Audibles at the Line: Week 1
compiled by Bill Barnwell
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
Please also note that we do not write the e-mails specifically to produce this column, which means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Raiders fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
You can tell by the size of this week's Audibles that everyone was pretty anxious to get back to real football. We're also adding a new feature this year -- we'll occasionally be doing Saturday night Audibles when there's a major national college football game. We kick it off this week with USC's win over Ohio State.
Tennessee Titans 10 at Pittsburgh Steelers 13 (OT, Thursday)
Bill Barnwell: Watching the kickoff special makes me wonder what John Madden would sound like on Auto-Tune.
Bill Barnwell: Attention Al Michaels: The wig isn't supposed to cast a shadow.
David Gardner: So Alge Crumpler is listed at 262 pounds ... Really? He looks like he is pushing 290.
Mike Kurtz: I wish I were in the room when the PIT front office guy said 'Oh yeah, we just won a Super Bowl! Our o-line will be fiiine!' and everyone started nodding.
The 15-to-life would definitely be worth it.
Troy Polamalu picks off Kerry Collins with an amazing one-handed grab.
Bill Barnwell: Yes, so amazing play by Polamalu. But had Collins actually thrown that where he was supposed to, it would've been six.
Tim Gerheim: It also would have gone better if he hadn't been throwing to a rookie who didn't go up and fight for the ball because nobody in the Big East can jump like that.
Bill Barnwell: Chris Johnson's looked awful in pass protection so far tonight. James Farrior just sacked Kerry Collins, though, on a stunt where Eugene Amano just plain didn't notice Farrior running right by him.
Mike Kurtz: Amano's been getting fairly blown-up on a few other plays. Got thrown to the ground so hard two series ago his helmet popped off, if I recall. Only really hurt them in the past drive.
Bill Barnwell: OK. So illegal formation and pass interference penalties offset, but (last year in Titans-Ravens) false start and roughing the passer penalties don't? How does that make sense?
Tom Gower: Personal fouls are major infractions because they deal with player safety and are different than normal, run of the mill penalties. That's what Ray Anderson would probably tell you.
Bill Barnwell: Fair enough. Interesting that the Titans are flat-out targeting Polamalu on throws.
Doug Farrar: Have the Steelers run a single trips or bunch in the first half? I don't think so. That's odd for them.
Aaron Schatz: The Steelers did run a few trips bunch in the first half. I noticed it because they had two tight ends and only one wide receiver in there.
Tom Gower: The TD pass to Gage looked like exactly the same play the Titans ran from about the same place in the two minute drill in the preseason game against the Cowboys a couple weeks ago.
Aaron Schatz: Well, that was some of the most interesting 28 minutes of scoreless football I've ever seen. And then, this game suddenly turned into Super Bowl XXXVIII, when the defenses suddenly disappeared right before the end of the second quarter.
We're seeing a good example tonight of why Ben Roethlisberger, for all his talents, is NOT better than a guy like Philip Rivers. His need to hold onto the ball so long so he can try to make a play gets him sacked over and over. I couldn't believe the play near the start of the first quarter where he escaped the sack, and then just kept running backwards, and ended up being sacked for a 19-yard loss. Pittsburgh completely gave back their early field position advantage on that one play. But hey, the field position advantage existed because the Steelers special teams look better than they have in... um, forever, actually.
Anyone else feel that tonight, when he gets the handoff and goes looking for the hole, Willie Parker looks even more tentative than usual? And, on the other side, LenDale White's weight loss doesn't seem to have changed his style at all.
Bill Barnwell: Anyone note that Ben got way better when he went into the shotgun?
Tim Gerheim: It's not just linemen on screen passes who have trouble with downfield blocking. I was yelling at the TV as Cortland Finnegan was running back the interception with all those Titans running with him and blocking exactly nobody. Somebody was running ahead of him after he'd crossed midfield and sprinted right past the offensive lineman who slowed Finnegan up enough to get him tackled. He probably wouldn't have scored anyway, and I get a defensive back not wanting to get in the way of a charging rhino wearing a number in the 70s, but it still looks bad.
Vince Verhei: Jeff Fisher and Mike Tomlin have my permission to coach forever. Both teams have been tenacious on every play. The sequence before
Pittsburgh's field goal, when they lined up for a play on fourth down, had me way too excited. Tennessee showed great discipline and preparation, not coming close to jumping offside. And then Pittsburgh takes delay of game rather waste a timeout when they were going to kick a field goal anyway. I think 80 percent of coaches would have taken a timeout there.
Bill Barnwell: The "Hines Ward is such a competitor that he wouldn't allow himself to down the ball" narrative Collinsworth was spewing after the Ward fumble is absolute nonsense and garbage. If you're a "competitor", you're playing to win, right? Your best chance of winning there is to fall on the ball inside the 10. Can you imagine if Brandon Marshall had done that? If TO had done it? How would Collinsworth -- or the national media beyond him -- have reacted?
Aaron Schatz: Actually, I don't know if Ward should have fallen down with the ball. This wasn't a case where the Steelers were ahead and falling down ices the game. They still have to hit the field goal. Missed field goals from that range are rare, but fumbled pass receptions are just as rare. What would the reaction have been if Ward had fallen down, giving up an "easy assured touchdown," and Jeff Reed had honked it?
Robert Weintraub: I admit I'm biased, as I utterly loathe Ward, but he's moved into Favre-level worship from every announcer. And like Favre, he's given to illegal crackback blocks.
Vince Verhei: Is it my imagination, or was Tennessee getting pressure rushing four in the first half? In the fourth quarter and OT, they've been rushing four about every play, and not getting close to the quarterback.
Bill Barnwell: It seemed like they were blitzing more frequently. That could be my imagination, but hard to say. I think we can all agree that Ben Roethlisberger is plenty good enough to beat you if you give him seven seconds to throw the ball.
USC Trojans 18 at Ohio State University Buckeyes 15 (Saturday)
Bill Barnwell: The highlight of this game for me was during the pre-game. They had a feature on the sousaphone player who was getting to dot the 'I' during warmups, and then cut to him about to do so. He started getting jacked up, yelling at the crowd, and then ... smacks his sousaphone against the camera that was filming him from below, as hard as he possibly could. It was priceless. We rewound it maybe 15 times.
Aaron Schatz: Terrelle Pryor's first interception was just astounding. I've thrown some phenomenally dumb interceptions into coverage when playing Madden -- just ask Ian Dembsky -- but never one that bad. Kirk Herbstreit was talking about how Pryor's problem was that he seemed to decide on his receiver before the play even started, but honestly, Pryor didn't even throw it to that receiver. He threw it five yards past him downfield, straight to the linebacker.
Robert Weintraub: USC play-calling is a little overconfident with Barkley. All of his throws are outside the numbers. He could use a few easy calls to get his feet under him a little. OSU is jacked up, though.
Tom Gower: One of the questions tonight is whether or not Pete Carroll is willing to adopt a Tressel-style gameplan. Pryor simply can't pass the ball consistently-he tends to lock out and not realize what else is out there. So, starting a true freshman QB on the road, you run the ball, play conservative defense so they can't break a big play, and run the ball, passing only occasionally.
And, what have we seen? Mays (who I don't like as much as most people) is overaggressive on Small, leading Sanzenbacher open up the seam to set up a TD, and now we have another play down the field to set up another first and goal. Plus, the calls with Barkley. I didn't pay much attention to Carroll in the NFL -- was that his problem in NE?
Aaron Schatz: I don't think Carroll's problem in New England was ever considered to be playcalling. He lost the locker room. He's meant to be a college coach; within a year, all the veterans couldn't take that "jacked and pumped" stuff seriously, and then Curtis Martin bolted for New York and the team just had this cloud of slow collapse floating around it. And I mean slow... Carroll never had a losing record with the Patriots, just one less win each season.
I'm looking forward to when Sanzenbacher hits the NFL draft. I challenge the NFL media to write about him without using the words "Welker," "Stokley," or "Proehl."
David Gardner: Herron was way to hesitant on those goal-line runs. He cost Ohio state a touchdown. Let's see if he redeems himself on fourth down ... That is, if the ole sweater vest allows it.
Aaron Schatz: Given how popular the spread stuff is in college these days, I'm a little shocked by how much double-tight end stuff USC runs.
David Gardner: I don't watch too much of Southern Cal, but I don't believe they are in the double tight too often. I think they're just using the extra blockers for the conservative game plan.
Robert Weintraub: Actually, USC seldom spreads it, and run mostly power sets, especially in years like this when the running game is the team's strength, and the QB and WRs are untested. Even against San Jose State they were in power formations much of the game.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, Pryor had DeVier Posey open on a sideline route with perfect protection in front of him (the line picked up the blitz to perfection) on Ohio State’s last drive of the first half, and just airmailed it out of bounds. It would have been a tight one, but he had time to finesse it, and I’m thinking your average future pro quarterback makes that throw.
And ... the Trojans run a draw on third-and-21 with 12:56 left in the third quarter. SC alum Mike Holmgren would be so proud!
The Buckeyes are doing a good job with running wide four-man fronts against SC’s offensive line – I’m seeing blockers looking for someone to block and defenders getting through pretty frequently when the Trojans are doing tight zone. Countering those assignments by splitting the gaps.
Question about the college rules for offensive holding –- in 2006, the NFL modified the “ingredients of a hold” rule to say that if an offensive lineman brought a defender down, but the official didn’t actually see a hold, they couldn’t call it. Didn’t help Max Starks in the NFL season opener, but I’m curious if the NCAA is tighter with holding. I’ve seen a few mystery holds today in different games.
Robert Weintraub: Calling holding more often is a "point of emphasis" for NCAA refs this season. Just what everyone wants to see, more flags.
Tom Gower: I did a scan of the NCAA rulebook and didn't see anything in the text of the rules or the approved rulings about it.
One thing I think OSU may be doing is running 3 DEs as part of their 4 DL when they do rotation. I know I've seen DE #9 Robert Rose, who was once supposed to be the next Will Smith/Vernon Gholston, lined up inside.
Aaron Schatz: For me, the most impressive thing in this game has been the Ohio State front seven against the run. USC has all returning offensive line starters, if I remember correctly, and of course they've amassed an absurd number of top running back recruits over the past couple years, and yet they can't even manage three yards per carry. It isn't like I see a ton of college football, but in a handful of carries, Joe McKnight looks like another one of these athletic scatbacks whose talent doesn't mean much if you don't give them a big obvious hole to cut through.
Robert Weintraub: USC's quarterback play has been fantastic in this game. I refer to Stephen Garcia, of course.
Aaron Schatz: Somebody needs to tell the Trojans that if you want to run a screen on third-and-long, your guards need to start upfield to block BEFORE the defensive linemen are sitting on top of the quarterback. The whole concept where the linemen let the pass rushers go by so they can set up to block doesn't work if the quarterback is going to just stand there like a deer in headlights.
Doug Farrar: Is all the two-TE stuff usual for USC, or more a reaction to this?
Tom Gower: Not at all. They've run a lot of 2-TE stuff lately. See, for example, this great analytic blog on the Trojans showing their formation breakdown from the Rose Bowl last year-more Ace than anything else.
Robert Weintraub: I take less from OSU tonight (jacked up D, good special teams, iffy QB--nothing new here) than confirmation that USC is still a work in progress, and not able to beat all comers on pure talent at the moment. The bad thing would be a buckeye win tonight erasing everyone's notoriously short term memory, and an unbeaten OSU or PSU taking on Florida in the title game. No one wants any piece of that.
Aaron Schatz: I will say this, McKnight has looked a lot better on the fourth-quarter drive where USC is trying to win the game. Showing much better vision.
Robert Weintraub: Funnily, given his slight frame, McKnight has been the closer back for SC. Center O'Dowd has been super terrific on this drive.
Doug Farrar: He’s not exactly afraid to push a defender back to get an extra yard, either, which certainly separates him from Reggie Bush.
David Gardner: Wow. Two huge mental errors from Pryor back to back. The decision to run and not get out of bounds just killed them.
Doug Farrar: I’ll use the “I don’t watch much college football” disclaimer here, but it seems that for Pryor, everything beyond the first read is just a blank.
Tom Gower: The grounding call annoys the heck out of me. Pryor had seen the WR running out, and threw the ball like he was going to continue running the out, but instead he cut his route back inside. It really looks like nobody was there, but there really was somebody there. Barkley had a throw like that earlier in the game, albeit under less straightened circumstances, where grounding wasn't called.
Robert Weintraub: I'd like to see the IG rule changed--if you can muster the strength or aren't hurried enough to be able to get the ball out of bounds, it shouldn't be called. It's "grounding", after all--that play went against the spirit of the rule, to me at least.
Aaron Schatz: Now, if the college polls were anything like DVOA, Ohio State wouldn't drop at all after this loss. Yes, they lost at home... but they lost by three points to a team ranked five spots ahead. That's how it supposed to work. You shouldn't be docked for losing close to a better team.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Miami Dolphins 7 at Atlanta Falcons 19
Doug Farrar: And we see the first new Miami Wildcat with three minutes left in the first half. Pat White in the shotgun, a back on either side. He fakes the handoff to Ricky Williams, which freezes the safeties, and has Ted Ginn open downfield after splitting the deep guys. Unfortunately, White overthrew Ginn by about five yards. Somehow, I doubt Chad Pennnington has ever overthrown Ted Ginn. Still, this is how they plan to manipulate the safety -- to put that eighth guy on a string.
Miami follows that play up with one of the "HOLY S**T" catches you'll ever see. Greg Camarillo heads upfield on a stutter-go with Chris Houston all over him, Houston grabs Camarillo's left arm as the ball comes in, but the ball lands between Camarillo's knees as he falls to the turf. He then picks up the ball and starts running -- the ball never hit the ground. Tony Sparano challenges the no-catch ruling, which is reversed. Since he was
called down, Camarillo gets the ball at the point of the catch. You'll be seeing this one all day, folks.
If anyone wonders how much Tony Gonzalez has left in the tank, they should ask the two Dolphins defenders Gonzo juked out of their shorts on the way to a touchdown. Worth a second-round pick in 2010? Gosh, I'd have to say so.
Kansas City Chiefs 24 at Baltimore Ravens 38
Doug Farrar: Ladies and Gentlemen, Joe Flacco. The Ravens bring in Haloti Ngata to go jumbo from the Kansas City 4. But it's not a run, it's a pass as Flacco goes play action, runs away from several tackles, and throws a perfect little zip pass outside left to Willis McGahee for the score. Muy impressivo.
Vince Verhei: Brodie Croyle hits Sean Ryan for a 10-yard touchdown, and the Ravens and Chiefs are tied at 24. Chiefs' last two drives have produced 135 yards and 10 points, so the offense is getting it done late.
Mike Tanier: It took a while for the Ravens to adjust to Clancey Pendergast's defense. He threw a lot of blitzes at the Ravens, and he forced Flacco to scramble and hurry some bad throws. Later in the game, Flacco started checking down to backs, who often had 8-10 yards of after-catch running room. On the game-winning touchdown, Pendergast blitzed both safeties, which is never a good idea against the Ravens. Mark Clayton got open on a deep route.
Philadelphia Eagles 38 at Carolina Panthers 10
Bill Barnwell: Panthers and Eagles are competing to see who can make more stupid plays on the opening drive. Juqua Parker started with one of the more blantant facemasks you'll ever see on a third-and-10 to start. Panthers followed with two consecutive false starts on first-and-goal from the two.
Jason Peters with a second false start. Offensive line continuity, anyone?
Doug Farrar: Peters looked horrible in the preseason. Just ghastly. I thought they put Winston Justice in his uniform. Continuity is important, but as the famed philosopher Whitey Herzog once noted, “Seven times horses**t is still horses**t.”
Mike Tanier (sent to Aaron as text message): I HEART DELHOMME.
Eagles with a fumble recovery for a touchdown AND a DeSean Jackson kick return. Where was this last year?
3:01 left in the third quarter in Carolina and the stadium is MAYBE 30 percent full.
Doug Farrar: Delhomme has four picks and a fumble? Am I reading that right?
Bill Barnwell: Oh yeah. I think we can officially rename the five-turnover game as "Going Full Delhomme" now.
Mike Tanier (sent to Aaron as text message): LOVE HIM.
Denver Broncos 12 at Cincinnati Bengals 7
Doug Farrar: Late in the first half, the Bengals get cheated out of a touchdown. Orton throws over the middle to Tony Scheffler, who bobbles it for a step, then controls it and takes a step before Leon Hall strips it. The refs rule an incompletion, and Chinedum Ndukwe (who picks the ball up) has a clear path to the end zone. What's that you keep saying about "making a football move", Mr. Pereira?
Tom Gower: Something very odd just happened in the Bengals-Broncos game. The Bengals had a pass complete down to the 1 that may have gotten into the end zone. The officials called for a replay review with :41 left. After the call was upheld, the clock re-started and was at :20 when Benson scored (Bengals had all 3 TOL, so they didn't need to stop it).
After the XP following the TD, Jerome Boger went over to the sidelines and added :18 to the clock AND charged the Bengals a TO for reasons related to the replay review I can't understand.
Vince Verhei: The best part of that finish? Stokley running almost the length of the field horizontally before going into the end zone, milking an extra five or six seconds off the clock. He actually could have run longer, but better safe than sorry, I guess.
Bill Barnwell: I do that in Madden all the time.
Mike Tanier: Was that Dhancin Dhani Jones giving up on Stokley at the end so he could milk 3 more seconds off the clock? Did Dhani have a Travel Channel special to film? Is Anthony Bourdain going to play for the Bengals next week?
Doug Farrar: Okay, Stokley’s “HOLY S**T” catch beats Greg Camarillo’s “HOLY S**T” catch. That’s your play of the year, right there.
Bill Barnwell: Well, Camarillo's catch was slightly harder. Stokley was right place, right time.
And Gus Johnson was there to call it, too. What a knack that guy has.
Aaron Schatz: I feel so bad for Leon Hall. I mean, they teach you to knock it down at the end of the game, not try for the interception. Unfortunately, his attempt to knock it down instead knocked it up -- but the Bengals were playing defense like they were supposed to, and it isn't like Kyle Orton "orchestrated" a comeback or anything. Just astonishingly lucky.
Vince Verhei: That's true, it was totally a Madden play. Bill James has said that baseball managers can learn more about the game by playing Strat-O-Matic and the like. Have we reached the point where Madden is teaching players how to control the clock? I'm thinking also of Westbrook stopping at the 1 against Dallas last year. I don't think those plays are made in the 1970s or 80s.
Bill Barnwell: Remember, on the previous play in the Broncos game, Johnathan Joseph picked Kyle Orton off on the sideline, but couldn't get his feet down on the pick. They were inches away from ending the game.
Doug Farrar: Hall also ripped the ball out of Scheffler’s hands on the play that should have been a fumble, but wasn’t.
Minnesota Vikings 34 at Cleveland Browns 20
Aaron Schatz: Kudos to Brad Childress for trying to fool the Browns by opening with an onside kick. It didn't work, but that's a play that often works, and as we've shown, it's a good gamble. The biggest problem was that a good onside kick only goes a little bit past the 40, but Ryan Longwell kicked it more than 20 yards.
Doug Farrar: Mercifully for the Vikings, they still have an awesome defense and Cleveland’s offense is still Cleveland’s offense. They have to settle for a field goal.
Note to the Cleveland-Minnesota announcers:
1. That thing the Browns run with Josh Cribbs in the shotgun isn’t a Wildcat. It's called "Flash." We’ll send you that chapter in the FO Almanac.
2. Since Cribbs was a quarterback at Kent State, odds are he can throw the ball a little bit.
Mike Kurtz: Adrian Peterson is looking good, but some of this play-calling is bizarre. Peterson took it to the half-yard line, the next play was a stretch to the left that gets completely blown up and loses 4 yards. Favre then gets in a completely mix-up with his WR and they kick. Although even if it was a miscommunication, the actual throw was pretty awful.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, even if Rice was tippy-toeing the back of the end zone and jumped to his full height, that was still an overthrow. Looks like they've got the Excuse-O-Matic running at full speed already.
Mike Kurtz: Cribbs muffs the KO in the endzone, then pick it up and runs it out to the 10, because that extra time scooping up the ball just makes it easier to get a good return? I'm having flashback of Hester ... is there just something about returners?
Minnesota challenges a play that ended in a maybe-fumble, but it almost certainly recovered the fumble. The ref agrees that it was a fumble, but says that there's no clear possession before the end of the play. The NFL's epic quest to take all discretion away from the refs results in another play that just makes everyone look silly.
Announcers talking about how they have to unleash Favre, next play is almost an INT, the one after that a dumpoff. Good times.
Another thing lost in the whole Favre drama is the QB's role in assigning blockers after the line sets. There have been about five times in this half itself where there was simply nobody assigned to a blitzing Brown, who just got a clear shot at Favre. The last one was especially egregious, because there was a RB in the backfield (Taylor, I think), who run right past the rusher into his route. Favre gets plastered, MIN punts.
Aaron Schatz: On the subject of blocking, I'm trying to decide if the right side of the Cleveland line is playing well or not. They looked awful for the first few minutes, then they looked pretty good for a while, then they looked poor again at the end of the second quarter. The Browns have wrecked their line continuity -- they're starting a rookie center, Alex Mack, and then two guys who have bounced in and out of the lineup for other teams and are new in Cleveland, Pork Chop Womack and John St. Clair. Womack probably had the worst play of the half, a run where he was supposed to pull left, but nobody picked up the defensive lineman who was originally in front of him, so instead of finishing the pull he sort of reached backwards to try to stop the other lineman -- which meant that the defender who Womack was supposed to be blocking on the pull was easily able to take Jamal Lewis down.
Doug Farrar: Trust me, the only thing Womack can pull is a groin muscle. Usually by Week 2. He’s not the most mobile fellow.
Mike Kurtz: They're doing a good job blocking when the MIN DL just runs at them. The Minnesota line has run a lot of stunts, mostly in the second quarter, and the Cleveland line has mostly dissolved when they have. I'd chalk that up to lack of continuity, since these guys probably have to actually stop and think about who picks up whom, and by the time they're done with that, Quinn is running for his life.
Aaron Schatz: Cleveland fans holding six big letters in the first row next to the end zone: RETIRE.
I say lots of mean things about Jamal Lewis and our projections thought he was going to collapse this year so I have to be honest and say -- he looks really good today. Against Minnesota! He's looking particularly nimble when he takes those little steps he likes to take while he's deciding on a hole. I'm quite surprised.
Is there any other quarterback who gets his hometown mentioned all the time the way Brett Favre does? When Joe Flacco converts a first down, do any announcers say "and a big 20-yard pass whipped in there by the pride of Audubon, New Jersey"?
Mike Kurtz: Another play, two more rushers come off the edge untouched. This is all on Favre. Of course, he gets mega-sacked.
New York Jets 24 at Houston Texans 7
Vince Verhei: Jets win the creative play of the day award, lining up 6-foot-5, 303-pound Wayne Hunter in the slot, then bringing him across the backfield to block on a play-action pass. The result: Mark Sanchez running for his life and throwing the ball away. Texans are blitzing like crazy, and it's completely shut down the Jets' running game -- seven carries for 11 yards right now, including an 8-yarder by Leon Washington out of a direct snap. But it's leaving Jerricho Cotchery one-on-one with Dunta Robinson, and Cotchery is winning that battle handily. A long drive stalls in the red zone, and the Jets kick a field goal.
Texans have only had the ball for five or six plays, but Matt Schaub has already been hit at least three times.
We saw the Flacco/Ryan rookie QB protection plan last year -- run a hell of a lot, with plenty of blockers in the backfield. The Jets hate this plan. They're putting Sanchez in shotgun, sometimes in five-wide sets, and leaning on him to win. He's holding up pretty well, all things considered, but the Jets have just a field goal on three drives.
Ups and downs for Sanchez. On second down, he has a receiver open for a crossing route, but tries to throw through linebackers rather than over them and is nearly picked. On the ensuing third-and-long, Jets go shotgun, and Sanchez hangs in under a heavy rush and finds Chansi Stuckey for the first.
Texans' final drive is another three-and-out, helped by one hold and one false start. They're trying to attack the Jets almost exclusively with short passes, but the Jets are on to them, and they're not adjusting. But they're also making tons of mistakes -- the penalties on offense, and on defense, the blown coverage, and a couple of times defenders have come scrambling on to the field late. They just look unprepared to play.
Aaron Schatz: OK, I've flipped a bit to Jets-Texans. Before we decide to crown Mark Sanchez's ass, I would like to see him play a defense that is not Houston. For example, the touchdown pass to Chansi Stuckey was not some kind of incredible pass decision. The Texans completely blew the coverage and left Stuckey wide open.
Doug Farrar: He’s got New England’s rebuilding secondary next week – the first real test comes in Week 3 against the Titans. Then, the Saints and Dolphins. Could be a pretty easy ride to start. Matthew Stafford, on the other hand, has a real 24-carat bitch of a schedule after New Orleans: Vikings, Redskins, Bears, Steelers, Packers, bye. He’s gonna need it.
Vince Verhei: Texans' most recent drive ends with a failed fourth-and-2 on their own side of the field. They're still relying almost entirely on slants and receiver screens. It's not working.
Texans' blitzing comes back to bite them. Dustin Keller lines up wide right, isolated against Ferguson, and Sanchez hits him for 40. After a penalty, Jets line up I formation, two tight ends right. Texans blitz to the outside. Thomas Jones runs off tackle, gets big blocks from Alan Faneca and Tony Richardson, and then there's nobody between him
and the end zone. 38 yards, touchdown, 24-7 Jets, Fat Lady unleashes her melody.
Mike Tanier: I was stunned by how bad Matt Schaub looked today. He was under a lot of pressure, and the game plan called for a few too many cute screens, but even simple passes just fluttered out of his hand.
I counted two or three near interceptions for Sanchez, in addition to the one he threw, but he looked pretty good overall. It was a good gameplan to protect him: the Jets called several rollouts and sprintouts, as well as a few receiver screens and a reverse or two. It was a little bit of a junk offense, but it worked, especially with the defense pitching a near shutout.
Jacksonville Jaguars 12 at Indianapolis Colts 14
Tom Gower: Colts take the opening kickoff down inside the 5, but Manning is intercepted on a fade route intended for Wayne by rookie CB Derek Cox. Excellent jam by Cox, not letting Wayne get any kind of release, and he was in great position to jump up and make the play.
The Colts showed a 4-WR-type look a couple times that drive, albeit with tight ends Clark and Tamme in the slot. They also lined up in 2-TE, I-formation on third-and-1, which I don't remember a lot of in past years.
David Gardner: Reggie Wayne's route on the most recent Indy TD pass was outstanding. He put a nice double move on the corner, which momentarily froze the safety and then split the two for a throw. Kudos to Manning as well for doing what he does best and hanging in the pocket to throw that pass.
Tom Gower: According to Solomon Wilcots, Jeff Saturday is "one of the most underrated centers in the NFL." Apparently, being the only offensive lineman Solomon has praised (other than one block by Lilja) is enough to qualify him for that distinction.
Mike Tanier: All the underrated guys are on the cover of ESPN the Magazine.
Bill Barnwell: Jaguars might benefit in the long run from drafting Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, but they just got abused on the Jaguars' final offensive play as they were attempting to drive for the winning score.
Detroit Lions 27 at New Orleans Saints 45
Doug Farrar: First sign that these aren’t the Matt Millen Lions anymore: Fourth-and 1 from the New Orleans 4 at the start of the second quarter, and with the Saints bunching everything inside, Stafford gives Kevin Smith the pitch outside after faking to the fullback. Touchdown, Lions.
Tom Gower: Stafford really looks like a rookie QB, trying to thread a couple needles and not managing it. One was to Johnson in the middle of 4 defenders, broken up by one of the underneath guys, and another was intercepted by Sharper on the goal line.
After Sharper returned it inside the Lions 45, Detroit was flagged for a personal foul for interfering with the officials on the sidelines and then roughing the passer, but managed to block Carney's FG to keep it at 28-10. TD to make it 28 came on a grab by Shockey where he juggled the ball and finally hauled it in with his butt sitting on the endline. It went to booth review, but stood-wrongly, in my view.
Doug Farrar: It would take me an hour to write it all up, but let's just say that there's a five-play sequence ending in Detroit's second touchdown that Mike Carey and his crew are going to want to forget as soon as possible.
Dallas Cowboys 34 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21
Doug Farrar: Cadillac gets the TD with 10:00-ist left in the first half, I don’t care who you root for (well, unless you like the Cowboys), that’s just good to see.
David Gardner: A lot is being made of Cadillac's touchdown run and the highlight-reel run that preceded it, but he is just generally carrying Tampa's offense. Leftwich has really benefited from his play so far.
The highest-paid tight end in NFL history just dropped a would-be first-down catch on fourth-and-6 for the Bucs deep in Dallas territory, essentially ending the game.
Washington Redskins 17 at New York Giants 23
Bill Barnwell: Lawrence Tynes' first kickoff hit a Redskin in the helmet at the 20.
Bill Moore: Troy Aikman: Clinton Portis loves running down hill. As opposed to what? Those running backs that love running up hill?
Will Carroll: Jerry Rice ran up hill! Why aren't players as good as they used to be?
Bill Barnwell: Giants have been stuffed on two third/fourth-and-ones in the first half so far. Albert Haynesworth is helping, but...I miss our elite offensive line.
Vince Verhei: But after they force a quick three-and-out, you must love your new
elite defensive line.
Bill Barnwell: Jim Zorn deserves the Colbert award for that fake field goal, down 17-0.
Bill Moore: Two receivers playing well – Steve Smith for the Giants is stepping up in the absence of Plax, and Randle-El has parlayed his slot 3rd receiver role into some nice play-making catches while the Giants D have focused in on Moss.
Aaron Schatz: I wish I had lots of interesting things to say about this Giants-Redskins game I just watched, but I don't. The Giants played like you would expect the Giants to play, and the Redskins played like you would expect the Redskins would play. The Giants ran the ball very well, double-teaming Albert Haynesworth to take him out of the play. Eli Manning did a good job of avoiding the pass rush -- nobody ever talks about it, but he has pretty good pocket presence -- and found a lot of guys on nice short routes. He also completely overthrew a couple deep passes, and threw one head-scratching interception, because he is Eli Manning. The Redskins' offense looked somewhat disjointed, but Clinton Portis still ran well. The Giants pass rush looked great. Once again, last year's three second-round picks did basically nothing. Apparently Malcolm Kelly started the game but you could have fooled me -- Antwaan Randle El is still a much bigger part of the offense.
Bill Barnwell: Game really seemed to depend upon pressure, as simple as that is. When the Redskins got pressure on Eli Manning, he made mistakes and forced throws, one of which led to an INT. When the Giants got pressure on Campbell, he alternately dumped the ball off, fumbled, or looked awful. When the Redskins sat back in two deep and rushed four, Eli picked them apart.
St. Louis Rams 0 at Seattle Seahawks 28
Vince Verhei: Rams fumble the opening kickoff. Three plays later, a pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the end zone is tipped and intercepted. The NFC West is in midseason form!
Seahawks use some cute Wildcatish stuff, with Seneca Wallace in the shotgun, throwing backwards to Hasselbeck out wide. Hasselbeck then throws back to Wallace, who scurries for a nice gain. And then on the next play, Hasselbeck is intercepted again. Sigh.
Bill Barnwell: Rams first trip to the red zone: Run for no gain. 9-yard pass on second-and-ten. False start. Delay of game. Incomplete lob to end zone. Missed field goal.
Vince Verhei: Early in the second quarter, Rams have three false starts, one delay of game, and two timeouts called to avoid delay of game. Go twelfth man!
Aaron Schatz: That's not the 12th man. That's the Rams being the Rams.
Vince Verhei: No, THIS is the Rams being the Rams: They block a field goal and
return it for a game-tying touchdown ... but the play is called back because there were 12 defenders on the field.
Tom Gower: Is it just me, or is Richie Incognito a great example of the hubris of NFL coaches? He's been around for a while, has good strength, but always, always, always does stupid things and seems to regularly miss at least 1 key assignment. He just picked up his second personal foul of the game, and Spags yanked him, but I'm sure he'll be back in sooner or later because this time, just maybe, he's learned his lesson.
Bill Barnwell: Rams have never really had any better choices at guard. He's a good athlete and has raw talent. So, yes.
Vince Verhei: Julius Jones slips through the Rams defense, and the safeties are too slow to catch him. Jones scores a 62-yard touchdown, and then breaks out the Fargo Strut. No, really.
San Francisco 49ers 20 at Arizona Cardinals 16
Vince Verhei: Penalties set the Cardinals up for a third-and-13 deep in their own territory. Kurt Warner, with plenty of time, opts to lob a pass to Jerheme Urban. By the time the ball finally comes down, Patrick Willis is there to pull it in. 49ers kick a field goal after Bryant McFadden breaks up a pass in the end zone. McFadden had his back to the ball and was blindly waving his arms in the air; if the ball had arrived later, McFadden would have committed pass interference to set up first- and-goal at the one.
The Arizona offense now consists of holding the ball forever, then turning it over, dumping it off, or getting sacked.
Tim Hightower is the king of taking 0-yard runs and dancing sideways to turn them into 2-yard losses.
Aaron Schatz: Yay, bonus coverage! San Francisco has third down near the goal line, Arizona sends a big blitz of seven guys, and Shaun Hill easily finds a wide-open Frank Gore for the touchdown. That play could have been scripted by Gregg Easterbrook.
OK, the Cardinals back the 49ers up to their own one-yard line. The Andy Lee punt goes all the way past the Arizona 40, but Antrel Rolle has a great return, making two guys miss and then actually dragging multiple tacklers for the last 10 yards or so, all the way to the San Francisco 38. The announcers then complain that Lee "outkicked his coverage." Really? If Lee had kicked the ball with more hang time, the 49ers would have figured out how to tackle instead of being dragged along the ground by Antrel Rolle? Unfortunately, we don't have the hang time measurements to study it properly, but I sometimes wonder if there really is such a thing as "outkicking your coverage."
Bill Barnwell: We could analyze average gross return distance from each combination of location and punt distance, wouldn't be that hard.
Aaron Schatz: We already do that. That's how the punt return measures for the special teams values work. At no point do average values get worse if you kick it longer, as long as you don't put it over the goal line for a touchback. The argument from traditionalists would be that it isn't measuring "outkicking the coverage" unless you measured hang time and how long it takes for the coverage to get down the field...
Two important lessons for National Jump to Conclusions Week:
1. Our St. Louis projection still may be correct.
2. Our Arizona projection still may not.
Bill Barnwell: Arizona should've run the Brandon Stokley tip play.
Chicago Bears 15 at Green Bay Packers 21
Mike Kurtz (in pregame): Tony Dungy has a CLICKER! Next week, he'll be diagramming how things cost more than they used to, maybe have a feature on the intertubes.
...and then he finally throws one that Green Bay catches, to Nick Collins. Man, Cutler is looking just awful so far, horribly inaccurate. Green Bay is really bringing the pressure, too.
Mike Tanier: And yet, 0-0 in the second.
Doug Farrar: Oh, dear. The pick to Johnny Jolly is insult added to injury.
Mike Tanier: Was that Rodgers' third or fourth career safety? Think the Packers want to work on that?
Aaron Schatz: Jay Cutler is an emotional guy, and I think at halftime they need to take him into a corner and tell him to take a long, deep breath. He's making some ridiculously bad throws, trying to force things that aren't there.
Jay, you must chill. I have hidden your keys.
Bill Barnwell: And Tramon Williams proves why defensive touchdowns are random from year-to-year.
Mike Tanier: What the hell am I watching? Can someone please tell me what the hell I'm watching?
Go back to Aaron's first point. Cutler's out of his mind right now, mixing it up with Clay Matthews and throwing the ball to nowhere. He needs to settle down. And Ron Turner better come up with some adjustments, too, because there isn't a lot of time to throw or running room. The Bears offense should be effective against this defense because they can go so easily into6 or 7 man protection. Its not happening right now.
Aaron Schatz: OK, now I have a better idea. At halftime, they need to force Cutler to listen to some DJ Screw records and make him drink a few of these.
Doug Farrar: And who kidnapped Matt Forte? The score is 3-2, ferchrissakes. Your running back was responsible for 125 percent of your total offense last year. Give him the damned ball!
Bill Barnwell: Aaron Rodgers isn't playing very well, either. Cutler seems to be perpetually one step behind his receiver, but Rodgers is overthrowing everyone.
Aaron Schatz: Hey, apparently Lovie Smith was wandering through the locker room at halftime and discovered that Matt Forte is still on the team. That's good news for the Bears.
Chicago inexplicably tries a fake punt on fourth-and-11, up by two points.
Aaron Schatz: OK, Chicago just ran the most insanely-mistimed fake punt in history. How on earth can you take chance of handing the ball back to your opponent ALREADY IN FIELD GOAL RANGE when you are up by only two points in the fourth quarter?
Bill Barnwell: I'm guessing the center quick-snapped it because they saw too many men.
Aaron Schatz: Except that Green Bay had 11 men, and Chicago loses the challenge, which brings up a number of questions. Are the announcers right, that it wasn't a fake but rather an audible to catch the Packers with 12 men on the field? Why would you quick-snap to catch the other team with 12 men on the field if you have fourth-and-11? Even IF you get the penalty, you are going to put on fourth-and-6! And now Chicago has no timeouts left in a two-point game. Holy Keep Choppin' Wood, Patrick Mannelly.
Mike Kurtz: Even if there were 12, the refs should have the ability to not enforce the penalty, as punishment to the Bears for making such an incredibly stupid call.
Aaron Schatz: Holy crap. Did Cutler just throw to a guy who was QUADRUPLE covered?
Mike Tanier: Now now, there's no such thing as quadruple coverage, only a QB staring at a receiver so long and timing his pass so poorly that defenders from four zones converge on it.
Aaron Schatz: Converge? In the replay, I think the four defensive backs were all pretty much there *when he threw it*. Bennett was the only guy IN any of those four zones.
Aaron Rodgers hits Greg Jennings on a deep touchdown to go ahead with a minute left.
Bill Barnwell: Yeesh. Even if it's third-and-one, you've gotta put some safety help back there. You can't push your safety into the box.
Doug Farrar: No.
Flotsam And Jetsam
Vince Verhei: AutoTrader is sponsoring something called the "Ultimate Quarterback Comparison." It compares starting quarterbacks' completion percentage, yards, and touchdowns. Ultimate? Really?
Aaron Schatz: The difference between Ultimate Quarterback Comparison and regular quarterback comparison is that in Ultimate Quarterback Comparison, Brett Favre is a teenager again.
Bill Barnwell: Red Zone channel just had their first time in five years with every game in commercial. Nine different games. Good timing.
Doug Farrar: Phil Simms: "Anytime you cover the center and both guards, it’s gonna be tough to run up the middle."
Vince Verhei: I do like the Visa ad with Morgan Freeman doing solemn, reverent narration as people dance badly to "SuperFreak." An early nominee for ad of the year.