Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Impact of the NFL's Kickoff Rule Change

After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?

06 Jan 2014

Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Weekend

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.

Kansas City Chiefs 44 at Indianapolis Colts 45

Tweets

@gberry523: Jamaal Charles being guided by the arm to the locker room certainly doesn't look good
Danny Tuccitto: Reminder: Knile Davis, 2013 speed score champion. not touting, need scouting, just reminding.
Ben Jones: The Colts were doing much better in the first quarter when Trent Richardson didn't touch the ball
@MrTimLivingston: I can't think of another play that could sum up Trent Richardson and his time with the Colts than that fumble.
Aaron Schatz: If Calvin Johnson had caught that shovel pass, it would be ruled that he did not complete the catch.
Danny Tuccitto: Has tiddly winks ever been mentioned in any other context than describing how competitive a person is?
@WhispersMoCo: Yes the lead is big, but these are the _Colts_. They specialize in late comebacks. Plenty of time left.
Peter Koski: If/When KC wins, last two playoff victories will have come from QBs acquired from #49ers via trade....um, you're welcome!
Aaron Schatz: That Husain Abdullah interception was a great example of how the Colts have all the momentum right now.
Danny Tuccitto: Does anything good for the O ever happen on a quick out? seems like it's always either a pick, a pick-six, or a meaningless gain.
‏@WhispersMoCo: I cannot imagine having any confidence in either of these defenses against either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Aaron Schatz: Andrew Luck has an amazing record of this but I'm also impressed at how the Colts' D turned it around.
Aaron Schatz: This comeback reminds me a lot of the 1992 Buffalo Bills, who of course went on to win the Super Bowl that year.
Danny Tuccitto: step 1: watch all the opponents' players get hurt. step 2: ??? step 3: win.
@Mercurius100: Put me down for picking against the Colts next week, no matter what the spread is. Huge injury luck is not a skill.

Longform

Danny Tuccitto: Am I the only one who can't hear Dan Hicks' voice without thinking I've screwed up and turned on a swim meet?

p.s. Speaking as someone who doesn't watch Notre Dame games.

Cian Fahey: When the Detroit Lions played without Calvin Johnson in the regular season I compared it to playing with a backup quarterback. If the Chiefs lose Jamaal Charles, it's a similar effect.

Aaron Schatz: Well, this may be a strong test for the league's concussion protocol. I don't know if Charles has a concussion, but if he does, the Chiefs have to keep him out. But will they?

Andrew Potter: If he fails the concussion tests, they'll keep him out. I don't have any doubts about that.

Scott Kacsmar: Well there goes Charles back to the locker room. That's never good news. It's a good thing Knile Davis got a lot of work last week, but we're talking about the best offensive player on the team being taken out of the game on the first drive. Makes finishing this opening drive for a touchdown even more important.

Tom Gower: At least Davis is talented, though of course he doesn't have Charles' vision for holes at the second level. When the Ravens injured Chris Johnson in 2008, I had to watch LenDale White carry the ball.

Aaron Schatz: Dwayne Bowe was nice enough to jump off the back of the milk carton to catch the slant for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 6.

Cian Fahey: Off coverage on Bowe in the slot at the goal line makes no sense at all to me.

Rob Weintraub: Speaking of concussions -- Dwayne Bowe!

Rivers McCown: LaRon Landry plays safety like an eight-year old playing Madden: If it can't be hit sticked, ignore it.

This no-huddle got a lot of play by the Colts to wind down the season. It wasn't always successful, but the throws were there to be made.

It's certainly better than watching Trent Richardson try to run behind six linemen and a fullback, anyway.

Mike Ridley: Chiefs' defense is continuing to look like the unit that allowed 420 yards per game over the last seven games.

Scott Kacsmar: I was kind of hoping for the Colts to go three-and-out so I could make a joke about that darn Week 17 playoff rest making them look very rusty today. Of course it was the Chiefs who rested, but wow, that was some opening drive from Indy. Nothing but quick passes to negate the pass rush. Often this year the criticism of Chuck Pagano has been keeping a leash on Luck early in games, but they clearly brought a plan to feature him today.

Tom Gower: Spread, empty, no huddle, no Trent Richardson runs... it's like the Colts realize Andrew Luck is their best player and are trying to win the game or something. Weird considering Pagano's quotes today and how they called plays in the regular season. After midseason, though, I expected Marcus Cooper to be the Human Target in the postseason, not Dunta Robinson like it was that opening drive.

Danny Tuccitto: What did Stanley Havili ever do to you, Rivers?

Cian Fahey: Love this start, but this could get scarier if Trent Richardson becomes a feature as a receiver. In spite of all his struggles, he still terrifies me as a receiving back in this type of spread, hurry up offense.

Matt Waldman: Junior Hemingway is now Andy Reid's KC version of Jason Avant - same school, same game.

Scott Kacsmar: All three main cornerbacks for the Colts were banged up coming into this one. Vontae Davis looked like he barely contacted the receiver there, but a huge penalty for illegal contact to negate the sack. Now Bowe just got inside of Toler for a 63-yard gain, so he's made a play against all three of these corners. Not sure if the Colts have anyone good to put on him today.

Ben Muth: Am I the only one that is puzzled by the love Geoff Schwartz gets from a lot of media outlets? He's a valuable utility lineman but I have never once watched him and thought of him as a guy that needs to be a starter. He's at best the 50th best guard in the league, and people act like it's a travesty that he can't find a starting job.

Rivers McCown: Well this looks a lot like the Colts defense circa the middle of the season.

Ben Muth: I think Toler was expecting safety on that long Avery TD, but man did he look slow. It was like he was running in sand.

Matt Waldman: Knile Davis same weak pad level on that first attempt where he had the hole and should have gone through that linebacker. Physically he's a stud, technically, the Chiefs are getting the best from him when they run option pitches. That should tell you something.

Cian Fahey: We got a separate replay on the International Coverage over here. The Donnie Avery touchdown appeared to be the safety's fault. He bought on the out route while the cornerback was expecting safety help inside. Blown assignment, relatively easy throw once recognized.

Tom Gower: Yeah, it was like one of the Ravens touchdowns last year. The deep safety -- in this case Antoine Bethea -- jumps the inside receiver's route, leaving the outside receiver with room to run over the top. One cornerback in a tough position (for him) to beat, and that's a touchdown.

Matt Waldman: Is it just me or does Coby Fleener look like young Anakin in those Star Wars prequels? With those chops, Luck could be Chewbacca.

Rivers McCown: One blown coverage and one big missed tackle on the long Bowe gainer and all of the sudden certain Twitter media ready to pounce on those who would call Alex Smith limited.

Ben Muth: Maybe Alex Smith just plays his best in first round playoff games (second round if his team got a bye). Played great in that New Orleans game too.

Scott Kacsmar: Fleener looks like he's about to audition for The Vampire Diaries or something CW-related.

Mike Mayock just said the Colts aren't built to come from behind. If he means the defense won't allow the bleeding to stop, then he's right. Offensively, they're capable, but it's hard to see where the stops are going to come from. All the attention will go to the Jamaal Charles injury, but for as good as he is, he's still just a running back. This game continues to show us how weakness at cornerback usually gets exploited in big games. When it's all three cornerbacks struggling, that's impossible to overcome.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, I don't have any clue what the hell he's talking about that the Colts aren't built to come from behind. Has the guy missed Andrew Luck's entire freakin' NFL career? They come from behind all the time. They just generally can't do it if their defense is playing this crappy.

Aaron Schatz: If Calvin Johnson had caught that shovel pass touchdown to Anthony Sherman, it would be ruled that he did not complete the catch.

Tom Gower: No Calvin Johnson rule, as Sherman wasn't going to the ground. Control, 2 feet, act common to the game, possession in the end zone, touchdown, play over. If he's running in the field of play, it's then a fumble, but the play's over.

Aaron Schatz: DO NOT RUIN MY JOKE!!!

Scott Kacsmar: Definitely agree with going for it. Great call too.

Aaron Schatz: Luck on the zone read. As far as I know, first time that Luck has run a zone read all season.

Cian Fahey: Luck shouldn't have slid. It's the playoffs and he has the speed/size to potentially get to the end zone there.

Scott Kacsmar: I did think it was a little premature to slide. Would love to see the All-22 angle on that one.

Cian Fahey: Even if Kendrick Lewis gets to him, I think he would have, Luck isn't easy to take down. Especially not for Lewis.

Scott Kacsmar: How often does the road team score 31 points in the first half in the playoffs? Only one other time: 1987 Vikings had 31 in New Orleans. Won 44-10. Upset the 49ers the following week, though I always am skeptical of 1987 results given the replacement games.

Aaron Schatz: Unfortunately, Luck is getting almost no help today, especially from his defense but also from his offensive line.

Rivers McCown: His offensive line takes way too much heat. Yeah, they're not doing well against Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, but Luck holds on to the ball as long as any quarterback in the league. It's gotten worse without Wayne, and Da'Rick Rogers and Brazill have been total non-factors up to now. (Final drive of the first half.)

Danny Tuccitto: Refs definitely should have penalized Derrick Johnson for that hit on a defenseless receiver (i.e., his own guy).

Ben Muth: I'm obviously biased, but I feel like Luck has to make more throws from dirty pockets than any QB in the league. It seems like there are always defenders within a yard of his frame as he's throwing. I feel like Nick Foles would like Blaine Gabbert if he played in Indy.

Cian Fahey: I'm not biased and I agree with you completely. Also, playing with his defense means he has to force plays more than others.

Tom Gower: The line is bad, but Luck needs to do a better job of getting the ball out. Unfortunately, I don't think Pep Hamilton regularly does a good job of giving him good options for that. Holding the ball is more understandable when his option is throwing a not-that-open 4-yard shallow crosser.

Rivers McCown: Yeah I do think Hamilton doesn't give him many easy throws to work with outside of smokes or screens. That's a contributing factor.

I'm not saying Luck is all to blame, that line isn't good by any stretch, but he definitely utilizes his ability to buy time in the pocket as much as he can. It contributes to his sacks and hits numbers. But it feels to me like everyone is eager to pass off ownership of those solely to the line.

Matt Waldman: I'll second the Foles comment, Ben. And if there ever happens to be an opportunity for us to see it I'd put money on it.

Mike Ridley: If Nick Foles would be Blaine Gabbert, what does that make Michael Vick?

Scott Kacsmar: Vick would be Spergon Wynn.

Any chance of an interesting second half? Colts have at least moved the ball and get it to start the quarter. Other than that, not much reason to expect much.

Cian Fahey: Colts can only come back if the defense gets multiple turnovers I suspect.

Andrew Potter: Given how the second half just started, your chances of an interesting game may depend on how interested you are in Chase Daniel.

Aaron Schatz: Thanks for coming, tip your waitresses. That was a horrible throw to start the second half. How did Luck not see that close man coverage?

Ben Muth: I'm obviously biased, but that second pick by Luck was both terrible and indefensible.

Danny Tuccitto: At this point, my only viewing interest in this game is to see if NBC fills time by showing the infamous "teams that are +2 in the turnover battle are 185-3 in the playoffs" graphic.

Vince Verhei: At half-time, it's hard to add much to the analysis of a blowout that isn't self-evident. When Jamaal Charles went down, I thought Kansas City started to go pass-wacky, and they did, but of course it worked, because the Colts made a team-wide decision to not cover anyone.

As a sucker for mobile QBs, I've enjoyed this game a lot, especially Alex Smith's quarterback sweep on the drive after Andrew Luck's big run. (And I agree with you guys, Luck went down way too easy. You're losing a playoff game, it's OK to make them tackle you!)

I've kind of been an Alex Smith supporter since I wrote the 49ers chapter in the 2012 book, so I'm glad to see him doing well, but he's still Alex Smith, missing a wide-open receiver in the end zone late in the first half. (The Chiefs scored on the next play anyway.) My overall impression: Yup, it's a wild card game, and neither of these teams looks like much of a threat to the heavyweights this year. Whoever wins this week will need to play a lot better next week to survive (which is possible, of course).

Oh, and someday I want to watch Trent Richardson film with Mike Holmgren and ask: Dude, what were you thinking? Same goes with Brandon Weeden, actually.

Cian Fahey: Donald Brown is both showing us why the Colts should give up on Trent Richardson and why the Colts shouldn't give up on Trent Richardson.

(He was previously labelled as a bust.)

Aaron Schatz: The Colts come back! It's 38-24! They have all the momentum! And all that momentum leads Andrew Luck to... throw an interception to Husain Abdullah when he throws behind the receiver in the route.

Wasn't momentum supposed to prevent that from happening?

Scott Kacsmar: I'd still call that play more bad luck than bad Luck. Not a great throw, but Hilton had it in his hands.

Danny Tuccitto: From what I've noticed, Luck's been throwing behind guys all game, especially to Hilton. Seems like T.Y.'s had to reach back to catch a pass while running laterally like four or five times.

Aaron Schatz: Is it me, or did Cyrus Gray slow up a bit on that open pass down the right sideline that Alex Smith "overthrew" him on? I'm not sure that's on Smith.

Tom Gower: Nah, it's not just you.

Aaron Schatz: I'm not seeing things well enough -- can anyone tell if Hilton is constantly being covered by the same guy who Luck is picking on? Is it mostly Dunta Robinson?

Cian Fahey: Different guys I think. Flowers is the one they'd put on him if they wanted to shut him down, but he's out.

Tom Gower: Different guys. Some of it seems to be route combinations against what may be zones, some Robinson, some Abdullah.

Aaron Schatz: A lot of what looks like momentum right now is actually Brandon Flowers being out. Major domino effect on the Chiefs defense.

Cian Fahey: Kendrick Lewis is a mess. Kansas City's biggest need in the offseason is likely a new free safety.

Scott Kacsmar: Two running backs, Donnie Avery and Brandon Flowers down with injuries? Not sure how much more Kansas City can take here.

Cian Fahey: Not sure how healthy Houston and Hali are either.

Aaron Schatz: They seem to have blown all their energy in the first half or something. The pass rush for Kansas City just disappeared in the second half of this game.

Ben Muth: It's a "down the field screen pass" that happens to be illegal because you can't block downfield while the ball is in the air.

Aaron Schatz: I think the way it is supposed to work is that the downfield blockers don't actually make contact with defenders until the ball has been caught. That makes it legal, yes? Assuming that it always works that way and the receivers aren't blocking before the ball is caught.

Scott Kacsmar: Ugh, don't even get me started on that screen. But on the third-down completion, the Chiefs went out of bounds, but the clock should have started back up once the chains moved. It was outside of five minutes. The clock didn't run and the Colts saved some seconds there.

Cian Fahey: It would be legal that way, but rarely works that way.

Ben Muth: Yes, that's the way it's designed. Just like packaged plays are designed to be thrown before the OL gets downfield and pick plays are designed so the picker doesn't have to alter his route to throw the pick.

In theory these plays should be legal, but in practice they often rely on refs missing rarely called penalties.

Aaron Schatz: And the Colts take the lead as the Chiefs are down to using a safety as nickelback with no Justin Houston. The injury thing for the Chiefs has been ridiculous here. And Kendrick Lewis got completely toasted by T.Y. Hilton. Oy.

Rivers McCown: Well this game has certainly shown the best and worst of one Andrew Luck.

And hey, looks like the Chargers weren't the only team to benefit from the Chiefs backups! (Ducks tomatoes.)

Ben Muth: I didn't have a problem with the KC timeout there. If you get it you have plenty of time to score, if you miss it the game is over. Wanna have your best play called.

Aaron Schatz: Pretty remarkable game. As someone who attended the Broncos-Patriots game earlier this year, I can't believe I was even suggesting that this game was sort of, kind of over at any point.

We knew Andrew Luck was good and he has a record of great comebacks. We know that the Chiefs suffered a ton of injuries, so it makes sense that they couldn't cover as well without Brandon Flowers, and they couldn't throw the ball as well without Donnie Avery, and they couldn't run as well of course without Jamaal Charles. But there weren't any losses on the offensive line, yet the Colts' pass rush looked so much stronger in the second half of this game.

Scott Kacsmar: I said close game and possible Andrew Luck GWD moment in a 23-20 finish. Well, cut the score in half and I was close. What a game. So many big injuries for the Chiefs, but we're still talking a 38-10 lead in the third quarter. We're talking about the second biggest comeback in NFL history. These things aren't supposed to happen. They take unusual events like all of those injuries or Luck recovering Donald Brown's red-zone fumble for a touchdown, but 28 points is almost always safe.

In the end, it's hard to fault the look on fourth down that would have set up a winning field goal, but all year the criticism was of Smith's downfield passing. He didn't do it often and he didn't do it well. Bowe stepped up and gave him a shot, but they failed to connect. Luck hit his guy Hilton with a beautiful pass down the field that proved to be the game-winner.

Tom Gower: Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, non-factors after the second possession. Toss in the Flowers injury, and that was enough. Kudos to Indianapolis for continuing with the right offensive gameplan and continuing to try even down 4 scores in the second half. Really trying, not just the sort of "eh, we'll pretend like we still have a chance to win this game."

Like Baltimore-Denver last year, so much to process from this game, so much to think about, but there's another game to watch pretty much immediately.

Vince Verhei: Two most under-discussed developments of the Colts' comeback: Unlike the first half, they decided to start covering receivers. It helped that KC had so many injuries. But the big plays KC had in the first half were a result of blown coverages and missed tackles by Indianapolis as much as anything the Chiefs were doing. Once the Colts stopped screwing things up, the Chiefs suddenly couldn't get open on their own.

And the biggest play nobody's talking about: Alex Smith's hold-the-ball sack-and-fumble. He had ample opportunity to get rid of the ball or scramble, but he hung in the pocket and gave Mathis a chance to make a play.

Aaron Schatz: And of course, the Luck fumble recovery touchdown. Without that, there's a good chance the Colts run out of time for the comeback.

Vince Verhei: Oh, one other note: Those early timeouts by Smith and the Chiefs to avoid timeouts were awfully non-game manager-like. For a guy who threw four touchdowns, he sure did a lot to help his team lose.

Scott Kacsmar: Since people on Twitter think I'm hating on Smith again, let me just say he was great, but he wasn't great at the end. Either one of those two big misses down the right sideline could have really locked this game up for the Chiefs. He missed them both, because those types of throws are just not a strength in his game. Never have been. His mobility was a huge factor, but as Vince mentioned, he held it too long on the Mathis strip-sack. That was another big turning point for the Colts.

So while no one can say Smith lost the game for the Chiefs today, he missed some really big plays in a 45-44 finish.

Rivers McCown: I'd say the biggest play nobody is taking about is Reid taking the field goal inside the 1 at the beginning of the game. But I think people are finally talking about that.

Danny Tuccitto: My thoughts on IND-KC come directly cross-posted from Twitter:

1) The Colts defense ranked ninth in DVOA when losing by nine or more points. Like Aaron said, sure the Chiefs' offensive injuries played a factor, but that looked like a much more assertive defense in the second half, especially in the trenches.
2) The Chiefs ranked No. 7 in Chase Stuart's pass identity stat, and that probably came back to haunt them. Knile Davis didn't get hurt until midway through the fourth quarter, so they could have run more to kill clock. And given that we're talking about an Andy Reid team, I don't think the decision to keep passing was due to a concern about Davis fumbling.
3) All of that said, Kansas City had what seemed like a season's-worth of AGL in this game. It's a lot easier to win (and make that comeback) when your opponent has their junior varsity squad on the field.

New Orleans Saints 26 at Philadelphia Eagles 24

Tweets

@MilkmanDanimal: Apparently the offensive geniuses of Chip Kelly and Sean Payton got confused and attended the early game instead of the late one. About five hours ago I'd have classified this as a "classic defensive struggle", but, after KC-Indy, this is boring. NEED MORE CRAZY.
Aaron Schatz: I wrote in the NFC wc preview on FO, but PHI O ASR goes up on third down, and so does NO D ASR.
Aaron Schatz: So, when does the cold make the Saints start panicking and giving up and stuff?
Tom Gower: One day, a coach will actually go for 2 up 12 in the third quarter. (I know, it's probably already happened, I'm just forgetting.)
Aaron Schatz: Biggest disappointment for me in this game is the Eagles offensive line. Flip side of Eagles OL disappointment, I think really nice game for Cameron Jordan.
Aaron Schatz: DeSean Jackson is apparently the T.Y. Hilton of this game. Get rid of the other team's top corner and he explodes. Of course, Keenan Lewis essentially got rid of himself with a helmet hit.
Aaron Schatz: Nobody rushes 3 more often than Rob Ryan, or close to it. He either goes big in blitz or he goes big in coverage. Worked there.
Aaron Schatz: Corey White: Great stats as a nickelback do not make you a quality outside corner who can cover No. 1s.
Aaron Schatz: Yet another reason why Collinsworth is the best (I'm not being sarcastic) - just called the TD pass to Ertz.
Danny Tuccitto: Charted the 1st half of the Wk 11 NO-SF game, and Corey White was a liability back then too.
@nath_on_fire: Well, uh, on the bright side, everyone knows what Rob Ryan meant when he called Keenan Lewis the best cornerback in the league.
@Foosball_Wizard: Drew Brees' Quarterback Sneaking Level Tonight: Tom Brady.
Danny Tuccitto: woooooah, wait a sec. did Collinsworth just say right-footed Ks prefer left hash mark? i always thought it was opposite (pro=draw).
@matthew_carley: Two outstanding games on the Saturday. Love the NFL.
@nath_on_fire: Saints defense with Keenan Lewis: 38 plays, 137 yards; 1 penalty, 5 yards. w/o Lewis: 19 plays, 119 yards; 1 penalty, 40 yards.

Longform

Scott Kacsmar: Seems like we need a one-hour intermission between playoff games. It's hard to get into this one after what just happened in Indianapolis. No one expected 45-44. All I know is the offenses in this game were expected to be great. They've been lousy. Nick Foles just took a horrible sack to put the Eagles out of field-goal range to end the first quarter. Saints have done a very respectable job of containing LeSean McCoy too.

Aaron Schatz: After one quarter, unlike the first game today, this one seems like exactly what we were expecting. Not that we expected Drew Brees to throw a pick, but it isn't like it was a horrible pass -- he launched that thing deep and just underthrew his receiver. Otherwise, we've got the usual Philadelphia misdirection, Shady McCoy running well, Chip Kelly being aggressive on fourth down, and as usual you shouldn't play a zone against Jimmy Graham running up the seam.

Heh. We just posted simultaneously. Maybe I felt McCoy was running well because I had just seen him converting fourth-and-1 with a nice run. You're right about Foles taking sacks though. Saints pass rush looks good.

Cian Fahey: This New Orleans-Philadelphia game feels like eating vanilla ice-cream after a lobster dinner.

Vince Verhei: Cheddar Bay biscuits for everyone!

Cian Fahey: The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't offer Keenan Lewis a contract when he hit free agency this year. He got a 5mil-per deal. Instead, the Steelers paid Ike Taylor around 10mil.

This makes me sad.

Aaron Schatz: Not to just restate Cris Collinsworth commentary, but Terron Armstead really does look totally different from Week 16.

Tom Gower: He does, but Greg Hardy and Robert Quinn were the guys who really beat him up, and Hardy was playing phenomenally well at the end of the season while Quinn was even better. Eagles don't have anybody up there with those two, even with Trent Cole having a better season.

Point from every Saints game: Drew Brees throws multiple interceptable passes. Every single game. One of the keys to beating the Saints is to getting a few of those. Eagles of two, one really bad and one that was maybe more on Kenny Stills.

Cian Fahey: Just because I think it's understated, Drew Brees is 35 years old on January 15th.

Ben Muth: I pretty much missed the first quarter of the late game because I was talking on the phone with friends about the early game. Not a lot has really jumped out at me except for the terrible Brees pick to Ryan, and the fact that Roman Harper seems to give up at least one touchdown every time I watch the Saints. How is he still playing? Is he the Levi Brown of of safeties?

Aaron Schatz: Injury, he's in there because Kenny Vaccaro got hurt.

Danny Tuccitto: Well, if I understand the situation correctly, the question was whether to re-sign Lewis for $5M/yr or bring William Gay back for $1.5M/yr. In a vacuum, it makes perfect sense that they went the cheap route. The real indictment is the fact that Lewis was the reason PIT chose to let Gay leave for ARI in the first place. Usually, they make that kind of decision (i.e., "we're going forward with our talented young guy"), and stick with it.

Cian Fahey: Keenan Lewis is a good matchup for DeSean Jackson. He's got really good long speed, but isn't an exceptionally fluid athlete. While Jackson is quicker than him, Jackson isn't an overly agile route runner in my opinion.

Aaron Schatz: I understand that Cary Williams may nominally be Philadelphia's No. 1 corner, but he's the third-best of their three man corners. Still a loss because he has to be replaced by Roc Carmichael -- and who does Drew Brees go right after? Roc Carmichael?

Mark Ingram touchdown. This may be the best game he's ever played in the NFL. This or the Dallas game a few weeks ago (14 carries, 145 yards, TD).

Cian Fahey: No idea why Sean Payton doesn't go for the two point conversion after Ingram's touchdown in the third quarter. Up 20-7 now.

Scott Kacsmar: Four minutes left in the game, the two-point conversion is a no-brainer. Four minutes left in the third quarter, then it's not a necessity. Remember, it's not like the Saints should be playing as if they won't score again tonight. If the Eagles tied it at 21-21, Saints would have to score again, just as they will if they fall behind 21-20.

Ben Muth: Collinsworth made a great point on the value of the read option on that McCoy TD late in the 3rd quarter. The Eagles left what's essentially the playside DE unblocked on the 1 yard line, and because of the read component of the play he can't be right. Gives you a numbers advantage down the line which makes it so much easier on your OL, particularly inside the 5 where things get crowded.

Tom Gower: Awareness, awareness, awareness. Peyton Manning is the master of it, but going deep to DeSean Jackson the play after Lewis went to the sidelines with his head injury was another example of it. Maybe I'm just question-begging in the literal sense, but this feels like what separate smart teams and players from dumb ones.

Aaron Schatz: Chip Kelly kicking a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 7, down 20-14 in the fourth quarter, makes me super sad.

Scott Kacsmar: The other NFL head coaches wouldn't invite him to their Eyes Wide Shut parties if he had gone for the first down there. Old habits don't want to die.

Danny Tuccitto: ...or have a seat at the Dr. Strangelove War Room table.

Ben Muth: I feel like this video sums up our feelings on Kelly kicking that FG: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiZNSzWIaLo

Cian Fahey: Is this our second Star Wars reference tonight? When did this turn into IGN?

Maybe it's scheme, spot on depth chart, lifestyle or just a fit with teammates, but it's really odd that Robert Meachem basically turned to dust in San Diego and showed life again in New Orleans.

Aaron Schatz: I'm blown away that the Saints just kept Jimmy Graham in to block on third-and-4 in the red zone.

The Eagles got killed by that last kickoff. Both teams had poor kick coverage all year but the Eagles got killed by it tonight. I kind of want to blame Cary Williams for the horse collar tackle but if Darren Sproles had gotten past him, he might have gained even more than the 15 yards he got from the horse collar penalty.

Tom Gower: What to say? I was surprised by how much the Saints ran the ball, especially on the last drive, but they ran it pretty well much of the second half. Last possession won, no surprise there. Sean Payton didn't screw up the end-game, a pleasant occurrence. The Eagles missing a 46-yard field goal is the difference in the game, if you want to think of it that way and ignore the rest of the stuff that happened after that. The Saints didn't have to get a key fourth quarter stop, at least in terms of keeping the Eagles off the scoreboard-a very good thing, considering their defensive backs situation.

Scott Kacsmar: Almost would have been better for the Eagles if Sproles took that kick back for a touchdown. This was like watching 2010 AFC Wild Card with Jets-Colts when Antonio Cromartie had the big kick return just after the Colts took the lead. That was in the last minute. Stretch that drive out over 4:54 and that's what happened here. Much credit to the Saints running game. When they ran it on second down on the last drive, I thought it was a suspect call, but they gained 13 yards with ease. They outrushed the best running offense in the game and that's the story of this one for me. McCoy played okay, but the Saints limited him enough . I didn't think either quarterback played particularly well, but good for Nick Foles to put the team ahead the last time he had the ball. Brees, I liked the quarterback sneaks to help run out the clock.

Overall, a bit of a ho-hum game with a lot of bad play in the first half, but hard to follow up what happened earlier in the day.

Vince Verhei: Two takeaways from NO-PHI:

1) I don't want to overstate this, but it seems like Rob Ryan found the best way to stifle the Chip Kelly offense. Since his whole scheme is about making quick decisions and going for big plays, you want to play soft coverage to make both of those goals difficult. If you rush three and drop eight, then the Eagles can run a quick curl or hand the ball off or look for a slant. Those are all good options, but they are not necessarily great options, and you can get the quarterback into brainlock. That leaves him vulnerable to coverage sacks and pressures. This worked better than anything else I've seen against the Philadelphia offense lately.

2) For Seahawks fans, it's hard to imagine how this could have worked out better. New Orleans' beat-up secondary makes them even more vulnerable than the team that lost in Seattle by 27 points a few weeks ago. Nothing is ever guaranteed, of course, but this seems like a great matchup. More importantly, Seattle won't have to beat Carolina AND San Francisco to get to the Super Bowl. Because of their front sevens, I think those teams would give Pete Carroll's club the most trouble, and now they will only have to beat one or the other (unless Green Bay wins two games, or New Orleans wins on Saturday).

Danny Tuccitto: Vince, the fun part is that it's also hard to imagine how this could have worked out better for 49ers fans: Assuming a win over Green Bay, they get to avoid Seattle in the Divisional round and have the potential to host the NFC Championship game should New Orleans beat the Seahawks next weekend. Tonight was the odd case of two rival fanbases having the same rooting interest. Solidarity, my friend!

Two things struck me as odd about the Eagles' strategy in this game:

1) Philadelphia led the league in pace this season, so I was expecting to see some Wyche or K-Gun fireworks tonight. But the Eagles ended up only running a play every 25.5 seconds. Although two seconds per play slower than their regular pace, that's still plenty fast, but it seems to me that the single elimination nature of the playoffs means you go harder, better, faster, stronger. Pull out all the stops. Turn the dial to 11.
2) For an team with LeSean McCoy, the No. 1 Run Offense DVOA, and an above-average run identity playing at home against a defense ranked 20th in Run Defense DVOA, I expected the Eagles to play more to that clear strength early on (i.e., before they got down 20-7 in the third quarter), but they only ran the ball 11 of 30 plays during the first half.

Vince Verhei: West coast love, homie.

San Diego Chargers 27 at Cincinnati Bengals 10

Tweets

@matthew_carley: CBS pregame touting stat that Chargers are unbeaten when Matthews carries more than 25 times; how long ago did Aaron debunk this?
@nath_on_fire: I have a dream, that one day we will live in a world where announcers will no longer say a team "has to punt" on 4th and short.
Tom Gower: By DVOA, #Bengals rank 30th in 2Q O, 2nd in 2Q D. Looks average to me, not like best 2Q team in league.
Aaron Schatz: Gonna be hard for the Bengals to take advantage of bad Chargers defense if Andy Dalton can't hit short passes accurately.
Aaron Schatz: BJGE had a number of big gains in the first SD-CIN game by just keeping his legs churning for a couple extra yards each time.
Tom Gower: Bengals rank 8th in goal-to-go DVOA on offense. That's a lot closer to actually being "best in the league" than their avg 2Q DVOA
Aaron Schatz: I swear to god, this game is going to set a record for most punts on fourth-and-1.
Tom Gower: Chargers, ranking 2nd in pass O DVOA, call overwhelmingly run plays in the first half, b/c of course they do.
@WhispersMoCo: So now they're reviewing the play _before_ the most recent play? Triplette again doesn't seem to understand process.
Andrew Potter: This is clearly stupid. The clock has to go back to 12/13, as it was at the end of the reviewed play, surely?
Tom Gower: Ladarius Green drafting & development going pretty much exactly according to plan, it seems.
Aaron Schatz: I have no idea how Andy Dalton just did all that running around without thinking "hey, I should throw this away"
@nath_on_fire: I wonder if Cincinnati braintrust is starting to consider drafting a quarterback to develop next year. I would be, even before today.
@nath_on_fire: Why do teams up the degree of difficulty when they get close to scoring a touchdown? It doesn't count double if 3rd-string RB scores.

Longform

Rob Weintraub: I'll start by admitting my terror. This isn't a game for the Bengals -- it's a reckoning. Not hyperbole to say this is the biggest game in franchise history since the '88 Super Bowl. I'm not handling the preamble well.

And because it's worked so well the last few weeks, the over/under for Dalton completions is 14.

Aaron Schatz: Danny Woodhead may be the most successful FA to leave the Patriots in the Belichick era, unless Wes Welker is. (OK, maybe Adam Vinatieri is... let's say most successful non-special teams free agent.)

Love the Chris Crocker blitz to take down Philip Rivers on third down. I'm surprised that the Bengals are only middle-of-the-pack in frequency of DB blitzes according to ESPN Stats & Info but they rank fifth allowing just 4.3 yards per pass on these plays.

Cian Fahey: The weapons the Chargers have is actually really impressive. Not only do they perform well as individuals, but the unit complements each other very well also. How do you cover Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Danny Woodhead, Eddie Royal and Ladarius Green while also trying to stop Ryan Mathews in the running game?

They may not be stars, but they're certainly effective.

Scott Kacsmar: Philip Roethlisberger with the lofted completion there. That type of improvising after escaping pressure is something you almost never see from him. He even handled the busted play on the next snap well, gaining a few yards instead of taking a loss.

Tom Gower: Bengals were 12th defensively on Mid/Guard runs by Adjusted Line Yards. They certainly haven't looked it early, with Brandon Thompson seeming like maybe the single most responsible party.

Aaron Schatz: Hey Andy Dalton -- Philip Rivers will take your inaccurate pass to Giovani Bernard on third-and-short and raise you an inaccurate pass to Keenan Allen on third-and-short.

Rob Weintraub: Dalton wild, Marvin conservative, defense sloppy. Pretty much the whole checklist for a Bengals loss thus far. Really hoped this was a new day.

Tom Gower: Rivers was chatting with Keenan Allen after that third down incompletion. Based on that and how the defense was down, I'm guessing he wanted Allen to sit down in the opening instead of continuing in. This "'trying to figure out what really happened from the outside" stuff is annoying.

Andrew Potter: Sky Sports NFL just made a big fuss about involving analytics in their broadcast, and put up a graphic ... showing Andy Dalton's record when over 40 attempts vs. under. Jeff Reinebold then made the run to win argument. Breakthrough analysis there, guys. Way to make the exact opposite argument from every analytics writer, ever.

Aaron Schatz: His speed is subpar, but BJGE is one of the great leg-churning, extra yard-pushing running backs of our time.

Cian Fahey: There is very little I like about Andy Dalton. He is very inconsistent, has terrible deep accuracy and doesn't understand when to stay in the pocket and when to leave it. That said, his mechanics are always impressive to me. On the first touchdown throw to Jermaine Gresham, you can see his quick, compact release. That is what turns that play from a strip-sack to a touchdown.

Scott Kacsmar: Will Andy Dalton even remember his first postseason touchdown pass? Fractions of a second away from a disastrous play there, but he did a really good job to get enough on that ball, waiting for Gresham to release.

Rob Weintraub: Actually, if anything the Bengals runner who consistently pushed the pile for extra yards this season was Bernard, not BJGE. The latter is good at it, but the little man gets into the mass and keeps sliding and spinning forward relentlessly.

Scott Kacsmar: When they were in New England, Woodhead and BJGE always impressed me in how they seemed to always fall forward for extra yardage.

Rob Weintraub: Jeez after last week you would think there would be a moratorium on those Aaron Rodgers ads with Da Bears. Rubbing it in.

It's one thing for Luck or Roethlisberger to continually elude sacks, but if Rivers is going to it that really stinks for the Bengals.

I think McCoy is challenging here on a mandate from CBS, as this first half is spinning much too fast for their sponsors.

Tom Gower: I love the "sideline outrage" challenges.

Aaron Schatz: Fun with Jeff Triplette! First, I don't understand how the Gresham catch was any different from the Calvin Johnson catch that caused the "Calvin Johnson rule" to be called that. Second, if they review that catch, didn't the spike afterwards not actually count? Shouldn't the Bengals get the ball with 11-12 seconds left and have to spike again or get to try another play?

Scott Kacsmar: Loopy ending to the half. Even after the holding penalty, why did Mike McCoy get so conservative with a 1st-and-13? Teams can drive the whole field in under two minutes these days. They needed to at least try to play for a field goal. With Cincinnati's timeouts, the Bengals were going to have a great shot at points in return if the Chargers just ran it.

Then I'm not sure what we just saw on the end of the Bengals' drive. The spike happened, though technically it didn't, and the clock was still down to two seconds and running because of forward progress. On the catch itself, I like that they actually called that a catch, but we know a lot of those are called incomplete because of this Calvin Johnson rule/completing the process nonsense. He had the ball, he took a few steps and then he slammed the ball to the ground. I like that the call stands, but Jeff Triplette didn't really handle the situation that well. Shocker, I know.

Rob Weintraub: So what could easily have been a 75-minute first half becomes a 95-minute first half. What's the point of all the runs, then?

Tom Gower: Fun with Jeff Triplette...

1. The Gresham catch was really close. Did he complete the process of the catch, to use the NFL's parlance, before he started going to the ground? I think that's borderline, and don't think either an incompletion or completion ruling on the field gets changed. Since it's called complete on the field and is close, stands is not clearly wrong.

2. On the spike play, I'm sure the NFL will say that the replay official buzzed down to Triplette before the Bengals spiked the ball. That's all that needs to happen. It's plausible that it did, and we have no way of independently verifying that. The replay means the spike didn't count, so the (correct) forward progress call after the completion meant the spike play didn't happen and the clock would start on the ready for play. The Bengals were ready for that and snapped the ball before the half stopped.

3. I'm actually not sure what the handling is when the clock was running and should have been running, but I think they handled it correctly by not putting time back on.

4. It's Jeff Triplette. Nobody trusts Jeff Triplette, and he doesn't actually explain anything, which doesn't help matters.

A. San Diego needs to realize they're really good at throwing the ball and actually throw the ball instead of running it.

B. If they're going to run it because they think they're good at running it, they need to run the ball when it makes sense to do so, like in fourth-and-short situations.

C. Phil Simms had an awful first half.

Vince Verhei: So to recap, at halftime we have:

* San Diego, with the second-best QB in football this year, with seven pass plays and 20 runs.

* Andy Dalton's lone playoff touchdown coming on a play where a hit from behind might have knocked the ball into the receiver's hands. He has hit some big plays, but he has also missed some open short throws.

* San Diego's DBs, as usual, letting receivers get behind them for big gains.

* A never-ending series of punts on fourth-and-1, even though both teams seem to be moving the ball on the ground.

* The usual Phil Simms idiocy, including the merits of San Diego calling a timeout when it was Cincinnati who actually called one.

* Whatever the hell that was at the end of the half by Jeff Triplette's crew, which seemed to get everything wrong without actually hurting or helping either team.

* The CBS crew missing Cincinnati scrambling to spike the ball to show an instant replay, as if split screens haven't been around for decades.

Is ANYONE in this game doing their job well today? Oddly enough, in 2014, the best players for both teams have been the running backs, Cincinnati's for moving the pile, and Danny Woodhead for a bundle of plays on San Diego's touchdown drive, including the score.

Aaron Schatz: They had a split screen in the truck, but the other side was showing O.J.'s Bronco.

Rivers McCown: "Is ANYONE in this game doing their job well today?" -- the subtitle for the NFL Films review of the 2013 AFC Playoff race.

Scott Kacsmar: Crocker was pretty slow and nonchalant about getting over to cover Green. Fairly easy fade touchdown.

Cian Fahey: As good a defensive coordinator as Mike Zimmer is, you cannot replace Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. Both really missed during this game, especially Atkins.

Aaron Schatz: This has to be one of the worst games the Cincinnati offensive line has had all season. Andy Dalton is getting pressured constantly. Kendall Reyes just forced Dalton into an interception.

Scott Kacsmar: I thought phantom pressure was getting to Dalton early, but it's real now. Practically every play is him having to move in the pocket. Chargers with a great shot to go up 14 now. That will take away most of the running threat for the Bengals. Can't see Dalton pulling this off with the pass rush to come.

Tom Gower: I think it's more about San Diego's pressure schemes getting home and free rushers than about defensive players beating Bengals linemen. Maybe that's a subtle distinction, but I think it's an important one here.

Cian Fahey: Quarterback Purgatory is real.

Ben Muth: Yeah, Cincy's o-line has been puzzling/frustrating to watch today. Watching live it doesn't seem like any one thing or guy is giving them problems, just generally allowing to much pressure from all areas. Will be interesting to re-watch this one.

Andrew Potter: Three of their five starters were hurt last week. Though none of the injuries were severe, that might be contributing.

Rivers McCown: The troubles San Diego had on goal-to-go that I mentioned in the preview could come back to haunt if Dalton actually starts playing better.

Matt Waldman: I've always been a Melvin Ingram fan. There was some talk that Ingram's transition to OLB might take a while. Still might, but looking forward to seeing this game again with a focus on his play.

Cian Fahey: I continue to be at a loss as to why teams use tight formations in short-yardage situations. All it does is bring more defenders to the football and ask more blockers to win their assignments.

Matt Waldman: Bad angle by Ingram there. Probably the one obvious area he needs to improve as an LB vs. DE.

Aaron Schatz: "There" - which specific play was this?

Matt Waldman: "There" is the short pass to Bernard in the flat in the fourth quarter.

I'm also flummoxed by Jay Gruden's commentary at midseason that no wide receiver opposite A.J. Green has established himself as a secondary option. Marvin Jones is can do everything you want from wide receiver whereas Sanu is bigger and stronger, but not nearly as polished a route runner. Our pal Doug Farrar mentioned Jones' improvement this season and there's a lot of truth to his assertion that Jones has developed.

There's also a lot of truth that Jones displayed these same skills at Cal since he was a sophomore - especially as a deep threat. However, Keenan Allen became the "it" guy when Jones was a junior and, combined with poor quarterback play at Cal, everyone seemed surprised that Jones was lighting up the Senior Bowl practices as the best performing receiver on vertical routes that week.

Jones always reminded me of a player in the style of Donald Driver. The more I evaluate talent before they reach the NFL, the more apparent it is that these players look the same as they did in college once they adjust to the the speed and concepts of the professional ranks.

I say this because I believe one of Gruden's weaknesses as an offensive coordinator is his understanding of his surrounding talent. A smaller example of this is when special teams ace Cedric Peerman was used at running back for a stretch last year and flashed the type of production that surprised Gruden. The coach told reporters that they team didn't know what they had in him as a running back.

Peerman could be a lead back in a committee for a couple of years (and could have been for the past four) if the team possessed full awareness of its full roster's talent. However, that's the nature of the league: bring in free agent as a special teams guy and you don't spend much time scouting what he really can do - especially when your organization stretches its scouting resources thin.

Jones and Green could be one of the 10 best WR combos in this league if this system tried spent less time being cute and gimmicky.

Scott Kacsmar: Obviously the bomb on fourth-and-3 is the smart play, Andy. Throw a crossing route, scramble, dump it down, anything but what Dalton actually did there.

Aaron Schatz: Why is the San Diego defense playing so much better today than they did over the course of the season? I have two theories:

1) Melvin Ingram is playing very well, and his improvement of the pass rush also helps paper over the issues in the secondary.

2) The San Diego defense isn't playing *that* much better. The Bengals are just missing a lot of opportunities, with Andy Dalton having a particularly bad day.

Andrew Potter: They reshuffled the secondary after the Kansas City game in Week 12. They've been legitimately better since.

Aaron Schatz: You are correct. The big move looks to be putting Richard Marshall into the starting lineup instead of Derek Cox. Cox barely even plays anymore. Then Ingram came back Week 14 and slowly worked his way into the rotation.

San Diego defensive DVOA Weeks 1-12: 25.2%
San Diego defensive DVOA Weeks 13-17: -0.3%

Rob Weintraub: For the record I bailed on the game when SD scored to make it 14-10. The handwriting was on the wall for any lifelong Bengal fan/masochist. I got in the car, flipped on the radio, heard Dalton's unforced fumble, and checked out. I only just found out the final score at 5:15 EST, but the respectful silence on my phone as I disconsolately walked the gray and chilly streets told me all I needed to know. Another failure when the lights are brightest. Another year off my life without even a mild playoff run.

It's just the worst.

See you a year from this weekend when the Bengals fall in this round yet again. That's assuming Dalton doesn't go the full Plummer and lose it completely.

San Francisco 49ers 23 at Green Bay Packers 20

Tweets

@MichaelEdits: If Colin Kaepernick kisses his bicep, will his lips get stuck?
Andrew Potter: Harbaugh does know he only gets three time outs per half, right? A new set of downs isn't a new set of timeouts?
Tom Gower: 49ers calling timeouts early like Jim Harbaugh used the Konami code to get 30 instead of the normal 3.
Aaron Schatz: I think Tramon Williams was better than people give him credit for this year, you're seeing this in lack of passes to Boldin.
@WhispersMoCo: When was last time Aaron Rodgers had a quarter without a completion? Just got his first of the day.
Aaron Schatz: OK. That may be the worst timeout EVER TAKEN in NFL HISTORY. Second half, first play? You can't just start 1st-and-15?
Danny Tuccitto: How do you burn a timeout on first play of the half? How many times has that happened since merger?
@nath_on_fire: Protip: if a 16-yard net is one of the more positive outcomes that can result from your punt, don't punt.
Tom Gower: We've had a holding call today, so there's no such thing as pass interference. At least nobody knows what either one actually is.
Aaron Schatz: This holding doesn't make what Rodgers did any less special, but yeah, shoulda been called
@Foosball_Wizard: John Kuhn scores and does the Lambeau Leap minus the leap part.
@MilkmanDanimal: @Foosball_Wizard That John Kuhn, he's just sneakily unathletic.
Danny Tuccitto: I'm seriously starting to wonder if McCarthy just walked into the team meeting on Tuesday and said, "guys, our game plan is holding."
Aaron Schatz: Again, there is no magic line called "field goal range." The closer you get for this kick, the better.
Danny Tuccitto: And so Harbaugh is putting the season on a field goal. Shocking.

Longform

Ben Muth: Tuned into the Fox pre-game show just in time to catch the comedy stylings of Rob Riggle. I'm now stumbling around my apartment confused and in a daze. Definite concussion like symptoms.

Rivers McCown: NFL talking heads can't deal with serious challenges from say, a stats guy on set. But they're excellent at pretending like they thought Rob Riggle was funny.

Rivers McCown: Marc Trestman is a big fan of the San Francisco timeout management on this opening drive.

Andrew Potter: Harbaugh does know he only gets three, right? He doesn't get a new set every time his team advances ten yards.

Ben Muth:People were skeptical Harbaugh would get more than 3 timeouts a half vs Minnesota last year too. He proved the haters wrong though.

Aaron Schatz: Game charting stats suggest Tramon Williams was better than people give him credit for this year, and you're seeing that a little bit early with the lack of passes to Boldin. I doubt the game plan was to go to Crabtree over Boldin because of who they are. I think it's because of who is covering them.

Rivers McCown: Officials apparently aren't allowed to call any penalties on Michael Crabtree's defenders in the end zone.

Danny Tuccitto: Like Jules in Pulp Fiction, I'm trying really hard to be the shepherd right now. The officiating so far is a joke above and beyond what my 49ers bias would inflate it into: Two obvious DPIs, a blatant holding on the first play, and no intentional grounding on Rodgers when he spiked the ball at the feet of an offensive lineman while inside the pocket, and the game's only one quarter in.

Of course, that said, SF should be up way more than 6-0 given how much they're dominating so far.

Cian Fahey: The potential for this kind of drive(first touchdown drive) is what makes me pick the better QB so often in the playoffs. Rodgers just took over there.

Aaron Schatz: It helps that Jordy Nelson is a damn good receiver.

Cian Fahey: Rodgers and McCarthy's play-calling alleviated the pressure on the Packers' OTs during the regular season. Flaws showing up tonight.

Tom Gower: Rodgers has had more time to throw the last couple possessions. O-line or play-calling?

Green Bay's handling of this final minute of the first half has been not very pretty. Rodgers should have just taken the delay of game rather than losing the timeout, the Bakhtiari penalty, and the Starks dumpoff that might have ended the half had he caught it.

Scott Kacsmar: Good God, start the second half with a timeout before the first snap? Just take the penalty.

Ben Muth: SF using a TO the first play of the half is pretty incredible.

Aaron Schatz: I realize that Kaepernick took that, not the coach, but... Did Harbaugh seem this cavalier about timeouts when you played for him? Did he ever talk to you guys about timeout strategy? Apparently Sean Payton tells Drew Brees to take them whenever he feels he needs them in the first half of a game, even if it's early in the first quarter.

Ben Muth: He may have talked to the QBs in their meetings, but that wasn't something we discussed as an offense.

Aaron Schatz: I'm really surprised the 49ers aren't getting more going here offensively, given how badly the Green Bay defense played -- especially over the past few weeks -- and how many injuries they are dealing with.

Danny Tuccitto: You and me both, brother. This is like last year's Super Bowl, where everything I've been saying about them throughout the regular season rears it's head in a blaze of failure -- resembling a dumpster fire.

Ben Muth: Lot of people seem baffled with how Rodgers escaped on the 4th & 2, I'm pretty sure Evan Dietrich-Smith with the mother of all holds on the DT was the biggest reason why.

Aaron Schatz: I'm sure we can link a zillion pictures of it here, such as

http://t.co/5pnfuDP9sY

and

http://t.co/sPCpe4gNXl

Still a pretty amazing play by Rodgers. Should have been called back, but amazing play.

Cian Fahey It's obviously a hold, but it's not exactly a blatant miss from the officials. There are no officials in the middle of the pile of bodies to see it.

Andrew Potter: The photograph is deceptive. It's directly in front of the official behind the quarterback, not in the middle of a pile of bodies.

Scott Kacsmar: The difference in officiating today has been interesting. We talked so much about Jeff Triplette in SD-CIN, yet I don't even recall who the head official is in this game. All the talk has been about how they're letting them play, including that fourth-down hold, which really would take a bold ref to call that play back.

Oh yes, it's Ed Hochuli, who looks like Bane today. That's why I forgot who the referee was until I heard that voice.

Aaron Schatz: They also just let Davon House get away with DPI on Vernon Davis -- clearly had his arm before the ball got there on the deep pass down the middle of the field.

Aha! But they did finally call it on House a couple plays later.

Saturday was great for the lack of discussion or controversy regarding officiating. Today, not so much.

Tom Gower: Defensive pass interference is gone today. At least we did get a holding in the Bengals-Chargers game.

Hey, now a holding in GB-SF as well.

Aaron Schatz: Quite a game, quite a weekend of games. In the end, the two wasted timeouts didn't come back to haunt the 49ers. Green Bay's inability to stop the run (including their inability to prevent Kaepernick from scrambling with a spy) did come back to haunt the Packers.

SF-CAR should be a pretty excellent game.

Tom Gower: Kaepernick's legs were the difference on the final drive, what with the big third down conversion on the edge of field goal range. Some really good hard running by both Frank Gore and Eddie Lacy in the game. San Francisco's timeout usage ended up not costing them. I thought Vernon Davis was struggling to get open and make contested catches, but of course then he had that touchdown. I also though Kaepernick wasn't particularly sharp and left some plays on the field, but, again, money on that TD and the third-and-10 early on the final drive, plus again those legs.

Scott Kacsmar: We could have easily had three teams this weekend use the last five minutes or so to march down the field for a game-winning field goal with no time left. The Saints and 49ers did, but the Chiefs blew it. That's impressive to be able to burn clock and make the opponent use their timeouts. This was the most even game of the weekend and I think red-zone execution was huge. The 49ers settled for field goals early, but the Packers had to settle for the 20-20 tie late instead of getting the touchdown. Kaepernick is hands down the best running quarterback in football (just talking about in terms of running ability). That last third-down scramble was the big one and I loved how Michael Crabtree played today. If the Packers can ever stay healthy, they'll be a real scary team next season. They need guys like Clay Matthews and Casey Hayward, but they also might need a new scheme and coordinator as well.

Aaron Schatz: The good news for the Packers is that offense is more consistent than defense. The last four years, their rank in defensive DVOA has gone 2, 25, 8, 31. They could very easily have an average defense next year, even with the same coordinator and scheme.

The bad news is that the Packers seem to be near the league lead in AGL every single season, and while injuries tend to revert to the mean, there are definitely certain teams who tend to be on one or the other side of that mean over the long term.

Danny Tuccitto: Because tonight was yet another instance, I'll once again belabor the point I've been belaboring all season. The 49ers can blow these good teams out, but Harbaugh/Roman's philosophy seems to be content with having it come down to the end, which leaves you susceptible to all kinds of random stuff out of your control. Last postseason, it worked 3 out of 4 times. Today means it's 1-0 for the good guys this postseason, but I'm not confident that they can beat the odds this time around either.

Scott Kacsmar: Blowing the Packers out with Aaron Rodgers is not very realistic. You don't need two hands to count how often that's happened since 2008. I think the 49ers did a good job last year in the playoffs to get a comfortable win over a stronger Green Bay team. The 49ers obviously have a lot of talent, but the defense under Harbaugh has its lapses where it can give up a lot of yards to the good quarterbacks. The offense has never been a dominant passing attack, so that makes it harder to light up the scoreboard and create separation. They're a bit more dynamic than your usual "run the ball and play defense" team, but they're not really a juggernaut. They probably won't score a lot of points in Carolina or Seattle, meaning two more close games to get back to the Super Bowl. That's just the nature of the NFL. I know, it's not like the Walsh/Seifert teams, but those days are over.

Short version: Danny, I know 2003 to 2010 really sucked, but just enjoy your four playoff wins in the last three years. The Bengals and Chiefs will now be waiting 21-plus years for their next playoff win.

Vince Verhei: OK. I'm exhausted. SF-GB killed me. Or at least, that game, to cap off this weekend, killed me. It was incredible.

I have no idea what to say about the San Francisco offense anymore. They look so good when they are on, like, as well-rounded and diverse as any other team in the league. They can beat you with power, they can beat you with misdirection, they can beat you with bombs, they can beat you with short stuff. And then other times it's like 11 drunks tossing a large pumpkin around. The most galling example is their inability to get a simple play called, which is the most fundamental thing an offense needs to do aside from snapping the ball. But that's just one symptom of a larger problem, a failure to function like a professional unit. And it's not just a game-to-game thing, it's drive-to-drive! It's insane.

And while we all like to think that it's a completely QB-driven league these days, the best quarterback for four quarters I saw this weekend was Aaron Rodgers, and he didn't win.

Cian Fahey:I can't get on board with the idea that San Francisco can blow out good teams. I find it hard to blame the coaching staff, a lot of it is working through an inconsistent, not fully-developed quarterback.

Kaepernick is flashy and can do everything, but he still looks limited to me as a pure passer. It's why I'll be picking the Panthers to beat the 49ers next week, Newton is further along the development curve and their defensive line should provide more resistance than the Packers did on defense tonight.

Danny Tuccitto: Well, I didn't mean "blow Aaron Rodgers out" or "blow Green Bay out" or "blow a good team out" in a statistical history vacuum. I meant that the 49ers dominated this specific game (especially in the first half), and this specific coaching staff seems to not feel the need to put good teams away in this specific type of situation. I've been watching the same thing for three years. Since Harbaugh came aboard, only 10 of San Francisco's 36 wins came by 21 points or more, and the 10 opponents finished the season, on average, 4.5-11.5. And if you consider that 10 of the 45 total regular season wins by those opponents are from the Jason Campbell-led version of the 2012 Bears, it's essentially the case that the Harbaugh-led 49ers only blow out the equivalent of 3-13 or 4-12 teams. And that's not because those teams suck. It's because Harbaugh et al. chooses to take their foot off the gas. In other words, he's Bizarro Bill Belichick.

p.s. I realize the irony in me using statistical history to refute your statistical history point, Scott. It's just so obvious at this point with them that this phenomenon has broken free of "let's watch game X in a vacuum and comment on game X in a vacuum."

Scott Kacsmar: Well I wish the Broncos would stop allowing 27-plus points to every good team they play since 2012 (or is it 1999?), but that's just how it is. Harbaugh's history shows he's as likely to get blown out by a good team as he is to blow someone out. I'm just not sure there's any team in today's game that really blows good teams out with any sort of consistency. Not trying to hate on the 49ers, but I feel like Seattle's domination of the 49ers the last two years is making you wishful San Francisco will return the favor for a change.

Even a lot of blowouts are close games for a while. Chargers-Bengals is a good example today. That Ronnie Brown touchdown, which wasn't even necessary, makes things look like a three-score game, but it was played within a 10-point window for almost 58 minutes.

Danny Tuccitto: This isn't about some general (completely valid, BTW) idea about blowing out teams with any kind of consistency. It's specifically about the Harbaugh 49ers, in the midst of dominating a game, having their philosophical conservativeness produce unnecessarily close games. It's not that I wish (or expect) them to blow out good teams consistently. It's that, when they have a team like the 2013 Packers or the 2013 Panthers or the 2013 Cardinals or the 2012 Patriots or the 2011 Giants on the ropes early, they need to keep the pedal to the metal, not go into a shell and hope they can kill the last two-plus quarters. My point is, and has been, about a philosophy that shoehorns the comfort of a Size 12 into the torture of a Size 7, making wins unduly susceptible to randomness (e.g., Kyle Williams fumbling away the NFCCG, the bogus RTP flag losing the Saints game, etc.).

Scott Kacsmar: But what team in the NFL doesn't often play like that against good teams? Part of what makes so many of those teams good is the ability to come back after a bad start. The Broncos can blow a 24-0 lead in New England, but there's no way that happens in Oakland or Miami. What you're laying out is not a 49ers-specific flaw.

I guess this isn't 100 percent updated yet, but since 2011, the best scoring differential by a team against teams with a winning record is New England at +2.75/game. That's not even a whole field goal and they still have a losing record at 7-9. I guess the 49ers would be +1 overall after today, but oddly enough they have the best record in the league (16-10-1).

So I'm not sure this is something to worry about. That's just how the NFL works. One year you get Sterling Moore in the end zone, the next you get Rahim Moore coming up short of the ball. The days of domination are over. Even the 2007 Patriots couldn't get far ahead of Del Rio's Jaguars, San Diego with Rivers on a torn ACL, and then the Giants.

Danny Tuccitto: Again, you're citing general leaguewide heuristics when I'm talking about the very specific case of Harbaugh's philosophy. This isn't about the natural ebb and flow of NFL games. Yes, teams are going to jump out to leads, and their opponents will respond, and so forth. But when, say, Andy Reid decides to keep throwing the ball with a huge lead, that's his philosophy. If KC blows that lead (or PHI before them), then the philosophy is a more proximal cause than "Well, that's just how the league is these days" or "Well, Andrew Luck is insanely good at comebacks." When Jim Harbaugh (and/or Greg Roman and/or Vic Fangio, since it's really the entire decision-making apparatus I'm talking about) decides to start getting too cute by half with the play-calling around the goal line, or decides to keep running Frank Gore into eight-man boxes when the entire world knows they're running, or stops being creative with the pass rush so as to allow Aaron Rodgers to pick them apart, it's not some generality like "the current nature of the NFL" that's causing it. The cause is a philosophy that says, "Well, we have the lead, so let's just try to hold onto that lead like grim death" rather than a philosophy that says "Finish them!." At one point in the early second quarter, the 49ers had outgained the Packers 141 to 1, but only had a 6-0 lead. That's a joke. Yeah, that disparity happens in other games around the league from time to time -- and I'd venture to guess it happens most often in obvious mismatches -- but Harbaugh's 49ers have been a habitual enough case with this kind of thing that I'm confident I'm not getting fooled by randomness.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 06 Jan 2014

144 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2014, 1:41pm by D2K

Comments

1
by Ryan D. :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 12:28pm

"Aaron Schatz: This comeback reminds me a lot of the 1992 Buffalo Bills, who of course went on to win the Super Bowl that year."

Umm?

4
by RickD :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 12:48pm

Sarcasm.

11
by Aaron Schatz :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:07pm

Right. The point was that a huge comeback does not create some sort of multiple-game momentum that will make a team more likely to win the whole thing. An even better example of "don't overestimate the power of this comeback when projecting who will go all the way" is probably the 2002 San Francisco 49ers and their win over the Giants with the Trey Junkin blown snap at the end.

18
by Travis :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:28pm

The 1992 Bills did win their next two games 24-3 and 29-10, both on the road. Obviously, the off week before the Super Bowl killed their momentum.

33
by RikkiT (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:58pm

Bronko Nagurski didn't get no bye weeks.

19
by DLS (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:30pm

That seems like a weird instance to call out though. Even though the Bills didn't win the Super Bowl, they did go to the Super Bowl. After the game versus my Oilers, with a backup QB leading the charge no less, they went on to some pretty convincing wins versus the rest of the AFC. I'm all for discounting the momentum intangible, but the next two games they had were as important to having a shot at winning the Super Bowl as was playing in it.

138
by jonsilver :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 2:02am

Isn't it more reasonable to assume the point hanging in the air (the one Schatz should be trying to combat, and in my view, using the '92 Bills doesn't do it at all) is "don't underestimate the additional impetus this puts behind the Colts' ATTEMPT to go all the way."

2
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 12:45pm

I agree with Danny on the 49ers' being too conservative. A few years ago the Pats were accused of running up the score because they used to continue to run their offense with a lead. It was a silly complaint but it does show the correct killer instinct. Harbaugh is trying to be ruthless, it's just that his way of doing it is to try to kill the clock the old fashioned way, by running the ball and playing prevent defense. I just don't think it's that effective.

However, I don't really see this game as falling into that category. They didn't create a bigger lead because of some bizarre Greg Romanisms (the strangely timed end around, the qb sweep in the first quarter (????)), some poor execution by Kaepernick and the NFL's decision that holding doesn't exist in the postseason.

10
by zenbitz :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:06pm

I agree that the Harbaugh Niners don't seem to put teams away... but I can't see any point in THIS game where they went conservative. They kicked FGs in the 1st quarter. That seems like a totally normal decision, even if not supported by numbers. They actually barely ran the ball - 23 hand offs (including the failed end-around, but not including any designed QB runs/options).

They do use the WHOLE play clock every play - intentionally? running a few plays as possible per minute.

But Vince really nailed the consistency issues with the offense. My theory - although impossible to test - is that it's ALL misdirection. And when they don't "execute" what that really means is that the defense guessed (or was told) right. And if the defense gets in a groove of guessing (or intelligently predicting) the play calls... well, at least they have Andy Lee.

54
by Figaro (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:51pm

Could we get some numbers to settle the SF blowout philosophy debate of Danny vs. Scott et al.? I feel like this is where "analytics" can answer a question of whether SF is really more or less conservative than other teams with a lead.

I'm not saying that Danny right or wrong, but that FO is where one would go to find authors who do the research that would answer a contentious point like "that disparity happens in other games around the league from time to time...but Harbaugh's 49ers have been a habitual enough case with this kind of thing that I'm confident I'm not getting fooled by randomness."

If I met someone at a bar who said that I'd love to be able to show them an article on FO that proved or disproved their point.

56
by Figaro (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:53pm

I'm sorry if this sounded critical. I don't mean to be. I'm just curious about the topic and would love to read an article about it.

58
by EricL :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:12pm

Something along the lines of "what is the average final margin of games when teams take a 14-pt lead at some point in the first half?"

That would seem to fit the mold of "dominating early" that Danny is describing. If the 49ers final average margin is significantly below everyone else's, then maybe there's something there.

I don't expect to see any difference, however. This feels like a case of selective memory, but I'm still curious to see the data.

All this said, there's a reason why good teams don't generally blow out other good teams when they take an early lead. There's a good team on the other side of the ball, and they're trying to win, too.

77
by Scott Kacsmar :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:58pm

We can probably get an article together on this. The only reasons I did not further respond was it was 3 AM and I had my own long article to finish. I just don't think there's anything specific about the 49ers that fans of other top teams (from recent years) like New England, Green Bay, Atlanta, Seattle, Denver, etc. could point to.

The 49ers blew that 31-3 lead (should have been way bigger even) in New England in a prime-time game last year. Well, Denver blew a 24-0 lead there this season and the passing game was never relied on -- we're talking about Peyton Manning here, not Colin Kaepernick too -- until the Broncos fell behind. This stuff just happens.

On the reverse side of it, we've heard people criticize Jason Garrett and Andy Reid for not running the ball more (clock) against Green Bay and the Colts in these big comebacks the last month. What's the right amount of balance to protect a big lead these days? Not easy to answer.

126
by Insancipitory :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 8:21pm

By football perspectives game scripts the 9ers were the 2nd in the NFL, Broncos 1st, Seahawks 3rd. While it may be conservative, it's clearly very effective.

3
by DEW (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 12:47pm

Now, now, be fair to the Fox pregame crew. That's a lot of concussion damage at that desk. They probably genuinely do find Rob Riggle funny.

5
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 12:51pm

Non qb runs (which were mostly scrambles) generated little for San Fran so curious how it was determined that GB's run defense was an issue. If folks want to criticize GB for being in man coverage, which is susceptible to running qbs getting scramble yards, have at it but GB's secondary is AWFUL in zone coverage so Capers had few options.

I don't know how a SF fan can feel good about an offense facing third stringers and a team that played 4-3 defense, which it has not done in several years, due to missing multiple linebackers. SF has a lot of good players and a good offensive line but the offense in this game was Crabtree and qb scrambles. I don't think that is a sustainable approach.

As someone who was at the game with a good view everyone was holding. Offensive linemen were holding. Defensive backs and linebackers were holding. Don't know what was shown on the tv but the 'tight coverage' of the 49ers was them grabbing ahold of Nelson or Cobb or Jones and holding on for dear life. GB didn't catch on to this approach until later in the game. Same with the offensive lines of both teams.

SF had the advantage in that scenario as their guys were stronger than their GB counterparts so were able to get separation. Especially true on the SF defenders against the GB offensive lineman. I predicted that Bhaktari would have a long day due to his lack of strength and this type of game exacerbated his big weakeness, lack of upper body strength. The Packer d-line was more of the same except for Pickett and Daniels who were able to go toe to toe with SF. Raji played his last game in GB. He was pushed around like he was on skates half the night. GB needs to get stronger across the board this offseason. This is several times where an opposing team has just flat outmuscled GB.

If Hyde somehow comes down that pass on the final drive the CK game story changes pretty dramatically.

Really surprised by the effectiveness of the GB coverage units on kicks. They showed up yesterday

12
by zenbitz :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:12pm

>GB didn't catch on to this approach until later in the game.

While I have no doubt the Niners were holding everyone -- GB was holding Crabtree from the first drive.

I do agree that this was not a particularly impressive offensive performance against a badly damaged Packer defense. I guess I am going to blame the officials and the cold!

16
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:26pm

Another example of GB's lack of strength as Crabtree was still making plays by breaking free from the defender's grip.

It really is surprising at this level to see a team so clearly physically superior. I don't know how that can happen to have one team so much stronger than the other. I can understand individual matchups. But this was across the board unit to unit.

14
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:17pm

It's one thing to not call holding on offensive linemen. It's taken to another level, however, when Ray McDonald, about to grab Rodgers, has choke hold placed on him by an offensive lineman who is standing directly behind McDonald. The fact that Rodgers completed a key pass leading to a td, of course, is what makes it really stand out, but I don't think I've seen anything like that before.

I'd also say the uncalled pi on Crabtree in the end zone on the Niners second possession was especially blatant, in that the defender had his back completely turned to the ball, and made zero attempt to locate the ball.

The point about Hyde and Kaepernick, on the final drive, is outstanding, and once again confirms two major gripes about football punditry; the inanity of "clutch" analysis, and putting a microscope on playoff w-l records, and playoff performance generally.

Also, the dropped int is still an underappreciated phenomena, although I wouldn't characterize a tough play like that as a blatant drop.

20
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:32pm

GB had two potential interceptions missed. Williams had a shot in the end zone.

If Hyde had another few inches maybe he makes that catch. When the qb released the ball everyone in my section was screaming in anticipation because from our angle it looked like an obvious interception. You could see it coming as Hyde undercut the route. Obviously we couldn't gauge height off the ground.

25
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:48pm

The game that best combined stupid playoff clutch analysis and dropped int phenomena, as was the Saints/Vikings conference championship in New Orleans. Stubbleface outperformed Brees by a mile in that game. However, because the Vikings dbs dropped very easy ints, and Favre made one bad throw that was not dropped, at the end of regulation in a game where the Vikings should have been up by 14 at least, had the Vikings not been dropping ints, and other Vikings had not been fumbling, or if had roughing the passer had been enforced, the story becomes that Brees is great and Stubbleface screws up, by once again playing recklessly. If the Vikings win that game, what are people today saying about Drew Brees, without a championship, two fewer wins, and one more loss, on his playoff record?

It's all a bunch of confirmation bias nonsense.

29
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:55pm

Though I relished Favre not making the SB with the Vikings I don't remember him getting crucified after the game.

Mocked by Packer fans from afar, yes.

32
by QCIC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:58pm

"It's all a bunch of confirmation bias nonsense."

Exactly. Sadly about 80% of football analysis you hear is this. Listening to a broadcast it is like:

Comment I can ignore.
Comment I can ignore.
My god that is stupid
You don't understand football.
Oh that was actually an interesting and enlightening point.
Comment I can ignore.
Comment I can ignore.
You are dumber than a rock.
Comment I can ignore.
*Mute*

93
by RickD :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:12pm

" It's taken to another level, however, when Ray McDonald, about to grab Rodgers, has choke hold placed on him by an offensive lineman who is standing directly behind McDonald. "

That's exactly what happened to Richard Seymour on the Helmet Catch play in Super Bowl XLII.

And, in the interest of non-homerness, I'll point out that Saints fans will tell you that kind of holding happened in the NO-NE game this year.

General point? A lot of O-line holding goes uncalled, and some of the uncalled stuff is pretty egregious. It is rare that I see a game without at least one pass rusher held without a flag being thrown.

At least the 49ers won the game in spite of the missed call.

111
by PhillyFred :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 6:14pm

I don't recall the hold on the Helmet Catch play, but I don't doubt it happened because whenever a qb escapes like that, there's likely a hold that helped it happen. When Rodgers escaped from that collapsing pocket, I knew there had to be an explanation for Rodgers - there was no where for him to go - and sure enough the replay showed the blatant hold. The thing I couldn't get over is how Aikman and Buck were so enamored with Rodgers "great play" without pointing out the blatant mugging. Even after coming back from a commercial, and the replay highlighting the hold, Aikman went on about Cobb not quitting on the play.

Although not a 9ers fan, I had a rooting interest for them, so perhaps I'm biased, but it seemed the missed calls were far worse against the 9ers, particularly the missed interference on crabtree in the end zone, and the 4th and 8 play. They were both blatant missed calls and at critical times, arguably costing the 9ers 7 points each.

120
by Jackson J (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 7:12pm

To be fair, Aikman did finally mention the hold on the second or third replay...you could tell he just noticed it then, he said it was pretty blatant.

6
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 12:55pm

And I will say that as someone who believes that most officials are just completely incapable of keeping up with speed of the game I am fine with only the most egregious calls being flagged.

Not surprised at Niner fans complaining as they have the better team and this approach helped the lesser team stay in the game

Am surprised at others complaining given the number of absurd flag debacles that have been discussed in this forum.

94
by RickD :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:13pm

We're still wondering how Jeff Triplette was at work this weekend.

I think Goodell is trolling us.

7
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 12:57pm

Scott, the '87 Vikings were a legitimate strong championship contender, and the strike games, which were all lost by the faux-Vikings, merely obscured that fact. Like nearly all good to very good Vikings teams since Tarkenton, the qb position held them back most of all, but the rest of the squad was loaded. HOFers on both lines of scrimmage, along with guys, like Millard, who played at HOF levels in his somewhat short career. High level performers like Anthony Carter and Henry Thomas filled out the roster. They lost the NFCCG to the Redskins, in RFK Stadium, when a short pass at the goal line, which would have sent the game to overtime, was dropped, although, to be accurate, it was well-defended.

I'll always remember listening to Hank Stram, after the Vikings smoked the Saints, in a supposed upset, saying that the Vikings matched up extremely well with the Niners. Most people thought Stram was nuts, but Hank usually knew what he was talking about with matchups.

65
by Crack (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:22pm

Bill Walsh knew it. I'm glad Doleman made the HoF. He should have had a part in "The Blindside" movie.

8
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:01pm

Also thought Rodgers played less than his best yesterday. Even with all the hand fighting there were guys open underneath but for periods Rodgers was obsessed with finding someone deep and too often it would result in a sack or an incompletion. When he accepted the underneath options GB moved the ball.

Credit SF for sticking to their plan. They were going to force GB to take short passes and run the ball and Rodgers (and McCarthy) allowed themselves to be frustrated by this approach.

49
by dank067 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:43pm

Funny, that's what it looked like was happening in the first quarter, but Aikman seemed convinced that the Niners were taking away the quick and underneath stuff. That didn't make sense to me because on that fourth drive where they finally got moving it was via the shorter routes and dumpoffs. Anyway, I was still curious since that was an aspect of the game that hasn't been talked/written about much this morning, so thanks for that.

52
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:48pm

McCarthy must have had it in his head that if he ran the ball more than expected the Packers would be able to go deep off of playaction. It didn't materialize as MM's crystal ball had forecast and he and his qb were slow to adapt. Frankly, I don't think they adapted at all. They had moments where they were willing to settle but it was pretty clear Rodgers was itching to go deep on any pass play.

Seeing running backs and Cobb running crossing routes underneath and looking open it was pretty frustrating as a fan.

9
by MJK :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:06pm

I'm surprised more people aren't talking about the terrible clock management the Chiefs had at the 2 minute warning. After the 2nd down play, you know you're outside FG range, with just one timeout and the two minute warning. There was ample time to get both the 3rd down play AND a 4th down play (if required) off well before the 2 minute warning (or a punt, if you are so inclined)...then, if you fail to convert the 1st down, you have two clock stoppages and assuming you hold the Colts and they don't throw an incomplete pass, you'll get the ball back with a bit over a minute to play, down by less than a FG.

Instead Reid/Smith run a 3rd down play that doesn't stop the clock, then show no sign of hurrying and let the clock run down to the 2 minute warning before attempting their 4th down play, and then to add insult to injury, spend their final timeout coming out of the 2 minute warning. I know folks said they're OK with that, because at that point, if you don't spend the timeout, you're getting the ball back with something less than 30 seconds, so you've almost lost anyway, but the real mistake was not running a 3rd down play that would stop the clock, and then not getting the 4th down play off at least 10 seconds before the 2 minute warning.

Figure getting the ball back with 1:20 left at, say, your own 15 yard line, needing a FG to win, gives you a 20% chance of winning...that poor time management caused the Chiefs that much WP.

I guess, as Patriots fan, I'm spoiled and expecting too much clock management skill at the end of the game...

13
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:12pm

What about GB at the end of the first half not taking a timeout? They did have another timeout available, correct? I don't know what was wrong with taking the TO and at least one more play in the end zone. That just struck me was weird

26
by DavidL :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:49pm

Every single human being in the Philadelphia area just nodded and sighed at the same time.

113
by PhillyFred :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 6:21pm

nod and sigh

It was a weird feeling, so happy that era is over, but it had a PTSD effect on me.

15
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:22pm

I do think that the conditions in Green Bay, although they turned out a little better than forecast, affected the qbs and passing more than people appreciate. In particular, throwing deep routes was really, really, tough yesterday, and the defenses recognized this, and adjusted accordingly. I was impressed with the accuracy of both qbs on shorter routes, and how well guys caught the ball.

27
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:50pm

The game was an eerie facsimile of the 2007 NFC Championship Game.

Same field, same conditions. Almost the exact same score progression (only difference was from 7-6 it became 13-7 then 13-10, while the NFC Championship Game became 10-6 then 13-10). Dawson had a 33 yarder at the gun to win. Tynes had a 34 yarder at the gun to win - Tynes missed.

Even the individual parts of hte game were similar. Rodgers missing on deep throws, Michael Crabtree playing the Plaxico Burress role, down to even dominating a corner numbered 31 (House instead of Al Harris). The Packers offense did nothing in both games until falling behind 6-0.

Anyway, fun to revile one of the more epic games I have ever seen.

143
by Anonthulu (not verified) :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 12:36pm

"Revile" or "relive"? Because, there's some difference there, lol

17
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:28pm

James Jones is going to be haunted by his two drops yesterday. Neither call was easy by any measure but he has kept a job in GB making really tough catches and both of those balls he missed would not have been in his top 20 of toughest catches made.

So close

55
by dank067 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:51pm

The first deep one over the middle was like the only time all day that the Packers had a receiver get separation deep, but Rodgers wasn't able to get enough on it and so it was able to be contested and, ultimately, dropped. Like Will brought up a little ways above, both QBs had some great throws in the short-intermediate range but it looked like the cold significantly hampered the ability to throw it REALLY deep.

21
by Jon Goldman :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:35pm

"Am I the only one that is puzzled by the love Geoff Schwartz gets from a lot of media outlets?"

He's funny, accessible, and intelligent. He's quite active on twitter. It's less an extreme misjudgement of his abilities and more a wish to see a nice and funny guy succeed.

... This is not spam, site.

22
by Flounder :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:37pm

Danny Tuccitto constantly whining about officiating? I'm SHOCKED I tell you. SHOCKED.

23
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:41pm

Ha, ha. I just skip over his content. I am sure he is a nice guy, but as a fan he is exactly the guy I avoid at the office, bar, etc. It just gets old.

31
by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:56pm

Skipped a lot of non-Danny content on this one. Just too long, at least for me. Lots of chaff obscures the wheat.

40
by BJR :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:11pm

The whole article was too long for my liking, and could have done with a bit more editing.

43
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:14pm

I appreciate the commentary so am loathe to discourage the site's writers from posting their thoughts.

64
by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:21pm

Yes, they could start by editing Aaron's duplicate tweets/emails. I don't mind his comments just don't want to read them twice.

71
by Andrew Potter :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:35pm

There were a couple of mine duplicated in there too.

This is the first time we've really done the concurrent Twitter/E-mails approach, so any feedback like this is useful.

87
by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:41pm

"Omit needless words!"
Said Strunk to White.

"You're right,"
Said White,
"That's nice
Advice
But Strunk,
You're drunk
With words —
Two-thirds
Of those
You choose
For that
Fiat
Would fill
The bill!

Would not
The thought
— the core —
Be more
Succinct
If shrinked
(Or shrunk)?"

Said Strunk:
"Good grief!
I'm brief
(I thought)
P'raps not ...
Dear me!
Let's see ...
Okay!
Just say
'Write tight!'
No fat
In that!"

"Quite right!"
Said White.
"Er — I mean 'Quite!'
Or, simply, 'Right' "

24
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:43pm

So, where does this weekend rank in terms of best playoff weekends in recent years?

(limiting to rounds #1-2, as they have games both days - random tangent, but I feel like the NFL should move one of the Title Games to Saturday Night, make the Conference Titles Games more special).

I think in recent history, the combined 23 points margin of victory (1+2+3+17) ranks 3rd behind the 2003 (6+3+7+3 = 19) & 2006 (9+3+3+3 = 18) Divisional Weekend

Both of those two weekends had some memorable games, but I don't know if any of them individually match up to Colts/Chiefs. 2006 had three games end in 3 points margins. 2003 had two OT games and another that ended by three points.

I still rank 2006 Divisional Weekend as my favorite, but this is probably 2nd.

41
by coremill :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:12pm

IMO this week was better than 2006 but not 2003. 2003 had the Philly/GB 4th and 26 game, the Steve Smith 2OT game, the Indy/KC no punts game, and the NE/Tenn game won on a late Viniateri FG -- all in one weekend. That might never be topped.

44
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:17pm

As a Colts fan, I'm partial to anything that happened in the 2006 playoffs.

I can see 2003 being better, because two of the three-point games weren't memorable for specific things (the PHI @ NO and SEA @ CHI games), but I thought they were excellently played, far better played than TEN @ NE in my mind.

The CAR @ STL double-OT game was a real bore to watch, imo. Way too many field goals, too many turnovers, missed field goals. I guess there's some similarities there to the NE @ SD game, which wasn't all that well played either, but that NE @ SD game had so many storylines. So much happened in that game, the last great win of the defense-first dynastic Patriots.

It's close, and this weekend is up there too, but I think nothing tops a great Divisional Weekend.

50
by EricL :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:43pm

The only problem with moving one of the conference title games to Saturday is you give one of the teams a day less rest.

There seems to be a lot more emphasis lately on equal rest leading into and through the playoffs. (No Thursday games last two weeks, no regular season Saturday games, teams with byes play on the same day of week their opponent played, etc.)

70
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:31pm

That's true, and probably the 2nd biggest reason to not do it (the biggest being the TV numbers are down on Sunday - though NFL is probably big enough for it not to matter).

A better idea might be Sunday and Monday.

Either way, it's a revenue opportunity to make the Conference Final into more of an event (something that baseball and basketball do well with the LCSes and Conference Finals)

28
by Anonanon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:50pm

Where are the fantasy challenge results?

30
by nath :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:56pm

"Oh, and someday I want to watch Trent Richardson film with Mike Holmgren and ask: Dude, what were you thinking? Same goes with Brandon Weeden, actually."

No kidding, especially after he whined that the Browns trading Richardson was "giving up." I'm sure he is the only person in America who still thinks that.

I really want to ask Randy Lerner and the rest of the previous Browns braintrust: What were you doing hiring Holmgren as a personnel expert in the first place? He's a great coach whose only previous front office experience led to a "Give up personnel control and you can remain head coach; otherwise we're firing you from both" ultimatum.

2012 Browns might go down as the worst first round in draft history, which is saying something considering how bad teams could be at drafting back in the day.

34
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 1:58pm

To be fair, he did draft Josh Gordon in the conditional draft

73
by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:47pm

And Richardson was going to go to somebody within a few picks of where Holmgren took him. Weeden might have been on the board for a while (and had some more obvious questions about him going in) so fair to jump on that pick, but it's pretty lazy to fault the guy for missing on Richardson when most every other team was high on him, too.

107
by nath :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:49pm

I don't think it's ever wrong to fault someone for trading four draft picks to select a running back at the top of the draft. Nobody expected Richardson to be that bad, but still-- it's the 21st century, and HE'S A RUNNING BACK. I don't care what other teams might have done; a bad pick is a bad pick no matter who makes it. Holmgren's track record as a personnel man is almost uniformly terrible, so he won't be getting the benefit of the doubt because other GMs might also have made a terrible decision that he did in fact make.

The Weeden pick is especially galling for a number of reasons:

1)They originally planned to take Kendall Wright at 22 and Weeden at 38, but when Wright went to Tennessee they just said "Fuck it" and took Weeden at 22. Nice job getting value, guys.
2)Justin Blackmon went #5 overall. Blackmon was a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner in college. Weeden was his QB those two years. Maybe Holmgren should have considered that Weeden's performance in college was largely a large product of his NFL-ready wide receiver rather than because he was a legitimate franchise quarterback.
3)Weeden was 28 years old! Picking an old prospect has never worked out as far as I can remember. (Chris Weinke? Danny Watkins?) Of course a 28-year-old looks better playing against a bunch of 20-year-olds; he's in his physical prime and they're not.
4)Russell Wilson. (Hell, Nick Foles for that matter.)

Basically, it comes down to "Holmgren took two guys who put up big numbers in college without considering that they weren't the primary reason for those numbers."

He also tried twice to draft franchise QBs (apparently "Big stats in the Big 12" is Holmgren's sole requirement in QB scouting) and gave up on one of them after two years even though he's essentially just as good as the next guy he drafted (as well as four years younger). The evidence is heavily in favor of "He has no idea what he's doing" and not "He made a series of unlucky decisions," especially when you consider his calamitous tenure as head of personnel in Seattle.

117
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 6:51pm

The only successful older guy I remember is Roger Staubach and he was still only 26 after he finished his Navy time. I thought Weeden was an incredibly bad pick at the time simply because of his age. That he turned out to be so bad only reinforces that.

118
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 6:51pm

The only successful older guy I remember is Roger Staubach and he was still only 26 after he finished his Navy time. I thought Weeden was an incredibly bad pick at the time simply because of his age. That he turned out to be so bad only reinforces that.

121
by Duke :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 7:16pm

It's possible for Holmgren to be very bad at managing personnel and still better than what the Browns would have had otherwise.

124
by nath :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 7:55pm

That seems hard to believe, in the sense that they surely could have hired someone who wasn't "very bad", or at least taken a chance on someone who had not already proven to be "very bad" at the job they hired him for.

144
by D2K :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 1:41pm

Add on the fact that I cant fathom how they expect Lombardi to be any better.

35
by turbohappy :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:05pm

I don't know how to explain it (unless they are just really well conditioned or something), but the Colts have consistently looked better on both lines in the 2nd half of games this year. They can't run all game, but somehow they can run 12 times in a row and run out the clock up a touchdown in the 4th quarter (in addition to getting way more pressure on defense).

The secondary looked better after they yanked Toler. It's clear he wasn't actually healthy enough to play. Healthy backups were WAAAY better than a hurt Toler.

37
by turbohappy :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:08pm

The secondary play has really been up and down and I think a lot of it has to do with health. You saw what they could do healthy in the Denver game, but it seems like every single one of them got hurt by the end of that game and have been fighting injuries the rest of the season.

53
by EricL :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:49pm

There was a talking head on the satellite NFL radio show Sunday afternoon (I think - may have been morning) that was sitting with a scout during the KC/IND game. The scout's opinion was KC was in trouble from the moment the game hit 31-10. The reason?

Indy would abandon its game plan and let Luck run loose.

While the absurdity of not wanting to be up three touchdowns is the obvious problem with that statement, the frequency at which Luck does things like this does make you wonder if there's something to it.

Is Luck better off running a game plan, or (in effect) emulating Favre? Is there a way to bottle the frantic urgency of trying to come back down 20+ points?

139
by beargoggles :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 4:03am

Does Luck=Elway? or Elway's love child?

Stanford: check
Conservative coach who likes to run Trenty WInderson into line for 3 quarters, hamstringing QB: check
Team falls behind, unleashing QB to play instinctively and rally for victory: check
Traditional stats don't really love them: check
Marginal supporting cast: check

Additionally, both are exceptionally difficult to tackle.

Luck is more likeable, Elway was more of a physical freak. Overall, they seem awfully similar, at least based on my memory.

140
by beargoggles :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 4:03am

Does Luck=Elway? or Elway's love child?

Stanford: check
Conservative coach who likes to run Trenty WInderson into line for 3 quarters, hamstringing QB: check
Team falls behind, unleashing QB to play instinctively and rally for victory: check
Traditional stats don't really love them: check
Marginal supporting cast: check

Additionally, both are exceptionally difficult to tackle.

Luck is more likeable, Elway was more of a physical freak. Overall, they seem awfully similar, at least based on my memory.

36
by Crunch (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:07pm

"Scott Kacsmar: Since people on Twitter think I'm hating on Smith again, let me just say he was great, but he wasn't great at the end. Either one of those two big misses down the right sideline could have really locked this game up for the Chiefs. He missed them both, because those types of throws are just not a strength in his game. Never have been. His mobility was a huge factor, but as Vince mentioned, he held it too long on the Mathis strip-sack. That was another big turning point for the Colts.

So while no one can say Smith lost the game for the Chiefs today, he missed some really big plays in a 45-44 finish."

Just so we're clear, if this had been Tony Romo throwing two interceptions rather than Smith throwing incompletions Scott would be talking about what a great game Romo played.

67
by Crack (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:28pm

It looked to me like Bowe was too far outside and that's why Smith's pass ended up forcing him OB. Of course Smith could have thrown it somewhere Bowe would have had a chance to stay in bounds, but then he'd be crucified for missing Bowe.

74
by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:53pm

"Just so we're clear, if this had been Tony Romo..."
_________________

No doubt Romo can sympathize with Smith. Defense quits early and gives up 35 in a half and it's somehow the QB's fault.

90
by Crunch (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:57pm

Apparently to Scott if the defense quits and you throw an incompletion that's the QBs fault, but if the defense quits and you throw an interception or two the QB is blameless and deserves staunch support.

38
by wiesengrund :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:09pm

@ Danny, just remembering the 49ers beat the Falcons last year, wouldn't it seem like, Mike Smith suffers from that same specific philosophical problem? I'd venture to say the Smith-Falcons have lost more leads to that same not-finishing touch. And it's hard to even find the specific conservative notion in the pudding, as for instance some metrics lend credibility to the notion that Smith actually did a lot of things right: http://www.footballperspective.com/game-scripts-the-best-teams-of-2012/

So, if the most pass happy, non-conservative team built around dynamic offensive playmakers can lose tons and tons of leads just like a defensive mammoth like the 49ers, wouldn't that emphasize the notion that it might be just a league-wide phenom? I cannot stand such philosophy either, and I think both Smith and Harbaugh should correct it, but it does not seem like a Harbaugh-specific thing. Moreover, the "natural ebb and flow of NFL games" (i.e. opponents adjustments and players heads's staying in the locker room at half time, despite their coaches' best intentions of finishing the opponent) might just be more relevant to the outcome than any specific flaw Harbaugh has in his philosophy.

After all, your counterexample of Andy Reid just lost a 28 point lead.

47
by SmoothLikeIce :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:39pm

Adding to your comment,

Danny: "The cause is a philosophy that says, "Well, we have the lead, so let's just try to hold onto that lead like grim death" rather than a philosophy that says "Finish them!.""

I think Scott's point is that there is no "Finish them" button coaches can just press to blow teams out if they have them on the ropes, and it's just as difficult to do that as it is to put them on the ropes in the first place. Running Frank Gore into 8-man fronts to bleed the clock is no more or less effective, long-term, than airing it out and risking the clock stopping on incompletions or just some random mix of both.

59
by BJR :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:13pm

I think the biggest factor driving comebacks in the NFL is that being a long way in front forces opposing teams offences to play optimally - i.e. pass more, pass deep, hurry up.

69
by Crack (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:30pm

Go for it more often. I think you are right. It's not so much that those in the lead let up, it's that opponents start upping their game to optimal level and that exposes how conservative conventional wisdom is.

80
by theslothook :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:08pm

I can think of a perfect example of what you guys mean. The panthers were playing the dolphins this year and two instances were great examples. At close to the end of the half, the panthers had like 30s at their own 20. The dolphins went into a huge prevent defense, allowing carolina to throw short crosses and get into field goal range(which they were able to cash in with 3). Then near the end of the game, the dolphins were nursing a 16-14 lead. And of course, predictably, the dolphins went conservative and gave the panthers a chance. The panthers, knowing the situation, played aggressively and won.

Moral of the story - there's two parts to the comeback, the defense failing but the offense also going conservative. I hate this run the ball to kill the clock philosophy, mainly because you're not killing the clock unless you're picking up first downs. The way to kill a team is pick up first downs and that means throw if you're a throwing a team. That's why I feel like NE has the right idea.

92
by zenbitz :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:09pm

I am not sure it's more optimal - it's higher variance. When you are better/have the lead you should play a low variance strategy.

96
by RickD :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:21pm

The mean is more important than the variance.

Seems to me that teams with large leads regularly spike their means in the name of lowering their "risk" (i.e. variance).

101
by theslothook :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:30pm

First of all, if we're trying to be realistic as opposed to judging things in a vaccuum, we need to keep in mind that the opposing team's defense has its goals now switched. They will probably be willing to concede big plays for the sake of getting turnovers/trying to stop small gains on first and second down. That means as an offense, theoretically, your now in a position to take advantage of this.

Not too mention, passing itself is more multilayered than rushing. Long ball passing I suppose is high variance, but how much higher is the variance from short passes/screens?

All in all, I think my larger point was, just running for the sake of burning clock is counterproductive because the goal isn't to just mile 2 min and punt, but to sustain a long drive and eat up 4-6 minutes. I think if you're a passing team, you should stick with that strategy.

141
by BJR :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 10:06am

I'm talking about when a team is playing from behind. Who cares about the possibility of throwing another 5 interceptions when you are already 20 points down?

Pretty much all advanced NFL data points towards passing, in general, being a lot more efficient than running. When teams are behind, especially late in games, they are forced to pass a lot, meaning they are generally playing more efficiently when they are behind. Hence the preponderance of comebacks.

The really weird thing is coaches switching to passing lots late in games implies that they know this strategy is the best way to score points efficiently and quickly. But many won't do it until indeed they are losing late in games. Yeah, weird.

39
by nath :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:10pm

"Maybe it's scheme, spot on depth chart, lifestyle or just a fit with teammates, but it's really odd that Robert Meachem basically turned to dust in San Diego and showed life again in New Orleans."

I think it's some combination of spot on depth chart and scheme/fit. Meachem is good at doing one thing: Going deep. The Saints only really need him to do that one thing, and Brees is good at finding him when he does it and gets open, so he works for the Saints.

The baffling question is why A.J. Smith threw $14M guaranteed at him. Meachem was a first-round pick; he's a machine, a 6'4" receiver with speed who has all the physical attributes you want in a receiver. He spent five years in New Orleans and, despite those physical attributes, and despite playing with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, never got past #4 on the depth chart. That should have been a red flag to any team who wanted to sign him, let alone to expect him to replace Vincent Jackson!

48
by BJR :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:41pm

The Saints use so many receivers in so many specialized roles that it might be fair to believe they they are under-utilizing some of them. I'd always be wary of throwing money at receivers who have spent their careers playing with HOF QBs, however.

125
by nath :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 8:09pm

Meachem was the most physically gifted receiver on the roster, though (until Graham came along). Colston has size but not top-line speed or athleticism. Moore is like 5'8". Devery Henderson was an undersized deep threat whose prime attribute was familiarity with the offense-- in other words, a shorter Meachem.

Meachem should have been able to do it all and couldn't. That ought to have been a huge red flag for any team who wanted to sign him.

116
by mm(old) (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 6:31pm

"Meachem is good at doing one thing: Going deep."

He is also good at run-blocking. Of course, he doesn't get stats for that, but Payton takes advantage of it when he's in the game.

122
by Duke :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 7:18pm

"The baffling question is why A.J. Smith..."

Well, you're starting from a flawed premise.

135
by Ferguson1015 :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 1:34am

It's most likely not scheme fit since he failed in both Norv's and Whisenhunt's schemes before getting cut.

The biggest thing that stood out to me watching Charger games throughout his tenure there (masochist that I am) is that he was terrible at route running. He contributed to quite a few of Rivers' INTs in the early going of the season just by running the routes wrong. After failing so much in camp (I can only infer since Royal was the story and Meachem was largely forgotten) and in the early season, Rivers stopped trusting him and started forcing it more to the receivers he could trust (assuming he wasn't getting sacked at that moment).

42
by Purds :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:13pm

Colts/Chiefs comments:

1) I am not surprised by all the talk of Chiefs injuries, as they were aplenty. But, I am surprised that in the FO analysis, there isn't one word about the Colts injuries in the secondary that largely led to the horrible coverage (and thus no pass rush) in the first half. Toler should not have been out there -- it wasn't so much of expecting safety help on the deep TD as that his groin is shot, and he could barely keep up with a speedster like Avery on his best days. And Davis, for at least the first half, seemed uncertain of his knee and was very hesitant. Those were injuries going into the game, though, so I can see why they might be overlooked, but I do think benching Toler and having Davis work out his knee worries had a domino effect on the Colts D, allowing their rush to have an impact. (Toler also missed two tackes on Bowe on the same play -- his long pass in the first half.)
2) I'm happy about the Mathis strip sack, but I wouldn't blame Smith too much. If Smith doesn't try those risky plays -- he was attempting to prolong that play when he was sacked -- then he doesn't score on the back-handed shuffle pass, nor the one where he began to run and baited the safety and then floated it over Bethea to the RB for another score. In short: you can't chide Smith for one risky play that failed but not praise him for the two (or more) that worked -- and that drove this Colts fan nuts. "He's not that good" I kept telling my wife.
3) Still can't get an answer: how are the Colts winning games? The only answer I keep getting is some mistake (or now injuries) to the opponents. I agree that I can't see anything else, but they now have beaten SF, Seattle, Denver, and KC. That's not a bad resume, and one that you would think has to have something in common more than good fortune (notice how I didn't say luck there?)

75
by Scott Kacsmar :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:53pm

I twice mentioned the injuries in the Colts secondary. I'm not sure if the coverage truly improved on the final drives or if it was just a matter of Smith failing to hit a couple of big plays. The pass rush improved, which will always help the secondary.

98
by Purds :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:26pm

I stand corrected, sir. You're right.

I guess it just seemed swallowed up in the Chiefs injuries, which were huge, and you were the only one.

Still don't know how the Colts win. They don't seem to have a single identity. Hopefully someone will show up and play well in NE. Perhaps Luck, perhaps Hilton, perhaps Brown, perhaps Mathis, perhaps Davis. Someone, just not sure who. Unlikely Hilton, as:
1) he's small
2) if the refs continue to swallow the flag, he'll have trouble with NE CB's who love to play physically (I am looking at your, Talib)
3) BB is great at taking away your first offensive option.

128
by Athelas :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 9:36pm

Re 3) Love Talib. He does play physically (like Law & Rodney in the 2003 (?) playoff game agains the Colts, but not out to injure, like Meriweather.

129
by Cythammer :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 10:04pm

They haven't been doing much winning in the second half of the season, at least not against good teams. This past Saturday they won because of injuries and, again, didn't play very well. A one-point win after your opponent's best player is injured on the opening drive?… Oof. It's seriously incredible that a Chiefs' offense without Charles could put up 44 points. That's not even considering all the other injuries KC suffered. The Colts are basically a better version of the Jets: a high variance, inconsistent team that collected a few impressive scalps, but is overall much worse than their record indicates. Luckily for Indy they get to face to weakest of the four bye teams this week, but it's unlikely that will be enough.

45
by Anonanon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:25pm

No one seems to notice that: 1.) The Niners receivers initiate the contact and try to draw the defender into holding just in an effort to get their own hands free; then of course they push off as much as they can get away with; and 2) The Niners DL hold the OL to keep them off their LBs. Good luck getting a hold call on a DL who's not in pass coverage. Most people don't realize it because the Packers are a very over-regarded mainly due to Rodgers, but the Niners losing that game, with the Packers missing so many key players, would have been a failure of epic proportions.

46
by Passing Through (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:33pm

If I'm a seahawks fan, I'm salivating at the opportunity to play in a "let them play" climate as shown in SF-GB.

In addition to overwhelming talent, I think the Seahawks defense is designed around holding opposing receivers every play, under the assumption that the refs won't call it every play. If they don't call it at all, it's going to get ridiculous.

51
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 2:44pm

Won't happen but if so it should make fans appreciate what receivers faced 35 years ago. Makes the careers of guys from that era that much more impressive knowing that they had to combat what would be termed 'mugging' in today's game

57
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:06pm

I was thinking the same thing while watching the game. Seattle will crush anyone if that amount of holding is allowed, their secondary is so big and strong.

The NFL continues to officiate high profile games with the demented idea that 'flags ruin games' so they're letting them be spoiled by uncalled penalties instead. If they want that amount of connect to be legal then change the rules but do it in a transparent manner so everyone knows what the parameters are.

As it stands Seattle have constructed their defense intelligently, they have built a unit to take full advantage of the league's desire to see fewer flags in big games.

60
by EricL :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:14pm

It's not just the NFL. The NHL has "You don't see that called in the playoffs" as their unofficial motto.

63
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:18pm

Given that the officials are so inconsistent if the choice is between completely arbitrary flags or no flags I will take no flags for $500 Alex

76
by dank067 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:55pm

Not that your overall point doesn't have its merits, but I don't think there will be an uncalled penalty apocalypse in Seattle this postseason. The Seahawks were the most penalized team in the league this year, and in their three highest profile games (vs. SF, vs. NO, @ SF) they were penalized 10, 8, and 7 times. And although it wasn't a national TV game, they were also penalized 9 times vs. Arizona in Week 16, which was a pretty important matchup. Three of those games were at home, too. In my mind, even if the refs tend to swallow their whistles in the postseason, they are also plenty aware of Seattle's style of play and do give it scrutiny.

78
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:58pm

Good information.

Sherman had to be looking at Davon House's play and telling anyone around him, "Oh, I can hold WAY better than that!"

83
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:17pm

We'll have to see if that trend holds up, might be interesting.

86
by Passing Through (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:40pm

My point is that the Seahawks get lots of defensive penalties by design. They play at the edge of the rulebook. If the refs throttle back, they have the most to gain.

106
by dank067 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:48pm

Very true. My thinking was that the since the referees do appear to have been consistently on top of Seattle's secondary this year, I don't think it's likely that they'll just let the Hawks secondary start having their way with opposing receivers. Then again... trying to predict the officiating is pretty dicey. Will just have to wait and see how things turn out.

130
by Cythammer :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 10:12pm

It's particularly nutty that over the past few years they've steadily made the game more pass-friendly, presumably because it's thought that that's what fans want, but then in the most important games of all, the refs let the passing game be minimized. Maybe the NFL wants a quarterback-centric league, but one where nonetheless those top QBs are constantly upset in the playoffs. Unless that's their plan though, it's quite nonsensical.

136
by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 1:41am

-Fans love the passing game!
-Fans hate flags!
-We're a pack of idiots!
-Throw no flags!

62
by Flounder :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:14pm

I think it was mostly about the footing. If the refs hadn't let more than usual go, the db's on both sides would have had no chance. I wouldn't be surprised if the crew explicitly discussed this before the game.

66
by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:24pm

If they communicated that to head coaches before games that would be fine. But to have players find out during live action is uncool

61
by nath :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:14pm

"My point is, and has been, about a philosophy that shoehorns the comfort of a Size 12 into the torture of a Size 7, making wins unduly susceptible to randomness (e.g., Kyle Williams fumbling away the NFCCG, the bogus RTP flag losing the Saints game, etc.)."

I agree with your point in general, but the SAINTS were the team that dominated that game-- one look at the YPP stats should be enough to tell the story, though I'm sure other advanced stats would agree.

68
by EricL :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:29pm

Regarding the Eagles' offensive pace on Saturday. I don't know that I've ever seen a study on it, but my gut feeling is Chip Kelly's offense at Oregon also slowed down in every bowl game. This might be a subconscious change on Kelly's part.

Early in seasons, they would have stretches that even this year's Baylor team would have trouble matching. They never seemed to match that pace at any point in any bowl game, however. I'd love to see data on that to see if it matches my gut feel.

72
by nuk :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 3:45pm

Anyone know what the record is for the number of consecutive seasons non-divisional nfl teams have played each other? With the Colts going to NE next week, they'll have a 13 year streak going, from '03 to '15, at least.

95
by Travis :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:20pm

The Vikings played the 49ers 13 consecutive years between 1983 and 1995. (They would have played in 1982 as well, but the Week 9 game was cancelled by the strike.)

Longest post-1970:
13: Vikings-49ers, 1983-1995
12: Bengals-Seahawks, 1984-1995
11: Colts-Patriots, 2003-2013 (active)
10: Giants-49ers, 1984-1993
10: Steelers-Chargers, 1987-1996
10: Packers-Rams, 1988-1997
9: Chiefs-Oilers, 1988-1996
9: Patriots-Broncos, 1995-2003
9: 49ers-Packers, 1995-2003

109
by nuk :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:51pm

Cool, thanks. So it looks like Colts/Pats will break that record if they finish the same place in their divisions in '15.

123
by Duke :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 7:22pm

Actually, looks like AFC East played AFC South in 2012, so they should be on schedule to do it again in 2015, regardless of positioning.

79
by theslothook :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:08pm

Was the secondary officiating in the GB/SF game really that bad? More than in any other game? I didn't think it was bad at all. Of course the standard o line holding was definitely going uncalled, but the pass coverage seemed ok.

81
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:15pm

I can't agree Hooky, in some cultures the receivers and cornerbacks would be legally married after holding each other so tight for so long. It wasn't even one sided, there was one Tramaine Brock deflection in the end zone where I just couldn't believe they didn't throw a flag.

84
by theslothook :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:31pm

Kind of ironic coming from a guy whos favorite player essentially led us down this road, but I actually am ok with swallowing whistles in the secondary. Obv to a point, but I'm fine if dbs have one arm on the back of a receiver or get away with a slight jersey tug. Idk, playing db is really hard dontcha know.

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by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:44pm

I draw the line at not making the db play the ball once it is in the air. That is what irritated me so much about the third down throw to Crabtree on the Niners 2nd possession. There was no attempt, at all, by the corner to locate the ball; just an effort to make contact with Crabtree. I have no idea how that was missed.

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by Flounder :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:15pm

It wasn't. FO just likes to constantly criticize/whine about officiating in audibles. I mostly skip this article most weeks now because of it.

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by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:37pm

I don't think it can be stressed enough that the following combination makes for outcomes where nobody is satisfied

--subjective based infractions
--a game played by incredible athletes with amazing reflexes and reaction times
--a game officiated by middle aged men with reduced reflexes/eyesight/reaction times

To expect these referees to generate any consistency on officiating a contest is irrational.

To accept these constraints as conditions for having the contest and then complain about them repeatedly is loony

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by RickD :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:26pm

I didn't have a dog in any of this weekend's fights, and I thought the non-calls in the GB/SF were more blatant than in the other games.

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by Purds :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:30pm

I don't give the Colts much of a chance in NE this coming weekend, but if the refs continue this past weekend's trend of "letting them play," that will hugely favor the Pats. NE CB's love to be physical, and the Colts WR are small and not physical. Mathis is a speed rusher, and not calling offensive holding will nullify him. And the Pats pick routes will work wonders, as KC's did against the Colts this past weekend.

Here's to hoping Pagano and staff realize this and make their own adjustments to playing with the leeway that the refs seem to be allowing.

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by theslothook :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 4:50pm

No comments on the bengals chargers...

I'll give mine. As a fan of the colts, this loss from the bengals reminded me so much of the 2005 colts loss to the steelers. The colts, like the bengals, had already beaten this team and had done so without even playing their best football. They were clearly the better team and at home. And of course, the loss was immeasurably frustrating, not only in the way it unfolded(a slow steady gut punch of failed possible comeback opportunities), but all of baggage that was surely weighing on the minds of every fan. I remember having to avoid the media for almost 3 weeks because of the coming the mountain of vitriol headed Peyton's way.

I still don't believe in choking, despite this being Dalton's third straight awful postseason game. This is actually pretty consistent for dalton, who often alternates stretches of great play with stretches of horrid play. When the pass blocking sucked, Dalton really went into the tank.

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by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:01pm

The prior two playoff games were against a solid to very good Texans team. Those losses can be 'explained'

Yesterday the Bengals faced a seemingly inferior team with a kind of whacky offensive game plan (given the Chargers known strengths) and not only did the Bengals lose they looked somewhat inept in doing so.

Wild, wild stuff as Johnny Carson used to say

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by RickD :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:33pm

The Bengals looked like the better team in the first half, when the Chargers were inexplicably minimizing Rivers' passes. (5/6 at halftime).

And then they didn't even show up for the second half. They seemed to give up with a lot of time left on the clock. Really an inexcusable lack of effort there. On a weekend when the Chiefs blew a 28-point 2nd half lead, I'd say that the Bengals had the worst 2nd half of the bunch.

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by apk3000 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 6:20pm

My impression was that for the first three quarters, whoever was moving from left to right clearly had their offense working. For whatever reason, the Bengals didn't get the switch flipped for the 4Q.

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by Snack Flag (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:27pm

Danny Tuccitto needs to stop talking about the Niners. He completely loses any sense of reality when he discusses that team. When the majority of comments about yesterday's game are him arguing that they don't win by enough, it gets grating. The Niners defensive weakness is their secondary and their offensive weakness is throwing the ball. It doesn't take much more than Occam's Razor to figure out why they struggle to blow teams out.

That's leaving aside the fact that his actual question (why isn't my team always beating other good teams by more points?) is completely ridiculous from a historical perspective. It's really hard to beat a good football team, let alone blow them out.

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by theslothook :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:33pm

I think in retrospect, he would say he worded his point poorly. I think he's angry at the overall philosophy of the 49ers and that he thinks that in games they do play well in, they should be up by much more than they are. Setting aside whether the 49ers "deserved" to blow out gb, the 49ers do have a tendency to be strangely conservative despite their abundance of talent. They seem notoriously risk averse with very little logic to back it up.

As for his griping...yeah, not much to add to this that hasn't been said

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by RickD :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:34pm

I'm cool with Danny's griping, since it deflects attention from the usual complaint that FO is too Patriots-centric. :)

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by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:39pm

Also, the reason the 49ers weren't farther up is easily explainable. The had a bad performance in the red zone, and Kaep threw a bad pick on a nice drive. That's why they had just 13 points at halftime instead of 24.

They were never ahead by more than a score, so I don't see how one can argue they didn't play the right way in the 2nd half. If they executed better, they would have been up more.

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by bucko (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 5:51pm

I have read/heard repeatedly that this interception was a terrible throw by the Niners qb. What I saw was the cornerback peeling off his guy AS the qb is throwing the ball and making a fine break on the pass.

That isn't a poor pass. That is great defense by a veteran cornerback who recognized what was happening.

The Niners qb had some terrible throws in the game (the near Hyde interception, the near Williams interception in the end zone). That pass was not one of them

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by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 6:11pm

My opinion when it happened was that it was a really nice play by Williams to recognize the route combo and peel off the guy running the deep post, but I also thought Kaep floated it a bit. Throw a bullet there and it arrives before Williams.

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by BigWoody (not verified) :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 6:28pm

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by Scott C :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 8:40pm

"Why is the San Diego defense playing so much better today than they did over the course of the season? "

In addition to the shuffling in the secondary, there have been other changes:

* Health at Linebacker.
Yes, Melvin is back, but so are others. Jarret Johnson is healthy, Donald Butler is more healthy than most of the year. Te'o is improved (but still not playing instinctively in the run game). LB's can rotate and rest more than before.
* Gilchrist at slot corner (more often)
The experiment as a deep safety is over, and he is now mostly at his more natural position defending in the slot or in run support.
* Jahleel Addae at Safety, in rotation with Stuckey. Both have weaknesses, but the UDFA Addae has stepped up and improved. Now there are two safeties that can be (somewhat) trusted in cover-2 deep coverage not named Weddle.

Overall the secondary is far more consistent and has much fewer coverage breakdowns. Earlier in the season, you could guarantee that Cox or a deep safety would be out of position frequently. Now guys are in position, but merely beat physically because they aren't a particularly physically gifted bunch.

* More 1-gap and less 2-gap on the line.
Several D-lineman are pretty skilled penetrators, and not as good with 2-gap assignments.
* More rotation for rest on the D-line. Cam Thomas in particular seems improved when not asked to take too many snaps, but this is generally true.

The result is that the "Joker" player -- Weddle -- is used more effectively now. Weddle is the best Free Safety, Strong Safety, and Slot Corner on the team. He can rush the passer, play center field, shed blocks against the run, and cover fast and shifty TEs and RBs man-to-man. He is also the third-best inside linebacker. Early on he was filling in for depleated linebackers too much, and is now more often doing the things he does best.
He is still used too often as a "light" linebacker on passing downs IMO.

In short, they have gone from a defense that made many mental mistakes and was often mismatched in the secondary to one that is merely physically over-matched in the secondary but more fundamentally sound. Meanwhile the front-7 has improved talent available for stopping the run and more variety and talent in the blitz packages.

I think the defense is still poor, but at least it isn't embarrassing.

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by Scott C :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 10:25pm

Some info about the change in players from start to finish this year is at the bottom of this link:

http://www.boltsfromtheblue.com/2014/1/3/5268796/san-diego-chargers-snap...

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by Ferguson1015 :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 1:45am

This is a very good run-down of reasons why SD's D is better. I would also add that the added health of the Offensive Line is what has sparked the run game during the win streak.

The fact that the Defense has improved and that the Offense can be more balanced due to getting healthy at the right time is exactly why they suddenly look like a better team.

They still have quite a few problems, the Secondary outside of Weddle being first and foremost, but the front 7 has improved greatly since JJ and Ingram came back healthy. I just wish I could see a healthy Dwight Freeney in there as well, but alas. I must await next season for Ingram and Freeney to be on the field at the same time.

Here's to hoping that San Diego continues playing to the level of the competition

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by Cythammer :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 10:16pm

Is there any reason the NFL only has primetime games on Saturday during the Wild Card and Divisional rounds? I wish they would have games at 1 PM and then a night game for both Saturday and Sunday. That would give us time to digest the early game instead of jumping right into another game. I think there were a lot of people who weren't ready for Philly-New Orleans immediately after Chiefs-Colts.

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by dbostedo :: Mon, 01/06/2014 - 11:40pm

I'd guess that the number of people who need that kind of break between games is relatively small compared to the number of people who would rather have back to back games, and have both games played in 6 hours rather than spread across 9.

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by Cythammer :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 12:47am

I still don't understand why they choose to have only one game in primetime.

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by DavidL :: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 11:36am

Because "primetime" doesn't have the same impact on a weekend that it does on a work day?