Audibles at the Line: Week 9
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.
Sunday, November 4
Denver Broncos 31 at Cincinnati Bengals 23
Matt Waldman: Cornerback Tony Carter is playing well lately; he nearly picks off a third-down perimeter pass, and it probably would have been a pick-six. He looked this good last week, too.
Andy Benoit: Peyton Manning got off to a hot start but on a third-and-6 late in the drive, he audibles to the run against a Bengals amoeba look. Willis McGahee was stuffed. Was there late movement by the defense? (No idea because CBS was more concerned about analyzing Chris Kuper’s helmet coming off instead of showing a replay.)
Matt Waldman: Andy Dalton faces a corner blitz, and throws away from the oncoming corner to A.J. Green deep up the right sideline. He squeezes it in a tight window between the cover corner and the safety, but Green drops it. Dalton takes a nice hit while throwing the ball. Von Miller was called for defensive holding so there was still some consolation for the Bengals on a nice effort against the blitz.
Third-and-5 with 4:01 left in the first, Manning dumps off to McGahee in the left flat, who gets the first down with some decent running after the catch, but Eric Decker is called for an offensive pass interference penalty when he blocks Leon Hall too early and Hall does a nice job of flopping for effect. Manning hits Brandon Stokley after this nullified play for what would have been a first down on a seam route, but Stokley drops the perfect throw, forcing a punt. Early frustrations for the Broncos.
Andy Benoit: Green redeems himself with an incredible sideline catch deep thanks to a subtle double move against Champ Bailey. He's been doing that all season, and Dalton has shown better accuracy on deep balls this year.
Broncos giving Bailey safety help over top, but that's likely a function of not having to worry about the Bengals other wide receivers beating them. We saw this with the Steelers and Ike Taylor on Green, too.
Aaron Schatz: Bengals surprise Broncos with the no-huddle and speed down the field. Then they get inside the 10, go back to regular huddle offense, get bogged down, and kick the field goal.
Matt Waldman: Manning hits Demaryius Thomas for a 45-yard pass up the left flat with a line-drive throw. Thomas lands on his knee and is down for a while, but walks off on his own. He returns after missing a play and draws the defense inside so Eric Decker can work outside for a short touchdown pass and sprint up the left sideline, running through a wrap near the end zone.
Andy Benoit: Decker's touchdown was a short cross out from the slot. It's a classic Colts play, with Thomas basically blocking the outside cornerback. That’s been a staple play for Denver this year.
Aaron Schatz: There's a reason the Denver offensive playbook in Madden 2013 is basically just the Colts offensive playbook from every other edition of Madden plus a few specific John Fox run plays.
This is definitely a subjective viewpoint from whatever plays have stood out to me today, but Hall doesn't look like he's playing as well as he was a couple years ago. Theoretically, he's the best Cincinnati cornerback by leaps and bounds over Terence Newman and Nate Clements, but it hasn't really looked like it against Denver today.
Andy Benoit: What is standing out to you about him? I haven't noticed anything awful with him myself, but I haven't seen him in the picture much. Bengals are playing a lot of zone concepts it seems, and the Broncos seem to be getting plenty of time for route combinations to beat them. Not arguing with the point, I'm just curious about what else other people are seeing.
Aaron Schatz: I'm not seeing anything bad, I'm just seeing him in the picture on a lot of completions, whereas I would have expected to see Clements and especially Newman getting taken advantage of constantly. That definitely could be a sign of zone coverage more than Hall doing anything wrong himself.
Andy Benoit: I get what you're saying. One could argue that there was once a time where Hall wouldn't have shown up as much in those pictures because there were other guys in Cincy's secondary to throw at. Would you agree that the bigger issue is Cincy's pass rush not generating any pressure early in the down? I've been shocked several times this year when I'm reminded that, by sacks, the Bengals have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Aside from Geno Atkins, I rarely see consistent pressure from this group. That includes live games and studying the film. But they have a lot of different guys who get sacks due to Zimmer's willingness to bring pressure.
Aaron Schatz: Hmmm. I'll watch for that closer in the second half.
Rob Weintraub: Hall is not the problem, as he's one of the few Bengals playing above-average on defense this season. He is where you would expect a cornerback to be coming off an Achilles tear -- solid, but not nearly as explosive as he was before. In prior years he may have been a little overrated, if anything, due to the presence of Johnathan Joseph on the other side. The problem is the same as it has been pretty much every year save 2009 -- zero pass rush. The sack numbers are inflated from two six-sack games against Robert Griffin (which was a function of the Skins game plan) and the Jags (which was a function of the Jags). Quarterbacks have had all day to throw.
Andy Benoit: CBS just showed a "time of possession this quarter" graphic that read: Bengals 3:44, Broncos 0:16. Broncos, of course, ran the second-half kickoff back for a touchdown. Have we seen a more irrelevant graphic this year?
Clements is frequently playing a very deliberate trail technique in the slot against Stokley, with safety help over the top.
Newman had a nice end zone interception, beating Decker to the spot on his slant.
Aaron Schatz: You're right, Andy. When the Bengals are getting pressure, they are doing it with blitzes. They just brought two defensive backs and it hurried Manning into overthrowing Decker. Second pick for Newman.
Rob Weintraub: Adam Jones is busy celebrating a pass breakup in the end zone in an extended fashion while the whole stadium sees the penalty flag on the ground? Thomas had to come over and point out the flag to Jones. One play later, touchdown, Denver back up 24-20.
Manning had some darts on the drive, by the way.
Matt Waldman: Bailey gets his first pick of the year when Dalton has a lapse in judgement, throwing to Green on a well-covered route.
Rob Weintraub: Lack of judgment by Dalton perhaps, but he was also hit by Robert Ayers as he threw, resulting in an underthrow. The main difference between these teams is that Denver has guys who put consistent pressure on the quarterback, and the Bengals do not.
Andy Benoit: What makes Decker such a dangerous red-zone receiver is that he knows how to make adjustments against tight coverage when the ball is in the air.
Miami Dolphins 20 at Indianapolis Colts 23
Ben Muth: Reggie Bush just scored on a sweet run. Made a great cut at the line of scrimmage and then juked a safety out of his pants. That's what people had in mind when he was at USC.
Matt Waldman: Angerer is in the game for Colts and makes his skid mark as he's beat up the right flat by Charles Clay for a 31-yard touchdown. Nice look left and throw to the right by Ryan Tannehill, who was decisive and accurate. Not a difficult throw, but decent setup of the route.
Danny Tuccitto: If Angerer is back in the swing of things, his coverage on that touchdown looked something like this.
Ben Muth: Dolphins take a 17-13 lead to half. Both quarterbacks have looked good under pressure. Both offensive lines are struggling on the edges.
The Colts missed a field goal and had another one blocked. Also, T.Y. Hilton dropped a touchdown pass on the last possession of the half.
Danny Tuccitto: After weeks of lauding Sean Smith, he's probably having his worst game of the year so far. On Hilton's touchdown at the end of the third quarter, Solomon Wilcotts belabored the point that Smith should have picked the ball off. In Smith's defense, while that did seem to be the case, the Dolphins coaches aren't exactly playing to his strengths with so much zone. After all, the only reason he was able to help with Hilton was because he found himself covering air when all the Colts' routes went to the other side of the field. I'm no X's and O's expert, but I can't imagine that's an ideal situation.
And as I type this, Smith whiffs on an open-field tackle. In his defense, though ... eh, forget it. This week's game film: Burn after watching.
Rivers McCown: Andrew Luck is a witch.
Detroit Lions 31 at Jacksonville Jaguars 14
Andy Benoit: Matthew Stafford with as good of an outside throw versus a deep Cover-2 window as you’ll see. Nice toe tap and adjustment by Tony Scheffler, too. Stafford is willing more than any other quarterback in the NFL to make strong-armed throws against good coverage.
Chicago Bears 51 at Tennessee Titans 20
Andy Benoit: Corey Wootton snagged a special-teams touchdown for the Bears off a blocked punt. Classic Bears, of course, but let’s take this opportunity to mention that Wootton has also been a solid run defender in the base defense this year.
Devin Hester with a 44-yard punt return -- he would have taken it to the house if not for a saving tackle by Brett Kern. Too bad Hester couldn’t have it recorded for history's sake ... one more return ties him with Deion Sanders for the most ever. The Titans are getting dominated in punting game today.
Chicago's defense notches another touchdown, this time it's Urlacher. This one was just a case of Matt Hasselbeck not reading Urlacher’s Tampa-2 drop. Relatively easy play for the veteran linebacker.
Rivers McCown: We promise, one of these weeks Chicago's defense will stop scoring touchdowns. Regression. Really!
Matt Waldman: Charles Tillman is so great at punching the ball loose. He did it against Kenny Britt early in the game and just now he hit up Chris Johnson on a short pass. This has to be one of those moments where Titans coaches want to kill their players after spending the week telling them to beware of the peanut.
Vince Verhei: Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall for a touchdown puts Chicago ahead of Tennessee 28-2 with about 90 seconds left in the first quarter. Based on the first 13-plus minutes, I'm ready to call Tennessee the league's worst team. The numbers don't even tell the story here, you need to see the lack of effort. The entire offensive line standing around as Urlacher runs back the slowest pick-six of the year. Matt Forte pushing a pile of about eight guys into the end zone for a score. I realize Chicago's a Super Bowl-caliber club, but this is a pretty shameful effort for the home fans.
The Bears, by the way, have 28 points on 54 yards of offense.
Matt Waldman: Couldn't agree more. That Forte run was a rugby scrum that broke out during what should have been a three-yard gain,
Rivers McCown: Tennessee is not the Kansas City Chiefs.
Tom Gower: The Bears actually became the first team this year not to score against the Titans on their first or second possession, thanks in part to an insistence on passing. The Titans weren't able to take advantage of it, though, and then the special teams and other disasters started to happen. The Urlacher interception looked like just a terrible play by Hasselbeck, Jamie Harper has been troubled on special teams, Kendall Wright was responsible for at least one of several illegal formation penalties, Michael Griffin was one of a number of defenders who got run over on Forte's touchdown, and, oh yeah, replacement right guard Deuce Lutui pretty much ole'd Stephen Paea on the way to a big sack of Hasselbeck. It's not the first time the Titans have given up 28 points in the first quarter, but it is the first time it's happened at home.
Andy Benoit: Having a weird point total like "5" adds just a hint of extra embarrassment to the lopsided halftime score for Titans.
Tom Gower: At halftime, the Titans have outgained the Bears, 148-136, while time of possession is absolutely even. These are really important stats, you guys!
Vince Verhei: Cutler hits Marshall for a pair of touchdowns early in the fourth quarter to make it 51-12. I presume that both men will now be done for the day.
On the other hand, CJ just scored on an 80-yarder, so maybe not.
Andy Benoit: Tillman has four forced fumbles on the day. Is that an all-time record?
Tom Gower: Hmm, the Record & Fact Book doesn't seem to have forced fumbles listed. Apparently it's only been officially recorded since 2000. My guess is probably, but we'll have to wait for official confirmation.
Forced fumbles are apparently an unofficial stat, so no idea if Tillman's four is a record or not.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know about single-game records, but from 2000-2011 a cornerback only forced at least four fumbles in a SEASON 18 times. By the way, five of those times were ... Charles Tillman.
Carolina Panthers 21 at Washington Redskins 13
Vince Verhei: Amazing stat for Carolina: Coming into today, DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert, and Jonathan Stewart have combined for six third-down carries for six yards and three first downs. Cam Newton has 18 third-down carries (12 of them with three yards or less needed for a first down) for 115 yards and nine first downs.
And as I type this, Newton keeps the ball on a zone read option for a third-and-1 conversion.
Matt Waldman: I love Robert Griffin, but when a 13-yard pass from the Carolina 32 to the Carolina 19 becomes a highlight for NFL.com, you wonder about the Redskins passing offense. Why is this play noteworthy? It was a nice diving effort by Josh Morgan, and Griffin stood in well, but not highlight-worthy at all.
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Buffalo Bills 9 at Houston Texans 21
Rivers McCown: You have one of the best (and most highly-paid) backs in the NFL, are up against a rush defense that is the absolute worst in the NFL by DVOA, and have had problems throwing the ball on this drive.
So if your answer to converting a third-and-2 is "empty backfield set," it's probably just not all that smart.
Matt Waldman: Beautiful play call by the Texans, slanting the unbalanced line to the weak side with play-action, then having Matt Schaub execute a boot away from the slant. Owen Daniels drags towards the second level like a backside blocker and then turns up the right flat wide open. Schaub hits the tight end for a 39-yard score. Love watching variations of play-action that are inventive and can be set up with a lot of time to develop due to a great ground attack.
Aaron Schatz: I turned to Red Zone just in time to see that one, it really was beautiful. Going back and looking at it, I'm trying to figure out who from the Bills should have figured out to maybe cover Daniels. You can see all the linebackers get sucked into the play fake, but Daniels is only about halfway across the field on the flat part of his wheel route when it becomes clear to everyone that Schaub still has the ball. He's got Nick Barnett and Nigel Bradham on either side of him at that point. One of them has to be responsible for the tight end who is currently crossing the field, I would have to think. Instead, they both sort of kept looking at Schaub instead of covering someone, and Daniels just turned upfield by his lonesome.
Ben Muth: Just saw the Daniels touchdown. Love that Texans half-roll throwback. That's the throw Robert Griffin missed last week against Pittsburgh, but Logan Paulsen was just as open as Daniels was here.
Rivers McCown: Bills bring out the Wildcat on the second play of the second quarter, then immediately call timeout because they didn't like what they saw. Well, or they realized they'd just called the Wildcat.
The Texans had a -9.6% special teams DVOA coming into this game, and they've done little to change that. Only the 2010 Chargers (-10.2%) have been worse over the past five seasons.
Aaron Schatz: Ted Sundquist just asked Rivers a good question on Twitter, whether the Houston struggles on special teams are more a case of depth or of execution. You watch them a lot more than I do, of course, Rivers, but they don't strike me as a team that, like the Colts over the last decade, have terrible depth and are throwing a bunch of overwhelmed UFAs out there on coverage teams.
Rivers McCown: They have spent plenty of mid-to-late round picks on guys with scouted special-teams ability over the years, they just haven't worked out. Shiloh Keo has missed multiple tackles. Trindon Holliday was so bad that he had to be released. Randy Bullock went on IR with an "injury" suffered in the pre-season. Alan Ball may legitimately be one of their best special-team players, and he's the definition of roster flotsam.
Aaron Schatz: Just looking at our numbers, the one guy who doesn't look like he's a problem is Donnie Jones. We have the Texans as above-average on gross punt value. But the returns are all awful, kickoffs are bad, field goals are bad, and kickoff coverage is really, really bad.
Rivers, Trindon Holliday just took a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown for Denver, so you can kill yourself now.
Rivers McCown: Can't; busy watching a team that is too scared to kick off normally. Houston squibbed Buffalo to open the third quarter.
This was a really weird game. The Texans didn't really seem to play particularly well in any specific aspect of the match, but they still handled Buffalo fairly easily. It was the kind of game a good team plays. A boring stranglehold. I am a Houston sports fan. I don't understand these things.
Arizona Cardinals 17 at Green Bay Packers 31
Ben Muth: Randall Cobb catches a half-slant/half-screen route on third-and-goal for a 13-yard touchdown. Adrian Wilson missed a tackle on the three thanks to dreadful technique; lowered his head and lunged at Cobb. You'd struggle to tackle Donald Driver like that, so you can forget about tackling Cobb.
Matt Waldman: Jordy Nelson runs a quick hook near the left sideline inside the five and slips trying to catch the low throw, turning his right ankle in the process. He limps off the field. The pressure to play hurt, especially for these finely-tuned sports cars called wide receivers, can generate more injuries.
Baltimore Ravens 25 at Cleveland Browns 15
J.J. Cooper: The Browns offense looks pretty inept against the Ravens defense, but what's notable is that the Ravens offense looks just as inept against the Browns defense -- and last I checked Frank Minnifeld and Hanford Dixon are still retired. Baltimore is hanging on to a narrow lead, but they have done nothing to put this game away yet.
Vince Verhei: Joe Flacco started 9-of-9 with seven first downs in that game. Since then, 3-of-11, no first downs.
J.J. Cooper: Browns just scored the go-ahead touchdown on a pass to Josh Morgan, but it was brought back because another wide receiver lined up on the line of scrimmage, covering up the tight end. It's a very Browns-ian way to blow a big play.
Minnesota Vikings 20 at Seattle Seahawks 30
Vince Verhei: Adrian Peterson busts out a 74-yarder to set up a Vikings touchdown on their first drive. Ran a sweep to the right sideline and looked pinned in, but at least three Seahawks missed tackles and he hit the open field. Brandon Browner ran him down from behind, but they score two plays later anyway.
Leon Washington returns a punt out of the end zone for Seattle. No idea why. He gets out to the 22, so it worked out, bit still a silly gamble.
Matt Waldman: Russell Wilson's first touchdown is a nice play where the receivers are crossing in the end zone in opposite directions off a play-fake. Wilson stares down Sidney Rice crossing to the left side and at the last second makes a fast turn and dead-on throw to the opposite corner to an open Golden Tate. Really nice job using his eyes. The second touchdown is a good play on the run with Sidney Rice extending his route across the endline during a picture-perfect scramble drill.
Tom Gower: I don't know what coverage the Vikings were in on that second touchdown, but it looked like linebacker Jasper Brinkley was in coverage on Rice. That's not a good matchup for the Vikings on any sort of extended play.
ATTN: Ben Muth. The Seahawks just ran the fullback give with the fake halfback pitch on third-and-1. It did not convert the first down.
Ben Muth: Exception that proves the rule.
Vince Verhei: Vikings are having way more success running on Seattle than anyone else has this year. It's not just the one big run, and it's not just Peterson going nuts either. Minnesota's interior line is pushing Seattle's defense around.
Seahawks go for it on fourth-and-1 just across midfield inside the two-minute warning. Wilson picks up the first down on a quick sneak.
Rivers McCown: Going back to our Comeback Player (nee Pennington Prize) discussion last week, Peterson has rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns, against our third-ranked run defense by DVOA coming into the week ... in the first half.
Vince Verhei: Bizarro land Seahawks can't stop the run today, but they lead at halftime 20-17 because Wilson is 10-of-14 with three touchdowns. He hasn't been pressured much, and his receivers have mostly been finding holes in zones.
It helps that Rice has 25 yards passing, and Christian Ponder only has 42.
Seahawks lose a timeout challenging an Peterson third-down conversion. Then they force a punt and Washington loses yards on the return. Bad decisions all over the place.
The Seahawks are using a ton of bubble screen type plays, including Rice's passing attempt. A lot of plays that will officially go down as rushes, though the last one was "incomplete," which made it a fumble. Ball went out of bounds.
Aaron Schatz: That's always annoying to me as an anal stat compiler. I know why a backwards pass is technically a run, but I feel like a play with an overhand pass and pass blocking is a pass. We change those in the FO stats, it's one of the reasons why FO numbers for yards and passes and runs are sometimes different from official NFL numbers. I just think a play like that says more about your pass offense/defense than your run offense/defense.
Vince Verhei: I see your point, but in Seattle's case at least, these are long pitch plays. Seattle's linemen are not pass blocking, they're pulling to the outside.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I guess, are those like pitch plays or are those like screen passes? Maybe the blocking on those two is so similar that it doesn't matter, I dunno.
Tom Gower: Christian Ponder is having a terrible football game.
Rivers McCown: Granted, Percy Harvin has been hurt for a lot of this game, but it sure seems like Ponder and Bill Musgrave have been exposed. How are they going to adjust to how defenses are playing them? Is there a way to do that given Ponder's skill set?
Aaron Schatz: Andy seemed to feel in Film Room this week that nobody has really "figured out" Ponder; the offense they built for him is fairly simple, and it's just an issue where he executed well in early games and hasn't been executing recently.
So then the question is, do they need to change the offense somewhat in order to give him things he can execute better?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 42 at Oakland Raiders 32
Tom Gower: Vincent Jackson has snagged a couple deep catches from Josh Freeman. The first looked like a deep post where he split the safeties ... he picked up about 65 yards with the run, though he gave 15 of those back with unsportsmanlike conduct. Doug Martin bounced a nice run, then Jackson got a good outside release against Michael Huff (playing corner) and Freeman dropped it in before Mike Mitchell could get there over the top. Demerits to Huff and Mitchell on the play, I believe.
In the two minute drill, the Raiders go to the "all-deep fade" offense. Carson Palmer finds Darrius Heyward-Bey for a big gain, misses one to the other side, then goes back to the right side and hits Rod Streater for the score to go up 10-7 late in the first half. Both completions came with E.J. Biggers in coverage.
Doug Martin is a bad man, juking Matt Giordano (who didn't take a very good angle) and using his arm to fend off Tyvon Branch on a 45-yard score. Mike Williams matches what Jackson did earlier, coming up with a big gain to set up a score and then finishing it off with a grab as Freeman scrambles to his right. The Bucs seem to be having some success throwing at Huff, who of course is only playing corner because Shawntae Spencer is hurt. Huff at corner and Giordano at safety is far, far, far, from ideal, and a sign of the Raiders' terrible depth. And as I'm about to send this email, Martin bursts through a hole on the right side and beats deep safety Giordano for a(nother) long touchdown.
Martin, 70-yard touchdown. A crease at the line, and that was that. The Bucs have had the ball four times in the second half and scored 28 points. All of his long runs have included creases at the line, for which the Bucs' offensive line deserves credit for beating the Raiders' defensive line, and no defensive back who tries to tackle him in the open field has gotten anywhere close to doing so.
Vince Verhei: They keep getting longer. He's like a jump shooter finding his range.
Tom Gower: Apparently worried about embarrassing the Raiders or something, the Buccaneers run the ball with LeGarrette Blount. He fails to take the handoff from Freeman and fumbles the ball away. The Raiders are down 11 with the ball and half the third quarter to play. Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson are both out with injuries, so Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reese are the only options if Oakland wants to run the ball.
Aaron Schatz: Do people think I should count those three end-of-game Martin runs in DVOA/DYAR, or not? I've always wondered what to do about what are effectively "RB kneels" where they handoff once at the end of a half just to run into the line and waste time.
Tom Gower: The Bucs couldn't run out the clock just by kneeling, so they had to run around a bit in the backfield to waste time. Those sorts of wide runs are intentional clock killers. I would not count them.
Aaron Schatz: OK. I don't understand why you use your amazing rookie back to do that instead of your third-stringer, but...
Tom Gower: Well, Blount fumbled earlier in the game and third-stringer Michael Smith was inactive.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 at New York Giants 20
OK, I really didn't want to get into the officiating in Giants-Steelers, I know readers hate that. I didn't want to complain when they called a 15-yard penalty on Ryan Clark for hitting Victor Cruz in the head even though he didn't get hit in the head at all. I know that stuff is bang-bang, and sometimes too fast for the human eye to always see accurately.
But the Giants' second touchdown is complete B.S. Ben Roethlisberger went to throw the ball and he stopped at the top of his throw to cock it back, then the Giants knocked it out. That's an incomplete pass. It's the tuck rule, in fact, it's not the tuck rule because he had not even started to tuck it back in yet. His arm was still at the top of the throw. The Giants returned it for a touchdown, and they reviewed it and somehow they did not overturn it. I have no idea what the officials were seeing. Of course, I know what they weren't seeing -- they weren't seeing a fairly obvious block in the back that should have brought the fumble return for touchdown back even if that play WAS ruled a fumble, which it was but shouldn't have been. What the hell?
The CBS guys are saying that Roethlisberger lost his grip on the ball before he started his arm forward, but I don't see that at all. But that's the official explanation, I guess.
Martellus Bennett just had a nice catch on a seam route. That's a signing that has really worked out. Somewhat under the radar veteran, and the Giants figured out what they needed to do to use him right. He's had DVOA around -25% the last three seasons, but he's above 0% this year and he's made some important plays. Just another example of why Jerry Reese might be the best GM in the NFL.
Tom Gower: Yes, given what Bennett did in Dallas, it's a surprise to see that he's done well in New York. I wonder what would have happened in Dallas if he'd added that extra weight and seen his role change.
Aaron Schatz: Mike Tomlin gets ballsy and calls a fake field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 3. It's actually the best time to call a fake field goal, since even if you don't get the touchdown, you can get the first down with just one yard. But Michael Coe from the Giants sees what's going on immediately and quickly gets to Shaun Suisham behind the line of scrimmage. No points, Giants still lead 20-17.
To be honest, I think it would have been better to just run a fourth-and-1 play. They must have seen something about the Giants on tape, maybe they overstuff the middle going for field-goal blocks or something. But as someone on Twitter pointed out, your 6-foot-5 quarterback should be able to just fall forward and get one yard.
Giants are having a surprising amount of trouble tackling Steelers running backs today. I know that's part of the point with Isaac Redman -- he's not that fast, he's in there to truck and break tackles -- but even Chris Rainey and Baron Batch are breaking tackles and getting yards.
Dallas Cowboys 13 at Atlanta Falcons 19
Aaron Schatz: And, at roughly 9:00 remaining in the second quarter, the Falcons officially tried to kill their quarterback by somehow calling a protection scheme where nobody blocked DeMarcus Ware.
Danny Tuccitto: Protection breakdowns like that always baffle me. Free rushers happen, but you'd think against teams like Dallas with a singular pass-rushing star, it would never be THAT guy who's unaccounted for. And it wasn't even some exotic bit of Rob Ryan schemation: a standard look with Ware in a standard position making a standard rush. Maybe Mr. Muth can shed some light on it.
Aaron Schatz: In the middle of the third quarter, it happens again, this time its Victor Butler so that makes a little sense, but how can you not have some sort of protection set up to block the endbacker in a 3-4 defense?
I'm a little surprised this game is such a defensive battle so far, a lot of that is just teams stiffening in the red zone (or at the edge of the red zone). It is worth noting that even the unspectacular Dallas backup running backs are able to easily gain yards on the ground against the poor Atlanta run defense, the Falcons' biggest weakness.
Rivers McCown: Dominique Franks, why are you fielding a punt on the 2? Are you auditioning for the Texans special teams?
Thankfully that gets wiped out via a Dallas penalty.
Vince Verhei: I'm pretty sure that Julio Jones is not Atlanta's best wide receiver. But after he picked up that third-and-1, I think there's a good chance he's their best running back.
Jones and White abused the Dallas secondary all night long, but on Atlanta's last clock-killing, game-on-the-line drive, Dallas chose to load the box and force the Falcons to throw to the duo against man coverage. And their cornerbacks did a hell of a job. A few penalties, but more incompletions. The big conversions were all by Jacquizz Rodgers coming out of the backfield.
Aaron Schatz: And the moves he put on the Cowboys defenders in the open field were beautiful.
Tom Gower: I like Quizz Rodgers, and think he has an interesting skillset that's clearly a much better fit for the up-tempo no-huddle the Falcons seem to want to run and do well running, but I'm not sure he's actually a good enough player.
Matt Waldman: I agree with Tom; he's great in space but doesn't create space efficiently in tight quarters. Perhaps one day. But I'll be surprised if the Falcons aren't drafting a higher profile running back in April.
Danny Tuccitto: I kind of alluded to this in my LaMichael James player comment in FOA 2012, but Rodgers is another example of how Speed Score isn't as useful as a guide for judging college guys who project as situational passing-down backs in the NFL. Rodgers' was 84.6, Darren Sproles' was 93.7, Dexter McCluster's was 78.0, etc. Granted, it's called Speed Score, but unless players like these are able to run a sub-4.5 at the Combine, they look like waiver-wire fodder in the eyes of the metric. Obviously, that's somewhat by design, and it's true that none of these third-down backs eventually turned into workhorses later on, but I think any citing of Speed Score in their context requires a bit of an asterisk. And I don't mean just a typical "this metric is only a guide, not a be-all end-all" asterisk.
Tom Gower: I LOVE the way the Falcons lined up defensively with nine seconds left, with four defenders basically standing on the sidelines.