Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Weekend

Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Weekend
Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Weekend
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.

Saturday, January 7th

Cincinnati Bengals 10 at Houston Texans 31

Tom Gower: What happens when you're not sustaining drives on offense? You need big plays. I thought Glover Quin's pass interference was probably unnecessary, but it was flag-worthy, and then a well-executed screen to Brian Leonard set up the Cedric Benson touchdown.

Ben Muth: Brian Cushing was unblocked on that first Bengals touchdown, but he overran his gap and Benson cut right up inside of him.

Aaron Schatz: In the first quarter, this Cincinnati offense is all short stuff except for that long bomb that ended up in the pass interference on Quin.

Ben Muth: Brooks Reed leads Earth in those cleanup sacks where someone else gets there first or flushes the quarterback right into him.

Tom Gower: Mike Nugent missed a long field goal, but Jay Gruden has done a nice job of giving Andy Dalton short and makeable throws thus far. The third-down sack came when his option wasn't there. His standard operation procedure there is to roll and buy time, but Antonio Smith's rush disrupted him and, as Mr. Muth noted, Reed picked up another cleanup sack.

Aaron Schatz: Seriously, Marvin Lewis. You're going to challenge a spot to try to avoid third-and-1? What, you aren't confident you can get the yard in two downs? You need to risk blowing a challenge on this?

Mike Tanier: Not a big fan of challenging a third-and-1 spot early in the second quarter. Make the first down. You might need that challenge later. Or the timeout.

Tom Gower: The big Donald Lee play was ugly defense -- Cushing and DeMeco Ryans overplayed the roll and pump fake, then the defensive backs couldn't tackle him. J.J. Watt had a really nice play to disrupt the shovel pass on third down, though.

Aaron Schatz: And the Bengals challenge again when Owen Daniels and a Bengals defensive back (Clements?) seem to catch a ball at the same time. Is it a catch? A pick? Incomplete? Why are the Bengals using a challenge on a totally questionable play? Shouldn't they be saving it in case there's a scoring play later, or something that the officials *obviously* get wrong?

Tom Gower: And ... the Cincinnati Bengals are out of challenges with 4:51 to play in the first half after Marvin Lewis' second questionable challenge of the
game. Especially when it's your last challenge, I'd save it for a particularly high-leverage play you're likely to win. In Marvin's imagination, this at least qualifies for the former, but it's certainly not the latter.

Mike Tanier: Hi, I am Marv Lewis, and I squander all of my challenges on wishful thinking.

Ben Muth: Not a great half by Chris Myers. He got blown up by Geno Atkins early, then he missed a cut block on Manny Lawson that killed a screen that could have gone all the way if he got the chop.

Mike Tanier: Myers looks like a guy who should talk with a crazy Australian accent and throw boomerangs at people to steal their gasoline.

Tom Gower: Right guard Mike Brisiel is also not having his best game; he's been out with an injury and is not at 100 percent yet.

That was a fantastic individual play by Watt on the touchdown. Like T.J. Yates' throw earlier that Jonathan Fanene batted down, it was a little obvious. I think part of Gruden's conversation with Dalton may have been not throwing that ball there.

Aaron Schatz: Four thoughts at halftime:

1) The Bengals cornerbacks are playing better than I expected.
2) The Bengals need to work on the backside contain on those stretch runs.
3) J.J. Watt is awesome. I wonder if you could use him in a Mike Vrabel goal-line role?
4) Once again, it's worth noting just how stupid those Marvin Lewis challenges were.

Rivers McCown: Agree about Cincy's cornerbacks. Very little zone coverage and they've been quite solid so far.

Interesting to see the Texans play dime on second down a couple of times in that half -- not something they've typically done this season. (At least other than obvious two-minute drill situations.)

Danny Tuccitto: My first half impressions:

1) I still don't know how Myers missed that block on the screen to Arian Foster. One second, Foster's gone. The next second, he's tackled.
2) Cincy's front seven can't seem to contain themselves from overpursuing to the play side. It's happened at least four times that I can remember. We'll probably see a bunch more play-action bootlegs and misdirection runs in the second half.
3) Before blowing up a screen near the end of the half, Brian Cushing was underwhelming in terms of his zone integrity.
4) I believe the same gloves used by Daniels to get a death grip on the catch that was challenged were also used by Watt to corral his interception. Aside from the ridiculous hands displayed by both, Daniels being the first to congratulate Watt on the sidelines is another piece of circumstantial evidence.
5) Rivers McCown is a nervous wreck.

Mike Tanier: Backside contain is not an easy job against a team that stretch runs like the Texans. You have a lot of space to defend, plus the fear of a rollout, backside block, etc.

Danny Tuccitto: Agreed. Just seems like the Bengals are doing a below-replacement job of it so far in this one. Especially given that they have to have practiced it all week, and that they played the same stretch-running Houston offense just four weeks ago.

Ben Muth: NBC just showed a graphic saying Chris Johnson had 319 touches this year. Having watched a good deal of Titans possesions, I can assure you it seemed like far, far more.

Danny Tuccitto: Chris Crocker just had a really ugly series of plays on the Texans' touchdown drive to put them up 24-10. First, he doesn't read the screen to Foster even though Foster basically lets two guys (including Crocker) freely rush right by him. Then, Foster jukes him out of his shoes on a dumpoff. Then, he drops a sure interception with a degree-of-difficulty one-tenth of Watt's. Then, it takes all of one step to the right from Yates to allude his untouched rush. Ugly.

Mike Tanier: Late in the third, if the Bengals don't get points on this drive, it's over.

Tom Gower: Bengals left guard Nate Livings is not having a very good game.

Ben Muth: That last sack by Earl Mitchell was a straight blown protection. Center goes right, guard goes left, defensive tackle eats quarterback alive. Must be tough to hear calls in Houston right now.

Mike Tanier: The center should have helped him on that sack instead of chasing ghosts.

Danny Tuccitto: I've been fiddling around with our individual defensive stats all day, so here's an interesting nugget. With a sack and a batted pass against the Bengals, Mitchell registered two pass plays today. He had three all season.

Rivers McCown: The Mensa meeting that was punting on fourth-and-3, down 14 in the fourth, versus calling a timeout to stop said punt, was a thing of beauty.

Aaron Schatz: Houston is totally in control now that this is about salting away a lead in the fourth quarter.

Ben Muth: I think Cincinnati's defense did a great job of playing physical in the running game early, and kind of caught Houston off guard. As the game has worn on, however, guys have started over-running plays or peeking inside, and Houston's backs are making them pay. Really nice example of how Houston's running game, with all the cut blocks and pressure it puts on all gaps, just wears defenses (even good ones) down.

Tom Gower: This isn't exactly news, but after that touchdown run to make it 31-10, it is an excellent time to declare Arian Foster is having a great game. Vision, patience, acceleration. The opportunities that are there don't matter if the back doesn't take advantage of them. Foster did.

Vince Verhei: I watched the entire game on DVR. I started 90 minutes late, yet finished before the late game started. Yay technology!

Foster is a special back, but I thought the Houston line had way more good plays than bad ones. Yes, they had some struggles in the first half (that play where Atkins manhandled Myers several yards into the backfield was something else), but I thought they played well late. I don't know this, but it felt like Houston's success rate on runs was far north of 50 percent in the second half, when it was obvious Yates wasn't going to be passing anymore.

Speaking of Yates, the announcers were really putting him over at the end of the game, but come on now. Most of his success came because Cincinnati couldn't get pressure (there's that offensive line again), and his biggest play came when Andre Johnson got open by 10 yards.

Meanwhile, he missed a few easy throws early, and he threw a critical interception in the second half. You won't find it in the boxscore, because Cincinnati dropped it, but Yates still made a bad throw. He played OK, and much better than I would have expected for a third-stringer, but he's not the reason Houston won this game.

Rivers McCown: I'm excited for the Matt Schaub (not a playoff QB) versus Yates (proven winner) debates this offseason.

Robert Weintraub: Not much to say about the Bengals other than it went roughly the way I expected, save I figured Cincy would be in hailing distance in the fourth quarter. Once Watt made that play, and Crocker didn't, the game was over. I told my Bengals crowd (yes, we have one here in Atlanta) that to win we'd have to make a "outlier" play, and hope Houston botched theirs. Instead, the opposite happened. All credit to the Texans lines on both sides -- they played tremendous football. The Bengals missed Bobbie Williams mightily over the last month and change -- all the nastiness was leeched from the offensive line once he went down.

Still, I'm quite depressed, mainly as another year has passed without my team winning a playoff game, which they haven't done in my adult lifetime. Just once, I'd like to see the Bengals come up big in a big game. When we had a situation a la Houston's today, that is, a home playoff game after a long absence (2005), instead of a cathartic victory our franchise quarterback had his knee shredded on the game's second play, and we lost to our most hated rival. Just my cross to bear, I guess -- penance for being a Yankees fan, I suppose.

Detroit Lions 28 at New Orleans Saints 45

Mike Tanier: Notice how Calvin Johnson's touchdown celebration now involves holding the ball with as much ostentatious security as possible without using it as a prop. The modern NFL is a minefield.

Tom Gower: Pierre Thomas has had a couple pretty solid runs tonight where the Lions simply were not able to bring him down.

The Lions were having more success early throwing in Jabari Greer's direction than I expected, particularly with Titus Young. Even if the Lions weren't having success at Greer, there's still Roman Harper to target, and of course Patrick Robinson, who was in coverage on Megatron's touchdown to make it 14-7.

Aaron Schatz: I think a lot of those passes in Greer's direction aren't necessarily Greer in man coverage. There was one, for example, where Greer faded back to cover the deep area while a linebacker was supposed to drop back to be in front of Johnson, and Johnson got open past that linebacker.

I wish I had something insightful to say about this game, but so far (with 5:00 left in the second) it has gone pretty much as expected except that the Saints have fumbled twice.

Danny Tuccitto: OK, so for everyone who absolutely hates when people criticize officials, that Drew Brees fumble is why -- at least for me -- it's necessary. This is the pinnacle of the profession, supposedly the best in the business, and what we have here are multiple officials committing the most basic error of officiating mechanics, the inadvertent whistle, that costs Detroit a return touchdown ... in a playoff game no less! I mean, that's just inexcusable at this level. Judgment calls are one thing, basic officiating mechanics are quite another.

Ben Muth: Nick Fairley celebrates the first time he got near a ball carrier by slamming Thomas. He's lucky it wasn't a 15-yard penalty.

Vince Verhei: The technical term for that slam Fairley used is a "uranage."

Brees is 17-of-21 at halftime, the Saints are 3-for-4 on third down (and 1-for-1 on fourth down), and the Saints are losing.

Tom Gower: Stephen Tulloch is reminding me why I was glad the Titans didn't give him the kind of money he was looking for in free agency. Some poor tackling, some biting on playfakes to create holes, some deep zone coverage where he doesn't get deep enough.

The Lions really need a defensive stop here after punting the ball away down 17-14 early in the third, or this could get out of hand in a hurry.

Danny Tuccitto: I'm really hoping that, at some point, NBC's crack staff is able to drum up and display either (a) how many broken tackles Detroit has or (b) how many yards after contact New Orleans has.

Aaron Schatz: Lions don't cover Jimmy Graham at the goal line ... man, now THAT is confusion.

Ben Muth: Apparently the Lions are not buying into the Graham hype.

Danny Tuccitto: Amari Spievey has become the Chris Crocker of the late game. Two blown coverages for touchdowns the last two drives: Somehow not picking up Marques Colston quickly enough even though he's in perfect position as Brees releases the pass, then not even bothering to locate Graham on the goal line.

Tom Gower: The Colston touchdown was Tampa-2 coverage. It was Tulloch's job to carry the deep middle and make Brees's job hard. Instead he reacted aggressively to the playfake and didn't have proper depth, giving Brees and easy throw and making Spievey's job hard. Spievey has a hard enough time with his job that he doesn't need that kind of help.

Aaron Schatz: Matthew Stafford just chucked the ball 40 yards downfield -- it almost looked like he was trying to throw it wildly into the upper deck -- and instead it landed right in Megatron's arms. Man, that was a throw.

Vince Verhei: The Saints were rushing eight on that play.

Aaron Schatz: And then on the Stafford bootleg touchdown, I loved the fake jump over the goal line by Kevin Smith. Why? First, it fooled the cameraman completely. Second, Smith didn't actually fake-jump over the goal line. He fake-jumped over like the 1.5-yard line. I don't think he ever made it to the goal line.

Tony Corrente's crew was near the bottom of the league in calling offensive holding this season, and we're seeing a lot of stuff that could be called holding tonight. A couple plays ago, Carl Nicks basically straight-up tackled Cliff Avril with no flag.

Ben Muth: Corey Williams needs to quit complaining about holding and get off a block.

Vince Verhei: I think we can now crown the best offense of all time: It's the 2011 New Orleans Saints, but only on third down. Now 7-of-10 on thirds, 3-of-3 on fourths. They should just take knees on first and second down to avoid penalties and turnovers, then go to work on third.

So, who's the best safety in the draft, and will Detroit need to trade up to get him?

Robert Weintraub: Probably Mark Barron of Alabama, and if Detroit picks after Cincy, yes.

Danny Tuccitto: It's interesting -- nay, symmetric -- that both games today basically hinged on one team immediately turning an interception into a touchdown, and their opponent giving up a touchdown immediately after dropping an interception. That's reductionistic for sure, but quite a narrative nonetheless!

Rivers McCown: Tim Tebow just makes whatever you just said happen.

Robert Weintraub: I wish there was a way to go back and get an overall sense of offensive productivity after a defense drops a pick. Seems like every time the Bengals dropped one, the other team cashed in ... but of course, I only remember when that happened and not when the defense held them.

Tom Gower: Saints possessions in the first 55 minutes: touchdown, fumble, fumble, field goal (end of half), touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. If the Lions could get an actual defensive stop, they might not need turnovers.

Vince Verhei: Stafford-to-Johnson for another touchdown, that makes it 38-28 New Orleans. I ordinarily hate the non-surprise onside kick unless absolutely necessary, but the Lions pretty much have to try it here, right?

Rivers McCown: Detroit's safeties probably should spend the offseason working on the idea that Drew Brees is not actually going to throw the ball every time he winds up.

Danny Tuccitto: Great coverage by Tulloch on Graham to prevent the beating-a-dead-horse touchdown, but Thomas scores it on the next play instead.

Aaron Schatz: The Saints laugh at your silly notions of "running out the clock."

Vince Verhei: Collinsworth asks what adjustments the Saints offense made at
halftime. Cris, I can sum it up in two words: "Stop fumbling." That, and make sure you don't run out of time and have to settle for a field goal. Detroit couldn't slow New Orleans down one time tonight, except when the Saints dropped the ball.

Sunday, January 8th

Atlanta Falcons 2 at New York Giants 24

Rivers McCown: No Brent Grimes for Atlanta. That's going to take some air out of their tires.

Aaron Schatz: Boy, the Giants sure are intent on proving they can run the ball today. An off-tackle run on third-and-9?

Mike Tanier: Something something something punters something something.

Brian McIntyre: Midway through the first quarter, both defensive lines are dominating. Steve Weatherford's 38-yard punt that landed out of bounds at the Falcons' 10-yard line is the best play of the game.

Aaron Schatz: Falcons go for it on fourth-and-1 at Giants 24. Troy Aikman says: "As a road team in the playoffs, I would take the points here." I've never understood the conventional wisdom that being at home versus being on road changes the calculations of going for it on fourth. Unless you think the crowd is going to influence the officials when they spot the ball.

Mike Tanier: I think home versus road affects your overall risk level. And yes, I think it has influenced a spot or two over the course of history.

More important rule: You should always go for it on fourth down. Unless you are Mike Smith.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, but shouldn't the road team be more aggressive, not more conservative? Isn't the general belief that the underdog needs to be more aggressive to try to win the game?

Robert Weintraub: Yeah, as in the old adage "play for the tie at home, the win on the road." I think we've moved into the age of "criticize it if it doesn't work, regardless."

Tom Gower: "Play for the tie at home, the win on the road" actually theoretically makes some sense in baseball because the home team has more winning conditions than the road team. In football, the home-road differential is some combination of comfort level and officiating bias, so it's not nearly the same. I'm with Aaron here.

Brian McIntyre Interesting pre-snap shifts by the Falcons on that fourth-and-inches play. First the six-man offensive line shifts to the left, with right guard Joe Hawley moving to center. tight end Michael Palmer was lined up at outside left tackle. He steps back, wide receiver Julio Jones moves onto the LOS. Palmer motions from left to right. He moves onto the LOS and extra offensive lineman. Sam Baker becomes an H-back. Running back Michael Turner, lined up at fullback in front of wide receiver Roddy White, moves from offset right to an I-Formation. White motions to the right, Matt Ryan sneaks it up the middle for ... no gain and a turnover on downs. Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is interviewing for head coaching jobs in Jacksonville and Miami, by the way.

Vince Verhei: Yeah, that was "Let's be as cute as we can possibly be, and if we happen to pick up the first down too, that's a bonus." This is kind of a weird analogy, but I just saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie, and it's filled with wacky and unusual camera angles that add nothing to the story, and are often just distracting. It's like Guy Ritchie wants every shot to scream "Look at me! I'm directing!"

Well, that fourth-and-1 was Mike Mularkey screaming "Look at me! I'm coaching!" Has any team ever started a drive at their own 25 and gone backwards for a safety before? That was unbelievable.

The Falcons traded five picks for Jones to get a better deep threat, right? Because they've had four drives, 25 plays, and I don't think they've gone downfield once.

Rivers McCown: Midway through the second quarter, these offensive coordinators are doing a bang-up job of establishing that they can't really run.

And as I say that, the Giants run game has finally started to show some life.

Tom Gower: Good play by Curtis Lofton, scraping his way to the hole on that Giants fourth-and-1 play. Bad play by Lofton not making the tackle.

In some other world, people would not think the game currently being 2-0 in the second quarter is more than enough justification to believe Coughlin should kick the field goal there instead of going for it.

Mike Tanier: The running game, and an Eli Manning scramble, powers a Giants touchdown drive. Mike Smith must wonder why everyone gets to convert 4th and short but him.

Robert Weintraub: If the Falcs lose today, this offseason in Flowery Branch will be consumed by talk of "power situations" after last offseason's "explosion plays."

Mike Tanier: The Giants interior line is getting a lot of pressure. Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard have sacks. I think the Falcons are concentrating their pass protection on the edges.

Robert Weintraub: The Falcons have struggled to replace Harvey Dahl at guard all season.

Mike Tanier: Yeah, the "move Sam Baker inside" experiment lasted about a quarter.

Vince Verhei: Huge break for the Giants on that punt right after the two-minute warning in the second quarter. The returner failed to field it, and I thought the ball was going to roll deep into New York territory. Instead it hit and bounced backwards, going a good 10 yards before the Falcons could track it down.

Robert Weintraub: Aikman rightfully points out that the Giants should have asked for a measurement on that third-and-inches. They could also have used the opportunity to have the refs check the spot on replay -- live, it appeared for sure to be a first down. Instead, Big Blue punts, and lead at halftime by five when it could have been more.

Vince Verhei: I have no idea what Atlanta was doing at the end of the half. No-huddle, hurry-up offense, but not calling a timeout until four seconds were left? Going into the half with two timeouts wasted? What the hell?

Ben Muth: I have nothing to add after the first half except to say that both defensive lines are playing significantly better than the offensive lines. It's hard to call winning plays when you can't block the four guys up front.

Mike Tanier: The Giants have cut out the middle man and have started injuring each other. There is nothing quite so Giants as a play that features a batted pass and two injured defenders.

Aaron Schatz: I'm a great believer in the idea that in general, running the ball is better than passing the ball in short-yardage situations. But given how much the Falcons seem to get stuffed running up the middle, maybe they need to try passing it on fourth-and-1.

Robert Weintraub: Wow, I thought the Bengals were bad in short-yardage situations. Great push by Canty in the middle.

Tom Gower: Mike Mularkey is doing a great job of making Mike Smith's fourth-down aggressiveness look bad.

Mike Tanier: Smith won't be happy until the fourth-down probabilities are totally rewritten. Really though, how about giving your big power back a chance instead of running sneaks behind bad blockers into a great defensive line?

Vince Verhei: This.

Watching Detroit yesterday and Atlanta today makes me really appreciate how good the Seattle safeties are.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, I'm afraid we're going to be stuck spending another few days trying to defend the idea of going for it on fourth after this game.


Mike Tanier: The Giants did okay with it.

Aaron Schatz: Yes, but you are assuming that people will remember when fourth-and-1 works. In general, pundits only remember when fourth-and-1 fails. Plus, that whole "you have to take the points on the road" nonsense.

Mike Tanier: Turner just got blown up on third-and-1. How about, if you cannot block their defensive tackles, you should think twice about fourth-and-1 in field goal range?

Tom Gower: C'mon, Mike, what's your deal with slow-developing run plays on third-and-1 with no misdirection to even slow down the defense?

Mike Tanier: Human nature is about reducing risk in high-stress situations. It often defies probability, sometimes ridiculously so, but it is easy to understand, and even if I am a coach (teacher, parent) who understands the odds, I have to worry about the 49 people below me and the bosses above me who don't.

Robert Weintraub: I hate to dip into the college ranks for comparisons, but the reason Les Miles has his reputation is not only because he goes for it often on fourth down, but because he comes up with plays other than 22 Blast right into the teeth of the defense. His tight end-around on fourth-and-1 against Alabama a couple of years back is the best call in that scenario I recall seeing.

Mike Tanier: Reverses in short yardage will get you killed in the NFL. The Falcons tried two sneaks, one of them over-engineered, and also ran one fullback blast that didn't convert on third-and-short. I guess I am the only one on the thread that would have kicked two field goals in those situations. I mean, fourth-and-1 on the 45-yard line is a big difference from gimmie field goal range.

Robert Weintraub: I wasn't advocating the tight end-around necessarily, but they said zone read options would get you killed in the NFL, too. Practice something enough with a little misdirection and it works more often than not. If the defense is lined up in a way that doesn't look promising, call a timeout and kick.

The thing that is particularly deflating about getting stuffed on runs up the gut is the pride most teams take in physicality. Those plays linger more than most, for both sides. And Atlanta, for all its talk about getting more big plays, is at heart a power team, at least in their own eyes. They wanted to come into NYC and enforce their will up front. Maybe better not to fight that battle and use some wit too.

For all that, the Giants are clearly playing better in all facets. Look out Green Bay...

Aaron Schatz: The Falcons defense finally started to cave in the second half. They played well the first half -- the pass rush was stronger than I expected, and the run defense was mostly excellent. But they just couldn't win the game on their own.

Ben Muth: Ugh, I'm already sick of reading stories comparing next week's Green Bay/New York game to the New York/New England Super Bowl.

Vince Verhei: OK, I realize Joe Buck and Troy Aikman need something to talk about in the last five minutes of what has turned into a blowout, but harping on the fourth-down plays is ignoring the obvious: The Falcons have two points today, and the offense has zero. Maybe they should have kicked field goals on those two plays. So they'd be losing 24-8 right now.

Meanwhile, Atlanta is averaging 3.0 yards per rush, 4.8 yards per pass play. The real story here is that New York's defense completely kicked Atlanta's offensive ass. The fourth-down calls are nitpicking.

Robert Weintraub: Lost amid the Falcons no-show is yet another season without a single playoff victory for Tony Gonzalez. He has five catches in the last two playoff games with Atlanta, for 51 yards.

Mike Tanier: Just to over-clarify my point beyond tedium:

There are two things I am talking about right now. One is my skepticism that we are 100 percent right in stating that going for it in situations similar to the ones Mike Smith faced today is the correct strategy. The other is our lament that most other commentators, fans, and so on will not "get it."

The first, I fear, is an example of taking a firm general principle and applying it to a specific situation. "Teams should go for it far more often" on fourth down is a long way from "teams with offensive line issues facing a defensive line full of All-Pros should go for it early in what appear to be low scoring games when they are in easy field goal range." I am 100 percent certain that the general statement is true. The latter statement is a heck of a lot less certain. And frankly, whatever data we can cite to back up the latter statement is not going to make me comfortable. We have tons of fourth down data, but how much fourth-and-1 from around the 25-yard line between (let's say) evenly matched opponents data do we have?

As for the second, well, human beings miscalculate risk, and human beings coach football games, play them, and own the teams. There are marginal risks that you cannot just shrug off. You can invest every dime in the stock market, knowing that probability says that your long-term outlook is absolutely fabulous. And if your wife leaves you because she is terrified that you are some riverboat gambler with the family savings, and she would prefer a few grand in a nice savings bond, you can take as much comfort as possible in the fact that you are mathematically correct and she did not understand the probabilities. I think that while a lot of the "conventional wisdom" is just outdated strategy or silliness, some of it is the recognition that humans don't "work that way," and that the guys look to the scoreboard and see 3-0 or 10-6 and they react in a certain way that cannot be quantified but also cannot just be thrown out unless you have a lot more than a handful of data points.

That said. my conservative strategy would have resulted in a 24-6 loss, probably, because the Falcons don't get the safety if they kick the field goal. So who really cares?

Danny Tuccitto: As the guy here coming from an academic background, where these kinds of debates happen all the time, I'm fully on board with the idea that theory and practice often diverge for situation-specific reasons.

With that said, I think the more important consideration here is that it seems like any debate about fourth-down strategy conflates two decisions: (1) whether or not to go for it, and (2) what specific play to call. Should Smith have gone for it? The stats say yes, and a more comprehensive situational analysis says perhaps no. Whatever. But should those unimaginative quarterback sneaks have been called? I'm doubting anyone can make a compelling argument for "yes."

Elias Holman: To extend the stock market analogy perhaps too far, looking at the aggregate fourth-and-1 statistics is like comparing performance across sectors or financial instruments, like energy stocks or junk bonds, but that doesn't tell you how the market as a whole will do from day-to-day, and unlike with real life where you can invest in a sector or hedge, you only get the opportunity to execute a single play. So it's equally important to select the correct stock/play that you think will give you the best return.

I think they picked the right sector (go for it), based on the available data, but selected the wrong stock(s). Ultimately, if you twice are unable to pick up a yard or so on fourth down in a playoff game, no amount of strategizing and analysis was going to help you though.

I guess what I'm really thinking is, it's okay to say "don't go for it on fourth-and-1 if you are inside your own 20" or "don't go for it on fourth-and-1 against the Giants because they are really hard to move on short yardage," but it's odd to then say "don't go for it on fourth-and-1 if you are the Falcons, because the Falcons make terrible play calls on fourth-and-1".

Mike Tanier: Yeah, the second sneak in particular was lame. The first, while wildly over-engineered, can be justified as including the threat of drawing the Giants offside.

Robert Weintraub: It was almost as though the first sneak was designed after the coaches said to themselves, "everybody quick snaps the quarterback sneak -- let's do the exact opposite!"

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 at Denver Broncos 29 (Overtime)

Robert Weintraub: Turning to game two of the day -- that fumble recovery by Denver on its second play was pretty big for an early play. If the Steelers get a short field and punch it in for 10-0? Trouble.

Ditto the drop by Jerricho Cotchery with nothing but green in front of him. Denver has gotten some breaks so far.

Mike Tanier: Tim Tebow looks like lefty Ben Roethlisberger when he stands in the pocket for two minutes, pump-faking, before completing a third-and-12 bomb.

Aaron Schatz: The first Denver scoring drive demonstrates one of the weird things about the Tebow offense: We think of Tebow as throwing a lot of short passes, bubble screens and whatnot, but actually he has thrown a lot of deep passes. It's one of the reasons his DVOA isn't at the bottom of the league despite that horrible completion rate. They've actually got more of a 1970s passing game. They just went down the field on two plays: a 51-yard pass and a 30-yard touchdown pass.

Vince Verhei: Tebow was third behind Matt Schaub and Carson Palmer in yards per completion this year.

Danny Tuccitto: On Denver's touchdown drive to make it 7-6, two things stand out to me about Pittsburgh's pass defense: (1) they only rushed four on third-and-long, which allowed Tebow to do his scramble thing, and (b) turn your heads and make a play on the ball, guys!

Aaron Schatz: It's hard to figure out when I'm not exactly an expert on quarterback mechanics, but I'm trying to figure out how much Roethlisberger's foot is hurting him here. He's certainly got no problem launching the ball deep.

Danny Tuccitto: On third-and-long with about 13 minutes left in the half, when Roethlisberger audibled from shotgun, I thought for sure it was because he noticed there were no Denver defenders in the middle of the field, and Mike Wallace was running a (pick-aided) slant out of bunch.

Wallace runs the slant, has two steps and inside position on the defender, and Roethlisberger throws it to a man-covered Emmanuel Sanders on a fade? Perplexing, at least to these untrained eyes.

Mike Tanier: If the Broncos go up 21-6, what is the over-under on how many passes they throw for the rest of the game?

Aaron Schatz: Nearing halftime, it looks like the foot is a problem for Roethlisberger. He can't move in the pocket at all, which is a huge part of his game. And oy, that interception. It wasn't really that bad. He just overthrew Heath Miller by a little bit. The problem is that there was a Denver defensive back in zone sitting right behind where Miller was trying to catch the ball, so it went right into his hands. It's not a bad decision if Roethlisberger throws it accurately.

Mike Tanier: Watch him when he goes from shotgun to the line to talk to the center. He has this weird hobble when he is not thinking about where he is stepping. I think every step he makes is planned, and he is bracing for pain. That cannot help the throwing mechanics.

Tom Gower: So now Max Starks has a knee injury, but they're shoving him back in there at left tackle just because of the other options, and they can't trust their protection with a gimpy quarterback so they go empty with five-wide. I think Roethlisberger has really gotten a lot better, compared to a couple years ago, at getting the ball out in the quick passing game, but the doom-saying Steelers fans all recognize this as a recipe for potential disaster.

Danny Tuccitto: Tendency alert: When Miller is lined up on the inside of a bunch, but with his hands on his knees instead of flexed, it's a weakside run where Miller crosses the formation to block.

Ladies and gentlemen, your "Maurkice Pouncey is out" moment.

Mike Tanier: You didn't like that orbital snap by Doug Legursky?

Danny Tuccitto: I'm pretty sure Legursky's snap reached escape velocity. He was trying to one-up Balloon Boy.

Aaron Schatz: Pittsburgh really telegraphs its wide receiver screens with the motions and formations. Also, it doesn't help when they are backwards and fumbled.

Ben Muth: How are refs so bad at determining forward passes live? It seems like they've blown a lot of those calls this year, and this latest one just killed the Broncos.

Mike Tanier: I don't remember seeing that call botched once per year up until this season. This year, I can think of three "lateral or not" plays, all called grossly wrong on the field.

Rivers McCown: Maybe it has something to do with the placement of the referees now? There was a big hubbub about the refs moving to accommodate no-huddle stuff a year or so ago.

Aaron Schatz: The problem then made even worse by the early whistles which, in the case of this game, prevented the officials from reviewing the play and properly giving Denver the ball.

Vince Verhei: I enjoyed Mike Wallace's "f--k y'all!" salute to the Denver fans on his touchdown run.

Aaron Schatz: Tebow had those deep throws early and now he's actually zipping in a few nice medium-length throws. But Roethlisberger is also looking better ... he's actually moving around in the pocket, and rolled out to get the touchdown pass to Cotchery that tied it.

Rivers McCown: They have to have upped the painkiller dose at halftime.

Tebow's missed throw on third-and-8 of the Broncos last possession in regulation was just brutal. The kind of throw that his critics feast on. That said, it's hard to hate on anyone connecting on the deep ball as often as he is in this game.

Ben Muth; Of course Tim Tebow is the first quarterback to play with the new OT rules.

Aaron Schatz: Denver's pass rush really stepped it up on that last attempted Pittsburgh drive of regulation.

Rivers McCown: Yeah, they got pressure quite a few times with three-man rushes, then brought five on the Hail Mary. And it worked.

Aaron Schatz: And the new overtime rules prove to be meaningless when Ike Taylor can't tackle Demaryius Thomas.

Rivers McCown: Taylor had a really poor game.

Well, looks like all that New England hand-wringing about wanting the Texans to lose so they could avoid the Steelers was unwarranted.

Danny Tuccitto: Holy s--t, Ike Taylor needs to consider another profession next year.

Aaron Schatz: The thing is, Taylor had a great year, based on FO game charting stats. He just had his worst game of the year at the worst possible time.

Tom Gower: Would it be a bigger total pill move for (a) me to point out the Broncos tight end on the left side wasn't on the line of scrimmage, leaving them with only six men on the line and making it an illegal formation, or (b) the refs to have actually thrown that flag to negate the touchdown?

Rivers McCown: I know Ryan Clark wasn't much in our charting stats, but I have to think having him probably would have helped with the whole "Tim Tebow averaging 15.0 yards per attempt" thing.

This is the first time since 2006 that all the home teams advanced out of the Wild Card games.

Aaron Schatz: The Broncos really took advantage of how heavily the Steelers were playing the run all day. But Tebow hasn't been able to make those throws the last three weeks. Today he suddenly was making all of those throws.

Robert Weintraub: When John Elway says let 'er rip, you let 'er rip. Taylor needs to be forced to take the bus home.

Also, for all you "gotta get points on the board" folks, the team that scored first in every Wild Card game lost.

Tom Gower: That was a ... more interesting game than I expected, and one I enjoyed watching. For "officials, please have no impact on the game" reasons, I'm glad the Broncos won, as the blown backwards pass/fumble call was a game-changer. For other stuff, well, I though the Steelers were an overall better team, but, well, this is far from the first time a team I've thought was better overall has lost a playoff game.

And on the fumble-that-wasn't, Mike Pereira gave a more in-depth explanation to PFT that matches what I thought after taking a look at the rulebook. Particularly, the issue is the Hochuli Rule is only of a limited scope, applying to passer incomplete versus fumble, which that play obviously was not. I'm not sure I agree with his explanation of why the change was as limited in scope as it was, and personally believe the rule should be changed in the offseason.

J.J. Cooper: I'm a Steelers fan, so I know I have no room to complain about playoff losses. We've had a lot of good memories to go with the occasional gut-punch.

That being said, watching my team lose to a Tim Tebow-led team because of Tebow's passing does rank as the worst playoff loss I can remember in my personal fandom. The loss to the Titans in 2002 in overtime where a running into the kicker penalty gave the Titans a second attempt at a kick was tough. Dan Marino throwing all over the Steelers in 1984 wasn't fun either. The AFC Championship losses in 1994 and 2001 were brutal. But losing to an air-it-out Tebow attack? That's seeing your Florida vacation ruined by a surprise blizzard.

That being said, credit to Tebow for throwing with conviction, something he hadn't shown in recent weeks. And Thomas completely abused Taylor over and over.

If there's one thing to be said for the Steelers losing -- I'm rationalizing here -- after the refs blew that call on a lateral, if the Steelers had won, it would have clearly been in part due to an official's error.


326 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2012, 10:36pm

#1 by Charles Jake (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:03am

"Steelers had won, it would have clearly been in part due to an official's error."

And fans all over Seattle nod with a wry smile on their faces.

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#8 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:27am

Is that better than having lost because of an official's error?

There's a certain symmetry to it, but it's like the symmetry of a well-constructed sewer explosion.

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#10 by TomKelso // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:28am

Oh, come on, give him a break -- he's admitting he's had a problem -- don't step all over Step 1 of his recovery!

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#2 by MilkmanDanimal // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:16am

Pittsburgh did realize they could play somebody else with Ryan Clark out, right? I mean, they didn't just leave the deep middle of the defense open with no safety like it appeared? Was anyone, in fact, on the back end of that defense all day long?

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#4 by Tomlin_Is_Infallible (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:18am

In addition to being the best Gameday coach in the biz, Tomlin is also an exceptional DB talent evaluator. How dare you question his team, personnel, or decisions! He has single handedly taken them TO THE SUPER BOWL, man!

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#3 by The Voice (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:18am

I've thought this year TT looks a bit like Ben from his rookie year, too. Interesting. I wonder if Tebow can shorten up his throw a bit and get a little better on the timing type throws, as those are to me his biggest 2 weaknesses. He has a big arm and can move around to extend plays, so those are 2 things a a plus for him. I think he can be a good starting QB in the NFL, which is saying quite a bit.

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#39 by djanyreason // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:15am

Ben Roethlisberger, rookie season: 66.4% completion, 8.9 YPA, 5.8 TD%, 3.7 INT%, 32.8% DVOA

Tim Tebow, 2nd year: 46.5% completion, 6.4 YPA, 4.4 TD%, 2.2% INT, -18.3% DVOA

The similarity is where?

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#44 by Eddo // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:22am

He said "looks a bit like" Roethlisberger, not "produces the same results as".

Tebow can physically resemble other quarterbacks without being as good as them.

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#68 by The Voice (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:53am

I don't take it personally when other clearly misread my posts. I apprecaite knowing that some at least seem to be able to know the difference between one statement and another.

I have claimed all along that those who disparage Tebow are ignoring what seem to be clear strengths in his game: A strong arm, the ability to extend a play, and good short yardage running abilities. This certainly isn't enough to make him a success, but those are in fact things that Ben is good at, too, which was the point of my post.

I happen to believe in Tebow, but I certainly don't ignore the shortcommings in his game. I wish others who don't think he will make a good starting QB wouldn't ignore his strengths.

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#92 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:32pm

I'll this about Tebow. His athleticism has translated way better to the NFL than I thought it would. I thought his power running style would get him blown up by NFL linebackers, and he wouldn't be fast enough to avoid NFL defenders.

However, I think he might be worse throwing the ball than I expected.

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#166 by Mr Shush // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:33pm

My view all along was that Tebow had very little chance of succeeding as a conventional NFL QB, but that he might be the rare player who could successfully run a college offense suited to his strengths in the NFL (because he's built like a ceramic outbuilding and might be able to stay healthy while doing so). This season has not really changed my mind at all.

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#250 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 6:06pm

Makes one wonder how well he would do if the Broncos did not have a back like Willis McGahee as an option.

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#292 by beargoggles // Jan 10, 2012 - 12:33am

I don't get it. Does McGahee help or hurt him?
I think Denver should go all in on this, get more speedy receivers to stretch the defense and TE's that can block or receive competently, and the frequently cited Webb-type backup. If Tebow can improve his accuracy to anywhere near McNabbesque, the running and big plays will make the offense devastating, even if he actually throws an occasional pick.
Then again, 2 concussions or he doesn't improve, and the whole plan blows up in their faces.

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#312 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 10, 2012 - 9:14pm

McGahee helps a lot because he's a legitimate run threat with the read option. If Tebow is the only good run option back there then they don't need to crowd the line -- they just need to designate someone to shadow Tebow so he doesn't break the contain.

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#313 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 10, 2012 - 9:25pm

So he's about the same as 100 other backs. I'm not sure what your point is. Decent but not great running backs are a dime a dozen.

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#324 by Eggwasp (not verified) // Jan 12, 2012 - 4:02am

I think we need to see what 8 months of off-season gametape review by NFL defensive coordinators produces. Pittsburgh clearly got burned this week by a run-heavy defense that allowed TT shots at hitting the jackpot.
Remember how the wild-cat was going to change the NFL?
In that context - the Steeler QB he's most like might be Kordell Stewart rather than Big Ben.

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#6 by Independent George // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:20am

Ben Muth: Nick Fairley celebrates the first time he got near a ball carrier by slamming Thomas. He's lucky it wasn't a 15-yard penalty.

I have to disagree here - Thomas was still on his feet trying to move forward. Fairley was trying to prevent forward progress. Either he uses leverage to pull him back, or he lets himself be dragged for another three yards.

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#9 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:28am

Thomas broke how many tackles that game? And your going to rag on a Lion for effectively tackling him? I didn't see a flag on his belt.

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#16 by Dull Science (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:42am

Have to disagree with you on that one. There's a difference between a take-down and suplex. I think they teach to wrap up and tackle through the opponent, not wrap up and fall back. Fairley followed through and put his own weight to Thomas while going to the ground. Didn't have to do that.

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#22 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:53am

In the words of Harrison, should he have to provide a pillow as well?

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#32 by Dull Science (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:04am

Nah, just a mattress.

Just saying, in another contact sport (American college wrestling) rules say if you pick someone off the ground, you are responsible for their safe return. Doesn't mean it can't hurt, but you can't pile drive the guy into the ground. Harrison tackles, he doesn't throw. That wasn't a tackle, it was a throw.

Fairley did a suplex/fireman's carry/back shoulder whatever that was excessive and should've been flagged.

And the Harrison hit on Decker was legal, glad the refs didn't call that.

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#89 by Bernie (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:26pm

Yeah, but he did launch his helmet into his knee, causing a significant injury. You're honestly saying there was no other way to effect that tackle?
I'm all for "football is football" and whatnot, but Harrison's form of tackling seems to be "jam my helmet into exposed body part X, Y or Z". One day it's going to come back to bite him in the ass when he gets a significant neck injury from his technique.

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#124 by WeaponX (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 1:44pm

Harrison lead with the crown of his helmet. That's a no-no. It's unsafe for everybody involved.

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#304 by JMM* (not verified) // Jan 10, 2012 - 12:54pm

They did call him for a two hand push on Tebow.

Guess he'll have to only use one hand.

Reputations are a hard thing to live down.

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#35 by Independent George // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:08am

The thing is, Fairley caught him from the side in an arm tackle as Thomas was trying to blow past. If he tried a straight wrap & tackle, he's going to get dragged another three yards or more because his momentum is carrying lateral to the runner. If he wants to stop forward progress, the only leverage he has is to torque him backwards; putting him into the ground was a natural consequence of that motion, and not an intent to injure. This wasn't like driving a standing QB into the ground during a pass attempt - this was a runner being pulled backwards from the side during his run.

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#174 by zlionsfan // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:45pm

I'm pretty sure the throwdown came after the whistle, and not just a second after it either.

My impression of it as a Lions fan was that it was precisely the sort of thing that Fairley was accused of doing at Auburn ... and thus it was a step toward confirming my opinion that Saturday night's officiating was exceptionally poor. It certainly didn't decide the game, but as I saw it, there was simply too many missed calls where an official appeared to be looking directly at whatever was happening and then making exactly the wrong call. (Fortunately, replay reversed some of the worse calls, but unfortunately, you can't review everything.)

I read an article about officiating in EPL matches this season, and I think it touched on a similar point: it's almost like there's a bunker mentality going on. "Nope, no problems here, nothing at all, everything is officiated perfectly well, move along." That might have worked 20-30 years ago, but now, when we can see literally every play at our leisure (with the right subscription, of course), there's no hiding missed calls. The least the NFL (or EPL) could do is acknowledge the problem, even if it's not as simple to fix as I might wish it were.

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#198 by Dull Science (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 3:33pm

I feel mildly validated, this coming from a Lions fan and a gamecharter.

I'm also scared what the Detroit Lions will be next year, after they draft a competent CB and OL. Stafford will wait for the defense to force another turnover and just throw high to Megatron and Pettigrew. Scary.

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#298 by David // Jan 10, 2012 - 4:30am

The least the NFL (or EPL) could do is acknowledge the problem, even if it's not as simple to fix as I might wish it were.

Why? What's the upside for the league? It makes the league (slightly) less frustrating to watch, but it's not like the poor officiating is getting people to switch off, and poor officiating has the advantage of generating talking points, and letting fans of teams that don't win, complain about officiating, and they stay engaged as a result

I'm not saying that the league is deliberately creating an environment of poor officiating, but it's what I would do if I was commissioner...

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#325 by Eggwasp (not verified) // Jan 12, 2012 - 4:05am

Hey, its the only thing that kept even Al Davis watching the Raiders for most of the past decade.

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#5 by jimm (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:20am

One play on in the NO games that I thought the refs blew was a 4th down play where Brees lept up and extended the ball, then he immediately pulled the ball back. The key was he wasn't pushed back - he pulled it back of his own volition and then he was tackled. The refs appeared to mark the ball based on where he extended the ball thus giving him forward progress. But if you pull the back on your own - forward progress is only the point at which you are first contacted.

On the Brees fumble - I don't think one can presume a Detroit TD. A Saints player in the area clearly stopped running once he heard the whistle. I don't think he would have recovered the fumble but he may well have been able to make a tackle.

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#30 by Drakos (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:03am

I thought the same thing on the Brees 4th down attempt. What he did would have been fine at the goal line where you just have to break the plane but it doesn't seem like he should get credit for the forward progress when he then gave up that yardage without the defense forcing it.

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#43 by jimm (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:20am

I would certainly bet that's the case - but that fact doesn't mean the play was marked correctly. I may well be wrong based on some rule I'm unaware but I don't see that it makes any logical sense if there is such a rule.

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#257 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 6:36pm

Forward progress is nullified if the runner voluntarily moves the ball backward across the first down marker.

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#60 by jedmarshall // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:39am

I wondered this as well. I honestly have no idea what the rule is in that situation.

The mistake whistle/fumble/incomplete was a circus of bad offitiating. The Saints players clearly stopped trying after the whistle so you can't presume a touchdown, but still the whistle occurred before the recovery so even that call was wrong. Just a comedy of errors on that play.

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#140 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:02pm

My reading of A.R. 7.6, combined with the parameters necessary to give oneself up (must be on ground), indicate that this was an incorrect call, and forward progress should not have been awarded.

It was also a challengeable call.

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#95 by Jimmy // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:34pm

I thought Brees pulled the ball back after two Lions defenders grabbed his ankles and started pulling him backwards. That would legitimise Brees' actions and the refs' call.

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#115 by John Courage // Jan 09, 2012 - 1:24pm

I agree on both accounts. To me the Brees dive was just like a receiver catching the ball just past the sticks, then backtracking to try to get past a defender and being tackled short. It seemed clear Brees crossed the line then pulled the ball back on his own before being touched and never got the ball close to the line after that. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some subtlety to the rules that I don't understand, but I had the same thought when I saw it.

As for the Brees fumble, It wouldn't have been a clear, automatic touchdown, but it seemed certain to be a big return. I have a hard time believing it wouldn't be returned at least within field goal range. Obviously though if you give Detroit the ball, you can't award them a hypothetical return because NO had stopped at the whistle.

All in all it was really jarring to see such similar situations handled completely differently in the NO-DET and DEN-PIT games. The whistle came just before Detroit scooped it up, but at least according to Collinsworth "audio is not part of the review", so NO couldn't argue it's dead before Detroit recovered and the call was reversed. Then with Denver, it seemed the refs were telling Fox that they couldn't award him possession on a replay because the whistle had blown before the recovery. So, if Fox hadn't picked up his challenge flag, shouldn't they look at the play and see a clear Broncos recovery while not checking the audio that puts the whistle before the recovery? It seems in one case they reviewed until slightly after the whistle/"end of the play" and overturned a call, but in the other they would have stopped reviewing at the instant the whistle blows and the play "ends" and so couldn't overturn. Makes no sense to me.

I think another commenter said this is because the Hochuli rule change from that Cutler fumble in the SD-DEN game a few years ago about giving the defense the ball when there's a clear recovery after the whistle only applies to fumble/incomplete pass situations. Hope they change this. I don't see why it should only apply to one extremely specific type of turnover.

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#7 by PerlStalker // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:23am

<Fandom rant about Tebow's throwing ability with gratuitous "Air Tebow" references and excessive boasting.>

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#11 by RoyFlip (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:31am

"have the refs check the spot on replay -- live, it appeared for sure to be a first down."

As an unabashed Giants homer, was I the only one who thinks Official #100 was in the tank for Atlanta? He had half a dozen, um, questionable spots. I think he was also the one who flagged Williams for the personal foul for...tackling. Maybe it was Rex Ryan moonlighting.

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#17 by Kurt // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:42am

As a fellow Giants homer, I had no problem with the personal foul (if it's the one I'm thinking of, the emphatic tackle with about 5 minutes to go). The play itself wasn't too bad, but it was appropriate to make that call as a warning not to let the game get too chippy.

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#93 by mansteel (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:33pm

You were not the only one. I didn't single out a particular official (though I guess the line judge would be spotting the ball most of the time) but many people in our section were screaming about the spot on quite a few occasions. Of course, the favorable spot on the third-down Roddy White catch led to the Falcons going for it and failing on fourth, so that one worked out OK :)

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#204 by Bjorn Nittmo (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 3:45pm

I too was apoplectic about that non-first down sequence in the first half. Spot was atrocious, but Giants completely unnecessarily raced to the line to snap the ball when had they waited a few more seconds I'm sure the replay booth would have called for a measurement. And if they had to run a play, that would have been the perfect time for a QB sneak -- with 90 seconds and 2 or 3 timeouts, they had plenty of time. Could have easily created a 6-point or more swing (if that mistake cost them a field goal and if Atlanta had scored 3 before half), which at the time looked like was going to be very significant.

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#12 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:34am

Good point, and too often overlooked by people who take a stats-based approach, by Mike regarding how overall odds don't really inform us much as to the specific situation.

Has anyone done a study of the effect of silent counts, specifically, on offensive success? That might be a large factor in whether to kick the field goal (or punt) when playing on the road.

What if a great performance, alternating between cover your eyes awfulness, is what the basic Tebow is? Well, it'll be entertaining, if nothing else.

Somebody needs to say something about Eli Manning. He's great, and anybody who says he is significantly inferior to the other qbs people place at the elite level need to watch his play more closely. He's always had better physical tools than his brother, and his mental approach is now approaching Peyton's. Archie for NFL Father of the 20th Century. With the emergence of Cruz, Manningham getting back in the mix, the best pass rushing line in the playoffs, a good o-line, and Eli Manning, they might be able to cover their weakness in the secondary, and give the Packers all they can handle and then some.

It either seems as if Gunther Cunninghams's hands are tied by the weaknesses in the Lions defensive personnel, or that group is not well coached. Having an elite edge pass rusher would no doubt make Gunther appear much smarter, however.

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#20 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:52am

How many pass rushers does Detroit need to generate the desire results? They had a slew of d-linemen have good years this season.

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#56 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:36am

Oh, it is a high quality line, no doubt, and part of my observation is due to the Saints pass blocking really well, but there are edge rushers in New York, San Franciso, Minnesota, perhaps Green Bay, and some other cities, that I would hire before I'd hire anyone in Detroit, for that particular job.

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#91 by Bernie (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:31pm

I would say that Robert Mathis would be an excellent addition to that line, if the Lions can pick him up in free agency.

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#179 by zlionsfan // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:52pm

If it's to replace KVB, perhaps, depending on his cap number. Otherwise, no thanks. Avril is doing just fine, and is significantly younger than Mathis.

DL is definitely not the place the Lions need help, defensively. They need help at SS, CB, CB, CB, and CB. The LBs need to learn to play better together, but when the secondary is comprised of Delmas and smurfs, that's where Mayhew and Schwartz need to start. (Watching Houston and Wright cover taller receivers ...)

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#263 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 6:50pm

I wouldn't mind seeing Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young get more snaps in lieu of VandenBosch.

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#309 by Boo-urns (not verified) // Jan 10, 2012 - 5:53pm

Yeah the d-line would look a lot better if they had quality LBs and secondary backing them up. It's hard to stuff the run when your LBs can't tackle anyone, and it's hard to generate a pass rush when people are flying open almost at the snap.

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#262 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 6:47pm

The only edge rusher that Green Bay has right now of any worth is Clay Matthews.

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#272 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 8:09pm

That is who I was referring to, but that is obviously a different system, and not directly comparable. I was just mildly surprised at the lack of success the Lions' ends had on Saturday.

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#26 by Dean // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:57am

I'm not sure. Time will prove one way or another, but I think it's more likely that we'll look back and say taht 2011 was a career year for Eli, rather than 2011 was the year Eli finally put it all together and became an elite QB.

Either way, he's having a hell of a year and Giants fans should be enjoying the ride.

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#33 by DavidL // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:04am

I know it's been said before, but it is utter madness that you can look at the statistical year Eli had and say, without doubt or equivocation, that he was the third-best quarterback in his conference.

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#48 by Dean // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:28am

I'm a little puzzled. Is it utter madness to say that he was clearly the best? Or is it utter madness that he was this good and only the third best?

He had a hell of a year, any way you slice it. Brees and Rogers had statistically better years and I don't think anybody would argue that point.

After that, who had the better statistical year, Eli or Stafford? Or, depending on how much you value rushing, Cam Newton? Eli may have had the 3rd best season in the conference, but I don't think that it's clear cut.

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#53 by DavidL // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:34am

It's madness that he was this good and still doesn't even have an argument for being better than third.

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#83 by Joseph // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:15pm

If this is what you were trying to say in comment #33, this is much better wording. What's worse than what you said is that there are some folks that would rate Romo and/or Vick above him. And with Cam Newton (probably) getting better, he may never be the better than the 3rd-best QB in his conference--Brees still has a few good years left, Rodgers should have 8-10, and both he and Newton should play longer than Eli. It's a shame, as Eli should have a chance at the HOF if he plays like he has for another 7 or 8 years.

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#78 by dmstorm22 // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:08pm

I remember reading in the FO preview that Brees' ypa decreases the more rushers he faces, and then I watched the game and barely saw the Lions do anything other than rush their front-four. Those guards are too good, and holding is basically legal now. You have to do something more than rush four, unless you can have a Super Bowl XLII type game, which it was obvious from the start that the Lions were not having.

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#87 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:23pm

I disagree that Eli's has better physical tools than Peyton. Peyton has always been significantly more accurate, while Eli's gotten better, I'd still take Peyton's arm over his.

Also, Peyton looks taller to me on the field, but that could easily be an illusion.

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#154 by RichC (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:20pm

Agree here.

I've seen Peyton hit a Harrison/Wayne in stride 40 yards downfield way too many times, and seen Eli throw the ball too high for his 6'5 receivers too many times.

Eli put up an assload of yards this year, but I'm not seeing anything tremendous about 8 YPA, and a <2:1 TD:INT ratio, especially with all the offensive inflation this year.

Brady: 8.6 ypa, 65.6 c%, 39 TD, 12 INT
Rodgers: 9.2, 68.3%, 45 TD, 6 INT,
Brees: 8.3, 71.2%, 46 TD, 14 INT

ELI: 8.4, 61%, 29 TD, 16 INT
Stafford: 7.6, 63.5, 41, 16 INT
Romo:8.0, 66.3%, 31, 16

Eli is much better than I though he was going to be, but as good as his stats look, they're really not all that special this year. If he's elite, than so are Romo, Stafford, Ryan, and possibly Rivers(THIS YEAR). If you put aside the interceptions, Rivers' rate stats are pretty close to Eli, and we're talking about this being a huge decline for him. I mean, if Eli is elite, then we've got what, 8 or 9 of 32 starters who are elite?

Points: 0

#161 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:30pm

We don't get to put aside the interceptions, and the guys you mention play in places that are considerably more favorable to throwing the ball, compared to nortoriously windy northern New Jersey.

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#180 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:55pm

Discounted by DET's inability to run and their lack of WR depth.

(It says something about both Stafford and Megatron that defenses know he's throwing to him, and they still complete the pass)

Manning should get some bump for having a much worse receiving corp than the others, in a year when his RBs didn't help much.

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#184 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 09, 2012 - 3:09pm

"Discounted by DET's inability to run and their lack of WR depth."

If you say so, I remember the Vikings offense when it was basically just heave it to Moss every 4th play (with play 1 being throw to an open Moss, and play 3 being throw it to an open random scrub because Moss is drawing so much attention). I think CJ is close to an in-his-prime-and-motivated Randy Moss.

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#247 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 09, 2012 - 5:59pm

You do realize that Detroit's #2 WR is the same Nate Burleson who was that MIN team's #2 WR, right? He hasn't gotten any better in the last 7 years.

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#248 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 09, 2012 - 6:02pm

There is some nice symmetry there.

What I am saying is that the talent of the skill position players not named Calvin Johnson is largely irrelevant because he is that good.

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#236 by RichC (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 5:04pm

"Manning should get some bump for having a much worse receiving corp than the others"

According to what? Nicks and Cruz seem to have no problem getting open to me.

He's got worse TEs than NE/GB/NO, but hes probably got better WRs than NE (Welker is great, but Branch is not good at all), and NO.

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#237 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 09, 2012 - 5:09pm

The Saints are kind of strange in that the whole is greater than the sum of their parts. They work very well together and with Brees, and don't seem to care who has the big game each week.

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#285 by John Doe (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:21pm

Manning has Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1500+ yards 9TD 4th in DYAR 6th in DVOA), Hakeem Nicks (76 for 1192 7 td 9th in DYAR 22nd in DVOA) and Ballard (6th in DYAR and DVOA for tight end). All three of them are very young and getting better. While there are receivers/tight ends that are much better than Cruz, Nicks, or Ballard I'm not sure any group of receivers on a team is significantly better than Mannings.

I'm not just going by stats, I'm a Giants homer. Eli had a hell of a year, but the Giants receiving group is very good. In another year or two Cruz and Nicks will be household names.

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#280 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 9:51pm

I have to disagree a bit. Calvin has definitely shown the talent, but he never had anything like this kind of year before Stafford arrived. It's not as if CJ was leading the Lions to the playoffs with Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, Daunte Culpepper, and Shaun Hill throwing to him.

Calvin needed a Stafford as much as Stafford needed him.

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#178 by Independent George // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:51pm

The one thing Eli's always had over Peyton is his mobility, which is what I think he meant by 'tools'. That said, Eli's accuracy has improved dramatically since the days of whipping it eight feet over a leaping Plaxico Burress' head. While I wouldn't put it above Peyton at his peak (which was almost supernatural), it's been very, very good. This season, he's been consistently hitting his receivers in stride down the field while being chased from the pocket.

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#234 by RichC (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 5:00pm

No, we don't, but we're talking about an uncharacterisic season for Rivers in that he set a career high, and an uncharacteristic season for Eli in that he was radically lower than usual.

I just trust Rivers more to throw less than 20 INTs than Eli next year.

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#172 by The Powers That Be // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:43pm

That INT number for Romo is 10, not 16. Eli also fumbled the ball away more than Romo or Stafford.

By DVOA/DYAR and by passer rating, Eli sits in a big clump of guys after the very clear top 4 (Romo being #4). And this was Eli's best year. So yes, pretty much by any measure, if Eli is elite, so are a bunch of other guys.

Based on this year, the only guy outside the big three who has a claim to "elite" status is Romo, and his claim seems very very strong to me. (A healthy Schaub can also make a pretty good case). But the claim gets no traction anywhere (including FO) and instead all the buzz is about Eli. This was true even before the Cowboys-Giants games in December.

Points: 0

#187 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 3:16pm

Do you think it is coincidence that, if we look at that list through Schaub, that more than half play in stadiums where weather tends to be a non-factor? I'm not trying to be sarcastic; it is just that when evaluating qb performance, along with player interdependence, where a team plays can have, I think, a great effect on passing effectiveness, and on roster construction itself. This isn't to say domed stadium = passing effectiveness. Skelton, Painter, and Ponder L.L.C., dispel that notion. I just find it very plausible that regularly playing in a favorable venue for passing might have a real impact on the fine distinctions we make among above avaerge qbs, along with the player and scheme interdependence we normally try to account for.

To risk bringing in the irrational thread, the argument I've always thought best favored Mr. Bundchen was that he played in a place less conducive for passing, and had a roster around him that reflected that fact for the first half of his career.

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#232 by The Powers That Be // Jan 09, 2012 - 4:50pm

First of all, something like half the league's teams play in places where the weather isn't a big factor, so the fact that half the top QBs do doesn't seem all that compelling.

Even so, perhaps it makes a reasonable argument for nudging Eli above Stafford, Ryan and Rivers. Enough to bump him up all the way to Brees and Romo? I'd be pretty skeptical, especially given that the Giants played only one home game where the temperature was sub-40 (yes, the wind can also be a factor). Is there a study on park effects on passing? Seems like there ought to be.

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#233 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 4:57pm

Wind is THE factor. Cold doesn't usually matter that much. Rain and snow, without wind, can actually aid the passing. Wind really, really, affects accuracy.

I love Brees and Manning the Elder. I don't think either of them would have had the numbers they compiled if they had played their careers, with the same GMs, in New York, Buffalo, or Chicago, among other places.

Points: 0

#239 by RichC (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 5:12pm

You don't think there's plenty of wind in NE or GB? I've never been to Lambeau, but Gillete is terrible in the winter. One entire end of the stadium is basically open.

I have been to the Meadowlands, and I don't remember it being bad (with Gillette/Sullivan statium as my baseline)

I do agree that the indoor guys wouldn't have compiled as big numbers outdoors, but I don't think Eli's numbers are all that impressive this year. I think they're a result of the lockout skewing passing numbers high. I mean, c'mon, Eli threw for 4933 yards, and was 4th in the league. Thats not normal. We had 3 guys throw 40+TDs, and a 4th at 39.

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#244 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 5:49pm

Uh, if you would read what I wrote, you'd see that I do think there is wind in New England, and I certainly wrote nothing to imply that it does not exist in Green Bay.

I think advanced metircs are a real improvement. I think we are really fooling ourselves if we think they have adjusted for other effects, like venue, coaching, roster construction, etc., well enough to give us the ability to make very fine delineation between two good players. Which is why, the more I watch football, the less willing I am to get into the typical "x is clearly better than y" argument.

Points: 0

#294 by Staubach12 // Jan 10, 2012 - 12:55am

Romo only threw 10 interceptions this season, not 16.

Regarding elite status: it all depends on how exclusive you want to be. All of the 32 starting QBs are elite by many definitions.

Any one of the top 10 QBs in this league is good enough to take a good (but not great) supporting cast to a championship. That's elite in my book. So, yes, I would call Eli elite.

Points: 0

#99 by Junior // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:45pm

"It either seems as if Gunther Cunninghams's hands are tied by the weaknesses in the Lions defensive personnel, or that group is not well coached. Having an elite edge pass rusher would no doubt make Gunther appear much smarter, however."

Watching Gunther's Chiefs defensive units from 95-00, and then again in 2004-08, there are a few constants regardless of talent level:

1. Reckless overpursuit in every situation
2. Shoddy tackling
3. Stupidity

But they do all of those things with toughness and grit, by god!

Points: 0

#143 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:08pm

I can represent to you that the last 30 years of Lions defenses have featured #2 and #3 in spades, but usually without the toughness and grit.

I remember in pee-wee level football our coaches using the Lions secondary as an example of how not to tackle, and what happens when you just dive with your shoulder.

But I'm not going to get all that worked up when the two best offenses of a ridiculously unbalanced offensive year cut up a Lions defense which is only two years removed from historic ineptitude. 24 months ago, it was the Tavares Jacksons of the world that were doing that.

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#181 by zlionsfan // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:55pm

and not only that, but they did so while having defenses that were worse than the Cunningham-coached Lions are right now.

If this is the direction the NFL is heading, why bother to upgrade the defense? Give the Lions two new tackles, a new center, healthy RBs to complement Smith, and maybe another hybrid TE.

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#282 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 9:56pm

I'd like to see better tackling, even if they don't improve on the other two items.
Shoddy tackling seems to be a hallmark of the new NFL. It must start at the college level.

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#216 by commissionerleaf // Jan 09, 2012 - 4:24pm

I agree about Manning, but his receivers are pretty hit and miss (which is a big reason he is not as highly touted as Roethlisberger or Rivers, to name only two quarterbacks I am confident he is simply better than). Manningham has terrible hands and both he and Nicks run a lot of bad/wrong routes. Cruz is better-ish, but doesn't have elite physical tools.

The offensive line is also no longer an elite or even very good unit.

Points: 0

#13 by Anon (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:36am

1) Who is Elias Holman?
2) The past 2 weeks the Detroit Lions have been screwed by the officials in critical situations. The Titus Young no-TD vs. the Packers, the no-fumble-return vs. the Saints, quite some more than favorable spottings by the line officials on 3rd and short, the Brees' sneak whistled down JUST after he crossed the 1st down marker (he was NOT down yet, and fumbled in the process if I recall the play well). I think Lions fans have a lot of fodder to complain about the NFL screwing with them because, perhaps, their rogue style of playing, ala Raiders during the 70s and 80s.

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#69 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:54am

Elias Holman is our technical director. You may remember him commenting after the Super Bowl last year, as he lives in Milwaukee.

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#14 by Independent George // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:39am

Here's my subjective take on Mike Smith's 4th down calls.

As a Giants fan, when I saw they were going for it, my reaction ws, ohshit. In a low scoring game, I was much more worried about Atlanta gaining a half yard and having another 3+ chances at scoring a TD than I was of them remaining ahead by 1 possession. Being down 5 points, or being up by 2, didn't worry me much, but converting scared the crap out of me.

I think it was a good risk in each situation - I just think that they need to go into each game expecting ready for that situation, and working on it in practice. Not that I know they don't do just that, but to me, they looked somewhat uncertain each time. Go for it or don't, but be ready for it and be certain about it when the situation arises.

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#21 by BJR // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:53am

But what about the time he punted on 4th & 1 from around the Giants 40 (just out of field goal range)? How does that fit in? The decision making and play-calling were both awful. Just terrible coaching.

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#58 by Independent George // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:37am

I was relieved when he punted. The way the Giants were moving the ball since the half, I figured that at the very least, they were going to hold on to the ball for another 5 minutes, and probably get at least 3 points. Tynes wound up shanking it, but they held on for six and a half minutes and put the game away regardless.

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#65 by jedmarshall // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:47am

I was fine with the first 4th down attempt. I questioned the 2nd. They were down 10-2 at the time. They need a TD and a 2-pt and haven't been moving the ball well (short yardage or at all). Why not take the easy 3 to make it 10-5? It's not quite black and white as there was enough time to score more than once, but I think you have the factor in the likelihood of a 2-pt conversion in your calculations there too.

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#208 by Bjorn Nittmo (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 3:55pm

I totally agree with Independent George -- as a Giants fan, I would have been thrilled to see the kicking unit come on in either case, and I was indeed happy to see the punting unit come on. I say he should have gone for it there too, but I think punting was defensible there given the position on the field, the struggle the Giants offense had been having to that point, and the score. Even in retrospect, Smith could rightfully argue that had they made it one of the 2 times they attempted 4th-and-short and gone in for an ensuing TD, that's more points than 2 field goals.

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#219 by RICK2 (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 4:27pm

I completely agreed with the first attempt. Made sense. Make an early statement OR find out what your team can't do. He found out what they couldn't do, but did it again later, anyway.
Down 10-2, you get the 3 and position yourself for a strong defensive stand. Letting the air out of the balloon by not picking up the 4th down just demoralizes the defense. "Cr*p, I have to go in again and hold them? WTF?" I know professionals "don't think that way". Yeah, right. Don't tell Buddy Ryan and Gilbride that!

BTW, somebody in the original article says if they'd gone for both field goals the Falcons would've lost 24-8. No. They'd have lost 24-6. The safety was related to the turnover on downs. There's no way to impute that the Giants wouldn't have had a good return on the kickoff had the Falcons kicked a FG, thus avoiding the safety. Then again, they may have had a bad return and had the safety anyway. But it's not guaranteed that you get both - you more likely get one or the other.

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#15 by Dean // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:41am

Nice work, Vince, Urunage. I've never been into martial arts, but it was still good to learn something today.

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#18 by JS // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:43am

Last year I was raving about JJ Watt's excellent hands, and how he doesn't miss tackles once he gets to the QB or RB, and how that was probably a part of his game that talent evaluators might not appreciate. I didn't realize it would also come in handy for intercepting passes at point-blank range. That was teh awesome.

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#23 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:54am

Must be a small amount of satisfaction to Watt sticking it to Dalton after Andy yapped at the WI defensive line in the Rose Bowl.

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#46 by TC (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:26am

That's definitely what everyone back in Madison was saying, for sure.

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#19 by 40oz to Freedom (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:48am

I know Pittsburgh's O-line was ravaged by injuries, but wow, Denver just picked them up and spanked them. Don't think I've seen that many bull-rush/speed-rush knock a 300 lb guy down since...the Raven's D-Line in their prime.

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#25 by Independent George // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:56am

More impressive was the fact that they did it with a three-man rush at the end of regulation. Three DL vs five OL, and all three were in the backfield on a straight bull rush. That was amazing.

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#24 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:55am

While I concur that the Giants defensive line looked very good I will also point that this same forum mocks the general media for getting unduly excited about the Wild Card winners ignoring that better teams have had the weekend off to rest and observe their next opponent.

And GB beat the Giants short-handed and at the Giants stadium. Not trying to be PaulM, crazed Packer booster.

Just pointing out facts.

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#49 by Independent George // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:30am

I'm not trying to be a homer, either, but the Giants were also shorthanded in that game (as they have been most of the year).

Green Bay is no doubt the superior team overall, but the Giants are not the same team they were a month ago. Realistically, nobody outside of Corey Webster can cover anybody, the whole defense gets confused in the no-huddle, and the linebackers are consistently out of position on screens & cutbacks, but damn that DL is beautiful. The team as a whole is overmatched, but that one unit is good enough to give them a fighting chance; that's really all I can ask for as a fan.

Put it another way - once you're in the postseason, it doesn't matter if your team is blown out or squeaks by with a narrow win. The Giants' best chance is with a high-variance strategy, and what are the Giants if not wildly, maddeningly, brilliantly inconsistent?

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#66 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:48am

You can't beat the Packers if Rodgers is allowed to be comfortable, and even then, it won't be easy. Blitzing him is likely to prove disastrous, as his speed of recognition is just too damned fast.

The best chance of making Rodgers significantly less effective is if you have multiple pass rushers, of players who normally pass rush, having good days. The Giants have more players with that potential than anyone else, and they can rotate enough to keep people frsh into the 4th quarter. They may get crushed all the same, but they are as likely as any team to have three such players combine for a harried day for Rodgers.

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#71 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:56am

Agreed. Chad Clifton is coming back for this express purpose, to neutralize to some extent Pierre-Paul's edge rush.

With Josh Sitton healthier and Scott Wells having his best season I suspect McCArthy believes the interior will be handled. His focus is the edge rush. and he does not want to have Finley blocking.

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#85 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:20pm

Well, the Giants need the interior guys to do well enough to make stepping up problematic, while getting the performance from the edge as well. It's takes multiple rushers, working together, to pull it off, which is a testament to how good Rodgers is. Most teams simply don't have the personnel to make that more than a very long shot. The Giants do, which is why it is such a fun game, for someone who has no rooting interest, to look forward to. All I want is a one score game in the 20s or less, with 8 minutes to go.

I will say this to Packers fans looking for a reason to have insomnia this week; beware the young player, possessed of extreme physical talents, who understands that 3 hours of dominance might be worth forty or fifty million bucks, because that's what Pierre-Paul might be looking at. Clifton's a real flat-liner pro, however, who will be as mentally prepared as any tackle would be, so again it's a great game to look forward to.

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#164 by Matt Slowinski (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:32pm

The referees also blew a TD pass to Ballard towards the end of the game which resulted in a Giants FG, when pictures after the game showed his knee to clearly be in bounds. The Giants lost by 3, those 4 extra points could have made all the difference.

I think the biggest factor in the game next week is going to be if Eli and the offense can keep scoring with the Packers. They managed to do so in the regular season, but if the offense starts out as slowly as it did against Atlanta I don't see this game going well for NY.

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#175 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:46pm

Oh, I agree; the Giants' offense mindset should be that they need to score at least 30 points, with at least 17 points in the first half. It may seem counterintutive against the Packers, but they should consider going no-huddle at times in the first half, if the crowd allows it. Did Lambeau's remodel make it any louder? It's never seemed to be an especially noisy venue. I just think the Giants need to be hyper-committed to scoring as quickly as possible, so as to allow their defensive line to be as committed to rushing the passer as possible.

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#283 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:10pm

Lambeau has never been known for having a big noise advantage, except that they always sell out, but the Packers aren't known for having an exceptional home field advantage. Not like the Vikings had, because the HumperDome is very loud (not to mention that the players all hate the dumpy stadium). Lambeau also probably has too nice and comfy a playing surface. The one advantage everyone talks about is January weather, but that's not guaranteed.

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#286 by dmstorm22 // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:32pm

They hadn't lost a home playoff game through 2001.

Of course, they then proceed to lose three of their next five, with one of those wins requiring OT (admittedly, one of the losses did as well).

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#28 by rengewnad (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:59am

bronco homer here still miffed about no-call facemasking penalties on tebow 2 weeks in a row. both of them were with him still in the pocket, and against PIT a call would have sustained a late 4Q drive with a chance to ice the game.

i ask the interwebs:
how unlikely is it, due to the past couple years of "don't football my quarterback" rules in the NFL, that a starting QB had his head ripped off and facemasked one week, and the next week gotten smacked and pulled by the grill and yet BOTH are no-calls.

i fear a tear in the fabric of space next week if this no-call trend continues with brady present on the opposite sideline.

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#41 by Eddo // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:16am

This week, the facemask play should not have been a penatly; it was an inadvertent grab, without twisting or pulling. Under the old rules (5+ years ago), it would have been a five-yard penalty; however, that foul was taken off the books recently, so only the 15-yard personal foul variety remains.

Last week, I thought Hali grabbed the back of Tebow's helmet, not the facemask, and pulled. I honestly do not know if that action is a foul, but it was not a facemask foul.

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#61 by Joshua Northey (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:42am


Plus it is a well known fact that bigger stronger QBs get much less ref protection than scrawnier ones. Thems the breaks. Probably the same reason teams in dark colors get more penalties. The refs are human.

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#62 by Lance // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:43am

One would have to watch a replay to see it more clearly, but this is the wording of the penalty:

Article 5 No player shall twist, turn, or pull the facemask of an opponent in any direction.

Penalty: For twisting, turning, or pulling the mask: Loss of 15 yards. A personal foul. The player may
be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be of a flagrant nature.

A.R. 12.12 Third-and-10 on A30. Runner A1 runs to the A33, where he is tackled by B1, who incidentally grasps A1’s
facemask on the tackle, but it is not a twist, turn, or pull.
Ruling: A’s ball, fourth-and-seven, on A33. No Foul.

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#223 by commissionerleaf // Jan 09, 2012 - 4:32pm

Yeah, I think the biggest danger to the Patriots is Brady complaining to the refs about roughing when the Broncos offense is on the field. Similar colors, Pats will be up big and let Mallett get some reps, so Brady's on the sideline... I could totally see him getting confused.

Denver can play with an injury riddled Steelers team. Denver cannot play with the likes of NE, GB, and NO.

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#29 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:59am

It will be interesting if the refs take the same hands off approach (no pun intended) to the games this week.

If so that will help the GB secondary a LOT.

And the offensive line if holding the likes of Pierre-Paul is excused.

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#34 by 12th Man (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:07am

The only observation of note I have regarding the weekend's games was that I think they all featured at least one "Illegal Procedure - 12 men in the huddle" penalty being called. Which seems quite a high frequency for what isn't generally a very common penalty.

I suspect the spot-betters!!!

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#37 by New Orleans Joe (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:11am

The meme that the officials cost the Lions a touchdown with an inadvertent whistle has to be the stupidest meme around this week - right up there with Mike Smith is an idiot for 4-1, and Payton is a genius for the exact same decision.
The whistle blows with the clock at 5:35, and Colston is diving for the ball with two defenders. The ball squirts out towards the nearside (offensive left side) and Meachem is a couple yards away, and he is just walking casually, while two Lions players try to scoop it. Nicks is a few yards away on the other side. There is no way that they get such a clean scoop if Nicks and Meachem don't both stop because of the whistle - there is no reason to think that they would have even recovered the ball - it is a lot harder to pick up a live fumble than to scoop a fumble contested by two opposing players.
The Lions almost certainly would not have been able to advance the fumble.
By rule, the ball should have belonged to the Saints and that would have been the fairer outcome, because there was no recovery at the time of the whistle. There is a reason for that rule - once the whistle blows, play stops, and you can't just assume that the team that casually bent down and picked the ball up would have done the same on a live play.

On the Brees 4th-1 sneak, he extends the ball about a yard past the first down marker, then brings it back to his helmet, when he is contacted and pushed back. Unless you think that his arms extend a yard past his helmet, he was still past the first down marker when he brought the ball back to his helmet. The officials marked the ball out to where his original extension was, which was wrong, so they gave him about two feet extra, but he still picked up more than enough for the first down.
The only way that he should have been ruled short would have been if the ball came out and there is no reason to think that it did.

If Lions fans want to know why they lost, its because they could not bring Pierre Thomas down on first contact - PT is the exact opposite of Reggie Bush who always goes down on first contact - and because they allowed receivers to get open 30 yards downfield 6 different times.

BTW - the "dropped interceptions" also got way to much play. Two of them happened on the field goal drive right before the half - and one of those was a very tough play, and a third was not so much dropped as broken up by Robert Meachem.

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#103 by Bernie (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:51pm

Dude, your entire piece is filtered through your New Orleans homerism. I am in full agreement that the blown whistle did cause most of the New Orleans team to just stop where they were, but I'd say it was still a 90% chance Detroit recovered that fumble since it went straight to 2 lions defenders, and there was open field in front, so probably a 50-50 shot of the return, and almost 100% of moving into field goal range.

And 2 of those interceptions were in the players hands, and dropped. The one by eric Wright most likely would have been a pick-6, and the other deep in lions territory would have just killed the drive. These are some pretty major turning points in the game, that makes it completely different.

Points: 0

#201 by New Orleans Joe (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 3:42pm

The one by Eric Wright was broken up by Meachem - he made a really nice play and brought his arm through ball, and knocked it to the ground.
The big drop was the one by Berry inside the 10 in the 4th quarter down 3, and if he makes that catch, then the Lions probably cover.
But, people are talking about 4 INT's, two are on the same drive, so at worst that takes away 3 points, and the third was a good play by a Saints player.

And, if you watch the play, and see where meachem and nicks are when the whistle blows, you will see that there is no way the lions would have been able to scoop the fumble. I agree that they were more likely to recover it, but there would have been NO return. The closest to it, is on the ground, and he quits on the play, and the guy who actually picked it up hurdles him, and scoops it. With no whistle, there is a dogpile, and there is no advance.

Points: 0

#249 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 09, 2012 - 6:06pm

The guy who was on the ground played as if it were a fumble, and got blown up by Tulloch for his trouble. I can't speak to what Nicks would have done.

Points: 0

#183 by zlionsfan // Jan 09, 2012 - 3:03pm

If you're coming here to complain about Lions fans whining elsewhere, it's bad form to say the least. If it's to complain about Lions fans here, be specific, please. Most of us know exactly what the problem was ... the Saints were the better team and played like it.

That doesn't change the fact that the Lions dropped several interceptions, nor that interceptions are pretty significant, especially in a game where one team does not punt. In a three-possession game, three additional turnovers would make a huge difference even if the Lions did nothing with them (as they did with the two they actually forced).

You could have simply said this and made a much better point: "The reason why the Saints won is that they were the better team and played like it, regardless of what calls were made on the field. If Lions fans don't like the calls, then their team needs to play well enough to overcome those calls." If you find a Lions fan who believes that Detroit played better but was robbed, feel free to ignore that fan, because they certainly weren't watching the same game I watched.

Points: 0

#226 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 4:42pm

I wish there was more work done with obviously dropped interceptions in a timely manner; they seem to have a huge influence on outcomes, but they aren't talked about the day after a game in the manner that other metrics are.

Points: 0

#241 by Perfundle // Jan 09, 2012 - 5:42pm

Well, a DB's job is to prevent the receiver from catching the ball, and interceptions are only a bonus. The ball is not being thrown for them to catch, so they're usually not in a good position to catch it, and thus they're not expected to catch them (WRs without hands, etc.)

But yes, dropped interceptions and fumbles recovered by the offense are extremely important events that get washed out in the analysis (how would the Denver-Pittsburgh game have been like had any one of the four fumbles gone the other way?) in favor and sacks and third-down stops, which are far less important as far as WPA is concerned.

Points: 0

#273 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 8:18pm

No, the db's job is to help win games, and that includes catching the ball. Many drops occur on passes where even if the db whiffed completely, and didn't touch it, the receiver still had no chance on a reception. The failure to add any value, given a clear chance, is a really bad mistake by a football player, and it should be measured, and I wish that measurement was more easily, and more quickly, available.

Points: 0

#284 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 10:14pm

Well, there *is* that old saying: "If he could catch the ball he'd be a WR, not a CB."

Points: 0

#318 by Subrata Sircar // Jan 11, 2012 - 6:19am

Terry Bradshaw had a pithy remark along those lines (after beating Houston by throwing some jump balls to John Stallworth, IIRC): "I learned two things a long time ago. First, if defensive backs were such good receivers they'd be on offense. Second, never mind, just throw it: no one's going to out-jump Stallworth."

Points: 0

#319 by Mr Shush // Jan 11, 2012 - 8:21am

If he'd played thirty years later, I'd have been interested to see him put his "if defensive backs were such good receivers they'd be on offense" theory to the test against Ed Reed twice every year . . .

Points: 0

#322 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 11, 2012 - 1:23pm

With his luck he probably would have ended up on the 90s Vikings with Moss and Carter.

Points: 0

#293 by beargoggles // Jan 10, 2012 - 12:54am

It would also be interesting to know how much variance there is year-to-year in interception dropping. It seems to me like the 49ers this year have had an exceptionally high catch percentage on possible interceptions, including several of high degree of difficulty (this is the one team I watch every week). Especially given Carlos Rogers' alleged history of dropsies, this seems surprising. Maybe the 49ers make it a priority or work on it in some way, or maybe (like everything else going for them this year), they are doomed to regress to the mean.

Points: 0

#274 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 8:18pm

No, the db's job is to help win games, and that includes catching the ball. Many drops occur on passes where even if the db whiffed completely, and didn't touch it, the receiver still had no chance on a reception. The failure to add any value, given a clear chance, is a really bad mistake by a football player, and it should be measured, and I wish that measurement was more easily, and more quickly, available.

Points: 0

#287 by dbostedo // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:08pm

"Unless you think that his arms extend a yard past his helmet, he was still past the first down marker when he brought the ball back to his helmet."

I do think that between Brees' little hop and lean forward over the line, and his arm extension, that he stuck the ball over a yard past where it would have been spotted based on where he brought it back to. So no, I don't think he should have gotten a first down.

But I can't find a clip or photos anywhere, so it's hard to say now. Maybe it'll be on NFL network.

Points: 0

#326 by dbostedo // Jan 12, 2012 - 10:36pm

So there was a replay on NFL network, and Brees did have the first down even after he brought the ball down, as he fell forward into the line quite a ways before the push back came. He actually could have just jumped with the ball tucked, and extending out the way he did was actually a needless risk as it turns out.

Points: 0

#38 by Tomlin_Is_Infallible (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:14am

"Would it be a bigger total pill move for (a) me to point out the Broncos tight end on the left side wasn't on the line of scrimmage, leaving them with only six men on the line and making it an illegal formation, or (b) the refs to have actually thrown that flag to negate the touchdown? "

But that would only serve to help temper the "steelers always get the calls" rage from crybabies who only see the calls that help fuel that meme. The fact that it would offset the "backwards pass fiasco" is irrelevant.

Points: 0

#141 by WeaponX (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 2:07pm

Meh. If the correct call had been made on the backwards pass play then the game never sees OT. The plays don't offset at all, not even close. One was worth 6 points, the other 10-14.

Points: 0

#40 by bigtencrazy (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 11:16am

Why did coaches hold onto time outs at end of halves? Along with Smith in the early game Mike Tomlin didn't call a TO after the big completion to Brown on the final drive of regulation.

Anybody have an idea?

Points: 0

#98 by Tomlin_Is_Infallible (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:43pm

If a guy can single-handedly take a team to the SB you shouldn't question his decision making. COME ON!

Points: 0

#106 by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2012 - 12:57pm

Was Omar banned? I didn't follow his comments closely, but he didn't seem significantly more deranged than some other, er, tightly focused, commenters who visit here.

Points: 0

#137 by Tomlin_Is_Infallible (not verified) // Jan 09, 2012 - 1:58pm

The above is a REALLY misleading summary.

As I recall, after being warned about "insults" I initially behaved with respect to warnings about them (For about 1-2 months IIRC, but not sure) until Barnwell ignored that other people were insulting me with free rein. I asked for them to be warned/stopped as well and when it was clear that my requests were being ignored I said fark it , there is clear favoritism with respect to these rules and started insulting people *who were insulting me*. I was then banned , yes.


Points: 0

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