Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. (This Audibles is really long, so that's extra true this week.) It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2007. Games are chosen based on our own personal viewing preferences, and are going to reflect the teams we support and the cities where we live.
Miami Dolphins 27 at Detroit Lions 10
Doug Farrar: I have to give Phil Simms credit for a great zinger -- when Joey Harrington walked on the field to a host of raspberries after Detroit's opening TD, Simms said, "It's like he never left. He's getting booed, and he's behind!"
Mike Tanier: Simms had another funny crack in the early game after seeing one of those video postcard greetings from the Kitna family. "I'm just glad Jon didn't shave his daughter's head," he said, refering to the fact that all of the boys in the family have the "tight" look.
Michael David Smith: Mike Williams gets a standing ovation for catching a pass on third down that ends up seven yards short of the first down. I believe that's what our president was referring to when he coined the phrase, "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 at Dallas Cowboys 38
Bill Barnwell: Is Tony Romo going to get MVP talk because of how he played in a game against the third-worst pass defense in football?
Aaron Schatz: That's not as bad as the Dolphins-Lions game, where they kept talking about how Joey Harrington is playing much better now that he doesn't have the pressure of being in Detroit. Um, no. Joey Harrington is playing much better today because he gets to PLAY against Detroit. Actually, worse -- Detroit without the best player on the team, Shaun Rogers. Man, they were pathetic.
Ian Dembsky: Look at Dallas' schedule down the stretch -- at NY Giants (too banged up to slow down Dallas), vs. New Orleans (26th in defensive DVOA), at Atlanta (19th), vs. Philadelphia (the team just won't be the same without McNabb), and vs. Detroit (31st). If they can beat the Giants in New York, they should cruise to a division title, and frankly, Romo would probably get my vote for MVP. Look at how he's turned their season around! Coming into this week, he's second in the NFL in passer rating, and he just might be first after this five-TD performance. Yes, he's absolutely a candidate for MVP at this point, bad pass defense of the Bucs or not. He's got to come up big next week in New York for this to matter, but odds are he will. Oh, and it's not like I'm biased because he's starting for my fantasy football team or anything. (Ok, maybe a little...)
Denver Broncos 10 at Kansas City Chiefs 19
Jason Beattie: Anybody outside of the Denver area watching this game? I have a question regarding the roughing the passer rule. Ebenezer Ekuban got called for roughing for what looked to be his momentum carrying him into Green. It was obvious he was trying to hold up, he was holding his arms back, and he didn't even knock him down, just hit him in the head with his arm. So does the roughing the passer call count even in incidental cases, or was this a bogus call? It was a third-down non-conversion play in the red zone, so it basically meant the difference of a FG vs. a TD.
Also: John Fogerty halftime performance? I'm tingling with anticipation!
Bill Barnwell: I don't get the game on TV, and none of the bars are open.
On the bright side, that means I don't get to see the John Fogerty halftime performance. You know he's gonna cover "This Is Our Country." You just know it.
Doug Farrar: Watching on and off. Bryant Gumbel really needs to not announce football games. Golf, maybe. Curling.
"Travelin' Band" and "Fortunate Son." Though if he reads FO, he'll kick himself for missing that opportunity.
The Ekuban penalty looked like an overcall to me, but I'm not sure where the league is with this rule right now. Could very well be another case of interpretation leaving the officials out to dry. I loved Collinsworth's "addition" to the call, when he inferred that Mike Pereira would say that any defender who came into a quarterback with his hands up was automatically guilty, and should be flagged as a matter of course. I hope that was an example of attempted humor on Collinsworth's part. If Mike Pereira would say that, he needs to be doing something else.
Bill Moore: Didn't John Fogerty do the MIA/DET game? He's not doing both is he? Frankly, he was pretty damn bad. He's lost a step, if he ever actually had a step.
Jason Beattie: Yeah, it was a publicity stunt I guess. Fogerty performed in Detroit then made the long arduous trek to Kansas City via private jet. It's like that time Phil Collins flew from London to New York to perform twice at Live Aid, only you know, lame.*
He performed a painful medley of one-minute snippets of CCR hits. 30-year-old songs are just what this halftime show needed! (Thanks Janet Jackson, for making it so any live football halftime performance may only feature artists who you'd never ever want to see topless.)
*This statement was in no way saying Phil Collins was ever cool. Just his intercontinental stunt.
Aaron Schatz: Can the Broncos name Lenny Walls as team MVP when he's not on their team anymore?
Mike Tanier: You all know that Fogerty needs the money, right? He lost the rights to all of his old CCR songs. He's a little long in the tooth, but I won't diss him. He sounded OK.
Mike Bell has looked bad, dropping passes, hitting his own blockers and bouncing backwards. I guess we have finally hit diminishing returns when it comes to plugging in any old person to play running back.
Bill Barnwell: Okay, I can't be the only person who read those two points from Mike and immediately thought the Broncos should put John Fogerty in at running back.
Mike Tanier: Remember the story of when Ralph Kiner was losing it while covering the Mets and they played "Centerfield" at Shea Stadium? The words: "John Fogerty, Centerfield" appear on the JumboTron or whatever, so Kiner announces that "John Fogerty is now in center field for the Mets." The other guy corrects him, so Kiner says "Sorry, that's Len Dykstra in center field. Fogerty moves over to right."
Houston Texans 11 at New York Jets 26
Bill Barnwell: This is like the CBS R-Team. I am pretty sure the next broadcast team they'd send out would be Jeff Probst and the clock from "60 Minutes."
Laveranues Coles just beat Dunta Robinson for 38 yards; Robinson was sitting on the slant (which, in all fairness, I'd be doing against Chad Pennington and Laveranues Coles, too) and when Coles changed his route to a go, Robinson's hips didn't transfer fast enough and he had no shot.
On third-and-goal, meanwhile, Pennington hit Robinson in the hands on the goal line but Robinson dropped it. Pennington really looks like he's forcing the ball around the goal line, like he's trying to make something happen.
Faggins was just called for defensive pass interference on a 32-yard pass play where Justin McCareins caught the ball three yards out of bounds. Terrible call -- there was interference, but no way was the ball catchable. Earned the Jets three points.
The Texans defensive backs are great athletes, it looks like, but they don't look very well-coached. On a third-down play, Robinson really half-heartedly followed his (Y) receiver motioning into the slot before the snap, to the point where I was yelling out blitz. He immediately came and on pure acceleration alone, Pennington couldn't avoid him and hit him in the hands again with a throw.
David Carr does a really swell job of mixing up the snap counts and cadences.
Andre Dyson is terrified of Andre Johnson beating him deep. On third-and-5, he lines up three yards across from Johnson but doesn't get a bump; Johnson sells him on the go route for two steps and when he turns into his slant, Dyson's whole lower half locked up like it had too much to process. Johnson got 16 out of it.
The next third down the Texans had, though, Johnson was lined up against David Barrett and didn't get a chance to sell the go-route; the Jets blitzed and Carr threw to Johnson on his hot route after Johnson had taken two steps, which didn't leave Johnson any time to scare the bejeezus out of Barrett, which meant a forced incomplete pass.
Tim Gerheim: Boredom is Texans-Jets. Long drive, field goal. Long drive, punt. Rinse, repeat.
I haven't seen the Jets play in a long time, so I don't know how their run defense has been each week. I'm hoping it hasn't been as awful as it's looked, because if this is the first week it's worked, that says a lot about how awful the Texans offense is. They've had no success, but it's not for lack of trying. One drive they ran on just about every first down play.
I really like Dexter Wynn as a kick returner. He's not a tremendous speed burner although he has enough speed, but his biggest strength is that he sets up his blocks well, and he is good at breaking tackles.
Bill Barnwell: Jets put together a 92-yard drive after Tim Dwight decides fielding a punt on the five is a good idea and then running horizontally with it an even better one.
There was a really fascinating play where DeMeco Ryans and Pennington were both barking out signals with two seconds left on the play clock, Pennington presumably changing the play and Ryans adjusting to what he thought the audible would be. Pennington play-faked and Ryans bit and sheepishly began to cycle back into his vacated deep zone, which Chris Baker was entering into for a 28 yard completion. He got served. Of course, on the next play, he tackled a Jets RB for a two yard gain and the announcers continued to swoon over him, not noticing the previous play.
Cotchery and Coles had two really nice catches to get the rest of the yardage on the drive, but Pennington's conniving was the best part of the drive.
Oh, and by the way Tim, this is the best Jets rush defense I've seen all season, by far.
"The Jets have shut down the Texans running game, you're right partner!"
"That's the frustrating things about playing this Jets team."
Literally, that's what they said as I was writing this.
Aaron Schatz: It was nice to finally play this game after a non-stop week of hype about the "Maddox Bowl."
Here's Houston's first drive: quick slant to Moulds for six yards, quick hitch to Owen Daniels that Daniels dropped, dumpoff to Wali Lundy for two yards that was cancelled (more about that in a second), and then quick hitch to Owen Daniels for two yards. The Texans must throw for more than 15 yards, say, once a game or something.
The Lundy dumpoff was cancelled by a weird rule where the Texans illegally substituted, running a no huddle but substituting without letting the Jets substitute. But instead of getting a penalty, the officials come out and just say "the play doesn't count" and the next play is the same down and distance. Does anyone understand that rule? Why did they not get a five-yard illegal substitution penalty (Which the Jets would have declined, making it fourth-and-2)?
Another note: Daniels was playing wide on both of those quick hitches. On the second one, Andre Johnson was actually in the slot between erstwhile "tight end" Daniels and the offensive line. It sure seems like teams are playing "tight ends" as wideouts -- not just slot receivers, but WIDE receivers -- more than any time since NFL fans started referring to tight end and split end as different positions.
Tried to watch Mario vs. Brick for most of the first half before I gave up on this game and switched to the Falcons and Saints. Brick seemed to do a good job most of the time, but there were a couple times where Mario really whipped him, one of those ended up as a sack, and then Williams just destroyed Pennington right after he got a throw off, and it looked for a bit like Pennington might have re-injured his shoulder. (He didn't.) Mario is still stronger against the run than people realize, and the Texans seem to have given up on dropping him into coverage on zone blitzes, which I noticed them doing way too often when I charted their game against the Cowboys.
Pittsburgh Steelers 0 at Baltimore Ravens 27
Doug Farrar: One of the two games I have (SF-STL) has Ron Pitts and Jesse Palmer. That might explain why I'm watching BAL-PIT. Boy, am I glad I never tried to get a Communications degree.
I think November 26 should officially be proclaimed "I'm Glad I'm Not Bryant McFadden Day." So far, halfway through the first quarter, the second-year Pittsburgh corner has been roasted on at least two pass plays and got knocked halfway to Christmas by Jamal Lewis.
Baltimore's second touchdown drive was something Bronko Nagurski would have enjoyed. Eight plays, 47 yards, and six of the plays were runs either right up or right near the middle. You can sometimes see a defense just lose its bearings, and that's what the Steelers defense seemed to do here. More and more, you've got DBs trying to tackle Jamal Lewis, which isn't exactly a recipe for success.
Bart Scott came in untouched and just whaled on Roethlisberger. Third sack of the day for Big Ben. He's out on third-and-17. Batch in.
Bill Barnwell: Is it clear if he's hurt or benched Doug?
Doug Farrar: He jogged off the field, but his head went pretty hard against the turf. I'd say it was more a precautionary move. The report is a chest injury, and his return is probable.
The only time this season I've seen a quarterback under siege to this extent was when Andrew Walter got sacked nine times by the Seahawks a few Monday nights ago. Yes, I just compared the offense of the defending Super Bowl champs to the Oakland Raiders. Roethlisberger is getting heat on just about every play, and the distressing thing is how much of the pressure is unblocked. I understand when it's coming from the edge -- if you're sending your tight end(s) out on patterns just about every time when your line can't block, that I get, even though it's pretty stupid. But now, Baltimore defenders are coming through gaps in the line untouched. It's easy to see why this line is 20th in Adjusted Line Yards and 23rd in Adjusted Sack Rate. After this game, I'd be surprised if both of those numbers didn't fall through the floor.
Mike Tanier: Favorite whipping boy Jamal Lewis looked great today. Granted, so did Mike Anderson, Musa Smith, and Ovie Mughelli, but Jamal looked better than he has looked in years. He was making decisive cuts in the backfield and finishing runs very well. Maybe he has gotten his legs back.
Let's talk about the fullback dive. You usually call a fullback dive when linebackers are selling out against the halfback on outside runs. For best results, you fake the pitch to the halfback, then give it to the fullback right up the gut, and the vacating linebackers leave a little seam for a 5-yard run. You see it all the time when teams run an option or Wing-T offense, but it's a once-per-game strategy in the pros ... unless you are facing the Steelers, Ovie Mughelli had several carries in this game; he had at least three in the first half, and they were all on dives off a fake pitch to Jamal Lewis. The Steelers linebackers were just over-pursuing and leaving lanes up the middle wide open. Several of Lewis' better runs were right into the cutback lane, and you could see Joey Porter and Larry Foote getting blocked from behind in what was supposed to be their lanes. These guys know better. My guess? They were trying to make big plays to help the offense, and instead they were getting gashed.
Aaron Schatz: On "NFL Matchup" today they were discussing Ogie Mughelli as the next Lorenzo Neal-level blocking fullback. If Jamal Lewis looks better over the last couple weeks, that's the reason why. (By the way, the other candidate for fullback fame among us hardcore fans is Moran Norris, who actually plays more of an H-back role these days and just signed a three-year extension in San Francisco.)
Tim Gerheim: I never understood why the new regime in Houston went after Jameel Cook as a fullback instead of keeping Norris. That goes double after today, when the running game was pathetic and Cook got absolutely destroyed at least one as the lead blocker.
Mike Tanier: The Ravens front seven is nasty. This is apparently news to Ben Roethlisberger and Ken Whisenhunt. How many seven step drop passes did they plan to call? How many times was Big Ben going to pump fake and wait for things to develop? There's a reason there was so much single coverage out there, Ben: a seven-man pass rush was coming. Ben's gotta read the rush better. And Whisenhunt has to develop a better protection scheme against the heavy blitz.
Michael David Smith: Steve McNair threw a beautiful strike to tight end Todd Heap in the end zone. He's not the player he was a few years ago, but he still makes some nice plays, and when he avoids mistakes like he did yesterday, Baltimore is really good.
Ryan Wilson: First, Rex Ryan should get some kind of award for "Best Game Plan" because no matter what his defense did, the Steelers didn't have an answer. It's one thing to blame the Steelers' offensive line for giving up nine sacks, but a lot those sacks were Ravens' defenders running untouched into Ben Roethlisberger. Willie Parker whiffed a handful of times and at some point Ken Whisenhunt might want to change up the protection schemes so that Baltimore can't overload one side of the line all day long.
Until now, I never thought Cowher might retire just because he hadn't yet reworked his deal. But after watching him meander up and down the sidelines the last few weeks, I wouldn't be surprised if he called it quits during the Week 17 post-game press conference.
And it's a good thing Cowher benched Ike Taylor. Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend didn't do much all day. To be fair, the Steelers didn't score, so I guess it doesn't matter if it's 3-0 or 300-0, but given that Taylor's the best CB on the team, keeping him on the sidelines seems silly.
Jacksonville Jaguars 24 at Buffalo Bills 27
Bill Moore: Wow, crazy play in Buffalo. Losman drops back. Good pocket develops around a blitz. It looks like Losman bumps into his own lineman (79, who isn't blocking anyone), and heaves a 35 yard pass to ... wait for it ... no one. There is no one there other than three Jaguars defenders. It's intercepted, and then ... wait for it ... fumbled and recovered by Buffalo's Robert Royal -- last year's drop king.
Aaron Schatz: The Jaguars are considering changing their helmet logo. The final candidates are: the Greek tragedy/comedy masks, a yin-yang symbol, and a box of chocolates.
Michael David Smith: Credit where it's due: David Garrard ran for 15 yards on a fourth-and-14, the key play to leading JAX to a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. He's not the reason they lost.
Ned Macey: I don't think anyone ever said that Garrard was a bad player, only that he has no magical "winner" formula. Whether this is him, the game plan, or the receivers, it is embarrassing that wide receivers combined for six catches for 51 yards. Marques Colston may be rookie of the year, but Jones-Drew is having a hell of a season.
Pet Peeve: Considering rookie quarterbacks the same as first-time starters. Only one rookie has had a very good season in the past 20 years. Probably 20 quarterbacks have had very good seasons in their first year playing. (Collinsworth just pointed this out after making me write this in the first place).
New Orleans Saints 31 at Atlanta Falcons 13
Bill Moore: Deuce McAllister just rushed it in from the 1 for the Saints' second TD (14-0), and the Falcon fans have turned from dirty birds to boo birds.
Vick may not be able to pass, and may be a "coach killer," but boy does he have moves. He just ripped off a 51-yard scramble causing some 12 guys to miss tackles, including one guy off the sideline. Alright, that's an exaggeration. The fact that they can't score from the red zone is no exaggeration -- his run to make it first-and-goal led to three points.
Mike Tanier: Okay, what were the Falcons DBs doing on that bomb to Copper? Can we put Copper next to Ian Gold on the all-time Element Team? And how about Mike Karney playing domino rally with three Falcons defenders at the goal line. What a hoot.
Bill Moore: Brees just threw a 50-yard, half-ending Hail Mary TD. With triple coverage, the Falcons made a lame attempt at batting down the ball. The primary coverage was DeAngelo Hall, who was in such poor body position he wasn't able to do any defending. The best was the Falcons took a timeout right before the play began and Daryl Johnson noted, "they don't get to take those into the locker room with them, so you better use them if you are unsure of what to do. The worst thing would be to get burned on the last play here, so best to take the timeout and be sure." Guess they weren't that sure.
Russell Levine: That Hail Mary at the end of the half was just brutal. DeAngelo Hall was in position plenty early, just waiting for the ball to come down. And then he goes up with two hands to make the catch and allows Copper to snatch it from in front of him. Had he gone up with one arm and tomahawked it, definitely no catch.
Tim Gerheim: I think DeAngelo Hall made the same mistake on that Saints Hail Mary that the defenders made on the Kordell Stewart-to-Michael Westbrook Hail Mary at Colorado: he went for the interception even though it isn't any better than an incomplete pass. You can get one hand up to tip a pass away a lot easier than two hands to intercept.
Bill Moore: It looked to me like DeAngelo Hall was turned the wrong way. He was running toward the end zone and turned outside, late. Cooper and the ball came inside. Hall was bent awkwardly and unable to make a play on the ball. He flopped at it, but it was useless. The sad part was there were two OTHER defenders there.
Doug Farrar: How about this? The Falcons have 180 yards rushing in the first half, and four more first downs than the Saints, and they've amassed a grand total of two field goals and no touchdowns -- against the NFL's 26th-ranked defense, according to our own stats.
You almost have to do that on purpose.
Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Terrance Copper ... are the Drew Brees Saints to no-name wideouts what the Broncos are to no-name running backs? (Yes, I'm kidding, but I'm starting to wonder.)
Aaron Schatz: Devery Henderson isn't a no-name, he was a second-round pick three years ago. The bigger question is, "Why did it take him so long to develop, and is this a breakout or a short-term fluke?" Henderson was inactive almost every single week as a rookie, and didn't see a lot of throws last year either.
Bill Moore: How sad is it for Atlanta that Daryl Johnson's most optimistic comment about not scoring on third-and-goal from the 3 is, "you give Jim Mora the opportunity to go for it here on fourth down because you didn't run a negative yardage play on third down."
Warrick Dunn wears a big ass chain around his neck. I would think that a real safety issue.
As I write this, Atlanta dropped its second straight pass. First Ashley Lelie, and the second, Roddy White dropped a wide open pass at the 5-yard line when Vick took a monster shot from the Saints #99.
Aaron Schatz: I don't want to blame the receivers for Michael Vick's problems, but man, they are an embarassement. That Roddy White drop was pathetic.
Bill's absolutely right about Vick's sick running ability, but that just makes his inability to develop or stay consistent as a passer all the more frustrating. Also, Vick has to learn that when you turn yourself into a running back by crossing the line of scrimmage, you have to hold the ball like a running back so you don't have it constantly slapped out of your hand.
I picked the Falcons for the playoffs and I tried very hard not to allow the michegas with the Falcons fans last year to affect how I viewed this team. I think I did a good job. But this team is O-V-E-R, over. They need a restructuring, because the offense as currently structured just does not work, and the defense is too injury-prone.
At least the Falcons took care of Warrick Dunn hitting the inevitable age wall. Jerious Norwood is going to be the starter next year and he is going to be very, very good.
Mike Tanier: The Atlanta offense has now deteriorated to the point where they just wait for Vick scrambles. Just about every positive play they had in this game was a scramble, plus one Crumpler bomb that was set up by the scrambling. I've seen this before: Philadelphia Eagles, 1988-90. It doesn't get you anywhere.
The Falcons are awful in the red zone, have been all year, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Take this first-quarter series: Vick scambles to the seven-yard line. The Falcons take timeout to regroup. First down, they go empty backfield and run the quarterback draw. No one on earth is fooled. Loss of one. Second down, Vick is hurried, throws an incomplete pass to Crumpler. Third down. Big zone by the Saints, with almost no rush. Vick waits, waits, fakes the scramble, waits... fires to Justin Griffith at the five-yard line surrounded by Saints. The Morten Andersen field goal makes it 14-3. They get the second field goal under similar circumstances. They finally get a touchdown when they give the ball to Warrick Dunn on fourth-and-goal after another lousy series near the goal line. Vick holds the ball too long and rifles passes to receivers five feet away, but Gregg Knapp has to be more creative about hiding the draws and bootlegs, and I didn't see the receivers doing anything special to get open on some of those plays.
Aaron Schatz: Atlanta's red zone offensive problems are even more ridiculous when you consider that the number two team in red zone offensive DVOA is Tennessee, which sucks over the other 80 yards of the field but succeeds in the red zone in large part because Norm Chow and Vince Young himself both know how to use the skills that Young shares with Vick.
Mike Tanier: Scott Fujita was everywhere. He had a rep as a good blitzer who made mistakes in run defense and coverage, and it looks like Gary Gibbs is using him to rush the passer more often than not. The Saints blitzed a lot in this game, and it generally worked: they traded a few 50-yard scrambles for lots of sacks and incomplete passes.
Michael David Smith: In the first meeting, the New Orleans defense kept Michael Vick from rolling to the outside, where he is more effective. This time he did plenty of rolling to the outside, but it didn't matter because the Saints dominated every aspect of the game other than stopping Vick from running.
Vick's receivers didn't give him much help. They dropped four passes, including a beautiful throw by Vick on a third-and-9 that would have given Atlanta a first down deep in New Orleans territory in the fourth quarter.
Russell Levine: Vick flipped the bird to fans -- twice -- coming off the field. This team is edging closer to full meltdown. I fully expect them to mail it in down the stretch the way they did last year if this continues. I don't know what the answer is with Vick. If I'm Mora, I'd pop in a tape of Friday's Arkansas-LSU game. Arkansas's QBs are awful. They've tried three of them this year, and they're all terrible. But they have Darren McFadden at RB, and he'll probably win the Heisman next year. So about a dozen times a game, they put McFadden in shotgun, and he runs a variety of QB draws, options, and end-arounds with the other tailback. He even throws it occasionally.
Am I crazy to think this might be a more effective way to use Vick? Put him in shotgun full time and put Dunn next to him. Let him run those counter-option plays that all the spread teams in college love so much, take off on a variety of draws and even pull up and throw the occasional post pattern to Crumpler?
Bill Moore: I don't know if this was common knowledge or not, but I heard it on WFAN this morning. Vick was not allowed to change the play today. He was to run the play that was called in from the sideline. Was that a problem before? Was Vick playing the role of Voodoo and calling his own plays? I would presume that meant no audibles.
Ned Macey: I almost never advocate firing a coach, but Jim Mora or Mike Vick has to go. This is NOT working at all. I'm going to go to my grave believing Vick can be a valuable passer. I'd also pay money for all his 2002 game tapes.
Arizona Cardinals 26 at Minnesota Vikings 31
Doug Farrar: I like what I'm seeing from Matt Leinart's stats in the first half. Minnesota's run defense ranks #1 in DVOA, and we all know that Arizona's line can't run block for anything. Leinart is very efficiently leading his team down the field with a lot of short passes. Problem is, he can't get them in the end zone -- Arizona's sole TD in the first half was on a 99-yard J.J. Arrington kickoff return on the first play of the game.
Aaron Schatz: During the halftime show of Jets-Texans, Shannon Sharpe did the highlights for this game and blew my mind, twice, with the dumb things he said. He referred to Chester Taylor as "The President." Um, Shannon, there was Chester A. Arthur and Zach Taylor. There was never Chester Taylor. But worse was his description of the play before that, the J.J. Arrington kickoff return. "J.J. Arrington returns this kickoff for a touchdown ... he's moving on up!" I know we're all human and make dumb mistakes, but I am shocked that Shannon Sharpe confused "The Jeffersons" with "Good Times."
Bill Barnwell: Shannon Sharpe also just informed us that he likes Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles and he also likes Roscoe Parrish. No -- really.
Aaron Schatz: I'm sorry, but if Shannon Sharpe can't tell the difference between "The Jeffersons" and "Good Times," we're going to have to revoke his Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles Frequent Customer Card.
Doug Farrar: The Cardinals had a total of six rushing attempts. Yes, six. And one was Leinart's. Ordinarily, I'd cite that number as a case of play-calling insanity, but this made a great deal of sense to me.
Some real craziness for Arizona: They couldn't get an offensive touchdown until there was 58 seconds left in the game despite Leinart's 405 passing yards, but they had TWO 99-yard scoring plays -- Adrian Wilson had a fumble return to match J.J. Arrington's kickoff return. That first offensive score, a 9-yard pass from Leinart to Anquan Boldin, was followed by a successful onside kick, three of four incompletions on the drive, and a game-ending interception to Dwight Smith. This team may stink, but they sure aren't boring.
Aaron Schatz: Edgerrin James is now on pace for 1,011 rushing yards this season. Wow.
Doug Farrar: There's a really good chance that neither Edgerrin James nor Shaun Alexander will run for 100 yards in a single game this season. Between them, they did so 20 times in 2005.
Michael David Smith: Is anyone really surprised by Edge, though? The guy never saw an eight-man front in his life, and then he moved to a team with an absolutely horrid offensive line. I'd have to say he is who I thought he was.
Aaron Schatz: If you are asking "who didn't expect this," the answer is "everybody but us." Let me quote from a preseason fantasy football magazine where a series of experts were asked about a number of risky fantasy picks. Holding back names to protect the innocent, here are the answers for Edgerrin James:
"I've seen people shying away from Edgerrin James because he's no longer part of football's best offense, but the Cardinals can certainly light it up offensively too. James might be more involved in the passing game under Denny Green."
"Edge in Arizona is a nice fit. He's a phenomenal receiver and gets it done on the stripe. Arizona's offensive line is much improved, but Green does prefer to pass in the red zone."
"I'm not worried about him. I hope he slips to me in the mid-to-late first round in a few drafts."
"James will go too early in every fantasy league in America. Arizona has no offensive line and James is all about consistent 4-6 yard gains, not breaking long runs when he finds a hole."
That last one is me. And even I was worried that the PFP prediction of 1,080 yards was a little too low.
Michael David Smith: I guess I didn't realize we were so ahead of the curve on Edge. All summer when friends of my wife would ask me what to tell their husbands for their fantasy leagues, my stock answer was, "I'm not a fantasy expert, but I know for sure you shouldn't take Edgerrin James." But I figured most people knew that. Maybe not.
Mike Tanier: I know I was advocating that we were under-valuing him in the off-season. I think Ned was too. Sometimes, the stats are right.
Ned Macey: I'm still a little confused on what our position is on Edge. Is it that he is just a mediocre guy who took advantage of a great offense, or is it that all running backs are extremely dependent on offensive lines? It seems MDS is advocating the first, and Doug is advocating the second. Obviously I was wrong about what he would do (I imagined 1200 or so yards, 3.6 per carry), but as a fan of Edge, I keep some hope based on Portis' 2004 year.
Doug Farrar: James' situation is the extreme. He went from the 2005 leader in ALY to the worst team in that stat. It can't possibly be any more graphic.
I think the answer lies somewhere in between most of the time. James (and now Addai) obviously benefits from the fact that defenses have to play pass against the Colts. The Seahawks' 2005 offensive line, however, was so good because people knew they were going to run and they were able to do it anyway. The Seahawks were without their #1 receiver (Jackson) for nine games due to injury, and without their #2 (Engram) as well for three more. Holmgren had so much more playcalling freedom last season -- he would go four-wide on third-and-1 and say to the opposing coaches, "Let's see you stop this thing." Most of the time, they couldn't.
I lean more toward the latter theory with most types of running backs. The other factor is the type of back you're talking about. Shaun Alexander is a patient, wait-for-the-hole-and-go-or-cut-back player. Maurice Morris goes quickly at the snap, cuts fast and gets whatever he can. Alexander's style probably won't be very effective until the Seahawks get guards that can hold pressure at the point of contact, which they currently don't have. Morris doesn't need to wait -- he just wants a sliver of daylight and he'll go there as fast as he can. That's why Seattle has two 100-yard rushing performances this season, and Maurice Morris has both of them. MDS could speak much better to the effect that a good/bad line has on a back like Barry Sanders.
Cincinnati Bengals 30 at Cleveland Browns 0
Aaron Schatz: Uh, whoops? I win the bad timing award this week.
Ned Macey: I wrote off Cincinnati a long time ago and stopped watching them. At some point, they flipped a switch on offense, and now Palmer is again one of the three best QBs in football. Given that offense is more sustainable than defense, I would bet that Cincinnati is in the playoffs most of the time the next six to eight years (if Palmer is healthy). I still think the Browns have a good defense, but Cincy is just scary. They have so many weapons. I haven't looked at schedules, but right now Cincy is a much better team than the Cutler-led Broncos.
Carolina Panthers 13 at Washington Redskins 17
Mike Tanier: Explain this sequence, down by four points, at the opponent's 37-yard line, 3:44 to play:
1st-and-10: Incomplete pass
2nd-and-10:Draw to DeAngelo Williams for no gain
3rd-and-10: Draw to Williams for four yards.
4th-and-6: Short pass to Drew Carter for four yards.
Two draw plays? A draw on third-and-10? The defense wasn't in some wacky prevent formation or anything. You call one draw, and you call it on first or second down. Third down, you have to do something to try to get near the sticks. That's gotta get one of our Stupid Coach awards this week.
Ned Macey: I really wish I had seen this game to see what Shawn Springs was doing. Steve Smith was a non-factor (statistically), and as always, without Smith, Delhomme struggled. Does anyone still think Delhomme is more than an average quarterback?
San Francisco 49ers 17 at St. Louis Rams 20
Michael David Smith: San Francisco has several talented young players. Rookie linebacker Manny Lawson had a phenomenal leaping interception to end the Rams' first possession. Frank Gore carries the ball too low rather than squeezing it against his chest, but if he follows in Tiki's footsteps and cures his fumbleitis, he's going to be very good.
St. Louis continues to miss left tackle Orlando Pace. San Francisco linebacker Roderick Green beat Todd Steussie, Pace's replacement, for a sack in the first quarter.
Chicago Bears 13 at New England Patriots 17
Aaron Schatz: Can somebody please give the Patriots a copy of the blitz article from PFP 2006? I understand that you want to pressure Rex Grossman, but they should consider sending six guys on first down, not on third-and-10. Twice now, Grossman got the ball away for a first-down to a receiver running a hook before the pass rush could get to the quarterback.
Michael David Smith: There's some talk in one of the discussion threads about how I said Lance Briggs is great at covering tight ends, and Aaron said the Bears' DVOA against tight ends is mediocre, and therefore one of us must be wrong. This should be obvious, but the reason we can both be right was just on display: The Patriots throw a pass to a tight end Lance Briggs is covering, and Briggs knocks it away. Then the Patriots throw a pass to a tight end Lance Briggs isn't covering, and it's complete for a long gain. (It was overruled on replay. The point is the same.) They're good against tight ends when Briggs is in coverage, but Briggs doesn't cover the tight end on every play.
Aaron Schatz: To me, the thing I learned in the first half of this game is that the game charting blitzing article was dead on and not just a fluke based on one year of data. I think I counted six blitzes of 6-7 guys on third-and-long, by both teams combined, and five of them ended up in a new set of downs. Since I'm charting this game, I'll know the definite numbers in a couple days.
Gregg Easterbrook always talks about how the Patriots always throw to Mike Vrabel whenever they bring him in at the goal line, that he's not a decoy. I don't know if that was true in the past, but it is certainly not true this year. I charted GB-NE first half, and three times Vrabel was in on a goal line or short-yardage situation. Only once did they throw to him: once he was a decoy, and once he was in for a run. Today again he came in on the goal line, and it was a run, not a pass to Vrabel.
I'm sad about Junior Seau's broken arm, both as a Patriots fan (we're thin at LB) and as a football fan who thinks Seau is one of those guys that fans would like to see get a ring if their own favorite team can't win one.
At halftime I went and looked at the (incomplete) Week 1-8 charting stats. We've only got 15 passes charted with Briggs as DEFENDER1, and only two of them are to tight ends. Both are completions, to Dan Campbell for 23 yards and Marcus Pollard for 10 yards. But what's impressive about Briggs is how he plays when he's in coverage against wide receivers. Seven charted passes, none for more than seven yards (three incompletes) and only one first down. And last year he had the best charting numbers of any linebacker. It looks like the big reason for the tight ends having success against Chicago is that least favorite defender of Bears fans, "Hole in Zone."
Asante Samuel makes his second interception of the day.
Aaron Schatz: I think most people -- me included -- felt that Rex Grossman would throw interceptions when pressured by the Patriots. Instead, both interceptions have come when he had time to throw, but Asante Samuel made a great play on the ball. Good Rex showed up today and the Bears are losing anyway.
Scratch that. They just showed a replay, and while the second interception was not due to pressure, it was Grossman's fault, because he threw behind his receiver.
Tim Gerheim: Grossman throws a TON of his passes behind the receiver, at least today. His first completion on that last drive to Muhammad was that way, and so was that interception to Samuel.
Antrell Hawkins is called for pass interference on Bernard Berrian.
Aaron Schatz: Sorry to sound like a Pats homer, but I don't understand that PI. Doesn't Hawkins have the same right to try to catch the ball as Berrian? He was looking at the ball, not the man, and I think it was Berrian who had his arm around Hawkins' arm, not the other way around.
Michael David Smith: I don't understand any PI. I've pretty much just given up on knowing when it's PI and when it isn't. And I think the second official who threw his flag on that call only threw it so it wouldn't look like they disagreed -- he clearly only threw it after his fellow official threw his.
Bill Moore: That PI call was of the variety that Grossman once shoveled. (See, I now feel like I know Grossman.) Hawkins had position, was looking back at the ball, and the only contact was initiated by Berrian. I think the issue was that the back judge was on the backside of the play, and Hawkins' look back at the ball was not an obvious one. If anything the Tillman non-call earlier against Chad Jackson was much more of a PI.
I think I can hear the Pats upcoming practice program: holding on to the ball drills.
Aaron Schatz: Just so people know that I'm not an irrational Pats homer, I do think that PI on Ellis Hobbs was also questionable, but it was MUCH more reasonable than the one on Hawkins. Much, much, much, much, much.
Bill Moore: The Hobbs PI was him at the body, not the trip. He ran into him before their feet tangled.
Russell Levine: The first long PI call was awful. The second one was alright. But those two plays illustrate why teams don't throw deep enough in the NFL. If you throw deep 7-8 times a game, you'll probably complete one or two, and probably pick up at least one long PI. And if you throw an interception on a 40-yard pass once a game, it's not the end of the world.
How is it that other teams haven't copied the Pats' habit of running surprise QB sneaks on third-and-2 or -3? They've been doing that ever since Brady took over, and he's unbelievably effective at it, yet I don't see other teams doing it. In a copycat league, that's surprising.
Aaron Schatz: Nobody is talking about this in New England, but Matt Light is not playing anywhere close to the level he was at before last year's broken leg. That play where Mark Anderson blew by him to hurry Brady on second-and-9 near the end was not the first time this year where Light has been completely embarrassed by a pass rusher.
Ryan Wilson: Note to Rex Grossman: Throw away from Asante Samuel.
Aaron Schatz: The worst officiating mistake in the NFL is when the booth officials refuse to review a questionable play in the last two minutes. I'm not saying Dillon's knee was down, but that was worth a review. It's not like a questionable pass interference, because it isn't a question of making a decision yes or no. It's a question of giving yourself the opportunity to make a decision yes or no, with a much better view than the officials on the field. Samuel's interception was karmic justice.
Ryan Wilson: I know the officials have all kind of evaluations, tests and reviews, but when nobody knows what pass interference is, then, well, that's a problem. I'm with MDS: I have no idea what's a penalty and what's not. And I've conditioned myself to not even worry about it. And plays under review? Forget about it.You might as well flip a coin. I appreciate the fact that Mike Pereira goes on Total Access every week to explain questionable calls, but I think the problem is that the rule book is (a) too complex and (b) it's not accessible to the masses.
Ian Dembsky: I, for one, think it was a clear pass interference against New England on the first long one. The defender threw a hard elbow to the receiver's midsection before turning his head around. The official on the side of the receiver that could see this was the one who threw the flag, and did so decisively. Sure, once the defender turned his head he was in position to catch it, but by then the PI had already occurred.
Aaron Schatz: Since I'm charting this game anyway, I went back and watched this play in slow motion. I disagree with you, Ian.
Hawkins places his arm out parallel to Berrian, but away from his body. The pass isn't near there yet, and he's not touching Berrian, so as far as I know, that's not interference. Then Berrian places his left hand on Hawkins' forearm. Hawkins then turns his head to look at the pass, and Berrian actually sort of pulls Hawkins' elbow towards him. There's no hard elbow to Berrian's midsection as a deliberate act by Hawkins, certainly. When Berrian pulls on Hawkins' elbow -- or, alternately, when Hawkins moves his elbow toward Berrian -- it hits Berrian just to the left of the zero on his uniform, but at that point, both men are looking at the ball and trying to catch it.
Unless the elbow was earlier in the play, in which case it isn't on the replay, and wouldn't that be illegal contact rather than PI anyway?
Ian Dembsky: They showed a replay of the PI call on Sportscenter. Elbow to the gut, no; but clearly contact is initiated by the defender by cutting off the path of the receiver (and running into him) at the 15-yard line before the defender turns his head around. Of course, the official waits until after the pass falls to throw the flag, which makes it suspect that that's what the flag was being thrown for...
Aaron Schatz: I guess our disagreement is on whether or not Hawkins is cutting off Berrian before he turns his head. I don't think sticking out your arm parallel to a guy is cutting off the path if you don't touch the receiver.
Ian Dembsky: As far as these teams having something to prove this weekend, I think what they proved is that they're two of the top defenses in the league for a reason -- Chicago's relentless pursuit and tackling, and New England's big three up front (Warren, Wilfork, Seymour).
Ned Macey: When Chicago dumped to Miami, Grossman had been either very bad or very good. Hopefully the last two weeks are not a middle ground that is his real ability, or the Bears will have some serious problems in the playoffs.
New York Giants 21 at Tennessee Titans 24
Bill Moore: Tiki Barber came in three yards short of 1,000. It took him four runs to get there. That and 1-for-4 passing by Manning = Slow start by the Giants.
Bill Barnwell: The Giants are doing a good job on Vince Young contain so far, William Joseph in particular.
Giants starting corners: Frank Walker, R.W. McQuarters. Corey Webster's been benched. R.W. McQuarters! Seriously, they couldn't have dug up Conrad Hamilton for a game?
Tennessee is letting Plaxico Burress go up against Renaldo Hill for some reason; this game is begging for Burress to be blanketed by Pac-Man if Tennessee wanted to win, but they haven't cared too much so far. Oh well.
Nice play call on the Giants' second touchdown: They brought in Rich Seubert as an elgible receiver and had him wham block on a play fake from inside the 5; Burress was relatively unmolested right in the middle of the end zone. Too many teams today forget the actual way to make a play fake work is for the opposing team to actually believe you're running the ball.
LenDale White just fumbled on his first carry of the game. Giants are up 14-0 with the ball on the Tennessee 29. CMGSLotW is looking good this week, knock on wood.
Time passes. Wood is chopped, not knocked. The sun rises on Monday. Here's Bill's next e-mail.
Bill Barnwell: The Giants would go on to score on that drive and take a 21-0 lead. I left to go attend the wonderful Texas Is the Reason reunion show in the fourth quarter of this game and felt entirely confident about my bet.
I'm sorry, Giants fans. I messed up. I blew this game for us. I jinxed the Giants, Catholic Match Girl, my successful picks streak, and my own continued existence. I'm so ashamed of myself.
That being said -- is Eli Manning still clutch? And how come the one time he decides to UNDERthrow a ball he hits Pac-Man?
I don't even know what to say. I haven't been so utterly flummoxed about a Giants loss since the 49ers playoff game. I'm just sorry.
Oakland Raiders 14 at San Diego Chargers 21
Michael David Smith: Nnamdi Asomugha just dropped an absolute gift interception from Philip Rivers. The Raiders are in this game, but they just have the look of a team that's going to find a way to lose.
Doug Farrar: It's time for the general populace to realize how good this Oakland defense really is. In the first half, the Chargers -- who are currently ranked second in the NFL in offensive DVOA -- have gained 55 total yards, have three first downs, are 0-for-4 in third-down conversions, and have had the ball for a whopping 8:23.
Ned Macey: Vincent Jackson catches a pass, isn't touched, and spins the ball forward in celebration. The ruling is "illegal forward pass" and a five-yard penalty instead of a fumble. While all this is going on, Art Shell looks on silently...
Mike Tanier: The Oakland defense is great. But of course the offense gave the Chargers the ball once on the 12-yard line and didn't have a drive that lasted over four plays in the second half, so of course something had to give.
Ned Macey: I think one of the big reasons Oakland was struggling was because the Raiders linebackers are sooo fast, and so much of the Chargers offense is throws to Gates and Tomlinson. In fact, Gates was having more success on the outside.
Philadelphia Eagles 21 at Indianapolis Colts 45
Russell Levine: Rudi Johnson, Joseph Addai, Julius Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Frank Gore. I can only start three of them. Guess who's on my bench this week? That would be Joseph Addai. Time to trade someone for a receiver.
Doug Farrar: This is crazy. If Joseph Addai gets one more tonight, he'll equal in rushing touchdowns what Edgerrin James had in rushing attempts today. I'd like to send that stat -- and a DVD of 2006 Seahawks "highlights" -- to anyone who still undervalues the offensive line.
Mike Tanier: Am I obligated to comment on this Eagles-Colts travesty? If not, I'd like to take this time to plug the fact that the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame balloting starts this Friday in Too Deep Zone. Check the blog this week for sneak previews.
Will Carroll: And that's the season for Clark. Looks like an ACL. Thank the fine people from FieldTurf.
Aaron Schatz: This is embarrassing. The Eagles can blame a lot on luck and a lot on the McNabb injury, but there is no excuse for the complete and total disintegration of their run defense over the past few weeks. I know they are in nickel a lot tonight, but last time I checked you weren't supposed to stop tackling people just because you had one fewer linebacker on the field.
I haven't been counting for sure but the Eagles ran three straight draws in the first series and have been running draws on maybe half their running plays -- with huge success. Something for future Colts opponents to copy. It gets at the Colts' weakness up the middle AND their habit of always speed rushing on the outside.
Akers missing a field goal, wow, this business with opposing kickers missing field goals against the Colts is getting absurd. I'll need to check but I'm guessing that no team in the last decade has ever had a worse FG% against, let alone a team that played home games in a dome.
Ned Macey: As an 80% Colts fan, 20% Eagles fan, I can't really enjoy this. Only a few years ago, I think had FO existed, nobody would have thought McNabb was one of the 10 best quarterbacks in football. But the Eagles were one of the best teams because everyone else was good, and McNabb was pretty good. Now, McNabb is one of the best quarterbacks, but apparently everyone else, save Westbrook, sucks. They closed 4-1 with A.J. Feeley a few years ago, and now in the questionable NFC, nobody gives them a chance of winning a wild card.
Were Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, and Al Harris that good? According to DVOA, Philly was a top-10 defense between 1999 and 2002, but they weren't between 2003 and 2005, and although they are there now, I wouldn't bet on them staying there.
Mike Tanier: Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, and those guys were good. But they weren't that much better than Sheldon Brown and Lito are. The Eagles won for four years because they were pretty talented and played incredibly smart football. You would go weeks without seeing the kinds of silly lapses we have seen every week. They were the team that rarely left points on the board, that usually finished out wins, that always took care of business against weaker opponents. Over the last two years they have become this boom-or-bust team that gets into these amazing games while McNabb is healthy, then goes belly up when he gets hurt.
Ever since the Cowboys game, they have come out in the first quarter looking unprepared. The Redskins game was the only exception. I don't know what the problem is, but it won't be solved this season.
Aaron Schatz: And with that fumble recovery for a touchdown, Indianapolis is no longer on pace to outperform its Pythagorean projection by the greatest amount in modern (since the merger) NFL history. So, huzzah for that.
Mike Tanier: Sign the Eagles are out of it: A few weeks ago, I went to my local bar, and it was packed, with Flyers GM Bobbie Clarke there among dozens of Eagles fans. This week, same bar, I sit next to a woman who is knitting and rooting for the Ravens. Knitting! Rooting for the Ravens! I've seen the knitting needle and the damage done.
Sportscaster Exasperation Sidebar
Doug Farrar: Dan Dierdorf is making my head spin around, Exorcist-style. One play after castigating Steve McNair for not taking a shot downfield with 19 seconds left on first down from the Pittsburgh 19, Dierdorf praised him for being smart and not taking the ball away from the kicker when McNair heaved an airball out of bounds. Huh?
Bill Barnwell: How about this, Doug? "The Jets defense are (sic) just like the Patriots defense, they frustrate you!" says, I believe, Randy Cross. Oh yeah. I get those two confused all the time. Except for running plays, where the Jets don't really frustrate, hinder, or even acknowledge the presence of a running back carrying the ball until he's seven or eight yards past the line of scrimmage.
Bill Moore: You mean after Cross said earlier in the game, "that Jets run defense, they are quite solid. You can't really run against them." Um, you mean the 32nd-ranked run defense? The full sentence on his broadcaster cheat sheet must have said, "you can't really run against them every time, it gets boring."
Tim Gerheim: It's Steve Tasker, not Randy Cross. The only redeeming quality of Tasker as a broadcaster is that he's no longer paired with Don Criqui, whose vestigial Rhode Island accent is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Tasker's never seen any play or player that wasn't "great." I actually heard a "great players make great plays."
Michael David Smith: The thing that kills me about Tasker is that he never has the slightest insight about special teams. The guy was the best all-around special teams player I've ever seen and yet he never says anything interesting about kick return blocking schemes or proper pursuit angles or anything.
Bill Barnwell: Steve Tasker just instructed the Texans to Keep Choppin' Wood. Just thought I should pass that on.
Aaron Schatz: Keep Choppin' Wood is also the Rutgers theme this year, apparently. I can't hear it without laughing.
Bits 'n' Pieces
Bill Barnwell: The Ford commercial promises that they offer cars for people who make bold moves. Now, wouldn't Rosa Parks' famous act qualify as a bold move? Therefore, are we to believe that Rosa Parks has a two car garage? Furthermore, wouldn't that give her no reason to ride the bus, nullifying her social meaning whatsoever? I haven't slept in 36 hours so these are the things that are coming to me.
I also don't know if anyone else was freaked out by Nina Myers being in a Kay's Jewelers commercial, but I was terrified and fearful for her husband.
Bill Moore: So let me get this Bank of America check card straight. You spend $13.87 from your checking account, and it transfers $0.13 from YOUR checking account to YOUR savings account. Hmm. So you are rewarded for using the card with your own money. Is this a poor man's Discover card that gave you "rewards," but instead of Dean Witter paying you, you actually pay yourself. Now that's a treat!
Later This Week
Any Given Sunday: Titans over Giants
Every Play Counts: Something related to Tampa Bay or Dallas