Audibles at the Line: Week 9
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.
Bill Barnwell: FOX is discussing whether Jason Campbell should be the league's MVP this year. The unedited end to his player comment from this year's book:
"As a quarterback, his skill set represents a great fit for the style of attack; if Malcolm Kelly or Devin Thomas can emerge as a possession receiver to play alongside Moss and Antwaan Randle El, Campbell could emerge as the division's best quarterback as early as this year."
Ben Riley: Anyone catch Peter King reprising his role as Da Bears Superfan Bill Swerski, lobbying for "Senator Ditka" to run for office? Wait, you say that was George Wendt? Really?
Aaron Schatz: Is everyone else getting that commercial that uses "Saved by Zero" in every single commercial break? For two or three weeks in a row? If I see that thing again today I may hunt down somebody from The Fixx and kick his ass.
Ben Riley: That song haunts my dreams in Leslie Feist-like fashion.
Bill Barnwell: Per Wikipedia: In 2008, a re-recorded version of the song was used in an American national advertising campaign for Toyota, touting a 0% Annual percentage rate promotion on behalf of the company. The ad has been heavily criticized as being annoying, even motivating the creation of a Facebook group titled "Get Toyota's 'Saved By Zero' commercial off the air before I harm myself."
New York Jets 26 at Buffalo Bills 17
Sean McCormick: An interesting little wrinkle by Brian Schottenheimer, as the Jets put reserve guard Robert Turner split out wide, motioned him in as if to have him crack back against the right defensive end, and then ran a pass play to Jerricho Cotchery on the other side of the field, making the whole exercise an elaborate deception. Most offensive coordinators would take a wrinkle like that and build on it, but Schottenheimer has had real trouble in recent weeks figuring out how to do that.
Buffalo's defensive is crowding the line and being very aggressive early on. They've spent a lot of time in the Jets backfield already.
The Jets' offensive game plan has been really geared towards using misdirection to slow down the Buffalo front seven. Almost every offensive play has been disguised as something else. They've run end-arounds, they've faked shovel passes to throw downfield, they've run double-screens and they've lined up offensive linemen as wide receivers. (Strangely, about the only thing they haven't done is run the Wildcat.) Everything has attacked the edges of the defense. They've also used the quick snap nicely to take advantage of Buffalo substitutions.
Buffalo has been much more straightforward with their attack, and they dominated possession for most of the first half. In one sequence, they ran about 23 plays in a row but came away with a net loss of seven points, as Abraham Elam picked off Edwards for a touchdown to end the first drive and the Jets defense stuffed a fourth-and-1 deep in the red zone to snuff out the second drive.
And ... there's the build. This time when Robert Turner was lined up wide and motioned in, the Jets ran left and used Turner as an extra fullback.
What a difference a year makes. Kris Jenkins is simply destroying the middle of the Buffalo line. Not only has he eliminated the Buffalo ground game, but he's gotten heavy and immediate pressure against Trent Edwards coming right through the A gap. After years of being at a physical disadvantage along the line of scrimmage, the addition of Jenkins (and Calvin Pace to hold the edge) has completely changed the way the Jets' front seven performs.
Bill Barnwell: Have there been any Vernon Gholston sightings?
Sean McCormick: Gholston actually has played in a few series, but was used primarily to drop back into coverage rather than to rush the passer. In crunch time, he has been nowhere to be seen.
And just like that, Brett Favre brings Buffalo back. After a missed Buffalo field goal, Favre goes play-action and once again responds to pressure by simply chucking the ball up. Pick-six.
Aaron Schatz: Hey, remember when we were all saying Buffalo was finally for real? Um ... can I take that back?
Mike Tanier: Watching this game and Jacksonville-Cincinnati, I was reminded of what can happen when a team tries to dink, dink, dunk, dunk, for every single score. I think the Jags and Bills have pretty good offenses, but every once in a while you have to uncork one deep. The Bills had a couple of long drives that ended in the red zone: one on downs, one on an interception when Trent Edwards was throwing underneath in the red zone. The Jags seem to have no deep game whatsoever. It's tough to have to execute 12 short plays every time you want 80 yards.
Bill Moore: The Bills kick off toward the sideline. Leon Washington waits for it to go out of bounds, but it doesn't. It actually bounces inward. Washington makes a great play by stepping out of bounds BEFORE he touches the ball. By rule, that is considered a kick out of bounds. Thus, rather than starting at the 11-yard line, the Jets begin their drive at the 40.
Although this was a very smart play, what kind of bizarro rule is this?
Detroit Lions 23 at Chicago Bears 27
Bill Barnwell: Sign of the week: "KYLE ORTON: Change We Can Believe In."
Everyone's slipping in this game. That grass is terrible. People are making cuts and just going flying.
The Lions' coverage has actually been decent so far, even though Orton has thrown for 56 yards and would have a touchdown if he had not overthrown an open Greg Olsen. They just can't get to Orton, who knows what he's doing when it comes to eluding the rush, but you have a weak secondary who has to stay in coverage for five, six seconds, and that just isn't going to work. I know Cory Redding isn't 100 percent, and he's a defensive tackle, but the onus is still on your best-paid guy to make something happen or at least occupy two guys to create space for your edge rushers.
My roomate is a rather hardcore Bears fan. He left with the score 10-0 to hang out with his girlfriend because "It's the Lions." The Lions are now up 13-10. This is me leaving Giants-Titans to go see Texas Is The Reason all over again.
Ben Riley: After James Brown delivers a game break showing Calvin Johnson's sweet touchdown catch, Dick Enberg (who's announcing the Vikings game) excitedly asks us, "Is this the day the Lions finally get to ROAR?" Settle down Dick, we still have three quarters to play.
By the way, I'd like to apologize for missing the obvious "Lions over the Bears OH MY!" joke in my previous audible.
Bill Barnwell: And, to top the 20 unanswered points, Kyle Orton just got his legs caught underneath him while scrambling (after taunting the Lions on the way en route to a touchdown run earlier in the game) and after trying to walk it off, needed a cart to get off the field. Poor guy.
Rex Grossman just overthrew Devin Hester by about six yards. Oops.
Will Carroll: Think Daunte Culpepper is looking over at the Bears sideline thinking "if I'd just waited another week...?"
Bill Barnwell: The Lions are finding HUGE gaps in the Cover-2. I haven't done the research on whether offenses that practice against a defense that runs the Cover-2 do better against those defenses, but there's no pressure on Dan Orlovsky and he's finding guys who are just wide-open.
Lions just ran a play out of the shotgun where Orlovsky lined up with a back directly to his left and another running back two yards in front of him. It makes sense considering how often the Bears blitz guys up the A gap, but it's not a blocking scheme I've seen a lot of.
Aaron Schatz: Green Bay uses that blocking scheme sometimes. They use a tight end in sort of a "right behind the right guard/right tackle gap" position.
Sean McCormick: Yep, they have been using it a fair amount against Tennessee today.
Bill Barnwell: Meanwhile, the officials call a late horsecollar penalty on a Devin Hester return and Rod Marinelli stops coaching his team to literally chase an official up the sideline.
Will Carroll: X-rays negative on Orton. Not sure what it is, but sprain seems reasonable.
Jacksonville Jaguars 19 at Cincinnati Bengals 21
Ben Riley: Anyone seen the fight between John Henderson and Andrew Whitworth? Henderson looked like he was eye gouging a helmet-less Whitworth. Both players have been ejected, and if I had to guess, I'd say Henderson is about to have the month of November off.
Vince Verhei: Mike noted how hard it is to score points without hitting big plays. Well, Cincinnati pulled it off twice to open the game. Their first two drives totaled 24 plays, 172 yards and a pair of Chad Ocho Cinco touchdowns. They converted seven third downs on the two drives. Only four plays on those drives gained more than 10 yards, and three of those were Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambles. It was slant here, hitch there, the occasional dive play, lots of incompletes, but no negative plays and they always picked up the third down. It was no-risk football that required near-perfect execution, and for two drives, they pulled it off.
Ocho Cinco just owned Rashean Mathis, by the way. Burned him for both scores, and blocked him up and down the field too. Ocho Cinco was also open for at least two 50-plus-yard touchdowns in the second half. The first time, Fitzpatrick threw underneath to a crossing receiver, and the pass was nearly intercepted. You could see Ocho Cinco in the background, throwing his hands in the air. Later, he got 10 yards behind any Jaguars defender, but the ball went sailing over his head. He came to a complete stop, turned back to Fitzpatrick and just threw his hands up, shrugging, begging for a little help. A few seconds later he was shown consoling Fitzpatrick on the sidelines. Then he turned around, bugged out his eyes, and gave a long, slow exhale. This man is so entertaining.
As for Jacksonville, they couldn't stop making mistakes. A Reggie Nelson interception in the third quarter was wiped out by an offsides penalty. That same drive was eventually stopped by a Brian Williams interception. Uche Nwaneri (a guard for Jacksonville, but we all knew that) was then called for holding on the ensuing first-and-10. Cincinnati had a Seattle-like boom-or-bust pass rush, sometimes diving into the backfield, sometimes standing around watching David Garrard in the pocket. And Garrard would stand in the pocket until they finally got there, or occasionally throw it right into the hands of Dhani Jones.
They got one huge play on special teams. Chad Nkang forced Glenn Holt to fumble a kickoff return, and Montell Owens scooped up the ball and ran it into the end zone. Owens, by the way, is a special teams beast, a great gunner on punt coverage.
The three worst teams in football -- Detroit, Kansas City, and Cincinnati -- were all ahead at halftime. Two of them lost anyway ... because their the three worst teams in football.
In other sideshow news, I must point out that the Henderson-Whitworth brawl included an Iron Claw. Also, the Ambiguously Gay Duo was shown in the crowd. I don't care how dated those costumes are, they still made me laugh.
Baltimore Ravens 37 at Cleveland Browns 27
Bill Barnwell: What we're seeing here is that Frank Walker of the Ravens, in fact, cannot cover everyone. Although, in all fairness, two of Cleveland's three touchdowns were extremely questionable. The referees are having a shocker of a game.
Mike Tanier: We also saw that that Brandon McDonald for the Browns couldn't cover anyone. And that John Harbaugh, old special teams coach that he is, must be pretty mad that no one could tackle Josh Cribbs.
The refs were insanely bad spotting the ball. The Browns were given a touchdown when Jason Wright (I think) was down at the one-yard line. Ron Rice had his whole torso over the goal line for the Ravens, but they spotted the ball at the one. There was a second-and-long play late in the game where it looked like the Ravens got the first down by a yard but there was a dubious spot.
Yep, all of those were one-sided spots toward the Browns. All I can say is this: If the belt of the ballcarrier crosses the goal line before he is down, then it should probably be called a touchdown on the field, folks.
Aaron Schatz: Oh well, the same low-sample charting data that found Cortland Finnegan for our 2007 "Top Prospects" list apparently missed on McDonald for the 2008 "Top Prospects" list. Can't win 'em all, I guess.
Ned Macey: Compared to the Ravens, our optimism on the Eagles is much more mainstream. The Ravens were underdogs in this game, even though we have them fourth in DVOA. After Tennessee, I honestly think Baltimore and Pittsburgh are the two teams that are the closest to sure things at the playoffs in the AFC. If Atlanta keeps it up, we could have two rookies who start 16 games and make the playoffs. Has that ever happened before?
Houston Texans 21 at Minnesota Vikings 28
Ben Riley: Weird glitch in the fantasy football matrix: I have Bernard Berrian on my team, as well as the Texans defense. Gus Frerotte throws a pass that hits Berrian square in the numbers, but he lets it bounce off his chest into the hands of Jacques Reeves, who runs it back for a score. Sweet.
Will Carroll: Why is Sage Rosenfels in? Bad day for quarterbacks, good day for filling up an injury column.
Bill Barnwell: Schaub was limping earlier. I think a knee injury.
Green Bay 16 at Tennessee Titans 19
Doug Farrar: Note to Mike McCarthy: You might want to reconsider the whole empty backfield thing against the Titans. Green Bay came out in that formation with the first play of the game. The Titans put eight at the line, rushing six, and Jevon Kearse came through completely unblocked as Aaron Rodgers just got the ball off. Second down, broken play as Rodgers and Greg Jennings got their wires crossed. Third down, delay of game and a wormburner up the middle to nobody in particular. Green Bay needs to hit the reset button in a hurry.
Here's what I love about the Titans' offense: On their first drive, Chris Johnson took a little screen for a total of 25 yards, and he was able to do so because two Titans linemen were blocking downfield, taking the right side of the Green Bay defense out of the picture. Now that the Giants' line is getting some attention, it's time to start talking about Michael Roos, Kevin Mawae, and their buddies up front. Don't just watch the defensive line when you watch this team.
The Packers respond to that first bad drive with more backfield blocking, more running outside to take advantage of Tennessee's wide line splits, but Rodgers just missed a first down on a run after a safety blitz-sack by Chris Hope. The more I look at this defense, the more it seems as if it's kind of a 4-3 version of what Dick LeBeau does in Pittsburgh. They've got guys coming at the offense from everywhere, and defensive backs who seem very comfortable with blitzing. You need a balance between pressure and coverage (at least, that's what I've heard; Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall either brings the house and doesn't get there, or drops 14 guys into coverage), and Jim Schwartz has his finger on the pulse. The Packers went for it on fourth down after that Hope sack, and Hope was the one who broke up a pass to Jermichael Finley. This is a very good offense with a lot of weapons that is just getting whupped on early.
Aaron Schatz: I guess I'll have to dip into the early charting data to see if there's something Green Bay noticed on film, but I think all this empty backfield the Packers are running against the ferocious Titans pass rush just seems silly.
Mike Tanier: They talked about that 5-WR look all week. I don't think I saw it again the whole game. Second drive, they came out in the full house backfield.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, they pretty much stuck with blocking backs from then on.
Jordy Nelson caught a little quick pass from Rodgers halfway through the second quarter and put a sweet spin move on Nick Harper, winding up with a 24-yard gain. I just love what these receivers do in short areas, taking off after routes, and downfield blocking. There are definite reasons why they gain so many yards after catch, and why Nelson was going to be a great fit from the start. Is it coincidence that the Seahawks haven't selected or signed a decent, productive receiver since Ted Thompson left the organization after the 2004 season? Erm, probably not.
Ben Riley: In limited defense of Tim Ruskell, he did sign Joe Jurevicius, who was very productive for the Seahawks in 2005. The same can't be said for Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, Ben Obamanu, Logan Payner, Courtney Taylor, Jordan Kent, Michael Bumpus, Billy McMullen, or Keary Colbert.
Aaron Schatz: Man, have I mentioned how grateful I am towards Bill for inventing Speed Score? Every time I watch Chris Johnson burst through the line, I think to myself, "Man, I love Speed Score."
Doug Farrar: Of all the freaky things I've seen this year in the NFL, LenDale White with this kind of speed, despite obvious participation in the El Guapo Diet Plan, may be the freakiest of all. He broke off a long run at the end of the first half, outrunning Atari Bigby (!), and Chris Johnson took the turn at the goal line to put the Titans back on top.
Mike Tanier: LenDale does have good straight line speed. Backs of his ... um ... body type often do. I was watching the Titans run blocking, enjoying what a great job their guards do cut blocking on the backside and how much help they get from those wide receivers, who don't have to worry about catching many passes. I wrote their rushing success off to the speed of Johnson and the quality of their center and tackles. Their guards and receivers are also part of the solution.
Will Carroll: It's called "inertia."
Vince Verhei: The Speed Score is great, but we need something else for guys like LenDale White, like a Fat Score. Like, the number of doughnuts you can eat while running a 40-yard dash, divided by time. Or something.
Aaron Schatz: The Packers came out for the second half excited, like a team that just learned their top rival for the division title would be stuck with Rex Grossman the rest of the season.
Moose Johnston talked about the Packers using Brandon Chillar more than A.J. Hawk today because Chillar is supposed to be better than Hawk in coverage. Hawk has always been strong in coverage when I've seen him, and his charting numbers were excellent last year. Is it really conventional wisdom that he can't play pass coverage?
Ben Riley: Chris Johnson just took a vicious hit from Nick Barnett, stayed on his feet, and then fell forward to gain an extra two yards. I think Johnson just surpassed Westbrook as my favorite player to watch in the NFL.
Doug Farrar: Careful, Ben. You haven't seen Westbrook against the 2008 version of Seattle's "defense" yet.
Will Carroll: For a fast small guy, it seems like Johnson takes a lot of hits.
Aaron Schatz: One of the best things about football strategy is the way coaches use earlier plays to set up tendencies, which set up later plays meant to fool the other team. The Packers run tons of quick slants and they were running them even more than usual in the first half. Near the end of the third quarter, they ran a sweet slant-and-go to a WIDE-open Donald Driver coming from the slot, because Titans nickelback Vincent Fuller had totally bit on the slant movement.
It's amazing how often a guy touches Chris Johnson in the backfield, and he never seems to go down. He breaks tackles, or he turns the corner for more yardage before the defender can get more than just a touch. It was strange to see the Titans take running backs in the top two rounds for three straight seasons, but they really got it right this time. (By the way, does anyone want to put an APB out for the non-felon Chris Henry?)
Ryan Grant also looked good today for Green Bay. He looked like the Grant of last year, with burst and good vision, especially against such a strong defense. Nice "buy low" candidate for the fantasy football second half.
Doug Farrar: FOX, you are cordially invited to eat hot death. I really appreciated being jerked away from the Packers-Titans game just as Rob Bironas was setting up to kick the winning field goal after watching the entire $%^&* game to
watch five minutes of political commercials, and five more minutes of pre-kickoff jibba-jabba. Morons. It's bad enough you foist Tim McCarver on me every year.
Ned Macey: So, after years of being friends of Jim Schwartz, I watched today's game and thought that after Tennessee gets bounced in the second round by Baltimore 16-10, he'll be able to interview and get a head coaching job. The team is undefeated with Nick Harper starting at one corner position.
For all the talk about the rookie running backs, Johnson is just on a different level. Dude is special, and he got picked by a team smart enough to let him be the primary back from Day 1 (and I guess LenDale is better than Ron Dayne).
Arizona Cardinals 34 at St. Louis Rams 13
Ben Riley: Facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line midway through the first quarter, Cardinals head coach Ken Wisenhunt calls for a Kurt Warner sneak. Shockingly, the Rams defense held. I like Wisenhunt a lot, but coach, have Warner hand the ball to Hightower next time.
Bill Barnwell: QB sneaks are WAY more successful at getting a yard than handing the ball off. Sorry, but I'm with Whisenhunt on this one.
Aaron Schatz: If there's any quarterback I trust with sure hands to not fumble a quarterback sneak, it has to be Kurt Warner.
Ben Riley: Steve Breaston read last week's Audibles, and with two minutes to go in the first half, just made a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch to prove he's not a system receiver.
Bill Barnwell: ... in the Cardinals system.
St. Louis just went for it on a fourth-and-1 and came up so embarrassingly short that they didn't bother to measure at first. They ended up losing a yard. They're making the Cardinals look like the Stanford Superstars out there.
Will Carroll: Stanford? Cricket fan?
Bill Barnwell: Not a huge one, but $20 million winner-takes-all gets my attention.
Ned Macey: Even I have to admit that the move to Tim Hightower is probably the right one. He just brings the potential for the big play that Edgerrin James hasn't had in years. Plus, Hightower runs tough enough to usually get positive yards. Still, there will be a game or two this year when Hightower starts dancing for the big play and gets stuffed. The run game is only marginally upgraded, but they will now at least mix in the occasional 20-plus-yard rush.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 at Kansas City Chiefs 27
Bill Barnwell: Holy crap. What's happening in Kansas City?
Doug Farrar: No clue, but I really hope Herm's using the spread like he promised.
Sean McCormick: I think Tyler Thigpen may actually be good, that's what's happening.
Mike Tanier: Thigpen = Bobby Hoying.
Bill Barnwell: There was an Earnest Graham fumble that gave the Chiefs a short field, it looks like.
Kansas City ran a couple of spread plays, your standard three-wide screen stuff, but they're also running the Wildcat. They ran a play on second down earlier in a drive where the cornerback ran off Thigpen to help out on the run. The next time they ran it, they had Jamaal Charles hand it off on a reverse to Mark Bradley, who nearly fumbled, then hit a wide-open Thigpen for a 50-plus-yard touchdown. I've had unkind things to say about the Kansas City coaching staff, but that's a great catch on their part.
Aaron Schatz: Bradley was the second-rounder Chicago cut because he couldn't
Bill Barnwell: It doesn't help when Jeff Garcia is overthrowing his corner routes into double-coverage.
Looks like Kolby Smith just blew an ACL.
Russell Levine: Not only has K.C. run a couple of sweet Wildcat plays, but they're blowing the Bucs off the line of scrimmage. For some reason, Tampa Bay cannot seem to play on the road this year.
Ben Riley: Have we ever done research on running backs who get better as the game goes on? Because I think Earnest Graham would be a worthy candidate of investigation. Based purely on fantasy-related observation, he seems to accumulate 75 percent of his yards (and all of his touchdowns) in the second half of Bucs games.
Aaron Schatz: It's on my list for next year's book, I think.
Russell Levine: Tampa Bay's red zone problems are getting ridiculous. Two red zone turnovers today including a Graham fumble as he was going in for the touchdown that could have tied the game.
They look really out of sync. Just don't seem to have anyone to threaten a defense when they get in close.
Bill Barnwell: Graham was their best quarterback today!
Russell Levine: OK, the Bucs really had no business winning that game. They lost the turnover battle 4-1, including two fourth-quarter fumbles inside the Kansas City 10-yard line. They were without Warrick Dunn, and Earnest Graham got banged up early. They needed a somewhat-charitable offensive pass interference call to negate an unbelievable one-handed catch by Tony Gonzalez that would have probably allowed K.C. to run out the clock. They needed a game-tying touchdown in the final seconds on Antonio Bryant's third amazing catch of the day and a two-pointer in which Alex Smith hung on despite getting his knee caught under him and perhaps torn up.
Then they win the overtime coin toss, Michael Clayton breaks one tackle and they inch their way into field-goal range.
Strange sequence on the winning kick. Before the first attempt, K.C. took the courtesy "icing" timeout, but long enough before the snap that everyone knew it was no play. Matt Bryant went ahead and kicked it anyway and knocked it through from 38 yards. On the second attempt, Bryant missed, but the Bucs were whistled for a false start -- which left Ron Pitts speculating that K.C. "would decline the penalty." How do you have a job calling NFL games for a living and not know that a presnap penalty on the offense ends the play?
Anyway, since they were kicking on third down, Gruden sent Garcia back on the field on third-and-10 and Tampa picked up the first down on a screen pass. Except that they didn't. The ref missed the back stepping out of bounds a yard short of the mark. After review, it was fourth-and-1 and Bryan knocked in the winner.
With Galloway still hobbled, Bryant really is Tampa's best option, and he has been playing really well. As I said, he made three great catches in this game, went over 100 yards. Michael Clayton has actually shown some signs of regaining his form. He hasn't dropped a ball in a few weeks, and he keeps himself on the field because he's an unbelievable blocker -- absolutely devestating on the crackback.
You have to feel for K.C. They were up 21-3 and had everything going for them. You can't really fault them for the end-of-game sequence either -- they passed for what would have been the clinching first down, but had it called back on an iffy penalty. Herm was trying to play to win the game, obviously. About the only thing I can fault them for is shelving the Wildcat that worked so well in the first half. Thigpen played well enough to win, but Kiffin threw some different looks at him in the second half -- dropping extras into coverage and forcing him to throw into tight spots, and he wasn't nearly as productive.
Oh, and one more T.B. note: Dexter Jackson, second-rounder out of Appalachian State, is now officially an enormous bust and waste of a Day One pick. Clifton Smith, a rookie free-agent from Fresno State, returned seven kicks for 260 yards in this game, including one for a touchdown that gave Tampa Bay its initial spark. The Bucs now have two kick returns for TDs in 12 games -- they're hot! Plus, with everyone hurt, Smith was getting carries in overtime.
Dallas Cowboys 14 at New York Giants 35
Aaron Schatz: I would like to thank Steve Smith for playing quality Wes Welker-like football so we no longer have to constantly compare Welker to a bunch of other white guys. That always made me feel a little icky.
Bill Barnwell: I would like to thank the Giants' offensive line for blowing the Cowboys off the line of scrimmage on the opening drive.
After an incredible Roy Williams catch, Brad Johnson double-clutches on a slant and throws an ugly slant to T.O. for a pick. Quarterbacks of the league, you are better at football than me, but let me make one suggestion: DO NOT DOUBLE-CLUTCH ON A SLANT. It never works.
Question: How do you give Steve Smith a five-yard cushion when you have a cornerback two yards inside the goal line and a safety virtually in the back of the end zone?
Aaron Schatz: Brad Johnson = toast. Brooks Bollinger may have thrown an interception on his first drive, but Wade Phillips made the right move. Johnson has been completely inaccurate and he's a Bledsoe-like statue back there.
Russell Levine: Wow. You will never see an "effort" as poor as the one Mike Jenkins made on Derrick Ward's touchdown run that made it 35-14. He was in good position to make the tackle, but at the last second saw another Cowboy coming from behind the play and just ole'd Ward right into the end zone. The last time I saw something that soft it was Todd Pinkston on a deep ball.
Bill Barnwell: Some thoughts on this game:
- Sometimes, our predictions are right for the wrong reasons -- even if a team is right around our predicted wins, they don't do it for the reasons that we say they would. That's not the case with the Cowboys; they're an average team, and they're an average team because of their injuries. The quarterback situation is obvious, but there are other issues too -- the secondary is absolutely getting taken apart by the opposition, and with Anthony Spencer being out for the last couple of weeks and Greg Ellis having a very middling year, they haven't had a pass rusher across from DeMarcus Ware. (Yes, I know Spencer came back this week.)
- The Roy Williams move continues to be a waste (No, I don't consider catching a poorly-defended lob pass that only happened because of a personal foul penalty on Cato June a skill), as it marginalizes Patrick Crayton. If they wanted to move Crayton to the slot, they just should've put Miles Austin out wide. I don't necessarily believe that losing Felix Jones has somehow closed the holes up for Marion Barber, but instead, that the offensive line is playing worse and certainly, in pass protection, looks a lot worse without Tony Romo in there.
- Justin Tuck rules.
- Still unimpressed with Plaxico Burress. Steve Smith is the Giants' most
important receiver right now.
On a side note, I'm pretty sure Cris Collinsworth or Dan Patrick or SOMEONE on Football Night in America just faked an orgasm at the end of the Abram Elam highlight. He was trying to impersonate him being out of breath but it definitely came off as faking an orgasm. He even climaxed as Elam crossed the goal line. I replayed this approximately 17 times. Someone else had to notice this besides me.
Aaron Schatz: "I'll have what he's having."
By the way, Kerry Collins looks exactly like Rob Neyer. It is EERIE.
The Cowboys threw to Roy Williams twice today. TWICE! If the Cowboys were really looking for an instant injection of offense, what kind of sense is it to trade a first-rounder and two other picks for a guy you are going to throw to twice a game?
Bill Barnwell: It's a weird fit. Either they were looking for an instant injection of offense (in which case Williams isn't going to help because they need a minimum of a few weeks to teach him any appreciable part of the playbook in a brand new scheme) or they wanted him as the long-term replacement for T.O. (in which case they shouldn't have given T.O. a new deal in August). It's also weird because they didn't have a problem, really, at receiver.
The only thing that makes sense is that they wanted to keep him away from a competitor (likely Philadelphia, perhaps Washington). I doubt that that was the only reason, since I'm sure they could justify having him to themselves, but it was a huge price to pay for a guy who would only really know the playbook for probably five games, was moving already effective players (Crayton, Austin, and especially Witten) into lesser roles, and would have been available as an unrestricted free agent after the season and would have likely chosen Dallas as a free agent. With that all in mind, the only idea that seems to makes sense is that they would have picked him up to keep him away from somebody.
Ben Riley: On the Roy Williams acquisition: If Pacman Jones doesn't get in trouble before the trade deadline, I don't think that trade happens (at least, not for a first and a third). Jones wanted to dilute the negative press from the Jones story, and he succeeded, but the 2010 Cowboys will pay the price (even more so than the 2008 Cowboys).
Atlanta Falcons 20 at Oakland Raiders 0
Mike Tanier: I am only watching this game on the Internet, but JaMarcus Russell is having one of those games for the ages. He has completed six passes at this point for I think 31 yards or something.
Bill Barnwell: They just had a great moment where the announcer explained that what they want to do with JaMarcus is keep it simple since he shuts down when he has to process too much information. Literally in the middle of the speech, Russell overthrew a seam route into a double coverage and got picked in the end zone. The announcer didn't bother to stop the speech.
Vince Verhei: The Raiders started someone named Chaz Schilens at wide receiver. That's an auspicious start for the day, and things went downhill from there. They didn't get a first down until midway through the third quarter (Atlanta already had 20 first downs at that point), and collected only three all day. In the first half, they ran 13 plays for a total of -2 (that's MINUS-TWO) yards. Three of those 13 plays ended in John Abraham sacks, including a forced fumble. Abraham moved around from one side to the other, and found success either way.
The Nnamdi Asomugha non-watch continues. He opened the game covering Roddy White, and both men disappeared. Meanwhile, Michael Jenkins burned old buddy DeAngelo Hall and John Bowie for touchdowns. So the Raiders took Asomugha off of White -- who magically started catching passes at that point. Turns out Matt Ryan is smart enough to find open guys, not just force the ball to well-covered receivers. Who knew?
One of the very few highlights in this game came when JaMarcus Russell scrambled and blew by Keith Brooking. It was like watching the famous Bo Jackson-Brian Bosworth highlights in slow motion.
Mike Tanier: Chaz Schilens is the actor who wrote and stars in A Bronx Tale. Incidently, Al Davis now has a test. When a potential free agent gets into a car, Davis checks to see if he reaches across to unlock his door. If he does, Davis signs him to a multi-year deal.
Philadelphia Eagles 26 at Seattle Seahawks 7
Doug Farrar: Not exactly sure what strain of Brian Russell-itis Julian Peterson has picked up, but it's less forgivable when you can't tackle Donovan McNabb than it is when you can't tackle Brandon Jacobs. Reminded me of the joke Aaron used in an Audibles two years ago, that a certain player's kids weren't going to be surprised by their presents on Christmas Day, because daddy can't wrap up.
Lito Sheppard just had every complaint about his contact situation voided when he bit -- HARD -- on a Koren Robinson three-yard stop route, got juked out of his pants, fell down, and watched as Robinson ran for a 90-yard touchdown -- at least until Sheppard got blocked out of the county by Bobby Engram. First play for the Seahawks, longest play in franchise history.
Mike Tanier: Can I name a sewage plant after Donovan McNabb after that pick to Deon Grant? Umm, Cover-1, Donovan.
Bill Barnwell: Three-of-11 against the second-worst pass defense in football! Blech.
And hey, remember Mike, these are the plays in the script! These are the good ones!
Mike Tanier: God help me!
Will Carroll: I accidentally switched over to the Spanish feed for today's game and realized that for whatever reason, there are no Spanish announcers (or maybe my channel isn't carrying the feed). Still, it's a no-announcer feed, which is pretty damned cool.
Mike Tanier: Hey, Reggie Brown made a play! Before that, DeSean Jackson showed an element the Eagles offense lacked since T.O. left town: the ability to run the drag route, catch a 4-yarder over the middle, and get meaningful YAC.
Doug Farrar: You know, as much as I don't remember this being a problem in past seasons, the Seahawks' defense just can't tackle. Julian Peterson used to be much better at it than he is now, and I'm getting a headache watching all the ankle-whiffs and shoulder bumps from the secondary. Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson have never been all that great (this is what happens when your front office falls in love with undersized defensive backs), and we've talked enough about Russell, but it's hit Marcus Trufant as well, and he was once among the best-tackling cornerbacks in the NFL. The line was that if he was going to cover like a safety, at least he could tackle like one. Just abysmal technique. It's embarrassing.
Mike Tanier: There ya go Eagles. Throw to a darn guard. That will get the damn ball in the end zone.
Before that, great call by Andy Reid/Marty Mornhinweg: They had Brian Westbrook and DeSean wide right, plus Reggie Brown and Brent Celek (I think), with Kevin Curtis left in an empty look. Sure enough, all of the safety help is on the Westbrook side, and Curtis worked Kelly Jennings over one-on-one on a little curl, turned upfield, got it to the one-yard line. A sign of what this offense can do when healthy.
Ned Macey: So, the Eagles clearly have a solution. They used all their fourth quarter plays in the first quarter and then played really well the rest of the game. Not even a 50-plus-yard field-goal attempt from David Akers today.
Vince Verhei: I think the defining moment of the Seahawks' season came just before halftime when Seneca Wallace spiked the ball to stop the clock ... to bring up fourth down. He stopped the clock just so Seattle could punt.
It's so bad that I thought to myself at one point that they were playing much better than usual. And then I realized they were still down 10 in the third quarter and were almost certainly going to lose.
Ben Riley: There was one play in this game that left me shaking my fist at the sky. I think it was sometime in the third quarter, I saw rookie defensive end Laurence Jackson -- who recently lost his starting job to Darryl Tapp, but was back in for the injured Kerney -- decide to take a play off and not even bother to rush the quarterback. Seriously, Jackson didn't even hit Tra Thomas, he just seized up and did nothing while McNabb scanned downfield. Just horrible.
New England Patriots 15 at Indianapolis Colts 18
Aaron Schatz: I'm curious to ask Will and Ned -- what's the radio talk been like in Indianapolis this week? Is there any such thing as "irrational Matt Cassel hatred?" Have people concentrated on their hatred for Belichick? Or is the talk more about how the Colts are screwed if they fall to 3-5?
Ned Macey: I haven't been listening to local sports talk, but my sense is that the Colts just care about winning. My impression is that the hatred of the Patriots is based on a lack of respect thing, but hard to complain about respect when you are 3-4.
Will Carroll: Talk radio is pretty rational right now, focused on the current "once we get healthy, we'll make a playoff run" spin from Polian. There's no attack internally in Indy since access is everything.
Aaron Schatz: My god, it doesn't matter if it is pre-injury Joseph Addai or Dominic Rhodes or post-injury Joseph Addai. The right side of the current Indianapolis line just CAN NOT RUN BLOCK. I've noticed it every time the Colts are on TV. It seems like everything on that side gets stuffed. Weirdly, the Colts actually have reasonable ALY numbers on runs marked right tackle, although they are terrible on runs to right end.
Bill Barnwell: Well, they get the left guard (Ryan Lilja?) pulling to the right side on a lot of those runs.
Everything with the Colts on this drive is to the sideline. I've seen this movie before, and it ends with Dallas Clark on the seam route.
Aaron Schatz: Did Gary Brackett just refer to Rutgers as "The R???"
Ned Macey: Marvin Harrison has been so explosive you want him to return punts?
Aaron Schatz: Nice Wildcat wide receiver screen by the Patriots. You guys know that a wide receiver screen requires blockers, right? Did anyone else see the Pats send Matt Cassel out wide and immediately think "OK, the shark-jumping moment
Mike Tanier: I was planning to start calling it the Wild Shark after watching the Ravens run Troy Smith out to execute a bunch of ugly draw plays. In Baltimore, though, its the "Terrell Suggs Appeasement Package."
Bill Barnwell: That hit on the sideline (end of the first half) must have knocked the fork deeper into Harrison's back.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, the direct snaps really do require actual blocking, which is the most unheralded aspect of the success Miami is having with them. Especially if you want to run a full-on Wildcat, as opposed to all the stuff that's called a Wildcat and isn't. It's a slow-developing play that requires linemen to hold their blocks. If you're running the Power fake, someone has to, like, open up a hole or something.
Will Carroll: Mike Pollak is in at guard. He has this odd habit of spinning for no apparent reason. That might be part of the problem running right.
Aaron Schatz: And then later, hey, what do you know, Wes Welker can't block Bob Sanders on a wide receiver screen. Shocker! The Patriots are running some weirdly built plays this week.
Mike Tanier: Colts just put together a nice little drive. Is everyone asleep? Daylight savings knocking our socks off? C'mon guys, this is COLTS-PATS. The passion. The pageantry.
Oh, heck. I am gonna hit record and go to bed.
Bill Barnwell: I realized I had four unwatched episodes of both High Stakes Poker and NFL Matchup on my DVR, and that I don't specialize in the AFC East anymore.
Aaron Schatz: Maybe we're all just sick of Pats-Colts meaning the end of the world, and we're just enjoying a good game between two good but flawed teams. Although, I must admit I'm a bit stunned at how flawed the Colts look. They've got injuries, but with Sanders and Addai and Saturday all back, do they have any injuries as high-profile as Brady or Maroney or even Rodney Harrison? Shouldn't they be a far superior team to the current Patriots? When Brady went down in Week 1, and we figured the Pats could still pull off a bad division at 10-6, we all mentally chalked this up as one of the losses.
Will Carroll: I think the Kelvin Hayden injury is underrated and the line is still a patchwork. Addai is "back" in body only and I'm not sure he's just not exposed. That said, Anthony Gonzalez rules.
Is there a reason that the Pats aren't throwing to Randy Moss? Untested defensive backs, crappy running backs, and almost no Moss. This offensive game plan seems odd.
Bill Barnwell: Cassel has to get it to Moss, and he's not really very good at that.
Aaron Schatz: Did Bill Belichick have his balls surgically removed? The Patriots go for it on fourth-and-1 deep in the red zone instead of taking an easy field goal to tie the game. It makes sense, because there's plenty of time to get another chance to score if they blow the fourth down, and if they blow it the Colts have the ball inside their own 10 anyway. So they go for it, and they actually HAVE THE FIRST ... but NO! It turns out Belichick was calling timeout because he changed his mind. So now the Pats go for a field goal instead, tie the game, and have no timeouts left in case anything needs to be challenged in the fourth quarter.
Bill Barnwell: I think that kicking the field goal there is the painfully obvious move there, I'm sorry. Get the tie and worry about driving with your awful quarterback later.
Aaron Schatz: Boy, David Thomas was apparently desperate for a Keep Choppin' Wood award. Holy crap.
Bill Barnwell: Do you go for it on that fourth-and-15?
Alternately, why do you give Marvin freaking Harrison a 15-yard cushion?
Vince Verhei: Under NO circumstances do I go for it on that one. You were afraid to try fourth-and-1, but you go for it on fourth-and-15 with 4-plus minutes left? Who is this person and what has he done with Bill Belichick?
Bill Barnwell: Cassel just has no touch on that 30-yard throw down the sideline. Granted ... I know that sounds ridiculous, but it's not like he's trying to throw it to a particular spot and just missing. He's just heaving it as hard as he can and hoping it lands on the sideline.
Aaron Schatz: Yep. Cassel actually seems to make good reads, but he doesn't have the best touch, and of course, no pocket presence.
Man, as a Patriots fan, that one really hurts. I can't believe they were in the game, but to blow the game-winning (or at least game-tying) drive because of a stupid unnecessary roughness penalty ... so ... much ... anger...
Bill Barnwell: Let's review these two scenarios:
1) Patriots go for it on fourth-and-15. Cassel either throws incompletion or interception like he did. Slim chance (5 percent? 10 percent?) of completing pass for first down. Ball is most likely going to end up on the IND 40 or so. From there, the best case failing a miracle turnover (Troy Brown, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you) is that you stop the Colts and they punt, giving you the ball (again at best) on your own 20 with no timeouts and a little bit of time on the clock.
2) Patriots punt on fourth-and-15. Most likely scenario is that you give the ball to the Colts on the 20. If you stop them, you get the ball back on your 35 or 40.
That's such a bad decision by Belichick.
Aaron Schatz: Between some of the wacky play designs early on, not throwing to Moss in the first half, and then messed up wasting timeouts in the second half ... the Colts pretty clearly outcoached the Patriots tonight.
Ned Macey: I agree with this from the details perspective, but why is this mostly healthy Colts team using a bonehead unnecessary roughness penalty to beat a team missing Brady/Maroney/Harrison? The macro-level coaching favors N.E.
At this point, the Colts are basically about the 10th or 12th best team in football. Although, the offense was much better today -- at least their passing offense.
I agree with Will that the Hayden injury hurts. Guy is really developing into a good player, but obviously Hayden is not equal to the injuries they have.
Finally, has there ever been worse defense played by two teams in an 18-15 game? No turnovers until garbage time and just consistent long drives. Still, back to Audibles from Week 1, when Aaron said he was surprisingly calm about the Brady injury -- it was sort of fun to watch these very flawed teams battle. Not the level of football as last year, but watching people like Guyton or Ratliff or Green-Ellis make plays was sort of fun.
Bill Moore: I'm a little shocked that the play on Thomas' unnecessary roughness wasn't measured for a first down, but yes -- stupid, stupid penalty by Thomas.
As for going for it on fourth-and-15; with no timeouts, you had to view it as your last chance to score. The biggest problem was not making the decision until there were 15 seconds left on the play clock.
The final drive was just ridiculous. All they needed was a field goal in a semi-dome. You can run four or five 10- to 15-yard outs in 21 seconds. Instead, they heave three bombs against a dollar defense, and run one hook-and-lateral with no one to lateral it to.
Ned Macey: Fun Fact on this rivalry (which I date to 2003). Assuming Indy ends up with a higher DVOA this season, the team with the better regular-season DVOA is now 9-0 in the rivalry.