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?
24 Sep 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: Go Frankadelphia Yelloweagles! Nice unis!
Mike Tanier:I have my light blue King of Sweden tee-shirt. But I draw the line at a jersey
Ben Riley: Speaking of fashion disasters, I'm watching NFL Countdown right now, and Emmitt Smith is wearing a five-inch tie. There's about a foot of open space between where the silk ends and Emmitt's belt line begins -- hit that hole, tie!
Tim Gerheim: Does he have one of those outrageously large knots like Michael Irvin always used to sport? (God, I miss ESPN in Germany.) Apparently a quadruple-Windsor or something is en vogue among former Triplets, and it takes a lot of tie length to make happen. It looks OK with a jacket, but laughable without one.
Bill Barnwell: Amazingly, Coors Light manages to make "They are who we thought they were!" not funny. This is right up there with Maxim making Melissa Joan Hart unattractive in tragedies of the 21st century.
Doug Farrar: Not to mention what Keith Olbermann's appearances on Football Night in America are doing to my fond memories of his SportsCenter years.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, for crying out loud. I thought that Macintosh's "let's buy time in every single commercial break and run the exact same commercial" strategy was a one-week thing, but no, they want to pound that song into our heads until somebody finally flips, drives to Toronto, and stabs Leslie Feist to death out of frustration.
Bill Barnwell: Right when that e-mail came through, I heard Feist singing from the other room. I'm firmly against this commercial now and demand that Emily Haines have her own by Week 9.
Bill Barnwell: Pennington looks OK so far. A little labored in his throws, but it's like typical Pennington: When he has time, he's fine.
When he doesn't cover, Channing Crowder helps. I wrote about this in the book, but he's just an awful cover linebacker, and with Zach Thomas out, Crowder's in the middle. Pennington looked him off and Crowder ran three yards out of his zone, creating a perfect hole for Jerricho Cotchery right behind him. Two plays later, Crowder crowned Pennington after a throw and roughed the passer. Jets scored a few plays later.
Miami drives behind Ronnie Brown, who decimates the Jets run defense like it was 2006. Then came an interesting play where the Dolphins brought in Jason Taylor inside the five. Taylor lined up as a tight end, motioned out right and had a one-on-one matchup against Erik Coleman. He drew a pass interference penalty and the Fins scored two plays later.
Aaron Schatz: The Dolphins did that thing with Taylor last year. I think it was the same thing -- he came in as a tight end in the goal-line set and then motioned wide.
Bill Barnwell: Jets respond with a perfect kickoff return for 98 yards and a touchdown. I don't think Leon Washington was touched once.
Sean McCormick: The genius of Cam Cameron in action: On Miami's first drive, they converted a third-and-3 by getting Marty Booker in the slot against a zone for a five-yard gain. Later in the drive, they are in another third-and-3, so Cameron decides to run the exact same play, only motioning Booker from left to right. This time, Darrelle Revis was on him in man coverage, Trent Green pulled the ball down and ended up getting sacked. You're a genius, Cam.
Jonathan Vilma is playing the best game I've seen from him since the team went to a 3-4. He's sliding off blocks and standing up Ronnie Brown. For the last two years, whenever Vilma has made a tackle, he's gone backwards. Today he's making the ball carrier go backwards.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson is really doing a good job against Jason Taylor. Ferguson has trouble with bull rushers, but speed guys like Taylor are much easier for him to deal with, as he has the feet to rapidly set up and negate the outside rush.
Third week in a row that the Jets offense draws a defensive penalty with a quick snap. In this case, they got Miami with twelve men on the field. It's a nice byproduct of Chad calling much of the game at the line.
Thomas Jones just stiff-armed Travis Daniels twice in the course of one run, with the second one being a knockdown. Daniels isn't going to want to go back to the huddle after that one.
Bill Barnwell: Dolphins just scored to make it 31-19 and then ran the Statue of Liberty play for two. Cam Cameron isn't a genius, but that was pretty nifty.
Sean McCormick: Green faked the fade, held the ball behind his back with his left, and Ronnie Brown took it in for an easy conversion. The Dolphins showed it in preseason, and they ran it to perfection.
Stuart Fraser: Edgerrin James just broke a 27-yard run. This is not last year's Ravens defense (or last year's Arizona run blocking). On the flip side, while the fullback can run block, he can't catch. Leinart has bounced two passes off his fullback's hands so far.
Um, right. Then we get a delay of game, followed by another delay of game which is re-ruled as an Arizona timeout. I think Leinart needs to speak up.
Bill Barnwell: Baltimore's run defense looked pretty good to me the first two weeks. They have a -56.7% DVOA, too.
Stuart Fraser: Whisenhunt benches Leinart for Warner (who promptly hits Anquan Boldin for 20 yards and Fitzgerald for 10, somehow, since there wasn't much wrong with either coverage). Warner is going no-huddle, which might be why Leinart isn't in, but ... let's just say Matt doesn't look happy.
Baltimore's blitz pickup is FANTASTIC. It's not as if Clancy Pendergast is just rushing the same guys play after play, but Musa Smith and the various linemen and ends are picking up everyone who comes -- McNair never looks hurried. I had a sentence written about how the wide recievers couldn't get open in the red zone, but Mason just caught a TD pass. (Cardinals non-tackling helped.)
According to the FOX sideline reporter, Whisenhunt claims that his offense has a "Kurt Warner" package, which has nothing to do with how Leinart is playing (he's now back in, mostly throwing short passes). It's an interesting idea, presumably based on the idea that the Ravens weren't preparing for Warner, but...
Doug Farrar: Hopefully for Whisenhunt, that Warner Package doesn't have an expiration date.
Stuart Fraser: Next Warner sighting: Cardinals kick a field goal, kick onside and recover. Warner comes out and completes a pass to Fitzgerald, who fumbles and the Ravens recover (and run it in for a touchdown, but it's brought back by a dubious down by contact call).
The Ravens are blocking really well, but they keep insisting on trying McNair on bootlegs, which is kind of weird when he's not getting particularly pressured in the pocket.
FOX just put up a QB comparison graphic on Warner and Leinart, showing Warner has thrown half as many passes for 1.5 times as many yards. Next play, Boldin burns Corey Ivy on a fake slant and Warner hits him for 25 or so. I'd say we now officially have a quarterback controversy in Arizona.
Doug Farrar: Goodness. I don't know that anyone saw that coming.
Aaron Schatz: And then, after Kurt Warner drops the snap four times next week...
Doug Farrar: And throws three picks, and gets booed off the field...
Stuart Fraser: Brian Billick subbed Kyle Boller in because, apparently, the Ravens are still worried about McNair's groin (so why do you keep calling rollouts, Billick?). Ravens go three-and-out, Morey deflects the punt. Warner comes back in, finds Fitzgerald, finds Boldin, touchdown. 20-23. Announcers talking about how there's "nothing fake about what Warner's doing" and how he "has the experience." Some of this might just be the Ravens breaking down late in the third quarter and the fourth, just as they did against the Bengals and Jets. Some of it might be the no-huddle Warner's running. Some of it is that the receivers are getting more separation. Some of it is that Warner is seeing the field better and throwing more accurately than Leinart.
Boller is still in. No word on if McNair is more injured than the Ravens are letting on.
The Cardinals tie the game up at 23, a mixed drive which stalled after Warner started taking shots at the end zone. McNair has "tweaked" his groin, and Billick "is not risking further injury." So. 23-23. You have the ball on your 20 (Rackers kicked a touchback). Kyle Boller is, admittedly, looking much better this year -- just as PFP predicted -- but still, who would you want to lead a game-winning drive?
Ben Riley: Fourth-and-1 from the Indy 45, Houston lines up to go for it, then calls timeout. Matt Schaub then ends up drawing Indy offside with a hard count. Somewhere, TMQ is smiling.
(That Owen Daniels fumbled on the next play should not detract from Houston's chutzpah.)
You'll all be seeing the highlight of Joseph Addai leaping 17 yards in the air to score from the six-yard line. Great call by whoever is announcing this game: "Houston, we have lift-off."
Ben Riley: Cart out for Houston's defensive tackle, Cedric Killings, injured on a special teams play. Both teams on the field, praying.
Will Carroll: Killings just dropped his head and is getting backboarded off. He's moving his arms, but he was clearly unconscious while still upright. His arms locked out before gravity took over.
Ahman Green looks terrible and I'm not even sure how much that can be blamed on his knee.
The contraption Freddy Keiaho is wearing to HOLD HIS ELBOW IN PLACE is pretty amazing. More amazing that he can or even would play.
Michael David Smith: Colts' rookies are not looking good. On one play, Tony Ugoh lets Mario Williams hit Peyton Manning; on the next, Anthony Gonzalez drops a pass.
Ned Macey: The touchdown return by Mathis came on a second kick, after the Colts were offside. The Colts, worried about kicking again, promptly squib and still give up the touchdown. Have we ever checked to see if there are more big returns after a kicking team penalty?
Do the Texans have a pass play in their playbook that goes more than eight yards? I guess Matt Schaub is "in control," but everything is dink-and-dunk. Looks a lot like David Carr against the Colts last year. Same formula of wasting time to limit Colts' possessions. Of course, Schaub is playing without Andre Johnson.
As for the Colts, the Texans are taking away the outside, so Manning is relying on Clark/Gonzalez/Addai. Gonzalez has dropped two catchable passes. The Texans defensive line is playing well against the run, but I don't think they have the necessary secondary depth to deal with the Colts.
Ben Riley: Reggie Wayne almost -- repeat, almost -- had the early lead on catch of the year, juggling a ball from fingertip to fingertip while falling backwards. Ball came out when he hit the ground, but an amazing effort. (Dunta Robinson blanketed him too -- Robinson's my early Pro Bowl cornerback pick.)
Jacoby Jones just busted off an 8o-yard kick return, which Schaub promptly turned over by forcing a throw into triple coverage. I believe Schaub is a good NFL quarterback, but he has decision-making problems in the red zone.
Ben Riley: With 3:45 to play, Houston down by two touchdowns, the Texans get to first-and-goal on the two after a nice pass by Schaub to Daniels. The Texans then meander around for a while and decide to call timeout after 40 seconds run off the clock. The Texans just scored, but that was horrible clock management by Kubiak.
Tim Gerheim: This comes as perhaps little surprise, but DeMarcus Faggins simply can't cover Marvin Harrison. All I have is the radio to go on -- curse you Germany for your love of fuÃŸball and your indifference to good American football -- but it sounds like Manning has thrown to Harrison so much more than to Wayne today. It doesn't come through in the yardage totals because Wayne got one deep ball for most of his yardage, but it seems like every time the Colts really needed a first down, most particularly late when protecting a six-point lead, it went to Harrison.
Mike Tanier: Another typical early-season Colts game. They took a healthy lead, 27-10, then just calmly toyed with the Texans. The guy next to me at the bar had the Colts laying 7.5. I told him it was a bad idea: They are so calm and methodical with a lead that they will just let the Texans come back very slowly. Never take the Colts and lay points in the AFC South, especially on the road. Oh, and their kick coverage teams still look pretty bad.
Aaron Schatz: I hope that this game doesn't lead to complete panic in San Diego. Losing a close game on the road to one of the best teams in the other conference is probably the least negative loss a team can have.
The final totals: In three games against the teams that finished 1, 2 and 3 in DVOA vs. tight ends in 2006, Antonio Gates had 297 yards and two touchdowns. Awesome.
Doug Farrar:Not so awesome is the fact that LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers were jawing at each other on the sidelines, and LT2 looks more and more miserable after each game. I'm not saying that Marty Schottenheimer is feeling a tinge of Schadenfreude (because I'm sure he isn't when it concerns the players he coached), but this has to be one hell of a 64th birthday present.
Tim Gerheim: What the hell is going on in Philly? Hasn't their offense looked awful for the first two games? Is MDS on a window ledge somewhere?
Michael David Smith: If, like Donovan McNabb, you're a quarterback planning to say something that's going to get you criticized, be sure it's going to air the week before you play the Lions. Everyone will forget all criticisms after the game.
Aaron Schatz: Attention, media. This is Donovan McNabb. I apologize for that whole race thing and just want to let you know that I don't suck. Thanks.
Bill Barnwell: I had this whole column ready where I was going to blame McNabb shaving his "halfro" for his struggles this year. I just watched tape of the Redskins-Eagles game yesterday and he really wasn't that bad. He aired a couple of throws out, but most of his problems were because his receivers just weren't getting open in tight man coverage. The Lions can't really do tight man coverage.
Ben Riley: Genius move on my part to bench Kevin Curtis this week. He's got 26 points with 11 minutes to play in the second quarter. Did I say 26 points? McNabb just hooked up with him again -- third touchdown of the day. Is Detroit bothering to cover Curtis at all? What is going on?
Michael David Smith: Kevin Curtis has more than 200 yards. Roy Williams has more than 150. It's almost the two-minute warning. Of the first half.
Doug Farrar: Hey Ben, can you trade for Deion Branch and bench him next week?
Ned Macey: Didn't this exact same thing happen to the Lions a couple years ago? Start 2-0, then get destroyed by Philly. I'm shocked, shocked that the Lions secondary can't keep up with the Eagles. I mean, they held Josh McCown to like 300 yards.
David Lewin: Looks like Jon Kitna might get those 5,000 yards he promised today the way things are going.
Mike Tanier: Keith Smith, number 23 for Detroit, was the victim of several of Kevin Curtis' big plays.
The lineman formerly known as Tre' Thomas was hurt in the game. Status unknown. Shawn Andrews left with an eye poke (concussion?) but returned. Winston Justice and Max Giles played a little and didn't look bad. Great win, but the Eagles need Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard back, and soon.
Oh, and MDS said something earlier about everyone forgetting the McNabb criticism and the race controversy. Mike has clearly never set a pinkie toe in the City of Brotherly Love.
Ben Riley: Cadillac Williams just plowed into the end zone, shortly after Jeff Garcia hooked up with Galloway on some perfectly timed slants. The PFP Prediction System just called me and said "I told you so."
Ned Macey: Drew Bennett gets held by Brian Kelly in the end zone, but no call. Jeff Wilkins finally hits a field goal after missing his first two. That's two missed field goals and an end zone interception from Bulger and only three points. The Bulger interception was another good play by Buchanon, although it was a pretty bad pass that gave him the chance.
Doug Farrar: Total St. Louis receiving yards today: 116. Total Kevin Curtis receiving yards today: 221. I can give you the name of one athlete who's very happy to be in Philadelphia right now...
Ben Riley: Kenechi Udeze just tossed Kyle Turley aside and nailed Larry Johnson about five yards deep in the backfield. L.J. then threw the ball, prompting a five-yard penalty for delay of game. Kansas City is a complete disaster.
Doug Farrar: Conversely, that was a freakish triple headfake that Adrian Peterson put on some poor Chiefs defender for his first-half touchdown.
Vince Verhei: I picked Minnesota to be the worst team in the league, and now that I see them against KC, I realize I was a fool. Herm is running L.J. into an eight-man front for one yard or less on every first down.
Ben Riley: Minnesota has a good defense, and its coach isn't named Herm Edwards. KC is averaging -0.3 yards on first down today.
Doug Farrar: Evidently, those who state publicly that you should not throw your franchise running back into the mouth of the NFL's dominant interior line over and over only do so on those danged Internets.
Vince Verhei: Strange things are afoot at the Circle K. Huard finds Dwayne Bowe for a series of first downs, and suddenly Larry Johnson rips a long run down inside the 10. Of course, it's called back for holding. Bowe converts on third down, then L.J. loses a yard on first.
Vikings are about to get the ball back with about 1:30 to go. Kelly Holcomb has gone most of the way at quarterback. He's definitely the most talented passer they have, but there have also been a number of incompletions due to miscommunication.
Ben Riley: The Chiefs were just flagged for 12 men on the field, stopping the clock with 45 seconds (and Minnesota holding no timeouts). "That one was ON ME. I screwed up. IT'S ON ME." Kansas City is still going to win though.
Vince Verhei: Huard finds Bowe for a touchdown! KC leads 13-10! I was right about Minnesota! I am way too excited about this game!
Aaron Schatz: Early on, we are seeing why no game should ever have a line of 16.5. The Bills lost J.P. Losman when he hurt his knee on an Ellis Hobbs corner blitz sack-and-fumble, and they are still up 7-3 after one quarter. Trent Edwards came in and led a drive down the field. He looked very calm and composed, certainly more calm than Losman normally looks. The Pats are playing a very soft zone so Edwards could find all those non-Lee Evans guys, who were all wide-open on nearly every play. (One negative: Edwards' play-fakes are awful.)
Bill Moore: If by play-fakes, you are referring to his constant ball-less bootlegs, he kept screwing with me. I made the trek to Foxboro and watched the game from the end zone (a tough depth perception view). Edwards would fake the bootleg on every handoff. From my "behind the QB" angle, I couldn't tell whether he had the ball or not -- drove me crazy!
Aaron Schatz: No, the opposite. The waving the ball in the general direction of Marshawn Lynch before a drop-back pass play. That fooled nobody.
Lynch really bulldozed his way into the end zone on an eight-yard touchdown run, very impressive. On the other hand, nearly every tackle of Lynch seems to be a defender catching him by the ankle and Lynch can't get loose. I don't know if the Pats are better at ankle-tackling than other defenses, or Lynch is not as good at escaping from ankle tackles, but I'm leaning towards the latter.
Pats offense is a bit off so far today. In the red zone, Brady twice threw to guys who were covered even though Buffalo was in zone. Nice plays by Crowell (on Gaffney) and Whitner (on Moss). Beginning of second quarter, they went for it on fourth-and-long in long field goal range and threw to Kevin Faulk two yards shy of the sticks. Someone needs to tell Brady about the Madden "to the sticks" hot route.
With 9:00 left in the second quarter, Tom Brady has the ball stripped as he's going over the goal line on a quarterback sneak. I thought that the review showed his knee down before he lost the ball, but I'm certainly willing to accept that it was not "indisputable evidence." Two plays later, Trent Edwards barely touches his foot against the back of the end zone as he's rolling away from pressure, no safety. Belichick throws his second challenge. Once again, the ruling on the field stands.
Paul Posluszny has a broken forearm and is now out indefinitely. The Bills are winning this game despite losing Posluzny and Losman. At halftime, they'll be changing into black jerseys and orange helmets featuring a large "S."
Mike Tanier: Sounds like Losman is out for a few weeks. Worse yet, Poz may be out for the year. There goes one of the few Bills I was really excited about.
Bill Moore: I haven't watched too much of Buffalo this year, but probably not coincidentally, the Bills fell apart after Poz went out. The Patriots ran the ball quite easily after the Bills switched middle linebackers.
Sean McCormick: Buffalo fans should be happy about one thing: This is a good upcoming quarterback class, and the J.P. Losman era is likely to come to a merciful end.
Aaron Schatz: Second half report on Patriots-Bills: Buffalo will not be playing the role of the Syracuse Orange today. 24-7 halfway through the third quarter, the Patriots offense is now in gear, and this sucker is pretty much over.
I would like to ask that we please, please, please have a moratorium on "Can the Patriots go 16-0?" talk until after they've gone to Indianapolis Week 9 and to Baltimore Week 13. If they are 12-0 after that, with their last four games either at home or at the Giants, then we can talk.
Sean McCormick: Besides, we all know the Pats are going to lose in Miami.
Aaron Schatz: Wes Welker adds extra yards to a long reception by lateraling the ball to Randy Moss. Really. Then Sammy Morris goes in for a score. 31-7, 3:30 left in the third quarter. We will now take bets on when Matt Gutierrez appears in this game.
Edwards has thrown to Lee Evans only four times and he has no receptions. I can't even tell what they are doing to stop him, since it still looks like the Patriots are playing a soft zone, and of course after the snap everyone runs off the screen.
This just in: We were wrong about Randy Moss.
Bill Barnwell: On the other hand, we were right about the Rams.
Sean McCormick: And the Bucs, despite ourselves.
Bill Barnwell: We were right about Green Bay, too.
Vince Verhei: I personally was very wrong about the Packers.
Doug Farrar: San Francisco's first first down of the day after two ineffective plays was a pass from Alex Smith to Darrell Jackson, which was aided by a desperation Frank Gore block on James Farrior as Smith rolled left. Gore is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry through two games this season after 5.4 last year -- teams are obviously focusing on him. Now, Smith is throwing little screens and quick rollouts to keep that Pittsburgh defense off his back. San Francisco drove down the field, but they were stymied from the Pittsburgh 14 after a Gore run for no gain and two hurried throws into the end zone by Smith. Right now, this offense looks really iffy, and it's all on Smith to make opponents respect the passing game and give Gore some breathing room. Gore faced a lot of "boxes" last year, but the opportunities don't seem to be there now.
Of course, when your offense is problematic, you could do what the Steelers did on the kickoff after the field goal: Allen Rossum for 98 yards the other way.
Tim Gerheim: Is it just me, or have there been a ton of kick return touchdowns this week so far? I just counted one punt and three kickoff return touchdowns, basically through halftime of the early games. That's probably one of TMQ's old statistics that I have absolutely no idea what it means.
Doug Farrar: Right now, I'm suspecting that the best way for Gore to get yardage against this defense is short passes. Maybe he'll get his 100 yards on 10 screens. Steelers' defense looking very strong -- good form, good position, good reads. Troy Polamalu just axed Vernon Davis on a short pass on San Francisco's second drive.
Ryan Wilson: I have no idea what the "hitting the QB below the knee" rule is. The Steelers just tackled Alex Smith low on two different plays -- nothing dirty, just low -- and no flag.
Aaron Schatz: In the Pats-Bills game, Vince Wilfork got called for the "hitting the QB below the knee" rule against Buffalo and I think he sort of rolled into Losman with inertia.
Doug Farrar: Bryant Young wasn't fooled by Roethlisberger's play action in Pittsburgh's second offensive play of the day -- he and Hannibal Navies caused a fumble on the sack, and the 49ers recovered. Of all the recent 3-4 converts, I like this defense the best.
Good Lord -- every time Gore runs the ball, there are eight Steelers on him right away. Maybe let's go away from that idea and run something else until something else works and the defense has more than one play to watch for?
Vernon Davis with three receptions for 43 yards early, but Smith is just awful in the red zone through the first quarter. Nothing doing on the first and third drives, and only a worm-burner to Delanie Walker was even close.
Patrick Willis vaporized Willie Parker on an end run right at the end of the first quarter. Willis shedded the tight end and wrapped Parker up. You could tell that Parker didn't know WHERE that came from.
Okay, seriously -- who's the genius calling for Gore to run right at Casey Hampton all the time? Alex Smith just picked up San Francisco's longest run of the day early in the second quarter when he was flushed out of the pocket.
Doug Farrar: Holy freakin' crap. Pittsburgh just ran an end-around right to Cedrick Wilson, but the 49ers had the right side sealed off, so Wilson had to reverse his field and angle to the middle where there was space -- and Willis shut off the right side, by the way. Out of nowhere -- from what must have been from 25 yards upfield -- Nate Clements shoots right up the pike and nails Wilson for no gain. An unbelievable play. A couple plays later, Clements gets robbed on a holding call on Wilson when he's within five yards. More stupid judgment calls...
Nice direct snap to Hines Ward for a first down play on Pittsburgh's first touchdown drive. The 49ers are starting to get gashed on the run -- the one big vulnerability I saw with this defense in the preseason. Parker has 79 yards on 11 carries in the first half.
That Norv to San Diego thing isn't just tragic for the Chargers. Alex Smith has seriously regressed â€“- he looks like a first-year Division II player stuck in an NFL uniform by some horrible mistake. After watching one half and brief shots of the first two games, I am officially concerned.
Bill Barnwell: Smith looked bad against the Cardinals in Week 1. Really bad.
Ned Macey: Smith was pretty bad against the Rams as well, but I wonder what he's "regressing" from. He played at replacement level last year, so this isn't that big a decline.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, but Smith played at replacement level in his second year, after posting the single worst QB DPAR in history in his rookie year, with CFL receivers. The receivers have been part of the problem in this game (Lelie looked really bad on one incompletion), though there have been upgrades this year, but he's rushing throws, balking at pressure -- he just doesn't look remotely confident out there. And the red zone performance has been abysmal.
Mike Tanier: Alex Smith is an athlete, not a quarterback. He can't hit receivers in tight spots. He throws behind guys and to the wrong shoulder. Unless he makes some sudden improvement over the next few weeks, I see a guy who is always going to frustrate you because he's always missing receivers by two yards on deep passes and throwing behind them on short passes.
Doug Farrar: Hmmm ... it appears that for the second half, the 49ers are going to run Gore outside once in a while -- and when they run him inside, Larry Allen will help chip Hampton before moving on. Excellent idea!
Smith finally got off a good long throw in the third quarter to Vernon Davis, who was upended by Polamalu at the 10-yard line. Ball came out, but Davis was down. Yeouch, what a hit.
Oh, wait -- then Mike Nolan throws the challenge flag after Ryan Clark returned the "fumble" a number of yards, and Gerry Austin rules after review that the pass was incomplete. I don't understand this at all, because it was clear that Davis had possession until his upper body hit the turf, and the ball never hit the ground. The ball came out of Davis' arm and into the hands of Clark. An incomplete pass is the one thing I don't think it can be -- I think it's either a catch by Davis and the ground caused the fumble, or the ball's still in play and it's a Pittsburgh interception because it never touched the ground. Huh? You'll see that one on "Official Review" this week, no question.
Ryan Wilson: Moose Johnston, in talking about Willie Parker (who's over 100 yards again today) just asked if we should be worried about the Curse of 370. (Raises hand.)
Alex Smith just made a great touchdown pass under pressure to Taylor Jacobs, cutting the Steelers' lead to 30-16 with just over two minutes to go. On the ensuing kickoff, the 49ers go for an onside kick and ... Daniel Sepulveda (a.k.a. ROBO-PUNTER) recovers. That's right, the punter is on the all-hands team.
Doug Farrar: So are the Niners what we thought they were? Pretty much. I still think they have a very good chance to win their division based on a few key improvements (Nate Clements looks like he wants to earn his entire contract in the first season) and a very weak schedule. They're not in Pittsburgh's league right now, but I don't think too many teams are. The Steelers are really on a tear.
Stuart Fraser: On the Browns' first drive, after a couple of first downs, the Raiders get to Anderson as he throws, the ball goes backwards out of his arm, and it eventually winds up out of bounds 24 yards behind the snap. Then the Browns get a delay of game, Lewis up the gut for four, followed by a false start. Third-and-40, baby. Oh, at this point the Browns burned a timeout to avoid another delay of game. Was it worth it?
Is it me, or have there been more delay of game penalties this year than last year? We've had two and a burned timeout in CLE-OAK so far, but then again this is CLE-OAK.
Culpepper may be in in Oakland. Or he may not be. He came in for one play on a third-and-13 after McCown scrambled around to no great effect other than getting hit, and threw a five-yard dumpoff to Jordan.
Cleveland just tried a deep direct snap to Josh Cribbs, with Derek Anderson lined up in a trips bunch wideout. He ran up the gut for six, not that it matters, as Anderson was just intercepted. Mostly what I'm learning from this game is that the Bengals' defense is really horrible.
Culpepper is not in, McCown returned after the interception. Though it may not make much difference. Four-play snippet:
Oakland false starts just to make it more awkward and give McCown a third-and-8. Blatant pass interference from Cleveland on the ensuing fade route, and Oakland have first-and-goal from the One. Yay, defense. Jordan goes backwards on an outside run. McCown pass is tipped by an onrushing Antwaan Peek. McCown has forever, finds Williams in the end zone, who is hit by Jones and drops the ball, ruled incomplete. Yay, offense.
Anderson has now thrown behind his receiver and to an Oakland linebacker twice. The Brady Quinn countdown is, I think, resumed. Meanwhile, McCown is hobbling around between plays (and fails to convert the interception return to the 10 into 7). I have no idea who will be starting at quarterback for either of these teams next week.
Ned Macey: At this point, how bad must Culpepper be in practice? McCown is not the long-term answer at quarterback for them, yet he keeps playing despite being pretty bad. This is a must-win for them, so if Culpepper doesn't play the second half, then I'm afraid he's done as an NFL player.
Speaking of which, who the hell is going to win the AFC West? The Broncos defense is being manhandled by the Jaguars, and their one score came after a blown coverage allowed them to complete a 50-yard pass on a third-and-16.
Stuart Fraser: Oakland just put together an 80-yard touchdown drive which included three short pass plays and twelve runs. The Browns are being knocked backwards by the Raiders' offensive line. I can't believe I just wrote a sentence that ended "knocked backwards by the Raiders' offensive line."
Both defenses are getting tired now in Oakland. I can tell because the offenses are looking competent. Kiffin clearly doesn't trust Culpepper, having only let him throw downfield twice (McCown is clearly hobbled) and I'm not entirely surprised given that he and Anderson appear to be having a "who can overthrow more receivers contest," though Culpepper has the lead as Anderson had one of his fits of looking like an actual NFL quarterback on the last drive (helped by a superb jump catch from Edwards).
To be fair to the Raiders, I haven't commented about their touchdown drive, in which McCown looked competent. That said, the drive did end with Cleveland biting very hard on a play-action fake and Curry was extremely open for the long touchdown pass.
Cribbs took the kickoff back 99 yards the other way, and then McCown and Jordan fumbled a handoff. The Browns recovered on Oakland's 30, drove to a first-and-goal on the five, failed to punch it in and kicked the field goal. The Browns do have some offense, mostly Jamal Lewis, but gah. 16-10. Cleveland does not deserve to be in this game. I think we'll be seeing the deep snap to Cribbs again.
Never trust a Matt Millen draft pick. Daunte Culpepper hit Mike Williams on a slant for a first down after Williams' touchdown-dropping antics earlier. Williams ran on for extra yardage, fumbled and Cleveland recovered.
Doug Farrar: Rookie cornerback Josh Wilson, who led the NFL in kickoff return yardage in the preseason, goes for 72 on the opening kickoff. OK, Seahawks. You're starting at the Bengals' 24. Let's not go incomplete/one-yard Alexander run/fullback draw on third-and-long here. Please?
OK ... pass to Mack Strong, pass to Alexander, touchdown pass to Bobby Engram. That's more like it.
Tremendous touchdown catch by Houshmandzadeh negated by a holding call on Willie Anderson. T.J. went up on Kelly Jennings and Deon Grant and came down in bounds on the right sideline of the end zone.
Rudi Johnson is having more difficulty that I thought against Seattle's undersized front seven. If they can contain him without bringing their safeties up (and that's mostly on Lofa Tatupu), that'll save their secondary a lot of embarrassment.
Houshmandzadeh got his back for a score on the same drive when he and Ocho Cinco ran a pick on Seattle's secondary, and T.J. was wiiiiiiiiiiiiide-open.
I know that Cincinnati's defense is horrid, but Matt Hasselbeck is looking very sharp to start. He's competed nine of his first 10. Alexander, on the other hand, has done nothing early. Three carries for -4 yards in the first quarter. Maybe he and Larry Johnson should start a support group.
I'm not really sure what the Seahawks are doing in the second quarter -- some sort of man/zone hybrid with little in the way of safety help. Unfortunately, this does nothing to help Kelly Jennings defend the comeback route.
However, Leroy Hill (who played out of his mind in this game) forced a Houshmandzadeh fumble, which Kelly Jennings recovered. Two plays later, rookie Leon Hall picked a tipped Hasselbeck pass intended for Marcus Pollard. As we were saying...
Brian Russell just made his first official non-whiff tackle of the year on Rudi Johnson. Yay!
The Bengals tried to run a little counter to Rudi on a third-and-1 in the second quarter, but Russell sniffed it out and stopped the play. It's nice when the "veteran savvy" the Seahawks paid for from Grant and Russell come through...
... such as the safety help by Grant on the Palmer interception late in the first half. It was a long handoff, but it worked, and Grant was right where he needed to be. We'll take a lot more of THAT, please.
You cannot throw a ball any better than Hasselbeck did to Deion Branch on the 42-yard touchdown right before the two-minute warning in the first half. It's as if he'd been hearing all week how pretty Carson Palmer's throws are and decided to take issue.
For any Seattle fan wondering where the pass rush is, look what happens every time the Seahawks bring extra guys instead of running a pretty straight two-deep zone. It tends to get ugly.
The Seahawks are finally, finally FINALLY handing off from their corners to their safeties, and it really pays off when Houshmandzadeh is stopped from a big third-down play with 12:15 left in the third quarter. Grant broke out after Houshmandzadeh passed Jennings, and both defenders were on point to stop what would have been a touchdown with some really solid coverage.
Lemar Marshall (who the Redskins never should have released, if you ask me) sacks Hasselbeck for an easy safety. I really miss the days when I didn't have to worry about Seattle's blocking on every single play.
Unbelievable over-the-shoulder interception by Russell as Palmer overthrows Ocho Cinco. This secondary is starting to round into some sort of shape, after scaring the heck out of Seahawks observers early in the season.
Ben Riley: Nate Burleson is one of the most enigmatic players in the NFL. He's capable of making huge plays, particularly as a punt returner, and he had the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds today. That will make up for the fact that he had the go-ahead touchdown thrown to him three minutes earlier, as well as a deep bomb in the second quarter, and both should have been caught.
The Bengals' special teams are truly atrocious. Leading by six with three minutes to play, Shayne Graham kicks out of bounds. The Seahawks then drive and score, but the Bengals are only down by three with one minute to play, and they have all three timeouts. But the kick returner manages to cough up the ball and that's all she wrote for the Bengals.
Speaking of special teams, apart from a great kick return to start the game by Josh Wilson, Seattle looked horrible too. On one kick, five Seahawks stood around watching a muffed ball before deciding to dive in and trying to recover it. There were also a lot of uncharacteristic penalties on returns. Bruce DeHaven's alleged magic has yet to be seen.
Walter Jones gave up another sack today. It will be interesting to see what the game charters report, but after three games, it's clear that last year's non-superhuman play by Jones was no aberration.
Just before the two-minute warning, Hasselbeck has a pass batted in the air, which he (appears to catch) and then fumble, with Cincy recovering. But it's ruled an incompletion on the field. Marvin Lewis challenged, and to my elated surprise, the incompletion ruling is upheld. And then for some reason the Bengals don't lose a timeout (Ed Hochuli tried to explain why, but his mic went out). Huh?
Vince Verhei: Hochuli said that for some reason, the play was not reviewable. As such, there was no challenge, and as such, Bengals did not lose a timeout.
Ben Riley: T.J. Houshmandzadeh had another huge game but Carson Palmer is going to kill him. There are only so many hits a wide receiver can take over the middle before he breaks in half.
Doug Farrar: I have nothing to add beyond Mike Holmgren's postgame comment: "My goodness gracious. Wonderful win, great win for us." No kidding, Uncle Mike. Heading to San Francisco and then to Pittsburgh, with a 1-2 record, would not have been pretty for this team.
Vince Verhei: Brandon Marshall just made a "wow" play, catching a short out and spinning out of two tackles and running down to the one-yard line. Denver scores on the next play to tie the game.
Tim Gerheim: I feel like this Jacksonville-Denver game is exactly the same as the Browns-Raiders game, except it involves a significant number of good football players. It seems really unorganized. Denver's touchdown came as a result of two passes to Brandon Marshall for 80 yards or so, one of which was a deep lob into a blown coverage, and the other was the one where Marshall broke a ton of tackles to pick up 30 yards down to the one. The rest of the drive was short gains and penalties.
Meanwhile, at the end of the half, with 11 seconds to go, Denver is called offside on a second-down pass that got the Jags to the Denver one. Jacksonville declined the penalty (which would have given them second-and-5), but then Garrard spiked the ball on third down, even though they had a timeout, and they kicked a field goal. If an intramural flag football team got to pick in the NFL draft each year, I think its games would look like this.
Michael David Smith: Broncos go for it on fourth-and-1 inside the five. Like the call to go for it, don't like the play call: Cutler quarterback sneak right into the heart of the defense goes nowhere. Jacksonville gets the ball.
Aaron Schatz: Will someone explain to me what the hell happened to Maurice Jones-Drew this year?
Aaron Schatz: Watching the Giants-Redskins game, I have this uncontrollable craving for pastrami on rye.
Bill Barnwell: One of the things about Antwaan Randle El that make him more valuable than his receiving numbers is his excellent downfield blocking. The Redskins ran several sweeps and tosses behind him and a pulling Pete Kendall.
On the other hand, Corey Webster is absolutely embarrassing on the outside. When there's a tackle to be missed, ignored or feared, Corey Webster is your man.
Kawika Mitchell gets a pass defensed!!! Unfortunately, it's on a lob that goes through his hands and should've been an interception.
Aaron Schatz: The David Diehl Left Tackle Experiment has been a real failure in pass protection, but it does seem to be working well on running plays. Derrick Ward (where the hell did he come from?) is again getting six and seven yards with each carry, mostly on the left side.
Bill Barnwell: Osi Umenyiora's been jumping Jason Campbell's snap count all game. Last time he did it, he did it too well and jumped offside. Also, "get home" is apparently the new piece of lingo Joe Buck's learned this year, since he's mentioned it multiple times each game.
Corey Webster can't play safety, either. He took an awful route to a bomb to Santana Moss that went for 49 yards.
Michael Strahan's not the same player he was the last couple of years. Whether it's because of the holdout or not, he's slowly turning into Simeon Rice. He's been cheating outside on pass plays and ignoring his containment responsibilities when the play runs away from him to try and catch up to it from behind. Clinton Portis just exploited it for a big gain.
Aaron Schatz: In the middle of the second quarter, Clinton Portis made a blitz-pickup block on Antonio Pierce that was just stunning. Troy Aikman called Portis the best pass-blocking back in the league and while we might argue with a lot of things said on a Buck-Aikman broadcast, this was not one of them. If he's not the best, he's close.
With 2:12 left in the second quarter, Jason Campbell got hit in the act of throwing for an incomplete pass. It was the "tuck rule" play. Looking back, it is amazing how controversial that play still is considering that the same thing happens in a random regular-season game at least once a week and nobody says anything. It was pretty simple -- Campbell's arm was going forward, that's an incomplete pass, la la la.
The best thing going for the Giants right now is Jeremy Shockey. You would think that a team that has two safeties chosen in the first handful of draft picks and a huge-money free-agent middle linebacker might be a little better at actually covering the opposing tight end.
And here's Feist again ... STOP IT, APPLE. I HATE YOU.
Bill Barnwell: Eli finally threw his specialty, the back foot interception to no-one in particular. When FOX came back from commercial, Manning, Jared Lorenzen and Kevin Gilbride were looking at a book that said "2006 New York Giants Gameday Pictures." So, either they were looking at old pictures, or they haven't updated their cover sheets. For shame, Giants.
Tim Gerheim: I would just like to say that it is incredibly fun having the Redskins as my fantasy defense this week. When the Giants have the ball, I'm not fearful that they'll score, I'm optimistic that the defense will score for me.
Ironic that the Giants scored immediately after my last comment. When I said that, the NFL GameCenter said that the Giants fumble, recovered by Washington, had been upheld on review. That, it turns out, was erroneous, it was reversed, and the Giants proceeded to score a touchdown to tie the game. So, if you're a Redskins fan, that one was my bad.
Bill Barnwell: Giants defense looks much better in this second half -- the Redskins are struggling, but the Giants are getting pressure on Campbell and containing his checkdowns. Sam Madison has made a number of excellent tackles in run support. Game's now tied as the Giants are moving the ball downfield on the Redskins at will.
Giants finally win by converting 85 percent of their third downs on offense and finally getting pressure with their defensive line on Jason Campbell. Washington ran the totally wrong offense for this game, going with their smoke-and-mirror screen plays and go patterns when they should've noticed the Giants weaknesses (in the middle of the field) and exploited them. The only reason the Redskins stayed close was because of poor coverage units for the Giants.
Aaron Schatz: I watched this whole game and I still can't quite figure out what happened. The Giants defense was completely night and day from the first half to the second half. Jason Campbell looked somewhat uncomfortable as the game went on. Clinton Portis suddenly couldn't hang onto the ball, either on receptions or on a bungled handoff that gave the ball back to the Giants with the game tied. On the other side, Plaxico Burress completely took Carlos Rogers out of his shoes on one play, and on another, Shawn Springs pulled a defensive pass interference because he was two seconds too early to the play and ended up hitting Burress before the ball got there. The Giants passing game is basically two guys, Burress and Shockey. The stats say Amani Toomer caught four balls but I don't remember them.
The Redskins' last drive was just brutal. Penalties, an aborted snap, ugh, it was so sloppy. The Redskins hit a 20-yard pass to Randle El on third-and-13 on the 21, then get up and spike the ball. I don't quite get that. The play before that pass was a spike. Why don't the Redskins call two plays in the huddle? If you know the pass might stop short of the end zone, call a quarterback sneak or a quick pass as a second play, so you get up for the first down and try to get the touchdown instead of blowing a down on a spike. Then the Redskins pass on second down, incomplete, and then they line up in an obvious power running formation and run on third and fourth, and of course, the Giants are expecting a power run from an obvious power running formation on the goal line. They aren't complete morons.
Vince Verhei: The Joey Harrington offense is the polar opposite of the Michael Vick offense. Atlanta is very good at picking up chunks of yards and converting third downs. But with no big play ability, their drives eventually stall before reaching the red zone.
Morten Andersen misses what is, without question, the funniest field goal attempt of his career. Holder Michael Koenen bobbles the snap, and the ball ends up wobbling in front of Mort. So he makes a half- hearted attempt to kick it off the turf. He fails.
Midget wrestling in Atlanta as Steve Smith and DeAngelo Hall are trading shoves. I don't think Smith has caught a pass yet. On the next play, Delhomme hits DeShaun Foster for a touchdown. Keith Brooking was burned in coverage. 10-7 Panthers.
On third-and-1, Harrington play-fakes, scrambles and finds Crumpler, who breaks a tackle and scores. 17-10 Falcons. On the Panthers' next scrimmage play, Smith gets by Hall and draws a pass interference flag. First time he's made an impact today.
Hall is having a complete meltdown. He just drew a 15-yard flag for mouthing off to the ref, then started shouting at the ref, his teammates, his coaches, you, me, everyone. Somehow he stayed in the game. Delhomme hits tight end Jeff King to tie the game on the next play.
Delhomme just threw a pass and went down, untouched, holding his passing elbow. Carr is in.
DeShaun Foster scores his second touchdown to put Carolina ahead. He just ducked in behind his right guard Jeremy Bridges and fullback Brad Hoover and let them knock down anything in their path.
Smith finally makes his first catch on a smoke route, slips a Hall tackle and picks up a first down. Panthers pick up a field goal on the drive. 27-17 Carolina.
The AP story on this game is trying to pin the loss on DeAngelo Hall and his 67 yards of penalties on Carolina's game-tying drive. That's too bad, because other than that drive Hall had a very good game. The biggest reason Carolina won is because in the fourth quarter, nursing a narrow lead, they ran the ball 11 times for 57 yards (not counting kneeldowns), including four first downs and four carries of nine or more yards.
Bill Barnwell: John Madden appears to be wearing a tie made of Scrabble tiles.
I love how Madden and Michaels are OK with the Cowboys kicking the ball out of bounds as long as it doesn't go to Hester. Because that makes a lot of sense. What's the record for most kickoffs out of bounds in a game?
You know how players have good first steps? Mark Anderson has a good last step. His acceleration to keep Romo from getting away was fantastic.
Weird Bears defense: Line up on first down in a 4-2-5 with Urlacher and Briggs as the linebackers. Before the snap, a defensive back (I think Tillman, strangely) moved up, basically playing right outside linebacker, with Briggs and Urlacher shifting over.
Mark Bradley is such a useful player. He just pulled off an incredible burst to nearly block a punt.
Andre Gurode is doing a good job on Tommie Harris so far. Unfortunately, the Bears are getting pressure from the outside too frequently.
Did Coors really need to copy the Chevy commercial?
Aaron Schatz: Israel Idonije has a very wrinkly head.
Ben Riley: Patrick Crayton drops a sure touchdown in the end zone on third down. The ensuing field goal is blocked. John Madden: "And that's how the Bears got to the Super Bowl." I must have missed when Patrick Crayton dropped a touchdown pass in the NFC Championship game. (For the record, I love John Madden. Still.)
Bill Barnwell: Another weird Bears defense: Third-and-4 from the Chicago five. Crayton lines up in the slot with Ricky Manning over him. Before the snap, Manning shifts back about eight yards. Crayton runs a curl right to the goal line and was open for a touchdown, although he dropped the pass. That made no sense to me whatsoever.
Aaron Schatz:I would have to go back into the numbers, but I would guess the Cowboys run a draw play much more often than other teams, and it is almost always Marion Barber. At this point, the Cowboys should consider that when they are in shotgun and Barber is in the backfield, the defense might actually be aware that the draw is a possibility.
Hey. Roy Williams just invoked the Roy Williams Rule! Jinx!
Michael David Smith: Was that the first time Roy Williams actually got called for the Roy Williams Rule?
Doug Farrar: According to our penalty databases, your Pro Football Prospectus 2006 article and information we got from the NFL for my Pro Football Prospectus 2007 article, yes.
Bill Barnwell: Madden: "That's the advantage of being a great competitor. You have to be able to throw from different angles ... including on your knees." Madden talking out his ass or Kyle Boller, explained?
Aaron Schatz: T.O. is having a huge night. This is like Steve Smith in the NFC Championship two years ago. For crying out loud, play some man coverage. Even if it is all zone except one man on T.O., put a man on T.O.
And hey, here we are in the fourth quarter, and the Bears have switched to man coverage on T.O. -- and the pass is defensed by Tillman.
Did Rex Grossman just throw to a guy who was draped by a cornerback with two other defenders right next to them? Yes. Yes, he did.
Ned Macey: I think I predicted after watching Rex in the preseason that they would switch to Griese after a loss to Green Bay dropped them to 2-3. With Green Bay off to such a hot start, they need to start thinking about making the change NOW. The Packers play in Minnesota next week, which sounds like a 4-0 start to me. (Chicago's here in Detroit, which sounds like 2-2).
It seems like Urlacher is rushing the passer more this year, and the Bears are blitzing a good deal in general.
Doug Farrar: I'm now living in a Bizarro World in which an entire stadium is chanting "Grie-se! Grie-se!" It's not 1972, the game's not in Miami, Earl Morrall didn't throw that stupid interception, and I'm amazed that it's come to this.
320 comments, Last at 26 Sep 2007, 3:07pm by B