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 e-mails 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.
Minnesota Vikings 33 "at" Cleveland Browns 16 (London)
Andrew Potter: This game looks like exactly what it is: two teams with better defenses than offenses, trying to avoid blowing the game on offense. All nine points have come off turnovers: a Joe Schobert interception on Minnesota's first drive, and a muffed fair catch after their second, gifting the Vikings a field goal. The Browns offense has been almost exclusively short passing plays and quick runs, possibly in an attempt to keep pressure off their new left tackle Spencer Drango. They threw in a screen on an Emory & Henry formation, but that's about as adventurous as they've gotten. Minnesota has been almost exclusively inside handoffs, drags, curls, and throws to Jerick McKinnon in the flats that are basically overarm toss plays. Any deep plays have happened almost by accident, and the biggest of them all -- a 41-yard completion to Adam Thielen -- was called back for an illegal high-low block against the left side of the Vikings line.
And of course, as I type this, Case Keenum goes deep right to a WIDE open Adam Thielen. A simple route straight upfield against zone coverage. The corner left Thielen to the safety, and the safety never showed. Thielen was able to stand still in the back corner of the end zone and wave for the ball, and still had ten yards of space when he caught it.
Oh, and we just had our second missed extra point of the day. It should end up the closest-fought of the London games, but this has not been a classic.
Tom Gower: Browns up 13-12 at the half. As Andrew noted, Cleveland has concentrated on not letting Spencer Drango lose the game for them after the problems he had last week after the Joe Thomas injury. That quick pass-oriented game plan also fits with the game plan DeShone Kizer executed for the most part fairly successfully early last week. It doesn't make for the most attractive viewing and doesn't show off what makes Kizer a much better potential option than Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan, at least not until he hit the deep ball on the touchdown drive in the two-minute drill.
And then we get to the last drive of the first half, a drive that definitely never should have taken the form it did, on multiple levels. First, it was Cleveland's insistence to save time, notwithstanding that they were in first-and-goal with over a minute left, enabling the Vikings to save all their timeouts. Second, Gregg Williams insisted on blitzing. It didn't get home, and Keenum found McKinnon up the sideline for 20 yards. Second play, another big blitz, and Keenum got it out too quickly. Third play, overload blitz, throwback to McKinnon wide open. Another short completion, and the Vikings were in field goal range without Case Keenum having to make a throw to a receiver or more than about 7 yards downfield. Frustrating sequence, because 34 seconds feels like a good time to play it safe and ask a quarterback who will rarely risk tight-window throws to downfield receivers to do just that or be ineffective.
Andrew Potter: The announcers keep bringing attention to Cleveland's deep safety, who in this game appears to be Ibraheim Campbell with Jabrill Peppers inactive. Evidently, that role isn't exclusive to Peppers, but a feature of Gregg Williams' Browns defense. In this particular game, it seems counterproductive. The Vikings offense is all short stuff, all day: I don't recall the last time I saw a team fake a handoff then throw to the same running back this many times in one game. Even when receivers are coming open deep, Case Keenum isn't going near them unless they're either left completely alone or are the "target" on an underthrown throwaway. Rather than taking away a non-existent deep ball, all keeping a safety that deep seems to achieve is taking one defender out of the meaningful portion of the play.
Duke Johnson just caught a roughly -12 ALEX pass to gain 9 yards on third-and-17, with the Browns down 14 points and roughly 9:00 left. Those 9 yards are enough to give Johnson 10 yards on four catches. Yes, this has been an exceptionally conservative Browns offense, why do you ask?
Kai Forbath's fourth field goal gives us a 33-16 final score. This was the closest, most competitive of the four London games this year. An estimated 30,000 fans went to all four games.
If London ever does get a franchise, hard to say those 30,000 people didn't earn it.
Rivers McCown: Gregg Williams' defense leaves people wide open so often that it's a feature rather than a bug.
I actually thought Kizer looked downright competent at times in this game. But his receivers are horrific. David Njoku dropped two or three bunnies. I don't know how this team expects to be able to give a fair evaluation of Kizer with the team lacking even Bears-level receivers. Kizer takes too many sacks ,but that's the only truly bad trait I see.
Los Angeles Chargers 13 at New England Patriots 21
Dave Bernreuther: A 51-yard try in New England on fourth-and-1 is a sure thing, of course, and bound to be super helpful on the road against the Patriots offense. Well coached, Marty. Err, Norv. Err, McCoy. Err ... whatever, it doesn't even matter.
Why even fly cross country if you're not going to try to win?
Scott Kacsmar: We're barely 15 minutes into the games and I'm already fed up with the coaching today. Anthony Lynn pulled his offense off the field on a fourth-and-1 at the New England 33 in favor of a 51-yard field goal. Nick Novak doesn't have a very strong leg. This is why he was consistently bad on kickoffs in his first stint with the team. He tried to kick it low, but the Patriots may have gotten a fingertip on the ball. Either way, it was a missed opportunity that shows zero acknowledgement of the team you're playing. You need touchdowns in New England, not settling for long field goals. Meanwhile, the Raiders had a fourth-and-1 at midfield in Buffalo, went for it, and turned that into a touchdown drive. The Chargers needed to try the same.
It won't look so bad though after Melvin Gordon took off on an 87-yard touchdown run. Excellent vision on that run.
Aaron Schatz: Not just excellent vision. The cut through the hole was sweet after it looked like he might lose yardage, but I also want to bring attention to very good blocks on that side by Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, and then Hunter Henry reaching up to the second level. Took out the entire Patriots secondary that might otherwise have gotten Gordon after a few yards of gain.
Melvin Gordon on the outside zone for a big TD pic.twitter.com/idjxn3qbJ2
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) October 29, 2017
Dave Bernreuther: Well then. Lynn's diabolical strategy of losing 50 yards of field position in order to put the Patriots defense right where he wants them ... works.
Worse, as Gordon bounced the handoff to the sidelines and sort of backwards, I made a sarcastic comment about going backwards being a sure path to success. Patrick Chung didn't win a battle, though, and Melvin Gordon rumbled and stumbled 87 yards to give the Chargers the lead.
I'll be the guy over there in the corner with my foot in my mouth.
Aaron Schatz: We may need to find another video clip to show Travis Benjamin's horrible punt return that just gave the Patriots a safety. He muffed the punt, it dribbled backwards, he went to pick it up, then ran backwards about 8 yards trying to avoid the Patriots' coverage guys and ended up down in the end zone.
— NFL (@NFL) October 29, 2017
Bryan Knowles: Travis Benjamin, welcome to Keep Choppin' Wood! We'll be replaying that one for years!
Scott Kacsmar: I was doing radio the other day and said that Philip Rivers' career against New England is the stuff of a Greek tragedy. He has hit all three of his passes for 38 yards so far today, but his teammates and coaches are killing him again. For one, a Wildcat play on third-and-2 with Branden Oliver getting the ball is just a no-go for me. I'm not sure there's any offense in the league I feel great about using the Wildcat in that spot, but certainly no value to splitting Rivers out wide. Then when you think the Chargers are getting the ball back, Benjamin has that all-time embarrassing effort with the muff and retreat to the goal line for a safety. Then when the Patriots faced a fourth-and-1 at the 36, they went for it and got it, like you would expect from a well-coached team. Tom Brady not seeing Danny Amendola open on a third down is the only reason this is 12-7 instead of 16-7 right now.
Aaron Schatz: Seems to me that the Chargers are having some of the same issues the Falcons had last week. They aren't bringing much inside pressure on Brady, so he can step up and make passes even if Melvin Ingram or Joey Bosa beat their guys. Looks like the Patriots are giving more double-team attention to Brandon Mebane and Corey Liuget, letting Bosa and Ingram get their wins as long as Brady doesn't have to face the inside pressure.
Scott Kacsmar: If we're looking for contenders for the worst punt return ever, we can't forget when DeSean Jackson did this in crunch time against the 2015 Cowboys:
Meanwhile, the Chargers just tried to run a pick play on third-and-1 and didn't even get a good pick or good throw out of it. It's like they forgot about Gordon after his 87-yard run. With two minutes left here and the Patriots getting the ball to start the third quarter, this one might get out of hand soon.
Dave Bernreuther: I was about to mention the theme of letting Rivers down, given the kickoff offsides and the illegal touching call that negated a perfect pass that could've tied the game, but after Rivers just fumbled the ball without being touched, I guess we can't say he's completely without blame. That was pretty poor.
Still, that's a horrible swing in what feels like, as Scott said, could be a game that gets out of hand. After an attempted arm punt and an actual one, the Patriots have the ball, up eight, at home in the second half. The Chargers could really have used that completion.
Aaron Schatz: Chargers are also getting more pass pressure on Brady in the second half. Even if it's mostly coming from the outside, that pressure is disturbing Brady more than it was before. Was partially responsible for the three-and-out after the big Dion Lewis kick return that started the second half, and Brady just took a 0-yard sack and then tried to hit Gronk under duress (incompete, partially Gronk's fault) to force another field goal attempt. Gostkowski hits it, 18-7.
Gostkowski is 2-for-4 on field goals today, Nick Novak 0-for-1. The winds are swirling in odd ways, and both kickers seem to be having issues. Novak came out early at halftime to try to test the winds. Chargers keep stiffening in the red zone and bringing out Gostkowski, and when he has missed the last two field goals it is keeping the Chargers in this game.
The Patriots honestly did not play much better than the Chargers today. They won this game (final: 21-13) because they did fewer dumb things. It's kind of amazing how many dumb, head-scratching things happen to the Chargers. It was like this game needed its own Chargers BINGO card.
- The Travis Benjamin muffed punt safety.
- Philip Rivers having the ball slip out of his hands for a self-sack to set up third-and-31.
- Tyrell Williams stepping out of bounds and losing a touchdown catch to an illegal touching penalty.
- Joey Bosa jumping offsides on third-and-5. It didn't give the Pats a first down because it was more like third-and-5.5, and it will be listed in the PBP as a 4-yard penalty, but it set up an easy Brady sneak for the first down while the Patriots were on their last drive to try to either ice the game or set up an 8-point lead.
- Travis Benjamin starting the comeback drive with 1:02 left with a nice catch for about 12 yards, then wasting like eight seconds trying to get more yardage (and getting an extra couple) but not getting out of bounds.
- Fourth-and-2 with 14 seconds left, instead of throwing a pass on the outside, they threw the ball in the middle of the field. They did manage to spike the ball with one second left for one more play, but an outside pass probably sets up two shots at the end zone instead of one.
The Chargers had 6.7 yards per play today, although a lot of it was the one Gordon run. The Patriots had 5.0 yards per play. New England keeps winning these close games on guile, and that's wonderful because it's better to win games than to lose them, but guile tends to eventually run out and you lose games unless performance improves. DVOA is right: the Patriots are not a top-5 or even top-10 team in the NFL right now. In past years, these early periods were fine because the team would fix its problems and then go on a run of outstanding play where they weren't just winning on guile. But if that's supposed to be coming here ... it sure is taking a lot longer than in past seasons. We're eight games in and the Patriots just look kind of tired.
San Francisco 49ers 10 at Philadelphia Eagles 33
Bryan Knowles: The way you want to prepare for a game against a 6-1 team is with massive defensive changes forced by injury and poor play, right? Legar Douzable (with the team for 10 days) is starting at end for the injured Arik Armstead. Eric Reid is no longer a safety, and he starts at weakside linebacker. Brock Coyle starts at middle linebacker for the injured Reuben Foster. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon has replaced Rashard Robinson at corner. Leon Hall, who has been signed, cut, and re-signed by the team this month, starts at nickel corner. Other than that, everything's going fine in San Francisco, why do you ask?
Derrik Klassen: San Francsisco is bringing the heat to Carson Wentz. For most of the first quarter, they brought more than four pass rushers and forced Wentz to get rid of the ball quickly. Wentz has had some success, but has been constantly having to dance around pressure. He missed on throw in the red zone on a hitch/seam concept that would have been a touchdown. The Eagles instead settled for a field goal.
San Francisco's offense, however, is abysmal. Either C.J. Beathard misses the throw or the intended receiver drops it. The play calling is till fine -- players are getting open enough -- but this team just cannot execute. They are especially bad on the ground versus this ferocious Eagles front, rushing for fewer than 2 yards per carry right now.
Though the score is 3-0 Eagles through one quarter, it feels pretty clear that the Eagles are the better team and will break out eventually. It is more a matter of when, rather than if.
Bryan Knowles: Piggybacking on Derrick's comment, the 49ers' pressure started picking up when they started blitzing after the first drive. Wentz has never been the best quarterback in the world when under pressure, and gambling by having their subpar secondary cover one-on-one is probably the 49ers' best option in this game.
Wentz was only hit three times "officially" in the first quarter, though he was also brought down on a 1-yard gain after he was essentially sacked a yard past the line of scrimmage. He also took a bit of a shot on a really weird play midway through the first quarter. Solomon Thomas jumped on a hard count, and Jason Kelce opted to snap the ball in order to get the penalty. No one on the offense knew that was coming, though, and the 49ers' defense poured through the line and sacked Wentz. Play was negated by penalty, of course, but I'm not entirely sure the five yards was worth the free shot on the quarterback.
It turns out, C.J. Beathard's college issues were not magically fixed by pairing him with Kyle Shanahan. After the defense and special teams hold Philadelphia, and San Francisco gets their best field position of the day, Beathard throws a ball behind Aldrick Robinson. Robinson reaches back and gets a hand on it, but it's bounced up into the air and intercepted. The 49ers force another three-and-out (DeForest Buckner is a monster), but none of this will matter if the 49ers can't get more than one first down per quarter.
And, finally, the Philadelphia offense kicks in. A bad punt, giving the Eagles the ball at midfield, and pass interference in the end zone lets the Eagles finally punch in a touchdown. Wentz connected to a wide open Zach Ertz; the 49ers sold out to stop the run and left no one on Ertz. That breaks the seal, as on the 49ers' ensuing possession, Beathard throws another interception, which is returned for a touchdown. 17-0, Eagles.
Vince Verhei: Jalen Mills' pick-six puts Philadelphia up 15-0 just before halftime. Eagles then go for two and get it to go up 17-0, but I'm a bit surprised by that decision. Failure there means a 15-0 lead, which means SF could win 16-15 with a FG-FG-FG-TD combo (assuming they shut out the Eagles from here on out, which is easier said than done obviously). With 30-plus minutes to go there, I think I'm kicking the PAT and taking the 16-0 lead. Their aggressiveness is rewarded, though, with the 17-0 halftime advantage.
Derrik Klassen: The Eagles are not scared of the 49ers play-action/boot-action game one bit. They are shutting down the running game, so they are willing to play it safe on play-action and keep an eye on receiving threats. Kyle Shanahan has tried to get some easy yards on quick boot-action throws, but it just is not working. Through two-and-a-half quarters, the 49ers have just 63 yards on 17 carries, about 3.7 yards per carry. That number is buoyed by a few scrambles from Beathard, too. Carlos Hyde has 15 yards on nine carries.
Well, the chaos finally got to Carson Wentz. He was on a stretch of 1-for-7, then threw an interception in the direction of Mack Hollins. It appeared to be a miscommunication: Hollins cut off his dig route, but Wentz threw it as if he would keep running across the field. Given the defensive back had inside and over-the-top leverage, it made sense for Hollins to cut off his route and sit in the open grass. Hard to fully pin the interception on either player, though. Sometimes that happens, especially with offenses as aggressive as Philadelphia's is this season.
Vince Verhei: Not Carson Wentz's best game. He has less than 150 yards and has taken three sacks, and he just threw a bad interception. From a very clean pocket on third-and-14, he just threw the ball right to Ahkello Witherspoon. No receiver was even in the area.
San Francisco turns that into their first points of the day, doing a fine job of using Philadelphia's aggressiveness against them. Beathard fakes a handoff to Matt Breida, lures the pass-rush into him, then flips it to Beathard on a shovel pass/screen. With blockers in front of him and the Eagles' linemen behind him, Breida scampers for a 21-yard touchdown. Eagles still lead 20-7 late in the third quarter.
And that doesn't last long -- Wentz underthrows Alshon Jeffery on a deep ball down the right sideline, but Jeffery does a great job of coming back to the ball and beating Witherspoon for the catch, then throwing Witherspoon to the ground and going to the end zone for a 53-yard score.
49ers have a fourth-and-goal at the 9, down 27-7 early in the fourth quarter. They go for the cowardly field goal, which would still leave them down by three scores. The Football Gods frown upon them, and Robbie Gould's kick is blocked and returned to the 38. Eagles now have a 20-point lead and good field position and this one feels over. Of course, those have been dreaded words in 2017.
Carolina Panthers 17 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3
Bryan Knowles: One reason Tampa Bay has been on the ropes this season is defensive failures on third down. Coming into the week, they were 31st in the league, allowing teams to convert 49.4 percent of the time on third down. So far, so bad for the Bucs today -- Carolina was 5-of-6 on third downs in the first quarter. You won't win many games if you can't get your defense off the field.
Carolina pays off those conversions with their first rushing touchdown (from a running back) this season -- that's an astonishing stat this late in a season, but I guess when you have Cam Newton, you don't need Jonathan Stewart or Christian McCaffrey to punch it in. Miami becomes the only team to not have a rushing touchdown from a running back this season.
Tom Gower: Panthers lead 10-0 at the half. Maybe I'm a curse, after I saw zero offensive touchdowns in Titans-Browns in last week's early game and two in Chargers-Broncos in the late window (exclusive national telecasts don't count). Stewart's rushing touchdown has been noted. Fox graphic before the score noted non-Newton Panthers had 16 carries for 28 yards, I believe in the whole red zone but maybe just goal-to-go, coming into that. The Panthers' three non-scoring possessions went three- or four-and-out.
Jameis Winston's numbers may seem superficially kind of OK, completing 11-of-19 passes for 84 yards, but he had a very stupid turnover on the edge of field goal range, trying to throw a ball he had no business throwing to avoid a sack and had it knocked out of his hands. His intermediate accuracy has been off on a few occasions, which makes it tough to sustain some drives.
The highlight of the first half for me might have been a pretty good punt save by Chris Godwin to pin the Panthers at their own 2. Nothing too spectacular, just the standard jump into the end zone and bat the ball back move.
Bryan Knowles: Carolina's self-inflicted mistakes killed them against Philadelphia and Chicago in the past two weeks. Three turnovers in each of those games were basically the difference, meaning Carolina's just 4-3 and fighting in the middle of the pack rather than atop the NFC. They've cleaned that up today, and that same defense that shut Chicago down has held Tampa Bay to just over 100 yards of offense in the first half, which is why they're up 10-0.
The Buccaneers just can't seem to get off to a good start. This is the third straight game where they've failed to score an (offensive) touchdown in the first half. Winston has been inaccurate, the running game has been non-existent, and they can't get off the field on defense. This is an absolute must-win game if Tampa Bay wants to have any chance of reaching the postseason this year, and they just haven't shown up yet. They're only down two scores at the half, but Carolina starts with the ball. Some serious halftime adjustments need to be made, or they can start looking forward to the draft.
Andrew Potter: Halftime in Tampa Bay, and the Panthers will be disappointed to only lead 10-0 in a game they have almost totally dominated. Bryan Anger's punting, paired with some excellent downfield coverage, is just about the only thing Tampa Bay is doing well to keep itself in the game. The ground game has been largely bottled up, with Doug Martin gaining 8 yards on his longest run and 19 yards total on his other eight. Jameis Winston's accuracy has been absent throughout most of the first half, with only two downfield completions offsetting a bunch of misses in intermediate range. Winston also had a horrible fumble when he tried, and failed, to flip the ball forward while being sacked -- he's in his third year now, and really needs to learn that sometimes taking the sack is better than the alternative.
For Carolina, the outside receivers have once again been horrid. Kelvin Benjamin should be an imposing physical mismatch, but makes such poor use of the space available to him that he's far too easy to defend, particularly on boundary throws. Devin Funchess took away an important first down deep in Carolina's own end of the field with a completely unnecessary pushoff against Vernon Hargreaves -- again, Funchess, as the big receiver, should be able to maneuver his body between himself and the corner on a comeback route rather than having to blatantly shove the defensive back out of the play.
Both of these offenses should be better than this.
Aaron Schatz: I pointed out on Twitter when a Bucs fan disputed my comment that the Bucs have been much better on offense than defense this year. Going into today, the Bucs were 15th in offensive DVOA in the first half, but third in offensive DVOA in the second half. No idea what that means, but it does mean that not scoring in the first half of the last few games does overstate their offensive problems of the last few weeks a bit.
Vince Verhei: The horrible-ness of Tampa Bay's defense, and specifically the secondary, has been under-reported this season. Robert McClain, Vernon Hargreaves, and Brent Grimes were all among the bottom 10 cornerbacks (out of 63 qualifiers) in yards allowed per target coming into the week. They only have seven sacks as a team. The Chargers have two players (Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram) with more than that. It's really awful.
Andrew Potter: I mentioned in Scramble that the Jaguars had more sacks in one game last week than the Bucs have all year. Vernon Hargreaves has been better this week, as in fact has the coverage in general, but that says more about how terrible Carolina's receivers are. I am by no means a Ted Ginn fan, but the Panthers really miss Ted Ginn. They don't have anybody else who can fill that role, and Newton needs a receiver to play that role. Newton has been very poor today too, incidentally. His interception was a terrible underthrow of Ed Dickson. Chris Conte was a full yard behind Dickson, and the throw was straight to him.
Bryan Knowles: And that's how you start a comeback opportunity: Chris Conte makes a diving interception to get the Bucs the ball back quickly. Ed Dickson was running a deep out, and Conte just jumped the route. That's the hypothetical version of Conte who is good at playing football, there. It's Newton's sixth interception in the last three games, which is #notgood. Of course, Tampa Bay isn't able to capitalize, but it is, at least, a spark of life.
Tampa Bay's blocking has looked a little sharper here in the second half, which has allowed them to have some semblance of a running game; they nearly doubled their total rush yards in the third quarter. All they have to show for it is a field goal, but it's still a one-score game going into the fourth quarter…
Andrew Potter: The punting in this game has been out of this world. 7-of-12 inside the 20, five (I think) inside the 10, and one each inside the 5.
Bryan Knowles: Mike Adams comes up with an interception for Carolina. That's Carolina's first interception since Week 1. Naturally, he fumbles, but Carolina falls on top of it, so no harm, no foul. It leads to the first deep success Newton has had all day long, hooking up with Kelvin Benjamin for a 25-yard touchdown. Andrew's right that you'd expect the big receivers on the outside to be doing more work in general, but there was no way the Bucs were stopping that lob. Benjamin just boxed out rookie Justin Evans, and it was an easy touchdown. With the way the Panthers' defense has been playing, that might be game at 17-3.
Andrew Potter: That touchdown was Benjamin being what Benjamin should be on every down: a huge target whom a smaller defensive back simply can't cover. Justin Evans played it the worst way possible, but he was never going to succeed when he was isolated in that situation. It was almost too easy. Evans was also juked out by Newton on his option keeper earlier in the drive.
Indianapolis Colts 23 at Cincinnati Bengals 24
Dave Bernreuther: Sloppy would be a polite way to describe this game so far. Seconds after the tipped FG in New England, the Bengals block a Sanchez punt, which they manage to convert to a field goal. After some typically woeful Colts offense and defense, the Bengals were in position to double their lead to an insurmountable 6-0 (it's the Colts, so I'm only being sort of sarcastic) when a third blocked kick in about ten minutes of real time gives the Colts new life (and a three and out). I believe it was Henry Anderson that blocked the kick, which is nice to see. He was extremely promising, especially for a Grigson pick, but derailed by injuries. It's not a stretch to call him the lone bright spot in that defense this year.
The Colts can't move the ball on offense, though, so it took more sloppiness to get them on the board, in the form of a muffed punt. And so we're looking at an ugly 3-3 game in which Andy Dalton is 4-10 against a Colts defense without a pass rush or an ability to cover anyone.
Also, the orange stripes on the 20s are too similar to the first down line on the broadcast, which has confused me at least four times so far.
Entering halftime: given a reprieve by a roughing-the-passer call after Jacoby Brissett was nearly decapitated, with 19 seconds left and a timeout, from the 22, the Colts throw a checkdown and then don't call timeout. There really aren't even words for how bad that effort was. It's 13-10 at the half, with the Bengals to start the second half with the ball.
How we got here was just as sloppy as before. In between penalties, Jacoby Brissett showed that he could look like a functional NFL quarterback if given time, firing a dart to Jack Doyle for a touchdown on a play where he had as much time in the pocket as Tom Brady has today. The Colts defense, confused by the fact that they were playing with a lead, promptly surrendered a third-and-long completion to Tyler Kroft where he settled in beyond the sticks without a defender anywhere on the screen; then a 67-yard gain to Joe Mixon on yet another totally uncontested screen pass; then Andy Dalton remembered he had A.J. Green on the field too and hit him for the tying score. In between, we've seen pretty much all we'd expect to see in a game with Marvin Lewis and Chuck Pagano.
Rob Weintraub: Bengals down six near midfield and follow with a glorious sequence:
- Dalton chased from the pocket and runs out of bounds for 3-yard loss rather than throw it away.
- Pass off Green's hands, another drop from him.
- Sack. Oy.
- But then a pick-six by Carlos Dunlap who bats the pass, catches it, and goes in! Only takeaway No. 5 for Cincy on the season.
Jack Doyle is killing the Bengals. Eleven catches on 13 targets, 113 yards unofficially. Colts just need a field goal to win.
But they don't -- for the first time all game the Bengals pass rush shows up. Sack by Carl Lawson on second down, then Chris Smith blasts Brissett on fourth down. Somehow, Cincy pulls one out against the dogass Colts.
By the way, the key to Cincy's win? While the Bengals were tossing away the lead and embarking upon a tragicomic attempt at offense, I was futilely trying to extricate a needle for blowing up basketballs from our bike pump. Drove me insane. As soon as I hurled it across the room, the Bengals came back to win, and voila! The needle came flying loose.
Once in a great while, Sunday frustration has a positive impact...
Also, with only a handful of games left, somehow the "perfect fantasy team" quarterback that Red Zone puts together is ... Andy Dalton? Truth is he wasn't awful, but the offensive line sure was.
Dave Bernreuther: Colts lose by a point. Wonder if anyone has any regrets about not even trying to score a touchdown at the end of the first half. Hope that extra timeout keeps you warm tonight, Chuck.
Chicago Bears 12 at New Orleans Saints 20
Vince Verhei: Zach Miller appears to catch a 25-yard touchdown on a corner route, but on instant replay it's reversed to an incomplete pass. Nobody seems to know why the call was reversed, and since calls are only supposed to be reversed on indisputable evidence, this seems like a terrible call. Worse, Miller suffered a gruesome dislocated knee on the play, and multiple replays to review the catch means multiple angles of Miller's leg flopping around in a way no leg should. Somehow, he held on to the ball through that, though the catch was taken away anyway. Feel terrible for him as an individual, and for the Bears, who just can't seem to keep their players healthy year in and year out.
Oh, Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair have left the game for Chicago too. I think that's five offensive starters out for Chicago now (including Kevin White, who has played only one game).
Rob Weintraub: Tough break for Zach Miller, who appears to make a tough touchdown catch. But he has his knee landed on in grotesque fashion, and gets helped off the field. Then upon review the touchdown is taken away for the usual reasons.
Dave Bernreuther: Plenty of confusing reviews happening here, as Chuck Pagano apparently won a challenge but didn't get possession and lost field position, and in New Orleans, Zach Miller destroyed his knee while catching a touchdown that was overturned for reasons known only to one person in the entire world.
This seems to fit:
If u score a touchdown while snapping ur leg u have to maintain possesson untill after u wake up from surgery
— PFTCommenter (@PFTCommenter) October 29, 2017
Taking that touchdown away from him in what could very well be the last play of his career after such a gruesome injury just strikes me as incredibly mean. I'd love to hear the explanation for that one.
Rivers McCown: This game has mostly played to my expectations. Chicago's defense has been good-to-bothersome depending on the drive, with Akiem Hicks being a load up front. Mitchell Trubisky has been more off then on. He had a beautiful strike on his first throw downfield to Tre McBride, but at the conclusion of the drive pre-determined his read to Zach Miller in the end zone and Miller was jammed so badly that the throw wasn't close. Chicago has mostly buttoned up with the run when they've had the ball, at least until they were trailing by two touchdowns.
I enjoy when Chris Spielman is on the mic. He gets it.
As I finish typing this, this game gets stupid. Drew Brees launches a 54-yard rainbow to a double-covered Ted Ginn on a deep post that arced right over Eddie Jackson's shoulder (after a push-off) and into Ginn's mitts. The rejuvenation machine the Saints have found for Ginn, who has barely dropped anything this year, has been awesome. However, Mark Ingram, phenomenal all year, puts it on the deck for the second time in the fourth quarter, and the Bears now have the ball down five with the two-minute offense. Let's see what the kid does.
Rob Weintraub: Drew Brees the hero, but on defense? Up 17-12 and in field goal range, Mark Ingram is stripped as he fights for yards. As it's pulled free it looks like the Bears defender has the opportunity to scoop and go, but Drew is on the spot! He makes an immediate tackle. The Saints stop them on third- and fourth-and-short.
Not over yet though.
Rivers McCown: The Bears get to third-and-1, incomplete. Go for it on fourth-and-1, Trubisky feels pressure and steps up to throw to Kendall Wright. Wright is well-covered by Kenny Vaccaro, though, and the ball hits the turf harmlessly.
Sean Payton tells you what he thinks of Ingram by turning to Alvin Kamara for running out this clock. Because everybody knows fumbles are an incurable disease that strike in batches, as history has never been recorded up until this moment.
Rob Weintraub: Now it's over -- Trubisky lets loose a mistimed throw and it sails to Marshon Lattimore for the interception. Saints win 20-12.
Oakland Raiders 14 at Buffalo Bills 34
Scott Kacsmar: Glad to see Sean McDermott had his offense go for it on fourth-and-1 at the 1-yard line to start the fourth quarter. Tyrod Taylor did the quick quarterback sneak where the ball just has to break the plane and the play is over. He had the ball knocked back at him, but the play was already over for the score. Bills lead 27-7 and should win this one, dealing major damage to Oakland's playoff chances.
By the way, Amari Cooper just made his third catch of the game with 12 minutes left. He only has 26 yards today, but made sure he had that career game the day I put that article up. But the Oakland offense still has issues.
Atlanta Falcons 25 at New York Jets 20
Bryan Knowles: I almost picked the Jets to win this one. Almost. And it looked like they were going to be in prime position to do so! Down two points, the Jets forced a three-and-out from a sputtering Atlanta offense, and the Falcons were forced to punt. I should mention that the game is being played in heavy, heavy rain, which might explain Jeremy Kerley's awful, awful fumbled punt. Just a killer muff. The Jets manage to keep the Falcons out of the end zone, but now they need a touchdown and not just a field goal. Just a backbreaker.
The Jets may have just performed the worst game-ending comeback drive attempt I've ever seen. Absolutely no urgency, despite needing a touchdown with a minute left and no timeouts. Four short completions, all checkdowns, three of them ending in the field of play. The game ends on a botched spike that may have been a fumble, honestly, but it doesn't matter -- they weren't set properly, and the ten second runoff ends this one.
Houston Texans 38 at Seattle Seahawks 41
Bryan Knowles: But Deshaun Watson doesn't have the arm strength to be an NFL quarterback, right?
It was both Thomas and Shaquil Griffin in coverage on the Fuller touchdown; Griffin's starting at cornerback despite Jeremy Lane being active for the first time since Week 4 thanks to groin and finger injuries. We'll see what role, if any, he has on defense today; it's not nickel corner, where Justin Coleman is still playing.
Watson throws another touchdown on Houston's second drive; however, this one went to Earl Thomas. Thomas read the play the entire way, jumped an errant throw, and took it 70-plus yards to the house. So, call it even.
Vince Verhei: Five minutes in, we have already seen the full Deshaun Watson experience -- the deep ball touchdown to Fuller (Shaq Griffin and Earl Thomas in coverage), then a pick-six on a crossing pattern to DeAndre Hopkins. They've thrown at Hopkins twice so far, and Sherman has been all over him like a blanket on both plays. The first, Hopkins caught the ball for a first down anyway. This time, the Seahawks were using a rare (for them) two-deep safety formation, and Thomas broke on the ball and reeled it in for a pick-six. Lots of excitement here so far.
Rob Weintraub: Looked like more of a Shaq Griffin mistake, released too early and Thomas didn't know it was happening until it was too late. Either way, Thomas atones shortly afterward by jumping a telegraphed pass to Hopkins and gets a pick-six off Watson.
Scott Kacsmar: This is Pete Carroll's 65th home game with Seattle (including playoffs). It is only the third time the Seahawks have allowed 14 points in the first quarter at home, and the quickest they did so (6:08 left).
Aaron Schatz: "But Deshaun Watson doesn't have the arm strength to be an NFL quarterback, right?"
Who said this? Did people really say this? I honestly can't tell which retroactive mentions of scout-types dissing Watson are real and which ones are not. I've seen people writing that some scouts doubted his leadership ability, for crying out loud. How is that even possible?
Vince Verhei: This game is nucking futs. Texans have moved the ball with ease and were only stopped by the pick-six. They go up 14-0 on a drive where the biggest play was a pass interference on Jeremy Lane, showing why he was benched. On the next drive, Russell Wilson is hit while throwing, and his third-down pass falls incomplete. Blair Walsh comes out to try a long field goal, but Seahawks challenge the call, saying actually Jadeveon Clowney knocked the ball out of Wilson's hands. Yes, they challenged to get an incompletion by their own quarterback changed to a fumble. And they win -- which means it's a fumble recovery by Luke Willson for a first down. Two plays later Wilson scrambles and finds Paul Richardson for a 20-yard touchdown to tie the game. And the first quarter isn't even over yet.
Very concerning how Houston's offensive line has dominated things so far though. Watson hasn't had to scramble or break tackles much, he has mostly had a very clean pocket.
Bryan Knowles: They did attack Watson's arm! He had the lowest ball velocity at the combine, which raised all sort of questions, and a lot of retroactive looking back at his college film and pointing out balls he didn't quite get enough oomph on.
"Over 55 mph doesn't guarantee success, but under it pretty much guarantees failure," said Benjamin Allbright. That's what we're seeing for Houston today: guaranteed failure.
Derrik Klassen: When concerns about Watson's velocity came up after the NFL Combine, nobody stopped to ask themselves if it actually ever hurt him in game. Many just jumped to the threshold, like Bryan said. That threshold does have a stunning hit rate, but Watson's arm was never an issue on film. He hit every throw imaginable.
At the time, I asked, "If he threw under 55 MPH before his final season, then played as well as he did, would anyone care?" -- and I must say, I don't think anyone would have. The order of things in the scouting process can be arbitrary and lead to wonky conclusions like those about Watson's arm.
Vince Verhei: Texans have a fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 48. They go for it, and Lamar Miller converts with a run up the gut. Texans make it pay off on a 20-yard touchdown pass to Fuller, which I'm pretty sure is the first touchdown Sherman has allowed all year. The play included a fake read option, then a fake overhand pitch to the left, and finally the pass to Fuller, who cut inside at the line of scrimmage and then back to the sideline in the end zone. Fuller now has seven touchdowns in 11 catches this season. With all these playmakers and all this creative scheming, the Texans are going to be lots of fun in Madden next year. Houston now up 21-14.
Bryan Knowles: I wonder what odds you could have gotten on Paul Richardson leading the Seahawks in touchdown receptions before the season started. He just caught his second of the day -- which is as many as he had in his first three seasons combined.
It's a good thing Seattle's passing offense is working, because they are getting zip on the ground. They're running at Jadeveon Clowney and that's ... I mean, no. Don't do that.
According to Red Zone, this is the first game this season where both teams have scored at least 21 points in the first half. Patriots-Texans was 21-20, but that's as close as we've gotten. Offense! It's fun!
Vince Verhei: Seattle can't run against Houston, at all. Currently at seven carries for 2 yards. For some reason they keep running at Jadeveon Clowney, even though no tackle, tight end, or fullback on the roster can block him, and all have tried. Houston's pass coverage, however, is best summarized by this photo:
Pass coverage, Houston. You're doing it wrong. pic.twitter.com/wgkwdHzSmE
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) October 29, 2017
That's the immortal duo of Tanner McEvoy and Amara Darboh both getting wide open deep downfield. It turned into a 53-yard gain for McEvoy, his first catch of the year. Wilson hit Richardson for a game-tying touchdown shortly thereafter. McEvoy then forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff (Houston recovered) and nearly blocked the following punt. Big quarter for him.
Rivers McCown: This is a fun game. The referees seem utterly clueless and jumpy to call anything they can, and Rich Gannon asked them to hold his beer by sounding, at times, like he's barely understood what he was watching.
Seattle being in a neutral game script actually might be a good thing for Houston if it means Eddie Lacy keeps getting carries.
Vince Verhei: 21-all at halftime. It has been 12 years since the last time Seattle played a game where both teams had 20-plus points at halftime. So no, this is not typical. It's just all big plays both ways -- mostly chunk plays and big gains, but the defenses have lots of hits in the backfields and third-down stops, and of course Seattle has the big defensive score.
Teams trade field goals in the third quarter. Houston's big play was Watson scrambling for a first down on third-and-14, directing his blockers on the fly and taking a big hit at the marker. Then Seattle comes out using some I-formation, and Houston loses all track of fullback Tre Madden up the middle of the field. Wilson finds him for a 66-yard catch-and-run, their longest play of the season. They go away from the I-formation in the red zone though, and on third-and-1 Wilson misses a wide-open Thomas Rawls in the end zone. Bad throw by Wilson that made the catch way too hard, and bad hands by Rawls on what was still a catchable ball. 24-all.
Watson makes another mistake. Under pressure, he throws ahead of tight end Stephen Anderson, and Sherman snags the ball for his first interception of the year. That leads to a first-and-goal at the 4, but Rees Odhiambo is hopeless against Clowney, who stuffs Rawls for a 5-yard loss, and eventually the Seahawks add a field goal to go up 27-24. We're at the end of the third quarter now, and the Seahawks have gained more yards when Russell Wilson is sacked (net gain of 5 yards on two plays, including the fumble recovery) then on running plays (net gain of 2 yards on 15 carries, including one kneeldown).
Seahawks punt after Wilson is called for a false start, because not enough nutty stuff has happened in this game. Watson and the Texans then starts picking on Griffin, as Hopkins beats him on a fade route for 34 yards, and then the fake-read fake-pitch play that led to a touchdown earlier gets another big play, as Fuller gains 36 yards down to the two. On second-and-goal, Dwight Freeney (who is having a good day just a few days after being signed) hits Watson and spins him around, but Watson maintains his composure and focus and hits Lamar Miller to put Houston up 31-27. The balls on this Watson kid are something else, man.
Scott Kacsmar: It's a shame these teams won't meet again until 2021 (in the regular season at least). Wilson's also doing this today with a running game that's produced 17 carries for 3 yards.
Vince Verhei: My god this game. Seahawks now have negative rushing yards and still took a 34-31 lead. Go-ahead drive included Wilson-to-Tyler Lockett on a deep bomb off play-action; a third-down conversion by Paul Richardson where he was tackled before the catch and still managed a reception while sliding to his ass; a Wilson touchdown pass through an impossibly small window to Richardson, one of the great throws of his career, which technically never happened because Rawls was called for a chop block (between penalties, rushing, and receiving yards, Rawls has now contributed -16 yards); a second-and-22 conversion on a DPI foul by Kareem Jackson on Doug Balwin; and finally a touchdown to Jimmy Graham. Watson now has five-plus minutes and two timeouts to show what he can do.
And on the very next play, Texans run a wide receiver screen to Hopkins and get a couple of blocks, and next thing you know it's a 72-yard go-ahead touchdown. PAT puts them back on top 38-34.
Bryan Knowles: Can they just play eight quarters? Can this game never, ever end? This has been the best game of the year so far; it's amazing from start to finish.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks are driving again and it feels like they might score too quickly, but then Wilson throws a terrible interception where it appeared Markus Williams was running the route and Richardson was on defense.
Texans then have a third-and-four inside the two-minute warning. First down wins the game ... and they take the ball out of Watson's hands and run it up the gut instead. Are you kidding me? What a gutless, gutless call. So Houston punts, and Seattle has no timeouts, but more than a minute to go 80 yards for the winning touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: This freaking game.
Seattle drives down the field with a couple bombs down the middle. Who needs to work the sideline when you can eat up 40-yard chunks? They take a three-point lead, and they still may have scored too quickly -- 21 seconds left, and Houston has two timeouts left. Don't touch that dial.
Rob Weintraub: The "these protests are driving people away from football " bowl turned into the most thrilling game of the year.
Scott Kacsmar: With Seattle having one timeout left, Houston absolutely had to put the ball in Watson's hands to win the game on third down. That's leaving Wilson way too much time to answer, and the end result wasn't too surprising. Can't give a great player multiple chances. They already did this in New England against Brady this year, and this is deja vu. We'll probably be talking about how Deshaun Watson could have won MVP as a rookie if his defense could just get one more stop on the road against the two teams most of us picked for the Super Bowl this year.
Vince Verhei: Not counting penalties, kicks, and kneeldowns, last five plays of that game:
- Wilson to Richardson for 48.
- Wilson to Lockett for 19.
- Wilson to Graham for 18-yard go-ahead touchdown.
- Clark sacks Watson for loss of 10.
- Sherman intercepts Watson prayer to seal win.
What a monster, monster game. Seattle needed that to catch the Rams for first place in the division. Houston needed a win to catch Tennessee and Jacksonville; instead they're a game back but pretty clearly the scariest of the three. I mean, Watson, man. That young man has no fear and a short memory. So many different ways to beat you, and he'll make mistakes that would kill the confidence of most players (most humans, really) and come back and beat you anyway. He looks insanely great.
Bryan Knowles: You have to think Houston's defense was pretty shot at the end of the game, and Seattle's play calling capitalized. The game-winning touchdown was just four verts; stretching that secondary down the field. Nothing too fancy, but Houston just seemed out of sorts. Graham just headed up the middle of the field and had no defenders between him and the end zone. Simple stuff, and that hurts; Watson did so much to put the Texans into a winning situation in one of the toughest places to play in the league, and the defense just opens up a huge hole in the zone for Graham to score.
What a game. More of those, please.
Rob Weintraub: Maybe we should have listened when Dabo Swinney compared Deshaun to Michael Jordan...
Vince Verhei: Scott makes a great point about Watson, O'Brien, and short yardage. Houston had a second-and-3 with the lead against New England, where a first down would have won the game. They handed off twice and kicked on fourth-and-1. Today, they had a third-and-4 needing a first down to win the game; they handed off, then punted. Watson should have gotten the ball on third down both games, and they really should have gone for it on fourth down in both games. With more aggressive play, they likely get at least one, maybe two more wins, in a division that's just sitting there waiting for somebody to take hold.
Rivers McCown: I guess the positive side of that is that at least nobody has run away with the division yet. I dunno, O'Brien made go-for-it-on-fourth calls in both those games that turned out alright. He's also revamped an entire offense from being terrible to terrific this year, so maybe I'm inclined to cut him a little slack. My main two negatives in this game were as follows:
1) On Seattle's touchdown throw to take the lead at the end of the game, with the defense looking completely out of sorts and pass-rushing with the heart of someone chasing a ball thrown behind them by a clumsy friend, NOBODY thought it was a good idea to call a timeout? That's compounding the initial error in my point of view. You had to know the defense wasn't game based on all the evidence of the last two quarters.
2) Houston's most explosive running back this year has been D'Onta Foreman. The Texans responded by immediately ditching him and letting Alfred Blue carry the ball five times in a game where one more explosive run could have won it.
Trying to temper my own enthusiasm on Watson has been an interesting exercise as a fan of a team who has never had a quarterback better than Matt Schaub. Remember Robert Griffin's rookie year? Me too, man. But hey, the Texans are really fun to watch. Nobody would have predicted that with a straight face in July when they were talking up Tom Savage.
Rob Weintraub: Further to Vince's point about Watson's short memory, he's also incredibly tough. Alabama pummeled him throughout both title games, especially last year, but there he was, making big plays at the end.
I of course remember his first game, against Cincy -- he scored the game's lone touchdown on a scramble from midfield. What is forgotten is that one or two plays earlier he was knocked into next week by Geno Atkins. People were still making the GIFs on how Watson was dead when he weaved his way through the Bengals defense for six.
He's flawed like all rooks but already you never feel safe playing against him.
Carl Yedor: The only thing I'll add on Houston-Seattle is that it looked like Earl Thomas came up injured on the long Hopkins touchdown. Seemed like he was grabbing his hamstring, and Bradley McDougald replaced Thomas on the remaining two drives for Seattle. We all know how poorly Seattle played on defense in Thomas's absence last season, and they brought in McDougald for depth in part to prevent another Steven Terrell situation should Thomas get hurt again. Early reports are that the hamstring strain is minor (Thomas wanted to go back on the field after the injury, but this is a guy who played a Super Bowl two weeks after dislocating his shoulder so who knows), which is encouraging for Seattle. However, the Seahawks play on Thursday night in Week 10, so Thomas could be missing multiple games with the injury.
Dallas Cowboys 33 at Washington Redskins 19
Aaron Schatz: Dallas moved up the field super easy on their second drive of the game, but since then Washington has been the better team today. For the first quarter, the Washington replacement offensive linemen were actually doing a reasonable job of giving Kirk Cousins time, and clearing holes for the running game. The last couple of drives, they've crumpled a bit. A sack on Cousins gave Washington fourth-and-10 on the 18 ... and the field goal was blocked by Tyrone Crawford. Orlando Scandrick weaved his way through a couple guys, got a couple blocks, and ended up returning it down to the 4. Ezekiel Elliott's second touchdown quickly followed. That's one of those non-predictive plays, a little bit of skill and a little bit of fluke that won't matter in forecasting the rest of the season but sure as hell matters for Dallas today, because the Cowboys are up now 14-13 despite being outplayed in the first half.
The Cowboys just went up 20-13 after they lost an Elliott touchdown to Tyron Smith's second holding penalty of the day. The FOX broadcast shows Dez Bryant on the sideline after the penalty holding up two fingers, and they suggest he's pointing out that he has only two targets today. Which you think at first is Josh Norman playing well ... except whenever I've noticed coverage, it seems Washington is using Josh Norman on Terrence Williams, not Bryant. Bryant is being mostly shut down by Quinton Dunbar.
Washington walking a fine line on its comeback attempt, down 26-13 with 5:30 left. First, Kirk Cousins threw a negative-ALEX pass to a covered Chris Thompson on fourth-and-5 and got away with it when Thompson broke the tackle and got the first down. Next pass, Cousins threw a would-be interception to Taco Charlton but Charlton couldn't quite hold onto it as he dove to the ground. A couple plays later, the Cowboys almost get another pick, another diving attempt, this time by linebacker Jaylon Smith. After review, looks like he didn't hold onto it either, so Washington is still alive on this drive.
By the way, Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor each have one target with no catches today. Both seem to be behind Ryan Grant on the depth chart. So much for that awesome new Washington receiving corps this year.
Heh. So much for my Doctson comment. Washington finally threw to him two more times on that comeback drive. The first was a long 22-yard DPI call on Anthony Brown of the Cowboys, the second was a 1-yard touchdown throw. So they're still getting some use out of Doctson. Pryor, not so much. 26-19 Washington after the new kicker, Nick Rose, misses the extra point in the rain.
Oh, and Washington just lost T.J. Clemmings to a left leg injury on that pass. That's the backup left tackle with Trent Williams not playing today, who was horrible in Minnesota last year (but just run-of-the-mill mediocre today for Washington) and that puts them on the third-string left tackle for the last few minutes of this game. I feel like I may have taken a bullet for the rest of the FO staff by watching this game instead of Seattle-Houston.
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 at Detroit Lions 15
Charles McDonald: Who cosigned these all blue smurf jerseys for Detroit? They're a disgrace. On the flip side, maybe the Lions are trying to distract the Steelers with them. Certainly worked on that dropped touchdown to Eli Rogers. Ran a beautiful corner route to the pylon and dropped the pass. It was a little far, but certainly catchable.
Vince Verhei: I actually don't hate these Lions unis as much as I expected to.
Bryan Knowles: They need to break them up; the blue pants combo does not work. It's reportedly the first time ever the Lions have been in monoblue; hopefully, it will be the last.
On the field, the boys in blue kick another field goal for a 6-3 lead. A bit of a letdown after that afternoon session. The Lions are shooting themselves in the foot with penalties. False starts killed their first drive, and holding killed that last one. I have to feel that field goals aren't going to be enough to win tonight.
(NARRATOR'S VOICE: They were not.)
Scott Kacsmar: Steelers have completions of 32, 40, and 41 yards, but only 10 points at halftime. Lions have been limited to four field goals. Eli Rogers and Darren Fells each cost their team four points by not coming away with a ball in the end zone. Both offenses moving the ball too well to not have more points than this at halftime. Turnovers were a big problem for the Steelers with another Ben Roethlisberger interception and a rare fumble by Le'Veon Bell when it looked like they would score before the half. Detroit is 0-for-6 on third down. Should be a pretty competitive second half, but the next turnover should be a huge swing for the team that goes on to win.
Aaron Schatz: The Steelers certainly don't feel like the team that's No. 2 in pass defense DVOA and No. 3 in adjusted sack rate. Only one sack so far through 37 minutes. On the other hand, there have been drops or passes that just missed guys. Stafford just converted Detroit's first third down of the night on a scramble.
Rob Weintraub: Detroit blew it. Washington scored on first-and-goal when he bounced off the defender. No challenge, and they go on to get sacked on fourth-and-goal, naturally. And any shot for the Lions goes by the wayside.
Aaron Schatz: That seems awfully aggressive, writing off of the Lions in a game where Pittsburgh is currently winning by one point and the Lions have home-field advantage.
I do agree with the decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal with 4:30 left in the third quarter. We'll see what happens here but they need to take advantage of the fact that failing still left Pittsburgh pinned at its own 2.
Oh, never mind. The Lions just totally blew it when JuJu Smith-Schuster blew past Quandre Diggs with a little double move and somehow ... there was nobody else from the Lions behind them or able to catch up to them. That whole thing about going for it on fourth-and-goal doesn't work when you pin the other team back and then they throw a 97-yard touchdown.
Rob Weintraub: Gotta trust me on these things, Aaron. I'm an expert on teams blowing games to Pittsburgh.
Bryan Knowles: Make that Pittsburgh winning by eight -- JuJu Smith-Schuster has some wheels when he wants to. 97-yard touchdowns are probably not what you're hoping for when you fail on a fourth-and-goal.
Scott Kacsmar: I think Detroit needed to go for it too. Another field goal would have been frustrating, even if it would have given them a small lead. But now they'll feel really bad after a 97-yard touchdown pass to JuJu right down the seam. It was nice knowing you, Martavis Bryant. The Steelers have been close to explosive plays like that a lot this year, but finally connected on one. Oh yeah, it's also the longest completion of Roethlisberger's career.
Aaron Schatz: Then the Lions make it down the field ... and get fourth-and-goal from the 1 again. This time they kick the field goal. Which makes no sense logically. If you were going to go for a touchdown down 1, you should go for the touchdown down 8. But you know, recency bias is a hell of a drug.
Yeah, we found the Steelers pass defense, too. That last Detroit drive, the fourth-and-7 ... they had everyone covered, some of them with two defenders, and they got pressure with just three pass-rushers.
Dave Bernreuther: It gets old making the same jokes year after year about Jim Caldwell. And I don't mean the statue ones ... the guy just loves him some field goals. He was this way in Indianapolis, he was this way when Detroit hired him and he tried to beat the Patriots by trading field goals for touchdowns (and long, unreliable, outdoors ones at that), and he has been that way even more lately now that Matt Prater has been so good, even from 50-plus.
So color me pleasantly surprised when he went for the touchdown the first time around. Results trump process, though, so the next time through, he kicked again. Taking them from needing a touchdown to ... needing a touchdown. Sigh. (Alternate joke: Hey, now you're only trailing by two field goals! And sadly that's not the first time we've made that joke about Caldwell's Lions.)
Another thing that reminded me of his Colts teams was the first-down conversion following that field goal, which Collinsworth properly mocked, by lining up way off the line and backpedaling, giving up an easy uncontested catch.
I really want to like Jim Caldwell. He's a good guy. He showed a willingness to learn in the past. He even paid his own money to a group of Harvard kids for a fourth-down model back in 2011, giving fans like us hope that he'd get aggressive on fourth downs (only to then see his quarterback disappear and be stuck with the Collins/Painter season) ... but man, it's hard not to watch his teams and think of him as anything other than an emergency brake that's stuck on, slowing the team down.
And at the 2:00 warning, third-and-5 from the 6 ... they lose yards on a draw. In a five-point game, this is a no-brainer, making that play call pretty awful. With Caldwell, though, even with a free timeout to think about it, we have to wonder, because it'd shock precisely nobody if he kicked.
He doesn't, though. I wonder if now, on fourth-and-7, as Stafford heaves a ball without a prayer under pressure from a three-man rush, Caldwell wishes he had tried for the seven instead of three that last time.
The Lions are 0-for-5 in the red zone tonight.
Oh no ... Collinsworth just pointed out the other alternate reality/what if argument: if they had taken the chip shot from the 1 the first time, they could have kicked there. Which is what most people will talk about after the game. Which is probably what Jim Caldwell is thinking right now.
Because yes, we should all assume that kicking a field goal to go up 21-20 with two minutes to play is safe.
Tom Gower: Coming into tonight, the Lions, though they ranked 32nd in adjusted line yards, were actually sixth in power situations on offense, while the Steelers defense ranked 29th. That was absolutely not what happened tonight, but rather what you'd think might happen based on the overall quality of each team's line.
Given how the game was progressing, I would not have hated a field goal attempt to take the 15-13 lead nearly as much as I would have normally hated a fourth-and-goal-from-the-2 field goal attempt.