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.
If you missed the Audibles for the three Thanksgiving games, you can read those comments here.
San Francisco 49ers 10 at Buffalo Bills 3
Bill Barnwell: The Bills split out Trent Edwards and had Marshawn Lynch as the only person in the backfield. The announcer said "Looks like a direct snap to Lynch, most likely" right before the ball was snapped. What, was the center going to run a sneak?
Trent Edwards is out in Buffalo with a groin injury. Rian Lindell missed a 20-yard field goal earlier, which is astounding, but not the shortest miss I can find -- Kris Brown missed a 19-yard field goal IN HOUSTON in 2002.
Vince Verhei: Second quarter, Andy Lee punts 56 yards to the Buffalo 1, where the ball seems destined to go into the end zone for a touchback -- except that Roscoe Parrish FIELDS IT and runs it out to the seven. Is it just me, or has punt fielding become a completely lost art in this league? It seems like every game, I see a returner field a ball he should have stayed away from, or vice versa. Is there a way to statistically measure this? Is gross punting average up? Or touchbacks down?
Baltimore Ravens 34 at Cincinnati Bengals 3
Bill Barnwell: Ryan Fitzpatrick's first half: 2-of-11, 23 yards, two sacks. Bench him!
Ben Riley: The Red Zone Channel flipped over briefly to this game, and before I could quickly change channels, I saw Ryan Fitzpatrick roll to his right and attempt to throw a pass, only he couldn't because he dropped the ball while winding up. So that accounts for one of your nine incomplete passes.
Mike Tanier: The Bengals offense ran out of ideas in this game, which was fun to watch with the Flaccer Backers. Ravens offense: Run-Run-Run-Run- BOMB! Run-Run-Run, reverse to Clayton, BOMB! They threw a few stop routes in there for 10-yard pass plays.
Ned Macey: I saw only some mop-up time in PIT-NE today in an airport, as I was traveling and visiting with family. But I picked up updates on the Colts game on various radio outlets, and they kept telling me that Robert Mathis scored. Not once did they ever mention how the fumble was caused, the truly impressive defensive achievement. Now on the AP game recap, they don't mention it was caused by Dwight Freeney until the third-to-last paragraph.
Indianapolis Colts 10 at Cleveland Browns 6
Doug Farrar: THAT was an interesting start. Joseph Addai fumbled on the Colts' first play from scrimmage, giving the Browns a short field at the Indy 47. Cleveland goes with eight straight running plays, then a three-yard screen on third-and-8 from the 20. Field goal. After basically ignoring the run last week against the Texans, the Browns are now almost swinging too far the other way. That said, at least Braylon Edwards didn't drop any balls on that drive!
We've detailed the exploits of cornerback Brandon McDonald before in other Audibles, and he's matched up with Reggie Wayne early. You can tell that it's an iffy proposition. He's playing off, very tentatively, and giving up the short stuff. However, he managed to punch a ball out of Wayne's hands in the end zone as Wayne was bringing it in, which led to a Colts field goal. Good play there, though he was late on the ball to start.
The Browns are definitely playing defense on offense. Halfway through the second quarter, they've doubled the Colts in time of possession. Derek Anderson has not thrown a ball longer than five yards in the air, and they have twice as many runs as passes. That said, you can't play that way and settle for field goals when your defense is this bad; eventually, Peyton will wake up and nuke your ass. He'll take that man underneath all day, and wait for you to blow it in the red zone.
Well, the Browns didn't blow it in the red zone at the end of the first half. From the Cleveland 1, Manning tries to sneak it over on fourth-and-goal. He loses the ball before he breaks the plane, and Dallas Clark picks it up. The "Holy Roller" rule stipulates that only the fumbling player can advance the ball, and the Browns take over at their own 1-yard line. The Browns stay up 6-3, a lead they've earned with some surprising defensive play when the Colts actually have the ball.
Bill Barnwell: The commentators note that Marvin Harrison's "still making valuable catches, they're just not as long." This is, of course, demonstrably false, thanks to Harrison's -15% DVOA in an offense where every other receiver has a positive DVOA.
Aaron Schatz: No, no, it's not false. As long as Harrison has made two valuable catches, he is still making valuable catches. They didn't say he's still "mostly" making valuable catches, after all. Two counts as plural.
Doug Farrar: Between Harrison and Edwards, this is the "Surprise Horrible DVOA Bowl," presented by Sprint. And speaking of Edwards, play-by-play had him targeted 16 times against the Texans. In the first half of this game? Once. That there is what you call a graphic shift in philosophy.
Brandon McDonald gets a sweet pick on Manning on a throw to Wayne at the start of the second half. Trailed him on a man look, beat him inside, and made the play. Don't look now, but the Browns have officially showed up.
Ben Riley: Romeo Crennel just decided to take a page out of the Andy Reid-Mike Holmgren School of Clock Management. Holding two timeouts, he decided to let Manning run the clock down to the two minute warning. And now the Browns are getting the ball back with two minutes to play and two timeouts, instead of having 2:45, one timeout, and the two-minute warning. Brilliant work.
Doug Farrar: Tough loss for the Browns. Their defense did everything required to win, which is unusual, and I'm astonished that a team with this many potential playmakers and a very solid offensive line hasn't scored a touchdown in eight quarters. Losing Derek Anderson late in the game and having to put Ken Dorsey out there didn't help at all, but this offense is flat-out broken. A new approach is probably required, and I would be dangling offers for Braylon Edwards in the offseason were I in charge of the Browns' front office. I haven't seen a single marquee player do so much to kill his own offense since Shaun Alexander fell off the face of the earth a couple years ago.
Two other things stood out to me in this game. First of all, Josh Cribbs is the best special teams player in the NFL, and it isn't even close. Take the pre-receiver Devin Hester and add 25 return tackles per season, and you have Cribbs. Second, rookie center Jamey Richard really impressed me going up against Shaun Rogers. I thought Rogers would dominate the seventh-rounder, but he didn't -- not even as the nose in a 3-4, which seems to be his more effective position. I wanted to point out Richard's game so that we'll all remember it the next time the Seahawks whine about being stuck with seventh-round second-year player Steve Vallos at center. When you have Howard Mudd as your line coach, and a line that works well together, you can be undermanned and still make it happen.
Carolina Panthers 35 at Green Bay Packers 31
Ben Riley: On Carolina's opening drive, Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith for a big 50-yard gain after a flea flicker from DeAngelo Williams. Have we ever investigated the success rate of flea flickers? If I was a head coach, I'd say screw the Wildcat, we're running at least four flea flickers in every game!
I'm going to go ahead and say the Panthers have the best secondary in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers had five, six seconds to scan the field a moment ago on third down, but there was no one to throw to and he ended up scrambling out of bounds.
The Packers just came up a millimeter short of converting on third down with the game tied, and six minutes to play. That's no hyperbole; the ball was literally a millimeter short of the stick. The referees sat around staring at the spot for a good 20 seconds before deciding it wasn't a first down. (Mercifully, the Packers converted on the next play.)
Julius Peppers just locked up KCW this week. He just ran up and nailed Aaron Rodgers out of bounds, giving the Packers first-and-goal with under four minutes to play. Stupid, stupid, stupid penalty.
I'd like to thank Steve Smith for continuing to catch 45 yard bombs from Delhomme but stopping just shy of the end zone, thus ensuring that DeAngelo Williams -- who happens to be on the fantasy team I'm playing against -- can plunge in from the 1-yard line. Nightmare.
Bill Barnwell: I'm going to give 5-foot-3 Steve Smith respect for grabbing the ball away from 6-1 Charles Woodson in double coverage.
My Packers fan roommate also appreciated it when DeAngelo Williams threw the ball up to a Panthers fan after his fourth touchdown, only for a nearby Packers fan to swat it down.
(Williams scored on the first play from scrimmage. Kill me, kill me now.)
The Panthers have first-and-goal from the 1 with 1:33 left, down 31-28, and the Packers have two timeouts. Don't the Packers have to let them score here?
Ben Riley: Whoa. The color commentator just stated on air that the Packers should allow the Panthers to score the touchdown, so as to get the ball back with enough time to score again. There was a silent pause, during which I'm sure the FOX producers freaked out in his ear, and then he reversed himself and said the Packers should try to make a stand.
Bill Barnwell: They said that IMMEDIATELY after I sent that message.
Doug Farrar: Hey, it worked for Mike Holmgren in Super Bowl XXXII! Oh, wait...
Elias Holman: On their last meaningful possession, the Packers got stopped on the 1-yard line on two successive plays and decided to kick a go-ahead field goal, which seems like the safe strategy, but it seemed to me that they should have gone for the touchdown on fourth down. The probability of converting is very high, and they had been horrible on kick return coverage, so burying the Panthers at the 1 without a kickoff to return was a good idea. Given that the Panthers went long kickoff return, Steve Smith for 50-odd yards, DeAngelo Williams touchdown on the subsequent series (for the second time, I might add) it seems like my intuition was correct, but I don't know if the value of being ahead by any amount late in the game outweighs the field goal-versus-touchdown differential. I would assume this needs a football commentary-style analysis.
Doug Farrar: I'm generally in favor of burying your opponent at the 1. There's still a bonus there if you don't get the touchdown. Plus, there's this:
Green Bay's offensive DVOA in goal-to-go through Week 12: 42.6% (ranked third)
Carolina's defensive DVOA in goal-to-go through week 12: 44.8% (ranked 28th)
Safe to say, the odds were with the Packers on that one.
Mark Zajack: It's really enjoyable to watch the run blocking of the Carolina line. They seem to like pulling left guard Travelle Wharton on runs to the right. He also had a couple of great blocks to set the edge when they ran to the left -- including a bootleg on which Delhomme scored, as well as a score by DeAngelo Williams.
Wharton even recovered a fumble on a run by Jonathan Stewart about 30 yards downfield. Nice hustle. He and center Ryan Kalil look really good in space when they pull them, as well as just owning the guys in front of them.
Mike Tanier: The Packers out-Eagled the Eagles. They are a talented team with a knack for dumb losses. They spotted the Panthers a lead on a bad snap turnover, had some red zone problems early in the game that forced them to settle for field goals, and gave up some big plays on special teams. I think I have become a Panthers nay-sayer, but I just don't see a really great team here. I wouldn't say great things about their secondary after what I saw in the second half against the Packers. They are just good enough to win in all facets of the game, and they keep winning close ones.
Vince Verhei: Carolina, up 7-3 in the second quarter, has a third-and-1 near midfield. The defense crowds the line to try to stop the run, so when Jonathan Stewart squirts through the first line, there is no second line and he has a clear path to the end zone -- except that he slows up inside the 20. He wasn't even showboating, he just started to jog. He was run down by not one, but two Green Bay defenders, at the 3-yard line -- yes, the THREE -- and fumbled. On plays like this, a runner like Stewart should score 100 times out of 100, and he came up three yards short. Fortunately for him, Travelle Wharton had hustled downfield and was there to recover the fumble, and Carolina went on to score.
Miami Dolphins 16 at St. Louis Rams 12
Bill Barnwell: There has been a lot of talk about the Wildcat, but I'm also seeing more teams in the league running the Full House than I did a year ago. Miami just used it to run the ball in inside the 10, and I just charted Atlanta using it against Carolina in Week 12.
Doug Farrar: The Panthers will like to use it as well, with tight end Jeff King in the backfield.
Ben Riley: I think it's safe to say Davone Bess is already the finest player to ever come out of the Oregon State Penitentiary flag football system. He's been getting open at will (granted, it is the Rams) and made an incredible grab in the second quarter.
Doug Farrar: After the game, the Dolphins made a point of revealing that Marc Bulger was telegraphing his throws all day. "We knew what was coming" was the basic gist. I would hope that Bulger was made aware of this before the Dolphins told him, but I suspect that he wasn't. Lord, this team is bad.
Mike Tanier: They were force-feeding this Bess kid the ball. He is very fast and looks good enough, but I saw some dropped passes and a few occasions where he didn't put himself in good position to make a catch. He's a cool "discovery" player, but I would take my chances with Eddie Royal if I was looking for an exciting rookie.
New Orleans Saints 20 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23
Bill Barnwell: OK, I'm not asking this to taunt Mike, I swear, but how does Reggie Bush have three carries for zero yards with a longest carry of eight yards?
Russell Levine: Because Reggie Bush always makes the mistake of trying to outrun Tampa Bay's defense east-qest. He also had negative yardage on both of his punt returns before Sean Payton gave up on that idea. Two years ago against the Bucs, I thought Bush was learning to just stick a three-yard run up the middle when that's all that was there. But today he was back to bouncing things outside and getting tracked down by the Tampa Bay linebackers.
Mike Tanier: Reggie Bush is a unique talent. That's how he can rush three times for zero yards with a long of eight.
Doug Farrar: There are two backs on teams out of the playoff picture who need more opportunities to show what they can do: Pierre Thomas of the Saints and Jerome Harrison of the Browns. It's somewhat lonely on the Thomas bandwagon, but the weather's fine.
Russell Levine: This was an interesting game. Drew Brees scares me more than any quarterback since a mid-career Favre, but the net result is somehow ... meh. Three interceptions, two down the stretch, and another that was called back via a penalty way away from the play. If ever there was a team for which Tampa Bay's "play coverage and tackle" approach is the right one, it's New Orleans. Brees can pick them apart 13 yards at a time, but I think he gets impatient if he can't make big plays down the field and eventually will force something.
Ronde Barber was really good today, breaking up one deep ball to Colston, making another recovery play in the end zone to deflect a ball that Cato June intercepted, and pressuring Brees on some blitzes.
I can understand why Jon Gruden gets impatient with Jeff Garcia. Watching him leave a perfectly good pocket can be a maddening experience, especially when he was constantly missing open guys and running himself into huge hits, as he was today (although the miserable conditions may have had something to do with the inaccuracy). Tampa Bay is constantly calling play-action, seven-step drops for Garcia, and as soon as his back foot hits on that seventh step, he's almost always stepping up into or out of the pocket and ends up checking the ball down. That Greg Cosell article we linked in XP a week or so ago was dead on -- it's as if he needs to move around in order to find lanes to throw.
You could make a case that Clifton Smith is Tampa Bay's offensive MVP, and as a bonus, he didn't fumble today for the first time in four games. He was constantly setting up Tampa Bay in good field position on both kicks and punts. Memo to Bruce Allen: Smith is why you don't draft kick returners in the second round. He's an undrafted free agent who's turning into one of the best all-around return guys in the league, and your second-round pick, Dexter Jackson, is a healthy scratch every week. He contributes even less than Joey Galloway, who hardly sees the field and dropped the only ball thrown his way today.
Sean Payton got a little cute, as he tends to do, early in the game. First quarter, fourth-and-1 at the Tampa Bay 30-yard line, does he plug away up the middle? No, he calls for the end-around, which was stopped easily for about a three-yard loss.
Also, I am reading all the reports that Monte Kiffin will leave Tampa Bay to join his son Lane at the University of Tennessee. As a Bucs fan, I'd much rather that Tennessee had just hired Jon Gruden and left Kiffin behind. Will be interesting, if this happens, to see if Tampa Bay brings back Rod Marinelli or promotes Raheem Morris from within. Morris has the same kind of buzz around him that Mike Tomlin did a couple of years ago.
Congratulations to ESPN -- you finally have an important Monday Night game as Tampa Bay visits Carolina next week in a game that could decide the South title and second seed in the NFC.
New York Giants 23 at Washington Redskins 7
Doug Farrar: Has Plax "shot his way out of New York," to quote Tom Jackson? And if so, will the Giants miss him at all?
Bill Barnwell: Yes, he has. Will they miss him? Not really (they've succeeded with Domenik freaking Hixon as the X receiver at times). I think he'll go somewhere else and succeed, since he's not really the "me-first" sort of guy that he's going to be lumped in with. He's not T.O. or Chad Johnson. He's a different sort of "me-first", an incredibly tough guy who simply ignores the rules on a somewhat regular basis.
I could see him in Tampa Bay as Joey Galloway's replacement.
Mark Zajack: Plax was a much more focused player and better teammate last year, with the chronic ankle injury. Maybe he shot himself to get that sort of single-minded focus back? Brilliant plan for the playoff run, methinks. I agree that Hixon has been fine as a replacement. But, I think Eli Manning will miss having the big guy to throw the deep jump ball as a kind of safety valve.
Doug Farrar: Does he need that escape hatch anymore, though? If he's doing well without Plax, maybe he's finally become that quarterback who doesn't need the jump balls to get by.
Sean McCormick: I don't think Manning needs Burress at all. He actually seems more comfortable throwing to smaller receivers like Steve Smith. Of course, just as I say that, Manning makes a beautiful back-shoulder fade to Hixon, a throw you'd only make to a big receiver.
I think Burress is probably done in New York. There will be a good market for him in the offseason, and rightfully so. Baltimore strikes me as a particularly good match -- a young, talented quarterback who can get the ball to him and a team of veterans who can keep him somewhat under control.
Ben Riley: I'm not so sure there will be that a good market for Burress. If you were an NFL general manager, would you want to commit guaranteed money to a guy who started ignoring every team rule once he convinced the Giants to give him a bunch of guaranteed money? Of course, I'm sure the Bengals will give him a look.
Nice of Eli to open the game by hitting Domenik Hixon twice, and Amani Toomer for a long touchdown, to hammer home just how unnecessary Plax really is.
Bill Barnwell: Do the Giants really need to run a direct snap to Derrick Ward? Sure, it worked, but realistically, is this the offense that needs trickery to succeed?
Doug Farrar: Yeah, we're getting to the point where teams are doing this stuff for the sake of it and just wasting downs. The Browns tried the "Flash" package directly to Josh Cribbs in scoring range, and the Colts had it read all the way.
Bill Barnwell: Uh-oh. Shaun O'Hara's hurt and staying down. One of the huge factors in the Giants' success this year has been their health on the offensive line -- the starting five hasn't missed a regular season game since 2006. (O'Hara did miss the Wild Card game against the Buccaneers last year, a game in which the Giants averaged 3.1 yards per rush).
Doug Farrar: And there's DeAngelo Hall, whiffing a tackle on Amani Toomer AND picking up a late hit penalty on the same play. As Emmitt says, you can't expect a leopard to change its stripes.
Bill Barnwell: BAD ELI! Eli's having a very good game, but he just showed off his famed skill to throw a duck and have two Redskins run into each other while trying to pick it off.
Aaron Schatz: Eli Manning's back-shoulder fade pass to Domenik Hixon on that first touchdown drive was a thing of beauty, and the touchdown pass to Amani Toomer on the next play was even more perfect. Everything we project and predict should be considered to have a wide range of possibilities on either side, leaving room for both random chance and the human element. Well, I don't know exactly what changed in Manning's game around last January -- I mean, we know that he got much more accurate and seems to have had a poise transplant, but we don't know what technically caused either change -- and that's the human element. The guy is a really good quarterback now, and the Giants are the best team in football right now, and it isn't close.
As great as Manning is, I don't think he's an MVP candidate, but that's because Mike Reiss had a great idea in his notes column of the Boston Sunday Globe. Apparently, the rules of the AP MVP voting allow you to choose either a player OR A UNIT ON A SPECIFIC TEAM. Naturally, a "skill player" seems to win the award every year, but you could vote for a unit. The Giants offensive line is the MVP of the 2008 season. Period. And the Tennessee defensive line is probably second.
I will also agree that a direct snap to Derrick Ward seems to be a wrinkle that exists solely to be a wrinkle, and does absolutely nothing to improve New York's chances of winning a second straight title.
Mike Tanier: Wrinkles like the direct snap to Ward A) Have little risk (he could fumble the snap, but the biggest risk is probably a 1-yard loss) and B) Give the guys something new and exciting to work on in practice, which probably keeps them paying attention. I think that's why we have seen so many corny direct snap plays this year after the Dolphins' success. These aren't triple-reverse option passes, and they probably have high practice morale value that makes the risk worthwhile.
Doug Farrar: It's raining tragic irony on NBC: Tiki Barber asking the current Giants if there's any problem going forward without Plax. Consensus answer: "Nope." Tiki thinks to self: "Riiiiiiight."
Vince Verhei: Redskins have fourth-and-1, down 20-7 in the fourth quarter. They go for it and Clinton Portis is stuffed, effectively ending the game. The play took so long to develop that Portis was doomed from the start, and everyone knew it. The eventual tackle was so anticlimactic, there was zero emotional reaction from any player on the field, even though the game was over. There's no point in celebrating a foregone conclusion.
Ned Macey: Ok, I only have watched maybe 2.5 Giants games, so feel free to consider this opinion ill-advised, but I will say right now that the Giants, without Burress, will not win the Super Bowl. Despite being the number one receiver, he is the only one of the three Giants receivers with a positive DVOA. Washington, today's victim, had a below-average pass defense, and Arizona (vanquished with basically no Burress last week) is even worse. I see a team like Carolina lining up eight in the box and playing physical man-to-man on the receivers and shutting the Giants down.
Burress' ability to stretch the defense just dictates a different type of defensive scheme. Burress' longest catch this year is 33 yards, and his yards per catch are down from 14.6 to 13.0. Maybe that is all him, but I think teams are taking away the deep ball. Without Burress today, the defense wasn't playing deep, and suddenly the unstoppable Giants' running game gained 101 yards on 30 carries. (Last week, 24 carries for 78 yards). Hixon is a decent player, but his success will come when defenses ignore him to stop the run.
Atlanta Falcons 22 at San Diego Chargers 16
Bill Barnwell: And, in a late note, Michael Turner's 31 carries today put him on pace for 376 carries for the season.
Ned Macey: At what point do we start worrying that LaDainian Tomlinson is done, or at least done as a difference-making back? He is 29 years old. He has a career low in yards per carry. Or is it just the nagging injuries (I've lost track if it is more than his toe at this point). And in either case, should they start using Darren Sproles more? Or is it just irrelevant, because they are the most talented 4-8 team in history?
Vince Verhei: In the second quarter, San Diego tried a reverse on a kickoff return. It was a miserable failure, with Legedu Naanee tackled at the 8-yard line. At the risk of oversimplifying things to a Tony Kornheiser degree, that seems like a play that would have worked against the Bobby Petrino Falcons, but had no chance against the Mike Smith Falcons.
Both teams left points on the scoreboard. Atlanta had a fourth-and-inches at the goal-line just before halftime and opted to go for it. Brandon Siler (isn't he the bad guy on Heroes?) stuffed Michael Turner for no gain. For the Chargers, down nine in the fourth quarter, Vincent Jackson got behind Chris Houston for what could have been a 24-yard gain to set up first-and-goal at the 1, but the ball hung in the air and Jackson came down just out of bounds. On the next play, the Chargers' field goal was blocked. A few minutes later, still down nine, Jackson made an amazing vertical leap to catch a pass, but came down out of bounds again, this time in the back of the end zone. The Chargers ended up kicking a field goal on the drive.
I know he's dealing with turf toe, but man, LaDainian Tomlinson looks done. He just has nothing to offer right now. And the Chargers know it -- on their first drive, Tomlinson had two runs (for a total of 1 yard) while Philip Rivers threw eight passes.
Doug Farrar: Comparing former Louisville receivers with the jersey number 83 (season receiving totals):
Harry Douglas: 19 catches, 265 yards, 1 touchdown.
Deion Branch: 13 catches, 152 yards, 0 touchdowns.
Douglas also has a rushing touchdown and a return touchdown, and he's a rookie third-round pick, which leads me to believe that his 2008 cap hit is a bit smaller than Branch's $6.76 million (not to mention that wasted first-round draft pick the Seahawks basically threw away on this mutt of a trade).
Pittsburgh Steelers 33 at New England Patriots 10
Ben Riley: The amazing thing about Dan Dierdorf is that once he decides something is true, no amount of visual evidence will convince him otherwise. After declaring that Santonio Holmes dropped a ball because he looked upfield too quickly, CBS showed the replay, which actually showed Holmes just dropping the ball, perhaps because it is soaking wet. Nonetheless, Dan declares that "Nope, NO, he didn't look it into his hands!"
Bill Barnwell: Dierdorf also went on a speech about how the Steelers didn't score inside the five because they missed Jerome Bettis. Through his career, inside the five, just based upon the number of times he got the ball from the 1, the 2, the 3, the 4, and the 5, an average back would've scored 45.54 touchdowns. Jerome Bettis scored ... 47 touchdowns.
Aaron Schatz: I think if there's anything you can take away from today's 31-10 thrashing of the Pats by the Steelers, it is that Pittsburgh misses Jerome Bettis. Either that, or you could take away the fact that Matt Light is completely James Harrison's bitch.
Doug Farrar: At this point, I think he'd have to stand in line for that title. Harrison's been ripping up the NFL all season.
Patrick Laverty: So then I gotta ask, is Matt Light overrated? I hear people talk about him with Pro Bowl mentions, but at the same time, he's a turnstyle for any above-average pass rusher. Justin Tuck, meet Tom Brady. Often.
It was also sorta funny to see Cassel give a little "WTF?" to Kaczur when he got sacked from the front side, and you can see Kaczur's reaction was basically "wasn't my guy," and then the replay shows Faulk just bumping the rusher and going out for a pass. Sounds like a really bad read by Cassel and one that Kaczur will give an "I told you so" during the film review.
I thought it was funny when Ellis Hobbs and Richard Seymour sacked Ben Roethlisberger. First Hobbs hits him and Ben is almost swatting him away like a fly, and then Seymour cleans up.
Now, are things really that bad between Bill Belichick and Ty Law that it's worth keeping Deltha O'Neal on the roster instead of signing Law as a free agent? It seemed today that the play in the Pittsburgh huddle was "we need a touchdown here, so whoever O'Neal's chasing five steps behind will get the ball."
Randy Moss deserves quite a bit of the blame for this game. When it was still a game, he had some big drops that could have turned things around.
After two weeks of sports radio and "what if Brady's not ready, we gotta sign Cassel to the $14 million franchise and keep him, even if it's as the backup, or maybe he's even better than Brady" talk, I can't wait to hear all this week about how badly Cassel sucks and the Patriots aren't going to the playoffs because they didn't sign Culpepper or it's time to give O'Connell a shot.
Bill Barnwell: Tuck was on the interior in that game, it wasn't Light's fault.
Aaron Schatz: Law is just as over the hill as O'Neal, if not more so. There's a reason why nobody signed him for half the season.
Denver Broncos 34 at New York Jets 17
Doug Farrar: Note to the booth crew: Alex Gibbs doesn't coach the Denver offensive line anymore. Hasn't in a long, long time. Rick Dennison, who has coached that unit since 2001, would probably appreciate the namecheck. He certainly deserves it.
Sean McCormick: Thomas Jones' second touchdown was one of the strangest I've ever seen. Jones was tripped up by Denver defensive tackle Kenny Peterson, but instead of going to the ground, Jones ended up rolling down Peterson's back and landing on his feet. All the Broncos defenders seemed to think Jones was down, but he ran out the play just in case and upon further review, his knee never touched down.
Doug Farrar: It looked to me like his elbow may have touched the ground, but there wasn't a clear angle to overturn. Probably a really good no-down call by the officials.
Sean McCormick: Mike Shanahan has done a nice job of mixing up his play-calling to anticipate the coverage. The game plan has alternated between quick bubble screens that attack the secondary horizontally whenever the defense is packed inside and spread formations that isolate receivers in one-on-one coverage in the middle of the field whenever the Jets start bracketing the outside receivers. Jay Cutler has been very efficient, but a lot of it is simply play design.
Vince Verhei: After watching Eddie Royal burn Abram Elam for a long touchdown to put Denver up 14-7, I had a flashback to Aaron on Sports Guy's podcast: The AFC playoffs are going to be all about matchups. The Jets handily beat the Titans, a running team, but can't handle the Broncos, a passing team, even though Denver is clearly inferior to Tennessee, overall.
I was prepared to come on here and tear the Jets apart for only giving Thomas Jones the ball 11 times in the first half against the Broncos' horrible run defense. Then I looked up the numbers and realized the Jets only had 25 total plays. And of the 11 carries Jones did get, seven gained 4 yards or less, and he also fumbled. So never mind.
Kansas City Chiefs 20 at Oakland Raiders 13
Ben Riley: The Raiders ran my favorite play, the hook-and-ladder, with Ron Curry pitching the ball to McFadden, for a 16-yard gain. This comes after they split McFadden out wide and ran a deep out route to him (and interference was called). The Raiders are fun to watch when they play the Chiefs.
Mike Tanier: It was an oddball hook-and-lateral. It was more like a smash route as I remember -- a 5-yard hitch, with McFadden coming out of the backfield to take the ball as a quasi-option pitch. Pretty cool little wrinkle, though.
Bill Barnwell: Chris Houston had an awful interception return against the Chiefs. He had open field in front of him on the sideline and, despite the fact that he had only Tyler Thigpen to beat (with multiple blockers), he turned into the middle of the field and was tackled.
Russell Levine: Tuned into the end of this one, mostly because I had Oakland high in my confidence pool and wanted to see if they could come back. They couldn't, but I did catch Kansas City salting the game away by running Larry Johnson out of the Nevada "pistol" formation. Crazy college formations -- they're everywhere!
I don't recall K.C. showing that look against the Bucs a few weeks ago. Has anyone seen the Chiefs or anyone else deploy that formation this season?
Bill Barnwell: Someone (Vince?) mentioned the pistol a couple of weeks ago.
Aaron Schatz: I actually don't think of the pistol as that nuts. It's really just a slightly adjusted Shotgun. What are supposed to be the specific positives on it?
By the way, anyone else looking forward to Madden 2010? One of the reasons why NCAA Football is more fun than Madden is the variety of offensive formations, and now Madden is going to need to include the option, the Wildcat, the pistol, etc.
Russell Levine: I think the thought behind the pistol is that it provides most of the advantage of the shotgun -- letting the quarterback can set up quicker and start his progression -- while still allowing a running back to take a handoff with a running start. So it's supposed to be a better formation to run out of than the traditional shotgun.
Vince Verhei: Oakland had some very good creative offense today. Starting with the aforementioned hitch-and-lateral, JaMarcus Russell-to-Ronald Curry-to-Darren McFadden. (It was almost off a wide receiver screen; the slot receiver threw a block on the corner covering Curry.) They also tried a little of everything with McFadden. Besides the hitch-and-lateral, he also lined up at running back, wide receiver, and quarterback in the first 20 minutes of the game.
And then they had a really, really horrible bit of creative offense. With a fourth-and-10 early in the second quarter, they lined up for a 43-yard field-goal attempt. Sebastian Janikowski, a left-footed kicker, lines up to the right of holder Shane Lechler. At the snap, Janikowski takes off to the left and Lechler tries to flick the ball backwards to him. They never came close to connecting, and Maurice Leggett picked up the ball and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown, which would prove to be the game's final margin. Now, let's review everything that had to go right for Oakland for this play to work:
1) Shane Lechler, from one knee, had to pitch the ball backwards THROUGH HIS LEGS to Janikowski;
2) Janikowski had to field the ball cleanly;
3) SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI had to beat the defense to the edge and pick up at least 10 yards.
I defy you to name me a more poorly designed play.
Tony Gonzalez had a big first quarter, catching four balls for 48 yards. So Oakland put Nnamdi Asomugha on him in the second quarter. And the unthinkable happened: Gonzalez won the matchup! First play, he ran an out route for 11 yards and a first down. Next play, he got open again, but Russell overthrew him. From that point Asomugha was on Gonzalez off-and-on. On one play in the third quarter, he was beaten and tried to hold Gonzalez, but Gonzo ran right threw it and caught a 23-yarder. Which leads to two thoughts. First, it appears the only receivers who can succeed against Asomugha are big guys who can out-physical him. Second, Gonzalez is so, so far from washed up. So, where will he be next year? What playoff-ready teams could use a great receiving tight end? Carolina? Philadelphia?
And yes, Kansas City continues to stick with the pistol. All told, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference. I haven't seen them bobble a snap yet. It does force the runner to line up a yard or so deeper than he normally would, but some guys like it that way. I remember years ago, Herschel Walker saying he liked to line up in an extra deep set so he could see the defense better, and had more time to read his blocks.
Chicago Bears 14 at Minnesota Vikings 34
Doug Farrar: Remember what I said about pinning the opposing team at their own 1 on a failed goal-line stand? Uh, forget it. The Vikings hold the Bears on a goal-line stand, Charles Tillman turns inside while covering Bernard Berrian on Minnesota's first-and-10, and Berrian goes for 99 yards.
Damn. Then Tillman gets busted on an extreme horse-collar on Berrian a few minutes later. Did he spend the week at DeAngelo Hall Cornerback School?
Aaron Schatz: I can't believe I'm saying this, but Kyle Orton is seriously being held back by the quality of his wide receivers. Orton connects with open guys and they don't seem to know that the ball has actually been thrown to them.
Ben Riley: In the waning minutes of this game, Andrea Kramer served up a turkey platter of praise for Jared Allen's devotion to his football idols, including Dick Butkus. Afterward, Al Michaels awkwardly quips, "He just drinks... up life!", followed by Madden declaring "Boy does he!" Given that Allen has been arrested for DUI three times, perhaps another metaphor would have been more appropriate?
Ben Riley: Memo to Sprint advertising department: The CEO-as-pitchman idea worked for Wendy's because Dave Thomas seemed like a lovable Midwesterner you'd like to have over for dinner. Your CEO, in contrast, looks like a pompous Upper West Side dweeb who wears lots of sweater vests, and talks about where he plans to "summer." Time to reconsider.
Bill Barnwell: You know, those commercials didn't really annoy me until the guy talked about how you can "even update your Facebook status" on your phone. If I have Facebook, I really don't need a sermon about how phones can access the interwebs and check the e-mails. I know already. If I don't, I'm probably not going to care if I can do something to my Facebook on the phone.