Audibles at the Line: Week 17

Audibles at the Line: Week 17
Audibles at the Line: Week 17
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.

Sunday, January 1st

Tennessee Titans 23 at Houston Texans 22

Rivers McCown: Houston will be resting Owen Daniels, Arian Foster, Johnathan Joseph, and Warren Moon today. Great news for Tom's chances of seeing a rematch next week.

Mike Tanier: What about Ken Burroughs and Earl Campbell?

Tom Gower: Earl will actually be on the field today, suiting up for Bud Adams one last time by wearing Chris Johnson's No. 28. Earl plans to go down easily when contact is likely, fail to accelerate through holes, miss holes and cutback lanes, and not to make any cuts on most of his runs. He's reportedly confident nobody will notice the difference. (Allow me to relish the idea, however briefly, that the Titans won't pay Johnson eight figures to do more of the same in 2012.)

Rivers McCown: Ken Burroughs is a little before my time, but I'm confident he could probably outplay Bryant Johnson right now. I'd give him a fourth-quarter look.

Tom Gower: The Titans start off looking OK with some empty backfield, no-huddle offense, but stall out at midfield. They pin the Texans deep, then push them back deeper with a sack on the first play, but T.J. Yates has his first third-and-long conversion in about three weeks, and the game quickly turns into the last Texans-Titans match. Inside zone, outside zone, inside zone, outside zone, some bootleg action, and cap it off with a touchdown.

Mike Tanier: Jake Delhomme! Jake Delhomme! Jake Delhomme!

Rivers McCown: I used up all the booze last night. That was a mistake.

Tom Gower: After punting on fourth-and-4 from the Texans 41 the first drive, Mike Munchak, down 7-0, elects to take the field goal from the Houston 3. I try to avoid talking about these "I'd like to see coaches go for it, but am unsurprised when any coach takes the non-aggressive option" calls in Audibles, but I'm guessing Yates and (now especially) Delhomme give Munchak the idea he could win a game without taking any risks and, well, we saw how that worked out for Gary Kubiak last week. Kubiak's team even had the early touchdown.

Mike Tanier: Damn, my phone is malfunctioning while Delhomme is playing. This is torture. I cannot comment without extreme difficulty.

By the way, this is no joke: my phone really does lock up whenever I try to Tweet Jake D.'s name. Am I over some lifetime limit?

Rivers McCown: We all are when it comes to Delhomme.

Tom Gower: Delhomme gets strip-sacked while holding the ball with two hands. Jared Cook is somehow open in the middle against what looked like the most obvious two-man coverage I've seen since I went to the Titans game in Indy in 2006 and Jim Schwartz unveiled the "line up both safeties 15 yards off the line of scrimmage all day" coverage. In this game, Houston is approximately that vanilla.

The Texans are gradually pulling as many of their starters as they can, and are running something closer to their normal defense with the backups. James Casey, a tight end playing fullback, is getting a lot of reps. He hasn't gotten much work in the passing game for most of the season, but could be a weapon in the postseason. Forcing teams to pay attention to him should help the rest of the offense.

Watching your team's first-string struggle to get an edge against another team's backups is kind of depressing. At least in Indy in 2007 I knew the Titans were win-and-in, and they pulled it out. Now, they need a lot of help.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, the ultimate example of that was in the final week of 2004. The Bills were something like third in DVOA, 9-6, and needed to win to get into the playoffs. The Steelers sat many of their starters, with Tommy Maddox at quarterback and a guy nobody had ever heard of named Willie Parker at running back. The defense stopped the Steelers in the red zone five times, but Drew Bledsoe choked and the Steelers won 29-24.

Mike Tanier: I guess the Texans preferred a loss to overtime.

Rivers McCown: You'll never convince me that the Texans wanted to win this game.

Mike Tanier: The Texans had no great interest in winning. When there was a false start on the two-point conversion, and they still went for two from the seven-yard line, that was the giveaway. If Delhomme (at my computer now!) wasn't enough of a giveaway.

New York Jets 17 at Miami Dolphins 19

Mike Tanier: I think the Jets have found a new quarterback: Jeremy Kerley. He just threw their best pass of the last two weeks.

Robert Weintraub: The Fish get stuffed inside the 1 twice in a row. On third down, they go empty, which has me yelling "No, no!" at the screen. Sure enough, Matt Moore is chased to his left, seems like a throwaway and fourth down is imminent. But no! He finds Charles Clay near the pylon for the go-ahead score. Great call!

Rivers McCown: It drives me crazy when the Texans go empty. Of course, part of that is because the threat of a run is a much bigger deal for them than Miami sans Reggie Bush. But when the game-winning T.J. Yates throw against Cincy a couple of weeks ago came in that formation, my mind followed your exact mental process.

Robert Weintraub: Irony alert -- Jason Taylor blows around D'Brickashaw Ferguson and forces a Mark Sanchez fumble/half-throw that is picked off by Miami. Randy Starks is headed in for a score,but trips over the 30-yard line

Jets down six with seven minutes left, Sanchez has been abominable. Any doubt he's going down the field to score and keep the Jets playoff hopes alive? I have none myself.

Sanchez throws a killer interception inside the 10-yard line, and he hustles downfield to make the tackle. Dan Dierdorf chooses to laud him for that aspect of the play, rather than discussing, you know, the pick.

Mike Tanier: When your playoff hopes rest on both Mark Sanchez and Jake D. playing well, this is what happens.

So Starks, who has two picks, bats a ball in the air, and a Jets lineman catches it, but he fumbles, and Jason Taylor runs it back for a touchdown. You can't embellish material like that.

Robert Weintraub: Yeah, but it looks like replay might overturn the Taylor touchdown, since the Jets lineman was down by contact. That's after an enormous dogpile on Taylor and a huge celebration. Buzz. Kill.

Mike Tanier: The Taylor fumble was ruled a complete pass to Matt Slauson or something. I stand behind my initial bemusement.

Robert Weintraub: I stand behind my insistence that the Jets are going to pull this out. Touchdown pass after the Taylor non-TD, 19-17, onside kick coming.

Aaron Schatz: Nope. Instead, Nick Folk kicks it right to Brandon Marshall. Really awful onside kick attempt.

Robert Weintraub: I think we should all thank Miami for beating the Jets, thus preventing the hue and cry from the New York media after it turns out the Jets would have been eliminated by the Titans thanks to Houston throwing the game at the end there. I can live without a week of ESPN/talk radio "should the rules be changed to prevent that" nonsense, thank you very much.

Rivers McCown: As a Cincy fan, I trust you're well-versed on who the bridesmaid in that 2009 surrender on Sunday Night Football was.

To which I would say "win some more games and there will be no problems." But yes, for the best that we were spared that.

Mike Tanier: The NFL delivered the goods, though. So much got decided after 7 p.m. in Week 17.

Sean McCormick: I'm pretty sure the hue and cry in New York is going to be strictly limited to the continued employment of one Brian Schottenheimer.

Mike Tanier: Even the Jersey Jets fans want B-Schott gone. And they probably have a point.

Buffalo Bills 21 at New England Patriots 49

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots are playing Devin McCourty at safety in their substitute package. I wonder: Is that because of their roster problems at safety, or because of the problems McCourty has had at cornerback this year?

Mike Tanier: Check out the Bills converting fourth-and-4 early in the game, then scoring two plays later!

Aaron Schatz: They also had a fake punt on the drive before this. They're playing ballsy, which is how you should play when you have nothing to lose.

The Patriots are down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. The defense has been horrendous, and the offense somehow can't get the ball moving against a bad Buffalo defense. For the second straight week, the home crowd is booing a 12-3 team.

The Patriots offense wakes up in second quarter, with two big drives to make it 21-14. The Bills offense was still doing well, but just had a couple of off-target throws from Ryan Fitzpatrick. They also didn't convert on fourth-and-12 from the Pats 36, so they didn't score.

On the third Pats drive, the Pats are moving the ball nicely, then Tom Brady throws slightly behind Wes Welker, the ball is tipped in the air, and is intercepted by Nick Barnett. On the interception return, the officials flag Drayton Florence for "driving the QB into the ground." It was hardly a big hit, and besides, I thought the quarterback was just another player after a turnover? I don't think Brady gets special calls, but I know some people do, and this call would be pretty good evidence of that.

Tom Gower: I didn't see the hit, but quarterbacks do get extra protection on returns against particularly rough hits. Just so defensive players can't use a turnover return as an excuse to crush them.

Robert Weintraub: Brady is stopped at the goal line on a scramble, and as the pile unfolds, a Pats lineman gives a little shove to Florence to move him away. Florence launches himself like he was clocked by George Foreman in his prime, trying to draw a flag. And they say soccer players are divers!

Aaron Schatz: The Pats go ahead 28-21. They have 28 unanswered points since the Bills went up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. It helps that Chan Gailey is punishing Stevie Johnson for getting an unsportsmanlike celebration penalty after a touchdown, and has benched him ever since. Brady isn't at his best, he doesn't quite seem on the same page with Welker on option routes, Rob Gronkowski had a big drop ... and it doesn't matter, they just keep scoring.

Vince Verhei: Oh, great. Obnoxious Bob Costas video essay alert. I guess showing a wacky message on a t-shirt is hurting your team, but benching your most dangerous weapon isn't.

And on that note, since this is not Stevie Johnson's first transgression: If you're Chan Gailey and you're going to punish him, why are you waiting until Week 17?

San Francisco 49ers 34 at St. Louis Rams 27

Danny Tuccitto: San Francisco's six-minute opening drive ends in a missed field goal. One of the things I was interested to see going into this one was how Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman would adjust their deceptive bread-and-butter formations and plays without the two guys (Ted Ginn and Delanie Walker) who make most of it possible. Their answer: On second-and-9 right before David Akers' missed field goal, they run a counter toss to Kendall Hunter after jet sweep action by -- wait for it -- rookie safety Colin Jones. It went for a successful six-yard gain, but I'm not sure that fake would work against better run defenses.

Vince Verhei: So, this has nothing to do with with today's game, but I just noticed how remarkably bad the Rams have been passing inside the 10 this season and had to share:

Sam Bradford: 0-for-9 with an interception, plus one sack and one intentional grounding.

A.J. Feely: 1-for-5 with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd in Week 8.

That's one touchdown in 16 passes inside the 10. League average is about 31 percent, by the way.

Danny Tuccitto: Michael Crabtree had to feel like he was back at Texas Tech on the 49ers' second touchdown drive. The Niners got the ball in Rams territory after intercepting a Steven Jackson (yes, Steven Jackson) pass. The first-down play is a bubble screen left to Crabtree that goes for six yards. and the second-down play is a quick hitch right to Crabtree, which ends in a touchdown after he breaks a Josh Gordy tackle. I really can't remember the 49ers using him in this way since he's been in the league, so maybe it's a sign of things to come.

Rivers McCown: The Rams certainly do resemble a Big 12 defense at times.

Danny Tuccitto: St. Louis, you're 2-13, down 20-7 with 10 seconds left in the first half, and have fourth-and-1 at your 43-yard line. Why are you punting?

J.J. Cooper: Because Andrew Luck is the No. 1 pick ... best explanation, right?

Danny Tuccitto: The more I focus my eyes on the 49ers offensive line, the more I wonder when Mike Iupati is going to start blocking the correct rusher when opponents bring an inside blitz. There have been at least four games I've seen -- including this one -- where teams have forced him into a decision, and the result has been an untouched rusher (or two) in almost every instance. I'll never be mistaken for an offensive lineman, but, I mean, how much time does it take to learn the proper execution here? If it's obvious to an outsider, then Mike Solari and company must be actively trying to do something about it during the week. Ben, any help here?

Regardless, if I'm a San Francisco opponent in the playoffs, I try to exploit this as much as possible.

Robert Weintraub: The sleeper play! The Niners line up in a field goal formation, but it's a direct snap to Akers, who throws a rope to Crabtree all alone over by the sideline.

Since Crabtree played on third down, he doesn't have to come inside the numbers on the next down. He just milled over by the sideline until the snap, and St. Louis completely ignored him.

Danny Tuccitto: The reason why San Francisco only dresses two quarterbacks on gameday: David Akers.

Aaron Schatz: I don't know if my response is "why would you waste that play in the last game of the regular season instead of saving it for the playoffs?" or "wow, now they've made every team they play in the playoffs think about a fake instead of committing all-out to blocking the field goal."

Robert Weintraub: Probably "only the Rams would fall for that play so let's go ahead and use it."

Danny Tuccitto: For those not watching 49ers-Rams, infer nothing from the score being 34-27 with five minutes left or the Rams scoring 14 points in 30seconds to pull within seven.

The first touchdown was an absolute duck from Kellen Clemens, which hung in the air so long that Donte Whitner mistimed his jump on an easy pass defense. Then after recovering an onside kick, Clemens throws up another duck, this time drawing a phantom defensive pass interference on Tarell Brown, which put the ball at the 1.

Aaron Schatz; Yeah, I saw that play on Red Zone and I thought that Lloyd pushed off just as much as Brown interfered with him.

Danny Tuccitto: Tom Brandstater sighting in St. Louis!

The last five minutes of this got me thinking about something stats-related, so allow me to digress from the usual Audibles analysis for a moment.

Most stat-savvy football analysts -- ourselves included, obviously -- cite a team's record in close games as a luck factor that's predictive of next season's record per regression/progression toward .500. Games like this one always make me call some of the wisdom behind it into question. Yes, the 49ers won by only seven, but to chalk this game up in any way to luck misses the fact that it was really never in doubt. If anything, the Rams getting lucky (e.g., recovering an expected onside kick, chuck-and-pray pass interference) is what made the win only a seven point margin to begin with.

Now, even without this win, the 49ers still went 4-1 in games decided by seven points or less, and at least one of those wins -- the one over Philadelphia -- was basically a lucky-bounce-of-a-fumbled-ball proposition. So, I'm not saying close-game-record is meaningless. It's just that I wonder whether there isn't some way to improve its predictability by not missing the trees for the forest. It's a nice summary statistic, but the devil here is in the details. A game where San Francisco -- or any team for that matter -- dominates the entire way, and there's only about five of the final 38 minutes during which the game is "close," just doesn't seem to me like it has any kind of indication about how lucky or unlucky a team was that day.

Maybe this kind of thing can be adjusted for the number of game minutes that the game's close? Any thoughts? Ideas?

Mike Tanier: I think most of us use close games as shorthand, in conjunction with DVOA and other stats. I would never suggest that going 4-1 or 1-4 in close games is pure luck when I am carefully outlining points. But put me on a talk show where I have 20 seconds, and I have to explain why some team isn't projected to build on a great year, I might lead with "they were 4-1 in close games," then try to backfill more detail.

If I am arguing from the "close wins" standpoint in something like an FOA chapter, I always make sure I piece through the wins at the Gamebook or NFL Rewind level to separate true "bad bounce" games from games where the score just wound up close.

Tom Gower: Talking about close wins is also a good way of talking about a team's Pythagorean record without using the term "Pythagorean record."

Danny Tuccitto: I suppose as long as close-game record is used as a talking point rather than an input into a statistical model, then I'm 100 percent on the bandwagon. From a statistical model perspective, it just seems noisy to me.

Carolina Panthers 17 at New Orleans Saints 45

Mike Tanier: Great Panthers drive ends with an end zone interception. I'm gonna miss the Panthers. They are throwing the kitchen sink at opponents right up to the end.

The Saints appear shocked every time DeAngelo Williams takes a shotgun handoff or runs off a direct snap. He is gouging them over and over.

Aaron Schatz: I haven't run any projection stuff for 2012 or anything like that, but man, do I like the Panthers for next season. The defense has got to be better, and you have to figure that Cam Newton improves some more with a full offseason.

Robert Weintraub: Jimmy Graham is just amazing. He makes a spectacular one-hand catch while fending off a defender, then breaks the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a season set by Kellen Winslow. With a touchdown grab, no less. If you could have him or Rob Gronkowski, who you got?

Aaron Schatz: Gronk is Jason Witten, Graham is Antonio Gates. Except that Gronk is an even better receiver than Witten was at his peak, and Graham isn't quite as good as Gates in his best years. Gronk is the best tight end in the game right now.

Rivers McCown: Man, I dunno. I'm not taking anything away from Gronkowski, who has been excellent, but Graham's sheer athletic ability makes me lean his way.

Mike Tanier: I want a complete tight end like Howard Cross, not one of these beefed-up receivers.

Robert Weintraub: Bob Trumpy is still the ideal.

Washington Redskins 10 at Philadelphia Eagles 34

Mike Tanier: Graham Gano just had his fifth field goal of the year blocked. I love the Redskins.

Chicago Bears 17 at Minnesota Vikings 13

Vince Verhei: Joe Webb is in for an injured Christian Ponder (yes, again). On one play, he breaks like a half-dozen tackles before eventually being sacked. It leads to a field-goal try, which is blocked by Julius Peppers. That's the 11th blocked kick of Peppers' career. He's really stretching the limits of that being a "non-predictable" event.

Robert Weintraub: Look out Michael Strahan -- Jared Allen just got another sack, which gives him 22 on the year. That ties Mark Gastineau, by the way. The New York Sack Exchange!

Detroit Lions 41 at Green Bay Packers 45

Vince Verhei: Down 17-16, Titus Young for the Lions appears to catch a go-ahead touchdown, just scraping his second foot down in the end zone. However, the play is ruled incomplete. It would almost certainly be overturned by a replay challenge, but Detroit has already lost a challenge this half -- and the referees have been poor enough that they need all of them they can get. Jim Schwartz has no recourse but to melt down, tossing his headset violently. It's still tethered to his waist, so it orbits him like a satellite. He finally calls timeout to curse the refs out and beg for a review. He doesn't get it. The Lions get a field goal to go ahead, but I'd expect this moment to lead to a rule change this offseason.

Mike Tanier: They call that "headset karma."

Tom Gower: Idea that will never get implemented: head coaches should be permitted to "borrow" from second-half timeouts for first-half challenges for which they're out of timeouts. If they lose the challenge, they start the second half with two (or possibly even one!) timeouts.

Robert Weintraub: The major loophole in the replay rule is that all scoring plays are replayed automatically, but a should-be score that is ruled incomplete, or short of the end zone, or whatever, is not. So if Young was called in, it would have been reviewed, but as he was called out, it wasn't. Absurd.

Jason Hanson just missed for the first time in 30 kicks. It was headed right down the middle, then took a hard right, like it was hit by a Scud missile (which were in the headlines around the time Hanson started kicking). The Lions are having some ill luck, which could put them in the Superdome next weekend.

Also -- this game may not see halftime until 3 p.m. EST. Endless first half.

Vince Verhei: Yeah, Green Bay is up 24-19 at halftime, but it's been based on a lot of luck. In addition to Young's non-touchdown, the Lions have dropped a couple of other big touchdown passes, Hanson missed a kick, and about a quarter of Green Bay's yardage has come on one play (80-yard screen pass to Ryan Grant). It definitely feels like Detroit has been the better team today. Except on the scoreboard.

So, if any of you were thinking that Jordy Nelson's numbers were awesome only because he was fortunate enough to play with Aaron Rodgers ... well, you're wrong.

I'm enjoying the Alamo Bowl tribute act the Lions and Packers are performing in Green Bay.

Robert Weintraub: Seeing the snow flurries in Green Bay makes me realize that this has been a season almost totally unaffected by bad weather games, save for windy ones. Am I missing a snow game someplace?

Danny Tuccitto: Late last night, NFL Network reran their top-10 quarterback duels -- don't ask why I was watching it instead of drinking. If/when they ever redo the list, is Matt Flynn vs. Matthew Stafford 2011 on it? Ironically, does it supplant Dickey-Theismann near the top?

Robert Weintraub: What was No. 1? Joe Montana - John Elway on Monday Night Football?

Danny Tuccitto: Ken O'Brien - Dan Marino, 1986.

Indianapolis Colts 13 at Jacksonville Jaguars 19

Robert Weintraub: Maurice Jones-Drew rips off a 56-yard run to essentially ice the rushing title. For the worst offense in the league.

Aaron Schatz: "This game is still based around running the ball and stopping the run." Heh.

Baltimore Ravens 24 at Cincinnati Bengals 16

Robert Weintraub: Not only do the Ravens take an early lead on a long run, but this unnamed sports bar I am at still hasn't changed the Steelers off the TV that I'm watching. The only thing worse than losing is not being able to see it happen -- I think. Belated existential question alert.

Meanwhile, I'm staring at another screen that reads "We hope you have enjoyed this season of Sunday Ticket. We'll see you again next season." Which is so depressing in so many ways.

Just saw the Ray Rice 70-yard run for the first time. Marshal Yanda, who was supposed to be doubtful, gets out to the second level and clears Rey Maualuga out. Someone else inside can't quite disengage his blocker, and it's six.

Cincy can't move it on the ground at all, and only underneath stuff is open through the air. Even when the Bengals block a punt, it caroms forward for 30 yards instead of tilting the field.

Rivers McCown: So of the five teams competing for the last two slots in the AFC, one barely beat Jake Delhomme and a team that was so hellbent on winning that they used tight end Garrett Graham at linebacker for the last series. The other four are all losing (or already lost) as of halftime in the afternoon games. Yikes.

Robert Weintraub: Cincy runs a nice scheme to free Bernard Scott on a pattern right down the middle, and of course he drops it. He does make up for it by taking a zone-read-looking play to the house, bouncing it outside and cutting back in a way Cedric Benson cannot. 17-10 Ravens.

It was set up by a punt return gaffe by Baltimore, and they started their last drive at the 10 or so. That's why that killed-punt-at-the-one-that-wasn't late in the first half was so damaging.

Cincy has gotten surprisingly solid play from Kelly Jennings over the last month at corner. It's helped make the Leon Hall injury be not quite so devastating.

Mike Tanier: Fumbled screen pass, Bengals.

Robert Weintraub: Rice runs for a 50-yard touchdown. Game over. Bengals need the Chiefs or Chargers to hold on. Great lead block on Maualuga on the play.

The Ravens offensive line has been the difference in this one. They've been outstanding and decisive in a slugging match up front.

I like the symmetry. Cincy goes 9-7: 9-0 versus non-playoff teams, 0-7 versus playoff teams. Still, at Houston is a wild card game I'll take -- should have beaten them a couple of weeks ago.

Rivers McCown: The Bengals were definitely the team I least wanted to see the Texans draw, but all things considered, not an opponent that instills a lot of fear into me. If the Texans can correct the pitiful run defense they showed in Cincy to the semi-respectable level they played most of the year at, that would be a good start towards a win.

Robert Weintraub: One likely outcome of Cincy and Houston -- it won't be aesthetically pleasing.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 at Atlanta Falcons 45

Robert Weintraub: Big moment for the Falcons, as Matthew Stafford is intercepted to end the game. This place erupted when that happened, in the knowledge that now the Falcons will get the NFC East winner and avoid round three with their bete noires, the Saints.

Mike Tanier: What in the heck is going on in Atlanta? It is 35-0 early in the second quarter. I know the Bucs packed it in a month ago, but are they even setting foot on the field at this point?

Robert Weintraub: Two Tampa Bay receivers slam into one another as the ball arrives, it goes right to Curtis Lofton for the gift pick-six. 35-0 Falcs.

According to Wikipedia, the Packers scored 49 in the first half in 1983 against, wait for it, the Bucs.

Right now, it's 42-0 with more than six minutes left.

Rivers McCown: Obviously Albert Haynesworth isn't losing games for the Bucs all by himself, as the before/after record some reporters are spreading would have you believe. However, there is a distinct correlation between him being on the team and the amount of quit the Bucs have showed, no?

Seattle Seahawks 20 at Arizona Cardinals 23

Vince Verhei: Patrick Peterson busts loose and appears headed for a record fifth punt return touchdown, but Jon Ryan just barely gets enough pressure on Peterson's legs as he passes by to bring him down.

Tom Gower: I like to think Larry Fitzgerald saved that one-handed catch for when he knew all the other games before Giants-Cowboys were over so we all could appreciate just how good he is.

Vince Verhei: This game was only close because of two somewhat fluky second-half plays: an interception with a long return by Richard Sherman, and a long tip drill touchdown to Ricardo Lockette. The Seahawks offense missing three starting linemen and both starting receivers is not pretty to watch.

That said, I'm not convinced this team needs to move heaven and earth to grab a quarterback for next year. Especially with Matt Barkley going back to school, the price for a new quarterback would be steep, steep, steep. I think I'd rather see them follow San Francisco's model, grab a pass rusher, and cross their fingers that that Tarvaris Jackson can continue to improve.

Pittsburgh Steelers 13 at Cleveland Browns 9

Aaron Schatz: Anybody watching this one? Is Ben Roethlisberger clearly playing hurt, is that why the Steelers are losing?

Robert Weintraub: I've only glanced here and there, but I think it's as much about a good Cleveland defensive game plan as anything. Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor controlled the first matchup inside, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case again.

Mike Tanier: Big Ben looks bad for the most part. He is not following through, and not getting much zip. He just led a fine drive to the red zone with the help of a "stuck to the helmet" catch by Antonio Brown.

The Browns are their usual selves. I think one of their field goal drives was set up by a long scramble.

I should also point out that it is windy and rainy in Cleveland.

Kansas City Chiefs 7 at Denver Broncos 3

Aaron Schatz: Surprisingly, the Chiefs seem to be picking on Champ Bailey early. I thought it was just because he was covering Dwayne Bowe, but then they threw a deep pass to Jonathan Baldwin when Bailey was covering him.

This Broncos-Chiefs game is remarkably conservative. Broncos punt rather than go for a 57-yard field goal from the Kansas City 39, because they don't want to have KC get it back at the 47 with 22 seconds left if they miss it.

Tim Tebow just doesn't understand the concept of "you can't get sacked when it will knock you out of field-goal range."

Rivers McCown: This game makes me feel like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady are playing an entirely different sport.

Robert Weintraub: God bless you, Kyle Orton. Or KC defense, more accurately.

Aaron Schatz: No Tebow time today. Tebow gets the ball back with 3:59 left, and leads a three-and-out following an illegal contact penalty on our old friend Sabby Piscitelli. Then KC runs three times, punts. Tebow has the ball with 1:00 left and no timeouts. He gets a gift roughing the passer call, but can't do anything else, and throws a pick on fourth-and-2.

I wish I had more comments about this game but it was a lot of running, and I'm not someone who is very good at breaking down offensive line play, especially when watching live. The Broncos running game seemed good, but they couldn't get any extended drives out of it, maybe a first down, maybe two before Tebow would be stuck trying to throw on third down. And he was dismal, just horrendous, 6-for-22 for 60 yards. The Chiefs were covering guys closely, so Tebow would hold onto the ball seemingly forever, and when he did throw it, it was inaccurate. The Broncos had these long, long drives where they seemingly moved the ball four yards at a time before running out of gas. For example, in the third quarter, they had a drive with 11 plays (including penalties) but only went 34 yards in 5:19.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs had no offense either after the first quarter. It was just tons of three-and-outs without Dwayne Bowe on the field.

Vince Verhei: If I were to summarize the 2011 season in one fact, it would be this: the Tennessee Titans, who lost to Jacksonville and Indianapolis, were officially eliminated from the playoffs when Kansas City, a non-playoff team, beat Denver, who will probably make the postseason anyway.

Aaron Schatz: Actually, if I were to summarize the 2011 season in one fact, I think this one would be better: There were more 5,000-yard passing seasons in 2011 than in all of NFL history combined through 2010.

Rivers McCown: These two teams are wondering what are these passing yards of which you speak.

San Diego Chargers 38 at Oakland Raiders 26

Tom Gower: Players spotted in man coverage on Antonio Gates today: Mike Michell, Kamerion Wimbley, Tyvon Branch. Players spotting successfully covering Antonio Gates today: None that I've noticed. Chargers up 14-7.

I like the way that Darrius Heyward-Bey has developed into a useful NFL wide receiver after looking like a tremendous bust earlier in his career, but damn if the man doesn't need better hands. He was fortunate that his early touchdown stood when he juggled the ball, and he's had what feels like four or five other passes today that he could've caught but hasn't. Frustrating.

Gut feeling that will probably be completely wrong: the Raiders feel like a team that has a great chance of blowing themselves up next year. All these penalties are the sign of an undisciplined team, and Hue Jackson's occasional boldness is too often interspersed with conservatism. That makes me think he's making decisions more by gut instinct than any sort of idea of optimal decision-making.

Just a gut feeling, don't trust it, but I've had it for a couple weeks and can't shake it. This year is still alive, though, after Nick Novak misses a field goal to keep it at 31-19 and a big DHB completion puts the Raiders in field goal range with 10 to play.

Rivers McCown: Carson Palmer gets picked in a two-score game with under five minutes left, essentially wrapping up the game.

So, how much are the Steelers favored by in Denver next week?

Dallas Cowboys 14 at New York Giants 31

Aaron Schatz: Both teams bringing the heavy pressure early.

Victor Cruz takes a short pass 74 yards for a touchdown. What was Gerald Sensabaugh doing, that there was so much empty space for Cruz to run through?

Mike Tanier: Watch a lot of the Ryan brothers and you will ask "what is the safety doing?" pretty often. The answer in dear old dad's day was "the safety is slamming headfirst into the quarterback's knee, three seconds late and five yards out of bounds."

Aaron Schatz: Well, they showed the all-22, and Cris Collinsworth said the issue was that the blitz had Sensabaugh in man coverage. Except, with Terence Newman covering Cruz, and Michael Jenkins covering whoever was the other Giants receiver on that side, I can't figure out who Sensabaugh was supposed to have man coverage on. So you ended up with two guys covering Cruz man, and both of them were behind him with nobody in front.

Mike Tanier: It was man coverage, with no deep safety. Sensabaugh has the tight end, Bear Pascoe, in man coverage. Sean Lee has the back. The Giants have a seven-man protection, with the tight end and back blocking. Sensabaugh reads the flat route by Cruz, but takes this insane angle on it, as if he thinks he can break up the pass despite being a good five yards behind the play. I have it freeze framed right now as the ball is released, and Sensabaugh is actually moving toward the line of scrimmage, instead of backing up and getting into position to be a last line of defense.

It was not his assignment to be the safety, but there is something to be said for instincts. Newman also has to realize there is no deep help and be ready to minimize damage on a short route like that.

Aaron Schatz: Sometime around the end of the first quarter, the Cowboys stopped getting pass pressure on Eli Manning. Plus he's doing a great job of moving around in the pocket to keep free and be able to make passes.

Rivers McCown: Rob Ryan may want to start covering the fullback at some point.

Mike Tanier: You cannot cover a leaping Hynocerous.

This is one of those late season Cowboys games where they just showed up with nothing,

Aaron Schatz: Especially when they drop DeMarcus Ware into coverage. He doesn't do it much, but he did it on that third Giants touchdown, and without Ware they have no pass rush at all.

Mike Tanier: The Cowboys just woke up in the second half with a 90-some yard drive.

Aaron Schatz: Yep, they moved the ball with a lot of shorter drops to get the ball out before the pass rush got to Tony Romo.

Mike Tanier: And now the Cowboys are getting real pressure with a four-man rush.

Tom Gower: That was one heck of throw by Manning to Cruz. Third down, pressure, Giants only up 7, and he goes back and just uncorks one 50 yards downfield to get New York into field goal range.

Mike Tanier: The Giants were in a real third-and-medium funk before that. All their earlier second-half drives seemed to stall at around third-and-7.

Rivers McCown: That Cowboys secondary just can't hold up without pressure at this point.

Mike Tanier: They just didn't have a full comeback in them. The defense had to be perfect for the whole second half. Once Cruz put the ball in field goal range, the game was back to two scores and the Cowboys offense had no prayer at keeping up.

Comments

192 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2012, 2:42pm

#1 by Tom Brady (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:12am

The AFC runs through New England!

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#2 by dryheat // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:19am

In reply to by Tom Brady (not verified)

I hope not, since the AFC passes through New England as well.

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#3 by Michael LaRocca (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:31am

"Father, why hast thou forsaken me?" --Tim Tebow

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#7 by PerlStalker // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:51am

I'd like to same something good about Tebow but I can't. The guy just has not played well recently. Unless something changes (like Tebow not turning the ball over) the Broncos are going to get stomped next week.

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#11 by justanothersteve // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:01am

I would still like to see what Tebow will do after an offseason with his coaches. Not saying he will get much better. But he was more a project than a typical 1st round pick. With his work ethic and intelligence, he might still be good. Not saying he will be. History is against him against him. But I'm not willing to count him out just yet.

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#71 by Flounder // Jan 02, 2012 - 1:13pm

Is Tebow intelligent? That's a genuine question. I haven't seen any particular evidence that he is.

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#79 by M // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:15pm

I've tried 4-5 times to figure out how to say this point without starting a huge controversy, but all I can say is that I find it tremendously ironic that the intelligence of a WHITE running QB is being questioned.

I agree, though - I haven't seen anything from him that causes me to think he is extremely intelligent.

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#82 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:23pm

Flounder

I agree. All he ever says are bland pleasantries about how great it is to be a quarterback in the NFL and how hard his teammates are working.

He's got more than a bit of Forrest Gump in him

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#95 by Whatev // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:58pm

He'd be only too lucky if that were true; remember that in spite of his impediments, Forrest Gump was somehow always successful.

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#102 by Packer Pete (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 3:21pm

My thought exactly. Much is made of the great QBs' (Brady, Brees, Manning, Rodgers) abilities to process information quickly prior to and after the snap. Tebow drops back to pass in a manner similar to how he answers post game questions: a long, slow, bland response with a forgettable outcome.

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#94 by Deelron // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:57pm

Heh when I read this I replaced "Tebow" with "Alex Smith" and it sounded very familiar to me. Ironically enough he had his best season without the offseason with the coaches.

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#29 by Danish Denver-Fan // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:44am

He had one turnover last night - the redzone fumble. The INT was the last play of the game on 4th down. That hurts his team as much as an incompletion.

He was HORRIBLE last night, but it wasn't really the turnovers that held him back.

Over/under on Broncos points next week? 7. I'm probably taking the under.

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#84 by BroncFan07 // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:32pm

My early prediction for a score is Pittsburgh 27 Denver (-3). Yep, 3 birdies for Tebow. Actually, I think Denver will threaten some playoff records. As in, fewest total yards gained by an offense, and fewest passing yards. If Pittsburgh goes up 10-0, they should just rest their starters.

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#86 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:40pm

FWIW Ryan Clark of the Steelers cannot play because of a chronic illness that is affected by high altitudes.

Coupled with other guys out due to injury and who knows?

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#96 by Whatev // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:59pm

The exploding spleen or something like that?

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#111 by greybeard // Jan 02, 2012 - 4:16pm

I think this one is more relevant http://sickle.bwh.harvard.edu/sickle_trait.html.

Blacks have a much higher rate of sickle cell trait. I wonder if NFL tests the players for it. California tests all newborns for sickle cell and other genetic diseases.

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#149 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 03, 2012 - 10:28am

Considering the white equivalent of sickle-cell (cystic fibrosis, which in its recessive form helps prevent cholera much like sickle-cell does malaria) is largely fatal by early adulthood, it's not surprising to see homozygous allele diseases in only black players.

Asians largely don't get them, so the NFL's two asian players don't have to worry about it.

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#170 by greybeard // Jan 03, 2012 - 4:55pm

I am white and I have sickle cell trait. People of mediterranean decent, some parts of India and blacks have a high rate of sickle cell trait. When looked globally, it is not a problem for blacks only, whites do have it. However in the USA blacks tend to have higher rate.

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#180 by Flounder // Jan 03, 2012 - 10:42pm

I'm fairly certain (and I used to work in newborn screening) that all states test newborns for sickle cell (and therefore sickle cell trait).

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#89 by M // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:45pm

I really hope Pittsburgh beats Denver next weekend; I'm all for teams trying something different strategy-wise, but Tebow-mania has been ridiculous. A playoff win...I cringe at the hype.

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#20 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:27am

Ha! Tebow is so great that he causes the Raiders to give up five touchdowns to the Chargers!

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#97 by Whatev // Jan 02, 2012 - 3:02pm

Not to mention that colossal collapse against the Lions a couple weeks back, without which the loss against the Chargers would be irrelevant.

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#150 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 03, 2012 - 10:29am

If it makes you feel better, the Lions equally wrecked all the AFC West teams.

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#4 by ChiJeff (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:41am

Question for Viking fans: Is there any reason that Joe Webb can't go into next season and at least compete with Christian Ponder for the starting quarterback job?

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#5 by P (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:42am

Seconded. I don't know that Webb is better than Ponder going forward, but he's 10 times more entertaining.

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#76 by jimm (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 1:52pm

From what I've watched neither will ever be a good NFL QB because they aren't accurate enough. But Webb at least has some freakish physical skills. Ponder is just another average at best QB.

I think the Vikings need to find another option but I doubt it will happen if Spielman has final say. He loves guys like Ponder...he traded a 2nd rounder for AJ Feeley when he was in Miami. He drafted Rosenfels and trades for him at every opportunity since. They are all the same guy to me; About 6'3, 225lbs, average arm strength at best, bit of a gun slinger mentality that leads to lots of ints. In short, half decent backups at best.

I bet they all come off as really bright individuals. The Vikings went on and on about how impressed they were in the interviews with Ponder. I think that is a very much overrated characteristic of a QB. Marino was reported to have scored 13 on his Wonderlic...guys like Roethlisberger are complete aholes. Football intelligence and IQ intelligence are completely different things.

I think RG3 or Luck may well be available when the Vikings pick. I think either one of those two has a very good chance of being a star QB in the league. But I suspect Spielman will have the say in the matter and he will stick with his guy Ponder and the Vikings will get another shot at the top pick in 2013 as a result.

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#81 by M // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:19pm

At least Barkley will likely be available in that draft, so if the LA Vikings draft #1 in 2013 they will immediately have a star SoCal QB to market.

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#124 by jimm (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 6:15pm

I'm a Viking fan with no connection to the state whatsoever. My Dad was a Bud Grant fan from his CFL days and became a Viking fan when Grant moved to the Vikes. I was a fan of any team my Dad was.

But oddly it would bother me if the team moved. Not sure I could still cheer for them if they moved to LA or some other US City.

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#125 by Dean // Jan 02, 2012 - 6:21pm

It's completely off topic, but has anybody since Bud Grant been a successful NFL Head Coach who spent any significant time in the CFL?

I still sometimes wonder why Marc Trestman never got a shot down here.

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#6 by Otis Taylor89 // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:45am

Does Aaron Rogers lose MVP votes because of all the receivers that GB has?

Didn't think so either.

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#8 by justanothersteve // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:55am

AR has no receiver as hard to defend as Graham. Nor a safety option out of the backfield as dangerous as Sproles, though Grant and Starks are better than average. It's not as if Brees is surrounded by slouches.

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#10 by Dennis // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:56am

When Flynn comes in and throws for 480 yards and 6 TDs, it sure makes it seem like a lot of Rodgers' success is a result of the team/system.

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#47 by PackersRS (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:17pm

1 game makes that kind of point? And here I thought FO readers paid attention to statistical relevance, but...

Not to mention the lack of evidence to prove that it's not the same case in New England and in New Orlans as it is in Green Bay's. In fact, in New England's case, there's an ever stronger argument to be made that it's the system and not the QB than in GB's case. And if you go back to Bill Walsh's 49ers, it's even bigger, since the same system produced back to back HoF, SB winning QBs.

The talk is ludicrous in either stance, but the data is much more relevant.

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#119 by nat // Jan 02, 2012 - 5:05pm

Methink the Packer-fan doth protest too much.

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#148 by Dave in Tucson (not verified) // Jan 03, 2012 - 9:10am

Hahahahahahaha

"Aaron Rodgers, game manager".

That's a good one.

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#38 by MJK // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:00pm

Debated this last week.

I think the consensus of the FO message board was: of the three MVP candidate QB's, Rodgers has the most breadth of talent--he has good guys across the board at every kind of receiving option--deep threat, possession, TE, etc., except maybe RB out of the backfield. And he has the deepest corps--his #4 and #5 guys are better than the corresponding #4 and #5 guys on NO or NE.

Brady (arguably) has the highest top-end talent. Welker and Gronkowski are harder to defend than any other pair of receiving threats on GB or NO (maybe you could argue Jennings/Nelson is on par, but I would take Welker/Gronk). But Brady has the problem that all his threats are inside posession guys, so his talent isn't spread across the board, or deep. NE's outside WR's are nothing special. And RB receiving has been spotty this season.

Brees' receiving corps balances between the two. More breadth and depth than NE, probably slightly higher total talent at the top 3-4 positions than GB.

All in all, I think Green Bay is the hardest to defesnively scheme against, but that's both because they have the breadth and depth, but also because Rodgers is so good he can take advantage of that. Put another way...if you made Kyle Orton or Matt Cassel (or any other middle of the road, good-but-not-great QB), he would probably do best with NE or NO, because to take advantage of what GB has, you need to be EXCELLENT at diagnosing who the poorly covered guy is going to be, fast.

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#45 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:14pm

Rodgers spent the latter half of the season performing behind a makeshift offensive line as Sitton has battled injuries, Bulaga has been out and Newhouse gave everyone a crick in their neck via the constant wincing as Rodgers took hit after hit.

New Orleans interior line is great hence Brees constantly being able to step up.

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#98 by theslothook // Jan 02, 2012 - 3:06pm

I completely second your assertion. One question, and be honest, what would you have said about the colts talent before this year and now after sans manning? And if you are honest with yourself, has your perception changed at all?

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#135 by DRohan // Jan 02, 2012 - 8:41pm

I was chomping at the bit to bet the under for the Colts even before the question of Manning missing time. They haven't had a good draft in awhile, and Manning has covered up the growing list of their flaws.

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#127 by jimm (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 6:28pm

Players on good teams tend to get more credit than they deserve. Players that play positions that acquire stats people can easily digest tend to get more credit than they deserve. Players that fall into both of those categories are the most overrated in terms of contribution to wins.

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#9 by Otis Taylor89 // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:55am

Offensive talent for NFL Offenses:

Aaron Rogers: Jordy Nelson Jermichel Finley, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones.

Drew Brees:Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, Robert Meachum, Jimmy Graham.

Tom Brady: Wes Welker, Rob Gronk, Aaron Hernandez.

Blaine Gabbert: Maurice Jones-Drew.......ugh, am I missing someone?

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#12 by Paul M (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:16am

Two things everybody seems to be missing re: Flynn.

1. The guy is a good QB. He'll start somewhere next year and instantly become one of the 15 best QBs in the league. Rodgers and McCarthy have been telling us all this in one way or another for a couple of years now. Same franchise that had Hasselbeck, Warner, Brunell and Rodgers himself as backups-- no real surprise.

2. The Packers themselves are really good. No, not their defense but yesterday is one more indication of which side of the ball matters in today's NFL. How many times have I heard the "they won't do as well in wintry Lambeau refrain"-- well, in the last 3 Lambeau games, two of them in the season known as winter, the Packers have scored 126 pts. Despite the fact that their MVP QB (and that bit of insane logic-- Flynn shows Rodgers is a "system" guy-- just like Montana and Young, I guess.) a) didn't play in 1 of those games; b) didn't play in the 4th Quarter in another; c) pulled the plug on the offense in the 4th quarter of the third. What we he/they do if they played in, say, New Orleans all year? More than Drew Brees, that's for sure. This will be regarded, barring major industry, as the greatest offensive team in the history of the NFL before it's all done, and "system guy" Aaron Rodgers one of the two or three greatest QBs in the history of the league. He should win 4 or 5 SBs-- and maybe more. One of them will occur in a five weeks time, and I doubt any of their games will be close, though the Saints may hang for 3 quarters.

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#13 by Paul M (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:19am

barring major "injury"-- they work hard already.

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#16 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:21am

Yes, I expect the Packers will win the championship. No, it will not be a shocking upset if they don't.

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#17 by Eddo // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:24am

Forgive me if I remain skeptical of Flynn "instantly becom[ing] one of the 15 best QBs in the league."

We've seen this movie before. Matt Cassel. Doug Johnson. Kevin Kolb. Scott Mitchell. Shaun King. To a lesser extent, Caleb Hanie.

Cassel, Kolb, and Mitchell are extremely relevant examples. Like Flynn, they all got spot duty for teams with a lot of quality players on offense, and put up good numbers. Then, they went to teams with much less talent, and fizzled.

Now, Flynn certainly looks to be a better option as a starter than what several teams do have right now. The Jets and Redskins immediately come to mind as teams that could make a push for him. The Vikings and Jaguar perhaps, if they're willing to give up on rookies. There's certainly a market for him, but if a team pays him as if he'll immediately be an upper-half-of-the-league starter, they're throwing a lot of money at a player who is still a question mark.

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#34 by mansteel (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:49am

Don't forget A.J. Feeley!

Sorry, Dolphins fans.

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#50 by PackersRS (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:27pm

Can you really list 15 QBs better than Cassel? And don't get me wrong, Cassel is not a QB capable of leading a franchise.

The top talent in the current QB crop is perhaps the best of all time, but there aren't a lot of great QBs out there.

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#58 by Eddo // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:46pm

Top tier (3): Rodgers, Brees, Brady.
Next tier (9): Roethlisbrger, Rivers, Eli Manning, Romo, Cutler, Stafford, Ryan, Vick, Schaub.
Better this year, but probably too early to tell (2): Newton, Dalton.
Mixed bag, but better than Cassel (1): Flacco.

That's 15 right there, that I'm very confident are better than Cassel. (You can quibble about the way they're categorized amongst themselves, of course, but my point was not really to rank them finely.)

That list doesn't include:
Peyton Manning (who knows if he'll play again)
Freeman (better last year, but regressed terribly)
Bradford (OK last year, still young)
Henne
Hasselbeck
Sanchez (has shown some good things, but a chance he's done as a no-doubt starter)
Campbell (looked pretty good this year, until his injury)
Alex Smith
Tim Tebow
Kyle Orton
Carson Palmer
Andrew Luck (seen as can't-miss, but who knows)
Robert Griffin III (very promising, will go top ten for sure, maybe top five)

Cassel's somewhere in that group of guys after the top 15. I wouldn't consider him for my team before any of the 15 I included in the top sections.

EDIT: Forgot about Schaub, had to add him in and alter the numbers.

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#61 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:49pm

Yeah, I forgot Flacco, and he's still playing this year.

Also, your presentation was much nicer.

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#62 by Eddo // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:51pm

Thanks. Your post actually reminded me about Schaub.

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#80 by Dales // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:17pm

You can quibble about the way they're categorized amongst themselves, of course, but my point was not really to rank them finely.

Actually, I think that was a really well-done categorization. I would break this one down into two sub-groupings, though:

Upper Next Tier (4): Roethlisbrger, Rivers, Eli Manning, Romo
Rest of Next Tier (5): Cutler, Stafford, Ryan, Vick, Schaub

With the main waffles coming on Stafford (give me one more year like this and he's there) and Vick (any given year he can be redonkulous, but he can also be just good).

Wildcards- Peyton Manning and Cam Newton (see comment re: Stafford)

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#55 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:40pm

Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Eli Manning, Rivers, Cutler, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford, Matt Schaub, Tony Romo, Michael Vick, Kyle Orton, Ben Roethlisberger. That's 14 I'm sure about. I would put in Josh Freeman, Carson Palmer, Jason Campbell, Chad Henne, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Hasselbeck, Andy Dalton, and Alex Smith as well, though I can see how a reasonable person would disagree with some or all of them.

If Peyton is still capable of playing, he's also clearly ahead of Cassel.

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#151 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 03, 2012 - 10:33am

Mitchell, for all his surliness and complete lack of mobility, wasn't a bad QB. He flamed out in the playoffs pretty badly, but come on, all the Lions did.

Pre-Stafford, Mitchell was the best post-Layne Lions QB. (In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king)

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#163 by Eddo // Jan 03, 2012 - 11:54am

True. I probably should have noted something like that with Mitchell.

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#21 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:27am

Good grief man. Enough with the hyperbolic bullsh*t.

Either take meds or stop tainting the good name of Packer posters.

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#60 by Paul M (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:49pm

Hyperbolic?

Flynn has played two games in the NFL. One was on the road vs the then-regarded best team in the AFC. The other was yesterday against a playoff team in the wind at Lambeau. His combined passer rating for the two games is something like 111. OK-- only two games-- but that's way beyond all these other names with the possible exception of Cassel. 14 better QBs than him next year? Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Rivers for sure. Then, and these are probable, not definite: Stafford, Cutler, Ryan, Newton, Romo, Schaub. That's 12. Then we get into a lot of gray area with Peyton Manning's health, Flacco, Dalton, Smith, etc... I think top 15 is safe.

Rodgers is entering his prime; Jennings is still in his, Nelson, Jones and Finley are still a year or two away from theirs, Cobb longer than that. I see no reason why this group of skill players won't flourish for at least 5 more years, barring a serious injury (read: Rodgers) and trump all other current and previous claims to be the best offense in the league's history. And I certainly believe multiple SB titles are entirely possible in that stretch-- this year would be a second and I see no good reason why, given the management and character of this team as well as all this skill, they can't win more. Maybe 5 is hyperbolic (LeBron? LeBron?) but then again Rodgers has a burning desire to make history-- he even stated the goal of 5 SB titles last week, obviously exceeding all other QBs-- so who am I to doubt him??

If I had predicted 15-1 and a 45/6 TD/INT rating and a record passing rating, that would have been more hyperbolic than the claims I just made. And i didn't. Not even close. They/He are making believers out of me.

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#63 by Paul M (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:51pm

I forgot Vick. He's in my second tier as well, but obviously with a big injury red flag, too.

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#65 by Eddo // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:52pm

See my and tuluse's posts above, regarding Cassel. There is no way you can confidently assert that a guy who has started two games is top 15.

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#90 by PackersRS (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:45pm

My point was not to say Cassel was top 15, it was to say that, after the top 6 or 7 QBs, there isn't much out there. Cassel has actually a better career QB rating than Eli and Vick, and is very close to Stafford, Cutler and Ryan. In ANY/A he's not that far either.

So while I agree that Flynn isn't automatically a top 15 QB, there's a very real possibility that could be the case, if he lands in a system that suits his skill set.

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#93 by Dales // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:54pm

I think that does more to speak to the limitations of QB rating and even ANY/A.

A Cassel type can win when surrounded by an incredible team (think Redskins with Rypien or Williams, or Ravens with Dilfer).

I think there are clearly more than 6-7 QBs before you get to the 'isn't much out there' level. And Cassel isn't in that list.

In fact, if I were the Chiefs, I would definitely take a flier on Flynn rather than hoping Cassel will prove to be anything other than a slightly better than replacement level starting quarterback.

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#114 by Jonadan // Jan 02, 2012 - 4:26pm

I think I'd rather see what Cassel/Orton can do, while drafting my own QB, and strengthen other parts of the team.

Sure, Flynn could go to somebody and make them sorry they didn't take them, but I'm not convinced QB is the greatest need they have. Say, a 2nd WR, maybe.

---
"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

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#137 by Dales // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:51pm

Well, we are far afield from the debate over Flynn.

Leaving him aside, the Chiefs need for a good quarterback is significantly higher than their need for a 2nd WR.

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#67 by Eddo // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:59pm

And winning any Super Bowls is difficult, let alone five of them. You could have said many of the same things about the Colts in the early 2000s - an elite QB, tons of offensive talent around him, all still in their primes - and they won a single Super Bowl. The Patriots, with their own elite QB, haven't won a Super Bowl in seven years.

Or look at the mid-90s Packers. Favre in his prime (and prime Favre played QB about as well as it could be played), a collection of good skill players, a better offensive line than this year's Packers, and excellent defense. They won just one Super Bowl.

All it takes is one poor game at the wrong time. Even being the true "best team" in the league doesn't give you better than about 30% odds of winning a Super Bowl in a given season (and that's probably a generous estimate).

Even last year's Packers are an example of this. They were possibly the best team in the league on the whole, and at least one of the top three (the Patriots and Steelers would be in the discussion), and they very nearly missed the playoffs! Had the Buccaneers not missed a field goal against the Lions, the Packers would have been on the outside looking in.

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#101 by Whatev // Jan 02, 2012 - 3:19pm

Also, I think the Patriots themselves are sort of counterexample to the idea that we "know which side of the ball matters in today's NFL," since they won their 3 championships when they were more of a defense-oriented team, the first of which they won against the epitome of an offense-oriented team.

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#69 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 1:01pm

One would think the KC game would educate some about the dangers of predicting endless ambrosia and virgins.

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#88 by Paul M (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:41pm

KC game made me 15-1 in predicting Packer outcomes this year-- that is hardly an education. My one education this year is the knowledge that the Packers defense isn't of the highest quality-- but just think how unbeatable this team would be if it was, as it could easily be next year, for example.

The great teams are simply great-- they defy the odds. Steelers shouldn't have won 4 out of 6 titles, but they did. Lombardi's Packers (who did have fewer layoff games to win-- I grant you that) shouldn't have won 5 of 7 and made the title game in a 8th, but they did. Russell's Celtics should never have won 11 of 12 or whatever the number was. Wooden's UCLA teams won something like 36 win or done games without ever losing from 1964-1973-- that should never have happened no matter what their superiority was.

I simply believe Rodgers is special and this team is special. And thus I think they will sustain the greatness better than Favre could, and will payoff in the postseason more than Brady or Manning did. Outliers happen. I think we're looking at one-- so what's the point of not saying it if I believe it??

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#92 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:51pm

As long as you present this as being your thoughts versus speaking for all Packer fans.

Because stuff like that just is classic flamewar fodder in sports forums.

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#104 by Packer Pete (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 3:35pm

I won't lay claim to five titles, but I think Rodgers might capture one or two more in the next few years. He has a calm, a demeanor that doesn't let the big game get to him. I trust his play much more than Favre's. Rodgers has Montana's cool. One big factor will be the length of Ted Thompson's tenure: will he retire soon, or keep beating the bushes for talent?

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#105 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 3:39pm

Agreed on both points.

It's interesting how you keep reading/hearing the Packers working on succession planning for Thompson. It's refreshing. Most guys in Ted's role seem to hang around forever until things go off the tracks. Here Ted is actively working to find the next best guy.

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#152 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 03, 2012 - 10:38am

Actually, Russell's Celtics should have won 11 of 12. From a talent standpoint, they really should have won all 13.

One of those Celtics title teams had 7 HoFers on an 11-man roster. They had as many HoFers as the Dream Teams did. Those Celts teams were the most talented teams, era-adjusted in NBA history. From a talent perspective, it would be like the Steelers were always playing the NCAA champ. They should never have even been challenged by the Lakers or whomever Wilt was playing for that year.

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#161 by Lyford // Jan 03, 2012 - 11:30am

One of those Celtics title teams had 7 HoFers on an 11-man roster.

That's a little misleading. How many of those guys are in the Hall of Fame if they didn't play with Bill Russell and win all of those titles? Is Frank Ramsey or Bill Sharman or Sam Jones or Satch Sanders a Hall of Famer if he's playing somewhere else?

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#14 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:19am

In a meaningless game in Minneapolis yesterday, a rare thing happened; a 13 year veteran, who could start for about half the teams in the league, if he wished to continue, played his last game. There aren't many teams in the league that would feel confident in having their tight end or fullback block Julius Peppers unassisted, but that is what the Vikings did with Jim Kleinsasser, and he once again did the job. This is a guy who maybe never once was mentioned by Chris Berman, but he was a terrific player, and a complete professional. Watching his career has been a pleasure.

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#19 by Eddo // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:26am

Agreed. As a Bears fan, I always hated Kleinsasser, but not because I thought he was a jerk or didn't like the way he played; no, it was because he consistently fulfilled his assignments and would seemingly come up with one big first down whenever the Bears played the Vikings. I imagine the Vikings will miss him considerably.

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#22 by Will Allen // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:33am

He is still a highly effective player, of course, but man, when he was in his prime, prior to his ACL injury, you could put him up against any defensive end in the league, and that defensive end simply was NOT going to set the edge. Michael Bennet looked like an Eric Dickerson for one season in good part due to Kleinsasser's blocking. I'll miss him considerably, that's for sure.

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#26 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:40am

Always appreciated his work. Andrew Quarles displayed the same abilities before his knee injury. Newhouse really misses Quarles helping out against premium pass rushers.

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#37 by Jerry F. (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:57am

"This is a guy who maybe never once was mentioned by Chris Berman"

I can't recall specific instances, but I have to imagine Berman mentioned him. Kleinsasser is just the type of name Berman would get way too much fun out of saying, to the misery of the rest of us.

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#134 by Kurt // Jan 02, 2012 - 8:08pm

I remember Madden mentioning him a lot, always pronouncing it "Kleinsaucer".

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#68 by Dean // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:59pm

Nicely stated, Will. Even if I couldn't spell his name, I always hoped he'd somehow end up a free agent and that my team would sign him.

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#171 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 03, 2012 - 4:59pm

Kleinsasser was one of those players every team wished they had -- a guy who knew his role and played it as well as anybody, made a great, if unsung, contribution to the team, and never talked too much.

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#15 by prs130 (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:19am

If you were going to affect a Jason Hanson kick with a missile, it would be a Patriot or an Arrow, not a Scud.

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#18 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:24am

Were the officials all hungover yesterday?

Jimmy Graham holds a guy by his facemask. yes he made a one-handed catch but that was because the other hand was embedded in the defender's face for five minutes. No flag. And the Saints offensive line pulled about five Panthers to the ground at different times and with two officials in the backfield I think one flag got tossed after a Panther defender was twirled around like he was Ginger Rogers. And the Saints tackle threw up his hands after the call obviously indignant that after the four other flagrant violations THIS ONE gets called.

About 10 calls in the GB/Detroit game which were insanely obvious.

I lost count of the holding/PI in the Bengals/Ravens game as the officials decided to call ghost defensive contact calls (mostly against Cincy) but on the second to last play of the game the Baltimore guy drags the Cincy receiver to the ground tearing the shoulder of his uniform and two refs staring right at the play do nothing.

I hate going all Doug Farrar but yesterday was beyond ludicrous. And if the decision was to let everyone play then why the phantom calls when nothing happened?

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#28 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:43am

Did you see the facemask/attempt to rip helmet off by Tamba Hali on Tim Tebow? It was ridiculous. Borderline ejection worthy, and the refs didn't call anything.

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#31 by Eddo // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:48am

Frankly, I wasn't even sure it was penalty-worthy. It didn't look to me like he grasped and twisted the facemask; he certainly touched it, latching on briefly, but let go right away.

What Hali did grab was the bottom rear edge of Tebow's helmet, and he pulled that. But I'm not sure that's illegal, actually.

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#136 by armchair journ… // Jan 02, 2012 - 10:34pm

What is the rule on this? Brandon Jacobs was tackled (somewhat violently) by the helmet in the first quarter of the late game. The Cowboy defender got some facemask for good measure, but that was only really clear on the replay. The non-call would presume that tackling a guy only by the helmet is okay? Doesn't seem kosher.. but then, grabbing the helmet without getting the facemask too probably doesn't happen very often.

//AJMQB

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#146 by dryheat // Jan 03, 2012 - 8:08am

I believe that grabbing the ear-hole area is illegal, but the rear of the helmet is OK.

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#172 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 03, 2012 - 5:02pm

It's a penalty to pull the helmet off, so Hali probably got a little lucky that Tebow doesn't wear his helmet loose.

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#154 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 03, 2012 - 10:42am

You can wrap your arm around the helmet so long as you don't grab the facemask. The facemask rule is designed to prevent a defender from using the lever that is the facemask and twisting the opposing player's neck. That's not much of a concern if you just wrap an arm around the circumference of the helmet.

Sort of like the difference between spearing and incidental helmet to body contact on a tackle.

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#36 by milo // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:52am

The number on the far right of your digital stopwatch is not the minutes counter.

Wasn't it amazing when Pierre Thomas' helmet just popped off his head? And when the face-mask got completely entangled in the Panther's defender's hand? The impact forced his fingers to reflexively grasp the bars just as his hand was moving away.

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#42 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:06pm

I am sure your sarcasm is great but lost on me because I do not know what you are saying.

Seriously. Sorry.

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#46 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:16pm

Agreed. But certainly long enough for the official to recognize the infraction.

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#115 by JimZipCode // Jan 02, 2012 - 4:31pm

The holding/PI calls in the Ravens/Bengals game all seemed legit to me. I saw two calls I thought were wrong, and one that was correct but ticky-tack.

Wrong: The penalty on the Cincy defender who leveled Ed Dickson on that 3rd down pass over the middle. Replay seemed to show pretty clearly that the defender buried his shoulder into Dickson's shoulder. Dickson's head whipped back like a crash test dummy, which was probably what the ref was keying off of, but that seemed to just be a factor of the force and angle of the hit.

Wrong: Lardarius Webb manhandled AJ Green in the end zone while the pass was on its way, one of the last plays of the game. No flag. In realtime it looked like there might be a case that both players were going for the ball – Webb was looking back and they were jostling each other. In the replay it was clear that Webb pulled Green's jersey, exposing his shoulder pad. Likely that should at least have been illegal contact or D-holding, if not 1st-&-goal at the one.

Ticky-tack: the touchback where the Bengal smudged the paint on the end line with his elbow. I guess that's a touchback by rule, but it was an awfully small margin. How long do the coverage guys have to have the ball before the play is over, anyway?

All those went against Cincy, which is a shame. I guess I made your point for you; but for the game, the Bengals were called for only 4 penalties for 35 yds, the Ravens 7 for 59. Tough to make the case that the refs were in the tank for Baltimore.

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#121 by drobviousso // Jan 02, 2012 - 5:51pm

I didn't see it, but I believe that a shoulder to shoulder hit on a 'defenseless receiver' is supposed to be a foul.

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#23 by Danish Denver-Fan // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:35am

Why not measure the closeness of a game by the score with 6 or so minutes left in the 4th quarter? I mean if the game is a blowout with 6 minutes to go and close at fulltime - it's because the losing team beat up on 2nd stringers.

One could even argue that if the game i close with 6 minutes left it's a close game - no matter hat happens in the last 6 minutes, since either team was in "position" to win, late in the game.

This way you give this week's 49'ers credit for a blowout, and penalize the eventual winner of an apparent blowout for letting it's opponent hang around.

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#44 by MJK // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:11pm

I've actually been doing something similar to that over the course of the season. Advanced NFL Stats posts charts showing a teams' probability of winning as a function of time left in the game, for every game of the season, based on historical data (i.e. if a team is down by 14 but has the ball 1st-and-10 at the opponent 15 with 8 minutes to go, their chance of winning is X).

Based on FO's maxim that blowouts are far more predictive of future wins than close wins or come-from-behind victories, I tried picking games. I categorized "blowout" somewhat arbitrarily as any game in which a team had greater than 75% chance of winning for the entire 4th quarter. I weighted that much more heavily than "narrow wins" where the team with greater probability of winning changed at least once in the 4th quarter. (Had an in between metric as well). Just using that simple system, I did about as well as weighted DVOA at picking the winners of next week's games straight up.

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#24 by Kimchee // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:37am

I totally agree with Houston's decision to prefer a loss over overtime. Overtime is the last thing they want there. The Bears had that potential situation last year down 7 with the ball late against the Packers. Even knowing the Packers were a tough out, I thought the Bears would be better off going for two had the situation come up.

I saw the Brady flop with Florence and there was a pretty good Stafford flop as well. It used to be just kickers and punters, but now it looks like QB flops are the big new trend.

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#48 by MJK // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:18pm

Agree. Houston was locked into the 3-seed. Unless you believe that winning a close, meaningless Week 17 game gives you some kind of magic "momentum" boost, I think you take the loss in that scenario.

A few years back, NE was locked into the 3-seed (or maybe the 4-seed? Don't remember). This was the famous "Flutie drop-kick" game. Down by 8 versus the not-playoff-bound Miami, with less than 2 minutes to go, Matt Cassel (Brady was on the bench being rested) led a brilliant 2-minute drive to score a TD on the final play with all zeros on the clock. The Pats lined up for a 2-point conversion, and Cassel, with absolutely no pressure on him at all, threw the ball three yards over the head of a wide open Bam Childress in the endzone.

The thinking was that Belichick had told him that, if he completed that pass, he would be kicked off the team. :-) (Of course, in that case, why not just kick the extra point? To maintain the illusion of trying?)

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#25 by jimm (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:38am

I am looking forward to the playoffs because I think there are about 6 or 7 teams that are essentially even in quality.

I think Det will beat NO.

As a Viking fan I was glad they lost yesterday. I think Luck and RG3 are franchise type QBs and apparently Kalil is a hell of a LT. That should make things very interesting from a draft perspective with the Vikings drafting 3.

The Vikings probably think they have something in Ponder - but from what I've seen the guy has major accuracy issues and that isn't something I think will improve much. Not to mention the fact that he got progressively worse as the season wore on. Hell, he made Joe Webb look like a better alternative.

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#107 by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 3:54pm

"I think Det will beat NO"

I don't see how that happens. If NO isn't simply the best team in the league in their dome they're the best x infinity.

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#155 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 03, 2012 - 10:46am

Detroit doesn't win on the road in the playoffs (and is only 1-2 at home, not counting a home win versus "bye" in 1991). NO doesn't lose at home in the playoffs.

Mix and...

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#173 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 03, 2012 - 6:21pm

20 year old history does not apply here.

I would never guarantee a Lions win over NO on the road, but I could imagine it.
If you can't you don't have much imagination.

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#27 by MJK // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:43am

Jim Schwartz unveiled the "line up both safeties 15 yards off the line of scrimmage all day" coverage

Hey, don't laugh. The Patriots have been running that defense all year. True, it led to the worst passing defense (by yards) in the league, but as soon as they tried to get away from it (in the first quarter of yesterday's game, they were running man free coverage instead of their standard deep cover 2), Buffalo hangs 21 points on them effortlessly in a single quarter. Then they switch back to it for the remaining three quarters, and Buffalo fails to score a single additional point.

Other thoughts on the Pats game:
* The personal foul call on the Brady hit during the interception return was for a rather flimsy hit, but it technically was a correct call. Brady, with his feared blazing speed, had given up on trying to run down the ball carrier and had slowed to a half-hearted jog, turning away from the play. A full second after he had done so, and possibly after the tackle had been made, a Bills player runs up behind him and shoves him in the back. Yes, it wasn't much of a hit, but it was technically "rough" and "unnecessary", and obviously a defensive player saying "Oh boy, I get a chance to hit a quarterback!". I agree it doesn't get called if it's Matt Light or Rob Gronkowski that gets shoved, and not Brady, but if you're a defensive player, you have to know that refs are watching the QB on INT returns to make sure no one takes cheap shots on them. If you're going to hit him, make sure you do it when he's actually chasing a live play.

* I didn't like the penalty on Johnson. His T-shirt said "happy new year". How is that "unsportsmanlike"? It didn't say "suck it, Patriots" or "ha ha I scored a TD", it wasn't offensive for pretending to moon the crowd, and it wasn't even calling attention to himself like autographing a ball with a sharpie or calling someone with a hidden cell phone. I know it technically violates the rule, but it's a stupid rule.

Johnson explained after the game that he'd pulled a stunt like that before and not gotten the flag, so he thought it was OK. Still boneheaded. I don't fault Gailey for benching him...he explained that he had made a statement to the team that any player hurting the because of a stupid, self-promotional stunt would be benched, no matter who they were or what position they played. So he had to stick with that or seem like he was putting some players on a pedastal more than others. I think losing one meaningless game is preferable to undermining yourself as the head coach and potentially losing the locker room.

* Fun fact: At one point in the first quarter, the Patriots were down 21-0 and had -5 yards of total offense. They ended up winning 49-21.

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#30 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:46am

If a player did unveil a shirt that read "ha ha I scored a TD" I think it would be pretty awesome.

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#52 by Purds // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:28pm

Seriously? You're going to try to seriously defend that call? You're telling me that the ref was accurate in his description of the event: "Driving the quarterback into the ground"? Not even close. Brady did give up on the play, when he thought the returner was down, but then the guy wasn't tackled, cut back, and Brady again began to chase him. Then, a Bills player literally pushed Brady's shoulder with his extended hands, Brady fell over, and the penalty was called. Wish I could find video.

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#54 by Purds // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:36pm

Oh, I do have a link. Not sure how to share it. http://www.nfl.com/videos/auto/09000d5d82598293/Barnett-picks-off-Brady

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#73 by dryheat // Jan 02, 2012 - 1:40pm

The flag was earned. Brady was absolutely not involved in the play when he was knocked down. However, the explanation of "driving the quarterback to the ground" was obviously not based of reality.

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#123 by MJK // Jan 02, 2012 - 6:11pm

I'm only weakly defending it, and I'm not defending the ref's description of it (because the Bills defender certainly did not "drive" the QB into the ground). But I am weakly defending it, because a defender hit a QB who wasn't involved in the play, who was a good distance from the ball carrier, and who didn't have a prayer of catching him even if other players weren't already around him.

The rules say you can't come up and hit a guy when the play is over. The Bills player did that. I wouldn't have thrown the flag, personally, as it wasn't much of a hit, but the Bills player had to know that the refs would be keeping their eye on the QB and be flag-happy in that situation.

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#131 by Purds // Jan 02, 2012 - 7:33pm

I guess so. But, Brady was less than 5 yards away, and he was running in the direction of the ball carrier. The "no-touch-elite'QB" rules are just sickening, though. If Brady doesn't expect to get hit there, to the degree that the refs need to protect him, then Brady should never even followed the play. If you follow the play, you are a football player.

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#174 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 03, 2012 - 6:29pm

It probably would have been more correct to call it a blind-side hit on the QB. It's a penalty to knock a QB down if he's not actually trying to tackle a runner anymore. Florence's hit was close to the head too. But Brady did flop pretty good on that play.

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#108 by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 4:06pm

About the Johnson TD celebration. I have no idea why this is being hashed about on different sites today, like the guy is innocent of something. Look, Johnson did basically the same thing in the Jets game and it indirectly led to a Jet's TD.

So Gainey obviously told Johnson to stop it. And Johnson apologized to his team for being such a dumbass, and possibly costing them the game.

And he does the exact same thing yesterday. Again.

Argue the rule, that's fine (I think it's ridiculous too), but please don't contend that Johnson was victimized.

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#32 by MJK // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:48am

Aaron Schatz: "This game is still based around running the ball and stopping the run." Heh.

Maybe that particluar game was. When your QB's are Orlovsky (or Painter) versus Blaine Gabbert, the passing game IS kind of an afterthought...

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#33 by Eddo // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:49am

"Jim Schwartz unveiled the 'line up both safeties 15 yards off the line of scrimmage all day' coverage"

"Hey, don't laugh. The Patriots have been running that defense all year."

I thought Tom meant the safeties were close to the line of scrimmage, since they weren't concerned with deep passing.

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#35 by RichC (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 11:50am

"The Bills offense was still doing well, but just had a couple of off-target throws from Ryan Fitzpatrick. They also didn't convert on fourth-and-12 from the Pats 36, so they didn't score."

I love how you do this. "The bills offense was still doing well," despite the fact that they couldn't move the ball anymore and started turning it over. I know you have a narrative you want to stick to, and the defense was terrible in the 1st quarter, but it gets kind of silly.

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#110 by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 4:15pm

Heh, sic em, RichC

Let's be fair regarding the Pats D. They skunked DVOA's 16th ranked offense for 3 quarters because they, at one point it seemed, had to. That's not a deplorable defense. No one is saying it's world class either, but I do expect sites such as FO to be less silly in their references to it.

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#49 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:21pm

Regarding Flynn I think he has a much better chance than the likes of Hanie, et al for the simple fact that he has been coached by folks who understand quarterback play and also appears to have solid physical tools.

I enjoy watching the Bears play but the organization has not demonstrated any ability to develop a quarterback and if any of the hard-core Bears fans are going to attack that statement they need to sift through their own post history since I am merely regurgitating their own comments

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#51 by Eddo // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:27pm

Oh, no doubt about that. I didn't mean to imply Flynn would follow the Hanie career path; I was just saying that it's not all that uncommon for a backup, with little tape on him, to come in a play quite well, then progressively get worse the more he does play.

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#64 by Noahrk // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:52pm

I only watched the highlights, but it's not as if the guy was threading the needle. I saw one great pass, the rest were good plays by the WRs and a screen that went 80 yards.

I'd still like him on my team, but I wouldn't just hand him a starting gig. Unfortunately, in this day and age salary dictates playing time, and Flynn will likely be signed to starter money regardless.

------
We are number one. All others are number two, or lower.

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#72 by Arkaein // Jan 02, 2012 - 1:40pm

Flynn completed 31 passes, so he deserves a bit more credit than you're giving him.

Early on in the game I'd agree with your assessment. The frist TD to Nelson was a smoke route where Nelson broke the tackle by the CB to get the edge and score, while the Grant TD screen play was just great team execution, with better speed than Grant has shown in a while. Neither was a special throw.

But that was just getting warmed up. Flynn hit Nelson on a bomb for a TD. He hit Jones perfectly down the right sideline (much like his 60 yards TD against NE last season) to setup the final score. Driver's TD on a crossing route might not have turned upfield fast enough to score if the pass wasn't right in stride.

Honestly, I think that Rodgers might have played an even better game in the same opportunity. Probably not any more TDs, but he probably wouldn't have lost a fumble or thrown and INT on a slant. In total though, saying that FLynn didn't play quite as well as I think the leading MVP candidate might have is not exactly sharp criticism. Flynn deserves a shot at a starting gig, more than any draft pick yet to come out of school.

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#113 by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 4:24pm

Regardless, Eddo's point reigns supreme.

There's no book on Flynn, no experience by the defense on his weaknesses. Given where he was drafted, chances are best that he stinks.

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#59 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:47pm

I don't think it's due to coaching than Flynn is an will continue to be better than Hanie, I think it's more innate. Also, I hear this Mike Martz guy knows a thing or two about QBs, and Mike McCarthy didn't do so well with Alex Smith

This is not to say the Packers don't have better coaching for QBs, I just think in this instance, it's not the primary reason.

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#66 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:58pm

No way anyone is going to convince me that Mike Martz is anything but a shuck and jive artist. Yes I have seen his career. Not buying that he is anything but a Ryan brother in offensive clothing.

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#70 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 02, 2012 - 1:01pm

Martz has his flaws but the man knows QBs. Kurt Warner, Trent Green, Marc Bulger, Ryan Fitzpatrick are all his finds. He was also documented with not wanting Hanie to be the primary backup.

I have no idea what your last sentence means either, as the Ryan brothers are some of the best defensive coordinators in the league.

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#75 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 1:46pm

I freely admit my disdain for Martz clouds my assessment. For every Warner there is a Jon Kitna he seemed focused on getting killed and it took a Jay Cutler screaming match/meltdown before Martz recognized what his offense could and could not do. And the offensive game plan in Oakland was inane. If Martz was so adamant that Hanie stunk then why put the game on Hanie's shoulders from the very beginning? And that is just a recent example. Martz has a long history of whacko approaches that folks question (and rightly so) in real time much less after the fact.

But again, I have no issue with you terming me a crank. I think Martz is more snake oil salesman than a coach.

And my Ryan brother comment was written with the guy in Dallas in mind. I recognize that Rex has a very good defensive resume.

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#78 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:11pm

You just need to separate Martz the evaluator and teacher of QBs from Martz the caller of plays. In the first area he has a very good record. In the 2nd, not as good. As for the gameplan against the Raiders all I can say is that Martz has a huge ego.

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#91 by ChiJeff (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:47pm

Believe me bigten, I am a Bears fan and I really cannot wait to see Mike Martz pack his bags and leave. I find his insistence on seven step drops with that oline and those recievers to be maddening. You are right, it took Jay Cutler throwing a hissy fit for Martz to even think of modifying his offense a little. He cannot leave too soon.

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#112 by Jonadan // Jan 02, 2012 - 4:20pm

I don't know what to think about Martz. I love watching his teams play offense, despite the painful turnovers. On the other hand, there's no question he's completely a system guy, not flexible unless forced to be, and that his system has weaknesses. Like the turnovers.

Here's the record of Martz's offenses, by year and team, starting QB(s)/leading RB: DVOA (offensive DVOA standing).

OC
1999 STL, Kurt Warner/Marshall Faulk: 12.4% (4th)
HC
2000 STL, Kurt Warner (11) & Trent Green (5)/Marshall Faulk: 25.9% (1st)
2001 STL, Kurt Warner/Marshall Faulk: 18.2% (2nd)
2002 STL, Marc Bulger (7) & Kurt Warner (6) & Jaimie Martin (2) & Scott Covington (1)/Marshall Faulk: -8.2% (26th)
2003 STL, Marc Bulger (15) & Kurt Warner (1)/Marshall Faulk: -9.5 (22nd)
2004 STL, Marc Bulger (14) & Chris Chandler (2)/Marshall Faulk: -3.2% (19th)
2005 STL, Marc Bulger (8) & Jaimie Martin (5) & Ryan Fitzpatrick (3)/Steven Jackson: -9.6% (21st)
2006 DET, Jon Kitna/Kevin Jones: -13.4% (28th)
2007 DET, Jon Kitna/Kevin Jones: -9.5% (24th)
OC
2008 SF, Shaun Hill (8) & JT O'Sullivan (8)/Frank Gore: -11.3% (27th)
2009 ---
2010 CHI, Jay Cutler (15) & Todd Collins (1)/Matt Forte: -12.0% (28th)
2011 CHI (through 15 games), Jay Cutler (10) & Caleb Hanie (4) & Josh McCown (1)/Matt Forte: -11.8% (27th)

The short version is that in the years he hasn't had a HoF QB and RB starting most of the games (all of them since 2001), the system hasn't fared very well by DVOA's standards. On the other hand, his St Louis teams all did not-much-worse than average, at worst, in yards and points: Detroit, San Fran, and Chicago have seen a drop-off there.

Some other relevant years:

1998 STL, Tony Banks (14) & Steve Bono (2)/June Henley: -17.2% (26th)
2006 STL, Marc Bulger/Steven Jackson: 3.3% (14th)

2005 DET, Joey Harrington (11) & Jeff Garcia (5)/Kevin Jones: -18.5% (29th)
2008 DET, Dan Orlovsky (7) & Daunte Culpepper (5) & Jon Kitna (4)/Kevin Smith: -20.6% (30th)

2007 SF, Alex Smith (7) & Trent Dilfer (6) & Shaun Hill (2) & Chris Weinke (1)/Frank Gore: -31.3% (32nd)
2009 SF, Alex Smith (10) & Shaun Hill (6)/Frank Gore: -10.2% (23rd)

2009 CHI, Jay Cutler/Matt Forte: - 16.8% (28th)

Since the Kurt Warner years, the only team that was significantly better with Martz than without (by DVOA) has been Detroit. Even there, the relative rank wasn't much better, just the DVOA number. This isn't really surprising, because Martz's offenses consistently rank well down the bottom half in turnovers, which DVOA is not a fan of. The same thing is true in terms of conventional statistics, too, though SF's numbers were also slightly improved there by comparison.

I don't know why, and don't have the time to do in-depth research to figure out why, but here's my guess at what the narrative looks like:

-> Martz came into the league as an OC with some concepts that were either new or which he managed to perfect in a way no one else had. Combined with a HoF QB & RB, for a few years he took the league by storm. Now, everybody has either adopted those concepts or figured out how to defend them (or I guess rule changes might have affected their efficiency), so they only really made a difference to a team which was essentially incompetent other than Martz (Detroit).

-> Alternatively, no team Martz has coached since the early St Louis teams has had a good O-line. Though this was pretty much the case in Detroit too.

Correlative evidence in the form of ALY:
1999 STL 4.50 (2nd)
2000 STL 5.04 (1st)
2001 STL 4.74 (1st)
2002 STL 3.90 (27th)
2003 STL 3.79 (27th)
2004 STL 4.36 (10th)
2005 STL 3.80 (23rd)
2006 DET 3.59 (32nd)
2007 DET 3.99 (22nd)
2008 SF 4.28 (7th)
2010 CHI 3.64 (29th)
2011 CHI 3.59 (24th) <- I think this is the complete season due to the update date

For the most part this hypothesis holds up: the one anomaly is SF's 2008 squad – but they were worst in the league (not helped by their QBs) in pass protection. Good o-line play seems to be the key to Martz's system working, if there's good-enough QB and RB play. What I can't figure out is what happened to the Rams' o-line in 2002 when they fell off a cliff. Going by PFR, the '99 starting line was LT Pace, LG Nutten, C Gruttadaurla, RG Timmerman, RT Miller (Pace is the only carry-over from '98). '00 and '01 have Pace, Nutten, and Timmerman; Gruttadaurla was replaced at center by McCollum, and Miller by Tucker.

The problem is, that starting lineup then remains the same, except for Tucker's RT spot which saw a procession of players, from 2002 to 2004, after which the changes come fast and furious. (Tucker played 2002-08 for the Browns: while they improved in 2002, they could hardly not have as they finished 31st out of 31 in ALY, and anyway Tucker was one of 3 changes.)

At this point I'm completely out of my casual-football-fan depth and flailing, but if someone with more time, more memory of the Rams (or the Bears), or more general football smarts can keep going from here that would be cool.

Summary: I'm postulating for now at least some of these things are true about Martz's system: it depends on run-blocking, especially the RT; it was hurt, either directly or relatively, by a rule change in 2002 (not that there seems to be a likely candidate); Martz came up with some new idea for the 2002 season that he's still trying to make work and it hurts what he's trying to do because it doesn't in fact work. (Is there a way to compare his play-calling over the years?) Anyway, 2002 seems to have been the watershed year where the Greatest Show came crashing down to Turf.

---
"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

Points: 0

#116 by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 4:31pm

I think the real short version is that he's an Al Davis disciple, figuratively.

There's nothing wrong with that game, long bombs offset with potent running attacks. It will lead to more TO's and sacks (and mauled QB's), but also to a ton of quick TD's.

Points: 0

#126 by Dean // Jan 02, 2012 - 6:25pm

He's only an Al Davis disciple in that they're both Sid Gillman disciples - in Davis's case directly and in Martz's case indirectly through Coryell, Gibbs, and others.

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#139 by Will Allen // Jan 03, 2012 - 1:10am

Once again, I will note how odd it strikes me that Joe Gibbs' first principal was that the qb will be protected, and Mike Martz's is that everyone, including the cheerleaders, will be out in a pass pattern, even if the quarterback gets as shellshocked as an infantryman at The Battle of the Somme.

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#141 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 03, 2012 - 1:33am

It might be odd, but they are actually both trying to do the same thing. Martz's core philosophy is that if the defense blitzes and you have more receivers out, it means one of them is open.

If you watch the 2010 Bears Cowboys game you'll see this happen. Cutler beats the blitz twice with huge gains (I think both were to Olsen). Then the Cowboys started backing off because they couldn't get to him before he got the ball to an open receiver. If Martz had gone the Gibbs route in that game, it probably would not have worked as well because 1) the Bears didn't even have 5 good blockers much less more, and 2)I'm not sure the Bears receivers would have won their match-ups on the outside consistently, and 3) the Bears probably would have made a mess of the blocking schemes and still managed to leave people unblocked while having 7 guys around Cutler (this is related to 1)).

Of course with the Gibbs plan, it's unlikely there are debaclings like the Giants game either.

Points: 0

#145 by Whatev // Jan 03, 2012 - 6:59am

Basically the issue is that if you reduce the protection too much, there is an open receiver but the quarterback only has half a second to figure out which one it is. So there's essentially a heuristic optimization problem in the tradeoff between protection and receiving options--Martz pushes the dial all the way to one end.

And that was a needlessly complicated way of saying something almost everyone already knows.

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#166 by Will Allen // Jan 03, 2012 - 1:44pm

The Martzian approach may work better sometimes, but it has the vice of treating the highest paid guy on the roster like a interchangeable cog, who is easily replaced or repaired when the hammering takes it toll. It has always struck me a really dumb roster management.

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#167 by Eddo // Jan 03, 2012 - 2:48pm

Oh, absolutely. Martz's system is definitely much more high-risk, high-reward than Gibbs's. Martz requires a very good QB - or at least one that can make good reads and quick throws. Of course, his system puts that vital cog at a much higher risk of injury.

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#169 by Will Allen // Jan 03, 2012 - 4:30pm

Yeah, I don't mean to paint Martz as The Antichrist Killer of Quarterbacks, but you don't get many more rewards than Gibbs' three titles in, what, 10 years? With three different qbs who were merely above-average? While playing in a very tough division, which contained another HOF-quality coach, or two, if you want to include Landry's last decade?

It just seems to me that the Gibbsian approach to roster construction and play calling is far more conducive to success, short term, medium term, and long term.

Points: 0

#83 by Dales // Jan 02, 2012 - 2:23pm

as the Ryan brothers are some of the best defensive coordinators in the league.

I'll stipulate Rex. But Rob?

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#117 by JimZipCode // Jan 02, 2012 - 4:35pm

Yeah, seems to me that Rex is awesome; and that Rob tries to do the same zany formation stuff, without having the same judgment or fundamental soundness.

Maybe it's just the Rex got to work with Ray Lewis & Ed Reed, and Rob never did. But I would not say that Rob has had the same level of success as Rex.

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#140 by Will Allen // Jan 03, 2012 - 1:15am

I'm no expert in matters Ryan, but after watching Terrence Newman, and other star-heads, the other night play like they began the New Year's Eve jello shots a bit early, I think the differences in personnel needs to be closely looked at.

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#159 by Independent George // Jan 03, 2012 - 11:24am

My memory might be playing tricks on me, but I remember thinking Rob did a heck of a job with some rather bad Oakland teams a few years ago.

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#162 by dryheat // Jan 03, 2012 - 11:37am

Well, Oakland's recent problems haven't been defensive. They've had some talent on that side of the ball. I thought last year in Cleveland may have been his best job as DC.

It's also true that he may have reached the Peter Principle one rung lower than we usually talk about. He was excellent as the Patriots LB coach in the Super Bowl years, but working under Belichick and Crennel and with smart veteran guys like McGinest, Vrabel, Bruschi, Phifer probably made it really easy to excel.
Still, seeing as he doesn't promise a Super Bowl every year, or a victory in every game they play (merely some of them, usually vs. division opponents), I find him to be far less annoying than his twin.

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#77 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 02, 2012 - 1:57pm

To go a littler further on that, as folks have mentioned the coaching staff did rework Rodgers throwing method in his years on the bench. I haven't done a real close look but Flynn doesn't seem to have the same throwing mechanics now as he did his rookie year either. So yeah I think he has gotten more than just basic coaching, I think he's had a bit of a rebuild job as well.

Points: 0

#53 by Global (not verified) // Jan 02, 2012 - 12:34pm

Anyone think Demarcus Ware is a bit overrated? I think he comes up small in big games....

Points: 0

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