Audibles at the Line: Week 6

Audibles at the Line: Week 6
Audibles at the Line: Week 6
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.

San Francisco 49ers 25 at Detroit Lions 19

Tom Gower: After Detroit goes three-and-out on their first series, Kyle Vanden Bosch greets the San Francisco 49er offense by turning the corner on left tackle Joe Staley and plucking the ball out of Alex Smith's hand as he brings his arm back. Just a ridiculous sack. The Lions can only get three points out of the good field position, though.

Aaron Schatz: Vanden Bosch inexplicably celebrates by doing The Belt. Huh? Does he not know they are playing San Francisco? Does he think Green Bay is watching on television or something?

Maybe when the Lions score a touchdown, they'll do The Dirty Bird.

Rivers McCown: I'm all for anything that brings back The Dirty Bird.

Mike Tanier: Two questions: How loud is it in Detroit? It is another week of false starts and ragged jumps off the snap? Also, teams keep running screens against the Lions, but I don't think they work very well. Do we have data on that yet?

Aaron Schatz: No data on screens yet ... I've got Weeks 1-2. Maybe soon I'll have a few weeks of data.

I know Detroit sure seems like it is having an impact, but our research has always said that visiting teams don't really false start any more than home teams. (Well, they false start a little more, but that difference is the same as the difference between home and away teams on other penalties.) One of the places where anecdotal evidence has you doubting the numbers, and vice versa.

Vince Verhei: Not screens specifically, but on passes behind the line of scrimmage, the Lions came into today giving up 3.2 yards per pass, sixth-best in the NFL.

Doug Farrar: Not sure about the data, but the Lions' back seven was great against the Bears last week. They were timing the forced short drops perfectly and coming up with a lot of big hits right off the catch. Gunther Cunningham has talked about how he's going to let those guys play with speed and through their mistakes.

Ben Muth: Jim Harbaugh just got a 15-yard penalty for challenging a Brandon Pettigrew touchdown catch. I know coaches can't challenge scoring plays anymore -- I did not realize it's a penalty to try to challenge unchallengable plays.

Aaron Schatz: Lions getting a steady dose of Michael Crabtree on short stuff today.

Tom Gower: After Jim Harbaugh's earlier unsportsmanlike flag, Jim Schwartz calls a timeout to yell at Mike Carey after he doesn't like the lack of review on a questionable sack of Matthew Stafford in the end zone. The Lions' lead is cut to 10-9. No joy for him, either, as the call stands without replay review. Stafford may have been ruled to have been in the grasp, though I didn't hear it announced as such.

Aaron Schatz: My feeling is that Stafford's knee wasn't down and that this was only a safety if they were going to call intentional grounding on his lame little attempt to throw it away. I think Schwartz has a right to complain. How can they review every scoring play, and then not review every scoring play?

Vince Verhei: it was pretty clear that Stafford had released the ball before his knee hit the ground. It didn't look like they reviewed the play. I thought all scoring plays were supposed to be reviewed? Or did they just not bother because it would have been intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety anyway?

Tim Gerheim: They brought in Mike Pereira, and if I understood him correctly, he said all they could review was the location of the ball (i.e. whether it was in the end zone when Stafford went down), not whether he actually was sacked. Maybe because the whistle blew? Or maybe I didn't hear right.

I think I have football vertigo. Watching this Lions-Niners game, I feel like I'm watching a close game between two good teams, not a close game between two bad teams. It's very confusing.

Ben Muth: Matt Stafford throws right between a dropping Aldon Smith's numbers, Smith can't up with it though. I'm convinced Stafford is average but Calvin Johnson and luck have made him look better than he is.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, I'm still not quite convinced on him either. He's got a great arm but still seems to have accuracy issues.

Vince Verhei: Loved the play design on Frank Gore's long run that set up the 49ers' first touchdown. They line up with with two tight ends to the right, Delanie Walker outside of Vernon Davis. Walker then motions inside behind the right tackle. At the snap, he charges left and blocks Ndamukong Suh from the side. Gore cuts behind him and takes off. You can't block Suh straight up (I mean, no one can), so they use the assets they do have (two starting-quality tight ends) to get the job done.

Danny Tuccitto: Gore just gashed the Lions again with the same Walker-on-Suh play Vince described earlier. Then, Crabtree hopscotches along the sideline for an incompletion, getting one foot inbounds twice instead of both feet once. Drive ends with a field goal after Walker drops a sure touchdown.

Vince Verhei: I'm sure there's a technical term for that kind of outside-in trap block, but I don't know what it is.

Ben Muth: The 49ers would call that back-on-lineman trap block a "Wham" block.

Aaron Schatz: Wham block?

Danny Tuccitto: Smith's stat line says he's 13-for-24, but if we could adjust that for missing open receivers, it would be much worse. Earlier, he threw Walker into a tough catch on his touchdown drop. This drive, he misses Ted Ginn, who had two steps on the cornerback, and then throws a second-down pass two yards over Crabtree's head when he was open for a modest gain.

Tom Gower: And as if on cue, Alex Smith airmails Crabtree on a deep in. When you miss high over the middle and there's a deep safety, it usually gets intercepted like that one just did.

Danny Tuccitto: Does anyone know off-hand what the longest regulation game in NFL history is? The fourth quarter just started and it's already 4 p.m.

Tom Gower: I'd guess the longest non-overtime games came circa 1988 or 1989, before the NFL changed the rules on clock stoppages and such. I remember the Oilers-Bills 1989 overtime game ending at or after 4 p.m. CT.

Aaron Schatz: Um, have we discussed the Nate Burleson touchdown yet? Somebody needs to explain to me why that catch was a catch and Calvin Johnson's catch last year was not a catch. I mean, the Lions will take it, but I seriously don't understand the massive inconsistency in the "must complete the catch" rule.

Doug Farrar: Because the NFL doesn't want to be seen screwing the same team over and over, and Mike Carey got his allotted face-time on the play. I had a group of NFL officials tell me and a bunch of other reporters before the season at the Seahawks facility that the rule is the same as it was last year, so your serious guess is as good as mine.

Tom Gower: Mike Carey and I were on the same page on the Burleson TD, at least once he properly overturned the on-field ruling. The key to the rule is that if the receiver is going to the ground at the time he makes the catch, he must maintain possession all the way to the ground for it to be a completion. In the play last year, Johnson was clearly going to the ground when he caught the ball and therefore had to maintain possession the entire time. Burleson, by contrast, was standing up when he caught the ball and came down with both feet before he was contacted and then started going to the ground. Because he was not in the process of going to the ground when he made the catch, he did not have to maintain possession of the ball all the way to the ground.

Aaron Schatz: Aha. That actually makes logical sense. I assume that's only true for touchdowns, correct? If the same thing happened on a catch in the middle of the field, then that would be a catch-and-fumble?

Tom Gower: Had the Burleson play happened in the middle of the field, then, yes, it would have been a completion and fumble. There's nothing special to the rule about the end zone, just the normal rule that possession in the end zone by the offense ends the play, no different than a running back fumbling the ball after crossing the goalline.

Danny Tuccitto: Agree with you there, Tom. I thought it was a touchdown, too. However, it would have been nice if Carey explained it in the "he wasn't going to the ground" way you did, rather than the "he had enough time" way that he chose.

Robert Weintraub: Smith strip sacks Stafford, and Jeff Backus hustles to recover the loose ball -- the Lions doing the little things that win games. Of course, Backus did get beat badly for the sack in the first place...

Vince Verhei: You didn't really just throw out the "little things to win games" line, and then cite fumble recovery as evidence, did you? That's luck, that the ball didn't bounce to the 49ers in the first place. And saying he hustled to get the ball ... what else would he do? Stand there and point at it?

After a half-dozen wham blocks to clear Gore for good runs, Walker catches the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes to go. Has a No. 2 tight end ever won a game ball before?

OK, here's the unique clock strategy of the day: With three timeouts in hand, Lions opt to go for it on fourth down deep in their own end and don't get it. 49ers run three plays, killing Detroit's timeouts, and kick a field goal to go up six. Detroit now has the ball, one minute to go, no timeouts, down six. But with three timeouts in hand, knowing your defense was likely going to hold San Francisco on a three-and-out anyway, why not punt?

Lions run a God-awful one-minute drill, running three plays in 50 seconds. Fourth-down hook-and-lateral play fails, game over, Niners win.

Tom Gower: I thought it was an interesting decision by the Lions, and not a hugely obvious call either way. Down two, I'd be less in favor of going for it there.

Vince Verhei: Did everyone catch the Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schawrtz confrontation? If not, it will be replayed heavily. Don't know what Harbaugh said, but it went from a standard handshake to Schwartz going after him and having to be vigorously restrained. Harbaugh sure knows how to make friends, doesn't he?

Aaron Schatz: I immediately went to see if Seattle played Detroit this year. Unfortunately, we will not get a postgame Carroll-Schwartz handshake and discussion of mutual hatred of Jim Harbaugh.

Watching it again, I have to think that Harbaugh said something to Schwartz or said "woo!" or something, because the actual handshake doesn't seem that odd. Yeah, Harbaugh's happy he won and Schwartz is mad about the first loss of the year so it's not going to be all sunshine and lollipops, but the physical handshake itself didn't seem worth fighting about.

Mike Tanier: Handshake too hard?

"I'm never gonna text again
Guilty fingers got no feelin.
Millen would be mad but then
we all know hes a fool.

Shoulda doubled Walker on that slant my friends
Now I'm mad at Jim, but really
I'm never gonna text again
and as for Harbaugh F************ you!"

Indianapolis Colts 17 at Cincinnati Bengals 27

Robert Weintraub: Andy Dalton is my main man, of course, but it has to be said that having A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham is making him look better than he is at this point.

Cincy badly misses Rey Maualuga in the middle. Dan Skuta has been out of position a couple of times, and the Colts are running up the middle at will. Curtis Painter is slanting the secondary to death. Calling Indy's first win right here and now.

Bengals have third-and-goal at the two, 14 ticks left. Jerome Simpson and Green are mismatches for Jacob Lacey. Of course, the Bengals come out in a power I, the Colts run blitz, and instead of any misdirection or originality the Bengals run Cedric Benson right into the blitz for no gain. Field goal. 10-7 at the half, four lost points they will rue later on.

Announcer fun -- CBS runs a little package remembering the last time Cincy beat Indy, back before Peyton Manning. Kevin Harlan intones "It was a pretty autumn Sunday in Cincinnati!" when the highlights show quite clearly the game was in the RCA Dome, right down to the giant "COLTS" lettering in the end zone, and the graphic shows Cincy on the road that day. Still great to see Boomer Esiason chucking it once again (he filled in for an injured Jeff Blake that afternoon).

OK, instant pet peeve: Painter gets slammed as he throws, and the ensuing lollipop is about to be grabbed for a pick six by Nate Clements. Instead, Austin Collie blatantly (and wisely) shoves him down first. He gets called for it, but it's third down anyway. The difference in consequences between offensive and defensive PI is too much of a canyon. Alas, not sure anything can be done, and I'm sure the Bengals will benefit at some point.

Dallas Clark all by himself on a goal-line play action fake, and he makes an amazing one-hand catch on a pass Painter almost missed. Instead, it's now 20-17. Colts victory prediction still stands.

Aaron Schatz: Theoretically, they could make the penalty for offensive pass interference equal to the yardage of the pass, backwards. So if you committed OPI on a 20-yard pass, you would lose 20. But that doesn't do anything to make up for the huge value of a turnover.

Rivers McCown: Rob: Are you trying to use Audibles as a reverse jinx mechanism, or is it just all the years of losing Bengals football?

Robert Weintraub: Long, sad experience, my friend. The idea that Cincy may actually pull out a game like this continues to shock.

Antoine Bethea makes a tremendous open field tackle to save a first down and probably the game on Brian Leonard, and then Mike Nugent misses his first field goal of the season. Colts still in it down three with 2:30 to play. But then Pierre Garcon makes yet another dig/slant catch, and it seems like he tried to lateral for some ungodly reason, and it was picked up by Carlos Dunlap, who ran it in for the clinching score after a lengthy review.

The Colts are still winless, but they played pretty well. Secondary has issues, but they tackle well and Painter is pretty accurate, at least under 15 yards. They can't go deep or run it much, though.

And while I usually whine about the Bengals special teams, they played well today, save that Nuge miss. Excellent kick coverage, Cedric Peerman was clocking dudes as a gunner and a humongous decleater block on a punt return. Clements (it looked like) blocked a long Adam Vinatieri field goal that would have tied it at 20. Even Nugent atoned for his miss by putting the kickoff after the Dunlap score to the goal line from the 20 (after a celebration penalty -- nothing like the occasional Paul Brown Leap!).

At 4-2, the Bengals are hardly worldbeaters, but if you had told me before the season they would be here at the bye week I'd be surprised. Not astonished, as the pigskin commentariat are (like the numbnuts who had Cincy ranked 32nd in an ESPN power poll before the season), but surprised. It's been a very soft schedule so far, but then that is what their opponents thought, too.

Philadelphia Eagles 20 at Washington Redskins 13

Rivers McCown: Philadelphia's reshuffled offensive line is digging them some holes early. They're also running a lot of trickery with LeSean McCoy. Direct snaps, delays, and the like. Going for it on fourth-and-2 on the Washington 38 gets them downfield quickly, and they keep the sleight-of-hand going with a tight end screen to Brent Celek for the touchdown.

Doug Farrar: Nnamdi Asomugha's tendency to peek in the backfield serves him well in the first quarter, when he catches Chris Cooley out of off-coverage and jacks him up. Somewhere, Tony Romo is laughing.

Mike Tanier: Nnamdi's hit caused the loudest noise I have heard in a Delaware Valley bar since Game 1 of the NLDS.

Aaron Schatz: FOX shows a stat: "Redskins: 3-1 best start since 2008." Um, that's not really *that* impressive.

Vince Verhei: Eagles' first field goal came after a first-and-goal, then three passes that came not just short of the end zone, but I think short of the 5. It seems like they never just throw the ball into the end zone, it's stuff to get guys the ball "in space" and running it in.

Rivers McCown: Midnight has struck on the Rex Grossman era: 17 yards, a pair of bad interceptions, and a dropped interception by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie through the first 25 minutes of the game.

Aaron Schatz: Michael Vick just had one of his video game plays. I think he scrambled 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage, then curved around and ran through guys for a 25-yard gain.

Washington ends the first half with five receptions by tight ends and only one by a wide receiver. Just in case you didn't know what the strengths and weaknesses of the Philly pass defense were.

JJ Cooper: Vick out with another injury. Vince Young comes in and throws an awful pick

Mike Tanier: Eagles will be happy when I am dead.

Thankfully, the Eagles have met their match. His name, not surprisingly, is Rex Grossman.

Tom Gower: I have to mention that Vince Young Just Wins Games. When the opponent turns the ball over four times. Never would've happened if not for Vince coming into the game.

Rivers McCown: Talk all the trash you want Gower, but Vince Young did play, and the Eagles look like they will win. The meme lives for another week!

John Beck now in for the Redskins, time to see if he was worth that 10th overall pick Kyle Shanahan wanted to spend on him.

Mike Tanier: Beck cuts lead to seven. All part of the ShanaPlan.

Jacksonville Jaguars 13 at Pittsburgh Steelers 17

J.J. Cooper: Hard to complain as a Steelers' fan, but I have no explanation for why the Jaguars-Steelers game is my local CBS game in North Carolina. There's no better AFC game this week for an area with no clear AFC tie?

Mike Wallace once again got behind a secondary, splitting a two-deep to go up 14-0. This time it's only a 28-yard touchdown, so he's still looking or his usual 40-yarder.

OK, Mike Wallace has his 48-yarder for today now. Watching Wallace week in and week out is unlike anything I've seen as a Steelers fan. You expect him to get a big play every game, and usually he does.

Mike Tanier: Someone is too young to remember Lynn Swann. Though Swann did it every other week. And the Super Bowl.

J.J. Cooper: I'm not too young to remember Swann, and I'm crazy enough to go back and watch old Steelers game from the 70s on a regular basis. In my opinion, Swann wasn't as good of a deep threat as Wallace. Better mid-range threat. Better over the middle. But not as good deep, but then, Swann wasn't as good a deep threat as Stallworth.

Sorry, I'm diving in a little further. Swann had seven regular season receiving touchdowns of 40 yards or more in his nine-year career. Stallworth had nine in his 14-year career. Wallace has 12 in 2.25 seasons. Yes, the NFL is much more of a passing game now than it was in the 70's, but that's still a dramatic difference.

If Ben Roethlisberger had Aaron Rodgers' accuracy, he might have 300 yards already in this one. He has missed four open deep throws -- Emmanuel Sanders twice and Wallace twice.

I don't think the Jags have given Blaine Gabbert many audible responsibilities. Steelers walk safety Ryan Clark up into the B gap, right where the Jags' running play is designed to go. Gabbert snaps the ball anyway, Clark gets one of the easiest tackles for loss he'll ever get.

The Jags ripped off an 80-yard touchdown drive to cut it to 17-10 thanks to a roughing the punter call, some nice runs from Maurice Jones-Drew and a couple of third-down scrambles and a nice touchdown throw by Gabbert. Gabbert is 9-of-21 for 59 yards, so it's not like he's been airing it out. Next drive, the Steelers have Lawrence Timmons spy Gabbert in passing situations. He appears to be more of a threat to run than throw.

Third-and-1 for the Jaguars, Troy Polamalu times the snap count, comes into the backfield unblocked and trips up Jones-Drew. Call it the Polamalu special. End of drive. Apparently, Polamalu suffered a head injury on that tackle. He's out when the Steelers defense returns.

In the Steelers-Jaguars playoff game in 2007, the Steelers called for a quarterback bootleg on third-and-6 with just under three minutes to go. The play didn't work, Jacksonville got the ball back, sent the game to overtime and won it there. Today, the Steelers called a pass on third-and-2 with just under three minutes to go. Roethlisberger found no one open, decided to keep it, and ran for the first down. That took enough time off that the Jags were forced to run an unsuccessful Hail Mary.

Rivers McCown: J.J., it's cause for celebration when the Jaguars don't complete a Hail Mary on you.

St. Louis Rams 3 at Green Bay Packers 24

Doug Farrar: Aaron Rodgers hits Jordy Nelson for a 93-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Text sent from Hattiesburg: "Srry Aaron -- i had a 99-yarder in my 5th year Nice try tho! - Brett"

Vince Verhei: That may have been the funniest score of the year, with Darian Stewart not just badly over-running the play and completely whiffing on the tackle, but also slipping right into Al Harris, taking out the only other defender with a chance to bring Nelson down. Serious slapstick comedy there.

With less than six minutes to go, Aaron Rodgers throws a pass that hits a receiver in his hands, but bounces into the air for an interception. Why is Aaron Rodgers still in with a 21-point lead?

They are inside three minutes now, and Rodgers is still in. At least he's handing off now.

Elias Holman: I love Aaron Rodgers as much as the next Packers fan, but the graphic they just ran claiming he is this super-human amalgamation of the best attributes of a bunch of Hall Of Fame-level quarterbacks was a little over the top, and frankly, pretty disrespectful to those other guys.

Buffalo Bills 24 at New York Giants 27

Doug Farrar: Less than two minutes left in Bills-Giants, and Phil Simms exhorts the Bills to let the Giants score in the red zone. He then contradicts himself twice In the next clock minute. Why does this man have a job?

Houston Texans 14 at Baltimore Ravens 29

Brian McIntyre: Texans defensive end Antonio Smith picks up two personal fouls in a span of three plays. Both times he was taking exception to being blocked by Andre Gurode.

Rivers McCown: Didn't see the second one because they didn't replay it, but Smith got his money's worth on the first one. Stomped Gurode's face up pretty bad, and even got his helmet off.

Vince Verhei: What is it about Andre Gurode's face that makes it so eminently stompable?

Rivers McCown: Gary Kubiak goes for it on fourth-and-1 just outside the red zone, with about seven minutes left in the second quarter. Arian Foster fumbles.

The Texans offense is so much more predictable without Andre Johnson, and it shows with just how much trouble they've had run blocking without him.

Aaron Schatz: Jason LaCanfora responded to that decision with this Tweet: "On the road at Baltimore in a close game early on you take the 3 points."

I don't know if I've ever brought up this specific question in Audibles, but I've never understood the idea that you change your "go for it" strategy based on whether or not you are at home or on the road. This is not baseball. Home team does not get "last ups." What difference does home/road make? The only thing I can think of is the idea that referees, subconsciously affected by home crowd, are less likely to spot a close play in favor of the road team if they get 11 inches on fourth-and-a-foot.

Vince Verhei: On the home-road thing, I think the assumption is that, for whatever reason, most close calls will go the home team's way. Not just fourth-down tries, but penalties, turnovers, long field goals, and so on. Thus, the theory is that when you have a chance to get points on the road, you take it.

Rivers McCown: The second half just came down to who could make more big plays: the Texans nailed one on a Jacoby Jones play action touchdown pass, but the Ravens wound up with three. Torrey Smith caught a deep ball on Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph mistimed his jump on a deep ball against Anquan Boldin, and Ray Rice rumbled free on the game-clinching drive.

And, just like every Week 6 for the past five years, a hot Texans start is whittled back to .500, and I die a little more inside.

Dallas Cowboys 16 at New England Patriots 20

Aaron Schatz: The Pats are really struggling in the red zone. They only got three touchdowns in six trips last week. Two more trips so far in today's game, and they've both resulted in field goals.

Aaron Hernandez is on fire. Maybe he heard about Delanie Walker and didn't want to give up his "most dangerous No. 2 TE" badge.

I know people don't like the Cowboys' "America's Team" nickname but this team really does "travel well." I think this is the most visiting team jerseys I've seen at any game since I started coming to Gillette. Not just DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant, either. There's a Mat McBriar right below the press box, and in the few sections below us I can see Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders, Roger Staubach, Daryl Johnston, and Ed "Too Tall" Jones jerseys. The Cowboys jerseys are generally interspersed with the Pats jerseys, too, not grouped together. It's like every Cowboys fan in New England has a buddy with Pats season tickets and has been waiting for eight years for this day.

OK, I have to add one more to that list. There's a woman with a #17 Jason Garrett jersey walking along the concourse.

Ben Muth: Psht, wake me up when you see a Babe Laufenberg jersey.

Tom Gower: I went to the Packers-Titans preseason game in Green Bay in 2008 and somebody was wearing a 49ers Kevan Barlow jersey. I thought that was pretty random.

Vince Verhei: I propose a new rule: When the Cowboys play the Patriots, the Cowboys must wear white jerseys and the Patriots, blue. I am constantly having to remind myself which team is which in this game. Both teams have silver helmets, and the Cowboys jerseys are the same color blue as the Patriots' pants. In white jerseys, the royal blue numbers and weird greenish pants would stand out better from the Pats uniforms.

Aaron Schatz: This has unexpectedly turned out to be a defensive battle. The Patriots' no-huddle has the Cowboys' defense on its heels, but that's neutralized by the fact that they can't block the Dallas pass rush. Cowboys offense looks pretty meh, and the Pats are mostly taking care of Jason Witten with constant chipping, but Miles Austin is open a lot. New England has now turned the ball over four times -- two picks, a fumble on a kick return, and a fumble on a reception -- and that's kept it 13-13.

Mike Tanier: Sean Lee only intercepts Hall of Famers. He is the Stratego spy.

Aaron Schatz: When Tom Brady took the Pats' third timeout with 27 seconds left, I turned to the person next to me and said, "Um, wouldn't they want to keep the third timeout in case this comes down to a field goal?"

Brady throws a touchdown pass to Hernandez on the next play. So, you know, never mind.

The big story off this game will be the Cowboys' inability to punch it in to the end zone off all those Pats turnovers, but I think they deserve credit for getting the turnovers in the first place. The second big story will be Garrett choosing to run the ball three times with a three-point lead and three minutes left, allowing Brady a chance for a comeback without trying to get a first down, but I have to think the press would have crucified Garrett if he had called passes and Romo had thrown incompletions or, God forbid, an interception. Wasn't that what they were criticizing him for after the Detroit loss?

Anyway, Cowboys fans will feel bad about this game but I have to think a narrow loss to one of the best (if not the best) teams in the OTHER conference (thus meaning nothing for playoff tiebreakers), on the road, and breaking their historical streak of 30-point games ... well, that's gotta be one of the better losses possible in the NFL.

Cleveland Browns 17 at Oakland Raiders 24

Brian McIntyre: Towards the end of the first quarter, the Raiders faced a second-and-12. Jason Campbell took a deep drop, Oakland kept seven blockers in against a four-man rush from the Browns, who had a linebacker spying running back Darren McFadden. Campbell had a huge running lane, but five yards into his scramble, he fell to his knees and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Browns. Officials correctly ruled that he hadn't given himself up and the fumble stood. Cut to the end of the second quarter, facing a third-and-8, Campbell again scrambles, stays on his feet this time, but while fighting to get near the marker he gets crunched by Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita and injures his right arm. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Enter Kyle Boller.

Mike Tanier: Yay! Watching Kyle Boller play quarterback. Yay!

Tom Gower: Sebastian Janikowski hits a field goal to go up 17-7 with 18 minutes to play, and this one feels over barring a big Raiders screwup. Boller seems to be intentionally adhering to a very conservative gameplan, especially in terms of avoiding the third-down mistake, and the Browns just need to string together so many successful plays in a row to get into scoring territory.

Colt McCoy giveth, and with Janikowski out to try a 53-yard field goal attempt, today's third quarterback (with Terrelle Pryor on a roster exemption until tomorrow) Shane Lechler pulls off the field goal fake and hits Kevin Boss for a 35-yard score. 24-7, and the Browns are done, done, done.

The latest report from Oakland beat guy Vittorio Tafur has Campbell with a broken collarbone and out for the year. Kyle Boller, starting quarterback ... at least until David Garrard is signed, I presume.

Vince Verhei: I believe you mean "until Matt Barkley is drafted."

New Orleans Saints 20 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26

Mike Tanier: Are the Saints planning on covering the middle of the field today?

Tom Gower: I think New Orleans' linebackers cover about as well as the Eagles', and we know about Roman Harper in pass coverage.

Vince Verhei: Sean Payton, toughest coach of all time in any sport ever, is running things from the sideline with a broken leg AND a torn MCL.

I'll have to check this game out later to figure out how Tampa Bay, which was by far the worst pass defense DVOA in the league coming into today, has done so well against Drew Brees and company. Tanard Jackson is back today, but he can't make that much of a difference, can he?

Minnesota Vikings 10 at Chicago Bears 39

Mike Tanier So ... Vikings-Bears at 16-3, anyone?

J.J. Cooper: NBC can't wait for the flex games, can they?

Mike Tanier: I was flipping between baseball and the Amazing Race.

Tom Gower: Jay Cutler hit a bomb, Donovan McNabb's struggling, Adrian Peterson's finding it hard to get running room. This looks like a decent-ish Bears team and a Viking team that is more like their 1-4 record than their better-than-you-think DVOA.

Brian McIntyre: I've got the two-TV set-up going in the living room. On one channel, there's a zombie autopsy on AMC's Walking Dead. On the other, Donovan McNabb is playing quarterback. The latter is much more cringe-inducing.

Rivers McCown: I didn't think Bob Costas could get more undeservedly smug, but then he referenced Charlie Sheen in his halftime rant on the Schwartz-Harbaugh confrontation.

Devin Hester: Great kick returner, or the greatest kick returner?

Tom Gower: Inspired by NFL Network's fantastic "Good Morning" commercial, I pulled up "Make 'Em Laugh" from "Singin' in in the Rain" on YouTube, and as soon as it finished, the Vikings gave up that Hester kick return and I got to keep laughing.

Vince Verhei: You know, at some point we're going to have to seriously debate Devin Hester as a Hall of Famer.

Rivers McCown: Are we? He didn't really add anything as a receiver. Seems sorta like adding Jesse Orosco to the MLB Hall Of Fame because he was the best lefty specialist.

Rob Weintraub: I'm no purist about these things, so to me, Hester is a no-brainer. Ray Guy is too.

Tom Gower: Jan Stenerud is in the Hall of Fame. Ray Guy's name comes up every year. Adam Vinatieri's quite likely going in, like it or not. Steve Tasker's name gets mentioned. We're going to seriously have to debate Devin Hester. (My quick answer: haven't looked into Stenerud enough to decide if I object to him being there, no to everybody else.)

Rivers McCown: Fair enough. I think I've already betrayed my stance on the issue. Then again, I'm a small-hall guy.

Vince Verhei: I absolutely love Hester. And I think he's the best returner in history by a wide, WIDE margin. But his resume basically comes down to 17 plays.

Doug Farrar: I'm generally in favor of anyone who's clearly the best at his position over a number of years going into the Hall, especially when that player a.) affected opposing game plans to a large degree; and b.) propelled his team to important franchise moments. He has been the most dangerous guy to kick to for half a decade, and while others have popped up over time (Josh Cribbs, Leon Washington, etc.), he's been the standard. Let's not forget that the 2006 Chicago Bears rode him and a great defense to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their primary quarterback. Using the old Bill James arguments of Peak and Career Value, I don't think there's any question he's top two or three as a returner all-time in both. And he's got more than enough "black type" to make it stick. By any Politics of Glory standard, he should go in. Not as a first-ballot lead-pipe guy, but he's unquestionably qualified.

Mike Tanier: I prefer Hester as a possible candidate to Guy or Tasker. I have seen Hester impact opponent strategy and have a major influence on the fortune of his team. Tasker occupied that "one per era" niche of famous special teams gunner: Bill Bates, then Tasker, then Izzo, and then Gary Stills or Ike Reese, now Osgood or whoever blocked a punt yesterday. Guy was a great punter whose memory is kept alive by all of the old Raiders who rave about him. Vinatieri is in a different category: the fact that dozens of other kickers could have done what he did doesn't change the fact that he was the one who did them.

Aaron Schatz: One thing that's worth talking about with Hester as a return man is that he's the only return man to play at this level for more than two years. You've had guys like Brian Mitchell who were good for a long time, but never really great. And you've had guys like Dante Hall who were great for a year, year-and-a-half, and fizzled out. But there's never been anyone like Hester. He was sort of average for a year or two there, then had a renaissance last year. I guess Gale Sayers, who was a great return man for three years, is closest.

Rivers McCown: Christian Ponder now in. So far this looks a lot like the Ponder I saw play the Texans in the preseason: Ready to run the second a hole opens up, and surprisingly hard to bring down.

Aaron Schatz: This is really strange given McNabb's history, but maybe the Vikings need to switch to Ponder as the starter because McNabb at this point isn't mobile enough to stay upright behind that offensive line. Would have seemed like a ridiculous statement 10 years ago, huh?

Tom Gower: McNabb at this point is moving like an old quarterback, and I don't mean veteran savvy, avoiding the rush, Arizona Kurt Warner-type old quarterback, but more old and warn out. Ponder seems ... much more spry, I guess, is the way I'm seeing it. Of course, coming in when his team's already down four scores and it doesn't matter that you can't lead the team to any points is one way to ease your way into the league.


203 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2011, 12:16am

#1 by jimm (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:05am

Viking fan for 42 years. Watched every game and down since 1998 when I got Direct TV.

Turned off the game last night to watch Boardwalk Empire and Hung.

Came back to watch McNabb get sacked when he couldn't run away from a one legged Peppers. That was really kind of sad to watch.

Ponder looks exactly like he did in pre-season. He runs around very well - very elusive and quick (reminds me of Flutie a little in his running)...but he is not very accurate and his arm strength is below average. Too early to tell if he's good or bad, but I don't see any reason to play McNabb another down.

So many old players seem done for the Vikings.

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#47 by Rick Killing (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:20pm

I don't see where you're getting that assessment on Ponder. Granted, his base of comparison in the accuracy dept for MIN is McNabb, so that automatically lifts him. But even accounting for that, I saw him hit several receivers in stride, something we haven't see all year. A couple of them were actually able to run after the catch. As well, I thought his throws were crisp.
Keep in mind too that the Bears weren't letting up on the pressure and Frazier for some reason took out the first string skill players and had Ponder work with the likes of Toby, Camarillo and Rudolph. Given those circumstances, I thought he acquitted himself nicely and look forward to the Ponder era beginning next week.

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#132 by jimm (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:55pm

he missed some longer throws to Camirillo, Aromashodu, and Berrian rather badly. It's the same thing I noticed in pre-season, he would make some nice throws but anything of any distance was likely well off.

I thought the slants he threw were very good...I also thought the misses to open receivers on deeper patterns were well off - which is what I noticed in the pre-season.

I just don't see great accuracy out of the little I've seen of this guy.

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#2 by Israel P. (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:08am

Tunch Ilkin made a reference to a "wham Block" during the Steelers radio broadcast, so it's not just a 49er thing.

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#5 by Pottsville Mar… // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:27am

In Kyle Brady's last year, when he was with the Patriots, "wham" blocking was basically all he did. If K.Brady was in the game, you could be pretty sure that the Patriots were either going to do a wham run or some action off that. Daniel Graham also was somewhat of a wham-blocking specialist during his final few years with the Pats.

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#15 by Eddo // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:05am

Older versions of Madden (I haven't really played since Madden '06) always had a "HB Wham" play, as well.

I was never really certain what a "wham" block was, exactly, but I've always been aware of it.

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#3 by Noahrk // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:19am

The way I understood the Burleson call, which I agree with by the way, is that Burleson caught the ball, had two feet in the endzone, and had enough time to perform a football action while in possession of the ball, pursuant to the rule, which means it is a catch and a TD.

I hadn't thought about the going to the ground thing because it didn't seem like that was the issue at all, since he wasn't going to the ground when he made the catch.

When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack

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#11 by nat // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:51am

You have it exactly right. He had established possession and had two feet down before there was any contact, although it was very close. So the "going to the ground" rules don't apply. Instead the same rules apply as would to a running catch on the field.

If the contact had come earlier, the question would become whether he was going to the ground from that moment, or only trying to avoid the field goal netting a step or two later.

It was a close play, but not a controversial or bad call to anyone except trolls, homers, and people trying to gin up some site traffic. Oh, snap! I fell for it.

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#44 by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:14pm

The problem I have with this interpretation is that the same burden of proof is clearly not given to ordinary, real-time catches in the regular field of play. If Burleson does that at the 30 yard-line instead of the endzone, it's an incompletion 100% of the time. It would never be called a catch and fumble, even if reviewed by the opposing coach. In fact, it seems like a lot more has to happen for a ref to call a catch and fumble than just technically having 2 feet down while securing the ball.

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#53 by Noahrk // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:53pm

I think if it happened at the 30 it would be a fumble, but it really does not apply, because if it had been at the 30 the WR would have gone down while securing the ball in his arms instead of using the ball to try to keep upright

When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack

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#63 by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:16pm

I guess what I meant is that you never see a "bang bang" type catch and drop ruled a catch and fumble in the regular field of play, and such plays are never scrutinized for whether his feet were were technically down at the same moment that he secured the ball. Even when guys make a catch, run a few yards and drop the ball it's often ruled an incomplete pass. Yet in the endzone, all of a sudden a catch becomes this micro-analyzed concept that more or less defies what the naked eye can detect in real time.

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#84 by dbostedo // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:06pm

"Even when guys make a catch, run a few yards and drop the ball it's often ruled an incomplete pass."

I believe that only happens when the receiver has not really secured the ball yet. I.e. they are bobbling it, or trying to pull it into their body, etc. and don't really have possession yet.

I can't think of an example where the receiver took a couple of steps with the ball tucked securely, and then had it called incomplete. It's always (to my thinking) because they don't really have it under control. "Running a few yards" AFTER gaining possession would always constitute a catch.

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#95 by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:34pm

What I see a lot as an incompletion is the receiver catching the ball, turning to run then hitting a defender and losing it. He didn't actually catch it and run, but he had it secured with two feet down until he hit the defender. If this is in the endzone it's a catch, but in the regular field of play it's an incompletion. I don't know, maybe opposing coaches should review these types of plays more often and they'd win (assuming their defense clearly recovered the would-be fumble).

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#106 by dbostedo // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:54pm

It's possible that the refs lean one way in the field and another in the endzone. But someone coming down with two feet is not supposed to be enough to make a catch, unless they are also able to make another move - i.e. they maintain possession long enough to make another move (whether that be turning, taking a stride, falling down, etc.)

I can't think of a time when something was clearly called differently in the field than in the end zone, but it's certainly possible, just not something I've noticed.

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#73 by MJK // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:33pm

I would have agreed with you up until the Patriots game, when Aaron Hernandez fumbled in a very similar situation.

He caught the ball, secured posession, and then a defender made contact with him, and ripped the ball out instants before his knee touched the ground. I would have thought it was an incpmpletion (along your 100% suggestion), but the refs ruled that it was a catch-fumble.

In both cases, I think Tim Gower nailed it. If you are going to the ground when you catch a ball (because of contact with a defender...I'm not sure if the rule applies if you are diving voluntarily), you must maintain control of the ball all the way to the ground in order to establish possession. But if you are not, all you have to do to establish possession is get both feet down in bounds and possess the ball "long enough" as the ref said (or, under the old rule, make a "football move") to estabish possession. So Burleson would have been ruled catch-and-fumble at the 30 yard line (barring the fact that there is no net draped on the ground at the 30 yard line, so he might not have fumbled).

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#4 by RichC (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:24am

I realize Hester is good, but why do you think he's the best ever?

The Bears special teams are fantastic. They have been for a long time. They've been fantastic whether or not Hester is playing. Everyone they put back there does well. (now, don't take this the wrong way, Hester is very good at what he does).

Its the blocking. Its Toub, not Hester.

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#9 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:39am

It's a combination of good coaching and a guy who can both make great change of direction moves and runs like h*ll

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#78 by amarquis // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:52pm

Oh, oh, don't keep me in suspense, what does the asterisk stand for? I'm pulling my hair out here!

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#110 by nat // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:56pm

* = A
As in "Run like (Dante) Hall". An apt comparison, if you ask me.

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#14 by wiumike (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:03am

Keep in mind Hester came out of college as a return man without a position in the pros. Toub is an amazing special teams coach, but don't short sell the synergy of giving a great coach an all time great at the position.

This marriage has driven opposing teams to punt out of bounds instead of risk a return. To a degree putting Hester in the hall of fame is recognition of Toub's skill as a coach.

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#17 by Yaguar // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:17am

How many people set all-time cumulative records for the NFL when they are still in their 20s?

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#19 by Eddo // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:23am

Can't it be all? The Bears have had other superb return men (Danieal Manning, and Johnny Knox to an extent), but Hester has been better than anyone else (particularly on punt returns). The blocking is excellent, too, but the Bears do consistently let their best special teamers go (Brendon Ayanbadejo, Adrian Peterson, Rashied Davis), and don't miss a beat.

I love Toub, don't get me wrong; but the Bears' special teams ratings jumped when Hester arrived. Here are the Bears' special teams ratings (overall, kick return, and punt return) since realignment

Year | Rank | DVOA | KR | PR | Notes
2002 | 7 | + 3.3% | - 3.9 | - 1.7 |
2003 | 6 | + 2.8% | +14.0 | + 8.0 |
2004 | 11 | + 1.9% | - 2.7 | + 9.5 | Toub's first year
2005 | 27 | - 2.6% | - 3.9 | - 2.8 |
2006 | 1 | + 7.6% | + 3.4 | +11.7 | Hester's first year
2007 | 1 | + 9.5% | +14.9 | +18.0 | Manning handles most kickoffs
2008 | 5 | + 4.2% | +16.2 | - 8.3 | Hester has a poor year
2009 | 3 | + 4.1% | +14.2 | + 5.1 | Manning/Knox on kickoffs
2010 | 1 | + 6.3% | +14.6 | +26.0 | Hester's renaissance
2011 | 1 | + 9.8% | - 0.4 | + 3.7 | through week five

Toub has been great, though the special teams didn't really erupt until Hester arrived. My personal opinion is that Hester is an unbelievable talent (not just physically, he uses blocks well and has great vision) that was drafted by a coach (and staff) that knew exactly what they could do with him.

Compiling this list, it's clear that Toub knows what he's doing with kickoff returns, as he's used primarily non-Hester returners with excellent results. The thing is, punt returns (read: Hester) have been fairly independent of the Bears' overall ratings, dipping badly in 2008-2009, while the overall quality remained high. This could suggest that Hester and Toub aren't as linked as we think, but I'm not sure.

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#25 by Independent George // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:33am

I think without Hester, the Bears' return game would resemble New England's - they would consistently net a lot of yards and break the occasional TD, but they wouldn't be the kind of explosive scoring threat it is now.

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#26 by wiumike (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:37am

2008 and 2009 were the years the Bears were pushing really hard to turn him into Steve Smith and put less emphasis on his returning. In 1 of those years Earl Bennett was taking half of the punt returns.

I'm glad they decided letting him be Hester is a better fit.

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#52 by Vincent Verhei // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:47pm

Since 2006, Hester has averaged 12.7 yards per punt return, with one touchdown every 16.7 returns. All other Bears players have averaged 7.9 yards per return, with one touchdown every 28.0 returns.

In the same timeframe, Hester has averaged 24.5 yards per kickoff return, with one touchdown every 25.4 returns. All other Bears players have averaged 23.1 yards per return, with one touchdown every 118.0 returns.

To suggest that they've been anywhere near as good without Hester as they have with him is laughable.

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#64 by RichC (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:19pm

Manning W/Bears:
KR: 26.9 yds/R

KR: 27.5 y/R

Funny, for it being it being laughable to suggest they've been anywhere near as good as Hester, those numbers look..bigger than Hester's.

Hester is clearly the best PR on the team, but his KR numbers fall pretty much in line with everyone elses.

"All others" includes squib kicks, lineman returning kicks, etc, and you know that. Its too bad you're not intellectually honest enough to not resort to this shit.

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#68 by Kal // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:29pm

Knox's sample size is pretty small, plus he has the advantage of being kicked to when Hester is also on the field.

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#69 by Independent George // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:32pm

If only that play against Green Bay hadn't gotten called back.

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#74 by Kal // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:34pm

Really the ref should have simply let that play go. Waved off the flag entirely, especially since it was not anywhere near the ball and did not affect the play whatsoever.

But mostly because the play was awesome.

It is very clear that Toub is a stellar ST coach. I think that's not in doubt at all. But I also think it's clear that Hester is a great ST player.

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#92 by Independent George // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:29pm

Penalty or no, I think that's the play of the year. Does anybody remember who it was that got called for the hold on that play? I'd like to curse him and his entire line.

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#99 by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:41pm

i'm surprised the bears chose to go with such a sweet play in that situation. they were down by two scores very late in an early-season game, so even with a return TD they likely don't win that game. why not save it for the last 30 seconds of a key divisional matchup or playoff game?

Mostly unrelated, but I remember a trick play Lou Holtz called against Texas some time in the mid-90's where the punter took the snap and instead of punting threw a bomb down the right sideline to the gunner. The idea was that the return blockers would get a pass interference call for blocking the gunner (not realizing it was a pass instead of a punt), but somehow the play faked out the refs too and they blew the call. Still, I've always thought that was a borderline genius call and have been waiting for somebody else to do it.

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#118 by Thomas_beardown // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:16pm

There is actually an exemption for that in the NFL. You are allowed to jam "receivers" from a punt formation all the way down the field.

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#128 by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:40pm

right, but the exemption ends when the punter wants to throw to them and they become actual pass receivers

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#139 by Travis // Oct 17, 2011 - 7:07pm

Not exactly. You still can't hold the gunners, but you can pass interfere all you want.

8-5-3-Note 3: Whenever a team presents an apparent punting formation, defensive acts that normally constitute pass interference are permitted against the end man on the line of scrimmage, or against an eligible receiver behind the line of scrimmage who is aligned or in motion more than one yard outside the end man on the line, provided that the acts do not constitute illegal holding. Defensive holding, such as tackling a receiver, still can be called and result in a five-yard penalty from the previous spot, if accepted. Offensive pass interference rules still apply.

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#187 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Oct 19, 2011 - 4:21pm

But Manning's sample is not so small, and he still averaged better than Hester on KRs.

How is it an advantage to be kicked to if Hester is on the field? The only thing that matters after you get the ball is your running and the blocking. Having Hester on the field doesn't help the KR guy unless he's the best blocker.

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#188 by DisplacedPackerFan // Oct 19, 2011 - 4:51pm

If Hester is on the field the coverage team is playing a little more conservatively watching for a pitch/hand off, making sure the kicker didn't hit the ball wrong and that it is going to Hester now. I'm not really getting into other things just wanted to point out how just being on the field can and does have an effect. I'm not trying to claim these are huge effects or even easily exploitable ones, but just like a team has to always account for Demarcus Ware or Clay Matthews when they are playing offense, or a defense keeps a spy in when playing against Michael Vick, etc. Hester is dynamic enough on special teams that teams will change how they play special teams simply because he is on the field.

This effect is not seen as much on special teams and is slightly harder to deal with because special teams get fewer reps in practice than offenses and defenses. There are also a lot fewer situations to practice for, but it matters.

Hester is of course not the only player that has this effect, I recall Donte Hall getting this type of attention years ago as well. Manning/Know might be good enough that they would merit it on their own, but I'm not convinced Manning/Knox are that much different than a "standard" returner. Where you just stick with the standard game plan and try to execute well enough to nullify, or live with the extra 3 - 5 yards more they get over "standard/average".

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#190 by Eddo // Oct 19, 2011 - 5:41pm

I think Manning is indeed a very good kick returner (kickoffs only). Knox I don't think is that special.

Back to Hester: Are there some players who have had stretches of games, or even full seasons, as good as any equivalent time period of Hester's? Yes, most definitely; Josh Cribbs, Dante Hall, Desmond Howard, and even Danieal Manning come to mind.

But the point is that Hester has now had all-time great peak seasons (2006, 2007) and also produced at extremely high levels for a career (2010, 2011 as his renaissance). Is that enough to put him in the Hall of Fame? As much as I love watching him play, I don't think so. But it's definitely enough to put him on the very short list (two or three players) for best return man of all time.

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#91 by Vincent Verhei // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:28pm

"All others" includes squib kicks, lineman returning kicks, etc, and you know that. Its too bad you're not intellectually honest enough to not resort to this shit.

Or maybe I spent 60 seconds pasting into Excel to do some quick math.

Let's review. I called Hester "the best returner in history by a wide, WIDE margin."

You replied: "They've been fantastic whether or not Hester is playing. Everyone they put back there does well," adding, "Its the blocking. Its Toub, not Hester."

I then offered evidence that Hester has dramatically outperformed his teammates. You pointed out a flaw in my evidence, which is fine. I won't get pissy about it. Knox and Manning do indeed have higher average returns on kickoffs than Hester does, although I would argue that Hester's touchdown rate is so much better than Knox's (one TD in 44 returns) or Manning's (one in 101 returns with the Bears) that he has the edge.

But that's just kickoff returns. Hester has completely destroyed his Bears teammates in punt returns, and those are not linemen fielding squib kicks. Manning and Knox have not returned many punts (only two between them). Perhaps you think they'd have better averages than Hester in that category too. I have no evidence to say they wouldn't. But I still think that saying the Bears would be just as good at RETURNER (punts and kickoffs) without Hester as they have been with him is, yes, laughable.

By the way, those squib kicks the Bears are getting -- is that because opposing kickers are scared of Hester, or Manning and Knox?

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#126 by Jimmy // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:30pm

There is a common belief that Hester was a poor kick and punt returner in his third and fourth years. The stats really don't tell the whole story. Teams went to extraordinary lengths to keep the ball out of Hester's hands. On kick returns the problem of teams squib kicking to the least athletic player in the line infront of Hester got so bad (because backup DEs and blocking TEs aren't all that good at trying to field and return kicks hence fumbles and penalties ensued) that Toub took every single big player out of second line of blockers leaving safeties and WRs as the blockers. This meant good returns from the squibs but teams stopped squibbing and kicked to Hester who was then left with very poor blocking as the return team got overwhelmed. The best result for my mind would have been to try to cope with the squibs but Toub opted to take Hester out and put Manning or Knox back there so they got a normal kickoff - and to be fair Knox and Manning are very good returners. Toub would also use Hester sparingly on the kick returns probably because (a) they might not notice or have a special plan prepared for one or two kicks a game and (b) make the opposition prepare for more stuff - I doubt specials have enough time with the players to plan for every single eventuality anyway.

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#151 by Charlie Roshambo (not verified) // Oct 18, 2011 - 12:11am

Has RichC ever gone more than two comments without sounding like a smug prick?
What a miserable son of a bitch you must be. It's only football, jackass.

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#162 by bravehoptoad // Oct 18, 2011 - 11:41am

Smug assholes, if they're relatively bright, really liven up the message board, though. FO is richer for them. I still miss Pat, our resident smug asshole for many years, missing the past two.

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#165 by chemical burn // Oct 18, 2011 - 12:10pm

And Pat really should be here this year, rubbing it in: he called the Eagles problems note for note: the LB's would be terrible, the rookie kicker and holder would cost them a game, hiring Castillo for D coordinator terrible idea, the situation at safety was dangerously unsettled, Vick would fall back to earth (especially in terms of INT's.) All his prophecies came to pass (and he didn't predict anything bad that HASN'T happened, so he wasn't just throwing negativity at the wall and seeing what would stick...)

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#169 by Karl Cuba // Oct 18, 2011 - 1:20pm

I don't think Pat's a smug arsehole, he just really fights his corner and knows his stats inside out.

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#170 by bravehoptoad // Oct 18, 2011 - 1:51pm

Yes, I loved Pat's posts, but I never once heard him admit he was wrong about anything, or that he'd interpreted something in the wrong way, etc. Maybe he wasn't an arsehole, but he could be awfully smug. His superior knowledge of stats didn't do much for his humility, in any case.

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#171 by Thomas_beardown // Oct 18, 2011 - 2:42pm

I don't recall Pat insulting people (well non-Eagle's players at least).

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#175 by bravehoptoad // Oct 18, 2011 - 3:57pm

Nah...when he was being under-handed (which actually didn't happen too often) his favorite tactic was refuting the strawman.

Still, wish that guy would come back. He has to be one of FO's all-time great posters. Inventing ROBO-punter alone would have won him that accolade.

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#182 by bravehoptoad // Oct 19, 2011 - 12:04pm


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#183 by chemical burn // Oct 19, 2011 - 1:26pm

To this day, I call it getting "Yanged" when someone takes a position I agree with, but argues it so stupidly that I end up taking the opposite position.

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#185 by Thomas_beardown // Oct 19, 2011 - 1:39pm

Oh man he was a riot. I don't think I've seen anyone with the persecution complex he had.

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#186 by Nathan // Oct 19, 2011 - 1:56pm

Unfortunately he disappeared just in time for Mike Vick's resurrection, Jason Campbell to put together his best year as a pro, and Shady McCoy to turn into one of the best backs in the league...

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#192 by chemical burn // Oct 19, 2011 - 9:35pm

The best part about C was his constant bragging about his gambling success and his reverence for "Vegas." Who knows, maybe it was all true and now he's retired on an island somewhere. I'll give him one thing: he was super astute about the Giants and had really interesting things to say about them. Black QB's? Well, that's another story...

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#180 by Marko // Oct 18, 2011 - 7:55pm

I thought his favorite tactic was extensive and unnecessary use of italics (which he sometimes combined with refuting the strawman). The way he did it was very condescending and obnoxious.

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#67 by RichC (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:23pm

" but they also didn't really stop the Patriots from moving the ball all game."

You mean, other than the 4 turnovers, and the handful of punts?

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#58 by Kal // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:05pm

I think you can make that argument about pretty much anyone save Peyton Manning.

Is it Brady or is it Belichick? Is it Rodgers or McCarthy? Is it Adrian Peterson or is it Hutch?

The fact is that virtually all great players have had other people around them that helped them be great. Not all - but most. Hester would not be spectacular if he was in Indy - but the Bears wouldn't have the advantages in special teams without Hester either.

The fact is that Hester has every record for kicking and punting returns despite having 1/3rd as many tries as the next highest returner. That he has had multiple years of success, that he has been a consistent threat, that he changes the game - and that he is known as this huge threat all make me think that he's a great player for the Hall of Fame. It's not just random raw performance either - it's hall of FAME. Devin Hester, you are ridiculous is going to be remembered for a long time.

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#122 by Desmond Howard… (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:19pm

Well, he may need to keep doing this for years to come to make his case, esp. records. Pro Football Refence has him at #96 in career kick return yards, #92 in yards/KR, #22 in career PR yards; he is #6 in yards/punt return. So while he has the PR TD mark, he's not yet close to the durability records, not does he have the single-season yards or average records in either. (And in terms of KR TDs, the record is held by Josh Cribbs, younger than Hester; these are leaderboards that have heavy numbers of recent players on them.)

I think one can make a case for him as the greatest returner of all time, but the stats on the issues are not as clear cut as one might like (at least not yet).

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#146 by Arkaein // Oct 17, 2011 - 9:48pm

Durability yards, as you put it, are almost completely meaningless for kick returners.

In college football, the main KR for my alma mater (Minnesota) either recently surpassed or will likely soon surpass the NCAA all time career KR yardage record. Is it because he's awesome? No, it's because the Gophers have had one of the worst defenses in college football for the last few years, which means lots of chances to return kicks, which are an almost guaranteed 20 yards per attempt for any competent returner.

Hester is the best all time returner because he's going to break the TD record in about half of a career. He's not as good of a kick returner as he is a punt returner, but he's so good at returning punts that he just needs to be above average at returning kicks to be the best overall.

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#163 by Jodeci23 // Oct 18, 2011 - 11:42am

"Its the blocking. Its Toub, not Hester."

Wow. Just wow.

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#6 by JIPanick // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:28am

Grossman and Sanchez are Hall of Famers? Who knew?

I realize you may not watch the Cowboys much, Mr. Tanier, but Sean Lee is intercepting passes right and left this year.

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#133 by edswood (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 5:01pm

^ This. That not only made me laugh, but made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Stratego FTW.

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#7 by Zieg (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:33am

As for how Tampa did well against the Saints, its pretty much all on Brees' interceptions. He still racked up a lot of yards but turned it over too much for even him to get away with it. Not all of the interceptions were bad calls, but that one in the end zone to Black was just ludicrous.

On another note, does Brees just get to make his own pass interference calls? There was a play where I swear everyone was almost back to the huddle before the flag came in. Its like some ref was sitting there thinking "Drew looks like he's mad at me. Was that pass interference? It didnt look like it but maybe I was supposed to throw a flag. Hmm, is it too late now? Uh oh, he still looks mad. I'll go ahead and throw it."

I actually wondered if he was throwing the interceptions apologetically.

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#30 by MilkmanDanimal // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:44am

That late PI call was pretty silly; it had to be a good 7-8 seconds after the play was blown dead. As for the last INT, I actually said to my son, "He's going to roll right and throw to Graham"; it seemed blatantly obvious what was coming. Nobody expected the Saints to run there, their running game has been lousy. The Saints had a receiver completely wide open in the left part of the end zone, but, since Brees rolled right, he couldn't see him.

Also, Tanard Jackson could make a huge difference to this team; safety is clearly a hugely weak spot, and T-Jack (can we pass a law making him the official NFL T-Jack, not Tarvaris?) has been an incredibly talented player who just can't keep clean. Very talented player, and I'm amazed that a guy who was suspended for over a year was reinstated on a Wednesday and was starting the following Sunday. Got burned once, but only getting burned once against Brees is pretty amazing, consider the layoff he had.

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#8 by BlueStarDude // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:38am

Aaron: Not every Cowboys fan in New England, alas. Me and my Romo jersey were in my living room. I would feel better about this loss if they had played smart football on their penultimate and antepenultimate possessions and not conservative football. There's not much worse than a playcaller who thinks conservative = smart.

And John Madden used to refer to wham blocks "all the time" when he was in the booth.

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#10 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:41am

After six games I am now legitimately concerned about the Packers defense. I don't know if it's the injuries or the lack of Cullen Jenkins pass rush or teams scheming better but this is NOT about the other team playing from behind.

Too many open guys. And yesterday the d-line was terrible at getting off blocks. The Rams were washing Raji out of plays completely.

Very puzzling

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#12 by Flounder // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:52am

Ehh, I'm actually less worried after this week. I thought it was fairly evident they were quite intentionally playing prevent "keep them in front of us and don't give up a big play" defense literally the entire second half. And it worked! They let the Rams drive down the field, and as soon as they got into/near the red zone, the blitzes got dialed up, the pressure got home, and no points were scored.

Frankly, the whole team outside of Rodgers seemed entirely uninterested in the second half and just wanted it to be over.

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#13 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 10:59am

Boy I hope you are right.

I am somewhat glad next week is on the road. Playing away from Lambeau seems to energize guys.

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#50 by Kevin from Philly // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:25pm

I didn't see the game, but seriously - you're worried about a defense that gave up three points?

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#51 by MilkmanDanimal // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:35pm,26217/

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#75 by Turin // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:35pm

GB has the 10th lowest opponent passer rating allowed and the 7th best scoring defense. Their yards/play allowed are somewhat worrisome, but overall I'd rank their defense at about league average (which is right about where DVOA has them too). The offense is good enough that as long as the D doesn't completely implode they'll be in good shape.

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#31 by Arkaein // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:48am

I have noticed that the biggest difference in GB's D since last year is that Raji isn't having many impact plays.

Last year he had 7 sacks while being a stud against the run and playing a superhuman number of reps. This year he's had the reps, and the run D started off great, but it looked pretty weak yesterday, and he hasn't generated pass rush all season.

Clay's lack of sacks has generated the attention, but I think that's more due to the fact that there isn't much alternative rush, and since Clay plays on the D's left side QBs can see him coming, resulting in a lot of knockdowns but not a lot of sacks since the QB can get rid of the ball first.

The bye week could be very helpful. Tramon has looked better each game as his shoulder heals, teams haven't really gone after Peprah since the Bears game, and Mike Neal might be able to provide a little extra pass rush opposite Matthews.

Points: 0

#36 by JasonK // Oct 17, 2011 - 12:00pm

Curse of [to-be-determined number of snaps played at DT/NT]?

Get on it, Schatz!

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#87 by DisplacedPackerFan // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:13pm

Some of Raji may be scheme both opposing offenses and what Capers is having him do. He sees more triple teams because teams mostly don't worry much about Wynn and Pickett isn't a penetrator. But you also see Raji when he only has 2 (or even more rarely) one blocker on him doing more of a lateral push, keeping more bodies on the line and not allowing as many holes. Most of a fully healthy Steven Jackson's runs yesterday came on the outside, and off broken tackles from safties and linebackers who were often hitting him behind the line or after 2 or 3 yards. Yes there were some short down and distances that were converted up the middle but they were generally all pretty close.

Both sacks the Packers got from pressure up the middle were because Raji cleared the blockers.

If Neal can do what he has flashed and the Packers expect, Raji may show more pressure either by being asked to press more, or simply because he won't have as much attention paid to him and he can just make it happen.

Though that would be a source of alternate rush, like you said. That being said they are still 9th in the league in sacks and the pressure actually seems to be more consistent this year, if late. There are less clean pockets, and a couple of the 11 ints they have were due to pressure forcing the throw. I do think the pass rush is weaker than last year, but it's also different in how it's applied.

Matthews right now is a lot like Peppers was early last year for the Bears. Very few sacks but still having a major impact on offenses and game plans.

I still have concerns, but I'm much happier with this years red zone defense than I was with last years. I've seen improvement in the tackling of the secondary as the year goes on. I've seen fewer blown assignments (as best as you can tell without knowing the play call). The secondary hasn't been healthy all year (Collins out, Williams hurt in game one, Shields missing plays here and there and maybe out next week).

Some of the yardage issues are teams playing from behind, some of it is that opposing offensives have longer fields than they did last year because the offense sputters less, and the special teams are playing better (or benefiting from rule changes). There have been more chances for opponents to drive 80+ yards this year, though I haven't calculated all the numbers. But the LOS start numbers on this site say it was the 29.08 last year and the 27 this year. My numbers show a much bigger difference in the first 6 games.

Average Yards to go by game (number of drives)

Week 2010 ------ 2011
1 -- 72.7(11) -- 68.6(11)
2 -- 76.6(12) -- 71.0(10)
3 -- 72.6(15) -- 64.2(9)
4 -- 70.6(11) -- 65.7(12)
5 -- 76.3(10) -- 70.4(16, 13 reg, 3 OT)
6 -- 73.4(11) -- 67.8(12, 9 reg, 2 OT)

All 73.6(70) -- 68.3(70)

I did yards to go, to help illustrate how much more yardage an offense could get, but while I was putting it together I realized there was a drive disparity in those first 4 games, but it did even out. So opposing offenses have 5.3 yards more open field in front of them, per drive this year. Over 70 drives that is 371 more yards of field. Last year through the first six games they were giving up 18.6 points a game. This year they are giving up 19 points a game. Last year they had given up 1967 yards through 6 games, this year it's 2302, which is 335 more.

I've wondered a few times what the effect of more open field might have on offensives. This seems to be a league wide trend of offenses having more open field in front of them.

That still seems to say last years defense played better. They forced more punts and had to stop offenses on shorter fields more frequently.

Points: 0

#32 by DenverCheeze (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:49am

I have to agree, every time I looked at the charting log on the web, the Rams were driving the field...the RAMS!?!?!? This is NOT last years defense and moving Woodson back to more of a safety role after losing Collins is killing them but they dont have a better option. A good QB is going to thrash them into a 52-45 game which can go to either team.

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#57 by Nathan // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:00pm

Isn't the game you just described week 1 vs the Saints? Also, 321 yards and no TDs sounds like the quintessential McDaniels offense.

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#16 by wr (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:05am

>> Ben Muth: Psht, wake me up when you see a Babe Laufenberg jersey.

I would have been really impressed if there had been a Clint Longley jersey sighting.

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#18 by jklps // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:20am

No mention of Mike Vick's continual whining in the press finally helping him out in the Redskins game yesterday? Eagles should have been called for a safety.

(Not that my favorite team, the Redskins are any good - and I already knew that before yesterday).

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#20 by Anonymously Social (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:24am

In regard to Gower's interpretation of the must maintain possession through going to the ground, there have been several instances, all defended by the league defying his explanation.

Last year, Greg Jennings caught a TD pass in the end zone and took 3 quick steps to establish himself in bounds. On the third step, as he was crossing the backline of the endzone, Jennings was hit and knocked to the ground. The ball came loose and the play was ruled incomplete. Pereira confirmed it and the NFL stood by the ruling.

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#21 by zenbitz // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:27am

or whomever wrote that filk at the end... in a game decided by "Wham" blocks.

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#22 by t.d. // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:29am

The Cowboys are not well coached. They're still right in the mix for the division, though.

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#23 by Flounder // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:32am

Ladies and gentleman, your new NFC West, the NFC East!

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#28 by JasonK // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:40am

Some Giants-Bills comments:

The Simms "let them score" argument was indeed high comedy. He sounded like a kid who had just been explained the concept by his dad, and was trying to show his understanding of it by applying it everywhere he looked. In this case, there was about 1:30 left and Buffalo had all their timeouts, so the smart play was clearly to try to force the FG and use timeouts on defense. Any coach would much rather be down 3 with the ball, 1:10 left, and no timeouts left than be down 7 with 1:30 and 3 timeouts. (As it happened, the Giants threw an incompletion on 3rd down, so Buffalo ended up with 1 TO to use on their drive.)

As you might expect, both offenses had the advantage in this game. The Bills scored on 2 big plays in the 1st quarter (an 80-yard run wherein Deon Grant didn't break down to attempt an open-field tackle on Fred Jackson and instead ran right by him, and a 60-yard pass that was mostly YAC as everybody in the Giants secondary took terrible angles), but the Giants D managed to fix those problems and instead give up long drives of runs, short passes, and screens. When Deon Grant is out there in coverage, opponents are targeting him.

For the Giants offense, DVOA-darling Jake Ballard continues to be the guy who forces teams out of focusing too much on the WRs. He had a couple of nice "how the heck did a guy that slow get that wide open?" catches early, and after that point, the Giants started seeing more 1-on-1 coverage on the outside. (Against which the Giants got some nice completions and several key DPI flags.)

The difference in the game was that the Bills had 2 4th-quarter INTs. Both were essentially the same play-- Stevie Johnson on a go route up the left sideline, with Corey Webster in man coverage. The coverage is tight, the ball is underthrown, and Webster comes down with it. (To be fair, Stevie also got an easy TD against Webster in press by juking Corey out of his shoes at the line.) Honorable mention in the "difference-making play" category goes to Fitzpatrick holding the ball forever against a 3 man rush, getting sacked by Pierre-Paul, and losing 10 yards that pushed them out of FG range-- a throw away and a FG attempt there makes the rest of the game go a lot differently.

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#29 by Independent George // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:41am

In Simms' defense, at that moment the Giants were in a 2nd-and-1, and there was a very high probability of converting the first down on the next play. As it happened, Buffalo managed to drop him for a 4-yard loss, which is just about the best possible outcome for them. It was great that it worked, but the odds favored the Giants converting on the next play.

The absolute worst case scenario for Buffalo would have been if the Giants got stuffed on a sneak for no gain on 2nd down, then converted on 3rd down, letting them milk the clock before the FG attempt.

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#37 by JasonK // Oct 17, 2011 - 12:06pm

Even in that case, you just use a timeout. The Bills had enough TOs to stop the clock after every Giants snap (absent a penalty giving them a new set of downs).

If you have any trust in your defense at all (and the Giants' run game hadn't been doing all that great), giving up your timeouts in exchange for a chance to start your last drive down 3 instead of down 7 is well worth it.

And, yeah, the run outside on 2nd&G from the 1 was a ... puzzling playcall.

Points: 0

#137 by E // Oct 17, 2011 - 5:36pm

The 2 4th-quarter INTs were obviously crucial, but the difference in the game may actually have been Drayton Florence. Florence was called for THREE critical DPIs and not one of them was even borderline. At one point this game began to feel like a very even matchup made up of 43 players ... and Drayton Florence.

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#27 by C-Weezy (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:38am

So the Eagles may have finally figured out: If you hit someone, and/or tackle them, they will not run as far down the field. The run defense was much improved, and some of that can be attributed to tightening up the defensive line in the first half. When the Redskins were in hurry up/come back mode, the wide 9 came back. And for a second straight week, they gave up a way too easy QB sneak when spread out.

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#55 by chemical burn // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:57pm

Yeah, the 9 wide disappearing... only to make a special appearance on the Redskins' one impressive drive culminating in another ridiculous QB "sneak" should be the final nail in the coffin of that thing in Philly. The LB's and safeties are all obviously playing much better, although it was funny to see the play where the TE leaked out into double-coverage by Chaney and Rolle... and still ended up 100% open. But, yeah, seeing the defense dominate a game was a big relief - happy to see they listened to the conventional wisdom and just had Asomugha play man-press the vast majority of the game. I dare say it allowed the safeties freedom to both ball-hawk and press the run.

Also, I'm amazed: if a Vick pass gets batted in the air this year, it's landing the hands of a defensive player. It's unreal - the Buffalo game was the most ridiculous - but yesterday's pick had a similar "oh, you have to be kidding me" quality. I'm curious what analyses came from all those "it isn't Eli's fault that passing are being deflected!" conversations from last year.

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#61 by Eddo // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:10pm

I'm not sure that anything came of the Eli Manning tipped balls discussions last year, but I would add that Vick is (and always has been) much more likely to get passes tipped at the line. He's one of the three or four shortest QBs in the league today.

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#62 by chemical burn // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:12pm

Yeah, but I'm not talking only about tipped line passes. Also, he hasn't had this problem his whole career. So... yeah.

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#34 by bravehoptoad // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:54am

Smith's stat line says he's 13-for-24, but if we could adjust that for missing open receivers, it would be much worse. Earlier, he threw Walker into a tough catch on his touchdown drop. This drive, he misses Ted Ginn, who had two steps on the cornerback, and then throws a second-down pass two yards over Crabtree's head when he was open for a modest gain.

I thought his first half was pretty good, his second half mostly terrible. I wonder if this difference was caused by something I didn't spot, or it it's just random, Good Alex/Bad Alex.

Stafford, if anything, looked worse. Some of the balls coming out of his hand were utterly puzzling.

I have a feeling that if either of these teams had a good quarterback -- not great, just pretty good, Kyle Orton, say -- they'd be super scary. As it is, they both look like good teams with below-average quarterbacks.

It made for a strange game to watch.

Edit: Schwarz! I've always been a fan, because he was one of the first coaches to tout FO. But yeesh, that guy is a bad loser. He's also a bad winner, which doesn't make for an appealing combination. (I'm a bad winner, good loser. My wife's a good winner, bad loser. We're a good match as long as she wins.)

2nd edit: some 49ers past opponents are continuing to look pretty good. Cinci keeps winning, TB bounced back against a good team, and Dallas gave the Pats a real game. I don't know if opponent adjustments are going to hit them as hard Aaron was predicting last week.

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#41 by Karl Cuba // Oct 17, 2011 - 12:51pm

Smith didn't have his best game, it's especially worrying to see his tendency to lock his front leg and throw too high creep back into his game. The pressure seemed to get to him a bit even though the offensive line was holding up reasonably well considering who they were trying to block.

There were quite a few drops that will have hurt is numbers at least as much as his errant throws. Gore dropped two, Ginn dropped two, Walker, Justin Peele and Crabtree each dropped one. They weren't all perfect throws but they were catches that have to be made.

And isn't Aldon Smith having a nice year?

Points: 0

#43 by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:10pm

I watched this game and was shocked at how soft Michael Crabtree is. He never fights for the ball, never fights for extra yardage. His raw skills get him open just about whenever he wants, but he consistently sells himself and his team short by shying away from contact. There were numerous times when the ball hit off his hands when he could have jumped up to grab it, when he could have dove for a ball in front of him but didn't, or when he made a catch and dove to the out of bounds line instead of running over the smaller cornerback. Get this man in a wrestling class and teach him how to use his god-given size and balance.

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#60 by JS // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:07pm

"We're a good match as long as she wins."

Uh, dude, that describes everybody's marriage.

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#82 by Jimmy // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:04pm

Re: Schwartz

Harbaugh has admitted that he was a bit too exuberant and it does indeed seem so. What really seemed small minded to me was Schwartz's comments on the matter where he started bitching about an obscenity. My best guess as to what happened is that he was annoyed by Harbaugh's lack of grace and ran up to him and started shouting about it. At that point Harbaugh told him to '**** off' (add your own obscenity) and then the ruckus really started. When Schwartz started complaining about protocol you know he was attempting post fact justification for behaviour that was unjustifiable.

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#167 by bravehoptoad // Oct 18, 2011 - 12:30pm

I know everyone's appreciating Harbaugh right now...

...but can you imagine how Singletary would have reacted under the same circumstances? Schwartz would have had to seriously re-think what he was doing.

The post-game handshake confrontation is one time I'd still like Singletary as my head coach.

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#33 by Gubdude // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:50am

11 straight games decided by 4 points or less. Being a Cowboys fan is bad for my heart.

If we don't blow out the Rams this weekend I'll probably give up on the season.

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#158 by John (not verified) // Oct 18, 2011 - 10:25am

Has anybody mentioned that Schwartz acted VERY inappropriately (apperently) taunting (or to that effect) Harabugh when he challenged an illegal challenge in the first quarter? Schwartz absolutely had that coming at the end of the game.

And why the above references against Harbuagh? because he is gutty, jovial, and successful? What am I missing?

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#160 by Nathan // Oct 18, 2011 - 10:56am

He had some problems with Pete Carroll in college after going for 2 up like 50 points one game. Carroll had some words for him at the handshake.

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#168 by dbt // Oct 18, 2011 - 12:55pm

Carroll had spent years running up the score on Stanford. No reason for Stanford not to do the same thing when the shoe was on the other foot.

(My favorite part: They fail the conversion, so it's 48-whatever(17?) instead of 50. Then score another TD anyway.)

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#35 by allmystuffisthere (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 11:56am

So the argument against Dallas trying to win it with their offense (meaning call a pass play) is so that Jason Garrett can stay kool and the gang with the media that loves him anyway? Half your site is devoted to marketing how unstoppable the Patriots offense is. I think Rob Ryan and this defense are great, but they also didn't really stop the Patriots from moving the ball all game. Best case scenario is New England kicks a field goal to tie, sending it to overtime, at which point Garrett would have to face the decision again whether to lose it by letting Romo rip it. More likely scenario was New England eats the rest of the clock and scores a TD to win. But Garrett won't let this team make excuses and will have them ready to play next week, so I got that going for me.

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#111 by RickD // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:03pm

"...they also didn't really stop the Patriots from moving the ball all game."
The Pats had only 13 points before the last drive, including only one TD.
That includes 3 turnovers (the fourth was on special teams) and two situations when the Cowboys forced the Pats to settle for a field goal. Only once in the game before the final drive had the Pats gotten a TD.
Before the final drive, the Cowboys' D was matching up very well with the Pats' offense. DeMarcus Ware was getting a lot of pressure on Brady and their passing attack was inconsistent at best.

What happened on the final drive didn't match the pattern of the first 57 minutes at all. Brady was 8 of 9 on that drive; before that he'd been 19 of 32 with two picks.

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#136 by allmystuffisthere (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 5:29pm

Even if I accepted your pattern recognition, it still points to how little Jason Garrett's contribution is as you are basically asking for a 5th turnover in order to win the game. The Patriots had 4 excellent drives that would normally produce points vs only twice maybe that Dallas stopped them on downs.

Seriously, though, how does the defense had been stopping them argument hold up against the best offense in football? Either FO doesn't really believe in their stats or the Patriots easily score in that last drive. There is no in-between. Nevermind that when ppl like me were questioning Garrett's handling of games like Washington while trying to focus the praise correctly on Ryan the reply was "talk to me when they play an offense like the Patriots".

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#38 by MCS // Oct 17, 2011 - 12:23pm

Last week, the Lions did the Lambeau Leap and the Matthews predator flex. This week, it was the belt.

The Lions have a little envy (and even less creativity).

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#189 by drgarnett (not verified) // Oct 19, 2011 - 5:06pm

In reply to by MCS

Yeah, right. Wrestlers and bodybuilders were doing that flex move before anyone knew who Clay Matthews was. How original. The belt thing is lame no matter who does it. And everyone does the leap into the stands now. Get over it.

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#191 by BaronFoobarstein // Oct 19, 2011 - 6:39pm

In reply to by drgarnett (not verified)

Leaping into the stands is not the Lambeau leap. The Lambeau leap is when you jump into the stands at Lambeau Field. I wonder if it's so popular these days because it got grandfathered in as a legal celebration when the rules limiting them were made more stringent.

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#193 by MJK // Oct 19, 2011 - 10:06pm

In reply to by BaronFoobarstein

Yes, and also champagne is only made in a single province of France (otherwise it's sparkling white), "fortuitous" means "happening by random chance" and is not a synonym for "fortunate", a QB faking a handoff to a RB and giving it instead to a WR is an end around, not a reverse, and Bill Walsh did not invent the "West Coast Offense".

As true as all these statements are, that will not stop 95% of people from using the terms incorrectly.

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#194 by Thomas_beardown // Oct 19, 2011 - 10:15pm

On your last one, do you mean we should call the Coryell offense the WCO or that Walsh shouldn't receive as much credit for the offense he used?

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#195 by BaronFoobarstein // Oct 20, 2011 - 2:23am

Champagne is made in places other than France. But I usually only hear "Lambeau leap" in the context of Lambeau field. Do you hear a lot of descriptions of players on other teams or in other stadiums referred to by that name? And you should join in fighting the good fight against the calling an end around a reverse unless you want to be cheeky and call is a 0-reverse or something. I'd also like to recruit you for my campaign against calling fouls "penalties."

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#196 by Jerry // Oct 20, 2011 - 6:16am

In reply to by BaronFoobarstein

While we're at it, can we stop calling all officials "referees"?

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#198 by BaronFoobarstein // Oct 20, 2011 - 1:40pm

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. I'm assuming you have no issue with people referring to the actual referee as "referee."

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#200 by Jerry // Oct 21, 2011 - 2:16am

In reply to by BaronFoobarstein

Right, but only the official with the white cap can be called the "referee".

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#197 by Nathan // Oct 20, 2011 - 10:04am

In reply to by BaronFoobarstein

So one commits a foul and in turn one's team is punished with a penalty?

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#199 by BaronFoobarstein // Oct 20, 2011 - 1:41pm


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#201 by carp (not verified) // Oct 22, 2011 - 3:52pm

In reply to by BaronFoobarstein

No, champagne can by definition only be made in the Champagne region in France - everything else is sparkling wine.

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#202 by BaronFoobarstein // Oct 22, 2011 - 10:00pm

In reply to by carp (not verified)

Actually they make a lot of champagne in California. I think your confusion comes from a treaty in Europe that prohibits vintners from referring to champagnes made in regions other Champagne, France as such.

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#203 by MJK // Oct 24, 2011 - 12:16am

In reply to by BaronFoobarstein

Interesting story about that. By French custom, a wine can only be referred to by the actual province it comes from. Hence only calling "sparkling white" "champagne" if it comes from Champagne. The French made all the world's wine makers sign the treaty you refer to.

However, this was during prohibition, so the U.S. was not legally a wine producing country at that time. So we were not signatories of the treaty.

As a result, Califronia (and probably other U.S. wineries) are allowed to refer to their sparkling whites as "champagne". However, the company that manufacturers the labels placed on wine bottles has almost a complete monopoly on the business, so even California wine makers buy their labels from this company. And this company is French owned. So California vinters have learned, if they want their lables delivered on time and printed error free, to not try to put "champagne" on their labels and instead call it "sparkling white".

At least, this is what the vinter told us on our last winery tour. (I live in California wine country, so we go tasting from time to time).

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#39 by MilkmanDanimal // Oct 17, 2011 - 12:23pm

For other random Tampa thoughts, I'm wondering if Josh Freeman made some kind of a conscious decision to stay in the pocket more this year. Last year, he'd escape and make throws on the run or get himself a first down scrambling, but he seems to be staying put a lot more. The problem is that instead of escaping pressure, he's making last-second throws off his back foot, and that's where a lot of his problems are coming from. I don't remember him making nearly this many bad throws last year (I don't recall him making many bad throws at all last year, actually), but, this year, he's doing this back-foot thing left and right, and it's really getting him in trouble.

Also, is it possible that a punter/kickoff specialist could be one of the league-wide free agent signings of the year? Micheal Koenen has been just phenomenal this year. He's punting very well in terms of both distance and dropping punts within the 20, and he has to be near the league league in touchbacks this year.

Points: 0

#40 by Jason Joyner (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 12:32pm

Mike Tanier: Sean Lee only intercepts Hall of Famers. He is the Stratego spy.

This made my Monday morning - and it's been one of those Mondays.

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#56 by bubqr // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:58pm

Same here. That was really, really good.

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#42 by MrBismarck // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:08pm

Local Connecticut news guy had clearly never heard of Oakland's Punter because he looked at his little piece of paper and claimed the Raiders' final touchdown had been thrown by "Sleckler."

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#46 by justme_cd // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:18pm

Aaron: "... well, that's gotta be one of the better losses possible in the NFL."

But that's the problem with the Cowboys. Not many of their losses have been horrible, even last year (The one exception for me being the game that got Wade Phillips fired). Losing on the last drive every game, triple teaming Megatron, these "better possible losses" make it easy for jokers like Flounder #23 and hard on the fans.

Points: 0

#54 by Flounder // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:54pm

I'm a joker?

I will say, however, that the better comparrison is the 2010 AFC West.

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#45 by Kal // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:16pm

I'm kinda surprised y'all weren't more surprised by the performance of the Bears in the Vikings game. I know, I know -it's what you're interested in, not real analysis, blah blah blah - but the thought coming into this game was that the Vikings were way better than their record, that they had a great DLine and a great pash rush, that the Bears were sliding and fairly bad and they were going to get Cutler killed.

Instead, Cutler had 1 sack, was barely hit, the Bears gave him tons of time, Cutler was accurate, Forte had a big game running and the team looked nothing like they have all year.

Furthermore, the Bears defense looked utterly dominant, though that's not that hard against Minnesota, and significantly different from prior weeks. I'd love to see an AGS on this, though I'm guessing the AGS is going to be Tampa/NO this week.

Points: 0

#59 by Eddo // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:07pm

The line played much better than the previous few weeks (obviously). Louis, surprisingly, did an excellent job on Robison. Allen outplayed Webb, but not nearly as badly as nearly everyone (not named Mrs. Webb) would have guessed. Most encouraging was the the interior lineman succeeded in keeping a stable pocket for Cutler - he was able to step up and deliver accurate throws numerous times.

Of course, there still were some breakdowns, where Cutler had to force an inaccurate throw into the flat (and, of course, the fumblesack), but the line's performance was encouraging.

With regards to the defense, getting Major Wright back and sitting Meriweather and Harris cannot be understated. The safety play was refreshingly competent for a change.

As for AGS, I think the Bears-Vikings game is ineligible, since the Bears were favored by oddsmakers.

Points: 0

#65 by Thomas_beardown // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:19pm

I'm not sure the style of offense played by the Bears against the Vikings is sustainable. There were a couple plays where they left 8 to block and only had 2 receivers running routes. I don't know how many teams that will work against.

This team needs its buy week bad. Getting Peppers and Carimi back would be huge.

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#70 by Kal // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:33pm

It might not be sustainable, but against a team with a strong pass rush and a weak secondary (read: also the Lions) it was very encouraging to see such good results. More than almost anything the Bears were consistent. It wasn't just a couple of big plays here and there; they had a plan and were able to move the ball well at all times, get small and large yards, run the ball near the goal line, etc.

There's a lot to build on after this game, I think.

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#107 by Karl Cuba // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:54pm

This comment was voluntarily removed because the poster decided it was a badly thought out, badly written pile of dross.

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#90 by Marko // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:24pm

"This team needs its buy week bad. Getting Peppers and Carimi back would be huge."

Wait, what? I assume you meant Bennett, not Peppers, becaue Peppers played and had 2 sacks, and because he has nothing to do with the offense.

Also, is the "buy" week when the players go on shopping sprees during their "bye" week? (Sorry, I couldn't resist. And as a fellow Bears fan, I know you can laugh after last night's game.)

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#113 by Thomas_beardown // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:08pm

I meant healthy, not back. Bennett will be nice to have back too. It will be fun to watch a receiver who catches.

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#105 by Karl Cuba // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:52pm

Collingsworth said that there were only two receivers on routes but I'm pretty sure that I saw Forte and Clutz leaking out into a short hook and a flat route as Cutler was throwing.

And while it may be a long time ago, the last time the Bengals made the Superbowl one of their best plays was a sellout play action with only one receiver running a pattern.

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#145 by JCutler6 // Oct 17, 2011 - 9:40pm

Allen was invisible with the exception of his sack/FF/FR - though that was more a good hustle play/product of Cutler holding it too long. Webb did a great job I thought. And no false starts either!

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#101 by Will Allen // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:47pm

Damned clients made me work for money this morning, which frustrates me as much as a Viking center who is asked to touch somebody with a shoulder pad for a game check.

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#85 by Jimmy // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:12pm

I am still giggling about Paea, he flat out whipped Hutchinson at least three times and on a couple of plays a double team succeeded in moving him all of six inches backwards. One thing that seems to translate to the NFL from what you ccould see on film in college (WARNING: SMALL SAMPLE SIZE) is how often guys trying to block him end up on the ground whilst he continues on towards the ball carrier. He seems very quick and strong and considering his limited football background he should have a lot of upside as he develops.

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#102 by Kal // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:50pm

I did a fistpump when I found out that the Bears drafted Paea. The OSU beavers were basically nothing defensively without him, and with him they looked ridiculous. He's a power and I think will be something like the next Ngata, or a poor man's Suh.

He's a beast. Can't believe it's taken him that long to get into the game.

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#100 by Will Allen // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:43pm

Looking utterly dominant against a qb who couldn't throw from a boat in the ocean and get the ball wet, and a receiver corps that can't get open and can't catch, and an offensive line that includes a center who appears to be suffering from narcolepsy, really isn't predictive.

Points: 0

#104 by Kal // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:52pm

I think that's selling the effort short. The Vikings have played close games in all of their games prior to this, often having leads. They lost a close game to Detroit in OT. Peterson has had at least 80 yards rushing and often didn't even get tries in second halves of play.

WHile you can say how bad the Vikings looked, I think given prior games that it is clear at least some of that was because of how good the Bears looked.

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#115 by RickD // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:10pm

Will is selling Donovan short. He could throw a ball off a boat in the ocean and have it get wet.

Seriously, I like Donovan McNabb, but he seems to have no life left in him. And he threw a few worm-burners last night.

At no point last night did I think there was any danger the Vikings would get into the game. I was looking for anything that justified their relatively high DVOA last week, but it wasn't there. Well, I suppose they'll drop quite a bit this week. Blowouts have that effect.

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#130 by Will Allen // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:47pm

A lot of their points have come off turnovers and special teams big plays. I'm being hyperbolic but not really selling them short, and when they fall behind early, Peterson becomes a non-factor.

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#48 by GlennW // Oct 17, 2011 - 1:20pm

> "but I have to think the press would have crucified Garrett if he had called passes and Romo had thrown incompletions or, God forbid, an interception. Wasn't that what they were criticizing him for after the Detroit loss?"

In the Detroit game, Romo threw his first pick-six with the Cowboys up 27-3, and his second pick-six with the score at 27-10. That was almost unfathomable and the source of the real criticism from the Lions game, not the third pick in the final minutes (which closely resembled the game situation in this Pats game). I don't think that Cowboys fans want Tony Romo sitting on the ball in general, just eliminating some of these absolutely braindead decisions given the game situation.

Points: 0

#71 by RichC (not verified) // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:33pm

But how much of that should be put on Garret? Even teams that squat on the ball with leads often throw on 3rd down to convert. Almost nobody truly shuts down the pass defense.

At some point, the Dallas fans have to admit that Romo makes some really boneheaded decisions, and at this point, thats not going to stop.

There's only so much blame you can put on the coach when you have a 31 year old QB who is in the middle of a long, huge money contract, who makes really dumb decisions sometimes. Jerry Jones decided to live or die by Romo's bumbles when he signed that deal.

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#80 by GlennW // Oct 17, 2011 - 2:59pm

> Jerry Jones decided to live or die by Romo's bumbles when he signed that deal.

Then I think the head coach has to live or die with Romo, and not just pass the buck. Because even if all of this is Jerry Jones' doing, when bad decisions are made and games are lost like yesterday's, it's the head coach who's going to lose his job, not the owner. This is the NFL-- you can't just fall on the ball, run the clock and hope that it'll be enough to hold on. That might work once in a while, but in the long run it's a losing approach. Besides, for all of his more memorable mistakes, Tony Romo isn't Tavaris Jackson or something. He has won a few football games in his career.

Points: 0

#88 by GlennW // Oct 17, 2011 - 3:14pm

By the way (and this doesn't speak to the rightness or wrongness of the decision, rather it's just informational), make no mistake, Jerry Jones did NOT agree with Garrett's approach on that last meaningful possession:

"When you get the ball into the hands of a player like Brady at home, you’ve got problems. When it happens at the end of a game, it’s really discouraging. You always second-guess whether or not we should have tried to run a little offense down there instead of running it three times."

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#116 by RickD // Oct 17, 2011 - 4:12pm

Jerry Jones is the owner and can get away with playing the 20-20 hindsight card. I guess Garrett has to put up with it, but we don't.

Points: 0

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