Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
26 Dec 2011
compiled by Danny Tuccitto and Aaron Schatz
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.
Robert Weintraub: A Rey Maualuga pick sets up Cincy in the red zone, and of course they settle for three. This is a recording.
Then Jermaine Gresham's second superb catch of the first quarter results in a touchdown, 10-0 Bengals. Cincy pass rush is the story so far, after weeks of absence. Two sacks and a couple of pressures already.
Ben Muth: Cincy's D-Line is dominating the game. Already a couple sacks and additional hits. Arizona lucky to be down only 10. I also think Levi Brown has been the most consistent player in the NFL over the past four years. His level of play is awful and it hasn't changed at all.
Robert Weintraub: Yeah Brown is getting knocked backward by everyone who lines up on him.
In typical Bengals fashion, Cincy is finding ways to keep the opposition in the game even though it's been total domination thus far. A pair of missed field goals by the usually reliable Mike Nugent are the culprit this time. It is simply impossible for this team to win a laugher and make my life a tad easier.
(Nugent had missed two field goals all season before today.)
WOW! Jerome Simpson catches a drag route and is alone until the goal line, when he is challenged by the safety. So naturally, Simpson performs a full leaping somersault over the Cardinal defender, and sticks the landing! Unbelievable play. Say this for Cincy -- they may be maddening at times but the squad has some serious athletes on the roster. 17-0 Bengals.
Ben Muth: Jerome Simpson just front flipped, over a defender, into the end zone.
Robert Weintraub: The Fox broadcast even fonts the play "Simpson 19-yd touchdown catch and full flip."
A.J. Green isn't perfect -- he has way too many pre-snap penalties, and he just took an end around that sat Cincy blockers outnumber Cards tacklers 4-1 and he just stepped out of bounds rather than cut inside. Poor field awareness.
Ben Muth: Yeah, that effort by Green on the end around was embarrassing. I know it's 20-0, but you can't stroll out like that.
Robert Weintraub: Give Arizona's defense plenty of credit--they have fought hard to keep the game at least in shouting distance. Cincy's pass rush however is destroying Arizona's front line. I think the Cards have run one series in Bengals territory through three quarters.
Inevitably, Larry Fitzgerald gets involved, taking a dump off under pressure and scooting for a touchdown. Bengals second-half offensive ineptitude has made this a two score game with plenty of time left. 23-7 Cincy.
Shocker -- Benson fumbles it away, and the Cards have it at the Cincy 40.The Bengals just cannot put teams away.
Pass rush took some time to nap, but awakened on the two-point conversion after Skelton took the Cards in after Benson's fumble. Fanene knocked the ball from his hands, maintaining a 10-point Cincy lead. Still an eternity to play, nearly eight minutes. What did I say earlier about having to sweat every single game? As usual, John Skelton hangs around, hangs around, Cincy drops a pick, fails to corral a fumble, blow a coverage that has Crocker and Pacman fighting on the sidelines, and gets the Cards to 23-16 with over three minutes and two timeouts left.
Then on the first play of the next drive, Benson fumbles. Of course.
Ben Muth: Et tu Early? We're gonna need more booze in Nashville.
Robert Weintraub: Oh man. The Cards throw a screen to Fitzgerald but Clements, who was outstanding today, oles the block and drills him. Then on fourth the Bengals bring the blitz, Skelton has Doucet all alone for the score, and Early tumbles down trying to turn and locate. Of course, Cincy commits a dumb personal foul on first down so they still cannot kill the clock. Just unbelievable. I cannot watch this team anymore. Punting with 57 ticks left and the Cards down a score, no timeouts.
Cards complete a pass to the 30 with 8 seconds left, but don't spike it, run a play instead, complete a pass in the middle of the field... and the game is over. That was a simultaneous domination/gift. I maintain that even if the Bengals find the playoffs they are too young and dumb to do anything but go out in the wild card game.
Ben Muth: That win in the CIN-ARI game was like a homemade oven mitt in a Yankee swap. Both teams just trying to give the thing away. Eventually Andre Roberts gave himself up on the 15 yard line w/no time left to end the game and stick the Bengals with the win.
Vince Verhei: Jets go for it on fourth-and-4 from the Giants' 36. Mark Sanchez throws a quick backwards pass, basically a wide pitch play, but the pass goes through the receiver's hands, and the Giants pick it up and run it in for a score. Only two problems: 1) The refs rule it an incomplete pass, not a fumble. 2) More importantly, the Giants get called for 12 men on the field. The Jets had used a lot of motion to confuse the defense, but they took a lot of time to run the play after breaking the huddle, so there's no excuse for the Giants there. Jets go on to score on a Sanchez play-action pass to Baker. So instead of 7-0 Giants, it's now 7-0 Jets.
Aaron Schatz: Refs were right, not that it mattered. It was a forward pass.
Mike Tanier: The same thing happened a few weeks ago, right? Backward pass, touchdown, no call by refs, 12 men on field?
Aaron Schatz: Well, I was about to write at halftime about how Eli Manning was having trouble finding guys open. But on third-and-10 from 1, Eli just threaded it to Victor Cruz through two guys and then those guys, Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie, fell down trying to tackle him and Cruz went 99 yards for a touchdown. 10-7 Giants. One 99-yard touchdown can cover up a lot of incompletes.
The Jets offense halftime report: Sanchez is getting the ball out quick to avoid pass rush on first and second but can't find anyone open on third. Where are those big holes in zone from last week? Are Giants cornerbacks not playing back because they don't respect Jets wide receiver speed?
Mike Tanier: Good looking two-minute drive for the Jets ends with a missed field goal. Things not looking good for the boys in green. The Eagles, I mean.
Aaron Schatz: In case it hasn't been said in Audibles in a few weeks, Wayne Hunter sucks. Is there a bigger gap between two linemates than the difference between Hunter and Nick Mangold?
Mike Tanier: Also, is it me or has D'Brickshaw Ferguson been really struggling lately?
Aaron Schatz: Dear Giants, stop challenging Revis. It isn't working. Love, sane football fans
Mike Tanier: Giants really crossed the Jets up on two straight plays at the end of the third quarter. First, Cruz runs a little wheel route in man coverage against Kyle Wilson. Then, a Brandon Jacobs shotgun sweep traps the whole defense inside. Bradshaw punches it in. Think I will be watching Eagles-Cowboys with minimal enthusiasm.
Actually, the Jacobs play was supposed to be a power run inside, with Snee fold-blocking. He bounced it.
Vince Verhei: The Giants' offense has run seven plays in their first three drives of fourth quarter: one interception, one intentional grounding, one sack, one incompletion, three runs for 1 total yard, zero first downs.
Robert Weintraub: As a former Sydney Swans season ticket holder, I loved that onside punt in the Jets-Jints game. Looked very Aussie Rules.
Aaron Schatz: Oy. I didn't think the Giants offense played well at all even though they won. A couple of really big, somewhat fluky plays like the Cruz 99-yarder. A couple of good runs with some missed tackles by a number of Jets who were not Darrelle Revis. The Jets safeties took some weird tackling angles.
The Jets offense was also off sync. Some of that was the Giants defense playing better -- the coverage was much better than recent weeks, and Sanchez had a few balls slapped down at the line -- maybe five or six. The pass rush got to Sanchez more in the second half. Although I bitched about Hunter earlier, let the record show that Matt Slauson gave up the pressure by Chris Canty that led to the safety with 2:13 left.
Sanchez also was on a different page than Dustin Keller. A couple times he tried to hit Keller when Keller wasn't even looking for the ball. And man oh man, was Sanchez's first pick a bad pass. Horrible. Threw the ball like 10 yards over Jeremy Kerley's head on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Interesting, this game featured not one but two tuck rule plays that were originally sacks, challenged by the Jets, and overturned when they were ruled to be forward passes.
Aaron Schatz: Dolphins pass rush relentless today against injury-riddled Pats line.
Somebody needs to tell the Pats defenders to stop tackling Miami receivers on nigh-uncatchable passes. They got 2 DPIs in under a minute on passes that were never going to be caught but were just close enough to draw flags.
Hard to imagine a worse first half for the Pats. Brady under duress on every pass. Can't find hot reads because Dolphins are doing great job with coverage on slants. Pats D alternating bad coverage with rank stupidity. Crowd is actually booing an 11-3 team.
With 35 seconds left I think Brady just had his first clean pocket of the game. And with 12 seconds left, Deion Branch makes horribly boneheaded play, staying in bounds on long catch and forcing Pats to use final timeout. Costs the Pats a chance to use the whole field to get more yards, which means a long 51-yard field goal, which Gostkowski misses.
Completely different game in the second half. I have no idea what happened. This is one of those games where you have to go back and watch the whole thing in tape to figure out what changed in the Miami pass rush and/or Pats blocking schemes because all of a sudden Brady had plenty of time to throw in the second half. With time to throw, guys could get open, and there you go, Pats offense back to normal. I don't know what changed. Same replacement linemen -- Nate Solder at left tackle, Donald Thomas at left guard, Marcus Cannon at right tackle -- and as far as I know, same Dolphins defenders until Vontae Davis got injured late. Meanwhile, the Dolphins offense slowed down until their final drive. Pats defense was finally getting to Matt Moore with sugar blitzes. Total switcheroo from the first half.
I will say, though, that Reggie Bush really looks like a different guy. He was still shakin'-and-bakin' on pass receptions, but when he took a handoff up the middle he was eschewing those famous Reggie Bush horizontal yards, instead going right forward and hitting the hole -- and hitting the right holes. I was impressed. No idea who finally taught him how to run up the middle effectively, but it was good.
Brian McIntyre: In case there was any doubt the wheels have completely come off the Buffalo Bills' bus, on their first possession after a Tim Tebow touchdown run, C.J. Spiller breaks off a 38-yard run, putting the Bills in business at the Broncos' 33-yard line. Next four plays: Tashard Choice slams it up the middle for a yard, Ryan Fitzpatrick underthrows Spiller then throws a wobbly pass to Choice, who is blanketed by Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard. Dave Rayner then misses a 45-yard field goal attempt, a third straight game where he's missed his first field goal attempt.
The defense forces a three-and-out and Leodis McKelvin returns the punt 38 yards to the Broncos' 28-yard line. The Bills pick up a quick first down, but a holding penalty by Andy Levitre and Fitzpatrick short arming a third-down screen pass to Choice leads to Rayner shanking a 31-yard attempt.
Mike Tanier: The Broncos converted on a Fourth-and-1 sneak. Tebow throws a touchdown a few plays later. Note on the replays of the wide open Fells that No. 90 is flailing around in coverage. That's Marcel Dareus, right?
Wait, No. 90 is Kelsay. Not that bad in coverage for an endbacker. Where's my head?
Bills keep marching downfield and settling for three. No way that bites them in the rump.
Vince Verhei: As usual, Denver hangs around, hangs around, and then Tim Tebow produces a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns. This time, though, he's producing them for the Bills -- a pick-six to Byrd, then a sack-fumble by Kelsay leads to a touchdown by Spencer Johnson. The Bills have 40 points with one offensive touchdown.
One problem with Tebow's mobility: He tends to scramble out near the line of scrimmage, then gets tentative. Receivers don't know if they should be blocking or getting open, then the next thing they know Tebow is throwing their way. You'd have to mark it as a drop, But it's hard to say it's their fault when they weren't even sure what their job was at that point. Michael Vick had the same problem early in his Atlanta career. (Actually, throughout his Atlanta career). Tebow needs to make quicker decisions.
Vince Verhei: Hustle play of the day: Rams run a fake punt on fourth-and-10. The Steelers pick up all the receivers, but Jones finds a wide-open seam on the right side and runs. Looks like he's going to pick up the first down, but Antonio Brown -- the returner! -- comes out of nowhere to make the stop a yard short. He started at about the end zone and came up to make the tackle at the 35.
Ben, you may want to send a resume to Pittsburgh. They're losing linemen left and right. Legursky, normally a starting guard, was moved to center to fill in for Pouncey this week. Now Legursky is out with a shoulder injury too. They took him into the locker room. He's back on the sidelines in his pads, but not in the game.
J.J. Cooper: Trai Essex isn't very good, which was made clear when he had no offers as a free agent this offseason until the Steelers brought him back, but he is versatile. With his play at center today he has now played every position along the line.
Vince Verhei: The Lexus commercial with the couple in the elevator is edited so badly. She's giggling! She's not giggling! She's looking straight ahead! She's looking at the speaker!
Robert Weintraub: And would hipster doofi like that really buy a Lexus? Seems like they are trying to expand the target audience in an unrealistic way.
J.J. Cooper: The Steelers seem to know that the Rams offense is good for seven points at most, so we are seeing a Bill Cowher offense -- lots of runs and lots of field goal attempts. It's pretty boring but with Kellen Clemens not really knowing the Rams offense it has been enough up to now.
Vince Verhei: Amazing graphic in the St. Louis game: Not only are there four players in the league with at least as many touchdowns as the Rams, but you could own those players on one fantasy team. There's one running back (McCoy), one wide receiver (Calvin), one tight end (Gronkowski) and one quarterback (Newton).
Vince Verhei: More special teams shenanigans: Raiders run a fake field goal, and Shane Lechler hits Brandon Myers for an apparent touchdown, but the Raiders are called for delay of game. Next play, they try a 59-yard field goal. Janikowski hits the crossbar, and the ball bounces out.
Mike Tanier: I can only get scores for the Panthers-Bucs right now. Have the Bucs actually boarded the bus? Are they at home? Enjoying the seven fish already? Are they planning to show up next week? If there was a pack it in sweepstakes this year, I think they win the Death by Chocolate gift basket.
Vince Verhei: Early in the fourth, the Panthers are up 48-10. Cam Newton is averaging 10.1 yards on 17 passes, and 10.8 yards on six runs.
Four different Panthers have carries. All of them have at least one 20-yard run.
Tom Gower: My viewing of this TEN-JAC game has been hit-and-miss due to technical issues and family obligations, but I've seen more than enough to confirm Steve Tasker is still an idiot. I can't decide which I liked more, his complaining about a Titans player tackling a wide receiver out of bounds on third down short of the sticks in the two-minute drill (which forced a field goal and also saved the Titans from having to use their last timeout to stop the clock and get the ball back) or his retrospective criticism of the Jaguars for going for it and not taking the field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 10 down 13 with less than 10 minutes to play. Now, granted, he was right for criticizing Gabbert on the play for throwing a bad interception.
What I have seen this game still makes me think people need to update their Blaine Gabbert evaluations a little bit. He's still flawed, and I'm not sure what his long-term prognosis will be, but I've mentally upgraded him from abysmal to showing occasional signs of promise, but stuck on a horrible passing offense.
Vince Verhei: Romo hits his hand on a helmet on his follow through. He's on the sideline. Stephen McGee in at quarterback for Dallas.
Mike Tanier: The Cowboys are playing like they want to watch the Broncos on SNF next week.
Loving the seven minute Cowboys drive, down by 20 with ten minutes left. I am feeling strangely certain that the Giants will win the NFC East.
Tom Gower: The Cowboys drive, which ended with a failed fourth down play, is all I've seen of the late slate of games. I literally turned the TV on at the start of the drive, and saw the whole thing. It was quite epic in its own right.
Aaron Schatz: I'm not sure today's game really tells us much about who is going to win next week's Giants-Cowboys contest. Assuming Tony Romo is healthy enough to play next week, the Dallas offense will look better. And in general, it seems after two games that we can safely say that the Cowboys don't seem to match up particularly well with the Eagles, and I don't know if that tells us they are hopeless against the Giants. Giants will probably be favored, but it's a slim advantage, not a slam dunk.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks had a third-and-goal from the 1 right before halftime, poised to score the first rushing touchdown against San Francisco this year. But then, well, weirdness occurred. It looked like Seattle false-started right before the snap, but the referees were the only ones who didn't see it. So everyone kind of stood there for a while before realizing it was a live play. Jackson dashed to the left to make it to the corner, but San Francisco cut him off. Seattle kicks a field goal to go up 10-3.
Bummer for the 49ers defense. They'd just throttled Seattle's offense in the second half, but with about 7 minutes to go Seattle blocks a punt and takes over inside the 5, and on first down Lynch runs up the gut. He's stopped, but bounces outside, beats the corner to the edge and sneaks into the end zone. First rushing touchdown San Francisco has given up all year. Seattle is up 17-16.
49ers add a field goal to take the lead. On Seattle's first play after the kickoff, Marshawn Lynch catches a pass for a first down, but instead of stepping out of bounds before the two-minute warning, he stays in, busts a tackle and gains about six more yards. He's tackled in bounds, though, and the clock runs down before the break. That's not Marion Barber level stupid, but he cost Seattle a chance to run another play for a small gain of real estate.
And then after the two-minute warning, they go run up the middle, swing pass to Lynch, scramble/fumble (with Larry Grant tomahawking the ball out of Jackson's hand). 49ers recovered. The fumble is why San Francisco is going to win, but Seattle used one minute to run three plays there.
Most impressive player today: Kendall Hunter. Great cutting and acceleration, slicing through Seattle's defense.
Mike Tanier: Did Tarvaris just throw out of bounds on fourth down with 13 seconds left?
Aaron Schatz: When the Packers shift Jermichael Finley out wide, the Bears are covering him with Nick Roach. Yeah, that's not gonna work.
Tom Gower: Nick Roach in coverage was pretty much Rodgers' green light to throw that opening drive. More bootlegs than I recall the Packers normally running as well.
Danny Tuccitto: Through one quarter, I find myself wanting to shout, "Hello, Green Bay! Chicago is running!!!" "Predictable" isn't a strong enough word to explain the Bears' offense so far.
Mike Tanier: Woodson's knee is getting worked on after breaking up a pass. The Packers need to deliver some knockout punches and then bubble wrap the starters.
I am enjoying this nutty Bears second-quarter drive where Roy Williams converted a long third down, Whichever McCown recovered a fumbled screen pass, and someone named Armando, probably Mike Martz's masseuse, is getting carries.
Oh, intercepted screen pass, never mind.
Tom Gower: Beautiful interception by Matthews. Read the route, broke off his rush, and took McCown's gift.
Aaron Schatz: You've got to give credit to McCown. Except for that interception, he's looking like a professional quarterback out there. Not bad for a guy who was coaching high school a month ago.
Mike Tanier: He's a McCown! Not sure which one, but he is one of them.
The Bears must settle for a field goal on a play where Woodson slices inside pre-snap and occupies the B-gap, like the world's smallest defensive tackle. I am stunned at how many two-man lines and strange fronts the Packers are running against a team that appears to want to revive the old Redskins Counter-Trey all night.
Tom Gower: The Packers' lack of credible defensive linemen may be their Achilles heel.
McCowns have the tendency to look like professional quarterbacks for a while with the occasional boneheaded play, then the spate of boneheaded plays that remind you you're starting a McCown.
Danny Tuccitto: "Except for that interception," is a pretty big exception given how throwing-it-right-into-the-defender's-gut-on-a-screen it was, but, yeah, I agree that, overall McCown is above expectation through the first half.
Aaron Schatz: Well, Matthews had to jump for it, it wasn't right in his gut, and Collinsworth made a good argument that the running back was supposed to cut block Matthews which would have prevented him from making the pick.
Tom Gower: Let's get it right. That was a fullback flat pass, not a screen, which raises its own questions.
Aaron Schatz: The Bears seem to have switched to a safety on Finley when he's split wide instead of a linebacker.
Mike Tanier: Peppers is eating Milhouse alive at right tackle. Don't the Packers have six or seven tight ends? Newhouse should have a tight end surgically attached to his left hip until the offensive line crisis is solved.
The drama is dissipating rapidly. The Bears need help in the secondary. And the amount of time Rodgers spends scrambling and hitting the turf has to be worrying Packers fans.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, there's only so much running the Bears can do down 28-10.
Danny Tuccitto: It's pretty apparent that Green Bay doesn't feel like Chicago can cover a slant on the goal line.
90 comments, Last at 29 Dec 2011, 2:59pm by chemical burn