Audibles at the Line: Week 3
compiled by Andrew Potter
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 turn 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 Steelers 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.
Atlanta Falcons 39 at Dallas Cowboys 28
Andrew Healy: Just saw Brandon Weeden's statline along with the Cowboys' running backs:
That is one awesome offensive line, I guess.
Sterling Xie: And Andrew jinxes Dallas, as Weeden throws an interception to set up Atlanta outside the red zone.
But before that pick, Weeden had completed his first 16 passes of the season. That's got to be some sort of record, right? I vaguely remember Mark Brunell completing a ton of consecutive passes in a season opener against Houston some time back, but I don't believe that happened at the start of the game.
Vince Verhei: We mentioned last week that due to horrible line play around the league, a lot of games this year haven't been fun to watch. Well, thank goodness for the Cowboys, because I don't remember the last time I had this much fun watching a football game where I didn't have a rooting interest. Dallas' line is just pushing the Falcons around, routinely driving defenders 10 yards or more off the line of scrimmage. And they're mixing things up too, like a pitcher mixing up his deliveries. They have used a heavy dose of inside zone, but also a handful of traps and outside pulls to keep Atlanta's defense guessing. It's usually hard to pick out individual linemen for good plays, and they only stand out when they screw up, but I've noticed La'el Collins (first start at left guard), Travis Frederick, Doug Free, and even Jason Witten taking care of their men. It really has been a pleasure to watch. In my mind, this is what football is supposed to look like.
You can see it in pass protection too, where they aren't just winning one-on-one matchups, but coordinating with each other to make sure every blitzer gets picked up. Brandon Weeden completed his first nine passes, making him 16-of-16 on the year and giving him a Dallas record 21 completions in a row going back to last season. And on those nine completions, he was pretty much completely unhurried, standing back and waiting for his crossers to get open underneath. (Those have been his favorite routes, and Atlanta could counter that with more zone defense in the second half.) Then the first time Atlanta gets any real pressure, with Paul Soliai pushing Frederick back into Weeden's face, Weeden throws a terrible pick to William Moore, where it wasn't even clear at first who he was throwing to. Replays showed that he badly overthrew Witten, but the point is, Brandon Weeden still sucks, and his line is making him look like Roger Staubach.
Falcons haven't had nearly that kind of sustained success, but Devonta Freeman is getting free for some big plays (runs of 10 and 16 yards, plus a 35-yard reception), and it's 28-17 Dallas at halftime.
Falcons are rallying, and they now have the ball down three late in the third quarter. They have definitely been the more explosive offense today, with Julio Jones getting a 22-yard catch to set up his own 45-yard touchdown. Cowboys are getting some pressure, but Matt Ryan is hitting a lot of passes on the run. Looks like a shortstop out there sometimes.
Cowboys have had the ball twice and failed to move it. Falcons are doing some blitzing to stop the run, and they have successfully taken away the shorter patterns. And Weeden, even with protection, can't hit the deeper stuff -- he had Witten open for what should have been a third-down conversion and a gain of 18 or so, but threw way over the tight end's head, and Witten ended up taking a big hit to the ribs as he jumped for it. He seems OK, but that looked bad.
Falcons get the lead on a Devonta Freeman touchdown, his third of the day. This has been a fascinating game because both defenses are fairly mediocre, but while Dallas clearly has the best offensive line in this game, Atlanta clearly has the best passer, runner, and receiver. (And obviously that might be different if Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were healthy, but they aren't.)
Cowboys get the ball back and go three-and-out again. Weeden gets sacked on third-and-long. Vic Beasley beat Tyron Smith on the left side, but there was pressure from the right too. Shows again that no matter how good your line is, it's hard to block when the defense knows you have to pass.
Atlanta blows Dallas out 22-0 in the second half and wins 39-28. Cowboys get only 52 yards on four drives after halftime, while Atlanta scored touchdowns on their first three possessions before running out the clock on their fourth.
Indianapolis Colts 35 at Tennessee Titans 33
Cian Fahey: First third down of the game for the Colts ... and they blow an assignment, forcing Andrew Luck to throw it away.
Marcus Mariota's downfield accuracy remains my biggest concern with him. Has missed at least three big plays downfield that should have been completed to this point. They went to Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker, two players the Colts can't really cover.
Tom Gower: Halftime in Nashville, and the Colts are up 14-10. Indianapolis' offense has been nearly as consistently successful as I've feared, so most of this first half has been about Tennessee's offense and their success and mistakes. Those errors include those overthrows on deep routes Cian noted and a couple early drops, one of which went off Delanie Walker when he was hit by a defender and bounced to the newly-signed Dwight Lowery, who returned it for a score.
Cian Fahey: Andrew Luck has thrown more interceptable passes than people realized in the past, but anyone saying he's just doing what he's always done now is off in my opinion. He's making worse decisions and throws more consistently this year than he ever has.
Marcus Mariota's numbers have been incredible through three weeks. Even as someone who was very high on him during the draft, I never imagined he would be this good this early. He's doing everything you need a quarterback to do.
The Colts are making a comeback, might be too late. Philip Dorsett making an impressive play on an underthrown pass from Andrew Luck for a long touchdown reception. Believe that's the first of his career.
Andrew Healy: Man, I really dislike that two-point conversion play call for the Titans. They spread the Colts out and got a pass interference on the first try. Then they went heavy and ran Jalston Fowler and his 12 career rushing yards. Why not roll Mariota out and give him a run-pass option? Felt like that play had a 25 percent chance of working.
Tom Gower: Titans have third-and-8 at the Colt's 34-yard line. Marcus Mariota takes a sack that knocks them out of field goal range. Brett Kern's punt is downed at the 1, though, so the Titans feel pretty confident about a 27-14 lead with 12:20 to play. Luck's been off all day. Rest of Colts offense hasn't done much -- until they go 99 yards, getting the touchdown on a two-deep splitter where safety Marqueston Huff, playing because the Titans only had three corners up and Perrish Cox got hurt, is beat by Philip Dorsett. 27-21. Two plays later, Marcus Mariota doesn't account for the safety or assumes something else will happen and the aforementioned Mr. Lowery has his second pick of the game, this one returned to the 11-yard line. One play later, Colts up 28-27. Titans go three-and-out. Said previously moribund Colts offense goes 69 yards in five plays, featuring some real TitanUp tackling moments. 35-27.
The Titans did follow with a good drive, as the Colts were probably playing a bit conservatively and we saw the return of the big zone voids that had let Mariota have so much success earlier (he'd finish with 369 yards passing). But the two-point conversion fails (from the 1-yard line after a penalty, handoff to Jalston Fowler as a fullback in a jumbo set, which worked several times earlier including the touchdown that just made it 35-33), the onside kick goes out of bounds, and we have two blown fourth-quarter leads by teams from the state of Tennessee this weekend as they tried to end long losing streaks against rivals.
Cincinnati Bengals 28 at Baltimore Ravens 24
Aaron Schatz: Hell of a play by A.J. Green to push off two tacklers with stiff-arms and then outrace a third to put Cincinnati up 21-17. Then Baltimore scored again, and then Cincinnati scored again for the win. Baltimore is 0-3 despite three close losses. The Ravens don't look like a bad team at all, but they just haven't gotten the breaks this year.
Rob Weintraub: Good thing I didn't watch this live, as I'd be in the ICU with a coronary after that fourth quarter.
First and foremost, the Bengals should have put this one away by early in the third quarter. Total domination of the first half, to the point that Baltimore faked a punt at its own 27-yard line down 14-0 (and only got it because of a lucky bounce on a fumble on the play). Cincy was driving deep for another score late in the half, faced fourth-and-inches at the Ravens' 3-yard line. They went for it (step on their throat, I like the call), and Andy Dalton improv-ed a pass to Tyler Eifert, who caught it, took three steps, reached the ball over the plane, then had it kicked loose flukily by the defender in the end zone. Of course, as we all know, despite the football move and breaking the plane, the insipid rule says that's incomplete. Turnover on downs. On the first drive of the third quarter, Dalton then threw his first pick of the year in the end zone (nice play by Jimmy Smith). So instead of a score between 17-0 and 28-0, it remained 14-0, and of course the Ravens came back.
Baltimore had zero pass rush in the first half, then started blitzing almost every play, occasionally some exotic stuff. The key strip sack/touchdown return resulted from getting Elvis Dumervil isolated on Eifert due to overload on the Cincy right side of the formation.
Steve Smith basically took the responsibility of saving Baltimore's season personally, and damned if he almost did it. On fourth-and-5 down two touchdowns, he broke three tackles and turned a quick out into a long touchdown. He pushed off but outfought Dre Kirkpatrick for the go-ahead score at 24-21. He's an indomitable player, no other way to put it.
Both teams struggled to run all day, though Giovani Bernard had some success. Jeremy Hill continues to struggle -- there wasn't much room but he seemed tentative, the fumblitis may be plaguing him mentally some. Baltimore abandoned the run early on.
Dalton gets no credit for mobility, but his running touchdown to open the scoring showed very good instincts to pull it down and very good swerve to get in despite defenders having angles on him.
And if Andy D. didn't have tremendous resiliency, he wouldn't be in the league. Just like last season, the Bengals blew a two-touchdown lead in Baltimore, then Dalton, immediately after the big play by the Ravens to take the lead for the first time, hit A.J. for a bomb, this time 80 yards (last year it was 77). Green showed excellent balance to spin off a pair of defenders and break free, and Dalton made a nice anticipation throw to hit the streaking receiver. But the key was Gio, who held off Dumervil on a blitz long enough to let Dalton step into the throw. Steve Tasker went on and on after this play, saying how the Bengals have never had a guy step up when the chips were down and make plays in big spots blah blah blah -- never mentioning that Dalton hit Green in almost precisely the same circumstance last season. That made it 21-17 Cincy, but Baltimore rallied despite falling way behind the chains a couple of times and re-took the lead again.
On the game-winner, Dalton had Eifert flanked wide right one-on-one, a similar look to the play they scored on against San Diego last week. But Dalton called him back in tight and changed the play when the Ravens overloaded the offensive right side with a big blitz look. There were trips left, with Green in the middle. Baltimore was forced into man coverage on that side, and Green ran a simple corner route. Perfect touch throw, easy touchdown. Dalton created that look pre-snap. Then I see Tony Dungy talk about it at halftime on NBC, and he's all "where's the double coverage?" He offers little to nothing in that role.
The Ravens had plenty of time for yet another tilt of the seesaw, but on third-and-short an A-gap blitz by Vincent Rey forced Kelechi Osemele to grab his facemask as Rey ran by. That wiped out a third-down conversion by Smith, and forced fourth-and-a-mile. Flacco chucked one deep, and Maxx Williams had his hands on it, but couldn't hang on. Ballgame, and I waved off the defibrillator.
That's four in a row for Cincy over Baltimore, and five of six, but everyone will continue to pick the big bad Ravens in these matchups. Dalton has won the last three against the purple with huge late drives and big plays, but yeah yeah do it in January.
Jacksonville Jaguars 17 at New England Patriots 51
Aaron Schatz: Takeaways from the first half of the Patriots-Jaguars game:
1) Coming into this game, we knew that the Jaguars' offensive line was not very good, but also that the Patriots' run defense had been pushed around in the first two weeks. Which side would give? The answer seems to be "Jaguars offensive line." 30th in ALY in 2014, 25th through Week 2 this year. T.J. Yeldon nine carries, only 26 yards through first half. The Patriots' pass rush also has Blake Bortles under constant pressure. The Jaguars' one scoring drive came in part because Jamie Collins knocked the ball out of Bortles' hand on third-and-7 and it went something like 10 yards forward and into Toby Gerhart's hands right at the first down marker, turning a likely punt into a new set of downs.
2) Either Blake Bortles has serious accuracy issues or his receivers just have no idea which routes they're supposed to be running. I have a feeling it's the former.
3) Before the Super Bowl, one of the big stories when it came to the actual football was "Will the Seahawks alter their Cover-3 scheme to cover Gronk on seam routes?" Well, the Jaguars run the same scheme, and early on in this game the answer was apparently "no." Gronk was ridiculously wide open for a 43-yarder up the seam. After that the Jaguars started covering Gronk with what looked like a bracket, a short coverage guy and then the attention of the safety who started the play deep, and Tom Brady started throwing elsewhere. Jaguars had cornerback Davon House on Gronk wide when the Pats went to the four-tight-end set in the second quarter (which was actually a three-tight-end set with Brandon Bolden in for the inactive Michael Hoomanuwanui) and he got a nice pass defense on a try for Gronk on third-and-goal.
4) Some of us thought that this would be the week that the Pats would finally move from Dion Lewis to LeGarrette Blount as the main running back because it fit the matchup with the Jaguars' defense. Not so far -- Lewis has played more than twice as many snaps as Blount in the first half. The Pats have now used Lewis as the main running back against three different defensive schemes, and despite two fumbles. He seems to clearly be the No. 1 guy. Blount did finally show up in the second quarter and had some nice runs and passes.
One reason why we're seeing so many penalties this year is that the league is clearly trying to crack down on these short underneath passes where the receivers start blocking before the pass is actually thrown. Rob Gronkowski just got hit with his second offensive pass interference flag of the game for blocking on an underneath pass. But the way the refs are trying to enforce the rules on this just seems really haphazard and inconsistent.
Jaguars respond to Gronk's second OPI by getting stuck with two DPIs of their own on consecutive plays to put the Patriots at the 1-yard line. The second one was really awful because the Jags got dinged when James Sample got in Gronk's way in the left corner of the end zone, but Davon House would have intercepted the pass even if Sample had not armbarred Gronk. It was the one really bad pass Brady has thrown all day. It was clear there were going to be two guys right there with Gronk the moment he threw it, and while I believe in Gronk's ability to out-maneuver one guy, two guys is kinda tough.
Blount runs it in from the 1-yard line, and the Pats are up 30-3. Shaq Mason as fullback again. Who knew they would use a rookie guard as the replacement for James Develin?
Stephen Gostkowski breaks the NFL record for consecutive extra points made at 423. Given the change in the length of XP, Gostkowski may now hold this record forever.
Jaguars have been decimated in the secondary during this game, to the point where they brought former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall in at one point. He's on their roster as a developmental prospect at cornerback.
New Orleans Saints 22 at Carolina Panthers 27
Cian Fahey: Have contended for a long time that Luke McCown is better than his brother. Shouldn't be a major surprise that he's showing competence during the first half against the Panthers.
Andrew Healy: Josh Norman might be the best player many fans have maybe never heard of. Just a sick interception to seal it for the Panthers.
Philadelphia Eagles 24 at New York Jets 17
Sterling Xie: That Brandon Marshall lateral is one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. Would've been a roughly 15 yard gain on first-and-10, and it wasn't one of those end-of-half lateral-it-around sequences that would've justified it. Somehow don't think the hook-and-ladder to Jeff Cumberland is part of Chan Gailey's playbook, but you know what they say about the Jets and having nice things.
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Aaron Schatz: What exactly happened with Marshall?
Sterling Xie: He caught a crossing route and, surrounded by three Eagles, decided it would be a good idea to lateral it to an unsuspecting teammate. It bounced straight off of a defender (I believe Connor Barwin) and the Eagles picked it up and would turn the takeaway into another touchdown. So it's nearing the end of the first half, Philly is up 24-0 and the Jets have two first downs. Looks like some form of order has been restored.
Cian Fahey: The Jets appear to be in stage two of the Ryan Fitzpatrick experience.
San Diego Chargers 14 at Minnesota Vikings 31
Sterling Xie: Big thing with Teddy Bridgewater at the end of last year was how much he improved his deep ball, but that was a an ugly floater to Charles Johnson in the end zone that got picked off and ended a possession just outside the red zone. Bridgewater also completed just two passes in the first two weeks that traveled over 20 yards. Hopefully he just happens to be a slow starter, 'cause no one needs to hear the pro day truthers start crowing.
Pittsburgh Steelers 12 at St. Louis Rams 6
Scott Kacsmar: The Steelers-Rams are delayed because the pyrotechnics caught part of the field on fire. The head referee waited a good seven minutes to announce to the crowd that the field is being fixed and there will be a delay of no more than 10 minutes. This is clearly the worst season ever for the NFL with fireworks.
Early in the first quarter CBS had some humorous zoomed-in shots of "the stain" on the field caused by the pyrotechnics, but it's been irrelevant to the game. I thought this one could be offensive without a lot of points, and that's what we're getting through a half with just a 9-3 score. Neither defense is getting much pressure at all, and Roethlisberger was barely ever breathed on until the final drive of the half. I couldn't say if it was Cody Wallace one-on-one or if he's getting help, but Aaron Donald wasn't even a factor in that half. The Steelers weren't bombs away this week, with a lot of short stuff to Antonio Brown and using Le'veon Bell out wide. When Roethlisberger went for a deep ball, he threw a bad one and Janoris Jenkins came down with the interception. The Steelers also didn't come through on their two-point conversion this week, with a quick slant defended well. I only noticed one snap for DeAngelo Williams, or at least just one carry, as it's been Bell all game just like it was last year after LeGarrette Blount was released. Bell has looked pretty good, though the Steelers aren't getting much push up front on rushing plays.
Todd Gurley really didn't show anything that half, but neither did Tre Mason. Tavon Austin was slippery on a couple of plays, but the Rams have been bottled up pretty good so far without any gain over 19 yards. A fake punt had the Steelers fooled, but Johnny Hekker's pass was just too low at midfield.
Much more pressure from Donald and the Rams in the second half. Roethlisberger gets tripped up for a sack and immediately grabs his lower leg. Looks bad and Michael Vick is in. Roethlisberger is carted off. I hate to speculate, but it looked more like an ankle injury than an ACL/knee injury. Roethlisberger had a high ankle sprain in 2011 and only missed one full game, but he wasn't good after it happened.
Vince Verhei: A Rams pass rusher rolls into Ben Roethlisberger's leg, and he is very gingerly helped to the sideline by two men, limping and grimacing the whole way. Looks like it will be Michael Vick the rest of the way.
By the way, as I write this, there are about 4 minutes left in the third quarter of this game, and about 6 minutes left in the third quarter of the Cowboys game, even though the Cowboys game started 15 minutes earlier. What happened? Did they just skip halftime in St. Louis?
Scott Kacsmar: CBS is saying left knee injury for Roethlisberger. If it's any ligament damage we'll find out within the day. And this really sucks since it's the kind of play he's been involved in literally hundreds of times. Just never know when you'll get hit at that certain angle.
Andrew Healy: Hard to think about the game with the injury to Roethlisberger, but wow, Le'veon Bell with some serious ups on Michael Vick's pass down the sidelines. Don't remember a running back who looked so much like a good wide receiver.
Vince Verhei: Despite the fire delay, this game still ended before SIX other early games. I ask again: did they just skip halftime?
Scott Kacsmar: They had a halftime. Not sure if it was shortened, but they had one. Offenses moved the ball OK. Just didn't finish drives.
San Francisco 49ers 7 at Arizona Cardinals 47
Vince Verhei: This game is less than four minutes old and Colin Kaepernick has already thrown two terrible pick-sixes in four passes. Both under pressure, near-falling-down weak lobs off to the right, resulting in the easiest points ever for Justin Bethel and Tyrann Mathieu.
Aaron Schatz: I think the big question about Arizona is: "What changed from 2014?" All those numbers we quoted before the season still apply. This is still a team that really wasn't that good last year, that won a lot of close games based on good bounces of the ball. Even when Carson Palmer was still healthy last year, they were not dominating games. They were winning close. Now they're just stomping their opponents. Yes, those aren't very good opponents so far, but the Cardinals are just destroying those bad opponents in all three phases of the game.
Let me add that I'm not watching the Arizona game in particular right now, so I don't have an answer. The responses on Twitter seemed to mostly be "the defense is healthier," "Larry Fitzgerald is fitting in as slot receiver now," and "the offensive line is much improved." Also, lots of people pointed out their easy schedule so far, but again... Guts and Stomps, folks. If the Cardinals were an average team on a nice run against a bad schedule, they would be beating teams 30-20 or 24-14 each week, not 47-7. So far in 2015, this is a team that's dominating in all three phases of the game.
Scott Kacsmar: I could see Cardinals at 8-0 heading into bye week and Week 10 game at Seattle. The offense is definitely better this year. Carson Palmer didn't even finish six full games last season, so it's hard to compare the two. Throw in a favorable schedule and more experience in the system for players like John Brown and their start doesn't surprise me a whole lot. Plus they've been able to pile on some garbage touchdowns at the end of each game to make the score a bit more lopsided.
Buffalo Bills 41 at Miami Dolphins 14
Sterling Xie: For the second straight week, Buffalo marches down the field on a breezy opening drive touchdown. Tackling continues to look like a massive issue for the Dolphins, as old friend Charles Clay basically ambled past three defenders while barely being touched. It's always too easy to blame things on coaching, but the evidence keeps piling up for the Dolphins.
Aaron Schatz: Buffalo has at least two guys blocking Ndamukong Suh on every play. CBS just showed a play where they had three guys blocking him. There should be all kinds of opportunities for the rest of the defensive line. Yet those guys are doing nothing most of the time. (They did just have nice penetration to force LeSean McCoy to go wide on a second-and-15 run, though he still managed to turn the corner for 4 yards.)
Dolphins run a weird little gimmicky backfield pitch to Jarvis Landry on third-and-2 instead of either trying to run it up the gut or running some short crossing patterns or a stick route or something. Bill Lazor seems to have entered the Mike Tanier "Burn This Play" Zone.
Tom Gower: Miami's offensive line is creating real problems. They can't block anybody, and Ryan Tannehill isn't handling the pressure well, even just the free rushers that are his responsibility. Three picks in the first half, the offensive is completely inept, and it's 27-0 while I contemplate what else I could do with my life and whether that means voluntarily watching Phil Simms call a Jimmy Clausen-quarterbacked Bears game. Oh, wait, Tyler Lockett just took the second-half kickoff back for a 13-0 score. Nope, time to go do something else for a while.
Sterling Xie: I think it's still fair to be skeptical of Tyrod Taylor because of small sample size and all the negative plays he made last week against the Patriots. However, this is now twice in three weeks where he's looked completely under control, while also mixing in a few nice deep balls. Things will be harder against teams that aren't just mailing things in, but it's encouraging that Taylor has looked excellent in two games rather than just skating by and staying out of the defense's way. I think most people would have agreed before the season that merely competent quarterback play would make Buffalo a playoff team. Right now, it seems more probable than not that Taylor is at least at that level.
Chicago Bears 0 at Seattle Seahawks 26
Vince Verhei: Remember the Jedi mind trick punt return touchdown the Seahawks gave up to the Rams last year? They used it today, and it worked against the Bears, with Richard Sherman returning the punt 60-some yards to set up a field goal. I saw that some college team used it for a touchdown this year too. For the life of me I can't understand how this play works. How do you fool the punting team that the ball is going to the right when it's going to the left? Seattle was held to a field goal, though, because their offensive line is still terrible. The Bears came into the game with no sacks all year. Russell Wilson has been sacked twice in five dropbacks.
Seattle's first four drives totaled 37 yards and one first down, and they were getting booed off the field at home. Thank goodness they put together a 77-yard drive at the end of the half, but even that ended on incompletes on second- and third-and-goal to Jimmy Graham and Chris Matthews, and they added a chip-shot field goal to go up 6-0 at halftime. The only thing they've had any success with this year is going up-tempo, spreading the field and putting Russell Wilson in shotgun and letting him pick and choose the matchups he likes.
Weird play-calling at the end there as Seattle went for it on fourth-and-1 at the 27. That's fine, be aggressive, but they let 30-plus seconds run off before snapping the ball, with two timeouts in their pocket. Marshawn Lynch made a juggling catch to keep the drive alive, but he was tackled out of bounds with only 26 seconds to go.
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Then Chicago apparently thought Seattle had no timeouts instead of two. Seattle had a first down at the 18-yard line. Chicago rushed three with one linebacker and seven defenders in a line across the goal line. Wilson hit Kearse for the easy first down and 13 seconds to go, with a timeout. As noted, the drive stalled there, but lousy clock management by both teams.
Chicago isn't getting any big plays -- their longest gain is a 12-yard Matt Forte run -- but they are running a lot (21 runs, only nine passes), and running well to put themselves in short-yardage situations. Five of their six first downs in the first half have come on the ground. They have no points because their average starting position has been their own 17-yard line. Seattle's has been their own 37-yard line.
Biggest play of the half may have been a missed replay review. Bears punted and pinned Seattle at the 13-yard line, but it sure looked like the ball bounced off the leg of a Seahawks player and should have gone to the Bears. Refs reviewed it, but they let the play stand, and Seattle kept the ball.
Marshawn Lynch barely played in the first half with calf and back injuries, and now he's out of the game with a hamstring injury. So after Chicago goes three-and-out after the special teams score, Seattle goes pass-wacky! They do get a first down on a nice bootleg pass to Ricardo Lockette, but then Pernell McPhee gets back-to-back sacks. The first he was being blocked by Jimmy Graham. Do not ask me why the best receiver on the team is ever, ever, ever staying in to pass block, especially when he's no good at it. Actually, scratch that, because the next play McPhee was being blocked by alleged starting tackle Garry Gilliam, who barely even laid a finger on McPhee. Remember, everyone, the Bears had no sacks in Weeks 1 and 2. THIS LINE IS AWFUL.
Bears punt on fourth-and-1 at about their own 45-yard line, down 20 with about three minutes left in the third. I guess John Fox thinks his defense will force three turnovers.
Now Bears are punting on fourth-and-2 down 20 with less than 13 minutes to go. Why did they bother flying out here?
OK, this is awesome. Pete Carroll just trolled John Fox HARD, going for it on fourth-and-1 up 23. Wilson's first read is covered and it looks like a sack is inevitable, but he escapes and somehow finds Graham for the first down. Even a failure there would have been a mighty in-your-face.
Seattle's offensive line settled down in the second half, and once they stopped screwing up every other play, Seattle's offense looked the best it has all season. Thomas Rawls had a lot of good runs and finished with 100 yards rushing. Jimmy Graham got free for a touchdown, which is nice, because he had a horrible day blocking, both passing and running plays. I don't know why he's labeled as a tight end. He's a wide receiver who sometimes lines up tight to the line. Larry Fitzgerald does that all the time, and nobody calls Larry Fitzgerald a tight end. Come to think of it, between the two, Fitzgerald is probably the better blocker.
Anyway, Chicago right now is a horrible team with a horrible coach, and they seem quite worthy of getting the draft's top pick, especially if Jay Cutler misses too many more games.
Denver Broncos 24 at Detroit Lions 12
Aaron Schatz: The Broncos came out using a lot of pistol tonight after using it only once per game in Weeks 1 and 2. It would seem to make sense, as a good compromise between the shotgun formations Peyton Manning is used to and the stuff Kubiak tends to run. But it's not new. The Broncos ran a lot of pistol last year, and they ran pistol the year before that. It's been a thing in the NFL for a couple years now. And Cris Collinsworth is talking about it as if we discovered the pistol formation in blueprints aboard an alien spaceship. I know he knows what the pistol is for, but NBC seems to have decided that very few people watching understand the pistol and so Collinsworth has to explain it as if it were some brand-new, crazy wrinkle to NFL offense.
(Actually, after looking... Denver didn't run a lot of pistol last year, just 20 plays. But they used it 81 times the year before that.)
Scott Kacsmar: Well if the late-afternoon slate didn't cause our staff to stop covering football, this game might. Denver's pressure is impressive. Both offenses are frustrating to watch with all these short throws on third down. You're both paying a Georgia Tech freak of nature a lot of money. Give him a shot down the field.
Aaron Schatz: I feel like the Lions have never watched film of a Wade Phillips defense. Guys, the pressure is coming. It's coming. You need to know the pressure is coming.
Tom Gower: Coming into Sunday Night Football, I wasn't sure how the Lions were going to move the ball against the Broncos defense based on watching their game against Minnesota last week and watching Denver's first two games. They can't block the defensive front, and the Broncos have the corners to match up to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. We're just a couple minutes into the second quarter right now, and I still have no idea how the Lions are going to move the ball. Denver's offense is going to be 87 shallow crosses, it seems, and based on the San Diego game that makes sense against Detroit. Effective, granted, but uninspiring.
Scott Kacsmar: Some guy named Bennie Fowler just caught a screen and actually picked up some YAC, something the Broncos are the worst offense in the league at producing this year. Cody Latimer must be horrible if he can't see the field over Fowler.
Aaron Schatz: I think we've answered Tom's question about how Detroit will move the ball downfield: passes to the running back, and DPI flags.
Scott Kacsmar: So those Georgia Tech receivers are pretty special. Entertaining end to the half. Not enough quarterbacks go all out for the touchdown in that situation. I'd go for Demaryius Thomas in single coverage too. Slay picked a bad time to fall down and give up the touchdown, because at least a tackle there leads to Denver kicking the field goal. Huge swing in this game starting with Detroit's blocked extra point. Denver gets ball first in third quarter too.
Aaron Schatz: Hey, remember what I said during the Patriots game about how the league is clearly putting an emphasis on calling OPI on wide receivers blocking on short passes, but the calls are very inconsistent? The Lions offense just got shut down and then slowed down by a blocking OPI on Eric Ebron ... three plays after a 33-yard gain by Golden Tate did not have an OPI called on it. Tom, I believe you have a picture for us?
— Tom Gower (@ThomasGower) September 28, 2015
I wish I felt some sense of progress from the Denver offense. We're nearly 11 quarters into the season, and we've made a little bit of progress by not spending all our time trying to run bootlegs with an immobile Peyton Manning, but I'm trying to see last year's early season offense and we're not even close and I'm not sure how we get here. Maybe it's the line. Maybe it's Peyton's arm. Maybe it's something they'll figure out in another three or four weeks. Maybe the defense will be like the 2012 Texans and allow them to ignore problems until they're too late to fix. I don't think they'll blow this game as we head to the fourth quarter with the Broncos up 14-12, but I wonder if that's a good thing. Well, #KubiakBelievesInYou wouldn't be a new thing at all.
(For those unaware of the phenomenon, #KubiakBelievesInYou dates back to 2010, when Kubiak expressed his confidence in struggling defensive coordinator Frank Bush, he of one of the worst pass defenses in DVOA history.)
Aaron Schatz: I'll go with "Peyton Manning looks better" but where on earth is the famous Gary Kubiak run blocking? Can he not work his magic on this line because they aren't good enough, or is it that he can't work his magic with a pistol setup? The pistol does not prevent zone blocking as far as I know. The Broncos have no running game whatsoever. They're currently at 13 carries for 29 yards. Everyone knows I don't believe in "establishing the run" nonsense but it does help to have some balance to distract the defense, slow down the pass rush, keep the offense out of third-and-longs, convert third-and-short, and so on.
Scott Kacsmar: Thought I saw some early blocking downfield on an Owen Daniels catch too. It's not consistent, but at least they seem to be calling it out this year.
Aaron Schatz: Someone has to explain to me why Matthew Stafford's fumble with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter was not an incomplete pass. He clearly thought it was, that's what I'm sure he was arguing with the officials. His arm was going forward. It wasn't a tuck rule thing -- he wasn't bringing the ball back in to his body. However, nobody has to explain to me how stupid it was for him to try to throw that with three guys on top of him. Dude, get rid of it earlier or take the sack. You've had years of training to make the right decision in this situation, even with the adrenaline flowing through you.
Tom Gower: 24-12 final. Peyton had a couple nice throws late, including the clinching touchdown to Daniels. Move along, there's nothing to see here. Move along, move along.
Nathan Forster: The Lions' tepid offense last year could have been explained away by Calvin Johnson's injury problems. Well, now Calvin Johnson is mostly healthy, and three games into the season, it does not look like the Lions' offense is better at all. To me, it seems that Joe Lombardi's schemes are about as ill-fit for the Lions' personnel as possible. Stafford is a hit and miss quarterback -- he can hit some amazing throws one minute, and be 5 yards off the next minute. With a quarterback like that, you really want high-risk, high-reward throws, because the chances that Matt Stafford is going to be "on" for three big throws are a lot higher than him being "on" for eight little ones. Add in Calvin Johnson, who is large and fast, and it makes sense to throw a lot of bombs. This strategy worked reasonably well for Scott Linehan's Lions, who were ranked fifth, third, and sixth in total yards from 2011-2013. Joe Lombardi's offense is all about these short timing throws -- the very throws that Stafford cannot make with any consistency. Understandably, this offense worked wonders for a precision quarterback like Drew Brees, but no one in their right mind would think that it would work for a quarterback like Stafford.
Also, a few years ago, I was screaming for the Lions to stop giving the ball to Mikel Leshoure and to give it to Joique Bell. Now I'm screaming for the Lions to stop giving the ball to Bell (1.6 yards per carry going into this game) and start giving it to Ameer Abdullah. Moreover, the Lions' failure to run the ball itself is an indictment of the Lions' offseason. The Lions lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and pretty much held pat everywhere else. The only thing that the Lions did that could have conceivably lead to an improvement in the team was focus on the running game. The Lions used their two high picks on a guard and a running back. The idea must have been that, with an improved running game, the Lions' offense would bounce back and could offset any regression/talent drain on defense. Well, thus far into the season, none of that is working.