Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
24 Sep 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.
Peter Koski: I'm more curious about Rueben Randle. His LSU/SEC pedigree and size intrigued me as a Niners fan, but alas, it was not meant to be...
Also, if you're Ron Rivera, do you try and pull off a fake kneel down at some point?
Danny Tuccitto: If Rivera did that, it would be one of the greatest trollings of all-time.
Peter Koski: When I saw Carolina running the Wildcat with Cam Newton out wide, I thought it was a waste of Cam's talents to cruelly banish him outside the numbers. Then I started to think how awesome it would be to see Cam burn someone on a 9-route and now I want more Wildcat.
Rivers McCown: Andre Brown's coming out party! Finally, the 2009 draft's leader in Speed Score has a healthy chance.
Danny Tuccitto: I realize Brown is providing an excellent opportunity for us to tout Speed Score, but what's catching my attention so far is neither his size nor his speed nor the combination thereof. It's his vision. Several times already, he's seen a hole at the designed point of attack close, and noticed the wide open spaces elsewhere. Cedric Benson he isn't.
Vince Verhei: Missed most of the game so far, but I see that Barden is 7-of-7 for 100 yards at halftime. Barden is the guy whose numbers at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo were so obscene (1,467 yards and 18 touchdowns for a team that only threw 206 passes) that I had to put a cap on them for Playmaker. His Combine numbers were pretty bad, so his projection wasn't that high.
J.J. Cooper: Kind of excited to see Barden getting an opportunity as he was a pretty fascinating guy heading into the draft. Size, speed (OK, not so much speed), great name, great stats at a small school.
Danny Tuccitto: This game is turning out to be a positive data point for the theory that a defense is only as good as its weakest link. With Michael Coe no longer manning the No. 2 CB position, the Giants defense looks like an entirely different -- and better -- unit.
Vince Verhei: Love the play-action rollout (NOT bootleg) throwback to Greg Olsen to set up Carolina's first touchdown. I still say the rollout is the most underused tactic in the NFL (with the possible exception of the pistol, which I also love).
Tom Gower: SackSEER sleeper Frank Alexander just had a sack, making it a trifecta of guys FO metrics thought might be good.
Kevin Gilbride's really called a nice game tonight and Eli Manning has been hitting the throws he needs to-not perfect, but plenty good enough to take apart a Carolina secondary that still needs upgrading.
Andy Benoit: Does anyone in this group watch the pre-game shows? They seem completely ridiculous...
Tom Gower: I watch NFL Matchup off the DVR and, depending how much time I have, first AFC Playbook and then NFC Playbook on Sunday mornings.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah. My pregame show is NFL Matchup depending on when I wake up, then I do other stuff. I went grocery shopping this morning instead of watching pregame shows.
Rivers McCown: I watch Matchup off DVR as well. I'll usually put the CBS pre-gamer on in the background, but I rarely am paying attention to it.
Aaron Schatz: Thanks to the wonder of the DVR, it is the pregame show for people who don't like 100 guys sitting at the same desk talking nonsense!
Solomon Wilcotts just called an Alfred Morris run "Red Grange-like." Uh, he's been good so far, but that might be a bit of a stretch.
Andy Benoit: How often do you have a pick-six in the end zone? Do we have any stats on that?
Aaron Schatz: The last pick in the end zone was by Chris Kelsay off Tony Romo in 2007. The ball was actually thrown out of the end zone, but was tipped at the 4 and batted back to the end zone, where Kelsay caught it.
The last pick in the end zone that never left the end zone was James Allen off Tom Tupa in 2002, but that was an aborted snap on a punt where Tupa was desperately trying to make a play.
The last pick in the end zone that never left the end zone *on an actual offensive play* came in 1993, when Rich Gannon was with Washington, his pass was tipped in the air by Santana Dotson of the Bucs and caught in the end zone by Ray Seals.
Peter Koski: I remember that Romo-Kelsay play from MNF when Buffalo blew, what, a 20 point lead?
Ben Muth: The Bengals just scored on a long run after catch from Armon Binns. He just ran a six-yard out, but Josh Wilson took an awful angle, and Binns ran up the sideline untouched. Really bad play by Wilson.
The Bengals just ran a fake field goal that looked like it was just the holder running off tackle. I'm not sure what the plan was here. Either it was supposed to be an option (with the kicker) and the holder should've read the safety who made the tackle, or maybe Peko, who just stood around and looked confused, was supposed to release and block the safety. All I know is the plan couldn't have been "well, the holder's gotta make the first guy miss."
Aaron Schatz: Apparently, Washington did not receive the memo about increased home-field advantage under replacement officials.
Ben Muth: Redskins are running the zone read triple option by motioning Brandon Banks into the backfield on back-to-back plays. The first time, Robert Griffin gives it to Morris who carries some Bengals for 12 yards. Next play, he keeps it and pitches it to Banks for another first down. A few plays later, Griffin keeps it and turns it up inside for yet another first down.
Benjarvus Green-Ellis fumbled for the first time in his career. The Redskins can't capitalize though, as they go three-and-out thanks to a sack allowed by Frick (Black) and a hit allowed by Frack (Polumbus).
Aaron Schatz: How many times has Black been released? Geez, I thought he was out of the league years ago. And is Polumbus just playing to give Bill Barnwell someone to point and laugh at each week?
OK, anyone want to tell me what just happened in WAS-CIN? Twitter sort of blew up about some weird ref mistake.
Ben Muth: Washington tried to down a punt inside the 5. The ball hit the goal line and bounced back into the field of play. Terrence Newman tried to pick it up for Cincy. He couldn't, and the Redskins recovered the ball. Now, I don't know why Twitter would blow up about the call. Because a) it was correctly ruled a touchback, and b) I'm pretty sure it would have been Cincy's ball anyway since Washington had already touched it. (That's the college rule anyway, or at least it was a couple years ago.) Field position (ball at the 1 instead of the 20) is the only thing that would've changed if the ball didn't touch the goal line.
Oh yeah, Washington challenged and lost. They are now out of timeouts.
Tom Gower: It's the NFL rule as well.
Ben Muth: Bengals are now just teeing off on Griffin on the option. He's making the pitch for gains, but taking some shots.
Vince Verhei: Bengals get their third 40-plus-yard touchdown pass of the day, this one a 59-yarder to Andrew Hawkins. That Redskins secondary is so, so bad.
Aaron Schatz: Who did they beat there? I know Ben said they were beating Wilson earlier in the game. He was the one bright spot last year; if he's not playing as well as last year, wow, yeah, they are going to give up a lot of big passes all year long.
Rivers McCown: Richard Crawford was in coverage. It looked like he was playing trail technique. Dalton just lobbed it right over his head and there was zero safety help.
Peter Koski: On the opening kickoff, somehow the refs tried to give the 49ers their second illegal block to the back while being the kicking team. Thankfully, the flag was picked up. It's the same officiating team from this week's stirring MNF, so I'm a little worried.
Christian Ponder has third-and-goal at the 1, it's a play-action rollout, Dashon Goldson does not bite and is closing in. Ponder lobs it over Goldson to the corner of the end zone, right to Rudolph. Aldon Smith looked at the fake for a split-second too long and couldn't get back into coverage.
49ers just ran the "Andy Benoit Film Room Special" stunt with The Smiths. It generated an incompletion and quarterback hit by Aldon.
Andy Benoit: Randy Moss getting lots of reps early, which hasn’t been the case this season, but he doesn’t show the same burst at the end of plays. Not even close.
Danny Tuccitto: I don't know. I see Moss repeatedly running free in the Minnesota secondary, and Alex Smith throwing it to North Dakota.
Andy Benoit: Both Vikings touchdowns have been a product of Ponder’s mobility in some way.
Peter Koski: Ponder is playing out of his mind right now.
Rivers McCown: It should be noted that he's been doing that for two-and-a-half weeks now. Or at the very least, he's being managed to play like that, if you want to be pessimistic about it.
Danny Tuccitto: I don't know what's going on today, but NaVorro Bowman is having one of the worst games I've seen him play. Missing tackles, taking bad angles, and so on.
Vince Verhei: I'm not exactly sure what's happening in Minnesota, but San Francisco got the ball after a Toby Gerhart fumble that was originally ruled down by contact. San Francisco challenged the play and won the reversal, but the announcers were saying the 49ers should not have been able to challenge because they were out of timeouts. Then Smith throws an interception, and on the ensuing Vikings drive, the 49ers challenge to say Gerhart fumbled again. Announcers are saying it's the second challenge that the 49ers have been inaccurately granted. They lose that challenge and the refs say they are now out of timeouts. Long story short, either the announcers or the refs are very wrong about something. And it goes without saying that all of this took a long time to get sorted out.
Danny Tuccitto: Here are my thoughts on the 49ers game:
1) Something I alluded to earlier, Bowman's performance is another example of why tackles is a useless stat. In the box score, he had a huge game (18 combined tackles).
2) This was probably the most lackluster defensive performance I've seen since Harbaugh took over. I'm not going to play armchair psychologist, but it was pretty odd seeing them that flat and making all kinds of mental mistakes. On Minnesota's first touchdown, Donte Whitner and Bowman bit hard on the play action, and BOTH tight ends were wide open. Then, in the late-third-early-fourth drive that put Minnesota up 24-13, San Francisco gave them 32 yards worth of penalties. On third-and-5 with 3:49 left in the game, Tarell Brown practically gave Percy Harvin the slant with his presnap positioning even though there's no way he's running an out breaking route in that situation. I guess you could put some of the blame on the coaches there, but it would still be an example of a mental lapse. Carlos Rogers was an abomination defending the slot most of the day.
You could say the same of the offense, what with multiple miscommunications between Smith and his receivers, including on his late interception; also Frank Gore's fumble on the first play after Minnesota went up 24-13. Obviously, all of these things happen from time to time. It was just weird seeing it from the Harbaugh-era Niners because they so rarely -- if ever -- happen.
3) I guess this is a related point. Whether we're talking about Harvin's fumble conveniently bouncing right back to him or the multiple throw-up-a-floater-and-see-what-happens completions by Ponder (including Rudolph's second touchdown) or the 49ers doing diddly with two Toby Gerhart turnovers in the final three-plus minutes or David Akers actually having a field goal blocked, this was a really weird game to watch in terms of randomness and unlikely events. That's important to note before we go jumping to conclusions about the result.
4) The Vikings offensive line must be a lot better than I had been giving them credit for. They finished 2011 dead last in ASR, but yet the Smiths did next to nothing. Has Matt Kalil really made that much of a difference?
Aaron Schatz: The Smiths: What Difference Does it Make?
Danny Tuccitto: Heh ... If we're going that route, the Smiths song for this game would be, "Back To The Old House." Specifically, "I would rather not go back to the old house. There's too many bad memories." Today conjured up bad memories of the house under Nolan/Singletary.
...Didn't help that Singletary was on the opposite sideline, either.
Rivers McCown: Do you really think they'll pull through, Danny?
Aaron Schatz: I'd like to thank @BroncosTalk on Twitter for this:
Dierdorfery: "If there's a better back out of the backfield than Darren Spoles, I want to know who it is."
Andy Benoit: Perfect solo coverage technique by Stanford Routt on his interception late in third quarter. Used the sideline well, simply took the inside positioning from the outside wide receiver. You can’t blame Drew Brees much for that pick; you have to assume your receiver can hold position better than that.
Matt Waldman: Charles is consistently lacking the skill to make sharp lateral cuts that he used to make two years ago. The saving grace with Charles has always been his toughness between the tackles. He did have three plays that he tried to cut or corner to the left where he lost his balance and he was visibly upset. He routinely made these plays at Texas and early in his Chiefs career. The fact that he's mature enough to get his pads down and stick with what he finds on most plays helps him post-injury.
Mike Kurtz: Kansas City has the ball at New Orleans' 30-yard line and about 1:20 left down by three. They then run two runs up the middle, content for the field goal try to tie the game. I have never seen such ridiculous playing to not lose. All of a sudden I'm a Saints fan.
Aaron Schatz: In NO-KC, the Chiefs fumble the ball in overtime and the Saints return it for a touchdown. The refs go to review it, and it looks like it will be overturned, knee was down. But here's the problem -- you know the thing about how the replay can't overturn the call on the field without incontrovertible evidence? There was no call on the field. The announcers, at least, didn't see any call of whether the player was down, or if there was a fumble.
Andy Benoit: Great to have a bunch of overtime games, but with replacement officials already making the games take longer, and with the new overtime rules, it's going to be dinner time before some of these first window games end.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs' defense comes up big, big, big after halftime. Saints had eight possessions in second half and overtime (not counting the kneeldown at the end of regulation) and gained a total of 55 yards. They got two touchdowns due to great field position, but otherwise produced one interception, one safety, and four punts.
The Chiefs ran NINETY-TWO PLAYS in that game. Charles finishes with 33 runs for 233 yards.
Ben Muth: If Todd Haley was coaching, Thomas Jones would have had 64 carries.
Danny Tuccitto: I realize opponent adjustments for DVOA get applied on a play-by-play basis, but man New Orleans is poised to be pretty bad once they kick in (barring a great showing in Week 4). Yes, they're 0-3, but that includes losses against a KC team ranked 32nd in VOA coming into the week and a Redskins team ranked 25th. The other loss was to Carolina, who was previously ranked 12th before the No. 22 team beat them 36-7. Or, from another angle, New Orleans' opponents have a combined .360 Pythagorean winning percentage.
So if I've got my math right, it's looking like Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma > Peyton Manning. At least Indy had the fifth-toughest schedule last year.
Rivers McCown: Josh Freeman draws two offsides penalties on the hard count during Tampa's first drive. They are the road team. (That's bad.)
Andy Benoit: Bucs front seven very active against the run early on. Adrian Clayborn in particular.
Surprised Tampa has Jordan Shipley returning punts. I thought his knee injury took away some of his burst. That's why he's not a Bengal anymore.
Freeman's first interception came against an amoeba presnap look with a backside cornerback blitz he never saw. The blitz didn’t get there, but the checkdown was tipped. Freeman just rushed it a tad mentally, so the checkdown throw was a tad too hard and D.J. Ware tipped it up.
Freeman's poor pocket presence strikes again: he held the ball on a three-step drop with a tight end blocking DeMarcus Ware. Protection broke, Freeman never sensed it.
The Bucs are much more effective in their blitzes this week. Not necessarily getting sacks, but they’re dictating the tempo of play.
Rivers McCown: Shipley just muffed and then lost a punt, so maybe Andy should be a GM.
Andy Benoit: Kevin Ogletree just slipped a little in the end zone because one of the (replacement) officials threw his hat at his feet.
Rivers McCown: Scabs.
Andy Benoit: Cowboys failed on a surprise onside kick. It'll be easy to criticize the decision but Dallas wouldn't have done it if there wasn't clear evidence during the week that Tampa was vulnerable to it.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, we get asked all the time about the probabilities on things like surprise onside kicks and fake punts, but the fact is that those plays are based almost entirely on what you see scouting the opponent's special teams on film, not any kind of probability. This is particularly an issue with fake punts and field goals, because they often take place on very rare down-and-distances.
Andy Benoit: Jenkins facing Vincent Jackson one-on-one outside in nickel while big money cornerback Carr is playing out of position at safety.
Aaron Schatz: Are you referring to a specific play here?
Rivers McCown: They've been doing this all day in their sub packages.
Andy Benoit: Barry Church being helped off the field. Cowboys are deathly thin at safety. Mana Silva in at safety now. Saving grace might be Tampa Bay's utter lack of a downfield passing attack today.
The announcers are talking about Gerald McCoy's helmet-to-helmet hit on Tony Romo and bringing the replacement officials into the discussion. That's erroneous analysis -- McCoy's hit just happened to be helmet-to-helmet, it wasn't a blatant launch or remotely intentional. Romo was pushed into the hit, McCoy aimed for his shoulder.
Bucs wideouts did absolutely nothing. Mike Williams was slow in and out of his breaks. Freeman must improve his awareness in the pocket. Poor sense of timing.
Tom Gower: The Lions drove right down the field on the opening drive, but the Titans actually covered the tight end once and got a stop on third down to force a field goal. Making me almost deliriously happy, the Titans then opened on offense with five straight passes and were driving down the field until Jake Locker failed to catch the shotgun snap.
Titans score their first first-half touchdown of the season off a throwback on a punt return.
Rivers McCown: What on Earth is happening to Matthew Stafford? Did Ponder absorb his powers?
Tom Gower: I'm not sure anything's really going on with Stafford -- he's currently 11-of-15, albeit for only 73 yards. The Lions are throwing short passes, some of which Tennessee has done a good job of tackling on. He overthrew Brandon Pettigrew open on a seam route that would've been a bigger play, and Calvin Johnson just failed to hold onto another vertical pattern. Either of those would've improved the YPA by at least a full yard.
Vince Verhei: The problem is much less what is wrong with Stafford, and much more what is wrong with Calvin Johnson? One catch for six yards very late in the first half. Are there eight guys on him?
Tom Gower: Interesting call by Jim Schwartz, choosing to take fourth-and-2 at the 23 (effectively, a 41-yard field goal try) rather than giving the Titans third-and-15 at the 36. I'm not sure what the right call is there down 20-9 early in the third quarter. In any event, Rob Bironas misses the field goal and after Pettigrew's second drop of the game, Stafford finds Johnson over the middle for a 28-yard gain and the Lions move downfield quickly into at least field goal range.
Rivers McCown: Mikel LeShoure up to 100 yards now for the Lions; the last time the Lions had a 100-yard rusher was Week 11 of last year, against Carolina.
Tom Gower: The Lions' three possessions in the second half have resulted in 18 points, and the Titans' defense has now given up 52 points on 12 second-half possessions this year. Part of that has been they're doing a better job of finding Johnson, who's up to five catches for 78 yards plus a two-point conversion. For maybe the first time in the Stafford era, though, the Lions have a sustaining ground game behind Leshoure, who's consistently found creases and hit them hard.
And now the Lions offense will have to do it again, as they give up their second special teams score of the day, this one a 105-yard kickoff return, to tie the game 27.
The Titans get their first second-half stop of the afternoon when the Lions fail to account for an unblocked edge rusher and then get their second long touchdown pass of the game when Nate Washington reaches over corner Jacob Lacey to pluck the ball and rushes untouched to the end zone. John Wendling, playing deep safety, made an attempt to break up the pass but missed badly. The Titans now have touchdowns of 61, 65, 105, and 71 yards.
Alterraun Verner steals the ball away from Pettigrew and returns it 72 yards for a score to give the Titans a 14-point lead with 76 seconds to play. Old-time Oiler fans will remember a pretty similar play by Cris Dishman in 1993 against the Chiefs, though I believe that one was ruled an interception rather than a fumble and only 60 yards.
Vince Verhei: So, in the fourth quarter alone, we had:
That's got to be the silliest fourth quarter ever, doesn't it?
Aaron Schatz: Twitter is filled with all kinds of complaints about the refs today and we haven't covered too much of that here, but geez, I just saw Craig Stevens' catch in overtime in the Titans-Lions game. The play was called complete, then reviewed and overturned. I'm just mystified. The ball never hits the ground. So not only did the ball never come out, but the replay official somehow called it incomplete when the ball was never clearly out on the video. That's just nuts.
By the way, there was a helmet-to-helmet hit on the play, so even though the officials called it incomplete, there was a 15-yard penalty afterwards. But the refs called the penalty from the wrong yard line. The line of scrimmage was the Tennessee 44 but they walked the penalty off from the Detroit 44, so it effectively was a 27-yard personal foul penalty.
Vince Verhei: And the finish may be sillier than anything else up to that point. Tennessee kicks a field goal to take the lead in overtime. Lions take the ball and drive inside the Tennessee 10-yard line. They have a fourth-and-1, but they turn down the game-tying field goal in an attempt to get a winning touchdown instead. The run is stuffed, there is a measurement, and the Lions come up short. Titans win.
Aaron Schatz: Jim Schwartz made the ballsy move of going for it on fourth-and-inches rather than kicking a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the game. He knew the game was over if he failed. I don't have the math in front of me but I'm guessing the math will show that Jim made the right decision probability-wise. But it didn't work.
Tom Gower: I think I spent about 15 seconds sitting down in an hour of watching football between the fourth quarter of Titans-Lions and the other two overtime games.
Schwartz's post-game comments today:
(on the final play being a run)
"No that was miscommunication. We were going to try to draw them offsides. The crowd was loud and we said if they didn’t jump we were going to take the timeout and the ball ended up getting snapped. We need to obviously make sure all 11 guys get the calls right there and be able to play it but I didn’t want to take the delay of game if they didn’t jump. We had a great chance to get them offsides. They were in a goalline type defense. They were in four-point stances."
(on the intent of kicking a field goal to tie)
"I was very clear on what I said. I am not going to go any further on that."
Ben Muth: The ball doesn't get snapped if the Lions are just trying to draw someone offsides. And if it does, there isn't a play to run once it happens. It's not like coaches go "Hey, don't snap the ball on this play, but if it does happen we're running 96 Force." That's a lie.
Tom Gower: Jake Locker led the Titans in rushing this week. Do we know the last time a quarterback led his team in rushing each of the first three weeks of the year, or just three weeks in a row?
Aaron Schatz The Jets are down at halftime, but I've been a little surprised by how well they've dealt with pass pressure from the Dolphins. Left side of the line looks good. Right side ... Austin Howard isn't wonderful but he's doing a good job of at least pushing Cameron Wake behind Sanchez, and Sanchez is doing a good job of sensing the pressure and stepping up in the pocket. At that point he either overthrows his receiver or the receiver runs the wrong route.
I also will say this "Tim Tebow playing wideout as a decoy" nonsense isn't going to do anything if Sanchez never even looks at Tebow's route, let alone actually throwing the ball to him.
Andy, have you seen anything in your tape study to get at why Reggie Bush has been so much more effective running between the tackles since he signed with Miami?
And as I type that, Bush looks like he's gone down with a knee injury with 0:23 left in the half.
Andy Benoit: Bush has improved a bit as a between the tackles runner but not drastically. Simple toughness is the main force behind the improvement. Bush has some now; he didn't before. Also, the Dolphins helped him out a lot last year with more committed interior blocking designs, taking some of the decision-making out of Bush's hands. At his core, though, Bush is a space-oriented runner through and through. I thought he was ineffective on true inside run designs last week. Even the plays that went inside successfully had outside and redirection elements to them.
Vince Verhei: Mark Sanchez has been, well, pre-2012 Mark Sanchez today. Looks tentative and confused most of the time. He's got a sack and an interception, completing less than half his passes, and getting less than 10 yards per completion. His receivers have dropped some passes too. Speaking of receivers, Tebow has lined up as a wingback three or four times and is actually running out routes and crosses. They haven't thrown to him yet, but he does have a first down on a fake punt on fourth-and-3.
Ryan Tannehill played well in the first half, but opened the second half with an ugly pick-six where it looked like two Jets had a chance to grab the ball and score.
Dolphins' next drive lasts one play as Daniel Thomas fumbles the ball away. (Bush is on the sideline and still in uniform, but not in the game.) Jets get a first-and-goal and then things go badly. Standard run is stuffed for no gain. Tebowcat results in a loss of yardage (that would have lost even more if Tebow hadn't evaded a tackle). On third-and-goal, Sanchez either badly overthrows an in route or badly underthrows a corner. I can't tell, but the ball comes down right in the middle of the two receivers for an easy interception.
Aaron Schatz: It looked to me like he was underthrowing the corner, looked like it was meant to be a pass to Stephen Hill in the corner.
Andy Benoit: Tebow goes in motion, Sanchez throws to him, Tebow didn't turn around to look for the ball quick enough. He actually ducked when it came. But he was very inspiring throughout it all.
Vince Verhei: The Jets finally try a pass to Tebow, and of all times it's on a critical third-and-medium near midfield. Because that's a good time for a "what the hell, let's see if this works" kind of play. Reshad Jones jumps the out route and swats the ball away. Tebow actually looked startled that anyone was covering him.
Andy Benoit: Darrelle Revis goes down with a non-contact knee injury. If he's out, the Jets are a 5-6 win team.
Aaron Schatz: Think about how much that defense is based on the idea that you can put Revis on the best receiver and concentrate on everything else. Just a massive, massive injury if he's out for a long time. I winced. Even as a fan of their archrivals, I mean, you don't want to see the best players in the game go down with major injuries because you like to see them play.
Andy Benoit: Can Tebow play corner? He did a good job forcing the incompletion on the Jets' last offensive series...
J.J. Cooper: A Sanchez special: overthrows a wide-open Hill on first down for what could have been a touchdown. On second down he throws it away even though there is no pass rusher within three yards of him. On third down he misses an open running back. Jets punt. Oh and to make it even better for Jets' fans, Hill, who had pulled up after the incomplete pass on first down grabbing his hamstring, stayed in the game and pulled it much worse on the third-down play.
Aaron Schatz: If the Jets really want to be all ground-and-pound, they need to figure out how to block on running plays. The run blocking was very good a couple years ago, it's just awful now. With about half the fourth quarter left, Bilal Powell and Shonn Greene together have just 48 yards on 19 carries. I think the longest run of the game is six yards by Powell and that was around right end. There are no holes up the middle at all.
Benjy Rose: The answer can be summed up in two words, and they rhyme with Schmalan Schmaneca.
Vince Verhei: It is 1:40 p.m. in Seattle. The Dolphins just kicked off to start overtime in a game that started three hours, 40 minutes ago.
Aaron Schatz: Dolphins kick game-winning field goal, miss. Jets march down, kick game-winning field goal, blocked... but Miami had called a timeout first. This is nuts. Today is nuts.
Andy Benoit: Joe Philbin uses an icing timeout that winds up nullifying a blocked field goal. Stupid use of timeout ... not only because freezing kickers doesn't work (it only helps them, statistics show), but because if Folk had missed, Philbin's Dolphins may have needed that timeout later.
Mike Kurtz: Is it possible that this will be the end of icing? I know, too much to hope for.
Vince Verhei: I've got the time unofficially at four hours, four minutes.
Mike Kurtz: Awesomely insane play in Chicago. Jay Cutler throws, it's deflected and taken for an interception by Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan runs upfield, is taken out by Cutler of all people, the ball pops out right into the hands of Devin Hester, who runs back downfield, who is then hit by Finnegan, and the ball pops out again. A St. Louis lineman dives on the ball and curls into the fetal position.
Turns out Finnegan was down by contact before the ball came out. Sam Bradford then throws something very close to a tip-drill interception on the next play. Wacky game.
Aaron Schatz: I just want to give props to Trent Richardson on his touchdown run for the Browns' first touchdown today. He ran into a wall of defenders, his offensive line got no push at all, but he was able to bounce it way outside and go around everybody to take it in. Definitely saw the talent there and why he's not just another run-of-the-mill fungible back who's much more dependent on his line than most fans understand.
Vince Verhei: Andrew Luck had a couple of 10-yard runs on one drive in the second quarter. First time, he took a big hit at the end of the run. Second time he slid before a defender got within 10 feet of him. I've been surprised at how slow his release looks. I don't want to overstate this, because it's a half-dozen or so plays viewed casually in a crowded bar, but it's like every throw he makes a decision, then psyches himself to throw as hard as he can, and then actually throws about as hard as he can. Again, I don't want to over-react here, but it is surprising for a guy who was pitched as having great mechanics in school.
Vince Verhei: This game, a 1 p.m. PT kickoff, was five minutes old before any of the early games ended.
Andy Benoit: Thomas DeCoud gets his second interception of the day. All the sudden, the Falcons safeties know how to cover people.
Ben Muth: This game is going to be ugly from an offensive line standpoint. Five hits and two sacks in the first eight pass attempts.
Brian Billick just called Kevin Kolb a "big strong armed quarterback." Then Kolb used his laser-rocket-cannon-hose to throw a ball right to the Eagles. But, because he throws so hard, it got knocked up right into Michael Floyd's hands for a touchdown.
Andy Benoit: Kerry Rhodes with two enormous plays near goal line at end of first half. He prevented a DeSean Jackson touchdown, and then blindsided Michael Vick with a backside blitz to force a sack-fumble that was returned for six.
Ben Muth: Arizona is up 24-0 at the half and is treating Vick like a pinata.
Aaron Schatz: After that play, Twitter immediately exploded with "Wow, the Cardinals are for real" comments. Well, I think that the 17-0 before the sack-fumble does a much better job of showing the Cardinals are "for real" than the touchdown did. That sack was great scheming, and they are killing Vick. But 95-yard touchdown fumble returns are almost the very definition of unsustainable success.
Rivers McCown: Forget about the sack-fumble, someone tell me how Kolb is averaging 9.8 yards per attempt. I need some explanations there.
Andy Reid: Vick is now 9-of-19 for 117 yards plus three sacks and three official rushes. LeSean McCoy has 4 carries. Sheil Kapadia mentioned this on Twitter, but why is Andy Reid doing this again for the second time in three weeks?
Ben Muth: I think Arizona's defense is for real. You can win a wild card with a real good defense. Probably not much else, but watching the Cardinals is much more enjoyable than I thought it would be going into the year.
Andy Benoit: I agree with Ben. The Cardinals are a more diverse version of the Steelers (schematically), and Horton is a great defensive play-caller. Having Patrick Peterson helps.
Aaron Schatz: I'm not saying they aren't for real. I'm just saying that the evidence is the pressure on Vick, the sacks, the inability to complete passes, and even the fumble itself. But not the fumble return.
Andy Benoit: The Vick sack-fumble play is going to be this week's Schiano-Coughlin clip. We'll see it replayed way, WAY too many times.
Aaron Schatz: I wrote in the ESPN Upset Watch column that if the Cardinals wanted to win, they needed to switch Peterson over to the offensive left so he can play Jackson. I haven't seen the whole game, but it is looking like that's what they did.
Ben Muth: I haven't been watching for it, but it seems like every time they target Jackson, Peterson is right there.
Tom Gower: I'm not trying to make this "Tom rips on Andy Reid" day, but I don't get the decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-5 down 24-3 at the end of the third quarter.
Late-game constant No. 1: when there's a big run or catch-and-run against the Eagles, Nate Allen gets beat somewhere, usually in space.
Ben Muth: The game is over in Arizona, but there's still fun to be had watching it. Ryan Williams just trucked Nnamdi Asomugha in the hole an dwent for another 20 yards. Unfortunately, he grabbed his leg at the end of the run. Hoping it's just a cramp.
Vince Verhei: Matt Schaub has seven different targets in his first eight completions.
Andy Benoit: J.J. Watt is owning the Broncos. Is he the best 3-4 end in football?
Rivers McCown: Justin Smith definitely has a claim to that crown, but Watt has pushed his game up to the next level this year. He's clearly the best player on the Texans defense, and that's saying something.
Aaron Schatz: The other guy with a claim to the title would be Haloti Ngata. It depends on how you consider the Ravens' front. The Ravens actually list their lineups with one end and two tackles, with Haloti Ngata listed at tackle. But if you think of the basic 3-4 as a nose tackle inside, ends outside, then Ngata is a 3-4 end, not a 3-4 tackle. Ma'ake Kemoeatu is the nose tackle.
Andy Benoit: Regarding Joe Mays' roughing the passer penalty: very violent play, but being rough with the passer is not the same as roughing the passer. Great hit.
Tom Gower: He went helmet-first into Schaub's helmet and the force of his blow knocked Schaub's helmet off. He's getting a FedEx this week for sure. Not sure how that's a "great hit."
Vince Verhei: Schaub has thrown two touchdowns of 50 or more yards, and thrown two other balls that could have been that long but were dropped. Then Mays dropped him with about as dirty a helmet-to-helmet shot as you could find. Dropped his forehead and stuck his arms out to the sides like he was trying to take flight. Schaub missed one play.
Aaron Schatz: Yes, I thought this was dirty too, then I re-watched it in slow motion. He actually knocked off Schaub's helmet with his upper chest, it was not a helmet-to-helmet hit. I think it actually should have been legal.
Rivers McCown: (Mollom has blocked this comment for excessive profanity.)
Andy Benoit: The Texans look like they play with 12 men. It's incredible. A swarming front end of the defense and a stalwart back end. They're consistently generating pressure with four rushers -- and all four rushers are constantly on the same page.
Aaron Schatz: It's one of those improvements that's hard to predict statistically. Normally when you have a defense improve like the Texans did last year, you see some regression next year. That's what we forecast for Houston. In particular, Wade Phillips defenses have an interesting history of improving significantly in year one and regressing a bit in year two. Not happening so far. They just had the perfect mix of scheme change and added talent. What are the biggest differences between the current defense and the awful defense of 2010? Well, they signed Johnathan Joseph, and added Danieal Manning, but I don't think that latter one is a major add. Otherwise, the secondary is basically the same. But in the front you add Watt and Brooks Reed, plus Connor Barwin matures in his third season. Am I missing anything? It's really mostly three players: Joseph, Watt, and Barwin.
Rivers McCown: Glover Quin moved from mediocre corner to safety, where he is above-average. Kareem Jackson stopped being the kind of liability that allowed multiple touchdowns to Seyi Ajirotutu, and became merely a below-average cornerback.
Andy Benoit: Gotta love Peyton Manning: unhappy with a deflected touchdown because he knows that the design and execution of the play didn’t work well.
Rivers McCown: I am pretty sure that I do not.
Aaron Schatz: Like we always (often) say: you judge based on process, not results.
Rivers McCown: Manning seemed to come alive late in the no-huddle, and it was a little interesting that Brice McCain was having the majority of the work done on him. While Houston as a whole has not regressed, I think McCain is one player in particular who has.
Andy Benoit: Eight different targets on Ben Roethlisberger's first 14 completions.
The Steelers aren’t blitzing the Raiders much late in the second quarter, they’re choosing to play coverage. Makes sense against a Raiders team with limited weapons.
The Raiders give up a 21-yard yard completion with 0:23 seconds left in first half, putting Steelers in field goal range. But Matt Giordano made a "big hit" on the receiver (Emmanuel Sanders), which apparently was cause for celebration.
Danny Tuccitto: If I saw it right, Giordano's "celebration" was of the chopping wood variety. Given it came after allowing a 21-yard completion, maybe he was just lobbying the Scramble guys for the KCW Award.
Andy Benoit: With Heyward-Bey being carted off the field and Steelers safety Ryan Mundy not being flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, will we see the discussion about the replacement officials and player safety finally assume a serious tone? Or will it just stay hypothetical?
Aaron Schatz: Not to mention the play a few minutes before where Philip Wheeler crawled an extra two or three steps so he could take Roethlisberger down below the knees after the pass. Lucky there was no injury on that one.
Tom Gower: Mundy didn't know when he hit DHB helmet-to-helmet that he wouldn't get flagged for it. That's not a replacement refs issue; that's a rule issue. The penalty wasn't enough to deter Mundy from making the hit in the first place. That's your problem in my book.
Vince Verhei: I'm seriously starting to think that they'll have to remove facemasks to stop guys from killing each other like this.
Andy Benoit: Tomlin uses a timeout with 3:51 left to flirt with the idea of going for it on fourth-and-one in their own territory in a tied game. No trust in the Steelers defense?
Gamble pays off for Tomlin, but whoa ... when's the last time the Steelers didn't trust their own defense? And it's not like they're playing an offensive juggernaut.
Vince Verhei: Well, the Steelers defense had given up three touchdowns and a field goal in the last four drives. So there's that.
Tom Gower: Yeah, why should Tomlin have confidence in his defense? As Vince points out, they haven't stopped the Raiders lately. I was just glad (a) he made the decision and (b) they converted, so we don't have to hear about how crazy Tomlin is all week.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, he trusts more than I would have ever expected in math. They did go for it, and they got it. The kind of play that he would be lambasted for if it had not worked. Again, I'm guessing that the math would end up showing it was the right choice, although I personally am not as confident about the fourth-and-1 on my own side of the field.
Vince Verhei: Now Baltimore gets the officials for a measurement on a spot that's a full yard short of a first down, giving them a full minute or more to rewatch the play and decide if they want to challenge it. Did the Harbaughs get together and discuss ways to bully the refs for extra timeouts?
Rivers McCown: That memo that the NFL sent out about not pleading to the scab refs sure seems to have been effective. This isn't quite Atlanta-Denver bad, but it's not too far off.
Aaron Schatz: This game may end before 2 a.m. ... maybe.
Vince Verhei: Watching Baltimore security chase down that streaker, as shot from the blimp circling the stadium, may have been my favorite moment of Week 3.
Rivers McCown: Pretty lackadaisical tackling on that Dennis Pitta touchdown. And on the streaker, as well. It's contagious.
Aaron Schatz: Yes, strange, because this Patriots defense is definitely better than last year. But that was sort of embarrassing. Otherwise, I'm not sure what my big broad takeaway is from the first half here. The Patriots look like the Patriots. The Ravens look like the Ravens, only with a slightly better passing game and not as much pass rush.
I'm sorry, the runs here are not working. Collinsworth and Michaels are talking about the runs getting the linebackers to move forward, making space for passes. I can't see if that's true. But 10 carries for 28 yards, enough with the shotgun sweeps, guys.
Wow, the Ravens are starting to send the super heavy blitzes. I think next drive, it's time for the Pats to bring out the 3-TE set and get some protection in there. It's Michael Hoomanawanui time!
By the way, with one more quarter to go, there are 22 play reversals today around the NFL, the most in one day since at least 2000. Previous high was 16 on October 9 of last year. Thanks to Chris Hoeltge at the NFL for getting me that data.
I don't to keep complaining about the refs, but did they just call Devin McCourty for defensive holding without any actual physical contact? Or am I just being a homer?
Tom Gower: That holding penalty on McCourty was pretty phantom to me as well, and I'm about the furthest thing you can get from a Pats homer.
Rivers McCown: I think at one point in this game, Cris Colinsworth said something like "the referees are likely to let more things go." Uh, well, that clearly is not the case.
Aaron Schatz: It sure is the case if you are Michael Oher.
Ben Muth: Oher just tackled someone on the edge. The result is a 20-yard gain for Ray Rice in the flat.
Aaron Schatz: OK, and I'm getting ready to complain about how ridiculously home-cooked the refs are tonight, and then they just called an ABSURD penalty on John Harbaugh essentially for trying to call timeout. Or something. This is like pitching with an umpire with a totally random strike zone. How do you know what the hell to throw when even a pitch right down the middle is occasionally a ball?
Tom Gower: Congratulations, you now know what rooting for a team that has Chris Johnson on it is like.
Vince Verhei: Well, that's about the most fitting end possible to one of the worst football Sundays I've ever seen. I put this on Twitter and I will repeat it here: I get paid to write about football, and I get paid to write about pro wrestling. I am no longer sure which sport has worse officiating.
Aaron Schatz: So at the end, the Ravens pull it out. Very nice last drive by Flacco. Patriots defense sort of folded there. But damn, that whole game ... that was a travesty. No matter which team won, it was a travesty. And now, they're probably going to fine Bill Belichick for putting his hands on the ref after the game trying to get the ref's attention. Because, you know, fining Belichick will totally show everybody what the problem is in the NFL right now.
Mike Kurtz: I'm not sure there has been a substantive shift in officiating from Week 1 (when everyone was largely shrugging) to now. There are still marginal calls and there are still questionable calls, but I think the main difference (after Week 2 especially) is a problem of legitimacy. I do think actual enforcement is substandard, but not ridiculously so. However, replacement crews are cocking up basically every single aspect of game management, from player control to clock control to enforcement, and all the while taking a million conferences before doing anything.
This makes the crews look incompetent. If the crew looks incompetent because it cannot manage the game, the viewer does not trust the crew to handle penalty enforcement appropriately because the perception is that the officials do not understand the game thoroughly enough to do their jobs. The process of officiating at any level only works if the crew carries with it an air of legitimacy and authority. Without that, the dozens of marginal and judgment calls each official makes each game is put under a microscope (often by people with a very loose grasp of the rules and officiating mechanics) and you end up with 10 different opinions the viewer trusts as much as the word from the officials.
I don't think it matters at this point whether there is a substantive difference in the officiating between the regulars and the replacements, since nobody trusts the replacements at this point. That said, everyone is still going to watch, so the NFL has no real reason to compromise with the officials.
Vince Verhei: I actually agree with a lot of that. My problem with the replacement officials is less about them making good or bad calls and more about how long every damn discussion takes. It's not knowing how many timeouts a team has. It's not knowing the rules about challenges. It's not knowing how yards a penalty should be. It's the excess pushing and shoving in every game. It's the fact that they very clearly have no idea what the hell they are doing.
248 comments, Last at 30 Sep 2012, 8:56am by Mike Tanier