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?
19 Sep 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.
Rivers McCown: Very sad that Jason Hill won't play in this Jags-Jets game. I was looking forward to that overrated Jets secondary holding him to two catches for eight yards.
Doug Farrar: He's a disgrace to Washington State football, and that's saying something.
Rivers McCown: The Jets bust out the Antonio Cromartie end around. Got them a yard, and it would've been less if he hadn't evaded a defender in the backfield to get to the edge. Sometimes I think Brian Schottenheimer is a little too clever for his own good.
The Jets have stalled out a few times due to penalties and Mark Sanchez interceptions, but the Luke McCown-era Jaguars really haven't been able to do much about it. He hasn't gotten any help from his offensive line either, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched a Jaguars game for the last couple of years. McCown finally got the ball inside the Jets 30, then he promptly overthrew a Mike Thomas ball right into Cromartie's hands.
Aaron Schatz: This is not a game for people who like offense. Both pass rushes are really dictating the game. Hunter is awful. Mangold looks awesome on the sideline. He's got a sweet beard to go with his long blonde hair now.
Jaguars surprisingly gashing Jets run defense today. Four runs of 10 or more yards in the first 35 minutes.
Mike Tanier: Watching this Jaguars game over my shoulder, I am beginning to wonder: is cutting your dependable starting quarterback in a salary move five days before the season opener and giving the job to a generic backup really a wise move?
Rivers McCown: I'm wondering how long it takes for Blaine Gabbert to come on. If you're not going to be able to throw, you might as well not be able to throw with someone who could eventually learn how to.
Six completions, four interceptions. Luke McCown, everyone!
Gabbert comes on and completes a screen, a quick hitch to the tight end, and a tipped ball that miraculously found it's way to a Jaguars player. If they're looking for a veteran placeholder, I hear David Garrard is available.
Major Wright shows that no matter what the league does to protect players, they have to protect themselves by practicing good fundamentals. Wright tried to give Devery Henderson a Bob Sanders Special, ended up too low and got a hip/leg right to the head followed by 4 minutes lying on the field.
Ben Muth: Jeff King ... Fantasy Superstar.
The Redskins are moving the ball up and down the field against Arizona, but because of two turnovers, they only have three points to show for it. Washington then finds a new way to screw up a drive as the Cards block a chip shot field goal. This is the most one-sided 10-7 game I've ever seen.
First-and-10 in the red zone: Kevin Kolb takes an awful sack. Second-and-18, Kolb throws an awful pick. Sigh.
Beanie Wells looks really good in the second half so far. The blocking has been good, but he is much quicker to the hole than he has been in the past. I'm pleasantly surprised.
Doug Farrar: Jamaal Charles goes down with what looks to be a really bad knee injury halfway through the first quarter. Looks like his knee buckled on him just before he crashed into the Lions' mascot. Carted off the field, and the Chiefs look to be totally screwed.
Mike Tanier: We would like to thank the Chiefs for playing this year. See you in 2012. In a possibly related note, the Lions mascot now has a Chrysler commercial. Because he is a blue collar Lion.
Tim Gerheim: At least now Todd Haley gets to play Thomas Jones instead of Charles.
Aaron Schatz: It looks like right now he's more running Le'Ron McClain than Jones, which is an unexpected and smart move.
Mike Tanier: Are the Lions now a shotgun team on 90 percent of snaps? I think I saw one non-shotgun play before the Tony Scheffler touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: They led the league at 64 percent last year.
Mike Tanier: Matthew Stafford is threading needles.
J.J. Cooper: Stafford threading needles is impressive because at Georgia, his mid-range accuracy was probably his biggest weakness (the injury problem waited until he got to Detroit).
Aaron Schatz: New popular discussion in the Gillette press box: When will Todd Haley be fired?
Michael Tanier: The Ravens offense is a disorganized mess early on. Someone needs to paint Steelers logos on the Titans helmets.
Ben Muth: Ray Rice catches a screen and breaks three tackles for a score. It's not just that he broke the tackles, it's that he barely broke stride doing it.
Aaron Schatz: He wasn't breaking those tackles last year. Makes me wonder if there is something to the idea that the knee bothered him more than they let on in 2010.
Tom Gower: After a quiet first quarter, the offenses came to life in Nashville in the second quarter. For the Titans, this was mostly doing a better job of finding Kenny Britt. He had 80 yards receiving in the half, including a few catches on the drive that ended when he posted up Domonique Foxworth for a TD pass. Chris Johnson has had just as much a struggle to find running room as I expected.
For the Ravens, they've had one drive where they moved the ball like I expected them to, the one that ended with the screen pass to Ray Rice that Ben mentioned. Credit to the Titans defensive line for that, particularly the return of ends Jason Jones and Derrick Morgan, though I'd guess the Ravens being without Ben Grubbs also has something to do with it. Overall, thus far, it's been a much more competitive, interesting game than I expected.
Michael Tanier: Wow. Titans just went for it on fourth down and scored on a pitch to ... Javon Ringer.
Tom Gower: Pitch play, like the one CJ scored on against the Steelers in 2008. Ringer is in because CJ has a tendency to be patient and likes to bounce runs, which isn't an asset in a power situation.
Ben Muth: The fake FB belly pitch! I was talking about this with my friends during the Stanford game last night, that play has never been stopped in a third- or fourth-and-short situation.
Tom Gower: Joe Flacco played well last week. He is not this week. The Titans have gotten more pressure on the Ravens than I expected, but he's been flat out missing passes. On fourth-and-goal from the 11, with 7 minutes to play, trailing 23-10, John Harbaugh decides to kick a field goal. Considering the defense has had trouble stopping the Titans and the offense has struggled to move the ball with any consistency, I am in favor of that decision to leave it a two-score game.
I'll have to re-watch the game to really see what was going on on the lines, because that's what surprised me the most from this game. Whatever Tennessee did right, though, was more a passing game effort than in the run game, where aside from a couple runs they struggled to move the ball.
Vince Verhei: Cam Newton has the Panthers up 13-0 against Green Bay. It helps that the Packers fumbled a kickoff return, but Newton's arm strength is a game-changer -- he can throw deep ins, crosses, and posts on a line, and accurate too. Only 13 points because he's still making mistakes, and a couple of times the Panthers have run these slow-developing option runs that aren't fooling anyone.
Rivers McCown: When was the last time a top-ten pick (Newton) overperformed tempered expectations so quickly? Maybe Matt Ryan?
Tim Gerheim: Does Ndamukong Suh count for outperforming high expectations?
Doug Farrar: I'm on Red Zone, so I'm bouncing around, but it seems that the Packers are playing a straight front with more three-down lineman sets with Clay Matthews as the LEO, as opposed to the 2-4-5. Newton is also playing option fakes to perfection, keeping that front on a string.
Vince Verhei: Newton has thrown a pair of interceptions to Charles Woodson, Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings on a deep post for a long score, and the Packers have pulled ahead. Newton looked like a rookie on both picks. The first was a terrible decision into double coverage that would have been caught less than 10 percent of the time. The second, he was safe in the pocket, but rolled right into pressure, then threw a jump pass on a crossing route. It was actually not an awful throw, but a little behind the receiver, and Woodson made a fine play to go up and get it.
Aaron Schatz: OK, now Newton is starting to show his rookieness. He's thrown three picks and he just had two very inaccurate passes down on the goal line, both to Legedu Naanee. The first one was a play action bootleg and he had Naanee WIDE open and threw past him. Second one was Naanee in a pack, but Newton still threw wide left. Panthers will have to settle for a field goal, 23-16.
Matching the earlier comment about the Packers playing more conventional fronts this week, also looks like Woodson is back as a standard outside cornerback, on Steve Smith, rather than in the slot.
Ben Muth: Watching the Red Zone channel, and they bring up everyone who has ever had back-to-back 400 yard games for Newton. They emphasize Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Phil Simms, and then try to slide Billy Volek in there.
Vince Verhei: It won't affect the outcome of the game, but Pittsburgh had some horrendous clock management on their first drive. They got stopped on third-and-goal from the 1, then milled around for a while, then finally called a timeout to talk things over. They ran for it on fourth down and were clearly short, but Mike Tomlin challenged the play. He lost the challenge, Seattle took over, and Pittsburgh was down two timeouts midway through the first quarter.
J.J. Cooper: Mike Tomlin is to crazy challenges as Andy Reid is to late-game clock management.
Ben Roethlisberger limped off for Pittsburgh after Raheem Brock (accidentally) submarined him. He limped back in after two missed plays, but as he headed to the locker room at halftime, he didn't exactly look comfortable. Amazing how bad the Seahawks are. Pittsburgh hasn't really played well and they are up 17-0. Considering the aforementioned Steelers screwups to go scoreless after first-and-goal at the 1, it could be worse.
Vince Verhei: Darryl Johnston's suit is terrible, a hideous plaid monstrosity. And his tie is this ugly yellow splotch that tears the whole thing apart. It's the opposite of The Dude's rug.
Doug Farrar: Tarvaris Jackson should be taken off the field for the safety of his receivers. He's hanging them out to dry all over the place. Doug Baldwin had to jump for one of his errant scuds and opened himself up to a rib shot.
Vince Verhei: Seattle does exactly one thing well, play run defense. The Steelers' series in the second half all look the same: Short run on first down followed by a pass on second or third down that picks up a first. The corners are playing eight yards off or deeper and giving the Steelers six-yard gains whenever they want.
Also, as a punt returner, Antonio Brown is one of those guys who will run 30 yards back and forth for what turns out to be a three-yard gain.
J.J. Cooper: Mike Wallace's days of leading the NFL in yards per catch are over, but that's actually a good thing in his development. He's gone from being a deep threat to a guy who can use the big cushions his speed earns him to move the chains underneath. And as the 53-yard catch he just pulled down showed (he also got a pass interference on a play in the end zone), he can still go deep. Wallace caught 60 passes all of last year. He's already got 16 this year with a quarter to go in Week 2. FO's metrics picked him out as one of the most valuable receivers in the league last year. He may end up being more valuable this year.
Doug Farrar: He also caught a touchdown pass against a cornerback who spent the last five years in the CFL.
Aaron Schatz: I have a new name for Week 2. Week 1 is National Jump to Conclusions Week. Week 2 is National Bubble Bursting Week.
OK, well, looks like *I* am guilty of jumping to conclusions too early in the case of Buffalo-Oakland. That huge Raiders deficit was trimmed, and now they may be getting their bubbles burst instead.
Mike Tanier: Dude, its Chan Gailey versus Al Saunders. Expect the bewildering.
Raiders and Bills battling back and forth for all of those "2-0 start means undoubtedly for real" headlines, and providing much entertainment in the process!
Doug Farrar: That Moore catch was totally sick -- jumped up and out of double downfield coverage to make the play. You can see why everyone was so high on him in the preseason.
Aaron Schatz: Bills go ahead. Their offensive line really is playing pretty well. In that last drive Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a couple times to guys who looked very well-covered by Rolando McClain, I think David Nelson once and Scott Chandler once, but on fourth down at the end there he had Nelson wide open in the middle for the touchdown.
Mike Tanier: I told the world David Nelson was dangerous over the middle of the field. Mad! They called me!
Danny Tuccitto: Sounds like there are more Cowboys fans than Niners fans in Candlestick. 49ers don't cover anyone for first seven minutes, but somehow come away unscathed thanks to a nearly impossible 21-yard field-goal miss.
After last week's tackle eligible presnap shift to draw the Seahawks offsides, Harbaugh's wrinkle for Week 2: Joe Staley part of five-player shift before third-and-1.
Mike Tanier: The Harbaugh brothers are more interesting before the offense is set.
Mike Tanier: That pass interference Smith drew on the fumbled snap play would take a trillion words to unpack. Especially the part where Smith could not convert the bootleg touchdown the next play.
Danny Tuccitto: On 49ers' first touchdown drive, Alex Smith actually looked like something other than an automaton. Ad libbing! Freelancing! Turning bad-snap, 10-yard losses into first-and-goal at the 1! Who is this guy?
Vince Verhei: Amazing stat of the first half: SF is 8-of-10 on third downs. And it's mostly Smith passing. He's beating the blitz and picking the Cowboys' depleted secondary apart.
Dallas, meanwhile, followed their missed field goal with three straight three-and outs, then Miles Austin caught a long touchdown pass when the nickelback fell down and the deep safety utterly failed to even slow Austin down on the way to the end zone.
Jon Kitna opens the second half at quarterback for Dallas. Romo took a hard hit at the end of the first. He's on the sideline in pads, With a baseball cap on. Now Romo is leaving for the locker room, kicking things on his way out.
Danny Tuccitto: Kitna on the field for Dallas. First call: Detroit will win 10 or more games this year.
The officials are apparently using this game to meet their rare-penalty quotas. First, offsides of the lined-up-in-the-neutral-zone variety. Now, facemask on an offensive player executing a stiff arm.
Just when I was thinking that Alex Smith looks pretty good he throws a horrendous pick. You have to wonder if that was to make Kitna feel better.
Ben Muth: I always hear QBs talk about the fraternity of playing the posistion in the NFL. So when Kitna throws an awful pick, Smith had to throw one right back to pick up his "brother." Sorry, I'm still a little loopy after the Cardinals managed to blow a game that they had no busness keeping close.
Danny Tuccitto: The 49ers' offensive line has no answers for Dallas blitzes. Everything positive in the passing game has come when the Cowboys only rush four.
Vince Verhei: First drive after his inerception, Smith is the victim of a DeMarcus Ware strip-sack. 49ers recover, but the drive stalls and they punt.
The Cowboys, by the way, are using a lot of Green Bay-style two-lineman fronts with four or five linebackers behind them.
Doug Farrar: I need to get a better look at what Rob Ryan's doing with their fronts. Seems really diverse.
Danny Tuccitto: Seriously, I think they're taping an officials clinic at this game. In addition to making the earlier rare calls, we've also seen two snaps aborted because Ron Winter hadn't yet whistled the ball ready for play.
Vince Verhei: We were told Romo was out for the game with a rib injury, but he took the field following the Walker touchdown.
Danny Tuccitto: And now, the proverbial "take the points off the board" discussion. Is it me or did Harbaugh just make an incredibly stupid decision to keep the field goal to go up 10 with 11 minutes left rather than take a new set of downs at the Dallas 23?
Vince Verhei: 49ers run a six-lineman set on second-and-8. The play gains four, but the 49ers are flagged for, I think, illegal procedure. Jim Harbaugh attempts to murder the referees using only the volume of his voice. It sets up a third-and-long. Alex Smith scrambles up the middle. He's a yard short, but I'm thinking this 49ers team is built to convert fourth-and-short inside the opponents' 40. Instead, Harbaugh elects to try a 55-yard field goal. I'd guess that's actually the lower percentage play there, but Harbaugh gets away with it when the kick is good. However, the Cowboys are called for offsides on the play, giving the 49ers new life -- except Harbaugh declines the penalty, settling for a ten-point lead with ten minutes to go. Seems like if that was his goal he could have run into the line three times, ran off two minutes, and tried a 45-yarder that probably still would have scored three points.
Danny Tuccitto: The call was leverage, not offside. Would have moved the ball to the 23, which makes the decision even worse than if it was moved to the 33 after an offside.
Vince Verhei: OK, that's just insanity then.
Ben Muth: The Cowboys ran the the fake belly pitch play wrong. You don't pull anyone, because that just attracts the linebackers.
Vince Verhei: Remember how we said Jim Harbaugh turned down the chance to accept a penalty and kill two minutes? Dallas just kicked a game-tying 48-yard field goal as the fourth quarter expired.
Danny Tuccitto: Hmmm ... I wonder if there will be any questions after this game about Harbaugh's keep-the-points-on-the-board decision. Nah!
Ben Muth: I'm glad I'm not a 49ers fan.
Aaron Schatz: Somebody is going to have to explain to me the San Francisco coverage on the 77-yard pass to Jesse Holley. I understand the safety got tricked by the play-action pass, but was the safety supposed to have Holley in man coverage? There was no cornerback on him, and nobody deep?
Danny Tuccitto: Second you there, Ben. Oh wait, I am a 49ers fan. By the way, Comcast Bay Area begins it's postgame show with a five-minute discussion of how it was practically a home game for Dallas with that crowd. I've honestly never seen something like that before, especially given that the opponent was their mortal enemy.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots must have seen something on film about the Chargers defensive front, because they've now gone with six linemen three times on the first eight plays.
At the end of that drive, Aaron Hernandez catches a touchdown pass over Bob Sanders, falls to the ground on his back, and the ball pops out after about three seconds. It's hard to tell if Hernandez just loses the handle, or the actual fall jossles it free, but it's really hard to understand why this is a touchdown and the Calvin Johnson play in Week 1 last year wasn't a touchdown. They didn't even stop the game to review it upstairs. I guess the officials upstairs at first glance decided he held it long enough to count as a completed catch. I'm confused. I guess some people on Twitter are saying that Sanders knocked the ball out of Hernandez's hands, and the "completed catch" rule only matters if you lose the ball on your own, but it sure was hard to see.
Mike Tanier: Well, the Chargers are always in a five- or six-man front. They probably ran a lot of six last week, but so would I against the Vikings. (Two tight ends, Adrian Peterson, can still keep a safety deep for bombs.)
Tom Gower: Hernandez had finished going to the ground and had control on the ground, then Bob Sanders ripped the ball out with him on the ground. Calvin Johnson was still in the process of going to the ground when he lost control of the ball.
Aaron Schatz: Andre Carter picked up a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on a helmet-to-chest hit, for "hitting with the hairline of the helmet." So, that's a new one.
Mike Kurtz: Not only do the commentators not understand the rules, they don't even listen to the referee. Early in Chicago-New Orleans there was a roughing the passer call for driving Cutler into the ground, and Aikman wouldn't shut up about how he didn't lead with his head, so it was a bad call. Early in New England-San Diego, there was a roughing the passer call because a Patriots defender led with the crown of his helmet into Rivers. Simms wouldn't shut up about how it was a perfect tackle and the flag was a terrible call. The lack of knowledge of the league's rules, from the fans to the people who are actually paid to talk about the game, is absolutely jarring. You can't lead with your helmet into the quarterback.
Doug Farrar: In fairness to those who do not officiate and are expected to know the rules as they are updated for media purposes, the league doesn’t always make it easy. I was at the Seahawks' facility for the annual media thing where an officiating crew will come out and explain the rules to the media. They could only speak in generalities and would not deal in hypotheticals. Here is the rule, here is why it was implemented (Note: EVERY rule is implemented for the safety of the players, whether it actually is or not). When they explained the new rule clarifying the Calvin Johnson no-catch, we were not allowed to ask any questions regarding that play or any other similar play. It was like that the whole time. They were pleasant enough, but about as unspecific as they could possibly be. It would be just as easy for me to ask why Jay Cutler was busted for intentional grounding and Matt Stafford was not, and why the Darren Sproles TD against the Bears wasn't reviewed by the booth when it was supposed to be, and Sproles may have stepped out of bounds.
Mike Tanier: Norv SchottenTurner just went for it on fourth-and-goal and failed.
Aaron Schatz: You know what, I don't blame Norv. That was the right call on
fourth-and-goal, and it wasn't even a slow-developing run either, it was a pretty good playcall off tackle. Someone just didn't get over correctly to block Jerod Mayo.
Admit it Mike: You had never heard the phrase "hairline of the helmet" before.
Ben Muth: Yeah, it hurts when the extra offensive lineman you bring in (Tyrone Green) gets no movement on the edge.
Mike Kurtz: That is true, that is a weird term. Maybe we're seeing the making of a new NFL-Rogaine promotional campaign?
Tom Gower: San Diego goes for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard-line and is stopped. Normally we say one of the reasons it's good to go for it in that situation is because you have the opposing offense backed up. Against New England, the way they've been playing lately, is that true? We saw them beat Miami for a 99-yard score last week, and this week they just hit the inside pass to Wes Welker on a linebacker (Donald Butler, I think) for an immediate first down. Now, it seems like it's a good reason to go for it because you need seven, not three.
I had Brady at 7.8 seconds to throw on the completion before the TD that made it 17-7.
Mike Tanier: Early in a close game I kick a field goal. In fairness, I did not factor Kim Novak into my decision.
J.J. Cooper: Timing throws Tom? I love it.
Doug Farrar: Phil Simms: "The Patriots lead the league in plays where they just make it happen!" Aaron, be sure to lead with that on TV next week!
Tom Gower: This Chargers-Patriots game feels entirely too familiar, and is a reminder of all those NOOOORV mentions. They're just missing chances or having bad stuff happen at the wrong time. The Patriots aren't really doing anything offensively this second half (some credit to extra pass pressure from the Chargers for that), but San Diego is stuck on seven points.
Aaron Schatz: Well, well. Zoltan Mesko injured, Patriots find themselves without a punter and have to go for it on fourth-and-3 on the San Diego 49. Incomplete pass, turnover on downs. Actually, Tom Brady had a couple of surprising incompletes on that series, after being nearly perfect in the first half of the game he has certainly slowed down.
Here's a new idea. After the Chargers scored to make it 28-21, the review booth upstairs decided to delay the game five minutes reviewing the EXTRA POINT. Seriously. Nobody in the press box has any clue why. It clearly went through. Did they think maybe there were 12 Chargers on the field?
Ben Muth: Actually Aaron, they were filming a Buffalo Wild Wings commercial.
Rivers McCown: Texans moving the ball easily on the Dolphins, but had to settle for a pair of field goals early.
Vince Verhei: Matt Schaub throws a touchdown pass to put Texans up 13-3.
After the ensuing kickoff, they cut to a blimp shot that showed south Florida bathed in sunlight, except a dark cloud literally over whatever this stadium is called these days. The Football Gods have a sense of humor.
Rivers McCown: Dolphins have had a pair of pretty impressive drives down the field in the second quarter, built on bullying the Texans up the middle and a 41-yard Kareem Jackson pass interference penalty. They have zero points to show for it after one field goal was blocked and Dan Carpenter missed a second. Dark cloud indeed, Vince.
Texans have lost Johnathan Joseph to an ankle injury and their secondary depth is getting exposed. Also, Eric Winston has killed a few drives with a couple of holding penalties. Once Joseph comes back on, Wade Phillips can take a few more chances. Chad Henne spent a lot of the day running. As long as Houston can keep Joseph healthy, they're going to do decent in the pass game. Their run defense is going to preclude them from playing catch up against a team with a solid run offense.
Aaron Schatz: Anybody watching Denver? I want to know more about "Tim Tebow, slot receiver."
Vince Verhei: All I know is I heard shots of "Tebow's in! Tebow's in!" and everyone ran to a TV in the corner. Then the Broncos, with Kyle Orton at quarterback, had a run stuffed. Then I heard "Where's Tebow?" "He was out there!" and "You liar!"
Robert Weintraub: No one else was watching Broncos-Bengals? Missed an entertaining game, and the coming out party of Messrs. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, albeit in defeat. An excruciating one from my perspective, as the Bengals controlled the last 25 minutes save for an Orton chuck and pray that went for a touchdown when two Bengals collided, allowing Eric Decker to score. Dalton threw it long and short with accuracy and, more importantly, to the right receiver on all but two plays, according to my unofficial count. Green made an unbelievable catch toetapping in for a score, and was open all game. Without Champ Bailey out there, of course.
That's what was so maddening -- Denver played without five or six of its best players, came out strong but wore down badly as the game went along, and were ripe for the picking. Cincy was driving for the winning FG when Denver overloaded the right side of the Cincy formation and got a DB blitzer free, resulting in a sack that put the Bengals on the wrong side of the 50, facing third-and-19. Dalton couldn't undo that, unfortunately.
Cincy failed bigtime on third down: they failed to convert three third-and-1's, and a huge fouth-and-1 in the fourth quarter. Dalton probably needed to check out of at least a couple of those, especially the last one, a play fake that called for a naked waggle and a flip to the receiver coming across the formation. Robert Ayers lined up wide, almost as a linebacker, and came unblocked. It was either hope he falls for the fake, or check out of the play. Neither happened, and it blew up.
Still, though I'm disappointed as a Bengal diehard, I feel good that the season's main question has been answered a bit -- Dalton can play. He is poised, and can make most of his throws. There was a telling second-and-long from the shadow of the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Forget protecting the rookie QB, the Bengals ran two men deep and Dalton hit Jerome Simpson for a 84-yard gain -- not a TD, but then Green made his sensational play. Dalton still has to hang in against a better D like the Ravens or Steelers, but hope is bubbling.
And yes, Tebow played -- Eddie Royal went out with an injured groin early, and Tebow was in as fourth receiver. Probably played half a dozen snaps, and surprisingly, Orton never looked his way. Astounded he didn't put one over the middle for Timmy, just a bit too high, with 2 or 3 defenders bearing down on him...
Vince Verhei: The "Let's leave the playside pass rusher unblocked on our bootleg and pray that he falls for the play-fake" is, by far, my least favorite play in the NFL.
Robert Weintraub: Yeah, and the Bengals called timeout to run it, which is even more maddening. If Cedric Benson hadn't been stopped on a couple of short yardage plays earlier, they would have likely just gone that way.
Doug Farrar: I'm still unsure about Dalton, but Green is a monster. You can see defenses clench up and think "Oh, %$#@!" when the ball goes his way.
Tom Gower: I saw some of the end of the game, and note that the Bengals' final drive consisted of successful passes to Green, save for the final pass which Dalton chucked out of bounds, and unsuccessful passes to everybody else. The
sack on Dalton was rookie "deer-in-headlights" and a crucial mistake -- he needs to avoid that blitzer and throw the ball away.
Robert Weintraub: A little harsh on the sack -- Dalton should have done whatever possible to get rid of it, I suppose, but the blitzer was on him instantly, and he's not exactly Roethlisberger-big back there. He went for the duck under move and got brought down by the ear. Its always easy for us fans to say "he should have got rid of it!" but give the defense some credit too.
Vince Verhei: Dear Al Michaels: You are bald and everyone knows it. The combover is not doing you any favors.
Mike Tanier: I don't know if anyone noticed, but the Eagles run defense is not very good.
Eagles offensive strategy is based on the notion that the defensive line assumes it can get penetration on every snap and that blocks will be completely blown. It sets up an awesome screen-and-draw game.
Tom Gower: As someone who watched a wide-9 team play for what felt like eons, I hope that as a talking point regarding the Eagles, it goes away after a while.
Maybe that defense is influencing the gameplan, but to answer Ben Muth's question from last week, the Falcons seem like a team that thinks Matt Ryan is closer to the best average quarterback.
Mike Tanier: The Wide-9 thing should produce five-yard gashes, not 10-yard gashes. And of course, if the pass defense holds the occasional gash should be worth the trade off.
Doug Farrar: Right after Collinsworth asserts that there's no finesse to the Wide-9, Trent Cole and Mike Patterson execute a perfectly-timed stunt with Cole in that position. Reminded me of the stunts Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch used to do in Tennessee.
Aaron Schatz: Tennessee generally combined the wide-9s with good linebackers and one year of unblockable Haynesworth. The Eagles have below-average linebackers and no unblockable Haynesworth.
Tom Gower: You don't need particularly good linebackers, they just need to be disciplined in their run fits, and you need to win occasionally one-on-one with the defensive linemen. It also helps if you have corners who can stand up and keep contain. The Steven Jackson run last week would have gone for eight yards or so if the corner on that side hadn't been blown out of the play, giving Jackson the outside and preventing the safety from making the tackle.
Mike Tanier: None of this matters if the Eagles plan to turn the ball over on every series.
Aaron Schatz: I'm trying to figure out the offensive line blocking on that blitz that caused the Michael Vick interception early in the third quarter. It looked like the left tackle and left guard both moved right to double somebody, even though that left two Falcons on the left side and only one LeSean McCoy to try to block both of them if they both came.
J.J. Cooper: Hmmmm, if someone had just written in the preseason that Vick would not come close to matching last year's low interception rate.
Tom Gower: I'm going to say that one's on Vick, who should have read blitz and taken some sort of check or hot read. The Falcons snuck James Sanders, I believe, down late and had three guys to the outside of Jason Peters and only two blockers. The nigh-inevitable free rusher Sanders got the pressure, and Vick over the middle (remember last year's column?) reared its ugly head again. NBC's late replay confirms what I thought: that interception wasn't actually caught.
Ben Muth: It looked like 3 Jet Plus, which means Peters was man on the defensive end (notice how he didn't step in right away, but took a step with his outside foot before he came down inside) and the rest of the line was sliding right with the running back going left. If both linebackers come, the quarterback knows he has to throw hot (in this case it was a linebacker and a nickelback, but protection wise it's the same thing). Ideally the left guard will see that shaded nose is slanting hard away and come back to block the slanting defensive end. That would allow the left tackle to block the inside backer, and the running back to block the outside rusher. But because it was a nickel back and not a traditional linebacker, I think the left guard didn't expect or see two blitzers coming from one side.
An 18-yard punt is a rare thing in the NFL.
John Abraham just got a roughing the passer without knocking the quarterback down! I'm all for player safety but this is ridiculous. If you don't hit a guy hard enough to knock him down you shouldn't be able to get flagged.
Aaron Schatz: Was it a hit to the head? No hits to the head allowed. No touching the head allowed, at all. So Abraham was flagged for the same thing that Andre Carter was flagged for in the Pats game.
Mike Kurtz: No, hit in the back, but led with the crown of his head. Didn't knock him over. Really tacky call, but it's there.
Tom Gower: Abraham was flagged for leading with the crown of his helmet.
And the NFL modified the rules this year so that inadvertent and non-meaningful contact with the head is not a penalty. I don't have much of tactical interest to say about this game, but with about eight minutes to play, this has been a weird, sloppy, highly entertaining contest.
Tim Gerheim: I don't like the idea that a quarterback is more deserving of a roughing the passer call if he takes a dive. If you rough a passer and he stays upright, bully for him; you still roughed him. Now, maybe that means the penalty as written shouldn't be a penalty because it's too weaksauce, but its enforcement shouldn't depend on how the size and balance of the quarterback.
There was a play in this game in the first half wherein the Eagles had the ball in the red zone and a Falcon was sprinting to get off the field, presumably the 12th man, and offside in any event since he had to go off diagonally. Wouldn't Peyton Manning or Tom Brady have quick snapped for the penalty? The Eagles were lined up.
Is it lack of recognition, or something more like sportsmanship that would make Vick not call for the snap?
Mike Kurtz: Tim: Preparation. I doubt Vick and his line have set up a "kill" count and practiced it to the point where they'd be comfortable changing the count at the line.
Mike Tanier: Mike Kafka is in, yet the Falcons appear unprepared for running plays.
Robert Weintraub: Even when Falcons come back to win this, Ryan won't get credit because Vick was out. Sad but true.
Mike Kurtz: I think he won't get credit because Michael Turner made that last (and go-ahead) drive happen, not Ryan.
Aaron Schatz: Atlanta goes ahead 35-31. If the Eagles want to try to take the lead again, they need to let Mike Kafka be a quarterback and not run the "we're afraid of our backup quarterback" offense they were running before.
Mike Tanier: Ryan will not get credit because he is not the one running right up the gut for huge gains.
Tom Gower: Andy Reid? Timeout before that fourth down play? When the alternative is getting the ball back with a minute to play after a stop if you fail? I'm not in favor of that decision.
Mike Tanier: Nah, you call that timeout to settle Kafka down and make sure you have the call you want.
Ben Muth: I agree with Mike. Best chance to win the game is converting on that fourth down. When you have a backup QB in, you have to realize that there are plays in the gameplan he's never run before. Better to call a timeout and make sure that Kafka is comfortable with the call than risk running something that he wasn't familiar with.
Mike Tanier: Cripes, and it ends with a dropped pass by Jeremy Maclin, of all things.
I assume Vick will be back next week, and I assume this is how it will be all year for the Eagles: sloppy, insane, back-and-forth games against the better teams, at least until they learn how to stop the basic power running play.
Robert Weintraub: You guys clearly don't understand the Ryan-Vick dynamic down here. No one cares who makes what plays -- it's about Ryan vs. Vick, and Ryan not being Vick, and being white and goofy-looking. Not to mention the fact that Ryan threw four touchdowns and survived a beating -- he deserves all the credit in the world. Turner didn't hit that third-and-11 on the first play of the fourth quarter, the biggest play of the game, methinks. But "he would never have won if Vick were in there!" is all we'll hear. Avoiding sports radio for the next few days. Probably a sound strategy at all times, actually...
146 comments, Last at 21 Sep 2011, 2:25pm by Karma Coma