What We Saw: New Orleans Saints 17, Atlanta Falcons 13

image via NFL.com

As is the case so often with games between divisional rivals, this was a close fought game, but New Orleans came out on top, securing a seasonal sweep of the Atlanta Falcons.

It also guarantees a losing record for Atlanta, the first since head coach Mike Smith took over. It will also be the lowest the team has placed in the division since Smith arrived—in the previous five years they have never finished lower than second in the NFC South.

Here are a few more things we saw for you to chew over.

  • Despite the losing record and atrocious season, Smith isn’t going anywhere. According to NFL.com’s Mike Silver, owner Arthur Blank has assured both Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff as well. Now, we all know what the promises of owners can mean—absolutely nothing—but given the success the pair have had overall, this decision makes sense. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, but just last year the team was in the NFC Championship game. So horrific season aside, it would seem knee jerk to toss Smith out after one bad season out of six. So it seems Smith isn’t going anywhere. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t drive fans nuts with calls like going for a field goal when you should go on 4th down rather than hand the ball back to Drew Brees.
  • A month ago, Mark Ingram was a bust. Two weeks ago, he ran for 145 yards on just 14 carries against the Dallas Cowboys. Now for two weeks in a row he has had less than 10 carries for less than 35 yards. Which is the real Ingram? It’s hard to say. He certainly looks slower and less powerful than he did in college. There was a moment early in the game when he ran into an Atlanta defender, someone he would have run over when he was at Alabama. Thursday night he stopped cold and couldn’t budge the player. We saw it on at least two more runs as well. Sometimes a player just isn’t a fit for a system and that certainly is a factor here—they rarely use him for more than a handful of carries and he doesn’t quite seem to fit into their offensive scheme. However, some of it is on him as well—perhaps not on purpose or due to anything he does or doesn’t do, but perhaps he just came out of Alabama more used up than expected. It’s hard to imagine that he might stick with the Saints when his contract is up, and he may find a better fit elsewhere.
  • One pregame question we had was whether Harry Douglas was going to be taking over as the “new Roddy White” and it seems clear now that he is. Heck, his nine catches for 79 yards included some key grabs and helped quarterback Matt Ryan to one of his best weeks this season. He, like everyone else in the passing game, never saw the end zone and the Falcons continue to die in the red zone. They were able to get Steven Jackson in the end zone once, but that was it. Jackson looked better this week, but overall isn’t providing the pop Atlanta was looking for when they dumped Mike Turner for Jackson. Still, he and Douglas kept things moving and the defense kept the game close. All that was for nothing when rookie wide receiver Darius Johnson fumbled in the fourth quarter, killing a drive. Well, at least they found Douglas, who will be a fine addition across from Julio Jones when White calls it quits.

What’d you see Thursday night? Let me know down in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons

image via NFL.com

This game was supposed to mean more.

Of course, every game in the NFL means a lot to the guys playing it, but we expected the Atlanta Falcons to be good and vying for—if not owning outright—first place in the NFC South.

That’s not how things worked out though, due to injuries and so this game has lost a bit of its luster.

That’s not to say we won’t be watching and that there isn’t a lot worth watching.

It’s just not the things we thought would be things we needed to watch.

image via Washington Post

  • What’s really going on with Matt Ryan? Sure, the Falcons lost a lot of their offensive weapons for stretches this season but Ryan himself has looked off. If you don’t watch a lot of Falcons football, you might be struck by how…un-Ryan-like he looks compared to the playoffs last year. Roddy White is starting to look better, as is Steven Jackson and Tony Gonzalez hasn’t lost any steam (statistics aside). Can Ryan start to look like he did in 2012?


  • Aside from wondering whether Drew Brees’ neck is stretched like a giraffes’ after the hit from Ahmad Brooks* last week, the Saints themselves have been pretty consistent. The defense has been outstanding and the offense—even with Jimmy Graham’s injury issues—has been solid, albeit not as high-flying as in years past. Their only blemishes have taken place on the road—a loss to the New England Patriots and one to the New York Jets. This is the first of two road games. Can they keep focused?

image via CBS Atlanta

  • Are we watching a changing of the guard in Atlanta’s receiving corps? Roddy White has definitely been slowed by age while Harry Douglas has routinely performed at a high level despite little help against opposing secondaries. This will be another tough test but a good game and we may have witnessed a baton being passed.

*Special note of thanks to Footballguys boss Joe Bryant for the Brees gif—he had it in his “Random Shots” column this week.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Case Keenum’s Mad Scramble and 42-yard Touchdown Pass

GrahamBirdOftentimes choosing which play I break down is difficult. We can pick out a dozen plays on any weekend and make an argument for or against breaking any of them down.

Sometimes they leap right out at you.

Two plays did that this week, but by now we’ve all read enough about the Carolina-New England pass interference penalty (and a wide open Danny Amendola) to have our fill.

The other play not only was amazing on its own merits, but even more so in the face of the benching of the quarterback involved later on.

Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum has looked very good since taking over for an imploding Matt Schaub in keenumWeek 7. Since then he has completed 55.5 percent of his passes for 992 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception.

Considering he was undrafted in the 2012 NFL draft and spent that year on the practice squad, that’s pretty impressive.

As was his scramble and touchdown pass.

The play took place on a 3rd and 1, with 12:09 left in the second quarter.

The Oakland Raiders are clearly thinking run and with Ben Tate and a fullback lined up in the backfield as well as an extra tight end to the right side.

Another tight end, Garrett Graham, is to the left and behind the line of scrimmage.  The Raiders have a defender on him because he could go either out on a route or block easily.

It’s a tight offensive formation, built to run and the Raiders react accordingly, with ten players in the box, eight of which are on the line of scrimmage.

Graham goes in motion though, pulling a defender with him to the right side of the formation. Again, this absolutely signals run to the defense as the formation is now heavily stacked to the right side.

Graham Route

Even when the ball is snapped, the offensive line blocks to its left, away from the way the runner would go, thereby selling the run even more.

Keenum snaps the ball and instead of handing it off, drops back.

Graham ignores the defender in front of him and appears to move to the second level to block.

With Graham going out, defensive end Lamarr Houston plunges into the backfield unchecked and Keenum is forced to leave the pocket very early.


While Houston is chasing Keenum down, the quarterback keeps his eyes downfield, clearly looking to throw if he can. He gets outside quickly too—Houston is immediately a step behind and therefore is at a bad angle of attack.

The result is that when Keenum cuts towards the sideline, Houston can’t react quickly enough and dives at the quarterback, hoping to trip him up.Keenum Dodge

He misses though, and Keenum is able to get to the sideline, set and throw the ball downfield.

Meanwhile, Graham, having also ignored defenders at the second level, has gone out on a “fly” route and managed to get behind veteran free safety Charles Woodson.


Now that All-22 Coaches film is out, Wodson’s actions become much clearer, as I assumed they would.

On the play, Graham’s route stops at about the 25-yard line., where he turns a bit towards the right sideline. Woodson is about five yards beyond him and closer to the sideline and both players drift back towards the play as Keenum scrambles.

Once Keenum eludes Houston, Graham turns and sprints upfield. Woodson, who has moved towards the play sees this and tries to turn, stumbling as he does so.

That momentary delay allows Graham to get to top speed before Woodson can accelerate.  All things being equal, Woodson does an excellent job catching up to Graham and the pass.

Woodson he goes from five yards behind Graham and catches up to him, though that is also in part because Graham slows down to catch the ball.

However, he doesn’t get there quickly enough and Graham makes the catch for the touchdown.

Graham Separation

The play is the result of some great work by the quarterback. Keenum doesn’t panic, doesn’t try to force something. He scrambles, keeps his eyes downfield looking for Graham and then decisively delivers the ball when he see Graham break free.

Of course, it’s help by an over-committed Raiders run defense, but we shouldn’t take anything away from the excellent play by Keenum.

Which makes his benching for Schaub all the more perplexing.

He did throw an interception early but he was hit while he threw, resulting in a wobbly and off-target pass. It was also his first interception this season.

Keenum also fumbled the ball in the third quarter, though Graham recovered it.

It could also be that before he was yanked, he had directed three series where he went three downs and out. When he was removed the Texans were behind 28-17, but at that point doesn’t the defense hold some responsibility? They’re the ones letting up 80-yard touchdown runs.

However, those are the moments you want to find out about your young quarterback. Can he bounce back? Can he lead the team from behind?

Instead you stick in a quarterback who had been horrendous when starting this season and manage to show that with one more pass attempt, he can throw for less yards.

Keenum gives you mobility Schaub will never have and while he is young, brings a poise to the pocket which was lacking prior to his first start.

Coach Kubiak is unimpressed by your antics Keenum....

Coach Kubiak is unimpressed by your antics Keenum….

It’s hard to look at the game completely and see what head coach Gary Kubiak was seeing, or understand why Schaub was plugged back in.

Did they lose every game Keenum started? Yes, but looking at his run, that’s as much an indictment of an under-performing defense as it is Keenum—perhaps more of one.

Keenum will get the start but we got no real clarity from Kubiak’s explanation of going to Schaub, so it’s not beyond belief that it could happen again.

If he does, it might be Kubiak—not Schaub—who gets booed by the crowd and yelled at by Andre Johnson.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.



Chalkboard: Dallas Cowboys 2 Minute Drill vs New Orleans Saints


I nearly called this, “How to Telegraph Every Play in a Panic.”

Because the more you look at the Dallas Cowboys’ 1st half 2-minute drill last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the more you wonder how it a team with so much time on the clock can sabotage themselves.

Near the end of the first quarter, Dallas was trailing New Orleans 21-10. The Saints had just scored a touchdown but there was plenty of ballgame left and the Cowboys had 1st and 10 at their own 20 yard line after the ensuing kickoff.

In order to fully set the stage, you need to know a few other details.

At this point in the half, quarterback Tony Romo had thrown for 12 yards on six attempts. Running back DeMarco Murray had been much more effective with 11 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Also, the Cowboys would get the ball back at the start of the second half.

While the Cowboys trailed by 11 points, there was ample time to get going.

You wouldn’t have known it by what happened on this drive.

1-10-DAL 20

(1:32) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to J.Witten to DAL 28 for 8 yards (C.Lofton).
1stdwn_1 copy
Now, as announcer Chris Collinsworth mentioned in the broadcast, the formation Dallas is in here is the one they used to beat the Minnesota Vikings the previous week.
The thing is, the Saints’ defense is much better than the Vikings this season and more than likely they’d watched the tape of that drive. Also, there should be a different mindset driving 80 or 90 yards with 2 minutes to go in the game versus less than 2 minutes to go in the first half.
Still, the play is a good start. The receivers on the right run vertical routes, which clears out the underneath for Jason  Witten, who cuts outside and away from his defender for a nice 8-yard gain (highlighted in green again).
1stdwn_2Now the flipside to this—and the staff should have seen this—is that every receiver is well covered. With an empty backfield, the Saints can just lay back and wait for the inevitable throw and what’s more, the safeties can hover and wait to see where Romo is looking. They don’t have to worry about the running back eating up yards.
This will come up again shortly.
2-2-DAL 28 

(1:09) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short middle to T.Williams (C.White).
The Cowboys set up for second down in the exact same formation, including the empty backfield.
2stdwn_1Now, with the time left, you can understand not using Murray out of the backfield on a run.  Dallas has no time outs and can’t burn much clock.
By the same token, not having Murray back there at all once again opens things up for the secondary, especially the safeties.
Dez Bryant is up top and runs a “go” route, while Witten is lined up off the left tackle and runs a “post.” In the slot between them is Cole Beasley who just runs a short hook.
On the right side of the line, receiver Dwayne Harris also runs a short hook.
The green highlighted route is rookie Terrance Williams, who is lined up on the far right outside. Williams had been targeted twice to this point, but had no catches.
Unlike the first play, which utilized the outside receivers to clear traffic away for the underneath route, Williams’ route takes him right into the middle of the defense.
There are no receivers clearing out the area and because there is zero run threat, the safety is just hanging out there waiting on the pass.
The above screen grab has the defenders general area of coverage in red, with the relative area of effect for the receivers in yellow.
Romo has a great option—two in fact—but either has predetermined Williams is the guy to go to or completely misses both Witten (wide open just past the 40 yard line) and Beasley (open short).
It’s possible he saw Beasley and opted to not go short, which given the time is understandable to a point.
How he missed Witten is a mystery—until you look at the All-22, particularly the end zone angle.
Romo2ndDown3At most, Romo throws a cursory glance towards his left, more of an attempt to look the safety off than a check to see if anyone was open.
Going back to the previous screen grab, you can see that Bryant is perfectly covered up top (with one safety in place to help) and Harris is equally covered on his short hook.
Williams is not open either and is bracketed by cornerback Corey White low and a safety over the top.
That doesn’t stop Romo who is lucky he isn’t picked off by White or the safety, Rafael Bush.
Even if Williams had made the catch, he’s in the middle of the field with no time outs.
Witten is open along the side and could have easily made the catch and continued out of bounds. Or you might as well have run the ball, picked up the first and hurried up to the line. Just like you would have if Williams had caught this ball.
3-2-DAL 28 

(1:04) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short middle to C.Beasley (C.White).
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
An empty backfield, five wide receiver set. The defense is once again able to allow their safeties to hang back and allow the play to form before needing to react.
Keep in mind that at this point, not even thirty seconds has elapsed. The Cowboys have no timeouts, sure, but the Saints do and the Cowboys are not managing the clock.
An efficient offense could move the ball, including runs and short passes, without timeouts. We see guys like Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers do it all the time and sometimes they even run the ball.

There is no efficiency in this drive, no working the sidelines, no moving the chains. So here they are on 3rd and 2, and in this situation they chose to just try to get the first down on a short slant to Beasley.
As they were clearly not trying to hit a home run, why not have Murray in the backfield to give Romo more options, give the defense more to think about it or perhaps even give the ball to your running back, who has been averaging 7.3 yards-per-carry.The play itself features three deep routes, Witten on an “in” route and Beasley on his slant.Once again though, the routes of the other receivers don’t help clear the way for Beasley and, in point of fact, Witten’s route brings up a defender into the area Beasley is going into.Theoretically, the idea might have been that Witten pulls coverage with him in the opposite direction Beasley is going in while the vertical routes open up the sideline.Witten doesn’t run his pattern quick enough or Romo hurries the play. He certainly had time to let Beasley get a bit further on his route, enough time for Witten to pull his defender away.3rddwn_2Either way, the pass is deflected by White again and the Cowboys are forced to punt.Not even 30 seconds have elapsed. The Saints get the ball back on their own 31 yard line with 53 seconds left and then show the Cowboys how to run an efficient offense.Sure, they have timeouts to burn, but they attack the inside, don’t get cute and concentrate on picking up yards.If you give Brees a minute and three timeouts, you get this.SprolesTD4If you want to know what the tipping point for this game was, folks you’re looking at it.Although there is a strong argument to be made that poor playcalling and obvious formations by the Cowboys in the plays leading up to the Saints’ last first half possession played their part.Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

What We Saw: Indianapolis Colts 30, Tennessee Titans 27

image via NFL.com

The Colts once again fell behind and looked dead at halftime, but this time they were able to pull the plane out of the tailspin in time to win.

There were some questionable choices by the Colts coaching staff, but Andrew Luck, after a rough first half, led them to a victory.

The Tennessee Titans just couldn’t close the deal and while they made it close, didn’t hold the lead and didn’t have enough time to score what they needed.

This loss probably killed their playoff chances—at the very least it put the chances at death’s door.

What did we learn about the two teams in question Thursday night?

  • The Tennessee Titans got away from their gameplan at halftime. While it’s evident that Indianpolis dud make some adjustments, the Titans just stopped trying to move the ball on the ground. In the first half, Chris Johnson ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Meanwhile, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw the ball just 12 times. In the second half, Johnson ran the ball just four times for six yards while Fitzpatrick threw the ball 16 times. That’s backwards. When you have an explosive offense like the Colts on the ropes, you drain the clock. The Titans didn’t do that and paid for it with a loss.
  • Trent Richardson continues to be awful and continues to draw carries. Aside from taking carries away from Donald Brown, who does more with them, Richardson is getting targets in the pass game and led the team in targets, catches and yards in the first half. What’s weird is, Richardson was catching the ball well and then the Colts decided to get away from it completely. After five catches on five targets, he never saw another target. He did get seven more carries, while Brown got 10 more. With a 5.7 yards per carry average, you’d think Brown would get more focus, but he doesn’t. First round pick or not, expensive acquisition or not, it’s time to bench Richardson.
  • Andrew Luck is a lot of fun to watch. He does have moments where you are reminded that he is still just in his second year of NFL play, but you also see a player who is cool in the pocket and very, very good. Luck will continue to always give the Colts a chance to win, whether or not they deserve it. That’s what makes a franchise quarterback and tonight we were reminded how good of one he is.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans

image via NFL.com

Both of these teams are going to want to load up on the mouthwash to get rid of the bitter aftertaste of last Sunday’s losses.

The Colts didn’t expect to get manhandled by the St. Louis Rams for sure. And one can imagine when the Titans woke up Sunday morning, a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars wasn’t on their to-do list.

Yet here they are, hoping to get right on Thursday night.

Both teams are still in the playoff hunt and both had a rough Week 10.

Here are three things to watch for tonight’s game.

image via StampedeBlue.com

  • The Colts’ defense was beat up by Kellen Clemens and Tavon Austin last week—two guys who haven’t really given teams the willies when lining up across from them. Not only did they allow Austin 138 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just  three targets, they had just two sacks and two quarterback hits. The Colts defense isn’t as bad against the pass as the No. 19 ranking indicates. They’ve accrued 24 sacks and eight interceptions so far. It’s a good run defense (No. 7 overall). They seem to be able to hold the bad teams down but the good teams kill them. How will they do against a middle-of-the-road team?

image via FantasyBuzzer.com

  • We continue to watch the emergence of Kendall Wright with great interest. If you haven’t heard—and unless you’re a Tennessee Titans fan or writer, you probably haven’t—Wright has been very consistent no matter who his quarterback is and unlike Richardson, is becoming a player worthy of his selection spot (20th overall in 2012). He can gain separation, is dangerous after the catch and willing to go across the middle. The offense around him isn’t all that great, and Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm doesn’t spell great things for it, but Wright is becoming a bright spot in a somewhat disappointing season. Can he keep it up against a decent Colts defense?

image via Washington Post

  • Andrew Luck has been a bit up and down this season—providing great moments such as when he outplayed Peyton Manning in Week 7 as well as brutal moments, such as the three interceptions he tossed last week against St. Louis. It almost seems as if he is following a two-good-one-bad pattern right now. He just finished the cycle with a poor outing last week after two solid games prior to that. Will he bounce back with a good game against a Titans defense ranked eight in the NFL against the pass with more interceptions generated (8) than touchdowns allowed (7) and which has totaled 25 sacks so far this year?

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings’ Run Blocking

ADCoverThere’s no doubt that Adrian Peterson is one of the greatest running backs of all time and we saw more evidence of that Thursday night against Washington.

As good as Peterson can be though, he’s even better when his offensive line is blocking. During long stretches of Thursday night’s game, that wasn’t the case, but really that just highlighted how good he was.

And how much more impressive he is when the blocking is there.

Today, we’ll break down two of Peterson’s big runs from Thursday night.

18-yard Touchdown Run, 5:17 1st Quarter

This run was largely one which happened because of Peterson’s speed and elusiveness. Once he was at the second level, tacklers just couldn’t get a bead on him.

That said, for several runs prior to this Peterson had been struggling because the offensive line just couldn’t make the blocks he needed.

On this play, he got the sort of support he got more frequently during his 2012 NFL campaign.

Peterson lined up well in the backfield with fullback Jerome Felton set forward and to his right and quarterback Christian Ponder under center.

Tight end John Carlson and receiver Greg Jennings are also to Peterson’s right—the formation is heavily weighted right.

ADTDrunpresnapAt the snap, as announcer Mike Mayock mentions, center John Sullivan steps forward to engage the defensive lineman directly in front of him.

ADTDrun1stblockThere are a few things also worthy of note but not brought up on the broadcast. The left side of the line—left tackle Matt Kalil and backup center/guard Joe Berger do an excellent job sealing off the rush on that side and clearing the run lane.

Wide receiver Jerome Simpson (near the bottom of the screen) also gets out and sets up a nice block.

Sullivan passes off the defender he initially engages in to right guard Brandon Fusco, then steps out to pick up an incoming linebacker, Perry Riley.

ADTDrunLaneBoth sides of the line do a really nice job creating space, though Peterson himself shows off his vision and ability to “get small” in order to get through the sliver of space in front of him.

Once he gets to the second level, Peterson cuts the run outside to his left and turns on his speed. A few bad angles by tacklers later and he’s chalking up his eighth touchdown.

16-yard Run, :41 1st Quarter

Another solid example of good blocking came at the close of the 1st quarter.

The Vikings were on their own 43-yard line on second down with five yards to go.

Peterson had just caught a pass for five yards and the Vikings were driving down the field attempting to respond to a Washington touchdown.


The Vikings went four wide, spreading the defense and trying to keep them from stacking eight or nine men in the box in case Paterson ran. Peterson is the lone back, with no blockers or anyone else in the backfield save Ponder, who is in the shotgun.

Spreading the defense out gives the offensive line a better advantage in numbers—with receivers on either side of the line going out, there will only be the front four of Washington’s 4-3 clogging up running lanes.

The linebackers will probably initially hold off to drop into coverage, only stepping up when Peterson is well on his way to the hole.


As you can see after the snap, the offensive line does a great job of holding off the pass rush, save for Sullivan who has a little bit of an issue with his buddy from the touchdown run, Perry Riley.

Save for that, though, you can see that the line is firing out and has the defensive line on it’s heels. And since the defense was spread out, there is a spare offensive lineman—guard Brandon Fusco.

As you can see on the screen-capture, Fusco immediately gets to the second level and is in perfect position to throw a block at either of the linebackers there—both of whom are still hesitating to make sure the hand-off really happens and isn’t a play-action.

You can also see receiver Greg Jennings just off the left tackle, moving out as if going on a route. That holds a linebacker in place but also will allow Jennings to block for Peterson momentarily.


Sullivan shoves Riley out of the play as Peterson heads to the “6” hole, just off the right tackle, where receiver Joe Webb is blocking as well.

Note that Fusco and Jennings are now about to engage the linebackers in preparation for when Peterson reaches the second level.

As it stands, there is nobody in position to stop him the running back from doing so either.


Once Peterson gets through the hole, the blocking up ahead by Fusco and Jennings—as well as the receivers on the far edges of the play—allow him to have multiple choices and angles to take the ball.

This is where Peterson is most dangerous, at the second level with open space. He’s a pain to bring down at or behind the line but when he has space and speed he’s an absolute nightmare.


With a safety coming up to fill the gap to his right, Peterson wisely follows his blockers, which gives them about six more yards before he is brought down.

There’s a lot that Peterson can do on his own, but the difference between when he has to, versus when he has solid blocking is phenomenal.

When the Vikings offensive line can fire out and hit their blocks, Peterson goes from “dangerous” to “potentially lethal to the opposition.”

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.



What We Saw: Washington at Minnesota

image via NFL.com

Amazingly, losing to Minnesota didn’t wipe out Washington’s chances to win the NFC East and continue on into the playoffs.

That’s right, a 3-6 team is still in the playoff hunt! If Dallas loses to New Orleans while Philadelphia loses to Green Bay—both entirely possible—they’re just two games behind the division leader.

Minnesota is not that lucky.

This is a game which was far more entertaining than people expected even if it wasn’t Oregon-Stanford.

What else did we learn Thursday night?

image via USAToday.com

  • Apparently running Adrian Peterson is a good thing. Who knew? Certainly not offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave before last night. Don’t get caught up in Peterson’s 3.8 yards-per-carry fool you—he ran incredibly well despite multiple defenders in the backfield and his 18-yard touchdown run in the first was just one of a ton of incredible runs Thursday night.

image via SI.com

  • Musgrave, by the way, continues to show no inclination to adjust his offense to make things easier on his quarterbacks or take advantage of the talent around him. Aside from usually limiting Peterson to 13 carries this year, Thursday night saw the continued squandering of rookie Cordarrelle Patterson’s incredible ability after the catch. While it’s likely that Patterson is still learning the playbook and improving his route running and positioning—remember he only had a single season of FBS (formerly Division 1-A) in college— he can clearly handle simple screens, outs and slants. Yet here we are, just after Week 10’s game and the offense is just as vanilla as it was in Week 1. Last year we wrote it off because of injuries to Percy Harvin and Christian Ponder struggling. This year? Those excuses shouldn’t fly.

image via WashingtonPost.com

  • Over the last four games, Washington’s defense has collapsed at some point in the second half every single time. That they are 2-2 in that stretch is a testament to Robert Griffin III and the offense, the incompetence of whomever they were playing or blind luck. Someone needs to tell the defense you play four quarters at the NFL level. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett seems to be making anti-adjustments in the second half and teams are finding ways to crack what should be a solid defense.

image via USAToday.com

  • It’s said in every column so you’ve heard it before but Griffin needs to stop playing like he’s Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton. He doesn’t have the build to take the hits those guys do. He’s built like a sprinter—they are built like running backs. He has been running smarter but is still far too prone to taking big hits he shouldn’t.

image via KSTP.com

  • The Vikings have to be frustrated with Ponder’s dislocated shoulder since they still don’t know what they have in him. That said, they spent the money on Josh Freeman so expect to see him in Week 11 so they can figure out if he’s worth keeping. He’s now been in Minnesota long enough to have a grasp of the playbook. It’s not like it’s a complex offense, right Mr. Musgrave?

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: Washington at Minnesota

image via NFL.com

It’s safe to wonder if the Minnesota Vikings are a bit deflated after the collapse which cost them the win against the Dallas Cowboys last week.

At the same point Robert Griffin III and the whole Washington team seems to be on the upswing and, in a division which is a tire fire (even the New York Giants are technically in it) that momentum could well propel them into the playoffs after a start which looked disastrous.

Here are three things to watch tonight in the game.

  • Is it possible for Minnesota offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to get less creative? We already have a situation where the plays seem to be so bland that armchair linebackers across the NFL fanbase can call them out. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson is admittedly raw, but tremendously dangerous with the ball in his hands. Yet the team can’t seem to find ways to get him involved more than two or three snaps. They don’t seem to be able to do much than the most basic plays across the board. That’s on Musgrave and if he wants to keep his job, he should try to show us more than we’ve seen so far.
  • Can Washington’s defense hold onto a lead? Last week they let San Diego back into a game that should have been sewn up. The week before that, they beat on Denver for three quarters only to collapse in the fourth. They’ll lead Thursday night against Minnesota—perhaps from the very first quarter. But it;s not how you start, it’s how you finish and the last few weeks, the defense hasn’t been finishing strong.
  • Both quarterbacks come into the game with questions circling them. For Robert Griffin III, it’s the continued concern he came back too soon and still plays in such a way as to beg to end up hurt again. Can he start playing a bit more safely, get out of bounds and avoid the big hits? Meanwhile Christian Ponder has not really improved since taking over for Donovan McNabb in 2012. He still makes one read and pulls the ball down far too often. Perhaps the microscopic improvement is, in part, due to Musgrave’s lackluster playcalling but all too often Ponder gets impatient and pulls the ball down when he shouldn’t. Thought that’s better than when he forces the ball into excellent coverage.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: How Andy Dalton Got Sacked in OT against Miami

DaltonSafetyCoverWhile it’s been a week since the Miami Dolphins upset the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football, a lot of the actual game has been lost in the tumult of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin imbroglio.

The play we’re looking at today is the one which ended the game—the sack by Cam Wake of Andy Dalton in overtime.

This had not been Dalton’s best game—all the more shocking given the tear he had been on the previous few weeks. Dalton seemed out of sync with his receivers, held the ball too long and made some very poor decisions when he did get the ball out.

The Dolphins did an excellent job keeping him under pressure.

In overtime of the 20-20 game, the Dolphins had pinned the Bengals back on their own eight yard line. Dalton had thrown two incomplete passes before the final play. Miami brought five pass rushers on the first play, but only three on second down, choosing instead to blanket the receivers.

After two failed passes, Dalton was faced with a 3rd-and-10 in his own end—not the best situation to be in. We can debate the wisdom of the first two plays all we want—personally I think they were questionable at best—but regardless, the Bengals were in a hole.

The Bengals, having to throw, set up with four receivers wide and Cedric Peerman the lone running back.


Meanwhile, the Dolphins aren’t trying to hide anything—they’re coming for Dalton, hard. He’s going to need to get the ball out quickly if he’s to avoid a fatal sack.

On top of that, the secondary is largely playing well off the receivers. They don’t care about the short pass on 3rd-and-long—they don’t want to get beat deep.

In the end the Dolphins only rush five, but the Bengals’ offensive line is immediately on its heels.

Wake slides over to engage with second year guard Kevin Zeitler.


Zeitler holds him up for a moment—


—but then lets Wake break inside.


Instead of controlling and maneuvering Wake where he wants him to go, he allows Wake to dictate where his path will be. Leaning into the block as Zeitler does, he lacks the leverage to hold Wake and on top of it, he hasn’t shifted with Wake and is no longer in front of him.


Since we don’t know the call and responsibilities on the field it’s hard to kill Zeitler too much—he might have expected help from Peerman, who stepped up to the right to hold off another incoming Dolphin.

However, his technique looks pretty shoddy and he was just plain overmatched by the quicker and stronger Wake.

Meanwhile, Dalton may have very little time to react to all this, but he compounds Zeitler getting beat in several ways.


First of all, Dalton is very clearly looking left for either A.J. Green or Mohamed Sanu.


It’s probably Green, since Sanu is open very quickly and Dalton is obviously waiting for whomever he is looking at to break free—Green is well covered during the play. On top of it his route takes him right into the teeth of the coverage covering tight end Jermaine Gresham.

It’s safe to assume that perhaps the read is Sanu and that Green and Gresham are supposed to clear coverage out. Again though, this play needs to come off quickly and Dalton needs to see up front that there is no way he will have the time to wait for that play to develop.

postsnapYou can see Dalton is sacked and all three receivers are still covered.

While he’s staring Green down, he’s also missing Marvin Jones open across the middle.


It could be that by the time Jones really got separation that Dalton is already about to get creamed by Wake, but I question the logic of going deep—a pattern you have to wait on—when you’re at your own eight yard line in an obvious passing situation.

It seems to me—and of course, this is speculation—that Dalton would see Wake and the Dolphins preparing tobring the house and adjust to a quicker route.

Get the first and keep going down the field. You have time, there’s no need to go for it all.

Of course, we can ask a similar question of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. You have six minutes. Why go for it all on every down?

This was one of the worst series of play selections I saw all weekend and I still can’t figure why anyone would call the plays Gruden did in that position.

The second, and more important point is, Dalton cannot take that sack. Even if he thought he was out of the end zone, he has to get rid of the ball or move out of the pocket.

He has a second—albeit a split-second—where he can step to his right and stretch the play out.


Instead he turtles and gives up the sack.

The best case scenario is you end up punting from the one. The field position—and here again is the problem I have with the play selection—is going to be great for the Dolphins.

You can’t do that in overtime. You just can’t.

Well, you can—but it ends much like it did in this game.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.