Audibles at the Line: Week 10
compiled by Rivers McCown
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.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks 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 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.
Thursday, November 10th
Oakland Raiders 24 at San Diego Chargers 17
Mike Tanier: Oh, the game started. I lived three full lifetimes waiting for it.
Tom Gower: I was hoping they'd start soon after the start of the hour, like they did when Thursday Night Football first came back, but no such luck.
Mike Tanier:I can't hear the game audio from where I am situated. What was the explanation of the Quentin Jammer Death Grip?
Tom Gower: There was no flag thrown for pass interference because, as Ed Hochuli explained, there can be no pass interference from punt formation. Otherwise, teams would fake punt regularly and get a pass interference call every time from the normal gunner jostling.
Mike Tanier: That explanation makes sense, and hence caught me off guard.
Aaron Schatz: Except on special teams, Oakland has really dominated the first 20 minutes of this game.
Mike Tanier: Chargers drives evaporate from my memory as they happen. The McNeill injury doesn't help. There is really a mystery about this team? They have one good healthy receiver and a banged up tight end in the passing game; the line is only so-so. I thought this might be a Philip Rivers problem, but I now think he is bailing the boat.
Aaron Schatz: Well, the thing is that last year the Chargers had the same so-so line, no good healthy receivers for most of the year, and the banged-up tight end was so hurt that he was off the field. Despite that, Rivers was awesome. That's why his struggles this year are so surprising.
Mike Tanier: They had Darren Sproles, and Malcolm Floyd. And Naaaaaannnnnneeeee was better then the guys behind Jackson now.
Aaron Schatz: True, I forgot about Floyd being currently injured.
On the other hand, Rivers is struggling against a Raiders team that has three healthy cornerbacks, one of whom (starting!) is Lito Sheppard.
The problem with the passing game is a broader issue, namely that they seem to have difficulty completing passes between five and 30 yards downfield, and it's hard to hit enough of the deep downfield passes to have a pretty offense. With Antonio Gates out earlier, and limited now, I don't see anybody with the quickness to reliably get open in those intermediate areas. Add in a little bit of bad decision-making and some forced deep passes from Rivers and you get what's happened this year. (I haven't watched the Green Bay game yet, so this is off the games prior to that.)
Mike Tanier: Don't discount Legedu Naanee. He can hold. Holding is a skill.
Doug Farrar: The Chargers refusing to give Brandyn Dombrowski any help in the first half brings to mind my favorite Ralph Wiley quote: "A man's got to know his own limitations. If he doesn't, his coach should."
Tom Gower: Great grab by Vincent Brown to make it 17-10 early in the third, I presume to honor his San Diego State Aztecs marching band doing the halftime show. That was another one of those throws by Rivers ... Brown running the deep out, it looked, right into Stanford Routt, and the ball's thrown right where Routt is only Brown comes away with the ball.
Tom Gower: I have no idea what Hue Jackson saw on that Palmer fumble late in the third quarter that inspired him to throw the challenge flag. I could almost understand the Tony Dungy-style "I hope we win this" challenge, but Jackson simply saw something that wasn't there and there wasn't anybody who could check his initial inclination.
Mike Tanier: When the NFL channels the West Coast Avengers, this Brown kid is their Torrey Smith.
Doug Farrar: Sheppard has the Roy Williams Disease. "No ... not in the hands!" And shouldn't that be a delay of game penalty to kick the ball after the play?
Mike Tanier: Heh. That Rivers interception int the fourth quarter brings us back to square one.
Vince Verhei: So is the 2011 AFC West worse than the 2010 NFC West? I feel like it is. All four of these teams feel like complete trainwrecks. Kansas City has lost their best player on offense and one of their best on defense, and they've lost three games by 28 points or more in half a season. The Raiders failed to acquire a backup quarterback in the offseason, and when their starter got hurt they made a panicky trade that's going to cripple them long-term. Denver has benched a lame-duck quarterback for an experiment that has been hysterical at times. And every time San Diego is in a close game, they fumble a snap or give up on a pass or find some other way to turn the ball over.
The 2010 NFC West, by comparison, had trainwrecks in the Singletary quarterback shuffle in San Francisco and Arizona cutting their starting QB on the brink of the season, but St. Louis and Seattle just seemed like garden-variety bad teams to me.
Doug Farrar: This is directly from Moore's (now edited) Wikipedia page:
"Next he freakin' kicked assmosis over the Chargers in a rare Thursday night game in San Diego. And lo, verily did the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) bestow upon the city of Oakland a glorious young receiver to relive the glory (it can be used twice in the same sentence) days of the winningest team in sports to fulfill the imperative to "Just Win, Baby". With the birth of the Occupy Oakland movement, consensus is that Oakland is soon to resolve the third leg of the Resurrection Tripod (Good god Gwen Stefani is hot in this postgame L'oreal commercial), the third corner being ridiculous amount of homicides in various non-yuppie (still a word) parts of Oakland. Actually, the third leg of the tripod is the one that most needs to be resolved, so freakin let's discover human decency people. Oh, achieving the Resurrection Tripod means the world gets better forever, blah blah blah. Anyway, Moore is freakin' exciting. We got Plunkett in Palmer grizzled vet'ing his way to the Superbowl. Perry the Platypus gives it two thumbs up."
Mike Tanier: Next year's player comment for the almanac has been written!
Robert Weintraub: One thing about Palmer -- he's always played well in Whale's Vagina. Last year, he was 16-of-21 for 269 yards and four touchdowns in a win. In 2009, 27-of-40 for 314 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception the week of Chris Henry's death. He had a huge game against the Chargers in Cincy in 2006 as well -- 31-of-42 for 440 yards and two touchdowns. Something about those lightning bolts gets him going.
Sunday, November 13th
Houston Texans 37 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9
Doug Farrar: If you want to see a great example of run action and how you can really fool a defense with it, watch Matt Schaub's touchdown to Jacoby Jones on the first play of this one. The line slid away from playside, totally selling run-blocking, Schaub rolled the other way, and bam -- six points. It showed how well the Texans' linemen work together and how you can use run action as a real weapon when you've established the ground game.
Rivers McCown: I guess the one thing that has jumped out at me about Tampa is just how bad their pass protection is. Josh Freeman has consistently been under siege (I know this is common with Houston opponents this year, but on a play-by-play basis this is worse than most of their games) and his throws have suffered. When they haven't allowed pressure, they've stalled a couple of drives with holding penalties.
Danny Tuccitto: Am I the only one who, when they hear the term "under seige," immediately thinks of Steven Seagal on a battleship?
Mike Kurtz: I think "aw crap, my ridiculous cavalry is now useless."
Vince Verhei: I think more of Erika Eleniak jumping out of a cake.
Danny Tuccitto: After that visual, Vince, I now feel like I should append "not that there's anything wrong with that" to my Seagal comment.
Mike Tanier: The couple next to me had no idea who Larry Hagmen is. Should I kill myself?
Robert Weintraub: When I think Larry Hagman, I think of his cameo in Oliver Stone's Nixon. He was a scary bastard in that one.
Aaron Schatz: For those of you who don't know and might possibly care, TNT is actually bringing back Dallas next year, with Hagman and Patrick Duffy as the older generation trying to pass their oil companies on to a bunch of Real Housewives of North Texas types.
Mike Tanier: Hagmen also happens to be in the crowd of tha Cowboys game. He may or may not be David Nelson's girlfriend. Or at least his genie in a bottle.
Danny Tuccitto: Over-under on how many episodes the new Dallas airs before a "Who shot Bobby?" cliffhanger to goose sagging ratings: 12.5. I mean, they can't possibly shoot J.R. again, but Bobby's got to be fair game.
Rivers McCown: In other news, the Texans are systematically destroying the Buccaneers now.
Channeling Jim Harbaugh from a few weeks back, Gary Kubiak just drew the "unsportsmanlike conduct" flag for challenging a non-reviewable play (a late touchdown score by Tampa). Such a silly rule.
Vince Verhei: Matt Leinart in for Houston. His first regular-season game played since Week 17 of 2009.
Buffalo Bills 7 at Dallas Cowboys 44
Aaron Schatz: Let us briefly discuss the first Buffalo drive of today's game, and what it says about winning at the line of scrimmage.
On the first play, the Bills offensive line slides right, away from DeMarcus Ware. My guess is that back Fred Jackson was supposed to go left and block Ware, but he screws up and goes right, which means Ware comes untouched and clobbers Ryan Fitzpatrick for a 10-yard sack. This brings up the question -- even if Jackson does the right thing here, do you really want to leave Ware to your running back one-on-one?
Then, after a short pass to Donald Jones, we've got third down. This time Ware is actually at an inside linebacker position. The Bills protection is more even, with the left tackle taking the guy in front of him, the left guard taking the guy in front of him. I'm assuming that center Eric Wood is supposed to have Ware coming the middle. But instead, Ware stunts around to his right and comes in to the left of the left tackle. So does cornerback Frank Walker on a corner blitz. So Wood is standing there with nobody to block, while poor Fred Jackson is now trying to block two guys. Yeah, that's not going to happen. Sack for Walker.
Mike Tanier: Andy Levitre just got plastered by Ware late in the first quarter, so maybe the Bills figure it's just not worth it.
Aaron Schatz: I was curious about the Buffalo defense, which seems to be up-and-down this year, so I went and looked. They've had two crazy-good games and the rest of the time they suck. Today they particularly suck:
Danny Tuccitto: By virtue of playing in Dallas, I believe the Buffalo Bills have officially surpassed Texas A&M for worst pass defense in the Lone Star State.
Mike Tanier: Between the Eagles and Patriots games, I think the Bills had 35 tipped ball interceptions.
Aaron Schatz: Points to Chan Gailey for not being a wuss. Down 28-7 with 25 minutes left, he had Buffalo go for it on the Dallas 17, knowing they needed touchdowns and not field goals. They went for the whole enchilada and had an incomplete pass in the end zone, but at least they went for it.
OK, well, that's it. It's been fun, but at 3:20 p.m. EST on November 13, 2011, both CBS and I are calling the Buffalo Bills' season. The Bills are getting clobbered by Dallas enough for CBS to make the rare in-game switch and show us Pittsburgh-Cincinnati instead. I doubt the Bills have another insane comeback in them. When you look at the easy schedules in the AFC North, and you look at how the Jets' and Patriots' schedules each get easier after tonight and the Bills still have to play at the Jets, at the Patriots, and at the Chargers, it's really hard to see how the Bills somehow work their way out of the bottom two in that six-team group of playoff contenders. Add another year onto the streak.
Washington Redskins 9 at Miami Dolphins 20
Danny Tuccitto: The Dolphins score on their first drive, which included an end-around flea-flicker and a running back option pass. Both were unsuccessful, but the shenanigans are in full effect. Also, on Reggie Bush's touchdown run, the entire Redskins goal line defense crashed inside, leaving the edge wide open. Watching that, I could only help but wonder whether any defense would have totally vacated that area earlier in Bush's career.
Although Rex Grossman has already taken two third-down sacks midway through the first quarter, neither was his fault. Instead, the Redskins' two injury replacements along the line were mostly to blame. The first sack was schemed to perfection by Miami, with Cameron Wake faking his pass rush just long enough to grab the attention of new right tackle Sean Locklear, which allowed Karlos Dansby to have an unabated path to the quarterback. It was one of those deals where the lineman has an "oh s---" moment while standing around blocking air. The second sack resulted from a blown block by new left guard Maurice Hurt.
Because I'm watching this game, I guess I'll make the obligatory comment about Mike Shanahan's running back usage: In a just world, Roy Helu -- at the very least -- earns feature-back status the week after having 146 total yards against the 49ers defense. And because I'm the sport psychology guy here, I'll also add that one sure-fire way to kill intrinsic motivation is to sever the link between effort and achievement. I'd really love to know what's going on in the heads of Helu and Ryan Torain right now.
Ben Muth-bait at 3:42 of the second quarter in Miami. Marc Colombo was embarrassed by Ryan Kerrigan, who ran by Colombo as if he was standing still, and hurried Matt Moore into an incompletion. Colombo: The right tackle who makes rookies look like Lawrence Taylor.
It's painfully obvious just how limiting Shanahan's John Beck experiment was to Washington's offense. Last week against the 49ers, everything was dink and dunk. This week against the Dolphins, Grossman is throwing downfield much more. Maybe it's the difference in opponent, maybe not. In Beck's four starts, he completed 23.8 percent of his deep passes for 9.9 yards per attempt. In Grossman's five previous starts, he completed 50 percent for 12.2 yards per attempt. Both benefited from similar yards after catch by the receivers, so the difference between the two seems like a simple matter of Grossman being better at completing passes downfield. Obviously, he's also good at completing deep passes to the other team, but interestingly enough, he had three interceptions in 32 deep attempts, whereas Beck had the same number of interceptions in 11 fewer attempts.
I guess these kinds of stats are part of the reason why Shanahan made the switch back to Grossman, but it's just too bad for Redskins fans that he threw away a 3-1 start in the process of figuring it out. Not saying they'd be 7-1 right now if the Beck experiment never happened, but being able to keep pass defenses honest might have given them a fighting chance in a couple of those games.
Just as I say something nice about Grossman, Train Rex pulls into the Miami Gardens, Florida station. Trailing 13-9 with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Washington had the ball at the Dolphins 10-yard line, poised to take the lead. Grossman tried to thread the ball to Jabar Gaffney at the 4, but it was picked off by Dansby, who undercut the slant route. Miami then went 81 yards in 10 plays to go up 20-9 with about six minutes left. Redskins went from potentially up three to down 11 in a matter of minutes in real time.
Arizona Cardinals 21 at Philadelphia Eagles 17
Mike Tanier: Early in the Eagles game I am wishing I bought a DeSean Alarmomatic.
Vince Verhei: When we redo the "worst trades" story, as far as trades that are bad for both teams, we need to include the Kevin Kolb deal. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't been much help to the Philadelphia defense, and John Skelton has looked as good today for Arizona as Kolb has all year.
(Of course, as I type that Skelton throws a pick-six to Asante Samuel for the game's first score.)
Mike Tanier: DRC appears to be hurt. Call somebody who cares.
Ben Muth: Nnamdi Asomugha just lined up in the neutral zone in press coverage and got flagged. Not sure I've ever seen that before.
Alright, the Eagles have to be shaving points now. First Michael Vick overthrows a seam route in double coverage that Richard Marshall manages to not intercept. Then, on a third-and-20, Steve Smith catches a 15-yard pass and falls down two yards in front of the first down marker for no apparent reason.
Aaron Schatz: With the Red Zone channel going back and forth between this and Saints-Falcons, there's not enough visual evidence for me to do any serious analysis, but I would bet that with the all-22 film we would find out some astonishing defensive happenings that explain how the Eagles managed to let the Cardinals march down the field at the end of this game. I don't know how deep safety Jaiquawn Jarrett gets beaten deep by Larry Fitzgerald. He's your deep safety. I assume he wasn't on Fitzgerald man, right? (Right?)
Mike Tanier: Just a reminder that I will be at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Monday and I will sound like a mix of Thomas Paine and Robespierre. Andy Reid and his hand picked coordinator, Juan Castillo, must be fired as soon as possible in the name of football-loving humans everywhere. To suggest otherwise is to be a Cowboys fan.
Robert Weintraub: Free Library? Is there a library that you have to pay for the books in Philly? ...I'm here all week, folks,
Aaron Schatz: The opinion of one of our readers on Twitter, "Stephen B. Awesome," is that the third-and-10 play really did have Jarrett in man coverage on Fitzgerald. Even if it was a zone ... how do you have third-and-10, for the game, with Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel on your defense, and not have one of them on Fitzgerald?
Robert Weintraub: Can Stephen B. Awesome play defensive back for the Bengals next Sunday? I think we may need him...
Mike Tanier: Because you are Juan Castillo and you are grossly incompetent, promoted bacause the boss likes you. Why should we assume professional football is always a meritocracy? I have been promoted a few times for being tight with the principals. It doesn't happen in journalism of course. (Shine your shoes, Aaron?)
Tennessee Titans 30 at Carolina Panthers 3
Tom Gower: Contrary to my expectations that they'd get crushed, the Titans have a 14-0 lead on the Panthers in the first quarter, thanks to a punt return touchdown by Marc Mariani and a 43-yard touchdown pass to Damian Williams after a Greg Olsen fumble inside the Titans 10. By all rights, Williams should have been stopped short on third-and-8, but defensive backs Sherrod Martin and Darius Butler whiffed badly, and D-Will had clear sailing to the end zone. The other big play on the touchdown drive was a 28-yard gain on a flare pattern to Chris Johnson, where he outran linebacker Omar Gaither.
Brian McIntyre: The Panthers rank 32nd in special teams DVOA entering the week and allow a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown after a three-and-out to start the game. This is the third time this season the Panthers have allowed a punt return for a touchdown on 12 total returns by their opponents. Remove those three touchdowns, which have been by likely 2011 Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson and 2010 Pro Bowlers Devin Hester and Mariani, and the Panthers have allowed just one punt return yard on nine returns.
Rivers McCown: Other than those returns, how was the play Ms. Crossman?
Tom Gower: The Titans have a 17-0 lead at the half. A couple things of note:
Instead of a committee, this is a situation where Johnson is getting the vast majority of the snaps and Javon Ringer is playing only in spot duty. Johnson has a couple decent receptions, but is still running ineffectively and with particularly poor vision -- bad enough that even Solomon Wilcots (who had been in the tank for him) criticized him for being slow to identify a hole.
The Titans' defensive effectiveness is largely the result of getting early down pressure on Cam Newton, showing that even a struggling secondary can cover if they don't have to forever. That's put the Panthers in unfavorable down-and-distance situations, and Newton has struggled to find the holes in the Titans' secondary that the past couple weeks have shown are there. Can the Panthers make adjustments for the second half the same way the Bengals did? We'll see about that one.
I should also mention the Titans had a personal foul on the final play of the first half, so the Panthers tried a surprise onside kick on the second-half kickoff from midfield, and it did not work.
Denver Broncos 17 at Kansas City Chiefs 10
Aaron Schatz: Curious about this game. When people say that Tim Tebow is running "the option," I assume that means read option plays, where the quarterback sticks the ball in the belly of the back from the shotgun and then either gives it or pulls it out. Are they running any conventional speed option where the back and quarterback both go around the edge?
Mike Tanier: The option thing is our colleagues talking out their butts. Remind me to flesh this out later, but it is a mix of choice read option plays, power runs, and a lot of scrambles.
Vince Verhei: I have seen at least one old school option pitch play. Tebow pitched it, and it gained one yard.
At halftime, Denver has four pass plays, all incomplete. They have 28 rushes for a 6.0-yard average. Six different runners have carried the ball, and each is averaging at least four yards a carry. Four of them have at least one 10-yard run. They're also ahead 10-0, so they may not throw the ball at all in the second half.
Danny Tuccitto: Having a two-score lead at halftime is John Fox's wildest dream. Over-under on number of Tebow passes in the second half: 6.5. Any takers?
Vince Verhei: I will absolutely take the under on that.
Tom Gower: 6.5? Up 10? I would've thought more like 3.5, but with a higher average since there's a chance that if they go over, it's because they have to throw.
Mike Tanier: I kept assuming I missed a complete pass by the Broncos. Glad I didn't.
Vince Verhei: At the end of the third quarter, Tebow is now 1-of-7 for 13 yards. His leading receiver is somebody named Matt Willis.
This is a good time to remind everyone that John Fox once won a game with a quarterback who went 4-of-7 for 32 yards.
Ben Muth: Tebow plays awful for 50 minutes, waiting for the Chiefs to lower their defenses, and then he unleashes a strike to Eric Decker for a long touchdown. As long as the Broncos never play anyone good, I'm convinced he can make it as a starter in the NFL.
Danny Tuccitto: Let it be known that, with six minutes left, Tebow has thrown four passes in the second half. The under is looking pretty solid, but the over-under doesn't seem to be as outlandish as initially perceived.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know who the announcer is in this game, but he just had one of the best lines I've ever heard. As the Broncos and Chiefs fight over an onside kick, he says, "Satan lives at the bottom of an NFL pile."
Ben Muth: Not to mention he helpfully pointed out that the ball is not round. I was never sure about that.
Robert Weintraub: Steve Tasker. Actually, he's used it before, but he gets to. It is a dandy description.
Ben Muth: When was the last time both quarterbacks threw for under 100 yards in a game?
Vince Verhei: Tebow finishes with one of the more awesome stat lines you'll find: 2-of-8 passing, 69 yards, 1 touchdown ... 102.6 rating.
Comparing him to some other QBs today: Tony Romo had more touchdown passes (three) than Tebow had completions. However, Tebow had more incompletions than Romo (also three).
On the other hand, Michael Vick completed less than half his passes for eight yards per completion, with a pair of interceptions, so I think Tebow's safe from the bottom of Quick Reads.
Finally, remember that this is what Tebow looks like against Kansas City, the 22nd-ranked pass defense (by DVOA). On Thursday night he plays the Jets, No. 1 in pass defense DVOA. I. Cannot. Wait.
Mike Tanier: The Raiders gameplan included a handful of simple read options: the play where Tebow either hands off inside to McGahee or keeps it and runs off end. It is often called quarterback choice or quarterback read in the video games. There were not that many of them, but several were very effective, in part because Tebow runs well, in part because the Raiders were horribly undisciplined trying to stop it.
That said, many of Tebow's rushing yards in that game came from scrambles, and they used many conventional run and pass plays. The story got warped into "the Broncos are running the option" by folks who only watched the highlights and looked at the stats.
This week's gameplan was more option-specific, with a lot of counters and some triple-option stuff. And of course, the effectiveness amounted to 17 points against a so-so defense. So I will be writing the "can this be kept up" article for NBC, and must figure out how to pad "no" out to 900 words or so.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 at Cincinnati Bengals 17
Robert Weintraubi: I've been holding my breath all season whenever A.J. Green goes up to make a play. Of course, those fears crystallize as he gets hurt against Pittsburgh while making a touchdown catch over two defenders. Please don't be seriously hurt. Green looks gimpy on an end-around. That's the fourth end-around of the game, two per team, and it's early in the second quarter.
Doug Farrar: There was one practice day at the Senior Bowl where the wind really kicked up –- I think it was Thursday –- and his throws were all over the place as a result. He has more velocity now than I expected, but his stuff seems to have its limitations.
Robert Weintraub: I'll take the smarts and poise he has shown and live with the lack of arm strength.
Cincinnati can't complain about only being down 17-10 under the circumstances. The Pass rush has shown itself, even without Carlos Dunlap.
Vince Verhei: In the third quarter, Green is riding the stationary bike on the sideline as the Bengals offense is driving.
Robert Weintraub: Dalton was plenty good on a play-fake-and-floater to Jermaine Gresham for a touchdown, despite pressure from James Harrison. Dalton hung in and put it in the perfect spot for Gresham to run under it. And we're tied at 17!
Also, Leon Hall out with an Achilles injury, Kelly Jennings is replacing him. That can't end well, and sure enough Rashard Mendenhall runs through a Domata Peko tackle and scores. 24-17 Steelers. Key to the drive: picking on Jennings when he was in man.
Green is still on the bike. He's climbed L'Alp D'Huez by now.
Mike Tanier: A.J. will never catch Osi Umenyiora. He is circling the Champs Elysses.
Vince Verhei: Remember the "horizontal yards" feature Bill Barnwell wrote for April Fool's one year? We seriously need to invent that stat to evaluate Antonio Brown on punt returns. I swear he moves through 20 yards of actual space for every yard he moves forward.
Has anyone ever wanted to actually pause a TV and then unpause on another TV in a different room? I'm trying to think of why that would be a big deal.
Rivers McCown: Vince, you haven't lived until you pause J.R. getting shot in your living room, then start it up again while you're on the can.
Aaron Schatz: I'm guessing Rob is pretty angry about the holding call on Andrew Whitworth that killed a Bengals conversion on third-and-4. I didn't really see a hold there either. Neither did Dan Fouts announcing the game.
Robert Weintraub: Even the neutrals sitting near me are confused, lest you think that's my striped eyes getting angry about it. He barely even blocked, much less held.
Mike Kurtz: I'd be more sympathetic to holds on Steelers opponents if they didn't get away with uncalled holds on Steelers linebackers every other play.
Robert Weintraub: William Gay with a big pick of Dalton with 2:30 to play. Gay's had a good game, and that was a tremendous play to jump the slant. Of course, where there is a Dalton interception, you'll often find Jerome Simpson lurking about, rounding his route or failing to get a hand on the ball. The replay confirms my suspicion. Sure enough, Simpson stopped when Dalton thought he was running. Hard to know who exactly messed up, but I'll put my money on the guy who has screwed up for years. Almost a carbon copy of the game-ending pick against the 49ers in Week 3, except that was Gresham running the wrong way.
Overall, I'm crushed--this was a winnable game. But there have been plenty of Bengals teams that would never have gotten off the deck after getting punched so hard early. Considering they were right there without Green, Dunlap, and Hall -- arguably their three best players after Dalton -- I can't be too down on them.
New Orleans Saints 26 at Atlanta Falcons 23
Mike Kurtz: The Falcons defense is completely confused. After playing good pass defense for most of the first half, the (probably) last New Orleans drive of the half is characterized by completely blown coverage on Jimmy Graham on two out of three plays. Each time the linebacker released him to ... nobody. Result: about 40 yards and a touchdown. Never change, Atlanta.
With 40 seconds remaining in the half, and the Falcons at their own 20-yard line or so, Matt Ryan zips a huge completion to Harry Douglas to New Orleans' 40 with about 0:32 left. Nobody calls timeout for about five seconds, for some reason, dropping Atlanta down to 0:27. On the next play, Ryan takes the ball after about two seconds in the pocket and runs for eight yards. Atlanta calls its final timeout. The next play is a draw, which gets a first down, but since Atlanta is out of timeouts, by the time they spike the ball, there are only 10 seconds left. Their next play is their only shot at the end zone, Ryan sits in the pocket for about four seconds and chucks it into the tunnel. The kick, naturally, misses.
Daryl Johnston summed it up well: "I ... uh ... um ... wouldn't have done that."
Robert Weintraub: Someone needs to tell the Saints' prevent defense that they are up by three, not more. 55 yards in two plays over the middle.
Big replay overturn in overtime -- on third-and-short, Ryan flats one to Mike Cox, who stretches out to apparently get a first down. But replay says he lost control first, so it's fourth-and-inches instead, and the Falcons go for it on their own 30! And the Saints stuff the run on fourth down! Wow. Somewhere, Barry Switzer and Bill Belichick are smiling.
For what its worth, Georgia Tech did exactly the same thing a couple of nights ago -- went for it on their own 30, and were stuffed. Of course, that wasn't in overtime.
Vince Verhei: Every person who can see this play knows it was going to be Michael Turner up the gut. The Saints stuff it for a loss. They take over within range of a winning field-goal try. Meanwhile, even if the Falcons had picked up the first down, they still would have needed another 40 yards or so for a field goal of their own. The rare case where a coach decides not to punt, and it's a bad decision.
Aaron Schatz: Even I, a great believer in going for it on fourth down, have to object to Mike Smith's amazingly ballsy call to go for it on fourth-and-inches on his own 30 in overtime. You simply can't risk giving the other team the ball in field-goal range in a sudden-death situation. That's not the same consideration as going for it during regulation.
Robert Weintraub: Yeah, that was simply idiocy rather than letting your nuts hang low. If John Madden were doing the game, he'd be all "What are you doing? The game's TIED!" I think the replay overturn got Smith all addled. It also guaranteed that there will be talk about Ryan not being big enough to run a quarterback sneak in that situation, which is the only call I can see. "Too frail!" they'll cry, "We need a big quarterback like Josh Freeman!" And in this one specific instance, they'll be correct.
Aaron Schatz: I saw some people on Twitter comparing Smith to Bill Belichick for the famous fourth-and-2. But on that famous fourth-and-2, the Patriots had a six-point lead. Even if they gave the ball back to the Colts in field-goal range, the Colts needed more than a field goal. Plus, if they converted, the Pats would have iced the game. If the Falcons had converted there, they would have ... still been 40 yards from a winning field goal.
Vince Verhei: Yes. To this day, I think Belichick made a reasonable decision there. (The error was the pass on third down.) This, I can't wrap my head around.
Aaron Schatz: Our ex-compatriot Bill Barnwell argued on Twitter that Mike Smith made the right decision because the Saints have a terrible run defense (80 percent conversion rate allowed on short-yardage situations going into this week). Anyone here want to make that argument? I think that's a great argument for going for it on fourth-and-1 in the middle of the third quarter. In overtime? Nope.
Mike Kurtz: As much as it pains me, I'll back Barnwell up. 80 percent is fantastic odds, and Smith shouldn't have had any faith in his defense at that point.
Tom Gower: The Saints are terrible in Power situations, but the Falcons are hardly any better. They're 26th on offense, converting 54 percent of the time. When the benefit from a successful conversion is only a first down at your own 30 and you're in a next score wins situation, I'd punt.
Vince Verhei: 80 percent chance of converting means, what, a 50 percent chance you eventually punt anyway?
Aaron Schatz: I understand that the math might even come out favoring this decision. The problem with that is that the math on how often fourth-and-1 converts, and how often you win with the ball at certain yard lines, is generally going to be based on plays that happened in regulation, where the circumstances are different. There's very little chance here that the Falcons "take a shot" with a pass. If you want to argue that coaches should always go for it on fourth-and-1, no matter the situation, then I guess you could argue that. But if you are going to start crossing fourth-and-1 situations off the "go for it" list, this is probably the first type of situation you should cross off.
I should also note that the Falcons had the ball on fourth-and-1 in a very similar spot with 1:58 left in the second quarter and punted. If you argue that Smith made the right call in overtime, don't you have to argue that he made the wrong call in the second quarter? Perhaps that cost them the chance to win in regulation.
Baltimore Ravens 17 at Seattle Seahawks 22
Vince Verhei: On their opening drive, Baltimore ran back-to-back end-arounds. That's basically a direct message to the Seahawks defense: "We think your discipline and gap control sucks." And both runs picked up first downs, so I guess they're right.
Doug Farrar: And yet, they were forced to try a field goal. If Joe Flacco can ever get that GPS working, this team could actually win a Super Bowl or something.
To this point in the game, the Ravens have thrown 18 passes with only five runs, and two of those runs are by wide receivers. I realize the Seahawks' run defense is far and away the best part of the team, but this is ridiculous. This is like those mid-90s New England teams that couldn't run at all, so they had Drew Bledsoe throwing 50 passes a game even though he wasn't that good.
Doug Farrar: The interesting thing to me is that, from the ultimate All-22 view in the press box, the Seahawks are playing their safeties shallow for the most part and daring Flacco to beat them deep. Two overthrows to Torrey Smith in the first half confirm the wisdom of that call -- at least, to start.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks go into the half up 19-7. It's their first halftime lead of the year, and the biggest lead they've had all season.
Your Keep Choppin' Wood award nominee is Ravens kick returner David Reed, who has fumbled away two kickoffs to set up Seattle field goals, and was also called for a personal foul after deliberately dropping the ball on a Seahawks defender.
Ravens' special teams have also missed two field goals (from 50 and 52 yards) and had a 28-yard punt to set up another Seattle field goal.
Doug Farrar: Seattle's defensive backs have been manhandling Baltimore's receivers, getting called for one defensive pass interference with a few other borderline plays. But it's working. They've limited Flacco to 13-of-24 passing for just 113 yards.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks stuff the box. Flacco tries to throw a quick slant, but an unblocked K.J. Wright tips it into the air, and David Hawthorne reels it in to set up yet another field goal. Seahawks up 22-7. Steven Hauschka has now tied a team record with five field goals, and there are still 27 minutes left in the game.
Tom Gower: Flacco was called for a horse-collar tackle after that interception. My life is now complete.
Vince Verhei: Seattle went to a prevent defense in the third quarter and Baltimore had what seems like a 20-play drive that ended in a field goal to make it 22-10. They still trail by two touchdowns, but I do not like how conservative the Seattle defense is.
On the field goal, Baltimore was called for what I think was their third personal foul. Seattle has one too. Surprisingly testy game for two teams with about zero history.
Aaron Schatz: Pete Carroll believes that the sins of the brother shall be visited upon the other brother.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks have a third-and-3 at midfield. They put four receivers in a diamond formation out wide, a neon sign screaming "WE ARE ABOUT TO RUN A WIDE RECEIVER SCREEN," and the ensuing wide receiver screen is stuffed for a loss. Is Greg Knapp back?
Doug Farrar: No. If Knapp was still there, Tarvaris Jackson would have ignored the receivers and run the "Tavariscat" for a loss of 9.
Vince Verhei: Ravens punt and the ball is bouncing around the goal line. A half dozen Baltimore players are surrounding it, trying to keep it out of the end zone, when suddenly a man in a Seahawks jersey, No. 55, with "FALWELL" on the back, appears. I have no idea who this man is, he could be a fan for all I know. This Falwell person then does his best to Leon Lett the ball, diving in to tap it, which would make it a fumble. Ravens fall on the ball, and it looks like Baltimore has a first-and-goal. Refs bail out Falwell and say the ball was dead by that point.
Is it wrong of me to want Falwell fired on the spot? Had that play been ruled Baltimore's way, it would have been more negative value than Falwell will ever make up in his career. I want Pete Carroll to take his helmet, symbolically decapitating him, and I want Falwell to have his locker cleaned out and vacated, and perhaps set ablaze, before this game is over.
Tom Gower: If the Ravens had touched the ball before Farwell picked it up, the worst possible result there is the Seahawks get the ball where the Ravens touched it.
Vince Verhei: All right. The Ravens had touched the ball. Tom's explanation has soothed me. Thank you, Tom.
Aaron Schatz: What's odd is that Heath Farwell has been considered one of the best special teamers in the league for years. He was in Minnesota before this year.
Ben Muth: Not sure about the NFL, but in college, once a punt is touched by the defense, anyone on the offense can touch it with no consequences. As an example, let's say the Seahawk player picked the ball up and ran with it 50 yards before fumbling to the Ravens, Seattle could still take the ball where Baltimore originally touched it. It's a weird pseudo-immunity situation.
Vince Verhei: Kam Chancellor is called for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Fans are outraged and booing and cursing. Meanwhile, Chancellor is on the ground not moving. And that is why these hits are illegal: they are dangerous for the hitter as well as the hittee.
Flacco follows with a touchdown pass, and the Ravens are down just five with nearly six minutes to go.
Aaron Schatz: OK, we've switched to the end of the Ravens-Seahawks game. Dan Dierdorf is heaping praise on Marshawn Lynch for the amazing game he had today. He's got 32 carries for 109 yards right now. That means he's averaged about 3.5 yards per carry. That's reasonable against a good defense like Baltimore, but it isn't amazing. Dierdorf is the oldest school of the old school.
Vince Verhei: The Seahawks' final drive is their best of the day, and it scored zero points. It did, though, run out the entire clock to close the game. Lynch had multiple first downs on the drive. On one third-down reception it looked like Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnson had him boxed in for a stop, but Lynch put them both on the ground with a sick head fake. Later he ran up the gut for what looked like a two-yard gain, the pile moved eight more yards downfield.
Aaron Schatz: Then Lynch must have been sort of lame for most of the day, because that sure doesn't sound like a back averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Brian McIntyre: Lynch's rushing numbers aren't impressive, but his effort on those runs, right up to his very last first down run, was praise-worthy. Lynch also had a team-high five receptions for 58 yards.
Doug Farrar: Plus, Lynch got a lot of yardage after contact. Seattle’s justifiably-maligned line also played much better this week and last week -– there was one play on the first Seahawks drive today where Robert Gallery pinched inside and just bulled Haloti Ngata back.
Vince Verhei: Announcers and casual fans tend to fall in love with Lynch because his runs look like so much work. Runner A may zip through a hole for four yards, get hit, and fall down. Lynch would go through the same hole and get two yards, but move the pile for two more yards. It's four yards either way, but Lynch's run has more entertainment value.
One of the analysts on Seattle radio after the game was trying to imply that Lynch would have been a serious upgrade over Shaun Alexander for the Super Bowl-era Seahawks because Lynch would have run harder. Obviously that was a great offensive line, but to suggest Alexander was a minimal talent who was just along for the ride is pretty silly. But he was not a "hard runner," and Lynch is.
New York Giants 20 at San Francisco 49ers 27
Danny Tuccitto: My first official comment for the 49ers game is, "Thank you, Mike Smith, for prematurely ending your game so that I can actually watch mine." San Francisco is finally the No. 1 FOX game after what seems like eight years of regional-coverage-only status, and it's preempted by Saints-Falcons for most of the first quarter.
Danny Tuccitto: Quite a sequence of events in the last few minutes of the first half. A wicked break by Victor Cruz on a corner route sends Carlos Rogers spinning like a top, but Cruz drops the perfect pass from Eli Manning. On the next play, he runs the same route, but this time Rogers picks off the pass, giving the 49ers the ball close to field goal range. A few plays later, the aforementioned interception off Ted Ginn that was gifted to Corey Webster.
Oh, and after Webster's interception, Troy Aikman comments, "Great defensive stand by the Giants." I suppose he's technically right. The Giants defender was just standing there.
Aaron Schatz: The Giants do lots of interesting things with their pass rush. They had one play in a nickel defense where they had Jason Pierre-Paul as a middle linebacker, although I doubt the 49ers were expecting him to drop into coverage. (He didn't.) Overall, though, the 49ers are doing a good job of giving Smith time to throw the ball. It's a good demonstration of what often happens with highly-drafted offensive linemen. They usually disappoint people in their first year, because people expect immediate gratification. Then they surprise in their second seasons, because they've got experience and continuity with their linemates.
Danny Tuccitto: I have absolutely no idea what happened to Chris Culliver at the end of his coverage on Mario Manningham's third-quarter touchdown. He's on Manningham like a blanket, gets his head turned around to see the ball, and then basically just stops defending. I don't know if he lost the ball in the sun, but Manningham was looking into that same sun, so unless this game is being played on Tatooine, it simply looked like Culliver didn't finish the play. Giants retake the lead, 13-12.
Tom Gower: You may have wanted Culliver to do a better job, but Eli put that ball about the only place it could have been completed, and it was.
Vince Verhei: Games on Tattooine would rule. Especially if the Sarlac Pit was in play.
Danny Tuccitto: Just saw a few things I think I've never seen before. First, Giants safety Derrick Martin committed both a hold and an illegal block in the back on the same punt return. It wasn't even continuous action. First he tackles C.J. Spillman off the line, then blocks him in the back 30 yards downfield.
Add this stuff to the Giants faking injuries earlier this season, and I'm wondering if them playing dirty is just something I haven't noticed before.
Revenge of the Harbaugh presnap shift! The now-apparently-legal-again chickanery nets the 49ers a new set of downs, which they then use to retake the lead on a 31-yard pass to Vernon Davis. And now San Francisco gets some breathing room after Rogers gets his second interception of the game, and Kendall Hunter runs for a 17-yard touchdown to put them up 27-13 with 12 minutes left.
Tom Gower: Manning nails another great throw downfield to Hakeem Nicks for the Giants' second score to cut the deficit to 27-20. If only Manningham hadn't stopped his route on the interception, this would still be a tight game.
Aaron Schatz: Note to Kevin Gilbride: You can't run the "leave the backside linebacker free and outrun him with a sweep to the left" when the backside linebacker is Patrick Willis.
Danny Tuccitto: I haven't really said anything negative about him so far this season, because I realize there are growing pains experienced by a rookie cornerback, but Culliver is now trying to single-handedly lose the game, so the honeymoon's over. First he stops defending on Manningham's touchdown, then he gets beat by five yards on a wide-open post, which Manningham (fortunately for Culliver) drops. If I were the Giants, I'd exploit that matchup all day.
My takeaway from San Francisco's 27-20 victory over New York is that, on both offense and defense, they answered the questions everyone's been asking of them. Can they win without smashmouth football? Can their defense make stops against a prolific passing offense? I'm not going to say that their pass offense or pass defense was a thing of beauty today, but people were beginning to talk as though a win like this with a gameplan like this against a team like this could not be done. Now we know it can.
Detroit Lions 13 at Chicago Bears 37
Vince Verhei: If any of you were wondering, kicking to Devin Hester is still a bad idea.
Aaron Schatz: As Chris Kluwe pointed out when he wrote in Peter King's column, kicking away from Hester without shanking it out of bounds for 15 yards is a lot more difficult than you might think.
Vince Verhei: Dumb stat department: FOX puts up a graphic saying Detroit is the only team in the league to score points in 100 percent of their red zone drives this year. Then they put up the totals: 14 touchdowns, 11 field goals. 14 touchdowns in 25 red zone drives is not a good performance.
And now it's 14 touchdowns and 12 field goals on 26 drives. And the Bears are ahead 20-3.
Tom Gower: Detroit Lions: 18th in Red Zone DVOA on offense, including 28th in goal-to-go situations.
Mike Kurtz: We mock the announcers so often, they need props when they're on: Matthew Stafford basically took D.J. Moore down, causing a huge fight where the benches quasi-emptied. The officials did a great job untangling the mess, no flags because basically everything offset, sadly no ejections. But:
"The NFL is going to be able to run a hedge fund with all the fines from this game."
New England Patriots 37 at New York Jets 16
Aaron Schatz: It's pretty amazing that the Patriots will go into the half up 13-9 when Tom Brady is clearly off tonight. He's been inaccurate on some easy open passes, even short swing passes. Wes Welker has pretty much disappeared on Revis Island. In fact, the one bad play Revis had was when he had to cover Chad Ochocinco in a bunch formation and apparently the Jets all got confused about who was supposed to have who and Ochocinco ended up open.
Instead, the Patriots have been kept in this game by their defense, which is wacko because at this point they're picking guys out of the stands and putting them in the lineup. There has been a mix of great coverage on some plays, with a couple coverage sacks, but also some nifty moves by Mark Anderson and Andre Carter to get more pass rush than the Pats have had in any game this season. Of course, part of that is that right tackle Wayne Hunter and tight end Matthew Mulligan are lousy.
The Jets' offense has really only looked great on two drives, one for a touchdown and the other that ended with the missed chip-shot field goal. On that first one, they targeted Devin McCourty on the first three passes. They targeted him a lot tonight before he went out with the injury. Clear sophomore slump.
Tom Gower: 13-9 at the half. Hunter still stinks. Mark Sanchez had some success early, but that didn't continue. The Patriots can't stretch the field vertically, but Deion Branch and Ochocinco have done more than I thought they would. Rob Gronkowski is still a matchup nightmare. Darrelle Revis seems to be shutting down Welker.
Aaron Schatz: One other note: The Pats had been able to run in the last couple games against the Jets, because the Jets were playing all those defensive backs. But in this game they're playing those defensive backs all up on the line in the kind of bump-and-run coverage that the Steelers and Giants did so well with the last two weeks, and that's also making things harder to get a running game going.
Sean McCormick: The Jets offense seems designed to keep the New England defense off the ropes. They are mixing plenty of runs in with empty backfield sets where they don't block the edges. As a result, they are ruining good drives by taking major bad plays in the form of sacks or intentional grounding calls. If the Jets ran a short passing game out of base personnel or played predominantly three-wideout/singleback sets, it sure looks like the Pats would have a hard time stopping it. But instead they insist on perpetuating their schizophrenic "We are a power running team! We are going to spread the field and make something happen!" offense. Strange.
Aaron Schatz: The Jets' surprising offensive DVOA in the first game with the Patriots was generally caused by strong gains on first and second downs, a lot by running the ball, giving them third-and-shorts. Seems like tonight it's been all third-and-longs.
The Patriots finally figure out how to run against the Jets in the second half, as the no-huddle offense seems to have tired out the Jets defenders so all those defensive backs can be pushed around by the linemen and the two tight ends.
I'm just stunned by the result of this game. I know, I know, the Jets were higher in DVOA than they should have been, but still, at home, with a great defense, against a team that was declining over the last couple weeks, against a team that is riddled with injuries, in a game that they pretty much had to have to win the division ... I'm stunned by this result.