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

Audibles at the Line: Week 15

compiled by Doug Farrar and Vince Verhei

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2009. Games are chosen based on our own personal viewing preferences, and are going to reflect the teams we support and the cities where we live.

Thursday, December 11

Chicago Bears 27 at New Orleans Saints 24

Doug Farrar: The "Pierre Thomas for 250 carries in 2009" campaign begins here!

Aaron Schatz: You know, you can see evidence of it in the numbers (the blitzing numbers from charting, the fact that they are stronger against No. 1 wide receivers than No. 2s) but it wasn't until I watched closely tonight that I realized just how much less the Bears are using the classic "Tampa-2" coverage compared to past years. They are playing a lot more man, and blitzing a lot more instead of just rushing the front four. I wonder what the reasoning was behind that. The cornerbacks are the same -- well, were the same until Nathan Vasher got hurt again. The line doesn't have the depth of past years but they've got a good starting crew, as good as past years; they still have Tommie Harris, and Mark Anderson and Alex Brown are good pass rushers. Why go to more pass pressure and less zone coverage?

This week's award for "I have no idea what counts as pass interference" goes to Jason David, who had Greg Olsen wrapped in a bear hug on a pass that might have won the game for the Bears. I want to hear from Mike Pereira about this one.

And what the hell is Kyle Orton doing scrambling 10 yards away from the goal line with five seconds left?

Doug Farrar: When they were talking about how New Orleans could have had the game by just not tackling Orton, and how the instinct takes over, I thought about that Westbrook play where Runyan told him to down it at the 1 to run out the clock against the Cowboys.

David's had a few good plays in the last few weeks, but he's back to his old ways. Watching him try to defend a post or a go is just ... bad. Hole in Zone, who had been mentoring him this season, is not amused. Losing Mike McKenzie and Tracy Porter for the season killed the Saints. You just knew the Bears were going to get the yards they needed to tie and win the game. Not sure how much McKenzie will have in the tank going forward, but I liked Porter's potential.

Sunday, December 14

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 at Atlanta Falcons 13

Mark Zajack: I caught Brian Baldinger trying to say what a great job Falcons quarterback coach Bill Musgrave is doing with Matt Ryan: "Musgrave has been working tediously with Ryan..." Uh, OK.

And I know that people love Derrick Brooks, but apparently the list of admirers includes the Falcons blockers. If you see a highlight of the Michael Turner touchdown, check out the bear hug right tackle Tyson Clabo puts on Brooks.

Aaron Schatz: First of all, thanks to the folks who showed up to Beer Feed Numero Uno in Boston. We spent the first three hours mostly watching this game.

These teams were getting very chippy with each other after a lot of plays, from very early on. You could tell they both knew it was an important game. It was pretty tense.

ESPN.com had an article earlier this week talking about six MVP candidates, and one of them was Michael Turner. I appreciate that Atlanta has a better rushing game this year, but you've gotta be kidding me. I'm sorry, 4.3 yards per carry is not an MVP. On the other hand, Merril Hoge this morning on Edge NFL Matchup brought up the idea of Matt Ryan as MVP, and that's not such a bad idea (although his case isn't as strong after he struggled today). Has any player ever been NFL MVP as a rookie?

I mentioned on Thursday that Chicago has moved away from the classic "Tampa-2" style and plays majority man coverage this year. Tampa Bay may be doing the same, or at least was today. When Ronde Barber is playing Roddy White close, that's good. When the Falcons for some reason take a practice squad tight end named Jason Rader with no career NFL receptions, and split him out wide, and he totally burns safety Jermaine Phillips deep, that's not so good. They got lucky when Rader fumbled the ball away at the goal-line and a challenge overturned his touchdown.

Coy Wire was playing outside linebacker today for the injured Michael Boley and did not look good. He had trouble in pass coverage, and he's the one who was blocking Brian Clark and let go a little too early, which let Clark get to Michael Koenen before Koenen could get the punt off.

Vince Verhei: Matt Ryan threw two interceptions today, both on passes to Roddy White, and White was open on both plays. In the second quarter, White got behind Aqib Talib for what should have been a 34-yard touchdown, but Ryan underthrew him and Talib recovered to make the pick. On the Falcons' next possession, White crossed the field from right to left, but Ryan threw behind him and Ronde Barber reeled it in.

After an incomplete Tampa Bay pass, Domonique Foxworth gave Antonio Bryant a little shove in the back. Mike Smith stepped toward Foxworth to lecture him. Then he saw Bryant coming at Foxworth to retaliate -- and cut him off, getting in his face and pointing him back toward the Tampa Bay sideline. It was great to see a coach determined to keep his guys in line, and even more eager to stick up for them. Quite a change from the coach in Atlanta last year.

Washington Redskins 13 at Cincinnati Bengals 20

Mike Tanier: What do you guys think Clinton Portis will have to say about this series?

1-1-CIN 1 (6:33) J.Campbell pass incomplete short right to F.Davis.
2-1-CIN 1 (6:27) M.Sellers right guard for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.
Cincinnati challenged the runner broke the plane ruling, and the play was REVERSED.
M.Sellers right guard to CIN 1 for no gain (C.Mays).
3-1-CIN 1 (6:01) M.Sellers up the middle to CIN 1 for no gain (C.Mays, B.Johnson). FUMBLES (C.Mays), RECOVERED by
CIN-C.Mays at CIN 0. Touchback.
Washington challenged the runner was down by contact ruling, and the play was Upheld. (Timeout #1 at 05:52.)

Doug Farrar: I think that one could bring the alter egos out of hiding.

Vince Verhei: Chad Ocho Cinco catches a pass over the middle and gets his helmet knocked off on a wicked shot by Kareem Moore. The newly un-helmeted Ocho Cinco jumps to his feet, jawing at Moore. Hey Chad, that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been running down the field with your completely unfastened chinstrap flapping in the wind. To make things worse, the reception was called back on a penalty.

Detroit Lions 21 at Indianapolis Colts 31

Will Carroll: Some early questions:

1. There was a challenged play where the punt went off Keiwan Ratliff (the return guy for Indy), but might have gone off one of the Lions. Ratliff ran up and called for a fair catch, then the maybe muff. Tony Dungy challenged and lost, asking if it touched the Lions player first. Could he not challenge that the guy was too close on the fair catch?

2. The broadcast showed a magnified view that showed it did hit the Lions player. It wasn't definitive and Brian Billick rightly said it was tough to overturn on that view alone. He questioned whether or not the ref had that magnified view. If not, why the hell not?

3. Dungy's challenge lost. I don't know if anyone keeps this stat, but Dungy seems to win one out of 10 challenges. Anyone track this, and is any coach worse than Dungy? Why is he so bad at it?

4. Dan Orlovsky threw a high pass to Calvin Johnson and he tipped it. Two Colts were almost there for the pick. I know a lot of quarterbacks throw high to tall wide receivers (Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress, for one example). It's a good strategy when it works, but does it lead to tips/interceptions when it misses?

Doug Farrar: On the replay percentage issue, Dungy was 1-for-3 this year before that one. That's on the low side, league-wide. The Saints have 15 challenges (the most) and four overturned plays. Their 26.7 percent success rate is the lowest among teams with 10 or more challenges. The highest? The Lions (5-of-10) and the Raiders (7-of-11). Yeah, go figure.

Vince Verhei: I'm sure the Colts defense (ranked 20th in rushing defense DVOA) had a lot to do with this, but Kevin Smith looked really good to me. He kind of reminded me of Emmitt Smith, which is a weird comparison: Kevin is three inches taller and three pounds lighter than Emmitt. But like Emmitt, Kevin takes short, choppy steps, which gives him good balance, change of direction, and acceleration.

And then there's Calvin Johnson. The jump-ball lob to Megatron is becoming undefendable. On another play, he caught a 5-yard hitch with a defender closing in for a sure tackle. Johnson ducked under the defender, took one step and lunged forward for five yards after catch -- on that one step. He'll be the best player on an 0-16 team in league history.

San Diego Chargers 22 at Kansas City Chiefs 21

Ben Riley: Apparently, Kris Dielman has been ejected from the game for punching. The announcers are completely baffled as to why, and based on the reply they showed, it appears he was kicked out for a light brushing of a player's head with his hand while on the ground.

By the way, the Chargers are losing 7-0 and have turned the ball over twice when threatening to score. What does Norv Turner need to do to prove he's not a good head coach?

Doug Farrar: Well, he'd have to start by losing games like this. I think he's going to get a relative pass on this season. There was the Hochuli game, some really weird calls in the last Kansas City game (which they managed to win anyway), and I saw an NFL Network graphic that showed San Diego's 2-4 record in games decided in the last minute. It wasn't his fault that the defense had little push outside of Shawne Merriman, and the offensive line/LT2 scenario leaves a lot of questions.

Seattle Seahawks 23 at St. Louis Rams 20

Ben Riley: You know that thing TMQ does, "The single worst play of the year ... thus far"? Seahawks defensive end Darryl Tapp wants in on that action. In the first series of this game, he's got outside contain on Steven Jackson, and he just freezes up when Jackson makes a cut inside. Tapp made absolutely no attempt to tackle him, or chase after him, or do anything at all really.

Doug Farrar: On Seattle's first drive, they have a third-and-19. Leonard Little demolishes right tackle Ray Willis, and Seneca Wallace moves up in the pocket and fires a first down to rookie tight end John Carlson. However, the Rams are running a lot of three-man fronts with some interesting blitzes, which the Seahawks' patchwork offensive line is ill-equipped to handle.

Why bad teams are bad, part 1,317: At the end of the first quarter, Seahawks punter John Ryan spots the ball out of bounds at the Seattle 3. First-and-10, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane gets busted for encroachment. First-and-5, Steven Jackson for 4. Second-and-1, Steven Jackson for 7. Way to demolish your special teams advantage, guys.

The St. Louis Rams, the team competing for the worst overall DVOA in the history of our stats, humiliated the Seahawks' alleged defense on two successive plays on their looooooong second-quarter drive, First, there was the cutback run by Jackson on fourth-and-1. That was a 14-yard gain, because it is apparently a requirement that every Seattle defender bite on pursuit against the first guy to move. They all zigged with the fullback, while Jackson zagged. Then, Jackson took a direct snap and handed off to Dane Looker, who was sweeping left to right. Looker threw to a wide-open Marc Bulger for 11 yards. The Rams scored a touchdown on this drive, going 97 yards in 18 plays and eating almost nine minutes off the clock, despite about 15 penalties on Richie Incognito. That drive put them up in time of possession, 17:30 to 5:49.

Is it too early to start drinking?

Ben Riley: Doug, I've been under the influence since Week 3.

The Rams have sent Jason Craft on a corner blitz about 17 times, and the Seahawks continue to leave him unblocked. Result: another Seneca Wallace fumble. Hey, offensive line coach Mike Solari -- you need to make an adjustment. Like, now.

Seneca Wallace apparently is tired of unblocked Rams nailing him in the backfield. At the end of the first half, he basically ran up and down the Seahawks sideline screaming at his teammates. Wallace is no prima donna, so this meltdown -- and an appearance by Charlie Frye -- is proof positive the Seahawks have hit rock bottom.

Richie Incognito has four penalties today. When does this experiment end, St. Louis?

Doug Farrar: First, I'd like to apologize for writing so much about a game that I felt bad about watching in HD. Hi-Def is wasted on stuff like this. I still don't know how the Seahawks won this game, I mean, I understand that Wallace led the team on two late scoring drives, but I'm at a loss to explain HOW. This team is so bad; two of their three wins have come against the Rams. The other one came against the 49ers. That's right, they're 0-for the rest of the NFL. Take them outside the worst division in football and they can't win.

Even this game came with a price. On the game-winning field goal, left tackle Sean Locklear (dislocated toe) was injured. Locklear was replacing Walter Jones, who's having (gulp) microfracture surgery. Now, Locklear might be replaced by Ray Willis, who spent today as Leonard Little's personal punching bag. Given the way this season has gone, I'd expect miracles over the Jets and Cardinals, because it's about time to scuttle a top-five draft pick with a few meaningless wins. Now, we have to gear up for a week of Favre vs. Holmgren stuff. Yikes.

San Francisco 49ers 9 at Miami Dolphins 14

Ben Riley: OK, I understand the fumble-luck principle, but did y'all realize the Dolphins haven't turned the ball over more than once in any game this year? How is that even possible? And when are we going to add Chad Pennington to the NFL MVP conversation?

Doug Farrar: Here's my question: The last two teams that went from 1-15 to a winning record -- the 2008 Dolphins and the 1997 Jets -- were run by Bill Parcells. Can we just skip the grace period and put the man in the Hall of Fame right now?

Bill Moore: I don't disagree with this at all. But for the last few weeks I have been wondering about the following and would like answers if anyone has them:

Unlike previous Parcells turnarounds, he's not the coach here. What changes -- particularly Parcells changes -- have turned around the Dolphins? Jake Long was a consensus pick. I could have run the Dolphins and would have drafted Long. That's not a Parcells change. However, picking Tony Sporano to coach the team would be one.

The Lions and the Raiders are good examples that bad teams don't just revert to the top (or even the middle). The Dolphins have done something right. Are we denigrating Sporano's efforts by all this talk about Parcells, or are there Parcells fingerprints all over this team?

Ned Macey: Well, of the other two 1-15 teams in this era, both were .500 two years later, and one was in the Super Bowl. So maybe the key to franchise building is to go 1-15 instead of 2-14 or something.

Aaron Schatz: I think these are the five biggest reasons why the Dolphins turned things around. The question becomes, how much did Bill Parcells have to do with each one?

1) Hiring Tony Sparano as head coach. Yes, that's Parcells.

2) Bringing out the Wildcat against the Patriots in Week 3 (remember, the Dolphins were 0-2 at the time). The main mover on this is David Lee, the quarterbacks coach, the guy who was at Arkansas. He was hired by Sparano, who was hired by Parcells, so I guess that's partially Parcells.

3) Somebody woke up Joey Porter after he was horrible in his first year with the Dolphins. I have no idea who gets the credit for this and how much it is scheme vs. Porter re-dedicating himself to offseason training.

4) Signing Chad Pennington. I don't know how much "credit" the Dolphins get on this one. It was painfully obvious what the biggest weakness of the Miami Dolphins was in 2007, and they didn't exactly fix it in the offseason. When a reasonable quarterback became a free agent during training camp, you had to be a moron to not sign him.

5) The schedule. The western divisions are so, so bad ... Parcells doesn't get credit for that. (And, by the way, neither do Mangini or Belichick.)

Bill Barnwell: Joey Porter switched sides and is playing the same side he played in Pittsburgh.

Sean McCormick: I think Parcells should get credit for the Pennington signing. There were quite a few people who thought Pennington's arm strength had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer play in the NFL, certainly not as a starter. There were other veteran quarterback options, and he could just as easily have put pressure on Sparano to play Chad Henne. Instead, Parcells jumped on Pennington the second he hit the market and kept him away from Kansas City, which seemed like at least as likely a landing spot.

Ned Macey: While he should get credit for that, on the other hand, as of August 10, he had no quarterback. I don't think anyone thinks the Dolphins would be over .500 without Pennington (OK, at least I don't think so), and Parcells had lined up a Chad Henne/John Beck competition if I remember correctly.

Sean McCormick: With Josh McCown thrown in for good measure.

Doug Farrar: Lee and Sparano were both on Parcells' staff at Dallas. Basically, they were on the plane home after getting waxed by the Cardinals in Week 2, and Lee and Sparano devised the plays.

Vince Verhei: Mike Singletary coached this game wearing a very clingy 49ers athletic shirt. It was a good look for him, but hopefully it does not catch on in the coaching community. It must not spread to the Holmgrens, the Reids, the Crennels of the world.

Buffalo Bills 27 at New York Jets 31

Sean McCormick: And ... Vernon Gholston is inactive. That pick is looking better and better all the time.

On the first series of the game, the Jets were faced with a third-and-1. They went to a heavy look, faked the handoff and called a quarterback keeper off the edge. It took the defense utterly by surprise and netted 27 yards. Favre, needless to say, was having fun out there. Very slow fun, but fun.

With two minutes to go in the first half, the Bills have 33 yards passing and 17 points. They've been doing it through a combination of surprisingly effective running and unsurprisingly effective special teams play. Buffalo extended their first offensive series by successfully executing a fake punt, which ultimately turned into three points, and their go-ahead touchdown was set up by a huge punt return by Roscoe Parrish. The Jets are marching up and down the field the entire first half, but they're still finding themselves down on the scoreboard.

Leon Washington really is what Reggie Bush was supposed to be. It's not often that teams will call runs for potential scoring plays with only one minute remaining in the half, but that's exactly what the Jets did. They ran a trap play with Alan Faneca pulling from left to right to create the opening, and Washington slid through the hole, kicked it to the outside and outran the rest of the Buffalo defense. The Bills were in a Cover-1 look, and Bryan Scott was not up to the task of closing down the angle.

Ben Riley: Hey Sean, who is David Clowney? He just made an incredible one-handed catch -- and it's the first catch of his NFL career. Was he on Davone Bess's flag-football team or something?

Sean McCormick: He was a training camp phenom who came from the Green Bay practice squad. He was leading the league in reception yardage in the preseason, but then he broke his collarbone and has been inactive ever since. Good size, terrific speed.

And in a case of what goes around comes around, the Jets finished up the fourth quarter by scoring 10 points without notching a third down. The big play in the sequence was a defensive touchdown scored by Shaun Ellis just after the two-minute warning when Buffalo inexplicably decided to go play-action on second-and-5. J.P. Losman rolled out right but never felt the pressure coming from his backside in the form of Abram Elam. Elam stripped Losman; the ball bounced around and up into the hands of Ellis, who smashed his way into the end zone.

Losman just cannot keep the ball low when he throws. He was picked off once when he jammed one off Josh Reed's hands, and was nearly picked off again on Buffalo's final drive, only to be saved when David Harris dropped the ball. Losman had a few good moments in the second half throwing the ball, but when he's under any kind of pressure, he throws high. (He also has a nasty tendency to throw across his body back into the middle of the field.)

Favre wasn't particularly accurate, either, but he tended to throw the ball behind his targets. That's been going on for about three weeks now, and it could have cost the Jets the season, as Favre threw behind a wide-open Dustin Keller when the Jets were down 27-24 and needed to convert a third down to get into scoring range. I thought it might have been a weather issue the last two weeks with Favre, but the weather was mild today and he still had problems.

Ben Riley: Have we adequately audibled about the Randy Cross porn 'stache? I feel like we haven't.

Tennessee Titans 12 at Houston Texans 13

Ben Riley: Gus Johnson is calling a game with Andre Johnson and Chris Johnson! Awesome.

Matt Schaub has 177 yards passing with about a minute to play in the first half. 154 of those yards are to Andre Johnson. Let's just say Cortland Finnegan is not having his best game.

Doug Farrar: I wonder if Gus called any Bengals games a couple years ago.

So, it looks like the Texans are the "Officially Feisty, but Too Late" team of 2008, and the Titans might be in a peck of trouble, depending on the status of Albert Haynesworth's left knee.

Vince Verhei: Watching the Tennessee wide receivers do battle with the Houston defensive backs was like watching a manatee fight a grouper to the death. On land. The Titans began the assault with a series of dropped passes and fumbles. The Texans countered with sloppy coverage. Up 10-3 with five seconds to go in the first half, Nick Ferguson was called for a 36-yard pass interference penalty on Justin Gage; the Titans kicked a field goal on the next play. Even when the Titans' receivers made a big play, they did it without catching the ball.

Incidentally, that field goal left Tennessee kicking off, down 10-6, with two seconds on the clock. They kicked onside, and somehow managed to recover with one second remaining. And then they took a knee. So what was the point of the onside kick then?!

The coaching gets weirder. The Titans never trailed by more than four points in the fourth quarter, and yet in the fourth, they ran 15 pass plays (including a Kerry Collins scramble) and only five rushes. Why so pass-wacky?

Finally, the Titans had a fourth-and-3 at the Houston 32 and turned down the field-goal attempt. (Jeff Fisher said after the game that he didn't trust Rob Bironas to kick a 50-yard field goal into the wind.) So they go for it. That decision is reasonable. However, the play they ran ... a fade pattern to Justin McCareins? You only needed three yards; wouldn't a Chris Johnson run have been a better bet? (It was the first play after the two-minute warning, and the Titans still had all three timeouts, so the clock was not an issue.)

Minnesota Vikings 35 at Arizona Cardinals 14

Vince Verhei: Kurt Warner got off to a horrible start today, overthrowing his own receivers and hitting Vikings defenders right in the chest. On his first six passes, he had two completions for 25 yards, and an interception. Then he completed two in a row, but on the second Anquan Boldin fumbled and the Vikings recovered. Six plays later, the Vikings were up 21-0 and the game was pretty much done.

Tarvaris Jackson wasn't quite as good as his numbers. He gained 100 yards on two long touchdowns, and only 63 yards in his other 15 passes. But he clearly outplayed Warner -- which should automatically disqualify Warner as a viable MVP candidate.

Denver Broncos 10 at Carolina Panthers 30

Doug Farrar: Pretty interesting first half here. You'd expect that Panthers rushing attack to go wild against Denver's defense, but Steve Smith has been the star.

On the first drive of the second half, however, that run game came back with a vengeance. On first-and-10 from the Panthers' 44, DeAngelo Williams took a handoff left, found nothing, and bounced back to the middle, where he found a huge hole for a 56-yard touchdown. On the play before that, Smith got buttoned up by safety Josh Barrett on an out route (just a great hit) and Smith popped right back up and started jawing with Barrett. The Panthers are on a wave right now where they're so tough, and so relentless, they suck the life out of their opponents. Where you deliver your best shot, and the guy acts as if it didn't even matter. Or you outgain a team on the ground in the first half, only to watch it all slip away when they decide to turn on the jets.

Ned Macey: If the offensive line is a possible MVP, why would't it be Denver instead of the Giants? P.J. Pope, Tatum Bell, and Selvin Young ran for 121 yards on 23 carries against the Panthers. Cutler's one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in football. The Broncos are comfortably first in ALY and have given has-beens (Pittman) and never-weres (Hillis) huge lanes to run through. It isn't the "system" -- or if it is, the system was broke since about 2004.

Pittsburgh Steelers 13 at Baltimore Ravens 9

Mike Tanier: Ed Reed had another fumble recovery in this sumo battle. Defensive MVP?

Doug Farrar: If you ask me, he'd have to fight it out with the other elite safety in this game.

Mike Tanier: Big Ben just threw an interception that defies description on third-and-1 at the start of the fourth quarter. You'll see it on the highlight shows. I don't get the logic of a play-action fake and a deep drop in short yardage against the Ravens defense.

Ben Riley: Ed Reed would be my defensive MVP, for sure.

With apologies to Bill Simmons, why does Hines Ward look like he just finished showering with the Sisters at Shawshank Penitentiary? Why is there blood all over his uniform "down there?"

Mike Tanier: OK, so now you can catch the ball with your feet in the end zone and it's not a touchdown? Isn't this getting a little ridiculous?

Ben Riley: Apparently, yes, it is a touchdown, even though the receiver didn't have possession with the ball over the plane. Well, it's not like the Steelers have ever gotten help from the officials in a big game bef -- never mind, forget I said anything.

Mike Tanier: Oh, c'mon. That was a touchdown at the end of the Ravens game. It's not like when Big Ben's shadow crossed the plane in the Super Bowl.

Doug Farrar:I'm not touching that one with a 40-foot Terrible Towel, but I will say that the thing was called "no touchdown" on the field. Replay overturns are supposed to be based on indisputable visual evidence, and anyone who thinks that was an indisputable touchdown needs his eyes checked. There appeared to be questions about whether he broke the plane, and whether he had two feet down when he brought the ball in at its closet point to the end zone. Now, if it was called a touchdown on the field, I would not have had a problem with Walt Coleman sticking with that ruling after replay. It's not really conclusive either way. It's a bang-bang call, and even the best officials (not that Coleman is in that group) make mistakes.

Aaron Schatz: Here's one of those games where "they are who we thought they were" comes into play. Two defense-first teams played smashmouth football for 60 minutes with nothing but punts and field goals until the end. Both teams seemed to have a little bit of trouble hanging on to the ball -- this was a fumblefest. My question: What the hell happened to the Baltimore pass defense on that last Pittsburgh drive? All of a sudden, everything was a zone and Ben Roethlisberger found the hole on nearly every pass. That defense seriously folded up on that last drive.

Vince Verhei: I love watching Baltimore's offense. Teams that run the ball effectively and then throw deep are just fun, plain and simple. They ran a lot of plays with an unbalanced line, including Joe Flacco lining up in shotgun, then running an old-school option to the short side of the line.

On their first drive of the third quarter, the Giants tried an end-around to Nate Washington. As soon as he got the ball, I thought to myself, "There is no way Ed Reed doesn't run this guy down." Sure enough, Reed came zipping in like lightning to make the tackle. The play gained six yards on second-and-10, so I guess you can't call it a failure, but the fact I even thought this shows why Reed (and a few other elite safeties, including Polamalu) are so valuable -- you EXPECT them to make plays, sideline-to-sideline, run or pass.

Pittsburgh came away with a win, but they got away with some God-awful clock management at game's end. Down 9-6, Ben Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward to set up a first-and-goal at the 4 with more than a minute to go. You'd love a touchdown there, but you'd take a field goal. Sixty seconds is plenty of time to run three plays. Instead, Roethlisberger spiked the ball to stop the clock. A complete waste of a down. A second-down pass was also incomplete, and you know what happened on third down. But what if Holmes had dropped the ball? It would have set up fourth-and-goal and forced Pittsburgh to kick a field goal. There were still 50 seconds on the clock, and I'm sure they would have liked to take back that first-down spike.

New England Patriots 49 at Oakland Raiders 26

Patrick Laverty: I thought that last year, the "book" on the Patriots was to take away Randy Moss. So if you're a defense with possibly the best cover corner in the league, don't you just lock him up on Moss all day? So where was Nnamdi Asomugha on the Moss touchdown?

If you draft an offensive lineman second in the draft, and then you struggle to find a left tackle while said second overall draft pick is healthy, then can we say that Gallery is Swedish for "bust?"

Why do players dance in the end zone when they score and close their team's gap to only two touchdowns? Umm, you're still getting blown out. Might want to go easy with the dancing and the "look at me" stuff.

Sean McCormick: He's firing his team up.

Vince Verhei: I assume you're talking about Darren McFadden's touchdown to make it 49-26 New England with less than two minutes to go? McFadden did whatever you call the Black Hole version of the Lambeau Leap. I figured that those fans had just sat through a monsoon watching their home team get pounded, and they deserved a little recognition.

Patrick Laverty: Boy, this Raiers team really isn't good. (No, that's not a misspelling, there really is no "D" in this team.

Vince Verhei: The Patriots were definitely not afraid of Nnamdi Asomugha. They actually threw at him three plays in a row. On the first pass, a perfect back-shoulder fade to Randy Moss was good for a completion. Next pass, Moss beats Asomugha on a curl route for 14 yards or so. Next pass, Asomugha has Wes Welker on a crossing pattern. That one, naturally, was knocked away.

With Matt Cassel throwing four touchdowns against the Raiders just days after the death of his father, I kept waiting for the announcers to make the obvious comparisons to Brett Favre. They never did. I believe this was the first time I've heard any announcers pass up any reasonably valid chance to mention Favre's name.

Aaron Schatz: We saw Moss catch a couple passes on Asomugha, but he was being covered by Rashad Baker on the first touchdown and Gibril Wilson on the second. You know what? Your starting strong safety on Randy Moss is a bad matchup, but your backup free safety on Randy Moss is a REALLY bad matchup.

New York Giants 8 at Dallas Cowboys 20

Aaron Schatz: When Tony Romo throws to Patrick Crayton on third-and-long, who gets to whine about it? Terrell Owens or Jason Witten?

Wow, I've got to say, there's no way that Plaxico Burress lets Terrance Newman get inside of him as easily as Domenik Hixon just did on the Dallas interception that opened the third quarter.

Why have the Giants given up on the run? They aren't even trying. I know they're down to one guy, but can't they still run that one guy a little bit?

Doug Farrar: I think this team could make it through no Burress or no Jacobs, but not both. Just too much to ask. Defenses can play too honest against them, and the Cowboys' defense is continuing a stretch where it has really been outstanding.

Come to think of it, somebody who knows the Cowboys better than I do: Does that defensive upswing go with the timeline of Wade Phillips getting more involved in that side of the ball? Seems like it does.

Ben Riley: It's hard for me to type this, but the Cowboys defense has played much better since Phillips took over. He's like the flip side of the Norv Turner coin: very good at one thing (defense), questionable to horrible at everything else.

Bill Barnwell: Phillips didn't really have a huge impact on the D, to be honest.

Aaron Schatz: Hey, guess what? It turns out that a guard who Oakland didn't want (Kevin Boothe) is not very good at pass blocking when forced to play tackle because of injury!

Doug Farrar: Five minutes left in the third quarter, Owens takes a slide short of the first-down marker rather than take a hit on a short pass. New York's defense stops Marion Barber on third-and-1 on the next play. Al Michaels said that Owens slipped, but he was already heading backward before his feet ... uhhh ... went out from under him.

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin...

That draw to Tashard Choice was about the only play that set the Steelers on their heels last week, and it sure worked against the Giants in the fourth quarter. I really like what he does whenever he's not running straight up the middle in goal-line situations. Good on that draw, can get upfield on swing passes. Not bad for a fourth-round pick who nobody expected to play much.

Comments

163 comments, Last at 18 Dec 2008, 3:14am

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The Dolphins have just played three weak opponents and put up 46 collective points. Nice comeback year from Pennington, but it doesn't have the MVP feel to me.

Someone tell the Jets that Leon Washington would not self-destruct with, oh, I don't know, 2-3 offensive touches per quarter.

I normally like Gil Santos a lot, but he butchered "Asomugha" all day long (unless Santos knows the proper pronunciation and no one else does).

Oh, one other thing:

Riley: It's hard for me to type this, but the Cowboys defense has played much better since Phillips took over. He's like the flip side of the Norv Turner coin: very good at one thing (defense), questionable to horrible at everything else.

Comment of the week.

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

My thoughts on the Steelers Touchdown: I thought for a touchdown the ball had to cross the plane of the goal-line unless Vinnie Testerverde was involved.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The great thing about the Giants loss is it now gives us the best late season big game matchup in years next Sunday night. Carolina @ New York for the #1 seed.

What's even crazier is if Carolina wins they are the #1 seed, but if they lose they could still NOT MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. This is almost unfair.

15 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

That was essentially true even before the results of NYG-DAL were known. Regardless of whether the Giants were 11-3 or 12-2 right now, the Carolina game would've clinched the #1 seed for them. Coming into last night, the Panthers game was really the only remaining regular season contest that is likely to matter for the Giants. (The MIN game in week 17 will only matter if the Giants lose and the Vikings win next week, in which case it will decide the #2 seed.)

Of course, I still wanted to see the Giants win, simply because the Cowboys are pure evil. (Although, once I saw the beating Eli was taking, I kinda wanted the staff to sit him and let Carr absorb the abuse.)

32 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The MIN game in week 17 will only matter if the Giants lose and the Vikings win next week, in which case it will decide the #2 seed.

Why are you discounting this possibility? If the Giants had won last week or this week they'd have earned a bye and made week 17 meaningless. Now they have to play the current #2 seed to make that happen.

If there is a tie, MN can get no higher than the #3 seed and the result of the week 17 games would matter to Car and NYG. If they both win or lose they'd have equal conference records. what's the third tie breaker, strength of victory?

They should definitely play for a tie.

101 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

In 2002, Miami was playing in New England to close out the season. Had they won (and Tennessee and Oakland and Pittsburgh lost) they would have been the #1 seed. They lost in OT, and ended up missing the playoffs completely.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Bringing out the Wildcat against the Patriots in Week 3 (remember, the Dolphins were 0-2 at the time). The main mover on this is David Lee, the quarterbacks coach, the guy who was at Arkansas. He was hired by Sparano, who was hired by Parcells, so I guess that's partially Parcells.

USA Today had a cover story on Sparano last week and while he shared credit with Lee, he sure made it sound like it was the head coach who was the main reason Wildcat got implemented prior to Week 3. In short, Sparano made it pretty clear the main credit belonged to T. Sparano, head coach.

We're not at practice, so I guess all we can do is speculate.

42 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Sports Illustrated had a long article a couple of weeks ago about the single wing and Wildcat origins. I believe Lee wasn't even the originator, and someone else had called it the Wildcat before. I don't have the article on hand though.

111 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=easterbrook/080923

from TMQ, circa Week 3:

According, however, to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, "The Wildcat formation is the brainchild of [Dolphins] quarterback coach David Lee [who] used it at the University of Arkansas." OK, then why wasn't the formation called "The Razorback?" (Note: The Dolphins will never have a formation called "The Crimson Tide.") Jeff Parrotte of Syracuse, N.Y., writes, "Miami's new offensive quality control coach is Steve Bush, who was hired by the Dolphins two months after winning the AA State Football Title at West Genesee High School of Camillus, New York." And the West Genesee football team is called the … Wildcats. Dr. Watson, I believe the case is solved.

_______________________________
armchair journeyman quarterback

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Tarvaris Jackson wasn't quite as good as his numbers.

So his eyds are going to be less than his passing yards? Cuz we all know that number can't be wrong.

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I think Parcells is one of the top 2-3 best gameday coaches in the history of the NFL....but I can't help thinking his career has been the same record over and over again:

1. Take over league doormat that is clearly on the way up...or at least can't possibly fall any more.

2. Use the high draft picks said team has, and acquire more to draft impact players (or have them drafted for you, as was the case Pre-Jets)

3. Earn high marks when team inevitably turns it around.

4. Bail when it looks like you've reached the high-water mark.

Right now, the greatest contribution Parcells provides is his aura. His mystique, rightly or wrongly, gives a team, especially a league doormat, a huge dose of credibility, which is huge with fans and free agents, that the days of losing are over.

Four word summary: Great Coach, Over-rated architect.

20 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I think you're understating how difficult it is to turn a team from a doormat into a division champion. If it were so easy to do what Parcells has done, we wouldn't have perennial losers like the Bengals, Lions, and Cardinals to kick around.

I think building a team is more of his strength than his game-day coaching. Not that he's a bad game-day coach, but I think there are better.

28 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

You have to be kidding. The Dolphins' turnaround was inevitable? And what about teams like the Raiders and Lions? When is their inevitable turnaround finally going to come?

I disagree, I think a quick turnaround deserves a lot of credit.

41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I dunno...I guarantee that the Lions will be a much improved team next year. The Raiders will be good again too...do you forget that they were a Super Bowl team earlier this decade? In about two years, they'll be a playoff contender again, with or without Parcells as long as they have somebody competent running things. Look at Atlanta this year, and lo and behold, this is a front office that Parcells turned down a few years ago. The Titans were terrible for the 4-5 years prior to last year, and they've turned it around.

Listen, owner/GM incompetence can torpedo a team. But you look at the Jets, for example, which had a lot of talent, but grossly underachieved under one of the worst coaches in league history. Parcells takes over with four #1 draft picks (to his great credit, he drafted well), Strong-arms Curtis Martin to join him, and raids New England of his former assistants. The Jets are in the AFCC game in two years.

I didn't say he was a bad architect, just an overrated one who is very opportunistic about which team he takes over, enjoys success with them, and then leaves before they regress. I think a lot of his legacy is based on his teams being winners, but he's left several jobs at the top of the curve, which I don't think is coincidence, but rather with an eye toward protecting his legacy.

45 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I agree no team stays a loser -or winner- forever, but the trick is doing it quick. If it takes 5-10 years, it's chance and accumulation of top draft picks (which can bust, too, just ask Matt Millen). If you do it in 1 or 2 years, it's special.

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

What do you consider much improved? The Lions have had ten loses in every year since 2001, except last year. They have approximately 3 of their draft picks on the roster. Do you think they will lose less than 10 games? If so I'll take whatever action you give.

67 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The Jets didn't have four #1 draft picks until 2000, the year after Parcells stopped coaching them. (They actually had to give the Patriots a #1 in 1999, a #2 in 1998, and a #3 and a #4 in 1997 for signing Parcells, and a #1 and a #3 in 1998 for signing Martin.)

I'd also add that Parcells has left the teams in far better shape than when he took over. (The way in which he leaves, however, has stuck the Giants with Ray Handley, the Patriots with Pete Carroll, and the Jets with Al Groh.)

79 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

In about two years, they'll be a playoff contender again, with or without Parcells as long as they have somebody competent running things.

I'm missing the logic here. You're saying that in order for a bad team to be a playoff contender, they just need two years and a competent GM/head coach, and since that's true, Parcells isn't that important?

First: doesn't that imply that Parcells is very competent, since he's done that exact thing multiple times, without exception? And isn't another word for "someone who's very competent" "good"?

Second: 'competent' seems low. Only 12/32 teams make the playoffs. For a team to go from "worst in the league" to "above average" in two years seems to require more than just plain competence, unless the majority of teams in the league are incompetent.

The cases I can think of where a team went from perennial losing team to playoff contender all include someone that most people would consider better than just "competent."

34 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I just like to point out this years Dolphins draft has been all that hot. Most of this turn around has been built on 30+ year old free agents and not the draft. The rest of that might be true. I wonder how excited Dolfans will be when Parcells team faces a much tougher schedule and has to replace most of this over the hill defense. I think this is really just the beginning of the rebuilding process in Miami and I hope fans don't run this management out of town before Parcells turns it around. This team is well coached (even if the coaching staff manages to find Brown only 10 carries or just 1 more than the other backs got) and that coach isn't named Parcells.

103 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The Fins draft wasn't that bad. Long has been everything he was supposed to be, Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford have been solid in the D-line rotation. Henne looked solid in pre-season and mop up duty for whatever thats worth. They also got Bess as a UFA who has been Pennington's go to guy since Camarillo went down.

Also, the improvements in FA were not all old players. Randy Starks has been a big contributor and he is only like 25. They basically traded Lorenzo Booker for Fasano and Ayodele. Ayodele and Ferguson were older additions, but they came cheap and were intended as stop gaps.

All I know is that the Dolphins have been in a death spiral since the day Wanny became head coach. Parcells has made this team bearable to watch in just one year.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

After an incomplete Tampa Bay pass, Domonique Foxworth gave Antonio Bryant a little shove in the back.

He also shoved the back of his head, which is what I think really pissed him off. Plaxico Burress probably would have shot him dead on the spot. Or tried to, anyway.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I'm looking forward to the first Greek-style tragedy written about how the hubris of Plaxico Burress has killed their chances at repeating as Super Bowl champions.

They've really been unimpressive the past two weeks. I know the NFC East is tough, but come on!

14 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Will, I'm pretty sure that Dungy has a crappy win% in reviews because officials keep failing to over turn stuff like punt "muff".

It was clearly off the lions guy (his back fat pushed in... seriously.) and it was clearly fair catch interference. I know the penatly isn't reviewable, but when refs continue to inconsistently apply the rules, you're going to get a low win %.

60 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Dungy has a historical low challenge success rate, at least for his time in Indy. It was a matter of joking a few years back when he was about 0 for 4 one season and said to the media, something like what's the point? Then when he had a pretty obvious opportunity, his post-game comments were a very wry "well, we thought we had a pretty good chance on that one." Why? Are the guys in the booth advising him risk-takers? I dunno.

65 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

From what I've seen of Dungy, his challenges are less often "I think we've got this one" and more "it would be really nice if we got this one." It's a challenge philosophy that pretty clearly leads to a low success rate, because you're paying more attention to the results than to the play itself.

157 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I remember Dungy's 'challenge philosophy' to be something like "I'm taking a timeout anyway, let's challenge something and see what happens!" For instance in the Super Bowl, he challenged 12 men on the field against the Bears when clearly all he wanted was the TO. He's wasting a challenge that way, but if he feels he won't need it...

144 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Will Carroll- I know that Mike Sando when he was working at the Tacoma News Tribune blog used to keep these kinds of details on coaching challenges. I'd be surprised if he didn't still keep doing that for his ESPN NFC West football blog. It's probably worthwhile to check either blog archive or send him an email.

17 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

As a longtime Cowboys and Jets fan, I may be able to offer some insight into the Parcells thing.

1. He understands regression to the mean. You guys have discussed this issue before: when a team goes 1-15 one season, the only direction it can go is up. Parcells always takes over bad teams (Giants, Pats, Jets, Cowboys, Phins all bad before Parcells) and when those teams improve, he looks like a genius.

2. As an addendum to the above, taking over a bad team enables him to remake the organization with "his guys". He takes over teams with horrible management and replaces them all with guys he knows and trusts (lol, Dave Campo era).

3. He changes the culture of the team. Note how he often takes over for "soft" coaches, guys that players love. I don't think there's anything wrong with being a player's coach. But changing the culture of a losing team often has benefits in and of itself. In the same way, Wade Phillips (a "soft" coach), was able to get more out of essentially the same team as Parcells by changing the culture of the team in the opposite direction. Change for change's sake is sometimes effective.

As a support to all this, I offer the quote by Sean Payton when asked what advice Bill Parcells had for him when seeking an NFL head coaching position (Payton was parcell's OC at the time and looking at the Oakland job). Parcells advised him essentially to seek out an opportunity where he (Payton) would be able to have a lot of control over his personnel and coaches. In the end, Payton turned down the Oakland job and remained as Parcell's OC. He would the next season land the New Orleans job.

I believe the above demonstrates why Parcells was specifically considering the Atlanta and Miami jobs (desperate owners willing to give full control), as well as why Bill Belichick initially failed in turning around Cleveland, and then turned down the Jets job (where, ironically, he would have been subject to Parcell's manipulations from the front office). Also, many Cowboys fans know the degree of desperation that Jerry Jones felt after the Dave Campo years and how willing he was to give up concessions to Parcells.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Man, I love the Steelers. Camera angles on the goalline are never just right. Is it too much trouble to ask the NFL/owners to install a static camera on either side of the goalline, far enough away from the sideline to prevent player injury that would provide a clear shot of the plane of the goalline? This seems like a no brainer. Just a digital video feed that would be able to be accessed by the "booth." I don't even need to see it on TV, just give it to the officials so that they can have that much more evidence to make the right call. With that said, I'd love to have that forensics guy that was featured on "The Greatest Game Ever Played" show to review this play. I feel if the camera angle was parallel with the line, then it would have been obvious that the ball broke the plane and that Holmes had just won them the game. The Steelers are on a roll and I just don't see anyone stopping this.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The Steelers were manhandled for 57 minutes and would have lost if the Ravens hadn't inexplicably gone into a prevent defense on the last drive.

The offense of the Steelers is very flawed and I doubt they will get to the Super Bowl. In their favor, all of the other AFC contenders have major flaws, too.

I suspect the Colts will somehow weasel their way to another Super Bowl. Superficially, they have been underwhelming, but they have beaten a lot of good teams with superior execution and coaching.

51 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

"The Steelers were manhandled for 57 minutes..."

'scuse? Before the last PIT drive, Baltimore had 187 net yards and Pittsburgh had 220. Baltimore had 11 first downs and Pittsburgh had 12. Flacco was 9-26 for 100 yards, Roethlisberger was 16-29 for 157 yards. Baltimore had 112 rushing yards and Pittsburgh had 89. Baltimore was 4-14 on third down and Pittsburgh was 6-15. Baltimore had the ball for 27:56 and Pittsburgh for 28:57. That sounds awfully even to me, not like either team manhandled the other.

120 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

"The offense of the Steelers is very flawed and I doubt they will get to the Super Bowl. In their favor, all of the other AFC contenders have major flaws, too."

I agree about every playoff team having at least one major flaw. I think this year's playoffs will come down to match ups and how they fall. Assuming current standings, take Baltimore, should they win in round one, I think they're a tough match up for the Titans. Should 3 & 4 switch, if I were the Colts, I'd prefer not to play at NYJ particularly if the weather's bad, given their lines (assuming, of course, Brett Brett Brett doesn't have too much fun out there).

19 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

... I will say that the thing was called "no touchdown" on the field.

If you look on the replay the ref on the right side (viewed facing the EZ) of the end line is screened from the play by a raven defender. He had no view of the play from his, correct, position.

21 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Will the league rewrite the rule book to clarify this situation, because as of the 2006 Rule Book (admittedly, an assumption that it hasn't already been fixed... ), available online here which states "while inbounds any player catches or recovers a loose ball (3-2-3) on or behind the opponents' goal line." -- a wording that is , at best, a grey area subject to much interpretation? Does the last half of that , the "on or behind the opponents' goal line." modify the player, or the loose ball? {see pages 79 (definition of offensive touchdowns) and page 5 (definition of loose live ball)}

Why a bunch of highly paid "expert" commentators on the TV can't be bothered to discover easily available information online that casual fans can is beyond me. The much bigger controversy at play here (to me) should be how this section of the rulebook is (poorly!) written. But they all just sit there arguing about Angle X (oblique right sideline) looks short but Angle Y,Z (overhead, straight on goal line, left pylon) look across the plane. (and are subject to far lesser depth perception distortions by definition)

Now if the rulebook said "while inbounds, on or behind the opponents' goal line, any player catches or recovers a loose ball (3-2-3)." or "while inbounds any player catches or recovers a loose ball (3-2-3) that is on or behind the opponents' goal line" they could fall back on simply arguing whether the video showed it across the plane as being the most important part of this puzzle.

36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

That's what the ref said: the player caught the ball and had two feet in the endzone. So it had nothing at all to do with whether the ball crossed the plane.

Even without knowing the rules, you could infer he was invoking some lesser-known rule to call a TD. I'm surprised people are being so slow to catch this.

73 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Great idea, unfortunately Pereira post-game comments destroy your theory.

There isn't some magical 2 feet down in the endzone = touchdown rule. The rule is the location of the ball determines a touchdown. Pereira was very clear about that after the game. He also clearly stated he could see the ball cross the plane of the goal line and that was why the call was correct. Either the ref explained it improperly or the ref didn't know the rule. Frankly, I could believe either one. The latter in part because of an earlier play.

Pittsburgh had to get to the 30 yard line after a touchback early in the game. On third down, the runner appeared to be stopped midway between the 29 and 30. The spot was just past the 30. Immediately both announcers saw the spot was wrong. Everyone could see the spot was wrong. Baltimore challenged. upon review, there was a lineman between the ball and the 30. Somehow the referee didn't see enough to overturn the call on the field.

The ref couldn't see 18 inches of clear space on that play, but he could see there wasn't 1/4 inch of space at the end of the game after determining possession? If he couldn't overturn the first call, he shouldn't have been able to overturn the latter. Either he didn't know the rule, or he applied different standards to the two different plays.

Pittsburgh eventually got a field goal after the early blown call, so that call mattered as well.