Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
05 Oct 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 Moore: I knew Tom Jackson hated the Patriots, but I didn't realize Cris Carter did too. "The people in New England seem to think they know more about football than we do here." I don't know if he was speaking of the organization or the community; the comment wasn't explained.
I saw him the night before the Hall of Fame election announcement. He was having dinner with family and friends at the table next to mine. We were the only people in the restaurant. It seemed like a pre-Hall celebration party, talking about all his great plays. I felt bad for him the next day. I don't anymore. :)
Ben Riley: The Mayne Event segment, featuring Usain Bolt and Eli Manning, has a couple of old dudes timing Bolt in the 40-yard dash. They say to Bolt, "sure you're fast, but are you football fast?" Bolt asks, "what is that?" Answer, according to Eli and the old dudes: "That's when slow-ass white guys play one of the safety positions."
(And no, Doug, Brian Russell did not have a cameo appearance.)
Aaron Schatz: Carter in the "ESPN simulation room" was discussing David Garrard's ability to run the quarterback draw and talked about how Garrard used it in "the biggest win in Jacksonville's franchise career." First of all, a team can't have a career. It has a history. Second, and more importantly -- man, was 1996 that far long ago? Hello? McFly pattern? Jacksonville upsets Denver?
Ben Riley: Whoa, Mike Ditka was talking about the Bears, and just said "32 is the key number, and I'm not talking about O.J." You could feel the ESPN producers shuddering all the way in San Francisco.
Doug Farrar: Followed by this show-ending bon mot from Carter re: Aaron Rodgers' ability to play: "They have really good drugs in Green Bay!"
Bill Moore: I haven't seen much of this game, but Matt Ryan seems to be playing well. He was driving for his third touchdown when Al Harris fill-in Tramon Williams bit on the play-fake, but recovered enough to make a sensational, one-handed interception in the end zone.
Aaron Rodgers threw a 43-yarder, Ryan Grant ran for 13, Rodgers threw for another 30, and BANG, tie game rather than a two-touchdown lead.
Benjy Rose: A few things struck me while watching this game:
So what happened? Some very good game-planning on Mike Mularkey's part. First play of the game -- defense expects a conservative look from a team with a strong running game and a rookie quarterback -- 37-yard-pass to Roddy White. Then it's mostly runs peppered with some well-timed safe-but-not-too-conservative passes. Basically, Mularkey protected his young quarterback while not going Joe Walton on the team. White ended up with 132 yards receiving on the day, and he and Ryan are looking like a really nice combo.
Other than that, it was one of those games for the Green Bay offense where they seemed to stall at inopportune times due mostly to either poor route-running or poor play-calling -- 9 yards on third-and-11, 5 yards on third-and-10, etc. A field goal at the end of the first half was nullified due to a holding penalty, and Mason Crosby couldn't nail the 53-yarder. Then the Boley interception. They seemed to slightly outplay the Falcons (I'm curious to see what DVOA has to say about that), but the Falcons hung in and prevailed. A good game to watch, though.
Bill Barnwell: Sorry, Benjy. Now it's in context.
Doug Farrar: The Dolphins are getting a bit whacked out with this Wildcat thing. They had four direct snaps to Ronnie Brown on their first drive. Three runs by Brown, and one handoff to Ricky Williams. They got 16 yards on those four plays, with only one play going over 2 yards. Haven't seen the plays yet, but I'm wondering if the honeymoon might be over. Tony Sparano has said that there are other wrinkles in this set of plays; it's probably time to start using them.
Mike Tanier: The Wild Jumping Shark Offense!
Doug Farrar: Nah, that's what the Seahawks are currently running in the Meadowlands. With all the Miami gimmickry, I wonder if the massive improvement along the offense line is going unnoticed. With 2:00 left in the first half, Ronnie Brown ran a little counter outside left, Ikechuku Ndukwe got a nice seal block inside, and Brown kept extending the play outside. I've seen a lot of really good guard play out of Justin Smiley and Ndukwe this year. Smiley was pulling on all those Wildcat plays against New England, and just blowing up inside lanes for Brown.
Bill Barnwell: I'm still amazed at Chris Chambers' season. Five touchdowns on 11 receptions. I knew that he'd become primarily a deep threat/red zone guy in San Diego, but this is absurd. Oh, and he got hurt on a catch on the 1-yard line, apparently.
Vince Verhei: The Miami secondary is having quite a turnaround since Anquan Boldin and the Cardinals ate them alive. Fresh off the win over the Patriots, they came out and made the Chargers look like amateurs. A lot of it was Philip Rivers having a bad day. He seemed to be throwing ahead of his receivers a lot. But I also saw Andre' Goodman make a nice tackle to break up a LaDainian Tomlinson screen pass, and Chris Crocker made a nice play in the end zone to break up what would have been a touchdown.
I didn't see much of the first quarter of this one, but later, it seemed like the Wildcat was working reasonably well. Which seems funny to me, because there are really only two plays the Dolphins run out of that: The sweep to Ricky Williams or Ronnie Brown up the gut. Yes, Brown passed for a score against New England, but I don't think they'll catch lightning in a bottle again.
Doug Farrar: Well, there's the counter as well, which turned into the counter-option to Anthony Fasano against New England, but ... yeah. I don't know why it isn't easier to read and defend. I think the tendency is to tip the inside run by putting the H-back inside the second right tackle.
Vince Verhei: A note to Norv Turner: Tomlinson should get more than six carries in the first half. And you can't say the Chargers were playing catch-up, because San Diego was ahead or tied for almost 25 minutes.
Will Carroll: What happened to Matt Hasselbeck? My phone just whimpered.
Doug Farrar: Hyperextended knee, apparently. He's back in.
It really needs to be emphasized: Brandon Jacobs is freakin' HUGE. On New York's first play from scrimmage, he took a little pass upfield and basically laughed off Julian Peterson's first tackle attempt. Second play, he carries Peterson a few yards on a run. Third play, he runs past Deon Grant's "Ole!" tackle near the line of scrimmage for a 40-plus-yard gain. There is official video evidence of a Brian Russell tackle at the end of that long run -- amazing.
I'm not sure what's going on with Seattle's secondary this season, but they're out of position, biting on simple stuff, safety help is inconsistent -- last year, Jim Mora coached that secondary up very well. I don't know if Mora's taking a more expanded and less specific role as he gets ready to become Seattle's head coach next year, but I'm not liking what I'm seeing from the defensive backfield at all.
Special note to the Seattle defensive coaching staff: Any opposing receiver covered by Jordan Babineaux one-on-one will morph into the late-1980s version of Jerry Rice. He's a coverage complement, not a primary ingredient. We thought you already knew this, but here's a helpful reminder.
Bill Barnwell: The Giants are overwhelming the Seahawks. This is like that Giants-Seahawks game from a couple of years ago, but back then it was Seattle who got out to the huge lead.
Doug Farrar: Right, when the Seahawks went up 42-3 and had to fight the Giants off in the end.
I like that Seattle is sliding protection on certain running plays under new line coach Mike Solari. Under the previous administration, it seemed to be pretty much "a hat on a hat." Julius Jones continues to surprise me with his willingness to dig a shoulder in on contact and fight for yardage.
Sean McCormick: Is it me or does Matt Hasselbeck look like Chad Pennington out there? He seems to be having a lot of problems throwing outside the hashmarks with any kind of velocity, and receivers are having to pause after their breaks to wait for the ball to arrive. That's hardly the only thing going wrong for Seattle, but it's disconcerting to see, nevertheless.
Bill Barnwell: Seattle's not penetrating the Giants' backfield at all. It speaks to the strength of the Giants' rush blocking that the team that's second in the league in rush defense is getting shut down at the line, even with Kevin Boothe in for a concussed Kareem McKenzie at right tackle. It's really a situation where the sum is greater than its parts. No one's really blowing me away, but when everyone does their job in the running game, the play gets to be run as expected and there's no need for Jacobs to have to cut back or slow down.
The Seahawks receivers are having an awful day. Dropping passes, running the wrong routes, making the wrong reads, failing to separate at the line ... just an ugly performance. Meanwhile, the Giants have had both Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham sightings, and Domenik Hixon, of all people, is having a huge day in the Plaxico Burress role. Right now, Anthony Nix is cursing himself.
Vince Verhei: This game in a nutshell: At one point the Giants had 24 points and had run only two third-down plays.
Doug Farrar: One more thing I noticed in this debacle: Lofa Tatupu kept getting lost on cutbacks. That was odd, because knowing when to stop pursuing outside and get back inside to tackle is generally one of his strengths. But against the Giants, he'd start outside and just keep going, right out of the picture, as Jacobs ripped off another huge gain.
This is in no way meant to diminish what the Giants did -- this was a 100 percent legitimate beatdown -- but there's something terribly wrong with Seattle's defense right now. They had a great balance last year with the same players, but half the team is too tentative and the other half are biting and overpursuing on everything.
Bill Barnwell: One of the things we're going to need to look at as the Giants keep going undefeated -- they've won eight straight now, you know -- is how a team is going to be able to beat them. A blueprint, if you will.
Offensively, there's not really anything the Giants don't do well, now that we can say that Eli Manning's absolutely taken a step forward on short and intermediate routes. The Giants put an incredible amount of pressure on a team's linebackers to succeed when you consider how often they run sweeps and off-tackle, and throw to the middle of the field with Burress on slants and Kevin Boss, Steve Smith, and Amani Toomer on curls and short/medium ins. You would think that this would've been a positive thing for the Seahawks, who have arguably the best linebacking corps in the league, but they were blown away by the Giants.
The weakness of the team is at tackle, especially on passing plays. David Diehl gets overwhelmed by larger rushers, while Kareem McKenzie occasionally gives up on plays and struggles with speed guys. An ideal scheme would probably be a 3-4 team, using its defensive linemen to attack the A and B gaps while using linebackers or potentially safeties to try and create mismatches on the outside. None of the Giants halfbacks are great pass blockers, so putting them in a situation where they have to is a good idea.
On the other side of the ball, what Steve Spagnuolo really does -- outside of the exotic blitzes that are overstated as the core of his scheme anyway -- is challenge you to beat his athletes. He has no problem letting the front four overpursue on almost a play-by-play basis, figuring that they're fast enough to prevent cutbacks. There are almost always opportunities for cutbacks against the Giants; if you remember the weird double-screen that the Patriots ran on the first play of the Super Bowl, that's exactly what they were trying to exploit. They were one step away from getting the ball off on a play that would've gone for about 40 yards. That doesn't mean that it wasn't a great play by the Giants to stop it, but there are going to be opportunities like that.
Vince Verhei: OK, I've had a few hours to reflect. I can speak reasonably about the Seahawks-Giants game now.
For Seattle: As Doug noted, there is something seriously wrong with the Seattle defense as a whole right now. The linebackers, who I've talked about as the best in the league, were horrible today. It wasn't just overpursuit; all three guys were missing a bunch of tackles. Julian Peterson, in particular, was just leaning his shoulder into guys, hitting them but not even trying to wrap up. He was checking them almost like a hockey player. The boom-and-bust pass rush was all bust today. Just ineffective four-man rush after ineffective four-man rush, with nary a blitz to be seen. And then there's the secondary, which is making a habit of leaving guys wide-open all the time. And it's almost entirely the same defense they fielded last year, so they should all be on the same page.
For New York: The Giants right now are better than they were at any point last year. Their power-running attack is very scary. In this age of nearly ubiquitous zone blocking, it's refreshing to see a team go with pulling guards so often. Eli appears to have taken the leap to, at least, perennial Pro Bowl candidate. I thought the defense would sink without Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora; I was so wrong. Before today, none of their wins particularly impressed me; I thought Washington lost more than New York won, the Rams are not an NFL team, and the Bengals took them to overtime at home. But combine all three of those wins with today's humbling and, well, you have the best team in the league right now.
Bill Barnwell: I think it's fairly simple to make various cases for the Giants being the best team in the league. Considering their upcoming schedule (at Cleveland and versus San Francisco), it also seems pretty easy to project them to a 7-0 record.
The Giants really do pull a guy on almost every play. Chris Snee is way better at it than Rich Seubert, who often ends up flailing at linebackers. But he still gets out there and runs interference, which is often enough. Ideally, the Giants would have a better left tackle and use the more athletic Diehl at left guard. It's hard to imagine that line being better at run blocking, but they could be.
Bill Barnwell: Joe Buck actually admitted that showing Ludacris and Mark Wahlberg in Jeffrey Lurie's box was a shameless plug for a FOX movie. I'm still not a fan, but it was admittedly a nice touch.
DeSean Jackson is fluid getting in and out of his cuts, but he's telegraphing his routes. There was a slant pattern where Jackson made a cut that could only result in a slant, and Carlos Rogers easily jumped it and dropped an interception.
There was a bloody umpire at the end of the first half in this game. I'm pretty sure that was a shot I drank last night.
Mike Tanier: Bloody Umpire -- Layer 1 oz. dark rum, then one shot light rum, then 2 oz. Cranberry Juice. Finish with an orange twist.
The Eagles offense has an amazing ability this year to come out like gangbusters on the first drive or two and then get bogged down for the rest of the game. They jumped out to 14-0 (with the help of a punt return touchdown) but have been goofing off with three-and-outs ever since. They also have an amazing knack for spotting opponents quick field goals or touchdowns before halftime.
Bill Barnwell: From Matt Mosley's column on ESPN:
I was intrigued by something Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers told me immediately after the game. He said he marveled at the Eagles' first 15 plays of the game, but noticed that things grew stale after that. It's not as if he was trying to badmouth the Eagles, but I think it speaks to how Philadelphia's first drive looked dramatically different from the way it played the rest of the day.
"We'd never seen those plays they came out with," Rogers said. "I'm serious.
Those were great plays. But after that, I guess our coaching took over."
I'm not sure those are the comforting words Eagles fans were looking for.
Ned Macey: Since the 2006, the Eagles are 6-12 in games decided by seven points or less (7-13 if you count the playoffs). They are 1-7 in the last two years in games decided by four points or less. Maybe that's just a rotten streak of luck, but methinks the team has some issues that are leading to consistently underperforming their "true" ability.
Will Carroll: Sage Rosenfels? What? When did this happen?
Bill Barnwell: Matt Schaub is sick. He was in the hospital Saturday night.
Will Carroll: Marvin Harrison is taking hits today. Not sure what, if anything, that means.
Aaron Schatz: In the opening, they talked about Joseph Addai coming home to Houston. Wait a minute, Joseph Addai is from Houston? Where the hell did he get that thick Louisiana accent?
Here's a sign the Colts offense is still out of sync despite the improving health of the offensive line: There were a number of plays in this game where the Colts receiver caught the ball one yard short of the sticks. I don't remember that ever being a problem for the Colts in the past.
Aaron Schatz: Does anyone know if Reliant Stadium is known for having bad turf? Peyton Manning got sacked because he slipped while trying to move up in the pocket, and Marlin Jackson slipped while trying to cover Andre Johnson.
Will Carroll: Manning lay down on that sack because he saw that Mario Williams was about to behead him. With the roof off for 20-plus days, I can't think it would help the turf.
Aaron Schatz: To paraphrase Mark Twain, "The death of the Indianapolis run defense has been insufficiently exaggerated."
Will Carroll: Late in the game, you need to run the ball ... so you put in Ahman Green? Aside from the Sage Rosenfels Bonehead Diving Experience, Slaton's been running all over them. Gary Kubiak seemed to be thinking Green's veteran experience would allow him to hold onto the ball, not get a first down.
(Later, after multiple turnovers allow the Colts to win a game they had no business winning...)
It's the Tampa Bay game all over again!
Ned Macey: When Slaton ran in his second touchdown, CBS cut to Schaub, and Dan Dierdorf said something about how he was happy about the game. I said that he was likely depressed because he was going to be out of a job. Then, Rosenfels manages to turn the ball over three times in the final four-plus minutes. Wow. I agree with Will (about the analogies to the Tampa Bay game in 2003) except that thanks to Rosenfels, the Colts didn't need a bogus leaping penalty. They did, however, benefit from some odd decisions to let Rosenfels have the ball in his hands. Definitely a case of better to have rushed and lost than never rushed at all.
That said, this Colts team is EXTREMELY mediocre right now. The offense shows some flashes occasionally, but they were shut down for almost three straight quarters today. The offensive line is still not very good, and Marvin Harrison has lost a step. Manning isn't playing his best right now, so maybe it is something as simple as him returning to his near-perfect level, but for now, this looks like a 9-7 or 10-6 team.
I've been reading for weeks from all you guys about how Andre Johnson was struggling. He was dominant today until he got hit in the head. Let's just say this was not Marlin Jackson's best day.
Aaron Schatz: For most of the game, this looked like the Houston team that our projections thought would challenge for the playoffs. On offense, they ran all over the place. The good Andre Johnson was back in a big way. On defense, Mario Williams was all over Peyton Manning. Zach Diles was making a ton of good plays at linebacker, breaking through the line to stop Joseph Addai a couple times. Fred Bennett may have already worked his way to Bailey/Asomugha status, in part because of the (non) quality of the other Houston corners. I think I saw Manning throw to a receiver covered by Bennett in man coverage once all game -- a deep ball to Harrison that Manning had to overthrow because Bennett's coverage was very good.
The Colts scored with four minutes left to make it 27-17, but David Anderson recovered the onside kick, and this thing should have been over. By the time Audibles runs in the morning, everybody will have seen the succession of plays that blew this game for Houston, but it was an astonishing deluge of "non-predictive events." (I am not calling them bad luck, as many of them involved skill by the Colts and outright STUPIDITY by the Texans.)
Sage Rosenfels tries to run for a first down, fumbles, and it is recovered by the Colts, who return it for a touchdown. Remember, not only are fumble recoveries essentially random, but turnover returns for touchdowns are essentially random -- but Rosenfels should never have scrambled and fumbled it in the first place. On the next drive, the Colts sack Rosenfels on third-and-long, and he doesn't protect the ball. The Colts once again recover it, already in field-goal range.
They score. The Texans can come back with 1:47 left, but Rosenfels floats an interception, just a horribly thrown ball. Yuck. What a nightmare.
Tim Gerheim: The Texans meltdown was much more incomprehensible and intolerable in person, let me tell you. A few fans threw beer bottles onto the field after the mind-boggling Rosenfels dive-fumble-touchdown. I don't condone that, but like Chris Rock said about O.J., I understand. It was the second straight gut-wrenching job of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It's almost like they found themselves against teams they could beat, and had to come up with ways to lose those games. Today's was infinitely more creative than last week's. People talk about players who know how to win, having a culture of winning, and the end of this game really exemplifies what happens when you don't. I think the mood in the stadium on the third-and-9 Rosenfels disaster play was, roughly, "God I hope they get a first down. Otherwise they have to give the ball back to the Colts, and between last week and the fact that these are the Colts, we'll definitely lose." Rosenfels made that crazy dive because he was trying to do too much because of that feeling. It's a Texans infection. I'm sure MDS, at least, knows exactly what I'm talking about.
There is no reason to think that Rosenfels was on the verge of getting Matt Schaub's job before the four-minute meltdown. Rosenfels was effective today, but he wasn't anything special, and he got a lot more help from his receivers than Schaub has been getting. Rosenfels made some dangerous throws today, but Andre Johnson in particular made him look good by making good (not spectacular, but good) catches. Johnson's touchdown in particular was an example of that. Johnson was covered, and the defender was slightly in front of him. Rosenfels threw the ball high, and Johnson reached forward and snatched the ball before the defender did. A better corner would have made that play, possibly for an interception, but Johnson was just a better player and better athlete on that play. But that doesn't mean Rosenfels didn't make a dangerous throw. I didn't see Rosenfels do anything today that made me think he should have gotten Schaub's job, particularly after how Schaub played last week. Rosenfels didn't throw the great deep balls that Schaub did last week, and frankly the previous week when Johnson dropped all those touchdowns. Rosenfels showed himself to be who we thought he was: one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. Until he started channeling Tim Tebow and was reminded that he's no Tim Tebow.
Someone seemed to think Houston was playing Ahman Green instead of Slaton. First of all, Slaton was the starter and played at the goal line, so he was the No. 1 running back. But playing Green seemed to work very well. Slaton, for all that he has provided a spark this season, seemed to get 1 yard on most carries, and then got about 50 on that highlight reel carry. Whenever Green came in, he tended to run for about 8 yards on each carry. Slaton obviously has more upside, particularly long-term, but mixing in Ahman Green seems like a distinctly good idea.
Ned Macey: I watch fewer than five Texans games a year, so I'm not sure why I'm arguing with Tim, but I'll take a stab anyway.
Schaub, including last week's stellar performance, has been below replacement level for the season. Last year Rosenfels ranked seventh in DVOA, Schaub 17th. Rosenfels had his team up 27-10 and had very good numbers against a team that traditionally (although apparently not this year) is a very good pass defense. And while it is often (and probably in this case) a bogus stat, Schaub is 4-10 as Houston's starter. Rosenfels would have been 5-1 if he had just slid and let the team punt.
Maybe Tim's eyes just foretold what became obvious down the stretch. But I think if Houston had held on, a quarterback controversy would definitely be brewing.
Tim Gerheim: Ned, you may be right about Schaub. But Rosenfels has been around for a while, and he doesn't seem to have a lot of untapped potential. More precisely, there's no uncertainty about how good he can be. Schaub shows flashes of being better than that. Wasn't he the No. 1 quarterback in DYAR last week? Schaub's biggest problem in Houston has been an inability to stay on the field.
I'm not trying to say Rosenfels didn't do a good job. But he didn't do anything special. Being up 27-10 is a credit to the Texans offense and the Colts defense. It was a balanced offense, there was good line play, and good offensive play-calling. Similar things can be said about his 4-1 record last season. I'm not trying to take anything away from Rosenfels, because he played his part well today until Armageddon, but it's not as though Rosenfels put the offense on his back in this game. Now, I'm not sure Schaub could do that if he had to, but that's kind of the point. I'm pretty darn sure Rosenfels couldn't, because he's been around the league long enough that everybody knows that. The same is not true of Schaub, and I think that Schaub's best day is better than Rosenfels' best day.
And I promise this isn't all just reaction to the game-ending disaster. Sometime before the helicopter fumble, a guy sitting behind me said something about Schaub losing his job after today, and I immediately thought that was the dumbest thing I'd heard all day. Rosenfels had a good day because he's a smart player who knows the offense well enough to come in on very short notice, and that's a credit to him. But neither the game plan nor the Colts defense forced him, until the last-gasp drive down 31-27, to get out of his comfort zone and really be impressive. Also, I don't know if it's a fair comparison, but last week Schaub got a game-tying field goal on a two-minute drive at the end; this week Rosenfels got nowhere on a similar drive and then threw a heinous interception.
Mike Tanier: The Cardinals' secondary got burned on that Lee Evans touchdown, but wasn't bad in this game. Of course, they were awful against the Jets. J.P. Losman did what J.P. Losman does: He converted the bomb and ran for a touchdown, completed some swing passes, but held the ball forever in the pocket and provided no sequential offense. The Cardinals dominated time of possession.
Bill Moore: Hey, Ellis Hobbs: At least no one will boo you in this game. Both of J.T. O'Sullivan's first two touchdown passes have been against Hobbs' coverage.
If you're Jon Gruden and the Patriots call, what do you want for Jeff Garcia?
Aaron Schatz: Matt Cassel threw a roughly 70-yard bomb to Randy Moss. The Patriots' problems are just as much about defense, and the fact that the offensive line isn't protecting Cassel as well as it protected Brady a year ago.
Bill Barnwell: The problem isn't Cassel; it's that the secondary can't cover anything. Or that the pass rush isn't covering that fact up anymore.
Bill Moore: I actually wrote, "Although Cassel isn't completely the problem - the defense is." However, I deleted it before sending because that may be the exact reason they need a better quarterback. The defense can't keep the game close. The best was Randy Cross saying about the interception, "Well, I guess that's as good as a punt." Yeah, if they wanted to punt on first down!
Doug Farrar: Would Garcia fit that offense anyway? I've always been a big fan of his, but it would take him two throws to get the ball 70 yards downfield to Moss like Cassel did. He'd have to throw it 35, run downfield, pick it up, and throw it again.
Bill Moore: I haven't watched him much over the years. Does he have a Spaghetti arm?
Doug Farrar: A little stronger than that. Maybe a linguine arm. He's perfect in any derivation of the West Coast Offense because he's smart, knows the terminology, and he's mobile in the right way. But no, he isn't going to win any Punt, Pass & Kick competitions.
Of course, he wouldn't run right into his own offensive lineman as Cassel did with five minutes left in the first half to gift the 49ers with a sack.
Mike Tanier: Garcia would fit that Pats offense fine. He's the quarterback Cassel wants to be. If you have a pasta machine, set it to No. 12 for Garcia's arm. Pennington's is No. 10 (Spaghetti). Charlie Frye is No. 8 (Angel Hair).
Aaron Schatz: I will say, though, you want to know differences between Cassel and Brady -- Cassel really can't feel the pocket at all. He starts scrambling at the drop of a hat, and keeps running into his own guys when doing so.
Mike Tanier: Garcia feels the pocket but wants to bounce all around, where Brady (like Troy Aikman before him) takes three steps and is out of danger.
Bill Moore: The phrase, "The game slows down for him" will not be applied to Cassel. One can almost read his mind on blitz plays: Snap ... "First option covered. Second ... oh crap. Roll right! Oh crap! Abort! Abort! Time out! Can I call that mid-play?!? ... Ugh."
He's not playing a game in slow motion, but rather in fast-forward.
Aaron Schatz: Let's not just blame the defense. The offensive line gets great push on runs, but they have really gone downhill in pass protection. Billy Yates in particular is just killing them out there. The Pats need to get Stephen Neal healthy so Yates is out of the starting lineup, and they need to leave more backs and tight ends back in protection.
This Patriots game is like watching Rusher McFumbles against Rusher McNotFumbles. Can either of these guys actually stand tall in the pocket and deliver the ball when the first option is covered?
Mike Tanier: Part of the problem on offense is the scheme. I think the Pats and Josh McDaniels are still feeling their way with Cassel. In the second half they mixed the run and pass more, they started to re-integrate some of those screens to Welker and some of the other "junk" they ran last year.
On Kevin Faulk's touchdown, where did he start, on the 22-yard line? I have never seen a single setback so deep. Of course that was design: They wanted a veteran back deep so he could get a head of steam up and find his hole up the middle.
Vince Verhei: So after watching the Seahawks get scorched by the Plax-less Giants, and the Rams be the Rams all year, I saw J.P. Losman and Lee Evans hit an 87-yard touchdown against the Cardinals. I then decided that the 49ers had the best secondary in the NFC West by default. And then Randy Moss burned them for 66 yards. I have now decided that these are the four worst secondaries in football. Even when the 49ers do something right and get an interception, it just pins their own offense inside the 5.
As others have noted, the Pats' biggest weakness right now is pass protection -- both blocking and Cassel's pocket presence. They actually did a hell of a job lining up with two tight ends and running over San Francisco. They had 10 first downs on the ground.
Russell Levine: Well, all the Garcia-to-the-Pats talk should probably wait. Brian Griese hurt his shoulder today on a double-corner blitz when Champ Bailey buried him.
Jeff Garcia came in, danced around a bit, and threw a bunch of four-yard passes. He led the Bucs on an interminable two-minute drive that ate up about six minutes.
Denver's offensive game plan was really outstanding today. They did not try to impose their will on the Bucs. They ran just enough that the Bucs barely mustered a pass rush all day (they may have been doing some max protect as well) and Jay Cutler spent the entire day looking away from Brandon Marshall and throwing bubble screens and dumpoffs to Brandon Stokley. They must have run the waggle play about eight times. They never really hit a big play, but they kept the Tampa defense on its heels the entire day. It was the ultimate take-what-the-defense-gives-you approach and it worked beautifully.
Of course, it might not have been so effective had Tampa Bay been able to muster any sustained offense. But they are so limited to threaten a defense downfield without Joey Galloway that Denver just teed off on the pass rush and didn't worry about any deep stuff. Griese missed a wide-open Jerramy Stevens in the end zone early. The Bucs never seriously threatened downfield all day.
I keep hearing about how Tampa Bay has such a good, young offensive line. Well, they are young. I'm not so sure about the other part. Every time I look up one of the quarterbacks is taking another kill shot. Garcia played less than a half and his jersey was so grass-stained he looked like he'd been sacked 10 times. Now, maybe that's because their receivers can't get any separation and the quarterbacks aren't able to throw in rhythm on all the three-step drops, but still, I just don't see it as any kind of dominating O-line. Elvis Dumervil ate up Jeremy Trueblood today.
Tampa Bay got within three points with two minutes left and had all three timeouts, so the Bucs did one of those "pooch it over the hands team" kicks and pinned Denver at the 15. So what does Mike Shanahan do? First down, five-step drop, Cutler hits the receiver for a first down and then they go into kill-the-clock mode. There just aren't many coaches that throw on first down there. Most are run, run, run, hope to get a first down and, if not, punt and play defense.
Mike Tanier: I thought the Bucs line was playing well in the first half. They run-block well and pass-block adequately until they are under duress.
Garcia danced and threw 4-yard passes. Mr. Bumbles stood still and threw 4-yard passes. Without Galloway, there is no one to get open deep, though they did take a shot or two to Antonio Bryant (I think it was Bryant). Really, they appeared to be playing turtle ball, hoping to exploit the Broncos' run defense and tendency to make defensive errors. It was odd to see the Broncos win a defense-and-field-position game after all the pinball games they have played this year.
Vince Verhei: Nice game plan there, Jon Gruden, mixing in a whopping 12 carries in the first half against 16 pass plays. And the rushing plays gained more yards, 94-54. Do you not watch film or scout opponents? Were you not aware of how wretched the Denver run defense is? Did you not even recognize the success you were having?
Jeff Garcia is king of the 7-minute, down-by-two-scores-in-the-second-half touchdown drive. Watching him operate against the Denver secondary was like hearing those stories of homes being torn down and rebuilt elsewhere one brick at a time.
Mike Tanier: It seemed like the Bucs were trying to establish the run early on. I think they ripped off some solid runs, but then they would go to the air and get stopped pretty quickly. Is the pass-run ratio polluted by the 2-minute drill? I remember them throwing a bunch of balls before half.
Bill Barnwell: The Bengals were moving the ball consistently, made it 17-16, and then recovered a surprise onside kick. Two plays later, Chris Perry fumbled, then Terrell Owens had a long touchdown two plays after that. No one will remember how close Cincinnati was to winning this game, but they were right there. Chris Perry's career as a starting NFL back is probably over.
Another Cincinnati touchdown and they go for two with a really weird play-call. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco on the right and instead they throw a fade to Ben Utecht on the left. Huh?
Mike Tanier: Jason Garrett heard the criticism and ran, ran, ran against the Bengals, and the Cowboys ran pretty well. Problem is, they tried to sit on a 17-point lead. I thought he was calling a good game but then I wondered when the Cowboys would throw a pass or two to the receivers. Somewhere between the Bengals game plan and the Redskins game plan is the one that wins the Super Bowl.
Benjy Rose: I can't believe the game was as close as it was. What the hell happened to Dallas after the first quarter? They were doing everything right, the Bengals looked Bungle-y, and all hope was lost in Ohio. Then, well, I don't know. Tony Romo stopped hitting those Favre-esque off-the-back-foot-sidearm-15-yard-slants-in-stride to Jason Witten or Patrick Crayton, Marion Barber stopped hitting holes, and the Bengals realized that maybe they should start pretending they're a real NFL team. I don't know.
This is the first Bengals game I've seen this year, and Carson Palmer looked terrible out there. Is he hurt? His throws had none of the zip I remember seeing, and he made Jeff Garcia look like Drew Bledsoe in the pocket. He looks skeerd.
Vince Verhei: For most of this game, Dallas wide receivers had exactly one catch, combined. They finished with three, including Terrell Owens' 57-yard touchdown that gave Dallas some needed breathing room. Through three quarters, Tony Romo was just 10-0f-19 for only 90 yards. Then he hit a pair of big plays in the fourth quarter to put the Bengals away, after keeping them in the game with incompletions and interceptions all night. Just a bad day for him. And it wasn't due to pressure. On his first touchdown, in particular, he just dropped back to around the 15-yard line and set up camp. Had a marshmallow roast. Told a ghost story. And then threw a touchdown to Jason Witten.
Adam Jones was covering Chad Ocho Cinco all game. I'd say he dominated, but really, three catches for 43 yards is a typical game for Chad these days.
Mike Tanier: Ray Rhodes used to say you gotta put big on big. In this case, you have to put jerk on jerk.
Vince Verhei: I only saw highlights of this game on NFL Gameday while putting Audibles together, but I wanted to mention the slick, slick route Nate Washington used to beat William James on his 48-yard touchdown. Washington started running right at James, then started to slow down with each step, lulling James to sleep. As soon as James stopped his momentum and stepped up, Washington shot forward, going nearly full speed on his first step, and glided right on by, not stopping until he had the ball in the end zone. A beautiful combination of technique, timing and athleticism. God, I love football.
118 comments, Last at 10 Oct 2008, 4:53pm by D Jones