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

Audibles at the Line: Week 4

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 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.

Indianapolis Colts 27 "at" Jacksonville Jaguars 30 (London)

Sterling Xie: Through three drives Indy's receivers are playing as though their body clocks are still set to 10 a.m. That's three drops, including two that would have gained first downs, which doesn't include a catchable pass in the flat Frank Gore couldn't come up with on the second drive.

Jags have had success when they mix up their pass-rush looks, which maybe isn't a huge surprise considering the Colts are starting a pair of rookie backups at right guard and right tackle. A stunt allowed Dante Fowler to create a pick to end the second drive, and a well-disguised blitz with a linebacker and defensive back helped keep Indy out of the end zone on the third drive.

Tom Gower: With rookie backups occupying the right side, the Colts offensive line is currently as bad as people think it is. And through the first quarter, drops have been a total team effort -- the backs with Frank Gore and Josh Ferguson, Dwayne Allen at tight end, and Chester Rogers and I believe T.Y. Hilton as well among the wide receivers. Yes, that's in 14:57 of football.

I thought our AFC South predictions were overall right, that the Jaguars should have been picked last, but that they were much higher variance than the Titans -- more likely to win 10 games or lose 12. Thus far, the latter seems in play.

Rivers McCown: Three things that sum up the beginning of this game:

1) The stunningly high number of dumpoff passes, even late in the down. 

2) As of me typing this ... 9:27 in the second quarter ... the Jaguars have 66 penalty yards to 57 actual yards

3) The lone touchdown so far, Blake Bortles to Allen Robinson, happened because Robinson was essentially uncovered in the end zone on a slant.

Sterling Xie: At the 2:51 mark of the third quarter, we have 118 combined net passing yards and 149 combined net penalty yards. What year have I been transported to (and why is email still a thing)? Personally, I think the highlight of this game came when Wembley played the Law and Order sound after one of the first-half penalties. I also enjoy the British voice CBS brought on to read its sponsors when they come back from commercial. So there's that.

Scott Kacsmar: Dropped passes and poor protection have killed Indy's offense today. I liked the Jaguars going for it on fourth down with a 14-point lead. Helped extend this to a three-score game in a situation where a lot of coaches would have punted to "pin them deep." But really, this game is just an embarrassment to the brand. The Colts are bailing out poor Jacksonville plays with bonehead penalties.

Aaron Schatz: Blown coverage to get Indy back within 3, 30-27. Quarters, and the left corner took a short route instead of following his man Phillip Dorsett deep. I believe that was lauded rookie Jalen Ramsey.

Cian Fahey: Blown coverage was on Tashaun Gipson. Jumped the underneath route in quarters.

Seattle Seahawks 27 at New York Jets 17

Vince Verhei: The Jets ordinarily never use tight ends, but with Eric Decker out today and Jarran Reed out for Seattle, they're relying on a heavy dose of two-tight end and six-lineman formations and running plays, with spread formations and crossing routes on third downs. It's effective on their first drive as they run 13 plays for 62 yards and eat up up 8:33 on the clock. In the red zone, Bilal Powell bobbles a third-down pass, and it's ruled incomplete. Seahawks challenge, thinking it was fumbled, but they lose, and Jets kick a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Carl Yedor: Russell Wilson hits Doug Baldwin deep for a big gain and Baldwin takes a big shot to the head, immediately heading to the sideline to undergo concussion tests. For all the talk about how the NFL doesn't properly use the concussion protocol, examining Baldwin more closely was the right thing to do, so we should point it out when they actually follow their own rules.

Also worth noting, Fox broadcast pointed out Michael Bennett's shoulder pads are actually kicker pads. I had assumed they were quarterback pads, but either way they're quite small.

Vince Verhei: Seahawks take the lead on a touchdown pass from Wilson to C.J. Spiller, signed off the street just a few days ago. Wilson is 6-of-7 for 115 yards through two drives, with the bag catch from Doug Baldwin and a pair of great receptions by Jimmy Graham.

Richard Sherman is covering Brandon Marshall just about every play. Early edge to Marshall in that matchup, with 41- and 14-yard catches so far. But the Jets' third drive ends in penalty weirdness. Seahawks get the Jets in third-and-forever, but Ryan Fitzpatrick breaks three tackles on one play before throwing a dumpoff pass. However, for the second time in three-and-a-half games, the Seahawks get a third-and-forever stop wiped out by a penalty on Cassius Marsh. Next play, Brian Winters catches Michael Bennett with a late blindside hit. A very dirty play and it was an easy 15-yard flag on the Jets -- and Winters actually injured himself throwing this late blindside hit. This is your Keep Choppin' Wood block of the year. It leads to a Jets punt.

Scott Kacsmar: Russell Wilson is playing too well for someone with a high ankle sprain and MCL sprain. This should do wonders for promoting nanobubbles. The touchdowns by C.J. Spiller and Tanner McEvoy are a reminder that NFL seasons don't quite go as planned, even as early as Week 4. We spend a couple of months on teams for the Almanac, and neither player was ever in consideration for being a factor in Seattle this year.

Vince Verhei: Jets blow coverage and Wilson hits Tanner McEvoy for a 42-yard touchdown to put Seattle up 14-3. Wilson is now 10-of-11 for 191 yards and two scores. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News is currently living out a common experience right now: A national observer who only sees the Seahawks in highlights and buys into the "Wilson can only scramble" narrative, and then watches Wilson kill his team from the pocket and learns a harsh lesson in the truth.

Should also mention that Seattle's offensive line is holding its own against the Jets' vaunted big three and may even be winning the battle up front. Germain Ifedi is playing for the first time and playing well, but that's still an even bigger surprise than McEvoy and Spiller getting touchdowns.

Marshall beats Sherman for a 17-yard touchdown to make it 14-10 at halftime. Not counting the end-of-half kneeldown, Seattle has only had the ball three times, the Jets four. Most of that drive was the anti-Seahawks special: dumpoffs to the short middle with plenty of YAC. Not breaking tackles, just a big empty void right behind the defensive tackles. Fitzpatrick is having a good day, mostly thanks to Marshall and those dumpoffs.

At half time, Jets are 5-of-9 on third down. Seahawks are 1-of-2. That is not a typo -- Seahawks have two third-down plays in three drives.

Third quarter was the kind of boring slugfest I expected this game would be. Seahawks had two punts and a field goal. Jets had two punts, and have a second-and-16 on the first play of the fourth. Jets defensive line dominated the Seahawks offensive line like they should there. 

Marshall throws Sherman away for a first-down catch on that second-and-16, but flags hit the turf. Everyone on the stadium is expecting an offensive call, but it's actually on Sherman for initiating contact at the start of the play. Next snap, Jets try that matchup again, but Fitz-Six-Picks rears his ugly head and Sherman comes down with the ball.

So it feels like Seattle is dominating, but after that Sherman pick they're still only up by seven with nearly a full quarter to go. Then they get a great catch by Jimmy Graham for 24 yards, a great catch by Paul Richardson for 27 yards, and a Christine Michael touchdown catch to go up 24-10. Graham is right at 100 yards now, his second straight 100-yard day. Seems like all five of his catches today have been tremendous fingertip- or one-handed grabs.

Earl Thomas gets a tip-drill interception. Seahawks follow with a minus-15-yard field goal drive to ice the game, which is the ultimate summary of this second half. Per PFR, only five drives since 1998 have lost more yardage and still ended in a score.

Jets get a fluke touchdown when Ryan Fitzpatrick is hit on fourth-and-1 and 21 players think it's an incomplete pass, but seventh-round rookie Charone Peake scoops it up and takes it in for a 42-yard touchdown. On the Jets' next drive, though, Fitzpatrick throws short, Marshall goes deep, Sherman gets his second pick, and that's game.

Seahawks now have a bye week, then play Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the Falcons in Week 5. How big does that game look now?

Tennessee Titans 20 at Houston Texans 27

Bryan Knowles: Well, the Texans look worlds away from the team that sputtered against New England last week. Brock Osweiler marched Houston down the field, finding C.J. Fiedorowicz for a 14-yard touchdown. Might say more about the quality of the AFC South than anything else, but that drive looked easy.

Play calling matters. Bill O'Brien's taking over play-calling duties for Houston, and you can see a difference immediately. The tight ends are getting involved, and Osweiler has already hit five different receivers. He only hit six in the entire New England game.

Also, after the Texans had every single problem possible in their kickoff return game last week, Tennessee's first kickoff... sails into the end zone.

Cian Fahey: The Titans are actually mixing up their play designs well today. Formations are spread a bit wider and Marcus Mariota isn't turning his back to the defense to start each play. With that said, the big play to Rishard Matthews that set up their first touchdown was a result of awful play design from the Texans. A three-man rush with two players playing man coverage without specific safety help is foolish.

The Titans-Texans game is incredibly high scoring considering neither offense has looked good. Mariota and Osweiler have both left as many plays on the field as they have made, while both defenses lack discipline in their assignments.

Tom Gower: Last year's Titans at Texans game featured 10 punts in the first half, five by each team. With these two teams coming in averaging just 14 points per game, fewest in the league, I thought we might be in for a repeat performance. Instead, the Texans, with head coach Bill O'Brien calling the plays once again instead of offensive co-ordinator George Godsey, came out firing, as people noted. Their first two drives went for touchdowns, and it didn't seem that difficult. Rather than a repeat of Titans at Texans, it felt like a potential repeat of Texans at Titans 2015, won by Houston 34-6.

Then something strange happened -- the Titans started moving the ball. Delanie Walker was wide open for 24 yards (coverage bust?), and that set up a field goal. Kareem Jackson bit on an out to leave Rishard Matthews open for a 60-yard gain on an out-and-up, and it was 17-10 after DeMarco Murray found the end zone. Marcus Mariota threw a horrible off-balance interception, but Osweiler (who has missed a number of throws after the hot start) immediately returned the favor, and the Titans tied it up on the short field.

Neither quarterback has been good (Osweiler's start excepted), but overall there has been a lot more offense in the game than I expected.

The Titans converted a third-and-long! Quinton Spain false-started on third-and-4, making it third-and-9. But Mariota sat in the pocket and found Matthews in the middle of the field after scrambling for the conversion. The Titans had been 0-for-12 on third-and-long (7-plus yards) the last two weeks, and I don't believe they converted one in the first half either. 20-20 after the ensuing field goal, mid-third quarter.

Cian Fahey: The Titans said they would be during the offseason, but I'm still surprised at just how much they rely on DeMarco Murray. Derrick Henry is most definitely a backup rather than a complement.

Scott Kacsmar: Will Fuller looks as advertised -- big plays, but maybe some bad drops too. All in all, should be a fun player to watch. Brock Osweiler also seems like a good choice for him at quarterback, because he's going to throw some bombs and give his guys chances. Unfortunately, he also throws some bad picks and has not been able to get DeAndre Hopkins involved today. But Fuller's first punt return touchdown has broken a 20-20 tie as the fourth quarter approaches.

Rivers McCown: When I compare what Carson Wentz is doing to my first real view of Marcus Mariota this season, it got me thinking that we play the "______ is developing well" game a lot, but don't really think of the developers all that much. I remember being incredibly impressed with Mariota's first five or so games. He has been developed into a total liability by this coaching staff of castoffs.

Osweiler was horrendous after the hot start. His placement was brutal. And yet ... still not the worst quarterback on the field.

Tom Gower: 27-20 final. Only scoring after the tying field goal drive was Will Fuller's punt return. That adequately conveys the second half's level of offensive execution and consistency after the 20-17 first half. Both quarterbacks were somewhat to very bad most of the game outside Osweiler's early proficiency. This game was for first place in the AFC South. I would write more, but I'm sad enough already.

Buffalo Bills 16 at New England Patriots 0

Aaron Schatz: This is like the cutesy offense Olympics The Bills are really the only team left in the NFL that regularly runs plays with a direct snap to the running back, but the Patriots are going to match them today. I don't know if Jacoby Brissett just can't throw downfield at all with the injured thumb, or if the Pats just want the Bills to think this, but I'm guessing that the Pats won't throw a single pass over 15 yards downfield. If they do, it might be thrown by Julian Edelman instead. By the way, we got our first taste of the Edelmancat offense. It went for 1 yard. Whoop-de-do.

Sterling Xie: Both these offenses rely a lot on misdirection, but it's working a lot better for one offense than the other. Buffalo using a steady diet of play-action and some option looks and the Pats look unusually hesitant on defense. Pats almost had a 90-plus-yard play to Edelman on a rollout on the first play of the game, but Chris Hogan got called for both offensive pass interference and holding to nullify that. Two special teams mistakes from Houston gave New England the margin of error they needed last week with Brissett at quarterback, and it's looking like they'll need those types of breaks again to compete this afternoon.

Aaron Schatz: Amazing stat from ESPN Stats & Info: The last time the Patriots did not get a first down in the first quarter was Week 8 of 2011 against the Steelers.

Also, the Bills just declined a neutral zone infraction on the Pats on third-and-21. They decided to take a 13-yard gain and kick a fourth-and-8 field goal instead of getting a shot at a first down or touchdown on third-and-16. That was weird.

Bryan Knowles: The Patriots have 34 yards of total offense. They have been given 35 yards by Buffalo penalties.

Aaron Schatz: The fact that the Patriots offense can't seem to do anything isn't helped by the fact that the defense is having uncommon tackling problems. LeSean McCoy is particularly shifty today.

OK, so, I guess it turns out Jacoby Brisset CAN throw the ball. With six minutes left in the second quarter he just went deep for the first time, to Martellus Bennett, even though Bennett was legit double-covered with a third guy helping over the top. And Bennett caught it AND then got away from the tacklers for extra yards. This team may have some life in it after all...

... or David Andrews could be caught holding on third-and-1 handoff to LeGarrette Blount. And then Brissett fumbled the ball away trying to scramble for a first down on third-and-11.

I'm wondering if the Patriots' film work on Buffalo consisted of nothing but that Marquise Goodwin deep touchdown against the Jets, over and over again. These zones are SO cushy.

Sterling Xie: Related to that, I wonder how many times Goodwin has beaten Logan Ryan on a slant route today. I suppose it only feels like it has been every other play.

Bryan Knowles: Your historical context: the last time the Patriots didn't score at home was 1993, when Boomer Esiason and the Jets handed Bill Parcells a loss in his first year as New England's head coach.

Aaron Schatz: Another note, if I didn't get to it earlier: Rob Gronkowski has been almost entirely a blocker today. I believe they've thrown to him twice all game. Once was just now on fourth-and-6, which went incomplete, defensed by Aaron Williams. At least the Pats tried desperately to tie the game with two touchdown drives instead of kicking some sort of B.S. "reputation-saving" field goal to prevent a shutout with three minutes left.

Tom Brady returns this week, but this defense will still be here and still needs to play better. More importantly, it needs to play better after next week against teams that are not Cleveland.

Vince Verhei: So the Bills more or less dominate Arizona last week and then shut out the admittedly limited Patriots this week. It makes no sense, but apparently firing Greg Roman has fixed the defense.

Rob Weintraub: I assume Walt Patulski is an FO Madden card candidate after the shutout?

Carolina Panthers 33 at Atlanta Falcons 48

Scott Kacsmar: Carolina's secondary has held up well this season without Josh Norman, but he's missed on a day like today against Julio Jones, who has 152 receiving yards in the first half. I thought Jones wasn't 100 percent healthy, but he is running by corners down the field, and while Matt Ryan has been a little off on the passes, they have hit a pair of bombs already. The pick-six is the only thing keeping this a contest with the Panthers down 17-7.

Bryan Knowles:

Jones now has seven catches and 170 yards receiving in the first half; that would be on pace to break the single-game receiving yards record. Of course, to do that, he'd probably need the Panthers offense to get going, and it has definitely been out of sync today. They're missing Jonathan Stewart; Cameron Artis-Payne and Mike Tolbert have combined for 10 rushing yards to this point.

After Kelvin Benjamin was kept catchless last week, he has been targeted just one time today. I credit Atlanta's defensive scheme more than I blame Carolina's offense for that one, but it feels like the Panthers have to figure out a way to get Benjamin involved if they want to get anything going on offense today. They're only down 17-10, thanks to Kurt Coleman returning an interception for a touchdown, but these do not look anything like the Panthers that went to the Super Bowl last season; not even the early-season Panthers who weren't yet firing on all cylinders.

Vince Verhei: Julio Jones just topped 200 yards. There's still more than 20 minutes to go.

Aaron Schatz: It's almost as if a secondary filled with nothing but rookies and slot corners was a bad idea.

Bryan Knowles: To add injury to Carolina's bad day, Cam Newton has left the game. He took a severe shot to the head trying to score on a two-point conversion. He's in the locker room, being evaluated for a concussion. No quarterback in the league has been hit more than Newton this year, and it's taking it's toll.

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However, Derek Anderson is one of the better backups in the league, and he marched the Panthers down and just scored. Panthers, somehow, are within a score.

...And Julio Jones just took one to the house. He's up to 300 yards receiving; sixth most in NFL history with four minutes left to go.

Rob Weintraub: I had Matt Ryan as my "most likely to outperform his projection" and today is the reason why. Just felt like their offensive line improvement would allow him to be more comfortable. Helps when Carolina decides to cover Julio with cap space instead of proven defenders.

Bryan Knowles: The Panthers have opted to try to play tight, press coverage on Julio Jones. It's worked really well, I think.

Cam Newton left and did not return. Jonathan Stewart missed the game. Thomas Davis left the field in the second half and did not return. The Panthers are 1-3, and looking up at a two-game gap in the NFC South. The loss to Denver in the season opener was understandable, but it's time to get very concerned if you're a Carolina fan -- everything seems to be going wrong. They have to get that secondary sorted out right quick, or else it's going to be a long, long season.

Cleveland Browns 20 at Washington Redskins 31

Bryan Knowles: Terrelle Pryor is lining up against Josh Norman, one of the best cornerbacks in football. So far, he has been targeted four times, and caught each and every one, including a touchdown. He hasn't played any quarterback yet today, but apparently, he doesn't need to!

Andrew Potter: Amazingly, Cody Parkey looks considerably more like a NFL kicker now that he has actually practiced with his teammates.

Oakland Raiders 28 at Baltimore Ravens 27

Bryan Knowles: Derek Carr is dinking and dunking his way past Baltimore's fifth-ranked defense. He's 14-for-17 for 91 yards and two touchdowns as I write this, including a nifty little fade to Michael Crabtree for a touchdown. Unlike Super Bowl XLVII, Crabtree caught that one ...

Rob Weintraub: John Harbaugh decides to accept a penalty on third down instead of declining it and forcing a Raiders field goal. Carr completes a pass on third-and-long, then on fourth-and-inches he hard-counts the Ravens into jumping offside.

A couple of plays later Carr zips one to Crabtree for six, and Oakland leads 21-12. Carr placed it not only between defenders but turned Crabtree enough to keep Eric Weddle from either breaking it up or truly lighting up the receiver.

Terrible tackling by the Raiders secondary allows Steve Smith (Sr.) to take an intermediate catch to the house. 21-19 Raiders now.

An immediate fumble by the Raiders because of course. Baltimore right into the end zone, naturally, and the two-pointer makes it 27-21.

The Ravens may find a way yet again. But they taunted on the two-pointer, so Oakland has a chance at decent field position.

There it is -- the Raiders right back down the field. Carr to Crabtree for the third time today. Great throw and sensational route and toe drag by the vet. But there is still 2:12 left in the game -- plenty of time for Baltimore to steal another one.

Bryan Knowles: Crabtree's three-touchdown day is his first in his career so far. In his 20 games with Oakland, Crabtree now has 13 touchdowns. Remember, the 49ers let him go to sign Torrey Smith, who, through his first 19 games in San Francisco, has five touchdowns.

Quarterback play might have something to do with that.

Rob Weintraub: Oakland held on to win when Kamar Aiken let a fourth-down pass carom off his equipment because he didn't snatch the ball with his hands. Fundamentals, baby, fundamentals. Both teams now 3-1.

Dallas Cowboys 24 at San Francisco 49ers 17

Aaron Schatz: The Dallas defense is not good. Really getting pushed around up front by the 49ers' offensive line. Even the wide receiver blocking is good -- Torrey Smith just controlled Morris Claiborne easily to give Carlos Hyde the room for the last yard or two of the touchdown that makes it 14-0 San Francisco.

Bryan Knowles: San Francisco's up 14-0 on Dallas early in the second quarter. The 49ers were 4-for-15 on third downs in Seattle; they're 6-for-6 so far today. Blaine Gabbert has shown some nice touch so far -- this is more like the team that throttled the Rams in Week 1 than the team that floundered at Seattle and Carolina the last two weeks.

The Cowboys benefited from a highly questionable call as they came back to tie the score at 14 before the half. Dak Prescott was wrapped up on a third-and-long, and was being brought to the ground. Safety Jaquiski Tartt came in and hit Prescott after the whistle was blown, apparently -- I didn't hear the whistle live, and it seemed like the Tartt hit was the one that actually brought Prescott down. It kept the Cowboys drive alive, and they scored a touchdown off of it.

Of course, that's not the only reason the Cowboys have come back in this one. They're outgaining the 49ers on offense, but the 49ers' success on third down has kept them in the game, as well. There's a rumor on the Twitters that Chip Kelly's calling a more sophisticated game today, basically running a vanilla scheme against Carolina and Seattle because he knew the team was overmatched. That smells a little bit too much 4D-chess to me when a more simple answer would be "the 49ers aren't as good as Carolina or Seattle." Still, on both sides of the ball, the 49ers have looked like a promising, developing, if still bad, team in their two home games so far.

Scott Kacsmar: The 49ers aren't the greatest litmus test, but I do think Dez Bryant is one of the most valuable No. 1 wide receivers in the league due to the way Dallas has constructed this offense. There is a lot of specialization in this offense. Cole Beasley is the very New England-esque slot receiver. Terrance Williams is the deep threat. Jason Witten is the reliable pass-catching tight end, limited to all the underneath stuff given his age. Lance Dunbar is the receiving back. But Bryant can do everything, and he's really the best red zone receiver in the game not named Rob Gronkowski. When he's not in this offense, it's hard to expect Brice Butler (who does have a touchdown today on a well-thrown ball by Dak Prescott) to replace that part. The other guys can play their roles, but it should be a lot easier to defend without Bryant. Of course, a good offensive line can fuel the running game, and Prescott has been fairly accurate. A tougher opponent would expose this more, but the Cowboys still have a good challenge today due to the fact that the defense still isn't very good in Dallas.

Aaron Schatz: The 49ers finally tried to take a deep shot with Torrey Smith, and Gabbert totally underthrew the pass. Interception for Morris Claiborne, and now the Cowboys get the ball back up 21-17. 10:38 left.

Bryan Knowles: 49ers line up for a crucial fourth down, trailing by 7, after the two-minute warning... and have to use a timeout, because their receivers can't get lined up properly. Then, immediate pressure forces Gabbert to the outside, and he throws the ball short of the sticks. The wasted timeout will cost the 49ers 40 seconds if they DO manage to force a three-and-out.

The Cowboys started off sluggish, but eventually turned everything around. The offensive line, in particular, ended up winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, especially after NaVorro Bowman left with what is being reported as a ruptured Achilles. Ezekiel Elliot ran for 138 yards, gutting through the middle of San Francisco's run defense. That's bad.

The 49ers jumped out to that 14-0 lead, but they are not at all equipped to come back from deficits of any size. They have a depressing lack of talent at the wide receiver position, and Blaine Gabbert is apparently 1-for-11 on throws over 20 yards down field. That's bad.

NaVorro Bowman and DeForest Buckner had to be carted off the field, and Jeremy Kerley left with an injury. Even if any of those aren't as bad as they appear now, the 49ers play again on Thursday, and are likely to be depleted there. That's bad.

San Francisco 49ers football. That's bad.

New Orleans Saints 35 at San Diego Chargers 34

Aaron Schatz: Hey, you know that whole thing we say all the time about defenses being less consistent from year to year than offenses? So, Denver's defense is still pretty good this year, and egads the Saints defense is still horrendous. The Broncos have four Tampa turnovers with 2:00 left in the first half, and I still feel very safe in saying that the suck of the Saints defense has carried over from last year stronger than the greatness of the Broncos defense.

Vince Verhei: Chargers are missing Danny Woodhead, Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, Antonio Gates, and King Dunlap. It's not totally inaccurate to say that their second-string offense is beating New Orleans' first-string defense today.

Andrew Potter: Well the Saints are missing starting cornerbacks Delvin Breaux (fractured leg) and P.J. Williams (IR, severe concussion), leaving them yet again playing Sterling Moore, B.W. Webb, and undrafted rookie Ken Crawley, so it's not entirely New Orleans' first-string defense. But injuries happen, and that doesn't explain not covering Hunter Henry on the 20-yard touchdown that got San Diego going today. Jairus Byrd has been benched for Vonn Bell, and the linebacker corps has been completely reshuffled, but it isn't really helping. They've given up another three 20-plus-yard plays, including two for touchdowns, to take them past 20 already for the season, and now conceded at least three touchdowns for the third time in four games with Melvin Gordon's score just before the half.

I really don't know what to make of that second half in San Diego. The Saints are not good, did not play particularly well on either offense or defense, and spent chunks of the second half looking like the quarterback and receivers were having their plays called by different people. And yet, they came back to win from a 13-point deficit with five minutes to go, in large part because the Chargers went the full McCree with the game on the line. Two inexcusable fumbles -- the first by Melvin Gordon and a simply inexplicable second by Travis Benjamin -- gave the Saints the ball in scoring range on consecutive drives, both of which ended in touchdowns. On the second, it looked suspiciously like San Diego let John Kuhn score, which I strongly dislike strategically when you have more than a three-point lead. I'd rather force the opposition to score a touchdown than simply assume they will and make my offense come from behind.

I think -- I think -- this says more about the Chargers than the Saints, because I'm pretty sure the Saints would have lost this game under basically any other set of circumstances.

Los Angeles Rams 17 at Arizona Cardinals 13

Vince Verhei: It's 10-10 at halftime, and Arizona's offense continues to disappoint. They did have a nice two-minute drill ending in a Michael Floyd touchdown at the end of the half, but otherwise it has been an ugly show, with one interception in the end zone (a great leaping grab by Trumaine Johnson), a bunch of other passes that could have been intercepted, one field goal, and a bunch of punts. It has been a weird game plan too. In 40 plays, they have 13 runs, while John Brown has 12 targets. Meanwhile, David Johnson has 58 yards on only nine carries, and Chris Johnson 31 on four. Run more!

At least it's easier to explain how they have given up 10 to the Rams. Brian Quick caught a deep out for what should have been a nice gain of 15 or so, but Marcus Cooper missed a tackle, Tony Jefferson badly overran the play, and Quick had nothing but green turf on his way to the end zone. That's more than a third of their first-half offense on that one play.

Part of this, by the way, might be how the Rams always seem to play better against their division rivals than they do against the rest of the league. We talked in Week 2 about how they have handled Seattle, but from 2012 to 2015 they also went 4-4 against the Cards. 

"Big Plays That Weren't Made" Department: First drive of the second half, Tavon Austin torches Patrick Peterson for what is very nearly a big play down the middle, but he can't quite make the diving fingertip grab. Rams challenged the play, which was a terrible decision the announcers immediately pointed out. Sure enough the review went Arizona's way. Incomplete.

Four plays after Austin's non-catch, Chandler Jones beats Greg Robinson for the sack-fumble-recovery trifecta, and the Cards are in business at midfield. And then five plays after that, Aaron Donald gets his own sack-fumble-recovery. This is definitely an NFC West game. Even the good teams in this division play ugly.

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More "Big Plays That Weren't": Case Keenum scrambles for a 27-yard gain inside the 10, but the play is wiped out by a penalty and the Rams end up punting. 

Tom Gower: The Rams didn't just punt after Keenum's scramble inside the 10 was negated by a hold. Following the penalty, it was second-and-18. A false start made it second-and-23. After an incompletion, Keenum did one of his Case Keenum things where he runs backwards to get away from pressure and gets sacked anyway, so the Rams went from first-and-goal to fourth-and-37 and punting from inside their own 40.

Vince Verhei: Thank you Tom for pointing out that Keenum had pulled a Keenum. I mentioned this in Quick Reads many years ago, but Keenum is the king of the mega-sack. Officially that sack lost 14 yards. That would be the fifth time in 19 starts since 2013 that Keenum has lost 14 or more yards on a sack. The only other quarterbacks to do that so frequently: Cam Newton (50 starts), Colin Kaepernick (40), and Geno Smith (29)

Cards respond with a 12-play, 72-yard drive, but they stall in the red zone again and kick a field goal to go up 13-10 on the last play of the third quarter. Biggest play of the drive was a 24-yard catch-and-run by David Johnson. Johnson is now at 81 yards rushing, 41 receiving -- per the announcers, that makes him the first back ever to top 100 yards from scrimmage four times in the season's first four games.

Scott Kacsmar: FOX had a graphic on David Johnson that didn't pass the sniff test. It said he was the first player in NFL history to go over 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his team's first four games. According to Pro Football Reference, this is the 57th time that has happened since 1960. I think they meant to say team history, which looks accurate.

Vince Verhei: Rams drive down the field and have a third-and-1 at the Arizona 35. They try a swing pass to Todd Gurley, but Tyrann Mathieu is all over it and pushes Gurley out of bounds for a 4-yard loss. Rams could try a 56-yard game-tying field goal, but opt instead to go for it. Keenum tries a deep corner to Brian Quick, but Patrick Peterson breaks up the pass and it's incomplete. I like the fourth-down call, but seriously question that third-and-1 play against a defense that clearly was sitting on the route.

Aaron Schatz: I'm not sure I've ever heard an announcer as apoplectic about bad coaching challenges as Thom Brenneman is right now on the Rams broadcast. I mean, they were really bad, but you don't normally hear an announcer harping on how bad the bad challenges are. That's Twitter's job.

Vince Verhei: Jeff Fisher challenges another incompletion, and once again the announcers are left wondering what the hell he's seeing, because the ball hit the ground twice before Brian Quick pulled it in.

And yet, Eugene Sims and Aaron Donald sack Carson Palmer on third down to force a punt. (Palmer spent several minutes on the Arizona bench, then walked to the locker room.) Tavon Austin returns the punt 47 yards, and gets a facemask penalty on top of that. And it leads to Quick beating Cooper for a touchdown for the second time today. Bad day for Cooper, who has given up two touchdowns and missed multiple tackles today.

They just announced that Palmer is in concussion protocol. Rams are about to kick off up 17-13 with 2:36 to go, and Drew Stanton will be leading Arizona's offense.

Aaron Schatz: Hidden factor in Cardinals' slow start: they have not replaced Jerraud Powers properly across from Peterson. I mean, the Chiefs were willing to give up Marcus Cooper for a conditional seventh, Brandon Williams isn't ready as a rookie, and I guess they feel Justin Bethel isn't good enough. Cooper blew the tackle on the Britt touchdown and is a clear weak spot for opponents to target.

Vince Verhei: I was thinking that before the season. I let myself get talked into the idea that Tyrann Mathieu would take on a bigger role in that position. Should have stuck to my guns.

Aaron Schatz: I thought Bethel would be the starter and be OK there. Oops.

Vince Verhei: I made this comment on Twitter and will repeat it here: Between this game and Saints-Chargers, these are two great games between four teams that look like they're trying to lose.

Thanks to a facemask penalty, a roughing the passer penalty, and an interception that was overturned on replay, Stanton at least gives the Cardinals a chance at a game-winning Hail Mary -- and he throws to a part of the field with two Cardinals and four Rams, and it goes way over the receivers for an easy interception, and the Cards are two full games behind the Rams and Seahawks.

Tom Gower: Don't blame Stanton on the Hail Mary -- Gregg Williams blitzed, and he had no hope but to just chuck it up and hope his guy got there. Aaron Rodgers can throw it so that he can, even from 35 yards away, but he's Aaron Rodgers and Drew Stanton is not.

Denver Broncos 27 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7

Bryan Knowles: That's two weeks in a row with a weather delay in Tampa. Slightly less exciting a finish this week, though.

Sterling Xie: Some not-quite-postgame-but-hey-it's-in-a-lightning-delay-and-practically-over thoughts from this game:

It's so bizarre to imagine that a team might have been genuinely worried about losing Trevor Siemian, but given his four-touchdown game last week and the nice start he got off to today, the Broncos can't have been happy to see Siemian get carted off with a shoulder injury. It's to his non-throwing shoulder, which likely bodes well for a recovery time, but we'll see if there's any structural damage that forces Paxton Lynch into the lineup for the foreseeable future.

The good news for Denver is that if Lynch does start, I can't imagine the offense will really change. Lynch jumped in to a two-minute drill at the end of the second quarter and led Denver to a field goal, then subsequently led the offense on a couple of long touchdown drives to put this out of reach. The Broncos still used a lot of two-back sets and leaned on the running game plus Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders through the air. Lynch came with a reputation as someone who needed more time to develop, but given how little Denver asks from its quarterback, I'd be surprised if he wasn't at least competent as a starter if Siemian misses time.

From a Tampa perspective, this is now the third straight week of really ugly football after a promising Week 1 win in Atlanta (a strong candidate for this year's opening Sunday "How did that happen?" game given how the two teams have diverged since). I still feel a second-half surge coming given the split in schedule difficulty between the first half and the second half, but this feels like 2015's team except with a worse running game. A few bright stars, lots of roster holes, lots of mistakes, and wildly up-and-down play from Jameis Winston.

Kansas City Chiefs 14 at Pittsburgh Steelers 43

Bryan Knowles: Knile Davis just made a terrible decision, not only to take the kickoff out of the end zone, but to then run parallel to the end zone to try to sneak around the oncoming kickoff coverage team. It didn't work. Instead of getting the ball at the 25, the Chiefs are back on the 2.

Rivers McCown: I went to get some food started and put some wash in and the Chiefs are already down 22? What happened?

Bryan Knowles: Alex Smith interception, Spencer Ware fumble, horrible shanked Chiefs punt, and no defense to speak of.

Tom Gower: If I had to summarize the night in one play, I'm not sure if I would choose (a) Darrius Heyward-Bay catching a touchdown pass when he was ridiculously open on a coverage bust (Collinsworth did his usual fine job of explaining what happened -- the Chiefs were in 3-deep and one of the deep defenders followed the outside receiver's in cut, leaving the deep over guarded by nobody); or (b) Alex Smith blindly throwing a screen pass, trusting Spencer Ware to get there, only to see Cam Hayward tip the ball and Jarvis Jones pick it and return it inside the 5 until Smith could bring him down.

Comments

106 comments, Last at 04 Oct 2016, 11:39pm

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

I don't think the Chargers let Kuhn score that final TD. That would imply a level of strategic thinking far beyond the capabilities of McCoy and his staff. I think the more likely explanation is that the Chargers are poor against the run and a 1 yard power plunge against them will have a high success rate.

40 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

They most certainly did.

Watching the replay, the Linebackers T-rex arm away from any blocking or filling gaps, it was hilarious to watch. "Oh god, don't touch the O-Line, it's hot, Hot!"

78 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Sorry, I don't see it.

There's 1 linebacker, 53 (Perry, 3rd string rookie) who could have potentially made the play in that gap. He tried to blow up the lead blocker who came in motion and couldn't shed in time to make a tackle.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Is it just me, or has Russell Wilson's throwing motion really changed his he hurt his ankle vs. Miami?

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

It definitely changed IN the Miami game when he refused to push off his injured foot. Missed the LA game, against SF he seemed mostly healthy, against the Jets he looked slightly less accurate than usual and a lot less mobile.
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I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Slightly less accurate? I remember the one-handed Graham sideline catch that was thrown a bit too wide, but other than that he seemed fine. One thing that did stand out yesterday was his willingness to throw into pretty good coverage. It helped that the Jets DBs generally didn't have their head turned around so it wasn't as risky as it seemed, but the TD to Spiller, the sideline pass to Richardson (I thought this one was going to get intercepted) and another sideline pass to Graham were all thrown into quite small windows.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

RW has always thrown into small windows. Partly, he has possibly the best "drop it in the bucket" accuracy I've ever seen. Usually when QBs throw the high touch passes they lose a lot of their accuracy, also when they throw on the run, neither of those things tend to afflict RW.

When I say RW's accuracy was off a little, he's usually very good going to the sideline behind the line or at the line in such a way as the receiver catches the ball looking at the defense with a head of steam. He has been missing that a little bit since the injury. Hey, it's a 26 yard pass after all.
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I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Regarding Wilson's accuracy, I wonder if we were watching the same game. He was just about as locked-in as a quarterback could be. His lob to Graham from deep in his own territory was brilliant, and he followed that up with a perfect deep strike to Baldwin (who somehow held on despite a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit), and a needle-threader to Spiller.

What bad throws do you have in mind? I honestly can't remember him missing an open receiver all game. Even when his receivers were covered, he still put the ball in a position for them to make a play (Richardson, numerous times to Graham). Of all the games, it seems very strange to criticize his accuracy after this gem.

14 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

I may be focusing too much on one play. He missed Willson splitting two defenders with the type of drop in the bucket throw that is usually routine for him. On the other hand he got belted by DT as he threw it on that play.

WHY DO I GET FREAKING SPAM FILTERED EVERY TIME!!
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I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

64 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

The play to Willson was bang-bang. The pressure was on and he needed just a split second more to loft the ball. He does that and its a touchdown.

But, if that's his worst passing play of yesterday, that's a testament to how brilliant he was, despite having 1/3 of a leg to work with.

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

I agree. In the Miami game he couldn't follow through. Since then his "set" (e.g. in the pocket) motion (arm, shoulder) looks completely normal to my eyes. His leg stride looks like it could still be a little shorter on average. But honestly I'm going on feel there because often his legs aren't visible in the TV coverage.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

I watched the 49ers and Cowboys, heard the whistle, and the Tartt hit was STILL the wrong call. And, on the ensuing drive the refs missed a clear defensive holding call on 3rd down that allowed the Cowboys to get the ball back and score the second TD before the half. That really was unfortunate and unfair for the 49ers. Marginal teams like that really can't overcome multiple bad officiating calls where each call is effectively a turnover.
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I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

17 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

There was a camera angle, where Tartt was running more or less toward the camera and you can clearly see in the background the ref blowing his whistle for at least 2-3 steps. I couldn't find it online anywhere, but remember it from the broadcast.

21 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Dak is also still on his feet fighting for yards. If they are going to be that strict on a forward progress call, which I've never seen them that strict before, then every forward progress whistle is going to result in a 15 yard penalty.

They have never enforced forward progress like that before. It may be true by the letter of the rule, but it is not fair to the player, team, or coaches to enforce a rule one time differently than every other time the rule is enforced.

And spam filter!
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I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

54 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Once the whistle has been blowing for a couple seconds it doesn't matter if the player is still "on his feet fighting for yards." The defender *has* to stop once the whistle blows and that goes doublely when it is a QB. Contact that doesn't draw fouls vs. a running RB WILL draw a flag vs. a QB. This is the NFL we live in these days for better or worse.

I agreed with the call on Tartt live and in replay.

104 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Part of that is the defenders can generally expect when the whistle will blow. On that play there was no way to anticipate that whistle before Dak went down, the play basically recreated one of the absurdities of the old "in the grasp" rule for QBs.
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I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

so 1 week apart, with more players injured, the steelers were basically jekyll/hyde against doug p's mentor and a very similar scheme and group of personnell

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The standard is the standard!

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Well, they did have Le'Veon in the lineup, so that seemed to make a big difference. But last week they likely just had a bad game in a hornets' nest in Philly. Then they got to play at home and took care of business against an inferior opponent. It happens.

65 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

KC offense hasn't been very good this year, all things considered. I'm not sure which is bigger indictment, the awfulness of the KC defense last night or Reid/Smith refusing to attempt downfield passes to at least try a comeback when there was still plenty of time and the game not totally out of reach.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Watching the Indy/Jax game, I told my Patriots-fan son, "be very grateful that you watch a team doesn't make these kinds of silly mistakes.. A few hours later, I remarked, "remember what I said earlier about silly mistakes?...

What an ugly game. Quite literally, you'd have a hard time find a single hand's worth of guys who played well yesterday. Ryan Allen... Bennett.... anyone else?

Thankfully the team has a tendency to bounce back well from these types of defeats and the Brady/Cleveland combo should allow for the continuation of that trend.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

But really, the level of the mistakes was much higher in the Jax/Indy game. The Pats' D was soft in the first half, but they didn't just let receivers run past them, uncovered, down the field like Jax did late in the game. The Jaguar defense in the 4th quarter could serve as a case study for why coaches go into the prevent defense. With a huge lead, all they needed to do was not give up quick TDs. And then they gave up three quick TDs.

The Dolphins revealed a flaw in the Pats' ability to defend short passes and Rex is smart enough to exploit a flaw like that, so that's what we saw in the first half yesterday. Still, if the Pats had had Brady, or even Garoppolo, I don't think 16 points would have been enough for Buffalo to win.

8 DET-CHI

Thoughts on a game I blame no one for not watching:

1) Brian Hoyer had a clean pocket all day, and Jordan Howard regularly had NFL-sized holes to run through. This from an offensive line that was absolutely embarrassed weeks 1 & 2. Apparently removing Ndamokung Suh, Nick Fairley, and Ziggy Ansah from a defensive line (not to mention De'Andre Levy from the LB corps) has some deleterious effect.

2) Don't know how much blame for the red-zone picks goes to Stafford and how much to the WRs, but they just can't happen. Between that and the goal-line failure, Detroit left many more points on the board than the winning margin.

3) The Bears also missed several opportunities to put points on the board and effectively salt the game away. And the punt return that turned game-over into some nervous moments was absolutely inexcusable. There was nobody blocking for the return man (Detroit was rushing 10 to try and block the punt), and he still scored. Didn't even look particularly difficult. Anyway, these are two bad teams right now.

4) Hard to tell anything from one game against a bad defense, but Bears fans certainly didn't see anything from Howard to make them unhappy. I don't like a lot of the draft decisions this regime has made (don't get me started on the Invisible Leonard Floyd, especially after watching Laremy Tunsil on Thursday night), but the strategy of taking an RB in the 4th or 5th every year until you get one you really like strikes me as exactly right for this era of the NFL.

11 Re: DET-CHI

In reply to by TomC

Has the Jim Bob Offensive Revolution ended, now that there is about a half season of video for defenses to study? I was starting to think that Stafford finally was getting the coaching that could turn him to very talented, very efficient NFL qb. Maybe not.

26 Re: DET-CHI

In reply to by Will Allen

Well, Stafford was pretty lights-out until this game, so I wouldn't give up on the Cooternaut just yet. Part of the problem was that they had no running game at all, because Abdullah's backup went out early, and they stupidly tried to pretend Theo Riddick could run between the tackles instead of just going full 2007 Patriots. Then they benched Golden Tate after the first pick, and Eric Ebron got banged up, so the Bears could just concentrate on taking away Jones.

36 Re: DET-CHI

In reply to by TomC

Stafford was pretty bad against the Titans in week 2. Maybe we are just getting back to high variance Stafford. These guys are the hardest to figure out.

35 Re: DET-CHI

In reply to by TomC

It occurs to me there is probably not a long-running series of pornographic films about a superhero named "The Cooternaut" and I am very sad about that fact.

88 Re: DET-CHI

In reply to by MilkmanDanimal

Yeah, I originally intended that to mean "the juggernaut helmed by Jim Bob Cooter," but it reads more like "the intrepid explorer probing the outer reaches of [never mind I'm stopping now]."

[Edit: the spam filter finally caught something worth catching!]

74 Re: DET-CHI

In reply to by TomC

After 3 weeks of basically no pressure, the Bears were really good to Stafford. Do the Lions have the worst offensive line in the league or have the Bears figured something out?

89 Re: DET-CHI

In reply to by tuluse

They got some inside pressure, but the OLBs were still basically invisible.

42 Re: DET-CHI

In reply to by TomC

Can we make this the official template for people to use when they come here and whine about how FO ignored their team's game in Audibles?

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Ne/Buf Luckily the NFL stuck the Dolphins game on Thursday night sparing me and the team apparently from watching the game. Martellus Bennett is really good and oddly passed along from team to team in the NFL. The Pats seemed comfortable using him over Gronk in the passing game and the results indicated it was the right move at this point. The oddest part of the game was the Pats sort of half-hearted final drive where they didn't call time outs, go hurry up, or just take a knee, but clearly weren't trying too hard to score. I didn't understand why they didn't just take a knee if they weren't exactly going all out. Particularly after a few players went down in that final minute of garbage play. AFC east update 1) Pats lost a game but will gain Brady. 2) the Bill have slid into second. Ryan teams tend to get high and low so I'm not sold they're back yet. 3) The Jets look okay at times in their games, but they're not winning and they're QB throws lots of INTs. 4) Miami is terrible. The rest of the season is about learning if this young head coach can keep the team together and figure out who will be there next season.

19 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Bennett weird guy. probavbly why gets passed form team to team. look how quick Gaints got rid of him. they don't; usually like weird people umnelss major talent like o. beckham jr and l. taylor.

97 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Belichick is clearly one of the very few coaches who possesses the leverage with his fans/owner to not make a serious attempt at a comeback in that obviously futile situation. But even then, there might be some reaction if they just started taking knees. Fans have paid for tickets after all.

105 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

"Belichick is clearly one of the very few coaches who possesses the leverage with his fans/owner to not make a serious attempt at a comeback in that obviously futile situation."

Definitely true. My take on this is the same as my take on the "Belichick runs up the score" claim: Padded practice reps are now rare, so if the game is out of reach (either way), he will use the remaining time for practice reps.

Regarding not taking a knee, I won't say Belichick NEVER worries about injuries, but he won't go out of his way to avoid them if he thinks there's something else to be gained.'

15 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

"Bryan Knowles: Knile Davis just made a terrible decision, not only to take the kickoff out of the end zone, but to then run parallel to the end zone to try to sneak around the oncoming kickoff coverage team. It didn't work. Instead of getting the ball at the 25, the Chiefs are back on the 2."

Knile Davis cost his team 38 yards in field position on the first three kickoffs because he took them all out of the end zone, and each time failed to reach the 25. Why these guys keep doing this is beyond me.

I noticed later Knile Davis wasn't back to return a kick off.

22 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

I have a theory that it's a mistake to have a minor player like Davis return kickoffs. So far this season, Davis has one carry, two receptions, and six kickoff returns. So kickoff returns have been 2/3 of his touches so far this season, and he's likely to have even fewer offensive snaps in the future now that Charles is back. I suspect that when a player gets very few opportunities outside of kickoff returns, it causes him to press especially hard to try to make a big play, even though touchbacks are overwhelmingly the smart play with the new rule. It might be a better idea to use returners who have a more established role on the team, so they won't feel like a big kickoff return is their only way to make a mark.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 4

Zach Brown has been a monster at ILB for the Bills this season - 2 forced fumbles and 52(!!!) tackles in 4 games and it seems like he is just everywhere on every play (he even ran down Julian Edelman from behind on the long pass that was called back). What happened in Tennessee that they let this guy walk?