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06 Nov 2005

The Game Charters Speak

Sorry about the lack of a mailbag this week. I've been quite busy with extra writing and wasn't able to catch up with my e-mail. We'll have a big one next Friday.

As many of you know, we've got a crew of volunteers charting every game to create statistics that are otherwise not publicly available. FO asked if the charters wanted to give their thoughts about what they've seen so far this year, and a few people responded. Think of this as a bit of a companion piece to Michael David Smith's Every Team Counts. Three things to note:

  • Many of the charters specifically do games involving one team, which explains why these comments concentrate on a few teams in particular.
  • These observations are fairly random and of course completely subjective.
  • Everything here was written prior to Week 8.

-- Aaron Schatz

Mike B. (DET):

1. Detroit's offense does not threaten the field vertically. Their receivers don't get separation and the quarterbacks don't seem to have even average accuracy on deep passes. As a result teams crowd the line of scrimmage and blitz frequently against them without any penalty. This seems to be a big part of the running game problem.

2. Detroit does not seem to blitz much (certainly less than their opponents and I'd guess much less than average). But they get decent pressure from their four linemen and opposing quarterbacks don't typically have a long time to throw.

3. Dre' Bly sits on intermediate routes. He tends to play well off his man and can be exploited for short passes (Carolina did this a bunch) but he closes quickly to limit the yardage. He jumps the intermediate routes really well.

4. Kenoy Kennedy is very aggressive and hits hard. He can make some big plays but his tendency to move forward can be exploited for some equally big plays. (Tampa Bay did this.)

Ray G. (PHI):

I don't have much in the way of general thoughts, but here are two things that have stood out to me. First, Brian Westbrook is very good at picking up the blitz. I've only seen one instance where he missed his block, and that was on a defensive end. Second, I'm really concerned about the Eagles' screen passes this year. My previous impression has always been that it was one of their best plays with Westbrook, but this year the blocking just seems bad. On almost every occasion, Westbrook is tackled for a short gain by the first or second defender that comes after him, someone who should have been blocked by the O-linemen ahead of him. I've seem them run right by defenders instead of blocking them, and I've seen the defenders shrug off the blocks pretty easily. Maybe on some of these screens, Westbrook should be able to make one guy miss, but there are situations where he just has no chance due to the bad blocking.

James (NYG):

Comments about some N.Y. Giants players:

  • Curtis Deloatch: a cornerback that sometimes makes some really good moves, but tends to leave a big cushion in front of him a lot of times.
  • Will Allen: a bad cornerback that tries to jump in front to make interceptions way too much and gets burned for it. Not good in coverage even when he doesn't do that.
  • Michael Strahan: still a great pass rusher despite his lost weight. At least a couple times a game he just plows over an offensive lineman. I couldn't believe Dallas tried to block him at least one time with Jason Witten and Keyshawn Johnson.
  • Osi Umenyiora: pretty good defensive end making a lot of plays. Not perfect, but seems to give the Giants a pretty strong presence at RE as well as LE. The D-line is clearly the best part of the Giants defense, and this probably helps account for their good rushing DVOA and terrible passing DVOA.
  • Kedirck Clancy and William Joseph: I haven't noticed them much, which I think is a bad thing for the middle of the D-Line.
  • Gibril Wilson: about the only secondary member that has seemed to make a large number of plays.
  • The Giants LB corps as a unit needs a lot of help. Pierce makes some plays, but they are part of the problem in pass coverage as well.
  • Eli Manning: the announcers started saying that after his awful game against Arizona that he started shuffling his feet around in the pocket more. I don't think that's helping that much. It still seems to me that he doesn't always move correctly, and has a tendency to get sacked. I see I might be wrong about this based on the offensive line charts at football outsiders. And I also see that I've been charting for seven out of his eight sacks, so my view might be distorted.
  • Plaxico Burress: definitely the biggest reason that Manning's numbers have improved. He makes a big target and can get to jump balls. He won't just outrun corner backs, but he's hard to stop in one-on-one situations due to his height.
  • Amani Toomer: clearly not an elite receiver. No doubt Manning would still be struggling if Toomer was his number one. He makes a few nice plays, but nothing spectacular.
  • Jeremy Shockey: good blocking, but he has a tendency to drop quite a few balls that he should catch. I don't think he's helping Manning at all, really. On third down, I've seen him drop would-be touchdowns and would-be first downs.
  • Luke Petitgout: left tackle seems to have some problems in one-on-one blocking. I've probably made more negative comments about him in the "XTRA COMMENTS" column than any other N.Y. Giants player.

General comments after charting four Giants games, plus PIT-NE and DAL-PHI: in Giants games, it seems there is a lot less quarterback hitting, effective blitzing, and chaos than there is in other games -- on both sides of the ball. The Giants' linebackers blitz a lot, but don't seem that effective. Meanwhile, their line must pick up blitzes better than other teams. Philadelphia couldn't seem to handle Dallas's defense at all, whereas the Giants seemed to be handling it better, at least in terms of sacks and hurries. Compared to the PIT-NE game, Giants games have been completely devoid of hits, particularly their game against St. Louis.

Sergio (MIA):

On the Dolphins' offensive line, RT Stockar McDougle and RT Vernon Carey have looked about the same as last year, though Carey does show more potential -- he has made plays where he completely takes over his defender. LT Damion McIntosh is completely dominated by speed rushers, but fares pretty well on the running game. Since the Dolphins are running a somewhat balanced offense, he looks terrible. Perhaps the return of Ricky Williams will change that. RG Rex Hadnot looks so much better than Taylor Whitley ever did, even if he gets pushed around by the bigger tackles (Sam Adams comes to mind, though that guy will run over anybody). In pass protection he holds his own, but he distinguishes himself in the running game. He's not a mauler, but he can open up some room. James has been low-key, which is a good thing I guess. And C Seth McKinney shows improvement, both on strength and technique. Overall, Carey, Hadnot and McKinney have shown what I like -- a "never give up" instinct, following the play for as long as they can. The others show flashes, but not a constant effort ... or maybe they're just plain slow, who knows. But those three have really made their mark on me because of that.

Gus Frerotte is playing worlds better than I expected him to. His passes are accurate most of the time, and he has a tendency to wait for the play to develop, rather than giving up too quickly, even if it's cost him some pretty nasty hits.

Chris Chambers may be overrated. Chambers will drop the easy passes, then, inexplicably, make a catch he shouldn't have made. 

Miami's defense likes to send pressure from different places, even if it's not a blitz per se. Corner pressure, two linebackers, a lineman and a corner ... it's refreshing, actually. Not much safety help on pass pressure, though; they seem to play back to help the cornerbacks. Travis Daniels has been helped tremendously; he has Lance Schulters on his side for most of the passing plays where he's assigned man coverage.

Jason Taylor is not getting a lot of double teams overall, and Zach Thomas is getting tremendous support from his defensive line. No excuses, boys.

LB Channing Crowder looks like a rookie with potential. Rookie, because he will make the stupid mistakes. Shows potential, not only because of physical skills (he has speed, size, strength) but because he also has that "never give up" quality.

DE Matt Roth is a long term project, a kid with the skills, but a lot of misguided anger inside of him. He would've been great in another era, but now, he must learn to channel that ... ummm ... enthusiasm.

Random thoughts about other teams:

  • Buffalo likes to screen, particularly when it's working. Their screens are set up to wide receivers rather than running backs.
  • The Jags DTs (Henderson/Stroud) are like, really, really, really good. Great push, above-average speed, nice awareness.
  • Denver's woes in the Week 1 loss to Miami were directly related to their offensive line. As this unit has solidified, so has their entire offense. Their defensive line was also ineffective in the second half of that game, although it was pretty good in the first half.
  • Haven't seen him since he played Miami, but Holcomb is much better under pressure than Losman is. Time and again he stood tall in the pocket, scanning the field and delivering the pass even though he knew a hit was coming.
  • I heard a lot about Jonathan Vilma last year, but he didn't do much when I saw him.

Vincent (SEA) :

  • Maurice Carthon in Cleveland runs a TON of 3-TE sets.
  • The Colts' wide receivers are very good blockers. The Browns? Less so.
  • The Saints sure do pull their guards a lot.
  • In general, teams blitz less than you might expect. Also, split backs, in the NFL, means passing play.
  • Lofa Tatupu looks like a good find in Seattle.
  • Walter Jones is the best player in the NFL.
  • J.P. Losman is similar to but much worse than Michael Vick.
  • Speaking of which, I'd be surprised if any team used play action more than Atlanta does.

A more general observation: On running plays, it usually takes a team effort for the offense to succeed, but an individual defender can bail out his whole team. And that individual defender is often a cornerback. Which means, I'm afraid, that charting Adjusted Line Yards by direction still doesn't tell us a whole lot about individual linemen. Sometimes every offensive lineman can block his guy into next week, but a wide receiver, tight end, or fullback will miss his block and the running back will be tackled in the backfield. It's the opposite on passing plays. Every defender must maintain coverage. Only one receiver needs to get open.

Andrew (CHI):

It is interesting to see different defensive philosophies. The Bears run an attacking defense in which defensive linemen attack their gaps aggressively with the intention of trying to get upfield. Tommie Harris is probably the most talented lineman but Ian Scott is also playing very well. The defensive ends have also been very effective playing the run. Behind them, the linebackers are a very active unit who are sent on blitzes frequently, with Brian Urlacher as one of the best blitzing linebackers in the NFL. Lance Briggs complements Urlacher's flash with his hard hitting and sure tackling. Remember when Briggs knocked Patrick Ramsey out of the game? It was a vicious hit. The safeties are both good tacklers and Chris Harris is much better against the run than the pass. Mike Brown is an elite NFL safety. The only thing that he needs to improve on is playing the deep ball, which is probably the most negative thing about the Bears defense. The corners are both ballhawks who can be very physical. Nathan Vasher has had some really impressive games and I am in love with Charles Tillman. However, these two have both been beat deep this season. (I remember the Browns game when Trent Dilfer burned Chicago for two long completions.)

In contrast to the aggressive attacking style of the Bears and Eagles defenses, the Patriots and the Washington Redskins play a more disciplined, gap control defense. While the Patriots have been getting gashed this year, I attribute this to the new players being thrown into the defense due to injury and to the loss of players in the off-season. The Patriots defense is at its best when every player understands his role and simply fills his hole on the run and covers his zone. The attacking defense favors fast and aggressive defenders while the disciplined defense favors intelligent and tough players. This could be why LaVar Arrington is warming the bench over in Washington while his physical skills would be much welcomed in Chicago.

Posted by: Guest on 06 Nov 2005

19 comments, Last at 18 Nov 2005, 6:23am by Vince


by Josh (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 1:12am

" Butch Davis in Cleveland runs a TON of 3-TE sets" -

not sure who's calling plays in Cleveland this year, pretty sure its not Butch Davis

by Josh (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 1:14am

Actually I do know, Maurice Carthon is OC of Cleveland

by admin :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 1:36am

Ha ha, whoops. Edited that.

by Israel (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 1:41am

James (NYG) -How is Plaxico doing in yards after catch? That was generally a single round digit when he played for the Steelers.

by Chris (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 1:57am

Haven’t seen him since he played Miami, but Holcomb is much better under pressure than Losman is. Time and again he stood tall in the pocket, scanning the field and delivering the pass even though he knew a hit was coming.

Holcomb in my eyes has always been a "servicable" QB. He's average and against bad defenses can be good. The problem here though is that he's not a long-term answer. He has a VERY bad habit and thats that he stares down his WRs. Agressive secondaries can eat him alive.

I'm inclined to believe its not something he can break since he's been around the block and still does it nearly everytime I've seen him.

Still, he's accurate and understands his plays and lets them develop.

Buffalo is in that situation that teams with young QBs almost always wind up in - In a situation where they drafted a QB high, want to make him the franchise guy, but don't want to risk the season of losing and bonehead plays as he figures things out.

by John (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 5:53am

Seriously, this is the insight you are getting from your Seattle chapter? I could blow this away after watching one game. But I agree, Walter Jones is making this whole offense work. I hope we don't resign Alexander and see that it is Jones and not Alexander that makes our running game so good.

by A. Diggity Dawg (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 5:53am

I'd really like to see some comments from the Carolina charter, not just because I'm a big Panthers fan, but I'd like to see somebody else try to get a handle on this team. I honestly have no idea how good or bad they are, and I've seen every down they've played this year.

by Chris (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 12:49pm

I’d really like to see some comments from the Carolina charter, not just because I’m a big Panthers fan, but I’d like to see somebody else try to get a handle on this team. I honestly have no idea how good or bad they are, and I’ve seen every down they’ve played this year.

Who are they playing? That's how good they are.

by JasonK (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 1:06pm


I've seen over half of the Giants' games this year, and I haven't seen anything to suggest that Plax has changed his stripes. He can get yards after the catch, if he's wide-open and hit in stride (on one of his TDs against STL, I think, he caught the ball on a crossing pattern at around the 15, and just turned it up to the goal line untouched). But otherwise, the first defender there always brings him down.

This may partially be the result of the patterns he's called to run, though. He's caught lots of outs and jump balls where the defender is right on top of him.

by rk (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 1:46pm

Re: Plexiglass
I watched every one of Burress' games as a Steeler, and my friends and I kept track of his career broken tackles. By our count, he made 2 in five years.

by Bill Moore (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 2:13pm

BTW - As the coordinator of the charting data, I would like to point out that we do not have a charter for every team. In fact, we are very geographically undiverse. Thank goodness for Direct Ticket. If you are interested in dedicating about 1 1/2 - 2 hours per week, we'd love to add you to the list. E-mail Aaron for details (click my name).

by Vince (not verified) :: Sun, 11/06/2005 - 2:31pm

RE #6: In my defense, although I live in Seattle, I'm one of the guys who charts different teams every week. I've charted one half of one Seahawks game so far. Other than that, I'm watching a bunch of different games. So those were the two SEA comments that sprung to my mind. I can expand on the Tatupu thoughts: One play that sticks out was a screen pass against ATL. Tatupu's assignment on the play was to play the short middle zone, but he diagnosed the screen very quickly, then got over there just as quickly to make the tackle. Good diagnosis, good range.

The Cardinals, on the other hand... Since nobody else wants to watch them, I've seen three of their games. Everyone know about their receivers. J.J. Arrington is an explosive RB. But the offensive line, in three games, has shown an unreal lack of cohesion, letting opposing tackles go unblocked an absurd number of times. RT Fred Wakefield is a turnstile. And though nobody will be able to win with that OL, I can completely understand why Dennis Green would want to pull Josh McCown. He's just not very good, throwing the ball all over the place. My favorite was against Dallas, where Marcel Shipp was wide open 1 yard past the line of scrimmage, and McCown still managed to UNDERthrow him.

On defense, strongside LB Karlos Dansby and MLB James Darling, along with S Adrian Wilson, seem to be involved in every tackle. Darnell Dockett's their best defensive lineman. Their biggest weakness seems to be at CB. In the games I've charted, teams have thrown at David Macklin 4 times, completing 1 pass for 5 yards. That's the good news. The bad news is that they've thrown at Robert Tate 8 times, completing 7 of them for 125 yards, for an NFL passer rating of Very High.

by James Gibson (not verified) :: Mon, 11/07/2005 - 9:20am

Re: Plaxico. I don't have the charts in front of me, but my recollection is that Burress rarely gets YAC. I don't recall him being tackled all that often, but often either - 1) the plays are run right against the sideline forcing Burress to run out of bounds, or 2) Burress quickly gets out of bounds after catching the ball. He is sort of forced their sometimes, but he is possibly avoiding hits. Now that I see this a hot topic, I will try to watch this one in particular more for the rest of the season.

by James Gibson (not verified) :: Mon, 11/07/2005 - 9:27am

Comments on my own comments:

Re: Shockey. After I wrote that, he went out and decided to have pretty good games against Denver and Washington. It's not that he never catches the ball, but I think we must have written these comments immediately after I charted a game where Shockey dropped multiple first down balls.

Re: Manning. For any non-charters reading this, we usually chart a half, not a game. I charted the whole Arizona game, but not the San Diego game at all. For the others, I did a half. That means I had charted 5 halves and Manning had somehow managed to get sacked 7 times in the 5 halves I had charted and only 1 time in the 5 halves I hadn't charted, so you can see where my subjective opinion that he was sacked a lot came from.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Mon, 11/07/2005 - 10:10am

Re: 5

Having watched Holcombe in Cleveland, I'd agree with much of your analysis. For a guy with as much experience as he has, he's still surprisingly inconsistent. He'll have occasional huge games then be very bad. But, based on his history I doubt he'll last the rest of the season in Buffalo. My guess is he'll be injured before the last quarter of the season and that, as a result, Losman will get at least four more starts.

by Sam B (not verified) :: Fri, 11/11/2005 - 4:20pm

why do you only chart halves? Is it too much work to do a whole game, or are you trying to get some kind of control for charter variation?

by Vince (not verified) :: Fri, 11/11/2005 - 10:57pm

Each half takes about two hours to chart. I've done whole games once or twice, but wasn't happy about it.

by James Gibson (not verified) :: Mon, 11/14/2005 - 9:02pm

I must be especiaally slow. It's taken me just short of 4 hours to chart halves. The last one I did (NYG-SF) was an especially quick 3 hours, though.

by Vince (not verified) :: Fri, 11/18/2005 - 6:23am

I got some practice doing my own charting project last year, so I may be faster than most. Or maybe not.