Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

compiled by Andrew Potter

During each game of the NFL playoffs, the FO staff sends around emails about the action. We share information, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about what we're watching. 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 emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games. Though unlike the regular season we will cover every game, we may not cover every important play. We watch the games as fans rather than solely as analysts, so your favorite team 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 Vikings fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every team, nor will we focus on a different team from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every team equally.

New England Patriots 18 at Denver Broncos 20

Aaron Schatz: Whoo! We're coming to you live from Mile High Stadium! Well, Andrew Healy and I are. He's in the stands, I'm in the press box. Let's play some football.

Patriots win the coin toss and Bill Belichick wants the ball instead of choosing to defer. Surprise! Patriots get one first down, then punt. Great route by Emmanuel Sanders on third-and-10 on that next series. So many guys these days will run a route 9 yards on third-and-10. He rounded his cut just past the marker for a conversion.

Broncos are moving the ball. Got first down on third-and-6 when Logan Ryan committed a totally needless defensive pass interference -- Manning threw the ball way behind the receiver and he wasn't going to make it back to catch the pass. Drive ends with a seam pass touchdown to Owen Daniels against Cover-2. Really good offensive drive by Broncos.

Vince Verhei: Broncos opening drive makes it look surprisingly easy. Especially on the touchdown. Patriots rush three, drop eight, and somehow still leave the middle of the field wide open for Owen Daniels. Surprised they are giving such big cushions. You'd figure they would be pressing receivers and trying to force the Broncos to throw deep.

Scott Kacsmar: Still surprised the Patriots wanted the ball first. Denver with one of its better looking drives this season. Even had a Vernon Davis sighting.

Aaron Schatz: Bad no-call the next drive when T.J. Ward interferes with Rob Gronkowski on third-and-3. Definitely seems like the kind of play where home field and subconscious favoring of home team by officials played a part. Follows a really good play by Derek Wolfe to slap down a Brady pass that would have hit a wide-open Julian Edelman on second-and-3. Aqib Talib's specialty is not covering these agile little receivers like Edelman.

Cian Fahey: Going to add that fumble decision to the long list of reasons why I hate replay. Multiple refs were waving their arms and blowing their whistles before Jonathan Freeny picked up the ball. That doesn't seem like good process for decision-making.

Aaron Schatz: Well, they did get the call right, it was a backwards pass. Then the shocker was that Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point. So it's now 7-6.

Tom Gower: That's been the rule for a couple years, that a clear immediate recovery even post-whistle means that sort of play can be challenged. What Ronnie Hillman did was just stupid and lazy.

Scott Kacsmar: If the whistle was blown before a recovery (I don't know if that happened or not), should the Patriots get the ball? That doesn't seem right. They could see it was a lateral and move the ball back, but I would think the offense should keep it if the whistle blew. Just bad awareness by Hillman to ignore the ball. You heard a coach on Denver's sideline drop the f-bomb to him about that.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots with no fear of the deep ball, keeping ten up on the line, which is making it very difficult for Broncos to run the ball. But they just got a deep throw. It hung in the air, just no power behind it, but incredible catch by Emmanuel Sanders with Malcolm Butler right there, 34-yard gain.

Lots of unexpected things today. The missed extra point, of course. Tom Brady just threw an interception right into the hands of Von Miller, who had dropped into coverage. I don't think Brady even saw that Miller had dropped to cover Gronkowski. And then the Broncos score, converting yet another third-and-long (6 this time) when Owen Daniels gets away from Jamie Collins, wide open in the back right corner of the end zone. Collins' coverage was just awful there.

Biggest thing this game has been Denver converting third-and-long. Including the Ryan DPI, 3-for-6 on third down with 6 or more to go.

Scott Kacsmar: Daniels looks like the tight end Gary Kubiak always thought he was today. All year he has looked pretty slow, and was often falling down on his targets from Manning. Looks like a factor again. Pretty much everyone but Hillman is showing up for Denver.

Andrew Healy: A few thoughts from Denver:

1 ) Said before the DPI on Ryan that a defensive penalty was coming. Only prediction I've made. Conspiracy theory potential high with that call that led to seven Denver points followed by the non-call on Gronk and the highly questionable personal foul on Bryan Stork. Those calls ended two drives. This stuff absolutely can make the difference. Every Pats fan's nightmare

2) Loved Phillips' call to rush three and drop eight on Miller's interception.

3) My Broncos fan friend called the Gostkowski missed extra point. Now that's a Nostradamus act

Aaron Schatz: Patriots just marched downfield well but Brady got sacked in field goal range, third-and-3 at the 22. Gostkowski did hit the eventual 46-yarder from the 28. Broncos pass rush really toying with the Pats' offensive line today. DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, and Derek Wolfe all dominating. Patriots running game also going nowhere. Broncos don't want to hear about your shotgun running plays.

Vince Verhei: Add "unsportsmanlike conduct on Denver's punt gunner for running out of bounds" to the list of weird things we have seen today.

Aaron Schatz: Another awful interception by Brady. He had Gronk totally open over the middle for a first-down conversion on third-and-5. Instead he hefts it deep down the left sideline where the are two Denver defenders surrounding James White. Just terrible. Denver ball, near midfield, 4:08 left second quarter.

Andrew Healy: Think it's hard to put that on Brady when he's getting piledrived as he releases. So far, only two completions to Gronk. That will obviously have to change in the second half.

Broncos front four in a unanimous decision so far. Huge by Edelman to tackle Darian Stewart. Some chance for a pick-six there.

Cian Fahey: The one thing that was underappreciated during the lead up to this game was how well Brady played in the previous meeting. Everyone was talking about the absence of the weapons, but few were looking at the pressure and the types of throws that the defense forced Brady into.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots get the ball back with 2:22 left and run for 2 yards on first down. Running backs now have nine carries for 17 yards. Just knock it off already, guys. The Broncos front is REALLY good.

I really do not understand Patriots' decision to take one of their two remaining timeouts as Broncos are lining up for field goal attempt with 38 seconds left. Did they see something to make them think a fake was coming? They sort of needed that timeout to try to drive into field goal range in the last 30 seconds.

Well... they just ended the half with a kneel, so I guess there was never going to be a drive. So taking the timeout didn't mean anything. Weird decisions by the Patriots today.

Vince Verhei: Man, that Broncos front four is just taking the game over. Patriots haven't done hardly anything -- their only touchdown drive was just 22 yards after that dumb Denver fumble. Peyton Manning has been exceptionally adequate against a New England defense that is also playing well. I'll go back and check, but I'm pretty sure his two playoff games are going to be his two best games of the year.

Aaron Schatz: I feel like the biggest difference between this Manning and the one from the first half of the season is that this one isn't making mistakes. The arm isn't stronger, but he had no interceptions last week, and none so far this week. Even the incomplete passes aren't really close to being interceptions. The only exception might be that hanging deep ball to Sanders, maybe Butler has that if he leaps a little earlier. But for the most part, he's protecting the ball. Meanwhile, Brady has the two interceptions that look like total misreads of the coverage.

Tom Gower: Broncos up 17-9 at the half. Each team has one touchdown on a short field off a bad turnover by the opposition -- one off Hillman's "what, me pick the ball up?" lateral and the other off Von Miller's interception of Brady. Both teams have used matchups to get a linebacker in coverage in the red zone and exploited it successfully -- Brandon Bolden on Von Miller, I believe, to set up New England's score, and Jamie Collins was involved in both Owen Daniels touchdowns, one in man coverage. Denver's non-short field scores came on their first possession, a Kubiak script special that required a couple of those third-and-long conversions Aaron mentioned, and a sub-30 yard drive for a long field goal at the end of the half. Really more a Denver-style game than a New England one so far.

The big story of the game, as mentioned, has been Denver's pass rush and the play of their front four in general. They're playing light enough, like dime when the Patriots go light, that old New England would have just run the ball down their throats, in either 11 or 12 with Gronkowski leading the mashing. Nope. And they've been able to get pressure with four and sometimes even three, sometimes taking advantage of Josh Kline, the Patriots' weak link up front, sometimes just letting DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller go around the edges, and sometimes with twists and stunts. Big change from last year's Colts game, where I recall Miller in particular as complete non-factor.

Andrew Healy: Why is Shaq Mason still in the game? Maybe go with David Andrews at center and Stork at guard.

Sterling Xie: Honestly, I don't think any different offensive line combination is helping today. And just then, Cameron Fleming gave up a sack to Miller as a sixth lineman. Almost turned and ran like a cornerback off the snap.

Aaron Schatz: Possible halftime adjustment from the Patriots? They now have Devin McCourty covering tight ends on first and second down with Duron Harmon in McCourty's usual role as the deep safety.

Tom Gower: It also seems like they're making a point of bringing delayed pressure, especially on play-fakes. I don't know if that's just green dogging or a designed delayed rush, but Collins has a couple pressures leading to sacks of Peyton that way this half.

Vince Verhei: Broncos pin the Patriots inside the 5 on a punt. There have been some really bad failures to field punts here, with both teams giving up 5 to 10 yards on bouncing balls that should have been covered by the returning teams.

Tom Gower: I wonder if Belichick takes the safety punting from his 3 or so if it was 17-13 instead of 17-12, like it would have been if Gostkowski had made the extra point. Probably not, given Denver's offensive production to date, but the thought crossed my mind.

Aaron Schatz: Maybe part of the idea of McCourty now covering the tight ends is to free Jamie Collins to rush the passer.

Cian Fahey: The Broncos' third and fourth pass rushers would probably be the top two on a few teams. Their fifth and sixth might be too.

Scott Kacsmar: Need C.J. Anderson to be the running back this quarter. Line's not doing much of anything, but he's just so obviously better than Hillman for most types of runs. Feel like Kubiak has gone into coaching not-to-lose mode very early in this one. You're not winning this game 17-12.

Andrew Healy: I know Von Miller is good, but can we get a Brandon Gorin sighting please? Cannon seems like a disaster from here.

Aaron Schatz: Good timing by Scott. Anderson just went 30 yards on third-and-1 because when the Patriots stuffed the line to try to stop him, that left only one other defender to beat.

Vince Verhei: Tom brings up a good point concerning the Denver defense. They have improved greatly without any major personnel additions. Darian Stewart taking over for Rahim Moore at safety is probably the biggest upgrade, but by and large it has just been Wade Phillips making everyone look better.

Aaron Schatz: As this ESPN Insider piece I wrote in October points out, Phillips has a phenomenal record of improving defenses in his first season.

With Phillips Previous Year
1989 DEN 11-5 -16.6% 4 8-8 -- --
1995 BUF 10-6 -6.5% 10 7-9 3.8% 19
2002 ATL 9-6-1 -4.1% 12 7-9 11.8% 26
2004 SD 12-4 -4.2% 13 4-12 12.0% 30
2007 DAL 13-3 -6.8% 9 9-7 -1.5% 14
2011 HOU 10-6 -9.5% 6 6-10 17.5% 31
2014 DEN 12-4 -25.8% 1 12-4 -13.2% 4

Patriots do finally get a big long drive against the Denver defense, in part thanks to a Shiloh Keo helmet-to-helmet roughness penalty for 15 yards. They end up with fourth-and-1 on the Denver 16 and they went for it instead of trying a 34-yard-field goal. I think that's the right decision, particularly since three points still would have left the Patriots behind by 5. Yes, getting a touchdown and a 2-point conversion is hard, but getting back to the 16 against this Denver defense is pretty hard too.

Broncos make a fabulous defensive play with Chris Harris covering Edelman when the Patriots play-faked and threw a swing pass to Edelman. Ended up going down for a loss of a yard. I know we may be wondering why Pats didn't sneak, but it was more like a yard and a half instead of 1 yard, and the Broncos were totally ready for the sneak. They had Brandon Marshall move up and he was right up on the line of scrimmage, basically in 0-technique between two defensive linemen.

Vince Verhei: Denver's red zone defense saving the day again, with another turnover on downs inside the 20. On both failed fourth-down plays, the failures were in part due to Brady throwing passes under heavy pressure, forced to throw to guys who weren't really open -- Edelman on the first play, then Gronkowski on the second.

And then Denver goes three-and-out in a hurry, and the Patriots are going to get a third try at a season-saving, game-tying touchdown.

Andrew Potter: Funny, for this being Brady-Manning and the NFC title game being supposedly the big matchup of defense-first teams, this has been one outstanding game of defense on both sides.

Tom Gower: On how many passes on that final possession was Brady pressured, or forced to game-plan after pressure? Six? Seven? All nine, including the two-point conversion? Phenomenal job by the Denver defense, including overcoming some not-so-good plays by their backup safeties, forced into action by in-game injuries. Darian Stewart stays on top of Gronkowski on the seam route on that fourth-down throw instead of letting him get over the top and opening up the lane for that throw to be completed, and Keo has already been mentioned.

Aaron Schatz: People on Twitter have brought up that Gronk was open on the two-point conversion, but again, that's the problem with all the pressure. Even the best quarterback isn't going to see all open receivers when that internal clock in his head is on super-fast.

Vince Verhei: Save for the two Gronkowski catches, just sensational defense by Denver down the stretch. It's not just the pressure -- nobody was open either! It's not like there were open guys Brady was missing. He had nobody to throw to, and no time to throw it anyway. It was snap after snap of "my first read is covered but here's the pass rush so I'm lobbing it to him anyway."

Scott Kacsmar: Brady looked better in the second half. The Broncos really just turtled on offense, hoping the game clock would melt away. Can't argue with any of Belichick's fourth-down decisions. Could quibble with the play calls, like the negative ALEX play that reminds me of fourth-and-2 from 2009. Need a throw to the sticks there instead of leaving everything to chance on breaking a tackle. Denver tackled pretty well. Obviously pressure was amazing. A real classic battle there.

I'm not sure which matchup is better for Denver in this Super Bowl, but just like I felt about this game today, this defense would give them a chance to win a close one.

Aaron Schatz: I also want to dispute the idea that the Patriots would have just won the game if they had kicked field goals each of the first two times they got into the red zone, and then on that last drive, rather than continually having to go for it on fourth down. That assumes two things. First, it assumes all three field goals would have been good. Even if we say, OK, those are all field goals in the mid-30s, that's about 90 percent chance for each -- that means there's a 27 percent chance one of them misses. There's also the issue of the field position after each field goal. Instead of Denver getting the ball on the 16 and then the 14, they would have received a kickoff, which likely means either the 20 or, if they are able to return the ball, past the 20. That in turn changes field position for the Patriots the next time they get the ball back, making those drives longer. And the kickoffs would have taken an additional 10 to 15 seconds off the clock, leaving less time for the Patriots on the last drive and possibly changing the meaning of the two-minute warning and what Denver would have done on its last offensive drive.

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Andrew Potter: Yes, it's football's own Chaos Theory. You can't assume the rest of the game would have played out the same if you changed even one of those fourth downs for a field goal.

Tom Gower: Steve White, the former player who writes for SB Nation, brought up a really good point on Twitter: an immobile quarterback lets Denver's pass rushers just tee off in a way they can't against a player who can escape from the pocket. With that and their corner depth, I think they'd rather see Arizona's offense, at least.

Aaron Schatz: Two other notes on the AFC Championship Game.

1) Further on Vince's thought, it was remarkable how the Broncos consistently got pressure rushing three or four. They hardly ever blitzed and had 20 quarterback knockdowns, more than any defense on any quarterback this season. The Pats really need to consider an upgrade at guard next year. A big free agent or second-/third-round pick to replace Josh Kline, along with maturation by Shaq Mason in his second season, would be huge.

2) I don't understand why the Pats tried so many deep passes trying to test Broncos linebackers or backup safeties in one-on-one coverage on the second half. That's just not their game. They weren't even wheel routes; they were gos. I never felt like they were gonna hit. Just felt like continuously giving away a down.

Cian Fahey: Gronk was wide-open for the two-point conversion and pressure shouldn't have played a part in Brady's decision. They had rolled him out of the pocket perfectly to get him away from pressure and Gronkowski was in his line of sight straight away. He hesitated in the moment and tried to make the more difficult throw without setting his feet properly.

The Broncos pressure forced the Patriots into a play call that isn't usual for them. Brady is a great pocket quarterback but he's obviously never been someone who thrives on throwing on the move.

Either way, Brady was a huge reason the Patriots were even in that game at that point. The Broncos defense was smothering with that ravenous pass rush and versatile secondary. It's a phenomenal unit that was severely overlooked leading up to this game.

Andrew Healy: The Patriots won last year, but I actually think it's a pretty brutal loss. The Broncos could do essentially nothing on offense. They had about 250 yards of offense. Their touchdown drives were one that should have been a punt bar a lousy pass interference on an uncatchable ball. (It was a comeback, but sure looked thrown to a spot where a completion was impossible.) Then an 18-yard touchdown drive after an interception. A short drive for a 52-yard field goal. I really thought it was almost impossible for the Broncos to get a first down the whole second half.

And let's be clear about Brady versus Manning: the much better player today lost to a better supporting cast. Brady was absolutely under siege. DeMarcus Ware lived in Brady's lap, and so did Von Miller. It made me sad to see Shaq Mason in the game. Given the pressure up the middle from Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe, guessing he played poorly. I know Marcus Cannon was a disaster, since I watched him frequently. Friends tell me Sebastian Vollmer wasn't much better. Miller and Ware are great players, but still just a disaster on the offensive line.

In the face of that rush, Brady was still there throwing that perfect fourth down pass to a double-covered Gronk. And then it's Gronk making that great catch, where Brady made maybe an even better play to put that ball in that spot under pressure. I hear that Gronk was open on the two. If he was single-covered, it sure seems simple just to target him on that throw. If the call was to Edelman over the middle, I'm just confused. Feels like Coach Dale wanting to run the last play to Merle on the picket fence. Gronk was the offense down the stretch. Why not live and die with him unless Denver absolutely forced you to go another way?

Gostkowski's missed extra point qualified as a pretty ominous sign. Seemed almost preordained that they would lose on the missed two.

The bad Colquitt had a really good day. It could have made a huge difference to have Edelman back there the whole game and not just the last punt. It was 50-yard net again and again and Edelman would have prevented at least a couple of those. And one big punt return could have made the difference.

Did Denver need to even put a man on Brandon LaFell or Keshawn Martin?

Malcolm Butler might be wondering how he missed a couple of those passes. Looked like his hand was there and the football gods saw the ball improbably around his fingertips.

Lots of that is bad luck. Nothing you could do about the early calls, Butler missing balls, Gostkowski missing the first extra point of his professional career. But the Patriots still win if they're even marginally competent protecting Brady and they might win if they just keep it simple and design the two-point play for the league's best red zone threat who had just cut Denver to ribbons.

With no great team waiting in the Super Bowl, you would have loved the Pats' chances. Now they might not just rue today's mistakes, but losing in Miami when home field was there for the taking. The Denver crowd was loud all game and may have helped cause the crucial false start on third-and-1 from the 9 on the next-to-last drive. If the Pats had gotten six there, even if they miss the two-point conversion, you would have to have loved their chances to get a field goal to win it on the final drive.

Arizona Cardinals 15 at Carolina Panthers 49

Aaron Schatz: Well, apparently Carolina can't (almost) blow a big lead without getting a big lead first. Great blocking on an end around by Ted Ginn which then got cut back for a touchdown. Then Cam Newton, as I wrote about, kept perfectly steady on an Arizona blitz and found Corey Brown deep with safety Rashad Johnson in coverage. 17-0 after first quarter.

Vince Verhei: Carolina continues to be a dominant first-half playoff team, jumping out to a 17-0 lead. Their offensive line is just crushing people. They were mediocre in both our offensive line stats this year, but it seems like they have been the best unit in the postseason.

Aaron Schatz: Carolina goes against the grain by essentially being stronger blocking up the middle than they are on the edges. That works well against a defense that actually doesn't have great outside pass rushers, such as Arizona. But if we get to that point, I wonder what it will mean against Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware?

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Cian Fahey: My timeline has had a few suggestions that Carson Palmer can't play in big games. I generally disagree with this idea. Every NFL game is big. Palmer went into Seattle during the regular season and played one of the best games a quarterback could play, that wasn't a big game?

I'm more inclined to think that Palmer's finger is having a major impact on his ability to grip the ball. His poor performances can be traced back to that time too.

Aaron Schatz: The only thing about the finger argument is that Palmer's first game after the injury was the blowout win over Green Bay. But it could be an issue of hurting himself elsewhere by trying to compensate for the finger?

Cian Fahey: That Green Bay scoreline was inflated by two fumble returns though. He was OK in that game, not spectacular.

Tom Gower: Thomas Davis, for all his age and knee surgeries, is still flying around all over the place in the first 20 minutes of the game.

Cian Fahey: People without ACLs >>>>> People with ACLs. I'm just being honest.

Aaron Schatz: David Johnson just has phenomenal agility. Panthers are a pretty good tackling team. I'm excited for a full year of him as a starter. So of course he'll probably tear his ACL in Week 2.

Scott Kacsmar: Cardinals finally on the board with a Johnson touchdown run. He looks good so far. Palmer finally had it going on that drive, and unfortunately Thomas Davis has headed to the locker room with an injury. Was just saying how easy it is to root for a guy like that after how he's fought back from all the ACL tears.

Aaron Schatz: Cardinals finally stop the Carolina offense and get a shot at good field position, and Patrick Peterson can't secure the punt. Carolina ball in great position. Arizona and Carolina both suck on special teams. Sigh.

Scott Kacsmar: Weird play too. Really just looked like Peterson trying to do too much. Cardinals would have been in solid field position down 17-7, so likely a turning point there. Two big runs by Jonathan Stewart followed, and I think Rashad Johnson has had a few poor tackle attempts today. He was beaten on the Brown touchdown where just a little juke put Johnson out of position to make that a long score instead of just a completion to midfield.

Vince Verhei: In-season trends holding true: Cardinals get to the goal line, and Carolina's league-worst red zone rush defense gives up a rushing touchdown to David Johnson. Then the Panthers reach the goal line after Peterson's fumble, and they are stuffed on first and second down before Cam Newton, their best (and maybe the NFL's best) short-yardage runner scores on third down.

Palmer's red zone interception at the end of the half was a terrible decision, not a terrible throw. Can't blame the finger for that. I don't think it's an injury situation, I think it's just, this is Carson Palmer. He has never been a guy who excels at ball security. I mean, six turnovers in six quarters in the playoffs so far is a lot more than you'd expect, but he was playing so far over his head all year he had to come back to earth eventually.

Scott Kacsmar: In the way that we had a much larger sample to say that Peyton Manning does not suck at football, Carson Palmer's biggest sample is that he's a mistake-prone quarterback. Good enough to get you beat close in a vintage Matt Schaub kind of way. He still might make a game of this, or he might turn it over a few more times. Either way, he'll probably finish with a 300-yard passing game, but fans are going to be disappointed. In no way does this take away from Palmer's regular season, but it's not like MVP-caliber performances are something we've grown to expect from Palmer.

Aaron Schatz: As I noted in my NFC Championship preview, the biggest driver behind all of this season's big blown leads for Carolina was the offense suddenly shutting down, not the defense giving way. So a sustained drive to start the second half was a good sign, even if it ended with a field goal and not a touchdown.

Tom Gower: 27-7 after Ron Rivera kicks a field goal on fourth-and-goal from about the 2. I hate short field goals that don't put you up an additional score, especially in the non-late-game situation.

Shortly after my earlier email, Thomas Davis suffered an arm injury, maybe broken, and was declared out for the game. I am sad.

Much like the earlier game, the home team's defense and in particular the defensive front was pretty much the star of the first half. Carolina, the more plodding and less efficient offense, moved the ball in huge chunks. Arizona, the team that has lived on the deep ball under Bruce Arians, has had to make more repeated big plays. Even their touchdown drive was 10 plays with nothing longer than 15 on offense (the longest play was technically 17 yards, Mario Addison getting his hand up into David Johnson's face mask to tack on 15 yards). And the turnovers, yes, the turnovers.

And it gets to 49-15 by late in the fourth quarter. Wow. That, by which I mean Carson Palmer, really went off the rails.

Vince Verhei: Those who thought Seattle only rallied last week because Carolina steps off the gas with big leads in the second half must think Arizona is the worst team in football right now.

Aaron Schatz: I spent so much time at midseason trying to explain to people that the Panthers were not as good as their record. Ironically, the Panthers eventually became that good in the second half of the season. This was the best game they played all year. Andrew said earlier that there was no great team waiting in the Super Bowl for the AFC Champion, but the Panthers of November until now are a great team. I'll have DVOA numbers up sometime later on Monday, but I can also summarize it with just point differential. When the Panthers were 8-0 in the first half of the season, they had only one win by 14 or more points. It was exactly 14 points. They're 9-1 since with SIX different wins by 14 or more points, including four by 28 or more points.

Early thoughts on the Super Bowl: Patriots fans who underestimated the greatness of the Denver defense will now be replaced by Carolina fans who underestimate the greatness of the Denver defense. I think that defense keeps the Super Bowl from being a blowout. The Panthers are interesting in that on both sides of the ball, they've gone away from the conventional wisdom that pass rush (and pass blocking) is most important on the outside. Their better linemen are in the middle. That's fine against Arizona, but I wonder what Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are going to do to Michael Oher and Mike Remmers.

That being said... Carolina just looks like the better team right now. I don't know if Denver's line can keep Peyton Manning upright long enough to even take advantage of the fact that Robert McClain is going to have to cover either Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. Keeping Cam Newton contained in a neutral-site game seems harder right now than keeping Tom Brady contained at home, which means the Broncos will need more offense than they got today. I don't think they'll get it.


386 comments, Last at 28 Jan 2016, 8:50pm

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Arizona kept blitzing Cam Newton, and that's not a good option. Make the Panthers run so well that you give him one on one throws, and keep lane discipline. He needs to be treated like Ben Roethlisberger; don't expect the extra pressure to take him down. The Broncos didn't blitz Brady so much, and still got to him with 3-4 guys rushing most of the time. I think Phillips will come up with something to keep this a game for at least a half, I just doubt Kubiak and the Denver offense will do enough to win it.

33 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

They have Calais Campbell, and isn't Okafor a decent pass rushing threat? Obviously Okafor is hurt, and Campbell is a 3-4 end, but if they dropped 7-8 guys when Carolina keeps 6-7 guys in, doesn't that give them a chance against the passing game? If I'm Phillips, that's what I'm trying (although I'm preparing for the onslaught of running plays to start the game).

36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Arizona had 35 sacks, all of 11 by a defensive lineman not named Freeney. Phillips has much, much, better options, because his athletes are much, much, better on the defensive line. Of course, Shula knows this as well. Carolina is going to try to help their tackles out by running. Denver needs to do a better job, compared to Seattle or Arizona, of physically punishing Newton for giving Carolina a numbers advantage in the running game. They have a decent chance of doing so.

If Denver can get itself staked to a lead again, then their chance of winning takes a big. big, jump.

37 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Oh, I agree with that assessment of Denver's chances, and I agree with you that Arizona blitzes corners and safeties too much to make up for the pass rush up front; I just disagree about Campbell, since he had 7 of those 11 sacks. The Cardinals need another guy up front, as well as to improve the offensive line, to deal with a juggernaut like Carolina.

40 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Agreed, but it has to be said that he has 50 yards on 21 carries in the postseason. A lot of carries, and a couple touchdowns, but he's doing most of his damage through the air. The problem with keeping guys out of the box is that Stewart and Tolbert can ram it down your throat then. Interesting matchup; not so much when Peyton's going up against the second best defense in the league.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

This is partly a response to the comments in Scott's brady Manning irrational thread 2.0 article. Tom Brady was under siege most of the game. Everyone rightly pointed out that his poor play should be forgiven because of this fact. They also did this for his game against the giants in 2007. That's fine, but no one gave Manning a pass in 2013 against the Seahawks or the steelers in 2005 or the pats games in 2004. In those games, the o line was overwhelmed, the receivers couldn't get open, and Manning looked flustered and lost. In fact, someone on twitter pointed out that Brady had 8 drives in the first half, one more than Manning had against the Saints in the sb.

Furthermore, people love to say Manning is just along for the ride in this sb. Its true to some extent he is, but then no one ever says that about Brady in 2001, when he scored a whopping 13 pts in the sb en route to a mvp and the clutch label.

This is my biggest problem with the irrational thread. Most people acknowledge Brady's greatness, but with Manning, it becomes a complete double standard. In the comments, there were a lot of fair things written by smart fans, but then you have people like Nat and Ramirez who point to Manning's losses in the playoffs as a referendum on him as a choker and to suggest otherwise is"making excuses."

In three years, someone will look up the box score of this game, see brady with 2 interceptions and a poor passer rating and just assume he was the reason the pats lost. But that doesn't make it true. And just because Manning has losses in the playoffs, that doesn't mean he played poorly in all of them.

A single player isn't going to beat a hellacious pass rush on his own. And a single player isn't going to win you a sb against a great opponent either. I wish people, even on this site, would acknowledge that. Then we wouldn't have an irrational brady manning thread.

27 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I'd be happy to know what I said that was so controversial?

Look, I'm not trying to start another irrational thread. I just said, I wish people would recognize more that wins and losses in the postseason come down to much more than the qb. I had no problem with Healey suggesting Brady's inaccuracies and ints were the result of hellacious pressure(they were!).

158 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I respectfully submit that when you say "one faction makes more excuses for their guy than does the other faction" it is analogous to -- and as controversial as -- saying one guy is better than the other guy. As the "Manning deserves more respect thread" last week demonstrated, both sides have hardcore excuse-makers, but I think/hope most Manning/Brady fans here just like "their" guy and don't feel the need spend a lot of time excuse-making (or denigrating the other guy).

Brady has a tough time yesterday, as IMO did McDaniel (I think he often (arrogantly) tries to keep doing what he wants to do regardless of whether it's working). It was a game that could have easily gone into overtime (if Gostkowski doesn't miss the XP etc). Plenty more to critique about the QB on the losing team yesterday in a winnable game than there might be in a blowout loss and that's just part of it. It would seem the irrational thread can wait for another day...

377 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

This, absolutely this. If you don't want people playing that game, than you shouldn't have included Healey's homer-iffic message as the final take on that game. He's entitled to that opinion, of course, and I sympathize with a fan trying to deal with a crushing defeat. But if you put stuff like that in the column, don't be surprised when the comments respond to it.

378 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Exactly, if the FO staff is going to entertain in the Irrational thread...In fact, why does it need to be said at all. Is there anyone who left that game thinking Manning is the better qb because his team won?

I would also like to question the argument that Manning does have a better supporting cast. I don't think that was the opinion of most people coming into this game. To me, it just screams of after the fact commentary. Indeed, the narrative I heard was now that Brady had all his weapons back along with a talented defense, this game should easily favor New England.

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Regarding the backwards pass. The relevant rule is:
RULE 7 Ball in Play, Dead Ball, Scrimmage
Section 2 Dead Ball
Article 1: Dead Ball Declared. An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended:
(n) when an official sounds his whistle while the ball is still in play, the ball becomes dead immediately;
(ii) If the ball is a loose ball resulting from a fumble, backward pass, or illegal forward pass, the team
last in possession may elect to put the ball in play at the spot where possession was lost or to
replay the down.

So the Broncos should have been afforded the opportunity to select to keep the ball where possession was lost (i.e. where Manning was when he released it) or replay the down. They would have selected to replay the down.

The reasoning behind this rule should be pretty self-evident. Players must obey the referees, and rules must be designed not to encourage players to ignore the referees. Allowing post-whistle play is dangerous and would very easily get out of hand. Look at what happened today. Hillman was going for the ball, the referee signaled the play was over, and he did the right thing by obeying the referee's signals. If the rule permitted post-whistle recovery, then a player would either be punished for obeying a referee's signal or would be encouraged to disobey a referee's signal. Either of those is obvious detrimental to the game. It was quite a bad officiating screw up. Even if you consider this particular rule arcane and are willing to forgive the referee for not knowing it (not that I think that's a compelling argument, I'm just a fan and I knew it) it should have been easy to reason what the rule must be given the basic principle of keeping play between the designated signals. In addition, given this was reviewed the referee had plenty of time to look this up if needed.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The review presumably involved talking with head of officiating back in New York, so blame wouldn't lie solely with this officiating crew.

Interesting rule. I've heard incessantly for over a year now that clear recoveries after a whistle are allowed, so I wonder if there's been a modification to the rule you're quoting.
Personally, as RB coach Studsville could be overheard doing on the broadcast, I blame Hillman for a lack of effort. You can't leave anything to chance in a game like this, especially not in that area of the field. As a RB the ball has to be your baby. You HAVE to go after it, even if you do hear a whistle.

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The thing is, if you remember the Hochuli game in 2008 where he ruled Cutler threw an incomplete pass that San Diego clearly recovered, after replay ruled it was a backwards pass, Denver retained possession with like an 8 yard loss. Hochuli explained because the play was whistled dead that SD couldn't be awarded the ball. Not sure if the rule changed when they added the one where replay can determine there was a fumble and the defense clearly recovered.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The thing is, if you remember the Hochuli game in 2008 where he ruled Cutler threw an incomplete pass that San Diego clearly recovered, after replay ruled it was a backwards pass, Denver retained possession with like an 8 yard loss. Hochuli explained because the play was whistled dead that SD couldn't be awarded the ball. Not sure if the rule changed when they added the one where replay can determine there was a fumble and the defense clearly recovered.

57 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

They changed the rule after the 2008 Hochuli play so that potential fumbles recovered in the continuing action after a dead ball is declared are reviewable.

Rule 15-2-g-Notes: (1) If an on-field ruling of a dead ball (down by contact, out of bounds, or incomplete forward pass) is changed, the ball belongs to the recovering player at the spot of the recovery, and any advance is nullified....
(2) If the on-field ruling is a dead ball, any recovery must occur in the continuing action following the loss of possession.

Approved Rulings: If a backward pass is ruled forward and incomplete on the field, after review, the Referee can give the ball to the opponent if there is a clear recovery in the continuing action after the ball hits the ground. No advance is allowed.

A.R. 15.131 Backward pass, clear recovery: First-and-10 on A20. QBA1 throws a pass from the A15-yard line that is ruled forward and incomplete. B77 thinking the pass was backward, falls on the loose ball at the A14. Replays show the pass was backward, hitting the ground at the A14.
Ruling: Reviewable. B’s ball first-and-10 on A14. The defense can gain possession of the ball with a clear recovery.

78 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Applying that when the play continues after the whistle seems dangerous for the exact reason Intropy and Scott mention. Encouraging players to play past the whistle creates a lot of potential for injury. Obviously the correct solution is to have refs not blow the play dead on what could be a backward pass but if they do then that has to be the end of it.

103 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Recovering a loose football is dangerous? Compared to everything else that happens on the field?

Your demand aligns with the old rule, which was changed after Hochuli himself made a dreadful ruling that cost the Chargers a game against the Broncos. The rule change is known as the "Hochuli rule".

See also

174 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Encouraging players to play through the whistle is dangerous which is exactly why the NFL has been cracking down on late hits. I understand the justification for the Hochuli rule but given the emphasis on safety, including reducing late hits a rule that directly encourages players to play past the whistle seems inconsistent.

364 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

There was a play several years ago where a Jonathan Stewart run was whistled out of bounds vs. Washington, and the defenders (correctly) stopped trying to tackle him, though he kept running all the way to the end zone. The refs then ruled that he was not out, that it was an "inadvertent whistle," and they awarded him a touchdown. It was the most infuriating and mind-boggling call I've ever seen! It practically demanded that defenders have to start ignoring the whistle and keep hitting guys for as long as necessary. But it only hurt Washington, so not very many people knew or cared that it happened.

Does anybody else remeber this play? I'm sure I ranted about it on some thread here at FO, possibly under a different user name.

85 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It seems to me that it all depends on how long after the whistle blows the ball is recovered. If a guy is about to pick up the ball, with nobody on the other team around, and the ref blows the whistle a second before he scoops it up. In my opinion, they should still award the ball to the recovering team (and I think they have been in most these instances).

One of the problems with the way NFL games are officiated and the way the rule book is written is that they try to be *too* specific. And then because the game moves so fast they inevitably can't get it right and replay can only help so much. So you end up with situations where nobody watching thinks the call is fair but it was by the letter-of-the-law the "correct" call.

But I think the league has been getting better with this. The clear recovery rule is a step in the right direction. The next thing I'd like to see is the ability to enforce penalties during replay so that we don't have to watch the defense (say, Pittsburgh) get the ball for causing a fumble by kayoing the ball carrier (say, Gio Bernard) with an illegal, uncalled, lead-with-the-helmet hit.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Scott pointed this out above but watching the NFCCG I kept thinking about the plexiglas principle and Palmer. Palmer has played really well this season, MVP caliber and I still think he deserves the MVP award, but if you look back over his past few seasons before this one he has been a league average QB. Andy Dalton level, he is good enough to not be a liability but he isn't going to carry the team to victory. This year has been the an anomaly compared to the past few years of play and we should have expected some reversion to his old form.

I know there is the narrative about a healthy Palmer potentially taking Arizona further last year rather than collapsing the way they did down the stretch but as documented either here and/or by Barnwell at Grantland Palmer last year didn't play any better than Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley remains in a league of his own. This may have been one of the worst games of Palmer's career but this reversion toward the end of the season does seem consistent with what we know about player performance year to year.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I haven't been reading this site too much for a few years (life has gotten complicated), but I didn't realize Andrew was such a Pats fan. He brings up the Brady/Manning comparison to praise 2-INT Brady and bury 0-INT Manning, complains about bad calls going against NE, and idolizes Brady's 4th down pass to Gronk in his summary of Brady's greatness, conveniently dropping any mention of Brady's terrible interception to Miller, or even beginning to question the push off by Gronk on the final TD. I know Audibles is an emotional reaction piece, but you guys at FO need someone to counter the pro-NE writers. I have no problem with Andrew's writing -- fans should express such sentiments -- but you need some better counterbalances in your staff.

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Can't really have 32 guys on staff to keep every fanbase happy. Compared to other analytics sites, FO is a bit more mom-and-poppish, with a pretty small crew. Chances are that in a small group of football enthusiasts doing such a site, one of the teams is going to get more love than others. As long as it only effects commentary and not their numbers, I don't really see the harm.

Especially today. As a Broncos fan I enjoy their sweet delicious tears as much as I do their "if only this call, that kick, this qb decision, and the entire venue had been different, the Pats would have won" rationalizations.

ps- when will I no longer have to beat CAPTCHA to avoid the spam filter? Some of these are hard!

227 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I couldn't agree more with you. Those last two paragraphs by Healy were so unbelievably covered in Patriots love that I had to check to see if this was written by Gisele or one of the Kraft's

I understand a New England Patriots fan thinks they should never lose a football game ever but seriously please don't try and convince the rest of us on here that follow the game closely that the team who NEVER once led during the entire game and who trailed the final 52.5 minutes of the contest should have won.

Saying that if New England would have just been more competent blocking for Brady would have more than enough to win this game. Well no kidding but they didn't do that or close to doing it either because repeat after me..... the Patriots weren't the better football team yesterday in that game. I mean we could all play this if game all day long. How about THE BRONCO STILL WIN if Manning would have hit that guy in the end zone on their last scoring drive.

Then if all that wasn't enough we have to hear how there's no great teams in the NFL this year (yeah okay) and also how Gronk is the best red zone threat in the NFL (maybe you've heard of Megatron and the #1 rated red zone offense this year, the Detroit Lions).

I love Football Outsiders more than any other NFL site out there and it's not even close either but please take this kind of bias post-game analysis over to Patriots Planet or whatever other place Pats fans go.

235 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

its pretty interesting how the opinion on Calvin seems to have turned on a dime. I watched two detroit lions games carefully this year to see if Calvin was a diminished player. I couldn't really see much drop off, but I certainly saw Matt Stafford badly regressing. I know the Lions offense got a lot better later in the year(both games I saw were in the first half of the season); but im inclined to blame Calvin's drop in numbers on Stafford and the scheme more than anything.

233 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I love Football Outsiders more than any other NFL site out there and it's not even close either but please take this kind of bias post-game analysis over to Patriots Planet or whatever other place Pats fans go.

You're not to be taken seriously until you make the same complaint about Kacsmar and his "we will leave no shady data-mining stone unturned to suck up to Manning" alleged analysis.

14 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Nothing about Cam Newton making silly dive into the end zone, or the Panther's going for a 2-point conversion to go up 42-15?

Personally, I loved both decisions - Cam's was stupid, but I'm all for someone having a personality and enjoying themselves, and was amazed no one got stupid trying to go after him. The 2-point call was maaaaaaaaaybe defensible in that it made it a 27 point lead (requiring a FG on top of 3 TD's with 2-pointers) rather than a 25 or 26 point lead, but I thought was fairly egregious in terms of running up the score. That said, if you don't like it, stop it. I was majorly entertained by the Cardinals implosion and the Panthers being entirely willing to rub their face in it.

105 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I know if Belichick had called for a 2-point conversion when already up by 25 points, the media would have made it the lead point in the argument about how he has "no class". It likely would have been depicted as something that "detracts from the victory". Probably some columnist in Indy would have demanded that he be banned from the game.

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Probably not if Belichick also kneeled it 4 times and gave the ball back to the other team with 2 minutes left in the game. That was both classy and a wise move by Rivera. I thought it was crazy for Arizona to continue to put players (on both teams) at risk by playing on down 34. When you're beat, you're beat. Just kneel it, shake hands, and focus on next year.

313 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I don't think teams necessarily need to practice two point tries in actual games because they are so similar to regular plays run from the two yard line.

That said, I was surprised that the Patriots didn't seem to have some special play schemed for the two-point try. I expected to see something like the pretend-bad-snap direct-snap play that they used to run with Kevin Faulk.

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Obviously execution of the play is more important than play choice, but that doesn't mean that a different play wouldn't have been more likely to result in a conversion.

This is a team that was running some innovative plays out of a four tight end set at the beginning of the season. They went away from that when they traded Hoomanawanui, but I expected that they would have been saving something like that in case their season was on the line. I don't think that expectation is off-base considering we've seen special two-point plays from the Patriots in the past.

I'm not an expert so it's possible that the play they ran was a special one they were saving in case their season depended on a two point conversion, but it just seemed like a simple bunch play to me.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The Panthers, running qb aside, are kind of an old-fashioned 1 loss team. They block your a$$, and tackle it too. The classic response to speed rushers, that your tackles might have a tough time handling, is to run at them. Newton of course, gives you numbers in the running game. If Denver doesn't hit Newton any harder when he runs, compared to what the Seahawks and Cards did, Denver's not going to pass rush as well as they did b today.

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Long balls with a decent running game is the best way to beat Denver. You aren't beating them with a dink and dunk passing attack. Big Ben was able to do damage twice against Denver by buying time and finding receivers open downfield. Cam doesn't have BRoeth's receivers but he has a lot of the same physical attributes.

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That caveat about not having receivers on the level of the Steelers is really important. The Broncos have struggled when they face receivers that can win the 1-on-1 matchups against their corners consistently.

I could definitely see the Panthers moving the ball on the Broncos effectively, but I don't think it's going to be a lot of long balls doing it. I think it will be a strong running attack and Newton completing a enough passes to punish the Broncos if they single-cover a lot. But those passes will be a pretty broad array of pass types.

20 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I have to disagree. Yes CAR has been on a tear recently, but this was a also a team that had a bunch of close wins over bad teams earlier in the year. Arizona played good all year and you assumed(it turns out incorrectly), the potent cards offense would rebound from the gb game. I don't think blowout win proves that whole line of thinking false. ARI blew out GB earlier in the year too, don't ya know

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The over was a gimme because you can't defend Newton without outstanding individual defensive linemen; you can't scheme him into submission. You need large great athletes, and Arizona lacks that. Now, I also expected Palmer to have more success throwing downfield, but I do think the finger is bothering him, and then once the game got away from him so quickly, I really think he really started pressing.

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Not the big guys. That's why none of them consistently win individual match-ups, and why Arizona has to blitz and stunt as much as they do.

(edit) To give you some sense of it, they had 35 sacks, and 8 of those were by Freeney, who appeared in 11 games. Their other defensive linemen combined for 11 sacks. Freeney has his moments still, obviously, but he isn't the every down terror he used to be.

34 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Calais Campbell is quite possibly the second best 3-4 end in the league, and almost destroyed Green Bay's offensive line in the Cardinals regular season win. No, he doesn't get a ton of sacks, but he gets plenty of pressures. I think part of the issue (and why Seattle had problems with Carolina as well) is that the Panthers leave in extra blockers all the time to prevent pressure, and throw deep a lot to make the most of those throws. Newton is capable of hitting those deep throws often, which helps considering how often his recievers drop his passes.

23 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I really thought I made this point on another thread a few days ago but I can't seem to find it. But anyway, two years ago, Denver was the team with the powerful offense, the suspect pass-blocking offensive line, and the quick-release quarterback to paper over those problems. That's why I thought people were over-estimating New England's chances here - Denver ran into the buzzsaw of Seattle's pass-rush in Super Bowl 48, and Manning's release just wasn't quick enough to make up for it. You simply need competent pass-blocking if you're going to be up against a good pass-rushing team - otherwise your offense falls apart. The book on New England was too similar - lousy pass-blockers, but with Brady's release being quick enough to make up for it. That just doesn't work against a good pass rush.

Not sure about Denver against Carolina. One good thing is that Trevathan and Marshall are fast. I think Denver could be built to respond well against extended plays. But I agree that Denver will probably have to score more than twenty points.

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I agree with your general thesis but in addition to the other-worldly pass rush the Broncos lbs and secondary shut down the YAC at least during the 1st half which led to 3rd and long situations which the Pats didn't convert for the most part (15% 3rd down conversion???. Unlike the Super Bowl last year in which the Pats were able to gain some YAC and continue drives this game showed how to shut down the death by a thousand paper cuts approach to winning games. It was still a very close game and I have to admit TB also missed a lot of throws specially the intermediate and long ones. I predict the Hoodie will tweak the offense for the next season and will incorporate more vertical passing and I believe that will truly open the qb competition in training camp later this year. The league is catching up defending the short passing game and to stay ahead of the curve the Pats will have to open up their playbook to vertical passes. We already can see some of that this past 2 seasons when the Pats have attempted slightly more verticals and the results were mixed due to TBs' limitations in that regard. In the same way that BB preaches defending the whole field, his offense must learn and execute attacking the whole field.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Matt Chatham pointed out that the Broncos were timing the snap based off Stork's head bob which added to the problems for the offensive line, especially given the rest of the problems they were having.

Hope the Denver fans enjoy the win and soopy 50.

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I missed the head butt. I just saw the push. And I didn't see the flag fly until Stork turned to argue with the ref.

Post-play pushing happens all the time. That's why I thought a flag was iffy. If a head butt actually happened, I would change my opinion. But at this point I'm not going to rewatch the game for a minor point.

I'm rather concerned that Stork apparently had a tell that was serving as a green light for the pass rush. The Pats played the Broncos earlier this season and they were nowhere near as vulnerable to that rush. If this was a new discovery by the Broncos, that would explain the difference.

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If I remember correctly Ware was out for the game earlier this year. He didn't have the sacks that Miller had but was getting consistent pressure as it seemed like he knew their snap count.

Edit: As a Broncos fan I was initially surprised by the personal foul, but they showed the head butt briefly on replay and they official threw the flag immediately after it so I think it was a good call.

144 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

You also don't know what he is saying. As someone who still plays in reffed men's league hockey games, and who has played in a variety of reffed sports...I

f Stork is saying to the refs "oops my bad sorry" there, the chance of a flag goes way down. If as is common his blood is still up and he says "I didn't %^&*# do anything get the *%&$ off me"...well that leads to flags.

Not saying this is what happened, but he was exchanging words with those officials, and those words and their tone MATTER A TON when discussing flags in situations like this.

115 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The Broncos timing the snap off of Stork's head bob makes a ton of sense. Miller and Co. were seemingly in the backfield before Brady could even look up.

On the fourth-and-one completion (and stop) to Edelman, in particular, Ware got such a good jump I thought he was offside at first.

Given the competition and the stakes, that was as impressive a pass rush by a D-line as I've seen since, well, since ever.

137 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The Giants game came close for me. This effort was probably more consistent on a down-to-down basis. On that last drive they basically got to Brady every play but the 4th and 10.

Just an amazing effort. Von and Ware were inhuman, but Wolfe and Jackson were great on the interior as well.

The 49ers were great in the '11 title game, but I would only put Super Bowl XLII as a recent playoff game that came close to this type of continuous pressure.

150 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Well, that's a function of Home Field Advantage. If it's so loud that the offense has to go on a silent count, the center head bob is normal. There is still a count after that that, in theory, only the offense knows.

I really wish Belichick tried harder to win that Miami game. It seems that his thinking was that it was more important to rest some nagging injuries and get out of South Florida with no new ones than it was to win HFA.

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Were you rooting for either side in the NFC Championship Game?

As a fellow Seahawks fan, I found myself pulling for Carolina. For one thing, the Russell Wilson/Cam Newton rivalry could be really awesome if it continues to grow.

Also, I get sick of all the Bruce Arians love. He's done a fine job with the Cardinals but he makes some questionable tactical calls (throwing late against Green Bay, big blitzing Cam Newton continuously), under the "this is who we are!" philosophy. (You know who never does that? Bill Belichick, because he game plans for each opponent and responds to each situation individually.)

But it could be I'm just bitter because a few years ago I had to listen to what a great coach Jim Harbaugh is and now it's Bruce Arians. Meanwhile a different coach in the NFC West has churned out the best team in the league the past four seasons and doesn't get nearly the same love or accolades.

140 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It's kinda true though. Pete Carroll has never been Coach of the Year despite the Seahawks success (and he almost certainly won't win this year) -- meanwhile Bruce Arians has won twice! (And Harbaugh once.)

I know every fan of every team feels the media and the public is biased against their team, but I do think Pete Carroll is a bit underrated. A lot of people thought he was a failure his first go-round (not true) and predicted he would be another college-to-pros flop and so they are hesitant to give him his just due now... or maybe I'm a huge homer who has gone completely off the rails (and off topic). That is a possibility as well.

31 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Aaron - ok, but your own team thought it was important to make the Brady vs Manning comparison above. Andrew Healy: "And let's be clear about Brady versus Manning: the much better player today lost to a better supporting cast." If that isn't trolling for a Brady vs Manning debate, I don't know what is.

189 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think that if you went and compared the Denver starting 11 on D to the Patriots 11 position against position and picked the best player you'd end up with a heck of a lot more Broncos chosen than Patriots.

It gets much less clear to me on the Offensive side Denver has the better receiving corps but the Patriots have Gronk.

I think it is clear Denver's cast is better but YMMV.

194 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I'm not going to take a position in the larger argument. However, to the extent there's anybody that still thinks Demaryius Thomas is a great WR, that should be put to rest. He is a great athlete, to be sure, but his hands, route running, and ball skills leave a lot to be desired. He obviously put up monster numbers when Manning was Manning and the offense was stacked. But, on a normal offense, I'd rather have Sanders (or Decker for that matter) over Thomas. D. Thomas is a little too much of a Tarzan/Jane situation.

197 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I don't deny Denver's defense is more talented than the Patriots, but I still think NE has plenty of talent on that side of the ball that the gap(and there is one) isn't all that enormous.

As for the offense, if we are excluding qb, I'd say both lines problematic(maybe slight edge to NE?); but the skill talent feels better on Ne. Edleman vs Sanders is probably in favor of Sanders, as is DT vs amendola, but nothing compares to Gronk at all on denver's offense.

And agreed about DT. He's a great athlete had does tremendously with his big physical body and speed, but lacks all of the finer nuances that makes someone a great receiver. He reminds me of David Boston.

198 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I don't deny Denver's defense is more talented than the Patriots, but I still think NE has plenty of talent on that side of the ball that the gap(and there is one) isn't all that enormous.

As for the offense, if we are excluding qb, I'd say both lines problematic(maybe slight edge to NE?); but the skill talent feels better on Ne. Edleman vs Sanders is probably in favor of Sanders, as is DT vs amendola, but nothing compares to Gronk at all on denver's offense.

And agreed about DT. He's a great athlete had does tremendously with his big physical body and speed, but lacks all of the finer nuances that makes someone a great receiver. He reminds me of David Boston.

241 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I am not really convinced that the Bronco receiving corps is better. DT's effort leaves a lot to be desired (as noted in other responses) and there's a huge dropoff to the #3 and the TEs. I thought Julius Thomas was a product of Manning at the time, but he's clearly missed. Decker too. Meanwhile, the Patriots have two guys that are always open - one due to being a freak and one from being shifty athletic - and great coaching and design.

289 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

In 2014, Decker had a slightly higher DVOA with Geno Smith at QB and Jeremy Kerley (83rd in DVOA) on the other side than D. Thomas had with a still pretty darn good Peyton Manning at QB and Sanders (4th in DVOA) on the other side. This year it was no contest. Decker is good. Not all-pro good, but better than Demaryius Thomas good.

41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think the Panthers will see what Jamie Collins did in the second half with the delayed blitzes and have Kuechly and Davis add that to their arsenal. Kubiak better fix that problem before the game starts or it could end up being ugly.

43 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Willsy here, first disclosure I follow the Vikes so had no dog in the fight (love you Will).
Firstly thought the AFC would be a slugfest but even I was amazed how much the Denver rush had its way with the Pats. Also totally agree with Aaron the long passes are mystifying as the stats all year have shown it isn't their strong suit. How was Butler not drafted? Also the Miami loss also reminds us how crucial home field is when you get a rolled up crowd. Denver was so ready for the "lets send Peyton off in a blaze of glory" script even though his contribution was more about not giving up the ball.
Pats did a nice job with the timeouts to get another shot, I thought Denver went into their shell too much in that series. Wade is a great example of a great football mind who is a co ordinator not a head coach. Admittedly they played a weak line by their scheme against the Vikes was very good as well, they deserve their success.
Why was Stewart still in the game let alone why was Cam leaping over to score more TD's? One last Australian observation. You cannot run up the score in professional football, period, let alone the AFC Championship. Also while I never watch pre game shows but I thought Sean Payton was excellent in the pre game and some of the discussion bordered on intelligent at times.
Anyway a fascinating pair of games and how many teams need offensive lineman?

51 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Just a question on the "cannot run up the score"? Do you mean that you shouldn't do it because it's "unsportsmanlike" or do you mean it's impossible to do it because they're professional athletes and it's no the offense's fault if the defense just can't stop them? Because I can read it both ways but only agree with the latter.

44 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Thought the Cards offensive line was pedestrian which only was saved last week by the officials, and Carolina's d-line is better so they fought through the holds to get in Palmer's face. Contrast that with Carolina's o-line which was able to handle the Cards incessant blitzing pretty easily. Arians is a fine coach and aggressiveness should be applauded but at times should be tempered with looking at the numbers. As Aaron rightly pointed out leading up to the game, blitzing Newton is pretty foolish. But here came the Cards flying willy nilly.

What has me a bit perplexed is that I have watched the Cards now play their last four games. GB, Seattle, GB, Carolina. The game plan in each game was identical on offense and defense. Even the incredibly stubborn Mike McCarthy makes a few adjustments. I saw nothing change on the Cards save in the second half of the GB game where Palmer looked to get the ball to Fiztgerald versus going deep.

And speaking of the deep pass Palmer did have some shots these last few weeks. He wasn't always pressured. But when he had a guy he missed him. Which was not the case the bulk of the season.

47 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Thought the Pats defense played really well yesterday. New England's pass coverage was very good, and you don't often see a Manning offense allow blitzers a free path to the qb on multiple downs. You hold the opposition to 244 yards on the road you gave your offense a legit chance to win.

49 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

My "I want to see any of those guys get a ring this year" list was, prior to yesterday games:

1. L.Fitzgerald
2. T.Davis
3. P.Manning

Pats losing is therefore a good news. However, I'm really sad for Fitz: it might have been his last chance, so it was tough seeing him drop 2(!) passes in such an ugly loss. Especially since he's always been a beast in the playoffs.

On another note, I find you guys really hard on Palmer, who played like a MVP most of this year. Comparing him to Schaub, Dalton, etc. is really unfair: I know his decision making and passing was below average the past 2 games, but entirely disregarding the previous 16 and calling him a slightly above average QB? Wow.

66 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Since I was the guy comparing him to Dalton let me defend that comparison. Since 2011 when Dalton entered the league their stats have been:
Dalton: 62.3%, 18008 Yds, 124 TD, 73 INT, 7.2 Y/A
Palmer: 62.4%, 17342 Yds, 105 TD, 66 INT, 7.8 Y/A

If you want to look at something a little fancier DVOA by year (yes I know player DVOA is more a ranking of the entire offense than the QB):
Dalton: 5.6%, -5.9%, 2.3%, -3.7%, 32.0%
Palmer: 2.5%, -2.2%, 2.7%, 8.5%, 34.5%

Overall a pretty similar quality of player, above average but not top tier until this year. I'm not disregarding the past 16 games I'm putting the past 16 games in the context of the past 5 years, over that stretch Palmer has been pretty similar to Dalton. Even if Palmer (and Dalton) got a lot better this year I expect some regression because players don't typically sustain jumps this big in any sport.

Palmer still had an MVP caliber season and no one can take that away from him, I'd still give him the MVP award, but this year was an outlier considering his performance before this season.

146 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Palmer played with a Bengals team that was quite significantly inferior to Dalton's version (even though he had Ochocinco and Whosyourmama for a while), then moved on to the terrible Raiders, before ending up on a Cardinals teams that was believed to be a bottom feeder at the time.

Plus, for the raw stats, they're not adjusted for era, and while there's not a huge difference between 10 years ago and now it's still significant.

I believe that if Palmer was QBing the Bengals team of the last 2/3 years, they probably would have won at least one playoffs game, and would have been a contender every year.

219 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Fine, but it should be pointed out when people talk about him being on terrible Raiders' teams. I would imagine that Palmer was happy to go there since it sent him back to his home state and reunited him with his old OC (who mistakenly saw Palmer as the missing ingredient that was going to take the Raiders back to the playoffs). The success the Cardinals had in 2013 was much more about the defense than it was Palmer, who had a ton of turnovers that season. How far would they have gone last season if he hadn't gotten injured? Well, I think we just saw their ceiling with him.

171 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I'm only using stats since 2011 when they were both playing so no era adjustment should be needed.

Now Dalton's teams likely had more talent, especially compared to the 2011 and 2012 Raiders teams but the comparison seems relatively reasonable. Is Palmer better than Dalton? Yeah but I'm not convinced it is a huge gap. Palmer had a great year but over the larger sample of the past few seasons he was an above average but not great QB, that is basically what we saw last night, a solid QB going against a very good defense with a poor offensive line.

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Does anybody else think the Pats repeated going for it on 4th down was fucking asinine, the first one, anyway? Given that:

There is plenty of time left on the clock -- so much so, that the three timeouts you're holding don't even enter into the equation yet.

Your defense has been playing their best game of the year. Outside of the (crucial) component of not throwing INTs (not that he didn't get lucky at least once with a dropped INT), Manning was below average-to-terrible for the last 40 minutes of the game. He missed many open receivers, both with his eyes and with the ball, and took a lot of big sacks instead of simply throwing the ball away...which tells me his usual strength of being able to read the rush and coverage was missing. I think Denver wins this game going away with Osweiler in.

Yes, an 8-point game is a one-possession game. It's hardly a guaranteed one-possession game. What is the success rate of 2-pointers? I think historically it's been in the low 40%-range. The smarter play would be to take the points, and reduce the margin to where a touchdown wins. If the game played out similarly from that point, it would have made for an interesting choice on 4th and one down by 5. Depending on the time situation, then it might be time to go for it on fourth and six....or take the three points, and once again depend on your better unit, the defense, to get the ball back again.

I generally like Belichick's aggressiveness, but I can't get onboard that decision to go for it -- and I'm a staunch defender of 4th and 2.

60 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I thought the first one was the only real questionable call. But the points about taking the FG and then kicking off are still true. It risks taking an additional 10-15 seconds off the clock, it risks giving the Broncos much better field position, and if you make the conversion there, then score quickly, they have a chance to get the ball back with time if they miss the 2pt conversion. Not a lot of time, but, more than they had. Actually I thought the worst playcall of the last 3ish minutes of that game was Denver passing on 3rd down on the series after NE failed to convert 4th down.

62 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Denver's passing on 3rd down on that series cost them at most 4 seconds. They just had to make sure the pass wasn't intercepted.

3rd and 10, Denver 14, 2:10 to go. New England has 1 time out remaining.

Scenario 1: Denver runs and almost certainly doesn't convert. The clock ticks down to the two-minute warning, unless Belichick throws away his last timeout to save 4 seconds. The Broncos then punt.

Scenario 2: Denver passes beyond the sticks. The pass is incomplete. The two-minute warning is wasted during the ensuing punt, and the clock automatically stops anyway on the change of possession.

Scenario 3: Denver passes beyond the sticks. The pass is complete. The clock ticks down to the two-minute warning or the Patriots use their last timeout. Either way, the Patriots get the ball back in the best-case scenario with 30 seconds left.