Audibles at the Line: Week 4
compiled by Luke McKenna
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.
Miami Dolphins 38 at Oakland Raiders 14
Andrew Potter: Stuck with Miami "at" Oakland on this side of the Pond, as Sky Sports removes the Red Zone option during the Wembley games. Seems Ryan Tannehill will start after all. What a weird and completely preventable controversy. Does anybody really want to see a rerun of Matt Moore, Dolphins starting quarterback?
Englishman Menelik Watson leading Oakland out was a nice touch.
Wembley game's turned into a damper squib than I expected. Only a Lamar Miller goal line fumble had kept this from being a blowout by the middle of the third quarter. Alas, Derek Carr followed that up by throwing a pick which was almost returned for a touchdown by Brent Grimes, then Miller walked in to put Miami up by 24.
Carr started out very well: 4-of-5 on the opening drive for 11 yards per attempt, culminating in a touchdown pass to Brian Leonhardt, but the second Raiders drive ended in a failed fullback handoff on third-and-1 and they haven't threatened to do anything since. Carr was under pressure and struggling throughout the second quarter, and the third quarter's started much the same way. Now he's injured after his left knee was twisted under him, and Matt McGloin's about to take the field.
On the other side, Ryan Tannehill's played well, at one point completing more than a dozen consecutive passes. He's also scrambled effectively, and looks very comfortable. How much of that is due to playing Oakland's defense is open to discussion.
And just as I type this, a terrible snap flies past McGloin. Cortland Finnegan picks it up and waltzes into the end zone. It's now just a question of how many Miami will score.
Green Bay Packers 38 at Chicago Bears 17
Luke McKenna: Assuming Aaron Rodgers throws for at least 106 yards today he will reach 25,000 yards in his 98th game. Only Dan Marino (92), Peyton Manning (97) and Kurt Warner (97) achieved that landmark in fewer games. There is a chance we could see both quarterbacks go past 25,000 yards today. Jay Cutler currently has 24,687 yards through 107 games.
Aaron Schatz: It's like color commentators don't even know that teams tend to game plan for opponents. John Lynch in the GB-CHI game is totally amazed that the Chicago Bears, who have passed 70 percent coming into this game, are running the ball more than passing the ball.
Green Bay defensive DVOA through three games: 9th against the pass, 27th against the run.
It's almost as if Marc Trestman and his coaches watched film and noticed that the Packers can't stop the run!
I'm watching a lot of Green Bay-Chicago to try to figure out what might be wrong with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense. Then I realized -- if there is something wrong with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense, this is certainly not the right game to be looking at to figure out what it is, because Chicago's defense sucks.
Vince Verhei: Alshon Jeffery scored my favorite touchdown in the first half of the early games. He lined up wide to the left, then motioned across and behind the formation like he was going to take an end-around. Then at the snap he spun back and retraced his steps back to the outside, and nobody for Green Bay went with him. Cutler flipped it to him for a walk-in touchdown.
Matt Waldman: Rodgers had an incredible off-balanced throw after buying time in the pocket. He launched the ball from right to left over 45 yards to Davante Adams in the end zone without having his feet on the ground and getting hit in the legs and bent like Gumby. A holding call on Corey Linsley nullifies a crazy display of athleticism and accuracy.
Cutler was having a fine game until the last two series. He throws a slant to Josh Morgan that was about as open as your local bank on President's Day. That was interception No. 1, leading to a score that widened the lead. The following series, Cutler thinks Marshall is cutting his route up the seam, but the big fella goes deep. Sam Shields picks off the ball and makes like the wide receiver he was at the University of Miami, taking it to the Bears' 10. This should be a much closer game, but that's what two mistakes of this magnitude can do to a team.
Bears appear to have limited Packers to a field goal after Cutler's second interception, but Jon Bostic gets called (questionably) for a hold and gives Green Bay a first-and-goal at the 3, leading to an easy pass to Randall Cobb for the score that extends the lead to 21.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 at Pittsburgh Steelers 24
Scott Kacsmar: I'm not one for the "trap game" theory. But if any team in the league would come off a huge win and take their opponent lightly (after they had a huge loss too) it's the Steelers. Michael Johnson didn't even get blocked on the first drive, resulting in a strip-sack. Mike Evans caught the kind of touchdown we expected to see him make in the NFL, and he almost had a second if Mike Glennon's throw was better. Antonio Brown and Heath Miller just had inexcusable drops, but Markus Wheaton made a big catch to give the Steelers a sigh of relief.
Aaron Schatz: That first Mike Evans touchdown, though, the coverage was really tight there by Cortez Allen. Hard to fault him, at least. Incredible catch by Evans.
Scott Kacsmar: There's a tendency breaker. Roethlisberger likes to hurry the offense to the line on fourth-and-1 and pretend like he's going to snap the ball. He's just trying to get the defense to jump, but it never works and he ends up calling timeout and the Steelers punt. It's a very annoying process to watch, but this time he actually snapped the ball at the end of the play clock and ran the QB sneak like he should be doing in these situations. Then Roethlisberger smacked his hand off Marcus Gilbert -- the double agent strikes again -- but has stayed in the game. Just got a touchdown to Antonio Brown, who definitely pushed Alterraun Verner in the end zone. All five of Roethlisberger's touchdowns this season have been to Brown.
Rare to see a team suffer back-to-back delay of game penalties, but these are your 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Aaron Schatz: Wait a minute, wasn't Lovie Smith supposed to bring DISCIPLINE???
I don't think Mike Tomlin listens to the guy upstairs who tells him when to challenge or not challenge plays. Assuming he even has a guy upstairs looking at replays. Right after a Mike Evans catch that replay shows is obviously, easily in bounds, he throws the challenge flag.
Scott Kacsmar: Tomlin blew one challenge, but this Brown play looks like a similar catch to the one Evans made. Steelers should get this overturned, but will be out of challenges either way.
I can't remember if we included that part in the FOA Steelers chapter where I basically said crazy things have to happen for the Steelers to get an interception. Well, this would count. On a deep ball Mike Evans pulled up with an injury and Cortez Allen looked like he had a punt return on the pick. Bad break for the Bucs.
Aaron Schatz: Mike Glennon just pulled a delay of game on second-and-13 trying to march Tampa Bay downfield for a go-ahead touchdown. DISCIPLINE.
Scott Kacsmar: I'm not even going to go over that ending that I pretty much predicted drive-by-drive from when it was 24-17, but that was some real incompetence by the FOX broadcast. With 1:35 left and the Steelers barely clinging on at 24-20, FOX showed a graphic about how often 3-1 teams make the playoffs. At the bottom, it said the Steelers are 3-1. They seriously gave them the win even though Tampa Bay clearly needed one stop to get the ball back and have a good shot at a game-winning touchdown.
Let the game play out before running a bullshit graphic like that again.
Buffalo Bills 17 at Houston Texans 23
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Aaron Schatz: Ladies and gentlemen, have you wondered what it looks like when bad quarterbacks behind mediocre lines constantly run themselves into pass pressure instead of getting rid of the ball quickly? This is the game for you!
In the annals of "crappy quarterback decision-making at the end of the first half," it's really hard to beat Joe Flacco taking that sack a couple weeks ago. But EJ Manuel today... 15 seconds left, first-and-10, midfield, no timeouts left. Nobody was open, but instead of throwing it away, Manuel threw a little dumpoff pass to Robert Woods at the line of scrimmage. There are two defenders there in zone coverage. Woods is going nowhere. NOWHERE. He's not getting yardage. He's not getting out of bounds. Time comes off the clock and Buffalo had to clock the second down to try a Hail Mary on third down. And the downside of this little dumpoff in the flat, if the Texans read this right, is a pick-six. There is NO UPSIDE.
EJ Manuel, all he had to do is pop the ball over JJ Watt's head to an open receiver for a first down on third-and-2. Pick-six. Right into Watt's hands. Further words fail me.
Scott Kacsmar: So EJ Manuel has a signature play now...
Rivers McCown: We call that "getting Daltoned."
Aaron Schatz: I was going to say that this was the week that comebacks forgot, but then D.J. Swearinger left Mike Williams wide-open and Buffalo threw an 80-yard touchdown to pull within three. So, maybe not entirely.
Carolina Panthers 10 at Baltimore Ravens 38
Aaron Schatz: The Ravens leave Kelvin Benjamin open in a zone coverage and the Panthers hit him in the corner of the end zone. Kelvin Benjamin was supposed to be a project, but if this is what a project looks like early on, I can't wait to see what the project looks like when it is completed.
Vince Verhei: Benjamin's touchdown was his seventh reception on deep passes through three and a half games. That's more deep receptions than any Panther had in 2013.
Steve Smith's first touchdown was partly due to a lucky bounce, but his second was a thing of beauty. The cornerback in coverage wasn't just interfering with Smith, he was actively trying to tackle him. Smith fought him off and pulled in the catch. Physical receivers shrugging off defenders make me happy.
Tennessee Titans 17 at Indianapolis Colts 41
Vince Verhei: Last week I said that Jake Locker wasn't getting benched for Charlie Whitehurst. Well, Locker is out today with a wrist injury, and Whitehurst is pretty clearly outplaying him. He's keeping his head up and making the defense cover the entire field, and generally making quick and accurate decisions. He's better than his numbers look -- his receivers have two big drops, one that turned into an interception, one that should have been a touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: The Whitehurst pass that bounced off a guy's hands into an interception wasn't necessarily a drop... it was also a really high pass the guy had to jump for. I think Whitehurst and the receiver sort of share blame.
Rivers McCown: Whitehurst has a more reliable arm (accuracy-wise) than Locker, but any pressure leads to a crumplesack and Whitehurst is as slow to recognize open targets.
Tom Gower: The best chance the Titans had today was if the Colts stayed committed to the run beyond all reason and Luck air-mailed his downfield throws. Neither was true in the first half, and the Colts scored 20 points. Pagano aided their efforts by going for the surprise onside kick up 7-0, which worked. The Titans have responded by having 10 guys within 15 yards on subsequent kickoffs, like they expected an onside kick. Of course, with Pat McAfee's normal kickoff distance, it's not like doing that has cost them anything.
Whitehurst has had a mostly entirely respectable first half. His only interception came on Yet Another Justin Hunter Drop, and he's hit some nice windows on intermediate throws. But he's only one player, and the Titans getting blown out the previous two games was a team effort. Worth noting that the only touchdown came off a short field, and the field goal came off reasonable field position. This team ain't driving 80-plus yards for a score with any regularity at all.
Tom Gower: I know the odds of getting three two-point conversions, but kicking the extra point down 34-16 late in the third tells me Ken Whisenhunt is either not thinking or does not think the Titans have a non-zero chance of winning.
Vince Verhei: There's Zach Mettenberger's first career INT. Welcome to Tennessee, Zach.
Philadelphia Eagles 21 at San Francisco 49ers 26
Scott Kacsmar: Now you can say it, Chris Berman. AND THE PUNT IS BLOCKED! Guaranteed this game will end our little three-week trend here with these teams. Either the Eagles will just kick some ass (no double-digit comeback) or the 49ers are going to have a big finish.
Cian Fahey: If I wasn't already physically ill before the start of the games today, the 49ers play-calling would make me either way.
Aaron Schatz: What nobody is really talking about with the 49ers is how much their offensive line has fallen since a couple years ago. Alex Boone does not look good since he came back from his holdout. Mike Iupati is clearly not the guy he was two years ago. Kilgore doesn't look wonderful. Kaepernick seems to always be running for his life. It doesn't matter when he does stuff like throw the ball the entire width of the field to Frank Gore, who's wide-open on the right because all the Eagles defenders are chasing Kaepernick down on the left side of the field. Except Earl Wolff, who blew the tackle.
Scott Kacsmar: A quarterback can throw across the field, as long as there's not a single defender in sight of the receiver like there was on that Frank Gore play for a touchdown.
Vince Verhei: Meanwhile, it's halftime in San Francisco, and the Eagles' running backs have combined for five rushes (for 6 total yards) in 27 total offensive plays. When did they rehire Andy Reid?
Aaron Schatz: Well, they aren't running because they aren't doing anything. Eagles have something around 10:00 of possession in the middle of the third quarter. Some of that is because they scored on three different defense/special teams plays, but also the offense looks awful. Or maybe the 49ers defense just looks great? They aren't falling for any of the Eagles run misdirection stuff, and they've got the receivers really covered well.
Rob Weintraub: Colin Kaepernick just came up to the line to pretend to go for fourth-and-short near midfield, and instead of taking the delay of game, wasted his second timeout of the half. Andy Dalton never does that...
Scott Kacsmar: It's not a play they run often, but I swear that designed QB sweep by the 49ers always goes to the left. Just converted third-and-13 with it.
Rob Weintraub: Meanwhile, Stanford continues to dominate Oregon in the trenches...
Vince Verhei: Foles also missed some wide-open receivers, especially in the first half.
Aaron Schatz: Man does Nick Foles like to throw into traffic.
Matt Waldman: Foles did this all last year. Had at least three plays last year where he threw it up for grabs and had good outcomes that deserved bad outcomes. One of them was a play against the Packers.
Scott Kacsmar: Nice goal-line stand, but SF stands to suffer a Pittsburgh fate if the offense is too conservative here. Eagles have all three timeouts left. Maybe FOX won't bump the 49ers to 2-2 just yet.
Scott Kacsmar: I don't condone San Francisco's extremely conservative four-minute offense, but if the Eagles are going to bring that kind of offense on a GWD attempt, then so be it. Horrific last drive. They really didn't even give themselves a chance with those plays.
Jacksonville Jaguars 14 at San Diego Chargers 33
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Aaron Schatz: CBS announcers kept hammering on the idea that the Jaguars had not scored a rushing touchdown since November and they "wanted to get the monkey off their back." No, honestly, I doubt they even know about that streak. I think they want to get a touchdown no matter whether they run or pass. And I think most of the starting Jacksonville offense wasn't even on the team last year.
Rivers McCown: Single-high safety and Rivers got him to move his hips outside.
Aaron Schatz: Apparently, Eddie Royal is wearing some kind of reverse polarity magnets that make him impossible to cover properly. He just scored a second touchdown when Winston Guy jumped the route that Royal was not actually running and Royal just la-di-da open and then into the end zone. I really don't know what Guy thought he was doing. It's like he was jumping an out when Royal didn't even out-and-up. He kind of just upped.
Rivers McCown: He did what he's been doing all season, then.
Cian Fahey: Flowers' health has been huge. He looks so much more comfortable this year than he did at any point last season.
Atlanta Falcons 28 at Minnesota Vikings 41
Cian Fahey: A reminder, in a league where teams can't find good quarterbacks, 30 of the 32 passed on Teddy Bridgewater.
Scott Kacsmar: Well, most of those 30 teams didn't need Bridgewater, but I still think Houston needed a QB more than Jadeveon Clowney. One pick away from that ultimate prize of Clowney and Bridgewater. It's probably going to haunt that franchise forever.
Vince Verhei: I'd just like to officially be Mr. Wet Blanket and remind everyone that what's going on in Minnesota says just as much about the Falcons defense as it does about what Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings are doing.
Cian Fahey: *Motion to remove Vincent from the email chain*
Rivers McCown: Oh sure, we should caution that this is real early in Bridgewater's career and throw all the usual caveats on it.
Just, there's a big difference in what I would call rational optimism between "picking a quarterback early that draft Twitter pretty much universally has acclaimed" and, say, "having Tom Savage."
Rob Weintraub: Antone Smith takes a simple sweep right. Josh Robinson has a chance to make the tackle after 4 or so yards. Instead of squaring up to tackle he does the "fly at the ball carrier with arms folded" thing, and winds up taking out two teammates trailing in from behind who might have gotten Smith from behind. 48-yard touchdown, 28-27 Atlanta.
Rob Weintraub: Teddy B. may be looking solid but wow did he miss a wide-open bomb to Jarius Wright, who would have walked in for six. Overthrown, alas (and yes I have the Vikings in a wins pool).
Rivers McCown: Levine Toilolo in at right tackle for Atlanta. That's not optimal.
Matt Waldman: I honestly thought a team would draft Toilolo to convert him to tackle -- even if it isn't a good situation for Atlanta.
Rob Weintraub: Mike Tice may have to suit up and get in there to block for the Falcons.
Quintessential Mike Zimmer – third-and-long for the Falcs, Vikes bring the double-A gap blitz, Anthony Barr loops around to dump Ryan for the sack. But apparently Bridgewater just left on a cart, so uh-oh.
Vince Verhei: Do we still give out awards for ballsy coaches? Vikings had a fourth-and-goal at the 1, down by one point with about 11 minutes left in the game. Coach Zimmer turns down a go-ahead field goal try and gets a Matt Asiata go-ahead touchdown instead. Then he doubles down on ballsiness and goes for two, and the Vikings convert and walk away with a 7-point lead. The two-pointer probably seems like a no-brainer to a lot of people reading this, but I think a lot of coaches would have kicked there to go up 6.
Scott Kacsmar: I might have the data on that somewhere, but I think the two-point conversion was pretty much SOP even for NFL coaches in that situation.
Aaron Schatz: On the other hand, Zimmer had used all three of his timeouts and still had 10:00 left in the fourth. Right now it doesn't look like that will bite them, but who knows.
Rob Weintraub: Blair Walsh just bombed a 55-yard field goal with Christian Ponder in for Teddy B. (looked like a high ankle sprain -- paging Dr. Weintraub!) even as the announcers were calling for a pooch punt. 38-28 Vikes, and with the Falcons OL in tatters... Ryan has them right where he wants them.
Or not -- Harrison Smith with the pick of Ryan. Atlanta needs the old "Hold them to 3, score a quick TD, recover an onside kick, and score another TD, all with no timeouts" parlay.
Falcs did hold Minny to 3, so they have no timeouts left and 1:14, down 13 points.
Vince Verhei: The update on Antone Smith's crazy production: Since the start of the 2013 season, he has 15 carries for 264 yards, a 17.6-yard average. He has 11 carries of 4 yards or more, seven carries of 10 yards or more, and five carries of 38 yards or more. Keep giving this man the ball!
New Orleans Saints 17 at Dallas Cowboys 38
Aaron Schatz: Morris Claiborne just got hurt, leaving Dallas with only three cornerbacks. Let me get this straight. Dallas went into a game against NEW ORLEANS with only FOUR CORNERBACKS???
Scott Kacsmar: Cowboys might be OK as long as Jeff Heath doesn't take any defensive snaps.
Aaron Schatz: Bruce Carter is making a ton of plays in pass coverage. Contra Cris Collinsworth, this is not a surprise. Bruce Carter has always been able to play against the pass. He just can't stop the run at all.
I know that Cian delineated all of the Saints' coverage problems in Film Room a couple weeks ago, but it's still impressive to see how well this Cowboys offensive line has controlled the Saints' defensive front. Cameron Jordan is a damn good player, Akiem Hicks is pretty nice, Junior Galette, these guys are getting nothing. We can argue about whether the Cowboys used proper value in getting two interior linemen with their last two first-round picks, but there's no doubt they've built a great line.
On the other hand, I have no idea how this terrible Cowboys defense is shutting out the Saints through one half.
Saints comeback in the second half was almost to be expected... there's no way that the Cowboys were going to keep the Saints' offense quiet that long. But I'm with Cris Collinsworth on the fake punt with 6:45 left. If you need a fourth-down conversion to win the game, who do you want throwing the ball: Drew Brees or Thomas Morstead?