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?
29 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.
A reminder that we're trying to move most of the non-strategy-related Colts-Patriots talk into this Irrational Colts-Patriots Armageddon Thread.
Aaron Schatz: I just want to explain why this "Super Bowl in London" thing is a bad idea. Did anybody enjoy watching two teams slog through the rain in Miami last year? OK, now imagine that but 20 degrees colder. There's a reason why they hold the Super Bowl in warm weather cities or domes. Mexico City? I'm fine with that. London? No.
Bill Barnwell: They could play it indoors in Cardiff.
Stuart Fraser (resident FO Brit): Wembley has a retractable roof too, I believe. They just never close it.
Russell Levine: Europe is full of brand-new retractable roof stadiums. If they ever play a Super Bowl there, Germany might be a better bet. American football is more popular than in England and they have a bunch of acceptable stadiums that were built for the World Cup. The Allianz Arena might be the finest sports facility on the planet from what I've read.
Bill Barnwell: Great block by Marty Booker on Cleo Lemon's screen where he actually went from one side of a Giants lineman to the other to get underneath him, then beat the lineman to the angle and blew him up. The Giants are immediately going downfield with Burress against Michael Lehan and Jason Allen. Let's just say they look a little over their heads.
Doug Farrar: When Eli Manning sauntered into the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown run (Note: Eli's highest running speed is "saunter"), I thought to myself, "I guess I'll be the one to make the first, 'Boy, the Dolphins sure could have used the 25-foot tall Jason Taylor on that play' joke."
And of course, the week after Hell freezes over and I actually say something complimentary about Manning's game, he completes eight of 22 passes for 59 yards against the team with the worst defensive DVOA against the pass.
Stuart Fraser: Eli seemed to be back to his bad old habits of throwing every third pass two feet above the receiver. Nice scrambling skills, though, and he didn't throw any pass which caused me to go "UGH," unlike Cleo Lemon, whose deep ball is a thing of ugliness.
Wembley's grass is really not intended for this sport. It looked, visually, different from grass pitches in the U.S., and it got seriously cut up as the game went on. The announcers kept talking about it, and it was a contributing factor in the way nobody seemed to be able to tackle properly (especially if they were trying to tackle Brandon Jacobs). It may have been a contributing factor for the kickers being lousy too. I'm sure they'll say it was. For what it's worth, there were similar rumblings about the grass being useless after the first couple of soccer games played there as well, though these now seem to have quieted down.
Ted Ginn completely blew by the defender trying to cover him on that touchdown reception. Not that I think he'll prove to have been worth the draft pick, but it's good to see something from him.
Bill Barnwell: If you can teach Ginn how to sell double moves and he's alongside an offensive line that actually gives the quarterback enough time for the route to develop, Ginn can be a dynamite downfield guy -- with a peak of something like Alvin Harper in Dallas. It's just a) lots of guys can do that without being a top-ten pick and b) that's not the easiest scenario to put together.
Doug Farrar: Here's my question. When a league spends so much time and so much money putting something like this together, that same league is so persnickety about trivial details that players can get fined thousands of dollars for wearing the wrong color socks, and that same league has a team (the Arizona Cardinals) with a stadium so advanced that they can literally roll in different kinds of turf, how is it that nobody checked on the logistics of this and asked for the right kind of turf? Did Roger Goodell get caught with his figurative pants down on the details of the actual stadium, or was his excitement about the game so extreme that he didn't really think about it? Or, was this America's punishment for sending the Dolphins to England?
Doug Farrar: Early on in this game, the Raiders had one play in the book: "Have Daunte Culpepper throw underneath the zone." Over and over. And that was a good idea, because anything he threw that wasn't in a hole was either picked off or damn near. The Titans, not wanting to be outdone, had two plays, "LenDale White run" and "Chris Henry run." Vince Young's passing numbers were pretty bad, but in his defense, he had two sure touchdowns dropped early in the fourth quarter. And after last season, if we said that the difference between these two teams would be their defense -- specifically their front four -- we could have surprised just about everybody with the fact that it's Tennessee that now wins that particular battle.
Vince Verhei: Wasn't a study done on coaches' records in games where they had the lead at some point in the fourth quarter? How did Andy Reid measure up? It seems like every week, the Eagles are either surrendering the lead or escaping by the skin of their teeth.
The Eagles scored a touchdown on a shovel pass from Donovan McNabb to Brian Westbrook that gained six yards. I saw a number of other shovel passes today, and they worked more often than not, but I still hate that play. It seems to me that if the timing and execution of your running back, offensive line and quarterback are all perfect, you basically get a fancy draw play. And if any of those things are less than perfect, you're risking an incompletion or turnover.
The good news for Vikings fans is that Brad Childress finally realized that Adrian Peterson (20 carries) should get the ball more often than Chester Taylor (six carries). The bad news is that Peterson is human after all. He turned those 20 carries into just 70 yards, and made an enormous mistake on a kick return to open the second half. As the ball bounced along toward the pylon, Peterson tried the "step out of bounds and catch the kickoff to set your team up at the 40" trick. Unfortunately, he screwed it up, catching the ball first, THEN stepping out of bounds. Childress then compounded the problem by challenging the play, when it was very clear what had happened. When the dust finally settled, the Vikings had a first down inside their own 1- yard line and were down a timeout before a single second of the third quarter had ticked off the clock.
Mike Tanier: I, too, hate the shovel pass on the 5-yard line. To me, it's a twice-per-season play. Run it too often and teams will just sniff it out. The Eagles have used it tons of times in the last four years. This year, with all of their red zone problems, I was sure I would see it soon. It worked well this time because Andy added a crazy wrinkle: The play started with a full-house backfield. Jason Avant went in motion and occupied a lot of defensive attention.
The Eagles also ran a misdirection pitch play in the red zone, and their first drive ended with a patented 19-yard field goal when Andy Reid tried Westbrook up the middle once, decided that wouldn't work, and broke out the play-action and rollouts. Westbrook did go over the top for a score, but Reid seems convinced that his team cannot power the ball into the end zone using old-fashioned football. I can't see why not: Shawn Andrews is an All-Pro, Jon Runyan is still good, and Brian Westbrook or Correll Buckhalter should be a capable goal line runner.
Some things I liked in this game: I liked seeing Reggie Brown working the middle of the field for 10-yard gains. I liked seeing accurate McNabb throws into tight spots. I really liked the way the defensive front seven looked in the first half. Broderick Bunkley had a good game. Trent Cole is a real force.
In answer to Vince's question, the Eagles don't put opponents away very well. They don't often surrender fourth quarter leads, but they always seem to be up by six and trying to nurse the lead late in the game. It's rare to see them get the ball with a four-point lead with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and embark on a 10-play clock-killer of a drive. It's one of the frustrations of rooting for them.
Doug Farrar: During the time that I've observed them in preparation for next week's matchup with the Seahawks, the Browns have moved up from "interestingly frisky" to "officially dangerous." They have a great aerial game, and perhaps the NFL's most underrated offensive line. Actually, they're a great argument for putting your money in the line if you want to improve your offense. They drafted Joe Thomas and stole Eric Steinbach away from the Bengals, and they're 10th in Adjusted Line Yards and 15th in Adjusted Sack Rate through Week 7. Last season, they were 31st and 26th, respectively, in those categories. Meanwhile, teams like the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams are looking around for answers on offense, and their line deficiencies have a great deal to do with that.
Cleveland's defense has been pretty atrocious, but they stopped a late drive by the Rams on a fourth-and-1, FO favorite Leigh Bodden intercepted Marc Bulger's desperation pass to Torry Holt with seconds left in the game on the next drive, and the Browns moved to 4-3. I'm just telling you, Seahawks fans -- if you don't know about the Browns, and you think this game will be a gimme based on previous years, you could be in for a very rude awakening.
And since Derek Anderson is looking so good, why don't the Dolphins just give up next year's first-round draft pick for Brady Quinn? This would give Quinn a chance to play, and it would take what might very well be the first overall pick out of the hands of Miami's front office.
Ned Macey: The inverse to this, however, is that you need a defense that can get to the quarterback. Playing a team with no pass rush, the Rams suddenly showed some offensive spark. Willie McGinest has fallen to the point where his best strategy was to fail on his rush but put his hands up. He got at least two tips that way.
Braylon Edwards is developing into a beast. He made an extraordinary catch in the first half down the left sideline, just tiptoeing in on the outside. But, in a sight familiar to every Michigan fan, he also dropped what would have been a game-clinching third down pass in the final two minutes. Still, he finally has a borderline competent quarterback, and he's looking at sort of a Lee Evans, 2006-type season. Time will tell if Anderson is a better player than Losman. Winslow is certainly better than anything else the Bills have.
Vince Verhei: I thought the "sight familiar to Michigan fans" was going to be when Edwards yanked off his helmet after making a catch. I'm as strong a pro-celebration guy as you'll ever find, but taking off the helmet -- literally stripping away the team identity to get your own face on TV -- annoys me.
This does not change the fact that Cleveland is a team that must be taken seriously, and would likely contend for a division title if they played in the NFC. I continue to be blown away by Joe Thomas. Every time I watch Cleveland on offense, I see him dominating somebody.
Bill Barnwell: Is Cedric Benson officially a bust yet? Is there anything he does well? I saw him drop a flare that hit him in the hands.
Awful pass interference by Danieal Manning where he just bumps Roy Williams literally seconds before the ball arrives on what was going to be a jump ball. Ugly, ugly coverage. Makes Adam Archuleta look good.
The Lions appear to feign an onside kick before basically pooching a kick to Hester. The Bears run a pitch to Hester out of the backfield and of course Kenoy Kennedy reads it and runs full-speed six yards into the backfield to blow it up. On second down, Brian Griese tries to throw over a linebacker onto Olsen's back shoulder and misses badly, the Bears false start, and then Adrian Peterson gets half the yardage back on third-and-21. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007 Bears offense!
The Lions have had awful field position all day but are moving the ball with Kevin Jones through the middle of the Bears defense, running right at Urlacher. They're doing a really good job of handling Tommie Harris.
Vince Verhei: Griese threw four interceptions today, and three of them looked exactly the same: floating lobs into the end zone that gave the safety plenty of time to make his way over and catch the ball. You can't pin this loss entirely on him -- the Bears couldn't run the ball or stop the run -- but at some point, don't the Bears have to find a way to acquire a big-name quarterback, just to preserve the sanity of their fan base?
Doug Farrar: Right now, I think the Vikings might need that even more.
Michael David Smith: I'm not prepared to say the Lions are a good team, but I will say that for the first time in the Matt Millen era, the talent on the roster roughly matches what the coaches are trying to do with the talent. In the past, it was like Millen was building one team and Mariucci and Mornhinweg were coaching a totally different team. This year you can actually see that the offensive players fit with what Martz wants to do and the defensive players fit with what Marinelli wants to do.
Doug Farrar: The Colts played the time-of-possession game so effectively in their Super Bowl postseason, and the Panthers have taken a page out of their book. Can't stop an offense? Keep them of the field. They have a 15-minute TOP advantage in the first half; this came mostly on their opening scoring drive, an 18-play, 11-minute marathon. That's basically why they're down by only three points at half. Of course, the Colts start the second half with a methodical touchdown drive to go up by 10. Back to you, Phil...
Michael David Smith: They really should just do away with the force-out rule, but as long as the rule exists, how was the incompletion to Reggie Wayne not a touchdown? He got one first down and the second foot just out of bounds by a couple of inches. You're going to tell me that even a minor bump from a defensive back isn't going to move a guy's foot a couple of inches?
Aaron Schatz: Mike Tanier likes to remind us all the time that "Tampa-2" teams don't necessarily play Cover-2 all the time. And, in fact, the Colts came out against the Panthers playing a lot of man. I do think that's the right move when you face a team with a stud number one like Steve Smith, preventing him from finding easy holes for midrange gains, as long as you still keep a safety deep to prevent Smith from beating your corner with his speed. I think Antoine Bethea is doubling Smith on nearly every play.
The Panthers did pull off a sweet play for their first touchdown. They were on the five, and Carolina had its safeties pulled wide, effectively double covering Smith and Colbert. So the Panthers ran right up the middle with DeShaun Foster. (Foster actually ran straight up the middle, no shake-and-bake.) Fullback Brad Hoover just destroyed Tyjuan Hagler on the lead block.
That being said ... the Panthers have been running a lot on first and second down, right into a wall of Colts defenders. Remember 2005? The Chargers (and then the Steelers in the playoffs) beat the Colts by PASSING early in the game, particularly on first down, when the Colts were bringing Sanders up expecting run. Then when the Colts moved Sanders back, the Chargers and Steelers amped up the run. It shocked people because we all thought of the Steelers as a run-first team, and they came out firing downfield to start that playoff game. It seems to me this is the correct strategy against the 2007 Colts as well, especially since their defense is much more like that of the 2005 Colts than it is like that of the 2006 Colts.
Charles Johnson did such an excellent job filling in at right tackle during the Super Bowl that it is a bit shocking to see how much trouble he's having filling in at left tackle today with Tony Ugoh out. This is definitely the most pressure that Manning has felt all season, and the most pressure that the Panthers have put on any quarterback, and Johnson is a big reason.
Doug Farrar: Your comment about Johnson having so much trouble on the left side after looking solid on the right makes me think of Seahawks tackle Tom Ashworth, who is a decent-or-better fill-in on the right side, and an absolute walking disaster area on the left. I haven't seen enough of Johnson to know if it's the same, but Ashworth's problem seems to be that he simply can't handle the quick burst of the speed rushers that often come from right end. If he's given that extra half-second to engage, he's OK.
Aaron Schatz: By the way, wherever the 2005 Colts defense was hiding last year, apparently the 2005 Chris Harris was hiding there too. That guy was back today, the one who was a pretty good rookie safety with the Bears. He was all over the field in the first half -- slapping balls away, recovering a fumble by Ben Utecht, making the stupidest attempt to lateral a turnover return that I've ever seen in my life...
Doug Farrar: Panthers rookie middle linebacker Jon Beason is impressing me. He's striding pretty well with Dallas Clark, and he doesn't seem to be frequently out of position as you would expect from a young player with his athleticism. I've seen him deflect two passes to Clark in this game, and given the colossal mismatch Clark usually has with a middle linebacker (especially with a middle linebacker who stands only six feet tall and weighs about 240), it would seem that the Panthers drafted wisely with the Miami product. He played outside a lot in college, and he has that type of speed.
Aaron Schatz: It's a little stunning how sloppy the Colts offense was today. Manning was Manning when he wasn't under heavy pressure, but it didn't seem like anyone else could hold onto the ball except Reggie Wayne. Keith, Addai, Clark, Utecht -- they were all dropping passes or fumbling the ball. If they play like this next week, they lose. Then again, next week they probably have Harrison back. I don't know the situation with Ugoh.
As for the Panthers, Vinny Testaverde hurt his ankle, David Carr came in, and we immediately had a David Carr "happy-feet special", the two-yard scramble up the middle on third-and-5. The Panthers kept up the "short stuff chew the clock" offensive mindset the entire game. That worked well on the long, drawn out initial touchdown drive, but when the score was 24-7, it was pretty stupid.
Ned Macey: Peyton Manning, like all quarterbacks, struggles when he is pressured. He has a great deal to do with his pass protection, reading defenses, adjusting plays, quick release, but when pressure comes, he's jittery. Once the Colts figured out protection, they dominated. Single coverage on Reggie Wayne when Harrison is out? Not a good idea.
The announcers were convinced that the Panthers had a perfect first drive, but it was actually a fluke. They took 11 minutes off the clock, and everyone thought it looked like the 2006 Colts, but they went 80 yards in 18 plays, i.e., just over four yards per play. They went six-for-six on third down (one was a defensive holding penalty, an eight-yard completion on third-and-10). That is not sustainable, and after the first drive, they went one-for-five on third down, including an end zone interception by Vinny.
Stuart Fraser: Ah! Now we know where Marvin Harrison is. According to Dick Enberg, he's throwing challenge flags at Paul Brown. Seems a strange thing for a Colts receiver to do whilst injured, but everybody's gotta have hobbies, I guess.
Aaron Schatz: That's okay, Jim Nantz just said that Carolina had to get to the 47 of the Patriots. The Patriots are not in this game, Jim.
Doug Farrar: If you had to listen to Phil Simms blather on for three hours with no hope of escape, you'd wish you were elsewhere, too.
Aaron Schatz: Phil is now asking why nobody copies the way Bill Polian has built the Colts. Yes, Phil, I'm always thinking, "Why don't other teams draft one of the five best quarterbacks who ever lived?"
Bill Barnwell: There is something to be said for a defense that can plug in Day Two draft picks like it was nothing. I think that might be more on Tony Dungy than it is on Polian.
Stuart Fraser: To be fair, Polian's method worked in Buffalo, too. So it doesn't need a top-five ever quarterback -- any generic Hall of Fame guy will do.
Aaron Schatz: On behalf of Houston Gamblers fans everywhere, I say: "TouchÃ©."
Speaking of quarterbacks ... I didn't pay much attention to the draft before I started doing this for a living. Why was David Carr considered the number one prospect in the 2002 draft? What did people say about him at the time?
The top of the 2002 draft may be the worst of all time. There are some great players in the mid-first round, but the top of the draft goes:
Julius Peppers (the exception)
Mike Williams (offensive tackle bust version)
Jammer is totally overrated, but he's actually the second best player on that list.
Doug Farrar: How can you say such negative things about a man who averaged 3.8 yards per attempt in this game?
Bill Barnwell: Here's what Dr. Z had to say at the time -- "Oh my, what a mob. Twelve rookies, including the franchise QB. Should we worry about that fluky three-quarter arm delivery? Well, that's what they're paying Chris Palmer for."
Vince Verhei: An excerpt from one of Carr's scouting reports: "Buys time for his wideouts and throws the ball away instead of taking a sack if nothing is available." That is hysterical, and also a good example of why the draft is so overrated.
I ask this question whenever somebody mentions Carr, or Kyle Boller, or Joey Harrington: If Cal coach Jeff Tedford is so good at taking mediocre quarterbacks and making them look great in college, why has no NFL team hired him to make their mediocre quarterbacks look great?
Mike Tanier: In fairness to Carr, all of the tough guy stuff was true, and he looked a lot more legit as a prospect in the first half of the 2004 season. We are talking about a guy who was sacked 10,000 times. My take on him, watching him last year, was that he was a guy who couldn't afford to lose 10 percent of his athleticism because it would make him too slow and less zip-armed. After the beating, he lost about 20 percent of his athleticism, and a little bit of that grittiness seemed beaten out of him because he would get rid of the ball too soon. The Texans were left with a smart, hard-working pocket guy with a medium arm and a bunch of bad habits. A long way from a prospect.
Bill Barnwell: Cincinnati driving downfield with throws but they're all plays where Palmer's flushed from the pocket and throwing seven- and eight-yard lobs. So the good news is that the Steelers are collapsing the pocket, but the bad news is that Palmer's picking apart their zones. Great double-move by Holmes on Leon Hall and even though Roethlisberger's arm is hit as he throws, Holmes has enough space behind Hall to slow down and catch it.
Stuart Fraser: Pittsburgh's first touchdown was set up by a 42-yard reception by Santonio Holmes, where he was in single coverage on Leon Hall, faked inside and beat him deep, and then sealed by a 21-yard reception by Hines Ward, in single coverage on Leon Hall, who faked inside and beat him out. Think the Steelers might have noticed something in the film room?
Bill Barnwell: Bengals defense in a bad spot -- they're not good enough on the line to get pressure on Roethlisberger regularly without blitzing, but their secondary is nowhere near good enough to hold up if they blitz. Even when they drop back seven, the Steelers are just finding easy holes in their zones or using double-moves (with Roethlisberger having all day for them to develop) to exploit their weaknesses at corner. When they do get to Roethlisberger, their tackling is dire.
Hint: Hines Ward versus Rashad Jeanty is a bad matchup.
The Bengals have two scaredy-cat field goals and are getting booed off the field. Fourth-and-1 from the 3 is apparently too much for Marvin Lewis' offensive line to convert. The Steelers run a great draw on first-and-10 right before the two-minute warning, basically a draw sweep, a really different play call. They get to use their excellent blocking receivers against the Bengals' awful corners and the whole Bengals team has no idea. Parker gets 32.
EVIL ROETHLISBERGER strikes again: While the Bengals are dragging him down, he throws a ball up for dear life. It goes out of the end zone (to the point where the refs have to remark that it's not intentional grounding) but that's the scary Roethlisberger, not the one who's been picking apart the Bengals today.
Stuart Fraser: Cincinnati had a fourth-and-1 on Pittsburgh's 3, or thereabouts. Palmer clearly wanted to stay on, started getting guys lined up, and Lewis got cold feet, called a timeout and kicked. Pittsburgh had a first-and-goal on Cincy's 1, with 0:09 left in the half and one timeout remaining. Tomlin called a run off left tackle and Parker punched the ball in. Partially as a result of these plays, the score is 21-6 at halftime.
The really weird thing about the Pittsburgh draw sweep play that Bill mentioned is that Roethlisberger ran outside Parker and preceded him downfield, almost as if either a) he was blocking (he did throw a block on an fullback screen to Davis earlier, though that was a broken play) or b) that's actually an option play, and Parker can toss the ball back to Roethlisberger, who'll take a downfield shot.
Bill Barnwell: Pittsburgh looks like the Patriots against the Bengals. Roethlisberger has time to throw and when he does eventually get flushed, there's an outlet 15 yards down the field. In the running game, the Bengals neither cover their gaps well nor gain penetration. That's how Justin Smith is running from right defensive end to the left side to catch Willie Parker after he's run 13 yards downfield on a cutback.
EVIL ROETHLISBERGER returns as he gets flushed from the pocket, and as he gets outside the tight ends, makes a terrible throw right to a Bengal on their 2-yard line. Whoops!
Vince Verhei: We've talked about EVIL ROETHLISBERGER, but there's an awful lot of GOOD ROETHLISBERGER too. He makes his offensive line look a lot better than they really are. He breaks a lot of sacks by just being too big to go down, and he's also got surprising mobility and the ability to throw accurately on the run. If the Steelers decided to trade him, I suspect they'd get at least 25 offers.
Stuart Fraser: The Bengals converted a fourth-and-8 on a curl to (Chad) Johnson. Tomlin challenged, because (I think -- most of Tomlin's challenges seem to be motivated by "wouldn't it be nice if we got an overrule here?") the catch was low. Ruling was upheld. Johnson had blatantly pushed off Ike Taylor, but of course the absence of an offensive pass interference flag isn't a reviewable feature of a play, so...
a) The ruling was upheld;
b) The NFL has whacked-out replay rules;
c) I am a whining Steelers homer who should shut up and be happy with a 21-13 lead.
Bill Barnwell: I think what's more interesting is what led to that decision -- since the Bengals didn't go for it on fourth-and-1 from the 2 before, they had to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the 35 the next quarter, and then Ocho Cinco false started, making it an even more difficult fourth-and-8. Coaches ignore the consequences of the decisions they make in one moment for later in the game.
Russell Levine: The Jaguars clearly did not trust Quinn Gray to throw the ball. They ran on their first eight snaps and stuck with the plan until they absolutely had to pass late. That said, he actually made some big plays late, although the game-winning touchdown drive was aided by two absolutely fantastic catches.
This was an incredibly physical game. Reggie Nelson and Jermaine Phillips/Tanard Jackson were playing "can you top this" in the big hits department. I call it a draw. Nelson is a tremendous hitter, but I'm not sure he can last at his size if he doesn't learn to protect himself a bit.
This is the second straight game the Bucs basically gave away. They outgained the Jags and were facing a quarterback who made no pretense of throwing for much of the game. Jeff Garcia missed two wide-open deep balls that would have given the Bucs the win, and they couldn't get a three-and-out when they absolutely needed one to give themselves a better shot at the end.
Garcia took another month's worth of punishment. I don't know how he stays upright with some of the hits he takes. Still, I think the Bucs O-line is improving, particularly in the run game. Earnest Graham has actually resembled a functional NFL running back the last two weeks. This was a great win for Jacksonville, escaping against a decent opponent with a QB they tried to hide for 60 minutes.
Ned Macey: Is there a quarterback controversy in Jacksonville? Quinn Gray is undefeated as a starter, so shouldn't he be the starter? I spent the first three quarters waiting to write about how nice it is to second guess Jack Del Rio again, since he got me on Garrard over Leftwich. But Gray actually played better down the stretch once he realized that his receivers weren't eight feet tall. His numbers were awful, but he actually made a couple of nice throws in the fourth that were negated by penalty. He's not good, but he won't be a disaster going forward.
Jeff Garcia went up against his first really good defense, and whoops, suddenly he has thrown an interception (three, actually) and completed under 50 percent of his passes. Not sure why the Bucs threw so much given Graham's success on the ground.
I'm not a big fan of Jack Del Rio, but I applaud him for recognizing the relative strengths and weaknesses of his team and just running and running and running the ball.
Sean McCormick: Good sequence for Jets rookie cornerback Darrelle Revis. On a second down, he blitzed out of the slot and hit Trent Edwards, forcing an incompletion, and on third down he had tight coverage on Roscoe Parrish and was able to step in front of a hurried deep out for his first pick. And Revis ends another drive with a blitz on third down that gets to Edwards and forces an incompletion.
Doug Farrar: What was funny on the Revis pick was that the Jets' front three weren't even lined up at the snap -- they were moving to the line. Actually, six guys were within five yards of the line of scrimmage, but none of them were set, and they all tore off after Edwards at the snap. Was that one of those weird Belichickian formations?
Vince Verhei: I saw Pittsburgh do something similar. They had three linemen on the field, but while one lined up at nose tackle, the other two just kind of milled around. It was the first 1-6 formation I ever saw.
Mike Tanier: The Steelers have been doing that since the start of the season.
Patrick Laverty: How about last year, when the Patriots had a few 0-7 formations where no one put a hand on the ground, and they all just sort of milled around?
Stuart Fraser: Pittsburgh picked part of that up from Baltimore, who was doing it last season. Dick LeBeau calls it the "Eleven Angry Men" defense, in which the team just sort of mills around prior to the snap in an attempt to confuse the heck out of anybody trying to read it. It could just be me, but I don't think the Steelers actually rush fewer guys when they line up 2-4-5 or 1-4-6 than in a more normal 3-4.
Mike Tanier: The stuff I saw looked like a lot of four- or five-man rushes. The thing is, the four men wind up being the nose tackle, a linebacker, Polamalu, and a cornerback. Opponents cannot really pick on the defensive end that drops into coverage because the "defensive end" is really somebody like outside linebacker James Harrison, who is fast enough to do the job in coverage just fine. It must be a pain to read and pick up, but the Broncos hit them with some screens and really quick slants and had success against it
Sean McCormick: The Jets have clearly decided that the way to defend Trent Edwards is to blitz him. Whenever Revis is lined up on the slot receiver, he's been blitzing and getting hits on the quarterback. Against conventional sets, they're blitzing six or seven and consistently putting Edwards under pressure. Part of the reason why they're able to do so is because their run defense has been dramatically more effective with David Harris in for Vilma, which is putting the defense in better positions to dictate on third down.
Bill Barnwell: Shouldn't the Bills be adjusting to that by changing the slot receiver's route to an out?
Sean McCormick: Edwards hasn't even been looking in the right direction. It's as if Roscoe Parrish basically doesn't exist for the offense, and Edwards just locks in on wherever Lee Evans is. (Of course, on the one throw he did make at Parrish, Revis picked it, so there's that.)
Vince Verhei: Last week, everyone seemed impressed with how Trent Edwards played. He played more like a rookie today. The interception he threw could be found in the dictionary under "rookie mistake." He threw the ball a) in midair, b) while being hit, c) into double coverage. I saw a number of passes that were basically extended handoffs, designed for guys to catch the ball short and run around, and they weren't able to because they were adjusting to catch passes thrown behind their heads or out in front of them.
Sean McCormick: The Bills come out of the locker room and try a short kickoff, placing the ball between the two coverage teams. They didn't hit on it, but they didn't give away more field position than they would have by kicking to Leon Washington, so I can understand the strategy. Eventually Edwards was going to beat the blitz, and on third-and-2 he fired a ball into Josh Reed running up the seam for about 32 yards. Then, Edwards is on his way to the locker room, which means we're about to have a J.P. Losman sighting!
Bill Barnwell: Did Losman just run a leaping handoff?
Sean McCormick: It's amazing how different quarterbacks will read the field differently. Faced with a third-and-long, Losman responded to the heavy blitz up the middle by hanging tough and then launching a 50-yard bomb into double coverage in the hope of somehow hitting Lee Evans. Incomplete. Punt.
And then Losman tried it again, another 50-plus-yard chuck into double coverage, only this time Lee Evans wrestled the ball away from Revis at its highest point, the safety took a bad angle, and Evans scored an 85-yard touchdown to clinch the game. It's amazing how different quarterbacks will read the field differently.
Bill Barnwell: Houston punter Matt Turk just chopped wood. A snap went over his head and as the ball lay unmoving in the end zone, he overran it and San Diego recovered for their second touchdown.
Vince Verhei: I know I have a tendency to hyperbolize sometimes, but I really, really think that fumbled snap into the end zone was the worst play I've ever seen in an NFL regular season game. The Houston snapper, unforced and of his own volition, launched the ball several feet over his punter's head and into the end zone. The punter, Matt Turk, unforced and of his own volition, then ran right by the ball instead of falling on it or picking it up. Antonio Cromartie fell on it to score a touchdown for the Chargers, but it was no achievement. I say this with no exaggeration: Any high school team in America would have scored a touchdown on that play.
Bill Barnwell: The Texans are down 21-3 because they can't stop Antonio Gates or fall on loose balls, but I like the way their running game attacks the 3-4 -- they run right at the outside linebackers, keeping them away from Jamal Williams and at the guys who are pass rushers first. Of course, Matt Schaub throws an interception as I type that and it's 28-3 and this game is virtually over before halftime.
Doug Farrar: Norv Turner and A.J. Smith have seen quite a bit of bashing on this site (and many others), and it's hard to argue that any of it hasn't been entirely justified. But someone in that organization has to get some credit for putting together all those plans and keeping things together through some very difficult circumstances.
Doug Farrar: I'm not sure what the positive predictions surrounding of the return of Alex Smith signify more -- the fact that Trent Dilfer needs to go into broadcasting, or the last vestiges of optimism in what appears to be a lost season for the 49ers offense. Smith was rusty after his injury layoff and it showed, but the real issue is the offensive line, and the holes that line isn't opening for Frank Gore. Gore hasn't even rushed for 90 yards in any game this season, and he's only had more than 20 attempts once. And yes, they've lost five games in a row, and I obviously get that you don't run as much when you're behind, but they weren't running a lot when they won their first two games, either. Gore's ankle seems like a real problem.
The 49ers were impressive in the second half of 2006 because Gore rushed for over 1,000 yards and his team rallied around him, but I'm not seeing a bit of that this year. And usually, when a line falls apart, you can point to the loss of a major component. When Steve Hutchinson leaves for Minnesota, or Orlando Pace gets hurt, you can understand ... but the only real change in this line was the addition of rookie Joe Staley, who's supposed to be an upgrade over Kwame Harris.
New Orleans, on the other hand, has seen a renewed offense based on solid blocking -- Drew Brees hasn't been sacked in his last four games -- and Reggie Bush's ability to bounce outside. They're not trying to make him a Deuce McAllister anymore. Seems obvious, really. When you have a smaller guy with tremendous outside speed, you get him going outside. Brees threw to nine different receivers, and Marques Colston burned just about everyone for three touchdowns. Whatever ailed that Saints' offense at the start of the season, they appear to have figured it out.
Bill Barnwell: What I'm intrigued about heading into this game is whether the Redskins change (or use the part of) their scheme that attacks the Patriots weaknesses -- tight ends and underneath patterns -- instead of running the smoke-and-mirrors screens and bombs stuff. Sellers gets totally turned around by Rodney Harrison on a safety blitz and blows up a play, flushing Jason Campbell from the pocket.
I really can't stand the Redskins' offensive scheme. Why do you have a 700-page playbook when you run four pages of it? It's a great scheme against the Bengals, who can't defend downfield and can't tackle, but it's an awful scheme against the Patriots. This totally frustrates and confounds me.
I've said some bad things about Mike Vrabel and the steps he's lost, but he had an amazing rush coming off the edge, beating both the right tackle and Clinton Portis to Jason Campbell's arm, causing him to fumble.
By the way, It's Week 8 and Donte' Stallworth is still running to the wrong side of the field after leaving the huddle.
Ned Macey: Wow. I hadn't watched New England much other than the second half of Dallas. I assumed that you could just play two-deep and punish the receivers underneath and at least slow them down. Maybe not. Brady didn't complete his first pass over 15 yards in the air until the fourth quarter, and they still dominated. What are Brady's yards after catch? I can't believe he isn't dominating that like he is every other stat.
One crucial event from the Panthers-Colts game was Marlin Jackson's injury. I'm not sure his status or even what his injury was, but he plays the slot in nickel, i.e., on Wes Welker.
And, while the Pats have a great defense, I've now watched Jason Campbell two consecutive weeks. I'm not impressed. I'm starting to agree with the poster who pointed out that Campbell has had one good game, against Detroit. Campbell is a little older. He's already 25, turning 26 by the end of the season. He has fumbled a Warner-esque eight times in eight games. I'm still a believer in the Lewin Career Forecast, but that doesn't mean it has never missed on a player. Campbell looks like a Delhomme upside to me.
Doug Farrar: Did anyone else find it funny when Troy Aikman started talking about Randy Moss' pushoff on the fake-spike touchdown reception? I can't think of another quarterback in NFL history who should more fervently wish that sleeping dogs would forever lie on that particular subject.
Aaron Schatz: How on earth do the Redskins not cover Mike Vrabel in the end zone?
Stuart Fraser: All I know is that one of my most common notes on red zone pass plays is "the tight end, cover the tight end!" (This is normally whilst watching Pittsburgh, for which one can substitute "Matt Spaeth" for "Mike Vrabel," though Heath Miller is also often disturbingly open.) I assume that part of all this non-covering of tight ends is due to the fiendish and nefarious scheming of offensive coordinators, and their dread lieutenants, quarterbacks, to get them open.
Mike Tanier: In goal-to-go situations, defenders have an almost impossible task. Linebackers have to aggressively attack the run, then cover the pass as their second responsibility. The tight end play works because no defensive coordinator can say "screw the run, just make sure the tight end doesn't get open." If they did, that team would give up 50 one-yard rushing touchdowns per year.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots are winning by so many points that they just brought in Eric Gagne at quarterback.
Doug Farrar: Mon Dieu!
452 comments, Last at 03 Nov 2007, 1:19am by Fergasun