Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Dec 2016

Audibles at the Line: Week 16

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails 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 tune 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 solely 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.

Saturday, December 24

New York Jets 3 at New England Patriots 41

Bryan Knowles: Bryce Petty told CBS that he has never played a game in the rain before, which is a bit shocking to me. So far, the elements seem to be bothering him -- he has already thrown a pick to Malcolm Butler -- but the Patriots pass rush may be bothering him just a bit more.

Aaron Schatz: He's awful, just awful. He keeps twisting out of sacks just to run into other sacks. He has one-hopped a couple of throws in the dirt. How bad is Christian Hackenberg that he can't play ahead of this? The Jets and Patriots are both much stronger against the run than against the pass, so the right strategy for both teams is to just concentrate on passing the ball with very few runs. But the Jets don't have a quarterback.

20 minutes in, now the Jets do have a quarterback, and it's the quarterback they had at the start of the year. Bryce Petty just hurt his left shoulder when he tackled Malcolm Butler after a fumble recovery (Elandon Roberts knocked it from Khiry Robinson's hands). Ryan Fitzpatrick coming in. Currently 13-0 Pats and it would be worse if the Pats could just finish in the red zone today. One-sided as all get out.

Patriots pull Tom Brady from the game right before the end of the third quarter. It has been a long time since Brady left a blowout this early.

Tennessee Titans 17 at Jacksonville Jaguars 38

Scott Kacsmar: Jaguars had an early 10-0 lead, and Marcus Mariota was fortunate to not have two interceptions on forced throws that the defense was unable to hold onto. Neither happened in the red zone, but if one did, that would have ended a streak of 33 touchdowns to zero interceptions for Mariota in the red zone. I seem to hear this stat every single week for Mariota, but is it really that impressive in this era of the lowest interception rates ever? For instance, you never hear a word about Jameis Winston's red zone performance, yet he has 32 touchdowns to one pick in his career. Is that one-play difference really relevant?

Andrew Potter: Yeah, the important word there is "streak". He could very easily have been intercepted on both of his first two third-and-long passes, but Paul Posluszny and Jalen Ramsey couldn't bring them in.

Jacksonville's offensive line is playing possibly the best it has played all year in this first half. Blake Bortles has had all kinds of time, while Chris Ivory is also above 4 yards per carry. The Jags have scored on four of their first five drives: two touchdowns (one followed by a missed Jason Myers extra point) and two field goals. Bortles did have one play, however, where he simply dropped the ball untouched at the back of his windup. Lineman Jeremy Parnell bailed him out, but the play goes down as an 8-yard sack.

We also have a Dante Fowler sighting! Sack of Marcus Mariota in the two-minute drill just before half time. Fowler lined up at left end and stunted inside Sen'Derrick Marks, opening a clear path to Mariota.

Vince Verhei: Following up on Scott's point: Since the start of 2014, there have been 1,540 red zone touchdown passes and 157 interceptions. When the average ratio is 10:1, is 30:0 really that impressive? You're supposed to get a lot of scores down there, not turn it over!

Jacksonville leads 19-7 at the half following what might have been their best 30 minutes of the year. Best news for them is that, maybe for the first time, all their young stars are shining at once. Blake Bortles has one soapdish fumble, but he's 18-of-23 for 200-plus yards and a touchdown. Allen Robinson is already over 100 yards and nearly made the catch of the season on a diving effort in the end zone. And on defense, Jalen Ramsey has broken up a couple of passes, and Dante Fowler has his first sack since Week 2. He came through untouched on a stunt, which could be a sign that Doug Marrone is scheming for him better than Gus Bradley ever did. 

Marcus Mariota has come as advertised -- he has good pocket presence and does a good job of scrambling to throw. He had a great touch pass to a running back out of the backfield to convert one third down, and had some other good throws that were dropped. But when Rishard Mathews somehow got matched up against Telvin Smith in man coverage, and immediately beat the linebacker deep, Mariota couldn't connect and overthrew the open receiver.

Andrew Potter: The Matthews deep shot came out of a tight bunch on the right side of the offensive formation. The Titans ran three vertical routes out of the bunch, and Smith was matched up on the inside receiver on the deep cross. The Chiefs used a similar tactic to get a touchdown to Albert Wilson, also against Smith, back in Week 9 -- though that was out of a wide set, not a bunch.

Tom Gower: Mariota has been a bit off on some throws. The deep passes, but Matthews and Tajae Sharpe have both gone up to get passes I'd normally expect him to throw lower. Tennessee's run game also hasn't been what it has been the first half of the past two games, and looks more like the pre-bye run game.

The more unexpected developments have been on the other side of the ball. That Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee are winning individual matchups against Tennessee's corners is not a surprise; that Blake Bortles did a great job of putting the ball into good spots for them, and hasn't made errors in the direction of defenders on those passes, is.

Tom Gower: Up 7-0 in the first quarter, facing fourth-and-2 from the Titans 6, Doug Marrone sent out the offense to hut-hut, take a delay of game penalty, and kick a field goal. Up 19-10 in the third quarter, facing fourth-and-1 at the Titans 38, he kicked the field goal. Jason Myers made both field goals, but if an interim coach, in a lost season, isn't willing to take reasonable risks in those circumstances, when will anybody?

Vince Verhei: Weird play here where Chris Ivory gets a big gain on a screen pass, but then pulls up mid-run and loses the ball as he goes to the ground. He was ruled down by contact, but now he's on the sideline getting his hamstring tended to. T.J. Yeldon is already out of the game with an ankle injury, so Jacksonville is down to Corey Grant at running back.

Much bigger injury news: Marcus Mariota gets his ankle caught under him on a sack, and they have brought out the air cast and the cart. This looks like a season-ender, even if the Titans are somehow able to make the playoffs with Matt Cassel.

Andrew Potter: Randomness. Jason Myers just missed his second extra point, on a day when he's 3-for-3 on field goals over 48 yards.

Blake Bortles becomes the first Jaguars quarterback ever to catch a touchdown pass, on a deep throw down the left sideline from Marqise Lee. On the next play from scrimmage, Jalen Ramsey -- who has been excellent -- picks off Matt Cassel and returns the ball 30 yards to finally blow the game open. By far the best Jaguars performance of the year.

Aaron Schatz: Jaguars pull off an option pass touchdown from Marqise Lee to Bortles, then Matt Cassel throws a pick-six right to Jalen Ramsey. For crying out loud, Titans. Texans will clinch division with win tonight, which is pathetic.

Vince Verhei: Cassel hit Delanie Walker for a touchdown, and the Titans were threatening to make this a game. Then the Jaguars scored on a Marqise Lee touchdown pass to Bortles, and Jalen Ramsey followed that with a pick-six to add to his excellent day, and this one's pretty much done. 

And in fact, the Titans are punting down 38-17 with four minutes to go, waving the white flag.

Tom Gower: Yeah, I'd be shocked if we see Mariota again this season, regardless of how far the Titans make it. Not a doctor or medical expert, of course, so we'll see.

We've seen a lot more of the Blake Bortles we're used to seeing in the second half -- not balls in the direction of defenders, but too far away from receivers for them to make a play on the pass. Currently 8-of-15 for 108 after 18-of-23 for 217. But Wesley Woodyard extended one drive after a third-and-15 stop with a personal foul penalty set up one field goal, the aforementioned Ivory screen and a scramble set up a second field goal, and he had one good drive, finished off with his own touchdown catch from Marqise Lee to make it 31-17 before Ramsey put the exclamation point on things.

Fractured fibula for Marcus Mariota, per Mike Mularkey in the post-game press conference. Yes, he's out for the year.

Rivers McCown: One thing that popped out at me with the Jags was that Doug Marrone seemed to have them throwing simpler routes than they did under Gus Bradley. More screen calls. More passes over the middle. Bortles hit some long passes too, so it wasn't all on game plan. But I felt like the Jags weren't trying to reinvent the Air Coryell Chargers with a terribly inaccurate quarterback. So, kudos.

Washington Redskins 41 at Chicago Bears 21

Bryan Knowles: Chicago is attempting to play man-to-man coverage against Washington. It is not working -- Kirk Cousins has found big plays to Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, and receivers are, in general, not having all that much trouble getting open. Tracy Porter and Johnthan Banks are not having great days, so far -- though the lack of pass rush isn't doing them any favors.

Aaron Schatz: Johnthan Banks is now on his third team this year, so, that's not really a great sign for his quality as a starting NFL cornerback.

Bryan Knowles: We've hit 0:00 here with Washington winning, which clarifies a few playoff scenarios -- the Saints are officially out now, Washington stays alive into Week 17, and Tampa Bay can't clinch a playoff berth this week. Sets up a big Washington-Giants game next week, though the Giants may not have anything to play for.

Atlanta Falcons 33 at Carolina Panthers 16

Vince Verhei: I started watching this game hoping (not expecting, but hoping) that the Panthers would get an upset here and give Seattle a chance to clinch the 2 seed by the end of the weekend. Instead it's 20-3 Atlanta at the half and could be worse -- Matt Bryant has missed a field goal. Atlanta's scoring output isn't unexpected, obviously, but the Panthers offense looks lost against a bad defense that is missing its best corner. Cam Newton looks disinterested, like he just wants to get this over with and get to the Christmas party. He has a couple of bad interceptions, he has been air-mailing receivers in the end zone (and given the size of those receivers, that's saying something), and just generally seems to have mentally checked out.

Bryan Knowles: To add on to that, Carolina currently has 58 yards receiving. Atlanta has 61 yards on interception returns. That's... not great.

This has also hit 0:00, and the Vikings' season is officially done -- their 5-0 start now a long distant memory. The Panthers are also eliminated, as their one-in-a-million chance as finally run out. Curse of the Super Bowl losers, as if that were a thing.

San Diego Chargers 17 at Cleveland Browns 20

Vince Verhei: We might have to update our "San Diego Painful Loss Bingo Card" to include "Losing To An 0-14 Team That Hasn't Had A Lead In Six Weeks." Browns just kicked a field goal to go up 20-10 early in the third. They're doing it with the run game -- 114 yards and eight first downs on the ground already.

Robert Griffin suffers his seventh sack of the game and leaves with concussion symptoms. Cody Kessler comes in and is sacked on his third dropback, a third down deep in Cleveland territory. That forces Cleveland's fourth straight punt. From his own 3-yard line, Britton Colquitt can't even get the ball to midfield, and Isaiah Burse gets an 11-yard return to set San Diego up at the Cleveland 33, down 20-17. The drive stalls at the 14, but they have a point-blank game-tying field goal -- except it's blocked. Cleveland takes over with 3:45 to go as this looks like the most San Diego loss there has ever been.

Aaron Schatz: Browns need one last fourth-down stop to finally win a game... and they leave Antonio Gates wide open when three guys jumping an underneath route. Ridiculous. 

Oh. Then the Chargers miss another possible game-tying field goal. Browns win! Chargers Bad Loss BINGO will never die.

Carl Yedor: The Browns win! On third-and-12 from the edge of field goal range, Philip Rivers completes a pass to Antonio Gates in bounds and short of the sticks, so San Diego has to rush the kicking team onto the field as time is ticking down. They just get the kick off, but Josh Lambo misses it wide, giving Cleveland its first win of the 2016 season.

Tom Gower: Lambo, from 45, for the tie... and it's no good, wide right. Congratulations, Browns. Schedule was the biggest reason they were 0-14 when they were just "normally" bad, not historically so.

Vince Verhei: Can I just add how frustrating it was that as the Chargers were scrambling to get their field goal unit out there, the CBS cameras were only showing us the back of Philip Rivers on the sideline, NOT THE POTENTIAL GAME-TYING KICK? They finally cut to the field with about 3 seconds to go, just in time to see the Chargers just barely get the kick off. Sometimes I think football broadcasts would be better with one wide camera and no close-ups. 

But this does invite the question: would the Chargers have been better off with an incompletion on third down, and having to kick a 52-yarder, but at least being able to take their time with it?

Miami Dolphins 34 at Buffalo Bills 31 (OT)

Vince Verhei: I haven't been paying super-close attention to this game, but from what I've seen it has been pretty much a non-stop exchange of big plays. I count three 40-yard plays for Miami, including a 45-yard touchdown for Kenyan Drake on his only carry where he ran into a wall in the middle of the field, then pirouetted out to the right and down the sideline behind a Matt Moore block. Meanwhile, the Bills have a 53-yard touchdown from Sammy Watkins to go with 200-plus yards on the ground. They got the ball back down four with about four minutes to go, which left them plenty of time to run, run, run down the field. They're at about midfield at the two-minute warning, desperately trying to stay alive.

Aaron Schatz: Bills take the lead on fourth-and-goal from the 6. Tyrod Taylor had run into a wall on an option the previous play but he threaded it on fourth with a low throw to Charles Clay falling on his tuchus in the end zone.

Vince Verhei: What happened at the end of regulation here? Andrew Franks hit a game-tying 55-yarder with 6 seconds left, but one of the Bills was frantically calling timeout before the ball was snapped, and replays showed Rex Ryan trying to time his timeout to ice the kicker too, and the refs didn't see either signal. I mean, I'm happy the kicker was not iced, but how did neither of those timeouts count, especially the guy on the field?

Aaron Schatz: The replay of Ryan is awfully close. He waits so long that the ball may have already been snapped before he finally brings his hands together for the timeout.

Bryan Knowles: A side-by-side view showed that Ryan's attempt at calling a timeout was a fraction of a second too late.

This is the risk you take by waiting until the last fraction of a second to call the time out! Ryan needs to work on his quick-twitch skills. I think the on-field time out was on time, though.

For Buffalo, there is no difference between a tie and a loss -- either ends the game.

So of COURSE they're punting on fourth-and-three. I mean, who cares about the dying embers of a playoff chance?

Aaron Schatz: Bills just punted on fourth-and-3 on their own side of the field, 4 minutes left. A tie would end their season so it's an awful decision. Field position means nothing. You need a win. Punt and you might not see the ball again, even if you don't lose.

Bryan Knowles: And, of course, the Dolphins immediately respond with a 57-yard run by Jay Ajayi. Boy, wouldn't the Bills kill to have a fourth-and-three for their season right about now?

Miami kicks the chip-shot field goal, officially ending Buffalo's season -- and perhaps Rex Ryan's head coaching job. He showed a complete lack of situational awareness today, and it's not like he's been making things look great all season long.

Minnesota Vikings 25 at Green Bay Packers 38

Aaron Schatz: Just an addendum on the Vikings: Minnesota is the fifth team in DVOA history to be No. 1 after Week 6 and collapse to miss the playoffs. The others were the 1989 Bears, 1995 Raiders, 2003 Bucs, and 2012 Giants. Three of those teams finished 11th for the year. No team that was No. 1 after Week 6 has ever finished lower than 11th. The Vikings were 22nd before losing to the Packers and will probably be lower this week.

Andrew Potter: The reported story after that game is that the Vikings defensive backs didn't play the coverage Mike Zimmer told them to in the first half. Despite game-planning all week for Xavier Rhodes to match up directly on Jordy Nelson, the defensive backs decided on their own to stay on their usual sides. They only played the intended coverage after being called out by Zimmer at halftime. That's pretty close to unbelievable. How does a coach even begin to handle an entire unit defying instructions like that? You realistically can't bench your entire secondary.

Tom Gower: This is going to be a big story this week. Game plan was for Xavier Rhodes to shadow Jordy Nelson the whole game. He did so in the second half. Long excerpt from Andrew Krammer's article for the Star-Tribune:

Vikings defensive backs decided during the week of practice to not have Rhodes, their top cornerback, shadow Nelson for the first time in a Vikings-Packers game under Zimmer.

"To be honest, I really don't want to answer that," Rhodes started, before explaining what happened.

"A matter of fact, forget it. We felt as a team, as players, we came together and we felt like we'd never done that when we played against the Packers. Us as DBs felt like we could handle him. That's how we felt as DBs that we could stay on our side and cover him. In the beginning, we'd always played against them and played our sides, we never followed, so that's what we felt as DBs. That's what we went with."

Nelson had one of the best days of his career, catching nine passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

Almost all of the damage came in the first half, when Rhodes wasn't shadowing Nelson. He caught seven passes for 145 yards and two scores for the Packers' 28-13 lead at halftime.

Vince Verhei: This is all pretty shocking. I've heard of quarterbacks waving off play calls or personnel changes before, but a whole unit planning and executing a weeklong mutiny to defy their coach's plan? I don't know how you move forward from that.

Rivers McCown: I'm sorry, but, can we recognize that Aaron Rodgers was obscene today? He was making utterly preposterous throws all over the secondary. I don't care what coverage the Vikings decided to call. It barely mattered. I'm sure this is setting up for a playoff okey-doke or something, but it's going to be damn near impossible to take this team out if Rodgers plays like that.

Arizona Cardinals 34 at Seattle Seahawks 31

Vince Verhei: Arizona's first drive: run for zero, sack for minus-8, run for minus-8

Seattle's first drive: Jermaine Kearse is called for his fifth offensive pass interference call of the year. (Philadelphia is the only other TEAM with more than four.) This leads to an incomplete, a sack, and a fumble on a blown handoff, recovered by Arizona.

I'm telling you, these teams are going to tie again.

Cards take over at the 23 and David Johnson soon gets a rushing touchdown. We're not even halfway through the first quarter and the Cards have already scored more than they did in five quarters last time.

Earl Thomas, of course, is out for the year. Now Kam Chancellor is out too, leaving this game with an ankle injury. So Arizona dials up a deep pass, and J.J. Nelson gets past Jeremy Lane on a skinny post. Steven Terrell, in for Thomas, can't come close to making a play on Nelson, and in fact only serves to take Lane out of the play. 80-yard touchdown for Nelson.

Bryan Knowles: That 80-yard touchdown pass is more than just a rarity for Seattle; it's unheard of. Seattle hasn't given up a passing play of 80 yards or more since 1998.

Vince Verhei: After the Nelson touchdown, Seattle answers with big plays to Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, the latter of which appears to be a touchdown, but is ruled to be down at the 1 on replay. Worse, the defensive back in coverage falls on Lockett's leg, which was immediately broken -- if you have a weak stomach, don't watch the way Lockett's foot is bouncing around as he slides into the end zone. 

So Seattle turns that first-and-goal at the 1 into a stuffed Thomas Rawls run, a stuffed Russell Wilson sneak (he doesn't run those often), a scramble and throwaway, then on fourth down, an unblocked Rodney Gunter, who comes untouched up the A-gap for Arizona's fifth sack of the first half.

Then two plays later, David Johnson fumbles and Seattle recovers, but they still can't get anything going and kick a field goal to make it 14-3.

And that's your halftime score. For both teams, it has been two big completions and almost literally nothing else. Arizona has catches of 80 and 34 yards, and 37 yards on their other 24 plays. Seattle has catches of 31 and 28 yards, and 35 yards on their other 32 plays. 

And that means David Johnson's streak of 100-yards-from-scrimmage games is in serious jeopardy -- he's at 15 carries for 33 yards, two catches for minus-1 yard at the half. Add in his fumble, and it's obviously his worst game of the year. And Arizona is still up by 11.

And it could be worse. Arizona was in field goal range, but Jermaine Gresham yanked off his helmet to yell at the Seahawks. That's a 15-yard penalty, and so Arizona ended up punting instead. 

Here's the hit on Gresham that pissed him off. I can see why he was unhappy, but that's legal -- you can see at the top of the screen that the play was still going on. Seahawks defenders are coached to seek out inattentive blockers and lay them out. Something similar happened with Richard Sherman at the end of the Bills game.

Seahawks nearly match their yardage total from the first half with a 66-yard drive to open the third quarter, capped off with a corner-route touchdown by Jermaine Kearse. Thomas Rawls was terrible in the first half (eight carries for 8 yards), and left with a shoulder injury. In steps Alex Collins, who runs four times for 25 yards on the drive.

Chandler Catanzaro was just short on a 52-yard field goal. Not wide, not blocked, not a bad snap -- short. 30th-ranked special teams, everyone.

Those Cardinals special teams I made fun of get a partially blocked punt to set the offense up at their own 39. Johnson finally gets a couple of good runs, then Palmer makes an A-plus over-the-shoulder throw to Larry Fitzgerald to set up a first-and-goal. That throw traveled about 20 yards horizontally and 50 yards vertically (as in, from the earth to the sky). Johnson gets a touchdown run shortly thereafter to take a 20-10 lead. With Atlanta already winning today, and Detroit getting a Dallas team with nothing to play for Monday night, that first-round bye is starting to slip away. 

Johnson, by the way, is up to 56 yards from scrimmage with 13:32 to go.

Live by the blitz, die by the blitz. Cardinals go cover-zero. Doug Baldwin beats Brandon Williams on a curl route so badly, Williams isn't even in position to miss a tackle. And once Baldwin gets by him, there's nobody else behind him for a long touchdown. 

And then something awesome happens. Richard Sherman has made some noise lately (screaming at coaches, bickering with reporters) about passes at the goal line that show this team is still recovering from the Super Bowl interception against New England. So what do they do for the two-pointer? THEY RUN THE SUPER BOWL PLAY. It's to the other side, but it's the exact same pick/slant combo, with Marcel Reece running the slant and getting the two-pointer to make it a 21-18 game. 

And suddenly nobody in this game can play defense. 33-yard run for Johnson, cutting back from right to left; big catch-and-run for Nelson to set up first-and-goal; and Johnson gets two carries from there to score. Arizona back on top 28-18.

Remember a few months ago when Seattle and Arizona combined for 12 points in five quarters? We are now up to 31 total points and counting in the fourth quarter alone, the latest coming on a Jimmy Graham touchdown where he caught a pass deep over the middle and broke tackles into the end zone. Cardinals send out the hands team afterwards, but Seattle kicks deep, and Arizona has the ball, up 31-25, with 2:44 to go inside their own 15.

Not only does Arizona follow the Seattle touchdown with a three-and-out, but Larry Fitzgerald took his reception out of bounds, and Palmer threw incomplete on third down, so they didn't even eat any time. And then Matt Wile shanks a punt, and further, Doug Baldwin (yes, Seattle's top wide receiver) draws a holding penalty while trying to block the kick. So Seattle has the ball, at the Arizona 45, with a timeout left. Their first-down run is stuffed, but still, at the two-minute warning, they need 45 yards, with a timeout, when they looked dead just a few minutes ago.

Bryan Knowles: Well, the Seahawks score the touchdown, are going to go on and win, yadda yadda...

...except Stephen Hauschka pushes the extra point wide left. Have the same two teams ever tied in one season? I know what I'm rooting for now.

Vince Verhei: Arizona had a first down at the Seattle 30 up 28-18 with 5:09 to go. With one minute to go, we are now tied at 31. However, we remain tied, because Stephen Hauschka missed the XP, which means yes, THEY ARE THREATENING TO TIE AGAIN.

Welp. Arizona gets a field goal as time expires to win 34-31. Seattle now a very long shot for the 2 seed. Also, the loss of Earl Thomas has totally changed this team. In 107 games with Thomas, they gave up 30 points nine times. In three games without him, they have given up 30 points twice.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 at New Orleans Saints 31

Aaron Schatz: Apparently I caused a lot of controversy with Saints fans a couple weeks ago with an ESPN Insider article where I noted that the Saints' offensive line had great numbers this year. No. 1 in adjusted line yards, No. 5 in adjusted sack rate. The article, of course, was entirely based on metrics, not watching the offensive lines of all 32 teams. But now that I'm watching an entire game of the Saints... Yes, this offensive line is doing a pretty good job. The running backs have holes, although some of the good ALY numbers probably come from Mark Ingram's ability to push piles forward a bit. Drew Brees isn't seeing a ton of pressure, although there have been a couple of coverage sacks.

Andrew Potter: Near enough every team in the league has fans who think the offensive line is terrible. The Saints have one of the better lines in the league, but a schedule packed with great pass rushes -- from Khalil Mack and the Raiders in Week 1 through the Chiefs, Seahawks, Broncos, in addition to some of the good rushers in their own division -- might have created a false impression. The biggest issue on this Saints offense is the lack of consistent production at tight end and receiving back, nothing to do with the line.

This game has been more like how I expected the game two weeks ago to be. The Buccaneers have one receiving threat and a pile of flotsam as targets, while the Saints have one defensive back and a pile of jetsam as coverage -- so that's a surprisingly even matchup. The way to attack the Buccaneers defense is usually to get after the safeties, but Coby Fleener is way more miss than hit as a receiving option.

At the start of the second half, Josh Huff makes another mistake to hand his team atrocious field position following a Saints kickoff. Two weeks ago, he let a short kick bounce off his facemask and out at the 1-yard line, leading directly to a Saints safety. This week, he fails to field a kick cleanly and ends up tackled at the 4-yard line, leading less directly to a Jameis Winston interception on a deep ball toward Mike Evans. Special teams plays usually swing the way of Tampa Bay: New Orleans has major issues in the kicking game, whereas Roberto Aguayo is very good on kickoffs and Bryan Anger is one of the league's best on punts. Bad mistakes on individual returns will more than make up for that, however, and so it has proven. I'm just not sure what value Huff offers the Buccaneers, especially if the mistakes on kick returns continue, but there's just about nobody else available -- their receiving corps has been rent asunder by injuries.

Aaron Schatz: One of the more surprising, although not high-profile, stories of the 2016 NFL season is the re-emergence of Pocket Herculizz. Jacquizz Rodgers is averaging 4.4 yards per carry in Tampa Bay, which would be a career high, after he disappeared in Chicago last year. The Bucs made Doug Martin a healthy scratch today and chose to start Rodgers instead. Rodgers has surprising power in that little package when he runs -- he just scored a 3-yard touchdown to make it 20-14 Saints.

Michael Thomas just broke two tackles on his way to a 46-yard gain to get the Saints into the red zone again. Is anybody talking about this guy in the national press? He had 883 yards and eight touchdowns coming into today, and he ranks in the top five for receiving DYAR as a rookie.

Andrew Potter: There's that receiving back production: touchdown for Travaris Cadet. The real hope at the start of this year was that Cadet could be a consistent option out of the backfield, which contributed to the team's comfort in moving ahead without C.J. Spiller. After scoring against the Raiders on opening day, however, he didn't have another touchdown all year until last week against Arizona. He has also only been over 40 total yards once.

I simply don't understand how the action on that Mike Evans touchdown can be called defensive pass interference.

Bryan Knowles: If you were just watching this game casually, you'd think it was the Saints fighting for a playoff spot. Brees is up over 200 yards passing, and they're about to eclipse 100 yards on the ground. It's a complete turnaround from their 16-11 loss to Tampa just two weeks ago, albeit too late to matter for this season.

Tampa's loss doesn't eliminate them, but it nearly cripples their playoff hopes. It's also just enough for the Giants to back into the playoffs, despite their loss on Thursday.

Andrew Potter: After the Saints and Buccaneers exchange points on five consecutive drives following Winston's first interception, the streak is ended by Winston's second interception -- again to Jairus Byrd, again deep left. We have seen Jameis Winston's full temperature range on those deep balls: too hot on the first pick toward Evans, too cold on the second pick toward Russell Shepard, and just right on the touchdown to Evans in between. Tampa Bay got the ball back with 4:33 on the clock and mounted a field goal drive to cut the lead to one score, but then didn't get the ball back after the failed onside kick.

Tampa Bay still has a miniscule chance at the playoffs with a win in Week 17 while the Saints were already eliminated before kickoff, but this was a fairly even matchup: both of these teams have some major flaws at critical positions. If you can take away Mike Evans, which the Saints did for much of today despite the two big plays in the second half, the Buccaneers don't have any other consistent receivers. On defense, they're very vulnerable deep -- particularly if they have to rotate their safeties and put Chris Conte (mercifully a backup at this point) into deep coverage. Keith Tandy has shown flashes of good instincts in short areas, and could have had a pick-six if he had been a tiny bit sharper on one Brees goal-line throw, but deep coverage has been an issue for Tampa Bay's defense all year.

Indianapolis Colts 25 at Oakland Raiders 33

Scott Kacsmar: The Raiders and Colts (with Andrew Luck and not Scott Tolzien) have both basically played close games all season, with each having a bad home loss to the Chiefs. So of course after I commend the Colts for not having their usual handful of blowouts in the Chuck Pagano era this season, they're down 19 in Oakland and have little answer for the run or pass. DeAndre Washington is having his breakout game with two touchdowns, Derek Carr has three touchdown passes, and Andrew Luck has been picked twice while only being able to find T.Y. Hilton for one big play so far.

Aaron Schatz: Oh no. Derek Carr just got his foot caught in the turf and went down awkwardly. Clearly in pain. Maybe a hamstring issue? Hopefully not a major injury. It would be awful to lose both Mariota and Carr in the same day.

Apparently, it is Carr's ankle. If Carr is seriously hurt... that means pretty much every contender has lost one of its top five players in the final half of the season except for Dallas and possibly Kansas City. (Not sure how to count Jamaal Charles never quite getting going and being done for the year.) Dallas is a special case, of course, since the Cowboys lost Tony Romo before the season even started... but at least they don't need to overcome that injury going into the playoffs.

Oh, and I guess J.J. Watt was gone for most of the year, not recently.

Otherwise... Patriots lost Gronk, Titans lost Mariota, Steelers lost Cameron Heyward, Ravens lost Jimmy Smith, Seahawks lost Earl Thomas, Falcons lost Desmond Trufant, Packers lost Sam Shields, Giants lost Jason Pierre-Paul, Dolphins lost Ryan Tannehill.

Ugh.

Vince Verhei: That list is so insane.

Aaron Schatz: Cowboys fans on Twitter pointed out to me that Morris Claiborne was playing very well when he was hurt a couple weeks ago. I don't know if I put him on the same level as Trufant and Smith, but point taken. It's pretty much everyone who has lost a top player.

Andrew Potter: Does Derrick Johnson count at this stage of his career?

Aaron Schatz: Yep. I forgot him too.

Bryan Knowles: The Colts' loss officially eliminates them from the playoffs. Something tells me that won't be the most significant postseason impact of this one, though -- Derek Carr reportedly was taken directly to the hospital.

Andrew Potter: It also, oddly, clinches a playoff spot for Atlanta because it guarantees them a wild card tiebreaker -- I believe Strength of Victory -- over Detroit.

Not that the wild card tiebreaker ends up mattering, as the Falcons have now clinched the division thanks to Tampa Bay's defeat in New Orleans.

Bryan Knowles: And it's official -- a broken fibula for Carr. Heartbreaking.

San Francisco 49ers 22 at Los Angeles Rams 21

Bryan Knowles: It's hard not to compare this game to the first game of the season, when the 49ers beat the Rams. Blaine Gabbert was quarterback then, and did a decent amount of damage with his legs, with 43 yards on the ground. The more mobile Colin Kaepernick? Held to just 6 yards on three carries so far. Not great.

The 49ers score a late touchdown, and successfully score the two-point conversion, to take a 22-21 lead with 30 seconds late. This could be a banner day for the Browns -- not only a win but holding on to the top draft slot.

Fun note that just got pointed out to me by Awful Announcing: Fox has been showing team's records in their score bug this season, to give the viewers a better idea of where the teams stand in the overall picture. That information has been mysteriously missing from the 49ers-Rams game. What, a 1-13 team playing a 4-10 team isn't a draw?

And Jared Goff throws an interception, which will basically seal this one. Great day for Cleveland, but the 49ers have a chance to grab that top draft pick next week if the Browns can somehow upset the Steelers.

The 49ers have the Rams' number. Now, if they can just get the number of the other 30 NFL teams...

Cincinnati Bengals 10 at Houston Texans 12

Rivers McCown: I watched about one-quarter of this game on a broken TV. Another one-fifth of it or so, including Randy Bullock's missed kick, once we had arrived at my fiancee's parents house. If football is indeed family, as the NFL seems to want to push on us, I propose that this game was the awkward uncle you're sort of hoping you can ignore, seated way across the table. The last 60 minutes of football I watched today included this and the Arizona-Seattle first half, and I am curious why we have a forward pass.

Anyway, I'm a Texans fan. I'm sorry, football America. I know you deserve better than this team on the Saturday wild card spot. I blame Mike Mularkey, personally. Bill O'Brien is an offensive guru in the same way that Christian Hackenberg is/was a top quarterback prospect.

Sunday, December 25

Baltimore Ravens 27 at Pittsburgh Steelers 31

Andrew Potter: Halftime in Pittsburgh. Steelers lead 7-6 thanks almost exclusively to their defense apart, from an excellent opening offensive series. Baltimore has outgained Pittsburgh 186-132, but Joe Flacco has missed on both of his touchdown opportunities while Ben Roethlisberger hit on his -- that's the difference at this point. Though that sounds like an indictment of Flacco, it's not really: both passes were difficult throws over the middle to Dennis Pitta. The first came on a seam route with Ryan Shazier in tight coverage, where the throw was a tiny bit too far ahead of Pitta for the tight end to make the one-handed catch. The second was thrown behind Pitta due to the pressure in the quarterback's face. They were throws a top quarterback perhaps could make, but not necessarily plays he should. The Ravens have managed some good drives by running well and hitting some short passes out of a lot of relatively heavy sets -- I count more than one-third of their plays coming from 12, 21, and even a handful out of 13 personnel -- but have struggled out of shotgun and in obvious passing situations. That may have something to do with their choice of backs in shotgun: Kyle Juszczyk has seen a lot of action flanking Flacco, which much as I love Juszczyk doesn't really equate to a dynamic threat as a ball handler out of the backfield.

Well, Flacco finally hit one of those deep balls over the middle to open the second half: a terrible Roethlisberger pass was intercepted by Zachary Orr, and three plays later (after two failed runs) Steve Smith beat Ryan Shazier out of the slot going deep and Flacco hit him easily. Two point conversion to Smith is also good, and the halftime deficit quickly becomes a 7-point lead for the Ravens.

Aaron Schatz: Oh good, Roethlisberger just threw another interception at the end of the third quarter. The Steelers' offense just did not show up tonight. We know the Ravens' run defense is excellent, but that's not what's doing it tonight. Le'Veon Bell has 16 carries for 81 yards but the Steelers couldn't get an extended series going for most of the first half. The second half has been one extended drive that ran out of gas with a 36-yard field goal on fourth-and-2, and the two picks. Roethlisberger has been very inconsistent this season and this is one of his bad nights. What's really surprising to me is the quality of the Ravens' coverage without Jimmy Smith in the lineup. Shareece Wright was cut by the 49ers early last season but he has had good coverage tonight, including one notable pass to Antonio Brown in the end zone.

By the way, I don't want to criticize Flacco for not being perfect on the early seam throw to Pitta, but he has been throwing behind the receiver on a LOT of passes tonight. Does he ever hit receivers in stride on crossing patterns, ever? I feel like this game really does hammer home the idea that the Ravens defense is underrated but the offense is almost at a Rams/Jets level of impotence. Most Baltimore drives consist of an interception or punt return, a short run, an incomplete pass, a third-down dumpoff stopped short of the sticks, and a Justin Tucker field goal. We're now on four Tucker field goals with a quarter left to go.

Andrew Potter: Yeah, that second interception was terrible. Both Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy point out on the broadcast that the Steelers ran a terribly unconvincing sort-of play action, in which the linemen immediately dropped into pass sets and Roethlisberger tossed the slightest glance the way of Le'Veon Bell. The Ravens linebackers treated the fake with the derision it deserved and dropped back into their zones, meaning C.J. Mosley was directly in the throwing lane for an easy interception when Roethlisberger threw for Jesse James.

Steelers get their second touchdown of the night on the following drive, and this one's all about Le'Veon Bell. He's simply too athletic for Brandon Williams to tackle him in the backfield, and then too quick for the pursuit to get to him before he reaches the end zone. That's all about Bell's individual ability; the play design had him bottled up for a loss.

Scott Kacsmar: I'd say it's not uncommon to see an odd game plan from Todd Haley. They tried to build around the run today against the No. 1 run defense. It worked for the opening drive, but otherwise, how do you not take advantage of Jimmy Smith being out and limiting Antonio Brown to so many screens? Throw the ball vertically. Instead it has been a ton of runs, and Bell has been bottled up well the last few quarters, and Roethlisberger has had some real adventures throwing to the trio of tight ends not named Ladarius Green. The first big one was a good touchdown, but two ugly interceptions in the third quarter led to a 20-10 lead for Baltimore. Finally, desperation must have set in and the Steelers went back to attacking, picking up a 35-yard pass interference penalty on Tavon Young. I honestly thought the call was a little favorable. Bell finished the drive with a good scoring run, "Renegade" just kicked in, and we have a game again at 20-17. Though, it doesn't help that Chris Boswell kicked the ball out of bounds on a kickoff for the second time today. Only four teams came into today with two kickoffs out of bounds on the season, so Boswell matched that.

If you told me the Steelers would be without Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, I would say that's in the running for the worst defensive line in the league. The run defense was good early, but the Ravens have started to break through more with Kenneth Dixon this half. The tight ends have also been heavily involved in critical plays for the Ravens today as well. Darren Waller could have caught a touchdown, but was unable to complete the process going to the ground on a third down before Justin Tucker's field goal made it 20-10. Now the crowd is back into the game and the Steelers are driving behind the two-headed monster of Bell and Brown.

Aaron Schatz: I think there's only so much the Ravens defense could do with the offense spending so little time on the field. They look exhausted and Le'Veon Bell just carved them up for two straight drives to make it 24-20 Pittsburgh.

Andrew Potter: I know it's about actual time passed, not time of possession, but Baltimore's actually winning the time of possession battle. They have had four drives of at least eight plays. The Ravens offense has only had two three-and-outs all game, though they have come on the last two possessions.

More to the point, this isn't a one-week issue. Since beating the Dolphins in Week 13, the Ravens run defense has now had its worst three performances of the year in successive weeks.

Well I stand by what I said about Kyle Juszczyk not being a dynamic threat out of the backfield, wow that was a fantastic run to put the Ravens back in front.

Aaron Schatz: Roethlisberger will see that fantastic run and raise you an entire fantastic drive to win the AFC North with a 31-27 victory. Actually, the entire Steelers offense finally woke up in the fourth quarter with three touchdowns. It was a complete turnaround from the first three quarters. The last drive was fabulous. The Steelers offensive line protected Roethlisberger against blitzes over and over. Eli Rogers made a leaping catch. Antonio Brown reversed field after a catch, risked losing a first down, and broke a tackle to get out of bounds and stop the clock. And then, of course, Brown reached the ball just barely over the plane of the end zone for the winning touchdown. I am shocked that the Steelers took the risk of throwing the ball short of the end zone; if Brown doesn't reach into the end zone, they have less than 10 seconds to get everyone back behind the line of scrimmage and spike the ball to bring out Chris Boswell.

Scott Kacsmar: Those workouts must be boomin'. Great strength by Brown to stay up long enough to stretch the ball out. Some receivers wouldn't do that in that situation, but he had to or else I think the clock would have run out. Incredible finish. Very much felt like a playoff game. Will probably be better than most of what we'll see from the actual AFC playoffs, because I don't see much interest outside of the Patriots playing a Kansas City or Pittsburgh.

Aaron Schatz: A lot of people on Twitter seem to be suggesting that Juszczyk should have gone down at the 1 instead of scoring. There's no way you can ask him to do that. The Ravens were losing by four points! A field goal doesn't tie the game there. You have to get the touchdown. It's very, very easy to get three points from the 1. It's a lot harder to get a touchdown from the 1. On top of that, most teams are going to go conservative on offense down 3 with 1:00 left. They're going to just play for the field goal and the tie. So if you score a touchdown, there's a good chance your defense gives up a field goal and ends up in overtime, and a small chance you give up a touchdown and lose. If you don't score that touchdown, YOU LOSE, PERIOD.

Andrew Potter: I'm never in favor of not scoring when you're behind. Tied game, sure. Leading, definitely. We've seen all season though that there's too much that can go wrong even on a routine field goal to take the chance on not scoring in favor of running out the clock while you're trailing.

Scott Kacsmar: If Juszczyk did go down, I would hope that the Steelers would have been smart enough to call timeout and let the Ravens score to save as much time as possible. But down by four, I just can't support going down at the 1-yard line there. A smaller deficit, or tie, and absolutely it's the right move.

Denver Broncos 10 at Kansas City Chiefs 33

Aaron Schatz: OK, so, the No. 1 defense in the league has given up more than 300 yards in the first half. Didn't see that coming. However, half of it has come in two plays: the 70-yard run by Tyreek Hill (out of the backfield, not an end-around), and an 80-yard tight end screen to Travis Kelce. Mostly, the Chiefs are running the ball, which you can do against this defense. Even the screen pass is essentially a run -- mostly about blocking, not throwing the ball downfield. And the blocking from the Chiefs has been phenomenal on these plays. First, Travis Kelce had an excellent block to help Alex Smith saunter into the end zone on a zone-read for the first touchdown. Then there was great blocking early in the Tyreek Hill run, before he just accelerated past everyone. And finally, Mitchell Schwartz pulling out on the tight end screen and then Jeremy Maclin downfield taking out Aqib Talib to make sure Kelce made it all the way into the end zone.

Meanwhile, Denver's offense is awful. Trevor Siemian is 9-for-22 right now. Broncos offensive line can't keep the Chiefs pass rush away from Siemian at all today. And Devontae Booker just got taken down FIVE yards behind the line of scrimmage on a third-and-1, when nobody blocked Dee Ford coming off the edge. Ty Sambrailo completely fell down on the play, just for extra fun.

Andrew Potter: The connection I use for Game Pass has been having ADSL sync problems for much of the past two hours. The entire first quarter was pretty much flawless, but since then it's been glitch, stutter, sync, reboot just in time to see another third-down failure. I'm sure there must be a metaphor in there somewhere.

This is the Chiefs team I've both raved about and slumped through throughout this season. When they're on, they have players as dynamic and explosive as anybody in the league. When they're in the doldrums, they just don't seem to be able to generate the drive to get out of it.

Fun statistical note: Kansas City has a player over 100 yards rushing who isn't a running back, and a player over 100 yards receiving who isn't a wide receiver. I'll bet that doesn't happen very often. Of course, as soon as I type that Tyreek Hill loses 3 yards on a run to fall to 99 on the day, a mere 19.8 yards per carry.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, it looks like the Broncos figured out how to track down Hill and tackle him after the first quarter. Travis Kelce has a few good catches but otherwise the Chiefs offense has mostly shut down. However, the Broncos haven't gotten anything going at all.

Andrew Potter:

Well that should make for a couple of interesting divisional games next year.

Scott Kacsmar: So the Chiefs go with a Dontari Poe jump-pass touchdown with a 27-10 lead after the two-minute warning. Why would you waste that play in such a meaningless situation? That's just rubbing it in on Denver, the fallen champion, and taking away an option for the games that matter.

And it was still a better throw than what Siemian has been doing tonight.

Aaron Schatz: I doubt the Chiefs would actually use Dontari Poe in the Wildcat in a game that mattered. That was a Doug Flutie drop-kick XP situation.

Andrew Potter: First primarily defensive player to pass for a touchdown in my lifetime, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That might just have had an element of grievance attached. And if it doesn't, I have a sneaking suspicion it will next year.

Whew. And we still have one more game to go this week.

Tom Gower: Broncos now have three offensive touchdowns in their past four games. That includes a 6-yard drive against the Chiefs, a 26-yard drive against the Titans, and a 75-yard drive against the Jaguars that was extended by a third down roughing the passer penalty. Their last unaided touchdown drive from their own territory was Bennie Fowler's long score against the blitz in the last Chiefs game.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 26 Dec 2016

103 comments, Last at 27 Dec 2016, 4:02pm by Will Allen

Comments

1
by erniecohen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:20am

Is it good strategy for KC to embarrass DEN with that Poe pass when they really, really want them to beat OAK next week? That's an honest question - does it make them angry and want to take it out on their next opponent, or does it make them want to play backups to give them experience and screw you?

3
by ChicagoRaider :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:33am

I really thing it is irrelevant. Denver always has plenty of motivation to beat Oakland, especially in Denver. Taking the injured Raiders down a peg will have to be very attractive. Getting beaten by Matt McGloin to deliver a bye week to Oakland would be something John Elway would really, really not like.

50
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 5:34pm

Not sure how Chives embraased Bronbos . Brobcos embarrassed themselves by losing to Cheisf and doing nothingvs Pates and letting team coacsed by M. Mularkey best them.

If S. Ware ran in for toichdown insgef of D. Poe ploppin one over to D. Harris for toucjdwn not sure there would be diffeerece except one would not be exocting for highligjt shows.

Broncos will tey to beat Raiders . do not think Broncos would be so juvenile as to have temper tantrum and say, "a. Reid made fat guy throw toichdown pass. We will teach them lesson next week by laying down like dogs in front of hoem fans vs Raiders."

Woido like Broncos to go all out too. Will help Matt McGloin (rhymes with pat m' groin).

62
by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 8:41pm

The Poe pass wasn't embarrassing. If anything, as mentioned by Scott, the Chiefs wasted a trick play they could have used at another time, even in the playoffs. That said, I hope Denver starts Paxton Lynch next week. If Denver loses, the Chiefs have the exact same path they had last year: at Houston, at New England.

Now, THIS is embarrassing:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss-plays/0ap3000000533099/Can-t-Mis...

73
by BJR :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 9:45am

As Aaron noted above, I find it unlikely Andy Reid would have called a Poe wildcat pass in any situation that mattered. It felt like a bit of fun; it was Christmas, and might well be the Chiefs final home game of the season, so give the fans something to remember.

The Cowboys ran a trick play for a TD last night (Bryant to Witten) that could certainly have been saved for a more important occasion. It's strange that a coach would dedicate practice time to inserting such a play, then bust it out in a meaningless game in which your offence is completely dominating anyway. Not really sure what the motivation was there.

I recall the trick plays the Patriots ran against Baltimore in the playoffs a couple of years back. They were employed at the most critical moment - that is the sign of good, confident coaching.

76
by cstoos :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 11:57am

You dirty, no good....

There aren't many plays that hurt me in the way that that one did. I guess we deserve it after the last three games.

80
by Winterguard78 :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:34pm

I would probably argue that needing a fluke fumble recovery TD in the final 30 seconds of a game destined for OT when you have a +5 TO differential in the game is equally embarrassing. Manning's 5/20 44yds 4 INT stat line for the 1st half in the rematch wasn't embarrassing at all either.

2
by jmaron :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:29am

After the Vikings first loss of the season to Philly I wrote some posts suggesting Zimmer was in over his head as an HC. I suggested calling out his team as soft and pointing fingers at the oline - saying they lost the game, was not the kind of thing a good leader does. Calling a team soft is the ultimate insult. An that he could quickly lose the respect of the players. I quickly recanted and said I was an idiot. It seems I might have been on to something.

I also think his calling out of an injured player (Floyd) was also a bad sign. Maybe Floyd is milking it, how the heck would I know, but I don't think that's something an HC should do.

As well, he undermined Turner when he brought in Shurmur, he made it clear Turner needed to make some changes to his system. If you don't trust your OC, fire him, don't go hire another former HC/OC with different ideas and make him a coach under your OC and make it clear he's to be listened to. One could argue it was constructive dismissal. That's not a thing in NFL coaching, but it's what happens all the time in the corporate world.

I'm pretty certain now that Zimmer is in over his head as a HC. I think Spielman is as well, he's done some good things, but his last two first rd picks were awful, he gave up the future to win this year, when he didn't have a plan in place the team trusted if his QB went down. If you don't trust your backup QB to play at all, then go get another backup.

I suspect the Vikings are well on their way to another organizational shakeup.

7
by BlueStarDude :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:55am

RE: “If you don't trust your OC, fire him, don't go hire another former HC/OC”

I don’t know, Garrett hired Scott Linehan in 2014 and basically entrusted the offense to him, even though they had Bill Callahan as OC. Anecdotal for sure, but it has worked out pretty well. And Dallas had a similar, though more complicated, situation in 2007 when Garrett was brought in to be the play-caller even though Tony Sparano was still there (more complicated because there was no HC at the time, lol).

Of course, this reply does not negate your overall comment, which I don’t have a particular opinion on, though I’d like to see Zimmer do well, and it seems like a hard situation to assess given all the injuries, but if I followed the team every day I’d probably have a stronger take (one way or the other).

13
by jmaron :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 12:12pm

Luck certainly hasn't been on the Vikings side this year, particularly with respect to injuries at least, but I think the way the team reacted revealed some major shortcomings of both the GM and Coach.

Trying to find elite talent at those roles is the job of the owner, well maybe the owner finds the GM and it's the GM's job to do the rest. That's a hard thing to do. But what isn't as hard is figuring out if your guys aren't elite. I think the owners of the Vikings have seen enough to know their current tandem is not elite.

22
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 2:18pm

How many more games did you expect them to win with the roster they had in 2014, given Peterson's suspension? I'd argue 7-9 was pretty darned good. I'd argue that 11-5 with a missed chip shot fg away from beating Seattle in the divisional round was pretty darned good last year. This year? If you had told me that their 5 ol positions would have about 15-16 different starters, they'd not have Peterson for about 13 games, Bridgewater would not take a single snap, Harrison Smith, Rhodes, Kendricks, Tom Johnson would miss games, and Floyd wouldn't see the field at all, I'd have said 8-8 was the best that could be expected.

It's really a mistake to take too much away from the melodrama that inevitably exists at the end of a season like this. Tom Coughlin won two championships while people were saying that the way he talked to/about his players was hopelessly inept. When he had to go, it had nothing to do with that stuff; it was because he'd finally replaced Gilbride with a good oc, and management was afraid of losing him, and forcing Eli, their highest paid player, to break in another oc. Parcells was nortoriously hard on players in public forums, and anybody who says the game had passed him by at the time of his retirement is just inaccurate.

The problem with this team is that it hasn't blocked anybody all year. If somebody wants to rip Spielman for only using two picks in the first 3 rounds on o-linemen since he arrived, a 2nd rounder in 2009, and a 1st rounder in 2012, that has some basis, although their free agent strategy this year was reasonable. The Ponder pick was a disaster, but I don't know if that was Spielman's choice. The 1st round wide receiver picks have been poor. On the other hand, since he was named GM following the Ponder disaster, the drafts have been above average overall, unless you want to blame the guy for injuries.

It's been a bitterly disappointing season, but there isn't much reason to think that different coaching would have produced a better result.

24
by theslothook :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 2:39pm

I haven't followed the Vikes closely, but it seems to me the biggest issue was the collapse of their defense. Is that a function of injuries, fatigue, or were they simply overrated to begin with?

I think the offense, by dvoa anyways, has improved in the second half of the year.

26
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 2:48pm

The Vikings defense has had 3 poor games, two them in the last two weeks. The offense had dropped to 27th rank by DVOA last week. The Vikings defense was ranked 8th going into Saturday's game, but it has been slipping, as the offense has been slipping even faster. The defense is just worn out, physically and emotionally

Their biggest issue is that they don't block anybody, and the 2nd biggest issue is so distant that it can't be identified.

31
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:30pm

What do you make of the mutiny in the defensive backfield?

I don't think I've ever heard of that happening before although I'm sure it has.

33
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:38pm

I don't make anything of it, until I know more.

35
by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:53pm

I'll be curious to see any more info coming out on this, as I don't follow the NFC North closely. Did this switch really happen for an entire half, or is that an exaggeration? If it did happen for an entire half, did the Vikings assistant coaches not see it? Or did they see it and allow it? Did Zimmer not see it? Or did he see it and allow it?

37
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:02pm

Yeahh, I just don't know, which is why I'm reluctant to make any judgements. Frankly, I think another factor in the defensive performance yesterday was the lack of discipline by the pass rushers, which allowed Rodgers to break contain and make plays downfield too often. Now, part of that was Tom Johnson being hurt, which really impaired the interior pocket from being collapsed. Whe Rodgers is fully mobile, you really need a good performance from the entire defensive line. Having Floyd out all year has caught up to them as well.

38
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:02pm

The first word came from Zimmer after the game. And the dbs said they took it upon themselves to take a different approach. But after stating it was for the entire first half there was a later story stating it was only for the first series.
Whatever really took place along with having a train wreck of an offensive line the Vikes staff and players seem to not be communicating well.

As a Packer fan, I find this both pleasing and distressing. Pleasing in that hey why not watch a division opponent melt down. Distressing in that maybe MN eventually falls into a mix that actually works beyond one season and has sustainable success. This type of situation might accelerate change that could lead to that output.

I prefer to think that MN will completely mishandle this stuff, overreact and set the organization back another 5 years.

40
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:10pm

Drawing conclusions from a season like the Vikings have had, other than "it's better to be healthier", is inadvisable.

41
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:17pm

A) No conclusions were drawn
B) Viking fans mentioning injuries ring a bit hollow given that similar situations are commonplace across the league. And if the response is Bridgewater it's hard to see how that qb could have outplayed the replacement.

42
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:24pm

According to the article posted on NFL.com about an hour ago.

Veteran CB Terence Newman convinced Xavier Rhodes that they could stay on their respective sides of the field and cover Nelson, where the gameplan had been for Rhodes to do it exclusively. It lasted about two series.

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000763883/article/vikings-defensive...

My guess is that at 38-years-old, Newman doesn't get his contract renewed.

43
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:33pm

Injuries are common, but every year a team or two suffers losses that are exceedingly disruptive, even if NFL standards. I'd say Minny has a very good case to have met that criteria this year.

44
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:40pm

And per FO MN was 8th in AGL in 2014 and 12th in AGL. 2016 was a lurch in the other direction.

45
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:42pm

I am sympathetic to the Vikes fans because I am sure it is frustrating.

47
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:52pm

It's just the worst part of football. I don't like seeing the Packers dbs get hurt, for instance, because it makes the games less fun to watch, just as it is less fun to watch Rodgers when he can't move around. Getting a o-line wiped out, and then playing mix and match, week by week, just makes for boring football, no matter who you root for.

46
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:44pm

A)I didn't say conclusions were drawn. I said doing so would be inadvisable.
B)Name another situation where 1. Both starting offensive tackles were gone by October 2. The projected starting right guard in July was lost in August. 3. The replacement for the lost starting left tackle was lost after a couple games, which meant the inexperienced right tackle had to move back to the left side. 4. The starting center was lost for a couple games, and then had to reinserted at right guard, because that backup was hurt. 5. The other guard was lost for a short time as well, while 6) the starting qb was lost for the season just before week one, which meant his replacement didn't arrive until September, and 7) their best non-qb ball handler was essentially lost early in the 2nd game. Is it really commonplace to have 16 different offensive line starters, and 3 different starting qbs, while losing the team's best non-qb ball handler? What's the definition of "commonplace"?

48
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:56pm

I wrote above I am sympathetic

But in 2015 the Minnesota offensive line was poor. You wrote numerous posts on the topic. But while the run blocking eroded the pass protection was better. One could contend the situation was a wash no matter how unsightly things may have looked. The 'third' qb was comparable in effectiveness to the original starter if one believes the numbers.

I get it. The Vikings lost a lot of guys who were not very good and replaced by guys who were about just as bad. The exception being AP and that is a legit loss that was not simply replaced.

If the contention is that the Vikes injury situation makes the nonsense from Sunday irrelevant that is a mature stance. I doubt the organization shows that level of maturity

53
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 5:49pm

You aren't accurate in your assessment. Yes, last year's line was poor. That's why they signed two significant free agents. This was was supposed to accomplish two things, namely, get the two worst starters, at left guard and right tackle, into back up roles. Unfortunately, the right guard was diagnosed with an illness in August, which meant last year's left guard was put into that slot, and the the right tackle was hurt in September, which meant an undrafted free agent from last year became starter, because the left tackle, who is average, was hurt, and had to be replaced by last year's right tackle. Then they sign a veteran who shows a little rust, starts getting a little better, and then tears an achilles. Then the left guard gets concussed, the center gets concussed, and the 2nd year free agent guy at right tackle gets hurt, so they have to pull a guy of the practice squad and start him.

As bad as they were last year, with, left to right, Kalil, Fusco, Berger, Harris, and Clemmings, their grouping of (mostly) Clemmings/Long, Boone/Kerin, Berger/Easton, Fusco/Kerin/Berger, Sirles/Clemmings has been markedly worse, because Clemmings is hopeless at left tackle, whereas Kalil, as frustrtated as people would get with him as a high first rounder, could be workman-like, and left alone. You simply can't play offense in this league with two offensive tackles in need of constant assistance, which is where they are now, in addition to having to scramble around injured centers and guards. It is much worse this year, as bad as it was last year.

54
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 6:11pm

Not my assessment. FO's numbers are available to anyone.

I am sorry the Vikes season went to h#ll.

55
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 6:39pm

FO's numbers really can't be relied upon to give an accurate comparative assessment of o-line play. My point was that injuries, to the o-line and Peterson, have made this year's Vikings offense, much worse than last year's. Losing Peterson, Kalil, and Andre Smith in September were just killers, and it didn't stop there. They were about 15th last year, and 27th going into the Packers game, by DVOA. The garbage time scoring on Saturday may keep them from falling further, but, no, there is nothing hollow about observing that injuries, beyond that to Peterson, have played a significant role in that drop from a mid tier offense to a cellar dwellar. When you toss in Long, they have lost about 32 games of their top 3 preferred starting offensive tackles, and about 22 games of their top 3 preferred starting guards, and 4 games of their preferred starting center. I'd be interested to see how often a team with sort of injury profile to an offensive line, especially at the two tackle positions, has resulted in an offense finishing in the top 20 by DVOA, even before we add in the most important non-qb ball handler being hurt almost the entire season.

Hmmmm....I think I just dreamed up my next project, in my effort to tell Aaron how to spend his life. An investigation into the correlation between games lost by offensive linemen during a season, and final offensive DVOA rankings,may be interesting.

66
by Raiderfan :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 10:24pm

What about NE and SD last year? Seems as if they were replacing linemen every game

75
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 9:54am

Just off the top of my head, the Patriots received 13 starts from Vollmer last year, and 8 starts at rt from a guy who has been their starter this year, so I doubt that situation is similar. I'll have to look at the Chargers.

100
by pats-fan-in-nyc :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 2:45pm

In 2015, the Pats used 13 different starting offensive line combinations and an estimated 37 combinations overall.* They lost starting LT Nate Solder for the season 4 games in and starting RG Ryan Wendell for basically the entire season. Starting C Bryan Stork missed the first 7 games of the season. Sebastian Vollmer missed a game early in the season and then was injured again in week 16, missed a game and was limited in the playoffs. Marcus Cannon (RT, I think last year) missed 4 games. Josh Kline (G) lost two games. Shaq Mason (G) missed two games as well.

Hell, the Pats claimed LaAdrian Waddle off waivers and had him playing critical snaps at RT against the Jets because they were simply out of tackles. Oh, and he ended the season injured as well.

The Vikings very well have had even more injuries to the offensive line this year than the Pats did last year (I'm too lazy to find a metric to compare), but last year's Pats had a Mash unit of an offensive line and it showed.

* Source: http://mmqb.si.com/mmqb/2016/01/20/nfl-tom-brady-new-england-patriots-of...

95
by jmaron :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:17pm

Can't find the study, but someone did a study of games lost due to injury by position and they found losing a QB matters most, with losing a tackle the next biggest hit (about 1/2 the effect. So losing two is about the same as losing a starting QB. After tackle WR/TE was next, followed by interior oline and RB. Of interest they couldn't find any effect on loss of any defensive position.

58
by tuluse :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 7:51pm

You characterized one player "as good as" another using stats that make no such determination. They tell how a player produced within the opportunities given, not quality of play.

60
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 8:01pm

In 2015 relative to his peers Bridgewater was middle of the pack. As was Bradford in 2016. Is this somehow in dispute?

61
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 8:07pm

And I am ready to go all the way on this back and forth. No way are Vikes fans beating me down

That is a joke

64
by theslothook :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 10:04pm

I think the point is dvoa can only tell you in aggregate how good the offense or defense is. Trying to separate out the individual components is something far beyond dvoas capabilities.

65
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 10:16pm

So the DYAR and DVOA for QBs have no standing?

67
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 10:43pm

Works better for qb than any other player/unit on offense, but no, Zak Prescott is not remotely close to being the 4th best qb in the league this year.

Having said that, Bradford's been fine. You just need Peyton Manning circa 2011, or Fran Tarkenton circa 1971, to play offense effectively with such a dearth of other offensive talent.

.

69
by theslothook :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:12am

Imo no. The way its calculated makes no attempt to separate qb play.

71
by big10freak :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 7:38am

So objective measures are secondary to the eyeball test? I certainly appreciate and value opinions. But that is in interesting premise given the nature of this site.

74
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 9:48am

Faux objectivity is markedly worse than subjectivity. It leads you to deceive yourself. Now, Aaron trys very hard to remind people that the individual and sub unit stats aren't really measuring the individuals and subunits, but rather those things in their respective contexts, but people forget that.

77
by big10freak :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:05pm

And we were doing so well but now the veiled insult. Awesome. By the way, it is spelled 'tries'.

I was merely sharing that there is a tool that is providing some measure of output versus the eyeball test of the lay person.

I get it. You are adamant that there is no comparison to this season's Vikings offensive line. I am merely pointing out that it is kind of hard to say that the line is such a disaster given that the output has not radically changed save for the obvious running game which could be as much as AP as the line. Because last season's line was not all that and a bag of chips.

82
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:46pm

No insult was intended. Faux objectivity causes all of us to deceive ourselves. If the output you are looking at really is measuring multiple variables, it is simply wrong, empirically, to think of the output as a decent measure of one variable. It is preferable to avoid being empirically wrong.

This isn't complicated. Matt Kalil has mostly been an average NFL left tackle. Andre Smith has mostly been an average NFL right tackle. Clemmings may be the worst NFL left tackle in the league. Sirles is likely not the worst right tackle in the league, but he's in the bottom 5 most likely. Playing NFL defenses when both offensive tackles need assistance is pretty much an impossible task, a task which was avoided lat year, because Kalil's averageness is tolerable, because he can be average while unassisted. Mike Harris is a much better guard than Brandon Fusco. Sub Clemmings for Kalil, Sirles for Smith, Fusco for Harris, let the other two projected starters suffer injuries that keep them out for 2-3 games, let Kalil's preferred replacement tear an achilles, causing Clemmings to move back and forth, while two other practice squad guys get a lot of snaps, and even starts, and this years bunch is a lot worse than not all that and a bag of chips.

86
by big10freak :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:54pm

Don't be shy. Sure it was an insult. You are politely calling me an idiot. No reason to be coy.

And here is the first real disagreement because there has been nothing average about Kalil. You have posted previously on how terrible he has been at his job the bulk of his career. Unless you are now declaring that the average left tackle in the NFL is actually terrible.

I wrote below that while everything you have written sounds reasonable the actual performance of one line to the other is not radically different save for the running output.

This line may look awful in how it gets things done. But in pass production the results relative to the league have not changed very much. And Bradford is far less mobile than Bridgewater.

87
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:00pm

You are hallucinating that I called you an idiot. I simply stated that faux objectivity is worse that subjectivity. It is something that everybody need to guard against. Stop looking for offense.

88
by big10freak :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:06pm

Ah, the literalist response. No, not literally. But 'faux objectivity' is an old standby in the Internet chat room format to insinuate that someone is being superficial in their thinking.

Anyway, I have provided any number of facts and in response all I get is the obvious list of guys now playing in lieu of the original starters so of course this season's output isn't really representative of the team's ability. Perhaps.

I get the reasoning.

94
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:16pm

Everybody is superficial in their thinking at times.It isn't remotely the same as calling someone an idiot. Good freakin' grief.

You haven't provided any facts with regard to o-line performance, ironically enough. Here's the fact that will really establish something. How much money Kalil and Smith will be making next year, assuming recovery. How much money Clemmings and Sirles will earn on their 2nd contracts.

96
by big10freak :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:35pm

Sure I did. I have referenced FO's measures as well as base measures as sacks and qb hits. I can list the actual totals if that helps but figured anyone could see for themselves at the NFL website

Salaries are the true measure of player performance? Setting aside the rookie salary scale do you really want to go down this path with the likes of Brock Osweiler at my disposal for rebuttal? Oh wait, that was exception because of whatever. Ok, Darrell Revis. Oh wait, that was an exception too. Ok, and I could keep going.

97
by theslothook :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 2:23pm

Sack totals are tied much more to qb play than they are to offensive line play. This is not a controversial statement. I confess, my initial goal when I got my hands on pressure data was to finally find a stat that could distill qb performance from the o line. I was dismayed when I saw that pressure rate was also heavily tied to the quarterback.

So no, as of right now, there is not a single stat out there that distills down offensive line play. If you want a sense of the quality of an o line, pff helps but even they have their issues. The only real way to do it would be to hire Ben Muth to watch and grade every o line as he does. And even here, we'd need to develop a consistent systematic method for his grades so that it holds across all teams and all schemes. Not easy at all

I also don't understand the confusion about dvoa. It looks at play results, not the individual components. Like Tuluse said above, trying to reverse engineer the contributions from the output is a mistake.

98
by big10freak :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 2:33pm

So we ignore the output and just go on say so?

As I have shared repeatedly, I acknowledge and agree to the following:

--the Vikings have had a lot of injuries to the offensive line
--the Vikings have played a number of different combinations at offensive line
--the run game is considerably worse than 2015

Where I am 'stuck' is the following:

--the output of the pass game from 2015 to 2016 has not changed significantly
--the run game downslide could be heavily influenced by the loss of Adrian Peterson
--the 2015 Vikes offensive line wasn't that great

So to my limited brain:

--you go from proven guys who are not very good to unproven guys who at times look worse and possibly much worse
--output that is not significantly different

So how much of an impact was the line's injury losses on the Vikes season?

Folks are stating--A LOT.

I 'get' the rationale. But I am not seeing it supported by whatever outputs we have available.

Sorry for being so dense

99
by theslothook :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 2:44pm

A few thoughts. First, as I understand DVOA - the pass offense from the vikes of 2015 was the same relative to the 2015 season as the 2016 vikes pass o is relative to the 2016 season. It is entirely possible for the 2015 vikes to be worse than the 2016 vikes and vice versa in absolute terms.

In any case - what we know is - relative to the year they played in, the 2015 and 2016 vikes pass offense was the same. Now, what to make of it? Its possible the qb play was a lot better in 2016, but the offensive line play was worse so the net output remained the same. The reverse is also true.

The point - a lack of change between years does not imply that all the individual contributions remained the same. Gains in one area may have been completely offset by losses in another. This is the point we're trying to make. Thus, Will's argument is entirely plausible.

Now, I watched hardly any of the Vikes last year and didn't watch them much this year to feel qualified to comment on them specifically.

101
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 2:58pm

Yes, salaries are a good, while imperfect, measure of past player performance, because they establish the opinion of people who risk vast sums of money and their careers, after watching, in detail, every snap a the player has executed, and examining whatever good quantitative analysis is available. It is puzzling that it neecds explanation that a player who gets millions more in guarantees, on his 2nd contract, has quite likely performed better than a player, at the same position, who obtains millions less in guarantees on his 2nd contract. Surely you are not disputing this, are you? Really? I know you stated you were willing to argue endlessly, but I didn't think you were serious.

FO measures really don't evaluate individual offensive lineman or line performance, nor do sacks or hits. A qb in a Norv Turner offense is going to get hit more than one in a Pat Shurmur offense, all things other than o-line performance being equal If Bill Belichik experienced a psychotic episode today, and installed Mike Martz as his o-ccordinator, Brady would be hit more, with everything else remaining constant.

78
by tuluse :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:13pm

They tell you how well a player produced given his opportunities. They do not tell how good a player is.

79
by big10freak :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:22pm

I have written output. How is output not equivalent to production?

I think Vikes fans are so convinced that the offensive line is a disaster they cannot reconcile that the passing game is not radically different. You look at the 'ordinary' measures of sacks/qb hits. Not that different. You look at FO numbers for the pass offense relative to the league, not that different.

The run game has tanked. Absolutely. But is that the O-line or AP?

I watch Viking games. I get the frustration.

81
by tuluse :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:36pm

Output is a reasonable synonym for production. The problem is you are using it to try to reverse engineer input, without really considering other factors.

83
by big10freak :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:50pm

Nah. I just am not going to let narrative influence my interpretation of available facts.

It is distinctly possible that with no injuries to the offensive line and still the loss of Bridgewater/AP this season's Vikes output would not be all that different. Last season's Vikes line was not great. 2016 Vikes line is not great. That one is distinctly worse than the other may seem like a logical presumption but is not necessarily supported by the facts unless one grants that last season's running results were as much the line as AP.

84
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:53pm

It is inaccurate to say that a Norv Truner passing game is not radically different than a Pat Shurmer passing game. As it happens, the Pat Shurmer game is better for this offesive line. I don't know why it is so hard to concede that Matt Kalil will get a decent contract next year, Andre Smith will keep his decent contract, and Clemmings and Sirles have a good chance of not getting past rookie contracts, or being shifted to guard.

91
by jmaron :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:13pm

Any given season has so much randomness in it that it's hard to makes claims about coaching effecting things positively or negatively. Personally I like Zimmer, but my sense is he was over matched by the situations and lost his team after the Philly game.

As for Spielman, he's been the GM since 2012 - the Vikings in the time 40-38-1 and 0-2 in the playoffs. When he was part of the wacky triangle of authority from 2006 to 2011 they were 45-51 with a 1-2 playoff record. So overall, 85-89-1 with 1-4 playoff record.

I don't think that record deserves another kick at the can.

103
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 4:02pm

I was asking about his performance over three seasons. How many more games would you have expected the Vikings to win in that time, in three seasons, with better coaching?

I think it is flat crazy to say he lost the team after the Philly game. Go watch the Dallas tape, and tell me that is team that has been lost by the coach. Same with both Detroit games.

I think people hugely underestimate how difficult it is to 40-38-1, especially with qb play which has been average at best for the most part.

15
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 12:53pm

Whatever decision was made by who that was the softest Viking coverage against GB in like forever. And Allison getting wide open multiple times was stunning. And come the second half both defenses seemed to get a clue

Really glad to see Matthews make plays. Guess the combo of healing shoulder and bad tackles is an elixir

19
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 1:08pm

Modern day sports coaches and managers deliver legit criticism in private. Calling out players in public may delight some fans and dumb sports columnists but unless the coach is perfect at everything else the team will become alienated

27
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 2:49pm

Parcells was nortoriously hard on players in public, and it would be inaccurate to say that the game had passed him by when he quit a decade ago, and I don't think that much has changed in a decade. Coughlin won a couple championships with very public criticism of players, and as much as he was ripped for that, it was his selections of offensive coordinators that harmed him most.

I don't think there is one way to effectively manage people. If a manager is genuine, and is open to criticism in return, I don't think it makes much difference if he is publicly critical.

28
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:17pm

A coach's lack of people skills may not be the first, second or third reason a team struggles but when other things are not going well it just adds to the tension.

And on a personal level being responsible for a team that is heavily populated by individuals under 30 years of age any type of criticism, much less public, has to be delivered carefully. It's a different generation. Even in the tough guy world of football I doubt it's significantly different

29
by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:24pm

I don't think public criticism is necessarily indicative of a lack of people skills. Sometimes, but not always. I really don't think there are any rules of thumb, other than being genuine and consistent.

85
by Winterguard78 :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 12:54pm

I don't know a lot about Minnesota, but I think Zimmer is a fantastic defensive coordinator at worst and is sort of refreshing in his manner as an HC. But I have to quibble with calling out Speilman. It's way too early to make any sort of definitive judgments on Tre Waynes(beyond saying Marcus Peters would have been a MUCH better choice) or Treadwell. Lots of rookies don't pee a drop and go on to great careers and some guys genuinely take 3+ years to show out. I look at Minnesota's roster from afar and see it pretty loaded with young talent (especially defensively) and even if Treadwell becomes a massive bust, finding Diggs in the 5th and Theilen wherever he was acquired greatly mitigates that. I was really impressed with Minnesota mining 2 of the top 10 players and a top 5 return guy out of the most talent-poor draft class of my lifetime (of course the 1 year KC has #1 overall isn't Andrew Luck/Clowney, it's an athletic LT from Central Michigan who takes 3 years to become a starting caliber LT, at least Fisher's not Luke Joekel) and players like Anthony Barr, Kendircks, and Harrison Smith are cornerstones you build a championship level D around. Did Spielman screw up trading for Sammy Sleeves? Yes, but he knew Shaun Hill better than fans do. I just think he's probably at least a top 10-15 GM and letting him go over this year's all-in play would be a mistake.

89
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:08pm

Minneosta is a state near Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakotga and South Dakots.

Was fan of T. Waynes at Michigan state. could still become good NFL: cobnrerback or maybe just average. can make more better opuinion 2017 season.

Am,, famn of Mackensie Alexander. would tghink between Rhodes, alexander, waynes, smith, sendejo tema have good defensive backfield for several tyears to come.

Did not like L. Treadwell pick when made. Certainly he did next to nothing as rookie. would think he should play every snap on Sunday now that game is meaningless. just throw him to wolves. unless guy is dopey and can't remember the playbook

93
by big10freak :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:16pm

Treadwell was already being compared to Boldin which is a placeholder for 'slow' but if he doesn't have Boldon's extreme physical approach and strength then he's just slow.

4
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:39am

The Pats-Jets game was somewhat odd. Aaron alluded to NE's early game red zone issues, which appeared to be attributable to NE's steadfast refusal to use any of their 20 most productive plays. I have a mental image of Bill asking McDaniels for his best play sheets and then reenacting coach Brown's treatment of Dorne's contract in "Major League."

Defensively, it was much the same and it would have led to something even more disastrous that what actually happened had Petty stayed in the whole game. He was a disaster. As soon as Fitzpatrick came in I said the next drive would have been a TD, and it would have been if not for a dropped in the EZ just before the missed FG. That was one of several drops by Jet receivers on the day.

Then you have perhaps the most inconsequential FG of all time and NE clearly scoring a TD out of spite when the Jets wouldn't just let them run out the clock like pretty much everyone wanted them to.

All told, NE's defense wasn't nearly as dominant as a 3 point game might indicate, but the final margin was representative of the disparity due to NE's preseason approach.

5
by BlueStarDude :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:41am

RE: “How bad is Christian Hackenberg that he can't play ahead of this?”

Call me old fashioned, but I think three is some value to assessing a rookie QB, deciding he is not (by whatever degree) ready to play, and deciding you are not going to play him the first year whatever may come. I guess if I were a Jets fan I would be clinging to that thin rope of hope.

11
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 12:06pm

RE: “How bad is Christian Hackenberg that he can't play ahead of this?”: Did any of you see him in college?

Seriously, the thin rope of hope for a Jets fan is the first pick in the 2018 draft. The problem with resting Hackenberg right now is that he can barely practice as the third qb. For most of the year, he couldn't do anything, and they weren't working on his development at all.

6
by Shylo :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:42am

Vince Verhei: Cassel hit Delanie Walker for a touchdown, and the Titans were threatening to make this a game. Then the Jaguars scored on a Marqise Lee touchdown pass to Bortles, and Jalen Ramsey followed that with a pick-six to add to his excellent day, and this one's pretty much done.
And in fact, the Titans are punting down 38-17 with four minutes to go, waving the white flag.

Not sure what you're expecting the Titans to do here, considering the franchise's (and by extension, the team's) season just ended on a freak injury. It was a bad injury, shit happens, you don't want more shit to happen, and the only way Cassel throws for multiple scores is to the other team.

I mean, what did we do to deserve this gigantic shit in our stockings?

8
by jmaron :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:57am

tough year for young QBs, Bridgewater, Carr, and Mariota all going down to horrible leg injuries. Football is such a brutal game.

12
by BlueStarDude :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 12:07pm

I don’t see judgment in Vince’s statement. Punting down 21 with 4 minute to go (even with a backup QB) is conceding the game when there is still technically a slight chance to make a come back. But I understand it did totally suck, outdone only by the Carr injury yesterday.

18
by Shylo :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 1:01pm

Yeah, you're right, it was just a really frustrating day and I haven't quite worked all the salt out.

Also, if Rivers McCown wants someone to blame for the Texans winning the division and boring up the playoffs, blame the Titans cornerbacks as a collective (I bet Jason McCourty will probably not be back next year, $7m in cap savings is the easy call imo). Blame Dorial Green-Beckham for his brain not equalling his body, or even coming close. Blame Ruston Webster for being a garbage GM. Out of the people I'd blame, Mularkey is pretty low down on the list, but I get it's chic to mock him still.

Mularkey may not be the guy to take us to the promised land, but he's worlds better than the last chucklefuck we had.

20
by BJR :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 1:58pm

One question that arose for me was, how the heck is Matt Cassel still a backup QB in the NFL? The last time he was above replacement level was 2010, and he has been progressively worse in every job since. Last year he was beyond awful in one of the most QB friendly situations one could wish for in Dallas. There have to be other options for the Titans, particularly as Mariota is hardly looking like Iron Man in his NFL career to date.

63
by Shylo :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 9:28pm

A lot of Titans fans felt that Alex Tanney should have beaten out Cassel for the QB2 job in preseason.

9
by johonny :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:57am

Mia buf. Wow this was an early 1990s version of this series. Lots.of huge plays, no defense, and odd coaxhing decisions. Miami wins back to back road games in the cold with their back up qb to land in the play offs. After starting 1 and 4, almost losing to both cleveland and the 49ners, and losong their starting qb...I cant think of an odder Miami play off team. AFC east..1 NE. The Pats crushed the Jets in a game no one , not even Pat fans were watching in the bar i was in. With 3 back up qbs out of the 6 playoff teams...I assume the Pats have to like their chances. 2 Mia. Well at least the afceast has a wild card this season. It covers a little for the fact the same team wins this division ever season and there seems to be little chance at change. 3 buf. They had 580 yrds of offense and lost. They have the 2nd best personnel in the division. They just need a coaching staff. 4 NYJ. I know they will likely fire their coach but hey you need to give a coach a qb. No one wins with the putrid qbing the Jets currently have.

10
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 12:04pm

The Jets won 10 games last year with the same qbs except for Hackenberg, who hasn't played. Tougher schedule had an effect, but they have the 32nd ranked pass defense by DVOA. And Bowles' specialty is the secondary. They've played worse than anyone except the Cleveland. Firing Bowles now would be a favor to him; they're not going to have a competent quarterback next year, unless Buffalo lets Taylor get away. I'd prefer keeping Bowles and absolutely tanking next year, but that's not how things work in the NFL. You tank the first year with a new gm and a new coach, like Cleveland did.

Agree with everything else.

14
by BearDown103 :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 12:15pm

I was actually hoping for Jusycyk to get tackled at the one-yard line, although I knew their was no way he would voluntarily down himself. It seemed that Pittsburgh's offense had lots of momentum, and could easily get in range for a tying FG with 1:15 and two timeouts. I was not sure that they had time for the winning TD, but the home team has a significant overtime edge in a major rivalry game.

16
by big10freak :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 12:54pm

The Steeler offensive line yesterday was lights out.

17
by bubqr :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 12:56pm

I know things are not going so well winning-wise in min but Zimmer is one of the coaches I'd least expect to see something like that DB mutiny happen to (after maybe Belichick/Carroll). Really odd.
Ravens/Steelers is the only rivalry I've been consistently watching the past 10 or so years, and while I prefer the defensive battles of the Reed/Polamalu era, this one was a great one.

21
by theslothook :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 2:15pm

Is there evidence of fatigue effects on defense? It certainly makes sense but then why don't we see it more often? Last years den defense spent an eternity on the field and never got tired. This years den defense did the same and this week they were awful from the beginning of the game, instead of at the end.

32
by Noah Arkadia :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:32pm

I don't see how, unless it's emotional fatigue, of the kind the Vikings are suffering.

23
by BJR :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 2:22pm

The NFC playoff picture is shaping up nicely. Atlanta as a 2 seed become a live contender - they have the offence to beat anyone given they won't have to play outdoors. Green Bay looks extremely threatening. Giants & Washington/Detroit are at least semi-interesting teams that could conceivably win a game or two. Seattle - who knows?

The less said about the AFC the better.

25
by theslothook :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 2:43pm

I think that Tennessee loss looms large for KC. Think about it, if they win that game, then they are at a minimum a likely 2 seed and possibly a 1 seed given MIA has to win that NE game. Instead, they need Oakland to lose and the 1 seed is all but gone. That kind of edge is especially important for teams having to go to Foxborough.

30
by RickD :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:25pm

The Pats have as much to gain from their game vs. Miami as the Dolphins do, if not more.

The Dolphins are already in, and are unlikely to get the #5 seed.

34
by BJR :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:46pm

Yes. It won't surprise me at all if the Raiders manage to win in Denver next week to clinch the 2 seed. The Broncos offence has degenerated in recent weeks and is completely dysfunctional at this stage, and the defense may have checked out as well after last night. I don't expect the Raiders offence to go completely off the rails without Carr. It's certainly an uncomfortable position for the Chiefs.

OTOH, the Chiefs going into the playoffs as 5th seed is probably not what the Patriots want to see. Steelers & Chiefs are the only serious threats now, and as 2 & 3 seeds the Pats would only have to face one of them. With Chiefs at 5 there's a good chance they'll have to beat both.

36
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 3:58pm

As worst case playoff scenarios go, KC-Pitt is about as favorable as it gets.

39
by BJR :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:03pm

Oh for sure.

90
by Winterguard78 :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:13pm

Really? I think the 3 best teams in the NFL now are NE/KC/PIT. With Seattle falling off due to injury, GB might be the best NFC team right now. Dallas is very good at beating teams 1 way. Teams that can't adapt and win multiple ways usually don't win the SB. I am probably biased, but I don't think much of Atlanta either. The score of the Chiefs and Falcons game shows it was close, but Reid was rotating out starters to rest them for Oakland the whole game and making really unorthodox (for Andy) coaching decisions all game in a way that made me feel they didn't have a lot of respect for Atlanta. I have watched every KC game at least 2x since he's been here and maybe 2 or 3 other times like this it feels like they are toying with the opposition. I guess my point is that KC beat Atlanta in Atlanta and only Eric Berry seemed to bring his 'A' game. I imagine whoever wins the AFC wins the SB unless Rogers continues like this or the Giants figure out the whole stop throwing interceptions thing. Of course in single elimination playoffs, anything could happen, but I like the top 3 AFC teams (assuming KC gets the 2)

49
by ClavisRa :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 5:18pm

Good to see Rex didn't get the last second "icing" timeout. Last second timeout calls from the sideline are incredibly obnoxious. If the ref can't blow the whistle before the ball is snapped they shouldn't award a timeout.

51
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 5:37pm

The Rexster has had prpblem s with sidleine timoeits. Remember that game vs Packers 2014 season when tema made gerat toichdown pass at end but Ryan underling m. Morhingwig yelled timeout and Ryan just stood there all dopey like?

52
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 5:43pm

Rex called the TO prior to Baltimore's nullified 4th down stop against the Patriots in 2007 as well. So he has had trouble on both ends of that spectrum.

56
by BJR :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 6:40pm

I wish they would just outlaw 'icing' timeouts. It wastes everybody's time and brings nothing to the game.

57
by joe football :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 7:05pm

Just don't let the sideline take timeouts. Added bonus of letting coaches micromanage less

59
by tuluse :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 7:52pm

Agreed.

70
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 4:32am

Re: "outlaw icing timeouts"

Basically add another rule to the rulebook to deal with a specific situation.

Like the NFL doesn't already have enough rules ...

72
by BJR :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 9:10am

Outlawing sideline timeouts, as others suggested above, would be a straightforward measure and wouldn't really take any extra space in the rulebook.

68
by Rich A :: Mon, 12/26/2016 - 11:31pm

I didn't see either significant QB injury as I was napping but could Del Rio have justified pulling Carr before the point of injury?

I know earlier the Pats went into a conservative plan in the third and leaned on Blount and pulled Brady at the start of the fourth.

I understand leaving Mariota in as you're trying to make it to the playoffs and you're down but what was Del Rio thinking? I'm not quite sure what the game situation was such as lead and time left.

92
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 1:15pm

I was really expecting a discussion of how stupid the Steelers clock management/spiking/praying on the AB84 miracle were....

How disappointing.

--------------------------------------
The standard is the standard!

102
by PirateFreedom :: Tue, 12/27/2016 - 3:39pm

late to the party but I must say I love this line: " The Buccaneers have one receiving threat and a pile of flotsam as targets, while the Saints have one defensive back and a pile of jetsam as coverage"