compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Kansas City Chiefs 12 at Houston Texans 19
Vince Verhei: We got the whole Marcus Peters experience on the first drive of the game. He gave a 20-yard cushion to Will Fuller, and Fuller still blew by him for what should have been a long touchdown. Fuller bobbled the ball, and though he eventually reeled it in, he was tackled inside the 5. Then on third-and-goal, Peters jumps a short route to intercept the ball and take back the scoring chance he had given Houston in the first place.
Texans just don't respect Peters at all. They recover a fumble when the snap goes over Alex Smith's head, then score on the very next play when Peters attempts to tackle DeAndre Hopkins before the pass arrives. Hopkins wards him off, catches the ball, and goes into the end zone.
Early impressions of Brock Osweiler: He is very much a "throw the ball to the first read whether he's open or not" kind of guy.
Sterling Xie: Demetrius Harris gets your "how was that not a catch?" nomination of the week. Harris took about three full steps after a catch down the seam before fumbling, but the play was overturned to an incompletion upon review. The explanation was that he was going to the ground and didn't complete the catch, but he was only going to the ground because he was being tackled. Looked a little like the famous Dez non-catch, where he was stumbling forward after initially gaining possession.
And just like the Dez non-catch, it looked like a catch. If Harris had taken three consecutive steps in basketball, that would have been traveling. Can't we say that traveling in basketball equals possession in football?
Andrew Potter: Completely disagree with you on that play, Sterling. He was clearly stumbling and falling immediately on catching the ball, and was contacted by a defender as he was falling. That type of play has been an incomplete pass forever, and will remain so forever more. No doubt in my mind it was going to be overturned.
Vince Verhei: Texans lead 13-3 at halftime, and the real story has been Houston's total dominance on defense. Kansas City had four drives in the first quarter that gained 8 yards -- total, not apiece. Their only score came on a 53-yard field goal, which was set up by a 32-yard punt return. In between, the offense moved backwards 2 yards. Chiefs did get some plays in the second quarter, but their last two drives both ended in lost fumbles. These may be connected. Those big plays usually came after broken tackles. Looks like Houston is putting such an emphasis on taking the ball away that sometimes they're forgetting to wrap up.
One other note on Houston's first half. At one point they tried a reverse to Braxton Miller with Osweiler as a lead blocker. This is not as silly as it sounds -- Osweiler is 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, and should have at least been able to stand in somebody's way. Instead he ran up to a linebacker, then backed away, and Miller was tackled for a 2-yard loss.
Texans were driving and getting big plays in the passing game, and it looked like they were finally going to get the score they needed to really put Kansas City away. Then Osweiler tried to hit Hopkins on a deep route. Peters was playing physical coverage again, but Hopkins seemed to have him boxed out. But Osweiler's pass sailed wide and bounced off Hopkins hand and into Peters', who added a nice return. Chiefs then run the old school option pitch to Charcandrick West for 21 yards before the drive stalls, and they get a field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to pull within one score, 13-6.
Through three quarters, the Chiefs have three runs of 20 yards or more, but their longest completion has gained only 13 yards. Counting sacks, they have 48 yards on 26 passing plays. Yet they're in the game. I'd just keep running.
Scott Kacsmar: The Chiefs actually kicked three field goals in the fourth quarter when down by 10 points each time. I really could not criticize any of the three decisions to kick, but that just speaks to the failure of their offense in the red zone and a disappointing finish to this game. Good job by the Texans to keep building the lead with some key conversions. Will Fuller seems like a perfect fit for Osweiler, who is more gunslinger than he may have shown in Denver last year.
Rivers McCown: Went to this one.
I think the throws Osweiler had forced upon him by the play design were difficult. He does have some placement issues, but he and Fuller have created an offense that can actually create yards in a single-high safety world. They do it inefficiently, but they do it. It's a quantum leap from the last two years of quarterback play.
My biggest issue was the red zone play calling. I am curious if Houston just doesn't trust the offensive line at this point in power situations, or if it's about the two teams they have played so far. But this is a LOT of shotgun spread for an offense that doesn't have a player who wins in space. It's basically asking Osweiler to win on pure accuracy, which isn't exactly his best attribute. Of course, when you have J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus against the Chiefs offensive line, you can afford some cuteness I guess.
K.C.'s offensive game plan was bizarre to me. You could tell the Texans wanted to run their offense through Will Fuller. K.C. wanted to run first and foremost, but I thought they should have run the passing game through Travis Kelce. Houston had trouble matching him, mostly using A.J. Bouye or Kareem Jackson inside. Yet Kelce was off the field in a few passing situations altogether, and the Chiefs wanted to throw outside. I didn't get it.
Dallas Cowboys 27 at Washington Redskins 23
Sterling Xie: Dez Bryant got four targets on that first drive, including one when the offense was near the goal line, which should really come as no surprise given last week's lack of production. I would love to have seen Dez's reaction when Dak Prescott said earlier this week, "If Dez is the read, Dez is the read." Anyways, looks like we're seeing Bashaud Breeland on the opponent's top receiver, as we did last week. Breeland gave up two big chunks but defended that goal-line fade nicely. The first time Breeland looked like he could really start in this league was when he played Bryant extremely well on Monday Night Football at Dallas two seasons ago. While still an obviously tough assignment, think Dez profiles as a better matchup for Breeland than Antonio Brown did based on playing style.
San Francisco 49ers 27 at Carolina Panthers 46
Bryan Knowles: Something magic happens for Ted Ginn in Carolina. He just caught a 42-yard bomb from Cam Newton to give the Panthers their first lead of the day. Ginn averages 40 yards per game in his 32 games in Carolina, and just over 20 in 104 games everywhere else.
Oops, they just took the score off the board while I was checking my numbers there; Ginn's foot was out of bounds. 49ers dodge a bullet there.
The 49ers might be getting a little predictable. Their first eight plays saw seven runs and only one pass attempt; the Panthers keyed up on the run, forced a fumble, and scored their first points of the day.
One of the stories last year for Carolina was Jonathan Stewart's health; the 13 games he started last year was a career high, and there were some rumblings that the sprained foot that kept him out of Carolina's last few games last year was more precautionary than anything else. That relatively good bout from health seems to be over -- he was questionable going into this week's game with an ankle injury, and had to leave the game in the first quarter with a hamstring. The backup is Fozzy Whittaker who, as I type this, fumbles the ball to give the ball back to the 49ers. It's something to watch -- when Stewart was splitting time with DeAngelo Williams, his health wasn't quite as important to the team's success. Now that he's the primary bell cow, though...
And now Fozzy Whittaker's being evaluated for a concussion, leaving the Panthers down to just Cameron Artis-Payne and Mike Tolbert. Of course, that won't matter if the 49ers forget to cover Greg Olsen, who was ~wide~ open for a 78-yard touchdown, absolutely torching Antoine Bethea. This has not been the first time Olsen has been wide-open, but Cam Newton missed him earlier. Didn't miss that time.
Vince Verhei: Panthers just used the best play design ever: 5-foot-9, 250-pound Mike Tolbert lined up in the slot and ran a skinny post -- and it worked! And he was rumbling through the secondary for a good gain, and sadly the Panthers were called for holding and the play technically never happened. Alas.
Bryan Knowles: Tom's description of Tennessee/Detroit can apply here, too -- San Francisco has to play perfect football to beat Carolina, and they have been making mistakes. Carlos Hyde had a rare fumble inside the 10, which the Panthers returned for a touchdown. Blaine Gabbert has missed some wide-open receivers on third down, and Antoine Bethea was torched by Greg Olsen on a 78-yard bomb. So far, it feels like Carolina's a good team that's having trouble hitting all cylinders; San Francisco is a bad team playing above their heads.
That being said, they're only down 17-10 at halftime. Carolina's clearly more explosive (leading 7.1 yards per play to 4.7), but the 49ers are doing a remarkable job of hanging in there. If they can find a way to get a little pressure on Newton in the second half, they might still pull off an upset in this one. Either way, it has been a closer game than I think most people were anticipating up to this point.
Vince Verhei: I'm not sure what to say about San Francisco right now. Ten points in a half isn't bad, and Blaine Gabbert is averaging almost 8 yards a pass, which is something he has only done in four games with 10 or more passes, ever. And yet, they've also punted four times and lost a fumble, so the pace is making things hard to interpret.
I guess the biggest takeaway is that their defense is much better than most of us gave them credit for going into the year. They haven't given up many big plays, they've done a good job forcing Carolina off the field (Panthers are 2-of-6 on third downs), and they're keeping the 49ers in the game.
Bryan Knowles: And now the Panthers start pulling away. Turns out, Kelvin Benjamin is pretty good at this whole "catching passes" thing -- he has made quite a few great grabs today, even when San Francisco has put on solid coverage. Benjamin's just too big and too strong. Score's 31-10, which is more in line with what people were expecting coming in, I think. Survivor pools around the country breathe a sigh of relief.
Red Zone just commented that Cam Newton hasn't drawn a roughing the passer call for over a year, which is a bit shocking in and of itself. That's less shocking today, however, as I'm not sure a 49er has come within 4 yards of Newton in the backfield.
... and JUST as I send that, the 49ers get a strip-sack, so yeah. Audibles curse in full effect.
Vince Verhei: Panthers are playing sloppy enough that the 49ers still have a glimmer of hope. Newton fumbles trying to scramble on third-and-2, and the 49ers recover and appear to return it for a touchdown, but it's ruled they were out of bounds at about the 15. That leads to a field goal. Ted Ginn fumbles the ensuing kickoff like he's wearing boxing gloves and the 49ers recover inside the 5, setting up a Blaine Gabbert touchdown run, and it's 31-20 Carolina with more than 12 minutes to go. That's a lot considering San Francisco goes fast enough to get three or four more possessions in that time.
Miami Dolphins 24 at New England Patriots 31
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots are just toying with the Miami defense in Foxborough right now. 14-0 with 6:22 left in the first quarter. Handsome Jimmy G. is 9-for-10 for 136 yards and two touchdowns. The first touchdown was a great play where his initial read was covered, and he had the patience to wait and then find Danny Amendola, who then stretched it over the goal line. Second touchdown was an open seam pass to Martellus Bennett.
Cian Fahey: Thought Garoppolo was mostly just a caretaker last week against the Cardinals save for two big throws. Not the case this week. He has been carving up an admittedly lost looking Dolphins back seven.
Kiko Alonso can't move and the Patriots know it. Any play that goes laterally exposes him.
Aaron Schatz: Gee, it's not like the Patriots run any pass plays that stress a defense horizontally.
We're so used to players coming back from knee injuries fine these days that we forget that recovery isn't always 100 percent. I think we can toss Alonso on the list of players who were never the same along with guys like Daunte Culpepper and Robert Griffin.
The other problem for Miami is that there is no pass pressure today. Almost zero. One play that drew an offensive holding penalty, and that's it. Otherwise, Handsome Jimmy G pretty much has all day back there.
Andrew Potter: Cian's comment about a lost-looking Dolphins secondary really came to the fore on Danny Amendola's second touchdown. When the Patriots line up, nobody covers James White wide to the left. The Dolphins safeties bark orders to each other and Isa Abdul-Quddus moves from center field to cover him. Garoppolo takes the snap in the shotgun and throws over the middle to Amendola, in almost the exact spot Abdul-Quddus had vacated to cover White. Bobby McCain allowed -- encouraged even -- Amendola to release inside, and was clearly expecting the safety still to be there.
Aaron Schatz: The Dolphins just put Arian Foster out wide and had Kenyan Drake in the backfield. I'm not sure the point of doing it that way and not the other way around. The Texans never got anything out of their "motion Arian Foster out wide" plays.
Vince Verhei: This, uh, is not going to do wonders for Seattle's opponent adjustments. But really, what we have seen in about six quarters is a pretty clear pictures of Miami's defense. Their pass rush is good enough to dominate bad offensive lines, but if that pass rush can't get home, their secondary can't cover anyone.
Aaron Schatz: Jimmy Garoppolo scrambles and hits Malcolm Mitchell for a first down on third-and-9, gets knocked down after the throw (by Alonso, I think) and comes up gripping his throwing shoulder. Clearly in serious pain. Time for the Jacoby Brissett Show. That's probably a better show when it starts with a 21-0 lead and already in field goal range.
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) September 18, 2016
Cian Fahey: The Dolphins drafted DeVante Parker to give their quarterback a greater margin for error. He's not a yards-after-catch threat and he can't run routes with any kind of precision. His value is winning the ball at the catch point. He had one clear drop early in the game that would have been a big play and followed it up by not pulling in a slightly outside throw in the end zone at the end of the first half.
Add in Ryan Tannehill struggling with his consistency and against pressure with Jarvis Landry running backwards/sideways when he catches the ball... and the Dolphins look like the same steaming pile they looked like under Philbin.
Aaron Schatz: Guys running backwards after the catch in hopes of making the low-probability big YAC play where they somehow outmaneuver everybody is one of my pet peeves.
Cian Fahey: All the Dolphins needed was the Patriots' third-string quarterback to make this a competitive game. The more things change...
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots offense has definitely slowed down without Garappolo, but his injury isn't responsible for Ryan Tannehill finally looking... oh, let's say, average instead of terrible. The Dolphins are getting the ball more than in the first half, but they are also moving it more. As an extra added bonus, I think every one of Ryan Allen's punts today has taken a Miami bounce for a few yards.
Definitely need to link this phenomenal hurdle by LeGarrette Blount:
Sometimes, it's just not your day. pic.twitter.com/q51AP1yo9V
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) September 18, 2016
However, the drive was ruined by a strip-sack when a Michael Thomas blitz came unblocked. Patriots recovered but had to punt.
Dolphins have come back to make it 31-24. They've basically come back with the Patriots' own offense, crossing patterns and wheel routes. Plus, Justin Coleman has slipped on the grass in coverage on Kenny Stills at least twice, including that earlier touchdown.
Shocking ending averted in New England. Stephen Gostkowski misses wide right on a 39-yard field goal (!) and the Dolphins march it up the field but run out of downs and Ryan Tannehill throws a pick in the end zone on fourth-and-5 with 0:09 left. The Patriots escaped this one but it's not good that this defense gave up so many yards in the second half. They've got to be able to cover crossing patterns. I know there was a time of possession change after Brissett came in, but I doubt this was about the defense being tired.
Also, this is my own little small obsession, but I'm hung up on the question of who plays backup quarterback for the Pats on Thursday night, assuming Garappolo can't play. Who can they bring in with four days to prepare? My only thought is Ryan Lindley or Matt Flynn, who were in camp with them last year. But Lindley is just so, so bad.
As for the Dolphins defense -- things were better in the second half but I think you can chalk that up to the backup quarterback and a couple of drops by Julian Edelman. (Brissett was 6-for-9, and two of those incompletes were straight-out Edelman drops.) I said on Twitter that I would spend the game trying to track Ndamukong Suh; I stopped after the first half because I wanted to watch Brissett, but in the half I watched him closely, he was not a big factor. He's a factor, certainly. He draws a double-team on nearly every play, run or pass, usually the center and the right guard. But he never beat that double-team, and the Dolphins got most of their (rare) pass pressure on plays where he was off the field. A few times he drew just the right guard -- usually that was Ted Karras, rather than Shaq Mason, and Karras held his own on those plays. Suh was better against the run, where he had a habit of rolling off his block to help grab Blount once Blount was a yard or so behind him.
Anyway, only one half of plays here, not a definite statement on the player, but he certainly wasn't a game-changer today.
One more thing to add: This is one of the things that causes DVOA to sometimes disagree with final results. DVOA will give the Dolphins a lot of credit for their final drive, even though it did not reach the end zone. Just gaining the yardage to be in position to tie the game shows good play.
Baltimore Ravens 25 at Cleveland Browns 20
Aaron Schatz: Cleveland leading Baltimore 14-0. I'm seeing a lot of comments online about "Oh, this must mean Buffalo is horrible because they lost to Baltimore" or "Oh, this must mean Philadelphia is amazingly good."
Week 1 is National Jump to Conclusions Week. Week 2 is Pretend Sample Size is Meaningless So Any Week-to-Week Differences Are Shocking Week.
Sterling Xie: ... and all the fantasy owners who bought low on Gary Barnidge because of the McCown connection sigh.
Bryan Knowles: Josh McCown, who has been putting in a gutty performance coming off the bench, just threw an interception that's going to pretty much seal it. After jumping to a 20-point lead, the Browns gave up 25 consecutive points, and the dream of 0-16 stays alive.
Cincinnati Bengals 16 at Pittsburgh Steelers 24
Scott Kacsmar: Rain is having an impact so far with gripping the ball. Both teams have called their share of runs. Ben Roethlisberger had another one of those "Quarterback Release Slipped" plays we only chart a few of per season. He also may have lost his grip on a fourth-down throw that Adam Jones intercepted, only to lose some field position for the Bengals. Antonio Brown cut in, but the throw went out. But on the next drive, Roethlisberger shows why the Steelers can afford to lose various skill players and keep producing. First, a classic improv scramble and deep ball for Sammie Coates. Then a strike over the middle to Xavier Grimble, who makes a nice move on his first career catch for a touchdown. I'll admit I don't know every single Pittsburgh player like I used to now that I try to cover all 32 teams, but Grimble's name never once came up in the offseason work that went into FOA 2016. This is the first I've heard of him, and between that play and a nice catch by Jesse James earlier, the Steelers aren't exactly hurting without Heath Miller and Ladarius Green.
The rain has stopped and we're seeing more pass plays now. The Steelers have moved the ball better than Cincinnati, but not sure I would ever advise a quick pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey in traffic on third down. That stops another promising drive with the Steelers up 7-3.
Vince Verhei: If there was any doubt about mutual dislike in this game, well, forget it. They are POPPING each other, on both sides of the ball. Every block, every tackle, every hit on a receiver is delivered at 100 percent.
Scott Kacsmar: Bengals are stuck in a field position battle. They're not moving the ball, so they punt deep in their own end and the Steelers aren't taking advantage on their end. While the rain stopped, the field looks pretty chewed up again. On a third-and-10, Roethlisberger slipped, but got up and found Brown wide open for the first down, only to see him drop it, a very rare sight. And safety Mike Mitchell is daring to get fined for a cheap shot here.
Dre Kirkpatrick did a good job of picking off a deep ball from Roethlisberger to Coates. The Bengals took advantage of that with a late field goal drive to cut it to 10-6, but at least Artie Burns was able to introduce himself with a pass break-up in the end zone. Not many impact plays at all by the Pittsburgh defense through six quarters this season. Jarvis Jones dropped an interception that Dalton threw right to him on that drive.
Remember when the Steelers were so high on Sammie Coates going into the Denver playoff game even though he barely played in 2015? Then when Martavis Bryant was suspended for 2016, Coates seemed like a natural pick to try filling that void, or at least be the third wideout on the depth chart. But a shaky preseason with some fumbles led to him falling behind Eli Rogers and apparently DHB. But at least through seven quarters, common sense seems to have won out. Coates has three catches of 40-plus yards this season and is doing Bryant-like things for this offense. Then there's Jesse James with a Heath Miller-like touchdown and the Steelers are up 17-6 in a sloppy game with a bunch of dropped passes on both sides of the ball by both teams. But the Steelers' new contributors have hung onto enough throws to get this lead.
Aaron Schatz: I do think it makes sense that Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates fit different roles. So if they want to start Marcus Wheaton when he's healthy, then Rogers is the possession slot guy and Coates is there go to deep when they go to four-wide.
Scott Kacsmar: DeAngelo Williams has played too well for Steelers to ignore him once Le'veon Bell returns. Just all but wrapped this game away with some nice runs and catches on a touchdown drive. Of course anyone can catch a pass when you're not even covered in the end zone, but the YAC play he made earlier on a second-and-13 was huge. Much like in Washington when it was 24-16 in the fourth quarter, the Steelers shake off some earlier sloppiness and put everything together for a long touchdown drive.
Carl Yedor: While I wasn't a huge fan of the Bengals not going for two after their touchdown that brought them within 9, I get the feeling that it won't end up mattering because of their struggles moving the ball today. Regardless of whether they hypothetically fail on the two-point conversion on their first touchdown or their second, I doubt they would end up with enough time to get the ball back and kick a field goal.
Although as I have been typing this the Bengals have been moving the ball much better on this drive. We'll see.
Scott Kacsmar: Well that's probably going to be the first real controversial ending of the season. James Harrison is ruled to have forced a Tyler Boyd fumble, and it sure looked like Boyd's knee was down before he lost the ball. The call somehow stood and that all but killed the clock for the Bengals. I definitely do not see conclusive evidence of a fumble, but they kept playing the same angle over and over.
Rob Weintraub: I'd be more pissed about the "fumble" but it merely prevented the inevitable "Bengals score a touchdown but blow the two-point conversion" ending.
Tennessee Titans 16 at Detroit Lions 15
Sterling Xie: Lions just committed three consecutive penalties (two holdings and an offensive pass interference) to wipe out two passing touchdowns and a 14-yard gain. Went from first-and-goal at the 1 to first-and-goal at the 26.
Tom Gower: 12-3 at halftime, Lions up. The Titans have to play perfect football to win, and they have been making mistakes. Like returning kicks out of the end zone, and starting at the 7 after a penalty. That was the first possession. A subsequent one started at the 5 after a hold on a punt return. That ended in a safety. They have been having some but not great success moving the ball -- enough to get to long field goal range a couple times. But a couple Marcus Mariota sacks have made life more difficult there, so they have hit from 46, missed from 51, and eschewed a 56-ish attempt to punt.
The Lions have had more success moving the ball, but the officials have gotten them too. They had three touchdowns taken off the board due to penalties. Ameer Abdullah, if I recall correctly, lost one on a hold -- which was followed by their actual flag-less touchdown. The other two came on back-to-back plays, for offensive pass interference and holding. That possession ended with a field goal attempt. Matthew Stafford has been reasonable. The big surprise to me is that Marvin Jones has been the guy so far, not Golden Tate (5-39 to 1-5), who I thought would have an easier time getting open. Jim Caldwell punted on fourth-and-2 from the Titans 39 after a third-and-short stop; DeMarco Murray got 67 on the next play to set up the punt from the edge of field goal range.
[ad placeholder 3]
Overall, Tennessee's problem remains the same -- they can get random big plays like Murray's 67-yarder or the 32-yard completion to Delanie Walker where the Lions didn't bother to cover him -- but they lack the explosive elements to do it consistently, so they have to be incredibly good at execution to score. And they're not. I'll try not to harp on this too much every single week, but it's unlikely to change this year. And whatever Marcus Mariota may one day be, he's not prime Tom Brady, and that's what the Titans need him to be.
Bryan Knowles: Andre Johnson with an amazing catch through double-coverage to give Tennessee a lead with just over a minute left! That was a heck of a risky pass by Mariota, but he put it right on the spot.
Tom Gower: Obviously, not the result I was expecting given what I wrote 30 minutes of football ago. But Tennessee started moving the ball effectively, especially once Kyle Van Noy went down and the Lions were down to Tahir Whitehead and Thurston Armbrister, signed two weeks ago, as their healthy linebackers. The final game-winning touchdown drive in particular was about spreading the field, in either "regular" personnel or 11, and attacking mostly the middle of the field with short to intermediate throws. The winning score went to Andre Johnson in the middle of the end zone, over Whitehead and amidst a crowd of other defenders. The other score, early in the fourth quarter, was a nice downfield seam throw to Delanie Walker, who finished 8-83.
But the key to the second half to me was that the Lions offense just generated 3 points. They didn't have a consistent run game -- that didn't surprise me too much, since the Titans are trying to focus on that, but I thought the backs and Golden Tate would be productive in the short passing game and give the Titans fits with yards after catch. Didn't happen. Tate had a couple chances at very good catches on downfield throws, but couldn't haul either in and finished with just two receptions. The Titans also found a pass rush. They got their first sack of the season at the end of the first half, and brought down Stafford three times in the final two quarters, including after the Lions crossed midfield on their second-best drive of the half and on the final possession (though the Lions did convert the ensuing third-and-19). But he would throw the ball right to Perrish Cox on the next third down, and Matt Cassel came out for the kneeldowns.
1. Tennessee can move the ball if they go spread with the short to intermediate passing game.
2. DeAndre Levy, who did not play today, is very important to the Lions defense.
4. Last week said a lot more about the Colts defense, which I riffed on last week, than it did about the Lions. No consistent run game, some pressure on Stafford, and I'm not sure what their go-to is aside from maybe the back-shoulder throw to Marvin Jones.
Also, 29 penalties. It was sloppy. Most of the calls were very correct ones. More could have been thrown, I think. I didn't think it was that slanted in favor of one team or the other, but it made it incredibly sloppy.
Further, CBS listed the Lions with seven drops at one point late in the game. Yes, they were droppy.
Cian Fahey: I didn't see any of this game but Tom mentioned the offense working when it goes to spread. This is something I wrote an article on last week.
Tom Gower: Belated erratum: the uncovered Delanie Walker catch led to the missed field goal. The actual field goal drive included a Lions secondary flag on what otherwise would have been a third-down stop.
New Orleans Saints 13 at New York Giants 16
Andrew Potter: That touchdown finally arrives from Drew Brees to Willie Snead on a strange play where John Kuhn is split wide to the right and Snead gets a free run up the seam after setting up narrow on the line on scrimmage at the right hash. Snead was wide open at the goal line.
This game has seen some uncharacteristically good coverage and tackling. Neither pass rush is dominant, but the run games have been contained and the biggest play for both teams is the same play: Victor Cruz had a 40-yard reception, but fumbled at the end of the play on a tackle by Ken Crawley. Eli Manning lost the ball on a strip-sack that could easily have seen Manning ruled down, and the Saints also recovered a Shane Vereen fumble to go three-for-three on loose ball recoveries. Throw in the Giants going for it but failing on an early fourth-and-2 in the red zone -- a decision I liked -- and the Giants themselves are probably the biggest reason the Saints are still in the game.
Bryan Knowles: Giants score no offensive touchdowns, turn the ball over three times ... and still won. That's hard to do -- it's only the 70th time that's happened in NFL history. Add in the fact that they had a minus-3 turnover differential, and it's only the 10th time that's ever occurred. Not what I was expecting after last season's offensive explosion.
Andrew Potter: It's not what I expected after last week's Saints game either, but it's hard to overstate just how different the Saints defense was this week compared to last. The tackling in particular was night-and-day -- in fact both of these defenses tackled well, covered well, and looked remarkably solid against two of the more potentially explosive offenses in the league. Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins were noticeable standouts for the Giants, whereas Craig Robertson looked good on more than just the stat sheet for New Orleans. Honorable mention too for Sterling Moore, who only joined the Saints less than a fortnight ago but was matched up against Odell Beckham time and again to good effect -- Beckham got his yards, which you'd expect, but his biggest play came on one of the few targets where Moore was not covering him (Moore still got the cleanup tackle).
The Giants spoke after the game about forcing Brees to move off his spot, but I didn't actually see a lot of that -- what I saw was good coverage and good tackling forcing offenses to execute repeatedly to sustain drives. The Giants have better receivers at this point to enable them to do that, and generally better defenders to prevent the Saints from doing so, but were still dependent on a field goal return touchdown to actually win the game. If the Giants defense can play at this level all season, they're very well positioned to win the NFC East.
Seattle Seahawks 3 at Los Angeles Rams 9
Carl Yedor: Predictable start in Los Angeles so far. The Rams defensive line has been making the Seahawks offensive line look like they should've been playing yesterday. But a key offsides penalty on a third-and-long gives the Seahawks a second chance and they subsequently convert the third-and-5. There have been a lot of penalties so far (eight at the end of the first quarter), and I don't expect that to change going forward.
Vince Verhei: So you know how San Francisco has had 16 possessions (and counting) today? First quarter ends, and the Seahawks are still in their second drive. I believe four of their five rushing plays have been stuffed for no gain or a loss, but unlike last week, Russell Wilson has found just enough receivers open downfield to move the ball.
And as the second quarter begins, the Rams defense stands and Seattle kicks a short field goal to tie the game 3-3. Rams got on the board first with the usual anti-Seattle, death-by-a-thousand-curl-routes game plan to get a field goal.
Sadly, the Rams' magic talisman that makes Seattle play so bad apparently made the trip from St. Louis. I was really hoping it was buried under the dome. Thomas Rawls currently has seven carries for minus-7 yards. I believe that is bad. And he has a knee injury and may not return. The pass blocking has actually been much better for Seattle, until the last play of the half, when Robert Quinn smokes Bradley Sowell for a sack-fumble to ensure Seattle doesn't get a chance at a field goal. Still, the passing game has worked so much better, you have to think they'll stick with it more in the second half.
The Rams added a field goal on their last drive, thanks mostly to a 44-yard Lance Kendricks reception when Seattle blew coverage against him. Second time in a week that the opponents' biggest play has come from blown coverage. So they're up 6-3 going into the second half.
But yes, it's the usual Rams-Seahawks game, where it seems like it they may as well just get rid of the ball and have a big battle royal instead.
Bryan Knowles: Seattle just doesn't seem right. At the half, they've run the ball 14 times for a grand total of 14 yards. Wilson has been sacked once and hit five more times. The Rams' defense is taking advantage of Seattle's questionable offensive line... but can't get anything going themselves when they have the ball. They're holding on to a 6-3 lead, and with the way Seattle's offense is going, that just might be enough. L.A. would be doing better if they could get a rushing game going, too, but Todd Gurley's at just 19 yards on the ground.
Football's weird sometimes, and the fact that the Rams are 3-1 against Seattle over the past two years is exhibit A.
Vince Verhei: Rams are moving on their first drive of the second half and threatening to move into scoring range, but Frank Clark gets a sack on third-and-long to stop that. Clark actually lined up at nose tackle on the play, and knifed through the A-gap so quickly the guard and center couldn't even get out of their stances.
Three quarters down in Los Angeles, and the Rams are still up 6-3 and once again threatening to cross into the red zone. I can accept the offensive struggles because Seattle's line is so bad and L.A.'s defensive line is so good. But I would sure like to know why all these terrible Rams quarterbacks look so good against Seattle.
Cian Fahey: Sheil Kapadia had a great tweet on Tavon Austin.
Through six quarters, Rams WR Tavon Austin has 34 receiving yards on 19 targets. 21 yards on 7 targets today vs. Seahawks.
— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) September 18, 2016
Aaron Schatz: Tavon Austin would be a lot more useful if he was in the Randall Cobb role on a team that had an Aaron Rodgers and a Jordy Nelson, but even then, he wouldn't be a good enough slot receiver to be the equal of Cobb. You can't make a gimmick player your No. 1 receiver.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks get a sack on third-and-long inside the Rams 10 and are going to get the ball back in great field position with plenty of time -- but it's a face mask on Cassius Marsh, and a first down for L.A. Remarkably, Seattle still forces a punt, but now they need 89 yards with one timeout and 1:53 to go.
Welp. Wilson hits one big play to Tyler Lockett to enter Rams territory, but then on third down Christine Michael fumbles after a reception, Rams recover, and that's that.
For all the success Seattle has had in recent years, they are now 4-5 against the Rams in the Russell Wilson era.
Bryan Knowles: Rams force a fumble, fall on it, and that will be the game. Jeff Fisher has a voodoo doll of Seattle hidden somewhere... or is it possible the Seahawks just aren't as good as they have been? That's two games now where they have struggled with a powerful defensive line. Things don't get a heck of a lot easier for them coming up, either -- the 49ers are the easiest draw, with two first-round picks on their line, and then they get the Jets with Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson. I'd predict they'd get quite a bit of their mojo back next week at home against San Francisco, but the interior of their offensive line is just a disaster at this point, relying too much on Wilson making something out of nothing play in and play out.
[ad placeholder 4]
Rivers McCown: Been seeing some Twitter talk about Russell Wilson's numbers being way down -- he's on a ridiculous pressure pace right now. I'm honestly not sure the Seahawks would have a worse offensive line if they signed five new guys off practice squads. It's almost like relying on Bradley Sowell and J'Marcus Webb was not wise.
Bryan Knowles: Russell Wilson did not throw a touchdown pass, breaking the longest-active NFL streak.
The new active leader? Blaine Gabbert.
We live in interesting times.
Vince Verhei: You know the worst thing about this loss? Once again, a horrible Rams quarterback looks great against what is usually a very good defense. Case Keenum completed 60 percent for an 8.0-yard average, and if anything looked better than that -- a lot of those were throws into very tight windows, often down the left sideline.
Oh, and I did some math. Seahawks had 24 runs. Ten of them went for no gain or a loss. That's a stuff rate of 42 percent. Forty. Two.
Jacksonville Jaguars 14 at San Diego Chargers 38
Bryan Knowles: Chargers can't catch a break. Danny Woodhead was carted off the field with what looked like a knee injury, just a week after losing Keenan Allen. Hasn't hurt them yet -- they just scored again to go up 14-0 -- but that's potentially two major injuries to key players in two weeks for San Diego.
I will say that the Chargers don't seem to be missing Keenan Allen much today. Travis Benjamin's doing a fine job filling in with a touchdown reception and a nice 43-yard catch-and-run when matched up against Paul Posluszny -- that's a matchup the Chargers will take all day.
Andrew Potter: Uuuuugh. That Tyrell Williams touchdown for San Diego is just completely unacceptable defense by the Jaguars. He should have been tackled by at least three different players, without even considering how he was open by 10 yards on a third-and-12 shallow cross in the first place.
Tom Gower: I'm not watching this game, but I thought this tweet encapsulated the situation quite nicely.
Remember how long ago the patriots undefeated season was? They've lost 32 games since. Gus Bradley will have his 39th loss since 2013 today.
— chaps (@UncleChaps) September 18, 2016
Yes, the Patriots have in fact only lost 32 regular season games since the start of the 2007 season.
Scott Kacsmar: I know the Chargers have gotten the better of this matchup in recent years, but disappointed that the Jaguars were not more competitive today. An offense missing two of its top wideouts and Danny Woodhead for most of the day had its way with the defense.
Indianapolis Colts 20 at Denver Broncos 34
Aaron Schatz: You think to yourself, "You know, this is two games of Trevor Siemian making some pretty reasonable throws, maybe he really is a starting-quality quarterback." Then you remember the Colts defense is bad and is missing something like five cornerbacks due to injury. So again, I don't know what to make of Siemian's performance.
Tom Gower: Broncos up 13-6 at the half. Lead in total yards 294-72. Colts had one big play to set up their first field goal and the second came off what would have been a pick-6 had Darius Butler's hamstring cooperated instead of taking him out for the game (designed screen, Siemian didn't see Butler coming). Broncos defense against Colts offense has mostly looked like you'd expect, especially with Donte Moncrief down after an early injury. Luck through 14 dropbacks had been pressured seven times and hit five. He was 12-of-13 for 40 yards.
And C.J. Anderson, who had Denver's touchdown, is good. I still like watching him play.
Aaron Schatz: Andrew Luck is currently 7-of-20. His best play was a 20-yard scramble to convert third-and-20 when the Broncos left the field wide open for miles in front of him. He's under constant pressure and his throws are missing guys. I know what I said before the season about probabilities and the low odds the Denver defense would be as good as it was last year. DVOA certainly didn't think the Broncos were at that level in Week 1 against Carolina, but they sure as hell are at that level today. We'll have to see if they can keep that up for 16 games, after the injuries inevitably come.
Meanwhile. I don't want to blame the Indianapolis front office for the cascade of injuries at cornerback, but that's just one problem with this team. It's a bit embarrassing how they just can't put a consistent winning ball club around this quarterback. The whole defense is just so mediocre, the offensive line still isn't good, and the running back is definitely in the wind-down phase of his (possibly Hall of Fame-level) career.
Rob Weintraub: Ho-hum, just another fourth-quarter touchdown for the Denver defense...
Scott Kacsmar: I mean, eventually Denver won't make every fourth-quarter stop with a crazy turnover, right?
Aaron Schatz: Andrew Luck just has no protection. None. Denver teeing off on him on the last couple Indy drives was just brutal. And honestly, when he is upright enough to actually throw the ball instead of taking a sack, he doesn't look as good as he did two years ago. I'm not trying to jump to conclusions about this after one game against Denver, but we also know Luck last year had declining numbers even when healthy. I was talking to a Pats reporter watching the second half of this game and he actually brought up Jim Plunkett as a possible historical comp, because Plunkett got so fried by the bad teams New England put around him that his career fell apart until he finally put it back together with the Raiders. Please, please, please let that not happen to Andrew Luck.
Atlanta Falcons 35 at Oakland Raiders 28
Bryan Knowles: To bring back something we talked about in Matt Ryan has had time for most of the day, and they have been going no-huddle and just kept the Raiders backpedalling for most of the day. Stout redzone defense, including an interception, has bailed them out so far, but the Raiders have to figure out what's ailing them defensively, and fast.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7 at Arizona Cardinals 40
Bryan Knowles: No one has commented on this one, so I'll throw one in -- losing to the Patriots on a last-second field goal didn't mean the Cardinals were bad, and beating a questionable Falcons team didn't mean the Buccaneers were great. The Cardinals have jumped out to a 33-7 lead, and look like the Super Bowl contenders many people thought they could be. Jameis Winston has thrown three interceptions and lost a fumble as things have just gone wrong for them in every aspect of the game. Losing Doug Martin early hurt, but they have just been out-classed today.
Green Bay Packers 14 at Minnesota Vikings 17
Tom Gower: 30 minutes of play at US Bank Stadium. Vikings lead 10-7. Packers officially, have, what, 62 yards of offense after the completion to Randall Cobb that ran out the clock on the second quarter? That neglects the big defensive pass interference that set up the touchdown, but it still indicates a Green Bay offense that's fundamentally struggling yet again. No run game, and little inside structure. I miss 2014's offense, or at least its effectiveness. The offense, I think 2015 revealed, was so much about Jordy Nelson's ability to win all over the field and the use of Cobb to succeed in defined roles around that. And when that isn't working, Rodgers just starts improvising and trying stuff, which works sometimes because he's Aaron Rodgers but is not exactly the way you want to run a railroad. I thought they'd be able to pick on Trae Waynes, who Tennessee had success against last week. They have been looking his way at times, but Terence Newman's gotten his looks as well (including the long DPI and end zone penalty), and I just don't know.
For Minnesota, Adrian Peterson just doesn't hit it up into the line. He dances, and when he doesn't go boom at all he looks completely ineffective. And I know from years of watching Chris Johnson squander yards the same way he's not flattering the offensive line. Though to be fair the Vikings actually have the pass protection people think the Colts do. There's a reason things work better when they go shotgun three-step drop and spread the field. I'm admittedly a complete Sam Bradford honk, and he has put some passes into tight windows and the right place at times tonight, including on the touchdown.
Rob Weintraub: The first touchdown in Minnesota's new stadium is from Rodgers to Nelson. Also the first touchdown in the state since beloved hometown boy Prince Rogers Nelson passed away.
Aaron Schatz: Watching Sam Bradford outplay Aaron Rodgers is a bit unexpected. It's hard to argue that Bradford's getting more help than Rodgers -- Stefon Diggs has been awesome, but they aren't getting much from the other receivers and there's no running game. Do we start to get worried about the Green Bay offense? I definitely agreed with a lot of what Cian said in his Film Room column a couple months ago, but they've got Jordy Nelson back now and the offense is still having real issues. We know Rodgers can launch it downfield like a howitzer, do they just have nobody who can run those routes with Jeff Janis out?
(As soon as I write this, Rodgers goes way downfield and Davante Adams draws a DPI, which I guess sort of answers my question.)
Playmaker Score seems to work pretty well. When you see DeVante Parker struggling to make the catches he should be making given his skill set, and you read stories about how Kevin White is struggling in Chicago because he can't run a whole route tree, I think we see how Playmaker Score does a good job of identifying receivers who may have excellent physical characteristics but just aren't coming out of college with the technique needed to be a starting NFL wide receiver. Being a star receiver in the NFL is about more than just dominant athletic talent. And of course the best example of this in recent years, one of Playmaker's accurate negative predictions, is a player who is also in this game and has undeniable athletic talent but just can't play wide receiver: Cordarrelle Patterson.
Vince Verhei: The original version of Playmaker saw bad things for Patterson, and for Tavon Austin.
Tom Gower: I loved the way the Vikings ended the game after the interception, throwing the pass for Diggs on third down rather than settling for another ineffective run that had very little chance at converting, and then being smart enough to run a play on fourth down to kill the final three seconds.
Rivers McCown: How many more snaps can the Packers waste on Davante Adams?