Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

compiled by Rivers McCown, Andrew Potter, and Ben Jones

For this year's playoffs, we have a modified format for our Audibles at the Line feature, combining our Twitter feeds with our e-mail discussion. Firstly, the arrival of the playoffs brings with it the return of our usual back-and-forth staff e-mail conversation. Secondly, every game 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.

After the last game finishes, 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 the comments in this feature are 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.

New England Patriots 16 at Denver Broncos 26

Tweets

Aaron Schatz: I swear, man, Jamie Collins is going to be what Belichick thought he was getting in Adalius Thomas.
Tom Gower: Three guys on Chandler Jones on that deep pass. Not a bad idea.
Aaron Schatz: If you read game previews that told you to expect a lot of man coverage, guess what, they were right!
Aaron Schatz: Score so far: Broncos 3, Patriots 0, and punts bouncing in the Patriots' favor 100.
@WhispersMoCo:: If Arrington had looked, that pass was there for him to pick. No-look CB play annoys me.
Scott Kacsmar: Ugh, empty backfield on 3rd-and-1 is the worst. Broncos bailed out by penalty.
@MilkmanDanimal: Peyton yelled "Montana" and then "Omaha"; I think he's just reciting song titles from a Bon Iver album at this point.
Aaron Schatz: Pats want to drop lots of guys into coverage but this DL (esp the DTs) just isn't good enough to win with just front four.
Aaron Schatz: Really feels like the Pats are lucky to have this only at 13-3 at this point. Getting outplayed almost everywhere.
@csoandy: What did Manning learn from Caldwell in Indy? How to do clock management in spite of his coach. Seeing that today.
Aaron Schatz: Uh, Phil, part of the reason there's no pressure on Brady is that the Broncos are rushing three with seven DBs.
@MilkmanDanimal: Skip Bayless shakes in a corner; "He was supposed to choke! Why didn't he choke? What am I supposed to talk about this week?" *sobs*
@Raiderjoe_FO: Mannijg clearly better postseaodn player now over Tom Bardy. Manning was already better before today. Today cements it for thd dolts

Longform

Vince Verhei: We're within ten minutes of kickoff for the AFC Championship game. After one of the longest weeks of my life, my state of mind is somewhere between AHH!!! and AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots came out in an old-school, under-center pro set with split backs. What year is it? I swear, that's the first time I've seen that all year from them. You almost never see that formation in the NFL these days.

I'm not a big fan of making Austin Collie and Matthew Slater the targets on the Patriots' first two third-down pass plays.

Tom Gower: Yeah, interesting calls, especially given that it was a quick slant against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Collie and a deep pass to Slater. The ESPN piece I did had me convinced the Broncos were vulnerable short middle. So far, it looks like the Broncos are compensating by overloading that area of the field on third downs, which should create space elsewhere (both throws appeared toj be 1v1 matchups).

Aaron Schatz: Courtesy of Michael David Smith, here's a photo of the amazing blocking by Denver on the Knowshon Moreno run that converted third-and-10 and put the Broncos in position for a touchdown. Talk about your Merrill Hoge "canalleys."

Ben Muth: Aaron brought this up on Twitter, but Phil Simms saying Danny Trevathan was the best linebacker in football for a five to six game stretch is one of the nuttier things I've heard an announcer say. I mean which five-to-six games was he talking about? I'm a big Trevathan fan, and I understand when you're on the air for four hours you have to say something to fill the time, but this was absurd.

Tom Gower: I'm just happy an outside linebacker who isn't a pass rusher got some positive coverage. Yeah, I know, Lavonte David got some credit, but remember this is Phil Simms, who earlier in the game praised how well Tom Brady threw an inaccurate deep ball.

Rivers McCown: Andrew Luck couldn't have thrown that deep ball.

Scott Kacsmar: Very curious timeout by John Fox, but I agree with the field goal there. If they were closer to the end zone, then maybe go for it, but that's too far and not enough time left to gamble away three easy points with the Patriots kicking off in the third quarter.

Denver has to be pretty satisfied with both sides of the ball here. Blount's been shut down and Brady's missed a few plays. The Broncos are moving the ball fairly easily, scoring 13 points on four drives despite the bad field position. The sack of Brady on third down and second-and-20 conversion to Demaryius Thomas were the biggest plays in my book. I'd expect New England to abandon the run eventually, but this first defensive series is absolutely critical for what kind of second half we're going to get.

Aaron Schatz: 13-3 Denver at halftime, and it feels like the gap should be greater. The Broncos are really outplaying the Patriots today; the Patriots have done a good job of tightening on defense in the red zone and they've gotten great field position off some really friendly bounces on punts. Brady's not showing accuracy on the longer passes today, he's missed almost all of them. That doesn't really mean Manning looks that much better -- Manning just hasn't thrown many deep passes today, and the ones he has thrown he was accurate on, like the one to Demaryius Thomas for 29 yards that converted third-and-10 in the first quarter, or the one that converted second-and-20.

And yeah, the Patriots running game is completely not there today.

Vince Verhei: Ryan Allen having an All-Star game for New England today. Sure, part of that is due to lucky bounces, but if his first two punts were just average, Denver might have another three or seven points.

Anyone else playing well for the Patriots? Chandler Jones got a pass rush in the end zone to force a field goal. Jamie Collins has made some plays in coverage and rushing the passer. And they're making just enough plays to limit Denver to one touchdown in four drives. But overall, that was an awfully ugly half for the guys in the silver helmets.

I've watched the Welker hit on Talib repeatedly (GIF here) and despite all the online hand-wringing, I don't see how that's a penalty. Talib has no chance to make a play, so it's not pass interference. And it looks like the ball hits Thomas at the same time Welker hits Talib, which would have made it a clean block if Thomas had caught the ball.

Also, this is the most attention I've paid to Manning this year, and he's a case study on how arm strength is overrated, no matter what Phil Simms says. He has thrown some floaters today, but for the most part they've been on target and come down in spots where only his receivers can get them.

Tom Gower: Madden nominees, before the crucial fourth down with 2:30 to play in the third quarter: Terrance Knighton, who's been a big part of why the Patriots have been mostly ineffective in running the ball, not that I have any idea why they tried the LeGarrette Blount gameplan early when it was obvious to me it wouldn't work. Also Louis Vasquez, who's had a good season in general and has played a role in opening up room for Knowshon Moreno.

Aaron Schatz: Pot Roast destroyed Logan Mankins on the fourth-and-2. Huge game for the Roast.

Rivers McCown: Gotta give Denver's defensive line credit. The two biggest plays of their day, in their own territory, they beat the Pats offensive line one-on-one to get game-changing sacks.

Aaron Schatz: Their pass rush has done a great job of keeping things going without Von Miller.

Tom Gower: Yeah, I was really surprised when I ran those numbers this week, that they had been so successful without him. Malik Jackson was making a big splash early, but it's been more Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers, I think, plus Terrance Knighton and his great game today.

I feel like I should say something more about Denver's offensive performance, but this feels like the same sort of Denver performance we've seen all season. Julius Thomas is a matchup issue, what with the big pass play against Jamie Collins. They've run the ball well, as is the wont of Peyton Manning teams against two-high looks. Demaryius Thomas has eaten the coverage alive since Talib went out and has been making contested catches. They "only" have 26 points because, assuming I can count, they've had the ball six times (on their seventh right now, after recovering New England's failed onside kick).

Right, I can't count. Eight total possessions: one punt to open the game, two touchdowns and four field goals, then the end of the game. Puts a lot of pressure on an offense, and New England's pass game wasn't up to its usual level this year. Now all we need is the best team in the NFC (Seattle) to win as well.

Aaron Schatz: Another Pot Roast play on that two-point conversion. Shaun Phillips got over to get the main tackle but Knighton beat Connolly to get the assist. What a game for the roast. Not like you can really criticize Jacksonville for not bringing him back. The guy always had weight problems and wasn't always the most dedicated guy off the field, and Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks were among the few good Jags this year.

Eulogy from a Patriots fan: Hell of a year, hell of a year. I remember before the season having to defend our projection that the Pats would still be among the best teams in the league despite all the receiver turnover. Then they lost Wilfork, and then Mayo, and Tommy Kelly, and Vollmer, and Gronkowski, and Amendola's groin has been bothering him all year (that's gotta hurt), and on and on. The fact that this team finished 12-4 and made it to the AFC Championship game was a remarkable achievement. I believe I'm quoting a Sir Charles Barkley here when I say that as a fan, all you can ask for is for your team to be in the mix for the title every year. They aren't going to win it every year. The fact that the Pats have won double-digit games for 11 straight seasons is a pretty nice little streak.

That said, the team was completely outplayed by Denver today in pretty much every way except punting. Sort of anticlimactic. The Broncos didn't overcome quite as many major injuries as the Patriots, but they overcame a lot of them, so again, heck of a year for them. Manning is hugely important, of course, but John Elway has made a lot of other great moves over the last few years, like signing Vazquez, and getting Phillips to cover for the Elvis Dumervil debacle, and some good draft picks too. (Derek Wolfe is someone I like a lot, although hasn't played the last few weeks.)

San Francisco 49ers 17 at Seattle Seahawks 23

Tweets

@EmperorJan: Someone needs to tell Kaepernick and Wilson first one to yell Omaha! wins.
Tom Gower: NaVorro Bowman & Bobby Wagner basically having a linebacking-off early on this game.
@dbt: Touchdown replay timeout touchdown injury timeout ... PAT timeout kickoff timeout. NFL fever!
Aaron Schatz: Dear Russell Wilson, stop going backwards all the time. Who do you think you are, Aaron Brooks?
Aaron Schatz: I knew the Seattle OL was bad but they are getting CRUSHED. And that includes Okung. Egads.
@MilkmanDanimal: I suspect Seattle's halftime is going to feature Russell Wilson just smacking his offensive linemen across the face for 15 minutes.
Aaron Schatz: Well, Seattle has figured out how to run block at halftime. Now they just need to figure out how to pass block.
@blotzphoto: Marshawn Lynch may be the most surprising HOF running back ever. He's going to Canton if he does this a couple more years.
Aaron Schatz: Score another one for Bill Belichick's idea that everything should be reviewable.
Aaron Schatz: I don't blame the refs for the mistake on the Kearse fumble. Human eyes, action too fast. I blame limits on challenges.
Aaron Schatz: Earlier, I reminded Russell Wilson not to go backwards. Golden Tate did not apparently see that tweet.
Aaron Schatz: SEA needs to consider just having 6 OL on every play at this point to try to protect Wilson. This is ridiculous.
Tom Gower: San Francisco starting off that drive like they were trying to burn 7 minutes off the clock like ATL in last year's NFCCG
@Mercurius100: Tip to your teammate INT to win the game is the most Seattle way possible to win a NFC Championship.
Aaron Schatz: So, SEA-DEN are first teams to finish 1-2 in DVOA 2 straight years, and first 1-2 in DVOA to meet in SB since TB-OAK 2002.

Longform

Aaron Schatz: Apparently, like the crew that did last week's San Francisco game, Gene Steratore's crew this week hasn't read the research about penalties going down in the playoffs. A lot of flags early.

So, does anyone have a theory on what's wrong with the Seattle passing game the last couple weeks?

Tom Gower: I mentioned this on Twitter, but for whatever reason, I don't think Russell Wilson is seeing the field cleanly. He's scrambled for yards rather than throwing to open receivers, including last week. I thought the defenseless receiver call on Whitner, he had Luke Willson open in front of the safeties and didn't get the throw off. He just seems to be operating a bit slow-not a lot, but that's enough to turn open into covered in the NFL.

Aaron Schatz: When Kaepernick had his big 58-yard run, I saw somebody make a joke on Twitter about how the Packers are sitting at home nodding... but they aren't. Kaepernick beat them with the zone read last year. Today, his rushing yards seem to primarily be on scrambles. The Seahawks have tried to spy him sometimes, but when they don't, he's killing them.

Rivers McCown: Put me down for "lack of receiving options" on Seattle's passing problems. Doug Baldwin is nice and all, but he's not ready to carry an offense on his own. I don't think they have a player that they can reliably go to and expect to beat his man.

I'd like to say more about this game but this is kinda what I expected. Well, I didn't expect Kaepernick to do all the rushing. But I expected stifling defense buttressing a few big plays on each side.

Scott Kacsmar: In last year's playoffs Kaepernick had nearly half of his yards on scrambles against Green Bay and the other half on zone-read keepers. He really did whatever he wanted to Green Bay. Should the 49ers advance, I'm sure I'll be looking into how he's carried the ball this season. He's the most impressive running quarterback to me just in terms of pure running ability. So fast and smart not to take big hits. I'm not sure anyone other than Michael Vick (in his prime) makes the 58-yard run Kaepernick had today.

Aaron Schatz: The thing about the lack of receiving options is that these are the same receivers they've had all year, except for Sidney Rice -- and the offense continued to play well for a few weeks after Rice went out. So, what has changed? One possibility is that these receivers aren't good enough to win on their own if the opposing defense isn't selling out to stop the run -- and the 49ers are stopping the run well enough that they don't have to sell out to stop it. Maybe?

Tom Gower: I concur with Aaron, this is mostly the same receiving group Wilson had success with, plus as I said, I'm seeing open receivers. I don't know if teams are just defending the Seahawks differently, and he's not as good at reading this type of coverage, or if he's just not seeing things clearly for some annoying reason I can't explain but maybe could if I spent 30 hours watching the Seahawks offense.

Vince Verhei: Nightmare first half. Wilson hesitant, with dumb scrambles and a sloppy turnover. Receivers turning into the walking dead. Offensive line (and fullback) getting outmuscled. Kaepernick somehow making plays against zone defenses that should be able to contain him. It's a seven-point deficit that feels like 70.

Wilson has looked indecisive and confused in the early and late parts of the year. He was better in October and November (he says without checking numbers). But it hasn't been very pretty of late.

Aaron Schatz: Russell Wilson pass DVOA split into four-game chunks, regular season only.

Weeks 1-4: 7.8%
Weeks 5-8: 4.6%
Weeks 9-13: 60.3%
Weeks 14-17: -4.0%

I realize he gets rid of the ball very quickly but I'm trying to imagine how Peyton Manning is going to stay upright against these two ferocious pass rushes. Almost every play today has been made by Wilson or Kaepernick scrambling.

Scott Kacsmar: I'm sure Manning will study a lot of what the Saints did against them. Might be the most similar offense Seattle or San Francisco has played.

Rivers McCown: Sorry, didn't mean to present that theory so authoritatively. I have eyes. I can see that Wilson is feeling pressure before it arrives. But I do think the lack of a true no. 1 receiver is a reason their offense has room for improvement.

Tom Gower: Denver has more and better receivers than either team, and Peyton's better in terms of movement within the pocket and recognizing pre-snap and after the snap where to go with the football than Kaepernick or Wilson. Yeah, it'll be an issue, but I'm not that worried. Plus, it's not like it'll be a road game, so crowd noise should not be a factor. Weather? Yeah, that could be an issue.

When San Francisco gets big plays from Colin Kaepernick, they score. The touchdown to make it 17-10? A freakin' laser beam from an awkward throwing platform. Scoring off consistent execution? Eh.

Aaron Schatz: Seattle got something even better than fumble luck with 8:45 left: unreviewable rule luck. Jermaine Kearse fumbled at the goal line and NaVorro Bowman recovered it, but apparently because they already called it a fumble, they can't review who recovered it, and they had announced the Seahawks recovered. I guess if they had not called it a fumble, they could review it to decide it was a fumble, and then give the ball to San Francisco properly? Score another one for the idea of making everything reviewable.

Of course, this whole sequence of events was soured by the fact that Bowman suffered a severe injury on the play.

Scott Kacsmar: At least this happened in a high-profile game, so good chance they'll be able to fix that in review for next season. Should be San Francisco's ball and justice is served anyway after Lynch fumbled the handoff. I liked the call to go for it, because the six-point lead just inches you closer to a heartbreaking one-point loss.

Tom Gower: Concur with the decision to go for it, and that it feels like that situation should be an exception to the NFL's generally wise policy not to mess around with recovering fumbles in piles.

I don't know what Colin Kaepernick saw on the subsequent interception. I'm not sure he knows what he did either. I'm just happy we got the atrocious pick in this game instead of The All Hail Quarterback Wins early game.

Scott Kacsmar: Shouldn't be hard to write language into the rule book for "a team can review a fumble recovery as to whether or not a player has clear possession and is down by contact."

Kaepernick has made some really boneheaded plays in the last few minutes, but the same can be said for a lot of these players. Golden Tate nearly gave up a first down. 49ers very fortunate they will have a chance to go on a game-winning touchdown drive here.

Tom Gower: It felt to me like Seattle had the better of the second half-not as much as San Francisco did last week against Carolina, but enough. Michael Bennett's strip-sack and Kaepernick's ghastly interception were part of that, of course, but the offense looked more functional at times. Lynch was fantastic, of course, with all the yards after contact, and Wilson made a great throw on fourth down for the go-ahead score, matching Kaepernick's laser earlier in the second half.

Madden nominees: Bowman, Wagner, Lynch?

Also, how fitting was it that a team that regularly struggled with offensive communication ran a terribly herky-jerky time-waster of a final drive and about the best cornerback in the game made the final defensive stop in one-on-one coverage?

Aaron Schatz: The Seattle defense and Marshawn Lynch took over and won this game in the second half. It's a great defense. They weren't letting Gore have anything in the run game, and while they were allowing some passes, they also made some plays -- the interception to end the game being the most important. Wilson made a couple of really good throws but he really did not seem consistently good, in large part because he spent the whole game running for his freaking life. I looked at the gamebook and Wilson completed 16 of 25 passes and honestly, I can't believe it was that many. Shaun Phillips and Pot Roast must be salivating at the thought of facing this line, and Seattle gets a real break not having to deal with Von Miller.

I'm hoping we can do a Madden Pot Roast.

Tom Gower: Early Super Bowl thought: great matchups on both sides of the ball, with (a) Seattle's pass rush and cover guys against a good and deep collection of targets and one of the best mental quarterbacks of all time and (b) Marshawn Lynch against a Denver defense that's been pretty stout against the run, especially in the postseason (unless New England's drive against that 3-2-6 or whatever prevent jacks up their DVOA).

Cian Fahey: Two weeks of analysis in store, but right now, it's clear that the Seahawks need Russell Wilson to play better to win. He couldn't be further from the transcendent player he was early in the season.

Vince Verhei: My thoughts at 7:14 p.m. Pacific time: ghhq3 h54qh4h4q ht4h464

Scott Kacsmar: Three turnovers by Kaepernick in the fourth quarter, all in a one-score game. That's always too much to overcome, but I thought the last drive was set up pretty well for a late win. We know he loves Crabtree and the throw was just not on target in the end zone (again). Tip and ball game. I look forward to how this rivalry plays out for years to come. So far the home team is 5-0 since 2012.

Early Super Bowl thoughts: Denver probably needs less points to win against Seattle, but points will be tougher to come by. So happy we get to see a legit No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense Super Bowl. Unfortunately the daily check of the weather prediction is a story for the next two weeks. Obviously Denver does need better conditions to run its style of offense compared to Seattle. Also have to check that status of Knowshon Moreno.

But can't wait for this one.

Vince Verhei: OK. I'm calming down a bit now.

So let's talk Wilson. Agreed with Aaron: His numbers look better than it seemed like he played. He apparently had eight first downs passing. I remember two (the big play in the first half and the fourth-down touchdown). Officially he had two fumbles. Felt like he had about five. I made a comment on Twitter that I wrote poorly, because it's Twitter, but this is what I was trying to say: At times it looked like he was making a deliberate attempt to have the worst performance ever by a quarterback to win a championship game and get into the Super Bowl. He's also never, ever keeping the ball on the read option anymore. Don't know if he's hurt more than anyone is letting on. Don't know if they've told him not to run. Maybe the zone read stuff helped him get into a rhythm, and without it he's still a second-year developing quarterback.

And then there's this: In four career playoff games, Wilson has trailed at halftime three times, and led a comeback to take the lead every time.

As for the 49ers, in some ways that was the best their offense has played all year. Zero wasted timeouts, one delay of game, one false start (and that was on a fourth down where they were just trying to get Seattle to jump), all on the road, all against the best defense in the world. Colin Kaepernick is a physical freak beyond compare. I felt, at times, like Jaworski knew what he was talking about with this kid. Obviously, he made some late mistakes. But man oh man is that guy scary.

Rob Weintraub: Oy, now two full weeks of Richard Sherman ...

As someone who has railed against the 45-44-ization of football for a while, I dug the intensity and defensive dominance on display in Seattle. It was old school football--right down to the personal fouls and apparent season ending injuries to Iupati and Bowman (and it would be tough for the Niners to play the Super Bowl without them, but I'm sure they'd like the opportunity). The Iupati injury in particular ended any chance the Niners had of maintaining a ground game, and without that they are completely reliant on Kaepernick runs.

As for Wilson, we all seem to have forgotten he is unusually short for a quarterback, and that's why he struggles when he is unable to dance his way into clean sight lines. That's why the Hawks seem to run only slants and nine routes--he is comfortable with them and can see them develop. Both defenses were crafted to stop the opposing quarterback in this game--small wonder they both struggled. But they also both made huge plays, so give them credit while picking them apart -- both were under considerable duress throughout.

I thought the "12th Man" and loud field aspect was totally overrated. Had Sherman not made a tremendous play, the Niners would have gone down the field into the teeth of these so-called ultrafans and won the NFC title. Yes, the stadium is acoustically contoured to maximize sound, but let's not grant Seattle some sort of holy status. When Seattle had an average team, there was nothing especially intimidating about the stadium. Now that they have the best defense in the league, it's a hard place to win.

Both the Pats and Niners have been to 3 straight conference title games--and both are now 1-2 in them, and both lost the Super Bowl. Not sure what that means, though as a devout hater of both teams, it's all I have to hang on to.

Danny Tuccitto: Richard Sherman. Great play. Odd time to throw his way. Never should have come down to that. Speaking in short sentences.

Comments

259 comments, Last at 22 Jan 2014, 7:52pm

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Rough as Wilson's night was, it was nowhere near the worst performance of a quarterback who won a championship game to go on to the Super Bowl. Roethlisberger was horrid in the 2010/2011 AFC championship game against the Jets, going 10 of 19 with two interceptions for 133 yards. He did have two big runs, but in the end only averaged 1.9 yards a carry.

174 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Todd took a separate plane from the rest of the team after that game. I might add Woodley and Todd had to deal with a complete mess of a field, which was Shula's fault. The Dolphins did not utilize the drainage system during the week before the game, assuming that muddy conditions would hurt the Jets much more than them, and they were right.

That game was a complete organizational disaster for the Jets; Todd never recovered, and their coach Walt Michaels "resigned" due to a drunken tirade on the plane back. A team that had the talent to contend was set back for two years until O'Brien was ready. Even if they had drafted Marino, the defense didn't recover until 1985 when Bud Carson was brought in.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

To be fair, Roethlisberger had a rushing touchdown and Mendenhall gifted the Jets one of those interceptions with a tip. Ben also iced the game with a big third-down conversion pass, which I don't think people give enough respect to. He didn't give his defense a chance to complete blowing a huge lead to Mark Sanchez.

175 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I felt that too much respect was given to Big Ben the week before the Super Bowl, as if he had led the Steelers to the game. That one play was huge, but for most of the game Ben did not play that well; in the first half, the running game led the Steelers. When the running game failed in the second half (i.e., the Jets defense woke up), the Steelers either went three and out, or gave up a safety, until that final drive. The Steelers defense was blowing a lead because they were gassed. By the way, the Mendenhall tip was on a fourth down, and he wouldn't have made the first down anyway, so it wasn't a big loss for the Steelers on that play.

228 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

If I'm remembering the right game didn't Roethlisberger have a decent if unspectacular first half where the Steelers running game was effective and defense dominant? If so then the entire second half of that game was garbage time where the employed strategy was more about running the clock off than scoring.

I remember on that interception and announcer saying something about not being able to afford an interception in that scenario I was thinking that just about the least damaging scenario possible.

230 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Yeah, my recollections of that game are:

-Being about as relaxed as I could be watching the second half of a championship game.

-Knowing that once the Steelers held on the fourth-and-goal, the Jets wouldn't have enough time to score twice, even if Pittsburgh took a safety (which they did).

-Experiencing less excitement around us on the way out of Heinz Field than we did in Cleveland a couple months earlier when the Browns beat the Patriots.

234 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I don't think you're remembering the game quite correctly. It was a tale of two halves. The first half was as you described. The Jets were stifled on offense, got run over on defense, and gave away 7 points on a strip sack returned for a TD with less than 2 minutes in the half. But then the Jets scored on the first drive of the 2nd half to make it 24-10. From that time on, the Steelers called 9 drop backs and 10 runs plus 2 fumbled snaps (both recovered by Pitt) so you can't tell whether it was run or pass. Some of the drop backs turned into Big Ben scrambles, but they were intended to be passes. So it wasn't that the Steelers just tried to run out the clock -- the Jets' defense finally showed up and shut them down until the very last drive when Ben made two plays to get first downs and run out the clock. If the Steelers didn't recover 4 out of 5 fumbles (including all 3 of their own and the big fumble return for a TD), the outcome probably would have been different.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

As a lifelong Pats fan (and lifelong means attending Patriots games at both BC and Harvard Stadium) I can't possibly disagree with Aaron more. They had a chance to go to go to the stupid bowl, and in their biggest game of the year they laid an egg the size of a fart in church. They didn't play well on offense, they didn't play well on defense, and they didn't coach well.

Congrats to the Broncos who whipped the Patriots in every phase of the game ... well except punting mostly because the Broncos never needed to punt beyond the 1st drive.

Best of luck to all the Broncos fans may your team do what mine couldn't.

67 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

They seemed to have no confidence right from the start. Why are they trying a face to Matthew Slater of all people on 3rd down? They hadn't thrown a pass his way all season long. It's the kind of thing that reeks of "trick play", and trick plays are trotted out when you think your normal offense won't work. And given the state of the Denver secondary, this baffles me.

And then, after Talib went out, apparently the coaching simply tried to use the same schemes, even though they'd lost their #1 corner back. They never made any kind of adjustment to account for the fact that neither Dennard nor Ryan can cover as well as Talib.

223 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I agree with you, and so do most Pats fans. Injuries are naturally a problem, but the Patriots just seemed unprepared for this game. It is also not to Belichick's credit as a GM or a coach that the Patriots have been unable to find and develop all-pro talent on defense for years. Wilfork is the only real defensive star on the Pats, we've never replaced people like Seymour or Harrison In retrospect maybe Pete Carrol should get more credit for that Pats 2001 defense (Law, Milloy, Bruschi, Jones, even McGinest to some extent, all developed under him) than we realized.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It's kind of amazing to watch the narrative being rewritten on the fly. I was given to understand going into this game that the Niners defense was perhaps the number two unit in the NFL, with past injuries and suspensions artificially dampening the numbers of a now-healthy D. Are we now declaring that their defense was actually terrible and overrated by DVOA?

Because in the game I just watched Russel Wilson put up a 16 for 25 night with 8.6 yards per attempt and a quarterback rating of 104.6. I don't see how he's in the same neighborhood as the worst performance by a winning quarterback in a championship game unless he was going up against a total creampuff.

For the last three weeks I've been seeing the refrain of "the Seahawks can get by with sloppy play like that against [team they just beat], but they won't get away with it against [upcoming opponent]." I guess it was naive to think that it would stop just because they beat the consensus pre-game pick as the "best team in the playoffs."

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

QB Rating doesn't take into account bad sacks, fumbles, or intentional grounding. I wouldn't call it a horrible game by Wilson. I thought it was about average for a QB. The SF defense also deserves a lot of credit for a great game. Had Wilson been playing a lesser defense, I'm certain his play would have looked better.

40 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

He had four sacks and one intentional grounding call. The first sack was bad, but I don't know about the others. I recall a lot of very early pressure. I guess you could put that on Wilson for not making the line calls, but that's being pretty nitpicky.

Wilson did make some bad decisions during the game. He's not Peyton Manning, the Mobile Organism Designed Only for Completions. But for a merely human quarterback against a very good defense, he had a solid game.

Since Seattle's bye week, they have faced the following rank of defenses measured by DVOA: 10, 13, 6, 2, 12, 10, 13. Thirteen being the 49ers, who by reputation are much better than their number.

Over the same time period Denver has faced: 9, 19, 32, 18, 26, 32, and 21.

Manning is obviously better than Wilson, but the gap isn't quite as gigantic as raw numbers from the last seven games might lead one to believe, IMO.

41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

He had four sacks and one intentional grounding call. The first sack was bad, but I don't know about the others. I recall a lot of very early pressure. I guess you could put that on Wilson for not making the line calls, but that's being pretty nitpicky.

Wilson did make some bad decisions during the game. He's not Peyton Manning, the Mobile Organism Designed Only for Completions. But for a merely human quarterback against a very good defense, he had a solid game.

Since Seattle's bye week, they have faced the following rank of defenses measured by DVOA: 10, 13, 6, 2, 12, 10, 13. Thirteen being the 49ers, who by reputation are much better than their number.

Over the same time period Denver has faced: 9, 19, 32, 18, 26, 32, and 21.

Manning is obviously better than Wilson, but the gap isn't quite as gigantic as raw numbers from the last seven games might lead one to believe, IMO.

33 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

That's possible, but I tend to think Denver actually has a better coverage secondary than SF has. The line and LBs aren't as good, but they cover in man pretty well. They certainly bottled up SD and NE for three quarters, and I've been lead to believe that Rivers and Brady are pretty good. Seattle certainly doesn't have anyone of Keenan Allen's quality, unless Harvin gets on the juvenation machine.

Frankly, I think Seattle-Denver is a fascinating game. Seattle's defense is good at stopping what Denver's good at, but Seattle's offense isn't constructed to exploit Denver's weaknesses (vulnerability to TEs, lack of DB depth). Seattle runs well, but so did SD and NE. Denver can stop the run. They hemorrhages when they sat back and good QBs kept hitting Hole-in-Zone. If Harvin plays, I like Seattle. If he doesn't, I like Denver.

Basically, I think Seattle can cover the run without giving up the seams and can cover the pass without giving the run free reign, Sherman can wash out D. Thomas, press-man and holding will give Decker kittens, and Chancellor can cover J. Thomas -- but who covers Welker? I can see him having one of those old 10-120-2 games and just killing Seattle via a thousand paper cuts.

151 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Well, ideally, he'd do none of these things, and instead do what he did against the 49ers in the first game this year, which was to stay in the pocket and immediately throw to his hot route, which resulted in an easy touchdown. They never blitzed him again that night. The pocket bomb to Baldwin against the Saints is another example.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Hey Rob,
Come out to Seattle some time and take in the experience of the 12th man. We're not overrated. The Niners didn't win the game and they couldn't overcome the defense or the crowd. Kaepernick is 0-3, with a 52.3%/5.9ypa/2 tds/6 ints line in Seattle. He's 21-5 with a line of 60.3%/8.1ypa/36 tds/10 ints in all other venues. We own him, don't try to tell us we don't.

246 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Like the notion that crowd noise has any impact on homefield advantage?

There is data to support this, but it has some circumstantial aspects to it.

First, Seattle has the biggest difference in net points per game at home and on the road of any team since the stadium opened.

Second, visiting teams have committed more false start penalties in that stadium than any other stadium over the same time frame. (This might also be true for delay of game, but I'm not sure.)

Now, you can't conclusively tie either of those things to crowd noise. However, when you try to determine why those two things are true, that's the one major feature of the stadium that stands out. The other is travel, as (I think) Seattle is the NFL city furthest removed from any other.

So, no, you can't conclusively say crowd noise has a measurable impact on homefield advantage. But it certainly looks like it might.

248 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"Second, visiting teams have committed more false start penalties in that stadium than any other stadium over the same time frame. (This might also be true for delay of game, but I'm not sure.)"

I would like to see this fleshed out more. How much are they ahead of the next team, and next 5 teams? Are the other top teams in this stat particularly known for being loud? Are the teams' division opponents known to have a lot of these penalties in their other road trips (for instance, San Francisco is currently known for committing a massive load of delay-of-game penalties)? The stat by itself tells me little without context.

252 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I'd love to see it fleshed out more, as well.

Just did 10 minutes of research, and found an article on Seahawks.com that mentioned Seattle had 130 opponent false start penalties at home since 2005, next highest was 115. I don't know when the article was posted, however.

I've just discovered NFLPenalties.com, and haven't fully dug in to what they have, but it seems the data goes back to 2009.

As an example of what I found on there, here are the pre-snap penalties for 2013 Seattle opponents:

Seattle opponents in their stadiums: 10 pre-snap penalties in 8 games.
Seattle opponents in Seattle: 29 pre-snap penalties in 10 games. (These are amazingly well-distributed: 8 of the games had either 3 or 4 pre-snap penalties.)

I don't have time, at the moment, do know if this delta is typical, but it seems pretty extreme at first blush.

Edit: Okay, here's some more data.

Seattle opponent offensive pre-snap penalties, 2009-2013 (If there are asterisks, that's how many more games beyond 8 they had in that category.)

2009: H: 22, A: 9
2010: H: 21*, A: 16*
2011: H: 12, A: 12
2012: H: 15, A: 17**
2013: H: 21**, A: 5

Overall average: 2.11/game in Seattle, 1.37/game elsewhere.
League average, 2009-2013, False Start + Delay of Game at home and road:
Home: 1.42/game, Road: 1.48/game.

It certainly looks like there's a tendency for opponents to commit significantly more pre-snap penalties in Seattle versus other road venues.

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Ugh. That Bowman injury was horrible.

Glad I stayed up til 3am to watch all the Seahawks 9ers game. Was a goodun. Both Wilson and Kaepernick looked pretty poor at passing. I'm struggling to see how the Seahawks get any offence going against the Broncos. I mean, neither team had an actual offence yesterday in the later game, they just had a big plays that occassionally happened on the same drive.

90 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Any qb will turn it over if the pressure is fast enough, and the qb is put in a spot where he has to have a completion. How well Manning is protected will be huge, obviously. I wish I knew what the weather is going to be. Also obvious is if it is dry, 35 degrees, and not much wind, the Broncos' chances improve a lot.

92 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The Seahawks got two field goals on really short fields from a turnover and a long kick return. The offense stalled almost immediately on both drives. Their only two touchdowns came from 35 and 40 yards away, and neither touchdown drive was longer than 62 yards. The only other score, a field goal, came on a drive assisted by a 51 yard pass play.

All of Seattle's scoring came on long plays or short fields. Can they rely on that again? Denver might not give them many (if any) short fields. Prater will probably convert most kickoffs into touchbacks. Can the Seahawks put together multiple 80 yard drives to put enough points on the board to beat the Broncos away from home? I have my doubts.

240 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think it's a couple things. One, punts are harder to catch since you can get hit immediately, and so being sure-handed, knowing when to fair catch, when not to try to catch at all and let the ball bounce, etc. is more important. Two, good punt returns are more about elusiveness and making the first guy miss, while kick returns are more about pure speed and hitting the gap opened up by the wedge as fast as you can.

So the skills are not entirely the same. But there's a fair amount of overlap so a guy who is very good at one will often be good at the other.

196 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"All of Seattle's scoring came on long plays or short fields. Can they rely on that again?"

The long play part, I don't see why not. Despite playing a mediocre set of QBs, 9.95% of pass attempts against the Denver defense were 20+ yard completions, 10th-worst in the league.

"Denver might not give them many (if any) short fields."

You have way too high an opinion of Denver's offense versus Seattle's defense. When they played each other in the preseason, pretty seriously and with both teams healthy, Seattle forced two three-and-outs in five drives that Manning and the first-team offense was in for.

218 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Well, the nearest real game Seattle has played against a similar offense was last year against the Patriots. New England did everything people think Denver can/should do to win: chew up the clock by going on time-consuming drives (8-minute advantage in TOP), force an inconsistent offense into numerous three-and-outs (3 out of 11), shut down the running game (Lynch only had 41 yards) and force Seattle into driving the entire length of the field (a whopping 10 out of 11 drives for Seattle started from their 20-yard line or worse). And yet Seattle still won, and they won by typical Seattle methods: hound the opponent in the red zone (16 points on 6 trips) and strike with long plays (4 pass plays/pass interference calls of 40 yards or more).

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Yes, arm strength is overrated, especially when the qb knows where to go with the ball with lightning speed, against non-great dbs (specially when the best one gets hurt), and gets it there accurately. When your qb is not an alien with superior cognitive powers, however, or when the coverage is a lot tighter, due to outstanding db play, or when the wind blows hard, superior arm strength is a very, very, good thing. I think there is a decent chance that even the alien is gonna want better ability to squeeze the ball into a tight window, with some oomph, in a couple weeks.

I refuse to listen to Phil Simmns, and the radio broadcast won't synch with the t.v. broadcast. Was the term "Quentin Jammer" ever uttered? Nice time for Champ Bailey to get healthy. I was surprised, however, at how badly the Patriots o-line was dominated.

In the other game, the Niners (Kopernick) just turned it over too often, and they yielded another short field on special teams. To beat Seattle in Seattle, you have to make their offense go some distance to score points. If you need to go the length of the field on your last possession, your liable to have one of Seattle's great dbs make a great play to end your season.

I wouldn't say Brady played poorly, and, no, the Patriots yesterday didn't have great receivers on the field. When you have chances to make big plays downfield, however, in a game like this, and miss badly, it greatly harms your team's ability to compete.

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Aaron Schatz: Apparently, like the crew that did last week's San Francisco game, Gene Steratore's crew this week hasn't read the research about penalties going down in the playoffs. A lot of flags early.

Apparently Aaron didn't get the league memo.

http://tinyurl.com/m2u3x7c

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

This is starting to look like the 02 Bucs. Wilson had another awful game yet they won. I think the Niners have the game plan to beat him now. One thing is obvious though Kaepernick is a top 5 QB in the NFL. He almost single handedly beat an all-time great defense on the road while Gore had 14 yards on 11 carries. Flip the script on that and Seattle gets beat by 20. How many QBS have posted a negative 3.4 EPA in a championship game and won? DYAR is going to show the chasm between the two QBS play and I will sadly acknowledge the Niners were a part of another championship game they should have won. Eric Reid why couldn't you hold on to that pick?

52 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

To be fair to Seattle's defense they really only gave up two good drives (And the comeback attempt which I'll get to in a second) and one of them was based on Kapernick's otherworldly scrambling ability netting 58 yards and a 4th and goal conversion where the San Fran o-line could not have gotten blown up worse but the back made a great leaping play. The second good drive saw Kapernick get very lucky not to get picked by Earl Thomas. As for the last drive it was a pretty good one but it felt like once they got into the red zone they were going to have trouble finding the open man against that secondary (and especially that they were going to have trouble with time as they loafed a bit).

188 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Noticed something last night re-watching highlights. Go back and watch the 58-yard scramble again, only follow Red Bryant. (#79 - he lines up at right end.)

Bryant starts to rush, but not very hard - he's obviously spying on the play. After Kaepernick takes off, Bryant _stays in the picture_ for nearly the entire run. He can't keep up with Kaep (because, well, 300+ pounds), but that was some serious running by the big guy.

76 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

A huge part of the narrative will clearly be written in 2 weeks time, but I think its ok to already be talking about an all-time great defence. DVOA thinks so.

It is surely now more difficult than ever for a defence to utterly dominate all of its opponents. These Seahawks come as close as any unit has for a while, maybe the 08/09 Steelers?

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Well I would say the game proved that Seattle has a much better defense than SF, as the stats showed. That's why they won. I told this to my friends and half time and they seemed skeptical. I'll mostly leave the "all time" issue to the experts. It also seemed they won general special teams execution.

Seattle's insane secondary is good enough and the D-line quick enough that they could just shut down the conventional running game, whereas it seemed that SF was focused more on pass defense. Maybe somebody else can comment on how many were in the box. SF's secondary was again exposed in a big game. That's why Wilson's numbers look better than his play. A blown coverage on a bomb. Bad play on the ball by Rogers on the TD. Not to mention bad run support on Lynch's TD run.

All of SF's offense was insane athletic plays by Kaep, or throws into very tight windows just about. I don't really think the crowd impact was that great--clock management and false starts weren't an issue--although I wouldn't say it was non-existent. Kaep didn't have a great game due to mistakes and usual mediocre completion percentage, but I honestly don't know who would do much better against these guys.

Be curious what DYAR shows. Kaepernick will get a big boost from opponent adjustments and his running, not so much from the turnovers. Think he should have kept going to middle of the field with 2 TOs left and not at Sherman, but hard to fault him entirely for that one. Wilson got a boost from blown coverage. It also seemed like he completed some 3rd down check downs, which DYAR won't like if so. I don't know who will get the blame for the botched hand-off.

As a SF fan, it was frustrating. They did several things they had to do to win--take the lead with an early turnover, actually score a couple of TD's, avoid dumb penalties and clock management issues--and still lost despite subpar Seattle QB play. Don't think this bodes well going forward for the rivalry. I think the best hope going forward is for Seattle to win the Super Bowl and to get a little fat and happy although part 2 might be wishful thinking.

49 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I disagree with your characterization of Seattle's big plays as defensive mistakes and SF's big plays as great plays by Kaepernick. For example, the "blown" coverage on the bomb happened after Wilson extended the play for an insanely long time. The "bad play on the ball" was a great catch and not entirely different from the SF TD, where the DB got his hands on the ball but couldn't make the play. And the bad run support had some great run blocking and great open-field running by Lynch.

I mean, you could also say Seattle had poor run support on some of those Kaepernick runs, particularly the long run where the spy LB was out of position.

------
The man with no sig

153 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It's true when you're rooting for a team you don't have a completely balanced perspective, but I will defend myself. I certainly give Lynch credit for his running throughout the game and on that run in particular, but Reid made a terrible play to make it easier. On the first deep ball to Baldwin, he also seemed to be in the wrong place.

Re: the deep TD's, I don't think Thomas had much of a chance to tip the one to Boldin--that ball just seemed to have eyes--but I felt Rogers should have gotten a hand on the one to Kearse. This is admittedly subjective.

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think the rivalry changes a little once Wilson & Kaepernick get signed to their second contracts, and the franchises have to decide who to let go. They likely won't be getting Flacco money, but even a $10M cap hit in the first year changes things quite a bit. Richard Sherman's 5th round contract should also be running out soon, too.

75 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"Well I would say the game proved that Seattle has a much better defense than SF, as the stats showed. "

Total yards: SEA 308, SF 308.

This game "proved" that, if Kaepernick makes three turnovers, his team cannot overcome that. His first pick was utterly stupid. But I don't think it proves that the Seahawk defense was better so much as it proves that Wilson didn't give the 49er defense the same opportunities that Kaepernick did.

79 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Seattle getting a short field on a kickoff return doesn't have anything to do with Seattle's defense, either.

The game was extremely close. The Niners got the better of the ball on the round randomness, and, it seems to me, the Seahawks got the better of the officiating randomness. It wouldn't take much to swing the outcome the other way, and them back again.

134 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

FWIW, the Niners didn't actually get the better of the fumble luck. Both teams fumbled three times, and had one recovered by the opponent. One of Seattle's fumbles came on a fourth down, so the recovery didn't help them that much, but it also prevented SF from running the fumble back for a TD/big yardage, which looked like a legitimate possibility if one of their quicker defenders could have made a clean recovery.

The officiating was bad all around, but the Niners definitely got the shorter end of the stick there. The personal foul on Whitner was the wrong call, the personal foul on Rodgers was the wrong call, the lack of a personal foul on the roughing the punter was the wrong call, I thought they missed the first intentional grounding, and the call on Bowman's fumble recovery was the wrong call. There were also a curious holding call on a fair catch punt return, which you rarely see, but I don't think Fox ever showed a replay of that, so they could have got that one right. There were some odd calls that went the other way (a phantom holding call on Seattle's O-line in the first quarter), but on balance the calls went Seattle's way, which in a close field position game made a big difference. It wasn't the only reason Seattle won (the inability of SF's secondary to prevent big plays downfield has been an ongoing problem against good teams for the last two years, and the fourth quarter turnovers obviously hurt), bu it was clearly a factor. I don't think Seattle scores that 4th-and-7 TD if they don't have great field position set up by the missed roughing the punter call, for example.

The frustrating thing is that SF probably wins this game if they play it at the Stick. And the reason the game was in Seattle goes back to ... the phantom roughing the passer call on Ahmad Brooks against New Orleans.

145 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Sure it is. But both teams had lucky bounces. When you fumble on the goal line and the defense recovers, and the officials don't notice, that's also phenomenally fortunate. When you fumble and the defense has a shot to pick up the ball with no offensive players in front of them, but the ball doesn't take a clean bounce, that's also fortunate. Two plays before Seattle kicked the field goal that gave them a six-point lead (which ended up being a big 3 points), Wilson fumbled the snap but recovered the ball. The fumble luck evened out. The officiating luck did not.

148 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I believe if I were to tally. A) a qb fumbling well behind the line of scrimmage, and an offensive lineman picking it up, and turning it into a positive play, and B) the number of times a ball doesn't take a clean bounce, precluding a return, and C) the number of times when a ball is dropped, without a defender around, and recovered by the player who dropped it, A would have by far the lowest tally. All fumbles are not created equal.

The fumble non-call on Seattle was of little import given the subsequent fumble.

154 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It felt like in the second half, Seattle could run the ball quite effectively and therefore the offense was more "reproducible" for lack of a better term. E.g. if the teams played again, Lynch might still get 100 yards, and Gore probably wouldn't (he had absolutely nowhere to run). I don't know that Kaepernick running for 120+ yards is really reproducible, although I guess that by going to zone to contain him, there were more openings in the passing game.

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

One thing is obvious though Kaepernick is a top 5 QB in the NFL.

Wait, what? I saw a very talented but raw young QB who made some great throws, but had poor pocket awareness and careless with the ball.

Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers... Kaepernick? I don't think so. Or are you taking one of those four out of the mix?

20 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Those are the only other QBS in the league who have a chance in Seattle with 14 yards on 11 carries from your running back. He had 90% of their yards. He does have a lot of room for improvement which is ridiculously scary for the rest of the league. He is the best on third down already and can make throws no one else has a prayer of making. Right now he looks like an unholy combination of Mike Vick and Ben Roethlisberger. If Harbaugh can work him to get different loft levels on the ball consistently he would be absolutely terrifying. I think it will happen too he improved dramatically as the season progressed. Wilson is what he will be, which is really damn good, Andrew Luck is basically where he will be, awesome but interception prone, Kaepernick has a chance to go to a different level unknown in history.

56 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

One of my Bucs-fan pet peeves about that 2002 team is the implication they won it all in spite of Brad Johnson; Johnson had an excellent year that year (9th in DVOA), and was generally quite good at QB throughout his career. Seattle's skill position players are markedly better than Tampa's were, but I think Seattle perhaps needs a few more years of defensive dominance to get in the same conversation as the '02 Bucs.

84 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

People also tend to forget how much of that 2000 season the Ravens played with Tony Banks as the starter -- the offense with Dilfer running it was quite capable, as opposed to Banks, who was the starter in both the shootout with Jacksonville and the 4-game no TD stretch. Banks was all over the place, and the Ravens actually were much improved once Dilfer came on as the starter.

Which is why when Banks had to come in after Dilfer took a Tennessee cheap shot to the head in the playoff game, Maryland suffered a collective arrhythmia.

124 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

CK was better at rushing. That's not even close.

When it came to passing, Wilson had more completions, a higher completion percentage, more yardage, more yards/attempt, as many TDs, and two fewer INTs. Wilson had a 104.6 passer rating to CK's 56.4. CK has the higher QBR, presumably because that includes rushing.

My personal opinion is that Wilson had the better game. But in any case, to the original point, that Kaepernick is "obviously" one of the top 5 QBs, I think that's definitely false. He's "arguably" one of the top 5 QBs, but I would have him outside of the top 5. IMO, the only QBs "obviously" in the top 5 are Peyton, Rodgers, and Brees. I would fill out the top 5 with Brady and Luck. DYAR would recommend Rivers and Ryan, DVOA would recommend Rivers and Foles. (QBR thinks Josh McCown played better than Peyton Manning, which I think is about all we need to say about QBR.)

138 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The proverbial story of the first half was Kaepernick running, and Wilson having no time to throw. It felt like Russell Wilson was being blocked for by five guys dug up from a local graveyard. Second half? Certainly more time, I recall seeing somewhere there was a 6th OL on the field pretty consistently; was that something Seattle specifically focused on in the 2nd half? It certainly seemed like Seattle was getting Lynch going, and that clearly helped with all the play-action plays they were running.

The improvement in Seattle's blocking in the 2nd half is what really changed the game around, plus Kaepernick's 4th quarter fumble/INTs. I'm going to assume Wilson's 2nd half rating/DVOA was far better than his 1st half, and Kaepernick was the converse of that.

118 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The list of HoF QBs who've had 3 turnover games in the playoffs in the prime of their careers is a long one. Two QBs playing yesterday besides Kaep had 3+ INTs in Conference Championships. Kurt Warner in '99 for the Greatest Show on Turf threw 3 picks in the NFCC vs. TB. I could go on. I don't think Kaep is Top 5 QB but 3 TOs in a conference championship is not the metric I'd use to prove my point.

126 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The list of non-HoF QBs who've had 3 turnover games in the playoffs is even longer.

" I don't think Kaep is Top 5 QB but 3 TOs in a conference championship is not the metric I'd use to prove my point."

Really? Why not? Isn't it a negative statistic?

Was there some point at which Kaepernick won an MVP trophy like Peyton Manning or Kurt Warner that I missed?

189 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

+1

Of course a lot of QBs of all calibers have multiple turnovers in the playoffs. And a lot of QBs of all calibers have games with no turnovers in the playoffs. That stat alone, positive or negative, does not prove the point of top 5/not top 5. As part of a larger body of evidence (MVP/noMVP award) it may support the argument.

My point was that you used one single piece of evidence as if it were conclusive. I think it's not.

258 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

NFL starters this year that are pretty much inarguably better than Colin Kaepernick:

P. Manning
A. Rodgers
T. Brady
D. Brees
P. Rivers
T. Romo

NFL Starters at least part of the year who were meaningfully batter than Kaepernick but did not play every game:

N. Foles
J. McCown
J. Cutler

NFL Starters who are at least as good as Kaepernick (and with the exception of Wilson, in more difficult circumstances):

R. Wilson
A. Luck
M. Ryan
B. Roethlisberger
C. Newton

Quarterbacks who had a down 2013 but would probably have taken this year's SF team to a Super Bowl (in addition to the above):

E. Manning
C. Palmer

The 49ers are without question a top 5 football team. They are the most well-rounded, deepest, smartest, most physical football team in the NFL, and they just played the only two teams that are even in the competition in successive weeks.

Their biggest weakness is the quarterback position. Kaepernick is still getting by on physical ability and still does not have the skills to succeed as a passing quarterback. Fortunately, as the QB 49ers, he mostly doesn't need to.

259 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think the concluding criticism of Kaepernick is overly harsh. He just completed his 3rd year. He's got a huge cannon of an arm, and often very good accuracy to go with. Occasionally he displays very nice touch on his throws too. He's a guy who's not necessarily quick at surveying his receivers, and he doesn't throw with great anticipation, but it's not below average either. Is that the start to an all-time great career? Maybe not. Before we even really consider his running ability, it suggests a very promising future.

I would say their biggest weakness is receiving depth. Receivers aren't going to come off the 9ers bench to introduce a new wrinkle or challenge anything. Teams don't even have to plan for them at all.

17 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Sherman made a great play on the final int, but Crabtree wasn't really open anyway.

The Seahawks should have kicked the FG on the one yard line. Said this before they fumbled. If you kick the FG, it is still a one score game, but it's very unlikely the 49ers use all of the time even if they get a TD. Then Seattle still has time for their own drive. Plus, as it played out the Seahawks got another turnover which led to another FG, which would have made it a two score game anyway. There was too much to lose in not making it.

214 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

All factors need to be considered. As I mentioned, with the amount of time left it was extremely likely that Seattle would get the ball back. San Francisco's offense wasn't reliable enough to control the clock to that extent.

Even if Seattle goes up by 10, the game is not over. There is still time left for two scores by San Francisco. Granted that Seattle has a great defense and this will be tough to do. But San Francisco is going to be hurrying on their drive, trying to score fairly quickly. Seattle is going to be more conscious of the big play and giving up the short stuff a bit more. So San Francisco gets a field goal with 4-5 minutes left.

Seattle's offense is unlikely to be effective enough to run out the clock. So they will have to give it back, and San Francisco had all of their timeouts remaining. So even with the 10 point lead, San Francisco still will have the ball with enough time to drive for a TD. Granted that is going for a tie and not the win.

Whereas if the field goal is kicked, San Francisco is not going to be moving particularly urgently. If the drive stalled immediately, they would punt and try to get it back instead of risking turning the ball over. Which lowers the conversion percentage on the hoped for TD drive if it's coming with 8 minutes left rather than 3.

What it came down to for me is that I felt Seattle's defense was far more vulnerable to a FG than a TD at that point in the game. Also, there was a decent chance that Seattle would get another chance to kick a FG, either to make it a two score game later, or after a San Francisco touchdown. Since this actually wound up happening, the FG on fourth and one seems worthy of consideration.

224 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Good point Jay. As much as I love the aggressive approach the reality is the conventional wisdom developed when EVERY TEAM played like SF and Seattle. It was an optimum strategy because a 3 and out was much more likely when two good teams faced each other. We've been the pass happy NFL since the early 80's.

Also, don't go up the middle on 3/4th and short against a D like Seattle or SF. Your asking for bad things to happen.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Disappointed with the way the Pats lost, but not so much the loss. I really didn't get the offensive game plan.

Overall a good season though, and hopefully the playing time the younger players got will pay off next year.

One last note on the NFL in general. For the love of God please stop bringing the cardboard cut outs of the "D" and picket fence. That was played out fifteen years ago.

21 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

If Manning missed that many wide open deep passes in a playoff loss, the dolts (hat tip to Raiderjoe) would never stop yapping. Behold the power of narrative. As it was, Manning was surgical. So now it's Denver offense vs. Seattle defense, which is something truly worth yapping about.

22 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

1) Vince -- I'm pretty sure that unlike DPI there's no "uncatchable" rule for OPI. It's OPI no matter what. That said, the lack of a penalty there was irrelevant as the Pats got beaten handily on both sides of the ball.

2) For those who complained on the Preview thread that I was trying for the reverse jinx, the game went pretty much as I had feared.

3) So not surprised to see Brady miss a totally wide-open Edelman.

4) Bomb to Slater on 3rd-and-2 has to be an all-time "burn that play!" entry.

5) Once Talib was taken out, I turned to my wife and said "That's it -- the game is over" because I knew the cascading effect would doom the NE defense. Speaking of that hit, let's just say I won't shed any tears if Seattle DB decides to go after Welker's ribs and knee in similar fashion.

6) I would have loved to see DEN and NE play each other at full strength each.

7) Thank goodness NE failed on the onsides kick so I didn't have to torture myself about what could have happened if they had gotten the 2pt conversion.

8) Down 17 in the 3rd, 4th and 2 on the DEN 29, why not kick the FG? I don't understand going for it at that point.

9) GO SEATTLE!

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Re: (5), I'm apparently not the only person who feels that way:

"I think it was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib," Belichick said during his Monday news conference. "No attempt to get open. I'll let the league handle the discipline on that play, whatever they decide. It's one of the worst plays I've seen."

30 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"by the receiver".

Nicely done. He was only your best receiver for 7 years. You'd think Belichick would remember his name. He could have returned the favor with Amendola, but it would have broken him in twain. Hernandez might have more productive ideas on how to eliminate a DB.

That said, ball got touched. That's just a block. Didn't expect to see Welker laying a Ward on someone though.

54 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Yeah, I don't want to hear complaints from the Pats, of all teams, about a pick play. But it was definitely a fraction of a second early to be a block:

http://www.nepatriotslife.com/2014/01/video-wes-welkers-hit-knocks-aqib-talib.html

Welker doesn't look like he was trying to lay the wood though. There's no knee bend or lowered shoulder. It looks more awkward than malicious.

EDIT: This is what it looks like when a receiver intentionally lays out a DB (on a perfectly legal block, mind you):

http://gifsection.com/2014/01/julian-edelman-layed-dominique-rodgers-cromartie-broncos-patriots/#.Ut1CMtIo7WQ

83 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Why not? A 5'10" DB for Cleveland took out the Pats' 6' 6" tight end just a month or so ago. If a person is intent on making a hit with an intent to injure, size really doesn't matter. All you need to do is apply a couple hundred pounds of force to a vulnerable area. And for Talib, that's the hip. Everybody knows that Talib has chronic hip injuries. And that's where Welker hit him.

You have no way of knowing what Welker's intent was. What we do know is that Welker showed a video to his teammates emphasizing the need for the Broncos to hit harder if they were going to win a Super Bowl. We do know that Welker and Belichick, at this point, pretty much hate each other. I don't think there's any question that Welker hit Talib as hard as he could. I don't think it was an accident that Talib was hit. Was it deliberately to injure? That's where you enter the region of football psychology, where football players trick themselves into thinking that they are intentionally hitting people hard but there's no "intent to injure". Welker certainly intended to hit Talib as hard as possible.

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"I don't think there's any question that Welker hit Talib as hard as he could."

This is the sentence that tells me you're thinking with your heart not your head on this. (No disrespect intended as it's natural for a fan to think that way immediately after a big loss.) There is very much a question that Welker was trying to hit Talib as hard as he could. Compare the Welker play with the Edelman hit on Rogers-Cromartie that I posted above. See how a guy trying to hit someone as hard as he can bends his knees, lowers his shoulder, and finishes the hit with his forearm? Talib and Welker, on the other hand, just sort of collided awkwardly. Seems very possible to me that the injury happened the way it did precisely because Welker wasn't trying to hit him. But I could be wrong. Maybe Welker did intend to lay Talib out. I don't know for sure, but I do know you can't know for sure either.

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I would add that if Welker tried to hit Talib as hard as he could, he did a terrible job at it. In the gif you can see clearly he turned sideways and hit him high while leaning forward (forward in relation to his head, but sideways in relation to Talib). He didn't even hit the hip directly at all. If he had the intent to injure, it didn't translate to his technique.

------
The man with no sig

37 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"5) Once Talib was taken out, I turned to my wife and said "That's it -- the game is over" because I knew the cascading effect would doom the NE defense."

I watched the game with Pats fans and they echoed the same sentiment. But really, the Talib injury had nothing to do with the fact that the Pats only scored 3 points in the first 51 minutes of the game.

44 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Well, yes and no.

The Talib play didn't make the NE offense play terribly.

However, it almost certainly reduced the number of drives the NE offense had to work with.

So in that sense it contributed to scoring 3 points in 51 minutes.

Again, I think Denver would have won the game anyway if Talib hadn't been injured. But it would have been a more competitive game.

39 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

(8). If you can't stop the other team from scoring on six straight drives, settling for 3 points is only delaying the inevitable. You are going to need several touchdowns to eliminate the deficit, especially when the other team repeatedly continues to score. Belichick knew he needed to hastily outscore Manning's offense, not try to slowly catch up to it. The latter was never going to happen.

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"8) Down 17 in the 3rd, 4th and 2 on the DEN 29, why not kick the FG? I don't understand going for it at that point."

Well, the defense hadn't forced a punt since the Broncos' first drive. The offense needed to score TDs to catch up.

And really, it was only 2 yards. The Pats average more than 2 yards per offensive play. They don't plan on having Logan Mankins serve as a turnstyle.

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1) Vince doesn't know the rules to football, apparently. Down-field blocking before the ball is caught is illegal. Period. Refs usually give some leeway for balls that aren't actually caught, but not for early blocks. Whether this was early was a close thing. But Welker was the only player in "runner, blockers, and tacklers" mode. Everyone else was in "receivers and coverage" mode.
4) When I heard Slater was on the field, I knew the Patriots were screwed. He doesn't play WR after all these years for a reason.
5) I wondered before the game if the Broncos would design plays to injure Talib. He was a single point of failure, the guy that the Patriots had no "next man up" for on the roster. As Belichick later pointed out, it was clear from the video that Welker was not running a route trying to get open. His assignment on that play was to hit Talib below the waist, wrecking him as he followed his man in coverage. Whether or not the hit took place before the ball arrived (it did not, but it was close) the hit was done with indifference to whether or when the ball was caught. It wasn't about blocking for a runner - there was no runner. It was about taking a free shot at a player looking the other way.
8) Didn't bother me at all.

238 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I don't think the Welker hit was a deliberate attempt to injure, but it was clearly a deliberate attempt to block before the ball arrives.
Which is, you know, illegal.
Kind of stings more for a Pats fan when it's the exact same penalty that was in fact called against NE earlier in the game. Then Denver runs another pick, with a receiver deliberately blocking a defender , and the only call is defensive holding.

243 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The contact with Talib was nearly simulteaneous with the receiver touching the ball, which makes the contact legal. If the contact with Talib was intitiated a tiny fraction of a second before ball contact, well, the expectations placed on referees can get a little outsized.