Audibles at the Line: Week 11
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.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That 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 Bills 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.
Thursday, November 18
Chicago Bears 16 at Miami Dolphins 0
Bill Barnwell: Cameron Wake is killing the Bears right tackle. A stripsack and a holding penalty drawn on two drives already; the Bears were able to pick up a first down on the second drive when the Dolphins totally lost contain on Jay Cutler and he scrambled for 19 yards on third-and-18. The Bears appear to be going possession-by-possession with Forte and Taylor, which is sad for Forte fantasy owners or pre-season Forte touters.
Tom Gower: I am once again proscribing myself from saying anything at all about the announcers.
Especially given the injury state of the offensive line, I'm surprised the Dolphins have been content for the first 20 minutes to let Thigpen stay in the pocket and throw instead of intentionally moving him around more.
Brandon Marshall should try catching the ball and when he does actually catch the ball not celebrating by throwing it at an opponent after the play to cost his team 15 yards.
Bill Barnwell: In all fairness, Jay Cutler has thrown the ball to the other team frequently enough. It's nice that someone would return the favor.
Ben Muth: Matt Millen doesn't seem to realize that lining up a tight end next to an offensive tackle doesn't help unless the tight end actually stays in to block. Mike Martz doesn't seem to grasp the concept of keeping extra guys into block. This is going to be a frustrating game to watch.
Aaron Schatz: This is not a game to watch if you like offense. And I've noticed that with the first half pretty much over, we haven't seen anything funky out of Miami: no Wildcat, no Pistol.
Bill Barnwell: Joey T just noted that the Bears defense is simple because they line up with "Four guys, three linebackers, two corners, and a safety." I guess that's the Cover--1.
Doug Farrar: Thigpen isn't really a Wildcat/option guy per se, but they're not using any Pistol with him? That's a surprise, since the Dolphins used some Pistol with Pat White last year and it was the only time White did anything. Did they not see the 2008 Chiefs film? Are they shotgun snapping at all with Incognito at center?
Bill Barnwell: I wouldn't be surprised if that had something to do with them avoiding the Pistol. Jaws thought they were going to use it.
Aaron Schatz: I'm thinking the Wildcat just as a change-up to get their third quarterback off the field. But then again, the Wildcat has been awful this year, less than two yards per carry.
Vince Verhei: I just turned this on in time to see Cutler hit Greg Olsen for a first down just outside the red zone. Cameron Wake was covering an inside zone on the play. Why is Cameron Wake ever not rushing the passer?
Aaron Schatz: Well, that was interesting. Chicago ran an unbalanced line on third-and-goal from the two, moving Frank Omiyale over to the right outside of Webb. Omiyale hit the block that really opened up space for Matt Forte to score.
Bill Barnwell: Outside of those goal line situations, the Bears are killing Miami when they bounce their runs outside. Of course, that should suggest a steady diet of Forte, but Chester Taylor's still on the field.
Ben Muth: How many near picks has Cutler thrown tonight? 3? 4? 17?
Bill Barnwell: I will say this: Tyler Thigpen looks bad, but at least he didn't cost two first rounders and a superior quarterback. Cutler seems to think the world freezes in front of him when he releases the ball.
The heavy petting Matt Millen is giving Rod Marinelli is just embarrassing.
Tom Gower: Did the Dolphins forget last Sunday's game, when they played a team whose defense depends largely on its pass rush and decided to not let their quarterback be a sitting duck in the pocket and instead ran bootlegs and rollouts and moved him around, or did they decide it was just better to have Thigpen stand behind a patchwork offensive line and treat him like he's Drew Bledsoe? I try not to criticize coaches too much, but I simply do not understand the Dolphins' gameplan on offense this game.
Ned Macey: For a guy on the hot seat coming into the year, Lovie Smith has a pretty impressive resume. While a hallowed franchise, the Bears have been pretty bad for about 40 years except for the Ditka years. Smith is comfortably the second most successful Bears coach post-Halas. He's overseen a top 10 DVOA defense every year but one since he's been there. Obviously, like his mentor in Tampa Bay, he's been unable to put together a competent offense, but as his mentor proved, with the right personnel and scheme, suddenly offense wasn't a problem. (As an aside, the Bears have had a postive offensive DVOA once, that's right once, in the DVOA era.) I'm not saying he's a Hall of Famer or anything, and I generally think most coaches are interchangable, but some coaches, including Lovie, actually add value.
Sunday, November 21
Oakland Raiders 3 at Pittsburgh Steelers 35
Bill Barnwell: Steelers have been called for three personal fouls in the first quarter. They probably committed, oh, about one and a quarter personal fouls across the three of them.
Vince Verhei: I did like Dan Fouts saying these teams have a history of rough games. As if whatever Jack Tatum and Joe Greene did before these players were born will have some effect in 2010.
Aaron Schatz: Jonathan Scott is going to get Ben Roethlisberger killed. Worse, he got injured himself in the second quarter. I don't know if he's back or not, but whoever they have behind him must be even worse. The Steelers are really crushing the Raiders in the first half though. The whole Raiders offense is based on the running game and against the Steelers they have no running game. McFadden had five yards on his first five carries.
Lame penalty of the week: The officials threw a pass interference flag on Ike Taylor on a pass where he was covering Louis Murphy and Murphy actually ran out of bounds on his way down the field. I don't think Taylor forced him out, I think the DPI was on Taylor at the end of the pass. But if Murphy had caught that pass, it technically should have been a penalty for illegal touching. Isn't one of you guys watching to make sure the receivers are staying in bounds?
Bill Barnwell: Jason Campbell just threw a terrible pick-six. Bad. Jason Campbell was brave enough to stand in the pocket until the very last second, and right after that very last second, James Harrison tackled him. That's a personal foul, and it wipes off the pick-six.
Aaron Schatz: I again point out that the Steelers run defense is impressive. I think Darren McFadden just broke two tackles on his way to a loss of a yard.
Cleveland Browns 20 at Jacksonville Jaguars 24
Mike Tanier: I... I think I want a Peyton Hillis jersey for Christmas.
Bill Barnwell: Jaguars just went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 37-yard line with eight minutes left in the third quarter. And they got it. Good for them. Unfortunately, David Garrard just threw a tipped pick a couple of plays later.
Vince Verhei: Jacksonville has held Peyton Hillis to 40-some yards on 19 carries, but they're still trailing 17-10 because they've turned the ball over six times, including four interceptions, one thrown by Maurice Jones-Drew.
Hillis does have 95 yards on six catches. He really is the entire Cleveland offense.
Bill Barnwell: Maurice Jones-Drew just went 80 yards on a screen pass when the Browns did their best impersonation of the Browns from the Santonio Holmes TD last week, just blowing multiple tackles. MJD went from the right side of the field all the way to the left side and then back to the middle as part of the run. Went down at the one-yard line.
For some reason, Colt McCoy decides to throw up the seam with 10 seconds left and no timeouts; no way could they have caught the pass and ran up the field to spike the ball, but the pass was tipped and intercepted anyway. Don't understand that decision.
Washington Redskins 19 at Tennessee Titans 16
Tom Gower: I feel like I'm watching an NFC West game. McNabb gets "sacked" on the first series after tripping over his center, the Titans start inside the 35 after a horrific punt and Mike Sellers give them an extra couple yards by failing to stop the punt from bouncing backwards, Vince Young has yet another fumble on a scramble, and McNabb misses a wide open Santana Moss for a TD. The Titans do get a punt return TD by Marc Mariani. Michael Griffin had a good downfield block to ensure the TD, but the key "play" was gunner Anderson Russell getting hurt to open up the lane.
Bill Barnwell: Give McNabb credit for throwing that great slant to Stephen Tulloch.
Mike Tanier: McNabb settled down a little after that miserable start. As have the Redskins. I was anticipating a mass sick out after the Titans punt return touchdown.
Tom Gower: The Redskins were down Artis Hicks entering today and have lost Casey Rabach and Derrick Dockery since then, but it hasn't really affected their offensive productivity after the early struggles. Santana Moss has been getting open, and just caught a nice inside shovel pass to convert third-and-6, and both Portis and Keiland Williams, who's getting the majority of the carries, have run with some success, often by running right at Jacob Ford and behind Trent Williams. The Titans do hold them to a field goal, but with over 19:00 gone, the Redskins have run 32 plays to five for the Titans.
The normally kind and supportive Titans crows has seen the boo-birds out early and often today. Apparently they believed the Randy Moss hype or something. Moss has no catches thus far, but the Titans have definitely been looking his direction -- they tried to force the ball to him in goal-to-go, but he wasn't open either time, and other passes looking for him have resulted in throws to secondary targets.
Aaron Schatz: I looked over to Washington-Tennessee and could not believe how much pass protection McNabb had. He had all day to throw. And he did... throw it to Will Witherspoon. Good going there, Donovan.
Tom Gower: Young smacks his throwing hand after a long completion to Nate Washington, forcing rookie sixth-round pick Rusty Smith into the game. Two runs, a third down slant for Moss is almost picked by DeAngelo Hall, and then a fourth-and-3 from the Redskins 37 deep fade to Moss results in a touchdown negated by obvious offensive pass interference. I hope Randy's just having fun out there.
Rusty Smith's first NFL completion goes for 52 yards down the middle to Nate Washington. The Titans ran three vertical routes on the same side against Cover-2 with expected results. Young's hand is taped up and they've apparently been trying without success to find a glove that lets him throw successful.
After the Redskins tie the game up at 16 with a little over five minutes to play, the Titans start the next drive by throwing deep for Nate Washington. Rusty Smith airmails Washington by a good 10+ yards and is easily intercepted by Philip Buchanon, who returns the ball to the Titans 40.
Mike Tanier: McNabb just tripped over an oxygen molecule with four minutes left in the game. Rusty Staub has the ball.
Tom Gower: Young had his helmet on and seemed to have declared that his thumb is absolutely not limiting his game that badly, but Rusty's on his way back to the huddle.
Rob Weintraub: Looks like Donovan's cardiovascular endurance has improved in the last few weeks.
Vince Verhei: With Green Bay's soul-cleansing burial of the Minnesota Favres complete, TV has switched to this game, the ugliest clash of uniforms in some time. Mustard yellow! Burgundy! Powder blue! Dark blue! My eyes!
Tom Gower: Rusty Smith's play today shows why playing, let alone starting, a rookie 6th-round pick is a horrible idea. As Friend of FO Gregg Rosenthal noted on twitter, of his first seven passes, four of them could have been intercepted. Any time the Titans drop back to pass now, they're almost doing the Redskins a favor. At this point, I'd rather see Kerry Collins in the game, even if he can only do shotgun handoffs and some really easy passes.
The Titans won the toss and lost the game. Rusty Smith didn't magically learn to throw between the end of regulation and start of overtime, and they were flagged thrice for penalties to give the Redskins 35 of their 57 yards, including an unnecessary altercation after a properly overturned interception and a stupid roughing the passer penalty where Will Witherspoon went in too high. A very good win for the Redskins, who were down 9 starters at one point during the game, and probably a loss that cripples the Titans' playoff hopes.
Houston Texans 27 at New York Jets 30
Bill Barnwell: Jets are struggling to run the ball against the Texans, but they've been able to move the ball through the air. The Texans appear to be giving huge cushions on the outside, which has been limiting the big plays there, but Braylon Edwards has been lining up in the slot and getting man coverage against Dolphins washout Jason Allen. This hasn't worked out very well for the Texans.
Guy just ran onto the field in New York as Jets were about to snap it. Was smart enough to sprint straight through the lined-up players so he would get on TV, but he ran in the slot so no one could hit him. CBS then, for some reason, cut to a wide shot so we could see more cops chasing him as he ran about 70 yards before being caught. Then they cut to Rex Ryan, who is guffawing, and then Jets players, who are also laughing. Hard to reconcile that with Dan Dierdorf's lecture to the "morons" who run onto the field.
And hey, remember that bit about the Jets being lucky and getting penalties against the opposition on their key drives? Not this time. A backup lineman takes a unnecessary roughness penalty after a nice kickoff return, and then Mark Sanchez is hit in his motion and throws an interception that should end it.
It isn't ended.
Bill Barnwell: Wow. The Jets live. Sanchez eludes a sack to hit a checkdown to Tomlinson, gets another one, and then he gets the big one up the sideline to Edwards. Wow.
Ben Muth: Viva El Sanchize.
Bill Barnwell: And then Sanchez hits Santonio Holmes, easy, for a game-winning touchdown. 32nd-ranked pass defense, sure, but that's 72 yards in 49 seconds with no timeouts.
Vince Verhei: Remember our dreary projection for Houston? Think about where they would be right now without the best running back in football.
Aaron Schatz: And, by the way, Arian Foster had a pretty darn good day today against one of the top run defenses in the league. It's pretty remarkable to compare that to the way Pittsburgh completely shut down McFadden.
Baltimore Ravens 37 at Carolina Panthers 13
Vince Verhei: If the Ravens lose this game, I'm going to write about it in Any Given Sunday over and over again for the rest of the year.
My own pet theory regarding the lateral is that three or four generations from now, with smarter, faster players, we'll see laterals a lot more frequently on even the most basic offensive plays. But that doesn't make it a smart move right now. That being said, this was a pretty innocuous one.
And then Ray Lewis picks off St. Pierre and returns it for a second touchdown on two plays. Oops.
Green Bay Packers 31 at Minnesota Vikings 3
Doug Farrar: Troy Aikman near the end of the first half, on the idea of pulling a certain quarterback if things continue as they are: "Brett Favre gives the Vikings the best chance to win -- I don't care how many interceptions he throws." I had to check to make sure that Phil Simms didn’t walk into the booth and do his Aikman impression.
Mike Kurtz: Really weird play in Minnesota ... Favre throws a bullet through the hands of Percy Harvin, it goes downfield about 10 yards, and hits Sam Shields, who had fallen to the ground during the play, in the hands while he's lying on his back. Fortunately for Favre, it slipped out.
And then they go to kick a field goal, Ryan Longwell nails the 51-yarder, but Jim Kleinsasser clotheslines the defender in his rush. Penalty erases the the kick.
And Greg Jennings just caught his third touchdown. Between this week and the previous, it's abundantly clear who Rodgers's favorite target is now.
Arizona Cardinals 13 at Kansas City Chiefs 31
Bill Barnwell: Chiefs coach the heck out of a goal line play, bringing in Jackie Battle to play halfback, Mike Vrabel to play tight end, and six OL. Battle gets stuffed before Dwayne Bowe goes in on the next play. Why on earth can't coaches just use their normal halfbacks in short yardage? I'm not saying Thomas Jones is great, of course, but Jamaal Charles doesn't suddenly turn into putty near the goal line.
Aaron Schatz: I believe that Vrabel pass in the end zone was the first incomplete pass of his career.
I think the subtitle for next year's Arizona chapter is going to be "Larry Fitzgerald at the Edge of Reason." Can somebody please get this guy a semi-decent quarterback?
Bill Barnwell: Derek Anderson just missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald for a first down; Cardinals then decide to go for it on fourth-and-2. Chiefs take a timeout the moment before the snap, icing their own defense when Tamba Hali sacks Anderson. Anderson then throws the ball away in disgust after the play, which results in a unsportsmanlike conduct call on him, turning it into a fourth-and-17.
Detroit Lions 19 at Dallas Cowboys 35
Doug Farrar: With key blocks on Dallas’ opening drive, Cowboys fullback Chris has confirmed his spot as the second-most valuable Gronkowski. Denver tight end Dan has a loooooong way to go.
Mike Tanier: And then the Lions dig deep into their ways to lose catalog for a punt return touchdown, followed by a fumble.
Doug Farrar: Bryan McCann: Three NFL games, two TD returns of 90+ yards.
Mike Tanier: McCann also got crushed in the open field by kicker Dave Rayner early in the game. The Cowboys will trade that for a touchdown per week.
Bill Barnwell: Miles Austin catches a three-yard touchdown pass and sprints down the sideline high-fiving fans like he's the Ultimate Warrior in his pomp.
Mike Tanier: Ndamukong Suh just got a 15-yard penalty for a hair pull tackle. Then a fumble return touchdown was called back. Jim Schwartz appears ready to burn down a village.
Aaron Schatz: Schwartz was actually angry because a Dallas player ripped the helmet of a Detroit player and the officials didn't call a penalty. I'll be shocked if he has Barber's down-by-contact overturned.
Tom Gower: It was a perfectly legal tackle.
Ben Muth: I'd like to nominate Steve Bono's 76-yarder against the Cardinals, which I saw live.
Rob Weintraub: Did you get a beer while that play unfolded, and return to your seat before Bono crossed the stripe?
Buffalo Bills 49 at Cincinnati Bengals 31
Bill Barnwell: Apparently the Bengals timed Carson Palmer's cortisone shot properly this week; he's been blowing up the Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick has a couple of interceptions, one on a really underthrown out pattern, and the Bengals are going to be up two-plus scores quick.
The Bengals are up 28-14 and just had the ball on the one-yard line after two consecutive defensive pass interference penalties. The Bengals were stuffed on first-and-1 and then took a timeout with five seconds left, leaving them one. Would you kick the field goal there? Throw the ball? Go for it? They chose to run the ball and got stood up, and the clock ran out before the play ended. I don't think going for it is indefensible, but either pass the ball or run a dive that's going to end within 2-3 seconds.
Tom Gower: They ended up putting :01 back on the clock, let the Bengals take a TO, and they kicked a field goal to go into the half up 31-14. Still, not a decision I'm a fan of.
Rob Weintraub: My biased eyes thought the play was over, and my friend in the Stadium said Lewis was standing next to the ref yelling timeout as soon as Scott was thrown back. If they were smart, the Bengals would have said to the officials before the play that a timeout was coming.
Mike Tanier: Amazing things are happening in Cincinnati, but I refuse to acknowledge them.
Rob Weintraub: Incredibly unsurprising Bengals choke almost complete. Fitzpatrick/Palmer dynamic restored within a quarter. Bengals will now likely draft ahead of Buffalo, who somehow have a quarterback, while the Bengals somehow do not.
Doug Farrar: Buffalo has now scored four unanswered touchdowns. The Law of Gus Johnson is strong in the universe today.
Rob Weintraub: Just to reiterate the ridiculous, the Bengals were outscored 35-0 in the second half. Not quite as humiliating as the Skins on Monday night, but bad enough, considering the opponent was the Buffalo Bills!!! Quarterbacked by a Bengals castoff, who was all-time bad while in Cincy. Clearly, it was the team, not the player. 35-0, at home. Is it possible to tank a game you lead by 17 points at halftime?
Vince Verhei: Are you kidding? Giving up 35 points in a half to a team that was winless eight days ago, with a lousy quarterback, is much more embarrassing than giving up 35 points to a Super Bowl favorite.
Rob Weintraub: The giving up part is worse, but at least Cincy showed some offense in the first half and were dominant until Joseph got hurt, really. The Skins just failed to show.
Seattle Seahawks 19 at New Orleans Saints 34
Vince Verhei: Ben Obomanu has his second big catch in as many games. This time he was isolated one-on-one against Jabari Greer and made a nice jumping catch. Greer never turned around for the ball. I don't recommend the Seahawks try this matchup again.
Doug Farrar: Chris Ivory is getting more yards against the Seahawks falling down as he is standing up. Just demolishing Seattle’s defense at first contact, and without Red Bryant, Seattle doesn’t really have an answer for that.
Vince Verhei: Saints lead Seattle 28-17 at halftime. Drew Brees is finding Hole in Zone over and over again. But we expected that. The surprise is how well Seattle is moving the ball, especially getting less than one yard per carry on the ground. But the receiving trio of Mike Williams, Obomanu, and Stokley are all doing well. Credit to Pete Carroll and his staff: these guys look great catching the ball, taking it at it's highest point and reaching out to get it with their hands, not their body.
Doug Farrar: I'll add that Hasselbeck looked flippin' amazing in practice on Friday. Over the last week, going back to the Cardinals game, he's throwing the ball better than I've seen since 2007.
Bill Barnwell: Seahawks were targeting Jabari Greer, too; not sure if the numbers will end up bearing this out, but it sure looks like he'll end up being a guy who was insanely good for one year before regressing back towards his previous level of performance.
Aaron Schatz: Charting Weeks 1-8: 8.1 yards per pass, 60 percent Success Rate. Both figures are worse than last year but better than the other Saints cornerbacks.
Vince Verhei: Marshawn Lynch finally gains meaningful yardage ... And fumbles the ball away on the play. Afterwards they get a shot of Darren Sharper on the sidelines with no helmet. He has more gray hair than Barack Obama. How can a starting safety look older than the president?
Come to think of it, Seattle is playing Lawyer Milloy too. This is the oldest safety matchup on history.
Mike Tanier: Steven Tyler looked pretty old in the luxury boxes at Colts-Patriots too. He has enough gray hair to be on the Supreme Court!
Vince Verhei: The Seahawks bail Lynch out with a goal-line interception. Brees is now tied with Eli and behind only Favre in picks. This is no longer a statistical fluke, is it? He's having a great year otherwise, so it's not like opposing defenses have figured him out.
Not that it matters, because after a few Seattle first downs, Lynch fumbles the ball away again. Sigh.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21 at San Francisco 49ers 0
David Gardner: So as the Bucs were driving toward their first touchdown of the game, I stopped to look up Josh Freeman's stats, and he has a 90.1 passer rating this season. How about that?
Tom Gower: Taylor Mays has been benched.
David Gardner: I like the way Troy Smith has been playing for the 49ers. He makes the offense more dynamic. He has good mobility in the pocket and ability to get out of it and run. I haven't seen him throw a deep ball, but he does throw accurate intermediate routes.
Maurice Stovall just tried to leap over a 49ers safety who wasn't trying to make a dive tackle. Stovall ended up just kneeing him in the face.
Freeman just threw one of the highest passes I've ever seen to Mike Williams. Weird thing was that he didn't even end up in the corner of the end zone. He had to come back toward the goal line, getting interfered with on the way, and caught the ball barely jumping.
Bill Barnwell: Freeman loves throwing ridiculously high passes. That is his thing.
Aaron Schatz: I remember when it was Eli Manning's thing. Those were the days.
Mike Tanier: I saw a lot of Freeman last week. He reminds me of someone, but I can't put my finger on it. Wears number five, throws a nice deep ball, overthrows and underthrows some short passes, runs well, executes the rollout nicely. Black quarterback, a little stocky, some strange hair choices. Can't put my finger on it.
David Gardner: Ronde Barber just got his 40th career interception, which makes him Tampa's all-time leader.
The next comment, sent from David's iPhone, is presented without editing.
David Gardner: The replay was not flattering. And, ached the commercial break, he atoll appears to be out of breath.
Atlanta Falcons 34 at St. Louis Rams 17
Tom Gower: The Falcons this game are reminding me of the 2003 Titans. They want to run the ball, so they keep running the ball, even though they're not having any success, then the quarterback has to throw the ball to convert third downs, which he always does.
Hard-hitting analysis of the sort FO is known for: they showed a close-up shot of Spags on the sidelines, and it looked like he was wearing white sneakers and crew-cut white socks. I don't recall noticing either on an NFL coach before.
Sam Bradford's streak of 169 straight passes without an interception ends on a shovel pass, of all things, at the goal-line. It's a simple timing play -- they line up Jackson and Mike Hoo-whatever in a pro set, and move Hoo-whatever across from left to right, but Jonathan Babineaux gets great penetration, pushing Goldberg back, Hoo-whatever can't get the hole, and the blind shovel goes straight to William Moore. Nice job by Tim Ryan of pointing out what happened; we rip on announcers so much in here, but I've been pleased with his work when I've had Colts-Patriots on mute.
Indianapolis Colts 28 at New England Patriots 31
Aaron Schatz: Want to start the Pats-Colts conversation off by noting that the Brady-Manning rivalry seems a lot calmer this year. I think this was the first time that these two teams played and we didn't have to re-link the Irrational Brady/Manning thread.
Mike Kurtz: I think everyone is tired of it at this point.
Aaron Schatz: Remember how I wrote in ESPN Numbers Crunching that the Patriots needed to switch their cornerbacks around to avoid getting stuck with Kyle Arrington on Reggie Wayne? Well, no go. Arrington's on Wayne and I didn't see any particular safety interest over there either. Not that it matters on the first drive, not when Manning can overthrow Blair White by five yards and lay the ball into the arms of Brandon Meriweather.
Brady throws it away when the receivers are covered. Officials: "There is no flag for intentional grounding because the quarterback was not under pressure." Wait, what? Is that actually in the rule? I've never heard that before.
Tom Gower: Yes. Rule 8-2-1: Article 1 Definition. It is a foul for intentional grounding if a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion. A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that lands in the direction and the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.
Aaron Schatz: Interesting. I don't think I've ever seen that called before.
Bill Barnwell: Why on earth would the Patriots want to challenge whether that pass to Welker in the red zone was a backwards pass, as Simms and Nantz speculated they might? It would have been what, third-and-goal from the six as opposed to the eight?
Aaron Schatz: Wide-open Austin Collie just dropped a pass down the seam that would have gone at least 20 yards. I think Manning told him to go sit in the port-o-let afterwards.
Will Carroll: Collie's out for some reason. After the first series, he was shown talking with two Trainers and (I think) a doctor. Came back in, but now is back in the locker room.
Aaron Schatz: That's another big loss for them, if he does not come back. He has something like 55 of their 75 receiving yards so far. The Patriots have (had?) safety Pat Chung covering him one-on-one on most plays.
Bill Barnwell: Patriots just ran a strange front before the two-minute warning that I haven't seen them run before/regularly/notably. Had three down linemen, but it looked like one was shaded over the A-gap between the center and left guard, one in the B-gap between right guard and right tackle, and one in the C-gap outside right tackle. They had a fourth guy standing up about a yard off the line outside the left tackle. Not really of consequence, just interesting.
Aaron Schatz: Wayne is killing Kyle Arrington. Shook a tackle to get an extra 20 yards on one reception, then caught a perfectly placed ball over his shoulder after he beat Arrington into the end zone.
David Gardner: After that drive, you just have to ask: How do you defend Reggie Wayne?
Bill Barnwell: I would make one humble suggestion: Tackle him the first time.
Aaron Schatz: Also, "move your by far superior number-one cornerback to his side" might be a good idea.
Tom Gower: You get pressure on Peyton Manning, get him to move off his spot, try to get him to look to the other side, and hope for the best. Alternatively, you could leave Garcon uncovered and hope he drops the ball. Just a beautiful, beautiful play for the touchdown, and so nice/aggravating to see while watching the ongoing Titans QB meltdown.
Aaron Schatz: We may have to change Donald Brown's nickname from "Goddammit Donald" to "No Gain, Brown."
I'm a little surprised that the Patriots are winning so handily, but the Colts up the middle defense is awful right now. The defensive tackles are easily pushed around, Pat Angerer is a rookie who is playing like a rookie, and they are on, what, their fourth-string strong safety at this point?
Bill Barnwell: Considering the Colts' running backs currently have 15 carries for 20 yards, this sure looks like one of the Colts-Patriots games circa 2003.
Ben Muth: Could the Colts offense run on the Colts defense? That's a 9-on-7 drill I would love to see.
Aaron Schatz: Also of note: Colts seem to be covering Pats a lot more with man-2 today, not classic Colts cover-2. (Too bad Matt Millen isn't doing this game, he would be right occasionally.) Also, Pats throwing a lot of fast-developing pass plays to keep Freeney and Mathis away from Brady, and they have only one sack through three quarters with very little pressure otherwise.
I'll say this for Pierre Garcon: He may be sucking as a wide receiver this year, but he just manhandled Devin McCourty run-blocking to clear an extra 10-15 yards for Donald Brown on a 36-yard draw play.
Mike Tanier: The crazy ending of Colts-Patriots appears about to unfold.
The Regularly Scheduled Wild Ending is Currently Wilding.
Aaron Schatz: Wow. Patriots self-destructing. Have allowed two touchdowns to Colts in fourth quarter. Needed to run out clock with three minutes left, instead get to third-and-7 where Brady completely doesn't see Tyjuan Hagler in short zone in front of him and nearly throws a pick. They'll punt instead.
Patriots defense comes up with a big play after a lot of failures. Colts had moved Reggie Wayne to the slot, where he was single-covered by safety Patrick Chung, and when they threw to Wayne, Chung slipped, which allowed Wayne to gain something around 20 yards on third-and-7. But on the next play, Manning went for the touchdown in the corner, underthrew it a bit, and safety James Sanders leapt up for the pick. That should be the game.
Bill Barnwell: Looked like Manning was going to Tamme and couldn't get the ball outside because of the tackle/Cunningham in his face.
Aaron Schatz: Technically intended for Garcon, which would make it underthrown, but you might be right about that -- if he was trying to go to Tamme, then he threw it behind him because of Cunningham in his face.
The most curious thing about this game was not the Colts coming back -- they have a great offense and an all-time quarterback -- but why the Patriots offense suddenly went three-and-out and then one first down followed by three-and-out on their final two drives, after dominating the Colts defense all day long.
Vince Verhei: I had no idea what went wrong on that final Colts throw, so it's somewhat relieving to come back here and read at least three possible explanations. I'm still confused -- two receivers go downfield next to each other, then make their cuts at the same point, and Manning throws to the spot where the cuts were made? I don't even see what route either guy could have run that would have put him where the ball came down.
Aaron Schatz: I'm going with Barnwell's idea that Manning didn't mean to throw it there, but he underthrew what should have been an out to Tamme because he had Cunningham's hand in his face.
Tom Gower: Well, then... I have to say, the Colts-Patriots games have tended to live up to the hype, even if the team I prefer to win hasn't always won. And with that result, after 11 weeks of the 2010 NFL season, the Jacksonville Jaguars are in first place in the AFC South.
Ned Macey: I sense national fatigue of this game this year, as it seems a little bit less of a big game despite the fact that the two teams are still having good years. I was even less excited, sort of resigned to a Colts loss. In fact, this is the first Colts game I thought they were going to lose since I'm not sure when, maybe the 2006 playoff game at Baltimore. Sure I've thought other games were 50/50, but I haven't expected them to lose in years. I guess Indy fans are a little spoiled.
My supposed lack of excitement ended quickly as my usually laid-back self was convinced that the first Patriots TD should have been called back for hands to the face on Freeney, something that I usually never would complain about.
Anyway, not much to add on the game itself. The Colts really missed Brackett and Session on the underneath stuff. The Pats marched up and down the field, but they were just barely converting first downs usually once or twice a drive on third down. They really were abusing the linebackers in coverage, always able to get the one or two extra yards.
I will say it seems that the Pats jump up big often on the Colts. Colts have proved time and again they can come back ('04, '06 playoffs, '09, '10), but I don't really know why they seem to fall behind so often in the first half becuase you can't overcome 17-point fourth quarter deficits on a regular basis.
Finally, this has been a ridiculous rivalry for eight years now, and what fascinates me is how much has changed since '04 when these plotlines were created and value judgments about the various players. The truth is sample size in football is too small. When two elite teams play against each other 11 times in eight years, you see about everything. The great players come up big some days; others they can't convert fourth-and-2 or throw a bad pick when they're in game-tying field goal range. No coach has some mastery over another player; he just has great defenses for two seasons that pose particular matchup problems, and the teams happened to play four times those years.
More than half of their eleven games have been great games, but the actual game never tells us anything more than who happened to be better on that given day. If they can add one more great playoff game, there really will need to be a good book about the series.
New York Giants 17 at Philadelphia Eagles 27
Audibles is silent for the first half.
Bill Barnwell: Anyone watching this Giants-Eagles game?
Mike Tanier: Yes. Every time I close my eyes I see Jason Avant dropping that pass. And now the Eagles just botched a field goal. This should be about a 24-3 game
Mike Kurtz: I am. Endlessly fascinated by the Giants' complete and total inability to get pressure with just four and Vick taking advantage of mountains of time to throw to Maclin (current fantasy enemy). Also wondering why Eli isn't constantly pumping at Samuel, since he's sold out to jump about 3 routes now (including the interception). And then the blocked field goal, which Webster thought he could take to the house but was forced out, ending the half. What a weird game.
Mike Tanier: One thing I noticed early, though, was that Justin Tuck was Captain Containment. He kept Vick from getting outside on a third-and-1, and he stopped a screen to Maclin by giving up on the pass rush and just arriving at the receiver with the ball.
Aaron Schatz: I listened to the first half on the radio on the way back from Gillette. James Lofton said something really interesting and I'm going to look for this in the second half... he said DeSean Jackson stands differently at the line depending on whether it is a run or a pass. On a pass, he's crouched a bit; on a run, he stands straighter. Not like this seems to be helping the defenses playing the Eagles.
Bill Barnwell: OK, I guess that's a good question to throw out to the group: What would your gameplan be for the second half if you were Perry Fewell?
Mike Tanier: Well, he can't keep letting receivers get open 15 yards down the middle of the field. Maybe some man coverage would be a start. I think they are sitting in zones and worrying about scrambles, trying to keep Vick from moving and hoping the front four converges. That's a Vick 2004 strategy.
Mike Kurtz: Collinsworth went on about forcing Vick to the right with overload left blitzes, but I think the Giants can trust their DEs to keep the edges. I say use your high-profile DEs kind of as decoys, tell them to fire but make pulling the RB blocking a priority, and give the Eagles a taste of their own medicine with a blitz down the middle. Even if Vick escapes, the play is broken and those deep routes are going to end and turn into jump balls at best.
Aaron Schatz: Problem with man coverage is that you can run against man coverage. Roethlisberger was doing that to Oakland all day. They can only go man if they also have a spy.
Bill Barnwell: They could use Antrel Rolle as a spy, but then you need to have a third safety on the field and that would be bad.
I would say that this game sure is reminiscent of an "The Eagles are #1 in DVOA and they're trying to kill us" game circa 2008.
Vince Verhei: Philadelphia needs to dump some of the cute stuff -- the end-arounds, the throwback screens and the like. The Giants' front seven is too athletic and smart for that kind of thing to work. Obviously you don't want Vick to drop back 50 times against that line, but if you're not going to pass, it's not the end of the world to run up the gut for 2 yards instead of risking a big loss.
That being said, it is remarkable how much time Vick has had in the pocket when the Giants rush four. And it does seem like the Eagles should be up by 17 points or so right now.
Will can double-check me on this, but on the Ellis Hobbs injury, it's not just that it's a blow to the head, it's the angle of the hit -- his head wasn't knocked backwards or to the side, it was driven straight down into his body. That's the kind of injury that can lead to catastrophic spinal injury, including paralysis and even death. Praying for him.
Bill Barnwell: Likewise. Michaels said he was moving his hands, but Dave Tollefson has 60 pounds on Hobbs and was running full speed at him.
Aaron Schatz: Strip-sack by Justin Tuck gives the Giants excellent field position, and they get a touchdown to take the lead. I think Vick's going to have to watch that "holding the ball out with one hand" problem.
Doug Farrar: Full use of his extremities, per Andrea Kremer, thank goodness.
As far as the game plan, I think you have to mix it up above all – if you go out there and assume you can beat this personnel with your personnel and give Vick a pre-set sub-chapter of schemes, he will eat your lunch. Jim Johnson did a great job of containing Vick the runner in the 2004 NFC Championship game by throwing the spy idea away and using defenders to fill zone gaps at different depths. That kept him from finding free running reads and forced his slower receivers to pinball through. At times, they almost played box-and-one on Alge Crumpler.
Two factors prevent that approach now – Vick’s increased read acumen, and the speed of his receivers. I think you have to play almost exclusively nickel with Deon Grant (or your closest comp) as the hybrid safetybacker, and show zone blitzes from different positions through the game. Not on every play, but just enough to get that in his mind – you have to get him thinking that the defenders won’t be where he thinks they’ll be after the snap. Use a wide nine-tech or an over front to the defensive right side to force Vick to roll to his right; at the very least, if he’s scrambling, he’s be throwing against his own momentum and across his body. And within those parameters, I would kill the spy idea entirely and use that Johnson zone gap approach as an integrated strategy – I think that does mix well with the zone blitz idea. You can’t be conventional, because you’re not dealing with a conventional weapon. You have to make him see color where he doesn’t expect it, and hope it throws him off. And when you do catch up with him, beat him up. Not to the point of going out of your way to hurt him, but if it takes a penalty of two to make the Eagles realize that you’re not going stand there jaws agape at his speed, I think it’s worth it.
Aaron Schatz: Hey, that's a clipping and a chop block in one game. Todd Herremans wants to destroy your knees, kids.
Mike Tanier: Eagles went to the Packers Penalty Academy tonight.
This game is like a sampler of previous Eagles disasters against the Giants. It's a little like that Week 2 game in 2006 when Plaxico Burress caught the touchdown in overtime, the one where the Eagles had a 24-7 lead and took the rest of the game off. It also has elements of Winston Justice's first game: the line is playing much better, but there's this sense that a 1-point lead is safe because the Eagles offense has just come down from a high.
Aaron Schatz: One thing we're not seeing tonight -- in Numbers Crunching, I pointed out that the Eagles have been very poor this year against the runs and against passes to running backs. But they've really clamped down on those tonight. The two backs have 17 runs for 39 yards at this point, and three catches -- one long one for Jacobs, but two short ones for Bradshaw, including the one he may or may not have just fumbled. (I'll be shocked if they feel they have indisputable evidence to overturn, even though his arm may have been down before the fumble.)
Oops, never mind. Guess they decided that the evidence was indisputable.
Bill Barnwell: I can't see how that was indisputable evidence to overturn, not at all.
Mike Kurtz: Yaaaaay replay.
Tom Gower: Contact with the ground other than the hands or feet. I guess they saw enough of the wrist/forearm to say he was down.
Aaron Schatz: I love the fact that the Giants have a punter who can't actually catch snaps. If we could trade him to San Diego for Mike Scifres, the Chargers might explode in a supernova of special teams suckitude.
Mike Tanier: Kapow! Shady! Shady! Shady!
Rob Weintraub: Shades of John Riggins in the Super Bowl, minus the shed tackle and the diesel horn blowing.
Aaron Schatz: Shady makes up for the silly third-and-1 shotgun pass (with bad sidearm throw).
Mike Kurtz: So, tip drill, lands in Samuel's hands, he runs, Bradshaw knocks the ball out of Samuel's hands with a huge hit, and the Giants recover. This game is insane.
Rob Weintraub: Seems inevitable coaches in the very near future are going to insist their defenders don't even risk interception returns for fear of fumbling it back to the offense.
Bill Barnwell: Before this game, people were saying it would be an NFC Championship Game preview. Turns out they were wrong; it's actually an NFC Championship Game revue.
Tom Gower: I almost think that with better turf that Eli does a real slide that properly shows that he's down.
Aaron Schatz: You know, quarterbacks have been doing that sort-of half-slide/non-slide for a while to get an extra couple yards out of their scrambles, since technically the play should be down as soon as you start a slide. I think Manning just got bitten by that, because he couldn't quite decide if he should slide and ended up going head-first, and that keeps the play alive because a runner who dives is not down but a runner who slides is.
Mike Kurtz: I'm more concerned that they went back and changed the ruling to a fumble rather than a dead ball without any review. If you hate it that much, call it an inadvertent whistle and replay. To whistle and then say "oh, nevermind, keep going" is kind of crazy, since players are programmed to stop trying when they hear it.
Mike Tanier: Well, that was six trillion times harder than it needed to be. Good night.