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12 Dec 2011

Audibles at the Line: Week 14

compiled by Rivers McCown

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Thursday, December 8th

Cleveland Browns 3 at Pittsburgh Steelers 14

Rivers McCown: Browns! Steelers! Matchups that looked better in Football Outsiders Almanac 2011!

Danny Tuccitto: Since I've been chuckling at it the whole week, let me start things off by pointing out the melodramatic NFL Network commercials playing up this helluva-barnburner(-not!) up as a "storied divisional rivalry!" Yeah. Maybe 25 years ago.

Rivers McCown: Ben Roethlisberger goes down and it did not look good. I actually thought, at first, that he'd wind up with an ankle fracture. He was rather lucky here.

Tom Gower: Only a 7-3 game at half and into the third quarter. But for those two Steelers red zone fumbles both recovered by the Browns, this would be the game I think we all expected -- but those exist, and it's not. The big news is of course the state of Roethlisberger, who I think is probably having the best year of his career. If the Steelers go up two scores, this game has an excellent chance at being over because I don't think Colt McCoy can come back from that kind of deficit in less than 25 minutes of play.

Sunday, December 11th

New England Patriots 34 at Washington Redskins 27

Mike Kurtz: Rex Grossman Grossmans it up in his own end zone on third-and-long, shows absolutely no hurry, is strip-sacked, and Vince Wilfork lands on it. Washington's defense has to be ready to murder someone.

Rob Gronkowski just got his 14th receiving touchdown, one play after a 49-yard bomb where he made a sick diving catch, got up, and basically just ran down the sideline whilst ignoring puny Redskins defenders as they failed miserably at pushing him out of bounds.

Aaron Schatz: That Gronkowski play is incredible. I'm sure it will be in all the highlights this week. Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes are hanging off him as he's on the sideline, trying to bring him down, and somehow he shakes them while keeping his feet in bounds, then a few yards later he breaks another tackle from Josh Wilson. Phenomenal.

The Redskins offensive line is dismal today. Sean Locklear is playing left tackle, and Tyler Polumbus is at right tackle. The Redskins can pick on the Patriots defense when the line actually holds -- Donte' Stallworth had a great long catch where he beat Devin McCourty -- but the Patriots pass rush is going to have a good day. Interestingly, the Patriots are playing more 3-4 than 4-3 in the first quarter, with Andre Carter at defensive end and Mark Anderson, generally a pass-rush specialist, at outside linebacker. You don't see Anderson dropping into coverage much, but I've seen it today.

Vince Verhei: Locklear and Polumbus? If they add Walter Jones, Robbie Tobeck, and Chris Gray they can complete the Washed-Up Seahawks Lineman set!

Since nobody's specifically mentioned this, Gronkowski's touchdown set a single-season record for tight ends, with three-and-a-half games to go.

Home Email (aka J.J. Cooper): Before he had all kind of injuries, I thought Locklear was OK. No such defense can be given for Tyler Polumbus.

Aaron Schatz: Well, the Redskins figured out how to deal with their offensive line problems. Instead of leaving the quarterback in the pocket, just run a reverse and have the receiver pass the ball to another receiver who is completely open way down the field. Touchdown. Washington takes a 17-14 lead.

The Patriots offense is definitely off in the second quarter. Tom Brady's missed on a couple passes, and he doesn't seem to be on the same page as his receivers on option routes. In addition, the Redskins defense isn't just a good pass rush -- they are getting good coverage.

Vince Verhei: Redskins just got flagged on a completely B.S. unnecessary roughness call. Brady scrambles and sort of begins to slide. London Fletcher comes up to tackle him and makes contact well before Brady's knee or hips hit the ground. It was shoulder-to-shoulder, and Brady was clearly still up. According to Dan Dierdorff, the refs said there was a forearm to the head, but Fletcher's forearm hit the ball, which was at waist level, nowhere near Brady's head.

Aaron Schatz: I was going to bring that up, yeah, that's a terrible call. It didn't hurt the Redskins too much though, since they held the Pats to a field goal. I also wanted to mention the call on Carter for roughing the passer early in the quarter, when he hit Grossman below the knees about half a second after he throws the ball. This one is less of a questionable call, and more of a "this rule is impossible for players to follow" issue ... but I want to make sure I have this correct. If a defender dives at the quarterback's legs and takes him down with the ball in his hands, that's a sack. If he dives at the quarterback's legs and the quarterback throws the ball away after the defensive player has left his feet, that's roughing the passer. It seems awfully hard as a defender to stop yourself whilst diving in mid-air. This wasn't a play where Carter lunged at Grossman with an extra move after he had clearly gotten rid of the ball; Carter is going for a sack and he has no way to stop himself.

Vince Verhei: Gronkowski's second touchdown was his best play yet. He was actually being held by Ryan Kerrigan when Brady threw him the ball. Gronkowski caught the ball while being held, then fought off the tackle and rambled another 20-some yards into the end zone.

Rivers McCown: Gronkowski, I dub thee ROBO-TE.

Aaron Schatz: OK, I think Wilfork just got called for unnecessary roughness
for hitting a guy too hard, the same thing that happened with Ndamukong Suh and Jay Cutler last year. The Redskins' fullback slipped catching a screen, but no Patriots defender had touched him yet, so he's still alive. Wilfork came over, fell on him, and shoved him with his forearm. No helmet-to-helmet contact, no contact on a receiver who was already down, but unnecessary roughness anyway. I'm frustrated.

Mike Kurtz: Real-time, with the angle the line judge had on that play, he almost certainly thought that there was helmet-to-helmet contact.

Vince Verhei: I thought the Wilfork foul was the right call. Even if the runner was trying to get up (and it's not clear that he was), it was not necessary for the 400-pound man to drive his forearm into the runner's back. That was not an attempt to tackle a runner or touch him down. That was a deliberate attempt to hurt him.

Aaron Schatz: Aaron Hernandez really specializes in plays where he catches the ball, then spins away from the defender for extra yards after the catch.

The Pats might want to consider playing man coverage, you know, occasionally. Redskins receivers are just sitting there in the holes in the zone, pitch and catch.

Mike Kurtz: Rex Grossman is awful. Goal-to-go around the 15, and he throws a 5-yarder. Goal-to-go around the 10, throws another 5-yarder, except this one goes through Santana Moss's hands and is intercepted by the Patriots. The interception isn't Grossman's fault, technically, but nothing says "winner" like two passes not into the end zone when you need a touchdown to tie/win.

Mike Tanier: Eh ... I made a career out of Grossman jokes, but I can't lay that at his feet. Cross to Moss, see if he can slice into the end zone, when you have time for another play, not a bad idea.

Aaron Schatz: This was challenged, and the ruling was confirmed. Twice in this game, there were challenges on Patriots plays and the play on the field stood -- and I swear there was a huge cheer from the crowd after the call went in favor of the Patriots. Were there that many Patriots fans at this game today? I wouldn't think of Washington as a team that had lots of seats open for visiting fans to buy.

(P.S. I made this comment on Twitter and got a lot of response; apparently, Redskins fans were unloading their tickets and there was a huge Pats fans contingent at FedEx today. I guess the Redskins *are* that kind of team.)

Philadelphia Eagles 26 at Miami Dolphins 10

Mike Kurtz: Brandon Marshall catches a touchdown over Nnamdi Asomugha, and Philadelphia's epic squandering of his unique talent continues. Playing in a man scheme is just like playing in a zone scheme, right?

Vince Verhei: I'm confused by this comment. Are you slamming the Eagles coaching staff for still playing zone, or slamming Nnamdi for playing man defense poorly?

Mike Kurtz: Eagles staff. Always Eagles staff.

Tom Gower: Yeah, that touchdown looked like man coverage. It was a nice throw by Matt Moore, and Marshall just outjumped him. That the Eagles paired a great zone corner and a great man corner was not the cause of this particular touchdown.

Mike Kurtz: Fair enough.

Ben Muth: The Eagles just went split backs on first-and-goal from the 1. That is as insane to me as playing Nnamdi in zone for a whole year.

Aaron Schatz: Anybody want to hazard a guess why Philadelphia decided to tease everybody again today?

Mike Tanier: So far it is the Dolphins inability to cover or block anyone one-on-one. Oh, and having Michael Vick back helps

The Eagles have been great on short yardage stops. Or maybe the Dolphins have been terrible. I did find J.P. Losman's attempt to tunnel under the stadium for a first down interesting.

Houston Texans 20 at Cincinnati Bengals 19

Rivers McCown: T.J. Yates has overthrown every non-screen pass he's released so far today, yet the Texans and Bengals are tied 3-3 thanks to a goal-line stand and a 44-yard Ben Tate run.

The Bengals are getting good push in the run game, especially up the middle, but that may change now that Bobbie Williams has limped off. Shaun Cody has been getting blown off the ball -- this has really been the first time that the Texans run defense has been a negative since Week 3.

Oh, and Tate fumbled on goal-to-go. That hurt.

Rob's boy Jerome Simpson just caught a nice post from Andy Dalton, under pressure, to put the Bengals up 13-3.

The Bengals drive from inside their own 5 all the way to a field goal almost solely due to A.J. Green. He drew a ~25-yard defensive pass interference on Johnathan Joseph, then beat double coverage on an underthrown deep ball by Dalton to get them in the red zone. He's been extremely impressive.

Yates just ran play-action on a pass without a running back behind him.

Mike Tanier: Dunno if I go for it on fourth-and-2 in long field goal range, down by nine, early in the fourth, with my rookie third-stinger at quarterback.

Rivers McCown: Neil Rackers already missed a 47-yarder, and didn't look like he had a lot of distance on his made figgie. I don't like it either, but I think it looks better if you decide your only other option is punting.

Arian Foster fumbles on a screen pass, but the Bengals kick it around after picking it up once and eventually Eric Winston falls on the ball at his own 2-yard line, which due to the momentary change of possession, gave the Texans a first down. Gary Kubiak challenges it -- it did look like an incomplete pass -- but the refs upheld the ruling. Would you rather have the extra down or the 20 yards of field position in that case?

Aaron Schatz: I think I would rather have the 20 yards because it gets me out of the shadow of my own end zone. The value of every successive yard is higher on both ends of the field, I wouldn't want to have to worry about a safety.

Just saw a replay of the final Houston-Cincinnati play. It looks like a blown coverage of some sort. Kevin Walter is over on the far right, Kelly Jennings has him. After the snap it looks like man across the board, except when Walter slants inside, Jennings just points towards him and drops back a bit. Did Jennings think someone would pick Walter up inside, either in a zone or some sort of switch? Nobody did, and that's how Houston got the touchdown.

Robert Weintraub: It wasn't a blown coverage, it was a clever pick play --Jennings passed off as they were playing zone along the goal line, but the two inside receivers crossed and picked off Nate Clements, who went down in the muck. Walter, coming from the outside, was thus alone.

The bigger problem was rushing three on the biggest play of the game against a rookie third-stringer who struggled under pressure all game. Yates had escaped what should have been a sack a few plays earlier to get a Tebow-esque first down on third-and-15, so perhaps Zimmer was gunshy.

Danny Tuccitto: My dream of not having to follow through with that tiger suit bet lives to see another week!

Robert Weintraub: Nothing for me to say about the Bengals, other than it is comforting to know that after 11 weeks of un-Bengals bizarro world football, Cincy gets crushed in Pittsburgh and loses a heartbreaker in a game they absolutely need. In other words, business as usual.

Part of me is relieved -- I'd hate for Cincy to play the Broncos in the playoffs and get Tebowed.

Tim Gerheim: As a Texans fan, I'm still in shock, even borderline skeptical, that they won the division. Like I'm going to wake up in a few hours and it'll be Sunday morning. When I saw Houston was third in DVOA a few weeks ago, I got vertigo. When they hit first place, I felt a confusing combination of pride and dread, because that cannot reflect reality. I doubt that fans of most teams, the kind of team that goes to the playoffs sometimes and may have been to a Super Bowl, can understand how this feels.

By the end of the game I was watching at the bar with a Jets fan whose game had been switched off by the local affiliate; he came over to root against Cincinnati, for wild card reasons. (Aside: how lame is it that if you have Sunday Ticket, if the local station switches away from a blowout, that blowout is still blacked out on its Ticket channel?) When the Texans got first down at the 6 after the pass interference with 12 seconds left, he started talking about how they had time for three plays, and concluded that they were going to win.

But I'm a Texans fan, so all I could think was that I'd seen this movie before. Matt Schaub threw an interception in the same situation in the Raiders game this year. He threw the pick-six to the Ravens in overtime last season. The Texans don't win these games. They don't make the playoffs. That doesn't reflect a bag-over-the-head feeling that they're not a good team -- they've been a good team for going on three years now. They're not cursed; they're not afflicted by Murphy's Law; they
don't have bad luck; they just experience an ineffable lack of success.

Now, the Texans won their division and are (for now, rather meaninglessly) the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and it's forcing a complete paradigm shift. And I love it.

Rivers McCown: Improbable really isn't a strong enough word for what being a Texans fan is like right now. Andre Johnson has been out for most of the season, Schaub is gone, Schaub's backup is gone, Mario Williams is gone, Foster has missed time -- and yet, they just keep chugging along. This is a team that, even up until last season, would routinely blame their problems on injuries -- as if every team in the NFL didn't have to deal with the same thing -- and now they're weathering the worst storm they've ever had with a third-string quarterback and a defense that consists of Joseph, Danieal Manning (who has also missed time), two rookies, and seven guys that played on one of the worst defenses in NFL history last season.

I know they have played a weak schedule, I know I have my doubts about Yates versus a Steelers or Ravens-level (or heck, even a Jets or Broncos-level) pass defense. But man, this has been a completely pleasant surprise from the team that, up until this year, I could always count on to ruin my Sunday in some completely inconceivable way.

Danny Tuccitto: Rivers, that was spoken like a true 49ers fan. Well, most of it anyway. San Francisco hasn't had the injury issues, but it is definitely nice to be pleasantly surprised for once after almost a decade of inconceivably ruined Sundays. Easy schedule and offensive concerns going forward, be damned!

New Orleans Saints 22 at Tennessee Titans 17

Tom Gower: Confounding my predictions, it's only a 3-0 game in the first quarter thanks to a Darren Sproles third-down drop in the red zone and a pair of holding penalties on the Saints, one negating a punt return touchdown by Sproles and the other putting them in second-and-long and forcing a punt at midfield. Jimmy Graham is obviously hobbled by what's reportedly back spasms.

Ben Muth: This Saints-Titans game has been ugly to start the second quarter. There's already been two false starts, a roughing the passer, a block in the back, and a hold (this one was questionable). Now Matt Hasselbeck is hurt, and Jake Locker is in on second-and-35.

Tom Gower: The game in Nashville has officially descended into a flagfest, The current Saints drive has featured flags on three straight plays, although the latest was picked up. The big storyline though is that Hasselbeck is out of the game with what's reportedly a left calf injury, sustained without contact. Locker had a nice pass to Craig Stevens that set up a field goal to make it a 3-3 game; I'll reserve further comment on his play until later in the game.

Lance Moore drops a touchdown pass, and the Saints go into the half with a 6-3 lead. Drew Brees is 19-of-27 for 149 yards, as most of the efforts to throw downfield have not been successful and nobody bothered to tell the Saints the Titans' corners are pretty good at tackling. Chris Johnson has been much less productive than I anticipated, with five yards on five carries in the first half.

On third-and-goal, the Saints do what they should've been doing all along: spreading the Titans out and isolating them one-on-one. Brees hits Graham, but unfortunately, Graham doesn't catch the ball cleanly at first and his foot just barely nicks the edge of the out of bounds area, so Sean Payton loses his challenge. 9-3 Saints, rather than 13-3.

I keep forgetting other teams' defensive backs can't tackle. Apparently Gregg Williams did as well. Locker gets the throw out before the New Orleans blitz gets home, and Patrick Robinson whiffed on Damian Williams, allowing him to pick up 54 yards and set up a Locker dive into the end zone. The Saints are driving at the dawn of the fourth quarter, but the Titans lead the game, 10-9.

Brees has something like one incompletion in the second half on 18 passes, that being the Graham touchdown that nearly was. The Saints' last four possessions have ended in scores, the most recent two on downfield scores to Marques Colston. Payton eschewed the two-point conversion at 15-10, but went for it at 22-10 and failed. Somehow, the Titans score in three plays, including a Locker scramble and a long touchdown pass that hits Nate Washington over the coverage on a vertical seam pass. 22-17, six minutes to play, and this game has been a heck of a lot more entertaining than I was anticipating.

Ben Muth: On a big third-and-5 Karl Klug stunts inside and sacks Brees, to get the ball back to Locker down one score. The sack occurred because Carl Nicks didn't know which way the center was going. It was clear he thought Brian de la Puente was sliding with him, so he let the lineman go, but de la Puente was working right, so it was an easy sack. He must have misheard the call.

Vince Verhei: Saints let the Titans drive down the field partially due to bad tackling, and partially due to rampant zone coverage that Tennessee exploited. Titans have a goal-to-go, needing a touchdown to win, but on third down Locker is pressured, scrambled, can't find a man, and takes a sack. Game over.

Locker hit a few big passes, but he looks like the same passer he was in college. If his primary receiver is covered, the play is dead. If the primary receiver is open, he'll probably overthrow him anyway. And if he does have a chance to make one play to win the game at the end, he'll come up short.

Tom Gower: I'll take a detailed look at Locker's play later this week, but I'm on board with Vince's little writeup. If his first read is available, he'll take that and may miss him, otherwise he'll look to escape the pocket.

Ben Muth: I thought Johnson looked awful. He was back to just diving or lunging forward for two yards if there weren't huge holes right away. Then, in what turned out to be a huge play in the fourth quarter, he caught a swing pass with a ton of open space and just one man to beat. Not only did he not make the guy miss, but he got stuffed a half-yard short of the first down. A first down Tennessee couldn't convert on third or fourth down.

As far as Locker goes, he's definitely fun to watch. He moves well and throws a pretty ball (not really accurate, but it looks good in the air). That being said, it seems like he'd be impossible to pass block for because he looks to abandon the pocket almost immediately on every play where his first read isn't open.

Atlanta Falcons 31 at Carolina Panthers 23

Home Email (aka J.J. Cooper): It has been a rough year for Sam Baker. He has deservedly lost his spot as the starting left tackle for the Falcons, and for at least one play, his new role as a right guard isn't going any better. Baker was beaten badly to the inside for a safety. Matt Ryan held the ball for 2.9 seconds, but it is pretty easy to point the finger at Baker on this one.

Vince Verhei: I hope J.J.'s comment on Ryan's sack is attributed to "Home E-mail" in Audibles tomorrow.

Rivers McCown: Consider it done. Home Email is my favorite FO poster.

Home Email (aka J.J. Cooper): Argh. Sending from my new Nook Tablet. Is it botching my email address?

Vince Verhei: On the Google groups webpage, where most names go, it just reads "Home Email." Don't feel bad. Mine just said "Vince" for years until I figured out how to fix it. Tanier got some new gadget last year and became "Mike Taniet" for a while.

Mike Kurtz: Yeah, the new Nooks are great, but the email program is kind of a disaster.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14 at Jacksonville Jaguars 41

Brian McIntyre: With two lost fumbles in the first half today, Buccaneers punt returner Preston Parker has cemented this week's David Reed Special Teams Goat of the Week Award.

Tom Gower: The Jacksonville Jaguars have scored 28 points in the first half of today's game against the Bucs. That 28 points is not only more than the Jaguars scored in any of their 24 previous halves of play this season, but it also represents the most points they've scored in a single game. And all of the points came in the final eight minutes of the second quarter. This game does not make sense sometimes.

Vince Verhei: Taking Tom's point on the Jaguars further: The Jags scored 21 points in less than two minutes late in the second quarter. That is also more points than they had scored in a single game this year.

Aaron Schatz: Two defensive touchdowns for the Jaguars, right?

Tom Gower: One special teams, after the Bucs fumbled a punt, and one defensive, off a sack and fumble. The two offensive touchdowns would have been remarkable enough in their own right, though.

Indianapolis Colts 10 at Baltimore Ravens 24

Home Email (aka J.J. Cooper): The announcers brought up that the Colts are trying to avoid their first 0-13 start since 1995. It is safe to say if your team has had a previous 0-13 streak to compare to your current one, your franchise has had some pretty dark moments. I wonder how many franchises have ever had an 0-13 start to the season?

Kansas City Chiefs 10 at New York Jets 37

Mike Tanier: The Jets just marched down the field on a roughing the passer penalty and two defensive pass interference calls. The Chiefs are probably going to have negative net yards today.

Minnesota Vikings 28 at Detroit Lions 34

Vince Verhei: Christian Ponder is benched after three interceptions and a pair of fumbles. Joe Webb comes in and scrambles right. All the receivers run to the left, and since Detroit's man-to-man defenders had followed them, Webb had an easy 65-yard touchdown run. Have we ever looked at quarterback rushing yards allowed as a measure of whether teams favor man or zone coverage? We'd have to adjust for opponent to account for the Michael Vicks and Tim Tebows of the world, but I think it could be a solid indicator of defensive scheme.

San Francisco 49ers 19 at Arizona Cardinals 21

Vince Verhei: Early candidate for balls of the week award: On their opening drive, San Francisco goes for it on fourth-and-5 from the Arizona 38. Alex Smith scrambles, starts to run, collects himself, and dumps it off to Kendall Hunter for the first down. I'd have expected a defense-first team like San Francisco to punt there.

Danny Tuccitto: It's amazing how, every week, the 49ers put out the same product: plodding-yet-imaginative offense, field goals in the red zone, stellar defense against an offense that can't get out of its own way, and a great special teams play or two. Oh, and of course, all of this results in a 6-0 game at some point in the second quarter. If I have some family obligation from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday from here out, feel free to recycle this audible.

Vince Verhei: More balls: San Francisco is, as usual, ahead 6-0. They're about to kick another field goal, but it's a fake! For a touchdown! By Jonathan Goodwin! Only the play is blown dead, because Arizona is apparently challenging the spot of the ball on the third-down play. Too bad. David Akers misses the ensuing 50-yard field-goal attempt.

One snap later, Early Doucet lines up in the slot, runs a slant, breaks one tackle, and gets some big blocks downfield for a 60-yard touchdown.

Danny Tuccitto: Basically, this game just went from 13-0 San Francisco to 7-6 Arizona because the referee didn't realize the ball had already been snapped before Arizona's challenge. Seriously, listen to the audio of the replay. Why do officials force me to rip them?

Mike Tanier: From what I've seen of this game, the Cardinals took copious notes of what the Ravens pass rush was doing on Thanksgiving night.

Danny Tuccitto: Now the refs pick up a flag for leverage against Arizona on the 49ers latest possibly nullified (non-fake) field goal attempt. FOX replay seemed to show leverage (at least from my biased perspective). It's incredibly difficult to analyze the game play when my brain is awash with officiating disbelief.

At the end of the first half in Arizona, the only mystery left seems to be, "Which field goal record is San Francisco trying to break today?" If, at 12-7, they keep up this pace, Akers has a shot to tie Rob Bironas' record of eight made field goals in a game, as well as former Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers' record of 40 in a season. (He's currently at 36 with the four makes so far.)

True to form, the 49ers start the second half by reminding weary fans that they can, in fact, score touchdowns. On the first play of their first drive, they use jet sweep action from Ted Ginn to send Arizona's linebackers bailing to the outside. That leaves Goodwin and Mike Iupati free to open an HOV lane inside for Frank Gore, who runs it 37 yards to paydirt with an assist from a Michael Crabtree downfield block.

Ben Muth: Larry Fitzgerald makes a nice catch on a poorly-thrown post route and takes it for a long score. The Cardinals are getting dominated, but thanks to two big plays, they only down five.

Danny Tuccitto: With all the deceptive tactics that he loves to employ, this game has to be killing Jim Harbaugh, because the offense has now tipped its hand twice without the play even counting.

First, there was that fake field goal nullified by an in-play Whisenhunt challenge. Then, they just tried to run the actual jet sweep to Ginn that was feigned on Gore's touchdown run. However, Goodwin didn't snap the ball, and Smith decided to blow a timeout rather than just do some kind of aborted play QB sneak. What sucks about those, obviously, is that it's not like he can go to the well again once the element of surprise is lost.

Tom Gower: A Fitzgerald catch and run brings the Cardinals to the red zone, and a John Skelton pass to Andre Roberts gives the Cardinals a touchdown and a 20-19 lead, after which Ken Whisenhunt naturally elects to kick the extra point.

Danny Tuccitto: The silver lining I'm taking away from this incredibly uninspired performance by the 49ers is that the defense really hasn't regressed much, if at all, without Patrick Willis today. The Cardinals have basically gotten all of their offense (and points) from a handful of big plays. That's the fault of the back end, especially given how much pressure San Francisco's getting with their four-man rush. The run defense, as per usual, has been stout.

I would love to know why, on the 49ers' fourth-down play with two minutes left, Vernon Davis, who was kept in to block (for some reason) proceeds to both block no one. He then amplifies this by standing around 20 yards deep in the backfield, seemingly uninterested in helping a running-for-his-life Smith in any way. He could have leaked out. He could have blocked someone when he had a second (and third) chance to do so. Instead, he did neither.

Tom Gower: I don't know what does a better job of reducing me to incomprehensibility: the 49ers' final possession of today's game or the last couple minutes of regulation and the three-and-a-half minutes (and counting) of overtime in Denver-Chicago.

Ben Muth: How many more games does John Skelton have to win before he gets the "just win games" treatment? Two? Three?

Chicago Bears 10 at Denver Broncos 13

Mike Kurtz: Charles Tillman just intercepted Tim Tebow, and it was one of the most beautiful catches I've ever seen. The receiver fell down, but the throw was high, so Tillman fully extended, snatched it out of the air, pivoted on one foot, went rigid, and tagged the second foot as he fell down. I'm not sure he even touched the receiver. Just gorgeous.

Ben Muth: Lance Briggs just got called for roughing the passer on a play where he didn't hit Tebow hard enough to knock him down.

Aaron Schatz: Remember my complaint earlier about Andre Carter? Same thing just happened to Israel Idonije.

Mike Tanier, I think, wrote last week about how the Denver offense looked like more of a standard passing offense last week, and I think the same thing is true this week. There's a lot of Tebow in the pocket, looking for receivers like a standard quarterback. The difference is that the Chicago Bears defense isn't blowing coverages right and left the way the Vikings did last week, so Tebow doesn't have open guys most of the time.

Mike Tanier: I also wrote that every Niners game begins with three field goal attempts! And check how I presaged that safety in the Eagles game! I'm Nostrafreakindamus! The world will end on March 23, 2017!

Mike Kurtz: Tebow's statline actually looks far worse than it should ... his receivers are dropping everything.

Vince Verhei: Denver comes out with a pistol formation in the second half. They run play action and Demaryius Thomas runs a post pattern, blowing by Tillman for what should be a long touchdown. Tebow's pass is thrown too far ahead and Thomas can't bring it in. This is a "Tebow Special" incompletion, where it was just barely possible for Thomas to make a superhuman catch, but he couldn't quite pull it off.

Ben Muth: The Broncos punt to Devin Hester, who makes like three guys miss right on the sideline, reverses his field, and takes it inside the 50. The Bears end up punching it in on a Marion Barber run, ruining my dream of a 0-0 tie.

Vince Verhei: Robbie Gould takes advantage of the Denver atmosphere, drilling a 57-yarder with plenty of leg to spare. 10-0 Chicago.

You know who should be the MVP of the Denver-Chicago game, even if the Broncos lose? Britton Colquitt. He's punted eight times for a 45-yard average, and he's only allowed Hester to try two returns. Obviously, kicking in Denver helps, but he's done a fine job of gaining field position while neutralizing Chicago's most dangerous weapon.

Aaron Schatz: Tebow had 11 straight incomplete passes. He's now 10-for-12 since then, primarily in the fourth quarter, and one of those incompletes was a really awful drop by Demaryius Thomas. Ridiculous. Oh, and he just found Thomas wide open in the end zone for a touchdown with 2:08 left to make it 10-7 Chicago.

Vince Verhei: Denver gets the ball down 10 with four minutes to go. They go prevent, and Tebow dinks and dunks down the field, completing six passes in a row to put Denver into the end zone just before the two-minute warning. Most of the completions were for 10 yards or less.

Chicago recovers the onside kick (barely). They run three plays and punt, but they don't kill much clock because the two-minute warning was up after first down, and Marion Barber stupidly ran out of bounds on second down. The Denver Tebows have the ball at their own 19, no timeouts, down three, 56 seconds to go.

And of course, the Bears play the softest zone ever until Denver crosses midfield. It was like they were up 30, not three. Once the Bears decided to play real defense, the drive promptly stalled. They showed Matt Prater drilling 70-yard kicks in practice, so the 59-yarder here is academic, and we're going to overtime.

Aaron Schatz: Those 70-yard field goals they show before the game are meaningless. Every field goal kicker kicks long field goals in practice before the game. There's nobody out there trying to block it, no need to worry about the angles, and no pressure. It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't tell us anything about Prater's ability to hit a 59-yarder. You know what does tell us about Prater's ability to hit a 59-yarder? A map that shows that this game is taking place in Denver.

The Tebow thing is amazing, because it's amazing what kind of crazy mistakes by opponents have helped all these wins. Ponder's pick, Barber going out of bounds, just crazy stuff.

Mike Kurtz: I'm not sure any player has ever chopped as much wood as Marion Barber did in the past 5 minutes of gametime.

Vince Verhei: The Broncos are lining up for a 51-yard field goal. Everyone in the bar is crowded under the TV asking "Can he do it again?" "He?" Is Tebow kicking now?

Mike Kurtz: Another week of avoiding football media, I guess.

Mike Tanier: Bad news, son. You ARE football media.

Mike Kurtz: Mind = blown.


Oakland Raiders 16 at Green Bay Packers 46

Ben Muth: Green Bay gets touchdowns from Ryan Grant and Ryan Taylor. That makes 18 different Packers who have scored this year. That's the most in the NFL this year, and has got to be at least approaching the record right?

Rivers McCown: If this game doesn't fix the Packers DVOA, nothing will.

Tom Gower: Apparently, 31-0 is the largest deficit the Raiders have faced at halftime in franchise history, with the previous record being 30-0 to the Chargers ... back in 1961, when Al Davis was an assistant for the Chargers.

When the defensive line isn't making a difference, Oakland has a lot of trouble winning.

Mike Tanier: The Raiders aren't going to do much against a team whose greatest weakness is its secondary with Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford hurt. The guys we made fun of them for drafting are Carson Palmer's only targets.

Vince Verhei: Latest sign that it's just not Oakland's day: Randall Cobb opens the second half with a long kickoff return. Oakland wants to challenge the call, saying Cobb stepped out of bounds before he was tackled, but the replay system isn't working and there's nothing the refs can do.

Meanwhile, we at home are watching the play repeatedly, from different angles, in slow motion...

Buffalo Bills 10 at San Diego Chargers 37

Tom Gower: Ryan Mathews is gashing the Bills on the ground early, mostly outside, but also on a big cutback run up the middle. Antonio Gates is reminding everyone that he's still a productive pass-catcher. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been picked and missed David Nelson, I believe, downfield on third down. At least the Bills blocked an extra point, so it's only 16-0.

I miss Aggressive Chan Gailey. Trailing 16-0 with less than four minutes to play in the second quarter, on fourth-and-ten from the Chargers 35, Gailey elects to attempt the field goal rather than, say, go for it. The field goal misses, and the Chargers are across midfield in one play.

Seriously? Seriously? Seriously? The Bills cut the deficit to 16-3 on the opening drive of the second half, and then Philip Rivers drops back to pass on third-and-seven. There's a screen set up to Mike Tolbert, but as Rivers brings his arm back the ball slips out, and Bryan Scott recovers in the end zone for a touchdown. It will be among the most NORV things ever if San Diego loses this game.

New York Giants 37 at Dallas Cowboys 34

Tom Gower: Let's give Ahmad Bradshaw some knucklehead props for getting benched by apparently missing curfew. And more bonehead props for Tony Romo for that safety. And to Kevin Gilbride for throwing two fades after that big pass play.

Mike Tanier: The fade to Travis Beckum was particularly inspired

Tom Gower: On the John Phillips screen, really nice awareness and mobility by Doug Free to stay legal, then get downfield and take out the defender.

Aaron Schatz: Felix Jones is reminding us why we all thought he was pretty good before he struggled early this year and DeMarco Murray swept in to make everybody forget him.

Vince Verhei: Tony Fiammetta is also playing well tonight, putting Giants defenders wherever he wants them. This is not unusual.

On the radio, James Lofton also knocked the Cowboys for calling the fade pass after the big play. Add that to the "things to study some day" list -- how do offenses fare after big plays that are not touchdowns?

Danny Tuccitto: "Faring poorly after big plays that are not touchdowns" is basically the story of the Niners red zone offense this year. They get a ton of turnovers in opponents' territory that they return to the 10-or-so-yard line, and the offense settles for field goals. Happened today again actually. Also featured today: they get a Ginn punt return to the 4-yard line (no clue how he didn't score), and offense settles for a field goal. Of course, in the specific case of the 49ers, it would be nice if they actually threw the ball into the end zone when they get to the red zone. Today, it was borderline comical how practically every red zone pass was intended for a receiver that wasn't going to score even if completed. But I digress...

Vince Verhei: Lofton was referring to big offensive plays only though, the theory being that offenses are out of breath after big plays, particularly the linemen who have to move their fat bodies (Mr. Muth excluded, obviously) down the field and get set.

Aaron Schatz: I definitely feel like we're seeing a lot of good run blocking tonight, this has been a good back-and-forth game.

On the other hand, David Diehl is not having a good night pass-blocking.

Rivers McCown: Well, there's a reason the Giants moved him inside, methinks.

Mike Tanier: Jason Garrett just called a timeout early in the third quarter. Maybe he should call all three now, just in case.

Vince Verhei: On third-and-3 in the third, Laurent Robinson is open in a hole in the zone, but Tony Romo throws slightly ahead of him. That's the first incompletion to Robinson tonight -- he caught each of the first three passes thrown his way for 63 yards and a touchdown. I just wanted to point out that in the Week 10 edition of Quick Reads, I predicted Robinson would have a big game tonight. Got that one right, at least.

Tom Gower: DeMarco Murray reportedly has a right ankle fracture and high ankle sprain. Do you trust Felix and whatever else you have behind you enough the rest of the year, and shouldn't you have more than two running backs active when both of them have an injury history and one of them has missed time this year?

Mike Tanier: Is Julius Jones available? Ladell Betts? Maybe Sean Payton can send the Cowboys the numbers of all the running backs he had to pull off the scrap heap last year.

Danny Tuccitto: I'm starting to get the feeling that Dez Bryant is going to end up with one of those Jacoby-Jones-esque DYARs this week, and it's entirely because Romo can't seem to hit the farm tonight, let alone the broadside of its barn.

OK, correction: Romo can hit barns named "Laurent Robinson" and "Miles Austin," misses farm named "Dez Bryant."

Aaron Schatz: Ha! You'll have to take that back, because Romo found Bryant WIDE OPEN for a 50-yard touchdown. And I mean, wide wide wide open. What a blown coverage.

Eli Manning, meanwhile, has made some ridiculous throws in this game with guys in his face. He just chucked it 25 yards to Victor Cruz while falling backwards with a guy in his face.

Danny Tuccitto: Progression to Romo's Bryant-accuracy mean was inevitable at some point. Also, I'm wondering what the game-charting record for "blown coverage" touchdowns is between the two teams combined.

To make a self-serving philosophical point, some of the blown coverages in this game are perfect examples of why having the All-22 film for every play would be nice. I know one of the blown Cowboys coverages was because they were simply caught off-guard after a hasty substitution. However, what about some of the others Specifically, were the offenses setting them up earlier in the game? That kind of chess-game stuff is totally inaccessible without the All-22 film, and I personally think a lot of the unexplained variance in play-by-play football analysis is contained in that black box.

p.s. By "black box," I specifically meant the play-by-play strategy-related stuff, not having the All-22 film in general. To say the latter is kind of "duh." Having the film's one thing, but being able to use that film to decipher specific tactics and strategies is quite another.

p.p.s. I think I just used up the last of my lifetime quota for the word "stuff."

Aaron Schatz: Kevin Boothe is not a very good center. His bad snaps keep being saved either by Eli or by Dallas penalties.

Danny Tuccitto: Prediction: Depending on the outcome of the last minute of this game, the comments section of Audibles tomorrow will contain a discussion of either (a) the Cowboys should have let the Giants score, or (b) the Giants left too much time.

Robert Weintraub: If only the kick had been no good before the Coughlin time out, the circle would have been perfectly squared.

That works, too.

Mike Kurtz: I hate this ending just because it adds more anecdotal evidence for icing, which means more annoying icing.

Robert Weintraub: The NFL needs to abolish the red line to rid us of all this icing...

That was a T.J. Yates-esque performance by Eli.

Danny Tuccitto: Given the outcome, I guess the Audibles comment thread will include a discussion of both (a) and (b)? Cowboys should have let the Giants score on first down and the Giants left too much time?

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 12 Dec 2011

316 comments, Last at 16 Dec 2011, 5:32am by td


by theslothook :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 4:11pm

you're right to a degree...but part of it is brady is able to compensate for wide rushers so thats really brilliance on him. Still, the excellent interior o line allows brady to play to his strengths of short passing. And really, thats the system. Its a system that allows brady to throw short the majority of the time. And no, its not an easy system to run because you need the receivers and o line to run it. Go look at the bears, colts or 49ers when they try to throw short. Its almost always for no gain and often times, you get rushers right in the face of the qb. Rush up the middle almost never happens to brady.

by theslothook :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 4:11pm

you're right to a degree...but part of it is brady is able to compensate for wide rushers so thats really brilliance on him. Still, the excellent interior o line allows brady to play to his strengths of short passing. And really, thats the system. Its a system that allows brady to throw short the majority of the time. And no, its not an easy system to run because you need the receivers and o line to run it. Go look at the bears, colts or 49ers when they try to throw short. Its almost always for no gain and often times, you get rushers right in the face of the qb. Rush up the middle almost never happens to brady.

by theslothook :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 5:08am

i also want to say, at the risk of inciting an FO riot, that it isn't just sour grapes that many of us feel that brady is somewhat of a system player. Fo documented this 2 years back when cassel was inserted for brady. After about week 8, Cassel started absolutely lighting it up on offense. In fact, looking over the last 8 weeks, the pats had the number 1 passing offense in the league and actually posted a better dvoa in teh 2nd half than those record breaking patriots did with brady. Even if you pretend like cassel was somehow a hall of famer in the making, that was his first start since highscool and not even the great tom brady looked great in his first season. the pt isn't to insinuate brady sucks. FAR from it. DID YOU HEAR ME PATS FANS, BRADY IS NOTHING LESS THAN A HALL OF FAME QB.

but, in trying to judge individual players, one has to make judgements based of prior evidence and try to parse through credit to certain individuals. The case study with manning versus brady where both people missed a season is our only way to judge things. The results are pretty clear. Sure, the colts talent is nowhere near the pats, but in retrospect, people were still comparing brady and manning's numbers as if their talent WAS EQUAL. THey compared their playoff pedigree like each PLAYER HAD THE SAME DEfense and coaching staff. The truth is, they don't and the fact that cassel succeeded implies that he plays in a qb friendly system. Brady is a great hall of famer, yes! But the real question is, is he better than brees or manning( lets hold of on rodgers till we've had more body of work). I would argue probably not.

by BSR :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 9:10am

Cassel was on a loaded team, which had nearly been perfect the year before, and had one of the easiest schedules. This Colts team sucks and was going to be a marginal team even with Manning. The fact that the team sucks and had not even bothered to develop a suitable back up to Manning does not give credit to Manning, it means the team sucks. You get credit for what you do, not what teams do without you.

I simply can't understand why some people have such a hard time admitting to themselves that Brady is just as good as Manning. The gradations between Manning, Brees, Brady and now Rogers is pure fanboy rhetoric. Cases can probably be made for each as to who the best, but it is all meaningless in the end.

by theslothook :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 4:06pm

Actually...a couple things. For one, this colts team sucks, yes, but in many ways, they are actually better than last years team. They have an improved run game, better offensive line, and a healthier set of receivers. Even their defensive secondary is healthier than it was last year. Its just, their d is pretty much as lousy as last years but its just now crater sans manning. The truth is, manning took a worse roster to a 10-6 record the year before and this team probably would be around 10-6 again. go look at the schedule--i can easily find 10 wins.

If you want to play the card, "cassell was taking over a 16 win team" the year before, then i can go, brady was "taking over" an 11 win team the year before and went 10-6. I don't have a hard time admitting brady is great. I just have a hard time thinking he's as valuable as manning or even brees.

The pt of the cassel season was really to show that the team isn't built around the qb, its a system that enhances the qb. Cassell had 0 starts since highschool, and again, the pats 2nd half offensive DVOA that year was what was higher than the 07 pats 2nd half dvoa. That takes into account opponent adjustments.

by BSR :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 5:04pm

You continue to make the comparison when really there is none. Cassel is actually a decent starting caliber quarterback in this league and Painter never was or will be. It begins and ends there. The two situations vary so drastically that there isn't a logical way to make any type of comparison. Its like comparing Apples and Dump Trucks. Lets not even start with the whole suck for luck thing.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 6:07pm

Painter is only 8 of the 13 games. The Colts were no better with Orlovsky or Collins, whose career numbers much more resemble Cassel's than Painter's do.

Cassel's career numbers are kind of interesting. He's remarkably hot or cold.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 6:22am

It appears Mike Brisiel broke his leg in the first quarter of Texans@Bengals (I think I remember him seeming to get up gimpy) and finished the game. Dude is a complete badass.

by BSR :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 8:57am

So Vince, Fletcher elbows Brady in the waist and its a B.S. call, but Wilfork elbows a runner in the back and its an obvious attempt to injure and a good call. Way to be objective! At least try to have some consistency.

by GlennW :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 1:06pm

Brady wasn't lying on the ground, prone-- he was still moving and advancing the football, and it's the defender's job to try and stop that advancement. I liked Troy Brown's take on the Wilfork play: "Yeah, that's a penalty on Vince simply for being overweight". No matter what you think of it, the pro-wrestling style forearm slam with 400 pounds behind it really wasn't necessary.

by BSR :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 2:15pm

There are plenty of hits harder then is "necessary" in football. That doesn't mean they are illegal. And let's not paint the hit as more than it needs to be. Vince landed on him. He didn't spear him, go helmet to helmet or anything like that. Plus I think the same standard can be applied to the Fletcher hit. His hitting a lightly padded QB, it isn't necessary to go as hard leading with an elbow as he did. I'll am asking for is a bit of consistency in the commentary. Either they are both BS or they are both dirty. Personally, I think they were both BS.

by GlennW :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 2:38pm

I wasn't speaking subjectively when I said "unnecessary"-- there's a rule that specifically defines "unnecessary roughness". And here's the section of that rule that applies to Wilfork's act (properly in my opinion, given the force of Wilfork's piling on):

(d) running or diving into, or throwing the body against or on a ball carrier who falls or slips to the ground untouched and makes no attempt to advance, before or after the ball is dead

Contrast this with the Fletcher roughing call, where the referee described a blow to the head (which indisputably didn't happen) and which Brady himself later described as a clean hit. The use of elbow or forearm really doesn't have much to do with the distinction between the plays, rather the action against an advancing runner versus a prone, non-advancing one.

by PatsFan :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 4:13pm

You're begging the question (in the real meaning of the term, not the 2000s screwed up meaning) by claiming the latter half of (d) applies to that play.

by GlennW :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 6:00pm

Maybe, and the "no attempt to advance" distinction is indeed a judgment call. But the original argument centered around Wilfork being penalized for "hitting too hard" and/or for use of the elbow, which simply wasn't the basis for the call (imo). There is an actual rule to cover the situation (which is why I posted it), and I know I've seen the rule applied as far back as the early 1970s. It's never been okay to (unconditionally) body slam an undowned runner who's lying on the ground.

by BSR :: Wed, 12/14/2011 - 9:48am

I didn't realize the rule specifically stated that. I could have sworn I've seen it before without being called, but I guess not. My bad.

by Jetspete :: Tue, 12/13/2011 - 12:37pm

What's going on with Tebow is fun to watch, but media members have short memories. The current Denver run is very similar to the middle of the jets season last year, when the Jets won 4 out 5, and all 4 wins were the result of late game heroics (and each needed a great assist from the opponent).