Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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Two NFC teams were hit hardest by injuries last year. One already set the AGL record in 2016, while the other has a coach with the worst AGL since 2002. Also: the Rams' incredible bill of health in L.A., and Tampa Bay's questionable injury reporting.

13 Jan 2008

Audibles at the Line: AFC Divisional Games

compiled by Doug Farrar

Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails to each other, both during and after the games. It lets us share ideas for columns and comments, and get an idea of how teams that we can't watch are playing. Be aware that the material in this roundtable might seem a bit disjointed and un-edited. It also might still show up later in the week in other columns, or in comments in PFP 2008. NFC Audibles will run on Monday morning.

Jacksonville Jaguars 20 at New England Patriots 31

Aaron Schatz: Anybody notice that the Jaguars have come out playing a defense similar to Tanier's blueprint? Zone stuff, three down linemen -- although it is a 3-3-5, not 3-2-6.

That fourth-and-1 bootleg call by Dick Koetter took colossal balls. What a great play call.

Sean McCormick: I think attacking the edges is generally a good idea on fourth-and-short because of the possibility of big gains. As it happens, the Jags attacked both edges with the play action left and the bootleg right.

Sean McCormick: Mike Holmgren might want to take some notes from this game on when to go for it on fourth down.

Bill Barnwell: What a block by Dan Koppen on that first-drive 33-yard screen to Maroney. That's the difference between them (likely) scoring on this drive or having to punt. Most underrated center in football.

Stuart Fraser: I do not, at this point, think that any part of the New England offense qualifies for a "most underrated" label.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, come on, Stuart. It's clear that Kyle Eckel is the most underrated ex-Navy fullback in football.

This game summarized at halftime by guest commentator Tarzan, Lord of the Apes: "Offense good. Defense bad."

Vince Verhei: To add to that: "Long drives good, short drives bad." Each team only had three possessions in the first half, minus the last four plays at the end to run some clock. I hope nobody tries to tell us that the ball control offense helped Jacksonville "stop" New England. They haven't stopped anything, unless your defensive strategy is "wait till they commit a chop block, then watch them miss a field goal."

Doug Farrar: Phil Simms has just informed us that "The Patriots are versatile." Gosh. I loved the Tom Brady block on Reggie Hayward on the Wes Welker reverse with 2:38 left in the first half, although I would imagine Bill Belichick may have felt a little differently.

Ned Macey: Rashean Mathis appears to be doing well in coverage, since all they've completed is one underneath to Jabar Gaffney on his side. However, he appears to be so bad a tackler that he'd make Deion Sanders look like Ronde Barber. I always have trouble picking out the various 20-something, dreadlocked defensive backs for Jacksonville. Now I think I have it. If dreadlocked 20-something makes a good tackle, it must be Reggie Nelson; if he rips off the guys head, then it is Terry Cousin, and if he misses badly on the tackle, it is Mathis.

(After Tom Brady throws his third touchdown pass of the day, a six-yard pass to Welker with some razzle-dazzle beforehand...)

Aaron Schatz: Wow. What a play by Boise State on the fake direct snap to Kevin Faulk. Love that Jared Zabransky.

What's astonishing about Randy Moss having just one catch so far is that the Jaguars are covering him and shutting him down with Brian Williams, not Rashean Mathis. To the point where they are actually moving their cornerbacks from side to side specifically to keep Williams on Moss! I went and checked, and this isn't a size issue. In fact, Mathis (6-1) is actually taller than Williams (5-11), so they are covering Moss with the shorter of their two starting cornerbacks.

Bill Barnwell: Wow, was that an obvious hold by Welker on a Laurence Maroney off-tackle play that picked up big yardage.

Aaron Schatz: Well, Welker has been on the phone with Khalif Barnes, looking for tips.

I want to know, when did we enter this alternate world where Brian Williams is shutting down Randy Moss but Randy Moss is an excellent blocker on running plays, and Heath Evans splits wide with Rashean Mathis covering him? I understand it was a zone, but when you have an entire half of the field with Heath Evans as the only offensive player and Rashean Mathis covering him, perhaps you want to switch the zone around a bit.

(After Dennis Northcutt drops a pass that would have set Jacksonville up with a first-and-goal...)

Doug Farrar: That was a rough way for Jacksonville to blink first and have to kick a field goal. Garrard threw that ball to Dennis Northcutt as well as it can be thrown, especially under pressure, and I suddenly remembered seeing Northcutt drop a lot of balls back in his Cleveland days. That's gonna sting for a while.

Aaron Schatz: And look, Barnes evens things out with a big hold on the David Garrard scramble early in the Jags' first drive of the fourth quarter. And at home, Steelers fans scream, "See?!?!?!"

Vince Verhei: This is the most boring one-score playoff game involving an undefeated team I've ever seen. This seven-yards-at-a-time thing both offenses and both defenses have apparently agreed to is killing me. New England finally started blitzing at the end of the last Jacksonville possession, and it would have killed them if Northcutt had caught the ball.

And as I type these words, Jacksonville finally blitzes and Brady finds Stallworth for a big gain. Finally! And then, on the very next play, Jaguars rush four, and Brady finds Stallworth again ... for seven yards.

Doug Farrar: And Northcutt atones for previous sins with a stellar catch on fourth-and five with four minutes left in the game. He did the nice spin move to insure the conversion, and picked up a late hit call at the end. Too bad the bus had already left town.

Garrard's one hell of a quarterback who just ran out of oxygen at the end. Too much pressure to make too many plays. The Rodney Harrison pick was almost predictable -- you have X number of options, and Harrison has seen them all. Ballgame. I didn't think that Jacksonville could beat New England by running the ball, but they could not allow themselves to get outgained in non-garbage time, and that's what happened.

Aaron Schatz: When Harrison intercepted that final pass, I started screaming at the television... "Don't hit anyone Rodney ... Don't hit anyone ... Don't celebrate, don't do something stupid, come on Rodney..." I mean, he's our guy, and we root for him, but dude, you are 35 years old, grow the f*** up. Enough with the pointless late hits and then the whining to the refs. Stop being such a jerk.

Got to give it to Garrard, man, he was amazing in this game, and Northcutt dropping that pass really hurt.

The Big Bad Wolf has blown down Eli's house of straw and David's house of wood. Next comes the real test: Peyton Manning's house of bricks.

(Prior comment written prior to the establishment of the Volek-Sproles Brickhouse Demolitions Company on Sunday morning.)

Bill Barnwell: For my own safety, I wish to point out that Aaron's views are not representative of those of Bill Barnwell, who has the utmost respect for Rodney Harrison and any Rodney Harrison-related properties.

Ned Macey: I know the conventional wisdom will be that the Jaguars were too conservative on defense, but the people saying that are the same people who will talk about how the Jaguars were going to shorten the game with the running game. The Patriots were on pace to have seven meaningful possessions. Sure, they scored four touchdowns and had two makeable field goals before the seventh one became meaningless, but the smaller number of possessions kept the game close.

Doug Farrar: Quarterback rating is by no means a perfect measuring stick, but here is a quick 'n' dirty list for his 2007 regular season:

  • Brady, blitzed overall -- 118.7 (YPA: 8.53)
  • With fewer than four defenders on the line -- 102.0 (YPA: 9.03)
  • With four defenders on the line -- 114.4 (YPA: 8.97)
  • With five defenders on the line -- 103.1 (YPA: 7.54)
  • With six defenders on the line -- 133.5 (YPA: 7.16)
  • With seven defenders on the line -- 107.4 (YPA: 4.00)

I think the number with five defenders passes the sample size test with 152 of his 578 attempts. His completion percentage also dropped precipitously against five defenders, down to 61.2. Not too surprising, really, You don't want to sell out to any great quarterback, and allowing the underneath stuff was a good counter to the big play. It isn't always that way, but it was against this offense. The motto seems to be: Blitz if you must, but for God's sake, you'd better get there. The way he was throwing the ball today, I don't know if it mattered.

Ned Macey: The Patriots were just amazing today. One catch for Moss, and six yards per catch for Welker, and they were still unstoppable. They made hardly any mistakes on offense -- just the chop block and the drop by Welker which both led to their two non-touchdowns. The offensive line gave Brady all day, the receivers made plays, and Brady never threw an inaccurate ball. When trying, they were 7-for-10 on third and fourth down. More importantly, they only had more than 10 yards to go on any down three times the whole game (four if you count both plays after the chop block, but I guess I mean three times they had negative plays all game).

Finally, the officiating was pretty spotty on all sides, most likely evening out. Did anyone else notice Benjamin Watson push over somebody on his second touchdown? The guy definitely fell down, but I never got an angle that showed whether or not Watson pushed off or if there was minor contact that knocked him down.

Mike Tanier: Brian Williams was doing some rope-a-dope type stuff on Moss. On the few plays I could follow Moss' route, Williams would anticipate his route, get in his way, and slow him down. On one of the touchdowns (the one with the fake snap) this was obvious. Williams knew a double-move was coming and just ran a moving pick, not jamming Moss, just getting in his way. If Brady throws the pass, that's a penalty. Even if he doesn't it could be called, but Williams was just doing a good job of eating up space and making it look like contact was unintentional. A dangerous strategy that clearly had some success.

This is the kind of game that makes New England look pretty unstoppable. Jacksonville is a terrific team, they had a good game plan (which looked suspiciously like The Blueprint), they played very well ... and they lost by double-digits; if anything, they were lucky to have kept the score as close as they did. That New England spread offense is simply awesome to behold -- they can hold their blocks as long as they need to, Brady is masterful at finding the open man, and the receivers and backs did a great job of milking extra yardage out of short throws. What New England does is put an incredible amount of pressure on the opposing offense to execute. In the first half, Jacksonville was able to do so, but in the second half, they just couldn't keep up the pace.

All that said, I expect that Indy (assuming it's Indy) will have a somewhat similar strategy -- rushing four instead of three, but otherwise taking away the deep ball and forcing the Pats to shorten the game with long drives. They're the only team in the league that can reasonably expect their offense to go blow for blow, and such a strategy would likely lead to a 35-31 or 27-24 type game, with the Colts having a good chance to win.

At least I hope so. At this point, Peyton is Obi-Wan Kenobi. Our only hope.

(Chargers to Rebel Alliance: Drop Dead.)

Vince Verhei: After sleeping on it for a night, I've come to the conclusion that playing defense the way Jacksonville did last night was the best possible game plan. I noted that the plan seemed to be to wait for New England to make penalties and miss field goals -- well, that WAS the plan. Jack Del Rio knew that his defense wasn't good enough to go head-to-head with the Pats offense, so by taking the big play away, he was ensuring that any mistake the Pats made would be magnified, and at the same time shortening the game. Really, it's a grind-it-out attack taken to the ultimate degree, where your goal is to let BOTH offenses chew up the clock.

And with that in mind, I have NO idea why New England didn't bring more pressure. If you give up a long touchdown, so what? That just gets your offense back on the field again. And eventually one of those blitzing defenders is going to get to the quarterback or tip a pass or something.

Sean McCormick: Right. It's not really that far off from the Giants' game plan to beat Buffalo, only teams are using more controlled passing than running when they have the ball. Which, come to think of it, may be a flaw, as you're picking up more yardage and running less clock. It's tough to put together a 10-minute drive primarily through the air. Basically, sometimes it's better to get four yards a play than seven yards a play.

Aaron Schatz: Bill and I both mentioned some unflagged holding -- I couldn't remember any holding calls at all until the late interception return, so I went and checked, and yes, they definitely had a "let them play" attitude. The only holding calls all game came on special teams or the interception return. None on actual offensive plays.

If I am Jacksonville's general manager, I am on the phone first thing Monday, offering my first-round pick to Cincinnati for Chad Johnson, to Arizona for Larry Fitzgerald, and to Detroit for Roy Williams. If those don't work, I'm offering a third to Denver for Javon Walker. The Jaguars can't predict what the Colts and Patriots will do in the off-season, but if those two teams decline for any reason, the Jaguars are one game-breaking receiver and a little defensive depth away from being the top Super Bowl contender in the NFL.

San Diego Chargers 28 at Indianapolis Colts 24

Bill Barnwell: The Chargers are doing a good job of covering the Colts wideouts on the first drive. Manning's getting forever to look, but the corners are holding the wideouts for four, five seconds, and that's pretty rare. Well, until Clinton Hart had his ankles broken by Dallas Clark, of all people. If this were And 1 football, the game would be over and the fans would be jumping on the field waving towels.

Ryan Wilson: And Dallas Clark would go by the handle "The Professor," and he would've thrown the ball into the crowd right before he crossed the goal line.

Doug Farrar: Note to Shawne Merriman: The only thing stupider than a sack dance is a sack dance after a busted play when your blocker was heading upfield.

Sean McCormick: Anthony Gonzalez is suspiciously absent from the Colts attack. My fantasy team is in jeopardy, guys! Get him in there!

Aaron Schatz: It isn't suspicious at all. With Marvin Harrison back, we return to the base Indianapolis Colts offense. On first and second down: Clark in slot, Utecht at tight end. On third down: Gonzalez in slot, Clark at tight end.

Stuart Fraser: So, after "pocket presence with Peyton Manning," a.k.a. the Colts' first drive, the Chargers fly downfield only to be stopped by an interception. Sure, these offenses are good, but the defenses aren't that bad, and it's the third game in a row where the defenses seem rather surplus to requirements. Is this just "let's not call holding in the playoffs," or are other forces at work?

Aaron Schatz: I'll agree with Stuart. We're definitely seeing the offenses dominate the defenses in pretty much every game -- I mean, the Seattle passing game was reasonably good yesterday, even if the running game couldn't get anything going -- and I wonder if the officiating has anything to do with it. Honestly, I don't have a big problem with that as long as the officials a) are consistently calling things for both teams and b) are consistent throughout all four quarters.

Doug Farrar: The Packers and Patriots offenses bring the long pass threat, but throw short passes for conversions. That's just about impossible to defend. Only two New England pass plays went for more than 14 yards, and one (the Maroney screen) had more yards after catch then the amount of actual yardage -- the other, of course, was the Stallworth catch. Of Green Bay's seven straight third-down conversions to start the game, the first six were passes, and I don't think any of those passes went more than eight yards in the air. The obvious difference between that and the standard dink-and-dunk is that there's a Randy Moss or Greg Jennings to keep that deep threat alive and offset intermediate coverage. The threat of Moss defined Jacksonville's defensive plan.

The Colts were very much about that in last year's playoff run. They dictated time of possession with short throws a lot of the time.

Sean McCormick: And we shouldn't be surprised about it, either, considering the paucity of elite defenses this year and the presence of multiple big-time offenses in the playoffs. Something tells me that the predictive DVOA splits are going to look a little different after these playoffs are done.

Again, I think you have to look at games against the Pats or Colts as being more like basketball than football, where it is all about the rhythm of scoring. You aren't going to stop them from scoring, and you aren't even likely from stopping them from scoring on most of their possessions. The best you can do is to manage the clock with your offense and with your defense (by giving up the short stuff) and try to line up your scores in a way that undercuts the other team's rhythm -- doubling up with a score near the end of the first half that doesn't give the other team a chance to drive back down the field, followed by taking the second-half kickoff for a score, that sort of thing.

I thought Philip Rivers made the proper read on that first-quarter Kelvin Hayden interception, but corners are going to break on the quick out when there is a blitz, and Hayden cut under Craig Davis very nicely. A solid defensive play rather than a quarterback mistake.

On a related note, the Colts personnel packages suggest that they want San Diego's base defense on the field. Lots of two-tight end stuff with the tight ends flanked wide or lined up in the backfield. Are they concerned about the pass rush, or do they like the TE/LB matchups?

Stuart Fraser: If I were Indy I would like the TE/LB matchups -- I mean, nobody covers Clark with a linebacker, but even Utecht on San Diego's linebackers, who are much better at defending the run, sounds good to me.

Will Carroll: That early fumble is an object lesson in why Marvin Harrison ducks contact -- he can't take it. He's a small, slight guy. Forget the time off or any other idiotic thing Dan Dierdorf says here. The fact is that Harrison isn't big enough to take the hit, but is smart enough to avoid it most of the time.

Doug Farrar: Does he give lessons? Deion Branch would like to sign up.

Aaron Schatz: Harrison avoids contact because it might pop that GIGANTIC VEIN on the left side of his forehead, and the blood would just be way too gross.

Ned Macey: While I agree with Will in principle, I believe I could have taken that hit and held onto the ball.

Will Carroll: He could have, but he didn't. I'm not sure what the threshold is for Harrison, but it's low.

Is Dierdorf always this moronic? Gates is in NO pain -- the foot is deadened, as can clearly be seen by his sinking gait. I'm also noticing that the Colts did their typical field prep (read: none.) The rubber substrate is loose and the field is very, very hard in that condition. Why they would do this knowing that the hard surface is what hurt Harrison in the first place is beyond me, though this is the last event in the facility ever. They're going to take the seats out starting early this week, I'm hearing.

Russell Levine: Since you almost always see rubber pellets kicking up on FieldTurf surfaces, what's the difference between substrate that has been well prepped and that is too loose/unsafe?

Will Carroll: The more you see it come up, the looser it is and the less it cushions.

Tomlinson hyperextended his knee on the hit where he fumbled. The pain, not the hit, made him lose the ball.

Ned Macey: The Chargers and Colts rank 11th and 16th, respectively, in yards allowed per drive but first and second in turnovers per drive, so this game looks like it is going to form. San Diego recovers both fumbles, which cancels out the Rivers pick. (I agree that it was just an outstanding play by Hayden.)

Michael David Smith: That taunting penalty may be the first stupid play of Bob Sanders' career. He's always struck me as one of the smartest defensive players in the league.

Aaron Schatz: I'm with Greg Gumbel, who pointed out that Nate Kaeding and Sanders were college teammates. I think that Sanders thought he was just having a friendly tease at an old buddy or something, not a really negative taunt. I hate taunting penalties so much. Hate them.

Bill Barnwell: Yeah, but old people love them.

Ned Macey: I just want to reiterate a point I made earlier (SD and IND both give up yards but force turnovers), and that this game is 10-7 at the half with three turnovers plus another fumble.

Also, do we know if Adam Vinatieri had an injury this year He's put both kickoffs in the end zone and boomed his first 40-plus-yarder of the year.

Finally, I'm not sure I saw holding on the Antonio Cromartie return based on what they showed, but I'm not going to lose sleep over a team not getting a 90-yard touchdown return off of a tipped interception.

Will Carroll: Vinatieri had the ankle injury early in the season.

Bill Barnwell: Every first down Michael Turner picks up in the second half here earns him a million bucks.

Vince Verhei: I'm a little late in the game here, but it looked like the Colts came out blitzing a lot more than usual, and the result was one touchdown, then surrendering a lot of yards before being bailed out by a great interception. And after that, it was four-man rush after four-man rush.

Bill Barnwell: By the end of the third quarter, it's obvious that the Colts are having the Madden "No F****** Way" game.

Sean McCormick: They can look at the positive: If they pull out the win, it will make for a cushier line on next week's game.

(After San Diego running back Darren "Pocket Hercules II" Sproles ends the third quarter with a 56-yard touchdown romp off a short pass, putting the Chargers back on top…)

Vince Verhei: Some classic Norv Turner disorganization at the end of the third quarter. On defense, they get caught unprepared for Indy's hurry-up and get called for offsides, right before Wayne's awesome touchdown. Then after the ensuing kickoff, Chargers get caught with 12 men in the huddle. Way to have your team in the game, Norv... And then Philip Rivers and Sproles bail him out with a monster screen pass. Sometimes it's better to have great players than great coaching.

Bill Barnwell: Man, Darren Sproles would be the greatest sprint football player of all time.

Aaron Schatz: OK, we have our first massively controversial call of the weekend. Can somebody explain to me what on earth Clinton Hart did to earn pass interference on Reggie Wayne to start the fourth quarter? From what I can tell, his left hand sort of brushed Wayne after the ball was already past them.

Doug Farrar: Wow -- that call was a pretty good example of the "Jordan Rules". Where was the contact? Ryan Diem gets a 15-yarder on the next play for an inadvertent blow to the head, so maybe the officials were playing the even-it-up game there.

Russell Levine: Uh-oh, it's a Billy Volek sighting! For some reason, I'm finding this game infinitely more enjoyable than last night's fairly similar battle. Maybe it's the lack of "death by a million paper cuts" approach by both offenses.

Bill Barnwell: Any game where the same thing happens over and over again on a play-by-play basis is boring. If that's running the ball into the pile or gaining seven yards at a time, they're both boring. This game has been different -- the Colts drive and then have absurd interceptions happen, while the Chargers have big plays pop up out of nowhere. That's new things popping up all the time, which is more interesting.

(Anthony Gonzalez runs in a 55-yard touchdown pass, just staying in bounds, to put the Colts back up with 10 minutes left...)

Doug Farrar: Sean? You were saying?

Aaron Schatz: I am trying to imagine Matt Cassel marching the Patriots down the field to come back in the fourth quarter against the Colts, with Randy Moss also on the sidelines. Nope. Can't imagine it. Billy Volek marching the Chargers down the field without LaDainian Tomlinson isn't quite as ridiculous, but it is darn close.

Will Carroll: If the Colts lose, how quickly does the "everyone picked the Colts" get conflated with the New Hampshire polls?

Russell Levine: This game is entering the realm of the ridiculous. Volek to Legedu Naanee? No Rivers, no L.T.? How is San Diego in this game? And how bad might they get killed next week with everyone hurt?

Aaron Schatz: I'm enjoying this soft San Diego prevent zone with a FOUR-POINT LEAD. Yes, that will stop Peyton Manning. I mean, with only five minutes left, there's no way he can make it all the way down the field 15 yards at a time... OK, they changed to a normal defense as the Colts got closer to the goal line, and that managed to stop Peyton Manning.

Michael David Smith: More than they have in any other game since he got hurt, the Colts looked like they miss Dwight Freeney today.

Ned Macey: This is the first team they've played that is capable of throwing the ball down the field. The two are related. Garrard had some success, and that's the only other good offense they've played, but Garrard excels at the underneath stuff, so it wasn't quite so noticeable.

Doug Farrar: And as Merriman blows up Tony Ugoh on the Colts' fourth-and-goal which may be their last chance, we're reminded of the importance of a really good, veteran left tackle. I think Ugoh will be a good one over time, but that's a tough go for a whole game.

(As San Diego's offense tries to protect that slim four-point lead...)

Russell Levine: San Diego HAS to put the ball up on third down. The timeouts don't matter. You get a first down, you win.

And Mike Scifres' 66-yard punt is the play of the game!

Aaron Schatz: Yet another Colts playoff loss where Peyton Manning played well and was doomed by weird tipped passes and drops by his receivers. Despite last year's success, it is still a running theme.

Will Carroll: Both weird tips I saw were on passes Manning left high. I'd love to see some sort of "QB INT Blame" scale where a catchable pass that gets tipped or someone runs the wrong route only costs a fraction. With those, I'd give Manning 1/2, maybe 3/4 on the first one.

Ned Macey: I'd give him a 1/1000 for the second one. I'd give whoever called a screen play to Kenton "Stone Hands" Keith (who I really like as a runner) a 1/2 blame.

Stuart Fraser: A one-word summary of this game for me is "Ugh." I like to see good defensive football and haven't had any (well, there were a few patches -- great athletic play in the end zone to defense a pass aimed at Joseph Addai, by a Charger whose name I've forgotten) this weekend, but even the offenses were erratic and blotchy, and I think the only guy who legitimately had a good game was Vincent Jackson.

Aaron Schatz: I am totally in shock here. I feel like the Chargers just did to the Colts what the Patriots did to them last year. DVOA certainly won't come out quite as imbalanced, but it was like everything went wrong for the Colts for so long in this game, and then things went right, with the Chargers injuries, and even that went wrong because the Colts had their own injuries. The tipped middle screen caught by Eric Weddle at the goal line was about as improbable as last year's Troy Brown stripped interception.

I'm sorry for Ned. I know how hard it is to see your team lose a game like this after playing so well all year. The good news is that the banner from 2006 never comes down. As for Patriots fans, I think I speak for the entire population of six states when I say we are completely licking our chops at the idea of playing a Chargers team with one, two, or three of its best offensive players out.

And I'm sure that our more negative readers will start asking when we begin to give Norv Turner some credit. I dunno, I don't feel like the Chargers won this thing with coaching, but maybe I'm wrong and I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

Mike Tanier: Before anyone asks if my opinion of Norv has changed, I will point out again that Barry Switzer won a Super Bowl and that Rich Kotite won playoff games.

Michael David Smith: Has any team ever handled an injury worse than the Colts with Marvin Harrison this year?

Will Carroll: No. Absolutely not. I'd love to know why Ed Werder, who had this right it looks like, didn't stay stronger with his reporting. Bill Polian stayed hard on the media and I'll admit that I couldn't get to the truth of the story, being suckered in my "high level team sources" on several occasions. On two of those, I was flat-out lied to. The question now is if we'll ever know the truth.

Aaron Schatz: Should he have just gone right onto IR at midseason? Was it a mistake to try to bring him back today? I'm curious for a little bit of further explanation on what went wrong.

Michael David Smith: I think he should have gone on IR from Day 1. He obviously shouldn't have played today, if he was incapable of going in even after Wayne got hurt before the last play, and if he was so rusty he couldn't even hold onto the ball when he got a relatively minor hit to the thigh.

Bill Barnwell: Remember, though, this is a team that won the Super Bowl last year thanks in part to their decision to hold off on putting Dallas Clark on IR. You can't say it's really that surprising with that factored in. On a borderline decision, Harrison was going to stay on the roster.

Will Carroll: Not comparable. With Clark, they thought they saw something and had adequate enough backups that they didn't immediately need a replacement. A second look WITHIN DAYS showed that the first diagnosis was off (and taught them never to do quick MRIs). We have to at least assume that the Colts know what's wrong with Harrison (though I'll admit there's more than a small chance they don't) and have misplayed this terribly. It's probably more of a PR problem than an actual, on-field problem.

Ned Macey: I know I should defer to Will on injuries, and MDS is generally right about things, but this strikes me as extreme MMQB. Unless they knew that Harrison had less than a 5 percent chance of returning effectively, there is no way they should have put him on IR. What does that roster spot do? Another scrub wide receiver to play next to Craphonso Thorpe and Devin Aromashodu? The Colts went 9-2 without Harrison (not counting the Titans game) while developing an offense that featured Reggie Wayne from multiple positions. They weren't just waiting for the playoffs. If Harrison was healthy, he could help. If not, they moved on without him.

I agree that playing Harrison today may have been a mistake, but I don't know how he's looked in practice, and I don't know what his knee feels like. I certainly didn't know in Week 4, more than three months ago, how he was going to be for this game.

Will Carroll: Yeah, I'm not arguing that it was the right thing to do. I'm just saying it was the wrong way to go about it.

Mike Tanier: I agree that the way they handled the Harrison injury was strange all season. The bottom line was that he was in no real condition to play at a high level today, but they threw him out there. On some of those drives, I think they would have been better off with Bryan Fletcher or Devin Aromashodu out there than Harrison.

Bill Barnwell: I think we're also assuming organizational communication that is both completely effective and truthful. I mean, you mentioned that you were lied to, Will -- isn't it also possible that the people talking to you could have been lied to in the hopes that Harrison would get healthy? Or, alternately, that the true results of the MRI just weren't disseminated throughout?

Sean McCormick: The parallels between the 1995 playoffs and 2007 playoffs are striking. Back then, the two teams that dominated the league were San Francisco and Dallas, with Green Bay playing the part of the up-and-comer. The 49ers were defending champs and were on a collision course with yet another meet-up with the Cowboys, only the Packers went into Candlestick and pulled the upset. They then went on to lose to Dallas in the championship game, but that was the last hurrah for the Cowboys, and Green Bay dominated the conference for the next two years. Now we have the Colts and Pats, both at the top of their games, both with some age in key places, and we have a young team like San Diego make their breakthrough.

It's probably going to make for a miserable AFC Championship game followed by a miserable Super Bowl, but it could be the beginning of a Chargers run.

Ned Macey: I'm the staff Colts fan, but also a fan of good football, which for the past five years have been the same thing. I fully support Simmons' grace period after a championship, so I can't be too upset. Also, as the AFC West guy for this year, I've been watching the Chargers get better and better so am not totally shocked by the result as I was after the Pittsburgh game a couple of seasons ago. And, the Colts didn't really play that badly today--their pass defense just got overmatched, and they made a few bad turnovers. In 2005, they got radically outcoached, and in 2003 and 2004, they got outplayed. Today, they played even but came up a play or two short.

The thing about the Colts is that they have had an amazing run, but that run coincides with a similar run by New England. The Patriots stopped them twice, but even more importantly, the Patriots' run makes anything but absurd playoff success look unsatisfactory. The team is 63-17 over the past five seasons and 7-4 in the playoffs. It is hard to get too upset about that.

What is frustrating about today was that this year's team certainly had the potential to be the very best Indy team ever. After 2004, the Colts could not stop the run and were considered all offense and no defense. Over the past three seasons, they've had two really good defenses, and their overall defense during that three-year period is better than New England's. Meanwhile, the offense marches on despite roster turnover, injuries, and age. The good news is that I don't think this year spends the end of the era, even in the unfortunate case where Dungy retires.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 13 Jan 2008

332 comments, Last at 17 Jan 2008, 3:01am by jas


by DoubleB (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:38am


NFL coaches know the mechanics of a 7-man NFL crew and where they should be at any given point during a play. I haven't seen the play Pat refers to, so I won't comment on it specifically, but what he states is possible. My guess is that it would be more along the line of a coaching point to the lineman that if the DE doesn't bite, you might be able to get away with something more aggressive.

by Ryan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:17am

The Quick Reads that were just released were pretty interesting. Despite Brady's record setting day, Rivers actually had the higher DVOA for the week. Rivers was mentioned three times, twice while discussing the interception he threw and a the third time in describing how Turner was bailed out by the screen pass to Sproles. If thats not a bias I don't know what is.

by Richard (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 2:32am

298: I knew you weren't serious, but in all honesty it was probably still a better idea than what they did.

302: I don't think it's anti-Charger bias, though. I think what that is based on is that the majority of the Outsiders were watching and commenting from the POV of expecting the Colts to win. That would explain why their in-game commentary is more about what the Colts were doing wrong than what the Chargers were doing right. Is it fun to read if you're a Chargers fan? Not so much, but it's not malicious or anything (imo at least).

by hwc (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:23am

On the Jags/Pats game, the Monday radio appearances here in Boston shed some light.

1) The Jags played both safeties deep, 20 yards off the line of scrimmage, rolling to the outsides to double Moss and Stallworth, basically the entire game. They spent most of the game in nickle and dime. This left a severe lack of defensive muscle in the short passing game and running game. The Pats just picked the defense apart.

2) Brady said he never took a shot to Moss because their #1 key to the game was to avoid turnovers at all costs. No throwing into double coverage on the outside and risking a pick.

3) Belichick said that he thought Del Rio was victimized by the tie score at halftime. The Jags defense was not working, but how do you scrap it when the game is tied and, on paper, you are feeling pretty good about your situation?

4) Pats offensive coordinator came up with the fake direct snap play on Thursday night in the training facility cafeteria. The Pats had scored on the real direct snap play to Faulk the last time they played the Jags at the end of the regular season a year ago. Knowing that the Jags are a well-prepared team and would study that game film, Josh McDaniels and Belichick came up with the fake direct snap. They practiced it on Friday.

5) Brady said it was ridiculous to criticize Romo for hanging out with Jessica Simpson during the bye week. "You have to relax. Brett Favre goes huntin'. Peyton goes fishin'. What's the difference?" For the record, Brady spent his bye week in New York with Gisele, which, I must admit, sounds better than fishin' to me.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 4:53am

The Jags played both safeties deep, 20 yards off the line of scrimmage, rolling to the outsides to double Moss and Stallworth, basically the entire game

That's completely untrue. There were a few plays where only 9 players were visible (i.e. the last two safeties were deep) but certainly not "the entire game."

This left a severe lack of defensive muscle in the short passing game and running game.

By far the biggest problem with the Jags was not the fact that they had safeties occasionally deep. It was the fact that they frequently rushed 3 players spread out the entire offensive line, which did absolutely nothing.

The second biggest problem they had were missed tackles. The safeties certainly weren't 20 yards deep all the time, although they might as well have been. On the second Patriots drive, the Jaguars averaged over one missed tackle per play.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:27am

The suggestion of Moss to the Jags next year got me thinking... screw that! I say Polian snags him and gives Marvin Harrison the gold watch. They'll have to make it a 15-year deal to fit that $40M bonus inside the cap, but it accomplishes two key things-helps Colts, hurts Pats, (and scores Randy a mountain of weed for his retirement). Plus it allows everyone in Indy who wants to, to retire with another Ring. Then come the dark years of cap hell with Craphonso Thorpe as #1 WR and Steve Emtman anchoring the DL. Yes, I know, anathema for a Colt fan. And I'd hate it... sort of... every time I cheered for a TD pass... all 57 of them....

Purds, I have to say you are handling this well. I think I am too; there was no way they were gonna beat NE the way they let Vincent Jackson walk all over them. Even when they were up and SD players were falling like leaves, I was telling my kids, "This looks bad for next week." Little did I know! Congrats to Charger fans (I tend to forget that you too, like Pats fans and Colt fans much of the 80s and 90s, had spent a few years wandering the desert) and good luck and health next week to everybody.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:41am

#304, hwc, regarding your number 5, ah, so he was playing poker. um, so to speak. That was the most tasteful joke I could make--self-edited out several slightly more objectionable ones.

Also, on a more general note, is Rivers' great performance assisted by an opponent adjustment? I'll assume it is, and that might account for some of the disconnect here and calls of FO coverage bias. Rivers was good (as was his OL and Vincent Jackson), but a top pass D really sucked, which might be the bigger story. Indy has allowed the league's highest completion percentage against them all year, so that's no surprise, but the yardage against them was a stunner. Timing worked well for SD in that they played very well when Indy played crappy. Of course those two items ARE related.

How have Jax and SD played each other recently, because Indy-SD-Jax might qualify as the new FO rock-paper-scissors. SD is 3-0 in last three vs Indy, Indy swept Jax this year and despite last year's thrashing, usually beats them. Does the third leg hold up?

by lobolafcadio (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 8:16am

The jags would more happily land Suggs or Allen than Moss or #85, Walker will be their go-to guy next year.
Pundits will claim the Jags need a WR when they want a pass-rush and a lot of Oklahoma drills for their DBs this summer.
And Reggie Nelson will be moved to cb to pair with Mathis (a converted safety) while Williams will slide to safety.
I would love to see the Jags draft Kenny Phillips (highly improbable) or Calais Campbell (if he falls to them).

A little raiderJoe-ish but...

by nat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 9:18am

304 hwc:
The Jags played both safeties deep, 20 yards off the line of scrimmage, rolling to the outsides to double Moss and Stallworth, basically the entire game. They spent most of the game in nickle and dime. This left a severe lack of defensive muscle in the short passing game and running game.

The Blueprint in all its glory. Instead of playing 11-on-11 on a big field, let's play 7-on-9 on a small field. I guess you could blame the results on bad tackling.

You'd be wrong. But you could do it.

by Jeremy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 10:07am

Re: 306

Purds, I have to say you are handling this well. I think I am too; there was no way they were gonna beat NE the way they let Vincent Jackson walk all over them. Even when they were up and SD players were falling like leaves, I was telling my kids, “This looks bad for next week.” Little did I know!
Kind of ironic. I was saying the same thing as a Pats fan while watching David Garrard move the ball up and down the field...

by hrudey (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 10:18am

Again, I'm not sure what people wanted the Jaguars to do. They played regular nickel, they played their 3-3-5, they tried their base cover 2 with four-man fronts in the second half. They blitzed seven times and got nowhere near Brady on any of them. Short of bringing the absurd big-blitz that would lead to an immediate score or dropping double-digits into coverage, they did just about everything they could with who they had available.

And yes, the safeties were back every play (not literally, since there were goal line plays, but other than that it was pretty much constant).

by brandon (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 10:37am

would brian williams play FS or SS.. because with sensabaugh back, he can play either... im not sure i like the idea of putting nelson at cb with all his playmaking skills down the field as a safety

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 10:42am

I don't think the Jags defensive plan was hopeless, it could have worked if:

1. The Pats had made some mistakes (key penalties, fumbles) that turned the ball over or forced punts. This was always unlikely.


2. The Jags were able to tighten up in the redzone and force more FG attempts than TDs allowed. This was their real hope I think. If you put that much emphasis on stopping the big play you have to be able to hold them near the goal line when the big play risk goes away. The Jags couldn't do it. It doesn't make it a terrible plan, it just didn't work.

by nat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 10:45am

310 hrudey:
Bear in mind that these criticisms go back to before the game - the problems were evident in Mike Tanier's Blueprint. While the Jaguars did not follow the Blueprint exactly, they made the same strategic mistakes that it did:

1) Focus on avoiding game changing plays on defense - rather than trying to generate them.
2) Ignore the run. Assume Maroney will be a small factor, even against a dime defense.
3) Shorten the number of drives by allowing the Patriots a sustained, high-percentage offense.

I wanted them to...
1) Force the Patriots to run plays that are more likely to generate turnovers. All of Brady's interceptions have been on deep passes, half of those to Moss.
2) Take risks - lopsided rushes, blitzes, disguised defenses - to generate turnovers and disrupt plays.
3) Deny the Patriots the sustained drive. Make them get their yardage in bursts. Make drives resolve quickly, by scores, turnovers, or stops. Get the Patriots defense back on the field, so they don't get rested.

Would this have given the Jaguars a win? Probably not. It depends on some breaks going their way. But at least it allows breaks to happen on defense.

by lobolafcadio (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 11:05am

Re Gameplan
The gameplan was as good as they come, execution (missed tackles/no big play) was the issue.

Re Williams
He would be FS with Sensabaugh as a SS, I mean more a run support safety than Williams, role he filled when Darius was hurt.
Nelson has all the tools to develop into a very good cb and "all his playmaking skills" sure would be appreciated there.

I'm a big rugby fan and what amazes me when I watch football is how the tackler indeed try to hit the ballcarrier rather than, you know, tackle him. They go for the big hit or they dive, instead of wrap the guy and slide to the ground. It's not spectacular but it stays efficient when the aim is to prevent the other guy to earn to much yards. I prefer a tackler which allows two yards per tackle rather than a hitter who occasionnaly stone his opponent but generally misses, and this, especially in the openfield. However it seems to be a recurrent theme in the NFL as i can remember Ray lewis dealing with it in an interview 2 or 3 years ago and basically saying : "we don't train to tackle to avoid injuries, that's why there are so many missed tackles at the beginning of the season." And he wasn't happy saying that.

by BDC (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 11:41am

290: I guess what I am getting at is that I don't really think that how hard a team plays the week before has any impact on how they perform the following week.

I am not saying that those two teams you mentioned are worse then their opponents. Just that for every incident where two evenly matched teams play and the one that played hard the week before wins, there is one where the team that took the week before off won too. Take Washington for instance.

Actually, the best way to put it is not that it doesn't matter. It might. But rather, there is no way to know in advance if it matters, and so there is little predictive value in it.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 1:02pm

"Schottenheimer rarely, if ever, had a playoff team which was so clearly superior to his opponent in the way that the Chargers were to the Titans last week. I"

Last year against the Pats. 2004 or 5 (?) against the Jets.

Shottenheimer has regularly taken teams into the playoffs and lost to vastly inferior opponents, and all with the same formula: game score is closer than the game play indicates, and something stupid happens in the second half.

by hrudey (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 3:58pm

nat: They're not risks. If the Jaguars send a lopsided blitz, the Pats convert. Period. They did blitz seven times and got no significant pressure at all. They varied their personnel, their alignment -- but they weren't breaking through the wall of protection. As it was, the totality of their game plan left them two dropped passes on their part away from having the ball down 31-28 late in the fourth. Obviously, this assumes nothing else changes, which is not necessarily true - maybe they go for it instead of kick the FG after Welker's miss, etc. But even with the drops and FGs instead of TD, they're in a situation where a score, onside kick and another score can win it. I can absolutely assure you, with no hesitation, that if they tried to bring pressure beyond rushing whoever they had on the line (either three or four), it would have been a blowout. Look back at what they gave up to Drew Brees, in the first half alone, or Peyton Manning, or Big Ben once he stopped taking seven step drops.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 4:29pm

317: I don't know if the 2004 Chargers were clearly superior to the Jets. That Jets team were within a missed field goal in OT of knocking out the 15-1 Steelers. Of course, had the Chargers not missed a field goal as well, they would have won.

by nat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:02pm

Okay, I give up. It was the best defensive game plan possible.

There was never any hope of stopping the Patriots offense or getting a turnover, so the best thing was to give up on those things, shorten the game, and hope for an offensive miracle. At least you didn't lose in a blowout.

As a Patriots fan, I sure hope the Chargers believe this, too. Because I'd much rather face this game plan than the ones used by the Giants, Ravens, Eagles, Colts, Cowboys...

As a football fan, I hope the Chargers come up with something that could work, instead of scheming to lose by fewer points than other teams might.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:05pm

Bear in mind that these criticisms go back to before the game - the problems were evident in Mike Tanier’s Blueprint. While the Jaguars did not follow the Blueprint exactly, they made the same strategic mistakes that it did:

No, it didn't! It made all new strategic mistakes. Their rush wasn't directed at all - the few times when it was, they edge-rushed. They virtually never rushed up the middle.

The one play I did see them rush up the middle on? The one where Koppen (or the RG, I can't remember offhand, and it depends on who you call the chop block on) had to chop block a defender which put them in a 1st and 20 they didn't recover from. If he hadn't done that, the DT would've nailed Brady. On that play, both the DTs rushed the A gaps and the DE rushed the B gap.

The few blitzes that the Jaguars sent came off the edges, where they were easily picked up.

Without any focused rush, Brady had all the time in the world to throw, and it showed.

And again, I'll stress, the Jaguars more often than not had their safeties deep, but not that deep. One was usually 10 yards deep (Knight, the strong safety) and Nelson was about 15 yards deep.

The biggest problem with that is that Nelson is a rookie. Most plays he was late getting there because he didn't diagnose the play right away.

Regarding the 'running game liabilities', when Maroney found a seam and gained 5+ yards, it was invariably because Sammy Knight missed a tackle badly. He was getting there fine. He just had a horrible day tackling.

by nat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 5:29pm

321 Pat:
You're probably right about the tactics that the Jags used to rush the passer. I wasn't being that specific.

I'm sticking with the comments from people in the game for the positioning of the safeties. They may not be literally correct - but a safety is deep based on both his position and his assignment/action on the play.

You might be right about the tackling on the short gains. I don't have a full copy of the game. But in the NFL highlights - the longer runs and runs after catches - the tackle was generally made by the first person to actually make contact.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 6:43pm

You’re probably right about the tactics that the Jags used to rush the passer. I wasn’t being that specific.

That's important, though. Everyone knows the Patriots offensive line is probably the best in the league. Rushing three spread out across the entire line at them is stupid. You might as well put three more backup defensive backs or linebackers out there, and say "don't bother trying to rush the passer, just drop back and spy the eligible receivers and quarterback behind the line."

To be fair, they stopped doing this shortly into the second half, and started rushing four, but were again targetting the outside.

The point is, of course the Blueprint was giving up ground in the short-middle passing game. It wasn't assuming that Brady would just screw up, or the receivers would drop the ball. It assumed that the pressure you'd get up the middle would disrupt Brady enough to occasionally have drives stall that way.

Without that, of course, it's just going to be pitch and catch and you'd never stop them. Which they basically didn't.

But in the NFL highlights - the longer runs and runs after catches - the tackle was generally made by the first person to actually make contact.

Well, the NFL highlights only have three non-scoring plays. The first is the 33-yard screen to Maroney mentioned earlier. The sceond is the third-quarter long run by Maroney, and that does have a missed tackle, although it depends on what you call a missed tackle - the defender doesn't make contact, but he was in position to, and simply took the wrong angle. That's the same thing as a missed tackle - most missed tackles are caused by poor angles/technique, and you don't get a free pass for being so bad that you never actually touch the guy. It also has a bad tackle at the end where Maroney picks up another 5 yards when one of the defenders chasing him doesn't go high properly when Nelson goes low. The third is Stallworth's long catch, and that obviously doesn't either.

But really, the problem wasn't the long plays. It was the short plays that went from gains of 5 to gains of 8 because of poor tackling discipline. Obviously, none of those are going to show up on the highlight reel.

by nat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 7:14pm

Thanks for taking the time to review the highlights. There were more plays on the ones I saw, but the gist is the same.

I did see what you saw on that one Maroney run. I don't think of it as a missed tackle. It was more like the first guy down on a punt, hoping for the hit, but at least forcing the runner to commit. But I could also see calling it a miss.

Well, we don't have film of the short plays, so I guess we'll leave it at this: if they could have stuffed more plays it would have helped.

I've enjoyed your insights, but I think we've played this one out. You can have the last word, if you'd like.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 7:51pm

"That Jets team were within a missed field goal in OT of knocking out the 15-1 Steelers."

And the 2007 Baltimore ravens....2007 patriots...

One game doesnt mean shit. Marty has a history of losing playoff games in exactly the same way.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 7:56pm

"But really, the problem wasn’t the long plays. It was the short plays that went from gains of 5 to gains of 8 because of poor tackling discipline. Obviously, none of those are going to show up on the highlight reel."

Pat, I agree there were missed tackles, but I have watched every single Patriots game this year, and the only teams that have done a better job of tackling Welker/Maroney/Stallworth/Faulk in space this year have been Philly and Baltimore.

Sometimes its not poor execution. Sometimes its just playing against someone who executes well.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 8:40pm

I did see what you saw on that one Maroney run. I don’t think of it as a missed tackle.

The defender took the wrong angle initially. You can see it on his first step towards the runner, where he stops, turns a bit more and then pursues - of course, by then, Maroney's past him.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 9:20pm

To be fair, they stopped doing this shortly into the second half, and started rushing four, but were again targetting the outside. ... It assumed that the pressure you’d get up the middle would disrupt Brady enough to occasionally have drives stall that way.

The problem for teams facing the Patriots is, "up the middle" is where their line is the strongest. Ignore Pro-bowl selections for a moment. Dan Koppin is one of the better centers in the league. Logan Mankins is probably one of the best guards, at least on pass protection. And Stephen Neal is above average, as well.

On the other hand, Matt Light is probably just barely above average these days (he's athletic and an excellent LT for running screens, and is shut-down against average linemen, but struggles mightily against very good rushers), and on the other side, Nick Kaczur is only an average RT. And until recently, the Pats TE's were banged up, and their starting TE, Watson, is more of a receiver than a blocker.

In short, the Pats pass protection is strongest up the middle, and most team's D-line is built with the most effective pass rusher on the end, so it's naturally easier to get pressure on the edges. Unfortunately for Patriots opponents, rushing off the edge plays to (one of) Brady's strengths, which is stepping up.

Do you attack heart, even though the armor is thickest there, or do you attack the extremities where the armor is thinner, even though blows to the extremeties are less fatal?

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 9:22pm

Oops, that should be "Dan Koppen", not "Koppin". It looks uneducated and FOX-commentish when you misspell the names of players on your hometown team... It was a typo, honest!

By the way, it's really annoying responding to Pat's comments about the Patriots, because I can never abbreviate "Partriots" to "Pats" without ambiguity... :-)

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/15/2008 - 9:52pm

The problem for teams facing the Patriots is, “up the middle” is where their line is the strongest. Ignore Pro-bowl selections for a moment. Dan Koppin is one of the better centers in the league.

I'm not sure I'd agree there. Well, somewhat. I've seen him struggle with speed rushers in the middle. I think three or four times in both of the games I watched in detail, a defender was able to get position on him before he got out of his stance.

Do you attack heart, even though the armor is thickest there, or do you attack the extremities where the armor is thinner, even though blows to the extremeties are less fatal?

This is true for almost every team - ignoring the strength of each player, the reason you go around the edges is because, well, there's often no one outside the tackle. The benefit of a focused rush up the middle is that even if it's failed, Brady's pocket isn't perfect, and so there's a better chance of a throw being a bit erratic, especially if it's deep.

Normally, no team would want to do that. It's nuts - sacking a QB is far more valuable than lowering his completion percentage a bit on a couple plays. But the Patriots aren't exactly 'normal'.

by Ken (not verified) :: Wed, 01/16/2008 - 3:24pm

In the first half of the Pats/Jags game, the Pats played almost entirely zone coverage, with the corners extremely deep. Was it a Cover Four? Maybe.

Pure zone defenses, especially if soft, are absolutely useless against a good QB. He will keep gashing the defense for 7-15 yards on play after play, marching the ball down the field and scoring. Maybe you can do that on a drive that begins deep in the offense's own territory with less than two minutes to go. Otherwise, the "prevent" is effective only to prevent you from holding a lead.

Against the best offenses, the best defense is a two-deep man/zone. This is not the same thing as Cover Two. In Cover Two, when a receiver reaches the back of the short zone, the man who's covered him until then (usually the corner) releases and the safety picks him up. In the brief interval between the release and the pickup, the receiver is completely uncovered, and a top QB will hit that man all day.

In the two-deep man/zone, on the other hand, the corner doesn't release. The safety goes into a soft coverage over the top while the corner, from that point on, is in a tight coverage in which he will, if he has a chance to do so, attempt to jump the route and take the ball, knowing that this is no longer a risk with the safety behind him. The best pass-defending linebacker hits the TE at the line as hard and as long as he can do so without being called for holding, and keeps hitting him as long as he can without being called for illegal contact. That way, the TE is not at the place where he's supposed to be at the time when the QB would be looking that direction for an outlet. The epitome of this coverage was the 2003 AFCC, when the Patriots snuffed the Colts' offense.

The formula for beating it is to use a 3-WR set. If you have a great slot receiver (Brandon Stokley, Wes Welker) facing a nickel back, who's probably not more than a journeyman, in single coverage, that's your pass. In turn, the defense is to have a linebacker whose job is to jump any short in route to the slot receiver, and not to go to whatever his assignment would be otherwise without checking off on what the slot receiver's doing.

This was the coverage played by the Eagles against the Patriots. Lito Sheppard didn't release from Moss when Moss got deep. He stayed with him and Moss was doubled. And they did enough against Welker to keep him from killing them.

Those who think that the significant part of the Eagles' offense was blitzing miss the point. Brady murders blitzers. He'll hit someone--Faulk, Watson, Welker, Gaffney, maybe even Evans--right where that blitzer came from.

by jas (not verified) :: Thu, 01/17/2008 - 3:01am

317 - not sure I'm following you.

I've checked the DVOA for the Pats for 2006 and the Jets for 2004.

In both instances you may be surprised by what you find.