How did New England find the right combination of offensive linemen this season, and where are Seattle's biggest weaknesses in pass protection?
19 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.
Ben Riley: According to unheralded Red Zone Channel host Andrew Siciliano, the Chargers-Bills game is currently being played without any power in the Bills' stadium. Has that ever happened before? How are they handling the play clock? Bizarre.
Wow. Midway through the second quarter, Lee Evans just made one of the best touchdown grabs I've ever seen -- with one arm, leaping and twisting, and pressing the ball against his helmet in David Tyree-like fashion. Incredible catch.
Oh, and apparently all of western New York lost power because some Mylar balloons jammed up a transfomer somewhere.
Mike Tanier: I am checking on the balloon story. The power outage had me thinking of when I went to my aunt's house, checked the fuse box, and saw pennies in the fuses. That's how my uncle fixed fuses, with a penny that would melt instead of popping if there was a surge. Lucky half of the city didn't burn down. Ralph Wilson and my uncle probably had a lot in common.
Doug Farrar: What a weird weekend for sports broadcasting. First, we lose the first inning of Game 6 of the ALCS due to network problems, and now, with the power outage in Buffalo, the CBS national crew -- J.B., Boomer, Dan, Coach Cowher, and Mushmouth -- is calling the game from the head office and doing a pretty decent job.
Ben Riley: Apparently, the Mylar balloons have gotten loose again.
Doug Farrar: Now that Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf are audible, on to the game. Through three quarters, the Bills have dominated play on both lines. LaDainian Tomlinson has only 27 yards on 12 carries, and the Chargers have generated very little power and pass rush up front. They have a lot of individually talented defenders, but they seem to play a lot smaller without Shawne Merriman. Jamal Williams is in at nose tackle, so it isn't that, but the Chargers are missing the physical nature they had when they went on that run last season.
Vince Verhei: Philip Rivers was hit in this game and fumbled. He immediately began to protest that his arm was in motion. Replays showed this wasn't even close to true, but I think after all the Chargers have been through this year, Rivers may have really believed this was an incomplete pass.
Bill Barnwell: I hope Chris Kluwe saved his money. He might get cut at halftime after flubbing a snap/block combo in Garo Yepremian fashion.
Ned Macey: I don't think any member of our staff will ever have a more unlikely non-statistical based prediction that is correct than Tanier's off-season article that the Bears offense might be competent. They were above average going into today, and Kyle Orton looks like a real quarterback.
Ben Riley: On a 10-yard out route run to Bernard Berrian with four minutes to play in the first half, Gus Frerotte decides to throw it short and inside, instead of the traditional high and outside. Result: a remarkably easy Corey Graham interception.
Luckily for the Vikings, Marty Booker then drops not one but two touchdown passes. And the Vikings block the resulting field goal attempt.
Bill Barnwell: I haven't been impressed by Bryant McKinnie so far. He's given up on a couple of run plays, killing A.P.'s cutback lanes.
The Bears are starting two backup corners, and it shows. They're running a very conservative Tampa-2, forsaking the blitzing they've been employing (admittedly seemingly) more frequently in 2008. When the corners have been matched up in man coverage, Bernard Berrian's been laying waste to them with post patterns.
The Vikings are also using Visanthe Shiancoe as their other downfield threat, which is ... odd. Martin Nance isn't better than this? Shiancoe's operating against Hunter Hillenmeyer, who isn't much for pass coverage today.
I think one of the underreported things we've seen regarding the Devin Hester phenomenon is the quality of the Bears' gunners and coverage units. Hester's had a middling day, but the Bears' coverage units forced a touchdown when they distracted Charles Gordon long enough for a punt to hit him. The Chris Kluwe one ... that's just a punter who forgot to catch the ball.
One of the biggest differences I'm seeing in Orton as opposed to your other "joke" quarterbacks is his comfort in the pocket. He doesn't have the happy feet that a Cassel has. One of the Booker drops was a play where the Vikings blitzed seven and Orton pump-faked, creating space for a lob to Booker that the veteran receiver dropped.
Chad Greenway: Very good tackler. Not so great in pass coverage.
Aaron Schatz: Each of these teams is going to beat the over-under for this game (38) BY THEMSELVES.
Ben Riley: Wow. It's 48-41 with three minutes to play, after Bernard Berrian makes a sick catch to score for the Vikes. Can the Bears blow yet another fourth-quarter lead?
Answering my own question: No, because Gus Frerotte is the Vikings quarterback.
Mike Tanier: Luckily for the Bears secondary: a) their front four played great today, and b) Gus Frerotte threw a few passes right to the defense.
I like some of the things the Bears do offensively these days. Greg Olsen is becoming an upper echelon tight end, and the Bears are spreading him out wide a lot to let him use his size to shield cornerbacks. And something unexpected: Devin Hester is a good stalk blocker on sweeps.
Vince Verhei: Note to Chris Kluwe: Dropping a snap will draw serious aggro from resident mobs. What a n00b.
Devin Hester has done nothing as a returner this year, but he's still a threat -- Minnesota was kicking off short before Hester left the game.
Mike Tanier: I love the Klewe jokes, and I am thinking of going to Halloween as Kluwe with a jersey and a Guitar Hero guitar. What's fascinating is that the video games will probably get blamed for his problems this year, at least by the talk radio crowd. And he brought that upon himself with his "I'm a gamer" comments.
But reading A Few Seconds of Panic, I see how Jason Elam spent about 80 percent of his time hunting, writing novels, and getting involved with his charitable activities. That's what kickers do. Some kicker/punter has an off year, you don't hear about how he spent too much time hunting/fishing/golfing. Just don't be the guy who does something different!
Ned Macey: It is just amazing to watch Kyle Orton this year. How did he get so much better? I'm not saying he is a Pro Bowl quarterback, but he used to be even worse than Matt Cassel. I've sort of changed my mind on sitting rookie quarterbacks (used to be for it in all situations; upon further review, not so clear-cut), but Orton is another example of someone getting better on the practice field.
Vince Verhei: You know what? I'll go ahead and say it: Kyle Orton will be in the Pro Bowl. As of this writing (early in the second quarter of the Sunday night game), he's fourth in the NFC in yards, fifth in touchdowns. He should pass Tony Romo in both categories in the next few weeks. The schedule ... well, he still plays Green Bay twice and Tennessee. Never mind. He's not making the initial Pro Bowl team. But I bet he goes as an alternate.
Mike Tanier: You are right, the NFC Pro Bowl quarterback race is pretty wide-open, isn't it? Drew Brees is the starter now, I guess, with Eli and Romo as alternates.
Ned Macey: I think McNabb is in the mix too, ahead of Romo if he misses more than a game or two, with Kurt Warner ahead of all but Brees in DYAR. The NFC is sooooo much better than the AFC this year, it is really amazing. Going into this week, 11 of the top 16 quarterbacks in DYAR play in the NFC.
Vince Verhei: Yeah, it's a pretty wild race. With nobody dominating statistically, team success is going to matter a lot, and the Bears could easily win their division.
Doug Farrar: In the first half, Hines Ward got Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers with a decimating shoulder-shiver of a block while the play was still going. Rivers left the game with a jaw injury, but there was no helmet-to-helmet contact -- at least not from the angle I saw. Why am I mentioning this? Because if Ward gets fined for that block, everything Troy Polamalu said about the NFL this week is one hundred percent correct. And at the very least, Commissioner, if you're going to fine players for hitting other players in ways you find disagreeable, could you at least ding them more for that than you do for "inappropriate" touchdown celebrations or criticizing officials? You want to at least maintain the appearance that you're clamping down to affect player safety as opposed to randomly swinging your appendage around as you see fit.
Bill Barnwell: Chris Perry Watch: Active, but no touches. I think we jinxed him.
Vince Verhei: I was heartbroken -- heartbroken, I tell you -- to see that Chris Perry was out in Cincinnati. Without out that chase for history, they are merely your typical worst team in the league. And they know it. Even when this game was close in the second half, you could tell that all players and coaches in orange and black stripes were just going through the motions, thinking about where they might be next year. It was depressing.
I hesitate to point out any Steelers for notable efforts, because they were playing the Bengals, but James Harrison almost single-handedly forced a three-and-out after Pittsburgh went ahead 10-0. On first down, he beat tight end Nate Lawrie for a quick sack. After a 5-yard dumpoff to Antonio Chatman on second down, Harrison beat Levi Jones for a hurry that forced an incompletion.
Ben Riley: Albert Haynesworth appears to have knocked K.C. Quarterback (played this week by Brodie Croyle) out of the game. You know what's fun? Listening to Gus Johnson call a game involving Chris Johnson. "Johnson with the ball ... CHRIS JOHNSON UP THE MIDDLE FOR 30 YARDS!" Exciting stuff all around.
Doug Farrar: Gus could make a grocery store opening sound exciting. "Here comes the PRODUCE TRUCK! What an INCREDIBLE DEVELOPMENT!!!"
Ben Riley: So I just flipped over to this game to see a streaking Chris Johnson using his 4.24 speed to rip off an 80-yard touchdown run, and ... wait a sec, you say that's LenDale White outrunning the entire Chiefs secondary? What. The. Hell?
Aaron Schatz: Not that Chris Johnson doesn't himself have 16 carries for over six yards per carry.
Ben Riley: And as if on cue, Chris Johnson takes off for a 70-yard touchdown run of his own self. And then plays the bongos in celebration. Which raises a question: Why is there a set of bongos next to the Chiefs' end zone?
Ben Riley: By the way, K.C. Quarterback is now third stringer Tyler Thigpen. If he goes down with an injury, get ready for an all-Wildcat fourth quarter offense!
Mike Tanier: They showed Croyle leaving the game in a cast and with cruthces. They looked like old, maple wooden crutches. I kept waiting for him to turn and say "God Bless Us, Every One."
Bill Barnwell: Assuredly Kansas City heard about the Wildcat and decided to just bring back everything else from the 1930s.
Mike Tanier: The Chiefs quit at the end. A team that no longer cares.
Bill Barnwell: Someone (Jay Glazer?) reported that Larry Johnson refused to come out of a game recently for Jamaal Charles and has been fined six times this year. Explain to me how Herm is a coach who's great at handling his players again?
Ned Macey: Because one player (Johnson) causes disruptions, Herm Edwards suddenly is not good with his players? That seems a bit of a stretch. The fact his team sort of quit on him and gave up two 66-plus-yard rushing touchdowns is a bit more of an indictment.
And, to heap more criticism: Nice 26-yard field goal, trailing 27-0 with less than five minutes left.
Bill Barnwell: That's what I was saying, Ned. Just providing additional ancillary information.
Ben Riley: To borrow from Bill Simmons, is there suddenly a whisk of friskiness with the Rams under Jim Haslett? Marc Bulger hooked up on a 30-yard early touchdown with Donnie Avery, who then busted out a tight end zone dance number.
Bill Barnwell: That would be the "Soulja Boy," Ben.
Ben Riley: I don't listen to Soulja Boy after Ice-T accused him of killing hip hop. (Yes, the same Ice-T who played a mutant kangaroo in "Tank Girl.")
Hey, speaking of friskiness, with one minute to play in the first quarter, the Rams are up 21-7 and just got the ball after a Marion Barber fumble. How 'bout them Cowboys!
With a few minutes to play before halftime, Steven Jackson is out with a jersey. Seriously, somehow he completely shredded the back of his jersey and had to go out for a series while the staff looked for a replacement.
Meanwhile, Donnie "Soulja Boy" Avery just ran an end-around while holding the football with one hand extended 3 feet from his chest. Avery gained 5 yards and avoided disaster, but I don't think Al Saunders will be dialing that particular play up again.
Bill Barnwell: Roy Williams (safety) is out for the year.
Ned Macey: The Cowboys pass defense had disintegrated into crap the past few weeks, but now the run defense is joining them? The Rams went play-action to deep passes a few times early, and that seemed to be enough to open up the running game. Couple of nice plays by Donnie Avery today. For the number of rookie wide receivers who dropped, there seems to be some quality in this class.
Vince Verhei: Moose Johnston said during this game that Steven Jackson was developing as a receiver. Is this news? Didn't he have 90 catches for 806 yards just two years ago?
The evolution of the Dallas playbook continues. This week, when they got into trouble, they tried something completely unexpected: Forcing the ball to Patrick Crayton. Seven targets and a rush, for a total of 41 yards. He was also called for pass interference on a pass to Terrell Owens.
Doug Farrar: The Wildcat giveth and the Wildcat taketh away. Chad Pennington disrespects the Bing in the first half with a little fake sweep thing and a short throw directly -- I mean DIRECTLY -- to Terrell Suggs, who goes 44 yards the other way for a touchdown. Let's not go to the well too often, guys.
Ben Riley: Man, is Willis McGahee having a crappy year. Midway through the third quarter, on third-and-17, the Ravens run a nice little screen pass to McGahee, who runs for about 30 yards -- and then coughs up a fumble after Yeremiah Bell catches him from behind.
Doug Farrar: Well, the Niners are enjoying a craptacular string of penalties on New York's second drive of the game. On second-and-10 from the Giants' 30, Brandon Jacobs runs for three, then Nate Clements gets up and pushes Madison Hedgecock to the ground after the play is whistled dead. Fifteen-yard unnecessary roughness penalty, aided by Hedgecock's Ginobli-esque flop. First-and-10 from the Giants' 45, Jacobs runs for one yard and Ray McDonald gets flagged for defensive offside. First-and-five from the 50, Clements gets flagged for pass interference on Plaxico at the San Francisco 19-yard line. If you give the Detroit Lions that much of the field, you'll have a fight on your hands. If you give it to the Giants, you might as well pack up and go home.
Aaron Schatz: The 49ers really are flag-happy today, but Hedgecock truly deserves the Bill Laimbeer Award for Most Overexaggerated Flopping.
Doug Farrar: I have to say, after that early meltdown, Clements has played pretty well. He covered Plax to the tune of two receptions for 18 yards in the first half, and he had the guts to take Brandon Jacobs head-on on an attempted tackle. Didn't work -- it took three of Nate's teammates to bring Jacobs down -- but as Troy Aikman intimated in the booth, his old teammate Deion Sanders would have taken that opportunity to make a "business decision" and get the hell out of the way.
J.T. O'Sullivan, on the other hand, barfed up two picks to Michael Johnson in the first half. The second one was particularly heinous, as the Niners were down seven at the end of the half, and O'Sullivan forced a ball into the end zone to a double-covered Arnaz Battle while Frank Gore was wide open in the shorter seam.
Aaron Schatz: Somebody needs to explain to J.T. O'Sullivan that Michael Johnson is not on his team. I'm going to vote for the first interception as the more heinous one because Johnson was just standing there, right in front of where the quick slant was going. How could he not see him standing RIGHT THERE? At least with the interception in the end zone, the players were all in motion.
Vernon Davis just has terrible hands. Terrible. Were his hands this bad in college? I mean, the guy can block, but he can't catch and he can't run crisp routes. You don't draft a tight end No. 6 overall so he can block a lot.
Manny Lawson played leapfrog over two Giants offensive linemen to block a John Carney field goal, and Nate Clements returned it for a touchdown. That's two field goal blocks for touchdowns in two weeks. Wacky. Amazing play by Lawson.
One other note: The Giants pass rush would like everyone to know that last week was an aberration.
Doug Farrar: It certainly would be, against a series of offensive formations that put a "Kick Me" sign on the back of the quarterback.
Ben Riley: Rumors of Julius Peppers' demise may have been greatly exaggerated. He's already had a sack after getting around Jamaal Brown, and forced a fumble on Jeremy Shockey.
Doug Farrar: He certainly looked all the way back in the preseason -- against offensive line starters, not scrubs.
Mike Tanier: The Panthers took away everything deep with a mix of good pass rush by Peppers and Damione Lewis and Cover-2. At times it looked like Brees was trying to force-feed Marques Colston but the timing wasn't there.
The Saints had trouble with third-and-short both with Reggie Bush (who got hurt) and Deuce McAllister. They also had their cutesy-poo moments, like when Peppers sacked Drew Brees on a fake reverse that took nine minutes to set up. Overall, though, it was a snowball game, where the Saints offense started to look much worse once they were forced to pass and couldn't use play-action/fake screens as a threat.
Will Carroll: Reggie Bush will have minor knee surgery tomorrow. Should keep him out about two weeks and will remind people what some teams think of these overseas games.
Vince Verhei: It's a shame that Bush got hurt in this game, because in limited action, he looked better as a running back than I've seen him before. He actually showed patience, waiting for blocks to set up and plays to develop, then using his amazing burst to fire through the holes. Maybe he's finally figured out that he can't just beat defenses to the outside anymore.
Ben Riley: So rookie running back Kevin Smith scores a touchdown, runs up into the stands, and appears to kiss some dude's shoe. I just rewinded and watched it four times. I'm at a complete loss here.
Mike Tanier: He was making a phone call. That was Maxwell Smart in the stands.
Sean McCormick: I guess we were overdue for a product placement end zone celebration.
Bill Barnwell: DeMarcus Faggins was in coverage on that 98-yard Calvin Johnson touchdown, by the way. Fred Bennett couldn't have done that.
Vince Verhei: Sometimes I think that the defensive secondary is the most important element on any football team. Houston looked awesome in jumping up 21-0, but their pass coverage was so shaky that Detroit -- DETROIT -- still had the ball down by one score in the fourth quarter. And that's with Dunta Robinson active for the first time in nearly a year. If you have bad defensive backs, then no lead will ever be safe.
Sean McCormick: The Jets have come up with the strangest offensive game plan ever: They're featuring (and I mean really featuring) Chris Baker. On every snap of their first two possessions, the team has gone shotgun out of an empty set, apparently with the idea of isolating Baker on a linebacker. Rob Ryan has countered the formation by just going to a Cover-Zero look and blitzing hard while the corners play press coverage, and the Raiders are now getting good hits on Favre. Stay tuned for the next adjustment.
The Raiders' game plan seems to involve a never-ending string of false starts and offside penalties. That's six with five minutes left in the first quarter.
Mike Tanier: Seven different 5-yard penalties in the first quarter, according to the announcer. One negated a touchdown.
This Jets game plan is really lulling me to sleep. Lots and lots of 1-yard passes. They are letting the Raiders feel alive. Luckily, the Raiders cannot line up and come off the ball properly.
Doug Farrar: The pathetic thing is that Al Davis probably thinks it's a sign that things are turning back to the Glory Days, because his vaunted 1970s Raiders were penalized all the time. News flash, Skeletor: Your vaunted 1970s Raiders also had talent. And a coach. And a plan. And a clue. And an owner who wouldn't publicly humiliate a fired coach with that most dangerous of weapons, the dreaded overhead projector. Other than that, it's exactly the same.
Bill Barnwell: Is that the overhead projector Barack Obama bought? Because I hear that's a pretty nice overhead projector.
Doug Farrar: No, I think the one Al used is the same one Madden used to diagram the go route from Stabler to Branch. It smells like very old beer.
Sean McCormick: Rob Ryan continues to send a lot of people on nearly every down. Thomas Jones has ripped off some long runs against the blitz, but aside from that, the Raiders really have put the clamps on this offense. Favre isn't even thinking about testing the corners outside the hashes; everything he throws is a checkdown to the middle of the field.
Doug Farrar: If he's not going after DeAngelo Hall, something's wrong with his arm.
Mike Tanier: When you see the Raiders fake punt -- a nice little call -- watch Jets receiver Brad Smith completely avoid tackling Raiders linebacker Jon Alston.
Ben Riley: Credit to Tom Cable for running a nice fake punt with the game tied at 10-10 with six minutes to play. The center did a direct snap to the linebacker, who promptly rumbled for the first down (and then some).
Mike Tanier: I just figured out where all of DeAngelo Hall's interceptions come from: third-and-18 desperation throws where there isn't a receiver in 10 yards.
Ben Riley: Unreal series at the end of the fourth quarter. After Favre hurled the ball to DeAngelo Hall with about two minutes to play, I assumed the Raiders would be able to close out the game. Instead, the Jets somehow get the ball back with a minute to play. Favre drives them down the field. With a few seconds on the clock, Jay Feely lines up for the 52-yard field goal -- and it clangs off the upright! Only, Tom Cable called a timeout, so the Jets get another
shot, and of course Feely nails it. Overtime.
Sean McCormick: Clearly Tom Cable doesn't read Audibles or he would have known not to call that first timeout. Jay Feely missed the first 52-yard attempt just left to send the game to overtime , but he made the adjustment and banged the
second kick straight through.
Just unbelievably bad coaching.
Bill Barnwell: I'm gonna do the research this week on icing the kicker. What the hell?
Bill Moore: The whole "calling timeout just prior to the snap before a field goal" thing is the most stupid strategy any coach can employ. What exactly is it supposed to accomplish other than give the kicker the chance to kick the exact same kick twice?
Let's suppose we are playing basketball, and it will take a last-second three-pointer to beat you. You are given the opportunity to secretly tell the ref, the next play doesn't count. The ref allows your opponent to take his shot, but whether he hits it or not, is irrelevant -- the play doesn't count. Assuming you can't run a different defense the second attempt and there is only one plausible shot to take, would you choose to negate the first play? Of course not. Why? Because all you did was allow your opponent to practice the game-winning shot, and make any adjustments necessary. Given the opportunity to nail the same attempt, most three-pointers (or place kickers) will have a higher percentage shot the second time.
Ben Riley: Does JaMarcus Russell have Eli-Manning-before-December-2007 disease? I've seen him just absolutely sky three passes today, way, way over the head of his intend target. And we're not talking about deep bombs, either -- he just sailed one over Darren McFadden's head on a little swing pass out to the flat.
Dick Enberg just called Sebastian Janikowski "Thunderfoot." Oh my!
Vince Verhei: The Jets offense struggled mainly because Brett Favre was under pressure all day -- sometimes due to blitzes, sometimes due to a basic four-man rush. On one play, Favre had a receiver open on a slant route, but a blitzer in his face forced him to overthrow the ball. DeAngelo Hall, beaten on the slant, reached behind him and failed to catch the ball. He then stopped, set his jaw, nodded his head and pounded his chest. This on a play in which he contributed literally nothing.
I wanted to watch Nnamdi Asomugha in this game, but ... you can't. It's impossible. The ball is never thrown his way. He never shows up. He ended the game with two tackles: one on a pass for no gain, one on a 4-yard run. He also had an illegal contact penalty that helped set up the tying field goal, but the guy is still unbelievable.
I've praised JaMarcus Russell in the past for his ability to avoid interceptions, but the more I watch him, the more I think he's being TOO careful. If a receiver is not wide-open, jumping up and down screaming "Over here!", Russell won't throw him a catchable ball, throwing it way over everyone's head instead.
Vernon Gholston looks like an impressive run defender. The Raiders tried a sweep to the right on their second play of overtime. Gholston drove tight end Zach Miller 5 yards into the backfield. Justin Fargas tried to run around him, then cut back, and was eventually swarmed by Calvin Pace. But Gholston really made the play.
Doug Farrar: Well, this game pretty much typifies the weird season so far. A week after burying the Ravens, the Colts were themselves whacked around by a Packers team that looked very strong in two places they haven't looked strong all year: rushing and run defense. That Ryan Grant had a solid game against the Indy defense isn't that much of a surprise (first rushing touchdown of the season today), but the extent to which the Packers shut down Dominic Rhodes has to be disconcerting if you're a Colts fan and thinking that your team has found its way back offensively. Coming into this game, the Pack had the 29th-ranked DVOA against the run, but Rhodes put up only 57 yards on 15 carries before the game got out of hand and the Colts had to pass all the time.
On defense, Indy just has no push up front. They're fast side-to-side, but a blast up the A-gap is a virtually guaranteed 4-yard gain. At the end of the third quarter, it's Peyton Manning grasping at straws, and Aaron Rogers playing the role of the calm, composed veteran.
William Carroll: The Colts just had back-to-back plays where Charles Woodson mugged Reggie Wayne directly in front of the official. (The back judge? The guy just behind the linebackers.) The side judge threw the flag on the second play (fourth-and-4, about 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter) at the feet of the back judge. There's no way he didn't see it. I dont think it is, but the inconsistency of umpiring is raising some Donaghy questions.
Doug Farrar: Wow. When was the last time that Peyton Manning threw more touchdowns to the opposition than to his own guys?
Went back and answered my own question: Sunday, September 30, 2001. Colts
lost to the Pats, 44-13, as Manning threw one touchdown and three picks. Two
were returned for touchdowns, one by Ty Law and one by Otis (My Man) Smith.
Re: officiating, I don't see it. In my opinion, the NBA had specific problems with severe unchecked incompetence and specific league-mandated preferences for years before the Donaghy thing broke, creating a perfect environment for that element. There probably haven't been more bad calls in the NFL this season; it just so happens that a high percentage of the ones that have occurred turned games around and a few were made by the same high-profile official. The first thing you have to do is to create that environment, which is why I strongly disagree with the new policy banning any criticism of officials by players, coaches and executives. There should be fair and open dialogue, and officials should be permitted to respond when they blow a call, just as they should be allowed to rebut any ill-informed criticism. The other thing has to do is to make everything reviewable, especially things that rest on judgment calls, The league is ass-backwards about this, because they think it will call the officials themselves into question when the lack of a reasonable system of checks and balances makes the process the questionable part.
Mike Tanier: Ditto Doug on the officiating. More dialog, more ability to have the refs look at the screen, or the little peepshow booth, and make the right call.
Aaron Schatz: Don't confuse human error for conspiracy.
William Carroll: I'm not saying it is a conspiracy. Just that the wild inconsistency I've seen leaves that a plausible theory for those watching casually.
Ned Macey: OK, a lot was garbage time, but at the end of the game, the teams were even in total yards. The Colts threw two picks and recovered their own fumble. The Packers fumbled twice and recovered both of them. This was a game where one team was a little better, but a couple of breaks turned it into a blowout. It was 20-14 plus two long INT returns, the first off a tipped pass when Reggie Wayne was wide-open but Manning threw too hot and too high.
The big story is the Packers' passing defense shutting down the Colts' passing offense. Clearly the timing is completely off, and if they don't have one of the top two or three pass offenses, they can't be better than about a 9-7 team. The Packers did play extremely physically with the Colts' wide receivers and only got a couple penalties called. Still, it was a pretty whistle-happy game: 21 penalties and 11 first downs by penalty. The worst was the Colts' picking up a delay of game for trying to force a false start on a punt when it was still a two-score game.
The defense struggled early but played fine in the second half. Great game by the Packers' offensive tackles, but as usual Mike McCarthy gave them a lot of help through max protection.
Vince Verhei: I don't know whether Peyton Manning's knee is still bothering him or the Green Bay pass coverage is that good, but the deep ball was virtually removed from the Colts' playbook. Most passes were targeted short of the first down line, and they were still incomplete. His first interception hit Reggie Wayne in the hands and should have been caught, but even if the catch had been made, it still would have been fourth down for Indianapolis. It's beyond strange to see Peyton Manning turned into Joey Harrington.
In the third quarter, Green Bay was set to punt when Indy defensive back Tim Jennings was called for defensive delay-of-game. Because the question was asked in last week's Audibles comments: Yes, defensive players can be called for delay of game, when they simulate the snap count and otherwise try to bait the other team into a false start.
After Green Bay's second pick-six, they put up the non-offensive touchdown leaderboard for the past two-plus years. Chicago led the league by a wide margin. Phil Simms attributed this to their great pass rush and coverage. Dude, do you watch football games that don't involve your son?
Ben Riley: With two minutes left to play in the third quarter, Derek Anderson is 5-of-19 for 40 yards.
So much for the comeback. Speaking of comebacks, Shaun Alexander just had a carry -- and true to form, he lost a yard and crumpled into a ball upon first contact.
Bill Barnwell: Grass gnome got him again. Poor Shaun.
Aaron Schatz: Through a very strange turn of events, I ended up watching the Cleveland Browns in a Cleveland Browns bar for the second straight week. Last week, I was watching Monday Night Football at Conor Larkin's in Boston. This week, I ended up at the British Bankers Club in Menlo Park. I walk in a little after the second games started and find the second floor is packed with Browns fans, part of the "Bay Area Browns Backers." It is a lot more fun to watch a game surrounded by rabid fans. Of course, it is a little less fun when their quarterback can't hit the broad side of a barn.
This was the classic "game that was not as close as it looks." The Redskins seemed to dominate the first half and somehow they couldn't score -- they finally had a field goal opportunity at the end of the half and missed it. Clinton Portis was slicing through the Browns' defense both left and right. The blocking was great, and the Redskins also did what the Giants did when running a week ago: Just go around Shaun Rogers, and the Browns can't stop you. I also love how Portis never plays dancing feet, he puts his head down and goes right through the hole, and pushes for extra yardage.
As for the Browns offense, man, Derek Anderson was terrible today. He had one good drive, the one that made it 14-11. At one point early in the fourth quarter he almost got in a fight with Lawrence Vickers on the field, when he had to call timeout apparently because Vickers was lined up wrong. When Anderson did manage to put the ball on his receiver's hands, Braylon Edwards would drop it. Edwards dropped five passes today. I wonder: Are drops more mental or physical? Something is wrong with Edwards. I know he dropped some passes a year ago, but it was nothing like this. The whole offense is out of sync too. You can tell the timing is bad on pretty much any pass to Donte' Stallworth. But Anderson has to shoulder a lot of the blame. His accuracy is terrible, and I was surrounded by Browns fans who are completely fed up with him. They want Brady Quinn and they want Brady Quinn NOW.
Vince Verhei: I am ready to name Braylon Edwards as the worst starting player in the NFL. He's a one-man drop machine. You ever try to hang something on the fridge, but the magnet you're using isn't strong enough to support the weight of the object? That's like Braylon Edwards and a football.
With 4:54 to go and down 14-3, Cleveland had a first-and-goal at the 9. A pass to Kellen Winslow (he's alive!) set up second-and-goal at the 1. Forty seconds passed. Jamal Lewis was stuffed for no gain. Forty more seconds passed. Lewis was stuffed for no gain again. FORTY MORE SECONDS PASSED. The Browns finally passed, and Derek Anderson hit Josh Cribbs for a touchdown. There was 2:49 left in the game. It was the first goal-to-go two-minute drill I ever saw. As it turns out, the clock management wasn't a huge deal -- Cleveland's game-tying field goal attempt came on fourth down with almost 30 seconds to go -- but it was still an inexcusable waste of time for a team that needed to score twice.
Mike Tanier: I saw the highlight of Santana Moss' touchdown. A fan threw his hands in the air and covered the camera, so part of the play was blacked out. Maybe he should have kept his hands up the whole time, based on the stats from that game. And really, how many times have you ever seen a fan interfere with a television angle in an NFL game?
Doug Farrar: A modest proposal to the Seahawks' defensive coaching staff: Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop treating your cornerbacks as if they're great man-on-man defenders in the Bailey-Asomugha mold. They are, at best, average in physical ability and probably above-average in intelligence, but they are getting abused one-on-one and they have been all season. It's very disconcerting that you can't see it. They need pass rush and safety help to be great. At the very least, they need safety help. And that safety help should never include Brian Russell, who should be deported to Pluto at the earliest possible opportunity.
Mike Tanier: Ike Hilliard just got hurt. Joey Galloway, whose beard is greyer than mine, is on the sidelines. Are Henry Ellard or Irving Fryar available for the Bucs?
Oooh, I just saw the Hilliard hit. Damn. Ouch. Double-bell ringer.
The Bucs special teams are trying to give this game back to the Seahawks. They have allowed two long returns, and a kickoff fumble to start the second half pinned the Bucs offense deep.
Vince Verhei: Those two long returns come courtesy of Justin Forsett, the rookie out of Cal who had Seahawks fans drooling in the preseason before he was inexplicably cut. He returned kicks for Indianapolis for a few weeks before he was inexplicably cut again. The Seahawks moved quickly to re-acquire him. Maybe the only thing that's worked out for them this year.
Doug Farrar: The Bucs have a good young offensive line, but right guard Davin Joseph is the star. I'm glad the NBC crew is talking about him. Joseph is a decent technician, but where he really excels is in just blowing a defensive tackle off the line.
Ben Riley: Well, safe to say Seneca Wallace isn't the answer for the Seahawks' offensive woes. As everyone in the entire country was watching the Sox-Rays game, Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels actually had a pretty interesting discussion on what the Seahawks should do about Matt Hasselbeck. The season is lost at this point, so it makes a lot of sense to put him on IR and let his bulging back disc subside, or whatever it is bulging discs do to heal up. Yet that's going to make life pretty miserable for Mike Holmgren (well, more miserable).
In the meantime, Doug's open letter to the defensive coaching staff was spot- on. I counted at least three times when John Marshall dialed up a Deon Grant safety blitz on third-and-long. Not coincidentally, I counted three times when the blitz was easily picked up and Jeff Garcia made the first-down conversion look easy. The Seahawks defense actually played decently, but there's only so much you can do when the offense averages two yards per pass and gains exactly one first down in the first half. The Seahawks have officially entered Chiefs-Lions territory of suck, as we say around here.
115 comments, Last at 22 Oct 2008, 9:08pm by Bowl Game Anomaly