Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Oct 2015

Audibles at the Line: Week 5

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to turn into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Seattle Seahawks 24 at Cincinnati Bengals 27 OT

Aaron Schatz: Bengals come out twice in the opening drive in a funky "half Emory and Henry" that has the two offensive tackles split out wide, but unlike the regular Emory and Henry there's only a trio of players on one side of the field. Other side looked like it had just the offensive tackle by himself. I love Hue Jackson so much. Andy Dalton ran a quarterback draw on the first one for a first down. Second one was a handoff to the running back.

Seattle and Cincinnati are supposed to have great pass defenses, but hey, nobody is perfect. Each team gets a touchdown on its first drive from totally blown coverage. Tyler Eifert was completely open up the seam, and it looked like Kam Chancellor was supposed to have him but instead jumped on a little hook route from Marvin Jones that another Seattle defender was already covering. Seahawks defenders were arguing with each other afterwards. Then Seattle scored when Jermaine Kearse got behind everyone. Alas, no analysis from me on that one. Didn't see the replay, I honestly have no idea how that coverage was blown to leave him so wide open.

Sterling Xie: Seattle got away with one when A.J. Green burned Cary Williams for a 72-yard touchdown, only to have it called back due to an Andrew Whitworth holding. I'd say that's as rare as a blue moon, but that'd be an insult to Whitworth. Anyways, it looks like that scared Seattle straight, as Richard Sherman has started following Green everywhere since then (including on one play when Green was in the slot).

Andrew Healy: The evidence that Andy Dalton has turned the corner is building. Even with that long touchdown getting called back, he is again living in the 10-plus yards per attempt zone, even against the Seahawks this week. Through one quarter, Dalton is 8-of-10 for 136 yards and a touchdown.

And Dalton throws a terrible pick at the end of the first half with the Bengals driving in a 7-7 game. It looked to me like he had A.J. Green to the corner, but a severe underthrow. Maybe that's wrong with just how far of an underthrow that would be, but I want to say good decision with a disastrous throw.

Vince Verhei: Seattle's offensive line having easily it's best game of the year, opening holes for Thomas Rawls and keeping Russell Wilson largely protected, especially on a long beat-the-clock field goal drive at the end of the first half. They're winning the line of scrimmage on the other side of the ball too -- I've counted three run stuffs so far, and I missed most of the first quarter with transportation issues.

Rob Weintraub: I'm at the Bengals game in person this week. Cincy 2-7 in games I've attended live, well on the way to 2-8.

Conditioning will be a factor in the second half -- I'm ready to drop from dehydration and I am only getting a handful of snaps (just want one clean shot at Wilson).

Aaron Schatz: Regarding the Seattle offensive line... they really aren't that bad at run-blocking. The Seahawks were 17th in adjusted line yards coming into today's game. It's just the pass-blocking that is horrendous.

Also, Thomas Rawls does look great. I know a lot of people are asking why he went undrafted... he had a Speed Score of 92 because he ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds at the combine, but that might have been a fluke. He ran it in 4.46 at his pro day. And I have to think the scouts doing film study would have seen his tackle-breaking ability. I want a running back who can break tackles and get positive yardage even when the offensive line isn't getting any for him.

Sterling Xie: Talked about Rawls' tackle-breaking ability earlier; how bout that lower body strength to get away from Reggie Nelson on that 69-yard touchdown? Amazingly Seattle's first rushing touchdown of the year.

Aaron Schatz: Seattle's offensive line also blocked wonderfully on that Rawls touchdown run, which ties back into my comment about their run-blocking not living down to their overall reputation.

Sterling Xie: Think the difference has been how thoroughly the Seahawks' defensive line has beaten Cincinnati's offensive line in the trenches. We've started to see Dalton revert to his happy feet habits in the pocket, even when the pressure isn't always there (like on that third-and-13 at the end of the third quarter). Honestly, hard to remember a good throw Dalton has made since that Green touchdown that was waved off.

Aaron Schatz: I was just typing the same thing. Three offensive holding calls and three sacks through three quarters, plus some sort of blown blocking assignment on a jet sweep by Rex Burkhead that led to a fumble returned for a touchdown by Seattle. At one point the disintegration seemed to be tied to Andre Smith going out with an elbow injury, but he's back now and things keep getting worse. This is a good offensive line. They do not look it today.

Andrew Healy: It's not all him, but with Rawls looking sort of like Lynch in his prime, it's pretty fascinating to see what they'll do when Lynch returns. With the way running backs are, there is a good chance that Rawls is already the better option.

And sorry Bengals fans, but we are in the midst of some deja vu:

2014: Undefeated Bengals play 2-2 NFL superpower in Week 5, pick on road, lose 43-17
2015: Undefeated Bengals play 2-2 NFL superpower in Week 5, favored by 3, trailing 24-7

Vince Verhei: Point taken that Seattle's line has been better at run blocking than pass blocking, but this is still the best they've looked in that category all year. There's a reason they had not rushed for a touchdown all year until today.

I don't know why teams big blitz Russell Wilson. It seems like every time he sees a cover-zero, he's getting the ball to a receiver where only the receiver can get it. Happened again in the third quarter where he hit Baldwin for a big gain. Drive ended when Wilson threw a bad tip-drill interception to a well-covered Jimmy Graham, but then the defensive line saves the day again. Michael Bennett comes in unblocked and forces a fumble on a Rex Burkhead fly sweep, and Bobby Wagner gets the scoop-and-score touchdown.

Bengals rally when they finally realize, hey, Seattle likes to give up 7-yard seams and curls. Andy Dalton scores on a 6-yard quarterback sneak when he realizes the middle of the field is wide open and just takes the snap and charges forward. Seattle then goes three-and-out and Bengals are going to get the ball back with two-plus minutes and no timeouts, down 24-21.

Andrew Healy: No longer deja-vu-y.

Aaron Schatz: Also improved play by the Bengals defense, stopping the Seattle offense while the Bengals came back. Geno Atkins looking very good, rolled off Justin Britt to tackle Russell Wilson attempting to scramble to convert third-and-4.

Vince Verhei: So Seattle punts. Adam Jones does the "these aren't the droids you're looking for" hand wave. Seattle thinks it's a fair catch. The refs think it's a fair catch. Jones then takes the ball and takes off. Refs say no, you called fair catch, you're down here. One, Jones' hand never went above his head, so I don't see how that can be a fair catch sign. Two, if you ARE going to call it a fair catch, then isn't it a penalty to run after the fair catch sign?

Aaron Schatz: Yes, it is a penalty. They called a 5-yard penalty on Jones as well. (Probably should have been a 15-yarder for taking off his helmet to argue.) I can't tell if Jones was trying to call for a fair catch or not but there was a Seattle coverage team guy right there when he made that motion and I've got to think that guy tackles Jones immediately if he wasn't scared off by the "sort of fair catch" signal. So it seemed clear that Seattle, at least, thought he was calling for a fair catch.

Bengals march down the field, thanks in part to DPI on Cary Williams (got beat by Marvin Jones) and then a great sliding catch by Tyler Eifert, then they run the fire drill to get the field goal unit on with 11 seconds and no timeouts, and we go to overtime 24-24.

Rob Weintraub: Allow me to say ...

"Wooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!"

Vince Verhei: Seattle's last six drives all end in punts and they blow a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose 27-24 in overtime. Bengals ran the ball to the right hash mark on third down, and it's a good thing they did -- Mike Nugent's winning kick doinked off the left upright and in.

On the one hand, none of Seattle's losses are terrible on their own. On the other hand, they're one forced fumble away from being 1-4, and they have been awful in the fourth quarter all year.

And Jimmy Graham remains near invisible.

Aaron Schatz: I haven't watched a lot of Cincinnati this year, and I didn't watch today's game with the remote and the DVR rewind button so I could look closely at blocking. But I wonder if there's something going on with the run-blocking style that has Giovani Bernard having so much more success than Jeremy Hill in 2015. When the Bengals made the big comeback in the fourth quarter, and then in overtime, it was all Bernard. I don't think Hill even got on the field at that point. Even Bernard was getting the carries once they were just trying to improve field goal range for Nugent at the end.

I'm still not really worried about Seattle making the playoffs this year, despite the 2-3 start. Yes, the passing game looks worse than last year, not better, despite the addition of the (invisible) Graham. But this team is still playing well, even in losses. All three losses are on the road. Seattle's schedule doesn't get any easier, but Arizona's schedule does get a lot harder.

Rob Weintraub: A few thoughts on Cincinnati and Seattle while driving back south on I-75 after the game:

It's hard to truly get into Xs and Os while watching the game from the stands. Especially when you are duking it out after every play with ornery Seattle fans. But to me clearly the key to the comeback was Cincinnati's depth on the defensive line. They shut down Seattle's running game and harassed Wilson in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile Seattle's pass rush, a huge force in the middle quarters, fell off to nothing in the fourth quarter.

An underrated aspect of the game was Cincinnati's kick coverage. They prevented Tyler Lockett from doing anything and killed a couple of punts inside the 5-yard line with good play by the gunners.

Bam Bam Kam does a lot of things, but he can be defeated by elite tight ends. Tyler Eifert had a huge game. His presence makes such a difference in the Cincinnati attack.

Colin Cowherd is right. Andy Dalton can only play from ahead and when everything is perfect. And of course he can't win the big one.

Washington Redskins 19 at Atlanta Falcons 25 OT

Andrew Healy: Really impressed with the Washington defense so far. Have held Julio Jones without a catch and forced two turnovers from Matt Ryan, who looks more uncomfortable than I can remember all year. Secondary has had a lot of breakdowns this year -- heck, even Philly hit a bunch of big plays against them -- but looking rock solid so far.

Aaron Schatz: I saw a note online that Jones is on the sidelines holding his hamstring... has he been playing mostly? Does he look healthy?

Andrew Healy: No idea about how Julio's hammy is feeling, but he seems to be walking a thin line with his health right now. He's taken a lot of abuse with all those targets, and considering how nicked up he is already, I would be surprised if he played all 16 games. As for today, I haven't seen enough of the game to say how he's looking, but I've noticed a couple throws where Ryan has forced it into double-coverage on him. Jones was open on Ryan's interception, but it was overthrown.

Julio caught one of five targets in the first half. Small piece of evidence suggesting he's not close to 100 percent. Ryan just missed a wide-open Leonard Hankerson for a long touchdown, early second half. In the parts of the game I've seen, Ryan has looked ragged, missing some pretty easy throws.

Sterling Xie: Also need to give credit to the Washington pass rush, which has really harassed Ryan all day. And Matt Bryant just missed his second field goal after a long streak of not missing at home. Between him, Aaron Rodgers, and Tampa Bay at home, it could be a big day for streak snappers.

Andrew Healy: And the previously unstoppable Devonta Freeman looks like he has had very little room to run, too. Bryant was within three inches of making both those kicks, too. He doinked one of each upright.

Aaron Schatz: Opposing field goal kickers 1-for-4 against Washington in the last two weeks. Luck be a lady tonight.

Andrew Healy: The coaching improvement in Atlanta seemed present on the third-down stop that forced Washington to settle for a field goal that kept it a 16-12 game with under three minutes left. They were calling out the wide receiver screen that they blew up for a loss.

Jacksonville Jaguars 31 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38

Andrew Healy: We have our leader in the clubhouse for Keep Choppin' Wood this week. Jameis Winston had a Blaine Gabbert moment where he inexplicably threw backwards as he went down. He was ruled down by contact after a long review, but wow what a horrible play there.

Really like Dirk Koetter's play call on third-and-2 from the Jaguars' 10-yard line. He made it easy for his struggling rookie quarterback. After a Bobby Rainey punt return set the Bucs up in the red zone, Koetter only asks Winston to throw a middle screen to Doug Martin. With the Jags looking for a run, the screen catches the linebackers scrambling to drop back and the touchdown is oh-so-easy.

Spiro Dedes just said twice that the loss of Chris Conte is "huge" for the Buccaneers. He even said it with feeling. Hope Conte is OK, but that would have to be one large helping of intangibles for a replacement-level player.

New Orleans Saints 17 at Philadelphia Eagles 39

Sterling Xie: Two absolute killer red zone picks for Sam Bradford end a couple ofpromising drives for Philly. Sam Bradford now has three red-zone picks this season; Eli Manning led the league with four red zone picks in all of 2014. Can't imagine Bradford's leash can be that much longer, right?

Cleveland Browns 33 at Baltimore Ravens 30

Sterling Xie: Gary Barnidge scoffs at Odell Beckham needing to use three fingers to catch, somehow ending up with that lob pass between his legs. For the sake of future generations, hopefully fans don't attempt to replicate Barnidge's catch as often as they do with Beckham.

Aaron Schatz: What lob pass? Is this the touchdown?

Andrew Healy: Yes, it was the touchdown. Josh McCown threw a jump ball under a big blitz and Barnidge seemed to trap it between his legs like Terrell Suggs did in the playoffs against Pittsburgh.

Mike Pettine bungles the end of regulation here. With the Browns up 30-27 and the Ravens inside the Cleveland 10-yard line, Pettine does not use his timeouts. The Ravens end up settling for a field goal, but please let's not make any excuses for Pettine encouraging the Ravens to run or anything. This is terrible coaching and after a poor decision by Josh McCown using too much time, the Browns end up running out the clock on a Travis Benjamin catch rather than getting off a field goal attempt.

St. Louis Rams 10 at Green Bay Packers 24

Andrew Healy: Mike McCarthy challenges whether James Jones scored on a long pass. He wins the challenge and the Packers go up 21-10. Seems like a poor challenge with him already having lost an earlier challenge. I wanted to see the replay on that one. It sounded like he challenged a spot on a 5-yard pass to Stedman Bailey, but I didn't see it, so I may be missing something there.

Aaron Schatz: When you say "poor challenge," I assume that it would have been first-and-goal without challenging? If it was an issue of complete or incomplete on a deep pass, that sounds like a better use of a challenge.

Andrew Healy: Yeah, it would have been first-and-goal from the 1. Now the Packers are out of challenges.

Nick Foles is currently 8-for-21 for 54 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions. From what I've seen, those numbers may be kind to his performance. His touchdown was a six-inch flip forward to a streaking Tavon Austin. He just fumbled when he inexplicably held the ball for maybe five seconds with Julius Peppers closing in. Greg Zuerlein then missed a 53-yard field goal attempt.

Buffalo Bills 14 at Tennessee Titans 13

Tom Gower: Bishop Sankey tried to win Keep Chopping Wood on the first play of the game, mishandling the opening kickoff, knocking it into the field of play from the end zone, and then failing to come away with it in the pile. The Bills gained possession at the 2-yard line ... or would have, had they not been downfield early on the kickoff. Five-yard penalty for offside, re-kick.

The Bills could have really used that field position, because their offense has spent most of the first half not doing a damned thing at all. It took until the middle of the second quarter (literally, 7:10 to play) for Tyrod Taylor to complete his first pass and for Buffalo to get their first first down after starting with three three-and-outs. The run game has been blah, Taylor hasn't been good, and the line didn't seem to be making either's day easy.

By contrast, the Titans have had a good offensive game plan and have moved the ball well. I thought they'd try to flood the middle of the field and go high-low, but instead it's looked at times like the Patriots in the Super Bowl, moving players from the inside (slot receivers, tight ends, backs, etc.) to the outside and using natural rub elements to free them up and create yards-after-catch opportunities. They've also found more space in the run game than I expected them to. Yet, it hasn't been great, and there haven't been many big plays. When they've gotten close, Ken Whisenhunt has turtled. Punt on fourth-and-2 from the 37-yard line, field goal and fourth-and-2 from the 3-yard line, punt on fourth-and-2 from the 39-yard line. It's hard to say any of those was an awful decision, since the odds aren't that clear-cut, but they are all conservative.

Kind of a goofy second half, after a punt-heavy first 30 minutes dominated by a Titans team that couldn't turn their yards into points. It didn't feel like the Titans or the Bills did that much proficient on offense. But it ended up being a pretty "short" half, with just nine combined non-kneeldown possessions and each team scoring on two of those. Tennessee went up 10-0 on a short drive after a fumbled punt, and then Tyrod Taylor started to make some plays on his own. He had 26 yards to convert third-and-6, then finished the drive off with a 22-yard run to get the Bills on the board. Titans up 13-7, Bills have third-and-23 from their own 7-yard line and Taylor picks up 25 (and 15 more for a horse collar, as the Titans tried to match the Bills penalty for penalty after letting them dominate early). Great throw by Taylor to Chris Hogan from midfield down inside the 10-yard line, and he finds Hogan again for the score a couple plays later. 14-13.

Tennessee has a chance, but Whisenhunt punts on fourth-and-11 from their 32-yard line. They get the ball back with 1:41 left, and Marcus Mariota's pass downfield is intercepted to end things.

Macro-level: Titans moved the ball well, better than I expected them to, but couldn't get explosive plays (long gain of 22 yards for the day) and couldn't finish drives. Add in a little Ken Whisenhunt conservatism from plus territory, and they left themselves open to just this sort of result.

Aaron Schatz: I don't remember who said this first on Twitter, so I apologize for stealing someone else's thought, but god forbid the Titans go for it on fourth-and-short in opposing territory with a mobile quarterback who can run option plays.

Arizona Cardinals 42 at Detroit Lions 17

Vince Verhei: We keep asking why Arizona is so much better this year. One reason is that Chris Johnson is giving them a running game that's more dangerous than they have had in a while, with gains of 25 and 40 yards in the first half. The bigger reason they're winning today is the three interceptions of Matthew Stafford, but it's still kind of shocking to see a Cardinals runner streaking through the secondary.

New England Patriots 30 at Dallas Cowboys 6

Aaron Schatz: Patriots are once again rotating their offensive linemen. They brought Marcus Cannon in at right tackle for the last drive of the first quarter. I don't know of another offense that does this regularly, and I don't know what the purpose of it is.

Sterling Xie: I can't think of a more unsuccessful play the Pats have run over the last three years than the pick play where the outside receiver sets the pick and the slot receiver runs under him then up the sideline. It's like the bizarro seam pass to Gronk. Keshawn Martin got called for pass interference on that sequence, then the Cowboys sack Brady for the third time. Pass protection (or lack thereof) the obvious story so far for the Patriots.

Scott Kacsmar: Seahawks hit Dallas with that pick play last year for a huge gain. I want to say Jermaine Kearse on the receiving end. Dallas gets the call there in a season that is going to shatter records for offensive pass interference flags.

Aaron Schatz: Right. The league decided to crack down on that play this year, so there are a lot more of those OPI flags. The Patriots did get flagged for it a lot last year, usually Brandon LaFell getting the flag. But everyone in the league uses that play and they are cracking down when the pick is such an obvious block and the guy doesn't look like he's running a real route.

Halftime update: The Dallas offense looks really bad today, and the Dallas defense looks really good. Greg Hardy is a despicable human being, but a very good pass rusher. But he's not the only reason Tom Brady has been under pressure all day. At one point they got to him on a three-man rush on third-and-long. The tackles just wilted under pressure and the Patriots ended up with three interior linemen blocking one guy because they were expecting more pass-rushers to come. Cowboys are also getting strong pass coverage from their usually underwhelming defensive backs like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. (Well, except for a play where Julian Edelman snapped Claiborne's ankles off to get open.) I'm surprised the Patriots aren't running more. They're getting yardage there, but missing short passes early in the series is leaving Brady with a lot of third-and-longs and they aren't converting them.

As for the Dallas offense, there's only so much this offensive line can do against constant eight-man boxes when the opponent isn't afraid of your passing game because your quarterback is Brandon Weeden and you have no No. 1 receiver.

I should have also given credit to rookie cornerback Byron Jones in my first-half report; he shut down Rob Gronkowski (just one short catch) in that first half. But Gronk finally caught one on him to start the second half, and just pushed him aside like a rag doll to get extra yardage.

One fact doesn't summarize the offensive game plan and I can't tell you who was open or covered on every play but the Cowboys just threw to Jason Witten for the first time with 5:40 left in the third quarter.

Sterling Xie: It's kind of hard to tell what Dallas' offensive game plan is other than "run the ball on first down." Near the end of Quarter 3, Terrance Williams and Devin Street have combined to catch one of five targets for 13 yards. They just don't have the personnel to exploit New England's corners, particularly undrafted rookie Justin Coleman.

Aaron Schatz: Think for a second of how awful that is. They don't have the personnel to exploit an undrafted rookie cornerback. And you aren't exaggerating!!!

Sterling Xie: Hey, so that pick play worked without getting called for a penalty for once. Looked like Danny Amendola could have been called for OPI -- he even gave the "I didn't do it" hands up signal as it happened -- but Edelman got free down the sideline and took it in for a 59-yard touchdown. Brady's splits between deep balls to the left and deep balls to the right have to be like the San Francisco Giants' splits between even-year seasons and odd-year seasons.

Aaron Schatz: The Cowboys also ran the pick play with Jason Witten on third-and-4 in the red zone, and it was a great example of how it should work for the receiver setting the pick: Terrence Williams was very clearly just running a route and not trying to block, but he ran right in the way of Devin McCourty. It was not a good example of how it should work for the receiver catching the ball, because McCourty got around Williams quickly and got over to tackle Witten short of the sticks. And the Cowboys kicked a field goal to be down 20-6 instead of going for it on fourth-and-2 because of course they did. And then on the next drive, that pass to Edelman to make it 27-6.

Denver Broncos 16 at Oakland Raiders 10

Tom Gower: Ronnie Hillman can't haul in a pass in the end zone, and Charles Woodson intercepts Peyton Manning to help bring the first half to a 7-3 Oakland lead. I suppose it's finally time to accept that this is what the Broncos offense is this year, a not-so-good unit with a bad line and popgun-armed quarterback that will have to spend their time scratching and clawing for yardage, even against a bad defense (Oakland was 26th in pass defense DVOA heading into this game). It's disquieting, really, and kind of sad to watch and hard to accept since Peyton has played so damn well for so damn long.

Aaron Schatz: Speaking of Denver's popgun offense, Von Miller got a sack-fumble on Derek Carr which gives the Broncos the ball at the Oakland 16-yard line. They settled for a 20-yard field goal.

Scott Kacsmar: Derek Carr with the worst ALEX moment of the season: minus-21 ALEX for throwing a running back screen 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-19. I guess that's on the playcaller more than anyone, but I doubt any offense with an Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger would ever dial that one up.

Aaron Schatz: Oakland did the thing everyone seems to do in Madden, and I find it fascinating. Down by 9 with 1:40 left, they immediately kicked a field goal once they got into field goal range. Long bomb defensive pass interference put them at the Denver 32-yard line, and they didn't waste any time. Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 50-yard field goal on first down. The Raiders didn't recover the onside kick, though, and with only one timeout, the Broncos could run out the clock. Last play is the punt on fourth down and Raiders can't get it all the way back for a touchdown and would-be miracle win.

Scott Kacsmar: Sebastian Janikowski might have the NFL record for most failed onside kicks in a career. Seriously. I want to say he's on an 0-for-22 streak going back at least five years. We'll dig that one up this week.

Tom Gower: Broncos' offense looked a little bit better in the second half, but it was mostly in fits and spurts. The defense is and was still the solution to every woe, with Chris Harris' pick-six the eventual winning margin. Not much of a margin of error, there, but as a fan of a 1-3 team I can tell you victories are great no matter how they come.

San Francisco 49ers 27 at New York Giants 30

Scott Kacsmar: Jon Beason is slow to get up after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Carlos Hyde. Cris Collinsworth says "Watch Hyde here, they're going to go helmet to helmet, and obviously nothing illegal about that, out in the open field."

Umm, I know it has almost never been called since it was created in 2013, but Collinsworth just described the Crowning Rule to a tee.

"NEW RULE: A ban on a ball carrier initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field or by a defender while making a tackle."

I guess it hasn't been used to the point where Collinsworth and these referees completely forgot about it.

Tom Gower: Here's the text of the rule:

ARTICLE 8. INITIATING CONTACT WITH THE CROWN OF THE HELMET. It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team's end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul.

I saw Hyde lower his helmet to drive forward for yards at the same time Beason came in head-first from an angle. Collinsworth and company didn't mention it was illegal because it wasn't.

Scott Kacsmar: How could you say he didn't initiate forcible contact? The defender is usually crouching down too, which is why it always felt like it'd be a nightmare to call this, so they don't even bother. You could say the same things about the Trent Richardson play that started this years ago. But why would Collinsworth mention the open field? That doesn't suddenly make this legal. That's the whole reason it should be illegal.

Tom Gower: You're allowed as a runner to lower your head and put yourself in a defensive posture. What the NFL doesn't want is runners lowering their helmet into another player. Hyde didn't do that.

Scott Kacsmar: We'll agree to disagree, but to me that looked like a textbook example of what the NFL wanted to accomplish with that rule.

Aaron Schatz: Obviously most of the talk about the 49ers' struggles is about Colin Kaepernick, but it's a serious problem that this team has replaced both starting cornerbacks for two straight offseasons. Add in the fact that their veteran free-agent signing, Shareece Wright, was so bad that he has already been cut, and the 49ers are stuck with Tramaine Brock, who is a reasonable No. 2 but nobody's idea of a No. 1, and a bunch of untested second-year guys. The best corners in the league are going to struggle covering Odell Beckham. These guys? Yikes.

Tom Gower: Aside from my general contrarian nature, I'm trying to remember why I wanted to zig when everybody else was zagging about the 49ers. Since Week 1, they've made it really hard to see just what that might have been.

Aaron Schatz: Well, the whole team is not a tire fire. They've got two good outside linebackers, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch, although there's no depth behind them and Brooks is likely gone in free agency in 2016. They have two good safeties, although unless you're going to play Cover-2 your cornerbacks are really more important than your safeties. It was reasonable to think that a mostly healthy NaVorro Bowman would be as good as a mostly healthy Patrick Willis would have been. And I don't know the last time a talented quarterback saw his play gradually disintegrate the way Kaepernick has. The KUBIAK system certainly looked at his last couple years and expected a bit of a rebound in his performance this year, not a continued decline. You could talk yourself into a Vernon Davis rebound too. Certainly, we all could have been overstating the importance of the coaching changes.

Although it doesn't look like we were.

Sterling Xie: NBC just put up a graphic showing how almost all of Kaepernick's completions last week came behind the line of scrimmage. And then Collinsworth relayed a quote about how SF's coaching staff basically refuses to ask Kaepernick to throw downfield to try and pick up third-and-longs. I guess he's never really progressed from the pocket, but I don't think the coaches tightening his harness is going to help Kaepernick develop. I just looked up his ALEX in the article Scott posted on ESPN this week and was surprised to see he ranked 11th. But since that's just four weeks worth of third downs, maybe it's a small sample size effect? Would bet that Kaepernick's ALEX has probably declined year to year.

Tom Gower: Intellectually, I get it. There were enough pieces there, but they don't seem to be doing a good job of using their strengths to camouflage their weaknesses. Which, combined with Michigan's good start, suggests that coaching might be kind of important and the Niners' might have been kind of good.

Aaron Schatz: And despite all that self-flagellation... Eli Manning throws a pick at the goal line right before halftime, and then the 49ers' offensive line is suddenly making huge holes for Carlos Hyde, and now it's 13-13.

War of attrition. Victor Cruz isn't playing, Odell Beckham went out with a hamstring issue, then Rueben Randle was out for a couple of plays as the Giants' tried to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. Giants take a 23-20 lead despite this.

Tom Gower: Oh, yeah, that 49ers team I slagged earlier has spent most of the second half playing a lot better. Colin Kaepernick has made some good throws, including a gorgeous seam touch pass on this drive as they try to take the lead or tie at the end of the game (down 23-20 at the two minute warning right now), Carlos Hyde is running hard, and Torrey Smith is back to drawing pass interference penalties. The defense, well, the Giants aren't doing much of a job blocking Aaron Lynch, as Cris Collinsworth keeps pointing out, and the corners have held up better, it feels, though of course those injuries... Good competitive game, much better and more interesting than the second half I was expecting at 13-3 and with New York looking to go up even more.

Aaron Schatz: This game looked early on like it was going to be a blowout, and it ended up a pretty good game. Giants actually marched down the field and won the game despite having Beckham on the sideline for most of the drive and Randle on the sideline for all of it. Hell of a catch by Larry Donnell over two defenders, great job to hold onto the ball so there was no question about the Calvin Johnson rule. Giants almost blew it at home, but they'll move into first place in the NFC East at 3-2.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 12 Oct 2015

178 comments, Last at 21 Oct 2015, 12:48pm by Dave Bernreuther

Comments

1
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 10:51am

What is an ALEX?

12
by collapsing pocket :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:28am

"Air Less EXpected" yards. The difference between the number of yards needed for a first down and the number of yards a pass is thrown in the air.

Example: 3rd and 10, QB throws a pass that travels 5 yards in the air. ALEX = -5 yards.

Named for... well, you can probably guess who.

2
by nefftron :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 10:54am

I don't agree with the criticism of McCarthy's James Jones challenge. The Packers were running poorly all day so while a TD from the 1 was certainly likely, it wasn't a sure thing. Besides, since every turnover and called TD is automatically reviewed, what are the odds McCarthy was really going to regret not having a challenge?

Actually, has anybody run the numbers on that? Challenge flags must be way down in the last few years due to the rule changes. How often are coaches actually using 2 or 3 challenge flags in a game?

7
by Peregrine :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:16am

I don't think it would be a bad challenge either. If coaches get a clear enough replay (and some measure of certainty) before they have to throw the challenge flag, then it's probably worth it, even if you can't challenge the rest of the game. Here, McCarthy got seven points instead of perhaps settling for three. Just not sure how certain he was of how the review would go.

54
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:51pm

I also liked the Jones challenge. There are plenty of times I've seen this offense settle for a FG from a short distance instead of scoring a TD, most significantly last year's NFC Championship game. OTOH, McCarthy needs to be called out for his first challenge. It was Martzian. I have never seen a spot challenge win in mid-field. He might have been correct, which I'm not sure he was, but there is never enough evidence to overturn those calls.

60
by oaktoon :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:03pm

Could not agree more-- replay showed it a definite score. Given Packers' short yardage issues at end of last season, and struggles moving Rams in this game, it was pretty much a no-brainer.

Bigger issue (SNARK ATTITUDE ABOUT FO ESCHEWED)is this is now 2 straight decidedly mediocre performances from Packers offense. OL beat up-- Bulaga out last week; now Lang for next and very probably a couple more, at least; no Adams to provide deep threat the past two weeks and no Nelson at all, of course. Pretty obvious that Cobb is getting doubled and the others are being pressed at LOS-- only Montgomery would seem to have ability to get space and that's not happening. Irony that GB is starting to look like they might have a defense worthy of SB just as their offense appears to be sliding away from that definition. No immediate worry on horizon (SD at Lambeau and Bye) but they will be seriously tested next month in Denver and then Arizona. DIvision pretty safe but home field battle just warming up...

160
by Noah Arkadia :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 10:36am

While there seems to be FO consensus on those being bad challenges, I would challenge them every time as a coach unless I was supremely confident in my offense's ability to score. Goal-line stands may not happen often, but they're huge, especially in low-scoring games.

------
Who, me?

3
by Independent George :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:01am

Peyton is done - really done - isn't he? I'm sad.

10
by Ryan :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:23am

The crazy thing to me is that the decline seems to be comprehensive. Sometimes he's just missing throws--those ugly ducks. Other times he's making mental mistakes. The second pick, on a corner route to (I believe) D Thomas, was a beautiful ball that was right in the bucket, but Peyton didn't bother looking off Woodson at all, and he charged over the top and made a great play. (Of course, I'm sure he knew to target the intermediate pass as well as he knew Peyton probably couldn't hit the long go route.)

He basically has to play out of his mind to reach what was previous his average level. I'm still hoping he can find the balance.

13
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:31am

This is how I see it, and yes I have Peyton-colored glasses on a bit.

He's clearly declined both physically, but more worryingly mentally. I don't think the decline is that sharp. I don't think he needs to play out of his mind - just see his game against Detroit which I thought he played well and the team played well.

What he has going against him is the absolute lack of a run game, and awful o-line protection. He could compensate for these types of deficiencies earlier in his career, but they just aren't working now.

I still think he turns it around to have a decent season, and all they need is for him to be decent and they'll win 12+ games (they may do it anyway, given how uninspiring that division is).

19
by tuluse :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:52am

Are you sure he's declined mentally, or is that 10-20% of lost velocity on throws mean he can't get it to receiver who would have been open to him not so long ago?

20
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:03pm

Yep, he can't throw guys open any longer. Not even close. We'll see if he makes that concession as the season proceeds. It woud help if they had more 3rd and twos, instead of 3rd and eights.

94
by Independent George :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:23pm

Peyton needs to learn to play like Chad Pennington v3.0. He just can't squeeze it between the defenders anymore without taking a huge step and and windup, which, in turn, gives the aforementioned defenders even more time to break on the ball.

120
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:56pm

I saw Jim McMahon shotput footballs down the field and win football games. A smart qb backed by clever playcalling can manage through below average arm strength

I think far more worrisome is that older qbs really struggle to cope with cold weather. I don't know all the 'whys', but I have seen it multiple times where an older qb just cannot seem to make any type of consistent throws when the temperature gets below 25 or so.

And if it's really cold forget it.

That is the nightmare scenario for the Broncos. Old QB has a poor arm, poor pass blocking line, no real run game AND is asked to win a big game in zero degrees. Most of these things make such a situation really hard to succeed but coping with cold may be the biggest hurdle

My family has a lot of farmers and the number one thing the old-timers say is the first thing to go is the ability to cope with the cold.

109
by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:53pm

My take is that the problem is mental if a QB:

1) Doesn't have the self awareness to see a physical limitation OR

2) Could see a physical limitation but refuses to adapt where possible.

I think Pennington, for example, adapted to his physical limitations successfully for while, but eventually his arm was so weak there was no adaptation that would work, so he was finished.

For problems that are not mental, the other possibilities are:

3) Physical problem so severe it means the QB can't function (see Pennington above).

4) Coach and/or Scheme problem. The Coach keeps pounding a square QB into a round hole to some degree, or he just isn't very good at working around a QB's limitations.

I think Peyton's issues are most likely some combination of (1) and (4). I don't think Peyton has quite come to grips with what's going on physically and Kubiak hasn't quite come to grips with Peyton's limitations. I think they're both heading in the right direction, but whether they will converge in time to be effective in the playoffs remains to be seen.

123
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:21pm

Pennington's last true season was 2008, and he had a dyar of 1030, which is probably more than anyone besides Tom Brady has had in the AFC East since then. He got hurt again in 2009 in the 2nd or 3rd game, so injuries finished him off, not an inability to adjust.

148
by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:30pm

Yes, that was what I meant by #3. Apologies if that wasn't clear. Maybe we're just in violent agreement.

21
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:04pm

Yeah, he looks worse than Tarkenton did in his last year, when he had 32 ints to go with 25 tds. That Vikings team no longer had a good defense, but to be fair to Peyton, still had a functional o-line. If this group could block well, you could hide, at least a little, the velocity worthy of high school. As it is, opposing defenses can just completely end the running game, while also forcing Manning to make throws to the outside that just physically overmatch him. You end up with a bunch of third and unmanageables, with a qb who can't make the throws to overcome that down and distance, and an o-line that can't protect in them.

98
by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:27pm

I actually think this is a little bit overblown. It's true that Peyton doesn't look the same as he did in 2012, but the Broncos offense has looked pretty much like this in (late) 2013 and 2014 for the most part; the only difference is that the offensive line is no longer as good and they have had a lot of plays break the wrong way. Maybe Manning isn't as good too; but I'm not actually sure. I've watched most of their games this year and his velocity looks okay, uh, sometimes. Sometimes not, but then that has been the case for a while too.

His YPA is right around his career average since week 3, it's just the first two weeks that were really bad. Interceptions are bad things, but they are also very random things; I don't think we know yet if 7 INTs in five games is the new normal, or if it is simply the result of bad luck. Manning threw two INTs against Oakland last year once too (and had two stretches of 6 INTs total in three consecutive games), although he followed it up with more authority last year.

I think the problem is that the third and fourth options in the passing game are really, really bad right now; who the -intentionally left blank- is Jordan Norwood? Manning's advantage is supposed to be the ability to get all the way through his progressions; this isn't helpful when your third receiver is not very good and your tight end is on his third team since he was league-average in Texas when Texas was league average.

Also, Demaryius Thomas is Dez Bryant playing football with a pat of butter on each hand. He's so amazing, and yet so terrible.

135
by BJR :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 6:15pm

You're correct to mention the receivers. Owen Daniels is old and can't get open anymore. The downgrade from Julius Thomas is huge. In his previous three seasons in Denver he had an elite group of 4 receivers; now he's got a good 1-2, then nothing. God forbid either Thomas or Sanders get hurt.

4
by Rick_and_Roll :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:02am

I believe ALEX is an acronym that correlates to a QB throwing a pass much shorter than the line to gain. Throwing a 6 yard pass on 3rd and 10. Not sure what the acronym stands for, but I'd guess they had Alex Smith in mind when they created/named it.

6
by RedZone :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:14am

Air less expected, I think.

9
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:20am

Well in that case I would guess that Kap has always had a high ALEX. Maybe some decline but his weakness used to be that he never checked the ball down and took sacks or scrambled while staring his man down, his air yards have usually bern very high. Plus this was an that could not throw a screen to save their lives. The 49er WR screen game has actually improved, if you can believe that.

Could we have a new Vance-McDonald-adjusted-does-this-guy-catch-anything metric for plays that break the hearts of his teams' fans?

Plus, Mangini did not stick with the man-2/cover-3 approach that worked against Green Bay, in his wisdom he reverted back to the static zones that showed their full worth against Pittsburgh and Arizona (who really look good don't they?).

16
by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:42am

I don't think Kaepernick's problem has ever been the ability to drive the ball downfield. His problem has always been not driving the ball to the right person and / or lacking touch and accuracy. I can understand why you wouldn't have him throw screens; he's going to miss some of them.

This season has been an object lesson in why Jim Harbaugh never had Kaepernick throw a lot.

5
by Steelerdan :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:04am

They'd never call that play with roethlisberger.

8
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:18am

The Winston play was the singly dumbest thing I've ever seen a QB do; he's getting dragged down for a sack and tries to fling the ball away. He threw the ball backwards. It's like Aaron Brooks and Josh McCown had a baby and the baby was pure stupid. He was saved by the fact he knee went down just barely before he could complete his act of moron-itude, but, man, that was DUMB.

I absolutely cannot believe I'm about to say this, but I need to defend Chris Conte here. He's played extremely well so far this year. He's been really active, forced a couple turnovers, and he hasn't utterly blown a coverage yet. I mean, he might have blown a coverage at some point, but the CBs are too busy blowing the coverage all on their own.

29
by Jimmy :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:41pm

Conte is a decent FS. He got blamed (to an absurd level) for being left to defend a whole field when the other ten guys had parted like the Red Sea too often or perpetual miscommunication problems under Mel Tucker. If his shoulders are OK Conte is a ball playing rangy FS but he will probably never be a force against the run.

30
by Eddo :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:42pm

In Chicago, while Conte was never good, he also wasn't spectacularly awful player that his reputation reflects. It's more that he had a couple of very high-profile failures. But he's always been really athletic and a decent ball hawk, so I always thought he was a fairly average safety, not a replacement-level one.

32
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:44pm

Playing safety on a bad defense with number 12 in your division is a recipe for being blamed a LOT.

39
by tuluse :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:20pm

I thought he was pretty good in 2012. Yeah, he's not a great tackler and he had a few boned headed plays, but probably in single digit in 2012. Then again, that was one of the best defense of all time according to DVOA and he surrounded by talent. On the other hand, Lovie clearly knew how to get a lot out of safeties.

He sure did look foolish a lot of time with Tucker in charge.

46
by TomC :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:41pm

He was truly awful against the run and reasonably competent against the pass. You could fill a 2-minute Yakety Sax highlight reel with Conte attempting to fill a hole or make open-field tackles on all manner of RBs.

52
by TecmoBoso :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:48pm

Yes... not sure what is the point of having a safety that can't tackle on the roster.

79
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:50pm

Well, Tampa's spent several years fielding safeties that could neither cover nor tackle, so Conte is pretty much inherently an improvement there.

11
by tuluse :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:24am

With Cutler the Bears are the bad-not-terrible team I thought they'd be. I don't know how to feel about this team. There's just not much to root for with White and Jeffery hurt. Even when they win it's mostly old veterans doing the job. I guess it's nice to see Marquess Wilson starting to come alive and Kyle Fuller not being awful (no way to tell if he's actually playing well with Alex Smith qbing).

34
by Jimmy :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:49pm

If I had told you before training camp that the Bears were going to be without Jeffery, White, Raitliff and Allen whilst also losing time from Cutler, Montgomery, Royal, Bushrod and Rolle, and then offered you 2-3 I think you would have bitten my hand off.

I think they are playing well considering the mounting injuries. The offensive line is different every week, the receivers are all injured yet they keep holding stuff together well enough to win. The defense is playing at least competitively too. Specials however may somehow have gotten worse though.

50
by TecmoBoso :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:47pm

That was a horrible loss for Kansas City. I'm not even sure what to say other than that was brutal. Up 17-3 in the third quarter and think that is enough... And Alex Smith has to go.

53
by TomC :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:49pm

With Cutler the Bears are the bad-not-terrible team I thought they'd be. I don't know how to feel about this team. There's just not much to root for with White and Jeffery hurt.

I'm personally enjoying the hell out of Cutler making plays behind a patchwork OL and throwing to high school JV receivers. And Pernell McPhee is a lot of fun to watch (I owe him an apology for the things I said after the Green Bay game---I'm sure he's losing sleep waiting for that to happen).

As for wins and losses, it's more fun to win, but who really cares this year? If Santos had made that field goal, I don't think I'd be in a substantially worse mood today. Furthermore, while the team played pretty well against Oakland, they got ridiculously lucky yesterday, and there's not much predictive value in that win. I mean, if Alex Smith had been even replacement-level accurate yesterday, the Chiefs would have been up by 4 TDs, not 2, and if Charles doesn't get hurt I think the Chiefs put that game away on one of their two opportunities.

85
by tuluse :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:09pm

Cutler is in fact playing really well and in an entertaining way. It just feels like they're playing out the string. Don't expect them to make the playoffs, don't expect them to do anything if they happen to somehow grab a wildcard, and there's few young players to watch and care about (Kyle Long is awesome too, but hard to get too excited about a tackle, especially when playing hurt and kind of out of position.).

14
by collapsing pocket :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:32am

I really don't understand how what Hyde did isn't a penalty. I'm not saying it should be or shouldn't be illegal, but if that specific play doesn't earn a flag under this supposed "rule", then we might as well get rid of the rule.

17
by Sakic :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:45am

Can somebody more rules savvy explain to me how Rodgers' second interception was not ruled a trap and incompletion?

What I saw was the defender diving in front (was a fantastic play, btw) getting two hands on the ball but when he landed the point of the ball hit the ground first which to me was a clear cut trap. Wouldn't he have had to keep the ball off the ground?

Just curious...

18
by tuluse :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:51am

I believe the ball can touch the ground as long as there is no movement when it does so (the receiver is demonstrating control). Didn't see this specific play though.

36
by Nevic :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:53pm

Except it sure looks like the ball moved when the tip hit the ground.

37
by ZDNeal :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:08pm

The test is 'maintain control' isn't it? Is no movement allowed?

38
by uosdwiS :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:14pm

There were a few people at the game who were baffled about that one too. The referees didn't even bother starting a review process, or if they did, it was very, very quick. I guess they thought he had it gripped in his hands without hitting the dirt despite the movement. Probably wouldn't have been overturned, but it was a pretty good look at the ball.

51
by ZDNeal :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:48pm

All turnovers are reviewed. They must have thought he maintained control

61
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:04pm

IIRC, Fouts also thought it would be overturned and was surprised it wasn't. I thought it was a bad call. However, the DB made a great break on the ball and it should have been intercepted. Rodgers was clearly off his game yesterday. He also his a Rams lineman like the defender was the intended target and got lucky when the guy dropped the ball.

22
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:12pm

Yesterday Rams/Packers game was a battle of the d-lines, and GB won because Foles could not make any plays and Rodgers made 2 big ones in the TD passes to Montgomery and Jones. The Rams barely blitzed, and the refs were letting both secondaries clutch/grab so open receivers were few and far between. Rodgers was able to move away from pressure and do 'something' while Foles was getting his brains beat in mostly by Clay Matthews who had sacks/qb hits a plenty.

Barclay not being at right tackle certainly helped the GB line hold up in pass protection. Run offense though was all Rodgers scrambles.

The Packers rookie defensive backs continue to make an impression. Rollins had two interceptions including one returned for a TD while Randle continues to be in the right place at the right time for coverage.

Packer fans are kvetching about the offense, but one has to think it's the talent erosion being a factor. The bye week cannot come soon enough to help guys like Davante Adams get healthy

24
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:19pm

Yeah, Chip Kelly won his qb trade yesterday, not because Bradford was good, but because Foles was really, really, bad. Yeah, he had a lot of pressure, but he really made some terrible throws all by himself.

This Packer team could win a championship with the defense playing the most prominent role, because I could easily see them continue to improve, and they are already pretty good. .

88
by Alternator :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:17pm

Foles was free, and Bradford was expensive in both draft capital and actual cash. Until such time as Bradford plays well, Kelly loses the QB trade.

92
by TecmoBoso :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:22pm

Saints were 32nd in DVOA against the pass and the Packers were 5th coming into this week. I don't think Chip Kelly won much of anything other than "one week off until the 'Chip to USC?'" rumors start flying.

115
by Southern Philly :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:24pm

"I don't think Chip Kelly won much of anything other than "one week off until the 'Chip to USC?'" rumors start flying."

Those already started last week.

116
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:49pm

Which leads me to think that plenty of people were aware of that Drinkin' Steve Sarkisian's hobby was lot more intense than one evening with the USC boosters.

23
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:13pm

If the Giants receivers get fully healthy come December, I could very easily see a repeat of 2007, except with a score in the last game of, oh, I dunno, 37-34.

25
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:27pm

I am really enjoying this iteration of the Packers mostly because after years of seeing opposing qbs having full opportunity to scan the landscape now the Packers pass rush is regularly making quarterbacks move off their launch area sooner than anticipated.

GB has five guys who can regularly win one on one battles in Matthews, Peppers, Daniels, Jones and Elliott. I could also list Raji and Perry but they are more hit and miss. Datone Jones is the one making the real advance this season as he has seemed to figure out how to use his hands and is regularly shedding the block and crashing to the qb. Elliott's instincts have advanced so that he knows what path to take to get to the qb. Peppers is the old pro and Daniels is constant intensity.

Matthews though remains the best combination of speed, strength, tenacity, smarts, instincts and just plain awesomeoness. There is no one Matthews move on the pocket. Sometimes it's the plain speed rush with a dip of the shoulder. Sometimes he's walking a lineman back. Sometimes it's the hesitation move where he literally stops like a point guard, the lineman loses his set as the blow is not coming at the anticipated time and Matthews blows past with his ability to go from 0 to 100 in no time. Sometimes it's a beautiful spin move where he leaves the opposing blocker flat footed. And always tackling the qb so that if he can jar the ball loose with one hand it will happen.

And his ability to play with such feverish effort throughout the game continues to amaze.

Oh, and he plays run defense pretty well too. Pretty much Clay does everything. All he needs is for his teammates to not stink. And with the AJ Hawks of the world no longer on the field that target is being met.

40
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:22pm

This Packers team has a chance to be the best since the All Timers of 1996. They'll have to get lucky from here on out with health, of course, but if they do, they could enter January with dominance on both lines of scrimmage, an outstanding defensive backfield, and a HOF qb in his prime. That sounds a lot like '96 to me, even if they don't quite reach those heights.

Tell me who gets least injured, especially at the key positions, talent-wise, over the next 100 days, and I'll tell you who wins the trophy.

68
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:39pm

This year's Packers are really good, but I'm not sure they're better than the 2010 version, and they really should not be compared to the 1996 team that basically destroyed everything they faced but the Cowboys.

78
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:48pm

That's why I wrote "a chance", and "since". If they get healthy, they can be better than the 2010 group, if, for no other reason, Rodgers is better now. So much depends on health, as always.

84
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:09pm

Seattle was pretty beat up at the end of last season but got to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, other than Rodgers limitations GB was about as healthy as the Packers have been in four years. Allegedly that is what has haunted the denizens of the GB front office. That they caught the Seahawks vulnerable at home (a rarity) and blew the chance in serious fashion.

101
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:30pm

Well, "other than Rodgers..." has a certain "other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how'd'ja' like the play" feel to it. If Rodgers is fully healthy in that game, I think the Packers win by 10 or more, against that beat-up Seattle bunch. Then, in the next game, if the Seahawks don't get more beat up, losing a pass rusher and nickel-back, they likely win, it seems to me. As much as injuries are talked about, I still don't think the influence they usually have on the determining the eventual champion is fully appreciated. Neal getting hurt in February 2008 and Gronk being hobbled in February 2011 is in good measure why Eli has more Ringzzz!!! than his older brother.

82
by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:03pm

Not sure how the numbers can be compared these days (is DVOA only relative to teams that year? Or still to an overall league baseline?) but I always think of that 1996 team as a dominant one. 3rd in offense, 1st in defense, 2nd in ST. I remember that year thinking: "Great. The Pats again claw their way into the Superbowl a decade later and run into another juggernaut team." Had the same thoughts in 2001, but the outcome was different. :-)

103
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:32pm

I think the '96 Packers team is probably the best champion of the salary cap era.

26
by theslothook :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:30pm

The rams pack game was interesting in so many ways...but i was struck by two things in particular.

Jeff fisher was at one time probably a very good coach. But the game has clearly passed him by. I mean...the rams are running the ball with 6 minutes left down 2 scores. Wtf??

I havent watched a ton of nick foles...but that game was about as awful as it gets. I saw all of Kaeps performance against ari and i still thought this was worse.

Its a shame. Otherwise the rams have a ton of talent. The next coach will have a good roster.

27
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:33pm

Gurley was their only offensive threat yesterday. Foles had one completion caught on a rebound, several more on amazing work by the receivers and mostly was either moving backwards or to his right to get away from pass rushers.

If not for a late pass where for no good reason the Packer defender let a Rams receiver get behind him with a minute left Foles would have finsihed the game with about 60 odd yards passing.

The Rams were fine run blocking but the Packer pass rush was hitting Foles about 50 percent of all pass plays

42
by uosdwiS :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:27pm

You just answered your own question. Gurley was their best shot at a big play yesterday. The hideous passing game could barely get a play off without it going for negative yards or a turnover. My personal favorite was Matthews immediately charging past the guard and center before Foles could even set for the dropback. He didn't help matters by holding the ball forever either when they needed to shift to quicker hitting plays or throwing those contested balls in the end zone.
As far as I see it, this was long awaited realingment for when Foles was with Philly and had that game at Lambeau right after Rodgers went down. He and the Eagles got away with everything in that game. Suffice to say, neither one got off so easy on the next visit.

175
by Rick_and_Roll :: Tue, 10/20/2015 - 1:20pm

The Rams will win enough in the last few weeks to preserve his job. The Rams are perpetually "the team to watch out for next year", and it wouldn't surprise me if they fall into that mold this year.

Aaron Donald is putting himself in the 2nd Best defensive player in the NFL discussion.

28
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:37pm

One does have to credit Foles for his toughness. The Packer crowd is pretty well informed football wise having watched for almost 100 years and few could believe Foles got up after Matthews unloaded on Foles who was being tackled simultaneously around the knees and could not move to avoid Matthews. The gasp in the crowd at the hit was dramatic. Having seen many a blow delivered nobody thought Foles would stay in the game much less continue on to the next play.

I am sure he has spent a good portion of today trying to convince his body that it needs to get up so he can go to the bathroom

31
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:42pm

I was really surprised that the 49ers pass rush wasn't causing more issues for the Giants. Has Marshall Newhouse actually improved as a pass blocker??

33
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:48pm

Well Aaron Lynch did have quite a bit of success, it's that with Ahmad Brooks missing because of the death of his sister that was it. Lemonier has been a disappointment, Eli Harold has shown nothing and at times they were using unspectacular DT Jerrod-Eddie as a 4-3 end.

35
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 12:52pm

Gotcha. Somehow missed Brooks was out but then I rarely watch TV with the sound on given the announcers talk being mostly painful

41
by Steve B :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:27pm

Right now, Seattle looks like a 9-7 team. The Jimmy Graham trade looks like a BIG mistake and the defense has slipped a little. When Cary Williams is seeing significant snaps for you, that's a problem. I thought he was overrated three years ago when he was with the Ravens. Speaking of the Ravens, is it time to admit that they're not a good team this year? Arguably the worst secondary in the league right row, which is really saying something.

43
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:29pm

I didn't understand the Graham trade from the beginning. A team which is dependent on physical play gives up substantial draft value, to become less physical. Huh?

45
by Sakic :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:37pm

Same here.

I was more shocked that they gave up their best offensive lineman from a line that wasn't all that impressive to begin with. Graham's a great talent and all but wouldn't keeping your 100 million dollar QB upright be more important especially when you are not even sure how you planned on using him.

71
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:41pm

To misquote Flannery O'Connor, A good center is hard to find. Not sure why they decided to get rid of one who wasn't old.

75
by Athelas :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:48pm

Maybe--but I'm curious as to how the Patriots can take an undrafted rookie center and an o-line coach who was out of football and create a decent line.

83
by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:06pm

I think it's at least partly because the retired O-line coach, who survived 3 different Patriots head coaches because of his overwhelming competence, is still scouting college O-lineman for them.

63
by gomer_rs :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:07pm

Your saying that a week after Cary Williams effectively shut down Megatron. It looked like Cincy may be the one team in the NFL who's complete receiver corps is just flat better than the DBs for Seattle. That is the only time I have seen Sherman get regular over the top help from Thomas rather than having Thomas roll coverage away from Sherman.

The person who I think is really doing Seattle a disservice is Darrell Bevel and maybe Pete Carroll, because they refuse to change their plays and play calling to adjust for the lack of pass protection. Where are the packaged plays that have Jimmy Graham "block" a player by running a route? Where are the roll outs? Yes they limit you to half the field but for god sake get Wilson from behind that line!

At this point I'm have more confidence in Wilson getting on the edge on option runs and avoiding hits than him trying to stay healthy and upright behind that o-line.
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

67
by Coaldale Joe :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:33pm

Given the way Stafford played yesterday, it may be more accurate to say that he shut down Megatron, not Cary Williams. Megatron is only averaging 64 yards per game and 10 yards per catch for the season. It's not like Cary Williams stopped the Megatron from 2011 or 2012.

137
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 6:15pm

Yep. Keep in mind, in week 4 Johnson beat Williams deep down the sideline not once, but twice, and Stafford simply missed him.

176
by Rick_and_Roll :: Tue, 10/20/2015 - 1:35pm

Seattle has tried twice to go against their successful formula by trading for an established playmaker and neither one has worked out... They got away with it with Harvin because they were talented everywhere and had a QB making >$1M/yr, but now it seems Wilson and Grahams (as well as their defensive stars) contracts have come at the expense of their OL.

44
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:34pm

I look at the Giants passing game, and I question the sanity, or sobriety, of so many NFL GMs and coaches, who invest in fast guys who haven't demonstrated competent ball skills. There is just so much value to a guy who can just go up and get the ball while being tightly covered, and so little value to a guy who you can't trust to make a catch.

48
by Scott Kacsmar :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:45pm

Like how the Giants drafted Sinorice Moss 44th overall?

56
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:55pm

Hey, I root for a team that drafted Troy Williamson at the number 7 spot. Everything's relative.

89
by Independent George :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:18pm

Well, his brother was a pretty good player for a while.

57
by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:56pm

Hence the reason James Jones has a starting role despite moving like a wounded wilderbeest while Jeff Janis of the 4.4 speed and 6'3" frame plays special teams for GB

59
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:01pm

Well, that's just it. When you have a qb like Rodgers, or Eli in one of his hot seasons or hot half seasons, it is just incredibly valuable to have a guy who catches the ball.

74
by Ben :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:47pm

It really seems that NFL GMs are still in love with "potential" and "measurables". Give me a QB who can read a defense and accurately throw short and medium passes vs a guy who can throw it through a brick wall and runs a 4.4 40.

Combine that with a receiver who knows how to make a cut and run sharp routes and catches every reasonably placed pass. I don't care if he's not a world-class sprinter or can't jump out of the stadium.

Basically, see the Patriots offense for most of the last 10 years (or Montana to Rice).

81
by ZDNeal :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:02pm

Yes, just give me one of them. How hard could that be?

90
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:19pm

To be fair - the Patriots offense is starting a QB drafted in the 6th round, a QB-cum-WR drafted in the 7th (Edelman), an undrafted QB-cum-WR (Amendola), an undrafted RB who nobody wanted, and their previous top WR was a guy who was undrafted (Welker). The only highly drafted skill position player is Gronk.

I think pointing out Brady is a bit specious, but there's definitely an argument to be made that it's a lot easier than some of the NFL thinks it is.

If I had to guess - I would guess that the Patriots have a very different set of evaluation criteria than most of the league - and they're exploiting a market inefficiency - and favoring lateral movement over top-line speed. The 3-cone drill seems to be a much bigger part of their evaluation process than the 40.

107
by Ben :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:47pm

Of course it's going to be hard to find another Brady, but if I can't get a "franchise QB", I'd sure as heck take a Chad Pennington-type over a lot of guys in the league. I'd also certainly rather have a Josh McCown or Matt Hasslebeck type as a backup QB then a young QB who has "all the physical tools, but just needs to put it together".

113
by theslothook :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:20pm

Sure, but that analysis ignores the fact that pats have drafted 2nd round receivers who have completely busted out. And i dont think the brady pick says anything particular about 6th round qbs or qbs who profile like brady coming out of college. It was simply and completely a fluke that Brady developed into what he is(fluke from the pats perspective, obviously brady didnt just like into being a great player).

118
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:54pm

The 2nd round receivers thing is interesting to me - and I think it's largely related to the Pats drafting position over the last decade or so. The Patriots largely draft risky players in the 2nd round - either guys like Gronk who have elite talent but injury issues, or guys who have one elite skill and they hope they can fix something. If you go through their 2nd round picks there are a lot of very good players (like J.Collins, Gronk, Vollmer, etc) and a lot of guys with either repetitive injury issues that could have been predicted from college(Dowling, Wheatley/Whilhite,etc) or guys who had a huge glaring flaw that was never fixed.

I think the Pats deliberately take guys in the 2nd round with almost nothing but ceiling in consideration (which is a stark difference from how they draft 1st rounders)

The Patriots have basically drafted 5 WRs during the 2nd round while Brady has been around - and all the failures are "Measurables" guys - Dobson(6'3, 4.4 40), Bethel Johnson(4.3 40), Chad Jackson (6'1 4.3 40) and Tony Simmons (track star I guess). The one high pick who worked out - Deion Branch wasn't (5'11, 4.5 40).

I think with these picks the Patriots have been trying to find a gamebreaker - and failing - but they don't seem to have any problem finding smaller shifty guys who fit the scheme well - and that's something very few other teams seem to either be trying, or able to do.

121
by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:57pm

Cole [intentionally left blank]ing Beasley aside, of course.

154
by mrt1212 :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 2:55am

There was the Moss Era though - I think the overarching theme is BB is just that effing good at getting the most from his talent, and putting them in the best position to succeed through scheme and management.

It's one of the things that I am seeing with the Seahawks - they have relied on Lynch and Wilson to compensate for lack of adaptable schemes and whiffs on players along with pinching the purse for blocking. They're not adapting to what they have and they're not putting what they have in the best position to succeed and a lot of this is masked by singularly unique talents in Lynch and Wilson.

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by gomer_rs :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:23pm

That's why you can get guys like Doug Baldwin as UDFAs.
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

47
by Steve B :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:45pm

#45

I understand why they wanted to move Unger. Oft-injured and they had found ways to win without him. However, the solution seemed to be trading him for someone who's a great pass catcher/red zone threat but utterly useless as a blocker. Granted, they needed receiving help, but...

155
by mrt1212 :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 2:57am

They can't adapt because they haven't had to really.

49
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:46pm

Is anyone else getting an incredibly irritating ad redirect that takes you off to some awful fake survey site offering you the 'chance of a free iPhone' when they open articles on this site?

It's so annoying, there's no way to return to the page you want and so you have to go back through FO's front page and all the new comments are no longer highlighted.

55
by TomC :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 1:52pm

That has never happened to me. Sorry, that sounds awful.

73
by Athelas :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:44pm

You're not the only one--look at comment 16 here:
http://www.footballoutsiders.com/word-muth/2015/word-muth-rocky-mountain...

62
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:05pm

I thought there was a chance that Caldwell coud be a decent coach for Stafford. When you get yanked for Dan Orvlosky, it's probably safe to call it a failed experiment. The next Lions coach has a mess on his hands, with Stafford taking up 22 million in cap space in 2016 and 2017, and Calvin Johnson, it would appear, a few holes into the back 9 of his career. Stafford's still young enough to lead to hope that he can get a lot better, so the Lions will likely look to find a head coach who can fix him.

65
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:13pm

I have to wonder when Stafford can be cut. I don't see much difference between him and Cutler (or to use another Lions example, Scott Mitchell). Both have rocket arms and plenty of talent around them, yet both continue to make rookie mistakes regarding ball safety. Stafford only looks better because he's had Megatron who wins most 50/50 balls. I think if you exchanged the two, you wouldn't see any change in QB performance. I will say at least one Stafford INT yesterday is on Johnson running the wrong route. But I think Stafford has been around long enough that he isn't going to get any better.

66
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:19pm

His dead money number next year is 11 million, and 5 million in 2017, so I'm pretty sure, even with a new head coach (I don't think Caldwell keeps his job if the Lions lose 11 or more), that they'll keep him though next year. I'd actually bet he sees the end of this contract, absent just a complete Ryan Lindley/John Skelton-like performance.

91
by tuluse :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:20pm

I'm sure I'm biased, but I think Cutler is actually quite a bit better than Stafford. They share one similar flaw, lapsing into really awful mechanics, but I think Stafford does it more often and is worse at compensating. I also think Cutler does a better job with pre-snap recognition, but draws or loses to Stafford with post-snap reading, and his mobility adds a lot of value.

It's hard to separate value in such an interdependent game, but I think CJ has made Stafford look a lot better than any receivers have done for Cutler (well minus a few Jeffery games where just made some ridiculous circus catches).

I just can't believe the Lions are launching so few bombs to CJ either. Unless he's hurt or declining very prematurely, you have the best receiver in the game and you're losing anyways, load up and unleash some dragons, give yourself a chance.

96
by gomer_rs :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:25pm

Well as a Seahawks fan I'll posit this. To throw the bomb your line has to block long enough for the WR to get at least 15 yards.
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

99
by tuluse :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:28pm

I watched the Mike Martz Chicago experience long enough to know this isn't true.

Your QB will get beat up and probably injured, and he will take a lot of sacks, but it's possible to pass deep.

126
by TomC :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:48pm

Well as a Seahawks fan I'll posit this. To throw the bomb your line has to block long enough for the WR to get at least 15 yards.

Doesn't the Wilson-to-Baldwin completion yesterday (in which a guy came fully unblocked at RW) directly refute this?

146
by gomer_rs :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 9:22pm

That play happened against cover zero (seriously why do teams keep throwing cover zero at RW? Did nobody see the OT v. GB or the game in 2013 against NOs?) where Wilson had to identify that Baldwin beat the DB at the line and then throw immediately, that play is predicated on the call of the defense.

If you want to run a more traditional bomb like the 3-beaters that people run on Seattle, the two beaters with seams and corners, or double move man beaters, the line must hold for the WR to make one, maybe two, cuts on the route. The better example is the bomb to Lockett where the coverage breakdown wasn't exposed until Lockett was 15-20 yards down field, if RW had a pocket for 2-2.5 seconds he could have hit Lockett for a TD but instead had to RW it just to keep the play alive long enough to even make a throw.
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

149
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:46pm

The worst example of a team stupidly running cover-0 against Seattle to me was Carolina in the playoffs last year.

The Seahawks had real trouble moving the ball for the first three quarters of that game, expect for the few times Carolina big-blitzed and played Cover-0 behind it. Wilson hit 2-3 plays, all drives that became points.

They probably weren't going to win, but for a defensive coaching staff that is generally on point, and a defense that was having success with more traditional defense against Seattle, to do it so much boggled my mind.

152
by gomer_rs :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 12:32am

I don't know if you can throw away how bad that play calling was. Carolina is a lot like St. Louis in that their best attribute the last couple of years, their d-line/front-7 play, have really given Seattle a lot of trouble. Trouble beyond what one would expect just comparing team talent and performance.

Ahh, well. Made me happy :)!
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

156
by mrt1212 :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 3:02am

Indeed! It seems like the depending on the play one of 3 groups is failing: Wilson, the WRs, or the Line. The closer to the LOS the routes, the more it's on Wilson (in taking a risk) and WRs for not getting open, and the further away it's on the line. We see plays where it all comes together but it's rare. They aren't adapting to the issues at hand fast enough.

102
by TecmoBoso :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:31pm

Agree with Cutler and as a Viking fan once told me Stafford:Megatron::Culpepper:Moss

104
by Independent George :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:33pm

I agree with you on all points. I'd also add that Cutler is a bit quicker with his delivery, and generally a lot more accurate.

105
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:38pm

It wouldn't be extremely unusual for a good or great wr to experience a steep decline in his ninth year.

58
by Steve B :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:01pm

So, which undefeated team seems the most "smoke and mirrors"? Cross off GB and NE immediately. Short of at least one from the group of Rodgers, Brady and Gronkowski going down for a while with an injury, they'll win at least 12 games. Probably cross off the Bengals, too. Haven't proven anything in January, but they've proven they can win 10-11 regular season games. That leaves Atlanta, Carolina and Denver. Manning and the offense's issues are well documented, but I think that defense is legit. I'm going with Carolina, both because they haven't played anybody and because I have Ryan rated higher than Newton. This is assuming that Julio Jones isn't going to be bothered by hammy issues for most/the rest of the season.

64
by Independent George :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:07pm

I rate Newton above Ryan, but Atlanta overall above Carolina.

69
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:40pm

Flacs will play versus panthers teo times in 3 week span in December. Oging to be good

128
by TomC :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:49pm

or at least oging to be interesting...

70
by strokes :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:41pm

The Patriots offensive scheme dares the refs to call penalties on every play for illegal picks. I'm not trying to be flip, but is it a bad idea for a defense to start holding, mauling, or even running through the picks and drag the game into the dirt? And, yes, every team runs these routes, but in the case of the Patriots, will Amendola or Edelman be as effective if they get roughed up every time they run these plays?

76
by Ben :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:48pm

Well, that was also the Patriot's defensive scheme for the longest time.

77
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:48pm

I totally expect the Jets to pull that stunt, but I expected the Bills to do it in week 2. Perhaps that's why Rex likes hard hitting safeties so much.

87
by Ryan :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:12pm

I totally agree here. If I'm a DB coach trying to run man, I tell my guys to rough these receivers up as much as possible. Push them to the ground. Act like they're gunners on a punt. If they're going to push OPI to the limit, push right back.

95
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:23pm

The NFL is calling OPI a lot more this year, but that sort of strategy is still going to end up with you looking like you're Rex Ryan, and your team losing games largely because of penalties extending drives.

The Patriots are definitely running more of these sort of plays this year (Amendola and Edelman as 1-2 necessitates that), but these plays aren't by any means unique to them - they've pretty much been the entire Broncos offense the last 3 or 4 years. Several other teams use them extensively.

106
by strokes :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:41pm

Agreed, although it's a lot harder to press guys like Demaryius Thomas, which is why Denver has been able to use it extensively. If I am Dallas, I would just as well lose a different way rather than what happened. And given that they were actually able to hit Brady a lot, I take the extra plays five yards at a time versus a couple big plays because of busted coverage. And if I have Brandon Weeden at QB versus Tom Brady, I think I would grab at the WRs as much as possible and see if it gets called as much as OPI.

110
by Ryan :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:58pm

Precisely. That NE offense is going to get its either way. At least by being aggressive, you are able to dictate the flow a little bit. NE is probably better than any offense in the league at forcing the defense to follow its lead. Some defense has to take a chance and force NE to adjust when they don't really want to.

111
by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:10pm

Dallas DID force the Pats to adjust. They threw a defense at them the Pats hadn't seen them run (3-2-6). It's just that the Pats adjusted. :-)

Seriously not trying to be a wiseguy, but the key point is not just that they have to force an adjustment, but also that the forced adjustment has to be one the Pats can't make very well. Easier said than done. It's hard to beat the Pats offense schematically. The individual players have to win the individual battles. Like the most recent time when the Steelers beat them handily, not simply by LeBeau ditching the zone blitz for man coverage, but the Steelers DB's played really well and kept everyone covered.

112
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:18pm

People seem to forget that the Seahawks were doing a very good job on them last February. They lost their nickel back, which degreaded them somewhat and then a pass rusher and then the Pats really started to sustain dives. They can be stopped, but you can't do it with average players playing on their typical level.

125
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:47pm

True, but some of it is due to the small sample sizes you warn people about reading too much into. Even before the injuries, NE drove easily down the field before an odd Brady pick took points off the board. They scored 14 points on their next three possession where all pass rushers were healthy.

Seattle had more success in the second half, and I'll agree that Bolden knocking Avril played a part, but of the two non-pick drives, one began with a hold and the other had a 3rd and 1 that could have gone either way.

It could be that Seattle adjusted to NE in the second half and just ran out of bodies, but I'm not sure that is more likely than Seattle's successes just being clustered in the 3rd quarter.

133
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 6:04pm

Look at who Brady targeted after Lane was hurt. Which players are actually playing makes a big difference. If the Patriots had been forced to use Jimmy Garrapolo, for instance, it is safe to say it would have mattered. Or, more appropriately, if Malcom Butler's replacement had been playing at the end of the game, there's a decent chance it turns out differently, because that guy would not have gotten the reps in practice which simulated that situation.

136
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 6:15pm

I'm not sure the drop off from Brady to any backup is germane to the conversation. Of course losing players sucks, but NE was able to move the ball well when Lane and all pass rushers were in, and they were able to move the ball well when Lane left and the pass rushers were healthy. Unless Seattle was doing something different in the second half, then it is hard to suggest that NE couldn't have moved the ball again as they had in the first half.

FWIW, Butler wasn't even supposed to be in on the goal line and had everything gone to plan, he would haven't played a snap all game. Every CB on the team practiced that situation.

143
by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 7:30pm

I was being facetious with regard to Brady, to illustrate the dubious nature of suggesting that it didn't matter which players were on the field. We see the effect of in game injuries in playoff games with some frequency.

157
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 9:08am

You'll get no argument from me that injuries affect the game, but that wasn't your original argument. The post I originally responded to insinuated that the Patriots only were able to move the ball because of Seattle's injuries, so I pointed out that NE was successful even before guys went down.

168
by Will Allen :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 1:23pm

The first guy who was injured was the guy who stopped the 1st drive. The Patriots didn't start moving the ball in the 2nd half until the 2nd guy was injured. Yes, due to sample size, we can't say that the two injuries definitely were the only reason the Patriots had success, but hardly anything ever happens in a football game which is the only reason anything else happens. We see, with a lot of frequency, however, that in many, many, many (many!) games, that injuries which take place in a game have a deleterious effect on the team suffering the injury. From this, it reasonable to have some confidence in the proposition that the Patriots offensive success in that game was aided by those two injuries.

170
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 2:24pm

Agreed... for the most part. The first guy was just in the right place at the right time, he didn't do anything particularly useful in stopping the pass. Brady has gone on record as saying he didn't like the look and he should have called a TO.

I also question how useful the "in the second half" disclaimer is when they scored TDs on consecutive first half drives against those same pass rushers. That's why I asked if Seattle had changed anything.

But all that said, I'm the first guy to point out that health plays a bigger role in deciding outcomes than most fans like to think. I abhor the whole "no excuses" nonsense for pretty much that reason. I'm just not convinced that specific example was the best one to use.

171
by Will Allen :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 2:32pm

The dropped interception is the most underappreciated frequent play in football. The effect of the loss of a good pass rusher in the 2nd half, on the 2nd half, is much more significant than the effect of the loss of a good pass rusher in the 1st half, on the 1st half, due to the cumulative effect of rushing the passer. There's a reason why Bill Walsh specified "4th quarter pass rush' as being the most important factor in winning games in the NFL.

177
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 10/21/2015 - 12:47pm

My (least) favorite supporting example: Dwight Freeney, 2009 Super Bowl.

The Porter pick stands out in everyone's minds about that game, but even if the Colts had scored to tie it, there was more than enough time for the Saints to march right back down the field and win. Most of us there had already assumed defeat. Why? Because the Colts' defense had forced only one single THIRD down that half. And in the most cruel/hilarious (depending on your perspective) of ironies, it was in large part due to Dwight Freeney's injury (and the longer halftime tightening it up and him being late back onto the field and a non-factor in that half).

(But hey, you know, rest your players in the regular season...)

178
by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 10/21/2015 - 12:48pm

(how the heck did I end up in last week's thread? No wonder this discussion looked so different to me...)

114
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:23pm

I definitely agree that you have to force NE to do something different - I've watched way too many teams over the last couple years get cut to death by the Patriots because they refuse to play anything but their standard scheme. If you aren't making adjustments, you're going to lose.

However - the Patriots lead the league in OPI calls at this point despite having played a game less than most teams - I'm not sure that trying to blow these plays up is going to actually have a positive effect - It's going to replace a lot of drive damaging penalties on the Patriots with drive extending penalties on your team.

Frankly, I think the Patriots are really bad at executing WR picks - watch the play Keyshon Martin got called on yesterday - it looks like hes trying to tackle the guy. Denver and Pittsburgh do it really well.

The key to stopping this is practicing it extensively and having defenders who can hand off responsibilities - for a good example watch Browner/Butler in the end of the superbowl - they immediately diagnose that it's going to be a pick and know that if they play trail they're going to get caught in the wash and it's going to be a TD - so they both play to where the receiver is going to be.

Defenders constantly getting caught in these plays is the same as defenders constantly getting beat by any other play - it's a failure in preparation and coaching.

129
by strokes :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:52pm

But the premise is based on the audibles comment that two separate plays had big gains from OPI. One was called back; the other wasn't. I get it. It's the "so your job is harder" line from Searching from Bobby Fischer. What if - and believe me this hypothetical - you have Marinelli as your coach, and he won't adjust his scheme? I think you just have to approach it as the pick play is a penalty but teams still count on it not getting flagged every time. I'm just saying try that on defense and see how it plays out. There may be wins in slowing tempo, wear and tear on WRs and QBs, and limiting big plays.

132
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:59pm

The example that was given as working wasn't actually OPI - watch the Edelman touchdown again - the problem isn't a pick (the play is a rub, not a pick), it's that 3 guys try to cover Amendola and nobody covers Edelman. There are 3 defenders with their hands on Amendola - who has his hands in the air and is being pushed backwards, and nobody is anywhere near Edelman - it's a coverage breakdown.

If your coach won't adapt to this stuff - the solution isn't to start fouling every play - it's to fire the coach.

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss-plays/0ap3000000554804/Can-t-Mis...

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by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 6:45pm

I thought the same thing when I first saw it, but upon second glance it is pretty clear that #24 was trying to stay with Edelman and Amendola got in his way. Danny does a pretty good job of selling the idea that he's trying to get out of the way, though the damage had already been done.

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by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 7:03pm

Getting in the way is legal though - that's what a rub is. He's allowed to do that.

It's deliberately initiating contact that's illegal - and Amendola most certainly didn't do that. He stops, turns around, takes a step sideways and then the defender starts pushing him backwards. If you want to see an example of what you can't do - watch the play with Keyshon Martin where he basically pancakes the DB.

NFL teams have been running these sort of plays for decades. They're a good way to beat man coverage - and they're exactly why the trips formation was invented- but there are easy ways to screw them up - either jam the guy at the line, or handoff coverage.

Good teams compensate - bad teams don't.

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by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 12:21pm

I agree it was a legal play, I contested your original phrasing that #24 chose to cover Amendola. :)

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by strokes :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 10:30pm

The comment in the audibles calls it a pick and suggests it was illegal. Simms calls it a pick. And the way Amendola plays it is very much like a basketball pick. Trying to make variations based on wording or pounting out that everybody else does it botches the logic for it being both a legal and a good play.

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by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 9:11am

Amendola has a right to be there. Getting in the way isn't illegal, you have to go out of your way to make contact for it to be an illegal pick.

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by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 12:13pm

Exactly right.

It's a Rub - getting in the way of a defender and making him go around you - which is completely 100% legal.

A pick (in football) is when you physically put a block on a guy - Amendola is clearly not doing that.

It's getting really frustrating that every time the Patriots dismantle a team because that team fails to adapt to some tactic - people who don't understand the rules make a big stink about them.

This is a legal, effective tactic. It happens dozens of times every Sunday during the NFL season.

This is what an illegal pick looks like(although it's debatable if it was an illegal pick or a legal post-catch block):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZQU8nrtyL4

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by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:54pm

Good post. Another good example is McCourty stopping Witten on 3rd down this past week.

It is amusing seeing people (not only on this site) get all up in arms about the Pats running pick plays when, not only are they prevalent throughout the league, everyone refers to the route Seattle was running on the goal line as a "pick play!" Somehow, that always gets mentioned without complaint... :)

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by theslothook :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 9:02pm

Ill stay on this rant. Those rub plays really need to be outlawed. Its not just an ne thing...denver sd sea and gb all do it a ton. Its not that rub plays by themselves are hard to guard. Its just...if the offrmse is good enough to make a defense have to play honest...then those rub plays become insane to defend.

I also dont think theres even a route involved qnd so many receivers get away with it b4 the ball is in the air or when its more than 5 yards past the LOS.

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by RickD :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 10:42am

How do you outlaw a rub play? The principle here is that any player is allowed to take whatever route he wants. If his route conflicts with the desired route a defender wants to take, that's hard to outlaw. Are offensive players supposed to cede right-of-way to defenders?

It seems that the most the NFL can do is call the flag when the offensive player is actively blocking a defender while running a route. What they could do is throw the flag more often, but aside from that this appears to be in the game for good.

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by Independent George :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 10:52am

I agree - but that's not to say they can't change the rules to make it easier for defenders to defeat it. For example, you could legalize holding outside of the TE box, inside of 5 yards - so that a 'pick' player can just get held in place unless he's actively trying to escape the defender.

Mind you, I don't advocate such a rule change - that would be positively horrible rule. I was just using that as an example.

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by tuluse :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 11:01am

Change pass interference into NBA style charge rule. Whoever gets there first has the right be there.

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by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 1:22pm

Sorry, I really don't want NBA officiating in the NFL. Judgement calls on who was there first on rub plays? I'd prefer the Pats to win the next 8 Super Bowls.

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by tuluse :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 1:48pm

I find the rub plays almost excuriating to watch, so I'll disagree on that note, but to each his own.

Alternatively move illegal contact back to 10 yards so DBs can be less afraid of making contact.

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by Will Allen :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 2:35pm

I do think that rule change would make defending the rub easier, and would be yet another way that such a rule change would make the game more entertaining.

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by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:43pm

Sterling:" I guess he's never really progressed from the pocket, but I don't think the coaches tightening his harness is going to help Kaepernick develop."

I've seen this kind of behavior from coaches quite a bit, and it always baffles me. It seems intuitive to only let the bad/new quarterback try easy passes, but it seemingly always results in the defense collapsing down into the short zones and making everything more difficult.

I remember watching the Pats in 2008 after Brady got hurt, and watching many of Cassel's problems go away when they started letting him take shots at Moss downfield - the safeties backed off, the corners backed up, and the linebackers started having to cover much larger zones, and guys got open underneath.

Now, Kaepernick doesn't have anyone like Moss, but making it very clear to the defense that you're only going to use a small area of the field makes everything on offense more difficult.

Which makes me think it's as much coaching as it is actual talent decline.

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by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 2:50pm

The same behavior happened with Sanchez and Geno in New York. Thankfully, Rex isn't doing this to Tyrod Taylor.

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by Steve B :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:11pm

#63

Somebody already hit on it, but Megatron has looked ordinary for most of the season so far or at least not good enough to camouflage Stafford's deficiencies.

Who's in the worst shape right now - Bears, Lions or Saints?

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by tuluse :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:26pm

In this case I think the Bears are in the best position actually. They have talent on offense, it's just that most of it is hurt. Cutler could also easily play another 4 years around this level (of course he also play ~1, hard to call). While Brees is almost surely done being significantly better than average. In fact, Cutler has the best DVOA so far this year.

One great defensive draft and average injury luck puts the Bears into 10-6 territory I think. While the Saints need a replacement franchise QB and a defense that doesn't suck. I don't really know why the Lions are so bad, so I have no advice for them.

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by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:30pm

Because nobody is sure whether the head coach is alive? You sure can't tell to look at him.

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by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 3:49pm

Well, the Lions are currently saddled with a huge contract for Stafford, who's simply been godawful, and the Saints have been frantically trying to dig themselves deeper into salary cap hell for a while now as far as I can tell. From a long-term salary cap perspective, I think the Bears are in the best shape. I'd take Cutler at his contract over Stafford at his.

Coaching-wise, John Fox has always had some solid defenses, and I would expect he can cobble something together over time. Sean Payton and Rob Ryan are probably going to start stabbing each other in a few weeks, so they're not good. I can give a vote on Jim Caldwell's coaching prowess once he actually wakes up.

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by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:56pm

Jim Caldwell is a great coach when he's coaching mid-to-late-career Peyton Manning.

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by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 6:05pm

I'm too depressed to think about it the question, but when Johnson and Stafford are taking up half your salary cap, and they're not playing well, it's no surprise you're going to suck. The good thing is between trades and compensatory picks, they have double digit draft picks next year.

At this point, I'm ready to move on from Stafford. I've been entranced by his 2011 season, which made me think he was capable of being consistently productive (even if he's not super-efficient). In retrospect, it seems like his 2011 was an outlier like Steve Buerlein's 1999, Chris Chandler's 1998, Don MajKowski's 1989, Lynn Dickey's 1983, etc. Except it happened at age 23, instead of late-career, which is why I was fooled. I think he needs the old "change of scenery" at this point. The problem is, I don't know who replaces him. I guess the Lions are on track for a top 5 pick so maybe Jones, Cook, or Goff?

As for Caldwell, yes he's a terrible game manager. I can't speak on the other aspects of coaching. Yes, 2009-2010 was with healthy Peyton Mannoing. You can't completely ignore 2014, however. I would be okay with giving him another year as long as Joe Lombardi gets fired (he clearly did not inherit grandpa's football accumen).

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by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 6:31pm

The worst thing I remember Caldwell doing was calling timeout in the 2010 wild card game so the Jets could get closer for a game winning field goal. So 2010 doesn't end up in the positive column for me.

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by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 6:32pm

Zombie double post, Jim Caldwell says, "BRAINS".

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by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 6:44pm

How about that 2009 QB draft class, eh? Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman. But, hey, Curtis Painter has had a solid career of clipboard-wielding, so there's that.

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by LionInAZ :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 12:23am

Stafford is frustrating, for sure. I wonder about his motivation. From times I've watched, it sometimes seems that he doesn't get charged up unless it's a last minute drive. I don't think Caldwell is a very inspiring coach either. He was supposed to bring discipline to the team, but I didn't see much evidence of it Sunday. Six turnovers, multiple penalties on kick returns, weak secondary coverage... This was a top 5 defense last year, and now it's a pile of crap. For all of the flaws, the offense functioned better in Linehan's offense. The team played more aggressively. Or maybe it all went to hell because Suh is gone.

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by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 12:49pm

Yeah, Linehan's offense also had its fair share of turnovers, but at least it moved the ball and scored pretty consistently. Now the offense turns the ball over AND can't score points.

The defense turning to crap is probably a combination of Suh/Fairley/Mosely being gone, and Levy being injured. I also can't figure out whey Slay keeps getting burned deep, when that was rarely a problem last year (overconfident, maybe?)

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by Steve in WI :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 4:51pm

I'd agree that the Bears are in the best shape, simply because they hit bottom last year and despite injuries and a lack of talent, they've already improved to the point that they're not embarrassing. Which sounds like a low bar, but anyone who watched them last year knows what I mean.

I do disagree with you that the Bears are that close to being competitive. What Fox and Fangio have done with the defense is really amazing and I can see where a great draft or two could get them to being an average to above average defense. However, I don't share your optimism about the offense. Forte is due to fall off a cliff soon, and even if you grant him at least one more season as a top RB (after this one) there's the fact that the Bears' top two receivers can't get/stay on the field. Jeffrey is really starting to concern me. On the offensive line, beyond Long and Slauson I'm not sure anyone is any good anymore. (Obviously it's way too early to judge Grasu).

I am beginning to come around to the idea that it may be worth hanging on to Cutler just because rookie QBs are so unprepared for the NFL now, and it's so hard to project what they'll turn out to be, that he may well be their best option for the next few years.

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by big10freak :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:01pm

The Bears would be better served by going 3-13 or 4-12 for a season to get better draft picks and improve the chances of attaining playmaking talent.

I know, easy to say hard to live through as a fan.

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by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:46pm

If Goff keeps throwing picks like he did on Saturday, the Bears might be able to get him in the second round.

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by Independent George :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:49pm

I think it's only worth tanking if there's a "lock" at QB that year (even accounting for the fact that they are anything but). Otherwise, picking 4th vs. 12th is only valuable in being in a position to trade for additional picks and build cheap depth.

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by TomC :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 5:54pm

Exactly. I am now to the point where I'm rooting for the Bears to win 6+ games so that they are not tempted to take a QB half a round higher than he's worth and commit 5 years of the franchise to him.

Then again, if the coaching staff and front office are as enamored of Cutler as I have been hearing, and they're willing to take BPA at any draft position, then by all means bring on the top-5 picks in every round (but only if they lose 11 straight very close games in highly entertaining fashion).

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by Steve in WI :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 2:50pm

It really is such a weird roller coaster of emotions with this team, isn't it?

After the big housecleaning last season, I both thought that Cutler would only be here as long as his contract demanded and that I would be glad to see the Bears move on. When they started 0-3 and looked like they might go winless, I was fine with winning as few games as possible and securing a great pick. Now they've won two straight and not many teams left on their schedule look unbeatable, so who knows what their record will end up.

I agree with you that I am scared of the Bears committing to the wrong QB in the draft. The best thing about Cutler right now, besides his general level of competence, is that I don't think that the Bears are committed to him beyond being willing to stick with him if he appears to be the best option. If they see someone in this draft or next year's who they think is the guy, I think they'll take him but I also don't see them being desperate to draft one just for the sake of drafting one. I hope.

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by BJR :: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 7:46pm

I wasn't shocked the Ravens lost to the Browns yesterday, but I expected it to be mainly due to offensive ineptitude with their already iffy receiving corps decimated by injury. But man, giving up 450 yards to Josh McCown.... I know they've lost their best defensive player for the year, but the rest of the unit still looks solid, I didn't expect a total collapse. What's going on there?

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by Andrew Potter :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 9:32am

By the end of the game they were missing Suggs (IR, Achilles), Dumervil, Webb, Will Davis (IR, ACL), and had Kyle Arrington playing hurt. That's their top two pass rushers and their #2, #3, and #4 cornerbacks, plus their #3 safety is also on IR. Hard for any defense to survive that level of attrition.

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by BJR :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 5:44pm

That makes more sense, thanks.

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by Steve B :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 12:16am

Their secondary, other than Jimmy Smith (who's good, but overrated) sucks. Not the only problem, but the biggest one. Speaking of AFC North teams, how about that Monday night game? Bell is the best RB in the league right now.

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by Steelerdan :: Tue, 10/13/2015 - 2:43am

Bell is best