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

Audibles at the Line: Week 1

compiled by Rivers McCown

This year, we have a new format for our Monday morning feature Audibles at the Line, combining our Twitter feeds with our email discussion. First, we're replacing our usual back-and-forth with some longer-form dissection of each game that at least one of us watches in depth. Second, every game that we find time for will also have a selection of tweets from us and a few reader tweets we found particularly insightful. To follow these tweets live on Sunday, or to contribute your own thoughts or a question for the FO staff, you can use hashtag #foaud. We discussed the new format in this post.

On Monday, we will compile a digest of tweets and e-mails to produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed, not entirely grammatically correct, and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

Audibles is still being written from our point of view, meaning 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 49ers 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. Audibles is often written from a fan perspective as much as an analyst perspective; in order to properly accuse FO writers of bias, please check our FAQ.

Feel free to comment not only about Sunday's games but about this new Audibles format. It's still a bit of a work in progress.

Sunday, September 8

Tennessee 16 at Pittsburgh 9

FO Staff Tweets

Scott Kacsmar: And the award for most embarrassing start to a season in 94 years of NFL history goes to the 2013 Tennessee Titans.

Scott Kascmar: Titans show blitz, but rush four. Might want to actually bring that heat on third-and-long against the Steelers. #foaud

Tom Gower: As a fan of the opposing team, I applaud Todd Haley's affection for WR screens #foaud

Tom Gower: Jurrell Casey has given a #Steelers interior OL missing its best player fits today. #Titans #foaud

Aaron Schatz: Pittsburgh offense is challenging my ability to resist #nationaljumptoconclusionsweek #foaud

Scott Kacsmar: If the Steelers cannot get on the board against Tennessee, what will they do in Cincinnati? Negative points? #foaud

Reader Tweets of Genius

@MulXEdgeGJJ: Interesting to see if that Polamalu sack beats Ronde Barber at wembley a couple years back for fastest sack #FOAUD

Longform

Scott Kacsmar: What kind of "hocus pocus" was that, Mike Tomlin? After starting the last two seasons on the road against teams who would win 12-plus games, it should have been a relief to get a home game with Tennessee this year. It had to be one of the most winnable games on the schedule and an important one to pick up for a team coming off a mediocre season. So what do we get? Only one of the most lifeless performances in the Ben Roethlisberger era. It started with one of the more ridiculous plays you will ever see when Darius Reynaud came out of the end zone and downed the ball for a touchback that was actually a safety. The Steelers led 2-0, they were driving, Roethlisberger was dealing on third-and long, and then disaster struck. David DeCastro cut and took out his own guy, center Maurkice Pouncey, who is now lost for the season with a torn ACL/MCL. The Steelers faced a third-and-inches situation, but instead of using their big quarterback on the sneak, they get cute with the inside handoff and fumble the ball. Everything about the game just went down the toilet from there. Instead of leading 9-0, they were nearly shut out until the final minutes.

Now I'm not a big Pouncey guy. I think his accolades are more "he was a first-round pick at center for the Steelers, so he must be good," than earned, but this is a problem an offensive line that flat out sucks regardless of all the draft picks they've finally put into it. Roethlisberger was sacked five times today. His passing outside of a bad interception was not a big problem, but the sacks killed this offense, and the line did not allow for any real deep shots. The few times they did, Tennessee had good coverage with Jason McCourty.

The complete lack of a running game (15 carries for 32 yards) did not help. Can someone explain why did Isaac Redman get the starting job and why did Jonathan Dwyer get cut? It makes no sense. This team does not have a back now and they do not have a tight end until Heath Miller gets back. By then, the season could be lost. Jake Locker had four completions midway through the third quarter, but then he started converting third-and-13 and third-and-15. Jackie Battle was grinding out tough yards against the defense. At that point it was over, regardless of Troy Polamalu having one of the best timed-snap counts you'll ever see.

Even when the game was 10-2 in the fourth quarter fans were leaving Heinz Field. The level of disgust for this team is pretty high right now. If this is how they are going to play at home against the Titans, then it is going to be a very long season. I really did not come away that impressed with what Tennessee was doing as they sitll look like a double-digit loss team with a bad quarterback to me. Just makes you wonder exactly where the Steelers are and now without Pouncey and Larry Foote going forward. Ryan Clark, Cortez Allen and LaRod Stephens-Howling were also injured during the game. Again, just an all-around clusterfrack.

The new season doesn't come with a 'reset' button, does it?

Tom Gower: I won't repeat too much of what Scott said, but this performance was about a listless Steelers offense and a Titans defense that was surprisingly non-porous. Once Pouncey went out, Jurrell Casey in particular was wrecking the middle of the offensive line all game. He finished with a couple sacks and a couple more hits. The Pittsburgh running game was completely non-existent. Emmanuel Sanders had a couple chances to make heroic downfield catches, but didn't.

Offensively, the Titans had one real drive all game, when Locker converted the third-and-longs. Their other three scoring drives all began in Pittsburgh territory. That's a real credit to the defense, while punter Brett Kern had a good day as well. The nicest thing I can say about the offense as they executed the preferred gameplan, finishing with twice as many runs as passes. They didn't move the ball well, as both Chris Johnson and Jackie Battle (subbing after Shonn Greene went out early) averaged under three yards per carry, but they did just enough for the win.

J.J. Cooper: I predicted before the season that the Steelers were an 8-8 team, which means they could end up 6-10 or they could end up 10-6. Apparently I was a little too optimistic about Pittsburgh. Until a garbage-time touchdown in the final two minutes, Pittsburgh was being shut out at home by a defense that ranked 25th in defensive efficiency last year. Without Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh's receivers struggled to get open, especially on an pass more than 10 yards downfield. That's not all that surprising when you consider that in passing situations, they were sending out David Paulson, a possession receiving tight end, Jerricho Cotchery, a possession receiver, Antonio Brown and Sanders. The Steelers, at least in Week 1, appeared to greatly miss Mike Wallace. You have to wonder how many weeks it will be before rookie Markus Wheaton plays a larger role because he would bring some needed speed to the receiving corps.

When Pouncey went down it killed the Steelers running game, but not necessarily in the way you may think. It's not because he's an All-Pro center. Like Scott, I believe Pouncey is a solid-but-unspectacular center. But when he went down, Kelvin Beachum, who had been lining up as the Steelers' hand-on-the-ground tight end (with Paulson flanked to his outside) had to move in to center. In case you're keeping track, Beachum (No. 68 in your program) is the only tight end Pittsburgh can feel comfortable using as a traditional blocking tight end. He's also the team's primary backup offensive lineman at all five positions. With Pouncey out, he becomes the center and Guy Whimper is ever so close to stepping onto the field. Without Beachum at tight end, Pittsburgh never found a replacement who could handle a defensive end or linebacker one-on-one on running plays.

Scott asked why Redman is starting and Jonathan Dwyer is on the street (and still looking for a job). It's a fair question, but I'll ask a broader one. WIth Le'veon Bell hurt, is there any other Steeler running back who would assuredly be picked up if waived? The other backs are Redman, Stephens-Howling, and Felix Jones. I honestly wonder if any of them would be claimed on waivers.

For Tennessee, it was a smart gameplan: run the ball in large doses while asking Locker to only make the occasional play. Greene left the game with an injury, but the way Jackie Battle ran may leave Titans fans wondering why exactly they needed to spend $10 million on Greene.

New England 23 at Buffalo 21

FO Staff Tweets

Aaron Schatz: It's hard to tell how well Manuel is playing because the OL isn't getting it done, esp. on the run plays. #foaud

Aaron Schatz: Julian Edelman with 2 TD in the first half + Amendola hobbles off = Edelman challenges Julius Thomas for Frisman Jackson Award. #foaud

Aaron Schatz: Mark your calendar. On September 8 at 2:30pm EDT Dan Dierdorf said something very smart. #foaud

Aaron Schatz: Dierdorf pointed out that the problem with the no huddle in the last 2:00 is that when BUF went 3-out, NE got the ball with 1:11 left #foaud

Aaron Schatz: HOLY WOW. That's the first failed sneak by Tom Brady in ... I have no idea how long. Forever. #foaud

Scott Kacsmar: @FO_ASchatz Wait, what? Failed sneak by Brady? Dude, 56 IN A ROW! #foaud

Aaron Schatz: Remember in the preseason when beat reporters were all writing about how Brady and Thompkins had great timing together? Um, yeah. #foaud

Aaron Schatz: The catches Amendola is making today, constantly holding onto the ball when getting flipped in the air... astonishing. #foaud

Reader Tweets of Genius

@mikedrebot: Dan Dierdorf said the Bills have to punt because they are a young team with a fragile psyche @billbarnwell @MatthewWGR @FO_ASchatz #foaud

@claytoncargill: Leave my man Dan alone RT @FO_ASchatz: Mark your calendar. On September 8 at 2:30pm EDT Dan Dierdorf said something very smart. #foaud

@JoshuaOBrien80: @FO_ASchatz I know that was probably an autocorrect error but I LOVE Edge Manuel as a name. Thanks! #foaud

(Ed. Note: We've taken to calling him Edge because of the lack of punctuation in EJ -- Rivers)

Longform

Aaron Schatz: I think this one is going to get overblown a little bit in the press. The Patriots really dominated this thing for the first 28 minutes, they just got some bad bounces. Some of those will show up in DVOA -- the 75-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Da'Norris Searcy is definitely a non-predictive event -- and others won't. Since I don't adjust for dropped passes-turned-interceptions during the season, Tom Brady will get blamed for the pass that Zach Sudfeld let go off his hands and into the hands of a Bills defender. I certainly don't expect Tom Brady to be botching the snap on fourth-and-goal very often.

Anyway, the Bills offensive line looked poor, especially in those first 28 minutes. C.J. Spiller couldn't find any holes, and Edge Manuel was just a dumpoff machine because of the pressure. Then the Bills offense suddenly got it together. Buffalo had only three drives over 30 yards, but they came in the final 2:00 of the second quarter and the only two Buffalo drives of the third quarter. The Bills scored touchdowns on two of those. When he actually could get time to throw, Manuel looked really good. But the Bills running game couldn't take care of the clock in the fourth quarter. Certainly not the rookie quarterback's fault.

There were obviously timing issues between Brady and his receivers other than Danny Amendola and maybe Julian Edelman. The local press was talking all preseason about how good the timing was between Brady and Kenbrell Thompkins, but I guess that was just in practices with no actual defensive backs on the field or something. He went the wrong way when Brady was scrambling and needed to improvise at the start of the fourth quarter. He had trouble getting his feet down at the margins, both the sidelines and the back of the end zone. He went a step or two too far when Brady tried to throw him a back-shoulder throw. The good news for the Patriots is that Brady and his receivers should have their timing down a lot better when we get to December and January. They also will have Rob Gronkowski, who should be back in the next couple weeks. The Pats had only one catch by a tight end today. That will not be a common occurrence the rest of the season.

It's hard to tell how good the Bills pass defense really was given the timing issues on the Patriots' offense, but the run defense definitely looked better than last year, and Kiko Alonso looks like a good addition.

Atlanta 17 at New Orleans 23

FO Staff Tweets

Peter Koski: When it's 4th and Inches, Sean Payton has to give it to Mark Ingram, that's just the way the offense is built. #foaud

Rivers McCown: That the Saints seem to pull good low-round/UDFA running backs out of their butts just makes the Mark Ingram pick that much sillier. #FOAUD

Reader Tweets of Genius

@Walshmobile: NO had 2nd and goal from the 27 after back-to-back holding calls #foaud

@Walshmobile: 4th and 2 from ATL 5, up 3 with 3:16 left NO lines up.. tries to draw offside, calls TO after one hut and kicks FG to go up 6. go4it! #foaud

Longform

Sorry, no FO staff writers found this game worth writing about because they are irrevocably biased against the participants.

Tampa Bay 17 at New York Jets 18

FO Staff Tweets

Tom Gower: If Schiano settles for this long FG, I'm going to scream. #foaud RT @FO_ScottKacsmar: Bucs shouldn't act like the FG is a given here.

Rivers McCown: Gary Kubiak likes Greg Schiano's thinking here in Tampa #FOAUD

Rivers McCown: My face when Geno Smith leads a game-winning drive here http://i.imgur.com/pFeqPHd.gif #FOAUD

Aaron Schatz: Lavonte David may have just taken the Keep Choppin Wood award away from Michael Huff. Dan Connelly tried, but failed. #foaud

Rivers McCown: This is why you go for the touchdown deep in Jets territory, by the way Mr. Schiano #FOAUD

Reader Tweets of Genius

@MilkmanDanimal: Geno Smith has looked kind of Josh Freeman-ish today. Not really a compliment; good throws, bad throws, horrible INT over the middle. #foaud

@bighairyandy: LeVonte David just stole KCW from Danny Trevathan: personal foul to get Jets into range for the game winning FG. Unbelievably stupid. #foaud

@MilkmanDanimal: The Jets last 13 points were all scored after Tampa defenders committed penalties resulting in first downs. #foaud #alsoincrediblystupid

Longform

Sean McCormick: While the Jets obviously caught an enormous break at the end with that unconscionable hit out of bounds to set up Nick Folk's winning field goal attempt, I would expect DVOA to show that they were the better team today. The defensive front four was dominant, with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Kenrick Ellis all controlling the line of scrimmage consistently throughout the game. The blitz packages brought pressure but also yielded most of Tampa's big passing plays, either due to miscommunications in the secondary or simply due to Vincent Jackson getting an angle on Antonio Cromartie. Tampa's amazing propensity for drawing offensive penalties in the first half certainly made it easier to dial up pressure.

Geno Smith had an up-and-down game, but clearly progressed as things went along. Early on he put several receivers in danger, making throws that got Jeff Cumberland knocked out of the game and Jeremy Kerley temporarily sidelined. Smith tended to throw the ball late, and to drift back in the pocket in response to pressure, which led to several damaging sacks. That said, he got it together after the interception and did a better job of throwing in rhythm. He also tucked the ball and ran when there was open space in front of him. Smith didn't look dynamic in the open field, but he was efficient with his runs, including the one that ended up being the game-winning play.

Kansas City 28 at Jacksonville 2

FO Staff Tweets

Sorry, no FO staff writers found this game worth Tweeting about because they are irrevocably biased against the participants.

Reader Tweets of Genius

Sorry, no FO readers found this game worth Tweeting about because they are irrevocably biased against the participants.

Longform

Sorry, no FO staff writers found this game worth writing about because they are irrevocably biased against the participants.

Seattle 12 at Carolina 7

FO Staff Tweets

Vince Verhei: Seahawks hurting bad at pass rusher, but got a sack from O'Brien Schofield on second drive. #foaud

Aaron Schatz: O'Brien Schofield seems like the kind of player where a good coaching staff will hide his weaknesses and feature his strengths ... but a bad coaching staff will take a player like that and obsess over his weaknesses instead of finding ways to use him #foaud

Vince Verhei: Newton has struggled in red zone passing first 2 years. Just converted 3&7 inside 20, then hit S.Smith for go-ahead TD. #foaud

Vince Verhei: Panthers punt on 4&inches at their own 35. RIVERA!!!!!! #foaud

Vince Verhei: Seahawks ran at least three bootleg-FB passes on game-clinching drive. They all worked. #foaud

Reader Tweets of Genius

@zgeballe: This looks like the early-2012 Russell Wilson: inaccurate at times, questionable pocket presence #foaud

@Coboney: Carolina doing a great job of controlling rushing lanes. Making Russell Wilson really uncomfortable. He isn't a pocket QB yet clearly #foaud

@Coboney: Difference between Rivera and Caroll. Rivera won't go on fourth and an inch with all advantages. Caroll goes for 2 to go up by 7 #FOAud

Longform

Vince Verhei: Both teams, I think, looked like what we expected. Especially Carolina. The offense will move the ball well, but they still have no big-play threat besides Steve Smith, and they’re going to have to convert a lot of third downs to score. The front seven is fantastic, limiting Marshawn Lynch to 2.5 yards per carry. And Ron Rivera will choose to punt on a couple of short fourth downs when going for it seems at least a reasonable option. He also failed to make adjustments. On their clock-killing drive, Seattle, ran at least three bootleg passes to the fullback, and they all worked. One was to Golden Tate, whose presence in the backfield should have been a neon sign saying "THEY’RE THROWING TO ME."

If anything, Carolina looked better than expected in a few key areas. Cam Newton, a lousy red zone passer in his career, converted a third down inside the 20 and finished the drive with a touchdown pass. And the secondary held up well, save for a pair of back-to-back plays in the second half (Jermaine Kearse’s go-ahead touchdown, and the play right before it when Stephen Williams got open deep but dropped a pass) when Seattle receivers got behind their man down the right sideline. If anything, I’m more convinced now that this team can win the division.

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Seattle’s offense had a lot of missteps early —- dropped passes, penalties, missed receivers —- and Russell Wilson had a bad red zone fumble right before halftime. The offensive line, as noted, was abused, and Wilson looked shellshocked and indecisive at times. He had a couple of blind throws to avoid pressure that turned into miracle receptions, including an amazing sideline catch by Doug Baldwin. (That was funny, because Seattle tried to hurry and run a play to prevent a challenge, but they failed -— then the play was upheld and Carolina lost a challenge and timeout.) Baldwin, by the way, finished with seven catches for 91 yards, both better than any game he had last year. I know next week’s game against San Francisco was going to be huge anyway, but now I’m looking forward to it just to compare San Francisco’s front seven to Carolina’s. I honestly think Carolina’s could be better when all is said and done.

Miami 23 at Cleveland 10

FO Staff Tweets

Danny Tuccitto: travis benjamin having an ugly first few minutes for CLE: 1) didn't break up INT, 2) muffed punt, 3) dropped 3rd-down pass. #FOAUD

Danny Tuccitto: we like to say that QBs make WRs more than vice versa, but CLE's really killed weeden in the first quarter; both INTs on them. #FOAUD

Reader Tweets of Genius

Sorry, no FO readers found this game worth Tweeting about because they are irrevocably biased against the participants.

Longform

Sorry, no FO staff writers found this game worth writing about because they are irrevocably biased against the participants.

Minnesota 24 at Detroit 34

FO Staff Tweets

Aaron Schatz: AP is awesome, but before you get excited about a second straight 2,000 yd season remember DET: 26th in run defense DVOA in 2012. #foaud

Mike Ridley: Nice wounded duck by Ponder straight to Tulloch. #takethesack #foaud

Rivers McCown: If Ndamukong Suh really wants to ruin this game for Detroit he needs to find a way to make Christian Ponder good. #FOAUD

Mike Ridley: Reggie Bush is looking like everything the Lions wanted. 166 yards on 19 touches and one highlight reel screen. #foaud

Reader Tweets of Genius

@tlloyd75: @FO_ASchatz Speaking of the Vikings, the Audibles hashtag reminds me of one #foaud Reveiz. Just sayin’

Longform

Sorry, no FO staff writers found this game worth writing about because they are irrevocably biased against the participants.

Oakland 17 at Indianapolis 21

FO Staff Tweets

Rivers McCown: "Being us didn’t work, being someone else didn’t work … maybe we’re just not supposed to be good at football." pic.twitter.com/ZIxN4cDwxV

Rivers McCown: "The penalties have been a problem in the past with Khalif Barnes." No Rich, the EVERYTHING has been a problem with Khalif Barnes. #FOAUD

Scott Kacsmar: Luck: 8/8 for 113 yards, 2 TD. Raiders are going to be like playing Madden on Rookie this year. #foaud

Rivers McCown: So you have 148 yards rushing in the third quarter, but you absolutely can't go for it on fourth-and-short as a road underdog. Hmm. #FOAUD

Rivers McCown: "Are you surprised by this poise from Pryor?" I'm surprised he has five seconds to throw on every play. #FOAUD

Reader Tweets of Genius

@Coboney: @FO_RiversMcCown Waiting for Erik Walden to become a player still. It(Colts pass rush) just doesn't exist - its a myth from the Manning era #foaud

Longform

Rivers McCown: Terrelle Pryor is not a savior, but against a defensive line that had no prayer of getting initial pressure, he managed to stretch the Colts to their limits. I don't think I remember hearing Robert Mathis' name for the duration of the contest, and there were several plays where Pryor was able to run around and garner more than four seconds of time behind the line. He had some, as Andy Benoit likes to say, callow moments. Throwing behind Denarius Moore on one key slant, and whipping a wobbler at Greg Toler in the end zone that ended a drive. He's not a quarterback that can really stretch the field vertically. He also was a sitting duck on the final few plays of the game, after he took a sack and wound up with second-and-goal and 24 yards to gain. That one ended with him throwing the ball at a zone and all three defenders being in position to pick the ball off. That said, he probably should have gotten a touchdown out of the pass to Darren McFadden. That was a nice one. I definitely felt it was Dennis Allen -- who opted to punt or kick field goals on a few key fourth-and-shorts with Pryor being able to buy time almost at will -- that damaged the Raiders chances in this game more than Pryor.

As for Indy, they spent a lot of this game being curiously conservative. Far be it for me, internet nerd and guy who watches football, to call out Pep Hamilton ... but I just don't think Vick Ballard and the Colts offensive line are the horses you want to ride to victory on a week-to-week basis. It didn't go too poorly this time because the Raiders have their own issues on defense. Andrew Luck's game is about what I expected to see from him this year, though the Raiders got a little more pressure than they probably should have. Luck did have his signature witchcraft play, where he was in the grasp of Kevin Burnett and shirked him aside to run for a first down. Reggie Wayne has eluded father time for another season. The Colts were a little off on their deep throws, which kept their point total down, but this collection of skill position talent should continue to overcome its offensive line.

Cincinnati 21 at Chicago 24

FO Staff Tweets

Ben Muth: Rey Maualuga got about 4 inches off the ground on that TD to Bennett. #foaud

Rob Weintraub: AJ Green--two tds, two long bombs, two picks that were on him (not Dalton), stripped for fumble after 20-yd gain (cincy kept it). #foaud

Ben Muth: Hate all you want but when Jay Cutler finally does succeed at throwing the ball through a defender it'll be amazing #foaud

Ben Muth: Kyle Long just threw one of the worst cut blocks I've ever seen on key 3rd & 2. His man makes the tackle short of the first. #foaud ... Should point out that Long has played pretty well overall today. Just a bad time for a no hitter. #foaud

Rob Weitnraub: The Bengals need more preseason games, not fewer. #foaud ... Ive said it many many times--the #bengals and high expectations simply do not mix. #foaud

Reader Tweets of Genius

@dbt: Adam Podlesh with an early candidate for punt of the year. #foaud

@TCBullfrog: #Bengals have been waiting for the #bears to move up so the deep stuff would open up. Just did. #FOAUD

@TCBullfrog: Cutler starts going to receivers besides Brandon Marshall. #Bears offense moving down the field. Coincidence? #FOAUD

Longform

Ben Muth: I thought this was a pretty well-played game between two good teams. The difference came down to the Bengals getting two moronic personal foul penalties (one by Dre' Kirkpatrick that led to a field goal at the end of the half and one by Rey Maualuga to let Chicago run out the clock in the fourth).

I really liked the game Trestman called for Chicago. He knew his offensive line would have trouble with the Bengals front four so he tried a lot of screens and quick passes to keep the pressure off his quarterback. I don't think Bears gave up a sack all day, which is a big one for them. Also, with the exception of a terrible pick to Vontaze Burfict, I thought Smokin Jay looked really good. Kyle Long wasn't the world beater he was in the preseason, but it was still a nice debut for the first rounder.

As far as the Bengals offense goes, I always seem to forget how good A.J. Green is. He had a huge day against a pair of really good corners and looked absolutely unguardable at times, particularly when he got five yards of separation on the two yard line on a gorgeous smash route.

Oh, and Giovani Bernard looked about 10 times better than BenJarvus Green-Ellis when carrying the ball, I imagine their workload will be flipped sooner rather than later.

Rob Weintraub: OK so the timeouts and the personal fouls are going to get all the attention, and rightfully so, but there were other issues from a Bengals perspective. There was also a block in the back that wiped out Pacman Jones' long punt return, and a facemask on a different punt, and a couple of crucial holding calls away from the play -- I could go on. The Bengals were very sloppy, and Chicago had some moments as well. The key to Chicago's comeback was several makeshift plays by Jay Cutler to avoid the rush and either scramble or find adjusting receivers for big plays. Given the dollars recently committed to the Bengals rushers, the fact they couldn't corral Cutler hurt.

On the other hand, Brandon Marshall made several spectacular catches, and the touchdown grab by Martellus Bennett made all of Chicago toast the fact they actually have a real tight end at last. What a catch in traffic. Andy Dalton's excellent game will be completely overlooked. For most of the game he looked very poised and made throws in small windows all over the field. He still occasionally settles for easy short reads, but Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert are going to make him look good there over the long haul. They were much too physical for their respective defenders, and repeatedly ground out yards after contact.

Appropriately, the play of the game was a flukey mistake. After Burfict picked Cutler (and Vontaze was injured on the return, the gimp that led to the disastrous timeouts later on), the Bengals were going in for a score that would return the lead to 11. But as Mohamed Sanu maneuvered for a first down in the red zone, a Bears defender just happened to catch the ball with his helmet. Turnover, and the Bears dominated after that. A very first-half-of-2012 win for Chicago, and a very tough loss to swallow for the Bengals.

Arizona 24 at St. Louis 27

FO Staff Tweets

Tom Gower: Arians rightly runs his offense instead of John Fox'ing it at the end of the half, but Feely is wide from 50. Process W, Results L. #FOAUD

Ben Muth: Levi Brown is so bad. Have to send help his way every third down. #foaud

Ben Muth: This Levi Brown performance is the "Forgot about Dre" of terrible tackle play. #foaud

Reader Tweets of Genius

@shake1n1bake: Has anyone been so universally bashed for being terrible, but held their starting spot as long as Levi Brown has in AZ? #FOAUD

(Ed. Note: Aaron offers Robert Royal, I offer David Carr. -- Rivers)

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@JP_Wright: Imagine what Fitz could have done with at least an average QB the last four years… #foaud

@RavenBerns: Scarecrow will have higher DVOA "@FO_wordofmuth: Replace Levi Brown with a scarecrow in a 75 jersey and see if anyone notices. #foaud"

Longform

Ben Muth: Levi Brown is so terrible that I just cannot talk about him anymore. The lunacy of people saying that getting him back after missing all last year with an injury would improve their offensive line would be funny if it wasn't so depressing. Bruce Arians calling him elite in the offseason is still incomprehensible. Arians had either never seen Brown play, is a complete buffoon, or a liar. There is no other option.

Carson Palmer looked good, and you can see how excited Larry Fitzgerald is to be playing with someone who isn't a camp arm that somehow found their way into a starting lineup. Andre Roberts also looked really good so the Cardinals should be able to at least move the ball when Palmer is upright, which will be such a nice change from recent years.

On the St. Louis side of things the obvious highlight is their defensive line. Sure they were matched up against a terrible unit, but they dominated as thoroughly and completely as could be expected. The biggest negative is that Brian Schottenheimer's creative plans to get Tavon Austin involved were a single screen and an end around. I do not have faith that he is the right offensive coordinator to get the most out of Austin's unique abilities. Jared Cook looked good though.

Tom Gower: Palmer is a professional quarterback. Arizona did not have a professional quarterback last year. The difference was apparent. As Ben noted, Arizona does not really have a professional offensive line. Palmer is a professional quarterback who needs a professional offensive line. When he got protection, he did things, a number of them with Roberts, who had a reasonable amount of success.

On the other side of the ball, it seemed like Sam Bradford spent a lot of time on his first read, with Daryl Richardson (who got the vast majority of the snaps) as the checkdown the other option. The Rams spread the ball around a fair amount, though Cook ended up with the most work. He did most of his damage in the middle of the field against Arizona's questionable (in my mind) linebackers and safeties; if the Cardinals missed Daryl Washington, I think it was in coverage.

Green Bay 28 at San Francisco 34

FO Staff Tweets

Danny Tuccitto: in the least surprising development ever, Vernon Davis is a focal point of the passing game in SF. #FOAUD

Rivers McCown: Am I being too spreadsheet-focused if I think coaches worry way too much about punishing fumbles? Take Lacy out for poor running. #FOAUD

Rivers McCown: Packers didn’t spike the ball. Homer Smith proud of them #foaud

Danny Tuccitto: asomugha and cox not helping SF's cause in this first half. missed tackles galore. #FOAUD

Aaron Schatz: Packers need to consider playing some kind of box-and-one on Boldin instead of pure zone because they can't keep him out of the holes #foaud

Vince Verhei: So why did Kaepernick slip out of first round, anyway? #foaud

Ben Muth: @FO_VVerhei Non-BCS conference guy that played in a "college" offense that had a funky throwing motion. #foaud

Scott Kacsmar: You don't know how happy I am for that penalty making this 3rd-and-goal happen in the 4th QT instead of a FG to start the quarter. #foaud

Danny Tuccitto: 49ers just used the type of play i've been talking about all preseason as their new wrinkle: play action off of read-option look. #FOAUD

Vince Verhei: 49ers go for it on fourth-and-2. Ron Rivera stares at screen, mouth agape. #FOAUD

Reader Tweets of Genius

@abevanderbent: Packers are really missing Burnett so far. Being devoid of pass rush doesn't help, either. #FOAUD

@pchicola: @FO_RiversMcCown Same w/ Belichick & Ridley. Why dont they punish the receivers that make possible an INT, like Finley or Sudfeld. #foaud

@abevanderbent: This Packers D is just not built to play zone, especially with the injuries at safety. McMillian/Jennings just a little late all game #FOAUD

@matthew_carley: Niners should be pleased with the win and also Eric Reid, who was outstanding. Less happy with those dratted jumbo sets, too obvious #foaud

Longform

Vince Verhei: One quarterback here might be the best in the game right now, and the other might be the best in the game in five years, so needless to say this was a pretty excellent football game. Both teams were hitting passes downfield regularly. Colin Kaepernick finished with the better numbers, but that’s largely because Aaron Rodgers threw an "interception" on a deflected pass that hit a receiver in the hands. Kaepernick didn’t do a ton of running, mostly taking pistol snaps, play-faking, and looking for men (and finding them, then throwing sharp accurate passes to them) downfield. The biggest hole in his game seems to be fine detail game management stuff —- the 49ers were often scrambling to get plays off before the play clock expired, and often unsuccessful. Not that it mattered in the end, obviously.

Anquan Boldin had almost half of San Francisco’s catches and yards. It’s hard to think what they would have looked like without him. That trade might have saved the season.

Danny Tuccitto: Kaepernick and Boldin will get all the headlines, but the player who really impressed me in this one was rookie free safety Eric Reid. Dashon Goldson was the "playmaker" in the 49ers secondary, for lack of a better term, so his departure had the potential to leave a huge void in that department this season. If nothing else, Reid's performance should end any concerns in that vein. Sure, he had the interception and made a couple of bone-jarring hits, but he also made San Francisco's first special teams tackle of the season. On the flip side, it sure seemed like Green Bay's game plan identified Nnamdi Asomugha as the weakest link, and he obliged.

For the Packers, Clay Matthews was a force at times on defense, but that was overshadowed by not "letting sleeping dogs lie." In the local postgame show, 49ers right guard Alex Boone made it clear that Matthews' cheap shot on Kaepernick in the second quarter coupled with his bluster during the week fired up the 49ers offensive line. But besides that, I'm still unclear as to why "hit the quarterback at all costs" seems to be how defenses are choosing to defend Kaepernick. Ignoring the fact that San Francisco uses read-option far less often then you would think (and have now added a play-action wrinkle when they do), it's worth pointing out that Kaepernick has accounted for 796 yards of offense in his last two games against teams admittedly employing said strategy.

Just a few other things I noticed, which probably provided clues to the future, are as follows:

1) Reading the offseason tea leaves, it was obvious, but this game seemed to confirm that San Francisco will have a much higher passing identity this year.
2) The 49ers have a ton of confidence in tight end Vance McDonald. Unlike Delanie Walker, he can catch, and his blocking performance was good enough to allow Vernon Davis to be more involved in the passing game than he has been the past two years.
3) Given the opponent, I don't put much stock in Eddie Lacy's underwhelming day.
4) Congrats and kudos to Johnny Jolly for getting his sh*t together and making Green Bay's roster. Seemed like the Packers' interior defensive line was much more formidable this time around.

New York Giants 31 at Dallas 36

FO Staff Tweets

Scott Kacsmar: Brandon Myers isn't used to catching passes early in a game that's still close. #foaud

Aaron Schatz: Man, I just can't get enough of Tony Romo's receivers running the wrong option routes. #foaud

Ben Muth: Awful job by Murray letting that LB t-bone free. Have to be aggressive in pass pro, can't wait for rusher to come to you. #foaud

Aaron Schatz: Come on, do we honestly believe that Monte Kiffin's coaching is the reason David Wilson has fumbled twice tonight? #foaud

Rivers McCown: If real birth control were as ineffective as David Wilson has been tonight, we’d be drowning in children #foaud ... That said, I stand by my earlier comment that coaches are way too quick to bench fumbling running backs. #foaud

Rivers McCown: Whatever badass stuff happened in Breaking Bad tonight pales in comparison to what Tom Coughlin does after this game #foaud

Aaron Schatz: The Dallas offensive line giving so much protection against the Giants' front four is... unexpected, certainly. #foaud

Mike Ridley: Witten with his second TD of the night. He didn't record his 2nd TD catch of 2012 until week 15. #foaud

Aaron Schatz: Are we going to blame Manning for that? Because it wasn't really his fault but if it had been Romo, everyone would have blamed him. #foaud

Vince Verhei: Eli's emotional reactions during, throughout, and after that pick-six were the comedic highlight of Week 1. #foaud

Reader Tweets of Genius

@CrookedNight: After that first quarter, I'm picturing Scooby and Shaggy pulling off Eli's helmet to reveal Old Man Kolb. #foaud

@CrookedNight: Welcome to Blown Coverage Theatre. I'm your host, 40 Yards Of Empty Space In Front Of Victor Cruz. #foaud

@Ticklemittens: @FO_RiversMcCown after this he'll be emotionally drained so he's just going to the library to watch twerking videos with jon voit #foaud

Longform

Rivers McCown: Is it necessarily a good sign that you were only able to win by five points with a plus-5 turnover differential? Especially given that two of the turnovers were immediate defensive touchdowns? Dallas should be glad to have this game in hand, of course, but I have to think a better team would have really blown out the Giants given these facts.

I was a big fan of Rueben Randle coming out of the 2012 draft and I think if Hakeem Nicks can stay healthy, the Giants have a very dangerous receiving corps that will make them tough to put away. If Nicks gets hurt again, I'll simply be content with all of those lovely fantasy points that Randle will be providing. Of course, it would help if their best running back was on the field for these catch-up situations, and Coughlin's refusal to go back to David Wilson came back to bite the Giants on that last pick-six.

As you no doubt heard Collinsworth say, the Cowboys offensive line looked pretty formidable in this one. I was kind of interested in how the secondary receiving options would sort themselves out, and the early returns are that Terrance Williams be a bigger factor than Gavin Escobar. Williams had a few drops, but he was able to find holes in zone coverage and handled all the parts of the offense outside of catching the ball well enough. Of course, this being the Cowboys, he will run the wrong option route at some point in a crucial game because that is how the Cowboys operate, but it wasn't a bad start.

Comments

273 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2013, 3:11am

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

Did you mean Homer Jones instead of Homer Smith?

Also, what are the odds of the person who compiles this removing all the hashtags at the end of the statements? It would help a LOT with the readibility.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

I guess I'm not a dinosaur, since four other people made the same comment about the hashtags while I was reading the column and writing my response.

Also, Ben on Levi Brown is awesome. I'm so looking forward to this week's Word of Muth.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

It was too long to tweet, but I'm not sure how Mark Ingram ended up with positive yards, it felt like half of his runs ended behind the line of scrimmage especially with some he tried to bounce outside that he shouldn't have.
Edit: Pierre Thomas continued to look like the best back in NO to hand the ball off to

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

Well, I'd have to say that I like the new Audibles format. Snappy tweets, followed up by deeper analysis. The only thing I'd note is that I found reading that "#foaud" at the end of every tweet line rather annoying, but that might just be me being a dinosaur.

I also think "nothing" was the nicest thing that could have been said about the Jaguars.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

Gotta say, the #foaud tag at the end of tweets makes you guys look exceptionally angry at whoever's being discussed...

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

I second Dean's comment on removing hashtags to help make this readable.

I don't really care for the longform bits either honestly: they just come off as a kind of pseudo-analysis pretending to be the real thing. I'd rather have the shorter, pithy comments that aren't trying to pass for actual analysis right after the games have been played.

40 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

I see what you're saying, but the longer posts are the only things that stop my eye going down the page. I find this close to unreadable as a whole article. I found myself skimming to the games I cared about because nothing was locking me in. The tweets should be cut in half, imo.

146 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

I don't mind the tags except for the one at the end.

The part that I don't like about the new format is that the sense of time is gone. The old format kept with the flow of the game. Earlier action was at the top and later at the bottom. Now we have one set of tweets, another set, and then comments. My brain keeps traveling back and forth in time.

Put things back in order, I don't care if it is a reader or FO staff.

Oh, and kill the sentence when you have nothing to say. It was cute the first time I read it, but it was really bad by the end.

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

As a lifelong KC fan, I'm a bit upset over the lack of coverage, but I'll happily contribute my takeaways from yesterday's least-watched game:

Blaine Gabbert is probably not a starting-caliber quarterback. Blaine Gabbert with a broken thumb is definitely not a starting-caliber quarterback.

38 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

Were they that bad yesterday? The Green Bay passing game is one of the best in the game. Some of those plays the pack made were incredible, such as that catch by Nelson, that's unstoppable.

I was more bothered by the missed tackles, that ain't niners defense.

70 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

Last year the niners held Aaron Rodgers to 6 ny/a in both matchups. Yesterday they allowed 9. I think the pass rush was the weak link. We got a couple sacks, but Aaron didn't look too bothered most of the time.

74 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

That sideline catch by Jordy Nelson looked like vintage Cris Carter, the guy I most associate with impossible-looking, toe-tapping sideline catches. That kind of catch is very hard to grab cleanly, and impossible to defend because of the location of the ball. I guess with the new rules, you could just try to force him out of bounds before he establishes possession.

78 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

The beauty of that play was that the ball was coming at Jordy before he even made his cut (I think). And as you said, because of the ball placement, Jorday had to stretch to get the ball. There was no way with the timing and the ball placement that the niner DB had any chance of making a play.

69 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

I want to follow the missed tackles thing through the next couple of games. There was a fair bit of talk from GB camp about them doing things to make people miss or make it easier to break tackles. So if the Packers continue to have games were D's miss tackles and the 9ers tackle like I expect them too then maybe the Packers really did find a way to practice that. I had written it off as just talk, and it very well could have been because this was the first game and stuff like that can often tighten up.

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

"I know next week's game against San Francisco was going to be huge anyway, but now I'm looking forward to it just to compare San Francisco's front seven to Carolina's. I honestly think Carolina's could be better when all is said and done."

I've been thinking the same thing (pending Beason's continued good health, of course), but it's nice to finally see someone else (not in NC/SC) say it.

As for the game itself, I summed it up with a tweet that I now wish I had tagged with "#FOAud", but did not. Mike Tanier did retweet it, though.

@Daniels_Ryan: @MikeTanier Olsen drops a long pass early, Deangelo fumbles near goal line late. Cam somehow at fault.

The Olsen drop up the left seam early in the game, and the late-game Deangelo Williams fumble absolutely killed two potential scoring drives. If either had been a touchdown or both had been field goals, they might have won the game.

14 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

One more thing about the Bears game: Trestman's playcalling got conservative at the end of the last Bears drive, running the clock down instead of going for a game clinching first down. I can't remember how many time outs Cincy had but there was a chance Trestman's last few Michael Bush runs into the pile were going to give Cincy the ball back with enough time to get into field goal position. With the way AJ Green was torching the Bears corners that was a huge risk. Of course the unnecessary roughness penalty kept the Bengals from getting the ball back, but without it there's a chance Trestman's otherwise great debut gets ruined in the closing seconds.

54 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

As Jimmy noted, the Bengals would have had very little time. I had no problem with run-run-run at the end. And that was really only the last set of downs anyway; Cutler threw a few passes earlier on the same drive.

I really didn't like Trestman punting from the Bengals' 38 in the second quarter, though. I believe it was a fourth-and-five situation, so going for it isn't obvious, but there was a strong wind at the Bears' backs, so a field goal attempt wouldn't have been crazy (see Gould's 58-yarder later in the quarter, which would have been good from 70+).

98 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

AJ Green's first half was amazing, but in the 2nd half he had 3 catches/28 yards. The Bears had also just forced a 3 and out off of the lone sack of the game, which occurred because they could tee off with the Bengals having entirely abandoned the run. The chances of a comeback were not great.

118 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

I respectfully disagree with my Bear-watching colleagues. Cincy only needed an FG to tie (not a TD as Jimmy implied), so, assuming a touchback on the punt, they would have had 20 seconds to move the ball ~40 yards. That's an eternity compared to the 8 seconds it took for the Bears to kick off, let a ball get caught on the sidelines, and watch the game-winning field goal go through the uprights in Atlanta 5 years ago.

128 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

Cincinnati would have been kicking into a brutal wind.

During halftime, Gould was kicking into the wind on that side of the field, and was consistently missing 45-yarders. The Bengals would have needed to go closer to 60 yards than 40 in order to get a reasonable attempt.

152 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

True, but the existence proof of the possibility of this happening is seared painfully into my brain. Or at least the possibility of a team moving 25 yards and stopping the clock in 6 seconds (then proceeding to kick a game-winning FG). And once you accept that, 40+ yards in 20 seconds plus stopping the clock doesn't seem so crazy.

Point taken about the wind, though.

150 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

Gotta disagree with you on this (other than the part about Cincy needing only a FG to tie). Even if there would have been a touchback (and of course the Bengals could have been pinned deeper, as Podlesh had previously dropped several punts inside the 10 yard line), the Bengals would have needed to go a lot more than 40 yards in 20 seconds with no timeouts. The announcers talked about the direction of the wind several times during the game. I will defer to Eddo about how strong the wind was and how Gould couldn't hit from 45 yards in that direction at halftime, as he obviously was at the game. It surely would have been 50+ yards and the Bengals would have had to get out of bounds absent a DPI or Lavonte David-style dumb personal foul on the Bears for the Bengals to even get off a field goal attempt. But the Bengals were the poorly coached team committing those personal fouls yesterday, not the Bears.

I wasn't even thinking of the Atlanta game 5 years ago as that sequence unfolded yesterday, although I remember that all too well. There was a huge difference in field position when that drive started because Lovie stupidly had them do a very short squib kick, which also took up less time than a deep kick would have. Also, that game was in a dome, so wind and field surface were not negative factors.

The game I was thinking of was the Denver game two years ago, when Marion Barber's brain cramp of running out of bounds stopped the clock and led to a game-tying field goal (followed by Barber's careless fumble in OT when the Bears were in field goal position, followed by Denver's game-winning field goal as Tebowmania continued toward its zenith). I liked how the running plays called inside two minutes were nowhere near the sidelines and how Michael Bush protected the football. I had confidence that he wouldn't fumble. I thought the play calling was entirely correct in that sequence. And then I was very pleased by Jordan Mills' poise in not retaliating after Maualuga's dumb personal foul to allow the Bears to run out the clock.

Also, responding to this comment in the article: "There was also a block in the back that wiped out Pacman Jones' long punt return, and a facemask on a different punt, and a couple of crucial holding calls away from the play -- I could go on." The block in the back directly led to the long punt return, and on at least one of the crucial holding calls, the hold was not away from the play; it directly led to the 15 or so yard gain. On both plays, the defender was in perfect position to make the tackle, and the illegal block/holding penalties prevented them from making the play. Those gains wouldn't have happened but for the penalties. It was annoying when Phil Simms made a similar comment after the punt return was wiped out. This wasn't like Suh's penalty which didn't affect the play in question because it was well behind/away from the play.

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

I have to ask, is the feedback request a "we're going to be using Twitter now, so please suggest how to improve this rather than ask for the old system back" request, or is it okay to say this, as currently compiled, is significantly inferior to the old audibles?

Some feedback for the new method:
- Please remove the #foaud hashtags from the comments when cleaning up for the article. It's obvious, because of the system you're using, that all tweets contain that tag. They don't need to be included in the article.
- Please come up with another hashtag, ideally shorter. #foa would work, though I don't understand why you don't just invite tweets to the @fboutsiders account.
- I miss longer pieces of analysis within the game. It felt like too much context was missing from the tweets as they were recorded, whereas in the e-mail format often the play would be explained before it was commented on. It would be -great- to see those longer snippets during games, somehow.
- I'm not entirely keen on breaking the staffer and reader tweets into different sections, as a lot of continuity is lost - I saw a lot of reader responses to staffers' comments, and it'd be good to retain that dialogue's flow. To allow casual readers to differentiate between readers' and staffers' comments, staffers could be identified by names and readers by twitter handles or something.
- The longer post-game analysis is a welcome addition.

43 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

I'll add my $0.02. I like having few tweets because they can be very clever and it shows people who don't follow them on Twitter what they're missing. But large scale reposting of what is already available on Twitter seems backwards to me. People who want to follow them on Twitter will do so. Those who don't probably don't want 50% of the article to be the Twitter content.

46 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

The problem with a shorter hashtag like #foa is that it's more likely to be used by a lot of other people talking about something completely different. For example, #foaud is just #fouad with two letters transposed. I saw at least two tweets yesterday concerning somebody named Fouad (a very common name in the Middle East) where the tweeter transposed the letters.

I imagine this problem with increase a hundredfold with a three-letter hash tag.

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 1

Fair point, though that was just an example. My preference would be either to invite tweets to @fboutsiders or set up a separate Audibles at the Line account ( @foaudibles? )to receive those tweets - with the added advantage of not having to follow a hashtag timeline as well as my own during the games.