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?
21 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: Pocket Hercules is the man. God, I love this guy. Runs with great power and I swear, he de-materialized to get past a Colts defender early in the second quarter. He was there, and *Poof!* then he wasn't.
Note to Walt Anderson's crew: You know when the NFL came out with the memo in 2006 that you had to SEE the hold instead of just assuming it had to BE a hold because a defender went to the ground? We're all still waiting for the hold you called on Khalif Barnes when he was blocking Dwight Freeney halfway through the second quarter. The Jacksonville Jaguars would like their drive back.
Not sure what the Jags are doing at the end of the first half after Adam Vinatieri's 30-yard miss, going pass-happy when a draw to Jones-Drew is like a gift certificate for a 10-yard gain, and David Garrard came very close to throwing a pick-six to Tim Jennings that would have tied the game.
And what on earth has gotten into Dennis Northcutt? He ate the Packers alive last week and he's doing the same to the Colts.
Ben Riley: This has nothing to do with tonight's game, but I'm sitting here watching Inside the NFL (by the way, it's infinitely better with J.B., Phil Simms, Warren Sapp and Cris Collinsworth hosting) and they have footage of Bill Belichick cracking jokes with Jerod Mayo about owning three trucks, and giving Matt Cassel a game ball due to the death of his father. Here's my question, and I know I ask this at some risk of inflaming certain folks in management here: Why can't this Bill Belichick show up during press conferences? By all accounts, in private he's a semi-gregarious guy, and certainly it's on display during this segment on Showtime, so what exactly is his problem when he has a microphone in front of him?
Will Carroll: How many questions did you see asked while he was being gregarious?
Elias Holman: Both Education of a Coach and Patriot Reign imply that he believes that any information he might impart via press conference might offer a tactical advantage to a future opponent, and therefore he makes every attempt to avoid answering questions in any meaningful way. There is also the undercurrent that the press is actually evil for trying to get him to reveal this information since they presumably want the home team to win, and therefore he has the right to be standoffish, if not outright hostile.
While I have no sources for this, I personally always wondered if he has just been around football so long that it seems weird that people show up and ask him questions about it, so he's just plain bad at it. Like if suddenly the press started showing up at my office everyday and asking me a bunch of random questions about how my day went -- "How was the coding today? Did you expect the database to crash like it did? How come you didn't return that last phone call?" -- I'd be like, listen idiots, no one cares, and you won't understand my answer anyway so why don't you go bother someone else?
Ben Riley: Also, during this same episode of Inside the NFL, there's a very interesting feature about the "Zeus" computer simulation that two physicists have been pushing to NFL teams. After an informative five-minute segment explaining the benefits (and limits) of Zeus, Cris Collinsworth states that he would absolutely purchase the program to at least know the predicted percentage of certain play calls.
In contrast, Phil Simms -- channeling his inner Joe Morgan -- announces that "he hates it" and that no computer program would ever show the same cojones as Bill Parcells did during some game in 1984 when Simms threw two passes in a row. (This came after Simms announced earlier during the show that the much-disputed touchdown in the Steelers-Ravens game must have been correct because the evidence Walt Coleman saw "must have been indisputable to him.") In a related story, we'll be adding a new feature to Scramble for the Ball called "Stupid S**t Phil Simms Said This Week."
Doug Farrar: From a word count perspective, that's probably a separate article. Or maybe if Herm gets canned, we can have "The Week in Phil."
Aaron Schatz: First of all, thanks to the folks who came to Chickie and Pete's in Philadelphia on Thursday. We had to share the back room with what may have been a group of mafiosos, we're not sure, but once we got the Colts-Jaguars game on a TV that was not blocked by mafioso heads, all was well. We even had a couple folks come up from D.C. to hang at the beer feed and, you know, feed on beer (and crab fries, which apparently do not contain crab).
When the Jaguars play the Colts next year, they need to take the "drop Derrick Harvey and force him to try to cover Dallas Clark" play out of the playbook.
I think the Colts' struggles to run this year may be an underreported story when we all go through the "watch out for the Colts, they're dangerous" bits during Wild Card week. In a related note, I'm so, so sick of slow developing sweeps on third-and-1. I don't care which team is running them, I'm just sick of them.
When the fourth quarter came along, the way that game was going, you just knew the Jags were going to melt down, but the end of the game was worse than I ever expected. That game ended like bad sex. All that buildup, and it was going so well, and then suddenly it was over and I was stuck staring at the television muttering, "Is that really it? That can't really be it, right?"
Will Carroll: On the Colts and the stretch on third, they simply can't run up the middle. Jeff Saturday can't get a push and the rest of the line is pathetic. Maybe Tony Ugoh is useful, but I can't tell. If all seven picks next year aren't used on linemen (either side is fine, Bill) then I'm taking hostages.
Doug Farrar: Well, they did take three centers in the 2008 draft...
Aaron Schatz: It seems slightly wrong to have the national anthem at the last ever game at Texas Stadium performed by a trumpet and not some Texas-affiliated country music star. What was Willie Nelson up to tonight?
Doug Farrar: DeMarcus Ware is just playing out of his mind lately. He's so fast off the line, people aren't even blocking him. This happened on his first sack against New York last week. It isn't even a matter of blocking him; it's whether you can get your feet set before he destroys your quarterback.
Aaron Schatz: How tight is the Baltimore coverage on the midrange routes tonight? Man, it seems like Tony Romo hasn't even tried to throw a route of 10 or 12 yards. And those deep balls that Ed Reed picked off were just chucked up there, like a junior high school game.
Bill Barnwell: I'm on a plane right now. What are the Ravens doing to cause Romo such trouble while apparently letting Tashard Choice run free?
Aaron Schatz: The Ravens are getting a great pass rush, but they are getting knocked back a little bit on the runs, and they overpursue sometimes, which leads to some nice cutbacks for Choice.
Doug Farrar: The Cowboys are also having success with the same draws and delays that worked against the Steelers. This works well with Choice because he has a good combination of patience before he hits the hole, and burst when he does.
Aaron Schatz: Midway through the third quarter, Le'Ron McClain fumbles the ball, it is in Ken Hamlin's hands, and it slips out ... and into Derrick Mason's hands. Man, that's one for the all-time "fumble luck" film reel.
Doug Farrar: Another Ware-caused fumble. Is anyone better at going for the ball?
SWEET fake field goal by the Ravens for a first down late in the third quarter, going against the left-stacked line. They really have to foil the Dallas defense now, though.
We give the Colbert award for play-calling "balls," but man, we need to give Derrick Mason something for the real thing. The way he's playing with that shoulder injury is amazing.
Bill Barnwell: Willis McGahee is in ur stadium suckin out ur air
Ben Riley: Ah, I forgot what it was like to see Ken Hamlin miss on an open field tackle in the secondary.
Doug Farrar: It's like Brian Russell, but faster.
Aaron Schatz: Freedom of Choice ... is what you want!
Freedom of McGahee ... is what you got!
Vince Verhei: I formally request a play diagram of McGahee's long touchdown run.
Baltimore came out with an unbalanced line, with Jason Brown at center, guard Chris Chester playing next to him at right tackle, and Todd Heap at tight end to that side. For the Cowboys, Marcus Spears lines up over Brown, Anthony Spencer lines up over Heap, and Zach Thomas lines up off the line between them. McGahee takes the ball and starts left, towards the strength of the line, but cuts back right when Brown and Chester double-team Spears into oblivion. Heap handles Spencer, leaving the cutback lane open. As McGahee hits the hole, Chester peels off the double-team and takes care of Thomas. At that point it's merely a good run, a 7-yarder or so, but both safeties take bad angles to the ball and McGahee has enough zip to get by them.
I've been watching this game off-and-on while charting the Seahawks-Rams game from last weekend. Three guesses which is more fun.
Aaron Schatz: And then, a few minutes later, they let Le'Ron McClain score an 82-yard touchdown with what looks like the same play.
Vince Verhei: McClain's long run was the result of a missed tackle by every Dallas defender ever, including Bob Lilly, Chuck Howley, and Charles Haley.
Mike Tanier: After a bleary look at the highlights, the McClain and McGahee runs were not the same play. McGahee's touchdown was from a single-setback formation. It was a zone-stretch play with two double-teams on the line; one of the doubling linemen peeled off to take on the linebacker to spring McGahee. McClain ran from an I-formation and there was an O-lineman trapping on the backside of the play.
Will Carroll: This has been the most insane end-of-game I've seen, maybe ever. TWICE?
Bill Barnwell: I cannot wait to get home and see this. Does Wade Phillips even make it to Week 17?
Will Carroll: Has a coaching star ever fallen faster than Jason Garrett?
Bill Barnwell: I still think Garrett gets the job. Offense isn't really the problem there.
Doug Farrar: Coming into this game, Dallas was first in Defensive Rushing DVOA in the second half of the season. Something tells me that's going to take a hit. For all the talk about the skill position guys and all the flash that offense was supposed to bring to bear, the Cowboys are in a position where they're going to stand or fall on the merits of their third-string running back, and their defense. Wade will get fired, and people will remember how that defense improved when he started getting more involved, and he'll have his choice of jobs as a defensive coordinator again. Probably be a relief for him at this point.
Bill Barnwell: I think a really interesting issue is going to be what the Cowboys do with Choice this season. His value's probably at his peak, and he's simply not going to have enough chances to get the ball behind Marion Barber and Felix Jones at halfback and with the dozens of receiving targets they have. There are lots of teams that would want a back for their rotation next year; a quick survey would include Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville, San Diego, Chicago, Detroit (where he'd start), or Seattle (where he'd also probably start). Would one of those teams give up a 2 for him?
By the way, Choice had a 106.7 Speed Score, an excellent number for a fourth-rounder.
Doug Farrar: Tim Ruskell would probably give up a 2 for a guy who was a fourth-round pick. Hell, he wasted a first on Deion Branch and a fifth on Keary Colbert. Honestly, I think Dallas will keep Choice. Just makes sense when his only chance at doing what he did came through injuries to Barber and Felix Jones.
Aaron Schatz: I think it would be a good idea to try to get a second or a third for Choice, then just use a 2009 fourth-rounder to take another third-string running back.
Benjy Rose: Nothing to add on the game itself, but I want to say how much I enjoyed Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders as commentators. I found them insightful, informative, and entertaining in a way that most ex-players aren't.
Aaron Schatz: Eh, Faulk I could take or leave. He seemed pretty ordinary. "Tashard Choice isn't just a running back, he's what we call a football player." But Sanders is awesome. I would love to hear him in a three-man booth with Jaws or Collinsworth.
Will Carroll: I think Sanders' announcing career depends on who's running the NFL Network. Sanders says some things that we and hardcore fans would enjoy. There was a great comment about playing a guy inside and only losing him if he did a certain route. He also did a great job with the pass interference that saved a touchdown from Todd Heap after a wicked move. The problem is that most people have no idea what he's saying and to play on Sunday, he'd have to (I can't believe I'm saying this about Deion) dumb it down. He also quoted Notorious B.I.G. tonight, so maybe he can quote Lupe Fiasco next.
Bill Barnwell: I think whichever people (looking at you, NFL Live crew) were lambasting Tyler Thigpen -- a quarterback -- for his lack of effort on an interception return coming at him against the Raiders a few weeks ago need to go after Terence Newman for that job he did on the McClain touchdown.
Mark Schlereth is throwing Romo under the bus on SportsCenter because he apparently gets worn down by too many distractions in December. Jesus.
Vince Verhei: Sterling Sharpe threw Terrell Owens under the bus at halftime for not fighting for the ball on either of Romo's interceptions. Advantage: Sharpe.
Ben Riley: Anyone watching this game? Cedric Benson with 115 yards in the first half? Romeo Crennel still the head coach? Any updates from Ohio appreciated.
Doug Farrar: I'm not watching that. I did a DVOA Matchup article for Scout.com's Browns site in which I wanted to come up with ten things each that didn't suck about the Browns and Bengals. It took about two hours, and I had to stop at six. And the Browns haven't scored an offensive touchdown since 1973. My guess, however, is that the Bengals are doing what every Browns opponent does: double- or triple-team Shaun Rogers, and run anywhere else, because there will be lanes everywhere.
Vince Verhei: I didn't watch a ton of this game -- I mean, why would I? -- but turned to look at it every once in a while when I realized what ridiculous numbers Cedric Benson was getting. From what I saw, the most amazing thing is that he should have had even more yards. It seemed like he got Reggie Bush disease, trying to bounce to the outside when there was perfectly fine yardage to be had between the tackles.
All I know about Rogers is that he had two offsides penalties in the first quarter, apparently trying really hard to win the game by himself.
Unbelievable stat I saw during this game: Cleveland leads the NFL in takeaways. WHAT?! And it's not just fumble luck; they have 22 picks, tied with Baltimore for first in the league. How can this be?
Ben Riley: Partly it can be because of D'Qwell Jackson, the best linebacker in the NFL who no one ever talks about. He's directly responsible for three of those interceptions, and I'd be willing to bet that his excellent pass coverage indirectly led to a few others.
Ben Riley: I flipped over to this game briefly and just saw Keenan Burton score his first NFL touchdown. Congratulations, Keenan. Meanwhile, Jay Glazer is reporting that the Rams will soon fire team President/G.M. Jay Zygmunt, which is the right move, albeit one that comes about four years too late. And that fulfills my contractual obligation to say something about this riveting NFC West battle.
Wait, one more thing -- just saw the "Get to Know Richie Incognito" segment, where he reveals that A) his name rhymes with mosquito, and B) he likes country music now because "chicks like country, and I like chicks." Do chicks like false starts too, Richie?
Doug Farrar: He should ask Alex Barron, who would know.
Bill Barnwell: Reggie Bush placed on injured reserve with 1 DYAR. Enjoy the Pro Bowl, Mike.
Mike Tanier: I hope to turn that Pro Bowl chat into some kind of end-of-year extravaganza. And I don't plan to be sober when I do it.
Vince Verhei: I've been saying for a while now that Detroit should just lob the ball to Calvin Johnson on every play. For a while there, it almost looked like that was what they were trying to do. First quarter, down 7-0, first down at the New Orleans 43. They lob the ball deep down the right sideline. Johnson is open for a touchdown, but the ball is slightly underthrown and Randall Gay is able to get a finger on it. Second down, an incomplete deep pass to Adam Jennings on a play I missed. Third down, Johnson gets behind Usama Young and Dan Orlovsky hits him a for a 43-yard touchdown -- but the play is called back on a Gosder Cherilus illegal procedure penalty. On third-and-15, Orlovsky goes deep, but it's not to Johnson -- it's to somebody named John Standeford, who is triple-covered, and the ball is intercepted by Jason David. Game over, 9:45 remaining in the first quarter.
Doug Farrar: Nice ESPN piece on Dick LeBeau and his annual reading of 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, but when did Kevin Greene turn into Danny Bonaduce?
Ben Riley: Midway through the first quarter, the Titans have sent James Harrison to the sideline with what may be a separated shoulder, and the defense just pasted Big Ben at the goal line, forcing a fumble and leaving him very woozy. Even without Albert Haynesworth, I can't believe the Titans are the alleged underdogs in this game.
And just to follow that last comment up, Harrison has gone into the locker room, and Byron Leftwich is attaching the chin strap as we go to commercial. Random grammar question: Is a team an "underdog," or made up of "underdogs?" And should I maybe slow down on the Bloody Marys this morning?
Is Cortland Finnegan the new De'Angelo Hall, only much better in coverage? He just had yet another facemask penalty, after racking up 32 personal fouls in last week's game. To quote Lloyd Dobler: Dude, you must chill. YOU MUST CHILL.
Nick Harper must be the only man in America who despises Ben Roethlisberger more than me. On third-and-8, Roethlisberger scrambles to his left and jukes Harper just before diving for the first down. Next play, Ben hits Santonio Holmes streaking past Harper for a 35-yard touchdown. And we all remember what happened in that playoff game in 2005, when Roethlisberger saved the Steelers' season by tackling Harper after the Jerome Bettis fumble, and the Steelers went on to ... sorry, I need to go clean the vomit off my keyboard now.
Doug Farrar: How is Tennessee's interior line doing without Haynesworth? They have some pretty decent subs in there.
Ben Riley: Not bad, all things considered. Jason Jones is doing a nice job shedding his blockers. The Titans haven't been blitzing very much, but they are still getting decent pressure due to Roethlisberger's tendency to hold onto the ball a second more than he should. The Steelers running game hasn't produced anything.
Roughly 642 times this year, I've proclaimed my "down low" love for Chris Johnson. But Chris, for the love of all things unholy, do not start high-stepping on the 5-yard line while waving the ball around with one hand as Troy Polamalu is closing in you. By the way, Johnson scored on a pitch on fourth-and-inches -- very dangerous play call by Fisher, even though it did result in six points.
Eschewing the tired, overplayed "Welcome to the Jungle" for their post-touchdown kickoff music, the Titans go instead with Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People." Did not see that one coming.
By the way, KCW this week is going to "Someone on the Steelers defense" for getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on fourth down at the 2-yard line with the Titans lining up for a field goal -- don't know who it was because the ref's mic has gone out. That's a four-point swing and all sorts of momentum killed.
Jason Jones just forced his second fumble of the day. Is "Titans DT" sort of like "Broncos RB" -- just plug any rookie in and watch magic happen?
Doug Farrar: I think "Steelers OL" is generally a pretty good balm for what ails you.
Mike Tanier: Most of the rush I saw the Titans get was from the outside. They ran a lot of twists, getting their tackles to the outside. They were typical sacks against Roethlisberger: There was time to get pressure from the edge because he waited forever to throw a few times.
Ben Riley: Jason Jones with his THIRD forced fumble and third sack in the game. Who are these guys?
Hey, remember that new Scramble feature, "Stupid Stuff Phil Simms Says?" Here's Phil calling Big Ben's late game pick-six that ended the Steelers hopes of mounting a comeback -- "Just an impossible throw" (in reality, Hines Ward was open and Roethlisberger just skied it over his head), followed by "great effort trying to make the tackle" (as Michael Griffin stiff-armed him and then ran back 83 yards for the touchdown).
Ben Riley: All tied at 31 with four minutes to play in the third quarter, and I have no idea how or why or what's going on. This will be fun to watch on Shortcuts later.
Vince Verhei: During this game, I decided that I believed in Tyler Thigpen. He seems accurate enough. He's a terrific runner, and it's more than just his scrambling; the Chiefs ran a shotgun-option play early in the third, with Thigpen giving the ball to Larry Johnson, then faking a run to the right. Joey Porter followed Thigpen, allowing Johnson to run by him for a 33-yard gain. But more than that, Thigpen was making good decisions. When they caught the Dolphins offsides, with a free play, he threw deep. When he scrambled near the end of the first half, he was sure to get out of bounds to stop the clock.
And then it fell apart. He had Devard Darling open on a corner route for what looked like a touchdown late in the third quarter, but threw the ball short and wide and it was intercepted by Nate Jones. Then he started forcing passes to covered receivers. And then on fourth-and-1 in Miami territory, needing a touchdown to tie, Thigpen faked a handoff and ran a bootleg (which was a stupid call by Herm, but anyway) -- and then he slipped and (appropriately) fell down to earth. He would add two incompletes, a sack, and an interception within his own 10 on the Chiefs' last desperate possession. By the end of the game, I was envisioning Matt Stafford in a Kansas City uniform.
Doug Farrar: Too early to tell, I'd say. He was a 1-AA star who didn't even get a Combine invitation. I think he has earned a shot, but so much depends on who's in charge there next year. Thigpen and Chan Gailey have built something interesting there offensively, though there are the traditional option limitations. The Pistol seems like a good hybrid addition to NFL spread-style formations.
Vince Verhei: I didn't see much if any Pistol from the Chiefs today. They stuck mainly with basic shotgun sets.
Aaron Schatz: The Pats came out with backup guard Russ Hochstein playing fullback, and they're stuffing the ball down Arizona's throat. Fourteen plays in two drives, 10 of them runs, and one of the passes was a 42-yard screen to Sammy Morris. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have 11 yards by Tim Hightower on five carries, and only one Kurt Warner pass, incomplete. 14-0, Pats.
I understand that it is snowing out here, but the Cardinals aren't even trying to pass the ball ... and this is a team with no running game whatsoever. This is not working. Better the Cardinals lose playing their game than lose trying to play the "tough East Coast snow team" type of game.
Sean McCormick: Seriously. During halftime, someone might want to send Ken Whisenhunt some tape of the Buffalo Bills circa 1990.
Ben Riley: To give you some idea of what kind of pass rush the Cardinals are generating, the Patriots just ran play-action, THEN a pump fake by Cassel, followed by a beautiful 40-yard pass that went off of Moss's fingertips. The entire first quarter of this game has been played on Arizona's side of the field. Ladies and Gentlemen, the pride of the NFC West!
Doug Farrar: They started the second quarter with a draw on third-and-15, backed up to their own end zone. Might as well put in your backups now, guys.
The last weather disadvantage I saw like this was Seattle's playoff loss in Green Bay last season, when the Seahawks were pushed around all day. It informed their entire offseason strategy -- they brought in T.J. Duckett and drafted Owen Schmitt to accentuate a power running game that didn't exist, and drafted Lawrence Jackson and Red Bryant to beef up a defensive line that Ryan Grant gashed for 5,000 yards. Games like this can define your draft board. They're gonna get killed here. That's obvious. Question is, what do they do from here?
One thing about their offense: Given his size and toughness, I think they're missing the one guy in Anquan Boldin who could star in conditions like this.
Ben Riley: I was about to say the same thing, Doug. People don't realize just how valuable Boldin is to this team, in terms of making tough catches over the middle, blocking downfield, and -- to channel my inner Tom Jackson -- bringing a certain "mental toughness" to the Cardinals. But this is the problem with relying on Kurt Warner to lead your team: Disrupt the rhythm (whether through blitzing or blizzard) and watch the offense collapse.
Doug Farrar: Interesting adjustments for the Cards in the second quarter. They're faking the draw and going with quick outs to guys like Jerheme Urban and Early Doucet, players with size and after-catch ability. Makes more sense than the slow-developing plays they tried in the first quarter against a defense that's as quick on a field like this as any in the NFL. Then, Hightower tried to hit the edge and fumbled short of the first down. The interesting portion of this game has officially ended.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots go for it on fourth-and-11 from the Arizona 30, and Matt Cassel manages to scramble for a first down. FOX goes to commercial playing "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies," which I think accurately describes how the Arizona Cardinals are playing today.
Doug Farrar: Oh, that's outstanding. The Gillette crew cleans up the field at halftime, and the Cards still suck. First play from scrimmage in the second half is a little screen to Moss one yard behind the line of scrimmage from the New England 24. Moss runs 77 yards for a touchdown. Untouched. Completely. And we have entered a Bizarro World in which Ellis Hobbs can cover Larry Fitzgerald one-on-one.
Aaron Schatz: I'm starting to wonder if this game is going to cost Kurt Warner the MVP award. The guy can't connect with anybody, and you can't fully blame the weather considering that Matt Cassel is currently 14-of-24 with 268 passing yards and three touchdowns.
I'm still wondering ... would I be happier with Sunday Ticket and the Steelers-Titans game, or angrier because the snow and wind would mess up the dish?
Doug Farrar: I think a defensive player should win it this year anyway, but it certainly won't help his candidacy.
Ben Riley: I think Warner's MVP candidacy was already going in the same direction as that other guy from Arizona -- namely, down and hard. I think Adrian Peterson has the inside track at this point, with Peyton Manning annoyingly in the mix as well.
As someone who has had Sunday Ticket for some seven-odd years now, let me tell you Aaron, watching herky-jerky, pixellated football is worse -- but only slightly -- than watching an NFC West team get blown out in the snow.
Who would you give the MVP to, Doug? Harrison? Reed? Haynesworth? Ware? Tuck?
Doug Farrar: My thought process is that most of the real individual value players are on defense this year. Drew Brees would be my choice on offense, and that ain't gonna happen. Peyton's starting to grow on me, though.
You could go one of two ways, really -- best guy on the best defense, which is how Alan Page won it in 1971. In that case, Polamalu's my man. Or, you can go with the biggest difference in his absence, in which case it's probably Albert Haynesworth or Shaun Rogers. Rogers is kinda my underdog candidate -- yes, the Browns have a bad defense, but he's doing things that you shouldn't be able to do with no help whatsoever.
I'd choose Polamalu, for the sheer "What The F**k?" factor. I've watched a lot of Steelers games this year, and in every game, he makes one or two plays that I have to rewind, just to make sure I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing.
Ben Riley: Yeah, Polamalu is defensible, although I (and Tony Dungy) would argue that he can only fly around like a madman because Harrison is busy making the quarterback run for his life.
Doug Farrar: One more addition to the MVP thought: Aaron, was it you that suggested that the Giants' entire offensive line get the award? The Dallas game aside, I think it's one hell of an idea.
Aaron Schatz: It was actually Mike Reiss who suggested it in the Boston Globe a couple weeks ago, if I remember correctly.
Ben Riley: Aaron, are you still watching the Patriots game? Do you think they will score more than 60 points today? That's not a rhetorical question.
Aaron Schatz: No, when it hit 44-0, I decided this would be a good time to go outside and shovel three days worth of snow. The good news is that we got an answer to my question about whether I should have Sunday Ticket so I could have switched to the Steelers-Titans game when this one got out of hand, or whether the snowstorm would have screwed up the dish.
My neighbor is outside and he doesn't have Sunday Ticket, but he does have DirectTV ... but not today. Storm knocked out his dish. Cable wins!
Mike Tanier: I know what gave you the snow shoveling idea: The shot of the snow shovel the TV crew flipped to about 30 times late in the game. It was like the yule log of football. If they put a picture of Brett Favre on the shovel, it would have been the perfect picture.
I'm glad that Pats game finally ended. I was looking around the bar at meaningful games, and they were all midway through the fourth quarter. The Pats and Cards still had a minute left in the third, and both teams were still throwing the ball. Guys, the game is over. Hand off and let the frostbitten fans go home.
Doug Farrar: What the hell is going on with Tampa Bay's defense the last three weeks? Is it as simple as Monte Kiffin's announcement, or is something else going on here? Russell?
Russell Levine: The ratio of the ugliness of Phillip Rivers's passes to their effectiveness should be its own stat. The guy throws wobblers, ducks, and balls that come down with a parachute. But they come down in the arms of his receivers. San Diego had a great game plan to exploit the midrange out patterns in front of Phillip Buchanon, who got abused all day. Rivers also twice found Antonio Gates for late opening touchdowns after the protection broke down.
I think I have a similar Jon Gruden and I have similar opinions of Jeff Garcia. He's maddening, but somehow effective. He might also be the toughest human being on the planet. The guy took his standard half-dozen kill shots today, many of which he ran himself into. The last one was delivered by Quentin Jammer when Garcia dove forward (as he always does) at the end of a scramble. Jammer arrived simultaneous to Garcia hitting the ground and delivered a devastating blow to his head that left Garcia dazed and with an ugly cut on the bridge of his nose. Jammer will probably get fined, but he shouldn't. Garcia refuses to slide so he should be fair game.
The Bucs were badly hurt by Darren Sproles on kicks and punts today, constantly setting up the Chargers in good field position, which is the last thing the Bucs' fading defense needed.
This felt very much like an end-of-an-era type game for Tampa Bay. You have Monte Kiffin on his way out the door, with his aging defense (at least the biggest names, anyway) limping to the season's finish. The Bucs lost their third straight and would now have to be considered a long shot to make the playoffs. They have some decent young talent, particularly on the offensive line, so it's not like the roster needs to be blown up, but you have to wonder if the whole Gruden era hasn't maybe run its course. I know the fan base is lukewarm about him at best, and missing the playoffs with a bad collapse could mean it's time to make a change.
Vince Verhei: Stunning stat in this game: LaDainian Tomlinson, who for whatever reason is having a LOUSY year, has a higher percentage of his team's carries then anyone else in the league. Who do we blame that on? Norv, for not using Darren Sproles more often? Or the front office for not acquiring a backup runner after Michael Turner left town?
Aaron Schatz: I don't think it is quite as ridiculous as it sounds. L.T. himself was only seventh in the league in carries through last week. Through Week 15, the Chargers only had 353 carries, which was 23rd in the NFL. Not counting quarterback kneels, they only had 20 carries by non-running backs, which was 24th in the NFL.
Vince Verhei: Andre Johnson was targeted 153 times in his first 14 games. Against Oakland, he was not targeted until the fourth quarter. He finished with two catches: one against Thomas Howard, one against Hiram Eugene. I kneel down before the greatness that is in Nnamdi Asomugha.
Doug Farrar: Yep. Had Asomugha not suffered a neck injury/concussion/whatever in the fourth quarter, the shutout might have been complete. The NFL really needs to come up with some sort of life raft for him and Calvin Johnson.
Vince Verhei: It was the day of stupid decisions to go for it on fourth down (see the Vikings and Jets). Texans had a fourth-and-1 at the Raiders' 5 midway through the fourth, down 9. They needed a field goal at some point anyway, and even if they had converted the fourth down, a touchdown was not guaranteed. But not only did Houston go for it, they passed it, an incompletion to Kevin Walter. They never got inside the Oakland 40 again.
Aaron Schatz: Well, you Seahawks fans may be frustrated with your team, but right about now I love the Seattle Seahawks. Love 'em! Thanks for giving the Patriots hope, guys. Where the hell has this pass rush been all year?
I've only been watching this game since halftime, but they've had Brett Favre running for his life for pretty much the entire second half.
Ben Riley: You are welcome, Patriots fans. Darryl Tapp tends to have one huge game per year, and today he decided to have his huge game. That, and defensive coordinator John Marshall seemed to dial up the corner and safety blitzes at exactly the right time; the Jets seemed to not have done their homework on that front.
The other story of this game was the absolutely incredible play of the Seahawks' offensive line. Did you know that Kyle Williams was playing left tackle? Yes, that would be third-string, just-signed-off-the-practice-squad Kyle Williams. And somehow, Steve Vallos managed to neutralize Kris Jenkins all day.
Don't look now, but there may also be a quarterback controversy in Seattle this summer. This is the second straight week where Wallace has thrown well, made good decisions, and converted the occasional third down with his legs. Matt Hasselbeck is a better WCO quarterback, but Jim Mora may have other ideas for the offense next year.
Aaron Schatz: That's nice and all, but it doesn't really make sense to make decisions on Hasselbeck's future based on his performance when injured. If they want to get rid of him because of economics, OK, but he's the better quarterback.
Ben Riley: Well, part of the problem is that Hasselbeck gets injured on a near-annual basis. Even when he came back this year, he had no idea who he was throwing to, and couldn't rely on calling audibles at the line because his receivers (and linemen) wouldn't know what to do. I think the question is, has Wallace done enough to make the Seahawks hold off on drafting a quarterback this year? I would have laughed at the idea a few weeks ago. Now I'm not so sure.
Doug Farrar: I can't make any judgments about either line based on those field conditions today. I went down to start my car a few hours ago, and almost fell on my ass twice.
Pass rush, Aaron mentioned? Where has the safety help been all year? Where has Kelly Jennings been all year?
Great win, though. My mind was flashing back to all the rough spots in Mike Holmgren's team-building when he first came here. Going through the first positive steps of the Ruskell era and the Super Bowl, before everything tipped over to the other side. I think there are times when a coach fires a front office by leaving, and is justified in doing so, but I'm just glad he got the last home win after such a disappointing season. His final "victory lap" will be a warm memory I'll try and use to placate myself when he's actually out of the picture.
It's a lot like when Lou Piniella left the Mariners; I don't think people realize the space he's going to leave behind. Piniella's departure was a similar "firing of the front office," and I think there are many reasons for concern that the Seahawks are now on the same path that the M's have been ever since. The odd surprisingly good season (though a postseason miss, because they're just not that good), balanced by inevitable falls to the bottom.
There is now one dominant personnel voice in this organization, and it's not a strong one at all. I eagerly look forward to the next three years of witness-protection SEC receivers, anonymous offensive linemen, average running backs, and the furtherance of the Midget Defense Theory.
As for Holmgren, I hope he enjoys his time off, and I hope it drives him just crazy enough that he comes back to the NFL soon. He's one of those guys that the league is just weaker without.
Vince Verhei: A quick note about Seattle fans and how amazing they are. This team has been at best boring, and at worst miserable, to watch this season. And as most of you saw during the game, Seattle was hit with a harsh winter storm this weekend. For most fans, going to that game meant a virtual guarantee you would still be on the road when the Sunday night game ended. They had every reason in the world to stay home, safe and warm. But they turned out, maybe not to capacity, but in great numbers, and they were loud and rowdy and raucous and passionate, and they were into this like any of the playoff games we've seen there
this decade. Compare this to the Cleveland crowd today. I think there were more people in my sports bar than at that game.
Josh Wilson got a sack today. I thought it was a great call, because if Wilson is rushing the passer, then he cannot be burned in coverage. Wilson added two interceptions, making more big plays in this game then he has all season.
Speaking of interceptions, boy was Brett Favre awful. Yes, the Seahawks pass rush showed up, but Favre was underthrowing -- yes, UNDERthrowing -- everything today.
Your KCW of the year: Jets have a fourth-and-2 at their own 20, down 7, with 2:21 and ALL THEIR TIMEOUTS remaining. And they go for it. And the play call is Favre going deep over the middle to a double-covered Laveranues Coles. Seahawks take over, run three times for no yards and kick a game-clinching field goal.
Boomer Esiason after the game on what the Jets should do next: "Maybe they can trade for Chad Pennington."
Aaron Schatz: You know, Tarvaris Jackson doesn't look so bad today. He's not going to be a fundamentally strong pocket quarterback, but he's doing a good job of finding the open man, particularly if the open man is Vishante Shiancoe.
Matt Ryan may be the first quarterback to ever specialize in throwing accurate passers while falling backwards to avoid the pass rush. He looks like Larry Bird throwing fall-away jumpers out there.
2:30 left in the fourth quarter, Ron Edwards just tried to twist Matt Ryan's head off when he went around on a bootleg. I have no idea how that was not called a facemask. I wonder if the refs are calling fewer facemasks this year because they're afraid of mistakenly giving an offense 15 yards. When you had the incidental facemask, you could make a mistake calling the five-yard facemask and not feel too bad about it. But now it is 15 or nothing. Through Week 15, we've got 80 facemask penalties, which means we're on pace for roughly the same number of 15-yard facemasks we had last year, 92. That also means the 29 five-yard facemasks have been replaced by ... nothing.
Ben Riley: Well, if the idea was to have fewer facemasks by making the penalty harsher, it's possible the missing 29 five-yard facemasks are the desired result. How else could we measure whether the new rule is working?
That said, I saw the same play, and it was dangerous and should have been called for something -- unnecessary roughness maybe.
Vince Verhei: Little-known reason for Atlanta's success this year: They've allowed 42 total punt return yards. Sixteen teams -- half the league -- have allowed that many yards or more on a single PLAY.
Mike Mularkey must do something wacky every game. They line up in a single-back set, then Roddy White motions to tailback. Harry Douglas lines up in the slot, and takes a handoff going left, with White as his lead blocker. Hey, Mularkey: Don't you have halfbacks and fullbacks to take care of running and blocking?
You have, for example, Jerious Norwood, who is absurd. On one play he cut left, then up, then right, then up again, without ever changing speed. WILL SOMEONE IN ATLANTA PLEASE GET THIS MAN THE BALL MORE?
Tarvaris Jackson has looked good for three weeks in a row now. Did he get better after spending all those weeks on the bench? Or is it just that he has played against Detroit, Arizona, and Atlanta?
Minnesota went for it on fourth-and-7 at their own 47, down two scores with more than eight minutes to go. Why would you not punt there? There was so much time left in the game, they still ended up scoring and then getting the ball back with a chance to tie the game. Seems like a panicked decision.
Ridiculous point made by Bob Costas after the Giants-Panthers game: If the Falcons beat St. Louis next week and the Saints beat Carolina (in New Orleans), then not only do the Panthers drop to the 5 seed, but Atlanta becomes the 2 seed. My God.
Mike Tanier: Eagles-Redskins was too boring and depressing to really talk about. As I write this, the booth is checking the review of the Reggie Brown stop at the 1-yard line that ends the game. I just wish even one stray whisker came within an inch of the goal-line on the play so I could work up some righteous indignation.
Now, I look at that three-game winning streak, and the fact that the Eagles are still technically alive, and I wonder if that means I have to go through another season like this next year.
Aaron Schatz: OK, folks, who choked harder today -- Denver or Philadelphia? It's nice that the Eagles came within inches of tying the game in the final seconds, but that doesn't make up for their attempt to set a record for most consecutive three-and-outs when down by a touchdown in the second half.
Russell Levine: Can I throw Tampa Bay into that poll?
Aaron Schatz: Yep, and the Jets go in there too. At least Minnesota and Dallas lost to fellow playoff contenders this week.
Ben Riley: I don't think Denver choked per se. They did what they always do, i.e., give up way too many points on defense and run their entire offense through Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, until Cutler forces one (or three) too many passes into double-coverage and ends up losing the game. (In other words: The Broncos are who we thought they were!) And now we get a sweet mini-playoff game against the Chargers. No pressure, Norv.
Doug Farrar: Aaron Ross is going to go back and watch that long completion to Mushin Muhammad several times this week, and I don't think he's ever going to know how he could have jumped perfectly for that bomb to Muhammad, let the ball go right through his hands, and right into Muhammad's hands. That was like Carolina's version of the Tyree catch.
OK, Carolina, I think it's time to stop getting cute with the receiver screens when your guys can beat their zone.
Aaron Schatz: No penalties so far tonight, but that doesn't stop Muhsin Muhammad from popping up and waving his arm in a violent "throw the flag" motion after a perfectly legal pass defensed. I'm the guy who says that there should be no penalties for celebration or taunting, but damn, I'm ready for them to create a penalty for begging for DPI on every single friggin' pass.
Will Carroll: At risk of outing myself as a soccer fan, I think when they do this, they should get the talking-to from the referee. "Oh no, Ronaldo is getting the dreaded lecture" is one of my favorite things to hear during a match. DPI-begging is fast becoming the flop of American football.
Aaron Schatz: Whoo, DeAngelo Williams is good. Explain to me again why on earth this team was starting DeShaun Foster over this guy for two years?
Doug Farrar: It's Williams, but it's also that they know what they want now and he's a great fit. Out with the tricky zone, in with power. They made a concerted effort to get back to power. That involved drafting Jonathan Stewart, drafting Jeff Otah, moving Jordan Gross left, moving Travelle Wharton inside. Now, they love throwing two tight ends on the edge and punching your lights out, and they have the personnel to do it. Getting Muhammad back on the roster has taken the second-level blocking up about 15 notches. You have to admire the way John Fox and Marty Hurney wanted to rectify their problems on the ground and just went after it.
Aaron Schatz: Man, we really saw the Meadowlands wind on the John Carney field-goal attempt at the end of the fourth quarter. That sucker was head-on until the wind got it.
Bill Barnwell: John Kasay field-goal attempt, not Carney.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, right. John Carney is the Giants kicker who was absurdly chosen for the Pro Bowl even though, according to Football Outsiders stats, he has been the worst kickoff man in the league this year (-6.7 points worth of field position on gross kickoff distance). Did I mention he has not attempted a field goal more than 48 yards all season? In fact, he has only attempted five field goals of more than 40 yards.
On a lighter, more pro-Giants note, I think getting Brandon Jacobs back tonight proved to be an awfully good thing for Big Blue.
Bill Barnwell: This is really going to be a fun offseason when you consider the free agents who are going to be available. (Likely) Nnamdi Asomugha, Matt Cassel, Derrick Ward...
Aaron Schatz: This had to be one of the great no-touchdown games of all time. 215 yards, no touchdowns.
Bill Barnwell: Best games by a running back with no touchdowns, 1995-2007:
Frank Gore ran for 212 yards without a touchdown in Week 11 of the 2006 season. That's the closest figure to Ward.
Doug Farrar: That was as good a game as I expected, and it played out pretty much like I thought, though I had the Panthers as a touchdown better. I started to see it slipping away for Carolina on their last drive in regulation -- just sensing that Jake Delhomme was looking downfield when he should have been OK with shooting par. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the impression I got. They had a safety up top for Steve Smith, and there were holes underneath. A touchdown is not required!
141 comments, Last at 27 Dec 2008, 1:50am by BC