Audibles at the Line: Week 16
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.
Saturday, December 22nd
Atlanta Falcons 31 at Detroit Lions 18
Tom Gower: Detroit has made me sad in the second half. They kicked an extra point down 21-12, a decision I'd characterize as sensible, but non-aggressive. They ran a quarterback draw on third-and-goal from the 4 with Matthew Stafford, who's not exactly fleet of foot, and then kicked a field goal down eight on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Speaking one Hoya to another, c'mon, Jim.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know what's happened with Jim and the conservative game decisions, I really don't. I do hope to talk to him about it after the season is over. I don't want to be a jerk about it. It's not about his reputation; I want to see him be aggressive because I think it will help him win.
This game ended with the Lions getting a safety to make it 31-18, which the defense celebrated like they had done something greatly impressive, and then Stefan Logan TOOK A KNEE on the free kick. If it is a punt, you return it. If it is a kickoff, you also return it. In what event do you take a knee at the TWO-YARD LINE with no defenders within 20 yards of you?
Danny Tuccitto: To me, what's odd about the Schwartz Era is how they set up the whole "defensive head coach plus autonomous offensive guru" coaching dynamic, and it's the defense that blows year after year. I know they finished ninth in DVOA last year despite a ton of injuries, but c'mon. In Schwartz's defense (pun intended), part of me wonders if things would be different if their defensive drafts had been worth a crap over the past four years (besides Ndamukong Suh, DeAndre Levy, and Louis Delmas): 15 picks, five starters, two of which are actually glorified backups (Nick Fairley and Sammie Lee Hill).
Tom Gower: Um, why didn't the Falcons just take a knee three times? You can't take a normal kneedown when you take over at the 2, of course, but you can not hand the ball off in the end zone.
Stafford's 443 yards passing breaks Joe Montana's record of 441 for most passing yards in a game without a passing touchdown.
Danny Tuccitto: Two other observations from this game:
- As FO alum Doug Farrar discussed in his podcast with Greg Cosell this week, Stafford's mechanics continue to be horrible. I'm not going to pretend to be as knowledgeable as those two, but there was one throw he made that was just awful. With 3:50 left in the first quarter, he gets the "no sweat, bro" double-whammy of a free play and no pressure whatsoever from the pass rush; yet he throws a Quisenberry-esque pass off his back foot. It ended up being a completion to Calvin Johnson, but there's just no reason why he should be so cavalier with his mechanics in the most stress-free of situations.
- Quite a "honey badger" statement from the Falcons, who basically allowed Calvin Johnson to run through -- and find a hole in -- every conceivable zone tonight: "We're confident that we can allow your best player to torch us the entire game, and still win by two scores." Or maybe that's more of a reflection on Detroit than Atlanta?
Aaron Schatz: Well, have fun playing that zone against the Packers.
Danny Tuccitto: Ha! Agreed. That honey badger pass defense will almost certainly meet its match in the playoffs.
Vince Verhei: "Honey badger defense?"
Danny Tuccitto: Yeah, "they didn't give a f***" -- about Johnson getting his yardage.
Sunday, December 23rd
San Diego Chargers 27 at New York Jets 17
Vince Verhei: I'm not feeling well today, so I'm at home instead of the sports bar. That means no Jets on TV. I am sad to miss out on McElroymageddon.
Rivers McCown: All three quarterbacks are active. Actively being bad is a form of activity.
Vince Verhei: McElroy-al flush update: At the end of the third quarter, McElroy has seven completions (four for first downs), seven sacks, and one interception.
Rivers McCown: What's amazing is that there was no outcry about it, because everyone knew trying McElroy was the least-bad of three bad options.
Tim Tebow's reputation as a great teammate has to take a hit with the news that he wouldn't run the wildcat for whatever reason today.
Cincinnati Bengals 13 at Pittsburgh Steelers 10
Andy Benoit: It's early, but the Steelers defense -- the swarming front seven in particular -- is in attack mode. Two sacks on first series. If they are indeed healthy, this is a dangerous team if it gets into the playoffs.
Andy Benoit: No idea what Ben Roethlisberger was doing on that throw.
Reggie Nelson hit a defenseless Miller low and then pointed at his head to indicate that he couldn’t go high. Miller's not happy, but that’s what the NFL is forcing safeties to do these days.
Vince Verhei: This is going to happen more often as defensive backs go out of their way to avoid headshots, but since brain injuries seem to lead to mental illness and knee injuries don't, I am fine with that.
Rob Weintraub: Huge special teams penalty on the Bengals, running into the punter gives Pitt a fourth-and-short at midfield. Isaac Redman breaks a couple of arm tackles to get it.
Kevin Huber for game MVP? Just put a punt out of bounds on the 2, and had a 64-yarder earlier...
Andy Benoit: Nelson on the line of scrimmage off the edge is a great pre-snap alignment for the Bengals. They do a lot of aggressive, hard-to-identify things out of it.
Rob Weintraub: I'd say Nelson actually blitzes maybe one-third of the time off that look. He's good at showing blitz and getting into coverage quickly.
Andy Benoit: Cortez Allen's pick to open the second half was great coverage, Troy Polamalu ran under the outside receiver and that allowed Allen to take the inside route. (Cover-2 zone technique, essentially.) Andy Dalton didn’t get enough on the throw. This is a coverage wrinkle the Steelers have used all season, including last time they faced Bengals. Intended target was Andrew Hawkins, not A.J. Green.
Aaron Schatz: As I wrote in Upset Watch, the Steelers have been great against top receivers all year, even with Ike Taylor injured. And they've given up lots of yardage to second and third guys, so aiming for Hawkins a lot isn't a bad idea.
Holy crap. Marvin Lewis just went for it on fourth-and-22 from the 33, and they almost got it, but Green landed with one foot out of bounds. I had Jim Armstrong run early Aggressiveness Index numbers a couple weeks ago and Lewis was sixth this season, but he's gone for it a lot in "long field goal range" (i.e. between the 31 and 37). Fourth-and-22, though, honestly, that's more ballsy than even I could consider. Wow.
Vince Verhei: On replay it looked like he might have gotten that second foot down inside the sideline. Either way, massive balls for Marvin Lewis.
Rob Weintraub: I didn't mind going for it -- any time A.J. is out there you have a shot, as he showed. But Josh Brown is 7-for-7 since taking over for Mike Nugent, and every point in this one is crucial. That whole "game of inches" thing is going to stick badly in my craw when the Bengals lose this one.
Andy Benoit: Roethlisberger is the only quarterback in the league who can consistently do full-fledged pump fakes under serious duress. Steelers red zone offense has been poor today. They’ve been using more downfield routes outside. In the red zone, that gets taken away.
Vince Verhei: Cincinnati lines up a tight end out wide, then motions him into the fullback position. Polamalu follows him inside, then shoots the A-gap at the snap and is all over Dalton before the quarterback can even drop back. Fantastic play, and probably an ad-lib, unless he was going to blitz off the edge from the original set.
I've long felt that pass interference should be a 15-yard penalty and not a spot foul. Some who disagree with me have said that if it was a 15-yard foul, any defensive back who was beaten deep would automatically foul his man and gladly take the penalty instead of surrendering a big play. Well, Green just beat Allen, and Allen, knowing he was beaten, blatantly interfered with him. So at least in one instance the current rule did nothing to prevent a beaten defender committing a blatant foul.
Mike Wallace has had only a minimal impact in this game. This is the third time in five weeks that he has been held catchless in the first half. And he hasn’t done much in the second half, either
Aaron Schatz: Do you have any idea what's up with Wallace this year, Andy? I've heard a number of ideas, maybe it has to do with Haley's offensive playcalling, maybe it is because he missed training camp ... he's been much worse, both yards per reception and catch rate are way down.
Andy Benoit: Dalton completes a huge throw to Green to set up a game-winning field-goal attempt. Trips bunch versus zone coverage, and Green elevated to catch a good throw. He had a handful of impact catches late in the second half.
Vince Verhei: Tie game, fourth quarter, Bengals try a 56-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-11. That is diametrically opposed to any logic that would have told you to go for it on fourth-and-22 earlier in the game. Kick is short. I'm so confused.
Rob Weintraub: I'm not confused -- it's the Bengals. Huber is having a great game, defense is dominant, so why not hand Pittsburgh 30 or so yards of field position? There's aggressive, and there's foolish. That was foolish.
Vince Verhei: It's not even that they made a bad decision. It's that they made a decision so completely contrary to their previous decision that makes my head hurt.
Andy Benoit: Roethlisberger throws another game-losing interception, the second week in a row he's done that. Steelers not a playoff team this year because of it. Weird year for Steelers.
Rivers McCown: Andy channeling Peter King there. I don't think it's that weird. The Steelers had a ton of injuries to overcome, and for once, they didn't.
Vince Verhei: Cincinnati's final strange field-goal decision: after Roethlisberger throws an interception, the Bengals have eight seconds and a timeout left at the 26-yard line. They settle for the 43-yard field-goal try rather than running one more play. The kick was good, but 43 yards is no gimme. They could have just run up the middle for two yards and called timeout. In that situation, two yards could have made a difference, couldn't it?
Aaron Schatz: I don't think as much as if they were looking at something in the high 40s or over 50. I am going to do a study on this question in the offseason, it has come up a lot this year.
Rob Weintraub: Color me shocked. One of the most satisfying wins in Bengals history right there. If the Giants pull it out against the Ravens, next week's game is for the AFC North.
How about this unprecedented offseason move: Cincinnati announces Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer to switch roles, with Lewis handling defensive coordinator duties and Zim getting a much-deserved head coach spot. Probably the only way to keep Zim after this season.
Tom Gower: They showed a Marvin Lewis clip on CBS where he was defending his seemingly inconsistent decisions by declaring he believes in his players and plays to win.
Rivers McCown: Ooh, can that get you out of any weird tactical decisions now? I've gotta start using that.
Buffalo Bills 10 at Miami Dolphins 24
Danny Tuccitto: After a touchback on the opening kickoff, the Dolphins' first drive sees Reggie Bush and Anthony Fasano get the first six touches, which move them down to the Bills 34-yard line. From there, they go incomplete pass to Marlon Moore, Bush stuffed on predictable 2nd-and-10 run, and incomplete pass to Brian Hartline. Buffalo blocks the ensuing field goal attempt. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, guys.
Hey, whaddyaknow! After taking over at their own 38-yard line when Steve Johnson lost a fumble, Miami scores a touchdown on a nine-play second drive that features six runs and a a 17-yard touchdown pass to Bush. That's more like it.
This game is making me thankful that I don't get to watch the Bills much. What an awful team in just about every facet of the game -- except C.J. Spiller, of course.
Also, with 12:09 left in the third quarter, Ryan Tannehill gets hit as he attempts a forward pass to a running back in the flat. The ball goes slightly backward, which of course is totally irrelevant to the call, and Buffalo recovers the "lateral." The refs get it right in real time, deeming it an incompletion. Randy Cross thinks it should be a lateral. Chan Gailey challenges it because he thinks it should be a lateral. Both are wrong, and Gailey loses the challenge. I know full well that I don't know the rules as well as I probably could, but it defies belief that people getting paid millions of dollars to win football games (or provide commentary about them on broadcast television) can be so utterly mistaken about a really simple rule.
As stats people, we talk a lot about how teams need analytics departments to make better decisions. How about having an officiating consultant to make better replay challenge decisions? If teams already have one (which it seems like they would), I guess those guys face as much of an uphill battle as analytics departments trying to get the head coach to listen.
Indianapolis Colts 20 at Kansas City Chiefs 13
Ben Muth: Branden Albert out again for the Chiefs. My feeling is that they've been looking at Donald Stephenson as much as possible over the last few weeks to see if they can let Albert go. I think they will.
With Bobby Massie's improvement as the season has gone along, I want to nominate the guy that replaced Winston Justice as the Colts right tackle as the worst offensive lineman in football. He's been awful every time I've seen him.
Andy Benoit: Sounds like Mr. Muth is referring to Jeff Linkenbach (whom Cris Collinsworth once referred to as the "weak Linkenbach" on Indy's line).
Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs just ran on third-and-8 from their own 8 with 3:20 left, while losing. (Shakes head.)
Rivers McCown: Brian Daboll, everybody!
Minnesota Vikings 23 at Houston Texans 6
Aaron Schatz: Minnesota's first drive shows they have discovered that if you are going to set the all-time rushing record, you can apparently play-action pass to your tight end. Kyle Rudolph then celebrates the touchdown with what looked like the "I'm revving up an exploding lawnmower, then throwing chalk on myself like LeBron James" dance.
Mike Tanier: Just chipping in as the voice of experience to say that there is nothing funny about an exploding lawnmower.
Aaron Schatz: Minnesota early on looks like Leslie Frazier has decided that making the playoffs is more important than getting Adrian Peterson a rushing record. This is not a bad thing, of course, but they've only had a couple runs and they are running a lot of plays that take advantage of the idea that Houston would be stacking up against Peterson: play-action to Rudolph, end arounds, screen passes, and so forth.
Rivers McCown: The Texans are doing their best to make Christian Ponder look like a real live quarterback. An ugly display of play-action passes and comeback routes. Even Michael Jenkins is looking alive.
Aaron Schatz: Kevin Walter down at the 1 because his knee falls right before the ball would cross the plane. Texans run three plays and not one of them is a handoff to Arian Foster. That seems like odd play-calling. Matt Schaub sacked on the last one and the Texans kick a field goal, still down 16-6.
Aha. Turns out Foster was injured and not available for that drive.
Rivers McCown: The offensive line has been served an asswhooping by Minnesota's front seven today. The last time Houston was held without a touchdown, the year was 2006. Methinks this Leslie Frazier guy can coach a little bit.
Tennessee Titans 7 at Green Bay Packers 55
Tom Gower: I hope Jake Locker is spending his time on the bench trying to triangulate his passes, because he had consecutive missed throws: a terrible underthrow to a ridiculously wide-open Taylor Thompson followed by an overthrow to Nate Washington. I knew he was a project, but the Titans have looked completely inept on their first three drives. The worst intentional grounding call I've ever seen (busted screen, Chris Johnson came within a foot at most of actually touching the pass) didn't help the third series, but the Titans would need an awful lot of help the other way. Meanwhile, the only reason the Packers have 14 points on their first three drives instead of 21 is that Randall Cobb failed to bring in two catchable passes on the same series. Ho-hum.
A.J. Hawk's sack was a product of Clay Matthews beating the crap out of his man and forcing Johnson to apply help protection there. On the next play, Locker throws a tipped interception to Erik Walden.
Tom Gower: "His man" = right guard Deuce Lutui, whom the Titans found on the street at midseason for a reason. He's good for three incredibly terrible plays a game, minimum. Locker's pick was tipped because he threw badly behind Damian Williams on a short crosser.
Packers take the second half kickoff for a touchdown to make it 27-0. DuJuan Harris finished off the drive on a 7-yard run where the Titans might have been able to bring him down if they weren't playing two-hand touch. If you like passer rating, Locker's in the first half was 0.0. I don't, really, but the idea of equating three completions and two interceptions on 12 passing attempts to zero doesn't bother me.
12:31 to play, Packers lead 48-0 with, I believe, 28 points on four second-half possessions. I should have gone to the playground with my nieces at halftime.
New Orleans Saints 34 at Dallas Cowboys 31 (OT)
Vince Verhei: Tony Romo finds Dez Bryant isolated on Patrick Robinson and hits him for a 58-yard touchdown. Robinson was running step-for-step with Bryant but totally misread the ball. He never went up to get it, and when he tried to cut Bryant off for a tackle, he overshot his target and opened an easy cutback for Bryant into the end zone.
Andy Benoit: Play-action, no safety help at all. Embarrassing.
Bryant’s second touchdown was somehow more impressive than his first. Unbelievable strength and athleticism running after the catch.
Vince Verhei: Robinson is having a very bad day. He stumbled covering Bryant on a quick slant, then failed to wrap up Bryant's feet and let him run free for another 58-yard touchdown.
Andy Benoit: Morris Claiborne is doing a solid job in red zone coverage today.
Aaron Schatz: The Cowboys just had to call a timeout on their own goal line because they had just nine guys on defense. I've seen 10 before, but nine is pretty rare.
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Oakland Raiders 6 at Carolina Panthers 17
Vince Verhei: Matt Leinart is in for Oakland and has started 6-of-7 for 53 yards. Think Whisenhunt would take him back in Arizona?
Rivers McCown: Whisenhunt prefers his bad quarterbacks to come into the league with no expectations.
New England Patriots 23 at Jacksonville Jaguars 16
Aaron Schatz: Patriots tie things up with Jacksonville 13-13 right before halftime, but this is still a mostly pathetic display in the first half by Patriots. A couple of bad plays by receivers led to two interceptions for Tom Brady. On the first one, it was more Brady's fault, a little underthrown to Stevan Ridley, it hit a Jaguars defender in the back, but then Ridley had it, bobbled it, and a Jaguars defensive back ended up with it. The second one was by Derek Cox covering Brandon Lloyd and Lloyd just looked lazy, he let Cox get position on him and take the ball without fighting it.
Jason Babin playing very well for Jacksonville, I know why the Eagles cut him but still, big addition for them. Perhaps it will pay dividends in 2013. I wonder if Babin playing so well is why it seems like Hernandez is blocking more, he has only one catch so far.
With Chad Henne having a big game early, all I can think about is the 400+ yards he put up on the Pats in Week 1 of 2011. I'd say he seems to just do well against the Pats, but he didn't in Week 17 of 2010, so there's probably nothing to that idea.
Patriots getting destroyed by the Jaguars defense today. Pass rush is constantly in the backfield, and when Brady does have enough time to throw, all the Pats receivers seem to be covered.
Tom Gower: Apparently we may have gotten a mention in this broadcast for having New England as the league's most efficient offense.
Aaron Schatz: We did! Kevin Harlan also shouted out to Basketball Prospectus earlier this year on an NBA telecast.
Washington Redskins 27 at Philadelphia Eagles 20
Andy Benoit: According to Brian Billick, the Redskins have not run the read-option all game with Robert Griffin. That probably means he’s not 100 percent.
New York Giants 14 at Baltimore Ravens 33
Andy Benoit: Corey Webster was beat by Jacoby Jones for a short area touchdown on a little flat hitch. Webster struggled with confined change of direction on the play.
Then the refs questionably overturned the play. This wouldn’t even be an issue if Jones hadn’t dropped the ball after crossing the goal-line. Drops remain an issue for Jones.
Rivers McCown: Same as it always was.
Andy Benoit: Martellus Bennett had a great playside block on Courtney Upshaw during David Wilson's touchdown run. Wilson showed explosion and acceleration through the hole. Bear Pascoe also had a great seal block from shallow slot.
Aaron Schatz: Andy wrote about Hakeem Nicks' injury in Film Room, and he doesn't have a single catch five minutes into the third quarter. Even more surprising, Victor Cruz has just one catch for three yards. Nobody from the Giants seems able to get open.
Andy Benoit: Chykie Brown had a handful of impressive passes defensed on the outside, a lot of them against wideouts inside. Aligned outside, he has done really well.
Jason Pierre-Paul’s name has not been called once today.
Cleveland Browns 12 at Denver Broncos 34
Tom Gower: They seemed like pretty good reasons for Peyton Manning to go to Denver, but I think Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas have had the kind of seasons he would have hoped they'd have. Neither Tamme nor Joel Dreessen is a great player, but they've both been very successful in the past, and I'm not surprised they've been useful players this year. After spending this afternoon watching the Packers and then keeping my eye on this game when I get a chance, I'm just happy to have both of my Super Bowl teams looking like they have a shot.
Chicago Bears 28 at Arizona Cardinals 13
Andy Benoit: I haven't been watching every play of this game but every time I glance over, is seems like Calais Campbell is blowing something up. Also, it's been fun watching Patrick Peterson get emotional about his matchup with Brandon Marshall.
San Francisco 49ers 13 at Seattle Seahawks 42
Aaron Schatz: Looks like the 49ers are having some real trouble stopping the
Seahawks running around the edge. I went to check last week's PBP to see if this might be related to Justin Smith's injury, but in turns out the Patriots didn't have a single run last week marked either left end or right end, either before or after Smith went out.
Rivers McCown: Remember when there was actually talk about benching Russell Wilson earlier in the season?
Danny Tuccitto: How many weeks before I can stop worrying whether or not this Colin Kaepernick-led offense is going to actually get the play off on time?
Aaron Schatz: It's hard to tell what's legal and what's not anymore. In the replay, it was clear there was no head-to-head contact, but the human eye can't tell, the official just sees the head snap back and that's that, he throws the flag.
Aaron Schatz: You really do look at games like this and you scratch your head and say "how on earth does this happen?" How do the 49ers look so good, and then so bad? It can't all be Justin Smith.
Tom Gower: Yeah, that Chancellor call was a tough break for him, and something that I think will be hard for the NFL to avoid, barring what I think is an unlikely relaxation of the defenseless receiver rules.
The thing about the Russell Wilson benching talk is that he went like 36 minutes between completions past the line of scrimmage.
Also, is tonight fodder for the idea that Justin Smith should be a bigger candidate for Defensive Player of the Year?
Aaron Schatz: Now I have a question about the third-quarter play where they handed the ball to Sidney Rice and he attempted a pass. Do you think:
a) It was silly for the Seahawks to "waste" that play on a game they are already winning 28-6, rather than saving it for a game where they really need the surprise,
b) It was good for the Seahawks to make teams in the playoffs think that an end around might turn into a passing play, because it gives opponents another thing to think about and it might give their end arounds more space.
Rivers McCown: My Wilson statement was not one of defiance, I'm just kind of amazed at how fast the growth has come. I expected him to take a bit longer to adjust. All of a sudden he's arguably a better Rookie of the Year candidate than either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin.
And Aaron, I'm more in camp B. Either way, I think it's silly to spend so much time agonizing over what happens when the score is out of hand. If I were a coach I'd be running the ball a lot to reduce the chances of injury, but it's not a big deal to me.
2) Ahmad Brooks continues to make zero plays per game.
4) I think Alex Smith is too good of a teammate to have gotten a kick out of Kaepernick's epic failure tonight. But I also think that, when Alex Smith goes to sleep tonight, his suppressed unconscious will emerge in a dream.
5) I'm just a guy who writes about football on the internet, so far be it from me to question the 49ers' incoherent game plan, lack of preparation, and overwhelmingly conspicuous malaise.