Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Nov 2015

Audibles at the Line: Week 8

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.

Detroit Lions 10 "at" Kansas City Chiefs 45 (London)

Tom Gower: The Lions made the playoffs last year. As in 2014. Really. It seems really, really hard to believe watching them right now, but it in fact happened. They even had a chance to win their postseason game. Now, they just look lost. The offensive line has too many pieces that don't work, the backs are blah, maybe some of Matthew Stafford's interceptions were partly on the receivers but sometimes, Phil Simms, it is in fact the quarterback's fault as well or instead. And the defense, well, it's like they were really dependent on great defensive line play to cover up all the holes in the back end and they lost a couple of very talented defensive tackles.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 at Atlanta Falcons 20

Vince Verhei: Ballsy call of the day that backfires: Bucs lead 20-13, with a fourth-and-1 at about their own 40-yard line, inside the two-minute warning with Atlanta out of timeouts. A first down wins the game, so they go for it, but Jameis Winston's bootleg keeper is stuffed. Atlanta takes over and has little trouble tying the game, as Julio Jones scores with 17 seconds to spare.

Andrew Healy: Lovie Smith makes a decision he might get killed for, but I love it. He goes for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 40-yard line up 20-13 just inside of two minutes. The Falcons had no timeouts remaining. I like the play call, too. They rolled Winston out left with a run-pass option. He ended up needing to run and got stuffed on a really nice tackle. The Falcons score the touchdown that ties the game with 0:17 left.

The call didn't work, but it's good on multiple levels. First, the Falcons had about enough time to win even after a punt. Second, the Bucs are going nowhere and I like the message of aggression and confidence in Winston. And, of course, most important, they took a chance to not give up the ball.

So kudos to Lovie for a call that was awfully risky for a coach who's not completely secure in his job. Small demerits for failing to stop the clock to give his offense a chance to win after the touchdown. The Falcons score with 0:17 left when the Bucs maybe could have had 0:45 and a timeout.

Jameis Winston drove the Bucs down the field for a drive that came up just short of a touchdown on the first drive of overtime, but it has to be said that Winston threw a pass over the middle that should have been intercepted early in the drive (the play was wiped out by offsetting penalties). Couple of nice throws on third down after that.

Arizona Cardinals 34 at Cleveland Browns 20

Vince Verhei: Missed the first chunk of this game, but from listening to the radio, the biggest keys to Cleveland jumping out to a 20-7 lead were:

  • Cleveland recovering a Chris Johnson fumble that set the Browns up inside the 10-yard line, setting up a Brian Hartline touchdown catch.
  • Duke Johnson taking a short pass over the middle and turning it into a 52-yard gain to set up a Gary Barnidge touchdown catch.
  • Carson Palmer missing a pair of deep balls where receivers were open for what appeared to be touchdowns.

And now, in the third quarter, Arizona has taken the lead because Palmer has started hitting those deep passes -- a 60-yard touchdown to Michael Floyd, and a 39-yarder to Jaron Brown to set up a Troy Niklas touchdown.

Andrew Potter: Cleveland also recovered a Larry Fitzgerald fumble with the Cardinals in the red zone, and a Cards touchdown was taken off the board for a procedure penalty on the offense.

Andrew Healy: Josh McCown's interception on the first offensive play of the fourth quarter is such a terrible decision and throw. With the perfect opponent adjustment, that 457-yard day he had against the Ravens might just be the worst day for a defense in a very long time. The Cardinals are trying to keep the Browns in the game with their own turnovers, but that one takes the cake for ineptitude.

San Francisco 49ers 6 at St Louis Rams 27

Cian Fahey: Second week in a row that a visiting player has been injured after running onto the concrete alongside the field in the Rams stadium. That's something that needs sorting out sooner rather than later.

Aaron Schatz: Is that new? Did they adjust something at the stadium that there's concrete where previously there was turf? (I have no idea if any of you know...)

New York Giants 49 at New Orleans Saints 52

Sterling Xie: For the second time, the Giants score on the exact same slant-flat pick play with Odell Beckham coming inside on the slant and catching the touchdown. If I remember correctly, they allow contact within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage, right? If that's the case, there's an area of the field where the crackdown on OPI on those pick plays isn't going to hurt offenses. And the Giants have really needed it today: They've had 4 runs from inside the 1-yard line, and all have gotten stuffed.

Cian Fahey: Julio Jones had a great effort play early on against the Buccaneers for the Falcons when he chased down a linebacker over 80 yards away. That play didn't count because of an offside penalty. Eli Manning just tried to beat that with a throw downfield as he was being horsecollared on a play that didn't count.

Sterling Xie: Drew Brees officially on record alert after tossing his sixth touchdown of the day, this time down the seam to Benjamin Watson. The Giants' back seven looked like one of the worst in the league on paper at the beginning of the year, and I think this is the type of doomsday scenario everyone imagined. Lots of breakdowns and poor technique everywhere (Marques Colston had an easy walk-in 53-yard touchdown. At the same time, though, Brees has been masterful in his precision. Hard to believe that, a couple weeks ago, it looked more likely than not that this would be the end of the Brees-Payton era in New Orleans.

Andrew Healy: We now have 12 touchdowns combined between Eli Manning and Drew Brees, which I assume is a record. Beautiful throw by Eli down the seam to Dwayne Harris for 20 yards on the last one.

Sterling Xie: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has basically been the Giants' lone line of defense against the Saints today. DRC came up with his third pick in two games to halt a drive in New York territory, when it looked as though the Saints would go up two possessions. And now he comes up with a beautifully timed hit on Willie Snead to pop the ball up in the air; Trumaine McBride returned it for a touchdown. 49-42 now in an absolutely insane game.

Vince Verhei: Looks like Brees and Eli have tied a record set by this Charley Johnson-Billy Kilmer shootout.

Andrew Healy: And we have ourselves a record. After the pass that brings the Saints even at 49, the Manning-Brees touchdown party is at 13. Brees ties the NFL record at seven.

Aaron Schatz: Tough break for the Giants, who essentially lost the game on a facemask penalty that came on a tackle that never officially happened. Since you can't move a fumble recovery forward in the final minute, Brad Wing wasn't tackling an actual ballcarrier. But the penalty still counts and turns a 65-yard field goal attempt into a 50-yarder.

Scott Kacsmar: And imagine that, a game that had 13 touchdown passes ends on a non-offensive field goal drive. Those are so rare in regulation.

Minnesota Vikings 23 at Chicago Bears 20

Cian Fahey: First quarter of the Vikings-Bears game has been uneventful outside of Marcus Sherels' punt return touchdown. Adrian Peterson is touching the ball a lot for the Vikings but he's reliant on his offensive line creating space for him to be productive. The Bears are calling plays as if they are terrified of their offensive line's matchup against the Vikings' defensive line. A lot of screens, misdirection, and even some wildcat.

Andrew Healy: Teddy Bridgewater might not be good right now, but man does he have an awesome weapon blooming in Stefon Diggs. Diggs catches a curl and brings it about 30 yards after the catch for the touchdown that ties the game with just under two minutes left. I love everything about his game, and his competitiveness evokes Steve Smith a little bit.

Cian Fahey: It was an awful game for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He missed multiple touchdown throws to Mike Wallace when he was open downfield, though Wallace also dropped two other passes so we can't presume he'd have hauled them in. Stefon Diggs bailed the quarterback out late in the fourth quarter when Bridgewater found him over the middle and he carried the ball downfield for the game-tying touchdown.

San Diego Chargers 26 at Baltimore Ravens 29

Andrew Healy: If we're having a contest for the worst unit in football, the Ravens' secondary is in the running. The Ravens looked to be in a zone with maybe Kyle Arrington dropping to share deep responsibilities with Terrence Brooks. Or maybe it's more likely that just Brooks had the deep middle. Whatever it was, Malcom Floyd was all alone for one of the easiest 70-yard plays you'll see.

Cincinnati Bengals 16 at Pittsburgh Steelers 10

Scott Kacsmar: Ben Roethlisberger looked good on the opening touchdown drive, but he took a hit later and has been moving gingerly at best since. He didn't look comfortable on a third-down pressure and went down for a sack on a drive that was all runs before that. The Steelers may be playing with a hurt quarterback here.

The Bengals were going to have great field position, but Adam Jones just had to do something really stupid. He got up late after a play and smacked Pittsburgh's long snapper in the helmet to cost his team 15 yards.

Dalton is seeing his fair share of pressure so far today. It has caused the Bengals to settle for two field goals. Andy Dalton just floated one to Giovani Bernard, who is lucky he didn't take a devastating hit like the one the Colts laid on him last year on a similar play. On third-and-15, another blitz brings Dalton down for a sack. That might go against Andrew Whitworth, at least partially. Jarvis Jones released from him and got in there for part of the sack.

And now Le'veon Bell is down, grabbing his knee on the sideline after getting tackled awkwardly. Not good. Bell was injured against the Bengals in Week 17 last year. The Steelers haven't had Roethlisberger and Bell finish a game together since Week 16 due to a series of injuries and suspension. Hopefully that streak doesn't continue into 2016, but this doesn't look good.

Aaron Schatz: I love the wacky Hue Jackson formations, but sticking an offensive tackle out as a wide receiver doesn't seem to get the kind of blocking he expects it to get. They had rookie Jake Fisher out wide on one play and just ignored him, then had another play where Andrew Whitworth was out wide as part of trips and was blocking for a screen pass (backwards, so technically a run) to Marvin Jones. No kind of wall there, just a yard or 2 on the play

You know, the knee injury shouldn't be affecting Roethlisberger's ability to identify when guys are covered. In the second quarter, he has repeatedly thrown to receivers who are covered very close, leading to a couple of near interceptions.

Bud Dupree looks very good for the Steelers' pass rush. Just whipped Tyler Eifert with a spin move on a play where James Harrison got up and knocked down an Andy Dalton pass. Andre Smith has a couple of bad flags for the Bengals because he's struggling with the Pittsburgh pass rush. Steelers defense has kept this thing surprisingly close given that the Steelers offense seems to have shut down after that great first touchdown drive. (And hey, injury to Bell isn't to blame for Antonio Brown dropping passes or Ben Roethlisberger hanging it up for an interception.)

The Steelers just punted on fourth-and-20 from the Cincinnati 35-yard line instead of trying a 53-yard field goal. They ended up with an 18-yard punt that "pinned" the Bengals at their own 17-yard line. The first Bengals pass was a 23-yarder to Ryan Hewitt, which put the Bengals back pretty much where they would have been if the ball had been turned over on a missed field goal attempt.

Antwon Blake is getting killed in man coverage today but hey, zone coverage is a totally different thing! He just picked up Marvin Jones in the end zone; I think Andy Dalton misread the coverage and thought Jones was just plain open, but Blake jumped the route.

Andrew Healy: Dalton's goal-line interception on third-and-goal keeps the Bengals trailing 10-6. Pretty inexplicable decision on that throw. I want to say that he didn't know Antwon Blake was sitting there in the zone. It looked to me like that should have been a pretty easy read.

On Dalton's next interception, I think A.J. Green has to make a better play on the ball. It hit him in the shoulder pad on a deep pass on third-and-25 before bouncing up in the air for Mike Mitchell to intercept. It ends up just being a 67-yard punt, though, after an illegal block on the return.

Aaron Schatz: Big Ben with two straight picks to basically hand Cincinnati a win. The first one was a fantastic play by Shawn Williams, diving in front of tight end David Johnson after Big Ben had scrambled to get free of the pass rush. Hard to blame him for that pass. Johnson looked open when he threw it.

But the second pick was just plain sailed over Antonio Brown's head after pressure from Wallace Gilberry, right into the arms of Reggie Nelson. That was a bad throw.

Vince Verhei: Boy do I hate the Bengals' play calling at the end of the game. They're up 3 with a third-and-7 at the Pittsburgh 23-yard line. Rather than go for a clinching first down, they call a give-up run that actually loses 3 yards. They get the field goal to take a 6-point lead, but Pittsburgh still has 1:47 and a timeout to drive for a winning touchdown. It was way too early for the Bengals to go so conservative on third down there.

Tom Gower: Jeremy Hill went down with two and a half minutes to play. Mike Tomlin elected not to use one of his timeouts and let the clock run down to the two-minute warning. With a first down at the Bengals' 39-yard line and less than :20 to play, I wonder if Tomlin feels like making a different call there.

Andrew Healy: Didn't love the Steelers' play calling on the last drive that ended with the Steelers getting one shot at the end zone from around the 15-yard line. They used short passes that ran the clock down until the last completion to Martavis Bryant that was poorly defended and allowed Bryant to get out of bounds.

Aaron Schatz: I think the Bengals actually had a point on the fake-spike throw to Martavis Bryant. (I assume this is what Marvin Lewis was arguing about.) When forward progress is stopped in bounds and a ballcarrier is moving backwards as he goes out of bounds, the clock is not supposed to stop. That was 12 seconds left. The clock should have kept running there. That fake spike didn't make much sense to me as a play call for Pittsburgh -- if you're going to try that, send the guy deep on it. If you throw the fake spike short, the receiver has got to really make guys miss to get significant yards AND get out of bounds otherwise.

Andrew Healy: I think they absolutely had a point. The clock has to keep going. He got driven backwards at least 2 full yards before he went out of bounds.

Scott Kacsmar: I don't think Roethlisberger has ever got the fake spike to really work to his advantage. I've seen far worse drives than that one, but they needed more than one throw to the end zone.

Tennessee Titans 6 at Houston Texans 20

Tom Gower: What an AMAZING display of football in the first half. Including the Texans' drive at the end of the first half where they were sacked on first down and didn't try after that, there were 10 possessions that ended without a first down. Two others had their only first down come via penalty. Each team had one real drive. The Titans' stalled out in the red zone, so they kicked a field goal. DeAndre Hopkins did one of those things DeAndre Hopkins does, going up and over Jason McCourty to bail out Brian Hoyer, to finish the other one in the end zone. Houston's other points came on one of those first down-less possessions, after Bishop Sankey fumbled the kickoff. Sankey would muff the next kickoff before recovering, so we'll see if he gets to be the kickoff return man again to start the second half, or if he's now been permanently exiled to durance vile.

Basically, just imagine everything you'd expect to see from hearing about Brian Hoyer handing off to Alfred Blue and throwing to Nate Washington going against Zach Mettenberger handing off to Dexter McCluster and throwing to Justin Hunter, and this game has provided it. Really scintillating stuff. And we still have 30 minutes to go!

Oh, I left off that little recap without bothering to mention Ken Whisenhunt called two INCREDIBLE timeouts. He called a timeout at 2:03 after the Texans were stopped on third down to force a punt. So instead of getting the ball back with 1:47 to play and two timeouts, the Titans got the ball with 1:50 to play and one timeout. I know which one of those I'd rather have. He also used his final timeout after that Texans' first-down sack on the final possession of the first half. Because of that, the Texans had to take a knee on second down from inside their own 10 instead of just letting the clock run out. I know, it's still no Mike Munchak using his timeouts down 30-7 in the final two minutes against the Vikings back in 2012, but it was still simply astounding game management.

Well, the second half wasn't quite as inept offensively as the first half. There were only a couple possessions without a first down. The Titans managed another field goal drive. The Texans managed a couple scores, one of them Nate Washington going up for a jump ball against Coty Sensabaugh. The most notable thing was perhaps the Texans' pass rush, which was back with a vengeance against a Titans mediocre offensive line and a quarterback who ... processes ... the ... field ... slowly ... and ... tends ... to ... hold ... the ... ball ... forever. It was a mix of J.J. Watt, of course, and Whitney Mercilus, who finished with about 3.5 sacks. The Titans even tried benching Jeremiah Poutasi again, and Jamon Meredith gave up about as much pressure. Next week's game in the Superdome might be an interesting contest of the incredibly stoppable force against the easily movable object, at least judging by the 42-all score in Giants-Saints today.

New York Jets 20 at Oakland Raiders 34

Andrew Healy: Charles Woodson is 39 years old and I think he might be now leading the NFL in interceptions.* His fifth on a very Geno Smith-esque throw by Geno Smith gives Derek Carr the ball again with the Raiders already up 21-3. Three possessions, three touchdown drives of 78, 76, and 78 yards. Carr is 14-of-18 for 178 yards and three touchdowns now. He is so much better than he was last year. Did not see this improvement coming.

* (EDITOR'S NOTE: Yup!)

Vince Verhei: We've already talked about how weird it is that the Raiders are actually a good offense now. Well, think about this: the Jets' defense is really good, and Carr is just killing them. They're probably going to have the best pass offense DVOA in the entire AFC West after today (they came in a bit behind San Diego). Raise your hand if you thought Oakland would have the best passing offense in the division. (Yes, we see you RaiderJoe.)

Seattle Seahawks 13 at Dallas Cowboys 12

Vince Verhei: Seattle has a very nice opening drive, mixing up runs and passes for several first downs, but then the NFL's worst red zone offense strikes again and they kick a field goal to up 3-0. On second-and-goal, they split Jimmy Graham out wide and had him isolated against 6-foot-0 Byron Jones, with that whole half of the field to work. Seems like exactly the kind of mismatch they were hoping to get when they traded for Graham, but instead of switching to a pass, Russell Wilson sticks with the run. Marshawn Lynch gains 1, the third-down pass is incomplete, and here we are.

Andrew Healy: At his new usage rate, how long will Darren McFadden last? Eight carries and one reception on Dallas' first drive.

Vince Verhei: Cowboys get their own long drive, mostly thanks to Darren McFadden rushing eight times for 32 yards, including a third-down conversion. Seahawks looked to have recovered a McFadden fumble on a screen pass to end the drive, but on replay it was ruled an incomplete pass. Dez Bryant is playing, and Richard Sherman is shadowing him all over the place. Sherman has been much, much more likely to follow receivers around the field under Kris Richard than he ever was under Gus Bradley or Dan Quinn. The drive ends on a third-down incompletion and the Cowboys get their own field goal. Most notable thing about this game so far: There are 43 seconds left in the first quarter, and we have had just one possession for each team.

So of course after those two long drives we get four straight three-and-outs. Then Barry Church appears to hurt his ankle defending a deep crossing route to Graham. He stays in the game, but Seahawks start attacking the seam to that side, and Luke Willson scores on a 22-yard touchdown catch.

Alvin Bailey is in at left tackle for Russell Okung, and is doing shockingly well against Greg Hardy. Hardy has just one hurry, and Wilson was able to complete a pass for a first down on the play.

Dallas' best player today has been La'el Collins. He is just throwing Seahawks around like he's the Hulk and they're the Chitauri.

Bizarre referee screw-up in Dallas. Cowboys are about to kick a field goal following Matt Cassel scrambles of 24 and 12 yards (two of Dallas' three longest plays in the first half). Seahawks call a timeout on third down. Then as Dallas is about to try the kick, Seattle realizes they have too many men on the field and try frantically to get guys off, as Pete Carroll tries to call timeout. So rather than let the play go with 12 men (a penalty that would have given Dallas a first down) or let Seattle call back-to-back timeouts (also a penalty that would have given Dallas a first down), the refs apparently stop the clock to let Pete Carroll know that he is not allowed to call timeout there. So they just redo fourth down, and the Cowboys kick a field goal to make it a 10-6 game. Jason Garrett is rightly outraged, but that's how it went down.

Aaron Schatz: It seems like we do this every week now, with at least one play where the officials decide something in a way that's totally, obviously against the rules. Not a judgment call on a replay review or a question on what's a catch, but something that's just blatantly wrong, like the penalty on the Ravens last week for an ineligible receiver who obviously reported eligible.

Vince Verhei: Two big injuries late in the first half in Dallas. Greg Hardy limps to the locker room, helped by trainers. Worse, on a Seahawks' punt, Ricardo Lockette is laid out by Jeff Heath and immediately goes down not moving. Game had a very long break as he was strapped to a board and carted off. By the end he was talking and moving his hands, holding up one finger as he was carted out. Very sad and very, very scary.

Last first-half note: Dez Bryant has two targets. Both resulted in passes defensed for Richard Sherman.

Aaron Schatz: Seattle's tackling is surprisingly problematic today.

Seattle coverage, however, not problematic. Sherman finally allowed a pass reception to Bryant, but a couple plays later, Bryant got flagged for OPI hanging on Sherman to prevent a pick.

Vince Verhei: Third quarter ends with Dallas down 10-9, but in the red zone after Greg Hardy (not hurt that badly, obviously) tips a screen pass to himself for an interception. Still not much going on for either offense. Officially, Dez Bryant now has six targets. One I must have missed, but the five I remember, one he beat Sherman for a third-down conversion, three were incompletions with Sherman in coverage, and one was a screen where Sherman blew through Terrance Williams' block and tackled Bryant for a loss. Oh, and on one of those incompletions, Sherman would have had an easy interception, but Bryant broke it up, getting flagged for offensive pass interference in the process.

Aaron Schatz: The Seattle offense is frustrating. They'll go a few plays where everything is working and then it all seems to break down. It seems like the lack of a clear No. 1 receiver is finally a big problem, because the offensive line is so bad that every team can just rush four and put everyone else in coverage. Apparently Russell Wilson didn't get sacked once despite the offensive line playing without Russell Okung. It really does not feel like the blocking was that good. Wilson was scrambling and throwing bad passes under pressure a lot, at least when Greg Hardy was in the game. It also seems like Doug Baldwin isn't getting open as much as he could in the past, and the guys like Jermaine Kearse were really never good at getting open unless they did it by getting deep faster than whoever was covering them.

But hey, the defense didn't blow a fourth-quarter lead, so, progress!

(Actually, technically they did blow a fourth-quarter lead since that Dallas field goal to make it 12-10 came at the start of the fourth quarter. But then they un-blew it.)

Vince Verhei: Agree with all comments on the frustration of the Seattle offense. You look at their raw numbers and they look OK and you're trying to figure out how they only scored 13 points, but really, it's simple: when they get close to the end zone, they don't score touchdowns, they kick field goals (or, once today, get a field goal blocked).

Green Bay Packers 10 at Denver Broncos 29

Aaron Schatz: First quarter is fitting our profile of the Green Bay defense. They are much stronger against the pass (fifth in DVOA) than the run (17th), but struggle to cover the opposing team's No. 1 receiver. Denver marched down the field primarily on runs and passes to Demaryius Thomas.

Scott Kacsmar: Denver has slowly figured out a few things this season.

1. You don't make Peyton Manning throw bootleg passes to his left, but he can hit them from his right.

2. You put Manning in shotgun/pistol so he has time to read the defense instead of trying to pull out from center.

3. Ronnie Hillman is playing much better than C.J. Anderson and deserves the most backfield touches.

4. They may have finally realized Virgil Green can move faster than Owen Daniels. He deserves more targets.

And Manning finally hit a deep ball to Demaryius Thomas this year that you couldn't call a jump ball.

Tom Gower: Really weird in a fun way to see this Broncos offense. Peyton has had time to throw and get the deep ball going, the short passes are producing yards after the catch, and even C.J. Anderson is being productive. Looks like the bye week was a good use of time. I'm not sure just how much different they're doing so much as individual players performing and working better together.

Aaron Schatz: I think the most remarkable thing is that the pass rush isn't really getting to Manning. That's a huge difference from the first few games, and unexpected given how strong the Packers' pass rush has been this year.

Aaron Rodgers taking a timeout instead of a delay of game on second-and-9 in the third quarter makes me want to stab myself in the face with a fork. That leaves the Packers with one. They're down 14. There's barely 16 minutes left. They might need that, you think?

OK, the Broncos just took Rodgers out for a sack-fumble and safety. This one seems pretty done. So now we have to go through a week of trying to figure out "Is Peyton Manning back?" I appreciate that he was able to take advantage of Green Bay's inability to cover crossing routes tonight, and he certainly looked much better than in previous games on deep throws to Demaryius Thomas. But I think it's ridiculous to just write off the first six weeks of the season as if they never happened.

Scott Kacsmar: The first six weeks happened, but there were enough signs there that this offense could achieve a performance like this one again. We'll see if this is a one-shot or the start of the turnaround, but they were getting closer to this. I don't think the offense was ready in Week 1 for a full-strength Baltimore and trying out this new offense. Then they played four out of five on the road. The bye week came at a very good time.

Tom Gower: Yeah, they looked better tonight, but some of the same flaws are still here. Peyton's arm has looked better for the most part, on the deep throws in particular, but not all the time and the late interception by Damarious Randall was on a throw that looked like it came from the first six weeks of the season. A lot of the run success has looked like better play, but Green Bay has shown some vulnerability on the ground this season, especially those second- and third-level defenders (consult Week 1 Audibles if you need a reminder), so it might be partly the opponent. The first six weeks did happen. Denver on the whole has looked great tonight, and some of the improvement could be real. We'll see over the rest of the season.

Aaron Schatz: My guess is that some of the improvement is real. It was never realistic to think that Peyton Manning would end up as the worst starting quarterback in the league over the entire season. But some people are going to take this game to mean that Peyton Manning is the Peyton Manning of legend again, and that the Broncos should now be the Super Bowl favorites. There are still plenty of questions about this offensive line and about Manning himself. I think the most likely scenario is that Denver has an average offense going forward, not as bad as it was before, but not as good as it has looked tonight.

That makes them a much better team than before given the quality of the defense. But it doesn't mean Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the league again.

...Actually, after jousting with Denver fans on Twitter, I think I have a better idea of what's getting to me about tonight's game. For years, I took criticism from my fellow Patriots fans (and anyone else who believed in #QBRINGZ) because I argued year after year after year that a bad Peyton Manning performance in the playoffs did not render his amazing regular-season performances irrelevant. Now, the guy has one good (not great) game after six lousy games this season and a gradual implosion at the end of last season, and a lot of people -- Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels on the broadcast, folks like Pete Prisco and Michael Wilbon on Twitter, not to mention most Broncos fans -- are insisting that Peyton Manning is still great and that it was ridiculous for us to ever think he was in decline. But just like in the past, one game does not render the games that came before irrelevant.

The other issue with Manning's performance is figuring out what the heck happened to the Packers defense, starting with the San Diego game and then this game. They can't seem to stop any crossing routes at all, nothing in the middle of the field. They couldn't stop the run, worse than was suggested by their average run defense DVOA coming into tonight. And they lost two cornerbacks to injury during this game, although we'll have to see how that shakes out in the long term.

As for the Broncos defense... the Patriots should be pretty worried. I think the Bengals have the pass protection to give Andy Dalton the time to throw, most of the time, and we'll have to see if the receivers can get open against the great Denver coverage. But the Patriots aren't going to be able to protect Brady for more than a couple seconds on each play. If Aqib Talib and Chris Harris and the Denver defensive backs have everyone covered in the first couple of seconds, the Patriots will be in trouble.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 02 Nov 2015

221 comments, Last at 05 Nov 2015, 1:01am by chemical burn

Comments

1
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 11:43am

Raiders good qualiotyy win. Totally smacked around Jets. D. Carr, A. Cooper, K. Mack real deal. Raiders may n ot win division becuause broncos wuinning too much. Raiders could be 11-5 opr 12-4 Wild Crad team but no worories, should be able to manhandle AFC Soiuth division champion in the early satruday game (4 vs 5 afc game alsmost certainly going to be in that slot due to craptastic afc south team).

13
by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:10pm

Ah, more legendary RJ - quality misspelled, but craptastic is dead on!

131
by Tundrapaddy :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:04pm

You're not kidding. Someone has to win the AFC South, and the only team that appears definitively out is the Titans. It wouldn't surprise me if the Jaguars snuck in based on the strength of their defense.

It would suck mightily, but it wouldn't surprise me.

2
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 11:50am

Quick thought experiment: Remove Denver, New England, Green Bay, Cincinnati, Arizona and Carolina. Who's the best team remaining?

Atlanta and Minnesota are the only two with just two losses, but neither have looked impressive for a while. Then we get to like half the league either 4-3, 3-4 or 4-4. The NFL has six really good to great teams in my mind, then just a ton of mediocrity. So much so that you can make a reasonable argument for Oakland being #7.

3
by Kurt :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 11:52am

Dallas will be #7 as soon as Romo steps on the field.

10
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:06pm

The Steelers would be right there if they'd had Roethlisberger all year too, though Bell just got hurt, which will hurt them.

34
by Nahoj :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:15pm

Weeden and Cassel are truly terrible aren't they? Given they have some experience (32 games played for Weeden, 92 for Cassel) I find it remarkable how situationally unaware they both look. That sack Cassel took after rolling out near the end last night... I mean he had to have realized he was better off taking his chances and throwing the ball there right? What difference does an incompletion, or even an interception, make compared to the guaranteed loss a sack results in? They had to give Bailey a shot at a long field goal.

193
by beargoggles :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 3:27am

that was simply horrible. How much time did he think it would take the Seahawks to find him over there?

9
by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:04pm

By DVOA, it has to be Seattle and the Jets.

14
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:11pm

The Jets just got thwacked by the Raiders, and that strongly undermines any argument that they could be ahead of the men in black and gold.

Seattle is a good candidate. But really, after the top tier there is a bunch of teams that can be dangerous but all have serious flaws. The Giants, for example. Scored 49 points! Yay! But gave up 52!

38
by Raiderfan :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:20pm

"Men in black and gold?" You mean the bumblebees, or the men in black and silver?

43
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:26pm

The Pittsburgh Pantsless Bumblebees have the singly worst uniforms in human history. I'm not so much sure Leveon Bell hurt his knee as much as his knee attempted to escape his body to get away from those godawful flesh-colored pants.

194
by beargoggles :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 3:29am

Fan of Creamsicles very excited to have other uniforms to make fun of.

But you're right. I can get my wife to laugh at 2 things football related: 1)RaiderJoe posts 2) Bumblebee uniforms

15
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:12pm

Maybe, Seattle's wins are a bit unimpressive. They've beaten SF (crap), the Bears without Cutler (crap), Dallas sans Romo (not exactly great) and Detroit in a game where they could easily have lost.

But then their losses are mostly to strong teams. Perhaps that's just the way of it in this polarised year with so many crappy teams.

26
by Ben :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:35pm

Once you get past that list, there is a lot of flawed and/or injured teams.

I wouldn't rule out St Louis. Jeff Fischer has managed to parlay a solid defense and running game into plenty of wins in the past.

134
by Tundrapaddy :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:07pm

Can't argue with them already holding a substantial tiebreaker position in the division (3-0, having beaten ARI, SEA and now SF once each).

I'd like to say the Seahawks, but they're just not firing on all cylinders. I wasn't a fan of trading away a veteran, quality center for a flashy TE to begin with.

Not surprisingly, they've done nothing to make me change my mind on that.

4
by SFC B :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 11:54am

It continues to amaze me that the NFL does not make more of an effort to develop and improve their referees.

5
by Ryan :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 11:59am

I know everyone and his mom has an opinion on Peyton, but to me, what made him and that offense look so good finally last night was appropriate play adjustment. It seemed like Peyton finally either had his head on straight or was given the leeway to make the right audibles. When he dropped back, it was often on plays where Green Bay only brought 4. When the box was light, they ran. Receivers were actually open and in space thanks to the play calls against specific coverage looks. It didn't have that square peg/round hole feel of some of their other games. Peyton's arm is still the Great Noodle, but he and the offense in general finally made the right decisions far more often than not.

11
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:07pm

Also, the bye week certainly helps Peyton's ability to be as strong as needed. But yes, most of the improvement was in terms of the Broncos being properly organized and having all their players in the right places. That (a) shouldn't be all that surprising, and (b)will probably stick now that it's achieved.

Whether Peyton can maintain any arm strength as the weather gets colder and the season gets longer is another question. My (strongly biased) opinion is 'no'. He couldn't last year and unless he's somehow seriously improved his condition while aging, it seems unlikely.

17
by Denverite :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:13pm

At least they're trying to proactively address it by limiting his reps in practice and forcing him to take time off. He also apparently lost a good bit of weight in the offseason and tried to get in good physical shape. So it's definitely an issue everyone is aware of and is affirmative trying to deal with.

(Also keep in mind that he was injured at least the last 2.5 games last year.)

6
by jtr :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:00pm

Bengals-Steelers was a very AFC North kind of game. Penalties, injuries, and turnovers, and at the end of the game it didn't really feel like either team had outplayed the other. And it's nice to know that no matter how much anything else might change in this league, Pacman "Don't-Call-Me-Pacman" Jones is still really dumb. He smacked a Steelers special teamer in the head after he sort-of got in the way of Jones getting back up in one of those minor-annoyance things that NFL players do to each other 1000 times per game.

47
by BJR :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:37pm

That was Pacman's career in a microcosm. He produced an excellent punt return to set up the Bengals in great field position (the talent), then got up and swung a punch to mostly wipe it out (the bonehead).

7
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:01pm

Quick thoughts on the few games I saw:

CIN @ PIT: Cincinnati is really good. That was a C effort by the offense, and the defense bailed them out. They won a road division game playing less than their best. They can go 14-2. For the Steelers, losing Bell just sucks. Everything broke right injury wise last year and they were one of the two best offenses in the NFL. This year, they won't play a single game that Ben, Bell and Brown were all healthy in.

NYJ @ OAK: The Raiders may make the playoffs. They have a realistic shot at 8-4 heading into their game in Denver. Their last four are tough, but they have a legitimately good offense, and an average defense. In an awful AFC (aside from the top-3), that is good enough. Heck, if the playoffs started today they're in as the #5 seed.

SEA @ DAL: Man, that Seahawks offense is a complete disaster. That is all that needs to be said about this game.

GB @ DEN: That was the best defensive performance I've seen from a team against Aaron Rodgers ever. To hold him to 3.5 y/a, and it wasn't like they were getting pressure all the time. There were 3-4 plays where he held the ball for 4+ seconds and had nowhere to go. That defense is fantastic, and they've mostly played on the road so far. As for the offense, Manning looked good, but more importantly, he didn't make any stupid mental mistakes like he has way too many times. The o-line gave him time to protect, and Demaryius is pretty amazing when he doens't drop the ball.

32
by PaddyPat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:02pm

Awful AFC? It's just a weird year. Is the NFC any less awful?

NFC
Strong teams: Green Bay, Arizona, Carolina.
Decent teams: Seattle, Atlanta, maybe Philly.
Uncertain: St. Louis, New York

AFC
Strong teams: New England, Cincinnati, Denver
Decent teams: New York, Pittsburgh
Uncertain: Oakland, Buffalo

Honestly, the only really glaring difference is the AFC South which is just those glaring few notches below the NFC East.

96
by TecmoBoso :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:23pm

I'd add the Saints to uncertain, yes their D is very bad, but Brees looks healthy again.

Philly doesn't have a QB, so it's hard to put them in the decent category.

The NFC doesn't look very good half way through the season. I'm not sure Carolina is good, we only know they aren't bad. Who knows what's up with Seattle. And even Green Bay hasn't looked all that great. It's still so early, but the Vikings and Falcons might push both or one the Rams and Seahawks out of the playoffs. And this is the type of year where you could see someone like the Rams finishing 6-2 in the regular season, catch the NFC East winners in round one, then beat the Panthers and the Cards (after they upset GB) and get to the Super Bowl. That's the 'feel' the NFC has this year.

106
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:32pm

The Saints cannot win with their defense. They can't count on facing a defense as bad as theirs every week.

118
by Will Allen :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:49pm

Of the Vikings remaining 9 games, the contest against the Bears in Minneapolis is the only one were I'm pretty confident they'll win. The rest range from "very tough game to win", to "very probable loss". I woudn't be shocked if they were to finish 7-9, but I would be very, very, surprised to see them at 10-6. Their best path to the playoffs lies in beating the Rams, Seahawks, and Giants in Minneapolis, beating the Bears, and then hoping it is a year where 9-7 gets a wild card with the tiebreakers. They probably will not win all those home games, however, which means they'll need to pick up a road win against formdidable foes and/or circumstances. Don't see it happening.

118
by Will Allen :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:49pm

Of the Vikings remaining 9 games, the contest against the Bears in Minneapolis is the only one were I'm pretty confident they'll win. The rest range from "very tough game to win", to "very probable loss". I woudn't be shocked if they were to finish 7-9, but I would be very, very, surprised to see them at 10-6. Their best path to the playoffs lies in beating the Rams, Seahawks, and Giants in Minneapolis, beating the Bears, and then hoping it is a year where 9-7 gets a wild card with the tiebreakers. They probably will not win all those home games, however, which means they'll need to pick up a road win against formdidable foes and/or circumstances. Don't see it happening.

139
by Tundrapaddy :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:13pm

Their best chance at the playoffs still remains with the Packers tearing off to a 14-1 or 13-2 record, and resting Rodgers, Cobb, etc. for the last week of the season, thus giving the Vikes a relatively easy 10th win.

On the plus side, Atlanta is starting to look vincible. On the minus side, the game is still in Atlanta.

168
by Will Allen :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:26pm

Well, the Giants game looks a lot easier than it did a few weeks ago, although I still could easily see the Giants winnning 31-20. You're right, however; a 9-6 Vikings team, against a week 17 Packers team with it's playoff position locked in, is likely their best chance.

110
by PaddyPat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:40pm

The Saints may push, but it's hard to imagine them making the playoffs with Carolina and Atlanta having such significant head starts in the division. And Minnesota... I don't know. I'll be very curious to see how their DVOA looks this week. You have to sort of imagine that the brutal schedule the rest of the way will weigh them down a lot considering their efficiency.

Schedule strength will probably have a lot to say about team performance down the stretch. Of the contenders and pretenders:

The tough schedules are for: Denver, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Minnesota, and maybe Philly and the Giants

The average schedules are: New England, the Jets, Oakland, maybe Seattle

The easy schedules are: Green Bay, Cincinnati, Carolina, St. Louis, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and especially Atlanta

If you extrapolate from that, playoff teams are likely to be something like:

AFC: Cincinnati, Denver, New England, Indianapolis, Jets, and probably Oakland

NFC: Green Bay, Carolina, Seattle, Atlanta, Arizona, and either the Giants or the Eagles

132
by Steve B :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:05pm

I'm going to give the edge to the Steelers among the AFC WC hopeful pack in large part because they have Ben Roethlisberger at QB while the others have -

Jets: Fitzpatrick/Smith
Raiders: Carr
Bills: Taylor/Manuel
Dolphins: Tannehill
Texans: Hoyer

Carr is probably the safest bet out of that group and that's at least partly because he's an unknown when it comes to being involved in a playoff push.

This is also assuming that the Steelers don't continue to lose key players because of injury or suspension and that the defense continues to play well above pre-season expectations. Actually, they could probably afford the defense regressing some if Ben plays at a Pro Bowl level or close overall the rest of the season.

143
by Tundrapaddy :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:21pm

I think your QB analysis oversimplified things a bit. Tannehill appears to have a coach who will work to his (and the whole team's) strengths.

Had they not already blown their divisional home games against the Jets and the Bills, I would give them a decent shot at a wild card slot. But there are too many difficult gmaes for them to overcome their crappy start.

How long will it take Fitzpatrick's thumb to heal up? As solid as their defense is, that's probably one team that will either make or miss the playoffs depending on how many games Geno 'watch the magic happen!' Smith gets to sub in for Fitzpatrick.

152
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:31pm

While Fitzpatrick has been competent, I'm not sure Geno is as big a falloff as people think. The issue with him is occasional brainlock, but honestly Fitz does that stuff too. He also has more potential to have huge games and go on a tear than Fitz as well. The Jets actual issues yesterday were the lack of a running game (partially due to missing Mangold), and their inability to tackle.

The funny thing is, everyone talks about the Jets being a win now team, but they're in year one of a new regime. They did spend a lot on contracts this past offseason, but almost all of those contracts can be cut other than Revis and Skrine, who have actually played well. Over the cap has their commitment level at 122%, just above the Pats, and significantly under the Bills and Dolphins. That list is also interesting when you look at who is at the bottom: the Raiders, and the Colts.

147
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:24pm

I can understand that, but the Jets and Bills have easier schedules than the Raiders and Steelers, playing the AFC South teams. The Jets have the Giants and Cowboys, as well as the Jaguars, Titans and Texans, the Bills at home on a Thursday, the Dolphins at home, and the tough games: Patriots at home, Bills on the road. I should include Dallas as a tough game, it might be the second toughest they have left.
The Steelers get the Broncos at home, the Bengals on the road, and after a bye, at Seattle. They also play the Raiders this week at home, in an absolutely huge game for the AFC wild card.

I would argue Carr is the safest bet out of that group simply because he's playing better than everyone else, including Roethilsberger at this point. Ben didn't have a good day yesterday. If both qbs play like they did yesterday, the Raiders will have the inside track to the first wild card, it's just that they play Denver, Green Bay and Minnesota as well.

You are correct that if Ben plays at a Pro Bowl level the Steelers get a wild card, it's just that he may not be able to play the way he used to, holding the ball as long as he has.

165
by Steve B :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:13pm

The Steelers actually seem to do better against teams with winning records than teams with losing ones. Ben actually does a much better getting the ball out quickly with Haley at OC than he did with Arians. The first int yesterday wasn't a good example of that but, again, I think he started forcing some things after Bell got injured.

I agree that Carr's playing well and I think he and Cooper will be a good test for a defense that's way overperforming what the expectations were for it going into the season.

49
by Hang50 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:44pm

On Denver vs. Rodgers: Post-game interviews suggested that Wade's plan was to keep Rodgers from escaping the pocket; Miller and Ware were asked to play contain first, attack second. Also interesting was a quote by Chris Harris, who said something along the lines of "we held coverage for as long as possible," not scanning the field after 3 seconds for a breakdown. The DBs assumed Rodgers would buy time, and they assumed the front six or seven would keep him from scrambling. Rodgers escaped a couple times, but his running wasn't a constant threat.

This is a defensive game plan that Del Rio would have never developed last year. Phillips has earned every penny of his paycheck so far.

51
by Ryan :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:47pm

Yeah, I'd never really heard a team describe the dual-coverage (initial route, scramble drill) routine as a gameplan for an entire game. Really genius, and they have the personnel to execute that kind of plan. Front and back ends working in sync perfectly.

56
by Will Allen :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:52pm

I think Phillips is on that very short list of guys who deserves HOF consideration on the basis of his coordinator career.

67
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:05pm

I was thinking something similar watching the game last night. What must his career DDVOA look like as a DC and head coach? It must be well below -10% no?

105
by PaddyPat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:32pm

I have always thought Phillips was one of the NFL's finest defensive coordinators. It's kind of like LeBeau, a weak personality to coach a whole team, but a master strategist on one side of the ball. He brings instant credibility to a defense, and can generate magnificent game plans. Bravo! It's really nice to be able to comment on a coach's ingenuity as opposed to being forced to constantly harp on glaring ineptitude.

8
by Will Allen :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:02pm

Too bad the Giants couldn't have picked up a safety at some point, allowing them to lose while scoring 50-plus.

37
by Travis :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:20pm

If recent history is any guide, that safety would have gone on IR three days after the Giants picked him up.

39
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:21pm

(I think you're not talking about the same kind of safety.)

40
by Travis :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:22pm

We're not.

58
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:54pm

Nice.

85
by E :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:58pm

Yes I'm a Giants fan, and yes that post made me literally laugh out loud. Then cry a little.

12
by Denverite :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:10pm

I've been saying for several weeks that Manning's arm has been looking better. Tighter spirals, more accurate on the deep sideline stuff. He was just making a ton of boneheaded mistakes.

Last night is what happens if he doesn't make those boneheaded mistakes. They're not unstoppable, but it's a run-heavy, possession-type offense that complements the best defense of the 21st century* very well.

I'm chalking up wins at SD, home against SD, home against Oakland, home against KC, and at Chicago. That's 12 wins. They'll be favored in Indy. If they can win one of home against the Pats, home against Cincy, at the Steelers, that's 13-3. They'd probably still have to play on the road in the AFCCG (and potentially not even get a bye -- it's entirely possible that the Broncos could go 14-2 and be the three seed), but that defense will travel.

* Yes, better than '13 Seattle, and I'm being hypertechnical that the 21st century didn't start until 2001.

20
by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:16pm

I think that you have to consider the 2002 Bucs as possibly greater.

21
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:21pm

That Bucs team was like these Broncos turned to 11.

They held opposing QBs to a 50.8% completion percentage - and remember this was a Tampa-2 team. They also allowed 10 TD passes and got 31 interceptions. QBs had a 48.4 passer rating against them. These are not normal things.

24
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:29pm

As a Bucs fan, it's safe to say 2002 was a really fun year. My favorite stat about that team is through three playoff games, opposing offenses scored three TDs against the Bucs defense. The Bucs defense scored FOUR TDs.

I would have to say when your defense outscores the opposing offenses through the playoffs, that's a pretty ridiculously high bar to overcome.

59
by TomC :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:54pm

This middle-aged Bears fan feels compelled to point out that the '85 Bears (playoffs and SB in '86) also accomplished this, scoring 2 defensive TDs and a safety while giving up one TD and one FG in three games. (And the TD was in garbage time in the SB, after the score was 44-3.) Their regular-season defensive performance had more variance than the 2002 Bucs, but once playoff time hit, they were as dominant as any team I have ever seen (especially in the cold in Soldier Field).

The 2000-01 Ravens came close, and if you counted special teams TDs they would probably qualify.

22
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:23pm

By DVOA, the 2000 Ravens' defense was a good deal behind the 2002 Bucs. Bucs were -31.8%. The 2000 Ravens didn't even lead the NFL (-23.8 to the Titans -25.0). Coming into Sunday, the Broncos were -31.9%, and my guess is that a strong performance against the Packers won't hurt that.

**One could be really hypertechnical and note that the 2000 Ravens kept playing in the playoffs in 2001. With essentially the same defense.

84
by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:55pm

I think the 2000 Ravens D has enjoyed such a good reputation because of their dominant postseason performance, which was not factored into those regular season DVOA numbers. They allowed 3.6 NY/A with 10 INT's vs. the pass, and 3.1 Y/A vs. the rush, allowing 16 points in 4 games.

They also set the record for fewest points allowed in a 16 game season (165), which helps their rep as well.

36
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:19pm

I disagree that it *had* been looking better, but it certainly was better last night. It was the first time I've seen Manning be able throw the ball longer than 10 yards without having to grit his teeth and put a full body effort into it. It helps that the middle was open enough that throws didn't need to be on a rope, so that might have something to do with it.

If that's the way Denver is going to play the rest of the way, I feel comfortable saying their the best team in the NFL. They made a good Green Bay squad look like they had prepared for an entirely different team.

64
by Will Allen :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:00pm

It certainly didn't look like the same offensive line I've been seeing this year in Broncos' games. I don't know what to make of it. IF that becomes the typical Broncos o-line performance, then Denver is very, very formidable, regardless of old Peyton Manning in cold weather.

16
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:13pm

It's amazing how Atlanta gift-wrapped that game, and how hard Tampa really tried to give it away. Kwon Alexander's strip of Julio Jones was amazing; Jones is running 30+ yards downfield in the clear, and Alexander came up behind him and literally ripped the ball out of his arms while he was running. Great play. He had a pick, and then another that was canceled by a penalty. Really nice game for a guy who has very much been a rookie MLB and all the associated coverage issues so far this year. I still don't understand why Atlanta's game plan just wasn't throwing 20 balls at Julio, but I guess Jonathan Banks (TB's only decent cover guy) probably plastered himself to him and followed him around the field. But, hey, Jacob Tamme had a career game.

This is the first game where Winston hasn't done anything incredibly stupid. A few missed passes and not-great decisions, but nothing catastrophically terrible. Part of it is certainly Tampa's o-line has been markedly better than anybody ever would have anticipated, and they were good at both keeping Winston upright and not committing the 475 penalties they committed last week (I may be estimating). Considering the offense consists of (A) Mike Evans and (B) Wait Who Is That Guy What's A "Cameron Brate", I'm pretty pleased.

The best part is it happened in Atlanta, and that game last year was the one where Tampa was down 28-0 at the end of the first quarter. So it was kind of satisfying, yeah.

28
by Peregrine :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:43pm

The Falcons have been trying to give away games for the past month. They succeeded in doing so against the Saints and the Bucs. Atlanta lost despite never punting, which says it all. This team just makes too many mistakes, the kinds of things that we were really good at avoiding in the better years under Mike Smith.

In a much more important game, I think the game plan would be to throw to Julio 20 times, but we're going to wear him out if we use him that much.

It's a bummer of a loss, but the Falcons lucked out by getting to visit Dallas without Romo and Bryant, and Tennessee with Mettenberger. On the whole, it's amazing that we're 6-2.

18
by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:13pm

I think that Broncos fans view of offense has been skewed this year. After watching this defense and offense on the field for the whole year, every first down shocks us. So, suddenly watching a team score several times is astounding.

Of course, there are a lot of questions regarding whether the offense will turn it on and be above average with the adjustments that they've made, but most of us are just happy that we think we won't have to watch a team that struggles to do anything positive against some of the league's worst defenses.

This defense is good enough that a league average offense would have these Broncos in competition with the best teams in the league by DVOA.

Yes, it was one game, so it's definitely premature to think that this completely stark difference is going to be the new normal, but if the offense is capable of this, it's hard to imagine it continuing to be as bad as it was to this point.

I was resigned to this team being a fond memory with a great defense that was wasted with an old Peyton Manning and now I can legitimately imagine both units playing well in the playoffs.

19
by johonny :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:16pm

Mia-NE Luckily like most of humanity I don't watch Thursday night games. Looking at the box score it appears there was no game to watch which we all knew last week. The NFL expecting Miami to travel to Foxboro on a short week to play the best franchise in the sport was perhaps rather foolish. That the game was unwatchable should have been obvious before it was scheduled. The thing is most Thursday night games/ London games are dreadful affairs yet the NFL keeps pretending fans want these games. Oh, and the best player in Miami of the Jeff Ireland era appears to have had a career ending injury. AFC east wrap up: Pats appear ready to go undefeated. The division race is officially over. Okay it was over in training camp. Jets drop to Raiders and now are borderline to make the playoffs as they could be QB-less. Bills are also scrambling for a QB. Miami's QB might be the worst player on the team. Tannehill's game has dropped off from last year. Rather than having his bust out year, he appears to be having a complete transformation into Chad Henne. The unthinkable that the AFCeast could not even bag one wild card again comes closer to reality. No teams burn more talent than the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins.

82
by MJK :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:43pm

Patriots aren't going to go undefeated. I see them finishing 13-3. They'll lose to Denver (short week on the road against the other best team in the AFC, after an emotional Monday night game against the Bills), and the media will drive us crazy with Brady-Manning discussion and how the Broncos offense is "back", blah blah blah.

Then they'll lose a trap game to a random NFC team that they have no business losing to (Wasington, NYG, or Philly) because they just aren't that familiar with that opponent.

Finally, with no perfect season on the line and playoff spots sewn up, they'll end up resting starters and losing to either the Jets or Dolphins on the road at season's end.

87
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:03pm

Only issue with the late season is there is a good chance they don't have their playoff seeding sewn up. They probably would if they beat Denver and Denver beats Cincinnati, but there is a decent chance they're still fighting for a seed at that point.

100
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:27pm

1) I wouldn't count on any team winning in Denver if the Broncos are a good team. It's that hard a place to play.
2) They might lose a trap game, maybe not. Philly could be a problem for them, the Eagles actually have a good defense.
3) The Jets will definitely play them hard unless half the team is injured. I feel Geno matches up with them better than Fitzpatrick because he can throw the deep ball.

189
by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 11:30pm

I think New England plays the most games each year where the outcome is never in doubt. Well, them or Cleveland.

42
by edsmedia :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:25pm

Shame about that late FG in NYG-NO game. Drew Brees had a real shot at Norm van Brocklin if the game goes to overtime (only 43 more passing yards to go).

23
by merlinofchaos :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:27pm

Aaron, as a Denver fan I'm most in line with Tony Dungy's analysis: Peyton's not exactly back, which is to say he's probably well removed from the amazing season he had just a couple years ago, but the biggest problem this team had was timing. Getting everyone adjusted to a new offense had trouble.

Will they perform like that every game? Certainly not, that was a combination of being rested from the bye, being mad that they were underdogs, having something to prove, and GB being especially weak in the middle which is where Manning usually excels.

But if, as you suggest, the Denver offense comes up to average, that defense *can* carry them the whole way, and they should be a Superbowl contender. The '00 Ravens did it.

We'll know a whole lot more about how this will shake out in 4 weeks...

27
by Rick_and_Roll :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:35pm

To me the biggest improvement in Denver's offense coincides with the development of their OL. The first few weeks, the OL was awful; couldn't run and Peyton was getting hit so frequently he was rushing his throws and making poor reads. I think a realistic view on Manning going forward is that if his line protects him he will play more like he did last night than the first six weeks and if his line doesn't protect him, he will look like he did the first six weeks. Peyton is now a more dependent player than he was when he was "Peyton". He needs protection to be able to step into his throws, he needs his WRs to make plays (& sometimes play DB) and needs a running game. Bottom line, Peyton's play will mirror the play of his OL.

As for Denver's defense, the only weakness I see is when Ward is forced into coverage, usually against TEs, which is why the NE game in November looks to be one of the best regular season match-ups we've seen in years.

31
by Denverite :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:59pm

No way does Ward get Gronk one-on-one. They'll put Marshall or Trevathan on him and then shade Ward to help.

The Broncos defense actually matches up pretty well with New England. They're all great tacklers in the back seven, and Harris is going to take away the Pats' second best weapon. And that line sure ain't protecting Brady for more than 2.5 seconds.

41
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:24pm

Brady's average release time is less than 2 seconds.

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by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:28pm

Because Brady's initial read is almost always open - that's a fantastically designed offense.

The key here is the Broncos, theoretically, have the secondary to make his initial read not always open and push that average release time back. That's essentially what they did to Rodgers for the first 40 minutes of the game (the last 20 the rush started getting to him quick enough to get sacks/hits).

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by Rick_and_Roll :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:48pm

Guys like Brady and Rivers who get rid of the ball quickly matchup better against Denver than Rodgers. With that said, the Pats OL will have to play better than they have been if that first read isn't open or else Brady will take a painful amount of hits.

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by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:58pm

I would agree with a statement that "Brady's initial read is open more often than most other teams" but the idea that Brady is always throwing to open first reads is largely myth. The truth is that an equally important factor is that Tom moves through his reads remarkably quick. He is also exceptional at basing his read progression on what the defense is showing, which I suppose could fall into "design", but I think it merits being its own factor.

Denver's CBs are very good, but that won't be much of a problem for NE unless their LBs and safeties are also playing well. Last night they were outstanding, but it isn't what I saw in previous weeks. Like I said earlier, if that's Denver's true level of play, then I'd consider them frontrunners for the SB.

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by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:35pm

I'm not even sure that "more often" is accurate - Brady's two primary skills are his ability to move through his progressions/read the field ridiculously quickly, and his ability to sense pressure in the pocket.

About the only time he's throwing to his first read is when there's significant pressure and hes getting rid of the ball immediately - the short stuff over the middle that the patriots live on is almost always the 2nd or 3rd option.

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:05pm

Not myth: his first reads are before the snap. Post-snap it's very much a single read option based on how the defenders play the route combo. Watch his head.

It's not that he can't make the reads, of course, but it's set up so that he doesn't have to. (Note: my reply is oversimplified due to being typed on a stupid ipad.)

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by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:12pm

It's watching his head that lets me know it is myth. As I said earlier, more often is fine, *primarily* first read is patently false.

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by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:29pm

He knows where he's going a large percentage of the time before the snap, and he doesn't get fooled very much at all. He hasn't played a pass rush or secondary like the Broncos yet this year, though.

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by aces4me :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:43pm

Jets were a pretty good approximation of Denver.

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:50pm

DBs yes, up front not remotely. They don't get pressure in similar ways at all.

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by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:59pm

Jets don't have one dominant edge rusher, much less two of them. Keeping Gronk in to block Von Miller when the guys on the other side are killing you isn't a good option.

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by dryheat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:08pm

They were able to handle Miami with reasonable success, which obviously became much easier when Wake got hurt. Something tells me that Belichick will come up with a plan to neutralize them, whether it be more running through the middle, quick hitters to Edelman and Lewis, or more likely, something I can't think of in 5 seconds. The Pats offense doesn't have to win every time, and they won't, but they'll probably have enough successes to win the game.

Understanding the difference between home and away, they were able to score enough against Denver last year, and the personnel was more or less the same. Was there an injury that I'm not remembering?

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by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:22pm

For whatever reason, Von Miller is typically a non-factor in games against the Patriots, though that is often against Vollmer.

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by Rick_and_Roll :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 8:15pm

That is like saying the Packers offense is an approximation of the Patriot offense.

Denver has significantly more speed at every level than the Jets and is much deeper at every position. Look at the Raiders performance in games played by both DEN & NYJ within the last month.

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by dryheat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:55pm

This is about right. Brady knows, based on what he sees, where he'd like to go with the ball (where the most favorable match-up is). But if the defense does something funky post-snap, he has a ridiculous ability to process it quickly and determine where the most favorable match-up is going to actually be. He also knows when "None of the above" is a viable option pre-snap to audible to a run play.

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:04pm

I'd like to challenge you to prove to me that it's patently false.

Pre-snap:

Diagnose coverage (man v zone)
Diagnose locations of defenders
Diagnose what their responsibilities are likely to be (and thus future locations)
* - it is this last one that separates this offense from "one any QB could run," despite its similarities to the kid gloves one-read offenses other handcuffed OCs run for rookies and Kaepernicks

Choose side of field
Determine primary target

Post-snap:

Look that way
Watch one defender and primary target
Throw with authority and accuracy

It's not that Brady can't survey the field and still make correct choices; we know he can, and when his OL was excellent we'd watch him stand and scan with equal precision.

But that isn't what he's being asked to do now.

There are reasons I still expect them to be fine against Denver - as you mention below - because I think they'll find formations that still allow open throws (possibly frequently behind the LOS, possibly with a lot more stacking receivers) and even against a sure tackling secondary their guys are slippery enough AND always prone to be moving in the right direction as they catch it (plus they're always better blocked outside) to get 4-5 yards a pop. They'll have fewer 3-2s and more 3-5s, but they'll move the ball.

It's funny, I HATE WR screens. Almost as much as fades (which I find lazy). Every other team runs them and I groan. NE runs them and it's a work of art. The blocking is just so much better. They catch it in motion instead of having stepped backwards and needing to change direction. They find space. Regular teams get 3 yards with an occasional lucky/athletic long one, Lewis/Edelman/Amendola get 8-10 with regularity.

Agree that you can't fool Brady. I think the Colts did a halfway decent job ignoring an edge rush to try to clog quick slant lanes (on the pick routes) for a half and he saw it coming and changed his decisions. Manusky is smarter than he gets credit for, I think (separate discussion). Phillips is going to need to find a way to bait Brady into an unsafe throw or two, because even the idea that coverage can be good enough to shift the release back a half a sec to give the rush time will be defeated by the Pats' game plan.

It's a few weeks out, but I'm picking the Pats in that game barring catastrophic injury.

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by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:25pm

I know because I watch every game and I see Brady looking multiple directions and still getting the ball out in 2 seconds. I don't disagree that NE is very creative about getting the first read open, though I think it is misleading to paint Brady as the *beneficiary* of said creativity. In truth, Brady's ability to read the defense and choosing a progression is an integral component, as you appear to indicate.

I understand that you'd like proof, but since the original claim is that the first read is always open that's the one that needs to be demonstrated. Until it is, I'm justified in expressing my disbelief. :)

EDIT: Though you can mentally change the definitive "patently false" to "I don't accept it as being true."

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 6:23pm

It was certainly true a lot in the Super Bowl last year. If you look at the NFLBreakdowns article about it, you can actually see that on many plays, they actually ran the exact same route combos as mirror images on each side of the field. On these short pick plays, Brady would cut the field in half pre-snap based on which had more available space (hash and safety/LB dependent), then identify zone vs. man and know which combo they'd be running, then also have his cue for what to look for on the combination and how it's defended, and therefore which guy he's going to go to.

They key element here that I didn't mention before is that the receivers also have to identify the coverage correctly. This is a very underrated part of this (and any) offense, including in my own analysis/arguments. The difference is subtle, but for instance against press man they'd run the pick, whereas vs zone they'd run a simple slant/flat variation. (And geniuses being geniuses, they'd have eight levels of variations based off of those, which would be called based on what they expect the other team to expect and adjust to, etc - leading to the Edelman hard cut play that Brady overthrew once but hit on the winning score. That only works if you've beaten them enough on the usual combo to sell that it's coming again. All teams do stuff like this of course.)

What I love about their offense - and note that I used the word love - is that there's still so much more to it. Trading Hoomanawanui took some of the fun out of the 4-TE mismatch packages in the red zone, but when the Pats don't feel like the criss-crossy west coast-y short quick read stuff is their best option, they can also do fun dual TE seam variations (like that one to Gronk that has been in a lot of film breakdown articles this week vs Miami) on either side too, work the middle of the field, etc. Not to mention stuff to Lewis out of the backfield, in space, oh, and let's not forget the run game between the tackles. Or the times when they'll bring in an extra tackle.

I know I'm often taking an anti-Brady position here in discussions with Patriots fans, but in reality it's simply anti-narrative (as are most things I get passionate enough to spend time arguing, honestly). I feel very strongly that the Patriot receivers and coaches are under-appreciated because everyone is in such a hurry to celebrate Brady and anoint him as the best ever or hand him the MVP. I realize that this shouldn't bother me... and I don't dispute for a second that this is the best I've ever seen him play and that that is RIDICULOUS for a person of his age to be improving. (Mentally, you expect, based on experience, but physically? He drops my jaw at times. He's 38. Look at Manning's physical decline. Suddenly his dickish competitive text to his buddy looks incredibly prescient.) But I also don't think it's wrong for me to point out that much of what the Pats do is rooted in some pretty high-schoolish stuff that other coordinators try to use to manage incompetent to mediocre young QBs.

The problem is that it sounds like an insult when I say that. It's not meant to be one. Like someone else said (partially accurately) when talking about Peyton, Brees and Brady stopped throwing certain balls when they hit a point where they couldn't hit them reliably. There's huge value in self-scouting and accepting your limitations. Brady was never an especially accurate deep thrower, even with Moss (not that it mattered with Moss), and now he's older. That phrase Adapt or Die works well here, because he has certainly adapted as well as you could possibly expect anyone to... but let's not gloss over the fact that he has certainly adapted. That offense is designed that way in large part because there are certain things that Brady can't do.

And again, that sounds like an insult, but the only reason I even bring it up is because this whole "Brady is a sure-fire MVP" and "he's the best player in football" stuff I've been reading, especially after last night's game, still doesn't stand up. He's playing exceptionally well. He's the second best QB in football right now. And that's not an insult. But regardless of what happened in Denver, Rodgers is still better. He's comparable to Brady in Brady's strongest areas (mental, risk aversion, pure vicious competitiveness) but also excels at areas where Brady is weak (deeper, throwing guys in tight coverage open). If the two were traded, straight up, the Patriots would improve, while the Packers would decline. (What's interesting to me, when looking at both teams and their offenses, is that in many ways the Patriots offense is more west coast-y than the Packers is at this point.) I don't even think there's anything controversial about that statement. (At least with younger Manning vs great Brady, their strengths were still very different; that's much less true of Brady-Rodgers. Different venn diagrams if you will. As easy as it was for 2005-10 me to say "Manning would've won FOUR with Belichick," I'm not really convinced he'd have done anything different or better in that 06-10 peak they both shared.) And it's stupid that I should even have to say this stuff, because it's not an insult to say that someone has consistently been the second-best for more than a decade of an era that has had six or seven really freaking great quarterbacks at any one time, but that's how annoyed I get when I see Peter King and blind homers (not really including you in that description, or at least not the first word of it) cooing and just handing him a trophy. I think Commissioner Leaf goes to the extreme of defining Value down below, but let's be honest: Brady has more help from his coaches than anyone else. And more help from his teammates than most people ever seem to want to admit. I'd put McDaniels and Edelman very close to the bottom of the list of people I'd like to have a beer with, but somehow I find myself thinking that they're among the most ridiculously underrated people in football right now.

Sigh. Apologies for starting up another rational but irrational argument. I really don't want to discredit Brady. I root against his team but still appreciate everything he's doing and everything that entire organization [except for the owner's son] does and stands for (and that includes the winning at any cost attitude that leads to controversies). I recognize his role in developing and running that offense. I just feel like we're already giving him a ton of credit. There's little need to give him the other guys' credit too.

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 6:35pm

Anyway, backing up to the idea of how you beat them... I think to some extent you actually might need to figure out a way to trick the receivers. Brady is very risk-averse, so he's not going to try to stuff a ball into a tight window if there's a chance it can be picked. (Which makes all the side-side stuff even more impressive, by the way, as there's such a risk of a pick-six if it's not executed well... though of course we all know Brady isn't going to throw a poorly placed bad decision quick out the way rookies and McCowns do.) So you're probably not going to trick him. But if you maybe trick one of his targets... that's how you can get a takeaway.

Otherwise, you've just got to hope that super tight coverage does lead to him having to hold the ball 2.2 instead of 1.7 seconds and thus the rush can create some sacks and incompletions and 3rd and longs instead of 3rd and shorts. We've seen that Amendola is good enough to keep the chains moving even if you reasonably lock down Gronk and Edelman... LaFell might add a new dimension as he gets on the same page and stops dropping stuff too... but then you've still got Lewis and the run game and the tight ends and heavy set stuff to contend with. Still, the reason they can be so boringly efficient is that they're always reliably getting successful plays on first and 2nd, so it's easier on third. If you're not really likely to get a turnover except by blind luck once in a while, the way to beat them is to get third and long and make them have to punt a few times in a row.

Still, I think they're just too smart and too creative. Denver can cover, they can swarm, they can pass rush, they can defend the run, and the linebackers can run from side to side and tackle... that's an incredibly formidable defense. Really fun to watch (and boy do I wish Manning had had one like that before his surgery). But the Patriots will figure out something that works well enough to get 3-4 yards a pop when executed (and they'll execute it). And have layers of backup plans and supporting plays ready for when the Broncos adapt. And because they have a QB that knows the game and the offense inside out and is decisive and accurate and awesome and trustworthy, they're a good bet to still score points and win. As great as that D is, the Patriots O is up there too right now. And let's not forget that their coach is Bill Belichick, while the Broncos are coached by Gary Kubiak.

I really do think they can go undefeated and in fact I'm kind of rooting for it, even though it'll come with the extra narrative crap (and obnoxious non-FO Patriots fans), for what it's worth. Especially since I think the defense still has plenty of improving to do, and those linebackers are all really freaking good.

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by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 6:53pm

If Denver plays as well against NE as they just did GB, I expect the Broncos to beat the Patriots. As high scoring as their offense has been, they've oddly struggled early in several games (Dallas, NY, Miami and even Jax, to a point) only to be bailed out by the defense. Denver's offense of the first 6 games wasn't much of a concern, but if this past week was due to seasonal development, a slow start might lead to NE being down 17-7 like GB was.

It shouldn't be overlooked that the Shanahan/Kubiak offense has long been a Belichick Kryptonite, though I suppose it should also be pointed out that NE is running a totally different system than they were for those earlier match ups.

I have no doubt they'll poke some holes that GB couldn't, it will just need to happen faster than it has of late. I don't think they can get away with sparring for a few rounds to figure the other guy out.

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 4:05am

I'm not entirely convinced it was the Shanny offense that was the kryptonite to the Pats during their first multi-SB run (and yes, I stated it that way because I believe they're in the midst of a second) so much as it was just that they weren't quite as well equipped to handle a mobile QB and a mostly competent D back when Brady was more a game manager than a game changer.

But...

Even if what you say is to be accepted as true, it's worth noting that this Kubiak offense has a long way to go to be able to be recognized as competent on the ground (or even in the air, sadly, though by playoff time I still think that'll change) compared to those old teams.

Anyway, what gives me confidence compared to my statements/expectations earlier (which were typed during margs on the beach, for whatever that's worth... if nothing else, ha ha I live where it's warm and you live in Patriots country (?) (I'm just kidding and obviously have no idea)) is that I went back and watched the Sunday nighter and when one particular play came up I stopped it and stared and re-wound and stared some more and slow motioned it forward for a good long while before I even watched the play develop after the snap (or saw the result, which ultimately ended up being a total BS penalty)... and even with what I like to think is a pretty well-developed football mind I still had no earthly idea what possessed Wade Phillips to create and implement that defense and moreso, how the hell they knew to call it and execute it so well against a QB that is really damn smart.

Here's a still screenshot:

http://www.chargetoday.com/Dave/IMG_6934.jpg

but basically, they had just lost Von Miller (temporarily), had a guy standing on the nose, guys at 3 and 5 techs, Barrett wide 9, and none of them even mattered because they stacked a giant damn cluster of random guys over on the weak side behind Ware, predicted the trips formation perfectly, moved safeties from a cover-2 look to one high and Ward all the way on the damn LOS, didn't give too much away even when the Pack sent the other Rodgers in motion, and then sent a totally unblocked guy (#30) from behind Ware to force Rodgers to throw early even though they kept Lacy in there to block (he did nothing useful, btw). And even if Rodgers hadn't been rushed, the coverage on all three of those guys in that trips formation was excellent, even on the crossing routes.

I re-wound that play a few dozen times before I even saw the flag and I was still impressed.

Still, I stand by my assertion that the Pats will find a way to stack receivers and use tight ends to get some useful (but not spectacular, because Bronco LBs tackle too well) yardage out of screens and whatnot to at least put a few decent drives together. Brady won't torch them, but he'll lead drives and score points, little by little. Denver's D planned and executed on par with the Seattle SB D of 2013 (at least in the first half; I haven't watched the 2nd), but I still think the Pats have enough of a coaching edge, BB vs GB, to do alright.

But I'm more confident as a Peyton fan than I was 10 hours ago, I guess. (And also much drunker. Cheers.)

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 4:20am

I like your boxing analogy of sparring.

I think with inferior QBs like the ones in their division they have the luxury of sparring, with the confidence that they'll still be OK and pull away in the 2nd half, and even with a weakened Manning (if such a thing still exists - I still blame much of even his mental issues on Kubiak's stubbornness and different scheme, especially after some stuff I read this week) the Broncos are much less likely to be beaten that way...

But I also think that that's one damn smart defensive coach that both knows how he'd best use that D talent (including a player he coached recently) and also how the SonofBum operates... and I think that they'll have ways to poke some holes early on. Jabs, for sure. Almost certainly not any big plays, even to Gronk if they decide to tolerate a risk... but 3 yards, 4 yards, 4 yards on short stuff outside, a 7 here and there over the middle, some runs, some TE tomfoolery, etc... I think they'd do alright. Not like 28 points in a half on 85%/10YPA alright, of course... but maybe leading 13-10 alright. And with that coaching edge (and yes, that QB-ing edge, which I'll concede actually exists in the last calendar year), I consider that a great bet. Let's not forget just how well Jones, Collins, and Hightower are playing and the fits that's going to give Peyton...

I'll happily put some money up against you if you really want to take a totally bass ackwards "I'll bet against my team while you bet against yours" everyone-wins style bet, if you want... ;)

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by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 11:11pm

Amazing post.

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by Anon Ymous :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 10:22am

Dave, I appreciate how much thought you put into your comments, and I agree with the majority of the discussion points... but I still think your bias shows when you make coy concessions that Brady finally leapfrogged Manning in 2014. It's very difficult to argue that Brady wasn't better in 2007 and 2010 (he's actually been better per DVOA every year since 2007 except 2013). The only feasible objection is receiving weaponry, which is problematic for Peyton's side since that door swings both ways. If anything, that door is swinging in Manning's direction for nearly his entire career.

I completely agree that Brady has gotten better coaching, but there is a point you've alluded to without understanding the full ramifications of. As the architect of his offense, Manning either a) was right the system was perfectly designed to his skill set or b) was unable or unwilling to see how it wasn't. At best the scheme argument is a draw and if it isn't, Manning shares culpability in Brady's advantage. It also should be pointed out that the coaching advantage manifests itself more on the defensive side of the ball, and in the W/L column. It doesn't really explain why Brady's rate states are roughly the same as Manning's, and even superior when you control for the weather.

Lastly, you'll get no argument from me that the Patriots have other good players, I just don't recall the big rush to ensure everyone gets their proper due when Manning was the QB being praised. That seems to be a Brady-centric ideal.

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 1:43pm

I don't want to sound too much like the curmudgeon that thinks all stats are bunk (if that was true I wouldn't be here), but when judging ability and value I am largely using my eyes to scout. (Kacsmar has a lot of the numbers, at least in the playoffs, covered anyway. I know you dismiss that, but I'd hope you'd at least admit it debunks a lot of myths about the "choke" nonsense and illustrates how much luck can go both ways for both guys in a smaller sample, even if you don't accept the conclusion.)

I also think we probably should bring this to a close because we both know there's no way anyone in this "argument" is ever going to change anyone else's mind, so at some point (probably last week) we're just wasting our time with this typing.

The reason I say those things is that you will never convince me that Brady's job was as difficult as Manning's. Some of the boldness of my position is, as I've said before, left over from ten years ago, when people would use QBWINZ to claim with a straight face that Brady was a better player, which was just nuts. You can't watch tape of those teams, including games where NE beat Indianapolis, and tell me with a straight face that the Patriots ever asked Brady to do the things Manning did. I don't mean that in a "carry the weaker team with the D that lets you down" way, but in a "throw the ball downfield and be the largest element of our offense" way. Or a "figure out that defense" way. Or a "get us out of a bad play" way. 2007 Brady put up Star Wars numbers, but many of those came because he got to just chuck balls into coverage and be rewarded for it. (Which is why it was ironic that that's how they lost that super bowl -though I'd never compare anything Brady threw with that throw. Even his worst, which off the top of my head was one underthrown down the middle where Moss just plucked it away from three Dolphins, wasn't even half as reckless as Eli's. Please, please don't think I'd ever compare Brady to Eli!) Really, that was the only year he ever ran an offense that resembled a Manning offense (earlier years). And yeah, he ran it well. But Randy Moss was so otherworldly that you could've replaced him with even the 2nd best receiver that year and that offense (and Brady's stats) would've fallen off a ton. (To be merely excellent. As in the last thread, this all sounds insulting, but it shouldn't be an insult if I think someone's 2nd best to a legend.)

That changed as their careers developed. I think Manning deserved those 08-09 MVPs with weaker stats because the emphasis on "value" was justified, given how crappy that line and run game became, but I also think that once Manning's offenses evolved (devolved?) to have to focus more on shorter stuff, Brady started having a serious edge. Not as serious as we're seeing this year, but he's doing his job as well as it can possibly done, and it's not like this is a new development. I think your point b) above has some merit to it. There's always going to be a part of Manning and his offense that wants MORE and will thus take more risk and throw more picks (though I wouldn't classify any of this year's pickfest as greed-based), and Brady not doing that has huge value. But then again, I'm handing the torch to Brady officially as of this past calendar year (while also still saying now Aaron Rodgers is better than either of them...).

2010 was a masterpiece of DVOA, no question, but the Patriots offense has always been almost custom-built to excel in DVOA. Even if it means it's more boring (which some people have said about this year's offense, which actually fascinates me.) I can't argue at all with the productivity difference, the efficiency difference, or how well Brady plays in that offense.

Put simply, Brady executes his job as well as anyone, but his job isn't the same as Manning's. (This is true of every QB every year of course.) Brady has made some throws that have seriously impressed me, but I can't really think of any where I thought "wow, he's the only guy in football that could've done that." Manning used to do that a few times a game. Rodgers does it now (Ben sometimes too). When you can get an immature idiot homer like Simmons to be legitimately terrified of you for several years, even after he spent most of his career coming up with every reason to put you down, you're doing something otherworldly. I guess I've never really regularly seen otherworldly jaw-dropping stuff from Brady.

(Until now. My appreciation for the difficulties of aging really does have me in awe of how he has gotten younger in some ways while also having the advantages of 15 years of wisdom and that mind. And I actually do think Brady could do another 5 excellent years and have a real argument - even to my side - for having a decade of jaw-dropping amazingness. (Even if they don't reach another super bowl. Which they will.) Which is what the narrative has said of him all along, of course, which is why I get into these arguments.)

But you're absolutely right that there's tremendous value in being a robot that doesn't ever have a bad game or take a terrible risk, and I think we're in agreement that nothing bad can be said about Brady and the Patriots offense. Even I'd rather have the last 6 years of Patriot offense - I'd say that all the way back to 07 actually except that I think Peyton was so freaking good in 09 that I'd still rather go to bat with Blair White and Aaron Moorehead and that 08-10 line - over those years of Manning's offenses.

So I think in a way we're probably arguing different things. Even if you remove the titles from the equation/bias, I can't fault anyone that would rather have the Patriots offenses than the Mannings. But whenever I get sucked into these discussions of "who is best," I try to go by what I think that individual is capable of. Which is impossible and guesswork, of course. I guess to some extent it comes down to the reasons that one was a top pick and one was a sixth. Obviously Manning had more "talent" the whole time. So of course you'd expect more from him... and you'd build your offense differently around each guy by playing to his strengths, which is what the Patriots have done masterfully (and is what Tom Moore did masterfully... Gary Kubiak, on the other hand....) but if you were going to have to pick one guy to run, say, Rob Chudzinski's offense, on some decent team of 10 guys lacking a QB, I can't see any argument for choosing Peak Brady over Peak Manning.* And I think if you traded them, you'd see less of a dropoff and a better adaptation out of Manning than you would out of Brady.**

(I do think I'd choose Brady over Peak Manning for a West Coast offense.)

So that's why I think Peyton is the best. We can't strip the stats and we can't strip the context and we can't strip the teammates and coaches... but if we could, I think Peyton would be better. I believe Brady would've been very good anywhere that he went (unless he got David Carr-ed and broken, maybe), but without Belichick I don't think we'd be having this discussion, while I think that with Peyton we'd be having it regardless of where he ended up playing.

And you won't convince me otherwise and I won't convince you otherwise... So, uh... Harrumph? Cheers? (Where do you live, anyway? I'm up in Pats country a lot, would undoubtedly buy you a beer.)

--
If you're going to reference my bias I suppose it's worth noting that when I first found this site I was staunchly anti-Manning. (At the time, I was a Gator fan. I laughed my head off for the entirety of that 41-0 Jets playoff game, actually.) I only came around when I really started watching critically and learning. And yeah, I guess when I felt it necessary to go contrarian against the Ringz crowd. Ten years ago, people were already saying Brady was the best and that Peyton was a choker, and I think we've all kind of agreed that that's ridiculous.

* - (At this point, even as a Manning fan, I'm having a hard time thinking of an argument against choosing Peak Rodgers over both of them, as he kind of has the best of both of their bests, plus more mobility. I can't tell you how much I'm hoping he ages half as well as Brady has...)

**- As much as I do want to see B&B retire together, there is a very large part of me that does wish we could see what would happen if Brady had to face Belichick. How cool would that be? (And how different would the Manning narrative - nevermind the vs Brady part - be if he simply didn't have to play against BB? People love to use the 5-11 as a taunt, but would anyone be any better than that? 11-5 is actually pretty bad for a Belichick/Brady team!)

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 1:47pm

BTW, apropos of nothing, peak Brees deserves special mention just for being so freaking good. two seasons over 70% completions in that offense... that's ridiculous. That's equivalent to 80% in a simple WCO. That's how nuts that is. Seeing flashes of it this past week (albeit against a shell of a defense) was a real pleasure. I really do enjoy excellent QB play. Even when it's Brady or Brees or someone else whose teams I tend to root against.

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by Anon Ymous :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 3:41pm

I'm in the Western MA area. Don't drink much these days, but I'd take an ass kicking in pool if you so fancied.

Just a couple addendums to the conversation.

1) When I mentioned Brady's edge in DVOA, it wasn't as proof of anything. FO is very up front about how it really means "Player X in system Y being coached by coach Z with players A, B and C, has performed as such". But those two years in particular saw Brady with impressive edges over the field.

2) A few days ago I was watching highlights of SB 44. Manning threw a gorgeous pass to Dallas Clark that seemed to kiss the finger tips of three defenders and settle into his arms as gently as you'd hand over a newborn. I don't think Brady would ever make that throw because I don't think even Brady thinks he could make that throw. I have no objection to the idea that there are limits to his skill set that are worked around by the system he plays in.

3) That said, I reject the idea that physical skill is the main determinant of a quarterback's "ability." History is littered with guys who were Brady's (and Manning's) superior when it came to pure genetics. While it is true that Brady couldn't make that throw to Clark, his intelligence allows him to not have to.

I'm reminded of a PFF discussion about Brady from a few years back. They gave him a particularly poor rating after a thrashing of the Lions because the throws were just too easy. Any quarterback in the league could have made them. That may have even been a verbatim line from the article. What PFF didn't understand (and still doesn't in many ways) is that Brady was *responsible* for the easiness of those throws via his pre-snap reads and rapid progressions. There were also several throws that game where the throw was what made the receiver look open. By the time the ball got there it looked easy, but it wouldn't have without good placement.

Obviously no one can do it alone. All great quarterbacks need to have support, whether it be coaching, scheme, weapons, pass pro, or anything else. Brady is no exception. I just don't think he gets any more help than any other great QB. He's the reason the system works as well as it does, not the beneficiary.

Enjoy your day. :)

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 5:10pm

Well physical skill is the main determinant of physical ability. ;)

But yeah, if that's all there was to it, Vick and Flacco would be elite. (Oh no, what did I just do there... ducks.)

Brady's reads and progressions didn't make the player get more open (vs the defender) though. Now, that's still not to say that every other QB would still make the same decision, do it as quickly, and deliver it as accurately (and I agree about throws making it be more open, I'm big on ball placement and it's why I'll always kill a guy like Tannehill even when he does have a good day because I still think he misses a lot even when it's complete)... but I do think that there have been the occasional game where yeah, let's say 5-7 other QBs could've done it. As an example, Patriots vs Steelers this year, Steelers vs Colts last year, Cardinals vs Packers 2009 (Warner's best DYAR day ever... I know that GB was great by DVOA, but they were not great that day. They just weren't.) Brees and Manning both this past week.

If you're talking about the Lions game last season, I remember it well. I don't recall having that "oh come on, anyone could make that throw" reaction really at all... though I had several "OK, Jim Caldwell, just be content with long FG attempts with your lousy kicking game, that'll work" moments. Can't say I recall the 2010 Lions game though if that's the one you meant.

But PFF still grades a + if the throw is good, regardless of who else could've made it, no? They don't introduce replacement-level considerations into the grading of an individual play.

I think he gets more help from coaching than anyone ever has, but I could also say that of any of his former teammates. I hold Belichick in that high a position. But that's not to say that there isn't a very QB-driven element of that marriage that allows them to do the many smart things that they do.

But still, looking at this current 2015 offense (and backing up to the original point), I see a lot of things that are very very simplistic but very well executed by other guys and very well schemed to get guys open pretty much exactly at the snap. And I think McDaniels, who I can't stand, deserves a lot of recognition for that. I'd be very very curious to see how that offense would function with a lesser QB, and I suspect they'd still be a shockingly good team. Not as good as they are now, of course, but I'd argue better than the 2008 Cassel Pats.

I wouldn't say that about other years. Like I'm not going to sit here and suggest that the 2006 Patriot offense was some crutch where Brady wasn't the best player on the field for them. Or that even the 07 team (which did have two electric skill position additions) could've worked with any old QB. But I do think, however, that the things they don't ask him to do (that he's not willing to do, as you mention, due to the limitations) kind of closely mirror some of the things some other QBs aren't asked to do.

Now, if you plugged Kirk Cousins in there, defenses could trick him. He'd still throw picks. But what if they had a Fitzpatrick? I'm almost willing to say he'd do alright, and that a Fitz-led 2015 Pats would still be leading the division (over the Fitz-led 2015 Jets. But not over a Brady-led 2015 Jets). (While we're imagining ridiculous things, I also think a Belichick-led 2015 Bills would be a real force. Would love to see Brady go up against that!) Part of me wonders if McDaniels might be able to brainwash a Kaepernick, basically just give him a "Make this one read pre-snap, make this other one after, then throw it. Don't you dare freelance or lower your eyes" 3-step drop game and turn him into a real QB again. (And then branch back out into things he can do with his arm and legs to make them a bit scarier.) I don't mean to compare Kap to Brady, but the ways in which the offensive design is structured are more similar than most want to admit. (I have no idea why I think Kap would handle being told what to do, or why I think Cousins would be more trick-able, but for some reason I do, and I could be very very wrong, and this is precisely why I'm generally negative by default like Cian as opposed to optimistic about any QB. Let's not forget that Kap didn't even notice an unguarded WR the other day. And is benched for Blaine Gabbert!!!)

Ugh, maybe just ignore that whole last paragraph. I guess I'd amend your last sentence to say I believe he is very much a beneficiary of the system, but he is also very much the reason it works as well as it does.

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 5:13pm

Yeesh, and I thought that for once that was going to be a short reply.

I don't think I'd be doing any ass-kicking in pool. My offer of "I bet on your team and you bet on mine" for Week 12 still stands, however, regardless of geography. I still think the Patriots will figure out a way to mount a few drives, while also getting some field position advantages that tilt the field a bit too. And then when Brady more than doubles the 77 yards, that'll be what everyone points to when they vote for him over Rodgers.

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by tuluse :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 3:08pm

DVOA doesn't measure how good a player it, it measures how well they produce.

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by Anon Ymous :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 7:06pm

I know, I just said the same thing above.

75
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:28pm

Prior to last night, I would have vehemently disagreed with you. Denver's coverage, for all the praise Talib and Harris get, really hasn't been as good as people think; I'd watched four Denver games and each had at least a dozen plays per game where receivers were wide open but no time to get the ball. I'm not talking about all out blitzes when you expect some open windows, just bad play by the guys in coverage. Brady is also much better at handling outside pressure than inside, which is why Von Miller is usually a non-factor in Patriot games.

I can say with confidence NE would have ground their way to at least 30 points against Denver's earlier level of play. Not only due to the defense, but because the offense would have kept putting them back on the field. Last night, though, was a whole new level. GB's line was absolutely manhandled and their receivers could create no space even when Rodgers had more time. Add in Denver pushing GB's front around in the run game and it was as complete a team victory as I've seen this year.

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by Rick_and_Roll :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:56pm

I agree that they won't put Ward one on one, but the Pats are so good at designing plays they will figure ways to isolate Ward in coverage and will get at least a few mismatches.

25
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:30pm

I loved the fact the Bucs went for it on 4th down. Blowing that lead in Washington last week was devastating, and the fact Lovie was willing to put the game on the line and try to get one yard to win it is awesome. It didn't work and it was deflating, but I don't think anybody doubted Atlanta was going to score a TD on their next possession.

I still don't quite get why the QB sneak has not entered into the game plan, though. Winston's a big guy. His fat butt should be able to move the pile a little, right?

29
by techvet :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:51pm

Time to resurrect the DYAR study for Peyton Manning when the temperature is under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but that was a beat-down on the Packers.

30
by jmaron :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 12:52pm

Vikings have now won three games in a row while losing the turnover battle. They were -1 in each of the last three games. Teams that are -1 win about 30% of their games - so three in a row is pretty rare. My gut is that when it does happen - it tends to happen to teams a lot better than the Vikings look.

Not sure what the heck to make of this team.

45
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:28pm

They pretty consistently seem like a talented young team going through typical young team issues. Diggs/Johnson look like a really nice 1-2 punch at WR, Bridgewater has shown promise, the defense has lots of good pieces, and the offensive line sucks.

52
by TomC :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:48pm

It can happen to a mediocre team when the three opponents are the Chiefs, Lions, and Bears.

This team doesn't seem that mysterious to me. They have a good young defense and a potentially good young QB. If (as Will Allen is always harping on) they acquire some very large men that are skilled at blocking, they will probably be pretty good for a while.

For me the biggest question is how much Bridgewater will improve. People tout his accuracy, but as has already been noted here, he threw some really bad balls and missed open receivers yesterday.

175
by Tundrapaddy :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 6:46pm

As a Vikes fan, I have to agree that they still look a bit like a mirage as far as 5-2 teams go. Are they good? Sure. But they're not certainly not great. They win close against Chicago (admittedly, a better, Cutlery Chicago, in Chicago), and lose close to Denver (in Denver). I'm still not sold.

Also, let's note that "teams that lose the TO battle at -1 only win 30% of the time" also includes things like 'Hail Mary at end of half/game', which are far more likely to be picked off. (Which is me trying to find a way to say 'correlation is not causation' without actually saying 'correlation is not causation' because it's overused.)

33
by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:11pm

The Denver defense is obviously for real, although we said this last year until they couldn't cover Indianapolis' receivers at all in the playoffs. I trust them a lot more after throttling Green Bay than I did when we were being impressed that they held down Alex Smith.

Denver's offense was still the same unit that looked embarrassing earlier in the year. Manning is working to get the ball to the outside, and still won't admit that he can't do it like he used to. He shouldn't be embarrassed; Brees and Brady both stopped trying to make the throw Manning was intercepted on about five years ago unless it was absolutely wide open. But Manning does not admit weakness.

The difference today was really great play by the offensive line, probably a lot of which is random variation (some days the big bears up front get you), but some of which can be ascribed to continuity.

Still and all, Manning's awful Broncos offense has scored only six points less than Rodgers' unstoppable Green Bay offense this year. A lot of the problem was the optics, and Denver's offense -looked- awful in 2013; a lot of passes into coverage and badly blocked runs. It also happened to be historically great. Now that the breaks have gone the other way and the line has been revamped on the cheap, everyone's burying them because they looked bad.

Manning offenses have always been about getting receivers open by inches.

Manning has always been fine in the cold.

Manning has always been bad in rain or (to a lesser extent) wind.

35
by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:15pm

Also, in my view Brady and Rodgers, let alone Cam Newton, have no business being in the MVP race. The three candidates for MVP thus far should be:

1. Philip Rivers, who has done more with less help than any other QB in the league;
2. Carson Palmer, because we know how bad that offense was without him;
3. Charles Woodson, who has five interceptions for a Raiders team with a winning record.

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by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:35pm

I guess you're tossing aside the notion that the MVP should be among the best players in the league.

Philip Rivers has had a mediocre season for a bad team. Let's call him the MVP!! Why? Because we grade on a curve. A massive curve!

Brady has as many yards per game as Rivers. And Rivers has 7 picks to Brady's 1, fewer TDs in more games, roughly half the DYAR in spite of having an extra game, slightly more than 1/4 the DVOA.

There are two conflicting trends to MVP discussions that I hate: there's the "best player on the best team" trend and the "good player on an atrocious team" trend. I prefer keeping it simple: "most valuable" = "best season".

Ignoring Palmer because "he was injured last year" doesn't put him ahead of Brady.

Woodson is nice but he's not the best CB in his own conference. It's nice that he got two picks off Peyton Manning. Took him long enough! :)

You're begging for a flaming when you say Brady and Rodgers "have no business being in the MVP race." You know that, right? By any objective measure, Brady is having a much better season than your two QBs.

48
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:39pm

I think there are rational arguments for Palmer. His DVOA is higher than Brady's coming into this week (I imagine it will at worst be close after this week). His DYAR is less, but he's thrown it less. Personally, I feel interceptions are a tad overrated, but yes he has more picks, but he's also in an offense that throws it downfield more. He has worse probably equal weapons. He's on a team a lot of people expected to regress, and is coming off a torn ACL.

I think Brady is the favorite right now, but I do think that you can make an argument for Palmer. You could also make a legitimate argument for Dalton, but yesterday really hurt that (same with Rodgers, obviously).

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by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:48pm

Yeah, but do any people arguing for Palmer actually WATCH the Cardinals with him?

I have. I like him and all, more than most even, and think he was a great value and fit for BA - especially in a league where finding competent QB play has proven so difficult, but he is not in the top two tiers of QBs. It's not really even close. He still makes a lot of mistakes that cost that team points.

I'm aware that everyone does, of course. I'm just measuring him here against the very highest bar. Like I said, I like him a lot.

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by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:10pm

He's currently #2 in DVOA and #3 in DYAR; he's having a fantastic season - as is that offense. He is a deserving MVP candidate, and I wouldn't begrudge anyone for picking him.

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by Rick_and_Roll :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 12:27am

I think a lot of people hate the Patriots and don't want to acknowledge Brady (and I am one of them)...

With that said I honestly think the only player close to Brady as MVP this year is Cam Newton. No QB has done more with less.

198
by bobrulz :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 6:03am

Who's in your "top two tiers"? How big are your tiers?! Palmer, right now, is a top 10 QB at the absolute worst.

66
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:05pm

I don't think there is any question the MVP would be Brady if the vote was today. (And don't forget to vote tomorrow if you have an election in your voting district!) I felt that even before this weekend's games. This weekend made it even more clear that it's Brady and then everyone else. I don't know if he's on a mission from (insert deity of choice) or this is to prove to everyone that the ball psi controversy is BS. I just know he's playing better now than anyone else.

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by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:09pm

This is true. Unless it's Gronk.

It really could be Gronk, healthy he's the best TE in the history of the game and is the most important target on his team. A player like that, producing at his level, in a great team and with every team knowing he's the guy that's going to hurt you; that guy deserves to be in the conversation.

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by justanothersteve :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:21pm

Gronk is redefining the TE position much like Gonzalez and Winslow did. That doesn't make him MVP. He's probably the most important player on that offense besides Brady. Gronk goes out means the NE offense isn't quite as good. Brady goes out and suddenly the AFC East might be a contest. (NE would probably still win it, but it's at least a contest.)

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by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:30pm

Let's ask ourselves this question, which I think gets to the heart of what an MVP race is about.

And I don't doubt Brady would win the award if the vote were held today; I also think his usual lack of interceptions is overrated as an asset.

But let's think about this:

Would New England be better off with Gronkowski and, say, Alex Smith at quarterback or with Tom Brady and Lance Kendricks at TE?

I don't think that is a totally insane question to ask, although in my opinion the answer is still "Tom Brady and Lance Kendricks at TE". Because quarterbacks and 2015.

But you can't say that about Rivers, or Palmer, or really even Woodson. They're arguably more important to their teams' respective success than Brady is to New England.

New England would have a winning record without Brady; San Diego might not have a -touchdown- without Rivers.

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by tuluse :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:38pm

Last year Palmer had 8% DVOA and Stanton had 4%.

I think the really bad Arizona offense you remember from last year was their 3rd string QB. Also, Arizona has a very good defense.

How much worse than 2-5 could SD be without Rivers, really? By that measure, Jay Cutler is an MVP candidate as we saw Clausen they wouldn't win a game this year.

80
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:41pm

"New England would have a winning record without Brady"

Almost every year, I'd agree with this - but not this year. The Patriots offensive line (at this moment) is one of the worst in the NFL. They've got a bunch of guys who should be coming back, but they're starting what would in most situations be practice squad guys.

The offense looks so good because Brady has largely made that immaterial - he's shown a drastic improvement this year in both his mobility and his ability to get the ball out quickly. He's got the fastest release I have ever seen.

The Patriots with Phillip Rivers instead of Brady are a 2-5 team right now. And Jimmy Garappolo is starting because Rivers went on IR two weeks ago.

97
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:24pm

The Pats' line is certainly not "one of the worst in the NFL." As I said the last time somebody said something like this, FO currently has them rated as the #1 line in run blocking, and they are reasonably well rated in pass blocking, too.

Watch some other lines and you'll see...the Pats line is not awful as you would contend.

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by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 8:55pm

FO's line stats are just a tad better than useless. They simply do not do a good job separating line play and QB play (like most of their individual stats).

There's a reason they're getting called for so many holds, false starts, etc - they're getting beat regularly. They're not in the top 2/3 of the league.

144
by Andrew Potter :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:22pm

If Rivers isn't on IR playing behind the rotted, decaying remains of San Diego's pile of bodies that they occasionally (barely) raise enough of through vile necromancy to field as an offensive line, he wouldn't be on IR playing behind New England's line.

201
by BJR :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 6:14am

That's a fitting description. Rivers has played at a truly elite level the past two seasons, but it's basically gone to waste because of truly terrible O-Line play (and poor coaching).

207
by poplar cove :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 3:39pm

I doubt NE would have a winning record without Brady based on the fact Belichcik hasn't had a winning record in his other 100+ games as a head coach without Brady starting and with that said I bet they'd still be just as dominant in the regular season all these years if there were no BB and only Brady in New England. All those head coaches thru the years with Manning found a way to win 10+ games every year.

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by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:22pm

"San Diego might not have a -touchdown- without Rivers."

San Diego only has two wins with Rivers.

Enough already!

93
by TecmoBoso :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:15pm

I think we have to throw Nick Foles name into the conversation if we're using these metrics... have you seen the Eagles offense without him?

108
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:34pm

Have you seen the Rams offense with him?

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by bobrulz :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 6:04am

I feel like his numbers are skewed by one really awful game. He's had some good games, too. And it's not as if the Rams have a top-tier offensive line or receiving targets.

I think it's clear at this point that he's better than Bradford.

219
by chemical burn :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 9:09pm

His numbers are actually hugely skewed by that game - in every other game this season, he's been hovering around the 12th best QB by DVOA. Strangely, it's the one Rams game I didn't see this year, so I have no freaking clue what happened - in general, he's been taking sacks to avoid interceptions (the opposite of what he did in 2014, more in line with what he did in 2013, although his line was great that year so it was less of an issue.) Their game-plan also involved an incredible amount of short routes - the coaches seem painfully aware of their protection issues and he's clearly trying to get the ball out very quickly. So I have no idea what happened versus Green Bay.

It's weird, the Rams offense has been improving every week: the line gets better, Gurley is a beast, everyone seems more on the same page... but Foles has sorta, not gotten worse, but maybe become more handcuffed? The entire idea now seems to be "don't have the passing game lose it for the defense - let Gurley do all the work." Foles almost single-handedly beat the Seahawks and was brilliant versus the Cardinals. But now (after the Green Bay game) he just seems to be under orders to not fuck up, so it's these short curl routes, interior screen passes, shovel passes to Austin coming out of the backfield and a few calculated bombs (which he usually hits, by the way.) And they throw it so infrequently, basically waiting for 3rd and long situations - he must have the lowest number of attempts per game of any starter. It's like a passing attack with the training wheels on.

Certainly, his WR's are terrible (you should see some of these drops - I'd say they're leaving 50-75 yards on the field a game just in drops), their TE's are the worst in the game and for half the season he didn't have Gurley to keep the defense honest. The young o-line has begun to gel and show some promise, but honestly I have no idea what to think of any of it. It seems like a not-terrible idea to keep the clamps on Foles. Oh well, if he continues on this way for the rest of the year, he'll work his way back up to somewhere around 15th in DVOA, which is waaaaay better than Bradford, who hasn't even hit the difficult part of his schedule yet.

I mean, he's already jumped back in front of Bradford in DYAR this week...

220
by tuluse :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 10:49pm

Foles is 28th in pass attempts for the year. The only QBs behind him have missed starts (injuries, being backups, sucking), and several QBs ahead of him have missed time (Hoyer, Cutler, and Luck at least).

221
by chemical burn :: Thu, 11/05/2015 - 1:01am

Yeah, I feel like the only time he gets to throw are the following situations:

1) High % curl route or screen pass on 1st down.
2) 3rd and long.
3) Deep bomb off of play-action.
4) Misdirection/gimmick play designed to get the ball in Austin's hands.

They really don't want him passing - or maybe don't want to have to rely on the o-line blocking or Kenny Britt and those TE's catching the ball. Or all of those factors, I guess.

I mean, his two meltdown games (versus Washington and Green Bay) their passing game really has been terrible beyond terrible, so it's not entirely crazy to just let the defense and Gurley do all the heavy lifting. They're already 3-0 in the division...

50
by Kyndynos :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:47pm

Is there a huge difference between this year's Broncos defense and the Seahawks defense that Brady cut up in the Super Bowl? Obviously the New England offensive line was better then, but that doesn't change the fact that Brady was throwing lots of quick, short passes to tight ends and running backs that minimized the role of the Seattle pass rush and elite CBs. Why won't that same plan work against Denver?

57
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:54pm

The difference is the Broncos are fully healthy right now and the Seahawks were not in the Super Bowl. The 4th Quarter comeback happened after Lane left the game, and Bennett (or Avril) left as well.

Basically it would be like playing the Broncos without Roby and Ware. Add that to Thomas and Sherman who were also nursing injuries.

Also, the game this year would be in Denver, not a neutral site. The Patriots are good enough to play well on offense against anyway, but Denver would be their biggest challenge on that side of the ball this year.

69
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:11pm

NE was already moving the ball quite well before any of those players went out (certainly Avril, but they drove down the field against Lane as well). Health may have been an overall factor coming into the game, and it certainly played a role in who won, but Seattle was not going to shut down NE even if they hadn't lost anybody that game.

The bigger reason for NE's success is simple: Seattle is a "do what we do" team. The teams that give NE the most trouble are those that can play well in styles they haven't put on film. Not necessarily the entire game, but in certain situations break out something the Patriots most likely haven't prepared for. It takes an almost impossible level of skill to shut down a healthy Patriots team doing the same stuff you do in every other game.

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by gomer_rs :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:43pm

I would disagree. Seattle didn't start giving up huge chunks of yards, unless my memory is failing me, until Avril AND Bennett were out. Anybody can run simple three beaters on Seattle when their pass rush fails, which is what happened late in that game.

(And the refs missing the PI when Bailey tripped Kerse as Bailey was falling victim to a turf monster)
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

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by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:50pm

The second half is clouding your memory. NE had drives of 56, 65 and 80 yards in five tries during the first half. The latter two were with Avril and the first was with both. During the second half, Seattle tightened up, stopping NE on their first three drives. If someone could demonstrate that Seattle did something unique to cause this change, it might be meaningful. Otherwise, it is attributable to nothing more than random distribution.

133
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:05pm

There are a number of reasons why playing Denver's defense in Denver would be different and probably harder than Seattle's d in the Super Bowl. 1) The altitude. 2) Phillips does not play the same general defense most of the time. They shift and change what they do a lot, and it's quite possible he comes up with a new scheme or two to attack Brady. 3) They're on a roll. They just held Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards. The Seahawks had beaten Rodgers, but they didn't hold him to under 200 yards passing.

196
by whateverdude :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 4:10am

Anyone who watched Seattle last year knew their defense was nowhere "elite" by the time it got to the Super Bowl. They were completely beat to hell going into the game (DTs Mebane and Hill were already on IR, and DBs Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas, and Simon all played the game with serious injuries), then they lost Lane and Avril during the game. They were a shell of the SB48 defense.

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by poplar cove :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 3:43pm

What? A shell? Your kidding I hope. You might want to go back and check out their domination the 2nd half of the season. I'm not sure what else you could have expected realistically for them to do.

210
by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Wed, 11/04/2015 - 12:25am

That defense had a rating of -10.3 against the pass for the season. Their 2013 was much better by DVOA. Can't say that I can predict how Denver's defense will handle the Patriots, but they do tackle well and limit YAC, so they aren't just good at rushing the passer and covering receivers.

The biggest question mark is Gronk. Covering the tight end is their weakest point on defense.

Either way, I think that game hinges more on what the offense looks like at that point.

53
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:48pm

Not many comments on the Niners-Rams game, I'll sum it up for those that missed such a vital encounter. It went like this:

Snap, play, flag.
Snap, flag, play.
Snap, flag, play, flag.
And a fourth down punt, accompanied by a blizzard of judgemental yellow dusters.

114
by Tim R :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:44pm

The first half was particularly brutal for penalties. Seemed like more time was spent by the refs explaining penaltiea than the teams actually playing football.

55
by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:49pm

Matt Cassell vs Matt Flynn is one day going to be a great breakdown of how the heck did these guys stay in the league for so long.

Also, speaking of Cassell, are Ex-Belichick QBs pretty much on level with Ex-Belichick coaches?

60
by ZDNeal :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:55pm

They should call the Tom Brady Rule the Matt Cassell Rule, as in a rule to prevent more Matt Cassells.

104
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:31pm

Actually it should be called the Carson Palmer rule, since it only banned behavior that was already banned in the earlier rule. Just not in language that was as explicit.

The Palmer rule said that "A rushing defensive player won't be allowed to forcibly hit a quarterback below the knees. He has to make every effort to avoid such a low hit" (quoting Jon Clayton's description)

The so-called "Brady Rule" prohibits defensive players who are on the ground from "lunging" at a quarterback's legs. (quoting Bleacher Report)

If somebody can explain to me a violation of the Brady that isn't also a violation of the Palmer rule, I'd be interested to hear it.

Bernard Pollard "forcibly hit" Tom Brady "below the knees". He made no effort to avoid the hit, indeed, "lunging" at Brady in order to do so.

109
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:36pm

The Brady rule changed it so that a defender who was previously blocked to ground is not allowed to tackle below at or below the knees. He has to stand up first.

125
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:54pm

That's not a change. The NFL just pretended it was.

Read the Palmer rule. It clearly said that nobody was allowed to target any QB at or below the knees. Adding specific language describing one kind of player who isn't allowed to do so is like making a new law saying that kids wearing baseball caps aren't allowed to shoot shopkeepers. Nobody is allowed to shoot shopkeepers.

The NFL pretended that they were expanding the rule but they really weren't.

151
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:31pm

The Palmer rule allowed defenders blocked to the ground to reach out and grab QB legs I thought.

156
by Travis :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:54pm

The Brady rule explicitly allows defenders to do that, while the Palmer rule left it unclear as to exactly what "forcibly" meant. FWIW, the actual rules:

Original 2006 rule (then 12-2-12-5, now 12-2-9-e):
A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him;

2009 additions:
Note 1: A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if he is being contacted by another player.
Note 2: It is not a foul if the defender swipes, wraps, or grabs a passer in the knee area or below in an attempt to tackle him.

2015 interpretations (AR 12.37):
TACKLING QUARTERBACK BELOW KNEES—LEGAL/ILLEGAL
Second-and-10 on A40. QB A1 drops back in the pocket to pass. As B1 is rushing quarterback A1, he is blocked and falls to the ground. B1 stays on the ground and crawls toward A1, and while still on the ground, tackles A1 below the knees at the A30 by: (a) reaching out with one hand and swiping A1’s legs out from under him; or (b) by driving his shoulder into A1’s leg below the knees.
Rulings:
(a) Third-and-20 on A30. No foul.
(b) First-and-10 on B45. Roughing the passer.

124
by LyleNM :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:52pm

If somebody can explain to me a violation of the Brady that isn't also a violation of the Palmer rule, I'd be interested to hear it.

I don't know about "explain", but watch the hit Michael Bennett put on Cassel on the final drive in yesterday's game. Bennett hits Cassel in the thighs but still draws the "low hit" RTP. Maybe QBs should be required to wear a "strike zone" on their uniforms?

138
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:12pm

He launched himself at the QB's knees. It's the exact kind of hit the league -- including the NFLPA -- wants legislated out of the game. I don't know what your problem with it would be. That it wasn't the "knee" but that his entire body made contact with an area somewhere an inch or three above the knee? That's a tough argument to make, and it's even tougher to expect the officials to be able to draw that distinction in real time.

I don't blame Bennett though. Cassel plays for Dallas, and Kennedy was shot in Dallas, so Bennett doesn't like Dallas.

142
by LyleNM :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:19pm

Well, RickD was asking for an explanation of a "Brady" hit that wasn't also a "Palmer" hit. I gave an example. And, yes, I absolutely DO expect the officials to distinguish between the knee and the thigh in real-time. They frequently make calls of similar distance in the course of the game (and, truthfully, get a pretty high percentage of them right). But if the rule says anywhere on the legs, it doesn't really matter, does it? Which is why I suggested a "strike zone".

154
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:34pm

Ah, you're positing that the Cassel hit yesterday would not have been a penalty before the "Brady Rule". Gotcha, although I really can't agree or disagree.

I think it's very hard on a launch at the quarterbacks lower body, to make the claim that 100% of the body-to-body contact was above the knee. I certainly thought it was a well-earned penalty yesterday.

71
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:19pm

It's not surprising that Cassell and Flynn say in the league when even worse QBs frequently get starts (see: Mettenberger, Zach).

99
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:25pm

I think you misspelled "McCown, Josh".

Has anybody ever managed to stretch a career as long as he has with so little justification? He's been on something like a third of the teams in the NFL if you count preseason rosters, and he's had one decent half-season of work.

120
by Travis :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:50pm

Todd Collins lasted 16 years in the NFL and the decent part of his career spanned a month in Year 13.

150
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:30pm

Good God, you're right; I just looked up his stats on PFR, and over a six-year span he ATTEMPTED 27 passes. In two consecutive years, he didn't throw a single pass. I have to assume at some point being enthusiastic and friendly and looking good in playing your part of Male Clipboard Holding Model is worth a lot of job security in the NFL.

159
by Travis :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:02pm

Don't sell Collins short - that span lasted NINE years. He was on the Chiefs' 53-man roster throughout 1998-2000 without once getting into a game.

166
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:19pm

At some point, you have to assume guys like Collins and McCown have formed a secret cabal, where they keep pictures of various NFL GMs involved in questionable activities with farm animals, which they use for leverage to keep their jobs forever.

Occam's Razor and all; I cannot for the life of me imagine a simpler explanation than that.

169
by Steve in WI :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:26pm

I don't know much about what he did prior to 2013, but judging by how he's performed since then he seems like a solid backup. I mean, as insane as it is that he was given starting jobs, the fact that it's even something bad teams are considering says something about him. No team is saying "gee, I think Jimmy Clausen is really a starter."

It seems like there's value in having a backup who can run something approximating an NFL offense, and maybe even occasionally win a game. As a Bears fan I still have nightmares about the 2011 season that Caleb Hanie just about singlehandedly spoiled for them.

200
by bobrulz :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 6:10am

Is Josh McCown really that bad? He was bad last year, but remember, the Bucs were an absolute shitstorm last year. They didn't even have an offensive coordinator!

I'm going to channel my inner Jon Gruden and say that I actually like McCown because he's scrappy and he's tough. The Browns are actually somewhat entertaining to watch because McCown will come out and give it his all every week. Sometimes it's ugly as hell, but sometimes it works.

I would stop short of calling him a good QB, but he's proven himself as an asset, and he would be one of the better, more reliable backups in the league if he were actually a backup.

Having a competent backup QB who has the physical and mental ability to run an offense is an undervalued asset in the NFL.

202
by justanothersteve :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 9:54am

Josh McCown - the Steve DeBerg of his generation

62
by tunesmith :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:56pm

I think a lot of this cognitive dissonance regarding Peyton Manning has been related to this whole Manning Death Watch that has been going on.

The thinking goes that if Manning is looking bad on the field, then it's *got* to be because of him losing arm strength, or not being as mentally quick, all because of him aging. And then when he all of a sudden looks good, it's like he turned the clock back, and that doesn't make any sense, and it can't be sustainable, and it's an outlier, and he's going to suck again next week because you can't turn back Father Time.

Meanwhile, I don't think there's enough appreciation for the fact that this is an entirely new offensive system that Manning is learning. It's mentioned sometimes, but then is still glossed over, aside from the whole "hey look, he's in pistol rather than under center, they compromised!" thing.

Here's a great article that explores more of this, about the Tom Moore offense, how it is limited against good opponents, and how Manning has been linked to it for almost his entire career until this year: http://www.milehighreport.com/2015/10/23/9602160/broncos-offense-2015-pe...

So, here's a bit of dumb math that might also explain some of what is going on. Say that for a play to work well, you need all eleven players to execute it successfully. And say that the players are all very good, and they are each 96% reliable. They will each execute that play successfully 96% of the time. The problem there is that the play will only be successful about 64% of the time. (.96 ^ 11) For an offense, that's going to lead to a lot of punts.

Then say the players grind a lot, and each manage to eke out 3% more effectiveness. So now they are 99% reliable. At that point, they'll execute that play successfully about 90% of the time. For an offense, that's going to lead to a lot of points.

When you've got an interdependent system like football, a *small* difference in quality can lead to *huge* eyeballed differences on the field. And a difference like that can even come from, say, getting more familiar with a new offensive system after a bye week in week 8.

74
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:26pm

Not much cognitive dissonance for me. I haven't railed against the decision making for much this reason, but it was readily apparent watching him put his entire body in a 7 yard out that arm strength has been an issue.

Last night was different and there are numerous possible reasons. Maybe the bye helped him get his body right. Maybe the beating he took earlier this year gave him some undisclosed injury that has finally cleared up. Maybe getting more comfortable in the offense allowed him to be in better position when it was time to throw. Maybe it was that Green Bay was giving away too much of the middle, allowing Manning to throw into larger windows.

We'll see how it goes from here, but that team is scary it he can maintain that level of play.

182
by ClavisRa :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 7:29pm

Evaluating Manning is pretty easy. His problem is his legs, not his arms; throws are weak because his base is weak/injured, not because he lacks arm strength. If Manning receives the snap and can stay on his spot, he can set up his base and make most throws with sufficient power and accuracy. The same applies to planned roll outs when he can hit a limited set of throws with a moving base. He cannot make unscripted movements, and either throw on the move, or reset his base and throw; if you make him reset his base, game over, some significant combination of accuracy and power will be lost.

167
by TimK :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:24pm

That's the article I mentioned in the game thread last night, suggested it as an extra point this morning. Interesting read.

65
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:04pm

I don't know why we're over-analyzing this. The Broncos dominated because Green Bay could not stop the run. Period.

Since many want to fast-forward to the Pats-Broncos game, I have no problem saying that if the Patriots defense cannot play better that the Packers against the run, they will suffer a like fate.

I haven't checked the box score, but it seemed to me that Denver didn't face very many third-and medium-to-longs. It seemed they didn't face too many third downs at all. One has no chance to beat an "on" Peyton Manning if they're getting gashed for double-digit yard runs in running situations. They have very little chance of beating an "off" Peyton Manning in that scenario.

We'll see what the weather is like, but if it's a cold windy day, Belichick might over-play the run and see if Manning can beat them with his arm.

If Denver gets up early, and that noise becomes a factor for the entire game, it's tough for any team to win there.

70
by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:14pm

Denver dominated despite being a home-dog. I know Green Bay is supposed to be one of the top teams in the league, but they didn't stomp San Francisco and barely beat San Diego at home before the bye.

One thing Denver is really going to need to stop doing is bailing out the opposing team with penalties on third down. Again, they had a roughing the passer after a 3rd down stop. There was also a DPI by Ward where he jammed the TE 10 yds downfield, and a hold by Talib. Green Bay may not have had a lot of actual yards on offense, but they gained a lot via Denver penalties. I know there's a "price of aggression" but sooner or later this is going to kill them, especially if they do it against New England.

77
by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:34pm

Apart from TE rate and INT rate, Manning's rate stats are comparable to his seasons in 2002, 2008, and 2010. 2010 is probably the best comparison (that Indy team was drastically worse on defense and at WR2, but had the same WR3, TE1, and everybody-on-the-o-line problems Denver had through 6 weeks)

81
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:42pm

VOA to DVOA adjustment in 2015: -6.6%
VOA to DVOA adjustment in 2010: -3.3%

He's facing an easier schedule, while producing worse.

90
by Denverite :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:10pm

I thought that roughing call that kept GB's touchdown drive going was BS. Bruton came high because he was trying to block the pass. He didn't lead with his head, he didn't launch, and he hit Rodgers pretty much instantaneously with Rodgers releasing the ball. It may technically be roughing, but that should have been a no-call.

I also thought the PI on Ward in the FG drive should have been waved off. The ball was in the ground 5+ yards away. That's not a catchable pass.

94
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:20pm

I agree. That was a ticky tack RTP call if there ever was one. He didn't even give the token swat of the helmet that often leads to cheap penalties.

103
by dryheat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:30pm

No Call?

Bruton hit the Quarterback in the helmet with his arm. That is pretty much cut-and-dried roughing the passer. Nothing even questionable about it. You can't, under any circumstances, hit the quarterback in the head. It's been that was for at least three seasons now.

115
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:46pm

This.

" It may technically be roughing, but that should have been a no-call."

Not seeing why.

Can't hit a QB in the head. Doesn't matter if you lead with your own helmet or not - that's confusing the QB roughing penalty with the "defenseless receiver" penalty. Any blow to a QB's head area is roughing unless he's changed into a runner by tucking the ball and moving downfield.

Yes, the NFL treats QBs like delicate china dolls. But they do so with a reason. If Rodgers and Manning had not been playing last night, the audience for the game would have plummeted. As it was, I would not be surprised to see that Den-GB got better ratings than Game 5 of the WS.

(checks) Yep 20M for the NFL, 16M for MLB.

107
by deus01 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:33pm

I think it's really just the case of a somewhat stupid rule being enforced correctly. I probably prefer having it as black or white rather than requiring the zebras to make judgement calls which will likely just lead to more complaints. As a defender you just have know that you attempt to block a pass you can't bring your arms down on the head/shoulder area of the QB.

116
by nat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:47pm

Before this rule, it was common practice to try to concuss the QB by clubbing him in the head or neck whenever you got close to him. So it's not that stupid a rule at all.

Now your options as a pass rusher are clear: Do NOT club the QB in or around the head. Period. No excuses. No pretending you didn't mean to.

It means you do sometimes have to choose between going for the block or going for the big hit. But that's what you need to do to avoid unsafe (and illegal) hits to the head and neck.

136
by deus01 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:09pm

I only say stupid in that incidental contact also leads to a penalty. I don't think Bolden was trying to do anything malicious when he made contact with Rodgers. But like I said earlier, I'd prefer to also penalize these cases instead of leaving it to the refs to make a judgement call. It's also easier for the defense as they don't have to worry about whether or not something will be called.

73
by Steve B :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:24pm

Congrats to the Bengals on winning the AFC North, but (and I fully admit this might be sour grapes) I don't see much reason to think that this January is going to be much different for them than the previous four. Why? Because Andy Dalton is Andy Dalton. Get any kind of a pass rush on him and he makes the same bad decisions and bad throws that he always has. I could see Denver's defense having a field day with him. The personnel Belichick's working with isn't at the level of Denver's, but I'm sure he could find ways to confuse him. For that matter, if the Steelers get in they could probably do similar to what they did yesterday. Add the Jets to the list, too.

As for now, the Steelers have to get ready for what seems like close to a "must win" against a surging Raiders' team. Losing Bell sucks, though I do think Williams is still a capable RB. Ben is the key. He plays overall like he did yesterday, they won't be beating much of anybody. Easy to say it was rust and grumpiness, but he looked great on the opening drive. Seemed to me like he starting pressing after Bell got injured.

112
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:43pm

While yesterday the Steelers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, I wouldn't assume any of the second tier AFC contenders will beat them in Cincy in the playoffs. The Steelers would need Rothlisberger to get healthy, and we'll see if that happens. The last time the Jets were in Cincinnati for a game that mattered, the Bengals put up more points than the Raiders did yesterday. The Raiders are the only one I'd be that worried about, and they would probably play the AFC South winner. I might add that the Steelers got a pass rush on Dalton, and still lost at home. The Jets don't have a great pass rush in spite of their d-line, the Dolphins lost Cameron Wake, and the Bills haven't had the success they had last year rushing the passer. The worst match-up out of all those teams might be the Bills, who are the team most out of sorts right now. So chances are the Bengals make it to the second round, at least. They won't be playing Denver or New England until the second round, and if they get the bye, it probably means they beat Denver in Denver.

145
by Steve B :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:22pm

"The last time the Jets were in Cincinnati for a game that mattered, the Bengals put up more points than the Raiders did yesterday"

You're talking about a game that was played two years ago. Number of changes for the Jets since then. I agree the Steelers would need a healthy Ben to have a real shot of winning a playoff game in Cincy, but that's not a big secret. I don't see the Bengals winning in Denver unless December Manning is as bad as some think/fear he will be and/or unless they lose some players from that defense due to injury.

162
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:06pm

My main point is that the Bengals will probably make it to the second round for the first time in forever, perhaps they win a playoff game to get there.

There aren't as many changes on the Jets as you would think. It boils down to Revis and Skrine. They torched Cromartie that game, I think, just as Cromartie got torched yesterday. The Jets still have a blitz happy coach, the only difference now is his tone and that he punts down two scores with 4 minutes left.

83
by MJK :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 2:51pm

So what do people think of this week's entry into the "Annals of What-Is-A-Catch"?

Late in the DEN-GB game, GB down by 19 with about 7 minutes to go has one last chance after intercepting a Manning pass. Rodgers faces 3rd and 9 and throws to an open James Jones for a 14 yard gain. Jones is immediately hit by two defenders and driven back about 12 yards. One defender, probably thinking the play is over, lets up. Feeling this, Jones lets up, too, and the other defender knocks the ball out of his hand. Players pounce on it in case it's a fumble, and the refs don't give him forward progress.

Huh? If Jones had not dropped the ball, he almost certainly would have gotten forward progress to keep the GB drive alive. But that means that the fumble shouldn't even have been an issue. Had Denver recovered, it would have been a terrible call because forward progress had been stopped and the whistle should have been blown LONG before the ball came out.

The only think I can think of is that they though he didn't have possession until he had been driven back. But that just doen't make any sense since the game didn't involve Detroit in any way.

86
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:02pm

I guess they felt Jones freed himself up enough that he re-established himself as a forward runner, then fumbled. I guess I can somewhat see that, but yeah, just a bizarre ruling.

89
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:09pm

There was another one where it certainly appeared to be a catch but was stripped as they were falling and they called it incomplete. IMO, the league is too liberal on the "going to the ground" criterion.

91
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:12pm

Yes, this. What constitutes 'going to the ground' needs to be really tightened. To me it should be needing to dive prior to making contact with the ball, or something to that effect. If the ball is thrown a little in front of you, and the momentum of catching makes you, after already touching the ball with both hands, stumble to the ground, that shouldn't be 'going to the ground.'

148
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:25pm

I though that should have been a catch and forwards progress.

Remember the Bradshaw non-fumble in the Giants-Niners NFC Championship game? That was, technically correctly, ruled as the play being stopped for forwards progress after Bradshaw moved back less than a foot before fumbling. I don't see how Jones being driven back that far doesn't result in the same call.

He was free at the end but they had held him while they dragged him so far.

170
by ChrisS :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:58pm

That call was not a blown what is a catch call but a blown what is forward progress call. It looked to me like he was always wrapped up by the defender and being pushed backward, he was struggling (unsuccessfully) to get free but never got free.

98
by TecmoBoso :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:25pm

Congrats to Jim Caldwell for winning the Marc Trestman Award given to the coach who "clearly is a dead man walking barely halfway into the season" in 2015. The Lions should not be as bad as they are... just flat out bad coaching.

101
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:28pm

QBR has Rodgers over Brady this week and Rodgers over Brady's game in Dallas by 30+ points. Hell, they have Geno Smith over Brady this week!

I'm sorry, but these aren't interesting quirks, they are results that would have any honest statistician questioning the value of the metric.

123
by RickD :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:50pm

QBR is drunk.

Any stat that keeps its calculation secret needs to be viewed suspiciously. For all we know they have dolphins playing with inflated balls to produce the numbers.

129
by MinisterCheevy :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:01pm

Do you feel that way about DVOA? I'm not trolling, I'm asking.

153
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:32pm

DVOA should absolutely be viewed suspiciously. A lot of the fun of FO is figuring out where DVOA is wrong and why. It does the best job I know of at ranking units, so I like it.

Also, while DVOA does secret magic with how it transforms data, we do at least know all the inputs. We don't even know what the inputs are with QBR.

158
by nat :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:58pm

And unlike QBR, there is no human input in DVOA assigning blame and credit to QBs and receivers. So there is (almost) no chance for human bias to make DVOA inconsistent in how it treats different players.

Some of the best discussions here are about the details of DVOA and where it falls down and where it shines. We can do that because the general DVOA method is pretty open, even if the finest details are a black box. We can do that because the answer is never going to be "DVOA was wrong because Aaron fudged the numbers to make PLAYER X look good". QBR, in contrast, has such fudging the numbers baked right into it.

It's not just that we're stats geeks. It's not that we hate judgment calls. It's that DVOA is so good that when it seems to fail, it's usually in some very interesting way that helps us understand football and stats all the more.

160
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:02pm

Well said. +1

126
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 3:55pm

I think QBR is a poor statistic, but Geno did a lot better than you think he did. It was 21-3 by the time they let him throw the ball, and he did lead a couple touchdown drives to get it closer. The interception to Woodson was a poor decision, but it was a glorified punt (which by the way, is something the Jets didn't force until the fourth quarter), and the other bonehead plays don't show up that much in QBR. Not saying he played better than Brady, just not surprised he did alright statwise.

On the other hand, Rodgers threw for 77 yards. Unless QBR has opponent adjustments, something's wrong there. I also don't understand how Brady has a QBR of 60 for 358 yards and 4 tds. Carr had a QBR of over 90 for a similar statline.

140
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:14pm

Maybe air yards vs. YAC, but then again one of Carr's TDs came on all YAC.

Whatever it is, Brady is just not loved by QBR. Then again, I have no idea in hell how Rodgers gets a 64 QBR for that performance yesterday, unless there is a MASSIVE opponent adjustment.

157
by Steve B :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:56pm

#126

I thought Geno played pretty well, too, all things considered. Jets' defense shitting the bed was the primary reason they lost. I'm starting to wonder if that Jets' D is in fact 'really good' or at least underachieving. Two straight subpar performances and what top offense had they stopped before that?

163
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:10pm

I think the Jets' defense is good, just not in the conversation with Denver. They really weren't subpar in the New England game until the end, but this one was a straight up butt-kicking, and honestly the Jets quarterbacks and receivers should receive very little blame for this.

141
by Staubach12 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:17pm

Yeah, QBR is junk. Honestly, I suspect that if FO were not affiliated with ESPN, the writers here would have ignored this bogus stat entirely. Any stat that hinges on a "Clutch Index" is going to be meaningless. Moreover, the numbers generated by Total QBR jibe with nothing so much as wins and losses. It's like the found a way to quantify the uninformed fans' instinctive evaluation of QB quality and then passed it off as a meaningful statistic.

171
by ChrisS :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 6:03pm

I believe the Clutch Index part now is actually used to reduce the value of garbage time offense from http://www.footballperspective.com/is-espns-qbr-the-best-measure-of-quar...
"When Dean Oliver was on the Advanced NFL Stats podcast, he noted that the formula was tweaked in 2013 so that the “clutch index” part of the formula was essentially capped. He added (beginning at 13:45): “The most clutch plays are ending up counting essentially the same as all other plays. [What] we ended up deciding is that for games that are out of reach, when quarterbacks are putting up meaningless statistics because they are playing against a defense that is not trying as hard because they know that the game is essentially over – so that you can get your yards but we’re just trying to run out the clock – so we still keep in a clutch weight reduction effectively, associated with garbage time. But there isn’t the increase in clutch weight associated with clutch plays."

191
by Staubach12 :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 1:00am

That's good to hear. Still, there is a ton of subjectivity built into a stat (to the extent that we even know what is built into the statistic) that is almost always treated by the media as if it were an objective stat. As the post you linked indicates, QBR is very highly correlated with wins.

My impression is that a mediocre QB on a good team will have a higher QBR than a good QB on a mediocre team. This is because individual QB's Total QBR scores seem to vary much more than any other comparable statistic (but that variation always correlates strongly with team winning percentage).

206
by ZDNeal :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 3:06pm

Leverage index is a valuable tool, it has a place in metrics.

155
by ClavisRa :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 4:45pm

Packers coaches just had the worst game of the season by a coaching staff. Both offense and defense did nothing to attack their opponent's weaknesses, nor put their players in places to succeed. The defense vanilla rush let Manning stay on his spot, clean, all game. You don't have to sack him, or even pressure him, you just have to move the pocket, and his legs won't support him adjusting, resetting and throwing with accurate power in time. The offense did nothing to get receivers open, but put the receivers in bad match ups with defensive backs and then just hoped they would win their match ups, even though they were outclassed. This game shows how little command Rogers has over his offense, and how when the coaches aren't feeding him good plays, he can't take over and put his offense in a position to succeed. He can make good throws, if the throws are there, which they weren't, and with Denver playing contain, he had little freedom to improv.

161
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:03pm

It sure looked like the Packers had game planned for a totally different team, whether that was lousy coaching or Bronco dominance we'll find out soon enough.

164
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 5:13pm

'Packers coaches just had the worst game of the season by a coaching staff. Both offense and defense did nothing to attack their opponent's weaknesses, nor put their players in places to succeed.'

Apparently you did not watch any of Miami's first 4 games. If you wish to be a true connoisseur of terrible coaching, you will need to do so.

172
by Denverite :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 6:17pm

Broncos trade for Vernon Davis. 6 & 7 in 2016, 6 in 2017. Not super painful because the Broncos have an extra fifth round pick and three seventh round comp picks.

176
by Grendel13G :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 6:52pm

Interesting. Probably should have done this before the season instead of relying on Owen Daniels, Slowest Man Alive.

Has there ever been a midseason trade for a TE or WR that worked out well?

178
by Will Allen :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 7:02pm

I would imagine the sample size is pretty small. Dave Casper played well for the Oilers after getting traded from the Raiders during the middle of 1980. It's probably worth a try, given the minimal cost.

204
by coremill :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 11:43am

I think the price probably would have been much higher before the season, when Niners management had deluded themselves into thinking they had a playoff-caliber team. They're dumping Davis for picks now because they've finally realized they're terrible.

179
by Tundrapaddy :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 7:06pm

Sure, it wouldn't cost much as far as draft picks, but...why would the Broncos want to do this?

Most GMs (well, most 'good' GMs, anyhow) know that the picks in the draft are the key to long-term success. Even the late-round picks. I'm trying to think of situations where trading multiple picks for a single veteran player has panned out well. My perception is that it strongly disfavors the team trading away picks.

EDIT: Oh crap, you're saying it's already been done. I am surprised. Sure, Davis is better than Owen Daniels, but I don't see that it's worth it. Short of Denver basically saying "We are in Season Omega for Manning - must win now!"

181
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 7:09pm

duplicate....

180
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 7:08pm

It's really only the trade of a single pick. One is a trade down from a likely 28+ spot in the 6th to a likely top 10 spot in the 7th. Add in the comp selections, you are talking about a 20 slot drop, tops. A 6th in two years for a flyer on a guy who was dominant just three years ago and has legitimate extenuating circumstances for the subsequent drop in production sounds reasonable to me.

183
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 7:36pm

Yup, there is really no way to spin this trade to make it sound bad for Denver. Sure, Vernon may amount to nothing more than the guy we've seen in SF this year, but even then it is worth risking a 6-th round pick two years from now.

184
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 8:09pm

The real question is why didn't they trade for Joe Thomas, if the Browns put him and Mack on the market. Both the Broncos and Pats could have used him (honestly, almost any contender could, but he would really help both of them). Trading for Vernon Davis and giving up a 6th rounder isn't the worst idea when you have Peyton Manning in his last year or two.

205
by merlinofchaos :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 1:41pm

Reports today said the Broncos offered a first rounder for Joe Thomas and the Browns said "MORE" and Elway said "Yeah, final offer". So no deal.

185
by merlinofchaos :: Mon, 11/02/2015 - 8:10pm

Plus if he doesn't work out this season I think they'll get a compensatory draft pick if he signs with another team, so there's nearly no risk involved. If he works out then he's worth the pick and if he doesn't, no big loss, right?

* Edit: I don't know for sure about the comp pick, just repeating conjecture I read elsewhere. VD is a 9 year vet, though, which doesn't sound like the team would be eligible for a compensatory pick.

192
by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 2:05am

Is there an appreciable difference between a seventh or sixth round pick and an undrafted free agent? I really am not so sure there is. I'd rather stockpile, second, third and fourth rounders.

203
by justanothersteve :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 9:59am

The only difference is a highly coveted UDFA may have a number of suitors and may cost you more than the late round pick because the UDFA will likely get a bonus. You also may not actually sign the UDFA.

209
by Jerry :: Tue, 11/03/2015 - 5:00pm

Presented without comment. From Mike Tomlin's Tuesday press conference on not using his timeouts:

"I thought I was pretty clear why, and I outlined that decision after the game. I thought having the ability to stop the clock was more important once we had the ball. Oftentimes it dictates the coverage that defenses play. They have to defend the middle of the field when you have the ability to stop the clock. If we don’t have the ability to stop the clock, they would get in their cover-two structure and rush their four men, really protecting the sidelines. That scenario was going to get increasingly more difficult if they got in that structure. I thought by possessing a timeout, it would give us an opportunity to at least have the ability to challenge the interior of the field and maybe dictate some of the coverage they play, give us a better chance to navigate down the field. We were comfortable with that. That’s the plan we went with. If had it to do over, I would do it again."