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
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.