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?
15 Oct 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.
Tom Gower: If you hear some loud weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth from the Chicago suburbs, pay it no heed. That's just me agonizing over the (utterly predictable) outcome of tonight's game.
Well, my earlier e-mail was a bit premature, as the Titans go into half with a 16-10 halftime lead. This looks more like the Matt Hasselbeck of last year, with an occasionally efficient passing game, though of course the score was set up by a blocked punt. Special teams has been a strength this year amidst the abbatoir of suck on offense and defense. The real surprise to me has been the defensive performance, where they've been able to get off the field on third downs against a Steelers offense that came into the game with the league's best DVOA in such situations.
One of the things about last week's Pittsburgh game against the Eagles was the second half was really short. The same was true of tonight's game: each team only had four possessions. The Titans didn't really get any defensive stops per se, as the Steelers had 13 points and a missed field goal, with two of those drives ending with Ben Roethlisberger missing an open receiver on third down. Getting a touchdown, partly a gift due to an unnecessary hold on third down by Ike Taylor, and the halftime lead was just enough to keep Tennessee in the game. Then they took advantage after Shaun Suisham missed from 54 yards. It was an unexpected win, for a number of reasons, but not a shocking one, especially given the Polamalu Difference.
J.J. Cooper: The Steelers are battling a number of injuries, but that's what
happens when you're relying on the same core of players who have been together for five or more years. Well, actually, it explains the Steelers' injuries on defense. Apparently there is a Steelers offensive line jinx that requires at least one Steelers lineman a game to limp off the field, tonight there were three.
But more than anything tonight's game is a pretty clear example of how the FO DVOA ratings for the Steelers are pretty accurate. This is just not a very good team right now, especially defensively. Pittsburgh generates very little pass rush, and without Troy Polamalu in the secondary they don't have the defensive backs to make up for that with coverage.
Andy Benoit: Joe Flacco is looking sharp and efficient on opening drive.
Cowboys are having success running off tackle left. Ray Lewis is struggling to get off blocks early.
Ben Muth: I don't get why the booth can challenge touchdowns but doesn't look at plays where the guy gets ruled down at the 1. Cowboys just had to waste a challenge on a obvious touchdown where Felix Jones was ruled down at the one.
Aaron Schatz: Fairly remarkable in Baltimore, where the Cowboys' poor offensive line is pushing around the Ravens and DeMarco Murray is slicing through the defense. He has 81 rushing yards through the first 18 minutes. Unfortunately, I've only been watching this game for a few minutes so I can't particularly say which linemen are playing really well or poorly, but I'll keep watching...
Ben Muth: Dallas is running all over Baltimore. They're Having particular success off left end behind Jason Witten and Tyron Smith. The backs also have been lowering their pads to get an extra three yards at the end of every run. The only thing that's stopped the Cowboys running game was back to back illegal shift penalties.
Rivers McCown: Is it just me or do the Cowboys always have exponentially more problems before the snap than other teams? Sheesh.
Vince Verhei: One of the Cowboys' big runs came when the runner (not sure if it was Murray or Jones, honestly) ran right over a defender and rumbled downfield. Turned a gain of three into a gain of 20 or so.
Ben Muth: Flacco missed a wide-open Ray Rice on third-and-goal from the 2. But it didn't matter because the Cowboys grabbed Dennis Pitta's facemask on the jam. Rice goes up the gut for a one-yard touchdown on the next play. Lucky break for Baltimore.
Tom Gower: That Flacco missed pass to Rice on third down was preceded by Ed Dickson dropping what would have been a touchdown on second down. The big play on the drive was a huge gain when the Cowboys, for some reason, neglected to cover Ray Rice on a checkdown.
Ben Muth: Yeah the long pass to Rice was interesting. It looked like Sean Lee was responsible for Rice in coverage and Rice was responsible for Lee in protection. When Rice didn't release immediately, Lee blitzed. Rice went to block Lee and got a chip on him, but then just turned around to receive a pass. Lee kept blitzing and left Rice unaccounted for.
The Cowboys continue to be much better at stopping the Cowboys than the Ravens are. A Tyron Smith hold puts them in second-and-15, and Tony Romo throws a pick on third-and-long. Baltimore hasn't been able to stop Dallas until penalties put the Cowboys in bad down and distances.
Cowboys drive into Ravens territory again thanks to a long catch-and-run from Witten, who beat Ed Reed on a crossing pattern. This time it was Doug Free who jumped offsides, and the Cowboys couldn't overcome first-and-15. They settled for a field goal.
Andy Benoit: Jacoby Jones with a kickoff return touchdown. Breaks out the Prime Time dance. A really crisp, polished one, in fact.
Aaron Schatz: That was like two or three extra gears. There are some good blocks early, but Jones basically was past the blocks around the 20, jetted right past Dan Bailey, and was gone. Pure speed.
Rivers McCown: Well, at least Trindon Holliday worked out well for Houston.
Andy Benoit: We’re seeing with the Cowboys the same thing we saw when the Chiefs played the Ravens last week: teams can pile on the rushing yards, but that doesn’t mean they’ll pile on the points. Is Baltimore’s run defense a problem? Not really. It’s not a good run defense, but if it were a problem, the Ravens defense as a whole would have given up more than 19 points in the last six-plus quarters.
Aaron Schatz: Ngata apparently was having a hamstring issue during the week, and they said he went off to have his knee looked at in this game.
Well, that's why we always say that passing is better than running. Good passing will always gain more yards than good running. Even with a good running game, you usually need to string a lot of good plays together with very few bad plays in between if you want to score a touchdown.
Ben Muth: Ngata has come back, but he's moving like he has rocks in his shoes.
Andy Benoit: Cowboys given their timeout back after referee Mike Carey admits that the refs were late spotting the ball.
Dez Bryant makes a nice adjustment on a ball for his first receiving touchdown of season. Another underneath-type route on the outside against off-coverage. The only negative is that Bryant hasn’t made any of his usual four or five mistakes yet ... which means he’s due for a rough fourth quarter.
Vince Verhei: Bryant goes to the locker room. His lousy fourth quarter has begun!
Ben Muth: Rather than go for it on fourth-and-5 from the 35, the Cowboys take a delay and punt it. The Ravens fair catch it at the nine-yard line. Really wish the Cowboys, who have moved the ball up and down the field, would have gone for that.
Of course, the Cowboys get a three-and-out, meaning Garrett made the "right" call.
Andy Benoit: DeMarcus Ware had a quiet day. Michael Oher doing a solid job on him: only one quarterback pressure for Ware until his fourth-quarter sack, which was an inside spin move off a stunt. Jason Hatcher did a good job overwhelming left guard Bobbie Williams to set up Ware’s stunt.
Vince Verhei: Lance Dunbar breaking tackles for a first-down run for the Cowboys. Four-headed monster for the Cowboys!
Aaron Schatz: Three-headed monster; Tanner is a sort of a mole coming off the neck.
Cowboys could use some of those one-word super-hurry up Audibles the Patriots have been using, because they're having a bitch of a time trying to line up plays in their two-minute offense against Baltimore.
Ben Muth: The Cowboys went from first-and-10 to third-and-27 thanks to a chop block and a false start. But they went from third-and-27 to first-and-10 thanks to a great run after catch by Bryant on third down and a diving catch by Witten on fourth. This game should end with Dallas scoring and then getting the two-point conversion called back due to a penalty.
Aaron Schatz: The Dallas-Baltimore game has 22 penalties, and I don't think that counts anything declined.
Ben Muth: Bryant has the big catch-and-run, then he catches the touchdown. He's played well all game. So of course he drops the two-point conversion. Dez being Dez.
J.J. Cooper: Cowboys recover the onside kick and have a timeout left so they still have a chance.
Wow, pass interference on the Ravens. Cowboys at the Ravens 35. Would love to see the win expectancy for the Cowboys from this situation.
Andy Benoit: Cowboys had horrendous clock management in final 20 seconds, didn’t use a timeout until six seconds were left, setting up a 51-yard field goal. They could have tried for one more play.
Ben Muth: The Ravens didn't ice Bailey, he misses the 52 yarder. Yay for not icing.
Matt Waldman: Matt Ryan hits a 25-yard out to Julio Jones in bracket coverage on play-action. Not as impressive as it sounds; Jones does well with high-low coverage when he can break to the ball or laterally. He's challenged when he has to adjust low or deal with imminent contact. Ryan then throws an interception to Joselio Hanson on a crossing route to Harry Douglas where he hesitated and tried to aim a ball he shouldn't have. Really dumb play for Ryan and he knew it.
Darren McFadden has two runs off left guard with nice cutbacks, he's punishing the safeties. The second one was worth rewinding a few times due to a stiff arm at the second level, then he lowered the pads five yard later into oncoming safety Thomas DeCoud. McFadden lays out William Moore and leaves him on the ground for another 4-5 yards. Of course, you have to take the bad with the good when it comes to McFadden, who loses the ball when Jonathan Babineaux punches the ball loose while wrapping the runner in the backfield. Falcons recover.
Jacquizz Rodgers loses yardage on a third-down toss play that I didn't really understand. First, Rodgers isn't the fastest back. Quick, yes. Fast? No. Second, the Falcons tend to run the ball better when they get north and south as soon as possible. If they have David Wilson or McFadden, I'd understand a toss sweep or pitch. They don't. The Falcons then miss a field goal. If this team plays down to its competition, the Raiders can pull off the upset.
Rod Streater picks up a first down with a diving comeback in tight coverage at the left sideline on third-and-12. Carson Palmer's throw is from the opposite hash and really high-risk. NFL Films will make it look like replay high-end cinema for the Raiders NFL Yearbook.
It's going to be interesting to see how many angle blocking plays the Raiders use compared to the zone-blocking scheme they'd been running before the bye. Thus far, the only angle blocking I saw was a power draw on third down ... and the pulling guard ran into the back of his teammate. The Raiders are like the Bad News Bears of pro football. There's a perverse masochistic joy that comes from cheering them on. I admit I have that streak.
Ryan does a nice job of climbing the pocket a couple of steps to deliver a deep post to Jones about 45 yards from release point to reception point, but gets hit just as he's finishing the release. The quality of the ball looks fine, but you can see there's a little less velocity on the throw due to the hit and the pass arrives about 3-4 yards short. This wouldn't be a big deal if Jones just had one defender over top and to Jones' back, but there was underneath coverage that cut off the pass for interception No. 2 at the five. I'm still skeptical that Ryan has vastly improved his deep arm as the media reports almost weekly. However, I can't blame that throw purely on Ryan's arm.
Now if you want to see a real arm, then watch a deep fade Palmer completes to Denarius Moore that covers about 52 yards from release point to reception point. Moore nearly stumbles to reach for the ball at full gallop. This is the kind of throw Ryan still can't make, and it's why they don't run these deep patterns as often. This was a straight, five-step drop, plant and throw. Ryan would need play-action, 5-7 steps, and a couple of hitches that resemble javelin throwers.
Andy Benoit: Once again we’re seeing the Falcons come out throwing. They’ve been a very high-volume passing team in the first half this year.
Matt Waldman: Darrius Heyward-Bey takes an end around, jukes Abraham, gets the corner, and then dips back inside from the sideline to lower the shoulder on Dunta Robinson. Robinson needs to return to our hometown of Athens (yes, he's from here) and get some lessons from his Pop Warner coach on how to hit and wrap. Heyward-Bey earns another five-to-seven on the play. In fact, this is the weakness of the Falcons secondary: they know how to hit, but they don't know how to wrap. If the Packers turn things around and get healthy for the playoffs, those receivers will eat the Falcons alive.
Andy Benoit: The Raiders are having some success with screens and runs on the edges against the Falcons. Saw the Redskins have that type of success against the Falcons defense last week, too.
Matt Waldman: At least one of those edge runs was a play with a pulling lineman as opposed to the zone-blocking scheme, which was the bigger of the two runs.
I hope the Falcons continue to work Jones on shorter perimeter routes and slants. Let him catch the ball with his back to the defender, quick-hitting breaks, and then work down field with the ball. He's pretty good at that.
Andy Benoit: Ryan’s third pick was a direct result of a blitzing Philip Wheeler getting a clean shot on him. It's a case of good defense winning the play.
Vince Verhei: Moore with a 25-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Falcons defense may have been playing two-hand touch on that play.
Matt Waldman: Mike Peterson needs to take that trip 55 miles east with Robinson for those coaching tips. I've got a 12-pound cat that hits and wraps better than those two.
I'd love to see the tracking of power plays versus zone plays for McFadden this week.
Andy Benoit: The Raiders are having some success throwing inside downfield against the outside technique of Asante Samuel in a Cover-3.
Matt Waldman: Ryan nearly throws his fourth interception; instead it bounces off Michael Huff's chest.
The Raiders' linemen are getting pushed around on many plays. They need a lot of thumbs to account for leaks sprung in this dike. Michael Turner nearly gets a touchdown but is hammered at the goal line high-low by Miles Burris and Tyvon Branch. Then Jason Snelling loses yards on third-and-goal from the one, forcing a field goal to tie. Oakland can win this game if the Falcons continue to play this way.
Mike Goodson has two nice runs. One where he looked like a human corkscrew off right tackle. Then he breaks a longer run off right tackle at the end of the third quarter, but it's nullified by a holding penalty. Goodson has been breaking tackles all day. His 40-plus-yard screen pass where he weaved up and down the sideline and spun away from a hit-and-wrap to get into the red zone was a thing of beauty. There was a time that Goodson, Kregg Lumpkin, and Reggie Bush were five-star recruits from the same high school class. Goodson is looking more like the player that was a freshman All-American at Texas A&M.
Ryan has been dealing with pressure all day and Tony Gonzalez is an afterthought thus far. Ryan does a good job stepping up and finding Jones with a perfect throw between bracket coverage on a dig route for 18 yards between high-low coverage, but takes a hit in the chest as he delivers the ball. However, Jones loses the ball while getting wrapped, and Oakland challenges the play as a complete pass rather than a completion, fumble, and recovery. Jones is charged with the drop. This is one of Jones' few weak points as a receiver -- making plays against tight coverage where he has to hang onto the ball when hit.
McFadden frustrates me. They run a zone play to the left side, and there's a beautiful chance to press and cut back to right tackle, but he's so one-hole focused as an angle runner for all these years that this scheme isn't helping him. No gain.
Palmer throws a pick-six to Asante Samuel on what initially looks like a cross up on the perimeter with D. Moore. Samuel returns it for 71 yards and eludes Palmer in the process. Palmer throws the ball behind the receiver's break on the out and Samuel undercuts it. Poor throw.
Derek Hagan finds the sweet spot between the corner and safety up the right flat and makes two sweet moves to beat the safety for 38 yards, most as a ball carrier to get inside the five. Exciting game.
The Falcons run four verticals on every play on the final drive. Ryan takes the check downs, finally completes another pass to Gonzalez to get inside the Raiders 45. Matt Bryant hits the game-winner, crisis averted.
Andy Benoit: The Falcons look good this year, but this undefeated thing isn't going to last. They're playing with house money now: four wins of a touchdown or less, and they've recovered seven of the nine fumbles they've forced on defense.
Rivers McCown: Phil Simms, who spent the whole pre-draft season talking down Andrew Luck, is now spending the first quarter anointing him.
I don't want to say that the Colts run defense is bad, but Shonn Greene actually had a 21-yard gain at one point. Also, Simms is saying that the Colts need Jerry Hughes to be a player, like Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis. Yes, that seems likely to happen.
Andy Benoit: LaRon Landry's unnecessary roughness penalty nullifies an Antonio Cromartie interception return for a touchdown. The pick still counts, at least. Landry is known for these type of flags, but his hit didn’t look all that unnecessary. Luck appeared to be near Cromartie’s path to the end zone. If he wasn’t a quarterback, the flag wouldn’t have been thrown. But at that point, he’s not supposed to be considered a quarterback.
Vince Verhei: If the Jets are going to win this year, they're going to need more drives like their first touchdown against the Colts: 14 plays, 80 yards, but only three completions for 23 yards. Two of those completions converted third downs, including the touchdown pass to Stephen Hill. Not a lot of Tim Tebow on the drive, by the way.
Jets score another touchdown right before the break to take a 21-6 lead into halftime. Big play on the drive was a Tebow fake-punt pass for a 23-yard gain. He also converted a third-and-1 inside the 10 on a shotgun dive play. Sanchez finished with a touchdown to Hill. Sanchez has nine completions, only one for more than 10 yards, but he does have two touchdown passes.
Should mention the MVP for the Jets today, by the way: Antonio Cromartie. He's been man-handling Reggie Wayne all day, and though he's given up a few flags, he has an interception for a touchdown, while Wayne has one catch for 7 yards late in the third quarter. This after Wayne set a personal record with more than 200 yards last week. Luck has thrown 23 passes, only three to Wayne.
Rivers McCown: This on the heels of shutting down Andre Johnson on Monday. I thought it was likely just bluster that he proclaimed himself the best corner in the league, but if he's going to keep this up...
Andy Benoit: Joe McKnight, sitting on the bench, has the look of a drifter you'd see at a bus station.
Matt Waldman: In Utah, I'd imagine so. In Jamaica, looks like a neighbor I once had who was a spear fisherman.
Vince Verhei: McKnight, world's fastest hobo, rips off a 61-yard run. He goes to the locker room afterwards, but Greene finishes the drive with a touchdown to put the Jets up 28-6 with about 90 seconds left in the third. I'll be surprised if the Jets throw five passes in the fourth quarter.
Colts kick a field goal to make it 28-9. Clearly, they are anticipating three more opportunities to get touchdowns.
Rivers McCown: PoorClockManagementStrong
Andy Benoit: Jermaine Gresham’s 55-yarder was one of the worst looking touchdowns I've ever seen. Bad defense by the Browns, not good offense by the Bengals.
Matt Waldman: What happened? Why was it bad offense?
Matt Waldman: Just saw that Gresham play. Woof, it wasn't pretty
Another week where Josh Gordon makes receiver look easy. Not that he's a fantastic player at this point, but his fluid adjustments around the football are so noticeable. He makes a one-handed grab on a deep cross with the ball over his inside shoulder, and gains about half of his 71-yard touchdown reception without anyone near him.
I just need to make this apparent to folks here: I've had what has been up to this point an inexplicable man-crush on Cedric Peerman's potential as a running back. If he has a strong game I will probably be insufferable about it.
Andy Benoit: Nnamdi Asomugha’s first pick of season was just a case of him beating Calvin Johnson on the play. He had safety help and was able to play outside technique, then took Johnson off his route path and gained the favorable positioning on the deep ball.
At what point do we ask what’s up with the Lions offense? Does it need fixing? What would those fixes be? More complexity?
Rivers McCown: Not being completely one-dimensional would be a good start.
Andy Benoit: Maclin's long touchdown was a coverage bust by Lions. Bunch concept for the Eagles, two defensive backs picked up the two receivers in the bunch, but left no man on Maclin.
Vince Verhei: Ronde Barber, age 37, gets a pick-six for Tampa Bay. Only six other men that age have scored a pick-six in league history.
Ben Muth: Brady Quinn: 16-of-24, 145 yards, two picks.
All is well. The Mayans were full of crap.
Danny Tuccitto: The end of Miami's touchdown drive to go up 17-6 showed how much of a focal point Reggie Bush is in their offense. First, they faked the handoff to him, he continued into an out route, Ryan Tannehill flipped him the ball under pressure, and he hit the R1 button a few times before going down. On the next play, they got him a middle screen, which worked like a charm thanks to Jo-Lonn Dunbar not recognizing it whatsoever. Bush took that down to the one-yard line, and the Fins scored on the next play. On the actual touchdown, they motioned Bush out wide left, which took a defender out of the middle of the field, and that allowed Anthony Fasano to end up wide open in the back of the end zone.
The more I watch Miami (not just this week), the more I feel sorry for Sean Smith. Seems like every successful pass play by opposing offenses goes towards Nolan Carroll or Richard Marshall. Meanwhile, he's on the other side taking care of business.
And just as I say that, he stuffs Brian Quick short of the goal line on third-and-goal.
Tom Gower: Well, Sam Bradford takes a sack on third-and-4. With only one timeout left, Jeff Fisher elects to let the last 20 seconds or so run off the clock and attempt a 66-yard field goal to force overtime. Greg Zuerlein has the distance, but goes wide left to finish the day 2-for-5.
J.J. Cooper: If he had made it they would have renamed St. Louis Zuerleinville.
Ben Muth: I change to the Cards game just in time to see them give up a sack for a safety, with Chris Kelsay beating D'Anthony Batiste. That proves that playing the Cardinals is a more effective way to jump start your pass rush than paying over 100 million dollars in free agency.
Cardinals offense after two drives: five plays, minus-five yards, one safety.
Mario Williams shoves Bobby Massie aside and sacks Kevin Kolb to end the Cardinals third possession. Levi Brown is like the horrible overweight version of Peyton Manning: he actually has improved his legacy by missing a season.
Andre Roberts caught a quick out about a half-yard short of the chains. He got a generous spot, so it's close enough to measure, but he still comes up a link short. The refs ruled it a first down anyway. Seriously, the refs called it a first down even thought it looked short on the measurement. Chan Gailey challenged and the play was upheld. Bizarre.
On the same drive of the phantom first down, Larry Fitzgerald beats Nick Barnett for a touchdown. Yes, that's linebacker Nick Barnett. The Buffalo Bills defense has been crafted so Jairus Byrd and George Wilson are primary run defenders and Nick Barnett has to cover Larry Fitzgerald in the red zone.
Tom Gower: Dave Wannstedt has to be your early leader for Keep Chopping Game Film, and Romeo Crennel is the only guy I can think of within shouting distance.
Rivers McCown: Seconded. That unit is so much less than the sum of its parts.
Ben Muth: The Cardinals defense has been solid all day, but with two minutes left in the third, Buffalo ripped off three straight big plays. First was a 23-yard quick slant to Stevie Johnson. Then a 33 yard run by C.J. Spiller, where he made two Cardinals miss in the hole. Then, Brad Smith had a 15-yard run out of the Wildcat. Fred Jackson finished it off with a two-yard plunge.
Reagan Maui'a broke a tackle and gained seven yards on first down. He felt this was worthy of a spike that would have made Gronk jealous. The refs flagged him for delay of game (rightly so) and Whisenhunt exploded on Maui'a. I'm talking Jim Harbaugh-on-a-replacement-official or Jim Schwartz-on-a-vigorous-hand-shaker level screaming.
The Bills were driving in Cardinals territory when they went Wildcat with Smith again. Smith threw it deep and was intercepted by Patrick Peterson.
Tom Gower: Smith threw deep for Donald Jones, who probably got interfered with on the play, and the ball was probably slightly overthrown. Peterson was in the area because Johnson was in the same area of the field, well downfield. That doesn't seem right. On the ensuing possession, Kolb scrambles for a first down on first-and-20, then gets shaken up.
Ben Muth: John Skelton came in and immediately intentionally grounded the ball, but the refs don't call it. So instead of facing a third-and-18, the Cards only needed 11. Skelton completed a fourth-down pass to Fitzgerald to move the ball to the 44-yard line. After three straight incomplete passes, Whisenhunt calls for a 61-yard field goal. Jay Feely makes it because it's the Cardinals at home and all games must go to overtime.
Wow. O'Brien Schofield got a sack on first down so Arizona called a timeout. After two Buffalo runs and two more Arizona timeouts, Buffalo punted. And they shanked the punt, giving Arizona the ball on the opposite 45. A defensive holding and a 28-yard pass to Fitzgerald leave Arizona with a 38-yard field goal. Feely missed it off the upright, of course, because all games in Glendale must go to overtime.
Gailey didn't ice Feely on the 38-yarder. So that's 2-of-2 today in favor of not icing.
On the first drive of overtime, the Bills elect to punt from their 35-yard line rather than attempt a 52-yard field goal. It was a touchback. Gailey has been fluctuating between wildly aggressive (bomb out of the Wildcat up three with three minutes) and really conservative (back-to-back runs at the end of fourth, the overtime punt).
Tom Gower: Wow. Skelton throws for Rob Housler on the post and just doesn't see Byrd lurking in the middle of the field. He returns the pick to the 6, and the Bills are almost certainly about to win this game.
Aaron Schatz: Very strong pass protection on the first couple drives for New
England. Nobody's getting near Tom Brady so far.
I scream at Russell Wilson to run, and he hangs back and hits Doug Baldwin for a big play on a post route. I scream at him to throw the ball away, and he scrambles away from pressure, breaks a Jerod Mayo tackle, and runs for a first down. And then he finishes the drive with a seam-route touchdown to Baldwin. He's hit 7-of-8 for 131 yards in two drives. Far and away his best game so far.
Aaron Schatz: Russell Wilson is excellent at play-action. When he says that his year at Wisconsin helped him learn how to execute play-action at the pro level, he's not kidding. He's particularly good in the handoffs that set up play-action, the way he continues his dropback after the handoff and looks like he still has the ball. The cameraman from CBS has been confused a few times. One of my favorite underrated quarterback skills.
Vince Verhei: Patriots take a 17-10 lead into halftime. Difference so far is in pass rush -- Seahawks are hardly sniffing Tom Brady, but Chandler Jones got a strip sack on Wilson to set up the New England field goal.
Seahawks had some Keystone Kops behavior at the end of the half. With about a minute to go and neither team in any hurry to call timeout, they throw a weak incompletion on third-and-4 to stop the clock. Then Jon Ryan drops the snap on the punt. He recovers and it looks like he has a chance to get a kick off, but he panics and soon gets overwhelmed. That sets the Patriots up in field-goal range. Seahawks defense stiffens at the goal-line, and Brady's incompletion on third-and-goal is called intentional grounding, and the ensuing ten-second runoff ends the half. A bullet dodged there.
Aaron Schatz: As long as we're going to be mean to Jason Garrett about the clock management at the end of the Dallas game, can we say mean things about Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and the end of the first half in Seattle? The Patriots were gifted the ball in the red zone with 40 seconds left and somehow came away with no points. They blew something like 15 seconds because Brady wanted to get everyone up to the line to run a play but then Belichick decided to go with a timeout instead.
Brady basically throws a pick with :06 left but Rob Gronkowski defends it and knocks it away from the Seattle player. With six seconds left, you need to run either a quick slant or a fade. You can't run a slow-developing pass play. Yet the Pats do, and Brady throws it away with one second left. Except, apparently, it was grounding -- from the look of things afterwards, he thought Deion Branch would be in the area but Branch ran the wrong route or something. Still, it was stupid to try to call a slow-developing crossing play anyway. No points. Bleh.
One other note: if you want to pass in the middle of the field with one timeout and 19 seconds left, have a play ready for the next down and save the last timeout for the final field goal. Instead, the Pats took the last timeout with 13 seconds left and thus lost the ability to throw anything outside the end zone or take a sack if necessary.
Paul McQuistan seems to have no idea where he's going. I know that we don't know the play calls, but I can take a guess, and he was just awful on the first two plays of the second half. On the first one, for some reason he blocked right, doubling the lineman, but for some reason letting Brandon Spikes go right through the line of scrimmage to get Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. I mean, somebody has to have the job of getting the middle linebacker, right? I can't think of who it would have been other than McQuistan. Then on the next play he just got burned when Rob Ninkovich came around on the stunt. He ended up basically trying to triple-team Chandler Jones to his right while Ninkovich went right by him on his left. Again, I can't imagine that was the general idea of the blocking scheme.
Vince Verhei: Been a long time since I've seen a quarterback run into pressure like Wilson does. Three-man rush, and the tackles take the outside rushers wide with one man in the middle. Wilson could step up to either side, but instead he tries to loop wide right into the path of the pass rusher. Breno Giacomini has no option but to tackle the pass rusher for an obvious holding call, wiping out the big scramble that Wilson proceeds to break off. But again, the holding penalty was Wilson's fault, not Giacomini's.
Tom Gower: Notwithstanding his (plenty of other) strengths, that third-quarter interception by Richard Sherman was a poor toss by Tom Brady. Deion Branch had minimal separation and Brady doesn't have the arm strength to hit that downfield throw in the very small window he had to hit on that play. The Seahawks are offensively impotent enough that the Pats not coming away with points in Seattle territory seems unlikely to harm them (they quickly went three-and-out after the pick), but on another day it would.
Aaron Schatz: Wow, Brady with his second interception of the day and only third of the season. I think this one is on him too, it went through Welker's hands but it was sort of behind him, not really thrown in the right place. It just so happened that Thomas was standing right behind Welker, therefore pick.
Seahawks receivers are really kicking Pats' cornerbacks asses when it comes to outpositioning them on deep passes. Unfortunately, the Seahawks offense can't seem to do anything else.
Bad process, good results: Seahawks have a third-and-1 at the two-minute warning. They run to pick up the first down, but they have no play called, so they have to huddle up and get back to the line. Thirty seconds go by. They have a timeout, by the way. When they finally do snap the ball, Wilson runs a bootleg and throws a 45-plus-yard touchdown to Sidney Rice, who beat Tavon Wilson and the safety on a corner-post. Seattle leads 27-26 with 1:18 to go, and New England is out of timeouts.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots give the game away. Seattle takes lead with 1:18. Very frustrating. I'm not sure how the Patriots botched this one. Even leaving so many points on the board, they were really dominating this game through three quarters. But it seems like the Patriots offense just shut off on the last couple drives, and they also wasted timeouts for stupid reasons: one because they didn't like the offensive play they were running, once because they were stuck with 12 men on the field on defense. Agonizing.
Tom Gower: That comment from earlier about how the Pats were leaving points on the field repeatedly wouldn't come back to bite them today but would in another game? Um, yeah, I was more confident that they would win today than I should have been.
Vince Verhei: You know who played great in defeat? The Patriots' offensive line. One false start. No holding penalties. In 59 pass plays, they gave up seven hits and only one sack, and that sack came in a desperate last-minute situation. I don't have the hurry numbers, but it sure felt close to zero. And in 26 runs, they only have five tackles for loss.
Aaron Schatz: I'm just sitting here in shock. I can't figure out how on earth the Pats lost this game. They had this thing completely in control, numerous times. They were up 20-10 at the goal line early in the fourth quarter. They threw the pick there, but still went up 23-10 a few minutes later. Then they managed to stop the Seahawks with 3:14 left and got the ball back up 23-17. How on earth did they lose? I think the worst thing was the conservative playcalling on that drive with 3:14 left. You have an offense that almost never goes three-and-out, and the other team still has three timeouts to work with, so why on earth do you go into instant obvious "a one-yard run doesn't matter as long as we kill clock" mode. You need a couple of first downs there.
Andy Benoit: FOX announcers are saying the Niners have NFL’s best offensive line. Aikman said it’s the best he’s seen in 10 years, and even compared it to Cowboys’ lines he played with. They have to be referring only to run-blocking. (Even then, the hyperbole is overflowing here.)
Vince Verhei: Run blocking only, yes, but it's not hyperbole. I covered this on ESPN this week, but they're absolutely destroying the record for ALY this season. They're gaining five or more yards on half their carries. Yes, they're probably going to come down to earth before long, but for one-third of a season they've been like nothing we've seen in decades.
Ben Muth: The 10 years comment is a little ridiculous (the Vermeil Chiefs come to mind), but I think there's a good chance they do have the best line in football. Their interior line is really good. Joe Staley is a top-10 left tackle and Anthony Davis has gotten much better.
Peter Koski: Niners offense is showing a lot of different formations on opening two drives. Lots of Pistol or Full House formations with tight ends and fullbacks in the backfield, including defensive lineman/fullback Will Tukuafu. The 49ers have been efficient at controlling the clock thus far, but not able to get the ball across the goalline. David Akers has another missed field goal.
Danny Tuccitto: Even though San Francisco has dominated New York in the first 18 minutes or so, I'm impressed with the Giants not getting caught off-guard by a couple of wrinkles the 49ers have put into the game plan to play off of what they've put on film. Foremost in my mind is the fake jet sweep left to Ted Ginn with a counter pitch to Frank Gore going right. Giants stuffed it. Also stuffed the Kaepernickat and, if I saw the play correctly, got an interception defending the 49ers' wheel route.
Andy Benoit: Surprising that Jason Pierre-Paul’s sack gives him just 2.5 on the year. He’s been dominant all season, just hasn’t been reflected in sacks, apparently.
What always stands out with Giants receivers is how they a.) get great separation late in the route and b.) don’t even need much separation to make the catch.
Vince Verhei: At this point, I think we also have to acknowledge that Manning is good enough to make about any receiver look good.
Aaron Schatz: Remember when he threw like half the passes over guys' heads? That feels like the era of Betamax at this point.
Matt Waldman: I agree that Manning is a fine quarterback. However, I also believe his receivers are helping him just as much as any in the league. The Giants offer a pretty nice dichotomy of drafting philosophy at the receiver position. Domenik Hixon, Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks are all nice athletes, but they all possessed a strong base of skill with the physical techniques of route-running and pass catching. This in my opinion is more important than the over the top physical promise of guys like Ramses Barden or Mario Manningham.
By the way, Manningham's big catch for 36 yards is on a pass from Kaepernick that the Giants weren't expecting. Manningham was let go -- in my opinion -- because he made rookie mistakes well beyond his rookie year. Talented for sure, but Hixon's catches today have vastly more cumulative value to a quarterback with accuracy and the confidence to make these throws than a great athlete who the quarterback can't count on to be at the right place at the right time.
Steve Smith epitomized this point when he was healthy, but his lack of great down field speed also feeds Aaron's point about Manning overthrowing passes. Cruz has Smith's hands and is developing into that kind of route runner, but has Manningham's speed and handling.
Aaron Schatz: Golly, I don't think he's developing. I think he was pretty much there last year.
Andy Benoit: The trend we're seeing with Alex Smith is interceptions on passing downs. The first of Antrel Rolle's two pick was on third-and-six, the second one was third-and-16. As we highlighted in the Film Room post, Smith is an early-down passer. He doesn't have the tools to consistently make big-time throws in obvious passing situations.
On fourth-and-15, Smith throws a check-down to Vernon Davis. He had nowhere else to go, apparently. But why not throw it "nowhere else" anyway? The check-down is guaranteed to fail. Nothing to lose on fourth down.
Danny Tuccitto: Smith probably wouldn't be in so many obvious passing situations if Colin Kaepernick refrained from taking seven-yard losses on second down every series.
Vince Verhei: Joe Buck is calling the 49ers game right now, and then is going to call the Giants baseball game tonight. If Tim McCarver is doing color, he'd better rip into Joe like he did Deion Sanders when Prime Time did the same thing. (I know he won't.)
Danny Tuccitto: I've got two TVs going, one with the Yankees game and the other with the 49ers. Wish I had zero TVs.
Rivers McCown: Joe could not stand to not call his precious Cardinals...
Ben Muth: If this ends in Joe Buck dumping water on McCarver, the last decade of their horrible announcing will have been worth it.
Aaron Schatz: So Danny, does it feel better to be a 49ers fan today, and know that at least your team got stomped beginning to end and never was in the game? Or does it feel better to be a Pats fan and know your team at least still played well even though they totally frittered away a game they had no business losing?
(It's probably worst for Ben, whose team sucked AND blew a close game.)
J.J. Cooper: Can I throw in a vote for "your team lost to a significantly inferior opponent on Thursday and in doing so reinforced that they are no longer an elite Super Bowl contender?"
Danny Tuccitto: Aaron, considering this 49ers fan has had the pleasure of witnessing *both* types of losses to the same friggin' team in the space of nine months, I'll go with "Option C: Neither."
I had this whole diatribe ready to go about how the 49ers game plan sucked today. Then, Harbaugh pre-empted me by admitting as much in the post-game press conference. Don't hear that from a coach very often.
Minus the planned vitriol, I'm reduced to just pointing out that the one team the Giants defense has shut down this season was Carolina and their endless barrage of read option. No clue why the 49ers thought it would be a good idea to try to replicate that.
I actually came close to understanding today that frustrating feeling Pats fans have about games against the Giants. There was one drive today where Nicks somehow caught a jump ball with Tarell Brown all over him, and then a play or two later Hixon made the Bert Emanuel catch. Then there was Cruz literally catching a juggled ball while being bear-hugged. All of this happens in quick succession, and I just feel like throwing my hands up, screaming, "Why does this Giants team have to be so good *and* so lucky?"
Ben Muth: The Cards were due to lose one like the Buffalo game, I can tolerate one loss for every five wins in overtime. Yeah, they didn't play well, but they hardly ever do.
The St. Louis game was much more frustrating because Arizona refused to change a thing even as Chris Long and Robert Quinn were rearranging Kolb's face. Plus, I still had delusions of a wild card at that point. The St. Louis game crushed those.
Andy Benoit: Redskins continuing to run a lot of their offense out of wishbone. That sets up their option game and play-action game, which is a great way to feature Robert Griffin.
Vince Verhei: Scott Hanson deserves multiple awards for these sixty seconds.
Rivers McCown: Remember the 2010 Chargers team that finished fourth in offensive DVOA, seventh in defensive DVOA, and dead last in special teams DVOA? They are the Texans' spirit animal.
Tom Gower: The 2010 Packers team that won the Super Bowl was pretty similar, only their special teams were just pretty bad instead of absolutely miserable like San Diego's. Without NORV!'s ability to underachieve almost any record, that's a more realistic fate.
Aaron Schatz: Alan Ball on Jordy Nelson is just not going to be a good matchup for Houston. And of course, that third touchdown was set up by the defensive pass interference by Kareem Jackson. The fact is, despite their great pass rush, even with improved safeties, the Texans still suffer from a big problem with non-Johnathan Joseph cornerbacks.
Rivers McCown: Ball was on because Joseph was off. THAT is what I'm more worried about. Hiding a groin injury would make Joseph's last few weeks more explainable.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, even with Joseph as their best cornerback, he hasn't been that great when he's been on the field tonight.
Tom Gower: The Texans lived in dime for about all of the first half. That's their normal sub package anyway, though of course without Brian Cushing they don't have nearly as dynamic a linebacker in there. The Packers' offensive line has done better than I thought they would, and while Rodgers was like normal 2012 Rodgers early (off kilter), he's responded with some sharp throws since. I concur with Rivers a lingering groin injury that affected his status for the Week 4 game against the Titans would explain a lot that's happened to Joseph since then, and without Jason Allen this year they don't have the same depth on the outside even with Jackson looking better in his third season.
Aaron Schatz: OK, I know that I picked the Packers in Upset Watch this week, but still, what is up here? This is an ass-whooping. The Texans can't run the ball, even though the Packers were 27th in defensive ALY coming into this game.
Vince Verhei: Houston is just having such a non-Houston night that I'm willing to write this off as a fluke. Just a bad night with no explanation, particularly by the offensive line. Getting zero motion in the running game, and Matt Schaub has been sacked as many times through three quarters as he was in Weeks 1 through 5 combined.
Aaron Schatz: I will say, it's remarkable how much the NFL commentariat jumps on the "wow, no team is dominant" storyline. Guys, we had 9-7 and 10-6 teams win the last two Super Bowls. There's been no truly dominant team in the NFL for a long time, and no one loss defines your team as doomed or "unable to compete on the national stage" or any such nonsense.
Rivers McCown: Guys I'm just gonna go lay down now.
Danny Tuccitto: So, with James Jones doing Arian Foster's Namaste move after his touchdown to make it 42-17 (!!!), is it safe to say that all end zone celebrations have polarized into an "actual celebrations" group and a "mockery of actual celebrations" group? Is it also safe to say that Jones mocking Foster up 42-17 is a tad ridiculous?
I'll add ... though not as ridiculous as if Jones had done it with the score the other way around.
Vince Verhei: Since you brought that up ... I was highly annoyed by the salsa controversy with Cruz and Rogers last week. I love the Victor Cruz salsa touchdown dance, one of most fun and classiest moves of all-time. But apparently Carlos Rogers did a salsa last year against the Giants and it got Cruz's dander up. Then Cruz said he does the dance in a tribute to his grandmother, and so Rogers agreed not to do it anymore? Ridiculous! If it's OK for Cruz to do it, it's OK for Rogers or anyone else to do it. (Well, maybe not today, but in a game where San Francisco actually played well.)
And as a young man I screamed with glee when Mario Bailey did Desmond Howard's Heisman pose with a big lead late in the Rose Bowl, so I'm fine with mocking guys late in the game too.
Danny Tuccitto: Heh. Fair enough. I understand the place for celebration mockery in the alpha environment of football. Just seems to me that the mockery end of the spectrum is rampant lately. You mentioned the Rogers salsa mockery. There's the ubiquitous discount-double-check mockery seemingly anytime someone sacks Aaron Rodgers these days. We even recently -- last week I think -- had the meta-mockery of Raji's dance from the discount-double-check commercial. Tonight we have namaste mockery by Jones. I just find it sad that we've basically come to a point where you have a group of guys coming up with original celebrations, and then everyone else resorting to mockery of some sort rather than coming up with an original celebration of their own.
Vince Verhei: Marshall Faulk on NFL Network: "When you have a game with two teams that are pretty darn good and evenly matched, it comes down to quarterback play. And Matt Schaub just did not make enough plays to help his team win today."
The Texans gave up a half-dozen touchdown passes and he is blaming the loss on Matt Schaub.
239 comments, Last at 18 Oct 2012, 1:35pm by bravehoptoad