Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
25 Nov 2013
compiled by Rivers McCown and Andrew Potter
This year, we have a new format for our Monday morning feature Audibles at the Line, combining our Twitter feeds with our e-mail discussion. First, we're replacing our usual back-and-forth with some longer-form dissection of each game that at least one of us watches in depth. Second, every game that we find time for will also have a selection of tweets from us and a few reader tweets we found particularly insightful. To follow these tweets live on Sunday, or to contribute your own thoughts or a question for the FO staff, you can use hashtag #foaud. We discussed the new format in this post.
On Monday, we will compile a digest of tweets and e-mails to produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed, not entirely grammatically correct, and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
Audibles is still being written from our point of view, meaning 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. Audibles is often written from a fan perspective as much as an analyst perspective; in order to properly accuse FO writers of bias, please check our FAQ.
@MilkmanDanimal: Mike Glennon continues to look disturbingly like an actual NFL QB, and I may need to send him a letter of apology.
Vince Verhei: TB using J.Banks to cover C.Johnson. Great news for Johnson fantasy owners.
@MilkmanDanimal: Stafford's 3 INTs today are just part of the issue; he's had to throwaways that landed in-bounds. Consistently, very bad decisions.
Mike Ridley: Bobby Rainey averaging 2.0 YPC one week after being named NFC OPOW.
@heygirlitsryan: Glennon to Underwood, just the way Schiano envisioned this season going.
Aaron Schatz: We may have been wrong about Mike Glennon.
Scott Kacsmar: I don't know anyone who was right on that one.
Andrew Potter: Greg Schiano.
Tom Gower: I blame the SI scribe hate jinx.
@nath_on_fire: I agreed with you guys- accuracy & pocket presence issues. But he has a gun & he's been improving every week, IMO.
@Mercurius100: The 5 teams that picked right before Glennon was taken and passed on him: Cle, AZ, Tenn, StL, NYJ.
@MilkmanDanimal: I may be a Bucs fan, but even I enjoy seeing other teams rush Tampa's victory formation. Seems appropriate.
Andrew Potter: The spin move Scott Tolzien just put on Letroy Guion during his touchdown run has to be seen to be believed.
Scott Kacsmar: Tolzien should have did the championship belt after that rushing TD.
Mike Ridley: Matt Flynn Alert! Matt Flynn Alert!
@pchicola: Could it possible? A rematch of the 2012 New Year's High-Octane Bowl, between Flynn and Stafford for Thanksgiving ...
@nath_on_fire: The "Aaron Rodgers for MVP" campaign should be gaining steam after this game.
Vince Verhei: Meanwhile, in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers' mustache has reached Don Frye status.
Aaron Schatz: Eddie Lacy really brings the wood when he puts that shoulder into you.
Aaron Schatz: Twitter is filled with negative comments about Matt Flynn, yet he just brought the Packers within 4, 23-19 pending XP. It may have turned out Flynn isn't good enough to be a starter in this league, but the dude is better than Scott Tolzien.
Scott Kacsmar: Aaron Rodgers has 5 4QC where the deficits combined add up to 16 points. Matt Flynn trying to lead 16-pt comeback vs. MIN.
Aaron Schatz: What a play by James Jones to come back to an under thrown pass on 4th-6.
Aaron Schatz: Just saw Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines. That mustache is definitely traveling in Grill Class.
@MilkmanDanimal: Christian Ponder absolutely looks like a viable NFL QB as long as the ball doesn't need to go more than 15 yards down the field.
@BrandontheFick: 4th-and-goal from the 2 on the first drive of OT. Is it crazy that I would think about going for it?
Scott Kacsmar: I wonder how aggressive McCarthy would be here if he didn't know DET/CHI both lost. Tie still has value. Not so much if both won.
@MilkmanDanimal: Christian Ponder Hail Mary attempt upcoming. Begin playing "Yakety Sax" now.
Aaron Schatz: Because of tie in GB-MIN game, NFC North title will be thrown to the House of Representatives.
Rivers McCown: Really proud that, in Week 12, Minnesota finally made Cordarrelle Patterson a featured part of the offense. Unfortunately with Ponder under center, that offense has a range of about 15 yards, but it's something.
I couldn't believe how bad M.D. Jennings looked in this game.
@MichaelEdits: Johnny Manziel is watching Jacksonville at Houston, and thinking another year of college sure sounds good.
@nath_on_fire: 1 target to Andre Johnson so far. Was it Rivers who said Kubiak's dream drive is "get to 3rd-and-3 and hope to convert"? He's right.
Cian Fahey: Case Keenum really struggling early in the first quarter. Could see Schaub soon, already more reason this week than last
Rivers McCown: Brice McCain or Brandon Harris? The answer ... is No.
Cian Fahey: I'm not a fan of Jedd Fisch's offense.
Rivers McCown: Case Keenum should just take shotgun snaps from a punt formation. Save himself some scrambling effort.
Rivers McCown: The good news for people hoping for Texans tanking is that Kubiak is auto-tuned to always take the field goal.
@nath_on_fire: I really think Gary Kubiak coaches like he doesn't care if Texans win or lose. And yet, not even least inspiring head coach on staff.
Cian Fahey: Major concerns about Keenum based on this game.
@nath_on_fire: On the bright side, Keenum's deficiencies are making it easier to replace him with Teddy Bridgewater next year.
@nath_on_fire: Huh, what do you know? Good things happen when you throw to Andre Johnson. Eight years and Kubiak hasn't figured this out.
Rivers McCown: The most Keshawn Martin moment.
Vince Verhei: I feel the need to point out that Houston is now behind Jacksonville in the AFC South.
Andrew Potter: How does anybody possibly fail to score a touchdown against the 2013 Jaguars, never mind lose to them at home?
Rivers McCown: Watching your favorite team not score a touchdown against the 2013 Jaguars is a great way to kickstart your interest in nihilism
Cian Fahey: This was the first real game where you had to worry about Case Keenum's long-term potential. The undrafted rookie looked a bit lifeless and while it fits the narrative too well and there is no hard evidence to prove it, he did appear to have no confidence after last week's benching.
Outside of Keenum, the real story of this season is just how bad the Texans defense is. Obviously Ed Reed didn't work out and Danieal Manning isn't there, but the lack of any consistent quality around J.J. Watt and the lacklustuer displays of Johnathan Joseph on a weekly basis are causes for real concern moving into 2014.
Rivers McCown: Joseph is not up to his usual norm this year, no, but I have a hard time blaming him for anything when he's lined up next to Brice McCain and Brandon Harris. Without Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin, this secondary has gone from "exploitable by good teams" to "ick" really fast. The fact that Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed are complete zeros in pass rush against every non-Jaguars offensive line hurts, too.
I'll be a little bombastic and say that while Keenum was awful in the context of this game, I don't think he was necessarily the problem. The fact that he can't tear up the Jaguars is indicative of the fact that he's probably not a future starter, but the fact that he struggled mightily in this game is a failure of coaching to me. Jacksonville was all over the route combinations the Texans like to use. How Keenum can go from very good with a simplified offense to looking like crap without a lot of pistol concepts and more time to get "used" to what the Texans are running makes me think the Texans are running the wrong things.
Someone asked me about Rick Smith's job security on Twitter, assuming Kubiak is already canned. Rick Smith walks around with a card that says "I drafted J.J. Watt eleventh overall" on it. I'm not necessarily saying he's unimpeachable, but he's flubbed on two first-round picks since 2007, and even those guys showed some signs early in their careers. I'd like to see him get one more year. But I'm not going to weep for him if he's gone.
There, another three paragraphs spent on a team that didn't deserve them.
Tom Gower: Alex Smith having success throwing intermediate & deep this game. Just SD's league-worst D or KC changing offensive profile?
@coboney: Both. Smith seems to be pushing it downfield more - probably emphasis after last week. And Chargers can't stop it.
Tom Gower: I've mostly gotten over Rivers looking hinky, but today watching him today reminds me of watching Dan Fouts in the Freezer Bowl
Tom Gower: Keenan Allen has 11 targets on 17 Rivers attempts. That's trust.
Tom Gower: I'm trying to come up with a better word, but Gilchrist/Te'o "coverage" on that Fasano TD was clownish. SD D still a trainwreck.
@ramdog7: Think you might have found your QB DVOA winner this week. Rivers putting on a clinic out there
Mike Ridley: Jamaal Charles just made Manti Te'o look like he was facing Alabama again.
Tom Gower: Jamaal Charles is good, in case you've forgotten. Gets a ton of extra yards with moves at the second level.
@dingerc: McCoy and Reid playing who can mismanage the clock better. McCoy doesn't call TO when he should/Reid calls one when he shouldn't. McCoy could have saved 15 secs but didn't. Reid could have taken 15 more off clock and didn't.
Aaron Schatz: The look on Philip Rivers' face as KC scored to take yet another lead. "Man my defense sucks."
@Broncfan07: The look on Alex Smith's face as SD scored to re-take the lead late: "Man, wasn't our defense supposed to be good?"
@dingerc: KC secondary could not hold up without a pass rush today. KC needs to get healthy in a hurry.
Tom Gower: I missed the ending of this game, flipping away to Raiders-Titans when that kicked off at 3:05 CT. What I saw was a Chiefs defense that had some coverage weaknesses exposed after both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston went down with injuries. Philip Rivers had time to throw, and found an awful lot of open receivers over the middle, especially on crossing routes. The Marcus Cooper, Human Target trend continued for a while, but it wasn't just him. Yes, Rivers, Quintin Demps was involved, notably on Ladarius Green's long touchdown.
Offensively, Jamaal Charles is still great, especially in terms of making a move at the second level to turn a modest gain into a longer one. Alex Smith threw downfield at the intermediate and deeper levels much more than he has in other games, including in the first half, with reasonable success though he did make one costly interception into double coverage. How much of that was a game plan specific to the worst defense in the league by our numbers, and how much was Andy Reid consciously adapting the offense after we saw last week against Denver that what they had been doing wasn't going to be enough to cut it? Something to watch in the weeks to come.
Rivers McCown: *in convulsions, remembering Quintin Demps' 2012 season*
Kansas City is sort of interesting to me because I think you can argue that outside of the Eric Fisher pick, just about everything that has happened to them so far has been from the land of best-case scenarios. A big problem I had with them going for it on the Alex Smith trade is that I just didn't think they were good enough to be a favorite in the playoffs if they managed their best-case scenario. The lack of a real receiver outside of Dwayne Bowe is glaring.
...So, seriously, can Atlanta just waive Tony Gonzalez?
@MilkmanDanimal: 6 players touched that tipped pass, none of them were Tannehill's intended receiver. INT
@pchicola: For M.Wallace to get a TD, 2things have to happen: Tannenhill needs 5+ Mississippis of protection, & one-on-one coverage for #11.
Aaron Schatz: Mike Wallace just destroying Captain Munnerlyn with raw speed today.
Mike Ridley: Horrible defense by Miami, letting the #Panthers gain 29 yards with :08 left to get in FG position at end of the half.
Scott Kacsmar: Panthers' last win when trailing by 12+ points: 10/11/2009 (down 17-2 vs. WAS, won 20-17). Trailed 16-3 today.
@nath_on_fire: Ted Ginn with a great reminder of why you shouldn't use a top-10 pick on a wide receiver if you're not sure he can catch.
Vince Verhei: Panthers with a Newton run for a fourth-and-1 conversion. Go Ron go!
@WhispersMoCo: Riverboat Ron's Panthers just converted 4th and 10 from their own 20! Check for a giant pod in his backyard.
@Daniels_Ryan: RiverboatRon plays %s correctly on 4th&10, down by 3 late, w/ only1 TO left. Go for it, if fail, Miami probably kicks FG.
Scott Kacsmar: Steelers don't have to travel far to get to Cleveland and Baltimore (Thanksgiving), but this is unusual scheduling for road games.
Scott Kacsmar: Steelers just wasted a timeout to save 5 yards after the 4th-down hard count didn't work. Blah.
Scott Kacsmar: Steelers are getting zero pass rush on third down. Browns picking things up with ease.
Scott Kacsmar: Jason Campbell slow to get up. That sound you hear from the crowd has an "AAAHHH WEEDEN!" feel to it.
Mike Ridley: Brandon Weeden's voodoo doll strikes again. Campbell being examined on the sideline.
@MulEdgeGJJ: Brandon Weeden will not go away! has there ever been a player so unwanted but keeps coming back?
@nath_on_fire: Is Brandon Weeden some kind of hypnosis/voodoo master? "You will draft me 1st round even though I'm 28" "Other Browns QBs, get hurt!"
Mike Ridley: Antonio Brown has more yards against Joe Haden in the first half (83) than A.J. Green had in eight quarters (58)
Cian Fahey: This week will say Joe Haden was roasted for the first time this season, Jordy Nelson and AJ Green (first meeting) already did though
@THEOSU7: Jason Campbell just got destroyed in his head and two officials in the backfield miss it. Drew Brees gets hit in the shoulder pads ...
Mike Ridley: Like his passes, Weeden's needle placement was off on his first attempt. Tries again, courtesy of William Gay
Scott Kacsmar: Browns run QB sneak with Weeden to convert 4th-and-1. Steelers refuse to do the same with Roethlisberger. Maddening.
Mike Ridley: Ben Roethlisberger kicks left-footed? Who knew?
@THEOSU7: I'm not particularly sure how much worse a street QB would be than Weeden. Or Armanti Edwards.
@THEOSU7: I can't wait for Quick Reads to find out how great the disparity is between Gordon's DYAR and Campbell/Weeden's.
Scott Kacsmar: Not all is lost for the Steelers when they're still able to thoroughly dominate the Browns. Troy Polamalu and William Gay forced four takeaways. The Browns never showed any threat of a running game, so while Josh Gordon finished with 14 catches for 237 yards, most of that damage was done in garbage time. Whether it was Jason Campbell or Brandon Weeden (off the bench), the Browns couldn't sustain offense until it was 27-3 in the fourth quarter.
Ben Roethlisberger had another sharp and effective performance with no turnovers or sacks. Protection held up pretty well against a solid front and the running backs chipped in 96 yards on the ground. In summary, it was the best team performance the Steelers have had in 2013 (arguably the best since sometime in 2011).
Mike Ridley: Tavon Austin strikes again. Fourth TD of season of 55 yards or more
Vince Verhei: Oh, look. Jeff Fisher's team is in a fight again.
@nath_on_fire: Jeff Fisher never gets enough heat for deliberately finding/drafting dirty players, encouraging Gregg Williams, etc.
@JoshReedBTG: So the fight in the Bears/Rams game is one example of why refs should call dead balls dead.
@WesMakin: You can't say the officials did a good job sorting out the chaos, when nothing would have happened if they'd blown the whistle
@ptmovieguy: CHI red zone failing + STL defensive flags = an existential exercise in goal line residency.
@pchicola: CHI inability to stop the run haunted them today. Eventually, they couldnt take so many injuries at LB.
Vince Verhei: Tavon Austin’s long touchdown will make the highlight shows, but just as important for St. Louis was the success they had grinding out yardage with Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy, especially protecting a second-half lead that was close most of the way. It seemed like every time the Rams handed off, they were gaining 6, 7, 8 yards a time. It was shocking for a team that had so many questions at running back coming into the season, and against a defense that had been at least OK coming into the game.
There was a sequence in the second half where Chicago ran about four dozen plays in the St. Louis red zone, unable to score, but kept alive by St. Louis penalties. The most egregious was a roughing the passer that negated a sack-fumble-touchdown. I guess they called it a helmet-to-helmet hit, but it sure looked like the pass rusher hit Josh McCown in the chest.
There was, of course, a fight in this game. The obvious story is that it pitted the Long Brothers against each other, like Bret and Owen Hart, but the real issue to me is that it was another case of Jeff Fisher’s team getting into trouble. It seems like they always finish near the top of the league in post-play pushing/shoving/general violence. Makes me wish we had fighting stats in football like they do in hockey.
Rivers McCown: It's less surprising when you realize that Chicago is running a complete skeleton crew on defense.
...I'm starting to worry that Josh McCown won't get a largely undeserved starting job next season that I can crow about.
@GDFar: No amount of analysis could've predicted Tyrod Taylor read option plays or Josh Cribbs running the offense.
Scott Kacsmar: Ed Reed just broke up a Jacoby Jones TD. Has he already done more for the Jets than he did for the Houston Texans?
@alexknobel: Maybe Tandon Doss would be less hesitant to catch punts if he didn't grab them above his head.
Andrew Potter: Only seen 1 drive of BAL-NYJ, but in this drive the NYJ pass rush is making the BAL line look like 5 traffic cones.
@BeccaDannysWife: "I can't figure out which guy to throw to, so I'll split the difference" is NOT something said by any coach, ever, Flacco!
@TomKBaltimore: Ravens and Jets have apparently gone to halftime; stadium crowd being awakened to notify them.
Vince Verhei: I wrote in Upset Watch that Jets would have edge in third downs. They are now 0-for-7.
Aaron Schatz: This Tyrod Taylor option nonsense is totally the kind of thing that results in one big play and then a bunch of crap.
@TomKBaltimore: Can we PLEASE end the stupid Tyrod Taylor options plays before he gets killed?
Aaron Schatz: Hey, Ravens. The reason they are called "trick plays" is that the trick usually only works once.
Aaron Schatz: Looks like the Jets are starting to get some runs on the Ravens near the endof Q3.
Mike Ridley: Jets' roller coaster season seems to have finally reached it's big drop
Vince Verhei: Another Geno incompletion. CBS cameras now regularly showing Matt Simms on sideline.
Vince Verhei: In Geno's defense, Jets just dropped two passes, and now have five drops on the day.
Aaron Schatz: The Jets' offensive failure is a group exercise. Smith is awful under pressure, the receivers drop passes, and the OL looks awful
Vince Verhei: For many years, I really believed that Josh Cribbs was the best quarterback option in Cleveland, and that they’d be best off going to some kind of single wing/Wildcat attack full time. Now Cribbs is much slower and more beat up ... and darned if he might not still be the best quarterback option on the Jets. Still, it’s not all fair to blame this clown show entirely on Geno Smith — at one point the Jets had five drops and five receptions, which is, um, bad. But Smith had plenty of issues, and it’s clear from the play-calling that the Jets have little faith in him. Long-term, they have little choice but to cross their fingers and hope he develops in his second season. But I think there will be some temptation this offseason to grab a veteran passer and not let that defense go to waste. After all, they could still make the playoffs this year. Imagine what they could do with a guy who could pick up a third down once in a while.
Rivers McCown: Just kidding. Josh McCown: New York Jets starter.
@THEOSU7: Matt McGloin has previous of me falling asleep while watching him play. He's the perfect Thanksgiving Day QB.
Tom Gower: Titans talked this week abt getting arms up to take away 6'1 McGloin's passing windows. Couple deflections on opening drive.
Tom Gower: That Zach Brown INT looked like one of his INTs v Chad Henne's Week 17 last year. QB just missed him over the middle.
Scott Kacsmar: Rich Gannon just called Kenny Britt a "waste of talent" and there's no debating that.
Tom Gower: #Titans & #Raiders came in 27th & 28th in FO ST rankings, Raiders looking better in that today, esp. after blocking punt.
Vince Verhei: Not sure Brandian Ross could have looked worse than he did on that long Justin Hunter TD.
Tom Gower: Titans been working the outside breaking routes from the slot a lot this season, both outs & jerk routes, with some success.
Rob Weintraub: Mike Munchak--all but fired last week, in the playoffs this week. That's today's NFL in a nutshell.
Tom Gower: About the game you'd expect between two defenses that are not great and two teams that are offensively challenged at times. Chris Johnson managed his usual 3.7 yards per carry gaining what was blocked. Matt McGloin looked okay at times -- the Titans didn't get nearly as much pressure on him as I thought they might, with no sacks and nary a quarterback hit either according to the early box score.
One of the themes of this game was offensive execution close to the opposing end zone, by which I mean there was damn little of it. The Titans' first touchdown came on a 54-yard play to Justin Hunter where All-KCW contender at safety Brandian Ross horribly misplayed his coverage and gave Hunter a boatload of run after catch. Until McGloin found Marcel Reece for a touchdown to give the Raiders a 19-16 lead, we'd had 10 possessions inside the opposing 40 with no trips to the end zone. Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to march the Titans down the field and find Kendall Wright for the game-winning score from 10 yards out with :10 to play, though.
I thought Fitzpatrick had a very Fitzpatrick game. The short crossers they ran repeatedly against the Colts weren't open regularly, but they had some success with out-breaking routes from the slot, including jerk routes. The game-winning touchdown came on one. Wright went over 100 yards, as did the big surprise in the game, Justin Hunter. He of the sub-40 percent catch rate (one of three entering this weekend with at least 15 targets, along with Santonio Holmes and Kenny Britt) that caught all 6 of his targets for 109 yards. Britt had two drops today.
Vince Verhei: This feels like as good a place as any to mention this: Has anybody noticed just how awful the bulk of the AFC is? There’s the five halfway good teams that are going to make the playoffs, and then 11 scrubs, one of which is going to get a wild card berth by default. Personally, I’m much less interested in the last month of the regular season than usual, and I’m fully ready to skip December and just starts the playoffs already. It does make a big difference, though, between the three and four seed. The four seed will probably get KC, while the three seed will get the survivor of PIT/BAL/TEN/MIA/SD/whatever. And the second seed, of course, will get a bye. That means the stakes are high in the New England/Cincinnati/Indianapolis "pennant race," but even then it’s only news when one of those teams loses.
And it just hit me: the NFL won’t stop raising the possibility of an 18-game season. Can you imagine? Two more weeks of this?
So yeah, let’s just start the playoffs already.
Robert Weintraub: And the NFL is also pushing to expand the playoffs. So many deserving teams out there!
@Shake1n1bake: TY Hilton being evaluated for a concussion, the Colts healthy, active WRs are: Darrius Heyward Bey, LaVon Brazill and David Reed.
@Shake1n1bake: Mathis (and Freeney) is so good at that chop of the QBs arm to turn a near sack into a sack/fumble
@heygirlitsryan: is chuck pagano the worst game planner in the league, the best halftime adjuster in the league, or both?
Vince Verhei: I think, at this point, I expect Arizona to make the playoffs somehow. Am I alone?
Andrew Potter: Probably need to finish above the 49ers to do it. Panthers will likely be fifth team in.
Aaron Schatz: In case you were wondering how smart Larry Fitzgerald is, he just threw it out of bounds to avoid a loss of yards on a failed reverse.
@Shake1n1bake: If someone predicted this first half of ARI-IND I'd say it was a bit too on the nose of the seasons themes to come true.
Aaron Schatz: Going into this week, IND ranked 30th in DVOA variance. Only Jets and Eagles less consistent.
Scott Kacsmar: They should move up soon since 1st half no-shows are becoming the norm in Indy.
Aaron Schatz: Next time the Colts play, let's just tell Andrew Luck it is the fourth quarter starting right at the beginning of the game.
@Shake1n1bake: Colts beat the 49ers (by 20!) and the Seahawks, going to lose to the Rams and Cardinals by 30.
Scott Kacsmar: Andrew Luck moves 16 yards closer to closing the gap on Trent 3.0 in Indy rushing yards. That about sums this one up.
Rivers McCown: So the narrative is that Reggie Wayne going down sunk the Colts offense -- and I think nobody would deny that it's made them much less consistent and easier to defend -- but they did have positive pass offense DVOA against Houston and Tennessee.
The big problem is that the pass defense has completely cratered. DVOA's over the past three weeks prior to this one: 103.7%, 70.2%, 55.5%. This is prior to Carson Palmer throwing for 8.3 yards per attempt on them. And Robert Mathis has three sacks over the last four games, so he's not exactly slowing down either. Are opponents just attacking Indianapolis smarter at this point? Tennessee certainly figured out that you can exploit the middle of that defense.
...Then I remember that their two wins since the bye were against the Titans and the Texans. Bye could very well be the most talented team in the AFC South.
@MilkmanDanimal: 3rd and goal from just inside the 10, Giants run a draw. Andre Brown is not Adrian Peterson, so it shockingly didn't work.
Aaron Schatz: Dear Giants, what is the point of your little flare pass to the running back on third-and-19?
Aaron Schatz: Cowboys defense 28th against the run, 19th vs pass. The first of those sure looks true today. Not the second.
@TCBullfrog: I wish the league would tell players what they ARE supposed to do when rushing the QB, instead of only what they AREN'T allowed to do.
Aaron Schatz: Quick someone tell the cowboys you have touch the guy on the ground not just look at him angrily.
Vince Verhei: Giving up a TD because they forgot to touch a guy down kind of summarizes this season for Dallas.
@heygirlitsryan: this Dallas defense might not be very good, you guys
@MilkmanDanimal: I would pay extra for a Jerry Jones cam, just so I could see the look on his face every time the Cowboys do something really stupid.
@JTuchman3: Giants needed to go for 2 down 15 on their first td so they can properly plan the rest of the game.
Aaron Schatz: Cowboys D was dead last in NFL forcing 3-out only 15% of drives... Giants the perfect cure for that, eh?
Scott Kacsmar: Anyone who writes about the NFL has a Tony Romo narrative. Some of us just to prefer to write non-fiction instead of fiction.
Rob Weintraub: Dallas third-down conversions before this drive--1. Dallas third-down conversions on this crucial drive--3.
Aaron Schatz: If you catch the ball, go to the ground, get up, and then lose it by handing to the ref, is that a completed catch? How about if the receiver catches the ball, then gets up, gives the ball to ref, game ends, goes to shower. Is that completed catch?
Aaron Schatz: I am so happy for Tony Romo right now. So nice to see him finally not follow the narrative. He's really a good QB, people.
Aaron Schatz: Early this season we were all talking about how Tom Brady was struggling because he had all these new receivers, and he didn't trust them to run option routes, and they didn't quite understand the offense, and they couldn't stop dropping the ball anyway. And then eventually after a few weeks we started asking, gee, doesn't Brady seem less accurate overall, even when we account for all these other issues? Even when the receivers do things right, he doesn't seem to be the quarterback he was the last few years.
Anyway, I had these same feelings about Eli Manning watching the Giants today. Yes, the offensive line has a lot of injuries, and Hakeem Nicks was out, and Rueben Randle seems to run the wrong route a lot of the time, but Eli Manning just doesn't seem to be the same guy as the last few years. There were a couple passes where he seemed to revert to the old Eli Manning who threw everything two feet over the receiver's head, where Bill Barnwell used to joke that there was a box above Plaxico Burress' head and if Manning could hit it with a pass, Plaxico would shoot fireballs.
And yet, the Giants somehow tied this thing up near the end, because the Cowboys defense had some major mental lapses (for example, when they forgot to touch Brandon Myers down and let him go into the end zone) and couldn't stop the run to save their lives. Andre Brown had 6.0 yards per carry, Brandon Jacobs had 8.3. Over and over the Giants would get a big run gain on first down and then stall out.
As far as the Giants' defense goes, they did a much better job against the run in the second half than they did in the first half, but they couldn't cover Dez Bryant the whole game. It looked like they were using Antrel Rolle as an outside cornerback with Corey Webster out, instead of leaving him as either safety or slot corner. I thought that was an odd decision.
Mike Ridley: From the Cowboys perspective, this game was far from pretty but should help in boosting their confidence, not to mention their chances at winning the division. The drive at the end of the game is something that opposes the usual Romo narrative, but does show he can get the job done. After converting only one third down prior to the drive, he converted three on the game winner, with a crucial third-and-7 conversion early in the drive that kept the Giants from getting the ball on the wrong side of the two minute warning. The Cowboys also have to be pleased with how well Dez Bryant rebounded on that last drive after having a fumble change a third-and-2 situation into a third-and-30.
On the defensive side, they did a great job of limiting Eli Manning, who had 174 yards after averaging 325.7 yards per games against over the last four seasons. They also contained Cruz to just two catches (one of which he fumbled), pretty remarkable given his frequent salsa dancing against Dallas. Where the Cowboys succeeded in the passing game, they failed in stopping the run. The Giants gashed them for 202 yards on just 30 carries. Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs both had wide open holes along the line all game.
On the Giants side, I can only imagine the innovative and descriptive terms Tom Coughlin will use to describe his team's penalties. Both teams had the same amount of penalties (11) for roughly the same amount of yards, but it seemed like the Giants penalties were always coming in critical situations, like erasing a Cole Beasley turnover or negating a big Rueben Randle punt return. With the added Cruz fumble that gave the Cowboys their first touchdown, I found myself thinking that if the Giants lose, it's because they beat themselves. That proved to be true for the first three-and-a-half quarters, but ultimately, Romo's play at the end turned out to be the difference.
Aaron Schatz: Well, Ridley looked really good there for a couple carries. Fumble. TD Denver. Enjoy the witness protection program, Steve. Pats need to find whichever coach taught Tiki Barber to stop fumbling and bring him in here, ASAP.
@Daniels_Ryan: Manning is starting to understand how Brady felt years ago, winning games with dominating defense.
Aaron Schatz: Looked like Brady may have gotten hit in head on sack-fumble, but I think it was head snapping back and hitting his own OL. Ouch.
@WhispersMoCo: Broncos using the intelligent approach: the center of the Pats' run defense is non-existent right now.
Aaron Schatz: The 3 fumble thing is a bit fluky, but unfortunately for Pats you don't get a "flukiness" mulligan to reset the score from 17-0.
Aaron Schatz: OK, that's five. This is ridiculous. At least the fumble luck is now more even! (Most muff punts are recovered by rec team of course)
Rob Weintraub: Winged prediction--Broncos will rue not recovering that last Edelman fumble. Pats make game of this now.
Aaron Schatz: It's almost as if three star players right in the middle of the Pats defense are out for the year or something.
@blotzphoto: These Denver runs look unstoppable right now. It's just the same play over and over.
Aaron Schatz: Trying to figure out how Pats suddenly can keep Von Miller off Brady. Need tape. Looks like Gronk is chipping Miller a lot.
Danny Tuccitto: Love how Belichick takes the wind, and every tweet about it on my TL ends with "...interesting."
@GDFar: Between drops, fumbles, and penalties, the Broncos are the sloppiest team I've seen heavily favored for a 1-seed.
Danny Tuccitto: With the wind, Gostkowski boots FG out of the stadium a la Pat McAfee's "Breaking Madden," right?
Aaron Schatz: Proper ending would be fumbled snap on third down, then Pats hit FG to win on fourth.
Rob Weintraub: Only conclusion to draw from that weather-controlled slopfest was--get ready for the New York Super Bowl!!
Aaron Schatz: OK, I tweeted so many things about this roller-coaster that I'm not sure what I have left to say. This has to be considered one of the all-time classic games in Patriots history. Just insane.
A lot of what's going on here will require re-watching. I'm not sure how the Pats started being able to stop the runs up the middle in the second half, and then how that ability disappeared again. It looks like the breakdown of the Broncos' pass rush after halftime was in part related to DRC's injury. That had Von Miller dropping back more. When he did come, the Pats chipped him a lot more with Gronk.
The DRC injury didn't kill the Broncos at corner because they have good depth there. Quentin Jammer doesn't have much left but if Jammer is your fifth corner, that's a nice situation. However, the Broncos safeties were having trouble with Gronk. A lot of trouble. It looked like the Broncos did better when they had Danny Trevathan on him.
Also, the Broncos were just getting killed by play-action in the second half. Another element of the big comeback.
The refs really allowed a lot of physical play. Lots of plays that could have easily been holding or pass interference, and plays where I would notice holding on one guy only to have it called on a completely different guy because both players were doing it. But they were even calling penalties on both teams and they called the game consistently all five quarters.
I'll let Scott Kacsmar talk about the decision to kick in overtime and my question to Belichick in the post-game press conference. That whole thing is really his baby.
Oh, and when the Broncos went up 17-0 with the three fumbles, I was saying to the other people around me that weird stuff happens in the NFL and the game wasn't over. I pointed out the game two years ago where the Pats were down 21-0 to Buffalo and won 49-21. Ron Borges laughed at me, saying "Yeah, that's not Buffalo out there." Nope, it wasn't. But I was right. Weird stuff happens in the NFL. I was even correct when I told Borges that a Patriots comeback win was likely to involve Brock Osweiler. I just didn't know HOW it would involve Osweiler, apparently.
Scott Kacsmar: "If Bill Belichick can take the wind, I can take the wind."
I doubt that's what the other 31 head coaches are thinking now, but maybe this will help others make that decision in situations where it's applicable like last week in Chicago. I'm not going to spend too much time talking about it as I have plenty to write in other articles, but I think it's a very defensible decision.
This was probably the worst game Peyton Manning's played since a game against San Diego (or Dallas) in 2010. He didn't look up to the task of driving 80 yards into the wind for a game-winning touchdown. Of course I said the same when it was 31-24 and he pulled off an 80-yard drive with his best throws of the night, but force him to try that again while not being able to use four downs. Taking the ball out of Tom Brady's hands seems crazy on a night where he had five consecutive scoring drives in the half, but I think the wind was significant in this one and the New England defense was playing well enough to justify doing it.
It took 34 modified overtime games, but we finally have a coach who kicked off. Of course it was Bill Belichick, but isn't he the one it needed to be if we are to see more bold decisions in situations like this?
As for the game itself, it was crazy. I'm not going to overreact and I don't think much of it will help in a rematch, but I will say there are three troubling things for the Broncos:
1. Jack Del Rio still has few answers for slowing down Tom Brady's offense. That stretch of 31 points on five drives was absurd.
2. The Broncos still have major ball security issues. I know the Patriots had six fumbles (three lost) and Denver had five fumbles (three lost), so the weather was a factor, but Denver's problems have been persistent and tonight were more their own doing than good hits by the Patriots. Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker also had at least five combined drops.
3. The receivers can't get separation when defenses play them tough. For all the talk about New England's banged-up secondary, those guys covered well. Just like in the Baltimore playoff loss, almost every pass Manning threw was contested with a Patriot draped over a Bronco. That severely limits YAC and makes every throw have to be perfect or else it's a dangerous interception opportunity. Even the first touchdown pass was threading the needle. On the Eric Decker interception, I saw Wes Welker get knocked down, which was probably one of the many examples Aaron was talking about in referees letting them get away with contact. For as much as Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth praised the Colts' defense a few weeks back, this looked more impressive to me, even without Julius Thomas active. The Broncos need to find legal ways to get their receivers open more, because every defense should try copying the physical re-routing concepts.
181 comments, Last at 28 Nov 2013, 2:46am by nath