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?
08 Oct 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.
Aaron Schatz: Somebody is going to need to explain the Browns' coverage scheme to me. They came out with rookie Eric Wright on Randy Moss, Dave Holly on Donte' Stallworth, and Leigh Bodden in the slot. Huh? You put a rookie on Moss instead of one of the top 10 corners in the game? I thought it might be an issue of height, but Bodden (6-1) is actually TALLER than Wright (5-11).
Derek Anderson had three interceptions at halftime: two on tipped passes and one when Mike Vrabel hit his arm as he was throwing.
Based on DVOA, the one sort-of weakness of the Pats defense this year is defending tight ends. A lot of that is Antonio Gates, but they also gave up some nice passes to Chris Baker and Reggie Kelly. So why have the Browns only thrown once to Kellen Winslow in the entire first half?
Bill Barnwell: Derek Anderson's first two picks were good examples of why he's not a real NFL prospect. His first was just awful decision-making, a third-and-goal play from inside the 5 where he had to create something on the fly in infested waters. He cost them three points at pretty much the only point in the game where the Browns were in it. The second was your more standard-fare -- he didn't look anyone off the route, and Adalius Thomas read him right to the ball.
Anderson also really doesn't bear down under pressure inside the pocket. What I love about Jason Campbell vis-Ã -vis Anderson or Trent Edwards is that Campbell looks the same on every play -- comfortable dropback, progresses through his receivers, looks off guys, throws from a good angle even if there are guys in his face. Anderson's throwing the ball while Patriots players are two or three steps away from him, and it's not as if he's making good throws to open receivers, he's just jamming the ball in there.
Brady, on the other hand, is entirely unmolested in the pocket. I didn't see anyone lay a finger on him in the first half. I counted three instances where he had more than five seconds to throw. One of the unreported stories of the Patriots season is how much better the line has been. Last year, Matt Light was erratic and the right side was downright mediocre. This year, they've all been much better.
Aaron Schatz: Tedy Bruschi has the strangest post-sack celebrations. I think he applied for a research grant from the Ministry of Silly Walks.
Give Braylon Edwards some credit. He did not seem to be living up to his draft status in his first couple seasons, and he's had to deal with the unsettled quarterback position in Cleveland, but he definitely seems to be coming into his own this year. He made a sweet, sweet one-handed diving catch in the fourth quarter. It was so sweet that Belichick couldn't actually believe he controlled the ball and challenged. (The play was upheld.)
The Patriots' offense couldn't get anything going in the third quarter, which at this point is just weird. Tom Brady was completely missing guys -- I'm not talking about hurried throws, or good coverage, I mean just plain overthrows, for the first time this year. Once the Browns took it in to make the score 20-10, though, the offense woke up, Brady started completing passes again, and all was normal.
Department of I Don't Understand What Constitutes a Penalty: There was a second-and-4 pass to Randy Moss for a first down near the beginning of the fourth quarter where Kyle Brady was completely holding Antwan Peek coming around the right side of the defensive line. I'm not talking handful of jersey, I'm talking handful of jersey and flesh. No call.
Doug Farrar: So, when all was said and done, the big story wasn't this or that person whining or not whining about what did or didn't happen from an officiating perspective 20 months ago -- the REAL story was that Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, and Casey Hampton were inactive for this game, and Santonio Holmes went out with a hamstring injury in pregame warm-ups, and the Seahawks still couldn't do anything. Mike Holmgren was very critical of his offensive line this week, especially their inability to run-block. Having Hampton out should have been especially huge for Seattle, but this is now a team with enormous problems on the ground. It's becoming difficult to overstate what a concern this is.
Matt Hasselbeck starts the first drive with four straight passes, including two straight with different backs motioning right around Alexander -- Leonard Weaver and Maurice Morris. Hasselbeck was off-target to Nate Burleson on a third down, and Seattle's first drive ends at their own 37. Alexander was handed the ball once. The Steelers are giving Hasselbeck time and covering well. Matt is standing back in the pocket, but looking around for nothing a couple of times early. Halfway through the first quarter. Hasselbeck threw to Deion Branch with Ike Taylor and safety help on him, and Taylor nearly had a pick. I have to wonder if the lack of a solid running game hasn't pushed him over the edge, where he feels that he has to do everything. The Steelers are issuing a challenge to Seattle's offensive line -- they're obviously not taking the rushing attack seriously.
Mike Tanier: I love the Steelers 2-3-6 formation, or whatever you want to call it. "The Prowl" or somesuch. Does it have a name, Ryan or somebody? Anyway, I was impressed to see them run it without Hampton at the nose or Polamalu as the safety who is really a linebacker. The formation is four or five years old and I know the Patriots used it a lot, but the Steelers are really using it to baffle opponents.
Overall, though, I watched the Seahawks offense thinking, "Boy, the league really has this thing figured out."
Aaron Schatz: 2-3-6 or 3-2-6? I'm familiar with the Pats running 3-2-6, three linemen, two linebackers, six defensive backs.
Mike Tanier: I mean 2-3-6. I think. The defense I am seeing, which I saw the Steelers use in the preseason, only has one or two guys playing with their hands in the dirt. Everybody else is a linebacker, DB, or one of those 255-pound defensive ends who are practically linebackers. It's a great 3rd-and-long set because the offensive line has to pick among about seven guys who could blitz, but the defense can also drop into an eight-man coverage scheme without having to rely on some 300-pounder in a hook zone. The Niners did something similar in a few plays that I saw late in that game.
Doug Farrar: Seattle's defense runs a few base 4-3 sets, obviously keying on Willie Parker. Julian Peterson is especially good at trailing Parker on the outside left. Nice coverage by Marcus Trufant on third-and-4 on Cedrick Wilson during Pittsburgh's second drive. Free safety Brian Russell came up out of help on some weird aborted safety blitz, and Trufant shaded Wilson perfectly for the drive-killing incompletion. In previous years, that matchup would have favored the Steelers, but Trufant has really improved in coverage this year.
One play on Seattle's third drive indicated that Alexander's problems aren't just about the line -- he ran into a big wall of Steelers and tried to bounce right, but there just didn't seem to be any real "propulsion" to it. Two years ago, he makes that cut, and the current lack of explosiveness is something I've noticed before this season.
Lofa Tatupu impresses me in a different way seemingly very week. Not only is he outstanding in deep coverage for a middle linebacker, and not only can he stop the run amazingly well, but he's killed at least two pass plays in the first half with fake blitzes. Roethlisberger will think that he has something over the middle at the snap, but Tatupu will know right where to go to take it out of the equation.
Stuart Fraser: Pittsburgh is rushing three on most passing downs and daring Hasselbeck to throw at (usually) blanketed receivers. If Ike Taylor could catch -- today's two dropped interceptions are by no means the first two dropped interceptions of the year -- it would be paying off even better than it is.
The Seahawks massively overpursued on a third-and-long situation and a delay handoff to Davenport picked up big yardage, and then four plays later Miller caught a touchdown on a slant while the Seahawks linebackers are standing around in zones that contained no targets. Buck and Aikman were talking about how bad the Steelers were in the red zone the last two years just prior. This is true, but it amazes me they missed an actually valid chance to bring Jerome Bettis up.
Doug Farrar: On that Davenport run, I counted missed tackles by Tatupu, Deon Grant, Kelly Jennings (his second), Leroy Hill (assisted by a Nate Washington block), and a sort of half-assed out-of-bounds push by Brian Russell. Apparently, someone's taking all those flag football commercials to heart. Pittsburgh ends that drive with a touchdown pass to Heath Miller, but the killer was the Davenport run. Just inexcusable execution on that play.
Hasselbeck finally breaks loose with a long pass to Ben Obomanu late in the second half, and ... gets sacked on the next play. This part of Audibles is brought to you by the Andy Reid Clock Management Institute ... Seattle's letting a LOT of time lapse here. That drive, and the first half, ends with the throw from Hasselbeck to Ike Taylor that Taylor doesn't drop. Seems the officiating's a lot better this time, but Mike Holmgren still can't manage the clock against the Steelers at the end of the first half.
Stuart Fraser: I'm just wondering, did any Seahawks player beat Ike Taylor's three targets from Hasselbeck in that half? The Seahawks need to find an answer to Pittsburgh's rush-three-and-sit-back defense. Draws to Alexander sound like a plan to me.
Doug Farrar: Having a running game at all sounds like a plan to me. This is downright embarrassing. On the other side, Willie Parker is starting to gash the Seahawks early in the second half -- Pittsburgh blocking very aggressively inside. On the third play of Pittsburgh's opening second-half drive, Parker hits a wall of Seahawks and is able to bounce right for a gain in a way Alexander couldn't earlier. Noticeable difference in short-area speed there. Ironically, Pittsburgh gets two big gains negated by very ticky-tack holding calls. I'm very impressed with Roethlisberger's ability to spin out of near-sacks and complete passes -- after this drive's third holding call (!), Big Ben rolls out of a Craig Terrill arm tackle and completes an 11-yard pass to Cedrick Wilson. He completed one earlier with a Seahawks defender practically on his back.
Ben Riley: I'm looking forward to examining the DVOA "splits" for the Seahawks performance in the first half versus the second. This is the fifth game this year where the Seahawks offense has decided to sleepwalk through the first half. That may work against a Trent Dilfer-led 49ers team, but it won't work against the Steelers.
Doug Farrar: Seattle DVOA by half, according to the FO Premium Database:
1st Half: 12.0% Rank: 9
2nd Half: 8.1% Rank: 14
Who woulda thunk it? That really surprises me too, because I've seen the same slow starts you have.
Stuart Fraser: Pittsburgh's current drive is a mixture of big plays and holding penalties, and I have lost all track of how the down and distance is supposed to work on it. Troy Aikman thinks Roethlisberger has figured Seattle's coverage schemes out. He'd better have, because Marvel Smith joined the Steelers injury list, which means the protection will get even worse.
Seattle's pass rush would look a lot more impressive if they could wrap up Roethlisberger, who has 21 dropbacks, three sacks, six hits, and nine hurries, says FOX. Roethlisberger then converts a third-and-forever with, for once, time to throw. We don't need no stinkin' pass protection!
Doug Farrar: The Seahawks allowed Pittsburgh to convert third-and-7, third-and-11, and third-and-17. I have very little left to say about this game right now that could be published on this fine family Web site, except that whatever legitimate disputes the Seahawks may or may not have had the last time these two teams met simply do not exist here. They held their own defensively for a while, but when that broke down, they were absolutely outplayed in every possible fashion.
Mike Tanier: Someone said that Roethlisberger figured out the Seahawks schemes? Um, no. The Seahawks couldn't tackle Big Ben. He must have completed 10 passes after getting nearly sacked in that game. He's like Steve McNair was 40 years ago when no one could ever sack the guy.
Stuart Fraser: The Cardinals couldn't tackle Big Ben, either. The difference: against Arizona, Roethlisberger was scrambling around and throwing the ball away or incomplete, and here he was scrambling around and throwing the ball to Cedrick Wilson. To what extent Aikman's comment about the schemes being figured out was correct I don't know, but something had to be up because I'm fairly certain that any team ought to have a starting cornerback capable of covering Cedrick-freaking-Wilson.
Ben Riley: I'm in Seattle this weekend, and this morning I listened to a radio interview of Mike Holmgren, who described this as a "statement game" that would "reveal where we are as a team." Well, here are some of the statements made today: Shaun Alexander is no longer a viable starting running back; Matt Hasselbeck is still prone to having the occasional "Bad Matt" game, as he did today; and the defense, which is for real, can only do so much when the offense gains a total of one first down in an entire half (with three minutes to go).
Credit where credit is due. The Steelers lose their two starting receivers, one of the top safeties in the NFL, and an outstanding defensive tackle, and they still kick Seattle's ass all over the field. And this time, without any help from the officiating.
Ryan Wilson: Usually, when the Steelers drop into coverage, it's a zone scheme, and most quarterbacks with three, four or five seconds to throw can find an open receiver. Not today. And frankly, I'm stunned. Not only did Pittsburgh have their best coverage game ... ever maybe, they also flustered quarterback Matt Hasselbeck all day. Never expected that.
This game was big for the Steelers. Not so much because of the "must-win" in Week 5 nonsense, but because they were coming off a tough loss in Arizona, and good teams find a way to win without their best players. Roethlisberger has gotten a million times better about getting the ball out of his hands, but he still has a maddening knack of waiting two or three seconds too long. Yeah, he's strong enough to break tackles in the pocket, but he's not afraid to take a bone-crushing hit, either.
Stuart Fraser: My guess is that the lack of a heavy rush and the good defensive back play were the first major scheme contributions of Mike Tomlin (a former secondary coach, after all) as head coach in Pittsburgh. Or at least, like Ryan, I'd never seen anything like it from LeBeau before.
Mike Tanier: Saints in a nutshell:
I got picked apart on a couple of radio shows for putting Sean Payton and Eric Mangini in a 10th place tie for Best Coaching Staff on FOX this summer. I defended myself by saying that the first year is easy: Your scheme is new to opponents; your style is new to the players. The NFL is built for teams to jump out and go 10-6 after a bad year if they have a decent coach and a few good players. Talk to me when you sustain some success. And while I am impressed by both Payton and Mangini, that's where I am at now: Show me how you bounce back, how you stop the bleeding. I expected more from the Saints this week.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know if we quite "canonized" Colston, but I don't think it was too early. He's the only guy on that offense playing well this year. He had 18.3% DVOA and 69% catch rate through the first three games. It's not his fault the offensive line can't block.
Bill Barnwell: The left side of the Washington line is great. It seemed like every play I saw of this game, Washington was running behind it. You would figure that teams would overload that side, no?
Antwaan Randle El looks like a totally different guy from last year. He's actually a useful No. 2 guy, running crisper routes and using his agility to create separation before the catch. I don't know whether he's buying into the offense more, or if he understands the playbook better, but he looks like a serious weapon.
Ned Macey: I think I'm going to start mentioning each week that the best offense Martz has overseen since 2001 was 0.7% in 2004. And again, Rod Marinelli left Kitna in to take hits in a hopeless cause, including a sack on the last play of the game. The fact that the Lions have looked SO bad against Philadelphia and Washington and yet beat the AFC West-leading Raiders makes it pretty clear that the AFC West has seen better days.
Sean McCormick: On the first offensive series, the Giants had all 11 men close enough to be visible on screen. They stayed in man coverage on the outside. The Jets passed three times: one knockdown, one incompletion and one pass well short of the marker on third down. The Giants are bringing their strong safety way down, just about at line of scrimmage. The only effective place to run is into the middle of the line. The Jets tried to go deep by throwing a streak to Cotchery, but Madison was step-for-step with him and there was no place to put the ball. The Giants look like they're running a Cover-3 where the free safety is dropping back about 20 yards and the corners are matched up in single coverage.
The Jets defense is actually getting penetration. On the Brandon Jacobs fumble, Dewayne Robertson dove in and forced Jacobs to run laterally, putting himself in position for the strip. On the next series, Bryan Thomas shot the gap and dropped Derrick Ward in the backfield. The Giants aren't spreading that 3-4 out with their formations, and there aren't a lot of running lanes as a result. (Check that-- the Giants opened the defense up by running to the outside, and from then on, they were able to run at will up the gut.)
The two things the Jets offense is unequivocally good at are quick-snapping to draw defensive penalties and quick-snapping to run QB sneaks. They ran a quick snap QB sneak on third-and-3 and were able to get about five yards on it.
The Jets are starting to make the Giants pay for all the single coverage. Coles has made several spectacular deep catches, and the Jets were able to hit Brad Smith for a touchdown when he was matched up in single coverage against Dockery. Pennington just put it up and made it a jump ball situation and Dockery had no chance. It helps that D'Brickashaw Ferguson is keeping Umenyiora very quiet, as it allows them to give help to Anthony Clement on the other side, and that's giving Pennington the time to throw downfield.
Bill Barnwell: I watched one play of this game. Eli Manning threw an Old Eli (TM) interception forcing a ball in the middle of the field. It was enough to make me go back to the Pats game.
Aaron Schatz: Whoops. And you missed your Giants winning. They're now 3-2 and making me feel like an idiot.
Sean McCormick: It was a tale of two halves, but the Giants ultimately won by doing what they should have been doing all along: running to the outside and throwing against single coverage. The perception is that Dewayne Robertson is a bust, but he's by far the best of the defensive linemen. The real weaknesses are the two ends and the outside linebackers, and the Giants were able to repeatedly go off tackle for big gains. Eli was also able to get going in the passing game as he saw primarily man coverage with no linebackers underneath to make the throws more difficult. That's because the Jets were committing the linebackers at the line of scrimmage. In the first half most of Eli's throws were into double coverage, but he saw nothing but single coverage once the run game got going, and when Andre Dyson missed the tackle on Burress, the game was effectively over. Basically, the Jets defense is so overmatched physically at this point that they can't use sound fundamental schemes -- they need to send people to either stop the run or pressure the passer, and it makes them very vulnerable.
Aaron Schatz: Dear Trent Green,
We pray that you are OK. Please, please, please do not attempt to come back from this. Your career is over now. Go enjoy your family.
Concerned Football Fans Everywhere
Sean McCormick: I'm just flipping to this game every now and then, but it looks like Cleo Lemon is looking for Ted Ginn a lot more than Trent Green did. Ginn is having his most productive half as a pro (which doesn't say much). Of course, the fact that Chris Chambers is drawing Dunta Robinson may have something to do with it.
Mike Tanier: You know, I am about the same age as Trent Green. I sorta relate to Trent Green, because although he is 20 times more athletically gifted than I can hope to be, his talents don't overwhelm my sensibilities the way Brett Favre's do. So, for the last few years, I would watch Green throw a pass and I would say, "Hey, there is a guy my age throwing that pass."
Today, a guy my age decided to block a 300-pound man on an end-around and wound up sticking his head in front of the huge man's knee as the man was running. I admire Green's toughness, and his team-first attitude. I cringed hard when he got hurt last year. I felt sick for ten minutes when he got hurt today. 37-year-olds can play quarterback in the NFL, no doubt about it. But hey: Offensive coordinators, stop calling any plays that ask them to block in any way. A 10-yard run on a reverse isn't worth a crippled quarterback. That's not rocket science, is it?
Beyond that, the Texans won because their defense played a good game and Kris Brown nailed a bunch of 50-yarders. But beyond that, Matt Schaub, the offensive line, and what's left of the receiving corps played well. If Ahman Green and Andre Johnson come back, these guys really could sneak into the wild card hunt.
Vince Verhei: This was the first time I've sat down on watched Vince Young play an NFL game. I'm sure this wasn't his best day, but boy, was I underwhelmed. On the ground, he's fast and nimble enough to escape a sack or two or create a first down, but nobody's ever going to play the Titans worrying that Young will beat them with his legs. And based on today's play, they're not going to worry about being beaten by his arm either. Just cut down on his big plays, and eventually he'll turn the ball over. He throws to guys who are not open, and that wacky sidearm delivery means he's going to get a lot of passes tipped for a guy his height. Of course, he got no help from LenDale White and Chris Brown, who combined for 59 yards on 22 carries.
Ned Macey: Let's just say that this was not Vince at his best. I've probably watched 40 percent of his NFL games, and he has real potential. He remains extremely raw at times, but he is definitely not the player he was today. And he did beat the Colts with his legs a season ago, and also won that game in overtime against Houston. He doesn't look as fast as he is because of his big, long steps. All that being said, he is far from a finished project and still probably not one of the best 15 quarterbacks in the league.
Vince Verhei: And then there's Atlanta. Good Lord, where to begin here? Their running back duo was also ineffective; Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood had 50 yards on 16 carries, and most of that came on Dunn's 18-yarder in the game's final minutes. Age is obviously a factor for Dunn, but Norwood was second in the league in DVOA in 2006; he was 17th coming into today. The team is having trouble adjusting to Bobby Petrino's power blocking scheme, and we're seeing how good Dunn and Norwood are when defenses don't have to worry about quarterbacks running bootlegs.
And then there's the passing game. Remember last week when Harrington looked great and the whole receiving corps looked unstoppable? Yeah, that was against the Texans. Today, no receiver could get open downfield. Harrington had just one completion longer than 10 yards, a 34-yarder to Roddy White. On his other 30 passes, Harrington completed 15 for a total of 53 yards. Yes, that is less than two yards per attempt. Harrington's struggles on the opponents' side of the field showed again: Atlanta had five field goal attempts today and no touchdowns. (And of course, Morten Andersen and Michael Koenen missed three of those kicks. Yes, they were all from 47 yards or more, but that didn't stop Houston from winning today). After Harrington threw his third pick-six of the year (a horrible pass thrown behind Michael Jenkins), Petrino gave Harrington one more series, then called it good. Apparently, after a little less than five full games, Petrino has already given up on Harrington. So instead he turned to Byron Leftwich.
Now, let's look at the timing of this quarterback switch. Leftwich came in with the ball at the Atlanta 37, down 7, with 10:43 to go. This game was there for the taking, and Petrino decided that Leftwich gave his team a better chance to win than Harrington. And Leftwich made it look like a great decision at first, hitting White for 18 yards, then Norwood for 10. He'd throw six more passes, none of them complete. Most of them sailed yards over the heads of open receivers, including one that missed a wide-open Laurent Robinson in the end zone for what should have been a game-tying score. One pass that wasn't thrown way too high was way too low instead, tipped at the line and intercepted.
For all that, Leftwich found himself with first-and-goal at the one in the game's final minutes after a remarkable sequence. Tennessee had the ball and needed a first down to run out the clock. But they didn't trust Young to protect the ball, choosing instead to run White three times for a total of eight yards. Then on fourth down, nobody blocked Demorrio Williams, who ran up and tackled Craig Hentrich. Hentrich actually made a good play to just eat the ball and take the loss and not risk a punt that would have certainly been blocked.
Then Dunn busted an 18-yarder up the gut, setting Leftwich up with first-and-goal at the one at the two-minute warning, needing a touchdown to tie the game. Here is how the next five plays went:
So where does Atlanta go from here? Presumably, Petrino has to start Leftwich now, after showing the world that he has no faith in Harrington. I'm willing to give Leftwich the benefit of the doubt for this performance, since it was basically his first preseason game.
Bill Barnwell: Didn't Leftwich play in the preseason?
Vince Verhei: Of course he did, for Jacksonville, you're right. I forgot how screwy that whole deal was. It was his first game action for Atlanta.
Ned Macey: Don't look now, but the Jaguars are 3-1 and will be 4-1 if they can beat the Texans at home next week. David Garrard just looks so efficient when the Jaguars are in control. I still think he'll struggle when they have to play from behind, but for now, this is a definite playoff contender. For Kansas City, the one bright spot on the season continues to be Dwayne Bowe.
Aaron Schatz: The current score: Jacksonville 3, National Jump to Conclusions Week 1.
Doug Farrar: This game's tied at 10-10 at the half. Edgerrin James fumbles at the Rams' one-yard line, and somewhere far away, Peyton Manning nods knowingly. This time, however, Reggie Wells recovers for Arizona's only touchdown so far as four Rams stand there and watch. Also, Matt Leinart with a broken collarbone, so there's the quarterback controversy out of the way for a while.
I just saw the third different Coors Light commercial starring Dennis Green. All three were first aired after his firing, officially giving Green more facetime after his dismissal than before.
Aaron Schatz: Has Peyton Manning ever had trouble with zone coverage? He's just sitting back there against Tampa, playing pitch-and-catch. Hey, there's the hole -- bing. Hey, there's the hole -- bing. Hey, there's the hole -- bing.
Moose Johnston on Jeff Garcia: "His immeasurables are off the charts." Um, if you have charts, doesn't that make them, by definition, "measurables?"
Mike Tanier: A talking head said something ridiculously laudatory about Jeff Garcia? That happens about every 0.0007 seconds in America. Seriously, I need to figure out the infatuation man-crush with short, bad-armed scramblers who played in Canada so I can determine who is next in the Doug Flutie/Jeff Garcia chain of Guys Who Can Do No Wrong.
Michael David Smith:Doug Flutie was a short scrambler who played in Canada and was beloved by the media, but he did not have a bad arm.
Aaron Schatz: It is a bit strange that the Colts have run to the right so much more than they have to left in this game. Tony Ugoh is having a great game, really dominating Gaines Adams on pass plays and blocking well on runs, while on the other side, Ryan Diem is having trouble with Kevin Carter. The Bucs did a good job bottling up Keith and Clifton Dawson for most of the game, which is the only thing that kept this close through the first half. Ugoh is playing much better than the Bucs' left tackle, Donald Penn, a second-year undrafted guy from Utah State. They are really going to miss Luke Petitgout.
Michael David Smith: The Bucs' offense definitely seems to be limited by the loss of Luke Petitgout. On the plays when Penn is getting help from a tight end or fullback, that's one fewer target for Garcia. On the plays when Penn is all alone, Garcia looks like he thinks he needs to release the ball within one second of getting the snap. The Colts have plenty of injuries, and the Bucs have lost their first and second running backs, but the loss of Petitgout is the most significant injury in this game.
I hate the "no respect" card, and I do think the Patriots are better than the Colts right now, but aren't the Colts kind of getting disrespected? I seriously doubt there's ever been a defending Super Bowl champion that started the next season 5-0 that got less recognition as the best team in the league than the Colts are getting right now. Everyone is talking about the Patriots going 16-0; no-one is mentioning the possibility of the Colts going 16-0.
Aaron Schatz: I think there are two reasons for this:
1) The Colts were one Brandon Jones drop away from losing to Tennessee.
2) There is this feeling that the Colts are going to end up having a game where the defense just sucks and someone runs for 200 yards on them. I think people still remember last year, when they had that 1-3 stretch losing to all their division rivals.
That being said, this team is way better than it was at this point a year ago. Way, way, way better. Remember that column I wrote about how the Colts were ninth in DVOA despite being undefeated, and I wasn't going to apologize for it? Yeah, I'm not going to be writing a column like that this season.
Mike Tanier: The problem is that the Colts toy with their opponents while the Patriots blow them away. And the Colts are an old story while the Patriots with Moss and the video angle are a new story.
Actually, I have heard two separate broadcasters float the "Everyone is talking about the Patriots but nobody is mentioning the Colts" storyline. You can set your watch to these storylines. So let me float my "everybody is talking about how everybody is talking about the Patriots and nobody is mentioning the Colts, but nobody is mentioning that nobody is mentioning the Steelers" angle.
Stuart Fraser: People have talked about the possibility of the Colts going 16-0 for several years now; they've got fed up with it. Actually, it was similar last year -- far more people were talking about the possibility of the Bears going 16-0 than the Colts when both teams were undefeated. Besides, the sports media loves talking about the Patriots. Pretty much everybody has a strong opinion about them these days, and the universal creed of mainstream NFL coverage seems to be that any reaction (which heavy Pats coverage is bound to get) is better than none.
Aaron Schatz: The Colts played better than the Patriots did this week, and they did it against a better opponent. I can't speak for the rest of the media, but for Football Outsiders, with the opponent adjustments overall becoming stronger this week, I think the gap between the Patriots and Colts in DVOA is going to shrink substantially. I am guessing that both will rank among the five or six "best teams through five weeks in DVOA history."
Ned Macey: The real key to this game was the activation of Craphonso Thorpe from the practice squad. His presence definitely gives good karma.
I'm willing to accept that Petitgout's injury was a problem, but the Colts just shut them down without Bob Sanders and Freddy Keiaho. Rob Morris, the other explanation for the Colts' run D improvement, is done for the year, and the Colts aren't missing a beat. I think I'm definitively ready to say that last year, the regular season was the aberration, and not the playoffs. Counting this year, the Colts have been an average or better defense for four of the past five seasons.
Still, this was a weakened Tampa Bay on offense. The real story was that the Colts just put up 33 without Addai or Harrison. Kenton Keith -- who the hell knew his name before this preseason? -- just went for 121 yards against the No. 3 defense in early-season DVOA (6th against the run).
My theory about the Colts and the lack of buzz is that they are actually pretty boring right now. It's all checkdowns and runs up the middle. Opposing defenses have taken away the big play (except New Orleans), and the Colts just march methodically up and down the field. Manning hit one pass of 20-plus yards today.
As for the 16-0, I'm now extremely worried about their next game in two weeks against Jacksonville.
Michael David Smith: Ned, you wrote, "The real story was that the Colts just put up 33 without Addai or Harrison." I know I come across as though I'm to Peyton Manning as Peter King is to Brett Favre sometimes, but is it really that big a story? As long as Manning is healthy, I just don't think any amount of offensive output for the Colts is going to surprise me, no matter who's hurt. Sure, Manning would prefer not to lose Harrison and Addai, but I really think Manning plus just about any 10 other offensive players will be a good offense. (Which is why I wasn't crazy about the decision to draft Gonzalez and Ugoh.)
Aaron Schatz: Against man coverage, I agree with Ned. Against zone coverage, I agree with MDS. Honestly, the whole "let's take away the deep throw with the Tampa-2" concept is ridiculous against Manning. OK, says Manning, so I'll march up and down the field with eight-yard throws and six-yard runs. Swell.
Stuart Fraser: It is, but if you're a Tampa-2 team, what do you do? When was the last time a Tampa-2 team beat Indianapolis? I'm not seeing a loss to one of the standard Tampa-2 outfits since Dungy took over in Indy. Of course, most of the real non-Indy teams (Tampa Bay, Chicago) are in the NFC so there is a question of opportunity. Still, the traditional ways to beat Indianapolis don't include the phrase "take away the big play" anywhere in them. It's either "pressure him into bad decisions" or "keep him off the field." Neither of these are really what the Tampa-2 does.
Mike Tanier: No simple, conventional defense is going to stop Manning and the Colts from putting up about 24 points unless it has personnel like the 1985 Bears. The defensive coach has to scheme to show Manning things he doesn't anticipate, all the while realizing that Manning will audible to a running play if he doesn't like the formation he's facing. I think the dink-and-dunk tactics have been popular over the past two years because most opponents believe they can score about 24 points on the Colts defense, so the best bet is to make it a ball control game.
Really, the only stuff that stops Manning is wacky blitz packages from all angles, intense zone blitz type stuff. And it has to be good, not some second rate team noodling with their zone blitz. The Patriots and Steelers have the personnel and the scheme to do it. Most teams lack one or the other.
Aaron Schatz: This is true. It ties into the "Manning reverts from deity to merely superhuman when facing a 3-4" discussion from the Indianapolis chapter of PFP '06. Based on what we've seen this year, Dallas also has the personnel and scheme that might possibly give the Colts problems. What's interesting is that if the Colts want to repeat this year, there's a good chance that they will have to beat all three of these defenses in three straight games.
Stuart Fraser: Of course, Indianapolis is 4-1 in the last two seasons against New England and Pittsburgh, and 6-1 if you add in the Ravens, whose hybrid defense is about the only other grouping which would fit Mike's definitions. I would say that it helps when you have players who can line up in the same place and do different things in order to confuse Manning's pre-snap reads, and I guess this does help the Ravens (who are, or at least have been, the best at this sort of misdirection) to limit the Colts (39 points, two games -- if only their offense had scored more than 13 in both put together).
Aaron Schatz: True, but the Colts weren't toying with those teams the way they did with the Bucs today. The Ravens held the Colts to no touchdowns and lost because Steve McNair went from Captain Checkdown to Captain I Can't Even Complete a Checkdown. The Patriots have definitely lost their Manning-confusing mojo, but both 2006 games between those teams were very close. Dallas beat the Colts last year, of course, and San Diego the year before with Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator.
It's not about who is guaranteed to slow Manning, because nobody is guaranteed to slow Manning. It's about who has a chance to slow Manning. I mean, even when the Colts had those three late losses last year, Manning completed 21-of-27 against Houston with three touchdowns, and 21-of-28 against Tennessee with 351 yards and two touchdowns. The Jacksonville one was really the only one where he played badly. I think all the division rivals use a lot of that 2-man-under strategy. At least that keeps a man on Harrison and Wayne, and it works a little better than the straight zone Tampa-2 stuff.
Doug Farrar: In the first quarter, the Chargers score two touchdowns in 11 seconds. After a 2-yard touchdown run from Philip Rivers, Denver's Brian Clark fumbles the kickoff on a hit from Carlos Polk, and the ball is taken 23 yards for the score by Brandon Siler. Of course, Norv Turner was upset that Siler didn't go out of bounds at the one-yard line, so that he could direct Rivers to throw four straight incomplete passes over the head of Buster Davis.
Aaron Schatz: Assuming the Chargers can hold a 27-3 lead over Denver, the Oakland Raiders will be in first place in the AFC West, all by themselves at 2-2. How weird is that?
Doug Farrar: Almost as weird as the Arizona Cardinals in first place in the NFC West, by virtue of a tiebreaker over the Seahawks. This just in: Coaching matters.
Some interesting offensive numbers for the Chargers -- Philip Rivers certainly got back on track, Antonio Gates done blowed up with huge numbers, and Michael Turner exploited Denver's abysmal run defense with a 74-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. In that one play, he outgained his battery mate -- some guy by the name of Tomlinson -- by seven yards. LT had 67 yards on 21 carries to that point against the defense ranked 30th in DVOA against the run. I'd really appreciate it if someone could explain THAT to me.
Doug Farrar: Jonas Jennings is out of this game with an undisclosed personal matter. Not good news for a 49ers line already leaking all over the place this season. Frank Gore gets a couple of decent gains on San Francisco's first drive by bouncing outside -- we'll have to see how that works out for a guy who set the franchise record for rushing yards last year and hasn't topped 100 yards yet this season. Gore getting gummed up late in the quarter, and I have to ask nearly the same question I asked two weeks ago, when he kept running right at Casey Hampton: Frank, why are you now running right at Kelly Gregg?
Aaron Schatz: This week, I had to submit six players for the early mock cover of Pro Football Prospectus 2008, and I didn't put a running back on the cover. There won't be a running back on the cover next year. I don't want to subject the poor Vikings fans to the curse.
Doug Farrar: I have to say that I really, really like what I'm seeing from San Francisco's defense this year. Captain Checkdown can't get much going early, and rookie linebacker Patrick Willis is all over the place yet again. Even their cornerbacks like to tackle, and they tackle well (Note to Seattle team president Tim Ruskell: This is why you may want to rethink your whole "midget cornerbacks will rule the world" idea). Not bad special teams, either -- Andy Lee has punted balls that have landed at the Baltimore one- and two-yard lines. That doesn't, however, mitigate that fact that San Francisco's first three drives all went three-and-out for a total of 15 yards.
I'm a huge Trent Dilfer fan from his time in Seattle -- more as a person than as a player, and he was a decent player -- and I respect the work he's done with young quarterbacks. But I think it's time for Trent to consider coaching or announcing. He doesn't look comfortable in the pocket at all. He's having trouble at times with his footing as he drops back, and he's overthrowing simple screens.
And then ... halfway through the third quarter, with Baltimore up 9-0, and with the 49ers putting up literally zero passing yards in the first half, Dilfer hits Bryan Gilmore for 43 yards and Arnaz Battle for a 23-yard score on successive plays. What in the name of John Brodie happened there?
One more note from this game: We don't talk enough about Baltimore's front office, but this team has three rookie offensive linemen in against a good defense, and they're holding their own. Ben Grubbs, Marshall Yanda and Jared Gaither. That's just amazing.
Michael David Smith: Two things about the NBC pregame show:
Doug Farrar: The Packers averaged 54.3 yards per game on the ground through the first four games, and rushed for 63 on this opening drive. There was a time when people wouldn't use the Chicago defense to solve their problems on offense, right? That was pretty recently, wasn't it?
Mike Tanier: This game is getting on my nerves. The Bears have no offense. The Packers move the ball until James Jones fumbles. And so on. I'm waiting for some excitement, guys.
Aaron Schatz: Enough about the quarterback change. Have the Bears considered a running back change? How about more Adrian Peterson?
Nickel back Jarrett Bush is the hole in the Green Bay defense, to the point where he has a large neon sign above his head flashing THROW AT ME. His coverage is blah and his tackling is terrible. I watched the Green Bay-Minnesota replay this week and almost every pass was thrown to whichever receiver Bush was covering. Kelly Holcomb even managed to complete some of them! Seriously, the best strategy against the Packers this year may be to bring in three or four receivers, spread the defense, and go at the nickel and dime backs while avoiding Harris and Woodson.
Anybody have any ideas here as to what is going on with the Chicago run defense tonight? I mean, Tommie Harris is playing tonight, and they're still getting blown off the ball by the Green Bay offensive line.
Mike Tanier: I don't know what is wrong with the run defense. I think they were expecting the Packers to throw the ball more, and I do see the linebackers bailing out into pass coverage on some plays.
Aaron Schatz: For all that people are looking to blame Chicago's offensive woes on Rex Grossman, and now Brian Griese, and of course Cedric Benson ... the Chicago offensive line does not look good tonight, either.
Mike Tanier: No, and I don't want to jump on Ron Turner, but I was calling some of his plays tonight, particularly the off-tackle runs on second-and-10. One thing I noticed is that the Bears wide receivers can never get open when split wide, but Turner rarely puts them in any kind of tight or bunch formation where they can work the middle or use wipes to get open. That being said, the Bears are still very much in it, in part because the "Keep away from Hester" strategy is giving them the ball on the 35-yard line on every kickoff.
Aaron Schatz: And, in part, because when Brett Favre is your quarterback, you have to take his strengths with his weaknesses, and the "impossible ridiculous pass that he has no chance to complete which turns into an interception" is his weakness.
After the forced fumble on the punt near the end of the third quarter, this is starting to feel like the Bears are who we thought they were and the Packers may let them off the hook.
Ned Macey: Does anyone know the magic potion taken at halftime first by the Giants against Washington and now tonight by Chicago? The Giants basically saved their season, and the Bears have the chance to do the same.
Aaron Schatz: Whatever the magic potion is, the Bears forgot to give it to the offense. The offense looks pretty much the same as before except for one nice deep pass to Mark Bradley. The entire comeback was defense and special teams.
Sean McCormick: Is it me or are refs calling the push-out with much greater frequency than in years past?
Doug Farrar: I don't know, but your comment is not reviewable. By the way, I like Atari Bigby, the Packers' strong safety. Interesting individual. He has that neat name, he looks like Peter Tosh (born in Jamaica), and in the individual introductions, he listed his college as "Amsterdam Admirals." Central Florida must feel a bit slighted.
Al Michaels just referred to Cedric Benson as a "workhorse." Twenty-five carries for 56 yards when you're already in the DVOA basement is not "workhorse," Al. Those numbers say, "Out to pasture."
Aaron Schatz: I don't think you can fault him there. What Michaels was saying was "Chicago says this is their workhorse, but he's not getting any yardage." He was agreeing with you.
Doug Farrar: Oh, I'm not faulting him. It's just one of those terms that's used to swing evaluations many different ways. Kinda like "gunslinger."
Ned Macey: I thought he was using it slightly tongue-in-cheek because Benson was pulling himself off the ground and looked tired.
That challenge by McCarthy was a poor decision in my mind, but I guess that one is debatable. What isn't debatable is that underneath dumpoffs are not the solution in the two-minute drill.
Doug Farrar: Griese hits Desmond Clark for the go-ahead score with two minutes left, Green Bay gets the ball back, and ... wow. This is not the Brett Favre I know. Speaking of Captain Checkdown, he's throwing underneath, time's elapsing, and a lack of urgency is evident. Favre gets down to the Chicago 32 with 13 seconds left, and throws a Hail Mary interception to Brandon McGowan to end the game. That was a very odd drive, considering the source.
Aaron Schatz: Man, if only Dennis Green was coaching Green Bay right now, we would be in for a great press conference.
230 comments, Last at 12 Oct 2007, 1:43am by Dont worry Im NOT a Giants fan