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?
27 Aug 2007
compiled by Doug Farrar
Ned Macey: I was surprised at how much Chicago was trying to use Devin Hester as a receiver. I've sort of dismissed it as a gimmick, given the whole Dante Hall experience as a receiver. Their attempt to get Hester the ball "in space" ended predictably badly with a two-yard loss. He later made a real catch underneath the Colts' zone. He'll need to do a fair number of those before the bubble screens start opening up.
Brian Griese will be the starting quarterback of the Bears by Week 6 after the Bears lose in Green Bay to fall to 2-3. Grossman threw a terrible interception trying to force the ball to Rashied Davis.
Tony Ugoh remains a work in progress. As long as the Colts can dictate what they want to do, then they can protect him. If they fall behind or face a lot of third-and-longs, he'll get beat, and they'll have to bring in support.
Assuming they go on to lose this game, the Colts are now 1-10 in their last 11 preseason games. They've only lost 10 of their past 48 regular season games. Preseason football: You just can't beat it.
Doug Farrar: Jaws sounded exactly like Dr. Evil when he used the word "laaaaaaaser" to describe a Kyle Orton pass to Mike Hass. I hope he was doing the quotation-mark thing with his fingers in the booth.
Ben Riley: Jaws also channeled his inner Joe Theismann during the first quarter. Quote: "Mike, I talked with the Chicago Bears quarterback coach last night, and he told me that Rex Grossman blah blah (some excuse for his poor play) blah blah ..."
If you pick between fourth and seventh in your fantasy football league this year, you should be salivating over the five looks Joseph Addai got in the red zone.
Note to Chicago: Man coverage just isn't going to work against Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. As Jaws aptly put it a moment ago, if you don't jam Harrison at the line of scrimmage, he's already open.
Ben Riley: The Jacksonville defense put up those incredible DVOA numbers last year without Reggie Hayward. Now Hayward's back, he's healthy, and he's getting held on every snap.
Everyone is aboard the James Jones sleeper train, right? He's consistently getting open against Brian Williams. Last week, he consistently abused Kelly Jennings. And Greg Jennings is whining about his lack of targets.
Sean McCormick: The Jones sleeper train ran off the rails when he fumbled. That said, he does look good.
Ben Riley: Instead of playing quarterback roulette, Jack Del Rio's decided to play wide receiver craps (literally and figuratively). Reggie Williams and Dennis Northcutt started. At this point, do we have any idea who's starting for this team?
I'm retracting my Del Rio wide receiver craps joke: Wilford started with Northcutt, same as last week.
In keeping with the notion that the Football Outsiders do not have a "hive mind," I feel compelled to say: I don't think Byron Leftwich is very good. He's always looked like molasses in the pocket, but he just underthrew a 10-yard out pattern that was nearly picked for six.
Sean McCormick: I'm with you on Leftwich. When he's out there, the whole Jaguars offense looks slow. It doesn't help matters that Green Bay's corners are more than up to the task of sticking with whatever receiver combination the Jags throw out there.
Mike Tanier: Leftwich looked pretty bad tonight. Northcutt, on the other hand, looked pretty good. I think he and Matt Jones will start at wideout.
Ben Riley: Eli Manning apparently loaned his magic head box to Leftwich this week. He just skied one three feet above a jumping Matt Jones.
I have a man crush on MJD -- even though he just dropped a pass on fourth down -- but I've watched two Jacksonville preseason games this year, and Fred Taylor is getting the bulk of the carries. Taylor may be this year's Deuce McAllister (only older and not as good).
Mike Tanier: The Packers zone-blocking front vs. the Jaguars front four was a mismatch on running plays. Zone blocking and stretch running is great until there are two great defensive tackles and two pretty good ends in the game. Those blockers can't peel off to the second level, and either the linebackers make the play or the tackles do once they shed the double up.
I don't think this Brandon Jackson kid would be considered a viable starter on most other teams. He doesn't have special quickness or power, and while his hands seem good he is a little lost in the passing game right now. He's got OK speed, OK moves, and isn't terrible at anything right now (his pass blocking didn't look that bad). Let's see, who does he remind me of? Nebraska kid, no special properties, can play a role as a change-up guy. Oh my God, he's Correll Buckhalter Junior.
Oh, I was skipping between that game, California vs. Indiana in NCAA football (that's California, PA vs. Indiana, PA) and USA vs. Japan in World Cup football. World Cup football? Huh?
Ben Riley: Mike, I was all set to explain to you about the nuances of World Cup football (soccer), and then I realized you weren't foolin' about the USA-Japan (American) football game now playing on the NFL network. One burning question: why does Japan have "JAPAN" written on the back of every jersey where the name should be? Or is it possible every player is in fact named, "JAPAN"? Someone please look into this.
I'm not sure who Desmond Bishop is, but the hit he just laid on Reggie Williams will get him on SportsCenter. Anytime you have that whole helmet knocked off/decapitation thing going, you'll be on the Worldwide Leader's highlight reel.
Sean McCormick: Brodie Croyle's first series was up and down. He overthrew badly with his first attempt, took advantage of an illegal contact call to throw a deep out to Sammie Parker on his second throw (which was high again), and barely avoided a fumble on his third dropback. His fourth attempt was a rollout where he threw the ball out of bounds. On third-and-15, he checked down to Michael Bennett, who got 14 yards. Way to crank up that DVOA, Brodie!
Doug Farrar: And people wondered why I was so happy when I got Damon Huard in the 12th round.
Mike Tanier: Roscoe Parrish is going to have the season that everyone thinks Devin Hester is supposed to have. He's got really rare lateral quickness, and the Bills blocking units are great.
Lee Evans vs. Michael Griffin is a mismatch. You probably saw the highlight. If it were Evans vs. Pacman Jones, J.P. Losman could load the ball into a rocket launcher and watch them run under it, and one of them would catch it
Vince Young wasn't throwing the ball very well when I watched. It was sailing out of his hands a bit and he lacked zip when he needed it, almost as if he's working on improving his touch. On the plus side, he was hanging in the pocket and stepping up, and he was calling audibles. That's encouraging. I mean, we all know he can throw the ball, so it is nice to see him working on the mental game.
I haven't seen anything out of Marshawn Lynch yet. Part of the problem is that the Bills' line is nothing special.
Sean McCormick: Tennessee is really going to be hurting in the secondary with no Pacman Jones. The Bills were consistently going vertical against man coverage, and they were having a lot of success. It's one thing to get beat deep by Lee Evans (as Michael Griffin was) -- that's going to happen to a lot of people. But when Peerless Price is getting behind the coverage, you're in serious trouble. There wasn't a more vertically challenged receiver in the league last year than Price.
I agree about Lynch; he really hasn't looked any more dynamic or effective than Anthony Thomas. Having watched him and Adrian Peterson in back-to-back weeks, there really is no comparison. Peterson just explodes with the ball.
Aaron Schatz: What's the over/under on three-yard receptions on third-and-long from Carolina tight end Jeff King? 20? 25?
There was a running play early in the first quarter that showed why I don't like DeShaun Foster. Rosevelt Colvin stuffed the block, and so Foster had to stutter-step. Now, it isn't entirely clear from the television angle, but it looks like Foster may have some space to his right, with Adalius Thomas coming in on the left. He hesitates, hesitates ... and then goes left. He doesn't have vision. I know that the Carolina folks say he's the definite starter this year, not DeAngelo Williams, but I really have a hard time believing that will still be the case in Week 10.
Ben Watson is supposed to be a receiving-first tight end, not a great blocker, but he's taking on Julius Peppers one-on-one on some of these Laurence Maroney runs, and actually winning some of those battles. He certainly won't have to be blocking guys as good as Julius Peppers during most of the regular season.
Mike Tanier: I was going to comment on King. It looks like the Panthers haven't changed coordinators at all. They still have Brad Hoover and the tight end out there on third-and-medium plays, and those players are still running routes. Before the draft, I figured the Panthers would draft Greg Olsen, who could catch a three-yard pass on third-and-7 and possibly turn it upfield. King isn't going to be able to do that.
In defense of Foster, he was hemmed in on most of the plays I saw. The Panthers' line really wasn't generating many cutback lanes.
Aaron Schatz:Most of the Carolina first-team defense was still in there at the beginning of the third quarter, and they were getting sliced and diced by HEATH EVANS, for crying out loud. Heath Evans is not supposed to get big cutback yards against you. This could be a real problem. The Eagles had a hard time running on Carolina, but a bunch of Giants no-names gained 5.2 yards per carry in the first preseason game.
Sean McCormick: If you are looking for a sleeper rookie to put up big numbers, look no further than Brian Leonard. Scott Linehan had him lining up everywhere last night -- he played both fullback and halfback in two-back sets and spent a lot of time on the field as a single back. Leonard responded by showing impressive athleticism and instincts.
Leonard's vault of Fabian Washington made SportsCenter, but he was effective with just about all his touches, and his blocking was efficient if not overpowering. I know he's got Mr. Jackson in front of him on the depth chart, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Leonard eat into his playing time, particularly out of pass sets.
Mike Tanier: raiders look sharp. o-line really jelled and malling people. donte culpepper looked like his old self from 04 but better. lamont jordan clearly #2 running back in league behind LT but gaining ground. coaches have guys fired up ryan ready to suit up and play himself but has too much talent to work with, maybe the tullamore dew talking but i think the 72 dolphins are nurvous.
:: raidermike â€“ 8/25/07 @ 11:41 pm
Bill Barnwell: I don't buy it. He'd clearly say Jordan was the best back in the league.
Michael David Smith: Peyton Manning and the Colts' receivers look as good as ever, but the pass protection just looks generally messed up. I don't even know if they miss Glenn so much as the offensive line just looks really disorganized right now.
Mike Tanier: It's 21-3, and the Colts starters are a hot knife through butter. I smell those 11 wins, Perfesser Kitna.
Sean McCormick: It looked like Indy was keeping a tight end on Ugoh's side for about eight of every ten snaps, at least in the early going. When Ugoh was left on an island, Manning was quick to get the ball out of his hands. Ugoh played reasonably well considering, but I suspect that Colts fans are going to get used to seeing that tight end on the left side.
It's impossible to overstate what a physical specimen Calvin Johnson is. He actually makes Roy Williams look small. I don't have that much else to say, seeing as O'Sullivan generally looked elsewhere, but if nothing else, it's going to be easy for Detroit game charters to tell at a glance exactly who is where at the snap.
Vince Verhei: Everyone is curious about Ugoh, and rightly so, but from what I saw the Colts may have problems at both tackle spots. Right tackle Ryan Diem was dominated for most of the first quarter, giving up a huge sack on the first play, several hits/hurries and totally whiffing on a draw play. He was usually lined up against Dewayne White, who has collected exactly 14 sacks and started 13 games in his four-year career. Diem made him look like Reggie White.
If we ever do a game charting project on how motion affects the game, we can skip the Colts. For all the hype and hoopla about Peyton's chicken dance, the Colts shift on offense about as often as they blitz on defense -- never.
There was a pass here where Marvin Harrison ran a simple curl route and came to a complete stop. Peyton began his throwing motion and the defensive back began to close in. As Peyton's arm hit its highest point, Harrison suddenly cut to the outside. It looked like complete miscommunication that would lead to an easy pick for the defender, but in fact Harrison and Manning were in total sync. Manning was aiming for the outside all along, Harrison was right there to catch the pass and the defender was left guarding a curl route that wasn't there and a ball that would never arrive. It was just a little eight-yard play in a meaningless game, but it reminded me how special these guys are and how, even after the Super Bowl win, it's easy to take them for granted.
Stuart Fraser: The Dolphins didn't seem to have much trouble pressuring Garcia most of the time, with the exception being the touchdown ball to Joey Galloway. There was a moderately amusing interception, where Garcia appeared to take a three-step drop, set and throw, without realizing there was a defensive end between him and the target.
Stuart Fraser: The Jets' first touchdown was straight out of the Football Outsiders summer playbook. Leon Washington motions out wide right from the backfield, and that seems to confuse the Giants secondary -- hard to tell from the TV angles, but I'm guessing the cornerback handed him off to the safety, who totally failed to pick him up.
Sean McCormick: The problem with spending two first-round picks on your offensive line is that you still have three more positions to fill, and the Jets are not filling them very well. The entire offensive line has been bad this preseason save for center Nick Mangold. Jacob Bender got the starting nod at left guard and, in the first game since Pete Kendall joined the Redskins, he struggled. Bender was beaten clean to the inside by Justin Tuck on a third down pass play on the Jets' second series, resulting in a sack and a punt. It wasn't just him, though. On the next series, D'Brickashaw Ferguson was beaten cleanly by Osi Umenyiora on third down, again resulting in a punt. The same Giants defensive line that was mauled by Carolina two weeks ago was dominant against the Jets.
The best news for the Jets was the way Darrelle Revis played. He lined up both outside and in the slot, and he provided very close coverage. He was targeted three times in the first half -- the result was two passes defended and a nine-yard reception allowed on third-and-10. While Giants' first-rounder Aaron Ross had some real problems in man coverage, Revis looked polished and ready to go. Expect Revis to beat out David Barrett and be the starter on opening day.
Stuart Fraser: Rex Grossman can hit a wide-open Bernard Berrian all day, baby. And if Shawntae Spencer is going to bite that hard on fakes, somebody should probably strengthen his mouthguard, or he'll go right through his tongue.
Stuart Fraser: Steve McNair went 14 of 19 for 98 yards. Yes, I know it was raining, but I'm sure 5.15 yards per attempt could be improved upon. I could be charitable here and say that obviously Washington's expensive safety corps prevented big plays, or I can [the remainder of this sentence cancelled in the third quarter due to inclement weather].
Stuart Fraser: If Roscoe Parrish doesn't have the season that everyone thinks Devin Hester is supposed to have, Jacoby Jones might. Nobody gets near him on a punt return, despite it being coffin-corner placed, and it isn't just good blocking.
Vince Verhei: Tarvaris Jackson showed a strong arm on out routes, but he had trouble recognizing and reacting to blitzes, and a tendency to focus on one receiver and throw it to them, covered or not. I still think the Vikings are taking a quarterback in the first round next year.
Doug Farrar: Following the many agonizing seasons of take-it-out-to-the 20-and-fall-down returns that followed the Charlie Rogers era, the Seahawks now have two return men capable of making things very interesting: receiver Nate Burleson, who took a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown in 2006, and rookie cornerback John Wilson, who gained 847 kickoff return yards on 31 chances in his senior season at Maryland, his only college season as a returner.
There are still some major questions about this team -- the offensive line depth is nonexistent; the cornerbacks and safeties still aren't communicating on the field at times; and someone needs to figure out that as invaluable as he is to the defense, the 275-pound Chuck Darby is NOT a run-stopping nose tackle -- but it'll be worth watching to see what the Seahawks do with the field position battle.
Doug Farrar: With just under a minute left in the game and Denver down 17-16, the Broncos sent Patrick Ramsey out on the field with a full set of downs from his own 37-yard line, and Ramsey "engineered" the worst late drive I have ever seen in my life. First play: a three-yard slant just outside the left hashmark to receiver Brian Clark. No way Clark gets out of bounds from there. Second play: a short pass to the right -- just inside the numbers -- to receiver Domenik Hixon for the ultimate useless first down. Tick, tick, tick. Third play: back to the left to running back Selvin Young, inside the numbers again, and the clock runs out. Ramsey got his team to the Cleveland 48-yard line in those three plays and 58 seconds, and he may as well have been eating a pizza on the sidelines.
Did Ramsey or Mike Shanahan think that the scoreboard was wrong and the Broncos were up by one point? Cleveland only rushed three defenders on each play (as you'd assume they would), so Ramsey had time to go through his reads and find someone within a mile of the sideline. Unless Shanahan told Ramsey, "Just go through the motions and kneel down without looking like that's what you're doing," I'm at a loss to explain it. There would have been room on the clock for one or two more plays, Denver's at home with that altitude on their side and a kicker in Jason Elam who isn't what he used to be, but he's certainly capable of winning the game if his team gives him 15 more yards. Just unbelievable.
Mike Tanier: I only saw a little of that game, but Charlie Frye looked pretty darn good. Floated a nice pass to Braylon Edwards, threw some short passes that were downright zippy. I saw the Brady Quinn highlights and I know he played well, but against the Broncos we saw the Frye that so many people in the Browns organization seem to like.
I watched Joe Thomas get beat to the outside on a fairly routine move by one of the Broncos rookies, and I saw a couple of zone block type plays where he didn't know when to peel out to the second level or who to block when he got there. On the plus side, he latches and steers Elvis Dumervil far away from Jamal Lewis on Lewis' touchdown plunge. Typical rookie left tackle stuff. It may be a rough September for him.
Stuart Fraser: Denver's secondary -- Dre' Bly in particular -- really doesn't look like the strength it's supposed to be. Browns quarterbacks went 19-of-27 for 223 yards and a touchdown, which is kind of worrying when it's the Browns. Frye and Anderson looked pretty good -- I liked the pass to Edwards too. Quinn threw a similar one to Joe Jurevicius which was ruled out of bounds and wasn't. Both of those were against Bly, for what that's worth.
Aaron Schatz: Wow. Darren Sproles had a 19-yard run where he put a move on Terrence Holt that was just embarrassing. It was straight out of Madden, crazy "highlight stick" type juking. Wow.
Doug Farrar: I remember when Maurice Jones-Drew came out of UCLA and I was hoping the Seahawks would pick him, just as I hoped they'd look at Sproles when he came out of Kansas State. It's a good change of pace to have a guy two feet high and as wide as he is tall when he runs, and nobody sees him until he's blasting through traffic.
Aaron Schatz: It is difficult to figure out where to draw the line between the quality of these two passing games and the weakness of these two secondaries.
Stuart Fraser: On the highlight reel, it takes a minute to see a pass caught where the receiver is within five yards of a defensive back, and a pass interference penalty isn't called. Sure, Arizona has good receivers, but I think I'm going with "weakness of these two secondaries."
Vince Verhei: I agree, it was the secondaries. On one play, Antonio Gates lined up at wide receiver, covered by cornerback Eric Green. Gates blew by Green to catch a pass on a fade route. Obviously, getting beaten by Gates is understandable, even for a corner, but Green was beaten by two steps and never got his head turned around or his arms in the air as the ball came in. He never had a chance.
Aaron Schatz: Donovan McNabb looks fine, but the Eagles' offensive line doesn't look quite up to its usual performance level. The run defense is also clearly still a problem. Is Omar Gaither really ready to be a starting middle linebacker?
Very early in the game, Ben Roethlisberger threw one of those ridiculous, "What the hell was he thinking?" lame duck interceptions, about one second before taking a sack. He has to stop that.
I would like to apologize to Kevin Kolb for calling him "Kevin Kolb" and not "Kevin Cobb" on something like a hundred radio programs over the last few weeks.
Mike Tanier: Tried to tell you about Kolb/Cobb. He has the Brett Favre Southern Boy Mispronunciation Thing going.
Gaither isn't the problem, even after that Willie Parker touchdown (the D-line got washed out on that play). Linebacker Chris Gocong is the problem. He cannot move laterally. Watch any of the three dozen or so Steelers screens or flat passes that went for big yardage in the first half, and you will see Gocong overpursue, then lunge backwards. The Eagles get him off the field on passing downs, which is a blessing, but he really looks like a converted defensive end whenever he plays in space.
I saw the pass defense as a bigger problem than the run defense for the Eagles in the first half. The containment wasn't there on the pass rush and the tackling wasn't there on short passes. Plus, some of the blitz packages looked like confused playground stuff.
Offensively, I don't think Nick Cole is the solution to the Shawn Andrews problem, and Reggie Brown has the Darrell Jackson thing where he just drops these easy little passes. On the flip side, McNabb didn't make too many bad throws (though he fumbled once), his incompletions were a lot of drops and a fingertips play on a bomb to Curtis. I don't think there's a problem with the offense.
If I am Mike Tomlin, I scan the waiver wire for any Michael Lewis or Eddie Drummond or Terrance Wilkins and I overpay for any punt returner who can cleanly field a punt. Maybe I even trade a fourth round pick for a guy, James Thrash or somebody, who can return punts but isn't doing it right now. I don't risk my season on all of these guys who just can't seem to cleanly field a punt.
47 comments, Last at 28 Aug 2007, 6:33pm by Pat