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» 2017 Offensive Personnel Analysis

It's a three-receiver league, but for the first time since 2010, the frequency of 11 personnel actually went down last year. Was it a blip, or sign of things to come?

05 Jan 2015

Audibles at the Line: Wild-Card Round

compiled by Andrew Potter

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

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

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

Arizona Cardinals 16 at Carolina Panthers 27

Scott Kacsmar: Early second quarter and Ryan Lindley's accuracy issues are about on par with Cam Newton's so far. Receivers are open and these guys are missing high while getting bailed out with some great catches by veterans like Larry Fitzgerald and Jerricho Cotchery. But clearly the bad punting by Arizona is the story so far with short fields for Carolina's drives and a muffed punt by Brenton Bersin leading to Arizona's touchdown.

Aaron Schatz: This is not a game to watch if you enjoy the sublime pleasures of great punting. Ray Guy, wherever he is, should turn this one off.

Tom Gower: Cam's missed some easy throws, but he's also nailed some difficult throws. Lindley hasn't hit much of anything aside from the touchdown pass -- even the completion that got them to first-and-goal, Fitzgerald took off Luke Kuechly's facemask.

This punting by Arizona in particular is gross.

Vince Verhei: Arizona's game plan, early at least, was way too conservative. Not in number of passes, but in depth. This offense isn't going to be putting together ten-play drives. They're going to need to go play-action, max-protect, and try a bomb occasionally. I know Drew Stanton was one of the league's deepest throwers this year. Wasn't paying attention to Lindley's pass depth. But if he doesn't have the arm strength to try the occasional 40-yard bomb, then bring in Logan Thomas to do it, because ... well, at that point, what do you have to lose?

Aaron Schatz: Well, it's small sample stuff but Andrew did point out in the playoff preview that the Panthers had more picks on those really deep bombs than any other team. They play a lot of zone-type coverages that shouldn't be leaving guys open deep. They also got hit with only five DPIs, less than average. Although again, small sample stuff.

Lindley did hit a nice rope throw, I thought, to Larry Fitzgerald on the right side of the field in the red zone, the last play of the first quarter. So, you know, there was ONE. It will go in the museum along with the next play, Darren Fells open in the back of the end zone for what I believe is the first touchdown in NFL history by an alumnus of the University of California at Irvine. (ZOT!)

Vince Verhei: In general this season, you're right, but for most of the half that Carolina box was stuffed with defenders, and there had to be chances to get one-on-one coverage somewhere downfield.

Scott Kacsmar: Just throwing some 10-yard passes would be an improvement for Arizona. Very horizontal at times in that half and Carolina did not struggle with those plays. That's not an Arians offense. On the other side, pressure started getting to Newton better in the second quarter. Pretty even game so far with plenty of mistakes you expect to see from teams of this caliber. Cardinals have to feel great where they are at after that 10-0 start. I think Carolina should lean on Jonathan Stewart more.

Mike Kurtz: I understand passing as a strategic decision, but Newton has been incredibly inaccurate and it has set up more passing futility or busted runs on subsequent downs. I don't understand why they're putting Newton's arm front and center considering they started the game with something like 60 rushing yards in the first quarter.

Aaron Schatz: Panthers make third-and-long after third-and-long with Cam Newton scrambling for yardage or scrambling and then finding a guy get open in a zone. So what do they do once they cross midfield? Wide receiver screen to Brenton Bersin on third-and-10. I hate that play so much. Remember those numbers I ran a few weeks ago about how infrequently a third-and-long wide receiver screen actually convert compared to a running back screen, a draw, or a regular pass play? I hate that play so much.

Andrew Potter: Has Arizona's punting been this bad all year? Hard to believe they can't find a better punter than this, if so. This is the anti-Scifres playoff punting performance.

Aaron Schatz: Yes. By our numbers, the Cardinals were dead last in gross punting value (-14.3 points worth of estimated field position) and 30th in net punting value (-9.6 points).

Tom Gower: A lot of that is Dave Zastudil's brief stint, but Drew Butler's down there with Michael Koenen and Jeff Locke as the worst in the league.

Scott Kacsmar: Full-blown special teams disaster after a Ted Ginn fumble on the kick return set up Carolina at the 3-yard line. Then when the refs are making terrible calls like pass interference on third-and-goal on a poorly thrown ball, this one is over at 27-14. A couple of times today it looked like the Arizona receiver was interfered with, but no flag. Yet we have seen numerous calls for pass interference, illegal contact and defensive holding on Arizona's defense. Would this be happening, if the game was in Arizona? Not likely. That's why home-field advantage matters and it's a shame the 11-5 team has to travel to face a 7-8-1 team.

Aaron Schatz: The idea that Arizona's defense is struggling because they feel they have to do everything themselves with no offense sounds like it might be conventional wisdom nonsense; I thought maybe the Arizona defense hasn't actually been any worse the last couple weeks, just giving up more yards and points because they are on the field more and in worse field position. But no, even after adjusting for field position and how often they are on the field, Arizona's two worst defensive games by DVOA were Week 16 (38.1%) and Week 17 (31.5%).

Ben Muth: What can you even say about that game? The Cardinals offense is bad no matter who the quarterback is, but Ryan Lindley makes it so much worse. Like adding a gunshot to a paper cut. There's nothing to even analyze because Arizona's offense was that bad.

Carolina looked terrible too. They looked like a team that finished with a losing record despite playing in a historically weak division. The Panthers made multiple mistakes to give a Cardinals fan hope before Ryan Lindley snuffed it out with his general awfulness, but Carolina will advance. Cam looked banged up and the only way I see them advancing past the next round is if he has a great game, don't think that will happen in his current state.

Vince Verhei: That game was to football what potted meat food product is to a nice New York steak.

I vote that we cancel all Audibles comments and just run Arizona's drive chart:

Actually, this bears mentioning: Think how horrible Logan Thomas must be. Neither he nor Lindley can ever be on an NFL roster again, can they?

Aaron Schatz: In defense of Thomas, he was considered a project. They're probably still working on the project. It was a pretty big project.

Tom Gower: Then bring in Terrelle Pryor, who can sort of throw downfield and throws a decent slant and run around, instead of Lindley, who if the first read is open literally can't do anything.

Cian Fahey: Can't imagine Arians ever taking Pryor on his team.

Baltimore Ravens 30 at Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Scott Kacsmar: Onto some more competent offenses (we hope).

Steelers actually start Ben Tate after just signing him on Tuesday and get him involved early, no-huddle and all. Big fumble by Tate, but Antonio Brown in the right place at the right time for the recovery. Big drop by a wide-open Heath Miller on third down that could have set up a field goal attempt.

Any thoughts on Al Michaels just laying down the "Terrell Suggs is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer" gauntlet? I remember talking with a Baltimore fan this offseason about him needing a few more good years to have a decent case, but that was for general induction. Certainly not first ballot. I think Michaels is exaggerating his case a bit there. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are obvious choices, but Suggs hasn't usually been that dominant.

Aaron Schatz: I think Suggs has had better seasons in his 30s than he did in his 20s, so it sort of feels like he we remember him as being better in the 2005-2008 timeframe than he really was. He was very good then, but not super dominant. Suggs never made consecutive Pro Bowls until 2010-2011. He has fewer career sacks than Robert Mathis (also a rookie in 2003), Jared Allen (2004), or DeMarcus Ware (2005). That's going to be some major pass rusher competition for getting into the Hall of Fame, along with other contemporaries like Dwight Freeney, Mario Williams, and Julius Peppers.

Scott Kacsmar: Right, then you have someone like John Abraham, who didn't play on a legendary defense, but still had two First-Team All-Pro selections and 133.5 sacks. Abraham also has 47 forced fumbles (Suggs has 25), which I believe may be the NFL record. It's not as simple as "100 sacks and a ring on a good defense" for someone like Suggs to get in. If that was the case, Charles Haley wouldn't still be waiting.

Aaron Schatz: I didn't list Abraham as a contemporary because he was a rookie three years earlier, but yeah, I guess he is too. Lots of competition there.

Conventional wisdom said that between the Bell injury and the weakness of the Ravens secondary, the Steelers would have to run less and go deep more. Uh, when does that start? The Steelers are running an awful lot given expectations.

And of course as I'm typing this, the Steelers play action on third-and-1 and go deep to Antonio Brown, who can't get his feet in bounds. I would think there will be more of that to come, right?

Cian Fahey: Roethlisberger's pass on that Antonio Brown deep ball really hung up there. Brown was wide-open.

The Steelers need to run the ball because they can't have their offensive tackles hold up against Elvis Dumervil and Suggs without staying in quick passing situations or without play action.

Vince Verhei: Yeah, my big mistake coming into this game was underestimating how much pass rush the quarterbacks would be facing.

Aaron Schatz: Well, get some extra blockers in there to help out. Let's get some Will Johnson and Matt Spaeth action. I bet the Steelers could get Brown and Martavis Bryant or Markus Wheaton open against these corners on two-route max-protect plays.

Tom Gower: Interesting, competitive first half with the Ravens in front because of Pittsburgh field goal attempts. I concur with Vince that the dominant story of the first half is the extent to which both offenses have struggled with the opposing edge rushers, to a more consistent degree than I expected coming in.

Mike Kurtz: Pittsburgh settling for field goals is not surprising at all. To channel Billy Beane, Haley's @#%@ doesn't work in the red zone.

Cian Fahey: Justin Forsett has just six carries... for 41 yards. Too often this season offensive coordinators refuse to commit to effective running games. At halftime of this one, the Ravens are committing that crime.

Aaron Schatz: The Steelers just aren't getting enough pass pressure, especially now in the second half. That three-man pass rush on the touchdown to make it 20-9 was abysmal. And if you only rush three, you aren't supposed to let a guy get wide-open in the end zone.

Tom Gower: One of the things the ESPN Confidential piece on the strengths and weaknesses of each playoff team brought up is Joe Flacco isn't a complete stiff in the pocket and is actually kind of nimble. You've really seen that at times tonight, including on the third-and-13 when they were inside their own 5-yard line earlier -- he didn't convert it, but he got them some valuable breathing room -- and on that touchdown to make it 20-9.

Aaron Schatz: Great to see the Ravens go for it on fourth-and-a-foot at midfield, and it was a good sneak by Joe Flacco with good blocking by Jeremy Zuttah and Marshal Yanda.

And then Justin Forsett fumbles on the next play. Oops.

Cian Fahey: Forsett has six fumbles in his career before today on roughly 700 touches. It's only the second fumble he's ever lost. Not a characteristic mistake from a player who has always built his career on being reliable.

Scott Kacsmar: Twitter doesn't seem to think it was a gutsy call, but I'm sure most coaches would punt in that situation. Loved the call. Might have to research some numbers to see just how often teams do punt there.

And the Forsett fumble is about the first good thing the Steelers have done all night defensively.

Aaron Schatz: It's hard to research numbers on that situation because part of what made it such an easy decision -- even easier than usual -- is that it was like a foot, not a whole yard. But the play-by-play records will treat everything between an inch and a yard-and-half as the same, listed as "fourth-and-1."

Mike Kurtz: The sad thing, Scott, is that no Steelers defender really DID anything. The booth has resorted to crediting Ryan Shazier for yanking Forsett away from the ball while it was on the ground. That's kind of weird.

Aaron Schatz: So, did the Steelers go for two too early? That Justin Tucker field goal now makes it an eight-point lead for Baltimore, 23-15. So now they have to go for two again.

Though the Ravens shouldn't have tried that field goal anyway. They should have gone for it on fourth-and-1 after the bomb attempt on third-and-1. Why else do you eschew a play to just move the chains while you are trying to build on a lead in the fourth quarter unless you are going to go for it on fourth down if you fail on the bomb?

Tom Gower: 11 minutes to play, down 5, William Krasker's chart has it making sense to go for two with as low as a 19 or 20 percent chance of converting.

Mike Kurtz: Roethlisberger has done a terrible job assigning protection this game. Two of the sacks plus the interception were an unblocked rusher. Twice (I think) there was a double-team that opened the guy up. The other was clear edge rush without enough blockers and Ben did nothing to change out of the play.

Cian Fahey: As much as the Steelers had become a dark horse favorite for many, a Baltimore Ravens-New England Patriots matchup should be a much better game than a Patriots-Steelers game. Brady's track record against LeBeau defenses is so impressive and this defense in particular is pretty awful.

The Ravens have their problems too that the Patriots will be able to pick on, but they're a much more balanced, versatile team.

Aaron Schatz: On one hand, the Patriots defense this year is better than in other recent years when they had hard games against the Ravens. On the other hand, I did keep saying that DVOA had a big five this year, not a big four, and Baltimore was number five.

All this talk about Ben Roethlisberger being "woozy" and "groggy" seems really weird, like we've gone back in time 15 years to when concussions weren't a thing anyone was actually worried about.

Cian Fahey: Roethlisberger is always talked about differently because of how he plays and how big he is. It actually seems to affect the roughing the passer penalties too because defenders get to abuse him a lot more in the pocket than most quarterbacks.

Tom Gower: Justin Forsett finishes with 16 carries for 36 yards, so after 6-41 he finishes with 10 carries for -5 yards, plus the fumble. If you'd told me that before the game, I would have guessed Pittsburgh won.

Ben Muth: Two thoughts after the Ravens game.

1) John Harbaugh is a great coach. Right behind the hooded one in the Power Rankings. To win a playoff game with both offensive tackles hurt is very impressive.

2) The Cardinals stink and I'm still very sad about that.

Scott Kacsmar: First let's remember the Ravens were down two starters at offensive tackle tonight. The Ravens had 17 carries for 41 yards and were actually out-rushed by Pittsburgh (17 carries for 52 yards). Yet it's funny that some are going to blame Pittsburgh's 15-point showing on the absence of Le'Veon Bell, but the Ravens piled up 30 points on their first eight drives with a similarly impotent rushing attack. Hell, 37 of those 41 yards came on the first touchdown drive. They had one rushing yard, excluding Flacco scrambles, on the drives which resulted in their other 23 points, and only one of those drives started on a short field after the Suggs interception. So if the Ravens can go on the road and score so efficiently without a running game, then the Steelers should have been able to do more without Bell. I don't want to hear about his absence as the reason they lost. The defense played very poorly and the offense knew it had to play much better for that reason. They did not get the job done up front with protection. Roethlisberger missed some throws and did not play well in the red zone. I am not sure what he saw on the second interception that basically ended the game. He did not handle things well tonight while the Ravens were low on mistakes and made some big plays on third-and-long. I knew the Ravens were the more well-rounded team with the better coaches, but I really expected much more out of this passing attack. The opportunities were there.

The Steelers have advanced in the playoffs just twice in Mike Tomlin's eight seasons. Is that up to the standard? The worst thing this team can do is brush this off as a "we'll hopefully have Bell, our team MVP, healthy next year and make a better go of it." They have significant holes on defense and I think you have to find a better pair of offensive tackles. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are old, but they're not going away yet.

Baltimore's coaching staff is the only one in the AFC I felt could win in Foxboro this year. I did not believe in the roster so much, but that was an impressive performance tonight. Pressure Tom Brady and they have a shot.

A lot of talk about keeping Troy Polamalu on the bench this week, but I barely ever noticed him out there. Sometimes that's a good thing, but there is a chance this was his final game. Same can be said about James Harrison, who actually did flash at times with some rushes that were very close to getting to Flacco.

Vince Verhei: Scott: I think you're under-rating what Bell meant to the Steelers as a receiver. He wasn't just the top receiving running back this season; he was one of the best we've ever measured.

Cincinnati Bengals 10 at Indianapolis Colts 26

Aaron Schatz: Remember when the Patriots ran all over the Colts with six-lineman sets? The Bengals remember and have probably been watching that film all week. They've gotten some great runs out of six- and seven-lineman sets. And Giovani Bernard is great on swing passes. Otherwise... Man, it must be really depressing for Bengals fans watching this team continue to try to throw deep to men who are not A.J. Green. This team has no receivers. Like, none. Mohamed Sanu is basically a younger version of Jason Avant. And seeing Brandon Tate out there so much just seems nuts for a Patriots fan like myself. This is one of Bill Belichick's many wide receiver draft failures. Now he's starting in a playoff game? Who's coming off the Cincinnati bench next, Bethel Johnson?

We write a lot about the randomness of fumble recovery but not the randomness of causing fumbles. Sometimes that's random, but sometimes it's just a sweet play by a defender. Darqueze Dennard on Boom Herron with 2:00 left in the second quarter? SWEET PLAY.

Vince Verhei: Like we all expected, this has come down to a matchup between Rex Burkhead on one side of the ball and Dan Herron on the other.

In all seriousness, Cincinnati's reliance on Burkhead today does show their lack of weapons, and things aren't much better for Indianapolis with a clearly hurting T.Y. Hilton. We're watching two teams go to battle without their most dangerous players, and it shows.

Cincinnati has been somewhat balanced (16 passes, 14 runs), especially when you consider their half ended in a hurry-up situation, but I would like to see them run more in the second half.

You know what else the Bengals need? A bookend pass rusher for Carlos Dunlap. If Dunlap doesn't get pressure on Luck, nobody else does.

Scott Kacsmar: Charles Tillman might be a guy who had fumble forcing down to a science. He has the most forced fumbles ever for a defensive back.

For the Bengals, I thought Wallace Gilberry flashed as times this year, but there is nothing consistent with this pass rush. Fortunately the Colts are keeping this a game with so many penalties and poor ball security today. Luck has been fantastic, but not getting the help to build a bigger lead.

Andrew Healy: I actually think Sanu hasn't been bad this year. Yeah, what a strip by Dennard, though.

Note that the Bengals might be well-served by keeping more blockers in to deal with the blitz. The Colts blitz on the second-highest share of opponent pass plays, but they usually only send five. Dalton burned the blitz on the first drive when they kept six in to block (had Jeremy Hill forward to help with the A-gap). I think the blitz forced incompletions on the next two drives when the Bengals just kept in five. The Colts are also pretty predictable in bringing the blitz on third down. Nobody brings third-down blitzes more often than the Colts, and the Bengals should be prepared for that.

T.Y. Hilton had a pretty rough first half for someone with so many yards. Luck threw one beautiful deep ball that Hilton dropped for a touchdown. Then on the drive that led to Adam Vinatieri's second field goal, Luck made a great throw against a big blitz and Hilton dropped what would have been a first down at the five. They've been going deep to Hilton frequently.

Aaron Schatz: And drops. Three T.Y. Hilton drops in the first half, I believe.

Vince Verhei: Well, Andrew Luck just made this whole game worthwhile with that falling-down, perfectly placed corner route touchdown to Donte Moncrief. Goodness sakes alive, what a throw.

Scott Kacsmar: Incredible play from Luck, but I'm really surprised CBS did not even entertain the thought of Moncrief losing the ball at the end of the play. That's a touchdown for me every time, but this "complete the process going to the ground" thing has ruined many plays in the past and the ball did come out rather quickly after he turned over to celebrate.

Tom Gower: He's made a number of ridiculous throws today. Was that the best one, or was it the perfectly-placed throw to Hilton on the corner route, or the deep corner that Hilton dropped on third down earlier, or the touchdown where Newman got his hand on it that Hilton should've caught anyway, or... ?

Aaron Schatz: You know, based on the names, it sure seems like the Bengals should have more pass rush. Dunlap, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins. Atkins especially is quiet. It looks like the Colts are doubling other guys more than they are doubling Atkins.

Vince Verhei: OK, let's review that Cincinnati drive after the Moncrief touchdown:

  • Flea flicker on first down, Tate is wide-open, Dalton badly underthrows him.
  • Screen pass for a first down, called back for holding.
  • Pass tipped away at the line.
  • Third-and-14, dumpoff gains 9.

I don't see the words "rush," "run," or "handoff" anywhere in there. I like the flea flicker call, but once that didn't work, you've got to get a carry in there somewhere.

Andrew Healy: Yes, Andrew Luck could not have been playing much better. His numbers were good and should have been better if he didn't have to deal with the drops that they've had all year. That near-touchdown to Hilton on the first drive was a perfect throw, but my favorite Luck throw of the first half was that out which Hilton dropped. Right on the money as he's getting creamed. Shorter throw, but still incredible. And, sweet fancy Moses on the throw to Moncrief.

On the Bengals' second drive of the third quarter, Dalton again threw incomplete against a third-down blitz. The bigger sample of Dalton's struggles vs. the blitz in previous years is maybe more important than his success this year. On the next drive, they don't bring the blitz and Dalton still checks down to Bernard on third-and-14. He makes that hopeless checkdown far too often.

Scott Kacsmar: Make that four drops for Hilton now. Very dangerous throw from Luck that could have been a pick-six for Pacman, but he actually squeezed it in there.

Andrew Healy: Yes, Hilton's stat line could read something like nine catches for 185 and two touchdowns instead of the five for 90 and no touchdowns. Two of those drops were pretty tough catches, including this one since Jones got in the way. Certainly a catch he could have made, though.

Cian Fahey: The Bengals got four drops from T.Y. Hilton, a few more from other receivers, and a key fumble recovery but are still not in this game. Sad thing is this may be Dalton's best performance in a playoff game. That's an exceptionally low standard to overcome though.

Aaron Schatz: Third-and-7 at the end of the third quarter basically showed how screwed the Bengals are today. They went max protect, leaving in a back and tight end to block. Colts big blitzed and the Bengals couldn't block with their seven guys. But on top of that... who are they fooling? Imagine the Colts had only sent four pass rushers. Are Brandon Tate and Mohamed Sanu getting open with only three receivers in routes against seven in coverage? They just don't have the receivers to do anything today.

Vince Verhei: Next Cincinnati drive: incomplete throw into double-coverage; shotgun handoff for 1 yard; third-down sack. What happened to all those extra-lineman sets? Why did they stop trying to muscle Indianapolis around?

Andrew Healy: The Bengals did what I asked, kept in seven to block for a Colts' six-man blitz on the third down on the last drive of the third quarter. So the Bengals were ready. The protection held up reasonably well actually, I thought. Not perfect, but Dalton had enough time to find someone. Would love to see the All-22 of that one, because the end-zone camera made it look like he had a throw on the deep corner to the left.

In fairness, CBS did a good job of showing Dalton having no throw available on their next third down, supporting Aaron's point. Also supporting the lack of receiver talent, the Bengals are playing Cobi Hamilton, who has as many career NFL receptions as Cobi Jones. It was Hamilton, I think, open on that corner route from that earlier drive.

I'm guessing the story from the All-22 will still be a mixed bag of blame for Dalton and the receivers. Do we think an upper-tier quarterback would have averaged less than four net yards per attempt? The fumble on the last drive is a play where he could get that out to Sanu if he was just a hair quicker. The protection wasn't great, but that doesn't exonerate Dalton.

Cian Fahey: Some discussion on twitter about a potential Marvin Lewis firing. Very, very unlikely simply because of who the owner is, but it's interesting that they keep doing the same thing every year and they're obviously invested in their quarterback.

The Bengals have overachieved this year in my opinion. It's not easy to lose both coordinators and have a roster littered with injuries in a relatively tough division. Sure, it helped that they faced the AFC South and NFC South, but I still can't craft an argument that suggests Lewis deserves to be fired.

Bengals' biggest issue this year was their draft class I think.

1. Darqueze Dennard - Hasn't played much. Bigger issue is passing on Bridgewater to invest heavily in Dalton.
2. Jeremy Hill - A good running back who has been integral for them.
3. Will Clarke - Given nothing as a rookie.
4. Russell Bodine - Has never looked like an NFL caliber player to me.
5. A.J. McCarron - May as well have thrown the pick away.
6. Marquis Flowers - Fine late-rounder.
7. James Wright - Rostered wide receiver.
8. Lavelle Westbrooks - Free agent.

Sure, hindsight with draft classes is always easy, but I'm not sure this draft really made sense for the state of the franchise at the time.

Andrew Healy: Couldn't agree more on Lewis. They keep making the playoffs with a mediocre quarteterback and Lewis doesn't get enough credit for that. This year, no Zimmer and a new offensive coordinator. Hard to think firing him makes much sense. They did a great job in the Denver game, where they beat a very good team without getting much from their quarterback.

Adam Vinatieri making his Hall of Fame case more and more likely. He hits a 53-yarder to put the Colts up 26-10. Looking at him on the sideline made me feel old, though.

Vince Verhei: In the second half, Cincinnati running backs had three carries for 10 yards. And it's not like they were down by 16 the entire time; they got the ball first in the second half, down only three.

Scott Kacsmar: Since Marvin Lewis was hired in 2003, a total of 25 teams have advanced to the second round of the playoffs at least once. He's coached one of the seven teams to not get it done along with Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Oakland, Miami, and Detroit (who have a shot next). Think of how many coaches those teams have gone through in this time. Granted, Lewis has six playoff appearances, but 0-6 and never scored more than 17 points in any of those games. Even Lovie Smith had a No. 1 seed and reached the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback. Gary Kubiak beat Lewis with T.J. Yates having to play quarterback, and we know how tough getting a third-stringer ready can be. At some point you reach a plateau and I don't see Lewis ever taking this team to the next level. I won't bash him for not getting a first-round bye since he's been in a conference with New England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the AFC team Peyton Manning plays on, but his results are piss-poor in this era. Twelve years is more than enough time to go through a series of rebuilds to find the right match. He tried to win with offense (Carson Palmer and company) and that didn't work. He switched to defense and that has led to more regular-season success, but they just don't score in the playoffs.

Much like how Andy Reid and Jeff Fisher needed to go after spending so much time in one place, Lewis needs to go in Cincinnati. The difference is those guys had Super Bowl trips and No. 1 seeds and more sustained success. Lewis is the Jim Mora of his era without the great sound bites, though resurrecting the Bengals was not quite as impressive as getting the Saints to a winning record.

Rob Weintraub: This is five times in six seasons I've been cruelly disappointed in the wild-card round. So my recent football grief basically follows the Kubler-Ross model:

  • Denial -- We did not just lose at home to Mark Sanchez.
  • Anger -- We just got smoked by T.J. Yates?!?! Are you f-in kidding me?!?!
  • Bargaining -- Please Lord, just give us one more chance to win a frigging playoff game in my lifetime.
  • Depression -- Outscored 20-0 after halftime to lose at home after going 8-0 in our building during the regular season. Just kill me now.
  • Acceptance -- This is who the Bengals are. Some franchises fall ass-backwards into Hall of Fame quarterbacks, mine is forced to line up Rex Burkhead at wideout in a playoff game. I'm pretty numb to it at the moment, truth be told.

In these five games, the Bengals have been outscored 67-13 after halftime, managing a single touchdown in ten quarters. That comes down to coaching and lack of adjustments at least to some degree. Basically, the Bengals players and coaches flinch at the big moment. I dearly wish I knew why.

See you next January for number six.

Oh, and in 2005 the Steelers outscored Cincy 17-0 in the second half to win that game, though of course Palmer's injury had something to do with that. The rumors that Chad Johnson took a swing at Marvin in the halftime locker room and had to be led away by Hue Jax may have had something to do with that, too. Either way, make it 84-13 in Lewis' six postseason second halves. But he'll be back next year. Hence stage five.

Scott Kacsmar: That's the other thing that bugs me about Lewis. He really hasn't even been close to winning a playoff game. At least Jim Mora had some fourth-quarter leads with the Saints and Colts. At least he can say Mike Vanderjagt choked in overtime in Miami after telling Mora he could make the game-winning kick. Lewis hasn't even had a fourth-quarter tie in six playoff games. His best shot yet was 2012 when Andy Dalton flat-out missed A.J. Green in the end zone on a deep pass. I believe the score was 19-13 at the time, so that would have been a one-point lead in the final three minutes. Some guys like Marty Schottenheimer had horrible playoff luck where he lost games by the slimmest of margins. Marvin's bad playoff luck is more like Carson Palmer's torn ACL or not having Green today. But when the games are played, his Bengals just don't show up.

Detroit Lions 20 at Dallas Cowboys 24

Vince Verhei: This is how I picture Joe Buck and Troy Aikman whenever I hear them speak.

Aaron Schatz: 14-0 Detroit. Surprise! Lions blocking is great today, especially by receivers like Golden Tate on the Joique Bell screen touchdown, and Cowboys tackling is horrid so far.

Andrew Healy: I believe in numbers and big samples over gut feelings, but wow does this feel like a disaster in the making for Dallas. The Lions start a drive on their own 1-yard line and look like they'll go three-and-out, but get bailed out by a running-into-the-punter penalty. Then, on the next set of downs, Matthew Stafford uses a stiff arm to run for a first down that he absolutely should not have gotten. After some plays to Joique Bell and a Reggie Bush touchdown, it's 14-0 Detroit.

I guess we don't need karma to say Dallas is pretty bad at tackling and had one special teams brain cramp. Any Dallas fans must be getting that sinking feeling, though.

Karma is not eligible as an explanation already by the end of the first quarter. After Dallas recovers a Tony Romo fumble when two rushers come free on a four-man rush (!), Romo spins out of another heavy Detroit rush and has his pass deflected and still make it to Jason Witten for a first down.

The historically great Lions' run defense has lived up to its billing, holding DeMarco Murray to 8 yards on four carries, but the surprise is the domination of the Lions' pass rush. They have a sack and four hits already.

Aaron Schatz: Score the first half of this game as a data point for the idea that full-season numbers predict playoff games better than late-season trends. The Lions blitzes seem to have scared the Dallas offense's hot streak away.

Not to mention, what is with Romo and all the passes falling short today?

Tom Gower: This reminds me of, I believe, the Monday Night Football game against Washington, where Dallas' protection calls are getting broken down by the oppositions' blitzers and Tony Romo is seeing a lot of free rushers. The Lions are also apparently matching up Darius Slay to Dez Bryant most of the time. I love Dez as much as anybody, but this is a game where their lack of a secondary receiver really hurts them.

And as I'm writing that last sentence, Terrance Williams breaks off a long touchdown to make it 14-7. So, yeah. This is still a game.

Mike Kurtz: Romo seems to be throwing moving backwards frequently, which would explain all the short throws.

I am livid with how the Lions have handled possessions deep in their own territory. They have a pretty terrible running game and a decent mid-level passing offense. Of course they run up the middle and throw a zillion screens. Caldwell seems to be terrified of making mistakes near their own goal line.

Vince Verhei: Remember we ran that table recently of great defenses thumping great offenses? This looks like another example. No. 3 defense (by DVOA) vs. No. 4 offense, and if you take away the one touchdown, the Cowboys are getting 3.2 yards per play. Looks like the Lions are on their way to Seattle, looking scary as hell.

Scott Kacsmar: And of course a tipped pass at the line ends up picked and puts Dallas in great field position. Great stand by Detroit though. Coverage held up for Ezekiel Ansah to get the coverage sack.

Vince Verhei: (Two runs set up third-and-short.)

Let's stop running!

(Sack, then missed field goal.)


(Later, Dallas runs for a 1-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal.)

Andrew Healy: At least the Cowboys ran away from Suh on the fourth-and-goal. A nicely blocked Murray touchdown makes it 20-14 Detroit. That drive was a different animal for Dallas. Room to run and Murray dominating. He had one carry over five yards before that drive. This drive, he had runs of 8 and 15 yards, in addition to a 7-yard run overturned by the hold on Witten.

Romo's stats (12-of-21 for 215 yards and 1 TD) are kind of misleading, though. 129 yards have come on the after-catch runs from Williams on the 76-yard TD and from Bryant on the 43-yard play the last drive. The pass rush is still getting home, too. The secondary is not living up the front four, though. Mohammed Seisay, in particular. He played Beasley's slant disastrously badly, helping the Cowboys recover from Witten's hold to still get the touchdown. Now on the Cowboys' first play of the next drive, Seisay again gives Beasley a very easy gain of 19.

Aaron Schatz: Cowboys lose 15 yards on two sacks to set up a 51-yard field goal. Luckily for them Dan Bailey hit it. Apparently Tony Romo had the part of his brain responsible for throwing the ball away removed before this game. I know he wants to keep plays alive but turning your back on your receivers rarely ends well.

Tom Gower: Really rough game for Romo. As Andrew pointed out, his two biggest pass plays have come on yards after catch. Solid throws, but nothing too special. I think he has to take blame for some of those protection calls that got pressure on him in the first half, and those two sacks were very, very ugly examples of him trying to play hero-ball instead of making the smart play.

Scott Kacsmar: Penalty flags have been picked up before, but that late after the penalty was already announced? Seems very fishy to me. Thought the call was borderline at best, though the defender failed to play the ball.

Vince Verhei: I thought it was very clear interference. Played the man, not the ball. If Ed Hochuli was here, we'd have gotten a clear explanation for why the flag was picked up.

Andrew Healy: Some home-cooking on that one, perhaps. I did think it was clear PI. Anthony Hitchens actually made contact with Brandon Pettigrew in addition to not getting his head around. That call happens even without the clear contact sometimes, which I don't like, but here it seemed like pass interference. Of course, I wish Caldwell would have gone for it on the fourth-and-1 from the Dallas 46-yard line. Love the decision from Garrett to go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Detroit 43.

If Detroit loses this game, they may look back to that 10-yard punt before this drive. And that followed a kickoff return without a muff that Ross brought out to the Lions' own 5-yard line.

On a PI on Beasley after the fourth-down conversion, I thought the referee sounded a little too excited (Red Cashion-esque) to call the first down. Maybe a little Enrico Palazzo. Would swear that happens for the home team, sometimes.

Aaron Schatz: Bill Belichick brings it up every year. Make everything reviewable. Make DPIs reviewable.

Lions fans may have been cursing DeAndre Levy for a hold that gave Dallas another four downs but I think he had to. He saw Joseph Randle leaking out into totally open space and knew if he didn't do something to stop him, it was an easy touchdown.

Dallas scores on that next set of downs and we are at 24-20. And the Lions offense has not been very good in the second half...

Scott, was FOX using your Q4C numbers in that graphic? Any idea?

Scott Kacsmar: I have tweeted some things to the NFL on FOX account before about what they got wrong during a broadcast, though I never gave any data to FOX. But yeah, their 17-26 record at GWD opportunities for Stafford matches mine perfectly. Their league average looks in line as well. That's the first time I ever saw a graphic like that on TV. Hopefully won't be the last and I'm amazed that Stafford is the guy they broke it out for and not Romo earlier.

Aaron Schatz: I assume they got it from PFR. But yay!

Tom Gower: Crazy fourth quarter, entertaining game, which helped make up for three relatively blah contests.

It seemed like the Lions went away from the pressure schemes. Especially on the drive leading to Williams' go-ahead score, it seemed like there were an awful lot of four-man rushes. The Levy blitz where he ended up holding Dunbar on third down to set up the touchdown was one of the rare exceptions. I don't think it was Dallas' protections holding up that much better, though I could be wrong on that.

It hasn't been mentioned much on the telecast, but we shouldn't overlook how Detroit's secondary injuries affected the flow of the game. Is Ihedigbo covering Witten on that key fourth-down conversion if everyone's healthy? Given he was sitting earlier in the game, I kind of doubt it. It also seemed like the Cowboys were purposefully aligning Dez in the slot. That's a place where I think he can have success (see the first Giants game this season in particular), but we haven't seen him much. DeAndre Levy handled him well some of the time, but of course got beat for the big completion. Of course, that still doesn't explain what felt like more run success for Murray in the second half, but I'd have to really look at the end-zone angles and pay close attention to fronts and blocking and whatnot to account for all that.

Does this game fundamentally change our opinion of the Lions at all? I kind of don't feel like it does, at all, but on the whole this has felt to me like a weekend of games that's played an awful lot to form.

Scott Kacsmar: I don't think it changes anything for the Lions. More about Dallas finally not blowing a lead again. Though unfortunately I know officiating will be on full display after this one. The dynamics of how that flag was picked up were very poor, but I don't think that call decided this one. Try a better punt for starters after that flag was picked up. Detroit needed to score more than 20 and really cooled off after that great start. Romo's stat line was better than his actual performance, but he avoided the disastrous plays against one of the best defenses he will see all year. I don't think Green Bay can contain this offense as well, but that's a game where Dallas' defense will need to be at least average on the road against an offense that's so prolific at home. You fall behind 14-0 in Lambeau and that could just be the start of an avalanche. Fall behind 14-0 to Detroit and there's still reason to crawl back to a win.

Rob Weintraub: Remember when Dean Blandino was spotted wobbling off Stephen Jones' party bus back in the preseason? Not saying there is any sort of direct correlation to today's iffy calls but it's stuff like that that bring out the conspiracy theories.

Vince Verhei: I think it's worth noting that the Cowboys kept on running after falling behind by 13 points in the second half. They still had something like 20 minutes left, there was no need to panic and go one-dimensional, they kept on running, even against a stout defensive line like the Lions.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: After falling behind 20-7 with 8:44 left in the third quarter, Dallas had 10 rushes for 36 yards, not counting kneeldowns.)

I want an explanation for why that penalty was called, explained, and then waved off. But I hope people aren't seriously thinking there was anything suspicious about it. Never look for conspiracies when something can be explained by simple incompetence.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 05 Jan 2015

165 comments, Last at 06 Jan 2015, 4:42pm by Hang50


by big10freak :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 11:37am

So much to discuss on Detroit/Dallas but what struck me most was how the Lions were so very conservative on offense in the second half until the fateful 3rd and 1 call but instead of going to their best playmakers targeted quite possibly the worst option from a potential of success vantage point.

Just really, really strange stuff.

Kudos to the Ravens for the gameplan and execution.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:11pm

If Dallas plays defense in the first half in Lambeau like they did yesterday, the Packers are going to score 5 touchdowns in the first 30 minutes. If Garrett wanted to maximize the chance of winning, as opposed to minimizing the chance of his owner firing him, he'd do the following:

1. Pray for subzero temperatures, and, more importantly, a 25 mile an hour wind.

2. Try to steal a possession with an onside kick to start the game or the 2nd half.

3. Adopt a 4 down strategy after crossing the 50. Hell, I might do it after crossing my own

4. Stop calling two passes on the opponents 12 yard line, on 2nd and two, consistent with likely being in 4 down territory.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:21pm

Rodgers has a very strong arm. I think he's better equipped to deal with adverse conditions than Romo by a small margin.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:30pm

Oh, I agree, but if the Packers can pass normally, and the same Cowboys defense which played in the first half yesterday shows up, I think the Cowboys' chances of winning shrinks to less than 5%. I'm not trying for hyperbole. I think 5 first half Packer tds is the likely outcome in such conditions.

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:43pm

You're assuming that the Cowboys' offense also plays as badly as it did in the first half yesterday, and therefore allows Rogers enough possessions to score 5+ TDs. All season, the Cowboys' blueprint has been to protect their defense by keeping it off the field. They'll be much more equipped to do that against a Packers defense that they can run successfully against.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:49pm

No, I'm making the opposite of that assumption. That's why I think they should adopt a very liberal 4 down strategy. Punting is a huge inhibitor of their chance of success, and they would be much better off calling their plays with the idea that they can take 4 plays to get 10 yards, which correctly puts more responsibility on the shoulders of their their best unit, their offensive line.

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:08pm

Okay, got it. So your assertion is not so much "Rogers scores 5 TDs," it's "Rogers scores nearly every time he has the ball." My point was that Rogers may not get enough possessions to score 5 TDs in the first half, if the Cowboys' blueprint works.

However, that doesn't contradict your point-- if Rogers is scoring nearly every possession, then the Cowboys need to do the same, which means avoiding punting at all costs.

Overall, I don't see it as quite as dire as you do. If the Cowboys defense plays like it did in the second half yesterday, which I think is reasonable if they're able to stay fresh due to long time-consuming possessions by Romo and the offense, then I could see Rogers' touchdown percentage dropping to something like 40-50% of his possessions (still very good), which I believe the Cowboys could match or exceed.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:11pm

I was just stunned at how bad the Cowboys defense was on the Lion two td drives, in the 1st quarter. I had to check to see it wasn't 2013 again.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:19pm

Dallas was playing at home against a poor offensive line and has been shared several times by posters the Detroit game plan became very predictable/conservative in the second half.

And I will be personally thrilled if refs call defensive holding while no offensive holding as they did yesterday. Green Bay will have a real advantage in that scenario

by LyleNM :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:43pm

I think the bigger controversy shouldn't be the picked up flag, but why the Dallas LT (77) wasn't flagged for holding on the go-ahead TD.

by Mark S. :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:57pm

Lions got conservative on offense AND defense. Their blitz schemes were what was killing Romo in the first half. They were incredibly effective in creating negative plays for the offense. But we saw much less of that in second half, and almost none in the 4th quarter.

I don't understand why teams get away from this against Dallas. Their offensive line is very, very good, but they struggle (and it seems Romo has always struggled) against disguised blitzing. It was how Washington beat them earlier in the year.

Also - I thought Stafford played a really solid game and DET should have thrown it more in second half. Obviously they should have gone for it on 4th and 1 as well. Always hate punting there, regardless of game situation.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:00pm

That's what Caldwell does...if he gets a 14-0 lead, he plans to win the game 20-10, instead of trying to cushion the lead. I think that's insane when you have as impotent a running game as the Lions do.

by Ryan :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 11:46am

Dr. Harbaugh or: How I Learned To Go for It on Fourth Down If I Fail on the Bomb

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 11:50am

The way the already infamous call was made was really bad. The outcome was not. The tight end clearly grabbed the linebacker's facemask, while the ball was in the air, prior to the linebacker pushing the receiver. A no call is not a terribly wrong outcome.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 11:55am

Well, if there is going to be credence given to retroactive uncalled penalties what of the Dallas linebacker grabbing Pettigrew on the same play? That looked to be a clear penalty.

And if so then the correct outcome was offsetting penalties and Detroit gets another shot.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:17pm

I don't think that pull on Pettigrew early in the play is consistently called, but it is sometimes. I don't know the rule book well enough to know all the implication of the pull on the facemask. The ball was in the air, so offensive PI enters the realm of possibility. Have you ever seen offsetting PI calls on receiver or defender? I can't recall it. The player who initiates the PI gets the call made on him. I really don't think a no call is terribly wrong outcome, in the scheme of NFL bad calls.

by Travis :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:20pm

Reposting this from the Tanier comment thread:

Offsetting pass interference does rarely get called (maybe 3 times a year?), such as in the 4th quarter of this Week 16 Vikings-Dolphins game:

1-10-MIN 47 (3:40) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass incomplete short left to B.Hartline.
Penalty on MIN-J.Robinson, Defensive Pass Interference, offsetting, enforced at MIN 47 - No Play.
Penalty on MIA-B.Hartline, Offensive Pass Interference, offsetting.

(Best I can tell, Hartline pushed off Robinson, then was grabbed by him.)

There could have been as many as four penalties on the play: 1) the initial jersey grab by the LB; 2) the face mask pull by the TE; 3) the subsequent contact + faceguarding by the LB; and 4) helmetless Dez Bryant running on the field to complain about the flag. The first three should offset, but the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty would be enforced.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:06pm

Missing the Dez Bryant penalty for running out to argue without a helmet was far more egregious to me.

The only strange part of the call was Morelli announcing the penalty in the first place. I can think of a few plays this year where flags were thrown and picked up after longer than normal, but having it announced first was just bizarre.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:21pm

Yeah, that was a clear cut, no other interpretation, blown call. I really hate to see games influenced with that penalty. I'd rather have the behavior punished with $250,000 fines, as opposed to a penalty which affects the score, if it is truly deemed that the behavior must be stopped. Thus, I don't really care that it wasn't called.

by Led :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:31pm

I thought that was clearly against the rules, too. However, the wording of the rule (assuming what I've linked to below is the right language) does not obviously apply to a player without a helmet on the sidelines that comes onto the field to argue a call:

(h) Removal of his helmet by a player in the field of play during a celebration or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.

See Rule 12, Sec. 3(h) at http://www.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/rulebook/pdfs/15_Rule12_P....

That seems to get at the act of actually removing the helmet while on the field in anger or to draw attention to yourself. Bryant had his helmet off to begin with and just went onto the field. I have not seen a rule governing players on the sidelines in this circumstance, although it would make sense to prohibit a player not involved in the play from going onto the field to argue a call whether he has his helmet on or not. If I've missed some rule, which is very possible, please let me know.

by The Powers That Be :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:41pm

That's correct. The rule everyone is referring to is the Emmitt Smith rule, but it did not apply at all to this situation. That doesn't mean they couldn't have called a penalty on him, but it would not have been because he didn't have his helmet on.

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:47pm

Why does everyone keep mentioning that he was helmetless? That is irrelevant. The penalty is for a player running onto the field to argue a call.

There is a separate penalty in the NFL rulebook (nicknamed the Emmitt Smith Rule) that flags a player for removing his helmet on the field of play, but that is not relevant for Dez, he wasn't a member of a unit on the field at the time.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:12pm

The fact that he's helmetless is relevant.

From espn.com:

'Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(j) prohibits "removal of a helmet by a player in the field of play or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player."'

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:34pm

Note the language "removes his helmet. Dez didn't remove his helmet. He was never wearing one. Because he wasn't a player involved in the field of play.

The issue is him coming on the field, the helmet is not relevant.

by Led :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:17pm

I generally agree with this. Even ignoring the facemask grab, it would have been a cheesy way to pick up a first down on a crappy pass, although calls like that are made (unfortunately) all the time. Where the defender was positioned made it virtually impossible to complete the pass on an underthrown ball. Even if Hitchens avoided any contact, Pettigrew would have had to travel through Hitchens' body to get the ball. Not happening. PI only should be called where the contact legitimately could have impacted the outcome of the play and not to bail out the offense on a cluster***k play. But throwing the flag, announcing the penalty before the officials had a chance to discuss it, and then picking up the flag is really, really a bad practice and recipe for maximum controversy.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:24pm

Yeah, I wonder if the fact that these crews are thrown together for playoff games affects their communication, resulting in what happened.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:28pm

How did this suddenly get into the mainstream as some kind of explanation (and implied excuse) for incompetence?

It's not like this is new for the officials in terms of playoff crew formulation.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:32pm

I've always thought playoff crews don't work together as well.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:36pm

I believe this is relatively new, that until about ~5-10 years ago entire crews were selected. I could be wrong, though.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:41pm

Yeah, I think its been about a decade.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:45pm

So I get a new work process at work and am expected to adopt it immediately or in a short timeframe but NFL officials need more than a decade to adopt to a change?

They don't give the refs a year to accomodate rules changes.

This whole thing just reeks of trying to distract NFL watchers from what transpired on the field.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:52pm

No, I'm just saying it is a very bad work process to have a small group of people who depend heavily on communication thrown together 6 days prior to their most important work. If you differ, fine.

I think the most obvious problem with NFL officiating is that they very rarely get fired. It's a very hard job, and one would expect, if these guys were getting pushed hard to maximize performance, to have much greater turnover, due to performance issues. Jeff Triplette is still in the job. Need anything more be said?

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:56pm

No, the process itself doesn't make sense. Communication between the 7 officials is crucial to the success of the group. That communication is developed year-over-year by the officials who rarely move from staff to staff. The NFL then throws that out the window in the playoffs in the idea that getting the Top Officials at each position will be better than the Top Overall Crews.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:35pm

Peter King is going off on this issue. To me that signals that this is what the NFL is going to use as the cause of what really was an inexcusable procedural error.

by LyleNM :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:41pm

Polian on ESPN this morning gave some useful insight on this. He said that 1st and 2nd year officials are (and apparently have long been) excluded from the playoffs due to lack of experience. He said that since you are already going to be breaking up crews, might as well put the best rated guys out there.

by Mark S. :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:33pm

I dunno. I thought it was clear interference, preceded by an even more clear defensive hold. In addition to being a bad no call, the pick up of the flag with no explanation makes it look horrible, especially after the call was changed following Dez running on the field sans helmet and yelling at the refs.

I'm not going to say it was the decisive moment, since most systems rate it as costing the Lions only somewhere between 12-16 percent of win expectancy. But it's just a terrible, terrible moment for NFL officiating.

by ChrisS :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:13pm

I saw the Lion reciever put his fingers into the face mask. I did not see him pull on the facemask, I believe if there is no pulling then there is no penalty.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:17pm

Wait, you are saying receivers can apply pressure to the face mask of defenders, as the ball is traveling to them? That's quite an advantage.

I think he pulled the facemask, by the way.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:21pm

There are 3 potential penalties that can happen here. A pulling the facemask is one. There is also offensive pass interference, and illegal use of hands to the face. I'm not 100% clear on that last penalty, but I think receivers and dbs often get it called for pushing a facemask without pulling it when jamming or getting off a jam.

by ChrisS :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:45pm

No I am saying you can touch the face mask without being called for a penalty. Touching the face mask while the ball is in flight may result in a pass interference penalty.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:56pm

Well, when I see pressure applied to a facemask, and the players head move in response, I very, very, frequently see an illegal hands to the face penalty called. When a receiver or defender does it, as the ball is traveling in the air to them, as was the case here, then PI comes into play. Also, again, I see the facemask being pulled, when I watch the replay.

I really think a no call is a reasonable outcome with regard to the actions between the tight end and linebacker here, without reference to the penalty being announced, and then the flag picked up.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:01pm

See, I thought it should have been offsetting penalties. The linebacker wasn't playing the ball and that as defined is Pi. Yes pettigrew got away with the push against the facemask so that should have been PI as well. Offsetting meant a replay of the down. Oh, and dez bryant really is a moron.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:10pm

If offsetting PI was more than two or three times a season (according to another poster here) occasion, I could see it, but since it is hardly ever called, I'm fine with just letting it go.

Like I said, I wish the NFL wouldn't penalize a team for a player's behavior which has no impact on the competition, short of threatening or touching the ref. Make the fines big enough, and the behavior will stop, but I could see the NFLPA digging their heels in on that.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 6:19pm

For what it is worth Dean Blandino said the interference call was debatable but that he would have preferred the crew stick with the original call, that the Dallas defender clearly held earlier in the play, that he would have supported a penalty on Bryant for unsportsmanlike conduct and that the apparent face mask by Pettigrew was minimal contact and not a penalty.

Basically the head of officials just stated his crew that day got everything wrong in the situation.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 6:35pm

Yes, it would have been much easier to live with if the crew hadn't announced the call. If they'd taken the moment to confer and decide what the penalty should be, some people would be upset, but nowhere near as many. It just looks amateurish to announce a DPI and then say 10 seconds later "No penalty on the play."

I don't have a strong opinion about what the call should be (though I lean towards a penalty on the defense) but I do think that they look like clowns when they reverse calls already announced.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 6:48pm

Yeah, the only thing that was the least bit unusual about the play was the flag thrown, call announced, and then retracted. The rest of it was stuff that happens fairly frequently, often drawing flags, but not infrequently failing to do so. It's just really hard to call an NFL game without a fair amount of variation. It makes me think the league has been fortunate to avoid a Donaghy-style scandal.

by Noah Arkadia :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 1:36pm

I agree, a no call is fine for me and the problem was the process. However, the fact that it is a common occurrence that long-time fans who have access to slow-motion hi-def multiple-angle replays disagree about calls days after the fact signals to me that this is not an officiating problem, but the nature of the game itself. It is an arbitrary game and we should just accept that and move on instead of thinking in terms of right and wrong, because this kind of thing consistently happens every week or two. I can certainly understand why the league doesn't want replay to review PI calls, since there is no clarity, no objectivity at all that can be applied to them.

Clearly blown calls are a different matter, of course, but they are less frequent.

Who, me?

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:00pm

Quick Thoughts from the Games:


- That Carolina defense is scary good right now. Yes, it is Ryan Lindley, but that same offense put up 390 yards and 17 points against SF one week ago, and put up far more yards against the Seahawks. The Panthers defense didn't allow them to do anything on drives starting outside of the Panthers 30

- Cam has to throw better, and I really hope his ankle isn't a lingering issue after teh late-game stamping


- I actually enjoyed this game very much. These were two good but not great teams that both played reasonably well. The Ravens were better and it showed, and they did an amazing job of masking their largest weakness. I was stunned how much pressure they were able to get n Ben

- Roethlisberger played decently, but hung a few too many passes. Despite the successes of the Steelers offense this year, I still think Haley is the wrong man for htis offense, which is show also by their continual struggles in the Red Zone.


- Andy Dalton is not a very good player, but I really can't fault him for that game. He was essentially without his Top-4 targets from when they broke training camp (Green, Jones, Eifert, Gresham). Losing Eifert and Jones is OK when AJ Green is there, but without Green they were hopeless. I'm surprised they didn't try to use Gio Bernard more in the passing game

- Andrew Luck is incredible. By my count, he started the game 10-20, with three of those being drops and a few bad, sailing high passes. He then finished 21-24, with one drop (Fleener), and a few amazing throws. He was also checking down far more than I've seen him, which is a good development.

- Nice to see it looks like the staff has fully benched Trent Richardson


- I'm not sure how this happened. I was paying full attention, but I'm not sure what happened to the Lions offense in teh 2nd half after the field goal to make it 20-7. They never scored, and were given no help on their one decent drive, but what did Dallas change

- It is sad that that game may be the best this current Lions iteration is. Unless Stafford turns back the clock to 2011 (and he may, given that he's just 26), the defense will likely get worse with Suh almost assuredly leaving. They went from a Top-6 offense to a Top-2 defense, but could never get those both together

- I don't know if I should be encouraged or discouraged that the Cowboys won without really playing too well? Romo was OK, but the o-line was bad for most of the game, Murray was average, Dez had just one real play, and they had to rely on YAC to really be effective.

Not a great weekend, probably better than the dud that was Wild Card Weekend in 2012, but a big step down from last year's Wild Card brilliance. I like all 4 matchups next week (I give Carolina a better shot than most to keep it close).

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:39pm

If the assumption is accurate that Romo was most responsible for the Cowboys failure to adjust to the Lions stunts, which is not terribly unreasonable, then I think you have to say Romo really stunk in the 1st half, and I say that as a consistent Romo defender.

by Mark S. :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:11pm

Yeah, I just mentioned it in the other thread, but I think Romo has always been bad at reading the blitz and assigning protection presnap (and I'm a sort-of Romo defender as well). That killed him in the first half. I thought the Lions getting away from those blitz packages in the second half was a huge mistake.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:13pm

Look below for the insightful post, regarding the personnel change, the Cowboys made in the 2nd half, which made it a lot harder for the Lions to stunt. Good stuff.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:54pm

"Nice to see it looks like the staff has fully benched Trent Richardson"

I think it was done covertly. He was reportedly suffering from "dehydration" after being ill. If Boom Herron had the same illness, I bet he still would have played.

by DL580G7 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:01pm

The Cardinals only put up 216yds vs the Seahawks in week 16.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:07pm

Okay, so "far" may have been an overstatement. But the people trump up Seattle's defense for holding a bunch of teams to nothing. Two of those games were against that same Cardinals team.

I'm not saying the Seahawks defense is worse than Carolina's, but that Carolina's defense had a lot to do with the Cardinals putting up in reality 98 yards (they lost 20 on that meaningless lateral play).

by Perfundle :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:41pm

One of those games wasn't against the "same" Cardinals team, because they still had Stanton at the time.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:52pm

You're right, my bad.

Overall, I'm more pointed at the idea of discrediting the Panthers defensive performance because 'it was Ryan Lindley'. To hold any NFL offense to under 100 yards is incredible, and coming off giving up 10-17-13-6 points is good production for any defense.

Seattle is coming in with an incredible stretch of defensive performances. Carolina is coming with a really impressive one as well.

by chemical burn :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:35pm

Yeah - I'm not sure what's being argued in the context if the point you're making, other than people seem to be against it somehow. Either the Seahawks performance was impressive against Arizona and the Carolina performance was REALLY freakin' impressive or neither was because Lindley stinks. It also fits neatly in the larger context, "like Seattle, Carolina has utterly dominated some mediore-to-bad offenses in their final stretch." While the second part is more of an open issue, the first part is unassailable.

by Perfundle :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 6:56pm

I think the point would be that the degree of dominance against a Lindley-led squad is not that important. I wouldn't expect Carolina to hold them under 100 yards if they played again, just like I wouldn't expect Seattle to get almost 600 yards of offense against Arizona if they played a third time.

by Otis Taylor89 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:10pm

OK, I really, really don't understand the picking up the flag on the PI, except it was bad angle view of the back judge, but not to call Dez Bryant for being on the field directly after the play with no helmet was just strange - it seems to be in the refs wheelhouse for calling unsportsmanlike conduct. Game was over after that, OK after not going for it on 4th and 1 and the punt(?!?).

by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:16pm

If you judge Suggs purely on sacks, then his HOF case is not great. And keep in mind pro bowl and all pro voting is largely based on sacks as well.

But considering he is an absolutely dominant run defender and terrific against screens, as well as a very good pass rusher, I think he is probably deserving. As an OLB in a 3-4 scheme, he was also asked to drop in coverage more often than the average pass rushing specialist, which probably cut into his sack numbers. I'd say he's a much more well rounded and versatile player than Mathis, Allen, Ware, Abraham, Freeney, M. Williams, and Peppers.

Looking at his stop rate on his FO page, for what it is worth, Suggs ranks 2, 1, 11, 1, 1, 8, 2, 1, and 5 from 2004 on.

Having a DPOY along with a Super Bowl ring helps his chances too.

by Joshua Northey :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:35pm

Yeah I was under the impression he was at the top for his position almost his whole career. Right along the likes of Jared Allen but more consistent.

I am not sure he compares unfavorably to that list at all.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:43pm

Jared Allen, until this year, was really, really, consistent, and not even close to a one-dimensional pass rusher.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:57pm

Jared Allen was probably the Bears best defender this year. The pass rush with him in and out of the lineup was night and day, and the front 4 was the only part of the defense I wouldn't call "total disaster".

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:01pm

I thought he was much better than his sack total indicates, and that his setback with what, pneumonia (?), kinda' set him back for about 25% of the season.

by Eddo :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:25pm

I'd go with Willie Young in a landslide.

Allen had a terrible first six games or so, but then he did pick up. He had a tendency to overplay everything, which meant any sort of read option play was a success for the opposing offense.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:44pm

Jared Allen was quite good against the run.

by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:55pm

Yeah I agree with that, I just lumped Allen in there because that's who the FO staff was comparing Suggs to. But it should be noted that Suggs also drops into to coverage as well, which I don't think Allen did much of.

Allen is a well rounded HOF-caliber player as well.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:00pm

In a sane Pro Football Hall of Fame world, they'd both get in without much delay.

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:51pm

As was Demarcus Ware for the first 90% of his career (the period before his chronic neck / shoulder issues emerged).

by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:52pm

While obviously not advanced stats, I think these two list do help to show Suggs' versatility.

Career solo tackles (and assists)

Suggs 508 (223)
Allen 479 (131)
Peppers 477 (122)
Ware 476 (139)
Abraham 446 (101)
Mathis 367 (120)
Williams 293 (74)
Freeney 266 (45)

Career passes defended (and interceptions)

Peppers 75 (11 int)
Allen 55 (5 int)
Suggs 49 (7 ints)
Abraham 29 (1 int)
Ware 25 (3 int)
Williams 21 (0 int)
Mathis 19 (1 int)
Freeney 16 (0 int)

Freeney while a very good pass rusher really was a one trick pony.

by Otis Taylor89 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:10pm

I think they all should get in.
Great pass rushers are really the only thing in this league keeping some of these high powered offenses from scoring 75 points/game.

by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:20pm

I tend to agree with you. It's a very compelling group close in age. I just think Allen, Peppers and Suggs are just a bit better because they're more complete players.

I also think it's a sort of a mini golden age. If you look at:


At their respective ages. Obviously J.J. Watt is the face of the next generation of pass rushers (and an out of sight one) but I don't think overall they'll be as good. I could be wrong.

by tuluse :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:00pm

As passing becomes more frequent (and offenses are generally running more total plays), we're going to see defensive counting stats increase as well.

That said, you'd have a hard time convincing me that Allen, Peppers and Suggs are not Hall of Fame players. Freeney and Mathis seems a little more controversial to me, but I'm no expert.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:08pm

As pure pass rushers go - Freeney was something special. In terms of hall of fame - there is going to be a serious logjam at defensive end the way wide receiver is now - and that's because of the passing inflation. I think Suggs will get in on reputation as much as production but if I were choosing pass rushers in order of contemporaries(meaning not including Jason Taylor), my order would be :

Allen, Peppers, Ware, Freeney, Abraham and then Suggs. Of the group above, Freeney was the worst run defender, but I think Suggs was a cut below all of them in the pass rushing department. All 5 deserve the hall though.

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:41pm

You said all 5 deserve the HoF, so I'm nitpicking, but I'd have Ware first. His sack rate per start is higher than Allen and Peppers, he was a strong run defender up until his last 1.5 years in Dallas, and he has a case versus Lawrence Taylor as the greatest 3-4 OLB of all time:


by tuluse :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:46pm

Ware, Freeney, and Mathis got to play with offenses than put pressure on the opposing team to pass a lot more often than Peppers, Allen and Suggs did.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 8:32pm

Exactly. Equally relevant to me is how much Ray Edwards fell of a cliff after leaving Jared Allen. Not too mention, how the chiefs pass rush evaporated the year after they dealt Allen to the Vikings.

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 10:53pm

That feels anecdotal and not necessarily true. Probably hard to check how many passing downs Ware faced versus Allen, but I'm skeptical it's a huge differentiator over the course of their careers.

If we're talking about players benefiting from running mates, then we'd have to talk about any boost Allen got from having the Williams Wall inside of him. The supporting casts for most of these guys seem roughly equal, with the possible exception of Peppers.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:08pm

double post

by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:29pm

Mike Kurtz: "Pittsburgh settling for field goals is not surprising at all. To channel Billy Beane, Haley's @#%@ doesn't work in the red zone."

The Ravens have easily the best red zone D in the league as well (-42% DVOA). I'm sure NE will move the ball between the 20's against them, but if they can hold up in the red zone they'll have a shot.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:33pm

"The Steelers have advanced in the playoffs just twice in Mike Tomlin's eight seasons. Is that up to the standard?"

It's better than Marvin Lewis.

Seriously, Tomlin is not a great gameday coach. John Harbaugh is much better. He outcoached Tomlin again on Saturday. The Steelers outplayed the Ravens and still lost. They trailed at halftime after having more than 20 minutes of possession. How do you do that?

by Joshua Northey :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:41pm

The "problem" with Tomlin and Lewis is that they are very likely better than any replacement. So are you looking to maximize your average wins or your chance of creating a dynasty?

Neither one is going to be the next BB...but even if you ditch them you have a what 1/20 chance of finding the next BB? Less?

And probably a 13/20 chance of finding someone worse than what you have.

As an owner I expect it is better to win 8-10 games each year than be terrible for 20 years and then great for 10.

Basically I think many NFL teams get criticized for not making the right decision in a maximax strategy as regards coaching, and it is silly because they are clearly aiming for a maximin.

by Fierydemise :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:41pm

Its basically the same issue with QBs. Sure you could cut Daltin but, even ignoring cap implications, do you actually get better? This is a potentially richer QB market than in past years but can we be sure even the cream of the crop, the Cutler/Hoyer/RG3 group, are better than Daltin?

by Boots Day :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:26pm

It's a silly, cherry-picked way to look at Tomlin's record. Tomlin has coached the Steelers for eight seasons and made the playoffs five times; that's obviously above average. He's made two Super Bowls in eight years; that's obviously above average. He's won one Super Bowl in eight years; that's obviously above average. The Steelers are now 5-4 in the playoffs under Tomlin; that's obviously above average.

But yes, there's one way to look at his record that makes him look not so great. So what?

by RickD :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:15pm

Expressing an opinion isn't "cherry-picking". I stated my opinion about Tomlin's ability as a coach. At no point did I say it was a statistical opinion.

by Football Michae... :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:23pm

Marvin Lewis isn't an "elite" coach, but go take a look at who's on the market right now and decide whether you'd prefer any of them. There's a chance you might pick up one of the hot coordinators... or end up interviewing Jack Del Rio.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:35pm

The list of guys who would do better with a team owned by Mike Brown is pretty darned short.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:43pm

This. Stability is underrated in sports. Yes, the ceiling for the Marvin Lewis Bengals may be below that of a Super Bowl, but that ceiling is also well above what the Bengals have been since Wyche, and likely what they would be without him.

Marvin Lewis has brought stability and professionalism to that organization. He's brought competency and the perception of legitimacy. Sure, the Bengals may not win a Super Bowl, but consistently going 8-8 or better (all but three years for Marvin), making the playoffs 6 times in 10 years, and making the Bengals viable enough to get 2-4 primetime games a year and some form of national importance is very meaningful.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:56pm

That's exactly what I say whenever someone says Marvin Lewis should be fired: "Do you remember what 1992-2002 was actually like for the Bengals?"

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:04pm

I cannot believe the frequency with which people, even people who try to earn money by knowing better, forget how hyper competitive the NFL biosphere is, and just how damnably difficult it is to be just average. Most importantly, that getting someone who will be above average at anything, to replace a person who is already above average, is just ridiculously hard, and can't be counted on.

by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:48pm

Really all the talk this week about ‘’exorcising the elephant in the room”. The elephant is Mike Brown. If he can be exorcised, then maybe the Bengals can move to another level, otherwise Marvin Lewis is the best option.
Sure Marvin isn’t the best gameday coach, but you know maybe next year they have A.J. Green and a few lucky bounces and voila a playoff victory.

by beargoggles :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 3:26am

Honestly if I were a Cincy fan, this year would be way down my list of disappointments. How did this team go 10-5-1? Without AJ Green what are their strengths? (OK, I'll give you secondary. WIth such an anemic pass rush, does it matter?

The teams with running, AJ Green, and supposedly a dominant DL, that would have been more disappointing.

by Football Michae... :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:53pm

Most of the people on that list would want personnel control, which Mike Brown the GM wouldn't let Mike Brown the owner give away.

by Rick_and_Roll :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:45pm

Besides the Ravens, the biggest winner of the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game was Denver. They got to bypass a hot Pittsburgh team and get the one-dimensional Colts instead and the Patriots have to play a Ravens team that matches up better against them than anyone in the conference.

I guarantee that both the Patriots and Broncos were hoping to be able to play the winner of the Indy-Cincy game.

by Mark S. :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:16pm

Totally agreed. I was not a big believer in the AFC North in general, given that they played a really weak schedule (half their games against the putrid Southern divisions!) , but the Ravens are by far the most dangerous team for the Pats to get in the AFC, and the Colts are just not very inspiring.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:52pm

That call/no-call is pretty far down on the list of things I was depressed about after the game. There's no guarantee that the Lions would have scored a touchdown to ice the game on that drive anyway.

I was more upset about Caldwell not having the balls to go for it on 4th down. I literally slammed my fist down on a table as soon as I realized the Lions had no intention of snapping the ball on 4th and 1. The Lions had so many chances to win that game. Timid playcalling, ill-timed breakdowns in pass protection, and ill-timed breakdowns in pass coverage is what cost them.

Once the sting goes away, I'll probably look back fondly on this past season (when in August I wasn't expecting much). With Suh likely leaving, and Teryl Austin likely taking an HC job, the defense will probably be worse. I can only hope once the offensive line gets healthy, and Stafford has another training camp in Joe Lombardi's system, the offense will be better to compensate.

by The Powers That Be :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:45pm

Yeah. I was thrilled when they decided not to go for it on 4th-and-1. When the other team is happy with your coaching decision, it's probably wrong.

I was also thrilled (and shocked) that Garrett went for it on the 4th-and-6. He has been one of the most, if not the most, conservative coaches over the last few years, which drives me nuts. But he made the gutsy and correct calls yesterday, and the football gods smiled on him for it.

by ChrisS :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:30pm

Seeing the offense stay on I got a momentary thrill. Then two seconds later I say they are doing the hard-count crap and not going to snap the ball (which might be a good strategy against the Lions D).

by Tim Wilson :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:58pm

From Tom: "It seemed like the Lions went away from the pressure schemes. Especially on the drive leading to Williams' go-ahead score, it seemed like there were an awful lot of four-man rushes. The Levy blitz where he ended up holding Dunbar on third down to set up the touchdown was one of the rare exceptions. I don't think it was Dallas' protections holding up that much better, though I could be wrong on that."

The Cowboys went to 3-wide as their base set in the second half, versus a lot of two TE looks they used in the first half. This forced DET into the nickel, and Dallas proceeded to have some successful runs against the nickel from the shotgun. The running success seemed to slow down the pass rush, or maybe the Lions just had fewer viable pass rushers on the field in the nickel and the source of the pressure was therefore more predictable.

Either way, the change to the 3-wide set corresponded with more time for Romo in the pocket.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:05pm

Yeah, there was a real coaching or quarterback breakdown by the Cowboys in the 1st half, that was fixed at half time. I think Romo was at least partially at fault, but when you have 5 good offensive linemen, a two te set can make things easier for the defense, as opposed to getting defenders more spread out.

by big10freak :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:10pm

A contributing factor of lesser Detroit defensive performance is that because the offense kept not trying the defense was on the field and looking wearier with each Dallas drive.

The first half and a bit the Detroit defense was FLYING around the field.

by Mark S. :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:31pm

Great point. I think the pass rush slowed down less because of the run success and more because the Lions blitzed less. DET got OK pressure with the front four all game, but their early dominance on defense came from the blitz packages. But yes, that could well be because they had fewer viable blitzers while in nickel.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:02pm

A lot of Lions fans online are saying Stafford should be replaced because he "can't get it done in the playoffs".

There are legitimate arguments to be made that the Lions need a new quarterback, but losing two road playoff games to a 13-3 and a 12-4 team, where he played reasonably well, are definitely not among them.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:18pm

Those Lions fans should be asked when Amazon started free shipping on qbs obviously superior to Stafford. Funny, the Vikings kept getting Tavarissagekellygusbrookschristian arriving via UPS, for about a decade.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:39pm

Yep, the Lions got the KitnaOrlovsklyCorpseOfCulpepper package the last time they sent away for new new quarterback.

by Mark S. :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:27pm

It's easy to say stuff like that after a frustrating loss. But I though Stafford played very well yesterday. The one interception was fairly fluky, and he was tough to bring down and made some plays moving around with poise. I wish they would have called more passing plays in the third quarter and early 4th.

And that's aside from the fairly obvious reality in which there are no available quarterbacks better than Stafford.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:46pm

They did have over 40 dropbacks, but I agree the playcalling was too conservative, as even when they did pass, they rarely attacked the deep middle, where Stafford does best. I think when they saw how much trouble the offensive line was having in pass protection in the 2nd half, they started to turtle.

I would argue the Lions need a new center (Swanson looks he'll do nicely, left guard, and oline depth far more urgently than a new quarterback.

by Paul R :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:11pm

As a Colts fan, I'm very happy the Ravens won and are playing New England next week. If you have an appointment to fight Muhammad Ali, it's nice to know that he's going to mix it up with Joe Frazier the week before you step into the ring with him.

Of course, we have to beat the Broncos first. In Denver. It could happen...

by Bobman :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:48pm

Well said, but who does that make Denver? George Foreman? Ken Norton? (Trying to remain era-appropriate)

((I DO sometimes think of Luck as Tyson, since he plays from a squatting stance pretty often rather than guys like Brady who could play with casts on their locked knees and not notice a difference.))

by Paul R :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:26pm

Ken Norton, definitely. More disciplined and scientific and less of a power-puncher.
The Colts, in this analogy, would be Chuck "Tomato Can" Wepner.

by ChrisS :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:35pm

Or maybe Jerry "I Bleed" Quarry

by Bobman :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:36pm

Hell, that's pretty harsh. No, on second thought, unbearably insulting. In fact, them's fightin' words. I challenge you both to a... wait a minute, a cut seems to have opened up over my eye. Hang on a bit, okay?

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:28pm

Everyone here is clearly missing the basic fact; the NFL is actively engaged in a giant conspiracy to favor the Cowboys. This is the only possible explanation for the long, uninterrupted string of success Dallas has had over the last decade or so. Picking up that PI flag is just the latest chapter in Goodell personally making sure the Cowboys do nothing but win every single year.

Uh . . . right?

by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:35pm

Precisely. And the most sinister part was Goodell and Jones secretly concocting that whole salary cap penalty which Jerry complained about publicly but was really just part of the grand conspiracy.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:42pm

That's what I keep telling people....if there's a grand conspiracy to keep the Cowboys in contention late into the playoffs, they haven't been doing a very good job over the last two decades.

What others have pointed out above is what I firmly believe: never blame a conspiracy when incompetence is much more believable explanation.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:45pm

It's obvious that Darth Goodell is playing a multi-decade Long Game, and now that he has lulled us to sleep, is ready to spring his diabolical trap!!

by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:54pm

Why else is Chris Christie in the owner's box? In all seriousness, can someone please put a stop to that.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:03pm

They wanted to cast Jabba the Hutt, without blowing the special effects budget?

by Hurt Bones :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:09pm


by The Powers That Be :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 1:49pm

Yeah, I have no idea why everyone's talking about a conspiracy to favor the Cowboys, when it's clearly a conspiracy to keep the Lions down.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:09pm

Wasn't there also an officiating blunder that cost the Lions a fumble-return TD in their WC loss to the Saints in '11?

Granted, given that the Saints gained all the yards in that game, they probably win anyway, but the Lions should have gone up 21-7.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:51pm

I was mad about that quick whistle at the time, but as soon as I realized that the Lions replacement-level secondary had no hope in hell of slowing down Drew Brees in that game, I forgot all about it.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:36pm

Detroit in general has had so many nice things in recent years the NFL is just trying to balance everything out by making the Lions bad for a change. It's only fair.

by ZDNeal :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:32pm

The conspiracy is for Dean Blandino to get back on the Jones' party bus.

by ChrisS :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:11pm

wrong post

by joe football :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:18pm

two superbowl appearances in 8 years, ugh he's almost as bad as cowher

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:33pm

It's absolutely amazing that a guy can have the 14th best winning percentage of anyone who has coached 100 NFL games, one championship, and another Super Bowl appearance, and people can entertain the thought that replacing him with someone better isn't very much a longshot. This sort of thinking is how Marty Schottenheimer gets fired, so as to install Ted Cottrell as defensive coordinator(!), then followed by Norv Turner as head coach.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:21pm

I'll say this about Tomlin - its hard to know what he's bringing to the table exactly. He's not responsible for the offensive schemes and the defense they run isn't the one he coached the vikings with. Personally, I lean with scott on this one - hes a solid coach but he doesn't seem to bring much else to the table. And besides, I've long since come determined that most coaches are average and the difference comes from their inimitable "skill" of getting a great qb. I mean, the only thing that separates leslie frazer from chuck pagano is the ponderous one(stole your line there will).

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:32pm

Yeah, in my NFL coaching evaluation universe, everybody gets Gus Ferotte for 5 seasons at qb, so we can begin to tell which ones are geniuses to be working for the right team in the right draft year.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:35pm

I second and third this! And gus frerotte is the perfect replaceable qb isn't he? WHo else qualifies as a qb good enough to get you right on the doorstep of the playoffs ...and yet bad enough to throw 4 horrible picks in the season finale to send you home? I guess Sage Rosenfels, Fitzpatrick, and a few others qualify as well.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:57pm

Chris Berman had the perfect line for Gus Frerotte back in the early 2000s: "He's this generations Steve Deberg...he keeps both teams in the game"

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:03pm

By the time he arrived he arrived at the Vikings, unfortunately, he was better at making the opponent competitive.

by Paul R :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:38pm

Big mistake to let Roethlisberger back in the game after hitting his head. Bill Barnwell's column this morning reminded me that the NFL's concussion protocol takes about 15-20 minutes.
I guess it's a good thing that Ben didn't have a concussion, only "whiplash." Yeah, right.
Gotta blame Tomlin for that. Pittsburgh's offense wasn't foundering, the backup QB (name?) had gotten them down the field and into scoring position without a hitch. Tomlin rushed the brain-damaged Roethlisberger back in after only two minutes rest only because he's Ben Roethlisberger, not because the situation was desperate.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:43pm

The NFLPA should remove all power from NFL management, with regard to whether a possibly concussed player is allowed back on he field. The union should have a neurologist, that the union is paying, who has complete authority to remove the player.

Of course, the dirty little secret may be that the union doesn't want to have that power.

by duh :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:30pm

I think that both parts of your post are exactly right

by ChrisS :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:52pm

That he threw an int on his first play back may indicate he was not mentally where he needed to be.

by chemical burn :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:43pm

And an interception that was clearly the fault of a malfunctioning brain at that. One of the worst, easiest picks you'll ever see.

by Julio :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 2:41pm

Harbaugh: "Flacco is the best QB in the NFL." A plausible attempt to bait Brady and
maybe also the Pats coaching staff into trying to win the upcoming game by "putting
the ball in Brady's hands". That's what they did against the Jets in 2010 and
against Baltimore the last two times, failing miserably 2 out of 3 times, almost 3.
Baltimore, Buffalo, Jets are among the teams that know how to pressure Brady. The
Pats should feature Vereen and Blount with nothing but draws, counters and sweeps
until the 4th quarter, then go uptempo with Brady calling the plays.


by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:22pm

Rex certainly seemed to be baiting Tom in 2010, but you appear to be tossing in 2012 for no reason. Why was the team so determined to "put the ball in Brady's hands" that year? More importantly is that you overlook the fact that it took several drops by receivers and Talib's injury for the supposed game plan to work.

by Julio :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:52pm

Because Brady threw 54 passes that game? Because he ended up with 1 TD and 2 INT's?
A rating of 62? Because they only scored 13 points? What did Talib have to do with
them only scoring 13 points? More often than not when the Pats play teams like Bal,
they try to force the passing and are either unwilling or unable to get a proper running game going to offset the pass rush of the opponent. Whether that's coming from Brady or the coaching staff or both, you would think they would have learned their lesson by now.

by SandyRiver :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 1:00pm

When Balt scored with 11:13 remaining to make the score 28-13, the Pats had passed 33 times and run 27, and that 27th rush was the fumble that led to the Ravens' 4th TD. After that they had 1 run, 21 passes, and both picks. Maybe if Talib had stayed healthy, Boldin doesn't make all those crucial catches? (I don't know if Talib was covering Boldin, or if so how often, so the question may be a bit moot.)

by Julio :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 1:59pm

And why were the Pats down 21-13 before Ridley's fumble/KO?
The point is not the number of running plays, it's the type, and also the reliance
on Brady when it's 3rd and short to pass instead of run. Here are the first four
drives of that game (down, distance, type of play, result):

1 10 run 3
2 7 run 5
3 2 pass inc

1 10 pass 8
2 2 run 3
1 10 pass
2 2 pass inc
3 2 pass 3
1 10 pass inc
2 10 pass 10
1 10 run 1
2 9 pass 16
1 10 run 2
2 8 reverse 6
3 2 run ng

1 10 run 7
2 3 run 1
3 2 pass 8
1 10 pass inc
2 10 run 1
3 9 pass inc

1 10 pass inc
2 10 pass 8
3 2 pass inc

Look at the types of running plays that Houston played against Baltimore this
season, look at the type of running plays that the Pats (finally) decided to use
against the Jets in their second meeting when they went hurry up after the half.
Counters/misdirections/screens with the scatback like Vereen. Obviously the Pats
can't rely on the pass entirely against a team like Baltimore. Obviously they
can't run straight into the line every time either.

by SandyRiver :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 2:42pm

"And why were the Pats down 21-13 before Ridley's fumble/KO?"

Several reasons, including your pbp data. One other might be Welker's drop of a relatively easy 3rd down pass that would've produced (if caught) a 1st down at about the Ravens' 25 after the Pats had driven almost 60 yards on their initial possession of the 2nd half, while still ahead 13-7. There were other Pats drops, but that one changed the game (he said in hindsight.)

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 3:52pm

Caldwell needs to be skewered for that fraidy cat punt decision. Also, I felt like the second half offensive approach was a Caldwell mandate as well, though we'll never know. Seriously, the Detroit defense did about as well as any defense could against a hot offense on the road. This loss is totally on the offense and unlike Cincy, you can't blame it on poor qb play or a lack of weapons.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:02pm

Agreed on all counts. Caldwell and his staff seem to have done a lot of nice things as far as preparation the week before the game, but on gameday, he is a terrible decision-maker. Every close win they've had this year has been due to incompetence from the other team or coach (Hi Mike Smith!).

by Hang50 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:05pm

I have the same complaint about Jack Del Rio: great preparation, mediocre-to-bad in-game adjustments.

So as a Denver fan, the worst-case scenario is facing a great game-day coach on the road (where crowd noise doesn't help the defense). Thankfully, Belichick and Harbaugh are otherwise engaged next weekend, and Denver is at home.

by ChrisS :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:13pm

Way too conservative on offense. No bombs to Calvin and only 8 targets. He is the best player on the team, use him, use him more.

by Purds :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 4:23pm

As a Colts fan, I am glad that we won our "Super Bowl" on Sunday, as I assume we are going to get pounded this coming weekend. They are who we thought they were: a team good enough to beat average and bad teams, but I am afraid they are also going to be who we think they are, not good enough to beat a good or better team, ala Denver (or New England had Pitt won).

PS: terrible luck for NE to play Baltimore and not Indy. I still think NE wins, but this could be a contest. I just don't think Indy is there yet to compete with the big boys.

by Bobman :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:44pm

Hey you, stop that now! Yes, Den on the road will be a huge challenge, but did you think the Colts could have beaten them (or SF or SEA) last year? (liar!) Colts won with some pretty horrid breaks yesterday, i.e. the drops, three drives starting at the 9, a muffed kickoff return, etc. Still dominated a mediocre team. A mediocre team, I'll add, that beat the Broncos a couple weeks earlier.

Denver should rightfully be favored by a handful but the Colts have a decent chance. (Better than if they played in Foxboro.)

by Hang50 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:18pm

A UC Irvine sighting at FO! Will wonders never cease? Thanks, Aaron! (For unaware readers, UCI does not have a football team. Fells played basketball.)

Off-topic note: back in 1990, the Anteaters made the finals of Big West BB tourney, which they lost. Had they won, however, they would have easily been the lowest-ranked team (somewhere in the 230s, I think) ever to make the NCAA tournament. I always root for my alma mater, but that year I rooted especially hard, albeit in vain.

by beargoggles :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 3:38am

I went to a game at UCI once. The Anteaters beat my Cal Bears behind a maniacal crowd in a small gym. They were actually pretty good that year, I'm guessing 1999-2001, somewhere in there. I think just narrowly missed the tourney.

by Hang50 :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 4:42pm

The game you saw was in the 6,000-seat Bren Center. I was in its much small predecessor in Feb 1986, when UCI beat a Armen Gilliam-led UNLV team in a major upset. "Maniacal" is a great word to describe the home crowd, all 2,500 of us.

by TomC :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 4:14pm

The smaller Cal schools have some great team mascots (thinking of the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs as well).

by LyleNM :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:30pm

Ben Muth: 1) John Harbaugh is a great coach. Right behind the hooded one in the Power Rankings. To win a playoff game with both offensive tackles hurt is very impressive.

Really? Ahead of Pete Carroll? Maybe you should revise your list.

by chemical burn :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 5:59pm

Harbaugh has a longer track record of success. Carroll has two losing seasons out of five. Harbuagh has zero in seven. Carroll hasn't had yet to weather a storm of free agents leaving, retirements or even a slew of significant injuries. I believe Carroll will do just fine with that stuff, but he hasn't yet and shouldn't yet be in the conversation with Harbaugh. Another Superbowl and another winning season or two would be all it takes, but that shouldn't be taken as a given considering the two losing seasons on his record. I don't think you can even put him above Mike McCarthy or Andy Reid at this point, just because of the limited body of work. Comparing any of them to Belichick is out of bounds.

by jacobk :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 6:18pm

If you want to play the team building card, maybe take into consideration the complete list of players Pete Carroll inherited when he took over who were on the Super Bowl winning roster:

Brandon Mebane
John Ryan

The reason Carroll hasn't had to deal much with free agents leaving is that he didn't have any vets worth keeping on the team to begin with.

by LyleNM :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 6:22pm

"Power Rankings" implies to me a measure of where they are *right now* (or at least for this season). It does not imply to me a measure of historical resume. If it were, then the Steelers would always be at the top of the league's "Power Rankings".

by Perfundle :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:09pm

Carroll hasn't had yet to weather a storm of free agents leaving

They lost Tate, Browner, Thurmond, Clemons, McDonald, Bryant, McQuistan and Giacomini; that accounts for over 20% of their snaps from last season.

Also, Harbaugh took over a team that was two years from a 13-3 season, when they had a decent QB. Flacco in his early years was a servicable QB, which was more than what Carroll had.

by beargoggles :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 3:48am

Yeah, I think Carroll is obviously very good. But Harbaugh's fantastic. I wouldn't be able to compare the 2 at this point and say clearly who's better because their records and styles and personnel are so obviously different. Regardless of personnel losses, the Seahawks are still quite loaded, except at OL and receiver. By the same token he shouldn't be blamed for the talent he started his (second NFL) career with.
I think both have in common being able to manage very big personalities yet keep the focus on team success. Harbaugh the Younger seemed to lose some of that ability this year.
Things they have in common: they are both ballsy. That 4th and very short call is one very few coaches would have made given the 2 score lead, but it was the right call. And neither to me has any obvious tactical blind spots like an Andy Reid.

by neithan2000 :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 5:03am

Don't forget Carroll's time with the Patriots and Jets. Here is Carroll's full W/L record as an NFL head coach:

83/61 for a winning percentage of .576 over nine years.

By contrast Harbaugh has been coaching 7 years and has a W/L record of 72-40 for a winning percentage of .643.

by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 6:02pm

John Harbaugh is putting up a really good resume, reminiscent of Andy Reid in his Philadelphia days, but with a Super Bowl as well.

6 playoff years in 7 seasons, at least one playoff win each time. That's really, really good.

What really impresses me about Harbaugh is that in a locker-room of huge personalities that basically ran that team in the Billick era, he was able to establish a consistent presence. He led that team through the retirements/leaving of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed (along with a ton of other players), and that team is good again.

You can credit Bisciotti, or Ozzie, or the coordinators, but Harbaugh is an important part of that as well.

by theslothook :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 6:45pm

I don't know if its just Harbaugh, but honestly, the Ravens as an organization really need to be commended because they've basically been using this same style and it has achieved a very long period of success despite not having a hall of fame qb as the primary reason. Its nearly always carried by good defense, good o lines, and a solid to sometimes great run game. Sure, the pass offense has been brutal at times. I credit Harbaugh a ton, but remember that stylistically, he hasn't been all that different from past ravens teams. The big change is prior teams were qbed by some really awful players while these ravens are helmed by flacco.

by techvet :: Mon, 01/05/2015 - 11:03pm

Aaron, Dan Fouts made the exact same point on Westwood One coverage - if Levy doesn't hold, it's probably an easy TD, so he thought it was the best that could be done.

by morganja :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 12:33am

The comments were of much better quality than the audibles this week.

by bubqr :: Tue, 01/06/2015 - 1:49am

"Tom Gower: Then bring in Terrelle Pryor, who can sort of throw downfield and throws a decent slant and run around, instead of Lindley, who if the first read is open literally can't do anything."

You get bad QBs that don't know what to do when their first read is open, and then you get the Ryan Lindleys, who can't do anything when their first read is. It does explain a lot about his performance.