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

Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Audibles at the Line: Week 15
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 15th

Jacksonville Jaguars 14 at Atlanta Falcons 41

Tom Gower: Honestly, with a game like this, at this time of the season, I don't know how much I'm seeing of interest. Julio Jones' opening touchdown came when his defender got caught up in the trash caused by Tony Gonzalez over the middle, and nobody else picked up the coverage. Jones is also faster than most of Jacksonville's defensive players. Ashton Youboty is not an NFL-caliber corner, which isn't a surprise because he wasn't in the NFL a couple weeks ago. Neither Jacksonville guard Will Rackley nor right tackle Guy Whimper is anything close to a competent player.

J.J. Cooper: I've got Whimper with nine sacks allowed this year, and Rackley with 5.5. They have not impressed.

Rivers McCown: Jaguars defense: have the injuries finally caught up to them, does Mel Tucker has too much on his plate now that he's the head coach, or is it both? I'm leaning toward the injuries.

Tom Gower: On that Michael Turner TD to make it 17-0, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, who's playing safety because Dwight Lowery left the game earlier with a shoulder injury, attacked Gonzalez's flat route AFTER Matt Ryan had handed the ball off to Turner. I'm not saying Lowery would've tackled Turner, but there's a chance he does. Between Lowery and Dawan Landry, the safeties have been a million times better this year, but they have zero depth whatsoever behind them, and that's a good example of it.

Coming into this game, I thought the worst game by an NFL player I'd seen this year was Brandyn Dombrowski at left tackle for the Chargers against the Raiders, in the game where he took over after Marcus McNeill's injury. Now that it's 41-0 midway through the third quarter, I'm sure almost everybody's attention is elsewhere, but Youboty's performance tonight has already exceeded Dombrowski's in my mind.

J.J. Cooper: I can't blame them too much, but Lance Louis' performance in Week 13 and Nate Garner's "efforts" replacing Jake Long at left tackle last week both rank up there as well.

Vince Verhei: I'm not watching the game, but I just checked the box score. It's 41-0 in the third quarter. Blaine Gabbert has 11 dropbacks, four sacks, one first down, and negative net passing yards. I cannot WAIT to write Quick Reads Sunday night.

Literally in the time it took me to type that post, Gabbert was sacked again.

I'm still not watching, by the way.

Saturday, December 17th

Dallas Cowboys 31 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 15

Tom Gower: I suppose it says something about tonight's game that I didn't even think about Audibles until after the game was over. I was surprised the Bucs put up any fight at all after that dismal first half, but they did. Ultimately, I think you saw a deeply flawed team that went down early and never got back in the game, which what I think pretty much what we were expecting.

Danny Tuccitto: My takeaway from this game is that, although I'm loathe to play armchair sports psychologist from afar, it's pretty apparent the Buccaneers have given up on 2011.

Rivers McCown: I charted Josh Freeman's Week 10 game against the Texans a week ago, and though I hated the work his offensive line did, I saw him making a few weird decisions in his progressions in that one. That continued in this game, I thought. I'm fine with the general consensus that Mike Mayock left us all with (and goodness, he makes games like this bearable), which was that Tampa desperately needs speed on offense, but it seems to me like Freeman is much better when Tampa is running the two-minute drill. That makes me curious about how well he's being coached.

Sunday, December 18th

Cincinnati Bengals 20 at St. Louis Rams 13

Mike Kurtz: Everything you need to know about the Rams offense: On third-and-7, the call is a toss to Steven Jackson out of shotgun.

Cincinatti's defense is just too fast for all of these slow-developing outside runs that St. Louis is trying. They've had success running up the middle, but on third down they keep trying to go outside, where they get hammered for losses.

Guess what St. Louis dialed up on third down? An outside toss. It was completely shut down, but they were bailed out by a facemask.

Another third down, quick hitch, shut down. Hey, guys, you're not having any luck outside. Run it up the middle with Cadillac Williams or Jackson.

The St. Louis defense has been playing lights-out today, especially on run defense. The Rams offense has been ... uh ... yeah. Neither team, through halftime, has converted a third down.

The CBS halftime crew must be having a contest to see who can screw up the most names ... Cable Hanie? Steve Young on the Panthers?

The Rams finally got their first third-down conversion, near the start of the fourth quarter.

Cedric Benson has fumbled twice this game, and both have bounced right into the arms of Bengals.

Robert Weintraub: Benson fumbled a third time later in the game, and Cincy recovered that one too, for the hat trick.

Ben Muth: Harvey Dahl just got called for holding. When the ref announced the call, Dahl yelled "That's not f---ing holding!" The refs mic picked it up, so everyone at home and in the stadium heard it. Then the ref called him for a personal foul. That's a bullcrap call. If the microphone doesn't pick it up, there's no way that's a penalty. It shouldn't make a difference how many people hear it. I could see a fine later in the week, perhaps, but it shouldn't be a penalty.

Aaron Schatz: If we're going to start flagging players for swearing on the field, or even just for swearing at officials, I mean, just pack up the whole league right now and call it quits. That's ridiculous.

Mike Kurtz: When the ref goes off to announce the penalty, they clear all the players out.Dahl stayed in the ref's face.

Aaron Schatz: So, the penalty is for shouting in the official's face, you think, not necessarily what he said?

Ben Muth: I'm 100 percent convinced that it's because the mic picked it up. He could've been so close to the ref he was spitting on him, but if the mic doesn't pick it up, the ref wouldn't call it.

Mike Kurtz: I agree with Ben, it was called because the mic picked it up, but he wasn't just standing around swearing to his buddies, he kept coming at him even after he should've cleared out.

Robert Weintraub: OK, I was at the Bengals-Rams game today (scalped ticket for $20, and I still felt a bit ripped off). Dahl cussed, the whole crowd went crazy, and only then did the flag come out. There was no question the flag came out because a bunch of little kids heard the f-bomb during a family outing -- and on Marshall Faulk Day, no less. Horrendous call, but given the poor officiating all game, right in line, actually. It's the first time I've ever seen that particular penalty, called so I suppose being there was worth it.

It looked like a blatant hold from the stands, by the way. At least get flagged for complaining about something less obvious.

Otherwise, an awful game, but I'd rather Cincy win ugly than lose in any fashion. The results are going the Who Dey way so far today, but this team has no business being in the playoffs given their current ineptitude. If seeing the Edward Jones Dome is on your bucket list, remove it post-haste.

Mike Kurtz: I watched the entire game, the only bad call was an uncalled helmet-to-helmet hit to Kellen Clemens. There were other borderline calls, but there are always borderline calls.

Danny Tuccitto: Let me make my weekly obligatory mention of the tiger suit bet. The Bengals win this week gives them eight for the season, which means I will indeed be wearing a tiger suit to my fantasy drafts next year. Photodocumentation to come ... in nine months.

Robert Weintraub: I may fly in to see it in person, actually.

Carolina Panthers 28 at Houston Texans 13

Mike Tanier: Cam Newton hits a touchdown bomb to Steve Smith on second-and-20. Remind me to look up the Panthers second-and-long play selection. I bet it is very deep pass-heavy.

Panthers just scored on a ... um ... a...

Rivers McCown: The announcers dubbed it a "modern fumblerooski." It was a heck of a call. Newton gave the ball to tight end/fullback Richie Brockel, who hid it low, and then Newton ran a fake sweep before the rest of the line moved left and opened up space for Brockel to score.

I only caught bits and pieces of the game, which is probably good news for my psyche. Nobody is going to win many games when they lose the turnover battle by three, and Arian Foster's first-quarter fumble again put Houston behind early. Honestly, from what I did see, I didn't think Houston played too poorly. The run defense looks like it may be a problem in the playoffs, and DeMeco Ryans played especially poorly today. I have to think he is a prime candidate for a restructure-or-release contract scenario this offseason.

Green Bay Packers 14 at Kansas City Chiefs 19

Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs march down the field against Green Bay on the first drive. They end up with fourth-and-goal from the 1. Romeo Crennel elects to kick the field goal. Because, of course, three points at a time is the perfect way to beat Aaron Rodgers. What a wuss move. What do the Chiefs have to lose at this point? Be bold!

Mike Tanier: The Packers look real flat early. Their first drive was just a roughing the punter penalty and a missed field goal. The Chiefs are gouging them with screens.

Jermichael Finley has several drops, as do some other receivers. Jordy Nelson has several offensive pass interference penalties. The Chiefs are still gaining big yards on screens and settling for field goals or goalline stands.

Aaron Schatz: Kansas City gets a huge pass to Leonard Pope on a second-and-inches, but Pope can't quite keep his feet in bounds as he tries to leap over the pylon, and gets declared down at the 3. Once again, the Chiefs suck in the red zone and have to kick a field goal. I wonder if Pope's inability to keep his feet in bounds just saved the Packers' perfect season.

Mike Tanier: The Packers are rapidly running out of offensive linemen. Bryan Bulaga got hurt earlier, and now Derek Sherrod is on a stretcher.

Aaron Schatz: We wondered all season who could stop Aaron Rodgers. Today we found out: His own receivers and offensive line.

The Chiefs finally get a touchdown when Romeo Crennel stops giving the ball to Thomas Jones in the red zone and gives it to Le'Ron McClain and Jackie Battle instead.

Mike Tanier: And the Colts can't even get on Any Given Sunday!

Vince Verhei: I spend 16 Sundays a year in a sports bar with tons of TVs. This is the one weekend I leave town, and Green Bay loses. Figures.

Washington Redskins 23 at New York Giants 10

Aaron Schatz: Jason Pierre-Paul gets a sack when the Redskins flat-out do not block him. Really wacko. The line slides to the right, which leaves the left tackle and left guard blocking the defensive tackle. And since the fullback is on the right side, he has to cross over in front of the quarterabck to try to pick up JPP. Honestly, even if the fullback was on the correct side, do you really want to leave your fullback in charge of picking up JPP?

Rivers McCown: (Yeah you know me!)

Aaron Schatz: Looking again, I guess the line was moving right because they were play-action faking a stretch run right, but still, that play-action fake naturally ends with Grossman directly in JPP's path. What a bad play.

Mike Tanier: It doesn't matter what the Redskins do. The Giants are in pass-dropping, tip-drill interception mode.

Aaron Schatz: At halftime, the Redskins offensive line is getting surprisingly strong push on runs up the middle against the Giants. They're not doing quite so well on outside runs -- I think they'll want to stay away from those in the second half. The Giants are not getting good coverage and it looks like they've benched Prince Amukamara. As far as the Giants offense goes, Tanier is correct. Eli Manning has terrible numbers right now (7-of-17, 77 yards, interception), but he's throwing the ball fine. The Giants have made a couple of egregious drops and have run a couple of really poorly-blocked screens, and the Redskins also have a couple of nice passes defensed, including one that turned into a tip-drill interception.

Mike Tanier: DeAngelo Hall is having the one game per year that convinces people not named DeAngelo Hall that he is good.

Aaron Schatz: The Giants secondary seems to be back on its heels on every play. They're letting the Redskins catch pass after pass ahead of them.

Tennessee Titans 13 at Indianapolis Colts 27

Tom Gower: Chris Johnson picked up three yards on a carry early in the second quarter -- there wasn't a free Colt within 15 yards of him when he hit the line of scrimmage. Yep, that kind of day.

Mike Tanier: We are on hour two of a Colts attempt to punt. I think there have been nine penalties on three attempts. The Colts special teams coach has a shiny bald head like a bowling trophy.

There was just another play where Johnson looked like he had a mile of running room on a draw, but gained just about four yards. Then he dropped a pass in the flat.

Tom Gower: The mascots-third graders scrimmage at halftime was just as well-played and more entertaining than the first half between the Titans and the Colts. The former is only a slight exaggeration.

Mike Tanier: Any day now, Johnson will stop running laterally and cut upfield for some real yardage

Pat Angerererer is having a great game for the Colts.

Tom Gower: Nobody helps out the 0-13 Colts like the Titans/Oilers. Indianapolis is now 2-0 against them when they hold that record, I believe.

I expected the Titans to win, but gave the Colts a chance if the Titans had trouble moving the ball offensively. It was apparent in the first quarter that Johnson would not have a good game and that the Titans' wideouts would struggle immensely to win in coverage. The Titans gave them good field position with a mediocre punt and a penalty, and Dan Orlovsky hit Reggie Wayne in what I think was the Cover-2 deep outside void for the touchdown and a 10-6 lead. Matt Hasselbeck followed with the "I don't think CJ tried" pick-6, and that was pretty much that. The Titans went to Jake Locker down 20-6 in the fourth, a series after I thought they should have if they wanted to win, and he had some success against a soft defense. Donald Brown, who I thought was clearly the best running back on the field, answered Locker's touchdown with an 80-yard score, though, and it was really over. Credit to the Colts, who for the most part have looked only like a team that's badly outclassed and have kept trying despite the lost season, and brickbats to the Titans not named Rob Bironas.

Seattle Seahawks 38 at Chicago Bears 14

Vince Verhei: Seattle's defense overwhelmed the Bears offensive line today, getting four sacks and five interceptions, including a pair of gift pick-sixes. I think "dominant pass rusher" is Seattle's biggest defensive need, but what they have is good enough to beat Chicago.

New England Patriots 41 at Denver Broncos 23

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots just look horrible early on defense. Just awful. Can't tackle. Can't get off blocks. The Broncos are running all over them. Tim Tebow's also hit a couple of good passes on totally open receivers.

Vince Verhei: Ben Muth has said that teams don't even bother blocking cornerbacks on running plays, because cornerbacks don't want to tackle running backs anyway. New England's defense appears to be fielding 11 cornerbacks.

Aaron Schatz: Andre Carter goes out with a knee injury, just in case you thought the defense for the Pats couldn't get any worse.

The Broncos had something like 240 yards in the first quarter. They get into the red zone near the start of the second quarter, and Tebow runs for seven yards on third-and-8, but there's a holding penalty. At first the Pats accept the holding, then they decide to decline instead, so it is fourth-and-1. Denver brings in the field goal kicker. Man, if you are Denver, doesn't it make sense to go for it more often on fourth-and-1? Especially with Tebow? Does anyone think this Pats defense has more than a 20 percent chance to stop Tebow on fourth-and-1?

Vince Verhei: On the same note, Denver is currently ahead 16-14 because they missed their first extra point, then kicked the next one. Shouldn't Denver always go for two, especially to make up for the one they missed earlier?

Aaron Schatz: That was the best play of the game. The Patriots players picked up the aborted extra point and went running for the end zone celebrating. Whoever "scored" with it pointed to the sky, I think mocking Tebow. They had no idea that you can't return a missed extra point for a score in the NFL. It was hilarious.

Ben Muth: The Broncos had the ball the entire first quarter, the Patriots have had the ball the entire second quarter. The Pats were able to get one quick touchdown in the first with their limited time of possession, and that's the difference at the half.

Erm, scratch that. The Broncos muff a punt with three seconds left in the half, and the Patriots kick a field goal on the next play to make it an 11-point game. That's as bad a special teams play as you can make.

Aaron Schatz: First of all, Quan Cosby should have never, ever tried to catch that ball. What, he's going to return it for a touchdown? Just let the Pats down it and take a freakin' knee. But wait, it gets better. The Pats player who picked it up tried to advance it, even though you can't advance a muffed punt. OK, maybe he didn't remember that rule. But then, with the Broncos tackling him, he flipped the ball forward to a teammate. He probably should remember the rule about "no forward laterals." What on earth was that guy thinking?

Tim Gerheim: Wow, check out Jim Nantz's tie-and-sweater combination; I didn't know he was a Gryffindor.

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots offense really took over after the first quarter. It doesn't even look like the Patriots defense is playing much better than before, mostly because the Patriots defense has barely been on the field ... they've stopped the Broncos a couple times and that was good enough for the Pats to score 27 straight unanswered points.

Whoops, forgot one other thing: fumble luck. Three Denver fumbles so far, and all of them were recovered by the Patriots, including the muffed punt by Cosby. Muffed punts are almost always recovered by the return team, not the punting team, so that's a nice piece of serendipity.

Mike Tanier: It ain't over yet.

Aaron Schatz: No kidding. Tebow just made an amazing play in his own end zone. Second-and-14, Pats defender Brandon Deaderick blows past Zane Beadles and tries to drag him down for the safety, Tebow stays on his feet, but the ball bounces loose. Deaderick is wrapped up with an offensive lineman on the ground though, so Tebow is able to pick up the ball in the back zone and throw it away (skipping a pass on the ground ahead of Demaryius Thomas) instead of taking a safety or, worse, the Pats getting a touchdown. Just another one of those amazing athletic plays by Tebow.

Oh boy. Here we go with the Tebow. Third-and-18, Devin McCourty thinks he has help over the top and Sergio Brown is still hanging around in the middle of the field, leaving Demaryius Thomas wide open on the sideline for a 39-yard gain. On the next play, a dumpoff to Lance Ball, Jerod Mayo, who is covering Ball, leaves Ball to try to come after Tebow scrambling. 35-yard gain. Next play: Tebow quarterback power for a touchdown. Patriots by 11.

Hmmm. Tebow Time may be pre-empted by a Denver defensive scheme that is leaving the Patriots tight ends wide open in the middle of the field.

Mike Tanier: I am stuck watching anti-Tebow Vince Young, but it appears that the Patriots have run out of plays and plan to run Tom Brady sneaks for the rest of the game at the goalline.

Robert Weintraub: Oh, Mike Arnold, no! Tebow is wandering around after the gun looking for Brady, the Tom/Tim meeting they need to capture, and just as they go to shake hands Arnold cuts to Welker just standing there! They switched it fast, so perhaps he just called the wrong camera in the heat of the moment, or maybe they were losing the handheld look. Made up for it with good sound, though, hearing Brady say "maybe we'll see you again."

Cleveland Browns 17 at Arizona Cardinals 20

Mike Kurtz: Arizona just challenged a third-down play purely in an attempt to make the field goal six yards longer. It's still a 44-yarder, after Whisenhunt loses. The resulting kick would've been good from 50.

It's astounding how poorly both of these offensive lines have performed this week, considering neither of these teams have particularly fearsome pass rushes.

Ben Muth: I kind of like Arizona's front this year. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell are good pass rushing 3-4 defensive ends, and I like Sam Acho. He has been a pleasant surprise.

Mike Kurtz: I'm starting to agree with Ben regarding the Arizona pass rush. It really does look like Pittsburgh: West Side. The execution isn't quite there, but they're bringing great heat from all corners. It's a lot of fun to watch.

Cleveland's offensive line is definitely not impressing, though.

J.J. Cooper: If Levi Brown is on the field, I expect pressure to be coming from his side. The Browns have some talent on the offensive line -- can't really say the same for the Cardinals.

Ben Muth: John Skelton just wins football games!

New York Jets 19 at Philadelphia Eagles 45

Mike Tanier: The Eagles are coming up with every variation on the non-fumble you can think of, including a challenged play and reviewed play, and a tuck-like play.

Mark Sanchez is hurt. Something weird happened, with Jason Babin hanging on him like a Christmas ornament for several seconds after a pass until Sanchez went down. I think someone bumped his ankle when he was still supporting 250 pounds of Babin meat. No call.

The Jets have lots of trouble covering tight ends. Brent Celek just had a 70-yard catch-and-run to put the ball at the goal line.

Sanchez is back. From the look of things, Babin is still clinging to him.

The bad Mark Sanchez is doing his thing tonight.

Detroit Lions 28 at Oakland Raiders 27

Robert Weintraub: Mike Mitchell just put a major lick on a Lions back, to the point where he had to come out of the game for a play. From what I've seen of this game, the Raiders are physically pounding Detroit, but only lead by three.

Any idea why T.J. Houshmandzadeh would be returning punts for Oakland?

Aaron Schatz: I swear I mentioned the same thing about Housh a couple weeks ago. They don't have 20 guys who are faster?

Robert Weintraub: I guess they trust him not to pull a Quan Cosby, or else there is some sort of former-Bengals jobs program going on that I am unaware of.

Ben Muth: If he's fielding them deep in their own territory, then I have no problem with Housh returning punts. He probably is the best at catching them, and there aren't too many 80-yard punt returns. Better to just put someone back there who's guaranteed to not muff them. If it's the middle of the field though, I don't know.

Mike Tanier: Jacoby Ford and the new kid are still hurt, right? At some point you just go for ball security out of your punt returner. But geez, you would think Darrius Heyward-Bey should have developed into a role like that by now.

Robert Weintraub: The rarely-seen midfield dive over the pile fails for Detroit on third-and-1, and the Raiders stuff fourth-and-1 too. Combined with the Bengals getting stuffed on those same circumstances earlier, I've witnessed four Power Situation runs up the gut that came up empty. My kingdom for some creativity!

Aaron Schatz: Don't forget the Chiefs constantly getting stuffed in short yardage by the Packers.

Robert Weintraub: Big hidden timeout -- the Raiders lined up for a field goal on fourth-and-1, and Detroit had 13 guys on the field. They all started running off, but the Lions wisely called timeout. Even if it may come back to haunt them later, it's probably better than giving Oakland a gift first down. Sebastian Janikowski puts a 51-yarder through without apparent effort, and the Raiders are up six with eight and change to go.

Janikowski then falls down whilst kicking off. Never a dull moment.

Now the Raiders get the strip sack-six on Matthew Stafford, seriously salting this game away.

The Lions get down the field in a hurry trailing by 13, and with fewer than six minutes left, and two timeouts, face a fourth-and-3 in the red zone. Thom Brennaman is asking why the Lions aren't kicking a field goal. Brian Billick explains it patiently. The Raiders call time, and Brennaman yelps "I wanna get back into that after the break -- why not take the points here and try to get the ball back one more time!?"

OK, play-by-play is a far tougher job than we give it credit for, but that's just simple mathematics.

Detroit converts on a Stafford scramble, and scores on the next play. This sucker is apparently not so salted.

Aaron Schatz: The Lions just went ahead of the Raiders 28-27. The drive started at the 2 and had a 10-yard offensive holding penalty, so that means it went 108 yards. 92 of those yards were to Calvin Johnson: 75 receiving and a 17-yard defensive pass interference.

Robert Weintraub: Somehow the Raiders wound up with single coverage on Johnson on the game-tying post route. Didn't we go over this earlier in the year?

Oh, and having Rolando McClain in under coverage against him probably also isn't a good idea.

The Janikowski 65-yard kick for the win was blocked to complete the miracle comeback -- one that helps Tim Tebow, naturally. Ndamukong Suh got the block.

Baltimore Ravens 14 at San Diego Chargers 34

Danny Tuccitto: Through his first 10 passes, Joe Flacco's arm has been incredibly enigmatic. He's overthrown and thrown behind open receivers, but then somehow caps off the Ravens' first touchdown drive by threading a pass to Ed Dickson through a tiny window between two Chargers. Like everything else NFL, this reminds me of Tim Tebow.

Mike Tanier: Philip Rivers looks like his old self.

Phillip Rivers ruheaally looks like his old self.

Mike Kurtz: Considering I'm in two close fantasy semifinals, it'd be great if he looked like his old self in Vincent Jackson's direction a bit more.

Danny Tuccitto: As I'm hanging onto a slim lead in a fantasy semi with Ray Rice and Antonio Gates against Vincent Jackson, I prefer Rivers to look is his old self in every direction other than Jackson's.

Mike Kurtz: Amusingly, Danny, I have Rice in both leagues. Here's hoping for garbage time!

Aaron Schatz: Malcom Floyd is looking even better than his old self. Speeding right past guys tonight.

DVOA's top defenses are really getting keelhauled this week. The Chargers have scored on every drive. the Jets got stomped by Eagles, the Jags got blown out by Falcons, the Bears were killed by the Seahawks. If Pittsburgh can score a lot on the 49ers, that will be all of the teams in the top five.

Tom Gower: Floyd's DVOA has been excellent this year, and I'm not really sure why. Is it just a sample size fluke (he's missed enough time that he doesn't qualify) or has his absence really been what's been plaguing the offense? It's something I'll have to figure out sooner or later.

Aaron Schatz: Floyd is just killing rookie Jimmy Smith.

Oh, boy. Flacco throws a ball that Quentin Jammer nearly picks off, but he can't hold onto it. On the next play, Flacco throws the ball right to Takeo Spikes sitting in a zone in the middle of the field. No idea how he didn't see Spikes. He's trying to throw it to a receiver who is crossing behind Spikes. Maybe you notice a dude in an electric blue jersey standing right in your field of vision in front of your receiver?

Robert Weintraub: You know it's your night when you drop a pick, then get one on the next play anyway.

Mike Tanier: This is like Course Correction Sunday.

Danny Tuccitto: Teams like the 2011 Baltimore Ravens have always fascinated me. They're undeniably good. Against good teams, they play well. Against bad teams inside their division, they play well. At home, they play well. However, put them in a non-divisional road game against a wildly inferior opponent, and they seemingly don't show up. If this game finishes as is, it would mean the Ravens are 1-4 in this latter type of games, and 9-0 in all others. What gives?

Tom Gower: These look like the same coverage issues Baltimore had in Week 2, albeit with more Jimmy Smith. Why don't these show up every week, like against Pittsburgh? Is it just the pass rush covering them up, or what? And why aren't Terrell Suggs and company killing this offensive line? If I hadn't come up with an explanation I liked for the Ryan Mathews/Mike Tolbert conundrum, I'd really be pulling my hair out here.

Danny Tuccitto: Well, Tom, in his comments to Michelle Tafoya going into halftime, John Harbaugh seemed to think Suggs and company weren't killing the Chargers because the Chargers offensive line was getting away with holding. Of course, "blame the refs" is a handy excuse.

Based on their losses, I think we can definitively say this about the Ravens offense this season: Whether by scheme or by building an early lead, if an opponent is able to take Baltimore out of its play-action comfort zone, the Ravens basically have no Plan B.

J.J. Cooper: I'm getting to see the best tight end I ever saw play high school football is in this Ravens-Chargers game. Takeo Spikes was not much smaller or slower than he is now when he was a defensive end/tight end in high school, and whenever he caught a seam route, he pretty much looked like he did on that interception. The only difference is that instead of NFL players trying to tackle him, he was shrugging off 180 pounders.

The second-best high school tight end I got to see play is also in this game -- Randy McMichael.

When Ray Lewis rightfully is inducted into the Hall of Fame, they won't show the highlight of that third down dumpoff pass to Mike Tolbert. Tolbert catches it and spins right out of Lewis' tackle to convert for a first down.

Comments

243 comments, Last at 22 Dec 2011, 8:08pm

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I am disappointed that GB lost, but I am hopeful that the few Packer zealots around here will now SHUP UP ALREADY.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

This. I actually really like GB, I have been rooting for them this year except for when they played my team, and I love the entire state of Wisconsin. I just never believed they were an all-time great team, even if they do have an all-time great offense.

Hopefully, we can put the whole discussion behind us and get back to evaluating things on their merits now.

14 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The loss had been coming for a while. Green Bay's defense was terrible as usual, and the offense has been threatening to have an off day, but I don't think enough credit has been given to the Chiefs. The Packer receivers were never open by more than a fraction. And for some reason Kyle Orton is still considered a bit of a joke. Moose Johnson at one point said something like, I bet Orton can't believe he's thrown for more than 200 yards in three quarters on the 13-0 Packers, as if a) Orton was completely unheralded and b) the Packers were 13-0 because of a stingy defense.

37 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Sherrod broke his left. he's out for the season.

Clifton 'may' still come back in the remaining two games. Unknown.

Belaga may be back against the Bears. Unknown.

Sitton played yesterday. Guess he's ok.

The crux is getting left tackle fixed and quick

85 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Newhouse has been periodically abused at LT this year, but all in all, I think he has done a hellluva job. If you had told me the Packers would be 13-1 with him at LT for, what, 10 games?, I would never have believed you.

105 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

By fixed I mean either acknowledge your guy needs some help sometimes or go in a different direction. Because leaving Marshall on an island against a quality pass rusher clearly isn't working.

121 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Marshall also looked better before Quarless went on IR. When they had protection issues earlier this year, they'd play a lot of 2 TE with Quarless chipping the DE. He's a better blocker than Finley and a better receiver than Crabtree.

196 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Good Point. I actually thought that Quarless would give TT the freedom to let Finley try his worth on the open market. Now the Quarless may be gone for all of next year, TT has limited options.

60 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I was afraid that McCarthy, by acting like who won yesterday had some importance, thus sending five receivers out in patterns, while down a ton late in the fourth, was going to get Rodgers rung up. When your offensive line is just getting overmatched on a Sunday afternoon when the outcome of the game probably won't mean much, and your playoff chances in a month almost entirely rest on your qb play being great, I think I'd just go max protect and hope for the best.

141 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I think that trying to go undefeated is the right move there. While who won that game does not matter in terms of winning the SuperBowl, there is something to be said about making history.

Every year one team wins the SuperBowl, no team has ever gone 19-0 in a single season. I think it matters to the fans (see Indy controversy) and I think it matters to the players (GB players were not shy about saying so). Quitting on a chance at making history cheapens the game in my opinion.

Green Bay was in that game until the last first down the Chiefs made before kneeling to run out the clock. The offense didn't play a single snap where they had no chance of victory. If they had been down by 30 in the final 5 minutes I could see removing them, but I think McCarthy would have had a hard time looking his players in the eye if he did it while winning was still possible.

183 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Selective memory. He was getting lots of love when he was on the block earlier this season. There were people claiming he'd be an upgrade for basically half the league, which on a good day for him would probably be about right because he practically defines "mediocre." When he's not turning the ball over, he's quite serviceable. But when he is, as was the case in Denver, he's completely expendable.

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Mike Kurtz: I watched the entire game, the only bad call was an uncalled helmet-to-helmet hit to Kellen Clemens. There were other borderline calls, but there are always borderline calls.

I saw three that weren't called and I was flipping between that game and NO/MIN.

4 NE @ DEN

This will be the fate of the Broncos if they can't get pressure. Their DBs just aren't good enough, as a whole, to hold up against a passing offense as powerful and varied as NE or GB.

Tebow made some very nice passes and had a couple of amazing athletic plays but his O-line provided very little protection.

41 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by PerlStalker

This will be the fate of any team that plays dumb football like Denver played: try to field a punt with 3 seconds left in the half and gift 3 points by fumbling, having a defensive lineman who isn't close to getting pressure get correctly flagged for hands to the face when the Pats are on their own 10 with 3rd and 24 and throwing an underneath pass for just a 10-yard gain. Those two were glaring mistakes by the Broncos in the middle of the game. Yeah, perhaps NE puts some pressure on a team to make mistakes, but those two were really, really bad. Almost a 10-point swing there. Easily 3, and then NE went on to score a TD and Denver didn't get the ball at midfield, as they would have had they not given NE a free first down by getting the penalty.

They need to be smarter, or they won't win anything.

48 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by Purds

Could this be an unintended consequence of all the Tebow magic? Denver has been able to get away with poor play early in games, because Tebow has managed to put together clutch play at the end (and, more importantly, they've played teams that were unable to take advantage of mistakes); possibly, this has made them a little blind to the fact they even were playing sloppy ball.

67 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by Eddo

I don't think so. The defense has been able to hold teams to under 20 points for most of Tebow's wins. The teams that gave them problems have been the ones that could exploit the secondary with multiple weapons. GB did the same thing to them earlier in the year as did MIN (though MIN's D was so poor that DEN was able to stay in it).

A lot of DEN's offensive problems come from an inability of the o-line to keep rusher's off Tebow. When they hurry things up at the end of the game to come back, the line doesn't have to hold as long and it looks better than it is. A lot of work needs to be done on the interior of that line.

71 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by PerlStalker

Oh, I agree that actual football issues are responsible for the Broncos loss to the Patriots. My comment was partially in jest, targeted at those who love to cite intangible qualities for why the Broncos were able to have so many come-from-behind victories; there can be a negative effect, as well.

116 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by PerlStalker

Tebow was only in for one play vs the Packers.

145 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by justanothersteve

He was speaking about the defense when he mentioned GB.

63 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by Purds

The turnovers were stupid but even without the turnovers Denver couldn't stop NE through the air. They managed to get to Brady a couple of times but there was rarely any pressure on him as he picked apart the coverage.

93 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by PerlStalker

Before developing fumblitis Denver was up 11 and moving the ball basically at will. They wouldn't have necessarily *needed* to stop Brady to keep the game competitive or even win.

115 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by JIPanick

quarterbacks getting strip sacked isn't something that just happens, its forced.

Running quarterbacks almost always have problems with fumbling, because they hold the ball in one hand while running. Tebow does the same thing.

for all the "Game could have been closer if", it also could have been much worse if a patriot had picked up the ball that Tebow fumbled in the endzone.

120 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by RichC (not verified)

Yeah, I'm not sure why I've read so much media praising that as a good play by Tebow. I mean, sure, it could have been worse had he not recovered and thrown the ball away, but he still fumbled in his own end zone (then very nearly stepped on the end line).

125 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by Eddo

It was an impressive save athletically.

194 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by Nathan

That it was...but it was kind of a dumb play for him to pick up the bouncing ball and feebly throw it. I'm sure the coaches were hollering at him to kick the ball out of bounds and take the safety. One of those "No..NO...NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?...YES!" sequences.

206 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by dryheat

With the Broncos down 34-16 at the beginning of the 4th quarter, I seriously doubt that the coaches were thinking anything other than "pick that ball up and deliver us another miracle Timmy!". That's not a dumb play. It's a bad play to fumble in the first place and then a lucky play to recover from it, but it's not dumb at all in that game situation.

208 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by GlennW

Well, what are the possible scenarios? Best I can figure:

1) Tebow kicks/bats ball out of bounds, or falls on it for a safety. Patriots lead goes from 18 to 20, and New England gets possession with good field position.

2) Tebow tries to pick up the ball, but muffs the recovery in traffic and the Patriots fall on it for a Touchdown. Patriots lead goes from 18 to 25, and Broncos get possession ~ their 20.

3) Tebow picks up the ball and gets sacked in the end zone for a safety. Re-set is same as 1), but Tebow takes another hit.

4) Tebow picks up the ball and his feeble throw gets intercepted. Patriots probably score a touchdown, making the re-set like 2). If not, Patriots ball inside the Broncos 10 up by 18.

5) Tebow picks up the ball and his feeble throw falls incomplete. Broncos have 3rd and 14

6) Tebow picks up the ball and his feeble throw is caught for a completion. Broncos drive continues. Broncos drive continues down by 18.

Maybe you're right, but if I was the coach, I'd rather give up the 2 points and possession, no matter how much I think my QB is charmed in the 4th quarter. I'm not a statistician, but I think the odds come down firmly on the side of "bad outcome" in that situation, including an injury to the quarterback. The difference in being down 18 or down 20 is negligible really. Giving the ball back to Brady isn't ideal, but there's a decent chance your defense can force a punt, get a turnover, or hold the Pats to a field goal.

Again, I think it was an instinctive heads-up play by Tebow, but one that had a relatively low percentage of succeeding, and in this case success is going from 2nd and 14 to most likely 3rd and 14.

210 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by dryheat

I disagree.

In the situation of down big, late, time is more your enemy than the score. Giving up possession is a huge disadvantage. I'd rather the pick-6 in that situation than the safety, especially because I'm kicking onsides at this point anyway.

217 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by Aaron Brooks G…

I'm okay with you on the possession thing. It's a gamble that your defense will come through where they haven't very often. However, a pick-6 turns a 3 possession game into a 4 possession game.

211 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by dryheat

I don't agree. The Broncos were already in a bad situation. It really doesn't matter if they made it worse...they were likely going to lose in either case. But Tebow gave a chance of something better happening.

Consider a scenario where you are in a really bad situation, and have two strategies. Strategy A makes your bad situation a little bit worse. Strategy B can make your situation a little bit worse, notably worse, or better. Assuming "really bad" is bad enough that "notably worse" isn't that much worse, I want to pick Strategy B every time, since it's the only chance of getting better, even if the odds are against it.

To be more quantitative, the Broncos probability of winning at that point was already really really low. Giving up the safety lowers it slightly, throwig the INT or giving up the TD lowers it even more, but still only slightly (since it can't go below zero). On the other hand, completing the pass probably has enough relative more upside, because you're starting out so low on the win probability curve, that it's worth trying. It's the same reasoning why in general you should play more aggressively when you are losing than in a close game.

212 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by MJK

OK, I looked up the actual numbers. According to Advanced NFL Stat's win probability curves, the Bronco's win probability at the start of that play was 2%. So whatever they do on that play, they can decrease their win probability by at most 2%. It was also 2nd down.

This argues even more strongly for what Tebow did. Taking the safety or throwing an INT at worst takes you from almost no chance of winning to really almost no chance of winning (realistically, probably reducing you from 2% to 1%). Furthermore, just taking the safety to be safe ends your drive, since it was only 2nd down. Throwing the incompletion gives you at least one more play to try to convert, and if it's completed, it makes life easier. I have to imagine, even if that was unlikely, as you posit, that the net probability increase from being so low on the curve already argues for doing exactly what Tebow did.

215 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by MJK

We're overanalyzing this though. Look at the replay. The ball is nearly at rest, and Tebow bends over and picks it up with no Patriot defender within three yards of him. As with you, 18 points down I'd argue that he'd be justified in attempting a much riskier play, but this was not a difficult play (at least picking up the football-- staying inbounds and avoiding the rush was more impressive). Tebow would have been a total wuss to just boot the ball out of the endzone, a la your average placekicker.

218 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by GlennW

It's okay for your quarterback to become a wuss in a lost cause (unless Fox truly felt that God was going to work through Tebow and somehow win). It would seem that there would be a higher than usual chance of QB injury in those situations (the defense reacting like mad dogs at a fumble, and the offensive linemen not quite clear on what's happening).

234 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by MJK

i really appreciate this logic.. i was in the "no-no-no-no-yes!" camp of coaching before, but this makes a lot of sense (even before you quantify it with the 2% below)

//AJMQB

227 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by dryheat

It was second down, wasn't it? If they get a third down, they still have a chance to get a first down.

96 Re: NE @ DEN

In reply to by PerlStalker

That's true. I think the game could have been very different if Denver had not gifted the FG at the half by fielding and fumbling, and if they had forced NE to punt at the start of the 3rd quarter, which would have happened had a DT not been dumb to put his hand in the face of the OL on 3rd and 24. Denver would have gotten the ball at midfield or so (NE punting from the 15) at the start of the 3rd quarter, down 24-16. Instead, NE got some first downs, then punted to the Denver 10.

Smart version: down 24-16, ball at midfield.
Dumb version: down 27-16, ball on your 10.

Agreed, Denver would have lost. But, they would have had a chance. The dumb plays made it that they had NO chance.

158 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I haven't watched much of Ray Lewis lately, but I'm curious: Lewis or Urlacher as the better MLB in the twilight of their respective careers? May be hard to evaluate since they play completely different systems.

169 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I don't think Urlacher has lost much except maybe a little speed, and he knows Lovie's defense so well now that it probably doesn't make much difference. I always find it funny when some announcer says the Bears have shown how to stop a team. Sure, all you need to do is have a decent front four and two LBs as talented as Urlacher and Briggs. Since Urlacher can cover so much of the middle of the field in the Cover-2, he's helped the Bears get by with the mostly mediocre safeties they've fielded since Mike Brown stopped being Mike Brown. (And for those who don't know, I'm a Packers fan.)

171 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Urlacher's been quite impressive in his twilight years, but he definitely has slipped. He seems to disappear for full games now and then; I would guess it's because he's clearly not as fast as he was, so he can be forced to bite on misdirection and get taken out of plays.

That said, I was certainly wrong that he was losing it a few years ago. He's still definitely a well-above-average MLB.

195 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I think Lewis is much better at this point in time, or really at any point in their careers...and I thought he was done 5 years ago (I stopped thinking that 3 years ago). If he wants to, Ray can probably play another 6-8 years as a coverage linebacker.

214 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Urlacher has been really underrated by some folks. How can you say he was worse than Lewis during his defensive MVP season when Lewis was struggling with injuries? And right now I think they're pretty even. I do think that over the span of their careers Lewis has been slightly better and probably had a higher peak value but it's easy to forget that Urlacher was basically a superstar from halfway through his rookie year while Lewis took a couple of years to reach that level.

And you're mental if you really think Lewis can play 6 years as a coverage linebacker.

216 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I don't watch a lot of Lewis so it's hard for me to compare them, but you would be really hard pressed to convince me that another ILB played as well as Urlacher did last year. That he was not an all-pro was ludicrous.

Meanwhile, most people agree that Lewis is still above average, but not great anymore. Urlacher was great as recently as last year.

220 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Another factor in Urlacher's favor (if people aren't considering it already) is that Lewis has more consistently had other excellent defenders around him-- in this latest incarnation of the Ravens' defense, Reed, Ngata, and Suggs. Meanwhile on the Bears' defense players come and go, and the up-and-down results season to season reflect that.

Still, I think I'd take Lewis over Urlacher for their entire careers, just not the last few years. And that last part makes sense, as Lewis is three years older than Urlacher.

221 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I can't remember who the all-pros were last year, was it Lewis and Mayo? Willis was freaking awesome last year, better than Urlacher to my eyes but Urlacher had about as good a game as you'll see in the NFC Championship game.

I think that right now Willis is the best ILB there is.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Sad to see DeMeco Ryans playing poorly now that the Texans have finally righted the ship. He was one of the first players acquired by the new regime and instantly made a difference at MLB. He did have a pretty horrendous injury if I remember correctly. One of the type where the tendon tears off from the bone. I wonder whether another year of workouts and an offseason of rest may bring his ability back closer what it was at his peak?

30 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The whole team just seemed to be "off" to me while watching. I'm hoping it was just a case of the Texans just having a bad game. Between Phillips being out and maybe some post-playoff-clinching relaxing I guess a letdown was almost expected.

32 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

If he can get back to 100% physically, he might be a great candidate for a Vilma-esque career resurgence on another team, but like Vilma he's a poor fit for a 3-4 even when healthy. He seems like a great guy and I wish him well, but I suspect his days as a cornerstone of the Texans defense are not coming back.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Reason #497 why I'm not an NFL GM: It doesn't matter how bad Guy Whimper is, I couldn't help but give him a roster spot because his name is so awesome.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I think James Harrison has a pretty strong case when Ray Lewis makes a hit on a Running back every bit as vicious as the one he put on McCoy, but with perhaps more of a helmet to helmet element and all the announcers can do is cheer and show replays.

It is as though Running backs cannot also get concussions and brain damage...

I realize that is what the rules are, but if you really care about player safety the rules are a joke.

62 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Then they'll have to add for assessing a personal foul against offensive players who drop their head into contact. Which in turn will be poorly/capreciously officiated in keeping with contemporary NFL standards.

140 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Honestly, I would welcome an unambiguous rule like not helmet to helmet over the defenseless quagmire we have now. I welcome even more some balance that acknowledges that offensive plays can be and often are just as culpable to helmet to helmet hits, even if it winds up being hard to officiate.

Even more, though, I'd like to see the helmet to helmet shots on defenseless players allowed again but with more substantial helmet-shoulder-pad apparatus making concussions much less likely from them.

143 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Fully agreed on the first paragraph. On the second, that's going to require some kind of futuristic science-fiction technology that I'm not sure will ever exist, simply because physiologically the brain floats around in the skull, and concussions can result from sudden deceleration of the head/brain even if no direct contact to the head has even occurred.

159 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

At this point, I'd settle for an objective test or scan that can truly evaluate the severity and extent of a concussion that can guide an accurate prognosis. Current grading is almost entirely based on clinical evaluation and has proven to be fairly unreliable in predicting long term health.

The problem is that most the damage is microstructural rather than gross damage or bleeding. Changes like that are hard enough to identify with a biopsy, let alone a non-invasive scan.

166 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

It's even worse than that. Some of the damage often doesn't show up immediately, but takes hours to days to actually manifest. The axons get stressed and then later things just start to swell and die. So even if you had a good test, you'd probably have to wait till at least the next day to use it.

176 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

We would have to wait a day to identify the slower developing indicators of damage (swelling/cytotoxic edema, etc), but there obviously has to be some kind of immediate damage/injury that we just don't have the tools to identify right now. Otherwise, we wouldn't see the hyperacute symptoms of concussion.

182 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

At one point it was explained to me that if you can avoid any rotational motion on the impact, that the size of the impulse the head can take without the brain being damaged is much larger, and that's why woodpeckers don't give themselves concussions.

My guess is that in order to actually make use of this, though, you'd have to develop some kind of equipment that actually rigidly attached the helmet to the body pads. Even assuming this could be done without crippling the player's peripheral vision and ability to scan the field, the players are much too concerned about looking dorky to agree to use it.

209 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The woodpecker thing is a little different. There's a really nice paper by Dr. Lorna Gibson studying woodpeckers and concussions. The basic idea is that it's a combination of their beak structure and simply the smaller size of their head and brain. Smaller structures at the same acceleration --> less force.

You are correct, though, that there are two main types of loading that can cause impact-induced brain damage--linear acceleration and rotation. In most impacts, both occur, and it can be difficult to determine how much of what kind of injury is caused by which, but it is definitely true (has been observed in carefully controlled lab experiments on animals, and born out by simulations and by human trauma data) that rotation is worse than linear acceleration. I.e. a "small" impact that induces head rotation is more likely to cause injury than a bigger impact that happens to hit just right so that there is no rotation. The injury characteristics might be different, too. However, both can cause injury.

The difference is how you protect against them. You can mitigate linear acceleration through better (or thicker) padding, playing games with the helmet shell, etc. But rotation is much harder to deal with, since you don't even need a direct head impact to induce it (e.g. whiplash). About the only thing you can do to suppress head rotation is to link the helmet to the body in some way (like using the whiplash cushions that race car drivers sometimes use).

It's also tough, because a strategy that helps one might make the other worse. One idea that some people like to toss around is to put padding on the outside of the helmet shell, or make the shell soft. If you did you, you would certainly reduce linear acceleration of impacts...but at the same time, you would make it more likely that the helmet would not slide cleanly along another surface (another helmet, the ground, etc.) but would rather stick and rotate the head harder in an oblique impact.

198 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

While true, you're looking at literally "Indy Car into Barrier" type changes in velocity for an inertial concussion. (There's exactly one in the literature; it was an Indy Car into a barrier at 130 mph change in speed over 0.5 seconds or so)

For all practical purposes, concussions are an impact phenomenon.

And as to woodpeckers, they are come with a built-in vented skull and shock-absorbing peak, paired with a tiny, tiny brain, which makes them nearly impossible to concuss regardless of skull construction.

74 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

From this morning's news. The emphasis on "open field" helmet hits (which to me are more preventable, and arguably unnecessary) does seem to be the next logical step in legislating the player safety/concussion issue:

'The NFL is expected to look at expanding the ban on launching and helmet hits.

'Falcons president Rick McKay, the co-chairman of the league's competition committee, believes it will be a topic for his group during the offseason, and changes could be presented to the owners next spring.

"I think the launch will be discussed more and more and eventually we will see helmets hits modified in the open field," McKay said.'

83 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I really wonder what can be done on open field hits-- your best approach to ensure a tackle is to get there fast, anticipate the ball-carrier's movements, and dive into him with your arms out to wrap him up. If you do that, you'll be approaching with your forehead leading the way (not the crown of your helmet, which would be spearing). It's usually not a helmet-to-helmet hit-- you may catch him on either side with your shoulder, or you may hit him square in the chest, or you may have to wrap up his legs as he tries to leap by you.

But it seems that helmet-to-helmet will always be one possibility; and it may be the ball-carriers fault or no one's fault. I don't see much option other than trusting the players to brace themselves for the hit in those situations.

89 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I think the problem here is that "spearing" simply isn't called on any of these plays, period-- the only time you ever see the spearing penalty called (absent the "defenseless" opponent) is on the most blatant of late helmet hits, and those are very rare. With both the Ray Lewis hit last night and Harrison's on Colt McCoy, both players most certainly lowered their heads and used the crown of the helmet in hitting high. This is the hit that the league wants to remove from the game (not the incidental helmet contact when the player has his head up), but admittedly enforcing the rule around even that distinction creates application inconsistencies, simply due to the difficulties in the eye/brain processing these fast-occurring hits in real time.

You know what though? I don't mind so much the occasional wrongly-called penalty on these relative few brutal high hits. Bad penalty calls are part of the game, and I don't think this one comes close to ranking with the interference and illegal contact penalties in its effect on the game. Where the league has opened a potential can of worms is with the suspensions, though. Because since the league has set the precedent on suspensions for multiple offenders, it becomes a much dicier proposition in evaluating the circumstances around a high hit, whether it was just a "bad" hit or a "really bad" one, etc. I have no answer for that question.

127 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I didn't see the Ray Lewis hit, but Harrison's was definitely with the forehead of the helmet, not the crown. On defenseless players, any impact of the crown, forehead, or facemask of your helmet with their helmet is illegal; I believe that spearing, which is always illegal, only refers to impact with the crown of your helmet. (Can someone clarify the spearing rule?)

I'm not convinced that those impacts with the forehead of the helmet can be separated from good tackling or fully blamed on the defender when they go badly. Sometimes it's a defenseless player who's lined up for an intentional head shot, but most of the time I don't think that's the case.

132 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

> I believe that spearing, which is always illegal, only refers to impact with the crown of your helmet.

The rulebook definition of "spearing" is actually much more general than this. The penalty is just rarely called anywhere close to consistent with the rulebook language, which then leads to falsely definitive, unconditional statements like "helmet-to-helmet contact with a runner is completely legal". Well, maybe that's how the rule is generally applied. I just don't think it unreasonable for the rule to also be enforced with ballcarriers in the open field who are intentionally or unnecessarily laid out by a defender's head-down launch to the head or neck area (or vice-versa for the runner dropping his head to ram a defender). This act was apparently never originally intended to be legal (and thus doesn't even require a rules change, rather perhaps just a casebook clarification or point of emphasis).

The spearing clause to the unnecessary roughness rule:

UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS
Article 8
There shall be no unnecessary roughness. This shall include, but will not be limited to:

(g) If a player uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/”hairline” parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily.

155 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Thanks for finding that rule-- you're right that spearing apparently isn't limited to the crown of the helmet. I was hoping there would be a real definition of spearing. They really need to make that more precise; adding some cases would help!

I have one idea where the "no penalty for helmet-to-helmet hits on a runner" narrative comes from. When Harrison dealt concussions to Massaquoi and Cribbs last year in the same game, the NFL declared his hit on Cribbs legal, since Cribbs was acting as a runner; but they fined Harrison for the hit on Massaquoi, who had just caught the ball.

142 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

No, no. Let's be clear. You rarely see spearing called at least partially because you very rarely see spearing performed. It's dangerous to all parties and not "natural." Right or wrong, legal or illegal, Ray Lewis and James Harrison did not spear in these instances. Those were hits with the forehead area of the helmet (think, facemask to hairline or so), and they often happen because it's a completely natural part of your helmet to collide with when you lean forward and keep your head up (as opposed to head down for crown or head back for facemask). If you really lower your head you wind up hitting with the crown, which is the top portion. Forgive me if I'm misremembering, but I think Meriweather's jumping hit at the beginning of this whole mess last year was a real spear.

150 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

> because you very rarely see spearing performed.

That's your opinion. I posted the spearing rule prohibiting the use of *any* part of the helmet in a "violent or unnecessary" manner, and I disagree that lowering the head like this while the body moves upwards on such a *high hit* is natural (a hit to the chest of an upright ballcarrier, sure). The high hit to the head/neck is the point of emphasis, and in fact those are fairly unusual. You're lucky to see one such crushing direct helmet-to-helmet blow in any given game, and certain players do seem to use the technique more than others.

199 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

There's an interesting article floating around in the journal of... I think it's New Jersey's high school athletic trainers. Spearing is actually still fairly common in high school football, for a somewhat liberal definition of spearing. It's also primarily committed by offensive players.

243 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Are you sure they're saying the other parts of the helmet can be considered spearing? The common usage of spearing means with the crown, and the rule also discusses butting and ramming.

As for natural motion, if your neck is inline with your spine, that's a "raised" or "up" head. If you bend forward at the waist or anywhere else on your body other than your neck that's still a raised head, not a lowered one, and that's what we're seeing a lot of. A lowered head would have the player putting his chin down near his chest. I agree that actually lowering your head is unnatural, but I don't think you see it a lot.

77 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

It's amazing what different reactions you get by replaying a collision at full speed and calling it a good, hard, solid hit, and by replaying it in slow motion while murmuring about concussions and brain damage.

Some progress has been made in reducing concussions and dangerous hits, but it has cost a lot of clarity in the rules and consistency in their enforcement (not just on the field, but in the reactions from the league office). I don't know the best way to minimize helmet-to-helmet collisions on running plays, but the NFL still doesn't require mouthgaurds or the best helmets, which are known to help.

And if Harrison's last hit was perfectly legal but for McCoy's last-second toss, the league and the media overreacted. I wish Harrison had aimed a foot lower, but much more I wish McCoy had dodged, braced himself, or just gone down.

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

That continued in this game, I thought. I'm fine with the general consensus that Mike Mayock left us all with (and goodness, he makes games like this bearable), which was that Tampa desperately needs speed on offense, but it seems to me like Freeman is much better when Tampa is running the two-minute drill. That makes me curious about how well he's being coached.

Listening to Mayock lessened the pain of how the Bucs played in the first half. I very much agree with Mayock in that Tampa's receiving corps has been utterly abysmal this year. Mike Williams? Zero catches. The fastest guy on the team (WR Arrelious Benn) was out with a concussion, but that doesn't seem to matter; it's not like there are any deep balls at all this year. Last year Freeman proved he throws a really nice deep ball, but there's none of that this year. Sure, the offensive line hasn't played well, but, for @#$!!! sake, do some rollouts, move the pocket, take advantage of the fact that your freakishly large QB was second in the league in QB rushing yards last year and is REALLY, REALLY MOBILE.

As for the two-minute drill, the Bucs have looked better in the hurry-up, but that's by and large because they go to it when they're getting stomped and the other team is playing soft coverage, leading to loads of short passes. I do think Freeman plays well in the chaos of a hurry-up offense, but it's not like going to the hurry-up is going to help when WRs are running the wrong routes (when I can see it through the TV, I can only imagine how bad it looks on the All-22), the left side of the offensive line is playing matador, and you're down 30 points.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

"The Bad Mark Sanchez is doing his thing tonight"

In Sanchez's defense, he played okay early on. Perfectly good pass, fumbled by Holmes, returned for TD. Followed by perfectly good pass in Red zone, tipped up by Holmes and picked off.

He was just getting abused in the backfield all day long. Wayne Hunter let Babin run by him at least 6x, allowing 3 sacks. At some point, QBs start to get happy feet when they are abused.

I don't know if it's the Schottenheimer the OC (who gets a ton of blame), the WRs (who never, ever, seem to get open), or Sanchez (issues going through progressions and finding the open receiver). But it seemed like there were almost no plays where there was an open receiver down field for Sanchez, even when the Eagles blitzed.

That being said, the Jets defense was a total joke on Sunday and was more responsible for the loss than the offense.

118 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

"But it seemed like there were almost no plays where there was an open receiver down field for Sanchez, even when the Eagles blitzed."

What are you making this statement based on? There's only a handful of plays each game where you can even see the WRs downfield before the ball is thrown.

Sanchez isn't exactly know for making his progressions well. I think its a lot more likely that hes just not seeing guys get open, vs the Jets WRs (who are, as a lot, very good), not getting open.

135 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The defense's play can mostly be explained by: a) never getting off the field in the first 22 minutes due to Holmes' two turnovers and Sanchez' fumble, b) the complete inability to cover the tight end (something that has shown up all year) and c) the loss of Leonard again, which hurts the run defense at least as much as the pass defense. For these three reasons, it's 35-13 after 35 minutes and the game is essentially over.

15 No discussion of Oakland's failure to go for 2?

With under eight minutes to play, Oakland scores to go up 12 and elects to kick. There wasn't enough time for a touchdown and two field goals, so leading by 13 instead of 12 gives you effectively no advantage. So dumb.

134 Re: No discussion of Oakland's failure to go for 2?

8 Minutes isn't enough time for 3 possessions by one team with two of them ending in field goals? There was that game in 2003 when the Colts came back against Tampa bay down by 21 with 4 minutes left. Of course, this is an extreme example, but they scored three TDs in half the time.

In hindsight, seems like a blunder to not go up by 2 TDs, but in it seemed perfectly logical at the time. Force the other team to drive the length of the field twice and actually punch it into the endzone without settling for FGs. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the Lions were up to the task.

138 Re: No discussion of Oakland's failure to go for 2?

It's a matter of probabilities though. The only way that the Lions would have even attempted a FG in this situation is if a sack had left them at 4th-and-15 (while in FG range), something like that. Then they would still need another TD *and* FG for the 2-point decision to backfire on the Raiders. By comparison, the 2-TD endgame scenario is about 100 times more likely. The second half of the 4th quarter is precisely when the 2-point conversion decision comes into clearer focus (if not even earlier), and in this situation the decision was a no-brainer: go for 2. I can only assume that Hue Jackson and the Raiders' coaching staff was caught off guard after the surprise defensive TD and didn't give it much thought, something that isn't all that unusual with NFL coaches with situational game/score management, actually.

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Floyd's DVOA has been excellent this year, and I'm not really sure why.

Are you saying you're not sure why he's been so good or you're not sure why his DVOA is so good? Because if it's the later I'd say that having every catch of the season but one go for a first down or a touchdown is good for DVOA. And the one catch that wasn't a first was good for 14 yards on 2nd and 18. He's also had a positive DVOA every year in the past even with a sub 50% catch rate last year.

17 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I hope this is the last season I have to watch Richie Igcognito. The dude doesn't understand the difference between being tough and being a poor sport. Another totally pointless 15 yrd penalty this week. Dolphins run blocking look ok without Long which was a shock all things considered. Bush had his typical Bush performance even with the 200 yrds. A fumble, an odd failure to jump on a fumble and then a 76 yrd run. Still he's worked out better than I thought he would.

19 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I had never heard the word "brickbat" in my entire life until yesterday. Now I've seen it used twice in two days, both times in reference to the Colts/Titans game.

21 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

"27 straight unanswered points"

I think you've been listening too much to Phil Simms.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

What you have never seen 27 non-consecutive unanswered points? How about a 10 game syncopated winning streak where you went 6-4?

Just last night SD scored 34 unanswered points! Baltimore had no answer for those points...

124 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I've always hated that phrase and that people use it when they mean "consecutive" or "in a row." I've had arguments about this with one of the Colts writers before, too. Seems to me that if you score 34 points to make it 34-7, but then the other guys score, they've answered the 34 points. The 34 points are thus consecutive but not unanswered. They're only unanswered if you shut out the other team for the rest of the game. And even if I'm not right, it's a pointless phrase. Just say consecutive.

151 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Depending on how you interpret the language there is some ambiguity there. Examples:

"The Colts offense scored 34 consecutive points."

This conveys that the colts offense has scored 34 points, but does not necessarily mean the Colts defense allowed 0 points. It could imply that The Colts have scored on X consecutive possessions totaling 34 points.

23 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Mike Tanier: Jacoby Ford and the new kid are still hurt, right? At some point you just go for ball security out of your punt returner. But geez, you would think Darrius Heyward-Bey should have developed into a role like that by now.

Considering how many easy passes DHB has dropped this year as a receiver, the Raiders are justified keeping him away from the punt-return job.

24 nfl.com self-parody

Why is the lead picture on the NFL.com homepage of Tim Tebow? Dude lost. Dude's loss wasn't even remotely the most interesting storyline involving a losing quarterback.

26 Re: nfl.com self-parody

In reply to by matt w (not verified)

Because journalism is about making money not reflecting reality, and that webpage does not even really aspire to be journalism, it is pretty much just another place to sell ads.

27 Re: Dahl penalty

Per the Rulebook:

Section 3 Unsportsmanlike Conduct
Article 1 There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others:
(b) The use of abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League.
Penalty: (for a through h): Loss of 15 yards from succeeding spot or whatever spot the Referee, after consulting with the crew, deems equitable.

39 Re: Dahl penalty

In reply to by ctpatsfan77 (not verified)

I don't think that the argument is that the foul isn't in the rule book. I think the argument is that the foul was result based, not process based. I doubt that's the first time the official has been sworn at (leaving aside the issue of if that was actually abusive or insulting language, or not).

161 Re: Dahl penalty

I have absolutely no problem with an automatic 15 yarder for using foul and abusive language towards an official, and I'm very surprised the Audibles writers do. You wouldn't get away with directing such language toward another person in any other workplace, let alone toward a figure of authority like a referee. And it sets a terrible example to any kids watching, who might copy their idols when they next go out and play. Regardless of the process it was unacceptable and deserved to be flagged.

191 Re: Dahl penalty

In baseball, noted umpire antagonist Earl Weaver wrote about his rules for arguing with the umps. Among them, "Never curse at the umpire, curse the call."

147 Re: Dahl penalty

In reply to by ctpatsfan77 (not verified)

Especially with malice in your heart.

29 we lost, but we out-taunted them

Santonio Holmes scores to close the deficit to 18, and promptly picks up a taunting call. You show them, Santonio.

He also lost a fumble and bobbled a pass into an interception. That's the Santonio Triple-Play. But he was unsurpassed in taunting.

31 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

"It doesn't even look like the Patriots defense is playing much better than before, mostly because the Patriots defense has barely been on the field"

No need to hyperbolize in order to justify DVOA's distaste for NE's defense or to appease the anti-Patriot crowd, Aaron. Here are the numbers from when NE was down 16-7 until they were up 34-16:

10 rushing attempts for 39 yards - 3.9 ypc
2-6 for 31 total yards and a sack.

That's not much better than they were in the first quarter?

I do agree that Denver should have tried to go for it on 4th and 1 early on. I was surprised that BB didn't accept the penalty.

42 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I think BB knew Fox would kick. If so, declining was the right call.

Against a competent gameday coach (which are about as common as Bigfoot) accepting would have been the correct call.

76 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

As the pass was ruled incomplete Belichick needed to challenge the call, not just wait for the booth (but maybe you're saying he needed to give his guys time enough to take a look?). The overturn was no sure thing and maybe not quite even a 50-50 proposition, but the play (at the time) was big enough to warrant the challenge, imo. That really did appear to be a good catch by Hernandez, but some referees seem to need more "indisputable video evidence" to overturn than others do.

34 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

New England's defense has been really good at getting takeaways (or accepting the giveaways that the opponent offers). Occasionally, the pass rush has played well (the second Jets game, or yesterday). And that's about all the nice things you can say.

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Tebow's throwing mechanics have improved more, in the span of a few games, than I have seen from just about anyone. What the hell was he doing last year; getting backrubs from Josh McDaniels?

47 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I'm an avowed Tebow skeptic, but I will concede he seems to have a great work ethic and is quite capable of improving. My question is this: how does he compare to the early years of Steve Young?

The first time I watched him, I think I was 11 years old and didn't know the slightest thing about football. As far as Montana backups go, I have a clearer recollection of Steve Bono than nof Steve Youn. My first clear memory of him as a fan wasn't until his MVP season in '92, but what I've read (and what little clips I've seen) of his early years is that he was beyond terrible - that he couldn't read a defense, was undisciplined in the pocket, and couldn't feel the pressure, and it took three years under Bill Walsh before he was a servicable QB... And even then, he was still raw.

So my question is - what did Steve Young have to learn vs Tebow? I'm not putting his ceiling as a passer at Steve Young - but is it possible for him to become, say, Rich Gannon? How long would it take?

49 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Well, it took the better part of a decade for Rich Gannon to become Rich Gannon, so who knows? I've never been high on Tebow for the simple reason that he always threw the ball with the mechanics of a high school sophomore, even after he had been working with an NFL team for 7 or 8 months, which led me to think that he just wasn't going to get better. Then, over the past two months, he has become very different than what he was, which isn't to say that his mechanics are good, but at least he appears to have a clue at this stage. Again, didn't anybody work with him last year, or did the switch just get flipped somehow?

If he becomes just average at throwing the ball, and in reading defenses, he'll be upper echelon in helping a team win games, due to his obvious running ability, and the fact he seems to be very damned durable.

112 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Considering my only recollection of Steve Young at Tampa was the 1985 Snow Bowl game, I think he was awful. But that may have been an aberration as nobody on the Bucs wanted to play in 14 inches of snow, especially with the temperature dropping the entire game as a cold front moved through. I'm sure it didn't help Young that his team was wearing their mostly white "away" uniforms with (I think) creamsicle orange trim. I had to shovel my driveway out (poor college student with no snowblower) and it was also the heaviest snowfall I've ever seen, though we rarely got the type of snow (heavy lake/ocean effect) that places like Buffalo and Boston see.

52 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

His delivery is still Byron-Leftwich-slow, however, which will forever limit him as a pocket passer. Also, he's not currently looking at any more than one receiver per play, but that could still improve.

137 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

He does if you rush 3 and give him time to scan the field; he doesn't if he's under duress. The ideal game plan seems to be to rush 4-5, preferably flushing him to the offensive right without losing contain, and shading the coverage over to that side. He also has a habit of ducking his head when scrambling instead of looking down the field, so that he loses sight of the coverage. That's a common error for mobile QBs, but it's still a weakness.

160 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

This is exactly what is happening. If Tebow only gets 2-3 seconds to make a read and throw (as is what happens when you stand behind a pathetic oline like my Bears), then he locks on to one WR and either throws or scrambles.

If he gets Big Ben-like time, either because of a muddy 3-4 man rush or his own scrambling, then he slowly goes through his progressions and is likely to find someone open.

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

He still throws about half of his 10-yard outs into the dirt well in front of the intended receiver. When he takes his time and steps into his throws, they're pretty good, but if he's throwing off-rhythm or while being hurried in the pocket, he doesn't get anything on them. At least he tends to miss well short, rather than long or to the side.

59 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I point this out regularly, but it's been claimed by John Fox and a couple Denver columnists that these throws in the dirt are on purpose. Tebow's under orders to do this if the receiver doesn't look open enough. A couple of these might still be misses, and a couple of these might be over-conservative decisions, but it doesn't mean that they're all the product of physical inaccuracy.

70 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

It's the Donovan McNabb school of turnover avoidance -- throw the ball where with a great catch your WR could catch it, but the DB doesn't have a chance in hell.

It's frustrating to watch, but often effective.

81 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

At some point this approach needs to be scrapped though, right? I'm not saying that it isn't the plan to progressively open things up (it probably is), but some of those short, bounced throws yesterday were very basic ones directed at receivers who were open. The funny thing is that Tebow made some nice deeper passes to the sidelines that were much tougher throws, and arguably more dangerous too.

56 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

As the fool who spent god only knows how long debating whther Tebow was worth a first rounder (or even a sixth and 10% off bus travel) I will chime in. There are still issues with the throwing motion - hitch before throw, pulls the ball back too far and the arm comes round as opposed to over - which hamper his delivery but I would agree that he is getting the ball out faster and seems to be getting more accurate. In the discussions that we had amongst ourselves one reason to discount Tebow that was often raised was that the improvement that you could see on tape (the media throwing sessions and Gruden interviews etc) would disappear once he got onto the playing field in live action. At first the evidence would have backed this up but as Tebow has gotten playing time and a starting job he does seem to be translating the training onto Sundays. I would say the imnprovement is doing everything a little quicker (ie reading the field, better footwork and a tighter release) so it may be several incremental changes that together lead to the ball coming out faster.

He still needs to shorten his throwing step and pull the ball up to his ear rather than bringing it from behind his shoulder but that should help fix the round-arm throwing motion so that the ball, his arm and shoulder all go up and over instead of round.

36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

"I guess the line was moving right because they were play-action faking a stretch run right, but still, that play-action fake naturally ends with Grossman directly in JPP's path. What a bad play."

The Texans run plays which fit that description all the time, and they very rarely end in sacks. If TJ Yates can execute them properly and Grossman can't, that does not speak well of Grossman.

40 Dumervil meets Brady

Speaking of bad ideas, not blocking Dumervil was a bad one - nice air time on the big sack - enjoyed that hit a lot. Yes it's already on YouTube ;-)

Steeler fan trapped in Houston!
Six Time SB Champs! ;-)

44 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I think if you put Orton on the Jets, they're the favorites for the Superbowl.

I think if put him on the Bears, they make the playoffs easiler (I imagine Hanie would have started the Raiders and Chiefs games, and Orton the last two which the Bears would have won).

I think if the Chiefs keep him and start him next year, they're a lock for the playoffs.

46 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

You must not have watched the Jets play yesterday. Mark Sanchez was the best Jets player on the field. Which was very sad.

But at least Bart Scott kept jawing even after McCoy's final TD. Talking big counts for something, right?