Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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The Georgia Bullddogs' dynamic duo should be on NFL rosters at some point in the next 72 hours. Which will be the better pro? That depends on what kind of running back you're looking for.

05 Jan 2009

Audibles at the Line: NFC Wild Card Games

Compiled by Doug Farrar and Vince Verhei

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 2009.

For the next two weeks, we'll be splitting Audibles in two, one for each conference. This edition discusses only the two NFC Wild Card games. Discussion of the AFC Wild Card games can be found here.

Saturday, January 3

Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals

Doug Farrar: I just turned over to Football Night in America in time to see the man who built the only 0-16 team in NFL history telling the viewing audience how the Falcons built a winning team. I'm sorry, Mr. Millen, but you're blown out. How on earth is anyone supposed to take this guy seriously as an analyst anymore?

Vince Verhei (at the same time): NBC has added Matt Millen to their pregame show. One, why did this show need another talking head? Two, how can ANYONE put any credibility in anything this man says about football?

Will Carroll: Because he's on NBC. There's an inherent credibility -- they could put someone off the street on TV and if he looks and acts the part, he'll be an expert next week. I call this the "Matt Berry effect."

Bill Barnwell: I can think of plenty of exciting ways to implement Millen into the FNIA telecast. A segment where one Lions fan a week comes on and yells at a muzzled Millen for five minutes would be great. A "Where are they now?" segment where Millen interviews guys like Bill Schroeder and Az Hakim would be good. A piece where Millen passes the buck on every one of his failed decisions to various Ford properties would be fine.

Doug Farrar: Nice first defensive series by the Falcons, going blitz/blitz/blitz look-drop back-bring three. Warner didn't have much for that. He's going to have to beat the blitz to make them call it off.

Vince Verhei: Cards have a crucial second-and-10 deep in their own territory on their first drive, and the play call is ... a deep pass? To Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie? With Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston on this team, this is when you choose to get cute?

Doug Farrar: Early on, Matt Ryan's throwing more accurately to the Cards than Kurt Warner is.

Of course, right after I write that, Warner throws a 42-yard bomb to Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone, and Fitzgerald outleaps his double-team for the touchdown.

Vince Verhei: OK, that flea-flicker touchdown clinched it for me: Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver in football right now. He has everything -- size, speed, and some of the best hands you'll ever find. What a phenomenal athlete.

Mike Tanier: That Fitzgerald catch on the flea-flicker was suh-weet. And I liked the variety of the running plays that set it up: a mix of draws and counters, nothing too elaborate, but it made the Falcons respect the run a little.

Aaron Schatz: Great play-calling by the Cardinals on their second drive, just great. Completely going against their own tendencies and attacking Atlanta's weakness with two runs, a standard run and then a draw, and then once you suck them in, the flea-flicker. Of course, Kurt Warner threw the flea-flicker to a double-covered receiver, but apparently a double-covered Larry Fitzgerald is not actually double-covered. Wow.

Bill Barnwell: Think Arizona wanted to send a message?

Aaron Schatz: OK, does someone want to tell the Falcons that the Cardinals seem to know they like to run, and perhaps they might try something else on first or second down?

Doug Farrar: I'm not sure that having Turner bounce outside is the best plan, either. He's best when he gets a blast straight up and picks up three yards after first contact.

Vince Verhei: Boy, that Chike Okeafor sack was a huge play on Atlanta's second drive. If Ryan has time to throw, he has Michael Jenkins open on a corner route for 30-plus yards.

Bill Barnwell: Cris Collinsworth confusing that with the return of the Cards' pass rush was incorrect. Coverage sack <> pass rush.

Mike Tanier: The Falcons possessions are as long as bathroom breaks right now. I missed all but the sack on the last one.

I think of the Falcons as a team that runs some junk early: bubble screens, a reverse or something, to diversify the offense without making things hard for Ryan. They don't seem too diverse right now.

Doug Farrar: And with 11:49 remaining in the first half, John Parry and his crew wake up and actually call an offsides penalty on the Cardinals. No biggie on the five you missed, guys...

Vince Verhei: Good strategic move by the Falcons offense at the start of the second quarter. They're getting beaten badly by Cardinals pass rushers, so they go to a series of swing passes and bubble screens, getting the ball out of Ryan's hands quickly and giving White and Douglas chances to make plays.

Ben Riley: I missed the first quarter of this game driving back from the casting ponds in Golden Gate Park -- five minutes of which were spent breaking out in hives as The Fixx's "Saved by Zero" came on the radio -- but reading the above e-mails, it sounds like the Cardinals had success with a flea-flicker. Have we ever examined how often that play works? Because I almost never see it *not* work. If I was an offensive coordinator, I'd call for at least three flea-flickers per game.

Will Carroll: This is more something for Tanier, but doesn't the flea-flicker beg for a more modern re-design? The running back hardly ever sells it and as a variant on play action, the timing is seldom good -- though that could go back to practice time.

Vince Verhei: Blitzing five or six to get pressure in Kurt Warner's face? Good idea.

Blitzing seven and leaving Lawyer Milloy to cover Anquan Boldin one-on-one with no deep safety help? Bad idea. Very, very bad idea.

Aaron Schatz: For crying out loud, Lawyer Milloy IS the deep safety help. He's a safety, after all. Does someone want to explain to me where the hell the other two Atlanta defensive backs were looking as Boldin was going up the sideline? On the long-distance camera shot, they seemed to actually be running away from where Milloy was chasing Boldin.

Going back a drive, how on earth did Michael Jenkins not get the first down when he stretched for the sticks? The sticks were RIGHT THERE. He saw them! How could he not stretch past them? I think that was a really wussy field goal attempt. If you are a run-first team, damn, shouldn't you be able to get fourth-and-inches on the opposing 30?

Bill Barnwell: The flea-flicker was a bad play -- the Falcons didn't fall for it and the throw was into double coverage. Fitzgerald just made an astounding catch. The flea-flicker had nothing to do with it.

Vince Verhei: Doug was right about the offsides going uncalled. There have been at least two more on this drive (after Boldin's touchdown) that the refs have missed. One was a tackle -- a tackle! -- lined up in the neutral zone, head looking laterally, right at the ball.

Aaron Schatz: Cris Collinsworth just made a big deal about how Matt Ryan has better numbers throwing left than he does throwing right. That's even stranger than you might think, because Roddy White -- by far Atlanta's best receiver -- plays on the right side more than he plays on the left side.

I just went to check the penalties data and Parry's crew actually called an average number of defensive offsides this season. Somehow, Jerome Boger's crew called nearly twice as many offsides as any other crew. I wonder what is up there.

Checking on flea-flickers ... this isn't definite because sometimes charters find a flea-flicker that wasn't marked as such in the standard play-by-play. I have 13 flea-flickers listed this year; Carolina was the only team to do it twice. Numbers: 7-for-11 plus two sacks, one interception (Joe Flacco against the Browns), no touchdowns (!) and an average of 14 net yards per play.

I don't know if the Falcons actually saw the flicker coming. I said double coverage, and it looked like double coverage, but a later replay showed Chris Houston and Lawyer Milloy reversing field and desperately trying to get back there. It was a close play mostly because the ball hung a little bit, and Fitzgerald made the play work despite that.

Ben Riley: Jerome Boger is the worst referee in the NFL. That might have something to do with all the offsides.

So 7-for-11, averaging 14 net yards -- that's pretty good, right? I also think it would have Wildcat-like strategic benefits, such as making linebackers hesitate before crashing the line on running plays. On the other hand, if the quarterback drops the flicker, that would be bad. Very bad.

Mike Tanier: Flea-flicker points:

1) It is a high-risk play for several reasons. A) The risk of a fumble on an errant pitch by the running back; B) the risk that outside pressure will get to the quarterback while the play is setting up; C) There are usually only two receivers running routes, so the quarterback has no place to go with the ball if the defense doesn't bite. One eligible receiver is taken up by the pitch, and at least one other must help sell the fake by run blocking, usually a fullback or tight end if not both.

2) I have seen a flea-flicker from a shotgun that looked like a delay or a draw. The trick is that it has to look like a play in the offensive playbook, but it must also be possible for the back to execute the pitch, so he can't be sweeping to the sidelines. I think I have seen diagrams for flea-flickers based on counters, but I don't remember seeing the play live. The stretch runs we see so often from teams like the Eagles and Colts don't lend themselves to flea-flickers, because the quarterback usually fades to one side after the handoff, while the back runs to the opposite side. He'd pitch back to a quarterback with no protection in front of him.

Sean McCormick: I'd like to state the obvious and point out just how well Matt Ryan is playing. I know the Lewin Forecast forecast suggested that Ryan was not a particularly good prospect, certainly not a top-five caliber prospect, and his lousy completion percentages against good defenses and his tendency to throw picks against everyone seemed to back that up.

It makes me wonder just how terrible Boston College's skill position players must have been to make Ryan look mediocre so frequently.

Bill Moore: I watched a modest amount of B.C. football last year. B.C. didn't have outstanding talent in 2007 (Callendar was their only legit wide receiver threat for a team that topped out at No. 2), but Ryan made plenty of his own mistakes. He did have a tendency to force throws. His success in Atlanta is a mixture of solid ability with what I am assuming is good coaching.

Sean McCormick: Arizona's defense is lucky that they haven't been called for about eight offsides penalties by now. On that third-and-5, it looked like Antrel Rolle mistimed his blitz and was in the neutral zone too early. Not that it helped any.

Doug Farrar: I'd be interested to know what Atlanta's DVOA per formation is this year. It seems like they're so much more effective, run and pass, when they're not running single-back. Maybe it's just my own selective viewing, but when they're running I or offset I or the full house, it seems as if they're able to do so much more. The exception was the early Ryan pick, but I think the Cards were looking for the two-back set where both backs headed into short routes, and they just jumped on it.

Bill Barnwell: I think the Falcons blitz more in the second half. Cardinals have looked iffy in pass pro so far, especially in the backfield; Hightower (I think) whiffed on a Lawyer Milloy blitz and nearly got Warner killed.

Sean McCormick: I would agree with that. Arizona's blitz recognition or pickup has been abysmal to this point, even taking the second touchdown to Boldin into account.

Doug Farrar: Seriously. This Millen-as-an-analyst thing is unbelievable. If I saw Bernie Madoff on Moneywise, I'd find it more credible. Is this a comedy bit I'm not getting? Some sort of SNL tie-in?

Mark Zajack: How is Kurt Warner still in the game, much less alive, after Grady Jackson planted his 4,000 pounds on him?

Per Doug's earlier comment -- I'm curious too about the Atlanta offense DVOA per formation.

Watching a good amount of their games this year, I seem to remember them being really good out of I-formation. Especially two-tight end sets, where Roddy White is the only receiver. Power runs and a couple of deep throws a game. They took a deep shot in the first half out of that (where White dropped it).

Of course, Ryan's only deep ball to White of the third quarter was a jump ball won by Rodgers-Cromartie, but that was out of a two-receiver set.

Doug Farrar: Heh. The "Let Them Play" thing continues as Sam Baker gets away with an uncalled hold on Bert Berry early in the third quarter. The Falcons had third-and-25, and the hold happened in the end zone. That's a safety, two points the Cardinals didn't get, probably a makeup for all those offsides calls that didn't happen, and another outstanding example of consistency and discretion in officiating.

Aaron Schatz: Then we had the clear defensive pass interference by Chris Houston a few plays later. Lest the Arizona fans complain, the refs have clearly swallowed their whistles for the entire game, for both teams. Actually, in the fourth quarter they may have coughed up their whistles.

How the hell is Matt Ryan called for in the grasp in the end zone if Eli Manning is not called for in the grasp in the Super Bowl last year? I'm not trying to say the Super Bowl was invalid -- I'm trying to say that Arizona's safety was invalid. There seems to be no guideline for in the grasp, and for crying out loud Ryan got a pass off -- a complete pass! -- before he went down.

Ben Riley: The rule is: "Officials are to blow the play dead as soon as the quarterback is clearly in the grasp and control of any tackler, and his safety is in jeopardy." That's a judgment call, of course, but the tackle (or "grasp") of Ryan looked like it was headed for trouble, as he was about to get his back cracked. All that said, I'd get rid of the rule.

Did Cris Collinsworth really just say it was a little early for the Falcons to go for it on fourth down? There are six minutes left to play and the Falcons are trailing by two touchdowns, Cris. There is no tomorrow. You go for it! And you throw it to Jerious Norwood, who picks up the first down and scrambles to the Cardinals' 30-yard line. (This Audible brought to you courtesy of TMQ's notebook.)

Aaron Schatz: Again, not taking away from Eli Manning's miracle. I just think Matt Ryan deserves the same chance to make a miracle.

Ben Riley: I'm with you. The rule is too subjective and it deprives us of good football. Just trying to explain why the referee made the call.

Mark Zajack: God, I hate "in the grasp." The whole "protect the quarterback" thing is a little ridiculous. Here's a question: If you really want to protect the quarterback, why not get rid of intentional grounding? At least say, any throw past the line of scrimmage is OK, and forget the "tackle box" stipulation. Is that so crazy?

Will Carroll: Because to do that would be noticeable and removes the chance of abject violence. If a guy feels the rush of a coverage sack and just spikes it, fans will go nuts. They want to see blood and guts and someone's helmet shoot through the spine of the quarterback ... unless it's their quarterback. With in the grasp, at least he got there and the ref is calling for mercy.

Doug Farrar: My personal favorite was the "unabated to the quarterback" call, where the play stops on a defensive offside. By removing the free play, you penalize the offensive team in ostensibly protecting the quarterback.

After the way officiating has gone this year, I'm really afraid we're going to have another postseason like 2005, where so many games were marked by horrible calls even before the Super Bowl.

Mike Tanier: It's just more overzealous interpretation of the rulebook. You are calling a safety, basically handing a team two points and the ball with your whistle. It had better be clear cut, but in the NFL they think otherwise. They think, "oh, this could affect the course of a game or a season. It's time to arbitrarily apply a vague part of the rulebook as aggressively as possible." I've seen it so many times in the past five years that I think it's almost pathological. I think these guys get together and talk themselves into the nuttiest decision possible, and then it's completely forgotten the next time a similar situation arises.

Aaron Schatz: Are we all enjoying the Cardinals throwing with a six-point lead and three minutes left? Run out the clock? Like I said in the game preview, Arizona does not believe in your pathetic "running out the clock." Fitzgerald and Breaston are catching the passes, so it's hard to criticize right now.

And then Sean Payton took over Ken Whisenhunt's brain, and the Cardinals ran an end-around with two minutes left. Yay!

Ben Riley: What was that? Luckily for the Cards, they converted on third down, but that was extraordinarily stupid.

Bill Barnwell: I just feigned handing my friend a beer and Keith Brooking started sprinting towards Boston.

Aaron Schatz: They converted on third down with a deep route to some tight end nobody has ever heard of, wide open up the seam. Stephen Spach, now you can hang out with Tory Humphrey and John Gilmore in the "unknown tight ends torching the Falcons" club.

Doug Farrar: There are games in which one team just looks bigger than the other. When Carolina ran over the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football late in the season, they looked that way. Perception or reality, but by the fourth quarter, the Cardinals just looked like a bigger team than they actually were. More physically dominant. The Falcons tackled horribly all game, and the Cardinals had ball control when they needed it. That was the difference to me. Arizona got a hat on a hat, to abuse the old cliché, and Atlanta didn't.

Ned Macey: OK, I know the Falcons run defense is really bad. But which of the following playoff running backs had the highest DVOA this season? Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Joseph Addai, Willie Parker, or Edgerrin James? Considering Hightower's near-Perryesque performance, it would have been criminal if James was not reinserted as the starter. Assuming an Eagles win (dangerous), Carolina has an equally bad run defense, so Edge could make a nice post-release contract push here.

Sean McCormick: It's funny how there's always one game which goes against the narrative so heavily that it seems in retrospect that it should have been obvious. You look back at that Cardinals-Falcons game and say to yourself, "Well, of course Arizona would load up against the run and would be able to shut down Turner, and of course Matt Ryan would struggle at times on the road in a hostile stadium against a defense that was daring him to beat them, and of course Arizona would go against tendency and take Edgerrin James out of mothballs to attack Atlanta's soft run defense," and on and on. And yet, had Atlanta run three straight times to start the game and gotten six yards a pop, that would have seemed like an obvious thing as well.

Russell Levine: I loved the way Arizona played it on offense (except the end-around) in the final four minutes. So many teams in that situation try to grind out a first down on the ground and end up punting it right back to a team with momentum. They stayed on the attack instead of playing the clock. The end-around was an embarrassing, horrid, ridiculously bad call. But Warner bailed them out with one more first-down pass.

Sean McCormick: The most decisive factor in this game may well have been Atlanta's inability to disguise their snap count. Yes, the Cardinals were flirting with (which is to say brazenly guilty of) several offsides infractions, but there were plenty of times when their defense -- particularly Okeafor and Berry on the edges -- were coming across as the ball was snapped. Sam Baker had a really hard time, but it's not that he was late so much as that the Falcons were clearly tipping their count somehow.

Sunday, January 4

Philadelphia Eagles 26 at Minnesota Vikings 14

Vince Verhei: Jimmy Johnson was doing a wacky, special effects-laden feature on Adrian Peterson and Brian Westbrook for the Fox pregame show, and mentioned the disparity in their fumble numbers. Unfortunately, he only listed their fumbles LOST. Because if the ball bounced out of bounds or into a teammate's hands, I guess it was never fumbled at all.

Eagles have third-and-9 at the 26. A pass that would have picked up a first down is dropped. Philadelphia is called for holding on the play, but the Vikings decline, setting up a 43-yard David Akers field goal.

Would you have accepted the penalty? It would have given the Eagles third-and-19 at the 36, looking at a 50-plus-yard kick if they don't gain any more yards. There is the chance Philly will convert the first down, but there is also the chance of a sack or turnover on third-and- long.

I am ready to punch the director of this game right in the throat. He's showing us everything except the actual game. There's the usual shots of the quarterback's eyes, then a lingering shot of Brad Childress with his usual flummoxed expression, and then a frantic cut back to the field when the ball is snapped and he remembers, oh yeah, there's actual football going on.

Ben Riley: Let's stipulate that Adrian Peterson is an awesome player, perhaps the best in the NFL. With that out of the way, should he really be doing his best Usain Bolt impersonation and slowing down to wave the football around before he scores? He almost -- repeat, almost -- got caught before getting into the end zone.

Bill Barnwell: Sheldon Brown's pass interference penalty was the first time he'd been flagged for DPI or Illegal Contact all year.

Ben Riley: The Vikings apparently didn't study the gametape for the Eagles-Seahawks game in Week 9. If you rotate the safeties to take away Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson, unheralded Brent Celek will get open over the middle, and Donovan McNabb will not hesitate to throw to him. Why L.J. Smith had to lose his starting job via injury is beyond me. (Any thoughts on that, Mike?)

Vince Verhei: Wow, that Chad Greenway in-the-grasp sack was MUCH worse than anything we saw yesterday. How long did he have McNabb wrapped up? 1 second? Was it even that long?

Bill Moore: 1. Forward progress on a pass?

2. What's Jackson doing jumping out of bounds to duck the kicker?!?

Ben Riley: That was absurd. The way these playoffs are going, the competition committee is going to have to revisit this rule. (Although, it may have been a no-harm no-foul situation, as it looked like grounding to me.)

Exchange at my little playoff watching party:

Me: "C'mon DeSean Jackson, lower your shoulder and hit the punter! Don't go out of bounds!"

Friend: "Uh, I think the punter is bigger than him."

Fair point.

Doug Farrar: Looks like someone got a memo for the postseason about quarterback protection and is taking it to heart in an extreme fashion.

I'd like to nominate DeSean Jackson for the "Keep Choppin' Wood, if you don't break a nail picking up the axe" award. Late in the third quarter, he took a punt return 30 yards and then stepped out of bounds rather than deal with the one guy stopping him from the end zone -- that noted special teams tackling demon, punter Chris Kluwe. He then engaged in a bit of trash talk with ... Brad Childress. Got right in Grandpa's face. Oh, SNAP!

Aaron Schatz: Apparently the Vikings don't need Pat Williams to completely stuff the run. Brian Westbrook is getting absolutely nothing today, inside or out. That's killing the Eagles because they're constantly in third-and-long. Jason Avant has stretched for a couple really nice first downs but you can't get those six times a drive.

Vince Verhei: After yet another Philadelphia 1-yard run, I was sitting here thinking about a post Aaron made about an Arizona game a few weeks ago, about how they kept calling running plays even though it was clear there would be no benefit. And then Troy Aikman makes the same observation, only to him it's a positive. He says that passing on every down would place the offensive line in a bind. You know what else puts the offensive line in a bind, Troy? Second-and-9.

Ben Riley: Beautiful, beautiful downfield blocking on the Westbrook touchdown. As TMQ says, it's pretty fun to scramble for 70 yards when virtually everyone in front of you has been knocked down.

I can't believe Tarvaris Jackson cost the Vikings the game, dropping a perfect snap and...oh wait, you say soon-to-be-free-agent-and-all-pro center Matt Birk screwed up, and snapped the ball approximately two inches off the ground? Yeah, I saw that coming. What a weird way for the Vikings season to end.

Doug Farrar: Yeah, well, note to Tarvaris: Don't yell at your All-Pro center for making one mistake when you're one for your last ten, kid.

Ned Macey: I floated this idea in AGS a few weeks ago but don't think I explained my rationale very well. Jackson's late-game struggles were all too obvious. When the team is ahead and facing eight in the box, his mobility, arm strength, and confidence allow him to be a very effective quarterback. He throws well on the underneath routes and has the deep ball to Berrian. When he trails and teams sit back in zones, he is tentative and inaccurate. I suggested that Frerotte should play when they fall behind. Perhaps that was silly because Frerotte is just always bad, but Jackson was just abysmal in the second half. Jackson has a way to go, but he has shown flashes. Of course, he'll be 26 next year and no longer "young."

As for the Eagles, I think their offense played pretty well when you consider the quality of the opposing defense and the frequent bad field position. Still, they scored 17 points on the Asante Samuel touchdown, the Westbrook screen, and the Jackson punt return that set up a field goal. They were just a few plays from a redux of the Washington game.

Mike Tanier: I didn't mind that the Eagles were trying to run the ball despite little success. They did get a 20-something yard run from C-Buck early in the game, and they were using some of the runs that have been successful in the last week, like the shotgun draws. I'd rather see this team buck the percentages a bit than lapse into their worst habit of throwing 4 million times.

Did someone ask what L.J. Smith does that Brett Celek doesn't? Besides cash paychecks? L.J. has been a human blindspot in this organization for years, and I have never heard a sane justification for the job security he enjoyed until this injury.

That had to be the Eagles' best special teams game of the year, right? The Rocca punts, good Jackson returns, some long field goals by Akers, good coverage for the most part. It reminds me of the pre-TO days, when the special teams played great and the defense didn't let much up, so the offense didn't have to be awesome. The Eagles can't beat the Giants if their offense plays like it did on Sunday, but the defense and special teams are ready to beat anyone.

Doug Farrar: I’d just like to add that if this was Donovan McNabb’s last win in an Eagles uniform, he gave the fans who booed him all those years a performance to remember. The sideline throw to DeSean Jackson was about as pretty as any pass I’ve seen all season. I have no rooting interest for or against the Eagles, but I almost hope there is a “Will they trade him” angle this offseason, just because it might keep Brett $%^&* Favre off the top story for a couple of days. In any case, we got a solid reminder in this game of the difference between a quarterback who might have a few good weeks but bakes under the spotlight (Tavaris) and a guy who is the real deal despite whatever foibles may ail him.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 05 Jan 2009

75 comments, Last at 06 Jan 2009, 2:27pm by Kevin from Philly


by Tim R :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 11:56am

My view of the Ryan "in the grasp" safety was that it was given because of the offensive linemen, think it was Baker, holding Berry from behind preventing him from taking Ryan down.

by Paulo Sanchotene, RS, Brazil (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:01pm

On AZ offsides, I must say that if the crew is not calling it, you MUST keep going! It's more important the way the crew is intepreting the rules on a particular game then the rulebook. It'll be a problem ONLY if the calls are made differently for both teams or change from time to time during the same game. But, if officials are always saying "play on", PLAY ON!

by DennisK (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:01pm

I thought the Matt Ryan sack was fine. The guy had Ryan wrapped up and the only reason he couldn't piledrive was that a Falcons O-lineman had the defender also wrapped up. So...that should be either a forward progress end zone sack or holding in the end zone.

But the McNabb one was ridiculous.

by jimm (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:06pm

Jackson was really awful in the second half. What became apparent to me in the game is he really has no pocket presence.

But Philly is and was a better team and that showed for the most part. The Vikings were done in by special teams and medicore to worse QB play.

Last year I thought they looked promising - right now I'd say they are likely to decline a fair bit next year.

by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:09pm

This is what I've been saying. Frerotte, even is less mobile, is at least experienced and more accurate (from what I've seen) downfield.

Anyone count how many 1st-10s were handoffs to Adrian Peterson that gained 2 yards or fewer? I charted (quickly, and might've missed something) 16 1st-and-10s; of these, 12 were handoffs (some to Chester Taylor). Of these 12, 9 gained 2 yards or less. I didn't chart the 4th quarter, when the Vikings abandoned the run.

75 percent of the time, 1st-10 was a handoff (in this game - I know, sample size etc.). Just like the previous...oh, 16 games. Not surprising that the defense seemed to expect a run on 1st-10. Abysmal - apparently Brad Childress gets confused when he's got 3 (or more) downs to work with. He needs to go.

Shanahan! Shanahan!

by hector :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:19pm

I have no problem with Matt Millen the announcer, never did. I wouldn't say he's outstanding but he's solid enough. I had a major problem with Matt Millen the general manager, especially considering he was given the job with no front office experience whatsoever.

They're both football analysis jobs, but they're very different jobs.

We all have intelligent insights to offer on institutions that we're perhaps not qualified to be in charge of. The distinction isn't that hard to see, right?

For a contrast to Millen, consider Denny Green. He was a successful coach by the wins and losses, but he is *not* a good announcer.

by Temo :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:26pm

Yes, but we don't all get our football knowledge put on a pedestal and discredited to the extent that Matt Millen has. It has nothing to do with how he performs as an announcer: I just will always be thinking in the back of my mind how terrible a GM he was.

by Bad Doctor :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:04pm

Heck, as best I remember, Millen was widely considered to be "Madden Jr." when he was in the booth ... the next big analyst who could be informative and entertaining. I was wondering if he'd try to return to the booth, and what my reaction would be. After the first trial, I have to say, it's tough to not think of him as the guy who put together a .250 team and despite staying around too long still couldn't fall into a winning season.

If he goes back to color commentary, it might be easier to forget that it's "Matt Millen," making it easier to concentrate on his points.

Elsewhere in the booth, I think I'm still the lone holdout who doesn't like Collinsworth very much. Earlier on the same drive with the "too early to go on 4th and 1" comment, he said that it was too early for the Falcons to abandon the run ... but then when they hit on a couple of big pass plays and got to the 10 with the clock winding down to 5 minutes, he said that he couldn't understand why the Falcons weren't hurrying up. Eh?

by Richie :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:09pm

I have no problem with Millen as an analyst. He was an analyst before he was a GM, and I recall that he was generally liked. Even though he was unsuccessful as a GM, I'm sure he knows more about football - especially X's and O's - than anybody reading this website. I'm sure there are plenty of current analysts that would also fail miserably as the GM of an NFL team.

And I didn't see Millen passing the buck on his performance. Early in the pre-game show Dan Patrick interviewed him. One of the questions was "would you have fired you?" and Millen's answer was "yes". However, he said he would have waited until after the 2008 season. I didn't hear any buck passing.

by zlionsfan :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:41pm

He may know more about football than we do, but what difference does it make if he can't put any of it into practice? As far as I'm concerned, in seven-plus seasons, he showed that

a) he's generally a poor evaluator of playing talent;
b) he's a poor evaluator of coaching talent; and
c) he's a poor evaluator of his own talent as a GM.

Hell, I can do all that, and I don't live much farther from Detroit than he does.

Sure, he never passed the buck, but taking all the shots and not doing anything about it isn't any better as far as I'm concerned. I would much rather have him admit in 2003 or 2004 that he simply couldn't do the job.

I had the pregame show muted (thankfully) and just happened to notice Millen on it. I un-muted the TV for about five seconds and couldn't take any more. I'm sorry, maybe most of the other studio people couldn't be good GMs, but at least they haven't yet failed. Millen failed on a scale almost unprecedented in NFL history and refused to acknowledge it by stepping aside. Why would I want to listen to anything he has to say?

If he isn't saying "I'm sorry I completely trashed your team", I don't want to hear it.

by Wanker79 :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 5:22pm

In fairness to Millen (although I completely understand you as a Lions fan not wanting to give him any) quitting isn't exactly looked upon favorably. Look at how badly people kill Petrino and Saban. Acknowledging that you can't argue with being fired, and quitting on your team (even if you think the team might be better served if you step down) are two completely different things.

by andrew :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:15pm

Playoff carries count towards 370, right?

Peterson had 363 in the regular season, and went easily over 370 with this game. Its probably almost a good thing he didn't get farther.

Last year he had far fewer carries because he didn't start as a starter. I'll wager you don't see him pick up a pro bowl mvp this year.

I don't know if I'm the only one seeing it, but he really does not look the same as he did last year or even earlier this year. He still has the homerun threat, but his regular carries where he doesn't break it have gotten more and more pedestrian, even to the point of liability. He's becoming more like a Dave Kingman type of threat... Earlier, the pile would always surge back when he got hit, the first man never brought him down... now... well, I know part of it is he gets met in the backfield a lot... but when he goes into a pile he goes down a lot quicker, and I don't think its him trying to avoid fumbles by doing so. He failed to pick up a 3rd and 1 in the 3rd quarter, he used to be automatic on those...

This may sound incredibly stupid, but I think the Vikings would be better served having Taylor start and bringing in Peterson as a change of pace back.


by Eddo :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:40pm

"This may sound incredibly stupid, but I think the Vikings would be better served having Taylor start and bringing in Peterson as a change of pace back."
You know, I was thinking that same thing as I watched the game yesterday - that the Vikings' offense would be better if they used Peterson like the Jets use Leon Washington or the Chargers use Sproles (albeit much more than the Jets use Washington (which is nearly a criminal offense)).

Peterson's most dangerous in that he's a threat to score from anywhere on the field. However, he doesn't necessarily do the subtle, every-down things that Taylor does so well, such as pass-blocking, not fumbling, or just hitting the hole and getting four yards. I think his struggles with the latter two stem from his home-run ability; he seems to be trying too hard to break a big run.

Of course, part of me now wonders if Peterson is overrated due to these observations. Watching him break big runs seems to contradict this, but Peterson is being called the best back in the league and being compared to greats like Payton and Sanders. Maybe he's a more unique talent; an unbelievable TD weapon, but not an elite all-around back?

That's not to say he can't become an elite all-around back, but maybe he's just not there yet.

by Andrew B :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:29pm

"Of course, part of me now wonders if Peterson is overrated due to these observations. Watching him break big runs seems to contradict this, but Peterson is being called the best back in the league and being compared to greats like Payton and Sanders. Maybe he's a more unique talent; an unbelievable TD weapon, but not an elite all-around back?"

The best all-around back in the league was on the opposing team, giving key blocks for Donovan McNabb all game long, distracting the Vikings defense from watching out for Avant and Celek and Curtis because they had to spy him, and finally breaking a patented broken coverage 71 yard screen pass touchdown where 11 men in purple are running around getting thumped by large men in green jerseys and bowled over by small men in green jerseys looking for an elusive shifty little fellow named Brian Westbrook that always seems to be about two steps out of their grasp.

Meanwhile, the Eagles were defensing the "best back in the league" by the simple method of keeping on the bench since he doesn't play in passing situations due to his abysmal blocking and catching talent.

The Original Andrew

by ChrisH :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:13pm

I believe for playoff RB's the number goes up to 390 due to the extra week(s) they might play. What I loved was having to listen to Aikman and Buck talk about how Peterson is such a boom or bust runner, and how he always makes up for it with the boom, right before they showed a list of all this runs. Of the 18 carries at that point, I believe 5 were effective (5 yards or more), with the one 40 yard one where no one touched him really skewing the average high. Maybe some of those 2-3 yard runs were on 2nd or 3rd and very short, but it looked to me like only 25% of the time were you getting a decent carry from him, and he only had the one huge run to try to make up for that.

I got into a debate about success rate with a friend the other week (over why Rodgers from OSU was the Pac-10 player of the year, and not one of the RB's from Oregon), but I guess since I don't really watch many Vikings games I didn't realize that Peterson was that type of player, or was it just a great run D by the Eagles?

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:47pm

Last year, yes, Peterson was that type of player. This year, he's gotten better, but he's still too bust-likely to be the "best back in the league".

by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:18pm

It doesn't help (as posted above) that defenses can easily predict when Peterson will be trying to run.

Now, I will say that the truly great backs (Sanders and Payton, for example) were also the offensive centerpieces on their squads. Defenses knew to key on them, yet they still managed to produce.

Westbrook is a great all-around back, but he's on a team with a highly competent QB and a good passing attack (sometimes an overemphasized passing attack). So that makes it harder to compare. But it appears that Peterson is always trying to break the long one, although I haven't seen him dancing in the backfield as much as some other notable boom-bust RBs do.

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:54pm

"It doesn't help (as posted above) that defenses can easily predict when Peterson will be trying to run."

Not sure if you were implying this, but I think this is a good indicator that Peterson needs to dramatically improve his impact in the passing game, both as a receiver and a blocker, to be an elite all-around back. Take the two backs you mentioned, Sanders and Payton.

Sanders averaged 35+ receptions and 290+ yards per season. Payton averaged 37+ and 340+ and was also widely regarded as one of the best pass-blocking backs of all time. Peterson leaves the field on third down, and for the most part, defenses know he's only a threat to run the ball, not to catch it, as evidenced by his 40 total catches in two seasons.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 4:00pm

Is he dancing in the backfield, or is he just facing 9 guys in the box every down, and breaking a big one when he gets to the second level? I remember Ronnie Brown getting 2 yard/carry vs. the Steelers a couple years ago, and thinking it was the single most impressive game I'd ever seen by a RB because he should have been tackled for a loss on every play.

by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 7:02pm

I didn't pay as much attention to the 'box' for each handoff, so consider this with a caveat, but...I think Peterson was typically facing 8 in the box.

Think of it this way: you're a defensive coordinator, game-planning against an offense that shows a 75% chance of running on 1st-10, and on the 25% that they don't run, you're only looking at 5- to 7-yard dumpoffs to the tight end (which is what Jackson did when not handing off to AP).

You realize you don't need both safeties for deep help. You realize it's probably a run.

Eight in the box.

Then again (back to the 'elite back' comparison)...I'm not going to argue that the Lions (Sanders) had a great QB and full complement of receivers. Sanders probably faced stacked fronts, and he still worked his mojo. Likewise Payton.

by Harris :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:17pm

I'd love to know what Jim Johnson said at halftime other than, "Play better." The Vikings were 7 of 11 on third down in the first half only to convert 1 of 7 in the second half. It was a two point game until midway through the fourth, so it couldn't have been that the Eagles forced the Vikings to be one dimensional because they did that in the first half and Jackson burned them consistently.

Looking at the Game Book, Kluwe had a better average than Rocca (45.3 to 44.3), but Rocca's net was 44 compared with Kluwe's 31. It sure seemed like Rocca did a better job flipping the field, but maybe that was just a function of punt coverage.

ETA: The Eagles had 108 punt return yards compared with ONE for the Vikings. I daresay that explains a lot.

Hail Hydra!

by DavidL :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:34pm

Kluwe is a strong punter who has a bad habit of outdistancing his coverage team. One of a few reasons that more distance isn't always good.

by laberge :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 9:14pm

That must be it. One of the most maddening things about the Vikings for me this year has been the difference in punt returns. It seems like every time the Vikings punted this year, the returner had at least ten yards of free space while the Vikes returners always had multiple cover guys on top of them.

by Bad Doctor :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 2:57pm

I think the 7 for 11 was just a fluke. I was pretty happy with the Eagles defense throughout the first half, figuring that a Jackson-led offense couldn't keep up that rate of converting third downs. Also, until late in the half, Minnesota never converted a set of downs until third down, they just pecked away on first and second ... so I'd imagine you'd see a lot of 3rd and 2's to 5's in the first half game log. That seemed to change in the second half.

Sure enough -- the first conversion was the Taylor draw on 3rd and 11, but after that: 3rd and 3, 3rd and 3, 3rd and 6, 3rd and 3 (DPI on Brown for the conversion), 3rd and 2 (the AP TD) ... the second TD drive they finally got first downs before getting to 3rd down, so there was just one coversion and that was a 3rd and 4.

In the 2nd half, they converted 3rd and 8, then failed on 3rd and 6, 3rd and 1, 3rd and 5, 3rd and 13, 3rd and 10, converted a 3rd and 10 on a roughing the passer ... the last few third downs were in trash time.

by Pete (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:21pm

What is the rule for running a screen in the NFL? I thought that the OL had to be behind the Line Of Scrimmage when the pass was thrown. However, it looked to me like the center was at least two yards downfield on the Westbrook screen that went for a touchdown and another lineman or two may have been downfield when the pass was thrown.

by DavidL :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:32pm

Ineligible downfield is only called if the pass crosses the line of scrimmage. Westbrook caught the screen about a yard behind it.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:26pm

That's the college rule.

In the NFL, ineligible receivers are generally not allowed to be more than 1 yard downfield before a pass leaves the thrower's hand, regardless of whether the pass crosses the line of scrimmage. (Exceptions for if the blocker is forced downfield, or has been continuously engaged in a block from the line of scrimmage.)

After the pass has left the passer's hand, the ineligible receivers can go downfield, provided that they don't contact/block any defensive players beyond the line of scrimmage before the pass is touched (this would be offensive pass interference).

The full rule is Rule 8, Section 2, Articles 2-4.

by Mike Kurtz :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 6:26pm

Also note that sometimes (although not incredibly often), screen "passes" are actually backwards, and therefore laterals. The rules for forward passing would not apply if the QB threw the ball backwards to the receiver. I believe that happened once or twice this weekend (although the distinction didn't have any occasion to be raised).

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 5:34pm

EDIT: I will defer to Travis above me.

by BucNasty :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:44pm

Bill Barnwell: The flea-flicker was a bad play -- the Falcons didn't fall for it and the throw was into double coverage. Fitzgerald just made an astounding catch. The flea-flicker had nothing to do with it.

I remember the corner (Chris Houston?) stumbling as he was running with Fitz. He didn't go down, but it slowed him down enough to where he couldn't jump up to deflect the ball. Anyone know if his stumble was caused by dramatically shifting direction from biting on the handoff or if he simply lost his balance from running so fast?

ETA: Just saw Aaron's post, and am now convinced that he did bite on the fake.

by hector :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:32pm

Ben Riley: Let's stipulate that Adrian Peterson is an awesome player, perhaps the best in the NFL. With that out of the way, should he really be doing his best Usain Bolt impersonation and slowing down to wave the football around before he scores? He almost -- repeat, almost -- got caught before getting into the end zone.

I'm with you all the way, I hate seeing that stuff creep into the game. It's lazy, it's hotdogging, it's dangerous. Chris Johnson was very lucky Troy Polamalu didn't strip him in Week 16. Hot-dogging Antrel Rolle barely eluded a Matt Ryan swipe at the ball on his Saturday TD. Peterson, here. You celebrate in the end zone, guys, not before. Didn't Leon Lett and DeSean Jackson teach you anything? Heck, remember that Olympic snowboarder who flushed her gold medal with the "Hey, look at me!" moment?

Play smart, dammit.

by hector :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:40pm

Ben Riley: The Vikings apparently didn't study the gametape for the Eagles-Seahawks game in Week 9. If you rotate the safeties to take away Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson, unheralded Brent Celek will get open over the middle, and Donovan McNabb will not hesitate to throw to him. Why L.J. Smith had to lose his starting job via injury is beyond me. (Any thoughts on that, Mike?)

Teams never dig back that far in their prep unless they're looking for a specialty element or it's a rematch with a team. It's impractical to go back that far in most cases given how fluid the league is, and you don't have enough time to digest all that information, anyway.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:46pm

Maybe it was just me and I said this in the FOIRC room, but it looked like the Cardinals were keying in on Matt Ryan leaning back, where he'd often lean back anticipating the snap, in particular when they were passing. This was letting the Cardinals defensive line to get excellent jumps on the ball, especially inside. The Cards jumped offsides a few times because its not a fool proof tell (sometimes, he just leaned and they flew), but it was more correct than not.

The Falcons lost this game by never realizing this and failing to really fix it. They knew the Cards were getting a great pass rush, but not why, so they moved to a shorter, more ball control offense, which just made for easier playing from the Cardinals secondary who largely outclass the Falcons receiving core. It wasn't until late in the game where the Cardinals had (largely) wrapped it up and started playing back that the Falcons passing game showed more than a few flashes.

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 7:27pm

Todd McClure has a reputation for tipping the snap. He'd gotten better about not tipping the snap this year, possibly due to Paul Boudreau's line coaching, but it looked like he reverted to form on Saturday.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:55pm

"They want to see blood and guts and someone's helmet shoot through the spine of the quarterback ... unless it's their quarterback."

The final caveat here is if your qb is JT O'Sullivan. Then you're perfectly happy to see the little idiot get thumped. Maybe throw Grossman in too.

by MatMan (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:56pm

"...it sounds like the Cardinals had success with a flea-flicker. Have we ever examined how often that play works? Because I almost never see it *not* work.

Normally I hate trick plays unless I'm watching highlights, but the flea-flicker is the only "trick" play I like to watch my own team run. It involves a quarterback throwing the ball to a wide reciever, who is frequently wide open with no safety between him and the end zone. The flea-flicker kicks ass.

by chubbypuppy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:01pm

I take some solace in the Vikings success in that the organization will tie itself to Childress and Jackson for yet another year. Letting Pat Williams get older (and presumably fatter). Let AP get a year closer to free agency.

by Jero (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:03pm

Doesn't Millen know that Bill Schroeder is a long-ball driver in his second career?


*Becoming a CAPTCHA hater.*

by Unverified Telamon (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 2:26pm

"*Becoming a CAPTCHA hater.*"

Then register, lazy.

by Tom C. Huskey (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 8:51pm

"Then register, lazy."

On a scale with the inconvenience of CAPTCHA on one hand, and the amount of spam email I'd get for registering & the nature of some of the popups I've seen on this site on the other? I for one will deal with CAPTCHA :P

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 9:40pm

I've never gotten spam because of FO. Also, I block popups. Registration is recommended.

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

by JMM :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:04pm

Are most of the long developing, long passes under-thrown? I'd like to see a time-line of a flea-flicker. Something like.....hand-off at 1 sec, throw at 2.5 sec, in the air 4 sec for a time to catch of 6.5 seconds... Then I'd like to see how long a wide out would have to delay to catch up to the ball in stride at 50 yards down the field.

Is it the wide out isn't waiting and selling the run or are they just that fast compared to how far a QB can throw?

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:35pm

Did you guys miss the bit where Millen praises the Cardinals (i think) for shutting down Turner (i think)?

"... to me, the game is won up front!"

Yeah, Matt, helping you front 7 is what it's all about - go draft another WR!

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:36pm

Bill Moore: "Callendar was their only legit wide receiver threat for a team that topped out at No. 2"

Considering Callender was BC's running back, I think that phrase tells you everything you need to know about BC's wide receiver talent.

You can make a case that Flacco had more offensive skill talent at Delaware than Ryan did at BC in 2007. Omar Cuff (Delaware's RB) was better than anything Boston College had.

by Ralph (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:42pm

Kluwe is 6'4"/215 and DeSean Jackson is 5'10"/175.

So he does have a 40 pound and 6 inch advantage on him. I guess DeSean thought he couldn't outmaneuver or outrun him.

by Wanker79 :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:56pm

Me and a guy at the party I was at had the exact same exchange about Jackson ducking out of bounds instead of taking on Kluwe. If he had taken on Kluwe, he likely would have lost the collision and I'd hate to be the guy that got "jacked up" by a punter. That's the kind of highlight that nightmares are made of. In addition to Kluwe being bigger, Jackson was pinned to the sideline with a couple of Vikings closing in, so there really wasn't anywhere for him to go. Jawing at Childress was a dochebag move, though. That's just something that you don't do.

by Bad Doctor :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:17pm

Childress has that voice like the villain in the Saw movies ... no way I'm getting in his face, especially if I won't even take on a punter.

I thought DJack's antics couldn't get worse from the premature spike in the Cowboys game, but getting in Childress's face ... ugh. While the Eagles were putting their punt return team out there in the 4th, when it was still 16-14, it struck me, an Eagles fan, that if Jackson fumbled the punt over to the Vikings inside the ten, I really would have no choice but to be delighted inside. It would have been too fitting.

by kevinNYC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 1:51pm

Chris H...

Peterson had 103 yards on 21 carries last week against the Giants. Take out his 67 yard TD run and he averaged 1.8 yards per carry on his other 20 runs. That's how the league's leading RB is ranked 16th in DYAR and Minnesota's running game is ranked 21st in DVOA.

Looking at the ineptitude that is Tavaris Jackson and Brad Childress, I'm not even prepared to hint that Peterson is overrated until I see him with decent talent and coaching. If he was on the Giants, he might average 7 yards a carry.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 2:10pm

Back in the late 80s, early 90s, it seems like the flea-flicker was run much more often than today. I seem to remember the Esiason Bengals using it all the time.

by Wanker79 :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 2:15pm

While I'm about as far from confident about next week's game against the Giants as you can get, but the performance of the offense in yesterday's game isn't why I'm worried. Granted we're all Eagles fans, but multiple people I watched the game with yesterday noted that Philly couldn't buy a break. Sheldon Brown trying to catch an easy interception with his teeth. McNabb's fumble a millisecond before his arm started moving forward (I'm not saying it wasn't a fumble, it was clearly was and I'm absofreakinglutely shocked that Reid didn't waste a TO on a challenge). The touchback that was reversed on a challenge (I had no idea it was legal for the first guy to touch the ball to reestablish himself after leaving the field of play). The "in-the-grasp for a fraction of a second" sack (Buckhalter wasn't very far from where the ball landed, so I don't think there's intentional grounding there). Jackson recovering his fumble surrounded by Eagles. Minnesota had 3 penalties called on the final series of the game, on false start over 5 minutes into the 4th quarter, and not a single penalty called for the rest of the game (I didn't see any egregious non-calls, but still).

I'm sure you can probably cherry-pick plays like those from any game, but watching the game I just kept thinking that the game would have gotten out of control alot sooner than it did had they just caught a break or two.

by Harris :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:28pm

We are a fatalistic lot, but I felt the same way. Until about four minutes to play the Eagles had been called for seven penalties compared to one for the Vikings. After the touchback was overturned, I couldn't figure out how the Vikings were losing because they'd gotten every single break in the game.

Hail Hydra!

by RickD :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 2:16pm

"Bill Barnwell: The flea-flicker was a bad play -- the Falcons didn't fall for it and the throw was into double coverage. Fitzgerald just made an astounding catch. The flea-flicker had nothing to do with it."

Actually, Fitzgerald had at least one step on one DB and two steps on the other one. Warner placed the pass perfectly and the catch had little to do with luck.

I know the second DB was in the picture, but he had no play on the ball at all. You can see the separation better from the end zone replay.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 2:31pm

I’d just like to add that if this was Donovan McNabb’s last win in an Eagles uniform

The perpetual "the Eagles are going to get rid of McNabb!" thing is really getting old. They got Kolb as McNabb Injury Insurance, not to replace McNabb in a year or two.

Fans of other teams are perfectly welcome to hope and wish McNabb will come available, but the only people who consider ditching McNabb are Eagles fans.

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 2:59pm

You don't use a 2nd round pick on a QB whom you have absolutely no intention of turning into your starter. While Kolb might still be a couple years away from starting, he was no doubt picked with the intention of succeeding McNabb as starter as soon as necessary. I suspect the Eagles looked at McNabb's previous two years (with 9 and 10 starts respectively) and figured he would only become more injury-prone, hence the Kolb selection.

AJ Feeley was McNabb Injury Insurance. Kolb is Heir Apparent.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 4:07pm

Isn't it a Bill Walsh thing to always take a QB on the 1st Day, figuring you could never have enough QBs on the roster?

by Robo-Hochuli (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 4:24pm

I've always associated the "draft a QB every year" philosophy with Ron Wolf. I'm sure most people here remember the volume of QBs who backed up Favre in the '90s, then went on to start elsewhere in the league.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 7:30pm

Matt Hasslebeck, Aaron Brooks... who else?

by Foo (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 8:43pm

Mark Brunell and Ty Detmer? Looking at the Packers 90's draft they picked a quaterback almost every year...

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 6:02pm

I suspect the Eagles looked at McNabb's previous two years (with 9 and 10 starts respectively) and figured he would only become more injury-prone, hence the Kolb selection.

Um - in other words, you're saying that Kolb was picked as insurance in case McNabb became more injury prone.

I'm pretty sure that "McNabb," "insurance," and "injury" are in that sentence.

Since McNabb didn't become more injury prone, and in fact came back fine, they have no reason to replace him. There's absolutely no problem with spending a second-round pick on a backup quarterback if you can afford it. Most teams should do that.

by Kevin from Philly :: Tue, 01/06/2009 - 2:27pm

I seem to recall that they used a 3rd rounder on Ryan Moats to try to replace Westbrook. How'd that work out?

by MJ Posner (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:29pm

Feeley was not McNabb's insurance. He did not start in 06 when McNabb went down. The Eagles brought him back to replace their 3rd string quarterback, Koy Detmer. Kolb was drafted to sit, just like Aaron Rogers. Kolb wasl also drafted because Andy Reid claimed he was the best player available at that spot.

Kolb will backup McNabb next year as well imho.


by Bad Doctor :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:32pm

"I'd rather see this team buck the percentages a bit than lapse into their worst habit of throwing 4 million times."

Et tu, Tanier? The longer it stayed 16-14, the more I thought the Eagles were going to lose, and they were going to lose because they kept taking their one and two yard runs rather than going with the pass, which actually worked. Too many second and third and longs, even for McNabb, who was doing a good job with them in general. I was interested how the postgame analysis would go down. If Westbrook fumbled that screen and the Vikings ran it back, no doubt the wags would click their tongues that, up to that point, the "pass-wacky" Eagles had thrown 35 times and run only 17. But he broke the touchdown, they threw in some milking the clock runs, and everybody's happy that Andy didn't abandon that 1.9 yards per carry (outside of Buck's one carry) running game. Why? Because that keeps the defense honest and prevents them from pinning their ears back and going after your QB. 'Cause God knows the defense can't pin their ears back on second and third and long, when you're getting two yards a carry. Not to mention that the Eagles' key offensive play was successful largely due to the fact that the defense pinned their ears back and went after the QB.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:38pm

"Russell Levine: I loved the way Arizona played it on offense (except the end-around) in the final four minutes. So many teams in that situation try to grind out a first down on the ground and end up punting it right back to a team with momentum. They stayed on the attack instead of playing the clock. "

Russell, you can't make comments like that, and then complain when the team throws a pick, or fumbles (like the whole group of you were doing when buffalo lost to the jets, the cowboys lost to pittsburgh, etc)

by B :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 4:05pm

I disagree. Asking your pro-bowl caliber QB to make a play like this is much different then asking JP Losman to make it. Also, handing off to Hightower or Edge against a stacked line is less likely to work than handing off to Marion Barber or Lynch. Also, the play that Buffalo ran, even had it been successful, wouldn't have gotten a first down, as it was a short pass to a slow tight-end.

by Bad Doctor :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 4:28pm

Which reminds me ... I liked the end around. Or at least find it defensible. Arizona has a terrible rushing game and run blocking line. Yes, they did all right against a mediocre Atlanta D in the first three quarters, but the 4 minute offense is another story. So maybe they thought that just two safe runs had a 0% chance of getting the first down, and they'd end up punting from the Atlanta 40 with 2 minutes left, whereas the end around had a 20% chance of getting the first down, which sewed up the game, and an 80% chance of losing 10 yards, in which case they're punting from the 50 with 2 minutes left. Why not run the end around? (Of course, calcuation moot if you plan to throw on third down after losing 10 yards, but that's just crazy talk.)

by jimm (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 3:54pm

kevinNYC - I think A. Peterson's inability to block hinders the Vikings running game a great deal. If Peterson is in the game teams are pretty certain the Vikings are running. That's why you see 5 guys in the backfield immediately after every snap on a Peterson running play.

Teams figured that out last year after the SD game. Until Peterson learns how to block in the passing game the Vikings offence will be very predictable and hence easier to defend.

I think Madden said Peterson is the league best runner but he's not the league best running back.

by Wanker79 :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 5:20pm

That's probably the best description of Purple Jesus I've heard.

by Mikey 2009 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 5:59pm

"they could put someone off the street on TV and if he looks and acts the part, he'll be an expert next week. I call this the "Matt Berry effect.""

Brutal, and 100% true.

by Mikey 2009 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 6:06pm

Enjoyed the discussion of the flea-flicker. I often wonder why "trick" plays aren't used more often. Mike T's points on it being a high-risk play are well-taken but still, 14 net yards per play!

It's also fun to think about how two or three flea flickers per game might change the way safeties play the run. As it's currently used, a flea flicker does nothing to keep a defense honest because the play call is an aberration. A defense that sees it once is at virtually no risk of seeing it again even if it worked the first time.

by JasonK :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 6:38pm

My favorite flea-flicker is one that Jim Fassel's Giants ran about 6 years ago. Tiki took a toss sweep to the right, ran toward the sideline, stopped, and threw the ball overhand back across the field to Kerry Collins, who had backpedaled enough to make it a lateral. Collins then took about a 2-step windup and threw the ball as far as he possibly could, which hit Amani Toomer in stride on a post route.

by Key19 :: Tue, 01/06/2009 - 12:08am

I actually was thinking about just such a play when the Flea-flicker discussion was going on in the Audibles. Of course, I was hardly in the double-digits in terms of age when the play you referenced happened, and I wasn't really a die-hard football fan at that time either, so I don't remember that one. It makes sense to do it the way you described (and I envisioned) if you do it right. The defense should pursue to the runner 100%, and unless there is a situation in which the DE on the opposite side of the play decided to loop wide like a pass rush and then continue to pursue horizontally, there would be no one in the way of the throw.

by DGL :: Tue, 01/06/2009 - 11:15am

I recall the Steelers running a similar play in the Whisenhut era - an end-around to Randle-El, with Roethlisberger wandering out to the opposite side of the field as the defense pursues Randle-El, who stops and throws back across the field to Ben.

by Robwein (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 6:45pm

To stick up for Purple Jesus on one small point--although my first reaction was also "stop the taunting" on that first TD, on the replays it looked to me like he juked a little to check the defender's momentum and posit the possibility of a cutback. In so doing, his arm went up a bit, because we all know he carries the rock too loose. Not that he is above a little jackjaw, but I didn't see a Reggie Bush vs. Chicago deal here.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 9:40pm

I was writing last year that Peterson needed to become a good pass blocker in order to become a historically great player, and I expected him to be much better at it this year, which is why why I was again disappointed yesterday; on the Vikings first pass, Peterson was on the field, essentially whiffed on a blitzing linebacker, which forced Jackson to hurry into an incompletion. I can't remember who was on the field for the pick-six. If it was Peterson, it is not inconceivable that the reason why Jackson wasn't focused on the receiver as he should have been was because he was gunshy about having Peterson protecting against a blitz. It's interesting to read that I wasn't the only one who thought Taylor may have been more useful as the starter yesterday, especially against a team that stunts as much as the Eagles.

As to the Vikings' coaching, hey, I'd cheer if Wilf fired Childress tomorrow and named Leslie Frazier as head coach, who, like Mike Tomlin before him, I am nearly certain would be much better at the job than ol' Chilly. However, my view of Childress is mostly due to the fact that there is non-trivial evidence that Childress evaluates offensive talent poorly, especially at qb, which is a pretty unforgivable failing for a head coach with a background in offense. Jackson has now had about 20 starts, so it isn't inconceivable that he would still make great imrpovement, but as noted above, he'll be 26 next year, so he isn't exactly very young still, either. I'd be surprised, to say the least, if he yet turns out to be acceptable. As to going with Frerotte instead, let's keep in mind that ol' Gus had 5% (!) of his pass attemps intercepted this year, which meant that there is decent chance he would have thrown two pick sixes if he had played yesterday.

However, I am always hesitant to criticize playcalling when the quarterback sucks; sucking at qb greatly inhibits the variety of plays to be called, especially when the superstar running back can't block well against a good stunting defense. Of course, that merely calls into question the coach's personnel judgement again.

All in all, I liked this Vikings teams a helluva lot better than the ones that won playoff games in 2004 and 2000, even considering that the 2000 team made the conference championship game. Those teams were as soft as goosedown on defense, whereas this team was as nasty as they come on the line of scrimmage, on defense as well as offense. Even the non-star linemen are fun to watch; if you don't enjoy Herrera punching people in the mouth with great vigor, you just don't enjoy the essence of the game. In fact, I'd say that this team was better on the line of scrimmage than any Vikings team since Bud Grant's great teams of '69-'75, even including the late '80s teams that had guys like McDaniel, Zimmerman, Doleman, Thomas, and Millard in the trenches.

Finally, when one considers how badly McNabb, who was simply magnificient, outplayed Jackson, it is amazing to think that if Berrian catches the pass that hit him in the hands on about the Eagles 10 yard line, after Jared Allen stripped McNabb at midfield, the Vikings would very likely have had a one point lead, or even a five point lead, deep into the fourth quarter. That's with the Vikings missing two starting defensive lineman for the whole game, and their starting free safety for most of it. Hell, if Kevin Williams doesn't stumble, and open a clear path for McNabb's screen to Westbrook, this game might have been close to the bitter end.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 9:47pm

Doodness, I forgot to mention the utter stupidity of constructing a roster which revolves around sound defense and the running game, while neglecting to insure that the punt unit consistently improves your field position. Gee, the Vikings lose by 12 points on a day where their punting unit gives up field goal, and their quarterback throws a pick six. What a surprise!