A look at fourth-down decision making in 2014 highlights Sean Payton, Marc Trestman, and... wait, this can't be right... Jim Caldwell? Plus: Chip Kelly may be less aggressive than you think he is.
03 Oct 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.
Mike Tanier: Eagles gashed for two long runs early, then the 49ers pass three straight times. Again, I would never pass against the Eagles unless I had to.
Vince Verhei: Kendall Hunter has gotten the bulk of the carries at tailback. Frank Gore had his best run of the year, when he lined up at fullback in the I and the 49ers slipped it to him on a belly play.
49ers bring Colin Kaepernick in at quarterback on a third-and-17. They run a read-option, Kaepernick hands off on a short gain, and San Francisco punts.
Danny Tuccitto: Immediate thoughts about first quarter in Philly. Eagles' run defense is as bad as advertised. Pleasant surprise: 49ers actually able to pass the ball a little bit too.
Mike Tanier: More Eagles goal line shenanigans. I am too disgusted to even write about Ronnie Brown trying to throw a pass with three defenders on him.
Eagles just attempted a reverse on a punt return. Please stop outsmarting the universe and start playing football.
Danny Tuccitto: It seems like the entire Eagles offense so far today has been by virtue of the busted play or Michael Vick elusiveness. Niners have Vick dead to rights in the backfield, miss tackle, Eagles get big gain. Wash, rinse, repeat.
After a play where Vick got sacked by Aldon Smith, who was being held to boot, Alberto Riverson submits his entry for Unfortunate Penalty Explanation of the Week: "The quarterback was blown dead in the backfield."
Mike Tanier: The Colin Kaepernick era is coming very soon
Danny Tuccitto: Earlier in the week David Akers said he felt no ill will towards the Eagles. Today, he's proving to be a man of his word: Two misses from 45, one of which was blocked.
Aldon Smith has been an animal so far in this game. He's getting constant pressure on Vick, and he saved a touchdown on that blocked field goal.
The 49ers run a quick slant for seemingly the first time since 2002. The result: Josh Morgan with a 30-yard touchdown.
Mike Tanier: Eagles doing a great job letting the Niners back into the game. I am curious where the real Nnamdi Asomugha is.
Danny Tuccitto: As someone who hasn't watched much of the Eagles so far this season, I'm kind of astonished at how bad their defense is. San Francisco gets a three-and-out on defense, and then moves the ball at will, capping a 77-yard drive with a 9-yard pass to Vernon Davis. A game that seemed all but over is now 23-17 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
FOX with yet another NFC West replay fail. Jeremy Maclin makes a "catch" where the ball clearly hits the turf. Cut to 20 seconds of DeSean Jackson getting his hamstring stretched out on the sideline. Luckily, Jim Harbaugh had practice with this last week, and decided to throw the challenge flag blind.
Alex Henery pushes yet another chip shot, and it remains a one-score game with about six minutes left. It's still early in the season, but it seems like the 49ers have had an inordinate amount of missed field goal luck so far.
Robert Weintraub: Jeremy Maclin fumbles and gets a huge ovation from the Giants fans gathered here at the restaurant. A rarity -- folks in Atlanta rooting for the Niners.
Danny Tuccitto: Sorry I'm not saying much lately. I passed out at the thought of the 49ers actually winning a road game on the East Coast.
Rivers McCown: Don't feel too Danny, I'm busy praying for Andre Johnson's hamstring.
Vince Verhei: Eagles get two touchdowns in seven red zone possessions today, lose by one point.
Danny Tuccitto: Probably overshadowed by the Eagles total collapse in this game, Alex Smith did actually just lead a 20-point comeback on the road. Will that silence his critics? My guess is no.
Mike Tanier: Smith made many good throws, several of them on the run.
I am just going to say this: The Eagles are the most fundamentally sloppy team I have ever seen, at least among teams with real talent, not last year's Panthers or something. They are an embarrassment on many levels. That may be it for me in Audibles because I will actually break my keyboard if I keep typing with this angry force.
Aaron Schatz: The two teams we picked for the Super Bowl have started 3-5. So, um, yeah. I didn't watch this one except in dribs and drabs on Red Zone, but Michael Crabtree and Morgan combined for eight catches and 133 yards, so it doesn't even look like the super shutdown corners are shutting things down.
Sean McCormick: Pittsburgh has been getting pushed back at the line of scrimmage on nearly every single running play. Down by the goalline they finally stiffen up and push back Houston on the snap, only for Matt Schaub to play action and float a rainbow to a wide open Owen Daniels.
Ben Muth: Texans score on a nice play action goal line pass. Owen Daniels blocks for just long enough for the guy covering him to green dog. Daniels releases into the flat for an easy TD.
Vince Verhei: Houston's first drive: 19 plays, 95 yards, 10:55 possession time. They actually had more than 100 yards when you take penalties into account. As others have said, the running backs had three yards without getting touched on virtually every carry.
Mike Tanier: Something baaad just happened to Andre Johnson's knee...
J.J. Cooper: Things you don't want to see -- Andre Johnson going down clutching his right knee without being touched. Doesn't look good.
It is amazing to see how pedestrian the Steelers run defense looks, and how good the Texans run offense looks. Many in Pittsburgh are pointing the finger at Aaron Smith's play, but the inside linebackers, Casey Hampton and pretty much everyone else is culpable too.
Vince Verhei: It's the entire Pittsburgh defense. It's not like the Texans are finding holes in the line -- the entire line is being pushed back.
Would the term "tragic" be too strong if Houston makes the playoffs and Andre Johnson doesn't get to play? As a grown man I know we're supposed to save that word for things that happen off a football field, but it seems to fit here.
Rivers McCown: Andre Johnson is fine. They're just resting him to be fair to the Steelers.
(I have to tell myself this.)
J.J. Cooper: Mike Wallace has almost 80 first half yards for a Steelers offense that has done nothing else.
Vince Verhei: On the last play of the first half, the Texans block a field goal and run it in for a touchdown -- but the Texans are called for a block in the back when Danieal Manning hit the holder, who was a good five yards behind the play and was not about to run down the guy with the ball. The Texans are dominating on the field, but it's a "short" game in terms of possessions -- each team has had only three drives -- and they're only up 10-0 on the scoreboard.
Ben Muth: Also worth noting is that Texans blocked FG would've broken the record for most yards high-stepped on a single play. Johnathan Joseph started high-stepping from like 40 yards out.
Rivers McCown: The officials in the Texans-Steelers game are just hellbent on making sure nothing exciting actually stands. Mike Wallace had part of a big catch called back for taunting at one point as well.
Vince Verhei: The Steelers come back and tie the Texans 10-10. On Houston's next drive, Arian Foster runs a zone play to the left. A giant cutback lane opens back to the right. Troy Polamalu falls down trying to fill the gap, and Foster has a clear path to the end zone from 30 yards or so. 17-10 Houston.
Game ball to Houston's punt team. Texans are punting up seven on fourth-and-1 from about midfield. Ball hits at the two and bounces straight up, and two Texans bust their ass to down it at the 1. Pittsburgh has to go 99 yards in less than a minute with no timeuts.
First down, Ben Roethlisberger throws a pick-six, but the Texans are called for roughing the passer. Defender was already going down to the ground when Roethlisberger released, and hit him in the knees. Roethlisberger is fine.
Rivers McCown: The Texans defense can be very good when they get a pass rush. That we knew. After Johnson went down, Gary Kubiak basically turtled up. Run, run, pass. Foster bailed him out with skill on the touchdown, but he's going to have to open it up a bit more if Johnson is out for any real length of time. Where were those James Casey throws today?
Mike Kurtz: Chicago marched from their own 25 to Carolina's 1-yard line. How did they do it? Running. Every single play. Matt Forte had a 55-yard run and even Marion Barber chipped in for 13. third-and-goal was an empty-backfield quarterback draw for about 3, stopped at the 1. This after Carolina did basically the same thing (albeit with some effective throws mixed in) on the drive before. This is already a much better game than I had anticipated.
Devin Hester just broke the punt return touchdown record, after a huge, 60-odd-yard kick return the previous drive. Hester is making sick cuts today, and Carolina has looked completely lost every time. This is a very bad combination for the Panthers.
Vince Verhei: Panthers get a garbage time touchdown to make it 34-29, but the Bears win. I'm thinking how strange it is for a Mike Martz offense to complete only nine passes in a win. Sure enough, the camera cuts to Martz in the booth, looking miserable in victory.
Tom Gower: Chris Johnson has his first good run of the year, running aggressively and picking up 25 yards after contain man Chris Gocong makes a bad step and loses contain. Matt Hasselbeck then finishes the drive off with a TD pass to Craig Stevens -- a simple smash combination and both CB Sheldon Brown and LB D'Qwell Jackson picked up Washington, leaving Stevens wide open.
The Browns defense is starting to try my patience. After the Gocong whiff and then the coverage screwup on the Stevens score, they let Jared Cook run free for an 80-yard TD. Scott Fujita just gets outrun, but Usama Young was slow to react, took a terrible angle to the play, and then tried to make the tackle from behind instead of knocking Cook out of bounds. The Browns have moved the ball OK, in what I think of as a very Browns way (mostly short passes and runs between the tackles), but have stalled out before the red zone.
The Browns have had some success offensively -- they've been in Titans territory on four of their five possessions, on the other one they punted from their own 48. But they keep screwing up defensively. The blown coverage on the smash, Young on the Cook TD, and with the Titans backed up after a punt they give up a big play to Nate Washington on blown coverage that looked like the old run and shoot switch play, then Brown commits pass interference and still doesn't prevent the TD. I didn't think they were great, but they've been a parade of errors today.
Vince Verhei: Two stunning facts about Cleveland:
1) They were actually favored in this game. Really.
2) The Browns have 13 completions in the first half to nine different players, none with more than two catches.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, I think it ended up as a pick 'em. But hey, the FO premium picks formula took Cleveland too, since they were at home. Tennessee is a real surprise, and after accounting for what we knew about them before the season, they didn't look that much better than Cleveland.
Sean McCormick: Yep, Washington and Tennessee seem to be two teams that the preseason assumptions were off on, as both teams have been very good on defense and have had better than expected quarterback play.
Tom Gower: Colt McCoy scrambles after former Browns DT Shaun Smith gets pass pressure, rolls right, and chucks the ball away. Unfortunately, rather than throwing it out of bounds, he chucks it straight to Titans S Jordan Babineaux, who's a good 15 yards from any Browns player and manages an easy 97-yard return for a score. 31-6 late in the third, and this game is over.
Robert Weintraub: Bengals defense dominates the first quarter, but Andy Dalton looking very much like a rookie, and they can only get three on the board. Wild high on nearly every throw. Meanwhile, the Bills finally get some field position after two Bengals deflect a pass that caroms 20 yards towards the sideline, where Naaman Roosevelt just happens to be hanging out. A 30-ish yard gain.
Bills get a strip sack on third down returned for a TD. Bengals need to go CFL from now on and punt on third down. Check that -- the tuck rule saves them! Always was in favor of that one. Point about punting on third down stands, though.
More deflections going Buffalo's way -- pass bounces off Andre Caldwell, he kicks it up in the air, Bills pick it off and run it in for a score. Typical Bengals.
OK, Cincy may stink, but A.J. Green sure doesn't. That's his second grab of a bomb on fly routes, a spectacular catch. But like the first, he didn't score, so it's a lock that the Bengals will get three at most on this drive.
Now Jermaine Gresham with a sensational one-hand catch for the score. Maybe we have a game after all. 17-13.
Bengals get a break -- Buffalo throws on third-and-1, Steve Johnson appears to make the catch but refs rule it hit the ground, replay looks like he caught it but indeterminate. Now they have the ball down seven with a little over eight minutes left.
Aaron Schatz: Loved the Andy Dalton quarterback draw. I'm thinking "Hmm, that's weird that the Bengals are going with an empty backfield on the 3." Oh, that's why.
Vince Verhei: I'm looking around and see a half-dozen games going down to the wire. You know how crazy baseball people went on Wednesday? Yeah, as a football fan I get that seventeen times a year.
Rob Weintraub: Bengals let it run down with the field goal a 42-yarder. Still have two timeouts left. Would have liked to see another run or two there.
Bengal Fever!!! All 41,000 who bothered to show up at Paul Brown Stadium got their money's worth.
Just confirmed my hunch from earlier; the last time the Bengals won on a last second kick, I was on my honeymoon. December, 2005. Bengals beat the Browns while I ignore my new bride to watch the last quarter from a bed and breakfast in Kauai. Yes, we are still together. Last time Cincy beat the Bills was the AFC championship game in '88, by the way.
Aaron Schatz: Is Matthew Stafford anxious today? I'm not impressed with the Detroit offense so far, halfway through the second quarter. Stafford has overthrown guys four or five times, one of them ended up as an interception. He doesn't seem to have any touch on his passes, and this explosive offense looks very non-explosive.
J.J. Cooper: To be honest I am surprised we haven't seen the touchless Stafford more often. In college this is something you saw a lot of.
Aaron Schatz: Now Stafford is underthrowing instead of overthrowing. He didn't set his feet right, backing up, and put a dent in the dirt in front of Nate Burleson on one pass. He's really inaccurate today.
Not only is Stafford inaccurate today, but the Detroit line doesn't seem to be doing a good job of protecting him today... although some of it is Stafford's fault because he seems to keep moving backwards out of the pocket. Anyway, it's interesting because until the last Detroit drive I don't think Rob Ryan was blitzing much and the Cowboys actually were sending only three a lot of the time.
I don't have much to add yet about the Cowboys offense/Lions defense. Dez Bryant is good. The Cowboys are screening a lot but it looks like the Lions have a pretty good bead on that.
Dallas just ran a great play at the start of the third quarter. Kevin Ogletree was wide right, and the Cowboys ran your typical end-around with a fake handoff up the middle. Except Ogletree reversed as he was starting to run behind the quarterback, and went back out to the right. Tony Romo flipped him the ball, and all the defenders were either in the middle to stop a handoff or over on the left to stop the end around, and Ogletree had open field ahead of him. Made it down to the 1.
Ben Muth: That sound you heard was every Cowboys fan vomiting. Bobby Carpenter makes a leaping pick on a Romo pass and runs all over the field to return it for a TD. By far the best play he's ever made in a Cowboys game
Romo has thrown pick sixes on back-to-back drives. Here come the Lions.
Mike Tanier: Every time I look over my shoulder Tony Romo is throwing a pick-six.
Aaron Schatz: Ndamukong Suh has got to stop doing stuff like this: They had Romo pressured, and he threw it incomplete on third down. But wait, no punt, because Suh coming in on Romo put his hand up and smashed Romo in the face. It was ridiculously unnecessary. They had Romo already. Suh was totally in control of himself, he made the decision to put his arm up there. Sometimes you can get away with stuff like that, but Suh has to know the refs are always looking at him. He can't play like that.
Vince Verhei: Calvin Johnson runs into the end zone, stands there. Cowboys defenders swarm to him. Stafford throws it to him anyway, and Johnson outjumps everyone and grabs the ball for the score. Yes, he's very good.
Ben Muth: Similar to Seattles blown coverage last week, Dallas only has three guys on Calvin Johnson in the redzone. Touchdown is a forgone conclusion at that point.
Aaron Schatz: Romo throws a third pick, an awful throw to a clearly well-covered Jason Witten. Cowboys have entirely dominated the Lions today except for four plays: three picks and the play where three guys couldn't cover Calvin Johnson. They should feel horrible if they lose this thing.
Dallas defense has 12 men on the field on the one-yard line and somehow, only one of those 12 men is covering Johnson.
Aaron Schatz: Washington pass rush is killing Sam Bradford. He has no time to throw. None.
Vince Verhei: Michael Turner cuts back for a touchdown to make it 14-0 Atlanta. I noticed this charting the Pittsburgh game this week, Seattle is way more vulnerable to outside runs than they are up the middle. The outside linebackers get hooked inside, or abandon their outside containment duties to jump inside and fill the middle.
Seattle has gone to a no-huddle offense in the second half, and it's giving Atlanta a surprising amount of trouble. They've pulled within 27-14, and Tarvaris Jackson hit Zach Miller for what would have been a touchdown, but James Sanders knocked the ball out of his hands, and Falcons intercept. Falcons go three-and-out, and Leon Washington gets a big punt return inside the 10. Marshawn Lynch then scores to make it 27-21 with 3:07 to go in the third.
Seahawks have a third down in the red zone. Atlanta rushes three and drops eight into coverage, but none of the eight men cover Ben Obomanu in the corner of the end zone. Atlanta 30, Seattle 28.
Julio Jones has something like 200 catches today, but a lot of them have been for short gains, including some attempted screens for big losses.
Ben Muth: Brandon Browner just held the crap out of Jones for a key third-down conversion with seven minutes left. Worst part is that he had great coverage and didn't need to do it.
Mike Tanier: So are the Falcons and Eagles having some kind of disappointment contest?
Ben Muth: Or maybe the NFC West is freaking awesome! ...But probably your theory.
Vince Verhei: Falcons only drive 30-some yards before punting, but manage to kill almost six minutes in the process. Seattle has the ball down two, one timeout, nearly two minutes to go.
Here's all I have to say about the Seahawks' time management on that drive: They just missed a 62-yard field goal on fourth down with 13 seconds to go, with that timeout in their pocket, after spiking the ball on first down.
Tom Gower: Vincent Jackson was so wide open on that first touchdown play that even though Philip Rivers underthrew him by 5 yards, he had time to get up after going to the ground and run the last 10 yards to the end zone. Chad Henne hurt his shoulder, so Matt Moore is in the game. Lex Hilliard is getting the between the tackles carries with Daniel Thomas out.
Jackson had another big catch along the sidelines to set up the current red zone opportunity, but a Jeromey Clary unnecessary roughness penalty helps limit the Chargers to a field goal. Still, I don't think Philip Rivers had hit a deep pass before this game and he has two mid-way through the second quarter today.
Rivers McCown: Beanie Wells is keeping Arizona in the game, but the Giants are limiting the passing game with their pass rush so far. Kevin Kolb has looked hurried -- though he's good at doing that himself too -- and the result has been three sacks and a handful of throwaways. Meanwhile, Eli Manning has barely been getting pressured at all since I tuned in, and it leads a long drive to get three points before halftime solely because he had forever on back-to-back plays to wait for someone to get open.
So naturally, the Cardinals reverse that narrative, forcing a fumble inside the Giants 20 on the turnstile that is Kevin Boothe. Kolb still being bothered early and often, but Larry Fitzgerald yanking a sure interception away from Deon Grant for 47 yards will make just about anyone look good.
Giants cut the lead to three when Arizona forgets that Jake Ballard is on the field, then after the ensuing review that overturns that touchdown, Brandon Jacobs sledgehammers it in for six. On the Cardinals next drive, Kolb lobs one right into double coverage and Antrel Rolle picks it off easily. Fitzgerald can't absolve you on every bad throw.
Arizona runs all over the Giants on a late drive, then Ken Whisenhunt makes one of the worst challenges I've seen this year on a non-touchdown run by Alfonso Smith where he clearly stepped out of bounds. In fact, his knee is down before the goal line too. Since the Giants called timeout before the challenge, we get the rare "both teams lose a timeout" scenario.
Wow. Victor Cruz makes an inexplicable mistake but gets bailed out by the referees. Makes the catch, stumbles, goes to the ground untouched, and lets go of the ball, which Arizona snags. Ruling on the field was that Cruz gave himself up on the ground.
Next play, Hakeem Nicks catches a touchdown to give the Giants the lead. Crazy times in the desert. Even Mike Pereira doesn't like the ruling!
Aaron Schatz: I've never heard of the concept of "giving yourself up" used for anybody other than a quarterback sliding. I thought it only applied to quarterbacks.
Ben Muth: I thought you had to go feet first to "give yourself up". If you go head first aren't you still live until you're touched?
Tom Gower: When a dead ball is declared, excerpt:
(d) when a runner declares himself down by sliding feet first on the ground. The ball is dead the instant the runner touches the ground with anything other than his hands or his feet; or
(e) when a runner is out of bounds, or declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance; or
You rarely see players declare themselves to be down, but it does happen. Most players who do that apparently also make an oral declaration that they're down. Note this is intended as a general comment on the rule, not the rule as applied to Cruz.
Robert Weintraub: Even Dungy said the NFL basically pulled that one out of their rear ends to protect the refs.
Aaron Schatz: I'm not sure what to say about the Patriots-Raiders game at halftime. Patriots offense is awesome. Patriots defense sucks. Jerod Mayo is injured; if that's serious, then things get even worse. Oakland offensive line looks good. It helps that after playing around with the idea of starting two or three rookies, they ended up going with only one, Stefen Wisniewski at left guard.
Sean McCormick: I find New England's game plan rather interesting in that they are doing a lot more running than I would have anticipated. Seeing as their passing game would seem tailor made to give Oakland's man coverage problems, I expected New England to really spread the field horizontally and get Wes Welker free on picks like they did for their first touchdown. But they haven't done much of that. And to Oakland's credit, they've largely taken Rob Gronkowski out of the game with good coverage down the middle of the field.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, Tyvon Branch has been right on him, good game from Branch.
Ben Muth: Aaron Rodgers is really good.
Vince Verhei: Packers just scored to make it 42-17, but Denver's offense has played better than it sounds. They've made a couple of crucial turnovers -- a Charles Woodson pick-six early, a fumble inside the 10 on their last drive -- but they've completed a lot of passes deep in Green Bay's secondary.
Mike Tanier: Aaron Rodgers is truly amazing, but why is he still raining footballs with a 42-17, and now a 49-17 lead? And more importantly, why risk Donald Driver at this point in the game, when he appeared to get seriously injured earlier?
Heh! The Jets have Joe McKnight playing defense now. He's in as a situational pass rusher. That's kinda cool, like in NCAA Football from EA Sports where you can move your players' positions around in the offseason and your running backs often make good defensive ends.
Mike Tanier: The man does everything well except play running back.
J.J. Cooper: As a Steeler fan this Jets' offensive line looks awfully familiar. Maybe Pittsburgh has the second worst offensive line in the league.
Mike Tanier: Take another look at the Eagles offensive line today. The basic premise this year, really, has been that there is no chance at all to stop defenders from knifing right through the middle, so all plays must be rollouts or misdirection of some kind.
Rivers McCown: This game set the "year of the quarterback" storyline back at least three weeks. Yeesh.
Tom Gower: I don't have anything of interest to say about this game, but found this way of breaking down the game from Friend of FO Gregg Rosenthal fitting: SNF score: Ravens D 21, Ravens offense 13, Jets ST 7, Jets D 7, Jets offense 3.
Rivers McCown: This has to be one of the lowest-commented Sunday night games in Audibles history. Neither team really established an offensive rhythm to make it feel like it was a real football game. This wasn't football, it was pinball.
235 comments, Last at 07 Oct 2011, 5:12pm by jonsilver