Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
15 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.
David Lewin: Carson Palmer is not the same player since that knee injury. He is still quite productive, but he doesn't step into his throws with the same authority anymore (understandably). The sky used to be the limit for Palmer, but right now I think his ceiling is very good.
Doug Farrar: Not sure I agree with the Palmer assessment, only because he did so well last season (the first after the injury), and Cincinnati's defense and rushing attack have fallen apart. It's tough to know where the team's overall horribleness ends and any issues with Palmer begin. You put that much responsibility on just about any quarterback and you're going to see a decline in efficiency.
Ryan Wilson: I agree with Doug on Carson Palmer. He was punch-drunk by the end of today's game, and things got so bad that Marvin Lewis took tackle Levi Jones out of the game. I'd argue that he looked better last year than he had prior to the injury. Palmer was never a threat to run, but he was on target last year (he ranked fourth in 2006 DPAR), and made better decisions with the ball. This year, the offensive line is injury-plagued and in shambles. That Palmer looks a little gun-shy is understandable.
Stuart Fraser: I get the impression he doesn't really trust either a) His pass protection or b) Any of the assorted personnel who've been swept up to be his third receiver. I'm kind of expecting an uptick from the Bengals on Chris Henry's return.
Vince Verhei: There was only one thing wrong with Carson Palmer today, and it was Jared Allen. Levi Jones started at tackle for the Bengals, and it was clear from the get-go that he couldn't handle Allen. The Bengals tried helping out with tight ends and fullbacks, but Allen just twisted inside and got to Palmer instead. Forget about having time to make his reads, Palmer didn't have time to finish his dropback. Cincinnati finally benched Jones and moved Andrew Whitworth over from guard to tackle just before halftime. Allen was much quieter in the second half, but the damage had been done by then. Officially, Allen finished with 2 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble, but he actually had an even bigger impact than that. It astounds me that Cincinnati, which has a top-five quarterback and a top-five starting wide receiver duo, is such a horrible team otherwise.
Aaron Schatz:The one good thing for Cincinnati today -- and the one bad thing for the Kansas City defense -- was Ty Law. Man, is he done. Every time I saw Houshmandzadeh catch a pass, it was against Law, with Patrick Surtain covering Ocho Cinco, and both of Palmer's interceptions came on passes to 85.
Vince Verhei: I think we can formally write off Week 1 as an anomaly for the Jacksonville defense. They gave up 282 rushing yards against Tennessee, and a total of just 200 in the four games since. As long as they have Stroud and Henderson in the middle, and their linebackers and safeties make their tackles, they're going to be just fine. And of course, it helps when Maurice Jones-Drew looks like, well, like Maurice Jones-Drew.
Houston's clearly a lot better than they were last year, but they're stuck in the league's best division, and Matt Schaub is playing without his biggest weapon in Andre Johnson.
Bill Barnwell:The highlight of this game was Cleveland running back Jason Wright spearing the ref during a touchdown celebration, knocking him down. Fortunately, Wright was celebrating by himself, so he did not receive the penalty for celebrating into the ref.
Doug Farrar: This Cleveland team officially has my interest. I know that they put up 40-plus points on horrible defenses like Cincinnati and Miami, and I know that the Patriots said that they didn't like their own energy in the second half of their 34-17 win over the Browns, in which Cleveland scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but they also put up 27 points on Baltimore's defense and barely lost to a Raiders team that has obviously improved (though we don't yet know how much). They got killed by the Steelers, but that was against what might be the NFL's best defense when Charlie Frye looked like Matt Saracen in the Friday Night Lights pilot. At 3-3, I think they're interesting.
Stuart Fraser: Cleveland is the one AFC North team I'm still not quite sure what to expect from each week (my NFL-watching plan is every AFC North game eventually and anything else I can stay awake for.) DVOA thinks Cleveland is less erratic than Pittsburgh (DVOA thinks everyone is less erratic than Pittsburgh), but I think that's caused by three stellar performances and Arizona, as opposed to Cleveland who've (I guess) put up more numerically similar performances in different ways. Part of me hasn't adjusted to the concept of Derek Anderson being a legitimate starting quarterback (I don't think Cleveland has, either, and it gives them an interesting Brees/Rivers style decision to make soonish).
Doug Farrar: And as for Miami ... whoa. Didn't Bill Simmons used to have a "Guys who would trade themselves in Madden" list? And is there any doubt that Ronnie Brown would be No. 1 on that list right now?
Vince Verhei: Adrian Peterson is going to win the Rookie of the Year award, and he's going to deserve it, but in ten years we might look back at Joe Thomas as the best player in the 2007 draft. He's already achieved "taken for granted" status, where you stop watching him because you just assume he's going to take care of his man. Cleveland was 31st in Adjusted Line Yards in 2006; they were 13th coming into this weekend, first on runs to left end, eighth on runs to left tackle.
It must be hard to be a Dolphins fan right now. With the obvious exception of Ronnie Brown, what is there about this team to get excited about? A bunch of old guys on defense who can't stop anyone? More passes falling incomplete because Chris Chambers can't get separation? A quarterback who has served as a backup to names like Gus Frerotte, Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington? A coach who has done little interesting on or off the field? What's the upside of this team?
Aaron Schatz: The Ted Ginn thing really looks awful in retrospect. I know wide receivers often take two or three years to develop in the NFL but the guy is hardly even on the field. Honestly, solar eclipses take place more often than Ted Ginn appearances at wide receiver.
Mike Tanier: This dovetails a bit with what I tried to say below about the Bears. A game plan can just be too fussy when a team tries to "get the playmakers involved" instead of, you know, running the ball and passing from the pocket. Early on in this game, I was impressed by the Redskins play-calling, because they were using a lot of screens and misdirection to move the ball. Jason Campbell was doing a good job escaping the rush and delivering short passes in space. Then, late in the third quarter, the Redskins tried that end-around to Santana Moss, he fumbled, and suddenly the Packers had the lead.
I love gadget plays as seasoning for an offense that can do the other things. As the basis of an offense, it is very risk-heavy. That's why I don't like the Bears logic that says that the key is to give Hester eight touches per game on non-returns. That's why I don't like the Redskins offense when Al Saunders gets too happy with his crazy stuff. That's probably why I should have been more of a Saints skeptic early in the year.
I will throw one other thing out there about the Skins. FOX showed some NASCAR racers hanging around the sidelines. I don't know if they were members of Gibbs Racing or not, because I am, you know, from the North, employed, and own shirts with collars, but there they were.
Here in Philly, everyone is obsessed with the Andy Reid "family distraction" story (I hear he will resign any second now), and there's a degree to which I am sure it is true that Andy is distracted by his family problems. I am sure most coaches are. I am distracted when my kids have the flu, for goodness sake. But then there is the distraction of a second job, that is every bit as lucrative and high profile as your first job. That's Gibbs' NASCAR distraction. That isn't like a family distraction, even a severe one. No other NFL coach is going to put his football team on hold to go take care of his other sports team. Dan Snyder seems OK with Gibbs serving two masters, and lord knows he has enough assistants to delegate to. But racecar drivers on the sidelines? Isn't that taking things a bit too far?
Vince Verhei: You know what makes that even weirder? I just watched the America's Game show on the 1991 Redskins. They had a playoff game against Jerry Glanville's Atlanta Falcons. Gibbs and Charles Mann couldn't believe the Falcons would allow M.C. Hammer on the sidelines. This offended them, because it meant the Falcons were not taking them seriously. So, when it comes to Gibbs, rappers on the sideline are no good, racecar drivers on the sideline are apparently just fine.
Brett Favre set the career interception record today, but virtually all of those have been due to bad decisions. Today I saw one that looked like the result of failing arm strength. Favre had James Jones wide-open downfield, but his pass (admittedly under heavy pressure) came up short and hung in the air forever, and Sean Taylor had all day to run under it and haul it in. Green Bay's corners, obviously, are really good. Charles Woodson had one pass defensed and an interception. Al Harris had two passes defensed. Washington wide receivers, meanwhile, caught a total of four passes for 60 yards.
Stuart Fraser: Kyle Boller is in at quarterback for the Ravens. Anybody know what's going on there? Oh, in other STL-BAL news, Gus Frerotte got sacked about five seconds after the snap on consecutive plays. Throw it away, Gus. Throw it away.
Doug Farrar: The Boller start was a pregame decision, nothing to do with in-game injury. Steve McNair missed practices with a stiff back this week.
Aaron Schatz: Every time I looked up at this game, Gus Frerotte was eating grass. The only reason why Ray Lewis did not hit Frerotte more often is that another Baltimore player usually smashed Frerotte into the ground first, and Lewis would just hit empty space. The Rams are without four of their five best offensive players, and the fifth is gimpy. So much for "FO projections always underestimate the Rams." Yikes.
Stuart Fraser: Speaking of quarterbacks who shouldn't be in the game, Frerotte has now thrown back-to-back interceptions to go with his back-to-back sacks. The first of these was tipped and not entirely his fault, the second was the least excusable pass I've seen thrown this year, which is saying something. To borrow a classic announcer standby, it was thrown to where only the cornerback could catch it. I should mention that Frerotte could have had a touchdown pass after the fumble recovery (mentioned below) but for his receiver (Marques Hagans) dropping a ball that hit him pretty much in the facemask.
The Rams are getting a lot of pressure from the right side of their line. This may have something to do with the sheer number of injuries Baltimore have here. Boller has been doing good work scrambling and throwing away but he was inevitably going to be sacked. Naturally, he fumbled and the Rams recovered, advancing the ball to the Ravens' 16. After two runs to nowhere (well, +2, -4) and a dropped pass, Wilkins misses the field goal. I can see why this team is 0-5.
St. Louis is getting better -- Frerotte is beginning to find receivers. Hagans has stopped dropping passes, and the final drive of the half actually went somewhere. Not far enough to actually score any points before the clock ran out, you understand (though they'd just about gotten into long field goal range when the time ran out), but this is the Rams playing the Ravens. One step at a time.
Did I say the Rams were making progress? Sorry, I meant, "Brief flash of competence to be revealed later as probably a fluke." Neither of these teams are great at protecting the quarterback today -- the left side of the Ravens' line is getting caved in a lot -- but the Rams are substantially worse and compound this by their lack of a running game. In addition, the receivers can't get open reliably, and of course there are the four interceptions and a fumble to consider. Of course now I say this they're putting together something of a drive, converting two third-and-longs (this drive eventually made it to the red zone, where it was turned over on downs).
Frerotte charitably throws his fifth interception of the game just to make Tony Romo feel better. To some extent it's unreasonable to expect much from a backup quarterback who rarely has much time to throw, but on the other hand I think when you set a team record for interceptions you're probably doing something wrong (letting the ball fly instead of eating it and being sacked, mostly, in Frerotte's case). Of course when he does get hit he ends up in a crumpled heap, which is why the Rams are finishing this game with the emergency quarterback in. I would like to clarify that when I picked the Rams to exceed their PFP projection, I meant the projected number of losses.
One thing the Rams did do well is keep the opposing tight end quiet, of which I am glad because I can't spell "Sypniewski."
Bill Barnwell: The most surprising part of this game was Chicago's offensive line against the Minnesota defensive front that's declared jihad on rushers for two years now. I know Olin Kreutz is good, but he and Roberto Garza were clearing swaths of space up front for Cedric Benson to run into. They were running a sweep with Kreutz and Garza pulling right where they were not only blocking defensive linemen, but getting to the second level and blocking guys nine or ten yards upfield.
In my entry for "ugliest throw of the year," Tarvaris Jackson had a pass he threw across his body whilst running backwards to no one on a third-and-10. This was less professional quarterbacking than it was ... performance art.
Adam Archuleta has not looked like the worst safety in football this year, but his flaws are still pretty apparent. He took a really ugly route to the football on Troy Williamson's touchdown and got stuck in no man's land; too close to develop an angle to chase Williamson down, and too far to get there before or at the same time as the ball.
Mike Tanier: I picked the Bears in this game. I clearly underestimated the entire Vikings running game. Adrian Peterson is one of the best young running backs I have ever seen, but give kudos to that offensive line, which we all know contains some really good players. The Vikings can churn out 10-yard gains on second-and-8 with no problem. And give Brad Childress credit: After taking Peterson out of the game plan two weeks ago, he very creatively got him the ball on screens, shotgun sweeps, and other oddball plays.
That being said, the Vikings still have almost no passing game (the bomb to Williamson was sweet, but it was one play). The receiving corps drops a lot of passes and doesn't help Tarvaris much.
Aaron Schatz: I realize we don't like to print profanity on the site, but can we nickname Adrian Peterson "F#@kin' A?" I think at least five times today, I looked up at the television showing the Vikings game and said, "My god, Adrian Peterson is F#@KING AWESOME."
He is the prototypical running back. He is fast. He is agile. He lowers his shoulder and hits defenders. He pushes forward for extra yardage. I can't tell you if he pass blocks well, I haven't seen enough of that. I've only seen one negative -- it was either McCormick or Barnwell who said this, I'm not sure which, but his upright running style probably causes him to be more injury-prone, and that sort of thing also generally leads to more fumbles. Otherwise, the guy is just a total stud. STUD.
Bill Barnwell: What separates Peterson from guys who are just fast (Michael Bennett, I'm looking at you) is how he knows how to use his legs and moves to set up opportunities to use his speed. He does a great job of subtly creating lanes for his blockers and then immediately playing off them once they're ready, and if it's a one-on-one situation, creating the slightest hesitation to give himself space to blow by a guy. He made Lance Briggs, not exactly the slowest linebacker in football, look positively stupid on a play where he froze him by running towards the crowded middle of the field, waited for Briggs' hips to begin to transfer, and then made his cutback way before Briggs could respond, leaving himself an open field to run into.
David Lewin: I think Brad Childress did a brutal job with the Vikings offense in this game. The Bears could not handle Adrian Peterson, who was running like a man possessed, yet Childress stubbornly stuck to his game plan to give Taylor the bulk of the carries and use Peterson mostly on third downs. This game could have been blown wide-open if Childress was willing to ride Peterson instead of using him as a change of pace.
Mike Tanier: I don't know. They ran the ball 42 times. Taylor ran 22, Peterson 20. They combined for 307 yards, most of them Peterson. Maybe the split should have been 17-25 or even 12-30, but I am not sure you want Peterson running 30 or more times. I like the fact that Childress committed heavily to the run. If you are going to do that, you should split the carries up.
Devin Hester caught a touchdown pass in this game. I heard talking heads two weeks ago talking about how getting Hester involved in the offense should be Ron Turner's top priority. That's bull. His top priority should be getting a quarterback to deliver the ball and developing an overall gameplan that works, not designing trickery so his kick returner can score touchdowns. That being said, sending Hester deep a few times per game can't hurt, can it?
Vince Verhei: Note to everybody: Don't kick to Devin Hester. It doesn't work. Just stop it. (Although the Bears were lucky the refs missed Obafemi Ayanbadejo's block in the back.)
In the long run, I think Hester's offensive score may be an even bigger play. He didn't just run up the field as fast as he could, he ran an out-and-up that left Dwight Smith with no chance to cover him. I'm not sure if the coverage on the play was man or zone, but Hester was definitely Smith's responsibility either way. With that play, Hester became something more than a gimmick on offense. Now, when Hester lines up in the slot, teams can't just put their safety on him and feel comfortable. He's going to require extra attention. This could open things for the other receivers, the running game, the whole offense.
Aaron Schatz: Mike Hall, the guy who won a job at ESPN on that show "Dream Job," was the FOX sideline reporter for the Bears-Vikings game. Remember when we ran reviews of that show because we were desperate for off-season content in the spring of 2004? Wacky.
Hester is amazing, but people can overstate this fact. At one point FOX put up a graphic that said, "Berrian touchdown (set up by Devin Hester's 23-yard kickoff return.)" Guys, that's an average kickoff return. It's nothing special.
Vince Verhei: The concerns I've heard and read about the Bears' defensive line look justified. On Adrian Peterson's second touchdown, everyone's going to rave about the sick cutback Peterson made about 10 yards downfield, but they should note that the entire left side of the Vikings' line just overwhelmed the Bears, clearing a hole that wasn't just a yard wide, it was three yards downfield. Peterson ran through the giant chasm, slipped one tackle, made one cut and was gone.
Mike Tanier: The Vikings line looked very good the whole game. Their receivers, besides Williamson on that bomb, looked terrible.
The thing with Hester is this: He can be an asset if he really becomes an integrated part of the offense. That play was a step in the right direction. If I see him run some little 10-yard outs and catch passes, so much the better. If the plan is to make him a fly-pattern-and-reverse guy, opponents will get wise fast, and then he's probably just going to take touches away from a better all-around receiver.
Doug Farrar: Memo to Rich Eisen: The "Cameron Frye imitates Sloane Peterson's dad" thing you do every time Adrian Peterson does something incredible is over and done. He's going to do many incredible things. Please put it away before it becomes your "Boo-ya!" and we all hate you for it.
Vince Verhei: Note to Doug: Thank you for explaining why Eisen does this. I never got the reference before. I'm not sure if that makes it any less annoying though.
Mike Tanier: Messy, semi-fulfilling win for my mighty Birds against the Jets in their strange, dark blue uniforms. A few notes:
Aaron Schatz: I don't understand the fourth down fade to Coles either, and I think if you go back into last year's Audibles you will find a game where I wrote "Mangini made the right decision to go for it on fourth down, but a terrible play call by calling for a difficult pass." Or I wrote something close to that ... the point is, this seems to be a running theme with Mangini. Try a sneak, Eric.
Doug Farrar: As an amateur AFL historian, I loved the New York Titans throwback unis. All that was missing was a brief biography of owner Harry Wismer, and a re-enactment of the team hemorrhaging cash while Wismer gives blocks of tickets to legendary restaurateur Toots Shor.
Sean McCormick: I would be remiss if I didn't comment on those throwbacks the Jets were wearing, which looked very sharp. If only they had brought some game to go along with the blue and gold.
The theory that Chad Pennington is single-handedly holding back the running game took a hit today. On a day when the windy conditions made it even easier for the safeties to play up, Thomas Jones ripped the Eagles apart in the first half. The Jets were only gaining 10-plus yards on two percent of their carries, but Jones went for ten or more on each of his first four carries. Clearly the Jets coaching staff saw something on film, because Jones was very successful with one-cut runs.
On the other hand, the presence of a running game did nothing for Pennington, who may have played his worst game of the season. The one thing that Pennington has done well is convert third downs, but he really struggled at it today. Jim Johnson brought a lot of heat on third down, disguising his blitzes until the protection was set and then flooding the opposite side, and the approach worked.
The Jets defense has been a bend-and-then-break unit this season that lets teams march down the field in long time-consuming drives rather than surrendering big plays. But last week, Plaxico Burress beat them for a 48-yard touchdown, and this week, Kevin Curtis beat Andre Dyson for a 70-yard score. The defense then reverted back to its Death By Chinese Water Torture form for the rest of the game, which worked better than it should have because David Akers struggled to make field goals. But as the season wears on and the team continues to need to blitz to stop the run and blitz to pressure the passer, these sorts of big plays figure to happen more often.
Bill Barnwell: The Eagles holder (Rocca? Tanier?) did a great job on their first field goal, otherwise David Akers would have missed three. I'm not sure if he's really cursed by the Meadowlands, but boy, he doesn't seem to like them. That's my favorite Wrens album, too.
Doug Farrar: It took one offensive series by Tampa Bay to discern why the Titans have the NFL's best pass defense, according to DVOA, despite the loss of Pacman Jones. Tennessee's front four has an incredible ability to bring consistent pressure without help, and that obviously changes the entire defensive landscape. No, it doesn't help the Bucs that second-time starter Donald Penn is in there for Luke Petitgout at left tackle, but the way Kyle Vanden Bosch is playing at right end, I don't think it would matter. The right side with Vanden Bosch and Albert Haynesworth is amazing, and left end Travis LaBoy de-cleated Jeff Garcia on Tampa Bay's first drive. The question will be whether Garcia can use the quick pass to turn the Titans' own aggressiveness against them. You'll also be seeing Cortland Finnegan's hit on Graham all over the highlights -- boy, this team can unload. And Garcia is having some early success with short stuff, but the Titans' defense is so fast, it almost takes his mobility out of the equation.
Interesting (and partially humorous) play on Tennessee's second drive. Vince Young takes the snap, finds pressure and no open men, and starts to run right. Tampa Bay rookie defensive end Gaines Adams shoots past one block and spins out of another, clogs up Young's escape route, and Young runs right into LenDale White in the backfield. That wasn't a sack, obviously -- won't even be classified as a pressure -- but that play had a lot to do with the fact that Adams is starting to find his feet in the NFL. Very impressive.
Garcia did get a couple of long throws off -- a 39-yarder to Michael Clayton in the second quarter that led to a Tampa Bay field goal, and the 69-yard touchdown bomb to Joey Galloway in the third quarter. He's still an impressive quarterback -- smart, tough, efficient. He's been the difference in this game between two very strong defenses. Vince Young, on the other hand ... he was overthrowing everyone high early on, the pick he threw to Philip Buchanon was just goofy, and when he finally did start to get things going in the third quarter on running plays and short passes, he injured a quadriceps muscle, leading to the emergence of Kerry Collins.
Collins drives the Titans downfield late in the fourth quarter and gets a huge break when a potentially incredible end zone interception by Ronde Barber is just out of bounds when Barber hits the turf. He's getting a lot of time in the pocket, as the Buccaneers defense seems worn out by the time of possession discrepancy in the third quarter. Collins converts a third-and-15 in the red zone, and LenDale White runs in the tying touchdown from two yards out with less than two minutes left. That's Tennessee's first red zone trip of the game. On Tampa Bay's following drive, Garcia shows tremendous elusiveness on three straight completed passes, getting his team down the field, and Matt Bryant kicks a game-winning 43-yard field goal with 16 seconds left. I'll just say how impressed I am with Jeff Garcia's ability to efficiently make things happen in situations where improvisation is necessary.
Russell Levine: Garcia is worth his weight in gold. The offensive line isn't all that great, and they're starting a rookie no-name at left tackle, but he constantly avoids sacks and is never afraid to throw the ball away. He has yet to throw an interception on the year.
Mike Tanier: "Garcia is worth his weight in gold." I'm sorry. Am I being baited?
Aaron Schatz: I would like to hear somebody with a theory on why Garcia didn't work out in Cleveland or Detroit -- I mean, his DVOA was worse than Kelly Holcomb's in Cleveland and worse than Joey Harrington's in Detroit -- but he has worked out well in Tampa Bay. (We know why it worked out well in Philadelphia. It starts with "Brian" and ends with "Westbrook.")
Russell Levine: Tampa Bay's inability to run the ball nearly cost them the game. There's a reason why Earnest Graham is a street free agent. Tampa couldn't grind the clock at all in the second half, and their defense wore out. I would expect the Bucs to take one more run at trading for an established back before the deadline. The inability to run at all really hurts them, especially given that they nearly always play close games. Tampa Bay's defensive line couldn't get any pass rush at all on the game-tying drive for Tennessee. Kerry Collins, aside from a couple "Kerry Collins" moments, really played well. He picked up a number of third-and-long situations and the one touchdown drive was masterful. Tampa Bay looked like they might lose in regulation after Tennessee tied things. Two quick incompletions left them in third-and-long and the Titans still had two timeouts. But Garcia scrambled and found Ike Hilliard for 28 yards, eventually leading to the winning field goal.
The officiating was really dodgy in this game. Tennessee had to challenge two balls that were ruled Ronde Barber interceptions even though both were obvious incompletions. There was also a really strange "in the grasp" call on a play when Collins basically just tossed the ball on the turf. They also missed an obvious grounding call on Garcia on a play when he was wrapped up and just flipped the ball forward but it fell at least two yards short of the line of scrimmage.
Vince Verhei: I can't say much that hasn't already been said, but I can say this: LenDale White had 25 rushes for Tennessee, and none of them gained more than five yards.
Michael David Smith: Tim Rattay and Vinny Testaverde don't look as bad as I figured quarterbacks who just joined their teams this week would look. They're far from perfect, but they don't look horribly out of place.
Doug Farrar: Testaverde actually looked very good on the 65-yard touchdown to Steve Smith, and DeAngelo Williams broke a 75-yard run. The Cardinals will have to win with running and defense -- good thing they've now got a head coach who understands those concepts. Rattay's 50 percent completion rate and three picks don't exactly speak well. Arizona was just completely off today -- turnovers and penalties killed them.
Bill Moore: This game was much closer than the final score would suggest. The Dallas front seven (and often eight) had the most success at getting to Brady than any team so far. They did an excellent job of disguising who was coming at him. Matt Light was sick and therefore the Pats had a rotating set of offensive linemen (Nick Kazur rotated between left and right tackle positions), which may have something to do with it. However, part of getting to Tom Brady was using Roy Williams as a rusher. That left the Cowboys' subpar secondary without much help, and consequently, New England converted 11 of 17 third downs, and most of that was through the air.
Dallas also focused on making sure Randy Moss didn't beat them. He almost did. Brady missed an open Moss on a number of bomb passes -- overthrowing him each time. Moss also had two touchdowns taken back -- one for dropping the ball upon hitting the ground and one for a weak (and unnecessary) offensive pass interference. So instead of Moss beating them, Welker and Stallworth did. Welker had a career game (124 yards and two touchdowns), and Stallworth had his first real team contribution (136 yards, one touchdown). And yes, they are both on my fantasy team.
Michael David Smith: The NFL really needs to change the replay review force-out rule. It didn't matter because the Cowboys scored on the next play anyway, but they did get screwed when the Terrell Owens catch was overturned.
Doug Farrar: Well, I'll be happy to add to what is obviously going to be a "Crappy Officiating Section" in this week's Audibles by mentioning it looked as if Dallas free safety Pat Watkins got completely and utterly hosed on a pass interference call in the third quarter when Randy Moss ran into him in the end zone. That moved the ball from the Dallas 16-yard line to the 1-yard line, and Brady threw a touchdown pass on the next play.
Bill Moore: The Patriots lost two offensive weapons during the game. Ben Watson left with only one catch after a lower leg injury, and Sammy Morris left after an ineffective start with a chest injury (Lawrence Maroney was inactive again). After Morris went out the Patriots threw 12 times of the next 15 plays. Faulk picked it up in the fourth quarter. Dallas' first three drives were three-and-outs. I'll be interested in seeing Romo's DVOA from this game. His line of 18-of-29 for 199 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (thrown late in the game and down two touchdowns) seems OK, but in reality he only had two good drives the whole game.
In charting, we track "Wow" plays -- something Bill Simmons thought up. I have seen few "Wow" plays this year, but there was one today. Marion Barber was stuffed in the backfield at his own one-yard line, knocked back into the end zone, but continued running, evaded approximately three tackles while in the end zone and ran to the 12-yard line. How he wasn't tackled in the end zone, I have no idea.
Vince Verhei: I spent nearly seven hours in a bar watching football today, and for nearly all seven hours it was almost depressingly quiet in there (largely because the Seahawks were playing tonight, no doubt). That run was the only exception. Everyone was shouting and hollering. That was the most exciting two-yard gain of all time. Then it was over, and everyone went back to sipping their beer and checking their fantasy scores.
Bill Moore: Final observation, Rodney Harrison is not good in coverage. No one knows exactly where I live, right?!?
Sean McCormick: If there is a chink in the armor of the Patriots, it is the triangle between the two interior linebackers and Rodney Harrison. Dallas did an excellent job of forcing Harrison into single coverage against either Jason Witten or Patrick Crayton, and they exploited the matchup with regularity. It's not much of a chink when the offense is putting up 40 points, but I'm sure that Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark were taking notes.
Tony Romo really played a good game. He didn't force throws into coverage (or when he did, he put the ball where only the receiver could get it, as he did on his second touchdown toss to Crayton), and he never looked confused by what New England was up to. If Dallas could have somehow figured out how to get out of the gate faster, they would have been in this game until the end.
Aaron Schatz: Rodney Harrison was just brutal at the end of the second half. Just brutal. The Cowboys clearly saw something on film that said, "Rodney Harrison hits hard but he can't cover man-to-man anymore," and they went after him with passes to Jason Witten. Then they went after him when he was playing zone, and completed those passes too.
Just a reminder to all the crowing Patriots fans: The Colts are also playing historically well this year, and Baltimore and Pittsburgh are fairly good. This team is not done being tested, and they are not guaranteed the Lombardi Trophy, no matter how well they've played in the first six weeks.
Doug Farrar: First of all, it's good to see that the San Diego offense has come around, and interesting to see the Tomlinson-Turner productivity from last week reversed back in LT's favor. I'm not dismissing the Chargers' offensive resurgence at all. However, what the heck has happened to the Raiders' run defense? They were 16th in DVOA against the run last year, and they're dead last by a huge margin this year with basically the same personnel.
Vince Verhei: My first guess about Oakland's defense would have been advancing age, but Warren Sapp is the only starter on the front seven who's over 30.
Aaron Schatz: Attention female readers, particularly female readers in San Diego: Please note that it is important to pull your shirt down before you stand up to applaud all LaDainian Tomlinson touchdowns, lest you show an entire sports bar your ass. This is even more important when he scores four.
Doug Farrar: Seattle's offense, so ineffective last week against the Steelers, was without its top two receivers (Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett), tight end Marcus Pollard was hobbled in practice, and longtime fullback Mack Strong retired this week, leaving the Seahawks Strong-less for the first time since 1992. They're facing a defense with only one sack, but the New Orleans defense is pretty good against the run. Of course, the Saints get their second sack of the season on Seattle's first possession (gotta love that #$%^&* offensive line), and long snapper Boone Stutz, who was signed this week, hurled a bad snap on the opening punt which the Saints took in for a touchdown.
Then, the "eye-in-the-sky" camera malfunctions, falls out of the air and reportedly almost kills Matt Hasselbeck, leading to a 10-minute TV game delay, as I wonder if it's possible for right guard Chris Gray to be allowed to fling the camera at enemy defenders by the cable just to make things even.
Aaaaaand ... of course, New Orleans' first offensive play consists of Reggie Bush's longest NFL run, right up the middle, which is the one place he wasn't supposed to be able to run. I think it's nice that the Saints are finally looking decent, but it'd be preferable if the Seahawks weren't the facilitators of their 2007 breakout. Seattle's third offensive drive starts efficiently, but Matt Hasselbeck gets off two bad throws to Bobby Engram and Ben Obomanu, and then tries to hit Nate Burleson in the end zone with Mike McKenzie all over him, for a drive-ender. One thing about Seattle's defense -- you can't usually try delay plays on them. Either go right up the middle or use misdirection, because they pursue like crazy. However, the Saints are putting Jammal Brown right on Lofa Tatupu, which frees those lanes up the middle.
Michael David Smith: The Seahawks are having all kinds of problems with the long snap this year. I wish I had something intelligent to say about that, but I must confess that I really know nothing about how to improve your long-snapping situation, or about who the good free agent long-snappers are.
Doug Farrar: The Seahawks actually had a good one, the French-Canadian Jean-Phillipe Darche, who was last seen in Kansas City after a few injuries paved his way out of Seattle.
Eric Johnson's second quarter touchdown personifies what drives me completely nuts about Seattle's defensive game-planning. They send Julian Peterson (who can cover tight ends very well) in on a blitz, and they have Leroy Hill (who, as I've written before, has a great forward gear and no reverse whatsoever) on Johnson. If you're not going to use Hill for the two things he can do -- run-stopping and pass pressure -- why bother keeping him on the roster? Speaking of "I can't wait to see his DVOA," Matt Hasselbeck has looked abysmal through the first half. On the defensive side of the ball, the Seahawks are leaving a hole in the middle of their Cover-2 the size of Pork Chop Womack's butt, and Reggie Bush is looking like Adrian Peterson. I think I'll check back in when they resemble a football team.
Sean Payton does the icing-the-kicker-timeout thing at the end of the first half, though Josh Brown didn't actually get the first attempt off beforehand (making it more of a legitimate icing). Brown makes the 52-yarder, and we all once again wonder why the NFL needs to wait until the owner's meetings to change this rule.
Michael David Smith: Seneca Wallace could be a great NFL receiver. What in the world is Mike Holmgren doing keeping him at backup quarterback?
Doug Farrar: It does speak to the state of modern NFL quarterbacking that it would be difficult for the Seahawks to sign a backup as good as Wallace, who is a league average quarterback, but could be a wonderful receiver. Receivers are simply easier to find.
Interesting thing about the Seahawks over the last two games is that they've been very consistent in their inconsistency. In both games, they started out extremely slow due to a complete inability to run the ball and Hasselbeck's subsequent desire to do too much. Both games featured some really weird time-related issues at the end of the first half (Holmgren's refusal to use his timeouts against the Steelers, and the play call to Ben Obomanu on the low-percentage sideline pass with time running out and timeouts left instead of a better field position play against the Saints), and both games saw an almost complete lack of Seattle offense in the third quarter because the Seattle defense couldn't get the enemy offense off the field.
Hasselbeck's upswing in rating, and Seattle's late "scoring surge," came against New Orleans' "Out of the Office" defense when they were way up in the fourth quarter. Holmgren called a third-down fullback draw, the play they run that almost never works, when they were close to a scoring drive very late in the game, to at least make the score respectable. Mike Holmgren has not done well at all this season. Seahawks, America has your number, and if you want to save your season, you'd best figure out some productive alternatives.
Aaron Schatz: What the hell is Mike Holmgren doing with that last third down play call? Running Leonard Weaver right into the line with 1:40 left, down by 11, on third down, with no timeouts? What, he thought they were going to fool the Saints? Honestly, maybe they did think they would fool the Saints. They did it on an earlier Weaver draw, catching the Saints with a big hole where Josh Bullocks was blitzing. But still, trying the fullback run again is fine if they have a timeout left in case it doesn't work, or it is first down and they can stop the clock with a spike. But they get no yards, they have to hurry up the fourth down pass that means the game -- I mean seriously, what the hell?
Ben Riley: Let me explain. For the past three years, a little demon inside of Mike Holmgren's head has pushed the "hopeless draw-to-fullback-on-third-and-long" button in situations like tonight. Some people thought -- nay, hoped -- that Holmgren's demon was slayed the day Mack Strong announced his retirement. Obviously, he's alive and well.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, but with 1:40 left and no timeouts? I think that Holmgren's "fullback draw" demon and Holmgren's "crappy clock management" demon got together and had an evil love child.
Ben Riley:But really, it's time to acknowledge that the Seahawks aren't very good. The pass rush was non-existent, the secondary made scrubs like David Patten and Billy Miller look like Pro Bowlers, and Matt Hasselbeck inexplicably decided to heave a pass to Bullocks to kill any hopes of a comeback. Oh, and Shaun Alexander is still a corpse. The Seahawks may still make the playoffs because the NFC West remains a joke, but there will be no Romo-botch to save them this year. The decline begins now.
Doug Farrar: Ben's right. The Saints met a team that allowed them to reverse all their negative trends in one fell swoop. They had one sack through the first four games, and five in this one. Drew Brees had thrown nine picks this season, and he threw none in this game, primarily because he didn't really see any pressure. Reggie Bush had his breakout game as a running back, and an offense that had scored the third-fewest points per game this season (behind only the 49ers and Rams) didn't seem to have any trouble tonight. When you allow two opponents in a row to bulldoze you like this, you are not a good team. We can throw around all the advanced stats and concepts we want, but sometimes it's as simple as that -- a team just isn't very good anymore.
308 comments, Last at 18 Oct 2007, 6:29pm by gmc