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

Audibles at the Line: Week 15

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.

Houston Texans 29 at New York Jets 22

Tom Gower: Texans up 16-9 at the half. Houston can't run the ball a lick -- Alfred Blue and Lamar Miller combined for six carries and less than 10 yards -- but they scored on all four first-half possessions anyway because they have DeAndre Hopkins (over 100 yards and a touchdown) and you don't. The Jets don't seem to be following Hopkins, even though most teams the Texans have played have. The normal Houston red zone struggles, including a desire to run the ball even if it isn't working, have contributed to the three field goals. The Jets got the touchdown right before halftime (but missed the extra point), and it was their best sustained drive of the game. Overall, though, the sentiment that it feels like Sam Darnold is kind of on his own back there, with little support from the run game, receivers, tight ends, line, and coaching is one I think I agree with. That's not to excuse his inconsistencies, but he at least has the excuse of being a rookie in a not-great situation late in a gone season for a team where, well, Robby Anderson didn't give the coach a high five after the score even though Todd Bowles had his hand out. But the Jets pass rush got after Deshaun Watson to start the second half and now the Jets are in Houston territory, so the story of the game remains subject to change.

Scott Kacsmar: I think this game has had several good examples to show why Watson tends to have a high pressure rate and one of the longest times holding the ball. Some of the protection is really good, but he still takes a sack or gets a pressure after three or four seconds. Hard to say if the coverage is purely driving that because TV angles are what they are, but it hasn't been a bad offensive line performance by Houston in pass protection.

This has been the best Darnold has looked in some time. Another good sideline throw on a designed play to move the pocket, and a touch pass for a touchdown. Jason Myers is having a rough day though, with two missed extra points. Jets should be up 17-16, but have a 16-15 deficit.

Tom Gower: That's Watson every game, and I think part of the bargain you have to accept with him. The difference from week to week is one of degree rather than of kind.

Dave Bernreuther: There are always the quarterbacks where you just accept the sacks because they come while seeking the big plays. Roethlisberger, Wilson, Rodgers, pre-2018 Luck, etc. You take the good with the bad because you know they'll deliver. What's interesting to me is that Watson can get out of the pocket and run, but still ends up taking a lot of his sacks because he's standing in there rather than leaving the pocket. And in a way, that's a good thing.

What I find odd -- but not necessarily actually bad in any way -- is that he really has happy feet. Not like "leaves the pocket early at the first sign of pressure" happy, but more like a kid on a sugar high. He can't seem to stay still.

Speaking of not staying in the pocket, we're seeing the good Sam Darnold today, the one that got scouts interested in him. His fourth-quarter throw on the move, rolling to his right (leaving the pocket only when appropriate), keeping his eyes up, pump faking, faking that he'd pass the line of scrimmage, then a great throw to Chris Herndon for the first down was magnificent. He looks nothing like the quarterback I watched last week against the Bills.

Tom Gower: Final, Houston wins 29-22. The Texans never found anything resembling a running game, so they ended up with a bunch of Watson dropping back to throw and the Jets pressuring him. He found DeAndre Hopkins in the fourth quarter, something he didn't in the third, they got an explosive play from DeAndre Carter when Watson beat the blitz, and the Jets couldn't match the second score once Houston re-took the lead. The main adjustment the Texans made seemed to be more spread and giving Watson better short options, including Nuk.

Cleveland Browns 17 at Denver Broncos 16

Dave Bernreuther: Not a ton to say about the game in Denver besides that I'm already tired of the horse whinny sound effect they play there on third down. Denver's pass D is down their best corner, but they're bringing the heat -- mostly via blitzes, it seems, and it's definitely making Baker Mayfield speed up his clock a bit. He has thrown a lot of balls without high likelihood of success, and looked sort of foolish dancing his way into a sack that would've taken them out of reasonable field goal range if not for the third Denver defensive holding penalty of the drive, but he's still generally throwing to the right spots, so even the rushed passes into coverage have been mostly un-terrible.

Case Keenum threw a couple of interceptable passes early, including one directly into Jamie Collins that was dropped, but has looked quite a bit better in the second quarter, and capped a decent drive (also penalty-aided) with a rushing touchdown.

Not really sure what led to this, but Tanier is on fire on the Twitter:

...which is keeping me entertained more effectively than the game itself is.

10-10 at halftime. Might've spoken too soon about the quality of Mayfield's misses. He follows Case Keenum (or Keese Cane-um, as they've called him more than once)'s terrible jump-throw red zone interception that took points off the board with an inaccurate/bad decision throw of his own to take points off the board at the end of the half.

Earlier in the game they tried a bit of a misdirection/sleight of hand play that was nearly a disaster when Mayfield nearly fumbled the ball off a teammate before taking a sack. Since then they seem to have given up on the horizontal stuff for the most part. Even with the pass rush coming pretty hard, Mayfield's throws are going fairly deep down the field. Ordinarily, such a thing would please me, but in this case maybe it's time to adjust to that rush a bit and start calming things down and maybe getting Baker's completion percentage up over 50. He looks better than his line might suggest, but 7-of-18 is still 7-of-18. There have been a few too many clock-stopping failed plays (and thus a lot of the annoying third-down whinny) for anyone's liking.

Tom Gower: Browns win 17-16. Not much offense in the second half. Cleveland's only score came after a Keenum interception gave them the ball in Broncos territory. Baker had a couple throws on what was for him an inconsistent night. But their turnovers didn't give the Broncos great field position at any point and finishing off a drive, unlike Denver, was enough. Big-play team is better than the team that had to consistently execute and isn't that good at consistently executing. Denver was limited to mostly a short passing game.

But this was clearly a game by a couple head coaches I don't trust. Vance Joseph kicking a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 5 down four with less than five minutes to play wasn't as egregious an error as Dan Quinn kicking a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1 down four with three minutes to play in 2015, but it's still the sort of mind-boggling decision that makes me wonder what analytics guy Mitch Tanney was saying on the headset, assuming he's still connected to it. The Browns going for it on fourth-and-1 to seal the win instead of kicking a field goal to increase their lead to four was more defensible, aside from the play call to bring in heavy personnel and go with a straight handoff to the deep I-back. So common, and so prone to failure. But you don't have to be great to win, just outscore the other team.

Dave Bernreuther: Gregg Williams compounded the error by first having them go hard count, which actually would have worked to end the game, except he raced down the sideline and called a timeout just in time to apparently cancel out the neutral zone infraction call. I'm not quite sure why that would be the case or how that works, but then again I'm also not quite sure why he called that timeout, only to go into the heavy package again and run an obvious play.

Being stuffed turned out not to matter, though, because Case Keenum. After moving the ball into near-Mile High field goal range, he needlessly spiked the ball to waste first down before turtling against an obvious blitz on fourth down, when they had plenty of time and could really have used an extra down. He may as well have taken a knee, and all it would've taken to avoid the contact would've been a quick step over to his left. I can't believe they thought that was worth paying for.

I don't recall where I read it, but I saw that they actually asked him to take more risks after his recent stretch of protecting the football. And boy did he tonight ... he threw a LOT of reckless passes. Asking a turnover-prone quarterback to be more careless is not really known as a winning strategy, and it wasn't tonight.

Washington Redskins 16 at Jacksonville Jaguars 13

Bryan Knowles: There probably have been worse quarterback matchups this season than Cody Kessler versus Josh Johnson, but I'm having trouble thinking of them.

Dallas Cowboys 0 at Indianapolis Colts 23

Bryan Knowles: Dallas moved the ball alright on their opening drive, but settled for a 48-yard field goal attempt. Indianapolis special teams came up huge, however, blocking the kick. Darius Leonard returned it into the end zone, but the refs called him down on review -- he was just barely touched. It's OK, though -- plenty of Marlon Mack eventually leads to Indianapolis punching it in anyway. It's Dallas' first points allowed in the first quarter since Week 7.

Scott Kacsmar: One of the more offensive 7-0 halves you'll ever see. Both teams only had three drives, but Cowboys have to feel sick about coming away with no points. A blocked field goal, a fumble after a dropped touchdown, and a 14-play drive that ended in a punt after a third-down sack. Tough way to put up a bagel. Andrew Luck hasn't looked special today, but some nice hits by the Dallas defense on his receivers too so far. Then to start the third quarter, Luck overthrew T.Y. Hilton, who somehow had Leighton Vander Esch lined up on him. Dallas dodged a bullet there.

Bryan Knowles: Wow, 23-0. The Cowboys haven't been playing as bad as that score would indicate, but that's embarrassing. We pointed out this week that their big winning streak hasn't been as impressive as it seemed, but this is a hell of a comedown.

Rivers McCown: This game was lost in the first half when the Cowboys turned two drives deep into Indianapolis territory into a fourth-and-1 stop inside the 5 and a blocked field goal that gave the Colts a short field. Dallas has improved noticeably with Amari Cooper, but they still lack the explosiveness to play from that deep of a game script hole, in my opinion. The Colts look like the team nobody wants to play in the playoffs, with an aggressive defense that makes you beat them. We talk about many of Jon Gruden's horrific ideas and decisions, but his first move as "general manager" was letting Denico Autry join the Colts in free agency. Autry has been huge over the past three weeks.

Dave Bernreuther: I suppose I should say something about the Colts game as the resident Colts fan.

The Colts hadn't beaten Dallas since 2002, which was before I married in to the Colts family, so they were the sole team I hadn't seen them beat. (Twice, I believe.) And while I anticipated a win at home, I thought it'd be ugly and stressful. Instead ... well, damn. I'm still not the world's biggest Marlon Mack fan, but he did the job today, even with one of their dominant interior linemen missing (no, not Quenton Nelson or Ryan Kelly, but the extremely underrated Mark Glowinski), and boy has the defense played their hearts out for consolation prize defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Nobody -- and that most certainly includes me -- expected anything out of this defense without a real pass-rusher, noteworthy corner, or a defensive coordinator that anyone could name, but they just pitched a shutout. And yeah, it's against a stone age Garrett/Linehan offense, but that's a talented team that's going to the playoffs.

Like every other team today, the offense was just a bit off. Luck was just fine, but they settled for field goals on drives that should've been touchdowns, and it never felt like it mattered. Their early 7-0 lead felt insurmountable. Once the Cowboys failed on the fourth-down attempt early, the game felt over.

Which is quite a compliment, really. I still wouldn't trust this team against the Chiefs, or even the Pittsburgh offense, but at this rate even the Patriots (the only team to beat them convincingly all season, as it happens) don't really seem like all that scary a matchup. Somehow, some way, this team without any defensive stars is playing good defense. And they're beating playoff teams even without a superhuman game from Andrew Luck (who played just fine, despite boring numbers, by the way). And maybe that whole cliche of "the team nobody wants to see in the playoffs" might actually be a little bit true.

Boy do those Bengals and Jets losses earlier this year hurt right now ... they're going to need to be really big Chargers fans next week. Which is probably not the worst position to be in with San Diego -- errr, L.A. -- coming off the mini-bye with a No. 1 seed within reach. We might just see this formerly 1-5 team in January, and not just because the AFC is weak. Wouldn't that be something. But first, if the Chargers dispatch the Ravens next week, we might just see an AFC South do-or-die play-in game in prime time in two weeks. And really, who wouldn't be excited about yet another Marcus Mariota primetime appearance!

Miami Dolphins 17 at Minnesota Vikings 41

Bryan Knowles: Oof, 21-0 Minnesota in the first quarter? Maybe Miami should break out the desperation lateral plays early this week.

Aaron Schatz: A couple of things standing out early in this one. First, the Vikings' offensive line is playing much better than they have for most of the season. They've opened up some really big lanes for Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. Second, Minkah Fitzpatrick playing out of position as an outside cornerback. It's not playing to his strengths. He has given up a couple of back-shoulder throws on the sideline and had a pretty obvious hold on Stefon Diggs.

We went into halftime at 21-10, with Miami finally getting on the board with a Fitzpatrick pick-six as he jumped the route on a wide-receiver screen to Diggs. Then they finally got an offensive drive going with some rushing yards and got a field goal. Well, now they really got the rushing yards because on the first play of the third quarter, Kalen Ballage goes 75 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-17. Key blocks by right guard Jesse Davis and then receiver Kenny Stills downfield, and then Ballage outraced Mackensie Alexander. And the Vikings go three-and-out on their first drive afterwards. It's so strange how football games turn on a dime. Vikings had 200 yards in the first quarter alone, now they can't move the ball.

Props to Bobby McCain, the fairly anonymous Dolphins corner who has mostly rendered Adam Thielen invisible today. Just two catches for 19 yards through three quarters. But the Minnesota cornerbacks have done even better. Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker have a combined two targets and zero catches.

Dolphins forced to go for it on fourth-and-11 from their own 24, and the Vikings get their SEVENTH sack of the day when Ja'Wuan James loses Tom Johnson on a stunt. Dalvin Cook then takes the ball on the Vikings' second play, goes left, spins to the right away from a defender, and goes into the end zone down the right sideline. 41-17, and this one is over.

Green Bay Packers 17 at Chicago Bears 24

Bryan Knowles: 7-3 Chicago in the second quarter, and Khalil Mack is everywhere. He has already sacked Rodgers twice (well, call it 1.5 officially, as Bilal Nichols helped on one), including one sack with his back that will get replayed a bunch. The Packers also are in a bit of trouble, as Aaron Jones has left with a knee injury and will apparently not return. All that being said, Green Bay is having about as much success as Chicago in actually moving the ball; it's just that Chicago's defenders have a tendency to make big plays that stick the Packers in tough situations, while the Packers defense has yet to really do that to Chicago. Winning with defense in 2018; who'da thunk it?

Hey, we've got a tie game in Chicago. After a failed RPO, the Bears tried a fake punt from midfield, which was stuffed. I'm not 100 percent sold even on the decision to go for it there -- you're a defensive team, the Packers had just gotten their first drive over 40 yards, punt it and pin 'em deep -- but if you are going to go for it there, I would have lined up with my regular offense on fourth-and-2. The Packers were able to use the short field to score their first touchdown of the day, and the ensuing two-point conversion ties it up at 14.

The Bears might beat themselves. They just ran a Wildcat play, and Tarik Cohen fumbled the ball attempting to hand off to Jordan Howard. He may have been trying to keep the ball, but they fumbled the fake exchange. Every time the Bears have tried something cute today, it has backfired. Score still tied, and the Bears' defense is mostly bailing them out here, but oy. I know we all praised the Uber Jumbo formation and some of the other tricks Matt Nagy has pulled out this year -- he has had significant success with odd formations and intriguing play calls. It's not working today, though. I suppose that's something you have to accept sometimes if you're going to do unconventional play calls; sometimes, they just won't work.

See, win with defense! It's not that hard. Since the Packers tied the game up after the Bears' fake punt, they have run six plays for -5 yards. Backed up inside their own 20, they had to punt to Tarik Cohen, and he gets a 44-yard punt return to put the Bears into the red zone to start the drive. It stalls out, sure (because Cohen accidentally went out of bounds a yard short of the first down despite having nothing but empty space in front of them), but now they have a 24-14 lead with 7:45 left in the game.

New York Giants 0 at Tennessee Titans 17

Bryan Knowles: Coming off of that surprise 238-yard day last Thursday, Derrick Henry is back at it again. He has 27 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown, which would be a pretty darn good day for a running back -- and he has done it in one half. Henry's destroying some fantasy playoffs. Normally, when you pick up a guy like that after a huge day (he has jumped from 59 percent owned to 88 percent owned in fantasy leagues), you get disappointed the next week; outlier games are outliers. He's doing his fantasy owners proud.

He's also doing the Titans somewhat proud, as his score is the Titans' only points of the day. The Titans are up 7-0 as the second quarter winds to its end.

Dave Bernreuther: I don't really have a lot of depth or detail to contribute here other than to say that yeah, I know it's raining, but this is the worst I've ever seen Eli Manning look. And not due to age or bad luck or the weather. Or even the pass rush. He's making dumb decisions, he's missing throws by miles, and he's being impossibly reckless. He's making Josh Allen look like his (Manning's) brother by comparison.

I wrote that before he just turtled in the face of a rush that hadn't arrived yet and then -- deliberately, as far as I can tell -- shuffled it forward for a fumble inside his own 20.

There's a lot of bad football happening in this time slot. I'm not sure I can point to anyone on any team that's playing especially well.

Well, maybe Derrick Henry...

Bryan Knowles: The Falcons are looking pretty good, Dave, but that's against the Cardinals in the least important game not just this week, but so far in this season. So, uh, that one may not be getting much coverage.

The "Eli Manning is playing his way into being the Giants' 2019 starter!" takes that have been going around have been, shall we say, somewhat amusing.

Rivers McCown: I've had this game on for most of the day and I feel like I'm watching an Eli Manning funeral that doesn't end. You can't speak ill of the dead, so of course nothing is his fault even as he pops up third-down passes into coverage.

This game is one of the best arguments for Odell Beckham being the best receiver in the league. Without him, the Titans have been able to focus on Saquon Barkley and make this offense execute to get down the field. They haven't been able to.

Tom Gower: It ended up feeling like a game right out of the Jeff Fisher playbook, with carry after carry to the lead back, two runs for every pass play, and confidence in the defense against an offense they didn't think could move the ball enough to threaten them. And it worked. Derrick Henry became the first Titans back since, I believe, Chris Brown in Week 2 of 2004 to have at least 20 carries and 100 yards rushing in the first half, and finished with 33 carries. Sure, the Titans needed a goofy Eli Manning turnover (he was trying to throw the ball away and lost control before his arm started going forward) giving them the ball inside the red zone to get their lead off of 7-0 after a long time at that spot, but when Eli Manning's fourth-and-goal pass inside the last two minutes found Kevin Byard's back instead of making its way to Evan Engram, the game had a fitting summation and the Titans had their first shutout since 2000.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12 at Baltimore Ravens 20

Bryan Knowles: Watching the Raven's offense feels really weird in 2018. Lamar Jackson hasn't made any mistakes, but he's also being very, very cautious with the football. I suppose when you combine a tentative-yet-safe passing attack with a heck of a running game -- Jackson has 78 yards rushing, and two other Ravens are over 35 yards -- you can have some success. The Ravens just scored their second touchdown on the day to take a 17-9 lead -- I would have thought this would be larger by now, but the first quarter was basically a punting battle. Since then, the Ravens' offense has begun to click into gear, with over 60 yards on each of their last three drives.

Detroit Lions 13 at Buffalo Bills 14

Bryan Knowles: Red Zone just reported that the Bills are ... out of running backs. LeSean McCoy didn't play, Chris Ivory was a game-time decision and didn't play, Marcus Murphy got hurt and is doubtful to return, and now Keith Ford had to be helped off the field. That means fullback Patrick DiMarco will have to go the rest of the way ... or they could stick Josh Allen at running back and put Matt Barkley behind center. That might be better.

Addendum: DiMarco has three career carries, for -2 yards. He has never had a carry gain positive yards. He's now RB1. The Bills decide to go for it on fourth-and-2 anyway, and Josh Allen is unable to scramble for the first down. This could get ugly.

Andrew Potter: They gave receiver/returner Isaiah McKenzie some snaps at tailback last week when they were down to him and Marcus Murphy ... and McKenzie has also left today's game with an injury. Might want to just take the hint and go empty from here on out.

Dave Bernreuther: Credit where it's due: Josh Allen just lofted a ball with perfect touch for Robert Foster to run under for a go-ahead touchdown. We've got a one-point game.

Oakland Raiders 16 at Cincinnati Bengals 30

Aaron Schatz: Oakland just punted, losing by 14 points, with 2:20 left. So they aren't even pretending to be trying now. Somebody please tell Jon Gruden that you play to win the game. You don't play just to play it. Hello?

New England Patriots 10 at Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots open in dime defense and the Steelers easily march the ball up the field for a touchdown, getting both steady runs and short catches. Here's what's strange to me: they're moving the cornerbacks around a lot but on about half of the plays, the Patriots had Stephon Gilmore covering not Antonio Brown and not JuJu Smith-Schuster but Eli Rogers, the slot receiver who just came off injured reserve. What the hell?

Bryan Knowles: Might I suggest to the Steelers having at least one defensive back of any kind on the right side of the field? Play-action and slant pulls every Steelers player towards the middle of the field, leaving Chris Hogan wide open with 50 yards of grass in front of him for one of the easiest 60-plus-yard touchdowns you will ever see. Wow.

Aaron Schatz: I don't know if I've ever seen a receiver this wide open.

Bryan Knowles: Per ESPN's stats, Hogan had 19.2 yards of separation. That's the most for any receiver this year. So yes, that was the worst coverage of the season so far.

Aaron Schatz: Pats have finally adjusted to put Stephon Gilmore on Antonio Brown but it's not really helping things because they're leaving other receivers open and giving up huge gains in the running game. First, they allowed the Steelers a 92-yard touchdown drive. After the Pats' next drive, they had an amazing punt coverage play where two different Patriots managed to leap into the end zone to bat the ball backwards without actually touching the ground, thus forcing the Steelers to start on the 1. That's great except the next plays went 12 yards, 24 yards, and 17 yards. Pats get kind of lucky when Roethlisberger inexplicably totally overthrows Smith-Schuster and it's right into the arms of Duron Harmon. So the Pats will take over with a 14-7 score, six minutes left.

The punt coverage play:

Bryan Knowles: That Roethlisberger interception was utterly terrible. It feels like he has had more than his usual share of just air-mailed picks this season, though that might be highlight reel bias.

Dave Bernreuther: I thought the "I hope that's not really what happened" challenge after the high-wire act the Pats' special teams pulled was a typical Mike Tomlin wing and a prayer challenge. Odds are better than even that later in the game he'll wish he had another challenge.

Other than the completely ridiculous busted coverage on the Hogan touchdown, the Steelers' defense has been remarkably stingy against an offense that usually has its way with them. This is a bit of a surprise.

Bryan Knowles: Maybe he won't hope he has another challenge. As Scott pointed out on Twitter, that makes 10 failed challenges in a row for Mike Tomlin, and 12 out of his last 14. He needs someone to give him some red flag advice.

Scott Kacsmar: I'm just surprised that Tomlin (45.1 percent) has won a higher rate of challenges than Belichick (40.4 percent) has in his career. Some of that could be due to Belichick having more years where you had to challenge questionable scores or turnovers when now they're all automatic. But yeah, that's 10 in a row for Tomlin that have failed.

Defense has stepped up in this game thanks to pressure on these quarterbacks. Still, I'm not sure Steelers won't regret punting on a fourth-and-2 at midfield when the Patriots could be in a position for a double score.

Aaron Schatz: Doesn't it feel like the Steelers have dominated the first half of this game and should really be up by more than 7?

Bryan Knowles: I'm fully with Tony Romo here -- a very smooth move by Belichick here at the end of the first half. The Patriots line up to go for it on fourth-and-1 with a minute left, so Pittsburgh doesn't call a time-out -- why help them get ready for a fourth-down play? Then they shuttle the offense off the field and bring the punt unit on, wasting most of the play clock and preventing a return (as the base Steelers defense was still out there). Pittsburgh should have called a time-out as soon as the Patriots shifted the offense off the field. Instead, so much time drains off the clock on the punt that Ben Roethlisberger just kneels out the half. That's how you kill a minute.

Scott Kacsmar: With two timeouts left, not sure why Steelers didn't try running some offense. This was the offense that hit a hook-and-ladder last week, and the defense that allowed one. You don't have to get that risky here, but a 15- or 20-yard gain changes the idea there.

Tom Gower: Well, the Patriots' one touchdown did come off a blown coverage, so their seven points feel less "earned?" "merited?" "deserved?" "successful?" than the Steelers' two touchdowns, both of which came on sustained drives that featured repeated execution. But kudos to Pittsburgh's defense, which hasn't otherwise repeatedly shot themselves in the foot the way it feels like they always do against New England. Nobody other than Hogan has more than 20 yards receiving, and Gronk, Julian Edelman, and James White have a combined eight targets for 14 yards.

Should also note Pittsburgh's third good drive ended with that Roethlisberger interception.

Aaron Schatz: Another three-and-out for the Patriots, then another long drive for the Steelers, but this one ends with a field goal wide right by Chris Boswell. Who's probably now going to get cut because he has been awful, but honestly, who is out there in free agency who is any more trustworthy than Boswell at this point?

Scott Kacsmar: Chris Boswell might have to make a 55-yard game-winning field goal today to save his job. That's about the only thing he could do to make up for a horrible 32-yard miss when the Steelers could have gone up two scores. Eventually, the Patriots are going to stop dropping passes and get more points on the board. That was big. It also came after more pressure on Roethlisberger led to an intentional grounding penalty where they really could have called in the grasp for a third sack. Then Vance McDonald couldn't get a second foot down in the end zone, so another close call from going up two scores.

Bryan Knowles: Well, Roethlisberger's overthrow is no longer the worst throw in this game. What was Tom Brady doing there?

Aaron Schatz: Brady just made a huge mistake after the Patriots marched it down into the red zone. They got a holding call to move it from first-and-goal on the 5 to first-and-goal on the 15, then lost 2 yards on a screen, and then on second down Brady under pressure just threw it up for grabs. You never see him do stuff like that. Joe Haden came down with it and got his feet in bounds before Gronk could push him out. It feels like each of these teams keeps trying to hand the game to the other one.

Dave Bernreuther: What is going on with quarterbacking today? The 1 p.m. slot was almost universally crap, and now in the feature game Tom Brady just jump-chucked one up for grabs under pressure for a pick. That was some seriously reckless, undisciplined play. IN THE RED ZONE.

Man, this was really looking like one of those games where the Pats were mostly outplayed but won anyway (forward progress; Tomlin; bad Ben pick; etc.) but damn, that was a huge swing.

Whoops, add Chris Boswell to my list of things the Steelers were doing to blow this.

Aaron Schatz: Credit to Stephon Tuitt, who beat David Andrews and brought the
pressure that forced that horrible Brady throw.

Dave Bernreuther: "Beat" might be an understatement.

Great job by Romo showing from the behind-Brady angle that he did see Gronk, which explains what made him decide to throw the ball. It was still reckless, though. In that case if you don't KNOW you can zing it to Gronk on a line, you take the sack.

Aaron Schatz: Steelers convert a third-and-9 on a broken play with Roethlisberger escaping the pocket to his right. Looks like John Simon was supposed to have Jaylen Samuels on that conversion. Roethlisberger pump-faked and for some reason Simon decided that he had to stop Roethlisberger scrambling and totally came off his guy.

Dave Bernreuther: Simon decided that from 12 full yards away from Ben, too:

I have no idea what he was hoping to accomplish.

Aaron Schatz: Fantastic play by rookie J.C. Jackson, who just would not let Smith-Schuster catch a huge downfield pass that might have ended up in the end zone for a touchdown. That stops the clock. Boswell comes out and does manage to hit a 48-yard field goal. 17-10 Steelers. Patriots will get 2:30 with no timeouts to make it downfield for a touchdown to tie the game.

Steelers win. Brady airmails the last three passes. The first two went way over Gronk's head. The last one was maybe a jump ball for Edelman, but it would have been hard to come down with it, and Morgan Burnett ended up slapping it away.

Tom Gower: One huge blown coverage to Hogan, and one field goal on the other nine possessions. I know, I know, these aren't the same Patriots team we're used to seeing, and Brady found Edelman plenty in the second half (82 yards receiving, I believe), but that's a great performance by a much-maligned defense. Yes, New England had some self-inflicted mistakes, but I go back to something that struck me a lot earlier in the year, that there are teams that get a lot of free yards and some that don't. The Patriots had to work for a lot of their yards today, and working for your yards is hard. The Steelers, with their mistakes, only scored three of their own in the second half, and won anyway and weren't even looking at losing in regulation had they given up a late score (barring a decision not like recent Belichick to be aggressive and go for two).

Seattle Seahawks 23 at San Francisco 49ers 26 (OT)

Bryan Knowles: The 49ers have a 7-6 lead in this one, following up a Seahawks touchdown with an immediate kickoff return. Sebastian Janikowski missed the extra point, and then put in a Gronkian effort on the tackle. The 49ers had a chance to add even more points, but Jeff Wilson fumbled (for the third consecutive week) after a 15-yard rush, and the Seahawks recovered. Great play by Bradley McDougald to force the fumble.

The Seahawks are having trouble covering the 49ers' tight ends. Twice, George Kittle has been wide open for touchdowns (including what would be his fourth 60-plus-yard reception of the season), but Nick Mullens has overthrown him. And now, Garrett Celek just caught a pass and rumbled 41 yards past a slipping safety for a touchdown. 14-6 49ers lead. If the 49ers lose, they re-take the top draft slot thanks to the strength of schedule shifting around. They do not appear to be attempting to do that.

The 49ers are having trouble covering Doug Baldwin. I believe Baldwin has been at or near the top of "broken plays" DVOA each of the past two or three years, and he just did it again. Wilson scrambles around buying some time, and Baldwin breaks into the scramble-drill emergency routes. The two of them have such great chemistry; Baldwin always seems to find a way to get open when Wilson's in trouble. This time, it led to a 35-yard touchdown when two 49ers cornerbacks collided. Baldwin has both Seattle touchdowns today.

Carl Yedor: It has been a real slog for the Seattle offense today. They started out running hot on third down, but they haven't really been able to get much going down the field, averaging only 5.4 yards per play at this point. 49ers have the ball again up 17-13 and will look to extend their lead. San Francisco would be looking a lot better if not for some untimely penalties and a turnover. Granted, they're a bad team, and that's what bad teams usually do. But you can see some encouraging signs here.

Bryan Knowles: Chris Carson just had a fantastic run on fourth-and-goal from the 1. He was stopped in the backfield at the 2, slipped the tackler, got impacted AGAIN at the 1, and kept churning forward and just barely got the ball over the plane. Great second and third effort, and now we have a tied football game at 20 apiece.

Congratulations to today's true winners, the Arizona Cardinals, who may have just locked up the No. 1 draft pick -- a full game ahead of the 49ers and with a dominant SoS lead over the Raiders, with games over the Rams and Seahawks left on the schedule.

The last drives of regulation, starting with 5:21 left in the fourth quarter, had a combined 13 yards: two three-and-outs, two 49ers drives with -1 yard each, and a 12-yard drive by Seattle killed by a key holding penalty. In overtime, the Seahawks went three-and-out AGAIN, letting the 49ers move into range for the winning field goal. Kudos to the 49ers' defense for stiffening up in the fourth quarter, allowing them to steal the 26-23 win.

Philadelphia Eagles 30 at Los Angeles Rams 23

Aaron Schatz: Currently 23-13, Eagles. The shock to me isn't the 23 points for the Eagles. We know the Rams' defense really isn't that good, despite the presence of Aaron Donald. We know you can run on them. We know they have been beaten with deep passes this year. What shocks me is the 13 points for the Rams. Their offense isn't working at all. This is yet another week where their offensive line suddenly looks vulnerable instead of like the world-beaters they were through the first half of the season. Once again Todd Gurley is being contained -- when he was playing and not on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Oh, and look, now Jared Goff just made a ridiculous decision to try to flip the ball to a non-existent receiver on third-and-1 and the ball gets picked off by the Eagles. And they're going to score within a couple plays, and it's 30-13. This is a pretty big upset and we've got to start wondering about the Rams offense a little bit. This is three games of this.

Tom Gower: 30-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, and basically over with the Eagles in field goal range after the Rams failed on a fake punt. It wasn't that long ago that I sat wondering why the Eagles ever gave the ball to Wendell Smallwood, and he has a couple rushing touchdowns and leads the team in rushing. The Rams have shut down Josh Adams, including on fourth down, but haven't been able to cover Alshon Jeffery. Aqib Talib hasn't looked good, and the play where Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, I think it was, got so far behind the defense it looked like they were twin punt returners waiting for a kick to come down wasn't the sort of thing you can probably blame on a single player. This stars-and-scrubs defense, we've seen it struggle before, and they don't look like we (I, at least) thought they might look without both those cornerbacks healthy, so this isn't totally unsurprising given that we saw last postseason (and before then) that Nick Foles can play decent football in good circumstances.

But, wait, what's with the Rams offense? Was it just that teams stopped falling for the nonsense? Who's the chains-mover with Cooper Kupp out? If the offense drops off that badly going from Kupp to Josh Reynolds, that has to be a sign there are bigger problems. Maybe Brandin Cooks as the short receiver, something that stood out last week, is a sign that something is really wrong, that the sustaining element was Kupp and not Gurley like we all thought. Or maybe this is a still talented defense showing their mettle, like the Jaguars' one-week resurgence, because the Rams offensive line, really good but perhaps made great more by the scheme, has its cracks showing now? This is a multi-week phenomenon, and the Lions don't have the same level of talent the Bears and parts of the Eagles (like Fletcher Cox) do. A continuing situation ... including in tonight's game as Talib picks off Foles and the Rams have driven to the edge of field goal territory with 12 minutes to play.

Carl Yedor: It's gotten to the point that the Rams are breaking out the Johnny Hekker fake punt passes again. Not a good sign when that used to be one of their most effective plays in the final Fisher years.

On a serious note, the Rams had the healthiest offense in the league last year by adjusted games lost. Without Kupp, and with other guys banged up, that world-beating offense doesn't look nearly as imposing. One thing that impressed me was how well all the pieces fit together for L.A. when they were really rolling. It was a dominant unit. But in a way, when your quarterback isn't a true difference-maker (Goff is fine, but not amazing), you need to have all the pieces in place around him to make the machine go at full speed. As those pieces start to break, it starts to bog down a bit.

Tom Gower: Rams come back. Jim Schwartz brings zero pressure combined with picket fence at the goal line on the final play of the game. Goff throws early, incomplete, win. I love that.

Dave Bernreuther: I'll recap this week's prime time game with the same last word(s) as last week's prime time game: Jared Goff is really not very good.

Sure, he can do what's asked of him well when it's easy ... but the second it's not easy, that team is cooked. He's not going to throw anyone open, he's never going to make something from nothing, and he's still going to occasionally do something that's legitimately awful, such as his second interception tonight. Meanwhile, he threw three balls in the direction of Josh Reynolds in the end zone in the end stages of both halves, and while Reynolds wasn't exactly wide open, well-thrown balls might've resulted in scores. In all four cases, he threw well off target. He also missed three or four other very easy throws. This team has all the talent in the world and a brilliant coach on top of that, and it might not mean anything if McVay can't idiot-proof things on every play for his quarterback.

What's funny is that even with all that being true -- and while I obviously can't blame him for the fumbled punt or the guys staying in bounds on the final drive, I do still think that they'd have won tonight if he had played well -- by my cursory glance at the stats, Goff was the only passer this weekend to go over 300 yards. In this, 2018, the year of the passer.

Maybe I missed someone, but today was just a really strange day. The Giants game is the only one I recall having any weather issues (and while I didn't see the Washington game, I still feel confident saying that Eli had the worst game of the day, even including those brilliant Tannehill and Kessler lines), but the box score lines today look like they were plucked straight out of the 1980s. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson looked fine from what I saw. Roethlisberger made mistakes but also some good plays ... I didn't get to see any of Matt Ryan, but I also saw Jeff Driskel win a game by two scores while going 14-of-34.

Did any quarterback actually have a good game today? Or even this week? Is Quick Reads going to be a series of negative numbers with Watson and Darnold at the top of the heap on Tuesday?

Comments

126 comments, Last at 19 Dec 2018, 10:57pm

1 Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

Semi-hot take (less so here than in some other places, perhaps). Unless Kraft overrides Belichick, Brady is either not with the team in 2020 (his contract expires at the end of 2019, IIRC) or only is with a significantly reduced cap number.

I think Warren Moon had it right in a roundtable that ESPN did last week about Brady -- his body can no longer cash all the checks and that's affecting his decisionmaking because he can no longer do/has to consciously think about things that used to be automatic.

5 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

so what you are saying is Soft Balls Brady nto a vampire and also celery ice cream and carrot stick meals are not going to alolw him to play till 55 years old.

Did have Pates winnign East this season b ut also thought this is maybe last good stand with Bardy. Father Time gets everybody. Do not see Pates as gerat everywhere else to overcome declining quarerbackign. Now, they coudl sitll get to Super Bowl this seaosn before losing to Saimts because Andy reid veryc apable of tooling it up in 4th quyarrter of playofgf game, Chargers have tendency to do weird thigns, Syeelers very sloppy defense and copaching at times, Ravens rookie quarterback, Tutans seem to be merely good, Clots ditto, and browns probably not makign playoffs.

18 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

"his body can no longer cash all the checks and that's affecting his decisionmaking because he can no longer do/has to consciously think about things that used to be automatic."

That's not a hot take at all. It's just nature. At least he's still in the same offense, though.

For instance, I thought that most of 2015 Manning's turnover issues were due to the extra hundredth of a second that his brain took to process the idiotic Kubiak offense in which he was a square peg for a round hole. He learned it and knew it, sure, but he didn't have fourteen years' experience in it, so every decision he made had just the tiniest bit more processing time, and even that tiny amount of time - which Brady is now having to contend with (There were times last year when this was also the case because he didn't have the trusted Edelman safety valve, which I think was why he took more sacks) - is a big deal against pro athletes. In this case, luckily, Brady is only contending with a slight physical dropoff, not a new offense and a large physical dropoff. (Yet.)

I think what you might see next year is that Brady will have had more time to adjust to his aging self - as opposed to now, when it's a lot newer and maybe he has been stubborn about it - and he'll be fine, but while also being asked to do a little bit less. 2020 is a long way off, though. Too early to think about that just yet.

26 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

NE's offense is driven by Brady, though. He's the engine that makes it work, especially when Gronk (serial injuries) and Edelman (amateur pharmacology) have issues staying on the field.

The running game is mostly misdirection and tendency-breaking. It's efficient, but they pass to set up the run, not vice-versa. This isn't Baltimore, Dallas, or LA, where passing happens because teams are focusing on the run. If Brady isn't stressing defenses, that running game disappears too. Manning, in his rise and decline, at least benefited from HOF-talent at RB (rise) or a dedicated and cromulent power running game (decline) to cover his personal failings. The 2018 and presumably 2019 Pats don't have that.

Brady could look pretty Goffian at this point next year.

42 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

:I think what you might see next year is that Brady will have had more time to adjust to his aging self - as opposed to now, when it's a lot newer and maybe he has been stubborn about it - and he'll be fine, but while also being asked to do a little bit less."

Because what, that aging process is just going to pause after this year? Whatever physical issues he has now will obviously be worse next season, requiring even more adjustment. That's how aging works. I think it's quite bizarre to expect an athlete to perform better at age 42 than age 41.

34 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

The problems with the Pats' offense yesterday were largely due to (a) penalties, (b) bad pass protection, and (c) bad decision-making.

Makes me wonder what's with the "hot takes" about how Brady is done (a "hot take", mind you, that is given after every Pats' loss).

Brady's decision-making was the issue yesterday, not his physical ability. He's had games like this in the past, FWIW. He's had much worse games than this in the past, with multiple bad interceptions.

Feels like the "Brady is done" idea is being fit to the data as opposed to being the best fit for the data.

I'm more concerned about the coaching. The run D is absurdly soft and the red zone choices were poor. The Pats are the ultimate short passing team - why are they trying three consecutive passes into heavy coverage in the end zone from 21 yards out?

66 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

If P. Manning is any indication (and I use him as the only other great QB of this pass-happy era who has approached Brady's greatness and gotten old, as Brady is doing), the QB deterioration happens very quickly to old guys. Yes, Manning had injuries that Brady doesn't, but don't forget that post-neck injury, Manning threw 55 TDs in a season (2013), and two years later was being benched for Brock Osweiler (2015). That's a quick downgrade.

108 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

Purds,
Yeah, my memory was that it was even faster that Manning fell off a cliff (and IIRC it was the season before he was benched). First half of the season, same old world-beater., then maybe a leg injury around the middle derailed him and he was never the same again. It was amazing (and sad, but inevitable) to see that the margin of error for him had become so razor thin.

68 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

"Did you read the comment you were responding to? "

Yes. (I consider that to be a rude question.) Obviously I read the comment. I replied to the comment. I didn't agree with Moon's argument and offered a different viewpoint.


Brady's decision-making was the issue yesterday, not his physical ability. He's had games like this in the past, FWIW. He's had much worse games than this in the past, with multiple bad interceptions.

70 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

Brady's line from the loss to Baltimore in the playoffs in January, 2010:

C/ATT YDS AVG TD INT SACKS QBR RTG

23/42 154 3.7 2 3 3-22 11.0 49.1

That was nearly 9 years ago. And it was a much worse outing than what he had yesterday. Moon is stapling a narrative to the data without regard to the question of whether it's the best fit.

It's pretty easy to blame age for the decision-making. But it fits the historical data much better to blame the poor pass protection, the penalties, and the general frustration with the scoreboard.

97 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

I'm not sure how citing a bad game (or two or three or five) from several years ago is supposed to prove Brady isn't done. It's not like Manning's worst six games were his last six.

For the record, Brady still seems like he's a good quarterback, definitely a few notches above 2015, but that doesn't mean he's not starting to decline.

72 Re: Tom Brady - tick tock tick tock tick tock

Do you believe that decision making is unaffected by physical skills? If so, that opinion seems... bold. Brady (and Manning, and Brees, and so forth) have spent their whole careers knowing that once they decide they want to throw to a certain spot, they will be able to get the ball there in a certain amount of time, with a certain level of accuracy, and so forth. As physical skills deteriorate, it makes sense that the decision can't be made as quickly - or maybe, more importantly, as confidently - as it would have been when his physical skills were still above a certain threshold.

I generally hate appeals to authority, but this is also an area where I'll strongly consider the input of a Hall of Fame quarterback that also played into his forties. That's why I think it was fair for you to be asked if you read the comment; the original comment made the connection between phsyical skills and decision-making, and you replied that it was decision-making, so therefore it wasn't related to physical skills. It would be as if I said, "I was grumpy yesterday because I was hungry", and you said, "No, grumpiness was your problem yesterday."

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Tom Gower: Rams come back. Jim Schwartz brings zero pressure combined with picket fence at the goal line on the final play of the game. Goff throws early, incomplete, win. I love that.

Zero pressure?

The Eagles came out in Nickel and brought both linebackers. It was a six-man rush.

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

It's more of a cover-5, though, right?

It's hard to tell from replay, because the Rams just ran five verts against 5 DBs lined up at the goal line, so the distinction between man and zone is indeterminate. But it seems that the Eagles DBs were covering areas more than a specific man -- certainly Jenkins was looking in the backfield and broke towards Reynolds on the pass. I tend to think of HM defense as more of a zone concept than a man one.

88 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

"Cover-x" refers to how many defensive backs are dropping into deep zones, not how many defenders are in coverage. For example cover-2 means that both safeties are dropping into deep zones that divide the field into halves, and cover-4 means four defensive backs are dropping deep and dividing the field into quarters. So in this cover-zero scenario the blitzing linebackers meant that everyone else is in one-on-one man coverage with no deep help.

87 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

i feel like every year around this time the NFL sends out a memo for this year's buzzword for the announcers to repeat ad nauseam. that way the casual fan can sound a little more like they know what they're talking about at the water cooler on monday. last year it was RPO. this year it's "zero blitz" or "cover zero." the other announcers will do their part and mention it two or three times a broadcast, but chris collinsworth makes it his personal mission to educate every american on what "zero blitz" means. that's cool i guess, but really i just want to hear Romo explaining more advanced concepts. nobody else ever seems to say anything terribly insightful during the game.

109 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Plus Hawks seemed to be slipping and the announcers were talking about cleat choice. Whichever former player had the mic, he said that when he played away int he rain, they'd try to copy the home team as to which cleats to use. Sadly, I recall the blather better than the game. I may have been reading and listening with one ear....

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Miia-Minn I haven't watched many Dolphin games this year, but this is pretty much the same team I last watched a few weeks back. Miami can't stop the run, and rarely have all year. It feels like teams that beat Miami senseless do so on the ground pounding them. I appears losing Suh really hurt the run defense. Their fast, but undersized linebackers seem clueless to lane protection as well. If Gase survives the offseason, likely his d-coordinator is toast. With two weeks left in the season the question is, can Tannehill throw his first 300 yrd game of the season? It seems impossible in the modern NFL to not be able to have a 300rd game. Particularly if your back up is capable of it. Obvious draft needs, C, G, WR, DT, MLB, but the more obvious need is for the coaching staff to train the guys they draft. There are so many young players on this team that haven't developed. Is it the coach (who has somehow won again this season without much talent, maybe less than in NY or Buf) or the GM (The guy that paid Danny Amendola 7 million to put up 600 yrds and 1 TD, which was a typical NE year so he's not disappointing this year, this is a Danny Amendola type year)? That's the real question going into the offseason for Ross to not think about, because he so rarely thinks about his team. AFCleast wrap up 1) NE, they're not great this year, but in this division it doesn't matter. 2) Miami, they have 4-12 talent but somehow have mathematically alive for playoffs chances. This will only hurt them come the April draft. 3) Bills, if they can find any offense to match their defensive talent, they might push ten wins in 2019. IF. 4) NY, they're likely going to have a new coach i 2019. They might have the best QB in the division come 2020. Might.

21 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

It's hard to imagine Gase being let go, but I can't see him wanting to stay in Miami where the front office is so so terrible at all the things a front office has to do. Gase has that dead man walking feel to him. Fan expectations for 2019 are playoffs, talent level likely fielded in 2019 is not going to be anywhere near that. Yeah, some key injured players are going to be back, but man their salary cap and love of 30+ year old talent is always going to kill them year after year.

37 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Nobody moves to Wisconsin,from Florida, because they find the worst aspects of Florida weather less tolerable than what they will encounter with a piece of polystyrene, shaped and colored to like a wedge of cheese, on their head.

86 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

Winters in Green Bay aren't much worse than Chicago where Gase previously coached. The air is also cleaner and the commute easier. However, the culture level is significantly lower unless you're into polka and ice fishing.

82 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

They are one of those teams that can flash competence at home, while being horrid on the road..This is not inconsistent with being poorly coached on defense, which they certainly are. From the opening series, I was saying to myself, audio muted as normal, "What the hell are the Dolphins trying to do on defense?" Yes, I am a crazy person.

101 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

The Dolphins media rumors a few weeks back were that Gase wanted to replace his D-coordinator after losing him to Denver as a head coach but the owner nixed spending big money on a d-coordinator because the last expensive guy left anyway. Thus, Gase has been playing the last two seasons with what he's got on is staff rather than what he wants on his staff. It's also clear, his roster is filled with guys he doesn't have much use for. It's like the GM and the coach are totally out of step in what they want to run. Either way, Miami's 2017 draft is looking absolutely terrible. 2018 isn't fairing much better, but at least their number 1 pick might be good if ever given a chance to play his natural position...

102 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

I disagree. I think the problem with Tannenbaum is exactly the opposite. He gives everyone too much say, leaving the team essentially directionless. Every season he's been there they've tried a different strategy in the offseason. For example, I'm pretty sure Kiko and Branch were Gase guys and that's why they got those horrendous contracts.

But like others above, I'm at a loss as to what to make of Miami winning a lot more each one of Gase's three seasons than what the performance level merits. I mean, overachieving is great, but playing so poorly is terrible. In a vacuum I'd like to see Gase with a different GM, but hiring a GM who can't bring in his own guy isn't going to work, either. It's just a bad situation.