Audibles at the Line: Week 11
compiled by Rivers McCown
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 17th
New York Jets 13 at Denver Broncos 17
Rivers McCown: Let the option reads begin!
Mike Tanier: Kurt Warner and Tim Tebow were going over the basic read of the zone read, where the quarterback checks to see if the defensive end collapses, as if it was a brand new strategy invented for Tebow's unique wonderfulness rather than something high school kids do. This is gonna be a "watch with the music loud and the whiskey neat" kind of game.
J.J. Cooper: When I say the Broncos offense looks like a high school offense at times, I mean that it really looks like my high school's offense, which was running the veer (although out of split backs) back in the late 80's. To be fair though, the Broncos first drive did show more variation than they showed all last week.
Tom Gower: Well, I admit through 18 minutes, the Broncos offense has been somewhat more proficient than I anticipated. I wonder how much the opening pass affected the defensive playcalling, because it seems like they've been consistently playing a single-high safety, which gives the Broncos more matchup advantages.
Also, Jets special teams proficiency apparently went away with Mike Westhoff's healthy leg?
Rivers McCown: Never a good sign when the announcer has to guess who the intended receiver is.
...Oh wait, that was about Mark Sanchez.
Mike Tanier: I have the solution to the world's problems: Ask Sanchez what should be done about any major crisis just before halftime. Then do the opposite.
Watching this Broncos offense is like watching a psychic perform a cold reading. If he misses a million times and has two hits, everyone will remember the hits. And if he doesn't have two hits, everyone will make excuses.
Aaron Schatz: Sanchez actually has an excellent completion percentage tonight, but it is all short stuff. In part because they can't trust the backup running backs to protect him from a blitz.
I enjoyed the pistol full house play.
The Broncos can't get anything tonight on a straight-ahead run. Their only good runs have been on options.
Here's a crazy idea, but if the Broncos really did want to try to win games instead of just trying to figure out what they have in Tebow ... would it make sense on must-pass downs, third-and-longs, to bring in Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn? If you know Tebow has to pass, he really can't get anything. You need to have the surprise element.
Mike Tanier: The Jets are starting every drive at or inside the 20 and cannot really sustain a drive past the first or second first down. Midway through the third quarter, the Broncos have gotten the ball four times in Jets territory. They have a field goal and the interception return.
Tom Gower: After Andre Goodman's interception, the two teams have combined to go 2-for-16 on third down, with one conversion by each team. The only actual drives on offense thus far have been after the kickoffs to start a half.
J.J. Cooper: They've actually asked Tebow to try to throw more conventional passes tonight. Last week, it really was a high school offense, where occasionally you throw deep to see if you can catch the defense napping. Not that the conventional approach is really working.
Tom Gower: The funny thing is, he's had open receivers -- much more open than I expected. He just hasn't hit them. And when he has been close, the ball hasn't always been caught because he's throwing with absolutely no touch at all.
J.J. Cooper: Yeah, every Tebow pass is thrown at absolute full speed. It doesn't matter if he's throwing it five yards downfield or 50.
Mike Tanier: Lost in all of this is that the Broncos defense is really looking good. Elvis Dumervil is in top form, Von Miller looks great, the secondary is playing pretty well. And Britton Colquitt ... in the future, all punters will be Colquitt.
J.J. Cooper: Well, this is the way to do it apparently if you're Denver: on what may be their last drive of the game, they spread out in a two-minute offense and have Tebow run it every play.
Ben Muth: As I said on Twitter, at this point I'm 100 percent convinced Tebow was put on Earth to punish people that study football too much.
Aaron Schatz: The Jets run a blitz on third-and-4 that's designed to trap the quarterback in the pocket. You can't trap Tebow in the pocket! There's nobody protecting against a scramble, and all the defensive backs are in man with their backs turned to the quarterback ... wrong playcall against this offense.
Tom Gower: Actually, I think Eric Smith was supposed to prevent Tebow from getting outside to his left ... wait, never mind, that's the same thing as nobody protecting against a scramble to that side
Ben Muth: I agree with Tom, they have Tebow dead to rights if Smith keeps contain (also known as his guaranteed assignment). Truly horrendous play by Smith to bite on a fake.
Aaron Schatz: If Smith has contain, man, did he do a horrible job of it. He rushed right up the middle to go after the quarterback, with absolutely no chance of getting outside to contain Tebow if Tebow broke out of the pocket.
Ben Muth: Yes, he did do a horrible job. I'm convinced he blew the play. You simply don't run that blitz without someone keeping contain on the backside. I can't wait to see if Rex hurls him under the bus, or wears it himself. But I am 99.9 percent sure Smith was 100 percent at fault.
...And he throws Smith under the bus, can't say I blame him.
Tom Gower: Really, though, the Broncos' last minute drive was similar to the Jets' touchdown drive early in the second half, when a quarterback who has struggled to find consistent success managed to string together enough plays in a row to move the ball, including two of his team's three third-down conversions for the game. The real difference in the game was Sanchez's pick-six and, if you want the comparison, the Jets starting at the Denver 35 and getting three off Willis McGahee's first-half fumble.
J.J. Cooper: Since he took over as quarterback, Tebow is averaging roughly nine rushing attempts per game. Over a 16-game season, that would be the most rushing attempts by any quarterback in the Super Bowl era. But, I don't see why Tebow can't carry the ball that much. He's really a good-sized running back playing quarterback. If Reggie Bush can handle nine carries a game, why can't Tebow?
Tim Gerheim: Wait, Bush can handle nine carries a game?
Mike Tanier: My agita cannot handle Sanchez, Tebow and Bush in one conversation. It is like Nightmare on Elm Street with Skip Bayless as Freddie.
Vince Verhei: So has the "He just wins" torch officially been passed from Sanchez to Tebow now?
Rivers McCown: How soon they forget about Vince Young.
Mike Tanier: Oh yes. Without irony. Without irony. Without irony.
Sunday, November 21st
Carolina Panthers 35 at Detroit Lions 49
Mike Tanier: Already two interceptions in this game, and I am only four sips into a beer!
With three early-game turnovers, I fear we are seeing the return of the 2007 Lions.
Brian McIntyre: Welcome back, Kevin Smith. Shaky injury history prevented the Lions from extending a qualifying offer to him as a restricted free agent in February. Re-signed earlier this month because of injuries to Mikel LeShoure and Jahvid Best (as well as the canceled trade with the Eagles for Ronnie Brown after Jerome Harrison was discovered to have a brain tumor), Smith breaks off a 43-yard run on the first play of the second quarter and follows it up with a 28-yard touchdown on a screen pass. Smith's performance was about as likely as the team ranked 32nd in special teams DVOA returning a kick 101 yards for a touchdown, which Kealoha Pilares of the Carolina Panthers does on the kickoff after Smith's touchdown.
Doug Farrar: Pretty obvious that Matthew Stafford's finger is really bothering him. Or, something else is really bothering him. He was really struggling throwing against his body against the Broncos. Six picks in five quarters after zero picks in the previous three games. In any case, we might want to see the return of the 2010 Shaun Hill for a while.
Mike Tanier: The Packers and Lions games have ended with a strange symmetry. Late comebacks by the underdogs to tie, bold touchdown drives to answer, then tip drill interceptions to ice things.
Rivers McCown: I guess Stafford's finger wasn't bothering him that much after all.
Doug Farrar: Indeed –- what a freaky turnaround.
Dallas Cowboys 27 at Washington Redskins 24
Rivers McCown: Redskins start their first drive with a pair of end-arounds to little effect, then when they throw on third-and-6, Fred Davis fumbles. Mike Shanahan challenges it with his heart and loses a timeout. This is ... not the best offensive start to a game I've ever witnessed.
On the bright side, at least Brian Orakpo has that pancake social to attend.
Mike Tanier: Rex Grossman is a neverending source of hillarity. Though I think his knee was down on that fumble.
Rivers McCown: Washington jumps into the lead right before the half with another short-field touchdown. Dallas' special teams are the Redskins' biggest contributors right now. Dallas really isn't getting much traction on offense either -- Murray hasn't been breaking many tackles, and he's as straight-line as they come.
Mike Tanier: Cowboys have gone into the shotgun and started passing at the first sign of trouble. When it was 10-0, I would have pounded Murray behind that straight-ahead line a little more instead of making it easy for the Redskins pass rush.
Vince Verhei: Jason Witten with a long touchdown catch to put Dallas up 24-17. DeAngelo Hall was giving chase and failed to make up any ground. Hall has always relied on his athleticism to cover his mistakes in technique, and has been a mediocre (at best) corner as a result. If he no longer has the speed to keep up with tight ends, even good ones like Witten, then I've got to think he's totally done.
Rivers McCown: Is it just me, or does it seem like Tony Romo has more receiver miscommunications than any other quarterback? He just had his second pass of the day directed towards Laurent Robinson that went incomplete and wasn't even close to his receiver's route.
Tom Gower: Maybe it's just me, but I'd put Matt Hasselbeck clearly on top in terms of most miscommunication with wideouts.
Rivers McCown: Every Redskins fan knew that Graham Gano was going to miss that overtime kick.
Trent Williams is down, and it does not look good.
Robert Weintraub: Big-time elude-and-throw by Romo on third-and-15 puts Dallas in position to win.
Cincinnati Bengals 24 at Baltimore Ravens 31
Robert Weintraub: The Bengals get a tremendous grab from Jerome Simpson (to make up for the two drops that are coming) and a defensive pass interference penalty to set up a short Cedric Benson touchdown. Taylor Mays may never be a starting safety, but he's been very good covering kicks for Cincinnati, and he just laid a major smack on the ensuing kickoff return.
J.J. Cooper: Early on, the Bengals are showing some success running the ball between the tackles. You could blame it on the absence of Ray Lewis, but then, Marshawn Lynch seemed to have no problem running out the clock against the Ravens last week with Lewis in the game.
After the Dalton overthrow, a receiver runs the wrong way and forces a punt, which goes all of 15 yards. This one is beginning to turn after Cincy controlled the first quarter.
Mike Kurtz: Ironically, the missteps that Dalton is making are doing a better job of convincing me that he is for real than doing everything right. Maybe it's just perception, but it seems to me that rookies that look good but unpolished end up doing better down the road than boy wonders.
Robert Weintraub: Right on cue, Ed Dickson makes a one-hand catch on third-and-long, then Joe Flacco finds a wide-open Anquan Boldin for the tying touchdown. Adam Jones had good coverage on Dickson, but mistimed his swipe -- he could have knocked it away, and the Bengals could be up 14-0 -- but that little hypothetical remains a fiction. The little things come back to haunt.
Mike Kurtz: What the heck was Cincy doing on that Boldin touchdown? There were three defenders in a bunch with two receivers, and none of them covered Boldin. Then, adding insult to injury, Reggie Nelson never moved up past the goal line, so even though he made contact with Boldin, he had zero chance of actually stopping him before the ball crossed the line.
Robert Weintraub: Poor angle by Nelson. The two linebackers didn't drop deep enough to prevent the pass after Boldin was handed off by Kelly Jennings. Give Baltimore credit -- they totally fooled the defense with the play-fake bootleg action.
Why do I love Geno Atkins? For plays like the one he just made, driving the guard four yards backward on a slant and dropping Rice for a loss at the same time. Awesome job.
J.J. Cooper: Marshal Yanda is one of the better guards in the league, but Atkins destroyed him for a nice six-yard tackle for loss. Atkins drove Yanda into Ricky Williams, then shed Yanda's block to make the tackle. Atkins was really tough for the Steelers to move in the running game last week as well.
Mike Tanier: The Bengals may want to run the ball a little more to make life easier for Dalton. Every drive since the first has started with a false start, then him trying to pass in bad down/distance circumstances.
Robert Weintraub: Pacman makes his first contribution to the cause, tackling Smith by his dreadlocks just as Smith was breaking free in the middle of the field. A flag was thrown then picked up. Moments later, Clements intercepts a Flacco throw to Dickson that was rather forced. Pacmania!
Doug Farrar: Flacco was reading that one all the way, too. After watching Seattle’s safeties refuse to take his deep ball seriously last week, I’m on board with calling his regression very troublesome. Dalton responds by throwing a deflating balloon to Caldwell in the vicinity of Ed Reed and another defensive back. You can guess the result.
Robert Weintraub: Ed Reed intercepts a Bengal quarterback in the end zone. This is a recording. Poor decision by Dalton to chuck one deep to Caldwell into double coverage. A.J. Green, OK, but not Caldwell. CBS then runs a graphic noting this was Reed's fourth touchdown against Cincinnati, apparently not realizing that the pick came in Baltimore's end zone. Not even the great Ed Reed gets to count that as six points.
Mike Kurtz: To temper my praise of Dalton, I'm not sure I buy into the praise for him not trying to make plays. There have been a few snaps where he moved outside and beat the pressure, but then immediately threw it away. He's feeling a pass rush that largely isn't there. I'm still trying to figure out what he was thinking on that third-and-long from around Baltimore's 30. Baltimore brought a blitz off the right side, Dalton moved left out of the pocket and basically just chucked it into the end zone instead of looking for a run (they had a time out left) or waiting for his intermediate receivers to cut across the field and give him a throw. Of course, a lazy jump ball to the end zone was exactly what Reed was playing on that snap, and he nabbed the interception.
Robert Weintraub: To answer you Mike, Dalton has been very aggressive this season -- don't listen to the announcers. In fact, throwing more downfield and trusting his receivers (Green in particular) to go get it is what keyed the five-game win streak. Green went up to get a touchdown on almost exactly the same play last week over Troy Polamalu. What Dalton will learn is that Reed is a better ballhawk than Polamalu, and Caldwell is no Green. In general, he has run in that situation less than he did earlier this season, when the coaches encouraged him to run more. It was a mistake not to run it there, no question.
Dan Dierdorf is ridiculous. Rice rips off a long run, and double-D is over the moon praising Cam Cameron for "sticking with the running game" with the lead. The Ravens are ahead by seven! And what are they supposed to do, pass every play? Just talk less.
Doug Farrar: Thank you for saving me the time it would take to type what you just typed. That was truly goofy, especially after Rice got the ball five times last week.
Vince Verhei: In defense of Dierdorf, the Ravens have shown a tendency to go oddly pass-wacky this year. And the Ravens could be forgiven for going pass-wacky in this game -- Aside from that 59-yarder, they're averaging 1.3 yards per run.
Mike Kurtz: Dalton just figured out what happens when you don't just throw it away after evading pressure: guys get open.
Robert Weintraub: Dalton rolled right on a large percentage of his throws at TCU, so it's a bit of muscle memory involved there, and a tough habit to break. I really don't think it's happy feet in any way -- he stands in just fine when required.
Here he is getting picked off again. Jimmy Smith fumbles, but the Ravens get an extra 15 yards by recovering it (though the officials never pointed one way or the other, probably because Ron Winter was trapped under the pile), and Baltimore runs it in on the next play. That was rookie-esque. Four picks in seven quarters against Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
Mike Kurtz: I rescind all praise for Dalton. This is an ugly game. Of course, the Bengals' safeties aren't helping.
Mike Tanier: Dalton is a not-there-yet prospect who is doing OK overall. He is not ready to go into comeback mode against a good defense without his best receiver. He still impresses me more than he did out of school.
Robert Weintraub: The Ravens keep throwing from power I sets, and the Bengals haven't adjusted. Especially right there after a turnover, you had to know the play-fake and bomb was coming.
Aaron Schatz: No team runs play-action more than Baltimore. Not necessarily just on bombs, but on every kind of pass. Been that way for years.
Robert Weintraub: Clearly Dalton doesn't throw that last pick if he had different color hair...
A little vengeance for the Smith pick as Caldwell beats him for a 49-yard score. 31-21, 11 minutes left.
Michael Tanier: After the Caldwell touchdown, I think Dalton is just messing with us.
Robert Weintraub: Amazing concentration and agility by Gresham after an initial juggle to gather it in and not just stay inbounds, but also cross the plane for what should be a touchdown to make it 31-28.
(it's taking much too long for my comfort)
(he's gonna get screwed for not holding it on the ground?)
Needless to say, I'm pissed.
Mike Kurtz: Yeah, he's getting screwed. Instead of a great play, it's an incomplete pass. Replay is awesome.
Mike Tanier: A Harbaugh brother is playing not to lose. Guess which one.
Mike Kurtz: Guess I'll have to rely on Rob's ranting to see how the rest of the game goes. Yaaay broadcast rules.
Robert Weintraub: Terrell Suggs gets away with a horse collar on Dalton, and instead they call intentional grounding. Great bullrush by T-Sizzle.
Third-down throwaway -- second straight play Ravens rush three and destroy play anyway.
And once again the Ravens rush three and get to Dalton. Game over. Pretty bad time for the offensive line to come up empty.
Aaron Schatz: Suggs let go of the horse collar before he finished the tackle, so that's not a horse collar tackle. It's a tackle by the legs.
Mike Kurtz: Assuming Dalton was hit in the pocket, there is no penalty for horse collar in the pocket.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 at Green Bay Packers 35
Aaron Schatz: Department of Champions Are Both Lucky and Good: The Packers begin the game with the rare six-and-out featuring the even more rare "Aaron Rodgers goes 0-for-3 on successful passes." Incomplete, holding on Green Bay, incomplete, offside on Tampa, Neutral zone infraction on Tampa, then complete pass but short of the sticks. Tim Masthay comes in to punt and the Bucs get such good pressure up the middle that the ball will surely be blocked ... so Masthay pulls it down, runs, bobbles it, but somehow manages to get a first down.
That was the lucky. Then we switch to the good. The Packers offense becomes the Packers offense again, marches down the field, touchdown Packers -- on a fullback give to B.J. Raji at the 1. Heh.
For readers who love the intricacies of DVOA, by the way, I'll point out that the Masthay play is the rare play that doesn't get count anywhere in DVOA. You don't want to penalize the Packers for an aborted punt because they don't give up the ball, but on the other hand I don't want to credit them for a fourth-down run on a play that wasn't meant to be a fake punt. So I just sort of skip it.
Elias Holman: I wonder in how many instances a single player has been credited with two fumbles on the same play and lost *neither* of them. Talk about fumble luck...
On fourth-and-goal from the five, Tampa Bay settles for a field goal to pull within four points, 14-10. I was about to criticize them for playing conservatively -- you're an underdog on the road, already trailing, and you need to take a few risks. Then, following the field goal, they tried a surprise onside kick. Good for them for taking a smart risk. Green Bay recovers after a long review, though, and it leads to another Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass. 21-10 Green Bay.
Tampa Bay is down 21-10. Kellen Winslow catches a touchdown pass, but is (correctly) called for offensive pass interference -- he put both hands on the defender's chest and pushed him away. Tampa Bay kicks a field goal to make it 21-13. It was fourth-and-13 from the 14, so the field goal is the right decision there, but these failed red zone drives are going to cost Tampa Bay a game they could have otherwise won.
Green Bay punts on their next possession. Rodgers had a receiver open on third down, but underthrew him and it was tipped away. He's been very un-Rodgers like today, throwing a step behind receivers and letting defenders tip passes that should have been caught. At least one of his completions came on a pass that the Buccaneers tipped first. (I should note that this "very un-Rodgers like" performance means he's only gone 15-of-25 for 218 yards and a pair of scores.)
Tampa Bay scores a touchdown on a quick slant to Mike Williams. The two-point try is a quick slant to Winslow, and it should have been an easy completion, but he dropped it. Green Bay is still up 21-19. The drive looked easy for Tampa Bay -- Josh Freeman went 5-for-5 for 85 yards. Most of the throws were on slants and ins, which the Packers couldn't cover. One was a wide receiver screen, and on that one, the Packers couldn't tackle. Green Bay has struggled with missed tackles all day.
Tim Gerheim: If you're the Bucs, and Blount has Marshawned the Packers defense once already, why wouldn't you at least have Blount on the field for a two-point conversion try?
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, it's tough figuring out what the Bucs are doing to keep the Packers offense down. They're getting some pressure, but not a ton. They're blitzing a little bit, but that's normally not a good way to beat Rodgers -- no quarterback is better against the blitz. They're covering well, actually playing a majority man coverage. It doesn't help that the Packers are in a lot of third-and-longs because their running game is going nowhere. But mostly I think Rodgers may have just woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.
Vince Verhei: Green Bay is up nine with less than six minutes to go. Rodgers throws a quick out to James Jones, and Elbert Mack steps in front for an easy interception. Rodgers was under no pressure, he just made a bad throw. Definitely going with the "bad biorhythms" theory on him today.
Aaron Schatz: Last week we had the super-controversial Mike Smith call and it has me thinking about fourth downs and when it makes sense to go for it. I think Tampa Bay just missed an opportunity. Fourth-and-3 from the Green Bay 37, down by nine, 6:00 left ... doesn't that seem like the right time to go for it? Punt and you're stuck hoping for a turnover or a three-and-out. If you fail, you hope Green Bay just runs it and kicks a field goal to keep it within two touchdowns.
Anyway, Tampa Bay punted and Green Bay got a great return from Randall Cobb, but it ended up being moot when Aaron Rodgers threw just his fourth pick of the year on the Packers' first play. Tampa Bay ended up basically getting the ball back where they were anyway.
Robert Weintraub: As for Green Bay and Rodgers, I'm going with the notion that he knows I'm doing a piece for the Times this week remembering the 1962 Thanksgiving game where Detroit ambushed an unbeaten Packers team that was a machine until then. Clearly, he wants to ruin the symmetry.
Vince Verhei: Tampa Bay scores again to make it 28-26. With about four minutes left, they try another surprise onside kick. It fails, and they were offsides anyway. Their execution on these plays has been terrible. The first one only went seven yards, and was only close because Green Bay nearly touched it first.
And then Rodgers does what Rodgers does, hitting Jordy Nelson for a long touchdown to make this entire conversation moot.
Winslow's day is now complete. Freeman's pass to him is high, but Winslow got both hands on it only to tip it up and into the hands of a Green Bay defender. Anything after this is academic.
Aaron Schatz: I think that one was Freeman's fault. Winslow had to leap just to get his fingertips on that ball.
Oakland Raiders 27 at Minnesota Vikings 21
Tom Gower: Jerome Boger's crew loses track of what down it is after a Percy Harvin touchdown that was called back on a downfield holding penalty is mistakenly shown to create second down. After a couple minutes delay, the issue is straightened out. The drive also included a widely-criticized (on Twitter, at least) Aaron Curry blow to the head that included both shoulder-to-shoulder contact and helmet-to-helmet contact. I think refs generally do a very good job at administering a very hard game to officiate, but watching Jerome Boger work always makes me feel like a near-disaster is imminent. Adrian Peterson eventually finished the incredibly annoying drive on a run up the middle where he wasn't touched, thanks to some good blocking and excellent vision.
Brian McIntyre: Three personal foul penalties on Oakland defenders on that drive alone.
Rivers McCown: An annoying drive? Don't those, by rule, have to include Wes Welker?
Tom Gower: The Raiders now seem to be control of this game at 17-7 late in the first half. Michael Bush is running well -- he's been able to run for about five yards without getting touched with some regularity. I'm still not sure Carson Palmer is much more than an average-ish starter, as he seems to be almost exclusively a single-read passer at this point, but he's proficient enough at that to make plays. The Raiders also seem to have rediscovered Kevin Boss and Darrius Heyward-Bey in the passing game after they've disappeared of late for no apparent reason (When Boss was in the lineup, that is). The Vikings, meanwhile, lost Peterson to an apparent ankle injury (he was carted to the locker room after being helped off), and now the only effective thing they do on offense seems to be Christian Ponder scrambling for big yards when the Raiders don't bother to contain or spy him.
Jacksonville Jaguars 10 at Cleveland Browns 14
J.J. Cooper: If I was running DirecTV, I would place Sunday Tickets ads in every commercial break wherever this game is aired.
Aaron Schatz: Blaine Gabbert produced one of the worst pocket presence plays I've ever seen. Third-and-7 from the 8, everybody is covered, two Cleveland guys are right on top of Gabbert as he is trying to scramble out of the pocket. So Gabbert throws it away. Except he throws it away BACKWARDS. So that's a live ball. Luckily for him it went out of bounds, but the Jaguars lost valuable yards that could have helped their fourth-down field goal try.
Officials come close to deciding the game in Cleveland. First, they call a Phil Dawson field goal as missed when it looked like it went over the upright. Then, Jacksonville drives back to try to win it, and I think the officials missed pass interference by D'Qwell Jackson on Mike Thomas in the end zone. Cleveland wins 14-10, but really they should be winning 17-10 with Jacksonville having one more play to try to tie.
Tom Gower: I'd say Gabbert throwing the ball to where the receiver had been instead of where he was going to be made the contact with Jackson look worse than it was. I'm fine with the no-call.
Mike Tanier: Hehehe. Aaron is watching the Browns.
Aaron Schatz: Nah, Aaron is just watching the Red Zone channel.
Buffalo Bills 8 at Miami Dolphins 35
Doug Farrar: Am I nuts, or are the Dolphins the best team in the AFC East over the last three weeks?
Seattle Seahawks 24 at St. Louis Rams 7
- Starting right tackle Jason Smith is missing his fourth consecutive game with a concussion.
- Starting left tackle Rodger Saffold is on injured reserve after tearing his pec while lifting weights on Friday.
- Left tackle Mark LeVoir, who started today in place of Saffold, hurt his shoulder and is out of the game. Your current St. Louis right tackle: Kevin Hughes, who was just signed off the practice squad a few days ago.
Not surprisingly, it is only 10-7 at halftime.
Kam Chancellor just got flagged for an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit on Lance Kendricks. A brutal shot to the skull. This is the second week in a row that Chancellor has been called for this, and last week he gave HIMSELF a concussion. I'm pissed off at him. This was not a ticky-tack call where a guy leaned in with shoulder. Chancellor made no attempt to play the ball or tackle the receiver, he lowered his head like, well, a ram, and tried to take the man out. It's jeopardizing his own health as much as his target's. By the way, Seattle is ahead by 16 points late in the fourth, so it's not like it would have mattered if the ball had been caught.
Tennessee Titans 17 at Atlanta Falcons 23
Tom Gower: So, yesterday I wrote that I wasn't overly concerned about Tony Gonzalez. On his first drive, he had three catches, 39 yards, and a touchdown. The first catch came with a defensive end in coverage against a zone blitz (a tactic that I think has had a terrible success rate except against the Panthers). On the second catch he had Tennessee bodying up on him in man coverage, then a spin move caused two linebackers to whiff. On the third catch, a play-fake catches rookie Akeem Ayers badly out of position.
Matt Hasselbeck's first pass of the game sailed well away from a receiver who'd cut in rather than up to kill the Titans' first drive, and the Titans' second possession ends when Lavelle Hawkins apparently runs a bad route and Dunta Robinson is able to make a diving grab of Hasselbeck's pass.
After taking criticism for his fourth down failure last week, Mike Smith has apparently decided not to take any serious risks. He kicked a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1 up 7-0, and up 13-0 late in the first half, he punted on fourth-and-3 from the Titans 35
Aaron Schatz: See, that's ridiculous. That shows how ridiculous the argument was over Mike Smith's call last week. Yes, the math suggested that Smith made the right call last week by going for it, but the math was pretty close. The math on fourth-and-goal from the 1 early in the game isn't close in the least. THIS should be the controversial call. This call was a much more obvious wrong decision than the other call was a right decision.
Mike Tanier: I am starting to think going for it on fourth down is like investing: We are all supposed to me more aggressive as investors. And we all wind up leaving a lot of money in piggie banks and cookie jars.
Tom Gower: Mike Smith aggressiveness update: goes for it on fourth-and-1 at the Titans 36, up 20-3 in third quarter. They converted, and the drive results in a field goal. Jake Locker is now in the game for Matt Hasselbeck, who apparently suffered an elbow injury on the prior Titans possession.
The Titans' delusion that Chris Johnson is "back" has continued for this game, as Javon Ringer continues to play only as a breather and in situational roles. Anybody else's delusion that CJ is "back" after last week's game should be thoroughly quashed by his statline of 12 rushes and 13 yards in the first 48 minutes of today's game. He's able to be effective when the rest of the team puts him in a situation where he can see green grass to run to and a defender on the edge of his vision that he can avoid. In any other situation, he runs tentatively and looks to go down quickly. He is now a function of the offense around him. The best comparison I can think of is he's like Reggie Bush, only not as good or versatile a receiver.
Well, well, well ... Locker's first possession started with excellent field position after a kickoff return past midfield by Marc Mariani, and he hit Nate Washington on the run for a 40-yard score after Washington made a move to shake two Falcons defenders. The Falcons drove down the field, but Michael Turner fumbled in the red zone and Locker hit Washington for a second touchdown pass to cut the lead to 23-17 with three minutes to go. The funny thing is that Locker right now is almost completely unable to function effectively inside the pocket. He seems to be struggling to read the defense and is definitely throwing very inaccurately. Get him outside the pocket, though, and he's able to make good throws and hit guys in stride.
Mike Smith aggressiveness update: on fourth-and-1 inside the Titans 15, up 23-10, he sends out Matt Ryan and the offense, and the hut-hut succeeds when the Titans jump. Personally, I would've kicked a field goal there to go up 16, and given the ensuing Turner fumble, Smith right now is probably wishing he'd taken the field goal.
Arizona Cardinals 7 at San Francisco 49ers 23
Danny Tuccitto: The 49ers have thoroughly dominated the Cardinals (as expected) so far, but only lead 6-0 with nine minutes left in the first half. Why? David Akers has missed three field goals already, two of which were blocked. Nothing else out of the ordinary going on, except for Brian Billick referring to a 49ers full house backfield formation as an "inverted bone." I thought this was family programming.
Ben Muth: The 49ers just took what appears to be an insurmountable 9-0 lead. John Skelton and company haven't come close to threatening to score.
Danny Tuccitto: Hey, whaddyaknow! Even good coaches like Jim Harbaugh are susceptible to "Oh crap, we didn't convert third-and-short in no man's land. Should we go for it? OK, I need to think about this now. Timeout." That just happened to the 49ers twice in the span of one game minute: after a failed third-and-1 at the Arizona 30-yard line, and again four plays later after a failed third-and-11 at the Arizona 20-yard line.
The six first-half drives went like this: blocked field goal, missed field goal, field goal, field goal, blocked field goal, field goal.
Mike Tanier: That means the Niners have to work a fake in there somewhere.
Vince Verhei: Arizona's first-half offense, presented without further comment: 21 plays, 52 yards, one interception, one lost fumble, five punts, two first downs.
Ben Muth: I'm shocked that the Cards gained 52 yards, watching the game it felt like about 14.
Vince Verhei: Well, the first five drives totaled 11 plays and 20 yards. They got better after that.
Ben Muth: In the Cardinals game, Alex Smith got hit as he was throwing a swing pass, and the ball went about 12 yards backwards. It was somehow ruled an incomplete pass and not a fumble.
I know the same thing happened in the Seahawks-Bengals game a couple of weeks ago, but I don't get how a backwards pass is not a fumble if the quarterback is hit as he's throwing it. Mike Pereira tried to explain it, but it gave me a headache.
Doug Farrar: The interpretation seems to be a weird version of the tuck rule in which the intent to throw forward is altered by defensive pressure, but the intent to throw forward is all that counts.
Mike Tanier: The Smith pass was an obvious incompletion, because he was trying to attempt a forward pass.
Danny Tuccitto: Pereira just had to reference the "Music City Miracle." A "forward pass" depends on the passer's arm direction, not the direction of the ball. On laterals and plays like this one, it's possible to have the arm going forward in relation to the line, but still have the ball go a different direction. I used to see a ton of this refereeing flag football, which requires you to make the forward-backward call like a hundred times per game if the teams are any good.
It's just physics. Smith's arm was going forward, but his body was going backward with a lot more force due to the hit. His body's momentum took the ball backward.
San Diego Chargers 20 at Chicago Bears 31
Aaron Schatz: The San Diego tackles can't stop Julius Peppers or Israel Idonije, but Charles Tillman can't come close to keeping up with Vincent Jackson when Chicago plays man defense (which they've been doing more lately, according to this morning's NFL Matchup).
Tim Gerheim: Ever since the Bears-Vikings game on Sunday night a few weeks ago, I have been very impressed by Jay Cutler whenever I've seen him. I've seen three killer throws in the third quarter, two long ones to Johnny Knox and one short third-down under-pressure improv dumpoff to Roy Williams, which Williams was able to turn into a first down. Both of the long ones were thrown where only Knox could catch them in double coverage, and the one to Williams was one of several get-out-of-jail plays I've seen over the last month where Cutler had no business completing a pass.
Mike Kurtz: When Cutler has time and knows he has time, he can make all the throws. It's when he starts getting real pressure (or thinks he's pressured) that things go completely haywire.
That said, this week Cutler is showing uncharacteristic poise under pressure, so he's having a very good game.
Aaron Schatz: Just so folks know, the interception that Jay Cutler threw up 31-20 that gave San Diego the ball in the red zone was not his fault. Johnny Knox slipped and fell while trying to make his cut inside, so when Cutler threw it, the receiver wasn't there, just a defender.
Mike Kurtz: Philip Rivers just had an awful end to a very nice drive, determined to get into the end zone in one throw from the Bears' 20-yard line, he first throws it away and then throws into a bajillion Bears covering Jackson rather than taking the open man underneath. Major Wright intercepts it, and the Bolts are still down two scores where they could have been down by eight.
Aaron Schatz: Chicago just ran the weirdest-timed fake punt I've ever seen, up 11 with 2:00 left. What?
Then Rivers somehow throws an interception while trying to throw the ball away. The dude is cursed this year.
Tim Gerheim: Norv Turner is such a joke. After a potential Matt Forte fumble with about three minutes left, he calls timeout. Phil Simms, of all people, is on the ball enough to immediately say that he should have just challenged if he wanted the timeout, because it was a close call that would have been big if he'd won the challenge, and if he lost he would have just lost the timeout anyway, and there's almost no chance they'll need that challenge back. During the timeout it becomes reasonably clear that the Chargers wouldn't have won the challenge, but Norv challenges anyway, and of course loses, running the Chargers out of timeouts.
This would prove costly in the two-minute drill. First the Bears punter overthrows a wide open receiver on a fake punt near midfield, then on San Diego's first play, Rivers tosses a lazy, indecisive throwaway that gets intercepted. The Chargers being out of timeouts, the Bears can just kneel out the game. Professional football, ladies and gentlemen.
Philadelphia Eagles 17 at New York Giants 10
Tom Gower: That first pass by Vince Young ... was totally Vince Young. Interesting of the Eagles to look deep the first play like they normally do; I'd have liked to see a replay to check if he missed something deep or if he was right to take the checkdown.
Mike Tanier: VY just threw a nice heaping bomb of an interception. Happy days!
Mike Kurtz: Young's underthrow may have just led to a DeSean Jackson self-concussion. When does the actual football start?
Mike Tanier: That's okay. The 5-foot-3 kid from Air Force will make everything okay.
Tom Gower: Just your friendly reminder that Young ranked fifth in the league in passing DVOA in 2010. Of course, that came throwing a lot of downfield passes to a big receiver in Kenny Britt, as part of a run-heavy gameplan. But that last part is a big secret Andy Reid would never figure out, right?
Mike Tanier: Young also had small sample size and screen passes to (the good) Chris Johnson on his side when he was making DVOA's heart flutter.
Aaron Schatz: It is absolutely ridiculous that the Jackson taunting penalty offset with a defensive penalty and cancelled the play. Ridiculous. The taunting should be a dead-ball foul, after the play. Or they should let the Eagles decline the Giants penalty so they get to keep the gain. The idea that they need to offset and cancel the play, what a ridiculous rule.
Mike Kurtz: The side judge was signaling that the play was over after the "taunting action" started, so I guess Carey decided it was during the play. It's a technicality, but all of these rules are technicalities.
Tim Gerheim: That's not a technicality; that's just wrong. He flipped the ball after he was out of bounds. How does the play not end before that?
If Jackson had a concussion, why is he back in the game taunting and running punts back for almost-touchdowns? Or did he go into the locker room for concussion testing and it came back negative? (I've had the sound off most of the second quarter.)
Mike Tanier: In the old days, a personal foul overruled every other penalty. Then, they forgot that, but the rule is still on the books. So sometimes you get a personal foul offsetting with a false start, sometimes you don't, and it doesn't seem like anyone knows the actual rule.
Punting to DeSean Jackson: a Giants punter's original sin.
Aaron Schatz: The Eagles are getting very good protection against the Giants tonight. Even that last sack Young just took (8:48 in the third quarter) was really a coverage sack.
Mike Tanier: Just enough protection for a Young-to-Riley Cooper bomb that is intercepted by Aaron Ross.
Grunt of general displeasure.
I take it this is now a lonely existential vigil for me. Watching this game, contemplating emptiness, the team I devoted my life to and the team I spent a summer covering, locked in a mutual death grip of idiocy, spiraling, spiraling toward oblivion.
Tom Gower: I'm still here. I just have nothing I consider interesting to say about the game.
Aaron Schatz: Ditto to what Tom said.
Mike Kurtz: I'm still busy hating myself for watching this instead of playing Zelda.
Mike Tanier: A referee just came into my office and set a football down. That was one hell of a generous spot for Young's fourth quarter sneak.
Aaron Schatz: Something about Victor Cruz just gives the Eagles brain cramps. Missed tackles, missed coverages, missed salsa dancing...
Mike Tanier: The best was just before Jason Babin forced the fumble: it was third-and-3, the Giants were in hurry up, and the Eagles decided to make wholesale personnel changes AND blitz Joselio Hanson off the slot. So Cruz got covered by ... no one. But I guess the uncoordinator did okay, walking away with 10 points and a win.
And this win had that ersatz Dream Team feel, with Young starting, Steve Smith catching a touchdown, and Babin making the final big play. Kind of a comic echo of what Eagles fans hoped we would see.
Aaron Schatz: The biggest surprise was probably the run defense holding the Giants to just 29 rushing yards on 17 carries.
Mike Tanier: Yes. Part of that is Jacobs, but part of it is the D line figuring out this system finally. There was one third-and-short where the Eagles were still lined up with just four men on the line of scimmage and some wide interior gaps. It was not a strict wide-9, because Babin was pinched, but it was still not a traditional short yardage formation. Everyone collapsed inside and stuffed the play, which means this whole scheme is not a mystery to the players like it was in the first four weeks.