Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Audibles at the Line: Week 12

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.

This week we introduce a new voice to Audibles: Mark Zajack. He's the intern responsible for The Week in Quotes this season, a Giants fan and currently a South Carolina resident.

Thursday, November 20

Cincinnati Bengals 10 at Pittsburgh Steelers 27

Doug Farrar: It appears that the Bengals will be without the services of Señor Ocho Cinco this evening against the Steelers; the team has deactivated him in favor of Chris Henry due to an unspecified rules violation. Can't wait to see what kind of rules violation gets you replaced by Chris Henry. Seriously, there's nothing quite like sucking out loud, wearing managerial clown suits while you're doing it, and facing the best defense in the NFL on top of everything else.

Aaron Schatz: We're six minutes into this game. How many passes have the Steelers receivers dropped so far. Four? Five? Did they forget to eat their Wheaties this morning?

Doug Farrar: I can't believe how rickety this Pittsburgh offense looks early on. There's no timing, no physicality, no productivity. Thirty total yards and one first down in the first quarter.

On Cincinnati's first play from scrimmage, Troy Polamalu slips in and stops Cedric Benson for no gain. Not that there's anything spectacular about anyone stopping Benson for no gain, but it did remind me that I'm starting to think Polamalu's a serious Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Every time I've seen the Steelers play this year, he comes up with two to five plays that just leave me amazed. I think he's playing at well as any defender in the NFL.

Aaron Schatz: Also, we keep trying to figure out the reductio ad absurdum of the trend where every team thinks they need to run "the Wildcat." A direct snap to Cedric Benson is really, really close.

Doug Farrar: I'm still trying to figure what is and is not a Wildcat in the first place. We've now got announcers calling anything with a direct snap to anyone who's not a quarterback a Wildcat, and I don't think that's the case. As David Lee diagrammed it in the YouTube video, I think you need at least one of the following elements: A complementary "sweep back" to provide misdirection and the potential for a fake; an extra right tackle for the Power fake inside; an H-back to block inside or outside. The reason the Dolphins make it work is that it's based pretty heavily on blocking, and they have good blockers upfront. A direct snap and a dumbassed dash into the pile -- I don't think that's a Wildcat. That's just a dumbassed dash into the pile.

On the other hand, this outstanding article by Pat Kirwan and Bill Cowher seems to be more liberal about the labeling.

Will Carroll: Dumbass Dash into Pile. I hear Jim Ross in my head -- "DDP! DDP! Is that the Undertaker's music?"

Bill Barnwell: Ooh, nice. He sent me a yoga book when I worked at IGN.

This game is so bland that I've taken to reading blogs of elementary school photos. This is my vision of a 13-year-old Raiderjoe. I will note that Boy Howdy, have there been lots of drops in this game.

Elias Holman: Assuming that it does become regularly used, I would guess that the Wildcat may come to describe the general structure of the play more than
the particulars of the execution. In the same way that when a quarterback starts out in the shotgun despite the fact that there are dozens and dozens of play variations, but we all just say "plays run from the shotgun," we will start saying "plays run from the wildcat." The announcers are just ahead of the curve.

Aaron Schatz: Maybe Cincinnati has sort of gotten their act together. A tie at home against Philadelphia doesn't look as shocking if they also play Pittsburgh close on the road.

Bill Barnwell: Cincinnati playing well against Pittsburgh will make Pittsburgh's DVOA worse, which will make Philly's opponent adjustments weaker and make them worse ... Go Bengals!

Really nice run by Mewelde Moore late in the third quarter. He had good blocking along the line but had to beat a linebacker. To do so, he shimmied in the backfield just long enough to get the linebacker to commit inside into the trash, then bounced outside. He also just juked a Bengals defender out of his boots on a screen pass.

Doug Farrar: Santonio Holmes learned something about going inside in this game from Chris Crocker. Gawd, what a hit.

Sunday, November 23

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38 at Detroit Lions 20

Bill Barnwell: Watching Lions fans celebrate when Calvin Johnson makes an awesome catch is so cool. It's like the one little spot of sunshine in their lives. They high-five, and raise their beers, and some even take the paper bags off.

Ben Riley: You know what's awesome about the Lions? I saw that they were up by 17 points in the first half, and my first aught was, "I wonder how quickly they'll be able to blow this lead?" Answer: before the end of the first half.

Mike Tanier: Watched a bit of the first half of this. Saw the Lions take a 17-0 lead and realized that it was one act of Calvin Johnson and one act of Bucs stupidity; that life would soon return to normal. Sure enough, after that Warrick Dunn spin move touchdown on the draw play, normalcy returned.

Russell Levine: I had a bad feeling about this game coming in because Tampa Bay always seems to have a head-scratcher of a loss or two thrown into every good season. At 17-0 I thought my fears would be confirmed. But then the Lions remembered they were the Lions, the Bucs remembered they were the Bucs, Clifton Smith remembered he was awesome, and all was right with the world.

When Calvin Johnson was at Georgia Tech I used to write every week how they should throw him the ball 25 times a game because there was nobody in college who could cover the guy. Well, now he's in the NFL, and guess what? The Lions should throw him the ball 25 times a game because there's nobody in the NFL that can cover the guy either. Watching Ronde Barber try to match up with him was comical. He had perfect coverage on one deep ball and C.J. just out-reached him easily for the ball. Unfortunately for Detroit, they don't have anyone who can get him the ball. The rest of the game was a comedy of deep lobs that left Johnson standing still, trying to outleap one or two defenders for it. Sabby Piscitelli, who is rapidly improving in his second year, had one nice play where he got in there to rip a ball away from Johnson, but C.J. had had to stop and wait for it like a punt.

Cadillac Williams played for the first time in well over a year and looked rusty. He bumped into Garcia on what might have been a delay draw (or he was just late stepping up to pick up a blitz) and the resulting fumble was returned for the Lions' second touchdown. He also didn't look like he had a whole lot of burst. But late in the game when Dunn was on the bench, Cadillac got a bunch of carries and had one terrific run where he planted hard and cut away from a defender. Couldn't tell if it was the injured knee or not, but that was good to see.

Clifton Smith had a terrific return day, but fumbled again (Tampa Bay recovered). I think he has fumbled in every game this year. Not sure how much longer Jon Gruden can remain patient with him if this keeps up, but I suppose taking kicks back for touchdowns helps.

Jimmy Wilkerson also had a nice day with a pair of sacks. Gaines Adams is improving, but he takes a comically long route to the quarterback way too often, and Wilkerson has been the Bucs' most consistent pass rusher.

New York Jets 34 at Tennessee Titans 13

Doug Farrar: Tennessee's first drive was a nice show for those who have not seen the Jets' defense. Second play from scrimmage, Kris Jenkins throws Kevin Mawae aside like a rag doll to tackle Chris Johnson, followed by Darrelle Revis making a great play on a pass to Justin Gage. Titans punt.

Sean McCormick: The Jets have been working in the middle screen in the red zone the last few weeks to great success, and they pulled it off again to cap off their opening drive against Tennessee. This time they ran it with Thomas Jones instead of Leon Washington, and Jones was able to pick his way ten yards behind a three-man convoy for an easy score.

Doug Farrar: Great downfield blocking by the Jets' left side on that score.

Bill Barnwell: Amusing play: Jets line Brad Smith up under center and Brett Favre splits out wide. For some reason, he decides it'd be a good idea to get in a three-point stance. Unfortunately for Favre, he was up against Cortland Finnegan, who promptly smacked him two or three times as the play ran the other way.

Sean McCormick: The Titans have found an interesting way to get Albert Haynesworth single blocked: They line him up at defensive end on passing downs. D'Brickashaw Ferguson looked shocked just before Haynesworth ran right through him to force a sack and strip of Favre.

Doug Farrar: They've been doing that a little bit lately. Sometimes, they'll stunt him back inside with Kyle Vanden Bosch or Greg Ball.

Sean McCormick : The Jets keep on using that middle screen, but now they're mixing it up with variations. They got into a shotgun set, had Brad Smith come into motion, faked the end-around to him and then dropped the ball to Dustin Keller, who bulled his way for a first down. You can see why the Jets want to get the Titans' interior linemen guessing, because they are having a hard time moving them with any kind of straight-ahead blocking.

Aaron Schatz: What is the line going to be in the Titans-Lions game on Thanksgiving? 14? 15? What would the line be like if Tennessee was an offense-first team instead of a defense-first team? And what the hell is up with the Titans' offense today, anyway? Kerry Collins 7-for-21 at halftime?

Doug Farrar: Drop, drop, drop, drop, drop.

Sean McCormick: The Jets are playing man-up and giving very little room for Collins to deliver, and the Titans receivers have dropped about six passes. Voila, 7-for-21.

Ben Riley: Kevin Mawae seems to have figured out that the way to block Kris Jenkins is to grab him around the head and throw him to the ground. For the life of me I can't understand why the officials picked up the flag they threw on one of Mawae's body slams.

Ned Macey: The plus side of the Titans losing today is that it is before Mercury Morris started to make the rounds. (Plus it should get the Colts a pretty easy win in Week 17).

Bill Barnwell: Oh no. Mercury showed up last week.

Sean McCormick: This game actually could have been more lopsided if not for two Jets turnovers. Just a solid game plan and good execution by the Jets. They negated the Tennessee defensive line by primarily running pass patterns that required only one- or three-step drops, and by and large Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery were able to gain position on the quick slants and get consistent 8- and 9-yard gains. Tennessee was able to handle the run early on, but late in the game they got caught with eight men in the box and gashed on off-tackle runs by both Leon Washington and Thomas Jones.

Nothing fancy in terms of defensive game-planning, as the Jets primarily played press coverage and didn't give the corners a ton of safety help. The Jets' front three controlled the line of scrimmage in the run game, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas held the edges, and Tennessee's wide receivers contracted a serious case of the dropsies on third down.

Vernon Gholston got more playing time today, and he succeeded in generating pressure on back-to-back snaps in the second half. Something to look for down the stretch.

Bill Barnwell: Where are the Favre e-mails? I want to see if they compare to the comments I got on my Packers defensive touchdown story, including the guy who said I must be jealous of the Packers' secondary.

Aaron Schatz: In fact, I got that exact accusation:

Dear Mr. Schatz,

You seem to have missed the point entirely. Favre's true gift is his ability to raise the collective team chemistry as well as the level of play of the individual players around him. Underestimating his influence is either naivety or jealousy. There's a lot of that going around.

Mary Barnard

Heh. Thank God Brett Favre was on the sidelines today, screaming "Attaboy, Kris, way to get 'em" every time Kris Jenkins stuffed Chris Johnson for no gain. If not for Favre raising the team chemistry of the Jets defense, the Titans might have won.

Vince Verhei: The Titans gave up a sack today, bringing their season total to seven. This one was absolutely not the offensive line's fault; Kerry Collins held the ball, held the ball, held the ball, until finally Calvin Pace got close enough to swat the ball out of his hands. Yes, even when the Titans do give up sacks, the quarterback still doesn't hit the ground.

Buffalo Bills 54 at Kansas City Chiefs 31

Ben Riley: We are into Week 12 and I still don't know if Buffalo is a good team or not, but with two picks in the first half -- including one returned for a touchdown -- Leodis McKelvin is definitely proving he was worth a first-round pick. Also, with no timeouts and about 10 seconds on the clock in the first half, Trent Edwards made a gutsy decision to run and dive for the touchdown. Also, when did it become mandatory to refer to Tony Gonzalez as "future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez?"

Chicago Bears 27 at St. Louis Rams 3

Vince Verhei: It's funny how small plays can lead to blowouts. Second quarter, the Rams have a fourth-and-15 at midfield, down 14. They try a fake punt. Donnie Jones tries a pass to Eric Bassey, who is absolutely mauled by the Bears' Corey Graham. Looks like an obvious pass interference call and a new set of downs for St. Louis. However, the refs waved off the call; by rule, there can be no pass interference on the end man on the line of scrimmage out of a punting formation. "I know you can't get pass interference on a punt play," Graham said after the game. "I was going to tackle the guy."

(Also after the game, Jim Haslett said that upback Todd Johnson made the fake-punt call, adding, "It was a dumb play to call on fourth-and-15.")

Two plays later, Matt Forte breaks through the front seven. The safety is in perfect position to make a tackle and limit the run to 10 yards or so. However, this safety wasn't Troy Polamalu or Chris Horton; it was O.J. Atogwe, and Forte faked him out of his shoes. The play was a 47-yard touchdown run, and the rout was on.

New England Patriots 48 at Miami Dolphins 28

Aaron Schatz: I know why the Patriots had the fewest penalties in the league through the first half of the season: Stephen Neal was on PUP. Neal has definitely improved the blocking, but he's a penalty machine today: a holding, an unnecessary roughness after Matt Cassel threw a Moss-tipped interception, and then a false start in the red zone for good measure.

Ben Riley: Um, Matt Cassell has 205 yards passing in the first half? Is he seriously going to be able to create a quarterback controversy in New England? (By the way, that sound you hear in the background is me pouring gasoline on the sheet I plan to self-immolate in later.)

Doug Farrar: Put down that lighter, Ben! Cassel has 205 yards passing in the first half in the same way that Bobcat Goldthwait could gain 85 yards per game behind Denver's offensive line. Of course, Tim Ruskell is probably wondering if he should blow a first-rounder on him (Cassel, not Bobcat. Presumably).

Aaron Schatz: Damn, Doug, Ruskell doesn't blow first-rounders on quarterbacks, he blows them on wide receivers. You want Jabar Gaffney?

Doug Farrar: Shhh! He's picking up the phone! Actually, it would be more like Ruskell to blow a first on Welker -- the undersized, try-hard guy -- and put him out there as a deep threat.

Ben Riley: The fact that Jabar Gaffney would probably be starting for the Seahawks right now tells you all you need to know about the receiving corps. And the Seahawks entire season, for that matter.

Aaron Schatz: There's no doubt Cassel has improved dramatically over the past few weeks, and he now has the pocket presence necessary to run the spread offense with only five linemen blocking. However, if Brady were to come back from his injury at full strength, he's still the better quarterback because he is much better throwing the deep ball. Cassel just can't get in sync with Randy Moss on the deep ball, which limits the ability to stretch the defense. I also think Brady still makes smarter decisions under pressure. On the other hand, Cassel does have running ability that Brady doesn't have. He's no longer Rusher McFumbles -- he's running with much more intelligence, picking spots where man coverage opens a big hole in the middle of the field for him to get significant yardage. I no longer think the idea of some team signing Cassel as a free agent to be their starting quarterback is ridiculous.

On the other hand, the idea that Jason Allen could handle Randy Moss one-on-one is pretty clearly ridiculous.

Ben Riley: Matt Cassel's third-quarter touchdown pass to Randy Moss, thrown before Moss was even open, may have been the best throw I've seen in the NFL this year. (I've wrapped myself in the sheet and am now looking for a lighter.)

There are few things more painful than listening to Dan Dierdorf explain why Randy Moss should not be flagged for pass interference on his third touchdown catch, when Randy Moss should clearly have been flagged for pass interference on his third touchdown catch. (That said, it was still a sweet catch.)

Aaron Schatz: Yep, even a group of Pats fans over here thought that was probably a push-off at first. With the replay, it looked a lot less like a push-off and a lot more like, "Wait a minute, why did they throw a flag when neither Andre Goodman nor Randy Moss really did anything?"

Matt Cassel is the first Patriots quarterback ever to have two straight 400-yard passing games. Matt Cassel. Two. Straight. 400 yards. Insanity. Remember when Pats-Dolphins games were defensive battles? These are two very bad secondaries and two quarterbacks playing very well.

Matt Light is looking forward to a nice big suspension for grabbing Channing Crowder's hair and beating the crap out of him.

Bill Barnwell: Light also should have been docked a point for punches to the back of the head.

Cassel's the first guy to throw for 400 yards in back-to-back games since the legendary Billy Volek stretch run in 2004.

Bill Moore: Crowder was continuing to go low well after the whistle against Light. The game had been very chippy both ways before that, so it was likely a straw the broke the 310-pound lineman's back. I don't think there was an intentional hair pull, as much as Light took an initial downward push on Crowder and his hand got caught in the dreads. With the left hand caught in Crowder's hair, he started hitting with his right hand. I'm not surprised Crowder got flagged, but was surprised he was booted.

Ben Riley: Something called "D. Bess" has 87 yards receiving for the Dolphins? What is a "D. Bess"?

Aaron Schatz: I was just about to say something about that. Davone Bess has had a huge game today. Undrafted free agent from Hawaii, the guy who lost his scholarship at Oregon State for accessory to theft and was discovered by Hawaii playing flag football in jail. If the Dolphins had won this game, people would be talking about his coming out party. He's catching stuff over the middle, making catches despite close coverage, getting yards after catch with speed, all kinds of good stuff. He's definitely a better technical receiver than Ted Ginn, Jr., even though he's not as fast.

Philadelphia Eagles 7 at Baltimore Ravens 36

Aaron Schatz: I do believe Mr. McNabb is self-destructing in Baltimore today. NFL Matchup this morning showed how zone blitzes by Cincinnati gave him fits, and of course Baltimore runs that stuff all the time. He's just making bad decisions, throwing interceptions, and to cap it off Brian Westbrook is injured and stuck facing the best run defense in the game this year, so he has something like 14 yards on 10 carries. So even if they want to try to balance things with the run, it isn't getting anywhere.

Quentin Demps returns a kickoff for a touchdown for Philadelphia, making it 10-7, so I'll have to put off my pity party call to Brian Fremeau to decide who we despise more, the Eagles or the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Ben Riley: Kevin Kolb is now starting for the Philadelphia Eagles as the third quarter commences. And so it begins.

Bill Barnwell: Whoa. Donovan McNabb has been benched. Kevin Kolb, do your thing.

Mike Tanier: This is what the end of an era looks like, folks. And it is a system-wide failure. McNabb was poorly executing Andy Reid's poorly-chosen plays. And as I type this, Asante Samuel writhes on the ground.

Second-and-20, stretch run to Brian Westbrook. Did you know that the Eagles run the stretch on second-and-long? Anyone who watches any Eagles film knows they run the stretch on second-and-20. Just like they throw on third-and-1. The second series of the Kevin Kolb era is a comedy routine. And the score is 10-7. And the Eagles still have a winning record.

Aaron Schatz: Is anyone else watching Eagles-Ravens? Did Antwan Barnes of the Ravens just tackle Brian Westbrook by pulling the back of his jockstrap out of his pants? No, seriously.

Doug Farrar: An Atomic Wedgie? Where do you find THAT in the rulebook?

Will Carroll: There's a joke here somewhere about "horse collar" that I won't make.

Mike Tanier: I, uh, didn't see the Westbrook thong tackle play. I did see McNabb clapping after Kolb's interception. It might have been a clap of "shake it off Kolb" support. But maybe not. And I know how it will be interpreted on local radio.

Aaron Schatz: OK, so when Mark Clayton caught that little 5-yard pass, juked two Eagles, and went 45 yards after catch for a score -- were there really no Eagles playing any kind of deep safety help to possibly go after him? Really?

Bill Barnwell: Ed Reed just returned a pass from eight yards deep in the end zone for a touchdown?!?

Aaron Schatz: Yes, and the siren you heard afterwards was the wailing cry of Mike Tanier, being tortured by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Kevin Kolb era had a very, very bad beginning today.

Bill Barnwell: You were right, Mike. You were right. I think it hit me when Reid threw a challenge flag on a play and neither of the announcers had any idea what he was challenging.

Ben Riley: Don't know if you saw the play, Bill, but if you are questioning why Reed brought it out from that deep, he intercepted the ball on the fly and had nothing but green grass in front of him.

Bill Barnwell: Yeah, I just saw it. It was against the Eagles, so Reed knew he could take advantage of the Eagles' ability to get the worst possible outcome of non-predicative events and bring it back.

Ned Macey: Let's just say I was definitely not in the "Fire Andy Reid" camp until the second half started, and he decided to give Kolb his first meaningful action against the league's best defense with both of his running backs banged up. Clearly, he is desperate and out of answers. Kolb has been predictably terrible, just throwing the ball right to Ed Reed as the Eagles tried and convert third-and-short at the goal line. At least they've been so bad offensively that they'll start dropping in DVOA.

Weird play in this game was when Reed got his first interception and did a forward lateral that the Eagles recovered. Does it make sense that a boneheaded play that is so boneheaded that you lateral it forward, is not a fumble?

Back to Kolb: After the Cassel experience, at what point do we have to start saying they are more like running backs than even we gave them credit for? The idea that Kolb would come into this flawed offense and suddenly throw the ball well is pathetic. I know people can point out the 2001 Pats or the Flutie/Johnson thing, but for the most part, a team with competent level of quarterbacks does not lose a lot (or gain a lot) with a quarterback change. The exceptions are people who are just not NFL-caliber quarterbacks (see Fitzpatrick, Ryan). The whole merry-go-round with Favre/Rodgers/Pennington with all three playing well should be further proof of this. The fact that a coach thinks this move was a good idea shows he is nothing but desperate.

Bill Barnwell: At the time that I write this, by the way:

  • McNabb: 8-of-18, 59 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
  • Kolb: 8-of-19, 65 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT

Aaron Schatz: I think the Eagles have hit a stage we might call "2003 Tampa disease." Usually, a team that is underperforming its DVOA rating is a good bet to improve in the second half of the season. Sometimes, however, you end up with a team that instead begins to play down to its W-L record. Injuries set in, desperation sets in, play-calling gets weird, the losses keep coming and the DVOA begins to plummet. The Bucs were 4-6 in 2003, defending champions with a DVOA of 22.5% after Week 11, fourth in the NFL. They went 3-3 the rest of the way with DVOA below 0%. Another example would be the 2005 Raiders. They were 4-6 after Week 11 with DVOA of 3.5%. Then they gave up on Norv Turner and lost six straight with DVOA of -24.8% in those last six games.

Bill Barnwell: One of the things we need to note about Philadelphia and DVOA this year is that this is the first year where Philadelphia's DVOA has a real dramatic difference from their record. It's true that we've consistently projected the Eagles to have a high DVOA and a good record, but this is the first season where the Eagles have actually produced a high DVOA during the season and had a poor record.

Aaron Schatz: Well, they were 11th last year (8.5%) at 8-8.

Houston Texans 16 at Cleveland Browns 6

Ben Riley: Brady Quinn has been benched, although I don' t know if it's injury-related or not. If not, make this exhibit No. 347 in the case for firing Romeo Crennel. Pick a quarterback, Romeo, and stop jerking your team around.

San Francisco 49ers 22 at Dallas Cowboys 35

Aaron Schatz: OK, what's gotten into the FOX robot? He's rockin' out today, baby! Apparently, he played on a few tracks on Chinese Democracy.

Doug Farrar: Well, Cletus does kinda resemble Buckethead in his "Giant Robot" period.

The 49ers are moving the ball against Dallas early (certainly through the air), but they're having trouble scoring. Missed field goal on the first drive. On San Francisco's second drive, Shaun Hill threw up a floater as he was hit in the pocket. The ball came down in Isaac Bruce's area, and he caught it, despite double-coverage. The 49ers had to settle for a field goal on this drive, in part because if a ridiculous pass interference no-call on Anthony Henry, who was defending Bryant Johnson in the end zone. Henry was draped all over Johnson before the catchable ball got there, but ... nothing. You've just got to love officiating this year. Of course, when you have only three points on 16 plays and 107 yards, the officiating is the least of your worries.

Bill Barnwell: Cowboys corners don't look good early. Terence Newman is moving pretty gingerly, highlighted by a play where Jason Hill was hit as he threw deep and left a floater up there that Isaac Bruce managed to outmaneuver Newman to. Anthony Henry looks bad, too, and he just got away with basically putting a sleeper hold on Bryant Johnson in the end zone on a slant.

Doug Farrar: Note to Eric Heitmann: As the San Francisco 49ers' center, you might want to consider blocking the Dallas Cowboys' nose tackle. Number 90. His name is Jay Ratliff. He's the guy who's been blowing you up all day and making it impossible for Frank Gore to do anything up the middle. I'm not sure what your thought process was in helping your left guard block outside on third-and-goal with four seconds left in the first quarter, but your quarterback found it far more difficult to throw the ball with Mr. Ratliff closing in on him unblocked.

San Francisco in the first quarter: 154 total yards, two red zone possessions, two field goals. Yikes.

On the long touchdown pass to T.O. at the start of the second quarter: If I'm any member of the 49ers' staff, I'm writing a scathing letter to Mike Pereira tonight. On the play, Owens headed downfield and initiated contact with Nate Clements about ten yards downfield. Clements was not turned around yet (problem!), he was facing Owens, and Owens gave Clements a block. Clements didn't return the contact, he was merely in the way. Illegal contact call by Mike Carey's crew after the fact, and after the Henry no-call, I'd be pissed if I was on the San Francisco side. The touchdown was legit -- a great play and outstanding after-catch running by Owens to get past Clements downfield -- but the officiating in this game has been ridiculous.

Aaron Schatz: I do believe that Nate Clements was riding on his back for the final 15 yards. Good tackling there, Nate.

Bill Barnwell: I don't think that play should have been illegal contact, but what was Clements doing? Looking in the backfield? Looked like they were in quarters coverage and Clements was just standing still.

Not a good day for Wade Phillips. Tony Romo just bullied him into making an awful challenge and Jack Buck and Troy Aikman just SAVAGED him. To make things worse, all that camera time came on him when it appeared like he was trying to bust through his shirt it was so tight. Protruding nipples: Not a good look on your head coach.

Mark Zajack: You've gotta inspire your team however you can. If it takes protruding nipples to tell them you're into the game, so be it. That, and the combination of dancing around like a school girl when the 49ers miss a 53-yard field goal, is clearly what coaching is all about.

Doug Farrar: I'm going to bring this up once more, then I'm going to shut up about it. Five minutes left in the first half, the second long pass to Owens. Nate Clements gets turned around late again, Owens gives Clements a huge push-off before the catch, and there's no call.

Oh, geez. And just to balance it out, Zach Thomas gets screwed out of a touchdown when Mike Carey and his Roving Band of Morons rule that Thomas was down by contact on a fumble return when he clearly was not. A quick whistle. A make-up call, or truly balanced incompetence? You decide.

Bill Barnwell: The turns in the two games I was watching were absolutely amazing. Dallas' pass rush went up approximately eight notches and San Francisco began self-destructing, and now Dallas is up two scores. To top that, Detroit went up 17-0 and then promptly gave up the lead BEFORE HALFTIME.

Doug Farrar: Yeah, the Cowboys are throwing some monster defense at the Niners after a bit of a slow start. Jay Ratliff has lined up everywhere from nose in 3-4 to left end in kind of an offset 4-3, and he's killing the San Francisco run game wherever he goes.

Horsecrap officiating aside (and the reviewed forward/backward pass/interception with six minutes left in the third quarter was truly a thing of ugliness), there seems to be a serious disconnect with this San Francisco team. It's as if they've replicated the worst parts of the Martzian schemes from other places -- quarterback vulnerability, red zone inconsistency -- without any of the rewards. This could be a great week for the Cowboys. They win this one going away, and if a newly revived passing attack takes Seattle's Lollipop Guild defense apart on Thanksgiving Day, things will look a lot more interesting in the NFC East.

Bill Barnwell: The Cowboys are my favorite team to watch in the league, I've decided. It's always exciting. They can go from bumbling and incompetent to looking like the best team in the league from series to series. With regards to Tony Romo, he looked pretty bad in his short and intermediate stuff again. He actually looked best when he was stepping into throws and launching the ball.

Oakland Raiders 31 at Denver Broncos 10

Vince Verhei: Denver's entire game plan consisted of lob passes deep down the right sideline. I just checked the official play-by-play, and the phrase "6-J.Cutler pass incomplete deep right" appears ten times (including one play wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty). In related news, Nnamdi Asomugha usually lines up to the offense's left-hand side.

That said, Asomugha is human. On one play, the Raiders ran what looked like a Cover-2, with Asomugha covering the curl zone along the sideline. Jay Cutler broke containment and began to scramble. Asomugha came up to make the tackle -- and missed. He finished with no tackles and one pass defensed. I started thinking about creative things the Raiders could do with Asomugha, maybe using him as a free safety against teams with no dominant receiver. Just then the Raiders sent Asomugha on a corner blitz. He never got close to Cutler and had little effect on the play, but at least they're willing to try something different.

Late in the third quarter, Raiders have a third-and-3 near midfield. Michael Bush takes the ball running left -- and then stops and throws to Zach Miller, who is immediately tackled by Spencer Larsen. It picked up a first down, but only gained eight yards. If you're going to use a halfback option pass, shouldn't you be looking for the home run?

Washington Redskins 20 at Seattle Seahawks 17

Doug Farrar: Some interesting inside intelligence brought back to Seattle by current Redskins head coach and former quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn: He knows what Matt Hasselbeck doesn't like. Washington stacked the A-gaps with linebackers, which caused Hasselbeck to call a time-out and draw a delay of game penalty in the first quarter.

The Redskins are doing some nice downfield blocking with Mike Sellers in front of Clinton Portis. One play in the second quarter was particularly sweet. Sellers chipped Julian Peterson at the line and blew Lofa Tatupu the hell up as Portis sauntered downfield. Also, Brian Russell made a good tackle with 9:30 left in the third quarter. Stock up on canned goods!

The Seahawks found success running the ball at the end of the first half as the passing game fell apart and Maurice Morris (who still looks exactly like the guy who played Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) got some good outside gains.

Vince Verhei: In the second quarter, Redskins down 3-0, Santana Moss punches Josh Wilson in the head, right in front of the ref. Moss is flagged for unneccessary roughness, but not ejected. Um, why not?

New York Giants 37 at Arizona Cardinals 29

Bill Barnwell: OK. Why are the announcers telling me that Tim Hightower's had a great rookie year? This guy has run for 299 yards this year. 3.1 yards per carry. His high touchdown totals are entirely a function of his usage pattern; he's been below-average at punching the ball in inside the five. Maybe he'll be good. He's not by any means close to having a great year.

Bill Moore: Neil Rackers attempts a 68-yard free kick. Knew of it, but can't say I've seen that before. After minutes of suspenseful build-up, he takes a 10-yard running start, AND ... squibs it.

Aaron Schatz: I'm surprised at how well the Giants have played in man coverage today.

It seems like the Cardinals run because they think it's just obligatory. It's not like they're getting anywhere with it. Oh, wait, they just fumbled a handoff, so they did get somewhere -- the bench, because now the defense is in the game. Kurt Warner also seems to be really off today on passes to Anquan Boldin. Doesn't seem to be a problem with Fitzgerald, but passes to Boldin are all a yard or two ahead or behind.

Sean McCormick: I saw bits and pieces of the Giants-Cardinals game, which went exactly the way you would expect it to. Arizona's receivers are great, their running game is poor, and the Giants have the balance to take absolutely anything that a defense gives them. The most notable play was the onside kick that the Cardinals attempted with just under five minutes left. The Cardinals loaded up on the left side, kicked the ball right and got their onside team so perfectly lined up past the ten-yard point that the ball bounced off the turf and right into the hands of a Cardinal. Unfortunately, he promptly flubbed it and the Giants recovered, and that pretty much sealed the game.

Vince Verhei: The Giants' game plan early was to target Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, with mixed results. He broke up a deep pass to Plaxico Burress in single coverage. Then he was beaten down the left sideline by Amani Toomer, but Toomer dropped the ball and the Giants were forced to punt. Later, Rodgers-Cromartie got beat by Domenik Hixon on a curl pattern, then missed the tackle, allowing 10 or so yards after the catch. On another play, Hixon beat Rodgers-Cromartie on a fade route in the end zone, but the pass was underthrown and Rodgers-Cromartie was able to tip it away.

Hixon, by the way, had a huge day, leading the Giants with six catches for 57 yards. More importantly, he returned three kickoffs for 29, 83, and 68 yards (that's a 60-yard average return). On the 68-yarder, Jerheme Urban made a fingertip tackle to save a touchdown. Hixon added in 11 yards on the ground, 20 yards in punt returns, and a handful of special teams tackles.

Early in the game, the Giants were sticking with four-man rushes, and were surprisingly unsuccessful. They did collect three sacks in the second half when Arizona was playing catch-up.

Madison Hedgecock was apparently angry that I picked Michael Robinson as the NFC Pro Bowl fullback in Scramble last week; he scored the first touchdown in his career today, catching a swing pass and dodging (not breaking!) a Monty Beisel tackle attempt and slipping into the end zone. For the record, I misread Hedgecock's six (now seven) STARTS as GAMES PLAYED, and thought he had missed four games. No, he has played 11 times, and makes for a much better Pro Bowl pick than Robinson.

The Cardinals tried a reverse to Steve Breaston today. The play only gained four yards, in part because it involved Kurt Warner -- Kurt Warner! -- as a lead blocker. Time to take that page out of the playbook, immediately.

Carolina Panthers 28 at Atlanta Falcons 45

Mark Zajack: Mike Mularkey and Matt Ryan keep finding the matchups they want -- Roddy White against a safety or the slot corner (like good old Richard Marshall). If not for Chris Gamble forcing a Roddy White fumble, Carolina might be further behind. The Carolina offense has been predictable and self-destructive. Falcons load up on the run and have had success with Chris Houston on Steve Smith and a safety over the top.

Carolina looks better in the 2-minute drill at the end of the half than they did in their regular offense. Then a false start by Muhsin Muhammad (which might have been center Ryan Kalil's fault). And that brief window of hope closed quickly when no one blocked John Abraham.

It's Harry Douglas Day in Hot-lanta. You can't stop Harry Douglas; you can only hope to contain him. End-around for a touchdown in the first half. Took a third-down pass for a huge gain in the fourth quarter when Carolina had cut it to 24-21. And now a punt return for a touchdown to (Matty) Ice the game.

Yeah, Harry Douglas. I saw that coming.

Doug Farrar: Douglas is a funny guy. Nice kid. When Aaron and I were at the Combine, we saw Douglas hijack Brian Brohm's press conference with an unplugged NFL Network microphone and start asking Brohm questions about his receivers. He said this to a friend of mine who covers the Buccaneers: "I love me some Ike Hilliard."

Vince Verhei: Just what Atlanta needed, another game-breaking threat. With Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Roddy White, and now Douglas, that offense is getting scary quickly. Douglas' touchdown run, by the way, was keyed by a great block by wide receiver Eric Weems, who went low on Chris Gamble and took him to the ground.

The defense, however ... This secondary is still real bad. Lawyer Milloy is starting to miss tackles, and if he's not helping in run support, then he's not much use out there. And the corners rely on safety help. Down 17-0 in the second quarter, Carolina had a third-and-8 at the Atlanta 32. The Falcons big-blitzed, and Steve Smith burned Chevis Jackson in single coverage to set up first-and-goal at the 1. Fortunately for Atlanta, they held the Panthers to a field goal on that possession, largely thanks to a Jeff Otah false start. On second-and-goal from the 5, the Panthers tried a fade route to the diminutive Smith, a call I do not understand. On third down, Smith got open crossing the back of the end zone, but dropped the ball. Still, Smith finished with eight catches for 168 yards.

Grady Jackson is the fattest football player I've ever seen. Lots of defensive tackles in the NFL are as wide as they are tall when viewed face-on, but for Grady that's true even when viewed from the side. I have more than one 300-pound friend, and I assure you Jackson is going 400 or more these days. If he makes it to his 50s, his knees are going to be killing him. At some point there needs to be an intervention for this guy.

Mark Zajack: I kept waiting for Atlanta to be called for 11 and a 1/2-men on the field whenever Grady Jackson was in the game. It's a testament to his athleticism that he can be get on and off the field without the assistance of a golf cart.

Indianapolis Colts 23 at San Diego Chargers 20

Aaron Schatz: Al Michaels and John Madden aren't kidding when they say Ron Rivera likes to bring pressure. This is more pass pressure than I've seen from the
Chargers all year, and it definitely has the Colts off their game a bit at the start.

Ned, it seems like Dallas Clark is lining up at tight end a lot more than wide receiver tonight. Is that a general Colts trend in recent weeks?

Ned Macey: He is definitely back at tight end this year. They obviously prefer to have Gonzalez and Clark on the field at the same time. He still splits out some, as they aren't usually 100 percent three-wide receiver like they were today, but he can safely be re-classfied as a tight end.

Mike Tanier: I just saw the Colts complete a play-action deep pass on third-and-1. You see, Andy Reid, the difference is that opponents actually believe the Colts might run on third-and-1. Yes, the Colts, with the great Peyton Manning, often run on third-and-1. When you throw unsuccessfully 94 percent of the time on third-and-1, no one respects your play-action fakes. Also, Reggie Wayne (I think) ran a deep in-route, not just a fly pattern. There are more things to do against single coverage than run up the sidelines. Often, the receiver can get a lot of separation by crossing the field, and the throw on the in-route is easier for the quarterback. Does this make sense, Andy? Do you need a diagram, because I can do diagrams.

Oh, by the way, where did this Colts run defense come from?

Doug Farrar: Great leaping catch by Vincent Jackson for San Diego's first touchdown of the day. I started really noticing Jackson early this season because of his blocking -- which is outstanding, especially off the line -- and every time I've watched him, I've liked what I've seen. Certainly gets the least recognition of any receiver currently ranked in the top 10 in DYAR.

Mike Tanier: The Colts kept swinging the ball into the flat on their third-quarter drive. Swing, swing, swing, right down the field. It must be frustrating to defend them: Whatever you give them, they find and take with extreme prejudice. And they still aren't at full speed.

Mark Zajack: I now confess my long-standing man-crush on Jamal Williams. Colts have first-and-goal from the 1. Second-and-goal from the 2. Third-and-goal from the 3. Fourth-and-goal from the 1. Thank you, Jamal Williams. This just in: The Colts' backup center can't block Jamal Williams.

And the Colts throw on fourth down. Surprised? No.

Doug Farrar: I'm watching Jamal Williams split a double-team to sack Peyton Manning at the start of the fourth quarter, and I'm wondering if one conference has ever has such a ridiculous stack of talent at defensive tackle as the AFC has now. Haynesworth, Jenkins, Rogers, Wilfork, Williams. Sheesh.

Aaron Schatz: Anthony Gonzalez is the new First Down Machine.

Bill Moore: Ballsy fourth-down call by Tom Moore with 27 seconds left. Quentin Jammer ran into the back judge, which is why Marvin Harrison was soooo wide-open.

Doug Farrar: I think he ran into Umpire Jeff Rice (44). Back Judge Tony Steratore (112) was back a few yards from the play.

Fourth-and-a millimeter? These Colts-Chargers games sure are something.

Mark Zajack: Colts: Best Pick-n-Roll team in the NFL? Prior to Jammer getting picked by the umpire, on the Colts' first touchdown, Reggie Wayne looked like Karl Malone to Anthony Gonzalez's John Stockton.

Aaron Schatz: Well, I guess Adam Vinatieri has his mojo back, but it is funny when they run the stat on the screen "Adam Vinatieri: 76% on lead-changing field goals in last two minutes or overtime" without noting that 76% is roughly league average on these types of kicks.

Ned Macey: The key play was whoever called the timeout before Nate Kaeding's game-tying field goal. What an awful display of clock management, leaving the Colts 1:30 (which they almost blew at the end with the odd run-up-the-middle-for-two-yards play).

Odd thing from the Colts tonight was that they went shotgun/empty backfield more than I've ever seen them do before. Basically every single pass was then a 5-yard gain to a running back. Clearly they liked the running backs one-on-one with the Chargers' linebackers. A less successful innovation is the shotgun/split backs from the two-yard line with Darrell Reid as one of the split backs.

The Chargers' defense always looks good against the Colts, and it is always because Indianapolis cannot (with or without Jeff Saturday) block Williams. I love Williams, but it was amazing to follow San Diego last year when I wrote about them for PFP. There are some games where he can be blocked.

San Diego is also just about the only team that has success throwing downfield against Indy. I'm not really sure why, since we only see the ball and the intended receiver, but they are much more aggressive then most teams.

Finally, Robert Mathis got the two sacks today, but the Chargers doubled Dwight Freeney on almost every passing down. Funny what happened to Mathis last year after Freeney got hurt (two sacks in eight games).

Odd that Vinatieri would be good some years and bad some years as if it was an inconsistent skill set from year to year. Although I'm glad this one is back this year.


125 comments, Last at 25 Nov 2008, 1:41pm

1 Re: Bears - Rams

I would be interested in seeing one of the Outsiders do an analysis of Matt Forte, and the likelihood of his ever having a productive year again. He has had so many touches this year that he is on pace to shatter 370, and even 400, not counting the possibility of playoff performance.

How does the curse of 370 affect rookies with little previous milage on them? Are there differences in workload capacity for larger or taller backs (he's a big guy)? What should the Bears do, given that he is the only really consistent performer on the team?

3 Re: Bears - Rams

In reply to by Moshe (not verified)

"touches" don't seem to bother guys. Its actual running attempts (might be getting tackled by lineman that causes the issue.

Right now Forte has 225 carries through 11 games. He's on pace for 330 or so carries, which is pretty safe.

I've been worried about the same thing, honestly. He's their entire offense.

4 Re: Bears - Rams

In reply to by Rich Conley (not verified)

When the game was totally out of hand, with 8-10 minutes left, (and there were backup linemen in the game!) I couldn't understand why they still had him out there. I feel like Lovie likes to get his guys big numbers so they look good, a stupid habit. (remember the challenge on the amazing Booker catch earlier in the season when there was a pass interference call anyway?)

14 Re: Bears - Rams

In reply to by Moshe (not verified)

I recall that being a justifiable challenge. The Bears got an extra 5 or so yards out of it being a catch, since Booker slid out of bounds several yards beyond the point of infraction. And since, IIRC, they were inside the 10 yard line, those extra 5 or so yeards significantly increased their odds of scoring a TD. It wasn't JUST to get Booker a few extra receiving yards.

22 Re: Bears - Rams

In reply to by strannix (not verified)

I don't know - wasting a challenge for an extra five yards. Is there that big a difference between 1st and 10 from the 15 and 1st and goal from the 10, that it's worth losing a challenge that you might need later in the game - I think he just wanted that amazing catch to count. Which is nice and all, but not good strategy.

Similarly, I think he wanted Forte to have a big running day without considering the possible expense of Forte's career from overuse.

64 Re: Bears - Rams

In reply to by Moshe (not verified)

OK, I looked this play up. It occurred in the first Detroit game on the first drive of the third quarter.

The pass interference penalty would have put the ball at the Lions 7. However, the completed pass put the ball at the Lions 1. I think we can both agree that there's a big difference there.

Furthermore, the Bears were already up 17-0 at that point, so the touchdown would have put the game out of reach at 24-0 against a bad team (which indeed happened). So it was relatively unlikely that Lovie Smith would have needed that challenge later in the game.

I remembered it being a justifiable challenge, but upon my own further review, I'm upgrading it from "justifiable" to "unambiguously smart" (which is rare for a Lovie challenge, I'll grant). That it also had the benefit of earning Booker and Orton 30 yeards each to their totals was incidental.

23 Re: Bears - Rams

In reply to by strannix (not verified)

Yep--that was a good challenge. The awful announcing crew of Billick and others failed to notice this yard difference even after they moved the ball up after the Bears won the challenge, but Lovie made the right call, being on the 2 is a lot better than being on the 6.

I tend to think he leaves Forte in too long not to get his numbers up, but just because he's afraid of declaring victory too early.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

"Cassel has 205 yards passing in the first half in the same way that Bobcat Goldthwait could gain 85 yards per game behind Denver's offensive line."

You mean, like Brady was last year?

I like Brady, hes very good. But with a normal receiving core, he looks like he did 3 years ago, not like he did last year. Yes, Moss and Welker are making Cassel look better than he is, but they also made Brady look better than he is.

Last year was not 'Brady taking a step forward', it was a very good quarterback with a very good wide receiver, and an absolutely game breaking wide receiver. What we're seeing right now is a slightly better than average QB throwing to a good wide receiver, and a game breaking wide receiver.

Is Cassel as good as Brady? No, hes not. Could he be next year? Maybe. Would he be worth picking up for a team with a QB issue? Absolutely.

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I don't think Brady would be Brady if, after 2001 (or even after 2002) he had gone to start for the Lions.

Cassel has a lot of potential, but he's still helped greatly by (1) having Moss and Welker, (2) having a pretty good offensive line (note the conspicuous improvement of Cassel as soon as Neal came off the PUP--before that, the right side of the Pats O-line was a seive), and (3) most importantly, having Josh McDaniels calling the plays and Belichick running the team.

Yes, I know Brady has all those things, too, and I'm not saying that both Cassel and Brady are system quarterbacks. However, I will make the argument that having a good system, and good supproting cast, is ESSENTIAL for a good quarterback to develop. You can take an experienced good QB and move him around, but if you take a young, developing good QB and dump him into a lousy setting, you're sure to break him.

If Cassel goes to a team that already has pieces in place, and a good O-coordinator and/or QB's coach (say Minnesota, or Tampa Bay), he's likely to continue to improve and be a pretty good starter next year and in years to come. If he goes to the Lions or the Niners or the Raiders, his career is pretty much done.

52 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12


I just think Brady went from being called "System QB" to "SuperStar" last year, when it wasn't really any improvement in his play, but an improvement in the surrounding talent. I think he's somewhere in between.

57 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

"I don't think Brady would be Brady if, after 2001 (or even after 2002) he had gone to start for the Lions."

To be fair, the test tube Frankenstein of Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton would likely stank up the farm if he had gone to start for the post-2001 Lions.

59 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

"If he goes to the Lions or the Niners or the Raiders, his career is pretty much done"

MJK, do we have an "understatement of the milennium" award? If so, you may already be a winner. You could insert the names Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Johnny Unitas, or Zeus in that sentence above and still be spot-on.

87 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

You could insert the names Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Johnny Unitas, or Zeus in that sentence above and still be spot-on.

I'm glad you wrote this, Bobman. I've heard that Al Davis was wooing Zeus to sign an incentive-laden contract. Maybe now the Greek deity will reconsider.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

someone please explain that Arizona free kick. I tried looking it up but was lost in a ton of soccer and rugby websites.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

RE) Zach Thomas fumble non-return:
"A make-up call, or truly balanced incompetence?"
I also thought it could be a make up call, but in the end even this call helped the Cowboys because they got to run the clock down to basically end the first half.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

raiders/broncos: what the hell is roughing the passer? if you're a train rushing a stationary object, how do you stop from a foot away?

70 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I guess that official is the downside of being one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL if you are Thomas Howard. Those two "roughing the passer" penalties are bogus. The QB released when Howard was like 3 feet away. One step. Maybe two.

I *think* the officials knew they had blown it, and tried to give the Raiders a call or two down the stretch. Howard was superb on those two plays.

82 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Just because Randy Cross doesn't know the rules and (incorrectly) vilifies the refs on national TV again...

They were roughing the passer because he hit Cutler in the helmet. Which you cannot do, whether the QB has the ball or not. The stupid bit was (both times) he could have just legally crushed Cutler because he was so close to him it never could have legimitately been a late hit. Instead, both times, he led with his helmet into Cutler's helmet (though the first was close, looked like he was aiming at his chest and caught him a touch high, though even then, you shouldn't lead with your helmet). Regardless, you hit the QB in the head, whether you use your arm, your helmet, or any other part of your body, it is a penalty in today's NFL (no matter what Cross thinks).

109 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

If those were both flagged because of blows to the head, the ref (Triplette? can't remember) could have solved this simply by announcing them as such. I remember Howard having his hands up on at least one of them, and he could have hit the head, but don't remember for sure.

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Oddity: Two of Eli Manning's three best games this season have come with Plaxico Burress out for the bulk of the game (Plax re-aggravated his hamstring in the first series yesterday and didn't play for 95% of the game).

Now, partially this is because Domenik Hixon is a pretty darn good player. But really, it boils down to two things: opposition (Seattle and Arizona don't have particularly good pass defenses), and the fact that when Burress is on the bench, defenses are less shy about attacking the run game (the Cards were run-blitzing almost constantly yesterday, with some success), and Eli takes what the defense gives him.

46 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

You may be on to something.

He loses Tiki, and improves.

Then Shockey gets injured last year, and Eli gets better still.

And this year, when Plax goes out, Eli gets even better yet.

Let's take it to the next level. I'll go after Toomer. You handle Jacobs.

71 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Well, Shockey's absence also coincided with finally getting Steve Smith on the field. I'm convinced that Smith's presence is a huge part of Manning's improvement.

But yeah, the Giants are looking pretty smart for getting rid of Shockey.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Well the Dolphins secondary is really bad and might be called tertiary. Jason Allen can run with any receiver, but has no feel for the ball or flow of the game. Let's hope it's his last season in Miami. As for this years draft, I'm still waiting for Kendall Langford or Phillip Merling to do something. Parcells first draft isn't looking that hot, but his free agent pick ups have really carried the team to watchability which is sort of like drinkability. Note claiming your beer has drinkability isn't that impressive. I thought the Pats controlled the inside of the line on both sides and that won them the game. The Dolphins couldn't crash the center of the Pats line to get people in Cassel's face and the Pats offense handled the outside rush for the most part. Vince Wilfork is much man and was the best player on the field Sunday.

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Team after team has shown the Titans susceptibility to slants and screens in the last 5 games. Yet the coordinators for TN don't seem to be learning from it. Neither safeties nor LBs have stepped in to cover the short pass to the right. Ever since Nick Harper went down that play has become money for opposing offenses on the right side of the field. They know not too try it as much on the left coz Finnegan plays soft and will jump the route.

Overall, I thought the Titans coordinators did a ridiculous job of not adjusting their play-calling. They've schemed well to have the run open up the pass but not the other way around. At this rate, I wouldn't be surprized it Detroit steals a game from the Titans on Turkey Day.

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

One loss and all of a sudden the sky is falling!

Seriously though... if slants are a problem for the Titans, then it's unfortunate that they faced a QB in Favre who is experienced and quite skilled in throwing those exact routes. I don't know if it's going to be a recurring problem for them.

24 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Slants, screens etc are a symptom that the Titans may not have sufficient speed at the LB position. Bulluck seems to have lost half a step since his injury and between Tulloch and Fowler there seems to be a drop-off at MLB. Thornton looks to be the steadying force on that ship. The other LBs either miss tackles routinely or aren't shedding blocks enough to make plays.

It's not the loss itself that has me crawling out the woodwork to comment - I've watched every Titan snap this season (and for the last 7 years) but I haven't seen anything extraordinary out of the LB corps. On offense, Dinger has a creative game or two and then slides back to his routine play-calling. Albeit, the line has been outstanding and Collins is doing everything asked of him.

30 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

#1--If Detroit can't win against TB after being ahead 17-0, they won't win ANY games. (Note: they can, it's possible, but with their remaining games it's not probable).
#2--I think the Titans were a 8-2 or 9-1 team that was lucky to be undefeated--really, really good (good enough to go to the SB), but not undefeated-blowing-out- your-opponents good. Interesting how the results change when you are playing a team leading its division, looking like they're headed to the playoffs, and who has watched enough film to know what will work against you.

BTW, as a football fan in general, I am hoping for a Giants vs. Titans SB--they appear to be the two best teams in football. As a homer, I hope the Saints turn it around, getting to the playoffs and SB, but he realistic part of me says that we play in the NFCS, not NFCN, and thus even a 9-7 record won't even be close. The NFCE and NFCS are so strong that at least one 10-6 team will get left out of the playoffs.

122 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Dont you mean not the NFCW? Against the NFCN you might be ahead, but you probably would be at 6-5 with everyone else (DET doesn't count). Against the NFCW you would get 6 free wins instead of 2 and would be looking at the lead or a WC!

15 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Freeney was so close to Rivers so much last night he probably has his underwear size memorized. He forced one sack as Rivers ran from Freeney into Mathis's arms. And he was not just doubled "that's it." He was doubled and still collapsed the pocket on that side every time.

One disturbing issue for the Colts was that Rivers rolled to the space 93 vacated, and as we saw a couple years ago, they ran some plays into the vacated area as well.

If they had Sanders out there, it would have been a whole different story on the deep balls. Somehow, he manages to play 4th LB and 3rd CB at the same time.

I thought Jeff Saturday did well against Williams until he went down. But I agree, Williams is a beast. It also seemed like SD brought about 6 guys every time (some gorgeous run blitzes)--was that just the Williams factor? If so, it might explain why Manning didn't exactly pick apart such a "bad" pass D despite all the extra Charger bodies in the offensive backfield.

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

The Lions couldn't steal that game from the Titans if Tennessee left it in the locker room on their way out of the stadium. Remember, this is going to be in Detroit, so half the seats will be empty, about 5% will have Titans fans, and the rest will be hostile. One three-and-out and the boos will start; when the Titans break 10, people will start leaving.

Ned, we also noticed the empty sets by the Colts and found it odd. We also played a game - guess how many times the Colts will run at the large man in the middle of the line? We always seemed to be off by one. (The Lions used to have a guy like that. Then they traded him because he wasn't always at 100%. Now the Lions don't block as many kicks and struggle to stop the run, but hey, we've got Leigh Bodden!)

Offensive pass interference doesn't seem to be called as often as it ought to be. There were a few pick plays I've seen over the last couple of weeks: if I'm not mistaken, Larry Bird placed a call to Dungy after the one play last night. Can you sign an NFL player to a 10-day NBA contract?

What was so frustrating about the five minutes of the Lions game that I let myself watch was that you can see, on occasion, the team the Lions thought they would be, but they simply don't have the personnel or the coaching to sustain that level of performance. The TD to Johnson was one of those plays - I was talking to a friend on the phone, and I actually said something like "Oh man" when Culpepper threw that pass. It's a shame it's so hard for QBs to get him the ball.

It's painful to watch. You know the Lions will blow the game every week. It's just a question of how and when.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

On the IRC channel yesterday, I asked the question, "are these Giants better than the 86 team?"

I think they are. Obviously, there is no one even remotely close to LT on this team, and the linebacking corps in 86 were scary good beyond Taylor. But the secondaries were comparable, and I think this team is superior at every other unit, be it DL, OL, RBs, WRs, special teams.

The last few weeks have been really impressive. Going against the best run defense in the league? Pound them for 200 yards. Going against the top scoring offense and best passing attack? Beat them with the pass and with special teams. Have the toughest remaining schedule (as of a few weeks ago)? Start scoring 30+ every week and leave the Cleveland stink-bomb as the only blemish so far.

That run at the end of the year last year is looking less fluky with each win. And they are doing it with incredible depth and balance. There simply is not a legitimate MVP candidate on the team, despite them being 10-1.

Fun times for Giants' fans.

31 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12


I didn't see the game - got stuck with Redskins-Seahawks. One question I had is whether the 2009 Jacobs-Ward decision is changed at all. 20 for 69 doesn't look too impressive in the box score, but obviously I have no idea how well he actually played.

P.S. I'd still take Simms over Manning.

44 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I think Jacobs was missed yesterday, if that is what you are asking. Ward's game wasn't bad-- the Cards were stuffing the box, so it was not like Ward was missing lanes that were wide open. Maybe Jacobs powers through a situation or two, or maybe not. Hard to know. A few weeks ago I was thinking that Ward was the better (or perhaps more complete) back despite Jacobs being my favorite player to watch. I now tend to think that Jacobs is better, period.

As for Simms/Manning- what fun would it be if everyone agreed on everything? But I'll take Eli over '86 Simms. Phil completed just 55% of his passes and had more interceptions than touchdowns. Further, he took 45 (!) sacks and had 9 fumbles. By comparison, Eli's above 60%, has better than 2 touchdowns per interception, just 12 sacks and only 3 fumbles. Eli has more help, but that is a huge statistical difference-- I doubt it is all because of the supporting cast. Throw on top of it that Eli has become Peytonesque in his pre-snap adjustments, and I give the edge to Eli.

But, then, I am one who thinks Eli has gone from being terribly overrated to where he is now underrated. :-)

51 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Yeah, I was more asking how Ward's audition for the starring rol went. I assumed Jacobs was missed, and was surprised Bradshaw didn't seem to have more of a role.

As for Simms, I'm definitely irrational about him. One thing I will say, which makes me feel old, is that there are era adjustments to be made, too. The league completed 55% in 1986, and is at 61.4% now. Simms was actually closer to the league average than Eli is now, with as you mentioned a lot less help. The turnovers are definitely in Eli's favor, but I think he's gotten a bit lucky this year with some dangerous passes. Given the rest of his career, I'm not sure Eli's stats right now reflect his true ability. It's awfully close.

101 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Dales, great question about the '86 team - I hadn't thought about this team as possibly "the best Giants team ever" but maybe it's time to have that discussion. I think what makes it so hard is that the teams are so different. As you mentioned, there is no one even close to LT. Also, the team's strength by unit simply don't match up - the 86 team was so much better at TE (Bavaro) and at LB (not just LT), while this team is far better on the D-line and at the skill positions. I can't wait until FO goes back that far. Until then, I'm inclined to say that if this team wins the Super Bowl, they're the best Giants team ever, just by virtue of teh difficulty of repeating.

66 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

On your first point, I don't know that Jacobs would've been any better that Ward yesterday. The Cards weren't just stacking the box-- they were attacking the A gaps with run blitzes almost constantly. One area where Ward and Bradshaw both top Jacobs (other than having hands made of something other than feldspar) is their ability to avoid defenders who have penetrated into the backfield. There were a number of runs where Ward was able to get by Cardinals who overran the play in their attempts to get penetration and disrupt the offense. I don't know if Jacobs has quick enough feet to make those kind of moves.

83 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I agree - it's hard to say - although count me among those who believe Jacobs is better. Ultimately, i think he's a physical freak, and Ward is more replaceable.

Honestly, I think the biggest loss to the Giants run game yesterday was Plax. Hixon is a nice player but obviously he's not commanding safety help over the top like Plax is, and thus the Cards were able to bring an extra defender into the box.

19 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

"Aaron Schatz: In fact, I got that exact accusation:

Dear Mr. Schatz,

You seem to have missed the point entirely. Favre's true gift is his ability to raise the collective team chemistry as well as the level of play of the individual players around him. Underestimating his influence is either naivety or jealousy. There's a lot of that going around.

Mary Barnard

Heh. Thank God Brett Favre was on the sidelines today, screaming "Attaboy, Kris, way to get 'em" every time Kris Jenkins stuffed Chris Johnson for no gain. If not for Favre raising the team chemistry of the Jets defense, the Titans might have won." bad you got clowned in your NYT piece. Weak. Why not man up and admit Favre played a good game and your criticism of him has as much merit as Kornheiser's love for him.

The Jets offense was facing the second best defense in football while their defense was facing an average offense. In fact I read here that the Titans' were the number one defense by DVOA in the second half. It was the Jets offense that did this in the second half, in no small part due to Favre:

15:00 6:54 NYJ 22 13 66 Field Goal
07:50 4:48 TEN 35 8 35 Touchdown
12:50 1:43 NYJ 20 3 80 Touchdown
09:43 7:34 NYJ 25 12 75 Touchdown

33 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

So the new anti-FO rant is going to be that you don't like Favre enough? Can we pleeeeeease get a Favre vs Peyton argument going?

I'll start:

Favre is clearly better than Manning because your Mom would totally sleep with him.

47 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I definitely agree with you, Jetsfan. It seems so similar to Jeter in the analytical community. Those in the analytical community grow so sick and tired of the irrational man-love and glossing over of shortcomings (turnovers with Favre, defense with Jeter) that they lose sight of what good players those two are. I watched most of the game yesterday and Favre was very good. It was admittedly a very conservative gameplan, but Favre executed it quite well.

Favre has not been great this year by any means (though he was last year) but what, exactly, were we to expect? He came in late to camp and had to learn an entirely different offense (after 16 years of West Coast). Most rookies and free agents have the benefits of a full camp plus minicamps. I expected a disaster, but instead Favre's been pretty decent. I think he deserves a lot of credit for his play this year (as well as condemnation of some of his actions over the summer) and FO seems unwilling to give credit where it's due.

106 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I can't see how you'd come to that conclusion. Comparing Favre's OT drive against the Pats to the Chad's drive against Oakland? Come on. Anyone who agree with that probably never spent any significant time engaged in athletic competition.

123 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Exactly I havent seen FO claim Farve is bad. FO says Farve hasnt been the NYJ savior, Jenkins and Faneca have been and Farve has helped a little. FO also notes pennington is having a very solid year in MIA.

This seems to be read somehow as:

"Farve is horrible."

Personally I think the change of location was good for Pennington and that he wouldn't have done nearly as well with the Jets despite it being a better overall situation. I think him and Farve are about equal at this point in their careers. JMO. Both are having nice years.

48 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

As a Jets fan, I have to agree with Aaron. Yes Fravre played well yesterday, as he has the last couple of weeks. At the same time, Faneca and Woody strengthening the offensive line and Jenkins taking over the defensive line have had a much bigger impact on the Jets than Favre has had. I think they would be 8-3 with Pennington at QB. If you are going to argue that the only won yesterday because of Favre, then it's only fair to give Favre responsibility for a couple of the losses, particularly the Riaders game.

125 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

This debate is NUTS!!!!!

Favre is overrated. But Favre is VERY VERY good (and Aaron, in particular, cannot seem to admit this).

Don't you all realize that Chad was not even guaranteed to be the starter this year if he were a Jet?- they were splitting practice time 50-50 with Clemens in training camp in an open competition (Mangini and the crew seriously underestimated Chad, but they clearly had no confidence in him).

The Jets have scored more points than all of last year, more passing TDs AND more rushing TDs (as Jones is nit facing 8-man fronts all the time), and twice as many wins. To discounbt the importance of a QB in all of this is insane.

Yes, the Jets also improved in other areas (OL, DL), but Brett is not "along for the ride"

To me, the most telling comment is the one Mangini made after the Titan victory- he said that Brett changes the play call about 50% of the time at the line, especially when he sees the opportunity for a quick slant to Keller, Coles or Cotchery for 8-10 yards.

20 Fox Commentators on Panthers/Falcons Game

Someone must have spiked the punch - one of them kept calling the teams backwards. At one point, he called one of them the Cardinals. Combine that with either no replays or useless replays and it was hard to watch. Yes, it was pretty to see Ryan sidestep the rush, but were the receiver's feet in? I hope the Fox production team reviews game tape and figures out what happened.

I should have turned off the sound and listened to the local radio announcers.

21 Cory Graham-Bears

I'm somewhat impressed that Cory Graham knew the PI rules on a fake punt. I don't think I knew that, and obviously there was an official working who didn't know it either.

(Speaking of which, I think the crew in the Bears-Rams game picked up 3 flags yesterday in what was otherwise a cleanly officiated game.)

Anyway, props to Dave Toub, the Bears' Special Teams Coordinator, for having his guys prepared, and Graham, for keeping his head in the game after blowing the assignment initially.

And shame on Haslett, for throwing Todd Johnson under the bus. As Baldinger explained after the play, in his one moment of helpful analysis during the broadcast, it was actually a good call - Bassey was wide open - but very poorly executed. If Jones hadn't double-clutched, giving Graham a chance to get to Bassey before the ball, it's a big gain.

29 Re: Cory Graham-Bears

In reply to by strannix (not verified)

To anyone who thinks the NFL rules aren't overly complicated, I give you:

"By rule, there can be no pass interference on the end man on the line of scrimmage out of a punting formation..."

84 Re: Cory Graham-Bears

In reply to by DGL

I don't see what's complicated about that. In a punt formation, you can't get a PI on the ends. That makes sense to me because the ends in that formation are typically there for blocking and coverage like the rest of the line. Otherwise it's easy to get a PI call if one of your ends gets blocked out while trying to cover.

In a normal formation, the ends are eligible receivers so PI rules need to be enforced.

Captcha : "Chicago artist". Suggestions? Sid Luckman? Walter Payton?

94 Re: Cory Graham-Bears

In reply to by Tybalt the Greenish (not verified)

It goes to the whole philosophy of the NFL rulebook, that every eventuality must be documented in the rules, and the job of the officials is to decide which rule applies to a given situation. As opposed to having a philosophy where the rule says something like "Pass interference is the act of a defender physically contacting a receiver without the ball, while a pass is in the air, in order to reduce the receiver's opportunity to catch the ball," and the job of the officials is to determine based on the game situation whether a particular incident is really pass interference or not.

So, for example, if the gunners are running straight down the field, the OL is starting to release for coverage, and the punter muffs the snap and decides to fling the ball up in the air to avoid getting pasted, the officials call no PI regardless of contact - but if one of the gunners runs an eight-yard hook, the snap goes to an upback, and the OL is holding blocks in pass protection, then the defenders better not touch the gunner when a pass is in the air.

Instead, you get this spy versus spy game of loophole finding and closing between coaches and the NFL competition committee. A coach realizes he can get a freebie first down on a PI penalty by having his punter fling a hail mary pass in the direction of a gunner who's engaged with a defender. The competition committee creates a rule saying "no PI on the ends or eligible backs outside the ends in punt formation." Defenders realize they can mug gunners on any fake punt play without getting a flag, meaning that the only players that can catch passes on fake punts are the three interior backs. Next, we'll see the competition committee "clarifying" the rule on PI in punt formations in some way...

97 Re: Cory Graham-Bears

"A coach realizes he can get a freebie first down on a PI penalty by having his punter fling a hail mary pass in the direction of a gunner who's engaged with a defender"

Except that isn't what happened. The receiver was wide open. If the ball wasn't a lame duck throw, the defender isn't even near him.

104 Re: Cory Graham-Bears

Sorry, I was unclear. The first part of my "chain of events" was a totally hypothetical case that is the kind of thing that could have led the competition committee to put the "no PI on ends or eligible backs outside the ends in punt formation" interpretation into the rules, not what happened Sunday.

39 Re: Cory Graham-Bears

In reply to by strannix (not verified)

This isn't even a rule, exactly. It's in the "Notes on Pass Interference" section. Here's the quote (from the 2007 rule book, the latest I have):

Note 5: Whenever a team presents an apparent punting formation, defensive pass interference is not to be called for action on the end man on the line of scrimmage, or an eligible receiver behind the line of scrimmage who is aligned or in motion more than one yard outside the end man on the line. Defensive holding, such as tackling a receiver, still can be called and result in a five-yard penalty from the previous spot, if accepted. Offensive pass interference rules still apply

91 Re: Cory Graham-Bears

In reply to by strannix (not verified)

It's not just for 'punt formation', either. If a player starts as a blocker, then the opposing player can blco kthem to the ground and fall on them.

This came up when someone played the 'Martz-Faulk' Rams. The opposing DC had noticed that, in certain play situations, the Rams used Marshall to chip, then flare out for a short pass that he (being Faulk) would turn into a huge gain.

So, upon getting 'chipped', the opposing defender knocked Faulk on his ass and stayed on him. And the predetermined outlet pass was impossible.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Re: the SD time-out at 1:30 -- my thought was that the Chargers were thinking they might go for it and wanted to conserve time. Then when they saw it was really fourth and 2, not fourth and less than a yard, they decided to kick.

Also glad to see you guys caught the umpire pick on the Colts' fourth and inches, seeing as how M&M totally ignored it.

38 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

That's what Turner said at the postgame press conference. But a) going for it even at 4th and a foot that would be a bad call and b) even if they wanted to go for it, they should have let the clock run all the way down; they would have been at the Colts' 27 with 1:19 left to play and 2 timeouts. Maybe I'm wrong? Turner did react poorly (ahem) to the spot...

26 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Well noted by Macey that the Chargers timeout with 4th and 2 was a huge mistake. (Michaels failed to notice it and continued to say through the rest of the game that the Chargers still had all their timeouts left). Coaches should always know what they're going to do in these situations ahead of time. If they were going to go for it, then the timeout made sense, but clearly Turner just called it so they could have a little time to decide what to do, as though the time stoppage would have no impact. They could have gotten the Colts down to under a minute to march up the field with one TO.

28 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I only watched half of the game, but my respect for Turner continues to fall the more Chargers ball I watch this year (and it wasn't that high to begin with...I was a Schottenheimer fan). His decision making (or that of his assistants) often seemed suspect, his playcalling seemed poor, and in general, I saw a talent team playing below its level largely because of poor coaching.

27 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

A few thoughts:

-Wow, both Miami and New England's pass defenses are horrible. I think both Pennington and (now) Matt Cassel are decent passers, but when both teams are converting 3rd and longs like 2nd and ones, I would say some better pass defenses are warranted. In fact, with the running backs so dinged up, Cassel is carrying the Patriots right now (four weeks ago I would have trembled at typing those words).

-Can someone explain the contact rules during an onside kick? In the Giants-Cardinals game, after scoring to bring the score within 8, the Card attempted an onside. The ball was well placed, and bounced off a Cardinals' player's hands. He got in position to catch the rebound and, with the ball in the air, was tackled by a Giant. No flags were thrown.

Now, I have no clue what is legal when a live ball is kicking around, or, even if some things are illegal, if flags are actually thrown. But it seems like if you're not allowed to block a member of the kicking team in the back or tackle them on a normal kick, even if the ball is not caught and is bouncing around back there (it would be a block in the back or holding), you probably shouldn't be allowed to during an onside attempt... On the other hand, maybe onsides are always such scrums that the officials pretty much throw the rules out the windows and let them play? Anyone know what the official story is?

-Madded pointed out something in the little bit of the Colts game that I watched, and that is that the Colts were running pick plays. When the played the Patriots a couple of weeks ago, they were doing it, too, and there was at least one other Colts game I noticed this year when they were doing it. Wayne and not-Wayne (usually Gonzalez) line up close together and run crossing routes, and Wayne picks the DB covering not-Wayne. Now I know picks are technically illegal, except in certain very specialized situations (Madden said once a DB chucks a WR, there can be no flag for a pick), but also that refs almost never call them. Have the Colts just got very good at exploiting those special situations, or are they taking advantage of the refs not calling something very tightly (like the Pats did in the infamous mugging in the AFCCG a few years back)? I.e., to someone who watches the Colts a lot, should they be getting called more for those picks?

If what the Colts are doing is technically legal, should it be? Should teams be allowed to run picks in such ways? What do people think? And if so, what is the best way to defend them? Shade a safety to that side to pick up whatever WR gets his DB picked off? Start blitzing the other corner?

45 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Re: Indy pick plays...

For there to be offensive pass interference on a pick, there first has to be contact between the WR and the other defender. Just because a WR cuts in front of a DB who isn't covering him and that creates separation it isn't and shouldn't be a penalty.

On the Gonzalez TD, Wayne is chucked by the DB and Wayne 'allows himself' to be driven right into the other DB. That seems like a smart play more than a penalty. It would be impossible to call a pick at live speed there, because it looks like the defender caused it.

If a WR runs a route in such a way that his DB runs into the other DB or an official, there can be no penalty.

The only way a penalty can be called is if the offesnsive player initiates actual contact with the DB that isn't playing him. Teams are getting smarter at finding ways to create picks that don't do this. I think officials are sometimes lax in calling this, but they should. I believe that rule should be strictly enforced if it's on the books. I haven't noticed Indy doing too much of this style pick.

I don't see how you can legislate out picks, other than what's already illegal.

55 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

DZ/MJK, My impression is that DZ is technically right, but MJK is conceptually right--like the 2003 AFCCG, Indy has stumbled on something that works for their personnel, the opposing D playing press, their patchwork OL (these are generally shorter plays), the rulebook, and the refs' tendencies.

Much like that old Colts/Pats game, I don't love it but it's smart, and the other guys have to adapt.

It would be very hard to consistently enforce a re-emphasized or altered rule.

I like it because it dictates a little to the D: Play press and get picked, or back off and give us our timing patterns and edge-running game back. Interesting to see if/how it evolves.

58 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

OK, so then answer my second question. You're a defensive coordinator. You're about to play the Colts (or some other team that has started copying what the Colts--and other teams, for that matter--are doing): running two WR's on crossing routes to get either a virtual pick, or to let them actually legally pick if you try to chuck one of them. How do you defend it? If it is legal, then other teams are going to start to pick up on it and do it more and more. It seems like a free way to get six to ten yards almost every time, or mandate that three DB's always cover two WR's, which is a win for the offense.

63 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Sorry, I missed your reply to DZ. I think it comes down to scheme and personnel and the way the D plays your O, but I think you are right. After the Pats slapped the Colts around other teams tried it with some success (but not having the right personnel, it was generally less successful). Similarly, if other teams try the Colts approach they need a handful of factors to line up--it's hardly worth it if you have a big "jump ball" type WR who towers over short DBs for short gains anyway. If you have a super speed demon who is not pressed it wouldn't work. If a team plays strict zone it probably would not work. If you have a monster run game and the CBs play a yard deeper yet closer to the center just in case, it is not in the cards, etc.

I've just seen it when you have two decent threats at WR, with the CBs playing close to the line and right over them (5+/- yards back), and not much threat of a run game. An offense with 3 speedy Lee Evans of three muscular TO's on the team would never see such tight coverage, and once you are 10 yards downfield, guys are too spread out to run a pick without it being flag-worthy.

79 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

You're right -- the Colts are running a lot of pick plays. As noted, those routes only work if the D elects to press in man-to-man, and at least some of the times, they are legal (when the DB contacts the WR setting the pick, that WR is no longer responsible for running into anyone, the other DB or if things go horribly wrong, his own fellow WR). Defenses could run a zone defense, or they could not press. But, it's a problem for the defense.

But, as a Patriot fan, you must realize that NE has its own version. Wait, I don't mean they run picks, or have an illegal lay like the Colts pick, but that they have a play that manipulates the defense so well that it really forces defenses so say, "Huh? How do we stop that?" The Pats line up Welker on one side, he goes in motion, runs behind a WR on the other side, and then runs toward the sideline at snap. It's nearly impossible for the slot guy covering Welker to keep up, getting stopped either by defensive players/ref traffic before the snap, or the DB covering the WR behind whom Welker sprints out to the side. In fact, the Pats run it so well that sometimes Welker runs to an open side, and the Pats don't even need a pick, as Welker is too fast. It's the play NE runs on more than half of their crucial 3rd or 4th and about 2 yards plays. They're great at it, and no one seems to be able to stop them, even if the opponent knows it's coming.

As for the Colts, they are clearly manipulating the rules to their favor. And, like that old NE/Indy AFCC game, it will probably work for a year, and then get butchered in the rules emphasis the next year.

108 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

That's very true. Welker is also a master of using the back judge to get a free pick...he figures out how he is being covered, and runs his route so that the DB runs into the ref. And actually, the Pats do run picks. They just don't do so nearly as well as the Colts do (largely because Randy Moss isn't as effective at picking as Reggie Wayne seems to be).

And the way to stop the play you just described is for the outside CB to ignore his man and just mug Welker as he comes to the LOS on his route. It doesn't always're right, Welker is fast...but Denver and San Diego (for example) were doing it relatively effectively.

I wasn't saying the Colts were doing anything unfair...I was noticing that they have apparently found a way to game the system and was wondering how one should stop them from doing that. It seems like they've found a pretty effective way of beating press coverage.

111 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

As a DC, you can stone a defender at the line, have DBs switch off (would be hard), or play a coverage other than man.

Every decent passing team from high school to the pros does what the Colts do. Crossing routes are excellent man-beater and can get athletes into space.

50 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

"The ball was well placed, and bounced off a Cardinals' player's hands. He got in position to catch the rebound and, with the ball in the air, was tackled by a Giant. No flags were thrown."

I believe that once it hit a player, it is open season on contact.

32 Re: Colts - Chargers / Vinatieri

If you've been watching the Colts this year there is more to Vinatieri's resurgence than just year to year fluctuation. At least in my observation he seems to have a lot more leg than last year. Notice he's made 2/2 beyond 50 this year and 3/5 beyond 40. Last year he was 0/3 beyond 40, and over half his field goals were of the chip shot variety. The Colts didn't even want him trying long field goals and now they don't flinch.

I've also noticed a lot more touchbacks but I don't have any stats to show that. I think either he was hurt or out of shape last year even if there was no story about it.

40 Re: Colts - Chargers / Vinatieri

The word on the street in Indy is that AV was battling an undisclosed leg injury last year. He wouldn't use it as an excuse and it wasn't publicized, but everyone has noticed that his kick offs have been considerably deeper this year. He clearly has recovered his leg strength and it shows on more than just long FGs.

36 What I learned from watching CHI/STL

1. The Rams are very bad.

2. The Rams without Steven Jackson and Orlando Pace are very, very bad indeed.

3. The Bears' coaches have not completely lost the team. Yet.

95 Re: What I learned from watching CHI/STL

It may seem odd, but it was and remains a distinct possibility. mostly because the local media hates the bears. The defense won't talk to them, and lovie is always quiet, which forces the media to actually work to find stories. So even though none of them thought the bears would be over .500 this season, much less have a chance to win the division, now that the bears have exceeded expectations the media kills them for every shortcoming. there have been plenty of calls for smiths job, and attempts to instigate infighting amongst the bears D.

37 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Why are Hawaii recruiters going to prison flag football games to pick recruits? Is this why they lost to Georgia?

41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Whatever Tiki Barber did to learn to stop fumbling, the Bucs need to immediately do the same thing for Clifton Smith. The kid has some seriously awesome skills with the ball in his hands, it's just that the ball tends to not stay in his hands quite as long as it should.

Hey, at least he's exciting. The moment he touches the ball I find myself muttering "Go go go yeah go don't fumble don't fumble don't fumble go go go . . ."

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12


- Play by play guy (don't remember name) was terrific. That must be why I've never heard him call a game before. He gave down and distance and prior to the snap almost always noted any unusual alignment by the O or D plus any key substitutions (e.g., "Cooley split wide left;" "Seattle in the nickel [on 1st down];" "Rookie Malcolm Kelly in for Randel-el" etc.).

- Unlike previous years, drop off from Portis to Betts seems huge this year. Almost seems like the line stops blocking when Betts comes in.

- Brilliant drafting strategy (3 2d rounders on pass catchers who've caught less than 10 passes combined this season) looking more brilliant every day as the ancient OL gets worse every week (now Samuels regularly getting abused to go along with Jon "Toast" Jansen) and the old/untalented D Line gets zero pressure on QB as usual but now can't run tackle either.

- Jason Campbell is pretty darn good at last. He's got very little time, and he's throwing to one talented but small receiver in Moss, one slow but great at finding hole in zone TE in Cooley... and basically no one else of any consequence.

- Clearly the Redskins have not adjusted to the new rules that allow the defense to push a WR out of bounds voiding a catch b/c they run waaaaay too many plays right along the sidelines. Most aren't being completed anyway, and the few that are are being caught w/ the WR already out of bounds, but even if they were catching them barely inbounds, the DB wouldn't have much trouble pushing the WR out before he comes down. Time to move those patterns inside a couple of yards.

62 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Unlike previous years, drop off from Portis to Betts seems huge this year. Almost seems like the line stops blocking when Betts comes in.

I noticed that, and it's something I've noticed often when a change-of-pace back comes in, on many teams, over the years. The star RB will get a handoff and run three yards down the field before anyone makes contact with him, he'll do this four or so times, and then he'll get winded and the change of pace back will come in to spell him. The change of pace back will then promptly get hit a yard behind the LOS and have to fight to avoid negative yardage. It really does seem like some offensive lines just decide not to block when their starting RB is not in the game. And yet the opposite sometimes happens...the starting back will get a consistent 2 ypc, and the change of pace back will come in and slip through for a gain of 8 (Kevin Faulk springs to mind).

I can think of two possible reasons, other than bad mental discipline or line coaching. One is that the defense plays the second RB differently. A featured RB might be considered more a home-run threat, more of a recieving threat, or more of a pass blocking threat, so the opposing safeties tend to stay back more when he's in there (either out of fear of playaction, or to stop the home run if he gets by the line), while they're less afraid to commit to the box when the backup guy is in there. Or the OLB's tend to stay back to choke up the flat recieving patterns or maintain containment, whereas they crash the line for the change-of-pace guy.

The second option is that the change of pace guy may have a different running style and hence demand different blocking schemes, that the O-line might not be as adept at running (because they practice it less?)

I don't watch enough 'Skins to know if either of these scenarios are plausible for Betts, but he definitely didn't seem to have the holes that Portis did. Is he any good at pass protection/recieving? Does he have a running style that would require substantially different blocking schemes that Portis does?

72 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I was reading an article last week-- I believe it may have been in the New York Times' Fifth Down Blog-- where O'Hara was mentioning that the Giants offensive line has different blocking schemes for each of their three running backs. That idea surprised the hell out of me.

78 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

The drop off from Portis to Betts is so dramatic because the blocking is subpar. Portis is grinding yards out where most other backs wouldn't be able to without his excellent vision and patience. Betts' forte is hitting the hole with good acceleration, and that's about all he's ever been really good at; Portis can find the hole, or make the hole.

Contrast to previous years when their run blocking was much better, it seemed to me anyway that Betts was a better performer than Portis. When the line could open up running lanes Betts could dart right through them, while Portis, who is slower, proved a little less adept.

96 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Interesting contrast you make to prior years. What used to frustrate me like crazy about Portis is that he never seemed to break a single tackle -- the first guy got him down every time, and sometimes his extremely forward-leaning running style meant he just fell forward while barely being touched.

This year, his extremely forward leaning style seems to be paying off, as he's escaping if not exactly breaking tackles and "squirting" through some very tight holes for positive yardage.

You are right, Betts can't even seem to find the hole.

61 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Didn't have the Pats on local TV, but it seems like their pass D continues to be flawed, and their Red Zone D continues to be atrocious.

Maybe Pioli will finally draft an elite CB this offseason? Of course, I cannot complain about the LB crop this year, esp. Mayo.

Got to watch the Jets the past two weeks after not seeing them since their early loss to the Pats. Their line play on both sides of the ball has improved a lot, so I will finally grudgingly categorize them as a Legitimate Playoff Menace. I didn't think I would see anybody run with ease against the Titans this year.

The Titans could not move the ball against the Jets at all, and even though they are likely to finish 14-2, I think that bodes poorly for any Super Bowl prospects. They, like the Jets, are profiting from a slightly easier schedule while the Steelers, Ravens, Pats, and Colts have had the harder path to take.

The Colts are on track for the #5 seed with victories over the Ravens and Pats in hand, and should be favored to clobber Denver in the first round. I'm still pissed at Sage Rosenfels for not killing this team's playoff chances. Now it's too late.

I really don't want to see a Manning v. Manning Super Bowl.

65 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I'd be interested to see the DVOA splits on this, but my sense is that the Pats 3rd down defense is the problem, and specifically the 3rd and long defense (which would jive with the LB's being improved but the DB's being back). It seems like they're frequently breaking up the quick slants and stopping the 3 yard outs and flat patterns on 3rd anad 5, but on 3rd and 9+, the other team keeps guys back to protect, and then either completes a seam route to a TE who finds the hole between the safeties, or a comeback route to whichever WR Deltha O'Neal was covering.

The fact is that Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal are serviceable, but not great corners, and injuries to the secondary keep them from rotating to keep them fresh (keep in mind they're down a starting safety and two backup corners right now). It's hard to judge the safeties, since Dom Capers seems to be afraid to let them actually cover and keeps them deep--Merriweather and Sanders seem pretty good at tackling after someone finds the hole in the zone and catches the ball, but they're not being asked to play a very tight zone. It works fine when the line can get pressure (a spotty proposition this year) or when you're facing an inaccurate QB, but against a good QB behind a good line, they're in trouble.

Asante Samuel definitely would have helped, or a well drafted young CB. But I hold out hope. They spent two moderately high picks on corners, and only a few corners are good their first year, so Wheatley and Wilhite may be much better next year. And if Mayo continues to improve, the LB situation is much better going into next year. I think a killer pass rushing OLB is a bigger need than a shut-down corner. When they get pressure, the secondary is good enough to hold up.

112 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I disagree. Hobbs is maybe better than O'Neal, but they play different styles. Hobbs is aggrssive--he plays tight coverage and often tries to break on the ball, but it leads to him getting beat.

O'Neal plays softer coverage (maybe because he's older and has lost a step), but I think he's cannier and more conservative--he'll get beat for more 8-20 yard gains, but is less likely to give up the long TD than Hobbs.

I agree that I perfer CB's of Hobbs variety, but if you have good pressure up front and decent safeties, than O'Neal's style is actually better.

103 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

"I'd be interested to see the DVOA splits on this, but my sense is that the Pats 3rd down defense is the problem, and specifically the 3rd and long defense"

Just peeked at the DVOA database. Those 3rd and long defensive numbers are ghastly.

67 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Why not? Manning v. Manning would be a pretty cool story line, wouldn't it? Brothers facing each other, the last two Super Bowl teams meeting, etc. I can easily imagine the hype overload which is why (I am guessing) you don't want that matchup-- but would that be any worse than if it is Giants against, say, the Jets?

75 Is the problem Harrison getting old, or Manning getting old?

Yeah, I know Marvin's not the same WR he was in years past, when he set the record for receptions in a season at 143 (think about that for a minute -- an 8-catch, 106-yard day was BELOW average for him that year!). But, is he really that bad this year, or has Manning lost his arm strength (or both?)? I've seen Harrison at least three times this year get deep separation, and a pass long enough would be a TD of 50+ yards, but in every case, Manning has underthrown him. Yesterday, that play was the interception to SD. So, is it really only Marvin, or a little bit of Peyton? Marvin's numbers would look a lot better if you added 150+ yards and 3 TD's on those three passes. And, if he had those on his resume, perhaps CB's would give him more room to work underneath. Right now, he and Manning can't connect, and so why give Marvin any space?

88 Re: Is the problem Harrison getting old, or Manning getting old?

It's some of both. Peyton has been improving most weeks, but he's still well short of being Peyton of years past. Marvin has had a severe lack of hands and toughness the first part of the year, but has looked better the past few. So it is certainly both of them that are off of their (incredible) 2-man game of years past.

102 Re: Is the problem Harrison getting old, or Manning getting old?

Is it possible that Manning has been overcompensating for the fact that Harrison has lost a step, therefore the underthrows on the deep balls. I felt like earlier in the year Manning was gettnig frustrated with Harrison for not getting to the spot (leading him too far) and I distinctly remmeber thinking one week, when Manning was yelling at Harrison on the sideline, "hey Peyton, give him a break - he's not lost out there, he's just old and slow". Maybe Manning realized that too and has mentally adjusted for the slower Harrison?

107 marvin/peyton

Marvin has been pretty consistently getting separation all year and running great routes as always, but Peyton hasn't hit him perfectly in stride more than one or two times (and I believe he dropped one of them). Even the deep TD against the Jags was underthrown.

It's interesting that Peyton is basically carrying the team this year despite being clearly not as good as in years past. From watching every down, my opinion is that he seems to be playing a lot smarter this year, but his throws are not nearly the same as they have been in the past. He threw several ducks last night, for instance. The kind of slow wobbly throws you'd expect Rivers to make, not Manning. Even that 4th down conversion hung in the air for an eternity (although that was probably intentional). He is leading the team and running some excellent 2 and 4 minute drill drives game after game, but his deep ball throws have been no better than mid-pack in the NFL this season so far.

92 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Nice to see you guys finally make some comments about the Falcons. Unfortunatly, you guys neglected to point out how well Matty Ice played. Warching I thought Brian Bilick [sp?] was going to have an orgasm about how well Ryan was doing in the hurry up offence. Unless he torchs Ryan is the NFL rookie of the year. He may derserve it already!

105 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

The Colts aren't 100% sold on their running game yet, and aren't prepared to run effectively against Jamal Williams with a backup center. Hence, 5-wide out of the shotgun. It helps that between Harrison, Wayne, Gonzalez, Clark, and Addai, the Colts basically run 5-wide a lot of the time, they're just not as obvious about it.

San Diego has success throwing against the Colts for a number of related reasons: outstanding offensive tackles that, for the most part, keep Freeney and Mathis occupied (and our DTs aren't anything to write home about yet) letting holes in the Colts' Cover 2 develop which their receivers can exploit, usually in the form of jump balls that the Chargers' 6'5" WRs can grab but the Colts 5'10" DBs have some problems hauling in, which the DBs would have problems getting anyway since Rivers throws rainbows.

Every team doubles Freeney. You can't put only left tackle on Dwight Freeney, because he'll blow up every outside running play to his side, and get to the QB about half the time. Even doubling him doesn't stop him 100% of the time. Mathis' success is based on the fact that if you double Freeney, that's three offensive linemen left for three guys, and Mathis would be a decent RDE for about half the teams in the league. As it happens, he plays across the line from Freeney, who is one of the best RDE's in the league.

Supposedly, Vinny has been hurt the past two seasons. This year he's 100%, and between the Vikes game and this game, it's safe to say that he's had his blood removed and replaced with some kind of cryogenic slush that keeps his body temperature somewhere just above absolute zero.

124 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Whoa! Outstanding offensive tackles? For the Chargers? I'd say only LT McNeil has been good (not outstanding) and RT Clary is a liability. Clary is in because Olivea had a drug suspension and his performance nose-dived.

The guards and center of the Chargers are good. The Colts didn't get a good push up the middle from their DTs, allowing Rivers to step up and slide to the left in the pocket while Freeney kept doing his spin move to the outside.

Though, it was weird to see the Colts go empty backfield, 5 wide sets. Playing with a rookie center and guard must REALLY suck for Manning.