Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
21 Dec 2009
compiled by Bill Barnwell
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: Yow. Pocket Hercules cuts back on slide protection and eludes four defenders. Next play, he takes those same four defenders for a five-yard ride up the middle. Ends that second-quarter drive by catching a touchdown pass after David Garrard runs around in the pocket for about five minutes off play action. That was one of his “F**k you, I’m taking over” moments.
Will Carroll: Chad Simpson is unimpressed.
First time watching Millen. He's horrible. Worse than MLB Network doing a show that "focuses on the numbers" and starts with Harold Reynolds bitching about not understanding OPS. Well no, not quite that bad.
Aaron Schatz: I suppose the NFL equivalent would be Matt Millen hosting "Great Wide Receiver Draft Prospects of 2010."
Doug Farrar: I don't know what you're talking about. Matt Millen refuses to talk about his time in Detroit under any circumstances, so it must not have happened.
Tom Gower: C'mon, I really believe that Miami "did everything right, but they still lost," because "actually stopping the Colts when they have the ball" is not part of "did everything right."
Doug Farrar: And MJD tells Simpson to take his little kickoff return and cram it with another ridiculous scoring drive.
Vince Verhei: Boy, that last touchdown of the second half (I assume, there are still 35 seconds left) was Peyton Manning in a nutshell, wasn't it? Jaguars stop a bubble screen for a loss, the clock is running, and everyone in Jacksonville is probably thinking, cool, we've held them to a field goal. And then Manning calmly drops back and finds Austin Collie on a seam route in a very small hole in zone for a touchdown. Normal rules of down and distance and clock do not apply to this man.
Ned Macey: I'm rocking my 3-month old daughter to sleep and wondering how many yards she could gain if she were covered by Tim Jennings. I'd put the over/under at 65.5.
Aaron Schatz: Cheer up, Ned. If she was covered by Tim Jennings with the Jacksonville pass rush going after the quarterback, I would put the over/under at 265.5.
Actually, why are we criticizing Tim Jennings when we could be criticizing Derek Cox? Or even more, the Jaguars defensive staff for putting Derek Cox on Reggie Wayne. Yes, yes, put your third-round rookie corner on one of the best receivers of the last decade while your alleged Pro Bowl-quality veteran is covering one of the younger guys. That makes sense.
Wait, did the Colts really just double a-gap blitz? What is this, Madden? Do you think Tony Dungy's brain just exploded from watching that? Even this year, our game charting currently lists only three other plays where the Colts sent seven pass rushers, with something like ten games charted.
Tom Gower: Does Millen identify EVERY blitz as a double A-gap blitz, or is he only able to recognize double A-gap blitzes as blitzes?
Doug Farrar: Yes. In the same way that every coverage is “Man under, two-deep”.
Aaron Schatz: OK, but that one really WAS a double A-gap blitz. I think.
Tom Gower: I guess we should say something about the game, but I really don't have much interesting to say-Garrard is actually capable of playing pretty well, the Colts have trouble rushing the passer without Mathis and Freeney, the Colts have trouble in coverage without a good pass rush, and Peyton Manning is incredibly awesome even against teams that are marginally capable of rushing the passer.
Tim Gerheim: It's starting to bug me that they're singing the Jags offense's praises without acknowledging almost at all how extraordinarily shorthanded the Colts defense is between injury and indifference. Maybe that has to do with the first TD-off-turnover against the Colts this year, or the high number of points given up...
Tom Gower: What was Millen talking about when he was just talking about how the Colts didn't run the quick outside handoff on the stretch play, because Dallas Clark is more of a receiving TE and they don't have a powerful blocking TE, so instead they run more zone runs?
1. Dallas Clark has been the TE for several years.
2. Gijon Robinson is, I'm thinking, more of a blocking type. Is playing him instead of, say, Marcus Pollard really that much different? Or, for example, running the stretch to a weak slot receiver side in a 3 WR set?
3. The stretch as the Colts ran it was an outside zone play-James didn't always run it to the outside, but where there was an alley.
4. Isn't the more logical explanation that Peyton doesn't have quite the footspeed he did six years ago, when the Titans couldn't adequately simulate how quickly he did it with anybody on their team?
Ned Macey: It is a little thing, but after the third time Bob Papa or whoever it is said that the Jags 31-28 lead was a 4-point lead, wouldn't somebody correct him?
Aaron Schatz: GREAT play call to run the draw on third-and-6 on the last Jacksonville drive, and it was really well executed.
... and it doesn't matter because Garrard throws an interception on the next set of downs, game over.
Will Carroll: On the pick, Garrard shortened up and the ball sailed on him. There was someone -- looked like the LDT or maybe Mathis on a stunt hurrying him and changing his mechanics. I also think based on some of his throws that the hits he was taking - especially the one where Brackett unloaded on him - had some affect.
Tom Gower: I thought Garrard had kind of a weird game -- for the most part, he played really well, but he had 6 or 8 semi-random poor throws where he missed open guys, including the game-losing pick. I guess that's sort of the Jags in a nutshell.
After a quiet first half on the e-mail chain...
Tom Gower: I've seen very little of this game, thanks to other things, so does anybody know what's going on? DAL with the ball, up 24-3, 2:03 to go in the third. I can see DAL 24, but NO 3? Very unusual.
Bill Barnwell: Dallas is targeting safeties and linebackers with passes, just like Atlanta did a week ago. Dallas' pass rush is getting pressure with 3-5, really exposing the New Orleans tackles, especially Bushrod.
Nick Folk misses a chip shot field goal.
Will Carroll: Folk me, how does he miss that?
Bill Barnwell: He Suishamed it.
Tim Gerheim: God is officially a Saints fan.
Tom Gower: Nick Folk is lucky if he gets a ride back to Dallas after missing that chip shot.
Vince Verhei: I've just caught up to this game on my DVR, right after Dallas missed what would have been a game-clinching field goal. (Ironic on that play: There was a bad snap, but Tony Romo made a great hold to get the ball down for the kick.)
A big part of Dallas' defense has been its offense, which has plenty of long drives, even when they haven't scored. The offensive line has had its way with New Orleans, especially on pass plays -- four-man rushes have meant plenty of time for Romo, and Dallas' receivers > the Saints' secondary.
Tom Gower: Did Bushrod successfully block Ware once all night? I'm pretty sure he didn't in the time I've been watching. I was expecting that sack/fumble to happen on a hail mary attempt, but it seemed inevitable.
Tim Gerheim: You have to wonder why they didn't give him any help. On that last play Pierre Thomas stayed in to block, but for some reason he was on the right side, accomplishing nothing.
Vince Verhei: No, the other big part of the game was Brees under pressure all night, from both tackles. His pocket presence was awesome tonight, taking the one or two steps needed to avoid sacks. (The Saints are always in the top five in Adjusted Sack Rate, but that says a lot more about Brees than it does his offensive line.) But the pressure forced him to check down all night -- the Saints' first drive was a three-and-out, on three completions. There's something you don't see every day.
On the last drive, when the game was winnable, the Saints had a bunch of short completions in the middle of the field, no chance to get out of bounds. Conversely, on the Cowboys' last drive, they milked every second off the clock on every play, including a couple of passes to the outside.
Bill Barnwell: Bushrod was bad, but so was the right tackle. Spencer was arguably better than Ware all night, he had at least one sack and a second taken away by a ticky-tack holding penalty.
Aaron Schatz: Some of those Spencer plays were actually from the defensive right side, coming in on Bushrod when Ware was out of the game. And Carl Nicks was pretty bad all night too. I've never seen the Saints offensive line play anywhere NEAR this bad all year. Awful, just awful. This is why we think the Vikings are a bad matchup for them: they can get to the quarterback with four, and they can run the ball on offense. In fact, the surprise to me in this game was that Dallas passed the ball so much and didn't run the ball more than they did. They were taking a page out of the Saints' playbook and passing to guys nobody had heard of. Fifth receiver Kevin Ogletree? Third tight end Phillips, whose first name I can't even remember?
I watched this game in snowy Philadelphia in a hotel bar filled with San Francisco 49ers players and officials, which was a very strange experience. Half the bar was Eagles fans rooting against Dallas. The other half was 49ers employees rooting against Dallas (for their wild card hopes). When Lance Moore scored to make it a seven-point game, everyone was cheering. When Nick Folk honked the short field goal, everyone was delirious. When the Cowboys eventually won, everyone was miserable.
Vince Verhei: Josh Cribbs returns a kickoff for a touchdown against Kansas City. He broke three tackles on the play. I really hope he doesn't get his new contract, and is traded to a good team instead.
Mike Kurtz: Cleveland has done absolutely nothing impressive on offense, even against an anemic KC defense. I think the key to this game is for KC to stop scoring, so that Cleveland will never get any kickoff returns, and therefore no more points!
Bill Barnwell: Josh Cribbs just returned a second kickoff for a touchdown in the first half. Is it pretty clear at this point that he's the best return guy of his generation and not Devin Hester? And that the Browns don't deserve him?
Vince Verhei: As a kickoff guy, absolutely -- his first TD today set the record for career kickoff return touchdowns, and then he got another. As a punt returner, I'll still take Hester (since you said "of his generation" and not "in 2009"). But when you add in Cribbs' kick coverage skills, and consider that he's still Cleveland's best quarterback, he's pretty clearly the better overall player.
Doug Farrar: Cribbs will also do little things like lead the team in special teams tackles. And there was a time where he probably actually was their best quarterback. I’m not sure that time has elapsed.
Mike Tanier: I am also confused about how many touchdown returns Cribbs has because they keep showing some commercial with him running one back against the Steelers, plus the highlights which I have seen 12 times each. I think he has 90 TD.
Bill Barnwell: Cleveland's scored on two kickoff returns. Kansas City's got a touchdown on a catch from Chris Chambers and a fumble return off of a bad snap on a punt. Victory through non-predicative events!!
Mike Kurtz: Matt Cassel is not the reason KC is losing this game. I've counted 5 really, really easy catches that were just plain dropped, two which would've extended drives -- sorry, 6 now, three of which would have. This is insane.
Bill Barnwell: Jerome Harrison's run for over 200 yards and two scores now. Because he was Mangini'd last week, though, he's being started on 1.4 percent of ESPN fantasy teams.
Mike Kurtz: The Browns had what may have been a really cool keeper (or just a broken play). Cribbs lined up in the backfield on fourth-and-inches, Quinn took one step back and faked the handoff, then Quinn pulled it in and ran off left tackle. Of course, probably wouldn't have worked against anyone other than Kansas City, but it was fun. And Quinn broke three tackles in the open field before the safety dragged him down.
Getting Mangini'd, BTW, is when you get benched for no real reason and then just show up in the lineup like nothing ever happened, or when you get stuck listening to a washed-up boxer for an hour when you just want to go pick up your dry cleaning.
Jerome Harrison's at 32-252-2. If the game goes to overtime, he's a long run away from the single-game rushing record. But, you know, Jamal Lewis pushes the pile.
Doug Farrar: Kansas City: Where tackling has been abolished!
Mike Kurtz: Harrison has now broken Jim Brown's single-game yardage record, which is a good indicator that Harrison is better than Jim Brown.
Dwayne "The Only Useful Chief" Bowe with an amazing/crazy play: Cassel's throw is high and ahead, bounces off the receiver's hands. Bowe dives, nabs the ball a few inches above the ground, gets his left arm under it, and pulls it in as he rolls. Meaningless play in a meaningless game, but just a great play.
Bill Barnwell: Well, he won't get to overtime, because he just broke a 28-yard touchdown run to give the Browns the lead and get up to 286 rushing yards and three scores. He even ran the length of the end zone to kill clock. Yeesh.
Vince Verhei: For the record, Josh Cribbs is 0-for-1 passing, but with no interceptions, so his passer rating is 39.6. Brady Quinn is 10-of-17 for 66 yards and two picks, passer rating of 27.7. Cribbs is still their best quarterback!
Doug Farrar: Nice job by Cassel there, trying to throw a field goal at the end. A little more wind under that one, and it would have been good.
Mike Kurtz: Who throws a Hail Mary from the 25? Seriously!
Mike Tanier: Aaron and I are in the press room at the Linc, watching the Jets-Falcons game on six screens and the Bills-Patriots game on one. Snelling just had an eight-yard sweep, which on six TVs equals 48 yards. This is how flies watch football.
Vince Verhei: I've been one of Braylon Edwards' harshest critics, but I still don't think it's a good idea to cover him with Christopher Owens, a third-round rookie, with no safety help. Edwards gets five yards behind Owens on a post pattern, Mark Sanchez (and his cannon arm) hits him in the hands, 65 yards, touchdown.
Tim Gerheim: When I got to "hits him in the hands," I fully expected next to read "and Edwards dropped it."
Vince Verhei: The Jets defense has Matt Ryan totally rattled. Roddy White can't get open against Darrelle Revis, and Tony Gonzalez is struggling too. Ryan looks ready to rely on passes behind the line of scrimmage, but he's not perfect there either -- He tried one on third-and-10 that wouldn't have been a first down anyway, but with blitzers coming free at him, Ryan threw a lob that hung in the ball forever -- and then it was dropped.
But the Falcons get the ball back after an interception. They get a first down in Jets territory on a Gonzalez reception where he boxed out the diminutive Jim Leonhard like Karl Malone being guarded by Spud Webb. And then they demonstrate their lack of faith in their own passing offense, running an I-formation dive with three tight ends. That's on first-and-10, near midfield. They tried a deep pass to White on a flea-flicker, but Revis broke it up, and the Falcons ended up punting.
Besides the long Edwards score, there's been about zero offense by either team.
Atlanta has a third-and-1 and comes out in a shotgun set. Jets respond by putting all available defenders at the line of scrimmage, including Mark Gastineau and Gerry Philbin. Falcons then run a pitch play, and many Jets swarm in to tackle Jason Snelling for a loss. If Atlanta runs that play 100 times, they fail 100 times.
David Gardner: I'm listening to the Falcons-Jets game on the radio. Neither team has done anything on offense, its 7-3 Jets right now, but the Falcons have found themselves with a first and goal at the two minute warning. They have timeouts left, so the logical move would be to run the ball and burn the clock, right? Well, they ran on first down and then threw three times in a row. On fourth and goal, they got a touchdown to Tony Gonzalez. But the Jets still have 1:37 needing only a field goal.
Bill Barnwell: Falcons just scored when the Jets covered Tony Gonzalez with Hole In Zone on fourth down.
David Gardner: And a Mark Sanchez interception seals it in New York.
Bill Barnwell: That's your Jets' season. Revis is great, the run D is great, and they can't throw the ball outside of the occasional big play to Braylon Edwards.
Doug Farrar: Wackiness ensues on the Titans-Dolphins opening play. Vince Young throws downfield to Bo Scaife, who’s covered by Channing Crowder. Ball is tipped by both players, then by Gibril Wilson (Nice tip to keep the ball in bounds), then into the hands of Vontae Davis for the pick. Davis is then revenge-tackled by Young.
Tom Gower: Yet another fumble for Ricky Williams, this one on the edge of the red zone to end the drive on which he went over 1,000. Play came on the second consecutive direct snap single wing play, which Dick Enberg of course referred to as the Wildcat.
So, the Titans are up 17-6 at the half. CJ has been bottled up early, but has done better since, 14 for 70 and a TD but nothing over 15 yards. VY is only 7 of 15 but for 150 yards. The aforementioned pinball pick was not a great throw, but I feel like the 10 YPA reflects how he's played more than the 47% completion percentage. Both TDs are to Justin Gage, the first when Nathan Jones (who's been getting picked on) didn't bother looking for the ball and the second a good throw and grab against good coverage by Vontae Davis.
I feel like the Dolphins have generally played relatively well offensively, and they have almost as many yards as TEN (199 v 228), but they keep seeming to screw up in untimely circumstances-like HOU, settling for field goals twice and a fumble.
Vince Verhei: Dolphins play (as Matt Millen would say) two-deep, man-under against Vince Young and the Titans. Fools! The defensive tackles split and Young zips right between them and has a free 30-ish yard run. And then he slides at the end.
Young caps off the drive with a touchdown to Nate Washington on a go route down the sideline.
Tom Gower: The Titans stuff Lousaka Polite on third-and-short after getting gashed up the middle earlier in a similar situation. On the play, Keith Bulluck gets blocked by an OL and suffers what looks like a left knee injury. He walked off the field, but it seemed potentially serious. He'll be a UFA this offseason, and it's unlikely the Titans will re-sign him. If this is his last time on LP Field, that's a disappointing way to have it end.
Doug Farrar: Vontae Davis helps out with the fall-down move. Not a good day for him.
Tom Gower: With Bulluck out and other regular OLB David Thornton inactive, the Titans have had to improvise a little bit, playing nickel against base personnel (with rookie Gerald McRath in an unfamiliar role) or sticking with base and putting guys who almost never get regular defensive snaps (Colin Allred, Stanford Keglar) on the field. Either way, the middle of the field is open, and the Dolphins are now down 24-16 with 7:40 to play after looking mostly done at 24-6.
GAH! Henne throws deep for Hartline against Finnegan with Griffin helping deep. Griffin is in perfect position and has the ball bounce off his chest, Hartline puts his hands in, bounces the ball off his face mask, and hauls it in for a 57 yard gain down to the 11.
Bill Barnwell: Miami gets within two points when Hole In Zone gets traded to Tennessee and Anthony Fasano goes uncovered in the end zone. The Dolphins go for two to tie it up and bring in Pat White, who's furiously checking his wrist for the playcall as he comes in, but it's an end-around to Ricky Williams for the game-tying conversion. Don't they have a simple name for that play yet?
Tom Gower: Harper was the only guy on that side with two targets; I bet one of the rarely-used LBs was supposed to be there as well.
Two deep comebacks to Washington, both incomplete, and Scaife gets eight on third-and-10. Thankfully, Brett Kern gets off a FANTASTIC punt, and Miami starts at its own 2-yard line with :56 left and one timeout. TEN still has three timeouts left, so MIA can't just sit on the ball. Unless, of course, Fisher will refuse to use his TOs and let them go to OT.
Ok, I've been very calm today, and I stay calm in here, but if anybody can explain what the heck Jeff Fisher was doing sitting on three timeouts with Miami backed up inside the five and a chance to get the ball back possibly needing a 10-15 yard pass, or even less, to try a game-winning FGA. Just call one, and if they get a first down, let it be. OT is a 50-50 proposition; you were in a much better situation than that.
Miami wins the toss, of course, though they once again fail to break a big return. The Titans' coverage unit surprisingly hasn't allowed any long returns today.
Tom Gower: Chad Henne airmails an open receiver right to Michael Griffin, who manages to hold on this time. Tack on 15 yards from a marginal roughness penalty on Camarillo and the Titans are in field goal range. The expected three ineffective runs later, Bironas hits a 47 yard field goal and I'm calling off the torches and pitchforks for Fisher.
Bill Barnwell: Patriots' defensive line is in shambles without Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. The Bills were running the ball up their throats, which is really nice when you've got Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Forget getting any sort of push, the line couldn't even hold the line of scrimmage. Albert Breer (of the Boston Globe) notes that Derrick Burgess was playing the five-technique, which seems ill-advised.
Vince Verhei: Down two scores with about five minutes to go, Bills go for it on fourth down, but the receiver (Josh Reed, I think) drops the pass. Game over, right? Nope. A Laurence Maroney run on first down is followed by the Bills' second timeout. Then Brady goes incomplete on second and third down. Pats kill almost no time before punting, they even leave the Bills with a timeout, and on the ensuing drive, Fitzpatrick hits Lee Evans for an 11-yard touchdown. Bills still down 7.
Bill Barnwell: Bills promptly go for an onside kick and recover it when Sam Aiken can't handle the ball, but they were offsides. Rare misstep from that unit.
Aaron Schatz: So, I spent this game trying to figure out what was going on with the Buffalo pass defense. It was still hard to figure out. Brady looked off and I don't think this was the Bills defense having an effect. They got some pass rush, but Brady didn't look particularly rushed. He generally stepped aside calmly... and then threw the ball a foot and a half behind Wes Welker on a cross. A few different times. Or he threw deep to Moss, but underthrew him. I think that's the explanation for why Drayton Florence was able to stay with Moss step for step deep. I would have to watch coaching film or at least be able to rewind and slow things down to figure out, but I think it's possible the Bills were playing a zone overall with man specifically on Moss. Or they were playing a Cover-1 Robber type coverage, but with the deep safety generally shaded towards Moss and the short "robber" safety sitting there waiting for Welker on all the crossing patterns.
Buffalo's had so many injuries at linebacker that they actually had to move safety Bryan Scott to weakside linebacker. They've got Chris Draft on the strong side, and I don't think he was even signed by a team at the start of the season. So both of those guys are better pass defenders than run defenders, which helps explain why the Bills can't stop the run at all but rank third in DVOA against the pass. Still, Posluzny is good against both. And it isn't like these are great cornerbacks out there, Florence and Terrence McGee. So honestly, the Bills highly-rated pass defense is still a bit of a mystery to me.
Bill Barnwell: There can't be more than 20,000 people in the crowd in Detroit.
The Lions have done a good job of stopping the Cardinals early, actually, dropping a bunch of guys back into coverage, getting pressure with Cliff Avril, and forcing Kurt Warner into mostly dumpoffs. They were getting sliced by Beanie Wells on the ground, but managed to get the Cardinals into a third-and-1 and stuffed them.
Of course, Dennis Northcutt promptly dropped a punt, giving the Cardinals the ball inside the red zone, and the Cardinals scored on a lob to Larry Fitzgerald with Will James in coverage. Yes -- perhaps literally the worst cornerback in the league versus its best wide receiver.
Cliff Avril's having a huge game for the Lions, beating Levi Brown repeatedly. He's got a couple of pressures and, on a two-minute drive extended by a stupid Lions penalty, a strip-sack of Warner to kill the drive.
Doug Farrar: The Cardinals offensive line has always been vulnerable to pass pressure, but they’ve been particularly craptacular recently. I wonder if Warner’s release speed is forcing those guys to block longer than they really want to.
One thing –- Jim Schwartz is lining up his ends sometimes in that wide nine-tech angle as he used to with Kyle Vanden Bosch. Not easily blockable when you have big, clumpy tackles.
Bill Barnwell: Kurt Warner throws a pick-six after a Rodgers-Cromartie pick, costing my fantasy team two points for the pick, any points they would've got for an offensive touchdown, and its defensive shutout. Warner's looked bad all day -- the Lions have had three or four dropped picks.
Cardinals are absolutely blowing it. The pick-six was followed by a 64-yard Maurice Morris touchdown run. It's now 17-14, and if not for a muffed punt, it'd be 14-10, Lions. If they make a playoff run, this is the game where we'll look back and say "Where were you then?"
Vince Verhei: Arizona's defense came in first in stuff rate, but 31st in 10-plus yards allowed. If you can get past the line of scrimmage, you can get big yards on them.
Bill Barnwell: Bryan Robinson is melting down in Detroit. After the Lions punted, Robinson picked up back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a conversation with Jeff Triplette. He is still yelling on the sidelines.
Aaron Schatz: OK, somebody is going to have to explain the Detroit offensive strategy to me in that last 1:20. How do you come out with 1:20 left, one timeout, length of the field to get a touchdown to tie, and you start with two quick outs?
Doug Farrar: Rams are wearing their throwback unis against the Texans. I will ask this question again: Why do teams wear throwbacks unis against teams with no throwback unis? It just looks like they showed up at the stadium with the wrong stuff.
Bill Barnwell: Rams-Texans looks like a Madden game where you agreed to play after choosing random teams and got stuck with the Rams. "Well, they suck, but at least I have Steven Jackson. Ooh, and I can switch to these sweet jerseys."
Vince Verhei: If the Rams are going to wear throwbacks, they should use the sweet blue-and-white version from the 1960s, not the yellow clown pants.
Aaron Schatz: This really brings back memories of those legendary Keith Null games of Rams past.
Mike Tanier: I am watching Keith Null, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Daunte Culpepper play quarterback. At the same time. Danny Amendola just caught at TD pass on a little scat route after a long kickoff return. The Rams currently have the lead. Aaron and I are trying to decide whether Amendola is a rich man's Vince Papale or a starving man's Wes Welker. And don't kill us on the white WR thing. Aaron was going for the Texas Tech thing, I was going for the paisan thing.
Doug Farrar: Clearly, Danny Woodhead is the poor man’s Wes Welker. Accourding to the announcers, he has “moxie”. That’s because he’s not big enough to be a “high-motor guy”.
Tom Gower: In developments you didn't expect, the Rams are up 10-6 on the Texans late in the first half. The Texans have moved the ball, but once again can't score in the red zone and last week's running back du jour, Arian Foster, coughed the ball up to kill another drive. Hope you didn't start him on your fantasy team.
Whatever happened to Craig Nall? Can Nall back up Null? Any members of the Chuck Noll family to coach them?
What's up with this Pollard kid? He picks a fight with Amendola, then tackles a helmetless Steven Jackson. Angry.
Tim Gerheim: Oy. Pollard has really helped the Texans defense this year. I'm not watching the game (thank you NFL Rewind for the opportunity to watch the Texans lose to an inferior opponent every Tuesday). He was cut by the Chiefs in preseason or early in the regular season. I'm starting to develop a theory that, counterintuitive as it may be, adding free agents from bad teams is actually a better strategy than adding them from good teams. It's just anecdotal, but I can think of several recent examples that worked in both directions - Wes Welker, Deion Branch and David Givens, Leonard Weaver...
Bill Barnwell: The Broncos run a throwback across the field from Orton to Ryan Clady, who wasn't an eligible receiver. Nnamdi Asomugha still takes him out with a perfect tackle. Clady wasn't reported, and the Broncos weren't in the proper formation for Clady to be eligible.
Brandon Marshall scores and Raiders and Broncos linemen get into a sumo match of shoves. Gus: "And a fight breaks out! ... looks like a good one."
The Broncos just stuffed the Raiders on fourth-and-goal from the 2 or so. The Raiders ran that fake FB dive/HB pitch that doesn't ever work in Madden.
Aaron Schatz: I hate to tell you, Bill, that play works for me all the time in Madden. Still doesn't help today's Raiders, though.
Charlie Frye gets knocked loopy and departs…
Vince Verhei: WARNING: RUSSELL IS IN THE GAME. REPEAT: RUSSELL IS IN THE GAME. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Bill Barnwell: Broncos-Raiders game is stopped because there's a Raiders fan shining a laser pointer into the offense's eyes. One. In the whole crowd.
For some reason, the Raiders aren't running despite having 3 minutes to go and needing 6 points. JaMarcus Russell is now hurt, and with Frye concussed, UFL superstar J.P. Losman is warming on the sidelines.
Vince Verhei: WARNING: LOSMAN IS IN THE GAME. REPEAT: LOSMAN IS IN THE GAME. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Losman, if you missed him, was in the UFL a few weeks ago. They showed him in his UFL uniform, so that was a treat.
Oh, wait. I guess it was a drill. Russell is back in and it looks like he just converted a fourth down.
Bill Barnwell: Gus Johnson: "JaMarcus Russell! Coming off the bench like Johnny U!" Not quite the same thing, Gus.
Tom Gower: Isn't Unitas's highest-profile example of coming back in the game after not playing due to injury Super Bowl III?
Bill Barnwell: Broncos got jobbed at the end of the game. They complete a pass over the middle with seven seconds left, and Tyvon Branch wraps his arms around Brandon Stokley and cuddles with him until the clock runs out. That's a penalty.
Tom Gower: Yup, that absolutely should have been flagged. And the thing is, Branch didn't have to do it at all. The Broncos wouldn't have been able to run another play anyway. Flag him for stupidity if nothing else.
Bill Barnwell: Maybe it was like an uncatchable pass. It was an unspikable play.
Tom Gower: Long TD, Palmer to Ochocinco, who then knelt down and prayed. Cromartie got beat in single coverage for the TD.
Bill Barnwell: Vincent Jackson now has two touchdowns, both on plays where he got open on the edges. Not sure who was in coverage on either play, but the Bengals have to do a better job of watching out for Jackson at the edges of the sideline.
Tim Gerheim: The refs in San Diego are already on Christmas vacation. They missed a defensive holding call on Antonio Gates where the defender pulled his jersey so much that one of his shoulder pads popped out. Then on a Quentin Jammer interception, Jammer got tackled by his facemask almost exclusively, and no flag.
Both touchdowns were on Leon Hall in single coverage. The first was a sharp out cut that beat Hall and a great diving catch where Hall had no chance. The second was also single coverage, and Jackson got behind him. I didn't see what he was talking about, but Phil Simms thought a safety missed his assignment to be over the top, which would explain why Hall was playing more underneath.
Bill Barnwell: I don't think Hall's in coverage there. I think -- maybe 95% sure he's in an underneath zone and thinks that he has safety help over the top, and the safety was occupied by Gates. That's the sort of way you move when you're in an underneath zone.
Tim Gerheim: Wow, traditional Bengals: touchdown given up, short kickoff return, false start, delay of game, timeout, first-and-25 from the 6. (I missed why it's 25 not 20.) Just epic.
Bill Barnwell: There was an illegal substitution in there too. That sequence finished dumpoff, busted play on a draw for no gain, dumpoff. Whee!
Tom Gower: First play was a TE screen. Because, yeah, J.P. Foschi's gonna bust that one for big yardage.
Tim Gerheim: Oh downfield blocking on screens. Chargers ran a very successful screen down the sidelines for Tomlinson, but Kris Dielman managed to blow a block literally 40 yards downfield. He was zeroing in on a safety or backer, but instead of actually block him he dove at his knees, and his man ended up pushing Tomlinson out of bounds. If he'd successfully made that block it might have been a touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: I think it's time to get Vincent Jackson a commercial of some sort. He's good enough. Shouldn't he be somebody's spokesman at this point?
Bill Barnwell: Are you trying to become Jackson's agent?
Tom Gower: All fumbles should be like that Andre Caldwell fumble, where the ball just pops out and goes flying 15 yards. Palmer finally fell on it for a 20 yard loss. Not quite how WR screen are supposed to work, methinks, but fun to watch.
Tim Gerheim: Non-predictive to be sure, but definitely due to good defense. The cornerbacks did a really good job blowing up their blocks and forcing Caldwell to turn inside, which is exactly where Dobbins was coming from at full speed.
They just gave the weekly "If you're expecting to see 60 Minutes," speech. If you tune in at 7pm Eastern between September and December and you're expecting to see 60 Minutes, you're an idiot.
Tim Gerheim: Nate Kaeding nails a 52-yarder to win it in regulation for the Chargers. Earlier in the quarter Mike Scifres coffin-cornered a punt down and out of bounds at the 4. The numbers don't bear it out, but anecdotally it seems like the Chargers have one of the best sets of kicking units in the league.
Rob: Another week, another penalty-filled affair with too many red zone breakdowns. Cincy played well and finally got some downfield passing (and protection) going, but it was too excruciating a loss for moral victories. The final drive had the perfect combo, a blown call (I'm pretty sure) and a screwed up play. During an attempt to spike the ball with 30+ seconds left, Tomlinson sprinted on the field and lined up at flanker just to have eleven men on the field. But isn't the rule that incoming players have to get inside the numbers or its a penalty? I seem to remember the Jets or Giants getting called for that a few years back. Should have been five yards and a ten second runoff, meaning overtime, most likely. Maybe I'm wrong. Then Leon Hall's coverage was completely the opposite of what was needed on that final play -- he played to the inside, for some reason. A mystifying oversight--that's what happens when everyone suddenly discovers you've been having a good season (the Favre effect), it goes to your head.
This one was a worse loss than the Oakland or Denver games -- those were flukes. The Vikes and Texans just whipped the Bengals, nothing to stew about there. So this officially was the toughest loss of the season, which is why I went storming out of the house into the 20 degree night to collect myself.
If they matched up again in the divisional round I would expect a similar result -- San Diego by less than a touchdown, in a hard-hitting game that's decided by a couple of bounces and efforts. I actually think the Bengals can take the Colts, if all goes well. That assumes a wild card win, and even a win over Kansas City at home next week, which if they can't get makes a playoff spot undeserved.
Bill Barnwell: Daryl Johnston's covering the Eagles-49ers game and talking about how the Eagles are tough early from when "we" used to play them. It's been ten years, dude.
Eagles go for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 34 or so. Johnston and Siragusa, those famed playcallers, think it's a bad call and pat themselves on the back when the Eagles get stuffed.
Aaron Schatz: Mike Tanier is having trouble with the Eagles' wireless network but he would like to submit a comment about Leonard Weaver getting stuffed for no gain after the Eagles chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 29. That comment is "insert a curse word into Audibles for me, will you?"
I will say, San Francisco is 29th in defense against runs in power situations. The Eagles, for all that we think of them as a suck short-yardage team, are 11th running in power situations. Obviously, your own 29 (or 34 or whatever it was) is a questionable place to go for it on fourth, but it was far from a ridiculous decision.
It's a good thing Matt Millen isn't covering this 49ers-Eagles game, because both teams are playing almost exclusively single-high safety in coverage and I'm not sure if Millen could handle it.
Doug Farrar: It's still man-under, two-deep. You just don’t understand the game because you never played it.
Aaron Schatz: Asante Samuel just picked off Alex Smith, yet another jump-the-route pick by Samuel. This one was fun because he didn't even jump his own guy's route. He came off Josh Morgan to jump Vernon Davis' route. Josh Morgan's looking back, like, "Hey, where's my defender... oh, wait, he has the ball, nuts."
Tom Gower: Has McNabb been getting more passes tipped at the line this year? I've seen it happen today on glimpses on Red Zone Channel, and it's something that seems to be happening a bit.
Aaron Schatz: I think that's also Aubrayo Franklin having a Pro Bowl year, I believe both tips today were him, and the 49ers defensive line is putting a lot of pressure on McNabb.
Mike Tanier: The Eagles intercepted Alex Smith late in the half, threw a pass over the middle to DeSean Jackson, then ran up to spike the ball. But, Ahmed Brooks and Leonard Weaver started jawing about 15 yards behind the new line of scrimmage.
They keep jawing as the Eagles line up to spike. McNabb is looking around, shouting. Finally, Reggie Brown runs over to break them up.
Just as Weaver lines up, Jason Peters pops up to ask McNabb what was going on. McNabb tells him to get back in his darn stance. The Eagles spike the ball, then kick a field goal.
All that for a damn spike.
Aaron Schatz: Announcement in the Lincoln Field press box after the Josh Morgan touchdown made it 20-12:
"An injury for the 49ers... kicker Joe Nedney has a strained hamstring. His return is questionable. (pause) Into attempt the extra point, number six, Joe Nedney."
I think Alex Smith scrambles right on about half of all San Francisco passes, and it seems like the 49ers never have a designated hot read on a blitz, or a dumpoff when Smith is hurried out of the pocket. Everyone is running downfield and he has to keep throwing the ball away.
Down by the goal line, Jason Avant just had a great block on the second level on a Leonard Weaver carry. Then he did it again on the next play. Tanier turns to me and says, "You know, when Wes Welker does this, they show the play on NFL Countdown and circle him five times."
Mike Tanier: There is a massive snowball fight at the Linc. Some snowballs are reaching the field. But its a total scrum around the 20 yard line, lower deck. Aaron is telling them to stop from the press box, but they cannot hear him. I just texted a guy I know who is in the stands and told him to stop, but I am just one man, and so is he. Please, stop the madness.
Aaron Schatz: The Eagles put up a "Please Don't Throw Things on the Field" announcement on their jumbo-tron with, for some reason, a big "I" logo that looks like the "dead iPod" message. That's not going to work. They need to find Roy Halladay and get him to make an announcement up on the big screen. "People, knock it off, or I'm going back to Canada where the fans know how to handle snow."
Mike Tanier: Uncalled late hit on DeSean Jackson along the Eagles sideline, and fans start throwing snowballs at the defender. Who of course is surrounded by Eagles, coaches and aides.
Aaron Schatz: Arnaz Battle came out in the second half to return punts and it made me realize... hey, wait, Arnaz Battle. He hadn't been in the game yet. I wonder what happened that Arnaz Battle fell down the San Francisco depth chart, to where Delanie Walker has been in on nearly snap and I don't think Battle's played receiver all night.
Tim Gerheim: I love DeSean Jackson's face warmer that covers his mouth and makes him look like Cobra Commander.
Doug Farrar: I’d have to check to make sure, but I think Jay Cutler just threw his eleventy-billionth interception.
Bill Barnwell: Way worse call -- the Bears, down 14-0, go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and throw a lob to Greg Olsen. That didn't work.
Tom Gower: More for the Cribbs-Hester debate: Earl Bennett with a punt return touchdown. The Bears are good at special teams.
Doug Farrar: I tune in, ever so briefly, to watch Matt Hasselbeck throw the ball at the back of Barrett Ruud's head in the end zone. Then, a botched snap ends Olindo Mare's consecutive field goal streak. Okay -- back to Red Zone!
Aaron Schatz: I don't know which song is better for today's SEA-TB matchup, "Spirit of '76" or "The Battle of Who Could Care Less"?
Doug Farrar: Mike Carey picks up a block-in-the-back flag on T.J. Houshmandzadeh on a play where Housh not only blocked his guy in the back, but held as well. Guess T.J. talked him out of it.
Vince Verhei: The Seahawks finally put Max Unger at center, and things seem to have gone fine. I haven't noticed a barrage of unblocked rushers or anything. Turns out the rookie can make line calls. Seahawks would have more points except for Matt Hasselbeck's stupid fumble, his stupid interception, and a botched hold on a field goal.
Early in the season I saw a lot of blown blocks by Unger at guard, but he showed improvement as the season progressed.
Bucs now up 21-7. Hasselbeck appears to be openly helping his team get in better position to draft his replacement. He's thrown another stupid pick, and his incompletions are missing his receivers by two or three yards. Some of them I think he's throwing away, but he's looked pretty clearly like the worst quarterback in this game.
Doug Farrar: Ladies and Gentlemen, your new Seahawks longsnapper: Cornerback Kelly Jennings.
Tom Gower: Kelly Jennings? For real?
Doug Farrar: I am not kidding.
Vince Verhei: According to John Boyle of the Everett Herald, the Seahawks were literally holding long-snapping tryouts on the sideline.
Doug Farrar: Down 17 with 10 minutes left in the game, the best Matt Hasselbeck can do is a dinky TE screen to John Carlson. I curse the Seahawks for their pointless conservatism. On the next play, Hasselbeck heaves up a downfield lob to the legendary Elbert Mack. As is generally true with passes thrown to Deion Branch, the defender runs Branch’s route better than he does. I revise my expectations and pray for several more TE screens.
Vince Verhei: Kevin Houser is the starter, but it was his bad snap, not a bad hold, that cost Seattle the field goal. He also had a facemask penalty. He was down for a while after his last punt, so it was likely an injury situation. On the other hand, I can easily, easily see Jim Mora snapping and blaming this entire game on the long snapper and firing him on the spot.
Aaron Schatz: Tampa Bay wins! By which, I mean, the 2010 through 2020 St. Louis Rams win!
Doug Farrar: The game effectively ends on the second Hasselbeck pick in which Branch refuses to challenge the defender and run the correct route. I have never seen someone box himself out of plays more consistently.
Tom Gower: Ben Roethlisberger underthrows Mike Wallace, but it's still good for a TD. Aikman says Wallace just ran past Jarrett Bush, overlooking the part of the replay showing Bush and Wallace where Bush kind of stopped running and let Wallace run past him.
Vince Verhei: I'm typing this from a bar in Federal Way, Washington, that is inexplicably filled with a mix of rabid Steelers fans on one end and rabid Packers fans on the other. Alcohol is plentiful. If I am killed in the inevitable riot, well, it's been real.
Mike Kurtz: Max Starks got destroyed, Ben didn't feel the pressure, Matthews fumblesack. Weaksauce.
Gift for Roethlisberger. I despise the tuck rule.
Aaron Schatz: By the way, Mike: fumblesack? Weaksauce? What is this, 1984? Your descriptive nouns are doubleplusgood.
Mike Kurtz: Compound nouns are, as the kids say, compound.
Vince Verhei: If Hobbits had played football in the Shire, Tolkien would have given them names like "Fumblesack Weaksauce."
Tom Gower: Mason Crosby attempted another field goal from the right hash. Once again, he missed a field goal from the right hash.
Mike Kurtz: Unintended consequences are awesome: Mendenhall catches after a flea-flicker, ward slams Hawk, right into Mendenhall, which takes him down.
Then a run to the outside for negative, with bonus holding! Great job, o-line.
Max Starks just gave up another ugly sack. He's lined up one-one with Matthews and just getting destroyed. On that play, he apparently didn't realize who his assignment was, as he pulled in to help the guard, figured out that wasn't his assignment, then went back to Matthews, succeeding in blocking neither player. Excelsior!
Mike Tanier: Vince, I need an update on the Steelers-Packers turf war.
Vince Verhei: It's been quiet. Well, that's absolutely the wrong word to use -- they're all living and dying on every snap -- but there's been no trouble. It helps that the way the bar is designed, the main door is in the middle of a wall and actually has guardrails on either side. So the Steelers fans are over by the pool tables and the Packers fans are under the big screen, with the main walkway acting as a buffer zone.
Pittsburgh kicks a go-ahead field goal to make it 30-28 with about four minutes to go, then runs a surprise onside kick. They recover, but it did not go ten yards. So Green Bay takes over at about the Pitt 40, nearly in range for their own go-ahead kick.
Mike Kurtz: It's really sad, it was only off by a yard and a half. They should have just let it bounce, but even then it may not have made it, and even then, you can't blame the coverage. Green Bay gets to the 20, going to run down the clock, game over. Another infuriating Steelers loss.
Vince Verhei: Except that Green Bay scores a touchdown instead. Packers are about to be up 34-30 (extra point pending), but there's still more than two minutes to go.
And now Joe Buck, worst announcer in sports, is criticizing Mike Tomlin for not trusting his defense to win. Has he been WATCHING this team this year?
Doug Farrar: The worst announcer in sports generally sits to Buck's left during baseball games, but point taken.
Aaron Schatz: Not even coming from a Red Sox fan! I knew we weren't alone in our opinion.
Vince Verhei: The way Ben Roethlisberger holds the ball, I'd rush two and drop nine,
and just wait for my two guys to chase him down.
Tom Gower: DAY-UMMMM. I do believe that's a TD catch by Mike Wallace. Heck of a drive there by the Stillers.
Vince Verhei: Well then.
Mike Kurtz: Okay, so good chance my misery was premature. That drive is a microcosm of both teams' seasons: a mistake-filled flag fiesta.
Sick throws by Roethlisberger and nice job Wallace pulling a Holmes, there.
Aaron Schatz: All that, AND Andy Rooney tonight on 60 Minutes.
Bill Barnwell: If only there was a pill for premature misery.
Mike Kurtz: Let me go talk to my glass of scotch, I'm sure me and my reflection will sort it all out.
Vince Verhei: At the end of this game, the Steelers fans celebrated, the Packers fans banged their fists on the table. Then they met in the middle of the bar for a line of handshakes and "good game," like it was the YMCA t-ball league. I swear that happened.
Bill Barnwell: The Panthers just converted a third-and-26 with a 42-yard lob to Steve Smith for six. Antoine Winfield had great coverage, just fell down.
Collinsworth mentioned at some point that in the second half that "Teams have to get hot and play their best football down the stretch." Huh? Has he paid attention any of the last THREE seasons?
Vince Verhei: Is anyone watching Sunday Night Football? Can you please explain how Carolina is beating Minnesota 12-7?
And I love comments like that. I guess the key is to half-ass things for September and October. Don't want to play your best then.
Aaron Schatz: Steve Smith is very good, and the Minnesota offense has almost
entirely disappeared. And I think Percy Harvin has only one catch tonight. He may have said he had a handle on the migraines enough to finally get back on the field, but he's not playing like it.
Bill Barnwell: Panthers are making Vikings OL look bad with their front four and holding Adrian Peterson to 3.1 yards per carry.
Mike Tanier: I am watching in a groggy way. Just saw the 3rd-and-26 and it was vintage Steve Smith. I have seen a lot of Brett Favre underhand passes and Brett Favre double pump-fakes, but also some dropped passes. Favre just made a miracle escape and threw to Shiancoe, who couldn't find the handle. One Vikings drive ended on a fumble, another ended when AP couldn't convert 3rd-and-short. The main thing is that the Vikings are getting very little from their running game, and Childress is starting to go Full Andy Reid, abandoning the run with abandon.
Aaron Schatz: Chris, Al, say it with me now: "There's no such thing as a trap game. There's no such thing as a trap game. There's no such thing as a trap game." This was never going to be a trap game, because there's no such thing.
David Gardner: The Vikings are also missing a lot of tackles at the second level. Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart are racking up yards after contact, as evidenced by Smith's rumble to the 3-yard line and Stewart's touchdown run.
Bill Barnwell: Great little cut block there by Steve Smith downfield on Gary Barnidge's catch-and-run. Probably picked up 15 extra yards because of it.
Bill Barnwell: Steve Smith killed the post-game interview.
Tim Gerheim: Oh my god. ANOTHER Geico ad campaign. Because cavemen, geckos, and piles of money with googly eyes aren't enough.
Tom Gower: With today's results, the AFC is now 34-25 against the NFC and has clinched a non-losing record in interconference play for the 14th straight season.
Vince Verhei: Here is my favorite stat: Thanks to SIX teams at 7-7, only four teams in the AFC have losing records.
213 comments, Last at 28 Dec 2009, 10:24am by Justin Zeth