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 Dec 2012
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 49ers 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: Only five weeks left to enjoy the Jets!
Peter Koski: Maybe HBO should consider an offseason Hard Knocks with the Jets?
Ben Muth: Mark Sanchez throws a pick on his first pass. The Cardinals can't get a first down on third-and-1 or fourth-and-inches on the ensuing drive. This game is going according to plan early.
Brian Billick doing reads for The Mindy Project is high comedy.
Sanchez keeps throwing the ball to Kerry Rhodes. The former Jets safety that was too "Hollywood" for New York has two picks in the first.
Patrick Peterson just made the interception of the year. Chaz Schilens was open deep and Sanchez underthrew him. Peterson came from behind to make a spectacular steal-and-catch from Schilens. As I'm typing this, I'm realizing how hard the play is to describe in writing. I'm not doing it justice. It probably looks even more absurd on the All-22.
Jets go three-and-out after the Lindley pick and Nick Folk doinks a 52-yarder off the upright (his second doink of the game). I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
Rivers McCown: In Rusty's defense, his terrible game did come against one of the worst pass defenses in modern history. The Jets are still passable.
Vince Verhei: Is Greg McElroy warming up yet?
Ben Muth: Not yet, but I vote for making McElroy all-time quarterback in this game.
Cardinals get 40 yards on a fake punt on what was a poorly-designed punt block from the Jets. The Cardinals don't get a first down after that, but kick a field goal to take a 3-0 lead into the half.
Lindley is 6-of-20 for 48 yards and a pick at the half. He hasn't played up to those numbers. Lindley's first pass was a 23-yard completion to Larry Fitzgerald. He has 25 yards passing on 19 attempts since then. This is an NFL game.
You can feel the hate/anger/disgust of Jets fans through the television. If the Cardinals win there could be a riot. Thom Brennaman: "I got to tell you, this has been as ugly and inept an offensive football game as I've ever seen."
Andy Benoit: I admire the heck out of Ben Muth for watching the Cardinals-Jets game. Even fans of those teams probably had to at least talk themselves into tuning in for it.
Vince Verhei: I'm not watching Cards-Jets as closely as Ben, but I'm keeping one eye on it from time to time. I would rather watch morbidly fascinating bad football than more standard mediocrity like, say, Jacksonville-Buffalo.
Ben Muth: I am a Cardinals fan and a masochist. Not necessarily in that order.
William Gay just dropped what would have been a pick-six on the first drive of the second half. Jets go three-and-out. McElroy still not warming up.
Cardinals respond with a three-and-out of their own. Arizona is now 0-of-10 on third downs.
Rivers McCown: At what point do we speculate that McElroy isn't playing due to his offseason comments about the Jets locker room? Three weeks ago?
Ben Muth: Neither team has completed a pass in the second half. Over five combined drives.
McElroy is (finally) warming up. Walking onto the field, he gets the biggest pop I've heard since Steve Austin ran in during the Rock/Mick Foley Raw title match.
McElroy leads a 69-yard touchdown drive on his first series. Bilal Powell's 34 yards rushing and 20 yards in Arizona penalties helped, but McElroy did throw a one-yard touchdown to a comically open Jeff Cumberland on third-and-goal. So there's that. This is after he almost threw a pick his first pass of the game. Now he's just had a pick called back on a really bad illegal contact call.
Cardinals try to let the Jets score at the end of the game, Greene sniffs it out and takes a knee at the one.
Lindley completed one pass in the second half. Counting the three sacks the Cardinals gave up, Arizona had 56 total yards of passing. That's 1.8 yards per dropback. They would have been better off running 34 quarterback sneaks.
Beanie Wells, had 15 carries for 22 yards. Not counting the 40-yard fake punt, the Cardinals had 41 yards rushing. Those who are good at addition have probably figured out that without the fake punt the Cardinals had less 100 yards of total offense.
Arizona had five first downs all game: two rushing, two passing, one from a penalty. And, finally, Arizona finished 0-15 on third down.
It was the worst offensive performance I have ever seen.
Danny Tuccitto: I mentioned this trend in my fantasy piece for Insider this week, and it turned out to be mildly prescient today (opponent adjustment aside), so here's the quote from the piece: "Since Lindley took over in Arizona, Fitzgerald has four catches on 17 targets (for 42 yards and zero touchdowns), which translates to a 23.5 percent catch rate. With Kevin Kolb and John Skelton earlier this season, his catch rate was 51.5 percent."
Today: one catch for 23 yards on seven targets, which drops Fitzgerald's catch rate with Lindley to 20.8 percent. Fitzgerald's always been a guy I thought of as a talent that transcends the typical dependence of wide receivers on quarterback play. Well, it's clear that Lindley is the exception that proves the rule.
Danny Tuccitto: At the end of the Rams' first drive, Jeff Fisher just elected to punt on fourth-and-inches from the 49-yard line. Fair catch plus a penalty on St. Louis during the kick means the 49ers start at the 25-yard line. That's a net of 26 yards. At 4-6 and a massive underdog, why are you punting?
Midway through the first quarter, we're seeing a good part of the reason why Harbaugh made the move to Colin Kaepernick. On the 49ers first drive, Janoris Jenkins blitzed from the blind side edge, and Kaepernick sensed it quickly enough to peel out and scramble for a short gain. I think Smith either gets blown up on that play or throws it into the 14th row after a short rollout. On their second drive, Kaepernick sees a running lane open up, and takes off for a first down to extend the drive, which ends in a Frank Gore touchdown.
As the FOX crew said, it's not that Smith isn't athletic. He is. It's just that these kinds of make-something-out-of-nothing plays are not -- and have never been -- in his repertoire.
Peter Koski: After one quarter in St. Louis, the Rams defense is not giving Kaepernick a lot of downfield options to throw to, forcing mostly dumpoffs. Ted Ginn has been in on offense for at least two snaps, which is two more than I prefer. Gore has already ripped a couple of big inside runs while Steven Jackson is not gashing the San Francisco defense like he did three weeks ago. St. Louis' biggest play of the first was a personal foul penalty by the Niners.
The luxury of Vic Fangio: sending a three-man rush with The Smiths is the equivalent of sending five for most teams. Another sack for Aldon Smith. The Defensive Player of the Year race has been fun to watch this year.
Aaron Schatz: The Rams throwback uniforms are awesome and I wish they went back to wearing the brighter colors full time.
Danny Tuccitto: Obscure rulebook minutia alert: the Rams just got a safety when Kaepernick's throwaway from the end zone didn't make it back to the line of scrimmage. Pretty straightforward call ... until Mike Perreira chimes in with the "line of scrimmage extended" distinction. Kaepernick's throw landed past the line of scrimmage, whereas the officials instead treated it like a punt, going by where the ball was when it crossed the boundary in the air.
In other words, Rams just got two free points, so we've got the baseball score: Giants 7, Cardinals 2.
Rivers McCown: Nobody tell Joe Buck. He'll be distraught.
Danny Tuccitto: Make-up call alert: If anyone wants to get a good laugh, check out the roughing the passer gifted to San Francisco at the beginning of the fourth quarter. No contact with Kaepernick's head, and barely any contact with Kaepernick whatsoever. Robert Quinn basically chest-bumped his shoulder.
In an unrelated note, I've counted at least four times where Cortland Finnegan's engaged in the proverbial extracurriculars after the snap. If Michael Crabtree or Mario Manningham were from The U, there would have been fisticuffs by now. The fact that he's getting away with it over and over is a joke.
Vince Verhei: So in other words, every Cortland Finnegan game ever.
Rivers McCown: Is that a second reference to the Rusty Smith game in one column? I love it. Only four? He must be tired.
Andy Benoit: Alex Smith has a "what the hell? I could have made that pitch!" look on his face, watching Jenkins recover an errant pitch to Ginn.
Danny Tuccitto: Ginn made one of the most half-assed recovery attempts I've ever seen.
Kaepernick's 50-yard run is another example of making something out of nothing, but what on earth is Jenkins doing 60 yards downfield covering no one (he ended up saving a touchdown)? Cover 3 I guess? Looked like Randy Moss was running a 9-route to that side, so maybe he just decided to hang out and catch a breather rather than attacking the run immediately?
Apparently Carl Cheffers is unfamiliar with human anatomy. Sam Bradford scrambles, and attempts to slide, and Dashon Goldson hits Bradford in the chest with his back. Second helmet-to-helmet call today where there was no helmet-to-helmet contact. At least they evened out, I guess.
Andy Benoit: Jenkins was giving up way too much cushion on Moss, allowing a third-and-3 conversion on a play where the defense schematically won. That’s been an issue with Jenkins a few times the past couple months or so.
Danny Tuccitto: I have no rational thoughts about the last 18 minutes of game time here, at least not any that are printable. It's beyond my comprehension how in the hell Harbaugh got burned settling for a field goal in the first game against the Rams, and then he chose to settle for a field goal again -- this time a 51-yarder!
Aaron Schatz: David Akers is providing excellent anecdotal support for the FO precept that all kickers are inconsistent on field goals, no matter how good they may look for one or two years.
Andy Benoit: Aaron Rodgers drew two offsides on the opening series with hard counts. The second one resulted in a somewhat deep shot to James Jones for a touchdown. A.J. Jefferson was in good position on the play, but showed very poor ball skills on. Should have been an interception, but Jones snatched it from behind him.
The Packers opened the game with a lot of no-huddle, had some success with it.
Adrian Peterson has great control in his stutter step. He's unique in his ability to manufacture violence and acceleration right off of it.
Everson Griffen is standing out with his initial quickness inside against the run. Rodgers drew a fourth offsides on him, then Mistral Raymond got flagged for pass interference on the play. This probably isn't news, but Rodgers has an incredible ability to sense and elude pressure from his back side.
Peterson's 82-yard touchdown was one of the best all-around runs we've seen this season because it required every tool in his belt. It started with lateral agility, then explosion, then strength (breaking tackles), balance (tip-toes the sideline), and finally, breakaway speed. Stamina, too, because most runners wouldn’t have the wind to break away after slugging through tacklers laterally early in the run.
With T.J. Lang sidelined, Don Barclay has been a target at right tackle. He's struggling with the quickness of Brian Robison. Packers receivers are struggling to get open early in the route. Rodgers is continuously having to extend the play.
On the other hand, the Buccaneers are really having a problem covering Tony Gonzalez: just plain wide open a few times.
Unusual about Peterson’s big run to begin the second half, and his solid run on the next play, was that it came behind a lead-blocker. Vikings having success with two-back sets this year, but they don’t do a lot of straight lead-blocking.
Rivers McCown: Maybe they should, Kevin Seifert wrote up a little something about that this week.
Andy Benoit: Ponder threw an awful pick in end zone to Morgan Burnett. Off a short-field rollout, he took down to his third read, and threw back across the field a bit. Should have just scrambled.
The Vikings had a third-and-one from about their own 10. The Packers loaded 10 men in the box. Tells you everything there is to know about Vikings offense right now. No Vikings receivers have a reception through three quarters. Ponder is not able to get the ball downfield, and there have been practically no attempts at it.
Vince Verhei: I just want to say that early in the fourth quarter, the Vikings have 36 yards passing (with two interceptions) and 237 yards rushing. There is some god-awful quarterbacking in this league today.
Andy Benoit: Evan Dietrich-Smith struggled all game, particularly in short area run blocking. At this point, Michael Jenkins shouldn’t be playing outside in the NFL. Simply can’t separate from man coverage.
Rivers McCown: At this point? I can't remember the last time he could. 2008? 2009?
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, that's Brady's first pick in over 200 attempts. A really good play by Jones; not only did he have tight coverage, but Brady was trying to put it out of his reach and Jones managed to pick it off with one hand instead of just slapping it away.
Otherwise the story of the game so far has to be the improvement of the Pats' defense. End of the first quarter, and the Dolphins have about three yards per carry while Tannehill is 2-for-8 for just 17 yards. Talib and Alfonzo Dennard really seem to have stabilized the cornerback position.
Brady has also overthrown guys a couple times today. One of them was clearly an issue of not being used to Daniel Fells running the seam route usually run by Rob Gronkowski. With Gronk, that wouldn't have been an overthrow.
Andy Benoit: Wes Welker has nine catches for 82 yards and a touchdown in the first 20 minutes. This is where the idiots say "revenge game ... wanting it more ... blah blah blah...”
Aaron Schatz: Miami offense gets going in the second quarter. Some excellent tackle-breaking by Daniel Thomas.
Karlos Dansby just got called for pass interference on what looked like an uncatchable ball, like 10 yards past Shane Vereen. This brings up two questions. First, whatever happened to not calling DPI on uncatchable balls? And second, why on earth is Dansby using a blatantly illegal armbar on a ball that his receiver wasn't going to have a chance to catch anyway, thus risking a DPI flag?
The Dolphins pass rush is really on fire today, all over Brady. Patriots pass rush also getting to Tannehill.
Stevan Ridley is having trouble finding room to get around the corner on the outside, but doing a good job of finding holes and pushing tacklers back to get yardage up the middle.
"Statement drives" are usually ridiculous announcer nonsense, but I do think this final drive by the Patriots against Miami is a statement drive. The statement isn't as much "look how tough we are," it's more, "for those of you who didn't already know, our running game absolutely does not suck."
The Pats got the ball on the 20 with 8:28 to go. They just hit the two-minute warning on the 2-yard line. 54 of those 78 yards came on runs by Ridley and Vereen.
Oops, though, Brady just had his first failed sneak in years. He trips over his own feet trying to go in on third-and-2. Pats will kick the field goal and go up 10. We await the backdoor cover.
Note that the Seahawks' strategy of covering Brandon Marshall one-on-one downfield (discussed below) is much better than the Patriots' strategy of playing Hartline zero-on-one downfield to allow for an easy 28-yard gain right on the sideline, thus also allowing the Dolphins to stop the clock without timeouts, thus allowing for the backdoor cover.
Andy Benoit: The Panthers ran a statue of liberty with a reverse on the final play of first quarter ... got Joe Adams a gain of five or so.
Vince Verhei: Fumble luck alert: three fumbles in the first quarter in Chicago, two by the Bears, one by the Seahawks. The Bears recovered all three of them. They turned that luck into one touchdown and another red zone drive, but on fourth-and-inches inside the 20, the Seahawks stuffed the dive. Not sure how you justify trusting that offensive line against this defensive line, but the Bears did, and it cost them.
Mike Kurtz: The announcers mentioned that they talked to Carroll before the game about Brandon Marshall. Apparently he told FOX that he wasn't going to do anything special on first and second down. Nothing special appears to be zone coverage on Marshall. He has 68 yards after the first quarter. The Seahawks cannot win this game if they don't take Marshall seriously. The Chicago passing game runs through him alone.
Aaron Schatz: The Seahawks have the best defense in the league against No. 1 receivers, so I don't think Carroll necessarily had to do anything different, but do they usually play zone coverage? I thought they were a primarily man team.
Mike Kurtz: So did I, but they're clearly playing zone. Nobody is playing press and the corner stays outside and behind when Marshall has been cutting it over the middle.
Bears get the ball, Marshall is still in single coverage. Second throw, Marshall in single coverage again. At least they have the corner up this quarter. So someone got the message, sorta.
So, if you need evidence that the booth doesn't get the stupid score ticker on the bottom of the screen on their monitors. Braylon Edwards makes an amazing diving effort to grab the ball in the end zone, so the announcers show what is probably a great angle of his hands under the ball, but it's at the bottom of the frame, and thanks to the Carolina-Kansas City game, we can't see the ball.
The catch is overturned. It's probably not a catch, but it probably should not have been overturned.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks take a 10-7 lead into halftime (barring something wacky in the last 5 seconds here). I'm surprised about that overturn just because I don't think the video evidence was indisputable either way.
To be fair, the Seahawks have been dodging their share of bullets as well. Jay Cutler has underthrown a few receivers on what should have been first downs, and Earl Bennett dropped what could have been a long touchdown catch. The Seahawks have gone to man coverage on Marshall with Earl Thomas shading that side. Don't ask me why they didn't start that way, it's only the theoretical foundation upon which their entire defense is built.
Matt Forte catches the ball and is called down inside the one-yard line to set up a first-and-goal. Lovie Smith decides to challenge. A colossal waste of a challenge. Even if he wins. You don't think you can pick up two feet in three plays? Well, the Bears won the challenge. That touchdown caps off a drive that went about 90 yards and puts Chicago ahead 14-10. Seahawks appeared to force a three-and-out inside the Bears' 20, but Bruce Irvin was called for hands to the face on third down while pass rushing against a tight end. There's one you don't see called often.
Bears have a third-and-12 near midfield, where a first down means a great chance at a security field-goal, and they run ... a draw for no gain? I kind of get the give-up play deep in your own end, but that was a give-up in a huge situation.
Bears fumble again, recover it again. At least this one was a botched handoff that resulted in a big loss.
Seahawks finally recover a fumble, but this time Marshawn Lynch puts the ball on the ground and it costs them a first down. Fortunately Lynch runs for a first down on the next play.
Mike Kurtz: The Seahawks are driving, around midfield at the two-minute warning with two time outs remaining. This drive has seen a lot of scrambles and rollouts by Russell Wilson. He's found a lot of space against a rather soft Bears defense, which has helped immensely.
Andy Benoit: This time, Golden Tate’s game-winning touchdown is legit.
Vince Verhei: Russell Wilson, third-round rookie, just led a 97-yard, fourth-quarter, last-minute, go-ahead touchdown drive on the road against the best defense in the world. I'm not going to be much use for the rest of the day.
Mike Kurtz: Seattle, of course, does a hideous job covering Marshall. Again. This sets up a 46-yard kick for Robbie Gould to tie it.
Andy Benoit: Cutler buys time to complete a 56-yarder to Marshall to set up the game-tying field goal. Seahawks covered him one-on-one downfield with no contact. Easy to criticize that approach, but they were likely anticipating the Bears doing some sort of quick hitch (Chicago had two timeouts at the time).
Vince Verhei: Well, if nothing else, we have the game of the year here. I think that's safe.
Seahawks, in the immortal words of Matt Hasselbeck, take the ball in overtime and they score. Probably not a coincidence that Tim Jennings and Brian Urlacher both left the game during the drive. A touchdown pass to Sidney Rice to put the game away. Bears knocked the ball free and I thought it was incomplete, but they ruled possession. Rice was knocked out on the play, but got up after a few minutes and was walking around fine.
I counted at least a half-dozen read-option runs by Seattle on the overtime drive. Between options and scrambles, I think Wilson ran for at least six first downs today. Wilson becomes the tenth player this year to throw at least 30 passes against Chicago, but the first player to do so without an interception. In his last four games, Wilson has thrown nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Going back to the New England game, he has thrown 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in his last seven games.
Wilson now has 19 touchdown passes in 12 games. He's on pace for 25. Only one rookie has ever thrown that many: Peyton Manning. Tate actually deserves the bulk of the credit for that fourth-quarter touchdown, catching the ball in the field of play and slipping several tackles to get into the end zone.
Rivers McCown: L! Q! F!
Rivers McCown: First quarter done in Nashville. Texans up 14-3 after Gary Kubiak went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 10, converted, and had Matt Schaub find James Casey on first-and-goal. Where was that aggression the past few weeks?
Houston's non-J.J. Watt pass rush is still AWOL early, which would be a problem if Tennessee's pass offense was at all threatening. Even on their one big play, Danieal Manning was in position to pick Jake Locker's pass off. Jared Cook just made an outstanding individual play to snatch it away from Manning and hold on despite Manning's hands being on the ball.
Inadvertent whistle in Tennessee robs us of a glorious fat guy touchdown. (OK, Antonio Smith isn't a defensive tackle, but still.)
Tom Gower: Firing offensive coordinator Chris Palmer proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Tennessee Titans this week, as they put up ... uh, three points of offense in the first half and trail the Texans 21-3. Jake Locker is 8-of-22 for 96 yards and two interceptions, which is the kind of statline I'd say more or less accurately reflects his level of performance. The Texans went on the board early when Michael Griffin took a horrible angle to the ball in deep zone coverage and whiffed (of course), basically conceding to Lestar Jean all the yards to the end zone, while the third touchdown was set up by Locker's first interception. Titans punt returner Darius Reynaud has fair caught the ball inside the 10 multiple times, and the Titans this year have barely scored when starting inside their own 20. Ho-hum, just another game by a good team against a not very good one.
Left tackle Michael Roos goes off the field injured for the Titans. Left guard Steve Hutchinson left with his own injury earlier in the game. Right tackle David Stewart broke his leg earlier as well. With only seven linemen active, Hutch has to come back into the game. After line shuffling, regular starting center Fernando Velasco is playing right tackle. Down 24-3 now, I'm not sensing a comeback in the offing.
Locker did better in the second half. Not great, but better, more along the lines of the performance I expected against a defense that would be down three of their four cornerbacks after Brice McCain was injured in the first half. Brandon Harris seemed to be a particular target, and a very juicy one, though Kareem Jackson (the one healthy non-terrible corner) got caught peeking in the backfield in man coverage on Locker's touchdown throw to Kenny Britt. I don't think the Texans will come out great offensively this game, but they went up early and were never seriously threatened.
Rivers McCown: I thought Harris played acceptably, granted I didn't watch with all-22 or anything. You know, when Wade Phillips goes into the prevent, bad things tend to happen. The bulk of Denver's comeback in Week 3 was due to that.
Still, I do think the defense has been playing markedly worse without Johnathan Joseph, and this was a game where the final score indicates that the Titans are bad more than it shows the Texans are good.
Andy Benoit: Andrew Luck’s game-winning drive was the perfect combination of quarterbacking between his feet and arm. Absolutely remarkable.
Rivers McCown: I didn't get to see a lot of this game because I was only switched in at the two-minute warning, but...
Luck marched the Colts down the field in about a minute. Game-winning touchdown on fourth down. Ho hum. This team has an abysmal defense, but the young offense is coming together, especially now that Coby Fleener is back.
And Luck is a witch. I started writing this comment on first-and-goal from the 8 or so, because I knew this was coming.
Tom Gower: Andrew Luck, he good, he real good, especially for a rookie. I hate you, Colts fans. Nothing personal, but I hate you.
The Ravens are running away from the titled nose tackle side of Casey Hampton. Two weeks ago they were running towards that side and getting stuffed.
Vonta Leach really standing out in the run game as a lead-blocker.
Mike Kurtz: Cortez Allen has had a very good game thus far. Flacco has been singling him out, and he has had a few great coverages, plus a near-interception Smith broke up. He was dinged for a defensive pass interference at the 4-yard line, but it was a pretty weak call where Torrey Smith's and Allen's hands grazed each other.
Andy Benoit: On third downs, Ravens have been playing coverage and forcing the ball to stay with Charlie Batch. It’s working.
Mike Kurtz: Andy, it doesn't help that the Steelers are going with predictable runs on first and second down. I wouldn't be surprised of the Ravens knew what the Steelers were...
And then they run an end-around wideout throw that Antonio Brown airmails. Interception.
Jonathan Dwyer runs off-tackle, finds nothing. Batch is right behind him at the handoff. Dwyer bounces it to the sideline, Batch sprints past him and nails the safety, giving Dwyer the last three yards and the touchdown. Awesome.
Vince Verhei: Batch hits a wide open Emmanuel Sanders streaking across the middle of the field. Sanders catches the ball, takes two steps, then fumbles untouched. The ball shoots out sideways into a pile of Baltimore defenders.
Aaron Schatz: I feel bad that I have nothing to add to the discussion on this game, but I feel like these two play the same game every time: they all sort of come out looking the same. Good games, but rarely does much stand out in the midst of all the overall good defensive play.
Mike Kurtz: The big story is that Batch is not the problem with the Steelers this game. Mike Wallace and Brown are.
Ed Reed's interception was good centerfield coverage. A bad decision by Batch, but a much better play by Reed. Reed looked at the shallow route and just covered ground on his redirect to get back deep on Miller. Great defensive play.
Aaron Schatz: Batch's emotion at the end of the Steelers-Ravens game was touching. Probably the last game of his career, and after being lambasted for last week's loss and playing horribly in the first half, he came back with a nice second half and led the game-winning drive.
Cam Cameron may want to explain why Ray Rice had only 12 carries and one catch in a close game.
Mike Kurtz: As one of the people who said that Batch was terrible and would have a terrible game, I am eating a helping of crow and feeling a little bad after his response at the end of the game. Still, I'm ecstatic that Ben Roethlisberger is coming back. This game felt like it would've been a whupping with a better quarterback (even though Batch had a fine game).
Rivers McCown: You're telling me that the Ravens and Cam Cameron didn't use Rice enough in a loss? No way.
Danny Tuccitto: The operative phrase representing what Ravens fans are thinking about Cam Cameron right now: "overstayed his welcome."
Andy Benoit: Most interesting thing about this game: anticipating how dirty the uniforms might get.
Tom Gower: Josh Freeman, deep-out passer. He hits some of them. He got picked on another one where he didn't get it over underneath man Chris Harris, though it was negated by a roughing the passer call on Von Miller.
Watching Knowshon Moreno run, I don't see very much suddenness in his game.
The Broncos hut-hut on fourth-and-2 from the Tampa 46, then burn a timeout. Granted, it's inside the two-minute warning and they still have a timeout left, but c'mon, just take the five yards for delay there.
Vince Verhei: Peyton Manning just scrambled and hit Moreno for a first down on third-and-short. Nothing remarkable there, except that the receiver was laying down just across the first-down line when Peyton threw it. It was such a cool play that Greg Schiano came up to slap Payton's helmet.
Andy Benoit: Manning's touchdown to Demaryius Thomas was a great anticipation throw versus the man coverage of Leonard Johnson.
Tom Gower: Manning is still good at football. That throw was kind of a "look what I found" experience for Thomas, as the perfectly-timed ball arrived in just the right place. The second touchdown to Thomas was another good anticipation throw ahead of the underneath coverage of Lavonte David.
Freeman gets hit in motion, and the Broncos go from down 10-7 at halftime to up 28-10 with 3:56 to play in the third after Miller takes the gift 20-something yards for a score.
Vince Verhei: What were we saying about the defensive player of the year vote? First interception of Miller's career.
Andy Benoit: Pick was off the lurk/spy coverage that Denver has been using him on this season. He’s been great in that role.
Rivers McCown: I'd be really interested to see which of Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt, or Miller the commenters preferred for DPOY. I'd go with Watt because I think the deflected passes put him in a category that the other two aren't really in, but I'd imagine it's much closer to the readers.
Vince Verhei: Manning's last interception was a surprisingly horrible decision. David got the pick, but even if he hadn't been there, two other defenders were closing on on the receiver to break up the play.
Aaron Schatz: Tampa just hit a field goal to make it 31-16 with 3:30 left. Then they kicked away. Why? I realize the chances of a comeback are remote, but the only way to even try is probably two onside kicks. Might as well try.
Vince Verhei: Bucs get a field goal and touchdown to pull within eight with 2-and-a-half minutes to go and no timeouts. Broncos recover the onside kick. It's not quite kneeldown time yet, but if/when it gets there, should the Broncos go with Brock Osweiler rather than put Peyton in jeopardy in front of Schiano's anti-kneeldown assault?
Danny Tuccitto: On that Tampa Bay field goal, my reflex was, "Why are you kicking a field goal?" On the kickoff, my reflex was, "Why are you not kicking onside?" And then it hit me: they're down 31-13 (and then 31-16) with 3:30 left.
I went back to caring about more important things
And as I type this, the Bucs get the ball back and score easily to make it 31-23 with 2:30 left. So now my reflex is ... aw, hell, I give up except to note that going for one was clearly a case of Greg Schiano trolling Chase Stuart bait.
Speaking of Schiano, he must be a big fan of English Beat, because these last two drives make it seem like his endgame strategy is "Save It For Later."
Vince Verhei: Peyton was out there for the kneeldown. He took the snap and jumped backwards to get down. And sure enough, there was pushing and shoving afterwards.
Danny Tuccitto: To bring this conversation full circle, their mutual disdain for unwritten rules makes it inevitable that Cortland Finnegan will be playing for Schiano at some point.
Andy Benoit: Andy Dalton's second interception was completely Marvin Miller’s fault. Would like to see wide receiver drop-tips that get picked off charged as fumbles (or a separate statistical category) to the guilty wideout. Dalton did his job on the play.
Tom Gower: Marvin Jones. The Ball went off his hands, Corey Lynch got the opportunistic deflection.
Philip Rivers has completed 17-of-25 passes. This has produced six points of offense. (Demorrio Williams had a pick-six earlier on a bad read/throw by Dalton.)
Aaron Schatz: Actually, Bud Selig still blames Marvin Miller for that pick.
Tom Gower: Chargers have thrown the ball on 30 of their first 36 plays. It’s been evident throughout the season that Norv Turner does not view Ryan Mathews as any sort of a foundation back.
Danny Tuccitto: And, lucky for Norv, he won't be around to build on that non-foundation for the future.
Tom Gower: Dalton scrambles for a rushing TD to give this game some points in the second half, then Rivers gets strip-sacked by Carlos Dunlap, who went around backup right tackle Kevin Haslam, playing for an injured Jeromey Clary.
Per the CBS crew, the Chargers are dissatisfied with Mathews' lack of patience on runs and desire to plant his leg and look to go outside. Between Mathews, Norv, and A.J. Smith, two probably shouldn't be back in San Diego next year. We'll see which choice the Chargers go with.
Danny Tuccitto: Does anyone watching this right now have any confidence whatsoever that Norv, Rivers, and company are going to masterfully execute a two-minute drill to tie the game?
Ben Muth: What has happened to Rivers over the last two years? He's been awful for 25-odd games now, I don't think is a slump anymore.
Mike Kurtz: Rivers seems to think that:
A) He only has 20 seconds, B) that he is on the 5.
That's two fades that were short of the goal line. One way out of bounds. With two time outs left. At the 17. With a minute left. What the heck is going o--
Wait, what's that?
Tom Gower: The offensive line is a major problem this year, especially the tackles. They're Cardinals-level bad. Aside from that, I thought the issue last year was that when Antonio Gates wasn't healthy they lacked a reliable option in the middle of the field. I think that's still an issue this year. The deep routes depend on receivers who can win one-on-one. Malcom Floyd's done a decent job of that this year, I think, but Robert Meachem has not, at all. That's why Danario Alexander has been playing so much lately. Eddie Royal has been playing like Eddie Royal: not a useful receiver. Plus, there's nothing like a sustaining run game. Rivers has done OK at times, but only by turning into a total checkdown artist, and when he tries to go downfield, too many picks have followed.
Rob Weintraub: My usual two cents on the Bengals:
Marvin Lewis continues to be very progressive in his aggressiveness on fourth down. On the opening drive Cincy, went on fourth-and-9 at the San Diego 35. Defensive holding earned a first down, and the Bengals scored later to make it 7-0.
Cincy really felt the loss of Mohamed Sanu. A.J. Green drew heavy attention, and no one else stepped up to get open underneath. Jones had the aforementioned drop-turned-pick, Andrew Hawkins is just a specialty player, not a consistent down-to-down threat, and Brandon Tate can't get open. Going to be a problem for the Bengals going forward.
Jermaine Gresham showed why he isn't in the elite class of tight ends. He caught a beautifully-designed touchdown pass early, but struggled mightily with blocks on the edge. Melvin Ingram, in particular, was getting past him regularly. And he fumbled in the third quarter in Chargers territory. His inconsistency is maddening.
The Bengals pass rush was absent in the first half, as the much-maligned Chargers line did a good job keeping the interior rush in particular away from Rivers. But the front four really cranked it up in the second half,
They needed the win desperately with the Steelers and Colts pulling victories out of their behinds. Unlike Peter King, I'm not sanguine about the Bengals playoff chances, despite the four-game win streak.
Aaron Schatz: I should e-mail Jim Armstrong and see if we can do some AI a little bit early this year. I'm curious how high Lewis comes out given some of these interesting fourth-down decisions.
Rob Weintraub: Near the goal line he tends to kick, funnily enough. Up 17-13 late in the fourth, Cincy had a fourth-and-one at the 3, and kicked to go up a touchdown. In the maroon zone, however, he goes more often than not. At least in the last half-dozen games.
Danny Tuccitto: First play: How exactly is that not intentional grounding? DeMarcus Ware annihilates Nick Foles one second after the snap, and Foles throws ball to the ground as he's faceplanting into the turf.
Tom Gower: Foles had already started his throwing motion when he was contacted by Ware. If you start the motion before contact, it's not grounding when you throw the ball, even if it doesn't get back to line of scrimmage or in the vicinity of an eligible receiver.
Aaron Schatz: Right. I think it is pretty clear the intended receiver is Bryce Brown, if Foles had not been clobbered while throwing.
Danny Tuccitto: Fair enough. Although, I just rewound and looked at it again. Foles doesn't start to motion until after he's hit. He looks Brown's way, decides not to throw, then gets clobbered, then decides to chuck it after contact.
In defense of my defensiveness, after experiencing the gifted safety against Kaepernick, I'm seeing intentional grounding around every corner.
Tom Gower: I thought he cocked the ball before Ware's contact. That's enough; NFL refs are normally relatively generous with that call, I think. Also, Brown is a more effective running back when he runs forward instead of backwards, trying to bounce things. It's hard to have success going backwards trying to bounce runs in the NFL.
Danny Tuccitto: Getting away from the officiating stuff...
One thing I find interesting is that the NFC East has two backup running backs who are young Speed Score darlings that would easily be workhorses on other teams. The Eagles have LeSean McCoy signed through 2017 and the Giants have Ahmad Bradshaw signed through 2014. What do the front offices do? I mean, seems like a gigantic waste of talent to have Bryce and Andre Brown languishing on the bench under normal circumstances.
Aaron Schatz: The Eagles do not look like the team that people think is falling apart at the seams. Offensive line looks particularly good tonight, protecting Foles and making big holes for Brown, who is what the kids call "hella fast."
Danny Tuccitto: Again, Brown! Let me add Ben Tate to the previous pair of young, backup, Speed Score darlings. Tate's only signed through 2013 so it seems feasible that Houston will move him this offseason. Nevertheless, quite a conundrum for the front offices in question.
Rivers McCown: They should have moved him last offseason, when he was at the peak of his value. Now they'd be lucky to get a third-rounder for him. Whoever traded for him would have to extend him, and he now has chunks of two of his three seasons wiped away due to injury.
Tom Gower: The Cowboys could block. Then the refs started calling offensive holding. Now the Cowboys, including particularly Doug Free, can't block effectively.
Vince Verhei: Obviously, the Dallas coaches didn't tell Kevin Ogletree to fumble the handoff on that end-around. But they did call an end-around to Kevin Ogletree, which is bad enough. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant have a combined zero targets at that point, and you're finding ways to get the ball into Kevin Ogletree's hands?!
Danny Tuccitto: Vince, your observation reminds me of the 49ers pitch play to Ted Ginn earlier. Why even bother putting the ball in the hands of your fifth-best offensive option barring some kind of nothing-else-is-working situation?
Rivers McCown: To, as the kids say, "put something on tape." That'd be my guess.
Tom Gower: Collinsworth had a nice observation there, that wide receivers are much more used to catching the ball than they are taking handoffs. I'm not sure it's supported by the evidence (haven't checked, and don't care enough to), but it makes a lot of intuitive sense. Plus, since Cris was a wideout, it makes me think it's likelier he really knows what he's talking about here.
Aaron Schatz: Did the Eagles just leave Jason Witten completely wide open down the seam with a minute left? There's the first of those "two or three totally blown coverages per game" that Collinsworth was talking about earlier.
Tom Gower: Yes, they did. It was apparently another of those plays that ended with the 2012 Eagles trademark "Nnamdi Asomugha and Kurt Coleman looking at each other like they weren't sure exactly what was supposed to happen there" post-play conference.
Aaron Schatz: Gotta congratulate the Eagles tonight for playing hard instead of just going Full Kotite.
Danny Tuccitto: Agreed ... with the caveat that "Full Kotite" was the last seven weeks.
Tom Gower: Bryant is a grown man. He just overpowered Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the touchdown to give the Cowboys the lead at 31-27.
Danny Tuccitto: A grown man who spends $500k on jewelry, and requires a strict curfew. #JustSaying
Aaron Schatz: Whenever he has a big game like this, I get a sneaking, totally non-statistically-based feeling that trouble with the law is just around the corner.
Tom Gower: Well, Dez Bryant, grown man-child then?
Aaron Schatz: Wow, Ware just went right past Foles. Dived right past him trying to get a sack, like he was juked or something. Ware hasn't really been near Foles much tonight, another example of how the Eagles' line has done a good job.
Danny Tuccitto: Yeah, that's two dead-to-rights sacks that Ware's missed tonight.
Tom Gower: Ah, yes, there it was, The Inevitable Bryce Brown Fumble.
Danny Tuccitto: Also, the Morris Claiborne fumble recovery return touchdown gives me an opportunity to mention something I looked up earlier tonight. Last year, as per FOA 2012 the Cowboys were fourth in the NFL in "CB by sides." Not sure how much Claiborne has been on an island this season, but, if he hasn't, kudos to him and Brandon Carr tonight for totally shutting down Jeremy Maclin.
Rivers McCown: It's actually not that hard, says a disgruntled Maclin fantasy football owner.
Aaron Schatz: The Eagles just ran the third-down give up draw with Bryce Brown in a situation where they were going to have to go for it on fourth down. What the hell was that?
Tom Gower: "We don't trust Nick Foles and our pass pro to throw the ball 20 yards downfield twice and get a first down, so we'll see if we can get a short fourth down." Tony Romo in the second half: 10-for-10, 169 yards, three touchdowns. Yup, Juan Castillo was the problem.
210 comments, Last at 10 Dec 2012, 4:56pm by tuluse