Audibles At The Line: Week 1
Compiled by Doug Farrar and Vince Verhei
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2009. Games are chosen based on our own personal viewing preferences, and are going to reflect the teams we support and the cities where we live.
Thursday, September 4
Washington Redskins 7 at New York Giants 16
Bill Moore: We're midway through the second quarter and Jason Taylor looks like he's on NBC's new hit, Dancing with Kareem McKenzie. Other than one play where he utilized his football smarts to break up a screen, he is absolutely being abused off the line by mostly single blocking.
The Skins in general look quite lost out there, on both sides of the ball. Fred Smoot has looked terrible against Plaxico Burress.
Aaron Schatz: I think that was Carlos Rogers getting schooled by Burress early on, and then Smoot starting around the third drive. Man, do the Redskins look awful. Will someone tell Jason Campbell that the point is step-step-step-throw, especially when Justin friggin' Tuck is coming after you? There's no time to improvise, find the damn hot read. And boy, did Jim Zorn learn from the master or what? If you like the draw on third-and-long, you'll love the draw on second-and-long followed up by a draw on third-and-long! I mean, they might as well just wave a big flag that says "We Love to Punt."
Doug Farrar: I'm hoping that Zorn literally took that draw out of the Seahawks playbook, so Holmgren will forget to do it.
Yeah, Campbell had that problem in the preseason, too. He'd take his drops, read, read, hesitate, clutch, double-clutch ... blech. Play over. He's got a lot of work to do before he gets the tempo Zorn's scheme requires, that's for sure. Redskins fans can be encouraged (I suppose) by the fact that Matt Hasselbeck looked like Bobby Brady on LSD his first year in this system under Mike Holmgren. It takes a while.
Reason No. 753 to love Clinton Portis: 5:20 left in the third quarter, and Campbell threw a three-yard pass to Santana Moss in double coverage on a little crossing pattern. Yuk again, but Portis blew Mathias Kiwanuka UP on a chip off the left side after Kiwanuka tried to get past Chris Samuels with a rip move outside. The drive was over, but that was impressive. Portis does the little things well.
Mike Tanier: Our man Portis sure can pass block. I guess that's the bright spot for the Skins in the third quarter: Portis popping Kiwanuka.
The Giants running game is having its way with the Redskins' D-line. They are consistently getting guards out to the second level and getting hats on linebackers. Brandon Jacobs is finishing his runs well. Eli Manning hasn't looked sharp since early. He's looking to Plaxico too much and waiting too long.
The Redskins are just getting into too many third-and-longs. I think Zorn made some play-calling adjustments since the first half, but he can't just keep sending Portis up the middle. Portis' big run was on a sorta counter trey, with some linemen slanting and others pulling. He should try more counter-type running plays, or how about more swing passes to the backs on first and second down. They need more third-and-3s, they need that pass rush to be slowed down.
Will Carroll: Portis didn't get poked in the eye, Madden. He wears a shield. What happened was he got hit so hard that his facemask came back and hit him in the nose. It's a growing issue for helmets, largely due to players refusing to snap them properly.
Mike Tanier: Dunno why the Giants are putting the ball in the air late in the game. Every pass downfield is an adventure, and the one thing that the Redskins are doing right is getting after Eli. The Giants worked off about 5 minutes of clock to get it to 6:12 in the fourth quarter, but I think they could have worked another 3 minutes or so off without a couple of incompletes and a sack.
Carlos Rogers' yellow tipped shoes anger me. I think there's a flag on every play he's involved in.
Doug Farrar: Late in the game, I'm realizing that Zorn learned end-of-half time management from Holmgren, as well. Tick-tock, guys...
Aaron Schatz (at virtually the same time): Hey, apparently Zorn didn't just learn the third-and-long draw from Mike Holmgren. He's also picked up Holmgren's frustrating lack of urgency when the half is winding down and the offense is driving.
Bill Moore: Change of possession with 2:02 left is a "minor break for the Redskins because it stops the clock." Down by 9. Really, Al? I think announcers need preseason action too.
Doug Farrar: I don't know that there's much to conclude from this game, except to say that Michael Strahan gave his can of whup-ass to Justin Tuck, and Tuck now has two. Manning was good in fits and starts, mixed with lucky -- I counted two dropped interceptions. The Giants were very wise to give Burress that extension. This was a team trying to beat the odds and repeat versus a team in serious transition. We now know how sweeping that transition will be.
With Jason Campbell and the offense, it's just going to take time. It's all well and good to say, "Well, he played in kind of a West Coast thing part of his time at Auburn, so it should be a solid transition," but I guarantee you he's never seen anything like this. It's not the Al Saunders 700-page playbook (he wasn't really effective with that, anyway, beyond dump-offs to Chris Cooley -- I don't think he threw a touchdown to a wide receiver in the first half of the season), but it's tempo and execution and fractional variations in verbiage. It requires an extreme focus on mechanics. I hope for Campbell's sake that Zorn is given the time to make it work. Putting the kid in danger of double-digit offensive coordinators since his college days is just silly.
Mike Tanier: Yeah, I remember when Hasselbeck looked like he stunk in the same system. At least Hasselbeck wasn't learning one coach's pass offense and a different coach's rush offense like Campbell is.
I take away that the Giants' run blocking is good and their pass blocking needs work. And they need secondary and tertiary pass targets. But the defense looked very good and very fast again this year, and only a part of that was inept Redskins play.
Will Carroll: The one thing I noticed is that while Manning did look calmer, he still throws high on nearly every pass. I'm not sure if that's something mechanical or if it's where he means to put it -- he doesn't seem to do it with Amani Toomer as much -- but there's got to be a way to exploit it defensively.
Doug Farrar: That's what's known as "Page One of New York Giants Playbook: Jump Ball to Plaxico." With Burress, that's absolutely where he means to put it.
Vince Verhei: I knew the Redskins were in trouble on their first play from scrimmage, when Campbell took a three-step drop. His first read wasn't open, so rather then look elsewhere, or take off running, he just kind of drifted to his right, right into the pass rush. He wasn't even being pressured. It went beyond incompetence into some more severe realm of bad, bad football. And how many failed completions did he have on third down tonight?
I thought Eli was great early, but really poor later. One interception, two more dropped, and three or four others in a position that they could have been picked off, but absolutely not completed.
Images of Brandon Jacobs steamrolling over Redskins defensive backs aside, my lasting memories from this game are going to be a coach and quarterback who looked like they had no idea what they were doing.
Bill Barnwell: Eli was amazing. In the literal sense of the word. He'd throw four or five really great underneath passes and then just hit a Redskins defensive back in the hands with a throw. Steve Smith looked like a pretty good secondary target to me. He and Kevin Boss are competing for the same passes, but Smith really has promise -- for a guy who's so young, he really runs crisp routes.
Corey Webster still can't tackle. He totally whiffed on Portis' big run. Campbell was definitely hesitant -- especially for a guy who wasn't hesitant last year. That's disappointing.
Sunday, September 7
Kansas City Chiefs 10 at New England Patriots 17
Aaron Schatz: I'm not sure what to say about the Tom Brady injury. We don't know yet how bad it is, and I'm guessing we still won't know when Audibles runs on Monday. I think that we saw with Matt Cassel that most teams do not self-destruct when the starting quarterback is hurt, even when the drop in talent is as severe as the drop from Brady to Cassel. The Patriots ran more when Cassel was in there, but he made some plays when he was in the spread shotgun.
You can see the difference, though. He holds the ball a little long. He takes longer to identify the open man. Some of his passes are wobbly. If Brady is out five or six weeks, this team will still win the division. Obviously, if Brady is out for the whole year, that's a different story, but I still think they're playoff contenders thanks to the easy schedule.
The game certainly didn't seem as close as the 17-10 score. The Patriots' front seven really dominated the Chiefs offensive line, and the secondary was as inconsistent as expected, with a massive blown coverage that almost allowed Kansas City to tie the game at the end.
It's hard to overstate just how bad Larry Johnson looked. He was running into a big pile of defenders on nearly every play. Sure, part of that is the lack of an offensive line. But he didn't show any strength pushing those piles, and he didn't really show much vision to sidestep the pile and find a seam. It was just run up into the line for two yards, over and over.
Will Carroll: OK, just got my first good look at the injury and there's SOME good news. The way that Brady got hit suggests a PCL injury. Bill, we have any of those to quarterbacks in the database? Off the top of my head, I can't think of one. EVERYONE is going to talk about Shawne Merriman playing with this, but it's just not comparable at all.
Bill Barnwell: Reggie Bush missed the last four weeks of 2007 with a partially torn PCL. Roy Williams did the same. Those are both speed guys, though. Brady's just a different type of player.
Mike Tanier: Well, I don't think we'll see Brady for a few weeks, and you have to be worried about how tight that game was against a just horrible team. I want to see how the game plan changes with Cassell out there. I would call a few more designed runs, tighten the formation a bit, make play-action a bigger part of the offense. You have a bunch of winnable games with McFumbles until October 12 at San Diego. When I saw the hit I said bye-bye 2008, but maybe if it is a four-week injury the Pats could still be 4-0 or 3-1 heading in there.
Bill Barnwell: Realistically, if Brady's out for the year, the Patriots are what -- the Ravens? The Titans?
Aaron Schatz: No, the Patriots have much better receivers than the Ravens and Titans, and a better offensive line than the Ravens, at least.
Bill Barnwell: But their defense isn't as good.
Will Carroll: It's really unlikely that he'll be out for the season. I'm curious how conservative they'll be with him. If the Patriots called, Daunte Culpepper would listen, right? (Note: Colts fan taunting.)
Doug Farrar: They're the Browns, maybe with Charlie Frye still under center.
Bill Barnwell: Their defense is way better than Cleveland's. Remember, the defense carried this team in 2006.
Sean McCormick: Their linebackers weren't 47 years old in 2006. Their secondary was also much better.
Mike Tanier: The Patriots are the Vikings without Brady. But they are the Vikings in a weak division with no Packers. They go 4-2 or 5-1 in the division with or without Brady. But you have to say at Chargers is a loss with Cassell, at Indy is a loss. Denver and Pittsburgh, let's call a split. At Seattle, well, we assume they are tougher in Qwest in December.
I need to get a better handle on the Pats defense before I say all is well though. The Pats defense looked like the Eagles offense today. They were playing a really poor opponent so almost everything came easy. I don't think they should have had the lapses they had.
Well, show of hands. I think that even if Brady is out all year and Cassell plays all year, the Patriots can win 10 games and the AFC East. And that if this is a four-week thing, they are an 11- or 12-win team still. Who agrees?
Aaron Schatz: The spreadsheets raise their hands.
Mike Tanier: The spreadsheets have hands? If they had breasts I would never leave my office!
Doug Farrar: Depends on who replaces him. The Patriots with (insert reasonable veteran quarterback here) would be OK. The Patriots with Cassel? Up goes the floor, down goes the ceiling.
Sean McCormick: I think the Pats max out at 9-7 with no Brady all season. I was expecting them to struggle to hit 12 with Brady, honestly.
Aaron Schatz: Why? I'm just curious, but how much of that is intellectual, how much emotional?
Sean McCormick: No, it's not really emotional (much as I might like to see this era of New England dominance end). I just think that they have become a team that is heavily reliant on getting excellent quarterback play and that Brady makes all the other parts work better. Basically, they've become Indianapolis. When Brady is exerting pressure on both the opposing defense and the opposing offense, he makes every other part of the New England roster look better. But if he's not there, I don't see the other players as being nearly as dangerous, with the exception of Randy Moss.
I also thought the Patriots were likely to have a serious Super Bowl hangover and that their preseason was an indicator of it. All along, they've reminded me a bit of the 2002 Rams. By all rights, the Rams should have rolled through everyone that year. Instead, their quarterback got hurt and was never right all year and they just seemed flat. Everything about New England has looked flat since training camp.
Would anyone expect the Jim Sorgi Colts to do better than 9-7? I know the AFC East is not the AFC South, but that said, it's not the 2007 AFC East, either. All three teams are somewhere between a little better and significantly better.
Mike Tanier: You can't separate the team from the division. Put the Pats in the AFC South, take away Brady, and I might say 9-7, because I could see 3-3 or 2-4 in division. The Pats also get the AFC West, so they beat the Chiefs already and face the Raiders. Also, I think the Pats running game and D-line is good enough to win games without a top-flight pass offense.
Aaron Schatz: Again, I remind everyone, Bubby Brister had -63.4% passing DVOA in 1995, one of the worst figures ever. Three years later in Denver, he came in for an injured John Elway and had 25.8% DVOA. Even with the best quarterbacks, the team around you does matter. Think back to recent years and how many teams lost a quarterback to injury -- and didn't collapse. How many times were the 49ers fine when Young or Montana were injured and replaced by Jeff Kemp or Elvis Grbac or Steve Bono?
Sean McCormick: Sure, but scheme also matters. The Patriots offense was dominant last year because they were able to flood the defense with receivers and could rely on Brady to identify where the rushers were coming from and to buy time in the pocket to allow things to open up. It put a lot of responsibility on the quarterback. Could the Pats run with their 2005-2006 offense? Probably. But I don't think they could call an offensive game the way they did last year without Brady or a reasonably competent backup.
Sometimes you have a scheme that allows Bubby Brister to be competent and sometimes your team plays one way with Charlie Frye and plays another way with Derek Anderson. (Or one way with Drew Bledsoe and another way with Tony Romo. Or one way with Matt Hasselbeck and another way with Seneca Wallace. Etc., etc., etc.)
Mike Tanier: I think the Patriots have the personnel to adjust their scheme, though. They can run the ball and are deep at running back. They have a good tight end.
Ben Riley: I'm with Sean regarding the Patriots. They just narrowly eked out a victory against the Kansas City Chiefs. At home. Even before the Brady injury I had serious questions about the secondary, but if Brady is out four or five weeks I think this is a 9-7 team at best. I think Laurence Maroney is a decent tailback, but he has yet to show he has the ability to take over a game, and Sammy Morris isn't scaring anyone. And I have no idea who the "good tight end" Mike is thinking of -- Ben Watson? He's fast, but again, not someone you have to scheme against.
Bill Barnwell: That's just silly. We're talking a team with one of the best defensive lines in the league, one of the best groups of receivers, and an incredibly easy schedule. Saying that they're at best a 9-7 team without Brady is ... it's just silly.
Sean McCormick: They're the 2002 Rams.
Aaron Schatz: Look, the 2002 Rams didn't just lose their quarterback for four or five games. Marshall Faulk only started 10 games (though he played in 14). Orlando Pace missed a few games. Marc Bulger, the backup quarterback, missed a few games, and they had to start Jamie Martin twice.
Will Carroll: I think Bulger is better than Cassel.
Bill Barnwell: 2002 Rams had three times as many injuries as the 2001 team.
Mike Tanier: Well when Bulger was 25 what did you think of him? And he came off the bench to go 6-1 that season, which strains the comparison. It was the starting quarterback with the injury problems that caused the trouble. That, a lousy defense, and an early-season schedule that started them against three playoff teams, not Chiefs-Jets-Dolphins-bye.
I really don't see much connection except that both teams had great offenses but lost Super Bowls the year prior.
Will Carroll: There's an interesting continuum for backups. It's not 32 starters and then 32 backups to make up the top 64. There's a lot of overlap and I'd guess there are probably some third-stringers better than a starter or two. (J.T. O'Sullivan over Alex Smith makes that case, despite his play today.) This isn't really a discussion about "How good is Cassel?" It's more one of "Can anyone do this given the ability to at least get in the door of the NFL?"
Mike Tanier: Lemmee take Brady out for the year and find seven losses on the schedule: Indy. San Diego. Pittsburgh. Denver. Seattle. One each to the Jets and Bills? Yes, that's possible. Is it likely?
Ben Riley: Regarding my alleged silliness and the Pats' easy schedule, I think the AFC East may be a little tougher than originally anticipated. I know, I know, it's National Jump to Conclusions Week, but I'm finding it hard to believe that the Patriots could lose the league's best player for more than a month and have it barely register in the standings.
(The conversation continues during the Colts-Bears game.)
Aaron Schatz: Michael Silver and Tom Curran are both reporting that Brady is done for the year. Silver has anonymous sources in the Pats front office, apparently.
Will Carroll: I'm wrong -- or rather saw it wrong. On the angle NBC just showed, he got hit on the side and there was much more of a caving than in the previous sideline angle I saw before. It's definitely not good.
Aaron Schatz: Strange. Not sure how I feel as a Patriots fan. I know I should be totally distraught, but I'm overwhelmed by a feeling of "well, this is football, these things happen, it was bound to happen eventually." The season isn't over, it's just totally different. Assuming Brady is truly out for the year, we say goodbye to the high-powered Patriots. They'll be back in 2009. Instead, we're now rooting for a good-but-not-great team in a winnable division: the Sub-Patriots. It's a totally different fan experience. Honestly, Patriots fans aren't used to that one -- we're used to either totally sucking hardcore or being annual Super Bowl contenders.
I'm glad it happened today, and not in Week 8 or something. At least we can really re-adjust our expectations before we get too deep into the season. If the Pats were humming along at 7-1 and this happened, I think that would be far more emotionally devastating for the fans.
Ben Riley: Trent Dilfer said he spoke to people within the Patriots organization, and was told: "Matt Cassel is our starting quarterback for the rest of the year."
Mike Tanier: That's what I would tell Trent Dilfer too!
Aaron, the writer is taking over the fan. The fan is mad, but the writer is saying, hooray! All new storylines! All new personalities! I don't have to write a Brady-Favre thing next week, and there will be something to write about before those Dolphins and Niners games besides the 16-point spread.
Aaron Schatz: Well, yes and no. I don't care about new storylines and personalties, but I will admit to a very weird zen-like feeling of freedom, that this injury allows me to have a season where I can write about what the numbers say without worrying that people will think anything is too Pats-friendly.
Bill Barnwell: Any chance avowed workout fanatic Tom Brady makes it back for the playoffs?
Ned Macey: This is obviously easier to say now as Manning gets ready to take the field, but when the Manning rumors started circulating, I was actually kind of excited to see what this team would look like with Sorgi. I feel bad for Pats fans because it is impossible that the Pats won't be worse, but as a sort of experiment, it is fascinating. If I were to vote, I still think they're a pretty good team in a bad division so long as Cassel isn't horrible. The Jamie Martin comment reminds me that there is a level of quarterback play that won't get it done even with this offense.
Aaron Schatz: OK, I'm thinking a little more about my zen-like calm regarding the Brady injury. I think I may have another reason why I'm not that distraught.
There was no way for the Patriots to follow up last season. Anything short of winning the Super Bowl would have been failure. Patriots fans were basically in a position to spend the whole year worrying about how the Pats were not as good as they were in 2007, and they weren't going to win the Super Bowl this year, and this amazing juggernaut would never climb back to the top of the mountain. With the Brady injury, the Patriots really have nothing left to lose. Patriots fans can go back to just rooting for wins every week, instead of expecting perfection and worrying when it doesn't materialize. Now, all it takes to make this a successful season is a wild card spot or something. When Brady comes back in 2009, we will be able to really enjoy it instead of constantly worrying about how it doesn't live up to 2007.
Am I making any sense?
Sean McCormick: I don't know what to say about Brady. On the one hand, you always want to see the best players play, and as a fan I want to see my team beat the best.
On the other hand, after watching a potential Super Bowl team go up in smoke in 1999 when Vinny Testaverde went down in the first quarter...
Then watching Chad Pennington come in and be the best quarterback in the league in 2002 and then not make it out of preseason the following year...
Then watching Pennington tear his shoulder apart in 2004 while leading a really good Jets team and then do it again in 2005...
I can't say that there isn't a certain level of satisfaction in seeing the Patriots -- who have had nothing but fantastic luck at the quarterback spot from the moment Brady stepped on the field -- get a taste for what the other teams in the division have been going through. Buffalo, Miami and the Jets have just been going through one quarterback after another after another, and all the while the Pats have been able to play to their potential because their stud quarterback never got hurt.
Again, I'd rather not see anyone injured, but I don't blame fans who are grinning in anticipation of Bill Belichick being forced to earn his genius stripes without Brady for a full season.
Detroit Lions 21 at Atlanta Falcons 34
Aaron Schatz: I will really enjoy National Jump to Conclusions Week, as everyone gets excited about the quality of the Atlanta and Detroit offenses without noticing that they played well against the Atlanta and Detroit defenses.
Ben Riley: Did anyone watch the Atlanta game? Michael Turner has 220 yards. I'm thinking it wasn't just the Chargers offensive line that made him look good.
Aaron Schatz: Detroit ranked 27th in run defense DVOA last year -- with Shaun Rogers. Beware of jumping to conclusions.
Will Carroll: Was Michael Turner always so big in the ass?
Vince Verhei: I was curious to see how Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey would use Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. I saw them both on the field at the same time at least once. Turner lined up at tailback; Norwood lined up wide right, with a regular wide receiver (Harry Douglas, I think) in the slot. Douglas motioned into the backfield as the ball was snapped. Turner ran a fake dive into the line, then Matt Ryan pitched to Norwood coming across the field on an end-around, with Douglas as his lead blocker. It was a cute little counter play that didn't fool the defense at all, but Norwood is a good enough runner to pick up 5 or 6 yards on a play where most would be stopped for no game.
Norwood was also used on special teams -- and not just returning kicks. I saw him make a nice tackle covering a kickoff. Which begs the question: If the team thinks he's too fragile to maintain the load of a top rusher, why are they risking him covering kicks?
Cincinnati Bengals 10 at Baltimore Ravens 17
Will Carroll: Did Willis McGahee see the field at all?
Mike Tanier: I saw almost no McGahee if I saw him at all. The Ravens were using Le'Ron McClain, big 260-pound fullback, as a tailback much of the game, spelling him with Ray Rice. McClain runs upright and is pretty slow but he finished his runs well and can shift and slide a little. The game plan was to bulldoze the Bengals and let the defense do much of the work, and it was successful.
Seattle Seahawks 10 at Buffalo Bills 34
Doug Farrar: Here's a Cal alumni matchup to watch: Bills running back Marshawn Lynch versus Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. Round one, to end Buffalo's first drive, went to Mebane, as he bulled through a double-team and took Lynch down. The second-year tackle is crucial to the Seahawks' ability to stop the run, because the rest of that front seven is more fast and light.
On Buffalo's first play, Mike Wahle just plastered Aaron Schobel. This Seahawks team looks more physical, but I have to wonder how the offense will do without Deion Branch and Bobby Engram. On Seattle's first drive, Courtney Taylor dropped a pass on first down and failed to cut a route on time on third down. This is entirely on Seahawks team president Tim Ruskell; the receiver situation is the centerpiece of a series of really "interesting" offensive decisions.
Second drop for Taylor halfway through the first quarter. This formerly lockstep passing offense looks like hell to start.
On Lynch's first-quarter rushing touchdown, I'm thinking, "Oh â€¦ THAT's why some teams run the draw on third-and-long. Because with some teams, it works!" Walt Coleman's crew didn't do the Seahawks any favors on the first Bills touchdown drive, though -- Lee Evans only got one foot in bounds when he had control of the ball on a long pass. Holmgren threw the challenge flag in time, but the officials didn't see it. Then, Evans was obviously holding Kelly Jennings on Lynch's touchdown. That said, the Seahawks need to wake up. Mike Holmgren must have been positively thermonuclear at the end of the first quarter. I'm not also sure how good the interference call on Jabari Greer was on Nate Burleson in the second quarter. Later in that same drive, Burleson dropped an easy touchdown with nobody around him, only to make a great catch over Greer on the next play.
I'd also like to thank Tony Boselli, who's calling the game with Ron Pitts, for talking about and showing the Walter Jones-Aaron Schobel matchup through the game. Good stuff.
Ben Riley: Seattle traditionally plays poorly in early morning East Coast road games, but they are really outdoing themselves today. I've counted at least four passes where the Seahawks' collection of no-name receivers have run the wrong routes and/or look completely surprised that Matt Hasselbeck is throwing them the football. The fact that Jeb Putzier has been targeted twice (unsuccessfully, of course) really tells you all you need to know.
And how about that new-look RBBBBBC for Seattle? Iit's possible that I've been too hard on Shaun Alexander, because the running game looks pathetic; if you drafted Julius Jones in your fantasy league, you can commence weeping now. Also, I think center Chris Spencer is in danger of losing his job. It's your third year in the league, Chris -- time to recognize the blitz and make the line adjustment.
Aaron Schatz: I would like to see some history on that first statement, since our research has showed that the cross-country thing generally doesn't matter, and Buffalo doesn't actually have a larger home-field advantage than other teams.
Doug Farrar: They were 1-3 in 10 a.m. PST games east of Denver last season and the trend goes back a while. Beat Philly, lost to Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Atlanta. I think it's more about the body clock than the HFA of any particular stadium.
True to his 2007 numbers, the only thing Julius Jones appears to be good at is catching the ball out of the backfield. The one long run he got off in this game was a 24-yarder with six minutes left in the game, and that was because the Bills were running that weird "Moving Cow" defense where the front four is milling around instead of setting, and safety Donte Whitner was essentially a defensive tackle. Other than that, he doesn't look like he could bust a wet paper towel.
Ben Riley: I'm having a hard time seeing straight right now. Credit to the Bills for absolutely dominating in every phase of the game. They ran a fake field goal midway through the third quarter, when the Seahawks decided to not cover the player lined up wide on the sideline. It's one thing to get outplayed, but Holmgren got outcoached too.
Doug Farrar: OK, back to the Julius Jones acquisition for a moment: I'm watching Felix Jones scooting through holes the size of small tractors thanks to this incredible Dallas run-blocking line, and I'm thinking to myself, how is it that a personnel executive like Tim Ruskell -- a guy who has forgotten more about football than I'm ever going to know -- takes a look at Julius Jones spinning out behind that line and cannot see that behind the weaker Seattle line, disaster is looming? Is it that hard to realize how important offensive lines are from left to right, and that you can't just plug a back in with a different style if your line collapses under the smallest amount of pressure? How many cautionary tales do there need to be?
Will Carroll: With Jones -- and I don't know if this is known -- what were the options? Choosing Jones over certain other free agents might make more sense.
Vince Verhei: On the Eve of National Jump To Conclusions Week, I feel the need to comfort Doug, Ben, and the rest of Seahawks fandom. This loss was not THAT bad. Three big special teams plays -- Roscoe Parrish's punt return touchdown, the touchdown on the fake field goal and the fumble on the kickoff return -- led directly to 21 points, almost the entire 24-point margin. Those won't happen every week. On offense, Hasselbeck and the receivers were on different pages of different books in different languages, and yes, the offensive line was mostly befuddled. But I found myself thinking "Wow, Buffalo is good" at least as often as I thought "Wow, Seattle is bad."
Hasselbeck did commit one of my biggest football pet peeves though. On a second-and-22, Hass caught the play clock about to expire and called timeout. WHY? You're screwed anyway, save the timeout and go to second-and-27. To top it off, after the timeout, the Seahawks lost yards anyway and finished with a third-and-31.
In the second half, the announcers noted it was a "good call" when a Seahawks draw play on third-and-long picked up a first down. If you run a million draws, one or two are bound to work.
Aaron Schatz: Speaking of National Jump to Conclusions Week, I have four words for those people (like Cris Collinsworth) who think this win and the Brady injury suddenly make Buffalo the leading contender in the AFC East: Rams 18, Broncos 10.
St. Louis Rams 3 at Philadelphia Eagles 38
Bill Barnwell: St. Louis looks awful. They seem to have no idea where the Eagles rush is coming from, which they've alleviated by not bothering to block anybody or taking penalties.
One guy on the Eagles who hasn't looked good is Shawn Andrews. He has blown a couple of blocks and doesn't look anything close to 100 percent.
Mike Tanier: That was simply pornographic. The Eagles looked great, but my God, what a dreadful secondary the Rams have. The stop-and-go route is some kind of new innovation for them. And the Rams still jump offsides once per drive.
Still, healthy McNabb = good thing.
Ned Macey: Maybe the Eagles will have a dominant secondary, but in the one-plus quarter I watched this game, it was extremely noticeable that the Rams were getting no separation. Sure, the offensive line continues to struggle, but traditionally even when the Rams are struggling, they have flashes with people running free in the secondary. Bennett went down with an injury that can only make things worse, but he's no great shakes himself. The decline of Holt the last couple years is an under-reported story.
Jacksonville Jaguars 10 at Tennessee Titans 17
Bill Barnwell: Vince Young just went down. Got up and hobbled around on one leg and then went back down. Looked like maybe an ankle. Defender fell down on his leg and it bent the wrong way. He's walking with a limp, but it's not pretty. Lower leg or ankle.
Ned Macey: Didn't we do this last year with the Titans winning in Week 1? I feel like I'm the one person not on the Jaguars' bandwagon, mostly because I do not believe in this offense, and despite popular perception, the offense drove them last year. (I realize that everyone around here knows this.) They just got DOMINATED up front, and a healthy Albert Haynesworth makes Tennessee clearly one of the top three or four front sevens.
Will Carroll: Young out at least a month with a strained MCL. Much worse for him, assuming he's still mobile. Man, I've heard nothing about this until I started making calls.
Houston Texans 17 at Pittsburgh Steelers 38
Bill Barnwell: Houston's playing much better than the score indicates. They got absolutely jobbed on a fourth-and-1 QB sneak call on their first drive where Matt Schaub somehow took three steps forward and didn't get a first down. The Steelers fumbled on back-to-back plays and recovered them both (with one bouncing out of bounds), and then scored on the play after.
I've been impressed with the Steelers' offensive line so far. Mario Williams has been cheating some on his pass rush and the Steelers were taking advantage, specifically on the draw that led to Willie Parker's second touchdown.
The one thing I forgot to ask: Did Mike Tomlin wear aviators last year on the sidelines? Is he the first hipster coach? Does he ride his fixie to the game?
Mike Tanier: Tomlin can wear flip-flops and cutoffs if he calls games like that. I know the Texans were playing closer than the score early, but that was a beatdown by the end.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 at New Orleans Saints 24
Ned Macey: I thought Tanier would have at least one comment on Reggie Bush for Barnwell. This was not going off on the Lions.
I maintain that the Saints are too reliant on big plays, but if you can get them on the Bucs, then you are in pretty good shape.
Bill Barnwell: Bush had 14 carries for 51 yards. He had one carry for 26 yards and 13 carries for 28 yards otherwise. Color me impressed.
Ned Macey: I guess I was referring more to the 112 yards receiving, including the 42-yard game winner.
Bill Barnwell: I never said he wasn't a good receiver.
Mike Tanier: I have 100 percent confidence that I will win my bet with Barnwell and have no need to comment on how much fun it will be to read that Pro Bowl blog.
Bill Barnwell: The bet is 45 rushing DYAR. I don't think Bush got very many today.
Mike Tanier: It's a long season. The rushing DYAR will come. And of course he will have many other outstanding receiving days, but they don't matter in the bet.
Is exactly 45 a push? How did we word it?
Bill Barnwell: "I'll take the under on Bush putting up 45 rushing DYAR."
New York Jets 20 at Miami Dolphins 14
Benjy Rose (Atlanta-based Jets fan): Advantage No. 1 of Brett Favre going to the Jets: more nationally-televised games. Woo-hoo!
9:00 in the first quarter, Chad Pennington overthrows Greg Camarillo on a deep out. Threw it about 30 yards downfield, and looked effortless doing it. Haven't seen him make a throw like that in about four years. Usually that's a put-your-whole-body-into-it heave. Other than that, though, Pennington looks bad; poor throws, some poor choices. He's seemed to get it together towards the end of the first quarter, though.
Jets' front seven looks good on running plays. While the line doesn't seem to be getting a substantial push, the linebackers are making the plays. Could be that the line is taking up blockers, could be that Miami's line sucks. Hard to say. They aren't getting any pass rush, though, which has allowed Pennington to get time to make throws. Can't give Chad time.
Mike Nugent was injured on a missed field goal, so Jets go for it on fourth-and-13 from the 22. Favre throws an eephus as he's hit, and somehow, no Dolphins got to it. Chansi Stuckey grabs it for the touchdown. They go for two, apparently not trusting punter Ben Graham to kick the extra point. Then Graham "kicks off" and you see why he didn't try the XP. Ick. Kellen Clemens is seen on the sideline kicking into the net.
Favre looks pretty good, all in all, although far from perfect. The first touchdown pass, a 56-yarder to Jerricho Cotchery, was a bit underthrown, but Cotchery was about 10 yards behind the defense, so the catch wasn't a problem. The second one was the above-mentioned floater that should have been intercepted. He's made good passes, he's made some not-so-good ones. All in all, though, I'm happy with the offense.
Mike Tanier: I was waiting for a comment on Favre's fourth-down, close-my-eyes-and-throw-deep-over-the-middle-of-the-field pass to Stuckey, wherein five Dolphins defensive backs in the vicinity fail to react to the high, arching throw over the middle. I guess they call that vintage Favre.
Bill Moore: If I threw a pass like that in Madden '09, about five guys would have had a crack at the interception before my receiver as much as looked at the ball.
Sean McCormick: I thought Vernon Gholston might be buried on the bench after his dismal preseason showing, but he's been in a regular rotation with Bryan Thomas and has been playing pretty well. He cleaned up on a Shaun Ellis sack and pushed the right tackle back on several other passing downs.
The Jets line is having an up-and-down day. The left side looks terrific with Alan Faneca between D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, but the right side is leaking in pass protection. Brandon Moore in particular seems to be having a rough day, and Favre has had to dance out of early pressure on quite a few throws.
It's shocking that Eric Mangini doesn't seem to have any contingency plan at kicker. Nugent hurt himself on his first field goal attempt to the point where he couldn't even come on and kick an extra point. The Jets ended up going for it on fourth-and 13 -- which turned into a touchdown on a Favre toss-up special -- and then they had to go for two. Ben Graham promptly came out for the kickoff and kicked a wobbly duck that only got the Miami 35. Kellen Clemens was actually practicing kicking into the net on the sidelines, which should give you an idea of how bad the situation is.
Doug Farrar: Well, the Seahawks currently have two kickers on their roster. Got any extra receivers?
Bill Barnwell: Might need another one now that Nate Burleson's out.
Benjy Rose: Dwight Lowery (the Jets' rookie fourth-round pick) is having a HUGE day. Two passes defensed at the goal line will be the highlights, but he's been tight on coverage all day. Considering the secondary has been a big liability (aside from Kerry Rhodes) for a while, this is nice. Darrelle Revis and Dwight Lowery: cornerbacks for the future. Of course, I'm not sure why the Dolphins passed twice on third- and fourth-and-goal from the 2, but that's not the point.
Sean McCormick: Wow. Dwight Lowery just singlehandedly shut down that Dolphins' drive halfway through the fourth quarter with back-to-back defenses on third- and fourth-down throws where he was isolated against the receiver. Beautiful defensive back play.
Bill Barnwell: What's the point of the Dolphins running play-action with 20 seconds left, the ball in second-and-long, and no timeouts?
Sean McCormick: Valiant late effort by Miami, but you have to wonder if trying to complete a 20-yard fade pattern to Ted Ginn, Jr., in the corner of the end zone is the way you want to go out. Darrelle Revis boxed Ginn out and picked the ball to effectively end the game.
Aaron Schatz: Who will be the first announcer to see footage of Brett Favre jumping up and down after his touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery and then say "Look at Brett, he's just having fun out there!"
Dallas Cowboys 28 at Cleveland Browns 10
Bill Barnwell: The Browns look like they're really struggling to arrange their defense and account for everyone on the Cowboys offense. Jason Witten's been wide-open on their first drive.
Mike Tanier: Pacman Jones just tackled Braylon Edwards in the end zone at the start of the second quarter. It's a shame the ball was in the air. Would have taken an amazing catch by Braylon to score, but now it is first-and-goal ... and a touchdown to Kellen Winslow.
Bill Barnwell: It's always nice to see a defense (Dallas) celebrate a third-down stop when the quarterback fumbles the snap. You know, since you did a lot.
Aaron Schatz: The Browns are getting no pass pressure on the Cowboys. Zip. Weren't Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams supposed to change this? Of course, it doesn't help when you only send three on third-and-4.
Bill Barnwell: The Cowboys are using really wide splits on third down. Maybe they think they have a better shot at getting past Joe Thomas with pure speed.
Mike Tanier: The Cowboys do a lot of interesting things with fronts. I think the wide splits are a reflection of the fact they have no fear of a draw or a quarterback run up the middle on third downs, and they would tighten them a bit against the Jaguars or Eagles. I haven't been watching their D carefully, but in the past they would use a lot of six-man fronts, with DeMarcus Ware, Greg Ellis, and maybe Roy Williams or another linebacker on the line. Tough to run against.
Bill Barnwell: They did a 5-2 a lot under Phillips, which makes sense.
Ben Riley: Glass is half-full, half-empty if you are a Browns fan. The good news: Derek Anderson looks good and his numbers would be even better if Braylon Edwards would stop dropping passes. The bad news, already identified by Aaron: absolutely no pass rush. None. Romo has had eight seconds to scan the field, wave to Jessica, and then hit Witten or Terrell Owens.
Vince Verhei: The Browns rushed three on almost every play in the first half. The announcers were clueless to this, noting only that Cowboys' linemen "looked like they were looking for someone to block." Well, yes, when you have six men blocking three, you are going to have guys literally standing around looking for someone to block. I realize Joe Buck is incompetent, but I expected more from Troy Aikman. The onus for the Browns' failure falls with the eight men dropping back in coverage, who were getting beat short and deep with regularity.
Arizona Cardinals 23 at San Francisco 49ers 13
Bill Barnwell: I don't really like the Cardinals' game plan. They're running lots of draws and counters and misdirection tricky stuff. You're not playing the Giants, you're playing the 49ers. You can go at them. It's OK.
Mike Tanier: The Cards are winning, so don't rain on their parade. FOX won't turn away from the precious Cowboys delivering a butt-whooping to the Browns so I can have a look at a closer game.
Bill Barnwell: It's not exactly an exciting game. SD-CAR is way more interesting.
Vince Verhei: Here is the kind of game you missed, Mike: The 49ers' possession following the Cardinals' first field goal was a strong candidate for worst drive of the year. Allen Rossum takes the kickoff four yards deep in his end zone and foolishly decides to bring it out. He is tackled at the 10, but the ball is placed at the 5 after a Takeo Spikes block below the waist. On first down, Frank Gore runs left, makes a cut, and fumbles without being touched. Niners recover. On second down, J.T. O'Sullivan hits Zak Keasey, who is DRILLED by Darnell Dockett and fumbles. Cardinals recover at the San Francisco 11 -- and proceed to go three-and-out, then miss a field goal.
On the whole, I thought O'Sullivan played OK, certainly better than his teammates. His one interception came when he didn't see Adrian Wilson. Wilson made a great play, breaking in front of the receiver before the ball had even been released.
Warner, on the other hand, took several sacks where he just stood in the pocket forever, including once in the red zone.
The Cards tried Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at wide receiver, throwing him one deep pass that was broken up. I guess if Rodgers-Cromartie is really that special an athlete, it makes sense to try to get the ball in his hands, but doesn't Arizona have enough receivers?
Carolina Panthers 26 at San Diego Chargers 24
Ben Riley: Every time the Red Zone channel flips to this game, I see unheralded tight end Donte Rosario (I'm not even sure if that's his real name) catching a 20-yard pass. Get ready for a fantasy waiver wire stampede the likes of which we have not seen since Anquan Boldin's rookie season.
Bill Barnwell: The weird thing is that when Merriman was in there, the Panthers went right after him with Dante Rosario, of all people. It wasn't always that Merriman would be on Rosario, but the Chargers were shifting their coverages to account for the fact that Merriman isn't going to have much range in
Jake Delhomme hasn't looked good, but the Chargers defense just hasn't looked all that impressive.
Will Carroll: The knee shouldn't affect Merriman's range or speed at all. At least physically. I can imagine it would have a big mental effect on him.
Ben Riley: Saddest comment among my friends watching today's games: "The Seahawks wish they had Dwayne Jarrett."
Mike Tanier: Dante Rosario? He was the guy from Dancin on Air, right? I actually read Dante's Rosario in college. Ozzie Virgil takes Dante through the nine levels of Panthers offensive ineptitude:
1) Brad Hoover, featured back.
2) DeShaun Foster off-tackle, loss of 1 (this is historical, folks).
3) Jake Delhomme misreads coverage for an interception.
4) 3-yard pass to Nick Goings on third-and-15.
5) Steve Smith's Punchout!
6) David Carr's very existence.
7) Is Wesley Walls in shape? Can we coax him out of retirement?
8) Let's find some unmotivated USC wide receivers!
9) Hey, last-second touchdown to obscure tight end. At least Norv Turner is in midseason form!
Vince Verhei: The Panthers' interior line owned the Chargers' front seven. Just owned them. Big, gaping holes that anyone reading this could have run through for at least three yards.
When the Panthers did pass, they focused most of their attempts (and almost all of their success) to the left. You could tell they were afraid of throwing to Quentin Jammer.
I'd like to tell you how the Panthers kept the Chargers' offense in check, but I can't. Every time I looked at the screen, Carolina had the ball again.
Chicago Bears 29 at Indianapolis Colts 13
Bill Moore: Great Cris Collinsworth quote: "If Manning comes out and wins tonight, the Colts become like the 'leader in the clubhouse.'" Ah no, they
become the leader after the first hole.
Will Carroll: Manning is wearing a GIGANTIC brace on his left knee. Means nothing, but it's interesting in that his knee shouldn't need any sort of structural protection ... but in light of Brady's injury, I bet Pats fans wish Brady would have had one on.
Why, why, why do they kick to Hester? The Colts can't cover kicks against normal return guys.
Aaron Schatz: Random observation: Dusty Dvoracek is finally starting for the Bears after two years mostly lost to injury. I went to look him up. Do you realize he's already 27 years old? And not "FO calls him 27 because his birthday is December 30, 1981" -- the guy was born in March of 1981. Did he do a post-grad high school prep year AND redshirt or something?
Bill Barnwell: And the Bears start their season off with a fumbled snap and a false start.
Ben Riley: Followed by Kyle Orton spiking the ball 5 yards downfield, into the turf. Going to be a long year in Chicago.
Will Carroll: As notable as Manning's kneebrace is, Marvin Harrison isn't even wearing knee PADS.
Joseph Addai looks very unsure of his footing. Not sure if that's the new puffy turf.
Aaron Schatz: Caveat: He's going up against Tommie Harris. But number 61, Jamey Richard, the temporary Colts center, looks awful.
Bill Barnwell: This turf is giving everyone issues. As much as it's people slipping (and the black clouds of dust that come up with them), it's the people taking strange angles to the ball.
Ben Riley:Apparently, if you build a new stadium, you are entitled to have one game handed to you by the officials. Brian Urlacher got flagged for a ridiculous roughing the passer penalty earlier, and presently the referees are trying to figure out how to give the Colts the ball back after they fumbled the kickoff return. (Answer: You review the play and affirm the incorrect call on the field. Sigh.)
It isn't just this game, either. The officiating in the Bills-Seahawks game was also absymal, although it was equally abysmal for each team.
Bill Moore: Conspiracy theory aside, it is absurd that referees who have the benefit of instant replay at their disposal do not allow a play to continue through fruition because one referee THINKS he sees down by contact. If the ref wants to call him down, he still may do so AFTER they determine who possesses the ball.
The Urlacher call was a ridiculous flop, but bully to Manning for being able to exploit the refs' overcautious nature when it comes to quarterback hits.
Ben Riley: We are only in the first quarter of the first game of the season, but I'm thinking my pessimism about Matt Forte may have been premature. He's making great cuts and plowing through defenders, much like Cedric Benson didn't. And he's going to get plenty of carries, given that Kyle Orton seems to be struggling with something as simple as the three-step drop.
Bill Moore: Actually looking at the cable cam replay NBC just showed, I take back the flop quote. It still wasn't a penalty, but he was throwing off his back foot when he gets hit.
Bob Sanders must have been mad he missed getting Forte on the way to that
50-yard touchdown and leveled him. But for anyone who saw that, how was that
not a leading-with-the-helmet hit?
Mike Tanier: Dvorack spent five years in college. One year was a no-play year when he was in an anger-management type program after getting kicked off the team.
No way the Colts win this safety challenge. The center does look bad. Tony Ugoh is getting pushed around.
Ben Riley: Four minutes to go in the first half, the officials (correctly) rule that the Bears tackled Addai in the Colts' end zone and thus are entitled to a safety. Tony Dungy has thrown the challenge flag. If the ruling is overturned on review, the conspiracy theory will take on Oswald-like proportions.
(Ruling upheld after review. The black helicopters are no longer circling above my apartment.)
Bill Barnwell: Ryan Diem got embarassed on the play before the safety.
Why do people get so hyped about the safety symbol? I mean, when people score a touchdown, sometimes they put the arms up in the touchdown signal, but when a safety happens, everyone on the defense does the safety symbol.
Mike Tanier: I think the Men Without Hats said it best: We can dance if we want to.
Aaron Schatz:The defense loves the safety because the defense doesn't get a lot of chances to score, and to back the other team all the way back through their end zone feels like total domination.
What on earth is going on in this game? I guess I haven't been paying perfect attention, but when I look up the Bears don't look that good, yet here they are up 15-6.
Sean McCormick: Bad tackling by the Colts.
Bill Barnwell: Really? The person I noticed who was really bad was Nathan Vasher, who got juked out of his shoes by Addai and then again by Anthony Gonzalez.
Bill Moore: Wow. That was monumentally stupid. Hubris at its best.
Ben Riley: I assume Bill is referring to Devin Hester's decision to wait in the end zone for four seconds, and then decide to run it out -- only to get shoe-stringed tackled on the six-yard line. But in my view, you must be willing to die in order to live, and so you let Hester do his thing. Sometimes it's not going to work, but sometimes he's going to win the game for you.
Bill Barnwell: Yeah, but jumping off a cliff doesn't have a lot to do with living.
Mike Tanier: Our buddy Hester? Yeah. Has a high opinion of his talents. And no football IQ.
Urlacher is on the line in the A-gap on every single play. And Lance Briggs is often crowding the line too. The Bears want that center thinking. This third-quarter drive, the kid is starting to figure it out better.
Bill Barnwell: The Colts are almost exclusively using Reggie Wayne in the slot, trying to keep him away from their corners, and using him on pick plays and in patterns. That would work better if Briggs was being occupied by Dallas Clark.
Will Carroll: The guy that Hester plowed on the kickoff return is Hunter Smith. Not the punter, but the head trainer. Imagine HIM getting hurt.
Mike Tanier: Think the Colts were trying to get Wayne on that McGowan kid who plays the nickel for the Bears. It worked for the touchdown. And they seemed to be working the middle more because it is tough for Urlacher and Briggs to get proper drops when they are filling gaps. They can do it, it's a standard part of their defense, but there's an increased chance that they get out of position.
Bill Barnwell: I suspect there'll be a hitch-and-go with Wayne on the next Colts drive.
Boy, is the Indy line getting away with murder. I've seen them hold unabated linemen three or four times, especially in the middle of the field.
Aaron Schatz: ... and they are still getting run over. The offensive line injuries are clearly a problem for the Colts. This isn't the same as replacing Tarik Glenn with a second-round pick who has an entire preseason to prepare.
Ben Riley: Normally I'm a proponent of going for it on fourth down, but Dungy's decision a moment ago seems a little aggressive to me. There are 14 minutes left to play and the Bears defense has been playing well -- why not punt and see what magic Kyle Orton might bring?
Aaron Schatz: I think Madden and Michaels are right, however. Orton does look a lot better than he did three years ago. Whether or not that's a one-night phenomenon, well, you all know my feelings about participating in National Jump to Conclusions Week.
Ben Riley: I agree. Orton is playing well. We clearly have gone through the looking glass this week.
Ned Macey: I don't think Orton's relative level of play should've factored into the decision to go for it. The bigger issue is that they have had ZERO success running up the middle behind the two rookies and Charles Johnson interior line. The slow-developing handoff to Rhodes was a terrible call.
Aaron Schatz: OK, for those of you playing our home game... nearly everybody out there thought the best four teams in the AFC were New England, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and San Diego. Three of those teams lost their first game -- two at home -- and the other one is going to have to play the entire season without the reigning league MVP.