Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
06 Jan 2014
compiled by Rivers McCown, Andrew Potter and Ben Jones
For this year's playoffs, we have a modified format for our Audibles at the Line feature, combining our Twitter feeds with our e-mail discussion. Firstly, the arrival of the playoffs brings with it the return of our usual back-and-forth staff e-mail conversation. Secondly, every game will also have a selection of tweets from us and a few reader tweets we found particularly insightful. To follow these tweets live on Sunday, or to contribute your own thoughts or a question for the FO staff, you can use hashtag #FOAud. We discussed the new format in this post.
After the last game finishes, we will compile a digest of tweets and e-mails to produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed, not entirely grammatically correct, and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
Audibles is still being written from our point of view, meaning the comments in this feature are often written from a fan perspective as much as an analyst perspective; in order to properly accuse FO writers of bias, please check our FAQ.
@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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
(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.
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.
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.
@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.
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!
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.
@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.
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.
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.
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.
@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.
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
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.
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.
144 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2014, 1:41pm by D2K