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?
20 Dec 2010
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).
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Bill Barnwell: Has there been a single successful play in the first quarter besides the Vincent Jackson touchdown? I'm impressed by how the Niners have been getting pressure on the Chargers without blitzing, with an Aubrayo Franklin sack coming on a three-man rush.
Aaron Schatz: Second quarter, 49ers get another chance to score a TD thanks to a Leverage penalty, Alex Smith scramble TD is overturned so now they are down at the six-inch line. They handed to Anthony Dixon, who got stiffed in the backfield because nobody was blocking MLB Brandon Siler. Now my question is, why not a sneak there? Why not just let Smith audible to a sneak? We're talking SIX INCHES, and because Siler was two steps back and right behind the nose tackle, there was space on either side to sneak it between the center and either guard. Giving Siler the space to get the momentum to take down Dixon also would give the 49ers the space to sneak it the necessary six inches.
Bill Barnwell: The decision to take the points off the board is right. You're already down seven points and your expectation there with a new set of downs is going to exceed four points.
Aaron Schatz: I'm not sure why there's all this controversy about "taking points off the board." If you would rather have a 38-yard field goal than first-and-goal from the 10, why don't you just bring on the field goal unit whenever your team crosses into the red zone, no matter what the down-and-distance?
Bill Barnwell: One way to ensure that you'll struggle to get pressure with three is to get your best defensive end ejected. The Chargers are lining Jackson up a lot in the slot, getting him in man coverage versus Clements. On the third down play before the field goal, it was actually remarkable how focused Rivers was on Jackson; he stared him down as he ran a crossing route from the far hashmark all the way to the near sideline. Almost worked, too.
Ben Muth: St. Louis gets the ball and marches right down the field. That is, until back to back false starts on third and one from the ten. The Rams end up kicking the field goal.
Bill Barnwell: Moeaki and Bowe line up in the slot together. Moeaki runs a curl. Bowe runs a dig. They run at the same route depth. Matt Cassel stares them both down. Bowe attempts to leverage Moeaki. The result is an interception. What this has to do with an appendix, I'm not sure.
Aaron Schatz: I understand that certain penalties are tough to call, human error and the difficulty of watching 11 players and all that. But the refs in the Kansas City game just called an illegal formation on Kansas City because Tony Moeaki was not up on the line of scrimmage. We rewound the visual and Moeaki sure looked up on the line of scrimmage to me. It seems to me that it is pretty easy to avoid illegal formations but it should be even easier to avoid mistakenly penalizing legal formations.
Bill Barnwell: Kevin Dockery is the Hank Poteat of Giants castoffs.
Vince Verhei: Midway through the third, appendix-less Matt Cassel has 25 total passes and runs, while stud runner Jamal Charles has six carries. Is playcalling really that hard?
Aaron Schatz: Announcers talking about how Jamaal Charles gains yardage so effortlessly. Perhaps this is the answer to our questions -- he looks like he's not running that hard, which leads Todd Haley to think he's not running that hard, whereas Thomas Jones looks like he's trying REALLY HARD when he gets one yard.
Charles for 80 yards, Thomas Jones for two and a touchdown. Literally this is the example I give in the book each year as to why TDs are overrated. Next year, I don't even need to make up names. I can just use these two plays.
Bill Barnwell: The Chiefs got a classic "Why are you catching this pass" interception from Kendrick Lewis on a fourth-and-20 bomb up 14 points with three minutes left. Cost them 30 yards of field position.
Ben Muth: Arizona just tried an onside kick to open the second half. Feely didn't kick it ten yards and hilariously dropped to his knees when he realized it. Panther ball.
Doug Farrar: John Skelton: The worst Combine quarterback I have ever seen.
Aaron Schatz: What's really odd about John Skelton is that the dude is from El Paso. How do you find your way from El Paso to Fordham? And he has a young brother who's also at Fordham, apparently a much better tight end prospect than Skelton is a quarterback prospect.
Ben Muth: The Cardinals are getting it handed to them by the 2010 Carolina Panthers. It's 19-3 and the score is misleading, Panthers should be up more.
Mike Tanier: That Jason Pierre-Paul kid gets better every week. He just got sky high to bat down a third down ball.
David Gardner: Mario Manningham seems like he's having his way with Dmitri Patterson early in this game. Eli Manning has even missed him a couple of times when he's been open.
And right on cue (although the opposite of the way these things normally work for me), Manning launches a floater to Manningham for a touchdown, even after he was interfered with.
Vince Verhei: Eagles defense looked incredibly soft on the Giants' last TD drive. Runs up the middle were gaining five-ish yards most of the time, and the corners were giving up huge cushions, allowing easy completions on hooks and curls. Manningham took the last curl, slipped a couple tackles and scored from 33 yards out.
Michael Vick just handed Justin Tuck a sack on third down. Tuck was taking a wide loop around the right tackle. It looked like Vick had room to step up and inside the tackle and take off to the right, but instead he tried to go outside and ran right into Tuck. That was a Jim Mora-era Vick play.
Mike Tanier: Dear refs: please call one out of each of the dozen flagrant holds the Giants commit. Thank you. I mean, Jacobs just made sweet love to a blitzing linebacker.
Vince Verhei: Eagles with the Cowboys-Week 1-end-of-half-clock management. They get the ball with 40-ish seconds left. First down, Vick escapes a sack and scrambles for a gain of one. Clock's running, so I figure they just let it run down or dive into the line. No, Vick calls a hurry-up play and hits a pass to Maclin, but Maclin fumbles and the Giants run the ball back inside the 10. Manning gets his third touchdown pass on the next play with seconds to spare. This is the worst the Eagles have looked all year.
Aaron Schatz: Whoo-ha, what blown coverage on Jeremy Maclin's touchdown to make the Eagles game 24-10. The entire right side of the field had no Giants on it.
Mike Tanier: Nothing I am watching makes any sense right now (DeSean's fumble is one of 90 things that make no sense to me,)
David Gardner: Yeah, that certainly wasn't a fumble. He was touched on the way to the ground, and he only fumbled after his elbow was down. But Reid was too indecisive.
Brent Celek just got a long touchdown for the Eagles, assisted in a big way by Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, who held their blocks and helped him get into the end zone.
And then they follow that up with a surprise onside kick caught by Riley Cooper.
Bill Barnwell: Giants are going with three down linemen on this final drive, including Pierre-Paul as the nose tackle and (at least on a couple of plays) the spy for Vick.
Aaron Schatz: Matt Dodge punts with 14 seconds left. Poor snap by Zak DeOssie, then Dodge punts it right on a line to DeSean Jackson. And Jackson muffs the punt, but picks it up... and scores the game-winning touchdown with time running out.
Tom Coughlin screaming at Dodge "I wanted it out of bounds." Matt Dodge will be unemployed tomorrow.
Tom Gower: I do not believe what I just saw.
Mike Tanier: Don't think I will have a lot of value to add after the Miracle of the Meadowlands II. Too busy going aaaaahhhhhhhhhhh.
Bill Barnwell: Our friend Sheil Kapadia pointed out the huge block on the Jackson return by Omar Gaither; Gaither blocked one Giants player into two others, basically taking out three Giants with one block. Game Rewind isn't active as I write this, but it's really a remarkable thing to see. He absolutely springs Jackson's run. And I'm pretty sure that Jackson isn't taunting at the end of that play, as I've seen some people suggest; I figure he's (incorrectly) assuming there's time left on the clock to run out.
David Gardner: Dear Bucs,
I appreciate your use of zone blitzes. They're exciting to watch. However, please burn the play that involves Stylez G. White covering Calvin Johnson 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.
Kellen Winslow just had a preposterous touchdown catch in which he and C.C. Brown were holding each other. Winslow didn't even jump, he just turned and caught it nonchalantly. He got flagged for offensive pass interference.
Myron Lewis just had a huge pass break up in the end zone against Calvin Johnson, forcing the Lions to take it to overtime with the field goal rather than win with the score.
Bill Barnwell: Browns just scored on a play where they lined up with three down linemen in the center of the field and trips bunch on either side of the hashmarks. That includes John St. Clair split out wide as the left tackle and whoever the right tackle is lined up in a trips bunch right. It freed up Robert Royal for a touchdown on a go route, which might be the most amazing thing of all. Of course, the Bengals didn't bother to call timeout.
Mike Tanier: They found it in the appendix of the playbook.
(Note: Mike Tanier diagrams and discusses this play here.)
Rob Weintraub: The key to the game was TO getting hurt and going out on Cincy's first drive. Free to run their pound it with Cedric Benson attack without trying to get the ball downfield to Owens, the Bengals flashed back to last year and hammered the Browns. Carson Palmer was actually decent--he didn't have to throw much, and made some uncannily accurate throws when he did. Only the usual red zone ineptitude kept it from being a rout. Victory! Hallelujah! Now it's time to ruin San Diego and Baltimore's playoff push.
David Gardner: Stevie Johnson gets flagged for offensive pass interference on a touchdown catch when he was open anyway. On the next play, Fitzpatrick finds David Nelson in the middle of the end zone. Same result for the Bills. Not the same result for my fantasy team, which Johnson has been killing lately.
Mike Tanier: Jon Kitna QB draw. Burn this play! Burn this play!
Aaron Schatz: I'm officially frustrated by the Redskins' yellow gloves. I keep thinking there's a flag on the play.
David Gardner: Don't look now, but Sexy Rexy just threw a touchdown pass. It was a screen to Torain, who did most of the work, but still. Sad times.
Aaron Schatz: Rex Grossman now has four touchdowns.
Two plays ago, he had Santana Moss wide open in the end zone when both Terence Newman and Michael Jenkins were mesmerized by the sight of Anthony Armstrong. Grossman double hopped, then overthrew Moss by like ten yards over his head.
But he did get it to Chris Cooley on the next play. Again, four touchdowns. Four. Rex Grossman.
Doug Farrar: Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 Dallas Cowboys pass defense!
Aaron Schatz: Austin Collie straight up the seam against Cover-2, Peyton Manning hits him. Definition of a "Hole in Zone" touchdown. By the way, does anyone know the official rules about shaded visors? I always thought you needed special permission to wear them, and LT2 wore won because he got headaches from the lights... Roethlisberger and now Collie have had them in recent weeks. Do the shaded visors help with you are recovering from a concussion?
Vince Verhei: I seem to recall a lot of players wearing the shaded visors in the early 90s just because they looked cool. Don't remember if they ever passed a rule banning them.
Tom Gower: I'm pretty sure light sensitivity is one of the things players experience after a brain injury, so it wouldn't surprise me if the NFL approves shaded visors after a concussion pretty much as a matter of course.
Bill Barnwell: Two different pitch failures for the Jaguars. First, they pitch the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew on what appeared to be an off-tackle run that was supposed to be a handoff. Fumble. Then, they just ran the option and Garrard tried to pitch it as he fell down. This did not work so well.
Aaron Schatz: Jacksonville with the worst onside kick I've ever seen.
1) It only went about six yards. 2) It went directly to a Colts player. 3) There was nobody in front of that Colts player, allowing him to run back 36 yards untouched for a touchdown to ice the game and, likely, the division.
Aaron Schatz: Bad ref whistle in Baltimore. Devery Henderson caught a nice pass on the left side, Ravens defender went for the pick and missed, and with no defender in front of him, Henderson tripped over his own feet and fell, ref whistles it dead. But the Ravens defender never touched Henderson, and Henderson never touched out of bounds. He should have been able to just stand up and run the rest of the way.
Saints make up for it by getting it down to the end zone anyway, Jimmy Graham's second touchdown of the day.
David Gardner: Ridiculous touchdown in Baltimore. Drew Brees was getting pressured, dropping back and threw a pass off his back foot to Marques Colston. Colston got a hand on it but couldn't bring it in, then Lance Moore came over to the corner of the end zone and put two feet down and got the score. Play is under review.
Bill Barnwell: It seemed like the Saints' success against the Ravens was mostly dependent upon whether the Ravens blitzed or not. I don't have the numbers in front of me because we haven't charted it yet, but the Ravens dominated the Saints for most of the first half and were blitzing regularly; even when they were only blitzing four, they were pulling out all kinds of exotic blitzes in an attempt to confuse Brees and getting great work from their secondary behind the rush. They mellowed out on the Saints' three-minute drive at the end of the half, mostly dropping eight into coverage, and the Saints started to move the ball.
Ravens seemed to struggle all day with the possibility of taking long field goals, which seems weird considering how effective Billy Cundiff has been on kickoffs.
Tom Gower: Apparently taking last week's criticism to heart, Jeff Fisher elects on the opening drive this week to go for it on fourth-and-eight from the Texans 42. It's converted down to the three-yard line, as what looks like Eugene Wilson in man coverage on rookie wideout Damian Williams ends up about how you'd expect, and Nate Washington gets the TD two plays later.
The Texans go for it their first possession on fourth-and-1 at the Titans 36, but don't bother blocking Jacob Ford when running right and lose three yards. The Titans throw deep the first play. Collins, as he did on the Williams deep pass, underthrows his receiver by five yards, but the front two defenders tip it downfield to Britt, who takes the ball down to the two-yard line. The Titans then go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, converting to Justin Gage for a 14-0 lead. With Houston's offense and defense and the Titans' defense, Never Punting may be in effect this week.
Never Punting didn't last long, as the Texans go 3-and-out, and the Titans easily cash in good field position after a bad punt for a 21-0 first quarter lead. The big play that drive was Kareem Jackson in coverage on Kenny Britt. Britt hasn't made it into the end zone, but he has 3 catches for 91 yards.
David Gardner: Another Texans-Titans fight. Except this one was between two Texans, Brian Cushing and Antonio Smith. And they got a 15-yard penalty because Cushing took his helmet off.
Tom Gower: I had a hard time paying attention to this game in the second half. The Texans feigned like they were going to come back, cutting it to 24-10, but the Titans extended it to 31-10 after a long Chris Johnson run set up a short Javon Ringer score. Arian Foster was a non-factor with 11 carries for 15 yards. Andre Johnson had the TD to make it 24-10, but otherwise was not a big factor (6-58-1), with several of his catches coming on short and intermediate routes of the middle, like the Texans did the previous meeting.
Storylines that I think are unimportant and will get too much airtime: Vince Young spent some time on the Titans' sideline in the second half in a hoodie. Jason Babin, who's had a very good year and was an additional captain and had two sacks today, was the Titans' deep safety on the final kneeldown and did his sack pose after the kneel.
Doug Farrar: I'll avoid the obvious "homer" charges and just hope that somebody else saw the fourth-down spots on Atlanta's first drive by Walt Coleman's crew.
Tom Gower: I saw Ryan's sneak on 4th-and-very short, and thought he got the first down though probably not a lot more. Pete Carroll challenged the call, when I thought was extraordinarily foolish challenge given the extreme difficulty in overturning spot calls like that.
Aaron Schatz: Seahawks need to get rid of the zone blitz call that ends up with Chris Clemons covering Roddy White.
Vince Verhei: I'm at the Seattle game. Advantage of in-person viewing: you can see all the open receivers downfield that Matt Ryan isn't throwing to. He's having an ugly game all around, with an interception right to Jordan Babineaux.
The Falcons in the first half ran the most ridiculous small-ball offense ever. Something like a 15 play, 50 yard field goal drive. At one point they had eight first downs and only 86 yards of offense.
Tom Gower: I know this is a minor theme from me today, but that was a horrible play by Matt Hasselbeck to basically give the Falcons a TD to go up 24-10.
Aaron Schatz: Refs in Steelers-Jets game have apparently re-written illegal contact rules to re-introduce hand-checking all the way down the field... but only if you are Antonio Cromartie and the receiver is Mike Wallace.
Bill Barnwell: Seems like the Steelers aren't really running much in the way of Trips Bunch today, which seems strange; figure it would be a good way to get Revis on a pick play, which he's susceptible to.
This week in Simms: "Only veteran quarterbacks really have so much experience...."
Aaron Schatz: Great, great camera shot from overhead as the Jets line up for fourth-and-1 inside the Pittsburgh 10. Camera shot showed exactly how the offensive and defensive lines were set. There were two Steelers in the a-gaps, unlike when the 49ers went for it on fourth down (and should have run a QB sneak) on Thursday. Jets snap it, and Shonn Greene dives in behind a Tony Richardson block... except actually, Mark Sanchez kept the ball and fooled everyone on the Steelers and the cameraman as well. Sanchez saunters into the end zone, touchdown, tie game 17-17.
Bill Barnwell: Tim Tebow with the ol' third-and-24 quarterback draw for a 40-plus yard TD run.
Aaron Schatz: And great blocking on that draw by the Broncos offensive linemen as well as Knowshon Moreno.
Bill Barnwell: Tim Tebow gets credited for inspiring the defense into a stuff on first-and-10. When Sebastian Janikowski attempts his first career punt in a rainstorm and the Broncos punt returner fumbles the punt away, it's strangely not Tebow-related.
Mike Tanier: All Red Zone shows is a series of Tebow draws to nowhere.
Bill Barnwell: I was underwhelmed by Tim Tebow as a quarterback, although his burst as a runner on that draw was really impressive. His touchdown pass was a corner route thrown into double coverage that hung in the air for days and went straight through Stanford Routt's hands. Gus Johnson couldn't stop repeating how Tebow (8-of-16 for 138 yards with a touchdown and eight carries for 78 yards and a score as a runner) had put up a solid game, which seems weird considering how Tebow's intangible value as a "winner" has been part of his pitch. Maybe stats really are for losers.
Bill Barnwell: Nifty onside kick by the Packers to start the game. Great play by the gunner to hook it inbounds with his foot and create a second chance for recovery.
Aaron Schatz: Packers are fifth in defensive DVOA on third down going into this game, including fourth vs. third-and-long, but they can't stop the Patriots at all tonight. Pats converting lots of third-and-longs, including third-and-17 early on.
Bill Barnwell: Seems like the Packers are playing a lot of deep zone coverage and putting Woodson on Welker, forcing the other Patriots receivers to beat their second and third cornerbacks down the field.
Aaron Schatz: Also surprising: James Jones is eating up McCourty on the right while Flynn is totally avoiding throwing to Greg Jennings (with Kyle Arrington) on the left.
(Dan Connolly returns a kickoff 71 yards.)
Ben Muth: Greatest kick return ever.
Tom Gower: I did not just see a squibbed kickoff returned like 70 yards inside the 5 by an offensive lineman. Please tell me I just did not see that.
David Gardner: Did anyone else see Tom Brady's face after Connolly's big return? It was priceless. If only he had scored and John Madden were still in the broadcast booth. "I love to see a fat guy score. Cause first you get a fat guy spike, then you get a fat guy dance."
Aaron Schatz: John Kuhn is just killing the Patriots tonight. And it isn't just that's he's running over people. He's winding through people, and jumping over them. The Pats simply can't tackle him.
Rob Weintraub: Kuhn is having the sort of game that makes all Pats-haters the world over wonder -- how long until Kuhn's a Patriot?
Aaron Schatz: Pats go No Huddle on drive down 27-24 with 8:00 left in fourth quarter. Great strategy. Aaron Hernandez, Gronkowski, and Woodhead mean the Pats can constantly change formations with the same personnel, creating matchup problems by forcing defense to stay on the field.
In the end, the Packers croaked because of inexperience. Bryan Bulaga blocked the wrong away, which let the Patriots sack Flynn when the Packers had no timeouts left. Then the Packers got stuck trying to get up to the line on fourth-and-1 with no idea what to do, frittered away the rest of the time, and the Patriots get one more sack for ballgame.
I would think this achieved any goal Belichick might have of waking up his team and teaching them that they are still human, without actually losing the game. And the sad thing for Packers fans is that this game didn't even mean much for the Pats. Even with a loss here, wins over Buffalo and Miami to end the season would still have given the Pats the top AFC seed.
Bill Barnwell: Decision by the Packers to kick a 19-yard field goal instead of going for it ended up accounting for the margin of victory.
Tom Gower: I was not a big fan of Mike McCarthy's to run the ball and let :30 run off the clock right after the two minute warning at the end of the game. I know he didn't want to rush his team, and probably wanted to eliminate time for the Pats to come back, but that was a great opportunity to call two plays in the huddle. Instead, they run the one and burn valuable time, and when they burn the TOs as well get rushed on the final play and it shows.
David Gardner: I agree. Seems like he was playing assuming that he would score. Obviously, that didn't happen.
271 comments, Last at 23 Dec 2010, 8:57pm by FireOmarTomlin