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

Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Audibles at the Line: Week 9
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

compiled by Rivers McCown and Ben Jones

This year, we have a new format for our Monday morning feature Audibles at the Line, combining our Twitter feeds with our e-mail 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.

Kansas City Chiefs 23 at Buffalo Bills 13


Scott Kacsmar: The Chiefs hired Andy Reid, but this feels like such a Jeff Fisher team to me.
Aaron Schatz: BUF gameplan for Tuel is the game manager special: runs, screens, short passes.
Aaron Schatz: However, I'm not sure why KC should respect Tuel when BUF zone reads. Including sacks, Tuel had 55 carries for -115 yds as senior
@Broncfan07: @FO_ASchatz Tuel throws the ball 5 ft over Chandler's head for the INT. Dierdorf calls it a "miscommunication."
@nath_on_fire: Fourth-and-2 from the 15? Down 7-0? Fighting to maintain home-field advantage? SEND OUT THE KICKING TEAM! Good job Andy Reid.
Aaron Schatz: Bills killing KC on the ground. KC defense is 2nd in pass DVOA, 27th in run DVOA going into Week 9.
Aaron Schatz: However, KC's ALY numbers better than DVOA vs. run. They've gotten killed by QB runs this year, which aren't included in ALY.
Aaron Schatz: KC also gives up a lot of long runs, if RB can get past Poe and Jackson.
Aaron Schatz: Jeff Tuel just threw a pick-six on the Kansas City 1-yard line to make it 10-10. Trips right attempt at WR screen. Awful playcall.
Vincent Verhei: Kansas City continues to win by patiently waiting for opponents to throw up all over themselves.
Aaron Schatz: The point of a WR screen is usually that the CB are back a few feet. On the goal line, they're right at the LOS waiting for a pick.
@nath_on_fire: Hey, remember when this game was one yard away from being 17-3 Bills?
@MettaWorldBFree: For some reason, I think the Chiefs game plan of waiting for the opposing QB to screw up isn't going to work against Denver.
@MilkmanDanimal: It's like every once and a while Andy Reid realizes, "Hey, wait a minute, I can actually RUN the ball!"
Aaron Schatz: Tuel almost picked by Flowers as he's trying the miracle drive down 10. His decision making is awful... basically, like a UDFA rookie


Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs need to consider changing their helmet logo to a rabbit's foot, because their ridiculous luck continued this week. This game was essentially equal between the two teams with the exception of three big plays: the long bomb to Marquise Goodwin, the pick-six where the Chiefs returned the ball 100 yards, and the fumble by T.J. Graham that Tamba Hali returned for a second defensive touchdown.

So that's two defensive touchdowns, and so much random chance is involved in plays like that. On the fumble, the ball bounced right into Hali's hands, and he could return it for the touchdown because the Bills were on their own 11. If they're at midfield, Hali probably gets tackled before he scores. If there's a running back running a swing pass on the same side of the field on the pick-six, or if Graham is a yard or so farther from the goal line, perhaps Sean Smith gets tackled and he has a five-yard return instead of a 100-yard return.

Of course, Tuel still has to take responsibility for throwing a pick at the goal line, just a horrible decision on a run play with a pass option. It looks like it was supposed to be a slant to Graham, maybe, not a screen? Either way, Tuel totally missed his best receiver wide open in the end zone.

I commented on Twitter early that the Bills had put together the game-manager game plan for Tuel, but in the end Tuel ended up actually throwing deep more often than Alex Smith. Dwayne Bowe finally came off the milk carton today, but it was mostly short stuff. Smith had like one big deep pass that I can remember, the one that was hideously dropped by Dexter McCluster, a drop so egregious you would get booed off the field at fifth-grade recess. On the pass rush, the Bills defensive tackles did a good job of controlling the interior of the Chiefs line.

So in the end, I think this game did a good job of showing the limitations of the Chiefs offense and the quality of the Bills defense. But in the end, you know, Jeff Tuel.

Minnesota Vikings 23 at Dallas Cowboys 27


Scott Kacsmar: I know it's Adrian Peterson, but run on third-and-7? Pretty submissive.
@MilkmanDanimal: Can't believe Tony Romo didn't figure out how to block that Vikings FG.
Mike Ridley: This game is a quintessential Cowboys performance: drive down the field than get sacked on consecutive plays.
@RobertGrebel: "This one's about as dysfunctional as the Kardashians." Brad Sham on the Dallas offense.
Vincent Verhei: D.Murray had a 27-yd run on first drive. For rest of half, DAL called three runs, 20 passes.
Mike Ridley: How bad does a defense have to be to make Ponder look capable?
@MilkmanDanimal: Ponder playing just well enough to continue Vkings' fans lifetime of "Well, maybe this time something will actually go right!"
@MilkmanDanimal: Ponder with a 4th quarter pick; this is why the Vikings can't have nice things.
Scott Kacsmar: I can't believe Tony Romo didn't tackle Adrian Peterson there. The gall of that QB...
@ptmovieguy: AP: Anything Graham can drag, I can drag better. Graham: No you can't. AP: Yes I can Graham: No you can't. AP: Yes... I... CAAAAAAN!
Rivers McCown: That Hail Mary is why the Vikings drafted Brock Osweiler. Oh, wait.


Vince Verhei: I didn't see much of this game, but I couldn't help but notice that DeMarco Murray had a 27-yard run in the first quarter ... and then only got two more carries the rest of the day. Dallas finished with 54 pass plays and only nine runs, and this in a game where they were often ahead, and never down by more than four points. I know Tony Romo is good, and I know most teams are better off passing instead of running, but man, you've got to run the ball once in a while just to keep defenses honest.

New Orleans Saints 20 at New York Jets 26


@GDFar: It takes 17 yards or 9 seconds to tackle Jimmy Graham. Whichever comes first.
@GDFar: No timeouts remaining, 2 false starts, interception, missed field goal for Saints in the first quarter off a bye. Disorganized.
@nath_on_fire: Wow, Mark Ingram with a positive play, without qualification!
@GDFar: You have to maul Jimmy NE-Gonzalez style. You'll get called occasionally but it's better than the alternative. They won't call 17 PIs
Scott Kacsmar: The clock turned back one hour for us, but the clock went back to August for Zach Sudfeld.
@Foosball_Wizard: Geno Smith throws into triple coverage to Not Calvin Johnson, and it's incomplete. Announcers steal my joke.
@nath_on_fire: What is Sean Payton doing there? End-around to a third-string TE on fourth down?! Payton makes the strangest 4th-down play calls.
Aaron Schatz: I seem to remember the Saints succeeding with a fourth-and-1 end-around to Devery Henderson a couple years ago.
Aaron Schatz: True, quite true. RT @bodie0 Except Devery Henderson was a lot faster than the Saints 3rd string TE and probably still is.

Atlanta Falcons 10 at Carolina Panthers 34


@Daniels_Ryan: @MikeTanier Tolbert celebrates a score with the dirty bird dance. What's the fat bird that can't fly, the ostrich? Penguin?
@wiesengrund: Steven jackson sometimes seems so surprised that he has a hole that he stops and applauds his line instead of running through.
@wiesengrund: Kuechly is basically just playing whac-a-mole with gonzalez. Jam-hit-tackle, w/ or w/o ball. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Mike Ridley: Falcons apparently forgot Greg Olsen can catch the ball
@wiesengrund: Seemed like kuechly passed off gonzalez to The Invisible Safety, a staple of Sean McDermotts defense.
@wiesengrund: Ryan seals the deal with a very Samuelesque pick. Shouldn't he know that coverage from practice?


Vince Verhei: The most notable development of this game came in the second quarter, with Carolina facing a fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 14. Not only did Ron Rivera decide to go for it, he did more than just call a sneak or a dive play (either of which I'd have been fine with, honestly). Instead, Cam Newton faked a handoff to the left and took off on a bootleg to the right. I presume he had an option to run, but the Falcons left Greg Olsen uncovered in the end zone, and Newton hit him for an easy touchdown.

Early on, the Falcons were shutting down Carolina's run game, which left Newton in a lot of third-and-longs. And he performed, well, like Cam -- he made some throws, he missed some throws, he had some picks, one on an attempted throwaway right before halftime. Steve Smith didn't do much, and Brandon LaFell was the top receiver. Honestly, any day the Panthers look good without relying on Smith is a good one.

Meanwhile, the Panthers were basically playing a soft zone all day, and that left Tony Gonzalez open, repeatedly. Then finally, in the second half, Atlanta started to make mistakes. Ryan forced one interception into quadruple coverage, and then threw a pick-six to the sideline, and then things snowballed and the surprisingly close game turned into the blowout I was expecting.

Rivers McCown: Is there a head coach who has turned around perceptions of him as fast as Ron Rivera? I'll even throw Mike Shula into the conversation as part of that improvement. How much credit do we allot these guys given the fact that most of their wins were against tasty cupcakes?

Robert Weintraub: It was still 17-10 in the fourth quarter when Newton hit Brandon LaFell running free toward the end zone. But Asante Samuel caught him and stripped the ball. Robert Alford had a free shot at it, but somehow pushed the ball back to LaFell, who was being held down on the ground by Samuel. Carolina scored on the next play, game over. There's much more to the predicted Falcons regression than this one play, but it neatly encapsulates how things have turned in Atlanta this season.

Tennessee Titans 28 at St. Louis Rams 21


Rivers McCown: If the Chris Johnson #TheNarrative and Tavon Austin #TheNarrative were to run into each other, all world's bad news would vanish
Rivers McCown: The STL-TEN game is setting back offensive football 30 years. Some day the Titans will figure out they aren't good at running, right?
Scott Kacsmar: Really nice run by Chris Johnson (not something I've typed much the last few years).
Tom Gower: A little offensive proficiency from each team in the third quarter, though safely not too much
@ptmovieguy: STL had 8 in the box, bad edge discipline, let Chris Johnson bounce outside for long gain.
Rivers McCown: Zac Stacy consistently shedding initial tacklers today.
@ptmovieguy: Zac Stacy managed to use every button on the controller on that long run except for Y.
@nath_on_fire: Seeing Zac Stacy's power/balance combo on that long run makes me wonder how anyone could use a high draft pick on Ingram or T-Rich.
Rivers McCown: Rich Gannon trying to sell Kellen Clemens' game reminds me of Jaworski trying to sell Tyler Palko on MNF
Rivers McCown: The Rams run defense just shut down in the second half. Will be interesting to run this one back and look at adjustments.
Rivers McCown: Rich Gannon would not punt the ball to Tavon Austin. #TheNarrative


Tom Gower: Greetings from the press box of the Edward Jones Dome, the latest front in the Football Outsiders Insider Revolution, or whatever you have.

From the macro perspective, what I expected was a game between two teams that would not try to win with a high-volume passing game. With the Titans, this seemed like it might be a question, facing a Rams defense that looked very formidable against the Seahawks on Monday night and with a run game that had been far from the sustaining force they anticipated. With the Rams, with Kellen Clemens at quarterback, there was no such suspense. The Titans question was answered early, as they ran the same sort of near 50-50 run-pass balance they'd wanted to all season but had to abandon. Jeff Fisher, meanwhile, fed Zac Stacy early, often, and throughout the game, with Clemens assisting in the feeding with a regular diet of checkdowns.

The second half, particularly the fourth quarter, proved more offensively proficient than anticipated, but with a bit of an asterisk. With two not so good teams facing off against each other (and I believed coming in, and still believe, the Titans are average at best, possibly mediocre), Life on the Margins would prove the difference in the game. And such it was. With a seven-point game, you can choose your share of inflection points where the game was decided. For me, it was turnovers. Cortland Finnegan baited Jake Locker into an interception inside the 2-minute warning, giving the Rams the ball at the Titans 26. Stacy dropped a screen pass on first down, though, and Clemens couldn't find anything on second or third down either, while Greg Zuerlein then missed the 44-yarder. The Titans wouldn't get any big breaks until late, but it would be all they needed. Jurrell Casey got quick pressure on Clemens and stripped the ball when he tried to reset and buy time. Derrick Morgan fell on the ball, and one Chris Johnson 19-yard run later the Titans had a 28-21 lead.

I'm already seeing some of it on Twitter, which means it'll get a lot worse later, but people will claim that this game means Chris Johnson is "back" or somesuch. I didn't see it. I saw the same back I've seen for the past couple seasons -- when there's green grass in front of him, he can run forward and gain yardage. That was the case on the 19-yarder. That was the case on his other big gain, a 24-yarder where Finnegan got sucked too far inside. It was the case on his other runs throughout the game. It's when he's tasked with making space on his own that he struggles. Maybe I'd think differently if I saw the end zone angle of what he was seeing, but I doubt it. I also don't think there was any particular lineman worth honoring, as the Rams also got a lot of pressure on Jake Locker, most notably with four sacks in the first half. Chance Warmack still ends up on the ground an awful lot, Mike Otto really struggled at times playing for David Stewart, and while I need to pay attention to him more closely Brian Schwenke was better but not great.

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Clemens was solid early, identifying and finding receivers in zone voids, and he once again looked more athletic than I remember him being from e.g. his days with the Jets. He missed Tavon Austin for a long touchdown in the first half and only had one good throw that I noted, when he found Brian Quick about 20 yards downfield after resetting in the pocket.

The reunion week stuff? William Hayes had a sack of Locker. Jared Cook had the touchdown, but also dropped a pass. I didn't notice Will Witherspoon at all. Finny had the pick, and helped the cause on another pick with a bit of downfield contact with Nate Washington that resulted in a throw going right to the safety. Jeff Fisher tried to induce a false start with some punt motion the Titans didn't bite on late in the first half, but aside from that there was nothing particularly tricksy.

One impression I casually had that was reinforced from today's game was you can tell the Rams are particularly young in the back seven. The zone depth, route and play recognition, getting off blocks, being quicker by knowing more, these are all things that seem like they've been works in progress every game I've seen the Rams play this year, and they looked like works in progress again today. I was bullish on this team because, while young on the roster, snap-weighted age indicates they aren't quite as young as the broad roster data indicates, plus they were good enough last year I thought their young defenders, particularly the players in the second, would improve quickly. I don't think that's happened. Is this a coaching issue? A players issue? I'm not sure. On the other side of the ball, Zac Stacy looks like a real solid back. Matt Waldman may scream at this, but stylistically he's like Shonn Greene, except maybe a younger Shonn Greene who had a little bit of burst at the second level. He gained an awful lot of yards by running hard today against a Tennessee team that had been pretty solid in tackling. The 32-yard run or the touchdowns will probably earn the most highlights, but the play I liked the best was an outside run with Zach Brown closing in where hesitated like he was going to make a move to slow up Brown, then accelerated to the edge. It was only a 6-yard gain, but I thought Brown had him stopped for a gain of 2 at most. It was one thing to see Gio Bernard accelerate past Brown in the preseason, since I knew Gio was fast, but another thing to see it from Stacy. I'm not saying Stacy is anywhere close to Gio, just that he's more than a between-the-tackles plodder.

I suppose I should also say some things about Jake Locker. Watching the San Francisco game, there were a few plays, completions even, where he seemed a beat or half a beat slow. I think that showed up a couple times today on some of the incompletions. Even on the quarterback draw score he had, I thought the middle of the field was very open presnap and that play was more complicated than it needed to be. To his credit, I thought the Rams would end up buzzing the slants in the second half and that never happened. Instead, the Titans got a big play (45 yards) to Kendall Wright when he held the throw long enough for the underneath defender not to pick it off. He only had 10 dropbacks in the second half compared to 22 runs for the Titans, which basically screams the answer to my bye week question.

To use a Greg Cosell-ism, Clemens does not pull the trigger on throws that are there at the intermediate and deeper levels. He just doesn't. The dig comes open at the same time he's preparing to throw the checkdown, and he throws the checkdown.

Matt Waldman: I can see Shonn Greene with burst. When Greene had burst at Iowa, he looked like the player we're seeing from Stacy. I comped him to Travis Henry before the draft. All in the same range of player. Two have burst (Stacy-Henry); one seems to have lost it (Greene).

Rivers McCown: Pretty amazing how quickly things turned around after a first half that may have been the worst I've watched all season. And I've watched a lot of Jags games.

Tom spent enough words that were correct that I don't feel like there's much other ground to cover. Tavon Austin is stuck with a coaching staff that can't understand how to use him, and the Titans running game is stuck with a franchise back that can't possibly make them look good unless the offensive line is blocking well. At least the Titans got that much in the second half.

San Diego Chargers 24 at Washington Redskins 30 (OT)


JJ Cooper: Pretty amazing series for Chargers DL Corey Liuget. Batted away two passes and blocked a field goal.
Scott Kacsmar: Chargers still have all 3 timeouts left. Plenty of game left in WAS. The very definition of a 4-minute offense situation is coming.
@Walshmobile: WAS called their 3rd timeout up 24-21 with 1:26 to go SD ball and clock running
Robert Weintraub: Horrendous playcalling by the Chargers. Three cracks on the 6-inch line and they throw a fade and a rollout??
Aaron Schatz: @robwein Fade was the right call. A failed run on 2nd down would have forced TO and then to try FG on 3rd. Fade allowed 1 more play
Aaron Schatz: @robwein The third down call, I'm not so sure about. They still had the one TO left at that point, could have run.
@MilkmanDanimal: Scooby gang catches Mike McCoy, pulls off mask, "Old Man Norv!" "I would have gotten away with it if not for you meddling kids!"


Rivers McCown: I do like that the "touchdown wins the game" rule would seem to incentivize Mike Shanahan to go for it near the goal line had the Darrel Young fullback give not paid off. The worst that happens is the Chargers are in bad position to try to work their way into the field-goal range they would've been aiming for anyway, right? Plus, without a Washington lead, the Chargers would be more inclined to punt.

How on Earth did Danny Woodhead find his way to San Diego on a pittance? Feels like a lot of teams could've used a back like him.

Philadelphia Eagles 49 at Oakland Raiders 20


@ptmovieguy: PHI humming, spreading OAK D vertically/horizontally. Foles lofts pretty pass to Riley on go route w/ rookie DJ Hayden on an island.
Robert Weintraub: Is it safe to say relations between Riley Cooper and the African-American population of Philadelphia are improving vastly today?
@nath_on_fire: Raiders rush 3 on 3rd-and-16, give up 17-yard catch. Maybe send the extra guy to force a pass before a receiver crosses the sticks?
Mike Ridley: PHI-OAK on pace for over 1,200 yards today. #NoDefenseLeague
Robert Weintraub: And TD pass #6 for Nick Foles. This looks like an Oregon-Cal game under Chip Kelly.
@blotzphoto: Congratulations to anyone who started Nick Foles in fantasy today. Happen to have any lottery numbers in mind?
@stephenbawesome: Apparently Nick Foles is pretty good with a clean pocket.
Aaron Schatz: Oakland's defense actually hasn't been that bad before today. So, like, what the hell?
@Shake1n1bake: Today we replaced Nick Foles with Peyton Manning, let's see who notices...


Matt Waldman: Watching some of these highlights where Philadelphia's skill players are wide open outside and I'm wondering if the Raiders realize that the hash is not the sideline.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 at Seattle Seahawks 27 (OT)


@nath_on_fire: Does anyone else, after a sack like that, expect Mike Glennon to snap in half and candy to start falling out of him?
@MilkmanDanimal: Mike James just borrowed a cup of Beast Mode from Marshawn.
Vincent Verhei: TB tries surprise onside kick after TD, recovers ball, but flagged for offsides.
@MilkmanDanimal: I am honestly so shocked by the way the Bucs-Seahawks game is going that I haven't really enjoyed this at all.
Robert Weintraub: Wow, Glennon again, to Underwood for a TD under duress. Not sure if this means anything long term but he looks fabulous so far today.
@MilkmanDanimal: Glennon's big problem in earlier weeks was terrible ball placement, it was never just where the WR needed it. Today, it's been great.
Robert Weintraub: Somewhere Tim Tebow, the master of the jump pass at Florida, is weeping in envy.
@MilkmanDanimal: I don't want to say it's been a bad season, but I still thought Tampa would lose when up 21-0.
Vincent Verhei: SEA has 1st-&-goal at 3, needs TD to tie. Four runs for Marshawn? Nope, one pass from Wilson, intercepted.
Vincent Verhei: After play, Lynch sprints to sideline, presumably to murder his coaches.
Vincent Verhei: TB has no sacks against an OL missing both tackles and a center.
Vincent Verhei: Mike James averaging 5.6 yards a carry. Bucs come out in OT passing. Of course they do.
Robert Weintraub: Seahawks coverage in the 2nd half is night and day from the first. Glennon was able to buy time and find guys. Now he has to eat it.
@MilkmanDanimal: I would like to die now, rather than waiting for the crushing disappointment to take me out five minutes from now.
Scott Kacsmar: I'd like to point out Seattle perfecting the optimal OT strategy right now. Quick three-and-out, great field position, drive for FG.
Vincent Verhei: Why did Russell even stand up? If you're taking a knee, just stay down on your knee!
Danny Tuccitto: @FO_VVerhei yeah, fetal seems like good idea. have to assume schiano designates player for big leg drop or figure-four, though.


Vince Verhei:
This may be stream-of-consciousness and perhaps incoherent. You have been warned.

In the first half, Mike Glennon and Russell Wilson were playing like, well, each other. Glennon was under pressure, but slipping out of tackles, looking upfield, and hitting passes downfield. Wilson, meanwhile, didn't do much (only eight passes in the first half), but it was he, not Glennon, who had the interception in the red zone. Also, Earl Thomas had a nightmare first half. He missed a tackle on a run that eventually gained 20-some yards, he was called for a DPI that wiped out his own interception, and he gave up an easy completion on a seam route (followed by a half-the-distance personal foul) to set up Mike James' Tebow-esque jump-shot touchdown pass to a receiver who was sitting down in the end zone.

And speaking of James, he finished with 158 yards rushing, and most of that was his doing. He was breaking tackles and pushing piles all day long. Why, then, did the Bucs pass on third-and-2 when up by one score in the fourth quarter? I don't know. I don't know.

Seattle's pass coverage was much better after halftime. It looked like it was simply less zone, more man. Glennon was still able to slip away from tackles for the occasional scramble (amazing to see a guy who looks so slow doing so much with his feet) and he avoided the turnover, but the defense forced him to eat the ball or throw it away.

So, last week, the big deal was that Marshawn Lynch finished the Rams game with only eight carries. He spent some time on the sidelines today, I think with a knee injury, but he was plenty effective at the beginning and end of the game. So when Seattle had a first-and-goal from the 3, needing a touchdown to tie in the fourth quarter, We're getting four Lynch carries, right? No, Wilson threw a play-action pass on first down that was intercepted. After the play, Lynch took off sprinting to the sideline. I assume he politely let the coaches know that he was available for running plays, if they so desired.

Anyway, that brings us back to Wilson. Yes, he had two bad interceptions in scoring territory. But man, otherwise, what a game. Missing his top two receivers (Rice and Harvin), his top two tackles, and by the end of the game, his Pro Bowl center, he completed the biggest comeback in team history, with three total touchdowns and a game-winning field goal (though Lynch had most of the yards on that drive). Doug Baldwin filled in for Sidney Rice and got most of the receiving yards. He had back-to-back drops in the first half, but got his act together in the second, including one of his trademark toe-dragging sideline grabs.

I'm not worried about the offense, at least not in the long term, because those three linemen are coming back, and Darrell Bevell can theoretically learn from his mistakes. But the performance against the run is very disconcerting.

Baltimore Ravens 18 at Cleveland Browns 24


Robert Weintraub: Haloti Ngata strikes again--knocked out Jason Campbell by falling on him (late). Say hello once more to B. Weeden.
@L_Crosby: Jason Campbell's out for Cleveland? Branden Weeden is a witch. Pretty sure he's been replaced three times and all three guys got hurt
Robert Weintraub: The Browns receivers--yes, that lot--are making all sorts of tough catches in traffic today.
@blotzphoto: If this Browns team had a semi competent QB they would be scary. The defense is beastly.
@blotzphoto: Ye Olde Punt and Fumble recovery play puts the Browns in Ye Olde Red Zone.
Scott Kacsmar: I just pictured Dallas Clark getting tackled and breaking into thousands of pieces like the T-1000 did after liquid nitrogen.
@THEOSU7: After his worst game in his career, Davone Bess has responded with what is undoubtedly his best
Robert Weintraub: Browns convert 4th and 1 at Balt 40 up 3 w/3:00 left. Gutsy call, and made it on Campbell rollout and throw across his body.
@THEOSU7: 4th and goal on 4 up 3 with 17 seconds left in Cleveland. Pretty sure running the football is the proper play on 4th.

Pittsburgh Steelers 31 at New England Patriots 55


Robert Weintraub: Roethlisberger can't hold it that long when he knows a blitz is coming and his OL stinks. Strip sack as a result.
Scott Kacsmar: That looked like the pick-six return in SB 45. This time Ben wasn't even hit as he threw it. Terrible.
Aaron Schatz: @FO_ScottKacsmar I think Brown had the guy beat. Big Ben had to lead him down the field, though. Underthrew instead of overthrew.
Rivers McCown: Assuming that'll be the end of the @BillSimmons idea where someone would trade multiple first-round picks for Roethlisberger
@grantbosse: Polomaulu is at the guessing stage of his career. He guessed poorly.
Aaron Schatz: I think that was quarters. Replay seems to show Ryan Clark just jumped on something else & left Amendola wide open for 43-yard gain.
Aaron Schatz: Good block by Fernando Velasco on screen to Le'Veon Bell. I've actually noticed a few good plays by Velasco today.
@csoandy: The Patriots are really a Jekyll and Hyde team this year. This second half, the physique of Jekyll and the brains of Hyde.
Aaron Schatz: My favorite of all John Madden's books was "one butt cheek equals two feet."
Aaron Schatz: Patriots rookie watch: Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce have worked themselves to inactive irrelevance; Dobson is stud in waiting.
Aaron Schatz: Somehow, Jerricho Cotchery owned the Pats when he was with the Jets, was little used in PIT for a couple yrs, now owns them again.
@Foosball_Wizard: "You gotta play run, 100%." -Phil Simms. As the words left his lips Brady throws an 81 yard TD to Dobson.
Scott Kacsmar: Steelers have never allowed more than 54 points since 1940, so a TD here might set another futility record.
@Foosball_Wizard: Blount runs over PITT D for TD to put Pats' total at 54 points Showing his patriotism, he hugs revolutionary war vets in endzone
@csoandy: Steelers just trying to get out if the stadium, and convince their low-information fans they haven't quit.

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Aaron Schatz: Somehow we looked up at the end of this game and the struggling Patriots offense had gained 600 yards. I have no idea how this happened. Maybe it seemed strange because so much of it came at the end of the game. But they had 500 yards or so even before the 81-yard touchdown bomb to Aaron Dobson with about five minutes left in the game. The Steelers tied it up 24-24 halfway through the third quarter and the Pats followed that with a 60-yard field goal drive, a 34-yard touchdown drive, a 61-yard touchdown drive, a 93-yard touchdown drive (with the Dobson bomb) and a 28-yard touchdown drive.

Gronk's had an effect on the games he has played in so far, but especially today. He's wide open when the Steelers play Cover-3, and he also made catches against nickelback Cortez Allen when the Steelers tried to play press man. I would have to go back and look at the film but I would bet that when Ryan Clark left the deep left part of the field wide open for Danny Amendola to catch a 57-yard pass in the second quarter, Clark was jumping at a Gronk route on the right side of the field.

The Steelers really do need to give up on this attempt to be a ground-and-pound team, and they need to take advantage of the fact that they have very good receivers and an excellent quarterback. Yes, Jonathan Dwyer had a couple of big long runs but those were the only really good holes. The line is bad, but it seemed to be better at pass-blocking than run-blocking now that Mike Adams has been benched at left tackle (not that Kelvin Beachum is anything special) and of course Roethlisberger excels at getting away from the pass rush and making plays (except at the end of this game, because everyone was covered). Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are very good, and Jerricho Cotchery looked like his old self. That's not just playing the Pats, he had an above-average DVOA going into this game. I wonder why he sort of disappeared and didn't get used for a couple of years. Markus Wheaton, the rookie who was supposed to take his job as third receiver, has been out a few weeks with a broken finger.

As for the defense, the pass rush is just completely gone this year. There's almost nothing. And that's going to leave your secondary out to dry a lot of the time. Ike Taylor got torched by Aaron Dobson on the bomb touchdown but it isn't like that happens to him all the time, it's pretty rare. Allen is good. Gay is reasonable. But they can't keep everyone covered forever while the quarterback has time to throw, and they simply can't have a safety make a mistake and leave a receiver wide open downfield like Amendola was twice today.

Scott Kacsmar: I know we're an advanced stats site, but saying the Steelers had their worst display of defense in team history by allowing a team record 55 points and a team record 610 yards says enough for me. Most teams avoid Troy Polamalu, but the good ones with the best quarterbacks have a decade of tape that shows this guy will guess and make mistakes, which gets exploited almost every time he faces such an opponent. It was as poor as I've seen today with the amount of wide open receivers. It doesn't matter how badly Tom Brady was struggling the last month. When he's protected, which he was, he's going to feast on those plays.

The Steelers have never had much success against this offense except for Halloween 2004 -- a day when Deion Branch and Corey Dillon were out, and Brady had some uncharacteristic turnovers in the first quarter. We know what happened in the rematch that year when those players returned. Brady and Branch burned them over the top, which usually is set up after some short passes, but even today that was hardly necessary with the coverage (or lack thereof) downfield. Then in 2011, Dick Lebeau finally got smart and used more man-to-man coverage, though the best defense was a Pittsburgh ball-control offense that day.

On offense, Ben Roethlisberger looked shaky early, which has been a 2013 theme. His first interception looked like a carbon copy of the one thrown to Green Bay's Nick Collins in Super Bowl XLV. The difference this time is he wasn't hit on his arm when he threw it, it was just a badly underthrown pass. In half the games this season he's trying to lead a comeback from 17-plus points in the fourth quarter, which is a pipe dream. He looked better as the game went on, especially in the third quarter when this contest surprisingly was tied up at 24, but it was not enough on a day where the defense had such a historically bad performance.

I don't know if the Patriots "are back," but this looked like any one of their dominant performances from 2007-12.

Aaron Schatz: LeBeau was using more man coverage as the game went along, and the Patriots ended up shredding it in the fourth quarter, so that strategy may not be a long-term one either.

Also, as I noted, I think a couple things that may have looked on TV like Polamalu mistakes looked from up in the press box like Ryan Clark mistakes.

Indianapolis Colts 27 at Houston Texans 24


Rivers McCown: …I … what. Play-action bombs, big special teams plays, no Ed Reed … what team am I covering today?
Rivers McCown: Here are two true facts about Andre Johnson: 1) Andre Johnson is always open. 2) No other facts matter.
Ben Muth: Glad to see the ref call lineman downfield. That slant-screen play has really exploded in the last year and a half and is illegal.
Aaron Schatz: Great play by Andre Johnson, got past CB, slowed a little, made Bethea slow a little, then put on the jets to pass him and catch TD
@MilkmanDanimal: Dear Houston fans; don't get too excited. Signed, Tampa fans.
Rivers McCown: So, among the other things Trent Richardson can't do; he blew that block pretty well
Ben Muth: JJ Watt : the Colts o-line :: Joey Chestnut : hot dogs.
@Shake1n1bake: The Colts have repeatedly failed to cover Andre Johnson or block JJ Watt. They had two weeks to prepare for this game
@MilkmanDanimal: Case Keenum has taken classes at the Matthew Stafford School Of Flinging It At Your Really Good Receiver.
Rivers McCown: Always. Open. (Just in case you forgot.)
Ben Muth: Colts game plan of not blocking JJ Watt & not covering Andre Johnson hasn’t worked in the 1st half. Interested to see how they adjust
Scott Kacsmar: The dirt is leading the Colts in catches and it's not even close tonight. I think I like Wayne more than the dirt.
Vincent Verhei: At halftime, A.Johnson has 7 rec, 190 yds. Rest of team: 2 rec, 18 yds.
Rivers McCown: All Ed Reed roughness is, by definition, necessary.
Vincent Verhei: Again announcers make the "go for 1 now so you can go for 2 later" argument. If you need 2-pointer eventually, why not do it now?
Rivers McCown: Daryl Sharpton did a great job of reading that screen and failing to tackle a guy who can barely average there yards a carry.
@MilkmanDanimal: Trent Richardson didn't kill the clock; the clock got so depressed watching him run it killed itself.
@nath_on_fire: What kind of odds can I get on "Wade Phillips settles for a 52-yard field goal as soon as it's in range and Randy Bullock misses?


Rivers McCown: Andre Johnson is good at football.

Cian Fahey: Andre Johnson is good at catching the football.

Rivers McCown: No, trust me, he's good at all the football things.

Aaron Schatz: Rivers, not that you want to think about this right this second, but... after the game is over, I would love your thoughts on how the Colts shut down Johnson in the second half.

Rivers McCown: I think the Colts stopped biting on the bootleg, which meant Keenum wasn't getting quite so long to throw downfield. They also seemed to play a lot more single-high safety and tried to exploit his ability to quickly discern where the ball should go.

Cian Fahey: Conservative play calling too seemingly.

Scott Kacsmar: There was no Reggie Wayne, no Rosencopter, but it's still the third time since 2008 the Colts came back from a three-score deficit to win in Houston. I'm still not sure how it happened, but I think we'd be naïve not to believe Gary Kubiak collapsing at halftime had a negative impact on Houston. Beyond just the players and a seemingly more conservative approach in the second half, you could sense it in the home crowd. That's a scary situation to deal with.

Andrew Luck looked horrible for most of the game, but once he started going to T.Y. Hilton (two targets in the first half; 10 in the second) instead of Griff Whalen things got better, as did his pass protection. That 58-yard touchdown made the comeback possible, if not probable. From there it was just another typical finish by the Colts. Great throws and the defense doing just enough. That draft pick of kicker Randy Bullock is going to haunt the Texans, who passed on Greg Zuerlein and Blair Walsh (not to mention undrafted Justin Tucker) for Bullock a year ago.

I thought after the Chiefs game Case Keenum deserved another start and at 2-6, I see no reason for him not to finish the season. He has good mobility and can get it downfield. Obviously Andre Johnson is still a top wide receiver. The talent's there, but any hope of turning the season around went down the drain tonight. If I'm the Colts I'm still nervous going forward without Wayne, but they must find ways to feed Hilton early and often. He's clearly the best thing they have going on offense after Luck.

Rivers McCown: Okay. This one.

I'm going to put aside the Kubiak thing in a little compartment that isn't related to football and not talk about it much. One of the most surreal things I've seen at a football game in my life. I walked up to get some press box fare, and the head coach is down on the field. You know, that happened at a baseball game in Houston and they actually suspended the game. Not that the NFL would ever dream of that, but, just saying.

I am of the opinion that when the Kubiak Texans are forced into improving themselves (being dragged kicking and screaming, I imagine) by reality, they actually do a very good job of that. When Kubiak by all means should have lost his job and they brought in Danieal Manning, Johnathan Joseph, and Wade Phillips, things were much better. When the running back situation looked woeful in 2009, they wound up hitting a combo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. This season, when Matt Schaub went bad and then down, Kubiak has done an admirable job of tailoring his system to fit Case Keenum. (And Keenum has been quite a surprise, as well, of course, but I'll get to that in a bit.)

The things that keep the Texans from being a contender are issues of accountability. Things that are clear to any unbiased observer, and things that they continue to double down on. Ideas like "Derek Newton, credible right tackle," or "Darryl Sharpton will surely stay healthy this year, right?" Giving Schaub a giant extension before he even set foot on the field after his Lisfranc injury. Putting another giant extension on Brian Cushing even though he's frequently found his way on the sideline. Continuing to defend spread teams like the Patriots and Packers as if blitzing them frequently isn't going to just make it easier for the star quarterback to find the mismatch. But don't worry! Bob McNair is coming down from the offices to give an interview, and he thinks if we just give this current setup another year, it's sure to change! Injuries never happen in the NFL!

And with that little mini-rant, we come to something I have touched on about eight times in this space in the last year-and-a-half: special teams coach Joe Marciano, and his continued employment. Houston finished dead last in special teams last season. They came into this game 30th, but they've actually been worse than they were last season. (I don't watch quite as much NFC East games as the average FO staffer, so I can only imagine that Giants and Redskins special teamers are literally set on fire before they take the field, because that's the only way I can imagine a special teams unit being worse than Houston's.) Despite ample evidence that, hey, Trindon Holliday and Jacoby Jones performed much better for other teams and maybe that should be a warning sign, the Texans brought in a special-teams assistant (Bob Ligashesky), and a pair of big legs in Randy Bullock and Shane Lechler ... and this unit is still completely abysmal. It's almost like the coaching was a problem that anyone with eyes could see. Bullock shouldn't survive this weekend. No NFL team can have a kicker go one-for-four in this era and not consider it a problem. Keshawn Martin shouldn't be returning kicks until it is put into his head that maybe returning every kick out of the end zone nine yards deep isn't the best idea. But Marciano shouldn't have survived last year. And as long as he's not being held accountable, what does the rest of this matter?

Everyone is reaching for their big-picture Case Keenum comparison after two games and that exciting first half. Stylistically, he reminds me a lot of Jake Locker. He can buy a little more time than you think he'd be able to, and that helps him find guys on comeback routes late in the play. He also has no fear of trying to make any throw on the field -- a definite asset -- but isn't consistent enough at this point to actually finish all of them. His functional pocket awareness still needs a little work -- both on the move and in man-blitz spots. I'm not sold on him as an answer at quarterback yet, but he's definitely a better one than Schaub would have been.

On a big-picture level, I don't think the Texans have a lot to be worried about. Few teams have two players as good as Johnson and J.J. Watt. This is a year where, like we covered with the Vikings last week, they've rolled snake eyes on every conceivable weakness. This team creates a lot of new and exciting ways to lose every week.

As for the Colts, I think Pep Hamilton did a good job of shoring up pass protection problems late in this game after the Texans blitzed the Colts into oblivion in the first half. Andrew Luck looked a little like he did in the Jaguars game earlier this year in the first half. He was out of sync, and he missed a few open receivers when he actually did have time. Then, in the second half, he did Andrew Luck stuff, as Andrew Luck is wont to do. The deep bomb to T.Y. Hilton was ridiculous. I am encouraged by Hilton's work, though I think he's still below-average as an underneath receiver and I'm not sure any current Colts have the skill set to adequately replace Reggie Wayne. Their corners had problems with Andre Johnson; big whoop, so should everyone's.


179 comments, Last at 07 Nov 2013, 10:03am

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Murray's great first carry aside, the Cowboys lost about 4-5 yards on roughly half of their runs. The running game killed several drives, and the only way the team could sustain a drive was to avoiding handing the ball off.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

That, and they seemed to be protecting Murray a bit (and is there a team with worse RB depth than Dallas? Dunbar is a fumble waiting to happen, Randle is meh, and Tanner is a decent special teams guy).

I counted 6 drops (and I think 5 of those were sure first downs). The receivers hold onto 4 of them and the lack of rushing attempts would be a lot less of a topic.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

@nath_on_fire: Fourth-and-2 from the 15? Down 7-0? Fighting to maintain home-field advantage? SEND OUT THE KICKING TEAM! Good job Andy Reid.

This is pretty dumb.

19 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Yeah, "coaches should be more aggressive on 4th down" does not mean "coaches should always go for it on 4th down". Sometimes it's better to just take the points. In this particular game, those 3 points came in handy in the endgame.

41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

While that's true, it's also apparently true that the odds are in favor of going for it on 4th-and-1 anywhere on the field. When the odds tell you that you should go for it in your own red-zone at the start of the game, I can understand why coaches don't always go with what the odds say.

58 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Particularly coaches who are on the road in the second quarter as a heavy favorite facing Jeff Tuel.

If they had gone for it it wouldn't have been outrageous. What's stupid is acting like Reid is an idiot for taking the field goal.

Plus the bit about fighting for home field advantage. What the hell does that have to do with anything?

73 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

It has to do with provoking people into revealing what rude dicks they are. Looks like it worked!

I'm not really inclined to have a conversation with someone who comes out of the gate calling me dumb, stupid, and wondering loudly "what the hell" anything I said matters.

51 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Case in point, Leslie Frasier probably wanted that FG attempt back in the Dallas game after he went for 4th and Short early and failed. Increased aggressiveness does not erase the chances that your 4th down attempt may not work. You must live with the risks, and the Chiefs had little reason to do so either then (close game, low horsepower offenses) or in hindsight (Bills offense was far better at scoring TDs for KC than their own offense).

54 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Be careful about examing decisions according to the results. You should examine them based on how likely you are to succeed, and how much you gain from succeeding vs. how much you lose if you fail. I still Frasier's decision was a good one, and would have won them the game comfortably if it had worked (and if they scored a TD on that drive). A FG would would have given them 1 point loss instead of a 3 point loss.

As for the Chiefs' situation, I tend to agree that 2 yards is a bit much when you have a mediocre offense facing a very good defense.

133 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I've got two problems with the "you can't just look at the numbers, you need to take context into account" comments that always come up in conversations like this.

1) Duh.
2) The "context" always, as in literally every single time, gets twisted to make kicking sound like the best option. "We've got a great defense. Giving the other team a short field is the only way they'll score on us". "We've got a terrible defense, we can't ask them to defend a short field. Kick it away". "We're up by 10 in the first quarter, we can't risk letting them back into it." "We're down 10 in the first quarter, we can't risk turning it into a blowout". And so on.

134 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"The "context" always, as in literally every single time, gets twisted to make kicking sound like the best option."

Sure it does, if you convenient forget all those times when it isn't.

"We've got a terrible defense, we can't ask them to defend a short field. Kick it away."

Show me where someone makes that argument, because it makes no sense; a poor defense is going to have trouble with a long or a short field. There is no single way the context can be twisted to say that a team with an unstoppable offense and a poor defense should kick it.

138 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I agree that the argument makes no sense, but I've certainly seen it made.

Context and the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your opponent matter, but they always seem to get exaggerated and twisted (I swear that fans of every single team think that their offensive line sucks and that their own chances of picking up a fourth and short are "below average". It's like a reverse Lake Wobegon).

In reality teams should practically never punt on fourth and 2 or shorter in opposition territory. The only excuse is when you're trying to reach a specific point mark (game winning field goal, making it a 2 score game late etc). And yet people constantly make excuses for not doing it.

68 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

The Chiefs were 3-point favorites. Hardly "highly favored." Furthermore, in a game that projects to be this low-scoring, those points become even more important.

I guess the people who disagree think "counting on the opposing QB to give you a 14-point swing with a 100-yard pick-six" is a more viable strategy?

70 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Overall yes, but on an individual play basis sometimes taking the high-variance choice is simply the correct thing to do, even for a heavily favoured team.

And the Chiefs weren't even heavily favoured. The spread was something like 3.5. Vegas knows this isn't a powerhouse team.

83 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

The Chiefs opened as a 3-point favorite but I think they closed higher (5 to 6 points) once it was known Tuel would start. That's fairly heavily favored.

In comparison, IND was a 1 to 3 point favorite over HOU. I would have been more apt to bet Indy minus 3 than the Chiefs minus 6 (I'm a Chiefs fan).

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"Pittsburgh Steelers 31 at New England Patriots 55"

We're going to unleash hell next week!
{or insert various other tough talk cliche drivel}

I can't recall seeing a team with a good QB decline so quickly.

Insane loyalty to veterans, insistence on drafting square 'BPA' and
trying to hammer them into round'scheme', insistence to not admit they
can't develop OL talent.... etc

This team can't be fixed until BigBen retires.

The standard is the standard!

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

There are two teams right now with good QB's that have declined just as quickly if not more so (one was in the NFCCG last year; the other won the Super Bowl two years ago).

The fact that there are three such similar teams...well, *that* I can't recall happening before.

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I guess I wasn't parsing my intent quite as clearly.

By decline, I meant more of a permanency.

I would wager that both the NYG and ATL
are fielding at least competitive teams (.500)
next season barring completely fluke injury-levels

The Steelers will be , at best, a 3-4 win team again
next season.

The standard is the standard!

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I don't think Ben is the problem. I think the way the team builds is. They've relied on veteran players and good drafts, and both ends of the spectrum are getting stretched, as the drafts in recent years have been worse and the veterans are getting too old.

The biggest issue to me is defense. I'm loathe to blame him because of how great he has been through his career as a DC, but I think the game is passing LeBeau by. Teams have faced that defense enough to know it well. The personnel is worse, and he's not making it any better. He's really old, and I can't see him ever being fired (maybe nudged into retirement), but it may be time. Also, I don't really know what Tomlin does other than inspire and motivate. He came in as a Tampa-2 disciple, and smartly ceded that defense to LeBeau's 3-4. Well, now that defense is failing, and he hasn't shown much flexibility. Now that the walls are collapsing around him, people start to remember he inherited a talented team.

To me, the only bright spot of that team is Roethlisberger. They still have a very good QB. They have little else.

15 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I didn't mean Ben is the problem,
I'm just saying that yes---

as bad as they have drafted
as bad as they have tied up $ in older players
as bad as they have gotten in cap-hell to keep the window open for him

they have worked themselves into a situation where they can't be great again for the projected lifespan of his career.

they have little young elite talent at skill positions
they have no good depth at any position
they have no cap room
they refuse to play in FA even if they did have cap room.

And yes, you are dead on about LeBeau as well.

But at least we have awesome post game press conferences to look forward to each week!

The standard is the standard!

88 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I disagree.

The Steelers have not drafted that well, but they have a lot of talented players. They have little depth, it is true, but finding depth is both easier and less risky than finding Roethlisberger in the first place.

On offense, Antonio Brown is a legitimate #1, and Cotchery and Sanders are pretty good at #2/#3. The RB position is a dumpster fire, but the RB position is fairly irrelevant anyway and Dwyer isn't bad when he holds on to the football.

The problem is the inability to address the offensive line. Levi Brown? That is not a solution to any problem for more than the rest of this (failed) season. The Steelers should have been on Eugene Monroe, and should be dialing Jonathan Martin's agent to talk about the weather.

On defense, the Steelers just haven't got talent apart from some aging stars. Timmons is great, but he is at his peak now if not past it. Polamalu, Taylor, Keisel, Clark... these guys are still good players but they aren't all-world anymore. The Amendola catch this week was a laughable coverage mistake (by Polamalu, it appears, although the old man proceeded to run Amendola down from behind). Any quarterback will look good given time to throw to wide open receivers deep downfield. I mean really, ANY quarterback, they let Tim Tebow do this.

108 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Polamalu had the worst game I've ever seen him have yesterday. As was mentioned here in Audibles, it looked like he was guessing all game long, and Brady was just marionetting him all over the field with his eyes. Best line I read about it was from Jerry Thornton: "I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that leaving the locker room, Brady pump faked Polamalu into getting on the wrong bus."

111 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

This is really common for players who have lost a step. To guess based on knowledge/experience. Do folks think that has happened here?

Kind of like old hitters in baseball who start looking only for pitchers in a particular part of the plate and won't swing at anything not in that zone unless there are two strikes and they have to protect

24 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Also what I was thinking. Roethlisberger wasn't the problem yesterday. Unless he's the problem in the sense that his contract is so huge that the Steelers have somehow been forced to fill the rest of the roster with crappy players. But this is the NFL, so no.

The basic problem seems to be that, after decades of always being able to find more and more good players, esp. on defense, the Steelers' roster-building skills have declined.

The Steelers have always been known for having a great defense and an intimidating running game. They now have neither of those. The don't even have a passable defense.

If the Steelers cut Roethlisberger, they would have more money to play with, but they'd also have cut their only respectable asset.

95 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I think it's pretty clear that Roethlisberger isn't the problem in Pittsburgh. He's still probably got a minimum of 4-5 years of play in which he'll be good enough to win a Super Bowl with the right surrounding cast.

Trading your good QB who will still be about in a timescale where it's possible to rebuild into a championship calibre team just leaves you needing an answer to a question that no one is asking. And bear in mind that answer tends to be one where your chance of being right (i.e. where the QB you draft with the resultant picks is actually any good) is probably a little better than 50%. So you're trading a certainty, for a possibility.

165 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

This is the last year the Steelers are set up to have cap issues for a while. I believe Over the Cap would have the numbers. As far as the Steelers defense is concerned, they were ranked 19th in DVOA going into the New England game. They won't have a top 5 defense for the first time in a decade or so, but it will still rank in the middle of the league.

Part of their problem has been luck. They missed out on Wilkerson (the Jets drafted him a couple spots before them), and have had some injuries to the offensive line (DeCastro last year, Pouncey this year), and some of it has been poor drafting (Mike Adams wasn't going to be good no matter what, in my opinion).

168 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

The 2012 draft has definitely hit some bad luck. Sean Spence had that catastrophic injury in the preseason and Ta'amu went crazy one night in the city. Rainey would have been a fine third-down/pace back, but he too had to be cut for off-field problems. And of course the DeCastro injuries.

But this team's issues go deep. It's not just bad drafts failing to replace aging players for a team who can't/won't spend in free agency. It's the ancient philosophies of favoring the run in a pass-happy league and not showing any interest in advanced stats. There's LeBeau's stale schemes. There's the hiring of Haley. The fact that no one in this organization can detect or develop OL talent. Mike Tomlin's tired act. Obviously.

I seen it coming years ago when people were still crediting them for XLV appearance. But things have indeed gotten worse and I just hope they don't even think of salvaging a 7-8 win season and botching the draft position.

Not that I expect Kevin Colbert to find multiple franchise players anyway...

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

". . . Devery Henderson was a lot faster than the Saints 3rd string TE and probably still is."

That's true, but it didn't matter who was running the end around because Coples was in position to make the play. The key to the game was that the Jets' luck on tipped passes turned, although they actually could have had another couple picks with even better luck. The most amazing thing is that the Jets were able to scrape together 26 points when their receivers for most of the game were a hobbled Stephen Hill and street free agents David Nelson, Zach Sudfeld, Greg Salas, and Josh Cribbs. Hopefully Kerley's injury isn't as season threatening as it appears to be. Either way, the Jets offense will look a good bit different after the bye with a reasonably healthy Holmes, Hill, Cumberland, and Winslow to throw the ball to. They might even approach average on offense.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Finally saw the Peterson play. Underrated aspect: that TE #86 holding him up so his butt doesn't hit the ground in-between the hits.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Does Ryan Tannehill dare to stand behind the spooky oline. Yes, he dares. One with a bad neck, one with a murder subpoena and one with the shivers.

And yet somehow the Dolphins won on Halloween.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"The Steelers really do need to give up on this attempt to be a ground-and-pound team, and they need to take advantage of the fact that they have very good receivers and an excellent quarterback."

Unfortunately ownership thinks running up the gut is a sacrament, and they would rather fire 2012 NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians than admit that things have changes since the 70's.

Kacsmar was tweeting after the game about proposed changes to the coaches. I disagree that that's the problem Nothing is going to improve until Art II starts acting a bit more like his dad and granddad, and less like Jerry Jones.

21 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

And the fact that they stick with ground and pound is ironic because the only thing they have been good at drafting lately are wide receivers. Wallace (3rd rd), Brown (6th rd), and Sanders (3rd rd). I choose to ignore the one named Sweed.

If they had half that success on offensive line it wouldn't be so offensive. The missed, underperforming, or poorly coached picks on the OL have sunk this team. Pouncey (1st rd), Gilbert (2nd Rd), Adams (2nd Rd), Kraig Urbak (3rd Rd). Decastro has actually looked good now that Pouncey was replaced with a street free agent in Velasco.

22 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

For all the (deserved) credit the Steelers got as a LB factory in the 90-00's, what they've done at WR is really, really impressive.

First Ward, then Burress, then Burress leaves and Holmes comes in (two years later). Then Washington, then Wallace, then Brown, then Sanders.

Ben makes some of these guys better, but the Steelers have done a great job of drafting and developing receivers (yes, Sweed excluded). If only they knew how to do that at O-Line or Corner.

39 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Even more than the OL drafting or development problems, I also think that the Steelers were a bit off their game during a few of Tomlin's early drafts.

Looking at the 2007 draft, I think they were ready to go into a mild rebuilding mode after an 8-8 year. Mike Tomlin came in and they drafted Timmons to be Derrick Brooks. Woodley was supposed to be a 4-3 DE. They thought they wouldn't be good for a few years and were setting up to go to a 4-3. Then they start winning more than they expected.

The 2008 draft is un-Steelerlike. The Steeler type players that they wanted in the trenches go much earlier than expected and they instead take a pair of weapons for another run. The Steelers finally have a sexy draft and it bites them in the ass later.

After winning the Super Bowl in 2009. They double down by extending some of the older players. But they also hedge their bets by getting a 4-3 DT named Ziggy Wood in Round 1.

This sets them up for one more Super Bowl run, but the aging vets take up space for prospects. The team never shifts it defensive philosophy which means some early draft choices are square pegs in round holes. The sexy draft weapons are busts. They get to the Super Bowl, but now they are in a hole.

Lately they have been trying to right the ship with high draft pass rushers and high draft offensive lineman, but that hasn't worked out well. They have a lot of high pedigree picks. They either can't draft or can't develop linemen.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"How much credit do we allot [the Panthers] given the fact that most of their wins were against tasty cupcakes?"

Well given that the Seahawks, Colts, and Chiefs got smashed in the face initially by their tasty cupcakes, before eventually prevailing, I would think a fair amount of credit is due.

Isn't the beginning blurb in every FO Almanac about how good teams blow out bad teams, and then pull out a few close ones against good teams? We still don't know about the 2nd part, but at least the Panthers have the first part down pat.

17 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Exactly. In a way, they're playing a similar team next Sunday. Everyone loves the 49ers right now (it helps when Seattle and NO play badly when they're on a bye), with 5 straight wins after the 1-2 start. Well, those five wins have come against St. Louis (3-5), Houston (2-6), Arizona (4-4), Tennessee (4-4), and Jacksonville (0-8).

The two wins against .500 teams included a closer-than-the-score 32-20 win over Arizona, and an admittedly good performance against Tennessee on the road.

This two week stretch will tell us so much about the Panthers. They get San Francisco (a team I think they actually match up well with), and then New England the following Monday (I'm pretty sure New England's offense will look closer to Weeks 1-8 than what it did yesterday against Carolina).

43 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

The problem with that blurb is that while such teams will have great FO ratings and point differentials, they run a great risk of not even making the playoffs in the first place if those close teams go the other way, with the 2010 Packers and the 2012 Bears being great examples of that.

48 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I'm not sure the 2010 Packers are a great example. They should have been a 13 or 14 win team, but they got ravaged by injuries, which is the only reason they nearly missed the playoffs.

Even if you have are unlucky enough to have a poor record in close games (like the Panthers), if you win comfortably in enough other games, you can absorb a run of bad luck. And if you have good luck, you're gravy.

In any case, next week if the Panthers are leading or within one score of the 49ers heading into the 4th quarter, that tells us a lot, vs. if they get blown off the field. In either scenario, I think they've made a lot of progress from 2011 and 2012.

71 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"I'm not sure the 2010 Packers are a great example. They should have been a 13 or 14 win team, but they got ravaged by injuries, which is the only reason they nearly missed the playoffs."

Well, isn't that the entire point? As I said, teams that blow out bad teams and play close games against good teams have great DVOA ratings, but if they're below average in those close games they often teeter on the edge of missing the playoffs.

2009 Ravens: 3-5 in close games, missed the playoffs at 9-7 despite #1 DVOA rating
2010 Packers: 4-6 in close games, barely made the playoffs at 10-6 despite #4 DVOA rating
2012 Bears: 3-4 in close games, missed the playoffs at 10-6 despite #6 DVOA rating

86 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I'm pretty sure the 2009 Ravens made the playoffs and upset New England in the Wilcdard round.

The highly-rated team that misses the playoffs is the exception,rather than the norm. Most teams don't have their schedule filled with Patriots/Packers/Broncos type opponents.

Anyway, this about observing results, not about how you would prefer your team's games to go. Of course you would prefer to blow away everyone you play and go 16-0.

The whole point of this thread is that for the Panthers, beating inferior teams by 3 touchdowns is a big improvement from being in a close game with inferior teams, leaving the final result to a coin flip or Ron Rivera's mismanagement. That's a good first step. I would be a lot less confident about them if they squeaked out wins that past 4 weeks.

A good next step for Carolina is at least hanging in the game against SF and NE, and then who knows what will happen? (Hopefully this doesn't include Rivera settling for a FG on 4th and inches with a 3 point lead).

96 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Whoops, I got them confused with Buffalo as the best DVOA team not to make the playoffs, since they were mentioned together in a past article.

"The highly-rated team that misses the playoffs is the exception, rather than the norm."

Well, sure, but Carolina is already in the exception category as a highly-rated team that has blowout wins and close losses, and they have a long history in the latter. Of course it's better to blow out these opponents, but a good next step is not just hanging against good opponents but beating them.

132 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Virtually every good team is going to play close games against other quality opponents. If you're blowing out the better teams, then you're probably one of the best teams of all time. Obviously such teams are very rare.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I really had no doubt Tampa would manage to blow that game. They worked it; failing late is apparently a gift. First general thought is Mike James has been shockingly good in relief of Doug Martin, and has, in fact, been better than Martin; long-term, Martin is clearly more explosive, but James has been very impressive shrugging off contact and powering forward for more yards. With the number of o-line issues the Bucs have had, he's still managed to drive forward for more yards. He's even been good in the passing game, having shown himself aware enough to pick up blitzers on more than one occasion.

Mike Glennon looked like a real NFL QB in the first half yesterday. These are not words I was expecting to type at any point. He's had a reasonably high completion percentage since starting by throwing short passes, but even those passes haven't been particularly well-thrown; his ball placement has been terrible, and the receivers have had to slow down or contort themselves just enough that there haven't been YAC opportunities. His ball placement was really impressive yesterday, and he consistently managed to hit receivers perfectly. He was shockingly good in that first half, and even went down the field instead of relying on constant dumpoffs. In the 2nd half, it was back to short passes, and, more distressingly, the pocket presence he had shown under pressure vanished, and he started getting happy feet again. Also, end of the game, he scrambles on 3rd and 7; if he runs straight forward, it's a first down on the 50 or so, and Tampa can . . . well, realistically, miss a FG when time expires, but, you know, I can dream. Anyways, he veers left for some inexplicable reason and comes up short. If he ran straight, maybe I'm not sitting here stabbing my Schiano voodoo doll over and over.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

" if he runs straight forward, it's a first down on the 50 or so, and Tampa can . . . well, realistically, miss a FG when time expires, but, you know, I can dream. Anyways, he veers left for some inexplicable reason and comes up short."

My wife was sitting next to me during that play, and wondered the exact same thing. It looked pretty clear running straight ahead, but I have no idea what he may have seen out of the corner of his eyes.

On the macro scale, (echoing a statement made in the open thread) I'm really beginning to wonder about the Seahawks pre-game planning. They seem to be frequently out-coached during the first half, but are making up for it with fantastic halftime adjustments. They were torched by TB and HOU by running too much zone in the first halves, abandoned that plan at halftime, and came back to win.

Maybe, just maybe, when you've got arguably the best man-to-man cover secondary in the sport, you shouldn't run zone very often...

Speaking of cover guys... I don't remember Richard Sherman's name being mentioned once the entire game. Were the guys he was covering targeted at all?

31 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

The All-22 would show it clearly, but I can't imagine a guy as big as Glennon couldn't have just lunged forward there for two yards. I mean, his neck alone is like three and a half yards long.

Also, I tried not to laugh when you suggested that perhaps putting great man corners in zone is not a good idea when talking about a team playing against Tampa. I cringed, coughed up the word "Revis" about 20 times, and then swallowed my own head. Sherman was on Vincent Jackson, who was pretty invisible yesterday. Honestly, that was a good thing from my point of view, as Glennon's fixation on V-Jax has verged on "we need to get a restraining order" territory, and he basically ignored him yesterday (another point for the rookie QB, don't throw at the guy covered by the great CB like you did against AZ).

Tampa has pretty consistently seemed OK in the first half, and worse in the second half, so perhaps Greg Schiano's Super Awesome Unstoppable Genius Power doesn't believe in crazy ideas like "halftime adjustments".

38 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"Greg Schiano's Super Awesome Unstoppable Genius Power doesn't believe in crazy ideas like "halftime adjustments"."

By their very definition, "adjustments" require admitting that you were wrong about something and not completely infallible. I have doubts that Greg Schiano has ever admitted such a thing in his adult life.

49 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Not sure, honestly, as I didn't re-up my All-22 subscription this year, so I won't be able to get a full-field view, but I don't think so. The game-calling seemed to go incredibly conservative in the second half in general, and, coverage aside, there were lots of very quick passes where it was clear there was no intention of going down the field.

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Not exactly a complaint, but glad to see you finally covering the Colts after ignoring them last week.

Would it have been so hard to discuss Luck's flying to Spain to watch a soccer game, or Mathis hitting parent teacher conferences at school... but no, you just ignored them. (sniff)

THAT, folks, is how to complain about Audibles.

119 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Thanks. Jeez, I hope it's obvious, what with Mathis sacking the librarian and all... The sad thing is that when Luck flew to Europe for the soccer game, the coaches made sure he had three fullbacks and no WRs traveling with him (a joke for Colts fans, especially frustrated by their power rushing scheme).

125 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Well I for one am outraged that Audibles had no coverage about how Calvin Johnson ordered a beer in a very crowded bar, and despite the bartender having to reach the beer past three patrons in close vicinity, Johnson managed to grab hold of it without spilling a drop.

Also, no discussion of Jim Schwartz disputing his credit card bill. It was very poor challenge, given he was not likely to win it, and it would have only saved him a few bucks anyway. No word on whether the credit card company charged him a fee for losing the challenge.

23 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"The things that keep the Texans from being a contender are issues of accountability."

This whole section has been my diagnosis of the Texans for a few years now. Many teams/owners are too quick to pull the plug when something doesn't work right away. The Texans are just the opposite -- they stick with something way too long. As a Colts fan, I'm perfectly fine with it, but if I was a fan of the Texans, I'd probably find it very frustrating.

27 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"This team creates a lot of new and exciting ways to lose every week."

Rivers, now you know what it was like to watch the Lions in 2012.

66 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"Rivers, now you know what it was like to watch the Lions from 1958-1990, 1992-2010, 2012."

As a reminder, the Lions were the only team to lose a game on a FG kicked from the wrong side of the opponent's 40 and lost the fastest OT game in NFL history. I think they're the only team to not take the ball first in OT, too.

100 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Oh yea, forgot about that.

I'm not sure what's more painful to watch...having your team lose a game because because the head coach threw an ill-advised challenge flag, or having your team lose a game after the head coach literally collapses, and then the team figuratively collapses after that.

142 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

All of these Super Bowl winners won 9 games by 1-7 points:

1981 49ers
1986 Giants
1987 Redskins
2003 Patriots
2006 Colts

As for the recent Carolina Panthers, they lose almost every close game to teams of all caliber and rarely ever beat good teams. So I refuse to give them any credit until they show they can win when things aren't in easy mode. Great opportunities with 49ers, Patriots and Saints twice.

151 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Football Outsiders has engineered a completely objective rating system which, before this week's games are factored in, had Carolina ranked 4th best in the league. Obviously context is hugely important, and nobody would suggest there still aren't question marks surrounding Carolina's ability to compete with the very best teams in the league. But refusing to give them any credit at all for achieving their DVOA rating is completely contrary to this site's principles. You really are writing for the wrong site if you believe that.

153 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

If they rank 4th at season's end then they'll deserve credit, but what am I supposed to have seen to make me believe that will happen? It's an improved defense with largely the same offense from last year, which means they're capable of a stinker like the game in Arizona on any given week.

I bet if you looked at Carolina's DVOA for Weeks 11-17 last year and Weeks 12-16 in 2011, it would look good too. Who they played had a lot to do with that and it has a lot to do with this current stretch. Instead of believing the Panthers are a changed team, which would ignore their very 2011-12 like Weeks 1-4, I think it's been nothing more than catching that easy stretch of the schedule earlier than they have the last two years. Their 8-game schedule as a whole has been laughable so far, which isn't their fault and speaks more to the lack of good teams in 2013. Carolina also hasn't yet suffered the type of significant injuries better playoff contenders have.

Just because there's a shortage of quality doesn't mean we have to lower the standard this year.

The worst teams are those like Jacksonville, which cannot even be competitive on a weekly basis. But right above that I would put a team like Carolina. Terrible strength of victory and terrible at beating any team who actually gives them a competitive game. That's two red flags for what I look for in a team. I want a team who can win in a variety of ways, can beat the good teams, can win the close ones and can pick themselves up after things don't start according to plan.

That's everything Carolina has not been in years.

154 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

In the future, please use the standard format for this type of comment:

<team> is clearly ranked <too high/too low> because <reason unrelated to DVOA>. <subjective ranking system> is way better than this. <unrelated team-supporting or -denigrating comment, preferably with poor spelling and/or chat-acceptable spelling>

For example:

Carolina is clearly ranked too high because falling behind and then winning close games with unlikely comebacks is the most important stat. Grading teams up for failing to put games away early and down for not having injuries is way better than this. Panters FALE at pocket passing, and only beet luzers. LOL.

167 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

That's a nice straw man. If the Panthers are top 4 in DVOA by season's end, they'll be a playoff team that has proven themselves to be legit. Good luck expecting that to happen though.

And whether it's 8 games or 16, there's never going to be an opponent adjustment that completely eliminates the fact that some teams just suck. There's also no denying that the components of a team can change drastically from week to week. Playing the Bengals without Leon Hall and Geno Atkins will not be the same as playing them with those guys. Beating the Falcons in Week 1 would have been more impressive than doing it on Sunday.

We crunch numbers. We argue about them. We try to piece them together to paint different pictures. But they're all flawed in some way and thinking any one number has a team figured out is a foolish endeavor. They're just parts of the puzzle.

Right now I look at the Rivera/Newton Panthers like a student who puts together a 3.7 GPA while taking all the generic classes. Now a junior, he's going to try a few honors courses. We'll see what happens.

172 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"The worst teams are those like Jacksonville, which cannot even be competitive on a weekly basis. But right above that I would put a team like Carolina."

I made a sarcastic,exaggerated comment about your opinion of DVOA, but two earlier posters both pointed out the inconsistencies. Someone asked about Super Bowl champs with a lot of close wins, and you used that as an opportunity to take what I deem to be an unnecessary shot at Carolina. Then you followed with the above quote. I found it amusing because nat's comment posted in official complaint format sounded an awful lot like what you said.

We'll find out how good the Panthers really are as they do play some tougher opponents coming up, but the idea that they are terrible makes no sense to me. I don't expect the Panthers to finish 4th in DVOA, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see them finish top 10 and make the playoffs. That's certainly a far cry from being just above Jacksonville. Now, if you want to argue that they have a terrible coach who keeps them from winning close games...

174 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Sorry, I have strong feelings about 7-9/8-8 mediocrity. It's really the worst state you can be in as a NFL team. You almost never make the playoffs and you don't get the high draft picks. At least a team like the Jags can draft Bridgewater or someone like that to restart a new era. I'd rather watch 8-8 than 2-14, but in terms of the long-term impact, mediocrity is the pits.

And for Carolina specifically, I'm just tired of the Cam Newton hype.

176 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

You're backtracking quite nicely. ;) Seriously though, there is something to be said about not being consistently mediocre and getting top draft picks, but isn't a team often at 2-14 because of poor front office decisions? It's nice to have a top draft pick, but Seattle, Cincinnati, and SF have shown that you don't always have to have a top pick to get a quarterback that can possibly take you to a championship.

I've never been a fan of Newton, and for all his physical talent, he is maddeningly inconsistent. Still, when I look at the Panthers, I see a team with a very good defense and an offense that might be good enough to make some noise and could be pretty good with an extra piece or two. When I look at Jacksonville, I see a team that is a disaster.

173 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Isn't the point of DVOA, to use your analogy, to give us a number that adjusts the GPA based on generic or easy classes to allow it to be compared to a GPA based on honors courses?

You seem to be arguing that DVOA is no good at what it purports to do and that it CAN'T be made to do it. That's an argument many have made about DVOA but it's a strange one for an FO employee to make.

175 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Applying opponent adjustments is a great, necessary move, but just because it's done doesn't mean it's perfect. Anymore the NFL looks like a league that plays 16 one-game seasons rather than one 16-game season.

Every year there's going to be teams who aren't as good as their stats (DVOA or otherwise). People don't really go back and look where a team ranked in Week 9 by season's end. It's where you finish. If Carolina's legit, they'll finish with a good record and DVOA ranking. If they're the same old team who only beats up on JV squads and blows nearly every one-score lead, you'll see another 8-8 team ranked no better than 12th in DVOA. Ho-hum.

Forgive me if I refuse to buy into teams like Kansas City and Carolina right now. Maybe they'll prove me wrong in the second half, but I can't look past who the numbers are coming against.

170 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Full disclosure: I'm a Panthers fan.

Carolina has been a flawed team for a few years. I have attributed most of their failure to Ron Rivera's coaching, which seems to be turning a corner. Yes, they have lost a lot of close games in the past 2.5 seasons. According to the Fox Sports broadcast of the Panthers game this past Sunday, the Panthers lead the NFL in blown 4th quarter leads (10) in the past 2.5 seasons. That's a bad stat in which to lead the league. Yes, they were terribly unlucky in some of those games. Some of their bad luck was their own hyper-conservative coaching, some was opponent's high kick % or their own missed field goals, some was fluke turnovers/returns. But, those things still happened, and the Panthers still lost as a result. I understand some of the skepticism.

But, to take a different view, the Panthers have been good enough to be in the lead in the 4th quarter in 10 games that they ultimately didn't win. If you look at their overall record in the last 2.5 seasons, they are 18-22, even with 10 blown 4th-quarter leads. You can't expect them to win all 10 of those games, making them 28-12. But, expecting them to win half would be reasonable. Had they won just half of those games, they would be 23-17, a fringe playoff team in all three seasons, just like now. That's a fairly good team.

You can't possibly think Carolina is just barely above Jacksonville. Carolina has been 6-10, 7-9, and is now 5-3. They might be underperforming their own expectations, but they are still leaps and bounds above Jacksonville, and a LOT of other teams in between.

Yes, the Panthers have been mildly lucky with injuries so far this season. To be fair, they have already lost their best DB, Charles Godfrey. But, they did just get RB Jonathan Stewart back from the PUP list. I think a lot of Carolina's losses in the past two seasons can be mitigated somewhat by the rash of injuries they suffered. They lost a lot of starting players to significant injuries in 2011 and 2012 (Kalil, Beason, Davis, Otah, Gamble, Ron Edwards, David Gettis), most very early in those seasons. A lot of their replacement starters on the O-Lines and D-Lines were also injured, leaving the team in shambles on both lines.

I don't think Carolina is a lock for the playoffs this year, but if they can catch just a little good luck for a change, I think they could win their division and even advance a round or two in the playoffs. They swept the Saints last season, and would have also swept the 13-3 Falcons last season, if not for the epic collapse in Atlanta in week 4. The Panthers are already 2-0 in their division this year, and played well against the Seahawks in week 1, despite losing.

I know the Panthers haven't beaten a winning team yet this year, but they have thoroughly stomped nearly every weaker team they have played so far. That's a huge improvement over what I'm used to seeing from the Panthers in the past two seasons. Buffalo and Arizona aren't great teams, but both losses were on the road. The Buffalo loss was another almost-win that slipped away, and the Arizona loss seemed like a complete fluke. Even great teams have had a dud game, as evidenced the past few weeks by Seattle, New Orleans, New England, Cincinatti, Denver and Kansas City.

If the Panthers can play a close game in San Francisco (after SF's bye week, no less), they will have to be taken seriously for the rest of the season. Carolina should fair no worse than 2-1 against Miami, TB, and Atlanta. If they can just go 3-2 in the five games against SF, NE, NYJ, and NO (x2), they are in a great spot to make the playoffs at 10-6. They could even go 2-3, and still possibly get in at 9-7 in a weaker-than-expected NFC.

36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

on the Falcons - Steven Jackson sure seemed like a hard man to bring down once he gets going. The safety got a 10-15 yard head of steam and hit him dead-on ... only to bounce straight back. Fortunately, that did pause Jackson long enough for the rest of the Defensive backfield to hang on and ride him to the ground.

42 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

"@MilkmanDanimal: Trent Richardson didn't kill the clock; the clock got so depressed watching him run it killed itself."

Best Audible of the year.

Until proven otherwise, I generally assume that any running back when drafted who is described as a "bell cow," "bruiser," or "power back" is going to be a big, slow guy who can't block or catch. It seems that Trent Richardson has completely lived up to that assumption.

The CAPTCHA for the spam filter was "ezeui." I think I've uttered a similar word when watching Richardson play.

120 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

What the hell do you mean... big? He's only 5-9.

As for the rest, I, uh, hmmmmm, is it really a compliment to be compared to ANY kind of cow? "Psst, Coach. Can you call me a bull or a stallion or something? A cow is, you know, kind of slow, and used for milking, not dominating. Not a steer, not a gelding, not a mare. And don't go all Rickie Incognito on me and call me a filly."

(skillfully avoids the remainder of comparison, FTW)

BTW, that really was an AWESOME audible, Milkman.

126 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Look, I'm a Trent Richardson fantasy owner, so I'm sort of shell shocked here, but watching him in game, he doesn't look bad. I don't know if the play calling is different, or what, but it just seems like he has a line of retreating blue jerseys in front on a lot of his runs. He looked pretty good on the screen pass he took 20 yards too.

His quickness is not very quick, but he is able to move fast and run over tacklers. I suspect he will have a good game this season if they stick with him. He's still the most talented back active for Indianapolis.

141 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

He's not tall, but:

When I was in law school, someone once used the phrase "cattle call" in front of a judge. The judge spent ten minutes telling us why we shouldn't compare ourselves or anyone else to cows. I had to agree with her, and you, on that score, including the ridiculous "bell cow."

44 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

End of regulation play-calling by SD (I'm a Chiefs fan who dislikes WAS but wanted SD to lose):

With two timeouts and a chance to run three plays from inside the one before settling for a game-tying FG, I see why SD threw on either first or second down, as a TD wins and an incomplete buys a clock stoppage. If SD runs on both 1st and 2nd, and doesn't score, they have to throw on 3rd, which makes it easier on the D. I just don't understand the calls or formations. Maybe someone can explain.

1st down - shotgun formation, handoff to Woodhead. I'm okay with running but why not line Rivers up under center and force the defense to honor the sneak? That would seem to compress the defense and give Woodhead, more of a shifty guy than a power back, a better chance on the edge. Not threatening the sneak gives the defense more flexibility.

2nd down - this time Rivers is under center, with Mathews as the deep back in an I-formation. No play action fake by Rivers although the backs do make it look like a running play. Fade to Gates covered by Hall, not close to completed. OK, defense is compressed to guard against the sneak. Why not more of a fake? Make the defense commit to the run and then look for a TE or eligible tackle leaking into the end zone? With just a quick three-step drop, Rivers has a tough angle to make the throw. It seems like this throw would have been better from the shotgun.

3rd down - shotgun. Rivers rolls right with a moving pocket and has only half the field to throw to. I get the idea that moving the pocket and narrowing the field may reduce the sack chance and give Rivers some options to make a quick throw to one of three WRs but it also simplified the D's coverage problems. If you're going to put Rivers in motion, why not do it from the 2nd down formation with the QB under center, a fake dive/run behind the lead back to hold the defense, and then a bootleg to the right to look for Gates?

OK, so McCoy certainly knows more about play-calling than me, and about his team's strengths and the WAS D's weaknesses. Still, I thought he tried to get too clever here.

Finally, before the three plays, Woodhead's catch and run to the corner was ruled a TD then over-turned. The ref clearly says the ball will be placed on the 6-inch line, which looked like a good spot. But the ball was placed just inside the 1-yard mark (tail of the ball almost touching the painted mark) - about the 30-inch line. Why?

105 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

The calls puzzled me too. That's not strong enough - I hated them. Especially the 3rd down play. The moving pocket almost never works with Rivers, and especially at that spot in the field; it completely compresses the field.

"Too clever" is spot on.

148 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Yeah that was a bad spot, not a TD but 6" line seemed fair but not spotted there.
I get that some teams don't like to sneak their QBs. Shouldn't these teams have a back-up who can sneak for extremely short yardage? I'm thinking half-yard or less.

47 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Thought the refs nearly cost the Redskins. The Woodhead non-fumble call (on the drive where San Diego cut the elad to 24-21) was a potential game changer, but how did the refs miss the illegal touching play on the next drive (Rivers threw the ball directly into the back of one of his lineman) that cam right before the crucial 4th down to extend the drive?

55 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

The most meaningful game of yesterday-- in terms of its implications for playoff seeding and home field advantage-- was of course given just a few lines of commentary here on Patriots Outsiders. Can you folks basically pretend to care about the actual league you profess to be so good at understanding? (and in the case of 2013 Atlanta Falcons, you absolutely were. One of the best calls of the season) New Orleans basically spit the bit in terms of the Superdome and the postseason which might be somewhat important given their road track record (Brees has never won a road playoff game) and have now risked even a division title to the Panthers with a God-awful loss to the Jets. All of a sudden whatever the "DVOA flip a coin" says basically Green Bay has a pretty clear path to the #2 seed, based on the comparative schedules (the Saints have to play Seattle, SF and the Panthers twice. The Packers don't) and a likely 2nd round match-up vs. Carolina or NOLA assuming the Packers don't go totally crazy and end up 13-3 and pip the Fail Marys out of the #1 seed as well. (Yes, of course-- karma says the Bears will now win tonight. But Karma doesn't play defense in the Windy City, thank goodness. Nor Urhlacher or Briggs (tonight, at least) But of course it is far more important to analyze the Titans-Rams epic tussle, or the fact that Tom Brady proved that Pittsburgh's defense is simply not any good anymore.....

90 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

what part of this do you not understand:
"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."

Life does not stop and start at your convenience.

122 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

That would be so, so sweet. You can make up bits ahead of time and see what works as you do the final assembly on Sunday night. One fake game coverage every week, starting generically plausible "QB X had a solid game..." slowly building to the comic 'maybe possible' "Michael Irvin on ESPN referred to him as the second coming of Herb Adderly" to the really ridiculous "curing cancer" bit, just to make sure we all know it's not real. but at least you will have covered Team A and Z, dammit.

In fact, I can see fans whose teams were destroyed, or played really disappointing games, clamoring for the fake audibles to mitigate their pain.

Rock on!

128 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

And fit them to the final score:

"The Eagles finally played up to Chip Kelly's potential today, turning in a vintage Oregon performance in trouncing a bottom feeding team from the Bay Area by an embarrassing score. Michael Vick ran for 200 yards and passed for 200 yards in a convincing demonstration of the efficacy of running lot of plays in a short amount of time. Oakland Cornerback rookie C.J. "Currant Jelly" Mosley is expected to get his wind back sometime Wednesday morning.

Seven touchdowns were scored, four of them involving the fleet-footed Vick, who made younger athletic quarterback Terrelle Pryor look like Nick Foles, immobile and ineffective.

Running Back Darren McFadden left the game with [insert leg injury], to be replaced by [insert lunchtime victual]. Oakland's receivers were out of sync with their quarterback and could not take advantage of their edge in athleticism over the Eagles' secondary. Oakland scored thirteen points, seven of them on the return of a Bryce Brown garbage time fumble.

Vick was 12 of 23 for 212 yards and four passes completed to cheerleaders while running sideways. Pryor was 12 of 25 for with thirteen drops.

This win makes the Eagles officially eligible to attend the playoffs, as it is anticipated that the remainder of the division will lose every remaining game."

121 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Because, you know, the week's results can only be analyzed through the lens of the Packers.

This is a hilarious comment, because it looked like many more words were spent on the Rams and Texans than on the Patriots.

You can also lay some blame on Fox Sports for making the Vikings-Cowboys game their national broadcast instead of the more appealing Saints-Jets matchup. Not everyone has Sunday Ticket, you know.

107 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9 could just go to the GB blog and stay there. I imagine nary a comment will be found on the patriots, titans, rams or really any of the "irrelevant teams." And the best part, its a site devoted to the greatness of the yellow and green and only the yellow and green. Amazing!

113 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

As evidenced by the comments you are poisoning FO for the other Packer fans.

Please quit griping. Read the posts and respond with your own observations.

Boy I wish this site had an 'ignore' feature on posters

147 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I was already thinking of seconding this BEFORE tonights games. Now I just want to be on the record as a Packers fan who believes that the team is good, even championship caliber if/when healthy, but that doesn't believe that the team can walk on water.

So, Thirded. I'd be happy to never see another Paul M post again.

144 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Wow! Is this a FOMBC record? Last time it took 8 or more weeks for PaulM to bring the FOMBC down on the Packers (and it took a while for the original FOMBC to be clearly manifest, IIRC). But this time it only took what? 2 or 3 weeks?

145 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I was just thinking that PM(nv) caused some FOMBC problems for the Pack. Hopefully Rogers not out long (or out at all past tonight), but the good news for PM(nv) is that Matt Flynn is now available. As I recall, PM(nv) once theorized that the FLOOR for Matt Flynn's career would be multiple pro bowl seasons...

146 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

It wasn't PM who posited that the floor for Matt Flynn was several pro bowl seasons; it was FO itself. But thanks for mud-slinging.

I'd really prefer if you want to descend to ad hominen attacks that you'd do it on ESPN's site so I can ignore you.

155 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I'm pretty sure PM asserted that viewpoint, back in the day of his heralding the transubstantiation of the Packers into an otherworldly divine group that would never lose again. I don't have the energy to try to find it, and if my sincerely held belief is mistaken then my bad. If you want to ignore, feel free.

However, it is too bad that Rodgers will likely miss a few weeks. He's a great player and fun to watch.

157 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

I don't know if he started the 'Matt Flynn Rulz' line of thinking (FO did write that his floor was a pro-bowl level player after Week 17 in 2011), but what you're refering to was late in 2011, where he, and a few other Packers groupies, were claiming that the Packers were going to redefine what it meant to be an offense, doing things no one has ever seen before, winning five Super Bowls.

178 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Holy hell, somehow I missed that part of the thread back in 2011. Just wow. I was especially amazed at the "paradigm shift" he lept to based off a matt flynn game of excellence and how FO's reliance on past events was the reason for their myopia.

What's more amazing is...after the subsequent few years, at least based on Paulm's expectations, aaron rodgers has been a massive failure. He's woefully underperformed the god mode level of standard he was supposed to be at. And for that matter, since he lumped in brees and brady, they too have been just terrible.

57 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 9

Robert Klemko's MMQB article on Kubiak indicates he was spending days on end at the Texans facility. This is not unique to him; we hear about coaches sleeping in their offices all the time. In this instance, the Texans had two weeks to prepare for this game.

I truly wonder what coaches could possibly be doing for 80+ hours a week. I have never played football and have no frame of reference. What are they doing in their offices for this long? Are plays broken down to excruciating levels of detail? E.g., hand placement of right guards while blocking play-action on third and short while down 4 in the third quarter, etc.? At a certain point the scales have tipped and inefficiency is a factor. I know football is complex, but is it really THIS complex?

Anyone have any perspective on this?