Brady-Manning XVI: the biggest game in the AFC this year. Denver has juggernaut potential as a complete team, but the Patriots have the crucial home-field advantage in Week 9.
14 Jan 2013
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.
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Tom Gower: Um, the Ravens' only real advantage this game was supposed to be their superior special teams play, and Trindon Holliday returns a punt 89 yards for a score less than three minutes in. Then a bad kick return leaves them starting the subsequent drive inside the 10.
Rivers McCown: Joe Marciano thought that return was mediocre at best.
J.J. Cooper: When I saw Holliday's first return for a touchdown, I thought back to the Chargers game in October. Holliday had just been picked up off waivers from the Texans, and he fumbled his first punt return. At the time I was thinking there was little chance he'd make it to Tuesday with the Broncos, much less remain the team's main returner. Now he's going to be part of Broncos' lore forever.
Ben Muth: Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith are perfect for each other. Flacco can throw it as far as anybody, and Smith can chase just about anything down. Both are limited, of course, but man can they stretch a defense.
Andy Benoit: Flacco's touchdown to Smith came against a Cover-3 zone, the Ravens had the perfect route combination on for it. Two deep middle crossers occupied the deep centerfield safety. Flacco made an excellent deep throw. (His second excellent deep throw on that second series, first one was the pass interference penalty that Tandon Doss drew.)
Mike Kurtz: This is the non-predictive events bowl.
Vince Verhei: I wrote in Quick Reads that the Ravens needed to use a back or tight end to help Michael Oher out as often as possible against Von Miller. They haven't done that much on their first two drives, but there has been only one pass rusher (not always Miller) to that side, which means the right guard has been unoccupied and able to give Oher a hand. The Broncos need to start sending more men from the offense's right.
Also, stop throwing pick-sixes. Stop that right now.
Andy Benoit: Ravens are dropping Suggs into coverage a few times early on, smart tactic against Denver’s frequent short-flat patterns.
Aaron Schatz: This is weird. An offensive, defensive, and special teams touchdown in 5:10, and the special teams touchdown was Denver not Baltimore, and the interception return was picked off Peyton Manning, not Flacco.
It's early yet, so I don't think three big plays have taught us too much about how the rest of this game is going to go.
Andy Benoit: Manning just a little behind Decker’s short slant on that throw. Just a tad behind Demaryius Thomas on a similar throw previous play. (Lots of contact by defense, probably should have been pass interference, but good physical coverage).
Aaron Schatz: Broncos tie it up about 10 minutes in at 14-14, on a touchdown to Brandon Stokley in the right corner of the end zone. I think this was supposed to look like the "levels" concept that Chris Brown wrote about this week at Grantland. Two guys were stacked on the right, Stokley was the guy who ran the shorter route ... but instead of turning in, be stopped, then twisted the other way and went to the end zone, leaving Corey Graham in his dust.
Rivers McCown: Baltimore has made a concerted effort to target their tight ends early. Maybe they are readers.
Tom Gower: Flacco's been playing reasonably well so far. Denver pass rush wasn't really a factor in the first quarter. I suspect those two things have some relation.
Rob Weintraub: Yes, Peyton is great, etc. But this constant acclaim for handing off when there aren't eight men in the box is absurd. To hear Dierdorf tell it, it's as though he's making Sophie's Choice by forfeiting a pass attempt.
Aaron Schatz: Let me tell you, Baltimore, you *really* look like the best special teams in the league when Tandon Doss runs into his OWN BLOCKER on a punt return.
Andy Benoit: Von Miller is getting put in coverage situations a lot against base sets. Good design by Ravens.
Ben Muth: Smith keeps getting behind Champ Bailey. Denver may have to re-think that matchup.
Tom Gower: He's going over the top in man coverage and beating him to the middle of the field. Where are the Denver safeties? We haven't seen them. On the touchdown, Mike Adams, I believe, bit on the dig route in front of him, but I'm not sure what's happened since then.
Aaron Schatz: Regarding the safeties on the deep passes to Smith -- Mike Tanier pointed out to me that on that last deep pass, the one that was overthrown, they ran two semi-deep crossing patterns in front of the safety. That's what took the safety's attention, which prevented deep help.
I know this feels like a broken record to Ravens fans, but this team seems unable to build steady drives with consistent medium-length gains. Almost everything seems to be either hurried or the deep pass to Smith, and I'm already noticing the issue of "hey, maybe they need to give the ball to Ray Rice some more."
Vince Verhei: Manning's accuracy and touch on that touchdown to Knowshon Moreno ... man oh man, this cat is good at football.
Ben Muth: Moreno scoring a touchdown, in a playoff game, on a hitch and go ... was unexpected.
Matt Waldman: Unexpected, but Matthew Stafford to Moreno on that style play was something they ran with success against Michigan State in a bowl game.
Andy Benoit: The Ravens are using a lot of zone exchange concepts, bringing Dannell Ellerbe from deep second level. Ellerbe has stood out again this week, playing with good all-around tempo and consistently getting near the ball in a variety of ways. The question: is Ellerbe just improving, or has his recent explosion been a product of having Ray Lewis back?
Vince Verhei: Comcast cable in Seattle went to a monthly test of the Emergency Broadcast System as Denver was lining up to for it on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter. Not joking.
Danny Tuccitto: At least it was just a test, though, right?
Vince Verhei: Apparently Denver picked up the fourth down. (I missed the play, but got to enjoy the five-minute review process.) They're up seven and in scoring range. Ravens fans might call this an emergency.
Danny Tuccitto: Here's the soundtrack for that Prater kick.
Vince Verhei: Smith. That second touchdown. Holy Lord.
Mike Kurtz: Has there ever been a game where the big names on defense for both sides have proven to be liabilities?
Tom Gower: Your lesson, as always, is that attempting a long field goal with a good quarterback is a mistake. Oh, yeah, and after disappearing for most of this season, the Old Man Bailey we got used to seeing the previous couple seasons has returned with a vengeance.
Aaron Schatz: Here's the thing. I'm not surprised that Bailey would get beat deep by Smith. I mean, he's what, 37 years old? But that second touchdown, where Smith outmaneuvered him, was much more of a surprise.
And yet, it still feel like until that two-minute drill, the only thing working for that offense was the deep pass to Smith. They can't win in the second half unless they can get something else working also.
Rob Weintraub: I dunno -- I'm leaning more toward sensational play by Smith than cloddish coverage by Champ.
Mike Kurtz: The two are not mutually exclusive.
We've secretly replaced the Ravens special teams with the Steelers special teams. Will anyone notice? Let's watch!
Rob Weintraub: How do they not play Madonna's "Holiday" at Mile High after Trindon's big runbacks?
Vince Verhei: Ravens give up their second special teams touchdown of the day. Their own Twitter account dubs this "insane."
Danny Tuccitto: This game is giving me the heebee geebees. Two hours before kickoff, last thing I need right now is a constant reminder of the irony that was San Francisco's No. 2 special teams turning heel in the NFC championship game last year.
Aaron Schatz: The Ravens did not allow a single kick or punt return touchdown during the regular season. In fact, they allowed only two kick returns longer than 35 yards all year, and only two punt returns longer than 30 yards. Special teams is nutty.
Vince Verhei: The sack/fumble/penalty play in the third quarter took five minutes of real time to resolve. Are the replacement refs back?
Andy Benoit: The Broncos are targeting Lewis with shallow crossing routes and having consistent success.
Jacob Tamme is a very good individual route runner. He an make breaks, and had a third-down catch where he beat Chykie Brown one-on-one outside like he was a wideout.
Ben Muth: Michael Oher has just broken the single game playoff record for uncalled holds.
Rob Weintraub: That's the market inefficiency Michael Lewis should have written about...
Rivers McCown: I want to point out that a) a playoff team squib-kicked away from Trindon Holliday and b) a squib kick would likely be among the top ten Texans kickoff returns this year.
Matt Waldman: I don't think many people would have believed in August that Terrell Suggs would have two sacks in a playoff game. The advancements in surgery and rehab are pretty incredible.
As a Browns fan from the `70s and `80s, this game has me conflicted -- the Ravens personnel and management is essentially descended from the Browns of my youth, so I'd like some revenge on the Broncos, yet how can I cheer for them?
Aaron Schatz: And with the touchdown drive that put Denver up 35-28, we entered the "chippy" portion of this game. Lots of penalties, and a lot of physical play that isn't getting penalized.
Ravens did the right thing on fourth-and-5, throwing to Dennis Pitta and attacking Adams. Sometimes even a below-average defensive back is gonna make a play, and he did.
Andy Benoit: Very bad game management by Ravens to burn a timeout before the play though. It was a no-doubter that they had to go for it, so no excuse for being slow with the play-call process.
Aaron Schatz: OH MY GOD, did the Broncos blow coverage. What on earth was Rahim Moore doing? He was totally lost, had no idea where the ball was, mis-timed his jump... I mean, I'm assuming that he was supposed to get Jones deep because Tony Carter clearly is staying in a shorter zone in case they throw a deep out or comeback to get Jones a catch and out of bounds.
Vince Verhei: It took 17 games, but the Denver secondary I wrote about in FOA 2012 has finally arrived!
Matt Waldman: They just did the wrong thing throwing to Jacoby Jones on third down, except the part where Denver failed to cover Jones. Jeebus.
J.J. Cooper: OK, this game just entered the "we'll be seeing NFL Films specials on it for years" category.
You know, when announcers decry prevent coverage, there are reasons you play prevent. Of course, if the safety in deep coverage doesn't understand that it involves being on top of the deepest receiver, it doesn't really matter whether you are in prevent or not.
Ben Muth: I don't know what to say about the Jones touchdown. My buddy next to me said it pretty well though: "Looks like Moore misjudged it."
Tom Gower: WHAT THE F*CK ARE YOU DOING, JOHN FOX? YOU HAVE Peyton Manning, TWO TIMEOUTS, SOME TIME, AND THE RAVENS CAN'T STOP THE CLOCK? WHY DID YOU TAKE A TIMEOUT? WHY DID YOU RUN ON THIRD DOWN? WHY? WHY? WHY?
Aaron Schatz: Why on earth was Denver kneeling down instead of trying to get into field-goal range with 30 seconds and two timeouts? What, you don't have faith in your quarterback ... who is Peyton Manning?
Andy Benoit: Broncos kneel down with 0:36 left and two timeouts on a tie game. Hmmmm ... what are you paying Peyton Manning all that money for?
J.J. Cooper: If Holiday returns another one in overtime, the Broncos will induct him into their ring of fame after the game.
Aaron Schatz: I'd like to thank the Ravens for not squibbing. That squib earlier was stupid. You have Justin Tucker and you are a MILE ABOVE SEA LEVEL. OK, fine, one kickoff got returned for a touchdown. Almost all the rest are going to be touchbacks. Just let Tucker get the damn touchback.
Mike Kurtz: CBS's overtime graphic only prints a summary of the first part of the overtime rules (absent mention of safeties). No wonder nobody understands any of the damn rules.
Vince Verhei: Bailey's pass interference foul on the first drive of overtime is, well, a mystery to me. Usually, even on a bad call, I can see what the referee *thinks* he saw. That one, I have no idea what happened.
Aaron Schatz: Interesting that the Broncos put Jim Leonhard on the field to catch the first punt of overtime. They clearly were still worried that Holliday might fumble the punt.
J.J. Cooper: Anyone disagree with punting it here on fourth-and-1? I don't.
Aaron Schatz: I'm sure the math says that you have a small advantage by going for it, but it's the kind of situation I always describe as the hard call where close math doesn't lead to a clear response.
Andy Benoit: Ravens first-down play-calling in the run game was very predictable in the second half and in overtime. Interior runs with Rice over and over again.
Rivers McCown: These teams need to establish the run for the second overtime.
Vince Verhei: Flacco was the top quarterback in Quick Reads for the Wild Card round, but take away about a half-dozen big plays and he was pretty close to a replacement-level passer. This game feels the same way.
Aaron Schatz: Does anyone know what happened with Jimmy Smith this year for the Ravens? Did he get benched for bad play? Was it an injury? He was supposed to be such a talented cornerback, but he's playing nothing but special teams. That at least points towards "demoted" rather than "injury."
Rivers McCown: I remember him leaving the first half against Denver because he was still having hernia problems. I dunno where that leaves him today.
Aaron Schatz: My god, Manning threw a pick. This game is an all-time classic of unexpected results.
J.J. Cooper: Just a terrible pass by Manning. Horrendous decision making on that one.
Tom Gower: Sadly reminiscent of Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC championship game at the end of regulation, though at least the Broncos weren't in field goal range. Just trying to make a play that wasn't there.
Vince Verhei: Third-and-7, and Baltimore runs it into the line, settling for a 47-yard field goal. I know they're in Denver, but I hate the settling for a long field goal there.
Aaron Schatz: I agree, but Justin Tucker was the best kicker in the league this year ... and he hits it.
I sure hope this goes down in history as "Rahim Moore blew the game" and not "Peyton Manning blew the game."
This game was really, really unexpected. In so many ways.
Ben Muth: If I was Broncos defender, I would have blocked Tucker's practice kick and shoved the tee up his ass.
Tom Gower: I need to go somewhere and process that game. I told Mike at the end of the third quarter that I couldn't decide if it was a good game or a drunken idiot's idea of a good game. Two quarters-plus later, I'm still not sure. Ah, well, Packers-49ers.
Vince Verhei: Mostly agree with this assessment. There were some spectacular plays out there, but also a bunch of ugly mistakes and bad coaching decisions. Tremendously fun, but something of a trainwreck.
Given a few more hours to think about this, I've changed my mind. Don't get me wrong, it was still a trainwreck, but it was such an emotional roller coaster that it hardly matters. When Playoff Game One leaves you so emotionally drained that you can't even enjoy Playoff Game Two going into halftime tied, then Playoff Game One was a great game.
Vince Verhei: Ravens-Broncos game creeps on with no end in sight. Meanwhile, the Packers-49ers game has started, and Green Bay has scored. Arrgh.
Danny Tuccitto: This is gratuitous, but, on the pick-six by Green Bay, Alex Smith throws that ball into the upper deck.
Matt Waldman: Despite this being more of a bad offensive decision, Sam Shields is testament to Ted Thompson's prowess. I remember studying Shields as a wide receiver at Miami. Shields has had a steep learning curve, but he still remains a promising player who might be rounding into form.
Ben Muth: I can't remember who, but someone earlier this year said that Colin Kaepernick runs like a deer. It really was the perfect description of his running style.
Matt Waldman: As much as this isn't realistic, I love the storybook idea of the 49ers "saving" Randy Moss for the postseason.
Danny Tuccitto: Through the first quarter, Green Bay hasn't been going four-wide, but they've gotten success running the ball against San Francisco's 2-4-5 nickel (including the DuJuan Harris touchdown). Also, by my count, Casey Hayward has only been on the field for four plays as the 49ers have been in either 21 or 12 personnel the entire time. Maybe they are readers.
Matt Waldman: Harris also validates the notion that NFL running back prospects are as plentiful as NBA shooting guards. My buddy Wes Bunting, who used to be at the National Football Post, was the first guy I remember writing about him. I thought Harris was, stylistically, a similar runner to Maurice Jones-Drew. He sometimes tried to make that one extra move he needed to avoid. This touchdown run at end of the first quarter was an example of what he wasn't always doing at Troy.
Aaron Schatz: People are apparently angry at me for referring to Harris on Simmons' podcast as "just a guy," but if NFL running back prospects are as plentiful as NBA shooting guards, and there are more of those guys than there are jobs as NFL running backs, doesn't that mean that a moderate prospect like Harris is, in fact, "just a guy"?
Danny Tuccitto: Tramon Williams has frequently been a target.
Although I didn't mention it because the 49ers don't throw the ball to their running backs much, Green Bay had the 27th-ranked pass defense DVOA on running back targets. Big swing pass to Frank Gore set up their first touchdown.
Tom Gower: I paused this early and went through in hurry-up mode to get caught up. Watching the 49ers is like watching a college team in terms of their run action and how they spread the field. I know. They're a running team, ALY loves them, their personnel even with spread sets isn't wideout-heavy, but they just seem like a good example of an ongoing schematic evolution. The pick-6 looked like it was just a really bad play by Kaepernick trying to reset and throw to the other side of the field across his body, making a play possible for Shields. The big play to Gore that set up the touchdown was just an out that he took upfield on a scramble drill. Charles Woodson was kind of in "no man's land." Kaepernick's scramble touchdown was a really bad play by one of the Packers safeties. It looked like two deep coverage and he was very slow to react to the scramble action; it was like he was expecting a pass even after Kaepernick was well past the line of scrimmage.
I think there are varying gradations of being "just a guy." Harris runs with a little more bounce in his step than some other guys, and put a nice move on Donte Whitner, I think, for the touchdown. But as I said last week, the Packers don't have a sustaining running game with him. He finished with 47 yards on 17 carries last week for a reason, and it's not because he's a superstar back.
Andy Benoit: On the Kaepernick scramble: it was a five-man route concept, which limited the available defenders just a bit.
Niners playing almost exclusively two-tight end personnel, but Walker being used as a de facto wideout on a lot of downs. The Packers are playing their nickel package against that personnel in passing situations.
Aaron Schatz: Chase Stuart made this comment on Twitter, but seriously, after that crazy, draining Ravens-Broncos game, paying attention to this game is almost impossible.
Strong coverage by Shields on the Michael Crabtree touchdown that makes it 21-14, but even better throw by Kaepernick. It's nice to see Crabtree finally fulfilling his potential with Kaepernick at quarterback.
Mike Kurtz: I was just about to point out that the Packers keep leaving the middle wide open for Kaepernick to run wild, but it was so obvious that Aikman just went on a rant about it.
Andy Benoit: James Jones' second touchdown came over the middle against a rare Niners 2-deep zone. He beat NaVorro Bowman early, but really, the route was about manipulating the safety. Jones did so masterfully by disguising his route as a flat one early on.
Aaron Schatz: I know all of these Kaepernick scrambles are exciting, and they're getting good yardage, and I have to give him credit for getting out of bounds instead of getting himself killed, but honestly, this stuff can get addictive if you do it too much. With a guy like Kaepernick, you get worried that he's going to forget to be a passer first. A couple of glasses of wine can improve a good meal, but I don't want Kaepernick sitting on the side of the road in the middle of next season, chugging Mad Dog 20/20 from a bag.
Danny Tuccitto: Given past dramatic playoff endings in San Francisco after the hero spent most of the game dropping passes, Delanie Walker will no doubt catch the winner in this one.
Andy Benoit: Niners showed a package with LaMichael James and Gore both on the field. They faked a wideout screen to James off it, looking for a shot play deep left, but it wasn't there.
Vince Verhei: The second half just started and, only now am I really able to form coherent thoughts about football.
Aaron Schatz: Danny, I know the 49ers apparently refer to the pistol as the "Q" formation in their play calls ... do you know if all pistol is the "Q" formation, or is it just that diamond-like pistol with two backs next to Kaepernick and a guy behind him?
Danny Tuccitto: "Q" is all pistol as far as I know.
Rob Weintraub: "Q" also refers to formations when Kaepernick activates the ejector seat button in a car that also turns into a submarine, or Gore fires a poison dart from his wristwatch.
Danny Tuccitto: Green Bay's long second drive of the third quarter was my worst nightmare come true. Niners in dime the whole way. A throw long throw down the seam to Greg Jennings with Carlos Rogers in coverage, and then previously-invisible Jordy Nelson catches a couple of passes outside because fifth-string (!!!) corner Tramaine Brock is on the outside left instead of Chris Culliver for some reason. (Is Culliver hurt?)
Aaron Schatz: I liked it when Randall Cobb stretched out for the first down that was three yards away. Apparently he thinks he's Inspector Gadget.
Rivers McCown: Inspector Gadget has nothing on Kaepernick. At least against Green Bay.
Ben Muth: It's amazing how quarterback reads/runs that have been around for a decade in college are catching NFL defensive coordinators completely off-guard. These defenses look clueless, like they never considered the possibilty of a quarterback as the runner. Shocking how little they've adapted in a season that has been full of this stuff.
Aaron Schatz: I feel like the Packers offensive line is losing strength in the third quarter. The pressure seems to be getting steadily higher.
Tom Gower: So, I wondered last week how much of the Packers' fine defensive performance had to do with an inept Joe Webb-led Vikings attack and how much it had to do with a Packers defense playing well with the return of Woodson. The Packers just punted on fourth-and-4 from midfield early in the fourth quarter. The 49ers have 38 points. I'm going to say last week had a lot more to do with the Webb-led team than the Packers suddenly having an elite defense.
J.J. Cooper: I'm pretty sure Kaepernick already has set a quarterback rushing record for the playoffs and we still have time left in the third quarter. By P-F-R's Play Index, Kaepernick's 163 yards rushing is the 22nd-best in playoff history, running backs or quarterbacks. It appears the previous record for a quarterback was Michael Vick's 119 yards against the Rams in 2005.
That last run which put him up to 179 yards rushing now means this is the 14th-best rushing performance in a playoff game. He needs 13 yards to enter the top 10. Eric Dickerson's record 248 still seems safe, I think.
Vince Verhei: Not just that, but he's already passed Vick's 173-yard regular season record, and there's eight minutes to go.
Ben Muth: The 49ers are killing the Packers' defensive line up front in the ground game. That's the story of the game. The read option stuff is exasperating it, but it's mainly San Francisco's front five kicking the hell out of Green Bay.
Aaron Schatz: Well, the scrambles aren't about the offensive line kicking the defensive line's ass, right? I think that's at least part of the story.
Seattle or Atlanta better learn what a "spy" is.
Vince Verhei: Packers defense jumps offside on fourth-and-1. They haven't shown any discipline all night, why start now?
J.J. Cooper: Joe Staley is the stud on the 49ers line, and Mike Iupati is really good as well, but I've been impressed with the development of Anthony Davis. Davis was a disaster as a rookie, especially in pass protection. Now he's solid in all aspects.
Good news for the 49ers that the NFL doesn't have the NBA's "leaving the bench" rules. When Josh Sitton started mixing it up with the 49ers defense, Iupati jogged out onto the field and made it as far as the hashmarks before the refs saw him and sent him back to the sideline.
Ben Muth: Yeah, Davis has been really good. He's a great example of people not recognizing how important age can be for a young guy. All rookies are not the same age. Davis took his lumps early, but he was the youngest player in the league. He's still only 23, which is about the age of a guy that stays in college all five years, and he's an above-average starter. It's one of the reasons I'm really high on Tyron Smith.
Danny Tuccitto: The NFC Championship game result will either be elating or heartbreaking for me, nothing in between. San Francisco has played on my birthday twice in my lifetime. First time, the genesis of my fandom, was their win over the hometown Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. The second one involved Roger Craig fumble-crushing my soul.
Vince Verhei: Falcons get a field goal on their first drive, and FOX goes to commercial with ... "Pour Some Sugar On Me"? Did Joe Elliot move to Alpharetta or something?
Matt Waldman: Nice to see Chase Coffman look like an NFL tight end in frame and not an emaciated Ted Hendricks like he seemed at Mizzou. Nice catch.
Aaron Schatz: Tony Gonzalez's touchdown catch was really a thing of beauty. I loved the way that he had Kam Chancellor running with him, then stopped short; Chancellor's inertia thus left Gonzalez open, and then Gonzalez got his feet just in bounds for the touchdown.
So far, this game definitely seems to be following the storyline that Seattle feels like it's playing a football game at 10 in the morning.
Mike Kurtz: The penultimate play of that scoring drive had an amazing catch, but FOX's angle also had a great view of the side judge and head linesman watching the play through, if anyone wants a visual demonstration of all the stuff I've been talking about.
Rivers McCown: Well. The "pacific coast team on the east coast" storyline as well as Seattle's problems stopping the run over the second half of the season.
Matt Waldman: I've become a big Seahawks fan so take this with a grain of salt, but this should be a 21-0 game. I wouldn't be too excited if I were an Atlanta fan. Mildly optimistic, yes? Giddy? Hell no.
Rivers McCown: Seattle goes for it on fourth-and-1 and gets stuffed. Tried to tell 'em about that Atlanta run defense in the preview. Not the same unit since their bye week.
Matt Waldman: Seahawks did them a big favor on that last third and fourth down sequence though...
Ben Muth: Not giving the ball to Lynch on third or fourth down there has replaced Denver kneeling out the clock as the decision that caused me to scream at my TV the loudest this weekend.
Aaron Schatz: Although for the year, Seattle in short yardage: 70 percent conversion (4th) and Atlanta defense: 65 percent (21st). So it's not like Seattle was running into a wall.
Matt Waldman: So much for not being down big...
Aaron Schatz: Wow. I can't believe Russell Wilson just made the "take a sack on third down with no timeouts left" mistake. Just, wow.
Ben Muth: Atlanta, who hasn't been close to pressuring Wilson all day, gets a sack on the final play of the half to keep the shutout. Amazing.
Danny Tuccitto: Was that him "taking" a sack or just that guy coming out of nowhere, and getting on top of him before he could even react?
Tom Gower: I think that was a quick blown block sack, not really Wilson's fault. At the same time, I feel obligated to note his Rose Bowl experienced finished with a game-ending spike.
Vince Verhei: First half thoughts:
Andy Benoit: In the first half, Atlanta did a fantastic job against Seattle’s read-option game. That’s something the Falcons defense had struggled with earlier in the season. Sean Weatherspoon’s speed and physicality really stood out.
Matt Ryan was tremendous in the first half of this game, going through his progressions with poise and making great pre-snap reads that allowed him to quickly find the exploitable one-on-one matchup against the blitz.
Ben Muth: Seattle would have been better off trying to kick the field goal. Most special teams units drill that all the time and can get on the field, lined up, and kick it in 10 seconds or less.
Rivers McCown: I do wonder how much of Seattle's aggressiveness -- both on the fourth-and-1 and the attempt to get that snap off -- comes from having a street free-agent place kicker.
Vince Verhei: Seattle using a handful of pistol plays today. I don't remember them doing much of that this year. Looks like something they just picked up after seeing it last week.
Mike Kurtz: Gonzalez is having an absolutely amazing game. He's already made three 'wow' catches, two contested.
Vince Verhei: The first two drives of the second half ate up nearly 13 minutes combined. Not conducive to a comeback.
Aaron Schatz: No, not looking good for Seattle. The zone coverage is definitely not working. Ryan keeps finding Julio Jones in the holes there.
If anything is gonna get this back for Seattle, it's going to be Zach Miller up the seam. that's been open all day.
Tom Gower: The Falcons are burning clock and getting points. It's hard for Seattle to win when that's happening. This isn't the best offense in the league, but they're playing really, really well today. Gonzalez has a couple great catches, White has the touchdown and some other grabs, Julio had the big one that drive where Earl Thomas crushed him, and the backs are playing to their strengths.
Rivers McCown: Matt Ryan armpunt!
Tom Gower: Well, um, at least the Falcons didn't go ultra-conservative up 13 in the fourth quarter?
I hope Mike Smith doesn't end up regretting kicking the extra point up 26-7 late in the third quarter, especially after the Sherman offsides could have given him the ball at the 1.
Rivers McCown: That one's interesting to me. The Falcons have run all over the Seahawks today, of course, but for the season they were awful in short-yardage situations. Which sample size do you believe is more relevant?
Tom Gower: Michael Turner's running well today. I don't think there's a big difference between being up 19 and up 20, whereas there is a difference being up 21.
Matt Waldman: I feel kind of like Tom Hanks in the middle of the ocean screaming for my volleyball at this moment.
Aaron Schatz: Well, here we are. The Seahawks came back. Guess they are over the jetlag. Now we've got a game.
And wow, look at the replay. Mike Peterson is supposed to be covering Zach Miller, and he's like "la la la, I don't have to follow this guy into the back left corner, I'll just stand here in the middle of the field by myself, la la la." I guess he thought Wilson might scramble?
Tom Gower: Um, the Falcons need a pass rush from somebody other than John Abraham. I think we've said that before, for a couple years maybe, and with him out it's even more true.
Ben Muth: I'm finally willing to admit I was wrong about Wilson earlier this year. He's really good.
Also, I hope the Cardinals get to interview Darrell Bevell.
Aaron Schatz: The drive by Atlanta to go three-and-out with eight minutes left was like a parody of what a bad drive looks like when a team is blowing a lead. "Hey, let's throw a screen to lose four yards ... then how about a third-and-long dumpoff where the receiver trips over the turf before a defender gets to him!"
Ben Muth: Can you get fined for a chop block? That Max Unger play was flat-out dangerous.
Rivers McCown: I know the Texans have been fined for it before.
Ben Muth: Game winning offensive-lineman touchdown! This is the best game ever!
Aaron Schatz: Heh. Instead, Unger gets to be the hero because he picked up the fumble from Lynch in the end zone ... although it looks like Lynch crossed the plane anyway. I don't know if they'll give that touchdown to Lynch or Unger.
I hope this game doesn't go down as "Matt Ryan can't win in the playoffs yet again," but at the same time, he had some bad throws on those last couple of Atlanta drives where the Falcons couldn't hold onto the ball and work the clock.
Ben Muth: Crap. Game-winning touchdown by a Cal running back instead. Still a good game though.
Rivers McCown: 30 seconds, two timeouts, John Fox not coaching ... ain't over yet!
Aaron Schatz: Pete Carroll, calling timeout to ice the kicker, then claiming to the refs that he didn't call the timeout when the kicker missed the field goal. Classic.
What was the point of Atlanta kicking what was either a squib or an onside kick with eight seconds left, thus getting the Seahawks already into good field position?
Tom Gower: The onside kick-type kick was insane. I could have gotten behind a pooch kick or short pop up or a squib roller, but a pseudo-onside like that? No, not at all.
I'm happy Atlanta won this game because now we won't have to spend too much time talking about how Mike Smith is basically the Murphy's law of risk-reward decision-making in the playoffs.
Rivers McCown: I am happy that we get to watch Wilson play football for a long, long, time. That last drive was ridiculous. Especially how he rolled away from the pressure on third down to hit the running back in the flat.
Matt Waldman: Amen, brother. Amen.
Vince Verhei: I can't believe how happy I am after my team just lost a playoff game. That was freakin' incredible. This weekend so, so, so makes up for wild card weekend.
I can't really coherently comment any more on the game, but man oh man, is Brian Billick a lousy announcer, and worse, after some of what he said I would never hire him as a coach again either. He advocated kicking a field goal down six points in the final two minutes. He forgot what down it was and how many timeouts each team had. If you make those decisions and mistakes in the booth, what unholy calamity would you be on the sideline?
By the way, my comment on Billick was written before I saw that he had interviewed for the Eagles job. Philadelphia! I implore you! Do not hire this man!
Aaron Schatz: I'm happy for Ryan shaking the ridiculous "he's not man enough to win in the playoffs" silliness, and I'm happy for Gonzalez finally winning a playoff game.
Ben Muth: What a game. I'm upset we won't get to see Harbaugh versus Carroll in the playoffs, but life is full of disappointments.
Andy Benoit: The story of this game in the second half was how Seattle killed Atlanta with trips formations. They ran a bunch of deep-intermediate pass plays off horizontal route combinations from this formation, which was a fantastic way to attack the single-high zones and post-snap coverage rotations of Atlanta’s secondary. The Falcons never really did figure out how to stop this. And without Abraham, they couldn’t simply take it away with a four-man rush (though when their pressure did get there, Wilson somehow found a way to escape almost every time).
Ryan struggled a bit in the second half after throwing a second interception (bad decision and bad execution on that play), but he obviously bounced back well with the efficient fourth quarter field-goal drive in the final seconds. The Falcons run game looked a lot better than expected (the plan to keep Michael Turner fresh this year paid off well), which was critical because Seattle’s cornerbacks took away a lot of Atlanta’s staple plays, including the potent receiver screens.
Vince Verhei: By the way, the fact that Atlanta won the game on a 30-second, two-timeout drive has not gone unnoticed in Denver.
Aaron Schatz: Apparently during warmups, J.J. Watt walked to the Patriots logo at the center of the field and spat on it. I don't understand why that should provide any extra motivation for the Texans, but of course, I didn't notice because I was busy watching, you know, another game.
Vince Verhei: I love the idea that would give extra motivation to New England. "We were going to half-ass our way through this here playoff game, but now that you've spat on our logo, I guess we'll give it our best."
Rivers McCown: I'm reminded of the phrase "Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball."
Special teams are pretty random, huh?
Ben Muth: The huge kickoff return from the Texans to open up the game is only like the eighth-strangest thing that has happened this weekend.
J.J. Cooper: All we need is a good fourth game here and we are taking about as good a weekend of football as one could hope to see. We have had one of the longest games in NFL history, an all-time record broken with Kaepernick's rushing, and watched the lead change hands three times in the final minute with a Hail Mary on top of that.
Aaron Schatz: The huge Zoltan Mesko punt where the Houston returner tripped on himself was a little more like what I expected from special teams.
Danny Tuccitto: It's funny to me how (non-partisan) people are saying Houston having to settle for a field goal after Danieal Manning's kickoff return is a bad thing. The moneyline (+207) implied a 33 percent win probability, and the field goal just improved it to 60 percent. Yeah, it would have been 72 percent if they scored the touchdown, but let's not forget what our expectations were five minutes ago.
Rivers McCown: Well the real problem isn't that they settled for the field goal THERE ... it's that they've had to do that way too often lately.
Danny Tuccitto: Rivers, I said *non-partisan* people.
Rivers McCown: >B-I
That's my crack at an Ian Curtis emoticon.
Danny Tuccitto: Well, if we're making Joy Division references here, the soundtrack for that depressing field goal was, "New Dawn Fades." To wit, "me, seeing me this time, hoping for something else."
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots' no-huddle is so fast that you look down after one play and they score a touchdown before you have even looked up again.
Can't believe in the AFC preview, I forgot to mention the way the swing passes to running backs were wide open for Houston in the first game. They just got a first down on one for the first time in this game.
Also, Talib can't cover Johnson. I'm not sure if Matt Schaub has even looked at Kevin Walter once, but Talib can't cover Johnson.
Rivers McCown: Cornerbacks not named Darrelle Revis seem to have a hard time with that.
Aaron Schatz: Wes Welker has had a couple of sweet catches in this game, but also a couple of big drops.
The Texans are leaving the A-gap open a lot. Pats should have runs up the middle all they want, if they want.
Am I being a Pats homer in thinking that the penalty on Brandon Lloyd for throwing the ball back to the official too hard was a little bit ridiculous?
Tom Gower: Yes. It's a !#%!#%!@#% stupid, selfish play to whip the ball at the refs. It wouldn't surprise me if he said something as well, though of course we'll probably never know that. Don't screw with the refs is football smarts 101 and humanity 001.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I don't think he whipped it at him that hard, but okay.
Danny Tuccitto: Keep in mind, the guy who called it was Garth DeFelice, who in his infamous NFL career to date, has (a) tackled Kenneth Darby (http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2193023/kenneth_darby_gets_jacked_up_by_nf...), and (b) ejected Justin Smith after trying to stop a shoving match by starting a shoving match of his own (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dL46vIFXR6M). Seems like Lloyd just chose to mess with the wrong guy. (Or Joey Crawford picked up an extra shift tonight.)
Vince Verhei: So he has a history of petty, selfish, dick-waving behavior. That's good.
Lloyd's penalty bothers me more and more the more I think about it. He didn't flip it that hard. Should have been a verbal warning, that's all. (Unless there already had been a verbal warning.) If this was a meaningless Week 17 game, OK, whatever, but in the playoffs? I'd like the championship to be determined by who plays football best, not who has the best manners.
Tom Gower: Count the number of overhand throws you see to the refs from five yards away. Unless I'm just misremembering badly, it's practically none. At all. Ever. I also don't have an issue with potentially borderline unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for doing things that are incredibly stupid and never a good idea.
Vince Verhei: I had a pathetically short football career consisting of like a dozen games between ninth and tenth grade. I once saw a teammate flip a ball to a referee harder than he needed to. The ref briefly stopped the game so he could loudly and publicly scold the guy and let everyone on both teams know this behavior would not be tolerated, but he did not throw a flag. He got his message across anyway. It wasn't a problem the rest of the game. This was a Thursday night JV game in front of a few dozen parents. We can't give highly-paid athletes on a global stage the same leeway?
Ben Muth: I do expect my highly-paid athletes to be smarter than your average high school sophomore.
Vince Verhei: Well, there's that.
Danny Tuccitto: Asking "How many specific instances of a five-yard overhanded player-to-ref toss can you remember?" screams to me of availability heuristic. I mean, we're not paying anywhere near enough attention to remember something as mundane as a player-to-ref ball toss, let alone the specific type of delivery. How many specific instances of five-yard "underhanded" player-to-ref toss can you (or I) remember from before today?
Then again, I can't even remember why I ever actually cared about this. Oh, right! DeFelice screwed the Niners once. Anyway, back to the game!
Aaron Schatz:The Texans need to stop with the over-the-middle short stuff on third-and-long. They aren't going to get the YAC, the Pats defense is disciplined. They need to find Johnson and take advantage of the fact that Talib can't cover him and that the Pats aren't giving Talib any specific safety help.
Rivers McCown: Easy to say, harder to do when you've got an unblocked rusher right up the middle.
Aaron Schatz: I do think Welker may have gotten away with a little OPI on that deep pass down the left sideline. But the Texans still need to remember that you may want to occasionally cover Shane Vereen. 17-3.
Rivers McCown: Bradie James doesn't know what this "coverage" is you speak of.
Vince Verhei; Dont'a Hightower made a tackle in he second quarter that was really a German suplex (a wrestling throw where you stand behind a guy, grab him around the waist, and throw him backwards straight over your head). He went to Alabama, and I saw another Tide linebacker do it in the national championship game against Notre Dame. Is this something Nick Saban and Kirby Smart are actually coaching their players to do? It's not like it's an easy thing that happens on accident.
Aaron Schatz: OK, kids. Second-and-goal on the 5, 2:00 warning. If the Texans don't score on the next two plays, should they go for it or kick a field goal? Remember that the Pats get the ball first after halftime.
Danny Tuccitto: Is that a trick question? They go for it every day, and twice on Sundays (as many times as possible on this particular Sunday).
Rivers McCown: I'm so glad we didn't have to see if Gary Kubiak thought the same.
Tom Gower: That I think we all think Gary Kubiak should go for it on a fourth down in that situation has no bearing on what Gary Kubiak is likely to do.
Aaron Schatz: Fun with "inconclusive replays!"
Ben Muth: Watt's straight-arm move (basically a stiff arm) is devastating. He kills guys with it.
Aaron Schatz: New England's offensive game plan can be summarized as "get rid of the ball within 2.5 seconds so J.J. Watt does not kill you." And so far, so good.
Texans just had to punt away when on third-and-5, Schaub missed the fact that he had a wide open crossing route, then threw the ball away instead of trying to run for a first with tons of open space in front of him as long as he could get away from Kyle Love.
Tom Gower: Or he could have reset his feet and made a better throw. Schaub's better than some of his critics would have you believe, but he has not had one of his better games.
The ruling of forward progress on the Owen Daniels non-fumble seemed awfully quick, as those things go, but it's hard to know just how quickly officials rule forward progress given that it's a non-issue probably 99 percent of the time.
Mike Kurtz: That was a ridiculously fast forward progress call. While he was being driven backward, he never had a chance to demonstrate he was completely under control of the defense (which he probably wasn't). I think that's also why the wing official didn't just shut the play down. He was probably thinking about it (and probably got it wrong).
Ben Muth: Phil Simms just complimented Tom Brady for keeping his hands on the football before he threw it. I have to begrudgingly agree that not fumbling the football is a good trait for quarterbacks.
Aaron Schatz: Speaking of which, Pats just got lucky when Schaub lost the ball and it went all bouncing around, because on that second-and-9, they had a linebacker on Johnson in the slot.
Ben Muth: Phil Simms knows what he's talking about, folks.
Aaron Schatz: Uh-oh. Schaub just threw that pass that we all throw in Madden, where the linebacker comes out of nowhere to jump super high and pick it off. Damn you, Madden engine!
Mike Kurtz: And we always make fun of Madden physics...
Tom Gower: That Rob Ninkovich interception of Schaub was a terrible decision. He just dropped and was between Schaub and intended receiver James Casey the whole way. I don't know if Schaub just didn't see him, which is the sort of thing incredibly unobservant me would do, or if he just thought he could make the throw. Either way, a crucial error.
Rivers McCown: Remember that part of the day where Atlanta was up by 20, but Seattle still had Russell Wilson and knew they could get back into it?
Yeah, I don't have that feeling.
Aaron Schatz: (Houston Chronicle beat writer) John McClain also doesn't have that feeling.
Rivers McCown: Jeez, you already have the winning team here, you don't have to take the low blow too.
Tom Gower: John McClain makes me sound like an optimist at times, and I'm an admitted "glass mostly empty" kind of guy.
Aaron Schatz: I know you need to mix up runs and passes and you can't get stale and predictable ... but I'm not sure I understand the deep pass to DeVier Posey makes sense on fourth-and-1 with Arian Foster and three Pro Bowl linemen.
Tom Gower: Wade Smith has no business being in the Pro Bowl, but whatever.
Aaron Schatz: I can agree with that Smith statement.
Matt Waldman: That third Vereen touchdown is not much different than what I profiled him doing at Cal, except the Cal play was more impressive.
That Posey target in the end zone may turn out to be a catch by the letter of the law, but boy does that stretch the spirit of having control before going out of bounds.
Vince Verhei: I dunno. I thought, given the benefit of frame-by-frame analysis, that he had possession of the ball before his foot hit out of bounds.
Aaron Schatz: OK, Pats just went three-and-out thanks to an offensive pass interference call on Aaron Hernandez. 10 minutes left, 38-20. Do we think the Texans have it in them to make a comeback here?
Mike Kurtz: No.
Rivers McCown: You're a funny man, Aaron.
Aaron Schatz: In case people didn't see on Twitter, PFT is reporting that Rob Gronkowski re-fractured his arm on that catch attempt in the first quarter and is done for the year. Obviously that's a big blow to New England's chances of winning the whole thing.
Texans just went empty backfield on third-and-goal from the 1, I can't even begin to imagine how angry Rivers is right now.
Oops, they just did it again on fourth-and-1, but this time they got the quick slant for the score. Still, what the heck?
Rivers McCown: What's left to be angry about? This no longer matters. The verdict has been given. The only things that matter are the questions "who?" and "how long will it take?" for Matt Schaub's replacement. Compared to all of the other quarterbacks this weekend (even Joe Flacco), Schaub looked like Bane trying to keep up in a rap contest.
Danny Tuccitto: Also, let's not forget the Schaub draw that gives every defensive coach nightmares ... and Schaub throwing it to a covered Daniels in the back of the end zone instead of a wide-open Arian Foster in the flat ... and, in general, the huddling, five-minute drive down 18 in the fourth quarter. That entire drive was just peculiar.
Vince Verhei: The funniest part of the day is listening to Phil Simms discuss two-point conversion strategy. Hearing him count is funny enough by itself, but then once he has determined a two-pointer is necessary, he must determine WHEN you should go for two. You don't go for two on THIS touchdown, he says, you go for it on the NEXT one.
Rivers McCown: Yeah, his idea of kicking a field goal down 13 with less than a minute was pretty remarkable, even by his standards.
Aaron Schatz: A few people have e-mailed me wanting to write guest columns about two-point conversion strategy, but there's already some excellent recent stuff on it. Chase Stuart has been writing a lot about two-point conversion strategy and going for two earlier on in the process when you have a big fourth-quarter deficit, and there was an article on Slate this weekend about it.
Andy Benoit: The Texans simply couldn’t match up to the Patriots tight ends and running backs through the air. A lot of us probably figured that’d be an issue. The biggest issue was inside linebackers Barrett Ruud and James on running back Vereen. The Patriots up-tempo offense was too much for Houston’s run defense –- especially inside the 30-yard-line. The Patriots are going to miss Gronkowski, but as I may have mentioned in one of the Film Room pieces earlier in the season (don’t know if I did or not but I’ve said it many times before), Hernandez is actually their most valuable tight end. His versatility is too much.
Also, this isn’t analytical, but I figure Audibles is a great place to voice this question for our commentors to discuss: what the hell are those silver logos at midfield in Foxboro? I looked it up and they’re supposedly the Gillette Stadium logo with the bridge and towers. But they look to me an awful lot like razors. You know, the kind of razors that the crafty marketing psychologist extraordinaire for Gillette might think up...
I think the Texans are screwed. I don’t see this team winning anything of real substance with Schaub under center. Schaub is a smart quarterback and a great fit in Houston’s system, but his arm-strength limitations and inability to make tough throws under duress are major problems. And we see it in big games against defenses that play quality man coverage. That’s what the Patriots did and it defined the game. I disagree with Phil Simms that Schaub saw Ninkovich on that second half interception (fantastic zone exchange/blitz design by the Patriots on that play, by the way). There’s no way a smart quarterback could have reasonably thought that throw would work.
224 comments, Last at 15 Jan 2013, 7:42pm by dryheat