Five different teams from last year's DVOA top eight rank in the bottom half of the league through four weeks of 2014. What can we learn from other teams with similar starts in the past?
07 Feb 2011
compiled by Bill Barnwell
Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching.
On Sunday night, 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.
Mike Tanier: Wacky Steelers front on the incomplete pass to Nelson. No defenders at all in interior gaps, everybody rushing the offensive left.
Bill Barnwell: Steelers have been keeping McFadden in soft coverage on most plays. They put him up on the line on third down and Nelson just burned him downfield, no jam, no nothin'. Throw was off by a half-yard or it would have been a big play.
Liked the draws by the Steelers on consecutive plays. Can't block the interior linemen? No problem! Just let them go four yards into the backfield and run by them.
Surprised the Packers used Starks as opposed to Kuhn (who's been 49-of-50 or so, don't check my math, with a yard to go) on third-and-1 there.
Aaron Schatz: I thought no Quinn Johnson would mean no full houses, but Tim Crabtree apparently can handle that job.
The deal where they leave Donald Driver open in the slot with Woodley sort of covering him is going to bite them sometime when Woodley blitzes.
Mike Tanier: Sorry, but sight of Cameron Diaz feeding A-Rod has scarred me for remaining of quarter. Barely saw that touchdown.
David Gardner: Joe Buck just said sarcastically that Alex Rodriguez must have "loved" that shot of him being fed popcorn.
I don't know about you guys, but I could think of less flattering videos than being fed popcorn in a leather chair at the Super Bowl ... by Cameron Diaz.
Tom Gower: I thought the Packers would throw the ball to Nelson because he'd be the one in the slot exploiting a vulnerable middle, but instead they've been finding him in single coverage. They nearly had a touchdown the first drive, and did get one the second drive.
I think they're trying to use motion to guard against the slot blitz to the stacked side.
Bill Barnwell: Great ID by Rodgers of the one-on-one matchup of Nelson-Gay there. Great throw, too. Gay takes a fair amount of flak, but that's not terrible coverage in that situation, just a bad matchup. I think the Packers throw deep knowing they'll go for it on fourth-and-1.
Ben Muth: A-Rod being fed popcorn will probably be funnier than any commercial.
Seeing Ashton Kutcher and George Bush in the same camera shot was strange.
Mike Tanier: Geez, the Packers are getting push up the middle. Not just there but on third-and-1 earlier.
Ben Roethlisberger gets picked off.
Ben Muth: Did Mike Wallace not see the ball in the air? He didn't try to come back for it all.
Bill Barnwell: I don't think he even thought to turn around that early in the route.
Aaron Schatz: Nick Collins really broke Mendenhall's ankles on that interception return. It looked like the guy who took down Roethlisberger to force the badly thrown pass could have maybe grazed Roethlisberger's face on the way to hitting his shoulder, but I think that's a good no call.
David Gardner: I know it's in the rules, but I just hate the fact that a player gets penalized for such a flimsy celebration.
Vince Verhei: Chris Kemoeatu gives up the pressure that caused the pick six, then commits a blatant block in the back. Not the lineman I expected to hurt the Steelers today.
Ben Muth: He's having a bad first quarter.
Tom Gower: That block-in-the-back penalty on Kemoeatu is one of the things linemen have to worry about on screens. Within the box they're protected, since block-in-the-back isn't a penalty there, but once you're outside that area it is. That's something you have to keep in mind.
Apparently Pepsi Max is most frequently used for violent attacks.
Mike Tanier: Packers just used that same front the Steelers used, with no inside gap defenders. The Steelers converted third-and-12.
Vince Verhei: Green Bay using shotgun on the first play of every drive so far, and on all three plays of that third drive. I think that's the smart strategy to use, even though they just went three-and-out.
Doug Farrar: After losing a touchdown to a play fake, Steelers dialing up some nice intermediate coverage in the second quarter. Until the Packers mix in the run consistently again, I suspect it will stay that way.
Tom Gower: The Steelers have been moving Ike Taylor around, and I think the two passes at the start of the drive at 14-3 were the first ones where he was in coverage. They also may have been the first time he was lined up outside to the right, or at least the first time I really noticed him there.
Bill Barnwell: Volkswagen commercial wins. Bummer that they followed it by getting the FOX on NFL newspaper out.
Mike Tanier: I didn't get the Coke ad. Shouldn't the soda refresh the dragon and make him good, instead of taking away his powers and making him crazy?
Doug Farrar: Hmmm. The strategy to use Matthews to spy Roethlisberger is really, really iffy. Take your best pass rusher and your best linebacker in space and put him on a string? Weird. I get mirroring Roethlisberger, but maybe you put Zombo on that...
Aaron Schatz: Steelers also had Heath Miller open being covered by A.J. Hawk on that third-down conversion to Randle El. As pointed out here by Mr. Barnwell, Hawk is NOT good in coverage, and it only playing because the Packers have too many injured linebackers. Steelers should look for Miller on that in the future.
Bill Barnwell: They used Hawk as the spy on that second interception by Roethlisberger, think that's a better use of their personnel's relative athletic ability and skills.
Mike Tanier: And Matthews stunted.
Ben Muth: Did they bring in the old Veterans Stadium turf for this game? Every time someone falls down, they come up limping.
Mike Tanier: I don't see any seams the size of highway-side culverts, so it is not the Vet turf.
Bill Barnwell: Total repeat of the Jennings touchdown from the game last year on that third touchdown. Same formation, same seam route. I'm not sure how the Steelers are planning to defend that route -- it seems like they want their safeties to read it and make plays, but it's going to be hard to do that with Rodgers' ability to get throws off so quickly.
Tom Gower: I don't understand why teams tend to be so reluctant to use timeouts to fix defensive problems, so I very much approve of Green Bay's timeout to give Charles Woodson more time to recover. Preventing Pittsburgh from scoring before the half is more important than anything else right now, and an injured Woodson blowing a score is your worst-case scenario. He's since joined Shields in the locker room, but I still like the move.
Mike Tanier: Kemoeatu almost held on that Ward touchdown. Really close.
Aaron Schatz: The Steelers need to move a cornerback in the middle of the field when the Packers put Jennings in the slot. Maybe they still play Cover-3, but they need the guy covering in the middle to be a cornerback.
Vince Verhei: So what was the final count on Packers who went to the locker room? Four? Five?
Also, as the FOX crew discusses the first half leading into a performance by the Black Eyed Peas, the background music in the building is ... the Black Eyed Peas.
Will Carroll: Two shoulder separations? Hope the Packers packed the Toradol.
Bill Barnwell: I hope Slash got paid well for this halftime show. (I know he did.)
How'd they get the entire Polyphonic Spree to come into the crowd for this set?
Vince Verhei: A six-year-old girl reviews Fergie's singing style: "She seems stressed out."
Vince Verhei: Rodgers throws what should have been a touchdown on a third-down sluggo route, but James Jones drops the ball.
Tom Gower: Poor call of a face mask on that punt return -- I can see why they called it, but it simply wasn't the case. James Jones should've had a touchdown the previous play, but of course he dropped it, because he's James Jones.
Mike Tanier: I get the impression that James Jones is a ninny.
Bill Barnwell: Nice twist by the Steelers there to bring James Harrison inside there. Ended up getting there on sheer churn, spinning ad nauseum until Rodgers ran into him.
Ben Muth: The Packers second-half adjustment is apparently to stop catching the ball. Gonna have to see how that plays out...
Aaron Schatz: It looks like Bryant McFadden has moved up a little bit. He's still playing farther off than Taylor, but I think he's moved up so he's about four yards away instead of six or seven. The Packers aren't throwing those quick passes I expected, and that might be part of the reason.
Tom Gower: The Steelers runs on the TD drive to make it 21-17 show why I find writing about running plays boring. Clay Matthews has outside contain and gets blocked out, and Mendenhall gets outside for a big gain. Nick Collins gets caught too far inside, and Moore breaks it outside for a big gain. Then on the TD, they ran what looked like just Power and the Packers got overpowered at the point of attack. Effective, but not very interesting (at least to me).
Bill Barnwell: Steelers now miss a touchdown when Ben Roethlisberger overthrows Mike Wallace. They had Wallace alone versus Peprah alone after play-action. Packers skated through it on sheer luck. Second time in three weeks he's missed on that corner route, having failed to hit it against Eric Smith in the AFC Championship Game.
Aaron Schatz: Is this starting to remind anyone else of XLIII a couple years ago? One team takes big lead, other team comes back in second half? I guess the Packers hope it follows the same storyline.
Tom Gower: Anthony Madison got away with one on Swain on a third down. It looked like initial contact began outside the 5-yard safe zone, and definitely continued until after the ball was in the air. Then again, we haven't had a secondary penalty this game, so why start now. (No, I don't know if there have been holds and contact that have gone uncalled, but from Fox's broadcast work, who would know.)
With Shields and Woodson out, I'm not sure I would have Tramon Williams back there catching punts, even if he's not going to do something stupid and smack somebody in the head.
Vince Verhei: Now Mike Wallace drops a third-down conversion. Not a good day for receivers on either team.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, I think that was more of a bad overthrow than a dropped pass. It barely touched his fingers.
I'm going to vote "catch" on the challenged Brett Swain pass.
Tom Gower: My initial thought was catch and down, but on second look it's a fumble and I think Jennings ended up with possession. That said, I still expect them to not find enough evidence to overturn the call on the field.
Bill Barnwell: Also think it's a fumble.
Aaron Schatz: You have to figure that if Pittsburgh had recovered that ball, they would have challenged the play too.
Bill Barnwell: So who has the momentum now, as we go into the fourth quarter? Buck told me it was the Steelers a few minutes ago, but I'm not totally sure.
And almost literally as I send that, the Packers fumble. Aikman notes that the Packers needed to change the momentum. If the Steelers actually had momentum, wouldn't they be immune to fumbling?
Ben Muth: Not a fan of the play design on the fumble. I think it's asking a lot to have your center snap the ball, then pull and kick out a defensive end.
Great job by the Packers offensive line to pick the blitz up on the third down pass to Nelson.
Bill Barnwell: And I think James Farrior literally saw the game pass him by on that Nelson run after the catch.
Tom Gower: How do you think Ryan Clark felt? With McFadden blitzing, he has Nelson in man coverage. Playing outside tech, so Rodgers turns it inside, and while Clark's chasing after him trying to make the play Greg Jennings takes him out.
Aaron Schatz: Pretty nice drive, given that Rodgers looked fairly flustered by the Pittsburgh defensive scheme much of the time.
Ben Muth: What did Flozell Adams do to Joe Buck? That clearly was a hold on Foster. The refs called it on Foster, and the replay showed it wasn't hold on Adams. If Flozell Adams had Phil Simms for a dad, Mr. Buck would be in trouble.
Aaron Schatz: I'll assume that wasn't Buck, that's on his spotter.
Vince Verhei: Why is Pittsburgh using Wallace to dink and dunk? It's all little slants and screen passes for him. Last time he went deep he was wide open.
And then Wallace catches a fly route for a touchdown. Smartest I've been all year.
Bill Barnwell: That's an amazing job by Wallace at the line of scrimmage on that touchdown. One step and he creates the separation for the entire play.
Ben Muth: Read Option for the two point conversion? I love it.
Aaron Schatz: Great, great play fake to Mendenhall to start off that option play on the two point conversion. Clever play call, too.
I know it looked like Matthews may have been held by Flozell Adams on the touchdown pass, but I think that Matthews just slips on the grass. Adams doesn't take him down.
Vince Verhei: I think the House parody of the Joe Greene ad is my new favorite.
Tom Gower: I think the House parody is only of interest to fans of House. As somebody who saw most of 2 episodes and added the show to his "never watch this again" list, it annoyed me.
Rodgers missed Quarless, I believe, the once, but otherwise he's done a great job of zipping in these throws over the middle, with the big first down to Jennings with just over 5 to play only the latest example.
Vince Verhei: That third-down pass to Jennings was pretty amazing. Arm strength, accuracy, and timing on display there.
Mike Tanier: Wow, that ended suddenly.
Vince Verhei: Yeah, Pittsburgh's two-minute drill was both slow and and sloppy. Really, an exciting game, but not very well played. Lots of drops, and open receivers missed, and penalties.
Mike Tanier: Mike Wallace is still wondering what route to run.
The sloppy two-minute drill starts with South Jersey's Isaac Redman wasting a stoppage before the two-minute warning fighting for yards while Fox loses 15 yards with a personal foul.
Bill Barnwell: I don't see a penalty on Williams on that last meaningful play. I think that's just perfect coverage, makes a play on the ball as Wallace goes for it.
Aaron Schatz: Yep, I didn't see it either, but I certainly understand why Wallace would complain. I mean, that's the season there.
Tom Gower: Agreed with Mr. Barnwell: no reason to call a penalty on Williams there, who was making a play on the ball.
Aaron Schatz: That was lots of fun. Two very good teams. Didn't feel like a spectacular, just a good, close game. The Packers feel more like the 2005 Steelers or 1988 49ers, not like the other wild card teams that made the Super Bowl. This wasn't a 10-6 team that got into the last slot in the playoffs. This was a very good team that had bad luck in close losses, but was one of the top three or four teams in the league for the entire season. Despite all the injuries. Congratulations, Packers fans.
Tom Gower: Congratulations to the Packers. They didn't play a perfect game, but I thought they were the better team tonight and deserved to win. The QB MVP is a popular default choice, but I thought Rodgers clearly deserved it. He had some shaky moments, and the Packers looked discombobulated on a couple snaps, but he did some phenomenal work.
Aaron Schatz: Also, let it be said: The Packers victory does not teach us that injuries don't matter if you play hard enough. It teaches us that smart teams build great depth. Bishop, Peprah, Zombo, Kuhn and Starks... the Packers had depth.
And it helps to have an awesome quarterback.
Bill Barnwell: Yeah. I think Rodgers is a few drops away from an incredible day against one of the league's top pass defenses, in the biggest game of his life. On the other hand, Roethlisberger missed Wallace at least twice, once on a throw that would have been a touchdown, and turned the ball over twice. Can we get over this "Roethlisberger is clutch in the big games!" stuff? I saw media folks actually repeating it during this game on Twitter. What nonsense.
Mike Kurtz: In Roethlisberger's defense, he didn't play a particularly great game, but the first interception was off a hit in motion and the second had the ball just taken from him.
Rodgers definitely played a better game, but it wasn't a stark contrast.
Bill Barnwell: Making a decision to throw the ball with a guy in your face is within your control. Roethlisberger's usually great at toeing that line and getting good throws off ... that wasn't one of them. Rodgers played better than his stats. Roethlisberger played worse than his.
Mike Tanier: The interception return touchdown was a bad pass. The two-minute drill was poorly run. The two-minute drill before halftime was well run. Rodgers played far better, and Roethlisberger certainly didn't have an outstanding game, nor a horrendous one.
You know, I used to have a quick beer after the Super Bowl, then prepare to focus on the New Jersey standardized tests for five weeks and get to know my family again. What am I supposed to do with the next few weeks?
Rob Weintraub: Yes, Roethlisberger played only average tonight, and yes, he gets a little too much love for being "clutch," but all I know is, me and my group of Bengals fans were positive he would lead the Steelers to the winning score there. Not many other QBs invoke the sort of terror in a big spot he does. That can't all be media-created mythology.
The thing that was most impressive about Rodgers was his ability to hit big time throws immediately after some crushing drops, or poorly protected pass plays. The strike to Jennings will get all the pub, and it was awesome, but the throw to Nelson for the big gainer right after he dropped one, and a false start making it 3rd and 10, was for my money the play of the game. Rodgers earned the Camaro right there. I had $10 on orange Gatorade being the dumping drink of choice, so I'm fired up. What other color would a Syracuse man bet on?
Congrats to the Pack and their fans.
Ben Muth: Good game. The team with the best quarterback won.
(And now, a word from our own resident Packers fan and Wisconsin resident, tech guy Elias Holman.)
Elias Holman: I have been out on the town here in Milwaukee enjoying the Packers victory and I would have to say the mood is mostly one of disbelief. I know for me personally it has not really yet sunk in that the Packers managed to pull this off. At the same time, people are talking dynasty, with the number of first-string players on IR, and the overall youth of the team. I didn't comment during the game as I was too freaked out, but I think the sentiment has been pretty well covered here. I thought the coverage of the game was interesting because of the lack of really juicy storylines (other than the Roethelisberger saga, which has been covered to death), so there was a lot of talk about momentum and other non-specifics to try to keep things interesting. Both teams have well-run franchises and have been competitive for all of recent memory, and were very evenly matched, so there were fewer angles than usual. The reality was, the Packers were lucky to jump out to such a big lead, and were able to put up just enough points to win. This game could have very easily gone the other way. The best part though is finally being able to exorcise the ghost of Brett Favre. I'm certain that this will not silence the media hype surrounding his career, but it does silence those naysayers who believed that we still should have held onto Favre as our only chance at glory.
323 comments, Last at 15 Feb 2011, 6:56pm by Intropy