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

Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Audibles at the Line: Week 11
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

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, November 13

New York Jets 34 at New England Patriots 31 (OT)

Doug Farrar: The Washington Post Question of the Day was whether this is the NFL's greatest rivalry right now. I'm not sure, but I do know that Ty Warren calling Eric Mangini "Fredo" on WEEI was pretty damned funny. (Hat tip to PFT) Thoughts?

Bill Barnwell: Eh. I don't think anyone really cares about Matt Chatham anymore.

Sean McCormick: It has a number of things going for it -- the New York-Boston rivalry, the internecine quality of the conflict, the palpable dislike the teams have for each other. Unfortunately, it's not the most closely contested rivalry in the world at the moment. It basically went from the Jets demolishing the Pats over and over while Bill Parcells was the coach, to the Pats demolishing the Jets over and over after Parcells flew the coop and Brady stepped on the scene.

In terms of nastiness? Yes, absolutely. In terms of back-and-forth, closely contested games? No way. You'd do better watching the Vikings and Packers play.

Aaron Schatz: It's hard to tell how much players care about rivalries. From a player's perspective, I'm guessing the best rivalry in the NFL today is Eagles-Cowboys. I'm guessing there are still a lot of guys on the Eagles that would like to throttle Terrell Owens. The fans hate each other too, of course, and the games are generally close and good.

Bill Barnwell: Ray Ventrone got hit so hard on the opening kickoff that the bank is going to have to reset his PIN number.

Sean McCormick: I'm not sure if it's worth risking a challenge this early in the game, but that looked suspiciously like a catch to me.

The selection of Dustin Keller in the draft was clearly made with the Patriots in mind. The Pats always had trouble matching up against Dallas Clark, and it looks like the early game plan here is to work over the middle of that defense with Keller (and, less successfully, with Chris Baker). Brett Favre is pumping while looking at the sidelines and then coming back to a tight end in the middle of the field very effectively.

Ned Macey: I don't know whether or not tight ends or athletic tight ends are good against the Patriots in general, but the Dallas Clark dominates the Pats theory is based on the one AFC Championship game. Counting the two playoff games, he has played eight games against the Pats and had more than two catches twice and more than 64 yards once. He has never scored a touchdown against New England.

Sean McCormick: Interesting. The combination of that game mixed with the Bermuda Triangle of slowness that the Pats used to have between Rodney Harrison and the inside linebackers (which Jerod Mayo has decisively removed) always seemed to be an obvious weakness.

Aaron Schatz: Well, this is one night where I'm not too happy to see DVOA turn out correct. The Jets are mauling the Patriots tonight. Cris Collinsworth is doing a good job of pointing out how Matt Cassel is over-conservative, throwing slightly ahead of guys in routes because he's trying to keep the ball away from the defenders. When the Jets have the ball, we're definitely seeing how their offensive line has jelled over the course of the season. Here's a stat that is doing a lot to explain why the Jets are up 24-6 before we've even hit halftime:

Jets before Week 5 bye: 3.9 yards/carry by RB, 4.3 Adjusted Line Yards.
Jets since Week 5 bye: 5.4 yards/carry by RB, 5.3 Adjusted Line Yards.

Cris Collinsworth: "Darrelle Revis … if there's a better corner in the game right now, well, it's a short list and Darrelle Revis is on it."

Did I miss this, where Darrelle Revis became one of the top five cornerbacks in the game? I mean, he seems to be playing well, but is he really on the short list of the NFL's best corners?

Sean McCormick: Revis is well on his way, but I'm not sure he's there just yet. Unsurprisingly, his effectiveness has been going way up in conjunction with the improvement in the Jets' pass rush.

Aaron Schatz: Tight ends fumbling away receptions on important drives ... shotgun snaps that go over the quarterback's hand and get kicked backwards 25 yards ... this is the kind of stuff that the Jets used to do when they played the Patriots, not the other way around. Sean and Benjy must feel like they've entered Bizarro World.

(Randy Moss scores a late touchdown to force overtime.)

Doug Farrar: Step 1: Give Randy Moss a free release.
Step 2: Put Ty Law on him.
Step 3: ???
Step 4: FAIL!

Sean McCormick: I'm sure Bob Sutton is going to be killed for that strategy if the Jets wind up losing, but was it really a mistake? The Pats had to get 12 yards or so in one play in order to stay in the game -- they happened to do it, just barely, but wouldn't most teams take that situation?

Aaron Schatz: Oh, I don't think the Jets blew it. The Patriots did a great job of taking it.

What an impressive drive. The announcers are talking about how the Jets brought in Favre to win games like this, and he had a classic Favre comeback ... and then Matt Cassel just came right back on Favre's comeback. The Pats did a great job of taking what was there, getting up very quickly to spike it, repeat ... and suddenly we're in overtime.

The Jets really missed Kris Jenkins when he was off the field in the second half.

(The Jets kick a field goal to win in overtime, 34-31.)

Aaron Schatz: Momentum is a strange thing. The Jets looked like two different teams in the first half and second half ... and then in overtime, suddenly they looked like the team from the first half again.

Bill Barnwell: This is astounding. The announcers are giving Brett Favre all the credit in the world for 258 yards and two touchdowns against the fifth-worst pass defense in the league.

Ned Macey: In all this Favrian love-fest, the Patriots rank 27th in pass defense DVOA with a 30.2% -- wow, is that bad. I know the Patriots' personnel moves are mostly beyond reproach, but even though he is occasionally overrated, wasn't letting Asante Samuel go a bit of a mistake?

Bill Barnwell: It's pretty obvious that New England thinks that defensive backs are fungible properties within the context of their scheme. They don't ask them to do a lot within their scheme and figure that they can fill the holes left by departing veterans with mid-round draft picks and veteran free agents. It worked in the last generation when Samuel (a fourth-round pick) evolved into an excellent corner and Tyrone Poole and Duane Starks (OK, maybe not Starks) held the fort down while Ellis Hobbs and Randall Gay developed across from them.

This generation, not so much. Brandon Meriweather ... for a guy who was supposed to have excellent football instincts, he just looks lost out there at times.

Aaron Schatz: The problem wasn't letting Samuel go, but rather the moves made to replace him. The rookies are not yet ready, and they picked up literally the worst non-Fred Thomas veterans available on the market.

And Brandon Meriweather is really more of a safety. I think things would be a little better if they had signed, say, Jacques Reeves and Terry Cousin instead of Jason Webster and Lewis Sanders and Deltha O'Neal. Not much better, but a little.

Bill Barnwell: If Brandon Meriweather's more of a safety, I can't even fathom how bad he'd be as a full-time cornerback.

Sean McCormick: Interesting game. Very hard-hitting. The Patriots really hit on a good strategy when they went to the no-huddle towards the end of the first half, as it kept Jenkins off the field and loosened up that front seven. The Jets' defensive strategy was to use Revis to take away Wes Welker (which he basically did aside from some successful screen plays), double up Moss and let either Jabar Gaffney or Ben Watson beat them. Cassel wasn't especially accurate for most of the game, but he made enough throws to keep the Patriots moving. He also was very, very effective running the football, as the Jets played a lot more man coverage than they usually do against New England and that left huge running lanes. I thought New England's line held up pretty well against the pass rush, and the formations kept the Jets from blitzing very much.

On the other side of the ball, the Jets' offensive line generally blocked very well, though with some untimely blown blocks in the second half that kept the offense on the sidelines. This used to be an area where the Jets were just physically outmatched, and they still looked outmatched in the Week 2 game, but tonight they were able to run the ball more or less when they wanted to, and they were able to execute on either side of the line. Against New England's patchwork secondary, you'd think the wide receivers might have been a focal point, but instead the Jets played high-low with Dustin Keller and Leon Washington most of the night.

Despite what our stats say about how effective Chad Pennington has been vis-a-vis Favre (and I should add that I'm personally very happy for him), I do think that Favre's presence has fundamentally changed the way teams defend the Jets, and that's had a serious effect on the quality of the ground game. Do the offensive line improvements help? Absolutely. But teams simply don't crowd the line the way they routinely did last year, and they pay a lot more attention to the area outside the hashmarks, which opens up the middle throws. It's worth noting.

Sunday, November 16

Denver Broncos 24 at Atlanta Falcons 20

Doug Farrar: Weird play-calling by the Falcons to start. Matt Ryan throws two short passes to Roddy White, and White drops both of them. They run a shotgun set against a dime defense on third-and-10, quick pass to Michael Jenkins, punt. The Falcons have the best run game in the NFL and Denver's allowing 5.29 yards per carry. Huh?

Aaron Schatz: Well, there are times where no matter how good your running game, a run might not be the best call. For example, I'm not sure the point of a straight-ahead run by the Giants, right into the teeth of the Baltimore defense, on second-and-20.

Doug Farrar: OK, here's a direct snap play that no team should ever try again. Halfway through the first quarter, the Falcons line up five-wide with Jerious Norwood in the backfield. At the snap. Norwood runs right, the pulling guard falls down, and Norwood is tackled for no gain. That's not a Wildcat -- that's a shotgun running play with no delay, deception, or blocking. Is it the time of year when Mike "Inspector Gadget" Mularkey starts out-thinking himself?

I continue to be impressed by Matt Ryan's ability to throw accurately against his body, when defenders are in front of him, when he's running against his own throwing momentum – it seems like no matter what the situation, he'll find a way to stick the throw, and get the ball where it needs to be. At the start of the second quarter, he ran all the way to his left sideline, eluding pressure, and made a perfect touch pass to Michael Jenkins.

Turns out Denver really is playing the run well in this game, though the Falcons are helping with their refusal to run inside early. Denver has a rookie middle linebacker, Spencer Larsen, who was highly rated at Arizona. The Broncos took a sixth-round flyer on him and thought about moving him to fullback when Peyton Hillis started playing tailback. He actually started at fullback when their running back situation got really crazy, and now he's getting things done pretty well in the middle of Denver's defense.

Aaron Schatz: A note on Spencer Larsen: They're saying that he's the first player to start both ways since Orlando Brown for the 2003 Ravens in Week 15. Yes, but no. I went and looked.

Brown is listed in the play-by-play as the starter at both offensive and defensive tackle, but he doesn't have a single tackle or assist. Searching Google, I can't find any articles that listed him as playing both ways in that game. The Raiders came out with a weird starting formation with three tight ends and two running backs, and the Ravens probably just scrambled to stick as many fat guys on the field as they could. Brown wasn't really playing defensive tackle that day. Which leads me to the next question ... who REALLY was the last two-way starter in the NFL before Larsen? Deion Sanders?

Vince Verhei: One subtle reason for the offensive improvement for Atlanta: In years past, when the quarterback scrambled, the receivers didn't know whether to run or block. They'd often find throwing blocks when they should have been getting open, or vice versa. When Matt Ryan scrambles, there is no question: Priorities 1, 2, and 3 are to get open, and his vision is so good, and he's so accurate out of the pocket, that he usually hits them. Which is not to say that Ryan can't run; there were a few times today where he rolled out and found no defense in front of him, and gladly accepted 5 yards of free real estate.

Ryan did make one bad mistake today. The Broncos blitzed seven and Ryan, under heavy pressure, lobbed a Favreian duck up into the middle of the field. It was picked off.

On the downside for Atlanta, Michael Turner shoulders a big chunk of the blame for the team's poor showing on the ground today. He's not very shifty, so he doesn't make many guys miss or break a lot of tackles, and he rarely turns 1-yard gains into 4-yard gains. What he does do is turn 5- and 6-yard gains into 20-yard gains, which he did a couple of times today to make his total numbers look better than he really played.

Middle of the second quarter, Denver has a second-and-14. A reverse to Eddie Royal gains 12 up the left side. Then on third-and-2, Royal lines up in kind of a wingback position and takes a pitch going left again. This time the play loses 2 yards and Denver punts. I understand that Denver is desperate for running backs, but back-to-back wide receiver runs? Really?

The biggest reason Atlanta lost the game was John Abraham's injury. He left the game early in the third quarter, and played little if any after that. The Broncos scored 7 points in the first half, but when Abraham left, so did the Falcons' pass rush, and their overmatched secondary was exposed. Jay Cutler threw 14 passes in the first half and 13 in the second, but his yardage nearly doubled in the second
half, 139 to 77. Abraham lines up at both left and right end, and so he also helps defend outside runs to either side. But in the second half the Broncos were able to attack the perimeter successfully.

Whoever was announcing this game (Verne Lundquist maybe?) was simply phenomenal, noting personnel groupings for each team, even identifying the defensive tackles as they rotated in and out. One of the best jobs I've ever heard.

Philadelphia Eagles 13 at Cincinnati Bengals 13

Aaron Schatz: And now, the 2008 Cincinnati Bengals summarized in one set of downs, after a Donovan McNabb fumble gave the Bengals the ball on the Eagles' 1-yard line.

1-1-PHI 1 (:38) 32-C.Benson right guard to PHI 1 for no gain (55-S.Bradley).
2-1-PHI 1 (15:00) 11-R.Fitzpatrick sacked at PHI 2 for -1 yards (97-B.Bunkley).
3-2-PHI 2 (14:16) (Shotgun) 11-R.Fitzpatrick pass incomplete short right to 15-C.Henry.
4-2-PHI 2 (14:12) 17-S.Graham 20 yard field goal is GOOD.

Bill Barnwell: The Eagles are trying to destroy Football Outsiders.

Mike Tanier: The Eagles are trying to destroy my liver.

Aaron Schatz: The Eagles are doing a nice job of making us look like idiots today, but I will say this: As craptacular as the Eagles are playing, remember -- the Giants also struggled against the Bengals, needing overtime to beat them back in Week 3. The Bengals also kept the Cowboys close before losing by nine. What on Earth about the Bengals' defense happens to give them a good matchup with the teams of the NFC East?

Bill Barnwell: In this case, some fumble luck and an awful day from McNabb.

Aaron Schatz: Well, fumble luck isn't that big a deal ... Cincinnati fumbled three times and recovered two, but one of those was an aborted snap, which is a fumble which is more commonly recovered by the offense anyway.

Bill Barnwell: I'm thinking more the McNabb fumble inside his own 20.

Aaron Schatz: Ladies and gentlemen, a TIE! Courtesy of the first missed field goal against the Philadelphia Eagles this year after 16 straight made, including seven longer than 45 yards.

Let me add that the Eagles should honestly be ashamed of themselves for how they played today. How do you get a roughing the passer with two minutes left in overtime and the other team driving for the winning score????

Russell Levine: In Philly's defense, I thought that was a horrendous call on the roughing the passer. There was no helmet-to-helmet or head contact of any kind and it wasn't late.

Bill Barnwell: How does Chris Perry get his only carry of the game on a pitch play when you are in position for the game-winning field goal?!? Yeesh.

Mike Tanier: I could make a list of Eagles' terrible plays, terrible decisions, etc. They had another series of short-yardage blunders. They came out of the gate playing horribly for about the fifth week in a row, after a few weeks of storming out of the gate hard then letting up. There were special teams miscues, dumb penalties, off-target passes, dropped passes. They were getting pressure from the front four, but then they would blitz, forcing the Bengals into max protect, and the protection would hold so Fitzpatrick could find Prince of Persia for big plays.

Vince Verhei: Another reason the Eagles played so poorly today: A horrible day for Sav Rocca. Ten punts for a 31.1 gross average. And that's skewed by a 53-yarder. He booted a 23-yarder (fair caught right at the 20), a 17-yarder (out of bounds at the Cincinnati 34), and a 31-yarder (out of bounds at the Cincinnati 40).

This game in a nutshell: There were four punts in the last two minutes of regulation, and five more in overtime.

Rich Eisen: "The best name in the NFL: Frostee Rucker."

Deion Sanders: "Don't try to say that too fast, Rich."

Bill Barnwell: I was amazed that the Bengals were able to get such consistently effective pressure on McNabb. It seemed like they went all Jim Johnson and sent six- and seven-man blitzes on virtually every play, usually overloaded to the right side. It worked -- McNabb had countless balls tipped away at the line, and although the Bengals had only two sacks to the Eagles' eight, they definitely affected McNabb's performance dramatically. It also didn't help when, on the last sack, Brian Westbrook just totally misread the blitz and didn't grab the unblocked Chris Crocker.

Oh, and one more one more note on this game. Chris Perry's receiving line: 1-of-2, -4 yards, -1 YAC. Great man.

Vince Verhei: Donovan McNabb said after the game that he didn't even know there were ties in the NFL. What? Forget for a second that McNabb is in his tenth season. The last tie in the NFL was the Falcons and Steelers battling to a 34-34 stalemate in 2002 -- and the Falcons went on to play McNabb and the Eagles in the playoffs that year. At no time leading up to that game did McNabb spot Atlanta's record and ask "9-6-1? What the hell is 9-6-1?"

Bill Barnwell: I can't forget for a second that McNabb has been in the NFL for TEN FREAKING YEARS. I can only imagine the things that I would've tried to convince McNabb were used to break ties after the overtime period if I had a chance:

  • Punt, pass, and kick competition.
  • First kicker to hit both uprights and crossbar from 40 yards out wins.
  • XFL-style Scramble for the Ball.
  • Whichever quarterback can throw the farthest off his knees wins (I would've used Kyle Boller's continued NFL career to justify this one).
  • Quarterback puking contest.

Houston Texans 27 at Indianapolis Colts 33

Ned Macey: 474 yards of offense? 100-plus yards from Joseph Addai? A touchdown to Marvin Harrison? Allowing a 70-plus-yard run by the opponent? It was nice to have the old Colts back today. They played without Bob Sanders, and while his absence is sometimes overstated, today Melvin Bullitt gave up two huge plays that led to 10 points. He got caught cheating on Andre Johnson and Sage Rosenfels hit Kevin Walter for a 61-yard pass that set up a touchdown. Then, he whiffed on Steve Slaton's 71-yard touchdown.

Question for Houston fans everywhere: Why is Ahman Green still getting carries? Nice 9-carry-for-17-yard performance, while Slaton was 13 for 85 even if you don't count the huge touchdown.

Odd site at the game was the crowd cheering every time Harrison caught a 5-yard pass for a first down. Sort of sad. That being said, Harrison at least made the catches underneath, although he and Manning still have no rhythm on deep balls.

New Orleans Saints 30 at Kansas City Chiefs 20

Vince Verhei: The Chiefs are in the running for league's most creative offense. Last week they tried Vince Young-at-Texas shotgun option stuff. Today, they used a whole lot of the "pistol" set, with Tyler Thigpen in sort of a half-shotgun two or three yards behind center and a running back behind him. I watched a college game a few weeks ago in which one team used this set almost exclusively, generally running the option out of it. It makes sense that way, because with the extra distance off the line of scrimmage, the quarterback should be able to read the defense more effectively. But the Chiefs didn't do any of that stuff. Thigpen would just turn and hand off, or finish his dropback, or run play-action. So I don't really know what the point of it was. But at least it was different.

Mike Tanier: One thing the pistol offense did was allow the Chiefs to bring the H-back across the formation on off-tackle runs and sweeps. Doing that sometimes creates a logjam when the quarterback is dropping; the H-back can't cross the formation until the quarterback is clear. The pistol allowed the Chiefs to execute some power runs for Larry Johnson.

Johnson, by the way, looked pretty fresh at times, but looked really bad in the red zone

Oakland Raiders 15 at Miami Dolphins 17

Doug Farrar: Halfway through the second quarter, JaMarcus Russell is 4-of-5 for 19 yards. Somewhere, Ken Stabler and Cliff Branch are crying softly.

Vince Verhei: Last week in this space, I ripped Johnnie Lee Higgins apart. So of course, a week later, he returns a punt 93 yards for a touchdown to briefly put Oakland ahead in the fourth quarter. He has four 20-plus-yard returns this year, tied for second in the league behind the five of Mark Jones of Carolina (!). Considering how awful the Oakland offense is, they're probably better off with a guy like Higgins, who mixes in a bunch of really good plays with a bunch of really bad ones, than a consistent guy with no home run speed.

Bill Barnwell: Oh no. I charted that game. Higgins sucked. I mean, a lot of stuff in that game sucked, but ... Higgins' returns were really, really bad.

Mike Tanier: The Raiders have always had Johnnie Lee Higgins. Years ago, his name was James Jett. He started for about 8 years but only caught about 25 passes per year. He was really fast, of course, so the Raiders kept starting him and starting him. He would get his 60-yard touchdowns every other week or so, making it look like he was really a special player, even though he gave it all back with dropped passes and bad routes.

Baltimore Ravens 10 at New York Giants 30

Bill Barnwell: Greg Gumbel: "The Ravens have won four in a row. The Giants have won four in a row! Something's gotta give, don't you think?" Why yes, Greg, I do think that.

And since I've been on an obsessive It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia kick recently, all car commercials are now forever changed for me. Every time I see one, all I can think about is the America song. ROCK FLAG AND EAGLE!

Vince Verhei: Speaking of Sunny, look who showed up for the Bengals game!

Bill Barnwell: I, too, wanted to be Green Man for Halloween, until I realized it involved wearing spandex. Convincing my roommates to go as different teams from Legends of the Hidden Temple was a much better idea, but when I realized I had no money and unsuccessfully tried to use my homemade Pendant of Life to board the subway, I kinda wished I had been Green Man instead.

Aaron Schatz: Hey, what do you know -- all these flags in the first quarter of the Ravens-Giants game, and it turns out Ron Winter's crew is third in the NFL in penalties called.

Doug Farrar: I'll say this, though: Winter's crew generally leads the league in the low number of horrible calls that leave me speechless.

Aaron Schatz: E-mail I just received from Ian Dembsky:

Graphic on the screen:
3rd Down Conversions, Baltimore
Season: 44%
Today: 1/5

Dierdorf: "Today, Baltimore is WELLLLL below their season average for converting third downs."

Um... yeah. 2/5 is 40%, Dan. They're a whopping one play short.

Bill Barnwell: It's downright astounding what the Giants' offense is doing to the Ravens right now. They're clearing out swaths of space for Brandon Jacobs to run into, and even more impressively, Jacobs is just running through their team. Apparently, the Ravens' defensive backs think that the way to tackle Jacobs is to try and clothesline him. It's not working.

Aaron Schatz: The other way isn't working either. On one big play, Ray Lewis went low -- and Jacobs just went over him.

Mike Tanier: It wasn't just Jacobs. Ahmad Bradshaw had room to run as well. And it wasn't just the Giants line. These guys were getting to the second level and making defenders like Lewis and Ed Reed miss. Guess it's a triple whammy: 1) The line is good. 2) Jacobs wears guys out. 3) Fresh legs come in and make plays against a tired defense that can't get anything done at the line of scrimmage, so they look awesome too.

Aaron Schatz: It's funny, we ran that article a couple years ago saying that big backs don't seem to tire out defenses any more than small backs do, but that sure does seem to be what's happening in New York.

I guess one way to check would be to look at Ward's yards per carry in the first half vs. second half of games. But we can't learn anything from Bradshaw because they never seem to use him in the first half.

Minnesota Vikings 13 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19

Russell Levine: It's amazing to me how consistent Tampa Bay has been this year. They have dominated stretches of all ten games and should have had this one put away much earlier than they did, courtesy of an outstanding defensive effort in the second half. Yet the offense, as it has nearly all year, struggled mightily once again inside the 30. They were stuffed on fourth-and-short twice and had to settle for field goals, killed another touchdown opportunity with a stupid personal foul on Jeremy Trueblood, and fumbled another red zone drive away. On their only touchdown drive on the day, they did everything they could to kill the drive with back-to-back holding penalties that left them with a second-and-30 before Jeff Garcia bailed out the offensive line with a beautiful over-the-shoulder ball to Jerramy Stevens, who made an outstanding catch on at the 1. (Somewhere, our FO Seattle contingent just died a little.)

Jeff Garcia was brilliant all day, keeping plays alive with his legs and constantly making the right decision with the ball.

The Bucs are getting great contributions from sold old vets -- Warrick Dunn gave them some up-the-middle run game against the Vikes today and Derrick Brooks made a beautiful play when Minnesota tried to go deep on fourth-and-1 to Adrian Peterson. Brooks ran down the play and stripped the ball for an incompletion (even if he may have arrived a hair early).

Detroit Lions 22 at Carolina Panthers 31

Bill Barnwell: Something is up with Jake Delhomme. Against the Raiders, everything he threw was an overthrow -- I actually had to make a note in the game charting that it wasn't charter error. He's airing out throws against the Lions now, too.

Arizona Cardinals 26 at Seattle Seahawks 20

Doug Farrar: The Seahawks have been working toward something all year, driving and trying their best to reach one particular goal, and I think they're finally there: This is the worst tackling team in the NFL. One play in particular, a little out route from Kurt Warner to Anquan Boldin with 3:04 left in the first quarter, illustrated the pure and unquenchable suckitude of Seattle's defensive fundamentals. Kelly Jennings got beat on the throw, falling down after making an effort in vain to tackle Boldin's little belt/fanny pack thing. The immortal Brian Russell, who's never late to a horrible tackling party, then goes for an ankle tackle a yard to Boldin's right. Complete and total whiff. Doesn't even touch him. Deon Grant is blocked out of the play, and Josh Wilson finally gave Boldin a little shoulder tackle to get him out of bounds after a 45-yard gain. The truly pathetic part of the play was that Boldin was basically jogging down the left sideline the whole time.

It's been like this the entire season, but I don't think I've seen the Seahawks pull a Jennings whiff/Russell whiff/lame shoulder tackle combo all on the same play. They are really taking this part of their game to a new level.

Aaron Schatz: The worst tackling team in the NFL? I don't know, St. Louis is losing to the FORTY-NINERS 28-3 and it isn't even halftime.

Doug Farrar: With the Rams, I think it's more that they're getting blown off the ball against the run, or are out of position in coverage, so often that they're not even able to get close enough to screw up a tackle. The Seahawks get in position, and then ... pfffft.

Bill Barnwell: Why is the Seattle secondary so awful? Is it just a huge step backwards by Trufant and co., the loss of the pass rush, what?

Doug Farrar: 1. Size. Tim Ruskell loves smaller cornerbacks, and the guys he's putting out there are losing battles with huge receivers who jump. There's very little margin for error when you're starting coverages with 3- to 9-inch disadvantages every play, and even if these guys are in good position, they're at another severe disadvantage when the receivers catch the ball because tackling is an issue.

2. Scheme. The Seahawks had a very effective secondary last year when they were A) getting consistent pass rush; and B) getting consistent safety help. This year, they're playing a lot more Cover-1, bring a safety into the box, and usually the safety that's left in coverage is Brian Russell. Go back and watch the Ted Ginn, Jr., touchdown catch against the Seahawks last week; Russell actually pushed Marcus Trufant out of coverage in his excitement to make a play. It's been like this all year. We used to complain that Russell was late with help all the time until we saw how bad things got when he actually showed up.

Vince Verhei: Watching Larry Fitzgerald line up across from Josh Wilson was like watching Brock Lesnar stare down Randy Couture.

The size difference for the Cardinals' receivers was evident in the passing game (where slant routes were undefendable, especially in the first half) and in the running game (the Cardinals killed the clock in the fourth quarter with a series of outside runs for good gain). Fitzgerald blew me away today. No man that big should be that nimble, reaching behind and down for poorly thrown balls and pulling them off the turf.

If I see T.J. Duckett get the ball on one more play to the outside, I'm going to scream.

Dallas Cowboys 14 at Washington Redskins 10

Aaron Schatz: Man, it seems like the Cowboys are dumping everything off tonight. With Terrell Owens and Roy Williams, doesn't it make sense to go long occasionally?

Doug Farrar: I saw Dallas use that four-man line with the huge gap up the middle against the Bucs. Didn't work then, didn't work here when Jason Campbell ran right up the middle for 22 yards halfway through the second quarter. As Madden pointed out, there isn't even a middle linebacker to take up the slack. I'd like to know what possible advantage there could be to that particular formation.

Bill Barnwell: The fun part about that Mike Sellers touchdown catch was that he was literally the only downfield receiver on the play and he was still open.

It's pretty clear that the Cowboys' offense came into the game with two core concepts. First, they must have seen something on tape about the Redskins over pursuing, since they're running a ton of misdirection stuff, even in their route combinations. The other one is that, clearly, Tony Romo's not 100 percent. They're basically running, ironically, the '07 Redskins offense -- it's a lot of quick hitches and short drops. Romo's airmailed a couple of them.

Although the second pick wasn't his fault, the first one was. I know I yell this every time I see it, but every time a quarterback double-pumps a quick slant, I want to throttle them.

The other weird thing is that they were lining up DeAngelo Hall -- the guy they didn't even bother to watch film on before they brought him in -- in man coverage on T.O., not Carlos Rogers. Very odd.

Aaron Schatz: Strong play from the Dallas defensive line tonight, particularly Jay Ratliff. No surprise: Despite the recent Cowboys troubles, they were fourth in defensive Adjusted Sack Rate.

Bill Barnwell: Ratliff's having a monster year. He has been an absolute stud in the middle even though the other parts of the defensive line have been nothing special. The Redskins were running away from him all day; Clinton Portis didn't have a single carry over the middle, and going to either guard spot, he had five carries for 17 yards, ten of which came on one play. The Cowboys did a good job of getting pressure on Campbell and neutralizing a lot of his hot reads, and it was pretty clear that Portis wasn't 100 percent as a blocker.

It was also interesting to see John Madden throw Flozell Adams and his propensity for false starts underneath his tricked-out bus. It's pretty astounding that Adams can still be considered an upper-echelon left tackle and worthy of a big new contract despite such a consistently awful habit.

A lot of the credit for the win has to go to Marion Barber, who absolutely carried this team to the lead and kept it there. It wasn't even really the offensive line; Barber broke tackle after tackle, pushed guys backwards, basically did his Brandon Jacobs impression for the entire second half.


97 comments, Last at 18 Nov 2008, 10:10pm

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

You want appropriate Bears/Packers commentary? Here:

Insert "whole game" for "second half" and you pretty much have it. Although the Bears did run the ball sort of OK.

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

you didn't miss much, well except Fox continuing to show the game deep into the fourth and ignoring all the other close games. I am not looking forward to charting this game.

17 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Not surprising... its funny, this was supposed to be the year that FO disproved claims of homerism by focusing on other teams once Tom Brady got injured. Instead, its been the year that's pretty much confirmed it.

The quality of FO commentary has been on a precipitous decline for the past 2-3 years now, since the halcyon days of the 6-2 Falcons and the FOMBC. At this point, FO doesn't really offer much of value outside of the stats. And given that the preseason projections have a .15 r-squared correlation with week 10 DVOA, and that the 5-4-1 Eagles have been hovering at the top of the rankings all season, despite playing as a .500 team, and having just tied the #30 team, I think even that might be questionable.

50 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

It's funny, your post was supposed to be the one where you disproved claims of idiocy by saying something intelligent. Instead, it was the post that pretty much confirmed them.

Wait, what?

54 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

uh, audibles at the line is just the emails they exchange with one another while watching games. since they are fans, they are going to tend to watch their favorite teams play. crazy, i know.

if you would stop thinking of audibles as an important part of the site, this wouldn't be a problem. it's just something extra they throw in.

26 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

It had the misfortune of being on at the same time as the classic that was Seahawks/Cardinals. Besides, it's not like Steelers and Chargers were televised almost-nationally yesterday or had any noteworthy plays that may have shown up on replay at some point.

44 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

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.

Seriously, how long before some people get this through their heads.

62 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Me, I was just surprised that PIT-SD didn't fit the personal viewing preferences of any of the Outsiders, given that it was a national game. I expected Doug, Ben, and Vince to be watching the Seattle game, but given that the Philly and Boston markets had no other game at 4:00 besides PIT-SD, I would have thought that at least Aaron and Mike would have tuned it in.

But then, I guess Mike was probably either in an alcoholic funk after the Eagles game, or swore off football for the rest of the weekend and worked on lesson plans or something.

64 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

It's just unusual that a game that was televised to much of the country and had a number of exciting/controversial aspects didn't rate a mention. Usually the games that get missed are ones that are seen by a very small number of people in the country.

On the plus side, we're getting excellent coverage of the Seahawks' season this year. Keep up the good work.

67 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Yeah, I think I've figured out that Brian Russell sucks. It's repeated several million times a week.

And while I agree that FO is allowed to cover only their favorite teams (and not watch other games on TiVO; although really, it only takes about 40" to watch a game this way) if they want to, it might become an (ahem) competitive disadvantage vs. other sites in the long run.

91 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Definitely! ... and don't forget the 10 seconds of gesturing at the Middle Linebacker before the snap and then the unpiling after the tackle.

When I'm watching live, I hate to even flip away from the commercials, as I lose the flow of the game, but for rare occasion that I have to watch a recorded game, I've got the fast forward jammed down.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

"It's funny, we ran that article a couple years ago saying that big backs don't seem to tire out defenses any more than small backs do, but that sure does seem to be what's happening in New York"

Perhaps you need to have a 265 pound back with 4.5 speed who is kept fresh himself by a rotation for this effect to occur? :-)

"I guess one way to check would be to look at Ward's yards per carry in the first half vs. second half of games."

So far this year, Ward has 54 first half carries for 271 yards (5.0 ypc) and 45 second half carries for 257 (5.7 ypc).

24 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I had the same thought. Brandon Jacobs is not the standard "big back." It's basically like taking hits from a linebacker trying to tackle him.

Can't think of a more fun back to watch right now than him.

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I agree that the announcer for the broncos-falcons game was awesome. It was awesome knowing who was on the d-line and how many d-backs were in for most plays. Making out jersey numbers on standard def television is almost impossible.


36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Agreed. The play-by-play guy was awesome. I think the people who I was watching the game with (who are generally less interested in the X's and O's side of things than the average FO reader) were pretty bored of it by the end, but I was thrilled. Rich Gannon, however, remains a total waste of words, in my opinion.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

You know what the Redskins needed? More WR hitches. The dozen or so they ran last night worked so great, I'm surprised they ever threw downfield at all last night.

/bitter Santana Moss owner

27 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

They also seem to love throwing the ball short of the line to gain on 3rd down. The one time I remember them throwing a pass for the required yardage Devin Thomas dropped it, so maybe there's a method to the madness. It's absurd just how many hitches and WR screens they run.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Vince, Nevada is probably the team you saw, I believe they're best known for using the pistol. It is a pretty interesting offense. I'm not sure why more teams haven't tried it ...

Looking forward to charting Panthers-Lions. We couldn't see it from where we were sitting (not that I wanted to), so watching Delhomme's stats really confused us. 1 for 4, 4 yards, against the Lions' secondary? Really?

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

"First, they must have seen something on tape about the Redskins over pursuing, since they're running a ton of misdirection stuff, even in their route combinations."

The Cowboys have done a lot of that this year with Romo in the game. They haven't with the other QBs (probably because of the lack of a pass threat).

Also, while Ratliff does have some nice moves and can handle his own when matched up 1v1, he still gets pushed around a lot on double teams. So yea, he's still a good player there, but I really think his natural position is more as a 3-4 DE than NT. Unfortunately, Tank Johnson has been a disappointment and there's really no one else on that roster who is a good fit for that position.

8 Buc's "consistency"

"Russell Levine: It's amazing to me how consistent Tampa Bay has been this year. They have dominated stretches of all ten games and should have had this one put away much earlier than they did"

You nailed their consistency perfectly. The Buc's seem to be spotting every opponent the first quarter defensively then adjusting and playing up to their level for the last 45 minutes each game. It's as if the weekly film study misses the mark, but the in-game adjustments are spot on.

I'd love to to see Tampa's D numbers split by quarter. My guess would be below average for the first half & outrageously high for the second half of games.

18 Re: Buc's "consistency"

In reply to by BucKai

Regarding their defensive effort - someone help me out here. I was only privy to the last 4 minutes of the game, when FOX finally decided that the Bears-Packers was in the bag. Perhaps - and again, this is where someone can fill in the blanks - the Bucs D did a great job of neutralizing Peterson in the 2nd half. What I see is a decent overall stat line, good YPC, etc.

What I saw on the 'must score a TD now to win the game' drive was Childress call passes on 2nd-2, 3rd-3, and 4th-3. All failures.

Hello? Has he not yet realized that he has, at best, a mediocre QB? While also having the best RB in modern football in the backfield? Honestly, 3 minutes to get down the field, and Childress calls passes on 3 consecutive short-yardage plays?


So please - someone tell me that the Bucs had sniffed out Peterson in the 2nd half, and were stopping him up for no gain before I tuned in.

25 Re: Buc's "consistency"

Let's put it this way--here's the post I put in the Open Game Discussion right at the start of the Bucs-Vikes game:

"Dear Brad Childress--please keep throwing. Please please please please. Running Adrian Peterson is the easy way out, and if you were a really smart coach, you'd do the unexpected and have Frerotte throw about 50 times.

Do it. You know you want to."

Thanks, Brad.

The Bucs were doing a decent job on Peterson in the first half. The big problem was Minnesota barely had the ball in the 4th quarter as the Vikings turned it over several times. The Bucs had a couple good drives. Not sure if Peterson even touched the ball in the 4th.

39 Re: Buc's "consistency"

Here are the AP carries by qtr.

(QTR) (Carries) (Yards) (YPC)
(1) (6) (51) (8.5)
(2) (7) (20) (2.8)
(3) (6) (14) (2.3)
(4) (0) (0)

Yes the Buc's managed to bottle him up after the first qtr.

Regarding the lack of fourth qtr carries, the Buc's started the qtr with a 13 play, 8:52 drive, then recovered a fumbled kickoff and held the ball for another 2:00. The Vikes didn't get the ball until there was only 3:30 left to play, but to their credit, they put AP back there to field the kickoff.

It's not that Childress kept him on the bench, so much as Jeff Garcia and Will Allen (ST forced fumble)did so by allowing them only 1 meaningful possession in the qtr.

Those numbers are what got me thinking about the Buc's defense in the 1st qtr vs. the rest of the game. I know that the team as a whole is 21st in variance, however that doesn't address their D's performance on a qtr by qtr basis.

The KC contest (which shouldn't have been one) comes to mind too where we spotted them 24 points to open the game before Brooks and co. decided to start playing.

72 Re: Buc's "consistency"

In reply to by Tundrapat (not verified)

Thanks all -

I did manage to overcome my own inertia and go through the play-by-play, but thanks for supplying the numbers.

Even so...with a Pro Bowl, center-of-offense RB at my disposal and 3:30 to get down the field and score, I'm pretty sure I would at least CONSIDER handing off on 2nd-and-short. And again on 3rd-and-(presumably) shorter, if need be. Childress may be a good OC, but I'm really not sold on his coaching prowess.

And of course, it wouldn't be a Vikings game without another special teams turnover.

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

"Jay Cutler threw 14 passes in the first half and 13 in the second, but his yardage nearly doubled in the second
half, 139 to 77."

Thats 1 play different, the 56 yarder. I really didnt see Abraham making any impact in the game before he left either.

29 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Denver missed several third and shorts in the second quarter that resulted in three and outs. The play call of the Eddie Royal run was just one of a few that frustrated us Broncos fans because we expect the Broncos to be able to make most third and short situations, but they didn't today.

45 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I agree. I think it's time to realize that the O-line has, once again, gelled into a top-5 unit in no time. The re-tooling of the Line is 60 percent done.

And how good does Shanahan look for the fan-critisized moves of getting rid of Myers (trade, HOU) and Holland? Oh yeah, and going T in the draft.

Healthy RB's will make this a excellent offence.

76 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

What was wrong with drafting Ryan Clady? If he does not make the pro-bowl, then no one is watching. He is having a phenominal rookie season.

Denver's problem isn't running back health--it's running backs in general. Remember the "one cut and go" philosophy? They have clearly given up on that idea and now ask their backs to make a cut, stop, look for a hole, then get tackled for a loss.

82 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I might have trouble with the language, what i meant was that Shanahan looks GOOD for going tackle. I firmly believe Clady's a pro-bowl candidate! The "Oh yeah" should've been interperted like an "stating-the-obvious"-kind of thing.

Maybe the problem is the backs, allthough, with healthy personnel, the YPC doesn't seem to be that bad (4.5 ypc overall so far). The only backs with more than 40 carries so far is Pittman (76/320, 4.2) and Selvin Young (48/268, 5.6) and they are doing pretty well. Every team will have a dropoff in production when their 3 leading rushers are on IR and number 4 and 5 are the QB and a rookie FB. Besides if you can plug in a rookie-FB and he does decently it simply must mean you are doing something right.

14 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

"Bill Barnwell: If Brandon Meriweather's more of a safety, I can't even fathom how bad he'd be as a full-time cornerback."

Well, he played safety in college, was drafted to be a safety, and has played safety in every game he has played. He's not a cornerback now, was not a cornerback in college, and was never intended to be a cornerback in the Pats' scheme.

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Despite what our stats say about how effective Chad Pennington has been vis-a-vis Favre (and I should add that I'm personally very happy for him), I do think that Favre's presence has fundamentally changed the way teams defend the Jets, and that's had a serious effect on the quality of the ground game. Do the offensive line improvements help? Absolutely. But teams simply don't crowd the line the way they routinely did last year, and they pay a lot more attention to the area outside the hashmarks, which opens up the middle throws. It's worth noting.

I don't buy this for two reasons. First, I watched almost every NYJ game last year and didn't see defenses crowding the line on a consistent basis. They faced a lot of two deep. I agree that defenses overplayed the middle and left outside the hashmarks more open. But that's a different issue and isn't an explanation for a poor running game. Second, why is the Miami offense having so much success with an o-line that's at best just as good as the NYJ (for the sake of argument) and receivers that are significantly worse? Ronnie Brown is damn good but I can't attribute it all to him. A healthy Pennington is simply a very good QB even without a howitzer for an arm.

Pennington stunk last year because his OL couldn't open holes and couldn't protect him because 2/5 of the line should not have been employed on an NFL team. Clemens stunk worse when he was in. I'm not prepared to say the NYJ would be better with Pennington, but I'm also not prepared to say they'd be worse. Favre gives them more upside w/ more risk. If they get to the playoffs, I think Favre probably gives them a better chance. As much as I dislike the Fish, I'm happy for Pennington. The guy got a raw deal in NY and is all class.

23 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11


The biggest improvements on the Jets have been on the O-line and the D-line, with the additions of Faneca and Jenkins, respectively. People appear to have forgotten just how bad the Jets' line play was last season.

19 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Can anyone explained what happened with the Bears Run D vs. the Packers Run O? I watched the whole game and was blown away by the Packers oline blowing Bear defenders off the line. I also noticed the Bears played less of their "7 defenders on the line of scrimmage", which I figured was out of fear for the Packer receivers running quick slants and busting 50yd gains out of them. Also, the Packer linebacking corps played extremely well with Nick Barnett out of the lineup.

51 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I can't explain it, but I did notice (in between vomiting and assaulting bar furniture) that GB was having particular success running out of their big formation with two blockers and a tailback lined up behind Rodgers. On some appallingly large fraction of runs, they were getting fat guys (OL or TE or FB) untouched out to smother the Bears LB's and even 20 yards downfield blocking safeties or corners. I spent a lot of the day screaming at Kevin Payne, but he was usually trying to get around some Packer twice his size to make a tackle.

Utterly demoralizing loss for the Bears. This week will be a huge test for the coaching staff. There had already been rumblings that some players were questioning the defensive scheme, and there had been thinly veiled finger-pointing between defensive units (DL and secondary, mostly). The whole damn thing could blow up if they're not careful.

57 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

The Bears secondary, with the exception of Tillman, has become a bit of a liability. Vasher in particular has done a very bad job in man coverage, which the Bears have been asking of him more and more often as they transition to an extent away from the tampa-2.

Against this backdrop, the secondary has been getting pummeled. Going into GB, Chicago's game plan was to shore up the secondary with help from the linebacking corps, putting their LBs (particularly Urlacher) into deeper zones than usual, to give the safeties help underneath and the CBs help inside. This meant two things: 1) the LBs were often in pass-first mode, having to run to a zone after a fake blitz, then react to the run after their primary assignment had been taken care of, and 2) a generally slower reaction to runs because of a priority to cover passes (play action) first.

It's not a bad scheme, if the D-line can keep it up, which they couldn't yesterday. But the scheme is not the problem. The shoddy secondary is the problem, and it puts the coaches in a bad position.

20 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Comment from a (the?) Texans fan on Ahamn Green still getting carries. Yes it was obviously a huge mistake to sign Green for the kind of money the Texans gave him two years ago. But I will say this about him. When hes healthy he knows how to get into the endzone. Texans have had some red zone issues this year on offense and at least two of Green's carries came from the one yard line to punch in touchdowns. Thats $100,000/td.

28 Re: Issues with Harbaugh

I have some serious issues with John Harbaugh I'd like to bring up.

First off, timid decisions: punts in Giants territory. In the 1st half, down 13-0, he opts for a punt on a 4th and 2 from the Giants 45. You can't dance with the champ, etc.
But much worse was the decision to punt down 27-10 at the Giants 40 on 4th and 10 early in the 4th quarter. To me this shows a complete lack of comprehension of what kind of strategies are required to win a football game.
This was followed by a drive with about 10 minutes left that featured mostly running plays to Ray Rice, as well as a fullback dive on 2nd and 1 at one point. Although victory was unlikely, and the announcers mentioned something about protecting Flacco, whatever. Wouldn't going shotgun and spraying the ball around the field at least give the team a chance to win? Much more so than a clock killing 6 minute drive.

2nd problem: special teams are lousy, aside from Sam Koch just punting the hell out of the ball. The Ravens have two quality veteran offensive and defensive coordinators, and Harbaugh's rep is that he is a great special teams coach, so shouldn't he have time to devote to improving this unit? The Ravens have plenty of players that should be good on special teams, yet they aren't. And Stover should have been cut long ago, I can't fathom why he's on the team. He's good at kicks under 40 yards? That's great, so is every other NFL kicker.

3rd problem: he has no clue as to when to challenge plays. They lost a TD in the Pittsburgh game, and I can't recall him making any successful challenges.

I guess my point is if the Ravens have two good coordinators to whip the offense and defense in to shape, Harbaugh should be making sure these other areas are a strength of the team. Instead, they are holding them back.

97 Re: Issues with Harbaugh

"by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 11/17/2008 - 3:24pm
I have some serious issues with John Harbaugh I'd like to bring up.

First off, timid decisions: punts in Giants territory.
* * *
2nd problem: special teams are lousy, aside from Sam Koch just punting the hell out of the ball. The Ravens have two quality veteran offensive and defensive coordinators, and Harbaugh's rep is that he is a great special teams coach, so shouldn't he have time to devote to improving this unit? The Ravens have plenty of players that should be good on special teams, yet they aren't. And Stover should have been cut long ago, I can't fathom why he's on the team. He's good at kicks under 40 yards? That's great, so is every other NFL kicker.

3rd problem: he has no clue as to when to challenge plays."

I agree entirely. All year long I guess I've been bitching about how crappy the Ravens are on special teams. Last night I was watching MNF as the Bills (Leodis McKelvin, I think) scored a TD on a beautiful kick-off return against a Browns team with very GOOD special teams. My girlfriend (not a serious football fan, but she knows not to deprive me of football, God I love her) chimes in: "Our [the Ravens] special teams suck!" It was sort of like having a parrot repeat what you've exclaimed many times previously.

You're absolutely right about Stover. Unfortunately, we're doomed to at least a season of below-replacement-level performance before the team finally pulls the plug, I suspect. It's crazy to play a guy based on what he did three or five or ten years ago.

You're right about your other criticisms as well. How can you concede the game with 12 minutes left? I understand they were reduced to playing scrubs on the O-line, but 12 minutes is a LONG time! You're right about the poor use of challenges too. One of the HC's jobs is to insure there's a guy in the booth watching and communicating to the HC as to WHEN to throw the flag. It always seems the Ravens either don't pull the plug when they were jobbed by the refs, or even worse, challenging calls that won't be overturned.

But just to clarify, I do think Harbaugh has instilled some needed discipline and so give him an overall C+ or B-.

31 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Bullitt did look pretty terrible on those 2 plays, although in his defense on one of those 2 guys had gotten behind the defense and he was the single safety so he was kind of hosed either way. Interestingly enough though, this makes him 3 interceptions to end games this season.

32 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I was disappointed that there were no comments on the Packers-Bears games. I would really like to see some analysis of the inconsistency of the Packers running game, which seems to be overall mediocre only to take off at the most unexpected moment. I mean, if they exploded for 200 against the Lions - no big deal, but the Bears held the Titans to 20 yards last week. What the hell happened?

49 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I really don't know if it was the pride of a maligned o-line, McCarthy calling more running plays, the Bears d-line having a terrible game, or some combination of all three, but it was really something.

On Grant's four yard TD run, the entire Bears front seven got walked back to the goal-line or into the endzone. I've watched that play at least a dozen times, and I haven't gotten tired of it yet.

78 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Basically everything went right for the Packers. The blocking was good and Grant got through a lot of holes just before a Chicago defender would have had a shot. A complete lack of any attempt to wrap up or even hold on in many tackles by the Chicago defense also contributed a good deal of yardage.

89 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I can't explain all of it, but the Packers running game has been improving steadily over about the past month. It just hasn't looked like it on the stat sheet because the past 2 weeks were against the Titans and Vikings run D. However Grant in particular has been getting steadily better, no doubt working himself out of the hamstring injury which he played through the first half of the season with, afer missing almost all of training camp.

Some of it is likely fluke. I told people it was a fluke how bad the Packers pass protection looked last week against the Vikings, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Packers don't run the ball quite that well again all year. You just can't read too much into a single week.

33 Delhomme airing it out.

Jake had some good touch on the TD pass, but I have to agree that he spent this week ballooning most of his passes again.

34 4th and goal from the one

In the Broncos game, Denver had a fourth and goal from the one (Or maybe two) yard line. The Broncos opted for the field goal and therefore the guaranteed points. Denver also ended up winning the game, but am I the only one that thinks that coaches are really quite foolish to not go for the touchdown on fourth down almost always.

I expect most NFL offenses to get the four extra points of a touchdown more often than not, but even if you do miss, they are way backed up on the one yard line.

So, I watched the game between the Steelers and Chargers. The Steelers in a similar situation went for it and missed. But, the Chargers were backed up and they ended up getting a safety and the ball back which when you include the getting the ball back, I'd argue is about as valuable as the three points and giving the ball up.

Either way, even if you said that it was a conservative 50-50 shot at getting the touchdown, that's more than double the points for a 50-50 shot if you make it versus a significant chance to get the ball back with terrific field position that would only require a first down or two to get that field goal anyway or even a chance to get a safety if you miss.

40 Re: 4th and goal from the one

Yes I would love to see a close analysis of this situation as my instinct says it is consistently mishandled.

My guts says from the 1 you have what a 2/3 chance of making it? So that is a 2/3 chance of 7 pts, and if you fail the expected points are still probably in your favor (maybe +1.5?) the other 1/3 of the time.

If you take the FG (say 100% for the sake of argument), you then give the opponent the ball on what the 25? And they have an expected points of +1 (another wild guess)?

So you are trading giving up on 2/3 of the time with 7 points and 1/3 of the time with 1.5 pts for 2 pts? Seems like a bad deal. Maybe my estimates are way off, but I would be surprised if the current behavior made sense.

Obviously this calculation changes close to the end of the game when field positions battles are less likely to result in points.

41 Re: 4th and goal from the one

A couple of points on that. The first problem was throwing the ball on second down. Seriously, why? Hadn't Peyton Hillis shown that he's pretty trustworthy in those situations? Second, the third down play actually lost a yard, so it wasn't a 4th and 1 situation, it was 4th and 2. Certainly still doable, and your reasoning still applies, but it does increase the risk involved marginally. And for the potential safety to be a serious part of the consideration, a coach has to have faith that his defense can get into the backfield quickly, and if Shanahan has that kind of faith in our defense... I don't know what he's been watching.
In the abstract, I agree with you, more teams should go for it in that situation. But I'm not sure that the Broncos short yardage game or their defensive front are reliable enough to make the decision to pass up points on the road especially against a team that hasn't made very many mistakes this year.

48 Re: 4th and goal from the one

So with the gigantic Marshall, the Jay Cutler-fastball, a very good set of TE's and very good pass protection (6th i ASR), you are questioning the Broncos for throwing on 33% of the redzone-snaps... c'mon now.

74 Re: 4th and goal from the one

Actually, no. I don't know how you drew a critique of the Broncos whole red zone philosophy out of my previous post, but I am questioning the Broncos on *one* play, throwing on 2nd and goal from the 1. Especially considering the throw that was eventually attempted: short of the end zone to a triple covered Tight End who isn't really all that reliable a pass catcher (recent touchdown bonanza notwithstanding). I approve of throws in the red zone... Just not really so much from the 1 yard line, there's just so little room to operate for the receivers. I'm very much a "shortest distance between two points" sort of guy. And while this sounds inconsistent with my above-expressed lack of faith in the Broncos' power running game I tend to think that with a runner like Hillis (yes, I know he was the guy who got stuffed for -1 on the next play) your best shot from 2nd and goal on the 1 is to commit to the run. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I guarantee that a run up the middle has significantly less potential for disaster than throwing to Daniel Graham in triple coverage.

83 Re: 4th and goal from the one

My point was that run-pass-run inside the 5 makes for 33%. I don't recall the particular pass-play, but with Hillis already having 2 scores, the Falcons may have known he was comming - therefor a quick pass (if this was in fact the play) to a TE seems like a fair idea against an defense anticipating run.

I think you're second guessing a bit; of course a FB dive is more succesfull than a triple-coverage pass to a TE, but i bet the playcaller didn't have that info when the decision was made.

I'm just saying; I would've preferred the dive myself, but that's why we aren't coaches.

37 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

From Larsen's Wikipedia page:
"On November 16, 2008, in a 24-20 Broncos road win over the Atlanta Falcons, Larsen became only the fourth NFL player since 1990 (and the first since 2003) to start a game on offense and defense.[1] He also played on special teams during the game."

58 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

*** And the first Denver linebacker this year to show an actual effort DURING the play, instead of simply flapping his jaws and replacing his lost helmet AFTER the play.

I think this week was Denver's best defensive effort this year. Still nothing to shout about, certainly, but a marked improvement from the empty boasting of our overpaid starters. Let's hear it for the practice squad!!

42 Needles and PINs

Bill Barnwell: Ray Ventrone got hit so hard on the opening kickoff that the bank is going to have to reset his PIN number.

Where do you use a PIN number? Oh yeah, at the ATM machine.

80 Re: Needles and PINs

In reply to by hector

Good catch and a well-deserved snarky reply. I even make fun of signs that say ATM Machine, too, when I see them.

90 Re: Needles and PINs

It took me about 5 reads of this thread, throughout the day, to finally realize how much of a dumbass I was being for not getting it.

Bravo, and I bow before you.

92 Re: Needles and PINs

In reply to by Dales

The joke is slightly obscured/sullied by the fact that approximately 99% of the world indeed calls it a PIN number, and a good 80% of them probably have no idea what PIN stands for.

ATM machine is IMO a much more obvious one.


95 Re: Needles and PINs

In reply to by Love is like a… (not verified)

It makes sense to call it a PIN number, since of course the word "pin" is common and has many meanings, and if you say "my PIN" the meaning might not always be clear.

I don't get people who feel the need to put "machine" after, well, anything. Do people drive to the ATM machine in their Toyota car? After lunch at the McDonald's fast food restaurant?

43 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Oh man, I was in my office when I read which criteria Barnwell would try to convince McNabb decided overtime. I had to stifle my laughter and excuse myself to the bathroom so I could crack up.

46 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I've only heard the quote secondhand, so I can't comment on context or body language, but from what I heard, wasn't McNabb being facetious with the line about ties?

52 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

First of all: Thats beyond everything I've ever read.

"He wasn't alone - count Trent Cole, Omar Gaither, Quintin Mikell and Tra Thomas in McNabb's category - but he's the quarterback. He should have known."
Yeah - it's only the QB we should expect to know this rule.

"Told his quarterback didn't know the rule, Mornhinweg said: "Yeah, um, yeah, but, uh, I don't know what to say on that one.""

84 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I'm convinced that after 10 years of fans' incessant whining despite watching a generally above average and occasionally great football team, Reid and McNabb have decided to say, "Oh, you motherfuckers want to bitch? We'll give you something to bitch about. This is what you would have had with 10 years of Rich Kotite and Bobby Hoying. Now cram another cheesesteak in your fat faces and shut the hell up." On behalf of the city of Philadelphia, I'd like to say, "Point taken, fellas. Now stop this shit and get back to winning two-thirds of your games."

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

86 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

So Donovan McNabb is even more clueless about OT than Marty Morninhweg - that's really saying something.

I'm surprised no one has commented on the idiotic comment of Daryl Johnston near the end of OT that a tie wouldn't hurt the Eagles that much because it was against an AFC team and wouldn't be as important in a tiebreaker scenario. Daryl obviously failed to realize that a tiebreaker scenario only comes into play if teams are, in fact, tied. Despite the fact that this was the first tie game in 6 years, he evidently is expecting a logjam of NFC teams ending up 9-6-1 this year.

59 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Flozell Adams gets a lot of false starts because he's 80% deaf in his right ear (the one facing the QB). He has trouble hearing the snap count sometimes. The Cowboys considered his handicap when they resigned him last offseason, but really, Adams was easily their best option. When he has a good guard next to him, he can shut down the NFC East pass rushes--that makes him an elite tackle. It sucks that he gets so many false starts, but false starts are better than sacks.

60 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

I know, personal viewing preferences and whatnot, but nothing on Steelers-Chargers? Really?
The most ridiculous interception I have ever seen, the first 11-10 score in NFL history, and that almost being destroyed by Troy Polamalu making an absurd play to break up the hook-and-ladder, and not even a sentence? Damn. I was looking forward to it.

63 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

The biggest reason Atlanta lost the game was John Abraham's injury.

Jets fans are all snickering.


With TEN playing later in the day, I was a free agent for the early games and ended up watching the Lions, since they're the next TEN opponent after the Jets. They actually looked impressive early in the game-Kevin Smith looks like a player, much moreso than Rudi Johnson, and Daunte was throwing the ball to his guys, not the other team. CAR wasn't doing much offensively, either, early in the game. As noted above, Jake was really airmailing some of his passes, and Dewayne White was applying some pressure. As the game wore on, though, CAR played better, and in particular was able to run the ball successfully. I liked Williams coming out of Memphis, and he had a couple nice runs, but he seemed like he'd like to run everything outside. Stewart seemed to have a Travis Henry-esque day, with some longer runs interspersed with some hard running for 2 yards a pop (see Tanier's piece 2 Yards a Carry).

I lost interest in the game after halftime, because I didn't think the Lions had a realistic chance at winning, but in the parts I saw they looked less putrid than you'd think an 0-11 team with a newly-signed quarterback would. That said, their lack of talent still shone through brightly. If they play the way they did the first half, though, I can see them pulling out a win or two.

68 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

You know what would make me happy? If somebody acknowledged that Eli Manning does have an impact on his dominant Giants running game. That he is good at reading coverages, pointing out blitzes and audibles ( into passes) and into runs away from blitzes.

It is very easy to see how a QB like Mike Vick has an impact on his run game ( carrying out fakes and running option keepers), but people almost hold the Giants run game against Eli. Having the threat to throw deep to Plax, audible run, audible throw against 8 man fronts is what makes Eli a good QB for his run game. Having the same 5 Veteran starters on his line also helps keep everybody on the same page.

I was happy to hear the TV Crew give Chase Blackburn some special teams love. They talked about how Couglin wanted to limit his special teams snaps now that he is the starting weakside linebacker. Blackburn of course got mentioned because he had just made a nice special teams tackle.

All is well in Giants land. They sort of remind you of the 2001 Patriots in that they won the SB as a dog, but actually got better in the following years. This giants team doesn't have a glaring hole, and they have 3 draft picks before round 3 next year.


Yesterday in Jacksonville was really a tale of two different halves. The Titans came out and stunk up the joint in the first half, and halfway through the game I thought for sure the Titans would have their first loss of the year. They came out in the second half, though, and dominated the Jaguars. I feel like I'm a cliche spouter for saying so, but there's a reason cliches exist. More concrete observations:

1. The first half highlight for the Titan offense was the opening bomb to Justin Gage. That put them in FG range, a place they didn't visit on any of the other first half drives.
2. The worst sequence for the Titans in the first half may have been failing to convert 2&2 about their own 20 at the 2 minute warning. If they convert that, they maybe drive down the field, or at least run clock. Instead, they punted and the Jags took the ball down the field for a 14-3 halftime lead.
3. Titan starting CB Nick Harper missed the game, and his replacement Eric King broke his arm early in the game. That left ex-Raider Chris Carr, who's primarily the return guy and a gunner, playing (over former starter Reynaldo Hill) opposite Cortland Finnegan. Garrard recognized this, and chose his targets accordingly.
4. As a fan of an opposing team, I hate MJD because he's so danged hard to tackle, but the Titans overall really did a decent job of containing him. They also did ok against Taylor in the second half, and he seems to have 1 good game against them every year.
5. At one point (I think around halftime), Chris Johnson had been involved in 14 of the Titans' 23 offensive plays-10 carries and 4 targets. His ratio went down as the game went on, but it seemed like they tried early to make him a focal point of the offense.
6. I still don't understand how you let Justin Gage get that wide open three games. He's not that fast. I know he beat Williams and Florance with a move, but you'd think they have recovery speed, and, moreover, Reggie Nelson didn't get over in time either.
7. Part of the Titans' offensive struggles is from their tendency to go conservative. They were pretty conservative most of the first half, and went conservative again after they took the 17-14 lead in the 3rd, at least until the TD to Gage early in the game.
8. I still hate Jack Del Rio as a coach. Garrard was hit while throwing, and tossed up a wounded duck that Chris Carr caught, marginally staying inbounds while doing so. This was late in the game, after the Titans had gone up 2 scores, and the Jags were pretty much sunk if it stood. I think he probably loses the challenge, but sometimes a likely loser of a challenge isn't a bad call, particularly on a turnover late in the game.
9. After that, JDR then screwed up his TO usage, letting the clock run down to the 2MW before taking his 2 TOs. Fine, maybe he's trying to avoid an ATL-PHI-type call, but you can still take 1 of them and force the Titans to run another play. Yes, it's marginal at that point, but it's still an error. Funny thing is, he did the same thing against TEN at home in Week 1 last year, then got it right in a game earlier this year I believe. I don't know what it is, but it seems like he's making random decisions out there sometimes. I'd repeat the call for a "strategy coach" if I thought he'd actually be used.

70 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

No comments on the game people are crying "fix" in? The problem with the bad calls in the Steelers game is that the Refs called almost all the penalties on Pitt, none on SD. The bogus rushing TD called back ( to make Pitt kick a gimme 3), and the bogus LT forward lateral. The refs never called it live, they let the boys play, but AFTER Troy P. scores the TD, THEN they bring it to the replay booth on a play that didn't look fishy live. It was close, but still a backwards lateral.

The Refs didn't even get the call right. A foward lateral is a dead ball ONLY if the ball hits the ground. The ball didn't hit the ground, therefore Pitt could have just denied the penalty and let their TD stand ( and win 17-10, or kick the XP and win 18-10). The Refs blew that one. When they were explaining the forward lateral, the head ref looked crap scared, like some Mafioso just TOLD him to reverse that call. It was horrible and makes me think of those Fixed NBA games.

I watched the Eagles Bengals game, and it was one of the worst games I have ever seen in my life. Two teams trying to lose the game, and they end up with a tie. 34 possessions, 2 TDS, 17 yard punts, bogus penalties, going for it on 4th, not going for it on 4th, not running the ball on 3rd and 1, 4th and 1. Interceptions, and 5 quarters of football.

The worst part, was at the end of the game when the Bengals missed the game winning kick, there were still 7 seconds left on the clock. Donovan was bundled up in a heavy jacket and looked like he didn't even want to go back out there.

85 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

While I do enjoy such finely wrought paranoia, I have to disagree. That was an obvious hold by the FB on Moore's(?) 4th-quarter TD. Generally, when an offensive player has wrapped both arms around a defender, pinning said defender's arms to his sides, that's considered a hold.

Second, while I suspect the illegal forward lateral was called on the pass prior to the one Polomalu recovered, he didn't intercept the the ball. He knocked it down and scooped it up. A hell of a play, yes, but not an interception.

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

71 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

"They were stuffed on fourth-and-short twice and had to settle for field goals"

This line in the Bucs-Vikings game commentary came out a bit mangled, I think. The team had one field goal off of a failed third-and-short conversion. Earlier in the game, they failed to convert on another third-and-short, went for it on fourth down and failed to convert on that as well. They did not, somewhat obviously, wind up with a field goal on that possession.

75 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

This comment thread reminds me of something I'm going to paraphrase from Roger Ebert.
"The month that Jackass: The Movie came out, I reviewed 45 movies. Jackass was not one of them. I never got one thank you for any of my reviews, but I did get over 100 emails taking me to task for not reviewing Jackass."
That's way off the original quote, which I am too lazy to look for, but the intent is still there.

88 Re: Denver at Atlanta

Kevin Harlan did the play by play of the Broncos/Falcons game, working along with Rich Gannon. FYI, Verne Lundquist is calling college games for CBS & hasn't worked the NFL in a number of years. Here is a handy website that lists which NFL game or games will be shown anywhere in the US on a given Sunday, complete with maps, announcers & any changes during the week:

93 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

Regarding the Eagle players not knowing there are ties in the NFL - it reminds me of what my Dad said to me when I was a boy watching the Vikings lose a Super Bowl to the Steelers. I was complaining how stupid a certain player was and my Dad commented - "They don't pick em for their smarts." Oh how right he was.

94 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

the Jets demolishing the Pats over and over while Bill Parcells was the coach

Might want to check that one. The Jets did go 4-2 against the Pats the three years the Tuna was the HC of the NYJ, but that doesn't quite qualify as "demolishing over and over". The Pats won the division once, the Jets won the division once and New England was ahead of the Jets (on a tie breaker) at 8-8 in 1999.

96 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 11

The Seahawks have been working toward something all year, driving and trying their best to reach one particular goal, and I think they're finally there: This is the worst tackling team in the NFL.

After watching the Monday night game I have a hard time believing that the Seahawks are a worse tackling team than the Cleveland Browns. Yes, the Seahawks were embarrassed by Larquan Fitzboldin on a couple big plays. But those Cardinal receivers are 2 of the best in the entire league. Meanwhile, the Browns seemed to muff a tackle on Every. Single. Play.