Audibles at the Line: Week 5
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 49ers 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, October 4
Arizona Cardinals 3 at St. Louis Rams 17
Ben Muth: It was just one drive, but Sam Bradford looked really good to start the game. First Bradford found Danny Amendola for 44 yards (despite him being covered by Patrick Peterson) right as he was getting hit, then he made a nice touchdown throw rolling to his left on third down in the red zone.
Peter Koski: What we've learned from Kevin Kolb and Bradford so far tonight: accuracy, it's important. No horseshoes and hand grenades allowed by these defenses.
Tom Gower: Greg Zuerlein just killed the ball on that 53-yard field goal in the second quarter. This isn't exactly a revelation, but the kid can kick.
Ben Muth: The story of the first half is Kolb missing some big plays. On the Cardinals first drive, he underthrew Rob Housler down the seam on what should've been a touchdown, then he didn't see a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald on a double move where he burnt Janoris Jenkins. Kolb also underthrew Andre Roberts on what could've been another touchdown in the second quarter. The Cards settled for a field goal; Jay Feely missed it.
Also, Arizona's offensive tackles still can't block.
Between Kolb's flopping and the lack of scoring, this game is a fan riot away from becoming a soccer match.
Arizona's offensive line is terrible. That said, Kolb never hangs in there and makes a throw as he's getting hit. He always holds on to the ball and tries to escape to make the throw. This usually ends in a sack because he isn't Ben Roethlisberger.
Look, I'm the one who called Arizona's tackles one half of the Sharktapus combo with Dallas' interior offensive line, so I am not fan of their work. I love Mike Mayock as much as the next guy. But him killing Arizona's offensive line for the Cortland Finnegan sack that basically ended the game is ridiculous. It was an empty protection, which means you can go full slide (and leave one edge unblocked), or man (and account for five specific guys). The Cards went man, and it was pretty clear that they decided to account for the four down linemen and the Mike linebacker. Kolb can redirect them to any defender he wants if he thinks someone else is coming. He can say "Mike 31" and Arizona will block the four down guys and Finnegan. If he doesn't, then he has to know that guy won't get blocked. Kolb has to get rid of the ball.
To blame an offensive line using the logic "they had five guys blocking and they only rushed five" is absurd. Imagine if a defense went Cover-0 with five guys but every offensive player was eligible. That's what it's like to be an offensive lineman in empty protection.
Peter Koski: I agree. Kolb HAS to be aware of all possible blitzers going empty back. Finnegan's rush was right in front of Kolb and it looked like Fitzgerald was open with James Laurinaitis still sliding over in to coverage. Kolb seemed to get paralyzed during the decision making, discounting the massive pass rush he was facing.
Aaron Schatz: Every time the Rams lined up Robert Quinn and Chris Long in the wide-nine, you knew that Kolb was toast. His pocket presence is awful, but it is almost as if he throws the ball even worse when he has enough time to think. His hurried throws looked better than his more calm and collected throws.
Not only does Zuerlein look great, but the near-albino Johnny Hekker was booming punts as well.
Sunday, September 30
Cleveland Browns 27 at New York Giants 41
Aaron Schatz: In honor of my return from Blogs with Balls, I'm picking the Giants to beat Cleveland 24-1.
Wait, I take that back. Cleveland is already up 7-0. So, 24-8.
Andy Benoit: Browns just went up 14-0. Apocalypse?
Aaron Schatz: Or prelude to another Giants Super Bowl run?
Matt Waldman: Ahmad Bradshaw fumbles his first carry on the initial drive when Chris Snee is crossing through the rushing lane and the runner's loose ball-carrying arm grazes the lineman. Ball goes straight up, and after a mini Football Follies segment, Sheldon Brown recovers in Giants territory. Two Trent Richardson carries through big creases seal the deal.
Giants punt after a short second series, and Josh Gordon draws Chase Blackburn on a play-action post for a 62-yard touchdown. Antrel Rolle is not there to provide support and it's a perfect pitch-and-catch in stride about 45 yards down field.
Andre Brown is out with a head injury on a kick return earlier in the first quarter. Martellus Bennett hyper-extends his knee blocking Jabaal Sheard, and now the Giants are relying on Rueben Randle. The first pass was a nice comeback. On the next play Randle is hit helmet-to-helmet by Buster Skrine on a deeper cross and drops the ball. Manning comes back to Randle for three straight with Skrine in tight coverage, but it fails to do anything worthwhile.
Richardson makes three Giants defenders miss on a bounce to the right side for five yards, and had no business gaining positive yards in this situation despite a holding call on Benjamin Watson. The penalty makes it first-and-20, which Richardson erases with a 22-yard gain on a screen to the left flat where he cuts across the field and stiff-arms Blackburn in the process for the first down. Then he nearly rips through a grab of the seat of his pants by Blackburn on a seven-yard gain. Anyone notice Richardson's shoulder pads look small on him, but because he's human ball of muscle you don't realize it at first glance? Crazy.
Browns add a field goal to the total after the Cleveland offensive line pulls its Richardson Tank to the edges of the Giants defense. Brandon Weeden looks pretty good when he has time, but not good enough to avoid throwing a wide open slant in the red zone behind Gordon. The rookie receiver nearly holds onto the ball while turning in the opposite direction of his break to reach for it, but can't hang on. If he does, he backs into the end zone for the score. Gordon is a really fluid athlete; even his lesser moments look somewhat graceful.
Ben Muth: Greg Gumbel just mentioned that Weeden is older than Joe Thomas. Weeden has played pretty good today, but I always forget how old he actually is.
Matt Waldman: Bradshaw running hard after the fumble, finishing with the pads low and getting yards after contact on runs where he gets a head of steam. Manning is also making some nice throws in coverage that might be better described as muggings in progress. Domenik Hixon climbs the ladder on a comeback for a nice play after catching a hook with Sheldon Brown acting as a white and orange cape. Hixon is a bit of a redemption story after an injury-filled career. He's a nice player in tight spaces -- a taller, rangy, slightly more dynamic Steve Smith when the former Giant was healthy.
Gordon's second touchdown is a seam route past Corey Webster, and Weeden threads it under the safety for the 20-yard score.
Andy Benoit: Was Weeden’s interception to Steve Brown really as inaccurate a throw as it appeared to be? That’s what interceptions at recess look like. Maybe coaches film will show something different. Hard to explain that one for now...
Matt Waldman: After that pick, Manning immediately finds Randle with a play-action pass between the corner and safety, and the rookie receiver takes it inside the the Browns three. Bradshaw takes a quick-hitter up the middle for the score.
Cruz gets his second score on another play-action route where Cruz fakes inside from the slot and breaks to the corner wide open to take the lead. Things are back to normal in the football world.
Richardson seems to be breaking no less than two tackles on every run. Even a one-yard run is fun to watch as he shoves aside players his side or larger. Gordon nearly makes a pretty catch at the right sideline in the two-minute drill. He extends for the ball low and away, and gets both hands around it, but the ball hits the ground and moves while he's focused on keeping his body inside the boundary. I think they've found something in Gordon if they can find something in Weeden.
Browns defensive back Skrine commits a pass interference penalty on Randle with four seconds in the half and gives the Giants a 40-yard FG attempt to extend the lead to 10 points. Skrine's (pronounced "screen") last name must have some root in a language that means "foul."
Tom Gower: Every time I've watched the Browns this year, Skrine has been really, really involved in the game, and not in the Jason Pierre-Paul "this guy is a one-man wrecking crew" sense.
Matt Waldman: Weeden on third-and-goal has yet another pass batted at the line. This time he catches it, rolls right, and throws it to Jordan Cameron in the back of the end zone for an illegal forward pass.
After that, he throws a pick to Blackburn, killing another drive in the end zone.
Andy Benoit: Bradshaw has his career-high in rushing yardage today. He’s looked fluid and light on his feet (in a good way) from the get-go today.
Baltimore Ravens 9 at Kansas City Chiefs 6
Rivers McCown: Kansas City has first-and-10 just past midfield against the Ravens early in the first quarter: run, run, run. All of these by Shaun Draughn, not Jamaal Charles. The last of which looked like an audible from Matt Cassel. No wonder Chiefs fans are having signs about firing everyone flown over the stadium.
Andy Benoit: In the early first quarter, Jamaal Charles loses another fumble in his own territory. That’s what lost the game for KC last week. Is Charles the new fumble guy in the league? Are we going to get stories about him carrying the ball high and tight around the facility all week now?
Rivers McCown: Cyrus Gray fumbles on a pitch later in the drive Andy talked about. Cassel has attempted two passes, and one of them was a play-action dumpoff. This team has zero confidence in him.
Peter Koski: Stick with what you're good at, and the Kansas City offense is good at turning the ball over. They've already had two punts, a lost fumble, and a tipped interception in the first 20 minutes.
Rivers McCown: To be fair to the Chiefs, they have been fairly impressive in the run game when they haven't been turning it over. Charles is showing a lot of short-area quickness and getting them into favorable down-distance situations.
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Vince Verhei: Alright, this is now ridiculous. Chiefs run, run, run, and get a first-and-goal at the 12 after a false start. They then run for a loss of eight on first down; run for a loss of two on second-and-goal from the 20; and run for ten yards on third-and-goal from the 22. They have 29 runs and four passes. If you are this afraid to pass, you may as well dump Cassel and sign a Big 12 spread option refugee or CFL vet and at least throw in the occasional option or bootleg keeper.
Now, that being said, It really is fun to watch a team run so effectively. I don't watch very much college ball, but the Florida offense yesterday -- with a heavy dose of seven-lineman sets, unbalanced lines, and 20-some runs in a row in a comeback win -- was a beautiful thing to behold.
Peter Koski: The Chiefs have run 33 plays, with 27 or so being running plays. Among the passing plays: a sack with a lost fumble, and an interception.
Chiefs just ran the ball three straight times with less than a minute left in the half to get a first down at their own 30. In a tie game. This is bizarre. The Chiefs converted third down, then took a timeout. Why?
With a big Charles run, the Chiefs get in almost field-goal range. They come up short on a Cassel dumpoff pass on third down, looking at a 60-yard field goal on fourth-and-1. Then they decide to punt with 12 seconds left in the half.
Vince Verhei: As we focus on Kansas City's rush offense, let's not overlook how great their pass defense is playing. Against the league's premier deep-ball offense, they've held Flacco to 7-of-17 for 64 yards.
Rivers McCown: Kansas City gets a first-and-goal on a pass interference, Cassel runs a quarterback sneak, then fumbles. Are we really so desperate that we need to invoke the arcane notion of Brady Quinn? Channel 6 says yes.
P.S.: Cassel completed a pass to Dwayne Bowe on this series that was such a wounded duck that Bowe couldn't make a football move after catching it. Even though his man was playing off coverage.
Aaron Schatz: Did Ed Reed just pick up a Kansas City fumble in the end zone and try to run it out with like five Chiefs surrounding him, instead of just taking a knee for a touchback? Way to blow 10 yards of field position there, buddy.
Vince Verhei: Cassel now has 50 yards passing (not counting DPI calls) with two lost fumbles and an interception. That's a lot of bad plays with very little production. (Professional football writer analysis right there.)
I'm fine with Reed's decision to run it out. It was a high-risk, high-reward play, and it didn't work out, but Reed might have a better chance to score than any Ravens offensive player at this point.
Tom Gower: Cassel came into today's game throwing an interception or fumbling the ball every 10.6 plays. He's done a great job of lowering that today.
Rivers McCown: Flacco should probably stop throwing at Flowers.
Vince Verhei: Was that written before or after Flowers pulled in an interception to keep Kansas City in the game?
Rivers McCown: Does it matter? (After.)
Thankfully Cassel is there to make Flacco feel better about himself with another turnover.
Vince Verhei: Quinn is in for Kansas City. His first game since December of 2009. Not because Cassel was benched, but because he was crushed under a pile of Ravens. He walked to the locker room.
Quinn "leads" a field goal drive in which he completes two passes, only one for a first down. Baltimore lead 9-6. I'm tempted to pore through old boxscores so I can make Johnny Unitas-Len Dawson jokes.
Chiefs sack Flacco, and it's a pretty clear fumble and recovery for a touchdown for Kansas City. The old inadvertent whistle blows the play dead though. On the next play, Flacco scrambles for a first down on third-and-15.
Rivers McCown: I thought I heard they called this Flacco's forward progress being stopped?
Vince Verhei: Right. That's what it was called, but it looked to me like a very bad call. The ref who blew his whistle could only see Flacco's back and didn't know he had fumbled. Sorry I wasn't clear.
The Ravens pick up a few more first downs to run out the clock and win the game. Man, that's an ugly, ugly win, where they got multiple gift turnovers and still needed to scratch out a win over a bad team. It might be one where DVOA says the Chiefs played better.
Philadelphia Eagles 14 at Pittsburgh Steelers 16
Aaron Schatz: The play where Michael Vick leans away from pressure and then chucks the ball into the sky without looking at where it is going? Yeah, that's not going to work out well in the long run.
Andy Benoit: On the Vick heave play Aaron referenced, he also had an interior hook route open at the top of his drop. He didn't pull the trigger, and chose to play sandlot. Classic example of the bad side of Vick.
Well, at least Vick isn’t throwing interceptions. His second lost fumble was forced by Lawrence Timmons, who is having a great first quarter.
Maurkice Pouncey had three shotgun snaps that were high and fast in first quarter ... has that been a problem with him in the past?
Vince Verhei: Early in the second quarter, Vick has the near-interception and two lost fumbles, one at the goal line. He actually fumbled away another ball, but the play was correctly ruled down by contact on replay. That should not let Vick off the hook on the play, because he fumbled of his own accord, and only incidentally got his leg tangled with a Pittsburgh defender.
It's still 0-0, though, because Pittsburgh is making their own share of mistakes. Plenty of penalties, and Ben Roethlisberger has fumbled two shotgun snaps himself, though both were recovered by Pittsburgh.
Andy Benoit: Through 10 dropbacks, Vick has taken seven hits. Never mind, make it eight hits on 11 dropbacks.
Vince Verhei: Troy Polamalu is already back on the bench with his calf wrapped. Pam Oliver says he is done for the day.
Andy Benoit: The Steelers are able to get pressure on Vick with two deep safeties. That changes the way back end defenders can play the deep ball, and ruins an Eagles system that’s predicated on creating speed-based downfield mismatches.
The Steelers are throwing a lot at Nnamdi Asomugha in first half, not so much against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Asomugha is primarily matched on Antonio Brown, Rodgers-Cromartie on Mike Wallace. Brown did a good job getting open against Asomugha in first half. Won the matchup.
Aaron Schatz: Brown definitely is able to get open downfield against Asomugha, he had a play in the end zone where Roethlisberger just barely overthrew him and he reached out but was out the back of the end zone by the time he had possession. Both quarterbacks are under a lot of pressure. Not a lot of running the ball. And to answer Andy's question, no, I don't remember Pouncey ever being known for difficulty with shotgun snaps.
By the way, a Google search on "Maurkice Pouncey shotgun problems" brings up a number of stories about Mike Pouncey having shotgun problems. Maybe they switched bodies today, like a bad 80's comedy.
Danny Tuccitto: Wait, you mean a *totally awesome* 80s comedy.
J.J. Cooper: Not recently for Pouncey. Generally he is pretty consistent at snapping. One of those seemed to hit Roethlisberger in the hands.
Andy Benoit: The only two times the Eagles have gotten near Steelers’ goal-line, they’ve benefited from chunk yards of penalties.
It won’t show in the rushing numbers, but LeSean McCoy is keeping the Eagles’ offense alive in the second half. Lots of tough yards, creating yards that aren’t there. He had a pair of fourth-and-short conversions on Philly's early fourth quarter drive.
DeSean Jackson ran a great route against Ike Taylor, Cover-3 type coverage ... may have been quarters ... but whatever it was, Jackson ran an outside route versus Taylor’s outside technique. It was a similar route to what he ran last week against the Giants for a big gain.
Outstanding fourth-quarter drive by Eagles. A 17-play drive that lasted over eight minutes. Just like last week, the Eagles have gone to the ground in the second half to regain control of the game.
Miami Dolphins 17 at Cincinnati Bengals 13
Danny Tuccitto: Since I wrote about it in Upset Watch this week, my goal today is to keep an eye on A.J. Green v. Sean Smith. Early on, advantage Smith, although Andy Dalton doesn't seem shy about forcing the ball to Green, as evidenced by an on-the-move, across-his-body, 40-yard toss into the middle of the field. Probably should have been intercepted, but the coverage was there nonetheless.
Totally peculiar game-management move of the week: Miami has fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 38-yard line. They line up to run a play, but it's just the ol' try-to-draw-them-offside game. It doesn't work. They take a delay of game and then punt, right? Wrong. They take timeout for whatever reason, and then *go for it* after the timeout!
They ended up not getting the first down, but the result is irrelevant.
Halftime in Cincy, where it's 7-6 Miami. This one's pretty much proceeding as expected except for the Dolphins run defense uncharacteristically allowing Bernard Scott to break off a 29-yard run. On the other nine running back carries, though, Scott and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are averaging 2.0 yards a pop. In the Green-Smith matchup, Miami's been playing a lot of zone and allowing other corners to cover Green than I expected. By my count, Green's had six targets, been covered by Smith on four of those targets, and has a whopping two catches for five yards on those plays. (Mike Carey voice) "It remains...advantage Smith."
Vince Verhei: Dalton hits Green for a touchdown very early in the fourth quarter. Bengals then kick the extra point to make it a four-point game at 17-13. Why would you not go for two there? I guess you're anticipating giving up a field goal at some point and needing a touchdown?
Tom Gower: William Krasker's two-point conversion chart has your break-even at about 24 percent. So, Marvin Lewis didn't think his offense could gain two yards more than a quarter of the time?
Atlanta Falcons 24 at Washington Redskins 17
Vince Verhei: Could be the Red Bryant tribute as well.
Tom Gower: Yeah, that was a very impressive play by Kerrigan, disrupting a screen and jumping up to get the ball. The Falcons have been just a bit off offensively today, stalling on a couple third downs. They've been playing well this year, better than they did last year, but their offense is starting to bother me again, just because I don't understand what's going on as well as I think I should.
Andy Benoit: Alfred Morris and the Redskins are consistently beating the Falcons on the edges with the stretch run. Receivers blocking in the run game is critical for that. Stretch runs are smart against Falcons because it forces corners Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel to play at the point of attack.
Matt Waldman: What I like about the Falcons offense compared to the Mularkey version is that it minimizes Matt Ryan's vertical game. Ryan has improved his arm strength, but he lacks that power arm to throw line-drive style deep plays. He needs to throw the ball with more arc than guys like Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Flacco, Cutler, etc. This offense does a strong job using Ryan's precision as a play-action passer on short drops. When they move Roddy White around, they do a great job of generating misdirection on short play-action passes that leave White in single coverage on the back side or running open across the middle on boot legs. But if the ground game gets out of rhythm and the play-action game is minimized, Ryan gets out of rhythm and the offense can stall.
Andy Benoit: Redskins put a lot of demands on their linebackers in pass defense. Tony Gonzalez is liking this.
Tom Gower: With first-and-goal at the 1 late in the first half, the Atlanta Falcons lined up with Ryan, Michael Turner, Gonzalez, and eight offensive linemen. After the Redskins are flagged for encroachment, they remain in the eight-lineman look and Ryan hits Gonzalez for the score.
Aaron Schatz: We may have to have Ben diagram that Atlanta eight-lineman set.
Vince Verhei: At halftime, 76-year-old Gonzalez has nine catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, in ten targets. He's not really going to retire, is he?
Rivers McCown: Jim Miller thinks a quarterback controversy is a-brewin'!
Andy Benoit: Julio Jones makes a fantastic adjustment on the ball for the game-changing touchdown in the front corner of end zone.
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Tom Gower: Second series with Cousins, Pierre Garcon drops a pass, then nobody on defense bothers to go more than 20 yards downfield. Santana Moss is 25 yards downfield, catches the ball, and runs 50 more yards to the end zone. I don't know which defenders screwed up, but at least one of them did in a big way.
Aaron Schatz: On the Santana Moss touchdown, that looks like he just split two safeties in a deep zone, it looked like they were looking at each other like "I thought you had the middle... no, I thought you had the middle." What was odd is that Atlanta then showed a close-up of a dejected Samuel walking to the sideline, even though it wasn't his fault at all, he had a zone on the side.
Green Bay Packers 27 at Indianapolis Colts 30
Tom Gower: The Packers are a better, more talented team than the Colts. This is not much of a surprise. Cedric Benson had a nice gain on a well-executed screen to set up in the first Packers touchdown, and Bruce Arians, apparently unfamiliar with the rules, challenged the second Packers score. So Green Bay got to kickoff from the 50. Benson was just carted to the locker room, shaken up on a tackle. I didn't think it looked that serious, but you never know.
Andrew Luck came out of college with great pocket presence and movement, and he needs every bit of it today as the Colts have struggled badly in protection today.
Tom Gower: Luck scrambles for a score to cut the Packers lead to 21-19 just short of the close of the second quarter. The Colts then go for two and are stopped. According to William Krasker's two-point chart, your break-even point on this call is about 25 percent.
Andy Benoit: I've only seen a few plays, but Packers back Alex Green has a LOT of juice. Incredible lateral burst on his 41-yard run. Hard to imagine him not supplanting Benson in the near future.
Matt Waldman: Green reminded me of Jamal Anderson (stylistically speaking) when at Hawaii. His burst flies off the screen in those college games. Getting healthier, I suppose.
Andy Benoit: Are we watching a legend unfold with Andrew Luck here?
Vince Verhei: All credit in the world to Luck, but let's also credit a Colts defense that limited the Packers to one touchdown, two missed field goals, an interception, and four punts in the second half.
Aaron Schatz: I'm seeing stuff on Twitter about some kind of strange Packers clock management ... any details?
Denver Broncos 21 at New England Patriots 31
Aaron Schatz: Question in the press box during Denver's opening drive: "Did the Broncos actually bring any running backs with them, or did they leave them all at home?"
The Pats would like Peyton Manning to know that he can have the pass in the flats to his tight ends whenever he feels like it. Three or four yards? They're fine with that.
Andy Benoit: Breaking: Tom Brady is sharp in pre-snap reads out of no-huddle. Patriots controlling the tempo.
Von Miller is showcasing explosive speed and power off the edge, but Brady doing an excellent job with pocket movement to compensate. When your quarterback can compensate like that, you can get away with single-blocking a guy like Miller, even though your tackles can’t actually block him.
Aaron Schatz: What's impressing me about Miller isn't just the pass pressure, it's the couple of big tackles for loss he's had of runners trying to take it outside. He just took down Brandon Bolden for a four-yard loss on third-and-goal from the 1.
Otherwise, I feel bad I'm not being more talkative here but this game has played out as chalk. The Patriots offense looks Patriots offense-like. Denver's defense looks reasonable but clearly misses D.J. Williams, and the Pats are completing lots of short passes and getting lots of inside runs from shotgun. Manning looks good, he just had a couple of passes that were a little off and that's why the Pats are up 17-7 at the break.
Ben Muth: Bolden busts a long run on an outside zone off the tackle. Now do you give credit to Sebastian Vollmer, who knocked down the defensive end? Or, do you give it to Deion Branch, who got in the way of the cornerback? If you're announcing for CBS you give credit to Branch of course.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots just converted a third-and-17 with a handoff to Danny Woodhead. Just ... wow. The outside is nice, but the middle of the Denver defense is a problem.
Andy Benoit: We think of how a hurry-up offense helps your pass-blocking, but New England has shown all afternoon how it can help your run-blocking.
Rivers McCown: I think J.J. nailed it in Under Pressure when he noted that the biggest difference between this Manning and peak Manning is his ability to feel the rush coming. Big sack and forced fumble by Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots are less than 20 yards from being up four scores.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots go for it on fourth-and-5 from the 37, figuring it is too far for a field goal but too close to get much field position punting. Sounds like a good decision. Doesn't work out well when Brady is sacked, loses the ball, and it bounces backwards about 15 extra yards for a 20-yard loss. Judge on process, not results, of course, but yeah, that sure didn't work out well.
Broncos score on that next drive after the Brady sack to make it 31-21. They onside kicked with 6:41 left and two timeouts remaining. Does that seem a little bit early to folks? I expected them to kick away.
Andy Benoit: Chandler Jones is doing a good job getting sinewy corner turns. Ryan Clady is fending him off, but Jones’s athleticism is evident. Manning is doing a fantastic job of improving late in the down. He’s single-handedly keeping the Broncos alive.
Aaron Schatz: Late in the game there, fourth-and-1, Denver chose to throw a 30-yard deep pass to Demaryius Thomas rather than try to convert with a run or a short pass -- the kind of short passes the Pats were letting them have all day. Totally ballsy, aggressive call, and I know we usually love aggressive calls, but I have to say -- I don't think it was a good idea, even if it worked. There was plenty of time for the Broncos to march towards the end zone, they didn't need to grab 30 in one chunk, and their odds of converting on a shorter pass were much higher. Anyone else have thoughts on it?
Vince Verhei: On the two Denver strategic questions:
1) I would never try an onside kick unless it was literally my only option. I think I've got better odds of forcing a three-and-out and getting the ball back than I do of recovering an onside kick.
2) I'm pretty sure the play-call on fourth-and-1 was not "throw deep." I think Peyton saw he had a one-on-one matchup down the field that was at least as good a matchup as anything short, and they needed two scores, and he took a calculated risk. There were, what, six minutes left at that point? I don't think you can assume you'll have enough time to march down the field twice there.
Aaron Schatz: The results of the Champ Bailey project are interesting. As I did three weeks ago with Patrick Peterson, I tried to follow Champ Bailey on every New England offensive play. (Admittedly, I sort of lost track during a lot of the fourth quarter with the Pats running out the clock.) Unlike Peterson, the Broncos clearly wanted Bailey on Brandon Lloyd on every play. He switched sides whenever Lloyd did and went to the slot when Lloyd did. He was in man coverage on him on nearly every play, and it looked like pretty good coverage. Bailey generally used outside leverage to prevent Lloyd from moving away from the sideline. Brady didn't look to Lloyd much at all. And yet, when they did throw to Lloyd, they had success. The Pats threw three times to Lloyd in the first half, and all three were complete for first downs. First, Lloyd was able to get open on a dig for a first down. Later, he got away from Bailey with a little shake move in the middle of the field on one. He caught a quick slant on a third.
In the second half, they only threw to Lloyd twice. The first one was with 7:05 left in the third quarter, from around the 20, it was overthrown in the corner of the end zone but coverage was good, Brady would have needed to drop it into a very small space. Then in the fourth quarter, they threw to Lloyd again, I was a bit distracted but I think it was a zone of some sort and the pass was actually almost picked off by Von Miller in the underneath zone.
I'm not sure what this told us about Bailey's declining charting stats overall. He looked good, but his stats (allowing three out of five successful plays) wouldn't look good. Unfortunately, this shows one of the limitations of the charting. It's a big leap to track the success of coverage on all passes, but it's another big leap to try to track the success of coverage on all receivers, whether they are thrown to or not. It's something we finally would have the ability to do with all-22, but have neither the volunteer man-hours nor the financial resources to make it happen. However, we certainly could take a look at the end of the season at a few cornerbacks where the charting stats disagree with conventional wisdom. And now that we have snap counts, we can also look at targets per snap, which I am guessing will produce some interesting data.
Seattle Seahawks 16 at Carolina Panthers 12
Seattle's defense gave up nothing in the first half. The Panthers last drive had a couple of big plays, including a big Cam Newton run, but stalled and ended in three points. Newton can't get anything to Steve Smith, though part of that was a blatant defensive pass interference deep downfield by Brandon Browner that the refs missed. Watching the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner cover the 5-foot-9 or whatever Steve Smith is comical. Not that it's a terrible mismatch (although Browner is clearly winning), but just the height difference makes me laugh.
Carolina's defense is leaving holes all over the secondary, and Sidney Rice is making more tough catches than I remember. Russell Wilson is 12-of-13 at halftime. That said, it's still the Seahawks offense, and they're still only ahead 6-3.
Andy Benoit: Captain Munnerlyn just got a huge pick-six. Inaccurate throw by Wilson. At what point are we going to start really questioning Wilson?
Vince Verhei: I've been questioning him for weeks.
Rivers McCown: Yeah, and I picked him apart in Any Given Sunday last week. And Pete Carroll had to field a few Matt Flynn questions last week as well. He's been questioned.
Vince Verhei: Wilson threw another interception while scrambling and throwing across his body. The ball came in behind Marshawn Lynch and, to be fair, was catchable, but got knocked up into the air and picked off. Counting Leon Washington's fumble on the opening kickoff, that's three turnovers for Seattle this quarter.
And the Seahawks defense has still given up only three points. They're conscious of Newton's big-play ability and giving big cushions to the wideouts, much less press man than they usually play, and Newton has been too erratic to hit the shorter routes.
Aaron Schatz: I think The Asterisk is still our man in the long run, but listen, I told people before the season that rookies are usually rookies and they have rookie problems for a reason, and you don't see those issues in the preseason because opponents aren't specifically game-planning to confuse them in their glorious rookieness. So yes, I think Flynn gives them a better chance to make the postseason *this year* but I think it makes sense to believe in Wilson long-term.
Vince Verhei: Brandon Browner: Real man. He's been dominating Smith all day. Then Carolina runs the option. Browner forces Newton to pitch the ball, then peels off and hits DeAngelo Williams for what would have been a loss anyway, then strips the ball and recovers it to put Seattle back in the game.
Seahawks capitalize on the turnover as Wilson hits Golden Tate with a slant route on third down, and Tate somehow squirms through about a half-dozen Panthers for the score. A 27-yard touchdown drive.
Panthers get by far their best drive of the day as Newton finds Greg Olsen in the Seahawks' zone a few times. It comes down to a goal-line stand. Two runs are stuffed, and a completion comes up just short of the goal-line. On fourth-and-inches, they try play-action and a rollout. Olsen is quadruple-covered, and Newton, looking completely lost, throws the ball into the turf. This defense is just wild.
Buffalo Bills 3 at San Francisco 49ers 45
Peter Koski: Leodis McKelvin is giving the Niners special teams some problems. He brought a kickoff into Niners territory after bouncing out of a pile. On an earlier kickoff, he found a seam, but it was called back for holding.
The Niners keep going back to play-action on first down and the Bills keep giving them no reason to change. The San Francisco offense seems real close to finding a groove, but it can't quite get there.
Ben Muth: Buffalo's secondary is bad at tackling.
Peter Koski: Michael Crabtree is displaying some more of that after-the-catch playmaker ability that he's yet to do consistently in the NFL. Kyle Williams is also showing signs of development, making a nice adjustment on a back shoulder stop and then taking it to the house. The Bills are motioning guys out wide in an effort to take Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman out of the middle to create space for C.J. Spiller.
The Bills don't have an answer for Vernon Davis.
Andy Benoit: The Bills are the first team since the 1950 NY Yanks to allow 550 or more yards in consecutive weeks.
Danny Tuccitto: The predictability of this 49ers game makes me wonder if some intrepid computer engineer in Cupertino programmed it into the matrix. We knew the Buffalo defense is horrible. We knew that San Francisco's defense is great. We knew the 49ers offense can score points just fine against horrible defenses. We knew they easily handle inferior non-division opponents at home. There's been your
typical dose of Kaeper-cat, play-action passing, 300-pound defensive linemen as lead blockers, naked bootlegs, end-arounds, etc. On defense, it's Patrick Willis seemingly everywhere, Carlos Rogers getting abused in the slot, sure-handed tackling from everyone, plus takeaway after takeaway.
It's the first time in years that I'm legitimately bored watching my favorite team.
Aaron Schatz: Jim Harbaugh has to be the leader for Coach of the Year. Look, I know nobody ever wins Coach of the Year in two straight years. They almost always give the award to somebody coaching a surprise playoff team that unexpectedly goes from a losing record to a winning record. This year that would be Leslie Frazier, and the Vikings are impressive, but what Harbaugh has done with the 49ers is truly remarkable. The historical regression trends were so strong, and yet that may be the best team in the league. And Harbaugh is such a big reason, especially when you consider how much his management has meant for Smith and that offense.
Tennessee Titans 7 at Minnesota Vikings 30
Tom Gower: Matt Hasselbeck has been pretty lousy early, and Antoine Winfield was the first Vikings player to actually take advantage and catch the ball. That set up a field goal to make it 10-0, as the Vikings scored earlier on a drive that included a nice touch pass downfield to Percy Harvin and finished with a Harvin run from the backfield.
Well, my company for this week's game left a lot happier than they did four years ago when the Titans beat the Vikings in Nashville. Today's game was never really competitive. The Titans did nothing offensively in the first three quarters, and while the Vikings didn't do much either, they did just enough. Adrian Peterson ran well, Harvin is better than you think he is, and the Titans' receivers had major problems winning against an improved secondary. Michael Griffin did get flagged for a hit, so maybe Jerry Gray will be happy about that. Otherwise, there's not much to be happy about as the Titans have now given up at least 30 in every game this season and have not scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game. I wrote this on my Titans site after last week's game, but the Week 17 home game against the Jaguars is looking like it could be a big one for draft position.
Rivers McCown: I started Chris Johnson in a fantasy league, so I am at least as culpable for his performance as his offensive line.
San Diego Chargers 24 at New Orleans Saints 31
Rivers McCown: Looks like this game is about as popular as Ryan Mathews in the Chargers front office.
Tom Gower: I've been watching with some interest, though I'm also still stewing over the Titans game. Philip Rivers has looked great at times. The Mathews stuff still drives me nuts -- I got to the point last year where I sort of figured things out and could see where they wanted him to make better decisions at the second level. Second-year defensive end Corey Liuget has turned into a heck of a player after a very meh debut season. Beyond Liuget, the guy who's really surprised me this year is Malcom Floyd. He's been a very good vertical threat in the past, but is doing better this year on shorter and intermediate passes than I was expecting.
Danny Tuccitto: Yanks fan here, so I'm watching that one. Something I'll say about SNF is that I wonder if I'm the only one that doesn't see anything impressive in Drew Brees breaking this record. I mean, we're talking three-four seasons of games with touchdowns on one of the most pass-heavy offenses in today's pass-heavy NFL. Big whoop.
Aaron Schatz: Well, it's impressive in the same way a long hitting streak is impressive: the consistency.
Danny Tuccitto: Yeah, I was a bit too hyperbolic for my own good there. It's not that I don't see "anything" impressive about it. I just don't see why people think it's super-duper impressive enough for it to be a major storyline in the lead-up to the game.
Hard to mount a game-tying drive when you commit three penalties in a row. Second-and-37!
Matt Waldman: Devery Henderson to me is like the fighting chicken in Family Guy. He doesn't show up often, but when he does he shows up big. His hands have improved enough that he's not as bad as Robert Meachem. Speaking of Meachem, the Saints secondary has made him look like a starter for once this year. Watching that ball rattle off his chest and into his hands as the safety's contact helped the receiver secure the ball is typical Meachem on a good day. I've said this for years, but Meachem looks like he's doing a math problem in front of the classroom when he's targeted by a quarterback.
Listening to the broadcast team relay the Chargers' comments about Eddie Royal developing into an option that will garner 4-5 catches per week is humorous. The guy has issues recognizing zone coverage. Unless he's strictly getting targets versus single coverage, he's often a liability. Unless stem cell researchers figure out how to combine the DNA of Floyd, Meachem, and Vincent Brown, this receiving corps is not replacing Vincent Jackson with this crew. Brown is the only receiver after Floyd with promise beyond situational skill.
I don't understand why the Saints even use Mark Ingram at this point. I loved Ingram's potential, but those knee injuries have resulted in a different player than the one the Saints saw at Alabama. Thomas is a spark plug for this team. He came to this team with a chip on his shoulder and quite unintentionally the Saints gave him a bigger chip the past 2-3 years. He's the most complete back on the team.