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

Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

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.

Aaron Schatz: Healthy Tevin Coleman too, and a strong rookie year from Austin Hooper.

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

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.

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.

The beauty of that Jared Cook touchdown, of course, is that now Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Jared Cook have all caught touchdowns. Look, the receivers weren't the problem, honest!

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.

Scott Kacsmar: Roethlisberger is hitting all the short stuff, but Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton have dropped his best throws today on what would have been huge plays.

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.


303 comments, Last at 26 Jan 2017, 10:09am

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

One of the interesting things to me was the disparity in the referee's subjective judgement on the matter of holding.

I don't really remember much about the Atlanta game since I was asleep shortly after halftime, but I do remember seeing the 73 yard Julio touchdown and saw that the flag was for holding and it was fairly clear holding before the pass. But then in the Patriots and Steelers game the refs were letting a lot of grabbing on both sides go. I think I can clearly recall a few times where Pittsburgh held Edelmann (third down), or when Chung was holding James a bit (not enough to turn him, but in "perfect" trail technique)(also a third down play).

And then this discrepancy with penalties was also clear in regards to DPI. There was the Atlanta-GB DPI that was played pretty well by the GB safety, who got his head around, but he did leap a bit early and was into the body of the receiver a bit, but in general it was pretty soft, and it was called. And then in the NE-Pitt game I think I saw several times where the NE db's were getting away with turning their heads fairly late and having quite a bit of contact (although not quite as early as that aforementioned GB play).

I'm not sure what article here pointed out to the referee crews, I think it was the NFC Championship preview, but I'm wondering how the ref is for the Superbowl. Although I think both Atl and NE have receivers that can fight through some of that holding (Edelmann and Julio).

I wonder if Dan Quinn, former Seahawks D co-ordinator, will dial up a plan that will rely on jamming/holding at the line? I don't know Atl that well, how do the corners play in that technique? Or will Belichick dust off the 2001 Rams and 2003 Colts gameplan and basically hold on every play? I'm guessing both teams test the referees discretion early.

Is it strange to say that it still kinda feels like NE's defense is a mirage, but at the same time there's no denying their effectiveness. By the end of the game I see the points allowed and I'm wondering: how did that happen?

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think I remember thinking that referee crew was fairly level, not too soft and handing out calls to everything but not loose and not calling everything.

Although I'm pretty sure that was just my take on the one Fisher-Harrison play where Harrison did beat Fisher to the edge and Fisher pretty clearly held him (when he didn't really need to since Smith stepped up). In general I don't remember much about that crew, so maybe that's a good thing.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

" 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."

It's still amazing to me that most modern NFL coaches don't seem to understand that if you're going to take a risk, its better to do it early, and have a chance at dealing with a negative result, than to wait until you absolutely need to take it.

Had Tomlin gone for it then, maybe they're not forced to go for it on 4th later in the game, or not forced to take ridiculous shots down the field into double coverage.

As to the Brady fumble, on the side view, it looked to me like his elbow hit before the ball came out. It was a ridiculous challenge either way - theres no way that should have been overturned, no matter what the original call was. No idea why the steelers were so cocky about it (had their offense out on the field during the review). Too much of a mess to challenge.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Most NFL coaches (indeed, most coaches at all levels) are abnormally risk-averse. It's a strong cultural bias that leads to a lot of poor decisions being made. I suspect a good portion of Belichick's advantage is simply not having any respect for the notion that any decision should be made in a certain way simply based on traditional thinking. He's thought at a minute level of detail about every aspect of the game of football. So every decision he makes is based on only on understanding the relative risks, but also on several decades of experiences validating and/or refuting certain choices.

As a contrast, consider Phil Simms, who's never seen an offense punt or kick on 4th down without the decision meeting with his approval.

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

RickD, not sure if you are old enough to remember the board game "Talking Football" (early/mid 70s) but the offensive coach picks a disc to pop in the player based on his offensive call and his opponent (the D coach) spins it to the appropriate D call and presses it in. The mechanical device then announces the play.

One of the plays (on a passing disc) was "It's a quick kick, no it's a fake. QB throws... in-com-plete."

I'm sure when Simms played this game as a child, he always cheered at the quick kick part before being disappointed by the fact that it was a fake. And to bolster his twisted perspective, the incomplete pass "proved" the quick kick was the right call. Every time.

129 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I was 3 when it was released, but I don't remember it. I did find a video on YouTube of somebody playing every single possible combination of offensive and defensive call. I have a limited number of years left in my life, so I didn't listen to that very long.

It does seem like Simms had some influence like this game playing an inordinately large role in his life. Maybe a beloved family pet died and his father said "That's because the Giants went for it on 4th and 2!"

172 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Coaches are risk averse because if you go against the book and lose, it's your fault. If you follow the book and lose, it's the players' fault (if you need it to be).

Belichick doesn't have to worry about his job, so he can do what he wants. Though watching him you can see how aware he is of football still being a field position game, as it was when he was a kid. He doesn't take risks for the sake of it.

179 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

That's the theory, but in the end the owner takes a look at the coach's W-L record and then the piper comes calling. I suppose if a coach is making some *really* risky decisions that don't work out his firing could be expedited, but typically it just comes down to winning and losing. No one is going to remember whether or not Tomlin should have gone for it on 4th down in that situation (he should have) but they sure as heck are going to remember that his team got its butts kicked just the same. Maybe just maybe if the Steelers had converted there (it was only 4th-and-7) and eventually scored a TD on the possession, it might have ended up as a reasonably competitive game. But ~25 yards of field position? Who cares. That got chewed up in three plays.

194 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

This isn't necessarily true. For a recent example, look at the Bears' last two coaches.

Marc Trestman was not a good coach, but more importantly, was not a good coach in unconventional ways. He had a CFL background, he took an intellectual approach to things, and he basically let players do what they want. The Bears went 8-8 and then 5-11 under him, and he was fired after two seasons.

John Fox followed him, and went 6-10 and then 3-13. That's four fewer wins total, and the same three-win decline between seasons one and two. But Fox is as typical a coach as there is, and is very risk averse.

I'm not saying that the Bears should have kept Trestman, or even that they should get rid of Fox (wait, I actually do agree with that latter stance). But the overall point is that Trestman was given much less rope due to his less conventional approach to things - it didn't just come down to his record.

223 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Same thing with Chip Kelly. With Philly, he went 10-6, 10-6, 6-9, after the team had gone 4-12 the season before he showed up. Yet he got fired before week 16 in the 6-9 season (ultimately 7-9 after a win by the interim coach). Normally, a coach would get much more rope than that after the way he quickly turned the team around after Reid's last season. Although with Kelly, it's hard to determine how much his firing came from his unconventional approach (for the NFL at least) and how much it came from interpersonal strife he was involved in.

262 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I'm going to disagree with you a bit on this. I would argue that Trestman may have been an unconventional coach, but that wasn't the reason he was fired. He was fired for completely losing the locker room. Perhaps his unconventional approach led to him being too soft on players and losing the locker room, but the approach wasn't the root cause of his firing. Had he lost the locker room by being too tough on players, he'd have been fired just the same.

Also, Trestman may have been given less rope due to his methods but it was also because of where the team was at. He took over after Lovie Smith was fired for missing the playoffs at 10-6. The Bears believed in Jay Cutler and expected Trestman to make him play up to his potential. It also wasn't clear yet that the defense was in total collapse with players retiring and getting old. There was a ton of hope in 2013 and even in 2014 that they could win the division. (And let's not forget that they blew it in 2013 with that embarrassing loss to the Eagles and then losing to the Packers in the final game - 9-7 would have won the division that year).

Whereas when Fox took over, the goal for 2015 was to pretty much restore some respectability to a sad, embarrassing team. 6-10 did that. 3-13 this year was awful and I am also not sure that Fox should keep his job, but at some point injuries do have to be a partial explanation for the win/loss record. And it's not John Fox's fault that Kevin White is made of glass or that there is nobody in the Bears secondary who should be starting games in the NFL.

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

In regards to the Brady fumble: I'm not quite sure, it was hard to tell, the broadcast did a horrible job showing the different angles. Though you're right, in general that's a challenge that's nearly impossible to win.

I used to kill it in Madden (top 100 on xbox 360 in 2010), and you'll see super aggressive play at that level. Basically what a lot of people in the slack group were suggesting about the Atl-GB game. At a certain point you know the opposing offense is near impossible to stop and so you just know you're going into full game mode: you're going 4 downs the whole field and you're always onside kicking it. A game that will be trading touchdowns turns on a turnover or two. The yards don't matter, only possessions and scores. If you're going to give up points you have to turn it into a shootout by any means necessary, which means making sure your offense stays on the field. Even if that's running every play at 3 ypc. Do something that gets TD's or at least FG's.

What boggles me is that current coaches think that field position is a thing in these games. Maybe if you've got a defense, but when half your defense is injured to such a degree that they're not playing half your starters and half the line-up is just above replacement level, well, then ride your alien QB to either the glory of a ridiculous win or the ignominy of a attempted win that was insane. But at least go for the win. You don't play the whole season to just throw away the year by not trying to win.

Coaches before they're hired should have to answer a logic game that shows whether they know the difference between decisions to pursue the win (increase win probability) and decisions which prolong the absolute point of losing (decisions which hold or decrease win probability). These decisions are not the same and it's insane how many head coaches don't know it.

135 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It did look like the football was squirting loose before Brady's elbow or forearm had touched down-- which was McAuley and Blandino's assessment upon review-- but there's no way that call was going to be overturned on replay. What was annoying though was the way the call was made on the field. There was no immediate down-by-contact call, Hargrave had come away with the football and yet there was still no possession signaled either way for quite some time. So what was the basis for the ruling of a New England recovery/non-fumble? Seemed like a guess to me. And if you're going to guess, the general trend has been to rule a fumble on the field, and allow replay to overturn the call based on down-by-contact (as replay reversal is generally not possible the other way around). We see this all the time, even with very obvious forward passes being initially ruled as fumbles instead of incompletions. Not this time.

153 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

My impression is that in cases of pile-ups after fumbles the refs are reluctant to just automatically assign recovery to the last guy who comes out of the pile with the ball, because they do not want to provide further incentive for bottom-of-the-pile shenanigans that could get someone hurt. Typically, they seem to go with an "educated guess" of who is more likely to have recovered.

In general, it happens almost every game that some dude jumps out of a scrum all excited holding the ball, and the refs just go the other way.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Turns out Bell's groin was injured coming into the game. He wasn't on the injury report (rules violation). He may well have hid the injury from his own coaches.

It's a shame he couldn't play the whole game. Even though he's playing against the team I root for, I really like watching Bell play. In a league that's mostly lacking high-level RB play, Bell is a pleasant exception.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

When will people learn that (1) honesty is the best policy, especially when you are working for a very publicly scrutinized company that required weekly disclosures and punishes "errors."

And (2) if you are going to lie, you freakin' stick with it till your dying day.

Seahawks' Pete Carroll made an honest mistake regarding Sherman (not realizing that his absence from practices was disclosed but that it was not for the reason he let slip to the press--it's not the coach who makes those disclosures), and now Pitt and Bell? I wonder a bit about Indy as well--Luck was on the injury report more or less all year, but I don't think his shoulder (for which he just had surgery and Irsay said it goes back to a 2015 game) was listed as the reason each week. Clearly, given his season, his throwing shoulder was not really a problem worth calling out specifically each week. But if the dude is gonna miss 10 games with internal organ lacerations in October 2015, why not have his shoulder scoped THEN?

Okay, Indy has more problems that the injury report to deal with this offseason. They're off on the right foot regarding the GM, but the coaching rumors are... okay, too far off topic.

120 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

After Bell's performance in the last game, why would anyone (including his coaches) think he was injured in any substantial way? There are injuries, and then there are injuries. Seriously, at this stage of the season you could write up an injury report on every single player. (Then when the player aggravates the nagging injury, you're covered, I suppose.)

177 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It was a shame that Bell couldn't play the whole game, but it seemed to be almost inevitable. I'm actually surprised he held up as long as he did with his extreme workload. Bell had carried the ball (rushes and receptions) well over 400 times coming into this Sunday and he did that in 14 games.

Giving a back that kind of workload, and having your team's fortunes so completely dependent on him is not a formula for sustained success, imo.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

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.

Do you mean the tight end with the most receptions, the tight end with the most receiving yards, or the tight end who started the most games?

127 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I would have also nominated Burfict for "most hated player".

The only TE on the Falcons' IR is Jacob Tamme. I never knew he was hated. Apparently this was a joke in response to a Twitter poll.

He's been accused of such transgressions as "not sorting the laundry" and forcing people to listen to Nickelback.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

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 10-15 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!

Aaron, you complete me.

I've been raving about this to my family all season. Basically, the kicking team is given a gift and says no thanks. They get, what, 75% touchbacks anyway, so getting a 100% guaranteed one is a minor benefit. But one more possession, now THAT's big. Just ask Drew Brees in 2009.

161 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Correct me if I am wrong here, but if Atlanta had simply kicked the ball out of bounds, Green Bay would have gotten the ball at the 20. As I read it, the penalty for the kick out of bounds is receiving team gets the ball 30 yards from the spot of the kick.

Unless you're allowed to decline this penalty and make them re-kick, if nothing else, Atlanta gains five yards here.

I'll never forget a few years ago, the Lions scored and were gifted 2 personal foul penalties, so they ended up kicking off from the opponent's 40 yard line. So many options: onside kick, pop-up to force a fair catch inside the 20, squib kick to the goal line to try and pin them deep. What did they do? Have the kicker blast it into the stands. Unreal. (I forget which year it was, but unsurprisingly they were in last place at the time.)

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Ne will win sb 51. Its just hard to believe a really competitive league till hasn't figured a way to beat them. Brady is awesome and that's part of it, to be sure. But managing to be a competent defense with that personnel??? I mean, name me another team that could take that group and field half respectable defense. The answer? None.

Its funny - think about what it has taken to suppress NE from winning even more sbs than they have. It took two miracle plays, a herculian defensive line, and one of the greatest qbs of all time to stymie then in the first place. Otherwise, the machine keeps rolling with no end in sight. Seriously, if Archie Manning had been celibate, they would have won 8 championships.

Can we nominate BB for President?(And I'm not joking).

14 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

To piggy back on a point I made above: Look over the defensive roster on the patriots. Who is really that good? Sure, Malcom Butler, Mccourty, Hightower. Fine.

But you took this same roster with their mclellan and Van Noy cast offs and put them with an average coaching staff and we'd be ridiculing this defense. And yet somehow, not only are they respectable at their lowest, their good???

I mean, what is this? And take hogan for instance. Its not an accident he was nothing in Buffalo. He'd be Jeff Janis in Green Bay. But he's a killer in Ne. They simply know how to leverage proper skill specialization and scheme better than anyone.

Ideas get stolen in every other business. Competition rarely lets incumbents dominate an industry this long. And yet, Ne does so. I don't get it.

15 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

By the time any coach comes into the league, he's already developed in a system and adapting major aspects of another system is probably inconceivable at that point. That doesn't explain why people from Belichick's coaching tree haven't done all that well, but maybe it's because he handles them in the same way he does his players - 'This guy can give me X but can't handle Y, so I'll only use him for X.' Then when the guy becomes a head coach he has to do Y on his own, and can't.
Although, if O'Brien had a decent QB we'd be talking about the changing of the guard this week. They befuddled the Pats O most of the day and with Watt back they're going be flat-out nasty. Won't matter if they don't have adequate QB play, however. I've heard it reported that O'Brien was against the Osweiler signing. Anyone know the details on that?
Also, what made the Steelers think playing a defense similar to all the other times they've been blown out by the Pats was going to work this time? The zone schemes looked the same as always.

40 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think a lot of the problem with the BB coaching tree is that these guys have never worked in a place where the coach doesn't have both the power to make changes wherever he wants, and the cache to weather out a bit of a downturn so that long term decisions can be made.

McDaniels may have been a shitshow in Denver either way (and Fox certainly wasn't) - but it seemed clear that he was trying to make large scale organizational changes, and didn't have the good will to see them through, or the job security to see if the long term plays he made worked out.

49 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I will give a different take on BB's success and the BB's coaching tree lack of success (so far): I think we vastly underestimate BB's ability to coach the small details, the techniques, and BB's ability to get coaches who will do that same task exceptionally well. For example, notice that when Pitt punted early, the NE return man (Eddleman?) blocked the coverage unit so the ball would be allowed to go into the end zone. When NE punted, the Pitt guy wither fair catches or let NE catch it. Those things matter, when you compound them over and over. BB is certainly a very good tactics coach, but I think we underestimate his ability to coach the nitty gritty that we often assume pro athletes already know. And, that's not something that a coaching tree can just emulate, like tactics may be. (Other reasons I think this: how well NE's offensive line became once they got their O-line coach back from retirement, the number of guys who flourish in the NE team but not so much on other teams, the inability of the coordinators to be successful with other teams).

215 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Honestly confused by your claim here. You say that BB gets coaches who handle the 'nitty gritty' exceptionally well, which would seem to make for a successful coaching tree, not an unsuccessful one. Are you trying to imply that his coaches don't make similar hires when they take bigger jobs elsewhere?

26 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think you aqre underselling the level of talent on the NE defense. Sure, they have no monsters and a lot of castoffs from other teams, but they most of those castoffs were pretty high draft picks that were playing in the wrong system for their talent. They also have a lot of above average talent - and few injuries.
I also take it back as Malcom Butler is a a beast - an undrafted beast.

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The defensive line has some talent. Branch is a stud against the run, Brown is inconsistent but has moments when he flashes his first round pedigree and I won't be surprised if Trey Flowers is a household name in a year or two. It's mostly the LBs where you have Hightower and a band of misfits.

36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It sounds simplistic, but the #1 qualification to play defense for the New England Patriots is to be a sure tackler. They may not have been well-known college players. Sometimes their DBs are slower and less athletic than other teams, and they usually don't have an Ace pass rusher, but all 11 guys on the field can bring down the ballcarrier in the open field.

Every time you watch the Patriots you repeatedly see an Edelman or Hogan turn a 3 yard gain into 12 yards by making the the first defender miss. What you hardly ever see is that same scenario play out with the Pats defense on the field.

46 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Belichick has realised that having sure tacklers is more important than going for the big hit or strip fumble. Likewise containment of running QBs rather than going all-out on the passrush. I'd say the league crackdown on hits reinforces tackling as the better defensive option these days.

Interestingly, if you go back to SB XL when the Steelers beat the Seahawks, I distinctly remember admiring how Pittsburgh were excellent at tackling and eliminating YAC !

125 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Certainly the most athletically gifted. And somehow the defense played better after he left.

I wonder how much the Browns will offer to try to retain his services. He's really managed to do a lot of damage to his career. He should be packing for the Super Bowl right now, but instead he's waiting to hear from the front office of the worst team in the NFL.

188 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

As a point - yesterday's gameplan, which required a ton of discipline on the part of the defensive line and linebackers, simply wouldn't have worked with Collins - not because of his athleticism, but his inability to do what was asked of him.

(The defensive line essentially put a huge priority on contain over collapse, in order to stop the draws/screens/delayed runs - it's exactly the sort of game where Collins would have been shooting gaps and getting burned)

It's the whole "Do your job" thing - its more important to know where to be, and to be there, than it is to have elite speed/etc.

233 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The Browns are somehow carrying over a ridiculous $50.1M in salary cap space which they are eventually mandated to spend (likely most of it in 2017). Browns dollars are not the same as Patriots dollars-- Browns dollars might as well be a foreign currency. It's a bit of a loser's curse that terrible teams have to spend good money on whatever talent might be willing to play there (and there are always players who are going to want to get paid), but that's the hole the Browns have to dig themselves out of.

201 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Branch is one of the stoutest run defenders in the league. Pitt averaged like 1.7 ypc when running against him. Brown and Valentine complete a very run stout interior. Chung is one of the best safeties in the box in the league and solid in coverage (since NE only has him cover guys he's able to). Everyone can tackle, especially the DBs. Nothing goes past McCourty, so teams rarely take the top off the defense. Flowers is a fantastic pass rusher, inside and out (used inside mostly lately).

NE has excellent players who grade out highly on PFF, one of the top defense in the league base on those individual ratings. But, yes, they are also greater than the sum of their parts, because the Pats coaches never put them in the position of having to execute a role outside their skill set, and they have great leadership and communication.

17 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The Falcons generated an effective pass rush, the Packers did not. The odd thing is that the Falcons had a fair number of execution errors, or they may have served a fifty burger on Green Bay by the end of the third.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Look, if you are going to critcize, rightly, excessive pacifism by punting, then I think it is a little problematic to criticize the deep throw on the 1st 3rd down the Steelers had. The receiver was open, the ball there, and the catch needed to be made. If the receiver can't be trusted to make that play, then the problem is with the depth chart, not the playcall.

If you don't get an interior pass rush on Brady, the Patriots are going to score a lot of points, and control a lot of clock in doing so. It was reasonable for the Steelers to be aggressive throwing deep, against a good run defense that doesn't rush the passer exceptionally well. Frankljy, if the Steelers catch the ball in the 1st half, the tenor of the 2nd half may have been quite different

23 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Sure, and if the Falcons don't know that somebody not named Julio Jones is going to have to have a big 1st half, in order to beat the Patriots, then they aren't paying attention.

Jones has been nagged enough by injuries, with other guys stepping up quite productively, to make it reeasonable to think they are up to the task.

24 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Yup. Lot of talent on the offensive side for Atlanta. I'm still not completely sold on the Patriots backfield although that might be a Pavlovian reaction from all the years they trotted out cannon fodder to be sliced and diced. I'll have to look it up but my sense is that Atlanta's D showed real improvement in the second half of the season also.

22 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Not to defend Capers but with an overmatched defense he likely played the odds that Ryan would not scramble so he kept guys in coverage.

Of course Joe Thomas had to have the worst game of his career. Thomas is not a great linebacker by any stretch but up to today his issues were in run defense where his size hurts him. But today he was just lost. Every choice he made turned out horribly. Peppers was desperate to get to a Super Bowl but did not help that cause by getting handled by everyone on the Falcons line. GB tried to rest him as much as possible between games, but he had to play too much the last 4-6 weeks so the tank was empty. Randall played so ridiculously soft if GB had any other options he likely would have been benched.

For a guy who preaches toughness the Packers were definitely NOT the tougher team yesterday. That was a bit surprising.

GB needed the front seven on defense to make some trouble to give the back end a fighting chance. Except for every so often from Daniels or Perry they were not to be seen. And the result was what one had to expect.

Certainly agree that McCarthy was not nearly aggressive enough. I wrote a while back I wondered if Mike would recognize he was playing a superior team and come out swinging as his team did against Seattle in the NFC Championship game. Mike clearly came in to the game thinking his squad was equal to Atlanta and that was the first but biggest mistake. If he had planned for taking on the far better team he schemes things differently.

I know the above reads as kind of loony but I am pretty comfortable that it is correct.

156 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

No, you're right. It seems like he didn't expect the D to be so overmatched, especially in their inability to get any pressure on Ryan.

I wonder how much longer McCarthy has, or Capers. We know Thompson isn't going anywhere, perhaps unfortunately. One SB trip in all these years with Rodgers is not a good result, and it's becoming obvious. We've seen how good this team is with Rodgers out, and by this point we can imagine it pretty vividly also. I don't expect the organization to match up to NE's level - as no one does - but we've seen how well they do without Brady. They get to the SB over half the time. I think maybe 3 SBs in the Rodgers era thus far would be ok. They haven't done it.

162 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Depending how you look at it, the Packers have had 23-25 straight years of having one of two qbs who were capable of, at a minimum, playing at a Pro Bowl level. 7 trips to the conference finals, winning 3, is not terrible. It isn't world-beating, but getting to a conference championship every 3.5 years for nearly a quarter century or so is an accomplishment, even if it isn't what the Patriots have pulled off.

If they don't get back to the Super Bowl while Rodgers is still great, however, and they don't have good fortune in their next starter, this will be seen as a substantial missed opportunity.

195 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I appreciate you looking at the big picture here. My impression is that free agency and the salary cap have recalibrated what we should expect for postseason success even when a team has an elite QB. But because the Patriots have been able to defy those reduced expectations, fandom in general hasn't caught up with the change yet.

Peyton Manning went to 3 conference championships in 13 years with Indianapolis.
Drew Brees went to 2 conference championships in 11 years.
Brett Favre went to 4 conference championships in 16 years.
Aaron Rodgers went to 3 conference championships in 9 years.
Ben Roethlisberger went to 5 conference championships in 13 years.

If you exclude the Pats, the Packers with Rodgers are near the top of the list for championship games per year. That's about as good as it gets in the age of parity.

But you have to see past what the Pats have done, realize that's basically impossible and not hold that up as the standard.

196 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

"Aaron Rodgers went to 3 conference championships in 9 years.
Ben Roethlisberger went to 5 conference championships in 13 years.

If you exclude the Pats, the Packers with Rodgers are near the top of the list for championship games per year. That's about as good as it gets in the age of parity."


"But you have to see past what the Pats have done, realize that's basically impossible and not hold that up as the standard."
well yes, one team winning it all every other year is not a "standard" that every team can attain; that's a consequence of the fact that there are 32 teams and only 1 champion.

However, per your list, among teams WITH a HOF caliber franchise elite QB, it doesn't appear close to "impossible" ; unless of course you mean something like 16% (or 20% depending how you view 2 QBs on 1 team) is impossible.
The standard is the standard!

228 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

First of all, I'm looking at CCG appearances so that doesn't preclude another elite team from achieving that also in any given year.

Among teams with an HOF-caliber QB, the 5 other than Pats/Brady are all clustered between 18% to 38% of their seasons in which they got to the CCG. My argument is that that's what should now be considered the standard for success. And by that measure, Packers/Rodgers at 33% shouldn't be seen as a disappointment.

By the way Colts/Luck and Seahawks/Wilson have been to one and two CCGs respectively in their first five years. If those ratios hold for the next 5 or so years, that would put Colts/Luck at 20% or in line with Saints/Brees and would put Seahawks/Wilson in line the Steelers/Ben at 40%. Looking at those organizations, that sounds about right.

Flacco/Ravens come in at 33% (all on his rookie contract). While Eli/Giants clock in at just 13% (not elite!)

Meanwhile, the Pats with Brady have gone to the CCG in 73% of their seasons. That's an enormous outlier from any of these other elite QBs and I don't think we'll see that kind of success again over a 10+ year career.

I just think it's "nearly impossible" for an organization to be able to maintain a championship quality roster around a highly-paid QB over an extended period of time without having more down years than up years.

253 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

If you look at CCs, yes, then the Rodgers era has been ok. But the standard should be higher. Given that if you have a HOF-level QB, you should expect to take a mediocre team and go 9-7 or 10-6 at least (right?), then you should make the playoffs pretty much every year. If you look at that stat for HOFQBs, they should for the most part be around 75% and up (Brees no, but that's another thread). That stat won't be very discerning, and it shouldn't be one you look at, since you have a HOFQB, and making the playoffs is the least you should expect, for chrissake. As you go up the ladder, though, to %inCC or %inSB, or %wonSB, those stats separate more.

As I said before, comparing to NE/Brady is a bad idea. But if you look at more relevant stats like %inSB or %wonSB, Green Bay looks kind of bad. As a fan, I don't care if Indy largely wasted Manning also. I want Green Bay to not waste Rodgers.

268 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

I think that if you get to the conference championship game that means you have a championship caliber roster. At that point you're playing other excellent teams in a single-game elimination.

Even HOF-level QBs only win the CCG a little over half the time they get there. After getting to the CCG, they win the SB 35% of the time. Having an HOF-level QB doesn't make you that much more likely to win those last two games. Although winning those last two games makes it much more likely that a QB actually gets into the HOF.

If GB is wasting Rogers, then they wasted Favre much worse, Indy wasted Manning much worse, the Saints wasted Brees much worse. Only the Steelers have done better.

The Steelers have won a SB every 6.5 years that Ben's been there. The Packers have won the SB every 9 years with Rodgers. Is that really so different? Rodgers has 4 more years at least to match Ben.

286 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

As a Jets fan, I think you need a little perspective. Of course, the team I root for did make it to two conference championship games only six years ago, but they haven't had a championship caliber QB since 2006 or 2004 (I don't count Brett Farve's Jet year, perhaps I could), and haven't had one stay healthy for three years in a row since possibly Namath.
The other item to consider is Brady's cap hit. He cost a little more than Ryan Fitzpatrick did this year. His marriage to Giselle has allowed the Patriots to fill the team with talent without cost cutting, the way the Seahawks did with their offensive line this year, the way the Colts did with their defense. That's the reason Belichick should retire when Brady does, or soon after. Jimmy G won't be giving him a hometown discount, unless they can set him up with a supermodel worth billions. I doubt the Patriots run of playoff success continues after Brady (they may still keep winning the division a lot though).

300 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

It's not sour grapes, its cap room. Go read Over the Cap about this. I'm not griping either, I'm trying to explain why the Pats are so dominant when the system is set up for parity. The only other team to continue like this has been the Colts, and even with Manning they had bad years. But the rest of the team grew weaker around Manning near the end. The Saints couldn't keep the team together around Brees, and they're in cap hell. The Steelers had cap issues a couple of years ago, but their drafting ability has helped. Denver did have Manning on a huge contract, but they had most of their defense on rookie contracts until a year or so ago. Seattle had a bunch of guys on rookie contracts. The easiest way to win Super Bowls now is to have an elite quarterback on a rookie contract, so you can spend to build the team around him.

To be honest, lately I've been rooting for the Pats in the playoffs even though I'm a Jets fan. Sick of the Giants winning when they're mediocre, and I hate the Steelers. A lot. Last weeks game was very enjoyable for me. I'm going to root for Atlanta, but not be bummed when the Pats win it.

296 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

For the record, Peyton Manning earned $249M in 18 seasons, or $13.8M per season.

If you take out Brady's first two seasons on a 6th-round rookie contract, and assume he plays out the rest of his current contract, he will have made $227M in 18 seasons, or $12.6M per season.

So yes, he has taken some hometown discounts and should be admired for that. It definitely has helped the Pats build a strong roster around him. But the overall effect can be easily overstated.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

The more I think about this, the more confident I am that Quinn/Shanahan Jr. won't be outschemed by Belichik and minions. Now, the Falcons are young enough on defense where inexperience could be costly, and there is not an obvious force to provide an inside pass rush, so the Patriots are very, very, deserving favorites. I kind of like taking the points however, especially if it gets north of three.

31 Re: Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

Hageman would provide an inside rush if he is healthy- an inconsistent pass rush, but still something. I will be impressed if Belichick can keep Atlanta in the low twenties; the Falcons torched Seattle, a much more proven defense. Still like the Pats in this one, just expect it to be close.

28 What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

This is an honest, non-sarcastic question -- why does PIT keep using the same defensive scheme against NE when NE has eaten it for breakfast every single time? (Is Tomlin a Bullwinkle fan ("This time for sure!")?) Even if you don't think you have the personnel to play a better anti-NE defense shouldn't you try it since the defense you use against NE clearly doesn't work?

(I wonder if a certain commenter stroked out yesterday...)

33 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

I wondered about this myself. I know the DBs are inexperienced, but Simms rightly (!) said that the NE offense is designed to kill zones, and the Steelers stayed in zone and rushed 3 for a lot of the game. I watched the Bills do the same thing in the 2nd game against NE and Brady just picked them apart.

What are they seeing on film that makes them think it will work?

34 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

Pittsburgh has been pretty rigid in running Dick Lebeau's zone and zone pressure schemes for decades. This year Butler has been a tiny bit more flexible, mixing in some 4-3 looks for instance, but his blitzes and coverages have been straight out of a Dick Lebeau playbook that hasn't really changed since the '90s.
They've got a young secondary that's developing rapidly, so I'm hoping next year they have enough confidence in their corners to play more man to man, but I'm not that confident that they'll ever evolve beyond their stale defensive playbook as long as Butler is around.

57 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

actually, when their D was working best late season they were in a lot of 2-4 , but the biggest problem with Butler (aside from this specific pats game) is he doesn't use the 2 players on his D with all-world athleticism in any intelligent or creative ways.

The standard is the standard!

44 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

Honestly, the PIT defensive plan and performance was just mind-bogglingly stupid.

First, they so many times flat out lost guys, like on the 1st TD by Hogan, or the 3rd down to Hogan right before the flea-flicker.

Second, they rushed three way too much. Unless you have the 2015 Broncos personnel up-front, rushing three against Brady is basically never a good idea. The line is too well coached to allow that to work. Also, given how much they did this, losing guys in coverage when you are dropping 8 is just inexplicable.

Finally, they actually had some success doing classic LeBeau-esque zone blitzes. From my memory, the early sack that killed the second drive was seemed like a classic zone blitz.

What I will never understand is the one time they said 'eff it, let's just play man', they played really well against the Patriots - this was in 2011 agianst, if anything, a better Patriots offense. Why they have never replicated that is beyond comprehension.

55 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

I believe it was 3, with a spy or delay on the 4th. This was the Super Bowl right? Giants covered teh play brilliantly, and at their best they fall into the '15 Broncos camp of having the personnel to do it.

if you are a team that depends on your LBs for pressure, probably not a good idea to rush 0 or 1 of them.

52 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

'same scheme' .... {same result}

"I think that’s why you play the game. You can take analytics to baseball and things like that but football is always going to be football. I got a lot of respect for analytics and numbers, but I’m not going to make judgements based on those numbers. The game is the game. It’s an emotional one played by emotional and driven men. That’s an element of the game you can’t measure. Often times decisions such as that weigh heavily into the equation."

Read his answer and their performance as ego/arrogance. THIS TIME he will prove Belichick wrong. His gut tells him so. And we all know there's more nerve endings in his gut...

The standard is the standard!

77 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

Part of the core strength of the Pittsburgh organization is the schematic consistency that goes along with long-tenured coaches, loyalty to players in the front office, and repeatedly drafting players with similar skill sets. The 2011 game was kind of stunning as a NE fan, because I can't recall another time when Pittsburgh left script like that. It is precisely because of the schematic consistency that Pittsburgh is not a meaningful rival of NE, that NE fans worry about Baltimore... Honestly, I think the schematic rigidity greatly limits Pittsburgh.

70 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

The Steelers organization is in love with their schemes. When it works, it can all come together in an organization focus that keeps everyone working to the same goals. When it doesn't work, it results in firing Bruce Arians for 'abandoning the run' or trotting out a soft zone in front of Brady over and over and over again.

80 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

not sure. maybe m. tomlin very stubborn guy. fi animal, would be a mule.

dumb defensive atgtack vs Pates yetsredya. zone coverage, free rleases fro receivers, crap pass rish.
To beat Pates inplayoffs, New York teams (Jets once, Giants twice), broncos (couple of times), and Ravens (twice in wions and once in near-win) showed how to keep T. Bardy from doing anuytghing he wants. Clots beat Pates in playoffs too but that was more about simply outgunning the Pates.

Steelers have had no clue in these playoff games. Tema was dumb vs Tim Tebow's Denver Bonrocs aas well.

87 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

To be fair, the best way to limit Brady, which New York, Denver, and Baltimore teams showed, is to bring pressure up the middle without blitzing linebackers (which opens up the middle for Edelman), preferably by bring athletic defensive ends who are also strong enough to take on guards and centers inside, e.g. through stunts and twists.

I don't know a lot about Pittsburgh's D-line, but it wasn't my impression that they really had players that could do that.

The main issue, though, was that their D-backs seemed easily confused by the Patriots offensive formations. This happened on all of Hogan's big plays. It seemed like the Pittsburgh coaches thought they could minimize that by dropping guys into coverage and playing zone, but I think a better strategy would have been to simplify things and just have them play straight man, maybe with a safety over the top, and bring more pressure. The Patriots don't have an Antonio Brown or a Julio Jones that can regularly win one on one battles (now that Gronk is out). Edelman can, but only for small chunks of yardage.

217 Re: What is it with PIT defensive choice against NE?

There was an interesting take by Hasselbeck I believe on how Brady would bait Pittsburgh out of man into zone by shifting his receivers. So even if it was their intention to play man, they were lured out of it. Against the Pats, you either have to be successful with your 2nd or 3rd option, or have players with such an overwhelming athletic superiority that you can stay in your base and overwhelm them. Of course, in the long term you have to pay those players, so BB outlasts his greatest rivals with his roster building techniques.