Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
13 Jan 2014
compiled by Rivers McCown, Andrew Potter, and Ben Jones
For this year's playoffs, we have a modified format for our Audibles at the Line feature, combining our Twitter feeds with our e-mail discussion. Firstly, the arrival of the playoffs brings with it the return of our usual back-and-forth staff e-mail conversation. Secondly, every game 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.
After the last game finishes, 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 the comments in this feature are 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.
Danny Tuccitto: wait. is gregg williams back at DC for the saints?
Vincent Verhei: The Seattle wind is the 13th man.
@nath_on_fire: It looks like Payton's strategy is to eliminate the Seahawks secondary- their biggest defensive strength- with RB-heavy gameplan.
Aaron Schatz: Seahawks OL just kicking NO's ass. Fitting the one holding to blow a big run was on the backup TE
@robbbbbb: Pete Carroll looks like a drowned rat. An overjoyed, hyperactive, drowned rat.
Danny Tuccitto: that wilson bait-and-switch play brought to you by my brother screwing with me in tecmo bowl 30 years ago.
@robbbbbb: The Seahawk D just held Drew Brees to 34 yards passing in the 1st half. Wow. Weather assisted, but still awesome.
Danny Tuccitto: at some point, the NO OL is going to stop blocking air on their RB screen plays, right?
Aaron Schatz: Very nice play call on the 2pt conversion. Everyone looking at the bunch, run it in.
Aaron Schatz: I don't remember Drew Brees generally being this good at getting out of sacks.
@therotund1b: One of the big stories of the game: no success on staple plays. Screens for New Orleans, slants for Seattle.
Aaron Schatz: And that's a good example of why you were unemployed for most of the year, Shayne
Vincent Verhei: Saints wisely not spiking it, using every down they have.
Aaron Schatz: Apparently, Colston didn't realize "start lateraling if you catch it" didn't apply if there were more than zero seconds left.
@ZackFlatto: So many tactical errors in the second half: Saints wasted timeouts, Lynch 2nd TD, and Colston's game ending headscratcher.
Vince Verhei: Two pre-game observations:
1) The anticipation for this game in Seattle is like nothing I've ever seen before. The history of the Seahawks is pretty sorry. This is the first time they've really been expected to contend for a Super Bowl, and then followed through with a great regular season. Usually it seems the like playoffs are a lucky bonus for the Seahawks. This year, everyone just assumed they would be there, and today is like the real season opener, the day everyone has been waiting for.
2) It's unfortunate, then, that so many people won't be able to see it. The weather around here has been horrible for 12 hours now, sheets of rain, powerful winds, and tens of thousands without power. I haven't lost power yet, but my house has shaken in the wind multiple times, and who knows how long I'll actually be able to watch this game. But that seems like good news for a Seahawks win today.
Scott Kacsmar: Either I'm letting the Percy Harvin hit influence my perception or I'm watching the game at a very high volume, but the hitting seems more intense and physical in this game than usual through the first quarter. I like that the Saints are trying to establish the run, but Drew Brees has to throw something beyond the line of scrimmage on this next drive, down 6-0. Special teams already having a big impact, specifically the kickers.
Aaron Schatz: I think Michael Bennett just forced a fumble with his back. You don't see that very often.
Great blocking by Sweezy and Giacomini on the Marshawn Lynch TD to make it 13-0.
Tom Gower: Given Seattle's defense, I thought New Orleans' best chance was to win a lower-scoring game. Maybe 13-10, maybe 20-17, something like that. Of course, part of winning a low-scoring game is "not giving up points every time Seattle has the ball." Three Seattle possessions, thirteen points. Granted, two of them came on short fields, which is why "bad punting" and "fumbling" are generally not part of winning a low-scoring game. Still plenty of time left, over 44 minutes, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Payton stick with the run, but the defense needs to get a lot better quickly.
Scott Kacsmar: There were actually Seattle fans (I assume) throwing Skittles at Russell Wilson after that Lynch TD. Like throwing them right at his head. How dumb can people get?
Mike Ridley: Pete Carroll actually seems determined to run on third down this week. In their loss to Arizona, they threw on every third down, including multiple third-and-2's or less.
Scott Kacsmar: Mark Ingram ball security issues, Percy Harvin being given the business, and seemingly every pass play is a screen or failed completion. Throw in poor punts and there's our game so far.
Rob Weintraub: Great play by Wagner to snuff out another Saints drive. I feel like he hasn't been talked about much this season, and I've only seen a handful of Hawks games. Was he dinged up, or simply lost in the shuffle, or did he take a step back?
Vince Verhei: Overshadowed by his teammates. He's a big reason the Seahawks are so good in coverage against RBs.
Rob Weintraub: Figured as much. Sometimes it does seem as though the Hawks D is just 11 Richard Shermans for all the media oxygen he takes up.
Cian Fahey: I think he has just two catches so far, but Percy Harvin's fingerprints are all over this game right now(late second quarter).
Aaron Schatz: It looks to me like the Saints are really trying to be physical with him, maybe even in an effort to put him back on the sidelines. Not by injuring him, per se, but I definitely get the sense of a perception around the league that Harvin is soft and the desire to get knocked around ain't too high there.
Cian Fahey: Maybe soft. Definitely feared.
Scott Kacsmar: Well Saints just put another big, Rodney Harrison-like hit on Harvin at the end of another incompletion. Rough day for him.
Danny Tuccitto: "It looks to me like the Saints are really trying to be physical with him, maybe even in an effort to put him back on the sidelines. Not by injuring him, per se, but I definitely get the sense of a perception around the league that Harvin is soft and the desire to get knocked around ain't too high there."
I'm Gregg Williams, and I approve this message.
Tom Gower: 29 minutes for Drew Brees to complete a pass beyond the line of scrimmage. Bad tackling. Penalties on third down to continue drives. Special teams miscues. Fumble. In a word, yuck in the first half from the Saints.
Rob Weintraub: One could see this first half as a harbinger of things to come this weekend in terms of competitiveness. On the other hand, one could have said the same thing after the first half of the first game last weekend, and that turned out great, except for my damn team.
Rivers McCown: The New Orleans first half game plan was sort of strange. Okay yeah, run the ball and shorten the game. Where are the risky play-action bombs? Where are the other high variance strategies?
Vince Verhei: Honestly, I think Sean Payton and Drew Brees are both rattled. The game plan is out-of-character, and Brees has made a lot of bad throws for no reason. Don't know if it's the road, the noise, the weather, or what, but it looks like Brees having a bad day as much as the Seahawks D having a good day.
Aaron Schatz: The Saints' defense is keeping them in this game. The offense looks awful. The defense is playing as physical as Seattle's defense.
Rivers McCown: Russell Wilson has not been sharp on the slants today, either.
Rob Weintraub: A little more than 16 minutes to go, and it's still a 16-point game. Sure, it feels like the Saints will get shut out, but if you're a Seahawks backer you gotta be disquieted that this is still just a two-score game.
Tom Gower: Saints actually played some defense in the third quarter, though of course Wilson missing those third-down slants helped things.
Rob Weintraub: And now Vince and Co. are even more scared. 16-8, and the whole quarter to go.
Aaron Schatz: And Percy Harvin out with a concussion.
Note from Aaron: In the Seattle locker room after the game, Harvin was in a shoulder sling, so the issue was more than just a concussion.
I don't remember Drew Brees being this good at getting away from sacks. He's come alive in the second half of this game. Unfortunately, his offensive line hasn't quite come alive to the same extent.
Tom Gower: Terron Armstead's been playing pretty well. Not great, but not the same liability he was against Greg Hardy and Robert Quinn. It's right tackle Zach Strief who's been getting his lunch handed to him.
Aaron Schatz: And Jahri Evans a couple times, which is a bit of a surprise. There was one play where somebody, Avril or Bennett, just tossed him aside easily.
Rob Weintraub: That 1st and 20 defensive holding on a screen being an automatic first down always bugged me. Maybe not to the level of the 50-yard pass interference call that is essentially a score, but it does provide a huge tilt that doesn't seem warranted.
Matt Waldman: The safety misplaying that pass resulting in a 52-yard gain has happened at least four times in pro football this year. Everyone thinks of the Auburn-Georgia game, but the Eagles-Packers had one the week prior. If I were a DB coach I'd be compiling all of those plays for the off season to convey the message "don't be a hero".
Aaron Schatz: The fourth-and-15 for the Saints was a near-impossible decision for Sean Payton. First of all, it isn't quite a case of "you need a touchdown anyway" because you need both a touchdown and a two-point conversion. "You shouldn't kick a field goal down 8 in the fourth quarter" is not as easy a statement to make as "You shouldn't kick a field goal down 7 in the fourth quarter." And fourth-and-15 is extremely hard to convert. On the other hand, the weather is bad and you have a kicker you grabbed off his couch a couple of weeks ago who has never had a strong leg for long kicks. 48 yards is only not a long field goal if you believe in some kind of magical line at 50 yards that makes field goal attempts into "50-yarders." So near-impossible decision.
Tom Gower: As I described it on Twitter, an "all options suck" scenario. The only wrong call in my book would have been punting.
Saints screens are up there with Seahawks third down slants in terms of "burn this play" nominations from this game.
Cian Fahey Neither quarterback has played well today. The Seahawks have some serious concerns despite this being a relatively convincing victory. Wilson's confidence looks shot to be honest. Missed many plays he never missed early in season.
Rob Weintraub: Wilson will now be 2-1 in the playoffs, hence he's a "winner" in the eyes of the pigskin chattering classes, efficiency of play be damned. For now.
Mike Ridley: Completely agree. Bevell's refusal to run on third-and-short is maddening.
Scott Kacsmar: I actually think Wilson played better in his playoff loss (Atlanta) than either of his two wins.
Anyone thinking I overreacted to Ronnie Brown's touchdown last week, just wait until I unload on Marshawn Lynch today. This game would have had a drama-free final two minutes with three kneel downs if he just did the right thing and take a dive at the 1. He looked like he thought about it at least, but this should have never come down to what it did at the end.
Vince Verhei: Well, that had to be the least satisfying playoff win ever. What on earth was that game? Who were those men wearing Drew Brees' and Russell Wilson's jerseys? Why does Darrell Bevell's entire third-down playbook consist of slant routes? Why can't Seattle's receivers get open on slant routes? Why, when they did get open on those slant routes, did Wilson miss them? They built their lead largely because the Saints forgot how to run screen passes, then they sealed it only when Marques Colston did one of the dumbest things I've ever seen a man do on a football field.
I'm trying to imagine, hypothetically, if they win the Super Bowl like this, will I be happy? It's a moot point, because if they don't play any better they'll never get there. But next week they host the NFC Championship and I'm sitting here pissed off.
@Mercurius100: Seeking intelligent football commentary. Hear that LeGarrette Blount is the most important player tonight. Not what I'm looking for.
Aaron Schatz: Andrew Luck, in his youth, still has just a little too much love for his own ability to get the ball to covered receivers.
Aaron Schatz: No idea what Allen was trying to do at end there. Throw incomplete pass? Just kick out of EZ, take safety. Terrible snap.
@Mercurius100: There's two schools of thought, Dan Dierforf and everybody else in the world who has ever watched a football game.
@Raiderjoe_FO: Cotls in,good shape. Patriots too amny backups playing. Should wear out in 2nd half. Cream will rise to top. Tears in Fixboro tobite
Aaron Schatz: I just don't quite get why you go empty backfield on 3rd-and-2 when your running game is going as well as NE's.
Tom Gower: 2nd down T-Rich give, 3rd down fade. The Colts call plays like they have a bad quarterback.
Andrew Potter: This is why the Colts are so good at coming back. They have a really good quarterback, and stop being afraid to use him.
Tom Gower: I wasn't sure about Andrew Luck's arm strength when he came out of Stanford, though it might be "just" Matt Ryan-ish. Never mind.
Aaron Schatz: At least if this game comes down to a botched Brady hold, Tony Romo won't have to feel so lonely anymore.
Aaron Schatz: Jamie Collins will never live up to his SackSEER projection because he's not strictly a pass rusher, but he's gonna be a good one.
Aaron Schatz: Tom Brady: 0 passing touchdowns today. LOL.
@pchicola: You run when you win, not win when when you run. Blount and NE proving the theorem right vs BUF and IND.
@squalltimore: 2013 Colts final scores that had never happened in NFL history: 39-33, 38-8, 40-11, 45-44, 43-22.
Danny Tuccitto: in acute case of superstition, i'm comforted that both home tms won today. 1's gotta lose, so CAR now w/ 50/50 shot, right? #MathJail
@pchicola: IND lost because they were expecting 2TE sets, spread passing game from NE. That's the intel they got from D. Branch.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots are really announcing their intention to run in this game, coming out in a lot of standard 21- and even 22-personnel sets. On defense, Talib goes looking for T.Y. Hilton as soon as the Colts break huddle, and moves around the field to cover him.
Colts would definitely have a better shot at this game if Andrew Luck could play defense, and also running back.
Cian Fahey: As I've said previously, tonight is a great example of how Andrew Luck doesn't drop into a pocket at the snap. He begins escaping a collapsing plastic bag.
Aaron Schatz: Can we clarify some things about Ryan Allen on that botched punt?
1) On no planet, including one where Dan Dierdorf lives, would giving the Colts the ball at the 2 be better than a safety and free kick.
2) I don't know if Allen was trying to throw an incomplete pass after he finally fielded that thing at the 2, but that's a colossal risk with three Colts crowded around you. Let's see... there's a good chance the refs call intentional grounding because there are no eligible receivers in the area, or you could throw a pick, or you could have a Colts guy hit your hand so you fumble it into their hands for a touchdown. Just kick it out the back of the end zone and take your goddamn medicine.
Andrew Potter: There was an eligible receiver right next to him. Tavon Wilson is the guy he was trying to throw to.
Aaron Schatz: Uh... come on guys, it's halftime. Someone else has to have a thought on this game so far, right?
Tom Gower: First half played out pretty unsurprisingly, I thought. New England's more run-heavy than they've been in the past, and they've been content to run it. It's worked out just well enough. Andrew Luck's had some bad luck, some questionable decisions, and a marvelous throw for the touchdown. The Colts have been using too much Trent Richardson and too much Stanley Havili, a sad but not particularly surprising change from last week.
Aaron Schatz: The Colts are taking Robert Mathis out of the game a lot when the Pats go with a power set, like the 22-personnel. When he comes in, he's lining up mostly at left end, going against RT Marcus Cannon. The Pats need to get Cannon a little help over there or the strip sack is coming.
Cian Fahey: Watching the referee wave incomplete and then throw the flag...that's just a joke really.
Tom Gower: You make the call that ends the play, then throw the flag. That was a call that stunk for the Colts, and I were a fan I'd be really annoyed, but Gordy wasn't playing the ball at all and the throw was close enough.
Scott Kacsmar: That was also one of those NBA-style calls where the ref emphatically motions for a penalty to the delight of the home crowd. Should have been a no call.
Rob Weintraub: No, Dierdorf, "everyone" had not stopped on the 2-pt conversion. Ridley was still fighting hard, and incredible as it may seem, no one saw the side judge's signal. And how he can determine how the whistles are blowing while watching a silent slo-mo replay is beyond me. The front porch awaits, Dan.
I tweeted before this drive that the Colts failure to punch it in at 21-12 will be their death knell. Giving up a 90-yd drive (helped mightily by an uncalled in the grasp and a shouldn't have been called DPI) only hastens the end.
Aaron Schatz: Even as a Pats fan, I'm with you on this Robert. It was hard to see the signal for the two-pointer being good. I guess whistles were blowing but I definitely can see why Butler would feel that everyone was still playing at that point. I didn't like that flag at all.
Rob Weintraub: OK, maybe I should have factored Luck in to that a wee more. Holy cow what an incredible throw that was to Hilton.
Aaron Schatz: And then Andrew Luck moves the Colts downfield for a touchdown to make it 29-22 on two ridiculous passes. That's it. Two. Wow. He's damn good.
Cian Fahey: Not sure I've ever seen two consecutive plays from a quarterback like those for the Brazil Q3 TD. That's simply phenomenal from Andrew Luck...phenomenal.
Scott Kacsmar: For better or worse, Colts just need to unleash Luck rest of the game. It's 29-22 now, but keep throwing and doing things quickly. That's what worked last week. The Colts' longest drive tonight is 5:19, but everything else is under 3:30 and most are under 90 seconds.
Cian Fahey: Pep Hamilton doesn't understand you Scott.
LaRon Landry completely misses the tackle on Blount's big TD in Q4. It's investments like that that make it impossible to say Ryan Grigson has been a good GM to this point.
Aaron Schatz: Well and, you know, the Trent Richardson trade.
Cian Fahey: Hard for me to criticize him for the Richardson trade. Most reacted at the time thinking it was a bargain. 99 percent of draft analysts expected him to be an elite player.
Aaron Schatz: If Stanley Havili injury makes Colts put game more in Luck's hands rather than running so much, it's the best thing that could happen for them.
MALLETT TIME!!!! And... he holds!
Wait, I'm sorry. That was BRADY holding the XP. Holy crap. That's nuts.
Tom Gower: Totally nuts. Sorry, I respect Belichick as much as anybody, but my starting QB would not be my emergency holder.
Aaron Schatz: the Patriots press was under the impression that Mallett was the emergency holder, which is why I thought it was Mallett out there. I have no idea why they went Brady. I agree on injury risk.
Scott Kacsmar: Again, a one-play scoring drive isn't the worst thing to happen to the Colts there. Now they can actually get back to being aggressive and letting Luck do his thing with 12:55 left. Offense wasn't impressive down by seven.
Cian Fahey: The story will be that Andrew Luck threw three INTs. The story should be that he dragged an awful roster to this point in the playoffs. An incredible feat.
Aaron Schatz: Him, Mathis, and Wayne for a few weeks followed by Hilton for a few weeks, but yeah. Pretty much.
Rob Weintraub: This upcoming Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl in the wintry mix at Giants Stadium is going to set a record for rushing attempts and, hopefully, shortest game as a result.
Aaron Schatz: Just going back to the discussion on Grigson: I agree that we all thought Richardson was a very good running back prospect based on college film and performance. To me the error of the trade was less about how much Richardson has sucked since arriving in Indy, and more about not understanding what the value of a good running back is in today's NFL compared to the value of a good player at other positions like cornerback, wide receiver, or defensive end.
Chuck Pagano, who apparently has never seen Andrew Luck's comeback numbers, punts on fourth-and-1 down 21 points. OK then.
Scott Kacsmar: Even with Joe Webb at quarterback I don't see how a coach can punt on that situation in the playoffs. Literally threw in the towel.
Cian Fahey: Asked this on twitter. Can you rank the four QBs who played today based on their displays?
Aaron Schatz: I would say Luck, Brady, Brees, and Wilson, in that order. Brees will probably end up with more DYAR in our stats but that will be a volume thing, in particular because of the final two drives.
Tom Gower: Cian, interesting question. I think I have to put Luck at #1, just because Indy has nothing at all aside from him throwing, and they need a lot considering what they've done defensively (minus that string of third down stops resulting in 3&outs). He's made some bad decisions, though, so maybe I'm letting the curve do too much. Brady's had some misadventures on deep throws (the Bethea near-INT, even the big pass to Amendola was underthrown), but most of the third down passes have been at least close. Wilson's third down slants and missed open receivers drove me nuts. Brees, at least relative to expectations and what his team needed from him, comes last. No, he didn't have Luck's interceptions, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
What will DYAR think? I'm guessing nobody stands out in too positive a way. It'll probably view Brees' late work more favorably than I do, plus I'm valuing the near-picks it ignores.
Cian Fahey: I'm growing less fond of "It's a QB league" with every week.
Aaron Schatz: They can totally dominate a game when they're totally on, but even the best quarterbacks are a lot more inconsistent than people understand them to be.
Rob Weintraub: We should at least acknowledge the crap weather both of today's games were played in. I find it hard to criticize any of the QBs given the conditions. There's a reason the best quarterbacked games played in the postseason so far were Luck and Smith last week--indoors.
Vince Verhei: Brees is going to win DYAR. No turnovers, giant opponent adjustments, and he'll get tons of credit for his not-quite-garbage time production on the last two drives.
Scott Kacsmar: That's why in the playoffs you have to really favor the teams capable of winning thanks to contributions from far more than just quarterback. Coming into today's game, Seattle and New England were clearly those teams. Tomorrow, I think the first game is a push (better weapons for Kaepernick) and San Diego has that advantage over Denver.
Just not sure I can recall a recent postseason when the quarterback play was so indecisive or unimpressive. The very first game with Luck and Alex Smith might have been the best QB display we've seen yet. Both made a lot of plays and had to carry their teams.
Danny Tuccitto: Chuck Pagano finishes the season with three timeouts to paradise. Friggin' awful.
Tom Gower: He punted on fourth-and-1, then didn't use his timeouts when the Patriots were burning clock. He'd clearly given up on the game. And then of course he has Luck out there throwing down three scores with less than 3 minutes to play. NFL conventional wisdom conservativeness at its most aggravating.
Rivers McCown: And kicked a field goal on the goal line. And went into halftime without trying to score despite having two timeouts. And he spat on Homer Smith's book. Okay, I made that last one up. But it wouldn't surprise me if he really did.
Vince Verhei: OK, another question: Who had the worse day, as a group, the four quarterbacks, or the four coaching staffs? New England is the only team that didn't have some bizarre play-calling/game-planning/clock-management.
Scott Kacsmar: The correct answer is...Marques Colston.
Danny Tuccitto: Apparently, Gregg Williams pulling double-duty at defensive coordinator this weekend. Like three extracurriculars already.
Aaron Schatz: This crew has read your articles on fewer penalties called in the playoffs, and they wish to file a dissenting opinion.
@MilkmanDanimal: Cam throws a bubble screen to Ginn who catches it full-stride instead of starting from a stop. Why don't more people do that?
Tom Gower: CAR O is 7th in Power situations, SF D 18th. Matchup edge, not that going on 4&G/1 isn't the right call anyway.
@CyrisJonfs: That was a case study for going on 4th down: pin them deep, near pick six, short punt, TD first play.
Aaron Schatz: Steve Smith is seriously a BAMF and the dude has lasted through a lot of bad QB play in Carolina.
@Foosball_Wizard: Against Newton, when you stunt up front they ain't gonna punt. This is a mnemonic device for Harbaugh and the Niners.
@Foosball_Wizard: If you have a bad internet connection like me it looks like Cam Newton is using a blink spell against the 49ers.
Danny Tuccitto: Cam really should have gone for a Flair Flop there.
Danny Tuccitto: Have to consult the charting, but not sure I've seen any QB sneaks or designed QB runs inside the 5 from SF all year.
Aaron Schatz: Whoo, Panthers OL has looked good all game but just struggled at worst possible time. Inability of WR to get open doesn't help.
@nath_on_fire: I'd love to see how those two sacks affect Carolina's win probability. Pretty brutal to no longer be able to cut it to one score.
Danny Tuccitto: Am I the only one noticing CAR isn't covering the center on these short-yardage plays? Easy QB sneak!
Aaron Schatz: Mmmm, says Frank Gore, this game clock is delicious.
Danny Tuccitto: Would have loved to see Buddy Ryan's polish defense on those last few plays.
Tom Gower: I hope Carolina's all-black uniforms cause them to do a pre-game haka.
Cian Fahey: At this point the NFL needs to clean slate with their officials. If these are the guys you put on playoff games then you've clearly got a major problem.
Rivers McCown: I dunno, I wasn't as down on that penalty as most. I saw it as kind of an attempt to keep the game from going off the chippiness scale. Don't think it worked.
Tom Gower: The Mike Mitchell penalty call is where the NFL seems to want to go. I don't like it much more than anybody else does, but Mitchell came in hard when the ball wasn't close to Davis. Not an auto-call like a blow to the head would have been, but I wasn't surprised to see a flag.
Colin Kaepernick made two more good throws on third down on the opening drive than I think he did in the regular season game between the two teams.
Aaron Schatz: This crew has read your articles on fewer penalties called in the playoffs, and they wish to file a dissenting opinion.
Quintin Mikell's almost-pick after the Panthers went for it on fourth-and-goal and failed would have been one of the greatest moments in the history of stat analysts trying to explain that going for it on the goal line pins your opponent back even if you fail.
Tom Gower: Starting at the San Francisco 32 and getting a touchdown pass on the first play isn't a bad argument in support either.
Sean McCormick: Yes, but the fact that Carolina immediately scored off the short field makes the point as well. (Just not as forcefully.)
Scott Kacsmar: Did Steve Smith play up the ankle injury this week? Looks as good as he has at any point this season.
Tom Gower: If I'm a Carolina fan, I'm beyond annoyed to be trailing at halftime after I thought we outplayed the 49ers for the majority of the first half. Playcalling from the 1, kicking the field goal after going for it, getting stuffed, and getting a touchdown off a short field(!), and, yes, the officiating.
Vince Verhei: Things I learned in the first half:
1) Captain Munnerlyn can't throw a headbutt, but Anquan Boldin can.
2) The Panthers haven't gotten the kind of pressure on Kaepernick I expected, but their coverage has been much better than I expected.
3) Hey, the 49ers got through a half without burning a timeout or taking a delay of game! Way to go!
4) Panthers hitting more plays downfield than they usually do, and Newton is scrambling more effectively than usual.
5) Steve Smith remains awesome.
Aaron Schatz: I appreciate that Ted Ginn hasn't sucked balls this year like in years past, but the most important thing the Panthers could add for next year would be a significant No. 2 receiver, bumping LaFell down to No. 3. You can really see the difficulty that guys other than Steve Smith and Greg Olsen have getting open.
In fact, given Smith's age, the second-most important thing the Panthers could add for next year would be a second significant No. 2 receiver so that the first significant No. 2 receiver is a rookie who can mature into a No. 1 when it is time for Smith to retire.
Scott Kacsmar: Panthers had the ball for 8:13 and didn't get a single point after back-to-back sacks knocked them out of field-goal range. This is an offense you can actually say is not built to come back from big deficits, but that drive had to put up at least a field goal. It's inexcusable to take up over half a quarter to get nothing. This linebacker corps for the 49ers is absurdly good.
Tom Gower: The refs will probably end up part of the story from this game, and they haven't been good, but Kuechly couldn't cover Vernon Davis in the end zone right before the half, the Panthers blew coverage on Boldin on the big play that set up the TD to make it 20-10, on the TD itself Florence overran the play, then the Panthers pulled off an 8-minute drive that ended in a punt after Newton took two bad sacks to knock them out of field goal or going for it range. And, yes, it may be a 6-point game instead of a 10-point one at the end of the third quarter if Rivera goes for it instead of kicking the field goal. Oh, yeah, toss in Dwan Edwards not coming away with the ball after the bad Kaepernick-Gore exchange in goal-to-go.
Aaron Schatz: I do think that Ahmad Brooks as a Pro Bowler has a bit of a sense of "Wow, wasn't John McCargo great when he played next to Mario Williams at NC State" but even if he's not really a Pro Bowl level guy, he's a Pro Bowl injury replacement-level guy. When Aldon Smith is your only starting linebacker who isn't going to the Pro Bowl, you have a good linebacker corps.
Rivers McCown: Ah, there's that 49ers timeout as the play clock runs down. Was worried this wasn't the same team.
Cian Fahey: Disagree on Ahmad Brooks. I think he's a star.
Early fourth quarter, looks like SF are going to win but I've been impressed by CAR. Critically, they look like a team that is just missing a few pieces. There is a lot of talent there moving forward.
(Also, Vontaze Burfict made the Pro Bowl in an inside linebacker position, but plays outside on the weak side.)
Rivers McCown: If I collide the fact that the Panthers were decisively humiliated on both scoreboard and yardage after the fourth-and-1 field goal with the idea of momentum, where does the worm hole I opened lead?
Tom Gower: They're still winning time of possession!
Aaron Schatz: I believe the answer is "Camazotz."
Vince Verhei: MVP of that game: San Francisco's offensive line. They thoroughly dominated the best front four in the league. Gave up one sack, and that was to a middle linebacker on a delayed blitz.
Tom Gower: I thought Carolina had the better of the play in the first half. San Francisco definitely had the better of the play on the second half. As Vince said, credit the offensive line, which let them just pound the Panthers on the ground in the second half after the first half's surprisingly pass-heavy gameplan.
Vince Verhei: In fact, if we're still doing Madden players, I would not be opposed to making all five players the starters on San Francisco's line.
Aaron Schatz: Except the Patriots OL deserves just as much credit for dominating the Colts in the run game... If you had to pick one specific 49ers lineman, who would it be?
@MilkmanDanimal: Wes Welker in his giant helmet looks like the world's most ADORABLE pee-wee football player.
@MilkmanDanimal: Let's skip the game and let Welker and Woodhead battle one-on-one at the 50 in a "Who's the most scrappy former Patriot" contest.
Tom Gower: Nice protection bust by San Diego. Fluker: "You got him." Woodhead: "No, you got him." Rivers: "Too late, he got me."
@jonnybblazin: This DEN/SD game is strange... Why aren't the players pushing the opposing players and shouting in their faces after every play?
@MulEdgeGJJ: aren't punters always defenseless? there for Eric Decker 'kicking' him in the helmet should be a penalty right?
Andrew Potter: @MulEdgeGJJ Punters are, by rule, always considered defenseless, but defenseless never applies to a player attempting a tackle.
Tom Gower: Donald Butler with a great example of "NFL Players Are Athletic" on that interception.
Tom Gower: Not quite 37 minutes for the #Chargers to complete a pass to a wide receiver. Good job, good effort guys.
Aaron Schatz: Biggest dif between game and pregame expectations: DEN pass rush/SD OL. OL so disappointing. Injury impact for those guys?
Aaron Schatz: Honestly, this game is a couple of weird bounces and Donald Butler's feet away from being like 38-0.
Tom Gower: San Diego knows where Quentin Jammer is in coverage
Aaron Schatz: That ball was uncatchable, but they still held. Should have been a five-yard penalty, not a DPI.
@nath_on_fire: Hey, sometimes you just have to kick to the Denver offense late in the 4th quarter and hope it works out somehow.
Tom Gower: Broncos have four first-half possessions: two touchdowns, one fumble on what I (and many others) think should have been an incomplete pass, and one tipped ball interception in the end zone. If they don't get some points to start the second half, this one could start to get interesting if Philip Rivers can complete a pass to a wide receiver, maybe even one more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Vince Verhei: Denver's defense just held the league's second-best passing team to 1 yard in the first half. And they did a lot of it with three-man rushes. And they're getting pressure with three men, too, it's not like they're getting coverage sacks.
And yet, it's only 14-0, because Denver's drive chart went TD, lost fumble, TD, red zone INT.
Aaron Schatz: I think the biggest issue with this game compared to what we would have expected going in is the performance of the Denver pass rush compared to the San Diego offensive line. The whole right side of the line didn't practice all week and I think they're clearly not playing at 100%. They're getting destroyed, and Rivers isn't getting time to throw, and while that's not the only reason the San Diego offense is completely shut down, it's a big part of it. The SD linemen will not be challenging the Pats and 49ers linemen for the right to get Football Outsiders Madden cards this week.
One other late note from the first half: Holy crap, they actually called a penalty on Denver on that Kansas City "wide receivers blocking downfield sort-of-screen" play that we're always complaining needs to be called a penalty almost every time. You think maybe we show that to the refs before they do Chiefs games next year?
Scott Kacsmar: This game is similar to Saints-Seahawks in that the No. 1 seed is letting the underdog hang around. Denver's offense is actually playing well, but some of their usual ball security problems is keeping the score down. Matt Prater just missed a field goal and barely made the last one. I think Ken Whisenhunt has to let Rivers loose here and go to the hurry-up. That last drive was painful to watch with the play clock almost always going under 10 seconds and having to burn a timeout.
Aaron Schatz: Well, they did finally let Rivers loose to start the fourth quarter. It's like they remembered that they had the second-best quarterback in the league this year or something.
Let's remember this game next time we hear that Team X should make sure to depend on the run game to keep (Manning/Rodgers/Insert QB Here) off the field. Because that strategy made the first half an entire waste of time for San Diego.
Rivers McCown: Yeah but running the ball kept the score down AND raised Mike McCoy's credit score.
Tom Gower: Broncos had four possessions in the second half: a field goal, a missed field goal following a third down drop, a touchdown, and a drive where they ran out the clock. I guess you could consider that progress, of a sort, for the San Diego defense. Just what, exactly, they were doing on defense on that third-and-17 conversion to Julius Thomas on the final drive is a mystery. It looked like Cover-3 to me with the wide underneath defender carrying the other receiver to create a void for the conversion, but I feel admit I need to watch the play a few more times from the all-22 to have a real idea of what happened. Either way, a bad play for a big conversion.
Like (presumably) Mike McCoy, I expected the Broncos to run after they kicked deep, so kudos to them for throwing on second and third and long instead of just plowing into the line twice and punting, choosing to trust in a defense that had real problems stopping San Diego once Chris Harris went out. They tried man, and the Chargers kept hammering Quentin Jammer. They tried zone, and Rivers found open receivers. If he can't play next week, that's a big loss. Maybe the Broncos may try Kayvon Webster, who was inactive this week, if Harris is indeed out, but that just means he's the player Brady tries to hammer instead. And, barring a surprising turnaround, no Rahim Moore off short-term IR to help at safety, even though he's eligible to return.
231 comments, Last at 15 Jan 2014, 12:14pm by bravehoptoad