Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
04 Nov 2013
compiled by Rivers McCown and Ben Jones
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.
Scott Kacsmar: The Chiefs hired Andy Reid, but this feels like such a Jeff Fisher team to me.
Aaron Schatz: BUF gameplan for Tuel is the game manager special: runs, screens, short passes.
Aaron Schatz: However, I'm not sure why KC should respect Tuel when BUF zone reads. Including sacks, Tuel had 55 carries for -115 yds as senior
@Broncfan07: @FO_ASchatz Tuel throws the ball 5 ft over Chandler's head for the INT. Dierdorf calls it a "miscommunication."
@nath_on_fire: Fourth-and-2 from the 15? Down 7-0? Fighting to maintain home-field advantage? SEND OUT THE KICKING TEAM! Good job Andy Reid.
Aaron Schatz: Bills killing KC on the ground. KC defense is 2nd in pass DVOA, 27th in run DVOA going into Week 9.
Aaron Schatz: However, KC's ALY numbers better than DVOA vs. run. They've gotten killed by QB runs this year, which aren't included in ALY.
Aaron Schatz: KC also gives up a lot of long runs, if RB can get past Poe and Jackson.
Aaron Schatz: Jeff Tuel just threw a pick-six on the Kansas City 1-yard line to make it 10-10. Trips right attempt at WR screen. Awful playcall.
Vincent Verhei: Kansas City continues to win by patiently waiting for opponents to throw up all over themselves.
Aaron Schatz: The point of a WR screen is usually that the CB are back a few feet. On the goal line, they're right at the LOS waiting for a pick.
@nath_on_fire: Hey, remember when this game was one yard away from being 17-3 Bills?
@MettaWorldBFree: For some reason, I think the Chiefs game plan of waiting for the opposing QB to screw up isn't going to work against Denver.
@MilkmanDanimal: It's like every once and a while Andy Reid realizes, "Hey, wait a minute, I can actually RUN the ball!"
Aaron Schatz: Tuel almost picked by Flowers as he's trying the miracle drive down 10. His decision making is awful... basically, like a UDFA rookie
Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs need to consider changing their helmet logo to a rabbit's foot, because their ridiculous luck continued this week. This game was essentially equal between the two teams with the exception of three big plays: the long bomb to Marquise Goodwin, the pick-six where the Chiefs returned the ball 100 yards, and the fumble by T.J. Graham that Tamba Hali returned for a second defensive touchdown.
So that's two defensive touchdowns, and so much random chance is involved in plays like that. On the fumble, the ball bounced right into Hali's hands, and he could return it for the touchdown because the Bills were on their own 11. If they're at midfield, Hali probably gets tackled before he scores. If there's a running back running a swing pass on the same side of the field on the pick-six, or if Graham is a yard or so farther from the goal line, perhaps Sean Smith gets tackled and he has a five-yard return instead of a 100-yard return.
Of course, Tuel still has to take responsibility for throwing a pick at the goal line, just a horrible decision on a run play with a pass option. It looks like it was supposed to be a slant to Graham, maybe, not a screen? Either way, Tuel totally missed his best receiver wide open in the end zone.
I commented on Twitter early that the Bills had put together the game-manager game plan for Tuel, but in the end Tuel ended up actually throwing deep more often than Alex Smith. Dwayne Bowe finally came off the milk carton today, but it was mostly short stuff. Smith had like one big deep pass that I can remember, the one that was hideously dropped by Dexter McCluster, a drop so egregious you would get booed off the field at fifth-grade recess. On the pass rush, the Bills defensive tackles did a good job of controlling the interior of the Chiefs line.
So in the end, I think this game did a good job of showing the limitations of the Chiefs offense and the quality of the Bills defense. But in the end, you know, Jeff Tuel.
Scott Kacsmar: I know it's Adrian Peterson, but run on third-and-7? Pretty submissive.
@MilkmanDanimal: Can't believe Tony Romo didn't figure out how to block that Vikings FG.
Mike Ridley: This game is a quintessential Cowboys performance: drive down the field than get sacked on consecutive plays.
@RobertGrebel: "This one's about as dysfunctional as the Kardashians." Brad Sham on the Dallas offense.
Vincent Verhei: D.Murray had a 27-yd run on first drive. For rest of half, DAL called three runs, 20 passes.
Mike Ridley: How bad does a defense have to be to make Ponder look capable?
@MilkmanDanimal: Ponder playing just well enough to continue Vkings' fans lifetime of "Well, maybe this time something will actually go right!"
@MilkmanDanimal: Ponder with a 4th quarter pick; this is why the Vikings can't have nice things.
Scott Kacsmar: I can't believe Tony Romo didn't tackle Adrian Peterson there. The gall of that QB...
@ptmovieguy: AP: Anything Graham can drag, I can drag better. Graham: No you can't. AP: Yes I can Graham: No you can't. AP: Yes... I... CAAAAAAN!
Rivers McCown: That Hail Mary is why the Vikings drafted Brock Osweiler. Oh, wait.
Vince Verhei: I didn't see much of this game, but I couldn't help but notice that DeMarco Murray had a 27-yard run in the first quarter ... and then only got two more carries the rest of the day. Dallas finished with 54 pass plays and only nine runs, and this in a game where they were often ahead, and never down by more than four points. I know Tony Romo is good, and I know most teams are better off passing instead of running, but man, you've got to run the ball once in a while just to keep defenses honest.
@GDFar: It takes 17 yards or 9 seconds to tackle Jimmy Graham. Whichever comes first.
@GDFar: No timeouts remaining, 2 false starts, interception, missed field goal for Saints in the first quarter off a bye. Disorganized.
@nath_on_fire: Wow, Mark Ingram with a positive play, without qualification!
@GDFar: You have to maul Jimmy NE-Gonzalez style. You'll get called occasionally but it's better than the alternative. They won't call 17 PIs
Scott Kacsmar: The clock turned back one hour for us, but the clock went back to August for Zach Sudfeld.
@Foosball_Wizard: Geno Smith throws into triple coverage to Not Calvin Johnson, and it's incomplete. Announcers steal my joke.
@nath_on_fire: What is Sean Payton doing there? End-around to a third-string TE on fourth down?! Payton makes the strangest 4th-down play calls.
Aaron Schatz: I seem to remember the Saints succeeding with a fourth-and-1 end-around to Devery Henderson a couple years ago.
Aaron Schatz: True, quite true. RT @bodie0 Except Devery Henderson was a lot faster than the Saints 3rd string TE and probably still is.
@Daniels_Ryan: @MikeTanier Tolbert celebrates a score with the dirty bird dance. What's the fat bird that can't fly, the ostrich? Penguin?
@wiesengrund: Steven jackson sometimes seems so surprised that he has a hole that he stops and applauds his line instead of running through.
@wiesengrund: Kuechly is basically just playing whac-a-mole with gonzalez. Jam-hit-tackle, w/ or w/o ball. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Mike Ridley: Falcons apparently forgot Greg Olsen can catch the ball
@wiesengrund: Seemed like kuechly passed off gonzalez to The Invisible Safety, a staple of Sean McDermotts defense.
@wiesengrund: Ryan seals the deal with a very Samuelesque pick. Shouldn't he know that coverage from practice?
Vince Verhei: The most notable development of this game came in the second quarter, with Carolina facing a fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 14. Not only did Ron Rivera decide to go for it, he did more than just call a sneak or a dive play (either of which I'd have been fine with, honestly). Instead, Cam Newton faked a handoff to the left and took off on a bootleg to the right. I presume he had an option to run, but the Falcons left Greg Olsen uncovered in the end zone, and Newton hit him for an easy touchdown.
Early on, the Falcons were shutting down Carolina's run game, which left Newton in a lot of third-and-longs. And he performed, well, like Cam -- he made some throws, he missed some throws, he had some picks, one on an attempted throwaway right before halftime. Steve Smith didn't do much, and Brandon LaFell was the top receiver. Honestly, any day the Panthers look good without relying on Smith is a good one.
Meanwhile, the Panthers were basically playing a soft zone all day, and that left Tony Gonzalez open, repeatedly. Then finally, in the second half, Atlanta started to make mistakes. Ryan forced one interception into quadruple coverage, and then threw a pick-six to the sideline, and then things snowballed and the surprisingly close game turned into the blowout I was expecting.
Rivers McCown: Is there a head coach who has turned around perceptions of him as fast as Ron Rivera? I'll even throw Mike Shula into the conversation as part of that improvement. How much credit do we allot these guys given the fact that most of their wins were against tasty cupcakes?
Robert Weintraub: It was still 17-10 in the fourth quarter when Newton hit Brandon LaFell running free toward the end zone. But Asante Samuel caught him and stripped the ball. Robert Alford had a free shot at it, but somehow pushed the ball back to LaFell, who was being held down on the ground by Samuel. Carolina scored on the next play, game over. There's much more to the predicted Falcons regression than this one play, but it neatly encapsulates how things have turned in Atlanta this season.
Rivers McCown: If the Chris Johnson #TheNarrative and Tavon Austin #TheNarrative were to run into each other, all world's bad news would vanish
Rivers McCown: The STL-TEN game is setting back offensive football 30 years. Some day the Titans will figure out they aren't good at running, right?
Scott Kacsmar: Really nice run by Chris Johnson (not something I've typed much the last few years).
Tom Gower: A little offensive proficiency from each team in the third quarter, though safely not too much
@ptmovieguy: STL had 8 in the box, bad edge discipline, let Chris Johnson bounce outside for long gain.
Rivers McCown: Zac Stacy consistently shedding initial tacklers today.
@ptmovieguy: Zac Stacy managed to use every button on the controller on that long run except for Y.
@nath_on_fire: Seeing Zac Stacy's power/balance combo on that long run makes me wonder how anyone could use a high draft pick on Ingram or T-Rich.
Rivers McCown: Rich Gannon trying to sell Kellen Clemens' game reminds me of Jaworski trying to sell Tyler Palko on MNF
Rivers McCown: The Rams run defense just shut down in the second half. Will be interesting to run this one back and look at adjustments.
Rivers McCown: Rich Gannon would not punt the ball to Tavon Austin. #TheNarrative
Tom Gower: Greetings from the press box of the Edward Jones Dome, the latest front in the Football Outsiders Insider Revolution, or whatever you have.
From the macro perspective, what I expected was a game between two teams that would not try to win with a high-volume passing game. With the Titans, this seemed like it might be a question, facing a Rams defense that looked very formidable against the Seahawks on Monday night and with a run game that had been far from the sustaining force they anticipated. With the Rams, with Kellen Clemens at quarterback, there was no such suspense. The Titans question was answered early, as they ran the same sort of near 50-50 run-pass balance they'd wanted to all season but had to abandon. Jeff Fisher, meanwhile, fed Zac Stacy early, often, and throughout the game, with Clemens assisting in the feeding with a regular diet of checkdowns.
The second half, particularly the fourth quarter, proved more offensively proficient than anticipated, but with a bit of an asterisk. With two not so good teams facing off against each other (and I believed coming in, and still believe, the Titans are average at best, possibly mediocre), Life on the Margins would prove the difference in the game. And such it was. With a seven-point game, you can choose your share of inflection points where the game was decided. For me, it was turnovers. Cortland Finnegan baited Jake Locker into an interception inside the 2-minute warning, giving the Rams the ball at the Titans 26. Stacy dropped a screen pass on first down, though, and Clemens couldn't find anything on second or third down either, while Greg Zuerlein then missed the 44-yarder. The Titans wouldn't get any big breaks until late, but it would be all they needed. Jurrell Casey got quick pressure on Clemens and stripped the ball when he tried to reset and buy time. Derrick Morgan fell on the ball, and one Chris Johnson 19-yard run later the Titans had a 28-21 lead.
I'm already seeing some of it on Twitter, which means it'll get a lot worse later, but people will claim that this game means Chris Johnson is "back" or somesuch. I didn't see it. I saw the same back I've seen for the past couple seasons -- when there's green grass in front of him, he can run forward and gain yardage. That was the case on the 19-yarder. That was the case on his other big gain, a 24-yarder where Finnegan got sucked too far inside. It was the case on his other runs throughout the game. It's when he's tasked with making space on his own that he struggles. Maybe I'd think differently if I saw the end zone angle of what he was seeing, but I doubt it. I also don't think there was any particular lineman worth honoring, as the Rams also got a lot of pressure on Jake Locker, most notably with four sacks in the first half. Chance Warmack still ends up on the ground an awful lot, Mike Otto really struggled at times playing for David Stewart, and while I need to pay attention to him more closely Brian Schwenke was better but not great.
Clemens was solid early, identifying and finding receivers in zone voids, and he once again looked more athletic than I remember him being from e.g. his days with the Jets. He missed Tavon Austin for a long touchdown in the first half and only had one good throw that I noted, when he found Brian Quick about 20 yards downfield after resetting in the pocket.
The reunion week stuff? William Hayes had a sack of Locker. Jared Cook had the touchdown, but also dropped a pass. I didn't notice Will Witherspoon at all. Finny had the pick, and helped the cause on another pick with a bit of downfield contact with Nate Washington that resulted in a throw going right to the safety. Jeff Fisher tried to induce a false start with some punt motion the Titans didn't bite on late in the first half, but aside from that there was nothing particularly tricksy.
One impression I casually had that was reinforced from today's game was you can tell the Rams are particularly young in the back seven. The zone depth, route and play recognition, getting off blocks, being quicker by knowing more, these are all things that seem like they've been works in progress every game I've seen the Rams play this year, and they looked like works in progress again today. I was bullish on this team because, while young on the roster, snap-weighted age indicates they aren't quite as young as the broad roster data indicates, plus they were good enough last year I thought their young defenders, particularly the players in the second, would improve quickly. I don't think that's happened. Is this a coaching issue? A players issue? I'm not sure. On the other side of the ball, Zac Stacy looks like a real solid back. Matt Waldman may scream at this, but stylistically he's like Shonn Greene, except maybe a younger Shonn Greene who had a little bit of burst at the second level. He gained an awful lot of yards by running hard today against a Tennessee team that had been pretty solid in tackling. The 32-yard run or the touchdowns will probably earn the most highlights, but the play I liked the best was an outside run with Zach Brown closing in where hesitated like he was going to make a move to slow up Brown, then accelerated to the edge. It was only a 6-yard gain, but I thought Brown had him stopped for a gain of 2 at most. It was one thing to see Gio Bernard accelerate past Brown in the preseason, since I knew Gio was fast, but another thing to see it from Stacy. I'm not saying Stacy is anywhere close to Gio, just that he's more than a between-the-tackles plodder.
I suppose I should also say some things about Jake Locker. Watching the San Francisco game, there were a few plays, completions even, where he seemed a beat or half a beat slow. I think that showed up a couple times today on some of the incompletions. Even on the quarterback draw score he had, I thought the middle of the field was very open presnap and that play was more complicated than it needed to be. To his credit, I thought the Rams would end up buzzing the slants in the second half and that never happened. Instead, the Titans got a big play (45 yards) to Kendall Wright when he held the throw long enough for the underneath defender not to pick it off. He only had 10 dropbacks in the second half compared to 22 runs for the Titans, which basically screams the answer to my bye week question.
To use a Greg Cosell-ism, Clemens does not pull the trigger on throws that are there at the intermediate and deeper levels. He just doesn't. The dig comes open at the same time he's preparing to throw the checkdown, and he throws the checkdown.
Matt Waldman: I can see Shonn Greene with burst. When Greene had burst at Iowa, he looked like the player we're seeing from Stacy. I comped him to Travis Henry before the draft. All in the same range of player. Two have burst (Stacy-Henry); one seems to have lost it (Greene).
Rivers McCown: Pretty amazing how quickly things turned around after a first half that may have been the worst I've watched all season. And I've watched a lot of Jags games.
Tom spent enough words that were correct that I don't feel like there's much other ground to cover. Tavon Austin is stuck with a coaching staff that can't understand how to use him, and the Titans running game is stuck with a franchise back that can't possibly make them look good unless the offensive line is blocking well. At least the Titans got that much in the second half.
JJ Cooper: Pretty amazing series for Chargers DL Corey Liuget. Batted away two passes and blocked a field goal.
Scott Kacsmar: Chargers still have all 3 timeouts left. Plenty of game left in WAS. The very definition of a 4-minute offense situation is coming.
@Walshmobile: WAS called their 3rd timeout up 24-21 with 1:26 to go SD ball and clock running
Robert Weintraub: Horrendous playcalling by the Chargers. Three cracks on the 6-inch line and they throw a fade and a rollout??
Aaron Schatz: @robwein Fade was the right call. A failed run on 2nd down would have forced TO and then to try FG on 3rd. Fade allowed 1 more play
Aaron Schatz: @robwein The third down call, I'm not so sure about. They still had the one TO left at that point, could have run.
@MilkmanDanimal: Scooby gang catches Mike McCoy, pulls off mask, "Old Man Norv!" "I would have gotten away with it if not for you meddling kids!"
Rivers McCown: I do like that the "touchdown wins the game" rule would seem to incentivize Mike Shanahan to go for it near the goal line had the Darrel Young fullback give not paid off. The worst that happens is the Chargers are in bad position to try to work their way into the field-goal range they would've been aiming for anyway, right? Plus, without a Washington lead, the Chargers would be more inclined to punt.
How on Earth did Danny Woodhead find his way to San Diego on a pittance? Feels like a lot of teams could've used a back like him.
@ptmovieguy: PHI humming, spreading OAK D vertically/horizontally. Foles lofts pretty pass to Riley on go route w/ rookie DJ Hayden on an island.
Robert Weintraub: Is it safe to say relations between Riley Cooper and the African-American population of Philadelphia are improving vastly today?
@nath_on_fire: Raiders rush 3 on 3rd-and-16, give up 17-yard catch. Maybe send the extra guy to force a pass before a receiver crosses the sticks?
Mike Ridley: PHI-OAK on pace for over 1,200 yards today. #NoDefenseLeague
Robert Weintraub: And TD pass #6 for Nick Foles. This looks like an Oregon-Cal game under Chip Kelly.
@blotzphoto: Congratulations to anyone who started Nick Foles in fantasy today. Happen to have any lottery numbers in mind?
@stephenbawesome: Apparently Nick Foles is pretty good with a clean pocket.
Aaron Schatz: Oakland's defense actually hasn't been that bad before today. So, like, what the hell?
@Shake1n1bake: Today we replaced Nick Foles with Peyton Manning, let's see who notices...
Matt Waldman: Watching some of these highlights where Philadelphia's skill players are wide open outside and I'm wondering if the Raiders realize that the hash is not the sideline.
@nath_on_fire: Does anyone else, after a sack like that, expect Mike Glennon to snap in half and candy to start falling out of him?
@MilkmanDanimal: Mike James just borrowed a cup of Beast Mode from Marshawn.
Vincent Verhei: TB tries surprise onside kick after TD, recovers ball, but flagged for offsides.
@MilkmanDanimal: I am honestly so shocked by the way the Bucs-Seahawks game is going that I haven't really enjoyed this at all.
Robert Weintraub: Wow, Glennon again, to Underwood for a TD under duress. Not sure if this means anything long term but he looks fabulous so far today.
@MilkmanDanimal: Glennon's big problem in earlier weeks was terrible ball placement, it was never just where the WR needed it. Today, it's been great.
Robert Weintraub: Somewhere Tim Tebow, the master of the jump pass at Florida, is weeping in envy.
@MilkmanDanimal: I don't want to say it's been a bad season, but I still thought Tampa would lose when up 21-0.
Vincent Verhei: SEA has 1st-&-goal at 3, needs TD to tie. Four runs for Marshawn? Nope, one pass from Wilson, intercepted.
Vincent Verhei: After play, Lynch sprints to sideline, presumably to murder his coaches.
Vincent Verhei: TB has no sacks against an OL missing both tackles and a center.
Vincent Verhei: Mike James averaging 5.6 yards a carry. Bucs come out in OT passing. Of course they do.
Robert Weintraub: Seahawks coverage in the 2nd half is night and day from the first. Glennon was able to buy time and find guys. Now he has to eat it.
@MilkmanDanimal: I would like to die now, rather than waiting for the crushing disappointment to take me out five minutes from now.
Scott Kacsmar: I'd like to point out Seattle perfecting the optimal OT strategy right now. Quick three-and-out, great field position, drive for FG.
Vincent Verhei: Why did Russell even stand up? If you're taking a knee, just stay down on your knee!
Danny Tuccitto: @FO_VVerhei yeah, fetal seems like good idea. have to assume schiano designates player for big leg drop or figure-four, though.
This may be stream-of-consciousness and perhaps incoherent. You have been warned.
In the first half, Mike Glennon and Russell Wilson were playing like, well, each other. Glennon was under pressure, but slipping out of tackles, looking upfield, and hitting passes downfield. Wilson, meanwhile, didn't do much (only eight passes in the first half), but it was he, not Glennon, who had the interception in the red zone. Also, Earl Thomas had a nightmare first half. He missed a tackle on a run that eventually gained 20-some yards, he was called for a DPI that wiped out his own interception, and he gave up an easy completion on a seam route (followed by a half-the-distance personal foul) to set up Mike James' Tebow-esque jump-shot touchdown pass to a receiver who was sitting down in the end zone.
And speaking of James, he finished with 158 yards rushing, and most of that was his doing. He was breaking tackles and pushing piles all day long. Why, then, did the Bucs pass on third-and-2 when up by one score in the fourth quarter? I don't know. I don't know.
Seattle's pass coverage was much better after halftime. It looked like it was simply less zone, more man. Glennon was still able to slip away from tackles for the occasional scramble (amazing to see a guy who looks so slow doing so much with his feet) and he avoided the turnover, but the defense forced him to eat the ball or throw it away.
So, last week, the big deal was that Marshawn Lynch finished the Rams game with only eight carries. He spent some time on the sidelines today, I think with a knee injury, but he was plenty effective at the beginning and end of the game. So when Seattle had a first-and-goal from the 3, needing a touchdown to tie in the fourth quarter, We're getting four Lynch carries, right? No, Wilson threw a play-action pass on first down that was intercepted. After the play, Lynch took off sprinting to the sideline. I assume he politely let the coaches know that he was available for running plays, if they so desired.
Anyway, that brings us back to Wilson. Yes, he had two bad interceptions in scoring territory. But man, otherwise, what a game. Missing his top two receivers (Rice and Harvin), his top two tackles, and by the end of the game, his Pro Bowl center, he completed the biggest comeback in team history, with three total touchdowns and a game-winning field goal (though Lynch had most of the yards on that drive). Doug Baldwin filled in for Sidney Rice and got most of the receiving yards. He had back-to-back drops in the first half, but got his act together in the second, including one of his trademark toe-dragging sideline grabs.
I'm not worried about the offense, at least not in the long term, because those three linemen are coming back, and Darrell Bevell can theoretically learn from his mistakes. But the performance against the run is very disconcerting.
Robert Weintraub: Haloti Ngata strikes again--knocked out Jason Campbell by falling on him (late). Say hello once more to B. Weeden.
@L_Crosby: Jason Campbell's out for Cleveland? Branden Weeden is a witch. Pretty sure he's been replaced three times and all three guys got hurt
Robert Weintraub: The Browns receivers--yes, that lot--are making all sorts of tough catches in traffic today.
@blotzphoto: If this Browns team had a semi competent QB they would be scary. The defense is beastly.
@blotzphoto: Ye Olde Punt and Fumble recovery play puts the Browns in Ye Olde Red Zone.
Scott Kacsmar: I just pictured Dallas Clark getting tackled and breaking into thousands of pieces like the T-1000 did after liquid nitrogen.
@THEOSU7: After his worst game in his career, Davone Bess has responded with what is undoubtedly his best
Robert Weintraub: Browns convert 4th and 1 at Balt 40 up 3 w/3:00 left. Gutsy call, and made it on Campbell rollout and throw across his body.
@THEOSU7: 4th and goal on 4 up 3 with 17 seconds left in Cleveland. Pretty sure running the football is the proper play on 4th.
Robert Weintraub: Roethlisberger can't hold it that long when he knows a blitz is coming and his OL stinks. Strip sack as a result.
Scott Kacsmar: That looked like the pick-six return in SB 45. This time Ben wasn't even hit as he threw it. Terrible.
Aaron Schatz: @FO_ScottKacsmar I think Brown had the guy beat. Big Ben had to lead him down the field, though. Underthrew instead of overthrew.
Rivers McCown: Assuming that'll be the end of the @BillSimmons idea where someone would trade multiple first-round picks for Roethlisberger
@grantbosse: Polomaulu is at the guessing stage of his career. He guessed poorly.
Aaron Schatz: I think that was quarters. Replay seems to show Ryan Clark just jumped on something else & left Amendola wide open for 43-yard gain.
Aaron Schatz: Good block by Fernando Velasco on screen to Le'Veon Bell. I've actually noticed a few good plays by Velasco today.
@csoandy: The Patriots are really a Jekyll and Hyde team this year. This second half, the physique of Jekyll and the brains of Hyde.
Aaron Schatz: My favorite of all John Madden's books was "one butt cheek equals two feet."
Aaron Schatz: Patriots rookie watch: Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce have worked themselves to inactive irrelevance; Dobson is stud in waiting.
Aaron Schatz: Somehow, Jerricho Cotchery owned the Pats when he was with the Jets, was little used in PIT for a couple yrs, now owns them again.
@Foosball_Wizard: "You gotta play run, 100%." -Phil Simms. As the words left his lips Brady throws an 81 yard TD to Dobson.
Scott Kacsmar: Steelers have never allowed more than 54 points since 1940, so a TD here might set another futility record.
@Foosball_Wizard: Blount runs over PITT D for TD to put Pats' total at 54 points Showing his patriotism, he hugs revolutionary war vets in endzone
@csoandy: Steelers just trying to get out if the stadium, and convince their low-information fans they haven't quit.
Aaron Schatz: Somehow we looked up at the end of this game and the struggling Patriots offense had gained 600 yards. I have no idea how this happened. Maybe it seemed strange because so much of it came at the end of the game. But they had 500 yards or so even before the 81-yard touchdown bomb to Aaron Dobson with about five minutes left in the game. The Steelers tied it up 24-24 halfway through the third quarter and the Pats followed that with a 60-yard field goal drive, a 34-yard touchdown drive, a 61-yard touchdown drive, a 93-yard touchdown drive (with the Dobson bomb) and a 28-yard touchdown drive.
Gronk's had an effect on the games he has played in so far, but especially today. He's wide open when the Steelers play Cover-3, and he also made catches against nickelback Cortez Allen when the Steelers tried to play press man. I would have to go back and look at the film but I would bet that when Ryan Clark left the deep left part of the field wide open for Danny Amendola to catch a 57-yard pass in the second quarter, Clark was jumping at a Gronk route on the right side of the field.
The Steelers really do need to give up on this attempt to be a ground-and-pound team, and they need to take advantage of the fact that they have very good receivers and an excellent quarterback. Yes, Jonathan Dwyer had a couple of big long runs but those were the only really good holes. The line is bad, but it seemed to be better at pass-blocking than run-blocking now that Mike Adams has been benched at left tackle (not that Kelvin Beachum is anything special) and of course Roethlisberger excels at getting away from the pass rush and making plays (except at the end of this game, because everyone was covered). Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are very good, and Jerricho Cotchery looked like his old self. That's not just playing the Pats, he had an above-average DVOA going into this game. I wonder why he sort of disappeared and didn't get used for a couple of years. Markus Wheaton, the rookie who was supposed to take his job as third receiver, has been out a few weeks with a broken finger.
As for the defense, the pass rush is just completely gone this year. There's almost nothing. And that's going to leave your secondary out to dry a lot of the time. Ike Taylor got torched by Aaron Dobson on the bomb touchdown but it isn't like that happens to him all the time, it's pretty rare. Allen is good. Gay is reasonable. But they can't keep everyone covered forever while the quarterback has time to throw, and they simply can't have a safety make a mistake and leave a receiver wide open downfield like Amendola was twice today.
Scott Kacsmar: I know we're an advanced stats site, but saying the Steelers had their worst display of defense in team history by allowing a team record 55 points and a team record 610 yards says enough for me. Most teams avoid Troy Polamalu, but the good ones with the best quarterbacks have a decade of tape that shows this guy will guess and make mistakes, which gets exploited almost every time he faces such an opponent. It was as poor as I've seen today with the amount of wide open receivers. It doesn't matter how badly Tom Brady was struggling the last month. When he's protected, which he was, he's going to feast on those plays.
The Steelers have never had much success against this offense except for Halloween 2004 -- a day when Deion Branch and Corey Dillon were out, and Brady had some uncharacteristic turnovers in the first quarter. We know what happened in the rematch that year when those players returned. Brady and Branch burned them over the top, which usually is set up after some short passes, but even today that was hardly necessary with the coverage (or lack thereof) downfield. Then in 2011, Dick Lebeau finally got smart and used more man-to-man coverage, though the best defense was a Pittsburgh ball-control offense that day.
On offense, Ben Roethlisberger looked shaky early, which has been a 2013 theme. His first interception looked like a carbon copy of the one thrown to Green Bay's Nick Collins in Super Bowl XLV. The difference this time is he wasn't hit on his arm when he threw it, it was just a badly underthrown pass. In half the games this season he's trying to lead a comeback from 17-plus points in the fourth quarter, which is a pipe dream. He looked better as the game went on, especially in the third quarter when this contest surprisingly was tied up at 24, but it was not enough on a day where the defense had such a historically bad performance.
I don't know if the Patriots "are back," but this looked like any one of their dominant performances from 2007-12.
Aaron Schatz: LeBeau was using more man coverage as the game went along, and the Patriots ended up shredding it in the fourth quarter, so that strategy may not be a long-term one either.
Also, as I noted, I think a couple things that may have looked on TV like Polamalu mistakes looked from up in the press box like Ryan Clark mistakes.
Rivers McCown: …I … what. Play-action bombs, big special teams plays, no Ed Reed … what team am I covering today?
Rivers McCown: Here are two true facts about Andre Johnson: 1) Andre Johnson is always open. 2) No other facts matter.
Ben Muth: Glad to see the ref call lineman downfield. That slant-screen play has really exploded in the last year and a half and is illegal.
Aaron Schatz: Great play by Andre Johnson, got past CB, slowed a little, made Bethea slow a little, then put on the jets to pass him and catch TD
@MilkmanDanimal: Dear Houston fans; don't get too excited. Signed, Tampa fans.
Rivers McCown: So, among the other things Trent Richardson can't do; he blew that block pretty well
Ben Muth: JJ Watt : the Colts o-line :: Joey Chestnut : hot dogs.
@Shake1n1bake: The Colts have repeatedly failed to cover Andre Johnson or block JJ Watt. They had two weeks to prepare for this game
@MilkmanDanimal: Case Keenum has taken classes at the Matthew Stafford School Of Flinging It At Your Really Good Receiver.
Rivers McCown: Always. Open. (Just in case you forgot.)
Ben Muth: Colts game plan of not blocking JJ Watt & not covering Andre Johnson hasn’t worked in the 1st half. Interested to see how they adjust
Scott Kacsmar: The dirt is leading the Colts in catches and it's not even close tonight. I think I like Wayne more than the dirt.
Vincent Verhei: At halftime, A.Johnson has 7 rec, 190 yds. Rest of team: 2 rec, 18 yds.
Rivers McCown: All Ed Reed roughness is, by definition, necessary.
Vincent Verhei: Again announcers make the "go for 1 now so you can go for 2 later" argument. If you need 2-pointer eventually, why not do it now?
Rivers McCown: Daryl Sharpton did a great job of reading that screen and failing to tackle a guy who can barely average there yards a carry.
@MilkmanDanimal: Trent Richardson didn't kill the clock; the clock got so depressed watching him run it killed itself.
@nath_on_fire: What kind of odds can I get on "Wade Phillips settles for a 52-yard field goal as soon as it's in range and Randy Bullock misses?
Rivers McCown: Andre Johnson is good at football.
Cian Fahey: Andre Johnson is good at catching the football.
Rivers McCown: No, trust me, he's good at all the football things.
Aaron Schatz: Rivers, not that you want to think about this right this second, but... after the game is over, I would love your thoughts on how the Colts shut down Johnson in the second half.
Rivers McCown: I think the Colts stopped biting on the bootleg, which meant Keenum wasn't getting quite so long to throw downfield. They also seemed to play a lot more single-high safety and tried to exploit his ability to quickly discern where the ball should go.
Cian Fahey: Conservative play calling too seemingly.
Scott Kacsmar: There was no Reggie Wayne, no Rosencopter, but it's still the third time since 2008 the Colts came back from a three-score deficit to win in Houston. I'm still not sure how it happened, but I think we'd be naïve not to believe Gary Kubiak collapsing at halftime had a negative impact on Houston. Beyond just the players and a seemingly more conservative approach in the second half, you could sense it in the home crowd. That's a scary situation to deal with.
Andrew Luck looked horrible for most of the game, but once he started going to T.Y. Hilton (two targets in the first half; 10 in the second) instead of Griff Whalen things got better, as did his pass protection. That 58-yard touchdown made the comeback possible, if not probable. From there it was just another typical finish by the Colts. Great throws and the defense doing just enough. That draft pick of kicker Randy Bullock is going to haunt the Texans, who passed on Greg Zuerlein and Blair Walsh (not to mention undrafted Justin Tucker) for Bullock a year ago.
I thought after the Chiefs game Case Keenum deserved another start and at 2-6, I see no reason for him not to finish the season. He has good mobility and can get it downfield. Obviously Andre Johnson is still a top wide receiver. The talent's there, but any hope of turning the season around went down the drain tonight. If I'm the Colts I'm still nervous going forward without Wayne, but they must find ways to feed Hilton early and often. He's clearly the best thing they have going on offense after Luck.
Rivers McCown: Okay. This one.
I'm going to put aside the Kubiak thing in a little compartment that isn't related to football and not talk about it much. One of the most surreal things I've seen at a football game in my life. I walked up to get some press box fare, and the head coach is down on the field. You know, that happened at a baseball game in Houston and they actually suspended the game. Not that the NFL would ever dream of that, but, just saying.
I am of the opinion that when the Kubiak Texans are forced into improving themselves (being dragged kicking and screaming, I imagine) by reality, they actually do a very good job of that. When Kubiak by all means should have lost his job and they brought in Danieal Manning, Johnathan Joseph, and Wade Phillips, things were much better. When the running back situation looked woeful in 2009, they wound up hitting a combo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. This season, when Matt Schaub went bad and then down, Kubiak has done an admirable job of tailoring his system to fit Case Keenum. (And Keenum has been quite a surprise, as well, of course, but I'll get to that in a bit.)
The things that keep the Texans from being a contender are issues of accountability. Things that are clear to any unbiased observer, and things that they continue to double down on. Ideas like "Derek Newton, credible right tackle," or "Darryl Sharpton will surely stay healthy this year, right?" Giving Schaub a giant extension before he even set foot on the field after his Lisfranc injury. Putting another giant extension on Brian Cushing even though he's frequently found his way on the sideline. Continuing to defend spread teams like the Patriots and Packers as if blitzing them frequently isn't going to just make it easier for the star quarterback to find the mismatch. But don't worry! Bob McNair is coming down from the offices to give an interview, and he thinks if we just give this current setup another year, it's sure to change! Injuries never happen in the NFL!
And with that little mini-rant, we come to something I have touched on about eight times in this space in the last year-and-a-half: special teams coach Joe Marciano, and his continued employment. Houston finished dead last in special teams last season. They came into this game 30th, but they've actually been worse than they were last season. (I don't watch quite as much NFC East games as the average FO staffer, so I can only imagine that Giants and Redskins special teamers are literally set on fire before they take the field, because that's the only way I can imagine a special teams unit being worse than Houston's.) Despite ample evidence that, hey, Trindon Holliday and Jacoby Jones performed much better for other teams and maybe that should be a warning sign, the Texans brought in a special-teams assistant (Bob Ligashesky), and a pair of big legs in Randy Bullock and Shane Lechler ... and this unit is still completely abysmal. It's almost like the coaching was a problem that anyone with eyes could see. Bullock shouldn't survive this weekend. No NFL team can have a kicker go one-for-four in this era and not consider it a problem. Keshawn Martin shouldn't be returning kicks until it is put into his head that maybe returning every kick out of the end zone nine yards deep isn't the best idea. But Marciano shouldn't have survived last year. And as long as he's not being held accountable, what does the rest of this matter?
Everyone is reaching for their big-picture Case Keenum comparison after two games and that exciting first half. Stylistically, he reminds me a lot of Jake Locker. He can buy a little more time than you think he'd be able to, and that helps him find guys on comeback routes late in the play. He also has no fear of trying to make any throw on the field -- a definite asset -- but isn't consistent enough at this point to actually finish all of them. His functional pocket awareness still needs a little work -- both on the move and in man-blitz spots. I'm not sold on him as an answer at quarterback yet, but he's definitely a better one than Schaub would have been.
On a big-picture level, I don't think the Texans have a lot to be worried about. Few teams have two players as good as Johnson and J.J. Watt. This is a year where, like we covered with the Vikings last week, they've rolled snake eyes on every conceivable weakness. This team creates a lot of new and exciting ways to lose every week.
As for the Colts, I think Pep Hamilton did a good job of shoring up pass protection problems late in this game after the Texans blitzed the Colts into oblivion in the first half. Andrew Luck looked a little like he did in the Jaguars game earlier this year in the first half. He was out of sync, and he missed a few open receivers when he actually did have time. Then, in the second half, he did Andrew Luck stuff, as Andrew Luck is wont to do. The deep bomb to T.Y. Hilton was ridiculous. I am encouraged by Hilton's work, though I think he's still below-average as an underneath receiver and I'm not sure any current Colts have the skill set to adequately replace Reggie Wayne. Their corners had problems with Andre Johnson; big whoop, so should everyone's.
195 comments, Last at 17 Jan 2014, 2:47am by Coach Factory Store Online