Audibles at the Line: Week 16
compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to turn into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers 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.
Philadelphia Eagles 24 at Washington Redskins 27
Andrew Healy: Disappointed Chip Kelly kicked a field goal late third quarter on fourth-and-1 from the Washington 30-yard line with the Eagles trailing by 3. In the most similar situation a few weeks ago against Houston, Kelly went for the first down. Then lame coaching karma really bites the Eagles. Cody Parkey misses the 47-yard field goal, and then Bradley Fletcher looks like a high school corner as DeSean Jackson gets about three strides behind him for a very easy 55-yard throw. Touchdown a couple of plays later. Washington up 24-14.
Tom Gower: On the other hand, Fletcher would seem to fit fairly well on Jim Haslett's defense. With better quarterback play, the Eagles would be up instead of down 24-21 (with 10:27 to play as I write this).
Scott Kacsmar: If Chip Kelly had an "Analytics" badge, then this game would strip him of it. Bad decision on the fourth-and-1 field goal earlier and you really have to let them score at the end here to give yourself a real chance. Of course if you're Washington, be smart and don't score.
Aaron Schatz: Heck, I'm not sure why Washington even handed off. I would have just kneeled once the field goal was less than 30.
Tom Gower: NFL teams frustrate me sometimes. The Titans, yes, I expect that from them; they're very bad this season. But it aggravates a lot me more when teams like Philadelphia that can win games by doing good things do things that we can reasonably believe actively hurt their chances of doing that.
Courtesy of great Eagles beat writer Sheil Kapadia, here's what Eagles DC Billy Davis said about letting Washington score: "None. Never, ever, ever will there be a discussion about letting them score. Never, ever. We'll get the ball back. That's the only thing we talk about. Rip the ball, tackle the ball, get the ball out. We won't let anybody score."
San Diego Chargers 38 at San Francisco 49ers 35
In each of his first nine seasons Gore averaged at least 4.0 YPC on 100-plus attempts. Only Barry Sanders (10) and Jim Brown (nine) have tied or exceeded that feat in NFL history. Coming into tonight Gore was averaging a career-low 3.94 YPC. On the second play of the game Gore had a fantastic 52-yard touchdown run. Heading into halftime he has 129 yards on 14 carries. His YPC is now up to 4.28 for the season. This won't change what has been the most disappointing season of Gore's career, but it's a reminder of how one game can really move those averages, and how a few tenths in yardage aren't all that significant for one player.
The 49ers have 182 rushing yards at halftime and lead 28-7. San Diego had a solid run defense too. Its season high in rushing yards allowed was 154 against Kansas City.
Andrew Healy: Wow, an incredible two-play swing late in the third quarter. First, the 49ers have a long touchdown to long-lost Vernon Davis on what would have been his first target of the night. The very nice throw and run gets wiped out by a chop block. Then on third-and-20, Colin Kaepernick shows some terrible ball security under pressure and the second defender knocks the ball loose as his arm flails. The Chargers recover and pull to within seven, when it looked like they would trail 35-14.
A pretty apt two-play summary of the mistakes and unlucky bounces for the 49ers this year.
Aaron Schatz: I was convinced the flag on the 90-yard Kaepernick run was going to be holding or something. Hell of a run. Just seemed like it couldn't be real.
Then another Rivers overthrow and pick on the next drive. Rivers has done some amazing things in his career with backup receivers, but the Chargers' depth is really stretched past the breaking point here, and Rivers doesn't seem to be on the same page with these guys.
All these depth receivers... is Lardarius Green healthy? If so, where is he? When is the breakout coming already? With all these receiver injuries this would be a nice time for a big dual-tight-end breakout.
Tom Gower: Concur on not expecting the Kaepernick run to stand and the Chargers offensive line injuries becoming too much.
Green was questionable heading into the game, but he's active tonight. Unless he really is banged up that badly, I don't understand it either.
Aaron Schatz: Wide receiver injuries too. He needs Keenan Allen badly.
Tom Gower: Yup, no sustaining run game without Ryan Mathews and not the same sustaining pass game without Allen.
Andrew Healy: After Aldon Smith leaves with an injury on the Chargers' drive at the end of the fourth quarter, I think the 49ers have one defensive player on the field who had more than eight starts last year (Justin Smith) and just two with three or more starts. Amazing this defense has held together as well as it has.
The Chargers get back-to-back fourth-down conversions to get inside the 49ers' 10-yard-line with 0:42 left. Loved the first play. A great blitz pickup by the Chargers and then a perfect throw just beyond Antoine Bethea's fingertips into the arms of a diving Eddie Royal.
And they get a touchdown to Malcom Floyd to tie it 35-35 with 0:29 left. Another very nice throw for Rivers that drive on an often difficult night.
Aaron Schatz: I know the Chargers came back with some sweet fourth-down conversions. But again I'm just flabbergasted at offenses coming out in empty formations in short-yardage situations. San Diego did this on third-and-2 and Rivers got sacked. Why would you provide yourself with no run option other than a quarterback draw in short yardage?
Andrew Healy: I agree and I didn't have high hopes for them dealing with the blitz on fourth down after that third-and-2. Arizona completely killed them with big blitz after big blitz late in Week 1 and the Chargers did not adjust to deal with it. So it was good to see them able to pick up the late-game big blitz in this spot, at least.
And the Chargers complete the comeback with a field goal to win after the 49ers commit the game's sixth turnover on the first drive of overtime.
Baltimore Ravens 13 at Houston Texans 25
Cian Fahey: Pretty sure Joe Flacco won't be correcting the President on anything this week.
Kansas City Chiefs 12 at Pittsburgh Steelers 20
Scott Kacsmar: Andy Reid's game management continues to be a problem. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked on third down and it certainly looked like an empty-hand play, but Reid didn't even challenge. Chiefs could have taken over around the red zone if rewarded the fumble.
J.J. Cooper: Steelers get a couple of breaks at the end of the first half. First the Chiefs get a generous spot on a third-down reception to get a first down. It's the kind of call that looks like a poor spot, but it's hard to challenge because spot challenges often feel like a roll of the dice. But because it's inside the final two minutes the replay booth calls the challenge and the spot gets overturned. Then the Chiefs go for it on fourth-and-1 and the Steelers stuff the run on fourth down. So Pittsburgh heads to the half up 10-6.
Cian Fahey: If you were to rank offenses in terms of who was most likely to overcome an 11-point deficit in one half, would the Chiefs be in the bottom five?
Andrew Healy: Maybe the Chiefs are close, but this top six is pretty hard to crack:
Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland, Buffalo, Cleveland, Tampa Bay.
If Johnny Manziel was still playing, the top one would have been extremely hard to crack.
Scott Kacsmar: This game only had 13 possessions with six for Pittsburgh, seven for Kansas City. The only other game I have seen that happen in was 2006 Colts at Texans. A final score of 20-12 tells you there was bad red-zone play and it mostly came from Kansas City. The fake field goal was nice, but they failed to turn that into a touchdown. The streak of not throwing a touchdown to a wide receiver continues, though Dwayne Bowe dropped one. The wide receivers played pretty well against a struggling secondary, yet Smith had his usual game of checking down and not testing things vertically. That was most problematic on the final drive when Smith repeatedly checked down to Jamaal Charles, down 20-9, without even really looking for the touchdown. That put everything on an onside kick and the Chiefs kicked it right to fullback Will Johnson to end the game. The referees were awful in this game, as was CBS' Mike Carey, who I think managed to take the wrong viewpoint on every appearance he made. One of the worst taunting penalties you'll ever see was called on William Gay, who directed all of his action in approval of his teammate and did nothing to the opponent. That helped the Chiefs convert a third-and-17 too, making it even worse.
Ben Roethlisberger and the offense played well, scoring 20 points on the six drives. It was a scary moment when Vance Walker took a major cheapshot and tried to trip Roethlisberger with a leg whip. Roethlisberger left the field, but returned and didn't miss any plays. However, he returned to the game in 2011 against Cleveland after suffering a high ankle sprain. He finished that one well, but the injury worsened afterwards and he was very ineffective the rest of the season. The Steelers better hope this isn't another one of those, or else this will be another short-lived postseason, not to mention a huge game against the Bengals next week for the division.
Detroit Lions 20 at Chicago Bears 14
Tom Gower: Good pass pressure from the Bears at times has gotten Matthew Stafford off balance. The Lions moved the ball pretty consistently in the first half, but it's only 7-7 thanks to two bad red-zone interceptions. The first came while Stafford was rolling to his left and went to an area with three defenders and two receivers. The second was an easy read for Ryan Mundy, coming up from his deep safety spot in zone coverage.
Jimmy Clausen was better than I thought he'd be in the first half. That he's under 5 yards per attempt should give you an idea of where my expectations were, though. The offensive game plan seems to have concentrated on getting the ball out quickly a lot, with many throws coming off a three-step drop. His numbers have been depressed by a couple drops by both Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson, who has played a prominent role. He only led one real drive, though, getting down to the 2-yard line before failing on a throw to sixth-lineman Eben Britton. The touchdown came at the very end of the first half, when Jeremy Ross muffed a punt at the 10 -- nice touch by Clausen on the scoring toss to Forte against a big blitz.
Rob Weintraub: The Bears just got bailed out by a game-changing roughing the punter call, a total flop by the punter on fourth-and-23 when even running into the punter would have been a stretch. But an automatic first down was utterly egregious. Sure enough the Bears scored a couple of plays later to take a 14-10 lead.
Ben Muth: Dominic Raiola is an absolute clown. The stomp on the Bears defensive lineman is just another example. His dirty play might be somewhat tolerable if he was even a league average starter, but he's not. NFL has to suspend him and the fine should be at least an additional $25,000.
Rob Weintraub: OK, the Packers have done their part, with difficulty, beating Tampa. Your turn Detroit -- keep the Bengals-Steelers game off of prime time!!!
Tom Gower: I figured out what Clausen reminded me of -- Oakland switching to Matt McGloin last season. Like Clausen, McGloin did a great job of getting the ball out quickly instead of extending the play, and it worked well at first at times, especially when the receivers were making plays one-on-one, as Bears receivers started to do more in the second half. It's such a limited game plan, though, and eventually the defense will adjust, choke down, and challenge the three-step game, and the quarterback either throws incomplete repeatedly or starts holding the ball and looks lost. It happened to McGloin last year, and it happened to Clausen at the end of this game. Detroit's offense didn't do what I thought they would do, but they did enough for the win.
Minnesota Vikings 35 at Miami Dolphins 37
Cian Fahey: With every passing game, Teddy Bridgewater is building a lead as the best rookie quarterback in the NFL. Once again today, he has kept the Vikings offense on track with smart, accurate throws while connecting with different receivers down the field. He was unfortunate not to finish the first half with a touchdown pass when his tight end just stepped out of bounds, but another impressive stretch for the former Louisville prospect.
Some of the things that Bridgewater is doing as a rookie are simply phenomenal. In the fourth quarter, down by eight, Bridgewater drops back in the pocket, adjusts to avoid pressure while reading the defense from the left sideline all the way back to the right. He locates an open receiver with an underneath throw, but his work before letting the ball go dragged the coverage to the other side of the field. That left the receiver in space for a huge gain into the red zone.
On the following play, Cameron Wake obliterates the blocker in front of him when Bridgewater drops back into the pocket. This forces the rookie quarterback to rush his work from the pocket, but he delivers a perfect pass by throwing with anticipation down the seam for a touchdown. The touchdown is being reviewed as I type, but the play from the quarterback was exceptional regardless of the review.
Rob Weintraub: This game was decided by a blocked punt for a safety in the final minute of a 35-35 game. A bad snap snafu-ed the play from the beginning, and Miami's Terrence Fede reached out and swatted it out of the end zone. So the Vikings had to onside the free kick, which comes from a punt stance, not with a tee. Not a bad effort actually, but it fell out of bounds, and the Fish win it 37-35. Unfortunately for them, they were already eliminated from the postseason with the Pittsburgh win.
Tom Gower: I didn't see much of this game until the final five minutes, but that was a nice drive by Miami to tie it, then the Dolphins defensive line against the Vikings offensive line as they tried to break the 35-35 tie with a minute-plus to go was just better players feasting on inferior ones, particularly Vernon against Matt Kalil and Wake against Mike Harris on the outsides.
Atlanta Falcons 30 at New Orleans Saints 14
Rob Weintraub: The Saints' playoff hopes are going to come down to an incredibly close replay. Jimmy Graham catches a pass at the stripe of the end zone, he appears to just barely break the plane, but the Falcons hold him out and strip it free. Called a fumble and Atlanta ball on the field. May come down to that, as it is very very close.
The call stands! Not sure about that one, but Jimmy Graham has to put that one away.
OK, Jimmy Graham hangs on to a touchdown pass this time. 20-14 Atlanta, 5 minutes and change left. And with Cleveland somehow taking the lead on the Punchless Panthers, the Falcons could wrap up the division within the hour.
Atlanta punts to the Saints, Drew Brees needs to go 90 yards to save the season. And the Panthers went back in front, so the Peachtree City is atwitter!
Robert McLain jumps under an out route, and intercepts Brees to most likely put this one away.
For about the first time all season, Atlanta got consistent pressure on the quarterback. Bryce Harris was turnstiled on Brees' blind side all day, and Atlanta has played well enough in the secondary as a result.
Cian Fahey: It's fitting that the New Orleans Saints' season comes to an end with a Drew Brees' interception on an underthrown sideline pass. Brees' decline has been sharp and his arm simply isn't where it needs to be. Tough decisions to be made in New Orleans moving forward.
Rob Weintraub: Appropriately, the Falcons strip-sack Brees on the last play, and Osi Umenyiora turns in his lone big play in his Falcons career by taking it the distance, even though the game was already iced. And with Carolina about to win as well, all-the-marbles game here in Atlanta next Sunday.
Cian Fahey: Furthermore, Brees' cap hit is $26.4 million next year and $27.4 million the following year (via Spotrac). Those are exceptionally large numbers for any quarterback, but they're especially egregious with Brees at this stage of his career.
Aaron Schatz: OK, I'm going to fight you on this because I'm fighting people online about this. Drew Brees' decline has been "sharp?" How bad do you think he is?
I think this afternoon we finally reached the nadir of the "all quarterbacks are either elite Hall of Famers or suck-ass losers" theory with this Saints loss. Immediately, people were on Twitter attacking Brees for his "awful" season. I've been arguing now with Mike Freeman from Bleacher Report, who referred to "Brees apologists." Apologizing for what, the fact that he's an aging Hall of Fame quarterback who isn't quite as good as he used to be because of course, duh, that's how age works? Someone else got angry at me because I am excusing Brees for a "subpar" season. Prior to this game, Brees was third in passing DYAR and seventh in passing DVOA. He's clearly still one of the top dozen quarterbacks in the league, probably one of the top ten, maybe one of the top eight. Since when is that "subpar?"
This isn't an argument about the cap space. Yeah, he's not good enough for those salary costs at this point. But the idea that he is "sharply in decline" or "subpar" or "awful" is RIDICULOUS.
Cian Fahey: He has regularly missed open receivers downfield because of a lack of arm strength and he has repeatedly made simply dumb decisions from the pocket that have contributed a lot to losses. It's getting to the point that sideline passes are receiver-dependant because he can't fit the ball into spots like he used to.
Sure, he's still productive in specific ways, but he's not getting anywhere near as much out of his supporting cast within that offense as he should.
A sharp decline from being a consensus top-four quarterback can land you in the average range. Doesn't necessarily mean that he is awful.
Aaron Schatz: But he's not IN the average range. He's above the average range! Is the rest of the Saints offense that talented that an average-level quarterback could be third in the league in passing DYAR? I mean, it's a team game, we're measuring more than Brees with that number, but are the rest of the Saints actually lifting his performance up? Not based on what I've seen. The interior line certainly isn't what it used to be for the Saints, and neither are the wide receivers. Can you seriously name 12 quarterbacks you would rather have right now if age and future performance didn't matter?
Plus, this isn't anything about you, Cian, but the people I'm having arguments with on the Twitter aren't saying Brees has sharply declined to average. They're calling him "awful" and "subpar." And these people aren't just random fans. Mike Freeman is one of Bleacher Report's top three NFL columnists, and lest anyone respond, "yeah, well, Bleacher Report," remember that one of the other two men at that level for Bleacher Report is Mike Tanier.
By the way, has Brees' drop in arm strength as he gets older been any different than Brady's drop in arm strength or Manning's drop in arm strength? Haven't these guys all had the same issues with the deep ball this year?
Scott Kacsmar: Brees has played very well most of this year, but it's a great example of having bad plays at the worst possible moments. He has had way too many turnovers that have swung games to the opponent: a pick-six in Cleveland, a pick deep in his own territory that led to Detroit's game-winning touchdown, a sack-fumble in overtime against San Francisco that basically ended the game, a pick-six against Baltimore. Today, he was very poor, and this was another home loss to a division rival after that horrific performance against Carolina two weeks ago. They also only scored 10 points on Cincinnati. He has had some garbage-time numbers for which we would criticize Jay Cutler, but there's a lot of hollowness to Brees' 2014 numbers. You can probably add some of his best seasons together and not have this many crucial mistakes that lost games for the Saints.
[ad placeholder 3]
Andrew Healy: OK, I was in the middle of a message on Brees, too, so this may echo other points. I criticized Brees after the loss to the 49ers for throwing too many picks, but that is a problem that predates this year. He has thrown too many picks over the last five years altogether.
Still, he came into today's game with a 70 percent completion percentage and his DVOA was seventh. For 2010-2013, his DVOA rankings were: 10, 2, 5, and 5. He'll drop a little with today's game, but man I still think he's a top-10 quarterback. Those are huge cap numbers, but the Saints are generally in cap hell (as Bill Barnwell wrote about) and I think Brees still merits big quarterback money.
Brees probably got overrated a bit when he was put in the Manning-Rodgers class. But he's in the next group even if he throws too many head-scratching picks. And he has been a cut below for a while now rather than declining dramatically this year.
Know we have had a long exchange already, but one more thought on Brees: I feel like his bad picks this season are more about poor decision making than poor arm strength. He had plenty of zip on the out that led to the second pick. He just shouldn't have gone there with the pass and got no help at all from his receiver. I feel like Brady's downfield problems, too, are less about arm strength and more about downfield accuracy. Manning seems the one where the decline in arm strength is most pronounced, although others will know this better than I do.
One final thing: Brees's first interception kind of shouldn't count. It came on fourth-and-7 in the first quarter. Smart play by him to force it in that spot.
I don't want to defend Brees too much. He has made some awful decisions. And the Saints' last two offensive home games have been terrible. But he is in danger of going from a little overrated to underrated, I think.
Rob Weintraub: OK, last thing on Brees -- no, I lied, it's about Matt Ryan. Whenever a team loses it's the reflex action, especially in TwitterWorld, to make it all about the failings of the losing team, in particular the quarterback. But Matty Ice won this game more than Brees lost it.
Remember this about the Falcons: even though everyone has written them off as losers, with the coach and possibly GM all but fired, with awful line play on both sides and a crappy secondary, they are 4-4 over the last eight games, including losses to the Lions and Browns that were essentially unloseable until Smith got his mitts on those games. And they lost a shootout in Lambeau by six and to Pittsburgh by seven without Julio Jones. Beating Carolina at home on Sunday sets up a likely home playoff game with the Cards, who they smoked already at home when Drew Stanton was in there. With an upset elsewhere, they might then rematch with the Pack or Lions, games they would surely would feel they can win, given the first time around. Suddenly, it's Atlanta at Seattle in the NFC title game!
And Mike Smith still would get fired...
New England Patriots 17 at New York Jets 16
Aaron Schatz: Hey, remember early in the season when the Patriots' offensive line was a mess? Have you wondered what it would be like if the Pats went back to that? Well, here's your answer. The Patriots have Dan Connolly out today and apparently that's enough to throw things into disarray. OK, that's not true. Rex Ryan's overload schemes are also throwing things into disarray. The Pats just did a terrible job of picking those up in the first half and Brady took four sacks. The running game also had seven carries for 8 yards in the first half. Josh Kline was playing in Connolly's place at left guard. Even worse were the six-lineman sets when the Pats brought Marcus Cannon in at left tackle and moved Nate Solder over to the right side as tight end. Solder was letting guys through, Cannon looked bad, and the tight end and back were having troubles too.
In the second half, things got a bit better; the Pats brought Cameron Fleming in at right guard and moved Ryan Wendell to left guard. (Aside: I wonder what it is about their individual skills that cause the Pats to do that rather than leaving Solder where he usually is and putting Cannon in the tight end spot.) (Second aside: I wonder why they were playing Cannon and not Fleming if Fleming was healthy; Fleming is the guy who played sixth lineman so much in that Colts game where the line was dominant.)
You can tell from Brady's passes that he's feeling the pressure, even when he doesn't take a sack. He's bouncing balls, and inaccurate in ways that seem to be less about inaccuracy and more about hurrying a pass and trying to put it where a defender can't pick it off (which of course also means the offensive player has a hard time getting it.)
Props to Jets rookie cornerback Marcus Williams who has looked very good today, even covering Rob Gronkowski one-on-one.
Jets offense looked horrendous in the first quarter. Absolutely miserable. Got better in the second quarter, finding nice big holes for running room and of course passes to Jeremy Kerley, who seems to always kill the Pats for some reason. Unfortunately for the Jets, I don't think we're going to be seeing a lot of Jets offense in the second half. Nick Mangold is out with an ankle injury, and Percy Harvin is hurt as well.
It was 10-7 Jets at halftime. They made it 13-7 when the Pats went three-and-out on their first drive, but the Pats then had a nice field-goal drive, Geno Smith threw a pick, and then the Pats went down for a touchdown. So now we're at 17-13 Pats.
One other note: anyone who watches this game has to realize that Rex Ryan would still make a kickass defensive coordinator, despite the fact that he could never properly build an offense as a head coach. The fact that he can do what he is doing against this offense with pretty much no secondary whatsoever... he's a great defensive scheme builder.
Rob Weintraub: When Rex is inevitably fired he should just go the full ronin and hire himself out to whomever is playing the Pats that week. Make Brady face the mad science every Sunday!
Andrew Healy: Fleming being good against the Colts was a pretty big surprise given his performance earlier in the year. The Pats' offense has been better in the third quarter, but Fleming hasn't done well on at least a few plays. On one in particular early in the quarter, he got completely trucked by, I think, Muhammad Wilkerson. It looks like they've been trying to help him on some plays and he stood around blocking nobody without offering help on another pass play earlier. Brady has still been under a lot of pressure even if no more sacks, and Fleming has been a big part of the problem. So there were problems with Kline and Cannon, but also problems with Fleming.
On Rex Ryan, I'd want him as a head coach still. Mark Sanchez's struggles in Philly support the idea that Ryan has had quarterbacks that maybe nobody could turn into good players. I'd like to see him get a chance with even a league-average quarterback.
The Patriots really miss Julian Edelman. After a first down where Danny Amendola gets little separation and then fails to make a difficult catch, Brady throws a pick targeting Brandon LaFell when Jason Babin hits him hard. The Jets brought overload pressure on the offensive left and Cameron Fleming stood around again at right guard offering not a whisper of help.
Have to give Amendola some credit. He actually created some separation on a good-Welker kind of option route, getting a big first down as the game winds towards the two-minute warning with the Patriots up one.
Undoubtedly important for FO's predictive model: the Patriots have never failed to win the Super Bowl when they beat the Jets 17-16 on the road.
New York Giants 37 at St. Louis Rams 27
Tom Gower: Inspired by Andre Williams (15 catches on 33 targets, 45 percent catch rate), running backs with a sub-50 percent catch rate and enough attempts to be ranked in DVOA table, 1994-2013 (unless I missed any):
2012: Bilal Powell (NYJ), 47%
2007: Kris Wilson (KC TE/FB), 48%
2004: Fred Beasley (SF), 40%
1999: Aaron Craver (NO), 45%
1997: Harvey Williams (OAK), 42%
1996: Clifton Groce (IND), 41%
1995: Errict Rhett (TB), 48%
1994: Bobby Mitchell (WAS), 49%
Indianapolis Colts 7 at Dallas Cowboys 42
Rob Weintraub: Even though the hole in the roof is closed, the good lord is smiling down on Dallas so far. A bad taunting penalty kept alive the Boys' opening touchdown drive. Then Indy fakes a punt, and Dewey McDonald is wide open to convert fourth-and-11. He drops it. Romo-Dez on the next play, 14-0 Cowboys.
Scott Kacsmar: This one's hard to believe: in first halves at Denver, Pittsburgh and Dallas this year, the Colts have allowed 80 points on 13 drives (6.15 Pts/Dr). That's 11 touchdowns, one field goal and a stupid decision to let Ben Roethlisberger punt inside the 40. Talk about not even showing up on defense.
Buffalo Bills 24 at Oakland Raiders 26
Andrew Healy: Derek Carr is unsurprisingly 6-of-16 against the league's best pass defense. And the Raiders are averaging 4.3 yards per offensive play. Still, they lead 10-7 and are driving late in the first half. The Bills' defense deserves a better offense. Kyle Orton has a 42-yard touchdown to Sammy Watkins on a post. Altogether, though, his stat line is in rich-man's Manziel territory against the 27th-ranked pass defense: 10-of-18 for 92 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT (Manziel was 10-of-18 for 80 yards, 0/2).
[ad placeholder 4]
On his pick, Charles Woodson made a great play, but Orton also threw to his well-covered first read, when Greg Hogan came wide-open on an out not too far away. A small step forward and he had the time to get to beyond his first read.
Marcell Dareus went out with an injury early in the second quarter. At that point, Oakland had seven carries for 9 yards. Since the Dareus injury, the Raiders have 16 carries for 100 yards. The Raiders lead 16-10 with 5:00 left in the third quarter and they're driving.
Seattle Seahawks 35 at Arizona Cardinals 6
Aaron Schatz: Watching a game like this, I just keep asking myself, how on earth is Arizona not No. 1 in defensive DVOA? Then I went to look and there's an element of improvement during the season here. DVOA suggests the Cardinals looked better than they were in October. -1.7% defensive DVOA in Weeks 1 to 8. They were close to 0 most of those weeks except for being good in Week 1 (San Diego) and not so great in Week 3 (San Francisco). Then -23.0% defensive DVOA for Weeks 9 to 15.
I always talk about how defensive penalties aren't really an indicator of a team playing badly, and how they have no real correlation with losing, but egads, Seahawks, get it together already. Seahawks led NFL in penalties last year and do again this year (not including declined/offsetting), and have nine so far today (with 2:00 left in the first half). We're not talking all stuff that's about playing close, good defense, we're also talking silly stuff like Michael Bennett lining up 6 inches too far on two straight snaps. It's keeping Arizona in the game in the second quarter.
Vince Verhei: Well, that first half went pretty much according to plan. Arizona's defense is really good and gave Seattle (which is missing it's two best linemen again) all kinds of problems, but Russell Wilson made enough big plays with his feet and arm alike to put points on the board. Think all three big plays (the two runs and the touchdown to Willson) were all ad-libs.
And on the other side, Ryan Lindley is a third-stringer who is playing like a third-stringer against a great pass defense, and can't do a damn thing outside the occasional screen pass. If he can lead a second-half comeback against this crew, DVOA will break.
Tom Gower: Writing this week's Sunday Night Football column, I was very concerned that I would come across too mean, because it's hard to look at what Ryan Lindley has done in the NFL and find anything too positive to say. Terrelle Pryor's currently out of the NFL for good reasons, but this is the sort of situation that makes me say, "Well, if your quarterback can't throw, why not get a quarterback who can't throw but who can run around a little bit?" And Bruce Arians just threw on third-and-1, because that's what Bruce Arians does even if most of football media is wondering about his quarterback, and said quarterback is currently 6-of-18.
Scott Kacsmar: This table of the worst DVOA without pressure (2010-2013) sums it all up for Lindley for me.
If you want to pick out the very worst quarterbacks to get significant playing time, DVOA without pressure does the trick.
Vince Verhei: Luke Willson with two big catches on that last drive, both matched up against Larry Foote in man coverage, the latter a touchdown to put Seattle up 21-6. It looks like Russell Wilson has figured out the timing of Arizona's blitzes and knows where to throw the ball before the ball is snapped. And of course he's athletic and poised enough to make accurate deep throws with men in his face. In short: He real good.
Aaron Schatz: As this game went further and further along, the Cardinals got further behind, Ryan Lindley had to try to do more, and it became clearer how overmatched he is tonight.
Scott Kacsmar: Lindley was horrible, but I actually expected worse. We knew Seattle's defense had a huge advantage. I'm amazed at how dominant the offense has been tonight on the road against one of the best defenses in the league. This has to be one of the best offensive performances of the year. If Seattle can get it going like this with Wilson's dual-threat attack and Lynch doing his usual things, then the repeat is coming.
Vince Verhei: Very, very hard not to go into total Seahawks fanboy mode right now. That second half was pretty ridiculous, with all the biggest Seattle stars making all the biggest plays. Marshawn Lynch, in particular, may have out-Beastquaked the original Beastquake run. Like, he showed everything a running back can show on that play: patience, vision, agility, burst, power and speed. So I'm just going to say two things:
- Russell Wilson is ours and you can't have him.
- I hope Marshawn Lynch never starts talking to reporters, and never stops grabbing his junk when he scores.