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

Audibles at the Line: Week 5

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails 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.

Tennessee Titans 30 at Miami Dolphins 17

Cian Fahey: Laremy Tunsil got injured about an hour before kickoff. Branden Albert was already out. The Dolphins are now starting Billy Turner at left tackle and Dallas Thomas at left guard. Turner can't even play his own position, guard, and Thomas is a disaster.

At least they had a good hour to gameplan for this...

Tom Gower: I wondered if this might be reminiscent of the 2006 game between the two teams, a desultory 13-10 Miami win where Kerry Collins airmailed open receiver after open receiver, Travis Henry ran for less than 3 yards per carry, and Daunte Culpepper averaged less than 5 yards per dropback. Instead, it has been more eventful than that.

Titans lead 21-14 at the half. It hasn't felt quite that close -- Miami's two scores came off two big plays. One was a Jakeem Grant punt return touchdown, the other a relatively harmless, seemingly flat pass to Damien Williams that went for 58 yards after he spun to avoid both Sean Spence and Brice McCain (Jay Ajayi would finish this off a couple plays later). Tennessee has consistently been the better team. They have been taking advantage of Miami's two missing linemen on the left side, especially with the stunts that plagued the Dolphins even when they weren't missing healthy linemen on short notice. The Dolphins back seven needs the front to cover for them, and they haven't been able to do so so far today. Credit to Tennessee's offensive line. Another thing the Titans are doing is running the ball a lot more. They have been trying to stay balanced between run and pass in normal situations (not third-down or two-minute), but I have been wondering the last couple weeks if they would finally try to run the ball as often as possible. This week, it looks like they're trying to do that. The second touchdown drive started off with 10 straight runs before a couple of passes in goal-to-go. And Marcus Mariota's passes have been completed, not broken up by defenders challenging them the way teams with actual defensive backs do.

Second half: Dolphins didn't get the big plays they did in the first half that let them score points, while the Titans continued to outplay them. The offensive line issues were particularly glaring at the very end of the game, with Brian Orakpo beating Billy Turner for a sack twice in three plays on one drive, and Karl Klug coming through two offensive linemen as the tackle in a tackle-end stunt to crush Ryan Tannehill on a deep ball prayer that was intercepted by Daimion Stafford to basically end the game (Tennessee needed another first down to get to victory formation, and they got it). Dolphins fans were chanting for Matt Moore in the fourth quarter; I thought the Titans should have been interested in him, but even I don't think he's a better option at left tackle than Turner was. Maybe he could play right guard and let Jermon Bushrod move to left tackle, though, and could he really be worse than Donald Butler at linebacker or another of those replacement-level types Reshad Jones is playing with?

Takeaways on the teams? Tennessee has a claim to the sort of respectable mediocrity that they aspired to and I thought they could achieve. A better team annihilates the Dolphins today, but a bad one just manages their first win by more than seven points outside of Week 1 in exactly three seasons (really, Week 4 of 2013 was their last big win aside from Ken Whisenhunt's season openers). Miami will be a better offensive line when they have Laremy Tunsil, or Branden Albert, or maybe more than a couple hours to think about what they'd do without either one of them. But the defensive issues are legitimate and this is still a bad team and a bad roster.

Washington Redskins 16 at Baltimore Ravens 10

Andrew Potter: Ravens really looking to take advantage of that 32nd-ranked Washington run defense, now starting two backup safeties, on their opening drive. Only one straight dropback in their first nine plays, all three running backs with touches, and three consecutive play-action passes to end the drive with a Crockett Gillmore touchdown. The highlight was a Terrance West 35-yard run off the left side which showed Washington's problems. It was blocked well for a solid gain, but Will Compton took a bad angle and fluffed the tackle while also getting in Will Blackmon's way. West didn't so much truck Compton's tackle as watch it slide off, and Blackmon eventually caught up to push West out of bounds 30 yards further downfield.

At the end of their third drive the Ravens just used the lamest fourth-down "draw them offside" attempt I have ever seen. Fourth-and-2, they lined Joe Flacco up in shotgun with a back to his right and then just sort of lounged around casually until the play clock expired. It was worse than a waste of time; all it served to do was turn a 26-yard field goal into a 31-yarder.

Also, Baltimore's coverage and return teams have been horrendous so far. Jamison Crowder had an 85-yard punt return touchdown earlier, and now Will Blackmon has a 45-yard kickoff return. Washington so far has 30 yards of offense, and 130 return yards. Meanwhile Devin Hester's sole kick return took the ball from 3 yards deep out to the 16-yard line.

This has not been a classic performance from Baltimore's special teams, though the latest unfortunate occurrence won't go down as a special teams play in our database. Justin Tucker's pass attempt on a fake field goal hit the back of Duke Ihenacho's head instead of finding the open Crockett Gillmore. Guess that's what happens when the kicker's throwing the pass.

Mike Garafolo has a good point on Baltimore's fake field goal from earlier:

That seems really, really weird to me. Because yes, that's exactly the sort of thing a well-coached unit would notice, but even moreso it's the kind of small difference that, even if the opposing player can't point out exactly what's wrong, makes an opponent think "something's not right here" and puts him on alert.

That said, the play actually worked just fine except Tucker underthrew Gillmore.

Just had an amazing sequence in this game. A terrific punt by Sam Koch died at the 1, pinning Washington to its own goal line. Matt Jones carried for 2 yards, then Kirk Cousins threw a terrible interception straight to C.J. Mosley. Mosley returned the ball toward the end zone, but lost it while extending for the goal line and the ball trundled through the end zone for a touchback. Net result is a 17-yard gain for Washington, first-and-10 at the 20 instead of being down 17-13.

Bryan Knowles: I hate the rule that fumbling through the end zone results in a touchback. C.J. Mosley intercepted Kirk Cousins, dove for the pylon...and the ball slipped from his hand, squirting out of bounds. A 17-yard gain for Washington when all is said and done; just like you draw it up.

Andrew Potter: Washington took advantage of that huge break (and perhaps the absence of C.J. Mosley who hurt his hamstring on the failed interception return) to drive to the red zone, but settled for a field goal when they got there. Matt Jones had 29 total yards on that one drive, more than his total for the entire rest of the game, and Washington somehow leads by six.

I should mention here that Baltimore's offensive line had already been shuffled coming into the game because of Ronnie Stanley's injury, and also lost right tackle Ricky Wagner earlier. That means starting right guard Marshal Yanda is now playing right tackle with Ryan Jensen coming in at right guard. Added to the shuffling on the left -- rookie guard Alex Lewis at left tackle and veteran John Urschel at left guard -- they're badly struggling in the second half. Though Joe Flacco has only been sacked three times, he's coming under pressure a lot and missing throws as a result. Ziggy Hood in particular has been a standout, consistently collapsing the pocket against the backup linemen. The Ravens have only gained 37 yards in four possessions since halftime, 31 of those on a single drive, and have punted every time they have had the ball.

Joe Flacco, who has done basically nothing since the first quarter, just dropped a beauty of a 25-yard touchdown bomb to Breshad Perriman, but Perriman failed to get his left foot down inbounds. That's the second shoulda-been touchdown to Perriman down the right sideline -- he had another pass go through his hands in the first quarter.

And the game ends when a fourth-down pass clangs off the hands of Mike Wallace. The announcers talk about the hit from Will Compton disrupting the catch, but Wallace had already lost the pass in anticipation of the hit.

New England Patriots 33 at Cleveland Browns 13

Cian Fahey: The Patriots have a clear lack of pass rush through two drives. Cody Kessler was given all the time in the world to function on the second as he moved the offense downfield before Andrew Hawkins capped the drive off with a touchdown on a corner route.

Aaron Schatz: I have been watching Joe Thomas on almost every Browns snap. It's a thing of beauty. But Austin Pasztor is doing a surprisingly good job on the other side too, at least so far. The one play where the Pats got pressure was an overload blitz up the middle.

Bryan Knowles: Cody Kessler is heading back to the locker room after getting hit hard on a rather bizarre safety; a backwards lateral that just flopped out of the end zone. The Browns now need to turn to Charlie Whitehurst, though they might be better off just sticking Terrelle Pryor back there and calling it a day.

Vince Verhei: #PlayTerrelle

Cian Fahey: On Martellus Bennett's second touchdown the Browns double-teamed Rob Gronkowski so Martellus was left one-on-one. Not many (/any) defenses will be able to stop that.

Aaron Schatz: No. How do you cover both guys? Even if you can double Gronk, how do you then find the personnel to cover Bennett? If you try to cover them with cornerbacks, they'll just out-physical you... or audible into a power formation and have LeGarrette Blount run it up the gut.

Cian Fahey: Film Room I wrote about Bennett and Gronk in the offseason.

Charlie Whitehurst has reminded everyone why he wasn't on a roster to open the season since replacing Kessler.

Bryan Knowles: Safe to say Tom Brady didn't gather too much rust sitting on the couch for a month. He had 271 passing yards in the first half. Blaine Gabbert's season-high, for comparison, is 243. For a full game.

Brady better than Gabbert -- just some of the hard-hitting, cutting-edge analysis Football Outsiders is known for, I know.

Vince Verhei: Browns are putting a drive together, but Duke Johnson lets a pass bounce off his hands for a Patrick Chung interception. 

For good reason, the quarterbacks of both teams are getting all the attention today, but let's not overlook New England's stellar run defense. The Browns came into this game fifth in rush offense DVOA, and Isaiah Crowell and Johnson were both averaging better than 6 yards a carry. Today, midway through the third quarter, the Browns have 16 carries for 13 yards.

Bryan Knowles: Brady's out and the Patriots are coasting, but it was interesting to see how it happened -- Brady went out for the huddle, and THEN Belichick pulled him. The Patriots fans in attendance in Cleveland -- a majority, from what it looks like -- gave him a standing ovation. Interesting sequence of events, there.

Vince Verhei: In the CBS studio after the game, they were discussing the possibility that Gronkowski-Bennett might be the best tight end combo ever. Tony Gonzalez said they might be, even though in Kansas City he always thought he and Jason Dunn were the best combo ever. I about fell off my stool when I heard that. Then I looked it up, and Dunn played 160 NFL games, with only 51 starts. And given that he had less that 1,000 yards receiving in his career, he must have been one hell of a blocker to last that long. So given that, and that Tony Gonzalez was Tony Freakin' Gonzalez, maybe that idea's not so silly.

Houston Texans 13 at Minnesota Vikings 31

Vince Verhei: It's not Michigan-Rutgers (yet), but Marcus Sherels just returned a punt for a touchdown (his second of the year) to put Minnesota up 24-0, while Houston has zero first downs in four possessions. Four three-and-outs, three punts, one missed field goal, and a dropped pick-six by Harrison Smith. Vikings came into the game third in defensive DVOA, and they're likely to pass Philadelphia for second with Detroit getting 21 points in the first half against the Eagles. Our numbers said the defense was just average last year and wasn't likely to improve. Many critics said we were overlooking their young talent. Well, score one for everyone else, I guess. 

And as long as we're admitting we're wrong, Sam Bradford has been stellar again for Minnesota, moving them station to station and mostly avoiding bad situations, save for a near-safety sack that left them punting from deep in their own end. (That led to Houston's missed field goal.) His best play came when Houston got an unblocked blitzer right up the middle. Bradford hung in the pocket, getting off a sidearm pass just before he was driven into the turf. The pass landed perfectly in the hands of Adam Theilen, who ended with a 36-yard catch-and-run, Minnesota's biggest play of the half. With Stefon Diggs out and Laquon Treadwell still useless, Bradford is winning with Thielen, Jarius Wright, and Cordarrelle Patterson at receiver. 

Here's how bad things are for Houston: Following Sherels' touchdown, they get their first first down on a Xavier Rhodes defensive pass interference. But then they have a fourth-and-4 inside the Minnesota 30, and basically have to go for it. Brock Osweiler holds the ball forever and gets sacked. How do you not just lob the ball to somebody on fourth down? But Rhodes is called again, this time for holding, and it's another first down. And then they go three-and-out and kick a field goal. So Houston has five possessions and two first downs via Rhodes, and zero first downs via its own players.

Rivers McCown: For whatever reason, the Texans are completely unable to play offense if they're behind the down-and-distance schedule. I expected them to have trouble with the Vikings defense, but I didn't think it would be this bad. Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins have zero catches at halftime. Osweiler has been abysmal even when the Texans give him time to throw. I don't think Osweiler is good at this point, and that's fine, but the coaching continues to do him no favors.

Vince Verhei: Just a quick halftime update: Minnesota now leads 24-6. Houston has one first down passing, one rushing, and three via penalty. DeAndre Hopkins: no catches in three targets. Will Fuller: no catches in one target. Adam Thielen has 66 receiving yards for Minnesota. The Texans, as a team, only have 54 yards receiving (48 yards passing if you include sacks).

Aaron Schatz: Does Houston really have a linebacker kicking off today? Is that an attempt to avoid Cordarelle Patterson?

Tom Gower: Yes, linebacker Brian Peters has been kicking off today.

Aaron Schatz: In 27 years of FO data I do not recall a single game where a non-K/P kicked off all game despite the kicker being healthy.

Bryan Knowles: Even better, Peters is back in the locker room for evaluation, so the Texans are "forced" to turn to their actual kicker to do kickoffs.

Vince Verhei: Peters has been kicking off, and nobody is sure why. They came into the weekend fifth in kickoff's by FO's numbers, and even in mainstream stats they have been very good. 

Now, Peters' kickoffs have resulted in Minnesota's drives starting at their own 16 and 24, so it's not not-working. Then he went to the locker room and Nick Nowak handled the third kickoff, which left Minnesota at its own 22 just before halftime. Vikings are kicking off to start the second half, and Peters is back on the sideline, so we'll see what happens next. Might be the most exciting development in the second half.

Rivers McCown: They should let Vince Wilfork kick off while they're doing silly stuff. At least that could go viral.

Vince Verhei: Brock Osweiler throws a terrible interception and gets trolled by the NFL's official Twitter account:

(And remember, if the Vikings had Tweeted that as a GIF, the NFL would have fined them $100,000.)

Texans have probably their best drive of the game, but then on the edge of field-goal range, Osweiler gets sacked on third-and-7. Texans are now 0-for-11 on third downs. 

So it's fourth-and 16, but you're down 24-6 on the road, so might as well go for it. And the call is a bubble screen to Will Fuller that is caught 2 or 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage and then tackled 12 yards short of the first down. Now what in the hell was that? Just run a draw if you're going to do that. 

Cordarrelle Patterson gets a third-quarter touchdown, a tough catch in traffic no less. It's his first receiving touchdown since October of 2014, nearly two full years ago.

DeAndre Hopkins gets his own touchdown in the fourth, and then we finally get the answer we have been waiting for the entire second half. Nick Novak comes out for the kick. But this is an onside kick. Maybe Peters would have come in to kick deep. Anyway, Minnesota recovers and nothing else interesting is going to happen in this game.

Rivers McCown: Bill O'Brien mentioned in the post-gamer that he thought having Peters kick off would help cover kicks, for whatever that's worth.

Vikings looked like a machine outside of T.J. Clemmings, who struggled to keep pass rushers off Sam Bradford. They're doing a great job of getting the most they can out of that receiving corps.

New York Jets 13 at Pittsburgh Steelers 31

Scott Kacsmar: Mike Tomlin continues to struggle with the difference between aggressive and stupid. With the variety of talent this offense has, I'm not sure expecting a punter to outrun better athletes on the edge on a fake field goal is the right call on fourth-and-2. Let Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, or Le'veon Bell do something there where the whole playbook is open to Todd Haley.

The Jets took over from that botched fake field goal with a touchdown drive to take their first lead at 13-7. Ryan Fitzpatrick got away with one in the end zone that Ross Cockrell could have intercepted, but it bounced to Brandon Marshall, who had a big half with Eric Decker out. Fitzpatrick looks better this week against a soft secondary that is known for giving up a lot of plays.

But Sammie Coates was probably the most interesting player in the first half. He scored his first touchdown on a 72-yard bomb from Roethlisberger. He already has six catches of 40-plus yards this season, or one more than Martavis Bryant ever had in a season. He really is the perfect replacement for Bryant, right down to the failures at the catch point. On a third down before the fake field goal mess, Coates left his feet for a pass that went right through his arms. Then before the half, he dropped a wide-open touchdown at the goal line. That one did not hurt as the Jets left Jesse James extremely wide open on the very next play, but Coates has been mixing good with bad all day. He also had a nice broken tackle on a short catch that looked like the kind of explosive play Bryant could make, but again, the mistakes are still right there too. The Steelers are only leading 14-13, but will get the ball first to start the half.

A bit more defense in the second half, but Coates and Marshall are still having some issues with catching the ball. Coates dropped a third potential touchdown of the game, but did go over 100 yards for the first time in his career. I think the fourth quarter has been a real disappointment for Todd Bowles. First, he challenged a spot that looked clearly short on replay, then just punted on fourth-and-2 at midfield with his team down 24-13 and 7:36 left. I can't justify that punt. Even if the Steelers score a field goal on a short field, it's still a 27-13 game. Trust the offense to convert, and trust the defense to get the stop if it doesn't work out.

The Bowles decision to punt led to a soul-sucking touchdown drive by the Steelers. I'd say the Jets media will rip him for it, but at 1-4, is there really any hope left for this season? I always thought the Jets were in trouble this year with such a brutal schedule to begin the season.

Philadelphia Eagles 23 at Detroit Lions 24

Bryan Knowles: It hasn't been a good day for Philadelphia's defense today. Coming into today, the Eagles had allowed no passing touchdowns all season, but the Lions have had three drives today, and each one has been punctuated by a Matthew Stafford touchdown pass. A post-bye week hangover for Philadelphia?

Not that Detroit has been putting on a defensive show, either. The two quarterbacks are a combined 23-for-29 for 239 yards and four touchdowns, while a whopping six players (Sproles, Wentz, Huff, Riddick, Stafford, and Tate) have a rushing play of 10 yards or more. Defense is optional in Detroit today, apparently.

If neither team is playing defense, the difference right now has been execution. The Eagles already have eight penalties for 76 yards, and there's your difference in the game so far. The Eagles have yet to trail in the second half this season, so we'll see how the early-season surprises do under a little pressure.

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Huge play in Philadelphia! Ryan Mathews and the Eagles were running out clock, and fumbled the ball by the sidelines. A Lions defender -- I couldn't see who live -- managed to bat the ball back in bounds, allowing Detroit to recover, down two with less than three minutes left in the game. Heads-up play by the Lions defense, there.

Aaron Schatz: Jim Caldwell was so excited pointing that he practically jumped into the pile.

Bryan Knowles: Down two points with less than two minutes left, Carson Wentz uncorks an uncharacteristic deep ball...

And Darius Slay comes down with the interception. Wentz's first career interception, and Philadelphia will lose their first game of the season. Turnovers will kill you.

Vince Verhei: And Detroit's go-ahead field goal was set up by a Ryan Mathews fumble that Detroit was able to recover just before it rolled out of bounds.

Aaron Schatz: Lions get away with going fairly conservative on that last goal-line stand. They ran up the middle twice, then ran a pass play where Matthew Stafford took a sack when his initial read wasn't open. I can't imagine it would have been that tough for the Eagles to get up the field and into field goal range with shorter passes, the bread-and-butter of their offense all year. Not sure why the Eagles decided to try to go for it all with one throw.

Scott Kacsmar: Eagles picked some of the worst times for their first turnovers of the season. A conservative call on third down led to the fumble, then the Lions even helped them out by being pretty conservative with a go-ahead field goal. Then with about 90 seconds to go, I'm not sure there's anything easier in the NFL right now than getting into field-goal range when you can play four-down football. That's seriously the right time to just dink and dunk your way down the field as so many quarterbacks have over the years, yet it was an uncharacteristic forced deep throw by Wentz that led to his first pick and loss in the NFL. A bit too much air on that one.

Atlanta Falcons 23 at Denver Broncos 16

Bryan Knowles: Atlanta opens strong against that vaunted Denver defense, with a nine-play, 75-yard drive. Took them four shots at the end zone, but a three-tight end set gave them enough power to plow in for the score. Atlanta's start this season feels more real than their 5-0 start last year, even taking into account the fact they have already lost a game.

I wonder if Atlanta saw something on tape about Denver's ability to cover running backs in the passing game. Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman, and Patrick DiMarco have four grabs for 88 yards already. DVOA had Denver 18th covering backs coming into the game, so that might be something to watch as the game goes forward.

Aaron Schatz: Well, that was a strength of Danny Trevathan, one of the Broncos defenders who left in free agency this offseason.

Paxton Lynch is not very accurate. He's got a gun, but it's not an accurate gun. Just overthrew Emmanuel Sanders in the end zone, throwing off his back foot.

Vince Verhei: Falcons lead 13-3 at halftime, but Broncos have taken Julio Jones out of the game -- he has no catches in first half. (He was open a few times downfield, but Matt Ryan overthrew him.) In nine halves of football this year, he now has 14, 52, 30, 76, 0, 16, 170, 130, and 0 yards. Wacky.

Tom Gower: Coming in during the game last week against the Buccaneers, I thought Paxton Lynch looked fairly comfortable and confident in the offense. Not quite so much today, whereas Aaron mentioned he has been missing some throws, throwing off his back foot too often, and relying just on his arm to get the ball there. It hasn't helped that right tackle Donald Stephenson is out and replacement Ty Sambrailo is a clear downgrade, with the previously mostly somnambulant Vic Beasley getting a couple sacks in the first half, and that the Broncos' struggles in the run game are continuing this week. A couple third-and-1 run stops have contributed to the 13-3 Falcons half-time lead (though the Broncos did convert one of those on fourth down).

Aaron Schatz: Vic Beasley is having a huge game, and Denver is hurting really badly at right tackle. Donald Stephenson is injured and they have had both Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield playing there. They have both been terrible, I guess Sambrailo is also injured but is playing anyway. The Denver offense can't get anything going today.

Tom Gower: Broncos make a game of it, almost, but Atlanta comes away with a 23-16 win.

Takeaways?

1. Trevor Siemian is better than Paxton Lynch. The regular pressure seemed to rattle Lynch, who was inaccurate, shaky, and showed rookie processing speed. He'll be the starter eventually, but October of his rookie season is not that time.

2. Backup offensive tackles in the NFL are mostly quite bad.

3. Atlanta's offense still looks like it is for real. Tevin Coleman's speed was a problem in coverage for the Broncos linebackers, and their 180 yards receiving by the backs is the most in the NFL since 2013. On the other hand, Denver's linebackers are not their past linebackers in coverage. I'm not absolutely sure Danny Trevathan sticks with Coleman on one of those vertical routes, but I do bet he's closer.

4. No Julio Jones, not a big deal. Another quiet day after a quiet day against New Orleans, and Atlanta's offense still had a pretty productive day overall.

5. Von Miller is still really good.

San Diego Chargers 31 at Oakland Raiders 34

Andrew Potter: Oakland went right after injury replacement Casey Hayward on the opening drive of the game, a deep ball down the right sideline toward Amari Cooper. It was incomplete due to a slight overthrow. Then on the next play, Derek Carr threw a terrible interception to Brandon Mebane trying to set up a screen, and the Chargers got the ball on the Raiders 30.

Two plays later, the rare Antonio Gates fumble gave Oakland the ball straight back on its own 11-yard line. Then Carr almost threw another interception -- this is a very messy start from the AFC West rivals.

So it's 10-9 San Diego at the half in Oakland, which doesn't look like anything unusual. That doesn't reflect the general course of the game at all though; Oakland has largely dominated, getting to scoring range on four of the five drives that followed the bizarre screen pass interception. They have doubled San Diego's play count, and had far more consistent success. Philip Rivers has thrown two picks, both on deep throws, and more than half of their 142 yards came on two plays -- the 29-yard touchdown to Tyrell Williams in which he roasted Bashaud Breeland, and a 54-yard catch-and-run to Travis Benjamin.

Meanwhile Derek Carr has dropped two perfect passes to Amari Cooper in the left corner of the end zone, but Cooper failed to get his second foot inbounds on both plays and Oakland settled for two field goals. Janikowski's missed 50-yarder is the difference between the teams right now.

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Of course, as I type that, San Diego gets another 50-yard pass play on a Hunter Henry catch-and-run. Oakland's pursuit has let them down on both of those 50-yard plays, which were nothing special from a play-design standpoint. That leads to an 18-yard Melvin Gordon catch-and-run (noticing a theme here?) and San Diego's up by eight.

The key play on that drive, however, was a Stacy McGee sack-fumble of Philip Rivers on the first play that squirted forward straight to Perry Riley, but bounced off the linebacker into the welcoming arms of Chargers lineman Chris Hairston. That's your prime example of the randomness of fumble recoveries, and their impact on the outcome of games.

The Raiders finally got that touchdown to Amari Cooper, and it was a GREAT throw under heavy pressure from Derek Carr. Cooper torched Adrian Phillips with his route, and nobody else was in position to stop him.

Vince Verhei: I'm not usually a traditionalist, but all Chargers-Raiders games should look like this. I count four 50-yard catches so far, three for San Diego, one for Oakland. Just a parade of long bombs, like Hadl and Lamonica, and Stabler and Fouts would have liked it.

Andrew Potter: It would be extremely generous to call Benjamin's and Henry's 50-yarders "bombs". Everton (soccer) fans used to chant "Feed the Yak and he will score," and with a slight twist that should certainly be San Diego's approach. Rivers has thrown two picks to one 29-yard touchdown and one 50-yarder (both to Tyrell Williams) on deep balls, but the other two 50-yard plays have been mostly YAC.

Vince Verhei: My mistake. I saw the Cooper and Williams plays, which were back-to-back plays from scrimmage, and figured the rest of the game must have gone that way too. 

Although, even the deep ball interceptions fit the narrative I was looking for. Karl Joseph's interception was caught 47 yards downfield on a third-and-16. That's a hell of a lot more exciting than a bubble screen and a punt. And it's not like those AFL games didn't have plenty of turnovers.

Bryan Knowles: There's your old AFL, right there! Fourth-and-2, the Raiders keep their offense out on the field, and throw a 20-yard rainbow to Michael Crabtree, who made a phenomenal catch at the corner of the end zone to take the lead. Gutsy play call pays off.

Andrew Potter: Yeah, that one will count as a deep ball for sure. Another Melvin Gordon fumble turns into a second deep-ball touchdown for the now hyper-aggressive Oakland Raiders. Fourth-and-2 in the third quarter, down 5, Oakland dials up a deep ball to Michael Crabtree down the right sideline. Crabtree, of course, hauls it in over Casey Hayward. Oakland goes for two and gets it, so the Raiders are now up by three.

Derek Carr has been looking to attack Hayward deep right from the opening drive, so it's no surprise to see them go after that matchup again on a critical play.

Amari Cooper is really struggling with the boundaries today. A third touchdown taken off the board because he didn't keep his feet in bounds, this time while running his route. Cooper stepped out trying to get around Dexter McCoil, and after a lengthy confab the officials call ... wait what?

Gene Steratore's crew just called incomplete on a very obviously completed pass in the end zone, but then ruled a bizarre pass interference against McCoil. Two things: firstly, it wasn't incomplete. Secondly, that's an appalling pass interference call.

I think what happened is they couldn't decide whether Cooper stepped out or was forced out, and tried to split the difference, but what they ended up with is a complete botch of a call.

OK, Gene Steratore's explanation is this:

"Although the receiver was knocked out of bounds with the football in the air, which is a foul for pass interference, he still must get two feet back inbounds to re-establish as an eligible receiver. The receiver that was knocked out by foul only gets one foot back inbounds, therefore the pass was incomplete."

So yay, NFL rules. I think that was lame interference call, personally, but the explanation makes some semblance of sense if they consider McCoil's contact on Cooper a "force out." Jamize Olawale scored a touchdown on the next play, and Oakland leads by ten.

All of that came on the back of a 16-yard punt by rookie punter Drew Kaser giving Oakland the ball at San Diego's 32 -- another piece of evidence for the thesis that Philip Rivers was Andrew Luck before Andrew Luck was Andrew Luck.

Bryan Knowles: Oh no, Chargers. Oh, no, no, no.

Lining up for the game-tying field goal, the holder can't handle the snap, and the ball goes bouncing away. Oakland maintains a 34-31 lead with two minutes left in the game. The Chargers can not buy a break this year.

Vince Verhei: Hey look. Philip Rivers made great plays to put his team in good position only to see them blow it again -- never seen that before. In this case it was a bobbled snap on what would have been a game-tying field goal. It was fourth-and-1, and I was thinking I'd have left Rivers on the field to go for the win instead of the tie. Now they get neither.

Andrew Potter: Drew Kaser has been a complete disaster today. After a 16-yard punt earlier, he just let a perfect field goal snap slip out of his hands while holding for Josh Lambo on a potential game-tying attempt. Might be one to watch for on the cuts list this week.

Scott Kacsmar: Sad thing is, I doubt McCoy will even be pressed about the decision to go for the tying field goal. When you're 1-3 and haven't played much defense all day, what's the real value in the game-tying field goal there? It was fourth-and-inches. The offense should be able to convert that. By going for the tie, you're just giving Carr two minutes to get a field goal for the Oakland win. Jack Del Rio is taking some fourth-down chances this year, because he knows his defense isn't good, and he trusts the offense to deliver. San Diego clearly has the worst coach in the division.

Andrew Potter: Fun statistical quirk from this game: teams that only punt once are now a combined 0-3 this year. The other two teams to have only punted once in a game are Cleveland against Washington last week, and Washington against Pittsburgh in Week 1. No team has yet gone a full game without punting this year.

Cincinnati Bengals 14 at Dallas Cowboys 28

Ben Muth: In the pregame intro Phil Simms called Dallas' offensive line a secret weapon. It's easy to nitpick announcers but how in the hell do you call the most discussed offensive line, who the Cowboys have built their entire identity around, a secret?

Bryan Knowles: It's 21-0, Dallas, at the half. Frankly, it hasn't been that close.

Dallas' defense is really stepping up to the plate today. They have limited Andy Dalton to dinks and dunks all day, as the secondary has blanketed Cincinnati's wide receivers -- A.J. Green has just one reception. On the other side of the ball, Phil Simms' "secret weapon" -- the Cowboys offensive line--is giving Dak Prescott all day to throw and Ezekiel Elliot huge holes to work with. Dallas is averaging 8.3 yards per play. They're doing all this without Dez Bryant, too.

Buffalo Bills 30 at Los Angeles Rams 19

Bryan Knowles: Tyrod Taylor has had a pretty good game so far, keeping drives alive with his feet and throwing a touchdown pass. He did, however, line up behind the wrong lineman during a shotgun snap. It didn't end up going very well.

Vince Verhei: LeSean McCoy just broke free for a 53-yard run. Rams' front played that so badly that both McCoy and his fullback were sprinting untouched 40 yards downfield. Mike Gillislee scores on a 5-yard pitch play on the next snap to go up 14-3. 

This would be a good time to mention that the Rams are missing three starters on the defensive line today.

Bryan Knowles: The missing defensive linemen are hurting Los Angeles, as the Bills are moving the ball very well up and down the field -- but the Rams aren't exactly running up against a brick wall, either. The difference, so far, has been in the red zone: Buffalo has made two trips and scored two touchdowns, while Los Angeles' two trips have resulted in short field goals.

Bryan Knowles: Down by 7, with six minutes to go, the Rams face fourth-and-goal from the 4. They opt to kick the chip-shot field goal rather than try to plunge it in. That makes one touchdown in four red zone trips, and something to put a pin in if Buffalo holds on to win this game.

The Rams tried a fake punt on fourth-and-5 deep in their own territory, but the Bills are all over it, swarming Bradley Marquez before he can get anything. The very next play, LeSean McCoy rumbles down to the 1-yard line.

I don't see why you fake punt there and not go for the touchdown on the other end of the field. It's a bit of an arbitrary set of picks of when to gamble and when to play it safe. With the Bills struggling on offense in the second half, maybe you just punt there and count on your defense to get the ball back.

Vince Verhei: Rams have a fourth-and-5 at their own 23, down four points with 3:47 to go. Gee, do you think they might fake a punt? The Bills thought so, and snuffed out the fake for a 2-yard run. Not sure what it says when Rex Ryan knows your game plan better than you do. 

Bills get another big run, a 24-yarder by McCoy down to the 1, to set up a Tyrod Taylor touchdown pass that puts Buffalo ahead 30-19 with less than three minutes to go. 

This has been such a weird game. In many ways it has been one of Case Keenum's best games -- he's 21-of-28 for 251 yards, with 20-yard gains all over the place. But the only touchdown he's thrown was a pick-six for Buffalo, he's been sacked three times, and the Rams still haven't broken 20 points. Meanwhile, the Bills' passing game can't do anything, but they're now averaging 7.9 yards per rush.

Aaron Schatz: I didn't watch most of this game but Keenum looked awful, absolutely awful on the Rams' last couple of drives. There's very little accuracy, and he can't feel the pass pressure at all. Would Jared Goff really be worse than this? Maybe the reason not to play Goff is that he would get killed behind the offensive line, which was giving way to the Bills pass pressure on every snap. You can't even criticize the Rams for not using their draft capital to try to rebuild that line. They used three different draft picks on offensive linemen in 2015, and of course took Greg Robinson second overall in 2014. Robinson hasn't improved much in three years.

Vince Verhei: Rams' last drive ends in a sack and then an interception. The sack was by Lorenzo Alexander, who had three today and now leads the league with seven. This is a great story. He's in his age 33 season, and he only had nine sacks in his first nine seasons (including 16 starts). An early favorite for the Kurt Warner Trophy in Football Outsiders' awards.

New York Giants 16 at Green Bay Packers 23

Rivers McCown: Aaron Rodgers has barely been pressured. Janoris Jenkins was able to pick off a couple balls -- he's had a heck of a season so far, as he was leading the FO premium charting success rate through Week 4 -- and that has kept the Giants from getting blown off the field. Eli Manning is struggling on third down, and finding it tough to get the ball to Sterling Shepard or Victor Cruz.

This is a tough watch, but probably not the toughest thing on TV right now...

Tom Gower: Packers came out with a long, time-consuming drive that featured some running and lots of different personnel groupings, that ended with a Jordy Nelson touchdown catch. For all Green Bay's offensive fun much of the past 20 games, they haven't done that (and obviously couldn't have done the last last year). Up 17-6 at the half, they have by and large been moving the ball well, with Eddie Lacy finding yardage and ripping off bigger gains, and Aaron Rodgers having plenty of time to throw. Except that Rodgers has been uncharacteristically off. He has thrown two interceptions, and one of them was even his fault, and Davante Adams took an OPI penalty late in the first half that might have prevented another one. Very odd to see him at 13-of-28 with little pass pressure.

On the other side of the ball, Eli Manning has moments where he appears to be approaching David Carr in 2005 levels of terrified his offensive line is actively trying to kill him.

Scott Kacsmar: For all the crap I gave Janoris Jenkins in St. Louis, must say he is having a superb game tonight, and was already first in success rate according to SIS charting coming into Week 5. The Giants don't have a pass rush, but he is holding things together for this defense.

Tom Gower: Yup. Jordy Nelson had the early touchdown catch, Davante Adams had a long touchdown, and aside from those moments, it's been more of the same, Green Bay receivers seemingly not winning, at least in ways that mean Rodgers doesn't hold the ball forever and dance in the pocket waiting for something to happen, before missing on yet another pass. Nelson in particular has 10 targets for two catches and 9 yards, and I think most of that has been against Janoris.

Andrew Potter: Janoris Jenkins is one of the players I mentioned as a standout when the Giants played the Saints in Week 2. I'm glad to see it wasn't a one-week fluke.

Rivers McCown: New York's offensive line has been getting gashed all night. And by offensive line I mostly mean Ereck Flowers.

Vince Verhei: There are less than four minutes left in this game. Giants have the ball, down 14 points. They have zero sacks of Aaron Rodgers tonight, and seem unlikely to get more, bringing their season total to four sacks in five games: one by Jason Pierre-Paul, one by Olivier Vernon, and two by defensive backs. Per Spotrac.com, PIerre-Paul and Vernon have a combined cap hit of $22.4 million. 

Meanwhile, in Buffalo, Lorenzo Alexander and his $600,000 cap hit had three sacks today and seven on the season.

Tom Gower: Packers win, 23-16. Eli was somewhat more composed in the second half, enough to do some productive work (he was 5-for-5 on the opening possession after just six completions in the first half.) Green Bay's receivers finally started winning, enough to get them the lead they needed to seal the win. As an overall summary of the game, though, I like Greg Bedard's tweet wondering if the loser of this game was the state of the McCarthy/McAdoo offense.

Comments

109 comments, Last at 16 Oct 2016, 9:58pm

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

This is an awful Miami team, and has the potential to be as bad as anything Wannstache, Cam Cameron or Joe Philbin produced. Why the staff decided that Billy Turner was a solution at tackle staggers me beacuse a: you have Jermon Bushrod on the roster and b: he's Billy Turner.
Frankly Miami stink, and until Stephen Ross shitcans Tannenbaum and gets competent management, they'll keep stinking. Cleveland are bad, but they're young & bad. Miami aren't young anywhere, and are a legit 1st pick candidate.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

One example of organisational dysfunction. In his career, Dan Marino took 242 sacks. In just 69 games Tannehill has been sacked 201 times. While Tannehill bears some responsibility for that, the Dolphins' failure to put competent blockers in front of him is almost beyond parody.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

As discussed in the chat thread yesterday, Miami will either play Matt Moore at some stage and give him $40M guaranteed for 2 games of competence or trade all the picks for Jimmy Garoppolo on the basis of two games.
Meanwhile, Tannehill will go to a competent professional organisation and do good things

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

I said last week about Tannehill taking sacks.

If the o-line is that bad then you have to write a scheme that enables the QB to get the ball out quickly.

But on the other hand the big criticims of last year's Dolphins under Philbin/Bill Lazor was that they only threw screens and short balls.

So where do you go from there?

20 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

I couldn't agree more. The coaching decisions for this team are beyond compare bad this season. Tannehill is Jim Plunkett, not Andrew Luck. He isn't terrible, but he is getting killed behind years of terrible lines. Oddly Miami drafts serviceable linemen that they can't turn into NFL players. It's not like they're not rated decent on draft day. Yet they never develop and Miami doesn't go out and hire an OLINE guru. I thought they landed a steal in Adam Case, but the young coach is over matched with a bad roster and a bad staff. The owner allowed the wrong man to win the front office war and now they're ruining their QB and head coach. Both deserve to be removed from this team and allowed to go somewhere that will at least respect them. As for chants to play Moore...no other QB in the NFL would be off the IR after the beating TAnnehill has received. Tannehill is amazing in the punishment he takes and still gets up. Is he failing to feel the pressure or over feeling it? Sure because that's what happens to QBs that get pummeled in the NFL. It's disgusting. Steelers next week, what a nightmare.

39 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

We're pretending it didn't happen.

Bennett is much more like a traditional TE than Hernandez, who was essentially a tall wide receiver.

I remember recently on Redskins radio, Chris Cooley said Aaron Hernandez was the best route runner at tight end he'd seen. I was surprised that he was actually willing not only to mention him, but to compliment his football ability.

What a damned shame.

68 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

I'm all for pretending it didn't happen. But as you say, Hernandez didn't block and Bennett definitely does. That creates a strong potential for Bennett/Gronk to be even better than that thing that didn't happen. For this one game, I'd say they were better. We'll see what happens from here.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

I'm sure a lot will be said about Denver's defense after the lose, but giving up 23 against a top offense (and on a day their own offense was terrible) doesn't bother me too much. Having to potentially play Lynch in short rest against a team seems due for some breaks this Thursday certainly does.

41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

I agree, the sky isn't falling in Denver as they only gave up 23 points despite an awful offensive performance and had a turnover in their territory that led to points. However it does look like a flaw was exposed that teams with the right personnel (NE, PIT) may be able to exploit. If you remember in the AFCCG, New England tried the same strategy with James White, but Trevathan covered him very well (and the pressure was more consistent). The most disturbing trend I see with Denver is that they consistently fail to convert 3rd and 1 situations.

I definitely think the looming Thursday night divisional road game affected the availability of Stephenson, Green and Siemian. Each was close to 50/50 and the prevailing thought seemed to be that if they played Sunday there was a good chance they wouldn't be available on Thursday night. Denver's rushing offense has really suffered with the loss of their RT, Stephenson and their best TE, Virgil Green.

47 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

A much better example for NE's approach was the game in November where NE put up 21 points despite missing Edelman, Amendola and Lewis. They put up 21 points (would have been more if not for a few drops, including on inside the 10 by LaFell) and it was enough to win had it not been for external influences.

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

The next Vikings offensive lineman who comes off the field is going to result in a street free agent or pure practice squad guy blocking for them. I still think this is likely to be their downfall, absent Sparano working a miracle, or Spielman doing some mortgaging.

22 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

if there is a silver lining - it's that their best 2 lineman are still healthy. When you lose Kalil, Smith and maybe now Fusco - it's not like your losing above average players. Sirles looked pretty decent yesterday.

I do think the Kalil loss might be the biggest. Clemmings is pretty bad.

I read they might be looking at signing Jake Long. I don't know squat about oline talent, but he must have had some being a first overall pick. But if no one else has signed him yet, he's likely lost what he once had.

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

Wentz's stat line prior to his pick couldn't make Scott's ongoing twitter point about air yards better if it was done on purpose. 25/32 (78% completion), 2 TDs, no picks. And even with a run game averaging 5.5 yds/carry, all it took was 1 fumble (and not even a negative turnover ratio) to leave the offense needing a 2 minute drill to win. You can't expect a QB to perform any better than that within the confines of that offense. But even with near-perfect execution, that offense isn't going to do enough to win consistently if the defense isn't carrying it.

48 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

I doubt it burns Kacsmar that an offensive style he dislikes, running more or less the perfect version of itself, only put up 23 points. But I don't know his mind. Wentz managing to bump his air yards up towards the lower end of Alex Smith's range with one throw doesn't really change what we saw for 58 minutes before that.

64 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

I think he avoids the deep ball because the scheme asks him to. None of what I'm saying is meant as a criticism of Wentz specifically. Like I said, that stat line is as good as any team could reasonably expect from what they asking him to do; if your game plan needs over 80% completion percentage to work, it's not a good plan. I'm just restating the general point that we should chill a bit on evaluating his performance because they aren't asking him to do that much. He might show up later with a great deep ball and a killer instinct. We just don't have much evidence one way or the other on whether that is likely.

65 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

If I learned one thing from watching the Patriots, it's that Bill Belichick uses players to their strengths. Brady was a game manager for the first 3-5 years of his career and as time went on his role expanded. When he got Randy Moss he went deep. With Welker he threw loads of possession stuff. With two TEs he splits the seam etc, etc.

66 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

True, but this style of offense is always going to have fewer drives and put the team in closer games. When working, it creates long drives. It's the same offense that produced a 5 minute drive when down 2 scores in the last 6 minutes of a playoff game last season (Chiefs v Patriots). Which is sort of my point. Even when working perfectly, and backed by a good defense, it often leaves games close enough to lose on one mistake like an inopportune fumble.

40 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

This was the first full game I watched of Wentz, and I came away really impressed. Even within the confines of his offense he had a lot of huge 3rd down conversions. Also he does a great job of sidestepping pressure (what little he faced, anyway), while keeping the original play alive. The difference between him and Stafford in that regard was striking. Even the INT wasn't a terrible throw or decision. He had 1 on 1 coverage deep. Agholar did him no favors by locating the ball way too late.

Yea, maybe this offense isn't asking too much of him, like you're saying, but you can definitely see him be able to do more once he has some more experience under his belt.

44 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

Yep, this.

And especially this:
"Even the INT wasn't a terrible throw or decision. He had 1 on 1 coverage deep. Agholar did him no favors by locating the ball way too late."

And even though I didn't like the play call(toss to the short side), it was Mathews holding the ball in the wrong hand that blew it for the Birds

104 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 5

What do you think happened on that interception? You've told several people in this comment section that they're wrong about that play without giving any indication of what you think actually happened.
You've had a bit of a trend of that on these threads, where you tell people they're wrong without giving any reasoning or alternative explanation. I don't think you intend to be rude, but just saying "you're wrong" comes off as much less respectful than "that's not what I saw, I think it was [X]".