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

Audibles at the Line: Week 3

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 emails 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 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.

Denver Broncos 29 at Cincinnati Bengals 17

Bryan Knowles: The Bengals had just 103 rushing yards entering today, but they have had some early success against Denver's tough defense. On their first drive, Jeremy Hill burst out for a 50-yard run, setting up a touchdown a few plays later. Pure power running; the Bengals offensive line more than held their own against Denver's front seven on that series.

Aaron Schatz: Jake Fisher came in as a sixth lineman on the left side for that long Hill run and made an outstanding block on Todd Davis.

Trevor Siemian does not look good today. He has missed totally open guys in the end zone a couple times. And then, a good example of where numbers do not tell the whole truth, the Broncos were gifted an extra drive when Adam Jones fumbled a punt return away. Siemian threw a 41-yard touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders after Sanders beat Jones deep. So yeah, I suppose that's great, deep touchdown. But when you watch the play it's clear Siemian totally underthrew that pass. Sanders has to turn around and basket-catch it near his knees and then fall back into the end zone. I doubt that's how they drew the play up. I'm guessing Sanders was supposed to catch it over his shoulder.

To follow up on the nice Jake Fisher run-block earlier, he just came in as sixth lineman for a pass and got schooled by Shane Ray. First of two consecutive sacks for Denver. The Broncos run defense has had problems but the pass rush is very on.

Scott Kacsmar: I'm surprised at how much success Emmanuel Sanders has had given how well Cincinnati has defended the big-time receivers this year (Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and Antonio Brown). First play of the fourth quarter, Bengals down 16-14, Andy Dalton's pass popped into the air, and I'm shocked a Bronco didn't come away with an interception given their history for such things.

Aaron Schatz: Well, turns out Trevor Siemian was a lot better in the second half today. Good job finding the right guys under pressure, throws were better as well. Just launched a 55-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas on a third-and-11 that was a better throw than the underthrown deep touchdown to Sanders earlier.

Meanwhile, the Bengals offense shut down in the fourth quarter. A.J. Green dropped an easy catch that would have converted third-and-3, and that was the first Bengals three-and-out. Then after the Broncos went up 29-17, Andy Dalton's first pass was to a completely covered C.J. Uzomah, and T.J. Ward tipped it up for a pick by Will Parks. That's likely the end of the game.

Minnesota Vikings 22 at Carolina Panthers 10

Cian Fahey: Vikings defense got the Panthers into a difficult third-and-long on the second drive but a perfect pass from Cam Newton followed by a read-option run allows the drive to finish in a touchdown.

Vince Verhei: Meanwhile, in Carolina, a big play that wasn't. Fozzy Whittaker took a swing pass and humiliated at least three Vikings, who were falling all over themselves just trying to get a hand on him in the open field. They made him look like peak Barry Sanders instead of, you know, Fozzy Whittaker. Unfortunately for Carolina the play was called back for a block in the back by Kelvin Benjamin, a good call, but a block that had nothing to do with the play.

Cian Fahey: The Minnesota-Carolina game has been dull through a quarter and a half. Vikings can't get anything going offensively and Newton is having an inconsistent outing.

The Vikings can't block anyone. Even the underwhelming Panthers defensive ends look excellent in this game.

The Vikings offensive line held up better at the start of the third quarter and it resulted in a sustained touchdown drive. Sam Bradford finished it off with a nice throw to Kyle Rudolph who beat Shaq Thompson down the left sideline.

Cam's processing from the pocket has been slow all game. Vikings are rushing contain so he is being given time, but too often holding ball in place and staring at one area of coverage. It led to a sack in the third quarter before an interception that came on an extremely late throw.

Scott Kacsmar: I'm really surprised that Minnesota came back to take the lead after Carolina seemed to be rolling earlier. Minnesota's non-offensive units continue to score at an unsustainable rate, but the Cam Newton safety-sack was really poor awareness. I also thought Jerick McKinnon's two-point conversion run was the type of run Adrian Peterson won't make anymore. By the way, I think we did a piece on ESPN Insider many months ago about which teams could follow Denver's 2015 blueprint for a Super Bowl. The Vikings were one of those teams, and they sure seem to be on track with a dominant defense and not much offense.

Bryan Knowles: How has Cam looked after he left the game with an ankle injury? His splits are crazy -- 6-for-6 before leaving the game, and 8-for-16 since then. Might explain some of the sacks he's taking?

Cian Fahey: If his first two games are anything to go by Sam Bradford is going to be worth the picks the Vikings gave up to acquire him. With Shaun Hill in the lineup for these two games they would have lost both. Bradford made good decision throughout all four quarters and showed off good accuracy while making difficult throws to covered receivers.

From the Panthers' perspective, Cam Newton had a bad game and they couldn't run the ball because of the Vikings' discipline against the run. The Vikings defense may be just as good as Denver's.

Baltimore Ravens 19 at Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Andrew Potter: Five drives, five punts so far in Jacksonville. Admittedly some impressive punts so far, though the best of those -- Sam Koch dropped the ball at the Jacksonville 2-yard line -- was negated by a holding penalty. After a false start on the second attempt, the third attempt was returned to the 30 for a 28-yard field position swing.

The most exciting moment of the game came from the arm of Blake Bortles, who on second down almost hit a wide-open Kamalei Correa for a pick-six. Slightly overthrew him though, and Jacksonville settled for punting to Baltimore instead.

Cian Fahey: Blake Bortles continues to make the same mistakes in his career that he made during the early stages of his rookie career. Jaguars can't get better if he doesn't get better.

Andrew Potter: Rumor has it one of the major stalling points in the U.K.'s Brexit negotiations is London's attempt to get Berlin to take over hosting the Jaguars games.

More seriously, this Jaguars team is making zero progress, despite significant investment in both free agency and draft capital. So far it's the exact same team it was last year.

Rivers McCown: Coaching matters.

To expand on the point, it's almost like having Paul Posluszny and Dan Skuta cover NFL slot receivers is going to end poorly.

Andrew Potter: Halftime in Jacksonville, Ravens lead 13-7. The final two-play sequence of the first half was epitomic of the rest of the half: Baltimore is driving toward the edge of field goal range with no timeouts and 31 seconds left. The third-and-10 pass to Chris Moore is complete for a gain of 2 yards to Jacksonville's 39 but the receiver is tackled inbounds so the clock keeps running. The Ravens rush their field goal unit out to attempt the 57-yarder, but the kick falls short as time expires.

Except Dante Fowler, for reasons known only to Dante Fowler, attempted to jump over the right guard out of his three-point stance. Of course, he failed and was called for leverage. On the resultant untimed down, Justin Tucker nailed the 42-yarder to put the Ravens up by six.

Bryan Knowles: Joe Flacco had 21 consecutive completions, and could have had more, but Mike Wallace dropped a perfectly-thrown touchdown pass. That's a franchise record, but three short of the single-game NFL record.

Andrew Potter: Unsurprisingly, Flacco's previous incompletion before the streak was also deep right to Mike Wallace. Baltimore punted that time, got a field goal this.

Overall, the completion streak resulted in one touchdown, one punt, and three field goals, due in part to two sacks (one fumbled but recovered by the Ravens), a two-yard loss on a third-and-3 completion, and a two-yard gain on a third-and-10 before halftime.

Cian Fahey: The Allen Robinson touchdown catch that was called incomplete then overturned appears to be a "He had it for long enough" ruling. It's only reaffirming my perplexity with the rulebook.

Andrew Potter: This game has gone completely nuts since the start of the fourth quarter. First, Devin Hester muffed a punt straight to Denard Robinson to put the Jaguars straight into field-goal range. They went three-and-out, but got three points anyway.

Then on Baltimore's next drive, Flacco threw a pass about 5 yards behind Crockett Gillmore, which Jalen Ramsey tipped to Tashaun Gipson. Jacksonville was once again straight into field goal range, with under five minutes remaining. After two runs for no gain, Blake Bortles threw a pass on third down that was tipped by Timmy Jernigan into the hands of Tavon Young, and Baltimore had the ball back ...

... but Joe Flacco, on the very next play, had his arm hit by Dante Fowler, and his awkward pass was intercepted by Paul Posluszny, yet again giving Jacksonville the ball in field goal range. Jacksonville went three-and-out again, with a third-down sack on Blake Bortles turning a 44-yard field goal attempt into a 52-yarder. Baltimore promptly blocked the kick, and recovered the ball at their own 43.

After a 30-yard Ravens drive following the field goal block, Justin Tucker nails a 53-yarder to give Baltimore a two-point lead. One minute remaining, it's Blake Bortles time…

... time for an inexcusable sack, horrible hold by Jermey Parnell, and a Hail Mary interception, that is.

Aaron Schatz: Not a Hail Mary interception, really. It was third-and-21, but he didn't just throw it up there for whoever could come down with it. It was 33 yards downfield, and I think he was legitimately trying to hit Allen Hurns. Certainly won't count as a Hail Mary for DVOA purposes.

Washington Redskins 29 at New York Giants 27

Cian Fahey: Sterling Shepard caught a touchdown against Washington early on. He was a focus in film room this week.

Bryan Knowles: Shepard's touchdown came out of the slot, and Washington's missing Bashaud Breeland today, who should be covering that. That might be a mismatch going forward; it looked like it was Dashaun Phillips back there.

Vince Verhei: Big punt return by Washington's Jamison Crowder, who looked like he was going to be tackled inside the 15 at the left sideline, but escaped that and ran straight horizontal, breaking another tackle at midfield, then navigating through traffic and tip-toeing down the right sideline for a 50-yard gain. Also note Duke Ihenacho, who wiped out two Giants on the play.

Rivers McCown: Kirk Cousins has played so poorly early on that the Washington offense in the early portion of this game has largely devolved into running back draws, penalties, and field goal attempts. Only three field goals away from the lead!

Bryan Knowles: This Sterling Shepard kid might be able to play. Three catches for 53 yards so far today and a touchdown, adding on to 11 catches and a touchdown from the first two weeks. Playmaker was a little lukewarm on him, and as mentioned earlier, he's going against a backup in the slot against Washington, but I'm very impressed with him so far.

Carl Yedor: Washington's clock management cost them points at the end of the half. Rather than using their last timeout after a Jordan Reed completion inside the 5 with around 22 seconds left, they ran to the line and spiked it, costing them around 10 seconds. Instead of having potentially three chances to take a shot at the end zone before kicking a field goal, they only had two, with the second play being a sack of Cousins as time expired in the first half. So after a big fumble recovery to keep New York from scoring, Washington didn't get any points of their own either.

Vince Verhei: Crowder's big day continues, as he gets a 55-yard touchdown on third-and-15 to put Washington ahead. It was a wide receiver screen caught 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage, so let's credit Crowder and the linemen more than Kirk Cousins for that one.

Scott Kacsmar: One of the best throws today had to be Kirk Cousins' touchdown bomb to DeSean Jackson. Unfortunately, one of the worst plays today was Cousins not making a quick decision with six seconds left in the half, costing his team points. Then this game also featured one of the biggest ALEX failures on defense this season after Jamison Crowder's 55-yard screen touchdown on a third-and-15.

Vince Verhei: Giants wideouts looked to have taken over this game. Shepard caught a ball on a cross and held on after a wicked shot from Josh Norman, getting the catch and the personal foul. Then Odell Beckham takes a short curl and breaks three tackles for a big gain. Just when it looks like the Giants are going to take the lead, though, Eli Manning throws ahead of Will Tye in the end zone, and Quinton Dunbar gets the interception.

Bryan Knowles: More punting excitement in this one -- New York plows through the line and blocks a punt deep in Washington territory! To add insult to injury, Washington gets flagged for an illegal bat, shoving the ball out of bounds. Giants have terrific field position.

Aaaand as I type that, it gets called back due to penalty. HUGE break for Washington there.

Vince Verhei: Beckham went postal on the sidelines, attacking the kicking net, which attacked him back.

Eli had to pull him aside and give him a talk to calm him down. First time I have realized how small Beckham is. Eli looked like a monster next to him. 

There's so much going on here that I didn't even mention Washington's fake punt earlier. Nothing complicated, Tress Way just took the ball and lobbed it to the the gunner, Quinton Dunbar, who wasn't even that open, but beat his man for a big reception. Then in the fourth, the Giants block a punt, but the play is wiped out by offsetting penalties (illegal batting on Washington to knock the ball out of bounds, then a very dirty hit downfield on Washington's gunner). This game has been nutty.

Cleveland Browns 24 at Miami Dolphins 30 (OT)

Vince Verhei: In a desperate situation, Browns are getting creative, rotating Cody Kessler and Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. Very early results favor Pryor, who has a 26-yard completion to Gary Barnidge and a 15-yard run. And now he just added an 18-yard reception. He's doing everything! But the Browns have lost a Kessler fumble and missed a field goal, and the Dolphins have a 26-yard touchdown to DeVante Parker, and the Dolphins are up 7-0.

I don't want to say that Ryan Tannehill is underwhelming, but he just caved under pressure and threw a terrible pick-six to Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who sounds more like a Harry Potter character than an NFL defensive back. Browns now lead 10-7.

After the first quarter fun and games, it was pretty much all Kessler at quarterback for Cleveland and Pryor at wideout -- Pryor has a team-high 95 yards receiving. But with a 13-24 deficit and a third down in the red zone, Kessler was sacked and fumbled again, and the Dolphins recovered for a big return. However! The play was called back for offsides on Miami, and Kessler had to leave with what looked like a rib injury. Chaos reigned as Charlie Whitehurst was warming up, but Pryor went out to take snaps. He went right end to convert the third-and-2, then left end for a 3-yard touchdown run. Kessler then returned and hit Barnidge for the 2-point conversion, and Miami now leads 24-21. 

Pryor, by the way, was also on the field on defense for Miami's Hail Mary at the end of the half. He really is doing everything today.

Stop me if you have heard this before, but the Browns have a third down in the red zone when Kessler is hit and fumbles. Again, the Dolphins recover and get a good return, but again the play is wiped out -- this time it is ruled an incomplete pass. Browns kick a field goal and the game is tied.

Bryan Knowles: Ryan Tannehill sacked, fumbles, and Cleveland has the ball with 20 seconds left and in range for a long field goal attempt. Survivor pools around the country clutch their pearls.

Andrew Potter: If you picked the Dolphins to win in your survivor pool, you deserve all you (don't) get. Even against Cleveland.

Bryan Knowles: You gotta pick 'em at some point! I picked against 'em in Weeks 1 and 2, and now here I am, hoping for a Ryan Tannehill miracle.

...and it's WIDE left. Cody Parkey, who was just signed this week, has now missed three 40-ish yard field goals.

Vince Verhei: Parkey has already missed from 41 and 42 today, but Browns make no effort to get him closer. They take a knee on first down and call timeout out with a seconds to go, but Parkey comes on and misses from 46. NEVER SETTLE FOR THE LONG FIELD GOAL.

Scott Kacsmar: At this rate, Cody Parkey's leg might decide which team gets the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Bryan Knowles: Cleveland wins the overtime coin toss... and opts to kick. If Bill Belichick gets flack for kicking in overtime last year, than Hue Jackson gets the same but worse, right?

Andrew Potter: Miami's last four drives have gone punt, punt, punt, fumble. Getting the ball only needing a field goal to end the game would be much better than getting it needing a touchdown.

Aaron Schatz: Analytics? We wondered when Belichick chose to kick in overtime, but if Cleveland decided to do it, I would be pretty sure there's some analytics there. I can't imagine it's very windy in Miami today.

And... Ex-Miami CB Jamar Taylor just handed Miami a win with terrible coverage on Jarvis Landry. I don't know if Taylor bit on the play-fake, or was playing a short zone when he was supposed to be playing man or a deep zone, but he left Landry wide-open. That's a 32-yard gain, then Jay Ajayi runs 11 yards into the end zone on the next play for the 30-24 win.

Tom Gower: It's not just that Cleveland won the toss and elected not to receive, but that they expressly decided to kick rather than to take the wind in one direction or the other (which has generally been a major reason teams in the past have chosen to not receive). Strange. I'll be curious to see whatever explanation they proffer.

Scott Kacsmar: I liked Cleveland's kickoff decision. Wouldn't have trusted either offense to get a touchdown on a long field.

Sterling Xie: In a year all about finding parts for the future, Terrelle Pryor looks like a nice gem for the Browns. I'm not even really talking about his time as a Wildcat quarterback. How often do you see teams try to take toolsy athletes and try to turn them into receivers, only to have it fail miserably? Recent draftees like Cordarrelle Patterson, Stephen Hill, and Dorial Green-Beckham (maybe still too early to judge) pop to mind. Pryor seems to have great ball skills to go with a textbook physical profiile, and while it's hard to evaluate his route-running against Miami's secondary, he certainly didn't have much problem getting open.

This game seemed like Ryan Tannehill in a nutshell. The numbers at the end don't look so bad, and he made his fair share of big plays. But those two early picks were head-scratchers, and the fumble on Miami's final play in regulation is the type of killer mistake that just a little game awareness would help avoid. When you think about the Dolphins since 2012, an edge-of-the-seat home win against Cleveland sounds like the most Dolphins-y game ever.

Arizona Cardinals 18 at Buffalo Bills 33

Bryan Knowles: We all had Buffalo with 142 yards and Arizona with -3 at the end of the first quarter, right? I don't know how Arizona's pokey offense can keep up with the offensive juggernaut that is the Buffalo Bills.

Patrick Peterson just came down with a fantastic, one-handed interception down the sideline. It was third-and-forever and the Bills were pinned pretty deep, so it might have been better had he not actually caught it, but that was a phenomenal play.

Vince Verhei: LeSean McCoy takes a sweep around left end for a 5-yard touchdown to put Buffalo up 17-0. Arizona has had the ball five times and gone three-and-out every time.

Bryan Knowles: This is standing as one of the surprises of the week, so far. LeSean McCoy just punched it in to give the Bills a 17-0 lead, and Arizona has yet to get even a first down. Arizona is particularly having trouble with the outside running game; LeSean McCoy's up to 79 yards already, most of that to the outside, and Tyrod Taylor set a Bills record with a 49-yard quarterback run earlier. Passing game isn't exactly firing on all cylinders yet, but if Arizona can't get warmed up, that won't matter.

Aaron Schatz: I totally forgot that Arizona is another Pacific Time Zone team playing at 1 p.m. on the East Coast. It doesn't always make a difference, but it's definitely an overall trend.

Vince Verhei: After 20-some minutes of futility, Cardinals' sixth drive goes 17 plays, 84 yards, and eats more than nine minutes of clock, and ends with a David Johnson 4-yard touchdown run. But even then, they were fortunate to cross midfield. Their first first down came after a third-and-1 measurement, then Carson Palmer was sacked on third-and-long, but Jerry Hughes yanked Palmer's helmet off for a personal foul and a first down. Imagine that, a Rex Ryan defense showing poor discipline. From there, they finally look like the familiar Cards and go on to score.

Bryan Knowles: We mentioned Arizona possibly struggling because it's a 1 p.m. Eastern game on the road -- and Arizona is 16-23 in those sorts of games since 2007 -- but this is their third straight game with a slow start. Arizona is yet to score a point in the first quarter this season, though that might be bad luck more than anything else; their 177 yards of first-quarter offense was 11th in the league entering this week.

The narrative coming out of this one, assuming it holds up, is that firing Greg Roman gave Buffalo the kick they needed to be competitive and lit a fire underneath them and all those types of cliches, but the Bills had 393 yards of offense last week. It's the defense that has stepped up so far in this one.

Vince Verhei: And it's just not Arizona's day. They line up for a short field goal, but the ball goes over the holder's head, and neither kicker nor holder are able to reel the ball in, and the Bills recover and run it back for a touchdown to go up 30-7.

Bryan Knowles: Doesn't help that punter and holder Drew Butler has an ankle injury, so there was no way he could run the loose ball down and fall on it.

Scott Kacsmar: Looks like a major Super Bowl contender is about to start 1-2. The early start time and travel for Arizona, combined with Buffalo's urgency, had me thinking trap game, but I expected much more from the Cardinals than this. Bruce Arians blew a chance to challenge a catch earlier on a drive that led to a Buffalo touchdown, and that's the kind of example people will cite from a western team sleepwalking through a first half. But Carson Palmer got off to a very poor start, and that blown field goal snap for a touchdown was a killer. Arizona's special teams have been a real letdown so far.

Vince Verhei: Cards get a 60-yard field goal and are only down two touchdowns now. Bills get to midfield and try a triple option to the left. Tyrann Mathieu totally blows it up and forces a fumble, and it looks like either he or one of his teammates will be in prime position for a scoop and score. Instead they kick it and bat it all the way across the field to the other sideline where it goes out of bounds, so Bills maintain possession. They go on to punt and pin the Cardinals inside the 5.

Sterling Xie: There will rightfully be a lot of focus on Carson Palmer's woefully inefficient day (26-for-50 with four fourth-quarter interceptions). This is just the fourth game under Bruce Arians where Palmer has failed to throw a touchdown, and one of the others was the Rams game where he tore his ACL and left early. What stuck out to me was how well prepared the Bills were for Palmer's deep throws. I think the commentators made note of this at one point. It's not so much that Palmer's deep throws were off target, but that Buffalo's defensive backs were consistently in great position to make plays on them. Kudos in particular to Aaron Williams, Stephon Gilmore, and Corey Graham for being around the ball the entire afternoon.

Questions about Tyrod Taylor's apparent 2016 regression still aren't solved after this game, but hey, he didn't have Sammy Watkins and wasn't really forced to make too many plays with his arm given the success of the running game. It's probably not a particularly sustainable formula -- gee, do you think Bill Belichick will hone in on LeSean McCoy in this week's game plan? -- so I'm still a pretty skeptical the Bills offense is going to look better without Greg Roman. Then again, if the defense is going to play anywhere close to this level moving forward, the offense has a lot more margin for error.

Following up on some of the time zone discussion: Arizona is now 5-5 in Eastern standard time under Arians, which includes its two playoff losses at Carolina. Definitely a small sample size, but it's worth pointing out that the Cardinals are 0-4 in those games against playoff teams. Besides the two Panthers losses, they also lost to the 2015 Steelers (without Roethlisberger) and the 2013 Eagles.

Aaron Schatz: 5-5 at 1 p.m. EST, or 5-5 in any Eastern time zone games no matter what time?

Sterling Xie: Correction, the Cards are 6-6 in the Eastern Time Zone under Arians. I think the 0-4 record vs. playoff teams is still correct, though someone might want to double check that. The 6-6 is no matter what time. At 1 p.m., it's 4-3 now, which doesn't look so bad.

Oakland Raiders 17 at Tennessee Titans 10

Tom Gower: I thought this would be a high-scoring game given Oakland's defense and Tennessee's likely struggles covering Oakland's receivers. Through two possessions, that looked right, as it was 7-3 with the Titans getting to field goal range with ease and Oakland scoring with even less difficulty. Oakland got its field goal following a Marcus Mariota fumble on a third-down scramble (Harry Douglas fumbled but recovered a downfield option pitch earlier, so no fumble luck either way), and increased its lead to 14 points right before half.

Themes of the first half? Tennessee's cornerbacks have had the expected problems. Amari Cooper is winning one-on-one matchups, the Raiders were targeting Perrish Cox, Jason McCourty has given up some catches (the touchdown drive to make it 17-3 had him aligned over Amari Cooper when Cooper was the inside man of trips, which gave him no chance to get a stop on third-and-6), and Seth Roberts made Brice McCain look silly to cap off that touchdown. The post-fumble field-goal drive included on its first play Clive Walford wide-open in the end zone for reasons I didn't bother to figure out, negated by a holding call (the Oakland line was flagged a few times in the first half).

I find myself with surprisingly little to say about Tennessee's offense. They have very little explosiveness, so getting to scoring territory and finishing drives off in the end zone once there require them to be extraordinarily good at consistent execution. It's rarely just one thing, but when you have to convert a lot, it's a lot of little things. You can write down about one maybe missed pass interference here, a run block that should be better there, or the like, but (a) while those individual plays are all important, they're kind of boring to talk about and (b) I can't get beyond the macro-level point, which was true two weeks ago and will be true 14 weeks from now barring something very unusual.

Bryan Knowles: Taylor Lewan with a back-breaking penalty. Marcus Mariota is driving the Titans down the field, bringing them into the red zone -- and Lewan charges 15 yards downfield and dives into the pile after the whistle is blown, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty.

Aaron Schatz: And then, just to make things worse, the Titans get a touchdown catch by a wide-open Andre Johnson... who was wide-open because he committed offensive pass interference. Titans just don't want this tying touchdown, do they?

Yep, Mariota overthrows his receiver in the end zone on fourth down. They don't want it.

Tom Gower: If you had told me before the game that the Titans would shut out the Raiders in the second half, I'd have said they probably win this game. Oakland got to Titans territory four times, but couldn't crack the 39 and that possession ended with an interception off a tipped ball (see, it's not that the Titans defensive backs actually absolutely never make plays on the ball!). A couple third-down drops helped stymie the offense.

Tennessee, I'll probably spend all season saying the same things. They could have used Delanie Walker a lot. Jace Amaro actually led them with 59 yards receiving, 26 of those on a scramble drill play where D.J. Hayden decided to stop looking at him and not to cover him. That set up the Titans' touchdown.

Tennessee receivers did very little most of the time, until the final drive. We have already noted the denouement of that, with the Andre Johnson touchdown negated by offensive pass interference and the incomplete fourth down pass to Harry Douglas. What really got me was the post-Johnson play, a designed quick pass to DeMarco Murray for him to get yards after the catch. On third-and-15. In the final 30 seconds. I have mentioned before I don't really like the ALEX concept, as it unhelpfully and confusingly combines quarterback decision-making and offensive scheming into a single metric, but it's more useful to say "that's an insane ALEX play" instead of "!#%!#@%1 !%1!@%! !#@$!@." Or maybe not. I'd describe that play as emblematic of the Titans' offensive decision-making, and why I hate Mularkey, but we actually had an even better example of that today. I'd go through my Twitter description of the play, but instead I'll link video if I can find it or spare your lives that in favor of something that doesn't make me want to spend 20 minutes banging my head into a wall to see just how that sort of thing feels (actually, I have already done that).

Detroit Lions 27 at Green Bay Packers 34

Vince Verhei: Packers lead 31-10 at the half and the focus is going to be on Aaron Rodgers' first-half touchdowns, but let's not overlook how tremendous Green Bay's rush defense has been. They gave up 1.8 yards per carry to Jacksonville in Week 1 and 1.4 to Minnesota in Week 2, and the Lions are currently at 1.1 yards today. That includes 6 carries for minus-11 yards for Theo Riddick, who is clearly not a running back and the Lions should just give that up and make him a full-time slot receiver, but anyway...

Detroit takes the ball in the third quarter and gets a goal-to-go situation. That drive included many good rushes by Riddick, so perhaps I spoke too soon. At the goal line though, their only run in a Dwayne Washington stuff for a loss, and Matthew Stafford hits Anquan Boldin for a 2-yard score on fourth down.

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Forgot to mention this earlier, but the run defense has been the weakness of Dom Capers' unit ever since he arrived in Green Bay. If they can maintain this kind of dominance at the line of scrimmage, it's likely to be the best Green Bay defense we have seen in quite a while. And they have got plenty of injuries today -- Datone Jones, Letroy Guion, Clay Matthews, and Sam Shields are all out.

Aaron Schatz: This game went from 31-3 to a final score of 34-27. I keep thinking back to the NFC Championship game two years ago. Mike McCarthy just gets absurdly conservative with a big lead. Aaron Rodgers had only 24 pass attempts in this game. The Packers have to stop shutting it down when they take a big early lead.

San Francisco 49ers 18 at Seattle Seahawks 37

Bryan Knowles: The cure for what ails the Seahawks is a game against San Francisco, clearly. They have scored 14 points in the first 11 minutes; they scored 15 points in their first two games combined. They had 179 rushing yards in their first two games and 75 already today, so they could top that number, too.

The 49ers can't stop the Seahawks at all on defense, but to make up for it, they're failing to move the ball on offense, too.

Carl Yedor: What happened to Chip Kelly? After a Jimmy Graham fumble, San Francisco ended up having fourth-and-2 from the 5, where they then proceeded to kick the field goal to cut their deficit to 14-3. Kelly's experience in Philadelphia may be contributing to a more conservative offensive approach.

Rob Weintraub: The 49ers first half in a nutshell: Blaine Gabbert under pressure lobs a quick dump pass out to Shaun Draughn -- who isn't looking. It hits him in the head and falls incomplete, and for good measure he's planted by Bobby Wagner. 24-33 Seattle and it's not that close.

Bryan Knowles: Seattle has tripled San Francisco's offensive output and more than doubled their yards per play. In the past six quarters, the 49ers defense has allowed 840 yards, which I'm pretty sure is bad. They really need to lobby the NFL to play all their games on Mondays at 10 at night, because that's apparently what it takes for them to look like a functional NFL team.

Vince Verhei: Well, this is what Seattle's offense looks like with just average blocking. They're up 24-3 at halftime. And the blocking really hasn't been great, aside from Christine Michael's long touchdown run, where he got to the open field untouched. (That was his first career touchdown run, by the way. That stunned me.) Michael also had one of the best runs that lost yardage you'll ever see, right before Seattle's field goal at the end of the half. NaVorro Bowman hit him for what looked like a loss of 2 or 3, but Michael hit the spin button and looked like he was about to take off. It was a great play by Bowman to recover and bring him to the ground.

Russell Wilson's ankles are still heavily taped, but he's much more mobile than he has been, especially on his scramble-to-the-left-then-throw-back-to-the-middle-of-the-field touchdown to Jimmy Graham

Speaking of Graham, even with that fumble, this is one of his best games in Seattle. He's hit 100 yards at halftime, just his second 100-yard day in a Seahawks uniform, and he's got that touchdown and a 40-yard gain on a deep ball when he outleaped double coverage and took the ball away from Eric Reid

The 49ers offense against Seattle's defense, has been pretty much what we expected. Blaine Gabbert is 9-of-12 passing -- for 77 yards and four first downs. Niners are 0-for-6 on third downs. Carlos Hyde is playing better than his 9-for-24 statline. He's breaking tackles and finding some running room in very small holes. But Seattle's front seven just isn't giving him anything.

Steven Hauschka's kickoff to open the second half hit the crossbar. That would have been a 75-yard field goal.

Tyler Lockett with a 62-yard punt return. Bradley Pinion actually made one hell of a play to turn him back into the field of play and prevent a touchdown. Pinion now has six punts on the day, and it feels like more than that. 

Russell Wilson scrambles and gets dragged down, and he's down on the ground in obvious pain, and for a moment this Seattle bar turned into Alderaan, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. He missed one play, and when he trotted back on, it was more like this:

Bryan Knowles: After coming back in for a while, Wilson went back to the bench, and rookie Trevone Boykin is moving the Seahawks down the field now. With the score 27-3 and likely to get larger, I see no reason for Seattle to put Wilson back in.

I'd also be a little surprised to see Colin Kaepernick today, though Gabbert is a positively Gabbertian 10-for-17 for 79 yards and an interception. That "most consecutive games with a touchdown pass" record is in jeopardy. Still, I'm not sure you thrust Kaepernick against the Seattle defense in a hopeless situation. If a move is to be made, it makes more sense to do it next week at the beginning of a two-game homestand.

Vince Verhei: Seattle gets an interception that wasn't Gabbert's fault, but it was an ugly play, 4 yards short of the sticks on third down. He hit Jeremy Kerley in the hands, but it bounced up in the air, and Bobby Wagner reels in the interception. Trevone Boykin then comes in to finish the field-goal drive. Wilson's day is likely finished unless Boykin gets hurt, but just in case they have fitted his left leg with a gigantic brace like old school Steve Austin -- which is funny, because he's probably the one guy in the NFL least like Steve Austin. Wilson is more like the NFL's answer to Kurt Angle, driving the milk truck down to the ring and preaching about intelligence and integrity. These are the things I think about when it's 30-3 in the third quarter.

Bryan Knowles: Gabbert's Barry Horowitz then, right?

Vince Verhei: Nah. Gabbert's blonde. He might be a long-lost Mulkey.

No. 1 wide receivers against San Francisco so far this year:

Kenny Britt: Six targets, four catches, 67 yards
Kelvin Benjamin: Nine targets, seven catches, 108 yards, two touchdowns
Doug Baldwin: 10 targets, eight catches, 164 yards, one touchdown (game is not over yet)

It doesn't help that Jimmie Ward left the game with a quadriceps injury, but that's bad.

Bryan Knowles: In a season full of tight games, this was an old-fashioned blowout. Was this a game that cured what ailed Seattle, or are the 49ers just that bad? Probably a little bit of both, but boy, the 49ers are awful. They didn't convert a third down until it was 37-3 in the fourth quarter, and it often seemed they weren't trying, with throw after throw targeted short of the sticks. It's not like Gabbert was missing wide-open receivers running through the secondary or anything like that, but it was infuriating to see pass after pass with almost no hope of doing anything. The garbage time points that made it 37-18 make this look much closer than it actually was. This thing was over before halftime.

Seattle has to be concerned that Wilson is hurt again. They're saying he could have gone back in if necessary, but he's bruised and battered, with his knee in wraps after coming down very awkwardly. There's probably some merit to considering keeping him sidelined next week against the Jets, with the bye week coming right after.

Rivers McCown: I am amazed that Jimmy Graham was able to carve up anyone, even if it was the 49ers, off a torn patellar tendon. This is basically unprecedented in NFL history up to before this year, and now Graham and Victor Cruz are both playing big roles. It's inspiring.

New York Jets 3 at Kansas City Chiefs 24

Aaron Schatz: Marcus Peters just leaped to steal the ball away from Eric Decker for his third pick of the year. Usually, individual interception numbers have very little consistency from year to year, and we thought Peters would not come close to matching last year's eight picks. But there might be something special about him. He's got ridiculous ball skills, and he's such a huge risk-taker that he'll rack up the picks even though he also allows some big gains.

Vince Verhei: It's 17-3 and the Jets are in the red zone threatening to get back in the game when Eric Berry single-handedly puts a stop to that. He leaps high into the air to break up a pass in the left corner, then on the next play he leaps high into the air in the right corner for an interception.

Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs are doing some excellent things in coverage today, and it's taking away a lot of what the Jets want to do on offense. I don't think Eric Decker has even been targeted after three quarters. No, wait... there was one, the play before that Eric Berry pick. But it's a lot of passes to Quincy Enunwa and short things to Bilal Powell. I'll give Matt Forte some credit, though. 14 carries for 64 yards doesn't look great, but Forte definitely still has some wiggle. He's not done yet.

The Chiefs are so Chiefs. They're kind of dominating this game but still can't score that many points. Lots of short passes, good runs by Spencer Ware, and a couple of long throws that didn't quite get to Jeremy Maclin. Travis Kelce looks good today, especially with the Jets having trouble covering him when he's isolated in 3x1 sets. The Chiefs had a bit of bad luck when Ware lost control of the ball trying to dive across the goal line, and the officials declared it a fumble and touchback for the Jets. On the other hand, one of Kansas City's two touchdowns came when Jalin Marshall coughed up a kickoff return and it went directly into the hands of Demetrius Harris from the Chiefs, no bouncing on the ground or anything. Harris just sauntered into the end zone untouched.

And the Jets march down the field again, only to have another tipped pass interception in the end zone again, by Marcus Peters... again. That's four in three games for Peters, and 12 in 19 regular-season games over his short career. Which requires a remarkable mix of skill and serendipity.

I went into our stats database to find out how rare it is for a player to have a ton of picks in two straight seasons. Since 1996, only three players have had eight interceptions in consecutive seasons: Champ Bailey in 2005-2006, Keith Lyle 1996-1997, and Richard Sherman 2012-2013. Peters had eight as a rookie and already has four this year, so he needs just four in the last 13 games to match these other three defensive backs.

Vince Verhei: I have coined the term Ryan Fitz-six-picks on Twitter. I am probably not the first, but if I find anyone who thought of that first I will let you know.

Rob Weintraub: Between Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick that's ten picks thrown by two former Bengals quarterbacks today.

Pittsburgh Steelers 3 at Philadelphia Eagles 34

Scott Kacsmar: First quarter was a disappointment for the Steelers. A good opening drive ended after a Ben Roethlisberger scramble led to a pass in the end zone dropped by Markus Wheaton, who dropped another pass later. The field goal was blocked, then Ryan Shazier was injured after two plays. A lot of horizontal passing and screens for the Eagles, but Carson Wentz did make once nice throw to convert a third-and-12.

Rob Weintraub: I have been in the tank for Carson Wentz for a couple of years now, but the touchdown celebration he did with Jordan Matthews takes it to a new level. It was a "fake jump into each other in midair then pretend to straighten your tie and shake hands" businessman special. Lovely.

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Vince Verhei: Is "in the tank" a good thing? I have read Rob's Wentz comment five times, and I'm honestly not sure if he likes Wentz or finds him annoying.

Rob Weintraub: "In the tank" means biased in favor of so, no, I do not find him annoying, especially when he is picking apart the Steelers.

Scott Kacsmar: Well I find Wentz to be annoying, or more accurately, the gushing of praise he has gotten for this horizontal passing scheme is annoying. The Steelers had some tackling issues in that half, including a big penalty for a late hit. TImmons and Shazier are both injured, in and out of the game, and that never helps. The first half was very quick with the ball rarely hitting the ground on both sides.

Bryan Knowles: Pittsburgh's beginning to run an injury ward today. Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones, Ramon Foster, Robert Golden, and Ryan Shazier have all missed at least some time. That's not why the Steelers are losing -- Carson Wentz continues to play well, and the Steelers have put together some nice drives that have petered out at the end.

Wentz is picking the Steelers apart in the short game; I think only one of his 18 first-half completions traveled any notable distance downfield. It's all well-controlled short passes, and the Steelers are being gashed.

Andrew Potter: I'm not watching that game, except clips on Red Zone, but it sounds an awful lot like the Brady Patriots offenses that have given the Steelers fits for the best part of a decade.

Scott Kacsmar: Not much running in this game earlier, but Eagles are just gashing the Steelers this half. I wouldn't say it's too much like New England's attack, but it's a New England-sized beatdown of the Steelers. If the Chiefs, who do run a similar offense, can pick up on this stuff, then Pittsburgh might struggle in back-to-back weeks. On the other side, Markus Wheaton is having a really bad game with three drops, but I'm just reminded of the fact that he really hasn't been good in his career outside of a monster game in Seattle last year. David DeCastro has been eaten alive today, and Malcolm Jenkins seems to always be around the ball.

It's pretty troubling that the Steelers have one sack this season, and it was a total gift from Andy Dalton. We probably have it marked as a coverage sack or failed scramble.

Aaron Schatz: Since we're getting the charting data much faster this year, I can answer your question. Yes, SIS marked it coverage sack, and it was at the line of scrimmage so it was barely a sack at all.

Boy if I was a Steelers fan I'd be furious watching Antonio Brown take a couple of vicious shots on the fourth-and-14 play down 34-3. It's a long season -- gotta protect the stars, man.

Scott Kacsmar: In a span of a few seconds, I just watched the Colts face second-and-40, Blaine Gabbert hit 100 yards passing after the 58-minute mark, and the Steelers throw a 1-yard pass on fourth-and-14, down 34-3. That about sums up the late-afternoon slate.

San Diego Chargers 22 at Indianapolis Colts 26

Tom Gower: 13-13 at the half. Colts are driving for potential six and what would be a commanding 20-6 lead, but Andrew Luck fumbles, and it's picked up and returned by Caraun Reid for a tying score.

Philip Rivers has not looked good today. Protection hasn't been great, with Chris Hairston filling in for King Dunlap at left tackle, but I watched 2012. He's capable of much better even with substandard left tackle play.

I feel like I have little new to say about the Colts offense. Luck is prone to holding the ball even when he's not under quick pressure, which invites more pressure. Casey Hayward picked him off earlier when he stayed way too long on a covered Chester Rogers. The one big surprise is T.Y. Hilton has had some success against Jason Verrett.

Aaron Schatz: The Colts just ran a draw on second-and-40. I know there aren't a lot of plays that you can be successful with on second-and-40, but come on, at least pass the ball 10 yards or more. Now it's third-and-37.

And they threw a five-yard pass on third-and-37. Minus-32 ALEX, baby.

Bryan Knowles: T.Y. Hilton guaranteed he'd make a big play this week. A 63-yard game-winning touchdown reception probably counts, right?

Rivers McCown: It's odd how the Indy passing offense seems to just sleepwalk through games. There are times when you wonder if they even have any hot reads while Andrew Luck is backpedaling from three edge rushers. Then they hit the two-minute warning, and Hilton takes a quick-hitting slant to the house. 

I kinda just feel bad for Philip Rivers at this point. I wish he had been traded to a better team back near the 2015 draft, when it seemed like Marcus Mariota and the No. 2 pick might have been bartered for.

Scott Kacsmar: If the Chargers had fewer than two timeouts, I wonder if Hilton would have gone down inside the 5-yard line to set up the last-second field goal. I would have been fine with that.

Los Angeles Rams 37 at Tampa Bay 32

Tom Gower: I have tried to watch this game, either during breaks in Colts-Chargers or just generally, and I just can't force myself to get into it enough to stick on it. But I can note Roberto Aguayo has missed an extra point and a field goal attempt (from 41 yards).

Bryan Knowles: Also, in your "never draft a kicker" watch for the day, Roberto Aguayo has missed a field goal and an extra point. That's four points in what is, at the moment, a four-point game.

Robert Quinn of Los Angeles just obliterated the edge, running around Donovan Smith as if he wasn't there. That led to a strip-sack for Los Angeles, which was returned by Ethan Westbrooks for a Los Angeles touchdown. Few ends in football can turn the corner faster than Quinn did right there.

Vince Verhei: Bucs get a touchdown and are kicking off, down 5, just before the two-minute warning. Rams are anticipating an onside kick and have 10 guys up front and Tavon Austin alone back deep. So the Bucs kick deep, and the ball goes flying over Austin's head. But he runs to catch it over his shoulder at the 1, and is then tackled at the 5. All he had to do was stand still and let it go and it would have bounced into the end zone for a touchback, and they would have had it at the 25. Reminder: this man got more guaranteed money than Doug Baldwin.

Aaron Schatz: In his defense, Tavon Austin did make a real-life deep-ball catch for a touchdown earlier. Not 5 yards past the line of scrimmage. Not even 10 yards.

Also, we should at least note in Audibles that the Bucs-Rams game was stopped for a lightning weather warning with 2:00 left. Not the most common occurrence.

Vince Verhei: You have got to think if that had been the Seattle or Philadelphia games, they would have just called it off.

Tom Gower: Rams get a score on a Tavon Austin big play to go ahead 37-26. And go for 2. They didn't get it. But this was bad. This was not good. This was not right. This was wrong. An 11-point game can be a field goal and touchdown game. If the Bucs score a touchdown and get a two-point conversion, they can tie the game with just a field goal. With 4.5 minutes to play, William Krasker's chart has the break-even rate at about 87 PERCENT. This makes sense, because being up 13 doesn't get you that much (the chart pre-dates the XP rule change, and Aguayo, granted, but two touchdowns by Tampa still gives them a great chance to win), and 11 is not that much. Fortunately for Fisher, who normally is savvy to strategic considerations even if he is philosophically conservative, the Buccaneers failed when they went for two after cutting the deficit to 37-32. But it's still an error.

Rivers McCown: Mike Evans just equaled his touchdown total from last year, in case you were wondering if the book was closed on touchdown rate sometimes being fluky.

Aaron Schatz: Jameis Winston scrambled on the last play of the game, trying to score from the 15. Tackled at the 5, game over. I have got to think it's easier to complete a 15-yard pass to a covered receiver than it is to scramble for 15 yards.

Chicago Bears 17 at Dallas Cowboys 31

Aaron Schatz: The Bears defense is a problem. There's no pass rush, so that leaves guys wide-open running through zones on pretty much every play.

John Fox is aggressive! He runs the surprise onside kick after the Bears make it 17-3. The Bears even managed to recover, but they got flagged for one of their kick gunners being slightly offside when the kicker hit the ball. Oh well. Now they'll have to re-kick normally.

The Bears pass rush is so non-existent. Or maybe it's that the Dallas blocking is so good. Nick Kwiatkoski just blew up La'el Collins, pushed him back 5 yards, and it didn't matter because Ezekiel Elliott picked him up before he could get to Prescott.

Sterling Xie: This game reminds me a bit of the 2013 Cowboys-Saints Sunday Night game, except Dallas is on the better end of this one. New Orleans was up 28-10 at the half and ended up with an obscene 625 total yards in that game. The Cowboys won't get to that total tonight, but maybe only because they'll most likely take their foot off the pedal in the second half. I seem to recall the doors falling off after Sean Lee hurt his hamstring that night, and while the Bears haven't had an equivalent in-game injury on defense, all those losses suffered last Monday have had a similar effect. I know Dak Prescott isn't an ordinary fourth-round rookie quarterback, but it's still stunning to see this rookie-led offense look as though it's several steps ahead of the defense, even one as bad as Chicago's.

Rivers McCown: This Bears team still has two unflexable prime time games left, should you wish to "give up a game" to do a favor for someone.

Vince Verhei: I didn't watch this game, but I think it's only fair in the analysis to point out how badly they struggled with injuries on defense. They went into the game without two of their top three corners, their middle linebacker, both outside linebackers, and a starting lineman, and they lost another starting lineman (Mitch Unrein) in the third quarter. So it's no wonder they looked so useless out there against Dallas.


207 comments, Last at 30 Sep 2016, 1:30pm

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I'm tired of hearing about how West Coast teams are hard-pressed to play games at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. Without getting into the question about whether this is actually a phenomenon, it certainly shouldn't be one. Long distance racers around the world start marathons at 8 a.m. or earlier. There is no inherent physical reason that football players cannot play a game at 10 a.m. If a West Coast franchise is finding that its players are too groggy to play at a time they feel is 10 a.m. - figure it out! Wake up earlier! Travel earlier! Given the importance of these East Coast games, and the amount of money these franchises have at their disposal, this is hardly an insoluble problem.

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

It's clearly not the delta. Not if we don't see the same phenomenon with East Coast teams going West and coming back. And high profile East Coast teams play a good number of evening games or 4 p.m. games. (Over the 6-week span from Week 10 to Week 15, the Patriots will play 1 game at 1 p.m. and 5 games with later start times.)

Oh, and I wasn't arguing the existence of the claimed phenomenon, though it does feel like one of those theories that people have adopted based on a small amount of evidence with little rigorous testing, just because it "sounds reasonable".

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

There's a sample size? I mean, somebody has studied this carefully? I mean, aside from noticing a bunch of West Coast teams losing on the East Coast without controlling for the fact that, on average, said teams were not average level teams to start with?

146 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I had not seen that FO article, or the journal article it is based on.

When I look at the journal article, I see phrases that ring alarm bells in my head, like: "Manfredini and colleagues (18) reported that optimal timing in the circadian rhythm can result in as much as a 10% increase in athletic performance. "

"Athletic performance" is not a physical quantity that can be expressed as a single variable. That's discouraging to see it treated so. Are they saying that Usain Bolt's 100m times would be 10% worse if the races were done in the morning? As a runner, I can assure you that my splits in the morning are not 10% worse than they are later in the day. They're actually remarkably consistent.

My theory is that the West Coast teams, namely the 49ers, Seahawks, Cardinals*, Raiders, Chargers and now Rams, just have been, on average, worse teams, at least for many years under study. Any study that doesn't control for that disparity in team quality is ignoring the biggest factor in road W-L records.

The basic complaint is the study views W-L as an individual variable, and not as a function of being part of a competitive league. Also, it implicitly assumes that team quality is uniformly distributed across regions, and there's no a priori reason to make that assumption. Certainly with such a small number of franchises involved (only four PST franchises for most years), skewed behavior is reasonably likely to happen.

What I'd prefer seeing is some study that compares this theory based on an East-West gradient with one based purely on travel distance, which would be a much simpler hypothesis. Or, if sufficient data is available (which I doubt, given the small number of teams involved), we could compare the road records for West Coast teams playing at 1 EDT (or 1 EST) vs. how well they do later in the day. But of course, team quality would again have to be controlled for (the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks were far more likely to get a prime time slot than the 2-14 49ers.)

But let's say I buy into this argument. Regardless, what I've said every time this comes up is that, if a football organization thinks that the circadian rhythm makes such a large difference for road games on the East Coast, there's a very simple solution: each day of the week before said game, have the players wake up 30 minutes earlier. While it is easier for the body to adjust to a East-to-West switch than vice versa, 30 minutes per day is certainly possible for professional athletes.

162 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I agree with all of your arguments.

As an econometrician, I would considering trying to answer this using some kind of diff and diff estimator. The problem is sample size and natural variability between games. In fact, I submit natural variability is so problematic in football that trying to tease out cause and effect is really really difficult.

Here's a simple exercise for people. Imagine simulating some data and then setting y = .5 X plus some noise. If you run a regression, you can get pretty close to .5. Ramp up the noise enough and you can't see anything anymore.

171 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Circadian rhythm cannot be altered by having a couple of early morning lies in and an early night.

"A circadian rhythm is a roughly 24 hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings, including plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria. In a strict sense, circadian rhythms are endogenously generated, although they can be modulated by external cues such as sunlight and temperature."

So it's the result of millions of years of evolution as well as the external factors. It's not about "being tired"

174 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

"As a runner, I can assure you that my splits in the morning are not 10% worse than they are later in the day. They're actually remarkably consistent."

I'm a runner too and my anecdotal contribution is that while I can achieve the same times/splits - it takes more effort. My heart-rate will be noticeably higher by 4-5 beats.Most races I enter are morning so I don't have any real comparison beyond training runs. There is one evening race I've done and that's gone better on the two occasions I ran it.

While I have scepticism about the validity of short-term research conducted on treadmills and stationary bikes to actual training or racing, there's research out there that may interest you ...

191 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I also disagree with OP's argument, which I understand it to be "it sounds reasonable, but there isn't enough evidence, therefore it's false". I don't think the fact there isn't enough evidence makes it false and naturally the fact that it sounds reasonable doesn't make it false, either. A similar thing happened recently when it was revealed there wasn't any scientific evidence supporting the benefits of flossing. Never mind that there isn't any evidence to the contrary, either, a whole bunch of people immediately assumed flossing was worthless.

In the absence of scientific evidence either way, I think the reasonable explanation should be tentatively considered as true because why the hell not.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I agree. Apparently this used to be more of a phenomenon in Hockey/Basketball, where there are a lot more games to see an effect. But in the last decade teams have been able to adjust to it and have basically eliminated any effect.

It's not clear if this actually happens in football, but if it does it just indicates poor coaching. There's no reason why a professional athlete can't perform at a high level at 10am.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Do you fly much? East to West? It is rough.

I now live in California but regularly have to fly to Washington DC. It is really tough to be on your game (metaphorically for me) anytime in the first few days...and NFL schedules don't really allow you to be there for more than a few days. The circadian rhythms take that long to adjust.

Then there's also the issue of sitting in a cramped, uncomfortable seat, motionless, for 5.5 hours (plus whatever other transit hassel you have at each end), and being in unfamiliar surroundings on top of it. It's both mentally and physically tiring.

Given that NFL players are so far out in the tail of the distribution, and the margin between "starting calibur player" and "backup" is so thin, I'm not surprised that all 53 players being just a little off their game could have a large enough cumulative effect to have a measurable effect.

It is surprising that more teams don't fly out early, though. Like, Monday early.

58 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

"Long distance racers around the world start marathons at 8 a.m. or earlier. There is no inherent physical reason that football players cannot play a game at 10 a.m."


What about mental reasons? Comparing the physical and mental demands put on a person for a marathon vs. a football game is clearly comparing apples to oranges. Long distance runners aren't relying on instinct and split second decisions at a moments notice. NFL players, however, do rely very much on the quickest of thoughts, movements and reactions. Football is a game of inches while long distance running is, well, a million times that and the slightest of fog from travelling can easily have an impact.

Here's a decent article that accounts for some variabilities I haven't seen in other articles:

72 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Elite marathons (such as Berlin yesterday) usually take place at about 10am.

When the Olympics have been held in particularly hot/humid countries or cities there has been clamour for marathons to be held in the early morning or evening because heat exhaustion is highly likely.

This is what happens when you hold marathons in the middle of the day ... the skeleton dance ...

You don't see that in the NFL. The nearest I can really remember was Kellen Winslow at the end of the Dolphins-Chargers OT game back in '81.

63 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I fly East-West once or twice a year, and have been doing so for twenty years. When I fly westward, my day is a little longer. I can stay up, get a good night of sleep and be pretty much ready to go. When I fly eastward, the lengthy travel on a short day makes it harder to get a decent period of extended sleep before the next day, and I often feel the jet-lag effects. That's with the three-hour time difference of Pacific to Eastern...I couldn't say whether a one-hour difference has the same impact.

I'm guessing that teams don't fly out really early in the week because they would then be without their high-tech practice/training facilities for a full week. They wouldn't be able to monitor and rehab players with minor injuries, and wouldn't have access to their familiar resources, or all of the staff who don't travel to away games.

I would think flying on Thursday after practice would allow teams some time to prepare in their own facilities, get Wednesday and Thursday practices in, and then adjust on Friday and Saturday. But you'd still need somewhere to practice for two days. I don't know what teams do about that.

69 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I wonder if the 5 west coast teams, along with maybe the two mountain time teams, would ever consider going in together to build an an eastern time zone practice facility, in some low cost, good weather, area like southern Virginia. Even with a 2nd field indoors, in case of bad weather you could probably get one, all tricked out, for 10-15 million, or 2-3 million a piece, which is nothing for an NFL team.

84 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Actually, that's a no-brainer, isn't it? Let the cities' high schools use it when the NFL isn't, and I can think of any number of smaller population cities/counties that would fall all over themselves to be the suckers. Richmond, VA, Spartanburg, SC, places like that come to mind. Probably be able to get them to build a hotel right next to it, with rooms free of charge when the NFL comes to town.

87 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I'd think it would make sense for them to just have their players get in an EST schedule in training camp and stay there for the season. Portland did some stuff like that in the NBA, changing the teams schedule so that travel and the like didn't disrupt the natural schedule for people who work late at night.

With the NFL it might require making sure everyone gets up at 10am EST regularly.

(Note: I use EST, since most of the season will be on ST not DT).

194 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Jet lag is a real thing and should not be dismissed casually. It's not something that can be overcome with an extra day on a tight schedule. And it affects people traveling east across time zones more than those traveling west. You don't need NFL specific data to know these things are true.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Well, I now have a bet with a friend over who loses more games between the Browns and Bears. I still don't really get how anyone'd take the Bears side of that bet, but apparently last night's game caused miracles?

To be fair to him, that Bears defense looks pretty amazingly bad.

Patriots fan in coastal MA/ME depending on the month. Feel free to ignore me if you're sick of my type. I take no offense.

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Anybody have any idea what Richburg did to get thrown out of the Giants game? I was there and didn't see him do anything for either foul. If it was just for talking, this was exactly what I was worried about when they put that rule into place: that a rule intended to stop excessively violent play would instead be used to throw out players who talk trash or celebrate touchdowns.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

The other similarity the Broncos of last year share with this year's Vikings is that they both have defensive playcallers who get inside the offensive playcallers' decision-loop, and sow chaos for the offense. Mike Shula at this point might have nightmares with Wade Phillips and Mike Zimmer having prominent roles.

Can the Vikings keep it up? It'll all depend on injury luck going forward, especially on defense. They may have lost another offensive lineman yesterday, Alex Boone, and they are reaching the point where street free agents may be blocking for them. The shame of it is they had a decent strategy for better o-line performance and depth this year, but two season ending injuries (hopefully just one), a retirement, and an illness of an undisclosed nature has made that strategy moot.

108 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

If you want to continue with the Denver Analogy, the Broncos lost 2 starting left tackles in 2015 (Clady at OTAs, Sambrailo in game 3). It lead to some games lost (vs Oakland, where Schofield stole 'human turnstyle' title from Tyler Polumbus), but they were good enough once the playoffs rolled around.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

The standard is the standard.

And by that, we mean the yearly beatdown (out of 2 or 3) by a team the Steelers have no right losing to. Terrible tackling, poor scheming, penalties out the wazoo, no adjustments, no concentation,kickoff returns still not breaking the 25, clock head scratchers, give up playcalls, no benching of "his boys" when they play poorly. Pitiful.

We do what we do.
Blah blah blah.
Excuse #234

To think that Les Miles is rounded applauded when fired for achieving considerably more....

The standard is the standard!

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Les Miles started each season with a huge talent advantage over at least 50%, probably more, of his teams' opponents. Nobody in the NFL has that kind of advantage, ceratinly not in the salary cap era.

I know you have an obsession, but don't let it cloud your view of reality.

24 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Tomlin is in his ninth season as Pittsburgh's HC; he's never had a losing record, and, the three seasons he didn't make the playoffs, there were a pair of 8-8 seasons plus a 9-7. He's been to two Super Bowls in that time frame, winning one of them, losing the one to peak Aaron Rodgers. He plays in a division with two teams who have been consistently good for at least a fair portion of his tenure in Baltimore and Cincinnati, plus has had to deal with the Patriots and whatever iteration of usually really good teams Peyton was in charge of.

Is your standard of "acceptable" as a coach basically "Bill Belichick or GTFO?"

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

Definitely seems like there are more very good to great defenses this year than offenses.

May be taking advantage of having some truly dreadful offensive performances this past week, but league-wide passer rating is at 86.5 right now, which is a big drop from where it has been early in the season the past few years. Scoring is down. Yardage is on the way to where it will be below last year.

From 2011-2015 we saw offense just explode, but this year seems like we've hit a nice equilibrium.

17 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I think the practice restrictions in the CBA have affected o-line performance more than any other unit, and it is this factor which has, in an unintended fashion, brought the offense/defense balance closer to the historical norm. It really favors defensive playcallers, like Phillips and Zimmer, who use a lot of sophisticated and widely varied stunts, and have the great athletes to sow chaos. The o-lines just don't practice enough as a unit to counter them well.

100 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

We really need to do a better job, when talking about the NFL through the years, to delineate between pre salary cap NFL, and once the salary cap took full effect, which I would place about 1999-0nward, given it took a few years for the money to get truly tight, and the Niners and Broncos cheated on the cap to retain talent. In the old days, if you had some personnel skill, and an owner willing to burn money, you just had a huge advantage; hell they just put DeBartolo in the HOF for being willing to sign checks. Nowadays, you can be really good with personnel, but eventually you have to make very hard choices. It makes the Pats success all the more impressive, no matter the luck of getting one of the best qbs ever with a very low draft pick.

170 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

I don't know about the niners, but I thought the deal with Denver is that it only had to do with Bowlen's cash flow, not anything to do with the salary cap - so in that sense it wasn't a competitive advantage. I don't remember where I heard that, though - does anyone remember the details?

155 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 3

My analysis is a few years old so may be out of date, but when I looked at scoring and offensive production numbers by week in the past, weeks 1-3 were below average. Scoring by week would increase until around week 5 and remain consistent through until around week 10/11 before dipping, presumably as winter and bad weather kicked in. (Week 17 was outlier high - presumably a factor of teams having nothing to play for.)

I could speculate as to why this was, but I would say its enough to suggest that its probably too early to be suggesting offensive performance is on an overall decline.