What I Saw, Wk 12 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 12, 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

(A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

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for Thursday’s games

Away from the game(s)

I SAW another wild weekend that brought an end to US Thanksgiving and brought more intrigue to the NFL playoff picture.  There’s a logjam in the NFC postseason race that’s worse than the one in B.J. Raji’s toilet after the long weekend.  Three of the top four AFC teams gutted out character building wins without key players (Houston, Denver and Baltimore) and the fourth – New England – made cranberry sauce out of Rex Ryan and his Jets.  (For thoughts on the three Thursday games, read What I Saw, Turkeygasm 2012.)  But that’s not to say things in that conference are settled by any means.

The NFL also did its best DEA impression, with four drug busts announced over the weekend – the most significant ones being handed down to the Seahawks.  (See Miami wins vs. Seattle, 24-21.)  In fact, there’s a chance the latter could impact the playoff picture as much as any player that will step onto a field over the next two months.  Maybe the most intriguing storyline is in San Francisco, where head coach Jim Harbaugh’s jive turkey gobble poker face hides his laughing at the outside world for thinking he has a problem at quarterback.

As Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is fond of saying, the real season doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving.  So, let’s giv’r.

I SAW the playoff picture needs a redo since last week’s summation.  (Is anyone surprised?)

Let’s get to the AFC first, which in comparison is a yawner.  If the playoffs ended today:

  1. Houston (10-1)
  2. Baltimore (9-2)
  3. New England (8-3)
  4. Denver (8-3)
  5. Indianapolis (7-4)
  6. Pittsburgh (6-5)*

*- same W-L as CIN

Miami is the next-ranked team at 5-6, followed by a glut of teams unlikely to make a push at 4-7 (the Jets, Chargers, Titans and Bills).  Essentially, the Colts, Steelers and Bengals are battling for the last two spots, while the top four are all but locked in for January with seeding to be determined.  That one-game gap between Denver and Indy is a much bigger talent gap than that number indicates and unless Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger resurrects himself from the depth of the training room no one is going to challenge the top group.  So while there is much that remains to be determined in terms of byes and home field there isn’t a whole lot of suspense here.

The NFC, on the other hand, is a glorious mess:

  1. Atlanta (10-1)
  2. San Francisco (8-2-1)
  3. Chicago (8-3)
  4. New York Giants (7-4)
  5. Green Bay (7-4)
  6. Seattle (6-5)*

*- same W-L as TB, MIN

Washington, Dallas and New Orleans also loom at 5-6 – especially the Redskins, who are one of the hottest teams in the league over the last two weeks.  Should the ’Skins continue to surge and the Giants falter, things could get really interesting.  (The Cowboys could too, but…. c’mon.)  Otherwise, only one NFC East team will make it to the postseason.  The Seahawks were the favourite to hang onto the sixth seed, but now their future is in serious doubt thanks to potential drug suspensions.  (See Miami wins vs. Seattle, 24-21.)  Either way, with three games separating nine teams – and each of them capable of rising or falling quickly – it’s too hard to predict at the moment.

I SAW the death of a sports nerd this weekend, as Ed Anzalone announced that he will no longer attend games as the famous Jets fan Fireman Ed – the persona known best for leading the J-E-T-S chant.

I SAW reason to take a moment and further note the tear that the Patriots are on.  (The Pats- Jets game was covered fully in What I Saw, Turkeygasm 2012.)  Without their All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski in the lineup the broken slot machine that is the New England offense keeps paying out – to the tune of 190 points in their last four games!  That’s old-school scary.  According to Elias Sports Bureau only two other teams have had a bigger four-game output: the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (208 points) and the 1948 Chicago Cardinals (195).

The rest of the league should take notice that a decent portion of these points were either directly or indirectly (due to field position, etc.) due to a defense that is improving and rediscovering its knack for big plays.  If this keeps up, the Patriots will yet again be one of the favorites to win the AFC – something that is about as common as Ed Hochuli doing curls in front of a mirror.

Yes, New England has lost two Super Bowls in the last five years.  But can their dominance over the last decade-plus – and the varied ways in which they’ve done so – truly be overrated?

San Francisco (8-2-1) wins vs. New Orleans (5-6), 31-21

I SAW NFL Network report that Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh is “mum on [his team’s] QB dilemma” after Colin Kaepernick led San Francisco to a win in his second straight start after replacing starter Alex Smith who has been out with a concussion.

Dilemma?  Mum?  Huh?

First of all, Harbaugh has been far from “mum” on the topic.  He just hasn’t conveyed much of anything.  As mentioned in Away from the game(s), Harbaugh is using some of the same jive turkey gobble/empty rhetoric he described reporters using several weeks ago.  Just yesterday Harbaugh sang this doozy during a press conference when asked for the umpteenth time who the starting quarterback is for his team:

“Alex Smith is our starting quarterback. He has not done anything to lose that job.  In fact, he’s playing at a very high level. Also, Colin Kaepernick, you can’t categorize him as a backup quarterback, because he’s started games and played very well in those games.”

Wow; thanks for clearing that up, Jim.  If that’s not jive turkey gobble talk, I don’t know what is.  Maybe the guys in the locker room have an idea what Harbaugh is planning to do with the QB position for the rest of the season but for the general public it’s anyone’s guess.

What can’t be overlooked is that Harbaugh has also implied Smith is still being held out of games because of long-term health and/or concussion concerns.  What also can’t be overlooked is that Harbaugh has a gift for not saying anything conclusive; so for all we know Smith has played his last game in a Niners uniform.  Or maybe the oft-embattled starter will lead his team into the playoffs.  Don’t hold it against me if I take Harbaugh’s planned announcement on Wednesday of who will start next week with a huge water softener-sized bag of salt as far as the rest of the season in general is concerned.

All of this being said, there is no “dilemma”; at this point it seems reasonable to believe that either quarterback is capable of winning games for the Niners.  One start wasn’t enough to judge Kaepernick on.  Two starts isn’t necessarily enough either, but it’s certainly more of a step in the right direction – especially if you look at the numbers when added with the second half in St. Louis, after Smith left the game:

Colin Kaepernick In 2+ Games Since Smith’s Injury

Comp Att % Yds TD INT Rating Rushes Yds Rush TD
43 65 66.2 591 3 1 132.3 18 103 2

The quarterback he came in for wasn’t exactly laying an egg this season either:

Alex Smith, 2012

Comp Att % Yds Yds/Gm TD INT Rating W-L-T (as starter)
152 217 70.0* 1731 192.3 13 5 104.1** 6-2-1

*- 1st in NFL

**-5th in NFL

That’s no dilemma.  It’s a “problem” any coach would love to have.  Now the question might be: Has Harbaugh seen enough out of Kaepernick to make a medium- to long-term switch?  He must be thinking it; his doublespeak about who the Niners starting QB is can’t be solely to throw off opposing defenses.  And the coach has earned the benefit of the doubt thus far in terms of knowing what’s best for his team, no matter what the outside gobblers might be clucking about.

More on that thought: One thing that is undervalued with a QB – despite the increasing leadership role quarterbacks play for team chemistry – is the way other players go all out for them.  No one has lain down with Smith on the field, but Kaepernick’s all-around influence on offense has his teammates on an up-tempo tip.  Harbaugh’s players might be more intimately connected with their coach (and vice versa) than any other roster-coach combination in the league.  The coach drafted Kaepernick in the second round last year; he wants him to take over someday.  It already looks like the players might too….

I SAW the Saints and their hot streak run right into the brick wall that is the Niners defense.  QB Drew Brees was under duress for much of the afternoon, getting sacked five times.  The pressure threw off his timing on a number of occasions, most notably on San Francisco interceptions by LB Ahmad Brooks and S Donte Whitner that were both returned for scores.  They came as part of a 21-0 spurt that changed a 14-7 ’Nawlins lead into a 28-14 advantage for San Fran.

According to STATS LLC, Sunday was the first time that the Niners returned two picks for six in the same game since 1995 when Ken Norton Jr. – one of the best middle linebackers of the nineties – returned a pair against the Rams.

Another less-recognized thing the San Francisco defense did was stuff New Orleans’ run game.  Handing the ball off had been one of the keys to the Saints success as of late – they had rushed for 140+ yards for three straight games heading into Sunday – but the fourth- ranked rushing D in the league held them to 59 and you can’t be one-dimensional on offense against the Niners.

I SAW an FYI: Niners QB Colin Kaepernick looked quite good but he didn’t exactly light up the worst defense in the league either.  To be fair, it was his second career start in a raucous Superdome and he does throw the ball with high velocity, but not eye-poppingly so.  The latter in itself can be deceiving: The ball hangs a bit in the air, but that gives it touch and/or catchability as well, reminiscent of Troy Aikman.  Kaepernick’s throws might not thread too many needles but they are efficient when the proper read is made.

I SAW myself not impressed with benched Niners QB Alex Smith’s downtrodden body language after new starter Colin Kaepernick scored a rushing TD to put San Fran ahead 7-0 in the first quarter.  I get it, you’ve had a hard road and now you’re riding the pine for leading the league in completion percentage.  Your team just took the lead in a huge game.  Smile; evidently people are watching.

Increasing the frustration for Smith while he visibly stewed on the sideline was the notion that Kaepernick was beating defenders with the spread option shotgun read handoff that Smith himself helped usher into college and pro football playbooks at the University of Utah with Urban Meyer.  Kaepernick is faster and more athletic than Smith but the near-disorienting speed with which the NFL goes through new schemes is exemplified when an early performer of the spread becomes a bench-warming observer and unknown pioneer in less than a decade.  That’s what happens when trends produce success, followed by an influx of physical talent that gets redirected from other positions.  Translation: Kaepernick is doing what Smith did at University of Utah eight years ago but he’s more physically gifted than Smith; it’s just the evolution of things.  It wasn’t that long ago that guys with the athleticism of Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel or Braxton Miller would play at other positions than QB – arm be damned.  (In Tebow’s case his arm is damned.  To hell.)  Now it’s the other way around.  Coaches covet dual threat pivots whose physicality freezes defenses with the spread option.  Smith helped make that change with Urban Meyer in college, now he might lose his job to someone more athletically able to perform the job in all its various dimensions beyond throwing.  That’s life, Alex.

UPDATE (28/11/2012): That’s life, indeed.  Today Harbaugh announced his decision to stick with Kaepernick as starting quarterback for next week’s game.

I SAW PROPS for the Niners offensive line from Hall Of Famer Troy Aikman.  During the FOX broadcast the former Cowboys quarterback said that San Fran’s O-line is the best he’s seen since he started broadcasting twelve years ago and it also reminded him of the blocking unit he used to play behind.  That’s no light compliment, given that the Dallas offensive line of the nineties was probably the best and most dominant one I’ve ever seen play.  (Which is part of the reason for a widely-hled belief that RB Emmitt Smith was not as talented as his career rushing yardage record might indicate.)

I SAW Niners RB Brandon Jacobs get his first carry this season midway through the third quarter.  Getting called into the game must have taken Jacobs off guard.  He’s lucky he still had his helmet at this point in the season.

I SAW PROPS to Niners DE Aldon Smith who got his 30th career sack Sunday.  In doing so he joined Reggie White and Derrick Thomas who took 31 and 30 games to do so, respectively.  It’s taken Smith just 27 games to match the feat of those two late Hall Of Famers.  (Broncos LB Von Miller might accomplish that too; he has 25.5 sacks in 26 career games.)

Atlanta (10-1) wins @ Tampa Bay (6-5), 24-23

I SAW the Falcons stay tied with the Texans for the NFL’s best record this season in a tight one against the Buccaneers.  Atlanta QB Matt Ryan went nine-for-ten with 100 yards in the fourth quarter en route to sealing his seventh win against his divisional rival in his last eight tries.

I SAW the Falcons walk another dangerous tightrope.  The Line keeps wavering more and more for them, and one has to wonder if the crucial lapse will come at a crucial moment… Of course, they could win out and take the Super Bowl too.

I’ll say this: If close games build character, then over the last few years Atlanta has Daniel Day-Lewis beat.  Someday soon they may have drank the rest of the league’s milkshake.


Case in point: The Falcons’ seventh win of seven points or less ties the NFL record for teams that have started the season 10-1 or 11-0.  The only other team to do so was the 2006 Colts, who won the Super Bowl after starting 11-0.  In fact, 6 or more such wins in that span appears to be pretty good for one’s chances at playing on Super Sunday:

Most Wins By 7-Or-Fewer Points in an 11-0 Or 10-1 Start

Team Year # of Wins by 7 or less Result
Falcons 2012 7 ???
Colts 2006 7 Won Super Bowl
Colts 2009 6 Lost Super Bowl
Broncos 1984 6 Lost Divisional Rd.
Raiders 1976 6 Won Super Bowl

I SAW PROPS for Falcons RB Michael Turner tying WR Terance Mathis for the franchise career TD record, with 57.  As Chris Berman might say, chances are (your chances are) that’s awfully good.

I SAW an amazing instinct-driven interception by Bucs CB Ronde Barber, who is evoking memories of the great Darrell Green.  Not only did the 37-year old get his 47th career pick; he also tied the legendary Jim Otto for the 7th-most consecutive starts in NFL history, with 210.  (STATS LLC)

The Falcons could use just a fraction of that longevity at cornerback…

I SAW that Atlanta’s most pressing concern is at CB.  Brent Grimes went on IR in September, and now Dunta Robinson had to leave the same Sunday with a concussion and Asante Samuel was in and out of the game with a lingering shoulder injury.

Let’s see how much that figures into Thursday’s rematch against the Saints – the Falcons’ lone loss of the season came in game one.

Cleveland (3-8) wins vs. Pittsburgh (6-5), 20-14

I SAW the Steelers cough up more balls than Jenna Jameson.  Four fumbles in first half, three of them by three different running backs.  That’s not exactly the best way to support 37-year old third string QB Charlie Batch with the ground game.  Better things were not ahead either.  While clamoring for a comeback, RB Chris Rainey had his leg twisted awkwardly and coughed up the pill.  It was one of Pittsburgh’s eight turnovers in the game – three interceptions and five fumbles, with one of the latter coming at the end of a final-play desperate lateral sequence to end the game.  Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin lost only his second game to Cleveland by watching his team turn the ball over the most times since seven in 1989 against the same Browns.  It’s also the first time an NFL team had forced eight turnovers since the Saints did it to the Rams in 2001.  (STATS LLC)

It’s not like the Steelers RBs were playing well despite the fumbilitis either.  As a group they averaged just 49 yards after having averaged over 120 per game for five straight contests.

I SAW desperate times get even more desperate for the Steelers.  Even their stopgap signing of WR Plaxico Burress failed miserably.  The only quantifiable impact the 6’5” wideout had on the game was a drawn pass interference penalty in the red zone.  On two targets, Plax had no receptions – one of which was arguably a drop.  Were just two targets really in the game plan, or was it more that QB Charlie Batch shouldn’t even be on an NFL field during a game?

For at least a few years now the Steelers have tempted fate by not drafting or tapping the free agency market to improve the roster depth behind the constantly banged up Ben Roethlisberger.  Fate got the message, because it’s not a stretch to envision next week’s game at Baltimore as the deciding game in Pittsburgh’s season.  (Although their week 16 game against Cincinnati could be another vital game.)  It will be interesting to see what happens with Big Ben as the week goes on.  His injury has been amply described as something that can’t be rushed or played through, but will he really stand idly by next week?

Trivia bomb: In every season since 1999 during which the Steelers have lost a game to the Browns they have also failed to make the postseason.  (STATS LLC)

I SAW Steelers RB Chris Rainey score a funny sloppy seconds rush TD, getting bottled up and knocked backwards on an and-goal attempt – only to bounce it outside for six.  You’ve gotta wrap up the ballcarrier, Browns defenders.

I SAW a late-game Trent Richardson fumble fall through the cracks.  The Browns RB clearly lost the ball before going down, but since the Steelers had no timeouts or challenges left the next play was snapped, the bad call of a non-fumble stood, and Pittsburgh lost a chance for a decent comeback attempt in the process.

The play should have gotten a look from the booth, but because only scoring plays and turnover are reviewed it didn’t happen.  I’ve ranted about this before and I will again until the NFL adopts the review-any-close-play system that exists in college.  Under the current rules, plays that seem like (or are) turnovers or scores but are ruled otherwise aren’t subject to automatic review.  Not only can that screw a team over like it did the Steelers on Sunday but at some point an official is going to call a TD/turnover on a play he or she is unsure about just to cover their butt and make sure it goes to the booth, which means a bad call could stand without indisputable evidence.  Let the technology in, people.  Expand the review system and get more calls correct.

Chicago (8-3) wins vs. Minnesota (6-5), 28-10

I SAW the NFL win that has come with the greatest cost so far this season.  The Vikings ran into an angry Bears team that had been thumped Monday night by the Niners but Chicago got shredded in the process.  WR/KR Devin Hester was knocked out of the game with a concussion.  (Concussions have now become like hamstring injuries in their lack of predictability – a guy could come back next game and show no signs, or be out for weeks with plateaus or setbacks in rehabilitation.)  Hester’s injury was just the tip of the iceberg.  RB Matt Forte left the game with what is being reported as a high ankle sprain.  CB Charles Tillman also left with a bad ankle.

The most, um, crippling injuries were sustained by two relatively unknown players when both of the Bears’ starting guards – Lance Louis and Chris Spencer – went down with knee sprains.  Louis was placed on injured reserve thanks to a controversial blindside hit from Vikes DE Jared Allen during a Minnesota interception return.  Consequently, Gabe Carimi had to play the whole second half after being benched earlier in the week for stinking all season.  Awkwaaard…

Forte’s injury is significant, but at least they have Michael Bush to back him up.  Losing both starting guards is likely the worst thing that can happen to a running game, and the line has been downright awful all year in pass protection as well.  (It has given up 21 sacks since week seven – most in the NFL over that span.)

I SAW the Bears defense step up and carry the team like it so often does.  On the first play from scrimmage DL Henry Melton sacked Vikings QB Ponder and LB Nick Roach put Chicago in position for the first TD of the game by forcing RB Adrian Peterson to fumble.  An interception by S Chris Conte and a blocked field goal by DE Julius Peppers helped put the game away.  It seems like any Bears defender on the field can come up with a game-changing play at any moment.

I SAW cause to wonder: Is there any other team that suffers as bad a drop-off in performance when they lose one player as Chicago does when QB Jay Cutler misses time?  The best two contenders have got to be Denver, who backs up QB Peyton Manning with superstar Brock Osweiler and Green Bay, where the only notable thing Graham Harrell has done in relief of QB Aaron Rodgers is fumble on the first play of his pro career.  But there isn’t the statistical evidence to support those claims like there is for the Bears over the last two seasons:

Chicago With and Without Jay Cutler, last 2 seasons

With Cutler Without Cutler
W-L 13-2 1-6
Pts/Gm 28.7 13.1
Pass Yds/Gm 198.2 129.9

ESPN Stats & Information

I SAW Vikings QB Christian Ponder continue to look lost without top target WR Percy Harvin in the lineup: 51.2% completion rate, 159 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception.

Another indication that Ponder has yet to evolve beyond a dink-and-dunk passer, consider this, according to ESPN Stats & Information: Minny’s second-year QB went 0-for-8 on passes longer than ten yards.  Four of them were deflected and three were overthrown – one of those resulting in an interception.

I SAW that it doesn’t help Minnesota’s offense when the coaches don’t use RB Adrian Peterson in the proper situations.  The star tailback had his fifth straight 100-yard rushing day on Sunday but continued to be underutilized on third and fourth down, seeing just one touch on 20 such plays – and seven of those were short yardage plays.  In fact, the Vikings have had 48 short yardage plays on third and fourth down so far this season and have given the rock to Peterson on just 11 of them (22.9%).   That doesn’t make much sense, unless the staff is trying to keep their precious back out of potential pileups in the middle of the line, but that can happen on any running play.

I SAW Bears WR Brandon Marshall catch 12 passes for 92 yards to become the first Chicago wideout to have a 1,000-yard season since Marty Booker in ’02.  This is also Marshall’s sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

Miami (5-6) wins vs. Seattle (6-5), 24-21

I SAW the Dolphins flounder along with just two touchdowns through thirteen quarters midway through the third quarter on Sunday when someone in Miami pulled a Crash Davis…  “Betcha a hundred bucks I can get us a rainout.”  It seemed to work…

I SAW even that brief stint of (artificial) precipitation prove insufficient to make the Seahawks feel at home.  Seattle is 5-0 at home this season in the oft-overcast Pacific Northwest and 1-5 on the road with all of those games being played in either good climates or domes.  Their defense gave up 17 points in the final nine minutes, letting the Dolphins wake up from an offensive slumber.  (See above.)  In fact, Sunday marked the first time in seven years that Miami had come back from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win.

It’s weird to see Seattle struggle in these situations.  Its style – crushing defense and a run game – befits what would typically be transportable success.  One has to wonder if there is any significance to the geographical/travel factor.  There sure is for Miami: they are now 12-1 at home since 1997 against teams from the West Coast.

I SAW Seahawks QB Russell Wilson have his second impressive game on the road this season (the first was in Detroit): 21-of-27 for 77.8%, 224 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT and a 125.9 rating.  Too bad his defense failed him for once.  That might happen again soon…

I SAW BOTH starting cornerbacks for Seattle, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, get slapped with 4-game suspensions for Adderall use.  Sherman has played the Ben Johnson, “I drank from someone else’s water bottle” card….  That didn’t work for the former sprinter and it probably won’t work for Sherman, who has become one of the best corners in the NFL.  Add to that the fact that Browner is also a Pro Bowl-caliber defender, and the Seahawks are in big trouble.  Both players are appealing their suspensions so if games will be missed it won’t be next week.  But the sword of Damocles is hanging over this team.  Be it in the playoff race, the playoffs or the start of next season – or all of the above – Seattle has a problem looming on the horizon.

Denver (8-3) wins vs. Kansas City (1-10), 19-7

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning reach 3,000 yards passing for the 14th season in his career, passing Dan Marino for second place all-time.

Most 3,000-Yard Passing Seasons In NFL History

Player 3,000-Yard Seasons
Brett Favre 18
Peyton Manning                    14
Dan Marino 13
John Elway 12

I SAW the Chiefs…


The defense is bad, the roster is injury-riddled and the quarterback position is in disarray.  What about the playcalling?  To call Kansas City’s approach on offense conservative is a huge understatement.  The unit has gone more than 11 quarters without a touchdown, dating back to the first quarter against Pittsburgh on November 12.

But it’s not just the end product; it’s the mindset, as evidenced by the fact that on Sunday the Chiefs didn’t give the ball to star RB Jamaal Charles once on 14 third down plays.  That just can’t happen.

I SAW Dr. Brady Quinn, Medicine Woman put up another nauseating stat line: 13-for-25 for 52%, 126 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 49.8 Rating.  At this point the question has clearly shifted from “will there be a new QB in Kansas City next season” to “will a new general manager pick the next QB” because all the current muscular pivot is worth is a good hunky cuddle in the wilderness.


I SAW Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas coming into his own over the last seven games and developing a good rapport with QB Peyton Manning:

Demaryius Thomas On Targets, 2012 Season

First 4 Games Last 7 Games
Comp % 60.0 71.4
Yards/Att 9.3 12.3
30+ Yard Plays 2 9
1st-Down % 34.3 50.0

ESPN Stats & Information

I SAW something that no one saw coming.  Once-discarded Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno stepped off of the scout team and into an 85-yard rushing performance in relief of the injured Willis McGahee.  I mentioned last week that the loss of McGahee to injured reserve was a huge one, and anyone who thought rookie Ronnie Hillman College was going to be able to carry the load must have had the circulation to their head cut off by the elastic waistband on their Zubaz pants.  Hold on….

Sinbad for Chiefs QB!  He knows everything.


Indianapolis (7-4) wins vs. Buffalo (4-7), 20-13

I SAW the Colts continue to roll towards the playoffs.  The offense is clicking and the defense is gelling but the most underrated cause for Indy’s strong play is the interim head coaching being done by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in relief of cancer-stricken Chuck Pagano.

No one expected Arians to get an impromptu head coaching audition this season to the extent that he has – least of all Arians.  It could be an interesting offseason for him and the Colts.  There’s a lot to be said about loyalty, especially after what Pagano has been through.  But Arians can’t be blamed if the opportunity of his lifetime comes up and he takes it.  Strangely enough there hasn’t been any head coaching firings yet this season but you can bet heads will roll in early 2013 – and that Arians will be on many lists for potential replacements.  He seemed to command a quiet respect from his players in Pittsburgh and now that same esteem he commands from a roster is more obvious under the media spotlight.

I SAW Bills DE Mario Williams Sack Colts QB Andrew Luck three times, his most takedowns in one game since week 2, 2010.  The expensive free agent isn’t back to Super Mario status but at least he isn’t playing like a plumber who’s eaten the blue shrinking mushroom.

I SAW PROPS to Bills RB C.J. Spiller, who ran 14 times for 107 yards.  Sunday marked his sixth consecutive game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage, which is the longest such streak for a Buffalo player since the great Thurman Thomas did it in 1992-93.  (STATS LLC)

I SAW Colts rookie WR T.Y. Hilton continue his emergence, becoming the first player in the storied franchise’s history to catch a TD pass and return a punt for a score in the same game.

Hilton might become Luck’s favourite target over the years but let’s not forget the straw that stirs the drink….

I SAW PROPS to Colts WR Reggie Wayne for breaking Cris Carter’s league record for consecutive games with multiple catches, with 59.  Wayne’s eight catches on Sunday also got him past Art Monk and Derrick Mason on the all-time career receptions list and placed him on the doorstep of the top 10.  (One cool thing about the list is that Wayne, former teammate Marvin Harrison and Hines Ward are the only players to play with one team for their entire career.)

Most NFL Receptions, Career

Rank Player Receptions Years Teams
1 Jerry Rice 1,549 1985-2004 3
2 Tony Gonzalez 1,218 1997-present 2
3 Marvin Harrison 1,102 1996-2008 Colts
4 Cris Carter 1,101 1987-2002 3
5 Tim Brown 1,094 1988-2004 2
6 Terrell Owens 1,078 1996-2010 5
7 Isaac Bruce 1,024 1994-2009 2
8 Hines Ward 1,000 1998-2011 Steelers
9 Randy Moss 970 1998-present 5
10 Andre Reed 951 1985-2000 2
11 Reggie Wayne 946 2001-present Colts


Jacksonville (2-9) wins vs. Tennessee (4-7), 24-19

I SAW Jacksonville complete Mission: Seemingly Impossible by winning their first game at home this season.

In the process, the Jags also snapped a seven-game losing streak, telling Jags owner Shad “Shaka” Kahn something good.

I SAW Jaguars QB Chad Henne guide his team to a win in his first start in over thirteen months on Sunday, with two TD passes and a 108.0 passer rating – which seems about 2 touchdowns and 108 points’ worth of passer rating better than the level of productivity sophomore Blaine Gabbert had been playing at.  Much like how teammates seem to intensify their focus around Niners QB Colin Kaepernick (see Niners win @ New Orleans, 31-21), Henne is lifting the Jaguars.

I SAW Titans QB Jake Locker play like shit against a shit defense: 23-for-40 for 57.5% and a 64.7 rating versus the second-worst defense overall in the NFL.  So far he and Blaine Gabbert – Locker’s injured counterpart on Sunday – are the most disappointing quarterbacks taken out of last year’s ballyhooed draft class.

Tennessee came into the game rested off a bye week and having won two in a row prior but their hopes for a playoff berth flopped through the air and thudded to the turf like one of Locker’s passes.  As is so often the case, poor efforts by players like Locker and RB Chris Johnson didn’t shoulder the blame.  Rather, offensive coordinator did when he got handed a pink slip on Monday.

I SAW JORTS stay in fashion!  Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts set a franchise record with four 50+-yard receptions in a season.  It almost makes me wanna…. Nah.

Cincinnati (6-5) wins vs. Oakland (3-8), 34-10

I SAW the Bengals win their third game in a row by a combined score of 93-29.

What to make of the Bengals?  They’re certainly a hot team that has a decent chance at making the playoffs but they still have to play the Steelers, Cowboys and Ravens this season.

One thing’s for sure:  If trades can be evaluated in part by the two teams’ next meeting afterward, the Carson Palmer trade was a fleecing of the Raiders.  Oakland’s QB produced a silver steamer in the city he used to call home, completing just 55.8 percent of his passes with one TD, one INT, one fumble lost and a paltry 146 yards.  As a team, the Silver & Black dug themselves a 24-0 hole by halftime, giving up 289 yards in the opening half (their most this season) and gaining just 83 yards offensively over the same span (their least since late in the 2010 season).  The Raiders have now given up an average of 42.25 points during a four-game losing streak.

I SAW Bengals WR A.J. Green catch 3 passes for 111 yards, snapping his streak of nine games with a TD grab.  However, rookie wideout Mohammed Sanu picked up the slack with 5 receptions for 2 TDs.  Sanu now has four touchdowns in the last three games, but only 11 catches.  Sanu’s emergence is a big boost for the passing game, at the very least because it could free up A.J. Green.  The next step is to look his way more often at other parts of the field besides the end zone.

I SAW Bengals DT Geno Atkins break Dan Wilkinson’s franchise record for single-season sacks by an interior lineman, with nine.  According to ProFootballFalk.com via SI.com’s Peter King, Atkins has 40 pass disruptions on 300 pass rush snaps.  That’s Warren Sapp-good.  The difference is that while Sapp relied heavily on natural quickness and athleticism Atkins dominates with unparalleled strength and he’s only 24 years old.

St. Louis (4-6-1) wins @ Arizona (4-7), 31-17

I SAW two teams reunite after a game that sent both of them into awful slumps.   Since the Rams win over the Cards in week five, St. Louis has gone winless in five games and Arizona has lost every one, extending its losing streak to seven games after starting 4-0.  Funny how top-notch the NFC West looked in September.  Now two of its teams are in disarray.

I SAW first-year Rams CB Janoris Jenkins return two interceptions for touchdowns on Sunday.  No rookie had done such a things since Bobby Franklin took two back to the house for the Browns in 1960.  Jenkins’ performance was sorely needed – St. Loo had gone five straight games without forcing a turnover.  Give the rook credit.  After violating team policy two weeks ago Jenkins pulled himself together and ran his way out of head coach Jeff Fisher’s doghouse.

I SAW that Cousin Larry Fitzgerald won’t ever get out of his basement job at the Chicago Tribune with help like this.  Cardinals rookie QB Ryan Lindley blended in perfectly with the rest of the teams’ pivots by throwing four interceptions in his first pro start.  More specifically, Lindley was 0-for-6 with two picks when targeting his star WR at least 15 yards downfield.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  Again, that sort of line just blends right in with an agonizing season for Fitzgerald:

Larry Fitzgerald Receiving 15+ Yards Downfield, Last 2 Seasons

2011 2012
Receptions-Targets 28-63 6-29
Yards/Att 13.9 4.8
% Of Att thrown off-target 34.9 69.0

ESPN Stats & Information

Baltimore (9-2) wins @ San Diego (4-7), 16-13 OT

I SAW that this game was won and lost on third down.  The Ravens were 12-for-24 on the penultimate down for the game, and 8-for-13 in the second half and overtime.  The Chargers, meanwhile, went just 3-for-15 in the game.

Well, okay, maybe a fourth down play had something to do with the outcome as well….

I SAW a gutty-as-hell checkdown pass get stretched for a first down conversion on fourth-and-29 by Ravens RB Ray Rice during the field goal-tying drive that forced OT.  Baltimore LB Terrell Suggs said during the postgame press conference that prior to the snap he “was thinking we needed a miracle.”  What happened wasn’t so much a miracle, but if that play wasn’t the sealing nail in the Chargers’ coffin I’d like to see what is.

Two more thoughts on one of the biggest fourth down plays of the season:

Watch the replay and see how Rice knows where he needs to get for the first down, staring at the yard markers while diving at the end of the play.

WR Anquan Boldin’s crushing block on S Eric Weddle sprang Rice for the last leg of the distance.  It knocked Weddle out of the game and was just the sort of play that is supposed to draw a penalty these days.  Just sayin’.

I SAW the Chargers continue to hone their skill at coming from ahead to lose close games.  San Diego has now thrice blown second half double-digit leads.

SNF- New York Giants (7-4) win vs. Green Bay (7-4), 38-10

I SAW one hell of a bounce-back win for the Giants.  The Packers are still without three of their best players – WR Greg Jennings, S Charles Woodson and LB Clay Matthews – but New York needed a confidence builder and got one.  It came quickly too; the 31 points scored by the G-Men in the first half being the most they’ve scored in a half all season.

They won largely by beating up QB Aaron Rodgers.  It was reported during the broadcast that Rodgers likes to practice what he terms “non-rhythmic throws” so that his comfort zone doesn’t suffer too much while under pressure.  Well, he sure got to practice that Sunday night.  Twice Mathias Kiwanuka, who, surprisingly, played a lot of the game at defensive tackle, sacked Rodgers five times.  (Kiwanuka is usually a linebacker.)  According to ESPN Stats & Information Rodgers was under duress (sacked or hit while throwing) in 51.5 percent of his dropbacks.  That’s the highest percentage in the NFL endured by a qualifying QB in a single game this season.

I SAW that the injury bug got more comfortable buzzing around the Giants.  Safety Kenny Phillips made his first start since week four, only to be knocked out with another knee injury.

Worse, RB Andre Brown left the game with a broken fibula.  With Ahmad Bradshaw battling foot problems and rookie David Wilson playing lost, Brown’s presence in the backfield was very important.  Head coach Tom Coughlin was abnormally dismal when discussing the injury and its significance after the game.

I SAW Giants QB Eli Manning pass Phil Simms for the most career TD passes in franchise history, with 200.

MNF- Carolina (3-8) wins @ Philadelphia (3-8), 30-22

I SAW the Eagles sink, sink, sink farther into a slump that is now seven games long.  WR DeSean Jackson broke multiple ribs and is now on injured reserve.  What’s worse is the way the players have clearly given up on themselves, as evidenced late in the game.  (See below.)

I SAW that, at the very least, the Eagles front office has given up on its own team.  On Tuesday it cut DE Jason Babin, who was a pro-bowler each of the past two years and has 36 sacks in his last 43 games.  Head coach Andy Reid explained that releasing Babin allows Philly to give playing time to its younger players, namely Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry – the latter having just played his first pro game Monday night after missing the first ten due to injury.

While on the surface this seems like a heartless move by the Eagles, this might not be the case.  Letting Babin go gives him an opportunity for another team with playoff aspirations to pick him up off waivers.  According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, any franchise that does will owe the defensive end about $1.65 million for the rest of the season, plus $4.225 million in 2013 and $6 million in ’14 and ’15.  The Bengals or Lions seem to be the most logical choice (both defenses employ the wide-nine scheme Babin thrives in) but maybe another playoff team will pull the trigger.

UPDATE (28/12/2012): So much for Babin’s future looking up.  Today he was picked up by  the Jaguars.

I SAW Eagles rookie RB Bryce Brown take this game by storm – kinda.  In his first start since his senior year in high school Brown gaveth – his 178 yards are the fifth-most by a player in his first career start during the Super Bowl era (Elias Sports Bureau) – and Brown taketh away by fumbling twice, once in Panthers territory.

Credit goes to Brown for a huge coming out party, but that’s also some pretty bad defense by the Panthers. According to ESPN Stats & Information Brown ran for 142 of his yards before contact – fourth most by any player in a game this season and nearly as many such yards as starter LeSean McCoy had in the previous four games combined.

I SAW that Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles didn’t step into a good situation when his predecessor, Juan Castillo was fired five games ago.  But things have only gotten much worse since he’s taken over.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer Bowles’ defense is allowing almost a full yard more per play (6.01) than Castillo’s did (5.13), the last three opposing QBs have completed 75 percent of their passes against Philly under Bowles, without throwing a single interception.

In fact, since Bowles took over quarterbacks have thrown 13 TDs and 0 INTs.

BUT the lowest of the low came with three straight offside/encroachment calls in a row deep in their own territory as the Panthers drove to score the game-sealing TD with under five minutes remaining.  (The Philly fumble on the following kickoff didn’t exactly salve the wound.)   There is no defense in the NFL that has looked as bad as the Eagles’ since Todd Bowles took over as coordinator.  Don’t mistake Bowles for Todd Bridges* when he’s staring at his players with his arms extended in confusion.  At least when he was working Willis knew what he was talkin’ ’bout.

*-I encourage you to read the imdb.com bio on Bridges.  I had no idea stars wrote their own bios under “Anonymous” on that site.  This one makes Bridges sound like Sidney Poitier.  Hilarious.

Seriously, though.  This is never a comment that should be made lightly but the Eagles players look as thought they’ve given up.  Big time.

At this point Philadelphia needs to run the table in order to make 8-8 – the final record that was declared “unacceptable” by owner Jeffrey Lurie prior to the start of the season.  It’s time to go to bed and pee in it like Arnold used to when he and Willis shared a bedroom.  Put it this way:  As the game ended the Philadelphia fans were tired of booing.  That’s like a Kardashian getting tired of being unemployed.




What I Saw, Turkeygasm 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – TURKEYGASM 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

(A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

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A Special Thanksgiving Edition

TNF- New England (8-3) wins @ N. Y. Jets (4-7), 19-49

I SAW that the Jets clearly did this one backwards: They ate their turkey dinner before the game.  You could practically see them nodding off from the tryptophan during a disastrous second quarter when New England took two fumble returns for touchdowns in a nine second span.  In fact, the Pats scored three TDs in 52 seconds (and tied a franchise record with 35 mazoolians in that quarter) en route to the earliest trip to the woodshed of the 2012 season and one of the hardest-hitting blowouts from start to finish I’ve ever seen.  Players from both teams were bringing the wood all night but for New York it was only about…pride?  Do they still have that?

I SAW the Jets continue to maintain their season of extremes.  When they win they win big, and when they lose, well…

Jets Win Big, Stink Hard

In 4 Wins In 7 Losses
Pts/gm 33.3 12.6
Opponents’ Pts/gm 17.5 31.4
Yards/gm 353.0 286.6
Opponents’ Yards/gm 337.5 363.8
Turnover Differential +10 -13

(NFL Network)

I SAW the Patriots play at a dizzying level of performance, scoring 108 points over 103 hours (5 days) after throttling the Colts.  ColdHardFootballFacts.com put this in perspective by pointing out that the Chiefs have scored 152 points all season thus far.  Incredible.

As they have before, the Pats are schooling the league, winning their last four games by an average of 27.3 points.  What’s more, the 37.0 points per game average for this year’s edition of the Pats is a hair ahead the 2007 team that holds the record for scoring in a season (a 36.8 average).

Though it is by no means given that New England will keep up this scoring pace, the odds are against them swooning over the remainder of the season…

I SAW that the Patriots are off to a good start in terms of continuing their dominance in the second half of the regular season.  Check out these ridiculous numbers, especially the turnovers:

Patriots in Second Half Of The Season Since 2010

W-L 19-0
Pts/gm 38.7
Opponents’ Points/gm 18.8
Yards/gm 412.8
Turnover Differential +51*

*- 5 Giveaways, 55 Takeaways

That should help further calm the nerves of New England fans who are nervous about the loss of TE Rob Gronkowski for at least the remainder of the regular season.

I SAW Jets QB Mark Sanchez commit two turnovers.  In his defense, it’s hard to perform effectively when Pats DT Vince Wilfork beats you over your head with your own guard, Brandon Moore, as was the case with the second quarter fumble and TD return.  Wilfork is a beast.

Washington (5-6) wins @ Dallas (5-6), 38-31

I SAW Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III continue his torrid pace.  He had already been so impressive both as a quarterback and a leader that his teammates voted him in as a team captain during their bye two weeks ago.  Not that they need it, but the rest of the ’Skins have been vindicated for their decision – to the max.  Last week against the Eagles, RG3 posted a perfect passer rating of (158.3).  Thursday’s game against Dallas started much the same, when, after a 28-point second quarter (the most points in any quarter for Washington since 1999) Griffin went into halftime with yet another 158.3 rating.  All told, he is now the first rookie in league history and first Redskin ever to throw four touchdowns in back-to-back games.

I SAW Redskins QB Robert Griffin III describe the pass thrown behind WR Pierre Garcon for a second quarter touchdown thusly (Associated Press):

“As Pierre is running on his long touchdown, and I was like, ‘Man, that was a great catch.’  I had to throw it to only that spot, and you don’t see many guys make catches like that.”

RG3 shows preternatural discipline for a first-year pro.  There are times when Griffin will thread a needle with a pass but those are during plays when his confidence tends to be justified by a completion.  Generally, as the quote indicates, his priority is to make sure he puts his throws in safe spots, regardless of how tantalizing leading his receiver in between zone coverages may look.  The other unusually mature aspect of that comment is that the rookie is willing to trust his players to make the tough plays when he has to put the ball in an awkward spot.  Leadership is often about trusting people and making them better by asking them to do special things that lift everyone, like Garcon did.  Griffin is special.

I SAW Cowboys QB Tony Romo throw a career-high 441 yards, giving him an 0-3 record in games when he surpasses 400 yards passing…

I SAW Cowboys QB Tony Romo drop back for 62 attempts on Thursday, tying a career high.  During Sunday’s win against Cleveland he did so 50 times.  Don’t let Sunday fool you.  Dallas simply isn’t going to win many games during which Romo is asked to throw over 50 times.  I know I’ve confessed my Romophobia in the past, but it’s not about that.  There are only perhaps 5-6 quarterbacks (or less) for whom throwing 50 times doesn’t become generally problematic and Romo isn’t one of them.

Case in point: I checked it out and for his career Romo has a 2-4 (.333) record when he attempts at least 50 passes.  It gets worse – he’s 4-14 (.222) when taking at least 40 attempts.  In this sense, when Romo is asked to throw as much as his top-tier QB counterparts he doesn’t win games for his team.  It’s not a sign of a great quarterback when asking for 40 attempts is asking too much.

I SAW it take eleven games for it to happen, but the Cowboys tendency to play well and then undo it with frequent lapses in player responsibility has finally spread to the defense.

Please, please put this team to bed now, media.  And PLEASE Jerry Jones – blow this group up.  Use that big bank account to buy a backbone, let go of your blind loyalty and improve your roster with the depth and breed of disciplined players that won you your three Super Bowls.  You’ve been coasting on that dynasty for almost 20 years now.  Wake up.

He likely won’t, though, because as usual the Cowboys do just enough on the field to give the illusion of not sucking and thus allowing The Emperor (Jones) to continue through life spineless like a crustacean while he paints a silver lining all over a rotten playbook.


Houston (10-1) wins @ Detroit (4-7), 34-31 OT

I SAW a reason to start the holiday feast with some juicy, basted trivia courtesy ESPN Stats & Information.  This game was the first game of the day and the fifth Thanksgiving Day game to go to overtime and the first since ’05.  Thursday’s win for the Texans was their second overtime game in five days.  The only other two teams in NFL history to play OT games in a five-day span both did so in the same game when, in 1994, the Vikings beat the Bears after both teams had played in overtime bouts on the previous Sunday.  (Minnesota lost their Sunday game to Tampa Bay while Chicago won against Arizona.)

I SAW this overtime period go like Houston’s extra time did on Sunday against Jacksonville, in that QB Matt Schaub threw an interception again and things looked bleak for the Texans.  On Sunday the Jags gave them a turnover on downs to reopen the door.  On Thursday uber-reliable Lions K Jason Hansen hit the upright from 47 yards out on a field goal attempt to win the game and then Texans’ Shayne Graham booted one of his own to steal the game for the road team.  In other words, so far this looks like Houston’s time to live.

I SAW the Texans play almost 10 quarters of hard-fought football in a five-day span.  Keep an eye on that fatigue level (read: potential for injury) next week…

I SAW that Houston missed CB Johnathan Joseph (hamstring) to cover Lions WR Calvin Johnson and in the first half it showed when Megatron had three receptions of 20+ yards, primarily against backup Alan Ball, who must have been busy trying to improve his now-chaotic True Blood series.

I SAW that the way to attack the Texans’ defense is becoming more obvious: Spread them out.  Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ defensive front likes to bunch up big outside linebackers in the 3-4 to overwhelm offensive blocking schemes but they can’t do that with the same effectiveness if they have to patrol bigger spaces, and those LBs aren’t nearly as comfortable running around as opposed to pinching down and meeting in the middle.  Going forward, look for opponents to do more of the same against Houston.

I SAW the Texans allow their first rushing TD of the season on the first drive of the game when Lions RB Mikel Leshoure carried the ball into the end zone.

Ah, the strange NFL.  Who would have guessed that of all the teams to crack Houston’s rush defense that it would be the typically run-inept Lions – and they did it twice.

I SAW a solid argument to downplay the importance of passing yards in today’s NFL: On Sunday Lions QB Matt Stafford notched his tenth game this season with 250+ yards passing – most in the NFL.  Is anyone considering Stafford’s season a successful one?

I SAW Texans WR Andre Johnson answer his career-high day on Sunday against Jacksonville with another big game: 9 grabs for 188 yards.  What a week for ’Dre:

Most Receiving Yards In 2 Consecutive Games

2012 Andre Johnson, HOU 461
2006 Chad Johnson, CIN 450
1989 John Taylor, SF 448
1995 Jerry Rice, SF 442

Elias Sports Bureau

This made me wonder: Flipper Anderson holds the NFL record, with 336 yards in a game in 1989 (on 15 catches), so what did he do in the following game?   The lesser-known half of the dynamic duo of Anderson and WR Henry Ellard that helped make QB Jim “Don’t Call me Chris” Everett a star had four receptions for 77 yards, giving him 413 total over two games.

Ah, one of my favourite moments in sports talk show history.

I SAW Texans DE J.J. Watt continue his Armen Tanzarian-like reign of terror.  According to ESPN Stats & Information Watt leads the league by a huge margin in terms of percentage of dropbacks disrupted (dropbacks disrupted represents sacks, interceptions and passes defended).

Most Dropbacks Disrupted, 2012 Season

PLAYER DISRUPTIONS % Of Team Dropbacks Faced
J.J. Watt 28 6.24
Tim Jennings 18 4.40
Aldon Smith 15 4.07
Von Miller 14 3.37

PROPS to Bears CB Tim Jennings for making this list as a defensive back, which is much more impressive than it likely seems.

I SAW a play that should likely alter the rulebook.  In the third quarter Texans Rb Justin Forsett ran the ball 81 yards for a TD, but early on in the play his knee and elbow were down by contact.  However, the officials didn’t blow the whistle, and Forsett kept running for the longest run in franchise history.  Forsett was clearly down on the replay, but the play was not reviewed because Lions head coach Jim Schwartz threw a challenge flag on a play that is automatically reviewable (all scoring plays and turnovers are now subject to automatic replay review).

Three thoughts:

  1. It’s ironic that the team perhaps known the most for hitting after the whistle didn’t play to the whistle on this play.
  2. Coming down on the refs for missing the live call is a bad call in itself.  Remember the Ed Hochuli controversy that decided a Chargers-Broncos game in 2008, when a missed call was not reviewable because the whistle had blown and, by, rule, a play whistled dead in not reviewable?  Since then officials have been trained to resist blowing the whistle if they are unsure of a player being down by contact.  A number of people – such as Sports Illustrated’s Peter King – have chastised the refs for missing the call.  Maybe they didn’t see Forsett clearly enough.  At any rate, they did what they’ve been told and had they blown the whistle and Forsett not been down, there would have been a problem too.
  3. EPIC FAIL by the rulebook!  Why is this play not reviewable?

I’ve given myself my own tryptophan trance by reading parts of the rulebook to check this rule out.

There are two key passages Rule 15, Section 9 – as stated in the 2012 NFL Rulebook:

“If there is a foul that delays the next snap, the team committing that foul will no longer be able to challenge the previous ruling. No challenges will be recognized from a team that has exhausted its timeouts. A team that is out of timeouts or has used all of its available challenges may not attempt to initiate an additional challenge.  Penalty: For initiating a challenge when a team is prohibited from doing so: Loss of 15 yards.”

“There is no limit to the number of Referee Reviews that may be initiated by the Replay Official. He must initiate a review before the next legal snap or kick and cannot initiate a review of any ruling against a team that commits a foul that delays the next snap.”

There’s the rule in all its silliness, avoiding what replay review is supposed to do – correct missed calls.

(A friend of mine heard this argument: If I’m a coach that scores a controversial touchdown or forces an iffy turnover, why wouldn’t I just throw the challenge flag myself to avoid a replay?  But the rule above states that only the team that commits the delay (by throwing the flag) cannot benefit from the replay review.  The other team, however, can still have one made, so the hypothetical loophole is only that – hypothetical – and can’t be exploited.)

Scrap this rule.  Again, it gives more significance to coaches’ challenges – a game within the game that too often avoids having the correct call get made.  There’s no guarantee that change will occur, but the league at least announced that it will reexamine the rule in the offseason.

At any rate, you can bet Detroit fans wanted to pelt referee Walt Coleman and his crew with Thanksgiving dinner like Sam did to Elaine on Cheers, but all the refs were doing was upholding a flawed rule. 

In fact, the mere thought of turkey might get Detroit residents upset because their Lions have now lost nine straight Thanksgiving games there.



What I Saw, Wk 11 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 11, 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

(A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

LIKE us on Facebook 

Away from the game(s)

I SAW the NFL go all archetypical on us, in threes, with three overtime tilts at once to finish the 1 o’clock games on Sunday and three straight weeks with a fitty-burger getting hung on a team.  (The Patriots posted one this week, following in the footsteps of the Ravens last week and the Bears before that.)  Thirdly, three backup quarterbacks were forced to start big games for their teams.  (Sorry, Nick Foles, you and your Eagles might not have a truly big game for at least a year.)  As usual, all that these zany moments from the weekend did was cast the league pecking order into what seems like further disarray.  However, upon close examination things might not be as undecided as they seem. …

I SAW that despite the parity monster having barged into the 2012 season, torn up the couch and pissed on the newspaper, the current playoff picture is surprisingly within view, and it’s not the jarring change of participants from last season that fans have been getting used to.  With just six weeks remaining in the regular season it’s worth taking a look at how things are taking shape.

The AFC leads the two conferences in terms of party-pooping postseason clarity.  There are actually only six teams out of those 16 with winning records heading into Thanksgiving weekend.  In order of seeding, if the playoffs were to start today:

  1. Houston (9-1)
  2. Baltimore (8-2)
  3. New England (7-3)
  4. Denver (7-3)
  5. Indianapolis (6-4)
  6. Pittsburgh (6-4)

Obviously there is room for movement, especially in a race for home field advantage throughout and the two byes.  And even though the Colts and Steelers looked very shaky on Sunday (especially Pittsburgh) it’s not hard to envision both teams backing into the playoffs.  Below them at 5-5 are the Bengals and they just aren’t consistent enough on defense and three of their remaining six games are against the Cowboys, Ravens and Steelers – all of whom will likely have a lot riding on those games as well.  After that it’s just the Chargers, Titans, Bills and the Dolphins at 6-4 and, well, you get the picture.

Over in the NFC things are a bit less settled, but not by much.  Eight teams currently sit above .500, with what one would expect as the sextet that will make it into January already in place:

  1. Atlanta (9-1)
  2. San Francisco (7-2-1)
  3. Green Bay (7-3)
  4. New York Giants (6-4)
  5. Chicago (7-3)
  6. T-Seattle (6-4)*

*-Same W-L as TB & MIN

The Bears are the obvious first pick for the team to falter but that’s dependent upon the health of QB Jay Cutler.  If the Giants weren’t the defending champs (and if more people would keep in mind that they’ve played poorly enough to miss two of the last three postseasons) they would be the ones most likely victimized – by one of the two 5-5 teams looming, their division rival in Dallas.  Frankly, as bad as the Giants have looked recently, the Cowboys need to be a lot better than an OT win against Cleveland in order to avoid a January gone fishing.  The other 5-5 team is New Orleans and even as an impartial observer the Saints are scary.  They could leapfrog both their division-rival Bucs and Vikings but their schedule is so tough (Niners, at Falcons, at Giants, Bucs, at Cowboys, Panthers).  On the bubble lie the Redskins, Lions and Cardinals at 4-6 but all three of those teams are too lopsided to persevere.  One thing that could liven up the NFC picture is the fact that the conference’s divisional play tends to be more closely played than in the AFC.

With all of these things in mind, the Seahawks should hold onto their berth, if not improve it, and unless another team can snake the NFC East away from the champs this group should be the one that plays in the playoffs.  (The final seeds are another matter, however.)

As far as parity is concerned, look elsewhere.  If this dozen holds suit nine of them played in the playoffs last season.

I SAW myself getting tired.  I hadn’t really felt the burn until this week, but the fact that there is no longer more than two consecutive days during any week of the season without football is getting exhausting and we’re only at the doorstep of US Thanksgiving.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the NFL – but sometimes I love it like an adult loves their spouse and their kids, and.…fuck, a break isn’t coming.…and I’m not saying I want one…but…I’m tired.  Damn, you, NFL.  I love you.

But it’s a hard love, one partly imbued with addiction.  If you’re reading this, you’re at least somewhat afflicted and happy about it.  But it’s a dirty addiction at times, particularly with the new knowledge about injuries.  Aaron Traister pondered these notions in a hard-hitting but poignantly grounded article for salon.com that deserves consideration, as he aligns his love for the NFL with the love-hate dynamic of a smoking habit.

Don’t misunderstand.  If the 24-7-365 ingestion of pro football does mix exhaustion, ecstasy and so many other vibes in a way that oddly parallels a smoking habit it’s still not an issue that’s scaring me away.  Give me another drag of this shit.  But full-contact football as we know it today is already changing – and will change dramatically over the next few decades.  About that there can be little debate.  In fact, in another article (that years ago would have seemed like a lone voice yelling crazy ideas like a religious zealot on a downtown corner) is gathering recognition from pundits as reputable as Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.  It’s by Stefan Fatsis on slate.com and it makes a concerted push to eliminate contact from youth football. 

Making the changes Fatsis proposes will diminish the hitting acumen at the top levels in a few decades’ time, once the kids age and the resulting effect in Pop Warner leagues trickles up.  If we were to watch how the NFL will be played in the future from our present perspective many of us – myself included – would be disappointed at the lack of violent collisions.

I think we’re all in that adjustment stage these days, and it’s not going to decelerate anytime soon – quite the opposite.  When people like NFL commissioner (and baby eater) Roger Goodell uses the term “culture change” it’s no exaggeration and it applies to both league and fan culture.  As King reported this week:

“I was talking to an NFL GM this week, and he recounted excitedly about a young player in practice hitting a veteran so hard they both got woozy, and he caught himself and said, ‘I shouldn’t be praising that now.’  He’s right.”

Too true.  I played football for six total years in high school and university, and I hit hard.    Every time I could.  Face first, most of the time.  I loved it.  I never lost consciousness but on one occasion I hit an opponent so hard that everything turned green, as though I was wearing tinted ski goggles.  Many times my body “vibrated” from head to toe for a few minutes after a hit.  (I used to call it humming.)  But ongoing neurological studies are uncovering more and more evidence that the low-to-medium grade impacts can do the real damage to a football player’s brain over the long term.  I estimate that I was involved in at least fifteen hundred such impacts.  So this stuff hits home for me, if you’ll pardon the expression.  When I pull one of those moves when I look for my glasses for half an hour while they’re sitting on the top of my head, at what point do I worry?  I try not to, but while big hits in the NFL still get my juices flowing like a sweet nicotine delivery the emotional hangover weighs in sooner than ever.

Still, what can I say?  If you’re like me you’re still hooked.  Screw the drag; I’m going out to buy a full carton.  Only these days when I light up I pray more and more for the crazy/brave athletes whom I write about every week.  I won’t like it when the dosages involve less hitting, but I know it’s for their own good.

I SAW that the league needs to be acting with decisiveness in order to send messages to players about head-to-head hits and they failed to do so in the case of Ravens S Ed Reed.  The NFL decided to suspend Reed for a game based on a helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders Sunday night and, as stated in a press release, “repeated violations of the rule prohibiting hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players.” The NFL deemed Reed’s hit on Sanders his third violation in the last three years, but all that changed Tuesday when Reed’s appeal to the ruling was successful and the penalty was downgraded to a $50,000 fine.  Again – decisiveness is important in the implementing and upholding of new rules, and what now seems like an overreaction on the part of the league offices needs to be avoided in the future.  The players are already sensitive enough to these changes as it is.  If rulings come across as knee-jerk, like the one on Reed, it just makes things harder.  The last thing players want is a mixed message.

I SAW a rule that seems needlessly strict to me – one that I wasn’t aware of until Sunday’s Falcons game.  Atlanta head coach Mike Smith threw a challenge flag after a turnover and was penalized fifteen yards and the replay-review was negated for doing so since a turnover is now automatically reviewable.

At first glance, the spirit of this rule makes sense.  (It also applies to scoring plays.)  It’s analogous to the rule in basketball whereby a team is assessed a technical foul if a player or coach calls timeout when they don’t have any left to use.  It’s a delay of the game, and one that could be abused.

But isn’t the guiding principal behind instant replay to ensure that the correct call is made, even if not on the field?  This penalty further enhances the gimmicky game-within-a-game that is the challenge system.  If the call should be reviewed, it should be reviewed.   Penalize the infracting team with an unsportsmanlike conduct but adding the replay negation goes against making sure proper calls are made.

I SAW one personal (and fairly insignificant) pleasure I get every Sunday night, but I just like the Hall Of Famer and his delivery.  I’m referring to the opening of each NFL Network’s Gameday Final when the anchor introduces his or her co-hosts and Marshall Faulk shows his playful confidence:

Anchor: “…I’m here with Prime Time Deion Sanders, The Playmaker Michael Irvin and the nicknameless Marshall Faulk.”

Faulk (quickly and casually): “I be da man.”

I SAW some good sportsmanship within the NFL head coaching fraternity when Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll tweeted some well-wishes for division rival and former PAC-12 rival Jim Harbaugh after the Niners coach was treated for an irregular heartbeat:

Sending out best wishes to Jim Harbaugh for a quick recovery… Get well soon, we gotta alotta ball games left!”

I SAW last, and certainly not least – unless you’re fat bastard Rob Ford, and then you’re least – thanks to Deadspin for producing a .gif of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford falling flat while trying to turn and run with a football.  Ah, Rob, you know that no one with a fat gut like yours can turn that fast without getting taken down by it.  Live it up, Torontonians – your mayor got tackled by his own fat self.

Byes: Minnesota, New York Giants, Seattle, Tennessee

TNF- Buffalo (4-6) wins vs. Miami (4-6), 19-14   

I SAW a game as unsexy as thoughts of Flanders in a ski suit.


(We’ve posted this before, but c’mon.  Classic.  “Nothin’ at all!”)

How sexy have the Bills been in recent years?  This was their first nationally televised game in four years.  So in other words, they’ve been about as sexy as Will Farrell and his weirdly creased gut streaking the quad.

However, Buffalo lifted up its collective skirt within the first two minutes when Leodis McKelvin returned the first punt of the game 79 yards for his second such TD this season.

Next thing you knew, it was the Dolphins that looked as sexy as Nick Tortelli.


Proper, but not sexy.

To wit: Miami shat out 2 3-and-outs to start the game and WR Brian Hartline fumbled the ball away to kill the ’Fins third possession.  Miami figured out how to shake its own skanky booty when Marcus Thigpen took his own punt return 96 yards to the house, but it didn’t last.  At All.

It took the Dolphins until 3:50 left in the third quarter to get into Bills territory on offense.  In their last two games their offense has gone 5-for-23 on third down with zero 20+ yard plays and zero touchdowns.  That shiny new car smell that Tannehill had been emanating during September and October has turned to stink.  He killed both of his team’s last two drives in an attempt to come back with interceptions, giving him two touchdowns, five picks and an 0-3 record in the last three weeks.

His backfield partner, RB Reggie Bush didn’t fare much better either.  After being benched for fumbling during Miami’s second drive two games ago Bush followed that up with a ten carry, 20-yard performance.

What has happened to this offense?  NFL Network’s Mike Mayock made a good point in-game when he mentioned that opponents are no longer concerned about Miami’s receivers beating them deep and as such DBs are playing them short, making the whole field feel as compact as the red zone.  That sort of water is too shallow for Dolphins – or most teams, for that matter.

In all, this unsexy game from both teams may have nailed the coffin shut on Miami’s playoff hopes because now they have Seattle, New England and at San Francisco over the next three weeks.

I SAW myself mention this already last week, but how come Bills RB C.J. Spiller wasn’t getting more handoffs before this season?  The guy can make moves in a phone booth and that’s not a skill tailbacks just pick up all of a sudden.  It’s simply not enough to say that Spiller was getting looks late last season; he should have been getting them from the get-go.  Everyone used to get sticky pants over the rushing average of Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles but check this out (from NFL Network):

Most Yards Per Rush – Running Backs, Single Season (min. 100 ATTs)

Player Year Yards per carry
Beattie Feathers 1934 8.44
C.J. Spiller 2012 7.01
Dan Towler 1951 6.78
Keith Lincoln 1963 6.45
Mercury Morris 1973 6.40
Jim Brown 1963 6.40

(A big shout-out to the late Beattie Feathers, who was also the first 1,000-yard back in NFL history that same record season.

New England (7-3) wins vs. Indianapolis (6-4), 59-24

I SAW the Patriots offense continue at a torrid pace, making each week look like a Pro Bowl score – for them, at least.  New England not only leads the league in scoring by more than five points per game but in the last three games the Pats have averaged 47.0 and forced nine turnovers.

More specifically there has been the deluge of scoring from TE Rob Gronkowski, but that’s taking a hiatus (see below).

But the true story of this game was the Patriots D…

I SAW Colts QB Andrew Luck break Peyton Manning’s rookie record with his fifth 300-yard game of the season.  However, Pats head coach Bill Belichick and his defense were in the rook’s kitchen all game on Sunday, forcing Luck into four turnovers that led to 21 points for New England, including two pick-sixes.  Overall, Luck’s 334 yards were offset by three interceptions, a 54 percent completion rate and a 63.3 passer rating, which in turn kept Indy’s defense in a tough spot while they fought uphill to try and prevent a sixty-burger.

According to NFL Network, making life difficult for first-timers is nothing new for Belichick teams.  Since 2003, quarterbacks facing the sleeve-cut one may win the game, but it’s not easy:

QBs Vs. Belichick For First Time Since 2003

W-L 10-5
Comp % 57.5
Pass Yards/Gm 209.4
TD-INT 67-77
Passer Rating 72.2

I SAW that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is often fond of taking offenses out of their comfort zone, namely by making life difficult for the top receiver.  Sunday was no exception.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Colts WR Reggie Wayne came into the game as the NFL leader in targets and receptions with 105 and 69, respectively.  Though Indy’s QB, Andrew Luck, still threw to Wayne fifteen times Sunday, the results weren’t as positive as usual:

Andrew Luck-to-Reggie Wayne in 2012

First 9 games Sunday
Comp % 65.7 46.7
Yards per attempt 8.9 4.8
TD-INT 3-5 0-3
First down % 47.6 26.7

With an array of safety help and physical play from their cornerbacks, the Pats made sure that it wouldn’t be Wayne who beat them.  If Indy wants to get back on track, it might help if Luck can find a way to get the ball to Wayne on the road, where the QB has thrown no TDs and six INTs targeting Wayne.

I SAW that regardless of not being able to make any big plays, Colts WR Reggie Wayne tied Cris Carter’s NFL record with 58 straight games with at least three catches (STATS LLC).  That’s a very underrated milestone.

I SAW Patriots QB Tom Brady put up his 28th career game with 300 yards and 3 TDs.  I crunched the numbers and that ranks Brady fourth all-time in that category, but note how much it seems to matter to his team when he plays that well.

QBs with 300-yard, 3 TD games, career

Player # of 300-yd, 3 TD gms W-L
Drew Brees 34 26-8
Dan Marino 33 20-13
Peyton Manning 31 23-8
Tom Brady 28 26-2
Brett Favre 27 20-7

I SAW newly-acquired Pats CB Aqib Talib get beat on an early TD by WR T.Y. Hilton.  Talib then more than made up for it with a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown that put New England ahead 21-14, giving them a lead they would never relinquish.

Expect more big plays from Talib.  Trading for him gives the Patriots defense a boost that may be needed even more than anticipated…

I SAW a day of very mixed feelings for TE Rob Gronkowski.  The bad news first: Gronk is expected to be out for at least a month after breaking his forearm on a PAT.  (He had surgery Monday morning.)

The good was more extensive.  With seven catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns Gronk put in his 13th career multiple TD game (including playoffs) and third consecutive double-digit TD season – a first for a tight end, and he did it in his first three tries.  His scoring pace transcends his position:

Most TD Catches in first 3 seasons (NFL History)

Player Rec TD
Randy Moss 43
Jerry Rice 40
Rob Gronkowski 37
John Jefferson 36
Bob Hayes 35

Unfortunately for Gronkowski, he may not have an opportunity to add to this number but to put it in perspective, consider what ColdHardFootballFacts pointed out:  NFL Network named Hall Of Fame tight end John Mackey the best in history at the position.  Mackey had 38 career TDs; Gronk already has 37.

I SAW that it’s more crucial than ever that Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez prove his own worth in the absence of Rob Gronkowski.  Spacing out opposing defenses is always a hallmark of the Pats offense with QB Tom Brady, and that duty now falls squarely on Hernandez.  He’s versatile enough that he can do what WR Randall Cobb does for the Packers – lining up everywhere, from wideout to tailback – but with more power.

I SAW Colts QB Andrew Luck make several impressive plays despite playing arguably his worst game of the season, with some throws that were horribly off-target (but that’s what a Belichick defense does; make a passer uncomfortable – see above).

One play stood out, while the rookie was under duress during a completion to WR T.Y. Hilton in the third quarter.  Luck was stepping up in the pocket and had to have felt the hand of Pats LB Rob Ninkovich pulling on his jersey.  Luck is so strong though (and he knows it) that he still took time to pump fake before getting the ball downfield.  That’s Roethlisbergeresque body strength.  What can’t Luck do exactly, in physical terms?

I SAW one thing to help calm the nervous hearts of New England fans as they prepare for life without Gronk: Since the midway point of the 2010 season the Patriots are 18-0 in the second half of the regular season.

Atlanta (9-1) wins vs. Arizona (4-6), 23-19

I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:

Karma Sutra Award

When life comes back to fuck you in the ass.

This game was a shocker – karma sutra in two ways at once.  First, after Bronco Peyton Manning threw three interceptions in the first quarter in Atlanta during a week 2 Falcons win Matt Ryan turned around and threw a hat trick of oopsie-doodles of his own in the first quarter Sunday (see below).

But the 9-1 Falcons overcame their quarterback’s bad day and the karmic circle gave them a reach-around near the end of the game.  Last week in New Orleans, Atlanta TE Tony Gonzalez dropped a fourth down pass to kill the game in what would be Atlanta’s first loss of the season.  On Sunday it came back around when Cardinals WR Cousin Larry Fitzgerald was a less-than-Perfect Stranger on a last-ditch fourth down drop of his own.  One has to feel for Cousin Larry.  Balki Bartokomous could throw him a better ball than rookie sub Ryan Lindley did, and a throw on his hands may have taken Fitz off-guard.

I SAW that this game was ugly but a huge confidence builder for the Falcons because their MVP candidate, QB Matt Ryan, couldn’t have played much worse.  Before Sunday Ryan had never thrown more than three interceptions in a game but he slid five out of his rear against the Cardinals.  If you think that winning a game with a performance like that is rare, you’re right.  According to Elias Sports Bureau The Mattural is just the fourth QB in league history to throw five picks and no touchdowns but still win the game.  The last one do to so was Packer Bart Starr in 1967 (against the Bears).

So Atlanta gutted out a win.  That not only gives the defense a psychological boost but also could loosen up Ryan now that he knows he can shit the bed and still leave the field with a smile.  This could be a huge step forward for Hot-lanta, on so many levels.

I SAW the Cardinals come of their bye week and drop their sixth straight game.  Head coach Ken Wisenhunt is playing the QB situation like he’s a cracked-up craps player in an alley with a few stinky slices of cash but who can blame him?  He has no one good to put under center.  After starter John Skelton stank it up with a 2-for-7, 6-yard start the last option was rookie Ryan Lindley.  He came in and smelled like Limdburger while he threw for 64 yards and the offense as a whole managed 178 for the game.  ’Zona romped for 48 yards in the second half, eight of which came in the fourth quarter.

With the way the Cardinals have been playing for some time now, that week 2 upset of the Patriots looks like a period piece.

Philadelphia (3-7) wins @ Washington (4-6), 31-6

I SAW Sunday’s meeting for last place in the NFC East dig a deeper hole for the Eagles.  Their losing skid is now at six games – their longest in-season losing streak since dropping seven straight since 1994.

Philly came into the game with an NFC-worst -11 turnover differential.  Make that -14 after this game to go along with nine penalties on Sunday.  As a reminder that the crux of their offensive issues lies with the O-line, guard Jake Scott committed two first quarter false starts.  Scott has been with the team for less than a week.

On the first career start by QB Nick Foles: A 21-for-46 (45.7%), 204 yard, 0 TD, 2 INT, 40.5 rating against the 29th-ranked passing defense of the Redskins should show onlookers that the only controversy surrounding the Eagles quarterbacks is how shitty they’re playing.  (Remember – From Koy Detmer, through AJ Feeley and Kevin Kolb, Reid is generally outstanding at preparing young QBs for relief starts.)

On that matter: Starting Eagles QB Michael Vick’s concussion might be the unfair catalyst that pushes him out the door in Philly.  Axing coach Andy Reid might be on the way too, but that will be a tough decision to make since Reid is a QB guru and this franchise needs one to either groom Foles for the starting job or scout a quarterback for a high draft pick in the draft this year or next.

I SAW Redskins QB Robert Griffin III trump his previous rookie performances this season – ones that were already superlative.

Comp Att % YPA Yds TD INT Rating
14 15 93.3 13.3 200 4 0 158.3

That’s a perfect passer rating and four times more TD passes than incompletions.  Four times more TD passes than incompletions.  What does RG3 think this is, Baylor?

Note Griffin’s 13.3 yard per attempt, indicating that the seemingly average 200-yard output was achieved largely by long throws.  And he didn’t milk one receiver either, completing passes to nine different players.  In other words, there is no way to poke holes in this statistical performance.  (Hence the perfect passer rating.  Take that, non-believers of the stat.  See also New Orleans wins @ Oakland, 38-17.)

Griffin might not possess the size of Andrew Luck and Cam Netwon, or the bloated stats the latter put up last season.  But he’s arguably the most accurate and all-around efficient rookie passer ever.  Another nugget: Eagle Nick Foles – RG3’s counterpart on Sunday and a fellow rookie – has thrown three interceptions already this season in 78 attempts.  Griffin has thrown three interceptions all year, in 277 throws.  Only New England’s Tom Brady has thrown as few picks as that; Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has thrown double.

There’s a line from Griffin’s Subway commercial: “… when the weak and distracted are resting on their reputations…” On Sunday RG3 could have been talking about the rest of the league.  Obviously that’s an exaggeration.  But at times this season Griffin’s play has been, well, hyperbolic.

I SAW insult to injury – literally – for Philadelphia when star RB LeSean McCoy left the game due to a concussion with about two minutes left in a blowout loss.  Reports have said that Shady isn’t feeling as shady as Vick did immediately after his concussion weeks ago but the tailback’s status for the next game is uncertain.  Maybe it will take him having lost a Pro Bowl tailback before Eagles head coach Andy Reid realizes what he’s missed by underplaying the talented McCoy.

I SAW that it’s not clear whether or not firing Eagles head coach is the answer in Philadelphia but after looking at some numbers from ESPN Stats & Information, it’s likely that his decision to fire defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and replace him with Todd Bowles was a bad one:

Eagles Defense in 2012

Under Castillo Under Bowles
Games 6 4
Comp % 52.7 78.4*
TD-INT 7-7 11-0
Yards/att 6.3 9.4*

*worst in NFL since week 7 when Bowles took over

Those numbers aren’t meant to indicate that Bowles can’t coach a defense.  As mentioned in What I Saw, Wk 8 Castillo was given a raw deal given the state of the unit when he took over.  But the risk Reid took in axing Castillo should yield more results than a plummet in performance. 

I SAW that the Redskins play four of their last six games against divisional playoffs, so even if they don’t qualify for the playoffs they’ll have a lot of say into the matter of who does within the NFC East.  As if the rest of the division didn’t already rue the arrival of ’Skins rookie QB Robert Griffin III.

I SAW poor Brandon Meriweather get another bad break Sunday.  The oft-injured Redskins safety played in his first game of the year against Philly and blew out his knee in a non-contact injury.  Best wishes, Brandon.

Green Bay (7-3) wins @ Detroit (4-6), 24-20 

I SAW the Packers spring into the lead in the NFC North, which seemed highly unlikely just four or five weeks ago.  This victory was Green Bay’s fifth straight and ninth straight against divisional opponents.

The Packers are starting to look eerily reminiscent of their 2010 championship team, with a MASH unit and gathering momentum into winter despite the injuries.  There are a lot of key players missing time, but of particular note is that four linebackers sat out on Sunday and Green Bay still won the game.  They have had six significant players miss at least three games so far this year.  One difference between this unit and the Super Bowl winners two years ago is that a few of the star players – Greg Jennings (groin), B.J. Raji (ankle), Charles Woodson (collar bone) and Clay Matthews (hamstring) – are due to return in time to get their groove on before the postseason.  Add to this the notion that the Pack is still angry from their early playoff exit last year and if I were an NFC team this would be the last team I’d want to see in the playoffs at this point.

I SAW Packers WR Randall “Don’t Call Me Tex” Cobb continue his impressive play by catching nine of a career-high targets on Sunday.  (ESPN Stats & Information).  If you’d have said that wideouts Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson would miss multiple games at the same time prior to Cobb’s emergence I’d have said the offense would struggle.  However, they’ve picked up their pace.  Credit QB Aaron Rodgers, as usual, but credit Cobb as well. 

I SAW a From The Milk Carton To The End Zone Award get earned by Packers TE Jermichael Finley on his second quarter TD Sunday.  His last foray into the end zone was in week 1 against the Niners.

I SAW that Lions WR Calvin Johnson (5 rec, 143 yds, 1 TD) and the running game (84 yds and 1 TD for Mikel Leshoure) are finally clicking.  So much of the blame for Detroit’s poor play now lies with the defense (especially an underachieving line) and the O-line, the latter of which contributes to Stafford’s erratic execution.  Stafford completed only 43.6 percent of his throws on Sunday.  He’s done worse but three times in his 2-plus season career and all of those came during his rookie campaign.

The last element failing this team is the special teams, and/or overall return TDs allowed.  M.D. Jennings’ pick-6 in the third quarter was the seventh return TD allowed by Detroit.

Houston (9-1) wins vs. Jacksonville (1-9), 43-37 OT

I SAW an unbelievable, milestone-filled scoregasm in Houston…

I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl.  It’s taken a while to challenge Lions-Titans from week 3, but we have another contender for the

“What-Just-Happened-I-Can’t-Breathe-And-My-Pants-Are-Full Game Of The Year”

First off, this game has a QUADRUPLE PROPS – clearly none of them go towards defense.  Jags All-Pro RB Maurice Jones-Drew and Texans Ben Tate (arguably the best two- of a one-two RB punch in the NFL) didn’t dress for this zany yardage fest but they weren’t needed.  One of the biggest upsets of the season wasn’t meant to be, but it wasn’t without OT drama and some individual performances for the ages…

I SAW the Texans become the first team in league history to score twice in overtime.  Jaguar K Josh Scobee and Texan K Shayne Graham each booted field goals during extra time but with 2:30 left in OT (after Jacksonville failed to convert on fourth-and-ten near midfield) Houston QB Matt Schaub connected with WR Andre Johnson on a wideout screen pass and ’Dre did the rest.  48 yards and a TD later Houston improved to 9-1.

On to the PROPS fest, led by the first pair of wide receivers ever to both have 200+ receiving yards in a single game, combining for a yardage outburst for the ages: 21 combined grabs for 509 yards and 24.2 yards per reception…

I SAW PROPS to Texans WR Andre Johnson catch 14 balls for 273 yards.  Both are career highs and the yardage total is a franchise record.  Coming into this game Johnson had but three 100-yard games since the start of 2010 – a period during which the former All-Pro wideout had been beset by injuries.  Johnson has told numerous media outlets that he feels healthier than he has in years.  It shows.  His stride is more effortless than it has looked in some time; last year he likely wouldn’t have beaten the safety on the game-winning TD catch-and-run.

I SAW PROPS to Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon.

Welcome to the NFL, rookie.  Blackmon had just 250 receiving yard this season until Sunday when he racked up almost as much, with the third-most receiving yards for a rookie in a single game:

Most Rec Yds By A Rookie (Single Game)

Player Year Yds
Jerry Butler 1979 255
Jerry Rice 1985 241
Justin Blackmon 2012 236
Eddie Kennison 1996 226

Blackmon’s huge day was highlighted by an 81-yard TD catch-and-run that was helped by shoddy tackling (see below) and gave Jacksonville the lead in the fourth quarter.  But Houston’s quarterback had something to say about that…

I SAW PROPS to Texans QB Matt Schaub for not only a historic day but leading two TD drives in the fourth quarter to force overtime.  Schaub threw for a career-high five touchdowns.  He also completed a franchise-record 43 passes – the most of any NFL quarterback this season.  His yardage was the second-most of all time:

Most Passing Yards In A Game (NFL History)

Player Passing Yds                             Season
Norm Van Brocklin 554 1951
Matt Schaub        527 2012
Warren Moon 527 1990
Boomer Esiason 522 1996
Dan Marino 521 1988
Matt Stafford 520 2011

I SAW PROPS to Jaguars QB Chad Henne for an off-the-bench performance for the ages.

Starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert injured his elbow and left the game in the first quarter.  It’s unlikely that the second-year pivot will start once he’s healthy because Henne stepped in and with little preparation threw for 354 yards, 4 TDs and no interceptions.  Hall Of Famer Steve Young (1987) is the only other QB since the 1970 merger to come off the bench and put up 4 touchdowns and no picks.

UPDATE (21/11/2012): There will be no QB controversy in Jacksonville, at least this season.  The Jags placed Gabbert on injured reserve for the remainder of the season with right forearm and left shoulder injuries.  Let ‘er rip, Chad!

I SAW the Texans’ most glaring weakness rear its ugly head again on Sunday.  It wasn’t just the overall numbers from Henne and Blackmon that exposed Houston’s defensive backs.  Two big passing TDs were allowed by brutal missed tackles.  (The scores by WRs Cecil Shorts and Blackmon)

Is this truly a chink in the Texans’ armor?  Consider that only four QBs this season have thrown at least 4 TDs and no interceptions and two of them (Henne and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers) have done so against Houston.

I SAW Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts caught his fourth TD of 39 yards or longer this season.  Considering the limited duty he’s had for much of the year that’s impressive.  For the first time in years outside of a Rush concert, Jorts are in style!  Now guard him, DBs…

I SAW another unnecessary reason to indicate that this isn’t Jacksonville’s year.  The Jaguars have lost three road games in overtime this season.

Tampa Bay (6-4) wins @ Carolina (2-8), 27-21 OT

I SAW the Buccaneers win five of their last six games to stay in playoff contention.  Head coach Greg Schiano sure looks and talks like George W. Bush but he can lead his subordinates to success nonetheless.  On Sunday they played poorly but gutted out a win with eleven points in the last five minutes of regulation and then kept their heel on Carolina’s neck for the OT win.  That could turn out to be a big step forward for the franchise; we’ll see.  RB Doug Martin has attracted a ton of media attention (he rumbled for another 138 yards against the Panthers) but it’s QB Josh Freeman that deserves recognition.

During their 5-1 run Freeman has led the Bucs with an eye-popping 21-7 TD-INT ration and a 94.6 passer rating.   Note SI.com’s Peter King’s apt take on  Freeman’s season:

“We forget Freeman is 24 years old. He’s six months younger than Ryan Tannehill. He’s with a new head coach, Greg Schiano; a new quarterback coach, Ron Turner; a new offensive coordinator, Mike Sullivan; with a new franchise receiver in Jackson, a new tight end in the rejuvenated Clark and a new franchise running back in Doug Martin. And here comes Freeman off a terrible 2011, playing the best football of his pro life.

Denver (7-3) wins vs. San Diego (4-6), 30-23

I SAW the Broncos stake a three-game lead in the AFC West with a win over the Chargers that was closer than the final score would indicate.

San Diego has now lost five of its last six games and they looked ugly in doing so.  At halftime the ‘Bolts were about as electric as rubber, having converted only two first downs.  Midway through the third quarter their defense had scored the only points of the game for San Diego, courtesy of a pick-six and a safety.  What’s worse is that watching the game one didn’t even feel as though either moment was going to give the Chargers momentum.  This is a team playing with no edge whatsoever.

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning tie his boss, Hall Of Famer John Elway with his 148th career win, both of whom sit at second place all-time behind Brett Favre (186).  After crunching the numbers, Peyton is on pace for a 4,700-plus year in terms of passing yards (his career high is 4700 in 2010).

I SAW that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has come up against his first challenge this season, beyond his neck/nerve injury.  RB Willis McGahee is going to be out 6-8 weeks after suffering an MCL tear in his knee and a broken leg.  In theory Manning should be able to adapt to such a loss but we’ll see.  The luxury of keeping defenses honest for the first time in years during his career shouldn’t be overlooked.  Darren Sharper said on NFL Network that he’d talked to a few Bronco players and they believed that, after Manning, McGahee was the team’s MVP.

UPDATE (21/12/2012): The Broncos placed McGahee on injured reserve due to the injury.

I SAW that the Chargers offensive line is an under-recognized problem.  According to ESPN Sports & Information San Diego running backs were hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on nine of their 23 total rushes and they ran for at least five yards before contact but twice.  That’s piss-poor, but Denver deserves credit…

I SAW the Broncos defense play at an elite level.   Even the uber-competitive Chargers QB Philip Rivers had to admit after Sunday’s game that Denver’s 2012 defense is “the best defensive team they’ve had since I’ve been playing them.”  According to STATS LLC when Rivers hit WR Malcolm Floyd in the third quarter it broke a string of 26 straight stops for the Broncos on third down – the longest streak in the league since 2002.  There is one obvious catalyst for this defensive surge…

I SAW Broncos LB Von Miller continue his stellar play.  His three sacks on Sunday put him in the NFL lead in that category, and put him in the running for Defensive Player Of The Year.  Miller’s speed and economy of movement through swim and rip moves while streaking to the passer is something else.  Only the great Hall Of Famer Derrick Thomas of Kansas City’s 25 QB takedowns through his first 25 games tops Miller’s 24.5.

I SAW PROPS to Broncos LB Von Miller for ending a sack celebration by rolling around and doing the same silly-armed jumping jacks as the video game character Sonic The Hedgehog.  In fact, Miller told the Associated Press that he intentionally paid homage to the blue-spiked speedster.


New Orleans (5-5) wins @ Oakland (3-7), 38-17

I SAW the Saints creep back to .500 on the season. Watch out.  QB Drew Brees is seeing the field as well as ever and he’s not pressing as much as he was earlier in the season, in large part due to the fact that the defense – while still giving up yards in bunches – is making more of those big plays downfield that we’re accustomed to seeing from ’Nawlins.

However, the uphill battle for New Orleans is just getting going.  Their next three games are against current division leaders: The Niners, Falcons and Giants.  Jinkies!

I SAW the Raiders accrue more first downs, pass yards and total yards than the Saints but still find a way to get blown out.  Blame New Orleans QB Drew Brees.  He’s thrown 16 TDs and no INTs during an ongoing 7-0 run against the Silver & Black.

Brees also extended two streaks, both NFL records: The well-publicized 53rd straight game with a passing TD and completing 20 passes for the 46th straight game.  That second one is more impressive than a casual observer might appreciate.  It’s surprising that such a tear hasn’t been mentioned much, even with the overshadowing of the touchdown streak.

I SAW more evidence to support passer rating as an indicator of team success.  (See also: Washington wins vs. Philadelphia, 31-6)  As noted by ColdHardFootballFacts, Saints QB Drew Brees has had a 110+ passer rating in his teams’ five wins and has put up a rating below that number in five losses.

I SAW the Raiders allow 135 points in their last three games.  Only three other teams have allowed that many points during a 3-game stretch – the Titans and Browns in 2004 and the Niners in 1980 (Elias Sports Bureau).

Dallas (5-5) wins vs. Cleveland (2-8), 23-20 OT

I SAW Cowboys QB Tony Romo get sacked a career-high seven times, yet still last through his third straight game without throwing an interception while winning the first overtime game in the history of the young Cowboys Stadium.  According to STATS LLC it was the first time in six games that Big D has won when Romo gets sacked at least five times.

Oh, it was an ugly win.  Dallas gained just 68 yards in the first half – its worst such output in almost 5 years.  They have games against two divisional foes – Washington and Philly – in the next two weeks.  If the Cowboys can’t seize the opportunity to make a playoff push owner Jerry Jones needs to either hit the reset button or admit that he’s been gradually lowering his standards for success over the last 15 years.

I SAW that Browns KR-PR-RB-WR Josh Cribbs needs to be let out of his cage.  When asked about his diminished role in the Cleveland offense, Cribbs said,

“I feel caged. I’ve talked to the head coach, but there’s no point. Obviously they feel like everybody that’s in front of me is a better athlete. I disagree.”

I SAW Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan admit that this game against his former employer was personal (via NFL.com):

“Any time you pour everything into it and apparently management didn’t see it as good enough, of course it’s personal,”

A Ryan holding a grudge and/or taking something personally?  Who knew?

I SAW Browns rookie RB Trent Richardson just barley miss becoming the first Cleveland rookie with three consecutive 100-yard games rushing (STATS LLC).  He finished with 95.

I SAW that if you don’t think that America’s Team has been mediocre at best for years, consider that the Cowboys have a regular season record of 125-125 since 1997. (STATS LLC)

New York Jets (4-6) win @ St. Louis (3-6-1), 27-13

I SAW a blowout victory for New York.  That’s just great, but this win had the feel of the Jets game against Indy four weeks ago in the sense that their opponents’ off game was more responsible for the outcome than good play by New York.  When RB Bilal Powell bails you out (with the first two rushing TDs of his career), your offense has problems.  This group should get pasted on Thanksgiving Thursday night by their archrivals, the Patriots.

I SAW that Rams QB Sam Bradford has been sacked at least once in 26 straight games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL (STATS LLC).

I SAW the Rams go five straight games without committing a turnover.  According to the  Associated Press that’s the NFL’s longest such streak since 1950.

I SAW that even when the Jets win they act like losers – at least LB Bart Scott did. 

Cincinnati (5-5) wins @ Kansas City (1-9), 28-6

I SAW the Bengals climb back to .500 on the season, with the help of a sick one-hander by WR A.J. Green, who extended his streak of consecutive games with a TD catch to nine, tying him for third all-time. 

I SAW Bengals DT Geno Atkins continue to become the most powerful interior defensive lineman in the league, at 24 years of age.  So far this season blockers are virtually powerless against his strength.  Once Atkins gets his hands on them it’s a slow walk backwards for any guard or center.  On Sunday he led the team (very rare for a tackle) with six tackles and he forced two fumbles.

I SAW PROPS to a dead man.  No joke.  Well, it’s a great joke, but one enacted by a dead man.  According to the Associated Press a large portion of Chiefs fans came to Arrowhead Stadium clad in black in a group protest/mourning of several of the team’s employees.  One man took it the farthest step that anyone can take by dying and requesting that his cause of death be grief from Kansas City’s season.  That’s about as low as a team can go. 

SNF- Baltimore (8-2) wins @ Pittsburgh (6-4), 13-10

I SAW the attack of the flying rib monster again in Pittsburgh. For the second week in a row the Steelers have lost a quarterback to a rib injury.  Ben Roethlisberger dislocated his first rib and apparently can’t even glare at his prickish offensive coordinator Todd Haley without his heart exploding.  I kid; it’s a very serious injury, though.  Byron Leftwich broke the rules nature has imposed upon his body when he ran fast enough to lose all balance, fall and break his ribs on a most-unexpected TD run (see below).  Enter Charlie Batch for next week.  Why Pittsburgh – with a starting quarterback who plays to contact – hasn’t addressed their backup QB situation more than they have is a mystery to me.

I SAW Pittsburgh sign free agent and former Steeler, WR Plaxico Burress.

On the surface this move might look desperate but I like it.  It gives newly-thrust-into-the-fray QB Charlie Batch a huge target and the QB disaster in Steeltown will have such a significant impact upon the offense that installing a new wideout with size is a quicker improvement than waiting for any unprepared quarterback to get involved.  Burress might not make an instant impact on the stat sheet but he will immediately command respect in coverage solely due to his height and reputation and that could free up other receivers.

I SAW the Return Of The Ball Yoda: BAL CB Chris Johnson stripped Steelers WR Mike Wallace in first quarter and Reed was right there to scoop it up.

I SAW the Steelers turn this game into just the sort of slugfest that they needed it to be – a Ravens-Steelers slobberknocker.  But they lost.  By a Jacoby Jones return TD, his third this season.  Baltimore won its twelfth straight game in the NFC North and fourth straight when Pittsburgh has to play them without their star QB, Ben Roethlisberger…

I SAW a delightful start to the game for Leftwich.  First he drew a long pass interference penalty on CB Cary Williams when WR Mike Wallace burned him deep.  Several plays later he was flushed right toward a wide open half of the field and rumbled down the sideline, made an ass out of S Bernard Pollard who got deked out by the QB by cutting it back inside instead of running out of bounds, and ran it to the house.

However, Leftwich clearly hurt his throwing shoulder when he fell on it in the end zone and was in noticeable pain on the sidelines trying to limber up during Baltimore’s next drive.

Those who are familiar with Leftwich know that he is one of the most exemplary QBs in terms of fearlessness despite physical deficiencies.  Remember – this is the guy who broke his leg in a game at Marshall and kept playing on a crucial comeback drive, with his O-linemen carrying him down the field after each completion.  A guy like that isn’t terribly flappable.  I’m thinking Swayze in Road House: “Pain don’t hurt.”

MNF- San Francisco (7-2-1) wins vs. Chicago (7-3), 32-7

I SAW the Niners remind the world who it is that has the best defense in the league.  Recently the Bears D has been hogging all the headlines while amassing NFL bests in takeaways (30) and interceptions (19) heading into Monday night.  Yes, backup QB Jason Campbell started in place of concussed Jay Cutler for Chicago but the former Redskin and Raider is no bum and RB Matt Forte makes defenses play honest.

But San Fran’s defense is the best in the league at playing it honest while still flying toward the ball, so they bottled up the Bears’ running attack and DE Aldon Smith ran wild against shoddy blocking (see below).  Meanwhile, San Francisco’s own backup QB, Colin Kaepernick, helped make it a lopsided first half, with the Niners outgaining Chicago 249 yards to 35.  In essence, this one was over at halftime.

I SAW the Bears fall into a tie with the Packers in the NFC North thanks to their second straight loss after a six-game winning streak.  Green Bay currently holds the tiebreaker but these teams still must meet once more before the regular season ends, so it could be a very interesting December in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions.  Much of it will depend upon starting QB Jay Cutler’s rehab from the concussion he’s suffering from.  It didn’t bode well on Tuesday when Cutler told the media that he likely wouldn’t play next week, but would “definitely” play again this season.  That sounds like a guy who doesn’t expect to be back immediately.

I SAW that though Bears CB Tim Jennings is known for being a sure tackler, Niners WR Mario Manningham lost him in the blink of an eye on a reverse-spin while catching a pass during the second half.  If Manningham could sharpen his route running and get open consistently he’d be a starter on most teams.  Instead he gets lost on depth charts too often.

I SAW that the Niners defense is so impressive as a collective unit that individuals are seldom focused upon, but it’s time to start emphasizing the impact of second-year DE Aldon Smith.

Broncos LB Von Miller’s sack total has been ballyhooed since Sunday when he finished his first 25 pro games with 24.5 sacks – second only to Hall Of Famer Derrick Thomas in such a span (see Denver wins vs. San Diego, 30-23).  However, Smith wasn’t far off that pace.  Miller missed a game in his rookie season after wrist surgery, so coming into Monday night Smith was one game ahead of him and thusly had already played his 25th game last week.  Smith’s 23.5 sacks in that span are only one behind Miller’s more publicized feat, and in his 26th career game on Monday night, he blew up the Bears with an eye-popping 5.5 sacks – tied for fifth-most in a single game since sacks became a statistic in 1982.  Forget Miller; after looking up the statistic, Smith is on the verge of making history:

Most Sacks Over First 2 Seasons (since 1982)

Player Sacks
Reggie White 31.0
Derrick Thomas 30.0
Aldon Smith 29.0
Shawne Merriman 27.0
Jevon Kearse 26.0
Von Miller 24.5
Dwight Freeney 24.0

So, all Smith needs to do is get 2.5 more sacks to break the record for the most in a player’s first two seasons.  Miller will likely garner more attention for Defensive Player Of The Year and understandably so because, as mentioned, Smith plays on a defensive unit that is top-notch from top to bottom with at least half a dozen likely Pro Bowl players on it.  But that shouldn’t obscure the torrid pace he’s on.

I SAW Niners backup QB Colin Kaepernick have a huge game in his first career start – and he did so against one of the best defenses in the NFL.  The sophomore quarterback from University of Nevada completed 12 of his first 14 passes and threw for 126 yards in the first quarter alone.  Working with this momentum, San Fran went up 17-0 early in the second quarter on a Chicago defense that was allowing 14.8 points per game coming into Monday.  There’s been some talk about Kaepernick’s start in comparison to two other guys you may have heard of making their first starts for the Niners back in the day:

First Start with the 49ers

Player Year Comp-Att Yds TD-INT Rating Result
Joe Montana 1979 5-12 36 0-0 49.3 Lost by 3
Steve Young 1987 5-6 80 1-0 158.3 Lost by 2
Colin Kaepernick 2012 16-23 243 2-0 133.1 Won by 25

This comparison makes me nervous on a number of levels, the most important one being that it might only serve as a good example of the change in passing games and preparedness of young QBs compared to decades ago.  It certainly isn’t grounds for a quarterback controversy…

I SAW myself in a state of familiar frustration.  A quarterback controversy in San Francisco?  Really, fans and media?  Really?  Monday night was one game.  One game.  I’ve never been a strong supporter of Alex Smith, but one game and spot duty in the weeks leading up to it doesn’t prove enough to risk messing up the hard-fought progression of starter Alex Smith.

Colin Kaepernick played a great game but I thought he looked somewhat stiff with his footwork and body control in the pocket, especially when stepping up.  Everyone’s a critic…

Seriously, though… The Bears were clearly unprepared for the versatile second-year QB and the read handoff fake that has been made well-known by Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III.  Chicago also employs the vanilla, keep-it-honest Tampa 2 scheme.  The jury should be out on Kaepernick until he faces a team that will give him multiple formations and varied blitz and coverage packages – if he even gets that chance.  Head coach Jim Harbaugh has said that he will “ride the hot hand” with his two quarterbacks, but as much as the media has taken that inch and ran with it, that’s a very vague statement which could still mean Smith is the guy going forward.  In fact, it’s my guess that the coach is going to stay with Smith but is merely trying to keep future opponents in the dark, much like he may have done by waiting until the weekend to declare Smith inactive for the Monday nighter.

I SAW Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh now in a position where he has to choose between two quarterbacks.  Hmm… Start a guy who dazzled in his first career start with a style that is hard to prepare for, or start the regular starter who leads the NFL in completion percentage (70 per cent)… Hmm…

That, folks, is the NFL equivalent of a first-world problem.

UPDATE (22/11/2012): SI.com’s Jim Trotter reported late Wednesday night that Harbaugh has told both Smith and Kaepernick that the latter will start Sunday vs. the Saints.