Are the best defenses against play action the best against regular passes too? How much impact does play action really have in an NFL game, and does it correlate from year to year?
07 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.
Please also note that we do not write the e-mails specifically to produce this column, which means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Raiders fan, not so much.)
Doug Farrar: OK, I'll start the Matt Millen ripping this week. He gets his little Telestrator out and points to Marcus Stroud's "vertical penetration" on a play with about 4:30 left in the first quarter. Says, "Watch this -- he's just gonna take (Nick) Mangold and shove him into the ... (and this is where I think he realized that he screwed up) ... that forces (Thomas Jones) to be able to cut back, and Wilson finished it off." Yeah, that sounds nice and all, but Mangold actually pushed Stroud out of the play completely, and Jones made a late cutback. Jones was "tackled" by Mangold more than anyone as they bumped into each other. What the hell is this guy watching?
Tom Gower: Apparently this one, since he immediately identified the double A-gap blitz on the play where Mark Sanchez missed a way-the-hell-open Jerricho Cotchery. That was the Millen I used to know and like.
Doug Farrar: Oooooooh. And speaking of wide-open, Braylon Edwards gets past his guy and completely boots an over-the-shoulder catch that would have been an easy six. Yikes.
Vince Verhei: Braylon Edwards dropped a pass? Hang on, I'll write the XP.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, but this wasn't just a drop. It was a DROP. When there isn't a defender within five yards of you, the DROP should be all-caps.
Sean McCormick: Particularly when the ball hits you in the hands, then hits you in the face, then bounces off the top of your helmet, all while there is no defender anywhere on the screen.
Aaron Schatz: I feel like next year's book is going to need a Matt Millen commentary parody or something.
By the way, may I suggest to the Buffalo Bills that if you set up man coverage, you really shouldn't put your safety heads-up on Jerricho Cotchery? Jeez.
Doug Farrar: The practice of calling a timeout to insure that the booth will review a play within 2:00 of a half just seems weird to me. Not the process, the outcome. Rex Ryan gets penalized a timeout because he was smart enough to call one on the Braylon Edwards touchdown, and there's no way to know if he expressly called it for that purpose (though, of course, he did).
Benjy Rose: We rightfully make fun of Millen, but how many other announcers would say something like "well, the Jets are really running the crap out of the ball?"
Aaron Schatz: Damn. I *knew* I should have gone with my original wording when writing this week's "Numbers Crunching." Now Millen will get all the credit.
Vince Verhei: When NFL Films does the 2009 Bills highlight video, it should just be a loop of the ball being snapped into Ryan Fitzpatrick's groin over and over again. I can think of no better summary of their season.
Aaron Schatz: No, no. It has to be interspersed with false starts by Demetrius Bell.
Bill Barnwell: Is Kellen Clemens in? Why?
Tom Gower: Apparent knee injury.
Aaron Schatz: Oh my god, now that Sanchez is injured the Jets are running a seven-offensive lineman offense. Holy "running the crap out of the ball," Batman.
One thing I'm noticing more and more with Darrelle Revis is how good he is at reading the quarterback in slot or motion situations. He's excellent when handing his guy off in shallow crosses and the like, then jumping the intermediate stuff inside. He's done that a couple times tonight.
Aaron Schatz: This game is going to show up a lot on the Darrelle Revis highlight tape. Although Lito Sheppard is also playing really well tonight. Man, that guy is just absurdly inconsistent. He doesn't go from good to bad -- he goes from great to horrendous.
It's good when Matt Millen tells us he liked Shonn Greene coming out of college, and that he was a good pick for the Jets in the third round. Because, you know, if anyone is an expert on drafting for value, it's Matt Millen.
By the way, you know how back in the day the NBA and the AFL had "territorial picks?" The NFL needs to assign Ndamukong Suh to the Bills as a "mercy pick." Or perhaps the Bills could consider a move to Omaha.
Tom Gower: "2:32 left. The only way the Bills can stop the clock is by incompletion or the two-minute warning." Or, you know, by going out of bounds. Or, if you want to get complicated, by defensive penalty. Or, shhhh, injury.
Doug Farrar: And right on cue, Revis picks off the pass to seal the game on Fitzpatrick's underthrown lob to Terrell Owens with 2:02 left in the game.
Doug Farrar: Michael Vick steps onto the field at the Georgia Dome to resounding boos, heads three yards up the middle on a run, goes back off the field. I do not, for the life of me, understand what the Eagles are doing with him.
Bill Barnwell: Good to hear Moose explain the Leonard Weaver signing as something that improved the Eagles' short-yardage problems and gave Brian Westbrook a rest. Has he actually watched the Eagles this year?
Aaron Schatz: Just for fun, I went and checked Weaver's numbers. Five carries this year with 1 or 2 yards to go, not exactly numbers that scream "short-yardage specialist," although he did convert four of them.
Eighteen of Weaver's 31 carries prior to this week were on first-and-10. 5.5 yards per carry average. And that doesn't include his longest run of the year, a 41-yarder, because that came on second down.
Vince Verhei: The first football Sunday after Tim Ruskell announced he would be leaving Seattle, and Leonard Weaver, the fullback he let walk away for nothing, is having a big day against Atlanta, catching a touchdown pass, later making a fingertip grab on a crossing route for a big catch-and-run. He has 68 receiving yards in the first quarter.
Doug Farrar: And if Weaver was still in Seattle, he'd be forced to stay in and block all the time behind that wonderful Ruskell-ified offensive line.
Bill Barnwell: Michael Koenen just ROBO-PUNTERED a kick in Atlanta. Punt bounced at the one backwards onto the three.
Vince Verhei: Now Weaver has added a 17-yard run. I don't have a copy of FOA with me, but I think I wrote in his player comments that he was a perfect fit for the Philadelphia offense and Eagles fans were going to love him. It only took until December for that to come true.
Doug Farrar: And for all you Seahawks fans out there wondering what he'd be doing in Greg Knapp's Super-Duper Secret (Soon To Be Explosive!) Offense, you really do know the answer: three carries, 1.2 yards per carry, one catch for -4 yards, and a bunch of bench splinters in his ass. 'Cause he don't block like a tradishunul fullback, y'know.
Tim Gerheim: Just for kicks, Terry Bradshaw just identified Leonard Weaver as the tight end. Why they have him of all people narrating the highlights I have no idea.
Vince Verhei: Because he's a ZANY country boy!
Doug listed some useless shotgun players in the Kansas City discussion, but he may have to remove Vick from that list -- he just scored his first post-prison touchdown on a third-down shotgun dive. Really, that's the only thing he's done well this year -- all the misdirection and play-action they've run has done nothing, but when he just gets the ball and goes straight ahead, he has done OK.
Donovan McNabb was one of the players congratulating Vick afterwards, and the difference in their sizes was striking. Vick is listed as 6 feet, McNabb at 6-foot-2, but there looked to be a four-inch difference when they were standing side-by-side.
Bill Barnwell: Michael Vick just scored on a third-and-1 from the ATL 7 and even though the AP stories have been saying that Vick was booed, all I've heard for him all day -- and especially on that score -- was racuous cheers. Seriously, there won't be a road team touchdown that gets a better reaction all year.
After the score, FOX showed even more shots of people in Vick jerseys, along with some woman holding an "ATLANTA LOVE VICK" sign. Clearly, that's a shoutout to the "FAMILY LOVE MICHAEL" sign from Arrested Development.
Vince Verhei: Down 20-0 in the third quarter, Falcons go for it on fourth down, and Redman throws a pick-six to Sheldon Brown. Game over. Falcons will drop to 6-6 and will need to win at least three games against Saints, Jets, Bills, and Buccaneers to post back-to-back winning seasons for the first time ever. Not impossible, I guess. The thought of a Sanchez-Redman interception-palooza is intriguing.
On that note, on the Falcons' next drive Redman has a receiver WIDE-open, with nobody within ten yards, but the ball hangs in the air forever and is underthrown, and Sean Jones moves over to intercept.
Third-and-goal for the Eagles, Vick takes the shotgun snap and drifts left, then turns and throws back to Brent Celek for a touchdown. Eagles are just having fun now.
Doug Farrar: Wow. Michael Vick beating Chris Redman. This is Bizarro Nightmare Falcons Day at the Georgia Dome. Is there a commemorative jersey or something?
Bill Barnwell: At halftime, Bobby Petrino entered the punt, pass, and kick competition, but switched from the male competition to the female one halfway through.
Mike Tanier: There was a sequence in which the Eagles were called for roughing the passer, then got an unnceccessary roughness on the next play, both of which were incredibly tacky. The roughness, which happened in the end zone on a pass over the middle, was called after FOX went to commercial. The officials deliberated for about a minute before calling it.
Later, there was another 15-yard unnecessary roughness call, on a play where the receiver caught a pass, was fighting for extra yardage, went down, and Quintin Demps sort-of dove in to finish the tackle and bumped the receiver's head.
Meanwhile, a late hit on McNabb went uncalled, one of the Falcons tackles dove at Jaqua Thomas' knees AFTER the whistle and it didn't get called, and there was a hit out-of-bounds after one of the Eagles interceptions that wasn't called. I won't go into all of the uncalled holding penalties as the Falcons tried to keep their Prudenential rep clean.
All of these calls came when the game was in the undecided, 13-0 range. It was incredibly one-sided. The refs also called a few tacky illegal contact calls, which went both ways. The call that got to me -- and collegaues and regular readers know that this is where I come from -- is when they called the late, in-the-end-zone roughness penalty ONE PLAY AFTER a really tacky roughing the passer call. That's a flag that, unless it is flagrant, is picked up in hockey, basketball, and the NCAA. We just made a borderline call one way, let's not make a second one, especially if we have to argue amongst ourselves through a cell phone ad about it. In the NFL, they feel like they have to call several iffy flags in a row against one team to prove that they don't believe in make-up calls.
Mike Kurtz: The Bears have unveiled their "awful secondary" offense. Long, lofting pass to Devin Hester completed because the safety (James Butler) completely misplayed the ball, followed by a mega-defensive pass interference against Johnny Knox. Three runs up the middle later, the Bears have the first score of the game. Expect a lot more deep stuff this week if this drive was any indication.
Kudos to the announcing team: they're giving the Bears credit for a 35-yard DPI when they list off their long completions.
So, early in the second quarter, we see the Bears with (I believe) nine rushes for 17 yards and seven passes for 137 yards. That doesn't include the DPI. Wow.
Aaron Schatz: This brings up one of the more important questions to be answered as we write Football Outsiders Almanac 2010: "Matt Forte, WTF?"
Doug Farrar: He's not an opportunistic back and he doesn't really explode through holes. He's more of a glider. You need a specific kind of power line to make that style work, though I don't know how ANY running game would work behind this sucktacular line.
Mike Kurtz: I think it's going to be very hard to separate Forte's performance from his hideous offensive line, even to figure out exactly what if anything has gone wrong. It's just a shambles.
The one high note for the Rams thus far has been punting. The Bears are about to start their second series within their own 2.
Doug Farrar: Oh, dear. Major Special Teams FAIL by the Bears in the second quarter. They try the shovel pass fake off the field goal, and Greg Olsen can't get the first down. There actually was a time when the Bears had completely amazing special teams, right?
Mike Kurtz: The Bears in the second half are pretty much just selling out to stop Stephen Jackson and daring Kyle Boller to beat them. Boller hasn't even really tried, is the funny thing.
Incidentally, Awful Waffle is having a big game on special teams and defense. I'm impressed.
A lot of the Bears' trouble in this game is just dumb play-calling and design. In the second quarter, they ran an awful fake field goal where the holder threw it forward to Greg Olsen, who got completely shut down almost immediately. The play before that was Greg Olsen and two other receivers running short right routes while Cutler rolled out right, in the red zone. Needless to say, nobody was open and it was a big mess.
Kevin Payne makes another acrobatic defense. It's a good day for Bears' defensive depth.
Bill Barnwell: Matthew Stafford just threw a pick-six on a screen that was tipped literally a foot in front of him. Ugh.
Aaron Schatz: Text message from Mike Tanier: "Chad Ochocinco -- is that a real poncho or a Sears poncho?"
Doug Farrar: Well, the sombrero looks real. I believe the poncho is from the Estaban Ochocinco collection.
Vince Verhei: Matt Stafford has a 54-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson in the first half. Take that play away, and he is six-of-17 for 45 yards with one interception and one sack.
Rob Weintraub: Exhibit A for why the Bengals are headed for a division title but DVOA is down on them was this game. Cincy played very poorly for the first 20 minutes (the Fanene pick-six snapped them out of it), had several missed blocking assignments, nine penalties (most on the O-line), three turnovers by Carson Palmer, more red zone inefficiency (dropped touchdown pass--again!--by Dan Coats), stuffed on third-and-inches at the ten, Palmer strip sack, etc.), and a general "let's get this over with" approach -- and yet the Bengals were in total control, not remotely threatened once the game went 14-7.
Detroit made exactly two plays on offense -- a touchdown bomb to Megatron when a botched coverage left him in single coverage with a gimpy safety, Chris Crocker, and a bomb to the 1 in garbage time that Johnson caught over two defenders. The Bengals were unafraid to let Detroit stay within shouting distance, and simply run endlessly to kill the clock. It was effective, but it sure wasn't pretty. Mostly Cincy lined up in their favored six linemen formation (including Andre Smith!), and hammered away with CedricBenson.
Record I never, ever, thought the Bengals would hold -- three different backs have run for more than 100 yards. in three consecutive weeks (Scott, L.J., Benson).
So, yeah, 9-3, but with the Steelers and Ravens feh, it's not as though I'm cackling over here. We'll see the next two weeks, at MIN and at SD.
Vince Verhei: After a steady dose of Chris Johnson to soften up the defense, Vince Young drops back to pass and finds Nate Washington a step behind the cornerback. He throws a perfect -- PERFECT -- rainbow that drops into Washington's hands -- and Washington drops it. Still an amazing throw by Young; he had to throw it 40-some yards into a small window, and could not have thrown it any better.
Aaron Schatz: By the way, that's Jeff Saturday in the new Mastercard commercial getting the football present from Manning, right?
Tim Gerheim: Yep.
Vince Verhei: Young regresses several seasons, throwing an interception right to a defensive back on a rollout pass. He was hit on the play and got up to cover the runback, but now he's down on the sideline holding his knee. Uh-oh
Young is back on the field for Tennessee, but the Colts are ahead 21-3 near the end of the first half.
Bill Barnwell: Tony Brown is losing his mind in Indy. Inside ten seconds, his helmet fell off and he took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for sticking his fingers inside a Colts' lineman's face mask. He then was nearly ejected for talking trash; on the subsequent play, his helmet came off again and he was still talking trash. Costs his team three points. Shut up, dude. And fix your helmet.
Doug Farrar: Or, in KSK vernacular: FIX YO HELMET!
Vince Verhei: Young leads the Titans to a touchdown on the two-minute drill, and it was the good Vince: five-of-six for 56 yards and the score, with another first down on a scramble. His best throw was a laser beam to a receiver who had settled into a very small Hole in Zone to set the Titans up inside the 20.
Unfortunately, he left Peyton Manning with 20 seconds on the clock, and the Colts kick a 43-yard field goal on the last play of the half. It was helped by a personal foul on Tony Brown, who looked like he was trading punches with an Indianapolis lineman. Indy up 24-10 at the half.
Ned Macey: Substantively, not a whole lot here. Of note, Tony Ugoh returned and played adequately in place of an injured Charles Johnson. A rare Mike Hart sighting for those of us who are Colts and Michigan fans. The Colts' spate of good fortune continued, getting a tipped pass for a long completion to Pierre Garcon on the first play of the game. (Garcon had a big day, demonstrating that the end may be near for the seemingly ageless Nick Harper.)
The most interesting thing, to my mind, was that Chris Johnson had a very un-Chris Johnson like game in both the good and bad way. He broke nothing big (long rush was 11 yards) but rarely was stuffed. He was consistently gaining positive yardage but never really threatening. Odd. Vince Young made a number of good throws, a couple poor decisions, and generally was a competent pocket passer. A botched snap near the end zone will likely hurt his DVOA, but he easily recovered the fumble.
Now, just because I can, I'd like to heap praise on the Colts' organization. The headlines are first this year's 12-0 record and second that they tied the Pats for most consecutive regular season wins. The first is impressive but adequately appreciated. The second seems hollow, since everybody knows that the Colts lost a game to the Chargers in the playoffs, while the Patriots won all their playoff games
What I think is most impressive is that they have now won 12 straight for the seventh straight year. That's just an incredible run of consistency and dominance. Since 2001, the Pats (the league's best franchise) has four 12-plus-win seasons. Joe Montana's 49ers won 12-plus games five times in his 10 seasons. Troy Aikman's Cowboys won 12 games four times. The Lions have won 12 games -- wait for it, wait for it -- once in their entire history. The fact that the Colts have only won the one Super Bowl perhaps deservedly undermines how remarkable a run they are on.
Tom Gower: Well, I've been home from the road trip to Nap-town for about two hours and am still annoyed at life.
Two key elements of the Titans' winning streak that weren't present today:
1. Not falling behind. The largest deficit they'd faced was 7. Today they were down 11 early and 18 in the second quarter.
2. Lack of explosive plays. One of my aborted research projects this offseason was the role of explosion plays (somehow defined) in scoring drives. Generally, scoring drives feature one (or more) of these, simply because NFL defenses tend to be at least marginally competent and it's difficult for most offenses to go up and down the field in 4- to 10-yard chunks. The main driver of these has been CJ's big runs. As Ned noted, his long was 11. The Colts game-planned for him not to go boom, and it worked. The Titans didn't get these in the passing game either -- Nate Washington's drop early that would have put them up 10-7 was killer.
I thought V.Y. played reasonably for the most part -- he missed a couple throws, but most of his failures were at least as much about his teammates as they were about him. If that sounds like a familiar tune, it should because it's the same one I sounded earlier in the year when Kerry Collins was at quarterback.
One big takeaway from today's game is that if you're going to beat the Colts, you can't make too many mistakes, and the Titans made a bunch. Besides Washington's drop, there's Ahmard Hall's fumble, the pass protection breakdown on the play that resulted in the pick, Tony Brown's stupidity giving the Colts 3 points, and more missed tackles than I'll care to chart.
Tim Gerheim: One more key element to the streak: Not playing the Colts. That really improves your chances.
Doug Farrar: Special Teams FAIL, Part 2: At the beginning of the third quarter, after what I'm sure was another three-and-out, the Chiefs go to punt formation but swap Dustin Colquitt out for Brodie Croyle. Croyle takes the deep snap and promptly throws the ball a good 10 yards short of the only possible intended receiver. Congratulations, Mr. Croyle: You join Pat White and Michael Vick in the Pantheon of Completely Useless Shotgun Formation Plays (2009 Version). And a quick note to Todd Haley: Swapping in your backup quarterback kinda takes away the specter of the fake punt, dude.
Bill Barnwell: Dolphins get Pat White behind center and run a shotgun sweep/option, but White blows the pitch and they end up in third-and-32. I've often said that my playbook would consist solely of plays for third-and-32 and the sort, but the Dolphins' play in such a situation is "bubble screen to Davone Bess". It did not get 32 yards.
Aaron Schatz: Miami ran some interesting offensive plays for their first drive of the second quarter, coming out with an unbalanced line two or three times and then passing the ball deep. No runs, not even with a play-action fake -- just an unbalanced line, straight dropback, pass. Drive ended with the first touchdown of the year by Loser League Superduperstar Davone Bess. Sad day for Loser Leaguers. Simms talked about how Bess is really improving his second year. Also talked about how Anthony Fasano is becoming an important part of the Miami offense, and how Chad Henne really looked improved when he watched Buffalo play Miami last week. Hard to take color commentary seriously when every player is improving and no comment is critical in any way. They might as well put Larry King in the booth to give color commentary.
Speaking of which, this being another throwback day, they showed Larry King in the Miami radio booth! He was apparently the Dolphins color commentator for their first three seasons, 1969-1971. Which brings the question: COLOR commentary? Not play-by-play? Larry King was the ANALYST???
Oh ... my ... god. Tom Brady just threw down the sideline to a completely-covered Sam Aiken on first-and-20. Shaun Smith was actually in front of Aiken and in better position to catch the ball for an interception, and Aiken reached over Smith's back, caught the ball against the front of Smith's helmet, and somehow instead of falling down he kept his balance and stepped over Smith as Smith fell, then ran all the way for an 81-yard touchdown. The second-greatest against-a-helmet catch I've ever seen.
Oh, and I should point out Aiken could go all the way for the touchdown because the deep safety was on the other side of the field doubling Randy Moss.
Doug Farrar: With 3:25 left in the third quarter, Chad Henne overthrows everybody in the end zone. The spectacular aspect of this play was that the mascot had to jump up and to the right to avoid getting beaned in the face. Did Henne watch Bull Durham last night?
Aaron Schatz: Patriots march down the field in the fourth quarter. Shaun Smith singled on Wes Welker is a mismatch, so what do you call Akin Ayodele on Wes Welker? Alas, in the red zone, Tom Brady throws an awful interception, trying to hit Randy Moss on a jump ball in the corner. Vontae Davis is right in front of him -- Gibril Wilson was there too, although I wouldn't call it "double coverage" -- and it didn't even look like Moss even jumped to try for it.
OK, Patriots fans can now panic. This business of falling apart in the fourth quarter is a serious problem. They looked like they outplayed the Dolphins today, but just too many passes ended up just out of some guy's reach. The defense would look good for a couple of downs, then let Miami convert on fourth and keep going.
Two guys need to be called out here. First, Adalius Thomas, who got nothing against Jake Long all day. Watching him try the spin moves and go nowhere was just sad. Second, Nick Kaczur. He let Cameron Wake in for the pass pressure that forced the final interception to blow the Pats' attempt at a last-minute comeback. Kazcur simply isn't very good in pass protection. I have no idea why they signed him to an extension before the season.
Bill Moore: I'm of the belief that New England is in need of a true offensive coordinator. The play-calling for this team is just atrocious.
Aaron Schatz: It is annoying to see Tony Dungy say that Bill Belichick made a mistake by going for it on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 6 near the end of the first half, instead of taking the field goal. "In a game that's going to be close, you always take the points," says Dungy. But this isn't your own end of the field. This is the SIX. Going for it was absolutely the right decision in that situation. The fault does not belong to the coach who decided to go for it in a situation where you convert more than half the time. The fault belongs to the defense that let Miami go 83 yards on the next drive, in less than two minutes, to kick a field goal right before halftime. If you kick the field goal, the kickoff return probably ends up somewhere around the 25. Maybe that last Miami drives ends up in seven points instead of three, and you're actually worse off.
Tim Gerheim: I'm not sure how much time was left in the half, but in general I disagree on chances at the end of the half. Part of the calculus in going for it near the goal-line is the fact that if you fail the other team has the ball so deep, and they're unlikely to score and you're likely to get it back with pretty good field position. That upside isn't there so much toward the end of the half because the clock will often run out before you get another shot at it.
Vince Verhei: Steelers get a field goal following a big return on the opening kickoff. Raiders respond with a field-goal drive of their own. Key play was a fourth-and-1 conversion where Bruce Gradkowski play-faked and bootlegged right. He had a tight end covered in the flat, but eventually that guy stepped up to get Gradkowski, who then pulled up and dropped the ball in the tight end's hands. Between the bootleg, the timing of when to pass, and the touch of the pass itself, it was the kind of play JaMarcus Russell likely screws up eight or nine times out of ten.
Bill Barnwell: Steelers just got stuffed on a Ben Roethlisberger sneak on fourth-and-1 from the Raiders' 5 or so. Actually lost yardage, from what I can tell.
Doug Farrar: Mike Tomlin's Campaign to Unleash Hell is running into a few snags. Pittsburgh starts the game with that rarest of all things -- a positive special teams play! -- on an 83-yard kickoff return by Stefan Logan. Of course, they have to settle for a field goal on a drive that started at the Oakland 19. Next drive, three-and-out. Next drive, Big Ben up the middle on fourth-and-1 and they don't get it. They did pick up a first down on that third drive, so, I guess that's progress.
Bill Barnwell: The Steelers then come back and score on two absolutely perfect throws from Roethlisberger targeting Tyvon Branch, one on a Hines Ward deep post, and then one on an even tougher deep corner route right at the pylon by Santonio Holmes. Couldn't have made better throws if he tried.
Doug Farrar: Branch on Ward and Holmes? What sort of coverages were the Raiders running on that drive?
Bill Barnwell: Cover-1 with underneath zones on the Ward play, probably the same thing on the Holmes play.
The Raiders pitch to Darren McFadden, who passes back to Bruce Gradkowski ...who has James Harrison already in his face, curls backwards, and takes a sack anyway. Ends up being a loss of about 15 or so.
Vince Verhei: Bruce Gradkowski's mobility is giving the Steelers fits. The Raiders are moving him around a lot, and on their most recent drive, he ran for two first downs -- one a sneak on fourth-and-1, one a scramble on third-and-3. He capped off the drive with a touchdown pass to Chaz Schilens to put Oakland ahead 13-10.
Doug Farrar: Raiders pull ahead of the Steelers with a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that includes some rollouts and counter pitches to keep Pittsburgh's defense off-balance. Tanier and I will never see eye-to-eye on Jeff Garcia, but Bruce Gradkowski reminds me of Garcia and is showing some of the things I liked about him -- productive mobility and play extension. I'm still waiting for the Garcia downside, which includes the ability to run around in the pocket like a little kid trying to get dizzy, and the subsequent head-scratching interceptions.
Bill Barnwell: Wow. Louis Murphy somehow got ten yards of space downfield and picked up 75 yards to give the Raiders BACK the lead. In Pittsburgh.
Wow. Wow. The Raiders get a Hail Mary to Louis Murphy in quadruple coverage with 30 seconds left. They promptly get a delay of game penalty, and on the next play, the Steelers pick up an unnecessary roughness penalty by hitting a defenseless receiver. Gradkowski scrambles on the next play and throws an awful pass into triple coverage while stumbling (that would be bad Garcia) and still hits Johnnie Lee Higgins in the hands before Higgins promptly drops it. Then Gradkowski hits a wide open Murphy for the touchdown with nine seconds left on second down. Just an ugly series for both teams.
Doug Farrar: Whoa. Gradkowski throws it up, basically punts with his arm, and Louis Murphy somehow comes down with the ball at the Pittsburgh 17 with 27 seconds left. Of course, because they're the Raiders, they catch a delay of game penalty on the next play. Gradkowski zips it up the middle to Murphy, and Ryan Mundy is flagged with the "defenseless receiver call." Two plays later, a wounded duck in the end zone to Murphy. Raiders are back up.
Vince Verhei: Steelers have had more injuries in the secondary -- Ryan Clark looked like he got knocked out, though he walked off the field. Gradkowski was just lobbing up jump ball after jump ball in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers got their hands on a bunch but couldn't pull any in. Raiders pulled in just enough to win. Best game in years and YEARS for Oakland wide receivers. An amazingly entertaining game.
Tim Gerheim: Nothing says poor player personnel management like "Fred Smoot starting today with DeAngelo Hall out."
Doug Farrar: Drew Brees indoors this year: 154 of 213 passes (72.3 percent) for 2,149 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Drew Brees outdoors this year: 82 of 130 (63.1 percent) for 968 yards, seven scores and four picks.
Nine sacks outdoors, five indoors. Vulnerable New Orleans run defense. This ain't a cakewalk.
Bill Barnwell: Redskins are up 10-0 on Saints with great coverage downfield. Nothing really impressive up front, Phillip Daniels blocking a couple of passes; literally, Brees is getting four or five seconds to throw and not finding anyone. Amazing how they can do that without DeAngelo Hall, huh?
Doug Farrar: The Redskins are doing a great job at getting pressure with four and even three at the line, allowing the guys in the back to drop into zones and keep Brees from getting the big pass play off, at least in the first half. You keep wondering when Brees and Sean Payton will crack that defense, but early on, it's very effective. Andre Carter, who's having a pretty spiffy season under the radar, is doing particularly well today.
Tim Gerheim: The Redskins' defensive linemen are playing volleyball with Brees' "I'm a six-foot quarterback" passes. They've knocked two or three back down through about the middle of the second quarter. It looks like it's part of the game plan. Albert Haynesworth and the rest of the tackles aren't pushing upfield that hard. Once they read "pass" they seem to be trying to keep their hands free and their eyes up on Brees. I think the offense has started figuring that out -- mostly the fact that the rush isn't coming that hard up the middle unless it's a blitz.
Tim Gerheim: One of the most amazingly entertaining plays I've ever seen. Third-and-about 20, Drew Brees escaped a big blitz, including running out of a tackle, and threw up a prayer down the middle of the field toward Jeremy Shockey. He was double-covered, and Kareem Moore made a diving interception, got up and returned it about 20 yards. Robert Meachem did a great job beating a block (since the Skins had a convoy up the left side), pulled the ball out of Moore's hands on the way down, and ran it in unchallenged for a touchdown. It was almost overturned because the ball was moving as he was on the ground, and he dove over the top of Shockey so it looked like it could have been down by contact. I really thought it was down by contact since he definitely contacted Shockey on his way to the ground, but after he made the interception he didn't touch him. I guess I need to brush up on the down by contact rules.
Fourth-and-a foot for the Saints, and they run Mike Bell behind a pulling left guard, who was lined up heads up on Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth dutifully busted into the backfield and blew up the play. Pulling a guard on fourth-and-extremely short seems like a bad idea on its own; vacating the space in front of Haynesworth doubly so.
Aaron Schatz: To those watching Saints-Redskins, what's up with the Saints' pass defense that looked so amazing against the Patriots? We knew their run defense had problems, but the Redskins aren't beating them with the run here, they only have something like 15 carries. Campbell is 23-for-34 with 12:00 left.
Can I complain about FOX again? Just flipped over, out of curiosity, and they are still showing Philly shutting out Atlanta 34-0 instead of switching to Washington's possible upset-in-the-making against New Orleans.
Vince Verhei: From what I've seen (admittedly not much), Saints have been playing a lot of soft zone coverages and Campbell has had plenty of time to find the open man. He hasn't been beating blitzes or making great throws into coverage. And a lot of these receivers are wide-open, too. Not to knock Washington, because they are playing well, but this feels more like a New Orleans loss than a Washington win, at least on that side of the ball.
Tim Gerheim: The Redskins are running really well-designed plays, mixing up where they're throwing and how the receivers are getting open. Devin Thomas's first touchdown was a second-and-goal from around the 9 right after an incompletion, in a tight formation, and Thomas motioned left across the formation and set up right behind the left side tight end. In other words, everything screamed run. Mike McKenzie ran with him in man coverage. Thomas crossed back behind the line to the right out into the flat, McKenzie couldn't get across fast enough, and there was nobody close enough to stop him once he made the easy catch.
I think their route combinations have been more creative than New England's last week, they've had more receivers who can do damage (Thomas, who's had a great game, Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, and Fred Davis). Even though both Moss and Welker are probably better than anything Washington has, the greater variety of targets is putting more pressure on the depleted secondary. I think the Redskins are also benefiting from the sloppy field conditions after the above-freezing snowstorm yesterday. Then, the week of tape on McKenzie and Chris McAlister may have helped. It's always hard to defend against a quarterback in his first game in forever, even if he's not that good; the same may apply to corners.
Mike Kurtz: Nice kickoff return by Thomas, but he really looked slow at the end there. Very odd.
Tim Gerheim: Oh yeah, meant to add, Campbell's really not facing a lot of pressure, including on blitzes. I'm betting that the numbers will show that he's done very well against the blitz today.
I never thought I'd say this this season, but this has been a really entertaining Redskins game.
Doug Farrar: It should also be mentioned that with Jabari Greer and Randall Gay out, the Saints are down to a rookie (Malcolm Jenkins) and a guy they just signed two weeks ago (Mike McKenzie) at cornerback.
Aaron Schatz: That's the same corners the Saints had last week against the Pats, so that's no explanation.
Vince Verhei: Redskins are up 7 with about five minutes to go, and their offense has gone back to the never-ending string of bubble screens we know and hate. Then they remember they're playing the Saints and start running up the middle with impunity, including a third-and-1 conversion inside the five. They then run on first, second, and third downs to take it to the two-minute warning, up seven, in gimme field-goal range.
And then they miss the field goal. You've gotta be kidding me.
Mike Kurtz: Washington misses the gimme field goal, meaning that Brees is set up with a minute and a half to go the field for a tie/win. Suddenly FOX cuts away. They'll give me updates, though! How kind.
Gregg Easterbrook is right, that rule is insane.
Vince Verhei: In my sports bar, they have switched to a Miami-Boston College basketball game. Excuse me, I must immediately burn this place to the ground.
Jesus, they're putting that game on the BIG SCREEN, even as Saints-Redskins is ending and Seahawks-49ers is starting. What the hell?!?!?
Tim Gerheim: Wow. The Skins had first-and-goal from the 4, and they were totally playing for the field goal. They had a chip-shot field goal to go up 10 on the first play after the two-minute warning, and they missed it. This will be a good matchup, between one of the best offenses and one of the best defenses. Doesn't help that Haynesworth went down on the first play of the drive.
Bill Barnwell: The Redskins line up for a 28-yard field goal to give them a ten-point lead inside two minutes ... and Shaun Suisham misses it wide. This after the 'Skins "...got the points when they could" by hitting a 21-yard field goal earlier in the quarter. Haynesworth promptly goes down untouched on the subsequent play clutching his knee. That's not a good sequence.
David Gardner: And there it is, Brees to Robert Meachem, touchdown.
Tim Gerheim: For some reason when they got to the 5 the Redskins started running Rock Cartwright instead of their third-string back, who had been fairly dominant on the drive to that point.
35 seconds for a Saints touchdown. Epic. Two Saints touchdowns (or at least long passes) have now come because LaRon Landry tried to jump routes that then went upfield. Which would be OK (not great but OK) if he were a corner instead of the free safety.
Washington runs an awful two-minute drill. Everything is going up the middle. Close to field-goal range thanks to a facemask, but a slow drive.
And the Saints get an interception on an ugly throw the next play. Campell threw it late, allowing Jonathan Vilma to jump an out route to Davis. After a Saints hold, this looks like overtime.
Vince Verhei: They've got the Redskins game back on here, just in time to see Campbell throw an interception. I'm not a big believer in guys magically getting better or worse in "clutch" situations, but his play on the last two drives as opposed to the rest of the game has been dreadful.
Saints are lining up for a 50-plus-yard field goal to win. Washington calls timeout to ice the kicker, so the Saints change their mind and run one more play. Luckily for Washington, the pass is incomplete, and the ensuing kick is short, and we're going to overtime.
Doug Farrar: This must be an overtime rule? Sean Payton calls timeout in overtime so that the booth can review a Mike Sellers non-fumble call, which is overturned. Payton gets the timeout back. Does anyone know if that's a regulation rule as well?
Bill Moore: He gets the timeout back because once the play is overruled nothing that happens after that play matters (unless there was a personal foul)
Tim Gerheim: Between that madcap interception-fumble-touchdown at the end of the first half and the missed 20-yard field goal at the end of the game, I'm starting to believe in the Football Gods. I can hardly think of another explanation.
Aaron Schatz: OK, folks watching Skins-Saints. Do you think the Sellers down-by-contact play was properly overturned by the officials on the replay?
Bill Barnwell: No. Absolutely not indisputable whatsoever.
Doug Farrar: No way. Of course, the NFL can hide behind the "infinite levels of indisputable" defense, but that was a bang-bang call either way.
That's the first truly inaccurate pass I've seen from Josh Freeman this season. He had wideout Sammy Stroughter open by a step going across the middle, but he overthrew him by about 10 yards. It was intercepted by Charles Godfrey.
Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood needs to go to anger management. He has gotten two 15-yard penalties in the last two games that have really cost his team. Last week, someone cleaned him off a pile, and he took of his helmet on the field. This week, he clipped a defensive back after the play was over, and got an unnecessary roughness call. Raheem Morris has him out of the game.
The Panthers' strategy in this game is similar to the last few times they have played the Bucs -- run it down their throats. Even without Williams, the Panthers are averaging 6.25 yards a pop.
Josh Freeman has thrown some poor balls in the red zone today, which have really hurt the Bucs' effort. Give credit to Jon Beason, though, who has been staying disciplined in coverage on passing plays and has stayed out of Freeman's vision to jump in and intercept two passes.
Josh Freeman throws ANOTHER interception in the end zone. That's three today. In a 13-6 game.
Panthers respond by identifying the mismatch of the century -- Elbert Mack covering Steve Smith with no help over top. They're in the red zone now, looking to put the game away.
Mike Kurtz: Dragon: Unleashed.
David Gardner: Thank God. I hate it when he teases me with those touch passes.
Doug Farrar: Welcome to the "We're desperately trying to hold on to a wild-card spot five games behind the Colts" Bowl from Jacksonville Stadium, a contest viewed by tens and tens of people!
Matt Schaub gets knocked out of the game by Derrick Harvey. Rex Grossman comes in, boom. Interception. Boo-ya! The Texans' offensive line is feeling the effect of losing both their starting guards, just as Jacksonville's line did last season. They've got a first-rounder at left tackle and Alex Gibbs on the staff, but there's a reason good guards get tackle money these days.
No trouble on defense, as Brian Cushing leads the charge in a Pocket Hercules-filled red-zone stop in the first quarter.
Bill Barnwell: Browns-Chargers is apparently being played in a library.
Mike Kurtz: Ohio is renowned for its libraries, it's true.
The announcers are falling all over themselves, desperately trying to say that Jim Brown really, honestly, really respects LaDainian Tomlinson. It's rather surreal.
Personally, I'm not sure Brown is/would be that impressed.
Bill Barnwell: I liked their line that Jim Brown was intimidating because he compared everyone's toughness level to his own. How impossibly stuck-up.
Mike Kurtz: To be fair, it's not an incredible overstatement. Brown is famously hard on/dismissive of most of the much-vaunted backs that followed him.
Vince Verhei: Did you see him in Mars AttacksI? He's VERY tough.
Bill Barnwell: Yes, and he was tougher than most of the guys in the first few UFCs.
Mike Tanier: Jim Brown is Professor Emeritus of the We Were Tougher in Our Day College of old blowhard football players. As great as he was, and he was probably better than L.T., it's incedibly unbecoming how often he feels inclined to point it out. Philly has Chuck Bednarik on the Doctoral Board (an all-time great, of course, but the universe didn't become 75 percent less tough the moment he retired, like he believes), and the 1972 Dolphins are on the faculty, with their champagne chilling, and chilling...
Rob Weintraub: I interviewed Bednarik once, and while he may have spent the entire time bad-mouthing today's pussycat players, I heard none of it -- I was entranced by his fingers, most of which stick out horizontally at sickening angles. He gets to say whatever he chooses, in my book.
Doug Farrar: Frank Gifford and Jim Taylor agree wholeheartedly.
Vince Verhei: Years ago Sports Illustrated ran a photo of Bednarik with both hands on a football, and no two fingers were pointing the same direction. It seems impossible, but I can't find the photo online.
Tom Gower: This is the big SI article on Bednarik, from 1993, seeming very angry.
Mike Kurtz: Brady Quinn has definitely looked like an NFL quarterback, not because of all the garbage-time yards he's put up against a very soft defense, but the first half when the game was actually somewhat competitive. It will be interesting to see what Eric Mangini does with him, and how the remainder of the season goes.
San Diego shows possibly the worst onside-recovery I've ever seen, which Cleveland easily recovers. Quinn then overthrows Mohamed Massaquoi, because apparently I'm not allowed to say nice things about quarterbacks, ever.
Bill Barnwell: It's good to see Jerome Harrison made his way out of Eric Mangini's doghouse long enough to score two touchdowns.
Mike Kurtz: They were both crappy goal-line affairs. I'd say I'm happy, but I neglected to check my teams this morning and thereby started Steve Slaton, so Harrison's big game is kind of wasted as I'm short an offensive player.
Quinn throws another deep go to Massaquoi, who mis-adjusts to the (beautiful) throw and can't pull it in. A shame.
Tomlinson catches the second onside kick, falls down. Norving averted.
Aaron Schatz: Giants defensive changes up front definitely seem to have given them a shot in the arm -- they are getting more pass pressure today. However, they are having a lot of trouble covering Jason Witten. You know, if only you could put the Dolphins' safeties on the Giants, you would have a heck of a defense.
Bill, or anyone else following -- when did the Giants' starting safety (ies) get injured this year? Do you remember what week?
Aaron Schatz: Interesting. I went and checked the Giants' weekly defensive stats because they're having such a problem with Jason Witten today. Here is a split of the defense against tight ends -- but the clear split is after Week 4 for some reason.
Weeks 1-4: -29.8% DVOA, 58 percent catch rate, 47.5 yards per game.
Weeks 5-12 36.2% DVOA, 71 percent catch rate, 65.7 yards per game.
Aaron Schatz: Giants victory here will put Philadelphia into a first-place tie with Dallas, because clearly Mike Tanier hasn't suffered enough heartburn this decade.
Tim Gerheim: Thanks, FOX, for showing us Eli Manning scratching behind his ear in super slo-mo. Really added to my enjoyment of the game.
Vince Verhei: Seattle is wearing they're normal light greyish-blue jerseys with dark blue pants and socks. They look like they're running around in very tight jeans.
49ers come out on their opening drive almost exclusively shotgun and drive down the field, but stall in the red zone. A fourth-and-goal pass is almost complete despite some flagrant pass interference -- no idea how that wasn't called. Seahawks take over inside their own 1 and promptly go three-and-out.
There are more than six minutes left in the first quarter, and the 49ers are already out of timeouts. Which means they're also out of challenges. Good Lord.
Their second drive also ends on a fourth-and-1, but this time Smith play-fakes, rolls right, then throws back to the lef to Vernon Davis, who takes it 30 yards for a score. 49ers up 7-0.
On the 49ers' first punt return, they teased a reverse. They actually tried it the second time, but completely botched the handoff and fumbled it a dozen yards backwards, and the Seahawks recover. This is some AWFUL football.
Bill Barnwell: Seahawks announcers note that a 25-yard field goal "...should be an easy kick for [Olindo] Mare, but given what's happened in the college games yesterday and the Redskins game today, there's no such thing as a gimme."
So now field goal results are interrelated?
Tim Gerheim: Come on Bill, that's the sort of pedantry TMQ would indulge in. It's pretty clear that he meant that the recent missed field goals remind us that there are no gimme field goals.
Vince Verhei: What a mess this has been. Fumbles. False starts. Dropped passes. Failed completions. Dropped interceptions. Eventually the special teams and defenses stopped making mistakes, and when that happened neither offense had the firepower to get anything done. Seahawks punt teams have downed a couple of balls deep in 49ers territory, but other than that it's been hard to find much good done by either team.
Until Deon Butler hauls in a deep pass at about the 15 with 11 seconds to go and runs out of bounds. Seahawks run one more play to get the ball in the middle of the field -- and then barely get the timeout called before the clock expires. Mare kicks the field goal to give Seattle the win. Yippee.
Mare hasn't missed a kick since Jim Mora threw him under the bus after the Chicago game.
Doug Farrar: Meanwhile. Deion Branch took the wrong route on one play and failed to bring in a tough-but-catchable deep ball on the final drive. Had Ruskell not given up a first-round pick and a $39 million contract for him, Branch would have been off the field in favor of Butler a while ago. It's OK, guys, We have now admitted that the Ruskell era was a failure. Put the kid in now, please.
Mike Kurtz: Brett Favre is being interviewed by Collinsworth, and he's dipping into astrology ("the stars were aligned") and, after Collinsworth used the word "schism" to describe the locker room, Favre was so amazed by this new and novel word that he made a point to jokingly use it in every single sentence afterward. Good lord.
Doug Farrar: And he's already hedging on 2010. Guess I'll be bailing on the NFL Network from postdraft to preseason for the second straight year.
Mike Kurtz: Of course, the stars comment could be something other than astrology. Favre fhtagn Minneapolis!
Tim Gerheim: That was a great fumble punch from Bennie Sapp. Free Beanie Wells!
Aaron Schatz: Did Jared Allen just introduce himself as being from "Culinary Academy?" Is that the undergrad school at the University of Mayonnaise?
Bill Barnwell: He's done that before.
Aaron Schatz: I think in next week's Walkthrough, Tanier needs to detail the bowl game between Allen's alma mater, the Culinary Academy, and Ike Taylor's alma mater, the University of Swagger.
I wonder where the aliens took the original Brenda Warner.
Doug Farrar: They seem to be much better with gap control under new defensive coordinator Bill Davis. They'll still blitz, but it isn't the crazy stuff you'd see from Clancy Pendergast.
Tom Gower: Both cornerbacks jumped Boldin's short out route, and Madieu was hung out to dry.
Tim Gerheim: If there were a weekly draft for snap judgment column topics, "Brett Favre is showing the long-season wear" would be the obvious first pick. Peter King (who probably holds the first pick because of how early MMQB comes out) would probably make the devastating mistake of reaching for "Cowboys prove again they can't win in December," since Favre not being indefatigable would not cross his mind. TMQ may actually be able to take the (distant) third pick, "the Saints just know how to win," although he would render it as "Yea, verily, the New Orleans Saints doth please the Football Gods."
Aaron Schatz: I think "Cowboys prove they can't win in December" is a tough one because that's generally thought to be "Tony Romo can't win in December" and Romo was absolutely not the problem today.
Doug Farrar: Sure, but Quarterback Wins/Losses is one of the first reaches in the Sportswriters' Grab-bag.
Aaron Schatz: I had to run out a bit, so pardon me if this is wrong and he's back: Phil Loadholt went out of this game early with an injury. He is very quietly having a very good rookie season at right tackle. Really played well against Aaron Kampman in the last GB-MIN game. I think the Vikings are missing him tonight.
Al Michaels: "Sooner or later, number 69 will be in your face." I have no further comment.
Vince Verhei: I'm stunned at how bad Minnesota looks, at almost everything. I expected them to give up some plays in the passing game, but they're getting no pressure on Kurt Warner. I can't believe how dominant the Arizona offensive line has been. (A third-quarter highlight reel showed a series of perfectly executed double-teams and chip blocks on Jared Allen by assorted tight ends and backs.)
On the other side, remember that Arizona was first in run defense DVOA for the first month or so of the season. They were eighth coming into this game. The linemen have been pushed around a little, but the linebackers have been active (and, as Doug noted, disciplined) enough to fill the holes that develop.
Brett Favre still has a ridiculously powerful arm, but it does seem to me like his release has gotten much, much slower. Anyone else notice this?
Aaron Schatz: The thing is, some of those are the same guys who were on the line a couple years ago when it was horrible. Reggie Wells, I remember watching Reggie Wells in the fourth quarter of the "Crown Their Ass" game, and he was just getting pummeled by Chicago defenders as Edgerrin James was taken down behind the line over and over. Deuce Lutui was a backup at that point, I think Mike Gandy was a mediocre tackle in Buffalo. Now think of what has happened to the Pittsburgh offensive line over the last couple years. Folks, Russ Grimm must be a hell of a line coach.
Vince Verhei: Yes, but he was the offensive line coach in Arizona last year, and they were horrible then. He was promoted to "run game coordinator" over the offseason, but they were still really terrible to start the year, particularly at tackle.
Unless it just takes a year and a half for him to get his point across. Which would be some very good news for the Cardinals.
259 comments, Last at 08 Dec 2009, 6:34pm by ChiJeff