Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
09 Sep 2011
compiled by Vince Verhei
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.
This week: A special Audibles on the opening night game between Green Bay and New Orleans. This Audibles also introduces a brand new member of the FO staff: J.J. Cooper. You may remember J.J.'s sack project from AOL Fanhouse, where he timed the time in the pocket for quarterbacks on every sack during the season. He'll be bringing that over to Football Outsiders this season, with columns every Friday, and we'll be merging his first two years of data in with our game charting data to get even more info to analyze. The new column Under Pressure premieres next week.
Rivers McCown: If Roger Goodell and Bob Costas had talked HGH for any longer, the smug would obscure the field by game time.
Danny Tuccitto: Tomorrow's headline: "Goodell: Preseason Is Sham, Full-Price Tickets Not Scam."
Vince Verhei: I can't believe I just watched a sports team take the field to 2 Unlimited. In 2011.
Ben Muth: Jermichael Finley looks lost in pass protection. He's sliding to nothing and has missed two blitzers already.
Doug Farrar: On the other hand, it appears that Ryan Grant has adapted to the idea of pass pro for the first time in his life. Nice pickup on that first-drive long pass.
Aaron Schatz: Packers clearly picking on 2010 first-rounder Patrick Robinson on that first drive. We'll have to see if that continues.
Tom Gower: Replacing Jason David as the Saints corner who gets burned early in the season: Patrick Robinson. Playing man coverage with no help can be rough at times, and it was that first drive for Mr. Robinson.
Danny Tuccitto: Collinsworth hyperbolic superlative rate: one per three game minutes.
Will Carroll: Colston's fumble was caused by his knees. I don't think it was intentional, but as (Collins?) was heading low, he flinched and I think lost a bit of focus. I can't blame him, coming off a second microfx, but it might be something DCs around the league are going to take note of.
Michael Tanier: The Saints are experimenting with a stationary zone coverage, where everyone finds a zone and just stands there. Or, for variety, falls down.
Ben Muth: How did the Gramaticas get an endorsement deal? Do they wear their own jerseys everywhere they go?
Danny Tuccitto: You know you're playing bad when opposing D not introduced until 9 minutes into the game.
Ben Muth: Love the call to go play action and throw it deep on third-and-1. Four down territory anyway, take the shot.
Rivers McCown: Some exciting kickoffs so far. Well done, NFL competition committee.
Mike Kurtz: Oh, Saints secondary. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I don't quite understand some of the coverage calls. It seems like the cornerbacks are starting almost every play 10 yards back, and there's no underneath coverage, just deep zones. Then on the Randall Cobb touchdown, they were rotating guys and it looked like Aaron Rodgers caught them mid-rotation, and Roman Harper was supposed to have Cobb and Cobb was past him before Harper had any idea what was going on.
Michael Tanier: Hey Gregg Williams: no more rolling zones all over the place, no more wacky zone blitz looks. How about some nice man coverage until you prove you can cover somebody.
Mike Kurtz: Every time I see a three-man rush, I see a conversion. These quarterbacks are just too good and have too much command of the field to give them that sort of time, no matter how much they have to gain.
Vince Verhei: One of those three-man rushes had B.J. Raji in a two-point stance over the center, then looping around the outside on a speed rush. B.J. Raji. Speed.
Danny Tuccitto: Raw success rates in first quarter: NO O 4-for-10 (40%), GB O 14-for-21 (67%).
J.J. Cooper: We've now had 29 passes, and I believe I'm right in saying that the incompletion Brees just threw five minutes into the second quarter is the first really poor pass we've seen tonight. Rodgers is 14-for-15 with his only incompletion being an intentional throw away, while Brees is 10-for-14. He has had a drop, an intentional throwaway and a pass slightly behind Colston that was broken up before that one he just tried to force to Colston. Of course with the way Rodgers and the Packers' offense is playing, one bad pass seems like a killer.
Seeing John Kasay makes me feel a little less old. He's the last remaining player who was at UGA at the same time I was. When he retires (which has to be any day now), I guess I'll have to accept that middle age has arrived.
Michael Tanier: Heehee. Sproles touchdown. This is getting fun. Over under is 47.5 I think.
Danny Tuccitto: Hoping Barnwell took the over.
J.J. Cooper: So would Steve Tasker even earn a roster spot in the 2011 NFL? I guess he would for his punt coverage skills, but it sure seems like the Reyna Thompsons, Steve Taskers and Tim Tyrells of the world are going to have a whole lot tougher time justifying roster spots now that nearly every kickoff is a touchback.
I guess Sproles just made the argument for the Taskers of the world having roster spots.
Aaron Schatz: They aren't going to all be touchbacks all year. In the preseason it was about 35 percent touchbacks. The ball is just carrying really well tonight. As we get into November and December especially, there will be fewer touchbacks in cold-weather cities.
(Aaron Rodgers hits Donald Driver for and eight-yard catch-and-run.)
Danny Tuccitto: Going back to my refereeing days, that was a pick on the outside that allowed Driver's YAC.
(James Starks scores on a 17-yard touchdown run.)
Vince Verhei: Saints still showing a lot of the great tackling technique that was so effective against Marshawn Lynch.
Tom Gower: No, Jenkins did not have a good tackle on that Starks touchdown run, but let's give credit to the Packers for excellent blocking. Lang and Sitton picked the linebackers, Driver blocked out out the DB, and Starks would've had a first down even with perfect tackling.
Vince Verhei: Sure, but they missed a tackle on Cobb's touchdown too.
Danny Tuccitto: Raw success rates for 2nd quarter (ignoring Rodgers kneel down): GB O 8-for-17 (47%), NO O 8-for-19 (42%).
Aaron Schatz: You know, I'm not sure I've seen a play so far tonight where the Packers have used three linemen. It's basically 2-4-5 Psycho all night long.
Michael Tanier: So now we have a 108 yard kick return. This game is like, three games in one. And I somehow multitasked Futurama at halftime without missing much.
Aaron Schatz: A 108-yard kick return followed by a 50 (or so)-yard kick return. Then again, is Sproles returning it halfway up the field against Green Bay really that special? He still fell short of Dan Connolly by about 35 yards.
Vince Verhei: Devery Henderson gets behind Shields for a 32-yard touchdown. 35-27 Green Bay with more than 20 minutes left. I'm a big fan of defensive football, but I can't deny that this is tremendous fun.
Mike Kurtz: Return after that 108-yard wonder, the returner downs it in the end zone. Guess who got completely chewed out for a boneheaded decision that happened to work out?
Michael Tanier: I think he just knew that if he tried it again, he would wind up on the six-yard line, and everyone would think he got too pumped up from the previous return.
Aaron Schatz: After one play, Charles Woodson demonstrates Green Bay's new "punch in the nads" defense.
I think the Saints made the right move to go for it on fourth down with 3:00 left in the third quarter. Unfortunately, they called pass and the Packers called a defense with guys in coverage instead of selling out to stop the run.
Mike Kurtz: Woodson totally thought nobody would see that, tried to sneak it in. Also, 4th-and-inches. Quarterback sneak will almost always get you inches. What do you do? Play-action, of course, against a goal line defense. What a debacle. Mastermindering!
Michael Tanier: As for the Saints' fourth-and-inches call, I would not call any slow-developing play action until I see some evidence that someone on my team can block Clay Matthews. At all.
Aaron Schatz: I think the play-action would have worked if the Packers had sold out to stop the run. But once they had the guys covered in the first two seconds or so, that was it, there was no way for Brees to get away from the rush.
Tom Gower: I liked Payton's decision to go for it in the third on fourth-and-inches, but Brees needed to force the flat pass to the fullback or just throw the ball away. That's the second he's done that Aaron Brooks-esque turn around and run backwards nonsense. It cost the Saints about 13 yards of field position the first time and nearly cost at least that much again.
Danny Tuccitto: Re going for it on fourth, down 8 vs. down 5 at this stage is a difference without a distinction. Play call could have been a tad better, though. That's classic "run is actually more efficient" situation, no?
Aaron Schatz: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you do need to pass sometimes to switch it up, but yes, usually you run there. FB give or sneak work best.
Michael Tanier: Jordy Nelson caught a little pass in the flat at the start of the 4th quarter and gained about 15 yards. The Saints were showing blitz, with all three linebackers crowding the line, and the whole secondary was in off coverage. NBC ran the graphic and showed the cornerback was 10.2 yards off Nelson. The Packers have been exploiting this all night. The linebackers dropped into zones in this case, but none of them were in any position to buzz a receiver on the outside. It was just a horrible defensive call for the fourth quarter, when the opponent has shown over and over that it is just going to drop the ball in front of that off coverage and the receiver is going to gain YAC.
Danny Tuccitto: Raw success rates for 3rd quarter: NO O 14-for-22 (64%) GB O 4-for-11 (36%).
Aaron Schatz: I have never seen Brees run backwards in the face of pass pressure like this before. He's usually very good at getting rid of the ball, but tonight he keeps turning around and trying to scramble backwards as if he's Michael Vick or something.
Danny Tuccitto: Going back to NO's fourth-down call. Collinsworth opined that it was a situation where Payton just didn't have confidence in his guys to gain a yard after getting stuffed on that third down play. Am I wrong to call BS on that? Just seemed like typical play-calling chess game to me: "Capers knows we should run here, so he'll play run, so let's pass instead."
Tom Gower: I think it was partially a recognition they'd had trouble blocking B.J. Raji, and if you look at the replay Raji stood up both Kreutz and Nicks, so a sneak wouldn't have worked.
Mike Kurtz: Disagree strongly, Raji isn't going to have as much time to hit the line on a sneak, so him standing them up really isn't dispositive, plus, the real action is the dive itself and the extremely generous spots the wings give because they can't really see exactly where the knee hits.
Danny Tuccitto: Expected onside kick fails. Shocking.
Vince Verhei: Brees hits Graham for a TD to pull the Saints within 34-42. Is it me, or did the Green Bay pass rushers look, well, lazy on that drive? The blitzers just seem noticeably slower. Maybe it's a conditioning thing, and they're out of shape in the first game after the lockout?
(Green Bay nearly downs a punt inside the 1-yard line, but it is ruled a touchback.)
Mike Kurtz: Getting in before the crazy: the momentum of his catch didn't end until after his foot was in the end zone. Easy call.
Danny Tuccitto: OK, how the booth doesn't review downing the punt at the 1 is beyond me. He clearly had his knee down before his foot was in the end zone. It never ceases to amaze me how bad NFL refereeing can be on a non-refs-suck-because-they-call-crap-against-my-team basis.
Rivers McCown: They could not have planned this game any better. Wow. What an opener.
Danny Tuccitto: Disagree vehemently. His momentum was going forward at the catch. The momentum rule assumes his momentum is taking him into the end zone.
Vince Verhei: Well, what's the rule on that? When is he "down?" If that was a reception in the field of play, the play wouldn't have been dead with a knee on the ground. When does the play end?
Ben Muth: Evans got stood up on the goal line, killed the play. What a game.
Danny Tuccitto: If he plants himself at the 1, catches the ball moving forward, and has a stray foot land in the end zone after his knee hits, momentum rule doesn't (or at least shouldn't) apply.
Tom Gower: Bush's initial momentum carried him into the end zone, so that's absolutely, positively 100% a touchback. That Al/Cris didn't do a better job of explaining it is tremendously disappointing from a crew that normally gets even non-obvious rules calls right.
B.J. Raji is one heck of a player, and Sean Payton not spreading the formation at all on the goalline is, in my eyes, a very curious move.
Aaron Schatz: The Packers just had the perfect call against the Saints on the goal line both times. They had guys in coverage when the Saints went play-action, then they stacked to stuff the run and the Saints called an up the middle run.
Rivers McCown: We already critiqued New Orleans not running it on fourth-and-inches, now we're critiquing them for not passing it?
Danny Tuccitto: The momentum rule is for when a player catches a ball moving towards the end zone, and his momentum takes him into the end zone. It's for someone intercepting a ball at the 2, and getting a touchback because he was running full speed towards the end zone when he caught it. It's not for when a guy is literally standing at the 1-yd line to catch a punt, moves forward six inches to catch it, and his foot hits the ground inside the end zone after his knee hits at the 1/2-yd line.
Vince Verhei: Drew Brees on the Saints' last two drives: 11-of-15 for 147 yards, no sacks, plus one spike and the pass interference in the end zone.
Danny Tuccitto: His feet never touched the goal until a random foot slammed into the turf after his contra-endzone-moving-or-at-least-stationary catch at the 1 occured. The question is, if it was the punt returner doing the same thing at the 1, would it be a touchback? Of course not.
At least not according to the momentum rule.
Tom Gower: There's not a perfect A.R. in the current rulebook on this issue, but I think this is closest.
A.R. 9.35 TEAM A RECOVERS PUNT AND CARRIES IT INTO END ZONE
Fourth-and-5 on A45. The punt hits at the B9 and rolls toward the end zone. A2 possesses the ball at the B7 and carries it into the end zone. Ruling: B’s ball, first-and-10 on B20. Touchback.
Alternatively, A.R. 9.37 TEAM A RECOVERS BALL AND TOUCHES IN END ZONE Fourth-and-5 on A45. The punted ball is untouched and rolling inside the B5. A2 dives on the ball at the B4 to prevent it from going into the end zone. A2 gains possession at the B2-yard line. A2’s right foot is touching the goal line as he possesses the ball. Ruling: B’s ball, first-and-10 on B20. Touchback.
Mike Kurtz: 9-2-2 Item 2: If a player touches the goal line with any part of his body while touching the ball, the ball is dead and the result of the play is a touchback.
The ball was never at rest until his foot touched the End Zone. If you're going to argue that his momentum was carrying forward, then it's a touchback.
Danny Tuccitto: Yeah, that rule regards "touching" not "catching." If a player on the kicking team "touches" the ball with part of his body touching the end zone, it's a touchback (picture the frantic dash to bat a ball back into the field of play to down it inside the 5). That has nothing to do with the kicking team catching a scrimmage kick. Per Rule 3-2-7 in the definitions: The terms catch, intercept, recover, advance, and fumble denote player possession (as distinguished from touching or muffing).
So, given that the guy "caught" the ball, you go to rule 9-3-2: When the kickers catch or recover a kick beyond the line of scrimmage, the ball is dead at the spot of recovery, even if a member of the receiving team has first touched the ball.
On the play in question, a member of the kicking team caught the ball (per the possession rule), and the ball was dead (per the scrimmage kick recovery rule) when his knee hit the ground. The fact that some random body part tapped the ground inside the end zone is irrelevant. The argument for touchback in this case is like saying, "Member of kicking team is planted on the 1, gets on his knees, and catches the ball moving to his left. To brace his leftward fall to the ground, his elbow hits inside the endzone after the catch. Touchback." The ball was dead upon the catch per Rule 9-3-2, and it was a catch per Rule 3-2-7.
Or maybe I'm batsh*t crazy, and a player possessing a loose ball during a catch is the same as a player touching a loose ball during a non-catch. It's been a long day, so I wouldn't doubt it.
Mike Kurtz: The two aren't exclusive, and are in fact complementary ... witness the free kick out of bounds when R catches it while in contact with the sideline. We could get way into the weeds with impetus, momentum and first touching, but Tom's located the ARs that are on point. The take-home is that what matters on a kick is where the ball rests. That's why K never touches the ball (as opposed to batting it backward) until it has stopped, and why a ball that is still moving (AR 9.35) could actually be physically picked up and moved into the EZ for a touchback (although after a bit of thought it seems to me that R could opt to take it at R7 since it's the location of first touching. I get the feeling that is resolved by an unpublished ruling to resolve that ambiguity, since it says in absolute terms it is a touchback).
Danny Tuccitto: OK, here's raw success rate recap:
Q1: NO O 4-for-10 (40%), GB O 14-for-21 (67%)
Q2: NO O 8-for-19 (42%), GB O 8-for-17 (47%) -- Ignoring GB kneel
Q3: NO O 14-for-22 (64%), GB O 4-for-8 (50%)
Q4: NO O 10-for-20 (50%), GB O 8-for-16 (50%) -- Ignoring NO spike
TOTAL: NO O = 36-for-71 (51%), GB O 34-for-62 (55%)
56 comments, Last at 12 Sep 2011, 12:05pm by Joseph