compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Carolina Panthers 35 at New York Jets 27
Bryan Knowles: The Panthers are being aggressive early, converting on a fourth-and-3 from the Jets 39 to keep their opening drive alive. I know Ron Rivera got that "Riverboat Ron" moniker in 2013 when the Panthers earned a reputation for being more aggressive in fourth-down situations, but that really hasn't been the case this year; the Panthers have actually been a little conservative on fourth-and-short situations this year compared to the league. It doesn't really make much sense that that would be the case, with Cam Newton behind center, but that's the case. Rivera was very conservative to open his coaching career, so maybe the past year or two have actually been a reversion to the mean for him.
Of course, later in the drive, they settle for a 40-yard field goal on fourth-and-2, so maybe Rivera is just throwing darts at a board here. Ah well.
It should be 7-3 New York, but Jets gotta Jets. They fooled the Panthers defense, with no one covering Austin Seferian-Jenkins, wide open in the end zone … and he picks a terrible time for his first drop of the season. Panthers dodge a bullet, and we remain tied.
Case in point for that "you should go for it more often with Cam Newton" concept. Facing third-and-goal from the 1, they run a play fake into a naked bootleg, with Newton beating everyone to the edge and stiff-arming Bruce Carter on his way into the end zone. Bootlegs, dives, draws, options -- it's just too easy for Newton in these situations. That's his 51st red zone rushing touchdown since 2011. Only two other players have more than 40 (Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray). Dude's unstoppable. Difference in the game is that the Panthers scored when they got to the 1-yard line; the Jets kicked the give-up field goal after the ASJ drop. 9-3, Panthers.
Scott Kacsmar: The extent to which Christian McCaffrey has been used as a receiver versus a runner has been unexpectedly slanted towards the receiving game this year. But he's had a 40-yard run today, which more than doubles his previous career long (17 yards). He's up to 54 rushing yards, which is already close to his high game this year (66). That 40-yard run led to a field goal and the Panthers are up 12-3.
Bryan Knowles: You're not wrong about McCaffrey -- the Panthers were actually giving him extra reps as a slot receiver this week. It's not because of injuries -- with Greg Olsen back, the Panthers have their full complement of receivers -- and it's not because Jonathan Stewart is lighting things up in the backfield. I'm a little surprised he hasn't taken over more of the running load, but I suppose a 3.0 YPC will do that for you. He just hasn't been Stanford McCaffrey on the ground this year.
Speaking of Olsen, he has been open a couple times, but something's missing in his connection with Newton so far -- Newton overthrew a wide-open Olsen in the end zone on that drive that ended in the field goal. Probably won't matter as the Jets offense has checked out since their first drive.
Scott Kacsmar: Sometimes August production does matter. Robby Anderson, a preseason standout in recent years, has a touchdown catch in five straight games for the Jets. The latest may be the most impressive yet, a catch in the back of the end zone to pull the Jets to within 12-10 at the half. Maybe Anderson never gets this big opportunity if the Jets didn't lose Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and Quincy Enunwa, but he looks like a solid young wideout to me. For being a deep threat in an offense without strong quarterback play, a catch rate over 50 percent isn't bad either. Get Enunwa back next year, maybe add another starter in free agency or the draft, and there's something to work with here.
Bryan Knowles: And, of course, just after I say the Jets offense is shut down, they connect on a 33-yard touchdown to Robby Anderson. Shouldn't have happened -- both Mike Adams and James Bradberry were in position to make a play and they just sort of … didn't. It was a tremendous catch by Anderson, taking nothing away from him there -- but it feels like he shouldn't have even gotten the opportunity.
Maybe it's just bye-week rust. Newton has been overthrowing people, the running game has not been particularly effective outside of the big McCaffrey run and a Kaelin Clay reverse, and the Jets have been getting significant pressure. Their blitzes are getting home, sacking Newton twice and hitting him six times, which might be a reason for the passing inaccuracy. If the offense could get anything going -- they had four straight punts bookending their scoring drives at the beginning and end of the half -- the Jets could pull off an upset here. As it is, they're hanging around, down 12-10 at halftime.
Have the Jets considered just not doing short plays at all? "Send Robby Anderson deep and hope something happens" seems to be the lion's share of their offense -- and they hit him again, on a 54-yard bomb where Kurt Coleman ended up a good 10 yards behind the play, caught looking into the backfield. The Jets are averaging 14.8 yards per play when targeting Anderson and just 4.2 on everything else.
No one knows what a catch is anymore. Jets throw to Austin Sefarian-Jenkins for what seems like a sure touchdown, with possession as he falls out of bounds. The refs, however, rule that the ball was moving as he went to the ground which, no. No, it really wasn't. Or, at least, I've seen the ball move more and seen it called a catch. Jets settle for a field goal, meaning they have a two-point lead rather than a six-point lead. This is not the first time ASJ has had a touchdown overturned somewhat controversially this season, and it might come back to haunt the Jets yet again.
The Panthers respond by waking up, scoring a touchdown on a nine-play, 75-yard drive. Devin Funchess had a key 35-yard catch to spark things, which is more yards than the Panthers had managed on their previous four series combined -- three three-and-outs and one kneeldown at the end of the half. This one remains close at 18-17, but not because it has been super-well played.
Vince Verhei: Josh McCown was drafted 15 years ago. His panicky fumble under pressure, recovered by Luke Kuechly and returned for a go-ahead touchdown, was the kind of play that gets undrafted free agents cut in the preseason.
Rob Weintraub: On the other hand McCown did set a career high for passing yardage at age 38. For Hanukkah I'm investing in some JM15 anti-aging products, for sure.
Rivers McCown: I need to hire John Morton to be my agent.
Bryan Knowles: The Panthers are going to win this one, but don't let the final score distract you from Newton's bad day. He's just 11-for-28 passing (pending what happens here on the final drive) and has been frustratingly inaccurate. Kuechly's fumble return touchdown and a Kaelin Clay punt return touchdown finally broke this one open, and the Panthers escape with one today. In the AFC, they'd be top playoff contenders! In the NFC, they're going to have to do better than that to hold on to that top wild-card slot.
Miami Dolphins 17 at New England Patriots 35
Aaron Schatz: The biggest difference in the Dolphins defense between last year and this year has been the pass pressure. The Dolphins were fifth in pressure rate last year, but are 28th this year. Hurries are down for pretty much every holdover player except Cameron Wake. There has been almost no pressure on Tom Brady in the first quarter. Patriots offense went three-and-out because of bad throws, but Brady had time. Then they un-went three-and-out with a fake punt, flipping the ball to the up-back Nate Ebner, who ran for a first down (but may have torn his ACL). The surprise is that the Patriots are also running so well against a Dolphins run defense that has been average, much better than their pass defense this year.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have no offense. Average gain so far is 3.2 yards. They just made the score 14-7 totally through luck, when the Patriots had a bad center exchange. Tom Brady was looking away when backup center Ted Karras snapped the ball and Rashad Jones picked it up to run it in for a touchdown. It's a really important turn of events in what I'm calling the Backdoor Cover Bowl -- -16.5 is an ABSURDLY backdoor-coverable line -- but really says absolutely nothing about the quality of either team.
OK, in the second quarter Cameron Wake is getting some pressure by beating backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. And there was an attempted screen where Charles Harris ended up unblocked and just plain obliterated Brady. Otherwise, there's not much.
Zach Binney: Alright, ban the kickoff. To start the second half an ugly collision on kickoff coverage made both a Miami and New England players' necks stretch in a very unnatural direction, and both of them are left on the turf. The Dolphins player is about to get carted off.
I've been tepid on kickoff reform rules because while they are by far the most dangerous plays, they simply aren't frequent enough to impact the overall NFL injury rate. But that was never an excuse to ignore reforming or eliminating the kickoff; just an encouragement not to think that's enough.
I just recently heard about a suggestion given to the league by Greg Schiano of all people that I kind of like: after you score, you get a fourth-and-15 from your own 35. This keeps the potential for an onside kick-style play alive, and otherwise you punt.
Aaron Schatz: Now 28-10 near the end of the third quarter. This game has been tremendously one-sided. It would be the first really strong defensive performance for the Patriots by DVOA, except the Dolphins have been so bad this year that the opponent adjustments are bound to be huge. Matt Moore is what he is -- a good backup quarterback who shouldn't be starting on a regular basis. The offensive line is iffy. The running game is non-existent. Pats have had one of the league's worst run defenses this year and still, Miami backs currently have 17 carries for only 61 yards. Miami came into this game with just 3.6 yards per carry and somehow that wasn't even one of the five worst figures in the league. It's been a really horrendous year for a number of teams in the running game, which I keep meaning to talk about in the DVOA commentaries but I keep getting onto other subjects. I'll probably get to it this week.
The other element of this game: the Dolphins are playing mostly zone defenses and there's just no way that can stop either Brandin Cooks or Rob Gronkowski. Gronk passed Randy Moss' team record for multiple-touchdown games today. By the way, Moss was only with the Patriots for 3 1/4 seasons. The dude was amazing.
Buffalo Bills 16 at Kansas City Chiefs 10
Derrik Klassen: Not that any of us needed a reminder, but Tyrod Taylor is playing like someone who clearly belongs as an NFL starting quarterback. And he is playing comfortably better than Alex Smith has through about a quarter and a half.
Andrew Potter: The Chiefs' first-quarter was best exemplified by a wide receiver screen earlier in which Albert Wilson and Tyreek Hill both set up for the screen and ran into each other trying to make the catch. Not even the Chiefs would actually draw the play up like that. Needless to say, they punted, and still haven't gained a first down on any of their first four drives, even blowing a challenge on a third-down spot. They look completely out of sorts on offense, and their longest play of the game is the one they challenged: a failed 11-yard scramble on third-and-12.
The Bills, meanwhile, started off dreadfully conservative -- the first ten minutes of this game were the worst ten minutes of football I've seen this year -- but opened things up a little on their fourth drive after winning the opening field-position exchanges. A 15-yard roughing penalty against Daniel Sorensen on third-and-5, added to an 8-yard catch by Jordan Matthews, was their biggest play on the 58-yard touchdown drive, which was capped by a 12-yard crosser to an alarmingly open Zay Jones for the score. They've since tacked on another three after being set up on the Chiefs 44 by the punt after the Smith scramble.
Make that five straight three-and-out drives for the Chiefs, now down 10-0 a third of the way through the game.
Aaron Schatz: I just want to put a picture of Tyrod Taylor on the cover of next year's book with the letters "WTF?" Do you think Tyrod might give us permission for that?
Scott Kacsmar: I couldn't understand why the Chiefs were 10-point favorites. They rarely blow anyone out, and it's not like Nathan Peterman was starting for Buffalo. LeSean McCoy against that run defense is a very favorable matchup. Felt like this one had one-score final written all over it, but we'll see if we get there with the Bills up 10-0 early. The longer the Chiefs stall on offense, the louder the chants for Patrick Mahomes will get.
Aaron Schatz: Chiefs were 10-point favorites because the Bills defense has fallen apart, I think, rather than because of the Bills' quarterback situation. But the Chiefs' offense has kind of fallen apart too, hasn't it?
Dave Bernreuther: Taylor's play has been better than the numbers indicate too, with his teammates letting him down some. After a play in which he avoided a near-certain sack like only he and two or three other quarterbacks could, then calmly stepped up and fired a dart over the middle to convert a third-and-long, only for it to be dropped, I made the joke that half of Buffalo would be calling for his head due to the drive failing. It's a shame that that's probably actually true.
Andrew Potter: We may have just set a new record for the lamest personal foul call in league history in Kansas City, with E.J. Gaines called for hitting a defenseless receiver on a play where he almost completely missed Charcandrick West. I can't honestly see how it could possibly have been a foul.
Chicago Bears 3 at Philadelphia Eagles 31
Vince Verhei: Bears just called timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty on third-and-17. And it's worse than it sounds, because they were on their own 1, so taking a delay of game would have made it third-and-17-and-a-half. And it's worse than THAT sounds, because the reason for the confusion in the first place is that they thought it was fourth down and were sending out the punt team. What a humiliation. Then Mitchell Trubisky throws the ball away on third down, the Bears punt, and the Eagles take over in Chicago territory. That turns into a field goal and a 17-0 Philadelphia lead.
Carson Wentz and the offense are going to get the highlights, and they're playing very well, but it's the defense that is really excelling today -- or, if you prefer, the Chicago offense that is really struggling. Officially, they have no first downs in their first four possessions. Really, it's zero first downs in five possessions. The best play for the Bears offense was actually a tip-drill interception -- Malcolm Jenkins fumbled the ball back to Chicago during the runback. In effect, it was an 11-yard gain for a first down. And that has been Chicago's BEST play.
The lead would likely be more, except LeGarrette Blount fumbled the ball away at the end of a 35-yard gain. So both teams have had ball security issues.
Eagles score again just before halftime, and Chicago takes a knee to end the half. Eagles have 24 points. Chicago has zero first downs. The Bears have one 18-yard gain on third-and-22, and 15 yards on their other 16 plays.
Tennessee Titans 20 at Indianapolis Colts 16
Aaron Schatz: What is going on with Marcus Mariota? Another two picks today.
Dave Bernreuther: Not a ton to say here. This is a close game between division rivals who are hamstrung by coaching. Neither quarterback has looked great, but both have made nice plays. One thing I'm noticing is that Jacoby Brissett has an odd habit of killing plays once he leaves the pocket. He's not too quick to leave, he doesn't drop his eyes ... but once he's moving, nothing ever happens. He either throws it away or slides (usually late) short of a useful play. An all-22 look would tell us more about how much fault lies with the receivers. Or with Rob Chudzinski's offensive calls, perhaps. On consecutive third-and-goals, I did notice an abundance of routes run short of the goal line. I've always defended his intelligence, given how much he has been able to adapt to personnel and different talents (Newton, taking over Pep's West Coast Offense, for instance), but it does seem like a lot of his plays are set up for failure just by design.
Tom Gower: The Titans gave the ball to DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry 10 times in the first half. Those 10 carries netted 3 yards, for a long of 3, and a success rate of zero percent. Marcus Mariota has to be perfect for them to win games when they voluntarily put themselves into a hole like that. He has had some good throws, but also threw two interceptions. One of them came when Taywan Taylor fell down with the ball in the air, but the other was a bad one. Jacoby Brissett was under a lot of pressure, as the Titans remembered from Monday Night Football they should send people after him instead of rushing three and playing coverage. He was sacked six times and started very off-target, but calmed down and finished the half 10-of-16. Add in a marginally effective run game, unlike the Titans' completely ineffective one, and a lack of turnovers (one fumble, not lost), and the Colts are up 13-6 while I'm repeating to myself "3-point favorites lose like 40 percent of the time, so this isn't a big surprise."
The Titans started the second half with two more failed running back runs after the 10 in the first half, then ripped off seven successful runs in a row. Partly related to that, they had the only two scores of the second half, one short touchdown drive and one longer one. They got a big break on the first, when Marlon Mack couldn't hang on to a pitch and they recovered the fumble at the Colts 4. The second featured actual offensive productivity on the ground, bizarre and yet normal with the ridiculously dichotomous nature of their offense. The bigger difference in the second half was Brissett stopped making the throws he hit in the second quarter. He finished 6-of-13 and missed a number of throws in key situations, notably a third-and-2 slant to T.Y. Hilton holding onto a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter. That was one of the rare times he actually got the ball out well when the Titans brought pressure in the final two quarters. He was also low and incomplete to Chester Rogers on third-and-3 on what proved to be the Colts' final possession of the game after they punted with just over three minutes to play. Not a pretty game, on a number of levels, but the Titans have their first win in Indianapolis since 2007.
Rivers McCown: I think the best way to sum up this game is that, in the middle of praising what a good job he was doing, CBS ran a graphic explaining that Chuck Pagano's team had blown leads of 10-plus-points routinely this season, and then they proceeded to blow this one as well.
I've routinely pointed out that I think Tennessee's coaching holds them back. They were a fumble recovery deep in opposing territory away from losing in a game where they had EIGHT sacks.
Cleveland Browns 16 at Cincinnati Bengals 30
Vince Verhei: The worst thing the Browns have done all year -- and there is stiff competition for that distinction -- is red zone offense, especially at the end of halves, when they have had a ridiculous tendency to come away with zero points from inside the 20 or even the 10. And it looked like it was going to happen again. They had a first-and-10 at the Cincinnati 11 with 20 seconds to go, no timeouts. So of course DeShone Kizer hit Corey Coleman on an 8-yard dig, tackled in bounds, clock running. I was certain that disaster was about to strike, but they were able to spike the ball with five seconds to go. Then it looked like they were actually considering a third-down play before sending Zane Gonzalez out to kick the chip shot, which he converted.
So the Bengals lead 16-6 at halftime. As is often the case, the Browns are doing a lot of things right but it's not translating to the scoreboard. They lead Cincinnati in first downs (11-10) and total yardage (215-189), though part of that is that they received the opening kickoff and got an extra possession in the half. They also had an eight-play, 54-yard drive that was wasted when Gonzalez missed a 43-yard field goal. Fortunately for them, the Bengals' red zone offense has hardly been any better, or this deficit would be even bigger. Randy Bullock has kicked two field goals from inside the 20.
Scott Kacsmar: Sometimes a change at coordinator during the season can produce favorable results. Remember when the Bengals were horrific on offense during an 0-2 start? Offensive coordinator Ken Zampese got the boot for Bill Lazor to take over, and since that point, Andy Dalton has thrown 18 touchdowns and four picks (two tipped by A.J. Green). Overall numbers that are right in line with where he was in 2015, his career year. Can't count the Bengals out yet in the AFC.
Can definitely count Cleveland out, though I guess we need Bryan to confirm that. The defense is also making Joe Mixon look like a stud today. He has 68 yards on the ground and 51 more through the air with a quarter and a half left.
Just wanted to follow up on that. Cincinnati's offense has still struggled in this stretch, but it's not about Dalton anymore. The lack of a running game has been a problem. Today and the Green Bay game in Week 3 are the only times the offense cracked 90 rushing yards all season. They lost Tyler Eifert again, though Tyler Kroft has actually been a solid replacement. He has a touchdown today, as does Tyler Boyd, who came in with just seven catches for 48 yards in a disappointing sophomore season. First-round pick John Ross doesn't even have a catch. It's mostly just a Dalton-to-Green offense with some Mixon sprinkled in, but that's enough to handle a team like the Browns.
Aaron Schatz: First-round pick John Ross isn't even ACTIVE. I have no idea what they are doing with that guy. I think he has been active for one game this season.
Cleveland defense making Mixon look like a stud is a surprise. That team has been phenomenal against the run this year. Allowing NFL-best 3.1 yards per carry before today. That's how an 0-10 team is somehow sixth in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed.
Bryan Knowles: I mean, we've been able to count Cleveland out since roughly October. And, of course, even if they were to pull off a comeback here, they'd need Kansas City to bounce back against Buffalo.
So what I'm saying is, there's a chance!
Vince Verhei: Emmanuel Ogbah is out for the year for Cleveland, which plays a small part in Mixon's big day. Other thing is, he had a big gain on a screen play, and as great as Cleveland has been against the run, they have terrible at covering running backs on passing plays, 29th coming into today.
Well, hey now. After a series of typical Browns-style mistakes (Corey Coleman dropping what should have been a 30-some-yard touchdown that hit him in the chest, Briean Boddy-Calhoun dropping what likely would have been a pick-six), Cleveland has put together a long scoring drive and we've got a football game. Kenny Britt had a 38-yard gain on third-and-10. Isaiah Crowell converts a fourth-and-1. And then Kizer scores on a quarterback draw on fourth-and-3. Bengals still lead 23-16, but there's almost seven minutes to go and there's a lot of work to do.
Bengals respond with a 75-yard touchdown drive that should put this one away. Joe Mixon took the ball on a sweep around left end and scored from 11 yards out. The biggest play, though, came a few plays earlier on a third-and-5. Andy Dalton tried a nine-route down the left sideline, and Josh Malone (who?) beat Jamar Taylor for what could have been a catch. Jabrill Peppers came over from the middle of the field and knocked the ball free. Looked like a stop and a punt, but Peppers was called for a shot to the head. Tough call on that one -- the crown of his helmet definitely caught Malone in the facemask, but it was also a deliberate attempt to knock the ball out of Malone's hands and the headshot was incidental to that goal. For safety reasons, I understand and agree this has to be a penalty, it's just unfortunate that on top of being a bad football team, plays like this happen to Cleveland more often than anyone else.
Rob Weintraub: Malone is a late-round pick out of Tennessee who was impressive in preseason -- given the Bengals penchant for double-dipping in the draft at a certain position, and having the second guy taken be better (Marvin Jones > Mohamed Sanu, Lawson > Willis, etc.), it wouldn't be a shock if Malone turns out better than Ross. Though given the malpractice taking place with the No. 9 overall pick, it's hard to truly take stock of where Ross is as a player, though clearly he's not where he should be.
As for Joe Mixon, I daresay it's not "Cleveland making him look like a stud" -- he is a stud, it's just unusual that he isn't being hit in the backfield before he has a chance to do anything. Mix has tremendous balance and patience -- you can see it even when he loses yards. If the run blocking can truly get fixed -- and today was a good start -- Mixon should make a real, if belated, impact.
Bryan Knowles: Cleveland's loss means they are, officially and finally, the first team to be knocked out of playoff contention in 2017, winning that race by ... I'm going to say about 10 minutes, looking at the score in Carolina-New York. A true achievement for an 0-11 squad; a commemorative plaque is in the mail.
Seattle Seahawks 24 at San Francisco 49ers 13
Vince Verhei: Russell Wilson comes into this week first in the league in fourth-quarter passing DYAR, but near the bottom in first-quarter DYAR. So of course his first pass against San Francisco results in an interception, and Seattle's second drive ends when he blindly throws a pass to the flat that could have been a pick-six. Blair Walsh misses a 48-yard field goal just to really put me into a good mood.
Aaron Schatz: Do the Seahawks script their first 15 plays? It might be interesting to line up first-quarter DVOA with a list of the teams that we know tend to script their first X number of plays.
Bryan Knowles: The one thing that is going well for Seattle early on is defensive pressure. The 49ers' offensive line (missing Trent Brown) is not exactly an impregnable fortress, but Seattle managed to get three hits on C.J. Beathard during the 49ers' first two drives. The Seahawks offensive line hasn't done much either -- DeForest Buckner versus the Seahawks offensive line is kind of amazing to watch -- but Beathard and Wilson are about as diametrically opposed as you can get when it comes to dealing with pressure. Scoreless first quarter.
Carl Yedor: I'm not sure how strictly the Seahawks follow a script, but I've definitely read before that they do script the first 15 plays. Maybe that's part of why they struggle to score so much in the early going (i.e., the scripts are either not effective, more about experimenting with different play calls, or a mixture of both). Seattle had another promising drive derailed after a false start that eventually led to a third-and-15. Tyler Lockett had a step on the 49ers corner, but Wilson didn't see him in time and the defensive back was able to recover to make a play on the ball in the end zone. After another quick stop, the Seahawks go three-and-out. Rough start for both offenses.
Vince Verhei: To emphasize my point, Seattle's offensive DVOA by quarter coming into today:
- 1st: -46.6% (32nd)
- 2nd: -3.3% (18th)
- 3rd: -1.4% (25th)
- 4th/OT: 60.1% (1st)
Looking back through past years, this is a new thing for Seattle. They've usually been better in the fourth quarter, but it has been a jump from mediocrity to goodness, not from complete incompetence to dominance. So you can't really blame it on scripting -- unless Bevell has been using the same script for years now and teams have figured it out.
Regardless, the Seahawks got out of the first quarter in a scoreless tie, which means the 49ers missed out on their best chance to win. Early in the second quarter, Bobby Wagner makes a great interception, taking the ball out of Trent Taylor's hands. Two plays later, Wilson keeps the ball and runs it in for a score from 3 yards out. There was a zone-read look to it, but I think it was a designed keeper all the way, with a tight end coming across the formation to act as a lead blocker for Wilson. Seahawks might be on their way to their best rushing day of the season -- Eddie Lacy and J.D. McKissic have combined for 46 yards here early in the second quarter. Weird to see their offensive line so, well, functional. They do have Luke Joeckel back today, which I guess helps.
Bryan Knowles: An addendum to that Russell Wilson touchdown: the Seahawks have now scored 25 offensive touchdowns. 24 of them have either been thrown or run in by Wilson. He is the offense. He's also the main reason this game hasn't been a disaster for Seattle so far; he has already escaped from four different sacks, unless I've missed a couple more.
49ers fans were wondering why Jimmy Garoppolo didn't get the start this week, coming off of a bye at home. The answer, presumably, is "Kyle Shannahan does not want him to get murdered." On Beathard's first 18 dropbacks, he was hit nine times. Some of that is Beathard's fault, of course, but this isn't really a situation anyone can succeed in at the moment. Wait until the offensive line is back at full strength and you have a less ferocious pass rush to go against, like Tennessee.
They do get a field goal on a solid two-minute drive, thanks to an impressive 29-yard catch-and-run by Trent Taylor. That makes it 7-3, Seattle at the half. The 49ers are actually outperforming Seattle on a per-play basis, 3.9 yards per play to 3.7. That's not exactly a high-level competition, there.
Like Vince said, this seems like typical Seattle, playing down to their opponent in the first half before becoming something altogether different in the fourth quarter. I'll call my shot here, then -- 49ers take a 10-3 lead in the third quarter, and then lose 16-10 in the fourth when the Seahawks decide to play good football. This feels like an inevitability.
Vince Verhei: 7-3 at the half. 49ers offense, unsurprisingly, has been mostly shut down aside from a couple of big catches by Taylor and Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin's was probably the best play of the game, all things considered -- Beathard made a great throw under pressure, Jeremy Lane had very good coverage on the play, and Goodwin made a fine catch before running out of bounds. Mostly, though, it has been Seattle's backup defensive linemen abusing Beathard all day. Marcus Smith, Branden Jackson, Quinton Jefferson, and Nazair Jones, among others, all have quarterback hits in the first half. This isn't a knock on San Francisco's line, it's just Seattle's obscene defensive line depth paying off. It's also why Seattle could afford to cut Dwight Freeney this week.
Seattle's offensive struggles are the usual mix of constant pressure, unreliable running, and dropped passes. This is just what their games are. Doesn't matter if the opponent has one win or one loss, it's going to be an ugly, clunky, low-scoring affair that is decided in the fourth quarter. Almost doesn't bother me anymore.
49ers get a bunch of good runs on their first drive of the second half as it looks like the Seattle front is getting worn down. On third down, though, Beathard is forced to scramble. He takes a big hit, and hangs on to the ball, but he's short of a first down, and San Francisco hits a field goal to make it 7-6.
And suddenly it's a shootout. Seahawks go jumbo, with a bunch of six-lineman and two-tight end sets on the drive, and it opens things up in play-action. First there's a 24-yard catch-and-run to Tanner McEvoy, then a 17-yard touchdown to Nick Vannett on a corner route for a 14-6 lead. Wilson is so, so much better from deep dropbacks. It gives him time to see the pass rush and make plays if needed, and also probably gives him a better chance to look over the heads of his linemen and find guys downfield.
Bryan Knowles: Things have gotten a little out of hand here; Seattle decided to try showing up for the entire second half rather than just the fourth quarter. With Marquise Goodwin on the sidelines, the 49ers don't really have the playmakers needed to come mount a comeback; not with Seattle scoring on two long drives in the second half.
Assuming they hold on, Seattle still remains in a little bit of playoff trouble here, with Carolina, Atlanta and (at the moment) the Rams all winning today. Their loss to Atlanta last week would have them out of the playoffs at the moment due to the head-to-head tiebreaker. Yet another reason to question that bizarre fake field goal from the end of the first half on Monday night.
Rivers McCown: How did it take the Seahawks like three years to figure out that throwing to Jimmy Graham on goal-to-go is a good idea?
Vince Verhei: Assuming nothing else bizarre happens today, this week has really clarified the NFC playoff picture. Vikings and Eagles are winning their divisions. Panthers and Saints are winning the NFC South and one of the wild-card berths. Rams are probably winning the west, though the Seahawks are alive, with a win in hand over the Rams and a game in Seattle still to play. However, if Seattle can't catch the Rams, that leaves them fighting the Falcons for the last wild-card spot -- and as noted, this makes the Monday night loss all the more painful for the Seahawks.
I can already hear the blisters forming on Aaron's fingers as he frantically types out that nothing is certain and anything can happen over the next five weeks. And he's right, but at least now we have a clear playoff picture that can be disrupted. Before there was just chaos, and you can't disrupt chaos.
Aaron Schatz: No, no, it's fine to say the playoff picture has clarified. My problem is with people who say there's no point in playing or watching any of the remaining games.
Bryan Knowles: Don't count the Lions out, either, one game behind Seattle/Atlanta, with an easier schedule than either of them going forward.
Well, we may have seen the handover from Beathard to Jimmy Garoppolo, but it's not how anyone wanted to see it. Beathard was bent in half, limping off with a knee injury.
Beathard has been sacked three times and hit 13 times today. It's been 17 and 52, respectively, since he took over as a starter in the past five games. Serious hazard pay for that guy.
And, of course, Jimmy G comes in, converts a few plays, scrambles, finds an open man in the end zone and throws a touchdown as time expires. It's a 24-13 win for Seattle, but hey. Jimmy G! Ignore everything else and pay attention to your handsome new quarterback, San Francisco.
Vince Verhei: Beathard is knocked out of the game with a knee injury and just over a minute to go, which means yes, the Jimmy Garoppolo era in San Francisco has begun. He plays enough to scramble once and throw two passes, the latter a touchdown on the last play of the game. The few hundred fans left in the stands cheer like it was a Montana-to-Rice game-winner. It sucks that Beathard got hurt but everything else about that finish was great comedy. Seahawks win 24-13.
Carl Yedor: If Beathard is hurt and going to miss time, the Jimmy G era in San Francisco is definitely going to start next week. He looked good on his two attempts in garbage time, but San Francisco now has potentially five full games to evaluate him. Seahawks had an ugly first half but pulled away over the course of the second. A prime-time matchup against the Eagles next week awaits. The 49ers face the Bears in the Trubisky Trade Bowl.
Denver Broncos 14 at Oakland Raiders 21
Bryan Knowles: Holy cow, three fights just broke out in this one. And not usual "everyone gets in a circle and there's some shoving" fights, but punches swung, helmets ripped off, the referee knocked down on the ground holding his ribs ... that's more than I've seen in a long time. It started when Michael Crabtree continued a block on Aqib Talib a good 5, 10 yards out of bounds, and he should be ejected immediately. Talib countered with a punch of his own, and everything just went off.
Crabtree and Talib are both kicked out, as is Gabe Jackson (for shoving a referee during the melee). That's three high-quality players out in one fracas.
Credit to Marshawn Lynch for helping regain control, and walking Talib to the locker room (which had to happen through the Raiders bench due to the layout of the stadium). What a disaster.
Vince Verhei: I would much rather watch the Broncos and Raiders fight than watch them play football.
Scott Kacsmar: Obviously there is bad blood there after Talib ripped a chain off of Crabtree last year. But these teams have played this season, and I believe both players were active for that one and got through it without incident. This looked like Crabtree had some revenge in mind. Ugly scene all around.
Tom Gower: Crabtree missed the first game this year, so this was their first meeting since the Chain Rip.
Vince Verhei: I'd like to congratulate Paxton Lynch on becoming the first quarterback to throw an interception against Oakland this year.
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) November 26, 2017
Rivers McCown: Buried under the fight is this first-half stat line from Paxton Lynch: 5-of-10, 22 yards, one pick, two sacks. It's never a good sign when you can take the completions-attempts and yards to look like they belong in a basketball box score. AGAINST THE RAIDERS. Not actually watching but yeesh. Chad Kelly might be the quarterback with the brightest future on Denver's roster.
Vince Verhei: I don't know if anyone is actually watching this game, but Paxton Lynch was benched after throwing an interception and taking four sacks, while gaining only 41 yards on his nine completions. Trevor Siemian is in the game and in two drives he has passed for 87 yards and a touchdown. Lynch was a first-round pick a year ago and he is clearly very much worse than Siemian. There is not enough scorn in the world for what John Elway has done with the Broncos quarterbacks.
Bryan Knowles: Lynch wasn't just benched; he was pulled with an ankle injury. He was sobbing on the sidelines, though whether that's due to the injury or his all-around bad day is unclear.
Jacksonville Jaguars 24 at Arizona Cardinals 27
Rivers McCown: You're not going to believe this, but a game started by Blake Bortles and Blaine Gabbert has been a defensive struggle. The Cardinals came into this game with a top-ten run defense DVOA and have held the Jags to 12 rushing yards on their first 10 carries.
Down 16-3 and faced with fourth-and-goal at the 3 in the middle of the third quarter, the Jags go for it. The play looks to either be a busted play or a designed quarterback run outside the numbers. Bortles runs it in for a touchdown. Hey! It's smart football by the numbers! Celebrate it!
Midway through the fourth quarter the Jags start to look like they're out of it. They've got 154 total yards on the day, with the Cardinals contributing 93 yards to them on penalties.
But all of the sudden, Blaine Gabbert gets strip-sacked by Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell returns it for a touchdown, and the Jaguars lead 17-16. Bruce Arians defended Gabbert by saying the teams that employed him were "shitty." Well...
And ... Gabbert answers with a touchdown strike from around midfield as the Jags lose safety coverage. The Gabbert-Campbell revenge game race is on.
New Orleans Saints 20 at Los Angeles Rams 26
Aaron Schatz: I understand that the Saints want to use Kenny Vaccaro as the nickelback against the Rams because that keeps a bigger body on the field against Todd Gurley for run plays. But he's getting beaten like a drum today. Just completely lost the ball in the air on a pass to Cooper Kupp which went 53 yards. He has also drawn two penalties for 20 yards while covering rookie Josh Reynolds. Reynolds just caught a touchdown pass to make the score here 17-7, although that one wasn't with Vaccaro in coverage, that was A.J. Klein in a zone.
Andrew Potter: Well, yes and no. Vaccaro's pretty much the best option they have. With the top two cornerbacks (not counting Delvin Breaux, who is still on IR) out, both the usual backups are starting. Today's third corner is Sterling Moore, who was cut before the season and only re-signed this past Monday. The next option behind that is Dexter McDougle, also signed this week. There's nobody else, unless you really want to see what Kupp can do to Rafael Bush in man coverage.
Aaron Schatz: Now 17-10 at halftime. Tony Romo keeps pointing this out, but when Wade Phillips defenses play man, you have to beat those guys in order to move the ball. And the Rams corners are covering really well today. Brees didn't have an incomplete pass until the last drive before halftime, but that's because he's mostly not throwing to covered receivers, not because the receivers aren't covered well. In general, the Saints aren't getting the first downs, and the Rams are dominating time of possession and number of plays here. Rams have 18:33, 39 plays, 250 net yards.
Saints are only at 11:25, 21 plays, and 166 net yards. The Saints have more yards per play, but only because of a single 74-yard touchdown scamper by Alvin Kamara.
One other note, Sammy Watkins finally showed up with Robert Woods out of the game. Had a touchdown catch and then a big catch on the sideline, taking the ball out of the hands of rookie safety Marcus Williams, to put the Rams into almost-field goal range right before halftime. But the Rams dropped out of almost-field goal range (and into Dempseyland) when Cameron Jordan got his second sack of the game. The first one was a straight-out blown block by Andrew Whitworth. You don't see a lot of those. Greg "The Leg" Zeuerlein missed a 63-yarder short to end the half.
Tom Gower: Alvin Kamara, Alvin Kamara, Alvin Kamara. 74-yard touchdown run, a 21-yard catch-and-run where he broke/avoided five would-be tacklers (I rewound and counted again to be sure). It's hard to believe Tennessee didn't do more to get him involved last year, but that's beating a horse that's well past dead with the firing of Butch Jones.
I wish we got the full version of the New Orleans defense so we could get another sample of the Rams offense against a non-bad defense, but they've done what they needed to do so far, with productivity beyond the great opening drive (which was when they stalled against Minnesota last week).
Dave Bernreuther: Two weeks ago we saw a few poor Brees throws and chalked it up to pressure. And today I had low expectations against a Phillips defense.
But 76 yards passing in the fourth quarter is well below my expectations. And furthermore, we just saw him underthrow a WIDE OPEN Ted Ginn for what would have been a certain touchdown, without any pressure, and he was lucky he wasn't picked. He followed that with his first of two hospital balls to Coby Fleener on the same drive, which was one of those passes that makes you wonder about the perils of old age.
But he's still Drew Brees, and they still drive down to a fourth-and-short at the 5, down 13, and Sean Payton... calls for the field goal with ten minutes left? I'm too confused to be upset by that. That's not a Sean Payton move at all.
Bryan Knowles: Big turn of events in L.A.! Sammy Watkins had a 5-yard lead on everybody, but Jared Goff underthrows him. Watkins reaches back to try to haul the pass in, but ends up tipping it right to P.J. Williams. I'm not sure at all how that pass wasn't incomplete, but the Saints get a much-needed shot in the arm to get back in this one.
Aaron Schatz: I have no idea what Sports Info Solutions will do with the interception Jared Goff threw with 8:39 left in the game. It wasn't really a "dropped interception" because the ball was clearly underthrown. But Sammy Watkins reached back for it, and for some reason sort of scooped it towards the defender and right into the hands of P.J. Williams. So the interception was more Watkins' fault than Goff's fault. At least it was a bit of an arm-punt, 36 yards downfield on third-and-10.
Dave Bernreuther: A Cooper Kupp back-footed pass to no-one that was worse than Flacco's mechanics leads to an interesting bar conversation, and yes you're all free to speculate on the mental state of my current company: can a wide receiver get flagged for intentional grounding?
One play later, Goff throws a bad one behind Watkins that ends up picked, after which Brees throws behind his guy and Trumaine Johnson drops a pick. He followed this with another INT-able pass and a low-ALEX third-and-10 failed completion that extinguished that opportunity. I had a hunch that this would be one of those games between two explosive offenses that'd hit an easy under, but so far I remain confused as to how much credit to give the defense and how much blame to just give the quarterbacks.
Andrew Potter: I don't believe so, because of the tackle box stipulation:
Intentional grounding will not be called when a passer, who is outside, or has been outside, the tackle position throws a forward pass that lands at or beyond the line of scrimmage, even if no offensive player(s) have a realistic chance to catch the ball (including when the ball lands out of bounds over the sideline or endline).
I'm not sure how that is all qualified in the actual rulebook, however; whether the ball itself needs to have moved outside the tackle position or just the player. At the very least, it looks like a running back could be called. The NFL rulebook is a morass.
Dave Bernreuther: He was certainly out of the pocket in this case. But it made us wonder about a differently designed play, like the horrible botched pitch reverse we saw earlier by the Bears (I think) that could also lead to a pass like we see once or twice every year, wherein the misdirection leaves the non-QB passer still in the tackle box.
Bryan Knowles: Probably not for a receiver, thanks to the "has been outside the tackle position" qualifier. A running back who lines up in the backfield, however, would seem to be fair game, assuming it's a ... very badly designed play.
Tom Gower: Another thing that stood out from this game. Andrew Whitworth and Terron Armstead have been pretty good for their team this year. They stood out for the wrong reasons today, struggling against Cam Jordan and Robert Quinn in particular. Los Angeles managed to do some things anyway, for reasons we've discussed, but not being able to rely on the run game or the same kind of pass protection was probably another reason the Saints offense had the sort of day they did.
Green Bay Packers 28 at Pittsburgh Steelers 31
Bryan Knowles: Anyone expecting this one to be a blowout is blinking at this one. Packers are out to a 14-6 lead, with a little help from a Ben Roethlisberger interception. Artie Burns was, well, burned on a long Randall Cobb touchdown -- he had the deep responsibility, but instead went to cover a post route over the middle. Martavis Bryant, Jesse James, and Eli Rogers have dropped passes. I still do expect the Steelers to come back and win this one when all is said and done, but it's performances like this that make you doubt they'll be able to get over their New England-sized roadblock on the way to the Super Bowl.
Scott Kacsmar: Steelers have been allowing a lot of long pass plays, including several touchdowns, since the Detroit game. Artie Burns is often at fault, but giving up that screen is pretty inexcusable on third-and-9. Roethlisberger had the one pick, but so far that's his only off-target throw. You could chart five drops already early in the second quarter.
Rivers McCown: This is a broadcast of the Emergency Steelersing Alert System. The Steelers are currently losing by eight to an inferior team after allowing a pair of long touchdowns. They will likely win this game as they inevitably pull out of the tailspin that envelops them any time they play a bad team. Please stay tuned for further updates.
(About an hour later…)
This is a second broadcast of the Emergency Steelersing Alert System, please stay tuned.
The Steelers have committed two turnovers to Green Bay's zero, and though Brett Hundley has not necessarily looked much better or hit tight-window throws, he has found open receivers downfield when the Steelers have left them open. Pittsburgh is three-for-three on touchdowns in the red zone. Please stay tuned for further updates.
Aaron Schatz: Three turnovers now, including a Le'Veon Bell fumble that the Packers recovered. Yet, I don't think it feels like this is one of those games where the Steelers are playing down to their opponents, other than the early dropped passes. It feels more like a game where the Packers are playing *up* to their opponent. The Steelers are making plenty of strong plays on both offense and defense. It just so happens the Packers are also making plays, and we're not used to seeing that from Brett Hundley or even a guy like Blake Martinez.
Tom Gower: Le'Veon Bell, notwithstanding his fumble, and Antonio Brown are really good players. It makes it easier to win games when you have really good players. Also Cameron Hayward on defense is another really good player. The Packers have three big plays and not much outside of them, while Roethlisberger found Brown in the turkey hole in Cover-2 for a 28-21 lead.
Scott Kacsmar: The Steelers executing well in the red zone is actually a big change for them. Didn't need to go into the red zone on that go-ahead touchdown drive though. Roethlisberger and Brown in sync again tonight, and that's four touchdown passes in back-to-back games. It took until Week 11, but this is the Pittsburgh offense we expected to see this season.
Tom Gower: Really good drive by Brett Hundley to tie the game at 28. Most of it was easy, bang-bang-bang when it came to successful plays, and he made the play on fourth down the one time it got there. And I definitely wouldn't have believed you last year if you told me the Packers would look to Davante Adams running a whip route on a crucial fourth-and-6 against the Steelers, but there it was. But again, we go back to the Steelers and their great players, and Antonio Brown's two catches, one jaw-droppingly great and the other just pretty nifty, in a severely time-compressed drive to get just far enough into field goal range for Chris Boswell to nail the game-winning field goal. Not the game I or many others expected, but still a win for home squad in black and gold.