Week 13 Observations

The downgrade from Christian Ponder to Matt Cassel is so slight, it might be an upgrade.

There isn't room for both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to be top-5 receivers unless they have a top-3 quarterback. Next year, it'll be interesting to see where Jay Cutler goes.

When Josh Gordon left the game after a helmet-to-helmet hit, I was livid. How could two of my teams miss the playoffs because some jackass went head-hunting? When he came back into the game, I was so relieved - as if some terrible lingering issue in my life had finally been resolved. It was like a felony indictment against me were dropped, or I were reconciled with a close family member from whom I had long been estranged. This feeling persisted even though Gordon did almost nothing for most of the next quarter. It dawned on me the dismay at losing Gordon didn't merely have to do with losing his output and possibly a spot in the playoffs. It was losing unjustly that bothered me so much. Losing when maybe I should have won. Then he caught the 95-yard touchdown pass, and it was hard to be angry about anything - a feeling that lasted until the Titans coughed up the cover and the Vikings seemed to.

Speaking of which - losing a game-winning field goal to a facemask call, is something I'm fairly sure has never before happened in an NFL game. That the most accurate kicker in NFL history had to miss a makable kick for the Vikings to cover (and win) made it even more strange. Actually, I'm pretty sure Gould wasn't the most accurate kicker in history during that attempt because after becoming it, he had subsequently missed what would have been the longest field goal in NFL history before the half.

When Cordarrelle Patterson scored his rushing touchdown, I excoriated myself for having pulled him for Roddy White at the 11th hour. "You idiot! You know better than to make last minute moves." Of course, it was the right call, especially given Patterson getting a rushing TD was especially unlikely.

NFL teams constantly make adjustments. For that reason it wasn't surprising the Raiders had trouble running against the Cowboys who were without linebacker Sean Lee. Dallas made a point of stacking the box, and it worked. But the Adrian Peterson matchup against the Bears' abysmal run defense (35 carries, 211 yards, 6.0 YPC) was as-advertised. And this despite Chicago trying to stack the box against him. That's one of the things that makes analyzing the game tough. Even if you strip away the injuries and luck, it's hard to know whether and to what extent teams will adjust to prior performances and how effective those adjustments will be.

The Bills failing to cover the 3.5-point spread was tough to take, but consider C.J. Spiller and White nearly back to their original values. Spiller's ankle bothered him at times during the game, but his burst and quickness were back. White doesn't have Julio Jones on the other side, and he has a terrible defense to keep Matt Ryan throwing and targets coming his way, so he could be a top-10 WR the rest of the way.

Alex Smith played a good game, but was hurt by some drops and poor coaching decisions, in particular a decision to punt on 4th-and-2 from the Denver 42, down seven halfway through the third quarter. They gave Peyton Manning the ball back at the 8-yard line (a 34-yard net), and two plays later, the Broncos had the ball at Kansas City's 15. Three plays after that, they scored to go up 14, and Chiefs never made it back.

What was especially annoying about that sequence is Phil Simms and Jim Nance justified the punt, saying that if they failed to get the first down, the Broncos would have great field position, and Simms added that the 4th-and-2 was a "long" two. At no point did Simms and Nance explore what good could come of going for it, for example, the Chiefs might score a touchdown and actually tie the game (something that might be in their interest). Moreover, once the move backfired horribly, there was no mention that maybe Andy Reid should have in fact gone for it. Preferably, a formal retraction of their prior opinion, but at least some acknowledgment and reflection on it.

Finally, it would be one thing if Simms and Nance had a coherent - even if wrongheaded - view of the game wherein it was crucial when playing Manning to get him the ball deep in his own territory, but they lacked even that. During the closing minute of the first half, Simms and Nance were terrified on the Chiefs' behalf that Manning would mount a final drive even though Denver got the ball back with 25 seconds left on its own 12-yard line. The Broncos handed it to Knowshon Moreno and ran out the clock. The only unifying principle I can distill from their commentary is when facing a great player, the paramount quality to maintain is a sense of fear. Fear he'll get the ball in good field position if you don't punt and fear he'll get it back with time on the clock.

If you drafted Montee Ball and held onto him, maybe he'll be a factor in the playoffs. In some ways the Spiller and Ball owners can feel vindicated - "see we weren't crazy after all." Maybe that makes it worse though. Moreno will still be the starter, but the timeshare might be more equal - at least until Ball fumbles again.

The Giants game was largely boring except for the end where the referees told Mike Shanahan they didn't need to measure on third and short because the Redskins had gotten a first down, so offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan called a downfield throw to Fred Davis - which he dropped. To Shanahan's surprise, that brought up 4th-and-1, and the Redskins called another successful play, a pass to Pierre Garcon well beyond the first-down marker - which he fumbled. If the argument is they would have called better plays had they known the correct down and distance, it's a poor one. Even though the refs were idiotic for screwing that up, the Redskins' play calling was great. They lost because their players didn't hold onto the ball.

Nick Foles had another three TDs and no picks - against a good defense this time. The Eagles were smart to attack the middle of the field with their tight ends, the one position Arizona simply refuses to cover. I'm still not a believer in Foles the player, but maybe this system is so good he can play at a high level in it.

Rashard Mendenhall and LeSean McCoy had identical rushing numbers Sunday (18 for 76 and 19 for 79, respectively).

The Lions-Packers game was one of the most lopsided in NFL history. Consider the Lions turned it over four times, one of which was returned for a score, missed a chip-shot field-goal and still won by 30.

The Jets should outsource the selection of their next quarterback. It doesn't matter to whom - a random-number generator, Cheech and Chong, one of the walkers in the Walking Dead - any would be an improvement.


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