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.
Chicago Bears 20 at Atlanta Falcons 22
Doug Farrar: This is the first I've seen of Matt Ryan since the preseason, and I'm very impressed. He's got good rhythm in that offense, making the throws and showing good poise in the pocket. He knows when to move up and bail, but he's not predisposed to doing that. He will let a play develop, and he went 5-for-5 for 57 yards on Atlanta's first drive.
The Bears showed their defensive discipline on a reverse Atlanta tried to run to Harry Douglas on the first drive. Everyone stayed in their gaps, nobody abandoned backside, and an 11-yard loss was the difference between a possible touchdown and an eventual field goal in that drive. The Bears showed the best way to stop all this misdirection stuff going on, just as the Bills did a few weeks ago against the Raiders: Just don't bite on the first thing you see. Maintain your gap integrity (Hel-LO Seattle!) and you'll be OK.
The Falcons are occasionally doing a shift-and-wait thing presnap, where they'll have their receivers tight and then bring everyone out wide after the Bears have their defense set. Problem was, they got busted on an illegal snap. Ryan continues to carve up the Bears secondary through the first quarter.
Meaningless stat of the season so far: "Michael Turner leads the NFL in rushing." What that really means: He put up 220 on the Lions (32nd in DVOA against the run), and 100-plus against the Chiefs (25th) and Packers (29th). Against teams with good run defenses, Tampa Bay (third) and Carolina (16th), he has a total of 98 yards on 32 carries. Through the first quarter against Chicago (8th): Six yards on seven carries. And this isn't against a Chicago team stacking the box to beat him, because Ryan's playing well enough to keep the defense honest. When opponent adjustments are at full strength, this isn't going to be pretty, DVOA-wise.
We've had Falcons linebacker Michael Boley on our under-the-radar defenders list for a while, and he's validating that with great early coverage on Greg Olsen.
Mike Tanier: I'll bet a lot of rushing titles are built on the backs of big games against a bunch of bad defenses.
Doug Farrar: That's definitely worth further investigation.
Aaron Schatz: I think, watching the Falcons, you see a lot of improvement that was very difficult to predict. Yes, Turner has built his numbers on bad defenses and is not the best running back in football, but the guy is having a good year, certainly a far better year than my numbers projected. The offensive line is much better than expected, and when you combine that with Turner's own ability to break tackles, you get a pretty good running game. Matt Ryan is also better than anyone could have expected from a rookie quarterback. He's excellent at finding holes in the Cover-2.
Of course, do you know what this reminds me of? This reminds me of another rookie quarterback who picked apart the Chicago Cover-2 a couple years ago, in a nationally televised game you might remember. Matt Leinart. Remember him? Just wanted another chance to mention that I think Leinart is getting a raw deal and in no way has proven he's a bust. Ryan has a stronger arm though, he launched one to Michael Jenkins in the end zone that went over 40 yards and was actually OVERthrown.
I want to give props to Alberto Riveron, one of two new head officials this year. He's doing a great job of explaining some complicated penalties. For example, when Roddy White committed offensive pass interference on Charles Tillman near the end of the second quarter, and Tillman was on the ground injured, Riveron came on the mic to explain that Chicago would not be charged a timeout by rule because the defense is not charged a timeout within two minutes for an injured player if the injured player was the subject of an offensive foul. I had no idea that was a rule.
The Falcons started the second half by running the Wildcat with Jerious Norwood in the shotgun, and he took a draw for a big gain. This is now officially a league-wide fad. How long will is take for defensive coordinators to come up with a basic answer for this? A few weeks? Not until next season? There is a reason we always thought this stuff wouldn't work in the pros long-term, after all.
Matt Forte has excellent spin moves.
Brian Billick: "Chicago is one of the league's best offenses on third down." Well, going into this week they were 18th in DVOA, so probably not, but thanks for the thought.
Doug Farrar: You talk about plays that define seasons -- this may have been one for the Falcons. Both teams finally figured out the whole touchdown thing in the second half, but as the Bears were driving downfield in the fourth quarter down 19-10, Atlanta's defense denied them on a goal-line stand with eight minutes to go.
Mike Tanier: Great play by Boley on fourth-and-goal against Forte. Rookie linebacker Curtis Lofton also made a great play on that drive.
Doug Farrar: This is still a work in progress -- they're far too prone to dumb penalties and something has to be done about the running back situation (Hint: Use Jerious Norwood as a change-of-pace more often), but if you want to peg Mike Smith as an early Coach of the Year candidate, you won't get any argument from me.
Aaron Schatz: Yes. I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Falcons look like they are definitely for real. I don't think they will continue the trend of last place-to-first place in the NFC South, because the Bucs are better than they are, but they are not going to collapse and finish 6-10. We haven't even talked yet about the improved defense, and that's not just John Abraham playing out of his gourd. Jamaal Anderson is playing very well. I hope the current play of Anderson and Gaines Adams helps convince people that you don't declare a rookie first-round defensive lineman a "bust" just because he doesn't have a lot of sacks -- or in Anderson's case, a single sack -- as a rookie.
Bill Barnwell: Jesus, is the Red Zone channel exciting at the end of the 1:00 games. Schaub bringing back Houston, Orton bringing back Chicago, Bulger bringing back St. Louis...
(After the goal-line stand, the Bears put up 10 points on the next two drives to go ahead 20-19 with 11 seconds to go.)
Aaron Schatz: Kyle Orton bringing Chicago back was just crazy. The Atlanta defense just disintegrated and he was completing midrange pass after midrange pass. Finally, they hit Rasheid Davis in the corner of the end zone because cornerback Chris Houston hesitated looking at something in the backfield, no idea what, as there was no play-fake. The weird thing is that Chicago was only in position to come back with a game-winning drive because Jason Elam honked a short field goal after the Falcons marched down the field to make it a two-score game.
The biggest reason that Chicago will be 4-2 is that Orton is not the same guy he was three years ago. Maybe he wasn't playing these last couple seasons, but he was improving out of public view.
(The Bears watch Matt Ryan hit Michael Jenkins on a long pass with one second left. Jason Elam, once the goat with a 33-yard miss on the previous drive, connects on a 49-yarder to win the game.)
Doug Farrar: You have got to be f---ing kidding me.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, I'm sorry. Did I say the Bears were 4-2? I meant 3-3, because Matt Ryan made a strong throw to the sidelines and Michael Jenkins made a great catch and kept control of the ball while falling out of bounds, and Jason Elam made up for his earlier miss with a 48-yarder to win the game. Hot damn.
Doug Farrar: Speaking of "improving out of public view," how 'bout dem Falcons? What an incredible game.
Benjy Rose: What an amazing sequence of events in the fourth quarter, which have been well-documented above. What amazes me is how the Bears' defense basically gave away the game. With 6 seconds left, basically the only play the Falcons have is a deep out. Incredibly, the zone the Bears play leaves a seam for a 25-yard out. Great throw, great catch, good kick, game over. I would think the Bears would have wanted to force the play inside. No way a receiver would have caught the ball and had the presence of mind to take an instant knee and call an instant timeout.
Vince Verhei: One of Ryan's most impressive completions came with about four minutes to go in the first quarter. The Bears came with a blitz and Ryan found an unblocked rusher in his face. Under heavy pressure, Ryan hit White on a sideline comeback route for 13 yards and a first down. Not only were Ryan's feet not set, he was actively backpedaling, and he still put the pass right where it needed to be.
Billick made a few insightful observations, but also made some comments that showed why he is an ex-coach. In the second quarter, Norwood fumbled. The ball was recovered by Tommie Harris, who fumbled the ball back to Atlanta. Lovie Smith challenged the call, saying Harris was down by contact -- which is funny, because there was literally no contact with a Falcon before he fumbled. Billick's response to this challenge? "Even though [Smith is] wrong, you know it's a legitimate challenge. He's gotta hope they see something that gives the ball back to him. That's worth a challenge." No, Brian, it's not a good idea to waste a challenge if you're not certain you'll get the call overturned. Later, Billick said that most quarterbacks "hate throwing slants," and that passes on slant routes are most likely to be picked. That may have been true for your quarterbacks in Baltimore, Brian, but they mostly sucked.
Under-reported story of the league so far: Brian Finneran's successful return to the NFL after torn knee ligaments cost him all of 2006 and 2007. And he's picked up right where left off, dropping wide-open passes on first down, then converting third downs.
Anderson did finally get his first career sack today. He also tipped at least two passes at the line and made several good tackles on run plays. So yes, he is finally paying off. I thought Atlanta's defense would be horrible this year, but I wasn't counting on this kind of play from Anderson, or the return of Grady Jackson to clog the middle. I should note, though, that the Bears started their comeback and took the lead when time issues forced them to start passing, which they should have been doing all along. Atlanta's secondary is still quite bad.
One difference between the Falcons' Wildcat and Miami's: Atlanta didn't keep Matt Ryan on the field. Keeping him out of the lineup let the Bears adjust their personnel and focus on the run.
I think it's slightly presumptuous to say the Falcons are "for real," depending on what "for real" even means. Throwing out the Lions and Chiefs games -- wins over those teams should not count -- they're 2-2 against real competition, including this win against a Chicago team that was missing its top two corners by the end of the game. That's still better than we expected, but they're not as good as the Bucs or Panthers, and they're not sneaking into a wild card spot.
As has been noted, this was one of four games that found a team with the ball and trailing by one score with less than a minute to go, all at the same time. That, my friends, is a great day.
Baltimore Ravens 3 at Indianapolis Colts 31
Bill Barnwell: Indy has 17 points in the first quarter thanks to a Le'Ron McClain fumble and some excellent work by the Colts passing offense. Chris McAlister was absolutely torched on a double move, only for Peyton Manning to overthrow the receiver, but Indianapolis scored on the next play anyway. The Colts have worked over Corey Ivy a bunch -- turns out Ivy versus Reggie Wayne isn't a good matchup. The pass protection looks pretty good so far. Joseph Addai's also out with a hamstring.
Will Carroll: It's a couple of big plays. The Colts are holding in the tight ends and the running backs to keep Manning up, but the Ravens still can't seem to cover Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Mike Hart's in ... or was. He just blew out his knee badly. That turf is evil.
Mike Tanier: The Ravens are playing a lot of man, and Manning threaded a few needles. Ravens-Colts was a field position game early on, and the Ravens kept getting the ball at the 12-yard line.
Detroit Lions 10 at Minnesota Vikings 12
Bill Barnwell: Maybe the play of the year in Detroit-Minnesota: After Adrian Peterson fumbled inside the 10 and Detroit recovered, Dan Orlovsky was backed up on his own goal line and proceeded to take the snap from under center, bootleg, and ... ran out of the end zone for a safety. Not because he was under a ton of pressure, but just because he didn't realize. Just astounding.
Vince Verhei: That will go down as the worst play of the year. It's not like the outside toe of one foot grazed the line. Both of his feet were running on white turf with plenty of inches to spare. He may have been closer to the other side of the white stripe than being in the field of play.
Mike Tanier: That was the funniest play in the NFL since Garo Yepremian. I wanted to draw this up before I drank too much watching the Phillies tonight. I call this play the "Clemenza," because Orlavsky leaves the gun to take the cannoli:
Bill Barnwell: The Lions are squeaking by. Orlovsky looks awful, and the offensive line has been hideous, but they're just taking huge chunks of time off the clock and challenging Gus Frerotte to beat them on defense with big blitzes and man coverage -- not exactly the Tampa-2 of yore.
Oakland Raiders 3 at New Orleans Saints 34
Doug Farrar: At one point, this game was Raiders 3, Saints 0. Then Drew Brees woke up and all hell broke loose. At the start of the fourth quarter, Brees has four incomplete passes in 28 attempts. Conversely, JaMarcus Russell has seven completions in 22 attempts. Brees has connected with nine different receivers, while Russell connected with Jason David for an interception. I don't know what else to say about this Raiders team -- they're just really ... really ... bad.
Aaron Schatz: I just saw some footage from the postgame press conference after New Orleans-Oakland. When did Walter Sobchak get hired as head coach of the Raiders? Does Al Davis know that he won't roll on Shabbos?
Vince Verhei: Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.
This game became unwatchable quickly, but from what little I did see, Saints tackle Jammal Brown was holding like crazy and getting away with it. I heard John Clayton on the radio this morning saying that refs are calling fewer holding penalties, and it sure looked like it in this game.
Cincinnati Bengals 14 at New York Jets 26
Bill Barnwell: The Bengals strip Brett Favre on the first third down of the game and return it for six. Oh, this is going to be a No-F&&^%$g-Way game. Poor Jets fans...
... or maybe not. The Jets score two consecutive touchdowns on third down that are called back by penalties (ineligible receiver downfield and offensive pass interference). Third-and-goal from the 20 and the Bengals pick up an illegal contact penalty that gives the Jets another set of downs. The Jets score three plays later when Thomas Jones runs a flat route and the Bengals defense just ignores the entire right side of the end zone like it's a lava pit.
Cincinnati's plan to handle Brett Favre is to big blitz on third down. It's not really working.
Carolina Panthers 3 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27
Russell Levine: Wow, have the Panthers started poorly. About 18 yards of offense, an interception, four penalties, and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and it's 14-0 Bucs.
Where have I seen this before? Tampa Bay has had an excellent stretch in just about every game so far this season, but hasn't been able to sustain it for four quarters. They were dominating Atlanta, but had to hang on to win. Up early against Chicago, fell way behind and had to come back late. Were absolutely dominating Green Bay, but let the Pack come back on a deep ball and a pick-six.
Dexter Jackson, Tampa Bay's second-round pick out of Appalachian State, has absolutely no feel as a punt returner. And considering he hasn't seen the field as a receiver, he needs to figure this out. He's constantly circling back, looking for big plays rather than just putting his head down and gaining five yards. He's looking like Jacquez Green 2.0 at this point.
Through three quarters, Tampa Bay's defense is completely dominating the Panthers. On its last series of the third quarter, Carolina went three-and-out as Jake Delhomme was forced to throw back-to-back screen passes into the ground. Tampa Bay hasn't generated a whole lot of pass rush, but the coverage as been outstanding. Steve Smith got loose for one deep ball early, but has barely been heard from since. And since Carolina has done nothing running the ball, Tampa Bay isn't even looking at play-action.
On offense, Tampa Bay is without its top two fullbacks, so Earnest Graham has moved to fullback and has done a good job paving holes for Warrick Dunn running up the gut. Dunn has been very effective -- he clearly has something left in the tank. And as I type this, Graham gets a short-yardage touchdown from the fullback spot to make it 27-3 early in the fourth.
Last week I complained about how I thought the Bucs offensive line was overrated -- not this week. They've kept Jeff Garcia pretty much clean and have been able to run the ball consistently.
Speaking of Garcia, he looks much better than he did Week 1 after missing the preseason. He has made good decisions, not forcing the ball, checking it down when needed. No turnovers from the Bucs today -- and they were a turnover machine with Brian Griese in there. I think Garcia may have played his way back into the starting role.
St. Louis Rams 19 at Washington Redskins 17
Bill Barnwell: Casey Rabach's becoming a very obvious problem in Washington. He's made some bad mistakes on penalties the past few weeks, and a low snap in the second quarter led to Washington's first offensive turnover of the season. Rabach's a good run blocker, but he's absolutely a liability in the passing game.
Doug Farrar: He's been the problem on a line that's played very well so far. Part of the reason for the overall improvement is that Jon Jansen has replaced Stephon Heyer at right tackle after losing the job to Heyer earlier on.
Bill Barnwell: Jansen's seemed like a liability in the passing game to me too. Have you seen that at all, or do you think he's an all-around improvement over Heyer?
Doug Farrar: Possibly, though it's a less pronounced effect because Campbell is mobile and he's using quick passes to deflect pressure. In this offense, you're better off with a guy like Sean Locklear -- a better run blocker than anything -- at right tackle. The main thing is that they need Clinton Portis to produce, and he's been doing that. Jansen's the better choice for what the Redskins want to do, I think.
Bill Barnwell: Yeesh. Maybe Washington's having the no-f&@#@#-way game. A tipped Jason Campbell pass falls into Pete Kendall's hands; Kendall goes three yards and fumbles, and O.J. Atogwe returns it for a touchdown, giving the Rams a 10-7 lead just before halftime.
Richie Incognito just chopped wood.
Russell Levine: Did he ever. Gets a 15-yarder for jawing with the refs about 90 seconds after a play ended. St. Louis was in position to kick a 34-yarder to win, now the attempt is from 49. And ... the kick is good anyway. And with that, I'm out of my survivor pool, which has gone from 92 to 3 people in six weeks.
Mike Tanier: Teams besides the Eagles lose games like that? AWESOME!
Vince Verhei: It really, really sucks that this is what Kendall's going to be known for now. I've been watching Redskins games on NFL Replay lately, and Kendall's been fantastic at run blocking, sealing guys out and driving others off the ball. He gets no headlines, no credit. Then one screw-up and he's all over the place. And it's not like he blew a block and let a quarterback get injured. He fumbled! That's his rep now, he's the guard who fumbled, not the guard who cleared dozens of holes for Portis. I repeat: It really, really sucks.
Miami Dolphins 28 at Houston Texans 29
Bill Barnwell: The Texans benched Fred Bennett for DeMarcus Faggins. Huh?
Aaron Schatz: Really? Someone has to explain that one to me.
Bill Barnwell: The BALLS on our man Gary Kubiak. After consecutive ins on second- and third-and-2 to a double-covered Andre Johnson, fourth-and-2 from the 6 sees Kubiak call a quarterback draw with Schaub, who gets in for the victory. That's a gutsy call.
Aaron Schatz: I call for a new weekly award, for the best aggressive coaching award. We'll call it the Stephen Colbert Award for Biggest Balls. Kubiak wins this week. If the Scramble guys like the idea, I like the idea.
Vince Verhei: We can give it a try. My only concern is that it may be difficult finding a coach with balls week-in and week-out. They're an awfully ball-less lot.
David Lewin: All this Kubiak/balls talk reminds me a of saying that my friends and I have been pioneering recently: "You gotta have a sack like Santa Claus to make a [play/throw/call/whatever] like that."
Mike Tanier: The Philadelphia sports bar crowd was cheering Matt Schaub. It reminds me of a few years ago, when David Carr went in on a fourth-and-goal to win a game early in the season. Hope this works out better for Texans fans.
Andre Johnson made a dozen plays in the game, six good and six bad. The guy is still the Texans' No. 1 weapon, but he mixes plays where he looks like a man among toddlers with dropped passes and fumbles where he is barely hit to cough up the ball.
Also, Schaub throws a lot of change-ups over the middle. They are either picked off, almost picked off, or become 30-yard catches for Kevin Walter. He is like Chad Pennington but with no control over his off-speed pitch. If he could improve his timing, he would be a much better passer.
Doug Farrar: The Dolphins threw a new wrinkle in the Wildcat, with Ricky Williams taking the "Steeler" sweep and handing off to Pennington, who then hurled the ball downfield to Patrick Cobbs for a touchdown. Judging from the highlights, this looked more like a college game.
Vince Verhei: And I am once again left asking: WHY IS DEFENDING THIS FORMATION SO HARD? Especially after Ronnie Brown threw a touchdown against New England, you'd think all defenders would have it hammered into their heads that they must stick with their receivers. These are not college kids practicing a few hours a day, these are professionals whose full-time jobs involve scouting their opponents and knowing their tendencies. So why are teams continually caught off-guard by this?
Dallas Cowboys 24 at Arizona Cardinals 30
Bill Barnwell: Arizona returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Dallas. I was at a wedding last night and had some girl try and convince me for a half hour that (American) football is boring and a waste of my life, but screw her. Football is fun!
Aaron Schatz: Troy Aikman during replays of Arizona's first sack on Tony Romo: "The Cardinals decide to bring a little bit of pressure on this play." There are four pass rushers and six blockers. I don't know if that is worth a special mention as "a little bit of pressure." Also, on this same play, Tony Romo clearly fumbled before his knee touched the ground, but the officials blew the whistle early so Arizona couldn't challenge the fumble. Man, the officials are a little fast on the trigger this season, huh?
Doug Farrar: A quick whistle? Please tell me the head offical's name isn't something that almost rhymes with "broccoli"...
Bill Barnwell: Troy Aikman just called the Cowboys' All-Pro outside linebacker "Andre Ware." Then the play-by-play guy (not Joe Buck) said that Jay Ratliff was having a great year in his first season.
Doug Farrar: That's not the best ex-Cowboys blunder of the day. Emmitt Smith on SportsCenter this morning: "The Chicago defense is one of the best at stopping the runs."
Mike Tanier: By the way, did Emmitt come up with the name of the new Bond film (Quantum of Solace)? How does that make any sense?
Bill Barnwell: "Quantum" is the smallest possible amount of something, no? So quantum of solace makes a modicum of sense.
Total miscommunication on the first Cowboys touchdown. Two guys go with the receiver running the outside route, leaving Patrick Crayton wide-open in the middle, and he gets sprung by two good downfield blocks, but he had acres of space. Acres.
And the Cowboys pooch the kickoff into a defensive lineman, who drops the ball and the Cowboys recover.
Aaron Schatz: The Cowboys managed to score that first touchdown on a drive where it looked like Tony Romo had fumbled in the end zone for an Arizona safety or touchdown. The reason? Tuck rule. Wade Phillips challenged and it turned out Romo's arm was going forward as he fumbled. I assume that if Dallas wins this game, Oakland Raiders fans will make it a cause celebre, yes?
Roderick Hood completely shut down Terrell Owens for the first 29 minutes of this game. T.O. finally had two passes thrown to him with a minute left, and Hood still defended the second one to prevent a third-down conversion. In the second half, they're throwing to T.O. a bit more and he's getting open with curls. I love Hood, but he does tend to give up the occasional big play, and I'm afraid the one where he bites on a curl and T.O. goes deep for six is coming sometime around the middle of the fourth quarter...
You know, if you give some pass protection to this Kurt Warner kid, he's not half-bad.
(Note: Just because Warner is playing well does not change the fact that Leinart got a raw deal and still needs a chance. It might be somewhere else, but I think he's going to be Jim Plunkett.)
Bill Barnwell: Larry Fitzgerald just pulled a David Tyree catch out of his pocket. The camera shows Jerry Jones being pissed. I notice that Jerry Jones has hot granddaughters.
Sean McCormick: I'm with Aaron on both counts. There's no shame in Leinart not beating out Kurt Warner this year, and there's no shame if he doesn't beat out Warner next year. In case no one has noticed, Warner can absolutely fling it when given time. I can think of a great many teams who should be calling the Cardinals this offseason to see if they can pry Leinart away (and Arizona should decline anything but a ridiculous offer).
As for Warner, it's just fun to watch him play. He's probably already moved past Terrell Davis in the "I was so dominant in a short period of time that I've got a better case to be in the Hall of Fame than a lot of current members" discussion, and if he can put another two years together along the lines of what he's been doing, I think he probably is in. He's kind of like a mythic hero with one clear and fatal weakness (he fumbles at the drop of the hat). Maybe his mom held him by the thumb when she dipped him into the river Styx.
Still, I'd put him in. (Davis, too.)
Aaron Schatz: Wow, the Cardinals are getting screwed at the end of the fourth quarter. The Cowboys are in hurry-up and complete a pass, and they hurry to the line to spike the ball for a 57-yard game-tying field goal. Only problem? Arizona's Travis LaBoy is injured and limping off the field. He can't get off the field before the snap. The officials call offside and now Dallas gets a 52-yard field goal instead. That seems like the wrong call to me. When a player gets injured in the final two minutes, isn't the team charged a timeout? Isn't the correct ruling to charge Arizona a timeout rather than five yards?
And then the Cardinals block the field goal -- but Ken Whisenhunt called that BS timeout right before the kick. Yay. Hope you feel like a moron, Ken. Second try goes through. Here comes overtime.
Sean McCormick: Teams ... must ... stop ... icing ... the ... kicker...
Doug Farrar: Ladies and gentlemen, your KCW winner: Ken Whisenhunt. I so love that the timeout-on-the-kicker thing finally blew up in a coach's face.
Bill Barnwell: Cowboys linemen heard the whistle and stopped trying, I think.
Mike Tanier: I agree with Bill. I think a bunch of guys stopped. In Carolina (I think) two weeks ago, there was a blocked kicked that was nullified by an I AM A GENIUS coaching timeout.
(In overtime, Sean Morey of the Cardinals blocks a Dallas punt, which is recovered in the end zone by Monty Beisel. Game over, Cardinals win.)
Aaron Schatz: Sean Morey! Hail Brunonia! And there is balance in the force!
David Lewin: I'm completely with Aaron on Matt Leinart. He was great in college, and fairly good given his youth and teammates in the NFL. He will be a quality starter at the very least. The question is where.
The situation at the end of regulation was pretty weird, but I'm not sure the call was exceptionally favorable for Dallas. If they went the other route and said LaBoy was down with injury, then they should have stopped the clock for the injury timeout at 8 to 10 seconds and the Cowboys could have had another play.
Russell Levine: Agreed on all counts with David. Arizona bent over backwards to give Leinart the job in preseason. He didn't take it. And Warner is still better than a lot of QBs in this league. Yes, you have to give him time, and he can occasionally revert to PTBD (Post-Traumatic Blitz Disorder), Warner like we saw against the Jets. That's what comes from years of playing in the five-wide, no protect, "I can't outrun anyone so I'll just stand here and take the kill shot while delivering a 35-yard strike to Torry Holt, thank you", offense under Mike Martz in St. Louis. Giants fans saw the PTBD Warner during his brief stint there.
But he can fling it. He can still put the ball in tight spots. Some of those throws to Fitzgerald were ridiculous. Speaking of - that guy earned his year's salary on four catches today. What a performance. I don't know that there is another receiver in the league who is as good in the air as Fitzgerald. That TD catch that was overturned on replay was breathtaking.
Tough spot on the LaBoy injury. As David points out, if he goes down, they stop the clock and maybe Dallas runs another play. If they call timeout, same thing. So I think it's probably the right call.
I also think on the blocked field goal that was a no-play because of the Arizona timeout, it looked like the whistle came early enough that the Dallas line wasn't fully blocking on the play.
Has anyone ever seen a punt blocked as badly as the one in OT by Arizona? They basically blocked the punter's drop. What the hell happened on that protection?
Mike Tanier: Beisel said they had a return on, not a block. He and Morey could have taken the snap and punted themselves.
I have always liked Warner, but he is constantly one sack away from that PTBD. He would be great on a team with a very good line that runs the ball 35 times per game. I would say that he gives the Cardinals their best chance to win now. But really, the Seahawks are giving the Cardinals their best chance to win now.
Vince Verhei: Without the rulebook in front of me, I think Lewin has it right: The refs should have called injury timeout, and it should have been Dallas' ball, first-and-10 at the 40 (looking at a 57-yard field goal), with 8 to 10 seconds to go.
It's been interesting to watch the Cowboys use a different offensive playbook every week. We've seen the no-T.O. playbook, then the no-Marion Barber playbook, and this week, the Playbook of One Million Marion Barber Draw Plays. Were the Cowboys that concerned about the Arizona pass rush? Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps they should have been.
Philadelphia Eagles 40 at San Francisco 49ers 26
Bill Barnwell: The 49ers ran a direct snap to Michael Robinson that was called back for a illegal snap. Should we just have a Wildcat section of Audibles? They're running all kinds of screens and tomfoolery to avoid the blitzes. I don't get why the Eagles just rush four guys -- it's not like the Niners would be able to stop them.
Mike Tanier: Hey, the Eagles goofed off at the goal-line midway through the second quarter, wound up with a 19-yard field goal. No way that will bite them in the rear...
Bill Barnwell: I think rear has just been bitten in the Eagles game.
Mike Tanier: Let's see ... 49ers kick a 50-plus-yarder. The Eagles try a 50-plus-yarder and it becomes ridiculous random points for an opponent the Eagles are dominating. I could see none of that coming.
Let me say this professionally for the first time in my career: "Fire Andy Reid." My reasons:
- The goal-line woes are ultimately on him to fix. He has failed.
- The urge to keep kicking 50-plus-yard field goals is on him. Yes, this week's was right before the half and we all would have kicked it. But at some point, he should have been looking for alternate solutions to the David Akers problem.
- L.J. Smith, NFL Starter.
- The team's insistence on not having a big running back, on using converted halfbacks and defensive ends as fullbacks, the team's resistance to acquiring a real blocking tight end is all Reid's call, not Tom Heckert's or anyone else's. Those decisions are directly to blame for one loss this year (going on two as I write this and Joe Nedney makes a chip shot).
- At some point, a coach and his staff run out of things to tell the players. They run out of innovations and wrinkles. A guy like Bill Cowher reached that point, but he would bring in new coordinators, bring in Mike Mularkey then Ken Whisenhunt, so there were new voices and new ideas. The last new voice in Philly was Marty Mornhinweg. At some point, you reach diminishing returns at what you are good at, while what you are bad at festers. The Eagles got there last year. This year, the talent is better, so we are seeing even more idiotic losses in games that the team should have won.
The Eagles are more talented than the last two teams they lost to, and they are more talented than this 49ers team they are losing to right now. Those losses belong to Andy Reid. The "we don't need a punt returner" losses last year belong to Reid, directly.
The Elway Broncos couldn't win a Super Bowl with Dan Reeves. The Eagles need their Shanahan.
Bill Barnwell: Eh. I'm going with "Fire Rory Segrest."
Mike Tanier: Interception to Takeo Spikes, while L.J. "Franchise Player" Smith tries to set some sort of pick instead of catching the pass. Unwatchable. Unacceptable.
Bill Barnwell: It's Reid's fault that opponents are perfect on field goals and are something like six-of-six from 48-plus? That their best offensive lineman, best running back, and best wide receiver are hurt?
I don't disagree that Reid hasn't been great the last few weeks, Mike, and that there is a point of diminishing returns even from good coaches, but there's no one out there -- maybe Marty Schottenheimer, but Philly would s**t all over his hiring -- who's better than even 80 percent of Andy Reid. The goal-line thing is a meme; they've been better than average during Reid's tenure in converting tight situations. Not to mention, using the Franchise Player nickname is disingenuous.
Mike Tanier: Sometimes, change for change's sake is really necessary. Reid isn't responsible for that perfect field goal percentage against. He is directly responsible for making sure that he has a kicker who can make 40-plus-yard field goals, and if not, to change his strategy to adjust for that. He has failed.
He's responsible for making sure the team has the offensive weapons and plays to succeed inside the 5-yard line. He has failed.
It's not about finding a coach with a better record. It's about finding a coach who can correct problems X, Y, and Z without opening up another set of problems. I don't know who that coach is, but this group of coaches has failed on problems X, Y, and Z, and they are becoming the problems that sink the Eagles season, and sunk last season.
(With 11:38 left in the game, Smith takes in a 2-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb.)
Bill Barnwell: Touchdown, Franchise Player!
Mike Tanier: L.J. Smith is the blind squirrel who just had a nut thrown into his belly. Even Robert Royal catches the odd touchdown pass.
Even if the Eagles pull this out, I am not backing down. If we don't get 10-6 or better this season, go with someone else.
Bill Barnwell: Again, though, Reid's fourth in the league at succeeding inside the five. So you're taking two plays (granted, two important plays) without three of the most important players in his offense and saying that it's time for change. Which I just can't agree with. It's the football equivalent of taking all your money out of Wachovia.
Again, who's going to be that coach who solves those problems without creating new ones? Who's going to be better working with their offensive line? With McNabb? Who's going to have a better relationship with Heckert?
If the Eagles have league-average field goals against, to pick one incident, they're 4-1 and we're not having this conversation. Which means that there's not enough of a burden of proof to fire Reid. It's not Reeves with the Broncos, it's Dungy with the Buccaneers.
Mike Tanier: What are Reid's numbers from 2006-08? I don't want to hear about the Duce Staley or T.O. Eagles.
Bill Barnwell: I don't have numbers for '08. '06 and '07, they converted 50 percent of the time. League average is 52 percent. Reid is 17th in the league. You want to fire him for that, you can.
Mike Tanier: This "other coach" is a different person with different points of emphasis, different terminology, rules, habits, schedules, tendencies. He's a competent NFL coach whose system isn't ingrained, who hasn't been coaching the same things the same way for 9 years. He's a guy who no one has film on, a guy who no veterans can tune out because they haven't heard his routine before.
Maybe he goes out in the second round and signs a 230-pound running back to pair with Brian Westbrook, then DOESN'T give up on him or switch him to fullback. Maybe he signs a Lorenzo Neal-like fullback. Maybe he runs more power and trap-type plays in short yardage. Maybe he runs the full house. Or the Wildcat. Maybe he brings three kickers into camp, or he signs a veteran quarterback known as the NFL's best holder to come in to help Akers. But he doesn't keep doing the same things the same way and wait for problems to solve themselves.
Eagles mush-rush three and Quintin Mikell gets a pick. Nice call on third-and-18. Now, please prove Bill right about your goal-line prowess Mr. Reid!
Bill Barnwell: Again, is McNabb really going to have a better relationship and work better with Bill Cowher? Schottenheimer? Is this team, a team full of veterans built for the next year or two, really going to win a title with a different guy?
Mike Tanier: Cowher? Schottenheimer? How about Steve Spagnuoulo?
It doesn't have to be a coach with more wins than Reid. You can judge coaches based on wins and losses, and it works pretty well, but I don't want Mike Holmgren right now either. New, new, new. And if it means rebuilding, well, let's say I will eat my words today with fried onions if the Eagles somehow win a Super Bowl as currently assembled.
For the record, I don't want to fire him for being 17th in the NFL for scoring inside the 5. I don't want to fire him because "he's a bad coach" or "not a winner." Hell, I don't want to fire him. I want to see him solve all of the Eagles' problems with field goals and goal-line offense and dealing with the clock and the opponent with 3 minutes to play in the first half. I want him to do all that during the bye and rip off a winning streak to beat the band. But I am despairing of them solving all of those problems, because they are persistent problems that have hurt them for years, and they are systemic, growing from the way players are evaluated and selected.
Bill Barnwell: I know, Mike. But what I'm saying is that their "problems" aren't enough to justify firing Reid. Or that their problems wouldn't be noticed if they weren't the recipients of some awful luck. I agree that they need a fullback, and that they've struggled to identify good linebackers, and failed to get McNabb the stud receiver he needed. They've also nurtured a great quarterback, found a potential Hall of Fame running back and elite pass rusher in the middle of the draft, consistently put together an excellent offensive line, and built a very good secondary. The stuff you're saying Reid needs to fix is relatively small beer, and while it's keeping the Eagles from being an elite team, you're throwing out a very good coach when you really should be throwing out a special teams coach, or a kicker, or merely undergoing a necessary revamp of some procedures in identifying and implementing players.
Are the 2008 Eagles really less likely to win a Super Bowl than the 2007 Giants?
Mike Tanier: If Hank Baskett catches a pass against his helmet in the Super Bowl, his hands all sticky after Skyping with his Playboy Bunny girlfriend, I will again eat my words. For the record, I don't think holding the 2007 Giants up as an object lesson is a great precedent to set because it can be the catch-all argument for all pretty-good teams hanging around .500 in early October.
The things we are giving Reid credit for -- developing McNabb, finding Westrook, the Lito-Sheldon-Westbrook draft, the NFC title appearances and Super Bowl run -- are all at least three full years ago. There is no denying he was a great coach for several years, or that he is generally a great coach. His recent record involves guys like Trent Cole, the little surprise playoff run with Garcia. Shawn Andrews, when he is healthy. On the flip side of that are all of the little losses that are blamed on punt returners, fumble luck, Matt Bryant, goal-line stands, McNabb, Feeley, the strength of the opposition, 12 men on the field, Johnson blitzing when he should be in prevent (Giants in overtime 2006), Johnson in prevent when he should be blitzing (Bears 2007), and so on.
Coaches don't suddenly get stupid. But they do fail to adjust when others adjust to them. They fail to see persistent errors they make in personnel/play-calling/game-planning, errors they got away with early in their career when everything was new. The pep talks stop working. The July drills lose their impact for the older players who have done them for eight years. It's simple diminishing returns.
The Eagles have played like this for three years, with the exception of the Garcia blip. They have underplayed DVOA that entire time, which I think is a sign that someone (besides opposing kickers) is hurting them in close games. Maybe it's the special teams coach. Maybe it's the guy who hires the special teams coach. And calls the goal-line plays. And decides Tony Hunt and Dan Klecko are fullbacks. And employs L.J. And calls 50-yard field goals to a burned-out (or yipped-out) kicker. And...
Bill Barnwell: I agree that we can't hold the 2007 Giants up as the hope for every mediocre team. I can say, though, that it's unreasonable to absolutely rule out the Eagles team as currently assembled. It's unlikely.
Mike, how many of those things you listed as problems are Reid's fault as opposed to the special teams coordinator's, or Mornhinweg's, or Johnson's? Is replacing Reid really going to make those things better, or is it replacing Mornhinweg and Segrest, or cutting Akers, or actively reviewing your acquisition processes at weak positions and re-evaluating your short-yardage tendencies to see what doesn't work that did several years ago? Or is it waiting for your best players to come back from injury?
Reid gets too many of the big things right to fire him for some of the little things he does wrong.
Mike Tanier: I suppose firing the offensive coordinator and special teams coach, then taking almost all of the personnel decisions away from Reid, could be an alternative to firing him. But at that point, why keep him?
Let's leave it at this: There needs to be improvement, after the bye, in several areas of weakness, starting with the red zone offense. If the Eagles keep settling for three at the five-yard line and they finish 8-8 or 9-7, I don't want to hear about field goals against or fumble luck or anything else. I want Spags. Or Josh McDaniels. Or Jason Garrett. Or Cowher. Maybe it is time for painful rebuilding instead of painful losses to decent teams and near catastrophes against bad teams like today's.
Bill Barnwell: No one's saying take all the personnel away from him. I'm saying re-evaluate their decision-making when it comes the position he's bad at (which in actuality could be Heckert being bad for all we know).
Again, give it sixteen games.
Aaron Schatz: Unfortunately -- or, for Philadelphia fans, fortunately -- Mike's frustration at the Eagles boiled over right before J.T. O'Sullivan completely melted down and turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay Packers 27 at Seattle Seahawks 17
Doug Farrar: Gary Payton raises the 12th Man flag as I once again wish horrible things on every member of the Seattle City Council.
Weird sequence of events for the Packers as their first drive stalls. Mike McCarthy sends kicker Mason Crosby out to attempt what would have been a 60-yard field goal, calls time-out, and sends out the punter instead. I'm assuming he's not trying to get fired like Lane Kiffin was with that 67-yarder -- the Green Bay gig being pretty decent and all -- but that was a really weird giveaway of a time-out.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks start the Charlie Frye era with two stalled drives. If the team's current receiver trio is looking for a nickname, might I suggest "Three and Out?"
Vince Verhei: When I got home this evening, I had a note from Doug in my mailbox. I'll protect his privacy and not divulge the full contents here, but suffice to say he asked Ben and me to write up a reasonable, rational response to this game. Ben, meanwhile, is somewhere out in the California hills, choosing to place himself miles and miles from any television set, lest he spy, even on accident, a second of this game. That leaves the burden of writing a response to this game squarely on my shoulders. Yippee.
I suppose I should start with the positives. Charlie Frye's touchdown to John Carlson that gave the Seahawks a 10-3 lead in the second quarter was a masterpiece of both design and execution. Frye began the play by faking a pitch to the left, then bootlegging right. I hate plays like this, because they usually result in an unblocked rusher charging in on the quarterback, ears pinned back and foaming at the mouth. This play was no exception, but even as Frye was turning to his left after faking the pitch, he was bringing up his arm to pass, and didn't even go two steps before releasing the ball. Carlson was wide-open in the flat, caught the ball and cut into the end zone.
Other positives: The Seahawks' run defense looked much better than last week, at least in terms of preventing big runs. I suspect if I looked closer at Green Bay's success in short-yardage, I'd be less happy. Green Bay also debuted a fantastic new celebration: After they intercept the ball, all the defenders greet the interceptor, shake his hand and tip their heads to him, all in the most pretentious manner possible. It's every bit as ostentatious as the Dirty Bird or Shawne Merriman's dance or anything T.O. has ever done, but since it's also behavior that the mainstream sees as polite, you know they'll get away with it. What's the league going to do? Fine them for shaking hands?
And, well, that's about it, from the Seahawks point of view. The failings on offense can at least be explained. Seattle has been pulling guys off the street to play receiver, and now that Deion Branch and Bobby Engram are finally healthy again, Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace are both hurt and the team turns to Charlie Frye, the definition of replacement level. Frye threw only six passses in the first half. In the second half, the Seahawks were trailing and forced to rely on Frye. He rewarded their faith with a pair of interceptions.
At least I can accept that the offense is just cursed with poor health, and particularly poor timing (couldn't all these guys just get hurt at once and be done with it?) But what the hell is going on in the secondary? This same unit was so effective last year. Now they look helpless and confused. Marcus Trufant could do nothing against Greg Jennings, and the safety help he so desperately needed was nowhere to be seen.
The most aggravating part of this game was the Packers' success on third downs. Of their 20 first downs, 10 came on third-down conversions. Green Bay finished 10 of 18 on third downs. And it was the death of a thousand cuts. If they needed 3 yards, they got 4. If they needed 8 yards, they got 9. There was usually a receiver running an out route just beyond the first-down marker, left wide-open by a secondary that was terrified of giving up yet another deep ball. Is this Jim Mora's fault? Is that what Seahawks fans have to look forward to next year, a defense run by Mora and an offense run by his old buddy Greg Knapp? (How's Knapp doing in Oakland, by the way?)
At some point you do have to say that the Packers are probably going to end up looking like a pretty good team, but the Seahawks have played five games and been competitive only twice -- against the Rams and 49ers. When they play above-average teams, they get squashed.
Doug Farrar: Thanks for taking the bullet, Vince. My thought at the time the game finished was that there was no way I could possibly put together any coherent thoughts about this team and its performance this season, and that’s probably still the case. However, what this season (on top of the last two) has taught me is that Seahawks team president Tim Ruskell is an emperor walking around with fewer clothes than I imagined possible. After a brilliant draft in 2005, he's done very little to build the team, and quite a bit to destroy it.
There was the Steve Hutchinson fiasco, which he didn't broker, but did approve. There was the ludicrous Deion Branch deal, which has hurt this team in enough ways to put it down as possibly the worst trade of the last decade. People used to laugh at Al Davis for paying ridiculous sums for Super Bowl MVPs who had done little else, but Ruskell trumped Davis' Larry Brown deal by throwing a first-round pick into the mix. When you give up so much for one player, and that player proves unable to stay healthy, you have two choices: Build around that player's absence and look to the future, or stubbornly hold off on the development of a positional group because you're so desperate to validate a deal that was rotten on the day you made it. When you insist that low-round draft picks and backup quarterbacks can make up for elite receivers in an offensive system that requires precision timing, you prove that you're not dealing with reality. And Charlie Frye? Really? Do we want a quarterback selection from the same guy who gave up a third-round pick on David Greene?
Most worrisome is the current defense, given Ruskell's reputation as a defensive talent evaluator from his Tampa Bay days. He's long been known as a guy who likes smaller defensive backs, finding value in players who play bigger than their size, so to speak. Problem is, Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson, the cornerbacks he selected in the top rounds of the 2006 and 2007 drafts, are not Ronde Barber. Maybe if you found a way to combine them. He favors fast, light defenses, but the NFL is turning more and more to the power game with running back committees, and this team has no answer whatsoever for more physical backfields. None. It's embarrassing.
I could go on and on. I now see Tim Ruskell as a guy who inherited an almost-built house in 2005, made some outstanding architectural improvements at first, and then could not stop tinkering with the existing work of others for the sole purpose of having his stamp on all of it. The difficulty in writing about the loss to the Packers was the lack of cohesive effort I saw on the field. The difficulty in writing about the Seahawks as an organization right now is that this thing is springing leaks everywhere, it has a lame-duck coach, and I don't see quick improvement coming in the future. I see a few 8-8 seasons under Jim Mora, and a lot of, "Gosh -- we don't really know what the problem is, but we'll sure get it fixed!"
Yes, there have been injuries this season, but many of those injuries have been to players of whom too much was asked in the first place. And Ruskell's job as a talent evaluator is to set the roster in a way that a reasonably competitive team is at least possible despite those injuries. After far more misses than hits recently, the Seahawks are now forced to rebuild again, and some fingers need to be pointed in the fight direction. Time to put the heat on Mr. Genius.
New England Patriots 10 at San Diego Chargers 30
Bill Barnwell: Something up with the Patriots' radios? They have a big board on the sidelines that they're writing numbers on -- like "75," which I'm assuming correlates to a play-call or a protection.
Chris Hanson with the open-field tackle of the week. That was a thing of beauty on Darren Sproles.
As this game approaches the end of the first half, what's really striking me is how bad the Patriots offensive line has played. The Chargers have a good defensive line, but they're absolutely manhandling Kaczur's Kids. Matt Cassel has got guys buzzing around him every play and he's bouncing around the pocket as a result. Tom Brady can handle that, but Cassel can't and that's a direct function of playing time.
Aaron Schatz: Not that the left side of the line has been spectacular, but the Pats are starting a backup right guard and apparently Kazcur got injured and was replaced with a backup partway through the second quarter. So, you know, that's a problem, but it isn't necessarily the failure of the normally stout Patriots linemen. Also, Matt Cassel's pocket presence sucks whale dick.
It turns out that if you are not good enough to play cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals, you are also not good enough to play cornerback for the New England Patriots. Anyone surprised by this?
Bill Barnwell: Mike, Can you do a diagram where Cassel does a full revolution in the pocket?
Mike Tanier: No, I screwed up the diagramming software trying to show Ryan Fitzpatrick spinning and pump-faking five times with six Jets around him. Boy, pocket presence really is something you can't account for. Guys like Brady, it makes them Hall of Famers. Guys with the same talent package but no presence can't play in the NFL.
Aaron Schatz: Man, that goal-line stand was embarrassing. Just give the ball to the running back and put the damn ball in the end zone. You can't get first-and-goal on the 1 and pass three times. Look, Cassel isn't Brady. He's not going to calmly stand back there and survey the field. He's going to make an embarrassing attempt to scramble. Ugh.
Bill Barnwell: Adalius Thomas had the world's most lumbering blitz on that long pass to Vincent Jackson. Jackson's just overwhelming the New England corners, who are too small to cover him. He ran a middling double-move on Terrence Wheatley and a simple go pattern past Ellis Hobbs, and neither could do anything about it.
OK, Cassel's just totally out of sorts and this game is over. Is it time to bring in Kevin O'Connell, if just for the rest of the game, to see what he can do?
Aaron Schatz: Yes. While they are at it, they should consider bringing in Kevin O'Connell to play cornerback to see what he can do there, too. Can't be much worse than what we've seen so far tonight.
Bill Barnwell: A line from my friend: "I don't like watching football anymore. Matt Cassel has made it not fun."