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 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.
Cincinnati Bengals 20 at Carolina Panthers 7
Rob Weintraub: Assuming most of you saw little to nothing of this one. If so, consider yourselves fortunate. Once again, the Bengals won with stifling defense, excellent special teams, and horrific offense. More pre-snap penalty issues, a horrendous end-of-half time management problem (no timeouts, ball on the CAR 10, and Palmer throws underneath. Time elapsed when tackle Dennis Roland spaced out ten yards behind the frantic attempt to clock the ball), and another terrible Palmer performance. The conditions were bad, the ball wet and field crappy, but that only excused about half of Palmer's bad throws/decisions. As the game went on, in a flashback to 2009, the Cincy reined it in and threw only comebacks and short seam routes. Only at the end, when they finally used some misdirection to get a couple of wide open throws, did anything come easily.
It was particularly frustrating as a Bengals fan because Carolina was utterly no threat. With an overmatched Jimmy Clausen making his first start, the Panthers had nothing on offense. Cincy forced five turnovers, stacked the box to eliminate the run, and covered Steve Smith right out of the game. The Bengals could have ended this midway through the second quarter with any sort of offense at all--but instead, despite utter domination, it was a one-score game until the middle of the fourth.
The MVP of the team after three games is kicker Mike Nugent (another 50-yard FG, three touchbacks). Kevin Huber had an excellent game punting. Cedric Benson ran hard if not especially effectively. Maualuga, Rivers, Rucker, Hall, Crocker were standouts on defense.
All of this is just conversation--if Palmer really is this quarterback now, the Bengals are cooked.
Buffalo Bills 30 at New England Patriots 38
Aaron Schatz: The arrival of Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and now Danny Woodhead seems to finally have given the Patriots the freedom to get all Sean Payton-y with their formations. They ran five-wide (well, four-wide and a flex TE) on the first play with Randy Moss not even in the game -- Welker, Edelman, Tate, Hernandez, and Woodhead. They motioned Fred Taylor out wide, which left the Bills with one of their starting corners (Terrence McGee) covering a 34-year-old running back. They used Hernandez on the extremely rare "tight end around" for 13 yards. Then he got open twice in the middle of the defense, twisting away from Keith Ellison. Finally, play-action with three tight ends in the game, Randy Moss easy in the end zone for a touchdown.
When Pats play Miami on MNF next week, over-under on number of plays before Jon Gruden refers to Hernandez as "the joker" is five.
Bill Barnwell: The Bills can't stop tight ends without Paul Posluszny. Last year, they struggled to move the ball against the Patriots in Week 1 until Posluszny got hurt and left the game, at which point they threw those two touchdown passes to Ben Watson. (Although that was in the Cover-2 and they're in the 3-4 now.)
Aaron Schatz: Patriots benched Darius Butler after his struggles against the Jets last week, in favor of second-year undrafted guy Kyle Arrington. They brought in Butler midway through the second quarter. Bills proceed to throw on him for a completion, then run around his end with a missed tackle. Goodbye Butler, hello again Arrington, but by that point the Bills are too close to the end zone and they eventually score on a WR screen to C.J. Spiller split out. Bills beating the Pats despite being underdogs by two touchdowns. New England fans may commence panic in 5... 4... 3...
Bills defensive line really getting pushed around by the Pats on running plays, and you can really see the difference between the running styles of the departed Laurence Maroney (shake and bake, and then shake some more, and then maybe some more baking...) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (hello hole, wham).
On the other side, I'm a little surprised by how little the Bills are throwing to Lee Evans. It isn't like he's being double-covered or anything, but unlike the Falcons, who constantly force the ball to their best receiver, the Bills have done a good job of building an offense that spreads the ball around and doesn't depend solely on that one guy. Being able to use Spiller as a receiver, of course, helps. I'm also a little amazed at how relatively open tight end Jonathan Stupar has been a lot of the time.
Aaron Schatz: Shocker: Officials in Patriots-Bills game do not know rule book. Bills call timeout after Ryan Fitzpatrick converts on third-and-6 with a QB draw. Replay booth reviews play, decides Fitzpatrick does not get necessary yardage, so now it is fourth-and-1. Bills come out to play the game where they try to draw Pats offside. It doesn't work, so they call timeout. That's two timeouts in a row. Remember when Joe Gibbs did that a couple years ago? That's an illegal procedure penalty, five yards. Refs come out and say that the ball should be spotted at the 16 and a half with one second on the play block, and do not mention penalty. Bills bring in Rian Lindell for a field goal. Bill Belichick, who actually understands rule book, is livid. Not that there's a huge difference between a 34-yard field goal and a 39-yard field goal, but shouldn't the OFFICIALS understand the rules of this game?
Tom Gower: They do.
Item 3: Consecutive Team Timeouts. Each team may be granted a charged team timeout during the same dead-ball period, but a second charged team timeout by either team during the same dead-ball period is prohibited. Such team timeouts may follow a Referee’s timeout or any automatic timeouts in Section 4 above.
Item 4: Unsportsmanlike Conduct. An attempt to call an excess team timeout or to call a second timeout in the same dead-ball period by Team B in an attempt to “freeze” a kicker, will be considered unsportsmanlike conduct and will subject the offending team to a 15-yard penalty (See 12-3). This will apply to field goal or Try attempts.
Aaron Schatz: What am I missing? It was a second charted team timeout during a dead-ball period. Therefore, it is prohibited. There was no referee's timeout because the Bills had already called timeout before the replay booth decided to review the play.
Tom Gower: The Bills called a timeout. The officials reviewed the play. That created a second dead-ball period between plays, so the Bills were permitted to call a second time out.
Aaron Schatz: The last word on the Bills double-timeout. It sounds like Tom is correct that there is no penalty for two timeouts -- but it sounds like the officials should never have allowed the Bills to take the second timeout, which would likely have meant the play clock going to zero and a five-yard Delay of Game.
Q: I was asked as the pool reporter to ask you a question as it relates to the back-to-back timeout calls by the Bills. What was the ruling on why the Bills weren’t penalized for calling their second timeout?
JP: There is no foul for calling a second timeout in the rulebook. We shouldn’t have granted it. We shouldn’t have shut the play down. But, there is no penalty. There is no 5-yard penalty for what we did. [The procedure is to] get the players reset, the second time out is not allowed, resume play, which is what we did.
Tom Gower: Ok, thanks for the clarification. I wasn't quite right-the challenge doesn't create a second dead-ball scenario, so the refs should've just ignored the timeout. Ah, well, live and learn.
Aaron Schatz: Odd thought watching Fitzpatrick: Is 14 the rarest number in the NFL? Fitzpatrick, Zoltan Mesko, Keenan Burton, and I think Riley Cooper. Anyone else? Were there any great historical players who wore 14?
Bill Barnwell: Don Hutson.
Ben Muth: Dan Fouts wore 14, I think.
Doug Farrar: Yelberton Abraham Tittle!
San Francisco 49ers 10 at Kansas City Chiefs 31
Vince Verhei: Chiefs line Matt Cassel up at wide receiver, then get the ball to him on a reverse, and he hits Dwayne Bowe for a long touchdown. I'm sure there's a good reason Cassel has 22 passes while Jamaal Charles has seven carries, but I can't think of what it might be. It is working though -- Chiefs lead 17-3, with both scores coming on long pass plays.
Anonymous player quickly becoming un-anonymous: Chiefs rookie tight end Tony Moeaki. Third-round draft pick came in to the game leading the team in receptions, and he just made an amazing leaping one-handed grab in the end zone to put KC up 24-3. Keep passing, Todd! It's working!
Tennessee Titans 29 at New York Giants 10
Tom Gower: I'm apparently not the only one who realizes most of the Titans LBs are mediocre in coverage, as the Giants seem to be making a concerted effort to throw the ball to Ahmad Bradshaw with a reasonable amount of success. Kevin Boss also had a long completion with a bunch of YAC, but Eli threw his second pick of the game on third-and-goal. It was a left-handed floater that still would've been completed if not for a great leaping deflection by Will Witherspoon. Eli's first pick of the game came on a ball of Hakeem Nicks' hands, so it seems like he's still on pace to challenge Warren Moon's unofficial NFL record of most interceptions that weren't really the QB's fault.
Eli Manning: 17-of-20 at halftime, with 2 tipped picks and a drop. Yeah, that Titans pass defense looks a lot more like a result of playing Campbell and Dixon/Batch the first two weeks. By contrast, Vince Young is 3 of 4 and Chris Johnson has 17 carries for 54 yards. The TD drive was about 9 plays, 8 of them Johnson carries. They're going to need to bring Javon Ringer in (zero carries thus far), or else Johnson may not make it to the bye week. The Titans also lost starting corner Jason McCourty to an arm injury late in the second quarter.
It took a while 5 minutes, but Vince Young has already thrown more passes the second half than he did the first half. The Titans take a 12-10 lead on a safety -- Michael Griffin downs a punt at the one, and a 42 or so yard completion to Mario Manningham on 3rd down is negated by a chop block in the end zone on Ahmad Bradshaw.
Chris Johnson finally does something, breaking a 42-yard gain outside after the Giants corner on that side overplays inside and then caps it with an eight-yard run on a simple counter where the Giants seemed to overcommit. The Giants have yet to punt, but Eli's thrown two picks (one in the end zone), Bradshaw fumbled inside the 10, they've missed two field goals, and failed on a 4th down conversion, so the Titans are up 29-10 despite giving up 409 yards.
Cleveland Browns 17 at Baltimore Ravens 24
Tom Gower: So, apparently the Browns decide to confuse Joe Flacco by massively changing positions right before the snap on third-and-9. Alas, as part of their efforts to confuse Flacco, nobody bothered to cover Anquan Boldin, who picked up about 20 yards.
Mike Tanier: Once Flacco settled down, he had a pretty solid game. Of course, he had it against a pretty bad defense. Eric Wright on Anquan Boldin is a mismatch all day every day, and the Ravens kept finding it. I was sitting with some people who know Flacco's game very well, and the only obvious mistake he was making was holding onto the ball too long before throwing. A big mistake, but a correctable one.
Pittsburgh Steelers 38 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13
David Gardner: LeGarrette Blount is running the ball really well against the Steelers. He's stealing some carries from Cadillac Williams. He's great at getting yards after the carry.
Bill Barnwell: I'd never seen a defensive back lose the ball in the sun before.
Vince Verhei: I love Gus Johnson, but he embarrassed himself trying to heap praise on Charlie Batch after Batch's second touchdown, talking about what a great game the veteran was playing. The first touchdown should have been tipped, but the defender never turned around. The second should have been intercepted, but bounced out of the defender's hands and into Mike Wallace's for a touchdown. He wasn't playing great to that point, he was playing badly -- but fortunately for him, Tampa Bay was playing even worse.
Atlanta Falcons 27 at New Orleans Saints 24
Bill Barnwell: Tony Gonzalez looking good to start in Atlanta; he just blew by Tracy Porter on an out-and-up, and then caught a big third-down pass for a touchdown against Porter. The Saints are ahead, though, when Mike Smith called for a ridiculous challenge on third-and-5 and then Lance Moore picked up the ensuing punt and went 70 yards.
The Saints score on a long bomb to early Week 3 MVP Lance Moore when the Falcons appear to blow zone coverage; looked like Thomas DeCoud got caught looking in the backfield and didn't get over in time. Saints were running a few sprint-out draws to Pierre Thomas to set it up.
Wow. The Falcons just went for it on back-to-back fourth-and-shorts inside Saints territory and made them both. Before the second one, Brian Billick referenced David Romer's paper on going for it on fourth-and-short ("...a mathematician from California...") in a positive manner. Analytics week!
Tom Gower: No surprise. In his book, More Than a Game, Billick mentions the Romer paper (and FO, too).
Bill Barnwell: Sure, but there are coaches/analysts who know more than they let on and still play dumb on TV.
Falcons score on the 19th play of their drive, a one-yard plunge by Turner. 19 plays!
Aaron Schatz: Chance Gregg Easterbrook will mention 19-play drive in TMQ: 99.999%
Tom Gower: Lance Moore's second touchdown was a nice result of Payton using playcalling to create matchups. Moore was running a shallow cross against Curtis Lofton and Brees hit him in stride, letting him outrun the LB and get into the end zone with a downfield block from (I believe) Shockey.
Bill Barnwell: Falcons have been giving Jason Snelling a decent share of the carries today, and outside of a "fumble" that was reversed on a long run, he's looked great.
And Atlanta just took the lead with a touchdown pass to Roddy White. White beat Jabari Greer at the line on two consecutive passes and caught long fades each time. The Saints' safeties are preoccupied with a dominant Tony Gonzalez and didn't give Greer the help he needed over the top on both plays.
Always good to give a team a taste of its own medicine. The Falcons go play-action, get Ryan on the bootleg, and throw a dumpoff to Ovie Mughelli for a first down. That's straight out of the Saints playbook.
Falcons go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Saints' 33 and lose the ball when a quick slant is tipped at the line by Alex Brown. Billick rightly notes that the Falcons should have run the ball on either third-and-6 (rollout thrown away) or fourth-and-6.
Vince Verhei: I echo Billick's analysis. If you know you're going for it on fourth down, then your third down play needs to set it up. And if you didn't know you were going for it on fourth, then you made a panicky and desperate decision at the worst possible time.
Bill Barnwell: Saints end up tying the game with a 32-yard field goal after converting a fourth-and-2 with a throw to Jeremy Shockey against Will Moore. Pierre Thomas went down during the drive with what looked like a nasty knee injury. Falcons really haven't been able to stop the Saints' passing game without getting pressure from their front four, so coin toss is key. And Falcons win it.
I can't believe Hartley shanked that 29-yarder.
Bill Barnwell: Falcons running a drive that's very reminiscent of the Buccaneers drive that beat the Saints in overtime last year -- just run after run. Ryan dropped back once, on first-and-20 from inside his own 10, and scrambled for 13 yards.
Atlanta wins, but it sure got hairy -- a 41-yard field goal was iced/blocked, and then there was a false start before Matt Bryant put a 46-yarder through. I think we saw what DAVE would have suggested -- the Saints were a 2-0 team that had required some breaks to get there, and the Falcons were a 1-1 team that had looked much better on a play-by-play basis. Obviously, the Hartley gaffe is what people will remember as having granted the Falcons their shot at winning, but the Douglas miss downfield at the beginning of OT was pretty egregious, too.
Detroit Lions 10 at Minnesota Vikings 24
Mike Kurtz: The Vikings force a punt deep in Lions territory and get a good return called back for a block in the back on the opposite side of the play. Minnesota then proceeds to have three penalties called on them in the same drive, including a false start followed by a delay of game. What a mess.
Bill Barnwell: They lost center John Sullivan on the opening play, which couldn't have helped.
Ned Macey: I worry when my diagnosis for a team is the same as Tony Siragusa, but it is apparent that Favre is not trying to throw the ball down the field at all. He at best looks down, but you can always tell he's going to dump off short. The Vikings offense has no flow, but a muffed punt by Stefan Logan and an 80-yard run by Peterson still has the Vikings up 24-10.
As for Detroit, the team just doesn't have the talent to make mistakes, and the Logan fumble was really bad early, and they have picked up a number of costly penalties. Offensively, the Lions still have not figured out how to use Calvin Johnson, and I'm not sure I have a suggestion. Johnson may be in the realm of very good but not great receivers--capable of dominating in an explosive offense but not capable of putting up one of those Steve Smith with the Panthers years from a few years ago.
This game, which is effectively over, has gotten extremely chippy. Unfortunately, since I was writing this email, I missed who started it.
Mike Kurtz: Since it's clear that referees are never going to actually eject players for fighting (which they should technically do), there needs to be some new scheme to punish mutual combat. Something like delaying enforcement against the defense until they next have possession.
Finally got around to checking the final penalty totals for Vikings-Lions: 8-67 and 12-100, respectively. That ignores something like 6 penalties that offset and weren't enforced, and I don't think any of them were DPI. What a ridiculous comedy of errors.
Dallas Cowboys 27 at Houston Texans 13
Bill Barnwell: Cowboys go for it twice on fourth-and-short on their opening drive, both times to the sidelines and away from the center of the defense. The first time, they narrowly convert; on the second one, though, the Texans blow up a screen attempt and second option Jason Witten commits an offensive pass interference penalty to end the drive. That would have been a 47-yard field goal attempt for David Buehler.
I loved a little subtle veteran play by Keith Brooking at the end of the first quarter. The Texans had the ball at the line of scrimmage with the clock running and about eight seconds left. Once the clock hit two, Brooking started sprinting towards the line of scrimmage, I'm assuming because he knew that there was no downside -- either the Texans wouldn't call the play, or they'd call it with one second left and Brooking would have an easy shot at shooting the gap.
Touchdown pass to Dez Bryant is nullified because Bryant was shoved out of bounds and was the first person to touch the ball afterwards. Cowboys have been moving the ball without problems for most of the half. After a DPI extends their drive, Tony Romo takes a grounding penalty when he decides to dribble a pass as he falls down. That knocks the Cowboys out of field goal range and forces them to take their last timeout instead of taking a 10-second runoff.
Tim Gerheim: Watching Arian Foster, I can tell why the Broncos under Kubiak could throw unstaffed guys in at running back and thrive. Foster is great at making a decisive cut and getting through the line of scrimmage, but when he gets out in space he has no shake and bake. Making the most of what the play gives is a very valuable skill, but it doesn't show up at the combine and it doesn't jump off the screen when you're watching a college running game. Guys like Foster make the most of what's there, but you won't see him make something out of nothing. Still, I'd much rather have him getting the lion's share of carries than Steve Slaton.
Aaron Schatz: Apologies for mixing games, but that sounds like the same skill set as Green-Ellis.
Bill Barnwell: Having a good game, but the Texans pass defense is just stinky. Houston reminds me a lot of the 2007-08 Saints, a great offense that has some great players on defense, but none of them happen to play in the secondary.
Tim Gerheim: Yeah, Aikman and Fox did a good job breaking down the route Williams ran on his first touchdown. He took one hard first step to the outside, and Brice McCain sold out to keep to Williams' outside. Williams just ran up the field straight past him and McCain couldn't catch up. Williams ran the exact same route on Kareem Jackson for his second touchdown, the only difference being that Jackson actually slipped.
Bernard Pollard is a good player, but he's a pure strong safety who's not very good in coverage. He's also a hothead (or ass, if he's good and not on your team) and I noticed a lot of Cowboys trash talking and egging him on. I haven't seen it happen yet but I have no doubt he can be baited into personal fouls.
Philadelphia Eagles 28 at Jacksonville Jaguars 3
Bill Barnwell: Michael Vick just threw his second touchdown pass in Jacksonville to finish a two-minute drive. It was a nice piece of work -- he got GREAT pass protection, but instead of running when nobody was open, he actually did wait around in the pocket for someone to slip a defender and get open, and eventually, a Jaguars corner slipped and Jeremy Maclin scored.
That being said, he's playing the league's 31st-ranked pass defense from 2009 and 2010, and he's 10-of-21 for 162 yards.
Vince Verhei: Michael Vick is not lighting the world on fire, completing about half his passes, and the incompletions have been bad, several yards short or behind guys. But he does have two touchdown throws. The second was notable because of the time he had to throw. He looked left to right before finding Maclin in the end zone. I think Maclin was his third option on the play. Michael Vick standing in the pocket and going through his progressions just looks weird.
Vick gets his third touchdown pass. Maclin runs a deep sideline route against a Cover-2, and Vick's pass gets there before the safety. His deep balls remain very pretty when they're on target.
OK, I know it's against the Jaguars and they suck, but Vick is in full Superman mode. Under a heavy rush, he flicks the ball off of one foot while falling backwards, and it hits DeSean Jackson for a big gain. Jaguars had tight coverage too. A few plays later, he slips a couple tackles in the backfield and breaks off a 20-yard touchdown run.
Washington Redskins 16 at St. Louis Rams 30
Bill Barnwell: Guess who's saying stupid things? It's Jim Mora! He was saying after the Mardy Gilyard fumble of a kickoff return that it's an adventure every time a rookie touches the ball. It's just about nonsense, as you might expect. I went and tested rookie running backs from 1990-on; rookie running backs, to take one group, fumble the ball on 1.8 percent of their touches; all other running backs fumble 1.5 percent of the time. The difference amounts to about one fumble every 320 touches or so.
Doug Farrar: That must have been why the Mora “brain trust” put Deon Butler on a milk carton last year when he was clearly explosive enough to make plays, even in Greg Knapp’s Imploding Offense.
Bill Barnwell: Cute of Dick Stockton to note that, had the Redskins gone for it on fourth-and-1 from the Rams 7, it would have been "something bizarre".
Tom Gower: The Rams just gave a wonderful lesson in how terrible teams can't score in goal-to-go situations. Part of it was Steven Jackson was shaken up, but a lot of it was just general incompetence.
The Rams abandoned running and moved the ball down the field in short chunks before Kenneth Darby took it in on the ground to re-take the lead. The Redskins have been moderately productive, but the Rams have been blitzing and forcing McNabb off his spot, which has caused him to miss open receivers. It's almost painful watching the Rams throw the ball, though-we should have a special chart for them where "bomb" is anything thrown more than 15 yards downfield.
You can really see the Spagnuolo influence on the Rams defense. They've had a lot of success bringing two blitzers through the same or adjacent gaps, and it's been bothering McNabb. I mentioned forcing him to scramble earlier, and the latest one forced McNabb to get the ball away early, which he did right to a Rams defender. Less than 4 minutes to play, and Rams are up 11 with Jackson sitting the entire second half.
Indianapolis Colts 27 at Denver Broncos 13
Aaron Schatz: Denver is playing some really tight coverage against the Colts today, at least in the first quarter. They just had a massive screw-up, muffing a Colts punt (recovered by Top 25 Prospects refugee Justin Tryon) which gave Indy the ball at the Denver 14... and the Colts couldn't move the ball, actually going back one yard on a bad run with two incompletions before Vinatieri came in for a field goal.
Mike Kurtz: Yeah, the other crazy thing is that they're getting decent pressure, and as far as I can tell they're doing it with relatively simple packages. The one time they tried something really crazy (a CB blitz on third-and-short), Manning read it perfectly and burned them with a quick toss outside.
Tim Gerheim: Kyle Orton is throwing the ball about as hard as you can throw it. Sometimes that makes it unnecessarily hard to catch, but other times it prevents Jerraud Powers from intercepting a pass on an out route. It also lets Demaryius Thomas show what good hands he has. And his touchdown to Brandon Lloyd was a spectacular throw. Any shorter and it's broken up by the DB trailing the play, any deeper and Lloyd probably can't come down with it before he goes out the back of the end zone. I almost wonder whether, if he didn't look like such a poindexter, he would have been regarded more highly throughout his career.
Mike Kurtz: Ortoooon! Poindexter, though? Never heard his appearance described as such.
I think what we're seeing with Orton is a bit involvement with a non-dysfunctional offensive system and a bit playing behind an offensive line that isn't a joke. He may even have a higher ceiling than I thought.
Simms: "You have to catch the ball, with your hands. And it has to be clean."
Orton is probably going to cut a sharp contrast between traditional stats and DVOA ... Orton had a monster game, 37-57-476-1-1, but something like half of his incomplete passes came in the red zone. Denver was within 20 five times and came away with no touchdowns, which was pretty much the difference in the game. I will say, however, that Denver's defense isn't nearly as awful as I thought it was, and kept the game close despite the offense's wasted opportunities.
Aaron Schatz: think we've already talked about this on the site a couple times, but what happened with Kyle Orton is that he never, ever should have played as a rookie. You can't expect a third-round rookie to play well, and in fact, he did not. If you take out his rookie numbers, and think of him as a third-rounder who sat on the bench for two years and then came in for his first action in 2007 and finally became the full-time starter in his fourth year, 2008, his career makes a LOT more sense.
Also, we were talking in the press box at Gillette about how Josh McDaniels did such an amazing job prepping Matt Cassel and setting up the offense for him -- despite Kansas City being 3-0, Cassel is not playing well without McDaniels as his coordinator -- and I think we're seeing some of that with Orton. McDaniels may be a terrible manager when it comes to interpersonal skills, but the dude knows how to handle quarterbacks and design offense.
Oakland Raiders 23 at Arizona Cardinals 24
Ben Muth: The Raiders just sent a Double A-gap blitz and someone came free. Derek Anderson got rid of the ball and pass interference was called, but it looks the Cards might still be struggling with that pressure.
Tom Gower: Nnamdi Asomugha will look better in our charting stats this year, as apparently the Cardinals have decided throwing to Larry Fitzgerald with Asomugha in coverage is a better strategy than throwing to their other receivers against the Raiders other defensive backs. I'm not so sure about that one.
Vince Verhei: He's got one pass interference so far, but a deep route was so covered so tight Derek Anderson basically threw the ball away, and the Cards punted.
Bill Barnwell: Steve Breaston should be having a field day against Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, but it's unclear whether he's even close to 100 percent. That leaves them with, what, their fourth and fifth wideouts across from Fitzgerald? They become the Panthers without the running game.
And now Randy Cross notes that you can't judge Bruce Gradkowski by his statistics, by his passing yards or by the velocity on his throws, but by the fact that the Raiders have 13 points. You know, because he punted a ball off of a Cardinals' player's leg. And booted those 50+ yard Janikowski field goals through. And team points aren't a stat.
Aaron Schatz: Amazing the way that guys who babble on constantly about football as a team sport and putting the team above the individual just completely forget about the value of the other 52 guys on the roster when it comes time to judge a quarterback based solely on wins.
Ben Muth: My favorite announcer quote of the day came from the play by play guy (don't know who it is) for the Cardinals-Raiders game. After LaRod Stephens-Howling fielded the Raiders' second kickoff of the game, this schmuck said Stephens-Howling was all over the field today. So, apparently if you are a team's return man and you field BOTH kickoffs, you are really going above and beyond the call of duty.
Bill Barnwell: Fitzgerald ended up catching a touchdown pass, but it came against zone coverage and Asomugha wasn't responsible.
Ben Muth: The Cardinals just had another punt hit a blocker (Rodgers-Cromartie) for a turnover. The returner needs to do a better job of informing his blockers where the ball is.
Bill Barnwell: Why on earth is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on punt coverage as a blocker?
Ben Muth: Janikowski just missed the game winner from about 31 yards. Not a good day for kickers.
Tom Gower: Janikowski's third miss of the game, with the earlier ones coming from 41 and 58. The Raiders could've run another play, but after a McFadden run that ended with about :42 left decided they were content to run the clock down, take their last timeout, and kick it. But, well, they're the Raiders.
San Diego Chargers 20 at Seattle Seahawks 27
Doug Farrar: Well, that was adventurous. Chargers line up trips left, and then motion Tolbert outside the trips formation, and Philip Rivers throws a dart to Legedu Naanee. Naanee fumbles, but it was a interesting ploy to crack open that defense.
I'm not sure if it's the timing on different tight end routes new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has set up for John Carlson, but Carlson and Matt Hasselbeck have been getting their wires crossed all season. Carlson caught just five passes in ten targets last week against the Broncos, and the combo had another faceplant on what should have been an easy first-quarter completion.
And the Invariable Law of Audibles applies: As soon as I wrote the above, Hasselbeck connects with Carlson down the left seam for 37 yards.
Bates capitalizes on this by getting too cute on third-and-goal, and running a pitchout to Justin Forsett out of shotgun. There are times when Bates just opts himself out of scoring opportunities by reaching for the deep end of the playbook when it isn't necessary.
Vince Verhei: The mismatches throughout this game are comical. San Diego has lost another offensive lineman and Seattle's giant front four is killing them, but then San Diego's receivers keep finding giant holes in Seattle's coverage. It seems like every play is a sack or a 20-yard gain.
Seattle is moving the ball too, but still can't score. On their best chance, Matt Hasselbeck found Mike Williams and his five-inch height advantage isolated against Quentin Jammer, but badly undergirds the ball. Williams never had a chance, and Jammer got an easy pick.
Doug Farrar: The Chargers dodge a big bullet late in the first half, as Hasselbeck hits Deion Branch deep right, but safety Paul Oliver punched the ball out at the San Diego 1-yard line, and the ball rolls through the end zone for a touchback. On Seattle’s next drive, Hasselbeck throws another deep route to the right (this one to Deon Butler) that hits Quentin Jammer and ends up as a pass interference call. Just an atrocious throw, though. It’s probably time to nuke those deep sideline passes from the Hasselbeck version of the Bates playbook.
It helps that Vincent Jackson is nowhere near this game, but Seattle’s defensive backs are playing really well when they’re on their assignments.
And Leon Washington starts the second half with a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown. What a crazy game.
Doug Farrar: He’s beaten Dombrowski for two sacks, just flashing past the edge both times.
Ben, what it the technical term when a left tackle fans out to take on a speed rusher? I always have Joe Thomas in mind when I think of that because he does it so well, but it seems as if Dombrowski is trying to take Clemons on straight back, and he’s just getting beaten to the edge.
Ben Muth: Usually, you just call it fanning or sliding out. The thing is you'll notice most guys will slightly change their set from play to play even if they are always supposed to fan out. One play they'll kick out at 45 degrees, other times they'll set vertically or straight back. And occasionally you'll almost fire out at the snap and take the guy right on the line of scrimmage, this is called a jump set. The reason you try to change up your set so much is to throw off the timing of a defender's hands/moves. If a defender gets used to making contact with you at a certain point in your set every play, it's a lot easier for him to time a move (whether it's a chop, swim, rip, shoulder dip or spin) and get to the QB.
Doug Farrar: Cool, thanks. With a guy who comes off the snap as quickly as Clemons, would it be better to fan or slide out just to slow him down?
Ben Muth: One of the worst things about third and long is there's not a whole lot you can do to change your pass set up. Because Clemons can line up so wide the only way Dombrowski can block him is by going straight back to cut him off. Even doing that Dombrowski has been late getting there twice. This is the reason why LTs are being drafted in the first round so often now, because it's tough to find a big guy who can move well enough to block the elite speed rushers consistently.
Doug Farrar: In the fourth quarter, Seattle has a scoring drive that consists of six yards in four plays, and ends in a field goal. A botched fade route to Deon Butler was the "highlight" of that drive. Drawing up a route combination in which your shortest receiver is the deep corner guy on a fade is an ... interesting play call.
Actually, now that I think of it, many of these Seattle red zone calls look very Norv-like. Is Norv somehow controlling Jeremy Bates' mind when Seattle gets inside the 20? (Wooooo ... scary).
Ya know how the Chargers currently rank dead last in Special Teams DVOA? Uh .. .I don’t see that changing this week.
Bill Barnwell: Seahawks let the Chargers drive down the field at will in the fourth quarter, but stop them twice in the red zone, including during the final series to seal up a win. Rivers was living on the hashmarks with digs against what I'm guessing was two-deep, but once the safeties didn't have to respect Rivers going deep, they were able to step up and make plays. Seattle deserved an intentional grounding call that the refs just called off without an explanation on second down -- it looked like Patrick Crayton ran the wrong route, but Rivers threw the ball well out of bounds anyway. Refs made up for it by giving the Chargers an inexplicable delay of game penalty while they were debating the previous call.
Of note: Earl Thomas picked off the fourth down pass and ran 30 yards with the ball before being tackled. There's ten seconds left. Hit the deck. His Madden awareness rating better go down.
New York Jets 31 at Miami Dolphins 28
Mike Kurtz: The only redeeming feature of that brain-meltingly awful rendition of the national anthem is that there is some non-zero chance that it was so bad it will miraculously cure Dr. Z, just so he can come back and write about how awful it was.
Aaron Schatz: OK, I understand that the league wants to stop defenders from launching themselves at defenseless receivers head-first, thus this new penalty, but I think Chris Clemons just got a 15-yard flag for inadvertently having Jerricho Cotchery run into his shoulder. Clemons did not launch himself at Cotchery in any way and his head never contacted Cotchery. The natural inertia of the two players just caused Cotchery's head to smack into Clemons' shoulder. We need to do something about this rise in penalties for inertia. Some of the recent controversial roughing the passer penalties have similar issues. I'm sorry, but the NFL cannot repeal the laws of physics.
Mike Tanier: They repeal the laws of common sense all the time. BTW, how many "illegal wedge" penalties were really called last year? The Eagles managed to pick one up today,
Tom Gower: The Clemons hit is sort of indicating that the NFL is looking for a bigger behavioral change. The point is not that the NFL is trying to regulate physics, but that nobody should ever lower his head for a big hit like Clemons did. I'm not sure I like it, but that's what the rule is telling defenders to do.
Aaron Schatz: It is really strange to see Miami passing this much.
Tim Gerheim: I was thinking that after their second drive of the second half. Their first drive took roughly half of the third quarter, then the Jets ran their one-play touchdown drive, and Collinsworth made much of how tired the Jets defense was. Granted the Jets took that bogus injury time out after the kickoff, but it struck me at the time like the Dolphins should have played some ground and pound to take advantage of the tired defense, particularly given that it's their strength.
Doug Farrar: There is absolutely no way this officiating crew can justify that ticky-tack holding call on Matt Slauson when they just missed an obvious facemask by Vernon Carey on Jason Taylor. Were I Rex, I'd be earholing the first ref I saw.
Tim Gerheim: Don't you get the impression Rex earholes most everyone he sees?
Doug Farrar: He turns it on and off.
Tom Gower: Miami's linebackers are really good at overrunning plays and getting out of position when the Jets use misdirection, slow, or both.
Bill Barnwell: Jets won because they ended up getting most of the big breaks -- Brandon Marshall and Jason Allen slipped on the sod, Braylon Edwards stayed upright. Sanchez pick hits a lineman in the hands. The Allen pick-that-wasn't misses by an inch and gets a great replay right before a snap as opposed to right after.
The biggest thing for me was the Dolphins' playcalling near the goal line down 24-20. You led the league in power rushing last year, and yet, you run pass plays on second and third down? And then, on fourth-and-goal from the two down four points, you kick a field goal. An average team is leaving about eight-tenths of a point on the field there, and I think the Dolphins' higher rate of succeeding probably pushes them closer to two full points.
Aaron Schatz: I also think you can't dump if off to Ronnie Brown for two yards on third down there at the end. You gotta go end zone twice.
Sean McCormick: I thought this was really a good game for both offensive coordinators. Dan Henning wanted to get Brandon Marshall away from press coverage, so he used a lot motion to force Antonio Cromartie to play off, with devastating results. On the few occasions when Cromartie had a chance to get a jam on at the line and pin Marshall against the sideline, he was much more effective. Henning was happy to dial up the same play two times in a row when he saw something he liked, as he did when the Dolphins isolated Davone Bess on Kyle Wilson in the slot; each time, Bess ran a corner route and was able to make a play on the ball in the air while Wilson was in full pursuit and had his back to the ball. (Though in fairness, the first play should have been ruled incomplete due to Bess only getting one foot in bounds.) Henning has had a good read on Ryan's blitz schemes for some time now, and the Dolphins looked well-prepared in that regard. They didn't utilize the moving pocket as much as they did last year, but Henne was able to slide a few steps away from the pressure, which generally bought him enough time to get a clean look and make a throw. Tom Brady and Joe Flacco were both successful doing the same thing against the overload blitz, and I'm waiting for Ryan to adjust by bringing a DB from the other side to hit to either sack or contain the quarterback.
Schottenheimer also had a nice game plan, featuring a lot of wide runs with bunch formations and crackback blocks to let runners get to the edge. The Jets' version of the wildcat is generally a pale imitation of Miami's, but they were able to do some nice things with misdirection. I actually thought Schottenheimer's best call of the night was on the touchdown that was called back for holding (Matt Slauson, grrr), when he followed up a wildcat call with a designed quarterback draw for Sanchez on third-and-6. The defense clearly wasn't expecting any kind of quarterback run from a conventional set just after having chased down Brad Smith.
As an aside, I've always understood that the way to help young quarterbacks is to bring receivers towards them with slants and in patterns, so that the quarterback has a clear view of his target and a shortened distance for the pass to cover. For all that, I don't think I saw a single slant pattern called by either team; everything was pretty much either vertical or towards the hashmarks.
Football: Backdrop For Media Coverage Of Football And Buying Things
Bill Barnwell: Good to see Welsh twee band Los Campesinos! getting a song licensed into a Budweiser commercial.
Doug Farrar: What I discovered on the way to Qwest Field: As good as Tony Boselli is on TV, he’s even better on the radio. He brings a Mayock level of detail after every play, and adds the visual angle for those unable to see the game. Just a tremendous job. And I almost feel bad about saying that, because we really need more guys as good as Boselli calling TV games.
Vince Verhei: Can we just hand DirecTV Sunday Ticket the worst commercial campaign right now? "If you use our product you will be abused and harassed by complete strangers from coast to coast! Enjoy!"