Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
16 Sep 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.
Feel free to comment not only about Sunday's games but about this new Audibles format. It's still a bit of a work in progress.
Also, this week's Audibles may be a bit skimpy because of personal and family illnesses.
@pchicola: The "New Chargers" look pretty much like the "Old-Chargers". Surrendering leads, turnovers.
Scott Kacsmar: Eddie Royal making a play. Did Twitter exist in 2008? This might be the first time that was tweeted.
Andrew Potter: Malcom Floyd on the way to hospital after being tackled into DeMeco Ryans crossing the field. Huge impact. Crumpled instantly.
Aaron Schatz: Eagles with massive blown coverage, somehow drop 8 into coverage yet leave Eddie Royal wide open on the sideline, in the red zone.
@unkleskillz: We can talk about Kelly and speed all day, but he gets his playmakers more open than anyone else.
@MilkmanDanimal: Eagles being an unstoppable offensive juggernaut lasted 1 week; TV talking heads scramble in panic for something new to talk about.
Andrew Potter: Looking awfully like Eagles being offensive juggernaut was wrong story; real story is Redskins defense is terrible.
Scott Kacsmar: Every cellphone in San Diego just buzzed a very loud "Philip Rivers Turnover Alert." Eagles up 27-23
Mike Ridley: Play count: SD 71, PHI 54. Raise your hand if you called that.
@GFarri1: Dontari Poe is scary.
Ben Muth: Frederick dips his head and Poe abuses him with a swim move. Poe looked ridiculously quick on his move.
@GFarri1: All Romo to Dez on that drive. Impressed the Cowboys got a snap off after a 38 yard play before KC could get a good look at the replay.
@RobertGrebel: Not blocking DeMarcus Ware seems like kind of a terrible strategy.
Scott Kacsmar: Romo strip-sacked. Will this resonate since the game's not in prime time?
Ben Muth: Romo really trying to throw a pick here but the refs and Chiefs are conspiring against him.
Peter Koski: Loved that last 16-yard run by Jamaal Charles. Lots of patience, acceleration, cuts and burst mixed into one run.
Cian Fahey: Tweeted about it all last week, MIA had to use Wallace on screens. He's lethal on them.
Aaron Schatz: Here's something you never heard about the Colts defense during even the worst Polian defenses -- they look *slow*.
@grantbosse: The Colts have decided that instead of regressing to the mean, they'll crash right through it.
@GFarri1: The Indianapolis defense is very, very bad.
Mike Ridley: DHB's hands are looking vastly improved over his #Raider days.
@Stephen1141: Miami sure knows how to find these scrappy little white slot receivers, Hartline is a Welker 2.0
Aaron Schatz: Hartline isn't a scrappy little white slot receiver. He's an outside receiver, 6-foot-2. He just happens to be pale.
@Shake1n1bake: TY Hilton is unreal, the Colts are going to have to start playing him in their base O, absurd to keep him as situational use
Scott Kacsmar: Donald Brown stopped on 3rd-and-1. If the Colts really wanted that conversion...
Scott Kacsmar: 3 penalties in the entire Colts/Dolphins game and 0 on Miami? That does smell like BS.
Aaron Schatz: My biggest takeaway from the Colts-Dolphins game was how bad the Colts defense looked. They had trouble in coverage, they looked out of position, and they looked slow. They did get some pressure on Ryan Tannehill, but it was too easy for him to find receivers. Not to take away from the game he played -- he's the one who had to find those guys, and he did. He looked very good. If you watched only one game with these guys at quarterback, you wouldn't think that Andrew Luck was considered better than Tannehill. And weird as it sounds, despite how horrid the Colts' line was a year ago, and despite the addition of Tyson Clabo for the Dolphins, Luck actually had better protection than Tannehill did.
Oh, and Brent Grimes is still pretty good. It's always nice to have him healthy and playing well.
Rivers McCown: That's no surprise, they looked awful against Terrelle Pryor last week, as well. Blowing contain left and right.
Scott Kacsmar: Only two data points per team, but when you consider how Indy did against Miami (compared to Cleveland) and Oakland (compared to Jacksonville), you have to wonder if the Colts aren't somehow worse on defense this year.
Ben Muth: Oh my, Danieal Manning. Have to be ready to defend yourself out there.
Tom Gower: Nice throw by Locker to Wright for the TD. McCain had pretty good coverage. Also corner route from slot in Red Zone seems to be the new thing.
Aaron Schatz: Gotta ask @ThomasGower how for real the Titans D is. Second straight big game with same personnel that were awful in 2012.
@RaiderJoe_FO: z. Brown rreal deal. Morgan good. Verner goodn . goodnpalyers there
Tom Gower: Matt Schaub's been uncomfortable & off all game. Credit to the #Titans D for making him that way. Second awful-looking pick.
Andrew Potter: Awful, awful interception by Schaub. Two Titans defenders had a chance at the ball, receiver didn't.
Scott Kacsmar: Same thing in Houston, if not better. A 25-16 lead with 4:59 left pretty damn good. 23-16 still nice w/way Schaub's playing.
Tom Gower: Why didn't Mike Munchak immediately call timeout, to preserve time after a potential made FG?
@scott_tanner1: wait, why didn't the titans call a TO with 15 seconds left? now they're just guaranteeing the FG is the last play of the game
Andrew Potter: He clearly thinks icing the kicker is the higher percentage play.
Andrew Potter: Oh great. Now we get the one time a year that awful pre-FG timeout works, used to justify wasting timeouts in countless other games.
Tom Gower: I don't know what to make of this game. Both teams drove the field on their first possession without too much difficulty. After that, it mostly settled down into a slugfest between two teams that couldn't execute offensively. The Titans were actually blocking pretty well, but Chris Johnson can't be the lead back if you want a sustaining run game. Jake Locker had some decent throws and some misses.
Defensively, I think the Titans played good coverage most of the game with cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner. The Texans line really struggled to protect Matt Schaub. There wasn't a single defensive lineman who stood out to me the way Jurrell Casey did last week, but Zach Brown was extraordinarily active again and finished with a team-high 12 tackles. In the final three minutes, though, the Texans drove the field twice without too much difficulty, with a lot of the damage by DeAndre Hopkins, who'd been mostly silent until then.
The best sidenote was Randy Bullock's field goal attempt at the end of the game to win in regulation. Attempt #1: He lined up to try from 51 and hooked it, except Mike Munchak called time out to ice him. Attempt #2 was blocked, but the Titans were offsides. Attempt #3 was good, but Mike Munchak called his second icing timeout (permitted, due to the intervening penalty play). Attempt #4 bonked off the left upright, and we got to overtime and DeAndre Hopkins' end-game heroics.
Aaron Schatz: Where do you think the improvement in the Tennessee defense is coming from, Tom? General improvement by Brown and Casey? How much of it might be Gregg Williams' schemes?
Tom Gower: It looks like general improvement from Brown and probably Casey, too, is part of it. The corners both played okay at times in the past. Even though Jerry Gray is still the coordinator, it doesn't look like the same defense from last year. They've been doing a lot with pressure packages in particular, and neither the Steelers nor the Texans have handled those well. From a Pouncey-less Steelers line that was no surprise, but the Texans looked worse than I thought. Then again, they did against San Diego, too ... I'm still not sure if this is an Arizona-like mirage or something potentially sustainable. We might not know next week either, as San Diego probably can't protect any better.
Rivers McCown: I thought Matt Schaub played a horrible game. Tennessee's defense really seemed to get in his head by big blitzing him on crucial downs, and the Texans only seemed to exacerbate that with a frustrating tendency to go empty. They did this a lot in San Diego, and I'd guess they did it about 40 percent of the time in this game too. Then there was the pick-six, which was nowhere near DeAndre Hopkins and was later confirmed to be a quarterback mistake. Certainly, if you were in the camp that Schaub wasn't good enough to quarterback this team to wins against good teams, nothing he did in these first two games changed your mind. The optimist's view is that Hopkins is already "throw it up and let him go get it" good. That's something. Tennessee played well, but I would be more inclined to credit their defensive coaching than their talent.
Seemed like the Titans had some good keys and fits against the Houston defense early on in the run game. After those seized up, Tennessee was essentially stagnant outside of their 99-yard no-huddle drive. Every time an offense does something that makes the Houston defense play reactive -- whether it's no-huddle, a draw, a spread overload -- it seems to cut to the heart of the aggressive Wade Phillips scheme and they don't really know what to do about it.
Peter Koski: Awesome one-armed bull rush by Kerrigan to get the sack. Then he runs a nice loop stunt for a second straight sack.
@pchicola: Packers having serious issues blocking straight 5 man pressures by WAS. Add a few stunts & crosses and things get messier for Rodgers.
@Coboney: Apparently packers believe blocking is optional. Waste of time, money and everything. Line looks every bit as bad as worried about.
@pchicola: 5men pressure was disrupting GB O-Line. Going Rush3-Drop8, Haslett is inviting Rodgers to dissect secondary. TD Nelson.
Aaron Schatz: I'm watching MIA-IND, here's a question for those watching GB-WAS. Would Kirk Cousins be better than hobbled RG3 right now?
Aaron Schatz: Lack of WAS running game may be related to lack of fear of Griffin running. Mobile QB generally open up game for RB.
Andrew Potter: In what would be a huge play in any other game, J. Jones fumbles for a touchback stretching out at the 1-yard line. Still 24-0 though.
@toxic: RG3's knee is clearly not 100%, and he is stinking up the joint, but this in no way explains the Skins defense's inability to tackle.
Aaron Schatz: Question is: Where do WAS def struggles come from? Same D as last year, plus got Orakpo back.
@matthew_carley: Could they be worn out from last week? Like 49ers after the Pats game last year?
@WhispersMoCo: WAS defense wasn't that great last season either. Also, GB offense is very good.
Andrew Potter: GB running game is awful, but Starks has 116yds & a TD on 13 carries. GB has 38pts in 3Qs.
Scott Kacsmar: Ed Dickson can't scoop one up to start the game, which looks just like Week 1 for Baltimore.
@blotzphoto: Joe Flacco could use some receivers. Maybe he should buy some out of pocket.
@blotzphoto: Very impressed with the Browns defense so far today. Excellent tackling.
@chcameron: Ravens fans ready to sacrifice the cursed Flacco baby.
Scott Kacsmar: If you're Baltimore and you score a TD here, up 7-6 already, why not go for 2? I want to see this one time.
Andrew Potter: PAT more likely than 2pt conversion. If you're ahead, want to make other team take that gamble, not take it yourself.
Scott Kacsmar: But forcing a team to have to score twice now (1 TD at least) is worth that gamble. Defense's goal is unchanged; no TD.
Scott Kacsmar: Carolina's up 7-3 before halftime, putting them on schedule to blow another 4th-quarter lead.
@Daniels_Ryan: Thomas Davis postpones the defensive collapse by chasing down CJ Spiller to turn an 80 yd TD run into a 46 yd run. Bills kick a FG.
Scott Kacsmar: San Diego and Carolina are going to get GWDs and the Colts will not. It's opposite day in the NFL.
@Daniels_Ryan: Panthers give up a touchdown with three seconds left, and lose again.
@JeremySchulze: Carolina defense tries to crush Steve Johnson with loneliness in the red zone.
Scott Kacsmar: Oh that's so Carolina. Ron Rivera might not make it to October.
@Grubicho At some point, we need to just think Carolina stinks in close games. No more regressing to the mean.
@pchicola: Loved the fact that Bills blitzed the Hail Mary attempt. Most defenses just wait for the pass and pray... Good to be proactive
Scott Kacsmar: Ron Rivera almost has as many blown 4th-quarter leads (10) as he has wins (13) now.
Andrew Potter: Bears-Vikings starts with a special teams TD ... for the Vikings. Unexpected.
Scott Kacsmar: Remember when Vikings/Bears played one of the most unexpected 48-41 games ever in 2008? Don't think we're headed there today.
Aaron Schatz: Just a reminder: When Playmaker Score said Cord Patterson was high-risk talent, it meant as a WR. We never doubted him as a returner!
@matthew_carley: I decided to wait on posting the 'missing Dave Toub yet?' snark till Hester had his turn, which is smarter than kicking to those two.
@ptmovieguy: Anyone know what's game record for most ST yards combined? At least 3 long returns in Chi-Minn.
Scott Kacsmar: Jay Cutler needs a long cigarette break. Volleyball pick. Don't care.
@MilkmanDanimal: Minnesota's offense this year apparently based on crazy things happening repeatedly; seems totally sustainable long-term.
Scott Kacsmar: Tim Jennings continues to confuse Colts fans with his play in Chicago. Pick six.
Andrew Potter: Series after Culter's EZ INT Bears complete the hat trick as Jennings picks Ponder and scores. They are who we thought they were.
@TCBullfrog: #Bears get first defensive TD of year. On pace for 8 :). #Repeatable ?
Mike Ridley: Pondering, verb: the futile attempt to act like an #NFL quarterback.
Scott Kacsmar: If Christian Ponder throws a 20+ yard TD pass and no one sees it, did it really happen?
@ronJ_gupta: Martellus Bennett killed the Vikings. Of his 7 catches, 6 went for either a first down or a TD. Both TDs were caught on 3rd down.
@zgeballe: Utterly brutal call against the Buccaneers. How are defensive players supposed to tackle if they can't lead with their shoulder?
@MilkmanDanimal: Dashon Goldson with his 3rd personal foul in 2 weeks; your best offense is letting Goldson hit your receiver.
@MilkmanDanimal: I think that's FIVE total personal fouls for hitting defenseless receivers against Tampa in a game and a half. Epically stupid plays.
Rivers McCown: I see Greg Schiano cares as much about helmet-to-helmet rules as he does about QB kneeldown etiquette.
@MilkmanDanimal: Goldson tries to strip the ball away instead of tackling, Graham carries him 10 more yards to the end zone. WRAP AND TACKLE.
Tom Gower: Mark Ingram on 90 flip will be the worst idea Sean Payton has this year.
Rivers McCown: Sean Payton will be a much better play caller when he just stops using Mark Ingram.
Tom Gower: I guess I should amend my earlier tweet to note "anything involving Mark Ingram" as Sean Payton's worst idea of the year.
Aaron Schatz: FO projection systems are far from perfect, but Speed Score was dead on about Mark Ingram.
@Broncfan07: The Saints will keep trying to justify Ingram being a 1st round pick, no matter how much it hurts.
Rob Weintraub: Nice to see that Lavonte David has bounced back from his moment of madness and is having a very good game against the Saints.
Rivers McCown: The “throw things at Vincent Jackson” offense was ruined by penalty.
Aaron Schatz: It drives me CRAZY when a great play is blown by some OL who is one or two steps too far away from the LOS. Happened in Eagles too
Rob Weintraub: Sean Payton was practically a lead blocker on Malcolm Jenkins INT return. Horrendous backfoot throw by Freeman.
Rivers McCown: If Greg Schiano and Jim Schwartz coached on the same team would there ever not be a penalty?
Tom Gower: This game is still going on, with Tampa holding a one-point lead with under 5 minutes to play as I write this, but Drew Brees just has these weird games where all his potential interceptions are indeed intercepted. This seems to happen a lot against Tampa, or maybe it doesn't and the games it does happen against Tampa just stand out to me. There's not much in common between the Schiano and Morris eras to make me think they're something Tampa-specific about it, aside from the Bucs' major penalty and discipline issues making me thing Schiano is as ill-fitted and unready to be an NFL head coach as Morris was.
Scott Kacsmar: Haven't watched much at all of this one, but Drew Brees has this tendency to have a stinker game or two (or four in some seasons) against an opponent you wouldn't expect. I think that's why he has never won a MVP. Look at 2011 and the losses he had against the Rams and Tampa Bay. This does seem to be another one of those days with two ugly picks as the Buccaneers try to run out the clock.
Tom Gower: And Greg Schiano needs a trip to the Marv Levy Seminar on the Wisdom of Settling for Long Field Goal Attempts, Especially With a Shaky Kicker.
Rivers McCown: Two weeks in a row!
Aaron Schatz: I do think that the decision to run three times and then settle for a 47-yard field goal was less about settling for a long field goal and more about forcing the Saints to use their third timeout, then taking as much time off the clock as possible.
Tom Gower: Yeah, I get that. I would have been perfectly fine with Schiano going for it on fourth down given that even a made field goal still puts you in a position to lose in regulation.
Aaron Schatz: OK, I took the time. I've been pretty honest about the fact that FO needs to work on an updated win expectancy model, so we'll use Brian Burke's for the moment. And this is interesting. If we are talking about the question of fourth-and-3 on the New Orleans 29, the Burke fourth down calculator actually says to punt.
If you go for it, you have a 57 percent chance of making it (assuming average offense and defense). If you make it, win chance is 99 percent. If you don't, win chance is 74 percent. So overall, win expectancy is 88 percent.
If you kick the FG, you make it 64 percent of the time. If you make it, win chance is 86 percent. If you don't, win chance drops to 74 percent. So overall, win expectancy is 82 percent.
If you punt, it says win expectancy is 89 percent. It sounds kooky, but you know the other team is going to get the ball on their own 20 instead of 29 (where it would be if you went for it and failed) and if you can coffin-corner it well, they get it even further back.
However, I think that if you consider the quality of the Saints offense -- you have to consider New Orleans more likely to score both a field goal and a touchdown compared to an average offense. So with that in mind, I think that the choice here would be to go for it.
Of course, an even better question -- and one that unfortunately neither we nor Burke have a well-built calculator for -- is whether the Bucs should have passed the ball instead of running on third-and-6, taking the chance they would stop the clock in exchange for a better chance at a first down that would ice the game.
Tom Gower: I wouldn't have screamed if Schiano had punted in that situation either. I'm not absolutely confident in the math; when you get into funky situations like that, I think the model may break down a bit, but with a subjective probability of a field goal under the hypothetical 64 percent, those numbers make a trip to the Levy Seminar even more worthwhile.
Sean McCormick: In fairness to old Marv, it's not like he had Thurman Thomas run the ball into the line three times. Buffalo just ran out of time to run any more plays.
Danny Tuccitto: Looks like Goldner qua Burke posted something on the Schiano decision.
Scott Kacsmar: Beating the drum for "we need updated win probability numbers," kickers have been getting better too. The last nine seasons are the nine best for league-wide field goal percentage. The 2012 season was the second-best ever and featured a record 92 field goals of 50 or more yards. It was just two years ago when that record was 66, so we've seen a big increase in long-distance field goals.
Scott Kacsmar: We'll let the record show the Texans drafted Randy Bullock in 2012 10 and 14 spots ahead of Greg Zuerlein and Blair Walsh while Justin Tucker was a free agent. Only a tiny number of good kickers will come out of college in a given year, and those are three of the best kickers in the league already, so the Texans picked the rotten apple.
Rivers McCown: While we're at it, lets also let the record show that the Texans cut loose Jacoby Jones and Trindon Holliday, willingly employed Shayne Graham for the entirety of the 2012 season, and finished dead last in special teams DVOA.
But special teams coordinator Joe Marciano is still around, don't worry! He even got a game ball last year!
Andrew Potter: Matt Stafford demonstrates value of strong arm even in short game. Laser to CJ almost right through Dansby, CJ takes it for TD.
Andrew Potter: Horrific pick-six by Carson Palmer, Detroit up by eight.
Aaron Schatz: A lot of reporters on Twitter mentioning that DET had no def TDs last year, as if def TDs are consistent from year to year at all
Rob Weintraub: The Honey Badger wins the game for Arizona with a one-on-one tackle, brute force he wasn't supposed to have. #scouting
Rob Weintraub: Mathieu referred to as "Tyron Matthews" by the color guy. #sictransitgloria
Tom Gower: I saw little of this game aside from the last couple minutes, but I know I am not a fan of routes run short of the sticks on must-convert fourth downs, as Nate Burleson's was. Yes, credit to Tyrann Mathieu for an excellent tackle, but that's just a thing for me.
@btmovieguy: The Wildcat lives in Oakland!
Andrew Potter: Goes without saying but Jags offense is horrific. First impression Henne slight upgrade over injured Gabbert. Damning praise indeed.
@ptmovieguy: Raiders lost Branch, now Jenkins is down. Depleted secondary means Jags can take advantage and pa-AHAHAHAHAHA
Andrew Potter: Jaguars get their first points on offense of the season, still manage to look awful doing it. Surprised they got close enough for a FG.
@ptmovieguy: Pryor, under pressure, attempts Tebow-leap-pass, fumbles while tucking back in. O-lineman recovers.
@prmovieguy: Like many young QB's, Pryor's gotta learn to protect ball, and slide, when scrambling.
Andrew Potter: Jaguars have almost reached the point at which they should just punt on first down. Second-and-29 against the Raiders, of all teams.
Tom Gower: I tried watching the Jaguars-Raiders game, but it became too much of a struggle to watch JAX on O. Sorry.
@Shake1n1bake: It's probably not a record, but how far down on the list would 5 points in the first two games from the Jags rank if it holds?
Mike Ridley: #JacVsOak has 6 combined sacks today. These teams only had 45 combined last season.
Andrew Potter: Jaguars finally score a touchdown, Henne to Clay Harbor. Was beginning to think they'd never get one.
Rob Weintraub: Despite their overall ineptitude, the Jags are in position for the backdoor cover... #gambling
Mike Ridley: What's more offensive? Jacksonville's unis or their offense?
Andrew Potter: Their QBing. IMO Jags backs & receivers aren't bad players. Blackmon's the real deal. Gabbert/Henne, terrible.
Tom Gower: The Jaguars have looked prepared for Terrelle Pryor in a way the Colts did not (haven't seen today's game, of course, but this could be a really awful defensive unit again). Offensively, though, they're just awful. Chad Henne is not better than Blaine Gabbert. They can't run the ball. The passing offense is awful. I wanted to stay on this game as long as I could, but the Jaguars are a difficult team to watch on offense right now.
Scott Kacsmar: Brandon Myers just caught the first pass of his career with a 1st-quarter lead (probably not, but it feels like it).
@pchicola: Gameplan surprise of wk: NYG matching T.Thomas v Welker in slot. Physical but lacks fluidity. Still 83 non factor today.
Aaron Schatz: Giants are playing surprisingly good, tight coverage today.
Andrew Potter: Maybe it's really Welker kryptonite they have, when we all thought it was Patriots kryptonite?
@Foosball_Wizard: Beautiful, perfect pass on a fade route by Eli Manning to Dominique Rodgers Cromartie with 9 seconds left in the half.
Aaron Schatz: I'm afraid the best verb to describe the way JPP is rushing the quarterback today is "saunter." #nothealthy
Aaron Schatz: Danny Trevathan was one of the last players cut off the FOA 2013 Top 25 Prospects list. Whoops.
@LeeCasebolt: Real impressed with Denver's power run D. Less impressed with the zillion penalties they've committed.
Aaron Schatz: Broncos giving the Giants too many yards with penalties here. #potroasted
Aaron Schatz: Trindon Holliday is super fast, but remember: 1) returners rarely play at a high level for long, and 2) good blocking matters
Andrew Potter: Through two weeks, Broncos look untouchable as the best team in the AFC, possibly best team in the league.
@matthew_carley: The gap between Denver and the rest of the AFC could be pretty big. Texans and Bengals might be the nearest to them.
@Broncfan07: @FO_ASchatz Denver defense: 11/12 on 3rd down stops. Regression delayed another week.
Aaron Schatz: @Broncfan07 Wow. That's nuts. Totally unsustainable. Offense is so good it might not matter.
Rob Weintraub: Denver looking ominously like their destiny-- a team that will botch away a top seed at home come January...
Scott Kacsmar: So this was not the crisp shootout I expected. Both teams certainly had opportunities with their receivers for huge days, but Denver got it started in typical Denver fashion with a fumble near the goal line and the Giants had some big mistakes with drops and an Eli pick before halftime. Hell, he just threw another one in the end zone to end the game as I type this. Ultimately, Peyton more efficient and Knowshon Moreno stepped up with some big runs on a day where literally no one else could run the ball. Not surprising to see Peyton get Eric Decker involved early and often after his drops last week. Brandon Myers had a tough game for the Giants with the turf monster tripping him up for a potential touchdown, not to mention some big shots. Denver's no-name defense (on tour for a few more weeks unless Elvis finds a special brownie he can't pass up) got it done again though.
This was also another game where Denver turned a so-so start into a dominant second half. The Broncos have not trailed in the fourth quarter of 11 consecutive games, which is unusually long and great. That even includes the playoff loss to Baltimore, which is one stinging defeat this team cannot shake off, but outside of what Rahim Moore -- go figure he picks off a deep ball in the end zone on fourth down today -- did at the end of that one, this team has been playing some great football with wins by at least seven points in 13 of their last 14 games. This fit the mold of most of them, complete with Trindon Holliday muffing one kickoff and returning a punt for a touchdown. If they can ever clean up the little mistakes this is a juggernaut. Even with them, they look better than any team in the AFC.
Aaron Schatz: One of the real standout elements of this game to me was the way the Broncos completely destroyed the Giants' run game. They couldn't get anything. No holes whatsoever. I'll have to see the numbers once I run them, but my guess is that the Giants had the highest average "to go" on second down this week. Unfortunately, I didn't really watch closely enough to have an opinion on whether the issue here was the Giants' blocking or the Broncos' run defense.
Tom Gower: Aside from what Aaron and Scott wrote, the Broncos are just a better, more talented team than the Giants.
Sean McCormick: Just watched a bit of this, but it was noticeable how much of the Denver gameplan was built around attacking the outside linebackers with quick passes outside the numbers. Particularly early on, Peyton was either throwing quick outs, usually with some kind of rub action, or he was setting up quick screens that attacked the linebackers and forced them to move laterally and make a play when they got there. Considering the quality of the Giants linebackers, it's hardly a surprising strategy, I might add.
Aaron Schatz: Bearded Kaepernick looks pretty suave. I wonder what he would look like with one of those big Philly beards.
@matthew_carley: @FO_ASchatz I always thought Kaepernick looked like a French football/soccer player. The beard completes the look.
@RobertGrebel: That looks suspiciously like a chop block that took out Williams.
Aaron Schatz: Yes, but legal because it came from next OL over or something.
Aaron Schatz: The NBC graphic about read options reminds me of the difficulty of recognizing a read option vs. "play that just has a fake in it".
Aaron Schatz: SF gets very lucky when the officials don't see Justin Smith offside on a failed fourth-and-1.
Aaron Schatz: Seattle D-line really seems to be overwhelming the SF O-line in the first half.
Aaron Schatz: OK, Kaepernick just threw to a completely covered receiver instead of running for what seemed like an easy first down. What?
@matthew_carley: The Niners' run game has been pathetic through two weeks. They don't seem to have an answer for attacking 8 man fronts. Screen?
Danny Tuccitto: Whitner + Dahl <<<< Whitner + Reid
Rivers McCown: San Francisco's offensive line is getting worked. Anthony Davis is putting in a 2011 performance.
Aaron Schatz: @FO_RiversMcCown Well, good thing for Anthony Davis that he's not blocking for 2011's quarterback. Kaepernick is scrambling for yards
@matthew_carley: Moronic personal fouls by San Francisco have gifted the Seahawks what will probably be an unassailable lead.
Aaron Schatz: When this game was 5-0 at halftime, before it got out of hand, I thought some people might see similarities between this game and the Jets-Patriots game from Thursday night. But they weren't similar at all. The Jets-Patriots game was what happens when two discombobulated offenses can't get anything done. This game was what happens when two defenses dominate. In the second half, the Seattle defense dominated a bit more, but in the first half it was both defenses. What stood out to me here was that the Seattle defensive line really pushed the San Francisco offensive line around. That's supposed to be the best line in football, but the Seahawks were stuffing the run and had Colin Kaepernick running for his life on pass plays. I think this is going to be phrased in a lot of places as "San Francisco needs to find its run game" but I think its more an issue of "San Francisco needs to figure out what's wrong with the offensive line, period."
Tom Gower: The ground attacks were really the story of this game to me. Whatever the 49ers are doing that is so effective against everyone else in the NFL simply doesn't seem to work nearly as well against Marshawn Lynch. Maybe it's just his running style (does he have an exceptionally good broken tackle rate?), maybe it's just something, but I keep expecting the typical 49ers run defense to show up against the Seahawks and it just hasn't happened. That was not what I expected after Carolina did a nice job of limiting him last week.
Meanwhile, the key to San Francisco's offense the past two seasons has been their powerful offensive line. I could understand Green Bay last week, since I think the Packers may have had an underrated defense, but seeing it happen again suggests the possibility there are major problems there. Maybe there aren't and it's just an early-season fluke, but if it's not they'll have to change their offensive identity. That worked fine last week as Colin Kaepernick played extremely well, but not so well this week.
Danny Tuccitto: For what it's worth, the Harbaugh decision to kick a field goal to make it 12-3 was 18 percent win probability if San Francisco went for it and 18 percent win probability if they kicked the field goal. I think the context of the play (in Seattle against that defense) kind of tips the scale in my own mind towards going for it, but at least the decision turns out to be not as obviously butt-puckering as I expressed on Twitter at the time.
Three other thoughts on SF-SEA:
1) Regardless of what I'm about to say in my third point, make no mistake, the 49ers got their asses whooped in this one. Their defensive line got manhandled. Their offensive line got manhandled. Their receivers had a harder time getting open than a jar of apricot jam. And, dare I say, they got outcoached (although not outclassed).
2) While I agree with Aaron that the first half was a tale of two dominating defenses, I'm really starting to wonder how "dominant" San Francisco's defense is at this point. Since Week 15 of last year, they're now allowing an average of 28.8 points per game (which includes allowing 13 points to a Cardinals offense with me at quarterback in Week 17). When they stop the run, they can't stop the pass. When they stop the pass, they can't stop the run. Nnamdi Asomugha has followed up a promising preseason with an awful first two games. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman all of a sudden can't stymy tight ends -- Hello, Tony Gonzalez, Dennis Pitta, and Jermichael Finley! -- amd running backs -- Hello, Marshawn Lynch! -- in the same game. Week 1 saw them drop from seventh in our DVOA projections to 12th in DAVE. In the words of Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is going on out here?"
3) The first time I met Aaron, it was at the 2007 New England Symposium on Statistics in Sports. I was there to present research I did showing that penalty differential is a major contributor to home-field advantage (still waiting for that citation, Scorecasting authors!). San Francisco deserved almost every call that went against them tonight, but a few unavoidably reminded me of that research. Third-and-28 for Seattle in a 12-3 game, the Niners get a stop, and they're giving the Seahawks a gift first down because Aldon Smith slapped a guy in the head? Then after Seattle scores a touchdown on that artificially extended drive, they call Vance McDonald for benign extracurricular activity 15 yards away from the play on a 14-yard gain? Never even got to see a replay of whatever Anthony Davis did to warrant his unnecessary roughness penalty in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Seahawks broke Ian Williams' ankle on a textbook chop block (one blocker was still engaged high when the other one cut him low), and no call. Like I said, Seattle kicked San Francisco's ass, and the game was well-officiated overall. Take this comment as bias if you want, but the fact is that officials (subconsciously) give teams home cooking to a statistically significant extent, and those were prime examples of it. Just because it almost certainly didn't effect the outcome doesn't make it right.
251 comments, Last at 17 Jan 2014, 7:25am by jordan