Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Audibles at the Line: Week 14
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

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, December 8th

Cleveland Browns 3 at Pittsburgh Steelers 14

Rivers McCown: Browns! Steelers! Matchups that looked better in Football Outsiders Almanac 2011!

Danny Tuccitto: Since I've been chuckling at it the whole week, let me start things off by pointing out the melodramatic NFL Network commercials playing up this helluva-barnburner(-not!) up as a "storied divisional rivalry!" Yeah. Maybe 25 years ago.

Rivers McCown: Ben Roethlisberger goes down and it did not look good. I actually thought, at first, that he'd wind up with an ankle fracture. He was rather lucky here.

Tom Gower: Only a 7-3 game at half and into the third quarter. But for those two Steelers red zone fumbles both recovered by the Browns, this would be the game I think we all expected -- but those exist, and it's not. The big news is of course the state of Roethlisberger, who I think is probably having the best year of his career. If the Steelers go up two scores, this game has an excellent chance at being over because I don't think Colt McCoy can come back from that kind of deficit in less than 25 minutes of play.

Sunday, December 11th

New England Patriots 34 at Washington Redskins 27

Mike Kurtz: Rex Grossman Grossmans it up in his own end zone on third-and-long, shows absolutely no hurry, is strip-sacked, and Vince Wilfork lands on it. Washington's defense has to be ready to murder someone.

Rob Gronkowski just got his 14th receiving touchdown, one play after a 49-yard bomb where he made a sick diving catch, got up, and basically just ran down the sideline whilst ignoring puny Redskins defenders as they failed miserably at pushing him out of bounds.

Aaron Schatz: That Gronkowski play is incredible. I'm sure it will be in all the highlights this week. Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes are hanging off him as he's on the sideline, trying to bring him down, and somehow he shakes them while keeping his feet in bounds, then a few yards later he breaks another tackle from Josh Wilson. Phenomenal.

The Redskins offensive line is dismal today. Sean Locklear is playing left tackle, and Tyler Polumbus is at right tackle. The Redskins can pick on the Patriots defense when the line actually holds -- Donte' Stallworth had a great long catch where he beat Devin McCourty -- but the Patriots pass rush is going to have a good day. Interestingly, the Patriots are playing more 3-4 than 4-3 in the first quarter, with Andre Carter at defensive end and Mark Anderson, generally a pass-rush specialist, at outside linebacker. You don't see Anderson dropping into coverage much, but I've seen it today.

Vince Verhei: Locklear and Polumbus? If they add Walter Jones, Robbie Tobeck, and Chris Gray they can complete the Washed-Up Seahawks Lineman set!

Since nobody's specifically mentioned this, Gronkowski's touchdown set a single-season record for tight ends, with three-and-a-half games to go.

Home Email (aka J.J. Cooper): Before he had all kind of injuries, I thought Locklear was OK. No such defense can be given for Tyler Polumbus.

Aaron Schatz: Well, the Redskins figured out how to deal with their offensive line problems. Instead of leaving the quarterback in the pocket, just run a reverse and have the receiver pass the ball to another receiver who is completely open way down the field. Touchdown. Washington takes a 17-14 lead.

The Patriots offense is definitely off in the second quarter. Tom Brady's missed on a couple passes, and he doesn't seem to be on the same page as his receivers on option routes. In addition, the Redskins defense isn't just a good pass rush -- they are getting good coverage.

Vince Verhei: Redskins just got flagged on a completely B.S. unnecessary roughness call. Brady scrambles and sort of begins to slide. London Fletcher comes up to tackle him and makes contact well before Brady's knee or hips hit the ground. It was shoulder-to-shoulder, and Brady was clearly still up. According to Dan Dierdorff, the refs said there was a forearm to the head, but Fletcher's forearm hit the ball, which was at waist level, nowhere near Brady's head.

Aaron Schatz: I was going to bring that up, yeah, that's a terrible call. It didn't hurt the Redskins too much though, since they held the Pats to a field goal. I also wanted to mention the call on Carter for roughing the passer early in the quarter, when he hit Grossman below the knees about half a second after he throws the ball. This one is less of a questionable call, and more of a "this rule is impossible for players to follow" issue ... but I want to make sure I have this correct. If a defender dives at the quarterback's legs and takes him down with the ball in his hands, that's a sack. If he dives at the quarterback's legs and the quarterback throws the ball away after the defensive player has left his feet, that's roughing the passer. It seems awfully hard as a defender to stop yourself whilst diving in mid-air. This wasn't a play where Carter lunged at Grossman with an extra move after he had clearly gotten rid of the ball; Carter is going for a sack and he has no way to stop himself.

Vince Verhei: Gronkowski's second touchdown was his best play yet. He was actually being held by Ryan Kerrigan when Brady threw him the ball. Gronkowski caught the ball while being held, then fought off the tackle and rambled another 20-some yards into the end zone.

Rivers McCown: Gronkowski, I dub thee ROBO-TE.

Aaron Schatz: OK, I think Wilfork just got called for unnecessary roughness
for hitting a guy too hard, the same thing that happened with Ndamukong Suh and Jay Cutler last year. The Redskins' fullback slipped catching a screen, but no Patriots defender had touched him yet, so he's still alive. Wilfork came over, fell on him, and shoved him with his forearm. No helmet-to-helmet contact, no contact on a receiver who was already down, but unnecessary roughness anyway. I'm frustrated.

Mike Kurtz: Real-time, with the angle the line judge had on that play, he almost certainly thought that there was helmet-to-helmet contact.

Vince Verhei: I thought the Wilfork foul was the right call. Even if the runner was trying to get up (and it's not clear that he was), it was not necessary for the 400-pound man to drive his forearm into the runner's back. That was not an attempt to tackle a runner or touch him down. That was a deliberate attempt to hurt him.

Aaron Schatz: Aaron Hernandez really specializes in plays where he catches the ball, then spins away from the defender for extra yards after the catch.

The Pats might want to consider playing man coverage, you know, occasionally. Redskins receivers are just sitting there in the holes in the zone, pitch and catch.

Mike Kurtz: Rex Grossman is awful. Goal-to-go around the 15, and he throws a 5-yarder. Goal-to-go around the 10, throws another 5-yarder, except this one goes through Santana Moss's hands and is intercepted by the Patriots. The interception isn't Grossman's fault, technically, but nothing says "winner" like two passes not into the end zone when you need a touchdown to tie/win.

Mike Tanier: Eh ... I made a career out of Grossman jokes, but I can't lay that at his feet. Cross to Moss, see if he can slice into the end zone, when you have time for another play, not a bad idea.

Aaron Schatz: This was challenged, and the ruling was confirmed. Twice in this game, there were challenges on Patriots plays and the play on the field stood -- and I swear there was a huge cheer from the crowd after the call went in favor of the Patriots. Were there that many Patriots fans at this game today? I wouldn't think of Washington as a team that had lots of seats open for visiting fans to buy.

(P.S. I made this comment on Twitter and got a lot of response; apparently, Redskins fans were unloading their tickets and there was a huge Pats fans contingent at FedEx today. I guess the Redskins *are* that kind of team.)

Philadelphia Eagles 26 at Miami Dolphins 10

Mike Kurtz: Brandon Marshall catches a touchdown over Nnamdi Asomugha, and Philadelphia's epic squandering of his unique talent continues. Playing in a man scheme is just like playing in a zone scheme, right?

Vince Verhei: I'm confused by this comment. Are you slamming the Eagles coaching staff for still playing zone, or slamming Nnamdi for playing man defense poorly?

Mike Kurtz: Eagles staff. Always Eagles staff.

Tom Gower: Yeah, that touchdown looked like man coverage. It was a nice throw by Matt Moore, and Marshall just outjumped him. That the Eagles paired a great zone corner and a great man corner was not the cause of this particular touchdown.

Mike Kurtz: Fair enough.

Ben Muth: The Eagles just went split backs on first-and-goal from the 1. That is as insane to me as playing Nnamdi in zone for a whole year.

Aaron Schatz: Anybody want to hazard a guess why Philadelphia decided to tease everybody again today?

Mike Tanier: So far it is the Dolphins inability to cover or block anyone one-on-one. Oh, and having Michael Vick back helps

The Eagles have been great on short yardage stops. Or maybe the Dolphins have been terrible. I did find J.P. Losman's attempt to tunnel under the stadium for a first down interesting.

Houston Texans 20 at Cincinnati Bengals 19

Rivers McCown: T.J. Yates has overthrown every non-screen pass he's released so far today, yet the Texans and Bengals are tied 3-3 thanks to a goal-line stand and a 44-yard Ben Tate run.

The Bengals are getting good push in the run game, especially up the middle, but that may change now that Bobbie Williams has limped off. Shaun Cody has been getting blown off the ball -- this has really been the first time that the Texans run defense has been a negative since Week 3.

Oh, and Tate fumbled on goal-to-go. That hurt.

Rob's boy Jerome Simpson just caught a nice post from Andy Dalton, under pressure, to put the Bengals up 13-3.

The Bengals drive from inside their own 5 all the way to a field goal almost solely due to A.J. Green. He drew a ~25-yard defensive pass interference on Johnathan Joseph, then beat double coverage on an underthrown deep ball by Dalton to get them in the red zone. He's been extremely impressive.

Yates just ran play-action on a pass without a running back behind him.

Mike Tanier: Dunno if I go for it on fourth-and-2 in long field goal range, down by nine, early in the fourth, with my rookie third-stinger at quarterback.

Rivers McCown: Neil Rackers already missed a 47-yarder, and didn't look like he had a lot of distance on his made figgie. I don't like it either, but I think it looks better if you decide your only other option is punting.

Arian Foster fumbles on a screen pass, but the Bengals kick it around after picking it up once and eventually Eric Winston falls on the ball at his own 2-yard line, which due to the momentary change of possession, gave the Texans a first down. Gary Kubiak challenges it -- it did look like an incomplete pass -- but the refs upheld the ruling. Would you rather have the extra down or the 20 yards of field position in that case?

Aaron Schatz: I think I would rather have the 20 yards because it gets me out of the shadow of my own end zone. The value of every successive yard is higher on both ends of the field, I wouldn't want to have to worry about a safety.

Just saw a replay of the final Houston-Cincinnati play. It looks like a blown coverage of some sort. Kevin Walter is over on the far right, Kelly Jennings has him. After the snap it looks like man across the board, except when Walter slants inside, Jennings just points towards him and drops back a bit. Did Jennings think someone would pick Walter up inside, either in a zone or some sort of switch? Nobody did, and that's how Houston got the touchdown.

Robert Weintraub: It wasn't a blown coverage, it was a clever pick play --Jennings passed off as they were playing zone along the goal line, but the two inside receivers crossed and picked off Nate Clements, who went down in the muck. Walter, coming from the outside, was thus alone.

The bigger problem was rushing three on the biggest play of the game against a rookie third-stringer who struggled under pressure all game. Yates had escaped what should have been a sack a few plays earlier to get a Tebow-esque first down on third-and-15, so perhaps Zimmer was gunshy.

Danny Tuccitto: My dream of not having to follow through with that tiger suit bet lives to see another week!

Robert Weintraub: Nothing for me to say about the Bengals, other than it is comforting to know that after 11 weeks of un-Bengals bizarro world football, Cincy gets crushed in Pittsburgh and loses a heartbreaker in a game they absolutely need. In other words, business as usual.

Part of me is relieved -- I'd hate for Cincy to play the Broncos in the playoffs and get Tebowed.

Tim Gerheim: As a Texans fan, I'm still in shock, even borderline skeptical, that they won the division. Like I'm going to wake up in a few hours and it'll be Sunday morning. When I saw Houston was third in DVOA a few weeks ago, I got vertigo. When they hit first place, I felt a confusing combination of pride and dread, because that cannot reflect reality. I doubt that fans of most teams, the kind of team that goes to the playoffs sometimes and may have been to a Super Bowl, can understand how this feels.

By the end of the game I was watching at the bar with a Jets fan whose game had been switched off by the local affiliate; he came over to root against Cincinnati, for wild card reasons. (Aside: how lame is it that if you have Sunday Ticket, if the local station switches away from a blowout, that blowout is still blacked out on its Ticket channel?) When the Texans got first down at the 6 after the pass interference with 12 seconds left, he started talking about how they had time for three plays, and concluded that they were going to win.

But I'm a Texans fan, so all I could think was that I'd seen this movie before. Matt Schaub threw an interception in the same situation in the Raiders game this year. He threw the pick-six to the Ravens in overtime last season. The Texans don't win these games. They don't make the playoffs. That doesn't reflect a bag-over-the-head feeling that they're not a good team -- they've been a good team for going on three years now. They're not cursed; they're not afflicted by Murphy's Law; they
don't have bad luck; they just experience an ineffable lack of success.

Now, the Texans won their division and are (for now, rather meaninglessly) the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and it's forcing a complete paradigm shift. And I love it.

Rivers McCown: Improbable really isn't a strong enough word for what being a Texans fan is like right now. Andre Johnson has been out for most of the season, Schaub is gone, Schaub's backup is gone, Mario Williams is gone, Foster has missed time -- and yet, they just keep chugging along. This is a team that, even up until last season, would routinely blame their problems on injuries -- as if every team in the NFL didn't have to deal with the same thing -- and now they're weathering the worst storm they've ever had with a third-string quarterback and a defense that consists of Joseph, Danieal Manning (who has also missed time), two rookies, and seven guys that played on one of the worst defenses in NFL history last season.

I know they have played a weak schedule, I know I have my doubts about Yates versus a Steelers or Ravens-level (or heck, even a Jets or Broncos-level) pass defense. But man, this has been a completely pleasant surprise from the team that, up until this year, I could always count on to ruin my Sunday in some completely inconceivable way.

Danny Tuccitto: Rivers, that was spoken like a true 49ers fan. Well, most of it anyway. San Francisco hasn't had the injury issues, but it is definitely nice to be pleasantly surprised for once after almost a decade of inconceivably ruined Sundays. Easy schedule and offensive concerns going forward, be damned!

New Orleans Saints 22 at Tennessee Titans 17

Tom Gower: Confounding my predictions, it's only a 3-0 game in the first quarter thanks to a Darren Sproles third-down drop in the red zone and a pair of holding penalties on the Saints, one negating a punt return touchdown by Sproles and the other putting them in second-and-long and forcing a punt at midfield. Jimmy Graham is obviously hobbled by what's reportedly back spasms.

Ben Muth: This Saints-Titans game has been ugly to start the second quarter. There's already been two false starts, a roughing the passer, a block in the back, and a hold (this one was questionable). Now Matt Hasselbeck is hurt, and Jake Locker is in on second-and-35.

Tom Gower: The game in Nashville has officially descended into a flagfest, The current Saints drive has featured flags on three straight plays, although the latest was picked up. The big storyline though is that Hasselbeck is out of the game with what's reportedly a left calf injury, sustained without contact. Locker had a nice pass to Craig Stevens that set up a field goal to make it a 3-3 game; I'll reserve further comment on his play until later in the game.

Lance Moore drops a touchdown pass, and the Saints go into the half with a 6-3 lead. Drew Brees is 19-of-27 for 149 yards, as most of the efforts to throw downfield have not been successful and nobody bothered to tell the Saints the Titans' corners are pretty good at tackling. Chris Johnson has been much less productive than I anticipated, with five yards on five carries in the first half.

On third-and-goal, the Saints do what they should've been doing all along: spreading the Titans out and isolating them one-on-one. Brees hits Graham, but unfortunately, Graham doesn't catch the ball cleanly at first and his foot just barely nicks the edge of the out of bounds area, so Sean Payton loses his challenge. 9-3 Saints, rather than 13-3.

I keep forgetting other teams' defensive backs can't tackle. Apparently Gregg Williams did as well. Locker gets the throw out before the New Orleans blitz gets home, and Patrick Robinson whiffed on Damian Williams, allowing him to pick up 54 yards and set up a Locker dive into the end zone. The Saints are driving at the dawn of the fourth quarter, but the Titans lead the game, 10-9.

Brees has something like one incompletion in the second half on 18 passes, that being the Graham touchdown that nearly was. The Saints' last four possessions have ended in scores, the most recent two on downfield scores to Marques Colston. Payton eschewed the two-point conversion at 15-10, but went for it at 22-10 and failed. Somehow, the Titans score in three plays, including a Locker scramble and a long touchdown pass that hits Nate Washington over the coverage on a vertical seam pass. 22-17, six minutes to play, and this game has been a heck of a lot more entertaining than I was anticipating.

Ben Muth: On a big third-and-5 Karl Klug stunts inside and sacks Brees, to get the ball back to Locker down one score. The sack occurred because Carl Nicks didn't know which way the center was going. It was clear he thought Brian de la Puente was sliding with him, so he let the lineman go, but de la Puente was working right, so it was an easy sack. He must have misheard the call.

Vince Verhei: Saints let the Titans drive down the field partially due to bad tackling, and partially due to rampant zone coverage that Tennessee exploited. Titans have a goal-to-go, needing a touchdown to win, but on third down Locker is pressured, scrambled, can't find a man, and takes a sack. Game over.

Locker hit a few big passes, but he looks like the same passer he was in college. If his primary receiver is covered, the play is dead. If the primary receiver is open, he'll probably overthrow him anyway. And if he does have a chance to make one play to win the game at the end, he'll come up short.

Tom Gower: I'll take a detailed look at Locker's play later this week, but I'm on board with Vince's little writeup. If his first read is available, he'll take that and may miss him, otherwise he'll look to escape the pocket.

Ben Muth: I thought Johnson looked awful. He was back to just diving or lunging forward for two yards if there weren't huge holes right away. Then, in what turned out to be a huge play in the fourth quarter, he caught a swing pass with a ton of open space and just one man to beat. Not only did he not make the guy miss, but he got stuffed a half-yard short of the first down. A first down Tennessee couldn't convert on third or fourth down.

As far as Locker goes, he's definitely fun to watch. He moves well and throws a pretty ball (not really accurate, but it looks good in the air). That being said, it seems like he'd be impossible to pass block for because he looks to abandon the pocket almost immediately on every play where his first read isn't open.

Atlanta Falcons 31 at Carolina Panthers 23

Home Email (aka J.J. Cooper): It has been a rough year for Sam Baker. He has deservedly lost his spot as the starting left tackle for the Falcons, and for at least one play, his new role as a right guard isn't going any better. Baker was beaten badly to the inside for a safety. Matt Ryan held the ball for 2.9 seconds, but it is pretty easy to point the finger at Baker on this one.

Vince Verhei: I hope J.J.'s comment on Ryan's sack is attributed to "Home E-mail" in Audibles tomorrow.

Rivers McCown: Consider it done. Home Email is my favorite FO poster.

Home Email (aka J.J. Cooper): Argh. Sending from my new Nook Tablet. Is it botching my email address?

Vince Verhei: On the Google groups webpage, where most names go, it just reads "Home Email." Don't feel bad. Mine just said "Vince" for years until I figured out how to fix it. Tanier got some new gadget last year and became "Mike Taniet" for a while.

Mike Kurtz: Yeah, the new Nooks are great, but the email program is kind of a disaster.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14 at Jacksonville Jaguars 41

Brian McIntyre: With two lost fumbles in the first half today, Buccaneers punt returner Preston Parker has cemented this week's David Reed Special Teams Goat of the Week Award.

Tom Gower: The Jacksonville Jaguars have scored 28 points in the first half of today's game against the Bucs. That 28 points is not only more than the Jaguars scored in any of their 24 previous halves of play this season, but it also represents the most points they've scored in a single game. And all of the points came in the final eight minutes of the second quarter. This game does not make sense sometimes.

Vince Verhei: Taking Tom's point on the Jaguars further: The Jags scored 21 points in less than two minutes late in the second quarter. That is also more points than they had scored in a single game this year.

Aaron Schatz: Two defensive touchdowns for the Jaguars, right?

Tom Gower: One special teams, after the Bucs fumbled a punt, and one defensive, off a sack and fumble. The two offensive touchdowns would have been remarkable enough in their own right, though.

Indianapolis Colts 10 at Baltimore Ravens 24

Home Email (aka J.J. Cooper): The announcers brought up that the Colts are trying to avoid their first 0-13 start since 1995. It is safe to say if your team has had a previous 0-13 streak to compare to your current one, your franchise has had some pretty dark moments. I wonder how many franchises have ever had an 0-13 start to the season?

Kansas City Chiefs 10 at New York Jets 37

Mike Tanier: The Jets just marched down the field on a roughing the passer penalty and two defensive pass interference calls. The Chiefs are probably going to have negative net yards today.

Minnesota Vikings 28 at Detroit Lions 34

Vince Verhei: Christian Ponder is benched after three interceptions and a pair of fumbles. Joe Webb comes in and scrambles right. All the receivers run to the left, and since Detroit's man-to-man defenders had followed them, Webb had an easy 65-yard touchdown run. Have we ever looked at quarterback rushing yards allowed as a measure of whether teams favor man or zone coverage? We'd have to adjust for opponent to account for the Michael Vicks and Tim Tebows of the world, but I think it could be a solid indicator of defensive scheme.

San Francisco 49ers 19 at Arizona Cardinals 21

Vince Verhei: Early candidate for balls of the week award: On their opening drive, San Francisco goes for it on fourth-and-5 from the Arizona 38. Alex Smith scrambles, starts to run, collects himself, and dumps it off to Kendall Hunter for the first down. I'd have expected a defense-first team like San Francisco to punt there.

Danny Tuccitto: It's amazing how, every week, the 49ers put out the same product: plodding-yet-imaginative offense, field goals in the red zone, stellar defense against an offense that can't get out of its own way, and a great special teams play or two. Oh, and of course, all of this results in a 6-0 game at some point in the second quarter. If I have some family obligation from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday from here out, feel free to recycle this audible.

Vince Verhei: More balls: San Francisco is, as usual, ahead 6-0. They're about to kick another field goal, but it's a fake! For a touchdown! By Jonathan Goodwin! Only the play is blown dead, because Arizona is apparently challenging the spot of the ball on the third-down play. Too bad. David Akers misses the ensuing 50-yard field-goal attempt.

One snap later, Early Doucet lines up in the slot, runs a slant, breaks one tackle, and gets some big blocks downfield for a 60-yard touchdown.

Danny Tuccitto: Basically, this game just went from 13-0 San Francisco to 7-6 Arizona because the referee didn't realize the ball had already been snapped before Arizona's challenge. Seriously, listen to the audio of the replay. Why do officials force me to rip them?

Mike Tanier: From what I've seen of this game, the Cardinals took copious notes of what the Ravens pass rush was doing on Thanksgiving night.

Danny Tuccitto: Now the refs pick up a flag for leverage against Arizona on the 49ers latest possibly nullified (non-fake) field goal attempt. FOX replay seemed to show leverage (at least from my biased perspective). It's incredibly difficult to analyze the game play when my brain is awash with officiating disbelief.

At the end of the first half in Arizona, the only mystery left seems to be, "Which field goal record is San Francisco trying to break today?" If, at 12-7, they keep up this pace, Akers has a shot to tie Rob Bironas' record of eight made field goals in a game, as well as former Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers' record of 40 in a season. (He's currently at 36 with the four makes so far.)

True to form, the 49ers start the second half by reminding weary fans that they can, in fact, score touchdowns. On the first play of their first drive, they use jet sweep action from Ted Ginn to send Arizona's linebackers bailing to the outside. That leaves Goodwin and Mike Iupati free to open an HOV lane inside for Frank Gore, who runs it 37 yards to paydirt with an assist from a Michael Crabtree downfield block.

Ben Muth: Larry Fitzgerald makes a nice catch on a poorly-thrown post route and takes it for a long score. The Cardinals are getting dominated, but thanks to two big plays, they only down five.

Danny Tuccitto: With all the deceptive tactics that he loves to employ, this game has to be killing Jim Harbaugh, because the offense has now tipped its hand twice without the play even counting.

First, there was that fake field goal nullified by an in-play Whisenhunt challenge. Then, they just tried to run the actual jet sweep to Ginn that was feigned on Gore's touchdown run. However, Goodwin didn't snap the ball, and Smith decided to blow a timeout rather than just do some kind of aborted play QB sneak. What sucks about those, obviously, is that it's not like he can go to the well again once the element of surprise is lost.

Tom Gower: A Fitzgerald catch and run brings the Cardinals to the red zone, and a John Skelton pass to Andre Roberts gives the Cardinals a touchdown and a 20-19 lead, after which Ken Whisenhunt naturally elects to kick the extra point.

Danny Tuccitto: The silver lining I'm taking away from this incredibly uninspired performance by the 49ers is that the defense really hasn't regressed much, if at all, without Patrick Willis today. The Cardinals have basically gotten all of their offense (and points) from a handful of big plays. That's the fault of the back end, especially given how much pressure San Francisco's getting with their four-man rush. The run defense, as per usual, has been stout.

I would love to know why, on the 49ers' fourth-down play with two minutes left, Vernon Davis, who was kept in to block (for some reason) proceeds to both block no one. He then amplifies this by standing around 20 yards deep in the backfield, seemingly uninterested in helping a running-for-his-life Smith in any way. He could have leaked out. He could have blocked someone when he had a second (and third) chance to do so. Instead, he did neither.

Tom Gower: I don't know what does a better job of reducing me to incomprehensibility: the 49ers' final possession of today's game or the last couple minutes of regulation and the three-and-a-half minutes (and counting) of overtime in Denver-Chicago.

Ben Muth: How many more games does John Skelton have to win before he gets the "just win games" treatment? Two? Three?

Chicago Bears 10 at Denver Broncos 13

Mike Kurtz: Charles Tillman just intercepted Tim Tebow, and it was one of the most beautiful catches I've ever seen. The receiver fell down, but the throw was high, so Tillman fully extended, snatched it out of the air, pivoted on one foot, went rigid, and tagged the second foot as he fell down. I'm not sure he even touched the receiver. Just gorgeous.

Ben Muth: Lance Briggs just got called for roughing the passer on a play where he didn't hit Tebow hard enough to knock him down.

Aaron Schatz: Remember my complaint earlier about Andre Carter? Same thing just happened to Israel Idonije.

Mike Tanier, I think, wrote last week about how the Denver offense looked like more of a standard passing offense last week, and I think the same thing is true this week. There's a lot of Tebow in the pocket, looking for receivers like a standard quarterback. The difference is that the Chicago Bears defense isn't blowing coverages right and left the way the Vikings did last week, so Tebow doesn't have open guys most of the time.

Mike Tanier: I also wrote that every Niners game begins with three field goal attempts! And check how I presaged that safety in the Eagles game! I'm Nostrafreakindamus! The world will end on March 23, 2017!

Mike Kurtz: Tebow's statline actually looks far worse than it should ... his receivers are dropping everything.

Vince Verhei: Denver comes out with a pistol formation in the second half. They run play action and Demaryius Thomas runs a post pattern, blowing by Tillman for what should be a long touchdown. Tebow's pass is thrown too far ahead and Thomas can't bring it in. This is a "Tebow Special" incompletion, where it was just barely possible for Thomas to make a superhuman catch, but he couldn't quite pull it off.

Ben Muth: The Broncos punt to Devin Hester, who makes like three guys miss right on the sideline, reverses his field, and takes it inside the 50. The Bears end up punching it in on a Marion Barber run, ruining my dream of a 0-0 tie.

Vince Verhei: Robbie Gould takes advantage of the Denver atmosphere, drilling a 57-yarder with plenty of leg to spare. 10-0 Chicago.

You know who should be the MVP of the Denver-Chicago game, even if the Broncos lose? Britton Colquitt. He's punted eight times for a 45-yard average, and he's only allowed Hester to try two returns. Obviously, kicking in Denver helps, but he's done a fine job of gaining field position while neutralizing Chicago's most dangerous weapon.

Aaron Schatz: Tebow had 11 straight incomplete passes. He's now 10-for-12 since then, primarily in the fourth quarter, and one of those incompletes was a really awful drop by Demaryius Thomas. Ridiculous. Oh, and he just found Thomas wide open in the end zone for a touchdown with 2:08 left to make it 10-7 Chicago.

Vince Verhei: Denver gets the ball down 10 with four minutes to go. They go prevent, and Tebow dinks and dunks down the field, completing six passes in a row to put Denver into the end zone just before the two-minute warning. Most of the completions were for 10 yards or less.

Chicago recovers the onside kick (barely). They run three plays and punt, but they don't kill much clock because the two-minute warning was up after first down, and Marion Barber stupidly ran out of bounds on second down. The Denver Tebows have the ball at their own 19, no timeouts, down three, 56 seconds to go.

And of course, the Bears play the softest zone ever until Denver crosses midfield. It was like they were up 30, not three. Once the Bears decided to play real defense, the drive promptly stalled. They showed Matt Prater drilling 70-yard kicks in practice, so the 59-yarder here is academic, and we're going to overtime.

Aaron Schatz: Those 70-yard field goals they show before the game are meaningless. Every field goal kicker kicks long field goals in practice before the game. There's nobody out there trying to block it, no need to worry about the angles, and no pressure. It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't tell us anything about Prater's ability to hit a 59-yarder. You know what does tell us about Prater's ability to hit a 59-yarder? A map that shows that this game is taking place in Denver.

The Tebow thing is amazing, because it's amazing what kind of crazy mistakes by opponents have helped all these wins. Ponder's pick, Barber going out of bounds, just crazy stuff.

Mike Kurtz: I'm not sure any player has ever chopped as much wood as Marion Barber did in the past 5 minutes of gametime.

Vince Verhei: The Broncos are lining up for a 51-yard field goal. Everyone in the bar is crowded under the TV asking "Can he do it again?" "He?" Is Tebow kicking now?

Mike Kurtz: Another week of avoiding football media, I guess.

Mike Tanier: Bad news, son. You ARE football media.

Mike Kurtz: Mind = blown.

I AM THE MONSTERS.

Oakland Raiders 16 at Green Bay Packers 46

Ben Muth: Green Bay gets touchdowns from Ryan Grant and Ryan Taylor. That makes 18 different Packers who have scored this year. That's the most in the NFL this year, and has got to be at least approaching the record right?

Rivers McCown: If this game doesn't fix the Packers DVOA, nothing will.

Tom Gower: Apparently, 31-0 is the largest deficit the Raiders have faced at halftime in franchise history, with the previous record being 30-0 to the Chargers ... back in 1961, when Al Davis was an assistant for the Chargers.

When the defensive line isn't making a difference, Oakland has a lot of trouble winning.

Mike Tanier: The Raiders aren't going to do much against a team whose greatest weakness is its secondary with Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford hurt. The guys we made fun of them for drafting are Carson Palmer's only targets.

Vince Verhei: Latest sign that it's just not Oakland's day: Randall Cobb opens the second half with a long kickoff return. Oakland wants to challenge the call, saying Cobb stepped out of bounds before he was tackled, but the replay system isn't working and there's nothing the refs can do.

Meanwhile, we at home are watching the play repeatedly, from different angles, in slow motion...

Buffalo Bills 10 at San Diego Chargers 37

Tom Gower: Ryan Mathews is gashing the Bills on the ground early, mostly outside, but also on a big cutback run up the middle. Antonio Gates is reminding everyone that he's still a productive pass-catcher. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been picked and missed David Nelson, I believe, downfield on third down. At least the Bills blocked an extra point, so it's only 16-0.

I miss Aggressive Chan Gailey. Trailing 16-0 with less than four minutes to play in the second quarter, on fourth-and-ten from the Chargers 35, Gailey elects to attempt the field goal rather than, say, go for it. The field goal misses, and the Chargers are across midfield in one play.

Seriously? Seriously? Seriously? The Bills cut the deficit to 16-3 on the opening drive of the second half, and then Philip Rivers drops back to pass on third-and-seven. There's a screen set up to Mike Tolbert, but as Rivers brings his arm back the ball slips out, and Bryan Scott recovers in the end zone for a touchdown. It will be among the most NORV things ever if San Diego loses this game.

New York Giants 37 at Dallas Cowboys 34

Tom Gower: Let's give Ahmad Bradshaw some knucklehead props for getting benched by apparently missing curfew. And more bonehead props for Tony Romo for that safety. And to Kevin Gilbride for throwing two fades after that big pass play.

Mike Tanier: The fade to Travis Beckum was particularly inspired

Tom Gower: On the John Phillips screen, really nice awareness and mobility by Doug Free to stay legal, then get downfield and take out the defender.

Aaron Schatz: Felix Jones is reminding us why we all thought he was pretty good before he struggled early this year and DeMarco Murray swept in to make everybody forget him.

Vince Verhei: Tony Fiammetta is also playing well tonight, putting Giants defenders wherever he wants them. This is not unusual.

On the radio, James Lofton also knocked the Cowboys for calling the fade pass after the big play. Add that to the "things to study some day" list -- how do offenses fare after big plays that are not touchdowns?

Danny Tuccitto: "Faring poorly after big plays that are not touchdowns" is basically the story of the Niners red zone offense this year. They get a ton of turnovers in opponents' territory that they return to the 10-or-so-yard line, and the offense settles for field goals. Happened today again actually. Also featured today: they get a Ginn punt return to the 4-yard line (no clue how he didn't score), and offense settles for a field goal. Of course, in the specific case of the 49ers, it would be nice if they actually threw the ball into the end zone when they get to the red zone. Today, it was borderline comical how practically every red zone pass was intended for a receiver that wasn't going to score even if completed. But I digress...

Vince Verhei: Lofton was referring to big offensive plays only though, the theory being that offenses are out of breath after big plays, particularly the linemen who have to move their fat bodies (Mr. Muth excluded, obviously) down the field and get set.

Aaron Schatz: I definitely feel like we're seeing a lot of good run blocking tonight, this has been a good back-and-forth game.

On the other hand, David Diehl is not having a good night pass-blocking.

Rivers McCown: Well, there's a reason the Giants moved him inside, methinks.

Mike Tanier: Jason Garrett just called a timeout early in the third quarter. Maybe he should call all three now, just in case.

Vince Verhei: On third-and-3 in the third, Laurent Robinson is open in a hole in the zone, but Tony Romo throws slightly ahead of him. That's the first incompletion to Robinson tonight -- he caught each of the first three passes thrown his way for 63 yards and a touchdown. I just wanted to point out that in the Week 10 edition of Quick Reads, I predicted Robinson would have a big game tonight. Got that one right, at least.

Tom Gower: DeMarco Murray reportedly has a right ankle fracture and high ankle sprain. Do you trust Felix and whatever else you have behind you enough the rest of the year, and shouldn't you have more than two running backs active when both of them have an injury history and one of them has missed time this year?

Mike Tanier: Is Julius Jones available? Ladell Betts? Maybe Sean Payton can send the Cowboys the numbers of all the running backs he had to pull off the scrap heap last year.

Danny Tuccitto: I'm starting to get the feeling that Dez Bryant is going to end up with one of those Jacoby-Jones-esque DYARs this week, and it's entirely because Romo can't seem to hit the farm tonight, let alone the broadside of its barn.

OK, correction: Romo can hit barns named "Laurent Robinson" and "Miles Austin," misses farm named "Dez Bryant."

Aaron Schatz: Ha! You'll have to take that back, because Romo found Bryant WIDE OPEN for a 50-yard touchdown. And I mean, wide wide wide open. What a blown coverage.

Eli Manning, meanwhile, has made some ridiculous throws in this game with guys in his face. He just chucked it 25 yards to Victor Cruz while falling backwards with a guy in his face.

Danny Tuccitto: Progression to Romo's Bryant-accuracy mean was inevitable at some point. Also, I'm wondering what the game-charting record for "blown coverage" touchdowns is between the two teams combined.

To make a self-serving philosophical point, some of the blown coverages in this game are perfect examples of why having the All-22 film for every play would be nice. I know one of the blown Cowboys coverages was because they were simply caught off-guard after a hasty substitution. However, what about some of the others Specifically, were the offenses setting them up earlier in the game? That kind of chess-game stuff is totally inaccessible without the All-22 film, and I personally think a lot of the unexplained variance in play-by-play football analysis is contained in that black box.

p.s. By "black box," I specifically meant the play-by-play strategy-related stuff, not having the All-22 film in general. To say the latter is kind of "duh." Having the film's one thing, but being able to use that film to decipher specific tactics and strategies is quite another.

p.p.s. I think I just used up the last of my lifetime quota for the word "stuff."

Aaron Schatz: Kevin Boothe is not a very good center. His bad snaps keep being saved either by Eli or by Dallas penalties.

Danny Tuccitto: Prediction: Depending on the outcome of the last minute of this game, the comments section of Audibles tomorrow will contain a discussion of either (a) the Cowboys should have let the Giants score, or (b) the Giants left too much time.

Robert Weintraub: If only the kick had been no good before the Coughlin time out, the circle would have been perfectly squared.

That works, too.

Mike Kurtz: I hate this ending just because it adds more anecdotal evidence for icing, which means more annoying icing.

Robert Weintraub: The NFL needs to abolish the red line to rid us of all this icing...

That was a T.J. Yates-esque performance by Eli.

Danny Tuccitto: Given the outcome, I guess the Audibles comment thread will include a discussion of both (a) and (b)? Cowboys should have let the Giants score on first down and the Giants left too much time?

Comments

316 comments, Last at 16 Dec 2011, 4:32am

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Are the Bills now the worst team in the league? We'll see the DVOA numbers tomorrow, but man. The head coach says that we have the talent to be 'respectable' but "I don't know about 'good.'" That's not promising. I wonder if he's going to resign at the end of the season. He doesn't strike me as a happy guy.

41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Given the injuries on the line, they are now exactly the same team that started 0-8 last year. If they had stayed healthy, I thought they had a shot to break .500 this year, but they don't have much talent left on the roster at this point. Losing out is a distinct possibility.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I think there were some unfair jabs at Locker based on one half of a game where he came in due to an injured starter. He made some mistakes. He made some plays.

He stood in there pretty well when Tracy Porter murdered him. I think there's a chance he calms down in the pocket in the future. It's a good situation to succeed for a QB cause opponents are definitely preoccupied with stopping the running game.

34 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Thing is, I'm not sure there's any positive evidence to suggest Locker is likely to become a good NFL quarterback. He's not a good enough runner to succeed purely on the strength of that, he's inaccurate, and he's never had to go through reads quickly and correctly in the way pro quarterbacks who aren't devastating run threats have to. One of the things that really pleased me (as a Texans fan) coming out of this year's draft was that the Titans and Jaguars had committed to sucking on offense for the forseeable future, and nothing that I've seen since has made me think I was wrong.

43 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Yeah, I'm not trying to say he's the next coming of Joe Montana...I just think it's so early to make any statement beyond he made some plays and made some mistakes. I think he warrants a look as a guy who gets a full training camp and full reps. Then we can start to analyze it.

But I agree that for him to succeed, it will have to be as a drop back passer. But he deserves a fair shake at it...

100 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

This is a fair point, and I should have added a disclaimer along the lines of "we should have expected Locker to be the same QB without training camp and number-one reps." The Titans expected it, or they wouldn't have brought in Hasselbeck.

I just want to be on record as predicting that Locker will be a bust.

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

MVP for the Giants was Manningham. If he doesn't drop that easy TD, the Cowboys would easily have had enough time to score a touchdown to win the game.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

LOL--I said the same thing when everybody I was watching with groaned at his drop. It was for the best...unless the Cowboys scored quickly enough for Eli to get the ball back and score again. After all, there was still a minute and a half left :)

46 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

So is the 'let them score/get the ball back' idea the NFL's version of fouling late in an NBA game where you end up watching free throws and commercials for 30 minutes just to find out who won? The only thing that hasn't evolved in the pass-happy era is the mindset that it works as easily as it does. Unless you are a cold weather city that builds its team around defense, sinking a ton of money into defensive backs, you are giving up that late touchdown drive. And Jason Garrett has played every step out in this thing. I really don't know why he is caught surprised and indecisive. Dallas needs to pass until that last first down conversion leads to downing it, and Garrett just needs to come to terms with that.

135 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Has there ever been a case of a team needing a TD late in the game and intentionally NOT scoring too quickly (ex: on 1st and goal), just to drain time. It is a risk, but if you are close enough to the end zone probably one worth taking.

My favorite "let's not score too quickly" was after 4th and 2, when Manning and the Colts huddled that whole drive after going no-huddle all game, just to waste clock.

169 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I can't even imagine a team doing that, needing a TD. A FG? Sure, and they do it all the time. But even at the 1, there's not enough guarantee of punching it in that you can afford to waste downs.

And what are you going to do, anyway, on, say, 1st-and-goal at the 1 yard line? Take a knee? Now you're at the 2 or 3 and it's a whole different thing. Throw incomplete? Defeats the purpose. Run a half-hearted dive into the line? A very good chance of a loss on the play or worse if you're not going all out.

220 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I would never do it. I wonder what the win probability difference would be between 1st and goal at the 1, down by 6, with 2:00 left, and 2nd and goal at the 1, down by 6, with 1:20 left. You still have a good chance of scoring, but having one less shot as you did before, but your opponent has less time. I guess the amount of timeouts the other team has impacts this too.

I don't think we'll ever see it. But I never thought I would see a coach go for it on 4th and 2 from their own 28 up 6 either.

235 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Seeing as how a majority of ppl felt the math told them it was the right move for Atlanta to go for it on their own 30, I don't see how it's even an argument here. You'd really have to mess up to not score, like botch the snap. That almost never happens with Dallas.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

OK, Danny, here goes:

I will not criticize the Giants for their end-of-game playcalling vis-a-vis leaving the Cowboys time on the clock. They did what I thought they should do last week: run the ball.

And, lo and behold, what happened? The 'Boys had just enough time to get down the field for a longish FG. Had Jacobs not been stuffed on first down (which, as a Giants fan, I was actively and vociferously rooting for, BTW) Dallas would have had time to run another play or two, meaning they would have had a shorter attempt at a FG, meaning it's much less likely to be blocked, meaning probable OT.

I realize the situation is somewhat different than last week, but I feel like it proved my point. Running the ball and taking time off the clock is the optimal strategy.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

This.....

http://www.startribune.com/sports/vikings/135406798.html

causes me to wonder again whether bad teams have their badness compounded by not getting any calls. I just don't think a Brady, a Manning, or a Rodgers, among others, would have this happen to them on the last play of the game, and have it go unflagged.

Ponder had his first absolute disaster; here's hoping it had something to do with a lack of reps during the week. Frazier finally gave up on Cedric "Knee" Griffin, so the Vikings officially need four or five new defensive backs next year, to go along with a couple offensive linemen, and at least two new wide receivers. If only they had 8 draft picks in the first two rounds.....

38 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

there was helmet to helmet contact on one of the Rodgers sacks yesterday and when Rodgers asked about it you clearly saw the ref point shrug and I think say "it happens" followed by Rodgers mildly throwing his hands up I suppose in exasperation.

55 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Rodgers doesn't get those calls either, and Manning (Peyton) rarely does. The king of the weak call is Brady, with honorable mention to Jay Cutler and (lately) anyone playing Detroit.

Note that Brady and Cutler are also the most ardent mime-that-I-was-hit-by-a-truck addicts. I really think the refs ought not to go for that crap.

58 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

No arguments on Brady and Cutler. I was actually surprised to see Tebow selling quite a few calls yesterday (on the (correctly-called) RTP on Idonije, Tebow jumped up grabbing his knee; as soon as he saw the flag, he stopped).

Not necessarily criticizing him for this; if the league will allow it, you might as well sell the penalties (which, in general, are indeed fouls by the rulebook, so it's not really a fake dive).

125 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"I was actually surprised to see Tebow selling quite a few calls yesterday (on the (correctly-called) RTP on Idonije, Tebow jumped up grabbing his knee; as soon as he saw the flag, he stopped)."

No, you misinterpreted that. Tebow actually blew out his ACL, but it was miraculously healed.

201 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Rodgers doesn't get those calls either, and Manning (Peyton) rarely does. The king of the weak call is Brady, with honorable mention to Jay Cutler and (lately) anyone playing Detroit."

Funny thing about that, is that Patriots have been called for more Roughing the Passer and Unneccessary roughness, than they've had called for them.

As to the lions thing, when you have a dominant lineman who thinks plays go 10 seconds longer than they do, thats going to happen.

214 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Detroit gets a lot of bad calls against them just because the refs know they'll be backed up by the league office because of Suh's "rep", which is (mostly) unjustified.

The Patriots get fewer RP called against them because Brady rarely gets touched. Dude stands completely motionless for six seconds in the pocket sometimes, and when he does move, he's -very- good at moving the right way, and he gets the ball out when he needs to. However, if a defender so much as breathes on him, he jumps backward and rolls over and comes up looking at the referees, not his passes.

241 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Regarding Detroit, those calls are spread out over almost two seasons, but Suh hasn't actually been dirty until the stomp, since which he's been suspended. So one play where he thought the play went on ten seconds longer than it did, but that doesn't really explain the rest of it.

51 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Yeah, I remember that as being a case where the ref just had the perfectly bad angle that prevented him from seeing it. Maybe the same thing happened yesterday; I haven't see the play from enough angles to know.

15 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I just don't think a Brady, a Manning, or a Rodgers, among others, would have this happen to them on the last play of the game, and have it go unflagged.

The final play of the Packers' 2009 Wild Card game against the Cardinals ended on an Aaron Rodgers fumble that was returned for a touchdown. The fumble was a result of Arizona safety Michael Adams attempting to remove Rodgers' facemask.

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

That was a shame that the call was missed. Webb led the Vikings on three drives over 60 yards.

Ponder throws 3-5 balls directly in the hands of defenders every game. The only difference is that sometimes the defenders catch them. He doesn't do it because he's under duress - he either just completely misreads the coverage or he's horribly inaccurate. He seems to make the same type of mistakes game in game out. He strikes me as a Tommy Maddox type.

I commented after training camp that I thought Webb looked better and nothing yesterday convinced me otherwise. Webb is not very accurate for sure, but at least in the games I've seen him he doesn't throw into coverage with regularity and he's a greater threat running than just about any QB I've seen. Including pre-season games Webb has run 50 times for 466 yards, 9.32 yds/carry.

I think a Webb running the type of offence the Broncos are with Peterson and Harvin would be quite difficult to stop.

67 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I call that the 'Zidane' approach. Given that in in soccer if you even raise a hand to an opponent you are probably getting red-carded, if the red mist has descended you might as well pole-axe the guy in spectacular fashion.

110 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

If you watch the video on youtube, there is a slow motion shot that perfectly frames a ref with a clear line of sight to the facemask. I don't know about this bad angle business. Full disclosure - Bears fan.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I actually feel a bit bad for Marion Barber. His late-game actions were inexcusable, but prior to that, he had been having quite a good game, and was the primary reason the Bears were able to score twice. Calls, by Bears fans, for him to be cut remind me why I hate (most) football fans.

------

The Bears sure did what I expected them to do... for 56 minutes. They showed how NFL speed, if your defense is disciplined, can totally stifle an option-y attack. There was one pitch early in the game where the RB got the ball with no one in front of him, but was immediately closed on by three Bear defenders. Another impressive play was right after Tebow had fooled Peppers and ran for eight yards, he tried to do it again; Peppers stayed home, and actually ran down Tebow (Peppers appeared to be faster than Tebow).

Of course, then the coaching staff decided that they had had too much of a good thing, and started letting Tebow have the whole middle of the field to work with. A terrible decision, following a great gameplan. I am so frustrated.

------

I'm honestly at the point where I don't so much care that the Bears lost (I really don't care to see them get destroyed on the road in the playoffs with Caleb Hanie at the helm), I just wanted them to end the current incarnation of Tebowmania (i.e. playing poorly for three quarters doesn't matter). Yet, they fanned the flames, maybe even making it worse; in this game, 56 full minutes consisted of the Broncos offense going nowhere.

A Cutler-led team, given that the defense played as well, would have been up well more than ten points with four minutes left, and none of these shenanigans would have happened. Sigh...

------

/rant

108 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I was prepared for them to lose yesterday's game, especially after they failed to score at all in the first half. I was not prepared for them to lose when they held a 10-0 lead with a few minutes to go in the 4th quarter.

I was only able to listen to the game online (thanks, Fox, for electing to show a movie in lieu of the Bears game, or frankly, ANY of the late games - what the hell? I know I live in Packers country, but with the Packers playing on CBS you don't think it's worth broadcasting a division rival's game?) which may have been a blessing in disguise, because as it was I was tearing my hair out.

Everyone on Chicago sports radio this morning is saying you can't blame the coaches for going conservative and basically giving up on getting a first down twice at the end of the game, but I disagree. They were up 10 points with just under 6 minutes to play, I think, when they went 3-and-out and gave the Broncos the ball to start their first scoring drive. I know it's a two-score lead and Denver had just used their last timeout, but I think it was too early to just sit on the ball and be happy to punt it away. I'm less upset with the decision to run three times after they recovered the onside kick, as they would have been able to give the ball back to Denver with around 30 seconds left if Barber hadn't gone out of bounds to stop the clock.

Anyway, I think you have to be willing to let Hanie throw to try for a first down for two reasons. One is winning yesterday's game - a 10-point lead with under six minutes to go is great, but it's not even close to insurmountable. The worst possible outcome of Hanie throwing is a pick-six, which would have helped Denver a lot obviously but wouldn't have ended the game. The bigger reason I think they should have tried to win the game instead of playing not to lose is that if they did win yesterday and kept their playoff hopes alive, they were going to need to be able to rely on Hanie to do more than just manage the game and not make mistakes (which he did a good job of yesterday). If Cutler was going to be back in a game or two, I can see just trying to eke out an ugly win in Denver, but all indications are that he's out at least through the end of the regular season (which, let's be honest, is almost certainly going to be the end of the Bears this year period).

What hurts the most by far is that I don't see any way the Bears would not be 10-3 right now if Cutler hadn't gotten hurt.

112 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

If Marion Barber stays in bounds, the Bears almost assuredly win the game. Caleb Hanie is awful. I see no problem with going conservative on offense. I do have some qualms with how the defense played, but again, Marian Barber stays in bounds they win.

124 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Everyone on Chicago sports radio this morning is saying you can't blame the coaches for going conservative"

And this is why coaches don't learn from their mistakes. If the conventional wisdom loses you the game, that's okay.

They can try to run the clock down a bit, but on at least one of those three downs they need to take the risk and throw it in hopes of actually picking up another set of downs, which would be even more effective at running it down.

The worst possible decision is to pair the prevent O with the prevent D. Prevent D should only ever be used with a nearly insurmountable lead. Why should you switch away from a D that has been really effective for one that you know will let the team back in the game?

134 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

On first and ten, with 2:05 left, right after recovering the onside kick, I would have liked to see the Bears throw a play-action pass. I think it would have worked really well, since everyone "knew" it was going to be a running play. And even if it doesn't, and it's incomplete, then the clock stops at the 2:00 warning anyway. I think with a modicum of execution, they could have picked up a first down, and maybe a lot more, possibly even getting into FG range and forcing the Miracle Man (tm) to score a TD.

147 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

And this is why coaches don't learn from their mistakes. If the conventional wisdom loses you the game, that's okay.

You're absolutely right. I should say that I "blame" them in the sense that I disagree with their super-conservative play-calling, but I can't blame them for playing it safe when the media and fans would be calling for their heads if they'd taken a gamble and lost the game because of it. If Hanie had thrown a pick-six and Denver had gone on to win, everyone would be talking about it today and saying that the Bears had a guaranteed win if they'd just been content to run the ball and punt it away. In that sense, I sympathize with the coaches.

143 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I see your point, and agree that just running the ball three times was more defensible on the last series where it was really the Barber mistake that cost them. My point about allowing Hanie to throw is that if the Bears are/were going to be a playoff team this year, odds are they were going to have to do it with Hanie, and sooner or later they were going to have to open up the offense a little bit. Again, if this had been the only game Cutler was going to miss, or if the Bears had been up by 10 in the 4th quarter of the Oakland game, I'd be much more inclined to say stay conservative and run the ball. But for the Bears to make an actual run instead of squeaking into the playoffs and getting spanked in the first round, Hanie was going to have to step up at some point. After seeing his 3 games this year, I agree with you that he's awful and I doubt that the Bears could win a playoff game with him at QB. But as a fan, I'd rather see them fail spectacularly than fail by playing it safe and giving the opponent an opportunity to capitalize on, as they did yesterday.

145 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

'50s-era blackout rules. Fox didn't have a choice because CBS had the doubleheader this week. From Wikipedia:

Another policy to encourage sellouts, is that no other NFL game can air opposite the local club's broadcast on the primary market's affiliate.

- If a local club's broadcast is at home in the early game of a doubleheader, the other network (which shows the single game) may only show a game during the late time slot.
- If a local club's broadcast is at home in the late game of a doubleheader, the other network (which shows the single game) may only show a game during the early time slot.
- If a local club is playing at home, and the broadcast is shown by the single game network, the other network (which shows the doubleheader) may only air one game in that market; either early or late (the slot which the local club is not playing).
- If a local club is playing away, and the broadcast is shown by the single game network, the other network (which shows the doubleheader) may air both of their games.

If a local club is playing on the road on the doubleheader network, the other network can air its single game in the same timeslot opposite the local club's game. However, most affiliates opt against it because such an action usually ensures low ratings. The "no opposing game" policy is a key reason why single game fixtures on the east coast are occasionally scheduled for the late time slot.

312 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Two reasons for those stupid rules:

1. Teams still want fans to come and spend money at the stadium. The non-compete rule means folks can't stay home and watch a good game instead of the crappy one they have tickets for.

2. By giving one network a doubleheader each week, there's a window where that network can sell ads on a game without NFL competition.

36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Eddo:

But if the refs had called a block-in-the-back on Hester's great return (check the start of the return, right as he makes that spin move and heads left), then the Bears would have only been ahead 3-0 or 6-0, and Tebow wouldn't have needed magic to win. Come on--you know that the TV honchos were going to make it end that way. :p

Having said that, I watched the last half of this game just to see how Tebow was going to pull it out. It wasn't "if" he would, it was "how."

(If I ever got to meet Tebow, I think I would shake his hand, then buy the first lottery ticket of my life before touching anything else with that hand, and then start shopping for luxury items. Because that ticket would surely defy all mathematical odds and win the Powerball Jackpot.)

45 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I didn't see the block in the back, but I'll take your word for it. And, of course, the Bears had their share of luck: the blocked FG and the onside kick come to mind.

And I agree; going into the fourth, I just was waiting for something to happen for the Broncos to lose. I just didn't expect it to be the Bears handing them the game.

69 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

As long as Tebow only has to make one play to be back in the game, this will continue. One lucky bounce or blown coverage and there's the credit for another "comeback."

I will say that Tebowmania has exposed a few D-coordinators. "Hmmm, we're facing a big, strong QB who wants to run (dare I call him 'athletic?'), but can't hit the ocean from the beach when he's in the pocket. He has the ability to make the big, spectacular play, but cannot sustain a drive. I know! We won't run complex coverages that require him to stand and read; we'll max blitz. He'll be terrified! He'll wet himself! Wha---? Who knew he was looking to run?"

81 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

With the caveat that the Bears did not do that yesterday. Instead, they did the "Hey we're up three points. Why cover anyone with that insurmountable lead? Let's just make him take up some time."

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

To read Aaron Schatz, a Patriots fan, type "The Tebow thing is amazing, because it's amazing what kind of crazy mistakes by opponents have helped all these wins." just makes me laugh. How many clutch Belicheck and Brady wins were due to an odd mistake by the opponent and then a Vinatieri FG late set up by Brady just taking what a defense gave him in their prevent zone. This is the early Brady Pats all over again (great D, some special teams help, minimize turnovers) except substitute an awesome run game in for the pass screen happy Pats offense. Enjoy this ride even if he doesn't fit the FO conventional wisdom.

20 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I said something similar in the open thread--to the casual fan, Tebow right now is almost indistinguishable from 2001-2003 Brady.

Except, you know, Tebow had a pretty good college career.

104 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

They're only indistinguishable if you've never watched them play.

My two cents on Tebow; he's been fortunate that his defense has played so well that he hasn't been asked to score many points but what strikes me is that he can produce sod all in the air for three quarters without losing confidence, which is unusual.

131 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Granted, it's been 10 years since I've watched Brady from 10 years ago, but you may recall that he established his "clutch" reputation on late-game heroics by his kicker. Remember the irrational Brady/Manning threads? One guy who's a statistically good passer and the other who gets credit for team accomplishments?

Still, they have remarkably simliar passer ratings (for whatever that's worth). 2001 Brady went 12/24 for 86 yards in one game; 15/21 for 107 in another. What good is a 75% completion rate if it only gets you 100 yards? Over their first 8 games they both had one with a >140 passer rating, and both "just won."

What does this mean? Probably nothing. But the comparison to the guy who can't throw the ball more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage and the guy who can't throw the ball at all until the fourth quarter aren't completely absurd.

152 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I can understand the point you're making but one player had sound mechanics that suggested that he could play at high level in the future, simply looking at the statisitics is not always helpful. By just observing statistics youd probably conclude that Tebow was the better player, he hasn't lost a game he's started yet and has been a more productive runner but I'm not going to crown his ass just yet.

157 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

So he didn't start the 48-10 loss to Detroit?

Also, wins aren't a statistic for QBs. Kyle Orton did not go on a 8-game win streak in 2005. The Bears did, in spite of Orton.

Brady's actual stats were a lot better than Tebow's are right now.

206 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Yes, even in 2001-2003, it's not a close comparison statistically. In 2001 Brady finished 12th in DYAR, then 9th in 2002 and 2003. And he never completed less than 60% of his passes in any of those years.

If you like total yards, Brady had about 2800 in 15 games in 2001, then about 3600 in 2002 and 2003. Tebow's at around 1300 right now, so maybe projecting to 2000 over 16 games?

If you like passer rating, Brady's for those years was around 85-86 and Tebow is around 83 and Tebow has thrown fewer picks (2) than Brady did back then (around 14).

I have no problem with people railing against QB's getting too much credit for wins and defense, but Brady's not really a good comparison with Tebow statistically, even in 2001.

229 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Well, we'll need two more years of Tebow starts before we can compare to '02-'03 Brady. My "three years of Brady" comment was a bit flippant (and also prefaced with "to the casual fan," which there aren't many of here), but it's not a terrible comparison to look at their first 8 starts, even statistically. I was hoping to do this without opening Excel, but:

QB: att/cmp/yard/TD/I/C%/YPA/
Brady: 154/238/1565/12/7/64.7/6.58
Tebow: 92/188/1211/10/2/48.9/6.44

I'm not going to calculate passer ratings, but you can tell enough from YPA and TD/I ratios. The difference between 6.6 and 6.4 YPA is the difference between 2011 Donovan McNabb and 2011 Kyle Orton. Or, if you prefer 2001 comparisons, Donovan McNabb and Tony Banks (who just lost a wikipedia face-off to the keyboard player from Genesis) 2001 Brady eventually pulled himself up to an Aaron-Brooks-like 6.9 YPA (Christian Ponder in 2011 yards). Brady threw a couple more TDs, but several more INTs. (p-f-r's AY/A gives Tebow a decisive edge, BTW).

This neglects running contributions by the QB, and Tebow only has an extra ~450 yards there to go with his three rushing TDs. So through 8 games, Tebow only produced more yards of offense and scored more points than 2001 Brady. Not even a close comparison, eh?

And to whomever made the '06 Vick comparison, that's what I had been thinking initially, especially w/r/t the running contribution but, Vick had been in the league too many years by that point for the comparison to be worthwhile.

I don't like total yards. I don't think anyone here does. (also, I still prefer DPAR to DYAR, but that's beyond the scope of this thread).

And as much as it pains me to say it, Klosterman's recent piece at Grantland is a pretty good way to frame the Tebow debate.

306 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Actually, the 2001-2003 comparison was more than a bit flippant. You've now reduced 3 seasons to the first 8 games of 2001 and you've gone from comparing passing to comparing total offense. You were making a similarity claim using passing stats about the two that I think falls apart. I bet if we had 11-game split DVOA/DYAR for Brady for 2001 they wouldn't be that different than looking at Brady's whole-season DVOA/DYAR and Tebow's 11-game DVOA/DYAR.

I see, below, that you're stretching the similarity comparison of them mechanically as well and I don't that's working very well either.

I think the only major similarity is the degree to which Brady and Tebow both inspired mainstream fans/media to attribute team wins to their individual abilities. If you want to state that, I'll agree. But I think you're starting from the similarity of perception and trying to show similarities of performance (stats-based and scouting-based) that just don't exist.

310 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

... and that's all I really claimed in the first place. Both QBs who were considered unready to be NFL starters in their second season. One of them had a good college career, the other didn't. For different mechanical reasons, neither was a terribly good QB in their first fractional season as starter, but managed to build a reputation for winning based on a series of statistically improbably events that occurred while he was standing on the sideline.

Never said Brady lacked accuracy or Tebow lacked arm strength. Never compared their throwing motions. Didn't even compare the play-calling of the offenses they were in. Freely admitted that statistical similarities were probably not meaningful.

I like a good internet argument as much as the next guy, but it's more fun when it's based on things the other guy actually said, and I whole-heartedly disagree with your advocacy in favor of pedophilia ;)

314 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

But you didn't get that specific until just now. You were too busy being flippant. The phrase you used was "indistinguishable" and that covered a 3 year time frame.

And you still missed what the stats on this site say: Brady's performance as a passer was way better in 2001 than Tebow's has been this year. And I doubt that difference came in the last 4 games of the season.

I like DVOA/DPAR because it's some got context to it (opponent, situation). YPA, etc. has none. If you've got data from Advanced NFL stats, sure, bring it. It's got some context to it as well.

You're still starting from your own perception that both received too much credit and working backwards to find performance similarities that aren't true.

212 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

It's easy to look at Brady with all the hindsight you want, but remember he went in the 6th round of a draft that included only one QB considered to be pro-ready (Chad Pennington). His mechanics couldn't have been that much better than, say Spergon Wynn, Tim Rattay, or Marc Bulger, and the decision to continue starting him over a healthy Bledsoe was pretty damn controversial at the time. Brady went 5-3 in his first 8, before winning a Tebow-like 6 straight.

I'm not crowning him, but I'm not letting him off the hook, either. Brady was a cult hero before he was a good passer--my analogy ends there.

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/B/BradTo00/gamelog/2001/
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/T/TeboTi00/gamelog/2011/

215 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

You are confusing mechanics with talent. As long as I've seen Brady he's pretty much had ideal throwing mechanics. The problems he had involved arm strength, deep accuracy (still somewhat of an issue), and not being able to win the job at Michigan.

I agree with your premise, but you're ignoring part the story. Brady was never really a "bad" passer. Certainly no where near as bad as Tebow.

Tebow, if he is having some kind of super effect on his team (personally, I think he's having an effect, but it is way overstated), is doing it in a completely unconventional manor. It's going to leave people confused and searching for reasons why it's working.

217 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Brady might not have had the picture perfect mechanincs that he has today but he didn't have Tebow's 'broken windmill' wind-up. Though that does suggest that if Tebow improves in this area he could be rather special. I suppose it's all down to a higher power.

193 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I just had to comment on Schatz citing the odd mistakes that opponents make in these Denver comeback games. This could describe many of the Pats wins in '01 and even '03. How many of those mistakes though are caused by great defense, sp teams, design and scheme? Yes, Barber's fumble is flukey, but the Broncos didn't give up and kept clawing at his arm. Denver's WRs stunk it up in the 1st half, but in the soft zone of the Bears in the 4th Q and OT they found holes in the zone and made plays. The entire Broncos team believes now, and will keep pressing against all those who do not.

Do people forget the 17-14 Pats/Titans AFC divisional game with how many 'lucky' breaks that broke the Pats way? It was "superior execution" by NE then. How about the Chargers intercepting Brady and fumbling that INT return back to NE closer to the that actually advanced the ball for NE? That was "superior coaching" by Belicheck then. We see this in football sometimes. This happens, and sometimes you just have to enjoy the ride.

...or maybe Tebow could just throw 25 screen passes a game for a high comp % and please the FO commenters.

204 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

DVOA had the Pats as the 12th-best team in 2001. Had FO existed at that time, I doubt that Aaron would have been writing about how Tom Brady is a proven winner who inspires the team to cause fluky fumbles and recover onside kicks; rather, he probably would have been talking about how the team was squeaking by with a game-manager QB and a lot of lucky breaks.

213 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

The 2001 Pats were 12th in total DVOA. Pretty sure that Aaron knows that teams was pretty bad for a championship team.

I'm pretty sure that he knows all about the other plays you've mentioned. Just because some commenters have chosen to ignore those plays over the years doesn't mean that Aaron is wrong in pointing out all the breaks that have gone Denver's way.

138 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Indistinguishable from 2001 Playoffs Pats maybe where they relied on Tuck Rules and incredible field goals, and winning when scoring just one offensive TD in each playoff game, but even Brady in 2001-2003 is FAR above Tebow right now.

The 2003 team did have a lot of luck (or timely skill) in a lot of their wins, like Edge James getting stoned by Willie McGinest (the same McGinest who faked an injury two plays earlier to stop the clock), or Denver not getting the 1st down on 3rd and 2 after the intentional safety (Denver started Danny Kannell in that game, too. Man, they really gave the Pats fits), or even winning two games in OT. But they were a lot better offensively.

140 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Tom Brady was really good in 2002 and 2003--top ten in DYAR.

Also, as noted above, he looked talented. That's not to say he wasn't ever overrated.

I'd definitely take Tebow over Hanie, however.

221 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

The Broncos and 2001-2003 Patriots win the same way; capitalizing on overcautious or overzealous defenses but virtually hopeless against plain vanilla good NFL defensive strategies that teams use in the first 56 minutes.

However, they are very different teams. Tim Tebow is not nearly as good as the 2001 version of Tom Brady. Of course, the 2001 version is nowhere near as good as the 2007-2011 version, but he was a competent game-manager quarterback who could move the ball reliably against soft coverage. Tebow is a below replacement level quarterback with a very good offensive line and running skills, who can therefore move the ball against soft coverage.

227 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

The 2001-2003 Pats were not "virtually hopeless against plain vanilla good NFL defensive strategies that teams use in the first 56 minutes."

The 2003 Pats had a bunch of close wins, but they were almost always high-scoring games, and games that the Pats had leads for a lot of the game.

23 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Sure, the Patriots have been helped by bad decisions by their opponents. But it's not a binary choice, there are degrees. For one, the Broncos are 7-1 this year under Tebow; all seven of those wins have been crazy comeback wins, in which their opponents' poor play has been hugely responsible.

Take this week's game. If ANY of the following doesn't happen, the game comes out differently:
- Hanie doesn't overthrow a wide open Barber on a late third-down play; Barber had tons of open space in front of him, and that drive would have likely led to points;
- Barber goes down in bounds that first play after the two-minute warning; the Broncos would have gotten the ball back with only 15-20 seconds left, not 50-60;
- Barber doesn't fumble deep in Bronco territory in overtime; either he scores on that play (it looked like there was no one between him and the end zone), or he sets up a short field goal (not a given, but close to it in Denver);
- the Bears' staff doesn't decide to completely change up a defense that had shut out the Broncos for 56 minutes, leaving the entire middle of the field open.

------

The one thing I would love for someone praising Tebow to bring up is how, in overtime, right after the Broncos reached FG range, Tebow took a sack to get pushed out of said range. Any other QB would get criticized for that.

32 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I suppose there might be more criticism of Tebow for that if it had, you know, happened.

"2nd and 12 at DEN 44 (Shotgun) T.Tebow pass deep right to D.Thomas to CHI 40 for 16 yards (Z.Bowman).
1st and 10 at CHI 40 (Shotgun) W.McGahee left guard to CHI 39 for 1 yard (B.Urlacher).
2nd and 9 at CHI 39 (Shotgun) T.Tebow scrambles up the middle to CHI 34 for 5 yards (B.Urlacher).
Timeout #1 by DEN at 09:23.
3rd and 4 at CHI 34 (Shotgun) T.Tebow left tackle to CHI 33 for 1 yard (A.Okoye).
Timeout #2 by CHI at 08:40."

That was the only possession of OT for Denver.

I feel like the resident Tebow defender here, so let me point out that there was plenty of "bad luck" the Broncos suffered along the way as well, such as 1.) a missed/blocked 29 yard field goal earlier in the game; 2.) two Broncos players knocking the ball out of one another's hands on an onside kick; 3.) Demaryius Thomas's strange experimentation with baby oil infused gloves.

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Ah, my mistake. I was thinking of the play right before the section you included, in which Tebow was sacked for a two-yard loss. However, that play started on their own 46, so they were not yet in field goal range. I guess I was confused by Fox's stupid placement of red line there, as if a 70-yard FG was possible.

57 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"- Barber doesn't fumble deep in Bronco territory in overtime; either he scores on that play (it looked like there was no one between him and the end zone), or he sets up a short field goal (not a given, but close to it in Denver);"

In one frame, there is just the faintest blurry hint of a Noodly Appendage stripping the ball away, and Barber has reportedly told team mates he was distracted by a sudden, overpowering stench of marinara sauce . . .

154 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

No. No, it's not Brady, or the Patriots, or any other offense in the modern era. Not at all. It's a bad QB who happens to be very good at option running taking advantage of dumb defensive coordinators and a soft schedule.

Denver will likely win the West, secure a home playoff game, and then get crushed by the AFC North runner-up as Tebow has to face a balanced team with a solid defense. Next year, defensive coordinators in the AFC will remember that it's legal for the QB to run with the ball, and Tebow will have to show that he can read NFL coverages, and by then we won't have to hear any more about how he just wins games.

165 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Denver will likely win the West, secure a home playoff game, and then get crushed by the AFC North runner-up"

How's that different from any other post-Elway AFCW team? Doesn't Phil Rivers specialize in that loss?

186 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I've compared this year's Broncos to the 2006 Falcons, only with a defense. And a lot of luck...

-------------
Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I have been a Bucs fan for a long, long time. I survived Bruce Gradkowski's rookie year, where the season's two memorable highlights were probably a 62-yard FG and Chris Simms' spleen exploding. I lived through that Monday night game against the Colts where an in-his-prime Marvin Harrison was repeatedly single-covered by a seventh-round rookie, leading to the biggest collapse I've ever seen. I have watched Brian Griese be my starting QB on two separate occasions. Yet, somehow, giving up 41 points to an execrably bad Jaguars offense may be a new low to my fan-dom.

You know, this team last year was great, had loads of promise, then now this. It's like you're having a great night out at the bar and you meet this great chick and you go home and it's the best thing ever (last year), and then you wake up in the morning and you realize she looks like Phyllis Diller with scabies.

141 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

That last paragraph might be repeated by Denver fans one year from now. Winning a bunch of ridiculous close games is usually a one year abberation. As is not throwing picks (unless you are Brady, Rodgers, Manning in his prime).

242 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

But then again, maybe it won't.
There's been a lot of luck involved in this Broncos stretch, no question, but their defense has also been very good, aside from the Vikings game, which turned in to the unlikelist track meet of the season. Running game, solid defense, great special teams...functional, at best, quarterback.
The 49ers are winning exactly the same way ( albeit not with the last second heroics from their kicker ), and nobody says a negative word about it.
I agree that Tebow is a tiresome subject, but for an NFL season with really only one or two interesting storylines ( the Packers, and...?), it's not too surprising that a popular Heisman tropy winner who was heavily debated before he was even drafted is going to make some headlines. I live in Denver, and will say that, for all the headlines, Tebow never presents himself as anything other than totally gracious and always talks up the team first and foremost. I get that people are irritated by the christian stuff, but how many decades have I heard all sorts of athletes praise God after a victory? It doesn't bother me in the slightest, and I'm not religious in any way.
I really think the only thing that is more tedious than 'Tebow just wins' stories is the lamentations of the critics who overreact to such a pathetic degree. If Denver was winning these types of games, but instead of Tim Tebow it was...I dunno, Joe Webb at QB, I don't think there would be near the venom. I wish that the heads, pundits and blowhards would acknowledge that, but it's unlikely. It's been a very fun story which will end soon enough; why people can't take any enjoyment out of that is beyond me, except that I find most commenters, here and elsewhere, to be a very joyless bunch, to say the least.

251 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

People forget to factor in that Tebow is improving.

And also that regression to the mean doesn't mean that a lucky streak *causes* an unlucky streak going forward.

What's (statistically) likely to happen is that in the future, Denver wins and loses close games, but that the close games will be against higher-quality opponents and that games against lesser opponents won't be as close. In other words, you might see 10-6 with a 50/50 close game rate. I get the feeling that people are certain that any day now, Tebow and the Broncos will revert to being a 4-12 team in spirit if not in flesh.

301 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

On the religion front, I think it's true that while Tebow is more vocal about it than some other players, it's the media that keeps pushing it to the forefront and I can't blame Tebow for answering their questions about it.

I think the continued handwringing over his play is due largely to people who can't or won't admit that their prediction for him was wrong, regardless of how he plays in the future. I was one of them - I thought the Broncos would be just as bad with Tebow as with Orton, and that if he even finished out the season he would certainly be done as a starting QB in the NFL. He's performed well enough over enough games that I have to admit that I was wrong.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Mike Kurtz: Mind = blown.
I AM THE MONSTERS.

Ah, for anyone with kids this is a great Sesame Street reference! I have always been fond of Grover - especially since Elmo kicked him to the curb...

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

It's my sincere hope that the Ravens end up the fifth seed. The only thing that can shut the world up at this point will be a playoff shutout.

144 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

But the Bears could have had a shutout if they chose to. Even good defenses relent into the prevent at the ends of halves. I think it's high-powered offenses that are more dangerous for the Broncos. Their strength has generally been a good defense keeping them in games against weak offenses until the easier-to-score final minutes. I don't see Tebow competing in a shootout against a quality offense like the Patriots (we'll find out soon).

246 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

For the Broncos to make the Super Bowl, they will have to defeat some quality teams. If they do that, I think most everybody will concede that they are for real. But it seems like a lot of the Tebow apologists simply don't want to acknowledge that it is pretty common for not-so-great teams to string together a number of wins, like the McDaniels Broncos that started 6-0 or this year's early-season Bills.

247 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

2005 Bears. Kyle Orton went 103/195 (52.8%) for 1034 yds (5.3 y/a), with 7/7 td/int for a passer rating of 65.2. The Bears went 8-0 over that stretch.

Or the Cardinals this year with John Skelton, who are 4-1 when he plays the majority of a game, including a win in Philly and against the 10-2 49ers.

248 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

You are of course right about your statistical claims (though I doubt your analysis of the sporting fan). But what makes me mad about all this is that we aren't being allowed to just enjoy the experience. Scouts and smart people, as I suppose you are, give off the perception that they want Tebow to fail, to prove the world that they were right about Tebow not being a pro-quarterback. Tebow apologists, as you describe them, seem to want Tebow to succeed in order to prove the existence of Christ.

I just want Tebow to win because its fun, because it's crazy and exciting and can't happen, and yet it is. I feel like the smarter the commentator here on FO, the less they enjoy the game to the extent that the outcome of the game diverges from their explanatory and predictive models. From my experience reading these boards, there is nothing that frustrates the FO commentator more than seemingly undeserved success. I hear the same thing with Cowherd on ESPN. He was the most insufferable the day after NYG beat NE, because there was no way it should have happened. 1

250 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Personally, I don't like this because I feel like this is continuing the use of "QB Wins" as a mainstream stat. As a Colts fan, and ardent supporter of Mannning in the Manning/Brady debate, the "QB Win" to me is the worst used stat in football. Teams can win in spite of their QB sometimes (not saying that this is the case with Brady, obviously). Teams can win with average play from their QB. Teams can win with great play from their QB. So far, I think Denver has done a lot of winning with bad and average play, and one instance of winning with good play (against Minnesota).

273 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Tebow apologists, as you describe them, seem to want Tebow to succeed in order to prove the existence of Christ."

I have not come across too many people who are like this. In fact, this seems to me to be a giant straw man constructed by those who are rooting for Tebow to fail, to justify their vehemence.

289 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I have not come across too many people who are like this. In fact, this seems to me to be a giant straw man constructed by those who are rooting for Tebow to fail, to justify their vehemence.

I'd vote for this going both ways. His proselytizing Christianity is the reason I can think he gets such instant supporters AND detractors. If he were a boring agnostic, it's hard to imagine crowds with "Mary Me Tim" signs scattered throughout chanting his name non-stop for ten minutes straight while he's boarding a bus before he's ever even started a pro game, in Colorado, a state he's never played before. It's hard to imagine his used football pants would be fetching $5k on e-bay when he's only played in spot relief.

Most third-string quarterbacks don't get that kind of attention.

We had Ken Dorsey here in S.F., with his national championship and two Heisman nominations, as our third-string. Let's just say "Dorseying" hasn't become a verb.

14 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I don't understand why there's any controversy about the London Fletcher penalty. I thought it was illegal to hit the quarterback as soon as he begins his slide. It doesn't matter whether Brady's knee was down (though I thought it was?) because he was in the act of sliding and thus was untouchable. It doesn't matter that there wasn't forearm to head contact as it was a clear penalty anyway.

Personally, I thought it was an outrageous and very dangerous tackle with clear attempt to injure. Fletcher launched his body headfirst with great force--if Brady wasn't in the act of sliding, he probably would have taken a helmet to helmet hit and concussion. If anything, I thought Fletcher should have been ejected from the game.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

If someone is acting like a runner and then decides to give up and slide after the defender has already committed to the tackle, that's not a penalty. We've already gotten to the point where QBs definitely fake slides / going out of bounds and then pick up extra yards because defenders are so wary of getting flagged. We don't need to make it worse.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

If someone is acting like a runner and then decides to give up and slide after the defender has already committed to the tackle, that's not a penalty.

However, if someone is acting like a runner and then decides to pass after the defender has already committed to the tackle, that's a penalty and potentially a fine and a suspension.

Wait, what?

29 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

The bigger issue is that there was no reason for Harrison to launch himself, helmet first, into McCoy. That's where the "unnecessary" part of "unnecessary roughness" comes in. There is no reason to hit a guy like that unless your intent is to injure; Harrison could have quite easily led should-to-chest, wrapping up with his arms in the process. It still would have been a big, exciting hit, but McCoy's brain wouldn't have been scrambled.

83 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Launching" is a technical term in the NFL rulebook, and it didn't occur on this hit. Launching implies diving towards a player to make the hit; your feet have to leave the ground to launch. Harrison just ran through McCoy; Harrison's feet were on the ground all the way through the hit.

127 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Fine, I'll revise my comment to:

The bigger issue is that there was no reason for Harrison to >propel himself, helmet first, into McCoy. That's where the "unnecessary" part of "unnecessary roughness" comes in. There is no reason to hit a guy like that unless your intent is to injure; Harrison could have quite easily led should-to-chest, wrapping up with his arms in the process. It still would have been a big, exciting hit, but McCoy's brain wouldn't have been scrambled.

181 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I agree with that, and I wish Harrison had just aimed lower and avoided the helmet-to-helmet contact. The more that concussions can be taken out of the game, the better.

But helmet-to-helmet collisions (incidental and intentional) are still a big part of the running game and of line play. I think the goal is not so much injury as slowing down and wearing down the other player, making them think twice next time they come your way; it happens in every game. Peter King praised Cleveland linebacker Chris Gocong for "knocking Mendenhall dizzy" during Cleveland's goal-line stand (on helmet-to-helmet contact similar to Harrison-McCoy, though I haven't seen it as closely as Harrison's hit).

After seeing Harrison's hit, I understood the penalty and I expect a fine; I have no problem with legislating that kind of hit out of the game as much as possible (as the NFL is doing). But after reading the rule, I think Harrison has a good defense. McCoy was clearly "trying to advance the ball as a runner" and did not "stop behind the line and clearly establish a passing posture"; the NFL must take a rather tortured interpretation of the rule to grant McCoy protections here other runners don't have.

I don't think this exact situation will come up very often, so I'm fine with the NFL using this incident to declare it illegal. But Harrison shouldn't be suspended for this (or even fined, IMO); he has been avoiding such hits on defenseless players for over a year.

192 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Where did I suggest defenders should have to do the minimum? In fact, I even pointed out how Harrison could have made a statement tackle (shoulder to chest, driving him backwards) without the helmet-to-helmet contact.

243 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

You said there was no reason to hit like he did and that it was unnecessarily rough. So what is necessarily rough if not the minimum required to make a tackle? How is anything rougher than the minimum necessary under the rubric you are using? What makes the shoulder to chest "statement tackle" not unnecessarily rough and without reason? I don't think you can reasonably draw that line, and I don't think we can reasonably expect the athletes on the field to be able to do so either.

24 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

The official rule is below (emphasis added):

An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended when a runner declares himself down by sliding feet first on the ground. The ball is dead the instant the runner touches the ground with anything other than his hands or his feet

(1) A defender must pull up when a runner begins a feet-first slide. This does not mean that all contact by a defender is illegal. If a defender has already committed himself, and the contact is unavoidable, it is not a foul unless the defender commits some other act, such as helmet-to-helmet contact or by driving his forearm or shoulder into the head or neck area of the runner.
(2) A runner who desires to take advantage of this protection is responsible for starting his slide before contact by a defensive player is imminent; if he does not, and waits until the last moment to begin his slide, he puts himself in jeopardy of being contacted.

Note that the referee implied that they agreed that Brady started his slide too late to get protection, since he cited #1 (forearm to the head) in calling the penalty.

Brady started his slide late because he was trying to get a first down. He forfeited his right to protection by waiting too long and Fletcher did everything correctly within the rules.

A few plays after this penalty was called, Brady scrambled and chose not to slide and the Redskins defender let him get a few extra yards rather than try to tackle him immediately because he was so afraid of initiating contact.

39 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

http://espn.go.com/blog/boston/new-england-patriots/post/_/id/4712069/brady-says-fletcher-hit-clean

"I thought it was a really clean play by him. I think we're pretty fortunate we got the call," Brady said.

Props to Brady for owning up to it.

Another rule change I'd like to see that would arguably help protect QBs even more would be to outlaw the "fake slide" by scrambling QBs. If a QB makes the motion to start a slide, the ball should be dead on the spot.

48 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Another rule change I'd like to see that would arguably help protect QBs even more would be to outlaw the "fake slide" by scrambling QBs. If a QB makes the motion to start a slide, the ball should be dead on the spot.

I like the idea but enforcing that one would be too much of a judgement call for the officials for the NFL to ever enforce it.

286 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

It is attempting to guess intent. Was it the start of a slide or a duke or a spin or whatever, how do you know it was a fake slide? They should just call the game better and not flag Fletcher for a perfectly good hit just because its Brady.

73 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Thanks for this. I still think Brady started sliding early enough to avoid contact, but appeared more borderline because Fletcher committed himself to tackling very early. Normally a defender would stay upright and square to the QB (ready to tackle but not committed) and just pat the him during the slide. Fletcher, on the other hand, committed to the tackle several yards out and didn't give himself the option of avoiding contact where normally it could have been avoidable.

The tackle Fletcher made seems to have been consistently ("consistent" being relative for an NFL official) called as a penalty when made on a QB, regardless of if he's in the pocket, running, or in the act of sliding.

89 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Fletcher, on the other hand, committed to the tackle several yards out and didn't give himself the option of avoiding contact where normally it could have been avoidable."

Why on earth should a tackler ever have to consider trying to avoid contact?

I mean, a tackler not named Deion Sanders.

230 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Normally a defender would stay upright and square to the QB (ready to tackle but not committed) and just pat the him during the slide."

I disagree. I believe this only ever happens when a defender was simply too far away to actually hit the QB. (I.e. they had time to see the QB begin his slide, and break down in order to wind up just tapping him.)

No defender who is close enough to make a hit, as Fletcher was, doesn't proceed to try to make the hit. I.e. no defender should ever be assuming the QB is going to slide, until they actually make a motion to slide. They should always be, and always are, committed from several yards out.

26 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

At the most basic level the controversy you don't understand is that Fletcher was called for delivering a blow to the head of Brady when he actually didn't. You merely need to understand English to get this.

Watch this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOq4b4zydtI

That's Trent Green getting concussed a few years ago, and the impetus for giving extra attention to hits on the QB as he gives himself up.

Then watch this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Iv1f37dVNZ8#t=41s

Note that Fletcher has begun his tackle while Brady is still standing erect. *I* don't understand how London Fletcher can reverse direction in mid-air once Brady begins to slide. Also note the complete lack of helmet-to-helmet, or even anything-to-helmet contact.

233 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

This video actually proves that Fletcher had time to avoid that full of a hit. I agree that Brady waited too long to expect no contact, but Fletcher clearly put more into it even after Brady's slide was obvious.

Don't let this get in the way of everyone's bitching about Brady, though.

21 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"(P.S. I made this comment on Twitter and got a lot of response; apparently, Redskins fans were unloading their tickets and there was a huge Pats fans contingent at FedEx today. I guess the Redskins *are* that kind of team.) "

Aaron,

This is the state of affairs under Snyder. Everyone in the area under 25 is a fan of some random other team, oftentimes the patriots or the colts. The true redskins fans are so tired of watching awful teams. And the issue is compounded by the fact that the local fans also have to watch the Wizards, and Orioles (and more recently also Nationals). And our hockey team was supposed to save us from the awfulness, but obviously that didnt turn out.

I was offered tickets to the game on Sunday, I just said I had something else to do because I couldnt stomach watching us get crushed again. Our team isnt just bad, they are poorly managed and the players just dont give a shit. How is it that our two best offensive players can get suspended for drug violations? Our highest paid player got traded for a 6th round pick. Thats the kind of team the redskins run under Dan Snyder.

Its depressing and unwatchable.

63 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

And FedEx Field has 80,000+ seats, the second- or third-largest capacity in the NFL, depending whether JerryWorld is selling obstructed and TV-only seats. (RFK Stadium only sat 56,000.) You can always find tickets, especially in late season.

66 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

2 more points:

1) There are a lot of transplants in the area because of all the government jobs.

2) It's one of the more expensive stadiums to go watch a game in, all told, so there's added incentive for season ticket holders to recover some of their investment, and the high bidders are likely to be those who only get 1 chance every 8 years to see their team locally.

168 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

As someone who was a kid in Washington in the '70s, and remembers vividly how much that team once meant to the city and region, I can't tell you how depressing I find your post. I really loathe Snyder.

237 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Yeah I went to the niner-redskin game and the lower bowl was basically a huge 49er party. I remember getting into a conversation with a redskins fan about how depressing it is to have John Beck as your quarterback. Then they left (along with all of the other redskins fans) halfway through the 4th quarter.

22 Re: Packers TDs

"Ben Muth: Green Bay gets touchdowns from Ryan Grant and Ryan Taylor. That makes 18 different Packers who have scored this year. That's the most in the NFL this year, and has got to be at least approaching the record right?"

They also got one later in the game from Erik Walden on a fumble recovery, which should bring the total to 19. I don't know if this will be interesting to anyone else, but I'm impressed that number of Packers players with TDs is higher than three different teams' total number of TDs. (Cleveland and KC with 17 each, and St. Louis with 13).

37 Re: Packers TDs

In reply to by J (not verified)

Can I do this without looking??

1. Rodgers
2. Starks
3. Grant
4. Kuhn
5. Finley
6. Crabtree
7. Taylor
8. Jennings
9. Nelson
10. Driver
11. Jones
12. Cobb

and 7 defensive players-- hmmm

Woodson
Walden
Williams
Matthews
Peprah

I don't think Collins got a TD before his injury-- maybe Sam Shields and Desmond Bishop-- but I have to admit my memory fails me.

68 Re: Packers TDs

In reply to by Paul M (not verified)

Didn't Raji get one on offense?

184 Re: Packers TDs

In reply to by Paul M (not verified)

Mason Crosby

Unless "scoring" only includes TDs.

234 Re: Packers TDs

In reply to by BaronFoobarstein

Scoring a TD is what is being counted here.

240 Re: Packers TDs

In reply to by justanothersteve

Hmmm... Can you explain that concept to us 49er fans?

47 Re: Packers TDs

In reply to by J (not verified)

IIRC, the Saints had 19 different players score TD's in their SB year 2 years ago. Also, iirc, one of the Rams' greatest-show-on-turf teams has the record with 21.

65 Re: Packers TDs

In reply to by J (not verified)

I think the record is 21, set by the Patriots in 2007. But I haven't verified that.

98 Re: Packers TDs

In reply to by J (not verified)

If this isn't symptomatic of great coaching and to a lesser extent great quarterbacking then I don't know what is.

245 Re: Packers TDs

In reply to by J (not verified)

Just to put it here so folks don't have to go to another site.

1. Jordy Nelson (10 Rec)
2. Greg Jennings (9 Rec)
3. John Kuhn (4 Rush, 2 Rec)
4. Jermichael Finely (6 Rec)
5. James Jones (5 Rec)
6. Donald Driver (4 Rec)
7. Randall Cobb (1 Kick Ret, 1 Punt Ret, 1 Rec)
8. Aaron Rodgers (2 Rush)
9. Ryan Grant (2 Rush)
10. James Starks (1 Rush)
11. BJ Raji (1 Rush)
12. Matt Flynn (1 Rush)
13. Tom Crabtree (1 Rec)
14. Ryan Taylor (1 Rec)
15. Erik Walden (1 Fum Ret)
16. Charlie Peprah (1 Int Ret)
17. Charles Woodson (1 Int Ret)
18. Tramon Williams (1 Int Ret)
19. Clay Matthews (1 Int Ret)

Players that have a chance to be added to that list might include:
Brandon Saine - Getting more carries and good in the screen game and likely even more time with Starks likely getting even more rest the next few games, assuming the head hit against Oakland doesn't make him miss games.
Sam Shields - Could jump a route and go to the house
Morgan Burnett - See Sam Shields
DJ Williams - With the Jennings and Quarless injuries means he could end up on the field more in red zone situations (this is why Ryan Taylor got his catch).

Anyone else I would count as very unlikely and really DJ Williams probably should be here though I have seen him on the field in goal line situations. The ILB's with this defense are rarely in position to get clean runs so Hawk, Bishop, Francios, and DJ Smith would all be very surprising.

27 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

RE:#7

I agree that Tebow's " magic " is hype. Again the Broncos defense coupled with the Bears very conservative ( by necessity ) offensive game plan kept the Broncos in the game long enough to let Tebow do his thing. In regards to the defensive calls at the end of the game, I am not as upset as others about the " soft " zone thrown at Tebow. With Tebow's running ability, playing pressure man to man leaves you open to Tebow getting on the edges and running for a loooooooooooonnnnnnnnnggggggg time in the open field. Under the best circumstances Tebow is nearly impossible to arm tackle throw in the fact that the Bears had been chasing after him all day in that high altitude, by the 4th qt I am sure they were all gassed. At least playing zone lets the defense " face up " to Tebow so if he does try the run the defense can tackle him early. Also throw in the fact that the Bears Dline could not get any real pressure on Tebow and it all adds up to a breakdown. Just a tough loss though. Have not felt this dazed since 1992 in the " Jim Harbaugh throws pick six in the Metrodome and Mike Ditka explodes on the sideline like a atom bomb " game.

33 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

But you don't have to go total prevent, like the Bears did. In fact, all game they were playing a soft zone, except they had guys spying Tebow(*). And guess what: it worked perfectly. Switching to pressure man to man would have been changing up the defense from all game - something the Bears did anyway.

(*) It looked like, on many plays, the Bears had both Urlacher and Steltz spying Tebow, each covering one side. I loved that tactic. It played to Steltz's strength (open field tackling) and minimized his weakness (coverage).

28 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Were there that many Patriots fans at this game today? I wouldn't think of Washington as a team that had lots of seats open for visiting fans to buy.
(P.S. I made this comment on Twitter and got a lot of response; apparently, Redskins fans were unloading their tickets and there was a huge Pats fans contingent at FedEx today. I guess the Redskins *are* that kind of team.)"

Yes, the Redskins are that kind of team. It's basically impossible to get season tickets, but with their struggles in recent years, a lot of season ticket holders seem to re-sell their tickets, esp. when the team is 4-8. There may have been a good number of Patriots fans there yesterday (and I saw several on the Metro) but that was a small contingent to what I saw the last time the Steelers were in town. I think Steelers fans easily outnumbered Redskins fans that day.