Compiled by Doug Farrar
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. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2008. 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.
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Washington Redskins 23 at New York Jets 20
Ryan Wilson: I think the Redskins' defense still thinks they're in New England. They're suddenly unable to stop the run, and Kellen Clemens has done a nice job of buying time with his feet and finding the open receiver.
Bill Barnwell: Well, if we thought Eric Mangini was a reader... Jets ran the "Eleven Angry Men" set on third-and-medium, with no down linemen and five rushers standing up. They didn't get to Campbell, natch, but the thought was nice. Jets are up 17-3.
Bill Moore: I haven't seen much of Washington this year, but one early observation/question: Is Jason Campbell too quick to break the pocket? With only a few minutes to go in the half, all of Campbell's completions have been to Chris Cooley and Mike Sellers. Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El have nothing.
Bill Barnwell: I've actually thought Campbell did a good job of staying in the pocket.
Bill Moore: I don't mean just today. However, there were definitely two or three plays today, where he had a pocket established, and broke it too early. One turned into a sack, one a throw-away and one an incomplete.
The Jets are spreading the offense out, but that's not preventing Washington from blitzing Kellen Clemens early. He's countered by playing Pennington-style ball -- short effective passes, but with a little more zip. Washington continued to blitz throughout the half, including on the Jets' final two-minute drive, which proved to be very effective. Clemens was unable to handle the overloads, and once again, forced a pass that could have been an interception.
The Jets' front seven are playing pretty effectively. Clinton Portis is getting nowhere as Jets are filling the gaps. On one play early in the second quarter, the Jets had no-one on the defensive line on third-and-9. All seven defenders were in standing positions a couple of yards off the line. Interestingly, it wasn't a cover heavy package, as all of them ending up rushing Campbell. In wacky style, Washington countered on fourth down with a five-wide package, and ROCK CARTWRIGHT under center. Apparently, they just wanted to see what the Jets would do. They took a delay of game -- best call of the game.
Clemens comes out and makes his worst decision of the game do far. He is so zoned in Brad Smith, he throws into triple coverage. He is lucky the ball is not intercepted. He does run a good drive from that point on, including a good scramble, buying time to complete a 30-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery, and a rollout for a touchdown to make it 17-3.
The Jets are all about trickery. None of it has been very effective. They ran two fake end-arounds in a row. The first was modestly effective, but the second fooled no-one. They have also run real end-arounds (two yards) and a direct snap to the running back (negated by a false start).
Again, tit for tat, the Skins counter with their own trickery, and recover an on-side kick with five minutes to go in the first half. It's like I'm watching one of my own Madden games.
Couple of final notes at the end of the half. Moss finally makes a catch, on a flat pass with the cornerback playing off. Portis (and Ladell Betts) have had some effectiveness running to the outside, as runs up the middle were getting nowhere. Washington is making the drives, but can't get into the end zone. Campbell leaves the pocket early again on third-and-goal, cuts off half the field, and ends up throwing the ball away to settle for another field goal.
Sean McCormick: On third-and-13, Clemens made a throw that Chad Pennington simply couldn't make, rolling left away from pressure, pump-faking the checkdown and then throwing a dart 15 to 20 yards downfield to a wide open Cotchery. The offense has still been fundamentally the same, but Clemens has added the threat of the occasional downfield throw, especially after the protection breaks down.
The Jets' offense is actually building off plays rather than calling a reactive game at the line of scrimmage. They've run several plays off the I-set handoff with a receiver coming into the backfield to threaten the end-around. On two plays, they handed the ball off, on another two they actually ran the reverse, and they also called play action off it. It's the kind of thing Paul Hackett was very good at, showing a defense one look and then using it to attack them in multiple ways. (Of course, Hackett used the fullback counter as his base play, which isn't the most threatening play to attack a defense with, but still.)
Washington responded to the shotgun set with a series of overload blitzes, sending two blitzers to the same side on nearly every snap. Thomas Jones would pick up one blitzer, but the other guy would be coming free, and it forced Clemens into a near-interception and a scramble for minimal gain on third down.
Second half and the overloads continue on any long-yardage pass play. This time, LaRon Landry came free and killed Clemens. By getting those successful overloads, it effectively removes whatever vertical component Clemens would otherwise bring to the offense.
Abram Elam blitzes with force. He gets through the offensive line very well, but what happens after he's in the backfield is anyone's guess, as he doesn't consistently bring down the ball carrier. (As I was typing this, Elam came up the gut on a blitz, hit Campbell and forced an interception.)
I've often wondered why the Jets don't use Leon Washington in a Reggie Bush role. Well, they tried to early in the third quarter, lining him out wide and having him run a hitch-and-go. He was wide-open, but let the ball bounce off his chest. The play would have gone for a touchdown had he made the easy catch.
Doug Farrar: What was the difference between Jonathan Vilma, who amassed 43 tackles in seven games before going on injured reserve, and rookie David Harris, who put up 24 tackles in this game alone? Obviously Vilma is a very good player who had trouble in the new defense and without a big, reliable nose tackle, but... Were the plays just flowing to Harris, or are the Jets making some adjustments?
Michael David Smith: Harris is really good. The only thing I don't get is why on earth he wasn't starting ahead of Vilma anyway. Yeah, Vilma has talent, but in the defense Mangini is running with the Jets, Harris is a much better inside linebacker than Vilma. Of course, on almost every running play the Redskins were blowing the Jets off the ball today, and in some cases Harris was making his tackles pretty far downfield, but he was still extremely impressive for the second straight week.
Bill Barnwell: I've been saying this since the day he was drafted, and I'm guessing Sean will agree with me, but Harris is a guy this defense needed desperately. He plugs up holes and gets to the ballcarrier. Vilma is simply not that guy -- it's not an indictment of his talent, but his skillset within the 3-4. I understand that Mangini relishes the 3-4 because of the ability it provides to throw different looks at the defense, but he simply does not have the personnel for it, and while he got away with it last year, his stubbornness about it this year is going to cost him Vilma. Some team is going to get him for a fraction of his actual value and I could think of, oh, 20 or so teams who could use him.
San Francisco 49ers 16 at Atlanta Falcons 20
Ryan Wilson: You know why the 49ers offense stinks? They're in the red zone, and DeAngelo Hall is favoring a sore right arm (which he hurt on the play before when trying to punch the ball out of Darrell Jackson's hands after Jackson burned him on a crossing pattern) ... and San Francisco runs the ball to the other side of the field. Don't they have coaches paying attention to this stuff?
Vince Verhei: The one good thing about Atlanta is that on the rare occasion when they play a team that is actually worse than they are, they can exploit their opponents' weaknesses. Playing Houston? Hey, look, Harrington goes for 223 yards and two scores! Playing San Francisco? Hey, look, Warrick Dunn has his first 100-yard day in more than a year! And hey, look, the defense notches two sacks and three interceptions! The last two interceptions were just brutal throws, desperate lobs that flew over his receivers' heads and into the Falcons' arms, although the last one was virtually a Hail Mary situation. You've also got to love DeAngelo Hall intercepting the ball and delivering it right into the hands of Arthur Blank, as if to say "I'm sorry I'm such a stupid loudmouth, please don't fine me any more."
When the Seahawks traded Darrell Jackson to San Francisco, nobody in Seattle could understand why you'd give a division rival a chance to fill their biggest hole and get only a fourth-rounder in return. Well, the Seahawks absolutely fleeced the 49ers in that trade. Jackson is over, done, finished, gone. There is nothing left. The Seahawks were wise to get anything for him.
Arizona Cardinals 10 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
Bill Barnwell: Two straight low snaps by the Buccaneers center in shotgun formation, which isn't pretty, while the Buccaneers' line is killing the team's chances with penalties. The Buccaneers' scheme so far has been penalty, penalty, Earnest Graham 12-yard run, two incomplete passes. One of the incomplete passes flew through Adrian Wilson's hands to Joey Galloway for a somewhat lucky touchdown.
Russell Levine: The Bucs had 43:07 time of possession today, were plus-two in turnovers, got well over 100 yards from Earnest Graham, and yet were left sweating this game out after Matt Bryant honked a 26-yard field goal with the score 17-3 in the fourth quarter. That came at the end of a 19-play, 86-yard, 11:59 drive. Arizona went right down the field for a touchdown, then got a quick three-and-out, but could do nothing with its final two possessions.
Two weeks ago in the loss to Detroit, Bryant missed a field goal after a 16-play, 58-yard, 9:01 drive.
I've seen nearly every single game this team has played in the last 11 years, and other than 2002 when they blew a lot of people out, they've always been the same. They play with such a small margin of error because of the limited offense. This was nearly three straight losses in games they largely dominated.
The refs really lost control of the game in the final minute. With the Bucs in the victory formation, Arizona nose tackle Gabe Watson swatted the center snap (isn't that illegal?), causing the ball to skid about 15 yards backwards where Joey Galloway was lined up and easily fell on it. So that's why they put that guy back there. It was ruled a false start/illegal snap because it never touched the quarterback's hands. On the next snap, a fight broke out, probably because one of the Tampa Bay linemen was pissed at Watson. Jeremy Trueblood got popped in the head, tried to get back at the player who hit him, bumped an official and was ejected.
Tampa's safety combo of Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson was again responsible for four or five hits over the middle. At least three times, one or the other separated a Cardinal receiver from the football with a big hit, and late in the game, the tight end appeared to alligator-arm yet another deep post.
Green Bay Packers 33 at Kansas City Chiefs 22
Ned Macey: The Chiefs pick off Brett Favre with less than a minute left on a throw affected by excellent pressure from Alfonso Boone. Underrated signing of the off-season, by the way. Then the Chiefs go for it all to Samie Parker in the end zone. Atari Bigby, the pass interference machine, hits him early, then Parker catches it but lands out of bounds.
Isn't it a little weird to have a pass interference when the guy catches it through the end zone, which makes the ball look uncatchable? Is the call that Parker would have been able to catch it in bounds if it weren't for Bigby's hit -- but then isn't that sort of a forceout? The point is moot when Larry Johnson goes in for the score, and the Chiefs lead thanks to one offensive play.
Favre's first interception, by the way, was entirely his fault -- bad throw forced into a tight spot.
Aaron Schatz: Does Bigby think he's playing flag football -- as in, the player with the most flags wins the game? This is two weeks now where he just looks like he doesn't even know what the rules are out there. On top of this, a lot of Tony Gonzalez's big catches today came when Bigby had him in man coverage. Maybe he's better than this and just having a bad month, but it seems like every time something goes wrong for Green Bay on defense, it's him. It's interesting -- Bigby looks awful, Al Harris doesn't look as good as past years, the linebackers aren't completely wowing me -- I think the Packers' defense is really all about that defensive line. It is good, it is deep, and it needs to get more attention.
Priest Holmes honestly doesn't look like he has anything left. He couldn't keep up with A.J. Hawk on the pass Hawk intercepted.
Bill Barnwell: I love what Packers general manager Ted Thompson is doing for the most part, but boy did he miss in the first round. Maybe Justin Harrell will develop into a star, but defensive line was definitely not a need. That may definitely be the case, but SEC defensive tackles with a first-round pedigree are pretty much the most can't-miss you'll find for a defensive position -- Johnathan Sullivan is the only exception.
Mike Tanier: I feel like I know how the Chiefs have been beating teams. Their defensive front four is very good. Tony Gonzalez is still playing at a very high level. They can grind with opponents. But the overall offense isn't good. If L.J. is hurt for any period of time, they are in trouble, because I don't get the impression that Priest Holmes has any interest in a 20-carry load or has the physical tools to deal with it.
Doug Farrar: According to Jared Allen, it's all about the mullet.
The Green Bay Packers would like to thank whoever has been questioning Brett Favre's arm strength. First the killer overtime throw against the Broncos, and two bombs in this game. Both over two Chiefs defenders. You can't throw a football any better than he did on the Donald Driver catch.
Cincinnati Bengals 21 at Buffalo Bills 33
Sean McCormick: I switched over to the Bills game just in time to see J.P. Losman go deep and force a throw in the direction of Lee Evans. Leon Hall was in position and picked it off. Which is to say that everything was back to normal.
Ryan Wilson: Obviously, the Bengals' defense is atrocious. Part of it is injuries, part of it is just not being very good. That said, Cincy moved defensive end Robert Geathers to outside linebacker and he's looked pretty good. That's about the only good thing I can say about this unit.
Aaron Schatz: You can literally tell who is playing quarterback for the Buffalo Bills simply by looking at how many receiving yards Lee Evans has.
Doug Farrar: Poor Marshawn Lynch -- he rushed for 153 yards today, great numbers for a rookie, and nobody's going to know. Adrian Peterson just eclipsed everybody.
Vince Verhei: Glenn Holt's kickoff return for a touchdown was Exhibit A that it's the blockers, not the return man, that matter. Holt wasn't touched as he shot through a gap in the Bills' coverage. He put on a little fake to get past the kicker, but other than that he didn't look any faster or shiftier than your standard NFL kick returner.
Marshawn Lynch's 56-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was one for the all-time highlight reel. Three Bengals hit him in the backfield, but he somehow escaped, slipped out to the right, and then showed unreal explosive ability, going from nearly stopped to full speed in about two strides. There is bad defense, and there is great offense, and this was most definitely the latter.
San Diego Chargers 17 at Minnesota Vikings 35
Doug Farrar: I remember a preseason Audibles in which I advised Tarvaris Jackson to slide when he ran instead of taking the full tackle. Well, he wasn't going to listen to me, but maybe he'll listen to the little birdies flying around his head after getting whacked up by two Chargers in the second quarter. His head had hit the ground and was bouncing back up when Shawne Merriman ran right into him on a descent. Jackson was carted off the field and appeared to be OK after a few scary motionless moments, but whoo, boy -- he's going to need some Advil when the fuzz wears off.
Early entrant for Keep Choppin' Wood: Brad Childress directs Ryan Longwell to kick a 58-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Longwell comes up short, and Antonio Cromartie returns the ball 109 yards for a touchdown. Lotsa booing in the Metrodome, and a 7-7 tie is out the window. Did Childress think he'd get some press if he ran DOWN the score?
Sean McCormick: I wonder if coaches are responding to fans accusing them of being conservative, as there were a number of 54-plus-yard field-goal attempts at the end of the first half. In two of them, the defender fielded a short kick and was able to get a return, and in Cromartie's case, he was able to break it. It just seems like the field goal kicking unit is a bad group to chase down a defensive back in the open field.
Bill Barnwell: Do you think teams train field goal units on that play, though?
Sean McCormick: They certainly should. But if you look at the composition of players on the field goal unit, it just doesn't look like there are a lot of speed guys there. If a few players take a bad angle, as the Minnesota blockers did, they've got no chance of cornering a player like Devin Hester or Cromartie.
Doug Farrar: The player closest to Cromartie when he crossed the goal line was Steve Hutchinson. Safe to say they didn't have the "speed team" out there.
How to help your opponent dig their way out of a hole: The Chargers have the ball on their own five-yard line halfway through the third quarter with a third-and-11. Philip Rivers takes the snap in a shotgun two-back set, the pocket collapses, Rivers is set upon by several Vikings defenders, and he somehow escapes and runs out to the 10-yard line. Pat Williams get a 15-yard facemask penalty tacked on, and the Chargers -- oh, wait a minute. The Chargers go three-and-out and return Minnesota's favor. Never mind.
Remember the old highlights of Jim Brown, when he'd be shredding 250-pound defensive tackles and linebackers as big as today's cornerbacks and just generally embarrassing everybody? That's what Adrian Peterson looks like in this game. He's not just elusive; he can bounce off a defender and get outside faster than anyone can catch him, but he can also hit that defender and push the guy back a good couple of yards and be gone in a flash. He has that Walter Payton attitude, and if he can maintain any semblance of durability with that style as Payton did, he's going to mess up a lot of records.
The only thing I wonder about Peterson's day is how much the injury to Luis Castillo affected the ability of San Diego's front seven to stop the run. Castillo was hurt on the second play of the second half, and Peterson ran for only 43 of his 296 yards in the first half.
Vince Verhei: A request for the Minnesota Vikings: Please change Chester Taylor's jersey number. He wears 29, which looks way too similar to Adrian Peterson's 28. When Peterson is chasing the rushing record, and I see a Vikings running back wearing "2X" break a long run, I get excited. Then I see it's just Chester Taylor, and I get bummed. I suggest giving Taylor a number in the 40s, ideally 41 or 47.
Other than that, I don't know what to add. Audibles are supposed to tell the story of the game that's not told in box scores and highlights. Well, wasn't the story of this game told in the box scores and highlights? I guess there's this: Chris Chambers, who the Chargers were all kinds of excited about, was thrown to 10 times. He caught five of them for 59 yards. Yep. He's a gamebreaker.
Aaron Schatz: What's left to say about Adrian Peterson? The only thing I can add is that for all his greatness, we should recognize that he is also the beneficiary of some very good blocking, particularly good tight end blocking by Jim Kleinsasser and Visanthe Shiancoe.
What is wrong with Philip Rivers? Wasn't Norv Turner supposed to HELP young quarterbacks?
Denver Broncos 7 at Detroit Lions 44
Michael David Smith: The referee just called "personal foul for running into the coaching staff on the sideline." What? How did CBS not give us a replay of that one?
I just don't even know what to say about this game -- specifically the way the Lions' defensive line is playing right now. I mean, the Millen era has made me so pessimistic that I'm still not really ready to declare the Lions a good team, but this is the best I've seen them play in a really, really long time.
Doug Farrar: All I know is that when Shaun Rogers returns an interception 66 yards for a touchdown at a speed that intimates the presence of a baked ham in the general vicinity of the end zone, that's good fun.
Carolina Panthers 7 at Tennessee Titans 20
Vince Verhei: Tennessee's defense was mediocre last year, and I expected them to fall apart with the loss of Pacman Jones. Instead, they're tops in the league in DVOA. So I paid real close attention to this game to see how they were doing it.
First of all, their defensive line is awesome. Albert Haynesworth is a beast. He had three sacks today, as a tackle, and also blew up several running plays. Kyle Vanden Bosch and Travis LaBoy are also scary pass rushers. Most teams that can generate pressure with a four-man rush will back it up with a zone. Not the Titans. They blitz a LOT. I was really impressed by outside linebacker David Thornton. He also collected a sack, and showed great speed chasing down runners across the field.
You would think a team that blitzed so often would risk leaving corners in single coverage, but it seemed like every time a pass was coming down, the Titans had a safety there to lend a hand. Hard to tell whether that means the safeties are very good, or if their coverage schemes are that effective, but I suspect the answer is "both."
Now, all that was against David Carr and the Panthers, so take that for what it's worth. I should also point out that the Titans backed off and stopped blitzing in the fourth quarter, and that's when the Panthers drove the field and scored their touchdown.
Jones was also a great punt returner, but the guy the Titans have now, Chris Davis, is also pretty good. He didn't break any scores, but he had returns of 15 and 39 yards in the first quarter. He had another 30-plus-yarder later called back on a penalty. (Checking the box score, I see he also fumbled two returns. So he's got that to work on.)
So the Titans have defense, and they have special teams. They do not have any kind of a passing game. Vince Young is way too eager to make a big play, forcing balls to receivers who aren't open. (I also blame his receivers for this, because they're NOT OPEN.) Young ended the day with only 14 completions for 110 yards, and mixed in three sacks and two interceptions.
Jacksonville Jaguars 24 at New Orleans Saints 41
Bill Barnwell: Great comment by the announcers: "Marcus Stroud tested positive for a 'bad' supplement." Like the supplement had been naughty or something.
Saints kickoff coverage on the Maurice Jones-Drew kickoff touchdown was dire. I saw two instances where two players were being blocked by one Jaguar in the wedge.
Ben Riley: Drew Brees has more than 300 yards passing in the first half. Welcome back, Saints 2006 offense.
I like Sean Payton as a coach, but the following sequence baffled me:
1. Olindo Mare misses a 40ish-yard field goal, wide right, with a minute to play.
2. Jacksonville immediately turns the ball over after the kick.
3. Drew Brees marches the Saints down the field -- welcome back from the fantasy dead, Marques Colston! -- but the drive stalls with eight seconds to play.
4. Olindo Mare misses a 50ish-yard field goal, wide right.
Mare is now six-of-12 on the year, I think. Maybe it's time to go in a different direction, Sean.
Aaron Schatz: Yes. I thought Mare's problems last year would be your usual up-and-down field goal kicker inconsistency, but two years of this is a sign that perhaps the career is done. His kickoffs aren't even at the top of the league like they were last year -- they are middle-of-the-pack.
Bill Barnwell: The other thing about Mare missing his kicks were that the two kicks he missed in succession in the second quarter had incredibly similar paths -- they both went straight for a moment and then veered dramatically right. I have no idea about kicker mechanics, and I want to clarify that before I make the next statement, but that seems wholly mechanical to me as opposed to simply bad luck.
Seattle Seahawks 30 at Cleveland Browns 33
Doug Farrar: It's funny -- I really like Matt Hasselbeck as a quarterback, but every time I see him audible, I think to myself, "Oh-oh." He went to another play on a first-and-10 with 11:47 left in the first quarter. Seattle ran the stretch play right with Shaun Alexander, and lost four yards. Two plays later, Hasselbeck throws into tight double-coverage on Bobby Engram, and Sean Jones picks him off. Not only are the Seahawks expecting Hasselbeck to do too much with the lack of a running game, but the repeated use of four-receiver sets with a line that could generously be termed putrid is a mystery to me. You'd think they'd want to run a freakin' max protect once in a while.
And how weird is this? Early on, Seattle's defense bails the team out. That explosive Cleveland offense goes three-and-out right away. I suppose I just have to get used to the fact that Tim Ruskell, having helped build the Super Bowl Buccaneers, is now constructing the West Coast version, and that the great offenses of Seattle's recent past are a memory.
As things settle down, Hasselbeck is showing a good ability to get passes off under pressure. On their first touchdown drive, the Seahawks gained 74 yards through the air and six on the ground. The hilarious part of that drive was that Cleveland bit on play action twice. Twice! Which team have they been watching on film this week?
Nice play by Seattle second-year defensive end Darryl Tapp in the first quarter when he shed his blocker, moved down the line from the right, read Derek Anderson perfectly, and picked off a short pass. All that with a cast on his hand (OK, I'll ask the question: Why can Tapp catch the ball with a cast on his hand, and Shaun Alexander can't?) Tapp had four sacks against the Rams before the bye -- he's a player to watch. However, Browns rookie left tackle Joe Thomas is boxing Tapp out very well as a pass-rusher.
As Commandant Lassard might say, there have been many, many, many, MANY great plays in the NFL today. But Nate Burleson's 94-yard punt return touchdown in the second quarter might be the most impressive. Burleson evaded five defenders and looked to be sunk at least two different times inside his own 10-yard line. I'm not sure how he got out of all that traffic, except to say that Cleveland will be one of several teams working on return coverage this upcoming week.
The Browns went with three straight passes on a goal-line stand late in the first half, and the Seahawks showed just how much their coverage has improved. On first down, Jordan Babineaux kept the ball away from Braylon Edwards. Second down, safety Mike Green got away with a little contact on Kellen Winslow. On third down, Marcus Trufant played Edwards just about perfectly, and the Browns had to kick a field goal. Nine points allowed against this offense at the half is a big win for a defense that is really starting to impress me.
However, as the game went on, the logic behind Seattle's defensive game-planning began to elude me. I don't understand the fake blitzes, or putting Lofa Tatupu on Winslow when you need a safety on that guy. That bend-but-don't-break stuff only works if you put SOME pressure on the quarterback, and Anderson had too much time to make his throws at the end of the game. The two fundamental differences between this defensive strategy and the one that worked against the Bengals in Week 3: Jamal Lewis worked it in the red zone when Cincinnati's backs couldn't, and Seattle's mysterious aversion to pressure. And then, when Cleveland goes for a two-point conversion after their go-ahead touchdown and you'd think you'd want everyone in the end zone, Babineaux goes on a corner blitz. No excuse for it, really. You have all the ingredients of a defense that is working, and you change things around and try to get cute. Why? 48 attempts by Derek Anderson and no sacks? How does that happen?
Keep Choppin' Wood nominee No. 2: Mike Holmgren, for going for it on fourth-and-inches on Seattle's first overtime drive from the Cleveland 43-yard line, when the Seahawks hadn't been able to get any push in short-yardage situations. When you don't have a rushing attack in that situation, you punt. Maurice Morris up the middle, turnover on downs, and a few missed tackles on a screen to Jamal Lewis later, there's your ballgame.
Vince Verhei: Hoo boy, what a game. I don't even know where to start. Last week I applauded Jack Del Rio for abandoning the pass and going run, run, run. This week I'm applauding Mike Holmgren for abandoning the run and going pass, pass, pass. They ran 24 plays in the fourth quarter and overtime, and only seven of those were runs. On their first possession of the quarter, tenuously clinging to a two-point lead and looking to kill the clock, they mixed together seven passes with just one run and kicked a field goal. Obviously, none of that mattered in the long run, but it was better than seeing Shaun Alexander plow into the line three times and punting the ball away.
Now, you can question the timing of those seven runs all you want. The fourth-and-inches in overtime and the draw that set up the tying field goal were mortifying. So I guess I'm saying that Holmgren didn't abandon the run enough.
Continuing that thought, I disagree with Doug that the Seahawks need to go max protect. I've been saying this since last year, but this team plays best when they go four-wide, exploiting mismatches and zone coverage. If teams want to blitz, I think Hasselbeck's heady enough to find the hot receiver. Teams that can generate real pressure without blitzing, like the Giants or Packers, will kill them, however.
They found a different way to create mismatches on their first touchdown. On first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Bobby Engram actually lined up at fullback, then circled out for a swing pass. The linebacker couldn't keep up, and the Seahawks had seven points.
There was a point in this game where they were highlighting the big days by rookies around the league: Adrian Peterson, obviously, but also Marshawn Lynch and Amobi Okoye. And I wanted to scream "WHAT ABOUT JOE THOMAS?! HE'S IN THIS GAME RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF YOU AND DOMINATING!!!" He shut down Darryl Tapp to such a degree that in the fourth quarter, as Cleveland was passing, passing, passing to come back, Tapp gave up on rushing entirely. He'd take one step to engage Thomas, then step back and leap in the air, waving his hands in a feeble attempt to block Derek Anderson's vision. This was not a zone blitz or other unusual coverage, it was Tapp deciding that he simply had no shot of beating Thomas, and trying to find some other way to make an impact.
Also, in last week's Audibles, I took a shot at Braylon Edwards for yanking his helmet off during the game. I wanted to note here that he later said that he thought the third quarter was over. Then he apologized and said it would never happen again. This quote was in an article about Edwards offering to pay for the funeral of a young Browns fan who had passed away. That Braylon Edwards, he's good people.
Finally, a note to Sam Rosen: Going for it on fourth-and-short deep in your opponent's territory is usually a good idea. I can understand questioning the Seahawks' fourth-down play in overtime, because the run-blocking of the Seattle line is so terrible. But when Cleveland went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Seahawks' 15, down eight in the fourth quarter, Rosen was astonished they didn't kick it. I guess he didn't realize that a made field goal wouldn't have been that much better than a failed fourth-down try -- both would have left the Browns needing to get the ball back and score a touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: Cleveland is a surprise, but they are less of a surprise to me than Detroit. Detroit seems to be mostly the same players as last year. They aren't particularly young. I can't figure out how they are doing this. Cleveland has a lot of improving young players, and I thought that they would blossom in 2008. Turns out it is just happening a year early.
Ben Riley: OK, let's start on a positive note: Nate Burleson has quietly developed into the best kick returner in the league not named Devin Hester. D.J. Hackett has really good hands. And Darryl Tapp is having a borderline Pro Bowl season.
All year, I've been lambasting Seattle's do-nothing running back. Well, Shaun Alexander may suck, but the offensive line lost the football game today. On fourth-and-half a yard, in overtime, the offensive line cannot allow penetration into the backfield -- and yet, that is exactly what happened. According to beat reporters who cover the team, Seattle's offensive linemen are embarrassed by their collective performance. And they should be.
Hey, has anyone noticed that Derek Anderson is having a Pro Bowl season? I wasn't blown away by his performance, but he knows that he should throw to Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Joe Jurevicius, in exactly that order. Of course, it helps when Joe Thomas is stoning the defensive end on your blind side.
Houston Texans 24 at Oakland Raiders 17
Vince Verhei: If there was any thought that Josh McCown might turn into an NFL starter someday, that thought is dead. The Texans' secondary is terrible. They made Joey Harrington and the Falcons receivers look like Dan Fouts and the Air Coryell Chargers. Yet McCown faces that secondary and puts up three interceptions while completing less than half his passes.
And I nominate Lane Kiffin for the Keep Choppin' Wood award. I think his decision to let Sebastian Janikowski try a 64-yard field goal in the second quarter was worse than any of Holmgren's calls. First of all, as we've seen three years in a row now, long field goals that come up short can be returned, sometimes for touchdowns. What made this call particularly galling, though, was that there was still 1:15 to go in the quarter. So when Janikowski hit the upright, Houston took over at the spot of the kick: The Oakland 46. They killed the rest of the quarter gaining a mere 22 yards and kicking a 40-yard field goal to make it 17-0 and effectively end the game. That kick was incredibly high-risk, and incredibly low-reward.
Dallas Cowboys 38 at Philadelphia Eagles 17
Mike Tanier: You need to hear the eerie silence here in the Linc after the Cowboys went up 7-0. It's like church on Good Friday. T.O. caught that pass and you could hear the life sucked out of this crowd. It's so quiet it's like ... a Temple game.
Eagles score on a Brian Westbrook run. Philly fans awaken. Aaron says, "Thank you for not getting funky" to Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg. I concur.
The screen game to Brian Westbrook isn't working. The Cowboys are just waiting on them. The Eagles need to use Westbrook as an actual wideout more or stop going to the well on those plays.
Aaron Schatz: I've said this before, but I'll say it again: There were very good reasons why the team projection system did not like the Cowboys, but boy, was it wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
(Oh, and they aren't in this game, but they are in the division, and I know the Giants fans will get pissed if I don't say this too, so I will: Yeah, I was really wrong about the Giants too.)
Ned Macey: What the hell happened to the Philly pass defense? They were pretty below average before today, but receivers are just WIDE-open. You'd think with T.O. in town, they'd try and limit him a little, but he's just running free.
Sadly, other than the horrible interception, McNabb doesn't look that bad. The decision to have drives stall out at midfield rather than in the red zone is maybe not the best strategy.
Who will be the first writer to blame it on Reid's personal problems? I'm sure it will be one of the topics on First-and-Ten on whatever Cold Pizza is called these days, and I'm sure the Pardon the Interruption guys will mention it. I love the amount of info that is out there these days, but the constant need to come up with controversy makes real analysis impossible. Maybe this angle will take some heat off of McNabb, who threw as bad an interception as I've ever seen him throw.
Ben Riley: Jason Witten takes two hard hits, his helmet comes off, and yet he still rumbles for 50 yards before being tackles. NBC shows him recovering on the sidelines with a bloody nose. As a result, John Madden just had an on-air orgasm.
Mike Tanier: I am glad I don't get to hear the on-air orgasm.
Ben Riley: Yes, but you still have to watch the Eagles. SNAP!
By the way, if Apple runs the iPhone commercial that has the "Music is my boyfriend, music is my king-size bed, music is my therapist who I see on Wednesday, music is that weird waxy film on apples" song as often as we heard Ms. Feist singing in support of the iPod, I'm going to murder Steve Jobs with my bare hands.