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?
06 Dec 2009
compiled by Vince Verhei
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
This week, we offer a very special Sunday edition of Audibles covering NCAA Championship Saturday.
Bill Connelly: Just in case anybody else is watching the early games, I have to mention that we're only one minute into Cincy-Pitt, and Matt Millen has already made my wife groan loudly with a god-awful "Romeus, Romeus, wherefore art thou, Romeus" line that you know he was sitting on just in case Pitt defensive end Greg Romeus did anything good. This is the first time I've ever subjected her to Millen, and she already hates him.
Tom Gower: I've been watching Houston-ECU and the early read is that ECU has a decided athletic advantage, particularly on their defensive line vs. Houston's offensive line. The Cougars have cruised the past couple weeks against mediocre Memphis and an awful Rice team, but Case Keenum looks like he's going to be facing a lot of pressure today.
Bill Barnwell: Are Keenum's stats superior to Kevin Kolb's?
Bill Connelly: Kevin Kolb (2004): 2,766 yards, 11 TD, 6 INT, 56.1% completion rate, 7.8 yards per attempt, 128.8 rating.
Keivn Kolb (2005): 3,258 yards, 19 TD, 15 INT, 60.5% completion rate, 7.8 yards per attempt, 133.4 rating.
Kevin Kolb (2006): 3,809 yards, 30 TD, 4 INT, 67.6% completion rate, 8.8 yards per attempt, 162.7 rating
Case Keenum (2007): 2,259 yards, 14 TD, 10 INT, 68.5% completion rate, 8.3 yards per attempt, 147.6 rating.
Case Keenum (2008): 5,013 yards, 44 TD, 11 INT, 67.3% completion rate, 8.5 yards per attempt, 160.0 rating.
Case Keenum (2009 so far): 4,883 yards, 38 TD, 6 INT, 70.4% completion rate, 8.4 yards per attempt, 160.5 rating.
Kolb: 6-foot-3, 218 pounds.
Keenum: 6-foot-2, 210 pounds.
Tom Gower: Yes. Kolb, career, was a 60-percent completion rate, hitting 67.7 percent his senior year. Keenum's been 68.5, 67.4, and 70.5 percent this season. Art Briles, who was a spread guy who coached under Leach at Texas Tech, was coach until 2007, and after he left for Baylor, Kevin Sumlin, another Air Raid guy (though he never worked for Leach), was hired in his place. I have no strong thoughts about Keenum's NFL future except that he doesn't immediately stand out as an exceptional prospect or somebody who'd be NFL-ready.
Bill Connelly: Really nice statement early on by Pitt, by the way. Stopped Tony Pike three-and-out, then drove for a touchdown doing nothing tricky, just giving the ball to Dion Lewis repeatedly. Lewis is on pace for roughly 96 carries today.
REALLY nice statement by Pitt today. It's a shame because, if Pitt goes on to win this game and continues to look great doing so, I'm figuring the emerging storyline will still be that Cincy was distracted by the Kelly-to-Notre Dame talk and laid a big egg. Clearly they aren't looking very good, but I think that has more to do with how good Pitt has looked than anything else.
Tim Gerheim: The ABC studio anchor brought up the Kelly-to-ND distraction idea at halftime.
Bill Connelly: And as soon as I complimented Pittsburgh for their great play, they:
Could be an interesting second half.
Tim Gerheim: Millen has also taken to making dumb jokes, poorly. I don't recall in what context, but he said "I want you in my belly" in a botched attempt to quote Austin Powers. Then after (somewhat surprisingly) correctly solving a rebus for Tony Pike on a poster in the stands he said something that sounded like "I'll take one for four ... Alex." So his inanity is not limited to football.
Sean McCormick: He must have been just a joy to work under.
Tim Gerheim: Apparently the Big East hasn't discovered the concept of keeping a safety over the top. Wide receivers are making big plays downfield all over the place because they keep getting behind the coverage. Mardy Gilyard had a touchdown one on of those plays, and almost had another deep reception but Pike underthrew it and the corner showed good catch-up speed to close the gap and looked like he may have interfered. Rutgers just got a deep Tim Gerheim: touchdown when Sunu got behind the coverage. West Virginia only rushed three on the play, and you would think a coverage-intensive play call would involve a deep safety staying over the top.
Bill Connelly: Ridiculously fun early afternoon of football here. Cincy comes all the way back to tie the game at 38-38. Pittsburgh responds with a huge touchdown drive, but the holder muffs the PAT. After almost getting yanked from the game for general suckitude for most of the game's first 35 to 40 minutes, Tony Pike makes a couple of unbelievably great throws, including a 29-yarder to Armon Binns for the go-ahead touchdown with 0:35 left, and Cincy's going to win the Big East.
Meanwhile, Houston ALMOST comes back from a 12-point deficit against ECU, but the fact that they missed THREE PATs today means they're down six instead of three, and with under a minute left, Keenum throws his third interception when the ball goes through the wide receiver's hands and is picked off.
Oh yeah, and WVU-Rutgers goes down to the wire, and Fresno State just scored with 0:02 left to get to within 52-51 of Illinois (not in basketball) ... getting ready to go for two, I assume ... drama all over the place ... and Florida-Bama is just about to begin...
Tom Gower: LOVE that Fresno two-point conversion play. The quarterback tries to boot, but the edge defender stays at home. Quarterback retreats, and while flailing backward, launches the pass in the air. The wide receiver goes up for it, but the defensive back deflects it back ... right to the offensive lineman, who manages to rumble forward the two yards for the game-winning score.
Houston couldn't run the ball at all, and the left tackle was completely overwhelmed by ECU right defensive end Wilson. The outside rush was all Wilson needed to be successful, so I'm not sure he has enough diversity of moves to be a high pick, but he has an NFL-quality first step.
Aaron Schatz: I can't believe we're subjecting both college AND NFL fans to Millen. The least they could do is put Jaworski on the BCS Championship or something to make up for it.
Bill Connelly: And the sad part was, being that Millen knows even LESS about the college game, it was potentially worse, if that's actually possible. Of course, horrific jokes are horrific jokes, college or pro.
Bill Connelly: And we're just about ready for kickoff in Atlanta. Everybody behold the runaway superlatives of Gary Danielson.
Doug Farrar: Does Alabama not run shotgun a lot? The Tide opened with shotgun, single-back trips left with a tight end, and the guys in the booth acted like they were running the A-11 or something.
Tom Gower: Hardly ever, if at all.
Bill Connelly: It was certainly a bit of a surprise, though if you think THAT was an overreaction from Lundquist/Danielson, just wait until something *actually*exciting happens.
This really has been a pretty nice change-of-pace strategy from 'Bama. Of course, depending on your viewpoint, that could be an acknowledgment that they don't think they can score without surprising Florida.
Doug Farrar: Well, hell. If they don't, they should start thinking about it. Looks pretty good so far. Alabama's got some Wildcat-like looks, some shotgun, some different H-back looks (one of which got them penalized). Are they just straight pro-style most of the time? What do they usually do?
Tom Gower: Straight-on pro-style, heavily ground-oriented.
Doug Farrar: Lundquist does preseason Seahawks games. He's pretty calm up here, though that could be a result of him taking time to figure out what the hell Warren Moon is talking about.
Hmmm. Over-reacting announcers and Tim Tebow in the same game? After Millen, I might not be able to take this.
Tom Gower: Phfft, Tebow is used to it. The two biggest over-reacted games by announcers ever may well be Gary Danielson's lobbying for Florida over Michigan in the 2006 SEC Championship Game and Thom Brennaman's absolutely worship of Tebow in the BCS championship game. I'm streaming basketball and muting the TV so I'm not testing that theory, though.
Bill Connelly: Yeah, I don't think Lundquist is capable of anything near what Brennaman pulled off in last year's title game. It made the game almost unwatchable.
And you're right that this is nothing new for Tebow. My wife was tired of hearing the gushing about him more than two years ago, and she doesn't even pay attention that much.
David Gardner: Florida is getting outcoached here early in the game. If Jeff Demps had caught that pass though, they might be working on a 7-3 lead right now. I hope some non-college guys get to see Demps' open-field speed today.
Florida is also really feeling the loss of Dunlap right now. McElroy has far too much time in the pocket.
Rob Weintraub: Although McElroy was a great spread quarterback in high school, at Southlake Carroll in Texas, ground zero for the attack.
Danielson just said what I was thinking -- this is just like the title game vs. Oklahoma last year so far.
Aaron Schatz: Does somebody want to tell Florida that the game was scheduled for today? I realize that you don't want to overreact to three drives, two on defense and one on offense, but they look -- and I don't think anyone has ever said this about the Florida Gators -- slow.
By the way, I don't know if Mark Ingram is really that special. He hasn't impressed me when I've seen him this year, but that Alabama line sure is something special. Their blocking today is really strong, huge run holes and the Florida defense hasn't gotten near McElroy except for one sack.
Tom Gower: This looks more like the Utah-Alabama Sugar Bowl to me, where the generally-perceived-to-be-inferior team (Utah there, now 'Bama) has an initial burst thanks to impressive scheming.
Rob Weintraub: Are you telling me Verne and Gary have been doing college footy all these years and don't know you can't return a XP that hits the upright!!?? Are they off doing Winnipeg Blue Bombers games in the midweek?
Bill Connelly: Wow, what in the world is going on with PATs today?? Houston missed multiple PATs, and the game almost swung both ways when both Cincy and Pitt missed ones at different times. Now Alabama pushes one. Strange.
Tim Gerheim: I didn't watch the Houston game but I was assuming there was a weather explanation for those PATs, just like the snow in Pitt-Cincy. (I'm not getting that mixed up with WVU-Rutgers am I? I think they both had snow. Kinda hung over today.) Obviously that doesn't explain it in the Georgia Dome.
Bill Connelly: I only saw one of the Houston misses, but it was a just plain push wide.
Tom Gower: All three were just plain misses. Hogan had been 34-for-36, too.
Bill Connelly: So far Bama is playing Florida like Tennessee did -- absolutely make sure that somebody other than Tebow beats you. They're not falling for any of the fakes -- they're just going straight at No. 15.
Aaron Schatz: Which means Florida should do more of those rush-pass option plays like they did on third-and-3, where it looks like a Tebow run, the defense comes up, and the receiver is open for a little dink pass over the top.
Oh, and Houston lineman Eric Winston, of all people, just sent out on Twitter: "Are you kidding me Gary Danielson? If you don't know that a ball is dead when it hits the upright then stop announcing." So hey, even players know the rules.
Rob Weintraub: That might be the next NFL wrinkle on the wildcat -- the step forward a step or two and throw, which only Tebow does for some reason.
Tom Gower: I want to say Ricky Williams did take a step forward before throwing the pass that Chris Draft picked off last weekend. I bet it's an eyes problem that the NFL solves and college doesn't.
Aaron Schatz: John Elway used to do this very well, actually.
David Gardner: Alabama needs to go back to its original offensive strategy if they want to stay on top. Florida is too quick for that sideline-to-sideline stuff.
Rob Weintraub: Richardson busts two tackles at the line, sweeps for six or seven. McElroy sticks his head in there late, and Verne yells "How about the quarterback!" Typical. Even if Favre isn't playing, his ghost haunts broadcasters.
Tim Gerheim: Florida's defensive backs are going to get a pick-six at this rate, although they may keep giving up the occasional big catch and run. They're jumping those short sideline routes like nobody's business, and so far Mcelroy is throwing them right on target, but they're coming really close.
David Gardner: I have one minor suggestion for Florida -- TACKLE.
Aaron Schatz: Well, the Florida offense at least woke up with five minutes left in the first half. This is starting to feel like one of those games where the underdog dominates against, say, Indianapolis in the first half, but has to settle for field goals over and over, and you go into halftime thinking "this lead is just not big enough." You can't settle for field goals against Tim Tebow, just like you can't settle for field goals against Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Bill Connelly: Beautiful response drive from Florida there. They needed that. And the announcers are actually staying somewhat reserved after Tebow's "LET'S GO!!!!!!!" routine after the nice run. They usually lap that up.
Rob Weintraub: Easy meme if UF goes on to win: Those two Tebow runs changed entire game.
On the subject, should someone who suffered a nasty concussion earlier this season really be headbutting his own linemen?
Tim Gerheim: Ha, the Florida cheerleaders were doing a girls-on-the-guys'-shoulders routine in the corner of the field that touchdown went to, and Nelson got somewhat close to running into them as guys occasionally do heading out of bounds. Seems like a very bad idea to be running that kind of stunt while play is live.
Rob Weintraub: Ingram stepped out of bounds, it looks like -- no review?
Never mind, they got to it.
Bill Connelly: Or not ... too close to change the call, I guess?
Tim Gerheim: Right before he stepped out on that long screen play (if he did -- the replay is inconclusive, as they decided on the replay), I don't understand why Ingram cut to the outside, instead of cutting inside the blocker who was pushing his man to the outside, and where he also had another potential blocker running with him. I think vision (which may mostly be about reading blocks) and balance are the elements that make a great runner a great running back.
David Gardner: Great route by Cooper there, using the ump as a natural pick.
Tom Gower: Play design was good -- Hernandez I think ran a post, drawing the (defensive) left side zone defender and then the drag into the vacated zone far enough inside to avoid Arenas' outside coverage area.
Rob Weintraub: These are the two best defenses, right?
Oof, Danielson says same thing as I type it. But it's good to see the offensive talent playing to ability.
Verne is either losing his eyesight rapidamente, or that mile-high Georgia Dome press box is giving him fits.
Bill Connelly: I don't really think that's an either-or scenario.
Rob Weintraub: Further to Aaron's point, this is a mistake by Bama to run out the last 1:20 or so. Florida will be scoring again, and Bama's offense and McElroy are hot.
David Gardner: Agreed, especially because Urban Meyer has a Belichick-esque knack for making halftime adjustments.
Aaron Schatz: Or as Bill Simmons would suggest, a "pre-2009 Belichick knack."
Bill Connelly: He's been REALLY shaken up by these last couple of games...
Rob Weintraub: Not sure I would call that a gimmick play like Danielson, but it sure was effective -- Bama clearly has picked out Stamper as the weak link in coverage, and burned him to a crisp on that drive.
David Gardner: Between penalties and poor tackling, Florida is playing very sloppy.
Rob Weintraub: I guess Florida is distracted by all the Charlie Strong to Louisville talk...
Aaron Schatz: I take back what I said about Ingram. Clearly, I was watching too much of the Auburn game. He looks pretty good cutting here.
Rob Weintraub: Auburn had a couple of linebackers playing out of their minds last week. This is the real Ingram.
The Gators need to recruit some of that beef from the pep squad sitting in front of the band for their D-line. Yeah, I went there.
David Gardner: TACKLE TACKLE TACKLE.
Aaron Schatz: Florida came out flat, then got their act together in the second quarter. Did they watch Groundhog Day at halftime or something? All the improvement from the second quarter just disappeared after halftime, and Alabama is really dominating on both sides of the ball now.
Rob Weintraub: Maybe Tebow should go in at linebacker...
That was the worst throw by Tebow this season, at a particularly poor time.
David Gardner: If I published any one of the comments that any one of my friends here said after that pass, I think the site would be shut down.
Tom Gower: This isn't my normal tune, but I hate that replay reversal of Tebow. Call on the field was a fumble, and while I initially thought that call was wrong, it looked like he'd started to lose control by the time his arm was moving forward. "Indisputable" video evidence that was a pass that was not.
Incredibly terrible throw by Tebow on the pick. That was an easy touchdown with a decent throw, but Tebow put it low and behind the wideout. Not sure that's his worst throw of the year -- Berry's pick in the Tennessee game was a particularly bad one, an obvious slant where Berry had inside position the entire way. That one was at least the right read.
Aaron Schatz: Now that Alabama has this game in hand, my elephant-loving daughter demands more camera shots of Big Al.
Rob Weintraub: That's funny, my daughter ran in and started yelling "alligator, alligator!"
David Gardner: My question is, where was that sense of offensive urgency from Florida that we saw on the last drive for the rest of the game?
Tim Gerheim: Is it just because I'm a Texans fan who's seen too many Colts games, or did it seem to anyone else like it was way too early when Alabama went ultra-conservative to sit on the ball after that interception with about 10:30 left?
Tom Gower: Florida hasn't looked at all threatening with the pass once this year, and despite how he's played this game, Alabama is probably right not to trust McElroy not to pull a Rosencopter. I was fine with the decision.
Tim Gerheim: It probably makes me a terrible person, but it makes me smile to see Tim Tebow cry. Reminds me of that great photo of the weeping OU kid.
Tim Gerheim: Didn't you do enough damage making the Horns your Edelstein this week?
Rob Weintraub: That was purposeful -- and looking OK so far.
Tim Gerheim: Four interceptions and a blocked punt through a quarter and two plays. I feel like I'm watching a high school game.
Doug Farrar: The play where Mr. Suh was fighting off the right guard (who was holding him) with one hand and tackling Colt McCoy with the other, well, I suspect you'll see that one a few times on upcoming draft preview shows. Sheesh.
Note to Colt McCoy: If you go to Seattle, every defense will look like this.
Bill Connelly: Suh's getting a little cocky now, not even pretending to form-tackle, just tossing McCoy to the ground like a professional wrestler.
Yeah, he REALLY should be invited to New York next week for the Heisman ceremony. Even if he doesn't win it, he's pretty clearly the biggest game-changer in the country this year. So big and fast. It's amazing how good your defense can look when the middle of your opponent's offensive line is imploding as soon as the ball is snapped.
Tim Gerheim: These teams should seriously consider quick-kicking on some of these series. When Texas has third-and-30 from their own 20 and Nebraska's longest play is seven yards, I might want to put my defense on the field.
And that's why -- Longhorns get an interception on a tipped ball on third down. Nebraska has one first down. The downside of punting is negligible, and the upside is a turnover. And they pooch punt it on fourth-and-17 and down it at the 1. I'm more optimistic about our opportunity to score now than at any time since the opening drive.
Nebraska can't throw the ball because nobody can catch it. The Texas rush has been disrupting the timing of the passing game, and some of the short passes have been too hard and not perfectly targeted, but about half a dozen Husker passes have hit receivers and backs in the hands and fallen to the ground.
Aaron Schatz: For crying out loud, did they ban pass receptions in the Big 12 when Michael Crabtree left for the NFL?
Bill Connelly: Nope. They just all go to this guy.
Tim Gerheim: This is not remotely representative. Last week's UT-A&M game, with about 9,000 yards of combined offense, was more the norm. I think the Nebraska offense is rubbing off on Texas'.
I seriously would have quick-kicked it if I were Texas when they had third-and-10 from the 20 or so, and doubly so after false-starting to third-and-15. Without a returner a good quick kick can go a long way, and you don't have the risk of Nebraska stealing yardage on a punt return, like they just got. The only way either team is scoring is if they have a short field. These guys may as well be wearing leather helmets.
Aaron Schatz: Let's see. Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis are all 1-10. St. Louis needs a quarterback. Tampa Bay will probably win another game or two. Can you imagine Ndamukong Suh and Shaun Rogers playing next to each other? Has an NFL team ever finished 0-0-16 with no points scored or allowed?
Tim Gerheim: I am slowly losing my mind. I've actually been yelling at my TV for Texas to quick-kick when they have third-and-long. They have yet to have a good result on a single drive all game that began on their own side of the field.
Aaron Schatz: Obviously, I don't take pleasure in Tim's pain (or David's earlier today) but it is fun listening to how excited Musberger is about "We're 1:45 away from B -- C -- S -- CHAOS!!!!"
Doug Farrar: Brent, if you say "BCS chaos" one more time, I'm flipping the switch.
Tim Gerheim: I call bullshit.
Doug Farrar: (insert "Colt McCoy getting drafted by Andy Reid" joke here).
Tom Gower: That ending makes me feel like Tim Tebow.
Aaron Schatz: Holy crap. Crazy emotions. I feel bad for TCU, Cincinnati, Boise State, and anyone else who wants to see the current BCS system ripped up. I feel very, very good for Hunter Lawrence. Man, you don't want to be that poor kid if he misses the field goal there.
Tim Gerheim: There was a little bit of crappy offense mixed in, but that was a fantastic defensive football game. Anybody who thinks low-scoring football games aren't entertaining should be forced to watch that game Clockwork Orange-style.
34 comments, Last at 07 Dec 2009, 11:43pm by zlionsfan