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.
Kansas City Chiefs 20 at New England Patriots 27
Aaron Schatz: "Kansas City picks tails. The result is tails. New England, what's your choice?"
How hard is it to run the freakin' coin toss correctly?
Patriots march down the field easily on their first drive for a touchdown catch by Rob Gronkowski. Gronk and Julian Edelman both look healthy so far. Interestingly, Chiefs coverage is shifting around a lot. On three straight catches, Gronk was covered by Ron Parker, Eric Berry, and Sean Smith in turn, all man coverage. What surprised me most about the drive was Justin Houston was not on the field for the Chiefs. They really need him out there to help bring the pressure on Brady. What surprised me least was that the Patriots didn't even attempt to run the ball once.
Cian Fahey: No running plays on the opening drive but a few third-and-long situations that needed to be converted. Silver lining for Chiefs defense.
Scott Kacsmar: I know the NFL rulebook is thick, but is it illegal to double-team Rob Gronkowski in the red zone on third down? Because that should be an automatic call for every defense, but we don't see it. Make the other guys beat you there.
Ben Muth: The catch where Berry was covering him was at least a short gain. I think he has the best chance at slowing Gronk down. I don't know how you leave him one-on-one with a corner (even a corner as big as Sean Smith) inside the red zone.
Aaron Schatz: Ironically, on the pregame show, if I'm not mistaken, they had Tony Gonzalez showing footage of how the Patriots put two and three guys on him in the red zone when he was with Atlanta.
Scott Kacsmar: Right, that was the 2013 game. You know if Belichick had to coach against Gronk he would probably have something like that for him. It's just common sense.
Vince Verhei: Announcers were falling all over themselves to give health updates on Gronkowski, Edelman, and Jeremy Maclin. No mention of Houston.
Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs just converted third-and-4 with an honest-to-goodness triple option. I feel like in the Andy Reid Drinking Game, that's "buy yourself an entire liquor store."
Scott Kacsmar: Two long drives, a bunch of short passes and third-down conversions, and a 7-3 New England lead. That is just how Super Bowl XLII started, but with New England getting the ball first today.
Vince Verhei: First quarter ends with New England up 7-3. Biggest storylines so far: Pats have 16 passes, one run; and the Chiefs burned two timeouts to avoid delay of game penalties on their first drive. They converted both third downs, so bully for them, but they're probably going to miss those timeouts later.
Scott Kacsmar: Are you at the game, Aaron? These CBS camera angles are not good today. Looks too zoomed in.
Aaron Schatz: I'm at the game. But yeah, I've seen many complaints on the Twitter about the camera angles.
Ben Muth: Danny Amendola just made about the dirtiest play I've ever seen. On a punt that was landing inside the 10 he turned around (he was the returner) to spear the gunner. If the Pats advance, the league needs to suspend him. Unsafe and unnecessary. The exact type of play that needs to be cut out of football.
Aaron Schatz: OK. I wanted to see what the non-Patriots fan take was on that. I've never seen anything like that before, but apparently, it is legal for a punt returner to hit a punt coverage guy to try to keep him from downing a punt outside the end zone. I guess it happened earlier this year in an Eagles-Cowboys game.
But man, that looked so ridiculously dirty. I guess there's a question of whether Amendola made a helmet-to-helmet hit or just hit with his shoulder, but it just looked awful. I often complain that unnecessary roughness penalties are the NFL's attempt to overturn the laws of physics, but there was no inertia there. Amendola just launched himself at the guy.
Ben Muth: I know you're allowed to block the gunners (unless you signal fair catch I think) but that's helmet-to-helmet all the way in my opinion. Have to call that the same as you would a Hines Ward-esque crackback block.
Vince Verhei: There is still a rule against "unneccessary roughness," right? It's one thing to block a gunner and keep him away from downing the ball. It's another to go in crown-of-helmet-to-head like that trying to knock the guy out. Should be a simple rule, if your facemask is pointing at the ground, then it's an illegal hit, to protect both players. See what you hit, hit what you see.
Scott Kacsmar: It was 7-3, the Chiefs had fantastic field position, and they decided to throw two tight end screens, including one on third-and-12. All the sad ALEX moments of the season led to that, and the Patriots promptly went 98 yards down the field for a 14-3 lead. Still a lot of time left, but I get the sense we'll look at that as the turning point, or where the Chiefs lost control of this one.
Aaron Schatz: I think that third-down play for Kansas City, the middle screen to Travis Kelce, was meant to get them into reasonable field goal range. I think that's an acceptable decision to make. But the play didn't work, and it was negative ALEX even if the "expected" in ALEX is "expected to get field goal range" instead of "expected to convert."
Alex Smith overthrows his receivers on second and third down at the goal line to end the first half. Does he know how tall his receivers are?
Ben Muth: I know Tom is with me, but can we talk about how dumb it is to spike the ball inside the 15? Run a fade or fade/stop in the end zone. It takes, at most, 5 more seconds and you at least have a chance to score. Fouts was talking up the importance of the spike to get Kelce back in the game, but a quick end zone shot from that close hardly takes any time and you don't absolutely torch a down.
Vince Verhei: Patriots lead 14-6 at halftime. Feels like the Chiefs should probably be ahead or at least tied, but their game management is horrible and they are playing their worst at the wrong times. Two burned timeouts on the first drive, which led to a field goal instead of a touchdown. Two punts on New England's side of the field, one inside the 40. Then at the end of the half, they "have to" spike the ball on first down to stop the clock on first-and-goal ... to set up two more incompletes and a field goal with 16 seconds left. And even there, they lost 5 yards on a delay of game on third down. They look like they need another week of practice to get basic game operations down.
Hey, since the Titans announced this DURING A PLAYOFF GAME, anybody want to talk about Tennessee hiring Mike Mularkey? Beyond that they are so embarrassed about this they announced it DURING A PLAYOFF GAME so nobody would notice? Like, don't you want all the attention you can get when you announce a new coach, rather than sweeping it under the rug?
Andrew Potter: Is there much TO say, other than 2016 is once again likely to be a very good year to have the AFC South on your schedule? The most interesting thing about the hire is how uninteresting it is.
Aaron Schatz: Points to Tom, who predicted on Twitter before the game that the Titans would do this.
Mularkey announcement coming at halftime of one of this weekend's game would feel quite fitting
— Tom Gower (@ThomasGower) January 16, 2016
Mike Kurtz: Kansas City's biggest defensive problem that half was their complete inability to get interior pressure. Tom Brady is getting tons of time because there is always space for him to step up and deliver (usually over the middle) while the edge rushers just run around behind him. Great job by Bryan Stork and ... Josh Kline? ... in the middle.
Ben: The worst part of that Very Special Episode of the Andy Reid show is that they took a timeout right before the designed quarterback draw, so they had time to make sure absolutely everyone was on the same page.
As far as the hit, it's clear the NFL needs to start actually ejecting players for live-ball play. Amendola never launches into another player like that if there is any thought in his head that he could be out of a playoff game because of it. Ditto for Vontaze Burfict. I understand that they're terrified of a game's outcome being determined by an ejection, but the rules need some teeth or you end up with potentially deadly nonsense like Amendola's hit or Vontaze Burfict's hit last week.
Tom Gower: First-and-goal spikes late in the game aggravate the heck out of me. If you have more than :04 or so left, you have time for multiple plays. Running a fade route doesn't take long and is easy to have set up. Yes, Reid should have called two plays in the huddle, but perhaps he did and the second was one to convert fourth down in case the third-down option play did not (fine, he probably would have just trotted the field goal team out there to get the points).
14-6 at the half. Short game, in term of number of possessions, but New England has been better at executing and particularly better at executing in scoring territory. No real surprises this game. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are both healthy enough to be at least reasonably effective. I haven't noticed Justin Houston, but I haven't been keeping an eye on him specifically, just that Brady has had time to throw and been able to roll out and extend plays, something Houston in particular seemed to excel at (or maybe the "Terrelle Pryor rolls right and gets sacked, over and over" game is indelibly imprinted in my memory). Also, my team just hired Mike Mularkey and I may be insensate.
Ben Muth: Good call by me saying the Chiefs should put Berry on Gronk in the red zone. He was absolutely roasted on the hitch-and-go for Gronk's second touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots up 21-6 as Gronk completely breaks poor Eric Berry's ankles on a hitch-and-go. Berry totally sitting on the hitch, because that's mostly what Gronk was running in the first half.
I apologize if I already said this for Audibles, but to me the biggest issue in this game is that Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are both hurting for the Chiefs. Kansas City has yet to run a play with both those guys on the field, and neither of them has made much of an impact on his own. There's a lot to like about the Chiefs defense but the best part of it has been the pass rush, and that pass rush just is not there today.
Scott Kacsmar: It only took the greatest play of Alex Smith's career and a fourth-and-3 conversion for the Chiefs to finally get a touchdown. Given I expected nothing from Jeremy Maclin today, he's helped a little, but Jason Avant has been pretty reliable for Smith.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs have a third-and-3 deep in New England territory down 21-6 late in the third, an obvious four-down situation. They pass on third down, a dangerous flat route that is tipped away and nearly returned for a pick-six. They pass again on fourth down, and it converts (plus a New England penalty anyway), but man, the Patriots are really good at getting strong running teams to pass on short-yardage plays in the playoffs.
Cian Fahey: This game is another reminder that Alex Smith has changed this year. He's still not necessarily an aggressive quarterback, but he is more aggressive than he has been in recent times. Something I wrote about in Film Room a few weeks back.
Aaron Schatz: Smith was both more and less aggressive this year, oddly enough. He set a new record for lowest ALEX on third downs.
But the numbers do back up what your eyes saw, Cian, at least when it came to trying to stretch the field on first downs. Smith averaged 8.7 air yards on first-down passes, which matched the NFL average. But he averaged 5.8 air yards on passes on second down; only Matthew Stafford was lower among starting quarterbacks. Then 5.1 on third down, the lowest in the league.
In part, we're also talking about different definitions of "aggressive." You're more talking about Smith's taking chances throwing into tight coverage spots, not defining aggression as throwing downfield routes vs. screens and dumpoffs.
Tom Gower: Well, I think ALEX conflates two things -- teams that make strategic decisions like the Chiefs do to make conservative calls like screens in third-and-long situations versus quarterbacks who tend to throw short of the sticks, whether on passes short of the sticks or dumpoffs after not taking risks downfield. Smith has a long history of doing both, but while the Chiefs are doing less of (a) he's not doing quite as much of (b) as he used to, I don't think.
Aaron Schatz: Chiefs finally get a really good drive going, down 27-13, as the Patriots have a number of players off the field with injuries. No Chandler Jones, no Jamie Collins, no Jerod Mayo, and Dont'a Hightower also missed most of the drive. The only problem is that this... drive... is... taking... so... long... They let 25 seconds run down before the two-minute warning without calling a timeout! Do they realize they have to score twice?
This drive is so slow that there will be urban legends that Alex Smith threw up during it.
Mike Kurtz: The end of both halves is like a Reid masterclass.
Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs finally score with an option pitch. That drive started with 6:29 left and took 5:13.
Tom Gower: The Chiefs huddled. They literally came together with all 11 offensive players in a circle and huddled. With the clock running, inside the two minute warning. While trailing by 14 points. Flabbergasting, really.
Scott Kacsmar: Edelman and Gronk looked like themselves, Houston and Maclin were the serious injuries today, and the Chiefs offense is what it is. Smith made some good plays, but just not enough production on that side of the ball and the clock management was a joke at the end of each half. So the game was not really surprising.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs so badly deserved to lose that game. So completely unaware of the clock and the situation. Not just in the fourth quarter, throughout the game. At times looked almost intentional how they were trying to sabotage themselves. We need to go back and count the number of times they caught a pass at the sidelines and stayed in bounds to burn 20-plus seconds. Or called a quarterback draw to pick up a first down, but again, burn clock. They took a delay of game, with the clock running, down two scores in the fourth quarter ... ON A PUNT! They were actually pretty good, all in all, from snap-to-whistle today. But OH MY GOD, how terrible they were after and before plays. That inside-two-minute huddle might have been the low point of the 2015 season.
AND YET... they were a dropped interception away from tying the game. I'd be kind of uneasy about this game if I were a Patriots fan. I mean, a win is a win in the playoffs, but I wouldn't be happy about how they let Kansas City get back into this game.
Aaron Schatz: They let the Chiefs back into this game in large part because of injuries, and injuries are why Patriots fans should be uneasy going forward, but of course injuries are why the fans of all the AFC playoff teams should be uneasy going forward. The top AFC teams are totally wrecked right now compared to the NFC teams.
Vince Verhei: I'm going back over this game and I keep finding amazing ways Kansas City screwed up. They burned 2:20 on a fourth-quarter three-and-out.
Tom Gower: Was that the punt they took a delay of game on? It took them :40 to get the punt team on in the fourth quarter while trailing by two scores! That's just... I don't even know what to say. It's not like they were thinking of going for it.
Scott Kacsmar: Andy Reid seriously dropped a "time was of the essence" line during his post-game presser when talking about that super long touchdown drive. There was zero confidence coming out of those words. It felt like a Saturday Night Live skit and I was waiting for audience laughter at his deadpan delivery.
Vince Verhei: I saw clips of that presser. Reid claimed they were in the hurry-up, but also didn't understand why reporters asked about them huddling with the clock running. It was like, even in hindsight, he didn't understand how badly he and his team have screwed themselves. Like he didn't even realize the game was over. I mean, I don't expect him to be fired tomorrow, but if it happens, I won't ask why.
Andrew Healy: I think the Patriots actually can and do feel pretty good coming out of this, as long as Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, and Dont'a Hightower are OK (Collins being the biggest concern with the plays he missed). Brady looked great most of the day and Edelman looked unfettered (ten catches on 16 targets). Maybe the best sign of the day was the offensive line looked pretty good against the Justin-Houston-less-but-still-scary Chiefs pass rush. Zero sacks and just one hit. Maybe that overstates the line's play a little, but it mostly held together really well.
For the future, let's never have any announcer say again that the Pats need to establish the run. And one game against the Eagles does not mean the Patriots have terrible special teams. And if it's so important to have Kelce in the game on the first down (it is), just keep him on the field for the third down rather than wasting first down with a spike.
The Patriots took advantage of the secondary's aggressiveness with double-moves that got both Sean Smith and Berry on the touchdown to Gronk. They also adjusted to spy Alex Smith after he scrambled to convert a third-and-long on the first drive, which helped neutralize that threat.
Thought Amendola should have been tossed for the spearing on the punt. As Ben said, no place for this stuff.
For the record, the Donovan McNabb regurgitation drive took about four minutes. So this drive was even worse.
Green Bay Packers 20 at Arizona Cardinals 26 (OT)
Sterling Xie: Patrick Peterson just picked up a taunting penalty on what would have been a pick-six. It technically didn't matter because a hands to the face on Frostee Rucker gave Green Bay a first down, but if the other penalty had been on the Packers, would the taunting have nullified the play? It technically occurred in the field of play, correct?
Vince Verhei: I don't think the NFL has gotten THAT dumb yet. Would have been enforced on kickoff.
Tom Gower: It's enforced as a dead ball foul, so Green Bay would have had the choice to apply it on the kickoff or the conversion attempt.
Aaron Schatz: The other reason Janis will have a long career as Dwayne Harris is that he's not a very good receiver. Ran the wrong route in the end zone, which ended up leading to the Packers having to kick a field goal.
Cian Fahey: Watch out Aaron, Jeff Janis has achieved Christine Michael status amongst metrics Twitter. They will be coming for you.
Scott Kacsmar: Randall Cobb dropped an easy pass, then came back with an amazing one-handed catch on a deep ball. Not only was it negated by penalty, though, but he suffered an injury that has knocked him out of the game. The top three wide receivers for the Packers coming into the season are all out now.
The fact that Rodgers is now moving the ball against this secondary with Janis and Jared Abbrederis is just plain nuts.
Wow this game has gone fast. It feels like Arizona hasn't had the ball for an hour.
Vince Verhei: More on this: Based on the timestamps on the Cardinals Twitter account, they legit went 22 minutes between offensive snaps. Then they ran three plays, then the half ended. Now the Packers get the ball after halftime. So three snaps of football in a real-life hour doesn't seem impossible.
More importantly, when they have had the ball, they have mostly gotten their asses kicked:
Cardinals were fourth in offensive DVOA this year. Let's check how they're doing at halftime... pic.twitter.com/6ogJ9b2x2c
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) January 17, 2016
It has mostly been a dominant performance by the front seven -- three sacks, less than 3 yards per carry, getting Arizona off the field on third downs, and getting so much pressure on Palmer he can't even try the deep balls Arizona thrives on. It's a high-risk scheme with boom-or-bust potential, but they are more than getting the job done.
Sterling Xie: Carson Palmer may have been great against the blitz this year, but Green Bay has been getting to him with delayed blitzes from the second level. After a Rodgers interception set Arizona up in plus territory, the Packers got to Palmer with extra rushers on both second- and third-and-long. And on the latter play, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gets a pick on a floating duck to bail out Rodgers and the offense.
Aaron Schatz: Packers offensive line clearing some huge holes on the next drive. Holes so big Eddie Lacy could slip, get back up, and get a few more yards. I would ask if the Cards defense is just tired from playing so much but they did get halftime to rest ...
Tom Gower: Clinton-Dix's interception in particular was great disguise. The Packers brought the corner blitz, so Palmer would obviously read and react to what should have been an empty man. Clinton-Dix instead rotated over and picked it. But, yes, the macro-level point is true: Palmer has spent most of this season bailing Arizona out against pressures and opposing blitzes, and Green Bay's been affecting him tonight.
Vince Verhei: And on the other side, Aaron Rodgers is getting incredible time in the pocket, especially at the end of their touchdown drive that put them up 13-7. If everyone on the line can figure out who's coming on the blitz and pick up their man (which is a lot easier said than done), the Cardinals don't have a dominant pass rusher who can consistently win one-on-one matchups.
Aaron Schatz: People blaming Justin Bethel on Twitter for allowing the go-ahead touchdown to Janis, but how much can you expect a cornerback to cover a receiver through five and six and seven seconds of a quarterback scrambling around?
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Is Palmer's finger to blame for the overthrown passes tonight?
Mike Kurtz: Considering how terribly underthrown that interception was, probably not?
Aaron Schatz: That was awful. You have to overthrow that to where your receiver is the only one who can get it or it goes past him.
Cian Fahey: Plays like that make me think it's the finger. He makes that throw repeatedly in first half of season.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Green Bay tight end Richard Rodgers clearly drops a pass. The play was ruled a catch on the field, but overturned on replay.)
Mike Kurtz: Just a note on that total WTF Rodgers play that was reversed on replay. Normally on a play like that the deep wing (the side judge on that play, I think) would be keying on the interior eligible receiver and then taking the deep route on that side, switching off with the short wing. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts, since the "catch" occurred pretty close to when the short wing was handing off the deep route to the deep wing, that he just wasn't watching the play. Which of course is inexcusable, but it's an edge case where the usual mechanics, designed to triangulate officials so that two or three have eyes on catch/no-catch, just break down.
Tom Gower: How much does the fact the NFL uses hybrid crews in the postseason, and the deep wing and short wing aren't necessarily used to working with each other, affect calls like that one?
Mike Kurtz: It's hard for me to speculate because I'm not an NFL official, but I have always suspected that hybrid crews cause mechanical problems. Even at lower levels though, crews do a bunch of prep together before games, reviewing film and looking at whatever information and film they have on the upcoming teams. So it's not just coordinating on-field mechanics, there's also a level of unfamiliarity during weekly preparation. I'm not saying that it couldn't happen with a crew that works together every week (obviously it can), but it's definitely fair to say that a bunch of different officials with not-quite-identical mechanics can lead to miscommunications in a high-pressure situation.
Vince Verhei: Well, we're in overtime mostly due to Aaron Rodgers' heroics, but also because two of the most Bruce Arians decisions ever came back to bite him. The incomplete pass on the last drive when most coaches would have been happy to kill clock, and then they use a seven-man rush on a Hail Mary play, which I've never seen before. Live by the sword and all.
I sat down to type this. First time I've sat down in a half-hour. And now, back to my feet.
Aaron Schatz: I'm going to have to come back later with thoughts on that last Packers drive of regulation because 9,000 different insane things happened.
Scott Kacsmar: Well, I'll handle that ending on my own time for my article, so just stick this at the end.
Arizona fans are going to be nervous as hell next week regardless of the opponent. Palmer was very shaky tonight and I cannot tell if it's the finger injury or just general lack of big-game experience. At least Fitzgerald played like a man possessed in the second half. He was incredible. I think as we'll see on Sunday with Pittsburgh still having Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton, good quarterbacks can find a way to get the job done with accurate throws even if the top receivers are missing. You would think Arizona would have rolled in this one with Abbrederris and Janis playing such large roles, but those receivers made plays against this defense. Bruce Arians had some very questionable decisions down the stretch. Some of Arizona's third-down conversions were by centimeters. This walked the fine line of a playoff choke, but they got the win in the end. Things are going to have to be much sharper next week or they'll get their ass kicked by Carolina or Seattle.
Vince Verhei: Aaron's last post was made at 8:33 p.m. (Seattle time). Scott replied at 9:02 p.m. I point this out to let the readers know that this game was over for a half-hour before any of us were able to formulate a coherent response. One of the best games I've ever seen.
This got re-Tweeted a lot, so I'll put it here.
Seriously. Just take in everything about this image and remember: this game went to overtime. pic.twitter.com/SvlGpSqwgq
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) January 17, 2016
Scott made a great point of Arizona winning by inches. So many plays that were just barely a first down, or passes that were almost knocked away, Credit to them for getting the job done.
Really, I don't have a lot else to say, analysis-wise, but I am so happy for Larry Fitzgerald. I thought he was the best player in the game at any position the last time Arizona was in the Super Bowl, and then it seemed like his career was wasted by lousy quarterback play after that. And when Carson Palmer finally arrived and brought competence to the desert, it looked like his time as a special player was done -- he looked like a good wide receiver, but nothing more than that. We were even debating, before the season, about who Arizona's top wideout would be this season. And then he went out and set a career-high in receptions, with 1,215 yards and nine scores to boot. And then he got open on that pass in overtime, and as the Packers all overpursued and missed tackle after tackle, it was like, for that one catch, he was the best player in the game again. And I don't want to get too preachy about this, but players always get more press for doing bad things off the field then they do for doing good things off the field, and very few people in or out of the NFL do better things off the field than Larry Fitzgerald. Just good to see good things happen to a good person.
Andrew Healy: Well, that was boring. That was a full playoffs worth of amazing stuff happening in one quarter. It gets lost in the win, but Palmer came so close to playing Jake Delhomme in the second half. Sam Shields dropped a potential pick-six. Then another poor decision on the Damarious Randall-to-Michael Floyd tip drill touchdown to force it in to a blanketed Fitzgerald. That gift from the gods seemed like it could have been the kind of break that could have gotten him to settle in going forward. Nice for the Cardinals that it went to overtime just so Palmer could make that incredible effort on the first play of overtime. Maybe that builds some confidence for the NFC Championship Game.
If the Packers had won that game, we might have needed to start just assigning wins to the team with the better quarterback. There aren't words for his last three throws. The incompletion to Janis that was a borderline PI, then the completion to Janis on fourth-and-20 and finally maybe the least impressive of the bunch, the Hail Mary. The arm to throw it 65 yards with seemingly the flick of the wrist, the ability to throw it nearly as far on the move and right on the money, and finally the perfect moonball to exactly the right spot to make the touchdown catch possible, thrown under maximum duress.
On the coaching decisions, there's good aggression and there's bad aggression. I love the analogy to poker because the most common mistake in both games is to be too passive. And most aggression is good. There's carefully picking your spots (in poker, tight aggression) and calculated gambles that most people wouldn't think of but the math makes pretty clear are the right decision (loose aggression). Going for it on fourth down falls in the first category and kicking onsides when tied in the National Championship Game falls into the latter.
Throwing down the sidelines when the Cardinals could have run the clock down to 1:15 before giving the Packers the ball back falls into neither category. Same for rushing seven on a Hail Mary. Rush five if you want, but sending the house is being the poker player who just wants to gamble. Jeff Janis had to out-jump Patrick Peterson and then possibly have the ball land on him, so the rush is not exactly why the play worked. But it's dumb. I love the Cardinals' blitzes when ahead most of the time. I love their willingness to throw when ahead most of the time. But these decisions were taking a good idea (aggressiveness) and pushing them much too far. Even moreso the throw to Fitzgerald. Bruce Arians is such a great coach, but he almost choked on the bone by not being more careful in going for the jugular.
Vince Verhei: Yes, it took 18 weeks, but the Carson Palmer I wrote about in FOA15 finally showed up:
Really, though, the only exceptional facet of Palmer's game in 2014 was his ability to avoid interceptions. That's fluky, and not because of the dropped picks that were thrown by his teammates; Palmer only had five adjusted interceptions, compared to 13 for Drew Stanton and eight for Ryan Lindley. No, it's fluky because Palmer has not historically been particularly good at ball security. Last season was just the second time in Palmer's career (and first since 2006) that he has finished in the top ten for lowest interception rate. Meanwhile, he has ranked in the top ten for total interceptions five times. In 2013, he was second in the league with 22 picks. Put another way: Palmer threw three interceptions in the six games he played last year, but he threw three interceptions in one game nine times between 2010 and 2013. If Palmer's interception rate in 2015 returns to his historical norms, then he'll be close to the average starter he has always been for most of his career; his DVOA last season was his best since 2007. And though an average starting quarterback would be a lot better than what Arizona had for much of last year, it's not the caliber of play that tends to win championships.
Tom Gower: It's the next day, and I still need more time to process what happened (and the Mularkey hire, yeah, that Mularkey hire). The pass interference calls that weren't, on Abbrederis on third down before the field goal that made it 20-13 and on Janis on third down before fourth-and-20 and even Shields on Fitzgerald on the pass.
The pass -- normally trying to throw the ball is a good idea, since a first down wins the game. Except it wouldn't have there, because Fitzgerald was on the sideline and if he had gone out of bounds, the Packers would get the ball back if they get a stoppage. That's why I was thinking more along the lines of a play-action pass and a throw over the middle if they had chosen to throw the ball. But that was one of the situations where not throwing would have been fine, because the potential downside of a throw was so significant. Run, Packers take a timeout, run, clock goes from about 2:40 down to the two-minute warning, run, clock goes to about 1:15 for the field goal attempt. That's about as extreme as it gets, and obviously Green Bay would not have had time to do what they did had Arizona simply run-run-run.
Fitzgerald's long catch-and-run in overtime... at some point I'll watch the all-22 and see just how he got so open. The replay they showed indicated crossing routes, probably against zone, and some zone defenders carried their man and others might not have, thus Fitzgerald in a vacated area. Maybe that's the young defensive backs, maybe it's just one of those things, but leaving that guy that wide open was the best look. Then after they double him on first-and-goal and get the pass breakup and it's obvious Green Bay is keying on him (as Collinsworth pointed out), they pull out the inside shovel after showing and then motioning out of a bunch look that made me think they might be looking for him on another corner/fade route from a stack release.
The two throws by Aaron Rodgers on the Jeff Janis completions on the final drive. Those two throws. Those two throws. One was a laser that went 58 yards and didn't give the defenders time to close on Janis. The other might have been even better.
McCarthy's decision to kick instead of going for two. I wasn't that angry about it in real time, but viewed from the next morning it looks really bad. I know, overtime feels like a 50-50 proposition, but it's really not; the favored team wins more often than not. (I came up with 58 percent when I ran the numbers for the old overtime format a couple years ago, I think looking at 1994-2013 to try to account for the improvement in field goal kicking.) He should have gone for it (and I would have liked to have seen him go for it at 12-7, too, not I thought that had any chance of actually happening).
And I'm sure I'm leaving out three or five different things that had they happened in a different game -- one that went pretty much to form, like New England and Kansas City -- would be worthy topics of discussion the next day.
Aaron Schatz: Of course, I feel like an idiot writing negative things about Jeff Janis, and then he goes out and has a huge game with 7 catches for 145 yards. I don't think the uncalled DPI on Janis on third down was borderline, I thought it was egregious. Justin Bethel straight-out grabbed him and twisted his body. I was so shocked about the lack of a flag that I hit twitter with the all-caps.
I actually think my original point about Janis' route-running still stands. His big plays were almost entirely on crazy scramble plays where Rodgers had five or six seconds and the receivers just had to run around and somehow get open. I think it's crazy that we ended up with a second Hail Mary where the defense playing Green Bay was unable to get in front of a Packers receiver in the end zone. This time, there were also just not that many Cardinals defenders in the end zone because Arizona blitzed. If you're going to go down, at least go down playing your game, I guess.
Or don't go down... Fitzgerald on that big catch-and-run in overtime was phenomenal. It wasn't just getting open, but also breaking three or four tackles on the way downfield. As I wrote in the game preview, the Packers were near the top of the league in missed tackles on defense. We finally saw those issues on the Arizona overtime drive.
The thing about the Packers and the question of whether they should have gone for two to just win the game at the end of regulation is that it demonstrates how silly the obsession with "momentum" is. I can't think of a better example of a team that could argue they had "momentum" than the Packers after they came back to tie that game on the Hail Mary. Theoretically, by the concept of "momentum," Green Bay should have had a much better than 50-50 chance to convert for two points and the win. That's what momentum means, right? And yet, would any of the people in the momentum-obsessed crowd have chosen to go for two there? No, of course not, they all would have made the conservative choice and sent the game to overtime. In reality, the best argument against going for two is that the Packers moved the ball down the field with crazy scramble plays where guys were able to get open somehow downfield. You don't get to run a play like that from the 2-yard line. That drive did nothing to show that the Packers offense was suddenly going to be successful getting 2 yards in a confined area.
Mike Kurtz: Regarding the Janis non-interference, my best guess is that the hail mary DPI rules applied.
Seattle Seahawks 24 at Carolina Panthers 31
Ben Muth: K.J. Wright left too much space off the edge on the the first long power run by Jonathan Stewart. Let Mike Tolbert get inside and knock him out to create the hole. Wright also was slow to play his gap on the touchdown (I think he was worried about Cam Newton keeping it) and got swallowed up completely by the guard. Stewart ran right where Wright should've been. Nightmare start for him.
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And as I'm typing this Russell Wilson throws a pick-six. That was quick.
Doug Farrar: Ben, the Seahawks are on Line 1. Still got your pads?
Mike Kurtz: I think on every single pass play, a rusher is on Russell Wilson or about to hit Wilson. Almost immediately. It's unreal how badly Carolina is beating Seattle on the edges. And now Russell Okung is hurt.
Scott Kacsmar: Seattle had a chance to recover a fumble in the red zone when it was 0-0, but it's been all downhill since then. I don't think we can forget that Carolina blew a 28-point lead against the Giants, or that leads of 17 and 23 were lost or shrunk in a small span of the fourth quarter against the Colts and Packers. However, with the way Wilson is getting pressured and now that Okung is out, it might not matter today. 24-0 might be enough.
Aaron Schatz: This is remarkable. Every single thing has gone against the Seahawks except for that fumble recovery. In particular, the offensive line has completely imploded. We knew it was bad, but this is really, really bad. If you think back to the games where Seattle has had problems, it is generally against teams with strong defensive lines, in particular defensive tackles. Cincinnati, St. Louis (twice), and Carolina. Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei are killing the Seahawks' interior line today.
Rob Weintraub: I think this game shows how amazing the Patriots run in the Belichick/Brady era has been. Every team, even one as good as the Wilson-led Seahawks, takes a beating from time to time (like Henry Hill) in the playoffs.
Except New England. There have been a couple of comfortable defeats I guess, but the lone out-and-out rout I can recall was when the Ravens crushed them in 2009, Brady's first year back after the knee injury (like this game, that featured a long run on the first play from scrimmage, by Ray Rice). Considering they've been in the playoffs for 15 years that's pretty amazing.
Aaron Schatz: Well, Seattle's run of not getting crushed, period, is pretty amazing. They have not lost a game by more than 10 points since October 30, 2011. And Robert, you may actually remember that game and who they lost to.
Rob Weintraub: Yes that was a nice afternoon...
Vince Verhei: Welp. Not much to analyze about 31-0. Among the myriad things going Carolina's way, the most aggravating are those that have been Seattle's biggest weaknesses on either side of the ball in the Wilson era: the interior line on offense, and the inability to cover tight ends on defense. I mean, obviously, those aren't the only reasons Carolina is winning, but they're the most annoying.
I know Seattle's defense has actually gotten some stops, but it feels like the Seahawks' best play all day was when they forced a fumble that Carolina recovered for a gain.
Scott Kacsmar: Yeah, Seattle is the gold standard in NFL history for not suffering a beatdown like this. 87 games being at least within one score in the fourth quarter. The next closest streak was 69 games by the Packers in 2008-2012. New England had a streak around 63 games that the Broncos ended in the 2013 AFC Championship Game. Then of course Seattle destroyed those Broncos two weeks later. I really did not see this coming today based on the previous matchups between these teams since 2012. I agree that a back-to-back early start after travel was bad news for Seattle, but we seem to only bring that up when this team struggles. No one mentions it when they destroy Minnesota 38-7 in a Week 13 game. Just a lot of poor play today and questionable decisions in that second quarter in scoring range. I'm sure Wilson would love to have those picked throws back, but that was all about pass pressure.
Aaron Schatz: Did Jimmy Johnson REALLY just ask Bruce Arians if he would rather play Carolina in Carolina or Seattle at home -- WITH CAROLINA WINNING BY 31 POINTS?
And why do we in the press ever ask that stupid question? They asked Bill Belichick last night too. And coaches aren't allowed to answer it because they're "giving bulletin board material." But the answer is "at home." It's always "at home." The answer is always "we want to play at home." It doesn't matter who the opponents are. You want to play at home. Why aren't coaches allowed to say this? Why do we ask when we know the answer? It's so stupid.
Mike Kurtz: Carolina's taken the foot off the gas on defense. Conventional rush, massive cushions. It's way too early to play soft against an offense like this.
Cian Fahey: This game was so shocking I forgot about Audibles. It's weirdly made for a more interesting game because we've got the Seahawks facing this potentially historic comeback.
Aaron Schatz: Which of us wants to point out how bad it is to take a timeout to avoid delay of game on third-and-24? I guess I picked the short straw.
Scott Kacsmar: So Seattle does a fake punt, Wilson then takes a horrific sack that leads to a timeout on third-and-24 that never should be taken. Did they make the timeout count? Of course not. Wilson throws another short pass to Marshawn Lynch and they end up punting. Just awful decisions there, but I've been very confused with a lot of Seattle decisions this postseason.
Vince Verhei: Craziest thing about Seattle's flurry of life in the third quarter is that Russell Wilson has been unable to hook up with Doug Baldwin all day. Had him for a 60-plus-yard touchdown and overthrew him (Tyler Lockett ended up scoring on the drive anyway), then had him open on third-and-2 and missed him (Seattle converted on a fake punt on the next play).
Cian Fahey: This Seahawks team is flawed, more flawed than in seasons past, but you can't help but appreciate how they approach adversity.
Rob Weintraub: OK, maybe the Wilson-led Seahawks won't ever get blown out, either.
Mike Kurtz: Need to go back and see how many series Carolina started with a run in the second half. I think it approaches 100 percent.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carolina had three passes and seven runs on first down in the second half, not counting kneeldowns.)
Aaron Schatz: Seattle just made it 31-21 with six minutes left. It's remarkable they have come back despite a number of things going wrong in the second half: drops, Wilson missing open receivers, allowing Carolina to convert a number of third downs.
I may have missed one or two, but I haven't seen any read-option from Seattle today. Should they pull that out, or is the feeling that the Panthers' front seven is just too good and will sniff it out and react well?
Seattle finally found success in the second half targeting the weakness of Carolina -- the non-Josh Norman cornerbacks who had to take over because of injuries, Robert McClain and Cortland Finnegan. But Wilson keeps overthrowing guys... overthrew Luke Willson and Jermaine Kearse on consecutive plays in the end zone, so they kick the field goal to make it 31-24. I would also have to go back, because I admit not paying as much attention in the third quarter when it still looked like a blowout, but those defensive tackles didn't seem to be getting as much pressure on Wilson in the second half compared to the first. Some of that was just fewer blitzes, but Short and Lotulelei weren't just getting pressure in the first half because of blitzes. They were whipping the Seahawks' linemen.
Rob Weintraub: Tough to onside kick in the slop. No bounce.
Actually Steven Hauschka got a good hop on that one but it was not to be. Good effort by the Hawks but no Super Bowl rematch.
Scott Kacsmar: The streak continues to 88 games, but it's a little hollow (like the Week 16 loss to St. Louis) when you don't get possession with the one-score deficit. Still, great fight to turn it into a game. Most teams wouldn't in that situation, but again, Carolina has let this happen several times this season. Can Arizona do it? Probably with the talent of that team, but I think both NFC teams are going to need to play better next week.
Vince Verhei: Ugh. That was painful. I mean, in some ways that was worse than the Super Bowl loss to New England. There, I felt like the two teams were even, and Seattle just made the one big mistake at the end. Here, it felt like, in my eyes, Seattle was the better team for most of the game, but made so many dumb mistakes early they could not recover from.
- Seattle's defense never gives up long runs -- unless Earl Thomas slips and hits the turf and opens a hole for Jonathan Stewart to rumble 59 yards, his longest carry of the year.
- Russell Wilson is pressured a lot, but rarely panics under pressure. Today he panicked under early pressure and threw an easy pick-six to Luke Kuechly.
- Seattle panics in field goal range late in the half and goes for it on fourth-and-5. Ignoring the announcers' nonsensical momentum discussion, a field goal helps you when you're down 31-0, and there was still a lot of football to go. Worse, Wilson then threw short of the sticks to a well-covered Baldwin on fourth down, a play that had very little chance to convert anyway.
- The multiple timeouts on third-and-very long that just led to punts early. Another timeout at the end of the half, they might have had a chance to kick a shorter field goal instead of missing a 55-yarder. Another timeout at the end of the game, they might not have needed an onside kick. (I'm not sure about that, but I know it wouldn't have hurt.)
I'm sure that this kind of "Seattle beat themselves" commentary will piss off some Panthers fans. That's fine. If I was a Panthers fan it would make me mad. Feel free to roast me in the comments.
As for what's next for Seattle, obviously the offensive line needs a major overhaul. And I'd imagine Marshawn Lynch has finished his career in Seattle -- in fact, I expect him to retire -- but I have been premature predicting the demise of running backs before. It'll be interesting to see what happens with Kam Chancellor. The defense was terrible in the first two games when he was holding out, but they didn't seem to miss him when he was out at the end of the year. And it's not 100 percent his fault that they got burned so badly by tight ends all year and especially in the postseason, but he was part of the problem. Still, he's only 27, and you don't just toss aside good 27-year-olds unless you're certain you can upgrade at the position.
Andrew Healy: I liked so much of what the Seahawks did to try to get back into it. Great catches on the sideline from Lockett and Kearse. Couldn't believe what Lockett did on the sideline. Love the fake punt call. With Joe Buck even calling it, you might have thought the Panthers would be looking for that. I didn't like giving the ball up on fourth-and-13 down 31-14 at the end of the third quarter and did like going for it on fourth-and-5 before the two-minute warning in the first half, but that's all incredibly predictable.
Par for the course for Kuechly, but what an incredible job getting 25 or 30 yards deep in coverage on the sideline to bat that pass away from Baldwin on the last Seahawks drive.
And the Panthers offense did get extremely predictable in the second half. They maybe could have done a little less of that. As Mike said, they seemed to run on every first down. They threw on some second downs, so mixing the down for the occasional throw might have helped. But hard to fault them for shutting it down. When the Panthers threw, the Seahawks might have been a little too terrified of Cam Newton running. They actually held Newton to a career-low 3 rushing yards, but he often had eons back there. On many plays that was basically defensive indifference as the Seahawks seemed content to just close down escape routes.
Vince Verhei: Agree with Andrew on the Seahawks' muddle rush in the second half. They looked like they were terrified of Newton beating them on scrambles, but A) he didn't really scramble that much this year, and B) this isn't the Newton of years past who is going to beat you with big runs and big passes only. He's not Aaron Rodgers-precise or anything, but if you keep leaving the tight end open on the sideline on third-and-3, he'll keep finding that tight end for first downs. Especially if you're not getting pressure in his face.
Pittsburgh Steelers 16 at Denver Broncos 23
Aaron Schatz: I'm not a big fan of Ben Roethlisberger's decision to go deep on the fourth-and-1 from the Denver 32. Just move the chains, and you'll get an opportunity to go play-action deep on the first down. A replay after the commercial which showed that Heath Miller was open for the first down on a cross and it was Roethlisberger's decision to go deep, thinking the receiver had gotten past the defense. Two defenders caught up to him by the time the ball got there.
Andrew Healy: Totally agree on that. I know Roethlisberger is hurt, but with his size, the sneak seems like a good option, too. Not a handoff with eight guys up to stop that
Kayvon Webster's play to bat that punt back is so fantastic. Even hit it out of bounds keeping it inside the 5. Three important plays on special teams ten minutes into the game after the short punt gave Denver the ball on the Pittsburgh 31.
Aaron Schatz: All the talk going into this game and... it looks like a Broncos-Steelers game. Peyton Manning looks like the Peyton Manning of the last few weeks of last year, a little better than early 2015 and much better than the awful Kansas City game, but not the Peyton Manning of legend. The Kubiak offense looks a lot like the Kubiak offense, lots of stretch runs looking for a cutback. Broncos receivers have dropped a couple balls. (C.J. Anderson just had an awful drop, wide-open on an angle route on third-and-4.) The Steelers look like the Steelers, only not as good as usual because there's no Antonio Brown. We're seeing a lot of Darrius Heyward-Bey, as Scott predicted, and a little bit of Sammie Coates. I'm still blown away by Jim Nantz's comment that the Steelers people were saying all kinds of wonderful things about Coates this weekend. I'm not going to play "I know lots of people in the league" here but I actually have spoken to multiple people who have told me it was obvious to the Steelers by the time they got to the first preseason game that Coates would be a total bust who had no idea how NFL routes work.
Scott Kacsmar: Big Ben praises everyone no matter what. He'll make you think Chris Kemoeatu was a John Hannah-level guard. But before the season he actually did not compliment Coates, who needed work to see the field even with Bryant suspended. So yeah, one big play is already more than I expected out of him. The offense looks pretty good without Brown so far. Receivers are getting open, if not wide open and drops have hurt both quarterbacks. I think Denver needs to open things up a little more as Pittsburgh sure has on its side.
Andrew Healy: Nice throw by Manning on the failed fourth-and-3, as Sanders dropped when hit. Last year against the Colts, Manning was 2-for-12 for 49 yards on deep passes. This year, he's 0-for-2 late first half. At the two-minute warning, he has 4.6 YPA, exactly the same as last year.
Thought Martavis Bryant had the first down there on third-and-2 on the reverse if he didn't hesitate getting to the edge.
Scott Kacsmar: Wow, the wind on that Brandon McManus field goal was crazy at the end. I thought he missed it at first and you could see the one official wasn't sure. Big three points before halftime. 10-9 Steelers. I have to think Pittsburgh feels pretty good about its ability to move the ball in a variety of ways. Even without Brown this offense is a tough matchup for Denver, and the key is Roethlisberger looks healthier than expected. Manning missed a deep one to Demaryius (overthrown of course), but has been pretty sharp for the most part. Just too many drops today, including on the money downs that hurt the most. Pittsburgh's front seven is doing a good job against the run, though Anderson did break that long one before halftime. Figure this has to be a second half where the big turnover will decide this one.
Vince Verhei: I keep wanting to make jokes-that-aren't-jokes about benching Manning for Brock Osweiler, but honestly Peyton has been OK. It's the receivers who suddenly can't receive anything.
Jordan Berry's sixth punt, kicked from the Denver 39-yard line, goes deep into the end zone for a touchback. It's the fourth time today that he has netted 27 yards or less on a punt, in a game where field position has been everything.
Mike Kurtz: And IMMEDIATELY after I started thinking the Steelers might actually win this game, Fitzgerald Toussaint coughs it up and Denver marches down the field, taking most of the clock with it. Brutal.
Aaron Schatz: To go back, I know there are some heavy cross-winds but I'm still pretty surprised the Steelers punted from the 34 (moved back to 39 by delay of game) instead of trying a 52-yard field goal at altitude.
That Toussaint fumble ended up turning the game. Running back fumbles have played a big role in this year's playoffs: Adrian Peterson and Jeremy Hill last week, now Toussaint. Denver's offense probably had its best drive of the game immediately after the fumble. The cross to Bennie Fowler where Will Allen missed a tackle was huge, that was half the yardage of the drive. I still don't feel like the Denver offense looked that great today. I don't feel like things were better with Manning back. But this defense is so, so good.
Tom Gower: The Steelers got in obvious passing situations late in the game, and the Broncos corners locked down the receivers long enough for the pass rushers to get there. If Denver receivers can catch, though, we probably have our first multi-score margin of the weekend even if Denver's offense didn't look good.
Scott Kacsmar: I did not like that punt decision from Tomlin. Understand the field position issue if Chris Boswell misses, but the kid has been good and a four-point lead felt like a two-score lead in this game. Challenge Denver to score a touchdown. Then when they got a touchback on the punt, it just felt worse.
As expected, the only turnover of the game was a huge one. And my god, how good is Vegas? I went with the Broncos winning 23-16, inspired largely by the spread and Over/Under, but that's exactly what happened.
Might as well give my state of the union on the Steelers now that their season is over. You have to consider 2015 a success as the team won several games against some of the best in the league and won its first playoff game since the 2010 season. Expectations were initially high, but I think that tempered after a brutal preseason that saw Maurkice Pouncey go down as well as some draft picks and the impending suspensions for Le'veon Bell and Martavis Bryant. Then Roethlisberger managed to survive three cart rides after sacks that looked like serious injuries. They lost their left tackle around the sixth game. The team hung in there and while help was needed from Buffalo to make the playoffs, they got in and put up a fight on the road against teams that were frankly just a little better overall this season. So I don't think they can be too disappointed with this year, though certainly a winnable game getting away from them today will hurt all offseason.
The offense has potential to smash franchise records next season with better health. Imagine a 16-game season with Roethlisberger, Brown, Bryant, and Bell. Those four have barely played together so far due to various injuries and suspensions. The defense did improve in Keith Butler's first year as defensive coordinator. I never would have imagined that after how terrible they were at just lining up in New England in Week 1, but clearly there were communication problems and things only got better. They finally started creating takeaways again to compensate for the big plays allowed. They generally were able to keep scoring down, so you can live with that bend-but-don't-break style when you're an offensive-driven team.
I still think the return on investment from the linebackers in the draft hasn't been very good, and this team could be looking at losing James Harrison to retirement. He was great today and can still get it done, but he'll be 38 in May. I'm not sure Jarvis Jones is legit, but Ryan Shazier looked really good at times this season. Stephon Tuitt made major strides and gives the Steelers a nice defensive line core with Cam Heyward. The problem is still the secondary, where they just don't have any major threat to game-plan around. Antwon Blake should be a nickel or dime corner at best. He's a good tackler, but his coverage is terrible. I'm surprised Denver did not attack him more. William Gay is OK, but not your typical No. 1 corner. Brandon Boykin finally started getting playing time, though he's best as a slot corner. They need to use a high draft pick to get a playmaker here. They took Senquez Golson in the second round last year and he got hurt, so we're still waiting to see what they'll get out of the 5-foot-9 corner, but something has to change there. Mike Mitchell blamed injuries for 2014, but he still had a lot of blown tackles and coverages this season. The offense is so loaded they can afford to attack defense heavily in the draft, but I don't think the fan base could stomach another high linebacker pick.
Tomlin still drives me nuts with his inconsistent gambling, but for the most part I thought he did a good job in these playoffs. The team just needs some better health when they get to January. In 2011, Roethlisberger had a high ankle sprain, Pouncey and Rashard Mendenhall were out, and Ryan Clark couldn't play in Denver because of his sickle-cell trait. You know what happened that day. Last year, Bell went down in Week 17 and they didn't have a backup plan. DeAngelo Williams was an outstanding backup this year, but he went down in Week 16. Who knows how things play out if Williams was healthy now? Would he have fumbled like Toussaint did in the fourth quarter? We'll never know, but losing your leading receiver and top two leading rushers when they are some of the best players in the league is going to hurt any team. The Steelers fought well without those guys.
One thing I know for sure, Pouncey is still the most overrated player this team has had in a long time. I hated the new contract for him because he hasn't stayed healthy and has been so replaceable. They replaced him this year with Cody Wallace without a problem. Todd Haley's offense has been good for Ben, who has his four lowest sack rates of his career in the four years with Haley. He was the least-pressured quarterback in the league this year, and I think was third lowest in 2014. That's a major change from the old days. Of course, he still had the injuries in 2015 and went down on a fourth-down sack today, but that's part of his style and part of playing the best pressure defense in the league on the road. Get healthier, improve the defense and the Steelers can get back to vying for a first-round bye and home playoff games again.