Audibles at the Line: Week 11
compiled by Bill Barnwell
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails 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.
Please also note that we do not write the e-mails specifically to produce this column, which 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 Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Raiders fan, not so much.)
Additional warning: For some reason this week, we felt like swearing. Not safe for work, at least if you work in a monastery.
Miami Dolphins 24 at Carolina Panthers 17
Aaron Schatz: It's not just about the offensive line with these Carolina running backs. You can see them slashing through the Dolphins defenders, the way they see where the holes are and shift to get like they're weaving through cones on a driving test. I wish we had a stat that could measure RB vision, that "hole-seeing ability." Frank Gore has it. Adrian Peterson has it. Williams and Stewart both have it.
By the way, Matt Millen just referred to Steve Smith as "an all-day sucker."
David Gardner: Well, it's good to see he's back to being the next John Madden.
Tim Gerheim: Matt Millen is killing me. (Maybe I'm channeling MDS.) He's bringing no insight, missing things, and getting things wrong. Having watched NFL Network's replay of Pats-Colts last night, the contrast between Millen and Cris Collinsworth (who has a high quality observation on almost every play) could not be more stark.
Tom Gower: Watching this game, I remain flabbergasted that John Fox not only doesn't bring in somebody like a Chris Simms who could challenge Jake Delhomme for his job, but instead gave him an extension. That interception he threw early in the 3rd quarter was rookie-quality.
Aaron Schatz: Matt Millen is like Cris Collinsworth, Madden video game version.
Is it me, or are the Dolphins not running the Wildcat in usual Wildcat form? Without Ronnie Brown, they're sticking Ricky Williams in a conventional single wing. They've got Lousaka Polite in a fullback position in front of Williams, instead of using him in Williams' usual spot, starting at wingback and sweeping across from left to right. I realize the Dolphins scored a touchdown from this, but I think that getting rid of that sweeping motion really ruins what makes the Wildcat special. You don't get multiple plays that start the same and
end differently. There's no play-fake, no counter, and apparently Ricky can't even pass as well as Ronnie Brown, at least if we're to believe the announcers. Does this formation as they're running it lead to anything other than a Ricky Williams run, either up the middle or sweep?
Doug Farrar: I don't think so. The mechanism is really based on Brown as the power/counter instigator and Williams as the sweep option, keeping defenses on their heels. Without it, they're able to pull and get power to the right side, but if they want any sort of versatility out of it, it might be up to Pat White to run the speed option, or the counter option they're running in Tennessee pretty successfully with VY and Chris Johnson. Brown has taken about 10 direct snaps this year before this game.
Tom Gower: What Doug said. I saw someone speculate they'd use Ginn in Ricky's old role, but while he's fast, he doesn't present the same sort of power problem that Ricky does-blitzing corners would work against him. They can't replicate the same versatility, so you're seeing just the normal direct snap single-wing plays.
I don't think White's been on the field yet, which has surprised me.
Aaron Schatz: They could try Lex Hilliard in the Williams role, I suppose.
Doug Farrar: I like that they’re doing what works with their personnel – just a lot of straight I- or offset I-formation, fullback lead and go. You’ve got a fullback who can just maul people and a good inside runner, so go for it.
The Dolphins are losing an offensive lineman on just about every play. Who do they think they are, the Seahawks? I know about injury luck regression, but this is ridiculous.
Tim Gerheim: What I've learned from Jake Delhomme during this game is that 52 is ALWAYS the Mike.
The Carolina linebackers have really been unimpressive today. I know it's the Dolphins and they're pretty good at running, but the linebackers look like they've done a very poor job of occupying their gaps, maintaining spacing, and avoiding the trash in the middle of the field.
Sean: It can be hard for casual viewers to appreciate the impact of losing offensive linemen, but in the first few plays after Jake Grove went out, Miami had defenders blasting immediately into the backfield right through the A gap, and at one point Henne couldn't even get the center exchange cleanly because of the pressure.
As for the Carolina linebackers, they've looked like bowling pins out there. I can't remember the last time I watched lead blockers so consistently pancake their defenders at the second level.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, they brought Grove in because Samson Satele was more rangy and better in space. Didn’t really work for the offense they run. Grove is much more that power guy. Where they want agility is with their guards, Smiley’s pulling ability being the best example.
David Gardner: Carolina's hurry-up offense is soooooo slow. Receivers are walking near the line of scrimmage to get set, and they weren't able to kill the clock after a first-down reception to get an extra play in before the two-minute warning.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 at Kansas City Chiefs 27
Doug Farrar: Opening kickoff of the Steelers-Chiefs game: Jamaal Charles. Kickoff return. Steelers are the other team. See if you can guess the outcome!
Mike Kurtz: Uuuuugh.
Vince Verhei: Any Given Sunday alert: Andy Studebaker is a Kansas City defensive end with nine tackles on the year coming into today's game. He has two interceptions today. The second came two yards deep in the end zone, and Studebaker returned it 94 yards to set the Chiefs up with first-and-goal. They are the Chiefs, so they go three-and-out, but they do kick the tying field goal. 17-17 at the end of the third quarter.
Doug Farrar: With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, down 24-17, Matt Cassel throws a bomb downfield to Chris Chambers for 47 yards. Chiefs tie the game on the drive. Chambers gets hurt on the play in the process of demanding a public apology from Bill Barnwell.
Bill Barnwell: Chiefs playing the Steelers close; actually had the ball just before the two-minute warning and an open Mark Bradley for a first down, but Matt Cassel threw the pass behind Bradley and Bradley promptly dropped it. Then, Derrick Johnson sacks Ben Roethlisberger on a play where Mewelde Moore blocks him up into the air into Roethlisberger, and Johnson grabs Roethlisberger in the air and eventually drives them both down into the ground. The refs follow that with a phantom penalty call on Wallace Gilberry that was never announced.
Mike Kurtz: Charlie Batch in for Pittsburgh after Roethlisberger took a shot to the head. On third down at the brink of field-goal range, a Mendenhall pitch loses a yard. Tomlin turns down the 55-yard field-goal try and punts instead. Ball goes into the end zone for an 18-yard net punt.
Vince Verhei: A deep pass to Chambers is nearly intercepted, but Ike Taylor can't hang on the ball. Next play, Chambers comes free on a crossing route for 60-some yards to set up first-and-goal from the 5. And the field goal by Succop is ... good! Chiefs win! Chiefs win!
Actually, can't really call that a dropped pick. He got both hands on it, but there was plenty of contact and the ball came free as both bodies fell to the ground. If anything it should be a pass defensed for Chambers.
Mike Kurtz: Steelers punt from their own 43 in a tie game with less than a minute left. On behalf of Steelers fans: Fuck you, Tomlin.
Fuck you for punting around midfield with a minute left in regulation. Double fuck you for punting at KC 36 in overtime. This is an absolute fucking shambles.
Aaron Schatz: What was the down-and-distance where they punted in each situation?
Mike Kurtz: Fourth-and-5 on each. The OT punt netted a whopping 18 yards of position.
Aaron Schatz: Where was the midfield one that upset you so much? Fourth-and-5 from midfield is not not an automatic "they should go for it here" situation.
Mike Kurtz: It around around the KC 45 with 30 seconds left. A punt means you go into overtime. Going for it gives you a shot at keeping your drive alive and getting a FG. Either Tomlin was playing to not lose, or he had no faith in his defense, which seems a bit silly for the Steelers.
Aaron Schatz: Someone else can run the percentages, but honestly, that's not ridiculous. Fourth-and-5. If you have it back to them... I mean, there's faith in your defense to prevent 55 yards, and then there's faith in your defense to prevent 25 yards. That's how close Kansas City would have been to a long field goal if the Steelers went on fourth-and-5 and failed.
Mike Kurtz: Prior to overtime, the Chiefs had around 220 yards of total offense, including a goal-line stand where the chiefs actually went backward. Up until blowing the overtime possession, the defense was doing its job well.
Tom Gower: I don't really have a problem with Tomlin-KC had against the Jaguars shown they could hit the college-style "random deep ball" offense, and 1 of those was all they needed for a game-winning score.
Vince Verhei: I'm all in favor of leaving the curse words in Audibles this week and just doing the most profane edition ever.
Tomlin was right to punt in regulation. Roethlisberger had also been sacked several times on the Steelers' last couple of drives, so you're risking handing the Chiefs 7 or 8 yards right there. Then with 20 seconds, you're one deep ball to Chambers, one pass interference call, or a couple of completions to other guys away from losing on a field goal. Too much can go wrong there.
The one in overtime though was a lot more questionable. I think the run on third down was intended to set up a fourth-and-short, and when it lost yards, Tomlin decided to just play it safe.
Indianapolis Colts 17 at Baltimore Ravens 15
Doug Farrar: This is becoming unfair. On Indy’s opening drive, Manning throws deep incomplete into double coverage for Pierre Garcon to start the game, and I’m thinking, “He’s coming back to that one”. Four plays later, a 66-yard bomb to Garcon followed by a quick out in the end zone to Dallas Clark in which Clark catches the ball one-handed and holds it up like a pizza. On both of those deep throws, Manning had oodles of time. That needs to not happen all day, Ravens.
Aaron Schatz: Peyton Manning throws second interception of the game on a deep pass where he tries to thread it in as two Ravens defenders converge. First one was Dallas Clark, second one Reggie Wayne. I wonder -- is he not seeing the safety is going to come over, or does he think he can get it into a hole that's not going to be there? Frankly, neither one sounds like Peyton Manning to me, so who the heck knows.
Mike Kurtz: The Ravens were cunning, allowed a long bomb completion in the first quarter which led to a touchdown. This gave Manning a false sense of security, leading to a Reed interception at the goal line.
Doug Farrar: I wouldn't say the first pick was all on him -- it was more a tip drill to Clark -- but his reads seem pretty questionable today. He's throwing into more traffic than I'm used to seeing him do.
Bill Barnwell: Sometimes, great players make great plays. Impossible to anticipate what Ed Reed might read.
Aaron Schatz: Question especially to Will or Ned if you guys are out there... what happened to Fili Maola? They drafted him in the second round, I thought the whole point was that they would be able to go bigger at defensive tackle to stop running teams like Baltimore. I don't think I've seen him on the field today.
Will: Just hasn't won the job. Coyers has been very big on performance. The thing I've heard is that while they expected him to be slow, he's a step slower than that.
Doug Farrar: Colts defense is making it pretty tough to do anything else on the fourth-quarter goal-line stand. Not sure why the Ravens called a delay to McGahee on third down, but kudos to Clint Session for blowing through and forcing yet another field goal.
Aaron Schatz: I wonder what the Colts saw on film that made them say, "Gee, this is the right week to make Tom Santi a major part of the offense." It isn't like Baltimore's been particularly bad against tight ends.
Doug Farrar: I really like this Garcon kid. He gets absolutely 'faced by Ray Lewis near the two minute-warning, jumps right up, and starts barking at #52. He's tough when it comes to gaining the extra yard, as well.
Mike Kurtz: Harbaugh Martzing it up, Colts get a really obvious first down when the receiver stretches for it, Baltimore calls a timeout, THEN challenges and loses, which means they lose two timeouts on the play. Awesome.
Aaron Schatz: Terrible, awful. Coaches need to stop challenging plays that are too close to find indisputable evidence. Way to cost yourself all your timeouts there.
Doug Farrar: I don’t remember a two-week stretch with so many questionable challenges. And this with Romeo Crennel out of the league!
Aaron Schatz: Ed Reed, I know you like to lateral all the time on returns, and I know that your knee might have actually been down on that fumble, but what's wrong with you?
Doug Farrar: Well, there’s your KCW winner: Ed Reed, ladies and gentlemen! No way they overturn that one.
Will: I think it's a practice time issue. Garcon was banged up, Collie's in the doghouse, so Santi's there. They haven't run a lot of routes for TE2 at all, so there's something of a surprise effect and keeps the LBs a bit honest.
On Santi's goal line fumble, he was knocked unconscious briefly. Watch his arms and eyes if you see that close up they did.
Ed Reed's play at the end has to be the biggest difference between "smart player" and "dumb play" I've ever seen.
San Francisco 49ers 24 at Green Bay Packers 30
Vince Verhei: Remember when San Francisco drafted Alex Smith first overall and let Aaron Rodgers slide down the draftboard? At halftime, Rodgers is 22-of-31 for 274 yards. Smith is 3-of-7 for 5 yards. His three completions: A six-yard pass to Michael Crabtree on third-and-19, a five-yard loss to Frank Gore, and a four-yard pass to Vernon Davis on third-and-9. He has also been sacked three times.
Tom Gower: Way to go, Mike Singletary. Uses his last TO on a challenge to turn third-and-inches into third-and-a yard, only it doesn't work. Rodgers sneak, ballgame.
Buffalo Bills 15 at Jacksonville Jaguars 18
Tom Gower: Lee Evans is open 18 yards downfield in the middle of 4 Jaguar defenders. Fitzpatrick almost hits the upper-right Jaguar defender. Hey, Buffalo, Ryan Fitzpatrick is NOT an NFL quarterback. You know this. Do something different.
Boy, that was some incredible clock management by the Bills at the end of the half. They spiked the ball at the Jaguar 12 with :26 to play in the first half, had a TO left, and barely managed to get 2 plays off. They completed a quick pass to TO to the 5 for a first down and, rather than taking the TO and running 3 passes trying to get into the end zone, decided to hurry up to the LOS. Which takes them until about :05 left in the half. At which point they give Fred Jackson a inside handoff. They're danged fortunate he only got 1 yard and Fewell got the TO called immediately, or else the half would've been over. Just a terrible job of end-of-half coaching and execution.
Roscoe Parrish stupidly catches a punt at his own 5 and gets tackled at his own 2 after retreating. No matter, Fitzpatrick calls the audible and hits TO up the right sideline. TO outmuscles the corner for the ball, and it's clear sailing for a 98 yard TD pass. Up 15-10, the Bills run a gimmicky 2-pt conversion play out of FG formation, but the throwback pass is too far for an open DE Ryan Denney.
According to the TV guys, Perry Fewell described Jags TE Marcedes Lewis as the best tight end in the AFC. I have nothing to say to that comment.
Eric Wood is now on the ground, which means the Bills are down 2 OL this game. This is getting ridiculous.
Paul Posluszny seems to be over-aggressive in attacking the wider holes, which is something the Jags have exploited a little this game.
Wood got carted off with his left leg already in an air cast. Marshawn Lynch also went to the locker room in the first half, and has been ruled out with a shoulder injury, not that he's better than Fred Jackson.
TO has been getting a lot more targets than Lee Evans. I'd like to think that's an example of TO being better at going over the middle, where Fitzpatrick has a chance of throwing the ball successfully, rather than the squeaky wheel getting the grease.
I really, really, really can't get the Jaguars. They pound MJD into the line twice on first and goal, forcing Buffalo to use TOs to preserve time for a comeback, then finally decide to pass (like they did the entire drive down the field, successfully) and come up with a nice play design-Holt iso left, trips right with Lewis, Wilford, and MSW, then run Holt on a drag shallow and MSW on a deeper drag left. MSW's defender gets caught in the trash, and there's an easy TD. OC Dirk Koetter really has some nice scheming like this, but MJD's also 25 for 66 against what has been a terrible rush defense.
Atlanta Falcons 31 at New York Giants 34
Bill Barnwell: Giants build their early offense around swing passes to Brandon Jacobs, which works when the Falcons blitz, but doesn't when they get pressure with four. After a sack and a swing pass for no gain, a rush on third-and-29 gets in Eli Manning's face, and the result is an ugly pick into double coverage.
The Giants offense is extremely frustrating so far. Eli's nearly thrown three picks through two drives. They're running these weird plays to get outside -- like toss sweeps out of the shotgun. You're the New York Giants. You're supposed to have an elite offensive line.
Doug Farrar: Is Jacobs still running like there’s a four-way stop at the line of scrimmage?
Bill Barnwell: They're actually getting Danny Ware involved, and he's doing the same thing.
Pretty clear the Falcons don't believe that Chase Blackburn knows what he's doing. They're using a lot of formations with two tight ends on the strong side and Snelling's cutting all his runs back straight up the middle. Just led to a touchdown after Blackburn overpursued the motion on the handoff, which screamed outside run.
Lawrence Tynes misses a chip shot after a mix of good Eli (great touch on a double move to Manningham) and bad Eli (misses an open Boss badly on a deep out in the end zone, nearly takes a delay of game penalty). Moose: "Second week in a row the Giants have struggled with field goals." Giants had an open date last week.
Chase Blackburn's having a nightmare day. He's been ugly in run defense, and just took a bad holding penalty on a third down play that got extended. He's not C.C. Brown bad, but teams are going to be able to exploit that as long as Antonio Pierce is hurt.
According to the announcers, the Giants "hold the Falcons to a field goal", which involves committing a defensive pass interference penalty inside the ten and then Michael Jenkins dropping a pass wide open in the endzone.
The Falcons score with a handful of seconds left and with the game at 31-30, they choose to kick the extra point instead of going for two. No Belichick effect there.
Despite nearly blowing it with multiple ill-advised passes, the Giants eventually kick a game-winning field goal. Falcons never touched the ball after tying the game. Overtime rules are awesome.
New Orleans Saints 38 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7
David Gardner: Earnest Graham is ripping through the Saints defense on the Bucs' opening drive. Saints run defense has been exposed in the last three games when they haven't had the benefit of a big lead.
Tom Gower: And teams have had time to see how they play without Sedrick Ellis.
David Gardner: In his pre-snap reads before being strip sacked, Josh Freeman pointed at Saints backer Scott Fujita and said to his line "you better guard the fucking edge out there." Nice. Oh, and they didn't guard the fucking edge.
Vince Verhei: Josh Freeman hits Michael Clayton on a fade route for a red zone touchdown. There was blown coverage on the play and Clayton was wide open, but it was still a nice pass by Freeman, a touch pass to the outside where not even a great play by the safety could have broken up the pass.
Doug Farrar: True to their end of the deal, the Bucs defense allows the Saints to drive 68 yards down the field for a touchdown. On the touchdown pass, Meachem was matched up against Bucs' linebacker Geno Hayes. Pitch and catch.
David Gardner: Raheem Morris has wasted both of his challenges already here in the second quarter with five minutes left. The first was on a punt that was clearly downed at the 1-yard line, and the second was on what Morris thought was an interception but clearly bounced off the ground.
Doug Farrar: Seriously – over the last few weeks, is someone sending out joke memos to coaches saying that challenges are 2-for-1?
David Gardner: Antonio Bryant has fallen down on a couple of crucial passing plays for the Bucs. If there's one thing particularly encouraging about Josh Freeman's early performance it's that he can fit the ball into tight windows. He throws hot out routes to the right places and isn't afraid to split defenders in the middle of the field.
Washington Redskins 6 at Dallas Cowboys 7
Doug Farrar: The Cowboys started their first drive by running all over the Haynesworth-less Redskins front four, until London Fletcher popped the fumble from Marion Barber, and DeAngelo Hall recovered. After the play, Hall was on the ground, barely moving, and Romo looked shaken up as he got up from making the tackle. Joe Buck (with alarm in his voice): “And it looks like Romo’s hurt!”
Bill Barnwell: It's no "Oh no, there's a man down!"
Cowboys are gashing the Redskins up the middle. Turns out they're a lot worse with Albert Haynesworth on the sideline.
They're also, predictably, killing Jason Campbell, who's had a mix of nice adjustments for decent gains, sacks/blown plays, and premature checkdowns.
Doug Farrar: As near as I can tell, here’s what’s going on in Dallas near the end of the first half: Jason Campbell got rid of the ball rolling right behind the line of scrimmage just before he stepped out of bounds. The call of a sack was overturned on booth review and changed to an incomplete pass. Alberto Riveron, for some reason, called delay of game on the Redskins, which I assume was cancelled out because it didn’t show up on the play-by-play. It took the refs a few minutes to figure that one out. Then, Shaun Suisham missed a field goal, and Romo ended the half with a kneeldown. Did I miss anything? I was in and out with Red Zone.
Vince Verhei: You know how we've all been begging the Cowboys to run more? At halftime, they have 22 runs and 12 passes -- and the result is a 3-0 deficit. I give up.
Cleveland Browns 37 at Detroit Lions 38
Tom Gower: In the Battle of the Suckiest Bunch of Sucks That Ever Did Suck, Detroit Lions pass efense fails harder than Cleveland's pass ffense, as Massaquoi is open by about 10 yards downfield which is enough room for Quinn to find him for a 59 yard TD.
Doug Farrar: Quinn to Josh Cribbs for his third touchdown pass of the first quarter. That was set up by a Matt Stafford pick to Eric Wright in which the Lions’ offense proved that they can’t play defense, either. Wright ran around with the ball for about five minutes before someone felt like tackling him.
Aaron Schatz: Part of me is happy to see Brady Quinn put up a huge game a few days after ESPN published my first ever front-of-the-magazine column detailing how Brady Quinn needs to get more of a chance. The other part of me is very, very sad, because Jim Schwartz is so, so desperate for defensive backs who can actually play in the NFL.
Aaron Schatz: They waived Jason David after a week, because, sadly, Jack Williams is better than him. Honestly, who is out there that the Lions should be going after? The only thing I can think of is Fakhir Brown playing in the UFL.
Bill Barnwell: Anyone. It's pretty well-established those guys are sub-replacement level. Bring in a bunch of rookies that need their technique refined. Sign some guys off practice squads. Anything. You're hoping to find guys who are going to contribute to the next good Lions team, and these guys are veteran stopgaps.
Tom Gower: Are we sure Schwartz is totally in charge of the personnel department? Bringing in veteran stopgaps who are sub-replacement level, but not really, really awful is the kind of thing somebody like Martin Mayhew might do if he was going to get fired if the Lions were bad enough.
Aaron Schatz: Right, that's also true. Schwartz isn't in charge of personnel, Mayhew is.
Vince Verhei: Well, if Detroit is THAT desperate, Pac-Man Jones is out there.
Bill Barnwell: A 75-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson ties it up at 24-24 before the half. Awesome.
Tom Gower: Which is the suckier thing to do: to give up a 21 first quarter point lead to a team that's scored 5 TDs all year before that game, or to blow a 21 point lead in a quarter to a team that's 1-28 in the past two seasons combined?
Bill Barnwell: Announcers are aghast at the Browns not kicking a field goal on fourth-and-4 from the Lions 29 in a tie game. What do you have to lose?
Tom Gower: On 4th and 9 from the Lions 21 with :13 left in the half, the Browns direct snap to Phil Dawson in FG formation and he throws complete to Mike Furrey for 10 yards and a first down. The Browns call TO with :06 left, and Dawson kicks a FG to give the Browns a 27-24 halftime lead.
Mangini is probably going to get ripped for running a fake FG and a FG on consecutive plays, but I'm actually pretty much fine with what he did there. I would have kicked the FG, because one of the benefits of going for it is the other team doesn't have good field position if you fail, and the end of half negates that scenario, but your defense has given up 21 straight points, so you can't rely on 3. Going for the fake is a reasonable decision-4 extra points is a reasonable game. But, the Lions don't screw it up. With :06, you can't rely on getting to run a play then an FG, so you go ahead and kick the FG there. There's an element of "Look how clever I am" masterminding there, but, hey, you're Mangenius coaching the Browns and playing the Lions.
Aaron Schatz: I just grabbed my phone, and it looks like Tanier's been texting me his Audibles comments because he won't be near a computer today. Here's a timeline of his comments:
12:57: I'm about to watch Cleveland-Detroit next to a guy in a Calvin Johnson jersey. Life is strange.
1:37: Poor Mr. Schwartz. Bar switches TV to Pittsburgh-Kansas City, WITH the Calvin Johnson jersey guy's blessing.
2:08: This is why they should never change a TV in a bar.
2:36: Phil Dawson is right-footed but left-handed!
3:21: This is the Liberty Bowl. Oh, and Massaquoi drops two straight.
Tom Gower: The Browns have a third-and-5 at their own 43 with 1:45 or so left with a chance to end the game with a first down. Naturally, they go empty backfield, the Lions blitz, Quinn throws incomplete, and the Lions are driving for the potential game-winner. Browns 40, :27 left after a spike, down 6.
WOW. Lions at the 32 with :08 left. Stafford scrambles around for about :10, then unleashes one into the end zone, but it gets picked. Alas, there's a flag down, as Hank Poteat shoved Bryant Johnson out of the back of the end zone before the ball got there. Stafford got hurt when Mosley slammed him down into the ground. After the Browns take a TO, Stafford comes back into the game (he'd gotten an injury TO, so if Mangenius hadn't called the TO, the play would've been run with Culpepper), and sticks Brandon Pettigrew. Hanson hits the PAT, and the Lions win! Awesome ending.
I also can't leave this game without mentioning Randy Cross is absolutely aghast that there wasn't a complete furor being made over the officials charging Detroit a timeout for Stafford's injury when they were out of time outs. Uh, Randy, teams get a 4th TO for injury before being penalized for delay of game. Wouldn't knowing the rules be a helpful part of your job?
Seattle Seahawks 9 at Minnesota Vikings 35
Vince Verhei: Brett Favre-to-Percy Harvin puts Minnesota ahead 7-0 early in the second quarter. The Seahawks got a couple of sacks on the Vikings' first possessions to keep Minnesota off the scoreboard. They got no help from their offense, which used a series of cleverly designed botched screens to finish the first quarter without a first down.
And then the Seahawks finally get a first down, and on the ensuing third down they try Seneca Wallace at quarterback, and he promptly runs out of bounds for a 9-yard loss. That's all he ever does. I never want to see him at quarterback again.
Doug Farrar: So, if the Seahawks want to play nickel all the time and take Aaron Curry off the field, why was linebacker David Hawthorne covering Harvin on that touchdown? Do they need to go back to the half-dollar defense (somewhere between seven and 15 defensive backs) they ran last week?
Aaron Schatz: If you are going to play nickel, why would Aaron Curry be the guy who comes off the field? Isn't he your best linebacker at this point?
Doug Farrar: I’m firmly convinced that Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp would lose yardage on purpose so that he could go for it on fourth down from inside his own 30.
Seahawks bring extra men to the line late in the second quarter, and the Vikings immediately adjust out to a four-wide with Visanthe Shiancoe split side left. Shiancoe beats Deon "Milk Carton" Grant for the touchdown. Ben Obomanu fumbles the subsequent kickoff return. Vikings' ball. Aaron, you wondered last week why the Seahawks contingent wasn't commenting much on their games. This is why. They're bad, but they're not entertainingly bad. They're just "We're waiting for Tim Ruskell to get fired" bad.
Tom Gower: Question for the Seattle contingent then: Holmgren as GM/President, picking his own coach. Yay or nay?
Doug Farrar: Better than what they’ve got, but I’m not convinced of Holmgren’s personnel skills. I’d rather see them go as the Falcons did, with the best available sub-GM guy and a hungry assistant coach ready to kick some ass as a head coach. Thanks to Ruskell’s missteps, this isn’t going to be a one-year rebuild. They need guys who are going to be patient for the long haul, and I don’t see Holmgren orchestrating a rebuild. He’d be better served running a team that’s a few offensive players (especially a quarterback) away. A lot of what was credited to Holmgren as GM was the work of Ted Thompson and Scot McLoughan.
The Vikings bring Tarvaris Jackson in before the start of the fourth quarter. I’m hoping that in future days, when Seahawks beat writers recall the end of the Ruskell era, they’ll refer to this as the tipping point.
I don’t know what’s more pathetic about the Seahawks – that they had the same number of penalties as first downs (10), or that they had four net yards rushing. Four. In the entire game. Justin Forsett “led” the team with nine yards on nine carries.
Arizona Cardinals 21 at St. Louis Rams 13
Kurt Warner is out with a head injury, but it won't matter today, not if Wells and Hightower keep rushing like this -- they've cranked out 150-plus yards already early in the third quarter. They're also ahead 21-3. That'll help.
Bill Barnwell: It's an easy 150-plus yards, too. They're getting seven yards past the line of scrimmage before being touched.
Vince Verhei: Um, guys? The Rams have come back and are driving for a potential tying touchdown. And it's not because the Cardinals have turned the ball over, or because Steven Jackson is going insane -- it's because the Rams receivers are making big plays all over the place. Deep down the middle, over to the sideline, on screens -- the Cardinals suddenly stop these guys named Gibson and Amendola.
Bill Barnwell: The Rams are going right after Mike Adams at corner, play after play. Never has Bryant McFadden looked so good.
Tom Gower: Sure, and it's partly because the Rams converted 3 4th downs on the drive to make it 21-13. The Rams are also really annoying me because Gibson, and to a lesser extent Avery, are whining for a flag after every incompletion. Gibson just did it on 3rd down after dropping a TD pass, while Avery did a little bit of it after the 4th down pass falls incomplete.
I have to question the Rams' play-calling a little there. You have 3rd and 4th and reasonable distance after the Gibson catch, and you don't give the ball to your best offensive player. Sure, I know, passing, but he's Steven Jackson. Your team is bad. Get the point.
Aaron Schatz: How does Leinart look? Or are they running so much that he's hardly throwing anything?
Vince Verhei: Leinart looked OK. Accurate and poised and smart, but aside from one nice third-down conversion where he went through his reads under a heavy rush before finding Early Doucet for a first down, didn't really do anything special.
New York Jets 14 at New England Patriots 31
Aaron Schatz: I have some good news and some bad news for the Jets. The good news is, Darrelle Revis is draped on Randy Moss. The bad news is, everyone else is wide open, especially Wes Welker, over and over again. Come to think of it, that's not really good news for the Jets, just for Darrelle Revis' ego.
24-0 Patriots with two minutes left in the first half. Boy, the Patriots clearly lost their championship swagger when they blew that fourth-and-2 play last week.
Vince Verhei: And after Belichick sabotaged the confidence of his defense, they've held the Jets to 29 total yards and two first downs in the first half.
Tim Gerheim: I want to see a review of the reviewability of that Welker non-catch, since the booth review was called down very close to the ensuing spike snap. I love the idea of a meta-review.
Aaron Schatz: Mark Sanchez's favorite receiver today is Leigh Bodden. Just threw this third interception right to him, matching Dustin Keller's three receptions or the three receptions that Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery have combined. NFL Matchup this morning showed that Mark Sanchez has terrible footwork when throwing to his left. I just went and looked: All four interceptions against the Patriots were to the left. Eight of his 12 interceptions before today were to the left.
San Diego Chargers 32 at Denver Broncos 3
Mike Kurtz: Norv, naturally, can only be adequately described as "Norv."
Tom Gower: Dawkins is questionable with a neck injury for the Broncos. How shocking, a 30+ year old DB got hurt. Also, Neckbeard is warming up on the sidelines, because, frankly, the Chargers' current 10-0 lead (2Q 7:07) might be safe unless the Broncos get a special teams score.
Russ Hochstein knocks the ball out of Knowshon Moreno's two-armed grip as he's crossing over the goalline. It's a ruled a fumble on the field, and the Chargers recover in the end zone for a touchback. McDaniels challenges, and loses. It's a very close call, and there's not enough evidence there to overturn. Tough break for the Broncos, and a sign of how thin the edge can be.
Orton was in for the Broncos that drive, and looked significantly better than Simms; accurate and decisive with his throws. It probably helped his ankle that he could have read every Sunday paper published in Colorado one play before finding Gaffney. And he just got picked by Cromartie on the next possession-good play by #31.
Aaron Schatz: The Broncos have to cut Chris Simms now, right? I mean, if you give the guy the whole week as the starter in practice, and he's so bad that you have to bring in your heavily injured regular starter before you even hit halftime, then there isn't much point in having him around. They might as well just make Brandstater the backup.
Bill Barnwell: Mixed signals in Denver-San Diego. Broncos ran a surprise onsides kick, but most of the Broncos on that side of the field ran through the ball; Andre' Goodman had it go right through his hands. Legedu Naanee recovers.
Tom Gower: Josh McDaniels, why is Kyle Orton in the game? You're down 26-3 with
Cincinnati Bengals 17 at Oakland Raiders 20
Vince Verhei: Bruce Gradkowski hits Zach Miller for a touchdown near the end of the first half to make it 14-7, Bengals. The Raiders now have THREE passing touchdowns all year. There are at least 37 players in the league with more receiving touchdowns than the Oakland Raiders. (I'm not sure if ESPN's numbers are updated with today's games or not.)
Bill Barnwell: Huge swing in Oakland, where the Bengals are up 14-10. The Bengals line up in a Pro Set on third-and-goal from the Raiders 2, and run play action, but Stanford Routt comes off the edge and Carson Palmer pulls one of those I'm-going-to-keep-retreating moves to create space, only to never actually get the ball off. It ends up being a megasack for 18 yards or so, and Shayne Graham misses the ensuing field goal.
Tom Gower: Also, Solomon Wilcots on Bruce Gradkowski's holding on to the ball too long: "It's like holding on to a hand grenade, bad things happen." Because, yeah, footballs explode. I think I saw that in some movie, or some movie should have that as its gimmick.
Mike Kurtz: Monday Night Jihad, obviously.
Tom Gower: Raiders' offensive strategy, final drive of regulation: find Morgan Trent in coverage, throw ball.
Rob Weintraub: Trent has actually been pretty solid this season as nickel back, and was superb against Pittsburgh. But that was bad coverage. Of course, it was only the 12th or so bad play in a series of them that let this one slip out of Cincy's grasp.
Doug Farrar: I’ll give Gradkowski credit for the throw across his body to Louis Murphy for the late touchdown/non-touchdown. I wouldn’t assume that Russell puts it together to exploit the rookie.
Oh, WOW. Ed Reed, you have KCW competition when Andre Caldwell doesn’t secure a kickoff and fumbles inside his own red zone. Now, we await the SeaBass field goal attempt... and it's good. Raiders win.
Vince Verhei: Going into Monday night, Oakland now has four touchdown passes on the year; 24 individual players have more than that, and Andre Johnson can make it 25 if he catches at least one touchdown against Tennessee.
Philadelphia Eagles 24 at Chicago Bears 20
David Gardner: On third-and-1, Vick gets his biggest play of the season so far. He got a nice hole off right guard, put a move on Manning at the second level, and ran for 35 yards.
I just can't help but think that the Michael Vick from a few years ago wouldn't have been tackled from behind like that.
Aaron Schatz: This ain't your daddy's Chicago defense, kids. No Cover-2: Bears are playing single-high safety on pretty much every play, and blitzing plenty. Eagles, seeing this, call the perfect play in the red zone, a screen to Jason Avant. Touchdown.
Mike Kurtz: Gigantic run by Bell, got a good block (I know!) at the line, squeaks through and... there's nobody in the secondary. Everybody is on the WRs, who were running intermediate routes. So Bell just runs and runs, the WRs throw some good blocks, and down to the 10. Crazy play. I know the Eagles don't respect the Bears' running game, but that was a bit extreme.
Aaron Schatz: I think the Eagles got caught in a blitz also.
Mike Kurtz: Yeah, it was a huge blitz, but the safeties (as far as I can tell) were deep and to the sides, instead of cheating up in case the Bears ran (as far as I could see/remember).
Vince Verhei: It was a blitz to the strong side with eight in the box, and Bell ran to the weak side and slipped by all of them. Then there were only the corners and a single safety.
Aaron Schatz: Good catch by the NFL Matchup guys. They said this morning that Jay Cutler is throwing much better against the blitz, and tonight the Bears have had their best success both rushing and passing when the Eagles blitz. Which is a problem, because the Eagles blitz more than almost any other defense in the league.
Doug Farrar: I've seen him throw two picks this season where he rolls out to the left as a designed play, and whoever designed that play needs to stop. There are guys who can throw going away with little momentum, but Sanchez is not one of them. He needs to have his feet pretty solidly under him with a good plant to make accurate throws.
David Gardner: DeSean Jackson was so open on that touchdown that it didn't even matter that McNabb underthrew him by about three steps. That was your dad's Bears' defense there, they were playing Cover-2 and Jackson split the safeties beautifully.
Bill Barnwell: No stats to back this up, but the Eagles' DL have to be among the best in the league at recognizing and sniffing out screens. The Bears have ran two of them tonight, with the Eagles doing very good work on both. Forte nearly ran to the opposite hashmark to get away from the defensive linemen on the last one.
Doug Farrar: Were Cutler’s mechanics this bad in Denver? It seems that he’s trying to throw a fadeaway jumper with anything up in the air. He’s not putting his body behind his throws, and it’s anyone’s guess where those things are going when he’s "arming" everything.
Mike Tanier: I don't think the Eagles played any better this week than in the last two weeks. They just faced a weaker opponent, made a few better short yardage and red zone plays, caught a break or three. They are on par with the other NFC East teams, none of whom look exceptional right now.
What's frustrating about rooting for an NFC team is that nobody ever falls by the wayside. Sure, the Redskins are toast, but the Big Three keep hovering within a game of each other until the end of December, even if they aren't playing very well. The Giants found a win Sunday, then the Cowboys really found one, then the Eagles, with none of them really stepping up and saying they're the best team in the division. Compare that to say, the AFC East, where we now know it's Patriots trying to hold off Dolphins, or the NFC North where it's now Vikings keeping Packers at Bay.