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» OFI: Blowouts, Upsets, and Narrow Escapes

The College Football Playoff field narrowed on Saturday. Some teams got upset, some barely escaped an upset, and a few had big record-setting blowouts.

02 Sep 2009

Cover-3: Heavy Lies the Crown

by Doug Farrar

Friday, August 28
Green Bay Packers 44 at Arizona Cardinals 37
Matt Leinart's Final Four Minutes

Finding your place as an NFL quarterback can be tough. While David Garrard and Jason Campbell are looking to get their feet back on the ground, Matt Leinart has been looking for a home planet. Drafted 10th overall in 2006, Leinart had a good rookie season as the heir apparent, and reverted to the bench as Kurt Warner's role grew. Leinart's collarbone injury in 2007 put Warner ahead, and when Leinart threw three interceptions in less than two quarters against the Raiders in the 2008 preseason (the Cards still won the game, 24-0, which tells you as much about the Raiders as it does about Leinart at the time), the die was cast. Warner took over the team, guiding Arizona to a highly improbable NFC championship. Leinart twisted in the wind, tried to buck the perception that he was too "Hollywood" to be a successful NFL quarterback, and began the process of working his way back.

Warner -- who has been benched in favor of Leinart, Eli Manning, and Marc Bulger at different times and has still managed to put together a "we-can-argue-about-his-Hall-of-Fame-credentials" career -- spent the offseason contemplating retirement, using the 49ers as leverage to extract a new deal from the Cardinals, and recovering from a hip injury. Leinart's preseason would define him going forward; was he going to provide legitimate competition to Warner, or would he continue to ride the bench and find himself challenged for the second-string gig by the likes of Brian St. Pierre?

Leinart started the second half against the Packers, and though he wasn't facing the new and impressive first-string Green Bay defense that had put the Cards in a 38-10 hole by halftime, he didn't have the benefit of his starting receivers, either. Out went Larry Fitzgerald, in came Early Doucet and Lance Long. Leinart got off to a rocky start with two incompletions, but made it back in 20-yard bursts with a sideline pattern and a deep cross, both to Jerheme Urban. Arizona went 80 yards downfield for a touchdown on that first drive. The next drive ended with a pick to cornerback Jarrett Bush, but Leinart got back on track with another long drive, an 11-play, 83-yarder that overlapped the third and fourth quarters. However, the talk that Leinart may have finally found the answer started with 3:55 left in the game, and the Cards down 38-24.

The Cards started at their own 38, with three receivers to the right, one wide left, against Green Bay's 4-2-5. FO University alum Sean Morey ran a crossing route from the right slot, but Leinart's pass didn't find him. (This was due, in part, to good coverage on the part of linebacker Desmond Bishop. Bishop got inside Morey and got his hand up at the perfect time. Morey wanted a flag, but it didn't look warranted.) Three short passes followed -- the first to Lance Long; the second to Morey, who got absolutely plowed by Bishop on another shallow cross; and the third to Onrea Jones over the middle. Leinart showed good pocket presence on these throws and through the game; this part of his skill set has drastically improved. He's much better at knowing when to step up and how to beat the blitz, aspects vital to any quarterback running Arizona's Yards-After-Catch Derby.

A shotgun draw to Jason Wright followed, and then a short slot streak to Morey, after Leinart adjusted for a bad shotgun snap and beat a Green Bay blitz by stepping up again. Going no-huddle, Leinart took another low snap and was sacked by end Jarius Wynn. He shook it off and made a stick throw over the middle to Morey, who was tackled at the Green Bay 1-yard line. Then, back to Onrea Jones on a cross in the back of the end zone, with two Packers on Doucet up front. Leinart threw the ball high, with touch, over rookie cornerback Brandon Underwood, where only Jones could catch it. The Cardinals were now down by seven. Neil Rackers caught his own onside kick, and Arizona was back out there.

Cardinals' Shotgun Cross

Now with 1:35 left in the game, Arizona had the ball on their own 41 because Rackers picked up a delay of game call for spiking the ball after he recovered it. Out of a shotgun, four-receiver set, Leinart hit Morey again after Morey crossed over with Doucet and ran a little 10-yard curl (Figure 1). Then, a no-huddle shotgun with four-wide (having Super Bowl XLIII flashbacks yet?) and an incompletion to running back Jason Wright, but the Packers were called for roughing the passer as defensive tackle Ronald Talley was upended by the Brady Rule (though linebacker Brad Jones was the one who went low on Leinart).

Down the field the Cardinals went, keeping the timing up against four-man sets and coverages as well as blitzes. Leinart has developed the mental ability to avoid the stupid throw; if he's under siege in the pocket, he now knows to step up and get rid of the ball. He did this on first and second down from the Green Bay 32 on this drive, and threw a little swing pass to Wright on third-and-10 that picked up another 21 yards. Trevor Canfield and Oliver Ross were blocking downfield, and the Cardinals had game-planned around Green Bay's blitz. Then, a pretty back-shoulder fade out of a trips right tight to receiver Lance Long that should have been a touchdown, but wasn't. Long tapped both feet in at the right edge of the end zone, but the crew and the replay official both missed it. Nonplussed. Leinart simply came back and threw the same dink pass to Wright that he had before.The Cardinals missed the two-point conversion and were unable to get back in the end zone with their final, game-ending possession, but Leinart had made his point.

Beyond specific mechanical issues, what impressed me most about Leinart was his ease with the plan and the flow of the game. You often hear announcers say that "he just looks comfortable out there" about a quarterback. It's a nebulous concept, but you definitely know it when you see it. The Matt Leinart I saw here, with his second-stringers against Green Bay's, knew how to swing the game to his speed and make things happen on his terms. It's not the same as an 80-yard drive in the playoffs against the Eagles or Giants, but given where Leinart has been, I think he and the Cardinals will take it for now.

Thursday, August 27
Jacksonville Jaguars 32 at Philadelphia Eagles 33
David Garrard: Nobody's Fault But Mine?

As our own Aaron Schatz recently said on the B.S. Report, the Jaguars' decision to go with David Garrard in favor of Byron Leftwich at the start of the 2007 season may have been the wisest quarterback-related switch since the Brady-Bledsoe back-and-forth in 2001. A fourth-round pick out of East Carolina in 2002, Garrard bided his time until 2006, when an ankle injury shut Leftwich down early in the season. Garrard alternated great performances (like a three-touchdown game against the Titans in Week 8) with howlers (like the four-pick showing against the Texans in the very next game), but he impressed the Jaguars' top brass enough in the 2007 preseason for the team to cut Leftwich outright on September 1, 2007. Bolstered by a great power running game and an excellent offensive line, Garrard excelled in 2007. He put together the third-lowest interception rate for any quarterback with 200 or more attempts, finished third in DYAR and seventh in DVOA, and saw his season end in a 31-20 loss to the seemingly unbeatable New England Patriots in the divisional playoff round. Much was expected in 2008.

Needless to say, whatever was expected didn't happen. Garrard lost both his starting guards in the season opener, didn't have his starting center for the first six weeks, and suffered through a rotation of receivers that spent most of the year running sloppy routes, dropping balls, and getting arrested. Garrard dropped to 15th in DVOA and 14th in DYAR in 2008, though those were still respectable numbers given what surrounded him. In the offseason, the front office acted decisively, adding rookie tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, as well as veteran receiver Torry Holt. Guards Vince Manuwai and Mo Williams are back, and KUBIAK loves Maurice Jones-Drew more than any other. Given a better supporting cast, it's now on Garrard to bounce back and help the Jags rebound.

Jaguars' Shotgun Cross

His night against the Eagles didn't start off so well; Garrard overthrew Troy Williamson on first down from the Jacksonville 24, then hit Torry Holt for a nine-yard slant, then saw Nate Hughes flat-out drop a short pass while being covered by Ellis Hobbs. The Jags got a little further on their second drive, but Garrard didn't take them all the way. After two handoffs to Maurice Jones-Drew (Hint: Don't run draws against the Eagles' defense, guys), Garrard went shotgun on third-and-8. You could see him adjust the play when Philadelphia went from a three-man front to a six-man blitz look, and seven Eagles took off after him at the snap. While linebackers Joe Mays and Akeem Jordan stunted inside, end Victor Abiamiri (playing the nose in this 3-4 look) beat center Brad Meester around Garrard's blindside just as Jordan crashed through to get in Garrard's face. Garrard hung in there and completed a cross to Williamson ... but boy, did he pay for it (Figure 2). Garrard was slow to get up and he missed the rest of that series, which ended in a punt from the Jacksonville 34. Frankly, I'm not sure what the Jags are doing running long-developing pass-plays with an offensive line under development against Philadelphia's starting defense.

We got to see a little more explosiveness from the Jacksonville offense on their third drive, which began with 2:15 left in the first quarter. As expected, the fire came from one source: Pocket Hercules. After a one-yard Jones-Drew run and an incompletion to Holt caused by a hit from Trent Cole, Garrard sat back in shotgun again from his own 34. Jones-Drew took a screen to the left, beat his blockers inside, and rolled across the field for a 45-yard gain. The Jaguars were able to score a touchdown on this drive, thanks in large part to another screen to Jones-Drew, this one a bailout under more pressure for 13 yards. Even the touchdown came with a price, as Hughes was demolished by Asante Samuel at the one-yard line. The hit caused a fumble, which Holt picked up and ran into the end zone, and Hughes was trying to remember which continent he was on.

It's pretty obvious that the Jacksonville offense is still recovering from last year's nightmares. New targets mean new adjustments, and new offensive linemen take time to work in the system -- especially when they are rookies. Right now, Garrard has the one option he knows (Jones-Drew), one he will be able to rely on over time (Holt), a fast guy with some route-running ability (Williamson), and a starting tight end in Marcedes Lewis with the worst case of the drops at his position since Jerramy Stevens was in his "prime." We like the Jags to erase that 5-11 season with a nice swing back up through the middle, but right now, Garrard's offense is a work in progress.

Friday, August 28
New England Patriots 27 at Washington Redskins 24
The Further Education of Jason Campbell

As you may have heard, there's been a bit of a quarterback conundrum in the nation's capital over the last year. Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell has adjusted to seven different offensive schemes since his Auburn days, landing most recently in the Mike Holmgren-born strain of the West Coast Offense as taught by Jim Zorn. Campbell started out hot last season, as the 2008 Redskins became the first team in NFL history to avoid a turnover in five straight games. In Weeks 1-9, Washington had the ninth-best passing DVOA and the second-best rushing DVOA. Those numbers dropped to 20th and 18th respectively in the second half of the season. Clinton Portis fell off the map and Campbell threw more picks than touchdowns down the stretch. An 8-8 season after a 6-2 start had the famously reactionary Redskins front office looking at all sorts of quarterback options (funny how the offensive line and running game were given mere Band-Aids).

First, there was the dalliance with Jay Cutler; owner Dan Snyder and Executive Vice President Vinny Cerrato tried to outbid other takers for the mercurial signal-caller, but the second-round pick they wasted on Jason Taylor was the one they needed to get Cutler. Then, there was the notion that the 'Skins would somehow trade up to land Mark Sanchez. When that didn't happen, Danny and Vinny had some backpedaling to do, and Campbell was left in the unenviable position of a quarterback fully aware that the people running his team didn't want him there. With one year left on his rookie contract and a chance to operate in a pro system for the second straight season (goodness!), Campbell needs to start writing his future now.

Campbell went 4-for-13 for 48 yards in his first two preseason games against the Ravens and Steelers, including a 1-for-7 performance against Pittsburgh that had people wondering if Colt Brennan was ready to take over yet. Against the Patriots, he'd have his own starters and would be facing New England's much longer into the game.

Campbell spread the ball around on his first drive, targeting four different receivers. First, Malcolm Kelly took a quick pass out of a four-wide empty backfield on second-and-10 from the Washington 31 with 13:06 left in the first quarter. Then the deep ball, reputedly Campbell's Achilles heel, out of play-action, 21 yards downfield to Santana Moss. Then, an indecisive double-pump over the middle to Chris Cooley -- a catchable ball, but off the mark. Back to Moss out of a combo bunch right, then a quick dig to Antwaan Randle El out of the slot. From the New England 24, Campbell went after Kelly in the end zone, but rookie cornerback Darius Butler was flagged for interference. That put the ball at the one-yard line, and preseason sensation Marcus Mason bulled it in for Washington's opening touchdown. On that drive, Washington showed an offense as fast as any in the league. Now the challenge is to keep the speed without crashing. It's a growth process.

Writing the Redskins chapter for the FO Almanac had me watching Campbell all last season, and I saw positive development. Early in the 2008 campaign, he suffered from unsure footwork and a very slow release -- two points of death for a quarterback in a West Coast Offense. He worked the kinks out of both problems, but his uncertainty with the subtleties of the Zorn offense showed up in some real head-scratching throws and a willingness, almost an eagerness, to check down when more productive options were open.

Now, I see a more confident quarterback who stays in the pocket, progresses through his reads, and makes the throws. That should afford him a chance to run an offense he can really call his own -- if not with the Redskins this season, with another team down the road. I said as much in a recent interview with Homer McFanboy's Brian Murphy -- when it comes to the Washington offense, Campbell has been part of the problem, but he could be an even bigger part of the solution.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 02 Sep 2009

38 comments, Last at 03 Oct 2009, 11:02pm by Dale

Comments

1
by Dice :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 12:53pm

It'd be nice to see Campbell succeed this season. I think he and Zorn need a playoff appearance in order to keep their jobs.

2
by drobviousso :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 12:59pm

If not, and he doesn't start somewhere else next year, he looks like the kind of guy a smart organization could pick up, develop in a relatively safe environment for a few years, and then use him when their current QB is about done. Not sure who that would be? Philly? NE? Carolina?

3
by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 1:04pm

I've been thinking Seattle for the last two years.

17
by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 4:34pm

I like Sam Bradford with Denver's pick more.

4
by tuluse :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 1:08pm

I think Carolina would be a great fit. Delhomme is starting to get old, and Campbell's slowish progression would be as a big a problem in that offense.

5
by TomC :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 1:54pm

Oh man, between this article's title and the constant misuse of "wherefore art thou" in the week/month in quotes, I was about to let loose with both old-curmudgeon barrels, saying something about how this site's slogan should include something about "innovative" methods of quoting Shakespeare. But I'm going to hold off now that the intertubes have let me know that "Heavy lies the crown" was a line in The Departed and is now as frequently quoted as the original Henry IV "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." My personal preference would be to go for the original rather than some 2006 restatement of it, but I can see both sides there. But the next time someone uses "wherefore" when they mean "where," I really am going to lose it.

6
by tuluse :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 2:04pm

There was an argument put forth that wherefore was used correctly when discussing Sage Rosenfels.

8
by TomC :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 2:23pm

Not a convincing one.

9
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 3:16pm

It was a headline in TWIQ. The majority of the time they don't make sense - it's usually just a pop culture (or common culture) reference tweaked to include a word or two common with the quote. Rosenfels sounds similar to a character in Romeo and Juliet, and his name works in the quote from a sound perspective.

Honestly, "where is Rosenfels" makes just as little sense as "why are you Rosenfels." I think everyone knows where he is, otherwise the quote's just as pointless.

11
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 3:35pm

Rosenfels sounds far more similar to a character in "Hamlet" (Rozencrantz). For a character from "Romeo and Juliet," the most similar name would have to be Romeo (though an argument could be made for Rosaline if she even counts as a character), which really isn't similar at all.

16
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 4:25pm

True, and given the fact that they don't appear to want Rosenfels, a Hamlet reference might've been better (although in hindsight I guess I could've just said "similar to a Shakespeare character"). But Rosenfels and Romeo have the same number of syllables, and same beginning, so that's more similar than "really isn't similar at all" to me.

10
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 3:31pm

I had much the same thought at first, but I remembered "The Departed" fairly quickly.

That movie, by the way, is fast racing up the list of "most overrated films in history." Scorsese recycles some combination of "Mean Streets," "Goodfellas," and "Raging Bull" again! Woohoo! Who could guess?! It's not like he'd been doing that for 15 years . . .

13
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 3:44pm

It works for me. A brilliant artist doesn't loose his brilliance just because he sticks to his style. Change for the sake of change isn't (always) good. Look what happened to, say, Metallica...

18
by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 6:19pm

There is a big difference between changes in style and outright repetition. Paint-by-the-numbers is by definition not interesting. Same goes for Scorsese-by-the-numbers. It can be enjoyable (Though I admit I found little enjoyment in this particular excursion, I do enjoy many of the Scorsese-by-the-numbers films, which is different from it being good), but not interesting and therefore not in a real sense "good."

Part of what upsets me, admittedly, about "The Departed" is that Scorsese deserved Oscars before that and didn't win and then won for that--it was the Al Pacino Rule in effect. (Pacino is even more striking than Scorsese but we'll let that lie.) It's like if we saw a quarterback leading the league in DVOA for two years but getting only modest public attention and not winning awards, then he tailed off for a few years until he was ranked only 14th in the league but that year (while ranked 14th) for some reason people started crediting him and he won the league MVP in spite of the obvious flaws in his play. He got it at the wrong time and it's frankly annoying, even though he deserved it in the past.

36
by RickD :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 8:08pm

Could have been worse. He could have won for "The Aviator".

I liked The Departed. I didn't foresee a lot of the plot twists it took. Of course, I'm originally from Boston, so it was fun to hear all the various attempts at Boston accents. (Obvously Damon and Wahlberg didn't have to try hard at all, but I thought most of the cast did well, with the exception of Nicholson, who didn't bother to try. What was really important was that there wasn't any godawful Costner-type accent.)

32
by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 8:01am

When you said "My personal preference would be to go for the original rather than some 2006 restatement of it" my first thought was "Why would you want a quote from a Hong Kong film rather than the American remake? Surely most people wouldn't understand a quote written in Chinese."

Then I realised you were talking about the The Departed/Shakespeare requote, not the Departed/Infernal Affairs requote. Oops.

7
by Flounder :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 2:04pm

"Leinart has developed the mental ability to avoid the stupid throw"

I kinda question that statement. Other than one throw-away sentence, you completely ignored the incredibly stupid throw Leinart made in that game that was, in fact, intercepted. I don't necessarily disagree with your analysis on the whole, but completely ignoring that really bad play does the rest of your analysis a disservice.

21
by Brendan Scolari :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 7:21pm

Yeah, I'd say about the only thing Leinart has proven so far is that he isn't very good yet.

23
by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 8:31pm

'Developed' is not the same as 'perfected'. That he has developed the ability doesn't mean that he never makes stupid throws anymore, just that he can now limit them - whereas he may have been unable previously.

Disclaimer: I didn't see the game, nor do I go out of my way to watch the Cards.

25
by Flounder :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 10:46pm

I understand that perfectly well, but completely ignoring a massively stupid throw can give the appearance that the author doesn't want to talk about it because it weakens the argument. It'd be far better to address the throw (briefly would be fine).

12
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 3:39pm

I'm just going to ask a dumb question here:

What's a dig route?

15
by panthersnbraves :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 4:20pm

Run real hard for a few steps, and dig your feet down, and turn. How that is different from a playground buttonhook, I don't know.

20
by Brendan Scolari :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 7:20pm

Well that's not a dig route, for one.

A dig route is like a long "in" route. It's run 15-20 yards past the line of scrimmage so as to be beyond the linebackers but in front of the safeties. It's a great route against zone coverage.

24
by tuluse :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 9:51pm

So is there a difference between a dig route and a deep in?

Also, there is no such thing a dumb question when it comes to archaic football terminology.

33
by J.D. (not verified) :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 9:33am

Usually a dig route involves the receiver progressing back toward the inside, like a sharp square-in.

14
by ammek :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 3:45pm

So with two minutes of a meaningless game remaining, a kicker recovers his own squib kick and then (out of jubilation?) spikes the ball, incurring a penalty.

Such a shame we don't get the preseason over here.

28
by I am excellent at making love (not verified) :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 12:41am
19
by Bill (not verified) :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 6:48pm

"... the famously reactionary Redskins front office"

The Redskins front office is a bunch of hidebound conservatives who want to return things to a previous state?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactionary

22
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 7:26pm

Return things to a previous state (the 80's)? Yes. Conservative? No.

27
by jonnyblazin :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 11:32pm

Phil Simms constant lectures during games "Football is a reactionary sport," it never fails to crack me up.

29
by Admore (not verified) :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 1:29am

In some ways, that might be the truest thing Phil has ever said. Besides, you know, the team that scores the most points generally wins.

31
by Jerry :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 2:28am

What is this, John Madden Karaoke?

37
by RickD :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 8:12pm

I think "hypersensitive" would be a better word. Or "overreacting". I agree "reactionary" isn't quite the word. Though Snyder has been heard to complain about the peasants.

26
by mattymatty :: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 10:54pm

It's easy to poke fun at the Redskins front office. Much of it is deserved and I've certainly done my share as well. But going after Cutler this past off season doesn't strike me as a bad move. It's certainly not an awful one worthy of derision in the abstract anyway (by which I mean, I don't know what they would have traded for him had they actually traded for him). The FO Almanac likes Cutler a lot and it likes him much better than Campbell. I don't think there's a whole lot of debate on that point either (please correct me if I'm wrong). I understand the logistical concerns of the trade (Cutler learning a new system, etc.) but I don't see the problem with attempting to upgrade the most important position on the field by acquiring one of the better young quarterbacks in the league. Am I missing something?

30
by Admore (not verified) :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 1:34am

I didn't read the piece as critical of trying to get Cutler or Sanchez, but critical of publicly trying to get another quarterback, and then failing, and falling back on the one they already had.

The Redskins strike me as an organization that won't get out of its own way. It seems like there's a new plan, coach, set of free agents, every single year. And that not only looks foolish, it doesn't seem productive either. No highly successful NFL team operates that way. Not even Dallas.

34
by Kevin from Philly :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 10:46am

At least Snyder never hung Noah's Ark from the rafters and called it a scoreboard.

35
by Admore (not verified) :: Thu, 09/03/2009 - 12:31pm

You're just jealous. And hey, anything that makes punting more interesting is good in my book.

38
by Dale (not verified) :: Sat, 10/03/2009 - 11:02pm

Campbell is playing for a new contract next year. At the moment, the best he could ask for is veteran minimum!