"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
29 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.
Bill Barnwell: So, then, Michael Turner finished with 376 carries. If you believe in the Curse of 370, you can scratch him off of your fantasy lists. The bigger concern for me is what it took to get Turner to 370 -- a really healthy offense (and defense) around him. Unless I'm missing someone (and I probably am), Sam Baker was the only Falcons projected starter to miss a single game all season. That's absolutely sick. That's going to regress next year, regardless of whether Turner's on that list or not.
Vince Verhei: Kroy Biermann made a great play on kickoff coverage for Atlanta, knocking his blocker to the ground and swooping in to tackle the returner. The weird thing is that Biermann wears No. 71. I figured this was the league's most athletic backup tackle, but Biermann is an undersized (242 pounds) defensive end.
Bill makes a good point about Atlanta's defense and how healthy they've been. They've got nine defenders with 14 or more starts. But today, Steven Jackson made them all look silly, running around them, through them, and in one case, literally over them, hurdling over the head of an incoming tackler.
I love, love, love Jerious Norwood. He made a ridiculous cut at full speed on a kick return and got the ball inside the Rams' 10-yard line. From there, the Falcons lined up Norwood and Matt Ryan side-by-side in the backfield, each calling for the ball from center. Norwood got the snap. Ryan took off to the right as a decoy, ready to take the pitch. Norwood was supposed to follow a pulling lineman to the right, but saw an opening on the left and slipped through for the touchdown. He added a 45-yard touchdown later when he slipped into the secondary and juked a safety down to the floor. He finished the year with 95 carries and a 5.1-yard average gain, both career LOWS. His career totals sound like one MVP season: 297 carries for 1,735 yards, a 5.8 average, plus 76 receptions for 717 yards -- and he has only two fumbles.
Aaron Schatz: By the time Audibles runs tomorrow, everyone will have seen footage from this game, but man, this is nuts. They cannot keep the goal posts straight. The Patriots threw just three passes in the first quarter, and they haven't used shotgun at all; the first 15 games, they were using shotgun more than half the time. The Bills did not throw a single pass in the first quarter; they threw a pass with their first play of the second quarter, as soon as they got the wind to their backs. Rian Lindell tried a field goal, angled it left, and ended up missing wide right. The kick swooped all the way from one side of the goal posts to the other like an old Bob Gibson slider.
The Patriots can't tackle Fred Jackson. It's astonishing. He must be getting four or five yards after contact on every single run, sometimes more. The Patriots will have him dead to rights in the backfield, and he'll still get positive yardage by dragging a guy five yards. He just dragged literally a pile of 15 Patriots and Bills for an extra few yards on third-and-short.
Mike Tanier: I think they played this game on Thunder Island from the Mario Bros. series. The field goals were amazing. When the dude came out with a rickety ladder to fix the goalpost before Stephen Gostkowski missed one in the first half, I thought they were going to hang a small weight from one side to balance it out. Like the midget from The Wizard of Oz. Or Doug Flutie.
Will Carroll: There has not been one single highlight of that game here. Heading to halftime.
Aaron Schatz: I have no idea what the officials were thinking at the end of the first half of the Buffalo-New England game. Buffalo is out of timeouts with 22 seconds left. Fred Jackson takes the handoff, goes up the middle on third-and-5 but doesn't get the first down. Ball is at the 9. Hurry the field goal unit on, right? The only problem is that nobody is getting off the field, because a handful of Patriots and Bills are fighting each other near the goal line. You hear whistles -- but apparently they aren't coming from the officials, they must be coming from the stands or something, because nobody is stopping the fight. The Bills are trying to get the field goal unit on but tight end Derek Schouman and center Duke Preston are busy fighting the Patriots. The officials do nothing -- no spotting the ball, no calling offsetting penalties to stop the clock, nothing - clock hits double zeroes, and the ref waves the teams off the field. The Bills are stunned, standing around on the field, as the Patriots all file into the tunnel. Really, really weird.
Doug Farrar: Fred Jackson: Hero of Coe College, and the Sioux City Bandits of the National Indoor Football League!
I think we have a clear KCW winner in Preston, who got into it with a Patriots defender at the end of the half when the Bills were trying to run the ball once and set up for a field goal. Thanks to Duke, the clock ran down, and the half was over before the field-goal attempt would have been possible.
Mike Pereira's take per Dan Dierdorf was that since Preston was engaged with another player, the officials' first responsibility was to separate the players.
Mike Tanier: Watching that, I thought it was Bill Belichick shenanigans at first -- you know, "go grab a guy and start a fight to waste eight seconds" type trickery. But I think Preston started it. So I guess it's a no-harm situation: If you are dumb enough to start a fight with no timeouts and the field goal unit racing on the field, you deserve to have some time run off the clock.
Aaron Schatz: Dan Dierdorf: "The Bills have lost 15 fumbles this year, the most in the league. They've fumbled the ball 33 times. They're lucky they've recovered so many of them." No they aren't, Dan. They've recovered roughly half their fumbles. That's exactly what you would expect.
Doug Farrar: How. HOW. HOW?!?!? Was Wes Welker that wide-open on the short pass to the left on fourth-and-5 from the Buffalo 14 with five minutes left in the third quarter? Sweet play by the Patriots. They sent Randy Moss and Jabar Gaffney to the end zone out of a trips bunch left. Buffalo blitzed Kawika Mitchell from the right side, and Welker had a good 5-yard cushion underneath. I really have to question the wisdom behind blitzing a shotgun quarterback in a scoring situation when the Patriots have proven an ability to high-low defenses with their speed guys and their underneath guys.
Aaron Schatz: I believe that was the only pass thrown by either team into the wind through the first three quarters.
Mike Tanier: Best I could tell on the Welker play, the cornerback who would normally be covering that flat zone ran off with Moss and got too deep. He's supposed to drop with the outside receiver, then rush up into the flat, but he dropped too far and got tangled with Moss. It's a blown coverage, especially when you consider the situation, and any zone defender should be sitting on those flat routes, waiting for a wind-blown pass.
Doug Farrar: I love the New England call for Matt Cassel to quick-kick the ball on third-and-8 with five minutes left in the game and the ball at the New England 41. With the help of the wind, the ball rolls down to the Buffalo 2. There is no way in hell that a Bills team playing this badly is going 98 yards, and field goals are almost out of the question. Great call, optimal result.
Bill Barnwell: One of the things I always hype up as a good feature of Madden is that, when you play about 15 or so years in franchise mode, new, futuristic things you can buy for your stadium pop up. One of those items is the "Goalposts of Light," which are rays of light that come out of the ground when you're running a kicking play and then disappear after the play's over. Buffalo needed goalposts of light today.
The game was a bit of a coming-out party for Fred Jackson, who basically plays like he's a recessionary man's Larry Centers. I'm not sure if he qualifies for Top 25 Prospects (he spent two years out of college in indoor), but he's a great receiver out of the backfield, he broke plenty of tackles today. At the very worst, he makes a nice partner for Marshawn Lynch.
Aaron and I were discussing whether 11-5 and missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker qualifies as a successful season for the Patriots. I don't think it does. The standards are too high -- even before 16-0, the Patriots were one of the league's perennial playoff teams. I don't buy the "losing Brady makes it OK" argument -- it just means that the Patriots were a competent quarterback away from a division title, and in those first few weeks, Matt Cassel was totally incompetent.
Vince Verhei: When debating New England's success, or their merits as one of the best teams to miss the playoffs, remember that they played the NFC West. They're basically a 7-5 team that got four extra wins against Seattle, St. Louis, Arizona, and San Francisco.
Also, Belichick is totally winning the Colbert Award for that third-down punt. That's one of those strangely brilliant plays that only Bill Belichick would call, like that intentional safety when trailing in Denver a few years back.
Bill Barnwell: I think we can safely say that the Tyler Thigpen bandwagon is interested in locking you up for 2009 season tickets at a discounted rate. Kansas City would seemingly have to be open to, at this point, at least the idea of drafting Sam Bradford or Matt Stafford.
There's going to be some back-and-forth on the value of Cedric Benson next year, thanks to the huge final two weeks he had. I'm going to be pretty high on him depending upon what the Bengals do with their line; the return of Carson Palmer will help his numbers a lot, and there's certainly upside there. Something like 1,200 yards, 10 touchdowns doesn't seem impossibly unreasonable, although I'm admittedly basing a whole season on two or three weeks worth of data.
Vince Verhei: Tyler Thigpen's passer rating (yes, I know) by quarter:
First quarter: 97.1
Second quarter: 79.3
Third quarter: 69.1
Fourth quarter: 62.6
I have no idea what's going on there. It could be meaningless sample noise. But it does show how he can look fantastic at some times and horrible at others.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know if it is sample noise either, but it is going to be something I look at this offseason. For those of you who prefer DVOA:
First quarter: 24.9%
Second quarter: -6.8%
Third quarter: -10.7%
Fourth quarter: -25.4%
Doug Farrar: Halfway through the third quarter, Calvin Johnson has two touchdown catches against the Packers. Tie ballgame, 14-14. I know Johnson's wonderful, but are the Packers using Charles Woodson at safety again or something? What's going on there?
Bill Barnwell: It's really sad to see how far Leigh Bodden has fallen. He may be the first player to really go from FO crush to FO bust, unless you're particularly sour on "the other" Adrian Peterson. He's getting lost in coverage, taking terrible angles ... just a total mess. The only two players on this defense who really have any business on a successful NFL team at their current salary are Clifford Avril and Ernie Sims.
Vince Verhei: On the last play of the first half, Mason Crosby attempted a 69-yard field goal after a fair catch. The official play-by-play merely notes the kick came up short, but that's not really fair. This kick was down the middle and only short by a foot or two. It would have been good from 68.
Late in the third quarter, Ryan Grant gained about 20 yards, ran through Leigh Bodden, then got to his feet and sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown. Not one Lions defender bothered to give chase -- they all pointed to the ground, insisting Grant was down. As it turns out, they were right, and the play was called back. But the image of Grant running down the field, with no whistle, and nobody in a silver helmet making any effort to catch him, was appalling. It was like a defense stocked with 11 Shaun Alexanders.
Ned Macey: I only watched parts of the first half, but the Colts made sure their big guys got their milestones (Manning his 4,000 yards and Marvin Harrison passed Cris Carter on receptions), and then they got them out of the game. Given Harrison's uncertain future with Indy, I was glad they fed him the seven catches so he could leave as the second all-time leading receiver.
Sure the Titans didn't take it seriously, but the win did give the Colts their sixth straight 12-win season. I know they only have the one Super Bowl, but this is an amazing run of consistency. Obviously, Manning's health helps, but the Pats (the dominant team of this era) only have four 12-win seasons since 2001, and the great Belichick only has four in 14 years coaching. I know it is a little random at some point, but it still seems extremely impressive. They are about to finish in the top 10 in DVOA for the sixth straight time. If they had two Super Bowls, they would have to be considered one of the great teams in history. Instead, they are sort of going to be an historical footnote.
Bill Barnwell: I admittedly saw very little of the second half of this game, "very little" being one play. On that one play, David Carr was leveled by a rusher from the starboard side. You might note that David Carr is right-handed. That was enough for me.
Playing Justin Tuck seemed like a really bad idea. The announcers pitched the idea that Tuck would rather win the game than sit out, which is nice, but it's Tom Coughlin's job to not care and look towards the future. If the logic really was "We had a great Week 17 last year and it took us to the Super Bowl," that's applying a beater to correlation and causation.
Aaron Schatz: If you liked the storyline "after the Giants won the Super Bowl, no team with nothing left to play for will ever sit their starters in Week 17 again," you'll love the new storyline, "after Ben Roethlisberger got carted off the field, no team with nothing left to play for will ever play starters in Week 17 again."
Doug Farrar: Particularly if you're playing the Browns, who haven't scored a touchdown since mid-November.
Russell Levine: The Buccaneers are playing like the team waiting for the end of the season, while the Raiders look like they're fighting for a playoff spot.
Tampa Bay's defense just allowed the Raiders to drive for a go-ahead touchdown in the final 2 minutes on a drive featuring mass confusion in the secondary and zero pass rush. The Eagles may be playing for something at 4 p.m. after all.
Josh Bidwell is killing Tampa Bay. Line-drive, no-hang time punts that are being brought back 20 and 30 yards by Johnnie Lee Higgins. Shane Lechler and his 60-yard foot are going to be free agents this winter. With an offense like Jon Gruden's, he might be worth a handsome offer.
Stat of the century, courtesy of Kevin Harlan: "Third-and-10, the Raiders haven't converted a third-and-10 or longer since Week 3." Week 3!?!?!?!!?
Doug Farrar: Since it's the Raiders, the question might be, "They converted one in Week 3?!?!??!?"
Mike Tanier: The Raiders were 1-of-26 on third-and-more than 10 entering this game. I guess Tom Cable has nothing in the playbook for third-and-11.
Bill Barnwell: I still think my playbook would be strictly plays for third-and-15-plus.
Mike Tanier: The announcer in this game said at some point that the Raiders aren't letting Jeff Garcia set his feet. I have never, ever seen Garcia set his feet.
Russell Levine: You're right, Mike, and that's why Jon Gruden doesn't sleep at night.
Poetic justice in this game. Tampa Bay gets a third-down interception to stop a Raiders drive, but Oakland gets a first down on the touchiest facemask call you'll ever see. On first down, JaMarcus Russell throws a pick to Sabby Piscatelli, who weaves his way for about 200 yards down to the Oakland 11. Cadillac Williams, who looks to be getting his burst back, scores two plays later to give Tampa Bay a 10-point lead.
And Cadillac Williams just tore up his left knee at the end of a 27-yard run. This is heartbreaking. The guy just looked like he was regaining his burst and his moves after the torn patella tendon in his right knee and could be headed for another year-long rehab on the other leg.
Bill Barnwell: I wonder if there's something more than genetics when it comes to Williams' susceptibility to injury. By all accounts, Jon Gruden fell in love with Williams when he coached him at the Senior Bowl. That's great and all, but Williams missed chunks of his first two seasons with broken bones. I really doubt that Tampa Bay's medical staff didn't do their due diligence on Williams -- I would suspect that Gruden ignored them in promoting Williams as their pick. I don't remember Williams really getting talked about as a pick that high outside of Tampa Bay, although that could be selective memory and/or the fact that everyone knew Tampa Bay was picking him.
Will Carroll: Genetics.
Russell Levine: And Tampa Bay responds to the injury by turning the ball over on downs, then allowing Michael Bush to go 67 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, with Derrick Brooks limping badly behind the play.
First play on the next possession, Garcia throws a pick on a deep ball up the left sidelines.
The previous Oakland touchdown came after a 41-yard pass interference penalty on a halfback option pass by Bush that was 5 yards underthrown.
Good God, what an implosion.
Aaron Schatz: Are they handing out herpes with playoff spots this year? I don't think I've ever seen so many teams blow "win and your in" type scenarios against bad teams.
Doug Farrar: I'm not generally a believer in this kind of stuff, but there have been two very distinct Tampa Bay defenses this year -- the great one before Monte Kiffin announced that he was leaving for Tennessee, and the one since, which looks like a bunch of Seahawks backups in Buccaneers uniforms. That event seems to have led to this team's implosion.
Will Carroll: How many times have they called Jon Gruden "the Raiders' former coach?" OK, I get it. How many of the players, coaches, heck even front office guys (besides Al Davis) were there? Turnover is one of the things that I dont think most people understand in the NFL because the system encourages the elite players to stay in place.
Russell Levine: After that ending, they can have him back.
Bill Barnwell: Only three guys left from the Gruden team: Marques Tuiasosopo (who left and came back), Seabass, and Lechler. That would be the Raiders winning a 1 p.m. game on the East Coast without their best player. Right. Sorry, Russell.
I wonder what the name of the FOX piano-version-of-the-bumper-music-we-only-play-when-someone-gets-hurt is. Maybe it's "Weepy Robot." Is the robot supposed to be hungover?
What on earth happened to the Buccaneers defense the final four weeks of the season? Michael Bush was running in, around, and through them today -- Mike freaking Bush! With the Raiders offensive line! I just hope this puts the seed in Al Davis' brain that they can win without Nnamdi Asomugha and they let him move on so they can sign, I don't know, T.J. Housmandzadeh to a huge deal.
Is this Tampa Bay loss the worst performance in Week 17 history for a team who needed to win in? Is it worse than Buffalo against Pittsburgh in 2004?
Bill Barnwell: The overturning of Steve Slaton's fumble late in the game was absurd. Yes, there was some doubt that it was a fumble. When the call on the field is fumble, though, and there's no indisputable evidence that it's not a fumble (and there wasn't any), you can't change the call.
One of my roommates is a Bears fan and is always throwing out different offseason plans for them. I think they really have to go out and acquire a No. 1 receiver, but I can't see them giving up the first-rounder it would take to get Anquan Boldin. And if T.J. Houshmandzadeh hits the market, I get the vibe that Jerry Angelo is gunshy after the failure of Muhsin Muhammad.
Will Carroll: After throwing a pick, Brett Favre's running with his arm guarded before noting that he's probably on camera. I'm guessing that shoulder's much worse than anyone's letting on.
Aaron Schatz: No kidding. He can't hide it from the cameras. Every time they show him, he's holding his shoulder, or hand, or something. He just threw an interception to a defensive lineman, for crying out loud. The boy ain't right. How obvious does he have to make the injury before they put Kellen Clemens in? Or do they decide, you know what, we sink or swim with the guy we traded for?
Russell Levine: Of course Favre unleashed about four lasers on the field goal drive to end the half.
Doug Farrar: It's been very entertaining to watch Phil Simms' relationship with the Miami Dolphins' offense change through this game. First, he was "sick of hearing about the Wildcat." Then he talked about it nonstop for about half an hour. Then he seemed to get twitterpated by any manner of trickeration, to the point where he was calling a counter pitch "another one of those new wrinkles."
What the offense has been is very efficient late. Again, the reason their Wildcat stuff works is because it places an emphasis on blocking, and that blocking aids misdirection. They use their tight ends as well as any team in the league -- not that David Martin and Anthony Fasano are going to be DYAR heroes (though they're both top ten through Week 16), but they fit in this system so well. Watching Favre and Chad Pennington in the same game places more of an emphasis on the fact that Pennington doesn't waste a lot of throws. That running game does so many different things well. If you watch this team for a while, I think what you'll discover is that they take care of business. I mean, they're eighth in offensive DVOA through Week 16. Fifth in passing. That's about a lot more than a handful of plays you might see in one of the AFCA coaching books.
Oh, and in the early fourth quarter, Eric Mangini had to take a timeout so that the Jets wouldn't be flagged for illegal formation when Favre was split wide.
Mike Tanier: Twitterpated?
Aaron Schatz: There are three things I've learned in this long life of mine:
1) Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
2) Never challenge a Sicilian when death is on the line.
3) Never place your hope in the hands of Brett Favre when you are depending on another team's win to put you in the playoffs.
I want to point out that if Favre now retires, it will go in the books that the last pass of his entire career was illegal, and the pass before that was an interception. How fitting! (Note: This may be Pats fan bitterness.)
Bill Barnwell: During this game, I realized that the '08 Dolphins are the '06 Jets. The '05 Jets were one of the most injured teams in the history of our injury research. The '07 Dolphins were one of the most injured teams in the league last year. Both teams changed coaches. Both teams enjoyed fumble luck and rode a weak schedule to outperform Pythagoras ('06 Jets were +21, '08 Dolphins were +21 heading into Sunday and are now +28) thanks to one of the two healthy seasons Chad Pennington has had in his NFL career. The '06 Jets were the third-healthiest team in the league that year. The Dolphins are the second-healthiest team in the league this year.
I also wonder, though, if Eric Mangini's job status would be different if his team had simply seen their luck regress earlier that year. If the Jets go 8-8 (they had 7.7 expected wins thanks to DVOA) that year instead of 10-6, Mangini has gone 8-8, 4-12, and then 9-7 as Jets coach in three seasons, which seems much more promising than 10-6, 4-12, and 9-7. I think the exact thing that made Mangini look like such a brilliant young coach -- his fluky '06 playoff spot -- may end up being the exact thing that gets him fired.
Aaron Schatz: I should note that Pennington has had three healthy seasons, not two. The other one was 2002, and he led his team to the playoffs that year as well.
Bill Barnwell: Sorry. I should say full seasons . He only played 15 games (12 starts) in 2002.
Vince Verhei: Favre's pregame pep talk to his huddled teammates, as shown last night on NFL GameDay Final:
"Hey, if it works out, it works out. If it doesn't, it doesn't. All you can do is give your best, all right? Love you guys, let's go. Score on three."
And some are questioning his leadership? Poppycock.
Bill Barnwell: Donovan McNabb's stuff on second-and-goal from the Dallas 1 was the first time he's ever been stuffed from the 1-yard line.
Aaron Schatz: Anybody else think that Anthony Henry horse-collared Correll Buckhalter as he crossed the goal line on the touchdown that made it 17-3 Philadelphia? I realize he scored, you are talking about tacking a penalty onto the kickoff, but still ... if the point is to cut down on tackles that get players injured, I would think you throw the flag whether the guy scores or not. A horse collar is horse collar.
This Eagles game is crazy. It's as if all Philadelphia's bad luck from the whole season just reversed for one day.
Bill Barnwell: Tony Romo just sent the punt team off the field and converted a fourth-and-1. Then they ran the ugliest trick play ever for 30 yards.
Aaron Schatz: ... thus proving that Jason Witten can, in fact, do everything.
You know, McNabb was sacked once in the first half, and that play looked awful, but for the most part the Eagles have done a very good job of controlling the league's best pass rush, and giving the quarterback a nice pocket. That's a big part of this blowout. The other part is that the Dallas offense seems to be totally melting down, with guys arguing on the sidelines, and I'm not sure that Roy Williams even knows what routes to run half the time.
Mike Tanier: Two words: Eagles Porn.
Aaron Schatz: This game is 44-3 and Tony Romo is still running for his life on nearly every play. Did I say the Eagles were getting good pass-blocking? I'm sorry, I forgot to also mention the Cowboys are getting terrible pass-blocking.
Doug Farrar: Is it always terrible pass-blocking, or is he running into stuff as well?
Aaron Schatz: I think a combination of poor pass-blocking and good coverage. There were a lot of plays where he couldn't find anyone and eventually he had to scramble because there would be Eagles breathing down his neck.
Mike Tanier: I still am not done watching the Eagles replay, as I suddenly have some work to do on another project, but here are a few quick thoughts:
1) The Cowboys offensive line looked awful. The Eagles are getting more pressure now that Chris Clemons is healthy to provide a counterpoint to Trent Cole, but Clemons' presence wasn't enough to justify how weak the Cowboys line looked.
2) It's an oversimplification, but not much of one, to say that all the jerks and prima donnas on the Cowboys just went kaboom at once today. Pacman Jones didn't know where to line up on some plays. Roy Williams was terrible and looked unprepared. Romo continued what he's been doing the last month: just throwing the ball up for grabs and hoping Jason Witten is somewhere nearby. This is a team that looks like it has no idea how to focus or prepare. I think there are distractions and there are DISTRACTIONS, and when you have that many mercenaries, me-first guys, and idiots on one team, it just hits critical mass.
3) Eagles-Vikings? The Eagles should absolutely win that game. And they will probably be favored. In fact, all of the Wild Card teams could actually be favored, right?
Ned Macey: Let me know if I'm missing something, but why is Roy Williams a prima donna or a jerk? I know he has a propensity for unnecessary first down celebrations, but he always seemed liked a good guy to me when he was in Detroit. I see how he's part of the "accumulate talent no matter how the players fit in" strategy that backfired a bit, but I never thought of him as a bad guy.
Aaron Schatz: Roy Williams doesn't even have a propensity for unnecessary first-down celebrations, as far as I know -- that was Reggie Williams of Jacksonville I always used to poke fun at.
Mike Tanier: Prima donna. Me-first guy who talked too much. Never developed, part of which can be blamed on the Lions of course.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, I think he developed pretty well. For a while he was the only guy in Detroit who could catch the ball. Certainly was good when he was starting with Mike Furrey. Honestly, I have no idea if he's a prima donna. I just know he looked today like he never quite learned the Dallas playbook, and as we've written many times, that trade made no sense when made and even less sense now.
Bill Barnwell: How much of Williams' development is being in a Mike Martz offense? He's got two years in the Martz offense that were very good and then a bunch of other years that are alright. He also has had consistent injury issues.
Aaron Schatz: Well, his rookie year he was middle of the pack in DYAR with -9.0% DVOA, reasonable for a rookie. His second year, 2005, he's got a DVOA around average while the other two main Detroit receivers are two of the worst guys in the league. This is just his fifth season. Until this season I think he was having a nice little career, once you adjust for the awful surroundings.
Mike Tanier: I remember Roy Williams as a pass dropper. Also had to read a lot of Williams quotes when I wrote about the Lions and he came across as the kind of guy who gets the golf clubs out when things aren't going well. Just the impression I got, though again, it's hard to tell whose a malcontent in an asylum like Detroit.
By the way, there's no way that Witten pass was a designed trick play. He just ran out to save Romo, saw Owens, and said WTF. It's great to see the love triangle consummated in such a sweet way.
Bill Barnwell: I don't know. He looked up and threw that pass immediately. That screams designed play to me.
Mike Tanier: It was a heck of a design if it was. Early in the play, Witten is blocking on the left side. Romo is looking downfield. I don't think Witten runs to the far right until Romo is nearly clobbered by Trent Cole. Usually, the tight end would pass block for a 2-count, then leak out to the left side. Looking at some of the Cowboys plays a second time, it's actually hard to figure out what they were really trying to do on several other plays.
Bill Barnwell: Let's review an alternate scenario here. The Eagles play the Cowboys at 1 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. Every outcome is the exact same, except the Buccaneers beat the Raiders 31-24. The Eagles still destroy the Cowboys 44-6, doing so at the same time as the Bucs game, but because Tampa Bay wins, the Eagles don't make the playoffs.
The Eagles still have the best DVOA in the league on Monday morning; they're just not making the playoffs because something that was absolutely out of their control didn't get there. We look stupid, since the best team in the league didn't make the playoffs. The Philly media becries the fact that the Eagles' great game was too little, too late. Andy Reid likely gets fired, Donovan McNabb's out, and the Eagles probably start rebuilding.
If the Eagles make a huge playoff run, every columnist will be falling over themselves to make some sort of argument about how Week 17/the McNabb benching got their momentum going, but it's blindly groping for a narrative in a situation where there isn't one. The Eagles got astoundingly lucky on Sunday when the Buccaneers lost. It was one of the great upsets of the decade. What happens from here on out cannot be removed from that fact -- without that loss, the Eagles' regular season (as good as it was according to DVOA) would have been absolutely irrelevant and disappointing.
If this sounds reminiscent of my tone in the Giants chapter of PFP 2008, it's because it's the same sort of conflation of cause and effect that frustrates me as an analyst so much. The line between success and failure in the NFL is so impossibly thin as to be barely existent at points. The idea that a team is destined to win or a supreme conqueror of the other 31 teams as "the best" is flimsy at best. It's the same stupid logic I read all week about Lovie Smith going on a rant at halftime about the Bears refusing to go down like they were appearing to against Green Bay in Week 16. That was such a good motivator that the Bears needed a blocked field goal at the end of regulation to save themselves. (And for those of you [readers] who would say that it was Smith's words that caused the kick to be blocked, I wonder whether those same words inspired the other Adrian Peterson to commit that personal foul penalty on the kickoff.) Had the Bears not blocked that kick, would we have heard about Smith's words, or would they have rung hollow hours later? How many famous last words, to steal a phrase, do we get to hear? Were the Chargers really the BEST team in the AFC West? Probably shouldn't have had to rely upon an onside kick to give them a chance to prove it.
I think that the Eagles are a great team, one of the league's best this year, and that they'll show it in the playoffs. The fact that they'll get a chance to do so is in spite of their regular season performance, not because of it, but on the other hand, they would have been a great team regardless of whether the Buccaneers lost to the Raiders or not. The backwards definitions of their performance you're going to see because of what happened around them is exactly the reason Football Outsiders exists.
Team sources told ESPN's Ed Werder that there was commotion and concern in the Cowboys locker room after the game when Romo collapsed in the shower. Players called for medical staff, who brought in a stretcher, but Romo walked out on his own. Romo then did his news conference but had to be helped from the podium. Sources said Romo suffered a rib injury in the second half.
Aaron Schatz: It's nice to talk about how Tatum Bell went from managing a cell phone kiosk to scoring touchdowns for the Broncos, but I bet that cell phone kiosk would have done a lot more business if Ben Hamilton and Ryan Clady were working there.
Doug Farrar: Ryan Clady IS a cell phone kiosk.
Mike Tanier: See, now I have this image of some poor teenage girl trying to get a new phone and getting cut blocked. I see her lying in the middle of the floor, one hand clutching her knee, the other texting wildly. "OMG Tore my ACL."
Aaron Schatz: Golly, Champ Bailey was lagging behind on that long Vincent Jackson pass. He's clearly hurt. Without Bailey healthy, these are really two awful, awful secondaries.
Elias Holman: So the announcers can't stop talking about the Ed Hochuli call from the first go-round of Chargers-Broncos, and my wife didn't know what they were referring to, so I did a quick search to give her a link to the details. Instead, I get a hit on Ed Hochuli's Wikipedia page, and from there, a link to his fan site. I make the following observations:
1) It looks like it was built in 1996, or maybe like a page that is missing its stylesheet.
2) Here is what the site "boasts," unedited:
Check back over the coming weeks and months for updates. This season we hope to;
Bill Barnwell: Apparently, two deep ins for Jay Cutler make it through the San Diego defense. Three deep ins, not so much.
Aaron Schatz: Well, add Denver to the list of teams who apparently thought that a spot in the 2008 postseason came with a guarantee of virulent disease. Three straight losses to end the season, and tonight they completely look like ass. They've had tons of injuries at running back but honestly, that's not the problem. The linebacker injuries might be a part of the problem, but they've got D.J. Williams back, so that issue isn't as bad as it was a few weeks ago. Just sad.
Will Carroll: The consensus view in Indy is that they would have much rather faced Denver. Is it as clear as they're making it out to be?
Ned Macey: Yes. This game reminds me how terrified I am of the Colts playing in San Diego. The Colts played them when they were down and barely escaped with a win. They just do not match up well against the Chargers, and the team is clearly playing better. Impossible to tell if San Diego is really running better, since Denver's run defense is so bad, but if they are, then it looks like a shootout.
Bill Barnwell: If you lost your fantasy league because Brandon Manumaleuna stole that touchdown pass away from LaDainian Tomlinson, you have my apologies.
125 comments, Last at 31 Dec 2008, 2:48pm by Too Much Time On Hands