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.
New York Jets 27 "at" Miami Dolphins 14 (London)
Tom Gower: Time to introduce London to the wonders of a Ryan Tannehill-Ryan Fitzpatrick matchup!
Andrew Potter: Three drives for Miami so far, and continuing Cian's theme from last week they've tried (and failed) to pass on each of their four first-down plays. The most recent of those was a Tannehill strip-sack, fortunately recovered by Lamar Miller. Their one successful play was a 13-yard Miller run on their opening drive, but they tried the same on their next two second-down plays and were stuffed both times. Add in three short throws on their three third downs -- two failed completions and one incomplete pass -- and it has been a brutal offensive display so far.
The last play of the first quarter is finally a first-down rushing attempt for Miami ... and they gain 1 yard. Which is, at least, 1 more yard than an incomplete pass. Of course, they then open the second quarter by losing 10 yards on a sack, then throwing short on a long third down, and it's time for Matt Darr to punt for the fourth drive in a row.
Halftime now. Miami was finally able to put together a drive in the second quarter, which started with a 14-yard Jarvis Landry run (longer than any Dolphins pass play so far), then was aided by 58 yards in a pair of pass interference penalties (more than the total yards passing for Miami to that point). Tannehill's only completions on the drive were both 8-yarders to Jake Stoneburner, the second with the tight end wide open in the corner of the end zone. Since then, the Dolphins have gained 9 yards on six plays: one run, four incomplete passes, and a 9-yard pass to Greg Jennings on third-and-10.
Meanwhile, the Jets have done quite well on the ground (110 yards in 19 runs, three of those by Fitzpatrick) and hit on 11-of-19 passes to lead 20-7. Brandon Marshall is over 100 yards receiving, including a 58-yarder on New York's first play of the game, and Eric Decker has a 10-yard touchdown as one of four catches for 46 yards. Jets look solidly the better team, and abundantly the better-coached team.
Cian Fahey: Ndamukong Suh is going to get labelled as an Albert Haynesworth type free agent addition but he has been pretty good today. The rest of the Dolphins defense has been atrocious though. Fitzpatrick has thrown a bunch of passes that should have been picked off and the first drive in the third quarter was basically the same running play over and over again that they couldn't stop.
Aaron Schatz: Is Suh the guy who convinced the coaches that it was illegal to let Lamar Miller touch the ball?
Andrew Potter: Five minutes to go. Here's a complete list of Miami's third-down plays so far:
3-15-MIA 27 (13:06) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass short left to J.Landry to MIA 29 for 2 yards (B.Skrine).
3-11-MIA 9 (9:52) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass short left to L.Miller pushed ob at MIA 19 for 10 yards (C.Pryor).
3-7-MIA 29 (3:03) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass incomplete short left to L.Miller [D.Davis].
3-19-MIA 31 (14:21) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass short left to J.Cameron to MIA 39 for 8 yards (C.Pryor).
3-10-MIA 24 (3:55) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass short left to G.Jennings to MIA 33 for 9 yards (A.Cromartie) [L.Williams].
3-10-MIA 30 (:20) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass incomplete short right to K.Stills (M.Wilkerson).
3-4-NYJ 47 (8:11) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass short right to G.Jennings to NYJ 45 for 2 yards (B.Skrine).
3-10-NYJ 41 (3:34) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass incomplete short right to J.Cameron.
3-17-50 (:59) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass incomplete short right to J.Landry [D.Davis].
3-4-NYJ 4 (6:22) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass incomplete short left to J.Landry [L.Williams]
3-11-NYJ 11 (5:39) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass short right to J.Landry to NYJ 9 for 2 yards (D.Bailey).
0-for-11. Average 10 yards and 2 feet to go. Every single one a short pass. Average gain of 3 yards.
Jacksonville Jaguars 13 at Indianapolis Colts 16
Tom Gower: Early on, it looks like the Colts game-planned for Matt Hasselbeck to start. A lot of spread formations, a lot of short passes. Basically, let Hasselbeck read the field and concentrate on getting the ball out quickly rather asking him to take intermediate and deep shots with little mobility and some questions on the offensive line. The Colts should probably be doing this most weeks, really. It has produced a field goal in a couple of possessions early, but I think it's the right way to play.
Jacksonville... got a couple big pass plays to get their first field goal, and they're driving right now after backup Colts running back Josh Robinson fumbled yet again (their quest to spell Frank Gore really needs another option or two). Blake Bortles' good plays mostly seem to come after he has broken the pocket, and he just found Allen Hurns again for a score to put them up 10-3 after scrambling. Inside the pocket, he seems more hit-and-miss.
Colts drove the field, aided by five Jaguars penalties, before Hasselbeck found Coby Fleener for the score. Frank Gore is at something like nine carries for 6 yards, and the run game has been about that ugly. Bad blocking, Jaguars filling the box because you don't have to play two safeties deep against a noodle arm, and Gore has little juice in his legs. Colts came out trying to create space by throwing laterally, but Gore wasn't catching the ball cleanly, or at all, and that lack of juice meant he didn't do anything after the catch.
Up 13-10 at the half, Blake Bortles' line probably looks pretty impressive. He is executing from the pocket (he had a stretch of nine consecutive completions), but all of that has been short, short, short. Seven of the nine went for less than 10 yards, and it only came up to 88 yards in total. Even Vontae Davis has gotten into the "giving up catches" game, getting beat on deep cross on one of those outside-the-pocket plays earlier and ceding a short completion on a third-down conversion. Why you play 9 yards off and don't come up aggressively on third-and-3 is a whole separate question, one perhaps better directed at Greg Manusky.
But on the whole, a close game at halftime is probably what you should have expected between these teams. Indianapolis is playing with their backup quarterback and the whole roster isn't that good. Jacksonville isn't good yet, but isn't dreadful.
Andrew Healy: If the Colts didn't have high preseason expectations, we would think they're a 2-2 team headed for 6-10. They win only after Jason Myers misses three field goal attempts that would have won it, the first after Chuck Pagano counterproductively ices him at the end of regulation.
And I wondered after Myers missed the first kick at the end of regulation like he was Mike Vanderjagt at the end of the 2005 divisional game against the Steelers: Myers was 5-for-10 as a college senior at Marist, including 3-for-6 from 30-to-39 yards. For his career, he was 3-for-9 from 40-to-49 yards. Now, he had a 58-yarder earlier this year, but man are those alarming college stats for a rookie kicker. It's possible these misses were predictable.
Tom Gower: Free football in the AFC South was not really on anybody's list of requested hits today, but that's what we got anyway. We found out in the second half why Blake Bortles threw short passes when he was in the pocket. When he tried throwing something other than short passes (say, more than 10 or 12 yards downfield), they weren't completed and weren't necessarily that close to being completed. Jacksonville was shut out in the second half, thanks in part to a pair of missed field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime. The drive at the end of the second half was probably the best. Indianapolis had their first shot at a two-minute warning, and the Jaguars had just a minute to get to field goal range. A 53-yarder is no gimme, of course, and even after Chuck Pagano iced the first miss Jason Myers couldn't put it home. T.J. Yeldon looked pretty good.
Frank Gore had his moments in the second half after I buried him at halftime, though he offset much of that good with a fumble inside the 5. He'll probably get some good words for his overtime run to set up Vinatieri's game-winner. The key on the play was Anthony Castonzo blocking two linebackers, but what made that happen was the middle linebacker was backup Thurston Armbrister, and he didn't recognize as quickly as Paul Posluszny would have. Telvin Smith got caught in the trash, and a 5- or 7-yard gain became 23 or whatever. That the Jaguars were also down starting free safety James Sample and cornerback Aaron Colvin late probably didn't help much, nor did all those penalties throughout the game.
Andrew Potter: The interminable sequence of failure throughout the end of the fourth quarter and overtime has left me with a (very real) stress headache, so rather than attempt to recount just how messed up it was I'll just note that maybe, just maybe, if your kicker is terrible and has already missed a potential game-winner twice, settling for a 48-yard field goal in overtime by calling a run up the gut on third-and-long is a terrible idea. Sure, maybe (probably) you'll fail with the pass play, but at least *try*.
Oh, and just in case there was still any doubt, icing the kicker is also a terrible idea.
Watching Jets-Dolphins followed by Colts-Jaguars has left me with a burning desire to see 75 percent of NFL coaching staffs replaced. And the aforementioned stress headache.
New York Giants 24 at Buffalo Bills 10
Aaron Schatz: Defensive battle early in Buffalo behind the Giants and Bills. Stephon Gillmore with particularly strong, close coverage on Odell Beckham, and the Bills' run defense is excellent. Karlos Williams has broken some tackles but the Bills passing game isn't doing much so far. Both teams have been consistently backed up to start drives until the Giants just got a great interception with Devon Kennard stealing the ball away from Charles Clay on the sideline. Giants then score a touchdown in just two plays, two passes to Dwayne Harris for a combined 32 yards. Second one has Harris wide open in the middle of a zone coverage -- I think Cover-3, at first glance, and I think Baccari Rambo was supposed to have that deep zone over the middle. Rex Ryan can do all kinds of fun things with schemes and he can coach 'em up, but at a certain point you aren't going to make Baccari Rambo a good pass coverage player no matter how you scheme.
Sterling Xie: Giants front seven has exceeded expectations all year and they've controlled this game so far, harassing Tyrod Taylor and containing Karlos Williams on early downs. Kerry Wynn has especially stood out on the strong side and Devon Kennard, who has a pick earlier, also did a nice job of batting down Taylor's most recent third down pass.
Aaron Schatz: This is all about the Giants' front seven. They are mauling the Bills' offensive line today. Karlos Williams is running well, too, but he's breaking tackles and pushing guys forward behind the line of scrimmage on almost every carry. The Giants just took him down for a loss when Trumaine McBride and Kerry Wynn came at him pretty much untouched. That's not supposed to happen because Kerry Wynn is a defensive end. You know, those guys should generally be blocked.
Andrew Healy: And Odell Beckham did it again. He actually had to turn his body a little more this time. He was out of bounds, but he now has both the best catch ever and maybe the best non-catch ever.
Aaron Schatz: Of course, the sad thing about saying "the best catch ever" is that we really only mean "the best catch ever in a game that we can find on video." I would bet there are some pretty amazing catches in the years of NFL games that don't exist on film or tape of any kind. A lot of those years were when the game was super run-heavy, but not all of them.
But our memories really only go back to the last couple decades. And out of all the receivers in all the games over those last couple decades, hard to think of one who made more memorable catches than ODB in just one calendar year. The dude has absurd talents.
Bills come back to make the game 16-10, but then the Giants score a touchdown to make it 22-10 on a little dumpoff pass to Rashad Jennings on the left sideline. Nigel Bradham totally blows a tackle that would have limited it to just a 3-yard gain, and Jennings goes racing down the sidelines, outraces Preston Brown, stiff-arms Baccari Rambo, and it's a 51-yard touchdown.
ODB tripped over Rambo after Rambo was laying on the field post-missed tackle, and he went flying and was sprawled on the ground. But it looks like he's OK. Rambo is walking back to the locker room and may not be.
Vince Verhei: The great Paul Zimmerman once wrote a terrific piece about a near-mythical catch made by Don Hutson, a one-handed, palm-down catch. He heard people talking about it but figured they might be exaggerating, and he spent years tracking down old game films (literally in this case, reel-to-reel films) and watching them one play at a time, searching for the great play, and then he finally found it.
Andrew Healy: Bizarre play-calling for the Giants. Again. Up 14 with under four minutes left inside the Bills' 20-yard line, they throw a fade that stops the clock on second down. And then Eli Manning gets picked on the goal line on third down. I'm generally all in favor of continuing to throw, but they are taking something easy and making it difficult. Kick a field goal if needed after running clock. This self-inflicted stuff seems to happen almost every week for the Giants.
Aaron Schatz: Penalties are out of control for the Bills. Their 17th penalty of the day is a chop block called on Richie Incognito for going low on Damontre Moore while the left tackle was already blocking him. On replay, I'm not even sure that Incognito was that low but I'll admit to not being an expert on the chop block rule. It negates a touchdown pass to Charles Clay that would have made the score 24-17 and given the Bills a shot at an onside kick and comeback to tie. Seventeen penalties, and that's the official listed total on NFL.com so I don't think that even includes declined and offsetting penalties.
Carolina Panthers 37 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23
Sterling Xie: Buccaneers have probably outplayed the Panthers today, especially since the first couple Tampa Bay drives ended in turnovers. Tampa has outpossessed Carolina by about 9 minutes and held them under 4 yards per play. But two more missed field goals from Loser League MVP Kyle Brindza kept them down 17-10, and then a Jonathan Stewart fumble just popped up into Ed Dickson's hands, who took it about 50 yards to the house. Panthers somehow up 24-10 now.
Philadelphia Eagles 20 at Washington Redskins 23
Andrew Healy: Nelson Agholor gets the unnecessary one-handed catch and credit from the announcers for a great one. No idea why he didn't just put two hands on that deep post.
Cian Fahey: For whatever reason, Chip Kelly has become infatuated with east-west plays. After Sam Bradford hits Agholor for a huge play downfield, Kelly calls an end-around where Agholor fumbles. 2013 Kelly runs the ball down their throat or looks to push it downfield again.
Andrew Healy: That fumble is punishment for the unnecessary one-hander.
In the three games DeMarco Murray has played the Eagles have three points altogether in the first half. They were shut out by the Cowboys in Week 2 and they're shut out here by Washington after Caleb Sturgis misses a field goal late in the second quarter. They only even got the attempt after a 45-yard Darren Sproles punt return. Maybe the Curse of 370 applies to the entire offense this time.
Smaller point, the Eagles couldn't find anyone other than Caleb Sturgis? Maybe they could have found Bjorn Nittmo somewhere.
Aaron Schatz: Explain to me why you give DeMarco Murray all that money if he's only going to carry the ball three times in the first half.
Cian Fahey: Nothing in Philadelphia makes sense so far this year. When Murray does get the ball he's generally directed towards the sideline.
Vince Verhei: Miles Austin gets behind the Washington secondary and Sam Bradford hits him for a 39-yard touchdown to put the Eagles up 20-16. Earlier Bradford hit Riley Cooper for a 62-yard score, and he also has a 45-yard completion to Nelson Agholor. Agholor is one thing, but when the likes of Riley Cooper and Miles Austin are getting open deep repeatedly, your defense has problems.
Oakland Raiders 20 at Chicago Bears 22
Andrew Healy: Amari Cooper is already so good. There are tougher corners to leave grasping for air than Tracy Porter, but I'm not sure anyone short of Darrelle Revis would have covered that gorgeous cut out of his slant. Then a touchdown to Roy Helu to make it 14-6 Raiders.
Scott Kacsmar: Every year there is a defense that just cannot seem to cover the tight end position. That is Oakland this season. No one even picked up Martellus Bennett in the end zone on a wide-open score.
Vince Verhei: Raiders kick a field goal to go up 17-16 early in the third. They're actually getting dominated statistically but taking advantage of good field position -- they're three scoring drives start at their own 49-yard line, the Bears' 25-yard line, and the Bears' 39-yard line following a good punt return and a pair of fumble recoveries. Derek Carr has both touchdown passes (maybe his red zone performance last year wasn't as fluky as we thought), and his only interception actually hit Latavius Murray in the chest and bounced into Pernell McPhee's hands.
With the ball at the Oakland 36-yard line, John Fox calls a draw on third-and-14. Forte gets stuffed for no gain, but even a 6- or 7-yard gain there is still settling for a long field goal. Fox gets bailed out when Robbie Gould hits a 54-yard field goal and Chicago goes ahead 19-17.
Turnovers continue to be the story of this game. Raiders follow the Bears' field goal with a lost fumble when Latavius Murray can't handle a simple pitch, and Chicago recovers. Then Jay Cutler has Martellus Bennett open on a deep corner route for what would likely have been a clinching touchdown, but with his feet unset he puts up a badly underthrown lob, and Charles Woodson intercepts it. Woodson is now 39 years old with two interceptions on the year -- the only other players to do so at that age were Darrell Green (who did it at 39 and 40) and Clay Matthews Sr.
Unbelievable. Bears are down 20-19, but they have the ball on a second-and-1 at the Oakland 34-yard line with 34 seconds to go and a timeout. So I'm thinking they've got plenty of time to run two, maybe three plays and kick a short field goal. Instead John Fox calls for a run and Matt Forte gains the first down. OK, so call your timeout and line up and spike it, right? Nah, Fox lets the clock run down and calls timeout with just enough time to try a 49-yard field goal. Gould bails him out again and Chicago wins 22-20, but my God, it's like the man has never seen a missed field goal in more than a decade of coaching.
Houston Texans 21 at Atlanta Falcons 48
Cian Fahey: Bill O'Brien never gets criticized but his team has consistently not shown up this year despite playing against teams with lesser talent.
J.J. Watt has at least one sack and two tipped passes in the first 20 minutes, but it feels like he makes a play or Atlanta gets a first down, and those are the only possibilities. Atlanta's offense is like Peyton Manning's Colts teams, where they score a lot, but on slow drives that limit the number of possessions, so their final point total will actually understate how good their offense is.
Texans miss a field goal late in the second quarter and trail 28-0 at halftime. Houston has decided they're just not going to tackle or cover Devonta Freeman -- he has 53 yards rushing and 81 yards receiving in the first half, with two rushing scores.
With the competitive portion of the game over, I think it's time to ask two big-picture questions:
2) Do the Falcons have the NFL's best "triplets" with Matt Ryan/Devonta Freeman/Julio Jones? Ben Roethlisberger's injury takes Pittsburgh out of the equation. Cincinnati and New England don't qualify because they can't pick a running back. Only other option I can see is Aaron Rodger/Eddie Lacy/Randall Cobb in Green Bay.
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) October 4, 2015
Aaron Schatz: Freeman is not one of the best running backs in the league. I appreciate what he's done the last couple weeks, but that's significantly about the defenses he's faced. In the preseason, it seemed like he was going to gradually lose his job to Tevin Coleman over the course of the year, but now Coleman's on the sidelines with a rib injury. I don't remember ever reading anyone saying that Freeman even had the possibility of developing into one of the top five backs. Not to take away what he's done in these two games, he's been great, and it's not just because he has huge holes. But when Roethlisberger comes back, the Steelers easily have the league's best triplets. Otherwise, even though I prefer a downfield receiver like Julio Jones to a slot guy like Cobb, I would have to go with Green Bay.
Tom Gower Not watching this game today aside from the highlights I see on Red Zone, but Freeman is having success the same way Justin Forsett is, by being in the right scheme, where he's a good fit and you can utilize his strengths. Have people really been talking about him as one of the best backs in the league? Even one of the best fantasy backs is questionable because of Tevin Coleman's eventual return.
Vince Verhei: To reinforce Aaron's point about Atlanta's opposition, Falcons backup runner Terron Ward, an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State, is getting the first runs of his NFL career today. So far he has eight carries for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Kansas City Chiefs 21 at Cincinnati Bengals 36
Rob Weintraub: The Bengals go right down the field and score on Kansas City with a nice Jeremy Hill sighting. Key play a third-and-short, bad snap to Andy Dalton but he handles it and goes deep down the left side for A.J. Green to set up the score.
The second Bengals possession almost as sharp as the first. Offensive line dominant, another touchdown run, this time from Giovani Bernard. Big play a Dalton scramble and lob downfield to Rex Burkhead for 33 yards. 14-3 first-quarter.
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Bengals have no answer for Jamaal Charles, especially as a receiver.
Halftime in Cincy: 14-12 Bengals. Difference in the game: a few red zone defensive plays by Cincinnati. But the Chiefs have moved the ball mostly at will and have yet to punt. Mike Nugent also missed a field goal while Santos is 4-4. "Last possession wins" kinda game.
Couple of other notes: the crazy "what is and what is not a catch?" rule continues to haunt the Bengals. Jeremy Maclin made a catch, then was blasted out of bounds and dropped the ball. Never went to the ground with possession. But of course that's a catch and what Tyler Eifert did last week was not.
Meanwhile the Chiefs almost Andy Reid'd themselves out of three points at the end of the half. They had fourth-and-inches and were totally about to spike the ball to stop the clock and turn it over on downs. But a measurement saved their bacon and Kansas City got a field goal out of it.
Kevin Zeitler holds on the first two plays of the drive but gets bailed out. Marvin Jones drops a bomb touchdown and commits a procedure penalty but gets bailed out. All because Brandon Tate made a spectacular catch on an Andy Dalton improv play and scores. His first catch all season. 21-12 Cincy.
Replay follies taking over the Bengals-Chiefs game at the end of the third quarter. First Travis Kelce fumbles stretching for a couple of meaningless extra yards on third-and-30. Sets up the Bengals for another Jeremy Hill touchdown. Cincy goes for two and Hill clearly extends the ball about 2 yards over the goal line. Somehow the side judge says he did not get in. But that is overturned and Cincy leads by two touchdowns.
Cairo Santos kicks his sixth, count them, sixth field goal of the game to make it 29-18. But then he kicks off out of bounds.
Cincy puts together a tremendous putaway drive off that kick out of bounds. Highlight the third-and-1 run fake and throw to Eifert all the way across the formation. That set up Jeremy Hill's third touchdown of the game. Back in the fantasy good graces is Mr. Hill.
Bengals win 36-21 ... and don't give up a touchdown. First 4-0 start since 2005. Tremendous pressure applied by Bengals front all day. Charles quick hitters countered for a while, but Chiefs couldn't make those happen in red zone. Meanwhile Tamba Hali/Justin Houston pretty much blanked by Cincy offensive line. Pacman injury and some sloppy penalties only negative.
Cleveland Browns 27 at San Diego Chargers 30
Jeremiah Attaochu gets him moments later though for a key sack. Forces a field goal that makes it 20-19 Chargers. San Diego hanging in despite being down to two healthy corners.
San Diego also down to two moving bodies at wide receiver. Steve Johnson went out earlier. So in a crucial moment they go to one of them, Dontrelle Inman, who makes a huge catch-and-run to set up a touchdown pass to John Phillips. Bolts up 8 with about 7 minutes left.
Exciting finish out west. Gary Barnidge makes a spectacular juggling catch that was reviewed endlessly before standing (didn't agree myself) to set up Cleveland tying it up late.
Then Philip Rivers gets San Diego down the field, keyed by a blatant (uncalled) pick play and a big run by Danny Woodhead. It would never happen but the Browns safety was better off letting him score rather than trip him up. Pure instinct play. San Diego lets clock run down, then... Josh Lambo misses the short field goal!
But offsides Browns! Rekick is good, and the Chargers save the season with a gutty short-handed win. And the Browns are the Browns. McCown played well enough again, but their defense isn't getting the job done. They had some effective exotica from Mike Pettine like moving cow zone blitzes, but man on man they got repeatedly beat.
Green Bay Packers 17 at San Francisco 49ers 3
Aaron Schatz: I don't quite understand why Green Bay is using Ty Montgomery as a running back.
Vince Verhei: Colin Kaepernick is definitely playing better than he did last week, but not as well as his 7-of-10 for 78 yards would indicate. His biggest play was a 40-yard "completion" to Quinton Patton that was really a fly sweep -- the ball traveled maybe a foot of real distance in the air. Kaepernick also killed the 49ers' best chance for a touchdown when he took long sacks on both second-and-goal and third-and-goal to set up the San Francisco field goal.
Green Bay got a touchdown on their first drive, but then punted on three straight possessions, including back-to-back three-and-outs. That includes a decision to punt on fourth-and-2 on San Francisco's side of the field. They finally got aggressive on their last possession, with Eddie Lacy twice converting on fourth-and-1 (quite easily both times, in fact). Aaron Rodgers then went incomplete-incomplete-sack, and Mason Crosby missed a 44-yard field goal to end the half.
Colin Kaepernick's terrible 2015 continues, to the point where Joe Buck has called for a change to Blaine Gabbert. But the real story is that Green Bay just punted again, and still only has 17 points late in the fourth. It doesn't look like the 49ers are doing anything special, they're just getting good pressure by rushing four, and that's letting them keep enough guys in coverage to take away most big plays.
St. Louis Rams 24 at Arizona Cardinals 22
Vince Verhei: David Johnson is the early goat here. He fumbles the opening kickoff and the Rams recover. Nick Foles converts that with a third-down touchdown to Tavon Austin, who continues to have a breakout season. Cardinals then get a goal-to-go on my most hated NFL rule, the enormous DPI call (a 29-yard penalty on Janoris Jenkins covering Michael Floyd). On third down, Carson Palmer hits a wide-open Johnson for what should have been a tying touchdown, but Johnson drops the ball and Arizona kicks a field goal.
Cardinals gave up one sack in their first three games. Rams already have two sacks and the first quarter isn't even over yet.
Cardinals are moving the ball a lot with short passes to the perimeter, a fine strategy because it gets the ball out of Palmer's hands before he gets killed, and forces St. Louis' worst defenders, the cornerbacks, to make tackles. However, the Rams have taken away the deep pass, especially when Janoris Jenkins intercepted Palmer in the end zone on a pass thrown to John Brown from near midfield. Cardinals have been held to three field goals.
As for the Rams, they're ahead, but their offense is Tavon Austin and nothing else. He's got one carry for 8 yards and two catches for 59 yards; otherwise, the Rams have 31 yards on 18 other plays. Their running backs can't get anything on the ground -- Todd Gurley, Tre Mason, and Benny Cunningham have eight carries for a total of 1 yard. And most of their passing game has been jump balls to Jared Cook with little success. Rams are up 10-9 at halftime, but it feels like they've been badly outplayed.
Todd Gurley gets the ball four times in a row on the next drive, including two gains of 10-plus yards, after getting only four carries in the first half. That set up a third-and-5, and Foles hit Stedman Bailey on a corner route out of a bunch formation for a touchdown to put the Rams up 17-9. Hard to tell if he beat Tyrann Mathieu in man coverage, or if Jerraud Powers was supposed to have the deep zone.
Ridiculous luck for Rams at the end of the third quarter. On first down deep in their own territory Gurley fumbles and it appears that the Cardinals recover, but it's ruled Rams ball. There was a lot of pulling guys off the pile there and then a discussion, so Arizona coaches had plenty of time to consider a challenge, but they don't. Then on third down, Benny Cunningham fumbles and the Rams recover, but the refs had apparently called the play dead, and so Arizona is not allowed to challenge, and the Rams punt. That's one of those things that happens to everyone once in a while. But not twice in three plays.
Cards got a field goal after the Fumbles That Weren't to make it 17-15. Rams then score a touchdown on the next drive to take a 23-15 lead. Big play was a Gurley run for 52 yards, where he had a huge hole between center and left guard, then made the safety (Rashad Johnson, I think) look silly in the open field. Foles finishes the drive with a great touchdown pass to Austin. Cardinals brought a blitz on third down but kept a spy/robber in the middle. Foles had to hang in the pocket, pump fake the spy out of position, and then hit the pass to Austin, who had just a step on Powers on a crossing route.
If the Rams preserve this lead, they're going to win with turnovers (where they have, officially, a +3 margin) and red zone defense (no touchdowns allowed on four drives inside the 20-yard line).
Well that finish turned out more exciting than I thought it would be. David Johnson redeemed himself with a touchdown that left Arizona down 24-22, and the Rams then followed with a three-and-out. Cardinals drove to the edge of field-goal range, but Carson Palmer overthrew receivers on third-and-2 and fourth-and-2. Arizona still had all three timeouts though, so the game wasn't all they way over. Rams then gave Gurley the ball four times in a row, including runs of 20 and 30 yards. My favorite part wasn't the physicality, it was his intelligence. On all four runs, he was sure to go down in bounds as soon as defenders got close to him, and didn't risk a fumble or going out of bounds by fighting for yards that weren't needed. Impressive football smarts by a guy in his second NFL game.
Minnesota Vikings 20 at Denver Broncos 23
Cian Fahey: I can't remember the last time a quarterback played with such a bad cast of offensive linemen and wide receivers as Teddy Bridgewater enters today's game with.
Aaron Schatz: Pass rush has been most of the story in the first half. The Denver pass rush looks phenomenal, but the Minnesota pass rush is doing some good stuff too. It's not just bad offensive line play by the Broncos -- the Vikings have gotten some free rushers with good play design. Both teams are also getting strong run defense, except on one play. Adrian Peterson eight carries for 21 yards. C.J. Anderson five carries for 11 yards. But Ronnie Hillman got one carry and he got free wide and then just ran off down the sideline for a sweet 72-yard touchdown.
We've all been complaining about the rise of penalties this year and a play that slowed down a Denver drive with 7 minutes left in the second quarter really encapsulates the problem for me. The Broncos should have converted with a short pass to Emmanuel Sanders on third-and-4, but they got called for an illegal formation. The problem was Ryan Harris at left tackle was apparently slightly too far back behind the butt of the center, but it didn't look different from any other play to me. They've decided that they're going to let offensive lines set up in an arc with the tackles a little bit behind the interior line. They allow that in every game. If they're going to decide that's not legal, then decide it isn't legal and make offensive lines line up shoulder-to-shoulder and straight across on every play. Don't decide that the arc is fine but occasionally throw a flag because one of the tackles is too far back by an inch or two, that's ridiculous.
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Rob Weintraub: Cincy got dinged for a similar "arc" call too. All the linemen and coaches were apparently yelling "make up your mind!" at the refs.
Tom Gower: Huge swing at the end of the first half. Given a second chance from 38 yards after missing from that distance earlier, Blair Walsh makes it 13-3. Broncos are driving into the two-minute situation, in long field goal range, but Peyton Manning seems to get something he isn't expecting and throws a ball right to Anthony Barr. Return to field goal range, then a pair of Mike Wallace receptions, one each against Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, and it's 13-10 at the half after it was 13-0 at the two minute warning.
Aaron Schatz: This game is still being dominated by the defenses. The Broncos are getting great play from their cornerbacks and their outside pass rushers, not just the starters but also the depth guys like Shane Ray. Vikings are getting huge games from Anthony Barr (picked off Manning) and Linval Joseph, who is really pushing around the Denver offensive line.
Sterling Xie: After it looked like the Broncos were on the verge of self-destructing, Peyton leads them on a much-needed clock-killing drive with 5 minutes left that ends in a Brandon McManus chip shot field goal to go ahead 23-20. The Vikings probably could have driven for the tie or even the win with 1:50 and 2 timeouts left, given how well Teddy Bridgewater played in the second half, but Von Miller abused rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings twice on the final drive, the final of which resulted in the game-ending strip sack. Miller in general was the MVP of this game, and as has been the story so often this season, Denver's defense (its front seven in particular on this afternoon) bailed out an offense dragged down by some shaky decision-making from Manning.
It wasn't hard to see the mismatch coming with the Denver defensive line vs. the Minnesota offensive line; the Broncos ended up with seven sacks and probably at least as many quarterback hits. The pro-Teddy contingent will point to this game as an exemplar of his poise and general toughness, but I was most impressed with the Vikings receiving corps. Down its No. 2 (Charles Johnson) and No. 3 (Jarius Wright), Mike Wallace and the bench crew somehow managed to consistently get open against Denver's secondary. If Bridgewater had played with even a remotely competent O-line, Minnesota probably breaks 30, and that's including Adrian Peterson's poor day (minus one long touchdown run on fourth-and-inches). Stefon Diggs at least warrants a longer look after what he did today. Hopefully Bridgewater can stay healthy long enough behind that O-line to keep the Vikings in the wild card race.
Dallas Cowboys 20 at New Orleans Saints 26
Aaron Schatz: Cowboys defense looks good on first and second down but they can't seem to get off the field on third-and-longs. First drive of the second quarter, they let Mark Ingram gain 14 yards on a catch on third-and-13, and a hold on Brandon Carr nullifies a pick on third-and-11. The drive before that, Willie Snead caught a 19-yard pass on third-and-11, then Benjamin Watson caught one for 7 yards on third-and-5.
And as soon as I type this, they finally do, with a sack of Drew Brees on third-and-6. So hey, they finally get off the field on third-and-long.
As for the Dallas offense, I know Brandon Weeden looks like Super Captain Checkdown, but I have to give him credit for always delivering the ball to the open guy. It certainly helps him that the Dallas offensive line is giving him tons of time to throw, and the Saints defense is not particularly good, but still -- he's moving the ball down the field in reasonable fashion.
Brees' shoulder has absolutely limited him tonight. He generally averages over 11 yards per completion. Tonight he's averaging 6.8 yards per completion. So the Saints have just 10 points even though Brees has completed 17-of-21 passes through the first 35 minutes.
Tom Gower: Leader of tonight's game: secondary penalties. New Orleans' plague has continued tonight, and this Saints drive down 13-10 in the middle of the third quarter has had a few of them.
Aaron Schatz: Hey, look, Christine Michael sighting! The Cowboys finally bring him in on a third-and-1 with 6:37 left in the game and he gets stuffed behind the line when Ronald Leary gets blown up and Barry Richardson spins off of Jason Witten's block attempt. Alas.
In case you wanted to know how bad the Saints' defense is, they just let Brandon Weeden march 91 yards up the field in 2:14 to tie the game at 20. Great diving catch by Terrance Williams to get the touchdown in the right corner of the end zone. I guess Sean Payton didn't think it was a catch, thinking it was not secure in Williams' arms as he hit the ground? Anyway, even though the refs had already reviewed the play, it looks like he wasted his final timeout just to bitch at the refs about the catch. Not like he would need that with the game tied and Brees getting the ball for a two-minute drill.
(Actually, he didn't need it. Brees got the Saints all the way up the field into field goal range without needing the timeout.)
Tom Gower: Hey, kickers. And C.J. Spiller renders the whole thing moot in overtime by going 80 yards, most of it after the catch. He also put Brees over 10 yards per completion. I wonder just how healthy he really is, and just how much of it is the new New Orleans offense.
Aaron Schatz: There are guys with speed on that offense. Brees completed some deeper passes in the first two weeks. I think the low yards per completion number today was all about the shoulder, not his offensive teammates.
Scott Kacsmar: Brees may have been limited by the shoulder tonight, but I wouldn't read too much into the one game. His injury happened in Week 2. In Week 1 against Arizona, Brees had 78 percent of his yards after the catch, which is an absurd rate. That's just how the Saints offense is at times and tonight he had 150 receiving yards from Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller alone.