Audibles at the Line: Week 3
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.
San Diego Chargers 22 at Buffalo Bills 10
Cian Fahey: Brandon Flowers continues to remind his doubters that he was injured and miscast last year. Been fantastic for the Chargers so far this season and has made another good start to this game.
At halftime of the Bills -- Chargers game, I'm left wondering if there is a better quarterback in the NFL right now than Philip Rivers. Definitely leading the MVP race to this point and I'm not sure anyone is actually close to him.
Vince Verhei: Pending Peyton Manning's game against Seattle later, I agree with Cian: Rivers is having perhaps his best season and is the clear leader for MVP right now.
Aaron Schatz: Did anyone watch BUF-SD and know if a particular cornerback shut down Sammy Watkins?
Cian Fahey: A particular cornerback? No. A particular quarterback? Yes. Watkins was open, EJ Manuel couldn't find him.
Dallas Cowboys 34 at St. Louis Rams 31
Scott Kacsmar: We know the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are lousy on defense, and we expected Dallas to be terrible, but I'm liking what Austin Davis is doing for the Rams, now up 14-0 after a Brian Quick touchdown.
According to Cowboys fans, DeMarco Murray has fumbled on the opening drive in each game this season. He's having a strong start overall, but not with ball security.
Dallas struggles to cover tight ends, but Jared Cook struggles to catch the ball. Dropped an easy touchdown. Get ready though, it's Tony Romo in a 4-point game in the fourth quarter. Then again, not many people are watching this game so the reaction may not be as strong as usual.
Too much failure in the four-minute offense for me. Dallas and Cleveland both could have iced these games without ever putting the defense in a position to lose. Ravens just kicked the game-winning field goal.
Ben Muth: The Rams jumped out to 21-0 lead after a great first drive of the game and two Dallas turnovers. After that Dallas looked like the better team, though if Jared Cook catches an easy touchdown it is a different game. I know Chris Long is hurt but the super-hyped Saint Louis defensive line didn't do much for me today. Gregg WIlliams felt the need to blitz get pressure and Dallas' offensive line did a great job picking up those blitzes. Also, Murray had another 100-yard game so kudos to the Dallas O-line.
Austin Davis is OK. He looks down the field (more than most unheralded young quarterbacks at least) and is accurate underneath but I don't think he's a long-term starter, doesn't make any plays, just kind of takes what's there. Even when what's there is a shove from Jared Cook on the sidelines right after the highly paid tight end's touchdown drop.
Oh, and the game ended with a Morris Claiborne interception. Just wanted to get that on the official record because I'm not sure we'll ever be able to say that again.
Washington Redskins 34 at Philadelphia Eagles 37
Andrew Potter: Washington just gave up yet another touchdown on special teams. They have to be approaching some kind of record.
Vince Verhei: I feel like I'm watching a replay of last weeks Seahawks-Chargers game, with one team dominating time of possession to a ridiculous degree. Washington ran 45 plays in the first half, while Philly only ran 23. The game was 36 real-life minutes old before the Eagles ran an offensive play. The difference is that a couple of Washington drives have ended in field goals, and the Eagles have added a kickoff return touchdown, so Philadelphia is actually ahead 21-20 despite never having the ball. Kirk Cousins has looked very sharp on short throws, which is good for controlling the clock, but he'll probably need to hit more big plays if Washington is going to score consistently.
Cousins has started hitting those big plays he couldn't find in the first half. DeSean Jackson got wide-open for his long revenge touchdown, but the throw into a narrow window between cornerback and safety for a 43-yard gain to Pierre Garcon was a Real Man Throw.
Eagles' last drive was quite newsworthy. Foles appeared to throw an interception, and on the runback he got wiped out on a cheap shot by Chris Baker. That led to a huge brawl, and when the smoke cleared Baker for Washington and Jason Peters for Philadelphia were both ejected. And after all that, the interception was (correctly) overturned on replay anyway. A few plays later the Eagles were saved on replay again, when a third-down incompletion to Jeremy Maclin was (again, correctly) reversed to a catch and first down. Foles hit Maclin on a seam route for a go-ahead score at the end of the drive.
Washingtons next drive ended with a Cousins overthrow that was intercepted, and one more score here could ice it for the Eagles.
Houston Texans 17 at New York Giants 30
Rivers McCown: Watching this Giants-Texans game is like watching the 2014 Texans play the 2013 Texans.
Turns out Ryan Fitzpatrick's hot start was more about game scripts than Bill O'Brien turning him into the best quarterback in the league.
I know, I know. Try to act surprised.
Tennessee Titans 7 at Cincinnati Bengals 33
Rob Weintraub: Cincy drives easily into the red zone, then settles for three. This is a recording.
Sanu! Another touchdown pass, this time a throwback to Andy Dalton of all things, who skies to make the catch, bounces off a tackler, and sprints to the pylon and dives in for six. That's 4-of-4 with two touchdowns as a quarterback for Mo, and one way to score a touchdown in the red zone. 10-0 Cincy.
Andrew Potter: Andy Dalton just had a touchdown reception. I'm posting this in case Rob fainted.
Rob Weintraub: Fortunately, a man here knows CPR...
In case anyone is interested, the last quarterback to catch a touchdown pass was Tyler Thigpen.
Aaron Schatz: ... and it was the worst day of Herm Edwards' life.
Rob Weintraub: In fairness, the play probably should have been a pick-six the other way, but the defender (I think it was Wilson) pulled off and decided to neither go for the ball or the man.
Rivers McCown: Yes, this was not Blidi Wreh-Wilson's finest moment.
Rob Weintraub: Terence Newman drops what would have been an easy pick-six. Then Ryan Succop misses his second field goal of the half. As a way to pay to tribute to Rob Bironas, it leaves something to be desired.
Margus Hunt with a great first step on an end zone punt by Tennessee, and gets held in the paint for a safety. Unfortunately, he also limped off -- hopefully OK, he's really coming along well for a guy speaking football as a second language.
Actually it looked like the hold was called on Cedric Peerman's man, though Hunt was grabbed and spun as well. 12-0 either way.
Breh-Wilson's nightmare continues. After a deflected interception by Robert Geathers (who dropped into coverage on the patented double-A gap zone blitz) set up Cincy deep in Titans terrain, Breh-Wilson never turned around on an otherwise sure A.J. Green touchdown catch. Pass interference, ball at the 1, Gio takes it in, 19-0 Cincy.
Literally the only way back into this game for the Titans was a turnover by Cincy. Sure enough, with less than a minute left, a safe screen just to run out the half bounces off Gio for an inerception. First Cincy turnover of the season. Fortunately, a personal foul penalty on Michael Oher sets Tennessee back a bit, then under duress Jake Locker throws into the middle of the field, where Reggie Nelson intercepts to preserve the first-half shutout. 19-0 Bengals at halftime.
By the by that is now 15 of 19 games dating back to last season in which the Bengals have led by double-digits at some stage.
Tom Gower: Positives in the first half for the Tennessee Titans:
1. Nobody seems to have been injured.
2. The defense had a couple stops in the second quarter and only gave up points on a short field.
3. Their players are getting valuable learning experiences.
It's 19-0 at halftime, but it feels more like 19-(-24). The Titans did have a couple decent drives, but Ryan Succop has missed a pair of field goals to keep them off the scoreboard. Jake Locker has ranged from completions to Delanie Walker over the middle of the field to completely uncatchable passes. One of his interceptions was not his fault -- dislodged when Walker was hit by George Iloka to set up Cincinnati's second touchdown. The other was a throw I'd shake my head at and mutter about if a high schooler did it -- late, across his body, to the middle of the field, basically screaming "pick this off" to a safety.
I thought the only way Locker had a chance of getting benched was if he cost the Titans multiple winnable games. I don't think they would've won against Dallas last week if he'd had an average (for him) game, and I don't think they'd have won this week, but his past two first halves are making it a question you can't easily dismiss.
Vince Verhei: I mentioned last week, I'm a big Locker denier, but barring injury the Titans are not benching Locker for this guy.
Rivers McCown: Whitehurst looks like Hank Hill.
Tom Gower: I think if any quarterback costs you multiple (two to four) otherwise winnable games, and you're not committed to him after the current season, you think seriously about making a change. I'd put that counter for Locker at 0 (even after today), but it's a conversation. N.B., this is Ken Whisenhunt, who started Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer in 2012, and only Kolb's benching was other than 100 percent performance-driven.
Rob Weintraub: The Titans had a spark of life at the beginning of the third quarter, mainly thanks to Bishop Sankey, who showed some nice burst, wiggle, and power all in a four- to six-play period. But a long gainer was wiped out when Geno Atkins, with perhaps his best first-step burst of the season since last year's ligament tear, forced a hold on Andy Levitre. Then on third-and-long, Carlos Dunlap turnstiled "Not Blond Side" Oher for a sack. Dunlap has more than grown into the main pass rusher role vacated by Michael Johnson thus far this season. Cincy then rammed it 80 yards for a touchdown. 26-0, Bengals late third quarter.
Of course, "Not Blonde Side" is a movie about Michael Oher's botched dye job....
Yes, the Titans just punted on fourth-and-10 from the Bengals 48 down 26-0.
Tom Gower: At least Whisenhunt did go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 35. Really, though, I don't get exercised over decisions down four scores in the fourth quarter.
Rob Weintraub: I agree -- generally the only thing that happens is your quarterback gets hurt.
Another long drive through a finished Titans defense makes it 33-0, and officially time to put all starters on the bench. As it is, A.J. had gimped off a couple of times, though on one of them it appeared he took a shot to the family jewels.
Bengals offense is still rather squeezed to the margins without Jones and especially Eifert out there, but for the defense to play this well without Vontaze Burfict today is a good sign.
Baltimore Ravens 23 at Cleveland Browns 21
Cian Fahey: Joe Haden has been awful during the first three weeks of the season. That contract from the off-season is actually looking even worse, which is something I didn't think was possible.
Green Bay Packers 7 at Detroit Lions 19
Luke McKenna: Game tied at 7-7 in the second quarter. Matthew Stafford throws an interception to Davon House who was down at the 1-yard line. Next play, Green Bay runs the ball and DeAndre Levy makes the tackle for a safety. Not sure that can work out much better for Detroit. Interestingly Rodgers threw on first down in a very similar situation last week vs the Jets.
Andrew Potter: Stafford had another pick earlier on a third-and-14 arm punt. He doesn’t seem to have played well, but his mistakes are coming in relatively good spots. Green Bay’s offensive line is being eaten alive by Detroit’s D-line, which I bet nobody saw coming…
Luke McKenna: Nate Freese missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt to end the half (Detroit leads 12-7). That puts his record through three games at 3-of-6. I'm reliably informed Jason Hanson had the exact same record to start his Detroit career.
Scott Kacsmar: Incredibly, the Lions had two kickers for a span of 33 seasons: Eddie Murray (1980-1991) and Jason Hanson (1992-2012). The replacement search hasn't gone too well and missed kicks definitely having an impact on them this September.
Andrew Potter: Thus ends the Stafford streak of turnovers-which-weren’t-so-bad. Peppers with the sack, forced fumble, and recovery, with the Lions at the Green Bay 13-yard line.
Indianapolis Colts 44 at Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Scott Kacsmar: A week ago, Ahmad Bradshaw had three touchdown receptions in 88 career regular-season games. Since Monday night, he has caught three touchdowns in five quarters. Receiving touchdowns for running backs are always tricky to predict, but this is an especially unforeseen development. Not surprising is Jacksonville getting beat up at home by the Colts. In the Luck era, most of their big leads have come against the Jaguars.
Gus Bradley threw a challenge flag inside of two minutes of the second quarter. Isn't that a personal foul on the sideline? RedZone cut away from the game so I'm not sure what they said.
Cian Fahey: It used to be, but they changed the rules after that game in Houston. It was always a dumb rule.
Scott Kacsmar: I actually don't mind a penalty for throwing a challenge when you're clearly not allowed to. Bradley actually helped his team get a review there by delaying the game with a challenge he's not allowed to have. Indy could have quickly got to the line and ran a first-down play.
The problem in that 2012 Houston game on Thanksgiving was the officials blew the call, Schwartz should have known they would review it (all scores are reviewed now), but he challenged anyway. The dumb rule was that because he threw the flag, now they wouldn't review the score. Coaches should know better about when to throw the flag, but we shouldn't stop reviewing plays when they don't. Thankfully that particular rule was removed.
Blake Bortles in for Jacksonville to start the second half. Colts are up 30-0, so I guess it goes in the "why not?" category.
Oakland Raiders 9 at New England Patriots 16
Aaron Schatz: I'm live above Gillette Stadium for the Dennis Allen Scapegoat Bowl!
Patriots came out on their first drive and had an inaccurate pass, a miscommunication pass, and then a third-and-long screen. I hate third-and-long screens. This may be my new crusade. Stop the third-and-long screens. I went back to run some numbers off 2013. This is third down only, not fourth. Conversion rates:
|To Go||WR screen||RB screen||Other Pass||Draw||Other Run|
1) Maybe those third-and-long draws aren't quite as stupid as we think.
2) STOP THE THIRD-AND-LONG WR SCREENS!!!!! Just stop it already. Everyone. Every team. Stop.
A couple of interesting early depth chart changes here. I'm a little shocked that James Jones seems to have fallen down the Raiders depth chart from "big free-agent signing" to "WR No. 2B." Patriots taking Jamie Collins off in nickel situations but leaving Donta Hightower on. And Nate Ebner is playing a lot of defensive snaps today and even covering guys man-to-man. It's rugby-licious!
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Cian Fahey: Jones has probably been their best receiver through two weeks as well, despite that infamous double-fumble play. He is the kind of receiver who really helps a rookie quarterback with his catch radius.
Aaron Schatz: I have to admit to being a little dumbfounded when the Raiders pulled Khalil Mack off the field on third-and-2, Patriots on the Oakland 6-yard line. "Maybe he's tired," I thought. Then the Patriots called timeout, so Mack got his rest... and still, Kaluka Maiava is on the field instead of Mack. In fact, I think both Maiava and Burris were on the field, no Mack. I have no idea why you would do that.
Not necessarily because of Mack being on the sidelines, but touchdown pass Rob Gronkowski.
Cian Fahey: Aaron, I believe that's because they're the Oakland Raiders.
Aaron Schatz: And now, the latest from Foxborough: No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible. No. 71 is eligible.
J.J. Cooper: Patriots survive it, but they botched their time management in the final two minutes of the first half. By being a little too cavalier with running down the clock, they found themselves facing a third-and-goal situation with eight seconds left and no timeouts. It was fine as long as Tom Brady wasn't sacked on the final pass attempt, but a bad snap made that very dicey. Brady just managed to scoop the ball up and throw it away, but he came a few tenths of a second away from being sacked to end the half.
Aaron Schatz: Thoughts on the second half in Foxborough.
Derek Carr was really impressive in the way he handled pressure. Escaped the pocket, and not only didn't take sacks, but was able to get yardage on dumpoffs instead of throwing the ball away. Showed promise. Offensive line also a little better than expected, at least on pass blocking.
On defense, I think you saw a combination of three things. First, the Raiders do have a reasonable pass rush, it's just a problem that most of those guys are on the downside of their career so there's no future development. Second, Kahlil Mack. There's your star and your future development, kids. Looked great. Third, Patriots offensive line still looked iffy. Nate Solder in particular had a bad game. Things got better in the second half when rookie Bryan Stork (last year's Rimington Trophy winner) came in and kicked Connelly to right guard with Jordan Devey sitting down.
I'm a little surprised that the Patriots offense seems so out of sorts with both miscommunication and inaccurate Brady passes, given the way they improved in the second half of last year. Obviously, as a Pats fan, I am hoping for a similar improvement as this year goes along, especially as Rob Gronkowski gets healthier and Tim Wright learns the offense better (and Brady begins to trust him more, which will in turn mean Belichick uses him more). Christopher Price and I were talking about this at halftime, but it's pretty clear that Brady (or Belichick, or both) has really lost faith in Danny Amendola. He just never seemed to quite learn the offense right, somewhat similar to Chad Ochocinco. Still has plays where it doesn't seem like he's lining up right. So Brady just always looks at Edelman first, then Vereen and Gronk second and third. As for Brandon LaFell's complaints to the Globe that he's mostly being used as a blocker, that was a popular subject of ridicule in the press box today. No duh, Brandon. Although hey, they did throw him a few passes, and he even caught a couple of them.
One other thing that I mentioned on Twitter... If you want to follow the idea that the Raiders are living in the past by assembling the 2008 Pro Bowl roster, I will also point out that they are the only team in the league that regularly has two fullbacks active on game day. (Apparently the Lions and Saints also have two fullbacks each but usually only one is active.)
Wait... looking back on the thread. Did I forget to mention that Darrelle Revis had a bad game? Man, Revis had a bad game. Usually covered James Jones, was giving up completions in man coverage all day long.
Interesting trivia question on the Pats post-game notes. Patriots are 82-15 at Gillette Stadium now, best winning percentage of any team at one home stadium since 1970 (minimum 25 games). Can you guess the rest of the top five? Hint: only one of the other four team-stadium combinations is still active. In fact, two of the other four teams have played in two different stadiums since.
(Note: answers at the bottom of the page.)
San Francisco 49ers 14 at Arizona Cardinals 23
Aaron Schatz: I think a few years ago in the book, Ned Macey wrote an essay showing that coaches seem to have less success after age 55 or 57 or so. But the three oldest head coaches in the league right now are Pete Carroll, Bill Belichick, and Bruce Arians. When you see how Arians has won the last couple years despite talent deficiencies, and how he's got the Cardinals still contending right now despite losing three of their four starting linebackers and now their starting quarterback... man, how did we wait this long to give this guy a starting job?
Denver Broncos 20 at Seattle Seahawks 26 (OT)
Scott Kacsmar: Broncos have to stick with the running game, but Seattle's making it awfully hard to do that with these minimal gains. Ball has eight carries for 19 yards, and his longest gain (9 yards) was the drive-opening fumble.
Vince Verhei: Awfully weird first half in Seattle. Russell Wilson's raw numbers look phenomenal (11-of-13, 145 yards, two scores), but for the first four drives he did nothing as a passer, as their only first down came on a Jermaine Kearse-to-Wilson pass. (Apparently it's "Throw Passes to Quarterbacks Day" in the NFL.) Then he put together a couple of touchdown drives at the end of the half. Right before halftime, Russell Okung went to the locker room with what appeared to be a painful arm injury, so it looks like he's his usual fragile self.
Meanwhile, the Broncos had success moving the ball despite good pressure and coverage, because Peyton Manning has done Peyton Manning things, usually to Emmanuel Sanders. They have thrown at Sherman a few times, without substantial success. They've had some problems on third down, though, including a pair of draws on third-and-long that led to punts. I mentioned that on Twitter and people suggested Manning audibled to those calls, and that he doesn't have the arm to complete "deep" balls. But man, if you have literally zero faith in your own ability to pick up a third-and-10... well, it's going to be a long day.
Tom Gower: Macro-level question I struggled with in the offseason, and this game is bringing back up again: is what Seattle is doing anything different than what other teams have tried to do, and they're just a lot better at it because they're really good on defense?
Related point: This Broncos offensive line doesn't look much better than the one in February. Seattle can give run-favorable looks and still prevent the Broncos from getting many yards, which has long been an element of the "stop Peyton" blueprint.
Aaron Schatz: My impression of things: It's not that much different, but it is based on three things. First, Earl Thomas makes it all possible. Earl Thomas roaming so much ground in the deep middle allows the cornerbacks to play much tighter and allows Kam Chancellor to play up at the line to stop the run much of the time. Second, the Seahawks realized a couple years ago a market inefficiency where everyone was looking for shorter, faster cornerbacks and not bigger, physical but not necessarily as fast cornerbacks. Having Earl Thomas allowed them to take advantage of this inefficiency by finding Richard Sherman in the fifth round and Brandon Browner in the CFL. (Even now they're getting their cornerbacks in low rounds. They've got a guy today named Marcus Burley who was a 2013 UDFA. But he's not a tall guy, so he doesn't quite fit the mold.) Third, just great drafting and free-agent signings. Drafting Mebane and Wright, signing Avril and Bennett, and so on.
Scott Kacsmar: Thought it was pretty clear Wes Welker was interfered with on third down earlier this quarter. Now the Seahawks were clearly offsides on a third-and-1 run and again a no call. Why can't they make something like that challenge eligible? Ridiculous that they missed it.
Cian Fahey: The Broncos have obviously been better in this game than they were in the Super Bowl last season. Sanders has made a much bigger impact than Decker did, but the same problems appear to remain. The offensive line needs to be better so they can establish the run and the receiving options as a whole need to be better at the catch point.
Scott Kacsmar: Phil Simms keeps complimenting Denver's pass protection, because after a certain petition last week, he can't possibly speak badly about Denver in this game. But scoring margin aside, it really does look like the Super Bowl in multiple ways. All offseason I couldn't think of any way Denver could really get better prepared for this defense that didn't involve a better running game. That's "physical football" in other words. And just like the Super Bowl, or maybe even worse, there's been absolutely nothing on the ground. So forget that. Then when Denver tries to throw, there seems to be a Seahawk defender draped on every receiver. They definitely got away with some penalties today, but you have to expect that in their building. Sanders has been better than Decker, but Demaryius is still struggling and Julius hasn't been a factor.
The only other way Denver had a chance here was for its defense to be better. They have stepped it up in this second half, so after a Wilson pick, we'll see if the offense can get in the end zone and make this an interesting finish.
Aaron Schatz: Here's what doesn't look like the Super Bowl: the Denver defense looks much, much better. They have Chris Harris, they have T.J. Ward, they have DeMarcus Ware, and they're not getting taken to the cleaners.
Any time you can feed Bryan Walters the ball four times on a must-have late-game drive, you gotta do it.
Vince Verhei: Many, many, many things went badly for Seattle in that second half. Wilson forcing a ball into triple coverage for the interception. Wilson holding the ball forever to take a sack to set up the safety. Harvin running a ball out of the end zone and getting tackled inside the 10-yard line. (That may have set up the safety too, I'm not sure right now.) Harvin, perhaps because of the kickoff return, getting benched and forcing the Seahawks to go to Brian Walters. And then on the last two drives they rush three and drop a defensive tackle to take away the crossing route, but that gives Manning time all day and he burns Maxwell over and over and over again.
Tom Gower: Heck of a drive by the Broncos to tie it. I guess they found something they liked with those route combinations on the left side, since they ran it a couple times pretty successfully (assuming my memory works). Great recovery after the potentially back-breaking Chancellor interception. That play seemed to me like Manning forced the throw in anticipation of pressure coming from the right side. Chris Clark had struggled a lot, I think, and the Seahawks had gotten good pressure from the alignment they showed presnap earlier in the game. Quick throw = dive and close.
Seattle's final drive, well, the Seahawks are hard to defend when they use the edges with Wilson and then hit you between the tackles. I think the Broncos would have done better with Danny Trevathan -- the Seahawks definitely got after Brandon Marshall and Nate Irving in space at times, and you can't really cover for both of them without making yourself too easy to exploit elsewhere. A heck of an ending after a first half that, while interesting, was kind of dull.
Vince Verhei: Denver's last drive included a lot of pick-play concepts that seemed to leave Seattle confused about who to cover.
It is funny how smooth and efficient Seattle's offense looked in overtime. I assume that they are telling Wilson only to keep the ball in must-win scenarios, because he rarely keeps the ball on zone reads anymore, but he kept it repeatedly in overtime. I understand why -- you don't want your small franchise quarterback running if it's not mandatory -- but they were so much more dangerous with that weapon unleashed.
Speaking of weapons, the secret MVP of the game was Jon Ryan -- net average of 47.7 yards on six punts, five of them downed inside the 20, plus the 80-yard free kick. (He had a punt last week too that traveled nearly 80 yards on the fly from his foot to the returner.)
Kansas City Chiefs 34 at Miami Dolphins 15
Cian Fahey: I do understand why the constant context for Ryan Tannehill's numbers are being called excuses at this stage, but the reality is that the supporting cast isn't suddenly getting good. I had one eye on this game so wasn't fully focused on it, saw bits on RedZone too, but it again appears that Wallace doesn't know where he should be half the time and he had at least one drop.
Jarvis Landry added another wide-open drop, while Charles Clay remained a muted figure in this offense. At this stage, it appears the Week 1 display said more about the Patriots defense and that heat rather than the offensive line. Lazor is doing the right thing with the philosophy of the offense, but I question his play-calling on gameday.
Worryingly for Philbin, the defense looks worse than the offense.
This unit is a bit like the Carolina Panthers defense, in that it is almost completely reliant on its defensive line to be dominant. However, even when the defensive line is dominant, the linebackers and secondary can still find a way to beat themselves. The off-coverage approach just makes it too easy for teams to move the ball on them and it neutralizes the impact of one of the more talented cornerbacks in the NFL, Brent Grimes.
Forgot to note, Lamar Miller looked very good. His fit in this offense is perfect and his vision appears to be improving the more he plays.
Rob Weintraub: I'll say this for Tannehill -- at least three times this season, and twice against Kansas City, he has thrown strong, accurate passes while being sacked, including an amazing completion. Not just with guys hanging on him, Roethlisberger-style, but while being driven hard to the ground, milliseconds away from hitting the turf. Incredibly athletic plays, for what they are worth.
Pittsburgh Steelers 37 at Carolina Panthers 19
Scott Kacsmar: I look forward to crediting all these broken tackles by Le'veon Bell. Otherwise, not much going on here. Oh, Todd Haley did have fullback Will Johnson targeted out there on a wide receiver screen. So that happened.
I haven't kept up with the penalty stats, but these "points of emphasis" seem like a load of crap to me, especially the penalties for defensive holding and illegal contact. Steelers looked to have a touchdown with Markus Wheaton, but they said he stepped out of bounds and was the first to touch the ball. First, I'm not even sure his foot was on the line. Second, the reason he stepped out was because of Melvin White forcing him out of bounds. That contact was more than 5 yards down the field, so there has to be some penalty there. The level of calls in the preseason was absurd, but how about at least calling the obvious ones that are impacting plays?
Aaron Schatz: Steelers keep getting to Cam Newton with a three-man rush. I don't think any of us expected that kind of power from their defensive line.
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Scott Kacsmar: The Steelers have a takeaway.
Brian Hartline caught a touchdown.
Morris Claiborne made a huge interception.
Peyton threw more interceptions than Eli.
Trent Richardson averaged over 4.0 yards per carry.
Week 3 is opposite day.
Tom Gower: Wasn't that always going to be the issue with Carolina this season, that by replacing their receivers and some key offensive linemen they'd struggle to move the ball with any consistency? It's 16-3 right now, which isn't the even scoreline I expected, but it's been more or less the game we expected, no?
Cian Fahey: Ron Rivera is a professional coach. Not just a professional coach, an NFL head coach. He is amongst the 32 people who are considered to be the smartest football minds in the whole world. Yet, against the Steelers, a team that has proven through two weeks that it can't stop the run in any form, he calls four runs for his running backs in the first half.
This genuinely bemuses me. How can you watch your opponents tape leading up to this game and think it's best to completely avoid attacking their greatest weakness? How can you be so inept that you play the game from the start in the way that gives the opposition the best chance to win?
I understand DeAngelo Williams is out. I even understand that you may not completely trust your offensive line. But this Steelers' front seven doesn't have a nose tackle, doesn't have quality defensive ends, doesn't have resilient outside linebackers and two safeties who have a proven affinity with missing tackles.
This is offensive malpractice from the Panthers coaching staff. As I type this, Antonio Brown has caught a touchdown pass at the start of the third quarter. Now the Panthers are in a situation where they will likely just go completely pass-happy.
Tom Gower: Ask Bama fans about Mike Shula sometime to see what they think of your evaluation of Carolina's coaching. Naturally, Jonathan Stewart got hurt on about his fifth carry.
Darin Gantt said it in 140 characters: "Ben Roethlisberger is pretty much a healthy Cam Newton. With blocking. And a stud receiver. And a running game." Kelvin Benjamin's been a much better player as a rookie than I thought he'd be, but he's not nearly the same quality of receiver as Antonio Brown.
Scott Kacsmar: Roethlisberger is 10-of-10 passing to Brown tonight. This game is pretty much "Carolina's Weaknesses Exposed" as a NBC Sunday night special. The receivers outside of Benjamin and Olsen aren't doing anything. Newton's not sharp, and might be more hurt than we're led to believe. The running game's not there, because the offensive line isn't very good. The secondary can't cover Pittsburgh's receivers too well. Bell is making people miss a bunch of tackles, though to be fair he would do that to many defenses right now. We'll see if the last touchdown can do anything to make this interesting at 23-13, but the Steelers are usually good at holding those leads. This is one of the more complete games they have played in years. Balanced and efficient.
Aaron Schatz: Really loved what the Panthers did with that momentum after they scored the Greg Olsen touchdown and then forced the Steelers to go three-and-out. Momentum: it totally means something!
Scott Kacsmar: Aaron, Ray Lewis just told us momentum is very important, and he won two Super Bowls. He must be onto something.
Cian Fahey: Do you have a similar lack of belief in the idea of confidence?
Aaron Schatz: Lack of belief in the idea of "athletes with a lack of confidence" is really Danny Tuccitto's territory. But short version: I think it is very likely that almost all professional athletes are very confident at all times. You have to be to build your career to that point. There are probably some exceptions, but it's a smaller issue than most commentators seem to indicate. I do think that you can have frustration about what your game plan is, or what your coaches are doing. Tom Brady certainly seems to have lost confidence in Danny Amendola. But never in himself.
Rivers McCown: I enjoyed the juxtaposition between them talking about Greg Olsen's kid and then putting the camera on him after that fumble as he said (lip-reading): "fall on the fucking ball!"
JJ Cooper: I love that Le'veon Bell's 81-yard run gives us a Frenchy Fuqua reference (longest Steelers' run since Fuqua in 1970). That Fuqua run was in the Steelers-Eagles' game where Mean Joe Greene supposedly picked up the ball and threw it into the stands in the fourth quarter before walking off the field. I saw supposedly because I've never been able to find a contemporary report from then that mentioned it, although it pops up all the time in NFL Films' pieces on the '70s Steelers.
Tom Gower: Worth including because of the Bell run: the longest non-scoring plays in NFL history.
J.J. Cooper: Hey Cian, it's Week 3 so it's early, but you were right, I was wrong. You thought the Steelers' running game would take a big step forward this year. I thought they would make marginal improvements. With 200-plus yards tonight and a 50- and 81-yard run, I think I'm just an idiot.
Scott Kacsmar: The running back talent definitely helps. Bell was not that impressive last year. He's lost weight and now he's making guys miss like crazy. Blount's usually been good for breaking tackles like he just did on that touchdown run. These guys aren't completely dependent on the blocking like some of the past seasons' backfield depth.
Tom Gower: Yeah, there's a big difference in how Bell moves between now and how he moved at Michigan State. I thought he'd be just a plodder in the NFL when he was coming out, but he's more than that.
J.J. Cooper: He's not Marcus Allen, but I liked Collinsworth's allusion to Allen for Bell. They do have similar start-and-stop styles. I can't really think of another current NFL running back who runs like him, as on most plays he waits and waits and waits before hitting the hole. Former Steeler Willie Parker always took the hand-off and hit the line at full speed, whether there was a hole or not. Bell is his antonym.
Scott Kacsmar: Blount's hurdle will never get old. Might want to give Antonio Brown some tips so he doesn't kick a guy in the face again.
J.J. Cooper: This is the first time the Steelers have had two 100-yard rushers in the same game since Earnest Jackson and Walter Abercrombie did it in 1986. Frank Pollard and Abercrombie did it in 1985 as well. Rocky and Franco did it three times as well. That's it for two Steelers' 100-yard rushers in the same game.
Trivia Question Answers:
New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, 82-15 (.845)
Miami Dolphins, Orange Bowl, 101-22-1 (.819)
Minnesota Vikings, Metropolitan Stadium, 64-23-1 (.733)
Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field, 76-28-1 (.729)
Los Angeles Rams, Memorial Coliseum, 53-20-2 (.726)