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.
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 at Indianapolis Colts 17
Scott Kacsmar: So this is Ben Roethlisberger's eighth start against the Colts, and the fourth time he doesn't have to outscore Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck (third year in a row). He has already been intercepted and sacked in the first quarter, which are two things that never happened in the previous three meetings. The pick was just a blind deep ball thrown up for Martavis Bryant, who is active again, but not active enough apparently. Not much to see in the first quarter. Stuffed runs have set both offenses back in the down and distance, and both quarterbacks have a failed scramble on third down as well as some vertical shots they couldn't keep in bounds to their targets.
Already starting to see where this one is headed. Artie Burns got caught peeking in the backfield and Donte Moncrief was wide open for a 60-yard touchdown bomb. Moncreif had one game all season with more than 50 receiving yards. Antonio Brown got wide open after two Colts ran into each other, but he alligator-armed the catch with a safety closing in. Mike Tomlin punted on fourth-and-6 from the Indianapolis 38. Colts have already flipped the field position on the ensuing drive and are in Pittsburgh territory.
Aaron Schatz: Artie Burns has been one of the top corners in the league this year by the charting numbers. The Steelers' consistent playing down to bad opponents on the road has no equivalent among the other 31 franchises. I don't understand it at all. I mean, let's say it's a coaching issue for Mike Tomlin. What could the issue *be*? Is it not taking opponents seriously? What, does that mean they don't game-plan enough for the bad opponents?
This is an even bigger deal than usual today because they are coming off the bye week. Most teams have a small advantage coming off the bye week.
Dave Bernreuther: Without pressure, Jacoby Brissett shows an occasional flash of competence. After a horribly inaccurate deep ball in the first quarter, he pump-faked Artie Burns out of his shoes and dropped a dime to Donte Moncrief for the first score in Indy. Like we all expected, the Colts have played stout defense and have a lead over the Steelers...
Thus far Roethlisberger has looked pretty bad, although blame for the second missed deep ball goes squarely on Antonio Bryant, who short-armed it after two Colts defenders ran into each other. Meanwhile, the Colts offense also looks competent, if not spectacular, methodically moving the chains on a long drive that began on the Pittsburgh 6 after a fraidy-cat punt from inside the 40.
Then of course as soon as I say that the Colts take their second false start penalty -- at home, mind you -- and run a give-up play on third down, and the drive stalls. Still, they're up two scores, which is not a terrible spot for a two-score dog to be in at home.
Scott Kacsmar: Coaching definitely has to be the main factor in these letdown games. I don't think you'll find a consistent decrease in performance from one side of the ball over the other in those games. It's more of a team thing, and frankly, it does look like motivation a lot of the times. Just not much care or precision in these games. "Show up and win just because we're the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers" mentality. CBS had a graphic that since 2012, the Steelers are 7-14 in road games against sub-.500 teams. They're 16-13 in such games based on the final record, so CBS' graphic is for losing record at the time of the game. However, that may come in handy more when suggesting it's a lack of interest in the small games. When you see you're a 10-point favorite against a lousy team, you might be spending more time on the PS4 or Instagram than you would if you were studying game film to not get embarrassed against an undefeated Kansas City team. Obviously that is more of a player comment than Tomlin's prep, but he is the coach and it is his job to prepare these guys for every game. This has gone on for far too long too. Just think of 2011 when a 12-4 Pittsburgh team handled the Patriots better than they did the Curtis Painter-led Colts and Tyler Palko-led Chiefs. I don't need to remind anyone how that year ended in the playoffs in Denver either.
Another thing today for the Steelers: injuries. Been a pretty healthy year so far, but Joe Haden is out and Mike Mitchell just got carted off. That's half the starting secondary right there. Brissett is finding guys wide open down the field.
With Antonio Brown being really quiet today, JuJu Smith-Schuster did the heavy lifting on that drive. Perfect deep ball from Roethlisberger to him, then a little play-action slant for a touchdown. Extra point was blocked and almost returned for two points if tight end Jesse James didn't chase down the defender. Shades of before halftime in Chicago this year when the Steelers had a blocked field goal that turned into a short field goal for the Bears.
Minnesota Vikings 38 at Washington Redskins 30
Bryan Knowles: Maurice Harris, fresh from the practice squad, makes a tremendous, unbelievable, one-handed grab for Washington's first touchdown. Not quite as difficult as Odell Beckham's famous one-handed grab, but an incredible grab even with Trae Waynes with about as good as coverage as you could have in that situation. Kirk Cousins found the one spot he could put the ball, too -- great play all around. I have no idea how the ref missed that it was a touchdown from 3 feet away, but review corrected the issue. You'll be seeing that one on highlight reels for quite some time, I think.
Another touchdown for Stefon Diggs, who is having a heck of a day. He hadn't scored a touchdown since Week 3, but he's already got two today. That surpasses his career high in touchdowns, which is both good news for Vikings fans and a bad reminder that, well, Diggs hasn't found the end zone that often. He has just 13 career touchdowns, and just seven in his first two years combined. One more touchdown this year, and he'll have doubled his career total.
Of course, he gets a 15-yard penalty thanks to celebrating with the goalpost, and Washington takes the bonus field position and marches right back down the field for another touchdown. 17-14 game, and this one's getting really good.
Of course, Minnesota answered right back, thanks in large part to a bomb from Case Keenum to Diggs. Diggs was supposed to be somewhat limited as he continues to recover from a groin injury -- or, at least, that's what I assume Josh Norman was thinking as Diggs raced right past him. Big explosive plays; just what we expected out of a game between two top-12 defenses. 7-7, late in the first quarter.
Well, this is turning into something of an unexpected track meet. For the first time this season, Minnesota has given up 17 first-half points. Washington's 196 yards in the first half are also the most against Minnesota so far this season. Washington had a 17-14 lead with four and half minutes left in the second quarter, but Minnesota has scored twice more since then (with a little help from a Cousins interception) to take a 28-17 halftime lead. I expected this to be the game of the week, but in a tense, defensive struggle; not this. Heck, the Vikings hadn't score 28 first-half points on the road since 2012 in a city that no longer has a professional football team; this is a bit crazy!
Minnesota's been doing this with big, explosive plays -- three passes of 38 yards or more -- but they're also averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the ground. Washington's defense is sort of letting Minnesota do whatever they want, and that's not exactly a recipe for success. Credit Pat Shurmur for a really good game plan. Minnesota's showing a lot of variety and misdirection out there, and Washington is bamboozled.
Vince Verhei: Have we talked about Adam Thielen yet today? An even 100 yards and a touchdown in the first half. We need to start talking about DIggs and Thielen as one of the NFL's top wide receiver pairs.
Let's also note that Washington went for it on fourth down twice in the first half, converting both times. The first, it looked like they were going to try for the offsides and then take the delay of game, but Kirk Cousins snapped the ball late and hit Chris Thompson for a big play. That led to a field goal. Later, they went for it on fourth-and-1 at the 5. They converted that one too, and it led to a touchdown.
Oh look, another big play by Thielen on the first drive of the second half, getting so deep behind everyone that Keenum's wobbling duck of a pass still results in a 49-yard gain. Jarius Wright finished the drive with a touchdown on a wide receiver screen. Vikings have scored touchdowns on four straight drives and lead 35-17.
Bryan Knowles: Here's your Adam Thielen stat for the day:
I'm still amazed that two of the best quarterbacks this season played for the 2016 Los Angeles Rams. Case Keenum has four touchdown passes; no Vikings quarterback has done that on the road since Brett Favre. Keenum's going to get a decent contract from someone this offseason, isn't he? I mean, if Mike Glennon is worth $15 million a year…
Aaaaand as I type that, Keenum throws a pick to D.J. Swearinger just outside the end zone. If they had scored there, this game's probably over. And then, on the Viking's very next pass attempt, Keenum throws another interception. That sets up an odd play -- Cousins dives into the end zone, fumbles as he crosses the line, and it's scooped up Andrew Sendejo and run 100 yards the other way. It's ruled a Vikings touchdown, but the eventual review says that Cousins did, in fact, break the plane with control. 35-27 game, and what was slipping away from Washington is now very much in play again.
Los Angeles Chargers 17 at Jacksonville Jaguars 20 (OT)
Derrik Klassen: Fake punt! For a touchdown! With the first quarter coming to a close, the Jaguars were faced with a fourth down around midfield. Backup running back Corey Grant received the snap and cut inside immediately as a Chargers defender jumped outside to defend the fake. Grant made his way past the sticks, then past the deepest defender, and finally past the goal line for the first score of this game.
That is not the first time Grant and the Jaguars have done that, either. They tried that fake versus the Baltimore Ravens in London and saw similar results. Grant did not score versus the Ravens, but he did rip off a huge gain to put the team in the red zone.
With Grant's unexpected touchdown, the Jaguars now lead the Chargers 6-0 with one quarter in the books.
More chaos in Jacksonville. On second down near midfield, the Chargers' botched their best chance to score up to that point. Philip Rivers heaved a deep pass to Tyrell Williams, who had cleared the coverage without issue. The pass forced Williams to slow his stride a tad, but still hit him right in the chest. Williams did not catch it. The ball bounced off of Williams and onto the grass, forcing a third down. Thankfully, Rivers rifled a pass over the middle to convert.
After a short run from Melvin Gordon on first down, Rivers tossed a short pass to Austin Ekeler near the sideline. The play initially looked like a minimal gain until Ekeler turned the corner on Jalen Ramsey and Telvin Smith, tip-toed along the sideline, and found his way to the end zone. Ekeler's sideline dancing was reviewed, but the evidence was not conclusive enough to overturn the call to Ekeler being out of bounds.
With the extra point, the Chargers are now up 7-6 with halftime on the way.
Bryan Knowles: Shoot, I've misplaced my Chargers bingo card. Was "fumble, leading to a defensive touchdown when attempting to run out the clock" somewhere on there?
Derrik Klassen: The Chargers just went full Chargers. Blake Bortles was attempting to lead a game-tying or game-winning drive, but the Chargers defense picked him off. It appeared that the Chargers would be able to run out the clock and put this one to bed. Instead, running back Austin Ekeler fumbles. Safety Tashaun Gipson picks it up and runs it back for a touchdown. In the most inconceivable way possible, the Jaguars lead 20-17 (21-17, barring the extra point) with just under two minutes to go.
Bryan Knowles: Oop, they overturned the touchdown, but it's still Jacksonville ball. Not over yet.
Derrik Klassen: Never mind! The ruling as overturned to say Gipson did not score. The Jaguars start with the ball at the Chargers 36-yard line.
Andrew Potter: Worth keeping an eye on in a three-point game: Jaguars long snapper Matt Overton is out of the game with a shoulder injury. Fullback Tommy Bohanon is snapping now, and has been just as inconsistent as you would expect a fullback snapping the ball 10 yards though his legs to be. (Correction: Bohanon only snapped the ball on punts. Offensive lineman Tyler Shatley was the long snapper for field goals.)
Only the Jaguars (and maybe the Browns) could possibly outfail the Chargers.
Bryan Knowles: A battle of who can throw the game away! After the touchdown is overturned, the Chargers commit pass interference to get the Jaguars closer. On the next play, Marqise Lee commits a foul of his own, taunting the Chargers in the end zone after what he thought was a late hit. Nope, the hit was clean, and Jacksonville gets hit with a 15-yard penalty of their own. And then Bortles has to Bort, throwing yet another interception. This time, maybe, just maybe, the Chargers will hold on.
Vince Verhei: I am watching the end of this game AND following the Audibles thread, and I still have no idea what the hell is happening. But I am quite certain Blake Bortles still sucks.
Bryan Knowles: If there was ever a time where I could endorse the "icing" strategy, it would be icing the third-string long snapper. But no, Tyler Shatley's snap is at least within range of the holder, and we have a tie game going to overtime. I can not believe the last three minutes of this game.
Andrew Potter: The Chargers being the Chargers, they go three-and-out and bunt a horrible punt that barely crosses midfield. Tre Boston nearly got ANOTHER pick on the next play -- would have been his third in three drives -- then took out the knee (fairly) of Allen Hurns on a second-down reception. But Jacksonville converts, Joey Bosa gets called for roughing Bortles, and now Los Angeles calls a timeout apparently in an attempt to catch their breath. Two plays later, former Chargers kicker Josh Lambo apparently sends this amazing fourth quarter to overtime.
Blake Bortles has tried three times to throw this game away, and the Chargers simply will not grasp it.
Bryan Knowles: Philip Rivers throws an interception to A.J. Bouye, who returns the ball down to the 2 -- but the Jaguars get another taunting penalty, pushing them further back. No one wants to win this game!
Derrik Klassen: OK, this game is too perfect. It was sent to overtime, just as we all hoped. The Jaguars started with the ball, but failed to get anything going, forced to pin the Chargers deep in their own territory with a punt. When faced with third down, Rivers heaved a deep pass to Travis Benjamin, which was intercepted by A.J. Bouye. Bouye returned the pick to inside the Chargers 5-yard line, only for Jacksonville to catch another unsportmanslike penalty and be pushed back to the 14-yard line. Then the Chargers get hit with a defensive delay of game penalty.
Finally, after all this chaos, Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo ekes out a game-winner that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Jags 20-17, fin.
Aaron Schatz: OK, we can add "lost on an overtime field goal snapped by the third-string long-snapper" to Chargers loss bingo.
Bryan Knowles: The Chargers ice the snapper. The Chargers bark out signals (and get called for the penalty). The Chargers end up tipping the field goal attempt...
But it's still good. NO one out-loses the Los Angeles Chargers!
Andrew Potter: That interception was a terrific play by Bouye, who ripped the ball away from Travis Benjamin down the left sideline and weaved his way back down to the 2-yard line. The taunting penalty's a big one though, again because of the snapper situation. Not that it matters, as Lambo smashes the kick through a block attempt for the win.
Bryan Knowles: Also, just realized this -- the 5-yard penalty for simulating signals was probably the difference between that blocked field goal going through and ending up short. Good lord.
Green Bay Packers 23 at Chicago Bears 16
Aaron Schatz: Brett Hundley called a timeout with six seconds left in the first quarter against the Bears. There were 10 seconds on the play clock.
I have seen a lot of aggressively stupid things on a football field. This could take the cake. I'm baffled. pic.twitter.com/bpiYp2PKrH
— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) November 12, 2017
Bryan Knowles: Crazy sequence of events in Chicago. Mitchell Trubisky hits a short screen pass to Benny Cunningham, who romps downfield. He races down the right sideline, dives for the end zone, but apparently is pushed out of bounds at the 1. First-and-goal from the 1, right? No; John Fox thinks that Cunningham got in, and throws the challenge flag. However, one of the replay angles show that Cunningham lost control of the ball just before going over the pylon. That's a fumble out of the end zone, meaning instead of it being Chicago's ball at the 1, it's a touchback for Green Bay. I have no idea what the coaching booth said to Fox to make him challenge that play, but the Packers are very happy that they did.
Aaron Schatz: Reminder of my proposal for the touchback rule: The offense that fumbled the ball out of the end zone should keep the ball BUT it should be a touchback. So they should get the ball with first-and-10 on the opponent 20. Fumbling the ball out of the end zone should still cost you something. This essentially costs you 20 yards.
Bryan Knowles: Oh my, Green Bay had a chance to put this away, but Justin Vogel, the holder, just drops the snap on a field goal that would have given the Packers a 10-point lead. Instead, Mitchell Trubisky and company get to do a final drive...
... which ends with Trubisky throws a zero-yard pass on fourth-and-10. Benny Cunningham gets a few and tries a lateral for a few more, but it turns out, it's really hard to get 10 yards when you catch the ball at the line of scrimmage! Game over, and Brett Hundley gets his first career win.
Cleveland Browns 24 at Detroit Lions 38
Vince Verhei: Browns have the freedom of playing with nothing to lose, and they get aggressive early. Leading 10-0 on a Kenny Britt touchdown (Britt caught a short hitch, broke a tackle, and streaked into the end zone), the Browns had a fourth-and-1 at their own 44. They went for it, and failure there would have given the Lions a very short field and likely led to another round of Browns front office jokes. But Duke Johnson picked up the first down on what looked like a zone-read play. Jim Caldwell challenged the spot for some reason, I guess because he is Jim Caldwell and he must do things like this some times. The call is confirmed and it's a first down for Cleveland. Unfortunately for them, back-to-back holding penalties kill the drive, and they end up punting anyway. So a lose-lose for everyone there.
Lions respond with a 90-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. Crazy thing about this is that the Lions came into the week dead last in rush offense DVOA, while the Browns were first in rush defense DVOA. But most of the Lions' damage has been done on the ground. Early in the second quarter, Detroit has already run for 89 yards for seven first downs. Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick both have 20-plus-yard runs. Matthew Stafford has runs for 10 and 9 yards, the first converting a first-and-10, the latter a conversion on third-and-8 right before the touchdown. Abdullah scored on an easy plunge up the middle.
Aaron Schatz: Cleveland just ran a quarterback sneak on second-and-goal with 15 seconds left. A quarterback sneak with about 2 1/2 yards to go. With 15 seconds left. And NO TIMEOUTS. Not only did the Lions completely stuff DeShone Kizer, but it's a quarterback sneak, which means a pile, which means you have to pull guys off the pile, which means there's no way you get set up to spike the ball so you can get a field goal attempt. The Browns wasted 15 seconds and they wasted a red zone appearance where they could have gotten at least 3 points. Unreal. Either Kizer audibled or screwed something up or something, or Hue Jackson has lost his freakin' mind and needs to be fired.
Scott Kacsmar: Wow, that's pretty bad. Quarterback sneak is the ultimate 1-yard strategy, not 2-plus yards.
Tom Gower: It wasn't even a draw. It was a straight sneak, without even enough time for the intermediate defenders to back off. Just a bizarre play call.
Vince Verhei: Wait. What? I was watching that from across the room with the sound off. I thought it must have been a fumbled snap. I had a whole spiel written about Cleveland's ball security at the goal line this year. And ... and ... and I spent so much time working on it, then was shocked to realize it was a designed run and ... and now the second half has started and I'm still stunned.
Cleveland has a big lead in yardage and a lead in first downs too, but they're behind 17-10 because of two big mistakes -- that sneak, and Seth DeValve's fumble, which was forced, recovered, and returned for a touchdown by Nevin Lawson. The Browns have made a lot of big plays today, but every week they find some new way to just totally screw things up. It's really quite impressive.
As if to make my point for me, the Browns open the second half with an easy 85-yard touchdown drive. Eight plays, and they never even got to third down. Seventy of those yards came on Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell runs, including Crowell's 6-yard touchdown run. So it's 17-17 now, and having watched most of this, it sure feels like Cleveland has been the better team most of the game. It's just a small number of embarrassing mistakes that are completely killing them.
Lions go three-and-out, and Browns stampeded all over them for another touchdown. Ten plays, 80 yards, and only one third-down play, a third-and-8 converted by Kizer on a 20-yard scramble. He also hit DeValve for a 35-yard play down to the 1 to redeem, well, both of them. Then Kizer scored on, yes, a sneak.
Cleveland now leads 24-17 with 2:23 left in the third quarter. Matt Stafford, the highest-paid quarterback in the league, has completed two passes for first downs.
So of course on the ensuing drive Stafford catches fire. Four plays, four completions, 75 yards, touchdown. The biggest play was a 50-yard bomb to Kenny Golladay down the right sideline, then the touchdown was an 8-yarder to Theo Riddick. Browns go three-and-out on the next drive. Kizer takes a shot to the ribs on second down, then on the last play of the quarter, Cody Kessler comes in and is sacked on third down. So Detroit will punt from about the 20 on the first play of the fourth, with the score still tied at 24-all.
Lions get another touchdown, while Kessler is melting down and taking more sacks than he's completing passes. (He had Bryce Treggs wide open down the left sideline but badly overthrew him.) A Jamal Agnew punt return sets the Lions up at the Cleveland 44; one first down gives them a shot at a field goal to put the game away. Browns defense stands tall and forces a third-and-11, and Joe Schobert looks to have a sack on an inside blitz to end the drive. However, Myles Garrett was offside on the play. So it's third-and-6, and the Browns line up with eight men on the line of scrimmage, three cornerbacks in off coverage -- one to the offense's left, two to the right. So the Lions run a wide receiver screen to the right, and they have more blockers than Cleveland has defenders, and it's a 40-yard touchdown to Golden Tate to put Detroit up 38-24. Kizer has returned to the game, but it's going to be meaningless barring a comeback for the ages. Cleveland might have been the better team for the first 40 minutes or so, but Detroit has kicked the hell out of them since then.
Aaron Schatz: Kizer converted three fourth downs on the final drive as the Browns made a valiant attempt at the back-door cover, then threw a pick from the 4-yard line.
Vince Verhei: End of this game could not have been more fitting. DeValve caught a ball to give the Browns a first down in the red zone, but instead of going out of bounds, he cuts inside for a meager gain in real estate. Cleveland has to call its first timeout. Only appropriate that both halves end with the Browns showing a total lack of clock awareness. But it doesn't matter, because a few plays later Kizer throws a terrible fade pass to Ricardo Louis in the end zone. Darius Slay has an easy interception -- it looked like he was the receiver on the play -- and THERE is the goal-line turnover I thought they had at the end of the first half. Browns now have six turnovers inside the red zone this year. Nobody else had more than three coming into the week.
DeValve has confirmed that the sneak was an audible on Kizer's part.
Seth DeValve on QB sneak: "No it wasn't (the call). That was DeShone doing his thing. He has the freedom to do that. That's what he decided to do." #Browns
— Tom Reed (@treed1919) November 12, 2017
Cincinnati Bengals 20 at Tennessee Titans 24
Bryan Knowles: Hey, it's an NFL Sunday, so Vontaze Burfict must be doing something bad. He made contact with a game official and was ejected, which would be bad enough -- but he argued with fans and flashed the Johnny Football money sign on his way out. It was also his second personal foul of the game, though the first one (hitting a receiver out of bounds) seemed a little ticky-tack. When you have a history, however, you're not going to get the benefit of the doubt on borderline calls. Remember, Burfict already served a three-game suspension earlier this season.
Tom Gower: Titans lead 17-13 at the half. Both teams have found the end zone twice. Cincinnati's offense today fees like a testament to Joe Goodberry's Uncommon idea, that the Bengals offense is much more effective against teams they haven't faced lately because their standard template of tricks works much better against those teams. Plenty of packaged play looks and other misdirection elements, including notably the first touchdown to a wide-open Brandon LaFell splitting the two deep safeties. The questionable offensive line has given the Titans one short field, on a fumble-sack by Brian Orakpo, but otherwise they've done better than I thought they might.
The weird thing about the first half is Tennessee did some of the same stuff. For an offense that likes to be deceptive, the Titans haven't gone as heavily into packaged plays and run-pass options as I'd think they might or should, but we saw some of it in the first half. They also had a few plays with rookie corner Adoree Jackson. Even when he didn't touch the ball, he's been a threat and given the defense something new to worry about. Marcus Mariota had a 28-yard run on a keeper on one play, and Rishard Matthews dropped what would have been a touchdown pass otherwise.
Kind of a chippy first half, with four post-play personal fouls, two on each team. That included Vontaze Burfict getting tossed for contact with an official. Alas, no replay of what happened there, though we did get a look at Delanie Walker demonstrating to an official what he thought Bengals linebacker Nick Vigil was doing to him on a third down no-call.
Rob Weintraub: After 55 minutes of blah offensive play A.J. Green says "enough" like J-Lo, takes a slant and goes 70 yards for the go-ahead score. 20-17 but that missed PAT looms.
As does general Bengalness. DeMarco Murray catches a safety valve pass on third-and-goal, splits three defenders and breaks the plane. 24-20 Titans. Color me shocked that the Bengals blew it.
And of course it happened literally simultaneously as the Steelers kick a field goal to beat Indy. My football life in a nutshell.
Not for nothing, but a few plays before Mariota threw the winning pass he was smashed down by Carlos Dunlap, hitting his head very hard on the turf. Tennessee had to call timeout to "clear his head." No protocol, natch. Mariota staggered back in and got the dump-off pass off to win it. No consistency in the rule whatsoever.
Carl Yedor: This can also apply to Thursday night, but there has to be a better way to "enforce" the concussion protocol. Maybe the league should change it to a certain amount of time off the field (instead of a certain number of plays). But then you have to consider the incentives of knocking out the quarterback for a given period of time from the defense's perspective. There could be an advantage for forcing the starter out of the game for a prescribed period of time in exchange for a 15-yard penalty. Either way, there isn't an easy solution, but the current system is very flawed.
Tom Gower: 17-13 at the half, 17-13 with six minutes to play in the game as the teams spent most of the second half trading punts outside one Titans possession that ended with one of those fumbles at the goal line that became a touchback. Then A.J. Green, who'd had a quiet day thus far, broke one for a 70-yard score. The Titans got the go-ahead score, though, with DeMarco Murray finding the end zone for the third time on a good individual effort. Josh Shaw's third penalty of the game extended the drive in field goal territory. Mike Mularkey saw something he thought should've been flagged but Dean Blandino and I both agreed was a good no-call, because that's what Mike Mularkey does. Andy Dalton then had 36 seconds to lead a touchdown drive from his own 25, which went about how you'd guess it would.
So, what happened in the second half after the teams moved the ball well in the first half? The banal/Mularkey answer for Tennessee is third downs; they were 2-of-8 after going 5-of-7 in the first 30 minutes. I would instead point out how they ended up in third-and-long repeatedly, as the run game was not consistently successful and they weren't getting the chunk plays they got in the first half (Murray/Henry 10-20). Cincinnati's problems were similar; Joe Mixon had some good runs, but overall they didn't have a sustained running game, and I don't feel the need to go into detail on what happens when Cincinnati doesn't have that.
New Orleans Saints 47 at Buffalo Bills 10
Andrew Potter: Halftime in Buffalo, Saints lead 17-3. Other than one kneeldown to end the first half, every time the Saints have possessed the ball they've driven into the red zone. The only time they failed to score was when tight end Josh Hill fumbled at around the Bills' 10-yard line on a tackle from former Saints linebacker Ramon Humber. Drew Brees is completing passes at a 75 percent clip, but the bigger deal is the Saints ground game averaging more than 6.0 yards per carry. Both touchdowns went to Mark Ingram, who also had a huge fourth-and-1 conversion when the Saints motioned Ted Ginn into the backfield to draw the defense's attention then sent Ingram up the gut for 25 yards. Not many teams are built to win games where they continually give up long drives, but the Bills are particularly ill-suited. Tyrod Taylor has all of 48 passing yards at the half.
Aaron Schatz: The Hill fumble was kind of funny, by the way. Humber caused the fumble with his back. Like, he didn't strip the ball. He was tackling Hill around the chest and Hill tried to hold onto the ball and his hands went too low and the back knocked the ball out.
By far the best strategy for the Bills to win this game was going to be as much LeSean McCoy as possible. The Saints are fourth in pass defense DVOA, but 28th in run defense DVOA. So McCoy has more than 7 yards per carry, but that's only 51 yards on seven carries. Mike Tolbert is at -2 yards on two carries and Deonte Thompson lost 5 yards on an end-around, so the overall Bills run numbers aren't spectacular, but McCoy's been great. So why only seven carries? The Saints only have seven guys in the box, it's not like they're stacking here to stop the Bills' running game. On the first drive, it looked like Tyrod Taylor wanted to feed his new No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin. He hasn't thrown to him since that first drive. Witness the power of the Lattimore.
On the other side of the ball, this is the second straight week that the Bills have been completely run over by the opposing running backs, and it's the second week without Marcell Dareus. Coincidence?
Andrew Potter: 36 of McCoy's yards came on one run, on which he hurt his ankle. His other six first-half attempts gained 15 yards in total.g
Sheldon Rankins just ended Buffalo's first drive of the second half with his first career interception after Charles Clay juggled a pass into the air. Ingram scored his third rushing touchdown of the day on the next play, to add to Alvin Kamara's rushing touchdown on the first drive of the half, and suddenly this is 30-3 (Wil Lutz missed an extra point) midway through the third quarter. The Saints are running over, round, and through the Bills defense. The defenders can't shed blocks, can't keep track of the misdirection, and can't tackle on the few occasions when they are in position. New Orleans' last five plays in Bills territory have all been runs, for a total of 45 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, 45 yards and two scores on only five attempts.
Scott Kacsmar: Wow, total blowout in Buffalo by the "dome team" Saints. One of the articles we talked about doing before the season (before running out of time) was a Drew Brees study that looked at how incredible he has been for teams that still missed the playoffs. The Saints were getting the new 7-9 jokes in light of Jeff Fisher's removal from the league. The defense was always ripped apart for years, and also for two weeks this season. But make that seven wins in a row, mostly in dominant fashion, for a team that is running the ball well and playing great defense. I think it would be an amazing story if the Saints continued to play like this to get Brees to another Super Bowl after he did so much to keep the team competitive for years without any postseason reward. They're brewing something special in New Orleans right now.
Aaron Schatz: The special thing they are brewing in New Orleans is called "Pumpkin Spice Latte-more."
OK, it's not just him, but man, Marshon Lattimore has been really good.
New York Giants 21 at San Francisco 49ers 31
Bryan Knowles: How do the Giants open this game? Kickoff out of bounds, 28-yard run allowed, unnecessary roughness penalty. The 49ers' response? False start, 0-yard gain, backwards pass for a 6-yard loss, 3-yard give-up play on third-and-forever, field goal. Ladies and gentlemen, the least important game of the year to date! It is, at least, the 49ers' first lead at home this season; they have only led for a little under 30 minutes of game time (and six offensive plays!) coming into this week.
Giants looking a little better with the return of Kelvin Sheppard. The 49ers tried to go for it on a fourth-and-1, which I support. Going for it on an inside rush, however, was probably not the best plan. The 49ers' biggest weakness (a large category, I know), is their interior offensive line, while the Giants' interior defenders represent something of a strength. Sheppard and Olivier Vernon stuff the Most Expensive Fullback in Football. 6-3, Giants at the end of the first quarter.
Oh, and then Kyle Juszczyk kills another quasi-promising 49ers drive with a fumble. Second straight week he's put one on the ground. The 49ers' front office has done many good things in their first year; signing Juszcyzk to that huge contract appears to be their biggest error to date. We had Juszcyzk's deal as the fourth-worst value of all the major free agent signing this offseason and, well, yeah.
If you want to look like a big-play offense, just play the New York Football Giants. The 49ers had 281 yards of total offense in the first half (the most they've had this year) and have a halftime lead for the first time in the Kyle Shanahan era. I knew, logically, that the Giants secondary had tackling issues, but it's one thing to see the numbers and another to see it in action. Garrett Celek should have been tackled a good three or four times on his way to the go-ahead touchdown, giving them a 17-13 lead entering the half. That makes ten straight games a tight end has scored a touchdown against the Giants, which is an NFL record.
It turns out, an all-world offensive tackle helps pass protection issues. Joe Staley is back today from his fractured orbital bone (ouch), and the Giants are having issues getting pressure on C.J. Beathard, making them the first team ever to have that sentence written about them. The Giants' offense is doing alright, all things considered -- Evan Engram had a great catch, snatching the ball away from Eric Reid for a touchdown -- but when your defense is playing this poorly, that may not matter.
Aldrick Rosas misses a 34-yard chip shot -- the fourth straight game the Giants have missed a field goal. The Big Play 49ers Offense marches down the field, thanks to a 40-yard reception by Louis Murphy Jr. (god, I'm old), but the drive stalls when the Giants came down with a tipped interception. That keeps the score at 17-13, as the 49ers remain the only team in the NFL to not have a double-digit lead at any point this season.
The 49ers get into the end zone again. It hasn't been pretty, and it's been a long time coming, but the 49ers now have a double-digit lead, making them the last team to do so this season (Cleveland hit that mark in the early games today).
Of course, because nothing can happen without a bit of a cloud hanging over it, C.J. Beathard banged up his hand going into the end zone for the score to make it 24-13. If he can't come back, that means we would see the 49ers debut of Jimmy Garoppolo. He's getting loose as the trainers work on Beathard; bulletins as events warrant.
Tom Gower: One of those things that may be telling about teams and players is whether and how much players away from the ball who may have a role later in a continuing play rally to the ball. Or not, as Giants defenders did on C.J. Beathard's touchdown run. Or Matt Breida's touchdown run to put the 49ers up 31-13 in the fourth quarter. Sometimes bad games happen, but it's hard to see how Ben McAdoo keeps his job much longer without a very, very quick turnaround in New York's demonstrated effort and performance level.
Bryan Knowles: Yeah. I've watched a lot of bad football and bad football teams over the past few years as I've subjected myself to every 49ers game, but I can't remember seeing such a lack of effort like I'm seeing the Giants today. I get they're injured at every level, I get that this season is done -- but the same is true of the team on the other side of the ball, and no one on the Giants really seem to care. You could justify McAdoo not getting on a plane back to New York.
Houston Texans 7 at Los Angeles Rams 33
Vince Verhei: It's the end of the first quarter, and so far Tom Savage has lost a fumble on a sack; thrown a pair of balls that could have been pick-sixes but were dropped by defenders; and nearly gotten Bruce Ellington killed, throwing him into a big hit by Trumaine Johnson. (At least that resulted in a Rams penalty.) And yet the Rams only lead 3-0, because the Rams' first three drives have netted one first down and 6 yards of offense. Jadeveon Clowney is making big plays, and the Texans have been smothering the short passes the Rams are completing. We haven't seen any deep passes from Jared Goff yet, but you've got to figure they're coming. Regardless, it has been an excellent year for Romeo Crennel and Mike Vrabel. Houston's defense is more than holding its own despite all the injuries they have suffered.
Clowney currently has one sack, three tackles for loss, and a quarterback hit. The Rams have snapped the ball 15 times.
And Houston goes ahead when Tom Savage hits Ellington on a quick slant, and John Johnson takes a horrible angle on the play, leaving Ellington an easy path up the middle of the field for a 26-yard score. Texans lead 7-6, and it could have been worse -- Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a field goal after Houston had called timeout. Yes, effectively, the Texans iced their own kicker.
Rams take a 9-7 lead into halftime. Texans had an opportunity to open up a lead after a failed fake punt gave them great field position, but Savage threw a bad interception to end that drive. Just lobbed the ball into a crowd. That's two bad turnovers for Savage, but otherwise he and the Texans' wideouts have been winning the battle against the Rams' secondary.
As for the Rams, they have 15 yards on one Todd Gurley run, and 43 yards on a Gurley screen, and otherwise have 73 yards on their other 29 plays. It's really shocking to see them bottled up like this, but the Texans are winning the battle up front and in the back end. Sammy Watkins has one target, an incompletion, and Goff hasn't been able to effectively find anyone else.
I feel like I'm watching the Browns game again. The underdog has mostly outplayed the favorite, but trails at halftime due to a few massive mistakes.
There's a third near-pick-six for Savage -- his pass is behind Lamar Miller, and Alec Ogletree makes a nifty one-handed grab and takes it back the other way for the score. The play is called back on Ogletree's holding call, but that doesn't change what a terrible pass it was by Savage. A few more interceptable passes later, Shane Lechler punts, and Pharoh Cooper makes the bizarre decision to field the ball at the 3, then is tackled at the 4.
Rams get the ball back after their touchdown, and with a nine-point lead against a bad team at home in the second half, you'd think it's time to get conservative, but apparently not. Their next drive includes two runs and seven passes. Two of those plays were sacks, both by linebacker Brennan Scarlett, the latter forcing a punt. (Texans have been using a lot of defensive back blitzes, by the way.) Goff is now up to 33 pass plays, most of which have gone badly, while Gurley has only nine runs. Presumably that will change going forward.
And in the time it took me to type this up, the Texans went three-and-out and Los Angeles has the ball again.
Well this got un-interesting in a hurry. The last four plays from scrimmage:
- Sammy Watkins catch downfield for gain of 24.
- Sammy Watkins 17-yard touchdown on wide receiver screen. (Andrew Whitworth was way downfield and this should have been a penalty, but come on, it doesn't matter.)
- Samson Ebukam is unblocked and charges right into Savage's face. Somehow Savage does not see this (Seriously, is he blind? Is Matt Murdock playing quarterback for Houston now?) and is hit and fumbles, recovered by the Rams.
- Goff to Robert Woods, 12 yards, touchdown.
Rams now lead 30-7 at the end of the third, and I think I'm done talking about it.
Tom Gower: With Tom Savage and his internal sundial in the game, this one was almost assuredly over after the long Robert Woods touchdown made it 16-7. I don't like thinking about the 2017 Texans as currently constituted, but injuries do happen and sometimes matter a lot.
Dallas Cowboys 7 at Atlanta Falcons 27
Carl Yedor: And now we see the concussion protocol in action again with Devonta Freeman in Atlanta. Freeman is headed back to the locker room with his helmet off, so it looks like the Falcons are following the protocol as intended.
Dallas's offense thus far has featured a heavy dose of Dez Bryant in the absence of Ezekiel Elliott, with four targets thus far in half of a quarter. The Cowboys couldn't score on their first drive, but they take advantage of a tipped interception from Matt Ryan that set them up at Atlanta's 21-yard-line for a touchdown on their second. The running game hasn't been effective early for Dallas (six carries for 8 yards from Alfred Morris), though Dak Prescott did score a rushing touchdown on a scramble. When Prescott has broken the pocket, Atlanta hasn't had a great answer in the early going. Part of the running issues likely stem from Tyron Smith missing the game, so you can't pin the entirety of their struggles on Elliott's absence. This is something to monitor moving forward, as it could hurt Dallas if the Cowboys need to ice the game away with a lead in the fourth quarter.
Charles McDonald: The Falcons are doing what the Falcons have done all season. Untimely turnovers that set the defense up in poor field position. They were able to get a solid second drive going, but it stalled with the runs up the middle by Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward.
Aaron Schatz: I don't think Chaz Green bears responsibility for the Cowboys having problems running the ball early on, but his pass-blocking is a bit more iffy.
At halftime, both of these defensive lines are really beating the offensive lines and without even sending a lot of extra blitzers. Chaz Green, like I said, is not the running game problem, but Adrian Clayborn is beating him a lot with spin moves in the passing game. But it's not just Green. Zack Martin got his balance all messed up to give up a sack to Dontari Poe, and Brooks Reed has pushed La'el Collins around a lot. Then on the other side, I don't think people realize how good the Cowboys pass rush has been this year -- especially since David Irving returned from a four-game suspension. At one point Demarcus Lawrence just whipped Ryan Schraeder easily for a sack, and Schraeder is generally considered one of the top right tackles in the game.
Desmond Trufant is having a particularly strong game for Atlanta. Dak Prescott's only pass deep right was picked by Trufant, though that was nullified by offside on Vic Beasley. The Falcons have been very weak this year against No. 2 receivers, but Terrance Williams has just one catch for 9 yards. However, I said on the Off The Charts podcast that I thought the Cowboys needed to go deep more often to Brice Butler on the outside in this game. He's got one target but picked up 30 yards on it. Then need to try him more against Robert Alford or Brian Poole.
Bryan Knowles: The Cowboys have just 8 rushing yards on seven carries in the first half. Not having Zeke Elliott hurts, sure, but Tyron Smith being out probably hurts more, in the end.
Scott Kacsmar: I hope the TV analysts don't take the easy way out with "they need Zeke!" on this one. Clayborn has a whopping five sacks today. Sean Lee and Tyron Smith are bigger losses than Elliott right now. Hell, Dan Bailey might be bigger too since Dallas' only possession of the third quarter was a missed field goal. Dallas went from a 10-7 deficit at halftime to 24-7 in the fourth quarter with only a missed field goal in between for the offense. Falcons are a great 7-for-10 on third down today. I'd say this one is absolutely over, but these are the Falcons, so we'll wait for one more stop if they can't push the lead to 31-7.
New England Patriots 41 at Denver Broncos 16
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots will just kill the Broncos all night long by using tight ends and running backs split wide against Denver's safeties and linebackers. Solve the problem of three good cornerbacks by playing only two wide receivers. This is easier to do when you have only three wide receivers healthy in the first place.
Oh, and also special teams. Denver is 28th in special teams DVOA going into this game. Lost in the response to the Dion Lewis kickoff return touchdown is that no kickoff in Denver should ever end short of a touchback unless it is deliberately a squib, pooch kick, or onside try.
Just because I got a lot of pushback on Twitter about this: by pooch kick, I meant any attempt to kick the ball higher and shorter in order to let the coverage team get down field and force a short return. Brandon McManus put the ball 3 yards into the end zone. That's not the same as the way Stephen Gostkowski kicks off for the Patriots. In altitude, you should be able to put the ball out the back of the end zone every single time from the 35 unless you are deliberately trying to not put it into the end zone in the first place.
Scott Kacsmar: Week after week, Denver's defense is put in terrible field position because of its offense or special teams. Tonight it has been the special teams. But coming into Week 10, Denver's average starting field position on defense was the 34.6, worst in the NFL, and more than 6 yards worse than average. I'd like to look at how bad that is relative to league average compared to the other teams ranked dead last in our database. It just seems like at least half of the points allowed by Denver are on short fields or returns. It's really a depressing way to waste a great unit. Sure, we can admit it's not as strong as 2015 or 2016, but this defense has an extremely tough job to keep this team afloat during this awful stretch of play.
Tom Gower: The Broncos gave up 27 points in the first half, and Brock Osweiler didn't even turn the ball over! The Broncos offense actually scored on three of four first-half (non-kneeldown) possessions! I'm not even quite sure how to feel about being down 18 points after that. Maybe absolute despair, because I think that's what they should have felt coming in, but oddly optimistic in a "win the second half" sort of way wouldn't fit those (at least semi-stylized) facts as well.
Aaron Schatz: Also, the Patriots defense is bad.
One of the big reasons the Denver pass defense has declined this season -- where is the pass rush? Broncos were 16th in pressure rate this year according to SIS charting, and there's been almost no pressure on Tom Brady tonight. Where are Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray?
Dave Bernreuther: Well the Broncos did let the most important part of their D walk to LA in the offseason...