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?
10 Jan 2010
compiled by Bill Barnwell
Each weekend, 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, so we might not discuss every aspect of the game to the level we do in our other articles.
Bill Barnwell: Hey, another Bengals linebacker went down!
Tom Gower: Well, Martz and KCW are written for this week less than a minute into the first game. Thanks, Laveranues Coles and Marvin Lewis!
David Gardner: I can't believe I'm seeing Joe Theismann in the booth. Did he do last year's wild card games on NBC? I think I would have remembered ole Joey Sunshine.
Marvin Lewis makes a... um... questionable challenge.
Bill Barnwell: I can't even fathom that Lewis challenge. It wasn't an instant challenge; he had 90 seconds of commercials. That's just awful.
What a dangerous pitch by Brad Smith on that initial option the Jets ran. I hate that play.
Bill Barnwell: I don't know. I've seen worse blocks in the back that went uncalled.
David Gardner: Quote of the night from Theismann: "That doesn't solve the problem of Palmer being high all night."
Bill Barnwell: Palmer doesn't look good. He's not stepping into his throws; I sort of ignored it from last week's game, but he was doing it last week, too. The ball's all over the place, and that's not because of his thumb.
Aaron Schatz: I was working out during the first half so I didn't get a chance to get on Audibles and comment on the first illegal contact penalty on Darrelle Revis. Man, that was the worst illegal contact call I have ever seen in my life.
Onto the second half... I realize the Jets have good special teams, but really, the Bengals feel they need to pooch the kickoff and hand the Jets field position at the 40?
Tim Gerheim: I swear, if Joe Gibbs references the fact that Joe Theismann once kicked a 1-yard punt one more time, I'm going to set fire to one of his NASCARs.
Did anybody see interference on Revis anywhere on that play? (26-yard pass interference on Revis with 8:00 left in third quarter.)
Bill Barnwell: Thought it was a ticky-tack call. More contact than the illegal contact penalty, though.
I'd bench Palmer at this point.
Tim Gerheim: Because J.T. O'Sullivan would be an improvement?
Bill Barnwell: At this rate? Yeah. It's a good pass defense, but Palmer looks like he can't throw the ball right now.
Doug Farrar: Chad had a bit of a pushoff as well. Not sure what Leavy’s crew saw there, but I’d put that crew down there with Jeff Triplette’s in rough number of incomprehensible calls.
Aaron Schatz: Hey, if Jay Feely can punt, maybe Kevin Huber could play quarterback. No, seriously, no matter how badly Palmer is playing, he's more of a passing threat than O'Sullivan, and that leaves things more open for Benson to run.
By the way, can the Bears sue Benson for fraud?
Sean McCormick: So true. Benson has been playing very hard. He's pretty much the only guy in a black jersey who looks dangerous out there.
Vince Verhei: I feel like these coaches should be fined every time they try a forward pass. With every dropback, I hold my breath and wait for the sack/tip/interception. (Or, in the Jets’ case, for the Braylon Edwards dropped touchdown.)
You can see the Jets’ lack of confidence in their own quarterback with the wacky option they ran out of the pistol/I-formation. I know they do this stuff all the time and it’s not a move out of desperation, but they’re still relying on gimmickry rather than Sanchez on second-and-11.
The Bengals never give up long runs (first in the league in ten-plus-yards allowed per carry), but they did on Shonn Greene's long touchdown because they were over-aggressive. They all bit on the action to the right, then when Greene took the pitch left, he got one good block from the wide receiver, slipped one tackle from an out-of-position end who really had no chance, and then there was nobody between him and the end zone – the linebackers and safeties were all reacting to the inside action. We talk about using the run to set up the pass; that was using the run to set up the run.
Sean McCormick: The lack of confidence is unwarranted -- Sanchez has had excellent ball placement on nearly every throw so far. He hit Edwards between the numbers on that long throw to the end zone, and he's been putting his throws outside the hash in spots where only Cotchery can get at them. That said, all they need to do is go up two scores and the game is effectively over, so you can understand the conservative approach. They've also got the Bengals D-line on roller skates now.
Doug Farrar: I think they're entirely justified in trying the pistol/option stuff with Brad Smith, as it worked very well last week against this same defense minus Domata Peko and Robert Geathers. Smith broke a couple of long runs. That 32-yard touchdown run was on second-and-11. I do not, however, like the direct snap up the middle run by the Jets early in the fourth quarter. With no sweep action or counter motion or H-back blocking, that's when I think, "What's the point?"
Bill Barnwell: Great blocking by the Bengals on the Benson touchdown run. Benson almost untouched. We've got a ballgame, folks.
Tom Gower: Agreed with Bill, great blocking by the Bengals. I'm not sure if it was an aversion to contact or what, but Lito played a soft contain on that side-if he attacks the hole, Benson may be able to bounce it offside, but he at least slows him up. Easier to get yardage when you don't have to block all the defenders on the playside.
Doug Farrar: Yep. As Coach Gibbs and Dr. Obvious (“If Revis plays off Ocho, Ocho’s going to catch passes!”) pointed out, Andre Caldwell did a nice job of tying Jim Leonhard up right at the point where Benson bounced outside.
Great play action to rollout by Sanchez on that long run after catch by Keller on the drive after Benson’s touchdown. It’s very nice for him that the Jets’ rushing attack helps him with the play action concept, but he’s also very good at selling it.
Bill Barnwell: Agreed. But Chinedum Ndukwe needs to take a better route to Keller after the catch there. He cost the team 35 yards.
Shayne Graham misses his second field goal of the game.
Sean McCormick: Wow.
Bill Barnwell: Shayne Graham just suishamed the game away!
Tom Gower: Damn. Often reliable Carson Palmer misses open receiver in TD, often reliable Shayne Graham misses 2nd FG, this one inside 30.
Mike Tanier: Bengals fans are used to insane short field goal and extra point problems, right?
Mike Kurtz: Palmer has been by far the weakest link. Not only has he been inaccurate, but on 4 or 5 plays that I can think of, he felt pressure that wasn't really there, and instead of moving up into the pocket, bailed out and ran right into a DE or LB. It's bizarre.
Sean McCormick: Yep, the teams played fairly similar games. The big difference, aside from the kicking game, was that Sanchez was extremely accurate, while Palmer looked like a pitcher who simply didn't have his stuff. Even his completions were high, and when he missed a receiver, he basically Jamarcused it.
Bill Barnwell: He reminded me a lot of Philip Rivers on his throws, actually, which is strange -- he's not normally like Rivers. No one in the league throws like Rivers.
Aaron Schatz: Our good friend Ian Dembsky decided we should do a playoff Loser League for fun... same rules as the regular Loser League, except we added all stats across all games and the penalty was 30 points instead of 15. Anyway, I took Shayne Graham. Jackpot! Graham has been one of the better field-goal kickers in recent years. He was terrible this year. Example No. 2,359 of why all field-goal kickers are inconsistent.
Vince Verhei: Some late notes...
We also need to fine announcers who say things like "Wildcat under center." If he's under center, IT'S NOT THE WILDCAT. I don't think it's that hard to learn what this is.
Interesting in the second half watching the Bengals get a taste of their own medicine as the Jets go with six linemen and run and run and run down the field. Then, with a two-touchdown lead, we saw them start to use a thousand different blitzes, fake blitzes, and zone blitzes on defense.
Jets had a great game plan for Mark Sanchez -- rarely letting him throw, and usually out of play-action and/or with extra blockers -- but even still, he had a very good game. 15 passes, and I don't remember any that were even close to being intercepted.
Before everyone on earth blames Shane Graham for this loss, remember that before he can miss a field goal, the offense must fail to convert three times in succession. You can't say that Cincinnati outplayed the Jets but were undone by their kicker; they were the worse team, and their kicker also missed field goals.
As for the Jets, their defense is good enough to keep them close with anyone, and if Sanchez plays like this, they are very scary.
Bill Barnwell: Cowboys are gashing the Eagles on the ground. There was just a big run up the middle by Felix Jones right at Jeremiah Trotter where Trotter tried to run around Leonard Davis and left a huge hole up the middle; if he'd just taken Davis on, he wouldn't have made the tackle, but would've held Jones to a short gain; instead, it ended up being a 20-yard carry.
Dallas also winning the field position battle so far, even though they've ended with two punts inside Philly territory.
Aaron Schatz: Oh boy, that guy Asante Samuels is back. Are Cris Collinsworth and Phil Simms buddies or something?
Tim Gerheim: Even though that overturned interception by Sean Jones was ... overturned, it was still a "wow" play, an extraordinarily impressive athletic play.
Bill Barnwell: Cris Collinsworth notes that the Eagles really missed Brian Dawkins this year, because he could line up one-on-one against guys like Jason Witten and take them out of games. Witten had 14 catches for 160 yards in two games last year. Maybe they're missing the Brian Dawkins from 2003?
McNabb left 25 yards (and a new set of downs) on the field by throwing that crossing pattern behind Reggie Brown. If he leads Brown, it's a huge gain.
Aaron Schatz: I'm sorry, did I say Samuel was having problems? Now the Cowboys are driving with six minutes left in the first half, and Romo is constantly picking on Sheldon Brown instead.
Aaron Schatz: This game has entered the ass-kicking zone and we're not even to halftime yet. The Eagles need to make some changes at halftime to come back in this one. Not that it is impossible; I believe 24-7 was the halftime score of the 2006 AFC Championship.
Doug Farrar: Anyone else remember early in the season when Anthony Spencer was actually struggling? Boy, has he made a difference down the stretch.
Aaron Schatz: If I were a Vikings fan, I would be freaking out right now. They have a much better running back, but otherwise they run a very similar offense to Philadelphia with similar receivers -- and that struggling offensive line isn't going to protect as well this line is (sort of) protecting McNabb.
Bill Barnwell: Their run defense is better than Philly's, though. They should be able to keep Dallas in third-and-a-bunch situations, I'd figure.
Doug Farrar: Scary thing is, a lot of that pressure is coming from coverage. If you can lock down big-play receivers and then bring Ware/Spencer/Ratliff – yeouch.
Tom Gower: I think Philly needs to be added to the list of teams looking for a couple linebackers this offseason. That is, assuming they already have some. I don't think I've noticed them much this game.
Bill Barnwell: Philly never spends money on linebackers, though.
Doug Farrar: Very interesting contrast between Romo’s ability to find holes in pressure and bail out with short plays, and McNabb doing “Waiting for Godot” in the pocket. I wonder if the Eagles have fallen so in love with the deep ball, they’ve eliminated some of those quicker reads.
Aaron Schatz: As I pointed out in the preview, the Eagles were second in the NFL in fewest quarterback hits allowed but something like 20th in Adjusted Sack Rate. McNabb just does not throw the ball away, and he doesn't find hot reads as often as he should.
Bill Barnwell: In the Sports Illustrated feature on the double-A-gap blitz, Jeremiah Trotter noted that there wasn't really any solution to it. Trotter was blitzing right up the A-Gap on that long Felix Jones touchdown run.
And yes -- Mike Jenkins -- DON'T LATERAL THE BALL. God.
Doug Farrar: Heh. Al called Asante “Samuels” after he dropped that third quarter pick. I swear, it’s contagious!
Tom Gower: As I watch the inside-two minute stat-padding, it occurred to me that this might be about the first time McNabb actually deserves at least some of the merciless ripping he'll get from Philly talk radio this week. He's done nearly as poorly as Palmer. Of course, his OL hasn't helped him, as both Ware and Spencer have had good games. Jason Peters has looked more like a turnstile than a Pro Bowl left tackle.
I've been really skeptical of this Dallas team, but this was a good win. They've brought pressure, haven't broken down in coverage aside from the one play, and neither Romo nor Roy Williams them the game.
Vince Verhei: It was wiped out by a penalty, but BOY-HOWDY did I like the wide receiver screen the Cowboys used near the end of their opening drive. Fake the pitch to the left, throw back to the right and get the ball to Kevin Ogletree behind SIX blockers. Too bad Jason Witten hit his block too eary, but that's one for future film study. They ended up throwing a dozen of these throughout the day, but that was the best.
I hope everyone read Mike Tanier's Walkthrough column this week on Dallas' offensive identity, because it made this game much easier to understand. They're built around keeping defenses off-balance with a mix of draws and quick slants/screens, and when they're executing both well, they're damn near unstoppable. All in all, that was the best I've seen any team play this year.
Minnesota's run defense has been merely above-average since the loss of E.J. Henderson. I'll probably regret having this in print, but I think Dallas blows them out of the dome next weekend.
Mike Tanier: OK, let me clear away the whiskey bottles and say something in my most gravelly Tom Waits voice.
Yeah, McNabb deserves a lot of the blame for the last two losses. He played poorly in those games.
To echo what Tom said last night, he is part of a problem that starts with poor offensive line play and dubious game plans on both sides of the ball. But he was part of the problem.
Some local fans, of course, won't rest until these two bad games are rewritten into the McNabb's Character Flaws storyline. Once again, McNabb choked in the playoffs, etc., etc.
It is time to start seriously considering if this is the end of the McNabb era. I still look around the league and only find 5 or 6 better quarterbacks. But it's true that the skills are slipping and the returns are diminishing. And while I don't want to trade places with Rams fans, watching this particular flavor of Eagles team for five years has grown exhausting.
That's all I have right now. Time to soak my head.
Doug Farrar: Take out the “Character Flaws” storyline, and this reminds me a lot of what people are saying about Matt Hasselbeck. We don’t know that he’s the problem because there are so many other problems, but he doesn’t look as good as he used to, and maybe it’s time to chuck this thing and start over. I know that’s not what you’re saying in total, but you know that a lot of people are saying that about McNabb. There are Seahawks fans wondering if Mike Holmgren would give up a third-round pick for Hasselbeck. And hey, maybe under Pete Carroll, that trade will be made. But it isn’t Hasselbeck’s fault that his line sucks, or than Deion Branch refuses to fight for well-thrown deep balls, or that Seattle’s running game was last seen on a milk carton. Is he the 2005 Hasselbeck? Absolutely not. But he’s one hell of a lot better than Seneca Wallace, or any option in what looks to be a less than exciting draft class. The Eagles do have some interesting possibilities going forward, but I’d say the same thing about McNabb at this point – he’s still better than the alternatives, at least in the short term.
What I don’t see in either Hasselbeck or McNabb are the kinds of near-comic mechanical flaws I saw in the early Chicago version of Jay Cutler, or Carson Palmer now. Against the Jets, Palmer was pushing the ball like it was a 20-pound rock. McNabb has been off-target with his receivers of late, and he needs to wake the hell up in the pocket, but I’d be more concerned about the left tackle situation, or linebacker depth, or what the hell happened to the short passing game, than I would be about McNabb.
Mike Tanier: Yeah, I don't know what the heck Palmer's problem is lately.
The pocket thing has a lot to do with scheme. Watching the Eagles put two linebackers in the A-gap and play "off" coverage, I knew Romo was just going to throw to a hot read. That kind of play is filed under "things the Eagles don't do." Sometimes that may be McNabb assuming he can make another play, but I think a lot of it is design: he's not supposed to make the hot throw, the receiver isn't ready for the hot throw, etc.
For the record, Hasselbeck is much closer to "done" than McNabb is. Haselbeck is heading into Brad Johnson wily veteran territory. McNabb is still a near Pro Bowl level starter when he is playing well.
Doug Farrar: What great play by Ben Grubbs on the Ray Rice touchdown run to open the game. Chips on Jarvis Green with Jared Gaither on the double-combo block, then heads to the second level and just walls off Jerod Mayo to open the alley. The Ravens are so in tune with their power blocking. And why is Deon Grant wearing Brandon Meriweather’s uniform? Nice non-tackle, dude.
David Gardner: Great start for the Ravens. Big run by Ray Rice and the strip sack by Suggs.
It looked to me like, on the sack, Brady was holding the ball a little bit low.
Bill Barnwell: That's EXACTLY what the Ravens did twice in the first matchup of these teams. Brought a bunch of guys up on the line to confuse the protection, then rushed three and got Suggs and Pryce one-on-one against the tackles. And no, my friends, Matt Light cannot offer Terrell Suggs much resistance.
Aaron Schatz: Honestly, I think the Ray Rice run to convert third-and-4 was a lot more embarrassing for the Patriots than the 83-yard touchdown. On the long touchdown, the blocking scheme was just perfect for the defense the Pats called, and while Meriweather took a bad angle on the tackle, most of the rest of that play was just Ray Rice's speed. But on the third-and-4, they had him in the backfield, and then they had him again at the line of scrimmage, and nobody could take him down. Not to take away from Rice's tackle-breaking ability, but you've got to wrap a guy up in that situation. 14-0 after five minutes. It's going to be hard to come back from that kind of early deficit against a ball-control team like Baltimore.
David Gardner: Yeah, you can't ask for much more than a 14-0 lead before you quarterback has even thrown a pass.
Aaron Schatz: 14-0 lead and then field position for your third drive starting around the 50. Pats just look tired and lethargic. And Maroney didn't even have time to try a block on Ray Lewis on that A-gap blitz to start Pats' second drive.
NFL FanHouse just sent a tweet: "Is this the worst five minutes in Patriots franchise history?" Man, people just have no memory of what this franchise was like before 1993, do they? Did anyone see Super Bowl XX? The 2-14 year where they started four different quarterbacks? Do I need to talk about the home game in Birmingham again?
David Gardner: That interception was a shockingly bad read by Brady.
Doug Farrar: Rod Rust would have enjoyed that horrible first-quarter Brady interception. Yikes.
Bill Barnwell: When the Ravens go play action, they have an obvious outlet for Flacco to go to. When the Patriots were running it, they didn't -- their outlet was Chris Carr. That might have been the worst throw of Brady's career. No one was even close to the pass.
Vince Verhei: It's funny, a few minutes ago I heard a fan scream "WAKE UP PATRIOTS!" And it's funny not just that he said it, but I could hear this one fan. I'm reminded of what Bill Simmons has been writing about home-field advantage, especially in New England.
By the way, my favorite Phil Simms-ism of the first half. Ed Reed, one of the top two or three interception return guys of this generation, nearly gets his hands on the ball. Jim Nantz says that if Reed could have pulled in the ball, "you know where he was headed."
Simms asked, sincerely, "Where's that?"
Aaron Schatz: Boy, this one has entered the ass-kicking zone even faster than the Eagles Cowboys game. I'm sure it's not impossible to come back from a 21-0 deficit this early, but man, it sure seems like it.
Obviously, I'm bummed as a Pats fan, but I'm also bummed because I was really looking forward to "Jets-Colts II: Take Your Curtis Painter and Shove It."
David Gardner: Vince, feels pretty good to have Rice on your fantasy team right about now, doesn't it?
Vince Verhei: It does make up for that last-round gamble I took on Chad Ochocinco that, um, failed.
Doug Farrar: I enjoyed Simms's characterization of New England's defense as one of the best run-stopping units in the NFL. 26th in DALY, fifth in Power, but 28th in Stuffed. 4.4 yards per carry allowed in the 2008 regular season, which tied them with three other teams, including St. Louis and Detroit. They only allowed six rushing touchdowns, but that probably has something to do with the fact that they allowed 25 passing touchdowns. Way to channel your inner Mlllen there, Phil.
Bill Barnwell: Worst performance since the Jacksonville-Miami game in '99? Jacksonville went up 24-0 in that game, too, and it ended 62-7.
Aaron Schatz: Third-and-20, down 24 points, of course you run the give-up draw. Yeesh.
A punt hits off Tom Zbikowski's back and is recovered by New England.
Tom Gower: Why the heck did Harbaugh not challenge that recovery?
David Gardner: Wow. Huge mistake by Harbaugh.
Bill Barnwell: There's such positive EV in challenging there, even if you have a 10% chance of winning the challenge. Even before that final replay, their chances of getting the ball back were much higher than that.
Apparently the spectre of Troy Brown caused that punt to hit Zbikowski AND distracted Harbaugh into not challenging.
Tom Gower: What Bill said about the huge impact of the challenge-giving the Pats the ball there puts them back in the game. Winning a challenge doesn't. Even if it's not likely you'll win the challenge, it still makes sense.
Bill Moore: I challenge Phil Simms's analysis of it. NE doesn't need to keep possession all the way to the ground. The defender need to establish possession in the field of play. For that point, it's his ball. Any fumble beyond that is HIS fumble.
Aaron Schatz: Is Tom Brady afraid to scramble? He just threw the ball away when he was at the line of scrimmage with complete empty space between him and the end zone.
Bill Barnwell: In all fairness, that security guard was wide open.
Tom Gower: About six and a half seconds for Brady on the TD throw. It's probably observation bias, but rushing three and dropping eight in coverage seems to fail a lot more often than it works unless you get one of those isolation matchups you can win.
Bill Barnwell: 2008 (offensive) success rate for defenses rushing three was 43.6 percent. On all other pass plays, it was 44.9 percent.
Aaron Schatz: 15-yard penalty for Patriots on ensuing kickoff. Ravens' starting average field position today is somewhere near the men's room in the stands PAST the Patriots end zone.
Joe Flacco throws an interception.
Bill Barnwell: I hate that throw by Flacco, even before the result. The receiver was open, but the window wasn't; by the time the ball was going to get there, Heap wasn't going to be open. Everything right now should be low-risk for the Ravens.
Tom Gower: Ok, fully acknowledging that this is a completely terrible idea, should the Ravens consider putting in Troy Smith? Flacco's hurt and not playing well, and the advantage you get from him over Smith is he presents a threat, particularly the deep outside pass, that Smith doesn't. But, if Flacco's really that bad, he doesn't actually present that thread. Smith gives you better mobility, but BAL won't try to pretend like those limitations won't exist. NE hasn't moved the ball at all, so your QB needs to not let them in the game. With Flacco, there's a chance that happens.
Bill Barnwell: I think you can make the situation better with playcalling. More three-step drops. Shorter routes. Threaten to castrate Flacco if he throws across his body again.
Tom Gower: That punt really feels much more like Jeff Fisher coaching not to lose than Belichick coaching to win. Thought process: long FG no more than 50-50 proposition, miss results in good field position for opponent which means being down possibly 4 scores (you're not going to make 3 2pt conversions), so punt and hope you get a stop. You're already down 17, you're probably not going to be able to win this game without taking some chances. Heck, I would've gone for it before punting, I think.
Vince Verhei: I disagree. Seventeen points is not an insurmountable halftime deficit. Handing the Ravens the ball that close to midfield, with all their timeouts and the two-minute warning left, The odds are too high that you end up going into halftime down 20 instead.
Bill Barnwell: I don't think I can reconcile the coach that went for it on fourth-and-2 with the one that made the punting decisions Belichick's made during the first half today.
Vince Verhei: So far Belichick has punted on fourth-and-8 from his own 23, fourth-and-16 from his own 32, fourth-and-2 from his own 44, and fourth-and-12 from the Baltimore 36. The only one there where I'd be tempted to go for it was the fourth-and-2, but A) the Ravens defense is not the Colts defense, and B) one first down there does not win the game for New England.
Bill Barnwell: Exactly. 15 or 20 first downs win the game for New England, and it's easier for them to get one on fourth-and-2 than it is on first-and-ten.
Vince Verhei: Let's compare the fourth-and-2 plays against Indianapolis and here today against Baltimore. I'd argue that the odds of converting are lower against Baltimore, but for the sake of argument let's say that all fourth-and-2s have an equal chance of being converted.
The risk of the two fourth-and-2s is virtually the same: If you fail in either case, you probably lose.
The rewards, however, are drastically different. Success against Indy means a guaranteed win. Success against Baltimore means ... you probably still lose.
Against Indy, the benefits of the reward outweighed the penalty of the risk. Against Baltimore, not so much.
Bill Barnwell: Of course, the odds are worse against Baltimore, but you need much more to go right to get a win against Baltimore. Neither team's moved the ball very well; the chances of Baltimore scoring aren't all that high.
Vince Verhei: I enjoyed LaDainian Tomlinson's halftime interview, where he repeatedly mentioned the "winning formula" of running the ball and defense. If that's the winning formula, Mr. Tomlinson, how on earth did your team 13 games when they can't do either of those things?
Tom Gower: I know the practical impact has been mooted a bit by Landry's interception, but that third-and-1 deep pass to Williams is exactly why I sent that earlier email about Smith. You can see why BAL would have Flacco throw deep there -- he has a big arm, probably single coverage, it'll be unexpected, big gain if you complete it. But, it's a low-percentage play, and you've been successful converting third-and-short on the ground all game. You risk giving the ball back to NE with them maybe being down 10 without really stopping you at what you're good at.
Vince Verhei: Hey, Jon Bon Jovi's there! I am now cheering for Patriots vs. Vikings in the Super Bowl -- it'll be Bon Jovi vs. Prince!
Tom Gower: For the record, NFL refs aren't willing to admit it, but I will: Willis McGahee broke the plane with possession on that 2-pt conversion.
Vince Verhei: Wow, there are 10 minutes left and that building looks half-empty.
Doug Farrar: That last McGahee touchdown run was a testament to how a team can rebuild a line in a single draft. The four blockers they drafted in 2007 -- McClain, Grubbs, Yanda, and Gaither (supplemental) were the main guys up front. McClain outside and Yanda pulled left.
Bill Barnwell: Three slips on the first two plays, one of which led to an interception. What's up with this field? Anything on it recently?
Tom Gower: TCU-Boise last Monday, dunno offhand of anything since then.
I was getting caught up on Playbook this weekend, and Brian Billick said that he wouldn't pick any team that lost to a really bad team like OAK or TB to lose in the playoffs. NYJ-CIN: Bengals lost to OAK, NYJ wins. PHI-DAL: Eagles lost to OAK, DAL wins. BAL-NE: n/a. GB-ARI: GB lost to TB, result?
David Gardner: This is starting to look a lot like the game we just saw.
Sean McCormick: Rackers went ahead and slipped on that extra point. Clearly something is up.
Aaron Schatz: Has anyone ever seen an Illegal Substitution called because a defender left the field in the wrong direction? That's got to be a first for me.
That deep pass to Jermichael Finley (right after the two-minute warning) should have been flagged for "pass interference on everybody." And should Mike Adams have received a roughing the passer flag for smacking Aaron Rodgers on the helmet when he attempted to sack him on the blitz? That's a blow to the head, right?
Tom Gower: Definitely a blow to the head by Adams. I was shocked that wasn't called; that's normally an automatic flag, and there's absolutely no wiggle room in the rule. I think the DPI was called because Finley was playing the ball and the DB wasn't even looking for it.
Aaron Schatz: At halftime, I would like to report that my wife thinks Clay Matthews looks like a skeezy German housewife.
Packers pass rush is having serious problems. They can't even get close to breathing on Warner.
The Packers successfully pull off an onside kick.
Aaron Schatz: Aha! And there is our Colbert Award winner for the week.
Bill Barnwell: Great playcall.
Tom Gower: Beautiful onside kick, and Arizona wasn't ready for it at all.
Is it just me, or is A.J. Hawk getting outrun in all these long edge runs for the Cardinals?
Aaron Schatz: I was surprised he didn't try to leap for a diving tackle on that run.
Tom Gower: Wow, that's a harsh result for the Packers-Cullen Jenkins gets held and tackled into Warner, and Fitzgerald runs over Woodson, and it's a TD for the Cards and a blow to head on Jenkins instead of a hold on the OL and OPI on Fitz.
Aaron Schatz: I hate to say it, but penalties start to breed penalties because refs subconsciously know the team's reputation. That's all I can say after seeing that play next to the one where Mike Adams slapped Aaron Rodgers' helmet (which wasn't dangerous, but hey, the rules are the rules).
Doug Farrar: Oh, absolutely. The Ravens could certainly speak to that as well. And the Packers have been known as a chippy team for a few years now.
Bill Barnwell: Everyone watching here swears that Dom Capers was asleep when FOX put the camera on him a few seconds ago. His eyes opened and he did that "Oh-wow-I-was-just-sleeping" sort of jumpy reaction that you get when you fall asleep in class.
Aaron Schatz: OK, the linebacker-on-Jermichael Finley thing isn't really going to work for Arizona.
The Packers tie the game up.
Aaron Schatz: I would like to bow to the Packers. As Bill Simmons just pointed out on Twitter, even if they don't pull off a win here, they went down huge early and fought back. The Patriots, on the other hand, rolled over and died. Advantage: Packers fans.
Doug Farrar: If the Packers win this game, Aaron Rodgers should get to punch the next reporter who mentions Favre to him dead in the face.
Tom Gower: In unrelated news, Roger Goodell went to the Jets-Bengals game. The Jets-Bengals game was the most competitive of the first 3 games. Roger Goodell once worked for the Jets. The Jets won their game. I, for one, blame the International Global Conspiracy.
Aaron Schatz: Apparently, the Cardinals forgot to download the new Madden 10 update that is supposed to make passing to the flats more difficult.
According to Joe Buck, there's a lot of talk in chat rooms about Kurt Warner possibly retiring after this season. Wait... chat rooms? What is this, 1993?
Bill Barnwell: Yes. "OnlineHost", apparently, was Adam Schefter all along.
Doug Farrar: Leave Joe alone. He’s just cottoning to the intrawebz.
Aaron Schatz: Touchdown, Steve Breaston, right up the middle in a huge hole in the zone. Kurt Warner wasn't kidding when he told the FOX people that there were holes in the Packers coverage up the middle. I just checked, and Packers ranked 20th in DVOA on passes marked "deep middle." That's not too bad, but it is their worst ranking against any of the six directions (short/deep and left/middle/right). By the way, Dallas was 20th against passes marked deep middle, New Orleans 24th, and Minnesota 28th. Uh-oh.
Bill Barnwell: Good to see Steve Breaston break out the Scott Hall/Razor Ramon celebration there after his touchdown.
In all seriousness, love that pattern; went across the field like he was going to run another crossing pattern, and then just turned upfield and headed for paydirt. No one was close.
Let me say this now, with five minutes to go -- if the Packers do score, they HAVE to go for two. You can't just kick the extra point and expect to get a stop on the defensive side if the coin toss doesn't go your way.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, it’s pretty much first to receive, wins.
Did Rodgers make the “safe” sign after sliding for the first down with about 3:30 left? I really hope he did.
Tom Gower: GB really needed to do something about the deep middle problem, like running Tampa-2 once.
I DO NOT understand, and DO NOT like, the decision to call TO with :14 left and kick then.
Neil Rackers' missed field goal takes the game to overtime.
Bill Barnwell: Wow. Reminds me of the miss to end the 2006 ass-crowning game against Chicago.
Aaron Schatz: I think the :14 timeout decision is based on the idea that you want a second chance at the field goal in case of a botched snap. Instead, Rackers completely shanks it. That wasn't just a miss, that was a complete failure. Of course, Rackers' miss doesn't change the fact that Bill was right -- the Packers really should have gone for two on that last touchdown. The odds of the Packers stopping Arizona from getting into field-goal range AND winning the coin toss were really long. And yet... here we are, Packers get the ball first.
Doug Farrar: Arizona will occasionally throw a linebacker in centerfield (Gerald Hayes, I believe) between the safeties to throw off deep middle reads. Green Bay has enough athletic linebackers to be successful with something like that.
Tom Gower: Green Bay starts the overtime with second-and-20, and what's Arizona doing? Dansby, I believe, lines up in a sort of middle 3-3-1, guarding the deep middle pass to Finley.
A stripsack leads to the game-winning touchdown.
Tom Gower: DAYUMMMMM.
Aaron Schatz: I don't mean to take away from a very strong pass rush by Arizona, or the quality of the Arizona offense, but... wasn't that facemask and roughing the passer on Adams? He made that sack by grabbing Rodgers' facemask. It's completely obvious, to the point where Joe Buck SAID "hands to the face" as the play was going on.
Doug Farrar: They also missed a helmet-to-helmet that would have wiped out the holding penalty on Daryn Colledge. Arizona should be congratulated for pulling the game out, but Scott Green’s crew was truly abysmal today.
Aaron Schatz: Question: If ball was loose before Adams grabs the facemask, is there no facemask penalty? Are you allowed to grab the facemask of a quarterback when the ball is in the air? If it was an interception, are you allowed to rough the passer on an interception, even before the interception is caught? If was a fumble, are you allowed to hit the quarterback like any other player after a fumble? The rules on quarterbacks even have *me* confused.
Tom Gower: Without quoting chapter and verse, and off the top of my head:
1. The rules only apply to passers, not to quarterbacks. If he's not throwing or with the ball in a throwing position, he doesn't get the special protections.
2. Facemask applies at all times, whether it's attempting to tackle a guy with the ball or a guy running downfield.
3. Roughing the passer is roughing the passer. If it's be roughing the passer if the thrown ball doesn't end up an interception, it's roughing the passer if the ball ends up an interception.
4. If it's a fumble and live play, you're allowed to block the QB, but they seem to give QBs more protection on those than most other players.
Vince Verhei: I wish I had something witty or insightful to add to this, but I'm pretty burned out after a long football weekend. By and large, I saw very sloppy play by both defenses and the officials. There were a few great throws, but mostly it was defenses just forgetting to cover anyone.
Aaron Schatz: On the NFL Network postgame show, Deion Sanders said that he doesn't feel qualified to say if Kurt Warner is a Hall of Famer or not because he's not in the Hall of Fame yet himself, and you can't judge a Hall of Famer unless you are one. Man, bummer for Deion that the Hall of Fame voting is done primarily by sportswriters.
Bill Barnwell: The "The Packers won the coin toss and still lost, so OT rules don't need to change" crowd irks me so. Remember first down? The Packers got Greg Jennings open and were an Aaron Rodgers overthrow away from winning the game. The rules would have been just as unfair, and the only reason they weren't exhibited as such is because Rodgers didn't make the play.
Vince Verhei: If the Cardinals defense can't get a stop when they need to, they don't deserve to win.
Aaron Schatz: I guess we each have our pet peeve. I'm irked by the "face mask doesn't matter because it was after fumble" crowd. If the rules as Tom pointed them out were correct, it doesn't matter. Roughing is roughing, and a face mask is a face mask. Even if that's not roughing AND the face mask is ruled to come after the fumble, the face mask takes away the touchdown and gives Arizona the ball 15 yards behind the fumble. (At which point the Cardinals almost assuredly would have scored, but still, either call the rules consistently or change the damn rules.)
Tom Gower: Schefter tweeted that there can't be roughing the passer on the final play because of the fumble. That's right, except that (i) in this case, the tuck rule issue WOULD matter, because while Dansby's TD is called a fumble return in the gamebook, there can be roughing the passer on an interception, and (ii) face mask isn't roughing the passer.
Aaron Schatz: Peter King looked into it and noted on Twitter: "The referee, Scott Green, stands behind the pocket and has to watch first for the loose ball. Once the ball is out, Green's job is to watch ball for possession. He can't watch the QB then. If he saw the facemask, it'd mean he wasn't watching ball. It's a quirky rule, but it's the referee's call--and the ref is charged with possession once the ball is loose."
I don't think that fully excuses it, but at least it somewhat explains it.
Doug Farrar: I just went back and reviewed the helmet-to-helmet no-call on Bert Berry (same play as the Colledge hold that was called), and it should have been a no-brainer. Bert Berry drove the crown of his helmet into the bottom of Rodgers' facemask. Is Green responsible for watching holds, and might that be why he blew the other call? The rule book doesn't seem to have a specific responsibility for holding.
295 comments, Last at 18 Jan 2010, 1:38pm by Anonymous*