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?
09 Nov 2008
compiled by Doug Farrar and Vince Verhei
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 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.
Vince Verhei: Josh Cribbs doesn't get nearly enough credit for being one of the league's elite kick returners AND one of his team's top kick coverage guys. It's like having Mariano Rivera, except in this case Rivera can also bat .300.
Doug Farrar: Plus, as a former Kent State quarterback, he's an interesting lead man or handoff instigator in a reverse/hybrid/Wildcat thingy. He was involved in three of those when the Browns upset the Giants. So, Mariano can also steal a base or two.
Aaron Schatz: By the way, the Browns refer to their Cribbs-at-QB package as the "Flash" package.
Bill Barnwell: Ryan Torain's nickname: "ATV."
Doug Farrar: Unfortunately, Ryan Torain's new nickname: "I.R.".
I'm enjoying comparing and contrasting Ryan Clady and Joe Thomas in this game. Two or three years from now, this could be like a Walter Jones-Orlando Pace discussion would have been in about 2003. One thing that has impressed me about Clady from the start is his drive-blocking; he's very good at getting under pads and just mauling a defender backward. Thomas is the better technician. He's good at getting an angle advantage and pushing a defender diagonally away from a play, but I think he's much easier to push back than Clady. Clady seems to have a slightly wider or more solid base. You'll see a defender put Thomas on his butt once in a while.
Thomas is just about the best in the league at pushing an edge rusher out of the quarterback's area, fanning him out and away from the play. Most tackles with his experience are more rickety with it, they'll push or strike a lot and get beaten, but Thomas is great at using the defender's own momentum against him. The Cleveland line strikes me as better in space -- Thomas and Eric Steinbach are killer downfield blockers -- while the Broncos would have the more solid group at the line. Clady's a big part of that.
And with 12 minutes left in the first half, Jay Cutler realizes that there are times when the reason you have all day in the pocket is because your opponent rushes three and drops eight and you wind up throwing an interception. In the booth, Cris Collinsworth mentioned that Brandon Marshall took the wrong route on that play, and I've seen Cutler admonish Marshall before for zigging when he should have zagged.
Mike Tanier: The Broncos run defense doesn't anticipate, they don't get off blocks, and they don't tackle well. The ends get washed out on stretch plays. There have been two plays so far where I couldn't tell who had backside gap responsibilities because there was no one on screen. Josh Cribbs logged a linebacker. I can't imagine what a great running team would do against these guys.
I don't think Jay Cutler has any idea what he is seeing when he drops to pass right now.
Vince Verhei: They play Atlanta next week, but that's about the best rushing offense they'll face the rest of the way.
I now quote Mr. Tanier from last week's Audibles: "We also saw that that Brandon McDonald for the Browns couldn't cover anyone." Apparently, McDonald has not improved in the following four days. Eddie Royal burned him on the slant-and-go, but the pass was underthrown. McDonald, his back to the ball, dives wildly waving his hands in the air in a futile attempt to knock the pass down. If he just runs right through Royal there, it's just a 40-some-yard penalty. Instead, he tried to actually play, and the result was a 93-yard score.
Mike Tanier: I wrote that? I was just about to ask just what the hell he was doing. I didn't remember him from last Sunday. The waving, flailing non-tackle at the end of the play made it pretty sad.
Doug Farrar: Never go for the kill shot. It can only hurt the ballclub. Was it just me, or was he waving for some help over the top pre-snap? Hard for me to tell because I live in Seattle, where safety help has been abolished.
I really like Royal. Marshall, on the other hand, has this atrocious skill-to-discipline ratio. He reminds me of Koren Robinson at his physical peak or early T.O. in that regard. Just running around out there, thinking, "Wherever I am, the ball will come!" Not with Royal out there, it won't.
Mike Tanier: The Browns are now working their asses off to lose. The long touchdown, Kellen Winslow fumble, dropped interception, Eddie Royal wide open on third-and-long.
Bill Barnwell: This has not been ... um ... the best advertisement for the NFL Network.
Mike Tanier: After Graham's touchdown, the Browns are ticking me off. I don't care about either team. They are just ticking me off because seeing 10 mental lapses and 20 missed tackles in 15 minutes makes me mad. Need a beer.
Bill Barnwell: The Broncos aren't doing much better. These aren't two great offenses, these are two good offenses who are picking up extra yards at will because they're facing defenses with no discipline who can't tackle. Thank God DirecTV just took some mercy and told me that I'm suddenly not subscribed to the NFL Network. I'm not even angry.
Mike Tanier: Yeah, though Brady Quinn has looked pretty darn good.
Bill Barnwell: It's some basic stuff, though, that's turning into big plays because of ineptitude downfield.
Mike Tanier: McDonald covering Marshall one-on-one in the end zone two plays in a row. Your thoughts? Bill, I think you are the only one awake...
Bill Barnwell: My thoughts are that Buffalo wings are delicious, Mike.
Vince Verhei: Marshall scores a go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes to go. He then pulls something out of the front of his trousers. Brandon Stokley virtually tackles him to prevent any celebrational shenanigans. Soon a half-dozen Broncos and a ref are involved. Marshall eventually relents and meekly jogs off the field, but I am DYING to know what he had planned.
Close examination of video replay indicates the mystery object was a glove. Unless he was planning some wacky Michael Jackson tribute, I may have read too much into this.
(We later found out that he was planning an Obama tribute.)
Doug Farrar: I can't believe that fourth-and-1 call, the incomplete pass to Kellen Winlsow. Did the Browns think the Ravens were going to crash the stadium and start playing their brand of run defense? This is the Broncos, guys. Come ON!
Ned Macey: Tanier said that Cutler has no idea what he's seeing. I strongly agree. Dude insists on forcing to Marshall all the time. 88 targets through Marshall's first seven games this year. That's the second-most targets in football this year, and Marshall was suspended in Week 1 (and the Broncos have had their bye). A quick count has him at 14 more today.
The big problem, of course, is that Marshall's DVOA is below average, which to me doesn't mean Marshall isn't very good, but that he's not as good as the number of passes being forced his way.
I need to just embrace that Cutler is a good quarterback who will force some throws/misread some defenses, but the way he plays is sort of a pet peeve of mine, and I suspect I'll consistently underrate him (see Roethlisberger through his first three seasons).
Bill Barnwell: I think Crennel gets fired on Friday. For a defensive coach, his team has awful fundamentals, and they just blew a big lead for the second week in a row.
Patrick Laverty: And (Patriots defensive coordinator) Dean Pees says, "Uh-oh."
Mike Tanier: His handling of this McDonald kid is pretty damning. You can't keep lining that guy up without help, lining him up in the red zone against a top receiver. If he's all you have, move heaven and earth to hide him, play Cover-2 or Cover-4 every snap, something.
Ben Riley: I missed the game (how did Cutler throw for 450 yards?), but I did catch this important breaking news from Yahoo!: I think this is the first time that signing Hank Baskett could be considered an upgrade.
(Click here to read Mike Tanier's Instant Analysis of Brady Quinn's first NFL start.)
Aaron Schatz: This Rotten Tomatoes page just came up in my gmail RSS reader. I think this is the story of the new Saints kicker.
Ben Riley: The Bears seem to have figured out that the way to stop the Titans running game is to bring the safety blitz, again and again and again. Mike Brown has played most of the game in the Titans backfield, leading to Chris Johnson to have seven carries for -2 yards, and LenDale White to have four for -2. Of course, it would help if the Titans wide receivers could actually catch the ball to draw some attention from the secondary.
Doug Farrar: Collins is starting to make them pay for all that eight-in-the-box at the start of the second half. Brandon Jones and Bo Scaife have been productive. What's interesting is that even with all that pressure, Collins has time in the pocket. That's a testament to their excellent offensive line. Collins dinked and dunked his way to a touchdown on the second half's first drive. The Bears will have to back off at some point.
Bill Barnwell: That's the Bears' style at this point. They put seven guys on the line and make people guess what they're going to morph into.
Doug Farrar: Right. They have the seven on the line, which is usually run defense, and that thing they do where they stack their outside linebackers in the C gaps. That one seems to be the "this could be anything" defense.
Ben Riley: After the Titans locked up the win, Jevon Kearse took a piece of masking tape and put it between the "9" and the "0" on his jersey to create a little hyphen. Pretty sweet use of a prop. On a day when the Bears took away Tennessee's ground game, Jeff Fisher and Kerry Collins still found a way to win. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this team is going to the Super Bowl. And winning.
Doug Farrar: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Jevon Kearse will get a really stupid letter from the NFL this week.
Collins reminded me a lot of Rich Gannon during his Oakland days in this game. Just dink-dink-dink, and you can't stop it. Personally, I'd love to see a Titans-Giants Super Bowl. As Mr. T once said, "Puhdiction? Pain!"
Ned Macey: Consider me skeptical. I'm not seeing any team markedly better than Tennessee, but there's no team, to my mind, with more than about a 20 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl at this point. The Titans punted eight times today, fumbled once at the 1-yard line, and missed a long field goal. That means 10 drives where they did not score. Their touchdown drives were 22, 52, and 56 yards. This offense is just not good enough. If the defense was 2000 Ravens or 2002 Bucs good, then maybe, but this defense is sort of 2005 Bears good.
As for the Bears, their offense was terrible with Rex Grossman. He somehow didn't realize that he should rarely, if ever, throw at Finnegan. The low point was on their final drive. They faced fourth-and-4 at the Titans' 35-yard line, and he threw to Devin Hester in one-on-one with Finnegan. Big surprise who won that game, and one first down from Tennessee later, the game was over.
Ben Riley: The question is whether other teams will be able to shut down the Titans' running game like the Bears did today. It's possible they will -- I hear the Giants and Ravens have a pretty good defense -- but playing at home, I think it's unlikely that Chris Johnson and LenDale White will combine for 22 yards. Whether a team's Super Bowl prospects should be penalized for having short touchdown drives due to a suffocating defense is something I'll leave to others to decide.
Bill Barnwell: The announcers are talking about how important it is to have timing and rhythm in the Detroit offense. I can't fathom why Daunte Culpepper wouldn't have timing or rhythm.
Aaron Schatz: It's fun listening to the announcers talk about how Jacksonville has rediscovered physical play this week. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they've also discovered that this week's opponent is Detroit.
How bad is Detroit? We actually had a Jerry Porter sighting today -- IN THE END ZONE.
Bill Barnwell: I dunno. I really think it was them not listening to music in the locker room.
Doug Farrar: On Miami's first drive, they ran a couple of three-back sets, an end-around to Ricky Williams that gained a first down due to a horrible Deon Grant shoulder tackle, and one Wildcat "Steeler" that was stopped by Julian Peterson. However, the flea-flicker pass from Chad Pennington to Ronnie Brown, back to Pennington, then downfield to Ted Ginn, over the heads of Marcus Trufant and (you'll pardon the expression) Brian Russell, was all too perfect. That's how you kill your opponent: a systematic 90-yard opening drive, after a 100-yard kickoff return by Ginn was negated by a hold. People need to stop thinking of this Dolphins team as a half-baked squad held together by a few gimmick plays. I'm thinking that the counter option might be the best bet today.
Judging from what I've seen so far, Dolphins first-round pick Jake Long will have Seahawks first-round pick Lawrence Jackson wondering what this NFL thing is about by halftime. Jackson has seemed to have pursuit and effort issues so far this season at end (he's better inside), and that's not going to work against the brutal blocking of Long.
I wonder how long it's going to take the Dolphins to figure out that Seneca Wallace isn't reading anything to his left. He's not picking on Will Allen, announcer guys. Will's just in the way of Seneca's one-and-one-half reads.
In the second quarter, the Seahawks' defense -- at least the back seven -- is playing pretty well. The three linebackers are all making plays, and cornerbacks Josh Wilson and Kelly Jennings have stopped completions that would have been major gains in most similar circumstances this year.
The offense, though ... (holds nose). The Seahawks were outgained, 243-115, in the first half. What I don't understand is why the Seahawks, with no chance to mount a series of decent drives against Miami's solid front seven, don't make Wallace an option in different formations. SOMEthing to switch things up. I'm not advocating that the Seahawks run the Wildcat or anything; I've seen bad offenses better than this one run it, and it's not pretty. Just something to stir things up. Mike Holmgren's running stuff that he doesn't have the personnel for anymore. The Dolphins started running all this crazy stuff based on adjustments they made after having their asses handed to them by the Cardinals in Week 2. That's what coaches are supposed to do. That's what good front offices oversee. Blech. I'm switching over to Titans-Bears. One half of this is more than enough.
Switched back for the last few minutes of the game, and the defense and Seneca Wallace played pretty well overall. We know how bad the Seahawks are. This should be more about this unreal turnaround the Dolphins are pulling off. That fourth-quarter drive that ended with the Wildcat counter for the touchdown -- 16 plays, 78 yards, nine minutes. In half a season, Bill Parcells has turned a franchise that was one overtime touchdown pass from 0-16 last year into yet another personification of his football philosophy. At 5-4, they're the story of the year.
Ben Riley: The Seahawks could have, should have, would have won this game if Koren Robinson hadn't dropped a touchdown pass, Keary Colbert hadn't dropped a critical third-down conversion pass WHILE WIDE OPEN, and Mike Wahle hadn't continued his unfortunate tendency of having a key penalty at the worst possible time (such as a false start on a two-point conversion to tie the game with three minutes to play).
Doug Farrar: The Wahle thing has been really weird, since he's been a good player overall, and Robinson has been a surprisingly good pickup. But I don't blame Keary Colbert for anything he's done. I blame Tim Ruskell for giving up a conditional draft for Keary Colbert in the first place. At a certain point, when you're so obviously bad that you shouldn't be in the NFL, and some general manager goes out of his way to pick you up, I tend to blame any results on the GM.
Ben Riley: I don't know how mad you can be at Ruskell about Colbert per se. Remember, the Seahawks were starting a free agent off the street (Billy McMullen) and something called Michael Bumpus at wide receiver. Colbert sucks, but what other options are there? The real problem was heading into the season with an aging Bobby Engram, an injury-prone Deion Branch, and no wide receiver on the roster with more than 10 career catches besides Nate Burleson. This is the year Ruskell's myopic focus on rebuilding the defense finally caught up with him.
Doug Farrar: Sorry, dude. It's worse than that. When you're giving up a draft pick, despite the fact that there are holes all over your roster, for a guy who's a walking liability on the field, you are screwing this thing up. Colbert as a street free agent would have been a completely different story.
Vince Verhei: I was in a sports bar this morning that had some trouble with their DirecTV connection, so we missed the beginning of the early games. It soon occurred to them to switch to cable and air the two local games. They turned this game on just in time to see Ginn's flea-flicker touchdown. We all asked them to turn the games back off and leave us sitting silently in the dark.
Ricky Williams' 51-yard run out of the Wildcat annoyed the hell out of me. Several defenders ignored Williams, vacating the middle of the field to chase the action to the offense's left. You mean to tell me the Seahawks had a week to prepare for the Dolphins and were STILL unprepared for the Wildcat?
T.J. Duckett got one carry in this game, on second-and-goal from the 3, right before the (potentially) game-tying touchdown. The play was not a dive; Duckett followed his blockers to the right, then was asked to make a cut and charge upfield. He lost a yard. T.J. Duckett is very good at one thing: Lining up in an I formation and running dive plays between the guards. What the Seahawks have here is a square peg-round hole situation.
There are have been very few bright spots for the Seahawks this year, but two have been Craig Terrill and Julian Peterson. Both guys have been making plays all over the place lately.
Ben Riley: I love the tri-annual experience of watching Adrian Peterson take over a game. He was unstoppable today (please ignore the one critical fourth-down conversion in the fourth quarter where he fumbled).
Mike Tanier: This was a completely ludicrous game. The Packers gave up two safeties. It was that kind of ludicrous. A few notes of the dozens I took.
1) The first safety, in which Aaron Rogers threw underhanded out of the end zone in the general direction of a receiver, was an awful call. I would love to hear the NFL's explanation of that one. For the record, you are allowed to throw a forward pass underhand.
2) For their final drive, the Vikings chewed up about 5 minutes of clock by handing off or throwing short passes to Peterson. Their one pass to a receiver came on third-and-short, of all times. That's really the way the Vikings should always play when A.P. and Chester Taylor are healthy and Frerotte is the quarterback; stay run-oriented to the bitter end.
3) The Packers got a good kick return late, then Donald Driver caught a tip drill and took it to the Vikings' 40, then the 2-minute warning occurred. The Packers figured their best chance to win was a 50-something yard field goal by Mason Crosby. They handed off and threw underneath, making the most minimal effort possible to get an extra first down while attempting to kill the clock. Sure enough, Crosby misses a 52-yarder. Too conservative.
Bill Moore: I only saw the game cut-away, but it looked like Driver was in the area. I was surprised by the "illegal forward pass" description of the play. Was that the actual call, or was it intentional grounding?
Mike Tanier: The call was illegal forward pass. I do not understand why. Quarterbacks can throw underhanded. Driver was in the general neighborhood. When it comes to safeties, the offense should really get some benefit of the doubt, instead of giving the defense two points for a near sack.
I think 80 percent of the Vikings rushing and receiving offense came from A.P. and Chester Taylor. And most of the Packers' offense came from interception returns when Frerotte tried to throw deep.
(Actually, Peterson and Taylor combined for NINETY-FOUR PERCENT of the Vikings' total yards.)
Ben Riley: The best part of the Vikings' final drive? The announcers repeatedly declaring "The Vikings will have to take a shot deep down the field!" while Frerotte patiently handed the ball to Peterson, again and again and again. I still think Brad Childress is a horrible coach, but he seemed to figure things out at the end of this game.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots are having trouble taking down both Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson when they run up the middle. Those guys seem to be getting a couple extra yards on every carry, dragging guys. On the other hand, when they go wide, the Patriots are blowing them up.
Michael Strahan brought this up on the FOX pregame show this morning, and I definitely understands how he feels. Doesn't the $20,000 fine on Randy Moss for saying negative things about officials sound a little out of whack given that a) the refs have made some egregious, totally obvious errors this year, and b) that's way more money than guys get fined for fighting?
I say this in particular because Walt Coleman's crew just missed a really obvious intentional grounding by Trent Edwards against the Patriots. If you throw the ball away because Vince Wilfork is about to kill you, and you are within the tackle box, that's intentional grounding. How hard is this?
Doug Farrar: After Justin Tuck's ludicrous fine was rescinded this week when Goodell finally looked at the play, I started to think that there is a situation where someone's putting stuff in the Commissioner's ear about how criticism of officials cuts to the integrity of the game. Maybe it's Mike Pereira, maybe it's someone else, but the gag rule really doesn't make any sense. We have discussed this before: Killing open dialogue about officiating allows an NBA nightmare situation to grow and flourish. It used to be that if you were right about really flagrantly bad calls (Joey Porter, Mike Holmgren), the fine police would somehow forget to send the memo.
Now, I can see if you're making public statements like those made by Jerry Jones, when you're calling for the league to throw fewer flags or campaigning for refs who are less penalty-happy. When you're one of 32 owners, that's a problem. But nobody should be above constructive criticism in this league. Not the refs, not the Commish himself. Pereira seems to think that the officials have the toughest jobs on the field, and that this should put them above criticism. If he's the one applying and enforcing the standard, that's a problem.
Doug Farrar: What the hell is going on with the Jets? They're up 40-0 at halftime, and Jay Feely already has four field goals. Does Rob Bironas have reason to worry?
Bill Barnwell: The Rams have fumbled three times and the Jets have recovered them all. The end of the first half was out-and-out comedy: Rams get the ball back with 18 seconds left, down 37-0. They hand the ball off to Kenneth Darby on a draw and he fumbles. The Jets recover, throw a pass for seven yards, and then Feely kicks a 55-yard field goal as time expires.
Sean McCormick: The Jets' defensive line dominated the interior of the Rams' offensive line, and the Jets' offensive line dominated the interior of the Rams' defensive line. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, sometimes this sport really is that simple. Kris Jenkins and Calvin Pace continue to make their cases for Pro Bowl consideration, and they were able to completely take away any threat of a ground game. Really, the only run plays St. Louis executed successfully were delays that took advantage of the fact that Jenkins was already deep in the backfield. With the ground game non-existent, that offensive line really had no chance against the Jets' blitz packages, or even against a four-man rush.
I spent a lot of time watching both Chris Long and Vernon Gholston today, just to see how they were coming along. Neither did much to speak of. Gholston was used as a decoy, as he dropped into coverage on almost every snap while the rusher came from the other side. He looked big and a bit clumsy in space. Long was matched up against his old teammate D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and he was never able to push Ferguson back or to keep his legs clean on cut blocks. That said, most of the serious damage on the ground took place away from Long, and there's only so much you're going to do when the offense is rushing for eight yards a pop on first down.
Vince Verhei: Can someone explain to me why Brett Favre was in this game, up 40-3, in the last minute of the third quarter?
Bill Barnwell: Steven Hauschka just kicked a field goal for the Ravens.
A) Who is Steven Hauschka?
B) Where is Matt Stover?
C) While I was thinking about B, I figured out that Hauschka is in fact from Massachusetts and went to Middlebury College, which is a liberal arts school in Vermont.
Aaron Schatz: I can't believe there is a player from Middlebury in the NFL. That's just ridiculous. Middlebury? I went looking on Pro Football Reference to see if this is the first Middlebury alum to ever play in the NFL. It turns out it is not -- of course, the only other two Middlebury alums in the NFL played in 1921 and 1926. You gotta love yourself some Stone Hallquist -- he played one season for the 1926 Milwaukee Badgers. He is listed as "BB-HB-TB." Blocking back? Plus, he was born in Sweden!
And now, 82 years later... Steven Hauschka!
Bill Barnwell: There's also a Curly Oden who played for the PROVIDENCE STEAM ROLLER from 1926. The great things about Curly Oden:
1) Curly Oden played for the PROVIDENCE STEAM ROLLER.
2) Curly Oden is also from Sweden.
3) Curly Oden went to Brown, which immediately makes him a Football Outsiders favorite.
4) Curly Oden's real name is OLOF GUSTAVE HAZARD ODEN.
Aaron Schatz: Today's games really should not be so boring that we are instead obsessed with Swedes. But it seems like every time we switch to a game, somebody is punting, unless they are the Jets, in which case they are scoring, or just scored, or are about to score.
Ned Macey: What does the pick system see that makes them skeptical of Baltimore? Two weeks in a row, I thought they were the surest number on the board per basic DVOA. Then the picks formula had the line as roughly correct (i.e. Red), but then they covered easily both times?
Mike Tanier: The Ravens have mastered the art of beating this kind of team, the sub-.500 type with quarterback issues and holes in the defense (Bengals, Browns, Texans, Raiders, etc.) Defensively, they know how to get to these quarterbacks (apply a lot of pressure without blitzing much), and they have a lot of guys who can get big gains on interception returns. Offensively, they protect Joe Flacco with a lot of running and play-action, but they give him a lot of chances to throw deep. He completes about one touchdown bomb per game, but the incomplete passes keep the defense honest, and the Ravens get a lot of mileage out of comeback routes on first-and-10. The comebacks work because the defense expects the deep ball.
Bill Barnwell: Me and Aaron decide it'd be a good idea to turn on Carolina-Oakland and watch Nnamdi Asmougha handle Steve Smith. The first play we see, Jake Delhomme throws a lob to Smith. Asmougha picks it off. It turns out he's good.
Doug Farrar: Of course, after that Nnamdi pick, the Raiders couldn't do anything offensively. Julius Peppers went nuts with three sacks. In the great litany of horrible Oakland free agency moves that preceded this season, left tackle Kwame Harris has received a free pass with all the other names involved. Harris currently leads the NFL in false starts with seven, and I'm beginning to think that in the same way there used to be no Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton -- there is only "CHICAGO QUARTERBACK" -- there is no Harris or Mario Henderson. There is only "OAKLAND LEFT TACKLE."
Mike Tanier: I just saw a stat line. What is Jake the Mistake doing this week?
Vince Verhei: Jake was throwing to receivers who couldn't get open. Nnamdi Asomugha > Steve Smith, by a great degree. Smith had just one catch (so did Asomugha) for 9 yards. Also, the rest of the Raiders' defensive backs > the rest of the Panthers' receivers.
That took care of the Panthers' passing game. On the ground, the Raiders usually kept things in check by blitzing heavily into gaps. (Take away DeAngelo Williams' 69-yarder, and the Raiders averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.) Linebackers were making lots of plays very close to the line of scrimmage
Later, Delhomme had some open guys, but overthrew them. One of his interceptions was an easy lob to Brad Hoover in the flat. The pass sailed on Delhomme. It bounced out of Hoover's outstretched fingertips into the arms of Sam Williams.
The Raiders have a good news/bad news situation on special teams. The good news is Shane Lechler. We all know he's a great punter. Turns out he's also a fine deep safety. Late in the fourth quarter, Lechler punted 55 yards to Mark Jones. Jones started left, zigged right, then zagged back to the left, and suddenly there was nothing between Jones and a game-icing touchdown but Lechler, who had to defend an area two-thirds as wide as the field. And Lechler played it perfectly, pushing Jones to the sideline without over-pursuing and opening a cutback lane before pushing Jones out of bounds. Jones was held to a 55-yard gain. (Yes, for all of Lechler's efforts, the ball ended up right where he was before he punted.) Jones finished the game with seven punt returns for 123 yards.
The bad news for the Raiders? Johnnie Lee Higgins. You know him for his zero-yard kick return in Week 8. There can't be a returner in the league who makes more negative plays. Not necessarily returns for negative yardage (although he did that twice today) or fumbles (he did that once), but he has no idea when to field punts, when to fair catch them, when to let them bounce.
Mike Tanier: The Colts just took the late lead on a great little wheel route to Dominic Rhodes. Polamalu got lost in space on the play, something you don't see every day. It's amazing that the Colts have the lead because they haven't looked that good tonight.
Aaron Schatz: No, the Colts don't look that good, but when Manning isn't too pressured he's not having trouble finding the open holes in the Cover-3 the Steelers normally play. The worst play was probably the first Reggie Wayne touchdown -- the problem wasn't that Ike Taylor tried to slap the pass away and instead it bounced into Wayne's hands. The problem was that Ryan Clark was supposed to be safety help but completely whiffed on tackling Wayne afterwards.
Doug Farrar: This game was a Theater of the Absurd in a couple different ways: watching Marvin Harrison get to balls late (I know this has been an issue for a while; I guess I'm just coming to terms with it); watching the Colts' defense "out-physical" Pittsburgh on that late goal-line stand. Then again, some things always seem to stay the same -- Roethlisberger's protection seemed unusually bad today.
Heh. On that last batted ball in the end zone, I was thinking about the 1995 AFC Championship just as Jim Nantz said it. I need to find a copy of that game and re-watch it.
Aaron Schatz: When Colts-Steelers is over, CBS switches us to Chiefs-Chargers, which is apparently THE! MOST! EXCITING! GAME! IN NFL HISTORY!!!! Or, it could just be that Gus Johnson is broadcasting it. Goal-line stand by a 1-7 team against a 3-5 team? That's why Gus Johnson loves football, baby!
Ned Macey: I think the Colts are the only underdog to win, which means I can cover them in Any Given Sunday as the winner for the first time since they beat the Pats in 2005, when they were actually favored. Sunday had no real upsets, so I just was going to write MNF no matter what.
Ben Riley: Hey, I have a question -- is Tyler Thigpen good? Or is it just that the Chargers defense is that bad? As one of my dorkier law school classmates used to say, "I'm flummoxed."
Mike Tanier: Tyler Thigpen is Bobby Hoying. He is not totally incompetent, but he looks good because there is no film on him and the Chiefs are running his most confident plays.
Doug Farrar: Clinton Hart got victimized by a brutal, ridiculous, horrible pass interference call with the Chargers up 20-13, and less than a minute left in the game. Hart went up for a ball with Tony Gonzalez, and had textbook coverage on the ball. Late flag, ball on the San Diego 1-yard line. Herm, playing with house money, goes for two and the Chiefs don t get it. It's Hart, covering Gonzo, and batting it away.
Ben Riley: To quote Gus Johnson, "WOW." Exciting end to this game, with the Chiefs driving down and scoring with 30 seconds to play, and then Herm Edwards channeling his inner Mike Shanahan and going for two to win. The attempt failed of course, and in a moment of cosmic justice, the pass was broken up by Clinton Hart, who was tagged with an absurd pass interference call just a few plays earlier.
Bill Moore: Keep Choppin, Herm!
Doug Farrar: Yeah, he'll be singing the Monty Python "Lumberjack Song" all week. Some people should not be entrusted with good fortune.
Mike Tanier: Herm???? Herm?????????? Is the kicker injured?
Aaron Schatz: Listen, we write all the time about the fact that over the past two years, the two-point conversion is successful something like 60 percent of the time. I really don't fault Herm at all. I thought it was a ballsy move. I just don't think I would have called a spread formation that left nobody blocking Shaun Phillips.
Bill Barnwell: I love that decision by Herm. Win it yourself as opposed to hoping for a coin toss.
Bill Moore: Along the lines of Gus:
Gus says, "You're 1-7, you might as well go for two." B.S. You have eight games to play, and a young quarterback. This wasn't a shootout, where the game would be determined on a coin flip. You give your team a chance in overtime. You give your new, young quarterback a chance to run his offense in overtime.
And I don't want to see any e-mails about playing to win the game.
Aaron Schatz: One more note on Herm's decision: There's an added wrinkle to the "go for two/kick XP" question if it is not the last play of the game. If the Chiefs fail, they do have a 10 percent chance of recovering the onside kick, and there's a possibility of getting into field goal position. It's a tiny little amount of chance, but it gives you just a little more reason to try the two-point conversion.
Sean McCormick: "And I don't want to see any e-mails about playing to win the game."
Hello? (Insert incredulous look here.)
I'm sorry ... (ahem) ... HELLO?!?!?!?
I might even prefer "Hel-LO!?!?!?" I'll get it by the end of the thread.
Anyway, I was fine with the decision to go for the win there.
Bill Barnwell: The Chargers have a great offense. Your defense is mediocre and putrid.
Bill Moore: I don't disagree that the Chargers have had the better offense to date. However, they weren't the best offense today. K.C. intercepted two balls and had them punting occasionally. (I recognize they scored points on four drives.)
If this team were 1-14, go for it. What's the difference? Try and steal a win. But they aren't, they're 1-7, with a young quarterback that maybe can be their quarterback of the future. Or least the near future. Get him some experience. You run overtime-type drills in practice all the time, but nothing can simulate a real game situation. He's got a 50 percent chance of getting the ball back and proving something to himself and his team. San Diego's defense is hardly stellar. And if they lose the flip, Herm shows the defense he trusts them to perform. Nope. Herm just told his defense, at the midpoint of the season, "You're putrid."
Bill Barnwell: They're the fourth-best offense in the league through seven games. I'm willing to take that as a better indicator of their performance than a couple of red zone stops.
Is going for it on the two-yard line to win the game not an experience booster? Didn't he just run a two-minute drill? My issue isn't that Thigpen wouldn't have scored given a second chance, it's that you have no idea whether he's going to get an opportunity to do so. And even if he does, he's got a better shot of converting from the two than he does in picking up three points on a drive.
Bill Moore: I'm agreeing with you the San Diego offense is very good. But my point is that K.C. was playing them well today.
As much as one going for it is experience, I think running an offense through overtime is a much bigger experience. I understand your point about not getting the ball back, but I think he just crapped on his own D today -- on a day they didn't necessarily deserve it.
Mike Tanier: I am with Bill Moore. Don't make it come down to Tyler Thigpen executing: I am betting his 2-point conversion percentage, if it were calculable, is a lot lower than 60 percent.
Bill Barnwell: As opposed to Thigpen having to execute a whole drive and/or your defense stopping the fourth-ranked offense in the league, potentially more than once?
Mike Tanier: Yes, I would rather tie the game, toss a coin, take a chance on all manner of things happening than to expect Tyler Thigpen to throw back-to-back touchdown passes.
Bill Barnwell: You can also run the ball.
Mike Tanier: Dantrell Savage?
Herm went for 2 earlier and missed. Was there something wrong with the kicker? Is he just horrible? If the extra point is down to a 90 percent certainty or less, and if the 45-yard field goal you need in overtime is an impossible dream, then yeah, go for 2.
Vince Verhei: I've been away from computers all day, and I am flabbergasted that anyone would knock Herm for going for two. He's got the Colbert Award, for sure.
Herm just told his defense, at the midpoint of the season, "You're putrid."
Actually, as Herm explained on NFL Gameday, his defense was out-manned and exhausted: "These guys were so beat up on defense, it wouldn't have been fair to not try to go for two points, because I don't think we could have stopped them anymore. We ran out of bodies." (He added -- seriously -- "You try to play to win.")
Yes, I would rather tie the game, toss a coin, take a chance on all manner of things happening than to expect Tyler Thigpen to throw back-to-back touchdown passes.
Tyler Thigpen threw three touchdowns in this game. Moreover, if you don't trust Thigpen to gain two yards, how can you trust him to gain 30 to 40 in overtime?
Herm went for 2 earlier and missed. Was there something wrong with the kicker?
Herm went for 1, but there was a bad snap and the holder made a pitiful, Yepremian-esque attempt at a pass.
(I can't believe I am defending a coaching decision made by Herm Edwards. What has this season come to?)
By the way, Herm did live up to his word and run some spread-option stuff, some old Vince Young Texas shotgun option stuff. By "some," I mean about three plays.
Aaron Schatz: A corner blitz that leaves Brian Dawkins covering Plaxico Burress in the red zone does not seem to me to be a good play design.
Mike Tanier: After that fumbled kickoff return, I am happy the Giants are settling for 3.
Bill Moore: As an aside, the Sunday Night Football Extra on the Web is truly awesome. I just wish I could sync it with my TV viewing experience.
Aaron Schatz: Good job by Amani Toomer to work Asante Samuel -- they're really getting a good amount of yardage out of that matchup -- and good job by Al Michaels to notice and point out that the Giants are picking on Samuel before I had a chance to type it into Audibles myself.
Bill Barnwell: Nifty playcall by the Giants where they ran a play-action and actually pulled Chris Snee as part of the action.
Eli Manning's calling out all their blitzes. The Eagles are not really getting close. On the flip side, the Eagles apparently decided their offensive scheme was going to be stretching the linebackers with their tight end. Good idea, but when that tight end is Franchise Player, it doesn't actually work.
Mike Tanier: The Eagles aren't looking real sharp in any phase of the game, are they? And boy, it's hard to get too upset nine days after a championship parade.
By a stunning turn of events, the Eagles are back in the game. They are doing it with DeSean Jackson reverses and big plays by Jason Avant. Just like we thought.
Bill Barnwell: Al Michaels just noted that Tom Coughlin was "muttering about those turnovers, at least in the back of his mind." What the f*ck? Can Al Michaels read minds?
Mike Tanier: How do you mutter in your mind?
Donovan McNabb just threw an ugly pick. I am muttering in my heart.
Aaron Schatz: The Eagles must have seen something on film that said the Giants were susceptible to end-arounds because of the way they blitz defensive backs. Three to DeSean Jackson in one half? Alas, it turns out they are not quite as susceptible to wide receiver screens, and the Eagles tossed one for a sad-looking five-yard loss.
Mike Tanier: The Eagles ran the Madden Westbrook Option route right before half. If you play as the Eagles in Madden, the Westbrook Option is your money play, and the game obligingly gives it to you from about four different formations. The receivers go long, Westbrook isolates on a linebacker, runs right, catches the ball, gains about 15 yards. Sets up a field goal. Thought I had the controller in my hand on that one.
Bill Barnwell: Snee's having an awesome game, by the way. Clearing out huge swaths of space when he has to pull left and blowing open holes at the point of attack.
At some point the Eagles were getting more pressure with their front four than they were with the fancy blitzes.
This is a terrible challenge by Andy Reid.
(Four minutes later...)
This is also a terrible challenge by Andy Reid.
Aaron Schatz: Ugh. This game is another one for all of Mike's reasons why he finally has given up on Andy Reid as the Philadelphia head coach. Weird clock management, bad challenge calls, inability to get clutch short-yardage conversions ... how many close games can you lose on this stuff?
Bill Barnwell: This is one I'll throw on Reid. The challenges were atrocious. The offensive play-calling at the end was abysmal -- you get two downfield completions up the middle and then you go and run two sweeps? What?
Mike Tanier: My cable and internet were out in the second half. Instead of listening on the radio I just went to bed. I wake up to a shock. The Eagles lost because they couldn't convert short yardage? Really? You mean that problem didn't magically go away when we made a 275-pound converted DT our STARTING tight end?
153 comments, Last at 15 Nov 2008, 6:51pm by David C