Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
10 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.
Aaron Schatz: I think this game has started with a flag on every single down on the first Tennessee drive. Or something close to it, at least. Evenly distributed. Everybody's feeling flag-happy today.
J.J. Cooper: Credit the Steelers' special team coach Al Everest with a good memory. Last year the Steelers started their game against the Titans with a reverse on a kick return to Antonio Brown for a touchdown. This year, on their first kick return Brown faked the reverse for a 50-yard return.
Mike Tanier: The Titans-Steelers game is on the bar television next to the Eagles game, so I can look to my left if I want to see a decent tackle.
Mike Kurtz: Steelers execute a beautiful fake punt around midfield, Daniel Sepulveda to Ryan Mundy. The Titans didn't even look, just went through the motions, didn't even realize what was going on until Mundy was 15 yards downfield, ended up with 33 yards. Gorgeous.
Three plays later, the Titans bite completely on play action, easy pitch and catch to Ward for a touchdown. The play before that? A lightning-quick end-around to Antonio Brown. Very creative end to that drive, kept Tennessee on its heels and it paid off for them.
Aaron Schatz: We even have a Jonathan Dwyer sighting! Titans run defense does not look good today.
Steelers are running a lot of a formation where they start in offset I, then motion Heath Miller back into the backfield for a full house before snapping.
Danny Tuccitto: At 21-3 midway through the second quarter, it sure looks like the Titans' defense DVOA will be taking a hit this week. They basically have no answers for the formation and personnel variation being used by the Steelers offense so far
Ben Muth: Hasselbeck drops back on a third-and-8, pump fakes, turns around, and then falls into the fetal position. Three minutes left in the first half and Tennessee hasn't converted a third down yet.
Aaron Schatz: Note: Ravens clobbered Steelers. Titans whipped Ravens. Steelers currently dominating Titans. This is why we don't rank teams based on "X beat Y."
Danny Tuccitto: I realize that this is the year of the quarterback, but, at 21-3, do we still need to be hearing about Roethlisberger's foot after EVERY throw? Is Dan Dierdorf a color commentator and former player, or is he a podiatrist?
Tom Gower: The first half of this game looked an awful lot more like the Titans I expect to see this season. Reinstated fullback Ahmard Hall had a key block that helped spring Chris Johnson for 21 yards on the first play of the game, and he's had nine yards on his next 21 carries. Nate Washington has been quite quiet-not sure exactly what the Steelers are doing on him-but Damian Williams seems to be cottoning on to the offense a little, though the same cannot be said of Jared Cook.
Defensively, the Steelers have been inconsistent running the ball, minus of course the huge run by Dwyer where deep safety Jordan Babineaux did his best Brian Russell impression. Roethlisberger hasn't been attacked the Titans vertically, as I expected, but instead is throwing a bunch of short and intermediate stuff. It's kind of reminiscent to me of Kyle Orton's play in the game the Titans lost to the Broncos at home last year -- not as many sacks that game, but avoiding what pressure there is and finding an open receiver. Once again, in-breaking routes against Jason McCourty seem to be moderately fruitful ground. Add in the two special teams breakdowns on the long kickoff return and fake punt, and only that bit of Roethlisberger stupidity keeps the halftime score from being worse than 21-3.
Robert Weintraub: I hate to compliment Roethlisberger (or Ben as Dierdorf calls him every single play), but his holding on to the ball while getting sacked early in the third quarter was astounding.
Danny Tuccitto: Not to have this devolve into another esoteric rule discussion, but can someone explain to me why offensive players don't get called for facemask on stiff-arms if they grab and pull? Isaac Redman nearly turns Barrett Ruud into Linda Blair circa The Exorcist, and Ruud responds by grabbing Redman's facemask (possibly out of disorientation from all that head torque). Penalty on Ruud turns a one-yard loss into 15 yards and a first down for the Steelers.
Robert Weintraub: Yeah that one definitely should have been offsetting at worst.
Mike Kurtz: Redman definitely committed an offensive facemask, but the only time OFM ever, ever gets called is if a ball carrier grabs the mask and rips the guy down to the ground or twists his whole body around. Never count on that being called unless it's so bad it becomes a safety issue.
J.J. Cooper: I guess nothing explains how bad the Steelers' offensive line has been than this. Max Starks, unwanted by anyone all year, is re-signed by the Steelers this week. He practices three times and is immediately handed back his starting left tackle job. Not only does he play, but he makes a pretty dramatic difference in the Steelers' pass protection. Today Roethlisberger usually has time to look to his second option instead of dodging a pass rusher as he gets set in the pocket.
Mike Kurtz: Not just on offense, but on defense! Max Starks is some kind of wizard, clearly.
J.J. Cooper: Karma makes up for the Steelers' earlier successful fake punt. Now the Titans block a punt and Finnegan recovers it. But for the second time in two weeks, the Steelers' opponent loses a return for a touchdown because of a block in the back.
They just flashed up a stat that Rob Bironas is 50 percent successful on onside kicks. Is there any proof that certain kickers have a knack for onside kicks? Or is this a case of too small of a sample size to make any judgements?
OK, the Steelers-Titans game is officially over as Mike Wallace gets his usual 40-yard touchdown by beating a corner and safety. That makes four catches of forty yards or more in five games.
Tom Gower: I didn't see much in the second half to change what I saw in the first half -- a little more activity for Washington, a little more miscommunication with Damian Williams. Really, though, this game was all about the defense. The Steelers had nine possessions: a three-and-out, a four-and-out, five touchdowns, a field goal, and the 61-yard drive that Roethlisberger's stupid interception killed. When seven of your opponent's nine possessions get that much yardage, chances are good that you're going to lose.
Rivers McCown: The Texans have their customary awesome drive to start the game, then the Raiders catch Houston off-guard with a flea ficker, but Jason Campbell overthrows Chaz Schillens by about three yards when the closest defensive back was five yards away. Houston is going to the passing game a bit more than you'd expect early, and then Matt Schaub throws a tipped at the line interception into the arms of Lamarr Houston.
Surprisingly, the run defense has been pretty stout for the Texans so far. So far being the key word.
Houston gets back on the scoreboard on a beautiful play action touchdown where the Raiders forget to cover Joel Dreessen. The Raiders got to 7-6 off a pair of turnovers on Houston's side of the field. Those resulted in scoring drives of -1 yard and 2 yards as Sebastian Janikowski went to work.
Robert Weintraub: Injury update -- Mario Williams out for the game with a pec. That sounds pretty cool, at least.
Rivers McCown: The play Williams left on didn't actually look that bad. In fact, it looked more like he hurt his finger on the sack than anything.
With two minutes left in the first half, the Raiders finally discovered that picking on Jason Allen is a good idea. Wade Phillips got a little overaggressive and Allen blew a tackle that let Darius Heyward-Bey take it to the house.
Robert Weintraub: Michael Bush with a very alert play for Oakland -- flea-flicker called, but he notes that if he tosses it back, Jason Campbell will be crushed instantly, so he holds it and runs for a few yards.
Rivers McCown: After a huge third-and-1 stop, the Raiders kill the Texans with a successful fake punt that goes for about 30 yards. The Oakland rushing game has done a lot more this half and that has really carried them since the Texans seem to be giving up doubling Allen's man so that they can keep blitzing. No Williams is also a factor.
Tom Gower: After a Matt Schaub sack, Gary Kubiak elects to kick the field goal with three minutes to play and a timeout remaining down 8, rather than go for it. And, no, the Texans do not onside after the made field goal. Jim Caldwell would approve of this strategy.
A strategy Jim Caldwell would not come up with: after a first down run and the Texans taking their final timeout, the Raiders throw deep on second down. It falls incomplete, and the clock stops. Third down run, and they're punting at the two minute warning ... which is exactly what would have happened if they'd run on second down instead of throwing.
Rivers McCown: To be fair, they kicked the field goal on fourth-and-18, it's not like they had good odds to convert that.
Describing the second-half of this ballgame briefly because I have turned the living room into a mess due to it: The Raiders defensive line absolutely destroyed the Texans offensive line. Schaub struggled under the pressure, and Jacoby Jones struggled to do anything right. The fact that the Texans were in the game and had a last-gasp chance felt like a miracle.
Houston's sports radio stations are now feeding off the awkward play Schaub had with seven seconds left at the Oakland 5. He moved forward, drew a safety, and the safety jumped up on him. He's not mobile enough to get by that man, so he threw an goofy off-balance floater that was easily picked off to end the game.
Tom Gower: To be clear, I'm not sure Kubiak was clearly wrong there, just of his possible strategic decisions, he made the most conservative possible choices.
Mike Tanier: Juan Castillo is grossly incompetent and must be fired immediately. I wouldn't trust him to supervise my kid at recess at this point.
Aaron Schatz: Bills have picked off Michael Vick twice in first quarter, first time on a tipped pass, second time when Vick was hit in motion. The Patriots game was similar ... the Bills defensive line actually gets most of their interceptions. They just happen to fall into the hands of defensive backs, but the linemen are doing most of the work.
Mike Tanier: Barf-o-rama in Buffalo!
Aaron Schatz: Oh man, I feel for you Mike. Vick is 9-for-13 with three picks, which means he has only one ball that has hit the ground. Somewhat similar to Tom Brady in the game against Buffalo. The Bills defense really isn't that good, but they're great at picking the ball off. The Eagles really need to try running McCoy more today.
Vince Verhei: Eagles were favored once again today. If that score holds up, I may write about them in AGS for the third straight week, just so I can spend 800 words yelling at America that this team sucks and has sucked all year, so for God's sake stop betting on them.
Aaron Schatz: The thing is, I thought that the problem was that the Eagles defense sucked and the Bills offense was getting disrespected by Vegas and the media. But the Eagles defense isn't throwing three picks right now, Michael Vick is.
Doug Farrar: Vick Awareness Fail: Halfway through the second quarter, third-and-six, and safety George Wilson enhances his already ridiculous game by careening in on Vick and deflecting a pass that should have NEVER been thrown. No blockers, right in Vick's line of sight as he's throwing to LeSean McCoy. That's an inexcusable throw. Wilson creeps up to blitz playside pre-snap. Whaddya want, Mike -- should be hold up a sign?
Vince Verhei: Oh my God. Eagles intercept Ryan Fitzpatrick and have a chance to add points at the end of the half. They're in field goal range, but Vick hangs in the pocket, then throws the ball ten yards out of the back of the end zone ... and the half expires. Vick and Reid timidly ask for one more second, but do not get it.
Mike Tanier: Bobby April. Interim coach. Everyone else, gone.
Doug Farrar: Tanier's blood-alcohol DVOA peaking right ... about ... now.
Vince Verhei: The circus continues. Eagles open the second half with a "surprise" onside kick, except they all huddle together and then sprint to the ball, ruining the element of surprise. The Bills were not fooled. They were actually running toward the ball as it was kicked, and they appeared to recover. I'm not sure what happened -- maybe the Bills called timeout? -- but the play was waved off and Philly kicked off again, normally this time.
Ben Muth: The Eagles try a surprise onside kick to start the second half. The kicker was talking to his guys and the turned around suddenly to dribble the ball out. Didn't work though as the Bills recovered.
But that didn't matter because the ref never whistled the ball ready for play. The Eagles can't even screw up an onside kick right this year.
Doug Farrar: And with that aborted sneak onside kick attempt to begin the third quarter, Tanier fires April, as well.
Rivers McCown: Tanier now frantically trying to get the bartender to pop in the 2008 Phillies DVD.
Vince Verhei: The Fox broadcasters have apparently caught on, as they're now cutting to repeated shots of an overwhelmed Juan Castillo shouting into his headset.
Mike Tanier: Castillo is Dana Bible II and needs to be coaching JV tennis somewhere 2000 miles from Philadelphia.
Danny Tuccitto: Prediction: On C.J. Spiller's eight yard run at 11:15 in the third quarter, entering data in "broken tackles" column of game chart causes fatal error in Microsoft Excel.
Aaron Schatz: At this point, I feel guilty for constantly assigning Eagles fans to chart Eagles games.
Vince Verhei: After their defense gives up yet another score, Eagles' next drive starts with a wide receiver screen that loses yards. Note to Andy Reid: You have a bevy of playmaking receivers and a quarterback who shoots laser beams with his arm. You're playing a defense that came into the game with four sacks on the season. Leave a blocker or two in the backfield and throw the damn ball downfield.
Vick then bails everyone out with a 50-ish yard run to set up a McCoy touchdown.
Eagles have pulled within seven, and Buffalo starts deep in their own end following an ill-advised kick return out of the end zone. The tackling displayed by the Eagles defense on the ensuing drive is ... let's go with "uninspiring."
Eagles now have the ball at their own 20, down seven, with five minutes and change to go. Has anyone seen Tanier? Did his liver finally explode?
Vick throws too far in front of a receiver on an out route, resulting in a tip-drill pick. Bills then have a fourth-and-1 at midfield, line up to draw the Eagles offsides, and the Eagles oblige. I can think of no more fitting way for this team to lose a football game.
Ben Muth: The Eagles game could not have ended any other way.
Aaron Schatz: The worst part is you want to accuse them of playing unprepared rookies or something, but that was one of their most experienced veterans who jumped offsides, Juqua Parker.
Also, the fourth Vick pick was not a tip drill as much as it was a fumble. Jason Avant had the ball stripped by Drayton Florence. It was the kind of situation where normally the ball hits the turf and the play is declared incomplete, but the ball bounced into the hands of Nick Barnett without ever hitting the ground. It was a seriously unlucky interception. The Eagles are simultaneously unlucky and undisciplined. Not a good combo.
Robert Weintraub: The Bills had a virtually identical interception last week against the Bengals, when Andre Caldwell juggled it and then kicked it up in the air. That one was returned for a TD, too. The Bills are looking so far like the '09 Saints.
Mike Tanier: I would just like to let everyone know that my phone died. I did not drink myself into oblivion or go on a spree of any kind, temptation withstanding.
Doug Farrar: Seahawks give Michael Robinson three straight fullback blasts in the second quarter in the red zone, and it's Seattle's second fumble today in that area. I am having Notre Dame flashbacks.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks and Giants tied at 14 at halftime. A weird, sloppy game where it feels like both teams have been lucky. Seahawks were fortunate to start two drives in Giants territory and another at midfield. Giants were lucky to recover a pair of Seattle fumbles inside the red zone.
Seahawks have controlled most of the action -- they lead 13-11 in first downs, 242-163 in total yards, and it was worse than that before the Giants' two-minute drill touchdown. The big play was 47-yard Marshawn Lynch run down to the 1, but mostly it's been Tarvaris Jackson nickel-and-diming his way down the field. Each Seattle tackle has given up a quick sack, but otherwise Jackson has had good protection. That's critical, because Jackson is one of the most hesitant, slow-to-react quarterbacks I've ever seen. For a guy who was brought it because he was supposedly familiar with the offense, it sure takes him a while to figure out what's going on.
Seahawks have also generated more pass rush than usual, until that two-minute drill, obviously. I think they've been using fewer over and under shifts and more conventional 4-3 looks. That probably has something to do with it.
Charlie Whitehurst sighting. Jackson picks up a first down on a shotgun read-option, but immediately heads to the sideline.
Robert Weintraub: Anthony Hargrove just blasted Danny Ware for a safety. You don't see a safety on a running play when the scrimmage line is the 5 too often.
Vince Verhei: I mentioned the Seahawks' field position earlier. Giants have had 11 possessions. Seven have started at or within their own 20, and their best start was their own 41.
Following the safety, by the way, Seahawks go three-and-out -- and then down another punt inside the five. Jon Ryan for MVP!
Eli Manning chucks a wounded duck into double-coverage. Kam Chancellor touches the ball first, but tips it straight up, and Victor Cruz pulls the ball in and rambles for a touchdown. Bradshaw adds a two-point conversion and it's 22-19, Giants.
After recovering a Giants fumble, the Seahawks follow with a zero-yard scoring drive, a field goal to tie the game at 22. Does anybody here want to win?
Let it be known that on October 9, 2011, both Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst played well for Seattle. Down three in the fourth quarter, Whitehurst calmly moves down the field 12 yards at a time. Giants then screw up on defense, with two guys covering a quick out route and leaving Doug Baldwin alone in the end zone. Seahawks up 29-25 with less than three minutes to go.
Giants get a first-and-goal following a ridiculous Cruz fingertip grab, but 80 for the Giants slips and can't handle a pass, and Brandon Browner reels it in and goes 90 yards the other way for the icing pick-six.
Vince Verhei: Panthers break out the old school option pitch for a long touchdown. Panthers got a great block on the cornerback by a wide receiver, and DeAngelo Williams broke a tackle by a linebacker. Saints had a safety back there in position to at least keep him out of the end zone, but Williams just makes him look silly with a shoulder fake and scores.
Doug Farrar: I was thinking how teams aren't really playing the pitch against the Panthers is a real testament to Cam Newton's progression as a pure pocket quarterback who's learned not to bail. You start to integrate that aspect of his play, and the dude becomes very dangerous.
Rob Weintraub: Saints-Panthers might be the hardest hitting game of the season so far. Cam taking plenty of hard shots, and both teams are playing on the border of the rulebook.
J.J. Cooper: Newton just made Fran Tarkenton proud by dropping back, reversing field to scramble away from pressure, then running back to the other sideline, cutting up for a first-down scramble. Nice run, especially as he ran when he had too, not as the first or second option.
Robert Weintraub: Adrian Peterson's third touchdown comes as he bulls straight through Patrick Peterson. I'm willing to wager that never happened to PP at LSU. Even Cam Newton didn't ever do that to him.
Ben Muth: Do you think the Cards can get Andrew Luck if they go 1-15? I hope so, because I'm not sold on Matt Barkley.
J.J. Cooper: Jared Allen vs. Levi Brown is one of the worst matchups you could draw up, so I'm kind of surprised Allen has only two sacks. Brian Robison vs. Jeremy Bridges/Brandon Keith on the other side is just as bad. One of the reasons you can explain the Vikings dominating the Cardinals.
Robert Weintraub: Announcers give credit for unreal Dwayne Bowe tip drill TD grab to ...Todd Haley. Coached him up or something.
Vince Verhei: I think Jacksonville and Kansas City are in a two-team race for Luck. Rams will get some wins somewhere in the NFC West.
Robert Weintraub: If anyone is wondering what to make of the Andy Dalton-Blaine Gabbert rookie quarterback duel, it should be noted that heavy winds are making any pass over ten yards an adventure.
J.J. Cooper: Will love to see the all-22 on a Gabbert-to-Jason Hill touchdown against the Bengals. Somehow the entire defense let Hill get behind them with no one within 10 yards of him.
Robert Weintraub: No need -- Leon Hall mistakenly passed off Hill to the safety, who was busy sprinting up to get the tight end. Hall seen pounding himself on helmet repeatedly afterward.
Thanks to Matt Turk and a 22-yard punt from his end zone, Cincy takes over deep in Jacksonville turf. They convert a fourth-and-6, then punch it in with Bernard Scott, who is still alive, thanks for asking. Up three with a little under two minutes left.
Jags officially hand it over -- rushing to get off a third-and-short with the clock ticking, Jacksonville is not set, and the snap flies past Gabbert who is looking elsewhere.
Tom Gower: The Chargers offense still feels donut-shaped to me, with not enough completions in the middle of the field. The refusal to give the ball to Ryan Mathews in the red zone also bothers me greatly, though he did at least miss some time with a calf injury today before returning. Kyle Orton is 6-of-13 for 34 yards with an interception ... yeah, it's that kind of game. The Chargers lead 23-10 at half, with the Broncos' score coming on a pick-six by the not-very-good Cassius Vaughn.
Aaron Schatz: Tim Tebow time! Please please please, one of you please be watching the Broncos.
Vince Verhei: I thought Brady Quinn had passed him?
Tom Gower: Tebow played the first series of the second half. Two Willis McGahee runs netted a couple yards, then he completed a pass to Eric Decker for zero yards on third down. Punt. It looked like he had a read left on third down , but the Chargers had the quick out covered, so he threw to Decker on the other side of the field. Tebow was also in in the first half for a play, where he ran QB Dive Left for two yards.
Vince Verhei: Tebow's second drive consisted of a three-and-out. He's very good at giving his receivers a chance to make highlight reels, throwing balls downfield that are almost, but not quite, uncatchable.
Tebow underthrew Rosario by a full yard. Rosario is able to reach back and down and get his fingertips on it before it falls to the turf. CBS then puts up a graphic about how many balls the Broncos have dropped today. Tebow finishes that drive by hanging in the pocket on third down before rifling a pass at Matt Willis' ankles.
Tom Gower: The Broncos did pick up a first down that drive on a McGahee run, so they only went about 29:30 of gametime without one.
Vince Verhei: Tebow runs it in (designed run up the middle out of a shotgun) for a 12-yard score. Denver goes crazy. McGahee adds the two-pointer to pull Denver within eight points. Camera cuts to Kyle Orton clapping half-heartedly. In three drives, Tim Tebow has zero passing yards.
Tom Gower: Philip Rivers gets a kind of unusual fumble, shot-putting the ball forward after Robert Ayers knocks it out. John Fox properly wins his challenge, as he lost control before his arm started going forward. Two runs later, the Broncos run a screen against a corner blitz, and Knowshon Moreno dives into the end zone from 28 yards away. Tebow now 2-of-6 for 28 yards with completions of zero and -3 yards downfield, and six rushes for 38 yards on the ground. Chargers overplay the quarterback draw on the two point conversion to tie the game at 26, and Brandon Lloyd can't haul in the pass.
Vince Verhei: Chargers kick a field goal on their last drive. Lloyd finally pulls in one of Tebow's barely catchable balls, a one-handed snag along the sidelines that was ruled incomplete, but reversed on replay. Tebow gets one more completion in the middle of the field and the Broncos spike the clock, with one play to actually win this thing. He then scrambles around for nearly ten seconds, winding this way and that, until he actually finds a guy in the back of the end zone, but two Chargers break it up and that's that.
Tom Gower: I'll let J.J. do the official measurement, but I had Tebow at 11.3 seconds from snap to throw on the game-ending play.
Aaron Schatz: Jets start the game against the Patriots in the same 3-1-7 set that confused the hell out of the Pats in last year's playoffs. They were blitzing a little out of it, though, not just rushing three. Then they came out for the second drive in a more standard 2-4-5 nickel. What's interesting is that the Pats were throwing on the 3-1-7 but had Law Firm running all over the more standard formation.
Hey, if you guys wanted an offensive facemask, they just called one against Rob Gronkowski in the Jets-Pats game. I didn't really get a close look at what exactly Gronkowski did.
Mike Kurtz: Looked pretty innocuous, actually. Wing must've had a really good look at it.
Antonio Cromartie has looked REALLY bad thus far.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots close out the first half with Aaron Hernandez effectively dropping both a touchdown and a field goal. He dropped what would have been a touchdown, but worse, it went off his hands and into the hands of Cromartie, which means the Pats don't get a field-goal try.
Jets are playing a more conventional defense than they did in the playoff game last year. Even when they have seven defensive backs, they're sending four or five most of the time. Pats are getting some runs, some passes, mostly to wherever Revis isn't. Jets are doing well running on the Pats. Overall Pats have been the better team, but that pick to end the first half keeps it close.
Jets trying out a new offensive strategy, "ground-and-pound-and-get-stuck-in-third-and-long"
Mike Tanier: Jets blitz the house from the left, Patriots run a shotgun sweep right.
Aaron Schatz: For most of this game I was going to say that the Jets offense was really unimpressive. There were very few passes to Santonio Holmes or Dustin Keller, probably their two best weapons. Wouldn't it make sense to run Keller up against the poor Pats safeties? However, Jets finally had impressive 85-yard drive to pull within six. Great touchdown pass to Holmes.
Pats get ball back with 7:07 left and proceed to run eight straight running plays, seven to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and one sneak by Brady, to take five minutes off the clock. That leaves third-and-2, they pass to Gronkowski for the first down, and the game's basically over. A Jets stop on third-and-1 gives Stephen Gostkowski a chance to kick a field goal that keeps the Pats' streak of 30-point games going at 13. They'll tie the 99-00 Rams if they get 30 against Dallas next week.
Danny Tuccitto: First quarter over in San Francisco. My general impression is that Harbaugh's really unveiling the West Coast offense this week. Tight ends heavily involved. Almost every pass has been in the middle of the field. Josh Morgan catching a slant. Dumpoffs to Frank Gore over the middle look like they're by design with Tampa Bay's linebackers vacating the area in Tampa-2. One other thing I'll say is that previous San Francisco teams would fold like a house of cards after that Gore fumble in the red zone. This year, Carlos Rogers gets a pick-six on next play. Don't get me wrong, it's not the proverbial swagger; just less of the "here we go again" mindset it seems.
Aaron Schatz: You know, that sounds about right. One of the things I've always argued about sports is that there aren't a few players who have special positive powers, but there are a few players who have special negative powers. I think most players are fine in the clutch, but there are a few who can't handle that pressure. I believe that most relief pitchers in baseball could close, but there are a few who clearly can't. And I think that most football players have plenty of confidence and swagger ... but clearly there are occasionally teams who get that "here we go again, we're doomed" mindset. And the idea that Harbaugh and a 3-1 record help to assuage that anxiety makes sense.
Danny Tuccitto: Usually, teams run bunch formations with two receivers and one tight end. On the 49ers' latest touchdown, they line up in a bunch right with Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, and Justin Peelle. Peelle is wide open in the right flat, but Davis is wide open in the middle of the field with Walker in a position to block. Smith hits Davis, Walker blocks a would-be tackler, and Davis barrels his way into the end zone.
Aaron Schatz: So Danny, do you think this game today is sending the message that we need to take the 49ers seriously, and not just in a "they're guaranteed to win the NFC West at 8-8" kind of way?
Danny Tuccitto: Memo to Raheem Morris and Greg Olson: You're down 41-3 in the fourth quarter. Why are you running on first and second down? Why are you punting from midfield?
Aaron, having had my will beaten down to a dust over the past eight seasons, I just reflexively assume the worst. In that vein, they've been lucky the last two weeks to play teams that aren't as good as their reputation (PHI) or record (TB) suggest. I guess that makes them a good team, but I still think things would be ugly if they had to face a truly elite team. I'll get back to you after they travel to Baltimore in Week 12. But yeah, at the very least, they're clearly the best team in the NFC West.
As I was saying, Aaron, Harbaugh goes for it on fourth-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 20. Colin Kaepernick completes a pass to Morgan, who runs to the one-inch line, and looks to have broken his ankle in the process. Had to be carried off by teammates. With Edwards still out, this now -- for real, this time -- becomes the Michael Crabtree Era in the San Francisco wide receiving corps.
I know it's tough to evaluate players in the late stages of a 48-3 game, but Aldon Smith continues to impress as a pass rusher. He's got three sacks so far, but I'd be interested to see what his hit and hurry stats are like.
Vince Verhei: On the Niners front, here is a complete list of NFC teams that I think are definitely better than San Francisco: Green Bay and New Orleans. They might not be better than teams like Detroit or Atlanta, but they'd at least be competitive. I think they'd be the favorites to win the NFC East, and would at least be wild card contenders elsewhere.
Tom Gower: Just for the record, this is the first time the Packers have trailed by 14 points since the playoff loss to Arizona, and the first time they've trailed in the regular season since they trailed the Vikings and B**** F**** on November 1, 2009. So far (Packers just kicked the FG to go down 14-3), the Falcons have done a very impressive job of scheming, and now that Chad Clifton has joined Bryan Bulaga on the shelf, even the Falcons' pass rush will probably be getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers.
With the tackles out, this looks more like the early version of Rodgers, having to run around and avoid sacks. He's obviously improved a lot since then, but it's limiting their offense. The lack of sticky glue on his receivers' hands (Jermichael Finley on the goalline right before half, Donald Driver over the middle before the long FG to make it 14-9) hasn't helped.
Aaron Schatz: James Sanders in man coverage on a wide receiver is not a good matchup, kids.
Another thought: It's harder to add interesting scouting comments for Audibles during the Sunday night game because Collinsworth seems to usually point out stuff that I'm noticing, whereas all the daytime commentators say a bunch of meaningless nonsense.
Rivers McCown: Mike McCarthy: Not a fan of your illegal substitution calls.
There's that Sam Baker that Ben Muth always tells me isn't playing very well. I haven't watched much Atlanta this year -- have they actually used their blocking tight ends a lot?
Vince Verhei: I thought, on the whole, Marshall Newhouse played OK at tackle. Maybe it's because I've been watching Seattle for years, but I've seen plenty of tackles play worse than that.
Tom Gower: I feel like they run six offensive linemen on passing plays a lot more than most teams, and it's regularly Svitek next to Baker.
Aaron Schatz: Aaron Rodgers was definitely under more pressure in the first half than the second half.
Mike Kurtz: What really amazed me throughout this game is Matt Ryan's inaccuracy. Green Bay hasn't been able to bring much pressure, so it's not like Ryan's hearing footsteps. He's just misfiring while in the pocket. That more than anything is why they're going to lose this game -- the defense played surprisingly well.
Tom Gower: I spewed about this on Twitter Friday night, but I feel like I'm actually sort of starting to figure Atlanta out. They coach like they mostly trust Ryan's ability to make pre-snap reads, but don't trust his ability to read and improvise post-snap. They got out to the early lead because they were able to scheme successful plays that Ryan could execute (his second strength). The Jones pick was not because they wanted to change their identity as a team, but because it was the best way of maximizing the ability of Ryan's success on throws defined off the pre-snap reads. We saw what happened when they tried to highlight Jenkins -- it didn't work. The throwing a lot to Jones early this year hasn't been highlighting Jones' ability or justifying his draft status -- rather it's that they now have two viable options for pre-defined throws based on the defensive look pre-snap. Six offensive linement instead of an extra wide receiver isn't a big problem in that case, because it's not as big a deal if you have to wait for one of the receivers to beat somebody.
I should emphasize that this is sort of an evolving theory, and progressed while watching the Seahawks game and I feel better about it after tonight's game. I'm sure I'll have to revise it, but I feel like the Falcons' offense actually make some sense now for the first time this year. I should also note this theory includes the fact that Michael Turner is now no longer a feature back.
Robert Weintraub: Is it me or are Al and Cris writing this one off a little early, especially with all the comebacks we've seen this season? I know it's a long shot, but two scores in 1:10 with an onside kick -- hardly unprecedented.
Rivers McCown: With the benefit of hindsight, I'm gonna go with: "it's just you."
241 comments, Last at 13 Oct 2011, 4:06am by Eggwasp