Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

BarrettJT16.jpg

» SDA: Rivalry Showdowns

Rivalry week has significant conference and Playoff ramifications. Should Alabama, Mississippi State, Oregon, or Florida State be worried about getting upset by their rivals?

07 Jan 2008

Audibles at the Line: AFC Wild Card Games

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.

For the next two weeks, we'll be splitting Audibles in two, one for each conference. This edition discusses only the two AFC Wild Card games. Click here to read about the two NFC Wild Card games.

Jacksonville Jaguars 31 at Pittsburgh Steelers 29

Bill Barnwell: So, wait. John Henderson grabbed Ben Roethlisberger's jersey from behind, but not his pads. That's still a penalty?

Stuart Fraser: John Madden said that was a rule change this year. I'll believe him.

Pittsburgh's opening drive is notable for consisting of mostly quick passes. Bruce Arians has been much criticized in various circles of Pittsburgh fandom for many seven-step drops, which are invitations for Roethlisberger to hold on too long and get sacked.

Pittsburgh's opening drive is in no way notable for being followed by a kick return to the 1, though I wish it was.

Bill Barnwell: The tipped pass from Heath Miller to Hines Ward was fun, but boy, was that a terrible throw. Miller settled into a zone and Roethlisberger threw it late and then both high and wide. Two plays later, a forced throw results in a pick-six.

How do you get a low block on defense?

Ryan Wilson: To be fair, on the tipped pass to Ward, Ben looked off the middle linebacker, who had moved left, and the safety snuck down on Miller. If the safety doesn't cheat (I think Santonio Holmes was running a go), Miller's open. That was just unlucky. The Rashean Mathis pick, however, was just awful.

The penalty on Russell was the same penalty they called on Matt Hasselbeck in the Super Bowl. There's some dumb rule about the offense, after a turnover, not being able to block the turnover-recovering team low. I didn't understand it then, and I don't understand it now.

Vince Verhei: Yes, that was very reminiscent of the call against Hasselbeck in the Super Bowl two years ago. Speaking of which, it's amazing that two years after that game, both Hasselbeck and Roethlisberger look so bad today.

Stuart Fraser: I admit that I was thinking, "the Steelers need to take a downfield shot soon" just prior to the second Roethlisberger pick, but you know, not to a player double-covered when you have Santonio Holmes open for a first down...

...and after the second Roethlisberger interception it's like somebody threw a switch and it's the Week 15 game again. Roethlisberger is dropping deep and getting sacked, Fred Taylor is running free up the middle ... did I hallucinate the first quarter?

Bill Barnwell: What a great throw by David Garrard on the Maurice Jones-Drew touchdown. Right in stride, in a spot where Jones-Drew could catch it without having to slow down or turn towards it, while keeping it away from the linebacker. Simply fantastic.

Mike Tanier: Why weren't they using MJD more as a running back? We had this argument three weeks ago when the Jaguars threw a pass on second-and-9 and got intercepted and I said I liked the call. Keep in mind that I liked the isolated pass surrounded by running plays, like they did in that game, not the three straight passes to start the fourth quarter leading 28-17, like they did tonight. That was just daffy.

Michael David Smith: Grady Jackson's having a good game.

Vince Verhei: Looks like Bobby Petrino did him a heck of a favor by cutting him midseason.

Tim Gerheim: Nobody really ever complains about early parole. (Believe it or not, not a Michael Vick joke.)

Stuart Fraser: Gah. My fan-addled brain is currently thinking of last year's AFC Championship, but there are only two Peyton Mannings, unfortunately. Also, the Steelers have to kick off.

(The Steelers kick short.)

Phew. Now all they need is a drive that isn't killed by an interception.

Aaron Schatz: The Jaguars are making some open-field tackles in this game that are just sick.

Vince Verhei: And on the other side of the ball, David Garrard just took over. Scrambling for first downs, hitting a pair of deep posts to set up MJD's touchdown run. That was reminiscent of a drive from the middle of the year when Garrard hit three or four posts in a row on the way to a touchdown.

And the Jags make another big hit on the ensuing kickoff.

Aaron Schatz: One statistical trend that has disappeared tonight: Jacksonville's mediocre regular-season run defense, especially against runs up the middle. They're concentrating on stopping the run up the middle and it has completely worked. Jacksonville allowed 100 rushing yards in seven games and at least 60 rushing yards in 13 games. At the start of the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh has 30, and 10 of those were one run early in the first quarter.

Stuart Fraser: One trend that has continued: Heath Miller is a first down machine. When he was naming his Every Play Counts All-Pro Team, MDS wondered if he ought to mention Santonio Holmes, who'd had a good year in an offense not keyed to getting the No. 1 receiver gaudy numbers. I thought the idea was right but he had the wrong target. Miller has had an incredible season -- 50% DVOA doesn't happen often -- but his receptions have been limited as the Steelers have had to keep the tight end in as a blocker. Today's performance might get Miller a bit more (well-deserved) national attention.

Ryan Wilson: For Aaron's trend comment, I would point you to Sean Mahan, No. 61, for the answer to the question: "Why can't the Steelers run up the middle?" Marcus Stroud's out. John Henderson's out. It has very little to do with Jacksonville, I think, and everything to do with the center getting pushed three yards into the backfield.

Aaron Schatz: Although the Jags also have some good depth there. Derek Landri is pretty good.

(Miller scores on a 14-yard touchdown to make it 28-23, Jacksonville. Pittsburgh attempts a two-point conversion and succeeds, but the play is called back on a holding penalty. With the ball moved back 10 yards, they go for two again and fail.)

Ryan Wilson: Sean Mahan, right on cue with the hold on the two-point conversion.

Vince Verhei: I seriously, seriously question the call to go for two after the holding penalty. You're down by five. Kick to make it four. Then, even if Jacksonville kicks a field goal to go up seven, you can still tie it with a touchdown. Now that they've gone for two and failed, if Jacksonville kicks a field goal, Pittsburgh would need to make the next two-point conversion to tie it. I understand going for it to pull within a field goal, but not from the 12-yard line.

Now, that said ... Where has this Ben Roethlisberger been all night? And where did the Jacksonville pass rush go?

(David Garrard throws an interception right to Ike Taylor.)

Stuart Fraser: Since Ike Taylor just caught a pick, I think I can safely say we've entered a parallel universe.

Aaron Schatz: Where was David Garrard throwing that ball? The receiver was 10 yards in front of the pass!

Vince Verhei: Is something wrong with my TV, or did David Garrard just turn back into a pumpkin?

Stuart Fraser: The sensible answer (as opposed to my previous comment) as to what happened to the Pittsburgh offense, is that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians remembered his game-plan in the fourth quarter and went back to calling mostly three-step drops and short pass plays, which minimizes the liability of the pass protection (and, for that matter, the run blocking). It was, of course, what they did on the first drive too.

Bill Barnwell: Did Marcedes Lewis just give up on his route on the ugly Garrard interception? It looked like he was running a double-move off an out and just gave up on the go part. Or got blocked, one or the other.

If this game were actually well-played and close, I would be canceling my date tonight. Instead, it's just ugly and close. They show football games at wine bars, right? No? Oh well.

Vince Verhei: Hines Ward grabs his defender by the facemask and yanks him around, and the penalty gets called on the defender. I'm starting to get annoyed.

A nominee for goat of the game that the mainstream press will not note: Greg Jones drops a pass that would have converted a second down, then blows a block to allow a sack on third down.

Mike Tanier: At about four minutes left in Steelers-Jags, both coaching staffs were suddenly struck stupid. I am watching some dumb football late in this game.

Ryan Wilson: I think Jack Del Rio just wrestled the KCW award away from Tomlin's timeout on that late challenge. Jeebus... Wait, I change my vote: Bruce Arians for the third-down draw play on the previous Steelers drive.

Mike Tanier: OK: On the Steelers third-down quarterback draw. First, don't have an empty backfield. Make the defense respect the handoff because they know you may try to run out the clock. With the back in the backfield, you can run that play like a little spread-option and maybe freeze some defenders. The whole design and the situation it was used in was bad.

The Del Rio challenge was bad. Not having a play ready going into the two-minute warning was worse. You wasted a timeout challenging a play that wasn't that close. Maybe you could find time to call two plays and get the offense into hurry-up mode.

Ah, but the game ends the way it played out for most of the second quarter: with Roethlisberger standing in the pocket pondering the meaning of life until he gets sacked. He is becoming Bledsoe Junior, only with mobility.

Michael David Smith: Big mistake by Del Rio to challenge with just over two minutes left. You just can't waste a timeout there.

Vince Verhei: I didn't have a problem with the Jacksonville clock management. They were at the midfield at the two-minute warning. They still had two timeouts. They had plenty of time to score, and had to be careful not to score too quickly and leave Pittsburgh too much time.

Something has changed about me as a football fan. In games like this, where I don't have an inherent rooting interest in either team, I used to always pull for the underdog. Now I cheer for the team that I think is better; I thought Jacksonville would kill Pittsburgh tonight, and now I'm ecstatic that they just barely won. Is that something that happens as we get older, that we like to see teams get what they deserve? Or is it a selfish thing, like I've been validated?

Tim Gerheim: I've gone the same way, a little bit, and I think it's a consequence of being an "expert." If it's Dolphins-Patriots this year, I'm probably inclined to root for the Dolphins because they're legit underdogs and it's nothing special to be able to say "I called it" on a Pats win. But if it's a game like tonight's where I'm in some way on record saying Jacksonville should win, I root to be right. (This is why I'm now sort of a Chargers fan -- I rooted for them to be good for two seasons following PFP chapters in which I and the numbers said they'd be good.)

Will Carroll: We get paid to be right, or at the very least, smart. Rooting for being right is just the same as rooting for your paycheck to come on schedule -- it's the smart play.

Ned Macey: This might be me because I write Any Given Sunday, so I am always looking at upsets, but the thing that really pisses me off in a game with no rooting interest is when the team that plays better doesn't win. I know we've been pimping Jacksonville all year and we're basically right, but they were not the better team today. Interception return for a touchdown, kick return to the two-yard line for a touchdown. Two missed 2-point conversions that would otherwise have created a tie. Steelers outgain them by more than 100 yards with only one more meaningful turnover. I'm betting on a higher VOA for Pitt, but I could be wrong. VOA will (correctly) reward them for the kick return, but bad as Pitt's special teams are, they don't give up one of those a game.

Garrard had a pretty bad game throwing the ball on the big stage, but paging a competent wide receiver. Maybe he had open guys and was not pulling the trigger, but I certainly didn't see it. The Jaguars have wasted more first-round picks in the past five years to be this good a team. Leftwich, Williams (not totally wasted, but he doesn't start over Wilford and Dennis freakin' Northcutt), Matt Jones, Marcedes Lewis. I guess Nelson shows some promise. Can't wait for them to draft James Hardy when he comes out.

I'm sorry I'm late to this party because I was behind on my DVR, but what the hell was with the overrule on the Holmes catch? It ended up being meaningless, but weren't Madden and Michaels right?

The two-point effort from the 12-yard line is KCW-worthy. I was screaming about it at the time. It is one of those deals where preparation doesn't help you because you can't anticipate the first holding call of the game, but you have to think quickly there.

Speaking of holding, we don't have an offensive holding penalty all game, and they call that one on Mahan? Then the only other call the whole game is on the Jaguars' very next play. What a joke. That's embarrassing. Either swallow your whistles or call holding, but don't inject yourself at that crucial moment, and don't call lame make-up calls. By the way, there were no offensive holding calls in the Seahawks-Redskins game. If I were blocking Kyle Vanden Bosch or Shawne Merriman or Michael Strahan on Sunday, I'd hold the crap out of them.

Michael David Smith: I usually root for the underdog in a game where I don't have a rooting interest, but during the wild card week I usually root for the better team because I want to see good divisional round games. Especially this year, with how much better the top two seeds in each conference are, I would be worried that an upset in the wild card round would just mean some boring football in Round 2.

Tennessee Titans 6 at San Diego Chargers 17

Aaron Schatz: On NFL Matchup this morning, they were showing the first game between these teams, with Jamal Williams just pushing Kevin Mawae out of the way on running play after running play, and talking about how the Titans would have to double Williams. So far through the first quarter and a half today, no Mawae, but Eugene Amano is on Jamal Williams one-on-one, no double-team, and he's really taking him out over and over. It's pretty remarkable.

Would somebody like to explain to me why Chris Davis is running eight-yard patterns on third-and-12 for Tennessee? Maybe Tennessee should consider just moving the entire offensive line over to the left side on every play.

Doug Farrar: On Philip Rivers' end zone interception, Cortland Finnegan absolutely had Chris Chambers covered deep, but Vincent Jackson was wiiiiiiiiiide-open on a post about 15 yards upfield. When we talked about Eli Manning taking what the defense gave him, throws like that would NOT have fallen into that category.

And as I write this sentence, Rivers throws into double coverage (to Chambers) in the end zone with an open man underneath 15 yards upfield. Incomplete pass. I'm sensing a trend here. And these are first-and-10 and third-and-11 plays, not desperation situations.

Ned Macey: In Rivers' defense, he accurately read that Chambers -- his theoretical deep threat -- had single coverage on the outside. Chambers just got no separation. On the second one, Rivers was under enormous pressure, and Michael Griffin sprinted full speed to just break up a touchdown.

People are going to say that LaDainian Tomlinson should get the ball more, but what do you do when he gets less than one yard per carry? Is Tomlinson's career in danger of going the way of Barry Sanders? For comparison purposes, does that make Rivers Scott Mitchell?

Stuart Fraser: Chambers did have some (not much) separation -- he had about a stride deep on Finnegan, but he had to come back because Rivers underthrew the pass.

(Chargers tight end Antonio Gates severely sprains a left toe late in the second quarter. His status for the rest of the playoffs is unknown at this time.)

Patrick Laverty: OK, two questions: How do you dislocate a toe in football? Any other joint, I understand, but a toe? And why does someone like Antonio Gates need a cart to get off the field for a dislocated toe?

I guess I'm just ticked because he's my playoff fantasy team tight end. Heck, stick some lidocaine in it and get back out there. It's a toe! You're the team's leading receiver. This is the playoffs. Git 'er done!

Bill Barnwell: Mangling your toe hurts. A lot. I could barely walk on this and it hurt for two months. Playoffs schmlayoffs.

Doug Farrar: Rivers is looking very, very good with more intermediate stuff at the start of the third quarter.

Aaron Schatz: What happened to Marcus McNeill, though? The difference between this year and last is really noticeable.

Doug Farrar: As it is with Kris Dielman, who was flagged for a chop block on Albert Haynesworth. That left side is not what it was last year.

Aaron Schatz: I know some people have a problem with Phil Simms, but occasionally he says something so true you can't help but agree with him. For example, when Simms just said, "I don't know much about kicking." Hard to argue with that.

Doug Farrar: Oh, my goodness. Fourth-and-one from the Titans' 2-yard line and the Chargers elect to kick the field goal. Thoughts? San Diego was 19th in Power Success, and only the Cardinals allowed a higher Power Success percentage. Down 6-0, I think you go for it.

Michael David Smith: I actually disliked the three plays they called prior to the field goal more than I disliked the decision to kick, although I do think they should have gone for it.

Tim Gerheim: I agreed with the decision to kick. The field goal allows the San Diego momentum to continue to slowly build, albeit not as quickly as a touchdown would have, but a failed fourth down attempt would have been incredibly deflating for the Chargers, I think.

Aaron Schatz: OK, can somebody please explain to me why there is no holding call on Scott Mruczkowski of the Chargers when he basically hooks Antwan Odom's arm and pulls him to the ground on the Vincent Jackson touchdown?

Tim Gerheim: I don't understand your question. They don't call holding in the playoffs.

Ned Macey: Back to what I mentioned in the Pittsburgh discussion: The refs have called a whopping two offensive holding penalties today, one in each game. I don't know how the magic penalties database works. Do we know how many holding penalties there are in an average game, or can we not sort out holdings on special teams plays?

Doug Farrar: 418 offensive holding penalties (non-special teams, including offsetting and declined) called this season divided by 256 games = 1.63 per game.

Aaron Schatz: About the Titans: There's really only so much an defense can do -- and more specifically, there's only so much a front seven can do when the offense can't score and the secondary blows a couple of coverages to allow major gains.

I'll be shocked if they overturn the touchdown that makes it 17-6 San Diego, but I gotta ask -- did anyone else think from the camera angles they showed on television that the third Rob Bironas field goal was good, not wide left?

Bill Barnwell: I thought it was pretty close, at the very least.

Sean McCormick: No, that kick looked wide to me.

Not sure what happened to Tennessee's tackling, but it's been noticeably worse this quarter.

Aaron Schatz: And once the game is 17-6, Tennessee can't run the ball, and once they can't run the ball, San Diego can pressure Vince Young whenever they want, and there is no way he can handle it, and this sucker is over.

Vince Verhei: We may as well just print that comment by itself and call it good. It almost perfectly captures the entire game in a nutshell, at least from the Titans' offense point of view. It's clear that Tennessee's backup linemen are adequate run blockers who are hopelessly outgunned by San Diego's rushers.

As for Tennessee's defense, I think they were just asked to do too much for too long to win this game. Not so much that they were physically tired, but the law of averages says that if you ask someone to do something over and over again, they're eventually going to fail a few times in a row. I did notice that Tomlinson's first good runs on the day came when he ran to the right, and Travis LaBoy ran a big looping pass rush both times, taking himself out of the play.

Last night Aaron noted that Seattle's front seven made their secondary look better than they really are, and I think that's even more true for Tennessee. Rivers had plenty of receivers open throughout the game, he just had more time to pass and played smarter in the second half.

Doug Farrar: Rivers got a lot better from the start of the second-half drive because he wasn't trying to force throws. Which, one would assume, had something to do with a Norv Turner adjustment. Norv doesn't seem like the sort to put forth a Moss-like, "The best part was shutting you guys up" comment, but he's got at least one week to feel that way if he so chooses.

For me, this day was about preconceptions. Had Jay Cutler played as Eli Manning did against Tampa Bay, I might think differently about it. And if Ken Whisenhunt had led his team to a playoff win after all that pressure and having to relocate midseason due to the horrible fires, I might look at that a bit differently as well. I have no idea what either win means in the long term for these guys -- whether we've seen watershed events or just good days -- but it certainly has been interesting.

Mike Tanier: That's the tough part of this job: Knowing when to adjust our opinions and when to write off events as flukes. I usually hound on Tom Coughlin, Norv Turner, and Jack Del Rio, and here they all were winning playoff games. Odder yet, I picked all three to win in Rundown. In Turner's case, my opinion of him hasn't changed. Coughlin, well, I don't know what to think, because I also think Kevin Gilbride is a nincompoop. Del Rio and his staff showed me a lot this year, because he doesn't have overwhelming talent and the schedule was tough and that team plays some excellent fundamental football.

The thing about Manning and Rivers is that I am still evaluating them almost on a throw-by-throw basis, and so I don't really have a hard time giving them credit for good games or blaming them for bad ones. They are still pretty young and having typical ups and downs, but they both have some playoff appearances under their belts and now some wins. Throw in Big Ben and that's quite a class of quarterbacks, though I think we are impatient for them to turn into John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino, not three guys who win some games but still have three-interception, five-sack brainfarts.

Bill Barnwell: I think the thing about guys like Eli and Ben that I'm trying to understand is how quarterbacks develop. I see Eli doing the same things he's done since his rookie year and I wonder -- and maybe Dave Lewin might be a good person to speak to this when it comes to quarterback development patterns, but I'm thinking more scouting-wise here -- how do quarterbacks improve as they gain experience in the league? What signs are there?

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 07 Jan 2008

175 comments, Last at 10 Jan 2008, 4:53pm by Jonathan

Comments

1
by Jerry (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:12am

Stuart Fraser: I admit that I was thinking [SNIP] Ike Taylor is running free up the middle … did I hallucinate the first quarter?

That was Fred Taylor that Stuart wasn't hallucinating about; Ike didn't run free until the fourth quarter.

It's odd - when I saw 28-10 on the scoreboard late in the third quarter, I thought that the game would be over against New England, but that it was possible to come back against Jacksonville. I didn't expect things to play out quite the way they did, but I don't think of either the Steelers or Jaguars as being significantly better than one another.

Here's hoping that we get games as exciting when the good teams enter the mix.

2
by Vincent Verhei :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:17am

Oh, for crying out loud. You have no idea how many times I re-read that particular passage and didn't realize it was the wrong Taylor. It's been fixed now.

3
by Ben (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:19am

As much as I agree that it's much more satisfying to see the better-playing team win the football game (re: Jags over McBeamers) it does give the semblance of hope that the Patriots game will be interesting. I'd rather watch Fred Taylor and Pocket Hercules wearing down New England than Lindsay Davenport (as Bryant Gumbel presumably calls him), and who really wants another potential 60 minutes of "Monkey in the Middle featuring Tom, Randy and Anthony Smith"?

Although it's a blessing that Tennessee didn't advance, or we'd have to watch the third-string Titans lose 28-27 despite nine field goals by Rob-o Kicker.

4
by James, London (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:12am

"Audibles" this early is cool.

First, I'd like to thank everyone on the game threads this week, as they were very funny, and made some at times turgid football bearable.

As for the games, I know they had injuries, but Tennessee really need to get some receivers. Without a credible passing threat that defense is going to go to waste. I haven't seen much of the Titans this year, but if Courtland Finnegans' performance yesterday is a reflection of how he's played all year, that's a tremendous 7th round pick.

As for San Diego, while they got there eventually, why did it take until the middle of the 3rd quarter for them to start throwing on 3rd down? LT was consistently stuffed, and still they kept running him. It makes even less sense when you have the play-action threat San Diego have. Madness, and Rivers isn't going to keep converting 3rd & long like he did yesterday.

5
by James, London (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:24am

"he Del Rio challenge was bad. Not having a play ready going into the two-minute warning was worse. You wasted a timeout challenging a play that wasn’t that close. Maybe you could find time to call two plays and get the offense into hurry-up mode."

Gotta disagree here, at least with the criticism of not running a play before the 2-minute warning. The Jags were down 28-29, and had 3rd & 2 at the Pittsburgh 43. It's clearly 2-down territory, and if you don't get it the game is over. If you do get it, you're very close to FG range, and the clock starts to work for you. Running a play before the 2-minute warning helps Pittsburgh, particularly if you convert, because the clock stops, and save Pittsburgh a timeout. While I didn't like the 3rd down play-call, I though the Jags managed the clock perfectly.

6
by James, London (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:35am

Triple post; my apologies, bu I have to vent this.

If Jax had lost this game, they'd have had every right to go after the officials with pick-axe handles. The failure to call Hines Ward for the face mask in the endzone was a shocking error, and once again, we've been 'treated' to incompetent officiating in the playoffs. And it wasn't just this game; this was just the most glaring example.

One more thing;

"I know some people have a problem with Phil Simms, but occasionally he says something so true you can’t help but agree with him. For example, when Simms just said, “I don’t know much about kicking.” Hard to argue with that."

I'll just repost what I said in the game thread.

"The Cretin (that'll be Simms) excels himself. Apparently, the fact that San Diego played like sh*t for three quarters is a good thing, because "they had to fight for it".

Hey Dimshit, would a 40-point win that was all but done at the half been a bad thing?

Christ, he's f*cking appalling"

7
by Stuart Fraser :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:41am

Since some things make me look *really* stupid, I'm going to note that according to my email client, I wrote "Taylor is running free up the middle", and "Ike" appears to have been edited in later.

FWIW, I also thought the Del Rio challenge and his overall clock management was fine, but I was too busy screaming at the television to mention this in audibles.

8
by Purds (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 9:31am

Why was the hit by two guys on Gates, when he was clearly still on his knees though he was trying to get up, not a personal foul? I know the rules don't make those cheap shots personal fouls, but why don't they? He clearly was injured by one of those two guys, and it's pretty hard to say those defenders needed to hit him to make sure he didn't get up and run.

I get tired of DB's and LB's taking free shots at recievers who fall after making the catch but haven't been touched. It happened in some of the other games as well, though I can't remember particular names. Again, I know it's not against the rules, but why isn't it? Shouldn't the league protect guys who can't protect themselves in that position. Gates was/is a pretty big loss, even if he comes back for the Indy game. Imagine if Moss, T.O., Wayne, etc., goes out on a play like that--where is the fun in seeing backups because the starter got knocked out on a cheap shot?

9
by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 9:37am

8.

See Jax/NE game last year for Jones-Drew's run where he falls down untouched, and NE is lax falling on top of him. If the runner can advance, and is trying to advance, I have no problem with the defenders trying to stop it. It's like the QB slide - if the QB slides head-first, the DBs can hit him as hard as they late.

The play at hand, I thought Gates was attempting to get up, so no problem. If Gates gave up on the play, and blatently fell down protecting the ball and made no move to advance, than I think you have more of a case.

10
by Butchie From Beyond the Grave (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 10:04am

>>I get tired of DB’s and LB’s taking free shots at recievers who fall after making the catch but haven’t been touched. ...Shouldn’t the league protect guys who can’t protect themselves in that position. <<

Huh? He can protect himself, don't get up. Stay on the ground and cover up. Any time I see a receiver do that, the defense will often just run over and put their hands on the guy to touch him down, they won't hit him. What do you want the defense to do, hug him? What would you think if your defense played nice, as it seems you're advocating for and then the receiver broke free and scored a TD? Then you'll have wished the defense knocked the guy into next week.

11
by JMM (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 10:12am

One of the changes Pitt made this year was to have Ben call the pass protection / blocking at the line. It seems to me that is not one of Ben's strengths.

12
by Anger...rising (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 10:17am

The low block call was doubly ridiculous because it wasn't a 'block' at all; it was a diving attempt at a tackle which resulted in a trailing Jaguar tripping over him.

13
by The Original Sam (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 10:22am

12:

Isn't that exactly what the call was against Seattle in the Super Bowl, though?

14
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 10:47am

"Aaron Schatz: About the Titans: There’s really only so much an offense can do — and more specifically, there’s only so much a front seven can do when the offense can’t score and the secondary blows a couple of coverages to allow major gains."

I'm pretty sure this should say, "There's really only so much a defense can do" or at least it makes sense that way.

15
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 10:50am

The block on a return was bizarre because in both cases the GUY MISSED THE BLOCK.

It always amazes me how a team will let it all hang out to get the lead and then when in the lead will just do a complete 180 and get away from the stuff that GOT THEM AHEAD. Man, Tomlin, dude, like wazzup with that??!!

I know Dick LaBeau has been doing this for 174 years but is there no limit to his whack defenses in key situations? Over and over he had guys coming at Garrard when it seemed like the sensible thing to do against a qb who is obviously struggling with his accuracy to just rush four and cover. I know some may say it was the Pitt defense that was causing DG to struggle but I disagree. The guy was all over the place Saturday night. The need for the "big play" bit the Steelers in the game

--And why was MJD on the sideline for most of the fourth quarter? Guy had killed Pitt multiple ways and he's standing on the sideline watching the action. Did Brad Childress grab the headset for the Jax offensive coordinator? Sit your best offensive weapon at key moments is a Childress specialty

TN/SD

--Gosh Tennessee plays hard on defense. Like wow.

--Lendale White is working on his Jerome Bettis imitation. Even got the tummy.

--Cris Chambers lighting them up. Hmmm, methinks that says something. More about TN I am guessing. Though I am glad for CC.

--that kick by Kaeding was gross. Definitely a concern for SD if the injury is causing that type of output. Yuck.

16
by ebongreen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 11:07am

Speaking of holding & officiating, check out LT Khalif Barnes on Garrard's game-winning quarterback draw. If he wasn't holding his Steeler opponent, I don't know what holding is. But of course I don't - because it wasn't called, it didn't happen. :-,

I have no problem with Jacksonville winning, but consistent officiating would be nice. I'd hate to think that was overlooked as a make-up call.

17
by cd6! (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 11:19am

At the time, I didn't really have a problem with going for 2 twice. Even the second time, with the penalty. It's not like picking up two yards was any more successful than picking up 12 for the steelers at that point. The offense had become "let Hines or Heath run 15 yards then make magic happen."

However, a criticism of the decision would need to be "the odds of getting the 12 yards are 8% versus 45% for getting in from the 2" or something like that. An argument of "You’re down by five. Kick to make it four" doesn't really do it for me. Of course, you could also complain that the hold called against Mahan on the successful 2 point conversion was nonexistant, but at this point I've come to expect one or two (or nine or ten) egregious calls every game.

In the offseason, I would love to see:
1- O Line help, especially at center, and maybe at left tackle, though Trai Essex had a decent game Saturday and might be able to turn into something with more practice and so on. And some kind of resolution to the Faneca situation.
2- Kickoff and punt coverage specialist or two. New special teams coach because who ever it is now is obviously terrible at his job.
3- Everybody getting healthy.
4- It's Monday morning and Bruce Arians has not yet been fired. Why? Cam Cameron and even Mike Mularky are available? FIRE BRUCE ARIANS.

Now that the steelers are out, I will be rooting for my local team, the seahawks, and anybody but the patriots.

18
by JCRODRIGUEZ (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 11:25am

On the "Big Ben holds the ball forever" thing, I need to point out that the Jags, only with 4 guys rushing, were DOMINATING up to 6 Steelers at the trenches, so they were able to have 7 guys in coverage to cover 3 or 4 receivers, somehow that closes lanes, windows and just about everything that will cause a QB to have a hard time finding somebody open.

So I do not buy it, lets get rid of Mahan, Simmons, and given that Faneca won't re-sign, lets use 2 out of the first 3 picks on the next draft on interior linemen, and the other top 3 choice, please make it a DE.

Good season, not enough O-line talent to get farther.

By the way, on the Garrard definitive run, check out the 7 individual matches that took place at the line of scrimmage...NONE was won by a Steeler, that was the testament of the best unit that was on the field, Jax's O-Line. Hats off.

19
by DGL (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 11:29am

#11: I don't get to see enough Steelers games to know, but has the problem been more protection calls or talent level? (Plus Ben holding on to the ball and taking a sack when he should be gettin rid of it.)

20
by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 11:38am

16. If that was a hold (which I still don't see, but let's assume it is for argument), than I am fine with the non-call as a make-up call. I think the penalty against Williams for illegal face to the hands was that egregious. 6>3.

I don't like instant replay, but if we need to have it, let's allow replay of penalties and create an even higher standard of review as an appreciation of the judgmental nature of the calls.

21
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 11:41am

DGL:

I am a passive observer of the "Stillers" (wife is hard-core as she grew up in Pittsburgh), but two starters are out with injury and the replacements just flat out s*ck.

For every play that Ben appears to hold it too long there is a play where a D-linemen has him, Ben shrugs him off, stands up and rifles one to a receiver. So one can hardly blame the kid for not throwing it away when it appears the world around him is collapsing. 'Cause really, that happens on 2 of 3 pass plays. If BR threw it away when all seemed lost his completion percentage would be around 55%.

BR having that season with that line is one of the most amazing things to come out of 2007. The guy is beyond amazing. He was Favrelicious this season in his ability to cope with guys in his face and still make plays.

22
by B (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 11:53am

My understanding of the low block thing is that on a return (Int return or kick/punt return), you're not allowed to dive low at a player not carrying the ball.

23
by black (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:00pm

One of the most interesting things from a playcalling perspective in the Jags-Steelers game. Where were the screens and draws?

I hate watching the Jags play big ben, I keep screaming at the tv, stay in the pocket and take your sack like a man!!!! Quit running around making plays, throw the ball away, arghhhhhhh, dangit he sees the tight end open, arghhhh. *shakes fist*

24
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:08pm

TEN-SD
I haven't thrown anything today, so I guess I've calmed down a little. This game was the same darn thing I've seen before: teams making big plays in the passing game when the QB gets time to throw. This wasn't as much of a factor against David Carr, or Joey Harrington, or Brodie Croyle, or Kellen Clemens, or Quinn Gray, or all the other terrible QBs the Titans were fortunate enough to play this year, but Rivers is better than those guys. And, again, the Titans couldn't make big plays of their own to match the big plays they gave up.

Finnegan has been an excellent 7th round pick. I was concerned after he showed well last year that he was a 1-year sensation (Reynaldo Hill, also a 7th round pick, also seemed semi-competent his rookie year), but he's continued to make good plays. Of course, he also manages to get beat at least once a game-the play Griffin broke up in the end zone, Finnegan got beat badly on a double move and would have been a TD if not for Griffin.

25
by Lance (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:16pm

#21-- right-- but it's clear that the "low block" was really the Jax guy tripping over the Steeler who had missed a tackle. After said missed tackle, he's on the ground and someone runs into him. The whole thing is baffling!

26
by Joseph (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:17pm

RE: the non-facemask & pass interference in the end zone in Jags vs. Steelers.

Bad call, I agree. BUT consider this--I don't know all the official responsibilities, but I know that that close to the goal line there will be one at each pylon, the ref is in the backfield, and the umpire in the middle of the field. I thought that the TV camera had the perfect angle to see that, and that the refs didn't because of 1). not much separation between the players; 2). not the right point of view. Not sure, but I think the closest official might have been behind Hines Ward, and from that view, it looked like a clear PI. Just my 2 cents.

FWIW, I think the AFC teams with the better OL won both games.

27
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:18pm

Watching Keith Bullock and Julian Peterson still flying all over the place on Sunday while Bubba Franks hangs out as a blocking TE makes me want to puke.

28
by MattB (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:28pm

After watching last night's game, and a few other Chargers game rececently, I'm beginning to wonder about the decision to label Chris Chambers as "one of the worst (or at least most over rated) receivers in the NFL". I know the big knock on him in the past was drops, but I haven't seen any in the games I've watched. Also I know that Chambers isn't on the level as Randy Moss, but could his poor performance in recent years have been mostly a product of playing for a terrible Miami team where he sort of gave up, similar to Moss's play in Oakland?

Throwing out Chambers's first few games as a Charger, since he was probably still trying to fit into the offense, how has Chambers's DPAR/DVOA looked in his last 4-5 games as a Charger?

29
by Fnor (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:30pm

15: Garrard was struggling because of LeBeau's "whack" scheme.

25: I think it is more that, given the defender was draped all over Ward, there was no official who could actually see the facemask. The only time we really saw it was when we had an elevated camera angle from the back of the end zone.

As for the o-line bit, you are absolutely right. That said, the steelers really blew it with that 3-run series after lighting the JAX secondary up for the past quarter. Hopefully Tomlin takes a lesson home from that debacle.

30
by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:32pm

Anyone else think that the Roethlisberger horsecollar was a make-up call for missing the late hit out-of-bounds on Hines Ward?

And speaking of Ward, didn't offensive face-masking used to be illegal? When did they stop calling it? I remembered at least two blatant examples, and I wasn't even looking for them; I love Hines Ward, but those are way, way worse than the shoves Michael Irvin used to get away with.

31
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:37pm

Fnor:

As I wrote earlier, I figured someone would have that perspective. But in some of the downs/distance situations DL still sent guys which stresses the secondary and Jax converted.

I just think at some point some sense of playing the odds has to take over versus trying to generate a big play.

I think the Pitt coaching staff got the whole thing reversed in the last five minutes. Be aggressive on OFFENSE and be more straight up on DEFENSE.

Anyway, sorry for the way it ended. My wife is still brooding........

32
by JMM (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:39pm

Steeler homer that I am, I thought Ward's hand in the DB's facemask was a result of the DB's PI. It will take me a week or so longer to get the black and gold glasses off.

33
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:48pm

Random WC Weekend Thoughts

I hope this doesn't come across as too snobbish or arrogant, but I have to say that I wasn't very impressed with the quality of play this weekend. Amazingly enough, the team that I thought looked the best was.........

The Giants.

It has gotten to the point where you don't expect the lower tier NFC teams to look great, but I don't think the AFC teams looked all that much better. Everywhere I turn, I hear someone else rambling on about how great the Jags are or how hot the Chargers are, but they sure as hell looked anything but in their matchups. Anyway, here are my usual semi-lucid thoughts from the weekend.

* During the final few moments of the SD/TN game when it was apparent to everyone that the Chargers would emerge victorious, I called my football buddy and said, "I guess San Diego didn't get the memo. Shouldn't someone let them know that the Titans stink? Their acting like they just took down a juggernaut out there." I realize that every victory deserves to be cherished, but it almost seemed as if they weren't sure if they were going to win.

* I keep hearing about how great Phillip Rivers played but I just don't see it. From my vantage point he played like a spastic idiot for the first half and then improved in the second half when TN could no longer mount a pass rush and SD had receivers running 10 yards free of any defenders. Yes, I realize that good pass protection and open receivers are key to any QB's performance, but I just can't see Rivers going on the road and beating any decent team.

* Further along this line, SD is going to get annihilated next Sunday. This past game was reminicent of their first week's victory over the Bears. It seemed that they emerged with a hard fought victory over a physical opponent, but in reality they played a crap game against a mediocre opponent. TN, without any receivers and with a gimpy running QB, found themselves in the red zone 4 times all after long drives. No way Indy scores less than 35 points against them. Unless the line is in the 20's, Indy is the best bet for the weekend. They are going to kill that team.

* Watching the Seattle/Wash game my only real thought was, "Is there anyway *both* of these teams can be eliminated this week?"

* So..... Where was this Jacksonville Juggernaut again? Pitt did everything they could to give that game away and Jax still needed a late 4th down to pull it off. Sure, teams can always play better, but they aren't going to have any late game chances if they play like that on Saturday. I'm still trying to figure out how a supposedly great team can let a team with no running game and a QB in the midst of a near-complete playoff meltdown comeback from a 18 point deficit.

* I want to touch on Roeth specifically. He was absolutely terrible in the first half. Not only did he have some obvious garbage plays with the ints, but he was almost solely responsible for Jax's sacks and Pitt's ineffective offense. The OL actually played a good game, IMHO, but Ben just stood there waiting and waiting for something to happen. Other than one where he had to scramble to his right almost immediately, he had at least 4 seconds prior to every other take down. I mentioned this in one other thread, but I'll do so again. On one sack Roeth literally rolled into the only defender who had a chance (and who was blocked out of the play if Ben didn't roll into him). On that play, he pumped a couple times despite every single receiver being open! That's right, he scrambled into a sack on a play where he could have thrown it to any receiver on the team. And that was in the second half when he was playing "well". Just a really bad game for him... and they still almost won.

* Was I the only one to see Jax's LT hold the Pitt defender from getting into the hole on the 4th down scramble?

* After watching the game my opinion of the Pats/Jags matchup still hasn't changed. IMHO, the Jags don't have the DE's to attack NE's tackle weakness on the OL nor do they have a nickle package that can stop NE from scoring 30 points. Barring a hurricane, a repeat defensive performance like this past one will lead to NE moving the ball up and down the field at will. And the jury is still out if the Jags can pass their way into a high scoring victory if needed. Frankly, I don't see either AFC Dvisional game being all that close.

34
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 12:56pm

Oswlek:

Agreed on that one play. They showed the replay and it was pretty mind-boggling that BR held the ball when he had guys running free. My wife thought it was because he simply couldn't choose and ended up not doing anything.

Are you saying the Pitt line played well relative to its seasonal standard or the standard of an "average" offensive line? Not being cute, just curious.

35
by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 1:03pm

Was up till 3:30 waiting for this to come up but decided to just go to bed.

In MMQB (up at 1 a.m. Central) King says that he thinks Rivers had a good game. To me the numbers look fine but man, I just felt he got lucky some of the time. I wrote this to King and it was the first time I ever felt compelled to write him.

On that long Chambers reception down to the 8 or whatever it was, I don't know what the defense was doing but that ball should have been led a bit more or else come way sooner. That way Chambers didn't have to stop like he did. That Chambers wasn't tee'd up like a punt returner just amazed me. Not that I really care if he's hit hard or not. I think the only reason this pass is completed is because Rivers had a while to throw. Not all day like Brady most of the time, but I remember seeing a couple d line guys on the ground.

The second complaint, tell tail sign. On that Jackson TD on the rollout. Why wasn't Jackson led another five yards towards the sideline, the room is there, there is no one over there, Jackson was moving that direction; I just don't get it. Instead Rivers heaves it so that his defender has to stop, elude a tackle (or come to the ball so it isn't picked, that's how I see it) and then drag another guy in.

Rivers consistently places the ball behind receivers, that is going to get him killed in the colts game. Although the colts front four won't be able to contain LdT the same way. Should be an interesting game.

Oh, and to scott from the discussion boards. If LdT was joking when complaining about the Pats, is he joking when he and Rivers are just livid at each other on the sidelines? Classy.

I loved Patriotgirls and Harris' (I think it was Harris) comments: Ah, hate for the Chargers, potentially bringing fans for the Dolphins, Patriots, and Colts together.

36
by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 1:09pm

*** receiver, not defender, 4th Paragraph

Sorry guys (and the anti spam word is doofus)

37
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 1:10pm

Badger,

I will admit that I might be viewing them from the vantage point of, "are they really as bad as everyone says", but I thought they looked like your average OL. Not terrible, not great, but passable. Frankly, I thought the OLs for both teams played roughly at the same level.

38
by Herm? (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 1:16pm

just to second the response of the low block rule, ANY CHANGE OF POSSESSION, nothing below the waist.

Think of all the running starts and the blind side angles. So much damage that can be done.

39
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 1:22pm

Continuing my anti-Cottrell crusade, it was nice to see The Tedster do what he could to give the Titans a chance yesterday. Lemme see....opposing qb who is very challenged throwing downfield, opposing starting wr who is injured, opposing rbs who are pretty good, and opposing o-line playing backups who are more accomplished as run blockers than as pass blockers? Ted Cottrell, Football Genius, sez, "I know, let's throw seven and six man fronts against them! All the better to limit our offense's possessions in the first half!"

The Tedster did a fine job of making sure that the Titans secondary blew coverages in 2nd half, and that Henry executed poor ball security in the first half, however, proving what a fine strategist he is.

40
by Herm? (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 1:28pm

Tennessee's unwritten statement this week:
"If we wanted to win, we wouldn't have played Vince Young."
It was about experience for the green QB.

And you have to know the Colts watched every second of that game, celebrating every time a Titan put a hit down on a Charger. They'll be nice and bruised next week.
(those guys who tackled me showed that they have no class, and it probably starts with the coach..waaahhhh!)

41
by DMC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 1:37pm

Re: 33,34

The OL for Pitt is bad AND Ben has a tendency to hold the ball too long.

Ben also seems to be a slow starter in any game and it seems to be even worse when he has rested or sat the week before.

Is there a stat breakdown that would say "never rest Ben"?

42
by Steely Glare (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 1:44pm

BenRoth was clearly discombobulated while on the run, perhaps as a result of being banged up the last few weeks. And the Steeler OL did play better than usual.

Also, while Tomlin and Arians deserve criticism for the Bill Cowher-like turtling (the Bill Cowering?), Tomlin and LeBeau (and of course the players) should get credit for fixing the run defense, which was excellent again.

Fact is, in terms of offense vs. defense, the Steelers solidly outplayed the Jaguars, but lost it with some characteristic blunders.

43
by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 1:59pm

On the first play of the game, why didn't Young have an audible option to run. As soon as the ball is snapped you can tell the receivers are positioning for passes, but on the right side of the offense, there are like 3 defenders. Young totally could have juked one and made it to the safeties.

That play is totally going in Belichicks playbook for years down the road when he has a mobile backup qb.

Personally I would love to see the first snap of the Jax@NE game the exact same thing, but with Welker (or whoever simulated VY earlier in the preseason) taking the snap and having audibles. Man, he could toss it up long to 'I catch everything remotely close to me' Moss, or he could run. Heck for fun put Vrabel, K Brady, A Thomas and Watson out there as linemen. How crazy would that be?

That is pretty far fetched. What isn't so far fetched is NE running some sort of trick play that takes advantage of both the new OLB and SS. HB pass, direct snap, flea flicker, statue of liberty, hook and ladder, surprise drop kick FG (Oh Flutie); what else is there? Jacksonville is probably going to try amp up the pass rush, How do you think NE is going to exploit that, other than millions of screens?

Just thinking about Trick plays further, do football teams or special teams ever practice Australian rules football or rugby for Kick Offs? Heck, even regular plays. How crazy would that be, to see an organized version of that 15 lateral play? Although, the Music City Miracle was brilliantly designed.

Out of the games next week, who is going to have the gameplan that is most atypical of what their team usually does?

44
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:03pm

I love Tomlin, but that is too early to attempt a two point conversion, especially from the 12 yard line.

45
by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:05pm

How much of Roethlisberger holding onto the ball is by design?

I seem to remember the PIT offense from '04-'05 consisting of a lot of slow-developing deep routes off play-fakes and rollouts. IIRC, the coaching staff saying specifically that they wanted him to hold on to the ball and look for the deep receiver instead of checking down right away; Roethlisberger took a ton of sacks, but had a pretty ridiculous YPA during those years. In the meantime, the OL has gotten weaker while the receivers have gotten stronger, but the gameplan hasn't changed.

He looked quick and decisive when they went with the short passing attack on Sunday, so I don't think we can lay this all on Ben here.

46
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:09pm

Wow, I love the playoffs! Though I often agree with him, I actually disagree with Oswlek here--I thought I saw some very good football this week (to be fair, I only watched half of each game, so maybe I only saw the good football bits--i.e. I only saw the first half of WAS-SEA). In the PIT-JAC game especially, I saw two good teams pulling out all the stops to win, and the momentum shifting back and forth between them as they did so. I didn't see that many "gifts"--both teams got breaks, but hence both teams had breaks go against them.

On PIT-JAC:
- I agree that Ben running into that sack was really, really, weird. But every QB does weird things at times (Brady throwing an INT from his butt versus Miami a couple of years ago, anyone?).
- I'm surprised people think the refs hurt Jacksonville. While I thought the refereeing in both AFC games was pretty good (certainly in comparison to the bit of the WAS-SEA game I saw), I thought if anyone, PIT should have the right to complain. For the life of me I couldn't see ANY holding by the center on the called-back conversion attempt, and I replayed it several times. Now it's possible the refs got the number wrong, and the actual hold took place off camera, but I just couldn't see it. Why does a CENTER need to hold on a quickly thrown fade pattern? It doesn't make sense. And then I thought I saw holding on Garrad's later 4th down scramble that won the game for the Jags (the PIT players were certainly complaining about that). Not major holding, and not enough to call in comparison to how much the flags were swallowed over the whole game, but certainly holding that could have been called. Still, I liked the refereeing for the whole game.
- I liked Del Rio's clock management, except for the challenge on LdT's TD. He obviously broke the plane on his second effort, and there was no way he was down. It does beg the question if the NFL should reconsider the rule about teammates helping a runner--i.e. LdT goes down without scoring the TD after his leap if his teammates don't catch him and hold him up so he can reach out and break the plane, which comes awfully close in my mind to "assisting the runner", but it's generally allowed. And I am, in principal against what my wife calls "ball-waving TD's", but them's the rules, and it was a TD.

Incidentally, Tomlin's challenge a play earlier really highlights a deficiency in the challenge rule. The point of requiring a team to have at least one timeout before challenging, and charging them that timeout if they are wrong, is to prevent coaches from challenging frivolously or on every other play and slowing the game down. However, in this case, the rule did the opposite. Tomlin had one timeout left, and needed more time to decide if he SHOULD challenge the play, so he correctly threw the challenge flag because, if he called his last timeout to see if he should challenge, he wouldn't be able to (being out of timeouts). However, it was obvious from sufficient replay that the challenge would lose. I would advocate changing the rule so that a team can call a timeout, and then decide to challenge with the timeout they just called as "collateral". If they win the challenge, the get it back. If they lose, then they don't. If they decide not to challenge, they keep the challenge but still have the timeout.

- I agree with Owslek that the Pats should be able to cope with the Jags D, but not for the same reason. To me all four of the Jags line looked fearsome, and they should be able to attack the Pats weak right side with some success. However, their LB's and safeties (actually, all their back seven) looked a little on the slow side (much like the Pats'), or like they may have trouble covering short routes in space horizontally. Obviously, the Pats would like Watson healthy to cope with this, but even if he's out, I still forsee a "death-by-1000-short-passes-to-Welker" attack once Brady and the Pats coaches get over their inevitable Moss-vision.
-Rashean Mathis is pretty good, and if the Jags know what is good for them (and if he's any good jamming WR's off the line--I don't watch enough Jags to know) he should be on Moss.

On TEN-SD:
I was conflicted on this game. I hate TEN passionately, but couldn't decide if I wanted them to lose ASAP or if I wanted the Pats to destroy them. But then I was afraid they would do some dirty cheap shots against the Pats if they played, so I was glad they lost. On the other hand, I was really hoping San Diego would lose, so they would fire Turner and not continue to waste all that talent (and so Marty, who I respect, would be vindicated). However, Turner surprisingly didn't seem to be doing that bad of a job. Maybe coaches CAN improve (see, Belichick). Or maybe he's just getting lucky.

-Does anyone else think that with that dark moustache and gotee look, bristling eyebrows, dark eyes, and a perpetual scow, that Jeff Fisher kind of resembles Christopher Lee's Count Dooku from the Star Wars prequals? And people say Belichick looks evil! Everyone knows that anyone with a wicked goatee is actually an evil twin from a mirror universe! :-)

47
by Nathan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:10pm

Everyone is bringing up the Hines Ward Facemask. I didn't replay the video, but didn't Hines Ward get held by the facemask on the holding penalty on the 2 point conversation when he caught the ball?

I thought he did, and thus it should have been replay the down at the 2.

48
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:13pm

Oops, sorry for that very long post. I got carried away!

One final question. It almost came up in one of the games this week (don't remember which one), but the ref ducked the issue by making a ridiculous claim of "down by contact" so he didn't have to address it.

If a player with long dreds makes a catch at the sidelines, falls to the ground untouched, and every part of his body but his hair land in bounds, and then his hair touches out of bounds, can he get up and run, or is he out of bounds? I.e. does your hair count as part of your body for the sake of determining in-bounds and out of bounds?

49
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:14pm

Steelers/Jags

1. That first two point attempt (after the penalty) seemed desparate.

2. The Ben sweep on third down was really bad. Have they ever run that play successfully before?

3. Sure looked like holding to me on the key Jags 4th down.

4. The PI call on the Steelers 4th down was terrible.

5. If the weather is decent I suspect the Jags defense will get carved up pretty badly next week.

50
by hwc (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:15pm

Jacksonville is probably going to try amp up the pass rush, How do you think NE is going to exploit that, other than millions of screens?

New England will spread the field and go no-huddle hurry-up from the start of the game. When Pitt went to a quick passing game, Jax had no answer and their defense was quickly sucking oxygen.

The Pats called 34 consecutive pass plays against Pittsburgh. I expect a similar game plan against the Jags. There's no point in even trying to run the ball into the center of that defense.

51
by B (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:15pm

46: You must not have been paying much attention, because the LdT touchdown was in the Tenn/SD game, not the Jax/Pitt one.

52
by SteveNC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:16pm

Re 44:

I don't love Tomlin *because* that is too early to attempt a two point conversion, especially from the 12 yard line. And he didn't admit making a mistake, according to the post-game quotes I read.

53
by Rob S. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:20pm

As a Charger fan, I really couldn't be more delighted. The first half was ugly, but by all counts (DVOA, public perception), that was a really good Titan defense that set out to stop LT and make Rivers beat them.
While Norv didn't quite accept this for most of the first half, he actually adjusted and put his trust in Rivers, who delivered. Game freaking over.

As for next week, while I don't expect the Chargers to win, we'll have a puncher's chance if we pressure Manning early and often. Obviously 17 points isn't getting it done, but I expect a much better game from LT.

Honestly, I don't understand the criticism. The offense couldn't get on track in the first half, and then adjusted and did so in the 2nd half, scoring 17 points in the half against a top 5 defense. Put 2 of those halves together against the Colts, and put Manning on his ass a couple of times, and they are in it. What am I missing?

54
by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:26pm

re: 33

If you want to judge a team by one weeks play go ahead and write off the Jags. I'll evaluate the Pats by the way the got outplayed by a terrible Ravens team and conclude they're not very good too. But if you want to look at how the Jags have been playing over the past 8 weeks or so (not counting week 17 when they rested many players), you'd have to conclude that they are almost about on par with the Pats, who have barely beaten some mediocre teams during that stretch (Ravens, Eagles, Giants).

Also, don't forget, familiarity breeds mediocrity. The Jags and Steelers just played each other, so their gameplans were likely a bit stale.

55
by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:29pm

#52 - I've no problem with the first 2-pt. attempt, but the second was ridiculous.

I also thought it was a bad play call on the first one, even though it worked; the fade is a low-percentage pass you use on 1st or 2nd down with a big receiver, because it's either a TD or an incomplete pass. It's not something you do when you've only got one shot at it with a short receiver not known for his leaping ability.

56
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:38pm

Steve, if Tomlin's worst fault as a coach is attempting two point conversions too early, he'll be in Pittsburgh as long as Cowher, and maybe as long as Noll.

Rob S., I agree with you that criticism of the Chargers' offense, and Turner's handling of the offense, is misplaced. The Titans have an excellent defense, and the Chargers had limited possessions in the first half, in large part due to the Charger's defensive coordinator.

57
by hwc (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:45pm

RE: #54

I'm with you. According to Bill Barnwell's "Secret Sauce" statistical model of playoff performance, the Patriots will be lucky to even give Jax a decent game. Barnwell's model shows the Patriots as one of the two weakest teams in the playoffs this year based on rankings in eight categories.

58
by Eddo (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:48pm

48: I.e. does your hair count as part of your body for the sake of determining in-bounds and out of bounds?
Why wouldn't it? You're allowed to pull down a ballcarrier by the hair. Technically, your feet never actually hit out-of-bounds, your shoes do, so hair hitting out-of-bounds is even more direct contact. :P

56: I’ve no problem with the first 2-pt. attempt, but the second was ridiculous.
I thought the second was necessary, after going for the first. If they kick the extra point there, the Steelers go up 30-28, and the Scobee field goal stills wins the game. You have to go for two when up by 1 late in the game.
I don't mind going for two on the first attempt, but I probably would have kicked after the penalty. But I probably could be convinced either way, and won't judge Tomlin too harshly.

59
by Eddo (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:53pm

58 (me): Meant to reply to 55 in that second one. Oops.

60
by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:53pm

johnnyblazin,

My opinions were formulated during Jax's run and confirmed this week. It is not based on just one data point.

61
by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 2:56pm

#58 - that's what I meant by the second attempt - the one following the penalty; sorry for being unclear. The odds are with you from 2 yards out, but against you from 12 yards out.

62
by DGL (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:00pm

I agree with the sentiment that going for 2 after the holding penalty was a bad decision. This was a case where the Assistant Coach for Common Sense (or whatever Simmons calls it) was needed - someone needed to say to Tomlin, "Look, Coach, going for two was one thing, but now we're 12 yards out, there's still ten and a half minutes left, and all the two points does is pulls us within a field goal -- when we've already given up 28 points to this team, so it's not like it's certain they're not going to score again. Take the one."

63
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:07pm

Was I the only person surprised when Madden described Garrard as big, and said he weighed 250#? His listed weight is 245 and I never would have guessed that either. I would have guessed at least 30# under his listed weight.

64
by lyford (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:11pm

One final question. It almost came up in one of the games this week (don’t remember which one), but the ref ducked the issue by making a ridiculous claim of “down by contact” so he didn’t have to address it.
What was "ridiculous" about it? He was obviously in contact with the receiver as part of the play in which he went to the ground. I thought it was an easy, and correct, call.

If a player with long dreds makes a catch at the sidelines, falls to the ground untouched, and every part of his body but his hair land in bounds, and then his hair touches out of bounds, can he get up and run, or is he out of bounds? I.e. does your hair count as part of your body for the sake of determining in-bounds and out of bounds?

I can't claim to know the answer to that, but I also can't come up with any likely or rational construct of the out-of-bounds rule that would not consider the hair to be part of the body. I cannot imagine that not being considered out-of-bounds.

65
by lyford (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:12pm

One final question. It almost came up in one of the games this week (don’t remember which one), but the ref ducked the issue by making a ridiculous claim of “down by contact” so he didn’t have to address it.
What was "ridiculous" about it? He was obviously in contact with the receiver as part of the play in which he went to the ground. I thought it was an easy, and correct, call.

If a player with long dreds makes a catch at the sidelines, falls to the ground untouched, and every part of his body but his hair land in bounds, and then his hair touches out of bounds, can he get up and run, or is he out of bounds? I.e. does your hair count as part of your body for the sake of determining in-bounds and out of bounds?

I can't claim to know the answer to that, but I also can't come up with any likely or rational construct of the out-of-bounds rule that would not consider the hair to be part of the body. I cannot imagine that not being considered out-of-bounds.

66
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:17pm

Yeah, I can't come up with a scenario, either, where the correct answer is "no", when the question is "Is a person's hair part of their body?".

67
by patriotsgirl (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:19pm

65: Sometimes I think that the officials aren't quite sure what to do about the hair issue, even though it seems it should be treated like any part of the body.

Does anyone remember an offensive player (Larry Johnson, maybe?) getting an unnecessary roughness penalty for pulling Polamalu down, then up, by the hair in the last couple of years?

68
by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:25pm

re: 60

Fair enough. I just wanted to point out that in terms of weighted DVOA, there isn't much a difference between the Pats and Jags.

The reasons I think they have a decent chance of competing with the Pats due to a couple factors:

1) Their front 7 is good enough to play the run without safety help. They don't have a great run D ranking, but you can definitely see they have enough talent up front to put it together.

2) Mathis is a pretty good corner, and could possibly contain Moss.

3) They don't need to blitz to creat pressure, leaving defenders available for the other WRs and TEs.

Whether they can contain Welker is another question, but if they can eliminat the other threats, Welker alone can't beat them.

69
by Herm? (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:26pm

Fisher might have Sith Lord facial hair, but he was wearing Mr. Rogers' white sweater.
Still can't get over how idiotic he was to start Vince Young. I always respected his ability to create a tough team (and perhaps they cross the line into cheapshot-ville), but the point of football is to put the best possible team on the field and try to win the game. Handing the ball to Young would be like handing me a violin and telling me to go play with the Boston Pops.

You might not agree with my assessment but someone help me with this simile: Allowing Vince Young to play qb this weekend was like...?

70
by Jonathan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:26pm

Re: 53 -- Exactly!

San Diego's defense shut the Titans out of the endzone, while the offense (and Norv) adjusted magnificently, especially the offensive line...their blocking during the first half was ugly, but they gave Rivers all the time in the world in the second half, and Rivers has consistently shown to be a great quarterback when he has the time (he still has a lot of trouble when under pressure)...

The Chargers have shown in the last few years that if they can pressure Manning, they can beat the Colts. I think it all comes down to the Bolts defense playing even better than they did Sunday.

Of course, a dry indoor field will definitely help the running game ;)

71
by Mystyc (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:31pm

67: I remember that play, and it's exactly as you describe it. The penalty wasn't for the hair tackle, but for pulling him up by it after the play. It would be analogous to facemasking someone after the play was over.

72
by Eric P (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:31pm

The hair question is interesting. I know it's hard to imagine a scenario where this could happen but what about down by contact (hair touches ground without any other body part that normally would count as down by contact touching)? What about establishing possession for a catch?

73
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:32pm

Mathis is a good player, but if Del Rio has illusions of Mathis containing Moss without near-constant and strong assistance from a safety, Del Rio is going to have a long day. The way to beat the Pats is to do anything necessary to take Moss away, get pressure with four, and force the Pats to beat you with sixteen completions to Welker for 11 yards each. Along with having your offense score at least 35, of course.

74
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:38pm

46: You must not have been paying much attention, because the LdT touchdown was in the Tenn/SD game, not the Jax/Pitt one

Wait, you didn't hear about that last second blockbuster trade of LdT to Pittsburgh? :-)

Ghaa! I'm an idiot. I watched a lot of football, but it was all a play here and a series there. I didn't watch a single game end to end, and I wasn't highly invested in any of the outcomes, just enjoying good football. So yes, you're right. Take everything I said about LdT and move it to the TEN-SD game comment, not the JAC-PIT ones, and change "Del Rio" to "Jeff Fisher".

So yes, overall, I liked Del Rio's clock management. I thought it was overall very smart.

And I did significantly question Fisher's challenging LdT's TD there.

75
by gnomonclature (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:38pm

#57 hwc-
If you rank teams by that formula, then #2 lost to #5 and #6 lost to #12. Secret Sauce went 2-2 on WC weekend. Even Cold Hard Football Facts could predict games at that rate.

76
by dork matter (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:40pm

34, 35:

Rivers had at least five, and I think six, completions of over 25 yards. If that is what it takes for SD to win in the playoffs, they are utterly, utterly screwed against IND. That kind of good fortune will not come against an IND defense built to prevent long completions.

Also, we got to see whiny baby Rivers yet again. Who here thinks the IND pass defense can drive him into a complete tantrum by mid-third quarter? My hand is up.

77
by The Original Sam (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:40pm

48:

By rule, hair is part of the body and he would have been out of bounds.

HOWEVER, the "down by contact" ruling is not ridiculous as you and Al Michaels claim. He made the interception and his leg(s) contacted a Jaguar while in the air. I've seen far, far worse "down by contact" calls.

78
by dangerdonkey (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:47pm

Wait, wait, wait …

Steeler’s fans are complaining about officiating in a playoff game? Oh, the irony!

As a Seahawks fan, I’m secretly laughing on the inside. No, actually I’m laughing on the outside too. Enjoy watching our playoff game from the comfort of your livingroom.

79
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:53pm

To me, hair should be considered like part of th uniform, not part of the body. It is (1) nonliving, and (2) not able to be controlled by a player's muscles (like a hand or knee is), so in my mind, it is more like a piece of loose clothing or a towel. If a QB is nearly sacked and his towel touches the gound, is he down? What is the rule on clothing?

And yes, I do remember a case recently when a player pulled Polamalu down by his hair. And I also remember a case where a player got tackled by his hair. I don't remember if it was a penalty in the former case, but I'm pretty sure the refs ruled it a legal tackle in the latter case.

And for the record, minus the hair, I did not get the "down by contact" call. The player made contact with the WR as he jumped into the air to make the INT, long before he had possession of the ball. By the time he had possession of the ball, he was no longer touching the receiver, and fell down because of his own momentum. His hair touched out of bounds, he got up, and ran. Minus the hair issue, I'm almost certain that he should not have been ruled "down by contact". It didn't really matter, but it was an interesting question.

80
by patriotsgirl (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:53pm

70: Eh, I'm not convinced. In the SD/Indy game, everything went in the Bolts' favor (weather, at home, Colts were banged up on the O-line, Colts coming off tough NE game, Colts' special teams were terrible even by their usual standards, and six interceptions!) - and they still almost lost (and would have if Vinatieri makes a chip-shot that is made by elite kickers 95% of the time).

Of course, some of that was caused by good play by SD, and it's been established that I'm not entirely rational about the Chargers, but I just don't see Rivers making the smart decisions (in conjunction with aggressive playcalling) necessary to have a significant chance of beating Indy.

76: how many of those completions were on third and long? IIRC, the Chargers made at least 5-6 third downs with seven or more to go, and will have to have much more first and second down success (and therefore be more aggressive) against Indy.

68: I admit that I haven't seen that much of Jacksonville (only about 3-4 games that didn't involve the Quinn Gray Experience), but in each of their games against Pit, it seemed that their defense (pass defense in particular) had trouble closing out the game, even with a big lead. Also, does anyone know what Henderson's status is?

81
by Herm? (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:55pm

73. That's actually a pretty good assessment for an NFC North guy. The only thing on defense I would add is that on top of getting a good 4 man pass rush, they also have to stop the run with 6.

On offense, they have a perfect QB for possession catch - long sustained drives. You have to know the Pats will put all the eggs in stopping the running game and force Garrard to throw to the outside.
By the way, ask.com coming up everytime I hit enter is a hell I wish on no one.

82
by Jordy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 3:57pm

69 - You've got to be Kerry Collins's mother. Or something.

83
by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:04pm

I haven't seen a penalty that made me so mad in a long time as the PI against Ward when he was facemasking the db. It's a good trick...grab the facemask and drag the db along with you so that it looks, from most angles, like the db is interfering. If there had been a way to challenge that call, it would have been reversed, but there isn't.

I don't care about either of these teams, but if that call had made the difference in the game, I might have quit football.

84
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:08pm

82. I agree with Herm? here.

When I heard that Young was out, I thought they might have a chance. When I turned the TV on and saw him playing, I assumed they'd lose.

hes just a very poor passer at this point in his career.

85
by crack (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:09pm

The 'Low Block' penalty is terribly named. It just means engaging a player without the ball below the waist. It has nothing to do with what is considered a block in day to day conversation.

86
by The Original Sam (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:23pm

80: The Florida Times-Union article today says that the injury is "not serious" but Del Rio basically said "you'll all have to wait for the practice report tuesday and the injury report on thursday/friday." He's being pretty tight-lipped (especially for him) about Hederson and Peterson.

87
by The Original Sam (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:26pm

73: I seem to remember Moss not being a problem for the Jags in a previous game with the Vikings, but off-hand I don't know what the quarterback or injury situation was for Minny, or the personnel situation for Jax.

88
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:29pm

MJK, if a player has a scab on his elbow, and it makes contact, does the non-living consideration come into play? How about fingernails? Hair is part of the human body. If a player is concerned about his hair making contact, there are preventative measures which can be taken.

89
by lyford (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:33pm

minus the hair, I did not get the “down by contact” call. The player made contact with the WR as he jumped into the air to make the INT, long before he had possession of the ball. By the time he had possession of the ball, he was no longer touching the receiver, and fell down because of his own momentum.

I'd love to know what the actual wording of the rule is. Yes, he went down because of his own momentum, but he made contact with the opposing player in the course of the action that generated that momentum. Mathis went up to get the ball, and as he was in the air, and just about when he caught the ball (poetic license aside, it certainly wasn't "long before"), his leg was in contact with Davenport(?)'s leg. He came to the ground and fell immediately. As I said earlier, I thought that it was an easy and obviously correct call (even before Pittsburgh challenged I was saying that they needed to challenge) but I don't know how the rule is written. It seems to me that it is always called if there's any contact, however incidental, in the course of the action that leads to a player hitting the ground, and it seemed a no-brainer to me. But I'd love to read the text of the rule, and hear the instructions that officials are given regarding the down-by-contact.

Here's the video, and the play is about 1:40 into it.

90
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:42pm

#86, I wouldn't say four catches for 86 yards is a insignificant day, but what is more important is what resources were devoted to holding Moss to that number. The Vikings had a nice offense in 2004, but the level of sophistication that Brady operates at simply dwarfs what Culpepper was doing back then. All I am saying is this; the chance of Mathis covering Moss without a huge amount of safety help, and Moss not having a huge day, is quite small.

91
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:51pm

Herm?, I graciously accept the backhanded compliment. Anyways, I love Maroney, but it is an interesting counterfacual to envision Adrian Peterson being a year younger, and think of him being available at number 7 this year. Fer' the love of Tom Landry, if d-coordinators had to choose between putting eight in the box to defend Peterson, or six to defend Brady, Moss, and Co., I think Amnesty International would have to step in to protest the use of torture! Screen passes would have to be made illegal!

92
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:52pm

lyford,

After seeing the video from this angle (the replay at the time that the announcers kept showing was from a different angle where you couldn't see the leg contact as well) I guess I agree with you.

You're right--without knowing the text of the rule it's hard to say what was right here. I had thought that contact has to occur after a receiver has clearly established possession, which, to my eye, does not necessarily happen in this case--the contact occurs while the DB is securing the ball in midair. However, given that the official looked at it, and ruled "down by contact", that implies either that the official was wrong and just didn't want to rule on the hair thing, or that his eye is different than my eye and the DB had secured the ball before the contact took place (a real close call), or that any contact that occurs while securing the ball is sufficient to render things "down by contact".

Anyone have the exact rule handy?

In any case, the hair question is an interesting one and I wish there hadn't been contact so that we could have seen how the refs called his hair.

93
by TomC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:54pm

As a Bears fan, I'm supposed to love Jeff Fisher, but I don't. He clearly has the ability to build a good defense, and his teams play hard for him, but I've never seen him outcoach anybody in a game situation, and his teams are (and have always been) painfully dull on offense (even when they're reasonably effective).

Now that I think about it, that pretty much sums up Lovie Smith as well.

94
by The Original Sam (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:55pm

90:

nfl.com shows Moss with 4 catches, 40 yards, 1 TD. A nice performance but certainly not dominant.

Jacksonville plays a lot of cover-2 (though I wouldn't call it a Tampa-2). In '04, the Jags base secondary was Rashean Mathis, Dewayne Washington, Donovin Darius and Deon Grant. Mathis is the only speedy one of the bunch. Washington was awful, Grant relied on his intelligence, and Darius was not much of a coverage guy.

Mathis is not what worries me going into this game. It's the safeties. Reggie Nelson is still a rookie who is a few weeks behind (having missed a large chunk of the preseason) and Sammy Knight is still... old. I can only hope Reggie Nelson's athleticism helps him overcome his inexperience, which I am confident Brady & Belichick will find a way to exploit.

95
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:55pm

Will,

The Eagles CB's managed to (more or less) cover Moss man-to-man, and kept him pretty much in check (relatively). I think it was mainly Shepard, but I could be wrong. It can be done. I don't know if Mathis is the guy to do it, but it can be done, provided your front four can get enough pressure so that you don't have to do it all day.

And by single-covering Moss, you are going to get Brady to keep throwing that way all day, which has worked against the Patriots this year...

96
by Scott C. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:55pm

"Oh, and to scott from the discussion boards. If LdT was joking when complaining about the Pats, is he joking when he and Rivers are just livid at each other on the sidelines? Classy."

Do yourself a favor and read about what they themselves say about what words are actually said.

In the Rivers case it was "We've GOT TO SCORE!" and equivalents. In the case where he got up from the bench when rivers sat down, he didn't even KNOW that it looked like that and didn't leave because rivers sat down -- he got up to go talk to an assistant coach and look at photos. All of this stuff is at chargers.com in the media section for the corresponding weeks.

Not "F U Rivers"

In the case of NE, listen to the damn quote in audio, he's CHUCKLING throughout the statement -- in the middle of the week where everyone else in the universe is teeing off on NE for spygate.

97
by B (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:56pm

On SD's chances, let's not forget that Indys pass defense is almost as good as Tennesees, and Indy's rush defense is better (according to DVOA). This isn't the same Indy team that lost to the Chargers two years ago.

98
by The Original Sam (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 4:57pm

92:

Though the contact may precede Mathis gaining possession (I think I may have said Mathis contacted a Jaguars player earlier: obviously I meant he contacted a Steeler), the contact and intercetion all happen in the air. That was good enough for me.

99
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:00pm

"MJK, if a player has a scab on his elbow, and it makes contact, does the non-living consideration come into play? How about fingernails? Hair is part of the human body. If a player is concerned about his hair making contact, there are preventative measures which can be taken."

Will, IIRC, the NFL has ruled that the hair is a part of the jersey/uniform, and not a part of the body.

100
by inkakola (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:02pm

did anyone else see a jaguars defender clearly lean back on hines wards leg and just lie there? it looked like he was trying to twist his knee. extremely dirty play.

101
by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:13pm

#93 - He clearly has the ability to build a good defense, and his teams play hard for him, but I’ve never seen him outcoach anybody in a game situation, and his teams are (and have always been) painfully dull on offense (even when they’re reasonably effective)... Now that I think about it, that pretty much sums up Lovie Smith as well.

That's also a pretty good description of Marty Schottenheimer. I think about 2/3s of the teams in the NFL would take this in a heartbeat. Sometimes, you just can't appreciate a coach until you have someone whose teams can't stop anyone, take plays off, and regularly outsmart themselves on offense.

102
by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:23pm

99. Link?

Is it something like this, 5:18 in, where Carter straddles Lewis and pummels him? (#23 at the top of the screen)

Oh, yeah, that's football.

The refereeing was bad - on both sides. Pittsburg should have won, but choked.

103
by Carlos (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:25pm

SD/TEN

- I hated Norv kicking the FG down 6. Totally gutless. Not to channel Easterbrook, but that's the kind of decision made by a guy who is willing to lose so long as he did things "by the book" and can defend himself after.

- Is Norv the worst coach when it comes to challenges? I've seen 5 SD games this year, and I don' think I've seen Norv even make a decent challenge much less win one.

- I like the symmetry in the TEN and TB losses, b/c I think the lesson is, you must have an offense that has some ability to score quickly. Otherwise, you're playing just to qualify for the playoffs and then go home. Superbowl winner Ravens are probably the only exception, and I wouldn't model myself after an exception.

- Rivers has a really strange throwing motion. His decisions also seem to come quite late, at least on the long passes.

PIT/JAC

- The best moment for Garrard was the pregame interview when he more or less attributed his incredibly low interception rate to luck. Honesty... is such a simple word...

- PIT fans outta worry about Ben's longterm career prospects. He's obviously ridiculously strong, b/c I've never seen a QB shrug off more would-be sackers than Ben does just about every game, but one of these days he's going to completely wreck his back/hip/knee doing that, and he'll never be the same.

- Note to Del Rio: More MJD please.

Picks vs. Spread (big spreads this week!!)
NE (-12)
SEA (+8.5) (tho' GB to win)
NYG (+7.5) (tho' DAL to win)
IND (-8.5)

104
by vis (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:33pm

67 I'll second Mystyc as I remember watching that play live. The announcers of the game made a point of saying that the tackle was legal, and had LJ let go, no penalty would have been called.

I have to raise the question, however, on why this SHOULD be legal, while a so-called horsecollar tackle, grabbing only the jersey (as we saw demonstrated this weekend) is NOT. The hair tackle is certainly more dangerous than a jersey tackle...

26, 32, 47 etc. Besides Ward's uncalled facemask, what struck me on this play was that--from the snap--attempting to catch the ball never seemed to be his intent. Our decidedly non-partisan viewing group saw a wily veteran gaming for a PI (presumably for a new set of downs). Slick, to say the least.

12 and others. Horrible call by the refs. Live, and from every replay angle, the PIT player was clearly attempting to tackle the JAX returner. What kills me is that not only did he not attempt a low-block, it would have made no sense for him to do so! He was in the best position to make a tackle, in the open field, why would he have chosen to take out the legs of a guy FOLLOWING the play (who was not even a potential blocker)? What does make sense is that he was an offensive player, not accustomed to taking proper lines on a ball-carrier, much less making successful diving tackles, and simply missed. Shouldn't there have been an official's discussion to at least review the situation? Awful, awful call.

105
by Ben B. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:41pm

33: The Chargers won their first playoff game since 1994. I can't blame them for celebrating it.

80: There were three third down conversions with 7 or more yards to go by the Chargers, against five failures (before they moved into run out the clock mode).

It seems to me like it's a good thing when the offensive line gives the quarterback lots of time to find the open man, the receivers create lots of separation, and the quarterback finds those wide open receivers for big gains. People seem to like it when the Patriots do it that way. So it seems kind of silly that the Chargers are being penalized in people's minds for making big plays. I'd agree that they are unlikely to have that kind of big play offense against the Colts, but the tradeoff to that is that the running game is unlikely to be as stuffed as it was against the Titans.

106
by Bobman (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:48pm

RE Hair, Edgerrin James was tackled by his formerly long dreds about 5 yerars ago and got them chopped down the next day. Penalty or not, part of the body or not, his approach was f-that, I ain't getting tackled by that no more. (might well be a direct quote) I believe it was totally legal and Edge knew it; made a choice for the team's sake to get shorn.

Pretty sure that another star RB, Ricky Williams?, had a similar incident that week or the next and chose to retain the long dreds. Yet another reason Edge is a good guy and Manning refers to him as the best teammate he's ever had (and Irsay gave him a SB ring the year after he left the team).

Either he was being selfless... or being tackled by the hair while running full-out hurts like a mother. Which it probably does.

107
by PatsFan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:49pm

NE is favored by 12? That's too high. Unless Seymour finally shows up to play and unless the week off is enough to recharge Seau and Bruschi, JAX will be able to play enough ball control to keep the game closer than that.

FWIW, the (very early!) forecast for Foxboro on Saturday night is partly cloudy with temps around 30.

108
by DGL (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 5:59pm

DJ Gallo on Norv Turner:

"The Chargers finally won a playoff game and they did it under Norv Turner. Now Turner has the Chargers where Marty Schottenheimer couldn't get them: on the road in the second round of the playoffs. You know, 'cause last year Schottenheimer only got them to the second round via a bye. And they were at home. Umm … BOOOOOOOOO, Marty Schottenheimer!"

109
by erik fast (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:02pm

OK, so no one else has mentioned this, so maybe I am a LDT hater, but:

1) When did the NFL stop calling a penalty for aiding the ball carrier from behind? On LDT's great leap into the end zone (it was a great leap - I have to give him that) he was met by the defense and appeared to be falling back. Then the back up TE or Chris Chambers (I couldn't tell, #80 something, maybe 86 or 89) pushed LDT back up, allowing him to put the ball across the plane of the end zone. Why isn't this called more often? It happens all the time - a lineman pushing the ball carrier from behind during the second effort.

2) Why wasn't the play blown dead for lack of forward progress? This bothers me. If a running back is hit at the line and driven back, he gets forward progress where he was hit. SO why don't the blow the play dead? Pushing him further back doesn't help the defense in the spot of the ball. It should be called similar to what they do with QB's. Once a ball carrier is being driven back and has no leg drive, blow the play dead.

3) On a field goal or extra point, the defense is flagged for leverage if they use a lineman to gain vertical advantage right? Isn't this exactly what the RBs are doing when they leap above the line? Trying to use the leverage of the line to cross the goal line?

4) I know, I am probably stretching because of my dislike for LDT, but I do think these are legitimate points (at least 1 & 3, I haven't actually sold myself on point #2).

110
by crack (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:08pm

103

Maybe jerseys are covered because jersey's are required and ridiculously long hair isn't? If you want your hair long and out live with it. You can have it long and keep it out of the way if you don't want to be tackled by it.

FWIW my hair is long, but I don't have 300 pound men looking to drag me down by any available means.

111
by patrick (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:13pm

"Stuart Fraser: I admit that I was thinking, “the Steelers need to take a downfield shot soon” just prior to the second Roethlisberger pick, but you know, not to a player double-covered when you have Santonio Holmes open for a first down…"

as surprising as it may be, the Jags scheme on that play did not actually have Mathis double teaming Davenport with a LB while putting no one in coverage on Holmes.

Mathis was manning Holmes, and had his out perfectly covered. Davenport had his coverage (an LB) beat with no safety help. Mathis just ditched his coverage at the perfect time and made a spectacular play.

Ben threw 3-4 terrible passes that could/should have been picked, none of them were.

@11: Last season the steelers' protection issues were mostly players consistently coming through unblocked. this season very few players have through unblocked, unless you (reasonably enough) consider being blocked by Mahan or double teamed by Mahan and Simmons "unblocked".

@78: I don't mind bad calls; if your team loses because of bad calls, they should have played better.

I do mind blatant, dangerous fouls that go uncalled because it is dangerous for the players. I don't understand how Hines Ward can be grabbed by the facemask and have his head spun around 180Deg by it for a tackle while all the refs watch without calling it.

I also would mind if, for example, my team got called 6 times during a regular season for a nonsensical "low block after a turnover penalty" on a player who was making a tackle, I complained that the rule was idiotic, and should be thrown out, got told everytime that I'm just whining about refs cause we lost, then went on to win the superbowl in a game where such a play went in our favor, and was thereafter told that that play proved major ref bias in our favor.

That might leave me a bit bitter.

112
by MdM (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:19pm

Man, there's a lot of hate for long hair around here. Are the hair-haters the same people who hate end-zone celebrations, I wonder? On a related note, are you allowed to tackle people by their beard?

113
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:24pm

re 66:Yeah, I can’t come up with a scenario, either, where the correct answer is “no”, when the question is “Is a person’s hair part of their body?”.

Will, Howard Cosell and I would like to introduce you to the concept of the toupee. And I believe Misses Hilton, Richie, and Simpson are on hold from the hair extension studio.

BTW, your football point is accurate--for that matter your anatomical point is accurate. It's funny 'cause it's true.

114
by patriotsgirl (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:28pm

104: Ah, thanks. For some reason, I had thought there were more 3rd and longs - but, maybe they made some 3rd and 5-6s that I thought were longer. (As an aside, I noticed that either the yellow line, or the CBS production spotting, was off by a full yard on a number of occasions.)

I didn't necessarily hold the big plays against them; however, it seemed that their playcalling on first down often put them in a position to have to make a big play - which is a recipe for disaster against Indianapolis.

After all, as far as DVOA is concerned, Colts run D is at least as good as Ten's - and, watching them play a number of games, their run D has been quite impressive on a subjective basis as well.

115
by peachy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:33pm

I wonder if holding would be called more often if it were a 5-yard penalty - at 10-yards, it's pretty much a drive-killer.

116
by vis (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:36pm

109

A good point. Personally, I have no problem with a hair-tackle being legal (of course, not being an NFL-player with "ridiculous hair" means I have no vested interest). But I think there's a certain logical disconnect when a rule change is made for reasons of safety, and the outlawed maneuver is ostensibly harmless in comparison to a very similar maneuver that is legal, but more dangerous.

Say I'm a DB pursuing a runner, I reach out for him from behind with my hand hitting him just between the shoulder blades. Grabbing in the exact same spot, if I catch hair its A-OK, but if I catch jersey it is a 15-yd penalty and part of a game check. Even if the hair-grab wasn't potentially more injurious, this distinction is illogical. More so when we consider that pulling down from any other part of the jersey is a legal play.

All this is a long way of saying the recent expansion of the horse-collar rules [according to Madden] to include pulling on the jersey is questionable, at best--especially if our justification is in reducing injury.

117
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:38pm

MJK, that's not how I remember Jim Johnson defending the Patriots. My memory is of having a safety completely devoted to helping the corner over the top, on nearly every play. As with most of Jim Johnson's schemes, it was pretty sound.

Original sam, I didn't write the yardage correctly. Thanks for the correction. My point was not that Randy Moss is guaranteed to get 150 yards in every game. My point was was that a defensive gameplan which starts with the proposition, "Our corner can contain Randy Moss without receiving safety help a good percentage of the time", is likely to be shown to be in grave error, no matter who the corner is.

118
by Jordy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:41pm

84 - Oh, I'm not saying Vince Young is a good passer. Color me shocked that you'd think a team not starting Kerry Collins removed all chance of winning or was, as Herm called it, "idiotic." I disagree but I have to give you credit, comparing Young that negatively to Kerry Collins is a powerful criticism.

119
by Herm? (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:44pm

108
I'm not normally one to defend LDT, one of the best RB's in the NFL, whom we generally dislike because of a couple of bad soundbytes, but I think in all cases among others, you'll find many rules that benefit offense and hinder defense.

1) Offensive players are allowed to push piles, in the spirit of a rugby scrum to continue forward progress...but this was no scrum: one guy, being held by one defender, then pushed by one offensive teammate. I don't know if the rule changed, but your interpretation could be correct.

2)Forward progress wasn't quite stopped, but it was milliseconds away from it. To me, his progress wasn't conclusively halted(and believe me, I was yelling "blow the whistle!" at my TV)

3)Tomlinson jumped from the ground, as all runners are allowed. The rule against defenses is that one player isn't allowed to launch himself off another player (otherwise, you'd see Devin Hester launching off of Brian Urlacher's back and blocking field goals from 20 feet in the air)

and I would say I do interpret that you really did not want LDT to score.

120
by Jonathan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:47pm

80 -- I realize the game against Indy earlier in the year could seem a fluke in some people's minds, but I was more thinking about the "undefeated-stopper" the Chargers did to the Colts in Indy a couple years back, where Merriman and the D-rush gave Manning a lot of hardship...this is turn led to a victory by the Bolts

108 -- I think it's been stated before that the second effort has been made by countless running backs away from the goal line over the years, so creating a rule at the goalline whereby a second effort wouldn't count would be ludicrous.....
...also, why the comments about hating on Tomlinson? I've met the guy and he seems extremely nice; he goes above and beyond for the community; he doesn't boast during football games; most folks acknowledge that his comment about Belichek was grossly expounded upon; he publicly rescinded his comment after being a man and clearing the air with Belichek at the Pro Bowl...

121
by Carlos (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:53pm

108:

1. pushing the ball carrier is still a penalty (tho' I've never seen it called). The conventional wisdom is that the officials view pushing the pile as "blocking" regardless of whether the offensive player hits the "pile" or the runner. see #1 here: http://www.nfl.com/rulebook/useofhands

2. SO why don’t the blow the play dead?

Obviously this is a judgment call, but the play wasn't blown dead presumably b/c LDT was still trying to advance the ball. The fact that he did successfully later break the plane would appear to prove this out. I agree it was an odd looking play, but keeping the play running to give the RB a chance for a 2nd or 3rd effort enhances the game.

3. Is this a serious question? If the RB launched himself by, e.g., stepping on the back of the fullback then that would be illegal. See the rule linked above. Jumping over the pile isn't "using leverage" and defenders are equally entitled to do the same provided they are lined up w/in 1 yard of the LOS. Frankly i'm unclear whether they can be called for a "leaping" penalty in a goal line stand -- discussion of the rule seems to limit it's application to FG/XP situations.

122
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:58pm

Until a guy has been convicted in a court for something, it might be better to not pretend that we know any of these guys well enough to make moral pronouncements regarding their character. The same goes for excessive admiration. Unless you have some pretty good personal knowledge, or pretty good hearsay sources that you know directly, it's probably preferable to not pretend as if we know if any of these guys are terrific people. Isn't being entertained with what happens on the field enough?

123
by MattB (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:58pm

Re: #102 on Norv's challenge.

It looked to me on that play that after San Diego failed to score on 3rd and goal, that the Chargers were a bit confused as to whether they should kick the field goal or go for the TD on 4th down. At first the FG team came out and then they went back. At this point the playclock was running down, so Norv was going to call a timeout anyway to set up a play.

So instead of burning their last timeout to set up a 4th and goal, Norv threw the challenge flag instead. Here if the challenge is denied you lose your timeout, but you were going to use that timeout anyway to set up the 4th down try. If you win the challenge, well you just got a touchdown. So whether or not you thought the challenge was likely to be won, it was still a smart move to use the challenge instead of just burning the timeout.

124
by erik fast (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 6:58pm

#118

Yes, I didn't want LDT to score. I am just sick of the "Classiest Player in the NFL" also being the biggest whiny b**ch in the NFL when things aren't going his way. SO I know I am biased, but I stick to my 1st point: the back-up TE or Chambers (#80 something) pushed him in the back specifically (not the pile) as he was falling backwards, which allowed him the chance to stick the ball over the end line. (http://www.nfl.com/rulebook/useofhands rule #1)

125
by Carlos (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:09pm

122: um, doncha see that Norv created the crisis himself that necessitated the "heady" use of the challenge? I'm not going to give him much credit for that. If you've watched Norv over the years, you weren't at all surprised that they were completely unprepared for that 4th down playcall.

123: You are too classy for this board. Might I suggest the fox.com board?

126
by Herm? (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:09pm

Jordy, really? You went into another thread to pull out a quote from me?
Really? And this was after I refused to reply to another shot from you in another thread, A THIRD THREAD, you come in here and do this? Really?
Should I be mad, or should I somehow be flattered?

Anyways, I won't be enticed into arguing that Kerry Collins is all world, but I stand by what I said, and I'll just leave it at that.

127
by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:10pm

Scott, can I get a link in your name to the related media that shows the Chargers chuckling about it. Seems to me after last years divisional games LdT wanted to kill the patriots that were at center field. Also, I saw press highlights of the press conference after that bench incident or whatever you want to call it. LdT says he loves Rivers. Maybe he does. It certainly doesn't look like they keep their composure and poise like the Pats do (good ol' Troy Brown, or this years version, K Faulk). I do remember this. "Last year we wouldn't have won a game like this, we've grown so much and can win tight games" I think Rivers said something to that effect after the Bears wk 1 game. It turned out well in Wk 2 obviously. Oh, and if you could find media not on the Chargers site, that would be preferred as anything on any teams own site is probably only going to proclaim that teams own strengths and not their warts.

104, Ben. I am not discounting the Chargers for getting open, I think it's more a fluke though. Whereas with NE they are machine like. NE will have someone open every play because of their efficiency and awareness. The Chargers seemed to be getting open because their were blown coverages (like a cover two look, but only one deep safety on the Chambers reception). Brady is hitting people right at the cut or right in stride, whereas Rivers' receivers are needing to make adjustments and therefore don't have (as great of an) opportunity for YAC. I have to agree with other posters that Rivers delivers the ball late and that will get him killed in Indy. It should be interesting to see LdT versus the Indy front 7 + Sanders. I think if Norv leans on Rivers again it won't go as well as against the Titans.

128
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:24pm

"also, why the comments about hating on Tomlinson? I’ve met the guy and he seems extremely nice; he goes above and beyond for the community; he doesn’t boast during football games; most folks acknowledge that his comment about Belichek was grossly expounded upon; he publicly rescinded his comment after being a man and clearing the air with Belichek at the Pro Bowl…"

because every time his team loses a game, theres some sort of soundbite from him calling himself classy, and calling the opponent a poor winner, or jerks.

129
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:24pm

Will:

You may be right. My memory is hazy.

Re erik (108):

I did comment on that. Player dives for endzone. Is stopped. Player would fall to ground except teammates catch him and hold him upright. Teammates even push player forward. Opponents wrap player up. Player is going nowhere. Player then reaches out with ball and waves it over the goal line.

My first thought on seeing that was that it might be a case of "forward progress stopped" or illegally assisting a teammate (unless they've changed that rule...I'm not actually sure if its still on the books).

But no ref will ever call that. How many times do we see a QB slam into the line on a sneak, and then his fullback slams into the back of the pile and drives it two yards forward for a first down? That's just the way the game is played, and I guess offensive players can always count on getting an assist when carrying the ball, short of being picked up and carried or vaulted over other players.

As to the foreward progress rule--I don't think it works that way. Foreward progress is not supposed to be another way for the defense to stop a play--it's in there to prevent the offensive player from being injured, carried backwards, or forced to fumble long after the play should have ended. By definition, forward progress is not supposed to be called until there is no chance of the player advancing the ball any further, and the fact that LdT managed to "advance the ball" over the goal line after he had been stopped, but before he was down, indicates that foreward progress should not have been called.

130
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:28pm

Re: 107

That's exactly what I was thinking. I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks it's ridiculous to praise Norv for a playoff win when they are technically still in a worse position than they were last year under Schottenheimer.

131
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:31pm

122.

Will, for all your spouting about not judging people you don't know, you seem to make a lot of personal judgements about certain coaches you don't know.

132
by MP (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:33pm

Re:111

If your beard were so long that a defender could get a good grip on it without putting his hand up under your facemask, then sure, there's no reason the defender couldn't grab the beard and pull you down. I can't see what could be wrong with that.

133
by Richard (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:35pm

"Aaron Schatz: OK, can somebody please explain to me why there is no holding call on Scott Mruczkowski of the Chargers when he basically hooks Antwan Odom’s arm and pulls him to the ground on the Vincent Jackson touchdown?"

Perhaps for the same reason that holding isn't called 90% of the time it occurs.

134
by Jim (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:37pm

Turner can be praised or criticized without a Schottenheimer comparison. The team is playing well lately and they've won a playoff game. They are what they are --3rd or 4th best team in the AFC.

135
by Richard (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:38pm

128: Worth noting that Marty had a healthier team and an easier schedule last year and was unable to come away with a playoff win against an outclassed opponent, but Turner given a banged up squad and an outclassed opponent managed to secure a victory.

136
by Richard (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:39pm

131: And by extension 3rd or 4th best team in the NFL.

137
by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:42pm

#111, 129 - Chuck Norris doesn't have a chin behind his beard; he has another fist.

138
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:46pm

128: Worth noting that Marty had a healthier team and an easier schedule last year and was unable to come away with a playoff win against an outclassed opponent, but Turner given a banged up squad and an outclassed opponent managed to secure a victory.

It's not quite the same thing. Marty's "outclassed" opponent was a viable SB contender. Remember, the Patriots last year were certainly one of the top four teams in football--I still maintain that only San Diego and Indy were (barely) better (I'm convinced they could have beaten Baltimore). Norv's "outclassed" opponent was a wildcard team with a gimpy, mistake-prone sophomore running quarterback and no real recievers that managed to sneak into the playoffs via an arcane series of tiebreakers. And is San Diego really and truly all that banged up this year, moreso than last year? And if so, isn't part of that the fault of the coach (given that San Diego managed a bye last year to rest before their playoff game?) And finally, are you sure about strength of schedule? Yes, San Diego had to play New England this year, but their own division was easier. KC went from playoff team to abysmal, Oakland went from average to horrible, and Denver went from contender to average. A team with San Diego's talent should have had zero problem going at least 5-1 in that division.

139
by Richard (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:49pm

It amazes me that a web site with some of the best analysis of football on the web is also home to some of the most irrational idiocy in their comments section. Honestly, some of you are as bad as the FoxSports.com commenters.

140
by Richard (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:52pm

135: A lot of that is true to some degree, but I stand by my previous points. This year the Chargers played an inferior opponent as they did last year, but this year the decisions and adjustments made by the coaching staff helped win the game rather than losing the game as they did last year.

141
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:53pm

Comparing this year's Titans team to last year's Patriots, in terms of a difficult playoff opponent, is really silly.

142
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 7:58pm

Oh, Richard, fer cryin' out loud, sober up. Last year's Patriots were an excellent football team. This year's Titans are barely better than mediocre. Having to make adjustments to beat a barely better than mediocre opponent in your own stadium is nothing to hand out any awards for.

143
by Jordy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:03pm

Herm, not for something, just wanted to clarify. You called Fisher idiotic in comment 69 for starting Vince Young, that's what I referred to. Really really.

144
by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:15pm

#132 - NE was an outclassed opponent?

2006 SD: 29.9% DVOA, 26.0% WDVOA
2006 NE: 23.3% DVOA, 27.5% WDVOA

2007 SD: 18.9% DVOA, 27.1% WDVOA
2007 TEN: 8.8% DVOA, 2.2% WDVOA

I bring this up not to criticize Norm, but to defend Marty. How much differently would we think of Shottenheimer if Earnest Byner or Marlon McCree manage to hold on to the ball?

145
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:15pm

Really, Richrad, the irony inherent in your post at #136 must be remarked upon further. You wish to credit Turner for making the adjustments necessary to beat a team with an 8.8% DVOA, which was playing with two back up o-linemen and without a starting wr, and with a completely one-dimensional qb, while being critical of Schottenheimer for failing to make the adjustments, with pretty much the same personnel, needed to avoid losing to a team with a 23.3% DVOA that had a HOF qb taking snaps. And you are telling other people that they are as bad as commenters at FOX?

146
by Carlos (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:18pm

completely one-dimensional qb,

what is vince's one dimension?

147
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:18pm

Good point, George, about the weighted DVOA. Sheesh.

148
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:26pm

Hey, Young can move around o.k., even when he is nicked up; I was trying to be a charitable as possible to Richard's point. Jumpin' jehosophat, if Chris Henry takes better care of the ball, or if that flying fumble had simply gone out of bounds, Turner & Cottrell, Partners if Football Excellence, just may have managed to blow a playoff game to a team with a 2.2% weighted DVOA! Let the Titans have 13 at the half, and let's see if adequate half time adjustments can be made.

149
by patriotsgirl (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 8:31pm

141: I was coming to type the same thing. Marty made some weird strategic calls (the sequence leading to the 4th and 11 comes to mind), but the McCree play was enormous and had nothing to do with his strategery. (I know it didn't end the game, but it directly led to a TD/2 point conversion.)

Or, put another way: if Ten recovers either the godawful Rivers fumble, or the godawful Henry fumble; and, an SD player falls on the McCree fumble, we may well be talking about two very different results.

150
by Packer Pete (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 9:51pm

The Russell penalty for a low hit on the interception return was a lousy call and differs significantly from the Hasselbeck penalty called in the Super Bowl a couple years ago. In that Super Bowl, Hasselbeck attempted to tackle the interceptor/runner by submarining the lead blocker. Russell, on the other hand, dove from the side at the interceptor, nearly hooked the interceptor's ankle with his hand, and ROLLED INTO A TRAILING PLAYER after failing to make the tackle. Russell was not taking aim at the trailing player, unlike Hasselbeck who hit his blocker first while attempting to tackle. Bad call. Really need a referee in the booth who's looking at the TV who can make a quick call to the head ref on the field and say "Bogus call, dude" to override these lousy calls.

151
by TomC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 10:34pm

re: #103 (Independent George):

That’s also a pretty good description of Marty Schottenheimer. I think about 2/3s of the teams in the NFL would take this in a heartbeat. Sometimes, you just can’t appreciate a coach until you have someone whose teams can’t stop anyone, take plays off, and regularly outsmart themselves on offense.

Fair enough. You have to understand, though, that the Bears have never (and I don't just mean in my lifetime; I mean never) been coached by some Mad Scientist of Offense who neglected the defense and figured that the guys could motivate themselves. The grass is always greener, you see....

152
by Richard (not verified) :: Mon, 01/07/2008 - 11:19pm

142: Look, last year in the playoffs the Chargers physically pushed around the Patriots and lost because of poor decision making by the coaches and undisciplined actions by the players. This year's Chargers were playing a team that physically dominated them in the trenches and they won despite having their best two players 1) completely taken away and 2) injured, but they won because of some adjustments made by the staff and more disciplined play by their players. I think that speaks highly of what Turner has done. Am I claiming that he deserves an award? No. I'm saying that he deserves some respect. Everyone around here seems to think Schottenheimer is some kind of deity and Turner has done an equal if not superior job with essentially the same team.

My complaint about other commenters here has to do with the amount of disrespectful comments made about players and coaches many of which sound as though they're thoroughly unfamiliar with the subjects of their comments. I apologize for offending you no matter how indirectly.

153
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:18am

No, Richard, beating a team with a 2.2 weighted DVOA does not mean you have done an equal if not superior job. That is an extraordinarily silly thing to say.

154
by Geoff (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:37am

Not sure if this was brought up in the game thread but was anyone else thinking on Jax's last 4th down play "the Steelers D should let them go to the endzone if they get within the 20" (or thereabouts). Assuming Jax failed to fumble on the obvious next three runs and made the FG (not sure what the odds of all that are - what are the odds of making a 30yd or less FG?) - when the Steelers stopped Gerrard they knew they would have ~40 secs to get a FG to win, with no t/outs. If they let Gerrard score, they would have had 1m 50s or thereabouts to get a TD to win, with three t/outs. Which would you prefer?

Or would / should Gerrard have done a Westbrook and gone down at the 1?

155
by Purds (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:39am

Re #150: packer pete --

That's exactly how I saw the Russell penalty as well. At first, I couldn't see the low shot, but if you look closely, you see Pete has it right in 150 -- the guy got a penalty for missing a tackle and flinging into another player. Talk about adding insult onto injury.

156
by cowfez (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:27am

Hmmn, interesting. A lot of the anti-Chargers comments in this thread smell like... fear?

157
by DME (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 2:08am

Full Disclosure - I'm a Browns fan and I'm sick of Roethlisberger and Hines Ward kickiing our butts all over the field.

BUT - I thought Ward was playing for the pass interference the entire way on the critical goalline play. I thought he initiated the contact and then grabbed on in order to make the official make a call. It looked like he was making little effort to break free.

158
by John Q (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 2:49am

Will Allen,

You have gone on record as saying that the Cotrell hiring was the worst NFL coaching hire since Steve Spurrier. But the Chargers defense ranked 5th this year in DVOA as compared to 14th last year. To what do you ascribe this improvement? It must be superior talent, considering your viewpoint that Cotrell is the worst defensive coordinator in NFL history. And if it is superior talent, doesn't that make AJ Smith one of the best talent evaluators in the game? This is why you choose a great GM (AJ Smith) over a great regular season coach (Schottenheimer) 100% of the time.

159
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 3:30am

Geoff,

I definitely thought that as well. And if he was smart, Garrard would have gone down at the 1. However, he wouldn't have. I saw an article today where he was quoted as saying that once he broke through the line he was thinking "endzone". So he probably would have gone in, had the Steelers let him.

I agree with you that they should have.

160
by Jerry (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 3:55am

Not sure if this was brought up in the game thread but was anyone else thinking on Jax’s last 4th down play “the Steelers D should let them go to the endzone if they get within the 20″ (or thereabouts)....

I can't imagine how anyone could coach that way. It's fourth down, and you're looking for your defense to stop the opponent and get the ball back. If it's a long pass, you want your DBs doing everything they can to make a play, not thinking about under what circumstances they should allow a receiver to score. And if Ty Carter tackles Garrard at the 30, the outcome is still very much in doubt.

Once Jacksonville had the first down, the idea of letting them score occurred to me, but I didn't have a problem with playing for the fumble, or the Vanderjagtian FG miss.

161
by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 4:36am

153: So, 0-2 in the playoffs is superior to 1-0? Also, I'd appreciate it if you'd stop pretending you're so much smarter than everyone else when you frequently make claims that are obviously untrue. See 158. Now that you've been reduced to name-calling style argument I'm done responding to you.

162
by PatCabot (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 5:21am

Just realized that New England led the league by three games for the season. It has been done only six times and of the five previous teams only two won the championship. Is winning the championship game that random? How strongly do playoff seedings and regular season records corelate with winning the Super Bowl?

2007: New England 16 - 0
Indy 13 - 3
Dallas 13 - 3

1985: Chicago 15 - 1
Miami 12 - 4
LA Raiders 12 - 4
Chicago beats New England to win championship.

1972: Miami 14 - 0
Pitt 11 - 3
Washington 11 - 3
Miami beats Washington to win championship.

1951: Cleveland 11 - 1
LA Rams 8 - 4
LA beats Cleveland to win championship.

1934: Chicago 13 - 0
Detroit 10 - 3
NY Giants beat Chicago to win championship.

1967: Oakland(AFL) 13 - 1
Houston(AFL) 9 - 4 - 1
Green Bay beat Oakland in the 2nd Super Bowl. Oakland led the AFL by 3.5 games, though two NFL teams, the Baltimore Colts and the LA Rams each finished 11 - 1 - 2.

163
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 5:34am

John Q., you may want to familiarize yourself with the variable nature of defensive DVOA before assigning such swings solely to coaching. I've nevber once questioned A.J. Smith's ability to evaluate talent, and the Chargers have excellent talent. If you wish to believe that doing things like putting six in the box against teams like the Vikings or Titans constitutes sound defensive strategy, well, you just go right ahead!

Richard, apparently, your brain operates in such a fashion that you think it notable when people respond to you in a negative fashion (btw, calling an argument silly does not constitute name-calling) after you have chosen to address them in such a fashion. Are you normally so lacking in self-awareness? Finally, yes, Richard, an 0-2 record can be superior to a 1-0 record, depending on who the games are played against, and the details of those outcomes. If you weren't so busy telling people where they should write their comments, and tried to grasp the concepts discussed here, you would not have asked such a, yes, silly question.

164
by Jordy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 11:29am

Department of Corrections: the Tennessee RB who fumbled in the red zone was Chris Brown. I hate to see the good name of Chris Henry besmirched.

165
by azibuck (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 11:42am

I'm not above name-calling. Any one that thinks it was stupid of Norv to stick with the run even though it was getting stuffed is a football moron. Norv Turner may or may not be a good coach, but he's a great playcaller. Norv knows how to call a game, you don't.

166
by Buddy Toledo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 11:46am

160: Or, instead of coaching the players to allow a player to score, a coach could start the best player available at each position. Anthony Smith is undoubtedly the best free safety healthy on the Steelers, and he was far more likely to tackle Garrard on the game-breaker, and to tackle Jones-Drew on the Jags first offensive td. But instead Tomlin decided to blame a scapegoat with a player who was getting crucified in the press.

That and going for two from the twelve makes me start to hope Tomlin doesn't have a Noll or Cowher length tenure.

167
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 11:51am

I actually thought Turner had a pretty good game against the Titans, if one excludes his management of Cottrell.

168
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:13pm

Richard, I'd absolutely love to hear your reasoning on how beating Tennessee in a wildcard game is better than securing a bye and then losing an incredibly close game (in which iirc DVOA says SD played a better game) against the New England Patriots? There isn't one single logical explanation I can come up with, so I'm just going to have to wait for you to explain it to me.

169
by slo-mo-joe (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:29pm

166:
Strange, I thought Smith started, since I saw his distinctive mug during the Pitt D introduction. But his stats show no tackles throughout the game, so maybe he was taken out early?

170
by John Q (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:34pm

Will Allen,

Even given the variable nature of defensive DVOA, you certainly cannot say that the defense was worse than last year. I'm not saying this is all on Cotrell. But maybe the defensive coaching staff, AS A WHOLE, may be better than last years staff. You just absolutely killed AJ Smith for hiring Cotrell, but possibly it's time to give him credit for assembly a good staff. And on a subjective level, the defense appears to playing just as well as last year. Was I nervous 4 games into the season as a Chargers fan? Yes, but not anymore.

171
by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:44pm

#168:

If all you're hoping for is to win a playoff game, Norv has achieved more this year than Marty did last year.

If you're hoping to win a Super Bowl, then Norv hasn't yet gotten the Chargers this year as far as Marty got them last year (Division round away game < Division round home game). If that's your objective, then if the Chargers beat the Colts, Norv will have done better than Marty; otherwise, he will have done the same - a loss in the Division round is a loss in the Division round, whether it's an incredibly close game with a better DVOA or a 44-7 blowout.

"Better coach/worse coach" is a bigger question; all I'm talking about is this year versus last year. But the people claiming that Norv did better this year because he won a playoff game are either missing the point or exhibiting some severely low expectations; the people saying that Norv didn't do as well this year because last year SD lost an incredibly close game and did better in DVOA are trying to argue prematurely.

Simply put, measured against the criterion of "winning the Super Bowl", we can't yet say whether Norv did better or worse than Marty did last year; all we can say is that, so far, Marty had the Chargers in a better position going into the Division round last year than Norv does this year.

172
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 1:56pm

Re: 171

Which is exactly my point. I just thought it was ridiculous to give Turner all this praise for the Chargers winning their first playoff game since '94 but Schottenheimer doesn't get any credit for getting his team a bye and a home game in the divisional round.

173
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 2:02pm

John Q., in Cottrell's last year as Vikings d-ccordinator, Foge Fazio was brought in at midseason to bail Cottrell out, because players literally could not get lined up right. Fazio succeeded to some extent, and after Cottrell was replaced by Tomlin, and Tomlin with Leslie Frazier, the same players never had those issues again. I read things early this season where some of the same issues were arising in San Diego. I have no information, but I wouldn't be shocked if Rivera has done much to right the ship, or to see Cottrell gone in another year, if not sooner.

Cottrell is terrible, and you don't need to look at the first four games this year as evidence. How the hell could a professional defensive coordinator look at this past Sunday's game with the Titans, and say to himself, "Well, let's see......we are playing a team with an excellent defense. Their qb can't throw downfield well at all. Their best wr is injured. They have good running backs. They are starting backup offensive linemen who are much better run blockers than pass blockers. Hmmmmm. I think we'll present to them six and seven man fronts in the first half, and thus give them the opportunity to limit our offense's possessions!"? Absent some fumble luck, Cottrell may well have pulled off the contraBelichikian feat of accentuating his significantly weaker opponent's strengths into a defeat for Cottrell's team, just as he did against the Vikings.

Barry Switzer had teams with terrific won loss records, and presumably with terrific DVOAs, in 75% of the seasons he coached. It doesn't mean Barry Switzer wans't an awful head coach in the NFL. Mike Martz had one of the best statistical offenses ever, yet I can make a pretty good case that Martz is a thoroughly mediocre offensive coordinator.

174
by Buddy Toledo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/08/2008 - 4:25pm

169: Anthony Smith was listed as the starter on the D introduction and on the team website and the like. That's either a sign that the public relations people are smarter than Tomlin or that information doesn't get changed immediately.

He is also listed as a starter in the game book, but that is because the goal-line stand defense, which doesn't include Ike or Deshea, played in the first defensive play of the game

175
by Jonathan (not verified) :: Thu, 01/10/2008 - 4:53pm

#128 — Really? Every game LT says something negative about his opponent? Aaaaaand HE says something positive about HIMSELF?

What newspapers/internet sites/TV shows are you watchin?

I think people hate on Tomlinson because he IS as good at football as everybody says, and because OTHER PEOPLE hype his personality.