Audibles at the Line: Week 10

Audibles at the Line: Week 10
Audibles at the Line: Week 10
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

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.

That helmet-to-helmet contact between Aaron Curry and Marcus McNeill was scary. McNeill's getting onto the cart right now, and I'm not sure he knows where he is.

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.

Tom Gower: This is a recurring theme for me, but I don't understand why Mike Tolbert gets as much work as he does. He just seems so much slower and less elusive than Ryan Mathews. It frustrates me.

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.

Doug Farrar:: Clearly, Carson Palmer has Denarius Moore on his fantasy team.

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?

Tom Gower: Vincent Jackson seemingly had no idea the ball might possibly thrown his way on that Matt Giordano interception late in the game. That's ... an impressive level of lack of awareness.

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.

Is Aqib Talib having a good year? He's been dreadful outside of his interception that was overruled on a rare successful Gary Kubiak challenge. Arian Foster has made him look silly.

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:

Week Opponent NYD/PA
1 KC 2.76
2 OAK 9.79
3 NE 8.60
4 CIN 7.55
5 PHI 7.90
6 NYG 9.63
8 WAS 3.62
9 NYJ 8.69
10 DAL

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.

So, DeSean Jackson is benched, Jeremy Maclin hurt, and guess what Andy Reid does? If you answered "continue to call a trillion pass plays," then you know what I am feeling right now.

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.

It has to be said -- Andy Dalton has really struggled in the first half, especially with the wind. The difference between him and Ben Roethlisberger has been apparent in a few throws into the wind.

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.

Vince Verhei: On second-and-goal from the 1, Ray Rice throws a halfback option pass to a wide-open Ed Dickson for a touchdown to make it Ravens 7, Seahawks 10.

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.

Vince Verhei: Alex Smith just threw his third interception of the year, and his first in five weeks. This one hit a wide-open Ted Ginn in the facemask, and went up and into a Giants defender's arms.

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.

Then, on third down of the ensuing drive, Aldon Smith hurries Manning into an incompletion, and while he's on the chase, right tackle Kareem McKenzie literally karate chops Smith on the back.

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.


289 comments, Last at 22 Nov 2011, 7:05pm

#1 by Jimmy // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:45am

They ejected DJ Moore from the game after the scrum. Fair enough to this Bears fan, never be the guy who retaliates and gets caught, you will draw a flag and might get ejected. Yeah it was a bush league move by Stafford and the whole Lions team got petulant as hell the more they got their asses kicked but don't make the mistake of retaliating.

Fairley had a habit of pulling that sort of crap in college too IIRC. Maybe he now knows why it is not the best idea to start the rapid descent into a brawl with a nasty and totally uneccessary cheap shot.

Maybe it is just as well Kreutz doesn't play for the Bears anymore because if he did they might still be fighting.

Points: 0

#17 by allmystuffisthere (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:14am

Is it a bush league move by Stafford? Moore is trying to drive block the QB 10 yards and pancake him on a meaningless non-return (cos the refs are too weak to make the obvious call that dude was down in the first place), and Stafford pulled the ol' switcheroo on him. There's retaliation, and there's charging the mound after being beaned cos David Ortiz admired his homerun a little too long. Moore will probably be fined, no? I hope it was worth it.

Points: 0

#51 by Jimmy // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:17am

I'm sorry but much of that is just guff. Moore wasn't trying to pancake Stafford he was just blocking him to stop him being able to tackle Jennings. Moore is 5'8" and 180lbs; Stafford goes 6'5" and 230lbs or so - I don't think DJ Moore is going to panckae anybody in his career. Moore wasn't doing anything he shouldn't be doing whereas Stafford waited until Jennings was ten yards past him and then pulled Moore down by the back of his helmet. How many other players have you seen this year get pulled down by the back of their helmet when the play has gone past the block in question?

So yes, bush league move.

Points: 0

#65 by MCS // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:52am

Regardless. Stafford still pulled Moore down by tugging on his helmet.

I hope he gets fined. The league needs to send the message that, if the quarterbacks are protected, they cannot be baiting the defense.

Points: 0

#100 by TomC // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:48pm

Official listings:

Stafford: 6'2", 232
Moore: 5'9", 180

Jimmy was exaggerating on the height difference, but only a little. And he was bang on with the weight mismatch, which is more important anyway.

Points: 0

#135 by allmystuffisthere (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:09pm

hey, hogan once body-slammed andre the giant ... now that you've come down on the height, the next step is to remember that stafford is a qb, and qbs don't really try to do anything on interception returns even when they matter. this game was over. stafford wasn't trying. he was back-pedalling. and let's quit with all the crazy talk over fines. this is so all over the map. one week ryan clark is launching himself headfirst (again), and someone tries to rationalize that the receiver ducked into it. the next week it's fine stafford for helping moore into a somersault?

Points: 0

#195 by Jimmy // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:02pm

You are the only person talking about fines.

Points: 0

#208 by Jimmy // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:21pm

A few posts above yours is indeed another post talking about fines. It appears to be you (although it isn't verified so you could claim impersonation).

Points: 0

#220 by allmystuffisthere (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 7:04pm

"I hope he gets fined. The league needs to send the message that, if the quarterbacks are protected, they cannot be baiting the defense."

I made the assumption earlier that Moore would get fined for doing something that got him ejected. I'm not calling for anybody to be fined.

Points: 0

#264 by MCS // Nov 15, 2011 - 10:09am

I mentioned fines.

Fact: Quarterbacks are protected. As they should be as they are the marquee players of the league who often find themselves exposed in dangerous situations.

If the league is going to have special rules protecting the quarterbacks then the quarterbacks can't be going around committing roughness on defensive players.

Let's see if Suh gets fined for pulling on Cutler's helmet. If so, then Stafford should get fined for pulling on Moore's helmet.

It's only fair.

Disclaimer: Having watched half a dozen Lion's games this year, I have come to the conclusion that they are a dirty team. They take the opportunity to get the extra hit or the borderline dangerous hit whenever they can.

As a Packer fan, I am very concerned about Rodgers on Thanksgiving Day. I believe the Lions will go out of their way to injure him.

Points: 0

#270 by commissionerleaf // Nov 15, 2011 - 12:52pm

Don't worry. By then Rodgers will have learned to flop like Jay Cutler. Rules protecting quarterbacks specifically are ridiculous.

Points: 0

#278 by MCS // Nov 15, 2011 - 3:32pm

It's all about the $$$. Quarterbacks are the most marketable position to the general populous. The league will protect that cash cow.

Rodgers will not flop.

Points: 0

#61 by Eddo // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:43am

I'll touch on the chippiness in the Bears-Lions game here, I guess.

1. Fairley's personal foul on Cutler was most definitely a penalty, and likely a "dirty" play. There is no reason to drive a QB (or any player) into the ground like that, unless you want to hurt them. The fact that Fairley apparently has a history of this type of hit in college enforces my opinion.

2. Briggs's hit on Calvin Johnson was penatly-worthy, but not dirty, in my opinion. I did not think Briggs was intending to injure Johnson, but if the league truly wants to change the way defenders hit receivers (and I think that's a fine change), they should err, at least for now, on calling penalties on borderline hits.

3. Moore deserved the ejection. Stafford was over the line with his takedown, but Moore has to refrain from charging at a player like that after the whistle was blown.

4. Schwartz's comments after the game are problematic. He's either in denial that his team lost control or being intentionally combative. I like him as a coach in general, but it's apparent that he needs to rein in his players a bit.

5. I did not notice anything major from Suh. The fact that he wound up with Cutler's helmet in his hands after a scramble has gotten some press, but I think that was a defensible tackle that just ended with a weird circumstance. He did not grab Cutler's facemask, and it did not look like he grabbed and twisted Cutler's head; rather, it looked like he grabbed at Cutler to bring him down, and wound up catching the edge of the helmet from behind.

6. Vanden Bosch had a late hit penalty early that was just stupid on his part. The runner (Forte?) was clearly down, and Vanden Bosch dove in from a few yards away. This is the sort of play Schwartz needs to get a handle on, since it gave the Bears a free fifteen yards, and didn't even occur while a play was live.

Points: 0

#255 by stancat (not verified) // Nov 15, 2011 - 7:32am

Are you talking about Fairly or J Peppers' hit on Calvin Johnson to start the game? The hits on Johnson throughout the game clearly took a toll. Do you honestly think that Tillman could have held a fresh Calvin Johnson like he did on the pick.

Both teams were headhunting. The refs let most of it go and the Lions aren't carping about it. The Lions coach even gave his blessing on Monday to Peppers' tossing Johnson around by the neck. He said it's just football.

We probably wouldn't even be talking about this if it wasn't hyped so much by the NFL's "Good vs Evil" marketing initiative. And just maybe some of the Lions' opponents would be less encouraged to whine and rumble if they weren't so sure they would get their media facetime for it.

The Fox guys were so obviously primed to jump on this theme the first chance they got. When Suh ran Cutler down, one of them started shrieking about a "VICIOUS HIT." A play or two after Raiola took a pretty chintzy chop block call, the broadcaster yelled, "THERE HE GOES AGAIN" until partner had to talk over him to say that a low block by itself is legal. These guys have a script and we fall for it instead of talking about the game itself.

The Bears put a whipping on the Lions in an old fashioned slug fest. Why can't we settle for that?

Points: 0

#268 by Eddo // Nov 15, 2011 - 12:30pm

"Are you talking about Fairly or J Peppers' hit on Calvin Johnson to start the game?"

I thought Peppers pretty clearly hit Johnson across the chest.


"Do you honestly think that Tillman could have held a fresh Calvin Johnson like he did on the pick."

Yes, to a point. Tillman's big for a CB and has always done well with bigger receivers, such as Randy Moss and Plaxico Burress.


I pretty much agree with the rest of your post. There are quite a few self-fulfilling prophecies when it comes to the NFL and the media.

Points: 0

#286 by LionInAZ (not verified) // Nov 17, 2011 - 5:26pm

Oh, puhleeze, Jimmy, get off your high horse. The Bears were pretty thuggish themselves, and they set the tone early. First, the Peppers clothesline on Calvin Johnson. Then there was Conte's hit on Maurice Morris's helmet -- on top of which Conte starts trash-talking at Morris, who is one of the most even-tempered players out there. Why is a rookie yapping after taking a shot at a player's head, when he was only the third guy in on the tackle?

Points: 0

#2 by Temo // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:45am

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?

Probably not, but if you're going to do it with a RB, it might as well be Jackson. As was discussed multiple times during the game and before the game by Rob Ryan himself, Fred Jackson has quite the reputation for being a vicious pass blocker.

Points: 0

#237 by David C (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:36pm

I believe Troy Aikman explained this the last time an offensive coordinator tried to put a running back against Ware, and screwed up. When a running back is supposed to be blocking an elite sacker, it's only going to be on a 3-step drop play. If the quarterback takes more than 3 steps without throwing the ball, he screwed up.

Points: 0

#3 by lester bangs (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:50am

No one else watched the Sunday Night Game? Maybe Tanier had to be rushed to the hospital (I hope not).

Points: 0

#4 by Will Allen // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:50am

While on the subject of announcers, while Collinsworth and Michaels (a duo that I generally think are ok) were heaping praise on Brady in the 2nd half, it might have been a good idea to note that he had enough time to blow dry his hair on several plays, had he not shorn his beautiful locks. Hell, I think he held the ball for a full 10 seconds on the td pass which was called back when the receiver stepped out of bounds, and, no, Cris, it wasn't because Brady was channeling Fran Tarkenton.

I couldn't see the Lions yesterday; how bad was Stafford yesterday? I only saw one of the pick sixes, and only out of the corner of my eye.

Points: 0

#6 by Temo // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:52am

A perfect storm of the Jets having no pass rush, the Pats O-line being brilliant (again), and the Jets pass coverage being really, really good.

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#10 by Charles Jake (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:03am

He was really bad. He was under lots of pressure as Peppers played all over the line (including at DT) and it wreaked havoc on their protections. The ball kept sailing on him, but he was also victimized by some drops. During the game, the announcers kept blaming the glove he was wearing. Afterwards, it came out that he has a broken finger.

Charles Tillman did a masterful job on Calvin Johnson: he had something like seven catches for 33 yards until a 40-yarder in garbage time. Without Johnson or a running game, Stafford was helpless.

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#134 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:06pm

Brady had a ton of time on that play because he avoided at least 2 sacks and scrambled around about half the time. That was hardly the greatest example of great pass protection.

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#142 by Will Allen // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:25pm

Yeah, he moved around a bit. No, the pass rushing/tackling was not good. My commentary was more focused on the inadequacy of the Jets' pass rushers than the superlative play of the Patriots' pass blockers.

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#156 by RichC (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 3:10pm

I still do not understand why people are unable to simply admit that Tom Brady moves extremely well in the pocket.

He does this stuff atleast once in every game, and its always attributed to poor pass rushers, or the line. Its not, its him.

On the subject of the Patriots o-line, has Mankings gone a game yet without getting called for a penalty this year?

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#161 by Will Allen // Nov 14, 2011 - 3:23pm

Nothing I wrote precludes that Brady moves well. I don't care how well a guy moves within the pocket, when a guy is there for 10 seconds, your pass rushers are stinking the joint out.

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#171 by Anonymous1 (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 4:06pm

If you watched the Dallas, Pitt and NYG games, you'd refrain from singingtoo much praise for the OL. The solid pass pro had more to do with Brady being more confident in the pocket and NY's rushers not being all that good, IMO.

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#5 by Temo // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:51am

Why should we assume professional football is always a meritocracy? ... It doesn't happen in journalism of course.


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#7 by Peregrine // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:58am

I am a Falcons season ticket holder who was in the stadium and I was fine with the decision to go for it. Hated hated hated the play call on 4th and short. That seems to be the consensus on the Falcons boards.

Mark Bradley, a columnist for the Atlanta paper, referenced a couple recent games against the Saints that contributed to Smith's decision...

We picked a bad time to have our takeaway streak and our consecutive field goal streak end. The last five minutes of regulation and then overtime were nuts. Tough to lose on the proverbial coin flip, though I wouldn't be surprised if we can return the favor on MNF on December 26.

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#54 by JIPanick // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:22am

Cowboys fan, so no stake in either team, but I agree that going for it was the correct call. The play call was stupid, but the decision not to punt was not.

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#62 by jw124164 // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:51am

Falcons fan here. Agreed - glad they didn't punt, but man what a ridiculous play call. Turner at this point takes 8 steps just to get going, the Saints had at least 6 down linemen plus however many linebackers. You gotta go around or call some type of pass play.

No one is talking about the horrible play by our WR's (Harry Douglas excepted). Roddy White was responsible for Matt Ryan's INT, and dropped at least two other catchable balls. Eric Weems had two stupid 15-yard penalties, Jones missed a TD pass (granted, there was some good defense on the play, but he could have fought harder). They play a tight game, we're not in OT.

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#146 by Jim Glass (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:52pm

Advanced NFL Stats ran the numbers and concluded that going for it was the rigbt call.

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#185 by B // Nov 14, 2011 - 4:45pm

This makes me wonder if we're using the math wrong. Going for it and making it is a 15% increase in victory probability (42 to 57) but going for it and failing is a 24% decrease (42 to 18). That seems like a poor risk vs reward, you're risking more than your potential reward.

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#192 by zenbitz // Nov 14, 2011 - 4:59pm

that would be true if the chance of making the first down is 50-50. I think the math above assumes that it's a 75% or so.

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#8 by zlionsfan // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:59am

Donahue also had problems placing his punts in the first Lions-Bears game. I suspect that most punters don't spend a lot of time kicking away from returners in college, so I imagine it's going to take some time for him to learn that skill.

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#145 by Yinka Double Dare // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:45pm

Donahue was actually out injured, so this was a brand new guy punting for the Lions.

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#158 by MMRHoW // Nov 14, 2011 - 3:11pm

Donahue was hurt. Robert Malone was the punter yesterday.

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#9 by Joshua Northey (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 9:59am

"This is a recurring theme for me, but I don't understand why Mike Tolbert gets as much work as he does. He just seems so much slower and less elusive than Ryan Mathews. It frustrates me."

Believe it or not speed and elusiveness are not the only two qualities NFL running backs are evaluated on. Have you spent any time following football at all? In my limited experience watching and playing football your comment usually means one of three things.

1) Tolbert is a better blocker/pass receiver and thus better for the passing game.
2) Tolbert knows the playbook better, makes fewer mistakes, and follows the coaches directions more accurately. (i.e. doesn't hit to wrong hole, or incorrectly cut plays back into traffic)
3) Matthews has personality issues with staff or teammates.

Only after eliminating those would I jump to:

4) Coaching incompetence.

I know people love to pile on Norv, but to me he has always seemed like a league average coach. At least a little above replacement level. Not great mind you, but it is not like he is Jim Caldwell.

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#33 by Will Allen // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:39am

I don't know the personnel involved in this matter, but I agree with one point in particular; people pay way too little attention to how running backs perform in the passing game. A guy who is not reliable in blitz pick up is really hard to keep on the field, unless he is like Adrian Peterson when carrying the ball.

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#48 by MilkmanDanimal // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:09am

I ascribe part of Tampa's struggles in pass blocking this year to the lack of Cadillac Williams on passing downs; he certainly wasn't a huge threat to run it anymore, but he seemed to recognize every blitz and pick it up correctly. Excellent blocker. Now, with Ernest Graham on IR, there's nobody in the backfield who can even vaguely reliably pick up a blitzing defender.

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#165 by Last of the Sk… // Nov 14, 2011 - 3:41pm

That's what third down backs are for. If Matthews is the better running back at the running part of the job, then he should be doing most of it.

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#272 by commissionerleaf // Nov 15, 2011 - 1:20pm

Obviously someone who saw the Monday night game. Peterson is utter trashing pass pro, to the point where I was shocked to see him collide with Clay Matthewa once in the backfield, only to realiZe that it wasn't play action, he had the ball. He doesn't even try. If I were Minnesota, I'd look at trading him before his contract is up (but then, I would look at trading any running back in the league). Ponder looks like he might be okay, but the next great Vikings team won't have Adrian Peterson on it.

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#63 by Eddo // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:51am

I made a point to watch some of their differences, since I too have been confused as to why Tolbert (who has also had some fumbling issues, hasn't he?) gets such a large share.

Mathews actually struck me as the better pass blocker.

Tolbert is surprisingly elusive when catching passes, but Mathews is a little better there, as well.

Mathews does seem to be inconsistent in releasing to the flat after blocking, which is a point in Tolbert's favor.

So I disagree with your point #1, but can see where #2 could be correct (though it's really tough to be certain on that point).

Points #3 and #4 could certainly be true.

I'm also under the assumption that Mathews's current injury affected his playing time.

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#69 by Joshua Northey (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:02pm

Just to be clear I was speaking in generalities. I don't know enough about those individual players to comment.

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#11 by stephenbawesome // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:03am

I'm putting that exchange on my resume.

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#12 by prs130 (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:07am

I don't understand the Castillo-hatred as opposed to the Mornhinweg-hatred. Any team with Shady McCoy on it has to put up more than 17 pts against the Cardinals, who gave up 31, 34, 32, and 30 to NYG, MIN, PIT, and BAL respectively. The Eagles are losing because they don't score points. They don't score points because of offensive play-calling.

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#49 by prs130 (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:12am

forgot to mention that 7 of the 17 points that the Eagles scored on Sunday were scored by the much-maligned Castillo defense.

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#52 by Temo // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:19am

I think some of it is that no one's gotten over the offensive line coach for 12 years-turned-Defensive Coordinator oddity. It just seems like it shouldn't work that way, so he's an easy target when the team, and the defense in general, hasn't been elite as expected.

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#143 by TBW (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:38pm

If only the Eagles had a quality RB, the kind who elicited comparisons to Barry Sanders. If they had such a player they might have been able to run the ball more than 8 times in the 2nd half.

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#150 by Aaron Brooks G… // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:56pm

I, sir, have seen Barry Sanders, and LeSean McCoy is no Barry Sanders.
(And really, only Gayle Sayers could even make the argument)

There's no shame in that. McCoy is much better at getting the hard yard than Sanders was and is a more disciplined runner. But his style is not that of Sanders.

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#157 by TBW (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 3:11pm

I don't like those comparisons either, but they are being made, especially by broadcasters covering the Eagles games.

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#13 by stephenbawesome // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:11am

Expounding upon thoughts I've shared elsewhere, I believe last season's ten-touchdown Gronkowski was actually his floor. He should be able to produce that way in his worst season. It's my assumption that his upside gets ignored because he came into the NFL with the game of a finished product.

All his success last season came not only as an early entrant into the draft, but without having played a single down of football for the entire year preceding. He was out with an injury, so as the season went along and Gronk's contributions increased, you could say that it was a lot of rust being knocked off. His production at the end of the year should serve more as a baseline for future reference, because he's always going to be an elite red zone option but his down-the-field plays will only increase.

Another thing to consider is that despite having NFL-size already, Gronkowski has not had the opportunity to fully develop his game in the offseason since prior to his freshman year of college. He had mono going into his sophomore year, which limited him in the offseason conditioning and early season schedule. He missed that junior season with injury. His back injury lingered into combine season and early OTA's, and still managed to play that well throughout his rookie year.

He's done well this year creating match-up problems, but I imagine actually having a non-lockout offseason and a lot more time to work on timing with Brady will continue to enhance Gronkowski's game. The Patriots tried a back-shoulder throw with Gronk when Revis was matched up on him, and probably should have comopleted the pass if the timing wasn't just a hair off. I don't think that play will be able to be defended next season.

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#36 by Joshua Northey (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:47am

Predicting someone whose performance has already been among the best at their position to improve even further does not have a long track record of success.

NFL fans don't seem to realize this but regression is a really strong force, stronger even than young player improvement. Young players do typically get better, but if they are already playing well above average their tendency to regress towards mean performance is actually LARGER than their tendency to get better. That is not all on them individually obviously, some of it is defenses adjusting, or the fact that if things were good in their offensive environment they are unlikely to stay that way.

But, when someone is young and great the smart prediction isn't that they will be even better. An all-time great. It is that they will just be great, but may not perform as well next year.

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#160 by RichC (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 3:16pm

Players regress to their own mean (IE, their talent level), not the league mean.

And honestly, Gronkowski, right now, may already be the best TE in the NFL.

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#188 by RickD // Nov 14, 2011 - 4:52pm

Thanks for this comment.

I wrote a long comment addressing how misguided this application of "regression to the mean" was and discarded it because it got rather insulting.

I believe the original point was that we could expect Gronkowski to excel even more, because his full potential was not realized until the second half of his rookie season. He really is a red zone monster.

Also, he is the best weapon for the Pats to use against the Jets in particular. Running on the Jets is not easy for anybody, and Revis usually takes at least one WR out of the game (mostly Welker since Moss left), but Gronk is a guy that the Jets haven't figured out how to cover. This problem for the Jets is exacerbated when the Pats
a) also have Hernandez in the game as the 2nd TE
b) don't let the Jets do personnel substitutions after each play.

The long 4th quarter drive was a masterpiece. When the Jets had too many small guys on the field, the Pats ran, ran, ran right at them. When they finally made a substitution to bring in more big guys, the Pats unleashed Gronk and Hernandez to stretch out the passing game.

There's every reason to believe that Gronkowski can further improve, since few TEs peak this early in their careers.

And "regression to the mean" is fairly meaningless here unless we know exactly what mean he's supposed to regress to. Certainly he's not supposed to regress to the mean output level of all starting TEs. And with only one full season under his belt, we don't yet have a good idea of what a good idea of what his personal mean performance should be (if, indeed, it's reasonable to think of his personal stats along those lines, and I'd have to see an argument for each stat in particular to justify that kind of thinking).

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#199 by Joshua Northey (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:09pm

There is a lot more at work than just his "natural talent level". There is Tom Brady & Wes Welker, there is his general offensive environment, and there is the defenses reaction to him, on top of this there is a chance you are simply wrong about your assumptions of his "natural talent level".

"There's every reason to believe that Gronkowski can further improve"

I certainly believe he can improve. I don't believe it is "likely". That is an important difference. Regression isn't meaningless because it is not his "natural talent" we are regressing. It is his production. On top of that we don't know his "natural talent".

I think it is so funny pats fans get worked up about someone telling it is more likely Gronkowski is simply a great tight-end than he will improve into some uber tight-end.

And actually Tight ends do peak early, they just don't decline much.

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#224 by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 7:47pm

To me, it seems likely that he will improve but his numbers won't reflect that improvement because defenses will ultimately answer.

His improvement is the most obvious next step, though. Not only hasn't he worked with Brady for, really, that long, but his hands should get better once he's fully confident in the NFL.

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#240 by Max Calvada (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:30pm

It is my strong belief that everyone who plays for the Patriots is the greatest player in the league at his position. They will all continue to get better and better until the Hall of Fame will eventually be moved to Foxborough. Anyone who criticizes any of these players, or my opinion of them, is wrong.

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#221 by Jason Witten (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 7:42pm

"Gronkowski, right now, may already be the best TE in the NFL."

Oh, really?

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#225 by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 7:50pm

Suggesting Witten is better than Gronk is akin to doing the same about Welker, comparing him to Johnson.

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#248 by Karma Coma // Nov 15, 2011 - 12:26am

What about comparing Welker to Williams or Jones? Or Smith?

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#252 by BaronFoobarstein // Nov 15, 2011 - 2:45am

I question the wisdom of a judging a position whose primary role is blocking solely on receiving stats. Receiving is important for a TE, but let's not evaluate the entire forest based on a couple of trees.

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#266 by Nathan // Nov 15, 2011 - 12:02pm

Thing is, Gronkowski is a good blocker as well.

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#269 by BaronFoobarstein // Nov 15, 2011 - 12:35pm

That may very well be. I have no idea because all I ever hear people discussing is his receiving.

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#44 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:01am

A ten TD season as a floor?

So, after a season and a half we're pretty much calling it - he's the best tight end ever, no question.

This prudent, rational prediction has my complete and sincere support.

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#77 by stephenbawesome // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:13pm

It's not to say that he'll get double-digit touchdowns every season, but that schematically he was underused.

He'll always be taller than the guy guarding him, so he'll always be an exceptional red zone target. My point was that he hadn't been used downfield as much as a rookie, until the end of the season and the playoffs when I ascertained the rust was coming off.

He's continued that sort of production this season, and shown more of an ability to be spread out wide to create further mismatches.

If Gronkowski can produce last year's stats despite some rust and without the advantage of gameplans specifically tailored to create mismatches in his favor, he can surely produce further when he gets a better repoire with his quarterback and gameplans designed to get him the ball as a primary weapon.

Maybe it's unreasonable for me to make these assumptions because they would basically guarantee him numerous Pro Bowls and universal acclaim, but there has been a half-season of evidence that says Gronkowski is capable of being the "evolutionary Jason Witten" that Mr. Schatz referred to him as.

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#84 by Aaron Brooks G… // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:20pm

There's a wealth of statwork in the NBA pointing out that increasing the feed rate of your most efficient players can decrease the overall team efficiency.

So, basically, while it appears Gronkowski may be underutilized (and he may be, vis-a-vis his personal maximum), he may be optimal in the offense at large. It's sort of a generic version of the Ewing Theory, and may also be why GB's offense performed better last year after losing Finley, whom they were probably over-feeding.

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#121 by Joshua Northey (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 1:27pm

"he was underused"

Underused? He has 6 receptions a game! He is already used a lot. Use him much more and defenses will focus more on him. Then he will have an off year and people will be like "Why is Gronk having a down year?" when really he is having exactly the year you would expect.

I am always amazed at people's desire to take someone who is performing at a 9/10. And claim that circumstance is holding them down and next year they will be producing at a 10/10.

Once in a great while that does happen. Most of the time circumstance is actually propping them up and they fall back to the pack. Then people act all confused and betrayed (see M. Sanchez, or M. Ryan, or C. Johnson).

Sure Gronkowski could be even better next year. Sure if you threw him 225 balls he might catch 150 and get 2000 yards. Or maybe next year Tom Brady has a nagging injury, the o-line declines significantly, and Welker isn't as good. All of a sudden Gronkowski is more a focus of defenses and his catch rate, YPC, and general effectiveness suffer. Then we will talk about him the way people are talking about Tampa Mike Williams this year.

To claim he has some great potential to be more than he is now is just falling into the trap people always all into, over projecting improvement in young players (or more specifically not projecting regression in addition to improvement).

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#128 by stephenbawesome // Nov 14, 2011 - 1:47pm

The premise statement was that he was both underused and rusty for the first half of last season, until he began to break out down the stretch run.

His last action prior to his rookie season training camp was nearly two full years prior. His sophomore year involved missing the first few games with mono and not being able to practice regularly.

My hypothesis was that he did most of his damage despite being rusty, so conservative estimates of his ability before this season were going to be incorrect. Regardless of any semantics we may argue, Gronkowski was not physically at his best for much of his rookie season, when he graded out second in DYAR and third in DVOA.

I will, however, agree that usage rates versus team performance are speculative and a gray area. I wasn't clear with my original statement, and I think that's where this conversation went awry.

Statistically saying it's a baseline is probably hyperbolic, but my intention was that he was at his floor, physically. He performed that well despite rust and despite lacking some schematic advantages, and we're seeing that manifest as the season goes along. Stating statistical improvement this season more-or-less supports my argument, rather than undermines it.

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#114 by Joseph // Nov 14, 2011 - 1:11pm

To reply to all 3 of these comments, I'll see your Gronkowski and raise you a Jimmy Graham. Of course, we will see what happens to JG after Mr. Brees retires.

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#155 by Yaguar // Nov 14, 2011 - 3:08pm

Isn't it a little weird that the most productive TEs in the league are, practically without fail, the ones that have MVP-level QBs throwing to them? I raise you Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme prior to 2011.

It makes me think much more highly of guys like Fred Davis and Marcedes Lewis, actually.

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#196 by RickD // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:04pm

But there is something to be said about how much better Gronkowski and Hernandez are than the TEs that proceeded them. Ben Watson never produced at this level. Nor did Daniel Graham or Christian Fauria.

I do agree with your second point, though.

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#227 by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 7:59pm

Fauria simply couldn't block. But he may have had better hands, and he too, was on the tall side. If he was fed the ball at the rate Gronk is he would have had similar numbers, I think.

Watson and Graham had stone for hands. They don't count.

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#273 by Joseph // Nov 15, 2011 - 1:46pm


I was more referring to the comment anointing Gronkowski's floor as 10 TD's/year. Since Graham had 5 in about 1/2 of a season last year, and has 62 for 873 (14.1 ypc) and 6 TDs this year, that works out to 99 rec for 1397 yds and 10 TDs (rounding to whole #'s). Them's Tony Gonzalez stats, and most people acknowledge TG to be the best receiving TE ever (including me). Considering that the original poster was making it being a big deal that Gronk lost 2 years of college ball and that he came into the league "rusty," and that Graham only played one year of CFB at Miami, I thought the comparison was pretty apt. (Also considering that both play on explosive offenses with future HOF QB's makes the comparison even fairer.)

While Clark has been a great receiver, he's not a TD machine (46 in 9 yrs), he's only had two seasons over 40 ypg (640 in the season), and one was his monster 2009 season. Graham looks poised to equal or better those #'s in his second year in the league. You might not want to re-raise with Clark (although he has certainly been good for a while).

[I fully understand that both of us are massively projecting on Gronk and Graham.]

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#287 by stephenbawesome // Nov 22, 2011 - 9:52am

How soon can I say "I told you so"?

I'm interested in seeing his career develop from here, but I definitely think the potential here is exceptional.

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#288 by stephenbawesome // Nov 22, 2011 - 9:55am

How soon can I say "I told you so"?

I'm interested in seeing his career develop from here, but I definitely think the potential here is exceptional.

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#289 by BaronFoobarstein // Nov 22, 2011 - 7:05pm

You claimed last season was his floor. Charitably, you have to wait until he retires. Strictly, never.

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#14 by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:11am

I fully support the lack of any commentary about Colts/Jags. That game was just excruciating to watch. It wasn't a defensive struggle; it was just two horrible offenses trading punts.

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#16 by Yaguar // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:13am

My comment on it is that I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that the Colts might not be a very good football team.

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#38 by Bernie (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:53am

As a colts fan, I felt compelled to watch most of the game (thanks to game pass, I won't miss any of the entertaining games).
I have to say, Blaine Gabbert looks like Curtis Painter 2.0. The similarities in their games is astounding. The same poor decisions, the same lack of control, the same inability to deliver a simple ball. It was like Jacksonville forgot to bring a quarterback, so the colts agreed to let Painter play for them when the Colts O was off the field.

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#95 by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:30pm

I agree that Gabbert and Painter basically cancelled each other out. The difference, of course, is that Gabbert is a rookie, whereas Painter just plays like one.

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#125 by Bernie (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 1:39pm

In other colts news, Anthony Castonzo does not look good. He gets beaten regularly both outside and inside in pass blocking, and linebackers consistently shed him when he's run blocking. I don't know if he's confused as to who he is supposed to block, but he sure looks like he is.

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#173 by dmstorm22 // Nov 14, 2011 - 4:12pm

He was playing well early in the season before his first injury. It might be that he still has lingering effects, or that his performance, like everyone else's, has dropped to a new level of crap ever since blowing that 24-7 lead against KC.

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#140 by John (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:22pm

I was just wondering how long it'd been since the Colts were left out of Audibles. Hard to go from the center of attention to a non-entity. Wonder how that's working out for Charlie Sheen.

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#202 by RickD // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:11pm

Can we arrange a Comedy Central roast for Peyton Manning?

We'd have to have Ty Law on the panel.

"Cut that beef! Cut that beef!"

And Mike Vanderjagt could show up "liquored up" to swear at him.

And then they'd have a video statement from Eli because he's too busy to appear in person.

Marvin Harrison would remain carefully uninvited.

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#15 by Raiderjoe // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:13am

Greta win by frnvrr. Keeps Raiders in sole possession of first placd. Will not relinquish leaf. Who coming to Oakland

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#22 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:23am

"Will not relinquish leaf."

Hard to believe the Chargers would want him back anyway.

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#18 by MilkmanDanimal // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:18am

If I can make a nomination for Burn This Play, I would possibly suggest that throwing a jump fade to Dezmon Briscoe in the end zone on 4th and 2 is quite possibly not the low-risk call ideal for that situation. I mean, not that a TD there would have mattered due to the Texans stomping of Tampa, but really? Jump fade . . . to Dezmon Briscoe?

Jones and Foster should have both been stopped for reasonably short gains, but Tampa has apparently entered the "tackling optional" phase of defense; terrible angles to the ball, and they're long TDs. Same on Ward's TD in the 4th quarter, a number of people should have dragged him down. The tackling on this team is simply abysmal this year.

I'm having a hard time understanding exactly why Freeman is getting so much pressure this year, considering last year every week featured some new unknown practice squad schlub being forced into starting, yet somehow the team kept succeeding . . . I think I might just fall back on the old standard "blame Jeremy Trueblood", because, even if it isn't his fault, something somewhere probably is his fault.

As for Aqib Talib . . . geez, he's just plummeted off a cliff. First half of last season he was looking to be one of the really impressive young corners in the game, but this year he can't cover, can't tackle, can't do anything well at all. Apparently his coverage skills have already gone to jail.

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#73 by Rivers McCown // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:09pm

Gotta disagree with you on that playcall for one reason: any Texans fan knows that targeting Kareem Jackson is a good idea. The fact that he a) made the breakup and b) had time to jump twice while defending it still boggles my mind.

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#103 by MilkmanDanimal // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:53pm

I don't question the playcall as much as the target; throwing the ball up to your #4 WR who, while athletically gifted in a number of ways, doesn't tend to, you know, actually catch the ball every time it hits him in the hands is the problem here. Briscoe is the kind of guy who makes great catches and drops easy ones.

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#129 by stephenbawesome // Nov 14, 2011 - 1:48pm

The playcall was iffy, based upon my memory. I believe that was the short side of the field with a receiver nearby in the slot. I could understand it better if Briscoe was isolated on Kareem Jackson with some space, but I don't think there wasn't much room to work with on that play.

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#19 by allmystuffisthere (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:19am

"80 percent chance of converting means, what, a 50 percent chance you eventually punt anyway?"

Exactly. Mike Smith made a terrible call, and it directly led to Atlanta losing. There shouldn't be any discussion beyond that statement. Forest for the trees. Or something about fat free cookies.

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#23 by Will Allen // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:24am

Not only that, but the 80 percent figure isn't based on a huge sample size, and third/fourth and inches in overtime isn't played the same way by a defense as third/fourth and inches in the first quarter.

If that is way Smith was thinking, he needs to stop it.

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#27 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:27am

To answer the writer's question - no, it is not a 50% percent chance that you punt if you convert that situation.

A slow-developing run up the gut was a bad call (a quarterback sneak in that situation has close to 90% chance of converting), but going for it was the right call, because a punt from that field position likely puts the Saints 25-30 yards away from field goal range.

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#35 by Will Allen // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:43am

A fake punt is a better choice, in all likelihood, if your punt team personnel has any ability for offense. I gotta believe the Saints would be fully committed to breaking a return in that setting.

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#40 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:54am

I never considered a fake punt. The sample size would be microscopic, but interesting to look at it.

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#59 by Will Allen // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:31am

Well, like I said, the suggestion is contingent on having punt team personnel with some talent for that sort of thing. A punter or up back with speed, or a punter who can pass without embarassing himself, makes a fake punt much more tenable. Some teams just don't have guys who can do it.

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#67 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:59am

You might not even need a punter who can pass if the defense is completely flat-footed - Daniel Seuplveda threw one of the ugliest ducks I've ever seen on a fake punt a month ago, for a huge gain - but in this situation, isn't a fake punt in the back of their minds?

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#99 by Will Allen // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:40pm

I dunno; most successful fake kicks are the residue of a lot of film work in which the team trying the fake notes the opposition is not being consistently diligent. I haven't seen too many fakes attempted in overtime, with the punter standing on his fifteen yard line, and I could see a return team being completely focused on breaking a return in that setting. What I like about a good fake, with the right personnel, is the chance to pick up 30 yards.

I haven't spent 3 hours looking at video of the Saints' punt return team, however.

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#101 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:48pm

"I haven't spent 3 hours looking at video of the Saints' punt return team, however."

Don't feel bad, it's only Monday.

Completely off-track - I wonder how much film would be filled with footage of every special-teams play from a given season. I read somewhere that there are only about 11-12 min. of action in any given NFL game, but I'm not entirely sure of that.

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#186 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 14, 2011 - 4:47pm

Or you don't have to snap the ball to the punter. The Bears have run fake punts where they snap the ball to the up-back and let him run.

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#277 by panthersnbraves // Nov 15, 2011 - 3:23pm

go up and have the punter hard count, like he's trying to get them to jump (and maybe they will!) then have him drop his hands like he's giving up, and then snap it to the up back.

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#43 by DGL // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:00am

More like 35 yards; the Falcons averaged just over 41 net punting yards, which would have put the ball on the NO 30, and the Saints probably needed the ATL 35 to try a FG.

The Saints' last four drives had gone -4, 62, 7, and 9 yards. Only three out of eleven Saints drives all game had gone more than 35 yards. If you punt the ball, you've got at least a 50/50 chance of holding the Saints without a FG attempt. And while I can't precisely calculate the Falcons' chances of getting from their own 30 to the NO 35 on that drive, 50/50 doesn't sound unreasonable: 6 out of 12 previous Falcons drives gained less than 35 yards and ended with a punt or turnover.

So take three outcomes:

1. Go for it and make it. You now have a 50/50 chance of getting into FG range.
2. Go for it and fail. You've put the Saints immediately into FG range.
3. Punt. You now have a 50/50 chance of the Saints getting into FG range.

Assume all FGs are made, because picking a strategy based on missing field goals is a bad idea.

If you go for it, you have an 80%-90% chance of having a 50/50 chance of winning, and a 10%-20% chance of losing.

If you punt, you have a 50/50 chance of winning.

Why is going for it the right call?

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#50 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:16am

Again, a successful conversion does not equal a 50% chance of conversion, not when each yard gained is more and more four-down territory. Actual overtime stats reflect this, and it is simply a number that someone in Audibles pulled out of his rear end. ANFLS showed that, overtime, a going for it in that situation has a 47% chance of a win across all results - obviously, if you convert you have a much, much higher chance than that 47%.

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#76 by NHPats (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:12pm

If you only examine the pure probability tree, you have a point, but that is too much of an oversimplification of the actual situation. To calculate the choice correctly, you have to value correctly the option to continue to possess the ball.

If Atlanta converts the 4th down, they have a 50/50 chance of winning the game (using your figures, and why quibble?), and the NO would like face 50/50 odds where they take over after a punt. But if Atlanta converts, Atlanta retains the much greater ability to improve its odds of winning (by advancing the ball); conversely if NO has they ball, they have a vastly greater chance of improving their chances of winning with each play.

The option to possess the ball has an intrinsic value that can probably be modeled into an expected points value. The correct option-pricing model is probably beyond me but probably has to take account the relative value of offensive and defensive DVOA.

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#82 by doktarr // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:18pm

The short answer is because you have less than a 50/50 chance of winning if you punt, and you have more than a 50/50 chance of winning if you convert.

The reason for that is that you are not required to win on the first possession. You get the first chance, the third chance, etc.

So, really, you have something more like a 60% chance of winning if you convert, and 40% of winning if you punt. 80% of 60% is more than 40%, by 8%.

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#104 by RickD // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:55pm

All of this analysis has already been done in Brian Burke's value of field position calculation. He gives the Falcons a higher probability of winning if they make the first down, gives the Saints a lower probability of winning if the Falcons fail, and also gives the Saints a higher probability of winning after a punt

His numbers:

57% chance of winning if the Falcons make the first down.
18% chance of winning if the Falcons fail.
42% chance of winning if the Falcons punt.
74% chance of making the first down.

One could argue that the 18% might seem high. But the 74% might also be low. The basic point is that the Falcons odds are much better of winning if they make the first down than if they punt.

If, as you do, you think that it's 50-50 either way, then of course you have to punt. But that obviously cannot be true. It's obviously better for the Falcons to have the ball with a first down at their own 30 than for them to have punted and have given the ball to the Saints at (for sake of symmetry) the Saints 30.

Whatever you think the value is of "winning with a 1st down from the 30 yard line" is, it has to be greater than 50%. Otherwise, the correct decision would be to punt on 1st down!

Ultimately, this comes down to the interplay between the probability of making the first down, the probability of preventing a FG if the 4th down try fails, and the probability of winning after a punt. Clearly, if you think the odds of getting a first down is 99.995%, then the correct decision is to go for it, right? Also, if you think that the defense has no chance in hell of stopping the opponent's offense (as BB thought in a similar situation against the Colts two years ago), then punting would be a terrible idea, regardless of the probability of 4th down success.

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#137 by DGL // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:18pm

"The basic point is that the Falcons odds are much better of winning if they make the first down than if they punt."

And the Falcons' odds of winning are much worse if they fail to make the first down than if they punt. That's kind of the whole problem, because you have to make the decision of whether to go for it or punt before you know the outcome...

Taking Burke's numbers at face value, the win expectation of going for it is 47%, with the win expectation of punting 42%. Given that, going for it is in fact marginally better.

The 18% chance of winning if you fail to pick up the first down sounds high - but even if you drop it down to 5%, you end up with a 43% chance of winning by going for it. Which makes it basically a wash, not a horribly bad decision to go for it.

I still think that taking the chance of giving the ball to your opponent on your own 29-yard line, in sudden-death overtime, in a dome, is a bad decision any time the probability of doing so is greater than about 3%. I think this is one case where it's better to extend the game, rather than put all your money on one throw of the dice (where winning the throw still puts you 40 yards from winning the game). The punt could be muffed; Brees might throw a pick; the horse might learn to sing. But I'll accept that the pure numbers don't support that opinion.

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#152 by TBW (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 3:03pm

These probability of winning analyses always seem to ignore the variability or risk involved, they focus solely on the reward, which seems misguided to me. For example, you wouldn't automatically buy a AA bond over a AAA bond just because the yield is a half a point higher. The decision would be based on your best estimate of the probability of default and your appetite for risk.

These type of analyses seem to assume an unlimited appetite for risk, but I don't think that is accurate. Unless you HAVE to win the game to make the playoffs or some scenario like that, perhaps minimizing your chances of losing is actually the correct strategy. Also, the quality of the two teams probably should come into play. If you are a strong favorite in the game, or have the momentum, then simply extending the game may be the right call. If you're the underdog, or you have to win and can't risk a tie, then your appetite for risk should be higher and then maybe you go for it.

In this case, since these were two evenly matched teams, and the Falcons were at home, and a tie wouldn't hurt them, it seems like punting would have been a better choice, as it minimized the risk of losing the game. But to simply say 47% > 42% so he should have gone for it is far too simplistic.

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#207 by RickD // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:20pm

You are comparing different kinds of decisions.

A bond purchase decision has multiple possible outcomes: a return at rate r1, a return at rate r2, and a default.

I don't see how "risk" plays the same role in a decision about a play call in a football game. You have two possible outcomes: win or loss. Saying a decision is "risky" because it has a high probability of failing is exactly the same as saying it has a low probability of leading to a win.

You could introduce "injury" as an analog to "default" but I would be hard-pressed to see how or why one would want to do that.

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#228 by TBW (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 8:09pm

Here's my beef. People say he should have gone for it because the weighted average of the win probabilities from converting on 4th and failing on 4th was 47% which was higher than the 42% win probability resulting from punting. But that 47% does not exist in reality, it only exists in the long run over many iterations and is effectively irrelevant in any single decision. The real question is whether or not it is worth risking a 24 point drop in win probability(from 42% to 18%) to potentially gain a 15 point increase in win probability. There is no scenario where you get to enjoy a "free" 5 point gain in win probability, which is how this decision is framed by proponents of going for it.

Here's another example. Let's make a bet. You pay me $1 for a chance to pick a number from 1 to 100,000,000, if the same number is picked randomly by a computer I'll give you $1 billion. It's an awesome deal for you, because the expected value of each of your entries is $10, but they cost you only $1, I'm giving away money. Oh, one catch, you can only play the game a million times. Of course by then you will have made $9 million in profit right ? No. 99% of the time I walk away with a million dollars of your money. Sure in the long run you'd be a winner, but in the long run we're all dead.

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#261 by Arkaein // Nov 15, 2011 - 8:55am

No, you've got it wrong. Your example is only relevant if winning after going for it is worth more than winning after punting and stopping NO. It's relevant only as if there are three possible outcomes (win, lose, or don't play the game), but in football there is only winning and losing, with mall chance for a tie out of the coaches control.

So arguments about mathematical expectation are out the window. A choice is superior if it increases you win percentage. As long as potential for injuries is ignores, then every play call in football that increases the team's chance of winning will also increase the mathematical expectation of wins. They are one and the same in this case.

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#263 by Beavis // Nov 15, 2011 - 9:54am

The whole argument for going for it is based on mathematical expectation, how can you say it is "out the window" ?

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#283 by Arkaein // Nov 15, 2011 - 9:14pm

No, mathematical expectation in this case gives you nothing over simple win probability (the concepts are related but distinct). If one call gives you a 60% chance to win, and another call gives you a 40% chance to win, then the 60% call is the right one whether you are in a position to make the call one time (ME of 0.6 wins vs. 0.4 wins) or one million times (ME of 600,000 wins vs. 400,000 wins).

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#285 by Beavis // Nov 16, 2011 - 9:53am

There was no call that gave the Falcons a 47% chance of winning vs 42% if they punted.

The 47% is the mathematical expectation which you say to ignore, and I agree.

The 47% was composed of a roughly 75% chance of getting the 1st down in which case the win probability went to 57%, and a 25% chance they failed which would lower the win probability to 18%. Those are the numbers to focus on, 42% vs (57% or 18%).

One call(punting) gave you a 42% chance of winning, the other(going for it) would result either a 57% chance of winning or an 18% chance if winning. Another way to look at it is this, if you punted you had a 58% chance to lose, but if you went for it and failed your chance of losing increased from 58% to 82%. The potential downside 24%(increase in loss probability) exceeded the upside 16%(increase in win probability) of going for it.

The proper way to look at the call was that it was a high volatility play that was going to dramatically affect who was likely to win the game. Now, if you are an underdog, it might make sense to embrace that volatility and literally roll the dice and hope for an upset. But, in a game between two evenly matched teams, I don't see the advantage to the home team of tying so much of the outcome of the game up into a single play. In any event the 47% win probability number is irrelevant and the argument that the decision was a no brainer because 47% > 42% is ridiculous.

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#256 by Aaron Brooks G… // Nov 15, 2011 - 8:37am

You have two possible outcomes: win or loss.

I see you're from the Donovan McNabb school of football outcomes.

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#187 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 14, 2011 - 4:49pm

What if you think the Saints had an approximate 95% chance of winning after a failed 4th down attempt?

Actually there are a ton of problems with using global rates over a number of years and assuming they fit a single game.

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#204 by RickD // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:15pm

"What if you think the Saints had an approximate 95% chance of winning after a failed 4th down attempt?"

It still depends on what you think your odds of success on the 4th down try are, what your own odds of winning after a successful try are, and what the odds are of the Saints scoring after a punt are.

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#206 by doktarr // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:17pm

What if you think the Saints had an approximate 95% chance of winning after a failed 4th down attempt?

Why would you think that? If they get stuffed without making a first down, they are kicking a field goal of over 40 yards (46 if they don't make a yard). Those get missed over a quarter of the time.

If you think they were assured of getting into easy FG range, then you have to ask yourself why it would have been so hard for them to get there after fielding the punt. Either they were assured of making positive yardage, or they weren't.

In some ways, this is the absolute key insight to understanding why going for it on 4th down is so much better than most people think - the difference between giving the other team the ball where you are, and giving the other team the ball after a punt, is not such a huge thing. If your chances of keeping possession are good, that usually outweighs the field position.

Actually there are a ton of problems with using global rates over a number of years and assuming they fit a single game.

Sure, but in this case, most of those differences actually slant the decision towards going for it. In particular, New Orleans has a bad rushing defense, and a good offense.

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#211 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:28pm

Why would you think that? If they get stuffed without making a first down, they are kicking a field goal of over 40 yards (46 if they don't make a yard). Those get missed over a quarter of the time.

I keep reading this, but I don't actually believe it. What years are being looked at when a quarter of 46 yard field goals are being missed? Because I feel like modern kickers (say the last 5 years) are hitting those closer to 90% of the time, and I think it's likely the Saints move the ball forward a little bit even if they fail to get a first down or go very far. If they 5 yards in 3 attempts, it's a 41 yard field goal. That doesn't seem difficult at all to me. Especially in a dome.

Edit: In this case what rate other kickers hit field goals at isn't even important. What rate does Hartley hit them at? Which from a quick over view of his stats he's hit 40-49 yard field goals 10 out of 11 in his career. Which looks a good deal better than 75%.

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#212 by RickD // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:35pm

I still think that taking the chance of giving the ball to your opponent on your own 29-yard line, in sudden-death overtime, in a dome, is a bad decision any time the probability of doing so is greater than about 3%.

Now you're ruling out any passing play by any QB who has an INT rate higher than 3%. (Rex Grossman, we're talking about you.)

Thinking about the Pats...after last night Brady got his INT rate this season down to 2.8%. (phew)
Of course, that type of thinking ignores the possibility of a bad snap (Brady had one of those last night), sack/fumble or a fumble after the reception. Probably the Patriots have turned the ball over on more than 3% of their passing plays this season.

I'm hard-pressed to accept an attitude that doesn't let the Pats trying passing plays.

The point is that people think that they are minimizing risk by lowering the probability of an immediate bad outcome, but that in doing so they may have indeed increased the total probability of an eventual bad outcome. Also, people are concerned only about certain types of bad outcomes. The risk of turning over the ball on downs is usually greatly overstated, esp. in comparison to the risk of a turnover, or the risk of losing anyway after giving up possession via a punt.

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#226 by DGL // Nov 14, 2011 - 7:57pm

The 3% was a guess at a turnover rate for a normal offense - in other words, don't do anything that gives you a greater chance of giving the opposition the ball in that position than would running your normal offense. Including going for it on fourth down if the chance of not converting on that play is greater than the chance of a turnover on a normal offensive play.

I think that there's a hidden utility to increasing the chance of extending the game in sudden-death overtime that is lost in normal calculations of win probabilities. Though I admit I have no way to quantify that.

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#242 by Max Calvada (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:38pm

Here's the funny response to your droning, empty argument.
We saw the result on the field. The Falcons 100 percent lost because of this decision. I don't care what meaningless statistician you quote. It's a stupid argument. The tedium on this website knows no bounds. It's also amusing because, on his podcast today, Simmons predicted exactly that there would be innumerable clowns defending this decision. I was shocked to see that the FO writers didn't think it was the right choice, since the New England thing a few years ago was treated as the sermon on the mount.

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#257 by Aaron Brooks G… // Nov 15, 2011 - 8:40am

Simmons would have predicted there would have been innumerable clowns defending Galileo. The man admittedly majored in bar-tending; stop treating him as a savant.

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#151 by Jim Glass (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 2:59pm

Why is going for it the right call?

Here's why:

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#20 by PerlStalker // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:20am

Nearly all of Tebow's passes in the first quarter were dropped but they were at least on target. (Eddie Royal dropped a shovel pass for goodness sake.) I think he only had one pass that was drastically off. Unfortunately, it was to a open TE that would have been close to a first down. Still, do you need to pass when you can run the ball effectively? Welcome to 1970's football.

On the other side, if KC's receivers were able to catch the ball, I think they would have won. There were a lot of passes to wide open receivers that were met with stone hands and bounced off the turf. Denver got very lucky.

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#29 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:32am

"Still, do you need to pass when you can run the ball effectively?"

The other side of that coin is "Can you run effectively when you can't pass at all?"

The answer, when playing Todd Haley and the Kansas City Chiefs, is "Yes." But that's probably one more affirmative than you'll get out of the other thirty teams.

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#58 by JIPanick // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:28am

Against the Chiefs, it was less a case of "can't pass" than "didn't pass". 8 is a tiny sample size.

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#66 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 11:57am

It's a tiny sample size because the coaching staff fear the consequences of giving him a larger one.

I'm sure every week we'll have true believers here talking about how "only two of his ten incompletions was a bad pass, so he was really 12 for 14" or some such nonsense. (For that mater, to hear NFL fans talk no QB ever "really" throws an interception - they're ALL tipped, you see). But the people who work with him every day and study him for hours on end have no such illusions.

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#90 by Aaron Brooks G… // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:24pm

But the people who work with him every day and study him for hours on end have no such illusions.

I hate this kind of reasoning. It assumes coaches are omniscient and infallible, and is basically begging the question -- "Starters start because they are starters. Bench warmers are benched because they are bench warmers."

This is the kind of reasoning that falls down upon recognition of the fact that Wes Welker and Kurt Warner had careers, and that Ryan Leaf didn't.

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#93 by CraigoMc (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 12:29pm

I never said that Tim Tebow is a bad passer because the coaches only gave him 8 attempts. I said that they only gave him 8 attempts because he's a bad passer.

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#108 by Crack (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 1:03pm

I think I sort of agree with your point, but I think your examples don't support it. Ryan Leaf doesn't have a career because coaches figured out he couldn't play. Kurt Warner and Wes Welker do have careers because Coaches figured out that they could.

Scouts may have problems figuring out who can excel in the NFL, but coaches eventually figure it out.

I think the point is better made with just Warner and Welker, some coaches didn't think highly of them. Others proved they can be extremely valuable.

Tavaris Jackson or Kyle Boller may be better examples of coaches not knowing who to play. Ryan Leaf busted out to quick to say that coaches played him despite lack of ability. Or Thomas Jones last year in KC.

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#223 by JIPanick // Nov 14, 2011 - 7:45pm

Or, it's a tiny sample because they were ahead the whole time and shredding 'em on the ground. Why pass in that situation?

If they'd been behind you'd have an argument. But, frankly, they weren't and you don't.

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#175 by dmstorm22 // Nov 14, 2011 - 4:15pm

It's true. I remember the Patriots-Ravens playoff game two years ago when the Ravens won with Flacco going 4-10. Two of those four were big third down conversions (the game was put away by that point, but anyway). If the opposing team is letting you run pretty much at will (and the opposing QB/Offense is playing like crap), why even throw?

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#245 by T La Rock (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:42pm

This could also be a way to soundly defeat the Oakland Raiders, perhaps even one week earlier.
But, yeah, I don't think it's a winning formula in the long run. It does seem to be right up John Fox's alley, however.

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#275 by tunesmith // Nov 15, 2011 - 2:51pm

Actually, that one "drastically off" pass was a good play. John Fox gushes about it in the video accompanying this article:

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#21 by stephenbawesome // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:21am

Eagles biggest weakness is hubris.

Not only has it hurt them publicly with the Castillo hire, the linebacker questions, the offensive playcalling, and the Akers vs. Henery debate, but you can see instances of their conceit damning their team each and every week.

Most egrariously, usually, is the habit of vanilla gameplanning against perceived inferior opponents. Last year's game against the Vikings was a great example, and yesterday's game against the Cardinals further exemplifies it.

Andy Reid reminds me of that old Milton Berle anecdote, where he gets told to "just take out enough to win", except the Eagles aren't usually packing enough to win those match-ups that they should.

They rely so much on misdirection that these straight-forward games really stand out. It is almost as if they try to save their "good plays" for a better opponent.

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#24 by JS // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:25am

Sure glad Tanier wrote that article about the Lions not being cheap. That clears everything up. How 'bout Suh punching 'the ball' and then ripping off Cutler's helmet. Yeah, he's just playing good, aggressive football.

Rivers: Yeah, the guys around him suck, but when he gets the chance he is still supposed to, you know, hit the receiver in the chest with the ball. Instead, lots of bad misses. Top QBs miss maybe a few guys all game, and Rivers has been throwing a lot more poor passes than that.

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#25 by Pottsville Mar… // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:25am

Ben - the last time both teams threw for less than 100 yards in a game was last year's Jimmy Clausen/Matt Moore/Todd Collins crapfest. Actually, it seems to happen about once a year:

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#26 by nat // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:26am

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.

I know this is just Audibles. But you seem to have a huge blind spot about the Jets offense.

The Jets offense had a slightly better DSR this week than week 5. They had a much better yards/play. But they also had two turnovers on offense, which when valued at 50 yards a piece, pretty much cancel the extra yardage to make the two days about equal.

This time, their offense only scored 14 points, primarily because they never got a short field to score from, and also because their field goal kicker missed a chip shot, neither of which should reflect on the offense.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing that the Jets offense was good yesterday. They weren't. But they weren't much worse (if at all) than their 'surprising' week five game.

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#189 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 14, 2011 - 4:53pm

This time, their offense only scored 14 points, primarily because they never got a short field to score from, and also because their field goal kicker missed a chip shot, neither of which should reflect on the offense.

The problem here is that there is no way to know that theoretically the Jets can only drive so far. Lets take a hypothetical team that will drive exactly 30 yards every drive (unless they reach the end zone of course). If they start every drive at their opponents 30 or closer, they will look amazing because they drove as far as they could every single drive. However, if they start every drive from their own 10 they are not going to look as good punting every single drive. When you feed the stats into a computer, there is no way for the computer to know that the drives would have ended prior to reaching the end zone, and would think the game were they had short fields was a day of excellent offense.

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#215 by nat // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:49pm

VOA is a per play stat. Drive success rate (DSR) is a per-set-of-downs stat. Neither depends (much) on starting field position for the drive. But a team's chance of scoring on a drive depends on where they start the drive, which is mostly not due to their offense's efforts.

So there's no problem here.

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#216 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 14, 2011 - 5:52pm

We know DVOA gives a 25% boost in red zone. I don't see how you can say that doesn't depend (much) on field position. 25% seems huge to me.

As for DSR, the final set of downs would still be important. It would end in a TD (good) for game 1 and a punt (bad) in game 2. Again with my hypothetical team, it would be the difference between 100% DSR and about 75%.

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#233 by nat // Nov 14, 2011 - 8:54pm

Ah, you missed a bit from last week's DVOA discussion. The Jets had just seven plays in the red zone in week five. Giving those plays 25% extra weight, means they should be treated as if they were 8.75 plays. The net effect is tiny - moving the "successful play" percentage up by 1%. There would be a similar small effect on VOA. The red zone was a red herring.

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#251 by Thomas_beardown // Nov 15, 2011 - 2:10am

I wasn't really talking about the Jets, but how a team that is really good at moving the ball for time, but peters out could get wildly different advanced stats.

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#254 by nat // Nov 15, 2011 - 7:22am

Oh, I missed that.

Well, I agree we can construct unrealistic teams that have strange stats. I'd say a team with entirely deterministic results would violate the assumptions we base the stats on in many ways. But no real teams have entirely deterministic results for any length of time, so it's kind of a moot point.

One of the questions about the Jets' offense in week five was whether they had, by pure chance, turned into one of those stats-breaking deterministic teams for a game. The problem was that we could not detect any such effect. The red zone effect was shown to be tiny. The benefit from avoiding turnovers was shown to be real, but too small to account for their huge VOA. There is no VOA effect that would give them a bonus for concentrating their success in a few drives, since VOA is play by play. There is no DSR effect, likewise. Given their low DSR and lack of extra yardage, there just wasn't enough room in which to find much hidden VOA.

So, when Aaron does finally just tell us the down-by-down VOA for that very odd game, we will either find that hidden VOA or pinpoint the calculation or data transcription error that gave the Jets such a weird result. Either way we will learn a lot about DVOA, football and/or the Jets. (Aaron: when you do it, include the Pats' offensive VOA with and without turnovers, so we can compare.)

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#28 by North Duval (not verified) // Nov 14, 2011 - 10:31am

Why is everyone comparing the Falcons' 4th and 1 play to the famous Belichick 4th and 2 rather than the more obvious allegory, the 1994-95ish Dallas-Philadelphia game where Switzer went for it on 4th and 1 at his own 30 with a tie score and failed?

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