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 Sep 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 Connelly: I am a living DirectTV commercial. I can hear Jimmy Kimmel now: "You live in mid-Missouri. You don't care about either the Chiefs or the Rams, but you're stuck watching them every week. The only game on in your area right now is Kansas City-Atlanta. Neither team gets a first down for the first nine minutes of the game. Real football is being played ... and you're missing it!" (That said, Michael Turner ripped off a gorgeous/powerful 38-yard run, and Atlanta's about to score.)
I'll say this for Atlanta: They've got some explosive players. Granted, it's against Kansas City, so take that into consideration, but you've got to respect an all-or-nothing offense that has already ripped off a 38-yard run (Turner) and passes of 30 (Jerious Norwood) and 70 (Roddy White) yards. Also, it was very smart to put Gus Johnson on this game. He's making me feel like I'm watching the beginning of an NFL dynasty in Atlanta. And I'm not.
Ben Riley: Tyler Thigpen's early stat line: 1-for-10 for -1 yards and an interception. To revisit last year's best Audibles line, in reference to the Bears: There is no Damon Huard. There is no Brodie Croyle. There is only "Kansas City Quarterback."
Bill Barnwell: Aaron is at my apartment and literally just asked me to note the same thing.
Ben Riley: Update on Tyler Thigpen: He's now 2-for-13 with 12 yards, and two interceptions. Seriously, the Chiefs need to end this experiment right now.
Doug Farrar: The Dolphins got some good action with direct snaps to Ronnie Brown. I think that's the way for Herm to go. Right to Larry Johnson.
Will Carroll: Could the Chiefs trade for Vince Young? Is that feasible with the cap?
Ben Riley: Why would the Chiefs, or anyone, want to trade for Vince Young?
Will Carroll: Vince Young > Tyler Thigpen. What's the worst that can happen? He whacks out and you cut him? I'll admit to not looking at cap implications here, but there's at least some upside to Young. Thigpen is just going to get you ... umm, whoever the first pick is.
Ben Riley: I don't follow the logic, Will. Tarvaris Jackson is better than Vince Young, but he also sucks -- should the Chiefs make the Vikings an offer for him too? I mean, I have more upside than Tyler Thigpen, but I don't think Carl Peterson should try to trade for me. (Although I do come cheap.)
Will Carroll: Wait -- are we saying that Young has zero value now? Or so low that he's not worth a Favre-level offer? (Again, I'm ignoring the cap ... someone know?) If Favre is worth a fourth, isn't Young worth Mr. Irrelevant? I wouldn't say that a winning team should trade for Young. I wouldn't even say that the Vikings should, but the Chiefs? There's just nothing to lose here.
Ben Riley: I'm saying it makes little sense to trade for a quarterback who has lost the support of his team, and was never that good to begin with. Teams that waste fourth-round picks on players that aren't going anywhere quickly turn into the Lions.
Vince Verhei: The seats in the Georgia Dome used to be teal. Now they are red, to match the Falcons' colors. And it was abundantly clear on television, because they were all empty -- there was NOBODY there to watch the Falcons go to 2-1 (including wins over two horrible teams).
Agreed on Gus Johnson being so, so awesome. For reasons I can't explain, the sports bar I was in had the audio from this game cranked up. I kept hearing Johnson shouting and turning to see what was so exciting -- only to find he was calling a 17-point game between two bad teams.
Bill Barnwell: JaMarcus Russell still may have a lot to master, but he has a really nice play fake already. Jason Peters absolutely gives up on a play when the end goes by him.
The Bills finally hit Lee Evans for a gain of two ... and Nnamdi Asomugha comes up and forces a fumble. Seriously, the Raiders don't deserve him.
Mike Tanier: Darren McFadden's turf toe was bugging him. Every time he cut to the left he slipped. Was it his left toe that he hurt?
Will Carroll: It's McFadden's right foot. Interesting thing here -- and I'll have more on this on Tuesday -- is that he had a similar but probably worse problem in 2006. He injured it in a club fight. He needed surgery. How do you get turf toe in a club fight?
Bill Barnwell: If the club has a mini-golf course...
Will Carroll: What kind of clubs do YOU go to?
Bill Barnwell: Not all of us roll with Jenn Sterger, Will.
Will Carroll: That aside, I've really never been to a club with a putt-putt. I guess anything's possible in Arkansas.
Mike Tanier: The Bills' strategy was to pick, pick, pick on D'Angelo Hall. Hall had a big interception to set up a touchdown, but he was beat several times. The Bills offense actually got better when they started spreading the ball more, and they really did a fine job of clock management late, I think. Lane Kiffin may be fired by the time anyone reads this.
Russell Levine: If Oakland and Cincinnati had held on, this would have been the greatest day in knockout pool history, or at least a close second to that time Houston won at Miami on opening day.
Ben Riley: Anyone watching Tampa Bay-Chicago? How does Earnest Graham only have 1 yard rushing, and Warrick Dunn 16? Are the Bears stuffing them or has Gruden abandoned the run?
Doug Farrar: Haven't seen the highlights yet, but I'd say it's a good bet that the Bears were stacking the box. Brian Griese threw 67 passes, Antonio Bryant (!) had a 100-yard day, and Graham wound up with 3 yards on 9 carries.
Russell Levine: The Bears stacked the box against the run and Graham couldn't get out of the backfield all day. I think they were banking that forcing Griese to throw under pressure, he wouldn't be able to hit the open man often enough. It was almost true. He missed a lot of open guys and threw three interceptions (though one was on a tipped ball).
Then the Bears get up by 10 and they go to prevent and Griese just chewed them up in the no-huddle with the quick slants. The tying touchdown came on a beautifully designed play. The Bucs broke the huddle in a power-I, strange since there were 10 seconds left and they were out of timeouts on the Chicago 1. As Gruden often does, players shifted presnap and Jerramy Stevens split out wide left. Off the line, it looked like a fade, as there wasn't a single other player on that side of the formation and you figure Gruden's going to have Griese lob it up to the 6-foot-7 guy. Instead, Stevens makes a hard cut to the inside and Griese hits him, wide-open, for the tying touchdown.
Get ready for some controversy on this one. Tampa should have been punting from its own 10 or so in overtime, but the Bears got flagged for a dead-ball personal foul to keep what would turn out to be the winning drive alive. Jeremy Trueblood started the tussle with a dirty hit under the pile and Charles Tillman was about the fifth man in, but somehow the only one who got flagged. Awful, horrendous, embarrassingly bad call. And I'm a rabid Bucs fan.
Bright spots for Tampa Bay -- a Michael Clayton sighting. He only dropped one ball! He made several nice catches! He even had some YAC! Warrick Dunn had a tough day in pass pro, but he still made a few nice runs on draws and caught a few passes. He has an amazing knack for twisting his body to get to the sticks when defenders appear to have him pinned. Rookie Jeremy Zuttah had a really nice day against Tommie Harris.
Bright spots for Chicago -- Brandon Lloyd abused Ronde Barber for the entire second half. The announcers were raving about how the Bears have finally found their No. 1 receiver. I don't know if that's a comforting thought for Bears fans or not, but Lloyd was really good in this game.
Vince Verhei: Lloyd's always been known as the guy who would make the circus catch and drop the easy ones. He had a tremendous snag today, deeply arching his back to reach behind him and grab the ball. An amazing play.
Ben Riley: What does Visanthe Shiancoe need to do to get benched? Gus Frerotte hit him square in the chest for a first down early in the game, and Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble managed to dislodge the ball by hitting him. I think he may be the worst tight end in the league.
Doug Farrar: Gamble got a first-half pick when a Frerotte pass went off Bernard Berrian's hands, not to mention the two fumble returns -- one for a touchdown -- Gamble's picked up that Chris Harris has caused this season. He's the Forrest Gump of the NFL.
Mike Tanier: Watching Minnesota, I don't know what they gained by naming Frerotte the starter for the rest of the season. He made a couple of good reads and a few awful ones against the Panthers, and he delivers a lot of late and off-target passes. He is a sitting duck in the pocket. I don't see this massive upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson. The Vikings are going to win with heavy running, some screens and flats to Chester Taylor (who looked very good today), bootleg waggle stuff, and the odd bomb. Tarvaris is better on the boot-waggle stuff. Back in the day, Frerotte was better at the bombs, but I am not sure now. I think three games from now Frerotte will get exposed and Childress will look pretty silly going back to Jackson.
If we are looking for Keep Chopping Wood material, John Fox ordered a timeout on a field goal, one of those "make him kick it twice" timeouts. The first attempt was blocked. The second attempt was good.
Ben Riley: Hey, the Dolphins seemed to have figured out that Ronnie Brown may bring a little more to the table than Ricky Williams. He's got two touchdowns and we still have eight minutes to play in the second quarter.
Will Carroll: Looks like the Ricky Williams experiment is over. Can we go ahead and call that one a bad bluff? Ronnie Brown still hasn't had his "oh he's back" moment yet, but I think the basic nature of the Dolphins offense plays to what he can do.
Bill Connelly: Ronnie Brown's on my fantasy team's bench this week, by the way. I rule!
Halfway through the third quarter, the Dolphins have sent five direct snaps to Ronnie Brown, resulting in two rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown to Anthony Fasano.)
Bill Barnwell: Huh? The Dolphins are running the Wildcat offense in the red zone. This is crazy.
Ben Riley: Chad Pennington's stat line, midway through the third quarter: 14 for 17, 196 yards. I said it before, I'll say it again: the real problem with Patriots is the secondary, not the quarterback.
Bill Barnwell: The new book on the Patriots is to use the Wildcat offense. I can only assume that Dan Henning saw some Wildcat footage on YouTube and suddenly decided he had a new offensive scheme.
Doug Farrar: This makes the Pats vulnerable to the Raiders, as well. Who knew? Oh, wait a minute. This is ridiculous. Brown scored ANOTHER RUSHING TOUCHDOWN on a direct snap to begin the fourth quarter. 62 yards this time. Four total scores on direct snaps. What the hell?
Aaron Schatz: The remarkable thing about this Dolphins-Patriots upset is that Miami would be winning even if Tom Brady were healthy. Matt Cassel certainly is not playing particularly well, but this loss is almost entirely about the defense confused by the Wildcat and unable to tackle against the Wildcat or anything else.
So, from here, we ask: Does Miami continue to run this offense on a few plays against future opponents? And do Patriots opponents try running something similar, knowing how well it worked for Miami?
Doug Farrar: Sure -- it's like anything else. Keep it in the playbook, run it until they make you stop.
Aaron Schatz: Let me point out something else about the Dolphins running the Wildcat against the Patriots today. When people ask about why a college offense like the spread option would not work in the NFL, the typical answer is that NFL linebackers are simply too fast; most of the time, you would never be able to turn the corner on them. Even if you make them hesitate for a moment with the fake, they'll catch up to you. But the Patriots may have the slowest linebackers in the league. They value intelligence and experience much more than speed and youth. So this makes sense as an answer: to run an offensive scheme where the Pats can't use experience to make up for their lack of speed, because nobody would be expecting it in the NFL.
Bill Barnwell: The Dolphins look like a totally different team from last week. The biggest thing is discipline; they were picking up penalties like they were going out of style last week, but this week, they're relatively disciplined.
There's some weird schematic stuff happening with the Patriots defense. They're dropping their linebackers back into coverage eight or nine yards, I guess thinking that Pennington is going to throw mostly curls and slants, and the Dolphins are picking up huge chunks of yardage at a time. They're really struggling with their tackling, which seems strange.
Mike Tanier: When did the Wild Hog become the Wildcat? Most of the highlights I saw, the Dolphins were just using the direct snap as a glorified draw play, with or without a fake option to Ricky Williams. Basically, they were running junk, and it worked. The Dolphins do have a pretty good O-line, and their linemen were getting hats on the Patriots linebackers. Good coaching, smart way to get a win. I think you'll see it as a wrinkle now and then the rest of the year, third-and-3 type stuff.
Russell Levine: On the Wildcat/Wild Hog, I think they're interchangeable. Houston Nutt was the first guy to bring it to recent prominence, using Darren McFadden as a quarterback and Felix Jones at running back at Arkansas. Now that Nutt is at Ole Miss, he calls it the "wild rebel."
Bill Moore: I just got back from the NE-MIA game, and here are some thoughts:
Vince Verhei: Agreed that it was the defense, not Cassell, that cost the Patriots the game, but the interception Cassell threw on a screen pass struck me as a serious omen of bad things to come. If Randy Starks hadn't been in the picture, that pass would have hit Dan Koppen right in the chest. Pre-2007, the Brady Patriots ran some of the best screen plays I ever saw, with precision timing between passer, blockers, and receiver. Now that timing seems all thrown off, and we may not see it again anytime soon.
Bill Barnwell: Dan Dierdorf repeatedly counted the umpire as one of the ten men in the box for the Bengals on the Giants' first drive. Mathias Kiwanuka abused Levi Jones with handwork on the first Bengals snap. The first series as a whole: Sack, one-yard completion, Bengals timeout, false start (also on Jones), fumble. Through the first few drives, the Bengals simply can't keep the Giants linemen out of their backfield, regardless of the protection scheme or even the type of play. Bengals are jamming the box full of guys and challenging Eli to beat them. Dhani Jones shot the gap on a third-and-one to stop Brandon Jacobs and end a Giants drive. That was surprising.
Doug Farrar: Dhani Jones showed some quickness in short coverage early on. Kiwanuka killed Levi Jones again near the end of the first half. I wrote about Kiwi when he faced Chris Samuels in Week 1, and one of three things is true: Kiwi got five times better in two weeks, Chris Samuels is pretty damned good, or Levi Jones is having a very, very bad day.
Bill Barnwell: Jones is up to two sacks and a false start so far. The Bengals would really benefit from some draw plays -- the Giants are absolutely pinning their ears back and taking wide lanes and counting on Palmer's lack of mobility.
Why would Cincinnati run the stretch play and screens on a team with an incredibly fast front four? I don't understand their scheme, but the slants are working on the secondary.
The Bengals drive down the field for a game-tying field goal, but leave seconds on the clock when they complete a nine-yard pass on second down leading to a third-and-1 with 24 seconds left; Palmer was going to run a spike before, seemingly, realizing that running a spike would mean that they had to kick a field goal. Instead of calling a timeout, he ran a play which got the ball to the Giants 4, but left only four seconds on the clock and forced them to kick a game-tying field goal instead of going for a touchdown.
Ned Macey: Does anyone know what the hell is wrong with Chad Johnson? His overall numbers (or at least receptions) were down last year, but his DYAR was still very good. He had no separation at all today.
Can't wait to watch Cincy's offense rise in our rankings as opponent adjustments kick in. I would take them by 10 points over San Francisco right now, but in playing Baltimore, Tennessee(in terrible conditions), and the Giants, they've played three undefeated teams who all probably will have top 10 defenses.
Ben Riley: I think what's wrong with Chad Johnson is Chad Johnson's brain. The dude ain't right in the head.
Mike Tanier: I agree with Ben, though Ocho could still be injured. When I see him involved in the play, he doesn't have much separation, isn't fighting for the ball. Carson Palmer isn't looking to him too much, which means he just isn't open.
Ben Riley: With six minutes to go in the first quarter, I think each team has turned the ball over twice. Matt Schaub looks absolutely horrible, missing receivers with Tarvaris Jackson-like savvy, but the Titans have responded with a fumble and a pick. Note to Tennessee fans: Kerry Collins is not the answer.
The play-by-play announcer just referred to Andre Johnson as "Andre Davis," twice. Then, when Schaub actually threw to Andre Davis, he referred to him as "Andre Johnson." Better check that game card there. I think Andre Johnson has dropped four passes in the end zone. That's weird to see, and doesn't bode well for the Texans today.
Two huge coaching blunders by Gary "Don't Capitalize My Last Name" Kubiak. Kerry Collins hooked up with Justin Gage on a 40-yard pass play, but Gage was sliding out of bounds as he made the grab. Collins rushed down the field and the officials huddled, so it was an obvious situation to throw the red flag -- but Kubiak did nothing. Then, on third-and-goal, the Texans stop LenDale White at the goal line, but the officials (mistakenly, in my view) call it a touchdown. Apparently Kubiak's red flag is Super Glued to his pants or something.
Tim Gerheim: The Texans' first-round tackle Duane Brown seems to be doing well in pass protection and straight-ahead run blocking, based on not hearing his name called a lot, but he has no idea how to block on the move. I've seen him pull to the left twice and be a lead blocker on a screen pass, and he failed to make any blocks. Once he gets out in space he looks like he doesn't really know what to do. I'm hoping that's just rookie lineman's disease.
Russell Levine: I'm surprised he'd be so bad on the move given he's a former tight end, and prized for his mobility.
I wish I knew who this play-by-play guy was (not that I don't recognize him), because he's terrible. In addition to mixing up Andres Johnson and Davis, he's also repeatedly mixed up Chrises Davis and Johnson. And they don't even play the same position. I'm also pretty sure he once referred to Andre Johnson as "Jackson."
Ben Riley: With Steve Slaton going for 100 yards already against the Titans defense, is this shaping up to be the best rookie running back class ever? We have:
Am I forgetting anyone?
Doug Farrar: It certainly appeared to be the deepest class in recent memory. You never know how specific situations will play out, but it looks pretty good so far.
Will Carroll: With all the talk of replaceable running backs, how much is opportunity and how much is talent?
Bill Barnwell: Opportunity. Running back is the least valuable position in football. Tim Hightower has 18 carries for 37 yards. I don't know if we should be writing him -- or anyone on that list -- into the Hall of Fame yet.
Ben Riley: Well, I wouldn't send anyone to the Hall of Fame in their rookie season. I'm talking about rookie performance. (Hightower also has 38 yards receiving -- he's like a fat Reggie Bush!)
Bill Barnwell: Well yeah -- but 38 yards of performance isn't much yet. I agree that he looks good, but ... let's hold off a bit before we start anointing classes.
Ronnie Brown is on the bench in 79 percent of all Yahoo! leagues. That adds up to a lot of angry fantasy owners.
Tim Gerheim: Whichever of the officials is supposed to be watching for offsides and false starts was disturbingly asleep at the wheel. Texans fullback Vonta Leach started forward on one play that wasn't called, and Kyle Vanden Bosch left early and was offsides on two plays that weren't called. The calls really didn't make a big impact in the game, but the last one was particularly frustrating. It came with the Texans down 24-12 with about 1:30 left, third-and-goal from the 4 or so. Instead of stopping the clock and getting a first down on account of an offsides penalty, the play ended short of the goal line and in bounds, forcing a hurry-up snap on fourth down that ended up a desperation pass intercepted and returned 99 yards for a touchdown. So the final score probably should have been 24-19 rather than 31-12.
Doug Farrar: That's not uncommon. I've seen enough uncalled offsides over the last few years that it doesn't surprise me anymore.
Ben Riley: When will we see Sage Rosenfels?
Vince Verhei: I wanted to watch this game to see the Tennessee defense, but I didn't get to see much of them because they were rarely on the field. The Texans' first three possessions netted just seven plays, no first downs and one turnover.
At the end of the day, I don't think I learned anything earth-shaking. Albert Haynesworth and Cortland Finnegan are really good. To a lesser degree, so are Kyle Vanden Bosch and the linebackers. They do play very aggressively, both schematically (I saw one play, not short yardage, with five defenders on the line of scrimmage with a hand on the ground) and stylistically, flying furiously to the ball. That aggressive style, though, can be used against them -- they sometimes ran right on past the ball. The Texans also got receivers open several times on play-action (the receivers usually dropped the ball, which is a separate issue).
As noted, though, the game was closer than the score would indicate. It came down to Tennessee's red zone touchdowns against Houston's field goals, plus a basically meaningless defensive score at the end. Houston's defensive backs are still pretty bad, but Tennessee's passing game didn't really dominate them.
Ben Riley: Beautiful play call by Ken Whisenhunt early in the first quarter. Facing fourth-and-1 from the Redskins 40, he has Kurt Warner roll out on a naked bootleg and hit second-year tight end Ben Patrick for a touchdown. Unfortunately, a delay of game penalty wiped it out, but it was still a nice, aggressive play.
Bill Barnwell: Reggie Bush has a touchdown run today. You should be happy, Mike.
Mike Tanier: I am always happy, Bill. But Reg-man fumbled earlier. Don't know if it was a run or a pass. Doesn't matter in the cosmic scheme of things, but it matters for our bet, of course.
Bill Barnwell: It was a run. He was stuffed behind the line, which is just Reggie being Reggie.
Mike Tanier: And leading his team in receiving, providing what little rush offense they have, scoring two touchdowns. Reggie being Reggie.
Russell Levine: Great play by D.J. Williams on the back side to stuff the Saints on third-and-1 and force a long field goal try, which Martin Gramatica missed from 43.
Mike Tanier: Last week, on the game tape, D.J. Williams looked terrible. All kinds of mistakes in space. Not like him. I wonder how he was overall today? Guess I will get Shortcuts later in the week.
Ben Riley: Is it possible that Bill and Mike are both right about Reggie Bush? He's basically a wide receiver who plays out of the backfield -- a very, very good wide receiver. He cannot move the pile, but he can occasionally make a game-changing play when he finds space in the backfield. He can also bury the Saints in a lot of second-and-13 situations because he can't move the pile.
Will Carroll: OK, if that's true, is it such an odd skill-set, or is Sean Payton just using an asset properly? Could guys like Maurice Jones-Drew, Marshall Faulk, Felix Jones, etc., etc., not be used the same way? Is there a wide receiver that could move in and run between tackles a couple times a game?
Doug Farrar: And PFP '08 gets a namecheck, as T.J. Duckett rumbles for an early fourth-down conversion. Matt Vasgersian: "The guy that Pro Football Prospectus refers to as 'The Bowling Ball.' Nice 6-10 split there." Yay, us!
Bill Barnwell: He was always my favorite XFL commentator.
Doug Farrar: Nice no-call on the Alex Barron eye-poke of Patrick Kerney in the first quarter. Reached in through the face mask during the play, and "poke!" Now, if he had celebrated the eye-poke, that would have been 15 yards. And with all the false starts, why doesn't Barron have his own personal referee by now?
How bad is the Rams offense? They came into this game not having run a single play in their opponents' red zone. At the start of the second quarter, receiver Michael (Humpus) Bumpus muffed a punt, and St. Louis recovered at the Seattle 23. Three plays, -2 yards, Josh Brown field goal. When you can't run a play in the red zone despite being gifted the ball three yards out, your offense is bad on an epic, historic scale.
The Rams finally got in the red zone late in the first half, as the Seahawks started to leave cushions for guys like Dante Hall. Interesting defensive strategy there. By "interesting," I mean "stupid," of course. Still, only a field goal.
Aaron Schatz: NFL Network has now expanded America's Game with a new five-part series, Missing Rings, on the best teams that didn't win the title.
The next step, of course, would be to do a series on the worst teams of all time. The problem is that they could do the top ten and they might have to leave three spots for current teams -- the 2008 Lions, the 2008 Rams, or the 2008 Chiefs. These teams are so pathetic that San Francisco and Atlanta -- conventionally bad teams -- are actually going to be 2-1 after today.
I will note, however, that the Rams finally made it into the red zone today. Twice, even!
Doug Farrar: Just a little note to the Seahawks: Your record now reads 1-2, but that doesn't mean you beat a legitimate team to bag your first win. You basically went back in time, beat the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and saved your season, You now have a bye, and a tendency to rest on your laurels. If you think this represents some sort of magical turning point in your performance, and you don't continue to work on the little things, you will go to meet the Giants in two weeks, and the Giants will obliterate you.
Ben Riley: Well, that was fun. The biggest surprise of today was watching Julius Jones run like a man possessed. There were two plays where he spun out of gang-tackles and broke off huge runs. I'm starting to wonder if he truly does play better when he's a full-time starter and doesn't have to split carries. It was also interesting for me to see Mike Wahle chugging down the field to be the first guy to do Seattle's patented arm-lock thingy with Jones (or Duckett) after they scored.
On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks didn't generate a lot of pressure today against a very suspect Rams O-line. Patrick Kerney got jammed in the eye but, I didn't see much from anyone other than Julian Peterson. That's fine when you play a Triple-A franchise like St. Louis, but this team is going to get creamed against the Giants.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, it's worth mentioning again that Wahle has made a big difference in the offense. I've noticed that Walter Jones has been playing faster and tougher this season -- not up to the 2005 peak, but better than 2006-07. Amazing what happens when he doesn't have to worry about the guy on his right.
On the other hand, it's also worth mentioning again that not only can Brian Russell not tackle, I'd bet NFL Films would have to invest in special wide-angle technology to catch his concept of "safety help." What in the world is he doing out there?
The Seahawks generate boom-and-bust pressure. Their pass rush is the Willie
Parker of pass rushes. 14 sacks in a row, then everyone plays off for two
quarters and allows career days to scrub quarterbacks.
Bill Barnwell: Dawan Landry is down in Baltimore with what looks to be a spinal injury. He hit Jamal Lewis' knee on a tackle and just went down.
Vince Verhei: It looks like Landry is going to be OK. That's good news, because Landry made the hit with his face down, in perfect spine-compressing fashion. As Deion Sanders noted on NFL Gameday: "See what you hit, hit what you see. Keep your head up."
My God, did the Browns look bad today. I know that Baltimore's defense is great and all, but Derek Anderson missed several open receivers (including the pick-six he threw to Ed Reed), and Braylon Edwards had a case of the dropsies, finishing with just three catches. If that's the best those two guys can do, the Browns are so, so screwed.
Will Carroll: Through the first quarter, Saturday looks like the difference maker. I'm curious -- if the game charter for Indy could check, did the center get to the linebacker on run plays during the first two games? It seems like that's what Saturday is doing on nearly every play.
Someone explain that Jacksonville decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 halfway through the second quarter? Sure they're running well, but the line has been crap and it's a chip shot field goal to go to 7-6.
Bill Barnwell: Marvin Harrison's double-fisted jumping whine was impressive. Granted, Rashean Mathis has been feeling him up on pretty much every play (particularly on the interception return for a touchdown), but that was a hell of a complaint.
Benjy Rose: In general, I'm in favor of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for overt whining on the part of receivers, but I didn't have a problem with Harrison. Mathis should have bought him dinner first, and Harrison had had enough.
Will Carroll: 17-14, fourth-and-goal with 2:30 left. I'm not sure if Jack Del Rio shouldn't go for it here. They've got to have the defense gassed and a field goal isn't that big a deal. Maurice Jones-Drew looks like he's about to puke. This is the max workload he can take.
Someone's going to argue that the Colts lost because Bob Sanders wasn't there in run support. Umm, no.
Bill Barnwell: Great pick play by the Colts for the first down and they've gone from fourth-and-2 from inside their own 20 to first-and-goal inside the 5 in like five plays.
How is that pass interference? Reggie Williams ran straight into Freddie Keiaho.
Randy Cross just called Montel Owens Montel Williams, by the way.
Ben Riley: The crack Scramble Keep Choppin' Wood team will review all entries diligently, but I have to say, Tony Dungy's decision to pass twice at the end of the game doesn't make a ton of sense to me. Why not run the ball so Jacksonville has to burn time-outs if the Colts don't score? There was way too much time left on the clock for the Jaguars. And by the way, this Colts team really should be 0-3. Crazy.
Ned Macey: Other than I wish that the Jaguars had Martin Gramatica as their kicker, not really a lot to say about this game. We've seen it before. Sort of embarrassing really for Jacksonville that they dominated to that extent, had a pick return for a touchdown, and still needed that 53-yarder (after a fourth-down interference call and a 10-plus-yard reception on a tipped ball). For all the 7-foot receivers they have, they are a terrible red zone team right now.
Was anyone watching enough to see the hit Drayton Florence put on Dallas Clark? Was it helmet-to-helmet or no? My sense of this rivalry is that the Jags always push the envelope, and if the refs let them play, they sort of take it to the Colts.
Will Carroll: Yes, it was clearly a fine-inducing hit. Clark locked up and i think had a leg stinger.
Ned Macey: For all those scoring at home, the Jaguars were so scared of Harrison that they had their third cornerback playing him man-to-man with no help on the last drive. How the mighty have fallen. Really, between that, Brian Dawkins' struggles last week, and reports of Ronde Barber's demise, I'm a little depressed. My football interest (which I define as watching games besides my own team) sort of came of age around 2000, and those guys were all my favorite players at their respective positions.
Aaron Schatz: I didn't think the Florence hit on Clark was clearly fineable. It looked like he was leading with the shoulder to me, not helmet-to-helmet.
Vince Verhei: On the second-quarter fourth-down play, I like the Jaguars' decision to go for it. They only needed two yards, and there's a hidden benefit to coming up short: You pin the Colts deep in their own territory. Obviously, if you knew you would fail on fourth, you would kick the field goal instead. But without the benefit of hindsight, it seems like a good gamble to me.
Overall, while exciting, I thought this game was shockingly sloppy. It was particularly odd to see the Colts dropping so many passes, and Manning's throw on the pick-six was a terrible decision. And then the Jaguars pull it out with, as Ned noted, one of the ugliest game-winning drives you'll ever see. David Garrard has now thrown more interceptions in three games than he did in all of 2007. These looked like teams that deserved to be 1-2, not good teams undone by bad luck or hard schedules.
Mike Tanier: Oooh -- Donovan McNabb shaken up, then Brian Westbrook limping and being taken to the locker room. Can the Steelers find a way to injure Chase Utley too? That would be swell.
The Eagles defense came to play today. The Steelers are in their usual sack-and-be-sacked mode. The Eagles offense is predictably Westbrook-less, though Correll Buckhalter made a great play on the touchdown. And of course, all 50-plus-yard field goals always go in against the Eagles.
Bill Barnwell: Phil Simms just told us that Willie Parker running into the line on second-and-6 for no gain was a "good no gain" because it gave the Steelers a lot of options on third down.
Mike Tanier: Simms knows the Steelers are great on third-and-long. For example, at the end of the third, Parker lost a yard. Let's see what happens after the break on third-and-7.
Bill Barnwell: Neither I nor Aaron can tell if you're being sarcastic or not.
Mike Tanier: OK, sack by the Eagles. So much for that theory. Really, I am trying to figure out what stupid mistake the Eagles will make to lose this game. Blown coverage? Quintuple fake handoff fumble by McNabb? Muffed punt? 16 men on the field? I bet it will involve L.J. Smith in some way.
Bill Barnwell: My money's on Sean Considine.
Mike Tanier: I was being sarcastic. McNabb looks terrible since he took that hit earlier, though I think the Westbrook-less offense is part of the problem. There will be no critical mistake, they will just lose the field position battle over and over until something snaps.
Will Carroll: At the start of the fourth quarter, the guy trying to block the gunner just got bit by the turf monster. I haven't seen one that blatant since the bad ol' days of the Vet. You could see the turf kind of fold, followed by his knee folding.
Bill Barnwell: Poor Scott Starks. At least he can go back to producing Brooke Hogan albums now.
Mike Tanier: Take two very good teams. Injure the best player on the field. Bang up both quarterbacks. Make the field a little divot-y (no rain in days, what is up?). Then, in the second half, make every series a three-and-out with one sack and one incompletion. You get Eagles-Steelers, the game which will never end.
Bill Barnwell: Aaron notes that we're putting Rashard Mendenhall on the milk carton. What the hell happened to him?
Mike Tanier: The Steelers hate him. That safety call is really close. Both Mewelde Moore and Heath Miller were in the general direction Big Ben was throwing. For the record, though, I hate the play call.
Bill Barnwell: There's no way Roethlisberger could've reached them, though.
Mike Tanier: Oooh, Ben's knee was down.
Doug Farrar: Details, please?
Bill Barnwell: Roethlisberger was in the end zone when he threw a last-gasp throw a couple yards in the air and back down while he was being dragged down by myriad Eagles. He was called for intentional grounding and the Eagles got a safety.
Mike Tanier: Eagles are missing sacks, missing fumbles, an interception through Sheldon Brown's hands at 3:39 in the fourth. Don't like this ... Ooooh frll on that one. Kneel three times and a field goal, maybe?
Bill Barnwell: Why is Leftwich coming in for Pittsburgh?
Phil Simms: "Some times, you have to try and go out and win."
What do you do the other part of the time?
Mike Tanier: Ben got hurt one of the five or six times he was hit on the last drive. Somewhere in there the ball started slipping out of his hand on every play. The third or fourth time it happened (OK, the second), the Eagles recovered.
Mendenhall is returning kicks, had a 10-yard catch plus a dropped short pass on the last drive.
Russell Levine: They're looking at Roethlisberger's right wrist on the sidelines. God, I've missed Leftwich and his Satchell Paige windup.
Mike Tanier: NFL.com Injury Reports posts that Kevin Kolb threw an interception in his first NFL attempt today in relief of McNabb. Either A) NFL.com guys are mortals and make mistakes just like we do, or B) passes thrown against the Rams don't count as NFL attempts. He played some against the Lions last year, too. Same difference.
Vince Verhei: Count me among those who loves this kind of game. Watching Roethlisberger and the the Steelers get overwhelmed by pass rushers over and over again looked like something out of a horror movie. But since the Eagles' offense couldn't put points on the board, the game was still up for grabs on every play, (until the Eagles kicked a late field goal to ice it away). I was riveted.
Mike Tanier: Before the first snap in this Pack-Cowboys game, this has been one great week of football. Sooo much better than last week. Two cool overtime games in the 1 p.m., plus a Bills comeback. Jags-Colts and Saints-Broncos were good, I am told. Eagles-Steelers was close and fun for fans of sacks. A crazy upset with lots of Wild Hog. Fun week.
Now if I hear Westbrook is lost for the season I will cry myself to sleep.
Aaron Schatz: I'll add that the Patriots-Dolphins game was the kind of thing that's great fun if you aren't a Patriots fan. I'm not talking about the big upset; I'm talking about an NFL team suddenly using a wacky college formation and running all over their completely flummoxed opponent. That's the kind of thing that would really have me giggling if it wasn't for the fact that the team I root for was getting run over.
I meant to mention this the first two weeks, but I don't think I did: I love NBC's new graphic showing how many defensive backs and wide receivers are in the game on third downs. Really useful, and small enough to be ignored by those who don't care about the information.
Nice run-blocking by Miles Austin in this game.
Ben Riley: Atari Bigby has taken a lot flak around these parts, but his backup, Charles Peprah, was positively Brian Russell-like as he let Felix Jones blow by him for a 60-yard touchdown run. Hey Charles, when you see the running back coming at you, pick an angle and attack.
Aaron Schatz: Peprah is the backup to the backup. The actual backup (and starter tonight) is Aaron Rouse (PFP 08 Top 25 Prospects, number five).
Bill Barnwell: Have the Packers even used the full house at all this year? I've seen most of their snaps and I don't recall seeing it.
Aaron Schatz: I think I saw some of it last week.
The Cowboys defensive line is really doing a good job of handling the Packers offensive line tonight. They're getting excellent pass pressure. Actually, both teams are getting excellent pass pressure. The difference is mainly that the Cowboys could get it into the end zone in the red zone, and the Packers keep stalling out. For some reason, subjectively, it seems like a lot of good offensive teams this year are having trouble punching it in and have to kick tons of field goals. No idea if that is true or just weird memory playing tricks on me.
Mike Tanier: The Giants are having red zone troubles, though they are getting there a lot.
Aaron Schatz: Well, whatever it is that the team projection system doesn't like about Dallas (other than the injury issue), I hope it stops seeing it after this year. It is getting annoying. This is a really good team. As we predicted, the Cowboys have had to deal with more injuries this season, but none of their best players have missed a game (except Terence Newman) and so far it has not mattered. That touchdown pass to Austin streaking up the right side, which iced this game, was beautiful. The coverage was good and all the Packers defenders could do afterwards was just shake their heads because they had Austin and the Cowboys just made it happen. It looks like the Cowboys had another good draft (so far, Felix Jones looks like a Westbrook-like Speed Score exception), they basically got Pac-Man Jones for free, they look good at pretty much every position except perhaps for safety. Although we do have to ask: What is it about this team that made it decline so heavily at the end of the last two seasons, and are those same issues going to show up again come mid-December of 2008?
Bill Barnwell: Agreed. Jones looks like an absolute monster.
Ben Riley: Did the Cowboys really decline at the end of last year? They lost two meaningless games at the end of the season, after they locked up a first-round bye but could not win homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Of course, maybe they suffered "Colts 2005 Syndrome," when you take too much time off between playing meaningful games.
Aaron Schatz: Here are the Cowboys' DVOA ratings for the final four games of the past two seasons.
2006: -56% (Sunday night vs. Saints), 1% (narrow win over Atlanta), -33% (Xmas loss to Philly), -23% (loss to Detroit to blow division)
2007: -11% (narrow comeback win vs. Lions), -64% (Eagles upset), 7% (win over Carolina), -78% (blown out by Redskins)
Remember, the Cowboys were not resting their starters at the end of either season, and in 2006 they blew the division lead. In both 2006 and 2007, the Cowboys then lost in the playoffs to a team with a far inferior regular-season DVOA. I have no explanation for why it happened in the past, and it could be random chance -- but if there is an actual issue here, this year's team hasn't made any changes to the formula. As they stomp through the early part of the schedule, I have this nagging feeling we're going to see the late-season collapse again.
121 comments, Last at 24 Sep 2008, 2:16am by Sid