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?
24 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.
This week we introduce a new voice to Audibles: Mark Zajack. He's the intern responsible for The Week in Quotes this season, a Giants fan and currently a South Carolina resident.
Doug Farrar: It appears that the Bengals will be without the services of Señor Ocho Cinco this evening against the Steelers; the team has deactivated him in favor of Chris Henry due to an unspecified rules violation. Can't wait to see what kind of rules violation gets you replaced by Chris Henry. Seriously, there's nothing quite like sucking out loud, wearing managerial clown suits while you're doing it, and facing the best defense in the NFL on top of everything else.
Aaron Schatz: We're six minutes into this game. How many passes have the Steelers receivers dropped so far. Four? Five? Did they forget to eat their Wheaties this morning?
Doug Farrar: I can't believe how rickety this Pittsburgh offense looks early on. There's no timing, no physicality, no productivity. Thirty total yards and one first down in the first quarter.
On Cincinnati's first play from scrimmage, Troy Polamalu slips in and stops Cedric Benson for no gain. Not that there's anything spectacular about anyone stopping Benson for no gain, but it did remind me that I'm starting to think Polamalu's a serious Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Every time I've seen the Steelers play this year, he comes up with two to five plays that just leave me amazed. I think he's playing at well as any defender in the NFL.
Aaron Schatz: Also, we keep trying to figure out the reductio ad absurdum of the trend where every team thinks they need to run "the Wildcat." A direct snap to Cedric Benson is really, really close.
Doug Farrar: I'm still trying to figure what is and is not a Wildcat in the first place. We've now got announcers calling anything with a direct snap to anyone who's not a quarterback a Wildcat, and I don't think that's the case. As David Lee diagrammed it in the YouTube video, I think you need at least one of the following elements: A complementary "sweep back" to provide misdirection and the potential for a fake; an extra right tackle for the Power fake inside; an H-back to block inside or outside. The reason the Dolphins make it work is that it's based pretty heavily on blocking, and they have good blockers upfront. A direct snap and a dumbassed dash into the pile -- I don't think that's a Wildcat. That's just a dumbassed dash into the pile.
On the other hand, this outstanding article by Pat Kirwan and Bill Cowher seems to be more liberal about the labeling.
Will Carroll: Dumbass Dash into Pile. I hear Jim Ross in my head -- "DDP! DDP! Is that the Undertaker's music?"
Bill Barnwell: Ooh, nice. He sent me a yoga book when I worked at IGN.
This game is so bland that I've taken to reading blogs of elementary school photos. This is my vision of a 13-year-old Raiderjoe. I will note that Boy Howdy, have there been lots of drops in this game.
Elias Holman: Assuming that it does become regularly used, I would guess that the Wildcat may come to describe the general structure of the play more than
the particulars of the execution. In the same way that when a quarterback starts out in the shotgun despite the fact that there are dozens and dozens of play variations, but we all just say "plays run from the shotgun," we will start saying "plays run from the wildcat." The announcers are just ahead of the curve.
Aaron Schatz: Maybe Cincinnati has sort of gotten their act together. A tie at home against Philadelphia doesn't look as shocking if they also play Pittsburgh close on the road.
Bill Barnwell: Cincinnati playing well against Pittsburgh will make Pittsburgh's DVOA worse, which will make Philly's opponent adjustments weaker and make them worse ... Go Bengals!
Really nice run by Mewelde Moore late in the third quarter. He had good blocking along the line but had to beat a linebacker. To do so, he shimmied in the backfield just long enough to get the linebacker to commit inside into the trash, then bounced outside. He also just juked a Bengals defender out of his boots on a screen pass.
Doug Farrar: Santonio Holmes learned something about going inside in this game from Chris Crocker. Gawd, what a hit.
Bill Barnwell: Watching Lions fans celebrate when Calvin Johnson makes an awesome catch is so cool. It's like the one little spot of sunshine in their lives. They high-five, and raise their beers, and some even take the paper bags off.
Ben Riley: You know what's awesome about the Lions? I saw that they were up by 17 points in the first half, and my first aught was, "I wonder how quickly they'll be able to blow this lead?" Answer: before the end of the first half.
Mike Tanier: Watched a bit of the first half of this. Saw the Lions take a 17-0 lead and realized that it was one act of Calvin Johnson and one act of Bucs stupidity; that life would soon return to normal. Sure enough, after that Warrick Dunn spin move touchdown on the draw play, normalcy returned.
Russell Levine: I had a bad feeling about this game coming in because Tampa Bay always seems to have a head-scratcher of a loss or two thrown into every good season. At 17-0 I thought my fears would be confirmed. But then the Lions remembered they were the Lions, the Bucs remembered they were the Bucs, Clifton Smith remembered he was awesome, and all was right with the world.
When Calvin Johnson was at Georgia Tech I used to write every week how they should throw him the ball 25 times a game because there was nobody in college who could cover the guy. Well, now he's in the NFL, and guess what? The Lions should throw him the ball 25 times a game because there's nobody in the NFL that can cover the guy either. Watching Ronde Barber try to match up with him was comical. He had perfect coverage on one deep ball and C.J. just out-reached him easily for the ball. Unfortunately for Detroit, they don't have anyone who can get him the ball. The rest of the game was a comedy of deep lobs that left Johnson standing still, trying to outleap one or two defenders for it. Sabby Piscitelli, who is rapidly improving in his second year, had one nice play where he got in there to rip a ball away from Johnson, but C.J. had had to stop and wait for it like a punt.
Cadillac Williams played for the first time in well over a year and looked rusty. He bumped into Garcia on what might have been a delay draw (or he was just late stepping up to pick up a blitz) and the resulting fumble was returned for the Lions' second touchdown. He also didn't look like he had a whole lot of burst. But late in the game when Dunn was on the bench, Cadillac got a bunch of carries and had one terrific run where he planted hard and cut away from a defender. Couldn't tell if it was the injured knee or not, but that was good to see.
Clifton Smith had a terrific return day, but fumbled again (Tampa Bay recovered). I think he has fumbled in every game this year. Not sure how much longer Jon Gruden can remain patient with him if this keeps up, but I suppose taking kicks back for touchdowns helps.
Jimmy Wilkerson also had a nice day with a pair of sacks. Gaines Adams is improving, but he takes a comically long route to the quarterback way too often, and Wilkerson has been the Bucs' most consistent pass rusher.
Doug Farrar: Tennessee's first drive was a nice show for those who have not seen the Jets' defense. Second play from scrimmage, Kris Jenkins throws Kevin Mawae aside like a rag doll to tackle Chris Johnson, followed by Darrelle Revis making a great play on a pass to Justin Gage. Titans punt.
Sean McCormick: The Jets have been working in the middle screen in the red zone the last few weeks to great success, and they pulled it off again to cap off their opening drive against Tennessee. This time they ran it with Thomas Jones instead of Leon Washington, and Jones was able to pick his way ten yards behind a three-man convoy for an easy score.
Doug Farrar: Great downfield blocking by the Jets' left side on that score.
Bill Barnwell: Amusing play: Jets line Brad Smith up under center and Brett Favre splits out wide. For some reason, he decides it'd be a good idea to get in a three-point stance. Unfortunately for Favre, he was up against Cortland Finnegan, who promptly smacked him two or three times as the play ran the other way.
Sean McCormick: The Titans have found an interesting way to get Albert Haynesworth single blocked: They line him up at defensive end on passing downs. D'Brickashaw Ferguson looked shocked just before Haynesworth ran right through him to force a sack and strip of Favre.
Doug Farrar: They've been doing that a little bit lately. Sometimes, they'll stunt him back inside with Kyle Vanden Bosch or Greg Ball.
Sean McCormick : The Jets keep on using that middle screen, but now they're mixing it up with variations. They got into a shotgun set, had Brad Smith come into motion, faked the end-around to him and then dropped the ball to Dustin Keller, who bulled his way for a first down. You can see why the Jets want to get the Titans' interior linemen guessing, because they are having a hard time moving them with any kind of straight-ahead blocking.
Aaron Schatz: What is the line going to be in the Titans-Lions game on Thanksgiving? 14? 15? What would the line be like if Tennessee was an offense-first team instead of a defense-first team? And what the hell is up with the Titans' offense today, anyway? Kerry Collins 7-for-21 at halftime?
Doug Farrar: Drop, drop, drop, drop, drop.
Sean McCormick: The Jets are playing man-up and giving very little room for Collins to deliver, and the Titans receivers have dropped about six passes. Voila, 7-for-21.
Ben Riley: Kevin Mawae seems to have figured out that the way to block Kris Jenkins is to grab him around the head and throw him to the ground. For the life of me I can't understand why the officials picked up the flag they threw on one of Mawae's body slams.
Ned Macey: The plus side of the Titans losing today is that it is before Mercury Morris started to make the rounds. (Plus it should get the Colts a pretty easy win in Week 17).
Bill Barnwell: Oh no. Mercury showed up last week.
Sean McCormick: This game actually could have been more lopsided if not for two Jets turnovers. Just a solid game plan and good execution by the Jets. They negated the Tennessee defensive line by primarily running pass patterns that required only one- or three-step drops, and by and large Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery were able to gain position on the quick slants and get consistent 8- and 9-yard gains. Tennessee was able to handle the run early on, but late in the game they got caught with eight men in the box and gashed on off-tackle runs by both Leon Washington and Thomas Jones.
Nothing fancy in terms of defensive game-planning, as the Jets primarily played press coverage and didn't give the corners a ton of safety help. The Jets' front three controlled the line of scrimmage in the run game, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas held the edges, and Tennessee's wide receivers contracted a serious case of the dropsies on third down.
Vernon Gholston got more playing time today, and he succeeded in generating pressure on back-to-back snaps in the second half. Something to look for down the stretch.
Bill Barnwell: Where are the Favre e-mails? I want to see if they compare to the comments I got on my Packers defensive touchdown story, including the guy who said I must be jealous of the Packers' secondary.
Aaron Schatz: In fact, I got that exact accusation:
Dear Mr. Schatz,
You seem to have missed the point entirely. Favre's true gift is his ability to raise the collective team chemistry as well as the level of play of the individual players around him. Underestimating his influence is either naivety or jealousy. There's a lot of that going around.
Heh. Thank God Brett Favre was on the sidelines today, screaming "Attaboy, Kris, way to get 'em" every time Kris Jenkins stuffed Chris Johnson for no gain. If not for Favre raising the team chemistry of the Jets defense, the Titans might have won.
Vince Verhei: The Titans gave up a sack today, bringing their season total to seven. This one was absolutely not the offensive line's fault; Kerry Collins held the ball, held the ball, held the ball, until finally Calvin Pace got close enough to swat the ball out of his hands. Yes, even when the Titans do give up sacks, the quarterback still doesn't hit the ground.
Ben Riley: We are into Week 12 and I still don't know if Buffalo is a good team or not, but with two picks in the first half -- including one returned for a touchdown -- Leodis McKelvin is definitely proving he was worth a first-round pick. Also, with no timeouts and about 10 seconds on the clock in the first half, Trent Edwards made a gutsy decision to run and dive for the touchdown. Also, when did it become mandatory to refer to Tony Gonzalez as "future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez?"
Vince Verhei: It's funny how small plays can lead to blowouts. Second quarter, the Rams have a fourth-and-15 at midfield, down 14. They try a fake punt. Donnie Jones tries a pass to Eric Bassey, who is absolutely mauled by the Bears' Corey Graham. Looks like an obvious pass interference call and a new set of downs for St. Louis. However, the refs waved off the call; by rule, there can be no pass interference on the end man on the line of scrimmage out of a punting formation. "I know you can't get pass interference on a punt play," Graham said after the game. "I was going to tackle the guy."
(Also after the game, Jim Haslett said that upback Todd Johnson made the fake-punt call, adding, "It was a dumb play to call on fourth-and-15.")
Two plays later, Matt Forte breaks through the front seven. The safety is in perfect position to make a tackle and limit the run to 10 yards or so. However, this safety wasn't Troy Polamalu or Chris Horton; it was O.J. Atogwe, and Forte faked him out of his shoes. The play was a 47-yard touchdown run, and the rout was on.
Aaron Schatz: I know why the Patriots had the fewest penalties in the league through the first half of the season: Stephen Neal was on PUP. Neal has definitely improved the blocking, but he's a penalty machine today: a holding, an unnecessary roughness after Matt Cassel threw a Moss-tipped interception, and then a false start in the red zone for good measure.
Ben Riley: Um, Matt Cassell has 205 yards passing in the first half? Is he seriously going to be able to create a quarterback controversy in New England? (By the way, that sound you hear in the background is me pouring gasoline on the sheet I plan to self-immolate in later.)
Doug Farrar: Put down that lighter, Ben! Cassel has 205 yards passing in the first half in the same way that Bobcat Goldthwait could gain 85 yards per game behind Denver's offensive line. Of course, Tim Ruskell is probably wondering if he should blow a first-rounder on him (Cassel, not Bobcat. Presumably).
Aaron Schatz: Damn, Doug, Ruskell doesn't blow first-rounders on quarterbacks, he blows them on wide receivers. You want Jabar Gaffney?
Doug Farrar: Shhh! He's picking up the phone! Actually, it would be more like Ruskell to blow a first on Welker -- the undersized, try-hard guy -- and put him out there as a deep threat.
Ben Riley: The fact that Jabar Gaffney would probably be starting for the Seahawks right now tells you all you need to know about the receiving corps. And the Seahawks entire season, for that matter.
Aaron Schatz: There's no doubt Cassel has improved dramatically over the past few weeks, and he now has the pocket presence necessary to run the spread offense with only five linemen blocking. However, if Brady were to come back from his injury at full strength, he's still the better quarterback because he is much better throwing the deep ball. Cassel just can't get in sync with Randy Moss on the deep ball, which limits the ability to stretch the defense. I also think Brady still makes smarter decisions under pressure. On the other hand, Cassel does have running ability that Brady doesn't have. He's no longer Rusher McFumbles -- he's running with much more intelligence, picking spots where man coverage opens a big hole in the middle of the field for him to get significant yardage. I no longer think the idea of some team signing Cassel as a free agent to be their starting quarterback is ridiculous.
On the other hand, the idea that Jason Allen could handle Randy Moss one-on-one is pretty clearly ridiculous.
Ben Riley: Matt Cassel's third-quarter touchdown pass to Randy Moss, thrown before Moss was even open, may have been the best throw I've seen in the NFL this year. (I've wrapped myself in the sheet and am now looking for a lighter.)
There are few things more painful than listening to Dan Dierdorf explain why Randy Moss should not be flagged for pass interference on his third touchdown catch, when Randy Moss should clearly have been flagged for pass interference on his third touchdown catch. (That said, it was still a sweet catch.)
Aaron Schatz: Yep, even a group of Pats fans over here thought that was probably a push-off at first. With the replay, it looked a lot less like a push-off and a lot more like, "Wait a minute, why did they throw a flag when neither Andre Goodman nor Randy Moss really did anything?"
Matt Cassel is the first Patriots quarterback ever to have two straight 400-yard passing games. Matt Cassel. Two. Straight. 400 yards. Insanity. Remember when Pats-Dolphins games were defensive battles? These are two very bad secondaries and two quarterbacks playing very well.
Matt Light is looking forward to a nice big suspension for grabbing Channing Crowder's hair and beating the crap out of him.
Bill Barnwell: Light also should have been docked a point for punches to the back of the head.
Cassel's the first guy to throw for 400 yards in back-to-back games since the legendary Billy Volek stretch run in 2004.
Bill Moore: Crowder was continuing to go low well after the whistle against Light. The game had been very chippy both ways before that, so it was likely a straw the broke the 310-pound lineman's back. I don't think there was an intentional hair pull, as much as Light took an initial downward push on Crowder and his hand got caught in the dreads. With the left hand caught in Crowder's hair, he started hitting with his right hand. I'm not surprised Crowder got flagged, but was surprised he was booted.
Ben Riley: Something called "D. Bess" has 87 yards receiving for the Dolphins? What is a "D. Bess"?
Aaron Schatz: I was just about to say something about that. Davone Bess has had a huge game today. Undrafted free agent from Hawaii, the guy who lost his scholarship at Oregon State for accessory to theft and was discovered by Hawaii playing flag football in jail. If the Dolphins had won this game, people would be talking about his coming out party. He's catching stuff over the middle, making catches despite close coverage, getting yards after catch with speed, all kinds of good stuff. He's definitely a better technical receiver than Ted Ginn, Jr., even though he's not as fast.
Aaron Schatz: I do believe Mr. McNabb is self-destructing in Baltimore today. NFL Matchup this morning showed how zone blitzes by Cincinnati gave him fits, and of course Baltimore runs that stuff all the time. He's just making bad decisions, throwing interceptions, and to cap it off Brian Westbrook is injured and stuck facing the best run defense in the game this year, so he has something like 14 yards on 10 carries. So even if they want to try to balance things with the run, it isn't getting anywhere.
Quentin Demps returns a kickoff for a touchdown for Philadelphia, making it 10-7, so I'll have to put off my pity party call to Brian Fremeau to decide who we despise more, the Eagles or the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Ben Riley: Kevin Kolb is now starting for the Philadelphia Eagles as the third quarter commences. And so it begins.
Bill Barnwell: Whoa. Donovan McNabb has been benched. Kevin Kolb, do your thing.
Mike Tanier: This is what the end of an era looks like, folks. And it is a system-wide failure. McNabb was poorly executing Andy Reid's poorly-chosen plays. And as I type this, Asante Samuel writhes on the ground.
Second-and-20, stretch run to Brian Westbrook. Did you know that the Eagles run the stretch on second-and-long? Anyone who watches any Eagles film knows they run the stretch on second-and-20. Just like they throw on third-and-1. The second series of the Kevin Kolb era is a comedy routine. And the score is 10-7. And the Eagles still have a winning record.
Aaron Schatz: Is anyone else watching Eagles-Ravens? Did Antwan Barnes of the Ravens just tackle Brian Westbrook by pulling the back of his jockstrap out of his pants? No, seriously.
Doug Farrar: An Atomic Wedgie? Where do you find THAT in the rulebook?
Will Carroll: There's a joke here somewhere about "horse collar" that I won't make.
Mike Tanier: I, uh, didn't see the Westbrook thong tackle play. I did see McNabb clapping after Kolb's interception. It might have been a clap of "shake it off Kolb" support. But maybe not. And I know how it will be interpreted on local radio.
Aaron Schatz: OK, so when Mark Clayton caught that little 5-yard pass, juked two Eagles, and went 45 yards after catch for a score -- were there really no Eagles playing any kind of deep safety help to possibly go after him? Really?
Bill Barnwell: Ed Reed just returned a pass from eight yards deep in the end zone for a touchdown?!?
Aaron Schatz: Yes, and the siren you heard afterwards was the wailing cry of Mike Tanier, being tortured by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Kevin Kolb era had a very, very bad beginning today.
Bill Barnwell: You were right, Mike. You were right. I think it hit me when Reid threw a challenge flag on a play and neither of the announcers had any idea what he was challenging.
Ben Riley: Don't know if you saw the play, Bill, but if you are questioning why Reed brought it out from that deep, he intercepted the ball on the fly and had nothing but green grass in front of him.
Bill Barnwell: Yeah, I just saw it. It was against the Eagles, so Reed knew he could take advantage of the Eagles' ability to get the worst possible outcome of non-predicative events and bring it back.
Ned Macey: Let's just say I was definitely not in the "Fire Andy Reid" camp until the second half started, and he decided to give Kolb his first meaningful action against the league's best defense with both of his running backs banged up. Clearly, he is desperate and out of answers. Kolb has been predictably terrible, just throwing the ball right to Ed Reed as the Eagles tried and convert third-and-short at the goal line. At least they've been so bad offensively that they'll start dropping in DVOA.
Weird play in this game was when Reed got his first interception and did a forward lateral that the Eagles recovered. Does it make sense that a boneheaded play that is so boneheaded that you lateral it forward, is not a fumble?
Back to Kolb: After the Cassel experience, at what point do we have to start saying they are more like running backs than even we gave them credit for? The idea that Kolb would come into this flawed offense and suddenly throw the ball well is pathetic. I know people can point out the 2001 Pats or the Flutie/Johnson thing, but for the most part, a team with competent level of quarterbacks does not lose a lot (or gain a lot) with a quarterback change. The exceptions are people who are just not NFL-caliber quarterbacks (see Fitzpatrick, Ryan). The whole merry-go-round with Favre/Rodgers/Pennington with all three playing well should be further proof of this. The fact that a coach thinks this move was a good idea shows he is nothing but desperate.
Bill Barnwell: At the time that I write this, by the way:
Aaron Schatz: I think the Eagles have hit a stage we might call "2003 Tampa disease." Usually, a team that is underperforming its DVOA rating is a good bet to improve in the second half of the season. Sometimes, however, you end up with a team that instead begins to play down to its W-L record. Injuries set in, desperation sets in, play-calling gets weird, the losses keep coming and the DVOA begins to plummet. The Bucs were 4-6 in 2003, defending champions with a DVOA of 22.5% after Week 11, fourth in the NFL. They went 3-3 the rest of the way with DVOA below 0%. Another example would be the 2005 Raiders. They were 4-6 after Week 11 with DVOA of 3.5%. Then they gave up on Norv Turner and lost six straight with DVOA of -24.8% in those last six games.
Bill Barnwell: One of the things we need to note about Philadelphia and DVOA this year is that this is the first year where Philadelphia's DVOA has a real dramatic difference from their record. It's true that we've consistently projected the Eagles to have a high DVOA and a good record, but this is the first season where the Eagles have actually produced a high DVOA during the season and had a poor record.
Aaron Schatz: Well, they were 11th last year (8.5%) at 8-8.
Ben Riley: Brady Quinn has been benched, although I don' t know if it's injury-related or not. If not, make this exhibit No. 347 in the case for firing Romeo Crennel. Pick a quarterback, Romeo, and stop jerking your team around.
Aaron Schatz: OK, what's gotten into the FOX robot? He's rockin' out today, baby! Apparently, he played on a few tracks on Chinese Democracy.
Doug Farrar: Well, Cletus does kinda resemble Buckethead in his "Giant Robot" period.
The 49ers are moving the ball against Dallas early (certainly through the air), but they're having trouble scoring. Missed field goal on the first drive. On San Francisco's second drive, Shaun Hill threw up a floater as he was hit in the pocket. The ball came down in Isaac Bruce's area, and he caught it, despite double-coverage. The 49ers had to settle for a field goal on this drive, in part because if a ridiculous pass interference no-call on Anthony Henry, who was defending Bryant Johnson in the end zone. Henry was draped all over Johnson before the catchable ball got there, but ... nothing. You've just got to love officiating this year. Of course, when you have only three points on 16 plays and 107 yards, the officiating is the least of your worries.
Bill Barnwell: Cowboys corners don't look good early. Terence Newman is moving pretty gingerly, highlighted by a play where Jason Hill was hit as he threw deep and left a floater up there that Isaac Bruce managed to outmaneuver Newman to. Anthony Henry looks bad, too, and he just got away with basically putting a sleeper hold on Bryant Johnson in the end zone on a slant.
Doug Farrar: Note to Eric Heitmann: As the San Francisco 49ers' center, you might want to consider blocking the Dallas Cowboys' nose tackle. Number 90. His name is Jay Ratliff. He's the guy who's been blowing you up all day and making it impossible for Frank Gore to do anything up the middle. I'm not sure what your thought process was in helping your left guard block outside on third-and-goal with four seconds left in the first quarter, but your quarterback found it far more difficult to throw the ball with Mr. Ratliff closing in on him unblocked.
San Francisco in the first quarter: 154 total yards, two red zone possessions, two field goals. Yikes.
On the long touchdown pass to T.O. at the start of the second quarter: If I'm any member of the 49ers' staff, I'm writing a scathing letter to Mike Pereira tonight. On the play, Owens headed downfield and initiated contact with Nate Clements about ten yards downfield. Clements was not turned around yet (problem!), he was facing Owens, and Owens gave Clements a block. Clements didn't return the contact, he was merely in the way. Illegal contact call by Mike Carey's crew after the fact, and after the Henry no-call, I'd be pissed if I was on the San Francisco side. The touchdown was legit -- a great play and outstanding after-catch running by Owens to get past Clements downfield -- but the officiating in this game has been ridiculous.
Aaron Schatz: I do believe that Nate Clements was riding on his back for the final 15 yards. Good tackling there, Nate.
Bill Barnwell: I don't think that play should have been illegal contact, but what was Clements doing? Looking in the backfield? Looked like they were in quarters coverage and Clements was just standing still.
Not a good day for Wade Phillips. Tony Romo just bullied him into making an awful challenge and Jack Buck and Troy Aikman just SAVAGED him. To make things worse, all that camera time came on him when it appeared like he was trying to bust through his shirt it was so tight. Protruding nipples: Not a good look on your head coach.
Mark Zajack: You've gotta inspire your team however you can. If it takes protruding nipples to tell them you're into the game, so be it. That, and the combination of dancing around like a school girl when the 49ers miss a 53-yard field goal, is clearly what coaching is all about.
Doug Farrar: I'm going to bring this up once more, then I'm going to shut up about it. Five minutes left in the first half, the second long pass to Owens. Nate Clements gets turned around late again, Owens gives Clements a huge push-off before the catch, and there's no call.
Oh, geez. And just to balance it out, Zach Thomas gets screwed out of a touchdown when Mike Carey and his Roving Band of Morons rule that Thomas was down by contact on a fumble return when he clearly was not. A quick whistle. A make-up call, or truly balanced incompetence? You decide.
Bill Barnwell: The turns in the two games I was watching were absolutely amazing. Dallas' pass rush went up approximately eight notches and San Francisco began self-destructing, and now Dallas is up two scores. To top that, Detroit went up 17-0 and then promptly gave up the lead BEFORE HALFTIME.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, the Cowboys are throwing some monster defense at the Niners after a bit of a slow start. Jay Ratliff has lined up everywhere from nose in 3-4 to left end in kind of an offset 4-3, and he's killing the San Francisco run game wherever he goes.
Horsecrap officiating aside (and the reviewed forward/backward pass/interception with six minutes left in the third quarter was truly a thing of ugliness), there seems to be a serious disconnect with this San Francisco team. It's as if they've replicated the worst parts of the Martzian schemes from other places -- quarterback vulnerability, red zone inconsistency -- without any of the rewards. This could be a great week for the Cowboys. They win this one going away, and if a newly revived passing attack takes Seattle's Lollipop Guild defense apart on Thanksgiving Day, things will look a lot more interesting in the NFC East.
Bill Barnwell: The Cowboys are my favorite team to watch in the league, I've decided. It's always exciting. They can go from bumbling and incompetent to looking like the best team in the league from series to series. With regards to Tony Romo, he looked pretty bad in his short and intermediate stuff again. He actually looked best when he was stepping into throws and launching the ball.
Vince Verhei: Denver's entire game plan consisted of lob passes deep down the right sideline. I just checked the official play-by-play, and the phrase "6-J.Cutler pass incomplete deep right" appears ten times (including one play wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty). In related news, Nnamdi Asomugha usually lines up to the offense's left-hand side.
That said, Asomugha is human. On one play, the Raiders ran what looked like a Cover-2, with Asomugha covering the curl zone along the sideline. Jay Cutler broke containment and began to scramble. Asomugha came up to make the tackle -- and missed. He finished with no tackles and one pass defensed. I started thinking about creative things the Raiders could do with Asomugha, maybe using him as a free safety against teams with no dominant receiver. Just then the Raiders sent Asomugha on a corner blitz. He never got close to Cutler and had little effect on the play, but at least they're willing to try something different.
Late in the third quarter, Raiders have a third-and-3 near midfield. Michael Bush takes the ball running left -- and then stops and throws to Zach Miller, who is immediately tackled by Spencer Larsen. It picked up a first down, but only gained eight yards. If you're going to use a halfback option pass, shouldn't you be looking for the home run?
Doug Farrar: Some interesting inside intelligence brought back to Seattle by current Redskins head coach and former quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn: He knows what Matt Hasselbeck doesn't like. Washington stacked the A-gaps with linebackers, which caused Hasselbeck to call a time-out and draw a delay of game penalty in the first quarter.
The Redskins are doing some nice downfield blocking with Mike Sellers in front of Clinton Portis. One play in the second quarter was particularly sweet. Sellers chipped Julian Peterson at the line and blew Lofa Tatupu the hell up as Portis sauntered downfield. Also, Brian Russell made a good tackle with 9:30 left in the third quarter. Stock up on canned goods!
The Seahawks found success running the ball at the end of the first half as the passing game fell apart and Maurice Morris (who still looks exactly like the guy who played Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) got some good outside gains.
Vince Verhei: In the second quarter, Redskins down 3-0, Santana Moss punches Josh Wilson in the head, right in front of the ref. Moss is flagged for unneccessary roughness, but not ejected. Um, why not?
Bill Barnwell: OK. Why are the announcers telling me that Tim Hightower's had a great rookie year? This guy has run for 299 yards this year. 3.1 yards per carry. His high touchdown totals are entirely a function of his usage pattern; he's been below-average at punching the ball in inside the five. Maybe he'll be good. He's not by any means close to having a great year.
Bill Moore: Neil Rackers attempts a 68-yard free kick. Knew of it, but can't say I've seen that before. After minutes of suspenseful build-up, he takes a 10-yard running start, AND ... squibs it.
Aaron Schatz: I'm surprised at how well the Giants have played in man coverage today.
It seems like the Cardinals run because they think it's just obligatory. It's not like they're getting anywhere with it. Oh, wait, they just fumbled a handoff, so they did get somewhere -- the bench, because now the defense is in the game. Kurt Warner also seems to be really off today on passes to Anquan Boldin. Doesn't seem to be a problem with Fitzgerald, but passes to Boldin are all a yard or two ahead or behind.
Sean McCormick: I saw bits and pieces of the Giants-Cardinals game, which went exactly the way you would expect it to. Arizona's receivers are great, their running game is poor, and the Giants have the balance to take absolutely anything that a defense gives them. The most notable play was the onside kick that the Cardinals attempted with just under five minutes left. The Cardinals loaded up on the left side, kicked the ball right and got their onside team so perfectly lined up past the ten-yard point that the ball bounced off the turf and right into the hands of a Cardinal. Unfortunately, he promptly flubbed it and the Giants recovered, and that pretty much sealed the game.
Vince Verhei: The Giants' game plan early was to target Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, with mixed results. He broke up a deep pass to Plaxico Burress in single coverage. Then he was beaten down the left sideline by Amani Toomer, but Toomer dropped the ball and the Giants were forced to punt. Later, Rodgers-Cromartie got beat by Domenik Hixon on a curl pattern, then missed the tackle, allowing 10 or so yards after the catch. On another play, Hixon beat Rodgers-Cromartie on a fade route in the end zone, but the pass was underthrown and Rodgers-Cromartie was able to tip it away.
Hixon, by the way, had a huge day, leading the Giants with six catches for 57 yards. More importantly, he returned three kickoffs for 29, 83, and 68 yards (that's a 60-yard average return). On the 68-yarder, Jerheme Urban made a fingertip tackle to save a touchdown. Hixon added in 11 yards on the ground, 20 yards in punt returns, and a handful of special teams tackles.
Early in the game, the Giants were sticking with four-man rushes, and were surprisingly unsuccessful. They did collect three sacks in the second half when Arizona was playing catch-up.
Madison Hedgecock was apparently angry that I picked Michael Robinson as the NFC Pro Bowl fullback in Scramble last week; he scored the first touchdown in his career today, catching a swing pass and dodging (not breaking!) a Monty Beisel tackle attempt and slipping into the end zone. For the record, I misread Hedgecock's six (now seven) STARTS as GAMES PLAYED, and thought he had missed four games. No, he has played 11 times, and makes for a much better Pro Bowl pick than Robinson.
The Cardinals tried a reverse to Steve Breaston today. The play only gained four yards, in part because it involved Kurt Warner -- Kurt Warner! -- as a lead blocker. Time to take that page out of the playbook, immediately.
Mark Zajack: Mike Mularkey and Matt Ryan keep finding the matchups they want -- Roddy White against a safety or the slot corner (like good old Richard Marshall). If not for Chris Gamble forcing a Roddy White fumble, Carolina might be further behind. The Carolina offense has been predictable and self-destructive. Falcons load up on the run and have had success with Chris Houston on Steve Smith and a safety over the top.
Carolina looks better in the 2-minute drill at the end of the half than they did in their regular offense. Then a false start by Muhsin Muhammad (which might have been center Ryan Kalil's fault). And that brief window of hope closed quickly when no one blocked John Abraham.
It's Harry Douglas Day in Hot-lanta. You can't stop Harry Douglas; you can only hope to contain him. End-around for a touchdown in the first half. Took a third-down pass for a huge gain in the fourth quarter when Carolina had cut it to 24-21. And now a punt return for a touchdown to (Matty) Ice the game.
Yeah, Harry Douglas. I saw that coming.
Doug Farrar: Douglas is a funny guy. Nice kid. When Aaron and I were at the Combine, we saw Douglas hijack Brian Brohm's press conference with an unplugged NFL Network microphone and start asking Brohm questions about his receivers. He said this to a friend of mine who covers the Buccaneers: "I love me some Ike Hilliard."
Vince Verhei: Just what Atlanta needed, another game-breaking threat. With Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Roddy White, and now Douglas, that offense is getting scary quickly. Douglas' touchdown run, by the way, was keyed by a great block by wide receiver Eric Weems, who went low on Chris Gamble and took him to the ground.
The defense, however ... This secondary is still real bad. Lawyer Milloy is starting to miss tackles, and if he's not helping in run support, then he's not much use out there. And the corners rely on safety help. Down 17-0 in the second quarter, Carolina had a third-and-8 at the Atlanta 32. The Falcons big-blitzed, and Steve Smith burned Chevis Jackson in single coverage to set up first-and-goal at the 1. Fortunately for Atlanta, they held the Panthers to a field goal on that possession, largely thanks to a Jeff Otah false start. On second-and-goal from the 5, the Panthers tried a fade route to the diminutive Smith, a call I do not understand. On third down, Smith got open crossing the back of the end zone, but dropped the ball. Still, Smith finished with eight catches for 168 yards.
Grady Jackson is the fattest football player I've ever seen. Lots of defensive tackles in the NFL are as wide as they are tall when viewed face-on, but for Grady that's true even when viewed from the side. I have more than one 300-pound friend, and I assure you Jackson is going 400 or more these days. If he makes it to his 50s, his knees are going to be killing him. At some point there needs to be an intervention for this guy.
Mark Zajack: I kept waiting for Atlanta to be called for 11 and a 1/2-men on the field whenever Grady Jackson was in the game. It's a testament to his athleticism that he can be get on and off the field without the assistance of a golf cart.
Aaron Schatz: Al Michaels and John Madden aren't kidding when they say Ron Rivera likes to bring pressure. This is more pass pressure than I've seen from the
Chargers all year, and it definitely has the Colts off their game a bit at the start.
Ned, it seems like Dallas Clark is lining up at tight end a lot more than wide receiver tonight. Is that a general Colts trend in recent weeks?
Ned Macey: He is definitely back at tight end this year. They obviously prefer to have Gonzalez and Clark on the field at the same time. He still splits out some, as they aren't usually 100 percent three-wide receiver like they were today, but he can safely be re-classfied as a tight end.
Mike Tanier: I just saw the Colts complete a play-action deep pass on third-and-1. You see, Andy Reid, the difference is that opponents actually believe the Colts might run on third-and-1. Yes, the Colts, with the great Peyton Manning, often run on third-and-1. When you throw unsuccessfully 94 percent of the time on third-and-1, no one respects your play-action fakes. Also, Reggie Wayne (I think) ran a deep in-route, not just a fly pattern. There are more things to do against single coverage than run up the sidelines. Often, the receiver can get a lot of separation by crossing the field, and the throw on the in-route is easier for the quarterback. Does this make sense, Andy? Do you need a diagram, because I can do diagrams.
Oh, by the way, where did this Colts run defense come from?
Doug Farrar: Great leaping catch by Vincent Jackson for San Diego's first touchdown of the day. I started really noticing Jackson early this season because of his blocking -- which is outstanding, especially off the line -- and every time I've watched him, I've liked what I've seen. Certainly gets the least recognition of any receiver currently ranked in the top 10 in DYAR.
Mike Tanier: The Colts kept swinging the ball into the flat on their third-quarter drive. Swing, swing, swing, right down the field. It must be frustrating to defend them: Whatever you give them, they find and take with extreme prejudice. And they still aren't at full speed.
Mark Zajack: I now confess my long-standing man-crush on Jamal Williams. Colts have first-and-goal from the 1. Second-and-goal from the 2. Third-and-goal from the 3. Fourth-and-goal from the 1. Thank you, Jamal Williams. This just in: The Colts' backup center can't block Jamal Williams.
And the Colts throw on fourth down. Surprised? No.
Doug Farrar: I'm watching Jamal Williams split a double-team to sack Peyton Manning at the start of the fourth quarter, and I'm wondering if one conference has ever has such a ridiculous stack of talent at defensive tackle as the AFC has now. Haynesworth, Jenkins, Rogers, Wilfork, Williams. Sheesh.
Aaron Schatz: Anthony Gonzalez is the new First Down Machine.
Bill Moore: Ballsy fourth-down call by Tom Moore with 27 seconds left. Quentin Jammer ran into the back judge, which is why Marvin Harrison was soooo wide-open.
Doug Farrar: I think he ran into Umpire Jeff Rice (44). Back Judge Tony Steratore (112) was back a few yards from the play.
Fourth-and-a millimeter? These Colts-Chargers games sure are something.
Mark Zajack: Colts: Best Pick-n-Roll team in the NFL? Prior to Jammer getting picked by the umpire, on the Colts' first touchdown, Reggie Wayne looked like Karl Malone to Anthony Gonzalez's John Stockton.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I guess Adam Vinatieri has his mojo back, but it is funny when they run the stat on the screen "Adam Vinatieri: 76% on lead-changing field goals in last two minutes or overtime" without noting that 76% is roughly league average on these types of kicks.
Ned Macey: The key play was whoever called the timeout before Nate Kaeding's game-tying field goal. What an awful display of clock management, leaving the Colts 1:30 (which they almost blew at the end with the odd run-up-the-middle-for-two-yards play).
Odd thing from the Colts tonight was that they went shotgun/empty backfield more than I've ever seen them do before. Basically every single pass was then a 5-yard gain to a running back. Clearly they liked the running backs one-on-one with the Chargers' linebackers. A less successful innovation is the shotgun/split backs from the two-yard line with Darrell Reid as one of the split backs.
The Chargers' defense always looks good against the Colts, and it is always because Indianapolis cannot (with or without Jeff Saturday) block Williams. I love Williams, but it was amazing to follow San Diego last year when I wrote about them for PFP. There are some games where he can be blocked.
San Diego is also just about the only team that has success throwing downfield against Indy. I'm not really sure why, since we only see the ball and the intended receiver, but they are much more aggressive then most teams.
Finally, Robert Mathis got the two sacks today, but the Chargers doubled Dwight Freeney on almost every passing down. Funny what happened to Mathis last year after Freeney got hurt (two sacks in eight games).
Odd that Vinatieri would be good some years and bad some years as if it was an inconsistent skill set from year to year. Although I'm glad this one is back this year.
125 comments, Last at 25 Nov 2008, 2:41pm by scottyb