"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
28 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. (The FNIA stuff below is an exception; that was specifically written for this column.) 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.)
Tom Gower: Well, I think I've seen that first half before, or at least something close to it. I was there, even -- the game in Indianapolis. Opposing team moves the ball pretty successfully, Titans play reasonably well on offense but end two drives with turnovers, one a fumble and one a pick, one fluky and one not, before recovering with a touchdown in the two-minute drill to go into half down 21-10. The difference? Vince Young's fumble (which Jeff Fisher should have challenged) was fluky, rather than the pick. The Colts mostly avoided Cortland Finnegan, while the Chargers haven't really bothered to -- reasonable, since Philip Rivers is relying on the size difference with Vincent Jackson, an advantage Peyton Manning didn't really have. The Chargers don't seem to have game-planned to exploit Colin Allred and Gerald McRath at outside linebacker quite as much as I expected (I thought they might really hammer that), but haven't bothered to in the passing game. It's been more evident in the rush defense -- slow or bad reads, not a surprise. Fish even screwed up the challenge in the precise way I thought he would.
And LaDainian Tomlinson takes it in from a couple yards out for his second score. Even as a Titans fan, it's almost painful to watch him, partly because of how good he used to be, partly because he's still a little bit effective, too effective for people not to make excuses for his limitations (*cough*LenDale White*cough*).
And could Chuck Cecil look any worse?
Tom Gower: No. Jim Schwartz pioneered the red hat to help him stand out on the sidelines. Cecil has added the red shirt to the red hat, and it hasn't been a positive. I hope you missed the first-quarter shot of him yelling at an official and spitting out his gum.
And, yes, you might think Tennessee should be better at running the ball against a mediocre run D, but Chris Johnson still has 12 carries for 75 yards and the big stops have come in obvious run situations. Tennessee is 26th in ALY and 19th in Power; no, those aren't perfect statistics, but they do accurately reflect that the offensive line, while still pretty good, isn't a dominating unit.
Bill Barnwell: It was kind of like spitting. More like ejecting. Maybe Fisher will throw him onto the field next time he wants to challenge something.
Doug Farrar: Sanders Claus needs to tell the kid version of Chuck Cecil to shut his trap and book some early time in the film room. Nice Todd Haley impression there, dude.
Speaking of the run game, I'm very surprised, given the scenario Tom has painted and San Diego's weakness in run contain on the edges, that the Titans weren't running option stuff with Young and Johnson back when this game was competitive. With all the talk about how quarterbacks like Young need to learn to stand in the pocket and make traditional throws, there are times when you just need to play to the obvious strengths.
Tom Gower: Good point. They did run the counter-option once, and VY had maybe a dozen on a keeper (and would've had 15 more if he had the same bubble wrap other quarterbacks got -- homer rant), and did the shotgun read option once, less productively, but they could do more of it. Of course, when the defense has played like this...
Millen comment: "Where in the world is San San Diego?" GROAN. At least I don't recall having heard "man under, two deep."
Tim Gerheim: "San San Diego"? I heard that live but couldn't understand what he'd said because it made no sense. Turns out I was right. I think he must have an inanity checklist that he has to get through each game. One of the items is a botched pop culture reference, ideally to something that was only ever moderately salient and preferably that occurred before 2000 (which I guess in his "What Lions?" universe would be "lately").
Doug Farrar: He said his usual amount of preposterous crap, though he spent this last week coming up with new stuff. My personal favorites tonight were his praise of San Diego's offensive line as one of the five best in the NFL (25th in ALY, dead last in Power and Second-Level Yards; both LDT and Darren Sproles averaged 3.3 yards per carry coming into this game) and his insistence that Norv Turner is one of the best play-callers in the NFL.
Tim Gerheim: In fairness (not that anyone likes fairness to broadcasters like Millen), Turner has long been one of the best offensive coordinators in the league. I don't actually even know for sure that he calls the plays as the head coach. Maybe Millen doesn't know he's the head coach (honestly, it's not that easy to tell); he could be so wrong that he's right.
Doug Farrar: He's wonderful with quarterback development and play design. Had Millen mentioned either one of those traits, I would have credited him with rare insight, considering the source.
Tom Gower: C.J. ended up with 142 rushing yards, so he only needs 128 yards against Seattle next week for 2,000, 233 for the record. Exactly how badly have the Seahawks given up now?
Tim Gerheim: How many points did Houston put up against Seattle in the first half? That badly, plus three weeks.
Doug Farrar: Tampa Bay 24, Seattle 7. I rest my case. We're talking Appomattox-level surrender here.
Aaron Schatz: So, I figure I should start out today's Audibles by saying a little bit about my Sunday. This week I had the opportunity to sit in on preparations for NBC's Football Night in America and watch the games with the whole staff, including Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy, Peter King, and a bunch of very knowledgeable producers whose names you don't know. Many thanks to the executive producers for giving permission and to Peter King for setting it up. Unfortunately, the whole day had to be "off the record," which means that I can't specifically tell anyone "Tony Dungy said this" or "Rodney Harrison said this." However, rest assured that a lot of little things I picked up will show up as background in our analysis over the next month as well as the offseason and in Football Outsiders Almanac 2010.
I can tell people a little bit about the show production itself. The whole staff gets together in one room to watch the games on a big screen, split into nine parts with each game in one section. (You think nine TVs is hard to follow in a bar, try one TV with nine games.) However, it's amazing how much it ends up being like any other group of knowledgeable fans hanging out on Sunday watching football. Lots of "Whoas" for good plays, and "You've got to be kidding me" type exclamations when some defender tries to tackle the ballcarrier using only his shoulder. In every group there's one guy who makes fun of dumb commercials and bad on-screen graphics and puns on player names. In the NBC group, that guy is of course Keith Olbermann. (Please, no debate about his weekday job, okay? The guy knows sports and is hilarious, with probably the best mind for puns of anyone I've ever met. Just ignore the other stuff on Sundays.)
By the way, you may remember Olbermann giving us a promotional quote for selling KUBIAK in the preseason? Well, like everybody else who bought KUBIAK, Olbermann stashed Jerome Harrison away on his roster with a late-round pick... and left him on the bench last week when he scored something like 50 fantasy points. I would bet 90 percent of people who bought KUBIAK or FOA 2009 had Harrison on their benches last week. That includes me in one of my two leagues.
What's most remarkable about FNIA is the change when you hit the afternoon games. The room is almost two-thirds cleared out by 5pm, because people are off writing scripts and preparing highlight packages. The on-air talent is getting dressed and getting TV makeup, Peter King is calling half the PR guys in the league to get comments from players and coaches, etc. There's actually one producer specifically assigned with closely watching the late games for interesting plays and strategic decisions for Dungy and Harrison to dissect. They pre-tape some of the highlight segments in the 6pm hour, and then the live stuff starts while the late games are still going, so they've got to put together everything they say about the late games on the fly, during commercials or when taped packages are running. Pretty crazy when you have big news like the Colts sitting guys with their former head coach sitting right there to give his opinion, or a game that drags on and on like the Eagles-Broncos game. (I don't mean "drags on" in a bad way, unless you are a television highlight-package producer.)
In order to do coaching breakdowns on plays, by the way, NBC gets live feed of the all-22 coaches' film camera angle from something like two-thirds of all games. I will now slobber all over myself just thinking about it.
One other fun fact: Football Night in America tapes at 30 Rock on the eighth floor, which it shares with Saturday Night Live. Makes sense, since Sunday is the SNL staff's day off, but walking through the hall to the studio you get to see autographed photos of the last few years of SNL guest hosts (the ones that SNL shows on-screen when they return from commercial).
Oh, and nothing to do with football, but 30 Rock has an elevator where you put in the floor you want when you call the elevator, rather than pressing up or down, and there are no floor number buttons in the elevator itself. I've never seen that before.
Anyway, thanks again to everybody for being really nice and friendly, and for a great day of football-watching. And yes, you can go ahead and start the "When are you changing the name of the website" jokes.
Aaron Schatz: I'm in a room with a bunch of football professionals, watching all nine games. Not once has anybody said anything about the Atlanta-Buffalo game. Terrell Owens has officially fallen into a black hole of inconsequence.
Rob Weintraub: I was in a sports bar with all nine games on in Atlanta, and not once did anybody say anything about the Bills-Falcons game.
Vince Verhei: No comments on Brian Brohm's first regular-season game? That's too bad.
Bill Barnwell: He's only throwing short stuff. One deep pass I saw was picked off. Not good.
Bill Barnwell: Bengals are being played to a draw by the Chiefs, with Cincy leading 3-0. They thought they scored a touchdown on a pass to Chad Ochocinco, but Ochocinco had stepped out of bounds while making his cut. Tamba Hali -- who is quietly having a great year, picking up a ton of hurries and hits to go along with his 7.5 sacks -- then forces Carson Palmer into a near-pick on third down before they kick a field goal.
Rob Weintraub: Congrats to my Bengals for winning a division title. Cedric Benson isn't particularly impressive these days, but any banner is something to celebrate, especially for this franchise. It's the second playoff appearance since 1991, so I'm not taking it for granted, believe me.
Still, today may have set a new record for expletive-ridden rants. Cincy played the first half as though they were still at Slim's funeral -- utterly uninspired. Their only points came thanks to a comically high snap on a KC punt, giving the Bengals first-and-goal at the 6. They had to settle for 3.
The first drive of the second stanza was seemingly the result of a tongue lashing by Marvin Lewis, and the team went 98 yards for the winning score with an excellent run-pass mix that was totally absent for 3 1/2 quarters. The penalties were reduced a bit, but there were still inept efforts at sending in plays, false starts, and dalliances with delays of game -- the sort of stuff no team with dreams of a playoff run can tolerate. And they were mostly held in check by a KC defense that was shredded for three and a half bills by the Brownies a week ago.
Nothing fancy on either side -- mostly it was a case of Chiefs defenders shedding blocks and making plays. Granted, it was very windy and wet, but the Cincy offense is very predictable, very basic, and scares few.
And Rey Maualuga broke an ankle, a severe blow.
Mike Kurtz: Oakland-Cleveland starts out with a blown-up quick slant. Charlie Frye throws it straight at the cornerback underneath.
Revenge game FTW.
Doug Farrar: Ladies and Gentlemen, Jerome Harrison is out to kill the AFC West.
Mike Kurtz: Charlie Frye just got two great opportunities to Chaz Schilens. The first was an overthrow and the second a few feet out of bounds. The bobbleheads are saying that more air is good for the Browns, but a few feet on each play and they'd be saying the exact opposite.
Browns are just smacking Oakland with Harrison, and Oakland thus far doesn't have much of an answer. Robert Royal is down, which I don't imagine will change much.
The Browns apparently haven't figured this out, as they got to the 27, then had a completely disastrous pass about a mile behind the receiver. Next play, Derek Anderson turfs a running back screen, then a 5-yard pass on third down. Well done, Cleveland Browns.
Summary of late first quarter and early second quarter in Cleveland: ANDERSON'D.
Oakland has inexplicably gained solid defense as the second quarter wore on, and Charlie Frye has settled down after his putrid first few series. It's now a much less exciting but probably better (now just garden-variety bad) game.
Two fights in three plays in Cleveland. Anderson pulled an opposing player off the pile, and the guy spun around and clocked him. Prior to that, Alex Mack just flat-out punched some guy. Absolutely insane.
End result of that second fight: two offsetting personal fouls, followed by an unsportsmanlike enforced. Five personal fouls in the past two minutes, per announcers.
Next play, Harrison runs in-bounds for 4. Two flags fly, unnecessary roughness, headbutt, Stanford Routt ejected from the game. Up to seven personal fouls on this drive alone.
The end result of all this is the Browns go from their territory to throwing a 19-yard touchdown to Mohamed Massaquois.
Sebastian Janikowski kicks a 61-yarder right over the crossbar as time expires in the first half. Insane.
The other crazy thing is that I don't think he put his whole leg behind it, because it was straight down the middle.
Bill Barnwell: It's really remarkable how good Janikowski is and how little attention it gets. I mean ... how many players can do something that no one else in the league can do? Is anyone better at any single skill, compared to the rest of the league, than Janikowski is at kick length?
Mike Kurtz: I was going to ask, incredulously, if you read Scramble this past week, Barnwell, but then I thought about it for a bit and remembered it would be too credulous.
Bill Barnwell: I was actually wondering who you are and how you got on our e-mail list.
Rob Weintraub: I don't know -- I think Rob Bironas and Stephen Gostkowski, to name two off the top of my head, have legs as strong as Janikowski's. What they don't have are coaches who allow them to try 55-plus-yarders with regularity.
Mike Kurtz: Oakland tight end Tony Stewart just ejected. This game is crazy.
Really iffy unsportsmanlike on a "taunt." Jeff Triplette's crew has taken the gloves off; nobody is getting the benefit of the doubt.
I was going to say that Oakland, after a defensive pass interference in the end zone down by 15, was still in it. Frye then throws a fade, which is either an incomplete or an interception. But in any case it is ugly.
And in Cleveland, there is "some kind of precipitation." Come on, guys, Lake Erie isn't THAT bad. Anymore.
Doug Farrar: Awesome Stat of the Week: Charlie Frye -- 45 passing attempts, 0 touchdowns.
Vince Verhei: Seattle has a promising opening drive thanks to a surprisingly effective running game. Then on third-and-1, Matt Hasselbeck fakes a pitch, rolls right, and throws a perfect pass just beyond the first-down line into the hands of a Green Bay linebacker. There was no Seattle player within 5 yards. That may have been the worst interception of the year.
Bill Barnwell: I loved Aaron Rodgers' work on the screen pass for the Packers' first touchdown. Some teams absolutely telegraph their screens and draws with unnatural motion -- watch Tony Romo gaze into outer space before his draw plays as an example -- but Rodgers looked downfield like he was considering throwing there, stayed in the pocket instead of running backwards, and got the ball to Brandon Jackson in exactly the right spot. It was an easy score.
Doug Farrar: Bill, he's playing the Seahawks. The screen would have worked if Rodgers taped a sign to his helmet that said, "HEY! HERE COMES THE SCREEN! BE READY!"
Woof. I haven't seen Charlie Frye's opening pick, but it will have to go a ways to be as bad as Hasselbeck's. If that was an actual play call, someone forgot to draw the potential receivers on the right side.
Vince Verhei: If you want to see some poorly executed screens, Bill, keep watching the Green Bay game -- Seattle is sure to run at least a half-dozen before the game is through.
Doug Farrar: That was the Unintentional Swinging Gate play. I don't think Hasselbeck has thrown a ball past the line of scrimmage through the first quarter. Greg Knapp has designed an offense that might literally disappear up its own a**hole.
Marcus Trufant was burned twice by Greg Jennings on the same receiver screen near the end of the first quarter. Trufant was playing off, and he backpedaled at the snap. Rodgers threw underneath, leaving Trufant to come up and whiff on the tackle in a way that would make Brian Russell very proud.
I think it's pretty clear that we're looking at the worst team in the NFL here. If I was Mike Holmgren, I would have gone to Cleveland, too
Vince Verhei: I don't think they're the worst team in the league. I do think they have the worst game plan, particularly on offense. Just a never-ending series of screens that never catch the defense off guard and never set anything up. That and an addiction to pointless trick plays. They ran one a few weeks ago with Seneca Wallace at quarterback and Hasselbeck at wide receiver. Wallace faked a lateral to Hass, then stood in the pocket and looked downfield. In other words, they got the defense thinking pass ... and then they passed anyway. I just don't understand Greg Knapp.
Bill Barnwell: Do you really think they have the line to allow anyone to get downfield? And ... they don't exactly have deep burners with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch as their starting wideouts.
Vince Verhei: I think the line is bad, but not horrible. They're not the Bears or 49ers. Also, you are allowed to use running backs and tight ends to help your linemen. I'm not sure Knapp realizes this.
But more importantly, I'm not asking for the 2000 Rams. You can't tell unless you're charting games just how many screens they run, in all situations. I'd just like to see an occasional slant route. Or a quick out. Or a curl.
And then Hasselbeck throws an interception in the end zone on a quick slant, so what the hell do I know?
Doug Farrar: They lost to the Buccaneers by 17. They were down 17-0 to the Lions before they woke up and figured it out. There may be teams with less talent, but I don't think there's a team that gets less out of its talent than this one. Maybe they're the weighted worst team in football -- they're certainly looking worse down the stretch.
Vince Verhei: I can't really argue with any of that.
Bill Barnwell: Just saw the Ryan Grant long touchdown run. What an awful route to Grant by the safety.
Doug Farrar: Deon Grant has been pretty horrible all season. I've seen him pull up on plays he could have made, and he's turned into one of those post-play camera guys -- he's in the picture after the fact.
Vince Verhei: The sad thing is, Grant may be the best player in the secondary. I'm not really sure if Jordan Babineaux has been an upgrade over Brian Russell, and we've covered the cornerbacks this season better than the cornerbacks have covered anyone. Can we agree that this is the worst defensive backfield in the NFL?
Hasselbeck throws what I think is his 37th interception of the day. He passed Dave Krieg for the all-time Seahawks yardage record today; I think he wants to pass him on the turnover leaderboard too.
I'm starting to come around to Doug's way of thinking on this. This team has a pretty good front seven, and then ... blech.
Vince Verhei: The Dolphins can't cover anyone. Houston is up 17-0. Matt Schaub is 10-of-11 for 201 yards and two scores, and five different players have caught passes. His only incompletion was a drop by a wide-open Kevin Walter.
With 9 minutes and change to go, Dolphins score a touchdown to pull within 17-27 and officially make the game interesting. Most of the yards on the drive came when Dolphins wide receivers were isolated one-on-one and winning battles for jump balls.
They just cut to a blimp shot of the Miami game. I think there are more people on this e-mail list than in that stadium.
Miami dinks and dunks their way to a field goal, making to 27-20 with 2:33 to go. Houston's offense really needs to take over here and make sure the Dolphins don't get the ball back, but unfortunately that's exactly what their offense is not built to do.
Tom Gower: I saw a little bit of this game over lunch, when Houston was dominating offensively. Somebody, who may have been but was probably not Sean Smith, badly missed a tackle on Jacoby Jones, I believe, and nobody else was close to him on his way to the end zone.
Aaron Schatz: CBS comes back from commercial... "And here's the lovely, snow-covered campus of Harvard, which is of course NOWHERE NEAR where this game is being played."
Bill Barnwell: Can you blame them? What are their other options? The brighter sights of Attleboro? A tour of Providence's best strip clubs?
Aaron Schatz: Curry College is nice. Stonehill College, too.
Mike Tanier: Curry College: an Indian Culinary School?
Aaron Schatz: Why, oh why, is Tom Brady still in a 35-7 game with two minutes left?
Doug Farrar: Is Wes Welker to catches what Ichiro is to hits? I think so.
Vince Verhei: If he can keep it up for another six years, then yes.
I didn't realize that Welker actually started his career with San Diego. I realize that his New England tenure has been pretty much great for everyone involved, but can you imagine what the Chargers would be like if they still had him?
Bill Barnwell: The problem is that they had a similar, superior (at the time) player in Eric Parker. So he wouldn't have gotten any playing time.
Bill Barnwell: Tampa Bay's battled back from 17-0 halfway through the second quarter and have tied it up in New Orleans.
Vince Verhei: And their first five plays in overtime are all rushes, producing three first downs, including a Josh Freeman scramble on third-and-long.
Tampa Bay wins in overtime. The winning field goal drive: ten runs, no passes, three first downs.
Bill Barnwell: Giants are trying to blow their season with an awful opening drive. Eli Manning's 8-for-8, but a touchdown pass to Steve Smith on a great corner route (and throw by Manning) was nullified by holding, and when Manning converted a third-and-long to Mario Manningham three plays later, Manningham fumbled and it was recovered by the Panthers.
Speaking of Manning, his breakout this year has been impressive -- he's up across the board statistically. Can that put the "The Giants missed Plaxico Burress" debate to rest?
Doug Farrar: The Panthers are doing a good job blocking up the middle and upfield. Brad Hoover saved a play on Carolina's first drive by picking up a single A-gap blitz perfectly.
Bill Barnwell: Panthers are up 10-0 thanks to a running game that's been taking off chunks of yardage at a time and the presence of Kevin Dockery, who has been the nearest defender on virtually every one of Matt Moore's completions.
Also need to give the Panthers' downfield blocking respect.
Aaron Schatz: Notice the subtle push by Muhsin Muhammad on Terrell Thomas to create just a little bit of separation on his touchdown catch. That's the kind of thing that a veteran receiver knows how to do just subtly enough so that the refs don't notice and don't throw a flag.
Bill Barnwell: It wasn't THAT subtle. I'm surprised they didn't call it.
Eli with an ugly throw on a quick slant for another interception. Giants are now down 17 and the Panthers have the ball in the red zone. This could be a three-touchdown game by halftime. This is terrible.
This is just putrid. Another megasack and a bunch of checkdowns give the Panthers the ball back again before halftime, and the Panthers convert on ANOTHER third down to keep their drive going, this time with a draw. No matter what they do on third down, they're just eating the Giants' lunch.
Awful play to end the half. Giants line up for a Hail Mary from midfield and the pass rush prevents Manning from getting a solid place to set and throw. He scrambles, and then scrambles forward, and goes to throw ... until he realizes that he's five yards ahead of the line of scrimmage. He gives up and just scrambles, and as he's about to be hit, he looks backwards to lateral and promptly fumbles, costing fantasy owners the points that he'd gained with the nonsense scramble. It also gives the Panthers a chance to score, although they only return it 30 yards before the boobirds get to come out in full voice.
Aaron Schatz: Holy fucking fuck. Steve Smith just caught a touchdown pass EVEN THOUGH Michael Johnson slammed into him and broke his forearm on the play. He somehow held onto the ball in his right hand while the left was hanging there from his body. Just unreal. I got to see the FOX feed without commercial and they were going back to get replays to show. I don't know if they'll show this footage in the broadcast, but you can actually hear Smith saying "it's broken" to the people on the sideline.
OK, now Brad Hoover is running all over the Giants. Oh, man. Not a good day for Big Blue.
Fun facts: Carolina has a +17 turnover margin since November 1, and a +12 turnover margin since Matt Moore became the starting quarterback four weeks ago.
Tom Gower: I presume New York had the ball at some point during that game, but I never saw them with it. I didn't see Smith's touchdown grab, but he had a clean and hard downfield block on Stewart's 29-yard touchdown run.
Aaron Schatz: Steelers break out the mustard helmets.
Michael Oher has moved over to the left with Jared Gaither. His replacement at right tackle, Oniel Cousins (the pride of Fullerton, California, apparently), just got Joe Flacco killed on Pittsburgh's first defensive play. Flacco gets whacked, ball up for grabs, Pittsburgh interception. Just a brutal blown block.
Bill Barnwell: Baltimore's offensive line is playing way worse than it was a year ago.
Are they keeping Todd Heap into chip with Oher, or is Oher pretty self-sufficient on the left side at this point?
Mike Tanier: It's almost 2 p.m., and I haven't seen enough Ravens offense to answer that question about whether Oher is getting chip help or not.
The Ravens special teams are imitating the Steelers special teams. Sam Koch has a 20-yard punt, and Stefan Logan from the Steelers has a long return. The good field position on both plays has led to 10 points.
Six offensive linemen for the Ravens on the Todd Heap touchdown. Cousins was to the left of Oher.
The Ravens are using lots of six-OL sets, and they are also moving Oher to the right sometimes. When, on third-and-6, they spread the field, a blitzer comes untouched (not Oher's man) and sacks Flacco.
Mike Kurtz: The other AFC North teams use that look a lot against the Steelers, as it goes a long way to neutralizing the element of surprise and speed involved in Pittsburgh's scheme.
Vince Verhei: Well, the Bengals use that look against everyone.
Aaron Schatz: Wow, just an embarrassing, embarrassing drive for the Baltimore defense. They've got Pittsburgh backed up third-and-12 on their own two-yard line. They jump offsides, letting Pittsburgh have a free play, and the Steelers go deep to Mike Wallace when he gets past Frank Walker and then reverses to come back and catch the ball without Walker able to get in front. Then they march downfield with the highlight being the weird decision to have Dannell Ellerbe, an undrafted linebacker, covering Hines Ward. And for the final touchdown, a cornerback blitz with Dewan Landry, a hard-hitting (not good-covering) safety, trying to get over to cover Santonio Holmes. It's pretty easy for Big Ben to find Holmes before Landry gets there, but Landry's nice enough to slip on the grass anyway, so Holmes scores easily. Man, just some bad defensive play-calling.
Bill Barnwell: Was it out of trips bunch? Steelers probably just got the Ravens in an awful matchup. I mean ... it can't be designed that way defensively.
Aaron Schatz: I'm not sure about the Ward-Ellerbe play. The Wallace deep play wasn't trips bunch, and the Santonio Holmes touchdown against the corner blitz was definitely not trips bunch.
Oniel Cousins just got a late hit penalty for Baltimore that took them out of field-goal range. How on earth does an offensive lineman get a late hit penalty? This guy has done a lot to lose this game for the Ravens. I would say "single-handedly" except for the egregious drop by a wide-open Derrick Mason in the end zone on that same drive.
Mike Kurtz: The Steelers shut down the Ravens on their drive near the end of the game, then get the ball and proceed to "run the clock out." Which is running the clock out only in the sense that they are running and the clock does actually go down by some amount.
Ben then goes into full-on crazy mode, throws a deep interception that leads to a big return which is called back by illegal contact. Insane.
Aaron Schatz: The Ravens apparently decided today that they needed to make the case that DVOA does not do enough to include penalties. Baltimore overcame bad drops, they overcame injuries in the secondary, they almost even overcame a horrible performance by backup right tackle Oniel Cousins. But they couldn't overcome a ton of really ridiculous penalties that kept canceling big plays, or taking them out of field goal position, or both. Egads.
Vince Verhei: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's leaping interception early in the fourth quarter is the all-time example of "going for the ball at its highest point." That was superhuman.
I've seen Kurt Warner throw a few jump passes in this game, almost Tim Tebow-style. I'd like to explain why, but I am a human being with a soul, and therefore have not been watching too closely.
Bill Barnwell: Reggie Wayne is getting the better of Darrelle Revis so far. He just drew a penalty on Revis, caught one pass against him, dropped another pass in the end zone on a play where he'd gotten open against Revis, and had a long pass that would've likely been a touchdown against a beaten Revis go off the edges of his fingertips.
And count me as utterly confused about the Jets' offensive game plan. They're running the Wildcat and a bunch of stretch plays and end-arounds. The Colts are only one of the fastest teams in the league; I can understand misdirection, but what's the point of having Alan Faneca, Nick Mangold, et al., up front and not running behind them at an undersized front?
Aaron Schatz: You know, considering how many column-inches have been devoted over the last couple of weeks to the fact that the Colts would rest their starters, isn't a little odd that, with 12 minutes left in the third quarter, we're still wondering when the Colts are going to rest their starters?
Doug Farrar: Well, so much for those scouting reports saying that Donald Brown, running back, UConn, couldn't pass-block. He went across the backfield and blew Jim Leonhard all the way up early in the third quarter. Peyton Manning fed him the ball on the next two plays, including a touchdown.
Vince Verhei: Mark Sanchez is sacked by Dwight Freeney, who came free completely unblocked because the Jets were confused by Indianapolis' zone blitz. A zone blitz! By the Colts! Earlier I saw an I-formation on third-and-short. It's a whole new world out there, I tell you.
Doug Farrar: Three-man fronts, consistent blitzes ... it's madness, I tell you!
Vince Verhei: Curtis Painter takes over for Manning, up 15-10 with about 20 minutes left in the game. This is notable because at this exact moment, the Jets control their own destiny -- beat Indianapolis today and Cincinnati next week, and they're in the playoffs.
Aaron Schatz: Oh my. New Indianapolis third quarterback Drew Willy IS Richie Cunningham!
Mike Tanier gets a new iPod Touch and begins to use it with questionable results...
Michael Taniet: Colts defense has gotten more creative. Are they lining up the defensive tackle as a middle linebacker this week?
Aaron Schatz: The funny thing is, through Week 10 at least, they are still last in the league when it comes to passes sending six or more guys (according to game charting). But unlike past years, they aren't last in sending five or more guys, they're about 25th.
Michael Taniet: They use the blitz like Angostura Bitters.
Mike Tanier: Boy, as soon as Painter came in things changed, eh?
Vince Verhei: It is truly amazing how the entire Indianapolis team completely shuts down whenever Peyton is out.
Aaron Schatz: Well, this Jets victory is, shall we say, "tainted," but on behalf of statisticians everywhere, I would like to thank Jim Caldwell for sitting down Peyton Manning in the third quarter today. I really wasn't looking forward to having the "Are the 19-0 2009 Colts the best team of all time?" discussion. I'm much, much more comfortable having the "Are the 18-1 (or 17-2) Colts a really good Super Bowl champion?" discussion. For people who are obsessed with the 1972 Dolphins, I guess, this changes their opinion of how good the 2009 Colts are. But let's be honest, this really does nothing to change any of our opinions of how good the 2009 Colts are, right? Not the best team ever, but very possibly the best team of this season.
Ned Macey: I was traveling today and haven't got a chance to read other comments, but I thought the Jim Caldwell decision (or should I say Bill Polian decision) deserved a comment before I retired for the night.
I am about as big an apologist for the Colts as anyone, I think their record speaks for itself, but today was just ridiculous. To me, the decision was pure arrogance. We always sit our people, and we're not going to let some outside record get in our way. They played everyone for 40 minutes, but the last 20 is too much? You are 20 minutes from having to go to the Brian-Brohm-led Bills to finish out a 16-0 regular season, but you refuse to play it out as if to prove that the perfect record doesn't mean anything to you, that you're too focused on championships.
The misconception is the idea that somehow this decision about whether to play the players really matters for the postseason. Football teams and media have a terrible time with causation, when the truth is that too many variables are in play for one little thing to matter. It would be devastating to lose Manning or Wayne, but what really are the odds; are they better or worse than your starting cornerback getting stabbed the night before the game or somebody getting injured in practice, which happens all the time?
At that point, they had to play a little more than a quarter of football, and they'd try and melt the clock for most of it. Then, they would have a game against Buffalo, where they could step on the gas and bury the team early.
Instead, they effectively give the game up by putting in Painter. I know they were winning at the time, but they made Painter, a sixth-round (or undrafted or whatever he is) rookie play with Hank Baskett and Jacob Tamme against the league's best defense. That's a joke, and he had no chance of succeeding.
It just strikes me that the odds of winning the last two games where the Colts stood at 5:30 remaining in the third quarter were extremely high. The odds of a key player getting lost for the season are low. I agree with sitting people like Robert Mathis who are dinged up, and I'd be OK with this if they went into the game at 13-1, but a shot at 16-0 is different and to pretend it isn't is an attempt to be too cute, too faux-focused on the prize. I don't believe the chances of the Colts winning the Super Bowl varied in any meaningful direction by their decision today, but I do know that they gave up their chance at history.
Mike Kurtz: Holy crap. Brandon Stokley flagged for what I call "whining," then waves his hand in front, smacks the ref in the hand as he's pointing. Ejection. The Broncos have three active wide receivers now.
Doug Farrar: Phil Simms must be drunk. He just pronounced Asante Samuel's name correctly.
Michael Taniet: I just wanted to comment using iTouch. It is a business expense. You are all witnesses.
Bill Barnwell: I hope the IRS doesn't mind you spelling your name wrong.
Michael Taniet: The bad spelling proves it is I.
Aaron Schatz: "That's Mike Tanier. S-A-M-U-E-L-S. Tanier."
Big touchdown pass to a wide-open Brent Celek on a delayed blitz. Looked like Cover-1, and the free safety followed all the wide receivers who went over to the left side of the field. Unfortunately, the strong safety also followed all the wide receivers who went over to the left side of the field instead of man-covering the tight end, who happily went deep on the right side. Sorry your return to Philly didn't go as planned, Brian Dawkins.
Mike Tanier: Never throw late across the middle, Donovan.
Bill Barnwell: But if McNabb didn't throw late over the middle, he wouldn't be Donovan McNabb.
Michael Taniet: Hey I can get scores on this thing!
Aaron Schatz: Did somebody get a Christmas present?
Mike Tanier: How the heck did this Eagles-Broncos game turn back into a game?
On third-and-25, McNabb remembered that he can run.
If Andy Reid wants the call overturned on the booth review of Jeremy Maclin's catch, he shouldn't pat the ref on the butt on the way to the booth.
Of course, Chris Clemons got a Broncos penalty declined by folding his hands and praying to the official, so anything is possible.
Doug Farrar: It just depends on how much facetime Mike Carey wants.
Mike Kurtz: Mike Carey loves him some facetime, if his gesticulating is any indication. I bet he practices at home. In front of a mirror.
Mike Tanier: Dude does lead the league in "flags picked up," as if he threw it just to get on TV.
Here's the David Akers field goal ... good. I assume nothing until 10 minutes after the gun.
Doug Farrar: Welcome to the latest installment of Stupid Things Phil Simms Says. Phil on David Akers: "Whether it's an extra point or a 50-yard field goal, it's all-go. That takes some of the pressure off." Right, Phil. As opposed to all the dumbass kickers who kick with only half their leg strength, thus making their tries that much tougher to covert.
Aaron Schatz: One more comment: I thought Akeem Jordan played a heck of a game. Always seemed to be around the ball.
Mike Tanier: So who is watching Sloppy versus Quitty in the Sunday night game?
Doug Farrar: Every time I see Washington running five-man protections with a line straight out of The Replacements against this front seven, I wonder which of the Redskins' 14 offensive coordinators is responsible for that brilliant plan.
And Reed Doughty gets hurt on his first career interception. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Washington Redskins!
I will say this about Campbell: If he wants to survive the rest of this season, he'd better dial up a new setting on his "Oh, crap -- here comes the defense!" sensor. His pocket presence has never been what I'd call great, but at this point, it's gonna get him killed.
Mike Tanier: You'll forgive me if I review tape of Steelers-Ravens for a bit instead of watching this nonsense.
Doug Farrar: You are forgiven, Mr. Taniet.
Bill Barnwell: I'm excited to read about Toethlisbetget and Tay Tice.
Mike Tanier: Worst part is I don't know how to fix it.
Tom Gower: Empty backfield = Jason Campbell getting destroyed on the blitz. Every single time. I can see it. You can see it. Why can't one of the Redskins' many offensive coaches see it?
Mike Kurtz: You can extrapolate that for the rest of the league. The empty backfield is generally a disaster, and I'm astounded every time I see it.
Doug Farrar: And when they take Mike Sellers, their best blocking back (maybe the team's best blocker overall), and split him into the right slot, well, I don't know what to say.
Mike Tanier: So, is anyone eliminated? I saw a graphic and I think it said the Dolphins are still alive. Is that true? Jaguars too?
Mike Tanier: Wow. I mean, wow. I swear I saw the Chiefs at the bottom of that chart somewhere.
Vince Verhei: Yes, it's true, Miami and Jacksonville are still alive at 7-8. I can't WAIT to read their clinching scenarios Monday morning, or whenever they come out.
269 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2010, 12:44am by Andy