compiled by Vince Verhei
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.)
Thursday, November 26
Green Bay 34 at Detroit 12
Tom Gower: Well, Lions fans had their moment of glory they didn't get last year when Jordy Nelson fumbled the opening kickoff and they took a 7-0 lead. Since then, the Lions offense has been unsurprisingly mediocre -- Matthew Stafford started 5-for-7 for 35 and the touchdown, but was 2-of-7 for 18 and two picks the next seven throws. The two picks were both bad -- Troy Aikman tried to excuse one by blaming Dennis Northcutt for running the route in the wrong place, but I'm not sure I believe that given where the ball was thrown. The Packers seem to be really throwing a lot of short stuff and hoping for missed tackles. That's not a bad strategy given Detroit's well-chronicled defensive back problems, even if it annoys me.
One thing the Lions are doing a fair amount of is showing pressure. They stopped third-and-goal on a short pass to Donald Driver when they overload blitzed and dropped off to the right (and correct) side. That's not something Schwartz did in Tennessee; has Gunther Cunningham done that?
Bill Barnwell: Oh, they're playing awful. They're a fumble recovery and a missed field goal away from 16-0. Could be 26-0, realistically. Four lengthy drives from Green Bay, whereas Detroit's drives have been short and ended mostly in disaster.
I think Green Bay's taking short stuff because that's what Detroit's giving them. Will James is consistently playing ten yards off the line -- including on third-and-7. And then still gives a cushion going up the field.
Mike Kurtz: Green Bay stuffs Detroit at their goal-line after getting good pressure on Stafford. Given Green Bay's rather porous offensive line and mediocre running game, you'd think that they'd dial up a swing or some kind of intermediate route, right?
No, they run up the gut for an almost-safety. Realizing this wouldn't work, they then decide to run off-tackle from their own half-yard line, which is also almost a safety. I say almost because he fumbled in the end zone and the lions recovered for a touchdown. Excelsior!
Boo, changed to a safety after review. That's much less funny.
Oakland 7 at Dallas 24
Doug Farrar: The Austin-Asomugha battle looks like a good one today. Austin beat Nnamdi on a cross with 11:30 left in the first quarter (looked like there was supposed to be some zone help over the middle), and had him turned around on an inside/outside run off the line, but dropped the ball a bit later in that same first drive.
In a separate e-mail thread this week, we were talking about why the Raiders don't run any kind of direct snaps or option-read plays. Maybe they will after getting gashed by Tashard Choice off a direct snap for 66 yards near the end of the first quarter. (Note: The Cowboys call their pseudo-Wildcat the "Razorback.") I really like Choice in that role, and I think it's why he's so good on draws and delays. He understands the timing of the delay, he's very quick to the hole when it's time to go, and he's able to press through small seams, though not in this case. He had a freakin' four-lane highway on that play.
Tom Gower: I think the Asomugha-Austin matchup really fizzled out. I didn't see much of the game, but from what I did see, the Cowboys were lining Austin up all over the field, slot and flex on both sides, while Asomugha stayed more constant. I think they were determined not to let their most threatening pass threat not producing be the reason they lost again, and it worked.
Granted, this was the Raider pass D.
Doug Farrar: Agreed. A few interesting plays, then "Pfffft."
New York Giants 6 at Denver 26
Aaron Schatz: Listened to the first half of Denver-New York in the car on the way home from my brother's house in Northampton. Got home to an e-mail from somebody I know in the league, who must stay anonymous:
"I'm going to be disappointed if no one mentions Millen's wide receiver analysis in next week's Audibles. 'I'm not quite ready to say Smith, Manningham, and company are better (even potentially) than, say, Toomer and Hilliard.' Guess that's why he makes the big bucks."
And yes, Millen just called Champ Bailey "Boss" by mistake. But no, he's not going to talk about his old job. Heh.
Bill Moore: And his explanation of Kyle Orton calling out the MIKE was just plain wrong. It was only one of many crazy statements he makes. How does he have job No. 2?
Doug Farrar: I guess if you're looking for dynamic personalities on your broadcast team and you don't know enough about football to know that the guy has a head made of pure styrofoam, you hire him because he sounds like he knows what he's talking about (he says a lot of things loudly in an authoritative tone), and he was mis-labeled as some kind of great broadcaster before he ruined the Lions. He's been on some great teams as a player, and I suppose people assume if he had the Detroit job for that long, he really couldn't have been that bad, right?
In a larger sense, he's the poster child for the danger of the "He played the game, so he must understand it" theory. Some people who played professional football at an extremely high level seem to have no concept of the game beyond their own role in it, or at least that's the impression they give based on what they say. Other guys who barely made a dent in the pros as players, like John Madden in his prime or Mike Mayock, blow the Simms/Millen blowhard types out of the water. It doesn’t matter that you have twelve Super Bowl rings. You still have to watch tape, do your homework, and be able to explain things on the fly in a coherent and interesting fashion.
Mike Tanier: I thought he was tipsy when he said this Giants receiving corps was the best of the last 30 years. I mean, they won a Super Bowl two years ago with Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, right?
He misidentified a blocking scheme early in the game: The Broncos were pulling a tackle or a tight end, but he was explaining it as if it were zone stretch. When Eli Manning made a bad read and throw, he said it was good coverage, He made some idiotic statement about the Denver skyline looking as beautiful as the Broncos defense. It was amazing.
Millen was considered an up-and-coming broadcaster back when everyone wanted Madden clones. He had a Boom-Bam style that the CBS (I think) producers loved. Even back then, he would draw criticism by explaining every win or loss in terms of "who wants it more."
Doug Farrar: There was also his identification of every kind of coverage in the Miami-Carolina game as "two-deep, man under," no matter what it actually was.
Sunday, November 29
Tampa Bay 17 at Atlanta 20
It's a stalemate so far in the Georgia Dome, with both teams having sloppy, one-step-forward, two-steps-back opening possessions ending in punts.
He has a jammed toe. Lame. They expect him back this game.
Matt Ryan is in the locker room, but Chris Redman is slinging it around. He has better arm strength than I remember, and the Falcons are letting him throw it. I think what is holding him back is his pocket presence, but that might just be rustiness
Also, straight out of the late '90s, the Falcons are running some "Full House" formation with three backs in the backfield.
Aaron Schatz: Well, not straight out of the '90s in general, unless you mean Atlanta specifically liked to run it in the late '90s. I went into the game charting to look, we've got a handful of Atlanta Full House plays in there this year, although the Falcons don't run it as often as Green Bay.
Actually, that reminds me of an interesting look I saw when charting a hole in Week 2 MIA-IND yesterday -- the Dolphins had a Full House with all halfbacks, no fullbacks. Brown, Williams, and Cobbs.
Bill Barnwell: Someone -- Pittsburgh? -- runs it with two tight ends as fullbacks.
Vince Verhei: Carolina runs that a lot too, don't they?
Bill Barnwell: Green Bay does, too.
David Gardner: Well I have clearly missed the full house formation across the league. Whoops.
Doug Farrar: Niiiiiiice play call, Inspector Gadget. Falcons go with a two-receiver stack on either side, spreading the Bucs' defense, and Redman gives the ball to Jerious Norwood on a little shovel pass up the middle. Touchdown, Falcons.
David Gardner: Josh Freeman led the Bucs to their first score with excellent throws of 41 and 42 yards, both to Antonio Bryant.
Bill Barnwell: Stylez G. White has three sacks in the first half. Three sacks! Stylez White!
David Gardner: The Bucs have brought one signature thing back into the defense: the cornerback blitz, featuring Ronde Barber.
Bill Barnwell: Chris Redman's getting killed out there. The Bucs line up Ronde Barber in the slot and Chris Redman doesn't even notice him; Barber ends up clotheslining him for the Bucs' sixth sack of the day.
David Gardner: The Bucs, holding a fragile 4-point lead over the Falcons, called a fake punt around the Falcons 40-yard line. Much like the rest of their season, it was an epic fail.
Doug Farrar: Jason Elam misses a 34-yarder with six minutes left in the game. This is why the Falcons brought in four kickers this week.
Vince Verhei: Your bad coaching decision of the day: Up four, Josh Freeman converts a third-and-5 to set Tampa Bay up with a first-and-10 at the Atlanta 39. Raheem Morris is then content to settle for a long, long field goal, running on first-and-10, second-and-8, and third-and-7. The 51-yard field-goal attempt was no good, but even it was converted Atlanta would have had two minutes to drive for a tying touchdown. Freeman was having a good day -- he finished 20-of-29 for 250 yards, two touchdowns, no picks -- and Morris didn't give him a chance to finish the Falcons off.
Miami 14 at Buffalo 31
Doug Farrar: The Dolphins got a little too cute on their opening drive, running a bunch of Wildcat with some success, until Ricky Williams tried to throw into the end zone and got picked off by linebacker Chris Draft. It seems to me that if they use the same I-formation stuff they used against the Panthers against Buffalo's terrible defense, it's an automatic win. Further proof that you can't just line up Joe Schmo in these plays and run it whenever you want.
Tom Gower: One day, the announcers will start calling a Wildcat a Wildcat and start calling a normal direct snap a direct snap or a single-wing or some such. Maybe that day, Ricky Williams won't throw an interception in the end zone.
Vince Verhei: Reaction to something said hours and hours ago, missed until now: Chris Draft is still in the NFL?!
Bill Barnwell: The Bills are desperate. Oh so desperate.
Cleveland 7 at Cincinnati 16
Bill Barnwell: And add nine yards rushing for Quinn, who runs a quarterback draw for a touchdown.
Rob Weintraub: Obligatory Bengals notes: Woof, that was a stinkbomb. Cincy was penalty-heavy, ultra-conservative, and again let a doormat hang around forever. But they were never seriously threatened because Brady Quinn is so awful. I mean, he couldn't complete simple slants, was just all over the place. Only redeeming factor was the Bengals run blocking. In case you didn't hear about it, Larry "GLAAD To Have You Aboard" Johnson rumbled for more than 100 yds (so much for the L.J. curse), and Bernard Scott was around 90. Proof that Benson's renaissance is as much about the boys up front as his "maturity" and other media code words. The pass blocking isn't nearly as effective -- Cleveland got a lot of pressure, and Carson Palmer just never looked beyond 15 yards downfield. Regardless, that's 6-0 in the AFC North for Los Tigres.
Two other notes: There was an Andre Smith sighting, as the big fella hit the field for the first time for five or so plays, and Shaun Rogers suffered a gruesome leg injury on a meaningless play late in the game. Karma, perhaps, for his horse collaring Carson Palmer at the end of the first half, which led to another untimed down against the Brownies, this time resulting in a field goal.
Seattle 27 at St. Louis 17
Doug Farrar: Last week, the Seahawks made me ask why David Hawthorne was covering Percy Harvin one-on-one over the middle. This week, the Seahawks are making me ask why Donnie Avery was completely uncovered on the right side of the end zone on the touchdown that made it a 7-6 game. This team might lead the NFL in "plays that would make Madden 2010 reboot itself."
Vince Verhei: Seahawks are currently averaging 7 yards per completion. Last catch was a three-yard gain on third-and-8. Can you imagine what would happen if Greg Knapp was ever paired with someone like Ryan Fitzpatrick? I imagine pass patterns composed of five men running hook routes behind the line of scrimmage.
Doug Farrar: The Seahawks are taking their most talented defensive player off the field and leaving him there for no good reason, and they're paying for it. From good buddy and FO game charter Brian McIntyre: "All of the big plays on the Rams' scoring drive occurred with Aaron Curry on the sidelines. All of them. The 27-yard pass to Ruvell Bleepin' Martin, which Deon Grant blew coverage on, the 11-yard pass to Denny Amendola, the touchdown pass to Donnie Avery, when the Seahawks were in nickel despite the Rams having just 2 wide receivers on the field."
I'll just add that when Jim Mora talks once again about the wisdom of taking Curry off the field because the game is overwhelming him (he's a rookie, you know!), I would like someone to punch him right in the head while wearing a Brian Cushing replica jersey.
Vince Verhei: Matt Hasselbeck just ran the play-action of the year, running a naked bootleg to the left and scrambling for the clumsiest, stumblingest 30-some-yard gain you'll ever see.
Justin Forsett scores to make it 24-10 Seattle early in the fourth quarter. Forsett now has 80 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. (Obvious caveat: Rams' rush defense is 31st in DVOA.) I noted in FOA that if the Seahawks were bad this year, they could be due for a complete overhaul. Forsett and John Carlson may be the only players on offense whose jobs are secure.
Bill Barnwell: Rams have a way of making backs look good.
Will Carroll: Was Forsett the guy who was waived or claimed by someone last yr, but ended back with Seattle?
Doug Farrar: Claimed by Indy, waived by Indy, returned to Seattle.
Will Carroll: Yeah, couldn't have used him ... poor personnel decision by Indy?
Will Carroll: Could have maybe not drafted Brown. Was there a good left tackle there?
Doug Farrar: Eric Wood (C), Eben Britton (RT), Max Unger (G/C), Andy Levitre (G). Nah. Not there. Sebastian Vollmer was a whole round down from there. Safety Louis Delmas might have made some sense for them at 27, but Brown was a good pick.
Carolina 6 at New York Jets 17
When are people going to stop running deep outside routes on Darrelle Revis? His second pick of the day came when Steve Smith tried it. If Randy Moss can't do it, and Steve Smith can't do it, I'm thinking it shouldn't be done.
Bill Barnwell: I think Smith had a step on Revis -- maybe a half-step -- but Delhomme underthrew it.
Vince Verhei: Chris Gamble intercepts Mark Sanchez, and Carolina turns it into points as Steve Smith beats Revis on a fade route for a touchdown. The play is being reviewed, but even if it stands Jake Delhomme now has 81 yards and three interceptions. Is Delhomme's $20 million extension the best example of a signing that seemed like a horrible idea at the time, and lived down to expectations?
And Smith's touchdown is ruled out of bounds, and a third-down pass falls incomplete. Panthers kick a field goal to make it 14-6 Jets.
Washington 24 at Philadelphia 27
Doug Farrar: Is J.I. Halsell on our list? I'm wondering if, in Albert Haynesworth, Clinton Portis, and DeAngelo Hall, the Redskins have their three biggest contracts on the inactive list today. That would be quite a feat.
J.I. Halsell: Yeah, that's a whole lot of money on the inactive list.
Tom Gower: As Mr. Tanier will tell us, Andy Reid decided it would be a good idea to onside kick on the opening kickoff, after which the Redskins scored a touchdown. Either this will be hailed as a fantastic decision by a coach playing to win, or a coach so much lacking in confidence in his team's abilities he had to try gimmicky stuff against the Deadskins.
Doug Farrar: Leonard Weaver just ran for 18 yards, which is 14 more than the Seahawks gained against the Vikings last week. I really hate Tim Ruskell.
Eagles line up with fourth-and-goal, shotgun, four-wide. Brent Celek gets busted for offensive pass interference, and it's a field goal. At this rate, Tanier should be into the second bottle of vodka by the second quarter.
Vince Verhei: On Philly's third-and-goal play, Michael Vick ran a quarterback draw, showing pass before trying to run it in. Why bother with the draw? Are you expecting linebackers to fear a Vick pass in 2009? All you're doing there is giving Washington more time to fill holes in the line.
Bill Barnwell: And as if on cue, Vick comes in on third-and-one, Washington runs the "Jam Middle" play from Madden, and Vick comes up short.
Doug Farrar: Is that the play where he bumped into Winston Justice?
Bill Barnwell: Where he thought the best way to convert in short-yardage was to run backwards.
Doug Farrar: I'd like to introduce a concept to the Washington Redksins: Safety help against DeSean Jackson. You won't regret it, guys. Trust me.
Bill Barnwell: The Eagles commit a false start inside the 10-yard line and Tony Siragusa notes that the Eagles are "kicking themselves in the foot". Maybe they could kick their leg out from under their leg, too.
Vince Verhei: Philadelphia has the ball, down eight, about ten minutes left in the game. On first-and-10, Vick lines up under center and runs a bootleg to the left. He has a tight end wide-open on a little two-yard out. But instead of dropping the ball softly into the receiver's hands, Vick zips it hard right behind his ass for an incompletion. This is a stupid, stupid time to dabble with the Vick experiment.
Fortunately for the Eagles, they convert anyway, and eventually get a first-and-goal on another good Weaver run. (Sigh.) On third-and-goal, Eagles go with a full house, two-tight end look and Eldra Buckley carries it in over left guard. Eagles line up to go for two ... but are unprepared and have to call timeout. Egads.
They finally come out in a three-wide, split backs set, and a shovel pass to LeSean McCoy converts to tie the game.
Mike Tanier: This is the typical Eagles viewing experience. If people are wondering why I don't comment much, it's because you can only talk about red zone mistakes so often, only talk about short-yardage problems so often. When The Onion is making fun of your red zone decisions, you have officially arrived as a national joke.
By the way, I didn't watch the final Redskins drive. Couldn't take it. Glad to come away with a patented Win that Feels Like a Loss.
Vince Verhei: You didn't miss much Mike. Redskins ran four plays in 44 seconds, with just one completion. Wretched clock management.
Compare that to Atlanta, who ran 15 plays in 2:07, only going 59 yards.
Aaron Schatz: I particularly enjoyed Jason Campbell ignoring an easy pickup scramble on fourth-and-1 so he could underthrow a pass for the (not) first down.
Mike Tanier: To be fair to Campbell, he made good decisions on the move all day.
Indianapolis 35 at Houston 27
Will Carroll: I shouldn't expect much from Dan Dierdorf, but do people really not get that holding the ball doesn't work against the Colts? After the Miami game was such an extreme, I figured they might get the message.
Is it just me, or do the Colts seem to really make adjustments at halftime? It seems like they fall behind a lot. Not just this season, but in the Peyton Manning era.
Bill Barnwell: Houston drives down the field on the opening drive and gets a touchdown on a play-fake that was so good that it fooled the hard camera for three seconds. Vonta Leach was in the end zone by the time the hard cam realized.
Aaron Schatz: Either Matt Schaub runs the best play-action fakes in the NFL, or CBS assigned their worst cameraman to today's Houston-Indianapolis game. The guy keeps following the back when Schaub has the ball. The worst was on the play-action bootleg touchdown pass to Vonta Leach. Honestly, if I was running the show at CBS, I would be a little embarassed.
Doug Farrar: And it's not just play action; the Texans are using patience to perfection in the running game as well. Steve Slaton's looking good on delays, and the Chris Brown touchdown run that put it at 14-0 was a great example of holding your burst until there's a seam to go through.
Tom Gower: Sure, but there's also the matter of the Colts' defenders getting beat one-on-one. The first two drives have looked like the Jaguars game in 2006 when they put up 40-plus.
Will Carroll: Antonio Smith got an unnecessary roughness penalty on the play where he hit Peyton Manning's arm and forced an interception. I saw NOTHING rough, let alone unnecessary. He wasn't low. Didn't lead with his... Oh. Wow, he did a Hines Ward on Dallas Clark later in the play.
Tom Gower: If that had really been what Smith was flagged for, it'd still be Indianapolis ball. Announcers, rules, etc.
Doug Farrar: I wonder if the play was still live when that happened (the Cushing interception). If it was, isn't Clark a legit defender who can be blocked?
Bill Barnwell: It was unnecessary roughness, basically your standard nasty helmet-to-helmet block.
Tom Gower: As if on cue, Dan Dierdorf says to win his challenge of an Andre Johnson non-catch in the end zone where Johnson lost the ball when he went to the ground after initially possessing it, Kubiak will have to convince Alberto Riveron that he didn't need to maintain possession all the way to the ground. GAH!
And after Kubiak loses his challenge, Dierdorf says it was incomplete because he didn't make a football move.
On the Smith hit on Clark, I think Cushing was 10 or 15 yards farther downfield and Clark was merely jogging. Some context would have been useful there.
Will Carroll: That was my thought. It looked like the play where Hines Ward broke that dude's jaw last year.
Would someone tell me why "jumping up and catching the ball" isn't a "football move?"
David Gardner: Because that is the act of catching the ball. You have to make a football move after the ball hits your hand and you possess it.
Doug Farrar: Aw, jeez. Smith gets his second unnecessary roughness penalty of the game by pushing Manning back with a hand on his facemask. They can cry "ticky-tack" all they want, but they have to know where the boundaries are.
Will Carroll: Is there a list somewhere of the "uncapped rule" free agents for next year? Is there a left tackle on there? Because the Colts need one in the worst possible way.
Matt Schaub is kinda quick. Is there any correlation between 40 times and sack rate? I know the running guys like Donovan McNabb or Steve Young probably skew it. I'd almost think that quarterbacks should be doing something like that box agility drill they have the linemen do at the Combine.
David Gardner: I don't think you'd find any results. Manning and Brady are old slow dudes but they don't get sacked because of quick releases and good pocket presence.
Doug Farrar: I'd say that in a very general sense, running quarterbacks probably create as many sacks as they avoid.
Will Carroll: I know Kris Brown has been bad but ... why does the Reliant Stadium goalpost have the little wind flags? I know the roof is open, but come on. Is it a rule?
David Gardner: Yes, it is a rule. From NFL.com ...
"Goal posts must be single-standard type, offset from the end line and painted bright gold. The goal posts must be 18 feet, 6 inches wide and the top face of the crossbar must be 10 feet above the ground. Vertical posts extend at least 30 feet above the crossbar. *A ribbon 4 inches by 42 inches long is to be attached to the top of each post.* The actual goal is the plane extending indefinitely above the crossbar and between the outer edges of the posts."
Tom Gower: Colts take the lead, Matt Schaub pick-6'ed the next drive. Cease any signs of panic at the thought of a first loss, Colts fans.
Vince Verhei: Dallas Clark scores to put Indy up 21-20, and on the next play from scrimmage Clint Session gets a pick-6 to make it 28-20. Is anyone surprised? The Colts are the best example of a team that can be down 17-0 in the first half, and people just assume they're going to come back at the end.
Come to think of it, Houston is also the kind of team that can be up 17-0, and make their fans nervous.
Tim Gerheim: Nervous is a huge understatement. "God it sucks to be a Texans fan" has become my unofficial catchphrase.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, a bit of a surprise, but the Colts have actually been just as good in the first half as they have been in the second half this season. I know it seems like they've played a lot better after halftime, but it's about equal ... defensively they are a little better in the second half, offensively they are a little better in the first half.
And then Robert Mathis strips the ball from Matt Schaub. Somewhere in Miami, there's a little bell going off in Mercury Morris' head. Time for another 15 minutes of fame, Mercury.
Doug Farrar: Oh, God, no. Anything but that. Geaux, Saints!
Oh, dear. Chad Simpson adds on, and this one is over.
Mike Tanier: To echo what someone else said about the Colts: I started watching them when they were down 20-7. They had the ball, and I just assumed they would erode the lead slowly. I had no thought it would be an upset. I never think they are going to lose except when they play the Chargers.
Doug Farrar: I thought maybe the Texans could pull it off, but Matt Schaub is like this perfectly constructed quarterback, except that there's one crucial part put in backwards, and it's guaranteed to malfunction at the worst possible time.
Kansas City 14 at San Diego 43
Tom Gower: Just saw a graphic showing that David Binn has played in 250 games. Would have taken me a very, very long time to guess which Charger reached that milestone today.
Jacksonville 3 at San Francisco 20
Vince Verhei: Mike Singletary is finally playing to Alex Smith's strengths, using shotgun 25 times in the first half, and the 49ers are up 17-3 at halftime.
David Garrard is going to finish with great conventional numbers and a very poor DYAR -- he has about a half-dozen third-down completions that failed to pick up third downs.
Arizona 17 at Tennessee 20
Aaron Schatz: Hey, remember when ESPN gave me a chance to write the high-profile "Insider" column about young quarterbacks who deserve another chance? You know, like, two weeks ago? With Kurt Warner sidelined with post-concussion syndrome, it will be Vince Young vs. Matt Leinart today. Heh. I would say there's one Sunday per season where I do wish I had the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package, and this would be it for 2009.
Tom Gower: The Titans have moved the ball well their first two drives, but each has only resulted in a field goal. 6-0, but it feels like they should be up more. Matt Leinart's hit a deep in to Anquan Boldin where he muscled off Cortland Finnegan, but has otherwise been just as mediocre as I expected and the running game doesn't look like it'll be doing much consistently.
V.Y. ends the first half 11-of-14 for 169, and that actually accurately reflects how he's thrown the ball. He's hit Nate Washington on two good downfield passes, and had another big play to Kenny Britt on a well-thrown short cross against a blitz that went for good YAC. As you saw in 2006 when V.Y. came in, though, a well-disciplined defense that has seen some film really cuts down on the explosiveness of the misdirection plays. Chris Johnson has also been fairly bottled up, or at least hasn't ripped off any killer long runs. It feels like the Titans should be up 13-3 or so rather than 6-3, and particularly they should be up 6-3, as V.Y. ran off the last :08 of the first half getting sacked with a timeout in the pocket. Sometimes, you just need to go down.
Vince Verhei: I thought that Matt Leinart would be a better, wiser quarterback after spending time on the bench behind Kurt Warner, but no, he's still making a lot of bad decisions, trying to force balls into quadruple coverage. His team is winning because of a kickoff return for a touchdown, and because Vince Young keeps running into sacks at key moments.
Tom Gower: So, Tennessee finally got in the end zone when Chris Johnson went boom in a big way with an 85-yard run, which was of course followed by a LaRod Stephens-Howling kickoff return touchdown. Leinart had some passes against the zone when he had time in the pocket on a touchdown drive that ended in a Tim Hightower run. All the successful Arizona runs have been against the edges, like almost every other successful run against the Titans this year.
The Titans have struggled to gain consistent yardage -- even though C.J. is having a great year, he's below average at running with success. I thought we might see more of rookie Javon Ringer with LenDale White inactive, but he has one carry. V.Y. hasn't done anything very impressive the second half, probably because the Cardinals seem to be playing denial more than forcing the play, and he's not good enough to do that.
Aaron Schatz: I will always remember how well Leinart played in the "Crown Their Ass" game, picking apart the Chicago Cover-2. If he's also playing better today when Tennessee goes with zone coverage, well, perhaps we've learned that Leinart is very good against zone and needs some decision-making practice against man coverage.
Tom Gower: Ecstasy and agony: V.Y. hits Britt about 45 yards downfield as he beats Bryant McFadden and the safety doesn't make the play. Nobody even touches Britt, so he gets up and runs more. At which point Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie comes in from the blind side and blasts him, forcing a fumble. With no Titans in the area, that's an easy recovery for the Cardinals.
Mike Tanier: Red Zone switched to Arizona and all hell broke loose. V.Y. threw a great pass from his own end zone to get out of trouble. He then uncorked a bomb to Kenny Britt, who made a great catch around the Cardinals 25, then fumbled. Ouch. Cardinals ball.
Then Red Zone went back to Minnesota
Crazy last drive in progress for Titans...
Vince Verhei: Vince Young is inching the Titans down the field, scrambling for time and converting fourth downs. Cut to Leinart on the sideline, on one knee, hand covering his mouth, facial and body language screaming "NOT AGAIN."
Cardinals have blitzed five or more on pretty much the entire drive. Tennessee's receivers are doing a great job of getting out of bounds to stop the clock. Alge Crumpler sets them up Mike Tanier:with first-and-goal. Young is 8-of-13 for 84 yards on the drive.
If you're watching another game, it sucks to be you.
On second-and-goal, Young is sacked -- but it's not the end of the world, because they call their first timeout with 11 seconds to go in the game. Third-and-goal from the ten.
Fourth-and-goal from the ten, Arizona rushes four. Young waits, waits, steps up in the pocket and finds Britt in the end zone. Britt takes a wicked shot but hangs on to the ball. Zeros on the clock, Titans win.
Doug Farrar: Oh. My. God. Mr. Young, the Pantheon is on line one.
Mike Tanier: Wow. Friggin Wow. That was worth the price of Red Zone.
Tom Gower: You know, if that's the kind of drive V.Y. had put together last week to win the Houston game, all the effusive praise most of the ESPN guys poured on him would've been pretty much entirely deserved. Really great drive. As a Titans fan, it was particularly encouraging to see Lavelle Hawkins be productive in the third wideout role, since he'd had a lot of problems getting in games because he kept making a zillion stupid mental mistakes. To see him be the hot out and it work is really encouraging.
I was surprised a little at how non-involved C.J. was the last drive -- aside from a wacky deflected pass, I don't think he was in there at all. With first-and-goal and two timeouts left, I expected him to see at least one carry, but I guess the first-half clock issues prevented that.
Aaron Schatz: I just saw the replay of the final drive. I said this last week, when I was agreeing with all that effusive praise from the ESPN guys, but I'll say it again now: That's a different guy. V.Y. looks so much more calm, going through his reads, never rushing things. He looks so much more like the guy from Texas, and not at all like the guy from the 2007 season. Having Young develop as a complete quarterback is just a good thing for the league, a very good thing. Although that last play was really made by Britt even more than Young. Wow. He comes from out of nowhere to leap between three guys, and Young finds him. Awesome. Young won this game with four carries for eight yards. That's a passing quarterback, kids.
Chicago 10 at Minnesota 36
Mike Tanier: Prince! Prince! Prince! Prince! Prince!
There's so little going on in Vikings-Bears that I am just going to keep jumping up and down about Prince being in a luxury box.
Although, as I write this (24-10 in the third quarter), the Vikings have had about five touchdowns or near-touchdowns in a row called back by penalties.
Aaron Schatz: I feel the same way. I mean, I'm watching this game, I know it is happening, I'm sure there are interesting things going on down there, but it just seems like two teams going through the motions -- even when they do good things, it seems like the same good things they usually do. You know, like excellent Adrian Peterson runs followed by fumbles.
Mike Tanier: He threw a facemask in ther for good measure. Did you see Prince?
Aaron Schatz: I didn't catch Prince, but I've heard that Jay Glazer apparently has his phone number. Can someone please tell FOX to switch us to Arizona-Tennessee now?
Vince Verhei: That string of penalties was, from a pure entertainment standpoint, probably the low point of the season so far.
Thinking more about this: This is always the most boring part of the year, and this season is particularly dull. You could argue that seven division titles are already locked up (unless you have faith in Denver or San Francisco to make a run), and the wild card races are mostly a bunch of pretty bad teams falling behind each other over and over again. There are no great individual records being chased. Except for New Orleans and Indianapolis chasing perfection, there's just not a lot going on around the league right now.
Aaron Schatz: Well, sure, but right now there is one game where the score is still within 17 points. Coincidentally, that's the game that features two young quarterbacks trying to prove themselves instead of another three hours of Brett Favre hagiography. It would be nice if FOX would switch most of the country to that game.
(FOX does not switch most of the country to that game.)
I'm sorry, but the fact that FOX is showing most of the country Minnesota going up on Chicago by 27 instead of the Titans at the goal-line trying to beat the Cardinals with less than a minute left has to be the ultimate nadir of Brett Favre media-love absurdity.
Pittsburgh 17 at Baltimore 20 OT
David Gardner: I don't think Dennis Dixon's early success in this game is surprising. I interviewed him before he got drafted, and his football IQ is really high. He's staring down Ray Lewis before every play, too, and he hasn't blinked.
Aaron Schatz: I also think they've put in the Big Ben 2004 offense for him -- lots of runs to set up success on play-action and take the weight off his shoulders, rollouts and other things that limit reads to one half of the field to make decisions easier.
Mike Kurtz: To be fair, most quarterbacks (excluding the really awful ones/unprepared rookies, of course) have some degree of early success. New quarterbacks are always an unknown quantity.
This is where the Steelers are really missing Troy Polamalu: all of these slow-developing running plays, he would've sniffed out and jetted in to either gunk them up or blow them up. Tyrone Carter and Ryan Clark are good players, but they don't have whatever it is he has -- either intuition or smarts -- that makes him such an invaluable part of Pittsburgh's puzzle.
Aaron Schatz: Oddly, DVOA says the Steelers miss Polamalu far more in the pass defense than they do in the run defense. But tonight, I think you might be right, since the Ravens run so much.
On the other hand, hey -- no kickoff returns for touchdowns tonight. Yet.
OK, points for Cris Collinsworth. He says, "I'd like to see something with a run-pass option, something like the bootleg outside that they ran earlier." Pittsburgh then goes with a run-pass option on third-and-5, with a play-action fake and a bootleg. Nice block by Mewelde Moore, space for Dennis Dixon, touchdown.
If the Steelers DO go on to lose this defensive battle, it will not be because of the injury to Ben Roethlisberger. I think Dixon has done a lot to establish himself as a trustworthy backup quarterback this evening.
Vince Verhei: Ray Rice catches a skinny post on fourth-and-5 and breaks tackles through the middle of the Steelers defense. If Polamalu is in there, it's probably a first down still, but a lot of those yards after catch never happen.
Aaron Schatz: By the way, nobody will remember this after Ray Rice broke a zillion tackles, but Mike Tomlin made the right choice when Rice was flagged for tripping on second-and-9. Michaels and Collinsworth questioned whether it might make more sense to take third-and-9 instead of second-and-19, but I just went to check numbers. Based on the numbers I've got, third-and-9 will lead to a new set of downs approximately 34.5 percent of the time. Second-and-19 will lead to a new set of downs approximately 29.5 percent of the time.
Tom Gower: As much as we (I) rip on announcers for not knowing the rules, kudos to Al Michaels/NBC's SNF crew for pointing out the special two- minute rule with regards to lost fumbles and the crew's big spot error.