Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
31 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.
Andy Benoit: The Colts run a wideout screen to Donnie Avery early. It's a good play against the Texans because it keeps the offensive line from having to block J.J. Watt, eliminates the risk of Houston batting down a ball at the line of scrimmage and, best of all, the Texans play a lot of man coverage. Man coverage is a great look to screen against because defenders step into the blockers and the screen target usually only has to worry about beating one guy.
Rivers McCown: Gary Kubiak just challenged a sack based on the Colts having 12 men on the field. They had 11.
Gary was told there would be no math.
Danny Tuccitto: I'll say it again: how do people making millions of dollars screw up a decision that simple? This one was even worse than Gailey's completely backwards backward-pass challenge last week.
Aaron Schatz: Connor Barwin and Watt just took down Andrew Luck for a sack-fumble because Luck held onto the ball too long. He's done that a lot this year. Watt had 52 Defeats coming into this week, and he's now at least at 54 and I may be forgetting one or two more he has today, and we're just at the end of one quarter. He's going to blow away the record for Defeats. (Note to readers: I'll run the official total in an XP on Monday afternoon.) Why are we talking about anyone else for Defensive Player of the Year?
Andy Benoit: Luck’s "pass" wasn’t a fumble, but it was still a backward pass, wasn’t it? Why is that not still a fumble?
Rivers McCown: Because Tuck Rule, that's why. I need some Mike Kurtz rulings on this.
Aaron Schatz: You're right, the fumble was overturned by the tuck rule. The reason that's not a backwards pass is that whether a pass is backwards or forwards is determined by the angle of the quarterback's arm, not by the direction the pass actually travels. To give an example, if you are trying to throw to a guy 30 yards downfield, and you get hit in motion and the ball comes out and goes back slightly, that's not a backwards pass because your arm was going forwards to get the ball downfield.
One less Defeat for Watt though, so maybe now he'll only shatter the record instead of obliterating it.
Andy Benoit: Houston's next sack was a five-man rush with stunt and twist concepts involved. It commanded tough one-on-one matchups for the Colts.
Third-and-3, and the Colts threw to Reggie Wayne on a little hitch type route. They probably saw that Kareem Jackson struggled with that a bit last week. Interesting that the Texans are playing man on almost every down and Johnathan Joseph is following Avery, not Wayne. Jackson is following Wayne. Reason for that is almost certainly because Joseph is the better deep ball, downfield defender.
Rivers McCown: Erm, well, I'd say the reason is that Jackson has just been more dependable in coverage than the clearly-injured Joseph.
Andy Benoit: Duane Brown absolutely outstanding at landing vociferous open-field blocks.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, Brown just had a block that got Owen Daniels an extra six or seven years on a tight end screen, pretty sweet. Kept his guy away, I think Joe Lefeged, and then eventually just got him to fall over.
Ben Muth: Texans ran a nice tight-end screen off play-action for a nice gain. The part I liked was Brown pulling to kick out on the corner. He locked onto him (hard in the open field) and threw him down like a child. Really impressive.
Three comments for one block! That's got to be a record.
Andy Benoit: Schaub underthrew tight end James Casey significantly. And it’s not like Casey is a burner.
Aaron Schatz: Well, here's some more blocking talk. Texans still having trouble with runs up the middle, which has been an issue all season. Vick Ballard just went in from the one-yard line and I think Anthony Costonzo pushed Tim Dobbins back five yards.
If the Texans can't score a touchdown against this Colts defense, they are really in serious trouble. We're talking one-and-done. I can't believe how much the Colts are pressuring Schaub today. We're talking about an offensive line with three guys going to the Pro Bowl against the team ranked 28th in Adjusted Sack Rate.
But yes, this has gone south quickly.
Andy Benoit: Houston's offense had no rhythm in the first half. The run game is not serving as an anchor again, though Houston's had a little more commitment to it this week.
Rivers McCown: Well, it's not getting any less questionable than going all-out for today was in the first place. The way the Texans are playing I'd definitely be trying to give them an opening-round bye if I were locked into the five seed.
Andy Benoit: Schaub made a handful of impressive plays on the first series of the second half. He showed accuracy on the move, a few throws coming after eluding hints of pressure, and managed well in the pre-snap phase.
Ben Muth: Dan Dierdorf just conducted a hard-hitting interview with Dan Dierdorf about Watt's MVP chances. My head hurts.
Rivers McCown: I utilized the SAP button today. No complaints thus far.
Andy Benoit: The Texans were aligning Johnson on the right side to face Cassius Vaughn and a few times in the slot against base personnel, which got him matched on Lefeged.
Arian Foster is a patient, powerfully flowing runner. You see that on the edges especially.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know, do most teams generally leave a guy back in kick
coverage in case the returner breaks one? The Colts just took one 102 yards for a touchdown and there was no Texans player even close to stopping Deji Karim after he passed his own 40.
Rivers McCown: Implying that there is any logic behind Joe Marciano's ideas was your first mistake.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I guess Shayne Graham was the last line of defense, and one slight juke by Karim sent Graham six yards too far to the right.
Vince Verhei: Just saw that play. The kicker's supposed to be in there somewhere, but it looked like he wasn't even on the screen.
Andy Benoit: Freeney got a sack with a speed-to-power interior bull rush against Brown. It was so quick that Brown never got his feet set; he was easily uplifted on contact. That's more about Freeney playing well than Brown setting up poorly on the play. Brown was very solid in pass protection last week against Jared Allen.
Luck is a willing, eager blocker when in a position to make hits on reverses.
Castonzo wasn’t quite as sharp in pass protection as he usually plays in this game. He fell behind in the count a few times and had to play in recovery mode.
Luck made an amazing seam throw to T.Y. Hilton on third-and-23 for a touchdown. A spread set, five vertical patterns. It was against a spread Cover-3, Luck fit it between cornerback and safety (not hard) but also over the dropping under-4 safety (very, very hard).
Aaron Schatz: I rewound to look, and Joseph comes at Hilton running at an angle like he's coming from the sideline, dives and just misses him. That makes me think Joseph wasn't on Hilton getting beat. And I don't think they would put Glover Quin on Hinton man-to-man. So I'm guessing that's a zone. But I do feel like Quin is the one who should have been closer to that play, not Joseph. Dunno if I'm right, of course.
Nope, based on a replay showing the whole field, it was Quintin Demps who was supposed to be the deep safety and was too far to the other side of the field. Definitely looked like Joseph had nothing to do with letting that play happen, and just realized what was happening late and tried to make a very good play and missed.
Aaron Schatz: Very impressive by Andrew Luck to make third-down conversions on the drive that iced the game. The Texans kept needing to get the ball back and needing to get the ball back, and they just couldn't do it. No matter what I've said about the Colts this year being overrated and winning lots of close games against poor opponents, and how much their defense sucks, the fact is, Luck was everything he was advertised to be and he's the biggest reason they'll make the playoffs.
Rob Weintraub: Both teams come in talking about avoiding injuries in this one as the playoffs loom. So BenJarvus Green-Ellis tweaks a hammy in pre-game warmups and won't play, then Vonta Leach goes down on the second play of the game. Oy.
Tyrod Taylor comes in and options his way down the field for a touchdown, the first the Bengals defense has allowed in the first quarter this season since ... the season-opener. Against the Ravens.
Marvin Jones at last gets his first touchdown, after a few close calls. A.J. Green, Jones, and a healthy Mohamed Sanu would be a nice troika going forward, especially if Cincy can add an explosive element like Tavon Austin from West Virginia.
Move over J.J. -- Carlos Dunlap with a phenomenal play to deflect a pass by Taylor, grab it, and sidestep double-T for the pick six. 23-14 Cincy.
No roll over from the Ravens -- they fake a punt on fourth-and-1 down nine with five minutes left, and get it.
The Bengals recover an onside kick and win the backup bowl over the Ravens 23-17, thus beating Pittsburgh and Baltimore to end the season -- regardless of circumstances, that's a good thing. Were it not for a maddening one-point loss to Dallas in a game that the Bengals dominated for 53 minutes, Cincy would be 8-0 in the second half of the season.
I'm now in the uncomfortable position of rooting for New England so the Bengals can get some vengeance on the Texans next week. And, of course, not have to go to Foxboro, or Foxborough.
Rivers McCown: Of all the rivalries in the NFL, Texans-Bengals is definitely one of them.
Danny Tuccitto: Eagles started the game with an onside kick. Can't remember the last time I saw that.
Vince Verhei: Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer says it's the fifth time in the Andy Reid era that the Eagles have started with an onside kick.
Aaron Schatz: The Eagles linebackers just look awful today. They were supposed to be so much better this year, with Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans, but the Eagles are still just 24th in defensive DVOA, and the Giants are slicing through these guys today. Some of it may be scheme. Ahmad Bradshaw got loose on a wheel route because DeMeco Ryans had to come all the way over from the other side to cover him, but then Ryans couldn't tackle him anyway. And Jamar Chaney just got beat in coverage for the Giants' third touchdown.
Kendricks is out today, so that at least somewhat explain the extra struggles of the Eagles linebackers today.
Tom Gower: Andy Reid, how do you square an onside kick to open the game with a punt on fourth-and-5 from the Giants 41 down 35-7?
Vince Verhei: Mark Sanchez starts out 1-of-4 for three yards with a pick-six. He threw it into a crowd of three Bills with nothing but green turf in front of them. I'm really, really going to miss the 2012 Jets.
Sanchez tries a deep curl route on the sideline to Clyde Gates. The pass is overthrown, which in this case means it goes behind Gates, who has to try and reach behind him for it, leaving him wide open to get driven into the turf by the defender. Looked like Sanchez was throwing to the spot where Gates made his cut, not where he was cutting to.
I would be remiss if I didn't take note of the equally inept Buffalo offense, which has four first downs on four possessions. They have 132 yards, exactly half of them on a slant-and-go across the middle to C.J. Spiller. He's still terrifying in the open field. Breaking news, I know.
Spiller fumbles on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. The next Jets drive proceeds as follows: run for a loss, incomplete shovel pass, draw on third-and-12, field-goal attempt. Keep in mind, they think they'd do worse than this with Tim Tebow.
Ben Muth: A draw on third-and-12 from the Buffalo 17. This angered the Football Gods, who smote (smited, smoted?) them on the next play with a blocked field-goal attempt.
I will not miss the 2012 Jets.
Vince Verhei: Bills finally chain a couple of first downs together, and the slant over the middle continues to be their best weapon. The drive stalls and they too miss a field goal. On the next play, Sanchez play-fakes, pump-fakes, and then gets the ball stripped and the Bills recover. I believe Tebow has been in for one play, where he handed off.
Tom Gower: The Titans are really excitingly bad on defense. Keith Toston, getting his first work since December 2010 (10, not 11), ripped off chunks of yardage on the opening drive, and I have no idea who was supposed to be covering Jordan Shipley on the first Jacksonville touchdown. On the second touchdown, the Titans blitzed, Justin Blackmon caught a quick slant, and Alterraun Verner and Al Afalava blew tackles. Aaron, you're going to send me a cranky email in the offseason when I chart this game and record 47 broken tackles.
The Jaguars are up 14-7 after two possession for each team, and it should be 14-14 as Nate Washington dropped a seam throw from Jake Locker that could have gone for six. The first Tennessee touchdown was set up by a successful deep pass from Locker to Lavelle Hawkins, who's spent most of this season on a milk carton. These defenses are so bad even these two offenses can have success against them.
After I sent that earlier email, the Titans stopped doing anything productive on offense for the normal variety of reasons, but still go into halftime with a 21-14 lead thanks to a Zach Brown pick-6 (finally taking advantage of one of Chad Henne's repeated attempts to throw an interception) and a punt-return score. Quality of play is still pretty low, but it's been entertaining for a meaningless Week 17 game.
Titans start the second half with another punt-return score and another pick-6 by Brown. They now lead 35-14, after scoring 28 straight points without running an offensive play. Henne airmails Blackmon and the pass goes right to Michael Griffin, but he's tackled inside the 10, ending the run. (Plus, an illegal block would've wiped out any potential touchdown.)
Tom Gower: John Abraham was apparently carted off in the fourth quarter of the Bucs-Falcons game, and all starters are still in. Tampa leads 22-10 (they went for 2 and missed, thanks Greg Schiano).
Vince Verhei: Chargers return the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Oakland. Camera cuts to Norv for his reaction, but the real highlight is Charlie Whitehurst in the background, jumping up and down like the guy at the end of the bench in a college basketball game.
Tom Gower: Terrelle Pryor hits a fade route for a touchdown, Raiders now down 10-7. Pryor still has some young quarterback moments, but he's looking at least semi-competent.
Andy Benoit: As usual, Christian Ponder’s first pass was a play-action rollout to Kyle Rudolph. (Rudolph was the second target, first read was Michael Jenkins underneath but he got taken away by a hard jam.) A.J. Hawk did a tremendous job taking on Adrian Peterson’s pass block to crumble the pocket.
When the Packers go to full house backfield, there's a very high likelihood that they run the ball. There’s a lot less deception and trickery in their offense than you’d guess. Their play-calling tends to match with what you’d expect from the formations.
Matthews consistently exploding off the edge past Matt Kalil. Just incredibly fast.
Ponder is throwing well on third down, getting through his progressions well. Jarius Wright continues to be a more-involved component of the offense. Minnesota just brought him out of the backfield on his touchdown reception in the flat. Wright is starting to fill the Percy Harvin duties just a bit.
Rob Weintraub: Boy, Mike McCarthy just threw a challenge flag on what was a terrible fumble call. Review discovered that it was indeed a touchdown on a lunge by James Jones. McCarthy got away with it because the "booth initiated a review before the flag was thrown," so instead of Minny ball on its own 1, it's a touchdown for the Pack, and they kick off from 15 yards further back. Aaron Rodgers went ballistic when he saw the flag, figuring they were going to get screwed, but they didn't.
Remember, Jim Schwartz is in this division.
Ben Muth: At this point, Mike McCarthy trying to challenge that fumble is ridiculously stupid. Can't imagine a coach not knowing the rules after Thanksgiving.
Rob Weintraub: I'm usually sympathetic to coaches and players getting caught up in the heat of the moment during games, but yeah, McCarthy letting his emotions get the best of him in that scenario would have been a disaster.
Andy Benoit: James Jones is doing a very good job blocking downfield for his fellow receivers.
Ponder's first downfield shot was to Wright off play-action. Perfect throw over the top, Wright got by Sam Shields with a double move. Extremely well set-up and executed play. 65 yards.
Ponder’s third-and-goal touchdown to Jenkins was alarmingly similar to the two interceptions he threw in the previous meeting with Packers. The play worked, but M.D. Jennings was in perfect position to intercept it.
Rob Weintraub: M.D. Jennings somehow has a pick go right through his arms, 34-27 Vikings.
Aaron Schatz: Jarrett Boykin from the Packers just caught a pass on fourth-and-2 while A.J. Jefferson was practically trying to get into his uniform. One of the most egregious defensive pass interferences I've seen and he caught it anyway. Pretty good.
However, the Vikings have Rodgers under a ton of pressure. He hit the Boykin pass fast, but any time he has to wait even more than a second, it seems like the Vikings are on him.
Andy Benoit: Everson Griffen beat Don Barclay with speed around the edge for a sack. Two plays later, Barclay committed a false start. Two plays later, Griffen kicked his ass again and forced a Rodgers incompletion. Rodgers has been under siege throughout the game.
Rivers McCown: Griffen really stood out to me charting the Texans-Vikings game. I don't think Minnesota has lost anything in moving him into the lineup for Brian Robison -- and Robison is a hell of a player.
Aaron Schatz: I'm a little confused why the Packers go into a loose "prevent"-style zone in a tied game. The Vikings get Jenkins easily open on the outside for a long completion.
Andy Benoit: Big mistake by Casey Hayward, he stayed in the shallow flat when there was no threat there. He guarded grass. Hayward is an interior corner, on that play he was on the outside. Unfamiliar territory for the rookie.
Rob Weintraub: 33 carries is plenty, but I'm a little surprised that it's the career-high in a game for a guy like Peterson.
On the 34th he shows his greatness, ripping off a huge run to leave him only nine yards shy of Dickerson. Wow. But Blair Walsh is on for the field goal.
It's good, Vikes in, Bears out, run this baby back next week in Wisconsin!
Danny Tuccitto: I haven't been as verklempt as others about what's happened since Justin Smith's injury, so my one thought about today's 49ers game is that, if the defense gives up 20 points or more to Brian Hoyer and company, then commence verklemptness. Giving up 100 or whatever it was to Seattle is one thing. Even twenty to Arizona is quite another.
Ben Muth: LaMichael James sighting in San Francisco. Caught a toss and reversed his field immediately (designed) and followed Joe Staley outside for about 15 yards. He made a couple of guys miss in the open field too.
Danny Tuccitto: After David Akers misses yet another field goal, the Niners are still stuck on zero points. One thing I've noticed since catching up on some game charting -- and it's happening again so far today -- is that the offense is average at best when Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman don't feature those exotic personnel groups, formations, shifts, and motions in the game plan. Just now, after a quarter full of traditional offense, they switch to the play Ben described and James nets a big gain.
Ben Muth: Offensive lineman Senio Kelemete just high-pointed a tipped pass to take it away from a defensive lineman for a five-yard gain. This has been my favorite offensive play of the 2012 Cardinals.
Rob Weintraub: I was about to write that Austin Pettis made the catch of the day for the Rams, catching a deflected pass by out-fighting Seahawks defensive back Jeremy Lane for the touchdown.
But then Kelemete made that grab to save a pick, Peko/Polamalu hairdo flying in the Bay breeze, and we had a new leader. Couldn't tell if his name was spelled right, as his 'do obscures his name on his jersey.
Akers blows yet another straightforward field goal. Do we have numbers on the worst seasons by kickers for postseason teams, and how they performed in the playoffs?
You just know either Akers or Mason Crosby, if not both, will have huge kicks to decide a playoff game. Just the nature of sports.
Aaron Schatz: Worst FO FG/XP values on playoff teams, 1991-2011
2007 IND -12.4 - Adam Vinatieri 1-for-1 in Colts' only playoff game.
2005 CHI -11.9 - Robbie Gould had no field-goal attempts in Bears' only playoff game. A lot better after his rookie season, of course.
1997 MIN -11.8 - used both Greg Davis and Eddie Murray. Murray 3-of-4 in playoffs, miss was from 48
2001 PIT -11.5 - Kris Brown, 3-of-5 in playoffs with a miss from 35 and a blocked field goal from 34 famously returned by the Pats for a touchdown
1995 SF -10.9 - this negative value was all Doug Brien and Tony Zendejas, Jeff Wilkins took over at midseason and was fine.
2009 DAL -10.7 - cut Nick Folk in favor of Shaun Suisham two games before the playoffs.
1995 IND -10.5 - Cary Blanchard 4-of-7 in playoffs, but Colts make surprising run to AFC Championship game anyway.
1991 CHI -10.0 - Kevin Butler 2-of-2 in Bears' 17-13 loss in wild card round. Wait, wasn't that guy the head of Playstation or something?
1991 HOIL -9.3 - replaced Ian Howfield with Al Del Greco at midseason. Del Greco 2-of-4 in playoffs, missed from 46 and 33 but did hit from 53 against the Jets in the wild card game.
2009 NO -9.2 - replaced John Carney with Garrett Hartley at midseason, Hartley wasn't much better than Carney in regular season, but he was 5-of-5 as Saints won Super Bowl.
So it looks like in general, the worst kickers of playoff teams haven't really cost their teams much. Kris Brown may be the exception. However, Akers and Crosby are probably going to be the new 1-2 on this list. So we'll have to see. And of course I'm not tracking here any time that these teams didn't try a field goal in the playoffs because of a lack of trust in their kickers.
Rivers McCown: In Eddie Murray's defense, he'd just retired from baseball earlier in the season.
Rob Weintraub: Akers just got roughed pretty hard on a PAT attempt, and was writhing as Red Zone cut away, of course. Might the kicking issue take care of itself?
Danny Tuccitto: I have no idea how much this happens in general, but NaVorro Bowman just made a special teams tackle with under four minutes left in a 27-6 Week 17 game.
Rivers McCown: The 49ers should clearly stop trying to run up the score, says Rob Gronkowski.
Danny Tuccitto: OK, so the defense gave up less than 20 points, and the offensive shenanigans returned to a certain extent. To boot, the Packers lost. Consider me completely non-verklempt.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots offense looks very crisp in first three drives. Aaron
Hernandez looks like his ankle is healthier than the last couple weeks. And New England's pass rush is definitely pressuring Ryan Tannehill, but the Dolphins just took advantage of this with a great play call, sending Tannehill up the middle on a quarterback draw to convert on third-and-7.
Tannehill is very mobile, which we all knew, but I'm impressed with the fact that he's always looking to throw the ball when he escapes the pocket instead of just tucking it to run.
Rob Ninkovich just went down with a knee injury for Pats. Reasonably sizeable loss to their pass rush.
Rivers McCown: I am probably the only person on the planet who thinks of Yaridovich when I hear Ninkovich, but now maybe you will too.
Andy Benoit: The Patriots are getting a lot of mileage out of outside screen concepts. (Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead, mainly.)
Aaron Schatz: Tannehill gets up after a sack, stumbles, clearly has a concussion -- a "light" concussion is still a concussion -- somehow doesn't get checked out by the doctors, and goes back on the field on the next drive even though this game means absolutely nothing for Miami in the long run. Not cool.
It's being discussed on Twitter, but for those who haven't seen, Rob Gronkowski is essentially playing with one arm today. He's even blocking with one arm. In fact, he's blocking well with one arm. Catching, not so much. He could use another week off.
Vince Verhei: First quarter ends with no score in Seattle. Rams have done nothing on offense, and they lost a timeout when Jeff Fisher challenged a third-down spot at his own 21. Even if you win, the reward there hardly seems worth the risk. Seattle's offense has moved the ball well, and appeared to score a go-ahead touchdown on a pass to Zach Miller, but the play was (correctly) called back for offensive pass interference on Anthony McCoy, who set a pick on the play.
Otherwise, the Rams have been getting pressure up the middle, and that has led to a lot of third-and-longs that have led to punts.
Hey! The Rams have a punter who went to Bothell High School! How did I not know that?! For Gods sake, Johnny Hekker threw a touchdown against Seattle earlier this year and I still didn't know he went to Bothell. (Bothell's a Seattle suburb, and my hometown, for the vast majority of people reading this who have no idea why I care.)
Seahawks kick a field goal to go up 3-0. Their three drives have ended with failed plays on third-and-12, third-and-18, and third-and-17.
Seahawks opt to punt on fourth-and-1 at midfield inside the two-minute warning. The ball goes into the end zone for a touchback. They have three points and have given up five sacks and I am frustrated.
Aaron Schatz: Do you have any thought on general trends as to why the offense isn't working for them today? This is quite a surprise after the last few games.
Rob Weintraub: Legatron misses a 51-yard FG. He's come crashing down to earth with such a thud that his new nickname should be Skylab.
Vince Verhei: The offensive line is out of sync and not playing well as a unit. Chris Long got one of the sacks because Breno Giacomini moved outside to pick up a blitzer. Obviously he thought J.R. Sweezy would pick up Long, but nobody did and Long got an easy sack.
It's most frustrating because Seattle is getting some of the help they need for the 2 seed -- Vikings lead Green Bay and Arizona is trailing by just a point as I write this -- but it won't matter if they can't take care of their own business.
The offensive line is not playing well individually either. Long just beat Giacomini straight-up for a sack on third down, though Seattle was able to kick a field goal anyway. They still trail 7-6.
I also think the Seahawks are using more read-option looks than normal, and the Rams are very prepared for it, although I haven't been tracking it or anything. It's been part of their offense since at least October, but it now appears to be Plan A and Plan B.
Tom Gower: Really impressed by the power with which Steven Jackson is running against the Seahawks. Guys are just bouncing off him at times. This is not how the Seahawks defense normally looks, I don't think.
Vince Verhei: Well, it's funny, the Seahawks defense has drastically improved over the course of the season because they've been getting a ton of turnovers. But in the process the run defense has tailed off. I don't know why that would be, unless there's an abundance of guys missing tackles and trying to rip the ball out.
Russell Wilson hits Michael Robinson for a touchdown. That's his 26th touchdown pass of the season, tying Peyton Manning's rookie record with one more quarter to go. The drive was all Wilson scrambling and finding open guys in zone coverage. Remember those sacks, because his other numbers (12-15-183-1-0) are outstanding.
Seahawks try the surprise onside kick afterwards and it almost works like a charm, with Kam Chancellor getting an easy recovery. But the ball didn't travel ten yards, so St. Louis gets it at the Seahawks' 45.
Your no-balls of the day award: Following the onside kick, Rams get a fourth-and-goal at the 1. Jeff Fisher, whose team isn't going to playoffs so he has nothing to lose, elects to kick the tying field goal instead of trying a go-ahead touchdown.
San Francisco's win is final and the result of Seattle's game is now irrelevant. They're locked into the five seed, at either Dallas or Washington next week. May as well sit everyone, though I don't expect that to happen. Sure enough, here come Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and company with about five minutes left in a tie game.
Aaron Schatz: I never expected that Cris Collinsworth would be one of the people to fall into the "DeAngelo Hall is a great cornerback" trap, but he keeps talking about the Dez Bryant-vs.-Hall matchup as a matchup of strength against strength.
Vince Verhei: While Michaels and Collinsworth (and many on Twitter) were crediting the Dallas line for great protection, nobody pointed out that Washington only rushed three on the play. (Although they did cover it at halftime.)
Tom Gower: Romo's two interceptions were both terrible and disheartening considering how well he's played for much of this year (again, his grief-per-error is probably highest of any NFL quarterback). The Jason Witten touchdown was a delay of game, which reminded me of the Ravens in Nashville in the 2008 postseason and, yes, a 3-man rush. Hall struggled in coverage against Bryant, because Hall is overrated in the eyes of most fans. I'm impressed with the general level of Washington's defensive performance given what the've lost to injuries, particularly Brian Orakpo.
Rivers McCown: Generally speaking, I feel like it's much harder to add depth to games done by Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.
Aaron Schatz: Basically agree with Tom.
Vince Verhei: I do like your GPE point on Romo, and completely agree.
Mike Tanier: Grief Per Error should be a stat.
Vince Verhei: I think Romo is a good pick for one endpoint. The other, historically, would be Brett Favre. Not sure who would fit among active quarterbacks. Eli? Roethlisberger?
Danny Tuccitto: The Saints' Charles Brown leads the league in Good Grief Per Error.
Vince Verhei: For weeks now, I was pretty sure that my picks for Rookie of the Year would be 1) Robert Griffin, 2) Wilson, (big gap) 3) Luck. Based on what he's done tonight, and looking at his year-long numbers, I'd move Alfred Morris ahead of Luck, and I might not stop there.
Aaron Schatz: It will be interesting to see when some NFL defensive coordinator finally comes up with a good defensive response to the rise of the pistol and read option in the NFL. It's going to happen, it always does. Everything is cyclical.
Matt Waldman: Or, perhaps it will be a college coordinator. Nevada's Chris Ault was behind the pistol, so perhaps a college coach provides the response.
Aaron Schatz: Well, my guess is that it may be something that requires the higher level of athlete that an NFL defense will have at most positions instead of just one or two.
Matt Waldman: That's a great point. At the same time, look at Dallas' defense of the `90s and it was really a defense that the Miami Hurricanes used to dominate (and that Jimmy Johnson also used at Arkansas). The fact that the college game is structured in a way where teams can dominate in terms of recruiting, I still wouldn't be surprised if it is a college team.
Danny Tuccitto: Agree. Defenses will adapt to read option (quickly, I think), and then offenses will start running even more pistol slice plays (per Chris Brown's tweet, Washington already ran a successful one in this game), and so on and so on.
Mike Tanier: Just wanna point out that the Redskins have 14 points in the fourth quarter. Not exactly an offensive onslaught. If the Redskins were doing this with conventional offense, we wouldn't blink.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I spent time the last two days charting as Buffalo ran around desperately confused by the Seattle option plays, so I'm not really just thinking about Washington here.
Oh, and they just scored again, so hey! 21 points.
Matt Waldman: On another note, I spent yesterday studying Cincinnati tight end/wingback Travis Kelce, who is the lead back in the pistol offense for the Bearcats. He would be a great pick for the Redskins, who lack a quality blocking tight end who is healthy and doesn't act as his own counsel in the courtroom. Kelce is a fantastic blocker and a strong receiver. Fred Davis might have to open a shingle for family law...
Aaron Schatz: I just don't understand why Collinsworth keeps talking about how good he thinks Hall is. He's really not normally the guy who falls for the idea that "faster equals better." The Redskins pass rush is stopping Romo a lot more than Hall is.
Danny Tuccitto: Going to throw something completely contrarian out there. Having watched Reggie Bush all year, and having heard of Darren McFadden's struggles, I'm starting to believe more and more that a back with replacement-level skills who's proficient in reading zone blocks can excel in said scheme. I know the word "system" is a pejorative when describing a player, but I just don't see Alfred Morris -- he of the 92 Speed Score -- as some elite talent worthy of more than a pat on the back for great execution (a plaudit to be sure). Kudos to Shanahan and company for plucking him out of the late rounds, but that's essentially his/their M.O., right?
Tom Gower: I concur with Danny.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I've been having this fight on Twitter for the last 20 minutes with Redskins fans who think they've found the next Adrian Peterson instead of the next Olandis Gary. Probably something in between, honestly.
I think the other problem with Morris is the natural fan inclination to give all the attention to players at the "skill positions." Therefore, one big game by Morris should put him into the rookie of the year race, but nobody is talking about Bobby Wagner or Casey Hayward or Lavonte David or Chandler Jones, and what they mean to their teams.
Dallas finally wins a one-on-one between a wide receiver and a cornerback in man coverage as Kevin Ogletree gets a touchdown, but one of the reasons they finally win I think is that it had nothing to do with speed, it was just about Ogletree using his body to shield rookie Richard Crawford away from the ball.
Oh, and look, Dwayne Harris then reaches out to catch a ball that Romo throws away from Crawford in much the same way, and they get the two-point conversion. I think if the Cowboys end up driving to come back down three, they're going to go after Mr. Crawford.
Tom Gower: Remember how the Cowboys had that fourth-down punt at the end of the first half, and the Redskins had like 14 guys on the field for a while? Remember when the Cowboys could have snapped the ball and gotten at least a penalty, and had a reasonable field-goal chance? Had they made that, that two-point conversion would have resulted in a tie game, not the 21-18 score we have right now.
Danny Tuccitto: And there's your season-killing pick by Romo to make everyone forget that he's actually been pretty damn good in high-leverage situations this year.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, Romo just made one of those awful Romo decisions with the high Grief-to-Error ratio. Floated a pass to a receiver outside and didn't understand that the linebacker over there was falling into a zone instead of coming on the pass rush.
Vince Verhei: Perhaps that interception on the swing pass partially explains why his GPE is so high. I believe that's going to put him in the lead league for interceptions thrown, and more to the point, it seems like he throws way more ugly interceptions than anyone else.
Rivers McCown: That registers as at least +0.78 grief-to-error shares for Romo.
Tom Gower: Let's just ignore that the Cowboys have given up 255 yards rushing and most of what they've done positive has been the result of Tony Romo making plays on his own and claim this loss is solely because LOLny Romo.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I will say this about Romo. It seems like a ridiculous number of his picks are the result of reading the defense wrong and throwing a hot read that either Romo misreads or Romo's receiver midreads leaving Romo throwing to a place that has a defender rather than a receiver. I there something about the coaching in Dallas that these guys just can't seem to get the hot reads down properly?
Rivers McCown: Yeah, constant miscommunication on offense seems to be a theme for the recent Cowboys teams. I'm a little more inclined to blame that on Bryant based on the smoke that they blow, but Romo and Jason Garrett do deserve a lot of blame as well.
107 comments, Last at 03 Jan 2013, 7:19pm by Bjorn Nittmo