Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

compiled by Doug Farrar

Each weekend, 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.

San Diego Chargers 12 at New England Patriots 21

Doug Farrar: Apparently, Igor Olshansky was flipping off the Foxboro crowd before the game. I find it interesting that A) The Chargers seem to have a predilection for taunting people they don't have to physically face on the field (Philip Rivers messing with Jay Cutler; guys messing with crowds everywhere, though after this game, I should probably give them credit for shooting their mouths off all the time no matter what) and that B) If they keep this up, the impossible could happen and popular sentiment might revert to the Pats.

Mike Tanier: Norv Turner lets the boys be boys, you know. That sort of thing has a way of snowballing. It didn't hurt them this year, but it shows a lack of professionalism that could spill into other aspects of the Chargers' play next year.

Russell Levine: Is it just me or does the crowd seem kinda flat? Maybe three Super Bowls, 17-0 and a team with all three of its offensive stars hurt has led the crowd to feel this will be just another ho-hum win? There's no noise at all evident on the broadcast.

Mike Tanier: Clapping with gloves on sounds pretty muffled.

Aaron Schatz: If you listened to the Simmons podcast this week, you heard me and Bill talking about the noise in Foxboro. There's no question that it is one of the quieter stadiums in the league and Simmons is of the opinion this has to do with the architecture of Gillette, it just doesn't amplify the crowd noise like a dome, or like Qwest Field does.

Will Carroll: Philip Rivers couldn't set on his first throw; his knee buckled due to the lateral push. I don't think he should go much more. Note it's the lateral movement that's the problem and that he's wearing a brace that should limit lateral movement. I don't think any possible ACL problem is affecting things.

Doug Farrar: If the Chargers are able to get a defensive push up the middle on Tom Brady as they were able to do to end New England's first drive, things could get very interesting. I don't think defenders from the side affect him that much, but he really relies on being able to step up in the pocket before he makes the throw under pressure.

San Diego is doing a great job with their blitzes early on in frequency and creativity. They're giving Brady different presnap looks, and they have the confidence in their corners to play up. Laurence Maroney has nothing available to him.

Vince Verhei: On the Patriots' first possession, the Chargers rushed five and got a three-and-out, but Brady had open receivers downfield both times -- once Brady threw a bad pass, once he didn't see the open man. Chargers have been rushing four most of the time since then, and on the touchdown to Jabar Gaffney, they only rushed three. So they're mixing up their fronts, and it seems to be working.

Ben Riley: CBS graphic just said, "Merriman: Big-Time Him." What does that mean? When did "Big Time" become a verb?

Doug Farrar: About the same time "Melty" became an adjective.

Ben Riley: Antonio Gates wandering toward the locker room already (though that was apparently an "equipment" issue). Philip Rivers looking shaky in the pocket. Igor Olshansky taunting aside, if the Chargers win today, it will be the biggest upset in sports history. Not football history. Sports history.

Sean McCormick: True, but it would still fall nicely into line with the running theme of dominant teams slipping up in the playoffs and then making up for it the following year by winning on the road.

Doug Farrar: I dunno, a lot of people thought that Jacksonville could win last week, and the Chargers finished sixth in DVOA while Jacksonville was fourth. If San Diego had a different coach, it wouldn't be seen as such an impossibility, and the Chargers are on a pretty hot streak of their own. Given the perceived AFL-NFL talent disparity (inaccurate, of course), it'd be tough to top Super Bowl III.

Stuart Fraser: I don't buy that San Diego over New England here, even with San Diego's injury situation, is a larger talent disparity than Stanford over USC or Appalachian State over Michigan.

Russell Levine: Count me in the group that thinks there's no such thing as a pro sports upset that can rank with some of the all-timers in college or the Miracle on Ice. There are no comparable talent gaps in pro sports.

Ben Riley: Russell, you make a good point, but I think a Chargers win would be more impressive than the Miracle on Ice, for three reasons. First, the Chargers' three best players are playing with one leg, four toes, and whatever else is wrong with LaDainian Tomlinson; I'm pretty sure Team USA was completely healthy. Two, this game is being played in New England; the Miracle on Ice took place in Lake Placid. Three, I'm not sure who Team USA had to beat to play USSR, but the Chargers are taking on arguably the best team in pro football history after beating a great Indianapolis team ... in Indianapolis.

Patrick Laverty: Actually, a football equivalent of Miracle on Ice would be something along the lines of Ball State beating the Patriots (in Muncie), not another NFL team. Russia was a bunch of professionals against a bunch of college kids. One also has to think that Stanford +52 beating USC is a bigger upset than the AFC's #3 seed beating the #1.

(After Brady throws a first-quarter interception to Quentin Jammer...)

Russell Levine: I'm going to look stupid when New England wins 35-7, but not only does the crowd sound flat, the Pats look flat on offense, and Brady is struggling with his accuracy and has been hit a few times. They don't look very Pats-like in the first 10 minutes.

Stuart Fraser: The Chargers are doing most of the traditional keys to limiting the Patriots: Stop the run with your defensive line, pressure Brady up the middle, play in high winds (or as close as you can manage,) smack the crap out of the New England receivers, and accept the occasional flag. It seems to be helped by Brady's bad day.

Ben Riley: Is there a shakier kicker in important games than Nate Kaeding? He manages to make 25-yard, first-quarter gimmes exciting.

Doug Farrar: Perhaps not an American kicker. Canada's got the champ.

Michael David Smith: The Chargers' decision to de-activate Dave Rayner was a huge mistake. Kaeding's kickoffs have been terrible.

Will Carroll: I don't believe in clutch, but I do believe in choke.

Kelly Washington: +1 for the slap on the ball that kept the punt out of the end zone and put the Chargers deep in their own territory;
Kelly Washington: -2 for the stupid dance.

I still think one of the big advantages a team could find is using more starters on special teams.

Doug Farrar: The last play of the first quarter –- that short pass to Stallworth –- was a perfect example of Brady's acumen under pressure. Everything's collapsing all around him, but as long as he can step up, it's almost as if the defenders aren't there. Is there anyone better in the NFL at taking one step out of trouble?

Aaron Schatz: Phil Simms keeps talking about Philip Rivers looking comfortable out there, but I'm with Will; it does look like things are sailing a bit and they're getting a lot of yardage with runs. Clearly, Tomlinson was nowhere near as healthy as we thought, because this is now two straight drives he has not been on the field.

Once again, the Chargers are doing some up-the-middle pressure here with Stephen Cooper. They did that in the first game, but they hardly did it against any other team this year.

Vince Verhei: I don't know if the wind was playing havoc with Brady's accuracy early, but it looks like the Pats have adjusted by getting the ball to Randy Moss on the reverse, and throwing to running backs in the flats -- short passes that don't get blown away. This also gets the ball to running backs around the Chargers' front -- which is crucial, because they were having no luck trying to go through it.

Doug Farrar: Going into the second quarter, it looks to me as if the mid-zone of that New England defense -- the 5- to 12-yard area -- is open for business. Rivers has a lot of time, and there are times when his options are shot down, but I've seen some iffy play underneath. Linebackers bumping into each other, hanging close to the line on fake blitzes, leaving huge holes in the zone. It looks like they need a reset.

Ben Riley: Do you think Vincent Jackson is aware how badly the 75,000 people who had him on their fantasy teams this year resent his playoff success? I mean, the guy has been an absolute beast the past two games.

Stuart Fraser: That was an interesting variation on "no holding in the playoffs" on that second-and-goal to Gates with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.

I'd agree that passes are sailing on Rivers, but they're sailing on Brady too. Of course Brady often can't step in due to pressure and it seems Rivers won't step in, probably due to injury. Or it could be the wind.

Russell Levine: The Chargers need to stop kicking field goals if they're going to have a shot.

Sean McCormick: I was thinking that the Chargers might want to try one or two onside kicks today, and if they can't do better than giving New England the ball on the 40, they might want to try more than that. When in doubt, do as Jeff Fisher would do.

Ben Riley: The Patriots can continue to avoid Antonio Cromartie by throwing at Quentin Jammer, but Jammer seems determined to turn his career around tonight. He's playing out of his mind right now, and if Brady keeps throwing in his direction, he's going to get picked. Again.

Sean McCormick: Phil Simms just made a good point (and the world briefly stopped turning on its axis): San Diego is able to play tight and effective man coverage on both sides of the field. That's the kind of coverage that Miami used to play very successfully against Brady, and even though this Pats team is far more loaded at wide receiver, to the point where you'd expect them to find a good matchup somewhere, it hasn't really happened yet.

Doug Farrar: That tackle by Brandon Meriweather on Pocket Hercules II with 18 seconds left in the first half might wind up being the play of the game. The Chargers don't get the first down, they have to take their last timeout, Rivers has to heave the ball out of bounds on the next play, and though Kaeding broke his postseason 40-plus schneid, Meriweather's tackle may have prevented what I suspect will be a desperately-needed touchdown down the stretch.

Aaron Schatz: The Chargers are getting insane pass protection. That's why this game is still close. Rivers is getting tons of time to throw.

I've called Quentin Jammer overrated a lot in the past, but there's no question this was his best season, and he is playing very well today.

Mike Tanier: I think he is destined to have a long second career in the Charles Woodson/Shawn Springs sort of way. Some of these high-talent cornerbacks are very erratic early in their careers, then figure it out after several years, when their exceptional athleticism has faded a bit but their brains have caught up with their bodies.

Stuart Fraser: Add mine to the cavalcade of Jammer praise; he's playing really well. That said, Cromartie isn't being thrown at at all -- which is about the ultimate sign of success for a cornerback.

Bill Barnwell: On one hand, Jammer's having a great game. On the other, it's pretty amazing that the Patriots simply aren't going at Cromartie. It looks like he's officially their No. 1 corner, and he's absolutely taken Moss out of the game. They're doubling Moss on most every play, of course, but other teams do that, and he still gets his catches.

By the way, Matt Light's a dead ringer for "Wolf" from American Gladiators.

Will Carroll: So, you're the one watching that show.

Doug Farrar: He was a dead ringer for the best left tackle in football on that long Maroney fourth-quarter run. Damn, that's some killer downfield blocking.

Aaron Schatz: They keep talking about the Chargers feeling good about themselves, confident, because they are still in this game. I think the Chargers have outplayed the Patriots so far and they are still losing. The Patriots get the ball first in the second half, and the Chargers defense has a trend of playing worse in the second half all season long. I think that's a reason for the Patriots to be the more confident team coming out for the third quarter.

Mike Tanier: The Chargers played a lot of Cover-3 or quarters on first-and-10 and early in drives. The corners would drop way back and allow little 5-yard smash routes in front of them. Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans, and I think Donte Stallworth all caught first-and-10 passes that netted 7 to 12 yards without a defender anywhere near them on smash routes. Several Patriots drives stalled after that (or ended with turnovers) but it is hard to win the field position battle when you spot your opponent a first down to start every drive.

Vince Verhei: Dan Marino's cell phone going off was the greatest halftime act I've ever seen -- until I realized the whole thing was sponsored by Sprint. Oh boy.

Most unlikely one-on-one matchup of the day: Tedy Bruschi finds himself isolated against Antonio Gates at the goal-line -- and knocks the pass away.

Benjy Rose: Can someone tell me why Gillette Stadium plays "Hell's Bells" after the Brady tipped interception?

Stuart Fraser: I don't know, but that was clearly a makeup call by Fate after last year's divisional round.

Bill Barnwell: That interception looked like miscommunication with Stallworth and Brady, where Brady maybe thought Stallworth was changing his curl into a go, and Stallworth was still going to run a curl.

I like what the Patriots are doing with Kevin Faulk and Maroney, motioning them out so that the Chargers both announce their coverage and, if it's man, narrow down who's going to be rushing by getting one of the linebackers out of the box.

Doug Farrar: Junior Seau makes the second huge third-down tackle for the Patriots, on Michael Turner with nine minutes left in the third quarter from the New England 4-yard line. Another Kaeding field goal, another opportunity bites the dust.

Is it my new TV, a footing issue on the field, or is Maroney always this slow out of the blocks? He looks like Shaun Alexander from the handoff to the line, and that's not necessarily a good thing with this quick defense.

(After Brady throws interception No. 3, right to Cromartie in the middle of the end zone...)

Russell Levine: The Keep Choppin' Wood award will go to Cromartie, for running that pick out of the end zone, if this leads to a three-and-out.

(It actually leads to a four-and out -- the Chargers get one first down and have to punt.)

Mike Tanier: I have no problem with him doing that because he is Antonio Cromartie and is incredibly dangerous with the ball. He got tackled at the 7, but if he runs it out 20 times he is going to score four or five times and take it past the 20-yard line another eight or nine times.

Russell Levine: Still, what gives with Brady? He has been ordinary to bad today.

Michael David Smith: I would argue that "ordinary to bad" is being extremely generous. He's made some horrible throws out there.

Patrick Laverty: I don't know if Will or anyone else can confirm, but WEEI in Boston was saying that Brady had a little bit of the flu/cold thing going on. That definitely wasn't the Brady we saw all year.

Will Carroll: I don't do colds. I'm an injury guy, not an illness guy.

Patrick Laverty: The radio guys also kept ranting about Brady's performance the game after a bad game. Guess that could be something to check. Does he really have a great game after a bad one?

Mike Tanier: When I re-watch this game, I want to see how Brady leads his receivers. The diving catch in the final drive by Kevin Faulk is a great example of a touch pass. Brady did it early in the game on a short pass to Moss: With Moss about to release, Brady threw the ball about 8 yards upfield. On one pass to Wes Welker near the goal line (just before the Cromartie pick as I recall), Brady through to Welker's back shoulder, almost shoving him into the end zone with the throw. Those are great throws, and a few of them go a long way: If Brady just throws to Faulk in stride in the fourth quarter, the Patriots may not convert that third-and-10.

Doug Farrar: The next killer third-down stop -- Harrison blitzing left on third-and-10 with nine minutes left in the game. He forces the poor throw from Rivers, which keeps the Chargers out of field goal range, still down by nine, at the Pats' 36-yard line. New England's predictable ability to make these plays when they absolutely must, and to prevent the opponent from doing the same, really defines them as a team.

Stuart Fraser: And Norv Turner realizes he's down by two scores in the fourth quarter, and goes pass-wacky. Norv, there are 10 minutes in the game and all you need is a touchdown and a field goal. A few running plays won't kill you. (A cynic watching the game with me suggested that Norv knows he needs four field goals, so all the drives have to be in hurry-up from here on).

Ben Riley: Wow, I couldn't disagree more with Norv's play calling there. You've got first-and-10 in New England territory -- that's four-down territory! So run the ball, man! Instead it's three incomplete passes and a punt. And Easterbrook just started scribbling in his notebook...

Aaron Schatz: The Chargers are playing really well, but that's now two big mistakes running balls out of the end zone. First, on Cromartie's interception, he should have just gone down to a knee; instead he tries to run it out and the Chargers get it on the 4 instead of the 20. Then, after the Wes Welker fourth-quarter touchdown, Stephen Gostkowski booms it with the wind 5 yards deep in the end zone, and Darren Sproles takes it out and gets drilled at the 15. Sometimes, it's better to not try to make the big play.

Stuart Fraser: One situation in which the Chargers aren't playing well is when New England has third-and-short. I don't think San Diego has managed a stop on third-and-less than about 6.

And, in the end, (actually, throughout most of the second half), the Chargers couldn't stop the run. This is unusual, because normally when teams go one-dimensional to kill the clock it becomes a lot easier. I don't know enough about San Diego to accuse them of lacking depth along the line and at linebacker, but that's the usual cause of being unable to hold up against the running game in the second half.

It is, of course, possible that nobody in San Diego prepared for a running game out of two-TE sets. But they should have done so -- New England loved it last year, and the personnel are still there (or they've been improved).

Russell Levine: Kevin Faulk gets the Pats' MVP today for those two drive-extending catches. On the other hand, that was a brutal decision by Norv, punting from the New England 36 down two scores.

Vince Verhei: To those who say the Patriots high ranking in rush offense DVOA is merely a product of the threat of their passing attack, I present to you the second half of this game. Playing with the lead and to run out the clock, they go to a one-wide receiver offense, alternating between an I-formation with two tight ends and a single-back, triple-TE approach, and run over the Chargers over and over again.

Mike Tanier: Anyone see the Richard Seymour shot on Philip Rivers after the whistle?

Stuart Fraser: Yes. In rulebook terms, I thought it should have drawn a flag. In personality terms, I suspect Rivers probably had it coming. It wasn't a particularly vicious shot.

Aaron Schatz: What do people think about Philip Rivers today? He did look pretty good considering the injury, and yet at halftime, Bill Cowher was saying that he thought the Chargers should take him out, and early on Will pointed out how the knee was seriously limiting him.

Russell Levine: Is there a quarterback in the NFL that throws an uglier-looking -- yet still effective -- ball than Rivers? The ball never seems to have anything on it, yet usually finds the mark.

Sean McCormick: Rivers is what Chad Pennington would be with top level personnel around him.

I was just about to post that the Chargers are being successful for the second week in a row at working the deep outside. Then Philip Rivers promptly put that wounded duck up for Ellis Hobbs to grab near the end of the second quarter. Of course, it's possible that the Chargers called the old "Let him intercept it, then strip him" play, but they don't execute it as well as the Pats.

Doug Farrar: That wasn't as bad as Rivers' other early interception, the "I'm falling down, but I don't want to eat the ball" pick by Samuel. I'm sure many people yelled "Pick!" while that one was in the air.

Stuart Fraser: Rivers reminded me of Pennington at times, though I'll let people who watch more Jets ball than me comment on that analogy. The first interception was all on Chambers, though -- almost as bad as the hook-and-lateral-via-a-defender the Patriots pulled off in this fixture last year.

Ben Riley: It was damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't for the Chargers there. Rivers was clearly struggling throwing anything deep, but even on one leg, I think he's a better option that Billy Volek. And if the Chargers had managed to punch a few touchdowns in, we might have been talking about one of the "gutsiest" playoff performances of all time.

Stuart Fraser: In general, I'm not taking Cowher's word for anything when it comes to quarterbacks. He's far too inclined to wrap his quarterbacks in cotton wool and not let them do anything bad. Which isn't all that bad an idea when you've got the Steelers defense, but it will only take you so far. I don't think Rivers played great, but he did more than I'd have expected from Volek. There seemed to be too much air underneath many of his passes -- but I could say the same about Brady.

Mike Tanier: Both Rivers and Brady made some great throws and some really bad ones. Rivers was wildly off target at times but threw some absolute strikes, like when he hit Chambers with his tippie-toes on the sidelines. Rivers never looks good when throwing on the waddle, so when the Patriots forced him to run a little in the second half they were at a big advantage. But after being outside for 15 minutes today, I don't know how anyone was gripping a football.

Russell Levine: I don't know what to make of the Pats' last three outings. They've looked beatable all three weeks. What does it mean for the Super Bowl? Anything? Who knows, but it's been a while since they've looked dominant.

Doug Farrar: It probably means that the team they're facing will put a few good things together, maybe even take an early lead, and everyone will be writing all this stuff about how this is where it all ends. Then, the opposing team will make one imperceptible mistake. Because of that, and before anyone knows what happened, the opposing team will find itself under a really huge boulder as the Patriots do what they've done all the way through the second half of the season, or at least since Rosevelt Colvin got hurt. Death by a thousand paper cuts, bend-but-don't-break, whichever cliché you care to employ. They seem to have forgotten how to lose.

Tim Gerheim: It is incredibly impressive that the Patriots ran a drive that lasted over nine minutes AT THE END OF THE GAME? Sure the words "game over" were written in TMQ's notebook when Turner punted at 9:13, but there's no way even Easterbrook thought the Chargers wouldn't even see the ball again. How often does a nine-minute drive even occur? I would be surprised if it was even once a weekend during the regular season. And the Pats did it, against a good Chargers defense, during the last nine minutes of the game.

Ned Macey:Sure Brady didn't play well, but he was playing the second best pass defense according to DVOA and the best overall defense in weighted DVOA. Might that not have something to do with the 3 INTs and overall mediocre performance? Also, the Chargers run defense ranked 19th in DVOA, so the Pats' second-half strategy was extremely sound.

Of course, Brady also suffered from the weather. One of the next major breakthroughs for FO is weather-adjustments for offensive and defensive play. I know Aaron has written a few times about doing that for the 2008 book.

The Chargers coped impressively with the losses of Tomlinson and limitations of Gates, but the fact that they lost this game in the red zone, where those two players excel, was unfortunate.

Aaron Schatz: I feel really bad for LaDainian Tomlinson. Here is a guy who is one of the best players of his generation, former MVP, class act. Here he is, finally, one game from the Super Bowl, and he's forced to sit on the sidelines, unable to help, watching his team lose. I am guessing that Norv Turner made the right decision, given the quality of the other San Diego running backs, but it had to be so emotionally hard for L.T.

Although the Patriots struggled in this game, the way they won demonstrated why they are the best offense of all-time and probably the best team of all time. When I was on WEEI on Tuesday, we had a caller who talked about how, if the Patriots were running an offense as good as the 99-01 Rams, why couldn't a team come in and beat them just like the 2001 Patriots beat the 2001 Rams? My response was this:

First of all, people don't understand just how big the 2001 upset was, possibly the greatest upset in NFL history, greater than Super Bowl III. It's not the class of upset that happens all the time.

Second, the difference between the 2007 Patriots and the 1999-2001 Rams is flexibility. The Mike Martz offense is what it is. If you can figure out how to stop it, you stop it. He doesn't want his quarterback to call audibles to adjust at the line. He doesn't come in with power running. He runs what he runs. The 2007 Patriots are flexible. Brady audibles whenever he wants. If they can't pass the ball -- and they could not today, due to the wind and Brady having perhaps his worst day of the year -- they bring in two tight ends, three tight ends, and they stuff it down your throat with a power running game. Not that Laurence Maroney is better than Marshall Faulk, since he certainly is not, but the 2001 Rams could not have adjusted to do what the 2007 Patriots did in the second half of this game. That's why the 2007 Patriots have the greatest offense in NFL history.

New York Giants 23 at Green Bay Packers 20 (OT)

Doug Farrar: Everyone gets excited for conference championships! Why? Because in the words of Emmitt Smith, "If the Giants win this game, they could possibly go to the Super Bowl."

Mike Tanier: He didn't really say that, did he?

Doug Farrar: I don't think he meant to say it (i.e., he knows that a win would put the Giants in the big game and he just verbally gets in his own way a lot of the time), but he said it.

Michael David Smith: He said it.

Aaron Schatz: I just have to point out that the advertisement on the side of Gmail for this message was "Green Bay Packers Zubaz: We're Back!" OK, who decided that Zubaz was back?

Will Carroll: The halftime shot of Lambeau looked like they were heating the field. I couldn't find anything on a quick Google, but isn't there some kind of melting tech under the field there?

Doug Farrar: They've had coils/rails under the field for decades. If I remember correctly, they didn't work (or weren't turned on) before the Ice Bowl, hence the name.

Bill Barnwell: One of the things I've been lamenting about the Giants from the preseason on is their tendency to overpursue on defense. The first two plays in this game from the Packers totally exploited said tendency.

I have a man-crush on Justin Tuck. I just wanted to say that.

Ben Riley: "Eli, hi, this is Matt Hasselbeck. The Dropped Pass Support Group meets at 7:30 on Monday. See you there."

Aaron Schatz: This game is definitely backing up the charting numbers showing Al Harris as no longer playing at a superstar cornerback level.

Stuart Fraser: Did Troy Aikman really just describe the Al Harris-Plaxico Burress matchup as "a good matchup for both teams"? If he did, does anybody know what the blazes he meant?

Ahh, the Giants are showing how wide receivers should really let a quarterback down. Anybody can drop a pass, but having your split end and your slot guy run into each other requires skill and true dedication to screwing up. Wonder how many reps it took in practice to perfect that?

(After Green Bay's return man very nearly flubs a Giants kickoff...)

Doug Farrar: Anyone who had "11:33 left in the first half" in the Koren Robinson Dropped Football Pool, you're a winner!

Ben Riley: Last week, Doug and I were talking about which team had a better wide receiving corps, Packers or Seahawks. I argued for Seattle, but Doug argued -- and I quote -- "the Packers' yards after catch numbers are insane." One 90-yard Donald Driver touchdown with 85 yards after the catch later, I think we can score that one Farrar 1, Riley 0.

Doug Farrar: It would be a lot closer to a tie if D.J. Hackett could stay healthy and Deion Branch didn't keep turning into a pumpkin. But the Packers have invested in those big guys who can bring in a quick slant and just blaze upfield. They're built for the spread offense, and they can all block like monsters.

Bill Barnwell: Ben and I are debating here on Atari Bigby's play: Is it good that the Bigby laid the huge hit on Burress in the first half, or was it his responsibility to have anticipated the slant and have covered it in the first place?

Also, forgetting that Corey Webster was absolutely manhandled by Driver on the line on the 90-yard touchdown, the angle that Gibril Wilson took on the tackle was absolutely unforgivable. Just atrocious.

Aaron Schatz: The Giants keep looking for flags on the Packers defensive backs for illegal contact. Bigby led with his helmet when he laid out a Giants receiver and got no flag. MDS did a research article back in the first year of FO showing that officials really do call fewer penalties during the postseason, except for Ed Hochuli for some reason. The "let them play" ethic is really obvious this year.

In the Patriots-Chargers game, there was basically no holding (only one offensive holding penalty, which was declined on a sack). No holding so far in this game either.

Doug Farrar: This has been an exceptional postseason for the "let them play" thing, and I don't mean "exceptional" in a good way. I think it will go through the Super Bowl, and there will be some silent offseason adjustments directed at next year's postseason, which is what the NFL seems to do whenever the officials keeping flags in their pockets seems to benefit one especially physical secondary. Call it the Bill Polian Rule.

I'll say this, though: Mike Pereira can't talk on one hand about how he's pushing for consistency in officiating and watch stuff like this, and even the graphic crew-by-crew swings in the regular season for certain penalties, on the other. If there was consistency, scouting crews ahead of time wouldn't be necessary, but it is. I also wonder how much of this has to do with the postseason all-star crews.

Stuart Fraser: Wow. I think Antonio Pierce's play in blowing up a screen despite having three blockers between him and the ball carrier, and forcing the Packers to settle for a field goal, is the best individual defensive effort in this year's playoffs.

Bill Barnwell: That was a great freaking play. I don't know if it was the best individual effort of the playoffs, but it was a great, great freaking play.

Ben Riley: Wow. The Joe Buck-to-Troy Aikman frigid-broadcasting-booth chest bump just raised the bar on man-on-man awkwardness. High comedy.

Doug Farrar: Terry Bradshaw's "I'm going to talk no matter where my microphone is" halftime analysis was wonderfully reminiscent of Larry "Bud" Melman.

Vince Verhei: Bradshaw did that in the pregame show, too. You've got to give him a break though, he's only been doing TV for 23 years.

Ben Riley: "That makes me feel like a real sissy." -- Joe Buck, as Fox comes back from commercial showing the three attractive girls who live in Green Bay wearing bikini tops.

Aaron Schatz: The biggest question going into tonight's game was: "Are we getting the Giants' passing game from the regular season, or the Giants' passing game from the last three weeks?" At halftime, I would have to say that Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress are still drinking the '03 Panthers juice, but the other guys on that offense have reverted to normal.

Bill Barnwell: I will say that as improved as Eli Manning has been this postseason, he still panics when the clock is running down. He has one or two "OH S**T -- TIME OUT!" moments per game.

Vince Verhei: The Packers seem to be running a lot of play action from draws. So they fake pass, then fake run, then really pass. It seems to be slowing the Giants pass rush down even more than normal play action, but it also takes longer to set up. If the Giants ever start blitzing, that tactic could backfire big-time for Green Bay.

For the Giants, they've got to be feeling good about themselves. On that last drive, they've got the big dropped pass by Burress, plus the brainfart Manning had when he tried to scramble with no timeouts; otherwise they've got another field goal, maybe a touchdown. But Harris clearly can't cover Burress, Eli's had plenty of time to throw, they've had some success running the ball, and if the Giants can stop beating themselves, they've got a great chance to win this game.

Ben Riley: What's that famous logical paradox? Zeno's Paradoxes? The Packers seemed determined to make it real by making it half the distance to the goal twice. From within the 1-yard line.

Stuart Fraser: I'm guessing that either the Packers decided that "half the distance to the goal" isn't much of a deterrent from the 1, or alternatively whatever they thought was the Giants' snap count wasn't.

By the way, if the Giants win, do we need another irrational Brady-Manning thread?

Ben Riley: So, Plaxico Burress just ran past the Packers bench yelling, "He can't cover me!" while pointing at Al Harris. It's true. Harris can't cover him. Should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Vince Verhei: After the Packers scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter, they gave up on the Harris-Burress matchup, putting Charles Woodson on Burress instead.

(One play later…)

Vince Verhei: OK, forget what I said about Woodson-Burress. It lasted exactly one play, a completion. I guess the Packers figured Woodson can't cover Burress either.

Aaron Schatz: On the first drive of the third quarter, we learn that the officials' "let them play" postseason attitude simply is no match for the most-penalized defense in the NFL. Eventually, the flags had to come out on the Packers.

Well, so much for keeping the flags in the pockets. Did the officials just hand the Packers a touchdown with a ticky-tack 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on Sam Madison that easily could have been a no-call or offsetting penalties on Madison and Vernand Morency?

Stuart Fraser: I don't know. And the reason I don't know is that the replay cut off partway through their contretemps, with my compliments to FOX. It's probably my biggest hate about NFL coverage: when there's a major penalty and the replay cuts off halfway through the action, missing off all sorts of things that might have moved the zebra to get his flag out.

(Early in the fourth quarter, Brett Favre is intercepted by R.W. McQuarters, who fumbles. The ball is recovered by Mark Tauscher...)

Mike Tanier: I just witnessed Favre's interception and Tauscher's fumble recovery. I am glad the season is almost over. I can't make sense of this stuff anymore.

Ben Riley: OK, so some plays just require a classical name. The Catch. The Music City Miracle. And now we have R.W. McQuarters picking Brett Favre, and then fumbling. Divine Intervention?

Doug Farrar: Tauscher might be the Packers' Most Valuable Player this postseason. Patrick Kerney was negated against him last week, and Michael Strahan (with a nod to Sal "That won't happen to Strahan!!!" Paolantonio) has two tackles and no sacks through the third quarter.

Stuart Fraser: That's a play from the New England playbook, isn't it? DB hook right Brown lateral?

Vince Verhei: On that failed third-down screen that led to the game-tying field goal: Was that meant to be a double-pass? Looked like a lateral to me. Odd time and place for that call.

Ben Riley: I'm totally confused as to why Mike McCarthy accepted that penalty with nine minutes to play. Isn't fourth down with a potential 52-yard field goal attempt better than giving the Giants another chance at making the first? (And as it turns out, the Giants gain 12 yards on third down and get a questionable pass interference call to convert on fourth. Just sayin'…)

The cognitive dissonance happening within Tom Coughlin's mind after Lawrence Tynes shanked that field goal was truly breathtaking. Coughlin's internal monologue: "I've revitalized my team and my self-image. But my kicker is still complete [rhymes with spit.] Do I scream at him? Or do I pretend to be supportive? Ah, whatever, I'll scream and clap and hope Favre throws a pick."

(After Green Bay goes three-and-out midway through the fourth quarter...)

Doug Farrar: Favre didn't throw a pick there, but if the Packers lose this, he'll spend the offseason wondering about the drive that ended with six minutes left in the game. Two bad throws, a short dinker to Morency for 7 yards on third-and-10, punt. That's the Favre from 15 years ago that Mike Holmgren still yells at in his sleep.

On the late Manning sack, it looked to me that the center was making a football move, as they say, before KGB took off from the line. Brought his head up and looked to be starting the snap. Probably a good no-call, though it was close.

Bill Barnwell: Regardless of whether Gbaja-Biamila was offside or not on that pass rush, Ahmad Bradshaw's blitz pickup was abysmal. He just totally ignored the outside rusher.

Doug Farrar: Outstanding job by Jeff Feagles to bring the high snap down on the missed 36-yard field goal attempt to end regulation. I understand that the snap threw the rhythm off, but Tynes had a foot angle on that ball like Garo Yepremian on acid.

Brett Favre in the second half: 9-of-16 for 21 yards. Can't wait to see those DVOA splits!

And literally one second after I wrote that, Favre barfed all over himself and airmailed a pick to Corey Webster in overtime. Eeek. People are going to say that the Packers lost this game more than the Giants won it, but when you offer up a game to the home team that many times and they won't accept the gift, that has something to do with your team as well. And I'm very happy to welcome Eli Manning to the Quarterback Club inside my head, because I was tired of the extreme dichotomy between the performances and the hype. He wasn't what they thought he was before, but he is now.

Sean McCormick: The Giants were just better, and they were better in conditions that did a lot to negate their pass rush. Eli was better than Favre, the receivers played completely out of character and came up with big catch after big catch, and Bradshaw was the best running back on the field. Their kicking game could well undo any chance they have at an upset, but they deserved to win the game.

And I'm happy for Eli, too, even though it guarantees there are going to be about 600 uncomfortable shots into whatever luxury suite Peyton is sitting in. They should just give him a field pass and let him stand on the Giants sideline.

Any early guesses on the line? Does it come down some because of the way the Giants played the Pats in Week 16, or does it balloon up because of the AFC-NFC imbalance? I'm saying 14 to start.

Aaron Schatz: Green Bay only has itself to blame. Missed kicks, fumbled interceptions and punts... the Giants kept trying to hand the Packers a trip to the Super Bowl and they just wouldn't take it.

Mike Tanier: Don't forget penaties. The Packers defense killed itself with penalty after penalty. The drive that ended with the Zeno-paradox-half-the-distance fouls and the Jacobs touchdown started with an illegal contact and a roughing the passer foul.

Aaron Schatz: The Giants have done their best 2003 Panthers impression, but if they win it will be a far greater upset than it would have been if the 2003 Panthers had beaten that Patriots team. That Patriots team ranked third in DVOA in a compressed league without any really great teams. This Patriots team just finished the greatest regular season in league history. If the Giants win the Super Bowl, it will rank as the greatest championship upset in the history of American professional sports.

Sean McCormick: In theory, that's true. But the Giants actually look a lot more dangerous than that 2001 Pats team did going up against the '01 Rams. They have a legitimate elite receiving threat, a quarterback who is actually throwing downfield and winning games rather than managing them, and they have the best defensive line in football. The Pats were better this year than the 2001 Rams, but they kind of staggered down the stretch and have not been particularly impressive. If the Pats had put up that effort today against Indy, I think they would have lost.

No one should expect the Giants to win, mind you, but I'll be less surprised than I was in 2001.

Vince Verhei: All credit to the Giants: They won, on the road, even though it seemed like every single break went against them. They were clearly the better team today. That said, it sets up the biggest mismatch in the Super Bowl we will ever, ever see. If they beat the Pats, then it will certainly be the biggest championship upset in sports history.

In both games today, the inconsistent young quarterbacks significantly outplayed their MVP/Super Bowl Champ/future Hall of Fame counterparts, and the best of them all was clearly Eli Manning. Weird, huh?

Aaron Schatz: I've been comparing the Giants a lot to the 2003 Panthers, but I realized there are a couple of other good historical comparisons. The question is: What other wild card teams have gotten red-hot in the playoffs, and what did it mean when they hit the championship?

One of them isn't really that historical, and it isn't even in the same sport. The Colorado Rockies went 15-1 down the stretch this year. They went 7-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Then they went to take on the team with the best record in baseball during the regular season. They got crushed.

The other team snagged a wild card, won three straight playoff games on the road, and headed off to the Super Bowl to take on a team some people considered the greatest of all time. That team was the 1985 New England Patriots. They got crushed.

This isn't to say that the Giants will get crushed -- the 2003 Panthers only lost by a last-minute field goal -- but there are plenty of indications that playoff momentum runs out when it faces regular-season dominance.

Bill Barnwell: You know, I didn't even get excited when the Giants won. Everyone in the room was hooting and hollering and I just kinda sat there, mouth agape, a mix of confusion and astonishment.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Your team doesn't make it to the Super Bowl after you predict they'll finish with the worst record in football, or when they're the least-likely team to make the finals according to your own Secret Sauce (which we can now officially say has gone bad, I think). Not with a secondary like that, not with a crippled star wideout and a questionable starting quarterback.

And yet, we are.

It took a couple of hours for it to sink in and for me to shut the analyst side of me down. I never believed, for one moment during the game, that the Giants were going to win this game. The Tynes miss at the end of regulation was ordained from above. I'm surprised Feagles even got the snap down. After Trey Junkin a few years ago, it seemed natural that we'd go through that again.

I don't care if this team isn't great. I know they're not. I know they were mediocre for 15 games and had four great games in a row at the end of the season, and that the former 15 are likely much more indicative than the final four. I know that they're flawed in many ways, that they simply weren't close to the best team in the NFC at any point this year, that there's no real indicator that they're a significantly better team outside of their passing attack, that they've been subject to some incredible luck with injuries and bizarrely poor performances, but it doesn't matter. I don't care.

My team -- my stupid, ugly, crummy, klutzy, divorce-riddled team -- is in the Super Bowl. And I'm just happy.

Ned Macey: I probably don't match a Peter King in this area, but I've always really liked Brett Favre. That being said, he just played really badly in the second half. I don't understand what goes on in his head, but he just stared making terrible decisions much like the Dallas game in the regular season. Who would have thought as late as Week 10 that the sound defensive strategy was to stuff the run and make Favre beat you?

Mike Tanier: Explanation of Giants: Decent, Wild Card-caliber team gets better late in the season, gets a boost from some rookies (Ross and Bradshaw), faces a Wild Card opponent on its last legs, beats a flat Cowboys team that looked shocked to discover they were expected to actually show up for the two games before the Super Bowl, then wins an Ice Bowl against an opponent determined to beat itself with interceptions and penalties.

The Giants deserve their due. They really stepped up in the last month and particularly the last 2 weeks. But sorry, I am not going to break my back explaining why they are winning despite a low DVOA figure, and I am not going to start overrating some of their players/units because they have won a few games. They aren't who I thought they were at the start of the year (a joke), but I still think they are only slightly better than the team I figured to go 9-7 and lose in the first round of the playoffs.

Aaron Schatz: I don't think I can run out of "how incredible is it that the Giants got this far?" facts. Can you guess how many regular-season wins the Giants had over a team that finished the regular season with a winning record?

One. Week 3, 24-17 over Washington. Philadelphia was 8-8 and the other seven teams the Giants beat had losing records.

The whole thing is just nuts.

(Ed. Note: Just to let readers know, we won't be running an Any Given Sunday on the Green Bay-New York game. We've pretty much said everything that needs to be said, either here or in the NFC Championship preview. Eli Manning is playing much better, Al Harris struggled this year, the Packers get lots of penalties, etc.)

Comments

400 comments, Last at 04 Feb 2008, 4:09am

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Tsk-tsk -- you guys missed perhaps the most important thing about the NE/SD game -- after the Peyton "well, see you in the fall" pep talk commercial, THERE WASN'T A SINGLE MANNING COMMERCIAL FOR THE REST OF THE GAME. Glory be!

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I had barely seen the Giants this season and what surprised me more than anything was the secondary, which, apart from a blown play on Driver's td, was very, very solid. Favre had some time in the pocket, but there didn't seem to be anyone to throw to. Aaron Ross, in particular, looked mighty competent.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"People are going to say that the Packers lost this game more than the Giants won it..."

The sentiment in Packerland so far is that Green Bay was simply outplayed in all aspects of the game. Less a case of the Packers throwing it away, more that the Giants wouldn't let them win it.

None of you have addressed the Pack's playcalling, which was a tad eccentric. Fourteen runs in a game where they led at halftime? All those screens that didn't work? It was as if McCarthy had said: "Let's just keep doing this until we break one, it's bound to happen sooner or later." And it didn't, of course.

GB dropped more and more players back to protect Favre in the second half, in spite of the Giants' pass rush having relatively little success at getting to the QB. I'd like to know what that was about. I am sold on Grant, but it really wouldn't hurt to train him to be a better blocker and receiver.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"That tackle by Brandon Meriweather on Pocket Hercules II with 18 seconds left in the first half might wind up being the play of the game."

On that play Gates lined up left and the nearest defender was playing waaay off (not even in the frame of the TV screen). If the Chargers had wanted it, there was an easy 6-7 yard completion there, and Gates could have stepped out to stop the clock.

It really seems like the difference between the Pats and other teams (well, ones of comparable talent, anyway) is the Pats just miss way less easy/obvious stuff like this.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Can someone explain to me why everyone is saying the superbowl is going to be a blowout? The Giants were beating the Pats before Madison got injured, and they surrendered that long bomb to Moss right after. You'd have to think a healthy O'Hara and Madison might have made the game even closer than it was.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I just don't ever want to see Peyton and Eli's whitened tongues again. That's not asking for too much right?

Didn't the Oreo people get a focus group together to find out that commercial is totally gross?

In football related news, congrats to the Patriots. I hate them, but they continue to roll.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Check your sources Professor. The Rams (NFC) had won the BS two years prior, and the Bucs would the next year. Wining 3 of 4 after losing 13 in a row is not established dominance. You can make an argument thats its not the biggest upset of the SB era, but it was a major upset and not-yet formed conference dominance is not a sufficient counter-argument.

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#6 Because the Patriots didn't gameplan for the Giants. The Patriot had clinched everything and so had the Giants. They played very vanilla on both sides of the ball, except for defense in the last third of the game (when they took over).
Plus, there's very little reason to believe the lesser team will beat the better team when the better team has one of the best post-season QBs in history and one of the greatest coaches in history.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

No, the Patriots are not the greatest team of all time. The greatest team of all time is one of the one or two loss teams which simply crushed playoff opponents like bugs, in games which didn't even begin to approach being competitive. The Pats ain't it, although I'd say their offense may be the best of all time. Randy Moss just had the two best successive playoff games any receiver has ever had while catching two balls. There are double teams, and then there are double teams, and Moss tends to attract the kind of double team which entails two guys doing absolutely nothing else but selling out to prevent Moss from making the big play. That the Chargers would do a lot of this in the wind conditions which were prevalent yesterday was quite revealing.

Regarding the way the Patriots were able to run in the 2nd half, it was again my impression that Cottrell does less than most coordinators in reaction to power running formations. It makes a lot more sense, of course, when he is facing the Patriots, as opposed to the Vikings or Titans, but when it gets to the point that the Patriots run out the clock like they did in the fourth quarter yesterday, it was probably a mistake.

I'd say the odds of Brady having a second poor game in two weeks, in warm weather, are pretty small, so if the Giants hope to win, their pass rush and running game will have to be outstanding.

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#1 Forget no more Peyton commercials. How great is it watching the "truth stranger than fiction" Diet Pepsi Max commercials with the Cowboys sleepwalking and the Giants crushing them while Jerry Jones literally takes over. Did we not actually see that happen. Is Diet Pepsi a Super Bowl sponsor? Please. Please. Please.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

A lot of Patriots man love here. The team is a 14.5 point favorite but somehow them losing would be a greater upset than a 52 point dog winning outright? THAT is why people cry Patriots bias.

Barnwell- Corey Webster clearly had shallow zone on the driver play. He did get a bump but the real muff was our weak link on defense, James Butler. Just look at Webster and Wilson run towards Driver while Butler ran in what looked like slow motion ( or Mike Rumph speed).

Manning has an "oh shi@ moment per game because he was busy calling audibles. Something many quarterbacks in this leage aren't even ALLOWED to do.

Vince- Every break went to the Giants? Really? That Sam Madison penalty hurt. So did the TD called back on Chris Snee for bulldozing the Packer DT. The Seuburt penalty was a penalty, but Brand Jacobs was already 5 yards downfield. It was an unneccesary call.

Here is my question to the FO staff. Can you guys FINALLY admit the Giants are better than an average team? I am not asking you to say they are the 2nd best team, but can you at least say the are above average?

Can you admit they DESERVE to be in the super bowl?

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Aaron Schatz- Eli Manning DID have a typical day, and the Giants DID win. He had right around a 50% completion percentage, and threw for around 250 yards.

With that 50% completion percentage you have to look at the 2 easy Amani toomer drops, the Kevin Boss and Steve Smith passes that " should have" been caught, along with that deep ball by the endzone that Plax should have had.

Eli might have had around a 50% completion percentage but he did have his dropped balls ( which was typical for the Giants), and he WAS throwing the ball downfield.

Unlike say the Redskins and their screen pass offense filled with 1 yard passes to fullbacks, halfbacks, and WR screens.

His QB rating might not have been good because of the low comp. percentage but he did have his dropped balls and he handed the ball off in the redzone instead of the token 1 yard TE touchdown passes that boost QB ratings.

This game was another perfect example of how the DVOA and even QB rating system underrates Eli Manning.

15 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

re: 9

Wow, I didn't realize you had access to all the coaches film and each team's gameplan from week 17. Its good to know definitively that the Pats didn't try all that hard to win that game and the Giants did.

Another factor to consider is that Bradshaw didn't get any carries for the G-men during the Pats game also.

17 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I'm wondering if the reason that the Giants are playing better is because Jeremy Shockey isn't there to screw things up on offense. Things seemed to get better for them when Boss came on the field.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Off-topic: Aaron was just on ESPN FirstTake violating the cardinal rule of FO! As to Aaron's parting comment, let's just say I'm pretty hardcore. :-)

19 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The Giants are also playing without Jermey Shockey and their now forgetten stud D-Linman Mathias Kwinuka.

Even when Strahan retires the Giants pass rush will still be amoung the best in the league with Osi, Tuck and Kiwi.

You have the single season sack leader on one side, a guy that got 6 sacks on one game on the other. Then you have a DT who got 10 sacks in a season, followed by a 1st round pick DE who WILL be a double digit sack artist for years to come.

Give Gerry Reese a lot of credit for NOT drafting a RB in round 1, NOT drafting at tackle, but beefing up the roster with promising young players such as Aaron Ross at CB, Steve Smith at WR, Jay Alford who rotates at DT, Kevin Boss who has taken over the starting TE spot, Standout Ahmed Bradshaw, Michael Johnson has started at S and comes in on dime, and Craig Dahl has even started a few games.

20 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Either the beat-up Giants secondary played a whole lot better than the Packers DBs, or Favre and the playcalls were terrible, or both. Where were the short passes to the WRs, other than the quick sideways passes (usually to Koren Robinson, no less, instead of Driver or Jennings)? Why the long-throw screens to Grant? I was looking forward to Giants DBs trying to make tackles one-on-one in the open field, and for most of the game they didn't have to. It was all medium-to-deep patterns over the middle and poorly designed crap at or behind the LOS. RUN YOUR OFFENSE!

The Giants outplayed Green Bay. They ran the ball more effectively and their QB played better.

21 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It would have been sad if the Packers had managed to win. The Giants dominated the NFC Championship.

That said, Eli Manning's growing up or whatever you want to call it has more to do with his blocking, receivers and playcalling than with any improvement of his own. It seemed like almost every completion last night went to a wide-open receiver, with plenty of time to find him.

Bill Belichick specializes in attacking opposing quarterbacks, and he has two weeks to prepare. It's been a great run for the Giants, but they didn't have the 2005 Steelers' good fortune of never really running into any dominant opponents. The Patriots are going to blow them off the field.

22 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

14 - the difference between the 05(/06) Steelers and the 07(/08) Giants is that Pittsburgh were a legitimately top-three team (or so sayeth DVOA, anyway) who had a serious wobble midseason (caused by losing both starting and backup quarterbacks, and then rushing Roethlisberger back too fast) which dropped them down to a sixth seed. The Giants were a more or less average team most of the year who've suddenly gone on a tear.

Also, Pittsburgh didn't meet a "best team ever" at any given point - the '05 Colts were good, but not that good.

23 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

If I were the Patriots, I would use Wes Welker underneath to attack Kwika Mitchell and Antoinio Pierce in pass coverage ( who guys that are horrible vs the pass), and I would try and get James Butler covering Randy Moss deep.

The Pats did this to a certain extent in week 17. James Butler was TORCHED by Randy Moss so bad you don't usually see that in an NFL game. He isn't fast enough to play deep half, and he was torched by Donald Driver this week. Either start Michael Johnson or give that bum some more help. I guarantee you the Giants will be drafting a safety and a linebacker in 1 or 2 of the first 3 rounds of Aprils draft next year.

24 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Just want to point out that the Giants didn't have all the breaks go against them. They fumbled 5 times and only lost one (the Packers recovered their single fumble).

On the fumbled punt returns Jarret Bush had a great shot at recovery but tried to pick the ball up and run with it, then Brady Poppinga tried to fall on the ball to have it squirt away. At the goal line Jacobs dropped the ball right between Kampman's knees, only Kampman didn't realize it until it was too late.

The recovery of the intercption fumble was certainly luck for the Pack, but in all the fumble luck actually went in the Giants favor. Not too surprising, given that they were just a little bit better in essentially every phase of the game, except FG kicking.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

21- The Patriots are going to kill the Giants just like in week 17, right? You know, when Eli Manning had 4 touchdowns passes and nearly slayed the Dragon.

Despite what the DVOA says, the Giants were the 3rd best team in the NFC this year, and they just happened to beat the best and 2nd best. They may have been a wild card, but that is because the best team in the NFC was Dallas, who happens to be in their same division.

If the Giants played in the NFC West or NFC South, they would have been the #3 seed.

THAT is why in college football you don't have to win your conference to go to the BCS National championship game. Because theoretically the 2 best teams could be in the SEC, ACC, or big 12.

Dallas was the best team in the NFC this year, and THAT is why the Giants were a wildcard team. Enough about them being a "wild card" team and "average".

26 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Gosh, what Packers/Giants game were you guys watching? Yes, the Giants won because Manning played really well, but he played really well in large part due to the fact the the Giants' offensive line just whipped the Packers front seven, in both the running game and passing game. No, Favre didn't play well in the second half, but I guarantee you that if the Giants had called only six rushing attempts in the 2nd half, Manning would have made some ill-advised or poor throws.

However, before going overboard with praise of the Giants, or talking about how they overcame all the bad breaks, let it be noted that the Great and Terrible God Fumbleluck was actually a Giants fan yesterday. Reverse the fumble recovery outcomes, and the commentary today would be far different.

27 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Jeez, that game took a few years off my life. Agonizing.

I was glad Green Bay won the coin flip after regulation - I figured the Giants had a better chance of picking off Favre than they did of driving 70-80 yards to get into field goal range.

28 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Wild Card competitiveness is the reason the Giants are in the Super Bowl

The 2002 divisional realignment has radically changed the competitiveness of teams playing on wild card weekend and has brought the situation back to the 78-89 results for playoff rounds. Just look at the numbers for 3 and 4 seeds winning in the wild card round and for 1 and 2 seeds winning in the divisionals.

Wild Card Round Home Team Wins
78-89 - 59%
90-01 - 73%
02-present - 58%

Divisional Round Home Team Wins
78-89 - 68%
90-01 - 81%
02-present - 67%

Championship Round Home Team Wins
78-89 - 73%
90-01 - 58%
02-present - 58%

People are still living in the mindset of the 1990-2001 results, but the reality is different.

There have been 48 wild card round teams since 2002, and 9 have made the Conference Championship and 4 the Super Bowl. This is like the situation from 1978 to 1989 - 40 wild card round teams 8 in the Conference Championship and 2 in the Super Bowl (or if you include the #3 seeds who generally did not get a home game but did get a bye week, 60 teams, 11 in the Conference Championship, 3 in the Super Bowl).

There were 96 wild card round teams from 1990 to 2001, and 9 made the Conference Championship and 4 made the Super Bowl.

Chances have doubled with the realignment for the #3 through #6 seeds.

Combined with reducing the chances of the #1 and #2 seeds in the Conference Championship, the changes to the divisions and the 6th Wild Card team have meant the NFL Playoffs have never been more competitive than they have been in the past 6 years.

29 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"Rivers is what Chad Pennington would be with top level personnel around him."

Um, Rivers throws an ugly ball, but at least it gets to his recievers. Pennington truly has no arm strength left. He really can't throw a 10 yard out to the flat and Jets fans know it, even if they don't want to admit it.

We've had this debate elsewhere, but it's simply false to say Pennington has arm strength equal to Phillip Rivers.

30 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think the reason for the Giants success is that they actually hit on a few draft picks recently.

Brandon Jacobs - 4th rounder
Barry Cofield - 4th rounder
Kevin Boss - 5th rounder
Ahmed Bradshaw - 7th rounder
Justin Tuck - 3rd rounder
Aaaron Ross - 1st rounder

Aaron Ross is already the best CB on our team in his rookie year. Justin Tuck is better than Strahan at this point. Ahmed Bradshaw looks like Tiki 2.0. Kevin Boss is barely a step down from Shockey. Barry Cofield has started every game since he was drafted. Finally, Brandon Jacobs is just a beast.

FO was correct when they said we needed to rebuild, they just didn't realize we'd do it so fast. The Giants are a linebacker, #2 wide receiver, and another reasonable secondary player away from being a top 5 team for years to come.

31 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Kudos to the Chargers for making this a contest, the LdT and Gates asbence was an absolute killer fot the Red Zone perfomance, yet another proof that character without talent only get you so far...

32 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

30- Steve Smith will be that guy. He already has better hands than Amani Toomer. We also have Sinorice Moss who can be a decent slot/screen pass guy if he can ever stay healthy.

The Giants need to replace the weak link on defense. James Butler. Gibril Wilson is either a pro bowl safety or only a hair below. He has been so important to this defense and they MUST sign this mid/late round draft pick turned stud.

I guarantee the Giants will draft a LB or S or both in the first 3 rounds of the draft next year. It should be that hard to find those positions even when drafting at 31. We already have a lot of the harder positions to find, QB, WR, DE etc.

34 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

10- Yeah it looks like the Epstein formula that Aaron wrote about a few weeks ago is going to knock the Pats for some less than dominating post season wins. Unless they super destroy the Giants I get the feeling they don't end up the Greatest team of all time using the Epstein standard.

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I was comparing Brady and Manning. I was stuck because the segment was originally supposed to be about comparing peak value (Brady) to career value (Favre) but then Green Bay lost and we had to completely re-work it. My segment is no reason to break the cardinal rule of FO in this discussion thread, so please don't break into an argument about it.

36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Do you ever feel that there is a synergy effect with the pass rushers. That if you are playing opposite Osi, it makes life easier. If you have Strahan on the opposite side, it makes life easier. If you are Justin Tuck and you are playing with 2 stud ends, it makes life easier.

I am glad that former Giants GM Ernie Accoursi felt that you could never have enough good pass rushers. At worst, you have a strong rotation that can press the quarterback later in games.

but you also have insurance for injury. Osi, Strahan, Tuck and Kiwi have all been hurt and missed signifigant time in the past 2 years, but the Giants have still been able to make the playoffs because of that pass rush depth.

Having the depth is fine, but having all 4 to rush on 3rd and longs is a thing of beauty to watch. I look forward to the Giants pummeling quarterbacks for years to come!

38 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Great win. SD played a much better game defensively than I gave them credit for, but NE morphed into the team that no one thought they could become - winning with power running and stingy defense. I'm thrilled as can be that the game was decided by the players on the field rather than a boneheaded official. As always, here is my collection of semi-coherant ruminations on the game. :blahblah:

* I went through all the TOs after the SD/Indy game and concluded that Indy was more responsible for them than SD. I honestly feel that I could do something similar with this game, but at some point I have to recognize that flukes don't have such consistency. SD makes you make mistakes. I don't know exactly what they were doing because I still think that Tommy helped their cause somewhat, but their defense clearly disrupted NE's passing game. Much credit needs to be tossed their way.

* The trifecta is now complete. I have been pointing out the parallels between this year's playoffs and the 2003 run since the Jax game ended. Every week it seemed that the opponent was similar to their 2003 counterparts. Well, this might be the closest example of all, with the biggest difference being that the 2003 Cats actually won their division. Aaron actually ran though the similarities prior to the NCFFG in last week's DVOA article.

* I may get skewered for saying this, but I thought that Brady was pretty lousy. Of course I understand that guys aren't going to play at their peak level when playing in single digit temperatures with wind. For all his grit, it isn't as if Rivers was lighting it up either.

That said, Brady was just off all night. Normally, even if the weather is a factor you can count on Tommy to make good decisions and protect the ball. To me, I didn't see that same crispness that he usually displays. Even when he made the right decision he was often off. Hell, even when a catch was made the ball was regularly off. Kevin Faulk made at least three amazing catches collecting a few of these potential misfires. K. Brady being overthrown by 10 yards on the first play was huge because that was a 20+ yard reception of the ball was anywhere near him. Had NE scored on that drive, I think that game would have gone much differently. My buddy and I were chuckling about another throw after the game where Tommy overthrew Moss on the right sideline by nearly 20 feet, despite Moss being open only 5 yards past the LOS.

I can't help but think that it was more than the weather. Brady just didn't seem himself the entire game, and I'm not just talking about passing either. I wouldn't be surprised if it is leaked out later that he was battling the flu or something.

* One thrown that looked off at first glance was the diving and rolling Faulk first down. It looked originally like Brady underthrew a ball where Faulk was wide open, but I think he made a good play here. If you watch a replay, you can see a defender coming into the play who, IMHO would have hasve had a kill shot on Kevin if Brady had led him in a normal manner.

* For all the talk about the tremendous play that Seau made prior to SD's 4th FG, I thought that Hobbs deserves just as much credit for his open field tackle of Chambers earlier. Hobbs had to make a nice play going under a blocker and then take out Chris by his legs, and no one was stopping the TD except for Ellis.

* Was it just me, or did LdT look like Darth Vader on the sideline?

* Kaeding may have made several FGs, but NE dominated the game on special teams. Aside from Washington's tremendous play that set up Asante's int, Kaeding's kicks were extremely short and NE was still able to get consistent return yardage to boot. NE's kick offs AND their KO coverage were both better than SD's by a good margin and the punt games played to about a draw.

* IMHO, that was Maroney's best game as a pro. He ended up with the exact same rushing yardage as last week, but SD wasn't running guys backwards at the snap like Jax did. Obviously the OL deserves much credit for dominating the LOS in the second half, but Maroney was able to consistently get extra yardage - even in traffic. I still think that Laurence was closer to this guy all year than his numbers or playing time would indicate, but it must be nice for him to be getting some vindication when the games count the most.

* I understand why everyone is giving LdT so much grief, but I'm not sure that it is really deserved. On the screen play that was his final play of the game, he clearly had nothing. I don't know if he reaggravated the knee or if he was hurt worse than anyone knew, but he was not the same guy. And it isn't as if SD was without anyone else to run the ball. If Turner had gotten hurt, I would bet that LdT would have seen the field again, but Turner was clearly the bigger threat at that point.

* I have heard several commentators (I don't like to call them "analysts" ;) ) refer to the pressure that SD was able to get on Brady, but I didn't quite see it. Frankly, I thought that the Giants were in Brady's face quite a bit more than SD was. The only int where Brady was under pressure was the second one near midfield when (Phillips?) beat his man and was careening towards Tommy. Other than that, most of the times that Brady was off - be it an int or just an incompletion - he had time and just missed.

* As always, the Big Uglies need to be given credit for their performance. Watching last year's game earlier this week and then seeing this matchup was remarkable. Last year, the Chargers looked like they were all 8 feet tall and NE had to work hard to just keep from being eaten alive.

Fast forward to yesterday and you see a group that essentially stoned SD's pass rush all game and blew them completely off the ball running in the second half.

Since we have two weeks to kill before the next game, I'll withhold all comments on the Giants and the SD for a later date. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

40 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

In my post #31, that is supposed to say "SB" - as in short for Superbowl - not "SD" in the final sentence.

Sorry for that and the handful of other grammatical errors.

41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

A Giants over Pats might be the biggest NFL championship upset, rivaling Super Bowl III, but I think the 1985 Villanova Wildcats over the Patrick Ewing Georgetown squad still would be the biggest championship upset in sports history.

(Note before anyone brings it up who forgot: Miracle on Ice was the semifinal, not the championship)

42 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

My favorite moment of the NYG-GB game was the Green Bay crowd celebrating like crazy when they won the overtime coin toss. Congrats on winning the OT coin toss. To me that ranks somewhere up there in schadenfreude... I don't want to say up there with Hasselbeck's prediction, but it was funny to see how that all worked out for them... especially since their team had zero offensive momentum.

I would've been made had Green Bay won that game given:
1) Sam Madison's phantom penalty.
2) "Offensive holding" on Chris Snee to negate a beautiful TD run by Bradshaw. Sure it was holding, but officials have swallowed the flag the whole year... it was a spurious time to throw the flag.

Also, early in the game Al Harris was jawking/fighting Plaxico Burress. I have no idea why he would do that as Plax seems like the type of player that would turn that hostility into some extra motivation. It seemed like Plax looked over to the GB sideline after every catch.

43 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#8

I think it's pretty clear that the NFC of 2001 was NOT as dominating as the NFC of the 80's and 90's. Don't just look at Super Bowl wins - look at teams over .500, inter-conference play dominance.

44 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Mike Tanier comes off as if he is in denial.

"I am not going to break my back explaining why they are winning despite a low DVOA figure, and I am not going to start overrating some of their players/units because they have won a few games. They aren’t who I thought they were at the start of the year (a joke), but I still think they are only slightly better than the team I figured to go 9-7 and lose in the first round of the playoffs."

The translation of this paragraph: the numbers and the actual results are wildly different, but there is no way in hell I will bother to explain such an event, because there is absolutely no chance that the numbers are incorrect. Rather then giving a very modest admission that the system is not infallible and in fact quite capable of being wrong on occasion, I will blindly adhere to the website I write for and paint the anomaly as no such thing. The system is right, this team is mediocre, ignore the past four weeks! In fact... they did not happen!

Given the excellent quality of the rest of Tanier's work, this is even more appalling..

45 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think Eli will be dangerous in the Super Bowl. Call it the Peyton factor.

In Week 6 of 2007 Peyton had a bye, and Eli absolutely torched the Falcons (yes, it was the Falcons). Also during Week 17 Peyton barely played so he had some free time to go over some pointers with Eli against the Pats. Same thing during the Wild Card round and now this week I'm sure Peyton was right by Eli's side as he watched film.

It stands to reason that during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, Peyton is going to try even harder and will probably fly wherever Eli is going in order to vanquish the Patriots.

46 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I dunno, Houston managing to lose to N.C. State, depsite not just having a future HOF center, like Georgetown also did, but also Clyde Drexler, is a pretty big upset.

47 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The Packers did get a lot of penalties but for the most part I don't think they were playing any different than they did most of the year, they just didn't get flagged for it as much during the regular season IMO.

I kept getting that "here's another Favre storybook ending" vibe pretty much from midway through the 4th quarter on, he kept getting another chance and it kept not happening. Maybe he shouldn't have tried to get that last pass there, but the way things were going he had to try something.

soo... Bellichek with two weeks to scheme up Eli. Right. Even if this weren't the greatest pats team in... well, ever, I wouldn't like the Giant's chances.

I guess the closest parallel to the Giants I can think of would have to be the Steelers wild card run, can't recall if they had a home game in there somewhere or now. But the parallel would end if you tried to compare the Seahawks of that yeare to the Pats.

Have we ever previously had a superbowl between teams that met on the last week of the regular season? I was looking at the list of previous rematches, all the ones I remembered happened earlier...

48 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

42- What about the KGB jump offsides, and also the penalty with about 6 minutues left in the first half that took away a Brandon Jacobs 1st down and instead pinned the Giants back deep. I will admit that it was holding, but 90% of holding is never called, and the fact that Jacobs was already 5 yards downfield makes the call even more obscure. I am sure you could have pulled a whole lot more calls like that, but that call isn't usually called.

44- I am glad somebody else sees it. Go read the NFC Championship preview where it was clearly stated yet againg that you aren't reading the numbers wrong, but DVOA still says the Giants are a below average team in the NFL.

Is it interesting that Eli and the Giants beat their pythagarian win total and older brother Peyton has been doing it for years?

Their QB play is somehow being underrated.

49 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Re 24: Rivers throws to receivers who are 6'6"(Jackson, Gates) while standing behind a quality offensive line and with the defense always needing to respect the run. Pennington throws to sub 6'0" receivers while standing behind one of the worst pass blocking lines in football and with defenses not respecting the run at all. It's true that Rivers probably has a stronger arm at this point, but he also has more time for routes to develop and much bigger passing windows. I think it's a valid comparison.

50 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Fergasun, when a guy extends his arm as much as Snee did, while latching on, the call has to be made, unless you just want o-lineman flat-out tackling defenders on every play. The Giants definitely played better, but when a team fumbles five times, and loses only one, that is a team which definitely should not entertain thoughts that they overcame bad breaks to a significant degree.

51 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Re: #40

Since the Steelers a couple of years ago were the #6 seed, they had all road games by definition.

The rematch thing has only happened once before -- Dallas and Denver met in the final game of the season in 1977 or so, and then met in the SB.

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Have we ever previously had a superbowl between teams that met on the last week of the regular season? I was looking at the list of previous rematches, all the ones I remembered happened earlier…

Denver- Dallas 1977

55 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#52, Mike, one thing I will assert definitively is that Lewis' performance in that game represents the worst single game coaching performance in the history of team sports, and it isn't even close. Well, pulling Tretiak in the Lake Placid semi-finals was pretty bad too, but still, Lewis taking the air out of the ball, despite having five times the talent, is the absolute worst.

56 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

No one on TV mentioned how uncomfortable Favre looked with the cold after it was supposed to be a huge advantage. He wouldn't wear a glove on his left hand, but had a spiderman suit over his whole upper body. He was running back to the sideline to get a coat and put hand warmers on his face. TMQ will say cold quarterback = loss.

I also think that with all his post season meltdowns, he is just a couple of Desmond Howard kick returns away from being the next Dan Marino.

57 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"I never believed, for one moment during the game, that the Giants were going to win this game."

Really Bill?
Why?
halfway thru the second quarter I thought the Packers were in big trouble.
Outside of the 90 pass, what were they doing on offense?
I am not saying I knew the Giants would win, I didn't think that.
But it seemed like it was going to be a very close game, and the Packers were not impressing me.

58 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Re: 35 Oh, I get it, Aaron, "Do as I say, not as I do." :-) Sorry, I shouldn't even have brought it up. I figured few enough people saw it and I kept it coy enough to avoid discussion while still managing to give a plug. I just found it... interesting, and I happened to see it while I was reading Audibles.

What were you going to say about peak value v. career value? I remember you mentioning that Favre has been above average every year over a long career while Brady has the four Super Bowls in a short amount of time and maybe the best season ever, but we don't know how good he'll be in his 30s. That sounds like the set-up to the discussion, not the conclusion.

59 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"The Pats were better this year than the 2001 Rams, but they kind of staggered down the stretch and have not been particularly impressive."

To be fair, I think the 01 Rams staggered down the stretch as well. Warner injured his finger, I believe, during those playoffs, which hampered the Greatest Show on Turf. His two other playoff games were fairly pedestrian (total 430 yards, 3 TDs, 1 Int, 63% completion) by his regular season standards. The Rams would start the following season 0-5 and bench Warner due to lingering injury issues. The Pats did not catch Warner at the peak of his ability.

I am a Pats fan and I'd be happy to acknowledge the 01 upset was the greatest upset in Championship history, but I think a Giants upset in this Super Bowl would be a bigger upset.

60 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

MikeB, reverse the Packers' and Giants rushing performances, and I suspect the qb performances would be be pretty close to being reversed as well. The key element of the game was the performance of the Giants offensive line, and the fact that the Packers' coaching staff thought it was futile to try to run, in 25-below wind chill.

61 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Aaron,

On the 99-01 Rams and 07 Pats comparison, you say the Rams couldn't ever "stuff it down your throat with a power running game." I'd have to say that is horribly wrong. I'm sure I can find many more examples, but the one that sticks out immediatly is the STL/PHI NFC Championship Game. The only reason the Rams won that game was the power running of Marshall Faulk in the second half. The Rams offense was incredibly flexible. It was the headcoach that wasn't.

Lastly, when the Pats offense keeps it up for three years--as the Rams did--then we can truly compare The Show and the Pats. That's what made The Show so great. It was a three-year run.

63 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I am puzzled why Rivers didn't yell at LdT to get back into the game. Seriously, for the second week in a row, LdT got injured and then did absolutely nothing other than watch the game.

Don't you work with a trainer to try to get back in? You are one game away from the Super Bowl and you don't even try to get back in there?

I know that I have no idea the extent of his injury - but he didn't even attempt to get back in, that I could see. It is strange that I have more respect for Rivers' effort than for LdT's. Have fun at the pro bowl, Ladainian!

64 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Yeah, if Martz hadn't been so hell-bent on demonstrating his genius, and merely hands off to Faulk more in the 2nd half against the Pats, I doubt the upset takes place. Most huge upsets require coaching blunders, which is why the Giants aren't very likely to join the list. The Giants can win, but Belichik isn't going to give an assist, so that means, just like the Giants win yesterday, if the Giants pull it off, it will be due to fundamental domination of the line of scrimmage.

65 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The Giants did everything asked of them - make win #16 for the Pats a great football game, run through the best the NFC had to offer on the road and win close games with that which wins championships - defense. Season-long statistics start to get somewhat unreliable when you get to this point. The competition is fiercer, the referees better, the game plans more conservative due to better defenses and the elements as we saw yesterday, etc. Did you, can you or will you run the PVOA stats for the the playoffs and the NY-NE game only? Individually the quarterbacks will even out a lot and the teams should look pretty even. I suppose you'd toss out the Tampa Bay WC game since the Pats had a bye, but what would that data suggest other than an even matchup? Any nonsense about the Giants not being the best is moot. As Coach Parcells always said "you are what you are." The Giants are the NFC champion and the Pats best all time.

66 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

JohnR., unless you watched the game from the San Diego bench, what you saw of Tomlinson's effort has little relationship to Tomlinson's actual effort, except coincidentally.

67 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It’s true that Rivers probably has a stronger arm at this point

Probably? Rivers obviously has a stronger arm at this point. That second INT he horribly underthrew? Pennington throws that far in his bestest dreams.

68 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

That personal foul on Madison was outrageous. That may or may not have been a horrible call by the officials, especially given how they've swallowed their flags for most of the postseason, and for Morency to not get a flag for his role in the altercation could possibly be the sort of thing you'd expect to see from biased officials, or not. For Madison to do whatever it is that he did, at that point in the game, might have been incredibly boneheaded - the sort of thing that can make someone a goat, depending on their actions and the outcome of the game.

69 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Stuart Fraser: Wow. I think Antonio Pierce’s play in blowing up a screen despite having three blockers between him and the ball carrier, and forcing the Packers to settle for a field goal, is the best individual defensive effort in this year’s playoffs.

A great effort by Pierce, no doubt. But did anyone else think that Grant made a blunder? Looking at the replay, he catches the pass and immediately heads for the lead blocker's outside shoulder. It seemed to me that had he hesitated a beat, he would have cut inside and still had two blockers out in front of him. I know it's easy to criticize sitting from the comfort of my couch with all the time in the world to watch a replay, but it looked like a mistake from an inexperienced running back. Maybe I'm seeing it wrong?

70 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

13: "Eli Manning DID have a typical day, and the Giants DID win. He had right around a 50% completion percentage, and threw for around 250 yards."

But no picks. Look at the difference in Eli's DVOA between weeks 1-16 and 17-19 (in the preview, Chris). Aaron explicitly points to the source of NY's improvement as the passing game. It's not a question of an error in the numbers. It's that Eli has finally become the qb you've long been claiming he was, and the Giants hoped he was when they picked him #1. But until week 17, he was not that qb.

The question now is: is this permanent? Or is it a streak, exaggerated by a long run without turnovers? There are good reasons to suppose that it's the former, but for the moment, we only have four games' worth of stats, and that is not enough to rush to a judgment.

Finally, you may be the first poster to accuse DVOA of underestimating Peyton Manning in the history of these boards. Congratulations.

71 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#65- In the end I highly doubt the Giants care how good they were in the regular season but that "you are who you are" stuff isn't sound logic. In a short series anything can happen and when you are talking single round elimination the results can be even more drastic.

The classic case is George Mason in the 2005 NCAA tournament. Does anyone really think George Mason was one of the best four college basketball teams in 2005? They made the final four, but they were not better than any of the teams they beat. If they played any of those teams in a series, they'd lose every single one of those series. They happened to win four games in a row at the right time. It's good for them. But anyone who thinks that George Mason was better than that UConn team just because they beat them in March doesn't understand what the nature of playoffs are. The better team does not always win.

Again, the Giants won't complain. But don't take three single games as proof of any team's dominance over any another.

73 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Lastly, when the Pats offense keeps it up for three years–as the Rams did–then we can truly compare The Show and the Pats. That’s what made The Show so great. It was a three-year run.

Que? the Pats have had a top team for five straight years now. That dynasty beats the Rams', hands down.

74 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Chris #48:

Is it interesting that Eli and the Giants beat their pythagarian win total and older brother Peyton has been doing it for years? Their QB play is somehow being underrated.

I don't think you understand what you are talking about. Pythagorean wins have very little to do with the Quarterback. The major factor is prevention of scoring by the defense, since "Points Against" goes into the denominator of the equation, while "Points For" is in both the numerator and denominator.

The Giants "Points For" and "Points Against" tallies for the season certainly gave one no reason to suppose they were poised for a Super Bowl run. They only had a net of 22 points in 16 games, and this was actually the lowest total of the four teams in the NFC East.

The Giants were 14th in scoring offense and 17th in scoring defense. I.e. normally a middle of the road team, not a Super Bowl contender.

There was nothing numerical to indicate the Giants would make the Super Bowl except silly stats like road wins that don't correlate well to anything.

75 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I just have this feeling that the SB will be much like last year's SB, close for awhile, but the high powered offense can't be stopped when it counts.
It think NYG was helped bigtime with the weather yesterday as GB was built for the run-slant-bomb offense that wasn't going to work.
Do I remember correctly that along with Bradshaw and the NYG secondary injuries week 17, NE was missing two starting OL?

76 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

71- A lot of those interceptions were not entirely his fault. Eli has suffered more drops than any other QB this season, and other bad luck.

I hate to break it to you but Eli Manning has been the same person. The fact of the matter is that his teammates around him have stepped up and played better. Much of a quarterbacks success is dependant on his teammates.

75- So Peyton Manning doesn't have an impact on Pwins? So you mean to tell me that Manning engaging in long, efficient drives that keep your defense off the field there by reducing the number of possesions doesn't deserve any credit?

77 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#71:

Sure, but single elimination in football is much more like a series in other sports. I don't remember where this comparison came up (might have been FO), but each football play= half-inning in baseball, for instance. So one football game corresponds quite nicely with a seven-game series, and the better team will win a higher percentage of the time in each individual game.

This is not to say that the Giants' haven't been defying the numbers and beating teams that were objectively better then them all year long. Just that you can't blame it on it single elimination, as if that somehow makes the NFL uniquely upset-prone.

78 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"Doug Farrar: That wasn’t as bad as Rivers’ other early interception, the “I’m falling down, but I don’t want to eat the ball” pick by Samuel. I’m sure many people yelled “Pick!” while that one was in the air."

It's hard to blame Rivers for that one. The reason he wasn't able to get anything on that pass was because of a leg whip by the defender. That should have been a penalty on New England, not an interception.

79 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Minor clarification: Of *course* you can blame single-elim when compared to the whole season. (Though at some point four straight strong games is going to have to become statistically significant.)

Just not in comparison to MLB, NBA, NHL playoffs, etc. That's all I'm trying to say.

83 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

* I may get skewered for saying this, but I thought that Brady was pretty lousy. Of course I understand that guys aren’t going to play at their peak level when playing in single digit temperatures with wind. For all his grit, it isn’t as if Rivers was lighting it up either. That said, Brady was just off all night.
Brady was bad (awful for Brady.) That said, there's still support in his performance for the "just wins" contingent.

"When he threw his third interception of the day, to Antonio Cromartie in the end zone, he was 14-25 for 133 yards, with 1 TD and 3 picks (passer rating of 44.67) and the lead was 14-12. From that point to the end of the game, the Patriots had two more drives. One of them covered 67 yards on 8 plays and ended in a touchdown. The other covered 65 yards on 15 plays and consumed the last 9:13 of the game, finishing with the Patriots taking a knee. Over those two drives, Brady was 8-8 for 76 yards with a touchdown pass and no interceptions (passer rating of 145.83)."

84 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I wonder if there is a disconnect between "essence" and "existence" here. According to DVOA, the Giants do not have the "essence" of a great team. But as Sartre says, "existence precedes essence." Regardless of whether the Giants have the essence of a great team, their existence shows the accomplishment of reaching the Super Bowl. DVOA may show what a team's "essence" is, and that essence may be a good indicator of what will happen in the future. However, what the team actually does in terms of wins trumps whatever its essence is shown to be.

85 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I am somewhat puzzled by the fact that no one has commented on Vrabel's trip on Rivers when he threw the pick to Samuel. It was fairly blatant hack at River's bad leg, why the officials missed it is beyond me. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that if Phillips had done the same to Brady he would have gotten flagged.

If it is called it cancels out the pick, it should have been called. It was a cheap dirty play and I was pretty pissed to watch Vrabel get away with it. Can't say it suprised me though.

86 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I live in the Boston area and am a Vikings fan.

Several comments:
1) I was surprised the Pats didn't go to the running game earlier considering the success Peterson and the Vikings had on the ground against the Chargers earlier in the season.
2) Extra games against a quarterback in a season gives NE more of an advantage. In general, I feel like NE struggles against teams they don't know well.
3) Vikings can beat the Giants 41-17. I know it was in New York, but don't you think that Bill will find a way to rattle Eli?

87 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Watching the Patriots v. Chargers from last year's playoffs, I'm a bit shocked to see how similar this game looked to that one. The major difference was the absence of the Chargers' premiere skill players (Gates & Tomlinson) in the red zone. If they're playing at anywhere close to peak ability, the Chargers probably translate a couple of those field goals into TDs and shock quite a few of us. Hard to think they won't be back to make a dent next year. And, depending on their off-season moves, they'll probably go in to 2008 as favorites.

That being said, congrats to the Patriots on a wonderful run. They truly are a great team.

89 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

To get a DVOA snapshot that really matters, you have ignore the early part of the season. I'd say that in any year; applied to this season, it will consider where the Giants defense is today versus where it was in early September, adjusting to a new scheme. Those September games (and maybe even into October) don't mean a thing now. In a sense it's similar to the 2006 Cowboys; DVOA kept holding Bledsoe's stink against them, but it was clearly a different, more dangerous club with Romo.

I'm a NE fan and rooting for the Pats, but I strongly disagree that a Giants win would be the biggest upset in NFL history, let alone in all of team sports. This line should be in the 7-9 range, at most.

90 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

82 lyford:
Very good point. Despite a terrible game overall, Brady's fourth quarter play was almost perfect. Of course, Maroney was really rolling at that point, putting the Chargers in a real bind.

I wonder if Brady's DVOA is inflated by the respect teams have to give the Patriots' #1 rated running game....

91 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

What I liked about the Giants-Packers game was that the longer the game went without a patented Favre heave-ho, the greater the odds were that the next play would be the one and, as a result, the greater the tension in the Packer players and fans. I mean, you could see the pressure building in Favre’s face every time the camera focused on him in the second half. I could almost hear the discussions between Favre and the coaching staff going sort of like the fashion show scene from Slapshot:

Favre: I don't care. Enough is enough. Nowhere in my contract does it say I gotta throw nothing but screen passes. Am I right?

Coach: Just run the play that is called, Brett

Favre: I'm gonna do it, man, I’m gonna do it. I'm gonna go on the field, close my eyes and lob the ball underhanded down the field.

Coach: You will not.

Favre: Yes I will, Coach, and you know why? Because I want you to have a heart attack and die so we never have to run another screen pass again. F’in' screen passes.

Coach: It's good football. You fellas have not been completin' 'em down the field the way you have in the past.

Favre: I'm gonna fling it at 'em, you cheap scumbag. Be prepared, because when I yank it out and fling the ball down that field every sportswriter in the country from here to Peter King is going to go into palpitations of ecstasy about what a competitor I am! And if I complete my blind lob pass they’re all gonna talk about ME and MY balls! Not you and your weenie game plan! ME!!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHA

92 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#88:

Well, Weighted DVOA does exactly that. The thing is, for all the talk of the Giants' 0-2 start, they were pretty good for the first half of the year- their real tough patch came in the second half, with clunkers against Washington and Minnesota. I suspect WDVOA will finally surpass DVOA this week, but it still probably won't be Top 10.

94 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Boy I sure wish my #1 ranked scoring defense only gave up 12 points to the San Diego Chargers in the playoffs. I've won 50 straight games when the opponent has under 20. I lead the team to 24 points, throw for over 400 yards, 3 TDs and my receivers tip 2 INTs they should have caught, yet I go home early. Brady gets picked off 3 times on awful throws and bailed out all day by his RB's. Did my RB's even play last Sunday? Oh wait, I remember Kenton Keith at the goal line. One more play like that and I'll have him out of here like I got Vanderjagt out of the league. Guess I'll just never have that Brady luck.

Great job Eli, see ya for some film study.

95 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

My brother had an interesting reaction to yesterday's AFC Championship Game, and I think it's pretty telling. He asked: if you're AJ Smith, how do you improve your team?

Seriously, think about it. The Chargers are loaded. Maybe a slot receiver type, maybe a little more depth in the secondary -- but in general, the Chargers have excellent talent at almost every position. Great team.

97 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I'm not going to turn this into a Pennington thread. That said, he can throw the ball deep- he threw a touchdown against Cincinnati that went 57 yards through the air and was on the money. He just doesn't do so very often because circumstances don't allow it. Those circumstances are why Kellen Clemens, who has a much stronger arm than Pennington (or Rivers, for that matter), barely cracked 5 yards per attempt.

To bring things back to the actual games that were played yesterday, Rivers' velocity was clearly impacted by his balky knee, especially on the deep throw that Hobbs picked. He just couldn't step into his throw at all. Also, it seemed like Rivers was deteriorating as the game went along. I thought we might get another Billy Volek sighting in the fourth quarter, but Norv never pulled the trigger.

98 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

92. Thanks for the heads up, appreciate that.

Everyone else: Take the points. This game reminds me so much of the Packers and Broncos when Elway got his first ring; Green Bay was seen as invincible for silly reasons (the NFC is dominant, Elway can't win the big one, Denver's OL isn't big enough, yada yada yada). The Pats should be favored by a touchdown or maybe slightly more, but to be getting in the neighborhood of 12-15 points (depends on where you shop) with a solid New York team, that's an amazing value. The Patriots investment bubble burst a while ago (largely due to a sluggish back seven), but anyone who wants to back them still has to pay a huge tax in the line. Take advantage.

99 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Re 77: I dunno where you saw that argument, but it's a pretty silly one.
The team that scores the most runs over a 7 game series is not the one that wins the series. Usually, but not always. Similarly, the team that outscores the other team in the most quarters is not the one that wins the game. Usually, but not always.

100 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

97. Those circumstances are why Kellen Clemens, who has a much stronger arm than Pennington (or Rivers, for that matter), barely cracked 5 yards per attempt.

Quarterbacks with no real pro experience generally get hammered their first time around the league. Very few exceptions to this rule. I don't blame the support cast for the crummy Clemens results - puppies have a lot of accidents in the pros, that's just the way it is, part of the learning curve.

As for Pennington's arm strength, it's telling that everyone in my living room immediately thought of No. 10 when Favre threw his lollipop interception in overtime Sunday. Maybe that's unfair, but that's the connection we made.

101 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Does anybody remember when ESPN was talking about how USC was the best college football team ever in their quest for the 3 pete? They were stocked with first round talent, multiple Heisman trophy winners etc.

Then they met Mr. Vince Young and the rest is history. Sometimes the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

102 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I believe what Tom meant to say is Tom Brady is among the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Not sure who QB's Tom's team, but there seems to be a problem. His QB doesn't follow the rules. He's a rebel. (Cue Kenny Loggins music) He's going to Miramar...He'll go up against the best for 16 weeks. And if he screws it up, he'll be throwing passes on a cargo plane full of rubber dog crap out of Hong Kong.
He'll sing Righteuous Brothers songs to one of his coaches (code name:Charlie);he'll play an odd game of shirtless volleyball with other men; he'll kill his best friend by spinning out in some linebacker's jetwash and crashing; lose his confidence only to get it back at the very end of the season. Then he'll join a cult and dance on Oprah's couch, proving once and for all, Superbowls arent what matters to success in the NFL...it's playing by your own rules. (fade Kenny Loggins music - Highway to the, DANGERZONE! Keep Choppin Wood, Tom)

104 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Will Carroll: I don’t believe in clutch, but I do believe in choke.

I guess it depends on how one defines the terms, but that stance doesn't make sense to me. As I see it, pressure has different effects on people - some people wet their pants in a key spot, while others maintain their focus and don't get rattled. Just because it's hard to quantify clutchness doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

105 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Sean (#97 )--

I thought we might get another Billy Volek sighting in the fourth quarter, but Norv never pulled the trigger.

To be fair, Norv didn't get much of a chance: the Chargers only had the ball for something like three minutes in the fourth quarter.

106 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Pacifist Viking #84:

I wonder if there is a disconnect between “essence” and “existence” here. According to DVOA, the Giants do not have the “essence” of a great team. But as Sartre says, “existence precedes essence.” Regardless of whether the Giants have the essence of a great team, their existence shows the accomplishment of reaching the Super Bowl.

Egads! St. Thomas Aquinas and the Summa Contra Gentiles comes to FO!

Perhaps the NY Giants have been transubstantiated in the past 4 games. So while their outward accidental form remains that of a crew of malcontents lead by Eli the Bumbling Interceptee, their inward essence is now that of an efficient champion.

Or to paraphrase Folgers ... "Shhh! We've secretly switched the 2008 NY Giants with the 1986 NY Giants. Lets see if anyone notices!"

More seriously, the question then becomes who performed the change and what the change consisted of. Right now, the focus is on Eli Manning not throwing interceptions. Don't we remember that storyline about Jeff Garcia this year, and David Garrard this year as well, and Jake Plummer in 2005, and Donovan McNabb in 2004, etc. right before they had their big game meltdowns? Heck we just saw what happens when you combine Tom "Least Intercepted Quarterback of 2007" Brady with the San Diego "Most Interceptions in the League in 2007" Chargers. We are about to witness New Eli "I don't throw interceptions anymore" Manning meet up with Asante Samuel, Rodney Harrison, and Tedy Bruschi of playoff interception fame.

What do you think is about to happen?

I smell blood in the water, and a Patriots blowout like the 2000 and 2002 Super Bowls. Belicheck finally wins one by more than 3 points.

107 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Nearly a decade ago, Favre injured his thumb on his throwing hand. Ever since then, he has had issues gripping the ball.

Cold balls are hard to grip. Even if you have good hands.

The pass by Favre in OT was terrible and I blame the grip, not the arm strength.

108 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Ben Riley: Do you think Vincent Jackson is aware how badly the 75,000 people who had him on their fantasy teams this year resent his playoff success? I mean, the guy has been an absolute beast the past two games.

The same theme is even more true of Lawrence Maroney, who was a first or second-round pick in most leagues. He showed up in December, but it was far too late for fantasy owners to get anything out of it. At one point in 2007 everyone in New England short of Liz Walker had a touchdown . . . except for No. 39.

109 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#86... I think at this point it's fairly safe to call that Giants' game against Minnesota a fluke. That's unless you think it's perfectly normal that the Vikes beat the Giants MUCH worse than the Patriots, Cowboys, and Packers did?

111 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Aaron Schatz: I feel really bad for LaDainian Tomlinson. Here is a guy who is one of the best players of his generation, former MVP, class act.

How classy *is* Tomlinson, really? He's normally saying the right things when the Bolts win, and that certainly means something, but you show more when you can be classy in defeat. Was he last year? Nope. And Sunday I'm pretty sure he ducked the media, post-game - how classy is that?

I'm starting to think LT is a front-runner who gets pesky when the situation goes south. Not that he's really a punk or a jerk, but his reputation as Mr. Class seems a bit overblown IMHO.

112 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

107
I was pissed when the refs overturned Liz Walker's touchdown at the Redskins game. I lost my fantasy matchup that week by 3 points.
I dropped Walker the next week.

114 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

kevinNYC #109:

Weren’t you one of the same people underwhelmed by the Steve Spagnuolo hiring because he couldn’t get Dhani Jones to be any good?

He couldn't do anything with a string of other candidates as well. Keith Adams, Matt McCoy, Nate Wayne, Mike Labinjo, Mark Simoneau, etc.

I'm not sure I see coughing up 351 points in a season as a mark of greatness, nor do I see a high number of sacks based in part off the Winston Justice Experiment as such a mark.

As a coach, he is getting too much credit for the talent of Strahan and Co. that was there before he showed up. Its not as though these guys never brought pressure before this year.

115 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

105:

If the point is to try project what will happen in the future, then examining the "essence" is useful--it's an indicator of the team's quality and what it can do in the future. If the point is to recognize what a team HAS ALREADY accomplished, then I find it pointless to say something like "but the DVOA finds New York mediocre." When looking at what has happened, what matters to me is the "existence," what the team has accomplished, the actual wins.

117 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

108 - on top of that, Minnesota and New England are now the only two teams that the Giants have played and not beaten.

I don’t think I can run out of “how incredible is it that the Giants got this far?” facts. Can you guess how many regular-season wins the Giants had over a team that finished the regular season with a winning record?

One. Week 3, 24-17 over Washington. Philadelphia was 8-8 and the other seven teams the Giants beat had losing records.

You know it's a bad sign when you're cribbing talking points from "Packer Pete".

It's a fraudulent stat. The Eagles went 8-6 against everyone else, as did the Redskins. Should the Giants have split with the Eagles, to make the Eagles 9-7 and give the Giants another win against a "winning" team?

Another way of looking at it is, the Giants are now 13-6, and 15 of the 19 games were against teams that went 7-9 or better. After the Super Bowl, they will have played seven games gainst teams that finished the regular season 13-3 or better. Anyone who thinks the Giants had an easy run and fattened up on the Little Sisters of the Poor is kidding themselves.

118 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#12
"Here is my question to the FO staff. Can you guys FINALLY admit the Giants are better than an average team? I am not asking you to say they are the 2nd best team, but can you at least say the are above average?

Can you admit they DESERVE to be in the super bowl?"

Has anyone denied it? Clearly they deserve to be in the Super Bowl. You deserve to be in the Super Bowl if you a) make the playoffs and then b) don't lose once you get there. They've won three playoff games on the road, and earned the Super Bowl berth. No doubt about it, no question.

#25
"Despite what the DVOA says, the Giants were the 3rd best team in the NFC this year, and they just happened to beat the best and 2nd best."

Well, they were tied for the third best record in the conference. On the other hand, their point differential was 8th out of 16. Pythagoras thinks that they should have won 9, they won 10. They played 6 games against teams that finished with a better than .500 record, and lost 5 of them. DVOA is saying the same thing that other metrics say - the 2007 Giants are an average team, a team that couldn't win against good teams, but beat bad ones and made it into the playoffs as a Wild Card, then went on a hot streak. (And they'd not have played yesterday had Patrick Crayton actually run his pattern inside the 2-minute warning last week, instead of stopping for a minute...)

119 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Here is the sum total of what FO needs to say about the NYG IMO:

DVOA is a DESCRIPTIVE SYSTEM. It is telling you how good the teams HAVE played, based on what a huge number of past results say about such play.

It works as a decent predictive system as well because the evidence most people use for their predictions is rather inconsistent and flawed.

DVOA was right in describing how the NYG had played. And these numbers were strong evidence that the NYG were not that great this season and would do poorly in the playoffs.

Unfortunately for the accuracy of FO predictions, the quality of teams is a moving target and the NYG are playing much better now.

:::::::::::::::::::

I don't think anyone "missed" anything vis a vis the NYG. They are just a talented team (as probably 2/3s of the NFL teams are) who put it together at the right time. Best of luck to them!

120 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I'll add to my point in #114.

If your favorite team loses an early season game, you might take comfort if they lost despite good DVOA. The good DVOA would be an indicator that the team could have more success in the future.

But if your favorite team loses in a Conference Championship Game, it will be little comfort to you whether DVOA says your team played a better game, or whether DVOA says your team is the better team. At this point, what matters is the actual accomplishment, whether your team won or lost the game. So "essence," the inherent quality, is a future indicator, but it means little in recognizing already accomplished acts. As Sartre also writes in "Being and Nothingness," we're defined by our acts. What matters is not what your inherent essence is (which doesn't exist anyway): what matters is how you choose to act. "Existence precedes essence." So teams are defined by their acts, whether they won the game, not by their essence, whether advanced metric shows them to be a quality team.

None of this is to disparage DVOA, which I find useful. But it doesn't really matter when looking back at a team's playoff run.

121 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I guess it depends on how one defines the terms, but that stance doesn’t make sense to me. As I see it, pressure has different effects on people - some people wet their pants in a key spot, while others maintain their focus and don’t get rattled. Just because it’s hard to quantify clutchness doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I think what Will means is that "clutch" doesn't generally mean that a player "maintains focus." That's expected. If you average .300 in regular situations, and .300 in pressure situations, that's normal, not clutch.

"Clutch" is generally applied to a situation where a player improves in pressure situations. That they always come through. That they "raise their game". A player that batted .250 in regular situations, but batted .400 in pressure situations, would definitely be considered "clutch."

The opposite, of course, is to "choke", the situation where a player is noticeably worse when under pressure.

I think what Will is saying is that he definitely believes there are players that can lose their cool in pressure situations, and can't handle it, and get worse (i.e. choke) but he doesn't believe that there are players that necessarily get better - they simply don't get worse - they aren't rattled by the situation, etc. - and because of that, they may perform better against people who do get rattled.

122 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

66:
Thanks, Will - but I thought I gave enough qualifiers that it was my *opinion*, this being an opinion board and all. I know I can't get in his head - but it didn't look like he was doing much to try to get back in the game. Contrast his effort to that of Antonio Gates, Willis Reed, Curt Schilling, etc.

fwiw - I watched the game just behind the SD bench, not that it matters too much.

Of course, if he has surgery to repair his knee, I will stand corrected. I just thought that he would want trainers to exhaust all possibilities rather than to sit idly by with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

123 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Reading this thread has me longing for the days of raiderjoe. Let me try ...

pats 16-0 only because they not play raiders. asomugha shut down moss, intercept t bardy 3 times. l maroeny lucky to get 2 yards on tough raiders d

belichek good but no match for kiffin. wait till j russell take league by storm next year. sat out year just like C plamer, take raiders to super bowl next year.

... it's just not the same.

For what it's worth, I think that we can all agree that the Giants may be going to the Super Bowl, but the REAL NFC champions are the Vikings (remember 42-17?). Right? Or do I not want to start an irrational Manning/Brady/Tarvaris thread here?

124 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

also Sartre is incomprehensible/inconsistent nonsense (Even modern Sartre scholars admit this), please stick to Anglo-American philosophy, Europe became philosophically unhinged 150 years ago...

125 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

JohnR, my point was that having an opinion on what is happening on the sideline of an NFL game you are watching on T.V. is kind of like having an opinion of what brand of toothpaste Terry Bradshaw uses. There isn't any information available with which to form an opinion. You are right, this is an opinion board, so by all means let it rip. However, saying that a guy didn't give full effort to return to the game certainly implies that he might have been able to contribute if he had simply tried harder, which is a pretty damning comment on a professional athlete's character. I simply prefer that a lot more proof be made available before implying that such a thing has happened.

126 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

FootballOutsiders.com... where it's never easy to admit one was wrong.

#113... You do realize that without that 12 sack game, still only 4 teams would have more sacks than the Giants?Earlier you remarked on the lack of correlation between road wins and the probability of the Giants to getting to the Super Bowl. Yet, you honestly believe there's a complete correlation between points allowed and the performance of a defense? Judging strictly on the basis of non-offensive TDs and drives in which the opponent didn't move the ball 10 yards and STILL scored, the Giants gave up 55(!) points.

127 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Football Outsiders,
where if DVOA doesn't like your team, it is flawed and should be blasted with Peter King-like hellfire.

JohnR,
while LdT didn't seem to do much to try to get back in, wouldn't he just be lambasted as one of those angry young black men who should respect their coach's decision and keep their mouths shut? I know he would be getting hammered if he was yapping to get in...

128 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Great live commentary! Even read the day after, it's interesting.

As a Pats fan, I have to hand it to the Chargers defense, who played far better than I expected. Gotta give credit to Rivers too, who managed to make quite a few good plays, knee brace and all. But I do think something was up with Brady - he just wasn't throwing very well, and while I'm sure part of that was the great Charger pressure, some of it had to be him. The Pats defense did its job, mostly, but it would sure have been a much scarier game had the Chargers not been beaten up as they were. In the end, the most impressive thing from the Pats point of view was probably that 9 1/2 minute grinder of a drive at the end.

As for the NFC game, you have to be impressed with the Giants winning on the road, but GB seemed to be lost most of the time. I agree with whoever said that Favre looked cold and out of sorts - I kept hoping for some glory from him in the second half, and he just couldn't seem to do much of anything. So much for home-field advantage at icy Lambeau! It's probably better to be young and hungry --

129 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Pats offensive participation numbers (by Mike Reiss):

A look at the snaps played by offensive skill position players in Sunday's win over the Chargers:

WR Randy Moss -- 61 of 65 snaps
TE Benjamin Watson -- 54 of 65
WR Wes Welker -- 40 of 65
RB Laurence Maroney -- 37 of 65
TE Kyle Brady -- 35 of 65
RB Kevin Faulk -- 28 of 65
WR Jabar Gaffney -- 27 of 65
FB Heath Evans -- 17 of 65
WR Donte' Stallworth -- 14 of 65
TE Stephen Spach -- 8 of 65
TE/LB Mike Vrabel -- 3 of 65

(snaps include one illegal contact penalty, but not the final two kneel-downs)

ANALYSIS: The difference between tight end snaps played in the first half vs. the second half was most revealing. Kyle Brady had 10 first-half snaps and 25 in the second, Benjamin Watson was 20/34, while Stephen Spach was 0/8 ... That will lead into our positional groupings update later today, which will show a heavier emphasis on tight end packages in this game, which was a key in-game adjustment. ... FB Heath Evans also had a wide split, with four first-half snaps and 13 in the second half. While some of that was based on the team running out the clock in a four-minute offense -- and also having more second-half plays -- it also highlights the in-game adjustment to tighter, bigger personnel packages. ... RB Laurence Maroney's 37 snaps were his second highest total of the season (39 vs. Jets, Dec. 16). ... WR Donte' Stallworth played only two second-half snaps, which might have been a result of the focus on tight ends, but could have been due, in part, to a third-quarter interception on a pass that was thrown in his direction.

130 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Re: 126

FootballOutsiders.com… where it’s never easy to admit one was wrong.

Yeah, because you see people admitting their wrong everywhere else on the internet. Off of it, too. Can't turn a corner without people telling me how wrong they were.

Re: 124

Them's fighting words.
(I'd also say much of "Anglo-American" philosophy of the 20th-21st centuries would be incomplete without Frege and Wittgenstein, both of whom were from Central Europe.)

131 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Pats positional grouping numbers (Reiss again):

A look at the positional groupings utilized by the Patriots in Sunday's win over the Chargers:

# 3 WR/1 TE/1 RB -- 20 of 65
# 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB -- 11 of 65
# 1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 11 of 65
# 4 WR/1 RB -- 9 of 65
# 1 WR/3 TE/1 RB -- 8 of 65
# 3 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 3 of 65
# 2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 3 of 65

(snaps include an illegal contact penalty, but don't include the final two kneel-downs)

ANALYSIS: In the first half, the Patriots ran 9 of 29 plays (31 percent) with multiple tight ends on the field. In the second half, the Patriots ran 22 of 36 plays with multiple tight ends (61 percent). The numbers are reflective of an in-game adjustment in which the Patriots decided to put "heavier" personnel on the field to establish the run in the second half. It seemed to be a case in which the Patriots realized the passing game wasn't having the desired success -- the Chargers were causing some problems with pressure both on the edges and up front -- so they decided to focus on the ground game. ... The Patriots usually go to a 3 TE package at the goal-line, but it was utilized in all areas Sunday. After not calling on a 1 WR/3 TE/1 RB package in the first half, the team used it eight times in the second half. ... The Patriots did not run one snap with 4 WR/1 RB in the second half.

132 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Re: 95

The Chargers could use a slot-receiver type? Perhaps Eric Parker will do.

You're right, they really don't have much to improve except secondary depth.

134 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

No, #128, it is better to run the ball 39 times for 134 yards, instead of 14 times for 28, on day when the weather will make it much more difficult to throw. I don't think relative appetites made much of a difference.

135 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I'm genuinely shocked that so many FO writers were CONVINCED that the Packers were going to win. Seriously, Aaron? The show didn't encourage you to have any back-up dialogue? Really Bill? You didn't see how well your team has been playing down the stretch?

Wow...it's just...wow. I've long been a critic of Eli "there's no crying in baseball, but there is crying in football on draft day" Manning. But I saw a big Dallas upset coming and I was torn on the Packers game because...well, because I ACTUALLY WATCH THE FOOTBALL GAMES.

We can talk about valid predictors all we want, but football games are not clinical trials. Lots of factors play into the result of a football game, and the Giants have had a talented roster and a solid head coach all season. It's obvious that the Jints underperformed their capabilities this whole year. Part of it was Eli's immaturity, and perhaps part of it was adapting to the loss of Tiki and mismanaged coaches' expectations. Who knows? But only a real idiot would have gone into Sunday night not giving the G-men a legit shot. Maybe the FO staff could be a little less snooty and throw the dogs a bone when they deserve one...

137 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The only way Tomlinson gets back into that game, regardless of who makes the decision, is if he can be more effective than his backup(s). On a lot of teams, he's back in there. But with his limitations, and when you have Turner and Sproles, what's the point? He'd have only hurt his team.
The Rivers surgery / Volek healthy thing, that's a completely different and interesting argument.

138 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Re: 135
Don't you know. No one posting here actually watched the NYG-GB game because everyone just assumed Green Bay had won. They were all busy playing Madden 2008 with the special DVOA sliders... since we all know that Madden 2008 simulations are actually the true results of the Football Season... what happens on the field really doesn't matter. As far as the Patriots, we can just crown their *sses, in fact I think the 4th week of the preseason and the 17th week of the regularly season are bull**it, BULL**it!

139 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"Judging strictly on the basis of non-offensive TDs and drives in which the opponent didn’t move the ball 10 yards and STILL scored, the Giants gave up 55(!) points."

Wow, Kevin. Great stat.

I have a feeling it is going to be an ugly few weeks here.

So let me jump into the mud. I've been spouting a consistent mantra all year regarding the Giants. When they play well, they are as good a team as any in the NFL (well, excepting possibly the Patriots who have seemed to be on a different stratosphere for much of the year).

For the purposes of my context here, by "play well" I mean avoiding what are most commonly identified as mental mistakes or discipline mistakes. Foolish decisions. Penalties, particularly at the worst possible times. Abject stupidity. Taking eyes off of balls. Not bringing Vince Young to the ground when sacking him. Things like that.

What made the Giants a mediocre team, and what DVOA was seeing, was the fact that the Giants played poorly (in the above definition) often. In fact, they consistently did not play well in the above manner.

But what DVOA has been "missing" (my way of phrasing it-- there may be a better one) is that a team that is mediocre because of stupidity is at least physically capable of rising above mediocrity by somehow stopping being stupid. A team that is mediocre because they don't have the physical talent cannot make the same jump up in quality.

The Giants, yesterday, played well. They did not play great-- there were still some brain farts on their end. Dumb penalties. Not protecting the ball at right time. Things like that. But, for the most part, they did not go overboard in stupidity. They mostly remembered their assignments. They mostly avoided penalties. Eli mostly avoided making poor decisions. And lo-and-behold, they beat a team most thought was superior than them.

I do not think that most mediocre teams could have accomplished what the Giants have over the past four and one half weeks. The Giants may rightfully be identified by DVOA as mediocre, but they are a significantly more talented, and in my eyes "better", team than most mediocre teams.

They have a good offensive line. They have a deep running back corps that provides variety as well as quality. They have a game-breaking wide receiver. They have a decent safety-valve at tight end. They have a great defensive line. The back 7 on defense isn't outstanding, but they have been playing better of late and at least two of them are players (Pierce and Ross). And they have a quarterback who has been a disappointment so far but has shown flashes throughout his career of having the ability to be better than he's been so far. He makes some throws that quarterbacks with his numbers generally cannot make. His bloodlines are impeccable. He could be better, he should be better, than he has been, even if he rightfully should be labeled mediocre at this point career to date.

Not a bad football team. Not at all.

Now they go to the Super Bowl, and they face a team many think is the best of all time. If the Giants win, it will be a great story. If they lose, or even get killed, it won't change these two conclusions:

1) Taking their entire season into consideration, including the playoffs, this is an above average team overall.
2) Their season has to be considered a monumental success beyond the expectations of just about everyone.

Some will look at #2 and denigrate them, saying their expectations were right and the reality is just a fluke. Others will think they might have had their expectations too low. Some will have a little of both.

Me? I didn't expect them to do this. But I knew they could-- it is what has been frustrating me about them for the last three years.

140 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

As a Chargers fan, I didn't really have a problem with Norv's decision to keep LT on the sidelines. I'm pretty sure he said that he got hit on the knee during one of those first few plays, and it was obvious that he wasn't capable of playing as well as he needed to. The combination of Turner and Sproles at 100% was a much more attractive option, as it also kept LT from suffering any further damage, and would have given him the opportunity to get healthy for the Super Bowl if the Chargers has managed to pull it out.

I was impressed with the effort the Chargers gave but losing like that is almost worse then getting blown out. The Chargers came very close to upsetting the Pats with injuries to their (arguably) top 5 players:

Rivers - both knees
LT - knee
Gate - toe
Merriman - knee
Williams - ankle

I'd love to see what they can do next year if they have some better luck when it comes to injuries.

How do the Chargers improve the team? It's going to be hard because they don't have very many picks in this year's draft:

No 2nd rounder (Chambers trade)
No 3rd rounder (Weddle trade last year)
No 4th rounder (drafted Oliver in last year's supplemental draft)

Defense:
They need help in the secondary (weak safeties) and on the defensive line (little depth after the starting 3). I expect them to draft a big nose tackle type with the first rounder, to help out Jamal Williams and take over for him eventually.

The Chargers will almost certainly cut ties with Drayton Florence and Michael Turner. Igor Olshansky might be out if he gets a better offer elsewhere. The Chargers have the second-most space under the cap for next year and will most likely sign a couple of veteran back-up types to help the defense.

Offense:
Eric Parker will return from injury to a suddenly crowded wide receiver corp (Chambers, Jackson, Davis, and Parker). Osgood takes up the sixth spot as the special teams ace so there's not much room for movement/improvement.

The o-line is fairly young and solid, they might draft a late project for the right side of the line. If Olivea can't reclaim the starting right tackle spot from Clary, he will almost certainly be moved inside to challenge Goff for right guard.

The Chargers may draft a RB to replace Turner but I doubt it. They expect Pinnock to replace him as the bruiser-type runner. This may be complicated by Neal's age and injury however, since Pinnock is also the backup FB.

141 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I don't know how else I can say it. I didn't say that LdT should have been screaming at Norv to let him back in. I sat behind the Chargers bench at the game and - while I admit - I was watching the on-field action most of the time - I also spied looks at LdT sitting on the bench in between plays.

I might have missed it, but I only saw him speak to a trainer once briefly. If he doesn't have some sort of injury requiring something other than "rest" to heal it -- I will question his heart -- given the many, many examples of other athletes stepping up to want to win big games. His post-game comments don't seem to indicate anything other than a sprain and the fact that he felt he lacked "explosiveness" -- he takes himself out after 2 attempts and makes no effort with the trainers to come back? That is all...and really, it is more than needs to be said. Sorry for the noise.

142 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

So, I'll write as someone who saw every Giants game this year, and in all honesty he hasn't played much better in the playoffs than he did in the regular season - BUT his receivers have played much better. OK, he stunk up the field against the vikings, but more typical was the game they lost against the redskins. Eli was throwing the ball well at the start, they had a drive end due to 2 dropped passes that should have been caught easily. Then, with the game still close, Moss catches the ball on an 11 yard pass on a 3rd & 10, and runs backwards away from a hit giving up the 1st down (anyone see Moss on the field after that game?). Eli goes on to have an epic number of incompletions, but the reality is that his receivers deserted him that day.

The only thing that surprised me yesterday was how well he threw the ball in the cold. Plaxico & Toomer both dropped easy and very important passes in the 1st half, but in both cases they made up for it, and frankly THAT is the difference in the post season and is probably the reason the DVOA is so far off - hard to account for a team suddenly deciding to start making the easy catches!

143 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

What is the infatuation with Levine and his constant commenting on Stadium noise? Every NFL stadium has loud PA systems and plays loud music and obnoxious sound effects to get the crowd going! Some franchises like to pump up the volume when hte opponent has the ball and some like to video the opposing teams signals? Who cares about your noise factor. The NFL watching world is waiting for someone, in this case the Giants to defeat the 18-0 unbeaten Patriots! The Giants will have a second chance to stop the greatest team in NFL history and they will fail once again on February 3rd. Another Manning meltdown!

144 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

SDUT: "Rivers played on knee with ACL 'totally gone'"

Three questions:

1) How the hell is your ACL 'totally gone'?

2) Why the hell would Norv still play him and how could he play like that?

3) How the hell is he going to be 100% by the start of next year?

145 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

144: About the ACL issue, Hines Ward has purportedly played without an ACL in one of his knees for his entire career. That comparison, if anything, solidifies Rivers' "bad-ass" credentials.

But that said, your questions #2 and #3 are what I was wondering. Don't get me wrong, I have admiration for Rivers' gritty performance, but it seemed to me that he was (understandably) physically fading as the game went on - and, if the Chargers want Rivers to be a franchise QB, isn't allowing him play on a torn knee ligament a hell of a risk? (Particularly as the approach with LdT was much, much more conservative?)

146 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Since this thread is going in the direction, I'll jump in and say I didn't like the Chargers playing Rivers without any knees... and I felt that way before the game. I fully expected Volek to play the whole game, and was surprised to see Rivers in when I turned it on. He looked like he was in a ton of pain...

Volek lead a TD drive vs. the Colts... I thought he was more than capable of coming in and playing as a decent fill-in.

147 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#44: The translation of this paragraph: the numbers and the actual results are wildly different, but there is no way in hell I will bother to explain such an event, because there is absolutely no chance that the numbers are incorrect. Rather then giving a very modest admission that the system is not infallible and in fact quite capable of being wrong on occasion, I will blindly adhere to the website I write for and paint the anomaly as no such thing. The system is right, this team is mediocre, ignore the past four weeks! In fact… they did not happen!

Given the excellent quality of the rest of Tanier’s work, this is even more appalling..

Very well stated. One of the reasons I really like FO is because the writers are usually willing to admit that the numbers aren't perfect.

Looking at it from a purely statistical standpoint, which of the following is more likely:

A. The Giants are a below average team that had three fluke wins in a row all on the road, with two over very good teams.

B. The Giants are actually a better team than DVOA rates them.

148 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Since 2001 the Patriots are 23-7 in games where they are playing a team for the 2nd time. They're 17-5 in the rematch when they already won the first meeting. And one of those 5 losses was week 17 2005 against Miami, a game where they basically just mailed it in with back ups. I don't like Coughlin's chances with Belichick having 2 weeks to prepare and fix what went wrong the last time.

149 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Re 148:

Misleading statistic. They have the teams in their division twice every year since 2001. That alone accounts for 18 or 21 (depending if you count 2001) of the 30 games.

I doubt beating the Jets, Fish and Bills twice this year qualifies as evidence of Belichick's excellence. Slamming teams in the playoffs after playing them in the regular season, fine, but your statistic lacks any context whatsoever.

150 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

#109

The Vikings at that time were playing very well. They beat San Diego by more than two touchdowns. I don't think it was a fluke. It is what it is. See FO article on San Diego-Minnesota. I think the Vikings match up well with the Giants. I see the strengths of the Giants being similar to the Chargers - pass rush, running game, tight end talent, big wide receivers.

However, I think that the Patriots are probably better at changing schemes than any other team and being effective at it. They may try to duplicate what worked for Minnesota did in that game.