romo is doing a reasonable job of finding him. He just can't seem to throw to anyone else...
Mike Tanier: Better defensive game plan and execution, plus a little flatness by Romo, who was lights-out that Sunday night. McNabb threw the ball pretty well in that first game and isn't doing anything that much better in this one.
Michael David Smith: Has there ever been a good quarterback who's worse at clock management than Donovan McNabb? To throw the ball away instead of take a sack when leading late in the fourth quarter is inexcusable, although he did make up for it with a sweet pass on the next play.
And right after I saw that, Brian Westbrook shows that he understands clock management to a greater extent than any running back in the NFL.
Ryan Wilson: I love the fact that Westbrook is thinking about running out the clock -- it's a heady play, particularly when he's about a foot from the end zone -- but my first thought always goes back to Jerome Bettis' fumble in the 2005 AFC Divisional game against the Colts.
Whatever, I hope Westbrook's agent points to that play when it's time to renegotiate his deal. A lot of guys aren't big on giving up touchdowns for the good of the team, as it were.
Mike Tanier: When I saw Westbrook go down, I thought, "awesome." Then I thought, well, that touchdown would have made it a two-score game with the Cowboys out of timeouts. Now the Eagles still lead by four, they can kneel, but if there is a miracle play or an aborted snap then ... Odds-wise, it's still the right move, but as an Eagles fan I excel at dreaming up nightmare scenarios.
According to the morning paper, Jon Runyan told Westbrook to take a knee if he reached the 1-yard line. I need to post this so all the Villanova alums out there stop congratulating themselves for being so smart.
Watching this game closer in the second half. Clearly, Romo's thumb was a huge problem. He was missing guys, and I think that shook his confidence, because he seemed to hesitate more in the pocket rather than doing what he usually does, moving outside to keep a play alive. The Eagles were really getting to him with twists and stunts, but it didn't seem like there were a lot of big blitzes here. I think the Cowboys had some issues where the backs were going into patterns too early, before hanging back to pick up pass rushers who might be slightly delayed in coming in.
I don't know if this is absolutely true, or just my fallible memories, but it seems like Week 15 always has an unusual number of upsets or good teams winning close games over bad teams. I remember writing about it in Quick Reads at one point. This was the week the 2005 Colts and 1998 Broncos blew their perfect seasons, the week the 2004 Pats lost to Miami on Monday night, the week the 2005 Seahawks nearly blew a game to a terrible Titans team, the Bears had that overtime game with Tampa last year ... This week we had the Patriots and Colts both eking out wins over inferior teams, and now the Cowboys losing.
Doug Farrar: I was thinking about that this morning. Maybe it's because teams have come close to wrapping up their seeds, but it's too early to rest their starters. Basically a limbo week before the rush to the bench.
Vince Verhei: How much did losing Andre Gurode hurt the Cowboys? Obviously, Romo was struggling even in the early going, but it seemed like most of the pressure the Eagles were getting in the second half was coming right up the middle.
Aaron Schatz: If Eli Manning's Citizen Eco-Drive watch is as unstoppable as he is, that thing must stop working every November.
Ben Riley: Antwaan Randle El just set the bar on MNF introductions. I think he was doing the David Chappelle "white guy" voice.
Aaron Schatz: Amani Toomer. Yikes. What a drop. Lots of drops in this game. More problems for the Patriots receivers in that game, and some butterfingers from the Jets at times. We know that wind causes problems for the pass in the air, but maybe it makes even normal-looking passes difficult to catch. Anyone else feel like there were an abnormal number of drops specifically in today's weather-affected games?
Sean McCormick: Broken leg for Jeremy Shockey. Kiss that first-round win in Seattle goodbye.
Aaron Schatz: By the way, does anyone know why on earth Washington is treating Steve Smith as if he were the other Steve Smith? John Madden's right, there's a 12-yard cushion out there.
Doug Farrar: Because the Redskins know that if Smith is lined up one-on-one with a cushion and no help, Eli will instead throw: A) to the other side into triple coverage; B) a goatball somewhere between Reuben Droughns and Plaxico Burress; or C) a wormburner to his backup tight end. All of which he did on the late fourth-quarter drive.
Mike Tanier: The NFL.com story said something along the lines of "Giants running backs suddenly got a case of the dropsies." Yeah, in September.
197 comments, Last at 25 Dec 2007, 9:32am by Eric P