Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
08 Dec 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.
Doug Farrar: Chargers-Raiders. San Diego's 24.1% pass defense DVOA vs. Oakland's -27.1% pass offense DVOA. It's almost like professional football!
Well, the good news for the Raiders is that in Chris Johnson, they've found someone who can get blown by on a sideline route just as well as DeAngelo Hall. Priceless "Hey, this is just like scrimmage!" look from Norv Turner on the sideline as Vincent Jackson scored. Oakland has actually improved pretty drastically in Defensive DVOA against the pass in the second half of the season, but that was nasty.
Aaron Schatz: How bad was this game? Nationally broadcast game and it gets one Audibles comment. Honestly, what else was there to say?
Bill Barnwell: I watched the game for two and a half quarters. Then I started flipping through the channels and saw that there was a show on a 637-pound woman on. I watched that instead. It turns out she's fat.
Mike Tanier: Goal-line fullback potential?
Bill Barnwell: I thought they were moving McNabb to fullback?
Elias Holman: Ooh, I was hoping she was 100 pounds with a 537-pound tumor. I gave up after this sequence:
3-2-SD 46 (12:16) A.Walter pass incomplete short left to D.McFadden.
4-2-SD 46 (12:12) (Shotgun) A.Walter pass incomplete short left to D.McFadden.
After which Walter unbuttoned his chin strap and made this sort of "Oh well, so much for that" face, and Darren McFadden looked like he was going to punch someone in frustration.
The announcers did have an interesting discussion about what was going on with LaDainian Tomlinson, with someone (can't remember how) contending that because the Chargers were 4-8 going into the game, Tomlinson didn't get to pound the ball in the fourth quarter to run out the clock and so he wasn't breaking off resulting long runs that pad his numbers. Versus last year, his success rate is down from 45 percent to 40 percent, and his DYAR and DVOA are way down, but based on the play-by-play data, is there any truth to the "no long runs in the fourth quarter" theory?
Aaron Schatz: This may require more research, but here's a cursory look... It does look like Tomlinson has a history of being better in the fourth quarter. From 2005-2007, every year his DVOA was higher in the fourth quarter than the other three quarters.
Last year was very odd, because Tomlinson's value was remarkably slanted towards the fourth quarter. He had DVOA over 40% in the fourth quarter with DVOA in single digits the other three quarters. However, those runs didn't come with huge leads. In the fourth quarter, he had 20 carries for 185 yards with a lead of a touchdown or less, and 15 carries for 32 yards with a lead of more than a touchdown.
In 2006, Tomlinson had his highest DVOA in the fourth quarter, but he actually had more yardage in each of the other three quarters. In 2005, the yardage was evenly distributed, pretty close to equal among the four quarters.
This year, once again, he is better in the fourth quarter. It is the only quarter where he has positive DVOA. However, the main reason is that he has 19 carries for 108 yards with the Chargers down by 0-8 points in the fourth quarter. That's not stat padding.
On initial glance, it does not look like the Chargers' record is the reason for Tomlinson's dramatic statistical drop.
Vince Verhei: Devin Hester has been nothing special as a punt returner this season, but Jaguars punter Steven Weatherford still treated him with some healthy respect. He kicked three punts out of bounds (and averaged 41 yards on those punts, so he wasn't sacrificing distance to keep the ball out of Hester's hands). Hester did get his ball on three kicks. One was returned for 22 yards; the others were both fumbled (and recovered, by Hester).
Bill Barnwell: The Detroit-Minnesota color commentator notes that someone on the Lions "...still moves good." Yeah, you're not a professional or anything. Don't sweat English.
Mike Tanier: Dude is covering a Lions game...
Bill Moore: Gus Ferrotte carted off the sideline (as opposed to carted off the field of play) just before halftime. I missed what happened to him. Tarvaris Jackson warming up.
Doug Farrar: Gosder Cherilus needs to be suspended for the rest of the season for the blatant cut block he put on Jared Allen. You're messing with careers when you do stuff like that.
I just re-watched the Cherilus-Allen play again, and there's no doubt in my mind that Cherilus went after his knee. Cherilus was on his knees getting up from the turf, and he saw Allen pursuing Culpepper pre-throw when Culpepper was about 5 yards away. His head was above Allen's knee, and he leaned his helmet down and in, aiming right at the side of Allen's left knee.
Bill Moore: Doug, can you explain what the violation was? I saw the play. I know you can't chop block when the defensive player is engaged with someone else. In this case, Cherilus was lying on the ground. Allen was coming across the offensive side of the line unencumbered. Cherilus lurched his body at Allen and, because he started from a prone position, hit him low. I'm not necessarily defending him; I just don't know what made it illegal.
Doug Farrar: I'm not 100 percent sure what the rule is regarding that kind of thing, and I really don't care after seeing it again. He should have been thrown out of the game. If there isn't a rule that immediately penalizes a player who goes after another player's knee, there certainly damn well should be. There are clear-cut rules regarding what is and isn't cut blocking and clipping, and I think it would be a clip since he wasn't engaged with another player. Bill, what did you see?
Tim Gerheim: I just saw the highlight, and I'm no expert on the rule, but regardless of the legality of it, for a ligament-tearer like Jared Allen to lose his mind about a questionably legal block just proves what a jackass he is.
Bill Moore: Tim, they mentioned something like that on the DirecTV Red Zone coverage.
Doug, it's hard to say; I only saw it once. Allen was running down the quarterback. Cherilus was on the ground. He saw Allen coming, lifted himself up push-up style and flung his body toward the oncoming Allen. It looked to me like he hit Allen in the shin. It didn't look dirty, but Allen was clearly BS. The DirecTV announcer seemed to be surprised Cherilus wasn't thrown out. Considering Allen wasn't engaged with another offensive player, I didn't know why it was illegal.
Ben Riley: I just have to say, there is some irony in Jared Allen flipping out over being victimized by a questionable cut block. Ask Matt Schaub, I'm sure he'll agree with me.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, I get that. I get that Allen has done this, too. But at some point, it has to stop. Maybe if the NFL fined players more for dirty hits than they did for excessive celebration, that would help.
Bill Moore: But my point is, Cherilus could not physically hit Allen anywhere but below the knee based on his starting point. Unlike a chop block where the blocker chooses to cut the rusher as opposed to hitting him dead on, this is a case where Cherilus had only two choices -- hit low, or not hit at all.
Bill Barnwell: It was a legal play that was a cheap shot. Allen was acres away from the play.
Doug Farrar: I think that's the most accurate way to describe it.
It looked to me that Cherilus could have lunged at him with his hands, at least throwing him off his angle, as opposed to lowering his helmet at that time. Had Allen not been so far away from Culpepper, I could understand -- blockers make split-second decisions to protect their quarterbacks and it isn't always pretty. But that far away from the play? I'm having difficulty with the idea that he had no other option.
Tim Gerheim: I don't think you can make the argument that Allen was too far away from the play to merit Cherilus trying a last-ditch block attempt wherever it could be had. If Allen had made it around to make the play, Cherilus would have caught hell from the coaches when they reviewed the tape (assuming Detroit
coaches do their jobs the same way as NFL coaches do). It's like saying a backside defensive end (like Allen) shouldn't blow up a tight end or blocking back to chase down a run to the opposite side. Maybe Cherilus went at Allen's knee in an inappropriate way, but to say he shouldn't have tried to block him is like saying he shouldn't have tried to play.
Bill Barnwell: Allen was on the other side of the play. There's a huge difference in the backside when your halfback is a yard behind the line of scrimmage and inside the hash as opposed to Culpepper, who was six yards away and well outside the hash. They're totally different situations.
Vince Verhei: Minnesota came into this game in first place, looking to put away the league's worst team and strengthen their playoff position ... and (are we still allowed to say this about football players?) shoot themselves in the foot. Four offsides penalties in the first quarter, then Gus Frerotte threw a brain-lock interception before being injured. Fortunately, they were playing the Lions, so they were able to overcome all this even with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.
Late in the first half, Detroit had a pair of fourth-and-1s in field-goal range -- once at the 37, once at the 6 -- and went for it both times. From the 37, a Daunte Culpepper pass fell incomplete. From the 6, Culpepper ran a quarterback sneak right into Williams & Williams, Inc., and that also failed. I'm not going to throw Detroit under the bus for going for it twice, though the sneak is probably the last play I would call against Minnesota; why not try a fade to Calvin Johnson in the end zone? But I also wanted to point out that if Detroit converts one or both of those first downs, or kicks a pair of field goals, this game likely has a different outcome.
Late in this game, Jared Allen found himself being blocked one-on-one by Casey Fitzsimmons. Who is Casey Fitzsimmons? A career backup fullback who has started 11 games in six seasons in Detroit. The fact that this man could not penetrate the starting lineup for DETROIT in six years speaks volumes. And in a tight game, he was left alone to block a former sack champion. Unsurprisingly, the result was a strip sack. This is why the Lions are the Lions.
Bill Barnwell: Green Bay has moved Charles Woodson to safety this week since Atari Bigby is hurt, and Texas is abusing the Packers secondary with double-moves and deep stuff. The Packers were lucky enough to get a fumble recovery inside the 5 and Tramon Williams had a nice pick on a quick out, but the Texans are dominating what is a 7-7 game. Steve Slaton looks really impressive, converting a run and a quick hitch for first downs on third-and-11-plus.
Doug Farrar: Kinda surprised they're keeping Woodson at safety with those receivers, but no surprise that Slaton could blow up Green Bay's mega-bad run defense.
Tim Gerheim: For those of you who remember TMQ (and me for that matter), Steve Slaton had one of those "hidden plays" that Gregg Easterbrook occasionally exults. The Texans had the ball at the Green Bay 45 with 9 seconds left in the first half. They threw a flat pass to Slaton, who broke free and headed up the field in the direction of the sideline, but alertly ran out of bounds at the 20 with 1 second left because he most likely wasn't going to be able to score, so he preserved a chance for a field goal. Kris Brown pushed the kick wide right by about a foot, so it came to naught, but it was a really heads-up play by a rookie.
Vince Verhei: Green Bay had a bunch of mental breakdowns today. Two defenders ran into each other on Kevin Walter's long touchdown, they had a kickoff return for a score negated by a holding penalty, and Aaron Rodgers threw a dumb interception late in the first half to set up Steve Slaton's nifty step out of bounds.
Houston ran at least 1,000 naked bootlegs off of play action, the kind of play that usually leaves an end or linebacker with an unblocked route to the quarterback. I hate these plays, because it seems like nine times out of ten the pass rusher is not fooled by the run fake at all, but the Green Bay ends never had a clue, and Matt Schaub found himself standing all alone, with no blockers or pass rushers to impede his vision, over and over again.
It's small consolation to Green Bay, I'm sure, but Aaron Rodgers' pass on the last play of the third quarter -- a 63-yard bomb to Greg Jennings that zipped just over the fingers of both Jacques Reeves and Brandon Harrison -- may have been the best throw I've seen all year.
Mark Zajack: FO whipping boy Jason David guesses right on a Matt Ryan-to-Roddy White quick out to set up the Saints' first score. Not sure if the Saints freed him up to play more aggressively and get more safety help, but he didn't hesitate to jump that route. I see some Roddy White double-moves in his future.
Doug Farrar: 197 total yards. Have I mentioned that I love me some Pierre Thomas? I believe I have.
Vince Verhei: For perhaps the first time this year, the Atlanta passing game succeeded because of the receivers more than the play of Matt Ryan. On one play Ryan scrambled to his right, and Roddy White broke open 5 yards behind the defense. Ryan threw up an absolute duck, a lob pass that White had to come back to. By the time it came down, both Josh Bullucks and Roman Harper had a chance at the ball, but White pulled it down for a big gain. Later, Ryan threw a pass high and in front of Michael Jenkins, but Jenkins made a great leaping catch.
The White play was another example of Atlanta receivers now knowing to get open, not block, when the quarterback scrambles. Ryan is great at keeping his eyes downfield as he moves out of (or up in) the pocket.
Also wanted to congratulate Brian Finneran, who missed all of 2006 and 2007 after having his left knee turned inside out and put back together a couple of times. He scored a touchdown today, his first since November 6, 2005, against Miami.
Bill Barnwell: Eagles are playing an interesting scheme early on. The corners are giving a cushion, but it looks like they're pushing the safeties up and playing a lot of Cover-1 and Cover-0. Domenik Hixon is going to have to beat them deep.
Bill Moore: Bang. Antonio Pierce shots through the gap. He blasts Brian Westbrook, who was coming through like a bullet.
Bill Barnwell: OK, Mike. I know that you're fuming about the Eagles' offensive scheme apparently involving building a house for the Giants in the backfield and making DeSean Jackson the primary running back. But say something nice about Andy Reid calling a timeout with four seconds left so that David Akers could kick a 50-plus-yard field goal with the wind at his back.
Mike Tanier: Andy Reid successfully noticed a stinging 30-mph wind that sent my Christmas decorations three blocks down the street. I am shocked Akers can still make 50-yarders.
Bill Barnwell: And then Hixon beat the Eagles deep ... and dropped the pass.
Doug Farrar: You can't throw a deep ball any better than that. Wow.
Brandon Jacobs' 23-yard run at the start of the second quarter was another argument that the Giants' offensive line is the NFL MVP this year. He headed right behind perfect blocks from the line and his fullback, and he looked like he was walking through the Eagles' defense.
Mike Tanier: Pretty happy with the defensive play right now, especially if Hixon's drop somehow counts as "defense."
Aaron Schatz: Question: If it had been Antonio Pierce who shot himself, and Plaxico Burress who was just the guy hanging out with him, would the Giants have been as forward about suspending Pierce for the rest of the season -- and would Giants fans be as copacetic about the whole event?
Bill Moore: Sal Pal on ESPN this morning had a source inside the Giants' front office who said (and I forget the exact words) that they have had to put up with a lot with Plax, and most of it hasn't made itself into the public realm.
I believe there is quite a bit of protection built into Plax's latest contract, and the Giants might be protecting their financial interests by reacting fast. I think they would have let the situation play itself out more if it had been Pierce.
Giants fans have a bit of an invincible feeling lately (and rightly so), so if Pierce is out instead, they take that in stride too.
Bill Barnwell: It's a combination of things, and I don't think it'd be any different if, say, the Patriots had the same incident with Randy Moss playing the role of Burress and Tedy Bruschi playing the role of Pierce. Burress has been fined frequently by the Giants -- I've seen some places report more than 20 times. He suffers some from being a wide receiver, as those guys have the reputation for being flakes. He was also ably replaced by Hixon, which I think is the biggest thing. If the Giants offense was struggling without Burress, fans would want him on the roster.
Remember, after the Super Bowl, there wasn't a single Giants fan who wouldn't have wanted Reese to resign Burress. It was the Mike Lowell thing all over again.
Doug Farrar: I will say this: This is exactly the kind of weather game in which Burress has proven to be so valuable, with his physicality inside and Eli Manning's comfort with him. I haven't seen Manning on the wrong page with his primary receiver on this many plays since his rookie year.
(Down 10-0 late in the first half, the Giants block a field goal and return the ball for a touchdown.)
Bill Barnwell: There are no words.
Mike Tanier: Ahh, the joys of running up the middle from a power formation on first-and-10. Sometimes the simple solutions are the best. But boy, the Giants always answer with a good kick return after giving up a touchdown, don't they?
Bill Barnwell: The Giants are approximately 0-for-373 in the first half on third and fourth down. Wow.
Aaron Schatz: Doesn't Kenny Phillips block L.J. Smith in the back on the field goal block return? Is that not a penalty on a field goal block like it is on a punt return or kick return?
Bill Barnwell: Mike, are you alive? Done yelling? I'm legitimately concerned.
Mike Tanier: Tra la la la la la la. Being an Eagles fan is fun! Tra la la la la la la. Now we get 32-yard field-goal attempts blocked. Twice. In the same game.
Aaron Schatz: This third-string left guard for the Eagles is playing well today, no problems at all. Of course, part of that is the fact that the Eagles have actually been running some -- gasp! -- run-heavy, clock-eating drives instead of passing all the time.
Russell Levine: Having landed at Newark right around 3 p.m. this afternoon, I can certainly vouch that the wind was No Joke (in caps) today. It was white-knuckle the whole way, and people applauded the landing.
Bill Barnwell: OK, is this Eagles win going to be DVOA Game of the Year? They're up 20-7 with two minutes to go and they've shut out the league's best offense in their own stadium.
Aaron Schatz: Well, two things. First, I don't have home-field advantage figured right into DVOA yet, so the fact that this is in Giants Stadium is something to be considered subjectively and separately. Second, the final Giants drive when the Eagles were in prevent defense will make up a bit of the difference between the teams. I know, people say "it was a meaningless drive," but it did put the Giants in position to make an onside kick -- which could have given them the ball with a chance to win. Doesn't seem meaningless to me.
Bill Barnwell: Phil Simms: "Some stats in the NFL can lie. The 49ers don't have a lot of sacks, but when you watch them play, they hit the quarterback a lot, and I think that can be more dangerous because it can lead to turnovers."
A) Stats don't lie. People who use stats incorrectly lie.
B) Of course, Phil is pointing out that a stat is lying by quoting what would be another stat instead -- hits. He just doesn't have it tracked.
C) In Phil Simms' world, sacks don't lead to turnovers?
Doug Farrar: The best thing to do when Phil tries to sound intelligent is to pat him on the head and give him a cookie.
Aaron Schatz: Anyone catching any Jets-49ers? Are the matchups discussed in Numbers Crunching (Jets struggling against offenses in shotgun, 49ers defense playing well against empty backfields) coming into play at all?
Mike Tanier: The Jets are using their usual low-protein diet of short passes on offense. Scrappy-Doo is playing well and the Niners have been able to sustain a few long drives with a lot of passing.
I just watched a bad empty backfield play by the Jets, but I saw a 24-yard completion from an empty set earlier, so I am not sure.
Oooh, Brad Smith was just clocked by Patrick Willis on a 7-yard gain from an empty set and he looks all fouled up. The AFC could be a muddle after today.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, I think the AFC is pretty far from a muddle. Tennessee and Denver are going to win their divisions. Even if Pittsburgh had lost to Dallas today (I'm assuming they hold on to win here...), and even if Baltimore loses to Washington tonight, I think both those teams are in. Indianapolis is almost assuredly in. The only really open spot is for the AFC East, currently a three-way tiebreaker that the Jets win solely because they haven't played as many division games yet.
Mike Tanier: A three-way tiebreaker sounds like a muddle to me!
Aaron Schatz: Right, but just that division, not the whole conference. The NFC is a bigger mess because all the teams in the South and East have winning records.
Vince Verhei: Just to drive Doug crazy, here is an actual headline in last Friday's Seattle Times: "Seahawks' Deion Branch has been a questionable investment."
Doug Farrar: The only thing I have left to say about the Branch trade is that I hated it from the moment it happened. I was not in the group who thought it was a ballsy, proactive move. My first thought was, "Gosh -- I thought Al Davis was the only one who overpaid Super Bowl MVPs who haven't done much else?"
Aaron Schatz: It is strange hearing Dick Enberg and Randy Cross express so much shock as the Patriots' zone coverage schemes give up pass after pass. They seem shocked that New England isn't playing great defense. Guys, you've done like half of this team's games in 2008. Have you even been paying attention? The Patriots have given up tons of passing yardage all year long.
And hey, here's a shock, it turns out that the 75-year-old Junior Seau isn't fast enough to cover a rookie tight end.
Bill Moore: Notice no Deltha O'Neal today. Jonathan Wilhite in his place.
Aaron Schatz: I have no idea if you mean that this is positive for the Patriots, or negative.
Bill Moore: Not enough data on Wilhite to know if it was positive or negative, but it appears that O'Neal got benched after a week of getting ripped in the Boston press. O'Neal made an appearance late in the game. It may have come after Wilhite let up when Seneca Wallace was headed toward the sideline, then literally watched Wallace scamper down the sideline for another 10-plus yards.
Doug Farrar: Apparently, the Seahawks took their long post-Thanksgiving break to deal with a little thing called tackling. Their ability to contain, especially in the last month, has been absolutely abysmal, but they're wrapping up and making a few plays. That I'm actually taking time to note this tells you just what kind of season it's been around here.
And I'm glad Seneca Wallace is in there today. Matt Hasselbeck was playing hurt, and the offensive timing was gone.
Oh, and they appear to not be using their linebackers to cover downfield receivers one-on-one. That's probably a strategic improvement.
On Seattle's touchdown drive at the end of the third quarter, Branch looked, for the very first time in a long time, like the receiver who could actually live up to what the Seahawks paid for him. He took a short pass from Seneca Wallace at the right sideline and ran all the way to the left sideline, eluding about five defenders with the benefit of impressive blocking, for a 63-yard gain. Then, he brought in a one-handed catch from Wallace in the end zone. Pretty incredible.
I would like to think that plays like these are what we'll see in the future as opposed to a few big bangs being the cause of the team deciding to bring Branch back next year at a major cap cost, watching him through more of the same schematic and injury issues, and failing to build a total receiver corps because they're expecting X amount from this guy and he just can't deliver.
Note to the Seahawks: Marcus Trufant on Randy Moss, yes. Josh Wilson on Randy Moss, nooooooooo. Giving up a foot to the guy you're covering is never a good idea.
Aaron Schatz: It looks to me like Trufant is using a lot of hand contact on Moss when he's covering him. It seems like there have been four or five passes today just past Moss's reach, where it seems like Moss is moving towards the ball much slower than he should be. And then they fade to Moss in the end zone, and he covers Moss well enough to force a field goal.
Doug Farrar: The Pats have this little motion thing they like to do. At the snap on the long pass to Moss that set up the winning touchdown, Moss did a shake-and-bake, Trufant took Wes Welker short, and Wilson was left with Moss down the sideline. Great play by Welker to set up that confusion presnap, because he started out outside Moss and motioned inside, which took Trufant's press on Moss away.
Patrick Laverty: Now, that's just not right. Slightly more than two minutes to play, Seneca Wallace takes off out of the pocket, cuts to the sideline and slows down. Whole defense slows down too. Wallace cuts it back toward the field for another 5 yards and a first down. If the defense touches him when he slows down, it's 15 yards. That's probably the biggest thing that is wrong with the NFL right now, the overprotection of quarterbacks.
Ben Riley: We've talked a lot about the injuries to the Seahawks' wide receiving corps, but did anyone notice the starting offensive line today? Sean Locklear over at left takle, Mansfield Wrotto making his debut at right guard, and Steve Vallos starting his second game at center -- and making Chris Spencer look like a genius at making blitz adjustments. Unsurprisingly, the game ended when the Hawks failed to account for a Brandon Meriweather safety blitz. Meriweather, by the way, happens to be the guy the Patriots selected with the Branch trade pick. (Although to be fair, Branch had his best game as a Seahawk this year.)
There have been a lot of rumors swirling around this team -- no, Jim Mora isn't going to the University of Washington -- but the most intriguing one is that Hasselbeck might be cut. That seems extraordinarily dumb to me, particularly since he could be a great mentor to (Tim Tebow!) or whoever the Hawks end up acquiring. That said, Seneca Wallace continues to show just enough talent to be intriguing.
Ned Macey: I haven't watched a bunch of New England this year, but they did not look good even in winning today. So, just for mindless speculation, what do people think their record would be if Tom Brady had not been hurt? The Pats fans will be better on the game-by-game, but my sense is that due to the defensive issues, they'd be sort of the same quality as the Ravens or Steelers, just below the Titans. The defense would be protected if the offense was better, but it is just bad.
Aaron Schatz: That sounds about right. They would be as good as the Ravens or Steelers, but the strength would be on offense rather than defense. They've had two three-point losses and I think it is reasonable to believe that they would have likely won those two games with Brady leading one of the league's top two or three offenses. At 9-3, they would be floating around that second seed, but they still would have lost to the Dolphins (where the defense couldn't handle the Wildcat), the Chargers (where the defense couldn't handle anything), and the Steelers (where the offensive line couldn't handle the pass rush in the second half). It's pretty clear that the secondary has to be the focus of the offseason transactions and draft picks.
Bill Barnwell: One of the things that doesn't factor in is the fact that the Patriots are slowing the game down more and teams are seeing fewer drives against New England. Last year, the Patriots were giving up 1.42 points per drive, third-best in the league. This year, that's all the way up to 1.96, which is 19th. If Brady was around, the Patriots would be playing at a faster pace, have more drives against them, and allow more points.
Bill Moore: Out of their five losses, I think they beat the Colts and beat the Jets -- all else the same. They may or may not have beat the Dolphins. That game turned on a bunch of bad Matt Cassel plays before the Wildcat buried them. The defense still gets burned, but Brady most likely puts up many more points on the Dolphins' D. The Steelers game is impossible to say. That game was close up through half, and then...
The Steelers could have played Brady just as tough. Matthew Slater still fumbles. James Harrison still beats Matt Light on the edge and still likely records a strip sack.
So, they are 10-3, or maybe 11-2. That puts them amongst the top of the AFC.
The defense as been terrible (pass defense particularly), but they have been in most games anyway.
Aaron Schatz: I think Bill is right that they might not have let the Miami game get away from them so egregiously if Brady had been the quarterback. Cassel did play poorly, and there was generally a feeling that the Patriots were in a complete state of panic.
This is actually what the DVOA projection system expected from the Patriots this year. Their defensive projection was one of the worst in the league -- but their offensive projection was so high and their schedule so easy that it wasn't going to be a real problem. Take out Brady, put in Cassel, and make the Patriots a slightly above-average offense instead of a great one, and this is what you get... 8-5.
Vince Verhei: Ken Whisenhunt is like Sean Payton in that he sometimes can't resist getting cute for no reason. Today they put Antrel Rolle in at receiver and threw him the ball on a little bubble screen. Because they were the playing the Rams, Rolle was able to slip some tackles and pick up 9 yards. But there's no need to use a safety on the other side of the ball when your offense is already choked with playmakers.
They put up an amazing stat in this game: The Rams are last in the NFL in red zone drives AND last in red zone efficiency. So they almost never get close to the end zone, and on the rare occasions they do, they still screw it up.
Bill Barnwell: Presented without comment.
Aaron Schatz: Anyone have an idea what happened with the coverage when Pittsburgh completed that deep pass to Nate Washington that set up the Heath Miller touchdown? Wow, Washington was wide open.
Bill Barnwell: I assume Dallas was in a Cover-4 and Pittsburgh did a great job of pickup.
Doug Farrar: Well, that's moot. Romo throws a pick to DeShea Townsend directly over Jason Witten's head. Mike Tomlin swings his headset like Roger Daltrey used to swing his microphone (because a Towns(h)end made the play, perhaps?), and there's your ballgame.
Bill Barnwell: This game basically came down to the pass rush. When the Pittsburgh pass rush was getting to Tony Romo, he was struggling to create on the fly. When the Dallas pass rush got to Ben Roethlisberger, he was basically useless.
It still amazes me that James Harrison was an unrestricted free agent who bounced around two practice squads and was a Clark Haggans injury away from being out of football. I think a lot of people don't realize how tenuous players' paths to stardom are, and how the distinct possibility exists that there are stars buried deep in depth charts -- or worse, out of football.
Aaron Schatz: Have you ever read the Bill James essay "Revolution" from Baseball Abstract 1988? A lot of it is about this particular issue. The fact is, talent evaluation is going to be imperfect. Some good players will be missed. Others will not become good players until they develop later in life, after the age of 22 or 23 when they would be drafted by the NFL. Because the NFL has no minor leagues, there's nowhere for players like this to play until they get noticed or develop into major-league quality talent. (There's Arena and CFL, but those are games played by different rules which tend to favor certain types of talents.) James' essay was about how baseball owners couldn't have scabs like the football owners had in 1987 because the gap between major league talent and unsigned talent was so much larger in baseball than in football -- because while baseball players can toil away at AAA for years, hoping to fulfill their dreams, the equivalent football talent is out there finding other jobs because there's nowhere to play.
Bill Barnwell: The essay that espouses that there should be something closer to 200 major league baseball teams? Yeah, I've read that. I think that's pretty reasonable. Certainly, most European football/soccer leagues have three or four 18-team divisions, so I'm willing to bet that football can support the same deal. The value found in guys like Harrison, Romo, etc., shows how much work there is to be done in college talent analysis and acquisition. Those guys are worth $10 million to $15 million above a replacement level player a year, and teams are essentially backing into them.
Vince Verhei: After Ike Taylor made a leaping interception in the second quarter, he waved his hand in front of his face, a la pro wrestler John Cena's "you can't see me" gesture. In this case, I'm not sure whether Taylor was celebrating or explaining what happened on the play, because I think it's true that Tony Romo couldn't see him.
Aaron Schatz: Did Trevor Pryce say he went to Multiple Choice University?
Games like this make you ask why teams seem to change in quality so much from season to season. The Ravens ran the same scheme last year, with basically the same guys, so why weren't they this dominant on defense?
Will Carroll: Ray Lewis wasn't healthy last year, right?
Bill Barnwell: I would say injuries, but the Ravens have actually been the most-injured team in football this year.
Last year, the Ravens had the worst average starting field position of any team in football. This year, they're sixth-best. That goes a long way.
Aaron Schatz: Well, DVOA is supposed to filter that out ... which I suppose leads to the question: Does the starting field position of your drives change the definition of "average defense" in a way that's different from simply what yard line each individual play is taking place on?
Bill Barnwell: I don't know if I can answer your question, but the Baltimore defense has gone from -25.8% to -6.1% to -28.4%. That's not an impossible level of variance for the same defense with some specific personnel/injury issues over a three-year period.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, sure. There is no question it could just be statistical noise.
Mark Zajack: Is McGahee's "one-way mirror tinted face shield" on backwards tonight? He dropped and kicked a screen pass, dropped and kicked a pitch, and is running to darkness on every handoff. Unless the Ravens need a drop-kick to win, I think it might be time for more Ray Rice.
As for comparing the Ravens D, to last year. I think it is the corners. Last year they were without Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle for about half of their games. Corey Ivy started 13 games last year. This year he has started one. Ivy was alright as a nickel guy (I guess), but I don't think Rex Ryan wants him starting.
They also signed Fabian Washington in the off-season to help. He seems to be doing a decent job in McAlister's place tonight.
Aaron Schatz: Ah yes. Um ... duh. The corners are not the same.
I say we give Colbert to John Harbaugh for that rollout play-action pass to Todd Heap on fourth-and-1. Good stuff.
Doug Farrar: Was that the play where they went against their unbalanced line? That was sweet.
DeAngelo Hall, Innocent Bystander. He's like Mike Brown or Ed Reed, sans coverage skills.
Bill Barnwell: Jim Zorn takes the Colbert back for going for it on fourth-and-goal. This thing isn't over yet...
OK. So considering that the upside to that challenge was Jim Zorn gaining 5 yards, do you think he just didn't know that unsuccessful challenge plus successful challenge does not yield a third challenge?
Mark Zajack: I was wondering the same thing. Only excuse I could think of (if he did know) was that if Baltimore gets into field goal range it's game over ... so 5 yards at midfield is valuable? But that's a real stretch, since it was a Ravens first down no matter what.
Either way, beautiful 8-minute drive by the Ravens. Lo Neal, Biggie Smalls McClain, and a few plays with an extra tackle ... did they set a record for heaviest offensive set? They need to sign Jared Lorenzen for those kind of drives.
135 comments, Last at 10 Dec 2008, 4:58am by John