Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
28 Nov 2008
compiled by Doug Farrar and Vince Verhei
Each Sunday (and Thanksgiving), 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 2009. Games are chosen based on our own personal viewing preferences, and are going to reflect the teams we support and the cities where we live.
Bill Barnwell: First two Titans plays from scrimmage are a reverse and a counter. Think they saw the Lions overpursuing on film?
Doug Farrar: Good God. The lane Chris Johnson had on his second touchdown run was so big, Johnson and LenDale White could have gotten through it three-legged race-style. And given Detroit’s tackling acumen, that might have worked just as well. And the only guy who could stop Johnson from bagging a third long TD run in the first quarter was the umpire. Same huge hole. Unbelievable.
Aaron Schatz: This is pathetic. When do we get to start flexing the Thanksgiving game?
Doug Farrar: I wanna see if Johnson breaks Adrian Peterson's single-game rushing record. Woo-hoo!
OK, the Lions call time out late in the first quarter, come back to the line, get busted for delay of game, and end the drive with a 13-yard shank punt. Frankly, I'm astonished. Has a football team ever been this bad?
Benjy Rose: I haven't seen much of Culpepper this year, and don't really remember his from before, but his mechanics seem really wacky. He appears to be releasing the ball from his shoulder pad, which doesn't allow for any loft on the ball. Has he always thrown this way?
Doug Farrar: I think we need to use a new stat in the Detroit chapter of PFP 09 -- Adjusted Air Yards. The number of yards an opponent is allowed to go, and the number of Lions defenders don't lay a freakin' HAND on him, until he walks out of bounds, falls down, gets picked by the umpire, or simply scores a touchdown.
Bill Barnwell: "If there's one thing the Lions defense is good at, it's recovering fumbles. They're third in the league." Phil Simms: Not a reader.
Doug Farrar: I'd guess that's probably true in the more general sense, as well.
Aaron Schatz: Well, hey, if you consider Rotoworld part of the NBC family, CBS is the one network that hasn't employed us yet. So there's time.
Simms' assertion that Kerry Collins should be a candidate for MVP is the reductio ad absurdum of the conventional wisdom that says the quarterback is personally responsible for all wins and losses.
Bill Barnwell: I get the feeling that Calvin Johnson is going to try to defect at halftime. Could you blame him?
Clifford Avril is actually pretty good in the "poor man's Elvis Dumervil" sort of way. His attempt to bounce the football to the endzone was another confirmation of the fact that the Lions are great at recovering fumbles.
For a team who was supposed to be led by a militant who would teach the Lions how to win, man, do the Lions have some awful fundamentals. They take terrible routes to the ball, they ignore their gap responsibilities ... just ugly in every sense of the word.
Mike Tanier: Guys, watching the Lions defense in stop motion is FUNNY. I just saw Ernie Sims -- one of their better players -- get suckered by play action, then do a full 360 searching the field for the receiver he's supposed to cover. Then he runs and follows Bo Scaife, even though Scaife is running a seamer and Sims appears to have hook zone responsibilities. I say Sims appears to have hook zone responsibilities because A) Another LB was in the Tampa-2 Mike position and also followed Scaife up the seam, and B) Gage was completely uncovered in the hook zone. Good times. Good times.
Ben Riley: So I just woke up, and before I flipped on the television, I thought, "I bet the Titans are up by at least 21 points already." In reality, they were up by 32. Somewhere, Michael David Smith is weeping.
Does anyone else find the Chevron commercial regarding "human energy" to be the scariest advertisement since the Apple "1984" ads? You've got a screaming baby, monotone chiming noises, and a scary man asking if "are you going to be part of the solution, or part of the problem?" when it comes to alternative energy. What the hell? Is Chevron selling Soylent Green?
Jim Nantz just said that Kevin Smith carried the ball 450 times in his junior year. I was about to type, "In a related story, Kevin Smith's DYAR is [insert pathetic total here]," but then I looked up Smith's actual DYAR, 95, which is five points better than Chris Johnson's (before today, anyway). I guess I haven't watched that many Lions games this year, because I had no idea Kevin Smith was playing that well.
Doug Farrar: He’s looked pretty good on a couple of plays. Good cutback-to-spin on one play for a longer gain.
Ben Riley: Memo to Dr. Pepper: "Frasier" went off the air in 2004. Might be time to go in a different direction, pitchman-wise.
Phil Simms, just after the Lions muff a punt return: "You know, the Lions fans are disgusted, but really haven't been that vocal today." Well Phil, it's the fourth quarter, the Lions are down 41-10, and they haven't won a game all year -- perhaps the fans have become numb to the pain? Just a thought.
Doug Farrar: What the hell is he talking about? They were booing like crazy in the first half. By the way, we now know what it will take to get Vince Young in the game – a 44-10 lead on the Lions. That is one well-furnished doghouse.
Bill Barnwell: And we know what it'll take to get Drew Henson in the game -- a Vince Young appearance.
Vince Verhei: I know I'm late to the Lions-bashing party here, but I don't recall ever seeing a team overpursue like this. Think Chris Johnson's left-to- right screen pass. Think Young's long pass to Hall, where the Lions bit so hard on the play fake, Young had a tight end open on about a 12- yard out route.
Tennessee was lining up with Albert Haynesworth in the A-gap on one side of the line, and then Kyle Vanden Bosch way outside the offensive tackle. Have they been doing that all year? It seems like a better team could take advantage of a giant gap in the line like that.
Doug Farrar: I've seen Vanden Bosch line up at an outside angle in other games. I'd assume the thought process is that since Haynesworth is almost always going to get a double-team, Vanden Bosch can avoid a head-on with the tackle, blow by him, and there won't be a gap issue. Haynesworth's basically a gap and a half by himself, anyway.
Bill Barnwell: I think it also plays off their propensity to twist on almost every play, too.
Ben Riley: You know, I've always liked Jeff Fisher, but it's pretty classless to challenge a reception with 3:30 left in the game and the Titans up by 37. Put the red flag away, Jeff, it's time for everyone to go home.
Aaron Schatz: Today's Lions game has inspired me. I have decided what I would do if the NFL Network would allow me to program a day of historic games:
The worst teams of all time, in their worst losses!
Imagine: Edited versions (mostly the first halves) of some famous players looking really amazing against some extremely pathetic competition. Who looks worse: the 1976 Bucs, the 1991 Colts, or the 2008 Lions? You decide!
Bill Barnwell: I don't have Paint on my computer, but if I did, I'd draw a diagram with the Seattle secondary providing a five-yard buffer of space around Jason Witten, a halo around Tony Romo, and a turnstile for DeMarcus Ware to go through. I also try to avoid complaining about the referees, but Jesus, that was a bad Intentional Grounding call.
Ben texted me to say something about Joe Buck hitting on the Jonas Brothers. Not sure what happened, but that makes sense.
Doug Farrar: I’d like to diagram the touchdown to T.O. where Julian Peterson covered him without any safety help, but I don’t think the program I have will do anything that reprehensibly stupid.
Mike Tanier: Yeah, even my diagramming software has Idiot Checker.
Will Carroll: When DeMarcus Ware was rushing, he got pushed and came down on the lateral side of his foot. Easy knee sprain diagnosis. Question is how serious.
Bill Barnwell: Losing Ware REALLY hurts this team. He's their only pass rusher.
Aaron Schatz: I think the story we're missing with this year's Seahawks is the defense. We know about all the injuries on offense. Why is the defense playing so badly? It can't all be the loss of Patrick Kerney. The linebackers really look like they are having problems compared to years past. One play that I noticed, Martellus Bennett pushed Darryl Tapp practically off the right side of the screen before a pass was even thrown.
By the way, my starting fantasy running backs are Brian Westbrook and Chris Johnson. Thanksgiving is AWESOME!
Doug Farrar: First of all, there is no pass rush without Kerney. None. The defensive ends drafted by Tim Ruskell, including Tapp, have been disappointments.
Second, Ruskell has taken the idea that undersized defenders have some sort of special intrinsic value to an illogical extreme -- as if Ronde Barber is a successful "type" as opposed to a special individual player. The NFL is getting bigger and bigger, and Seattle's team president is still stuck in about 2002, when the cap had a much lower ceiling and certain tradeoffs had to be made.
Third, Brian Russell. The only reason I can imagine for keeping Russell in the starting defensive lineup is a thing Ruskell may have for Scrappy White Guys. The Mariners have the same problem (Willie Bloomquist), as did the Sonics (Luke Ridnour) before they left town. Maybe it's a Pacific Northwest thing.
It's also my theory that while Ruskell predominantly drafts guys who started a lot and succeeded in college, there are positions where you need to take more of a shot on pure athletic upside. Defensive end. Cornerback. Receiver. I think Ruskell gets hung up on guys like Tapp and Lawrence Jackson who peak in college and don't really have that extra gear in the pros. He's too inflexible when it comes to that pure moldable skill as opposed to the number of merit badges a guy has.
People want to say, "Scheme, scheme, scheme," but sometimes, the talent isn't there, either. They play more Cover-1 than they should, and their pass rushers don’t get home. Their linebackers are out of place far more than they’ve been in years. Tatupu is not playing all that well; he's certainly declined in coverage. It’s just everything, and I don’t think it’s just a matter of fixing an off-year. I think they’re looking at a major rebuild.
Vince Verhei: Seattle's secondary can't tackle at all. It used to be just Brian Russell. Now it's both safeties and the top three corners. They're also zone blitzing a lot. I've noticed this charting games. And it's not linebacker/end Julian Peterson, it's Darryl Tapp and Laurence Jackson dropping into coverage. I'll note this when charting games, and the opponent will complete a pass, and I'll ask myself, what good did that do? Then they'll rush four and get nowhere near him, and I'll ask, what good did THAT do? Then they'll do some convoluted attack with guys taking big arcs to the passer, and ... well, I ask myself a lot of questions during Seahawks games.
Bill Barnwell: Will, any thoughts on Marion Barber having a dislocated toe and what the timeframe could be?
Will Carroll: Depends on how fast it went in and the damage. Worst case is like terrible turf toe. Antonio Gates and Anquan Boldin are the good comps, but it will be interesting to see how he reacts.
Bill Barnwell: Boldin dislocated a toe last year and missed the following week's game, a big one against the Seahawks. Justin Miller dislocated his toe against the Giants in the preseason this year and never got back on the active roster.
Falcons defensive end Brady Smith dislocated his big toe (Barber dislocated his pinky toe) and missed the entire season, although he was a guy on the outside anyway. Finally, Shaun Cody dislocated a toe and missed two weeks.
Hard to find a guy who played the following week with a dislocated toe, which makes me think that Barber's probably going to be out at least week and maybe two.
Mike Tanier: The Eagles ran the ball with Brian Westbrook four plays in a row, the fourth being the touchdown that made it 14-0. Can we check the database? When was the last time the Eagles handed off to Westbrook four straight times? I would wager that if it has happened at all, it has happened in the 4th quarter of some lopsided game.
Bill Barnwell: According to my hacky attempt to check the Play-By-Play database, they've done that once: Up 21-0 against the Rams in Week 1.
Mike Tanier: Yeah, not a common thing, though I don't know many backs that get it four times in a row these days, in minimal fairness to Reid. At 21-0, it looks like several somebodies came out in fear for their professional futures tonight. It was great of someone in the Eagles organization to find an old Jeff Garcia game plan, one with a lot of running plays and short passes. It's a shame they only discover this formula in late November of lost-cause seasons every year.
Bill Barnwell: It's occurred 153 different times this year through Week 12.
The Eagles, clearly angered at dropping all the way to fourth in DVOA, are now blowing out the sixth-best team in the league in an attempt to get back to second place.
Aaron Schatz: THE EAGLES ARE TRYING TO KILL ME.
Bill Barnwell: Okay. We know that we're not the only ones, though -- Vegas has our back on this. Pythagoras has our back on this (they're going to have either the second- or third-best point differential in the league after tonight). We need to be rational about this and look at it from all sides. They're a very good team with a combination of bad luck, really stupid coaching decisions, and a very tough schedule.
The NFL.com coverage is suggesting that the Philly fans want "...a knucklehead at quarterback, a dysfunctional guy." They then started suggesting that Allen Iverson might be the ideal Eagles quarterback.
I mention this only so I can mention once more the greatest jersey I've ever heard word of. Guy who has the IVERSON #13 Raiders jersey, you'll always have my respect.
Vince Verhei: The Eagles have played seven very good games: The wins against Arizona, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco, and St. Louis, all by at least two scores, two by four touchdowns. The seventh good game is the five-point loss to the Giants. The only teams to play better than that against the Giants are the Bengals (who lost by 3) and the Browns (who won by 21).
They have played three basically average games, but have lost all three times: by six to Washington and by four each to Dallas and Chicago.
Finally, they have played two absolute stinkers, the tie with Cincinnati and the blowout loss to Baltimore (which wasn't a blowout until Donovan McNabb was pulled).
Now that I look at this a little closer, I see they are a ridiculous 0-4-1 in one-score games, and 6-1 in blowouts. So that appears to be the answer: The Eagles have a high DVOA because they really are that talented. They have a (relatively) poor win/loss record because in tight games they make mistakes (short-yardage failures, bad clock management) and their opponents don't (making every field goal). Ordinarily we'd say these small mistakes in close games would even out over time, but after so many years of seeing the Eagles play like this, it's pretty clearly more than luck.
Mike Tanier: The Eagles season would look a little different if they are 7-5 right now, wouldn't it? Just get rid of the tie and you can say: heh, pretty good team, toughest decision in the NFL, definitely good enough to win the AFC/NFC West, maybe some other divisions.
Then you look at that tie, which was about bad coaching (awful gameplan puts to much pressure on a quarterback who isn't at his peak anymore; overtime confusion suggests disarray and lack of basic communication). You then look back to the games lost almost exclusively by short yardage mistakes: Bears certainly, Giants to a degree. Then you look at fullback Dan Klecko and my favorite tight end, and you ask if this is rocket science.
Then you look at 2006 and 2007. Midseason swoons where the Eagles get crazy one-dimensional, lose these heartbreaking games because of dumb mistakes. McNabb gets on everybody's poop list and/or gets hurt. Then Jeff Garcia comes in, the Eagles scale down the passing game, keep it simple, and rally. Or McNabb comes back after a Feeley meltdown, and they scale things back, use the running game more, and at least rally back to .500. It's year three, it's Groundhog Day, and you wonder what steps are going to be taken to fix this dysfunctionality. You wonder if the Eagles will look good at the start of 2009, then start throwing the ball 70 percent of the time, 80 percent of the time on third-and-1, fall to 5-6. You wonder if Trent Cole will double as a goal-line fullback in the newest "wrinkle". Then, oh yeah, our running back is an MVP candidate, give him the ball, throw short passes off play action, win.
Or maybe we'll have a different coach and we'll stop squandering this roster.
81 comments, Last at 01 Dec 2008, 3:46pm by JAZ