compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Green Bay Packers 21 at Atlanta Falcons 44
Bryan Knowles: Green Bay put Atlanta in a couple of third-and-long situations on that drive, one of Atlanta's few weak spots on offense, relatively speaking (19th in the league in converting by conventional stats). Atlanta converted both of them, and draws first blood.
Scott Kacsmar: I'm still convinced 2008-2015 Matt Ryan doesn't make that little flip pass on the run there. He's really stepped up his improv game this season, which is key to his career-year success.
Carl Yedor: Methodical drive down the field by the Falcons. A few important third down conversions, but nothing we didn't expect coming into the game. I'm pretty happy this game is happening in a dome so we can see the offenses at their best instead of fighting with the elements (although it's only about 40 degrees in Green Bay right now).
Aaron Schatz: They called unnecessary roughness on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix after the first Falcons touchdown, and the Falcons just kicked deep from the 50 for an easy touchback. I do not understand why we are not seeing more onside kicks in that situation. With the touchback at the 25, you are talking about the difference between an unsuccessful onside kick and a successful touchback being roughly FIFTEEN YARDS. That is absolutely worth giving up for a 10 to 15 percent chance of keeping the ball and putting your offense back on the field -- especially in a game like this where we know there will be a ton of points scored!
And it took Green Bay two plays to move the ball past where they would have recovered a failed onside kick. Two plays.
Cian Fahey: Packers aren't slowing their pass rush early on. Getting a good rush too, tightening Rodgers' pocket.
Aaron Schatz: Surprisingly it's the Falcons having trouble catching the ball early, with three drops in the first two drives.
Vince Verhei: Atlanta's second drive ends in a field goal after a first-and-goal false start, but they still take a 10-0 lead. Weren't we talking a few weeks ago about Atlanta's offensive improvement, and trying to figure out what personnel move they made to cause it? Well let's not forget that their 2 and 3 receivers last year were Roddy White's corpse and Leonard Hankerson. After two drives, Mohamed Sanu leads Atlanta with 53 yards from scrimmage. Taylor Gabriel has only contributed one drop so far, but regardless, the depth of options in the passing game have been a huge improvement.
Scott Kacsmar: They're playing pretty well, but I still find it odd how quick some are to gloat about Sanu and Gabriel this year. Are we forgetting some of the great receiving corps from over the years? The Cardinals once made the Super Bowl with Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston as their No. 2 and No. 3 guys. I'd also take Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham from the 2011 Giants over those two, not to mention Randall Cobb and Davante Adams on the other side of the field today. The Atlanta scoring machine in general has just been really impressive this season, but I think most fans would still struggle to name the tight end on this team.
Vince Verhei: I never said they had the best corps this year, or the best of recent playoff teams. I just said they were much better than the guys Atlanta had last year.
Scott Kacsmar: Right, it's a clear improvement on the 2015 Falcons, the weakest offense of the Ryan era. But as far as MVP quarterback seasons, and 500-point scoring teams go, this is still one of the lesser supporting casts of skill players that we've seen.
Andrew Potter: They're never, ever calling it, but surely that should have been a safety after the Aaron Ripkowski fumble. Jalen Collins clearly deliberately rolled himself into the end zone from the 1-yard line.
Vince Verhei: I thought so too, and I am VERY annoyed none of Fox's announcers mentioned that possibility. But on replay (and all turnovers are automatically reviewed), it looked like Collins didn't actually secure possession until he was in the end zone. So, touchback.
Scott Kacsmar: His knee is on the line when he gets possession. It's close, and Fox definitely should have brought it up, but no controversy here.
Tom Gower: I rewound the initial (and thus far) only look we got a couple times, and it looked to me like the ball was in the field of play when Collins finally possessed the ball, but he was moving. In that case, no safety because of the momentum exception, but Atlanta's ball at the 1 rather than a touchback. That 19 yards of field position difference makes a pretty big deal, and I won't use the words I want to use to describe Fox not mentioning it because there are preschool toys around.
Andrew Potter: Well it's not like they have a rules expert available at a moment's notice or anything.
Bryan Knowles: There's enough controversy that Dean Blandino tweeted out the explanation
Gained possession with left leg touching the goal line so it is a touchback. Momentum and ball at 1-yd line if body part not in EZ.
— Dean Blandino (@DeanBlandino) January 22, 2017
Said that his leg was on the goal line, and thus, a touchback. I thought the ball had to be in the end zone to be a touchback, but apparently the rule was called correctly.
Either way, odd that Fox didn't even mention it.
Vince Verhei: Matt Ryan scrambles for a touchdown to put Atlanta up 17-0. The Falcons have dropped, what, three or four passes, all downfield? Ryan is still 15-of-22 for 187 yards.
Credit to Chase Stuart for pointing out that Dom Capers has no idea how to defend quarterback runs.
Dom Capers can turn Colin Kaepernick into Usain Bolt, and Matt Ryan into Colin Kaepernick. Good lord.
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) January 22, 2017
Andrew Potter: I know it's still kinda early, but man based on how the game's gone so far I'd have been seriously considering going for that fourth-and-2.
Granted Mike McCarthy's not who I'd pick to call the play if I was going for it, but even so...
Bryan Knowles: I have no idea how no one caught that Matt Ryan bomb. It hung up there forever, and three Packers and a Falcon all had a shot at it.
Tom Gower: I'm pretty sure Aldrick Robinson thought Green Bay was going to intercept it and was trying to make sure the defensive back didn't catch it rather than trying to catch it himself.
Aaron Schatz: Touchdown Falcons with three seconds left. 24-0. I thought Julio Jones had his toe touch out of bounds but I understand that's tough to overturn.
The Packers absolutely should have a run in them in the second half. But the problem is they not only need a run, they also need to keep the Falcons out of the end zone.
Vince Verhei: Among the many reasons Atlanta is lighting up Green Bay so far: outstanding pass protection. In the first half, Ryan had 32 passes, plus two scrambles (for a team-high 23 rushing yards). The Packers defense has no sacks, and only four hits.
The Packers ran the ball three times in the first half, and will probably run even less in the second.
Tom Gower: Falcons up 24-0 at the half. I'm not that surprised the Falcons have 24 points in five possessions. Their use of running backs in the passing game is tailor-made to annihilate Green Bay's linebacker corps, forcing Dom Capers to play more of his highly questionable defensive backs and opening up the outside zone action or letting Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman catch passes. We have seen a lot of Joe Thomas and Jake Ryan, it seems, and the Falcons have spent basically the whole game in the air (Ryan 32 passing attempts to ten carries for the backs).
But zero points for the Packers? Some of it is understandable -- they should have three, but Mason Crosby missed a makeable field goal. Aaron Ripkowski had the big fumble (Atlanta is 2-for-2 on fumble recoveries). And two normal stops (I thought Green Bay should have gone for it on fourth-and-2 down 17-0, on the edge of field goal range or not). So nothing in four possessions, which isn't that strange. But it does stress the hill they have to climb. Atlanta's not scoring quickly, so Green Bay needs to make up 24 points in, oh, maybe five or six team possessions unless they really hurry? Dallas had to do a lot to get into the game last week; they managed it, but Green Bay's task is maybe twice as hard? Even harder, because it's not like Atlanta's offense has slowed down? At least they'll get the ball to start the second half.
I forget who I saw mention it on Twitter, but the Julio Jones touchdown at the end of the first half was definitely a "just tackle the receivers" scenario with so little time left and Atlanta out of timeouts.
Scott Kacsmar: Third down was one area where Ryan's season wasn't overly stellar, but he has delivered today. Can't really pinpoint it to any one thing either. There have been great throws, great catches, blown coverages, and some timely running from him. Pretty stunned to see 24-0 at halftime.
Cian Fahey: These playoffs continue to offer no actual competition (outside of the Green Bay-Dallas game). It's halftime and it's 24-0 with no reason to think the Packers can come back. Rodgers has actually played well but the Packers are losing in pretty much every other area.
Carl Yedor: So much for that shootout. At least Green Bay gets the ball to start the second half. Not much else to say that hasn't already been said, but it does feel like Green Bay is unfortunate to be down by as much as they are.
Bryan Knowles: Three-and-out is not precisely the way you want to start your big second-half comeback.
Terrible drop by Jared Cook there.
Vince Verhei: He had drops on first down and third down on that three-and-out. It's almost like somebody wrote about how lousy this Packers team is except for the quarterback.
Julio Jones' 73-yard touchdown in which he shamed and emasculated Green Bay's entire secondary, throwing them to the ground like children, reminds me of Percy Harvin's kickoff return touchdown to open the second half of Seattle's Super Bowl win over Denver: an amazing athletic feat that also signaled the exact point when everyone knew the game was really over.
Cian Fahey: We have reached the relying-on-Christine-Michael stage of the evening.
Scott Kacsmar: Packers finally find the end zone, but why not start going for two on every drive? You have virtually no hope of winning anyway, so what is there to lose? Try to maximize scoring on each drive.
Vince Verhei: Mike McCarthy, the same coach who punted on fourth-and-2 down 17-0.
Bryan Knowles: A delay of game on the ensuing kickoff is an embarrassing error, even if it ended up not mattering. That's a Jaguars-level mistake.
Vince Verhei: Packers finally get a sack... and it's wiped out by a defensive holding call.
Cian Fahey: I have British TV talking about how Aaron Rodgers has been off his game today. If I wasn't sure NFL Media is about to adopt the same narrative it'd annoy me. Alas...
Bryan Knowles: Probably meaningless in this case, but would you rather have the Packers at third-and-goal from the 18, or fourth-and-goal at the 3? Falcons chose the former, and I'm not 100 percent sure that's the right call.
Andrew Potter: Given the DPI call against Robert Alford on the resultant third down, I'd guess Atlanta would also walk that decision back if they could.
I'll also enter Mike McCarthy's two-point play calls (and last week's failed fourth-and-short against Dallas) as evidence in support of my earlier point: that while I would have considered going for the fourth-and-2 in the first half, Mike McCarthy is not the guy I'd want to have calling the play.
Cian Fahey: Jared Cook has 7-78-1 today and is receiving praise all over my Twitter timeline. Sometimes I think they transmit a different game across the Atlantic.
Bryan Knowles: Nose tackle Letroy Guion is in at guard for the Packers because they're just out of linemen now with Bryan Bulaga, T.J. Lang, and Lane Taylor all out. That certainly hasn't helped the Packers today.
Vince Verhei: Writing the Seahawks-Falcons preview, I pooh-poohed Atlanta's late-season defensive improvement because some of their opponents had nothing on the line. Well, the Falcons have now played well on defense two playoff games in a row. Not dominant, but about average. And that, with this offense, is more than enough to beat anyone.
Tom Gower: Packers ending defensive performance last week: TD, TD, FG (under time pressure).
Today: TD, FG, TD, punt, TD, TD, TD, TD, punt (at 44-21 with less than three minutes to play).
Difficult to win games when you give up eight touchdowns in 12 possessions over five quarters.
Pittsburgh Steelers 17 at New England Patriots 36
Aaron Schatz: Patriots start off the AFC Championship Game by marching up the field easily until Malcolm Mitchell drops a pass on third-and-1 from the 13. Field goal, 3-0. Steelers rushed only three on almost every play of that drive. I can't imagine that's a good strategy against Tom Brady for an entire game.
Tom Gower: Surprised to see Bill Belichick (a) choose to receive after winning the toss, and (b) kick a field goal on fourth-and-1. Of course Phil Simms likes the decision to kick.
Vince Verhei: Though it pains me to agree with Phil Simms on anything, I'd have kicked the field goal too. I think New England will get plenty of red-zone trips today -- they don't need to force a touchdown now, and can afford to take the easy three.
Scott Kacsmar: I'm already annoyed. We know Ben Roethlisberger is a high ALEX threat on third-and-short, but down 3-0, you can't afford to throw away a drive with a low-percentage deep shot on third-and-1. Sammie Coates was great to start the year, but the guy has two catches on 18 targets since Week 6. Maybe he's healthy now, and that was single coverage, but just run the ball with Le'Veon Bell and keep the drive going.
Aaron Schatz: One reader on Twitter did think Bell was the initial read on that third-and-1 pass, but Rob Ninkovich peeled off immediately to cover him tightly so he wasn't available.
Cian Fahey: "Hitting Brady is the best way to beat him." You hear that a lot when the Patriots play in the playoffs. It's basically the same as saying "Pick the best players in the draft." Hitting Brady is the result of your strategy, it's not a strategy in itself.
Bryan Knowles: Chris Hogan running wild in the end zone! A blown coverage leaves him wide open for the touchdown, and that's just too easy.
Nice drive for Hogan, with four receptions for 57 yards, including the touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: At least one Pittsburgh unit is shining so far. I think the offensive line has done an excellent job of keeping early blitzes away from Roethlisberger without somehow drawing a holding penalty.
Now 10-6, Patriots just converted a third-and-8 with a pass to a wide-open Hogan on the left sideline. Do the Steelers know he's in the game? That's like the third or fourth time he has been wide open.
Oh, and next play, flea flicker, 34-yard touchdown to Hogan. Although the Steelers did have a guy on him that time, Hogan beat the defender. Now 17-6. Man, I love flea flickers.
Bryan Knowles: CBS is running this new Hunted show after the game, about regular people trying to avoid pursuit. I presume Hogan's game so far is a clever promotional tie-in.
Andrew Potter: Brady is getting so much time in the pocket that Kevin Harlan is one drive away from describing the way his shirt ripples in the wind during his dropbacks.
Aaron Schatz: Although to give the Pittsburgh defense some credit, the defensive line has been very good on running plays so far.
Check that -- I don't think I'd chart the Coates play as a drop, but a play he needed to make.
Aaron Schatz: So, the Steelers get down to the red zone and it looks like they throw a touchdown pass to Jesse James. Review shows that James didn't quite get into the end zone. And I thought -- and said on Twitter -- I think it would be better for the Steelers if this didn't get into the end zone, because that would have left the Pats two minutes and three timeouts for their final drive. It's usually easy to score on first-and-goal from the 1, you get four tries. Yes, I know about what happened in Super Bowl XLIX, but that kind of thing is absurdly rare.
Well, I forgot that the Pats' run defense is way better than their pass defense. Because they stuffed DeAngelo Williams on first down, stuffed him even more for a loss on second down, and then got an incomplete pass on third-and-goal from the 5. Field goal, and the Pats get the ball back with 1:39 left in the half, although no timeouts because they just used them all to keep the Steelers from running the clock down. Other than a turnover, it's the best possible result they could have asked for from that whole series.
Vince Verhei: In their last six quarters, the Steelers have scored one touchdown on 19 red zone plays.
Scott Kacsmar: Four straight quarterback sneaks by Roethlisberger would have worked down there. Hell, one or two was probably all they needed. Just bad stuff, and barring a score to start the half, I don't feel too good about Pittsburgh here given the defensive breakdowns.
Tom Gower: Patriots up 17-9 at the half. The Steelers have moved the ball with some success a couple times, but haven't finished in the red zone and it's all been short. I'd actually go against Scott and blame Coates more than Hamiton for their missed deep balls. Coates failed to locate the ball and didn't even attempt to make a catch, while it looked to me like the defensive back actually did get his arm in there to make Hamilton's catch more difficult than it otherwise would have been. I'd still call it a drop, but I'm not sure it would've been by our charting (and Eric Rowe is credited with a pass defensed on the play).
My casual impression of Pittsburgh's defense (I haven't studied them at all) has been that they have reached the level where they force opposing teams to play well to score on them as opposed to beating themselves. Hasn't looked like that tonight with how Chris Hogan has gotten way the heck open repeatedly. True, a lot of that has been the product of some good scheming -- it's not like they're just blowing simple coverages. But they have not been responding well to floods and stretched zones the way you want a good zone defense to.
Aaron Schatz: The other reason to be pessimistic about the Steelers is that, as much as DeAngelo Williams is one of the best backup running backs in the NFL right now, he's not Le'Veon Bell. We may not be seeing Bell again today. It sucks, they finally get the three Killer B's healthy and playing together in the postseason and one of them immediately gets hurt.
Vince Verhei: God, the CBS announcers are killing me on the fumble review on the Brady sneak. The ref did not say there was a clear recovery on the field, they said Pittsburgh was CHALLENGING that there was a clear recovery on the field. And on review, there wasn't.
Aaron Schatz: Tom Brady sneaks on third-and-1 and the Steelers claim he fumbled and they recovered. Mike Tomlin challenges. it is my opinion that there was no way they were going to find clear evidence on video of either (a) Brady losing the ball with his knee clearly not yet down, or (b) which team recovered the loose ball. Steelers fans on my Twitter timeline say that this is just my clear Patriots bias, that the replay obviously showed Brady fumbling and the Steelers recovering, and that the refs are biased against Pittsburgh.
How do the rest of you feel?
Andrew Potter: There was no video replay of a clear recovery. Doesn't matter how clearly the fumble is shown, the recovery isn't. That was a clear "we wish it were so" challenge.
Tom Gower: It appeared from replay that the ball was out. Dean Blandino tweeted out that there was no clear recovery. I wish Terry McAuley would have given us a better explanation that that was in fact why the call on the field stood, and CBS would have done a better job of making it clear that Pittsburgh was challenging that there was a clear recovery (Simms stated the opposite, that McAuley said there in fact WAS a clear recovery) and shown replays that did a better job of showing what happened after Brady lost control of the ball. So, probably a good call, but a mess in multiple ways.
Vince Verhei: These broadcasts have both been terrible today. Network people not doing their job of explaining what's going on to the people at home. And if they don't understand, that's part of the problem. It was plainly obvious that was going on. Nantz and Simms have no excuse to be so confused.
Tom Gower: Mike Tomlin just punted. On fourth-and-7. From the New England 39. While trailing by 11 points. In the middle of the third quarter. Remember when Mike McCarthy punted earlier today, on fourth-and-2, and later went for it on fourth-and-13? OK, fine, the Packers converted, but I'm expecting something like that.
Andrew Potter: One of the real themes of this postseason for me has been the passivity of losing coaches. Ben McAdoo against Green Bay. Bill O'Brien (and in fact at least three of the four losing head coaches) in the divisional round. Mike McCarthy earlier today. And now Mike Tomlin here. That fourth-and-7 punt is nonsense.
Vince Verhei: And then New England received the punt, drove down the field and score a touchdown to go up 27-9. You could give New England 200 yards to go and I'd expect them to score at this point.
Scott Kacsmar: After Tomlin punted, this one was over.
Vince Verhei: Steelers now at one touchdown in last 24 red zone plays.
Tom Gower: If what I saw on Twitter earlier tonight is right, Steelers now have more goal-to-go possessions ending in a non-touchdown in the postseason than they did in the regular season. This is the third week of the postseason. The regular season is 16 games long.
Vince Verhei: An hour later, Jim Nantz just apologized for mishearing the ref on the sneak-fumble. Well, hell, there's nothing else to talk about right now.
Bryan Knowles: 10 games, eight blowouts. Maybe we're saving up all our dramatic game karma for one last thriller at the end of the year.
And by that, of course, I mean next week's Pro Bowl!
Tom Gower: The Pro Bowl should still be after the Super Bowl, dammit.