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?
28 Nov 2011
compiled by Rivers McCown
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Brian McIntyre: On their first three possessions, the Lions have started at or inside their own 20-yard line and have driven into Packers' territory only to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties: Nate Burleson was called for holding, Jeff Backus for llegal hands to the face, and finally a chop-block by Maurice Morris. Milking 15:33 off the clock on the those three drives and keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines is great, but zero points on the scoreboard against an explosive Packers' offense isn't going to cut it.
Ben Muth: I don't have a problem taking a shot deep on third-and-1 from midfield if you're going for it on fourth down. But if you're gonna punt on fourth down, the jump ball to James Jones isn't my first choice.
Well, Brian was right. the Packers came out a little sluggish, but Detroit couldn't take advantage because of a lot of penalties (including some iffy ones) and end up down seven at the half. Green Bay gets some turnovers in the second half and easily pulls away. I will say that it feels more like Thanksgiving with the Lions down three scores in the second half.
Tom Gower: From what I saw of this game, which admittedly wasn't much, Matthew Stafford made too many mistakes and left too many plays on the field. I'm not sure why the Packers struggled offensively in the first half, but once the Lions turned the ball over, then it seems like things started to click.
Rivers McCown: Agreed Tom, Stafford left a lot of yards on the field in the first half.
Vince Verhei: The Packers had opportunities in the first half, they just weren't able to make the plays. Rodgers would throw a step behind a guy on third down, or a catch along the sidelines for a first down was initially ruled complete, only to be reversed because the receiver bobbled the ball. In the second half, they made the plays they had a chance to, as usual.
The most annoying sequence came in, I think, the third quarter. Kyle Vanden Bosch was called for a terrible roughing the passer penalty. It was a form tackle, with his arms spread wide and leading with his chest, not his shoulder or helmet. He got there a fraction of a second after the ball was released, and they went to the ground, but it wasn't a particularly vicious shot or anything. Then, on the very next play, Rodgers actually was hit late and knocked to the ground, but the refs let it go. Obvious make-up call. Later, on Rodgers' fumble, as most players were scrambling for the ball, Nick Fairley turned his back to that action and shoved Rodgers down. Again, no foul. There's just no rhyme or reason to it.
Was Jim Schwartz with the Titans when Albert Haynesworth stomped on Andre Gurode's face? Ndamukong Suh's stomping penalty today wasn't nearly that vicious, but it was an obvious foul and a deserved ejection. I know some of his penalties have been undeserved, but I wonder if Schwartz isn't intentionally encouraging some of this behavior.
Aaron Schatz: I didn't get to watch this game but after we saw the tape of the Suh play, my brother-in-law (who is from Chicago) was going on and on about how Suh was abusing Jay Cutler after the whistle a couple weeks ago. And we know he almost twisted Andy Dalton's head off in the preseason. Suh's excuses for the play are ridiculous, and to be honest he sounds a little deluded. Somebody needs to hold an intervention before he ruins a Hall of Fame career. If you play in the NFL, you have to be able to control your adrenaline. I know you get hyped up during a play, but you've got to shut it off when the play is over. Suh is always trying to get one last hit in, like you used to do with your brother when you were fighting as kids and your parents came to separate you.
Robert Weintraub: After yesterday I started to call my 2-year old boy and destructive force "Suh." People think I just really love Johnny Cash...
Rivers McCown: Anyone else feel like Miami should have let Dallas score at the end of the game?
Mike Tanier: I think, when there are about two minutes left and the opponent is in obvious field goal range, you have to pull out some high-risk defensive calls. You look for the sack, the turnover, or a couple of throwaway passes, and you prepare for having to answer a touchdown.
Ben Muth: I agree with Mike. Run some crazy blitzes, and burn zones/men behind them. Hope for a sack or pick, and live with a touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: My brother-in-law also suggested that Miami let Dallas score. I'll have to run some numbers on that sometime, perhaps when I'm not away on vacation. One thing I know is this: There's no reason to let Dallas score when they've got first-and-10 at the 29 with 2:00 left. But at that point, you have to hold them to a 40-something-yard field goal: one that can possibly be missed. You know they are going to run it up the middle, you can't let DeMarco Murray go 21 yards on four plays. Murray had more yards per carry in those four plays, when Miami knew the run was coming, than he did the rest of the game.
Announcers can blab about Matt Moore, but looking at this game it's clear that the big improvement in Miami between Weeks 1-8 and Weeks 9-12 is the defense, not the offense. DVOA agrees. I haven't run Week 12 yet, but since Week 9, the Dolphins' offensive DVOA has gone up 16 percentage points while their defensive DVOA has improved by 33 percentage points.
Danny Tuccitto: NFLN pregame: "49ers at Ravens plot lines presented by The Muppets." Awesome.
Three minutes into the second quarter, Alex Smith takes a sack on third-and-long in which three of the 49ers offensive lineman blocked air. I'm wondering what the record for number of blown blocks on one sack is in our charting database.
Baltimore's pressure is making Smith revert to old habits. Receivers are running through empty zones, but he gets happy feet and doesn't pull the trigger. Right now he's selecting a 90 percent chance of being sacked over a 10 percent chance of throwing an interception.
Mike Tanier: Every time Smith makes the false start motion at the line of scrimage, I am eating another pound of stuffing.
Danny Tuccitto: I hope you have a lot of stuffing on standby. He does that every third or fourth play.
Mike Tanier: Chopping more celery now, Danny. (That's a euphemism for drinking.)
Watching Joe Flacco try to cut back on a keeper has always been a bit like watching a moving fan try to come to a stop on a steep hill.
Danny Tuccitto: On Smith's interception in the endzone at the end of the first half, Braylon Edwards proved himself a below-replacement-level cornerback.
Ben Muth: I love the 49ers going to the quick count out of the timeout on fourth-and-short at the end of the first half. I guarantee the Ravens staff told the defense to watch the offsides shift that the 49ers have run a couple of times this year. Of course, it didn't matter, because Smith (who's been rough all half) threw a pick on the next play.
Danny Tuccitto: That play was a perfect example of Smith reverting back to happy-feet-land. The play looked like it was designed for Delanie Walker to leak into the right flat, and for Smith to throw it to him on the three-step drop. The ball is snapped, Walker leaks out, and is wide open. However, the Ravens get some semblance of "overall pressure," and Smith, rather than pulling the trigger when he's supposed to, decides to scramble around for a couple of seconds before ultimately delivering the ball to Walker on the sideline. Essentially, the play worked, just five seconds later than it should have.
Mike Tanier: I will have to take a longer look at the way they run the I-formation when I roll the tape.
Were Jim Harbaugh and Smith having headset issues? They spent a lot of time shouting back and forth from the sideline to the field in the first half.
On that fourth-and-3, Smith was looking downfield on his first read. Someone was running a corner route. I think Harbaugh was thinking home run on that play and wanted to take a gamble. Typically. in off-coverage, or "we aren't even lined up and the 12th guy is still running off the field" coverage, you know darn well to hit that quick flat in a short-yardage situation.
Rivers McCown: Boy, the 49ers are having a rough time dealing with the zone blitz tonight.
Danny Tuccitto: Understatement of the century: San Francisco's Adjusted Sack Rate is going to take a hit this week.
Once again, the happy feet with guys running free. On third-and-7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Smith takes a four-second sack even though the replay shows multiple receivers are literally uncovered, especially Vernon Davis in the left flat.
Ben Muth: The 49ers offensive line hasn't helped him much, but Smith has looked awful in the pocket tonight. Completely overwhelmed.
Danny Tuccitto: Though I don't want to wave the white flag with three minutes left, I think one unhappy byproduct of this loss is that it puts on film the blueprint for rendering San Francisco's offense completely ineffective. For playoff reasons, I was kind of hoping they could go the entire regular season without that happening.
I also have to mention that, until Billy Cundiff's latest field goal to put the Ravens up 10 with seven minutes left, this game has been within a touchdown for 57 game minutes. Why Gore (or Kendall Hunter) has been entirely ignored in the offensive game plan, I have no idea. I don't think I've seen this many three-wide sets (with a flexed tight end too) from the 49ers all season. Harbuagh and Greg Roman have done a great job of helping the offensive line in pass protection this season, so it's a mystery to me why they called a five-man protection scheme for most of a game in which they never trailed by more than seven points until the very end. I have to say, in that vein, this offensive game plan reminded me a lot of the Mike Nolan era: "Oh my god, we're down three points! Iceberg ahead! Abandon ship!"
I just realized my commentary is approaching Tanier-esque favorite-team hatred.
Mike Tanier: Insidious, isn't it? In self-defense I point out that it has happened to me in a year when the Eagles painted a target on their backs and then decided to stand perfectly still in the firing range. You have a playoff team that had no expectations entering the season losing a tight game to another playoff team, Danny.
Aaron Schatz: Thank god the Patriots have a tendency to win with a target on their backs or else I would be doing the same thing.
This is the game I actually watched the most of, but I don't have much to say about it. My main thought is that it is embarrassing that the 49ers couldn't even block four Baltimore pass rushers using an eight-man max protect. Smith did look a little jittery in the pocket, but I thought the blocking was the main issue. Smith historically is better against the blitz than he is against a conventional four-man rush, but he wasn't even facing many blitzes last night. Conventional four-man rushes mostly -- sometimes Baltimore sent five. Can't wait to see what the time-in-pocket numbers are from J.J. Cooper on this one.
Robert Weintraub: The Browns, who have not scored a touchdown on their opening drive all season, naturally go right down the field on Cincinnati, helped mightily by two completions to Jordan Norwood, one a bomb, the other the touchdown. Nate Clements fell down on both plays.
Vince Verhei: "Nate Clements fell down on both plays."
San Francisco fans nod their heads knowingly.
Danny Tuccitto: This San Francisco fan nods his head knowingly as well.
For Clements' next trick, he'll be fumbling the game-winning interception.
Robert Weintraub: The Bengals are dominating on the left side of the formation -- gaping chasms for Cedric Benson to run through. 7-7 after one.
Greg Little just blatantly shoved Clements to the ground in the middle of the field, as obvious an offensive pass interference call as you'll ever see. Naturally, there was no call. Fortunately, Little dropped the pass, so no controversy.
Man, Ahtyba Rubin is dominating the middle. Andy Dalton has had to roll away from pressure up the gut at least half a dozen times, while the only run success is coming on the flanks. Joe Haden is blanketing A.J. Green. Give the Browns credit for playing excellent defense today.
Steve Tasker makes a good point, one I've wondered about: The Browns have been faking reverses to Josh Cribbs, then they run one that gets one or two yards and fools no one. Why not actually run it the first time, then fake it and force the defense to honor it?
J.J. Cooper: Geno Atkins has been a stud all season. You see him more than I do Robert, but what I've seen, he's been very impressive.
Robert Weintraub: I'd say he's been Cincy's best defensive player this season, just ahead of Domata Peko.
Dalton lobs one up on third-and-long, and Green goes waaaaaaaaaay up and gets it, finally going down at the two. Rubin buried Dalton on the play, and Green made a tremendous play, as he has all year. That's why not having him out there against Baltimore and most of Pittsburgh games killed the Bengals: He changes games where others cannot.
Vince Verhei: I see Arian Foster currently has one carry for -11 yards and a fumble, which was returned for a touchdown. Can anyone describe this play to me?
Rivers McCown: Foster ran a sweep to the right, and the fumble came courtesy of Andre Johnson inadvertently stripping the ball out. Yes, you read that right.
If I had to give Matt Leinart a nickname based on one quarter of play, it would be "floaties."
Mike Tanier: W.B. Yates is now at quarterback for the Texans.
Tom Gower: I really liked T.J. Yates as a college quarterback and as a prospect for the Texans. He actually ran some of the Texans' stuff at North Carolina. No surprise to me he's come in and played more decisively than Leinart early.
Mike Tanier: Yates is throwing the ball all over the place, and the Texans keep punting. Am I missing something? Maybe he has bad handoff technique?
Doug Farrar: The Jaguars replace Blaine Gabbert after he goes 13-of-29 and throws a pick. Not since David Carr have I seen a quarterback so flinchy when it comes to pressure that hasn’t even arrived yet, and Gabbert doesn’t have the excuse of sack-record trauma.
Rivers McCown: By the end of this game, I'm not sure I was even watching football anymore. Doug already mentioned Gabbert going out, but I think that the major storyline here is just what happens going forward with him. He wasn't accurate, he was skittish in the pocket even when it was mostly clean, and the Texans basically spent the last two quarters of the game daring him to throw the ball. He took six sacks before Luke McCown came on. He has shown virtually zero improvement. At what point do you admit that your first-round quarterback is a complete and utter bust? Do you sign someone in the offseason to give him more development time? Do you take your chances with (what looks like) a high pick on Matt Barkley or Landry Jones?
Mike Tanier: Well, you don't declare your first-round pick a bust after a shortened preseason when he had no minicamps and had to throw to a group of receivers most fans could never name. You have to admit, though, that throwing him to the wolves this season was a mistake, that he was not as prepared as some of us thought he might be, and that you gain little by running him out there when he appears to be going backward.
Tom Gower: I didn't think Gabbert should have played this year, but the Jaguars organizationally put themselves in a hole by intentionally cutting David Garrard right before the season started. After that Jets game, it's tough to justify keeping McCown in there. Gabbert, though, simply isn't ready to be an NFL quarterback. If I had a cynical mind, I'd speculate aloud on the theory that Jack Del Rio and/or GM Gene Smith played Gabbert to lower expectations and save their jobs, but fortunately I don't, so I won't.
Rivers McCown: Didn't they know that Garrard wasn't going to be playing this season with his back injury? Or am I now speculating cynically?
Mike Tanier: The Bills just ran a Ryan Fitzpatrick-C.J. Spiller option near the end zone. The NFL looks more and more like the NCAA circa 1984.
Mark Sanchez is in full tailspin mode.
Mike Kurtz: Buffalo is attacking Darrelle Revis somewhat aggressively on short routes, twice for third-down conversions and again for a touchdown. While they've been successful with it, the coverage has still been very good, and if Fitzpatrick starts thinking he's "solved" Revis and gets a bit sloppy, very bad things are going to happen for the Bills.
Brian Moorman just kicked the most beautiful punt I have ever seen, from around midfield to the 2-yard line, out of bounds. Sanchez, of course, throws an interception two plays later.
Vince Verhei: About two years ago I wrote a piece comparing Mark Sanchez to JaMarcus Russell. Jets fans were not happy, sending me e-mails insulting myself and my family and vowing to never read Football Outsiders again, because clearly we were all fools. Well, Sanchez just threw a pass from his own end zone, completely unpressured, and lobbed a duck into quadruple coverage. It was easily intercepted, and the home team roundly booed the incompetence of their passer. And yet I've yet to see one e-mail in my inbox acknowledging that I may have been on to something.
The Bills are using a surprising offensive strategy, picking on Darrelle Revis. Even more surprising: It's working. Stevie Johnson has been working Revis repeatedly, sometimes even with safety help. He hasn't made a lot of big plays, yardage-wise, but he has picked up short first downs, and just beat Revis for a touchdown to make it 14-7 Bills.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Bills hit what looked like an accidental onside kick. They almost recovered, too, which would have been the luckiest break of the day. Instead, Sanchez takes advantage of the field position by hitting Plaxico Burress for a 14-yard tying touchdown.
After Johnson's first-half touchdown, he did a strange dance and appeared to hurt himself. I didn't understand it at first. At halftime they pointed it out: He was making fun of Burress shooting himself in the thigh. Now that Chad Ochocinco is retired (he is retired, right?), Stevie Johnson is my favorite football player.
Robert Weintraub: A great moment in the NFL that, of course, gets flagged.
Mike Kurtz: The Jets are averaging like six yards per carry, yet keep putting the ball in Sanchez's hands, even on running downs. MASTERMINDERING.
Vince Verhei: Sanchez opens the second half with by far his best drive of the game, connecting with Shonn Greene for a big gain on a screen pass, and hitting Dustin Keller downfield twice, once for a touchdown. For all his struggles, Sanchez has three touchdowns on the day and the Jets are ahead.
Mike Kurtz: Antonio Cromartie actually had position on the jump-ball touchdown to Brad Smith, but didn't look up until it was too late. He got an arm up, but Smith knew it was underthrown and quasi-interfered/broke up the interception, grabbed it on the rebound, and extended for the score.
Don't let the touchdowns fool you, Sanchez has been awful. His receivers are just making good plays -- like the long Keller strike, where Keller had to jump and deflect it to himself. Sanchez currently has a sub-50 percent completion, and, by my count, three dropped interceptions. He does not look good at all.
Vince Verhei: Revis' bad day continues, but it won't show up in the stat sheet. Johnson beats him for a deep pass and catches the ball, but is ruled out of bounds. Then Ruvell Martin -- Ruvell Martin! -- beats him for what should have been a third-down conversion, but drops the ball. The Bills add a field goal to go ahead.
J.J. Cooper: This game has ended up being fascinating. Hard to decide which fanbase would be more depressed by a loss.
Doug Farrar: There is no patience whatsoever for the Jets’ offense from the locals, and this seems to be exacerbated by the news of Brian Schottenheimer’s contract extension.
J.J. Cooper: Johnson just dropped what could have been a game-winner against the Jets. Wide open, splitting what looked like a Cover-2, and he just dropped it. It's still only the second-worst drop of Johnson's career -- he had a touchdown in overtime against the Steelers last year that was an easier catch.
Mike Kurtz: Johnson also had a difficult-but-makeable catch in the end zone to win right before the end of regulation in that game, and couldn't seal the deal.
Vince Verhei: Well, Sanchez threw his fourth touchdown of the day to put the Jets ahead with a minute to go, and the Bills basically ran out of time trying to come back. Johnson had a chance to make a couple of plays, but dropped a wide-open pass inside the 20. Later he got open in the end zone, but Fitzpatrick threw the ball behind him.
The Jets have quite a Jekyll-and-Hyde offense. When they're bad, they're very bad, with tons of three-and-outs or ugly turnovers. But on the drives where they do get a first down or two, it seems inevitable they're going to put together a dozen plays and a touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: I'll agree with the previous statements about Revis getting beat today. Seemed like a lot of it was on slants.
Two things about Sanchez. First, he throws a lot of balls behind his receivers. Second, he also seems to throw a lot of passes to guys who are well-covered. That latter one can't all be his fault. I mean, I know Santonio Holmes is good, so why can't he get more open against rookie Aaron Williams? One play I thought was particularly messed up was the Drayton Florence pick. Holmes is going over the middle, but instead of continuing his route, he just kind of stops and sits there. If he keeps running across, and Sanchez throws it two or three steps ahead of him, he makes a nice gain. Instead Holmes kind of sits down, Sanchez throws it to him instead of leading him, and Florence picks it off.
Oddly, despite this last complaint from me, the Jets receivers were able to get completely and totally wide open in the end zone. On a Burress touchdown, a Bills player just completely left his zone to cover someone else, and I have no idea what happened on the game-winning throw to Holmes.
Finally, I don't think that accidental onside kick was an accident. I think that was a surprise onside kick, at a terrible time. Why on earth would you run a surprise onside kick after you had to kickoff from the 20 because of a penalty? If you get the ball, you are 15 yards behind where you would be after recovering a surprise onside kick from the usual kickoff spot. If you don't get the ball, the other team is already in field-goal range.
Mike Tanier: The Colts are tied at halftime. The Panthers are making mistakes, committing dumb penalties and getting kicks blocked, and Cam Newton has run himself into some long sacks. The Colts could win despite Curtis Painter's best efforts.
Vince Verhei: Indianapolis figured out that they're playing football's worst run defense, with 14 runs and eight pass plays (including two sacks).
Tom Gower: A "meh" first half between two very "meh" teams ends 10-10. The Titans got their touchdown on a kickoff return, when rookie Tommie Campbell (who's been a playmaker on special teams) took a handoff from Marc Mariani on a reverse and had clear sailing. The Bucs got theirs after a Javon Ringer fumble in the two-minute drill was returned inside the Titans 30. Neither team has moved the ball particularly effectively on anything like a consistent basis.
A comedy of errors started the second half, as Chris Johnson fumbles, then Mike Williams fumbles, then Chris Johnson fumbles the next play (but the Titans recover and lose yardage on a personal foul call), and finally Aqib Talib undercuts a Matt Hasselbeck pass to Nate Washington and returns it for a score. That's three actual turnovers in five plays, and we're not yet four minutes into the second half.
I wrote a post this week saying I was done with Johnson. Thus far, he has 21 carries for 164 yards. Sure, a lot of that is the Bucs front seven, particularly the linebackers, but he's finally running with vision and making cuts. The fourth gear that he had in 2009 doesn't seem to be there, and I'm not expecting to see it again, but this afternoon is a lot more like what I expected to see this year.
Well, that was an ... interesting ending. Aided by some of Johnson's better runs, the Titans drive down and manage to punch it in from the 2 on fourth-and-goal for a 20-17 lead. Josh Freeman throws an interception into coverage, and the Titans go up 23-17. The Bucs drive down the field in the two-minute drill, but end up with a nine-and-half yard gain on third-and-10, walk around confused because the initial spot makes it seem like they might have converted, and then run a terrible quarterback sneak on fourth down. This was the first Titans win all year where they allowed more than 14 points.
Danny Tuccitto: Time running down with Tampa Bay having no timeouts, and needing a touchdown to win. Freeman completes two 23-yard passes down to the Titans 34. Clocks it on first down, and throws a second-down incompletion. On third down, Freeman completes to Kregg Lumpkin in the middle of the field for what looks to be a first down given the line judge's initial spot. The ball is (somewhat mysteriously) spotted short of the line to gain, but there's no measurement, and no booth review to verify the spot. Tampa Bay is forced to run a "No timeouts, no measurement, what the hell do we do here?" quarterback sneak on "fourth"-and-"inches," but Freeman fails to convert after fumbling the snap. Game over.
Can someone please explain to me how the referees make that measurement all day long, but, on a potential first-down/fourth-down situation with less than a minute left in a one-possession game, there's no measurement? Also, how can such a crucial spot like that not get reviewed? This doesn't excuse Freeman's fumble, or suggest that the game outcome was due to the non-measurement (or non-review), but it nevertheless really seems like this there was a sin of omission here from the officials. Maybe they didn't want to grant an unfair advantage to the timeout-less Buccaneers via a clock stoppage?
And yes, that indeed was the "Danny criticizes the officials even though he says he really doesn't like criticizing officials" audible of the week.
Tom Gower: On the Bucs final series, I thought the third down completion to Lumpkin was clearly a half-yard or so short, and the initial spot by the linesman was deceptively close. The Bucs should've realized more quickly that it was fourth down and taken their time to get something right. They were under time pressure, but still had enough they could've taken 10 seconds or so to make sure they were on the same page and get it right. I didn't think it was really close enough to require a measurement.
Just for grins, here's Raheem Morris from today's post-game presser on the first-down spike: "We spike the ball after every first down you get. You pick up a first down you have to go spike it, you have no timeouts left. Every first down after that point got to be a spiked ball."
I think that kind of speaks for itself.
Mike Kurtz: If there is one strategy point I could abolish league-wide, it would be the spike.
Vince Verhei: Patrick Peterson just returned another punt for a touchdown, his fourth this year, which ties the single-season record. He is now tied for 18th on the career punt-return touchdown list. He has played 11 games.
Aaron Schatz: Hello from my last day in paradise. Somehow, the game on the main television at the bar in Turks and Caicos was St. Louis-Arizona. A Rams fan must have gotten to the bar first, I guess. (So, take that, people who get upset because Audibles doesn't cover every game!)
Here's a phrase you don't hear much: The Arizona Cardinals were blowing the other team off the line of scrimmage. Of course, the other team was St. Louis, and the Rams have now given up the two biggest single-game rushing totals of the season. But man, Beanie Wells was running through holes the size of elephants.
The FOX sideline reporter for this game seemed particularly vapid. At one point she noted that "Josh McDaniels says Steven Jackson is the best back on any team he's ever coached." No duh. Josh McDaniels teams haven't exactly been known for their legendary running backs. Jackson's biggest competition is who, Knowshon Moreno? Kevin Faulk?
Robert Weintraub: Percy Harvin runs a pattern in about as straight a line as possible to the end zone, and Christian Ponder hits him as he stops and turns. 14 unanswered points cut the Atlanta lead to three.
Vince Verhei: Harvin's route wasn't quite a straight line. It was a very subtle, gentle arc. Really, he just ran real fast into the end zone, and Atlanta's safety (looked like a cover-2) was slow to react.
Mike Tanier: Remember all those big leads the Vikings blew early in the year? Today may represent a course correction.
Vince Verhei: If the Falcons end up making the playoffs, remember this play: Down 10 points in the fourth quarter, Harvin returns a kickoff for the Vikings all the way inside the Atlanta 5. Chris Owens runs him down from behind, saving a touchdown. The Vikings proceed to go four-and-out, putting no points on the board. It's still a two-possession game. If not for Owens' tackle, the margin would be just three.
Mike Tanier: Woot! Riley Cooper!
I have some family things to take care of for a while. Someone take my place by saying something pessimistic about the Eagles every few minutes. Thanks!
Tom Gower: It's been legal to face mask Vince Young for most of his NFL career. See, Titans fans, it's not just a Tennessee thing.
Rivers McCown: Such is the mantle one carries when he just wins games. It must always be through tough adversity.
Danny Tuccitto: Six minutes ago, this game was 10-0 Eagles. Now, it's 21-10 Patriots thanks to a 41-yard touchdown from Tom Brady to Wes Welker. Nate Allen, playing on the weakside, bit hard on that most enticing of forbidden fruits: a play-action fake 20 yards upfield and clear on the other side of the formation.
Danny Tuccitto: Watching this Eagles game, it's striking how most of their issues seem to be of the mental-focus variety. Lots of players drop passes, but the ones the Eagles are dropping crush the soul. Lots of players bite on play-action fakes, but Allen's was a clear instance of "eyes before brain." Lots of teams are unable to hold 10-point leads, but the speed and sonambulation with which Philadelphia blew theirs was shocking. It's often debated whether or not teams and players can't just "flick a switch." It sure seems that, when the Eagles lose, their switch stays firmly in the off position.
And just as I type that, Dion Lewis muffs a kickoff after New England goes up 24-13. On second down, Cooper drops a pass. On third down, a false start backs them up, and then Young throws to no one to force a punt.
Later tonight, I'll be going to see Pedro Almodóvar's new film, The Skin I Live In. From the reviews I've read about the movie, this Eagles game seems to be offering up a fittingly gruesome pregame show.
Dan Dierdorf: "If ever a team needed a three-and-out right now, it's the Eagles."
Eagles: "How about an eight-and-out that ends with us down 31-13 after a Welker touchdown?"
Mike Tanier: Where is Aaron hiding during this Patriots beatdown?
Danny Tuccitto: Mike, I fear that, if you were in the Turks and Caicos right now like Aaron, you'd be talking to a volleyball on some deserted island nearby.
Mike Tanier: Eagles fandom doesn't take vacations. Though, really, it should. Shouldn't it?
Vince Verhei: Branch converts a third down deep in New England territory when Allen allows a completion, then misses a tackle. The Eagles really do use some terrible defensive schemes.
Danny Tuccitto: On the surface, going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line when down 18 points near the end of the third quarter is a no-brainer. However, a non-trivial part of the decision process is that, even if you don't convert, you at least give yourself a field-position advantage for your next drive; at least in theory. The Eagles prove that theory and practice often diverge, allowing the Patriots to gain 30 yards on the ensuing drive, with a 55-yard punt by fortune-telling machine Zoltan Mesko pinning Philadelphia inside their own 15.
Mike Tanier: The Eagles are now committing penalties on punts while down 31-13. That crowd must be fun. I have been in the crowd during Patriots beatdowns, and I tend to be part of the problem, not the solution.
Aaron Schatz Mike, I was enjoying the Patriots beatdown, although my attention was somewhat split because most of the rest of the bar consisted of Chicago Bears fans plus a San Diego fan and a Denver fan who were stuck rooting for Chicago against Oakland, because, for some reason, the San Diego-Denver game was blocked on the Sunday Ticket feed.
It's possible Allen was stuck on Welker in part because for some of this game the Eagles had Nnamdi Asomugha covering Rob Gronkowski. Given his importance in the offense, that's not too ridiculous an assignment.
I thought Belichick's challenge of a kick return near the end of the first half was really strange. The return went back to the 27. Belichick challenged that the runner was actually down at the 19. Eight measly yards. Yes, Belichick was clearly right, and it was going to be overturned, but it seems like a really weird place to use a challenge. What happens if you are wrong on your second challenge and then you need another challenge later in the game, and you blew that challenge gaining eight yards on a kick return with seven minutes left in the first half?
Finally, let the record state that Danny Tuccitto was not afraid to admit that he's going out to see a Spanish art flick instead of staying home and enjoying The Tyler Palko Experience.(TM)
Mike Kurtz: Caleb Hanie threw an interception in the middle of the first quarter, but not all interceptions are created equal. Yes, it was his fault, undoubtedly. Hanie rolled out to the sideline to avoid pressure and tried to throw about 15 yards downfield to Matt Forte, who had drifted out. Hanie was hit, and either because of that or because he just wristed it, the throw was short and easily intercepted. That was bad.
However, Forte was behind three Raiders on that play, and had tons of green in front of him if the ball got there. It wasn't a bad decision, just a poor throw.
Hanie's second interception was both a terrible throw and a poor decision, of course.
Today is a banner day for punting. Shane Lechler just kicked off a beauty that landed at the five and bounced nearly sideways to go out at the 3-yard line. Just gorgeous.
A huge interception returned to the 6, followed by a horsecollar penalty to get them to the 3 seemed to set the Raiders up for a touchdown before halftime. However, a run and a short pass that took a long time left the Raiders with third-and-goal at the 1-yard line with five seconds left. Hue Jackson makes it looks like they're going to go for it (they had a timeout left, to boot), when the Bears call time out. The Raiders offense retakes the field, but is called back at the last minute by Jackson, and the Raiders instead kick a field goal from the 1 with 5 seconds left. The kick itself only takes 3 seconds. Being too scared of using five seconds on a one-yard play with the home clock operator is the definition of playing to not lose.
Punting update: Lechler just kicked it from his own 20 and it sailed over Devin Hester's head into the Bears end zone. 80-yard punt.
Robert Weintraub: Late in the game Lechler faced Hester in a "shame we won't be going to Canton" special teams showdown. Bears down five, no timeouts, and their only real chance is a big return. Instead, Lechler puts one out of bounds inside the five. Ballgame.
Aaron Schatz: What on earth is T.J. Houshmandzadeh doing returning punts? The Raiders don't have anyone younger and faster?
Hanie was clearly jittery, especially early. Even when he had reasonable blocking, he was very quick to leave the pocket. I think Martz called too many passes for him, especially early. What was really egregious were the funky plays. The Bears had it in the red zone near the end of the first half, and Martz calls for the "fake screen right, throw back left" play. Hanie's receiver has two Raiders sitting on top of him, but Hanie throws it anyway, and Kamerion Wimbley almost takes it back for a pick-six. (Lance Louis, seriously, Lance Louis, ran downfield and managed to take down Wimbley short of the goal line.) Now, this is Hanie's fault because he never should have thrown that pass. But it is also Martz's fault because he never should have called that pass. What happened to making life easier for inexperienced backups?
Robert Weintraub: This game ended on some incredibly inane spike shenanigans as well. Hanie completed a pass with no timeouts and the clock ticking out the final seconds. Instead of just spiking and going for one last Hail Mary, Hanie faked a pass to a wideout for some reason, then spiked the ball. This, of course, changes the play from a spike to intentional grounding. With the ten second runoff, the game was over. It doesn't really require pointing out that the receiver Hanie faked the throw to was standing at the line of scrimmage, does it? I guess Hanie was a big Dan Marino fan growing up and just wanted a fake spike sometime in his career -- except he got it all backwards under the pressure of his big day in the black hole.
Ben Muth: Scott Hanson just cut to the Broncos game on NFL Redzone:
"Broncos running a flea flicker, he's a got a guy open. Can he hit him? No. Overthrows him a bit."
There have been nine completed passes in the first half. That's for both teams, combined, mind you.
Tom Gower: The Broncos fumble in Charger territory late in the first half. There are four San Diego players around the loose ball. Naturally, the Broncos recover and cut the deficit to 10-7 when Tim Tebow hits Eric Decker. Maybe it's just me, but should a skinny post really work against a single high safety? The Chargers have deficiencies that go well beyond Norv Turner, and they've now frustrated me to the point that unless they have a ridiculous turnaround this year, I'm ready to blow up the team and organization.
The Broncos get the ball with 74 yards to go, 5:30 to play, down three. Prepare for the inevitable.
Mike Tanier: Maybe that is Tebow's secret. I mean, if all of us believe it is coming, doesn't that have some sort of effect? (Starting to lose mind. Or achieve higher consciousness.)
Danny Tuccitto: With the aforementioned beatdown in Philly, CBS has switched the Miami regional game to Broncos-Chargers in mid-inevitable.
Ben Muth: Why are they showing Nick Novak taking a piss on the sideline? That was weird.
Danny Tuccitto: Dear John Fox,
I've learned (the hard way) that you can't take those three timeouts into overtime.
Mike Kurtz: I propose the San Diego chapter in FOA 2012 just be a long string of "NORVNORVNORVNORVNORVNORVNORVNORVNORV"
Vince Verhei: How about a portrait of Norv in ASCII art?
Rivers McCown: Only if he's facepalming.
Mike Kurtz: San Diego is known for their running game, so of course Norv wasn't playing for a long field goal to end overtime.
And then there's a block ... but there was icing. Icing so dumb.
Vince Verhei: Here's the details on Novak's sideline potty break, which is about as outside as Football Outsiders has ever been.
Mike Kurtz: A career-long field goal is, of course, missed. Denver takes over near midfield. You play to win the game.
A shame Willis McGahee gets the Broncos to comfortable field goal range. Both teams deserve to lose this game, and a tie is the closest I can get to that.
Mike Tanier: I was actually ready to compliment Norv for balancing runs with passes on that last drive. Then he ran three straight times to settle for that 53-yard field goal. I was shouting "punt!" because I honestly felt they had a better chance pinning the Broncos and seeing if they could drive 50 yards. Instead, the Broncos get the ball in position to pick up two first downs and win the game. Man, you cannot make this stuff up.
Robert Weintraub: Von Miller saved them this game too -- on third down he knifed in to drop Mike Tolbert for a four-yard loss. Miller just went right through Antonio Gates on the play. Novak's field goal missed just wide, and likely would have been good from four yards closer. Easy to blame Norv here, but give Miller credit for being a straight baller*.
*-official FO terminology
Tom Gower: The Chargers need a player who can win one-on-one when rushing the passer. Shaun Phillips used to be that guy, but he's not now. I've said this before, but the Chargers need a receiver who can separate in short areas. I think they miss Legedu Naanee more than most people realize. Right now, Antonio Gates and the backs are the only guys who have any chance at getting real separation. Vincent Jackson has not felt like a factor very often to me this year. This team should be scoring a lot more than 13 points against the Broncos defense, but they're not. Philip Rivers is not overcoming these issues, either, but they're legitimate issues and you probably won't hear about them them in the aftermath of this afternoon's ridiculousness.
Vince Verhei: To counter the "great day for punters" theme, Jon Ryan, punting from roughly midfield, fails to even reach the 20-yard line.
A quick summary of Washington's first two drives: Play-action, bootleg, crossing pattern (usually to Fred Davis), first down, repeat. It got them a touchdown on their first drive and probably would have produced a field goal on the second drive, but a chop block knocked them back 15 yards.
Tom Gower: The Redskins appeared to go ahead on a Rex Grossman pass to Jabar Gaffney, but the refs ruled (correctly) that Gaffney stepped out of bounds before catching the ball. The ensuing field-goal attempt was blocked.
Seattle got their touchdown on a Marshawn Lynch screen pass after a Brandon Browner interception. And that's really all that happened in the first half. Not counting Washington taking knees at the end, each team had just four drives in the first two quarters.
Vince Verhei: I guess Jon Ryan was just late getting the memo about great punting -- he just unleashed a 60-plus-yarder that had Santana Moss making a Willie Mays over the shoulder catch. A penalty on the return pins Washington inside the 10.
The Seahawks get a field goal to go up 10-7 following a ticky-tack pass interference call on Josh Wilson.
The Redskins have gone away from the bootleg attack. I don't know why. Seattle never stopped it.
Then, the Seahawks put together their best drive of the game, going 80-some yards before Tarvaris Jackson hits Golden Tate for a touchdown pass. The big play on the drive was a 24-yard catch-and-run by Doug Baldwin when a Redskins defensive back made a big hit, but failed to wrap up. For the season, Baldwin leads the Seahawks in receiving yards without starting a game. Should I just start writing his entry in the top prospects list now? It's 17-7 Seattle.
The big hit giveth, and the big hit taketh away: Kam Chancellor drives a shoulder into Roy Helu instead of wrapping up. Helu bounces off, keeps his balance, and rambles into the end zone. That drive took maybe two minutes.
Doug Farrar: He also jumped over cornerback Roy Lewis on the way. I really liked Helu coming out of Nebraska; he's a nice hybrid back with receiving ability and more power than you'd expect.
Mike Tanier: Helu is a keeper. I see that Grossman only has eight incomplete passes, yet the Redskins only have 14 points. What is up with that? Lots of screens and dump offs?
Vince Verhei: He's got 23 completions, but only 13 first downs. They also had 32 plays on three first-half drives, but those three drives were one touchdown, one blocked field goal, and one punt from the 39.
Mike Tanier: Ah, the vaunted Redskins special teams.
Vince Verhei: Grossman hits Anthony Armstrong for a 50-yard touchdown. Browner interfered on the play, but not enough, obviously. The Seahawks go from up 17-7 to down 20-17 in less than seven minutes of game time.
However, it stays at 20-17, not 21-17, because Red Bryant blocks the ensuing extra point. He also blocked the field goal earlier, and now has four blocked kicks on the season.
DeAngelo Hall cuts in front of Tate to intercept a ball and end the game. Jim Mora, on commentary, is talking about how we shouldn't judge Jackson too harshly because he's playing with a torn pectoral muscle. And I agree. But we should be outraged at Charlie Whitehurst, and the administration that traded for him, because he is an inferior option to Jackson with a torn pec.
Mike Tanier: This game is some kind of hallucination. The Steelers are always on the 30-yard line but only have ten points. Ben Roethlisberger scrambles in slow motion and completes screen passes. They keep showing Ricky Stanzi on the sideline. Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin's beards are visibly growing. I think I am freaking out a little.
Tom Gower: Yup. Tyler Palko has a couple atrocious turnovers. The Chiefs have barely moved the ball. Roethlisberger keeps throwing dumpoffs. Max Starks looks like Max Starks, and not like the savior of the Steelers' offensive line. We spent some time in flagball, though flagball is normally a result of the actions of one or both of the teams involved.
Somehow, it's fitting that the Grey Cup is on at the same time. (BC is about to beat Winnipeg, for those of you who care.)
Vince Verhei: I've been hating Bob Costas for years. I've never hated him more than I do after this halftime diatribe. Stevie Johnson's celebration was funny, and it's the rule that's stupid, not Johnson's behavior. So here's Costas railing against self-indulgent buffoonery, when the irony is that it's exactly the term I'd use to describe Costas himself. Go away, Bob. You're old and nobody cares about you.
Robert Weintraub: Further to Vince, it's hardly a noteworthy stand by Costas to rail on a dumb moment by an excited player that wound up costing Buffalo the game only through some vagaries and circumstances that could hardly be forecast at the time. I mean, if Johnson catches that pass at the end and wins the game for the Bills, Costas is talking about the misfortune of Matt Leinart or something? I'd like to think Howard Cosell would spend his precious couple of minutes of halftime commentary blasting the league for legislating the joy out of the game, not come down like Roger Goodell's water carrier on the kid who -- heavens to Betsy!! -- mocked somebody Costas himself tut-tutted for his actions.
Mike Kurtz: For what it's worth, I thought Costas's rant was kind of dumb, but Costas himself is hardly washed up. He also does have a point that it doesn't matter how stupid the rule is, players should lobby their owners to get the rule changed, not ignore its existence. It's the self-aggrandizing in the face of complete and certain sanction that is idiotic, especially in such a competitive league. While I don't really have a side on the issue, the idea that touchdown celebrations are such an integral part of the game and anyone who limits them or supports the limitation is somehow working against football is completely absurd, especially since the entire issue is such a microscopically small part of the game.
Costas definitely could have found a better subject for his halftime segment, though.
Mike Tanier: Yes, there is nothing sadder than going into Get Off My Lawn autopilot about an end zone dance.
Rivers McCown: Boy, the Tyler Palko experience must be coming up short if we're beating sitting pinata Bob Costas -- though I do agree with Vince that he's pretty much washed up at this point. I just don't see why we need so many people running the Sunday night show. If I wanted a bland old-school opinion on something mildly controversial, I have many options.
Robert Weintraub: Probably best that the one and only Chad Ochocinco has the final word on Costas, from his Twitter feed:
"Bob Costas monologue sounded like a sermon at a funeral."
Tom Gower: I cannot imagine any possible justification for Mike Tomlin's decision to take a timeout after hut-hutting before deciding to punt on fourth-and-4 from the Chiefs' 39. None whatsoever. If you're not going to go for it, take the damn five-yard penalty.
Mike Kurtz: What makes it even more insane is that with six seconds left, KC's defense was basically just standing around, clearly not believing that there is a play coming. That's when you run a play! That's the point, isn't it?
Vince Verhei: And then Kansas City runs a fake punt with the punter going in motion. Doesn't that broadcast to the defense that you're running a fake? Maybe they thought the Steelers would stare at the punter in confusion?
Mike Kurtz: I think Dick LeBeau is going to have a long, hard think about this defense after this year. It is still designed to run around Troy Polamalu as an engine, but Polamalu is too fragile at this point, and he's sadly not the player he was (only one of the best of the league as opposed to the best of all-time). Absent Polamalu, the defense just isn't special, despite the talented linebackers. I think we're due for some schematic changes in 2012 to adjust to these realities.
Tomlin seems to think he can run the clock out with seven minutes left with no actual running game. I wish this surprised me.
That final play is a good demonstration that this defense can work without Polamalu, when LeBeau thinks it through. Really ugly win, although Kansas City's defense was lights-out for stretches of the game. Way too many drops by Pittsburgh, and Mike Wallace in particular had issues holding on to the ball. The Steelers defense should be able to put up more than 13 points on Kansas City, regardless of how their defense is playing. Not a great game.
J.J. Cooper: Even with Polamalu, this defense isn't that special. The absence of LaMarr Woodley in recent weeks has sapped the pass rush, but this is a team that has to win by outscoring opponents, not just shutting them down defensively. The Steelers gambled tonight that a Palko-led team couldn't beat them, so they played extremely conservatively on offense. I guess it worked out, but it sure seemed closer than it should have been.
Mike Kurtz: That's rather my point, J.J. -- the defense is built around Polamalu playing at an all-time level, and he's not providing that, so when he's in it's flat, and when he's out there's a hole in their scheme. I don't think there's gloom and doom in the future, since it's still a defense filled to the gills with talent, but they're operating under one huge faulty presumption and paying for it.
J.J. Cooper: Yeah, we're in agreement. If there is good news for the Steelers' defense, the one bright spot is that Pittsburgh's cornerbacks are probably better this year than they have been at any point during this current team's seven-year run. They still aren't great, but LeBeau does have significantly more options as far as what kind of coverages he wants to play. Last year, he didn't really have any choice but to play soft zones.
When you consider that Palko gave the Steelers four turnovers, the Steelers 13 points look even worse.
Mike Tanier: It is hard to gauge anything against an offense like this. This game should have been about 24-9 except for some boneheaded plays, like the fumble in the end zone.
205 comments, Last at 03 Dec 2011, 6:57pm by Nathan