Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Four Downs: AFC West

There's a serious need for defensive help in Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Oakland. In Denver, meanwhile, the Broncos must determine whether or not Case Keenum can really be a long-term solution at quarterback.

14 Jan 2018

Audibles at the Line: Divisional Round

compiled by Andrew Potter

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

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

While these emails 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 Browns fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Atlanta Falcons 10 at Philadelphia Eagles 15

Bryan Knowles: This is how you want to start the game for Philadelphia: A duck of a long bomb by Nick Foles, a good 15 yards short of his receiver, bailed out by defensive pass interference. Follow it up with a fumble on the very next play (like a punt! Cris Collinsworth says, despite it being first down in scoring range), and you have exactly what Doug Pederson and company drew up before the game. At least their defense came in and held Atlanta to a field goal on the ensuing drive, but that's not really the way to get your fanbase (and offense, for that matter) feeling comfortable with Foles behind center.

And then he's even worse on the next drive, overthrowing a couple balls, including a simple screen, and then taking a sack to knock them out of field goal range. Pederson said he wouldn't hesitate to pull Foles if he gets in trouble; we may see that put to the test if he can't zero in his aim. Nate Sudfeld isn't exactly a known quantity on the bench, though.

Dave Bernreuther: Great start for Foles and the Eagles through two drives: three horribly inaccurate throws, two of which were bailed out by pass interference, and a sack out of field goal range. Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount have each fumbled. The Falcons are already across midfield on their second drive, and Eagles fans can't like their chances here if they fall behind by two scores early.

Then again, we all had similar thoughts at this exact same time a week ago...

Scott Kacsmar: Do you think Atlanta was really going for that fourth-and-2 at midfield? Ryan sure threw the pass like it was legit, but it was poorly designed and wouldn't have worked. Falcons bailed out by the delay of game, which isn't always caught when the snap is so close to zero.

Andrew Potter: They sure were. It's the right place to do it: other team's side of midfield, but outside realistic field goal range. The third-down play, an inside run on third-and-4 defeated by Fletcher Cox, was also exactly what I would expect if they planned all along to go for it on fourth. Somehow, despite all that they never quite looked ready for the fourth-down play. The delay of game was that rare instance of a pre-play penalty working out better for the offense.

Other than that play, Atlanta has started pretty well on offense. Bryan mentioned the Eagles holding them to a field goal on the opening drive, but it was still basically a 60-yard drive from their own 26 to Philadelphia's 15, ended by a Taylor Gabriel drop in tight coverage. The Falcons found a lot of success attacking the perimeter of the defense with their outside zone running game and some short passes outside the numbers. Matt Ryan has been kept clean, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu both have their first catch, and both backs have been involved. It's not highlight-reel stuff, but they appear to be laying some useful groundwork.

Aaron Schatz: That Nelson Agholor jet sweep counter will be the most beautiful play of this game.

Well unless Julio goes nuts.

Derrik Klassen: Can anyone confirm that Doug Pederson and Frank Reich met with Paul Johnson this week?

Dave Bernreuther: Right after NBC runs the Mike Florio segment about Foles needing to start hot or he'd dig himself a hole, he completely turns things around and leads a nice drive, showing great awareness and accuracy, while also being aided by a running game that has been getting chunk yardage seemingly every time I look up. Excellent subtle pocket movement on a second-and-9 freed Foles for a nice completion to Zach Ertz, a sneaky jet sweep to Agholor down to the 3, and things looked great for the Eagles... until a THIRD Eagles running back -- Corey Clement this time -- drops the ball (to be fair, this one appeared to be entirely Foles' fault on the exchange), and Foles' swift recovery was correctly ruled short of the goal line.

I love Pederson for going for it, but generally dislike cramming all 22 players on the field into the box like that. But perhaps you can call that misdirection. Blount, always the side-to-side speedster, outraced everyone to the outside, which had no defenders, for an easy touchdown. I'll take credit for the reverse jinx on that one, as since my last email both the Eagles defense and offense have done everything well.

Bryan Knowles: Jay Ajayi never had more than 15 carries in a game for the Eagles this season. He had seven in the first quarter, and counting. I wonder how much of that is Carson Wentz being out and how much was keeping him fresh for the postseason? Either way, Atlanta is having trouble tackling, which they'll have to get sorted out sooner rather than later.

Andrew Potter: That Falcons goal-to-go sequence (after the muffed punt and holding call) was baffling. Levine Toilolo was open for a touchdown almost his entire route on first down, and Matt Ryan was rolling his way, but the quarterback waited, and waited, and waited ... then threw the pass to him the moment the defense got back in position. Really strange play. Then on third down, the Eagles had Ryan dead to rights, but he narrowly escaped the sack and lobbed the ball over Malcolm Jenkins -- who had left his assignment to attack the potential scramble -- to a suddenly-open Devonta Freeman. From one bewildering play he didn't make, to a tremendous one he did, we're seeing a bit of a mixed bag from Ryan so far.

It's crazy to think that the Eagles have now lost two fumbles and haven't even been unlucky with it: they've put a live ball on the ground no fewer than four times in the first half, and even their touchdown came one play after Nick Foles recovered a fumble on a very broken goal-line play.

Bryan Knowles: Nick Foles deep balls are an adventure. Not only do we have a couple big pass interference penalties, but now we have a ball that Keanu Neal accidentally knees 10 yards backwards into the hands of Alshon Jeffery. All those deep ball coin flips comin' up Foles.

Aaron Schatz: I thought, oh, there's no way Nick Foles sticks an out to get this into field goal range. And then he did.

I honestly feel like the Eagles have outplayed the Falcons a little bit here except the fumbles. That play where Clement just left the ball on the ground was awful and yet that one they recovered. Does this game feel like Ryan is playing that much better than Foles? He probably will going forward, but his one deep pass was a duck too thanks to pass pressure. The one thing he did that Foles hasn't is improvise under pressure and right now that's the difference.

Foles even better in third quarter to take 12-10 lead. Goes 5-of-7 on a scoring drive with a bad Ajayi drop on third down to force the field goal. This is the Foles we saw against the Giants, not the Raiders.

Bryan Knowles: Deep ball still isn't quite there, but the medium-ball is beginning to pick up for him. He leaned on Alshon Jeffery on that last drive, which is another wise decision on his part.

Kicking! All the kicking.

Andrew Potter: Collinsworth has spoken a lot about the size of Atlanta's interior linemen compared to last year, but the Falcons defense in general remains undersized and just can't handle the power of the Eagles. Almost every time a back is tackled, he's adding yards to the play before going down. Linebackers aren't able to shed blockers. The pass rush can't gain any traction at all. The play calling is only adding to the mismatch; every time the Falcons think they've broken through for a sack, they discover the ball is behind them on a screen or other misdirection play.

Atlanta's offense has had some reasonable gains in their own territory, but keeps stalling out near midfield. Their only points have come on the opening drive after Ajayi's fumble and the 18-yard touchdown drive after the muffed punt. Of his six total punts, Matt Bosher has punted from Eagles territory twice and midfield another twice.

Aaron Schatz: What is Doug Pederson doing with his timeouts? Holy Andy Reid School of Clock Management. The difference between a 21- and 26-yard field goal is nothing. If you are going to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1, you take a delay of game. The only reason to take a timeout would be to go for it.

Matt Ryan with beautiful touch on the fourth-and-6 pass to Julio.

Bryan Knowles: Splitting a fullback out wide on fourth-and-season may not be the best play design in the world. It might still have worked if Julio doesn't slip, though.

So, when it's all said and done, the Eagles held the Falcons scoreless on five straight drives to end the game. Steve Sarkisian will not have a good offseason in Atlanta.

Andrew Potter: The Falcons scored 10 points off turnovers. They scored zero on any other drives. They had one scoring drive over 18 yards long, and even that was a field goal. With Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman available, they split Derrick Coleman out wide on fourth-and-season. Yes, the Eagles defense is excellent, but that offensive performance was unacceptable.

Carl Yedor: Heck of a showing by the Philadelphia defense today. Nick Foles didn't set the world on fire, but he did just enough to get Philly into the NFC Championship Game. So much for Minnesota's chance to spend the entire postseason at home. Atlanta came into this game as a favorite due in large part to their advantage at quarterback, but the Eagles pulled it out at home, sending the Falcons home earlier than hoped for. Another result of this is that Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo will be busy for another weekend, meaning that teams looking to hire him as an offensive coordinator will have to be patient if they want to get their man.

Dave Bernreuther: I'm still a bit in shock that Julio didn't catch that. Didn't love the play design or throw but it did ultimately go right through his hands.

Bryan Knowles: One of the happiest groups of people in the world right now is the NFL. No matter what happens tomorrow, the Vikings won't be at home next week, so they can work on getting U.S. Bank Stadium ready for the Super Bowl. I know they were getting rather concerned about getting everything ready in time.

Aaron Schatz: Doug Pederson's scheme was great today. Lots of misdirection to take advantage of the speed on the Falcons defense. His clock management, though, will come back to bite them in the NFC Championship Game or the Super Bowl.

Tom Gower: Two big takeaways from that game to me are (1) that Nick Foles isn't a disaster as a quarterback. This shouldn't have been news to anybody. He's not as good as his numbers in Chip Kelly's first year, but he's a perfectly respectable backup quarterback. His final numbers weren't great, but he didn't make a game-changing mistake, dove on the fumble, and executed what they asked him to do. The quarterback doesn't always have to win the game for you (hint hint hint). Of course, Foles couldn't do this if Atlanta could move the ball. That lead us to takeaway (2) that the Eagles have a really good defense. Maybe this is just my perspective, but it feels like people have doubted this defense more than it should be doubted. Atlanta had eight possessions that didn't start in the red zone, and got three points out of them. Yes, fine, it could have been six except they had to go for it at the end of the game. But even that would have been just 0.75 points per possession. Fine, maybe Julio should have caught that ball. That still would have been a really good defensive game, and we'd be looking at the Eagles turnovers as the reason they lost. Again, not on the defense.

Also, I just checked the Falcons' numbers by back. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman each had ten carries. Of Freeman's carries, zero were successful. Of Coleman's carries, eight were successful.

Vince Verhei: I was at a family function and missed this game except for Atlanta's last drive. The only play call in the red zone I didn't like was the shovel pass on second down. You want to run some clock there so the Eagles won't have a chance at a winning field goal after you score, but on second-and-goal from the 9, you can still just hand the ball off. But since you threw incomplete on second down, you almost have to keep the ball in bounds on third down, and a slant to bring up fourth-and-2 makes total sense to me. And the fourth-down play, we'll never know, but if Jones had kept his footing it looked like he would have been open on the quick hook.

My real takeaway, though, is that holy smokes, watching the game on the Yahoo! App worked like a breeze. Zero buffering or freezing issues, better sound and video than I get on my TV. And this was on an iPhone 5! Someday we'll get the Sunday Ticket available on all devices and this is how we'll watch games. I, for one, can't wait.

Tennessee Titans 14 at New England Patriots 35

Aaron Schatz: It's interesting, we all thought James Harrison was coming to New England as a pass-rush specialist, but the Patriots are using him a lot more as a first- and second-down player. They are clearly stacking against the run early, with a lot of 4-3 instead of the 3-3-5 they've been mostly running. They've got Derrick Henry currently at six carries for 16 yards with 3:21 left in the first.

Great catch by Corey Davis for a touchdown to give the Titans 7-0 lead. Coverage was good by Malcolm Butler but Mariota dropped a dime. He also had a nice scramble for a first down on that drive, and a zone-read keeper for a first down with great blocking. Titans were moving the ball easily. But if right tackle Jack Conklin is out for more than just part of that drive, that's going to be a long-term problem for the Titans.

New England's first touchdown drive was brought to you by the numbers 32, 33, and 28. 32 as in Tennessee's DVOA against running backs in the passing game, and 33 and 28 as in Dion Lewis and James White taking advantage of it.

Tom Gower: And the key to the drive was it wasn't just getting the backs involved one way. The big play to Lewis was a screen, followed by a short pass to Lewis over the middle, then the touchdown "pass" to White off jet sweep action. Note, Andy Reid, they did not just throw a couple quick screens to a back flexed out wide or checkdowns. But, hey, playoff win, thanks!

Dave Bernreuther: The Titans don't have an answer for Dion Lewis yet. Whether it's sneaking through the line and between linebackers or behind the line of scrimmage like on the long non-touchdown, he has been wide open and tough to tackle so far.

He was tired from all that running free, it seems, so he came off the field on first-and-goal. No matter, though, as James White strolled in untouched around left end. That was a pretty effortless drive in response to the Davis touchdown.

Bryan Knowles: I know the Titans are bad at covering running backs, but even taking that into account, Lewis has been amazing. It makes you wonder how he didn't rise to the top of the depth chart in preseason, though I understand that the Patriots had, like, 12 running backs for a month and half or so.

Andrew Potter: He was dealing with a hamstring injury throughout preseason, and those things can linger for weeks even after they disappear from the injury report.

Aaron Schatz: I will admit that I did not see the false start that got reversed into a neutral zone infraction to extend the drive when the Patriots were going to punt deep in their own end. I don't know if it was a shaky call. But damn, it's on the Titans to maybe try stopping them the rest of the way down the field. The second quarter has been a bloodbath.

Bryan Knowles: Tennessee's clock management (and their timeout management, in particular) is criminal.

Wait, WHAT? Fourth-and-1, you use your final timeout. Strike one. You decide to run the ball anyway. Strike two. You bounce it outside rather than plowing forward. Strike three, you're out.

Vince Verhei: I walked in the door just in time to turn on the TV and watch the Titans absolutely butcher the end of the first half. My first reaction is to turn the TV off and go back out.

Scott Kacsmar: It's painful that Mike Mularkey needed to trail by two touchdowns to try a fourth down in opponent territory when he passed up a good shot at one earlier in the game. And I don't think that was a no-brainer call before halftime just because the doomsday scenario happened. They botched the play so badly that the Patriots really should have gotten a field goal out of that, but Stephen Gostkowski missed from 53 yards out.

Marcus Mariota looks fine, but I just don't have any faith in the Titans making this one interesting in the second half. I know I said that a week ago, but that was Kansas City, which lost Travis Kelce. There's no answers from Dick Lebeau for Rob Gronkowski tonight, or the running backs for that matter.

Tom Gower: Halftime here at Gillette Stadium, and Tennessee followed 15 minutes of near-perfect game with 15 minutes of a lot closer to what I expected coming into this game. We've seen the Derrick Henry run-heavy game plan I expected coming in. He has 24 yards on 11 carries at halftime, with his lone successful carry for 4 yards on first-and-10. It's been "Marcus Mariota saves the Titans on first down or they have to punt." The touchdown featured a bit of a bust by New England to get them from backed up to midfield, then a couple third-down plays, a scramble and a good design to Rishard Matthews on a stacked route, and then a beautiful throw to Corey Davis for his first NFL touchdown. But they've been backed up the entire game, with their best starting field position the 25 after taking a touchback on one of New England's kickoffs, so they've had to repeatedly execute to get into scoring territory. Their possession at the end of the first half might have been the most exasperating. Starting with 1:52 and three timeouts, they used 1:27 and all three stoppages (the last with the clock stopped after a third down incompletion) to go 30 yards and not even get to field goal range. At least they went for it on fourth-and-1. But when they did, they took out passing game personnel and put in a run-heavy set. So even if they had gotten the first down, they would have had to line up quickly, spike the ball, and run another successful passing play to get into field goal range. Naturally, Henry did what he did to lose him carries in the regular season, run backwards when there wasn't a hole he liked, and lost yardage because of that. A golden opportunity to double-up before and after the half and cut into the 14-point deficit was squandered.

New England's offense ... the tempo stuff killed Tennessee. As soon as the Titans lined up, the Patriots snapped the ball, and Tennessee isn't good enough to just line up and play against the Patriots. They don't have the rush to get there without bringing extra people or guys from unexpected directions, or to stick with them in coverage. Dion Lewis in particular was problematic, and no surprise about that, as I've already noted, while Danny Amendola has moved the chains (low yards-per-catch, but still a key role). And Brady processes things so quickly, and he has so many options most of the time that it's hard to stick with them. The third touchdown, to Chris Hogan, appeared to be a curl-flat ready, like looking to Gronkowski on the flat as his primary read. Tennessee had that covered, but Brady had enough time to find Hogan coming across the back of the end zone from the other side of the field.

One macro-level point is that the first half looked like the Titans offense we saw in the regular season, without the same shotgun, pass-oriented, three-wide receiver looks we saw late in the regular season or against Kansas City. Rather, they went back to what their first instinct is, and with the same results that made Tennessee an average offense by DVOA even if you throw out Matt Cassel's six craptacular quarters. And they got seven points for their troubles even against a defense that isn't very good. And it's not like Mike Mularkey coached aggressively, not that I expected him to anyway, to make up for that expected low base execution level. C'est la vie, unless things really change in the second 30 minutes.

Vince Verhei: Holy crap, that instant replay of the Ricky Jean-Francois sack that included, as Tony Romo called it, "the cool play diagram," was amazing. Has CBS been doing that all year or is that new? I don't remember seeing that before.

Aaron Schatz: I don't know how often we've ever done a playoff game with a grand total of one Audibles email in the second half. That's how dominant this performance was by the Patriots. There is almost nothing to say. The Titans offense did nothing after that first touchdown until they were down 28 in the final minutes.

The one thought I have is that the Patriots really out-chessed the Titans here. Given the Titans' scheme and the quality of the New England run defense, it was blatantly obvious that the Titans should try to run the ball a ton. And so the Patriots packed the line of scrimmage to stop the run. They let Mariota throw in the first half as long as Derrick Henry could go nowhere. And Henry went nowhere.

Tom Gower: The Titans did try to run the ball, at least in the first half. They were 61 percent run on first and second downs before the two-minute warning. Henry just wasn't getting enough yards to get first downs or even to put them into third-and-short on a regular basis instead of third-and-medium. Then in the second half, they got behind the chains and down more and kept throwing. I don't know how you start consecutive possession with false starts down multiple scores in the second half, but Tennessee managed it.

By the commentary on Twitter, there seems to be a lot of blame for the officials. My general view is that officiating is officiating, a hard business that even experts aren't perfect at, and should be judged accordingly. You just hope they're internally inconsistent. The mechanics of the false start/neutral zone infraction were weird, but bad/weird mechanics does not make a call wrong. Maybe that's something I'd have a different view on if I were sitting at home and rewinding, but I'm here.

The things I want to take away are something I noted at halftime, that Tennessee, after a week of glory and light, did the same damn thing they'd been doing most of the year, and with the same damn results. Some credit to the Patriots defense for stopping Derrick Henry, not absolutely a given. On the other side of the ball, Tennessee had a serious defensive problem in terms of how to play, and, well, they did what they did, and none of it worked. Couldn't get pressure. Couldn't get coverage stops. There was some commentary on Twitter about how Brady's late deep throw to Brandin Cooks on third down, and how he hadn't been doing that all night. Well, he hadn't HAD to do that all night, because there was always somebody open that he could get the ball to before the Titans could bring pressure enough to force him to do anything. And it's not like Tennessee's defensive backs covered themselves in glory.

This is a group all season that has struggled to disrupt opposing players in the pass game. Sure enough, it took until the third quarter for them to be credited with a pass defensed, and their first two were a ball tipped at the line and lurking player rather than the defender in coverage. This is something Jon Robinson mentioned in the offseason as a priority for them and something he looked for in players he scouted. Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson are safe, and Tye Smith is young and cheap so he'll be around, but this is an area where he'll look for upgrades.

Then again, those are your two starting corners ,and your two starting safeties, Kevin Byard and Johnathan Cyprien, are pretty much locked in (Cyprien for contract reasons, Byard is good), so there's only so much you can do. Dick LeBeau is year-to-year at this point of his career, so I wonder about defensive coaching staff changes, at the coordinator level and below. I don't know if not contesting passes was a hallmark of LeBeau's late time in Pittsburgh, but it's something that was an issue in Tennessee and doesn't seem to have improved much. That's a bigger question for the Titans, though, and not something we'll solve in Audibles. For now, though, it's enough to note the hard-to-solve defensive problem came nowhere close to being solved tonight, and with that, the Titans' season is over.

Jacksonville Jaguars 45 at Pittsburgh Steelers 42

Charles McDonald: This has been a tremendous opening script by Jaguars offensive coordinator Nate Hackett. Play-action passes on a few first downs, attacked the middle of the Steelers defense with Leonard Fournette, and kept the reads simple for Blake Bortles. If Jacksonville is going to win this game, they needed to get out to a lead early. Now their defense gets to play with a lead, which is where they've thrived all season.

Aaron Schatz: Pittsburgh had the No. 1 DVOA against tight ends and just got gashed on the opening drive by the likes of James O'Shaughnessy and Ben Koyack.

Bryan Knowles: And kudos to Doug Marrone for going for it on fourth-and-1 at the goal line; that's the proper strategy when you're the underdog and all that. Despite Jacksonville's fairly easy win over the Steelers back in October, most people I've heard and read haven't given them much of a chance to win this one -- it's the playoffs, the logic seems to go, it's time for the playoff-tested teams to stand out. And if they can't move the ball against the Bills, how are they going to do it against Pittsburgh? Well, that opening drive should help silence that somewhat. Game on.

Derrik Klassen: For Pittsburgh to come out with that conservative offensive script after getting gashed on Jacksonville's opening drive is peculiar. They wanted to finesse the Jags defense with quick screens, but that's not the formula. Pittsburgh ought to trust their offensive line on the ground next time around.

Dave Bernreuther: That was a 2015 Peyton Manning-strength throw on that out route by Big Ben, which meant it had no prayer for success. And one play later, these 2017 playoff refs are making Doug Marrone waste a challenge on the next play, which is an obvious touchdown run by Leonard Fournette.

Has Dan Fouts always been this ignorant of the rules? This replay follows his complete lack of awareness of Bortles' earlier shovel pass. It's not Phil Seeeeems territory, but it's not exactly a good look for CBS either.

Aaron Schatz: Great job by Myles Jack keeping his feet in-bounds on the interception. The league's most inconsistent team is on a high today.

Scott Kacsmar: I'll never understand why a quarterback forces a 50/50 ball short of the sticks on third down. At best you're going to punt. At worst you get intercepted. And now the Jaguars are up 14 and can attack. The problem with "just run the ball" is that sometimes it just doesn't work. We saw Derrick Henry get 12 carries last night and he didn't even break 30 yards. Today, two runs by Le'Veon Bell brought up third-and-long and you're forcing a throw.

Much better start to the next drive for Bell, but Steelers have a huge uphill battle here. Jaguars are showing up in every phase.

Vince Verhei: Dan Fouts took the words out of my mouth on the Steelers' fourth-and-1 play: why the hell do you not just sneak it with Ben Roethlisberger there? And if you're going to give it to a running back, why pitch it to a guy 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage when it's short yardage and you know the opposing defense is going to be crowding the line with guys looking to make a play for a loss?

T.J. Yeldon with the touchdown, as we all anticipated, and Jaguars go up 21-0. They have already run for seven first downs in just 15 carries. They're just plowing through Pittsburgh up front.

Bryan Knowles: I'm not calling it yet, because it's still the Steelers at home and it's the first half and comebacks happen and so on and so forth. But in the long history of Steelers playoff games, from Bradshaw and company through today, they've never overcome a 20-point deficit.

The silence at Heinz Field is incredible. The Jags are just methodically beating the Steelers and their fanbase into submission.

Dave Bernreuther: Antonio Brown is still good at football, so we're back within 14.

They'll still need to do something about stopping the Jags' running game, of course.

Zach Binney: Well, that's one way to slow down the Jags' run game. Fournette is on the sideline in a lot of pain with some kind of foot or ankle injury. Ouch.

Bryan Knowles: In case Fournette is out for the game, it's important to remember the Jaguars averaged over 150 yards a game on the ground even when Fournette was out. Admittedly, that was with Chris Ivory and not T.J. Yeldon, but not all the running success this year has been Fournette.

Zach Binney: Absolutely, 100 percent. My biggest worry with that is just losing a body in the running back rotation for later in the game, not Fournette specifically. But yeah, they've been perfectly successful before without Fournette.

Bryan Knowles: Oh Lord, another turnover, and the Jaguars take it to the house. Yannick Ngakoue, one of the relatively lesser-sung names on that Jaguars pass rush (possibly because his name is harder to spell), forces a fumble, and Telvin Smith scoops and scores. Pittsburgh needs a counter-punch, and they need it right now, before the half.

Aaron Schatz: And then Ngakoue strips Big Ben and Telvin Smith returns it for six and holy crap we're at 28-7 now. The worst possible situation against this Jacksonville defense is to feel like you are forced to throw.

Bryan Knowles: I was thinking that the Steelers should settle for a field goal attempt there; a long one, sure, but they're going to get the ball back to start the second half, and fourth-and-11 is a heck of an ask against this Jaguars defense. The confusion, and timeout they had to use to get everyone on the field, made me even more sure that going for it would be a mistake.

Uh, touchdown, Steelers, on a great throw. Martavis Bryant just outruns everyone and gets the score.

Vince Verhei: Their two touchdowns today have come on deep passes -- which makes you wonder why they have thrown so many screens. As if Jacksonville is known for failing to pursue and missing tackles on defense.

Blake Bortles started 3-of-3 for 53 yards. He is 4-of-11 for 30 yards since.

Bryan Knowles: Over/under on Bortles pass attempts in the second half? In Week 5, he attempted just one after halftime (an incomplete deep shot, down 7-9).

Scott Kacsmar: Definitely can get interesting with a double score, but feels like another turnover is just as likely with the way this one has gone. The Steelers aren't getting anything easy, and it's not always because of the defense. That decision to pitch to Bell on fourth-and-1 instead of the quarterback sneak looms large, and it's the kind of mind-numbing mistake that this team has had the whole time that Todd Haley has been the coordinator. If you don't see the value and urgency of the situation (down 14-0 in the playoffs) to risk your giant quarterback lunging forward for a first down, then you never will. I guarantee the Patriots would get an easy first down if facing that same situation, but the Steelers have to do things the hard way. I honestly can't believe they converted the fourth-and-11 after being so uncertain of what they were doing before it. Bryant even ran out onto the field with seconds left on the play clock before a timeout was called. Then he ended up outrunning the defense for a long score. Wild finish to the half. If they can take advantage of Fournette's absence and get Bortles to turn into Bortles when he's not using play-action, then we have a shot at a good finish here.

Aaron Schatz: Pittsburgh gets the double score. It's now interesting. 28-21 Jacksonville. Telvin Smith had his hand right in there on the wheel route touchdown by Bell. That's the second touchdown today for the Steelers where the Jaguars couldn't possibly have covered better and Pittsburgh still scored. A.J. Bouye was right in there on the first Antonio Brown touchdown, which Brown caught one-handed while he fought off Bouye with the other hand.

Carl Yedor: Steelers take their opening drive of the second half all the way for a touchdown. The drive was aided by a pretty soft unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jalen Ramsey, but the score now stands at 28-21. The good news for Jacksonville is that Fournette is back out there on the field, and he looked plenty agile on his first carry of the half. Pittsburgh looks plenty capable of moving the ball, so the effectiveness of Jacksonville's running game will go a long way in deciding which of these two get the chance to face off with the Patriots next weekend.

Zach Binney: Quietly important play by Jags return man Dede Westbrook at about 2:15 left in the third. Westbrook tackled one of the Steelers' gunners who was about to catch and down a punt deep in Jacksonville territory. Instead the ball rolls into the end zone for a touchback. Ten or 15 extra yards of field position (I think) for the Jags' offense is not to be underestimated.

Bryan Knowles: Were quarterback sneaks made illegal last night and I missed it? Is Le'Veon Bell not allowed to run the ball generally forward? Does every X-and-1 play call from Pittsburgh have to be something overly cute?

Carl Yedor: Out of curiosity, does Pittsburgh have quarterback sneaks in their playbook at all? Scott's point from earlier suggests that they might not, and after that fourth down incompletion, Pittsburgh is now 0-for-2 on fourth downs with a yard to go.

Dave Bernreuther: The default seems to be to jump all over Todd Haley for that, but he designed a play that had two guys open for first downs; Ben chose Juju over Eli Rogers, and as Fouts illustrated, his jersey had been held, and as the camera from behind showed, it was actually a damn good throw. Against a defense that seemed pretty well keyed in on the handoff and possible sneak, I can't really find too much fault in that call after all.

Credit to Marrone (ugh) for not going full conservative like last game. It was easy to make the Bortles joke after the first deep ball missed badly, but they went right back to it, this time with success, and Fournette's third score puts the Jags in a great spot with 10 minutes left.

Vince Verhei: In his career, Roethelisberger has 54 runs with 1 yard to go, and he has picked up 45 first downs.

In the past five years, it's seven first downs in 10 runs.

Tom Gower: Ben might have audibled on one or both of those plays. I never quite trust the TV angle to tell me if sneaks are a good look. Jacksonville certainly had numbers in the box on the latest fourth-and-1, but I wasn't sure just how much of a real option a sneak would have been.

Bryan Knowles: I just checked. Roethlisberger has one rushing attempt this season on a third- or fourth-and-2 or less -- in the first quarter against Baltimore in Week 14 on a third-and-2. My Game Pass is borked at the moment, so I'm not sure it actually was a sneak.

Aaron Schatz: I checked the SIS data. It was a scramble. So Roethlisberger never had a quarterback sneak all year.

And I just checked the 2016 SIS data. Roethlisberger didn't run a single quarterback sneak last season either.

It looks like the last time Pittsburgh ran a sneak with Roethlisberger was Week 12 of 2015, when Roethlisberger did it twice on third-and-1 against Seattle. He succeeded both times. Those were his only sneaks in the past three seasons.

And holy crap, the Steelers just went for it on fourth-and-5 and they threw deep, and Antonio Brown caught ANOTHER touchdown pass with a defender practically in his lap. I've never seen this many touchdown catches with such tight coverage.

Carl Yedor: Maybe in the future if Pittsburgh has fourth-and-1 they should take a delay of game penalty to back themselves up because Roethlisberger just hit another fourth down deep shot for a touchdown, this time with 5 yards to go. Pittsburgh pulls to within one score with plenty of time to get the ball back and score again.

Bryan Knowles: It's also worth noting that Pittsburgh has been very, very predictable on those really short situational plays.

On December 10, the Steelers had Le'Veon Bell attempt to run in a two-point conversion, breaking one of my favorite weird streaks in football. Their previous 31 two-point conversion attempts had been passes. In fact, if you exclude wide receiver runs (end arounds and the like), it had been 35 consecutive two-point conversion attempts since they had given Mewelde Moore a couple of shots in Week 10 of 2010 (against New England, of course). The third- and fourth-and-short play calling for Pittsburgh has been weird for the entire decade.

So, of course, they go over the top and score a huge touchdown to keep them alive in this one.

Vince Verhei: Aaron's point about Pittsburgh receivers making ridiculous catches is a critical one. Jacksonville's defense is playing much better than the numbers today would indicate. The Steelers just have a half-dozen or so big plays on perfect throws and perfect catches.

Bryan Knowles: Are we sure that there's only one Blake Bortles? That this isn't some kind of Prestige-esque situation, where two identical twins take turns as Jacksonville's starting quarterback? Because the Blake Bortles we're seeing today is not the one we saw last week against Buffalo.

Andrew Potter: Oh, he really is. He was 9-of-21 earlier in this game. He missed Marqise Lee badly on a play-action crosser in the first half. He has forced several passes into coverage, both deep and short. He had that insane near-fumble incompletion where he flipped the ball to the feet of Leonard Fournette while almost being sacked. He just also sometimes has streaks where the game script enables favorable play calling, the reads come together for him, he locks his tongue perfectly in that left corner of his mouth, and the ball gets where it needs to get, when it needs to get there. Nathaniel Hackett has called a beautiful fourth quarter. That four-minute drive was executed superbly, and the touchdown to Tommy Bohanon had all the trimmings.

Zach Binney: Have we ever seen Good Blake Bortles and Bad Blake Bortles in the same room together? Seems preeeeeeetty fishy.

Vince Verhei: Surprised nobody has noted this (here or elsewhere), but the touchdown to Bohanon exploited the absence of Ryan Shazier.

Bryan Knowles: Crazy backwards lateral touchdown, and we have a one-score game, on THIS side of the two-minute warning. We have a very, very interesting decision on the ensuing kickoff.

Aaron Schatz: I gave a standing ovation in my living room. That was amazing improvisation by Big Ben, to know it was legal to throw to Bell past the line of scrimmage as long as he threw it backwards.

Vince Verhei: With two timeouts and the two-minute warning and Blake Bortles, the Steelers very obviously should have kicked deep. Instead they executed the worst onside kick I ever saw.

Aaron Schatz: Worse than this?

Or this, also by Chris Boswell?

Vince Verhei: OK, that Boswell one was for sure worse execution. But when you consider that Pittsburgh's onside kick never should have even happened, I still say it's the worse play overall.

Bryan Knowles: Not taking the timeout before the two-minute warning seems like a blunder, as well. Tomlin and company have some serious explaining to do after this game, one way or another.

Zach Binney: If you told me before this game the Jags offense would score 35 points, I'd have been certain they won.

If you told me before this game the Jags defense would allow 35 points, I'd have been certain they lost.

Both have happened. What the heck IS this game?

Bryan Knowles: I get that the field goal essentially ended the game, but this has been a terrible drive by Pittsburgh. With 1:45 on the clock, needing two scores, you have to have a certain sense of urgency, and knowledge of the situation. You have to work the sidelines, get out of bounds.

Instead, they use all 105 seconds to score one touchdown. Congratulations! You only lose by three.

Scott Kacsmar: I'd sneak in a comment, but that's apparently not allowed in Pittsburgh.

Same old, same old. If it's not getting crushed in the same manner by the Patriots or someone like Aaron Rodgers, then it's getting outdone by a team with Tim Tebow or Blake Bortles at quarterback despite the offense's best rally efforts.

Dave Bernreuther: As the three contested touchdown catches showed pretty clearly, this team has a ton of talent. The hype was always real about that offense, the defense was better than advertised (though losing Shazier hurt, of course), and we'd have a hard time coming up with a team in the AFC with more talent, top to bottom.

And for that to be the case and to be as unprepared and commit all the mental errors they have, not just in this game ... that has to fall on the coaches at some point. They had three weeks to prepare for a home game against Blake Bortles and that happened. Those ridiculous plays made it close enough to be entertaining for all 60 minutes, but they trailed wire to wire, often by two scores, and needed a miracle that they never got. It has been over a decade of odd decisions, lack of situational awareness, poor clock management, and basically every other hallmark of terrible coaching, bailed out by the fact that they're a talented team with an accurate, Sasquatch-sized quarterback.

I don't have a better suggestion, but we all know damn well that Belichick isn't going to let that happen next week. And I fully admit to this statement being sour grapes, but fans of 30 other teams deserve better. Next week we'll be watching Brady and Belichick against Blake Freaking Bortles for a spot in the Super Bowl. What a joke.

I don't care if every word Seth Wickersham wrote is 100 percent true -- why would anyone in that power triangle in Foxboro ever consider changing it up? The gap between them and the rest of the AFC has never been greater.

Scott Kacsmar: I think I know my AFC all too well. From almost two months ago:

New Orleans Saints 24 at Minnesota Vikings 29

Dave Bernreuther: It has been 15 full games now, and I keep liking what I see out of Case Keenum. He's not going to carry a team, but he doesn't have to, and he hasn't really shown us a Bad Bortles-ish stretch of play this year. He starts things off here with a beautifully soft pass to his right to Jarius Wright, who was wide open, but still, a lot of quarterbacks don't have that kind of touch or accuracy. Jerick McKinnon's subsequent 14-yard score puts the Vikings out in front quickly, and we're already off to an interesting start here.

And with all that said, I'm still pessimistic for all the reasons that led me to rant in the Steelers game; as much as I like what I see, and trust the Vikings defense ... I still don't trust Keenum against Bill Belichick with two weeks to prepare. Sigh.

(Drew Brees, that run game, and Sean Payton, however ... Well, either way, I apologize to Eagles fans. I will not be rooting for your team next week.)

I liked the misdirection with the jet sweep to Ted Ginn, forcing Minnesota to respect that kind of thing and defend the whole field, but boy, Ginn got a little lucky. Everson Griffen was thiiiis close to getting to him in the backfield. That defense is just so solid everywhere, but so anonymous about it. I'm having a hard time thinking of any other team in my lifetime quite like these Vikings.

I don't know what Troy Aikman is talking about; Ken Crawley pretty clearly arm-barred Stefon Diggs and had a hold of his jersey. Still, it seemed to me like the reason Diggs fell was less the hand and more his own fault. Much worse went uncalled in Pittsburgh earlier today.

Mike Periera agrees with Aikman though, so that shows what I know.

No mention of the pushoff by Kyle Rudolph on the third-down fade attempt, which Keenum threw a bit too high, and the Vikings settle for the easy three. 10-0 is still a really nice start though after two drives per team.

Bryan Knowles: OK, Minnesota's defense is tremendous, we all knew that coming in. But there's "tremendous" and then there's "holding Drew Brees to 3 yards in the first quarter," which has happened precisely one time in his career as a starter.

Vince Verhei: There were eight third downs in the first quarter, three for New Orleans and five for Minnesota. the Vikings won six of those plays, including all three on defense. Most confusing there was the run on third-and-short -- the Saints were weak in short-yardage runs, the Vikings were strong, and you have Drew Brees.

Carl Yedor: Minnesota goes up 17-0 with 10 minutes left in the first half. Some of their offensive drives have been aided by penalty, but at the same time, the Saints haven't been able to get anything started offensively. There is still plenty of time, but the Saints need to put together some semblance of a drive here to give their defense a little help. At this point, Minnesota has run 29 plays to New Orleans's 12 (as of the most recent Minnesota touchdown), which could lead to some fatigue later on when New Orleans is looking for a big stop later in the game.

In the time it took me to type this up, New Orleans is already at the Minnesota 30. A touchdown here would go a long way toward making a New Orleans comeback attempt more doable.

Bryan Knowles: ... Except Griffin backhands a ball, deflected right to Anthony Barr. That was the Saints' best chance to do something, and they come up with zero. This 17-0 lead feels a lot safer than Jacksonville's 21-point lead from earlier in the day. I'm not sure why that is, other than residual "wait, Jacksonville?" syndrome.

Vince Verhei: The coolest "Next Gen Stats" output I've seen so far are these animated play diagrams. This is Keenum's scramble-completion to Diggs that set up the Murray touchdown:

So we see the Saints rushing three, which I could see on the TV broadcast, but we also see that Manti Te'o (51) was spying Keenum, and when Keenum scrambled to the sideline, Te'o abandoned the middle of the field to pursue him. This left space for Diggs to make a play.

Next drive, Keenum tries to scramble, and Te'o is there to chase him down again. It officially goes down as a zero-yard sack, and leads to a punt. But I'm not sure why the Saints are so concerned about Keenum as a runner.

Somebody pointed this out on Twitter, or something close to it: the Vikings don't actually make a lot of splash plays on defense. Tied for 13th in interceptions, tied for 17th in sacks, and they were 26th in stuff rate. They just take away your big plays, make you march the length of the field, and win almost every third down.

Dave Bernreuther: And as you type that, Harrison Smith (or as I like to call him, White Bob Sanders) makes a splash play to win a third down. Safety blitz through the weak side B-gap, completely unaccounted for and untouched, and Brees had no chance. The sack took the Saints out of reasonable field goal range, and Wil Lutz's 58-yarder missed badly. It'll take more than three points to make this a game, but boy was that a big sequence, as now the Vikings have a slight chance at points here, plus they'll take the kickoff to start the second half.

Vince Verhei: Heh. Funny you should mention that. Bomani Jones was just trying to determine on Twitter whether Smith was white or a very light-skinned black dude. Somebody found a picture from high school that shows him with stringy, light-brown hair that pretty much ended the discussion.

Halftime third-down update: Saints offense has had four third-down plays, Vikings have had eight. Minnesota has won nine of those 12 plays, including all four on defense.

Carl Yedor: New Orleans is 0-for-4 on third downs, while Minnesota is 7-of-11 after that big sack by Sheldon Rankins to knock Minnesota out of field goal range. If you're looking for a simple explanation for what has happened in the first half and opening second-half drive, there it is. Not groundbreaking by any means, but it's just another example of how the Vikings have been great at winning on third down this season. Add it all up, and they've had 11-of-15 third downs go their way today, which is generally a recipe for success.

Dave Bernreuther: As rough a day as today has been for him, Drew Brees is still really good. That was a perfect throw to Michael Thomas for the score that finally puts them on the board. Officially, anyway. The Ginn score that wasn't was nice too, which reminds me that the one thing I've always found the most inexcusable are formation/motion penalties. The rules are kind of dumb and antiquated, but they're absolutely clear. And while false starts on the road make sense sometimes, there's never, EVER an excuse for lining up improperly. And what an absolute killer that was to take seven points off the board earlier in a game like this.

While I'm here, after agreeing with Scott earlier I want to sort of disagree with something I just saw him tweet:

I'm quite possibly too focused on this particular game, but I don't think Payton fits quite the same pattern as the other two. While those two have habits of going conservative at odd times (McCarthy especially), coaching against their own strengths, looking strategically outmatched, and showing up unprepared ... I don't see the same from Payton. I've seen Payton steal games -- 2009 SB for instance -- with calculated aggression and clever planning. And in this game, at least, I don't see the Saints making mental errors (illegal shift excepted) or looking foolish. I see them just plain getting beat soundly by a team that's playing better.

Aaron Schatz: Saints pass pressure has really stepped it up in the second half, ending the last two Vikings drives -- first with a sack to knock the Vikings out of field goal range, then with the pressure that caused Keenum to chuck it up for grabs, where rookie Marcus Williams came down with the pick. We may have a game again, Saints marching down 17-7.

Beautiful play for Saints to make it 17-14, fake toss to Alvin Kamara on the 3 which had the entire Vikings defense going one way, then Michael Thomas snuck in behind and caught the touchdown pass in the middle of the end zone.

Vince Verhei: I would like to point out that New Orleans' first touchdown was set up by their first third-down conversions of the game, a Drew Brees sneak on third-and-1 and a 5-yard catch by Willie Snead, also on third-and-1. Case Keenum then plays like the Case Keenum we saw from 2012 to 2016 and throws up a dumb pass under pressure, resulting in an easy interception for Marcus Williams, and then another touchdown, this one by Michael Thomas. And suddenly we have a football game.

Andrew Potter: Of course, a major factor in that play was the absence of Xavier Rhodes after he was injured trying to shed a block at the goal line two plays prior. Rhodes has been out of the game for two plays: the first was a dive to Kamara, the second the touchdown to Thomas. This also came after Andrew Sendejo was knocked out cold by Thomas on a block during the previous drive. I think the one thing I dislike most about this sport is the massive influence in-game injuries have on the outcomes. I'm not sure there's another sport where injury has this big of an impact on wins and losses.

Bryan Knowles: Hrm hrm hrm. Sean Payton uses both challenges on one drive. The first was on a huge pass play down the sideline, which he had to hurry to throw. That was probably worth it, even though the play stood, because an overturn would have been huge. The second, however, is on a sack/non-sack that would make a field goal attempt a 56-yarder rather than a 48-yarder. That's not nothing, but it didn't look like a sack to me, and it feels like wishful thinking. And now he'll be out of challenges, either way...

Aaron Schatz: Terrible decision by Sean Payton to challenge that throwaway by Case Keenum is a sack that would create a longer field goal. They're going to lose their second challenge, which takes them out of challenges for the last eight minutes of the game. The first challenge, of a sideline catch by Jarius Wright, wasn't very good either. Whoever is upstairs telling Payton to challenge plays is not doing a good job.

Vince Verhei: Bryan, a challenge is only "worth it" if it wins, or it's a big play at the end of the game and you might as well challenge it because you're done for if the play stands. That was a big gain, but only to the edge of field goal range, and it wasn't even third down! If the Saints had won that challenge, the Vikings might have converted the third down anyway. That's two timeouts wasted for no reason, when you're down (now by six points) in the fourth quarter. He actively hurt his team's chances for winning, for no reason other than "I dunno, let's see what happens."

Tom Gower: Payton's ludicrous wish challenge of the Keenum sack would make a lot more sense had it been his first challenge of the game, not his last after I like to think the Vikings suckered him into using his first challenge by rushing to the line.

Vince Verhei: Third-and-1, we get Willie Snead passing to Alvin Kamara. And it's schemed great, because Kamara is wide open on the play, but the flaw in the plan is that Willie Snead is not Drew Brees. I dunno, I'd rather have the Hall of Fame passer throwing balls on third down, but I'm weird that way.

This has not been Sean Payton's best day.

Dave Bernreuther: All I can think of is that Payton thought that by challenging that non-sack, he might get them to retroactively call Keenum for grounding. Otherwise that was completely indefensible. And that after I defended Payton for not doing McCarthy/Tomlin-like things. Blowing two challenges and two timeouts when down six in the fourth is incredibly McCarthy-like. If he decides to kick on fourth-and-2 next I'm going to shoot myself in the face. I feel like literally any time I've said anything, either positive or negative, in these playoffs, I have immediately jinxed or reverse jinxed the subject of my email.

I'm with Vince on the wide receiver pass. Decent design, decent throw that may have been caught by a wide receiver with more diving-for-receptions experience ... still, I bet they could also have gotten a guy that open on a regular passing play and an accurate pass by the guy who just set the completion percentage record.

Andrew Potter: The last time they called that play, Tim Hightower was the back and Payton was grinding Gregg Williams' face into the dirt. It's not what I expected to see them call on a crucial third down in a playoff game. Of course, that may be exactly why they called it.

Vince Verhei: Meanwhile, Pat Shurmur draws up a third-down crosser to Stefon Diggs where he gets not just one pick from the slot receiver on that side running a hitch, but then a second pick when the wideout from the other side runs a shallow cross underneath Diggs, and it's a first down and a gain of 22. That was sweet.

Bryan Knowles: Oh, Aikman and Buck really wanted to give Taysom Hill credit for that punt block. You could hear their voices drop some when it turns out it was "just" a huge punt block by a defensive lineman.

Oh, and now the Saints are driving. Think we'll see anyone not named Brees throw another pass this drive?

Aaron Schatz: Nope, touchdown Alvin Kamara. 21-20. Comebacks happen. We have to stop writing games off in the first half or even the third quarter.

Bryan Knowles: Wow, that last Case Keenum throw to Adam Thielen. Bad throw, bad throw, bad throw holy crud he caught it.

Andrew Potter: That Adam Thielen catch over Marshon Lattimore, after being held and while being interfered with, was Julio Jones-esque.

Aaron Schatz: That was the pass pressure that made for such an awful throw. So much more Saints pass pressure in the second half, without much blitzing, just four guys getting to Keenum over and over. But they can't get to Thielen too.

Dave Bernreuther: Classic example of bad process, great result. That decision and off-balance throw deserved to be picked. Instead, they're one play from a reasonable field goal.

I wonder if Sean Payton would like to have two extra timeouts right now with 1:44 left and two plays from a possible 2-point deficit...

Vince Verhei: But after the big catch, they go incomplete, short pass out of bounds, incomplete, long field goal. Bully for Kai Forbath for hitting the 50-some-yarder, but how do you get three plays there and not at least make the Saints use their last timeout? Brees now has 1:29 to go, with a timeout, and only needs one field goal to beat you. I don't care how good your defense is, I'd be terrified.

Dave Bernreuther: Yup. It's nice for the Vikings to finally have a kick go their way, but with 1:29 left and Brees at the helm, the Saints don't actually need those two timeouts. (Not that they wouldn't be nice to have, of course...)

The other reason I like Payton over most/McCarthy/Tomlin is that he's not the type to just assume that "field goal range" means "sure thing." Even indoors. And that makes this final minute the best possible television. An aggressive coach playing to win, an all-time great quarterback, and a spectacular defense, with the season on the line. This more than makes up for everything else that has bothered me about the playoffs this year.

Andrew Potter: It is so, so difficult to keep a top passer from gaining 10 yards on four straight attempts, even for a defense of this caliber. Xavier Rhodes blankets Michael Thomas on three straight plays, but on fourth down Willie Snead gets open on the left sideline for the critical conversion. Three plays for 9 yards later, Minnesota's playoff fate yet again comes down to a field goal. This time, however, it's a field goal for the other team.

Bryan Knowles: You can't give Case Keenum that much time!

On a third-and-for-all-intents-the-game, he finds Stefon Diggs, Marcus Williams misses a tackle, and the Vikings win the game! Holy cow!

Andrew Potter: Third-and-ballgame, Marcus Williams in deep half coverage. Case Keenum finds Stefon Diggs on a jump ball down the right sideline. Diggs is content to catch the ball and run out of bounds to set up a long Kai Forbath field goal. All Williams has to do is wrap him up and try to hold him inbounds. Instead, he dives at Diggs' legs, completely whiffs and allows Diggs to run down the sideline 61 yards for the Minnesota Miracle win.

I don't have the faintest clue how to process that (ultimately deserved) Saints loss.

Dave Bernreuther: Oh wow. They circled the two Saints defenders after the failed pass (which Keenum was foolish to throw and lucky wasn't caught), and I said that a corner route thrown well was still open. The Vikings immediately went to it, and an underthrown pass actually worked to their benefit, avoiding the safety. A missed desperation lunge by Marcus Williams meant that we don't even have to bear the drama of a field goal attempt, because Diggs took it in. Wow. What a finish.

Aaron Schatz: I'm with Troy Aikman. I can't figure out what Marcus Williams was doing. The win expectancy turnaround on that play ... I wonder if it comes out higher than the Immaculate Interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

Vince Verhei: "Desperation lunge?" That was a tackle waiting to happen. A junior college safety makes the tackle there and the Vikings have to panic to try to spike it. I could have made that tackle. YOU could have made that tackle. Williams comes in and Diggs is in the air and all Williams has to do is grab him IN THE AIR and drop him to the turf ... and Williams lowers his head and shoulder and never even TOUCHES Diggs. And, well, that's that.

Aaron Schatz:

Andrew Potter: 1985 Bears veteran Shaun Gayle is in the UK Sky Sports studio, and can barely speak while analyzing Williams' tackle attempt. He's apoplectic.

Tom Gower: Um. Wow. Uh. Wow. Yeah, wow. Going to be a long time before I forget that play by Keenum. By Diggs. By Marcus Williams. Oh, poor Marcus Williams. Oh no. Crazy ending. Insane ending. Great awareness by Diggs not to just step out, like I thought he would and could have and should have if there was another defender who could have been in position to make a play.

Aaron Schatz: That game is going on the all-time craziest endings list now with the Music City Miracle and the River City Relay and the Immaculate Interception and all the other crazy insane endings.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 14 Jan 2018

179 comments, Last at 18 Jan 2018, 11:15am by t.d.

Comments

1
by RobotBoy :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:02am

Holy shades of Tebow, Bortleman! Were the Steelers in Cover Zero for the fullback TD? I read that Bortles actually audibled to that play. The Steelers just couldn't even entertain the notion that the Jags would dare throw a pass in that situation. A combination of both hubris and lack of imagination on the Steelers part, indicative of both this season and the Tomlin years - the trash talk, the playing down to bad opponents, the calling out of the Patriots when they still had to play a team that had beaten them by 21.
What a waste of an amazing performance by Big Ben, from the five TDs to the backwards pass. He certainly looks to have a bit left in the tank.
The offensive numbers aren't even close. 469 yards passing to 219, nearly two hundred more yards of total offense.
Winning the turnover battle, mistake-free Bortles and some early 4th down risk-taking are apparently a recipe for success. Since the Steelers were 4 of 6 on 4th down, it's hard to fault the 4th down play calling. As noted above, the receiver was held quite clearly on the 4th and one. Should have been a big play.
I know I'm imposing my narrative but it seems like the Steelers believe their wealth of talent (and they draft brilliantly) are all they need, leading them to be sloppy about the details. I started feeling that way about them last year when they ran out more or less the same D in the championship that Brady had abused in the regular season and Brady happily put it into intensive care.

3
by RobotBoy :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:42am

I spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh a decade ago. It's really is one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. now that the air isn't filled with smoke.
What I couldn't get over was the importance and ubiquity of the Steelers. From the jerseys on every mook to the linemen eating at Parmenti Brothers to the club VIP lounges filled with players. They were the biggest show in town in a way that isn't true of NYC or Boston or SF or LA. The players ate it up, of course. A friend of mine told me she'd sold some art to a Steeler and when she went by his house to drop it off, he meet her at the door wearing nothing but a towel and a coating of body oil. Proferring the oil bottle to her, he said, 'Would you like to help me relax?'
It's perhaps inevitable that being part of a such a successful team in a provincial capital would only further inflate the egos of young athletes, many of whom have been celebrated since they were in their early teens. The coaches and management don't have the same excuse.
This article from 'Behind the Steel Curtain' on Steeler hubris addresses exactly issue.
https://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/pittsburgh-steelers-opinions-react...

20
by rj1 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:39am

You're being quite ridiculous. The glamorizing of athletes occurs in a lot of cities besides Pittsburgh.

And this statement:

"A friend of mine told me she'd sold some art to a Steeler and when she went by his house to drop it off, he meet her at the door wearing nothing but a towel and a coating of body oil. Proferring the oil bottle to her, he said, 'Would you like to help me relax?'"

whether accurate or not, has no place here. If your friend wants to complain or you do, the proper place to do it is a police precinct, not a game review where they lost to Jacksonville by 3 points. You instead condemn the entire team for the actions of one because you don't actually name the guy.

25
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:50am

"They were the biggest show in town in a way that isn't true of NYC or Boston or SF or LA."

Really? Boston isn't like that about the Red Sox? (Which is weird, as they are easily Boston's least-successful franchise)

If you want to see utter worship of a team, though, it's the Packers.

99
by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:03pm

Yes, even with nearly two decades of Belichick, Boston is still primarily a baseball town. Possibly even weirder: when the Celtics were in their heyday in the 1960s, they were still at best the #3 franchise behind the Red Sox and Bruins. It took Larry Bird to get them past the Bruins. And it took Belichick and Brady to get them past the Celtics. But the Sox are still the top dogs.
Why? Well the Patriots and Celtics are relative newcomers. Red Sox fandom is the kind of thing Stephen King writes novellas about.

As for Pittsburgh: it's certainly true Steeler fandom is an enormous thing there. I don't think it's bigger than Red Sox fandom, but it's certainly close. Steeler fandom invades western New York, West Virginia, and even Maryland. When the Steelers visit the Redskins, half of the crowd is rooting for the Steelers. I think it's well documented that it's one of the three biggest national fanbases, along with the Cowboys and the Packers (maybe four with the Raiders).

130
by RobotBoy :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:55am

Red Sox fandom is big, sure, but the metro area has twice the population of Pittsburgh and the presence of Red Sox fans is nowhere near as obtrusive as Steeler fans (also, I'm not sure the Red Sox are a bigger draw than the Patriots these days). I'm from Southern New England and I've spent a great deal of time in Boston, yet I didn't find myself running into Celts, or Sox, or Patriot players everywhere I went and didn't see the jerseyed faithful dozens of times a day.
The bigger population might be part of it, or the number of college students (five times as many as Pittsburgh) from outside the area, or the more mobile population - Boston has become a city of migrants. There's also more going on in Boston. Pittsburgh really felt like a small town, and my friends who were native there hated that about it. I kind of liked the cozy atmosphere but I can see how it would get suffocating.

135
by Alternator :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 4:01am

Don't underestimate the influence of all four teams being good, and having won recent championships - casual and bandwagon fans haven't abandoned any of them. The Patriots stopped being an afterthought when Kraft bought them, the Bruins were an Original Six team and usually a pretty solid team, the Celtics spent decades being championship contenders, and the Red Sox need no explanation.

Compare Pittsburgh, where there is no basketball team, and the Pirates have had three winning seasons in the past twenty five years. It's much easier for the Steelers to draw a dominating share of the public attention in that environment.

137
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:36am

You left out the Penguins.

As for draws, realize the Red Sox sell 2.4 million more tickets annually than the Patriots do. Baseball is sneakily popular.

141
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:40am

Isn't that a function of there being 10x the number of games?

123
by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:35pm

At least when Packers fans say "we" won, they might actually be correct

142
by Jerry :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:05am

My pet theory:

(1) Every city has one sport that resonates more than the others, which has nothing to do with the success of the local teams.

(2) You have to live there to know which it is.

Pittsburgh is a football town. The Penguins are deservedly popular right now, but the Steelers are still what shut things down.

In the decade or so I spent in Boston, it was baseball.

151
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 2:11pm

Denver is similar about the Broncos, in their case because there's nothing nearby. The nearest big cities are...Dallas? Phoenix? Both 12 hours away. That place is a pressure cooker.

164
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 8:30pm

Kansas City is 6 or 7 hours from Denver. I've never driven to Dallas, but surely it's further than Chicago, which is a 15 hour drive minimum. Phoenix is much farther than that, 20 hours I'd guess without looking. At least driving to Phoenix is pretty. Driving East from Denver SUUUUUCKKKKKSSSSSS

Phoenix isn't much closer to Denver is than Portland. It's been awhile, but yes I've drove from to all those places at one point or another :D

168
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:53pm

It's the kind of thing you can Google. 12 hours both Dallas and Phoenix, it says. Chicago, 15 hours. I'd forgotten about Kansas City; 9 hours says Google. I always liked the drive across Kansas.

Anywayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, the point is it's a long way from anywhere, and it get pretty intense in there. It's the only city I've been in where I've seen twelve-story tall banners of their wide receiver corps during pre-season.

173
by dryheat :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:44pm

And yet, I believe Seattle is even further away from any other NFL franchise.

174
by jtr :: Wed, 01/17/2018 - 9:36am

But they're only a three hour drive from the BC Lions in Vancouver!

19
by DavidL :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:34am

They really, really thought it was a run. Bohanon even "blocked" a guy who was so surprised that the FB was running upfield that he fell over.

2
by RobotBoy :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:15am

Write on the board 1000 times: the Patriots run defense is not bad.

101
by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:09pm

The Patriots don't have a "run defense" and a "pass defense" that they put out in the same way every week. It was entirely predictable that against a team like the Titans (or the Jags) they would stack the box and dare the opponent to beat them with a passing game. Usually when they do that, the run defense rises to the occasion. A lot of their poor run defense stats come from situations where they are sitting on a lead, shift to a nickel or dime defense, and figure the opponent doesn't have time to win on a running game alone.

And yes, there are games like Week 1 vs. KC when the run defense just collapses completely in a loss. But that only happened once this season. The loss to the Panthers was more on the passing defense, and the loss to Miami was more on the Gronk-less offense.

7
by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:53am

I'm astounded that so many are still blaming Williams for the final Vikings play...if you go back and calmly rewatch the play, it is obvious that a) Williams was early and b) knew he was early...he was afraid of a PI spot foul call (which would have given Forbath a game-winning attempt from about 52 yards with about 3 seconds left in regulation...Diggs made the catch at the Saints' 34)...Williams had a split second to make a decision, and dove to try to avoid hitting Diggs...he went mostly under Diggs' legs, and Williams' shoulders had passed Diggs when the ball hit Diggs' hands (stop the replay with 5 seconds left in regulation if you doubt that)...he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't...the only way to avoid the lady or the tiger situation he found himself in would have been to more slowly approach the area of Diggs and the about-to-happen catch when he realized he had to get there...but he did not realize he would be early when he turned on the afterburners to get to the area... no time to plan that out, either...why didn't the Saints have more men further back to prevent a TD? Because they also had to prevent a catch and immediate step out of bounds 30-35 yards in front of the end zone...the result was just a case of bad luck for the Saints...the a) directions of movement, velocities and trajectories of the ball, Diggs and the two defenders, plus b) Williams' split-second decision and c) Diggs immediate reaction decision to not step out of bounds (and take off for the endzone instead) produced the result...

17
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 8:55am

I don't remember him going under Diggs' legs. I remember him, eyes firmly fixed on the ground, having his right shoulder being about 1 or 2 feet outside of Diggs' left leg, obviously in an attempt to keep Diggs in bounds. Yeah, he was likely concerned about PI, but it is never a good idea to play football while staring at the ground.

26
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:56am

Watching it, I thought he dove like that so as to not hit Diggs.

That he also took out his corner was just karmic justice.

What will be underappreciated by history is how heads-up Diggs staying in-bounds was. He's on a route where he knows he has to get out of bounds as fast as possible. He catches it like 5 feet from the side line. He's facing his own line of scrimmage (that is, he can't see there's no one behind him). He still checks it, and manages to pivot at speed on the landing, stay in bounds, not touch his knee (in case the refs would rule him down by contact from the safety), stay in bounds the rest of the way and jet into the end zone. Because Minnesota's clutch FG history is not kind. That was a hell of a catch and a decision process by Diggs.

28
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:04am

I don't want to just kill a good player for one screw-up, but it's just a bad play. You either play the ball, or you stay behind the receiver, and don't try to time a shoulder hit at all. You have to be mindful of this before the snap.

29
by deus01 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:09am

I'm generally against shoulder hits because you can't really see what you're going to do. He could have just let Diggs catch it and then wrap him up in bounds.

70
by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:03pm

No he couldn't...he couldn't stop his momentum like that...watch it again...

74
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:16pm

You are supposed to control your momentum in a way that allows to not give up a 61 yard td on the last play of the game. Again, I don't want to kill the guy, but it is a really bad play.

90
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:29pm

Yes, and if you do lose control of your momentum such that you have to duck to avoid a DPI, you are supposed to try to turn back toward the play instead of diving in the complete opposite direction.

69
by dryheat :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:02pm

Agree whole-heartedly. After Williams missed the tackle, I was screaming at him to get out of bounds.

Of course, the television audience couldn't tell where the rest of the defense was at the time. Brilliant, counter-intuitive, play.

124
by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:39pm

(double post)

97
by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:29pm

It seemed to me that an entire year of defenseless receiver penalties worked in the Vikings' favor. I thought Williams was making sure that he wouldn't get flagged for nailing Diggs, and his hesitation cost him.

Also, how hilarious was it that the official in the end zone threw a flag for Diggs chucking his helmet after the TD. Well, you cost your team 15 yards on the kick off there, Stefon.

100
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:04pm

Would have been important had he stepped out on the catch.

122
by apocalipstick :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:07pm

Horsefeathers, horsefeathers, and horsefeathers. Williams was not trying to avoid contact; everything about his body language and approach are indicative of a DB who was going to take out the receiver's legs and flip him on his head. And yes, jonsilver, you should watch it again. Williams appears to make no contact with Diggs whatsoever. Williams just whiffed.

126
by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:10pm

I've watched it at least 15 times, from 3 different angles: Williams ducked low to avoid hitting Diggs in the back, almost certainly to avoid a potential PI...his arms were not out to wrap up...I started looking closely at the replays after Jimmy Johnson said (on the postgame show) that the NO coaches had probably stressed to the defensive backs to avoid PI at all costs (during NO's last time out)...Strahan agreed with him and said Williams was going too fast to stop his momentum and wait for the catch before hitting him...there is no question the replay shows Williams' shoulders already on their way to the 35 yard line when Diggs first touches the ball in the air above the 34...

I agree with Williams that, with 20-20 hindsight, and given the timing, his play should have been to go for the ball...unfortunately, he had already committed to reaching Diggs, and was in no position to change his momentum into a leap for the ball...

127
by Jay Z :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:14pm

If that's what he did, it's still a terrible play. He's the safety, he really doesn't need to be coming up that fast. He's got it all right in front of him. Like I said, it's like an OF rushing in and having the ball go over his head. It's a bush league play. He's got the time, he's got it in front of him, there's nothing particularly funky about the play. He just blew it.

131
by jonsilver :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 1:31am

The problem is he wasn't just the safety...the Saints were out-schemed on the play...trips receivers, only three defenders including Williams...his coaches hampered their own defense by having a linebacker near the line of scrimmage and closer to the other sideline than this sideline, instead of another db on the field and on the side of the field with the trips...so Williams was last line of defense and had responsibility for Diggs, as well...if it was a zone, the Vikes overloaded Crawley's area with two receivers...Williams was playing off, perhaps to prevent a fly route, perhaps because his zone was nearer the goal line...when Diggs turned out and looked back for the ball, Williams had to rush up, and he wasn't thinking about playing the ball, he was thinking about playing the man...the result was awful, but the fault lies more with the scheme than the player...had he tried to play the ball, I don't think he would have mistimed his run, but we'll never know...
I also think that some teams would have practiced that play and known how to defense it as best as possible (you know who I'm thinking about), but you have to remember that NO is not a team with almost two decades of consistent coaching on defense...the linebacker being on the field instead of another db (and on the side with fewer receivers) is a huge mistake...

133
by Jay Z :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 2:49am

Agreed that the scheme was awful. At minimum the useless LB should have been replaced by someone covering Diggs in addition to Williams.

I am assuming they were doing match-up with everyone else, they had a defender shadowing the RB McKinnon in case he came out. Certainly they could've cheated and laid off McKinnon and Rudolph since it was very unlikely those two would do any damage. But I have no idea what that LB was supposed to do, they had safeties behind him anyway and he wasn't rushing.

138
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:42am

It's not quite that simple. NO loses on a FG, too. If he holds up, Diggs is going to make it out of bounds before he can stop him.

I think New Orleans was playing a zone and Minnesota flooded it. I can't say what the LB was doing, but on the play before NO had gone tight to the sideline and Minnesota sent a deep post up the middle that was completely uncovered (Keenum either missed it or chose not to pass to it). I think that spooked NO and they left a guy to cover someone running straight up the middle of the field.

I agree that it was a bad play by Williams, but became a disaster because they were out-schemed.

140
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:30am

There was a reasonable chance to tackle Diggs in bounds and/or push him backward which would keep the clock running. Even if he got out of bounds, a ~55 yard field goal is no gimme.

That NO made other schematic mistakes doesn't diminish the magnitude of Williams' error.

145
by Jay Z :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:45am

The post on the prior play (run by Jarius Wright) could have been handled by the two deep safeties. The ball is out before Wright gets to the Saints 45, because the Vikings sent 5 out and there was pressure.

Frankly, if Keenum wants that throw you give it to him. Yeah, if Williams does an ole on that one it's bad too, but if the pass is completed, Williams gets a hit in, others converge, game over. The Saints were right to give them that play.

The linebacker, Robertson, picked up Rudolph on that play. I don't know why he didn't do that on the play following. Have him handle Rudolph, who is probably not getting the ball anyway, and roll the other two corners back. The Vikings had three to the right on that play too, it was a similar formation.

There was no timeout between the two plays, so limited time for panic. If the Saints coaches changed their coverage on that play before, they're choking idiots. All of that should be handled in prep time, film study.

103
by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:15pm

It's pretty clear that Williams blames himself. Certainly he didn't want to get a spot foul for PI, but regardless, the play as a whole is on him. He didn't appear on the Earth suddenly in a situation where he would have to whiff on a tackle just to avoid PI. He took the route towards Diggs in the manner he did. And really, he wasn't too early. He put his head down, dove at the legs, and whiffed.

He's the safety, tackling Diggs there is his job. The particulars of why or how he failed don't excuse the failure.

104
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:17pm

Yup, he just messed up in every way. It was the most inexplicable play by a defender I can remember since Rahim Moore.

Glad Williams was a stand-up guy about it and took complete blame. He had a really nice season and should have a good career ahead.

108
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:32pm

It's hard, especially in this era of media and social media overreaction, but this stuff has to be kept in perspective. He's a really good rookie who made a fundamental screw-up, in a huge moment. Learn from it and move on, ignore the noise from the meatheads.

4
by Jay Z :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:44am

"Missed desperation lunge?" That comment is as bad as the Saints' defense on that final play.

I can't get pass the fact that Williams is the only one with the chance to make a play on that ball, considering the situation. WTF?!? Deep out to Thielen and deep out to Diggs are the two most obvious plays, and the Vikings chose one.

Saints rush four, Vikings block with 6. Zero effective pass rush, so a win for the Vikings there. Keenun can throw free and clear. If you're not going to get there, you may as well rush 3, or zero for that matter.

Anyway, Saints have 7 in coverage. One on Thielen, with saftey to that side as well. Kind of have to do that. One hanging back to see if McKinnon will release. I suppose. A useless linebacker who was never going to be able to make any sort of play. That was a problem. So you've got three guys for Rudolph, Wright, and Diggs. The safety, Williams, gets Diggs. That's... not so great. The throw and catch were unobstructed. It all came down to Williams making the tackle, which he had plenty of time to do, and he whiffed completely. I suppose if Williams played the ball or grabbed Diggs or something more effective, Crawley would have helped, but Crawley wasn't that agressive on the play either.

Williams was horrible, but it was a dumb coverage by the Saints given the Vikings' limited options.

10
by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 5:09am

"plenty of time?" Watch it again in slow motion...Williams had no time given the speed he was moving and the fact he was early...

I do agree with you about the useless linebacker...pass rushers and db's only at that point...

15
by Jay Z :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 5:57am

Why should Williams be early? There was nothing surprising about the play call or how it unfolded.

The useless LB was a fatal mistake, but the play call was completely predictable and executed just like you would draw it up. If you can't time that play on defense, you can't time anything. Given that there was nobody in anyone's face on either Keenum or Diggs, it's not that hard a play at all on the NFL level. Diggs did a good job of maintaining his composure, but the offensive work, other than the play call, wasn't that exceptional.

So either the Saints were doing what they were supposed to be doing and Williams can't time the obvious play, or they had breakdowns. I don't know why someone wouldn't be there to help with Diggs. Maybe someone else blew their assignment. Or the defensive coordinator made the wrong call. I don't know which. If the play call was dependent on Williams being the only one stopping Diggs it was dumb, and Williams still blew the play as called.

16
by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 8:42am

Whether he "should" have been early or not is a totally different question than whether he was early...he was in off coverage for whatever reason (other responsibilities toward the center of the field? I don't know), and reacted toward the receiver with the ball in the air...it's not always possible to exactly time the intersection of ball and receiver; the exact trajectory of balls differ throw to throw, and thus the resultant millisecond ball arrival varies; mis-timed jumps by receivers and db's happen all the time...

Keenum's throw was pretty darn good as to location, and damned lucky as to exactly when it arrived...with a lower trajectory, it arrives slightly earlier and Diggs may not have caught it and/or Williams goes for the tackle...

The formation was trips to that side, with 3 defenders...whether someone else should have been helping out (that linebacker?), who knows (in the main TV shot, as the ball passes roughly over his head, there is a defender at about the NO 46, approximately halfway between the hash and the sideline, roughly 12 yards away from Diggs on the diagonal...there is also a defender at about the NO 28, but on the other side of the hash mark...in that shot, we never see either of these two again...same who knows for whether it was man or zone...zone would explain Williams' off coverage, I guess...another reason for the same distance between Diggs and Williams would be if Williams was hedging his coverage against a potential Diggs straight fly route...

51
by Jay Z :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:06am

As far as being early, Williams has the play in front of him, should be able to see everything. It's not like he was running back and didn't turn around for the ball. It's all right there for him to see. He can see the ball, see Diggs, if he's getting too close back off a bit. It's like an OF in baseball having a ball go over his head because he ran up too fast. These are professionals.

I looked at all of the angles they gave up on TV. There wound up being three defenders on that side for the three receivers. Four rushers, two on Thielen, a spy for McKinnon, and the LB in no man's land. That left three for the other three. One of them was way up on Rudolph. Crawley was sticking with Wright, could have sprinted back to help but wasn't. That left Williams on Diggs, the only player responsible for him is running over and mistiming his arrival in an area of the field that is a likely target of the ball.

31
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:10am

"Why should Williams be early?"

Why was New Orleans' pass defense a hot mess all game?

Lattimore was so badly burned on one play that he held, DPI'd, and Thielen still made the catch. NO, between accepted and rejected penalties, gave up 86 yards in DPIs and DHs. They were early all game.

For whatever reason, Williams was early. Had he decked Diggs, it would have been a spot foul. Still a long kick, but who expects Diggs to stay in bounds? You're better off not taking the DPI and seeing if the WR can make the catch while going to the ground OOB and not letting time expire. I mean, unless the football gods hate you.

On Sunday, between the Steelers-Jags and the Vikings-Saints, they were cruel and capricious. We saw multiple 40+ yard TDs on 4th-and-long and a 61-yard TD on game to go.

71
by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:10pm

Exactly right

86
by Dave Bernreuther :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:05pm

"Missed desperation lunge?" That comment is as bad as the Saints' defense on that final play.

Hey come on guys, give me a break, it was mayhem after a ridiculous ending and I was just racing to get an email out!

I feel really bad for WIlliams, especially after watching the replays again and seeing him talk about it.

But yeah, the ball had to go to the sidelines. In a case like that, it's easy enough to call a defense that only a perfect throw can beat. That was not a perfect throw.

94
by Jay Z :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:15pm

You're right. It wasn't. It was probably 10-12 feet away from where you'd want it. I have seen the perfect play in that situation, Pittsburgh pulled it against the Packers this year. Ball is OB, receiver reaches and makes the toe tap before defense can do anything.

This play should have been a lot easier to cover than that. Diggs is going straight up about 6 feet from the sideline. In a competent defensive scheme, the useless LB with no apparent responsibilities is replaced by a DB actually attempting to cover Diggs. Maybe he contests the catch well, maybe not, but at least he is creating more of a crowd. Then Williams comes over and uses a technique where he is actually looking at Diggs. Even if the catch is made, you've got a great chance to tie up Diggs and end the game.

Just awful defense. Not trying to take anything away from the Vikings, but gotta call them as they are.

96
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:26pm

Noting that a team failed in basic execution, and thus lost, is not taking anything away from the opponent, whether it be a punt block, a poorly advised pass, or awful pass defense on the last play. Failure to execute basic stuff often results in defeat.

105
by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:23pm

Yes, with everybody dumping on Williams it's important to note that this was a team failure. And a coaching failure.

I hope the fans in New Orleans recognize his talent and don't make him a scapegoat.

5
by Anger...rising :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:45am

[Foles's] final numbers weren't great, but he didn't make a game-changing mistake

He threw a ball directly to the opposing defense. The only reason it wasn't game-changing is that the recipient of the gift decided to kick it instead of catch it.

9
by BJR :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:58am

With an average amount of luck, Foles would have had two interceptions at half time. He calmed down (or something) and executed much better in the second half, but he was very bad, and very lucky in the first half. I have very little confidence in him going forward.

32
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:12am

On the other hand, with average luck, the Eagles probably don't fumble four times in the first half.

6
by Cythammer :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:49am

How nuts is is that of the four QBs who will be starting next week, as many as three could be not starting for their team next year? Foles obviously won't be, who knows what will happen in Minnesota, and Bortles might be replaced. I suppose there's even a small chance Brady could decide to retire as well.

But the even crazier part is that it might actually be to the team's benefit in each case. Upgrading from Bortles might very well be a fantastic idea. Keenum has been great, but Bridgewater might be the better long-term option. Somehow the only exception is with the team with the 40-year old QB, though if Garoppolo were still on the roster even that might not be true.

21
by rj1 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:43am

We're guaranteed one starting QB in the Super Bowl that was not the team's planned starter at the beginning of the season from whoever wins the NFC. And then Bortles is in the AFC title game.

Can anyone imagine a Blake Bortles vs. Case Keenum Super Bowl? I think Belichick and company will figure out the Jags, but right now Bortles is one game away from getting there.

24
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:49am

Bortles over Roethlisberger. Foles over Ryan. Keenum over Brees. Can we now remember that there are 44 starters not including special teams, and that quarterbacks are not the sole determinant of outcomes?

34
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:15am

Thing is, I'm not sure you can say Brees outplayed Keenum or Ryan outplayed Foles.

The only winning QB who was clearly outplayed was Bortles, but he's built a career on that.

73
by rj1 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:14pm

Well with how they're paid and treated by the media, they're the only players that matter.

With 3 of the 4 guys in the conference title games being these guys though, does that mean the QB position is wildly overpaid by most of the league?

76
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:19pm

The possible large inefficiency in the qb market is a very intriguing question.

125
by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:55pm

The word "possible" is being underpaid in your comment, considering how many meanings it's being used for

128
by theslothook :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:03am

The problem is, qb play is pretty nonlinear. Peyton Manning or Tom Bradfy are substantially better than Matt Ryan, but since all three are hard to find- they get paid equivalently. I'd rather have Peyton Manning and a roster on the cheap than vice versa. I may not win a sb, but I'll get more chances at it than the current Vikes w case keenum.

148
by rj1 :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 1:12pm

Not sure that's a smart strategy though as a GM. Obviously if you can get your hands on a Brady or Manning, you take him. The issue is no one has the foresight ahead of time to who will pan out and the draft on QBs is almost a lottery. I think it definitely makes more sense to spend money on the other 21 starting positions in comparison to paying the moon for Sam Bradford or Joe Flacco and hoping they become all-stars however. Team may have you beat at QB, but if you use that money in a salary cap sport where it's limited for the offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, runningbacks, receivers, comparing position to position you'll win more head-to-heads.

155
by dank067 :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 3:07pm

This year the Vikings are devoting more than $20 million against the cap to QBs and they have spent two recent first round picks to draft/acquire Bridgewater and Bradford. Pretty decent amount of investment, yet it doesn't seem to have had a significant impact on their ability to build one of the best rosters in the league.

Every situation is unique. The team that probably goofed the most in overpaying a QB in recent seasons is Baltimore, and even then they actually made things more difficult on themselves with their decision to wait and see on an extension before 2012.

156
by Steve in WI :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 3:07pm

I think front offices are making two big mistakes with respect to the QB position that come from overvaluing mediocre QB play. They draft QBs too high and they pay too much for them. Both mistakes not only expose them when their chosen QB turns out not to be very good, but because of the opportunity cost - either the $20M cap hit for a guy who's about average, or spending high draft picks (and often trading up and using several relatively high picks on one guy).

I am not saying that I don't think QBs are important or that having a really great QB isn't a big part of building the foundation of a winning team; it's just that I believe teams are thinking "we don't have a great QB, therefore we should throw all of our resources at trying to get one even if the prospects aren't too good." And because the narrative around football is that an elite QB is the only important thing, that decision is largely safe because it's conventional wisdom. You will get fired for passing up a QB with the #1 overall pick or declining to re-sign your average starting QB long before you'll get fired for taking the best QB available (even if all signs point to him having a very small chance of being great) or for sticking with the status quo because the 16th-best QB in the league is visibly a lot better than the 32nd.

158
by theslothook :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 4:32pm

Ok, but what then is the right strategy? Should the browns spend their first two picks on non qbs and go with deshone kizer again?

Should the redskins let Kirk Cousins walk? What about the 49ers and Jimmy G?

Its easy to say - unless they are Manning and Brady, don't overpay - but thats the market rate. The decision then amounts to letting the qb walk and going with some low round pick to build your future.

And then look at teams like Buffalo and Denver. Should those teams stick with Tyrod and Siemian and build the rest of their respective rosters?

The latter case also shows just how daunting the task is of competing over several years when you don't have a good enough qb. Denver won a sb in 2015 with bad qb play. The next year they got slightly better qb play, but missed the playoffs because their defense slipped. The next year, the offense regressed badly and the defense fell apart.

Keeping a good roster together over time is as onerous as finding a good qb. Its hard enough to find good players, its even harder to keep them healthy over time. Qbs survive the longest, are among the most consistent producers(as in, their mean week to week performance is more stable than a corner or safety), and generally you are quite aware of what limitations they have and can gameplan accordingly.

Its easy to make fun of the Ravens for overpaying for Flacco, but I doubt most people at the time thought the Ravens ultimately made the wrong decision. I mean - at the time, he was the best qb in their franchise history and it felt like a huge setback to let him walk and try to find a cheaper replacement. That he's been a disaster since is beside the point - we can only go by the information we have at the time.

159
by dank067 :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 5:22pm

Two other things with the Flacco extension:

1. Like you allude to, Flacco's level of play has dropped off since he signed the extension. With the exception of a bounce-back season in 2014, every single one of his individual seasons after 2012 has been worse by AV than every single one of his individual seasons before then—including his rookie year. It's fair to criticize the Ravens for not properly evaluating what they had with Flacco, but who wouldn't have assumed he wasn't about to enter his prime, especially after the Super Bowl run?

2. In the decade before they found Flacco, the Ravens often had good-to-great defenses but were very erratic in making the playoffs—the only made the playoffs in 3/7 seasons after winning the Super Bowl in 2000 and never advanced further than the divisional round. This with older veterans like Grbac and McNair and a failed draft pick in Boller. As soon as they drafted Flacco they made the playoffs in 5 consecutive seasons, advanced to three conference championship games, and won a second Super Bowl. Again, they may not have assessed correctly just how responsible Flacco was for that run of success, but I think he was still an important contributor and was definitely an upgrade with what they were trotting out before.

165
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 8:38pm

I thought even in 2012 everybody knew that Flacco was fleecing the Ravens in his 2012 contract

160
by JMM :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 5:31pm

If I were running the Bro ns (they didn't earn the "w") I would consider drafting QB's in both top 5 picks. If there is a 50% hit rate, you just might get one, or better yet two. One to play, one to trade.

166
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 8:40pm

This might be the smartest way to play it.

I like the Bro ns thing as well :)

172
by theslothook :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:12pm

The biggest problem I see is that Hue Jackson will get to coach them first, leaving you with two scarred, broken down players. Actually, it would be so bro ns to have both end up as draft busts - one pulling a jamarcus Russel and eating himself out of the league, the other likely getting injured in training camp and ending up in Hue Jackson's perpetual dog house backing up Josh McCown in perpetuity.

161
by Steve in WI :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 7:18pm

Broadly speaking, I would say the strategy should be to only pay market rate or use a 1st round draft pick on a QB that your best scouting leads you to believe has a reasonable chance of being a very good QB. Don't let your desperation to obtain a great QB lead you into believing in someone who has a very low chance of succeeding. (I know that's easier said than done, and I know I'm being vague here. The fact is that great QB play is really hard to come by and the majority of QBs by definition will be consistently in the bottom 70% of the league. I don't mean to imply that I think it should be easy to make these decisions).

To specifically answer your questions, I think the Browns should only draft a QB if they believe that there is one in this draft worth the #1 overall pick. Honestly, I don't follow college football closely enough to even have an opinion on that. I don't think they should let Kizer's presence determine whether or not to draft one unless (I think this is unlikely) they 100% believe he is their QB of the future. I think Washington should let Kirk Cousins walk because I think his ceiling is below that level of play I described, and I would not pay him $25M/year or whatever he's going to command. (I realize this is an unpopular opinion). I would definitely sign Garoppolo if I was San Francisco, because the only way acquiring him makes sense is if you identified him as your potentially great guy from afar and are willing to take that gamble. Buffalo and Denver are tougher for me to evaluate - is Taylor a free agent? I certainly wouldn't give him $20M+ but I don't think he's bad.

162
by Eddo :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 7:37pm

I think your first paragraph is exactly right, and that it also has to be vague. It's so much about your contextual evaluation of the specific QB being considered, so you can't make some hard-and-fast rule.

You say you wouldn't pay Cousins (and I agree with you, in general). But maybe a team's coaching staff looks at Cousins and sees a few specific flaws that they are confident they can fix or scheme around, and that his strengths are things they can maximize. It might be a good move to sign him to a huge contract, because he'll be consistently very good for them.

Specifically regarding Garoppolo, I tend to think franchising him might be the best move (provided the front office doesn't get the vibe from him that doing so will cause resentment and result in him not being open to an extension). You get another year to see if he's not a fluke. If he is, oh well, you don't have to sign him for 2019 and beyond. But if he's looking great in camp, and then the preseason, you can pull the trigger and extend him.

163
by theslothook :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 7:46pm

The problem with the first paragraph is - does any team have any consistent ability to properly scout qbs versus another team? The evidence seems to suggest no. I suspect teams scout most top prospects the same and theres tremendous uncertainty. Carson Wentz played against some inferior competition but had all the physical tools and mental acuity on display. How easy is it to distinguish Carson Wentz from Joe Flacco during the draft process?

Don't pay Cousins sounds great until you realize - where does that leave the Redskins going into next year and beyond? They likely won't have a chance at a top pick and is their roster really strong enough to lift up a low round rookie or street free agent? Will that savings mean they can then sign a few good corners and safeties in free agency - assuming some quality one's are even on the market. And isn't overpaying middle tier free agents considered a mortal sin here at FootballOutsiders?

Bottom line - when the talent you have is hard to find and you don't have a ready alternative, in a sense - you become a hostage to the situation. This is especially true in the NFL where most coaching lifecycles dont go beyond 2 years. Maybe if the owner was truly patient to let a team bottom out for 5 years to construct the ultimate roster, then sure. But they don't and I suspect Gruden won't survive one more subpar season.

This gets to my ultimate point. Whatever you think of Cousins(I think he's pretty good) - its pretty damn hard to find his replacement. Sure, if the team is ultra talented than its immaterial, but the redskins(like pretty much the rest of the league) isn't flushed with talent and needs a qb like cousins. If you put Nick Foles on the Skins and gifted them some middle round corners and offensive linemen - are they really better? I am pretty skeptical.

167
by Alternator :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:40pm

Weeeeeeell...I'd say it's pretty clear that some coaches are either superior at scouting, or superior at developing, just as it's clear some teams are inferior at both. Cough, cough, Browns, cough, cough.

Look at Andy Reid. He can claim some share of credit for Favre (he was the QB coach in '97, and some kind of offensive assistant before then), McNabb, a good year for Garcia, a solid year out of Vick, and turned Alex Smith into a reliable starter. It's far too early to tell with Mahomes, but he had a decent week against Denver. Either Reid is incredibly lucky, or he's one of the best at coaching up quarterbacks.

Belichick hasn't done poorly, either. Rohan Davey (4th round) did nothing, but both Cassel (7th round) and Hoyer (undrafted) had a few solid seasons as a starter before sticking around as backups, Mallet (3rd round) has hung around as a backup, Brissett (third round) at least didn't make the Colts offense worse, and Garoppolo (2nd round) is an extremely promising starter for the 49ers. Given the draft picks spent, that's a pretty good record.

Bruce Arians has plenty of flops on his track record, but the successes are damn impressive: quarterback coach to early Peyton Manning, offensive coordinator for Big Ben during his rise to a prolific passer, rookie Andrew Luck, the revival of Carson Palmer. Very hit and miss, true, but those hits are absolute home runs - not many guys can say that.

169
by theslothook :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:07pm

It's important to distinguish between making a qb look good vs making the player a good player once he leaves your system / team. The latter case I don't believe anyone can do. If you are going to credit Reid w McNabb and favre, then you should be inclined to credit Caldwell for Manning and Stafford.

More to the point, I don't think qb picks are lumps of clay that a coach can mold into a good player. He can definitely make him look better by playing to his strengths or supporting him with a good roster, but he can't make him good in a vacuum. Here, the distinction is best seen with Matt Cassel.

Reid's magic touch didn't stop him from paying Alex Smith or spending a first rounder on a qb. If he really was the qb whisperer, he should have stuck w Chase Daniels or Tyler Thigpen or found himself a Trevor Siemian and spent on the rest of the team.

176
by Eddo :: Wed, 01/17/2018 - 12:04pm

I think that some front offices might be marginally better, but you're likely right that no one has a significant advantage in scouting QBs (you could probably argue, however, that certain FOs are definitely bad at it).

I think overpaying Cousins because you don't have an immediate replacement is not a good strategy. You'll have better quarterbacking in 2018, almost certainly, but will that deal be killing you in 2020 and beyond?

That said, if you evaluate Kirk Cousins, specifically - not the generic QB-We-Currently-Have - and legitimately believe that Cousins will be an above average QB for each of the next five years, then you absolutely should sign him. But if you don't truly feel that, keeping him just because he's a bird in hand is not a good call.

177
by Steve in WI :: Wed, 01/17/2018 - 3:12pm

I agree that ownership is a huge factor. In fact, I bet there are GMs out there who *know* they're stuck in a middling position and would love to start a 3-year rebuild, but know they'd be fired so they don't.

I also agree that looking only at 2018, Washington would win more games with Cousins than without. My whole argument hinges on my belief that he's good but not great; if they believe he hasn't hit his ceiling yet, it may be totally rational to bet on him. But let's say they sign him to a 5-year, $125M deal where basically the first three years are guaranteed (I saw this example on a Spotrac article about potential QB contracts this offseason; I have no idea how reasonable it is). Then in 2018, 2019, and 2020 they go 9-7, 8-8, and 10-6, and go 1-2 in the playoffs. Do they bring him back for 2021 or are they convinced they've seen his ceiling and they need a great QB? If it's the latter, then they are basically in the same position as they are today and they've gone 3 more years without contending for a championship.

178
by theslothook :: Wed, 01/17/2018 - 3:50pm

I think they like all teams will hope to hit on enough draft picks so that they can be as great a team as can be. Look at how the saints defense turned themselves around with Lattimore, Crawley, and yes even Marcus Williams.

78
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:40pm

Brees, Ryan, and Roethlisberger still made the final 8, and even Marriota and Bortles were top-3 picks.

Philly and Minnesota started the season with top-2 guys.

111
by dank067 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:01pm

The Eagles still have a great defense but they would have had to really battle to make the playoffs in the first place if Foles was their full-season starter. In fact, they missed the playoffs last year with their defense posting a near-identical DVOA (and having better special teams!), but with rookie Carson Wentz at QB instead of this year's Carson Wentz.

They're one step away from a Super Bowl, and I enjoyed watching them play this week, but depending on who their division opponents would have been, Jacksonville likely would have been right on the bubble of the NFC playoff picture this season.

I think people often overrate the importance of QBs in a head-to-head matchup (i.e. how can Bortles beat Roethlisberger or Brady in a playoff game?) and even underestimate the ability of a team with a poor QB to make a playoff run. But it is still pretty uncommon for a team with a legitimately poor QB situation to be an annual playoff contender. This same Vikings team that is starting Case Keenum mortgaged their future last season to bring in Sam Bradford when it looked like Bridgewater's career might be over. I guarantee you they do not see what happened this season with Keenum and decide they don't need to pay any of Keenum, Bradford or Bridgewater market price and try to sign, say, Nick Foles on the cheap instead.

136
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 7:10am

Exactly right. The quarterback position is overrated, but that still doesn’t mean it’s not the most important position in the game. Just look at the Colts with/without Andrew Luck....same with Deshaun Watson and Houston, Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, Jimmy G and San Fransisco.

Of course the counter-argument is that if you’re so dependent on one player being great at one position, maybe that’s a failure of team-building (or in the case of Houston, getting ravaged by injuries).

149
by rj1 :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 1:15pm

I'd consider it a failure of team building.

152
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 2:19pm

Amen. I keep reading comments (not on this site, thankfully) like "Patriots will win. Only Brees or Roethlisberger could have stopped Brady."

Ugh. What position does Brees even play in this so-called defense people are imagining?

8
by Cythammer :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:57am

"And I fully admit to this statement being sour grapes, but fans of 30 other teams deserve better. Next week we'll be watching Brady and Belichick against Blake Freaking Bortles for a spot in the Super Bowl. What a joke."

Geez, why can't people wrap their minds around the fact that the Jags are actually a good team? The Steelers are probably slightly better, so they may have made for a slightly more interesting game, but only by a little bit. Not to mention Pats-Steelers is something we've seen many times, while the matchup we got has the advantage of novelty. Bortles isn't a superstar, but football is team game, and Belichick and Brady against the Jags D is no joke at all. In fact, by DVOA, it's the best two units in the whole league squaring off.

12
by BJR :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 5:31am

Kind of lost amidst the freneticism yesterday was the fact that the Jags O Line was utterly dominant. The Steelers were being pushed around in the run game, especially near the goal line, and they couldn't get a fingernail on Bortles down the stretch when they desperately needed a stop. A repeat of that physical performance, against a Pats D that is certainly vulnerable, will make life interesting next week.

OTOH the way Pittsburgh's offence was gobbling up yards pretty much all day would lead us to believe that the Pats will have little issue doing the same. Of course they will struggle to replicate the spectacular TD catches, but equally we can expect the Pats not to display complete incompetence if they ever find themselves with 4th and inches.

Also - Spectacular Performances Lost in Losing Causes: Antonio Brown.

13
by Cythammer :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 5:34am

The first fourth and short Steelers play was bad, I agree. The second was aggressive, risky, and obviously that didn't work out, but it didn't look like a bad call. Taking a chance down field on fourth down isn't necessarily a bad choice, especially when you are losing.

14
by BJR :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 5:46am

I'm generally all for trying something that the defence might not be expecting, but I can't see how throwing the ball 20 yards downfield when you absolutely need 6 inches is in any way optimal at all.

119
by Steve B :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 7:00pm

Might've also worked better if they called the obvious defensive holding on the play.

18
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:02am

Yeah, for all the talk about other factors, it may be worth mention that 5 Jaguar o-linemen just whipped the asses of the Steelers across the line of scrimmage from them, from start to finish.

23
by sbond101 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:47am

Interesting how easily something like this can get lost. Almost every detailed observer of football realizes that if the opposing offensive is utterly dominant it is virtually impossible to win (you need to get turnovers in an offense that doesn't have to take many risks). The unbelievable game that Rothesburger/AB played is a great illustration of the quality of offense you have to play to match a straight ahead running game that went for 4 touchdowns & 164 yards. I can't help thinking this is the kind of game that having an oversized LB like James Harrison really could have helped with.

27
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:56am

I mean, I was watching the game, and it was obvious that the Jaguars were better on the line of scrimmage, although the Steelers o-line was certainly competing well. The Steelers' defensive front? They were thoroughly whipped, on their home field, and it was only a few perfect throws and crazy good catches by a Roethlisberger and Steeler receivers which kept the game competitive.

118
by Steve B :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 6:58pm

Cam Heyward, who was deservedly an All-Pro, was invisible all day.

120
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 7:02pm

It seems obvious to me that this was the most significant factor in the upset, but a lot of other stuff is getting a lot more attention.

134
by RobotBoy :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 3:42am

I really thought the the most significant factor was the two early turnovers that allowed the Jags to play to their strengths, on offense and defense. 164 yards rushing sounds great but 35 of that was Bortles scrambling. 25 carries for 109 yards is effective running but far from a curb stomping. I would agree that the effective rush certainly led the Steelers to overload the box and dare Bortles to beat them, never more so than on that fullback TD.

179
by t.d. :: Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:15am

the Jags lost yards on one play, a kneeldown to run out the first half clock, and the non-Fournette guys averaged 4 yards a pop, too. People talk about points per drive; the Jags averaged almost 2/3 a point per play (and that's without the defensive touchdown)

146
by jtr :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:54am

Heyward's play style is particularly dependent on his teammates to generate pressure. He almost always wins with pure strength, pushing the opposing lineman back toward the QB. In order to get a sack that way, he usually needs either an edge rusher to make the QB step up or good coverage to give him time to walk the guard all the way into the QB's lap. He's not going to blow up a play right at the snap like Aaron Donald can. I definitely noticed him pushing the opposing linemen around on Sunday, but he didn't get the support he needs to finish plays.

35
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:17am

Pittsburgh generated a bunch of yardage on plays that were just amazing physical successes. They weren't winning with route design. For all they were chunk plays, those were hard yardage.

11
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 5:29am

I thought Belichick was supposed to be an innovative genius who could take advantage of rule changes.

The Patriots scored 5 TDs and their celebrations were pathetic. Nothing entertaining about a guy throwing the ball in to the stands and his teammates running up and patting him on the back.

Other teams, that didn't even make the playoffs took good advantage of those changes to celebration rules - Cleveland had a great one in that game were they narrowly avoiding ruining their 0-16 season.

72
by dryheat :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:11pm

I always enjoy Dion Lewis doinking the ball off the camera. However, the Vikings "Freeze Tag" sequence is my new favorite.

132
by jonsilver :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 1:57am

For sheer creativity, timeliness and immaculate execution, the Lions as the Rockettes takes the brass ring (despite those awful color rush uni's)...

22
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:45am

The Falcons were thoroughly outplayed, yet still had their best player in place to execute a very makeable play on the last snap. When Jones jumped, I was about 99% certain he was going to make the catch.

33
by Peregrine :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:13am

Falcons fan here. Julio is a fantastic player, but one of the relative weaknesses of his game is that he's not superlative in that kind of jump ball situation. Not sure what it is, but Ryan and him just aren't on the same page on plays like that. Julio's game has always reminded me of Terrell Owens (a TO who has great character).

39
by coremill :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:24am

What is it with Jones and the end zone? How does a receiver as good as Jones, playing with a good QB, have only one season with 10+ TD passes? How has he averaged only 6 TDs/season the last four years? It's really bizarre.

That's a big difference between Jones and Owens: Owens was a TD machine. Owens had seven seasons of 13+ TDs; Jones doesn't have any yet. Maybe it's just a fluke and Jones will have 15 TDs next year, but it's weird.

42
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:35am

It's not unheard of.

Torry Holt, Michael Irvin, Andre Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jimmy Smith have similar careers (>8000 receiving yards, <0.50 TD/game). Very sneakily, Jeff Graham and DeSean Jackson are extreme examples.

I think what you're seeing are big wideouts who are used as decoys in the red zone, so RBs/TEs/slot WRs hoover up their touchdowns because those guys are open. We've seen what happens when you single cover a guy like Megatron. Or zero cover, in the case of Dallas.

47
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:56am

Then you have a guy like Cris Carter, who made it to the HOF largely on his domination of the red zone. It's really valuable to have that basketball-like body positioning skill in a tight space, and the hands to grab anything you touch.

52
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:10am

Carter did well, but even he is more towards the pack. TO and Moss were exceptional in terms of TDs/game, ahead of even Rice. Harrison was on roughly Rice's pace.

The undisputed king (and a guy I accidentally trimmed off my search) is Don Hutson, who averaged 0.85 TDs/game. Moss is second and TO is third, I think. Dez Bryant isn't far off Moss's TDs/game pace.

If you include TEs, Gronk is second, although well behind Hutson's pace.

65
by coremill :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:42am

Rice's career rate is a little lower because he played so long and had a long decline phase. Up until Warren Sapp tore up his knee early in 97 (Rice's age 35 season), his rate was .82 receiving TDs/game and .87 total TDs/game (Rice scored 10 rushing TDs in his career). He then missed nearly all of 97, and came back to play seven more seasons (ages 36-42), during which his TD rate fell to .37 TDs/game.

Meanwhile, Moss, Owens, Carter, etc. were all done by 37.

68
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:56am

Moss, obviously, and Owens, too, had a lot more long td catches than Carter. I could be wrong, but I remember a disproportionate percentage of Carter's tds, relative to other great wide receivers, occurring within 10 yards, or even 5 yards, of the goal line. For years, the standard Vikings pass play within the 10 was for Carter to be in the slot, run straight ahead past the goal line, and turn around. Everybody knew it, and it still worked, because he just had a knack for using his body to shield the ball from the defender.

77
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:25pm

Let's not forget that the problem with Carter was that "All he does is catch touchdown passes" ;-)

30
by Peregrine :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:09am

Both NFC games featured defenses unable to properly defend the sidelines in critical situations. The Saints-Vikings sequence got the headlines, but the Eagles were able to hit a pass at the sideline with 1 second left in the first half and convert a long field goal to make it 10-9 at the break. I thought that was a key moment in the game.

So what's the proper way to defend a sideline, and why can't NFL defensive coordinators figure that out?

38
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:22am

It's interesting watching the replay of the pass before the Diggs TD.

New Orleans left the middle of the field completely open and Minnesota had a deep post run that was open by 20 yards. It would have been a close thing to see if the deep safeties could have gotten there in time to stop the TD. It would have been ballsy, but it was there.

Also, the Eagles play started at the 50, not the 30. So an end zone bomb was in play.

88
by Peregrine :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:13pm

Yes, the Eagles could have gone for the hail mary, which was why Julio was in the game as the last man. Interesting to think about what would have happened if the Saints had used a similar last man guarding the goal line...

So, defending the sideline in a situation when the offense is looking for a long FG attempt. One thought I have is that it's much easier for defenders to move forward than backward. Maybe rush 3, maybe 4, and have the other defenders posted at the sidelines at the edge of field goal range, no closer. The Falcons should have had a CB posted right on the sideline at the 35 on each side of the field. In such a situation, might also be smart to rush three or even less. Force the QB to hold the ball looking for receivers that can't get open at the sideline, let time run out.

While I'm here, my favorite hail mary defense would involve a CB blitz from the QB's throwing hand side. The defense should try to flush a right-handed QB to his left, etc.

36
by jmaron :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:18am

What an see saw of emotions for Viking/Saints fans. And not just the last few minutes of the game.

The 1st half felt like it was going to be a complete blowout, it was 17-0 when Brees was sacked and fumbled at his 25 yd line with 1:54 to go - NO recovered, at that point it seemed like it would be a Viking blowout. NO could do nothing on offence at all, but from that point forward the game seemed to be creeping towards NO, slowly at first...NO would threaten but something would go wrong. Minn would be looking to put it away, but miss a FG or take a sack. Then Keenum made the horrible throw for the int and it seemed that NO would surely win. The Saints were dominant by that point scoring at will and harassing or sacking Keenum on every throw. All that happened before the last crazy 3 minutes.

I don't bet football games because of games like this. My heart couldn't take it

37
by coremill :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:20am

That Vikings-Steelers game turned into an almost eerie repeat of the 2011 49ers-Saints playoff game. Both featured the Brees-led Saints going on the road to play a team built on strong defense and the rejuvenation of a much-maligned QB. Both featured the home team jumping out to a 17-0 lead aided by a Brees INT. In both games Brees slowly dragged his team back into the game. And both featured a flurry of lead changes in the final four minutes, with the home team winning on a last-second TD.

40
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:27am

I do sort of enjoy Keenum embracing his inner Favre and just throwing f&ck-it bombs to Diggs and Thielen. You've got two 6' WRs; might as well use them.

Regarding the Foles and Ryan moonballs on Saturday, I think the wind was more of a factor than TV audiences understood. On the field, the wind wasn't bad, but it was super windy in Philly that day (20+ sustained, gusts to 40) and it was blowing left to right on the broadcast. Both ducks were thrown on high arcs into that wind. Foles was sailing them when going the other way, too.

41
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:30am

The Vikings adhered to a formula to produce a close loss. They played terrific defense, and decent offense through 3 quarters, then Keenum forgot that his throwing ability has limits that he needs to be mindful of, when playing with a 17 point lead, and then the Vikings had a special teams screw-up. The Vikings pass rushers were a little gassed in the 4th quarter, and Brees is Brees.

Then we are reminded again that when the deepest guy on defense screws up, big plays happen

143
by ZDNeal :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:25am

Losing Stephen hurt. Do they have someone they can activate to keep Robison from having to do non-pass rush stuff so he isn't gassed?

150
by jmaron :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 1:15pm

Jaleel Johnson would be the next DT. He played a little bit during the year

43
by jmaron :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:36am

Case Keenum - he's the hero today, but man that int up 10 pts on the very next play after NO finally scored was a killer.

144
by ZDNeal :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:26am

Wasn't his previous play getting sacked on 3rd down to move them out of FG range? Bad couple of plays there.

44
by James-London :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:38am

What on earth were the Steelers thinking at the end of the game? Down 10 inside 2 minutes and they're called for Intentional Grounding. You're now 15yds further out with a loss of down and a 10 second run-off, but in kicking range. Kick the Field Goal Immediately. You still have to OSK, but now you have time to actually recover the ball.
Steelers coaching wasn't impressive yesterday, but that was particularly bad.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

170
by Dennis :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:07pm

Absolutely. But teams do this all the time when they need a TD and a FG, they waste all their time going for a TD. Dallas had one game where they tried to kick the FG right away from the 30 I think and they missed it. At least they had the right idea.

45
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:39am

"I don't have a better suggestion, but we all know damn well that Belichick isn't going to let that happen next week. And I fully admit to this statement being sour grapes, but fans of 30 other teams deserve better."

I'd like to take this opportunity to say "Jeff Triplette: I hope you rot in hell you incompetent f*ck. You single-handedly cost us a NE-KC game. Orlando Brown could have made better calls. He's both blind and dead."

46
by James-London :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:42am

The Vikings game was an incredible finish, and before the injuries to Sendejo and Rhodes looks every bit as good as advertised. What would worry me if I were a Vikings fan is that the Saints beat up their O-line in the second half. The Patriots might not be the best team to take advantage of that, but the Eagles sure can.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

50
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:01am

The Vikings will have very tough time scoring in Philadelphia, and it is crazy that they are 3.5 point favorites. Their offensive line isn't what it was in October, and the Philly defensive front is formidable. The Vikings defense needs all hands on deck, and will have to produce a heroic road performance.

54
by jmaron :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:16am

that's my take as well. I would favour the Eagles by 2-3 pts for sure.

57
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:26am

If the Vikings defense doesn't produce 2 or 3 short fields, and force field goals and not allow tds, and/or the Vikings special teams gives away points, the Eagles win. That's a lot of things going simultaneously right for Minnesota, on the road. The easy pick is on the Eagles.

62
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:31am

The Eagles scored 15 against an Atlanta defense that's not nearly as good as Minnesota's, and the Vikings have the pass rush to get to Foles. Just from that perspective, I'm expecting the Vikings to win pretty handily. Minnesota's defense was really pretty good yesterday, having given up only one long TD drive and they'd have won the game earlier in the process if they'd stopped a long 4th down conversion. The Nick Foles Eagles offense is really not good.

56
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:23am

I thought Atlanta as 3-pt favorites was silly.

But not Minnesota. Minnesota's defense is at least as good as Philly's, and their offense is better. All that gives me pause is, you know, Minnesota in a conference or league final.

The safest place for Philly to be is defending a late 3-pt lead.

61
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:31am

Really is an interesting matchup, and I'm trying not to be the typical pessimistic Vikings fan, but I really will be surprised if the Vikings demonstrate any efficiency on offense. If the wind blows like hell, Zimmer needs to consider going to Bradford quickly.

64
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:40am

Look, do the reverse of what I'd do.

Put money on the Eagles, and root for the Vikings.

\do the same with Jags/Pats.

58
by jmaron :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:26am

last year Minn played in Phil and it turned into a turnover fest in the 1st half with both defences dominating. Philly won it pretty handily in the end. But the Vikings defence gave the game to the offence and the oline was so bad it gave the game back.

Wouldn't be surprised to see a game similar to the Atl-Phil game, tight low scoring. But it's Football so who knows.

48
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:00am

"The win expectancy turnaround on that play ... I wonder if it comes out higher than the Immaculate Interception in Super Bowl XLIX."

In terms of game probability? Probably not. Diggs catch was a 99.9% reversal. Only the Immaculate Reception would have been close. (Music City Miracle was 92%) Play-by-play isn't available for that, but Harris's TD was on 4th-10, from the PIT 40, with 22 seconds left, in a 7-6 game. Diggs TD was on 3rd-10, from the MIN 39, with 10 seconds left, in a 24-23 game. MIN had less time, but could afford an incompletion. A FG would have won both games.

The Interception was more important towards who won the Super Bowl. There are a handful of comparable plays (and PFR's win percentage has issues with some of them). Holmes's 40 yard reception in XLIII, the Burress catch in XLII (not the Tyree catch; NYG survived another 3rd-long needing a TD later in that drive), the earlier Rice catch in XXIII.

Do you want to count kicks? Norwood's miss in XXV was worth 61% of a Super Bowl.

171
by Dennis :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:10pm

The all-time greatest turnaround has to be the Joe Pisarcik fumble when the Giants could've taken a knee.

49
by big10freak :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:00am

Lot of special teams action this weekend. Muffed catches, partially blocked punts, missed field goals.

Watching Sunday's game and presented with completely opposite approaches on officiating pass defense I confirmed I prefer the Steelers/Jags game. Better to see Brown get held all the way down the field and catch a pass one handed versus the ticky tack, comically bad calls in the Vikes/Saints game compounded by refs then choosing late to not call anything which is the worst possible approach.

Watched Steelers game off/on all season and never noticed 89. And yesterday he chewed up the Jags. But yes, the Jags offensive line crushed it all game. Watt spent half the game on the ground

53
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:13am

Mularkey is out at Tennessee, it appears.

55
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:19am

So I'm listening to the radio, and the Steelers talk in about the lack of qb sneaks by Roethisberger. In a game where the Steelers defense was Bortled for 38 points, almost entirely due to the Steelers defensive front getting curbstomped.

59
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:28am

As someone who considers the Vikings his second-favorite team and the Saints his least-favorite team, I, to put it mildly, rather enjoyed that finish.

It did feel to me in the second half the Vikings were playing to not lose; there was a 4th and 1 just past midfield where they lined up to go for it and just took the delay of game penalty. They'd been running well and moving the ball, and it felt like an opportunity to put the Saints away, and punting away seemed overly conservative. Also, that was the Vikings-est of Vikings games; give fans hope, piss hope away, crush your fans (even on FGs). Still can't believe they pulled that out, as I feel like they've lost that kind of game over and over.

63
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:38am

That 4th-1 was with 3:31 left in the 2nd quarter.

I get not giving NO momentum with a 17-0 lead. It was conservative, but not indefensibly so.

153
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 2:30pm

The Saints are your least favorite team? Do tell how that happened. I'm guessing the Saints are one of the rarest least-favorite teams in the league. Being awful for generations and then being QBed by Captain America will do that.

154
by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 2:49pm

The Saints have managed to beat the Bucs at the worst possible times over and over, and Saints fans can be . . . aggressively obnoxious. In the offseason roundtable amongst the SB Nation staff who run the fansites (which is less than scientific, obviously), the Saints were listed as the least favorite team of everybody else in the division.

Also, Drew Brees was the face of AdvoCare, which was basically a pyramid scheme with questionable health claims, like TB12 having a baby with Avon. "Captain America" doesn't really work here.

157
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 4:23pm

Heh. On the west coast we don't get much of the good dirt on the NFC South.

175
by morganja :: Wed, 01/17/2018 - 10:33am

That's because Richardson has paid everyone off to keep silent.

60
by Ryan :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:30am

It certainly was an amazing play, but...."Immaculate Interception"? Are we really calling it this? I haven't seen that play with this name anywhere ever. It's not like it was some fluky crazy pick, either, like the Immaculate Reception. It was just...a nice play.

LOL @ Titans/Mularkey.

66
by milo :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:49am

The Saints should not have kicked off into the end zone with 25 seconds left. That was the worst coaching mistake of the weekend.

75
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:17pm

Not even close

106
by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:27pm

Tomlin was on the sidelines yesterday after all.

113
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:37pm

Bingo. Plus Mike Mularkey for added entertainment value.

85
by jonsilver :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:01pm

Agreed...I was calling for a line drive down the middle, to use up 5-10 seconds (and maybe pin them inside the 25)...those 5-10 seconds would have required NO to throw a hail mary rather than a deep out on the final play...therefore, it was part of the reason they lost...

67
by big10freak :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:56am

The one incredibly common and strong theme between Tomlin and McCarthy is their refusal to leverage team strengths on short yardage 3rd or 4th downs. Both, for lack of a better phrase, get cute. And it happens over and over and over and over and OVER again you would think at some point somebody in the inner sanctum would be bold enough to say, "we are doing stupid sh8t." But if it does the comment doesn't take

79
by jglowack :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:41pm

Lost in the focus on Williams' gaffe is any criticism of Sean Payton's extremely conservative call on 3rd and 1 on the previous drive. At the time, I thought NO would continue to push, in order to get the first down and allow the game winning FG to occur as time expired. Perhaps there is a slight risk of an INT or a sack that pushes you out of FG range, but with Brees, I would think you trust your QB to make a quick throw. Get the first down, and there's no time left for MN to make that play.

80
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:45pm

I'm OK with it, given it was 3rd and 1. I don't have the numbers, but if the goal was purely to convert the 1st down, running on 3rd and 1 is not that much worse (if not a better % play) than passing, even with Brees. It's that they couldn't pick up the 1 yard.

If it was 3rd and 3+, I would be all with you, and my guess is they would have passed.

83
by milo :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:58pm

And of course the Vikings were offsides on the play. See here

89
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:14pm

Question about the neutral zone. Is it defined as where the ball was after the prior play, or is it defined as where the center has it positioned once he grips it?

147
by nojo :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:24pm

There were uncalled neutral-zone infractions by both teams all day. That was just something that the refs weren't calling.

87
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:09pm

They couldn't pick up 1 yard with the #1 DVOA rusher in the NFL. That's bad execution, not bad play call.

93
by big10freak :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:58pm

Ancillary benefit of running is having the Vikes burn their last timeout.

Fundamentally I agree that going for the first down is the preferred approach.

81
by Digit :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:46pm

I usually wrote off LeBeau vs New England because his defenses tend to get eaten alive by Brady. So doesn't anything you can assert about the secondary out of this game get kinda thrown off by the usual numbers Brady puts up on his D?

82
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:52pm

If anything, surprised his stat-line didn't end up better (didn't watch the game - no need to when the outcome was so predictable).

Lot of short passes, I guess; which makes sense as the Titans are awful against those. A little more inaccurate than I would expect from Brady, granted when you throw 53 times you will throw incompletions.

84
by Peregrine :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:00pm

Summary of the season from a Falcons fan. Went 10-6 and felt like it was 6-10. The road playoff win in LA was nice and it would have been fun to win another in Philly, but this team would have gone down in flames in Minnesota or New Orleans. Too many strengths go underutilized, too many weaknesses magnified. Usually when that happens, the coaching is suspect.

107
by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:30pm

Falcons really missed Kyle Shanahan. This season, I always felt like I was watching an offense with great talent that used to be well-run.

91
by The Powers That Be :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:37pm

Verhei: "...the Vikings don't actually make a lot of splash plays on defense. Tied for 13th in interceptions, tied for 17th in sacks, and they were 26th in stuff rate. They just take away your big plays, make you march the length of the field, and win almost every third down."

Unfortunately, that sounds like a great way to get ground into mulch by the Patriots.

109
by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:35pm

It's how the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI. They didn't really stop the Pats' offense, but they made them march the length of the field every drive. And while they converted a lot of first downs, the odds eventually caught up with them - many of the drives stalled short of scoring range.

112
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:35pm

I don't know if that's actually true. In reality, that's more what the Patriots defense did to the Giants, who had a ton of drives that ended in field goals or punts near midfield.

Only two NE drives really would fit that description, their first field goal to cut it 9-3 (10 plays, 60 yards, stalled at NYG 11), and the final punt after the Welker drop (11 plays, 48 yards, stalled at NYG 44).

Their other drives were either TDs, ended quickly (two 3-and-outs, the safety, and a 5-play drive that ended in the pick), or the last one of the game.

114
by The Powers That Be :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 5:42pm

As has been noted, the game didn't really fit that description. Nor did the team: the Giants were 3rd in sacks, 6th in interceptions and 11th in stuff rate that year.

116
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 5:52pm

The game that absolutely fits RickD's description is the 2012 AFCCG loss to Baltimore. Think the frequently reported line was the Patriots had 6 drives that went psat the BAL 25, and scored 13 points; had a few others stall in BAL territory that ended in punts.

It is possible, but that's really the only game I can think of where a team successfully bent-but-didn't-break against the Patriots in the playoffs.

The Ravens the year before may apply as well, the one that had the drop + missed field goal to lose 23-20.

121
by Otis Taylor89 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 8:31pm

Both the NYG SB loss and the AFCCG loss to BALT had nothing to do with either defense - both games Gronk was either hurt or not playing.

92
by JMM :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:46pm

The Jags clearly controlled both lines of scrimmage. Why does anyone think a QB sneak on 4th and short would result in a 1st down? Yeah, Pouncey and DeCastro are All-Pro, but that is mostly because how they play in space.

Passing on the FG late in the 4th, I don't know about. The Steelers have had notable on-side kick failures, some very recently, less than a quarter earlier, so I see both sides.

The two elements of the game that I view as costing the Steelers were the slow start, they looked listless, and the inability of the defense to get off the field. Stop 'em on 1st and 2nd down isn't a good strategy unless you also stop them on 3rd.

If you put up 42 points, you "should" win. If you don't, that's on the defense.

95
by dryheat :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:23pm

And they got seven points for their troubles even against a defense that isn't very good.

At what point can we say that the Patriots defense is indeed good, even if DVOA says it isn't? I'm well past that point.

Since their well-discussed poor September, they've given up 14-17-7-13-16-8-17-3-20-24-16-6-14 points. There is at least one pick-six in there, and several garbage time TDs from opposing coaches trying to hold on to their jobs by making the score closer after the game was decided. By any real measure, that's a quality defense, certainly not 31st out of 32, DVOA be damned.

I think this season will be an interesting one to see where DVOA "failed" (in quotes, because even statistical dummies like me realize that DVOA perfectly measures what DVOA claims to measure) in it's "predictive" value.

98
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:48pm

The September defense was terrible for giving up big plays. In the past few years that I've been watching Pats games that just doesn't happen. A major part of BB's philosophy is to make the opponent play the long field and string together lots of short plays.

I'm not sure how much credit DVOA gives for big plays? I seem to remember part of the belief was that the only difference between a 30-yd TD run and a 60-yd TD run was that the latter started further away from the endzone. Most of the final yards are 'free'.

It would be good to look at whether the Pats defense has got tightened up on the big plays in the 2nd half of the season, and whether their style of not giving up big stuff is part of why DVOA doesn't generally rate them.

102
by anotherpatsfan :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:10pm

The Pats weighted what-have-you-done-for-me-lately DVOA is 17th, which IMO seems fair and indicates they've made big strides since the dark days of September. If they can make Bortles have to throw (load box etc.), particularly in bad down/distance situations, IMO they should be pretty successful against the Jags (although some LB needs to account for his scrambling/designed runs).

110
by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:40pm

Yes, I agree - it's not a dreadful defense no matter what DVOA says about the season as a whole. It's clearly better than their defense was in 2011. Probably not as good as 3 years ago or even last season, but it's not terrible.

And the results over the weekend took out the other three high-powered offenses. The Eagles w/o Wentz just aren't the same. The Vikings have great receivers but Case Keenum isn't suddenly an all-Pro. And then there's Blake Bortles...

115
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 5:49pm

I don't think Keenum is an All-Pro, but he could be one of those Mitchell/Rypien/Chandler/Gannon types, who spends years as a journeyman before the light suddenly turns on and they do some damage in the playoffs. How long that light stays on can vary dramatically. Some guys only get that year (Mitchell/Kramer). Others stay lit for awhile, but never at the same brightness (Chandler/Rypien). Others turn into All-Pros (Gannon ; 1st all-pro at age 35).

I think Keenum is more likely to be on the low-end of that scale, but Minnesota plays more like 1991 Washington than 1998 Atlanta.

I wonder whether Zimmer would have to the stones to surprise start Bradford in the Super Bowl just to mess with Belichick's game planning.

117
by BJR :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 6:50pm

Bortles isn't good, but if the Jaguars O-line brings the same level of physical domination it did yesterday, then things might get interesting. Like most QBs in the NFL he's good enough to capitalise when given lots time to throw against a defence that has to honour the run. Though I expect the Patriots to be well prepared, and not allow an easy 14 point start like the Steelers did yesterday.

129
by theslothook :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:07am

The pats defense is less talented than the Steelers d. Nor is their offense any more talented. The fact that I(and I suspect most others) assume the Pats will still get the upper hand on both sides implies the power of Belichick. The real MVP of the league and probably of NFL history if you really think about it

139
by jtr :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:28am

>It's interesting, we all thought James Harrison was coming to New England as a pass-rush specialist, but the Patriots are using him a lot more as a first- and second-down player. They are clearly stacking against the run early, with a lot of 4-3 instead of the 3-3-5 they've been mostly running.

That was exactly what Cinci did with him in 2013. He was the SAM backer setting the edge in their 4-3, and he mostly came off the field in pass rush situations. Hence, only 2 sacks and a little under 400 snaps. He's always been big for an OLB, and at this point in his career he doesn't have much pop as a pass rusher. The last few years, most of his sacks for Pittsburgh came off stunts or cleaning up on a QB already flushed from the pocket rather than beating an offensive tackle like a true pass-rush specialist.