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

Audibles at the Line: Wild-Card Round

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Indianapolis Colts 21 at Houston Texans 7

Aaron Schatz: So much T.Y. Hilton on the first Colts drive. Hilton on third-and-12. Hilton on third-and-2. Hilton downfield for 38 yards with two guys on him. Hilton setting a pick on the touchdown by Eric Ebron. Hilton, Hilton, Hilton.

Scott Kacsmar: It's amazing because he has been doing this to Houston his whole career. Often it's the big play down the middle of the field to split the safeties, but hey, we're only one drive in. They can get to that later. Also, this glare on the field is a bit distracting as a viewer and likely much worse for the players. Houston's offense gets to start in the shade though.

Derrik Klassen: That opening Colts drive was about as clean as it gets. Maybe getting into a third-and-7 wasn't ideal, but they got J.J. Watt to jump offside to force a third-and-2 that they went on to convert. Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton was electric that drive, which I (and I'm sure everyone remotely familiar with that duo vs. this team) expected would be a problem for Houston. What I am more interested in, however, is how the Texans will deal with the running backs in the pass game. We all know Hilton will gash them, but Indianapolis likes to get the ball to their running backs, and Houston will be in trouble if their linebackers cannot match them up and minimize the yardage they get that way.

Bryan Knowles: You'd think, just by trial-and-error, the Texans would stop Hilton one of these years. Hilton has at least 50 receiving yards in 11 of his 14 career games against Houston, and the Texans haven't shut Hilton down and won since 2016.

Derrik Klassen: I'm enjoying Indianapolis turning to traps and same-side pulling plays in the run game on this drive. Versus a defensive line that can take over games and will find its way into the backfield, playing games up front and using Houston's aggressive, upfield style of play against them should continue to field good results for the Colts.

Aaron Schatz: Colts rushing yards

  • vs. Houston Week 4: 41
  • vs. Houston Week 14: 50
  • vs. Houston Week 18, in less than 15 minutes: 54

I did not expect that.

Vince Verhei: Colts lead 14-0 and it feels like 140-0. They can do whatever they want and it's working. I-formation, shotgun, inside runs, pulls to the outside, pocket passing, rollouts, short balls, deep balls ... they're running out of ways to win.

Oh god. Down 14 with a fourth-and-4 in no man's land, Bill O'Brien actually does the smart thing and goes for it. And then Deshaun Watson throws a horrible interception where there were two defenders between the ball and the tight end. O'Brien might never go for in on fourth down again.

Andrew Potter: 15 minutes in, I'm not sure how the contrast between these two offensive coaches could possibly be more stark.

Bryan Knowles: I thought the Watt-tip interception might be just what Houston needed to get back into the game. Instead, they managed to move the ball a grand total of 4 yards. This is getting ugly in a hurry.

Scott Kacsmar: Neither quarterback's interception ended up being too costly, though the Colts were looking like a team ready to go up 21-0 before J.J. Watt tipped that ball. Just wanted to point out there was a false start missed on the right tackle on the Watson interception. Texans probably punt there on fourth-and-9, but I'm just getting really sick of the false starts that are getting missed this year. It usually seems to be on the right tackle too, where it should probably be more obvious than at any other position.

Aaron Schatz: Watson's attempt to scramble for 10 yards against Cover-2 on third-and-10 just seemed overanxious.

Bryan Knowles: It's not just the scramble; Watson has also missed some throws he usually makes. First-half nerves in his first NFL playoff game?

Scott Kacsmar: Thought maybe Reid breaking up an Ebron touchdown might give the Texans a boost, but nope. Dontrelle Inman wide open for an 18-yard touchdown and it's 21-0. You know how the Hall of Fame game is usually one of the crappiest preseason games each year, but we're just excited to see football again? That's how I feel about the Saturday afternoon Houston playoff game that happens too often. We're so excited for the playoffs, but we get this slop too often. At least the Texans have an offense that can score this year, but I'm just surprised at how little resistance the defense has shown in every phase. Also, we can definitely cite the offensive line as a huge issue for the Texans this year, but not so far today. The missed opportunities have been on deep balls where a receiver was open, but Watson just couldn't connect or there wasn't enough there for a pass interference flag. He also wasn't under pressure on the interception, and the protection wasn't bad on that third-and-10 he decided to scramble on. So their weakness has not been the weakness so far today in this 21-0 deficit.

Bryan Knowles: Luck is just not being pressured at all. I know Houston is in the bottom half in defensive pressure rate and Indy is in the upper half of offensive pressure rate, but this is insane. The Texans defense needs to figure out a way to get off the field on third downs, and that probably involves at least moving Luck a little tiny bit. They're going to have to bring some pressure sooner rather than later.

Tom Gower: Justin Reid was shaken up breaking up the pass to Eric Ebron in the end zone, so the Texans, who've been mixing and matching defensive backs all season, brought in outside corner Shareece Wright, who was aligned opposite Dontrelle Inman. Now, if you saw the Colts-Texans game in Houston, you might have suspected exactly what came next: Inman runs a double-move (in this case, a corner route after a hard stick) and gets wide open, taking advantage of Wright's susceptibility to double-moves that, among others, Inman himself had demonstrated in that earlier matchup, and the Colts get the touchdown they didn't on the play before. 21-0. Not only does one team have a really good quarterback, they also have a smart coaching staff that immediately attacks the replacements for injured players (like, the easiest hanging fruit that goes unpicked that I can imagine); the other team has a coaching staff that repeatedly puts players in losing situations (unless Wright really misplayed it and was supposed to trust inside help, though it certainly didn't appear that way).

Derrik Klassen: At some point, the Texans are going to end up leaning on Watson to give the running game life. It's not ideal, and they shouldn't turn to it unless necessary because lord knows Watson does not need any more hits, but the way Houston is trying to attack the short part of the field has to change. Praying that DeAndre Hopkins wins every single 1v1 scenario can only take the offense so far.

Dave Bernreuther: Greeting from Orlando, where our summit has made me somewhat distracted by fantasy and gambling rooting interests and less able to just enjoy what I'm seeing as a Colts fan.

Nothing about the score thus far surprises me at all; as noted, the difference between these two coaches is stark, and while Watson can do some things, I'm more confident in Luck than I am in him, especially when you accept that Watson will probably take a sack or three that kill a drive.

What does surprise me is how easily Hilton is still getting open. I figured that in a playoff game, with his history of owning them in this building (side note: him showing up in a clown mask after Johnathan Joseph's comment was HILARIOUS), the Texans would sell out to stop him. All it took was one drive to prove that that's not the case.

Carl Yedor: Hate to say that I'm agreeing with Witten, but I don't understand why Houston went empty on that fourth down. It's 1 yard. At least threaten the possibility of a handoff. If Indy scores here, this one may be over.

Aaron Schatz: Texans go for it on fourth-and-1 in the red zone and fail. And while I'm not a big fan of empty spread sets with no run threat on fourth down, that play call worked. DeAndre Hopkins was open. Watson just threw a bad ball, way too low, for the incomplete.

Although the Colts dropped one of their four pass-rushers so he could spy on a possible Watson draw or scramble. So even on the empty spread set, they respected the possibility of a quarterback run.

Bryan Knowles: For the record: The Texans have never won a game where they trailed by 21 points at halftime.

The Colts have only blown one 21-point halftime lead; against the Patriots in Peyton Manning's rookie season.

I don't think the game is over over, with Houston getting the ball to start the second half ... but you can see "over" from here.

Vince Verhei: It would be good for the Texans if the Colts' leaders had little playoff experience and didn't know anything about big second-half comebacks.

The Colts' head coach is Frank Reich. I don't expect Indianapolis to lack in intensity coming out for the third quarter.

Carl Yedor: Big defensive stand for Houston there to not allow the field goal attempt. After the long pass interference penalty, it looked like the Colts could have a chance to kill the game, but once Indianapolis got near field goal range, the defense stiffened and eventually forced Luck into a short throw in bounds. Houston was able to tackle him in play, leading to the clock running out. The Texans were cheating to the sidelines so much there that it might have made more sense for Luck to just throw it away and see if Adam Vinatieri could bomb one through.

Tom Gower: 21-0 at the half. With the Colts burning their last timeout after a 6-yard completion (why? also, get rid of the Bert Emanuel Rule and that's not a catch), missing on a deep shot, and Chester Rogers not getting out of bounds, they end up with 21 points on five possessions thanks to J.J. Watt's earlier tip resulting in an interception. But unless Houston's offense starts doing a lot more, none of it will matter. Two of their four offensive possessions have been awful, but it's hard to see them executing well enough to recover from this deficit, as both the fourth-down calls on their other two possessions indicated.

Vince Verhei: The Texans had six first downs in the first half -- or, one for each penalty they committed. That's a bad ratio.

Scott Kacsmar: This is like watching a shootout where one team loaded all its guns with blanks. Big double-score opportunity for Houston, but after botching the first half of it, really feels like touchdown or bust to start this third quarter. For as much as head coaches preach about running the ball, they sure do ignore it in the rare situations where running is more efficient than passing. On that fourth-and-1, I would have had Watson come under center and do a quarterback sneak, or just run the ball traditionally. They made a touchdown-or-bust throw and Watson missed it.

Vince Verhei: Texans punt on fourth-and-2 down 21 points in the second half. Yes, it was deep in their end, but you've got to think the two fourth-down failures in the first half were on O'Brien's mind there.

Carl Yedor: I don't think they can afford to punt anymore while the game is still 21-0. If they get a stop and get the ball back again and face a fourth down, there most likely won't be enough time for them to keep punting anymore. If Indy scores, then they definitely can't keep punting. If they cut it to 21-7, then maybe the possibility can come back later, but we'll see.

Vince Verhei: They are now punting on fourth-and-24. Gotta admit, I'm with them on this one.

Kind of sad this is what we're discussing in the second half though.

Hey, fourth-and-3, and Watson converts on a throw to Keke Coutee! Colts have punted three straight times, and the Texans have the ball near midfield. Even at 21-0, the door is still open just a little for Houston.

Bryan Knowles: Oh no, here comes The Most Aggravating Rule in Football ... that's a fumble over the goal line, I think.

Nope, they apparently ruled he had possession over the goal line. Thanks, ESPN, for not actually, you know, showing that announcement during a playoff game.

Vince Verhei: Mother of god, what a beautiful, beautiful throw by Luck on the the third-down conversion after the Houston touchdown, Hilton's first catch of the second half.

Obviously, not much has gone right for Houston today, but high on the list of things that have gone wrong is how badly Luck has outplayed Watson today. That was the best example, but it has been a constant for 50 minutes, at least.

Aaron Schatz: Now that the Texans know the Colts are going to try to run, their run defense has finally woken up. But getting the ball back won't help unless Watson can do something with it.

Andrew Potter: The Colts defense is justly getting a lot of praise for a very good performance, but this is also the worst I've seen Deshaun Watson play. He's missing a bunch of open throws for incompletions that have very little to do with the defense.

If I were in charge of the Texans, now that I apparently have a quarterback, I'd be having a long, hard look at whether this type of playoff exit is the limit of my aspirations.

Vince Verhei: Down 21-7, Texans go for it on fourth-and-4 and Watson scrambles for 21. But then on fourth-and-10, Watson is leveled by instant pressure and his pass to Vyncint Smith isn't close.

Texans have now gone for it on fourth down five times today, and might still get more. Was thinking that might be a record, but then remembered Pittsburgh had six in the playoffs against Jacksonville. Why do teams wait until the postseason to get so aggressive?

Aaron Schatz: Well, the Texans just let Marlon Mack go 15 and 26 yards while running out the clock, when they knew he was running the ball, so I guess they fell back asleep. The poor performance by Houston against the run tonight may be the most astonishing part of this game.

Tom Gower: Final, 21-7. A reasonably healthy Keke Coutee did, in fact, provide a needed element to a Texans offense badly in need of a spark, and he led them with 110 receiving yards and a (yeah, sure, really, fine, definitely not just for ratings purposes) touchdown. And for most of the second half they got the defense they needed, limiting the Colts big plays, putting them into not-great third downs, and, unlike the first half, not letting the Colts convert all of those third downs. But Coutee by himself was not enough to singlehandedly save Deshaun Watson and the rest of the offense.

Like I expected more from Tennessee last week, I thought the Texans would do more offensively this week. They ran a few plays early, but after last week I expected a lot more of a quarterback option-oriented run game with Watson as a legitimate threat and switching between Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue (or even D'Onta Foreman) as an inside hammer to complement him. Watson finished with eight carries for 76 yards, but that included a fair number of scrambles. Instead, they did what they did and accepted the results that brought them.

Scott Kacsmar: Watson recently talked about not losing a game by more than eight points in his career going back to high school. I think it was only true if you included games he started and finished. That streak is over with this 21-7 loss, but it is the fourth NFL start of his career where he didn't get a true fourth-quarter comeback opportunity (down one score with possession). Colts did it to him twice at home in the final month of the season. Watson simply missed too many key throws today. Defense made enough stops after 21-0 to give the offense a chance, but just didn't see any interest in running the ball or consistency in passing from the Texans.

I really liked the road teams with the superior quarterbacks for the Saturday games (like the home teams with top scoring defenses tomorrow). We'll see if Russell Wilson can deliver next in Dallas.

Rivers McCown: I can't underscore how badly Frank Reich outcoached Bill O'Brien and Romeo Crennel. They found a way to crack the best run defense in the NFL on the edges multiple times. They got up 14-0 on a team that had no receiving depth. Crennel eventually adjusted to bring pressure, but it was too late at that point.

The Texans scored seven points against a defense that barely got any non-created pass pressure. The Colts weren't winning one-on-one on Houston's beleagured offensive line all that often. Instead, it was DB blitz after DB blitz after DB blitz, and the Texans didn't adjust to that until the fourth quarter.

Dave Bernreuther: I'm glad you mentioned that, because I forgot to bring it up. I can't remember a team that has been as consistently successful with DB blitzes as this Eberflus Colts defense.

Tom Gower: Teams that have been as consistently successful with DB blitzes? Maybe "every team that plays the Houston Texans?" Kenny Moore blitzed a ton from the slot in this game, and a lot of them were successful. Houston never did great against that particular schematic answer.

Seattle Seahawks 22 at Dallas Cowboys 24

Bryan Knowles: I am going to take a wild guess that the director did not see the extent of the Allen Hurns injury before dialing up the replay. Good lord.

Vince Verhei: Well, a sobering start to this one now.

Scott Kacsmar: A lot of times when there's an injury you'll see people saying they can't watch it or they feel squeamish. Maybe I've watched too many horror movies or something, but they usually never bother me. This one was tough to see though.

As for the game itself, Dak Prescott just air-mailed a pass on third-and-2. That was after Seattle went three-and-out after Russell Wilson couldn't make a throw happen on third-and-2. I'll never for the life of me understand why the NFL treats third-and-2 as a passing down when the numbers favor the run. That was actually the very first NFL analytics-related thing I ever wrote about in college. Things haven't changed either, and you would think if any teams would be interested in running in those spots, it'd be Dallas or Seattle.

Carl Yedor: Seattle's offense so far has gone three-and-out twice. First possession: run, run, pass on third-and-2 batted down at the line. Second possession: screen play blown up for a big loss, run on second-and-forever, scramble short of the sticks on third down. It's basically Brian Schottenheimer complaint bingo to this point.

Vince Verhei: At least Seattle's third-and-2 incompletion came after runs on first and second down. Seattle has had a number of three-and-outs this year where Wilson never got a chance to run or throw. He's too good a player to let that happen.

Holding on Dallas wipes out a Tavon Austin punt return touchdown on the last play of the first quarter, and that's really a perfect summary of the game so far. Only four first downs, all for Dallas, and the teams are a combined 1-for-7 on third downs. I thought the defenses would have the edge tonight, but not like this.

Derrik Klassen: No surprise it's an "empty" formation call that bails Dallas out of their own territory. For as imperfect as Dak Prescott has been since his rookie year, winning out of empty formations is what he does.

Aaron Schatz: This game is a festival of running into stacked boxes.

Carl Yedor: This is an overly simplistic way to look at it, but Seattle's only two first downs thus far have come on downfield passes on first down. It's almost like aggressively trying to pass works!

Seattle's bully-ball style is fine when it's working (and I feel like I've repeated this multiple times), but when you are facing a defense with talented linebackers that defends the run well, maybe you should try throwing more. Just a thought.

Bryan Knowles: Hey, Seattle's throwing and it's working.

Tyler Lockett remains amazing.

Aaron Schatz: Chidobe Awuzie still had good coverage on that pass. I feel like the only time Seattle has had guys open was the two play-action passes that led to the field goal.

Carl Yedor: I will say that there's value in playing to your strengths, and Seattle's offensive line, while much improved, has still had its issues in pass protection, seeing as they rank 30th in adjusted sack rate. Dallas has some talent on the defensive line and has had several free rushers (including that most recent deep ball to Lockett).

Seattle rushes to the line after the Lockett deep ball and snaps it to keep the play from being overturned, but the drive stalls, forcing them to settle for another Sebastian Janikowski field goal. 6-3 Seattle with 1:43 to play in the half.

Aaron Schatz: Cowboys come back with a touchdown when they finally get Ezekiel Elliott free for a big long run, 44 yards. Great block on the edge by Blake Jarwin and it looked like the Seahawks corner wandered too far inside. After two short plays, that leads to two fade tries to Michael Gallup in the end zone and the second one hits with a beautiful pass that falls in right over Gallup's shoulder. So now we're at 10-6 Dallas.

Derrik Klassen: I feel good about Seattle pulling through in the second half. A 10-6 score could go either way, and even favors Dallas, but I think Seattle being an offense better built to throw (primarily because of Russell Wilson) gives them the edge in a second half that could start to lean toward desperation passing. It's been the Seattle formula despite how much their rushing offense gets talked about.

Vince Verhei: Man, until that last Cowboys drive, this game had gone EXACTLY like I wrote it would in the playoff preview. Cowboys were moving the ball a lot but failing in the red zone. Seattle was stuttering and sputtering and then exploding for scoring chances. And then Dallas gets the big play on the Elliott run, and the red zone score on the sweet pass to Gallup for the lead.

Overall, though, it's still close to what I expected. Dallas leads 12 to four in first downs and 224 to 114 in total yards. Seattle is 1-for-6 on third downs, and the one conversion was a 3-yard gain to set up a long (missed) field goal at the end of the half. And yet it's still just a one-score game.

Carl Yedor: Shaquill Griffin had a bit of a rough drive there on Dallas' last possession of the half. Out of position on the long Elliott run and then beaten for the touchdown to Gallup. Hard to play that fade much better than he did, just needed to get his head around and make a play on the ball.

Janikowski comes up gimpy after hooking a 57-yard kick wide right to end the half. Is this the week we finally see a Michael Dickson drop-kick field goal?

Vince Verhei: They're not showing this on TV in the U.S., but Michael Dickson has reportedly spent all of halftime attempting and missing standard kicks, with a holder. Special teams just got a lot more unpredictable.

Bryan Knowles: After the passing game gives Seattle their biggest gains and most productive drives of the first half, Seattle comes out of the locker room ... unsuccessful run, unsuccessful run, incomplete pass, punt. Sigh.

Tom Gower: This game features two teams that will run the ball as often as game situation permits them, no matter how ineffective it is, and the game situation and opponent's philosophy has permitted them to try to do so quite a bit. Which means we're relying on random big plays, like Zeke's 44-yarder and Lockett's spectacular catch, for scoring drives to happen. Dallas run offense vs. Seattle defense has been somewhat better than Seahawks run offense vs. Dallas defense, compensating for Russell Wilson's superiority. I'm sure there are subtleties I'm missing because I don't know the Week 3 game the way I knew, say, the previous Colts-at-Texans game, but I'd probably still be trying to distract myself from the state of the game by appreciating linebacker play anyway.

Bryan Knowles: "Third-and-17 iso screen to your tight end" is a bold move, but at least it allowed us to see another beautiful punt by Michael Dickson. Silver linings and all.

Carl Yedor: Seattle loves to run that toss play to Rashaad Penny from deep in the backfield, so I wouldn't be surprised if Dallas was on alert for it as soon as he came on the field. It has hit for a few big gains over the course of the year, but as we saw there, if it blows up in the backfield, it can be a huge loss because of how deep the running back is lined up.

Dave Bernreuther: Hi guys. I've been watching this game with work folks and not checking this email thread. All we've been doing is burying our heads in our hands about how insane it is to keep running into stacked boxes rather than having your best player do good things ... it is good to see that we are not alone in this frustration.

This Janikowski injury could be a blessing in disguise though. Deep ball to Doug Baldwin puts the Seahawks in scoring range. Surely they'll go run run, run, run here though and once again punish our optimism...

Aaron Schatz: Deep ball to Baldwin finally broke Seattle's trend of run, run, pass. That time they went run, run, run, pass instead. Great tapping of the feet by Baldwin to keep that in bounds. Then the Seahawks finally broke out the read options to take advantage of the fact that Dallas would be expecting Russell Wilson to constantly hand the ball off up the middle. Since, you know, for the rest of the game it seems like all the Seahawks have been doing is handing off up the middle.

Vince Verhei: So on three straight third downs, we get a Seattle wide receiver screen, a Dallas running back screen in their own end zone, and a straight run on third-and-long for Seattle. At least the last one was to set up a fourth-down try, which the Seahawks convert on an amazing pass by Wilson and an even more amazing catch by Baldwin dragging his feet at the sideline. Wilson then keeps the ball for a third-down conversion, and then again for a rushing touchdown. And with Janikowski out, they don't mess around with Dickson, and Mike Davis runs it in for two. That fourth-down conversion was the only passing play on the drive. Dallas ball, but Seattle leads 14-10 at the end of the third quarter.

I can only assume the Seahawks blew coverage on the long completion that quickly got Dallas into the red zone. And then they get a second red zone touchdown on the day. Prescott's sweep is ruled a touchdown live but called short after review. No matter. Two plays Later Elliott scores himself, and now the Cowboys lead 17-14.

Bryan Knowles: Amazing concentration by K.J. Wright to get the first turnover of the game. That play at least keeps Seattle within a field goal and quite possibly keeps them in this game. Huge, huge play.

Vince Verhei: Seahawks follow the Wright interception with a hold on Justin Britt, a personal foul on D.J. Fluker, an injury that knocks Tyler Lockett out of the game at least for now, and then a punt. Not ideal. Also not the first time offensive line penalties have turfed a Seattle drive before it started this season.

Dave Bernreuther: With less than ten minutes left in a game where you're trailing and don't have a kicker, you'd think it'd be a good idea to try to convert on third down. But even though we've seen that the Seahawks offense actually, you know, works when they throw downfield ... on third-and-20 they throw another negative-ALEX screen and punt. Argh. Less than five minutes to go now.

Carl Yedor: After two third-down conversions via penalty to extend the drive, Dallas is faced with third-and-14 in the red zone. A stop and subsequent field goal gives Seattle the ball with a chance to come back, but Prescott converts on a quarterback draw to effectively ice the game. Dallas punches it in and goes up 24-14.

Vince Verhei: Lockett was out on the third-and-20. They weren't converting that either way.

Third-and-14 in the red zone, looks like Seattle is going to get a chance to win this thing ... and then they give up a first down on a quarterback draw to Prescott. Heartbreaker. Prescott scores on a sneak the next play. Three red zone touchdowns for Dallas. That's a 24-14 lead with 2:08 to go, and Seahawks now need a miracle.

Bryan Knowles: I know you have a 10-point lead with two minutes left, Dallas, but I'd suggest having at least one person cover Tyler Lockett.

Seattle drives down and gets the quick score, and sets up a super-tense onside kick attempt...

... and Dickson just sorts of pooches it into the second level right to a Dallas player. Cowboys win.

It's not the worst onside kick I've ever seen, but it makes the list. What the heck was that?

Vince Verhei: Painful loss. Seattle probably wins if the long field goal at the end of the first half is good, even without Janikowski.

But the defense let Dallas finish drives in the red zone, and Dallas is a very good team when they do that. The offense only has two reliable receivers, and though the line has improved, they still make too many mistakes. Hard to win when you go 2-for-13 on third downs (and one of them is just to set up a field goal on the next snap).

Also a bad game for some defensive backs Seattle needed to have good games -- Justin Coleman getting beat on the long Amari Cooper catch that was challenged and upheld, then committing the DPI on Cole Beasley to extend the last Cowboys drive. Shaquill Griffin giving up the edge on Elliott's long run in the first half, getting beat by Gallup on the touchdown pass (if he turns his head, he tips that pass away).

And let's not forget giving up another long return in special teams, this time on the Tavon Austin punt return. Offense, defense, and special teams had their failures today.

It seems plain to me that the Seahawks' biggest need is another receiver, especially with Baldwin getting older every year. They could also use help in the secondary.

I look forward to them drafting a running back and defensive lineman in April.

Aaron Schatz: Twitter is filled with criticism of the Seahawks' offensive game plan tonight but it seems to me that both teams used the same run-heavy game plan. It just worked better for Dallas. They ran the ball a bit better, and when both teams passed the ball, the Cowboys had better coverage. I can't remember Byron Jones getting beat by anyone for a completion until that huge Tyler Lockett catch in the final two minutes.

Vince Verhei: Well, yeah -- it was a good game plan for Dallas because it was working, at least some of the time, and so they stuck with it. Seattle kept running for 1 and 2 yards a pop even though it clearly wasn't working. If you want to say it was a fine game plan but a failure to adjust midgame, then OK, but that's just semantics. The point is that Seattle kept calling plays that wouldn't work when it was obvious to everyone they wouldn't work.

God, it just hit me, for most of the season it looked like Brian Schottenheimer had learned and developed and become a new coach ... and then in the playoffs he reverted to, well, Brian Schottenheimer.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 at Baltimore Ravens 17

Tom Gower: Man, it really would have been something if Lamar Jackson had been able to complete that third-down pass to Willie Snead after fumbling and picking the ball back up again.

Bryan Knowles: One reason for Lamar Jackson's surprisingly low rushing DVOA is his tendency to fumble the football. He just nearly had a nightmare play on Baltimore's first drive, putting the ball on the ground in the face of a collapsing pocket. He was lucky the ball bounced pretty much right back to him, and he was able to throw the ball away to salvage a punt.

And now fumbles on back-to-back plays to start the second drive, the last one giving the Chargers the ball in the red zone! It was a bold strategy to cover their hands in lard before this game.

Scott Kacsmar: In 14 drives vs. Baltimore this year, the Chargers have reached the red zone twice. Both drives started in the red zone after a Kenneth Dixon fumble.

Andrew Potter: Ridiculous fumble issues aside, this is why I was more excited for this game than any other this weekend. Every single yard against these defenses will be earned. That goal-line stand, though arguably aided by the decision not to pass even once, was beautiful. Even the one first down in the first four drives was dependent on a very smartly run route by Willie Snead in close zone coverage.

Rivers McCown: Los Angeles' offense sure does seem flat despite the points. I don't think Baltimore's defense has done anything wrong.

Romo and Nantz mentioned how much L.A. thought game script would matter. Well, they've got their wish here.

Rob Weintraub: Said it earlier in the week, and I'll repeat it here -- Joe Flacco wants that Drew Bledsoe Moment so badly it's like acid in his mouth. Inching closer and closer.

Aaron Schatz: I'm struck by how unprepared the Chargers are for some of these Baltimore blitzes. I'm thinking in particular of the play where Patrick Onwuasor came, and the running back was on the other side of the formation and nobody picked him up. The Ravens blitz more than any other team. They blitz inside linebackers, they blitz cornerbacks, you've got to be ready for it.

Meanwhile, the Chargers aren't having it with the Ravens runs up the middle. Need more read options, more of Lamar Jackson keeping it and going outside. So far the biggest Ravens gains have been Jackson scrambling. I liked the play where the Chargers had a spy on him, and Jackson still picked up 13 yards because he was just that much faster to the outside than the spy was. Cornerback Michael Davis, I think.

Scott Kacsmar: The Chargers have three field goals on drives that covered 56 total yards. Baltimore defense is doing a great job to keep this a game. When the Baltimore offense is so fixated on a run-heavy style that isn't suited for these comebacks, you do have to consider if we'll see Joe Flacco today. Jackson has missed six in a row and he hasn't looked good. The interception was tipped, but it was still high and into traffic.

Carl Yedor: Chargers put together what feels like a decent drive there to get a field goal and make it 9-0. When going 37 yards down the field feels like an accomplishment, that's a testament to the defense lined up across the ball from you.

Baltimore's offense has been struggling all day, and they may need to let Jackson throw the ball more to open up running lanes with how the Chargers are geared up against the run. The formula worked to get them into the playoffs. However, they're down two scores now, and it's inside two minutes left in the half with the Chargers getting the ball to start the second half. Jackson has missed some throws, but at some point, your quarterback has to make plays.

Rob Weintraub: Did the Miami Heat screamer move to Baltimore?

Bryan Knowles: The Ravens have 69 yards of total offense. Thirty-two of those yards were Jackson scrambles on a pair of pass plays. Nothing, and I mean nothing, the Ravens are trying to do on offense is working. The defense, as good as it is, can only hold up for so long. They're going to have to figure out something. I don't think you break the Flacco glass in this situation, because again, the only successful plays have been with Jackson's legs, but the Ravens are going to have to do something different in the second half.

It's far from over, because the end zone is off limits at the moment. Michael Badgley has already tied the Chargers franchise postseason record for field goals in a game; it's weird to see a Chargers team being bolstered by special teams play, but here we are.

Derrik Klassen: Lamar Jackson is playing as poorly as he ever has, and what an unfortunate stage to do that on. He has been wildly inaccurate and struggled early with fumbles (again). I've often observed Jackson play better in the second half, so hopefully he can find a rhythm. Would like to see Baltimore either let him work from empty or try to deliberately work the tight ends free over the middle.

Aaron Schatz: You're definitely seeing in this game the accuracy problems Jackson has throwing to the sidelines.

Rob Weintraub: Worth remembering that Rivers has more children than Jackson has starts...

Vince Verhei: We had a big windstorm in the Seattle area last night, so we lost power and I missed most of the first half. Power came on right before halftime, and I got to see the Chargers run a two-minute drill that felt like it used about 20 plays to go maybe 30, 35 yards, but ended in a field goal. Based on these emails, seems like the rest of the first half went the same way.

Tom Gower: 12-0 Chargers lead at the half. Huge credit to Gus Bradley and the Los Angeles defense, which really dominated the first half and almost completely shut down the Ravens offense outside of a couple Lamar scrambles. They did it in an interesting way, playing with basically a down four and all defensive backs, including a ton of safeties. Maybe that's partly because of their injuries at linebacker, but it's been great for their game plan. The flexibility, both positional and er natural?, of both Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa and all the extra defensive backs have left them shift and jump gaps and basically make the Baltimore offensive line look completely lost. It has also let them create a clouded picture in the middle of the field for Lamar Jackson, forcing him to throw to the outside, where he has been much less effective overall and almost completely ineffective this game. I think the Ravens have tried to adjust some, with more direct runs against the Chargers' light personnel, but that's not easy to sustain long enough for points unless you're ripping off big chunks, which they're certainly not doing. Unless Lamar plays and particularly throws a whole lot better in the second half, I'm not even sure we need to address the question of whether the Chargers are doing whatever it is they're doing on offense because they're playing a good defense, or because they think they can win this game on the cheap.

Vince Verhei: Oh my god, my impression was not wrong -- Rivers threw 20 passes in the first half and still hasn't gained 100 yards. They're doing an aerial version of the Seattle offense.

Bryan Knowles: Per sideline reporters, Joe Flacco is warming up, while Jackson has a towel on his head. We'll see if anything comes of it, but that'd be ... an interesting move.

Two big "momentum shifting" moments, per the CBS team. A blocked field goal ... which led to a loss of 10 yards and a punt. And then C.J. Mosley recovers a fumble and puts the Ravens in their best field position all day ... and it's a three-and-out field goal.

I strongly disagree with kicking the field goal there; you've only changed things from a two-score game to a two-score game. It's the first time all game long you've been within sniffing distance of the end zone; you HAVE to try to get the ball in at some point. That might have been Baltimore's last offensive chance, the way things are going!

Scott Kacsmar: I think if those are the best plays you can call after getting great field position following the Virgil Green fumble, then that's just another argument for turning to Flacco. Had to get a touchdown there, but they couldn't even get a first down. Can't argue with the field goal. Points were a must, but I'd chalk that up as another win for the Chargers.

Now I agreed with the first field goal, but definitely not the second. It was fourth-and-1, Jackson actually showed some life with a scramble (called back on holding) and a completion. I'd run it there for sure, but Justin Tucker compounded the decision with a miss on the 50-yard field goal, his first postseason miss.

Andrew Potter: I really wanted to see a shot along the first-down line on that Derwin James tackle that saw Jackson marked short on third down, but we never got it. I hate when that happens.

I hate a team kicking on that down-and-distance even more though, even with Justin Tucker.

Vince Verhei: When you have a fourth-and-1 with a mobile quarterback down two scores in the second half, you do not try a 50-yard field goal, I don't care who your kicker is.

Dave Bernreuther: That looked to be an awful spot on the third-and-9 scramble by Jackson ... there weren't any great angles, but the next-to-last replay showed his foot in bounds a yard ahead of the spot at which they initially marked it, and with the ball ahead of that he should've been given the first down or very close to it, not 2 yards shy.

Harbaugh didn't think twice to send Tucker out again ... from FIFTY, on a windy day. That's awful. Tucker is great but you can't assume that's good, and even if it is ... ugh. They deserved to miss that one.

Bryan Knowles: I think they got the call right that he was touched down short of the end zone, but either way, swallow the damn whistles.

Carl Yedor: And now that the Chargers summarily took the ball and marched it in for a touchdown, following it up with a made two-pointer, the Ravens will need a miracle down 17.

Bryan Knowles: And NOW they get the touchdown slightly less controversially. Big, big props to the Chargers for going for (and getting) the two-point conversion. Major demerits to the Ravens for having no one at all cover Mike Williams in the end zone. 20-3, Chargers, and this one is over -- I'm not sure the Ravens will get three first downs in the fourth quarter, much less three scores.

Dave Bernreuther: I agree with the final call; he was losing control early, but it was still technically "in" his hand (those gloves are VERY tacky), so there was no way they could rule otherwise on review. I was really glad they went for the fourth down; a kick there would've been appalling. And even failing leaves them backed up inside the 1, which is a win.

Aaron Schatz: They did swallow the damn whistles! After what happened with Jabrill Peppers last week, I'm glad that the refs let Marlon Humphrey return the ball for the touchdown, even if it turns out the fumble officially never happened.

Bryan Knowles: They were blowing the whistles the whole way, Aaron -- I think they would have ruled the runback invalid if they had turned it to a fumble. The Ravens just chose to ignore said whistle and keep running.

Andrew Potter: The problem isn't the whistle, inherently; it's the ruling on the field. If you rule it an offensive touchdown, you can't then award the defensive touchdown return on review. It's a key limitation of the review system.

Scott Kacsmar: After two super close calls, the Chargers get a walk-in touchdown and a wide-open two-point conversion to go up 20-3. First of all, I absolutely love the two-point call. I'd have to check, but I'm not sure if any NFL coach has ever gone for two to make a 15-point lead a 17-point lead. That should do it for this one unless the Chargers want to add the finest piece yet to their BINGO card.

Bryan Knowles: The 15-to-17 two-pointer has happened five times, most recently in 2017 with Doug Pederson's Eagles against the 49ers. Mike Tomlin did it in the wild-card game against the Bengals after the 2015 season!

Vince Verhei: I'll let someone else break down the details of that bizarre sequence if they want to, but it looked like the Chargers scored a touchdown, then one play later it looked like the Ravens scored a touchdown, but neither ended up counting, and then the Chargers really did score a touchdown.

And then I love, love, LOVE the decision to go for two. Mike Williams is wide open in the end zone and L.A. goes up 20-3. Three-possession lead is greater than a two-possession lead.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Ravens need to go back to Joe Flacco. But instead Lamar Jackson takes the field ... to a chorus of boos. Wow.

Aaron Schatz: The problems with the Ravens offense having to switch to pass-first are about more than just Lamar Jackson. Left guard James Hurst had trouble pass-blocking, he's a much better run-blocker, so they replaced him with Bradley Bozeman, who just got bulldozed for a sack on third-and-11.

Tom Gower: Down 12-0 at the half, the Ravens needed two weird fluky plays to have a chance to recover from the deficit. And against a Chargers team that seemed like they may be more focused on playing safe than trying to score, they got them! Virgil Green fumbled to give them the ball in the red zone, and then they blocked a punt. But they couldn't move the ball either time and settled for those field goal attempts, the first of which made little sense because of that 12-point deficit and the second of which made very little sense because it was a 50-yard attempt on fourth-and-2 with an offense that had barely moved the ball at best. Then the L.A. offense puts together a drive, including Antonio Gates on third down yet again and a big play to Mike Williams, and after some silliness that probably shouldn't have been, we have a 20-3 game. The natives were restless when Lamar came back out at the start of the fourth quarter and given the offensive production to date today it's hard to blame them. But given the state of the offensive line with Hurst and Bozeman and Joe Flacco's production earlier in the year, it's hard to see a quarterback change mattering and quite easy to see it as undesirable to John Harbaugh assuming Lamar will be the starter next year.

Bryan Knowles: Wellity wellity wellity. 156 passing yards for Lamar Jackson here in the fourth quarter and counting, and the Ravens are now within a score with 1:59 to go. I think you have to go onside with just two timeouts, but with this defense, it is at least a decision. If only they had been a little bit faster to get that second score.

Vince Verhei: Well, well. Ravens put together a couple of touchdown drives, and now trail by just one score, 23-17. Inside the two-minute warning, with two timeouts, they probably go onside, right?

If this miracle happens, blowing a 23-3 lead with nine minutes left would be a bigger disaster than blowing a 28-3 lead with almost a whole half to go, right?

Ravens kick deep. Chargers have to kill 1:56.

On the third-and-6, I had flashbacks to the earlier Chargers loss (to Denver, I think) where the opponent was out of timeouts and Rivers turfed a pass on a wide receiver screen to stop the clock. I think the Chargers had flashbacks too, which is why they called the run -- which worked, but was called back on a penalty. A short completion at least picked up some yards, but now the Ravens are going to receive this punt and have 45 seconds, no timeouts, to go about 65 yards for the win.

Bryan Knowles: Uchenna Nwosu burns right through Orlando Brown and swipes the ball from Jackson's hands to end this one. Jackson has had some trouble with fumbles this year/game, but that wasn't on him, at all.

Heck of a finish, even if three quarters of the game was terrible.

Tom Gower: So, I went ahead and inputted my epitaph for the Ravens today with them trailing 23-3 in the fourth quarter, and then a funny thing happened. They stopped trying to run the ball, the pass protection stopped leaking, and they moved the ball for the first time all day. Pass pass pass pass pass, recover from lost yardage, touchdown. Pass pass pass pass pass, third-down Lamar run, touchdown. They hadn't been crazy run-heavy in the second half in particular, so the change may have been in part more about the pass protection and Bozeman, I think, settling into the game, plus Lamar just hitting some of those outside throws he had struggled with earlier. But Uchenna Nwosu makes a great play for the strip sack on the potential game-winning drive, and that's that.

Aaron Schatz: The two touchdowns to Michael Crabtree were on the right side but I think when we break it down we'll find that a lot of those two comeback drives was Jackson throwing up the middle of the field. When the Chargers could play a weaker zone coverage and play guys back to prevent the big play, it opened up the middle of the field where Jackson is more comfortable throwing.

Derrik Klassen: The Chargers moving to a prevent defense absolutely helped Lamar Jackson late, but it's still frustrating that Baltimore didn't even try to run that brand of offense until midway through the fourth. They played most of the game with wide receiver isos, and little involvement by tight ends or checkdown chances to running backs. That flipped in the fourth, and worked much better. I just wish Baltimore had better enabled Jackson to throw more freely early on, even if it would have ended just the same as their watered-down plan.

Vince Verhei: Shocking note from Adam Schefter on the Chargers personnel: for the most part, they shut down the league's most run-heavy team, and they did by going ultra-small, playing a quarters scheme for almost the whole game.

Bryan Knowles: Having Derwin James, who can basically play any position on defense apart from nose tackle, made that easier, but still -- that's going to be some really, really interesting film to break down.

Philadelphia Eagles 16 at Chicago Bears 15

Bryan Knowles: Still surprised by the Trey Burton situation; not even whisper of an injury until Saturday night, and now he's inactive? Very, very strange.

The Eagles had some success on their opening drive, and a lot of it came on short pass plays with some significant YAC on the back end -- that's basically the one thing the Eagles can do offensively where they might have an advantage over the Bears' stifling defense. Got to keep things into manageable down-and-distance situations, where the Bears can't just pin their ears back and destroy everything in their wake.

Highlight for the Bears so far has been some excellent punting by Pat O'Donnell, and the Eagles find themselves backed up again.

Bryan Knowles: So, Mitchell Trubisky scrambles to set up a chip-shot field goal, but comes up lame at the end of the play. Looks like he'll be coming back in, but with the degree to which mobility is a huge part of his game (second in rushing DYAR for quarterbacks!), a gimpy Trubisky might be a significant problem going forward.

Aaron Schatz: That second interception from Nick Foles is a pass you can't throw, put in the place you can't put it. If you're going to launch that pass into the end zone, it needs to be high and outside so that only your receiver has a shot at it. Looks like Leonard Floyd may have gotten a piece of Foles' arm, which helps explain why the pass fell short and into the arms of Adrian Amos.

Bryan Knowles: What the hell just happened with this replay review?

Anthony Miller catches the ball and fumbles at the end of the play. It's ruled incomplete on the field, but replay review shows that it's quite clearly a catch and a fumble. But no one JUMPS on the fumble, and the play just kind of ends. By rule, apparently, they can't overturn the incomplete pass to a completion ... because no one recovered the fumble? What? That doesn't' make sense at all. So, defenders shouldn't pick up loose balls after the play, because as long as they don't touch it, incomplete passes can't be overturned? Is that what they're telling us?

Andrew Potter: That replay decision is utterly bizarre: the announcement basically says that if there had been a clear fumble recovery, it would have been ruled a catch and a fumble; but because there was no clear recovery, it's ruled incomplete. That can't possibly be right.

Vince Verhei: I am assuming, for the sake of my own sanity, that they ruled Miller never had possession, and the ref just bungled the announcement. Because actually accepting his explanation as logic would cause my brain to bleed out my ears and nose.

Bryan Knowles: There's certainly nothing in the rulebook I can find that would back up that interpretation of … well, anything. But it does refer people to the Instant Replay Casebook, which does not appear to be publicly available.

I could have SWORN I've seen one of these overturned in the past with no clear recovery. Very, very strange.

Anyway, it's 6-3 at the halftime, and unlike some of the other, earlier games this postseason, this has mostly been good defense and not terrible offense. Entertaining, if confusing.

Vince Verhei: Yeah, aside from that replay, I'm not sure what to say about this game right now. Nick Foles has clearly outplayed Mitchell Trubisky -- he has made several big throws under heavy pressure, but has also made the kind of bad mistakes you can't make against a good defense. Trubisky hasn't made nearly as many big plays, but he has made as many mistakes, he's just lucky that the Eagles haven't caught his interceptable passes.

Andrew Potter: Per FootballZebras, which cites the replay casebook, what we heard is actually the rule. If there is no clear fumble recovery, the incomplete pass ruling stands even though the pass was complete.

The NFL rulebook is a mess.

Bryan Knowles: The way that rule is worded, it sounds like the coaches can only challenge things if there is a clear recovery, but the official challenges after the two-minute warning could rule whatever the heck they wanted.

The NFL rulebook is a mess.

Scott Kacsmar: Yeah, they need to clean that rule up. Not that we ever really see a situation like that, but there's no reason that shouldn't have been ruled a catch that stayed with the Bears at the spot he was down since no one recovered the ball. I also think this has been a more entertaining low-scoring game compared to the rest of the weekend. Just feels like these offenses are ready to break out or implode on every drive with a big play or turnover.

Vince Verhei: Itis haard to typ e wwith brainn ble eeeding outt.

Derrik Klassen: The Eagles secondary has really stepped up in this one. They have been better of late than they were to start the season, but I still would not have forecasted a near-shutout performance through (most of) three quarters. Been pleased specifically with how well they are clicking downhill, be that to defend a pass or clean up rushing/YAC plays.

Aaron Schatz: Eagles doing a phenomenal job on Khalil Mack tonight. Mostly Jason Peters, but even when the Bears move Mack to the other side or inside, he's getting blocked.

Bryan Knowles: My oh my, three big passing plays for Trubisky in a span of four plays, and the Bears jump back out on top. The screen-and-go could have been a touchdown if Trubisky had led Josh Bellamy, but they get the touchdown on the next play anyhoo. The two-point conversion fails on what looked like it was going to be some sort of shovel end around or something, but the Eagles are on top of it and collapse inside. 15-10, Bears.

Aaron Schatz: Well, the shutout from the Eagles secondary didn't last. First the Bears fooled the Eagles with a fake wide receiver screen and a wheel route from ersatz blocker Josh Bellamy. Then an out-and-up from Allen Robinson that got Avonte Maddox to jump on the double-move for a touchdown. Two-point conversion fails, so we're at 15-10 Chicago.

Vince Verhei: Holy crap. I knew Nick Foles had trouble with zone defenses, but the Bears are using two- and three-man rushes protecting a one-score lead, still with half a quarter to go.

Aaron Schatz: Then they throw a big blitz at Foles on a third-and-long and get an overthrow out of it.

Vince Verhei: Oh my god, this is now like the end of the Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl. Eagles have goal-to-go and need a touchdown to take the lead, but they don't want to score too quickly and give the Bears time to beat them with a field goal.

Aaron Schatz: Foles did a phenomenal job getting the Eagles down the field on this drive. The Bears smartly did start calling their timeouts. And then the Eagles called a timeout before the fourth-and-goal play. I guess we'll need to debate that. Either:

a) It was a terrible timeout because the Eagles needed to keep all three timeouts just in case they didn't convert on fourth down, so they could stop the Bears, get the ball back, and get another chance. This is my first instinct.

b) It was a great timeout because it allowed the Eagles to decide on "the perfect play" that would convert the fourth-and-goal, and it did.

Rivers McCown: Walt Anderson could not possibly be any more rattled by these reviews.

Bryan Knowles: You should probably know the perfect play going in without the timeout -- like, that should be something drilled into players beforehand. I think it's still a bad timeout, even with the good results.

Aaron Schatz: Allen Robinson with the corner against Cover-2! Bears move it into field goal range!

Bryan Knowles: From the wild-card preview:

"That leaves the Bears with the fourth-worst field goal performance this year, and I don't think any Chicago fan will be comfortable if Parkey is lining up to try a 40-yard field goal to win this one."

Cody Parkey did not just hit the upright. That did not just happen. This is not a thing that occurred. I refuse to believe it.

Andrew Potter: Cody Parkey did not just hit the upright.

He hit the upright and the crossbar.

Aaron Schatz: Just another reminder that you never can be satisfied with a 40-plus-yard field goal. You always want to try to get closer. I feel terrible for the Bears fans right now. There's an argument you can make that Nagy really hurt the Bears by not calling his first timeout with 1:50 left when the Eagles were at the goal line ... he kept one in case they needed it to set up a field goal attempt, but maybe with more time they could have gotten closer?

Vince Verhei: So ... huh.

Well, before we crucify Cody Parkey, let's remember that the Bears offense scored zero touchdowns in three red zone drives. It's on them more than it's on him.

Scott Kacsmar: Even 18 points usually aren't enough to get the job done in the playoffs. Still, if you told me Trubisky would be the weekend's only 300-yard passer and the Bears would not have a turnover, I never would have believed they would lose this one.

Aaron Schatz: One late addition if we want to mention it at the end: apparently Treyvon Hester of the Eagles tipped the field goal. It wasn't straight-out missed by Parkey.


160 comments, Last at 08 Jan 2019, 1:10pm

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

Really don’t understand why the bizarre fumble rule didn’t revert to first down at spot of ball being lost. There was a clear recovery, just by neither team - so treat the ref picking it up as the same as the ball going out of bounds perhaps? Though I am perversely impressed by the edge condition being covered by a specific rule, it does seem to be a rule written for the writhing mass of humanity kind of unclear recovery, not the players actually stop at the whistle kind.

There has apparently been a recent change to another kind of unclear recovery (in this case ‘pile of bodies in the end zone) :

Wonder if we’ll get one of them before the playoffs are over.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

Forget about the recovery issue since there was none, but presumably there WAS a whistle that caused play to stop once it looked like an incomplete pass. What happens if there is a legit play going on and a ref blows a whistle (inadvertently)? Things stop and the next play takes place after the wrongly-stopped play. In this case, just as you suggest above, it would be first down at like the 8 yard line or whatever.

The ref could announce that on review, "the catch was made but the ref's whistle stopped play before a recovery could be made. So it's 1st down Chicago...."

The whole issue of clear recovery or not, while problematic, should not have entirely disqualified the play. Do they blow whistles on incomplete pass plays? Jeez, after 50 years of watching the NFL and ten seasons of working my kids' football games, sidelines, booth, announcing, etc, you'd think I would know that.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

If you want to revert to inadvertent whistle, the result isn't Chicago's ball at the 8 with a first down -- it's a full replay of the original down and reversion of the clock.

There are enough rules stacked against defenses. We shouldn't start penalizing them for stopping at the whistle, too.

Incidentally, if the call on the field was the runner stepped out, and a defender then leveled them after the whistle for a late hit penalty, resulting in a fumble with clear recovery, and replay showed they weren't OOB; does the penalty still stand?

27 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

"Forget about the recovery issue since there was none, but presumably there WAS a whistle that caused play to stop once it looked like an incomplete pass."

It's not just the whistle, the ref ruled an incomplete pass, and they signal incomplete pass, and everyone saw it. It's too bad that it *should* have been called a fumble - although, again, before the season the one thing everyone said about the new catch rule is that it *will lead to more fumbles* like this. You can't fix every mistake with replay, and you're not trying to.

64 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

Exactly. It's exactly the same as if replay doesn't have enough evidence to overturn a call. In that case, there may be players who absolutely 100% knew that the call was wrong, because they saw what was obscured from the cameras. But you can't fairly overturn the call because you don't know for certainty what happened.

In this case you don't know for certainty what happened because the *players* didn't realize what was going on (as opposed to the *refs* not being able to see what was going on in replay) but it doesn't matter, same problem. They all thought it was an incomplete pass - including the receiver! - so sticking with what everyone thought was what happened is the only fair solution.

91 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying we, as fans, thanks to replay, can be certain that a catch was made and there was a fumble.

Just like we can be certain, in the Cowboys/Eagles game, that a fumble was made and that an Eagle would have recovered. Just like we can also be certain that a player's forward progress wasn't stopped if he scoots forward another yard or two after the play is blown dead. Just like we can be certain that in the Patriots/Steelers game last year, Brady fumbled, and a Steeler finally recovered.

But replay isn't about overturning *part* of a play. It's about replacing the entire ruling on the play with the correct one. Here, the *correct* ruling should've been fumble, which would've been followed by a scrum to obtain possession of the ball, which the Eagles probably would've gotten. But because we can't be certain that's what would've happened, we can't replace the ruling. So the original ruling stands.

Of course this is why the "overturn to a fumble with clear recovery" is such crap, because most of the time we *also* know that the correct ruling would've included a recovery, such as the Browns/Ravens game last week. So even there you're not replacing it with the "correct" ruling - just something the NFL considers "less bad," I guess.

Honestly if that crap rule has to stick around, the "no recovery = incomplete pass" part probably does make sense, as the "incomplete pass" option is probably the "least bad" ruling you can do. Giving the ball to the Bears there is crap because he *did* fumble, and giving the ball to the Eagles there is crap because they *didn't* recover. But I'd much prefer the crap rule to go away.

94 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

Replay can be about whatever we want to make of it. If we now know a catch has occurred, we can say a catch has occurred. If we now know a fumble has occurred, then we can say a fumble has occurred. if we know the ref blew the whistle, we can say the play ended there, and give possession to whichever team last had it. I agree that moving away from a hard and fast "the play ends when the whistle blows" paradigm screws things up. I still think it is worse to pretend a catch did not occur.

97 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

"I still think it is worse to pretend a catch did not occur."

It only looks like you're pretending a catch did not occur because of the Ed Hochuli rule. It's actually just not reviewable. If they had said "After further review, the calling on the field stands because absent a clear recovery, the ruling of incomplete as opposed to catch followed by fumble is not reviewable" doesn't that make more sense?

I just don't really understand what the alternative is here - the only other sane option I can see is no play, replay the down. Awarding a catch and just giving the ball back to the offense seems insane. I mean, *all* the players, *and* the referees thought that the defense did a great job to break up the play. I mean, isn't that saying to the defender "oh, no, you actually did *better* than that, you caused a fumble deep downfield, but we didn't realize that, so what you thought was a good play but what was actually a great play is now ruled a bad play"?

103 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

No, it is just an arbitrary decision to not make it reviewable. None of this is controlled by a deity or the rules of logic. My preference is to allow as much of a play to stand as possible. It is possible, and accurate, to say a legal catch occurred, a legal fumble occurred, then a ref made an error. The fact that his error may have influenced the behavior of players after his error is irrelevant to the physical acts of catching the ball and subesequent fumble. if you have a different preference, that's o.k..

112 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

"My preference is to allow as much of a play to stand as possible."

Yeah, I don't see how that's beneficial at all. My preference is to make sure that the rulings 1) encourage playing football, because that's what I actually want to watch, and 2) encourage refs to call the game correctly. So yeah, just a difference.

138 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

Because it encourages stupidity like grabbing every ball and fighting for it when a ball is defensed and called incomplete. That's not football, that's comedy. And if you're going to allow overturning incompletes to catch/fumble more often, the refs are going to start to just let things play out more, which again, is just going to lead to more silly plays on the field.

Again, everyone on the field thought that was an incomplete pass, and they acted like it was an incomplete pass. Including the receiver. Changing the ruling just means that the players are going to have to act *against* normal behavior in order to cover themselves for bizarro situations. Not worth it - if everyone on the field thought it was an incomplete pass, it's good enough for me. I only care about replay when there's a disagreement on the field, I'm not a great believer in "objective truth" in games.

143 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

"with the understanding that they are going get some bang/bang plays wrong."

This is only going to work if you have no replay whatsoever. Otherwise, it's simple: if they call it incomplete, they've affected the game - no matter what, the Eagles can't recover the ball, so if they're wrong, it's "ref, you suck" time. If they call it a fumble, they won't have affected the game, because replay can overturn the fumble into an incomplete, no harm, no foul, and no death threats sent to the ref's home.

And that's not exactly hyperbole, mind you, as there have been plenty of instances of that. The NFL stood by Ed Hochuli on that play - he did the right thing, after all - but that didn't stop the fans, all of the threats and it didn't stop Hochuli from feeling so bad as to have to make a public apology.

151 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

I have no idea why you are postulating a world where fans don't abuse refs. Such a world will never exist. It's simple. The managers of the refs tells them to blow the whistle when they perceive the play to be over, and it is understood that sometimes the play will be whistled dead prematurely, and the fans will howl, and the managers of the refs will have to explain that sometimes, due to an emphasis on player safety, plays will be whistled dead prematurely. Life goes on.

117 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

You are correct that the right answer here is not subject to logical deduction -- it's a subjective question of fairness. I think it's more unfair to give the offense the benefit of the catch when they may very well have lost possession entirely had it been ruled correctly, than to take away the catch. Taking away the catch splits the difference. Otherwise it's just another "screw the defense" rule. Additionally, any weakening of the "always stop at the whistle" norm may lead to injuries and so should be discouraged.

119 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

Fully agree that it is a profound error to not have a hard and fast rule that a play ends with the whistle. As to the rest, I've never thought fairness was a useful prism through which to view the world, in matters large or small, because that quality is so hopelessly dependent on the vantage point of the observer. In this instance, I just prefer to go with what I know to be a fact, and combine it with my preference for what blowing the whistle should mean. I know a catch occurred, according to the current rules interpretation, then a fumble occurred, then a ref blew the whistle. It's not a good outcome, but I prefer it to ignoring that a catch occurred. I understand that preferences will reasonably differ.

20 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

At first I wanted to hate this rule. It didn't make any sense to me. But if the objective is to provide a fair outcome for an early whistle, then this rule hits the nail on the head. If the refs had correctly ruled this play a completion/fumble, then clearly the Eagles would have recovered the fumble.
Since there was no clear end result of this play, the ruling on the field stands. I think I am okay with that.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

I thought sticking with Lamar Jackson in the second half after the first drive or two was completely crazy. The Ravens literally had negative net passing yards at one point. How on earth are you going to come back from a multi score deficit when your QB can't pass? Even when Jackson is at his best his strength is as a runner, which is much less valuable when you are trailing. Not to mention, according to DVOA Flacco was significantly better this year. Madness from Harbaugh, and I can only assume he decided it was more important to prioritize the future over actually trying to win a playoff game. But, I can't see what the logic was even then. Was he worried Flacco would play too well and they would have to resign him?

Despite being a semi blowout, I though the game was still pretty entertaining. Seeing the Ravens perform so badly on offense was its own kind of spectacle. Then we had the wild attempted comeback, although I doubt the Ravens chances at winning the game ever got to even 5%, so there wasn't that much genuine drama.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

I strongly second this opinion. It was a gift from God to the Ravens that they were still in the football game at the half after fumbling the ball three times in the backfield, throwing a pick, and having two three and outs. That kind of performance in a half often puts you down 24+; yet the ravens were only down 12 and were getting the ball to start the second half - I was sure I would see Flacco and some of patented "throw deep and hope for a flag" style given how perfectly it fit the situation. Instead there was just more bad football to watch (not to take too much away from either defense).

33 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

I agree. Changing QBs at that point would be like pulling a Koetter and benching Fitzpatrick because he had a 3 pick first half. So what? You think that makes any difference to his expected production in the second half?

Jackson gave the Ravens their best chance to score points in Q1 and he gave them their best chance to score points in Q4. I credit Harbaugh for sticking with the probabilities and not getting caught up on the results of the most recent coin flips.

24 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

Certainly they have to do something about the onside kick. Either a gimmick like you suggest, or a rule that you can declare you are onside-kicking, which means the coverage team are allowed to run up etc like in the old days (and with a penalty if you kick beyond, say, 20 yards).

I would prefer the latter. Does it have safety implications? I thought the kickoff collisions issue was around deep kicks where the coverage team has 20+ yards to build up speed before hitting the blockers

28 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

What's a gimmick about more red zone offense and defense determining the outcome of games? The most boring play in football is the touchback on the kickoff, which the league has actually attempted to increase the frequency of, while also attempting to decrease the chance of an onsides kick recovery, which makes the end of games less interesting. I understand why they think it is necessary, but when it gets to the point that you are actively trying to make the game more boring, it is time to rethink things on a more fundamental level.Get rid of the kick off completely, and incentivize teams to try 2 point attempts, by using the type and success of a PAT to determine field position and possession. Frankly, I'd make missing a short field goal more costly as well, so as to encourage more 4 down offense.

29 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

I like the proposal where the team that just scored would be given 4th and 15 from the 30 yard line. They can choose to go for it to keep the ball (probably higher % play than onside kick), or punt it away.

I forget who is the one behind the idea, and may be getting some of the details slightly wrong, but this makes the most sense to me. I think I read on PFT that Goodell is slowly getting behind this as an alternative as well.

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

Not bad, but I'd really prefer to build in more strategic elements into the PAT decisions. Coaches tend to dislike being subjected to more second guessing, but fans love to 2nd guess, so tough luck to all you coaches earning 7 figure salaries. I'd give possession at the 35 following a successful PAT kick, and at the 20 following a succcessful 2pt PAT, and put the ball at the 15 for a 2pt conversion if the team wanted to keep the ball.

42 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

This is the sort of area where we have to remember that this is an advanced stats website. Stuff like this might well enhance the enjoyment of strategy nerds, but most football fans are not strategy nerds.

We can all think of gimmicks/variations which would add yet more interest (and better ones than this - e.g. the field position auction to replace OT kickoffs) but that has to be limited/controlled in some way. Multiple different shades of extra point with different "kickoff" consequences doesn't pass that test, to my mind. The Schiano idea is a better one.

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

I wonder if the Ravens even had an offense in place for Flacco anymore. They went all-in on Lamar Jackson two or three months ago, I have to think the old playbook got put on ice at that point and probably hasn't gotten any practice time. Better to go with a somewhat ineffective offense than to suddenly be calling plays that nobody has practiced since week 9. Besides, with the way that the Baltimore offensive line (particularly left guard) was getting destroyed up front, it was probably better to have somebody in there who had a chance to escape the pass rush rather than somebody who would only be able to stand in there and take a sack.

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

From the Scramble Staff Fantasy Draft article, Bryan totally called the Chicago ending.

"Bryan: Do we get extra point for bouncing kicks off the goalposts? Because then Parkey would be a fantastic choice."

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Wild Card Round

The Bears smartly did start calling their timeouts.

Not smartly enough. The time to start calling them was after the completion to the two, because the odds that there would be three more opportunities to stop the clock -- that the Eagles would run on the first three downs and be stopped -- were quite low. And what do you know, those three plays included an incompletion, leaving the Bears with a timeout but minus the ~35 seconds that ran off before first and goal.