Critical games this weekend in the Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC could go a long way in determining conference championships -- and maybe even playoff berths.
17 Jan 2011
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 note that we may not discuss every single important event in each game.
This week, we have a special guest. FO reader Seth Rosenfeld recently won our charity auction to contribute to this week's Audibles at the Line. All proceeds from the auction went to the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which provides benefits for retired players with medical or financial issues. Seth has been an FO reader since just about the beginning of FO. Thanks Seth!
Bill Barnwell: Mike Tomlin starts the game with an impossibly dumb challenge. Even if you're 100% sure about getting the challenge right, you're gaining 13 yards in the middle of the field with 59+ minutes to go. And now, if you don't get your second challenge right, you're done with challenges for the day.
Ben Muth: Is there anything more annoying than a receiver who jumps up and down when he doesn't get the ball when he's open? Imagine if quarterbacks did that every time a receiver couldn't get open or dropped a pass.
Aaron Schatz: Yes, there is something more annoying: When a wide receiver or quarterback whines to the ref about a pass interference call on a play that wasn't remotely pass interference, especially if one of them does the arm up-and-down "throw the flag" motion. I would like to see the league get rid of the excessive celebration penalties and replace them with a five-yard "whining for a flag" penalty.
BTW, I think Pittsburgh was second in the league in WR screens this year, behind Indianapolis. They just ran another one.
Bill Barnwell: I think we're going to need to invent gesticulation/pantomime statistics pretty soon. This is ridiculous.
The Ravens throw what Gumbel calls a "little screen" to Ray Rice. All screens are little, dude.
Mike Tanier: The draw was a great call. Maybe the Ravens line was just pretending to be completely overmatched to set that up.
Bill Barnwell: And that Big Ben "fumble" is why you don't use your first challenge on the opening play for 15 yards of field position.
Mike Tanier: I think Redding was here in Columbus, MD at the start of that fumble play.
Tom Gower: I almost tweeted something about Tomlin winning the Martz Award on the first play of the first game of the weekend, and assuming Triplette doesn't manage to find enough evidence to overturn this TD, he'll be out of challenges before the first quarter is over, and also elected to squib the second kickoff to give the Ravens better field position. Not a very good job by him so far.
Flacco underthrew Mason on the play leading up to the Rice TD -- if he puts enough air on that, the Steelers aren't in a position to commit pass interference and Mason walks into the end zone. Great balance by Rice to stay upright after getting popped by Polamalu, though.
Bill Barnwell: That could very well be a purposeful underthrow, though. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the idea.
Ben Muth: Tomlin should challenge that fumble. Ohhh...
Bill Barnwell: Bill Cowher suggested at halftime that the Steelers needed to challenge the Ravens more. Poor choice of words, Bill! He also said that the Steelers needed to stop trying to go deep and throw more quick screens, which seems counterintuitive; why not try to max protect and get Wallace down the field?
Ben Muth: The Steelers already went max protect on the first drive of the game. Don't want to get predictable.
Doug Farrar: Roethlisberger throws a quick screen to Wallace early in the third quarter, and Chris Carr blows him up in the backfield. Your move, Bill. They’re playing everything underneath.
Bill Barnwell: Roethlisberger just had Emmanuel Sanders deep and missed him. Josh Wilson ended up making a nice play on the ball to prevent it from being caught anyway, but Roethlisberger also underthrew the corner route.
I love that Ravens blitz package with three guys standing around each tackle. Especially against these Steelers offensive tackles.
Aaron Schatz: If they throw any more flags in this game, the refs may have to sew extras out of the Steelers' pants.
Most rivalries are really just about the fans. Division rivalries have been going on for years, they far pre-date any of the players in these games. Rivalries are about laundry. For players, this is all about business, never personal. I never get the feeling that the Eagles and Cowboys actually hate each other. The Colts and Patriots can't stop praising each other.
But this game is definitely different. You definitely get the sense these teams really don't like each other. I wonder how many other rivalries are this personal for the players themselves? I mean, the Jets and Patriots were poking each other in the press, but I doubt the game itself will get all chippy like this. Houston and Tennessee may be getting to this point, although for all I know that's just two players (Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan) rather than two whole teams.
Bill Barnwell: Well, the other factor here is that the Ravens tend to be a team a lot of other teams have fights with. Think about that Chiefs game last week -- that was just as chippy if not more chippy at the end, and there's no rivalry there.
Mike Tanier: The Raven logos are actually starting to peel off the helmets.
Tom Gower: Anybody want to help me diagnose what was supposed to happen on the end-around on second down before the field goal that made it 24-21? Ward initially lined up against CB Wilson then vacated him to block the inside defender. Miller wasn't able to get to Wilson to pick him up in time, so he tackled Wallace. I'm not sure if Ward screwed up, if Wallace ran the play too slowly and if he should've taken upfield, if Wallace ran the play too quickly and should've waived for Miller to get out to Wilson, or what.
Aaron Schatz: I'm guessing that Wallace was supposed to run inside of Miller blocking Wilson, and he went outside instead.
Mike Tanier: I think the Ravens have stolen the Bears playbook.
Aaron Schatz: For tonight, at least, Ben Grubbs doesn't look very fast on pulls. Of course, your eyes don't adjust for opponent strength, but I've definitely been noticing it.
Seth Rosenfeld: Keisel seems to be having a strong game across from him, too.
Aaron's observation in the preview that there's a dramatic difference between Sepulveda and Kapinos turns out to be very true. That was a pretty lousy punt and set up the big return. Could make a difference going forward, here, too.
Bill Barnwell: Why was Haruki Nakamura on Hines Ward on that quick slant to convert on third down? Of all the people in that secondary?
Aaron Schatz: That's gotta be some sort of zone where he had the short zone.
Bill Barnwell: Kinda surprised Ravens didn't let the Steelers score on first down to try and get the ball back down seven with all their timeouts and 1:50 left.
Aaron Schatz: I think they were thinking two things. 1) That's the open side of Heinz Field, where strange things happen to field goal tries. 2) Maybe we can strip the ball.
Not saying these were things I agree with, but they are things that Baltimore may have been considering.
Bill Barnwell: I don't think it's an obvious decision either way. I don't think you can consider those factors to be relevant, though; it's an extra point. Strange things don't happen to extra points in the open field of Heinz Field, no? They ended up with the worst-case scenario, which was losing two timeouts and giving up a touchdown.
Rob Weintraub: They were thinking we have no chance to score a TD on offense, so we have to do everything we can to hold Pitt to three. And they almost did.
Aaron Schatz: Why on earth did Chris Chester leave his man to help Marshal Yanda on that Ziggy Hood blitz? I mean, Ray Rice's attempt to block Timmons wasn't great, but Chester just flat out let his guy get through.
Seth Rosenfeld: Terrible drop by Houshmandzadeh on fourth down. Waste of the first good throw by Flacco on this "drive"...also quite a bailout for William Gay- who didn't seem to be aware that on 4th on 18 the receiver might be looking for the ball about 19 yards downfield.
Tom Gower: Well, since I ripped on him earlier, I guess I should defend Flacco. He did a good job hitting Heap to set up the tying field goal at 24 and threw a catchable ball for Boldin on third-and-goal there, and threw another catchable ball to Houshmandzadeh on the game-ending fourth-down failure. That said, I remind you that the Ravens' four scores came on a drive created by a long pass interference penalty, two Steeler turnovers in their own territory, and a punt return into Steelers territory. The difference in the game ended up being Roethlisberger hitting a big deep pass, and Flacco didn't. I was disappointed in the sloppiness (read turnovers), but I think the team that made more plays won the game.
Mike Kurtz: In defense-ish of Houshmandzadeh, if he did catch that away from his body, there's a really good chance the ball got swatted away. The DB's arm was moving fast and was exactly where the catch would've been. I doubt he was thinking about that during the catch, though.
Seth Rosenfeld: Maybe I missed it while I was cooking dinner, but did CBS ever show us what happened to create the big Brown pass play? It looked like Webb in coverage with Landry providing safety help and another wideout downfield, but I wasn't sure exactly what happened.
Bill Barnwell: The Steelers ran two go routes, the safety was more concerned about the slot receiver (Wallace? Sanders?) and Webb seemed to think that Brown was going to run a 20-yard route.
I think that's what Gay might have been thinking on the final Ravens offensive play: "I can't let what happened to Webb happen to me".
Also: Someone sell me on the decision by the Steelers to squib.
Aaron Schatz: Can't do it. I don't believe in squibs with more than ten seconds left.
Tom Gower: Tomlin would rather put his defense in a worse position than risk his special teams losing the game for him. That's the exact sort of The Book thinking that drives people like us crazy and that drove the baseball stats community crazy.
Mike Kurtz: I dunno, I'm often scared of special teams losing the game for us in the middle of a drive, like the ghost of Chidi Iwuoma materializing on the field and causing a Roethlisberger fumble-six.
The big story in this game really was how ineffective Roethlisberger was. I don't know if it was that massive hit Suggs put on him right before the fumble, but for the rest of the game he had a lot of easy (Ravens easy, at least) throws just completely sail. I want to know how his knees are for next week. Second was Polamalu's awful first half, with lots of bad angles, so-so coverage and missed tackles. Third I guess is Kemoeatu being a complete idiot/Suisham's hideous squib that gave the Ravens a chance late.
Tom Gower: I'd say the Falcons are doing a good job of getting Roddy White open early, but one time it was the Packers not covering him out of the bunch set and another time it was White and Gonzalez crossing over the middle and the one Packer defender releasing White to the other guy and the other defender staying with Gonzalez.
Aaron Schatz: Ironically, the "huge fumble" by Greg Jennings ends up giving Atlanta the ball with about the same field position that they would have had if Jennings had never caught the ball on third-and-long in the first place.
Bill Barnwell: I love Troy Aikman, but going for it on fourth-and-1 here, as the Falcons ended up doing, is the obvious move. Aikman notes that there's something to be said for drawing first blood, but what does that mean? You're not going to affect anyone's game plan by going up 3-0. It's not going to be the final points of the game with 53 minutes to go. Your goal is to score the most points you can on offense and allow the fewest on defense. Going for it increases your expectation in both categories.
That Mentos commercial wins commercial of the year.
Mike Kurtz: Thus far, yes. The theory is that Mentos doesn't have Super Bowl money. If true, that is very sad.
Bill Barnwell: If anyone deserved to win a Super Bowl spot on merit alone...
Mike Tanier: I say Tanier uses his new Big Media powers to sneak that commercial into the Super Bowl lineup if it isn't already there.
Will Carroll: Just me or does this crowd sound about 50-50 for the Packers? I know Atlanta's a terrible town for baseball, even in the playoffs, but same for football?
Aaron Schatz: Honestly, for all professional sports.
Seth Rosenfeld: It looks like the Falcons would like to bench Christopher Owens again (he's only playing because of injury). And the Falcons defensive backs coach looks like the "rent is too damn high" guy from New York.
Aaron Schatz: Deion Sanders is coming down to Atlanta at halftime to take his jersey away from Owens.
Seth Rosenfeld: Well, I guess Deion would argue that he "built this house" and he can take his jersey back if he wants to.
Mike Kurtz: Heck, Deion would probably take the jersey for doing something crazy like actually touching a receiver.
Bill Barnwell: It's hard to feel too sympathetic for the Falcons considering how few injuries they've had this year.
That interception by Tramon Williams is exactly what I was referring to last week when I was saying that DeSean Jackson couldn't get open enough for Michael Vick to throw a lob PAST the cornerback to him. On that play, Jenkins had two, three steps on Williams, but there's no way to get that throw into him because there's not enough real estate.
Will Carroll: Isn't it one of those geometry problems? I mean, for it to work, wouldn't it need to start higher and drop later, a throw that I've never seen a QB make aside from that Hasselbeck eephus last week.
Mike Kurtz: Also, I need to mention that this crew tried to talk over two flags. The first (the big Jones reception), there was a flag on the field, there was the flag bug on their display, you could even hear the referee announcing the penalty over the PA. Buck and Aikman didn't even give a word about it. Just kept talking about the reception.
Later in that drive, they kept talking and almost talked over the DPI, but caught themselves right at "automatic first down." Hideous performance.
Aaron Schatz: Rodgers does an excellent job of finding open receivers on the run.
Bill Barnwell: The amazing thing is that Tramon Williams is going to get noticed as a great player because of these two picks and they haven't even been plays where he's been great. Both those interceptions are on Matt Ryan, especially the awful decision to throw against his body on the second one.
Ben Muth: That take-a-sack, throw-a-pick-six combo may be the worst back to back plays in playoff quarterback history.
Tom Gower: That's the same damn Sprint Left Option the Falcons ran Week 17 on a fourth down play. It didn't work then, and it really didn't work just now either. If the Packers get any points on the opening kick of the second half, I have to think the Falcons are done. Onside kick time?
Seth Rosenfeld: Matt Ryan threw only nine picks all year and now throws two horrible ones in about 10 minutes of real time. Hate to bring up a subject like this, but could it be playoff pressure?
Rob Weintraub: I dunno--that's the same play the Falcs used to beat Tampa down there. Williams obviously recognized it. Not a good throw, but he was in position to make the play, too--reminded me of the Porter pick in the SB last year.
Further to Williams--we always praise the likes of Ed Reed et al for being ballhawks and making plays when the throw is off target. How many guys drop that pick? I agree, let's not make him Night Train Lane, but I refuse to diss a guy for making two huge plays.
Bill Barnwell: Not dissing the guy. Great player. Just not great because of those two plays.
OK. Terry Bradshaw at the end of the Steelers-Ravens highlight package. I'm not angry, I'm just confused.
"And then, after a huge 58-yard completion, it is Mendenhall with a two-yard touchdown run. 31-24, Pittsburgh. No one -- I'm telling you, no one, including Roethlisberger, is as good as this guy in big games."
Does he mean Mendenhall is that good in big games? That's not true and it wouldn't make sense to compare Mendenhall to Roethlisberger. I'm totally flummoxed by this.
OK, apparently at the beginning of the segment, he said "Ben Roethlisberger is as big of a big game quarterback as you can see, two Super Bowls to his credit already." So I guess Bradshaw slipped up. Of course, this is the same Ben Roethlisberger who had the worst game of his life in the Super Bowl.
Rob Weintraub: Parsing Bradshaw too closely is a good way to have you questioning your native language.
Aaron Schatz: Aaron Rodgers runs for a touchdown to make it 35-14. We have now entered the "this is a clinic" zone.
Tom Gower: The Falcons just don't have enough good defensive players.
Ben Muth: My friend summarized the night pretty well... Aaron Rodgers needs to bump up the difficulty to All-Madden
Will Carroll: Kuhn was concussed on that touchdown. Clear helmet to helmet. I hope they don't put him back in with this score, but shouldn't in any case.
Seth Rosenfeld: Sean McDermott's defense held the Packers to 21 points and he promptly got fired. He may feel slightly vindicated watching what's happening here.
The Packers put out their hands team....Tom Coughlin, are you watching?
Bill Barnwell: Too soon.
Seth Rosenfeld: Right, too soon. Tragedy plus time equals comedy.
Will Carroll: Seriously, do we not play backups at this point no matter what the score is? What happened to that idea?
Seth Rosenfeld: If there's a pitch count being kept, Rodgers may have to be pulled at some point. This is pitch and catch.
Tim Gerheim: As if I didn't dislike Joe Buck enough, he has to not only reference the Frank Reich game but describe it in excruciating detail. I was afraid they were going to pull out stock footage. Time does not necessarily make comedy of tragedy; I was 11 when that happened.
Tom Gower: I was slightly older than you. My memories are just as unpleasant, especially because I missed the first half due to familial obligations and only saw Bubba McDowell's pick-6 early to make it 35-3 and then the collapse.
Mike Kurtz: So, Jim Cornelison absolutely rocked the house with the anthem. Screw you, every pop star that has sung it, that is how it is done.
Bill Barnwell: Bears strike first when Greg Olsen runs up the seam for a 58-yard touchdown. Lawyer Milloy was staring into the backfield the entire play; literally, I don't think he looked at Olsen until Olsen was by him, and he didn't start moving until Olsen had a step on him. Lawyer Milloy can't catch up with Greg Olsen. Maybe he thought Cutler couldn't make a deep throw up the seam and was trying to lure Cutler into the throw?
Seth Rosenfeld: I thought maybe because it was third-and-2, Milloy didn't expect Olsen to run that seam route. It was a good call.
Will Carroll: The league is going to have to fine the sideline for that hit. Nasty.
Bill Barnwell: The Bears are terrible at stopping short-yardage runs. They're 31st in the league in Power situations. You have to -- just have to -- go for it on fourth-and-1 there.
Vince Verhei: The Seahawks are terrible at converting short-yardage. Their best chance to win is to hope Jay Cutler has a meltdown, and punting gives Cutler more room to melt down. It's close, but I'd rather see Seattle punt then another incomplete fade route on fourth-and-1.
Mike Tanier: Didn't like the Bears empty backfield call on third-and-4. And I think three receivers ran deep routes.
Bill Barnwell: I guess they figure the deep routes worked on the first third down.
Aaron Schatz: So far in the first quarter today, the Bears are forcing Marshawn Lynch into "Least Mode."
Mike Tanier: I am starting a fan club for the Seahawks punter after his tackle on Hester.
Seth Rosenfeld: That was a ridiculously bad throw by bad Cutler on second down. He is very lucky Babineaux dropped it.
Bill Barnwell: I mean, let's be fair. It was a great throw by Cutler to Jordan Babineaux. Hit him right in the numbers.
Bears were much better in short-yardage after the bye, Seahawks aren't good against short-yardage runs and aren't driving 99 yards against Chicago defense. Again, obvious decision to go for it, but Bears were brave enough (or had the safety net) to do it.
Mike Tanier: Yeah, the Bears were suddenly committed to goal-line running after that throw.
Vince Verhei: That one I agree with you, Bill. There's no downside to going for it there.
Mike Kurtz: There's a good theory that Martz's calling is largely based on how angry he is at Cutler at that particular moment.
Mike Tanier: Not a lot of speed merchants at wide receivers for the Seahawks.
Bill Barnwell: Jordan Babineaux is having a howler of a game. After that dropped INT, he takes a poor angle to Jay Cutler and actually gets juked out in short-yardage by Cutler on a quarterback draw, resulting in a 21-0 lead for the Bears.
Seth Rosenfeld: So if Martz calls a QB draw... does that indicate he's angry with Cutler or not angry with him?
Mike Tanier: Anger sets Mike Martz free.
Seth Rosenfeld: Martz explained on pre-game that he is misunderstood, he's not an angry guy. He's "competitive." OK.
Will Carroll: The Bears seem to actively be avoiding going down hard - sliding, going out of bounds, etc. Could be coincidence, could be one of those things they just do instinctively.
Tom Gower: The Bears are playing the Seahawks' wideouts closely and squatting on the back-shoulder stuff. I'd suggest a double move and trying to get deep, but I don't think the Bears are too worried about their deep speed.
Mike Tanier: The Bears flashed a little six-lineman wrinkle. Have they been doing a lot of that? Didn't think they had six linemen.
Bill Barnwell: They use it once or twice a game.
Mike Kurtz: Crazy conspiracy theory watch: The field is completely covered, but out my window (4 mile NNW of the stadium) it's not even snowing. The UFO thing they added on top of old soldier field is obviously a weather-control device.
Ned Macey: Colts' fan interjection: What has the world come to where Tim Jennings is starting for a defensive-minded team that is going to host a Championship Game?
Is there any way that this year's effort makes the Cutler trade not a terrible trade? If they beat GB next week? (Sorry to Seahawk fans for assuming a loss here, but, well, the last two weeks were fun, no?)
Seth Rosenfeld: I think it takes a bit more before that trade can be reconsidered. This year, Cutler rated at 288 DYAR, while Kyle Orton had 838 DYAR. Last year, Cutler had -222 DYAR, while Orton was at 887 DYAR. Not to mention the two first-rounders the Bears gave up.
Vince Verhei: I don't know. Is it too superficial to point out that Chicago is going to the NFC title game while Denver was out of the playoffs by Thanksgiving? And that this suggests Chicago won the trade?
As for this game, yeah, there's not even anything for Seattle to be hopeful about going into the second half. They've got a few sacks, but they've done almost nothing else in the entire half.
Mike Kurtz: It's definitely an argument in favor of the trade (although keep in mind, they went to a Super Bowl with Rex "Rex Grossman" Grossman). On the other hand, even if you say that Cutler has been better than Orton (which I'd disagree with), there is no way he's been better than Orton plus the utility of two first-round picks, considering how horrific their offensive line is.
Vince Verhei: Cutler gets his second rushing touchdown to make it 28-0. Note to Bears: Seattle is not scoring 28 points in just over a quarter. There is no need for Cutler to see the field again today.
Seth Rosenfeld: I'm always skeptical of the reasoning that team success justifies every trade that a team made. DYAR dislikes Cutler largely because of the INTs and fumbles....if he doesn't get that aspect of his game straightened out it's hard to project him having success year after year. If he does get those things under control (and watching this game makes you think possibly he's on the way) then I think I would reconsider.
It's not just Rex Grossman who had surprising post-season success...in 1963 Billy Wade was the QB of a Bears NFL championship team, and he has been called "the Trent Dilfer of his era."
Doug Farrar: Speaking from the Soldier Field press box, I can truly say that the only advantage to a game like this on either end is that I can start writing my game story now and fill in the blanks later.
/hopes for reverse jinx to at least make the game interesting
Bill Barnwell: Decision to kick a field goal by Carroll to make it 28-3 there is infuriating.
Aaron Schatz: When you are losing by 28 with 17 minutes left, there's nothing like a field goal to make you feel good about yourself.
Bill Barnwell: Jay Cutler scrambles for a first down early in the fourth quarter, up 28-3. That's not the best thing in the whole world, but it's fine, it's the playoffs. Then, ten yards past the first down marker, he decides to end the play by diving headfirst. That's so stupid that Tony Siragusa thought it was smart. Literally as I was typing about how dumb it was, Siragusa chimed in with "I like how Cutler dove headfirst there and didn't slide". Considering that there's already been two players carted off with concussions? Ugh.
Mike Tanier: The Forte interception awoke my funny bone.
Bill Barnwell: I'm pretty sure Hasselbeck's audible to a fade there involved Dougieing.
I don't care if it's fourth-and-90, there's no reason you should be punting down 28-10 with six and a half minutes to go in a playoff game.
Vince Verhei: You can't even call that a safe play because you're punting to Hester.
I'd like to remind you all that by beating St. Louis and New Orleans, the Seahawks cost themselves approximately 15 slots in the draft. And this is their reward.
Aaron Schatz: Just to be clear, Seattle kicked a field goal down 28-0, effectively giving up... then later on, called timeout with 1:55 left. To what, conserve time for the big 18-point comeback?
Bill Barnwell: If they score a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal earlier on, it's an eight-point game in the fourth quarter. That makes that final onside kick way more meaningful.
Mike Kurtz: The Jets defenders, nearly to a man, are breaking down for every tackle and letting the carrier come to them. If that's their strategy for this game, the Jets are completely boned.
Bill Barnwell: Jets get an interception on the same play that the Patriots ran on the opening play of their last Super Bowl, the play-action/end-around/screen. That play would have been a touchdown had Brady been able to get the ball off, but Brady was sacked. This time, Brady was forced into a lob and the throw was too high, resulting in an easy pick.
Aaron Schatz: The audible gasp in the press box when Tom Brady threw that interception to David Harris was... VERY audible. Not just that it was a pick, but that it was a bad one -- not a tipped pass, but a really badly over-lobbed pass to a very close receiver.
Tim Gerheim: David Harris is so slow that late-career Alge Crumpler looks like Devin Hester chasing him down on the interception return? How is that possible?
Bill Barnwell: David Harris slipped to the second round because he isn't very fast. On the other hand, he's great at reading plays, fending off blockers, and making tackles, which is about 95% of what a middle linebacker in the 3-4 needs to do.
Nick Folk pulls the field goal after the Jets run a draw on third-and-18. Simms notes that he likes the third-and-18 play call because "you're not getting third-and-18" and "it ensures you get three points". Sometimes, the field goal isn't good, dude.
Tim Gerheim: But if you're the Jets, your team is designed not to get third-and-18 and to win with field goals. Missing the kick doesn't make it a bad decision, if that's what you're implying, and I have no problem with the word "ensures" when describing a 30-yard kick instead of hedging it to "increases the likelihood of."
Bill Barnwell: It does just increase the likelihood of the kick succeeding, though, and that's something that apparently isn't considered when it comes to playcalling decisions (at least, by Simms) that absolutely matters. And the Jets aren't designed to get third-and-18 with Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes? The Jets were 17th in the league in third-and-long situations. Not great, of course, but not awful.
Jets have come out and used Revis on Welker in the slot off and on through the second drive. Wonder if they will stick with it. In the second game this year, remember, they started with Revis on Welker as Cromartie spent the entire first quarter getting burned by Branch. After that, they moved Revis back outside to Branch and Welker started to beat up on the lesser cornerbacks.
Seth Rosenfeld: That was not a good move - showing the formation with LT taking the snap but not running the play because the quarter was ending. You have to be aware of the game clock when you put a formation on the field that you hope will be a surprise.
Aaron Schatz: Brian Schottenheimer is feeling a little too creative today. They had 75 in as a sixth OL and actually motioned him out wide right and had him run a pass route. They took Joe McKnight out of mothballs. And they were about to run Wildcat with Tomlinson at quarterback until they ran out of time in the first quarter.
Bill Barnwell: That first incompletion for Brady in the second quarter is what you'll normally see them do with Welker; Scott will grab one side of Welker's option routes and a DB (in that case Lowery, who did a nice job of jumping the route to force an incompletion) will handle the break to the other side.
I like the contrast between the absurd pre-game narrative of "Oh, this offense is simpler now" (as if the Jets were running the Al Saunders Redskins playbook before the Patriots loss) and Sanchez's big play, where he scrambles away from pressure and actually points out a route for Edwards to improvise on the fly before throwing a perfect corner route for a huge gain. And yes, that was Darius Butler in coverage on Edwards.
Aaron Schatz: Jets defense looking good so far, especially pass rush. Pats offense seems a little bit off, probably because of the pressure.
Mike Kurtz: I'm going to start a consulting service. I will show up at your practices and shout RUN FORWARD! RUN FORWARD! RUN FORWARD! at whoever has the ball. I will guarantee a 2 YPA improvement in exchange.
Bill Barnwell: Would you also yell THROW IT AWAY! THROW IT AWAY! whenever a quarterback stepped outside the tackle box or FALL ON IT! FALL ON IT! whenever a ball was bouncing along the ground? You may be onto something here.
Aaron Schatz: I'm not sure about this challenge on the Santonio Holmes third-and-4 catch. There doesn't seem to be a replay angle that shows anything -- whether he caught it or not.
Mike Kurtz: We could offer a special service to Santonio Holmes: "Catch the ball before using that arm to signal the first down/ask for a flag/grab yourself."
Braylon Edwards then interferes with Sanchez's only great pass thus far, batting it away from Santonio Holmes. One give-up dumpoff later, the Jets punt into the end zone. The Jets really don't want to win this game.
Bill Barnwell: Simms argued that Ryan was too aggressive the last time the Jets played the Patriots. You know, they lost 45-3 because Ryan was too aggressive on fourth-and-1, when the Jets went for it twice and converted both times.
Doug Farrar: Of all the stupid things Phil Simms says, he seems to save his real whoppers for when teams are in the opposing red zone, or near it. I am firmly convinced that he’d actually be a less effective on-field strategist than the smarter side of your average sports bar.
Aaron Schatz: Pats try a fake punt. Interesting strategy with 1:06 left. I guess the thought is that if the fake punt fails (and it did) that the Jets won't have that much time left to try to score a touchdown?
Oops. So much for that idea. Jets do score touchdown.
Bill Barnwell: Hate the big blitz call against Sanchez there on the second Jets touchdown. Last third-and-medium conversion was a quick slant, it's the only route Sanchez consistently throws effectively. The blitz creates a throwing lane and it's not going to get there quick enough to prevent Sanchez from hitting that throw, which I'm sure is hot.
Seth Rosenfeld: We're they booing because they took a knee on the final play or the overall performance in the first half? If they were booing taking the knee that's absurd.
Tom Gower: Why on earth didn't the Jets call timeout after the Pats kneel? It was third down, so they would've had to do something on fourth down. Your risk from a punt muff is negligible, because the half expires, and you could get lucky and block the punt or break a return. Those are potential points left on the field.
Aaron Schatz: Jets are now playing like they don't think the Patriots will score another point. Runs on third-and-medium, punting from their own 38... like all they have to do is play defense. Which might be true, but don't know if I would take that chance.
Seth Rosenfeld: I wouldn't take that chance either. I wrote that before that completion to Gronkowski. I swear.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots need to stop spreading the field so much and leave in a sixth blocker. I don't care if the Jets are getting to Brady with three or four and not more than that -- they are getting to him, and the Pats have to stop that.
Bill Barnwell: Thank you, Bill Belichick, for going for two. What do people think changed about the Jets' defense on that drive? Secondary slipped? Did Patriots adjust something offensively?
Mike Kurtz: Aside from the not-intentional grounding play, very little pressure on Brady, or where there was pressure, he had an outlet to roll out and find a guy.
Aaron Schatz: Except for the one play where Eliis got through unblocked and Brady had to throw it away.
They went spread on every play - of course, here I am saying that they shouldn't go spread because they needed more blockers, but it did look like the offensive line was doing a little better job. I really think they should go tight end crazy the rest of this way. Heck, bring all three of them in.
That long Cotchery reception to start the fourth quarter had two or three open guys elsewhere on the field. Total zone breakdown by Pats.
Seth Rosenfeld: I think the Patriots pretty much went back to what they started the game with- trying to take advantage of safeties Pool and Smith, mostly with TEs, but also when they find Smith in coverage short (like on the third and 9 play to Branch).
Vince Verhei: Fourth-and-13, New England? When you need a field goal at some point anyway?
Aaron Schatz: Feeling around here is that would have been too long for Shayne Graham. Which makes you wonder why Brady didn't try for something shorter on third down.
Bill Barnwell: Biggest problem is third down, when Brady turned down a short completion on third down to Welker that would have set the Patriots up for a makeable field goal. Or a more doable fourth down. Instead, they needed a 13-yard completion on either third or fourth down and couldn't get it.
Seth Rosenfeld: Steve Weatherford, who is not enjoying a very good day, appeared to take out some frustration with a nice tackle on Edelman.
Mike Kurtz: It's okay, the Jets decided that eating about a minute was all they really needed to do. Maybe it's a homage to Metcalf up the middle?
Vince Verhei: Maybe this is the best you can do with an offense built around tight ends and slot receivers. Pats have 10 more first downs than the Jets, but only about 30 more yards (written right after Shonn Greene's TD to make it 28-14). Eventually, no matter how efficient you are, you will play a good defense that will give up yards but keep you out of the end zone, while making enough big plays of their own to outscore you.
Aaron Schatz: Congratulations to the Jets. Totally outplayed and outcoached Pats today, especially on defense. Just an amazing, amazing defensive performance against the top DVOA offense ever. Shaun Ellis in particular was on fire today.
Mike Kurtz: I think the real thing that did in the Pats was that eight-minute long 48-yard drive they kind of sauntered through. Confidence is good, but the Jets offense aren't world-beaters and the calling was pretty conservative even with a small-ish lead. Pick up the tempo, drive down in three instead of eight, and you can probably even kick and still have a reasonable shot of getting two quick drives in. Just incomprehensible.
Ned Macey: A little over an hour after the game, I haven't exactly figured everything out, but I just wonder if anyone can make a coherent "rings = greatness" argument anymore for individual players. Tom Brady in 2001 and 2003 was nowhere near the QB that Tom Brady is in 2005-2010. If Tom Brady had the defense he's had since 2004 in 2001 and 2003, I guarantee he would have lost in both of those years. After all the time I feel we've (and anyone with any sense of objectivity) beaten our heads against the wall on this, and with all the evidence that no individual player wins Super Bowls, it just won't die. Instead, the lesson is going to be that Sanchez, thanks to two successful playoffs (for his team) with a great defense (this year's may not be great but played great over the past two weeks) is now a "winner," while Brady must have lost something. It just is really dumb and intellectually embarrassing for whoever does it. I suggest keeping a list of anyone who writes it and then remembering to never take anything they say seriously again.
If you want to play the ridiculous psychology nonsense with this game, it isn't Sanchez=winner, it has to be Belichick got his team in the wrong frame of mind by benching Welker. That's at least a storyline that doesn't fail every sense of logic because it is unprovable in either direction. I don't think it impacted the game, but I do bet his players thought it was the wrong move.
As for the game itself, I don't think there's a ceiling on what an offense without star receivers can do, but the failure to adjust was sort of amazing to watch. Brady looked so uncomfortable when he couldn't get the ball out quick, leading to all the sacks and some incompletions where he held the ball and got jumpy. But, this is the same offense that put up 45 on the same defense, so I think it is a one-game thing. The Pats would obviously be better served with better wide receivers, but they won three Super Bowls with equal or worse receivers, and I've seen the Colts look bad in the playoffs with some pretty good wide receivers. I think the better lesson of the Colts' failures and this game plus the 2007 Super Bowl is that no matter how good your offense is, in the playoffs you will sometimes have to win some games with defense.
Finally, when McNabb ran clock killing drives when trailing by more than one score, at least he usually cashed them in with a touchdown.
Rob Weintraub: Of all people to make an interesting point, John Madden did on Friday on Chris "Mad Dog" Russo's Sirius show. He said that in playoff games matching division opponents (i.e. the third time they've played), coaches become inherently conservative. When they design gameplans for teams they don't see often, they get aggressive, and put in things that are more experimental. But against teams they see twice a year, the coaches act negatively, and spend most of their time taking things out that have been proven not to work against that opponent. The result is that the defenses have a major edge--they've seen pretty much everything the offenses have to offer, and the offenses have just spent the week stripping away any possible surprises.
Now, that may not fully explain the two AFC games we just saw, but it does make sense. The Pats seemed shocked that the Jets had an answer for the patterns that were wide open last time, and had nothing in reserve. The Jets didn't do much different--Sanchez just played better. Lord knows the Steelers and Ravens had little to unveil on offense, save for a third and 18 helmet-catch bomb.
It was certainly more enlightening than anything Madden said on TV the last few years.
Mike Tanier: No one has ever been able to make a coherent "rings = greatness" argument. People only make silly, self-serving, reductive, over-simplified "rings = greatness" arguments.
However, people can still make coherent "rings = strong evidence of greatness" arguments. No one can really make coherent "no rings = evidence of non-greatness" arguments, but I still think "minimal playoff success = strong evidence of non-greatness" arguments have their place.
291 comments, Last at 21 Jan 2011, 12:31am by Intropy