Audibles at the Line: Week 11
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, November 15
Miami Dolphins 14 at Buffalo Bills 19
Danny Tuccitto: Just some thoughts on TNF:
1) The Dolphins offense was by no means a jugggernaut before Week 8, but since then they have scored a total of 30 points the past three weeks against teams that were ranked 31st (Indianapolis), 29th (Tennessee), and 31st (Buffalo) in defense DVOA at the time. Having followed them closely this season, I don't see guys playing worse or not executing properly. Rather, I think what we're seeing lately is that, in the NFL, even the crappiest defenses can figure out how to stop a vanilla offense. Outside of motioning Brian Hartline or Davone Bess tight to throw a crackback block, the Dolphins use no pre-snap motion or pre-snap shifts whatsoever. Ryan Tannehill rarely audibles, if ever. As a 49ers fan, it's like Miami's offense is run by Bizarro Harbaugh.
And with a quarterback who must know the entire playbook like the back of his hand by now, their play-calling is pretty limited as well. Offset-I with a receiver motioning tight? It's likely an inside zone run. Tannehill under center with Reggie Bush as the single back? It's likely a stretch play. Tannehill in shotgun? It's a pass. Charles Clay in the slot? He's running a seam route. I've basically watched the same offense for 11 weeks, so the coaching staff doesn't seem to have made many adjustments to go against their tendencies. At some point, simply lining up and "doing what you do" ceases being effective. Chris Brown of Smart Football might say that Miami needs to start applying the constraint theory of offense.
2) As I've been saying all season, every Dolphins cornerback not named Sean Smith is terrible. The problem lately is that their continued terribleness has now been augmented by Smith not being as good as he was earlier in the season. And with that, I'm contractually obligated to mention the Vontae Davis trade.
Sunday, November 18
Jacksonville Jaguars 37 at Houston Texans 43 (OT)
Rivers McCown: I expect to be the lone person talking about this game.
Andy Benoit: I'll insert a generic "Blaine Gabbert gets sacked" comment every half-hour or so to create the allusion that I, too, am watching Houston-Jacksonville.
Tom Gower: Some of us are writing about one of these teams. I'll give the game a chance to see if anything interesting happens. Judging by how wide-open Andre Johnson was multiple times on the Texans' opening drive that finished with a Keshawn Martin touchdown grab, I'm guessing I'll be on another game before too long.
Rivers McCown: Kind of interesting how often Houston opens up the game with a barrage of play-action. I've only seen a couple games this year where they've gone straight to the run early.
Gabbert hurt after a questionable fumble ruling on the field. Looks like his throwing arm. Chad Henne is warming.
Aaron Schatz: Henne is better. I know that Henne was poor in his first appearance this year, but the Jags were better when Henne came into the game last week. Houston may only win by 21.
Rivers McCown: I know I'd personally rather have Gabbert stay in. (As a Texans fan.)
Tom Gower: Based on what I've seen of Henne this year, Gabbert is the superior option. Henne was terrible in the preseason, and the offense completely died when Gabbert got hurt against the Raiders.
Vince Verhei: Unless Gabbert and Henne are covering receivers, I'm not sure it matters much. Texans wideouts were repeatedly unimpeded on that first touchdown drive.
Rivers McCown: Aaron, Justin Blackmon just ran a post route. And it worked! Pretty solid stick throw by Henne.
Jags take a 14-7 lead after Houston blows two tackle attempts on Cecil Shorts underneath. I like to think of it as punishment from the football gods for Houston punting on fourth-and-6 from the Jacksonville 36. An 18-yard punt.
Tom Gower: That Shorts touchdown reminded me of one Darrius Heyward-Bey had against the Texans last year -- another pretty short pass that became a long touchdown after a couple missed tackles. I want to say Kareem Jackson was a culpable party on that one as well. For the Texans, Matt Schaub's missed a couple passes that would have extended drives, plus Johnson lost a deep pass in a going-to-the-ground situation.
Rivers McCown: Jackson has gotten worked today. And more importantly, there has been zero Houston pass rush. Going to have to go back and see how often the Jags are in max protection. The Bears did that a lot against Houston last week and produced good results.
Tom Gower: It's total Opposite Day in Houston. Blackmon playing well, Jackson not, Henne playing well, the Texans (Martin, really) with some great returns ... none of this makes a darned bit of sense at all.
Rivers McCown: 81-yard Blackmon touchdown on third-and-18. Great throw over Brice McCain's shoulder, followed by -- you guessed it -- missed tackles.
I stocked up on beer yesterday, thankfully.
Tom Gower: McCain had a great year last year as the slot corner. From what I've seen this year, he hasn't been as good. That is especially true today. C.J. Mosley has really stood out in a positive manner today.
Rivers McCown: McCain has definitely been more up-and-down than he was last year. In the Denver game, especially, he played poorly. But he was never going to repeat last season -- that whole regression talk about the Texans defense as a whole might have been silly, but with McCain specifically, it made a lot of sense.
Danny Tuccitto: I don't even have to be watching the game to feel confident in saying Blackmon is playing well because he's not running eight-yard outs every play.
Aaron Schatz: Wow, is Paul Posluszny bloody. I think he just bladed or something.
Rivers McCown: Texans settling for a long field goal to attempt to win the game. Why? You employ Shayne Graham!
Tom Gower: Gary Kubiak needs a trip to the Marv Levy Seminar on the Wisdom of Settling for Long Field Goal Attempts, and we're headed to overtime in Houston.
Danny Tuccitto: I have no idea why that continues to be an issue. It's not like the fourth-down thing, where most of the risk-aversion happens outside of crunch time, and coaches have plausible deniability on whether or not that particular decision cost them the game. I mean, there are way more instances of losing as a direct result of settling for a long field goal than there are for failed ballsy fourth-down attempts (sorry for bringing that up, Aaron).
Aaron Schatz: Actually, they did run a couple of plays there. They had two carries, one for no yards, and one for six yards, that made it a 42-yarder instead of a 48-yarder. (The false start then made it a 47-yarder.)
I do plan on writing an article analyzing this game decision at some point soon, but in the meantime, I don't fault Kubiak too much this time. If they had just sat on the ball after the Johnson catch, I would have criticized him.
Rivers McCown: Two carries after they had just spent the better part of the past eight minutes throwing all over the Jags defense. They may have had a chance to gain forward progress, but you'll never convince me they were aiming to get the ball closer.
Derek Cox makes an excellent goal-line stop for the Jags on the first series in overtime, defending a throw to Johnson's back shoulder. Texans settle for three.
Tom Gower: So I've sort of mentally been keeping track of all the Henne misses lately since he started playing well. Tipped at line. Quick slant thrown behind the receiver. Tipped at line. What looked like miscommunication with the back on a hot read. A shallow cross thrown behind the receiver. A shallow cross thrown too fast and behind the receiver. He converted fourth-and-10 to a wide open Blackmon to help set up the OT-tying field goal, but some of these passes have really reminded me of why Henne, despite occasional flashes of competence, is not an NFL starter.
Rivers McCown: "Flashes of competence" is what Gabbert aspires to have.
The Texans tipped all three passes thrown on goal-to-go, I believe.
Then Cox picks off a badly underthrown Schaub ball. Jags have it in Houston territory.
Aaron Schatz: Mike Mularkey goes for it on fourth-and-10 at midfield with 2:30 left. Our friends in Jacksonville may be having an effect! And what the heck, man, go for it, what do you have to lose when you are 1-8 or whatever?
Rivers McCown: Henne throws into heavy traffic for Blackmon. It's incomplete, the Texans take over right around midfield, and the second play is a wideout screen to Andre Johnson, who takes it to the house.
Arizona Cardinals 19 at Atlanta Falcons 23
Matt Waldman: First play of the Falcons-Cardinals game: Matt Ryan throws a cross just a little behind Roddy White, who can't get his hands extended to catch it clean. The ball bounces off his back shoulder and into the arms of a Cardinals defensive back, who returns it to the Falcons 10. LaRod Stephens-Howling gains seven on his first carry up the middle, then bounces the next play to right tackle and through Asante Samuel for the touchdown.
Ryan then pressured through the A-gap and throws the ball up for grabs. Sam Acho drops a potential second interception in as many series. Falcons punt. Georgia Dome as quiet as an auditorium during an SAT exam.
Stephens-Howling now picks up 40 yards on a 20 personnel pistol formation with the fullback leading on a variation of an Iso where the back takes it inside out and gashes Atlanta. Muth must think he's dreaming.
All three runs by Stephens-Howling were to the right side of the line.
Falcons line having difficulty with pressure up the middle early. Ryan either getting passes tipped or he's forced from the pocket.
Ryan hits White on a 27-yard deep cross, then nearly completes a touchdown on a fade to the left side of the end zone but White drifts out of bounds while making the diving grab.
Andy Benoit: Ryan’s second interception was a tipped pass at line of scrimmage. Darnell Dockett did a great job getting up to make the tip. The Cardinals are bringing pressure and energy to the trenches defensively.
Vince Verhei: Ironic that Arizona is getting tipped passes and turnovers on a day when Calais Campbell is inactive.
Matt Waldman: Third interception. This time to Kerry Rhodes in the right flat. Ryan rushing throws when pressure comes up the middle.
Larry Fitzgerald runs a beautiful post-corner and John Skelton misses it wide for what should have been a certain touchdown to go up by 17.
Andy Benoit: Ryan Lindley in at quarterback for Cardinals. Is Skelton hurt or did he just get benched?
Matt Waldman: Benched due to that missed post-corner route to Fitz in end zone -- or that was the straw...
Andy Benoit: Falcons' touchdown was a result of John Abraham beating left tackle Nate Potter with speed off the edge. Cardinals had a running back to that side for chipping purposes, but he didn’t deliver the chip. Potter has no chance against Abraham one-on-one.
Matt Waldman: Stephens-Howling and the Cardinals are looking like a one-note, one-play, one-direction rushing team. The Falcons are adjusting to these repeated attempts to go to right guard and then bounce it to right tackle.
Tons of talk about Ryan's improved arm strength and I have to say that it's overstated. It's improved to the extent that one might put a V-6 engine in a car that had a V-4, then say it's ready to win the NHRA title. What is understated about Ryan's improvement is his anticipation and confidence to pull the trigger and hit throws between 35-to-45 yards that he would normally wait too long on and try to muscle for 50-to-55 yards. These late throws resulted in forcing his receivers to wait on the ball and defensive backs were able to recover. This year, Ryan is pulling the trigger earlier and taking advantage of early separation. His throws of 50-to-55 yards are still lollipops compared to most strong-armed quarterbacks, but if your recognition, anticipation, and accuracy are good, you don't need to throw a ball that far.
Stephens-Howling, on a run through the line at left guard, bends it to the right and makes a fantastic cut outside the backside defensive back in the right flat. He gains over 50 on the play.
Ben Muth: The Cardinals have a 100 yard rusher and three picks at the half, but the game is tied at 16-16. Benching Skelton for Lindley is exactly like replacing D'Anthony Batiste with Potter: it just means I'm using a different name while I'm cursing at my TV. Lindley seems to specialize in staring directly at receivers then throwing it a yard-and-a-half behind them. He might kill someone before the game is over.
Potter is too slow to play tackle. The only reason he's playing is so Whisenhunt can say that the Cards had to start to rookie tackles when he's talking to Rod Graves about his job this offseason.
On the plus side, Stephens-Howling looks explosive and the cut that Matt talked about earlier was incredible. Unfortunately, Beanie Wells is close to coming back so I'm sure I can look forward to watching him plunge into Lyle Sendlein's kidneys 15 times a game.
Ray Horton and his Jim Johnson-like ability to generate pressure in the A-gaps are the only things that make Sundays bearable at this point.
Acho forces a fumble, but the ball is going to roll out of bounds. Enter Greg Toler, who dives and throws the ball backwards like he's saving a basketball. Cards recover, but Toler's big toe might have been out when he dove. Obviously it's under review, but it was a great play no matter what.
Mike Smith challenged the turnover before the booth could take a look, so the play can't be reviewed. Fumble stands. The Cards go three-and-out anyway, because they are the Cards.
Vince Verhei: Just saw my new favorite play of the year in Atlanta. Falcons are punting, and Patrick Peterson calls for a fair catch. The Falcons gunner drives his man downfield, and then shoves him hard into Peterson well before the ball gets there. But it's a legal play, not fair catch interference, because the Falcons never touched Peterson. Peterson goes down, the ball hits him, it's a fumble, and Atlanta recovers.
Ah, crap, Apparently Peterson never touched the ball on that Falcons punt, so instead of a fumble recovery it was just a downed ball and a 53-yard punt.
Andy Benoit: Falcons are delay-blitzing the Cardinals and Lindley is consistently throwing short on third-and-long. That’s what happens when you have a line that can’t pass protect and an inexperienced quarterback.
Ben Muth: Cardinals have forced five turnovers and have 19 points through three quarters.
Vince Verhei: Sixth turnover for Atlanta. Ryan's pass hits somebody's helmet and is intercepted. I need someone to explain to me why Ryan is throwing passes when the Falcons are up four with four minutes to go, playing against a team quarterbacked by Lindley. You'd be better off taking three kneeldowns and kicking away.
New York Jets 27 at St. Louis Rams 13
Aaron Schatz: Bilal Powell just got embarrassed by a St. Louis safety, I think Quintin Mikell. Just olé-d the guy. At first blink I thought "man, that's Mark Sanchez for you," but on replay it was clear there was nothing he could do, he just got blindsided. Jets recovered though, so at least they got to punt.
Danny Tuccitto: Through just over one quarter, Janoris Jenkins has a diving pass defensed and a blocked field goal. Cue the "Jeff Fisher is a master motivator" narrative!
Aaron Schatz: Tim Tebow in. Handoff, loss of 1. #WhatTheHellTryMcElroy
Jets just fake-punted on fourth-and-5 from the Rams 45. Tebow took the direct snap and flipped the ball forward on a shovel pass to a guy who had James Laurinaitis basically sitting on top of him. The Jets are getting a little silly with the fake punt thing. At a certain point, you've got to figure running a standard play is going to have a better shot to convert, even with that awful offense. Actually, as long as they're running the fake, Tebow probably should have just kept the ball there and tried to barrel through the defense instead of flipping to a guy who was clearly covered.
Matt Waldman: McElroy doesn't have a cannon, but he has good vertical anticipation. He's accurate and willing to stand in the pocket. At least he was ... I was impressed with him at Alabama and at Senior Bowl two years ago. Never was going to be a first-day pick, but after talking with a couple of (recent) former scouts, they too thought McElroy was one of the more impressive passers in those Mobile practices.
Danny Tuccitto: I know it's still way too early in his career to make any definitive statements, and I know Speed Score is not gospel. With that said, when I watch Daryl Richardson (Speed Score = 94.4), "slow for his size" is about the last thing I think. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Speed Score tends to underestimate the scatback types, but Richardson isn't really a scatback insofar as 80 percent of his touches are runs, and most of his runs are between the tackles. Dude's averaging 5.7 yards per carry this year behind a makeshift offensive line, and he seems to have a burst when he hits the hole. College guys or people who have watched St. Louis more than me, do you have any insight here?
Sean McCormick: Jets score an actual touchdown through the air on a play where they faked the wide receiver screen and Chaz Schilens took off downfield instead of staying put to block. The Rams didn't bother to cover him at all, as they apparently refused to believe Sanchez would throw the ball more than five yards past the line of scrimmage. Most of the time, they would be right, but this was a shot play, so Sanchez was actually locked in to the downfield throw.
Aaron Schatz: Jets allow a kickoff return touchdown that gets called back due to a hold, but that doesn't mean that the play won't look like crap on film tomorrow. They've also had the blown field goal and a blocked punt today. Has Mike Westhoff just lost his fastball? Has the circus extended to how players treat their special teams responsibilities? Jets special teams actually haven't been that terrible overall (11th in DVOA going into this week), but when they've made bad plays, they've made really horrible-looking plays.
Danny Tuccitto: Must have been a real emotional roller coaster in the Rams press box just now. The Jeff Fisher game story practically writes itself as Chris Givens returns a kickoff for a touchdown; but it's called back because of the aforementioned hold by Rodney McLeod.
Second touchdown for Powell on two straight drives. Jets now up 27-7, on the road. The Rams aren't great, but this is a surprising little pasting here. Time to watch some other games...
Vince Verhei: There are starting quarterbacks in this league who don't get as much camera time as Tebow does standing on the sidelines.
Green Bay Packers 24 at Detroit Lions 20
Andy Benoit: Interesting that Mike McCarthy chooses to go for it on fourth-and-4 rather than letting Mason Crosby try a 49-yard field goal indoors.
Williams following Johnson around with Jerron McMillan helping him no matter where Johnson lines up. So far, it’s not working, Johnson getting open consistently.
Packers using a lot of screen concepts early in game, they set up a fake screen with Finley leaking to the short middle of field for a wide open touchdown catch-and-run. Good play design. They used the speed of the Lions’ linebackers against them, too. We’ve seen that over the years.
Aaron Rodgers' interception was a bad decision by Randall Cobb. Jacob Lacey was clearly underneath in a two-deep shell, and Cobb needed to stem his route to the middle of the field. He didn’t, and it's hard to say why. It's just weird how the Packers are attacking Lions’ two-deep looks. They missed a similar play on fourth down earlier, too.
Matthew Stafford having to scramble a lot within the pocket. That’s not his game. Mikel Leshoure has good body control in his hesitation as a runner. Stafford made some decent plays with his feet, but his protection hasn’t been as staunch as you’d guess.
Dezman Moses has made a few impressive plays versus the run and the pass. He's a former college defensive end, but he's playing linebacker for Green Bay. He has been impressive on film the last few weeks, too.
Danny Tuccitto: Twitter informs me that this game going under 53.5 is a major surprise. For educational purposes only, I'll mention that it's not a major surprise if you know about the market inefficiency of high over-unders. You're welcome.
Andy Benoit: The problems with the Packers offense right now: so-so run game and limited vertical threats in their passing attack, due in part to protection concerns. Teams with good defensive lines can stymie them with two-deep coverage, which is what the Lions are doing.
Jordy Nelson has not been a major factor in this game. The Lions were committed to not letting Nelson beat them deep outside. Cobb made an excellent adjustment on the ball for his game-winning touchdown. Lacey was in good position, but wasn’t able to turn around to locate the ball.
Vince Verhei: HOLY CRAP. On NFL Gameday, they showed Nick Fairley doing a half-suplex to Rodgers after a play. (Thankfully, he put Rodgers down on his feet and did not spike the quarterback onto his head.) Deion Sanders followed with a Thunderbolt Patterson reference. Really. Then said "I was a Dusty Rhodes man." Knew I liked that guy for a reason. And that makes two Dusty Rhodes mentions in Audibles this year. In 2012.
Danny Tuccitto: As long as Fairley didn't give Rodgers a "fisty to the belly-welly," then it's legal.
Philadelphia Eagles 6 at Washington Redskins 31
Aaron Schatz: I don't know if we have this marked enough in charting to do a study, but I wonder if rookies struggle with the a-gap blitz more than vets. Nick Foles just threw a pick on one by the Redskins.
Vince Verhei: By the way, it's late in the fourth quarter, and Robert Griffin currently has 191 yards and four touchdowns passing, another 85 yards rushing, and one incomplete pass. Against a defense that was 13th in DVOA coming into the weekend.
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Cincinnati Bengals 28 at Kansas City Chiefs 6
Rob Weintraub: Bengals pull a simple fake punt they have used already this season: a direct snap to Cedric Peerman. But Andy Dalton is woefully inaccurate early, and of course Cincy can't run it consistently.
Wait until you see the touchdown catch A.J. Green made -- he goes up over two defenders to spear a fade with one hand, then twists in mid-air to get both feet inbounds. He now has a touchdown reception in nine straight games. The Bengals converted a 4th and 7 at KC 35 to keep drive going.
In a four-play span, Geno Atkins strip sacks Matt Cassel (recovered by KC), sacks Cassel (wiped out by defensive holding), and strips Peyton Hillis (recovered by Cincy). If the All-Pro team took nominations, that stretch would be his submission reel.
For the second straight week, Mohamed Sanu lines up in the Cincy backfield and takes a simple handoff right into the line, for four yards. Much being made on the telecast about Sanu being a crappy practice player but makes things happen in games. Tebow as a wideout?
Brady Quinn in to replace Cassel, who went 8-of-16 for 93 yards.
There are more people playing pool in this bar than are left at Arrowhead.
Aaron Schatz: I feel like we have a responsibility to mention that Arrowhead Stadium looked like a Miami Marlins game today. There must have been less than 10,000 people there by halftime. If the Hunts don't fire Pioli after that, I'll be shocked.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 at Carolina Panthers 20 (OT)
Vince Verhei: Josh Freeman just completed a pass that went underneath a leaping Panthers pass rusher. It was a third-down dumpoff that led to a punt, but as far as third-down dumpoffs that lead to punts go, it was pretty cool.
Carolina tries a fake punt on fourth-and-6. It goes horribly wrong and loses four yards. On the next play, Freeman tries a deep pass off play-action, but the pass is a total duck that floats into the arms of a Panhers defensive back. On the same week I wrote that Tampa Bay's offense was explosive enough to put a scare into anyone, they're averaging less than eight yards a catch with no 20-yard receptions in the third quarter. Perhaps the Panthers have ESPN Insider, did their homework, and adjusted accordingly. I'm sure that's it. Haruki Nakamura was both the ballcarrier on the failed fake punt, and then he was the defensive back who picked off Freeman.
Aaron Schatz: But... but... but... momentum?!?! That failed fake punt was supposed to give Tampa momentum! What happened to the momentum?
Vince Verhei: Doug Martin gets a fourth-and-goal carry driving for a go-ahead touchdown. He appears to score, but it's ruled that he fumbled and Carolina recovered. Looked to me like he was at least six inches across the line before the ball popped out.
Andy Benoit: Freeman to Vincent Jackson was one of the best strong-armed throws we’ll see all year. We're seeing the late-game magic from Freeman that we saw early in his career.
Vince Verhei: In desperate situations, Tampa Bay finally gets a deep pass. With seconds to go, down 13-21, Freeman forces a ball to Vincent Jackson in triple coverage. Somehow Jackson pulls the ball in for a 24-yard touchdown. The Bucs then run a sweet play for the two-pointer. They line up three-wide and fake an inside handoff to Martin. Panthers bit on the fake, and Freeman finds Jackson in the back of the end zone to force overtime.
Overtime in Carolina doesn't last long. Bucs quickly drive into the red zone, and they don't settle for the field goal. Dallas Clark run a wheel route and leaves his linebacker in the dust, and Freeman hits him for the winning touchdown.
Cleveland Browns 20 at Dallas Cowboys 23 (OT)
Andy Benoit: Trent Richardson had two very impactful receptions on dumpoffs out of the backfield in the first quarter. In both instances, the Cowboys rushed three, dropped eight, and Brandon Weeden had all day to work through his progressions.
Mike Kurtz: That Richardson kid is pretty good. The Browns' touchdown drive didn't stall because he fought very well for yards after contact, and he just caught a pass downfield. Very impressive thus far.
Vince Verhei: Great one-on-one matchup that's being lost in a game between two bad teams: Joe Thomas vs. DeMarcus Ware. Ware has been quiet for most of the day, but on Cleveland's last third down he got off the line a half-step before Thomas. Thomas was able to counter and cut off Ware's path to the outside, but Ware counter-countered and cut in side for the sack. (Technically a half-sack with Jason Hatcher.)
Andy Benoit: Gerald Sensabaugh just lit up Richardson with a textbook tackle. Richardson dropped the ball.
Mike Kurtz: With 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Hoculi stops the game and announces that the play clocks are inoperable, orders the operator to shut them down, and has his crew start keeping time on the field. This is crazy.
Andy Benoit: Browns seem to be getting consistent late pressure on Tony Romo. Without seeing the film, my guess is they’re covering Cowboys receivers well and Romo isn’t being fluid in his reads. Every few weeks the Browns secondary shows a surprising ability to maintain coverage.
Rob Weintraub: Dan Connor meets Richardson in midair like he was Gary Reasons in the Denver snow. That's followed by an awful Weeden throw trying to hit Jordan Cameron on fourth-and-goal. At least Shurmur went for it.
Mike Kurtz: Cleveland with 1:45 left has to get a touchdown to win the game, for all practical purposes. Their call from fourth-and-goal from the 2? A tight end fade to the short side of the field. What a reversal this fourth quarter has been.
J.J. Cooper: How do you not at least use play-action on fourth-and-goal from the 1? Richardson is the Browns' one real weapon on offense. The Browns didn't make the Cowboys worry about him on fourth and goal.
Cowboys appear to get jobbed on a horse collar penalty. The tackler actually grabbed Josh Cribbs' hair to bring him down, which is legal.
Rob Weintraub: Browns are set up deep in Dallas terrain with over a minute to play. They only need one play: Weeden finds Benjamin Watson on the deep post to put Cleveland on top.
Romo saves the day for now by not fumbling when raked across the arm by Browns rookie John Hughes, but the scramble forces Dallas to call its last timeout.
Indianapolis Colts 24 at New England Patriots 59
Aaron Schatz: Colts score easily on their first drive. I will note that it looks like Aqib Talib is playing in man coverage. He's on the defensive left/offensive right, but there were a couple of plays where the Colts ran 22 personnel and interestingly, the Patriots switched Talib to the other side so he could cover Reggie Wayne. In general, they do not move their corners around much.
If I'm the Patriots, I stay away from the zone that starts with Jerod Mayo covering Wayne in the slot.
Meanwhile, I'm surprised the Colts had Donnie Avery in as the one wide receiver on a 3-TE set. I can't imagine a reason for them to ever take Wayne off the field.
Andy Benoit: Vick Ballard showing quickness and burst, he had success running left off-tackle on first series. Colts have had tons of success with semi-delay concepts on runs to the left. Outside draw is a staple run play of theirs.
Aaron Schatz: People may not have noticed on TV, but Aqib Talib was actually
gesturing to his blockers and guiding them to block guys on his winding interception return for a touchdown at 11:00 of the second quarter. That was pretty sweet.
Colts can not cover the short cross by Rob Gronkowski at all. Just easy bing bing bing, completion after completion.
Andy Benoit: Andrew Luck is great at keeping his eyes downfield under pressure in the pocket. He can make throws when contacted, too.
The Patriots are baiting the Colts to throw in middle of the field in front of third-level defenders. They're forcing Luck to make tight throws, and the safeties are sitting on those.
Aaron Schatz: I know it is bad that the Patriots fans booed Adam Vinatieri today, but I can't believe I'm arguing with someone on Twitter who claims that Vinatieri was more important to the Patriots' Super Bowl wins than Tom Brady was -- and that in general, a Super Bowl champion needs a great kicker more than it needs a great quarterback. You know, like Jeff Reed and Mason Crosby. Some people are certifiable.
Vince Verhei: Watching Vince Wilfork dive for a ball and crash outstretched into the earth may be the closest I'll ever come to watching a whale beach itself.
Tom Gower: Luck just has these special moments, like the third down earlier on that last drive, then the next play where he just rifles a ball into the middle of the field in a mass of defenders. Yes, the receiver held onto the ball, but the pass was, again, right on the money.
Andy Benoit: Colts interior linemen Samson Satele and Joe Reitz had their hands full with power of Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, and Mayo. They held up OK but the Patriots were very effective with physicality.
The Colts haven’t taken nearly as many downfield shot plays as I would have guessed. They did a bit early, but their play-action stuff after the first quarter has involved mostly the deep-intermediate range between the numbers.
Aaron Schatz: I still think it was set up for a shot play on that six-lineman, two-tight end with Avery as the wideout; I wonder if his concussion took that off the table.
Vince Verhei: Alfonso Dennard with an 87-yard pick six to put New England ahead 44-17. There are three games going on right now, each in the third or fourth quarter, none closer than 15 points. Not the most exciting Sunday afternoon of my life.
Aaron Schatz: Things were pretty awesome around 4:15 Eastern today, at least.
Vince Verhei: That's true. And the Chargers just scored to keep that game relevant at the moment.
Danny Tuccitto: Is there any conceivable reason why, down 38-17 against the No. 8 rush defense, Indianapolis is still running the ball and -- chuckle -- play-action passing?
Vince Verhei: Haven't we found that play-action usually works better, even when facing a big deficit?
Danny Tuccitto: If we have found that about play-action, I'd sure love the citation.
Aaron Schatz: I did the big article about play-action in the book a few years ago. Someone will have to check, but I do not think I included an analysis of whether it is better even when losing (or losing big).
Danny Tuccitto: Yeah, I vaguely remember the "play-action is better" finding. The losing-big part is what I'm mildly skeptical of.
Vince Verhei: Last season, there were 1,064 pass plays without play-action in the fourth quarter, trailing by at least 17 points. They averaged 5.7 yards per play with a 44 percent Success Rate. There were only 95 pass plays with play-action in those circumstances, so it's definitely rare. Those plays averaged 5.2 yards with a 42 percent Success Rate. So it hardly matters, but it definitely doesn't help. So never mind. Laugh away!
Danny Tuccitto: Things I continue to not understand about football: 1) The aforementioned play-action passing from Indianapolis down four scores in the second half; 2) The Colts holding New England's running game in check when the game is relatively close, but giving up 50 yards and a touchdown on a single fourth-quarter drive when even I know they're running.
San Diego Chargers 23 at Denver Broncos 30
Andy Benoit: Takeo Spikes making a lot of noise with A-gap blitzes. Great timing, speed, and power in it.
Tom Gower: Demaryius Thomas has a nice toe-tap for a score. Philip Rivers throws an awful interception. John Fox kicks the field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter of a tie game. Ho-hum. Willis McGahee, who's looked like a 30-something back the last month or so after looking good early in the season, is out with an injury.
Vince Verhei: Denver has a third-and-7 near midfield. San Diego opts to rush five and drop six into zone coverage. Peyton Manning easily finds the open man for the first down. It seems to me that San Diego plays more of these blitz/zone schemes than anyone else, and has for years, though I don't know if that kind of thing is in our database to check. Regardless, the idea there is that you will allow a receiver to get open short, but that you will force the quarterback into making a bad throw or decision. Do you really think you're going to force Manning to make a bad throw or decision when there's an open man?
Aaron Schatz: Actually, we do have the zone blitz percentage in there -- except this year, we stopped tracking it this year. We actually have the Chargers down near the bottom of the league on that last year, at 2.2 percent of pass plays. It was a tough thing to define for the charters though, one of the reasons we got rid of it. Instead, we'll have ESPN's charting of the frequency of defensive back blitzes this year.
Vince Verhei: I'm sorry, I'm not expressing myself clearly. I'm not necessarily talking about zone blitzes (where a lineman puts his hand in the dirt, then drops back into coverage). I'm talking about plays where five men show rush, and then five men rush the passer, which makes it a blitz, but the six men in coverage play a 4-2 zone (with four guys covering the shallow zone and two guys deep) or even a 3-3. Maybe I'm getting my terminology wrong. Regardless, it's a scheme that seems suited for a third-and-20 where you're happy to give up 15 yards, but it seems to me like San Diego uses it all the time.
Tom Gower: The Chargers are on their third defensive coordinator in as many seasons between Ron Rivera (Carolina), Greg Manusky (fired), and now John Pagano.
Aaron Schatz: Oh, no, we have no record of that.. (of course, you know this, since you are a charter, heh)
Vince Verhei: On the other hand, the all-22 shot of Brandon Stokley's touchdown to make it 17-7 made it clear that San Diego was in a standard cover-2, and Stokley had nobody within five yards of him. So maybe San Diego is playing defense so bad that it LOOKS like they've only got six men in coverage.
Well, I thought about getting creative and looking at the rate of plays with five men rushing that result in a short, but successful, completion or something like that.
Aaron Schatz: That's all you, baby! :)
Vince Verhei: Challenge accepted!
According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Chargers have rushed five on 96 plays this year (coming into the weekend, obviously). 51 of those plays have resulted in a short completion (i.e., a reception within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage). That's a rate of 53 percent, which is in the top five in the league. I have no idea if that proves anything or not.
And on another note...
The new Dodge Dart commercial tells me that if I buy their car, it will protect me in case of a giant monster attack. This is my vote for the best commercial of 2012.
Tom Gower: Chargers left guard Tyronne Green was shaken up this week and has left the game. Right guard Louis Vasquez was shaken up in the second quarter and is also out of the game. Starting left tackle Jared Gaither is of course hurt and inactive today. Jeromey Clary is still the right tackle. It's going to be a looooooooooooong second half for Rivers.
A good punt by Mike Scifres, then Shaun Phillips, who's been playing like a 30-something linebacker, beats tight end Virgil Green for a safety and this is improbably a one-score game at 17-9 early in the third quarter. The Chargers were outgained by a half-million yards (okay, maybe 150) in the first half, and while total yards are an imperfect measure of team quality, that more or less accurately reflects the extent to which they were outplayed. This is like a vintage Norv "how did you lose this one?!?" game in reverse.
Andy Benoit: Von Miller embarrassed Clary on the sack-fumble that Rivers never saw coming. Miller has three sacks, five hurries, and four tackles for a loss through 2.5 quarters. Last week against Carolina, I thought he had arguably the best all around game that any defensive player has had this season. Now I've seen this game.
Tom Gower: Norv kicks the extra point down nine with :45 to play in the third quarter. Not an obvious call, but not a clear error.
New Orleans Saints 38 at Oakland Raiders 17
And now it's 35-10 in Oakland after Lance Moore's second touchdown of the day. When the game was 14-0, Chase Stuart tweeted that you could pencil in 350+ yards and three interceptions for Carson Palmer at that point. The implication of that got me thinking: do the Raiders have the most prolific inefficient offense in the league this season? Through 10 weeks, they were 14th in yards per play, but 23rd in offense DVOA. Can't think of any other offenses that are so good at piling up meaningless yardage.
Rivers McCown: Audible "Palmer Sucks" chants in Oakland.
Vince Verhei: "All of our quarterbacks suck" doesn't lend itself to an obvious rhythm.
Baltimore Ravens 13 at Pittsburgh Steelers 10
Tom Gower: Just getting my hatred of these Steelers uniforms on the record for posterity.
Danny Tuccitto: As Cris Collinsworth pointed out during the replay of Byron Leftwich's touchdown to put Pittsburgh up 7-0 after 43 seconds, Bernard LOLlard, everyone.
Ben Muth: Pollard had to think Leftwich was going to step out on his own. That doesn't excuse that sad attempt at a tackle, but I'm guessing that was what went wrong.
Aaron Schatz: I feel bad that I'm not commenting on this game, but I've been busy having it out with the "running up the score" idiots on Twitter ... anyone have any thoughts here?
Tom Gower: I don't have a lot to say about the game, just because not that much I consider interesting seems to have happened. Both offenses have struggled to move the ball. Given Leftwich, that's no surprise from the Steelers, and given how Joe Flacco has played at times, it's not that much of a surprise from the Ravens either. The only touchdown, after Leftwich's borderline-unbelievable run early, came on a punt return. Return touchdowns are important, of course, but only very rarely are they interesting.
Aaron Schatz: I feel like Leftwich is playing Jai Alai.
Also, it was great when Leftwich had that little jump-shot pass to Jonathan Dwyer when he was under duress, with around 12:00 left in the fourth quarter. If Brett Favre had thrown that, we would be hearing about how he's just having fun out there.
Danny Tuccitto: Quite a last minute-plus early in the fourth quarter: (1) Mike Tomlin demonstrates when a coach should challenge a spot (i.e., no mass of humanity involved); (2) In what has to be the only instance of this in NFL broadcast history, Cris Collinsworth says "betwixt."
J.J. Cooper: I don't like where the Steelers chose to use their final timeout. By calling it at 2:04, they gave Baltimore the option to throw or run without worrying about an incomplete pass stopping the clock, since the two-minute warning would occur either way.
Aaron Schatz: Every Steelers-Ravens game ends like this, doesn't it? These teams have played 10 times since 2008, not counting tonight. Six games had a final margin of three points, one of four, one of seven, and one of nine. The exception was when Baltimore beat Pittsburgh 35-7 in the first week of last season.
One other question, what the hell was Rashard Mendenhall doing staying in bounds with 40 or so seconds left?
Vince Verhei: I'm kind of with Tom in that there's not a ton to analyze here. It's two teams that generally like to play ugly football anyway, and both squads were depleted coming into the game, and so they essentially spent 60 minutes taking turns punching each other in the mouth. And eventually the Ravens hit harder.
I did enjoy the last play, the worst imitation of the Stanford band play of all-time. A series of offensive linemen playing hot potato with the ball. "I don't want it -- you take it!"