NFL Nation: Inside Slant

Inside Slant: NFL Week 4 QB Report

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:05
AM ET
video
Let's take our weekly deep dive into the Sunday performance of five NFL quarterbacks, using data supplied by analyst Jacob Nitzberg via ESPN Stats & Information. After all, the numbers don't always speak for themselves.

Blake Bortles
Jacksonville Jaguars
WEEK 4 vs. SD: L, 33-14
NEXT: 10/5 vs. PIT
WEEK 4
CMP: 29
ATT: 37
PCT: 78.4
YDS: 253
TD: 1
INT: 2
WHAT YOU MISSED

A high completion percentage that can be traced to a majority of high-percentage throws. Bortles threw 25 passes that traveled 5 or fewer yards downfield, completing 21 of them. Only three of his 37 passes traveled 15 yards or more downfield. (One was complete.) Overall, Bortles' average pass traveled 4.7 yards past the line of scrimmage, the sixth-lowest average for a quarterback in a game this season. He did complete 5 of 7 passes from outside the pocket and had a 99.0 QBR on third down after completing all eight of his attempts. (Five converted first downs.) The Jaguars' 9-for-14 performance on third down far exceeded their 9-for-37 figure in their first three games under Chad Henne. Against the blitz, Bortles completed 8 of 9 passes but for a total of only 63 yards.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Jaguars gave Bortles a menu of modest difficulty in his first start. It made sense to keep it short and get him outside the pocket when possible. Sometimes that is what a rookie needs.

Teddy Bridgewater
Minnesota Vikings
WEEK 4 vs. ATL: W, 41-28
NEXT: 10/2 at GB
WEEK 4
CMP: 19
ATT: 30
PCT: 63.3
YDS: 317
TD: 0
INT: 0
WHAT YOU MISSED

Bridgewater accumulated 246 of his 317 yards on passes over the middle and that's where he connected for seven of receiver Jarius Wright's eight receptions. Bridgewater also benefitted from 193 yards gained after the catch, including 99 by Wright. Play-action worked well; Bridgewater completed 9 of 13 such attempts for 151 yards -- better than all but four NFL quarterbacks' single-game performance on play-action this season. The Atlanta Falcons blitzed him rarely (18.2 percent of his dropbacks), and when facing four or fewer rushers, Bridgewater completed 16 of 24 passes for 228 yards.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Bridgewater's success between the numbers didn't answer pre-draft concerns about his arm strength and ability to drive balls outside the numbers. But that can wait for another day. Overall, Bridgewater performed with efficiency and accuracy within a game plan that played to his strengths and his inexperience.

Nick Foles
Philadelphia Eagles
WEEK 4 vs. SF: L, 26-21
NEXT: 10/5 vs. STL
WEEK 4
CMP: 21
ATT: 43
PCT: 48.8
YDS: 195
TD: 0
INT: 2
WHAT YOU MISSED

Foles attempted a career-high 15 passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, but he completed only two. Two others were intercepted. Of those 15 throws, 10 traveled at least 21 yards downfield. All 10 were incomplete. The Eagles struggled to protect him amid a series of offensive line injuries and he completed only 48.6 percent of his passes (18 of 37) against the San Francisco 49ers' standard pass rush. His two interceptions on such throws were a career high. Finally, Foles over- or underthrew 14 of his 43 attempts, the highest single-game total for a quarterback in Week 4.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Foles' struggles on downfield throws were in stark contrast to his 2013 performance, when he led the NFL with a 52.2 completion percentage on throws that traveled 15 or more yards downfield. His inaccuracy is also a concern; he leads the NFL with 41 over- or underthrows this season.

Mike Glennon
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WEEK 4 vs. PIT: W, 27-24
NEXT: 10/5 at NO
WEEK 4
CMP: 21
ATT: 42
PCT: 50.0
YDS: 302
TD: 2
INT: 1
WHAT YOU MISSED

Of his 302 yards, 81 percent (245) came in the second half. He completed 6 of 9 passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, including 3-for-3 in the fourth quarter, and also completed 7 of 11 passes on third down. Six of those throws converted first downs. Although he completed only two of his 10 red zone passes, one was the game-winning touchdown pass. He struggled against the blitz, completing just 6 of 18 passes for 63 yards and an interception, but diced up the Steelers' standard pass rush for 239 yards and both of his touchdown passes.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Glennon made his best throws count, and the analysis supports what the visual indicated. Glennon performed well late in the game under intense pressure, one of the most difficult tasks for a young quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers
WEEK 4 vs. CHI: W, 38-17
NEXT: 10/2 vs. MIN
WEEK 4
CMP: 22
ATT: 28
PCT: 78.6
YDS: 302
TD: 4
INT: 0
WHAT YOU MISSED

Rodgers' career-high 99.0 QBR tells you Sunday's romp over the Chicago Bears was one of the best overall games. The Bears tried to beat him with the standard pass rush that limited him in Week 3 at Detroit, but Rodgers reversed both that trend and several others. Facing four or fewer pass-rushers on 71.4 percent of his attempts, Rodgers completed 18 of 20 such passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. (He completed only 58.3 percent of such passes in Week 3.) He also hit all six of his attempts that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, for 163 yards and a touchdown, after completing only one against the Lions. For good measure, Rodgers completed all seven attempts on third down, accounting for two of his touchdowns, and went 10-of-12 on play-action plays, even as the Packers struggled to run the ball (56 net yards).

FINAL ANALYSIS

It was folly to believe the Lions exposed a 2014 antidote to Rodgers via rushing four and playing coverage against him. We must blame the Bears' defense a bit -- it only put Rodgers under duress on four of his 30 dropbacks -- but Rodgers was sharper than he has been in some time. Only five of his 28 passes were judged off target. The rest? Money.

Over the years, I've noted how the considerable heftiness of the NFL rulebook has inevitably left officials struggling to keep it all on quick recall. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight added some data to the idea last month, noting its 70,000 words is nearly three times the length of FIFA's rulebook, more than twice that of the NBA's and considerably larger than what Major League Baseball and the NHL use.

The latest consequence took place last Sunday in Cleveland, when referee Bill Leavy's crew failed to recognize that a Cleveland Browns trick play violated league rules. Leavy was bailed out when his crew caught an unrelated Browns penalty, but absent that, the Browns would have gotten credit for the kind of "hideout" play that the NFL's competition committee wants to eliminate.

A quick synopsis: Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel jogged toward the sideline after a play but stopped just short of the white line, as if he were talking to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Manziel stood at the 38-yard line with his back to the line of scrimmage.

The Baltimore Ravens didn't realize Manziel was in essence a wide receiver for the ensuing play, and at the snap, he took off downfield under Shanahan's direction. Running back Terrance West wasn't set at the snap, however, and Leavy's crew called an illegal shift penalty.

But as designed, the play was illegal -- as Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 informs any inquiring mind that wants to search for it. Offensive players can't line up within five yards from the sideline when in front of the team's "bench area," which is defined as between the 32-yard lines. For this play to have been legal, Manziel would have needed to be farther away from Shanahan -- where the Ravens would have been more likely to spot him -- and the Browns would have needed the line of scrimmage to be inside the 32.

Otherwise, the NFL considers the trick play to be unsportsmanlike conduct. You can debate among yourselves whether that should be the case, but the point is that it wasn't intuitive enough for Leavy's crew to process Manziel's position and make the connection.

To me, this is not inexcusable. It's the result of 70,000 words scrambled inside the human brain, and as you might recall, it's not the first time Leavy's crew has missed or misapplied a rule in recent years.

Moving on, this post contains two charts.

The first, to the right, is our weekly look at penalty frequency among the NFL's 17 officiating crews. You'll see that the range remains notable. If Clete Blakeman's crew has your game, you've seen less than half the average penalties as Ronald Torbert's, Tony Corrente's or Carl Cheffers' (not including Thursday night's game at FedEx Field).

The second chart updates how each crew has reacted to three major points of emphasis this season. Again, through three weeks, the range is significant. When one crew has been more than four times as active on a group of penalties as another, as the chart indicates, it's worth noting.

A 245-pound linebacker who hasn't missed a game in nine seasons powers through the line, chases down the quarterback and records the 13th sack of his career. The Detroit Lions' Stephen Tulloch is so excited that he jumps as high as his battered body will take him, bending his legs to maximize the effect. When he lands, the ACL in his left knee snaps, ending his season.

The same day, a tight end who has spent much of the past year engaged in hip-strengthening exercises catches a screen pass with no defender near him. The Baltimore Ravens' Dennis Pitta stumbles as he begins to run. His body jerks to the right and he crumples to the ground. His right hip is dislocated, a rare and severe injury that threatens his career.

[+] EnlargeStephen Tulloch
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiStephen Tulloch had been a model of durability until a freak injury on Sunday during a sack celebration.
By now, most football observers accept that injuries are unavoidable amid such a violent game. When strong men collide at high speeds, something has to give. That understanding, however, makes it more jarring to see serious noncontact injuries result from the simplest of movements. How can this happen? Are they preventable? Or does it mean the injuries were fated to happen regardless?

I reached out to a couple of medical experts to better understand what happened in each instance. As it turns out, the injuries to Tulloch and Pitta are different on almost every level. There are some interesting theories that could explain Tulloch's mishap, but Pitta's case likely relates to a similar injury he suffered last year.

Tulloch was one of the NFL's most reliable players before Sunday, having appeared in 131 consecutive games since the Tennessee Titans drafted him in 2006. Previously, he played in 34 consecutive games at NC State and hadn't missed a game of any sort since 2003. So it was confounding to see his left leg bend awkwardly upon descent from his jump. Watching the replay, Dr. Bryan Kelly -- the chief of sports medicine and shoulder service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City -- was reminded of an injury that occurs often in another sport.

"In women's basketball, this is one of the most common injuries," he said. "You see players land after they jump and tear their ACLs. … There is some thought that there is a mechanical difference in the way [women's] knees are formed that affects the geometry of the knee. The notch where the ACL is might be [different]."

Kelly hasn't examined Tulloch and couldn't speak specifically to the structure of his knee. Kelly did, however, point out that noncontact ACL injuries are more common in football than most people realize. According to statistics released by the NFL in January, 25 percent of torn ACLs (31 of 124) during the past three seasons occurred with no contact. (The figures don't include offseason work or practices.)

ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell believes it's possible that Tulloch's body wasn't as braced during the sack celebration as it otherwise would have been during a play.

[+] EnlargeDennis Pitta
AP Photo/David RichardDennis Pitta's serious hip injury threatens his career.
"When we're training athletes to come back from injuries," Bell said, "we talk about neuromuscular patterns, muscular control and dynamic muscularization. You're focused on the movement task. At some point, they reach a level where they're no longer thinking about it. The athletic firing habits become ingrained into the whole neuromuscular coordination system.

"This could all have been blind, stupid bad luck. But it's something that pops into your mind. He wasn't engaged in an athletic task. He was just being silly. You wonder if there is a delay in the reaction pattern [within the body] that makes it easier for it to happen. I'm sure some people would say that's ridiculous, but other people would say that's a component."

Pitta, meanwhile, dislocated his hip about 14 months after suffering a similar injury. Kelly consulted with the tight end last summer and thus couldn't comment specifically on the case, but he said in general that dislocated hips are "pretty rare" in sports because the hip socket is tightly built. He noted that the most famous of such injuries -- to multisport star Bo Jackson in 1991 -- occurred when the leg remained planted in the ground as Jackson was tackled from behind.

Pitta wasn't touched on Sunday when his hip buckled after a hard step upfield.

"It's rare once," Bell said. "It's really rare twice. For him to do it twice would suggest that there was some kind of mechanical issue left over from the first time. I look at that injury and see it as a perfect storm of the position he was in, with the integrity of the joint after the first injury, and some bad luck sprinkled on top."

Football is a game of violent collisions, but as we saw Sunday, sometimes there is no avoiding a random, noncontact calamity. They are unexpected -- but not necessarily inexplicable.

Inside Slant: NFL Week 3 QB Report

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
10:15
AM ET
video
Let's take our weekly deep dive into the Sunday performance of five NFL quarterbacks, using data supplied by analyst Jacob Nitzberg via ESPN Stats & Information. After all, the numbers don't always speak for themselves.

Andrew Luck
Indianapolis Colts
WEEK 3 vs. JAC: W, 44-17
NEXT: 9/28 vs. TEN
WEEK 3
CMP: 31
ATT: 39
PCT: 79.5
YDS: 370
TD: 4
INT: 0
WHAT YOU MISSED

Luck threw 39 passes and only three were judged via video analysis to be overthrown or underthrown. He completed 31 throws, had three dropped and two knocked away by the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense. These were not easy throws, either. He attempted six that traveled at least 20 yards downfield and completed all of them, the first time an NFL quarterback has thrown at least five without an interception since at least 2006. Luck completed 14-of-15 on first down and 9-of-10 on third down, eight of which converted first downs. Against the Jaguars' blitz, he completed 8 of 10 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

FINAL ANALYSIS

This was as good of a pure passing game as we've seen from a quarterback this season. Luck was accurate from all levels, completing a career-high 79.5 percent of his passes overall, and did not commit a turnover.

Eli Manning
New York Giants
WEEK 3 vs. HOU: W, 30-17
NEXT: 9/25 at WAS
WEEK 3
CMP: 21
ATT: 28
PCT: 75.0
YDS: 234
TD: 2
INT: 0
WHAT YOU MISSED

For one week, at least, Manning was a true West Coast quarterback in the New York Giants' new offensive scheme. He attempted only three passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield and all three fell incomplete, his lowest such figure since Week 14 of the 2012 season. Of his 21 completions, 19 traveled 10 or fewer yards downfield. He also released the ball an average of 1.97 seconds after the snap, his quickest in a game since at least the start of the 2011 season. Manning also reacted well when the Houston Texans blitzed a defensive back, completing 5 of 6 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown in those situations.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Manning is being asked to remake his style at the age of 33 in this new scheme. Week 3 was the first time we've seen any evidence that the transition is taking. In the big picture, that's not an unreasonable time frame.

Peyton Manning
Denver Broncos
WEEK 3 vs. SEA: L, 26-20 (OT)
NEXT: 10/5 vs. ARI
WEEK 3
CMP: 31
ATT: 49
PCT: 63.3
YDS: 303
TD: 2
INT: 1
WHAT YOU MISSED

The Seattle Seahawks limited Manning through the first three quarters primarily through a standard four-man (or fewer) pass rush that he normally dominates. He had completed 12 of 20 passes against it for just 78 yards, an average of 3.9 yards per attempt, when the fourth quarter began. (Against the blitz, he had completed 6 of 9 passes for 63 yards). But in the fourth quarter, Manning completed 12 of 17 passes for 148 yards against the Seahawks' standard rush. Why? By necessity, he pushed the ball downfield more. Before the start of the fourth quarter, Manning threw only one pass that traveled at least 20 yards downfield. In the fourth, he threw three, completing two, including the final touchdown.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Broncos had an uncharacteristically meek game plan against the Seahawks' elite defense, and they didn't really get going until Manning started driving the ball downfield. Before that point, he attempted seven screen passes (his most since joining the Broncos in 2012) and completed six -- for a grand total of 5 net yards. Manning will look at this game and wish he had been more aggressive sooner.

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers
WEEK 3 vs. DET: L, 19-7
NEXT: 9/28 at CHI
WEEK 3
CMP: 16
ATT: 27
PCT: 59.3
YDS: 162
TD: 1
INT: 0
WHAT YOU MISSED

The Lions stymied Rodgers largely by playing coverage and relying on their front four to provide pressure. Rodgers faced four or fewer pass-rushers on 25 of his 29 dropbacks, but he completed only 58.3 percent of the resulting passes at an average of 5.8 yards per attempt. Both were career lows for Rodgers against the Lions. (In his career, Rodgers has completed 67.7 percent and averaged 8.15 yards per attempt against standard rushes.) Rodgers did not attempt a single pass of at least 20 yards downfield for the first time since Week 3 of 2011, and he managed just one completion on passes thrown at least 15 yards.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Lions game put an exclamation point on what has been an unexplosive start for Rodgers and the Packers' offense. After averaging 6.0 yards per attempt Sunday, he is averaging 6.8 for the season. In 2013, he ranked No. 2 in the NFL at 8.7 yards per attempt and 8.24 yards in his career as a starter before this season. Some of that slip can be tracked to Rodgers' inaccuracy; he has overthrown or underthrown 11 percent of his passes, more than twice his career average, based on video analysis.

Drew Stanton
Arizona Cardinals
WEEK 3 vs. SF: W, 23-14
NEXT: 10/5 at DEN
WEEK 3
CMP: 18
ATT: 33
PCT: 54.5
YDS: 244
TD: 2
INT: 0
WHAT YOU MISSED

Stanton's average pass Sunday traveled 14.91 yards past the line of scrimmage, the highest mark in the NFL for Week 3 and a quantitative illustration of Stanton's aggressiveness in Bruce Arians' downfield passing offense. Against the San Francisco 49ers, he threw 13 passes that traveled at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage and 10 of more than 20 yards. Both touchdown passes traveled at least 15 yards in the air. Stanton also completed 7 of 10 third-down throws, with all seven converting a first down, and converted three first downs on all three of his non-kneeling runs.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Arians brought Stanton with him from Indianapolis for a reason: He was confident Stanton had both the arm strength and the mindset to push the ball downfield. There was no denying that fact Sunday.

MundyAlex Goodlett/Getty ImagesRyan Mundy was off to the races on the second play of Monday's game, returning an interception 45 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears an early lead.
In 82 NFL games before Monday night, Chicago Bears safety Ryan Mundy had recorded a grand total of two interceptions. So he was as surprised as anyone when New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith hit him between the numbers on the second play of the contest. Mundy returned the interception 45 yards for a touchdown, outracing speedy Jets tailback Chris Johnson along the way, and the Bears never trailed in a 27-19 victory.

Mundy, who suffered a stinger to his shoulder in the third quarter, provided some extended thoughts on the big play to ESPN's Kevin Seifert and others in the Bears' locker room:

We knew a screen play was a possibility because, like any team, they definitely have a screen selection. We didn't really expect it to come that early in the game, but when you have players like Chris Johnson and their other running backs, who are good catchers of the ball out of the backfield, you try to get them the ball in different ways.

You could tell they were setting up the screen [when Smith pumped in the other direction]. That's the design of those plays. We're playing a zone coverage, so my job is to play underneath coverage to the left, and that's where I stayed.

I don't think [Johnson] was expecting the ball. I'm not sure, but I just made my way over because I was seeing the play develop. Typically in those situations, when they see me or someone right there, they throw it into the ground. I don't know if [Smith] saw me, but he threw it.

I saw the football coming right to my face. You've got to make sure you catch it and look it in. I was in the right place, right time.

I saw Geno, and I knew he wasn't going to catch me. But honestly, I wasn't aware of who the running back was that was in the game. Anytime you have the ball on a defensive turnover, what they tell you is that speed is behind you. You've got to secure the ball. I know [Johnson] is fast.

He's definitely fast. But when the ball gets in your hands, I mean, you know. I wouldn't call what I have "scary speed," but it's like, the end zone is right there, so let me get there. I was like, please let met just run as fast as I can and make it happen. That was my first career touchdown, so that was really cool.

I had a 91-yarder in the first game last year against Dallas, all the way to 1-yard line [when playing for the New York Giants]. Who caught me? I think it was DeMarco Murray. It was kind of frustrating, because even then, when I got it to the 1, we still didn't score a touchdown. After three plays, we had to kick a field goal. So the next time I got the ball in that position, I said, "Let me score."

Turnovers are a mindset. We practice it. We work it hard. We drill it into every practice that we're going to get turnovers. Every meeting we have, we smack that football and say, "Take that ball." It's just a mindset.

It was a big play, no doubt. Anytime you come into a hostile environment, you try to do your best to quiet the crowd and get the crowd out of it. When you force turnovers and get defensive touchdowns, if you force turnovers on special teams, score touchdowns on special teams, that definitely helps.

It wasn't that complicated. I was just playing underneath coverage, and really it seemed like he just threw it right to me. So you just got to catch it and run, and that's what I did.
Among the goals of our Referee Report is to shine light on a long-held but under-reported part of the football. Namely: games can be influenced by the style of each officiating group. Penalty frequency and emphasis can fluctuate, a result of the same human element that causes strike zones to vary based on home-plate umpires in baseball.

NFL penalty totals aren't purely dependent on the officiating crew, of course. Efficiency and playing style of the teams involved factor in. But over time, I think we can get a feel for the activity level of the NFL's 17 crews by looking at the average number of penalties, both accepted and declined, they call per game.

We'll start that process now with a chart that documents the two-week totals and average of each crew. Keep in mind that there are more crews than games each week, allowing for some off days. Also, the chart doesn't include what Craig Wrolstad's crew called in Thursday night's Week 3 game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons.


What's most notable at this point is the significant discrepancy of range. Games officiated by Clete Blakeman's crew averaged less than half the penalties as those handled by the crews of Carl Cheffers, Ronald Torbert and Tony Corrente. The two-game sample is small, but there is no question that teams keep track of those figures, perhaps not to impact their game plans but at least to supplement their preparations.

If these numbers hold, of course, you can feel better about using aggressive techniques in Blakeman's games compared to if Cheffers, Torbert or Corrente had your games. (Here is a link to FootballZebras.com's unofficial but always reliable referee assignments for Week 3.)

ESPN Stats & Information's database also allows us to sort referees by penalty type, another exercise most teams perform on a weekly basis. Much of the early frequency reflects the full penalty totals at this point, but what follows is one type of trend we'll keep an eye on.

In the first two weeks of the season, there were 77 calls for defensive holding or illegal contact, two of the key points of emphasis for the NFL in 2014. Of that total, 11 have been called by John Parry's crew. On the other hand, Gene Steratore's crew has called only one, while the crews of Brad Allen and Walt Anderson have called two.

So if you're a defensive back preparing for a game with Parry's crew, you might want to curb your aggressiveness relative to a game with Allen or Anderson. We'll continue to look at and update these trends throughout the NFL season.
Zygi WilfAP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltThe indictment of Adrian Peterson was another lesson in management for the Wilf family (Mark, second from left, and Zygi, right) as Vikings owners.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It was about 2 years ago when Zygi Wilf and I were having an informal conversation in his office at the Minnesota Vikings' practice facility. It was the same room where, in previous years, Wilf had addressed his embarrassment over the team's "Love Boat" scandal, and later his concerns about a coach who kept releasing players without telling him, and later a stadium fight that threatened the future of his franchise.

"I'll tell you this," Wilf said, rubbing his forehead, "you have to really love football to do this. I mean, you have to love football. The headaches that come with it ..."

We laughed, because he and I both understood that the money is pretty decent, too. But to me, it was Wilf's way of saying that owning an NFL team comes with all sorts of unintended consequences and moments far beyond the comfort zone and interest level of even the most successful businessmen in the country.

The indictment of running back Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings' confusing and contradictory response, should be viewed as the latest in a long line of lessons in the education of an accidental owner. The Wilfs made their billions with a family-run real estate company that by definition bears little resemblance to the structure of NFL franchises, distinctions that have been made clear one incident at a time.

Few people remember that Zygi Wilf, his brother Mark and cousin Lenny never intended to be in a spot where their management style was subject to public scrutiny. They grew up as New York Giants fans whose father, Joseph Wilf, once made a run at purchasing the New York Jets.

In 2005, mutual acquaintances helped recruit Zygi Wilf into an investment group led by Arizona entrepreneur Reggie Fowler, who signed the initial 2005 purchase agreement with former Vikings owner Red McCombs. When questions about Fowler's financial backing threatened to scuttle the deal, Wilf and his family swapped places with him -- in part to salvage the group's $20 million deposit.

From the start, the Wilfs were on their managerial heels. Their initial hopes to be invested fans scuttled by Fowler's financial questions, the Wilfs tried to structure a franchise to operate independently with their occasional involvement.

The model was Garden Homes, the Wilfs' real estate company, where family members talk through issues and make group decisions. In Minnesota, it led to a three-man committee system for football operations that included the head coach, the personnel director and the contract negotiator. Zygi Wilf envisioned himself as the tiebreaker on football decisions, while Mark Wilf was considered the glue between vice presidents of finance, marketing, stadium development and legal.

That structure was appealing in theory because it removed owners from making decisions out of their expertise. But it proved clunky and inefficient while leaving the team vulnerable to issues that fall between the cracks of their internal fiefdoms.

Rick Spielman finally convinced Wilf in 2013 to verticalize football operations under one general manager role, but the rest of the organization remains structurally splintered and contributed to the team's chaotic response to Peterson's arrest.

The Wilfs are among a handful of NFL owners who don't live in their home market, but in most of the other cases, a unifying team president is on site every day. The Vikings' team president technically is Mark Wilf, who like his brother lives and works in New Jersey.

The arrest of a superstar, at a time of intense social scrutiny of the NFL, is not a matter for a general manager, a vice president of legal affairs or anyone else. It requires leadership from a unifying figure that the Vikings don't possess. Someone with the appropriate authority must take charge in that situation. The decision to reinstate Peterson on Monday was overbalanced toward football goals and was punctuated by an obvious failure to work through the problem from a moral and business standpoint.

Zygi Wilf acknowledged Wednesday that the Vikings made a mistake, and Mark Wilf expressed hope that team supporters will recognize "we are doing our best as ownership and a franchise to do the right thing."

How will the Wilfs react? It was worth noting that they were joined at their news conference by not only Spielman but also Kevin Warren, the longtime vice president of legal affairs. Is Warren in line for a business-side promotion on par with Spielman? That's a question worth asking as the Wilfs deal with the headache that is NFL ownership.

Inside Slant: NFL Week 2 QB Report

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:30
AM ET
video
Let's take our weekly deep dive into the Sunday performance of five NFL quarterbacks, using data supplied by analyst Jacob Nitzberg via ESPN Stats & Information. After all, the numbers don't always speak for themselves.

Matt Cassel
Minnesota Vikings
WEEK 2 vs. NE: L, 30-7
NEXT: 9/21 at NO
WEEK 2
CMP: 19
ATT: 36
PCT: 52.8
YDS: 202
TD: 1
INT: 4
WHAT YOU MISSED

There was a staggering inability to get the ball downfield. Cassel threw eight passes that traveled at least 10 yards in the air. Three were intercepted and all eight were incomplete. His longest completion traveled 8 yards. Cassel is 1-for-11 on such passes this season. It's the first time in at least six years that a quarterback has started in Weeks 1 and 2 without more than one such completion. ... All four of Cassel's interceptions came when in the pocket and while facing four pass-rushers. His QBR when facing standard pressure this season is 17.5, by far an NFL low.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Cassel is emerging as a quarterback who must play it safe; hope for a big-time running game to emerge -- a tough sell in this offense. Since the start of 2013, he has completed 34.3 percent of passes that traveled 15 or more yards in the air, fifth-worst among 38 qualified quarterbacks. His struggles downfield seem in stark contrast to the type of quarterback who succeeds in coordinator Norv Turner's offense.

Kirk Cousins
Washington Redskins
WEEK 2 vs. JAC: W, 41-10
NEXT: 9/21 at PHI
WEEK 2
CMP: 22
ATT: 33
PCT: 66.7
YDS: 250
TD: 2
INT: 0
WHAT YOU MISSED

Cousins got the ball downfield in a way that Robert Griffin III was unable to in Week 1. Of his 250 passing yards, only 73 came after the catch. (In Week 1, 160 of Griffin's 267 yards came after the catch.) Much of Cousins' production came outside the numbers (153 yards), and he was particularly successful throwing to his right (10-of-13 for 110 yards and both touchdowns). ... He completed all eight passes on third down, converting six, and his favorite receiver was tight end Niles Paul, whom he targeted eight times for seven receptions and a drop.

FINAL ANALYSIS

For one game, at least, Cousins proved an effective pocket passer in his debut with coach Jay Gruden. His only rushing attempt was a kneel-down on the final play, and his downfield success is worth monitoring as Griffin recovers from a dislocated ankle.

Colin Kaepernick
San Francisco 49ers
WEEK 2 vs. CHI: L, 28-20
NEXT: 9/21 at ARI
WEEK 2
CMP: 21
ATT: 34
PCT: 61.8
YDS: 248
TD: 1
INT: 3
WHAT YOU MISSED

All three of Kaepernick's interceptions came against four or fewer pass-rushers. He also was sacked twice against standard pressure. This speaks to Kaepernick taking too long to release the ball and ultimately throwing into a flooded zone. It's also worth noting that Kaepernick seemed to be pressing on first down, where he took three of his four sacks and threw two of his interceptions. His QBR on first down was 0.1, by far the worst of his career. ... His second interception resulted in the largest swing of win probability (81.4 percent to 55.5 percent) of any play during the weekend.

FINAL ANALYSIS

It wasn't all bad for Kaepernick, who completed 7 of 8 passes and rushed for 66 yards on third down. But overall, the numbers paint a quantitative portrait of what we all saw live: Kaepernick struggled finding open receivers, spent too long in the pocket and pressed when he finally released the ball.

Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers
WEEK 2 vs. DET: W, 24-7
NEXT: 9/21 vs. PIT
WEEK 2
CMP: 22
ATT: 34
PCT: 64.7
YDS: 281
TD: 1
INT: 0
WHAT YOU MISSED

Newton was excellent against the Detroit Lions' blitz, completing 9 of 11 passes for 101 yards in those situations. It was the second-highest completion percentage of his career against the blitz. ... Most of his success Sunday came on short passes; he completed 12 of 14 throws of 5 or fewer yards past the line of scrimmage and 10 of 20 passes that traveled more than 5 yards in the air. (Receiver Kelvin Benjamin did catch two passes that traveled at least 15 yards, however.) ... Newton completed his first 11 passes on first downs, keeping the Panthers in manageable down and distance for much of the game.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Smartly, the Carolina Panthers played it safely as Newton recovers from a rib injury. His short passes and just two designed runs -- tying a career low -- illustrated their intent.

Philip Rivers
San Diego Chargers
WEEK 2 vs. SEA: W, 30-21
NEXT: 9/21 at BUF
WEEK 2
CMP: 28
ATT: 37
PCT: 75.7
YDS: 284
TD: 3
INT: 0
WHAT YOU MISSED

Rivers threw just four passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield. His longest traveled 24 yards in the air. ... He threw 25 passes of less than 11 yards downfield, completing 21 and two for touchdowns. Rivers completed all eight play-action passes for a 93.8 QBR on those plays, a stark contrast to the 24.7 QBR the Seahawks allowed last season on play-action. ... The Chargers skewered the Seahawks' standard pressure, completing 22 of 25 passes for 211 yards and all three touchdowns to tight end Antonio Gates against four or fewer pass-rushers.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Rivers and the Chargers just pecked away at the Seahawks, maintaining time of possession on a hot day rather than trying to make big plays. Gates was the finisher, catching two of his three touchdowns on third down.

As the center in a complex and fast-paced offense, Jason Kelce must think quickly and run faster. As his Philadelphia Eagles drove for a game-tying score Monday night, Kelce literally couldn't get away from teammate Darren Sproles on a screen play. He found himself pinballing between bodies as Sproles -- all 5-foot-7 and 190 pounds of him -- rumbled down the field for 51 yards.

In the Eagles' 30-27 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, Sproles finished with a career-high 152 receiving yards. All but 4 of those yards came after the catch. Below are Kelce's extended thoughts about Sproles, his pairing with running back LeSean McCoy and how dangerous the Eagles are in the opening field, as told to ESPN's Kevin Seifert and others in the Eagles' locker room.

INDIANAPOLIS -- That screen, I think both of our guards were outside of me. They kind of had the outside sealed, and I thought Sproles was going to cut back, so I just turned upfield.

Sproles ran into me a little bit and was kind of waiting for me to get going. He did a good job being patient, and I ended up getting an extra guy. Really, he kind of knocked into me for the most part. I got hit pretty good, but it was enough to seal it from [the defender] making it to Sproles.

I didn't really know the guy when he first got here. I had never met him. You knew he was a good player. Anyone who watched New Orleans play knows he was a great player. I didn't really know what to expect from him in this offense, but he's been awesome since he's been here.

[+] EnlargeEagles
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJason Kelce (62) has been impressed with Darren Sproles (43) since his arrival.
I can't really pick out a particular moment when that was clear, but what you don't know until you play with him is how dedicated of a guy he is. He's a hard worker, very professional, and you see that with the way he plays on Sundays.

On his touchdown run, I'd have to go back on the film, but I think he made more out of that run than there actually was there. He made a guy miss who was unblocked. Then he made a few more guys miss and scrambleD into the end zone. So it was an outstanding run by him. I don't know that the offensive line had much to do with that one.

Getting Sproles here gave us two very dynamic backs who at anytime can take a play that really doesn't have anything and make it into a strong run for us. To tell you the truth, I don't know who is back there. Both him and Shady [McCoy] are both guys who make people miss and have tremendous vision. There's not too much of a difference between them.

They both can do everything. I don't think we're limited to certain plays with either one of them back there.

That's tough for defenses to defend. They're both good at a lot of different things. Screens, runs, draws, pretty much anything, they can do. It's great to have both of them. We can spell Shady a little bit. He doesn't have to take so many carries and get tired out.

That's part of what this offense is built on -- the ability to spread the width of the field and attack everything. So if you're going to try to pack it in, you can attack the outside. If you want to spread it out, we'll get downhill and have a good running game.
In an interview last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke of the league's "responsibility to society" and suggested it has the ability to "make a difference" through its policies and responses to instances of misconduct.

"And every day," he concluded, "that's what we're going to strive to do."

Except for Monday, I presume.

After an exhaustive two-day investigation into serious charges against their best player -- charges that ballooned into two separate cases Monday night -- the Minnesota Vikings decided there was absolutely nothing they could do. They ignored Adrian Peterson's own admissions and announced they would allow due process to take its course before ruling on his status. Because the legal timetable will extend well into next year, it's quite possible the Vikings will never have to address the issue at all.

So let's call this what it is: A blatant and obvious play to wring one more year out of an aging superstar before bidding him farewell under the guise of salary cap management and the occasion of his 30th birthday.

Naturally, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman denied that suggestion Monday during a tense exchange with reporters.

"It has nothing to do with that," he said. "It has to do with the information that we have."

Let's look at that information and compare it to the recent history of the organization.

Peterson was charged Friday with reckless or negligent injury to a child after an incident in the spring involving his 4-year-old son in Texas. In separate statements, Peterson and his attorney have acknowledged he committed the acts that led to the injuries, which have been documented by photographs.

The statements disputed only the intent of the discipline, and Peterson said: "I am not a perfect parent, but I am not a child abuser. I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him injury."

From a legal sense, Peterson absolutely has a right to due process. But in this case, it will not determine whether Peterson struck his son or caused injuries. The only question is whether he intended to injure. Let's put aside that legal debate for a moment and reiterate what we already know: Intentional or otherwise, Peterson injured his son. The resulting photographs, even Spielman admitted, were "disturbing."

Intent might be an important legal point, but as part of a league that claims it is striving every day to make a difference, the Vikings' reaction shouldn't be based solely on legal points. Can't we invite common sense, decency and just a drip of morality to the table as well? Isn't it possible to give Peterson due process while also insisting even incomplete information is enough to render some level of judgment?

We can reasonably discuss the severity of punishment required. A four-game suspension to undergo counseling is one idea I've heard. But you're not making a difference, as Goodell claims the league aspires to, by welcoming back a player who has admitted to injuring his son. Isn't that all the information necessary to render some level of judgment?

Certainly, it's more than the Vikings had when they acted decisively to keep cornerback Chris Cook away from the team in 2011 while he awaited trial for domestic abuse charges. It's more than what they knew about the assault case that led them to release a running back named Caleb King in 2012 and a domestic violence case that ended the career of cornerback A.J. Jefferson.

Spielman said those situations were "different," and he's right. None of them involved a future Hall of Fame player whose absence Sunday left the Vikings' offense lifeless in a 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots. Yes, we must plunge to the deepest levels of cynicism to understand why the Vikings are moving forward with Peterson as if nothing happened, why Spielman said they "feel strongly as an organization that this is disciplining a child" and thus not worthy of immediate action. (If the Vikings are consistent, you would assume revelations of an alleged second incident with another son won't impact their fervor for due process.)

The Vikings need Peterson on the field to compete this season, and they know it. They also know Peterson's contract gives them the opportunity to move on with minimal salary cap damage anytime after this season. He turns 30 -- far past the prime of most running backs -- in March, and barring a monster 2014 season, he seems an unlikely candidate for his scheduled salary of $13 million in 2015.

Montgomery County assistant district attorney Phil Grant has already said a trial is unlikely until next year, a timetable that conveniently excuses the Vikings from action should they -- oh, by coincidence, of course -- decide to release or trade him this offseason, as teams routinely do when superstar salaries outweigh performances.

Many will posit that football is about winning games, not constructing a morality play. Fine. But let's not allow the NFL to have it both ways. Let's not have its commissioner try to sell the brand as an agent of social change when, at an obvious and clear moment of reckoning, it reveals itself as nothing more than a mercenary of the status quo.
Procedural tweaks and a personnel overhaul bring us a fresh level of NFL officiating uncertainty in 2014. Three new referees and a total of 13 first-year officials made their regular-season debuts in Week 1, yet another reason why it makes sense to track their calls and search for trends using the vast trove of data available from ESPN Stats & Information.

We'll get to the volume of penalty calls in a moment; they were only slightly higher than Week 1 of 2013. For now, however, I thought we would examine how each referee crew called the two most notable points of emphasis penalties last weekend. Numbers from any one week could be anomalies, but over time, we can start to get a feel for how a crew might call its upcoming game.

The NFL doesn't announce crew assignments ahead of time, but Football Zebras does a reliable job of pulling together all of the information by week's end if you want to match up these figures with the assigned referee for your favorite team's game.

The chart breaks down by crew the 38 penalties, accepted or declined, for defensive holding and illegal contact. For context, recall that those penalties were called an average of 1.1 times combined per game last season. In Week 1 of 2014, it worked out to 2.4 times per game -- a notable jump but not nearly the rate of about 4.7 we saw during the first three weeks of the preseason.

Penalty rates are dependent on more than simply the whim of the referee. A team's playing style is among other critical components. If nothing else, however, we can see that the crews of Tony Corrente and Jeff Triplette were far more active than those of Brad Allen, Clete Blakeman, Bill Leavy and Pete Morelli. You better believe that most NFL teams are aware of those numbers and have taken them into account while preparing for Week 2.

The uptick in defensive holding and illegal contact accounted for a minor rise in overall penalties in Week 1 (268) compared to the first week of last season (250). As always, of course, there was significant discrepancy among the crews -- figures that will start to take on more meaning as we add multiple games to their ledgers.

The crews of Ed Hochuli (25 penalties), Carlton Cheffers (24) and Ronald Torbert (22) were most active in Week 1. (Hochuli's two-game total is 39 after Thursday night's game in Baltimore.) Blakeman (12), John Parry (12), Morelli (11) and Gene Steratore (8) called the fewest.

My plan for this season is to post this analysis every Friday morning. Stay tuned.

Aerial view of CenturyLink FieldKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCreating the kind of home-field advantage the Seahawks enjoy is not as easy as replicating the design of CenturyLink Field.
As he set about designing a new stadium for the Seattle Seahawks, architect Paul Griesemer juggled a series of requests and realities. Seahawks owner Paul Allen wanted an homage to nearby Husky Stadium, where fans are close to the field. A relatively tiny footprint mandated steep inclines to squeeze in 67,000 seats. Seattle's rainy weather prompted a metal covering that protected 70 percent of the seating bowl.

The result is a structure that provides the loudest and most effective home-field advantage in U.S. sports today. And to me, it yields an obvious question: Why aren't designers elsewhere emulating the conditions at CenturyLink Field -- accidental as they might have been, in some cases -- to give their teams a similar advantage? The question is especially significant, of course, as the Seahawks' NFC West rivals prepare Levi's Stadium for its regular-season debut Sunday night.

The answer is not as simple as the question. I've spoken recently with three designers, including Griesemer as well as architects for the San Francisco 49ers' and Minnesota Vikings' new stadiums, and found that psychology is as important as architecture in creating an in-house environment.

"What we usually find is that, above all else, people want a unique experience," said Bryan Trubey, whose HKS firm designed the Vikings' stadium, scheduled to open in 2016. "That's what we really focus on, to make a place that is so unique relative to the team that it's special. When you have a building that's absolutely and totally unique in every way, the response will be unique and there will be a connection made between the fan and what's going on in front of them. The quality of the environment -- which every community sees a little differently -- is a big key to [home-field advantage]."

In Seattle, science tells us that having a metal roof amplifies and redirects crowd noise back to the field. Positioning fans close to the field also raises noise levels. The stadium famously posted a Guinness World Record at 137.6 decibels last season, and crowd reaction has caused at least two recorded earthquakes.

In the big picture, the Seahawks have a .698 winning percentage at home and .392 on the road since the stadium opened in 2002. More recently, they've won 18 of their past 19 at CenturyLink, with an average margin of victory of 16.1 points. Griesemer, however, was emphatic in dispersing credit for those numbers.

"I don't know that we necessarily went into it thinking we would cause a record of false starts and all that," said Griesemer, of the firm AECOM. "What the fans there have made it into is as much or more as what we made it. The fact is they created this identity of the 12th man, and taken the framework of the stadium to create something special. That's one of those pleasant surprises that you like to be part of.

"If someone were to say, 'I'm going to replicate Seattle and replicate the same great game environment,' well, one plus one doesn't really equal two. You add up one plus the 12th man, and you get something more than 13.

"A lot of it comes down to how connected people can be to team and game environment. There is a lot of pride in Seattle that they can be influencers of the game. When you get that level of connection, it takes on a level of its own."

So how did the designers of the 49ers and Vikings' stadiums endeavor to create the same connection? Let's take a closer look.

Levi's Stadium

In deference to their location near Silicon Valley, the 49ers set out to build the most connected new stadium in the NFL. A custom smartphone app will allow fans to check traffic, order food, update statistics and view replays. There are also nine separate clubs to service the 49ers' high-income clientele.

[+] EnlargeLevi's Stadium
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsLevi's Stadium's open concourses will give fans a full view of the field as they walk to bathrooms, concessions and other areas.
What, then, will keep fans focused on and engaged with the game? Lanson Nichols, senior project manager at HNTB, pointed to a series of features. The 49ers will have more seats in the lower bowl -- about 45,000 -- than any other NFL stadium. Fans in the first row will be as close as 17 feet from the back of the sideline.

Most notable, however, are the open concourses that give fans a full view of the field as they walk to bathrooms, concessions and most other destinations. During preseason games, fans gathered along the rails of the lower concourse facing the field to create impromptu standing room areas.

"People really lined the edges of the concourse, the rails, standing and watching the games," Nichols said. "It brought a lot of people closer to the field. Two- and three- people deep all the way around the edges of the concourse. I think it will make a big difference in terms of people's engagement.

"You talk about noise, but you also have to talk in a larger sense about the presence of the fan. It's about giving them the ability to engage and observe and participate in what's going on on the field."

And in Minneapolis …

The Vikings' as-yet-unnamed stadium will benefit from the advantages of a fixed roof, much as the notoriously raucous Metrodome did from 1982 through 2013. About 60 percent of it will be built with a clear synthetic polymer commonly known as ETFE, and the rest will be metal.

ETFE hasn't been used much in American stadiums, but Trubey said "it's a more acoustically reflective material" than the Metrodome's fabric roof. "It should make the stadium louder" as a result, he added.

Meanwhile, Trubey's efforts to engage fans by positioning them close to the field took a unique turn. The first row of seats will be elevated an average of seven feet off field level, about twice the industry standard.

"A lot of these buildings, the first three or five rows are too low and people there can't see too well," Trubey said. "To us, that makes a critical difference in terms of how people are connected. When the first five rows don't feel connected, that really has a powerful effect on the excitement of fans all the way up. On the other hand, if the fans closest to the field are engaged, it will have a domino effect."

It would be fruitless, all three designers agreed, to copy the CenturyLink blueprints and expect an identical result. In this case, architects are like coaches. Their job is to put fans in position to impact the game. The rest is up to them.

Inside Slant: NFL Week 1 QB Report

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
10:00
AM ET
video
Sometimes the numbers speak for themselves. Most times, however, we need a deeper dive -- mixed with a bit of common sense -- to understand how an NFL quarterback performed in a given week.

The full answer can be elusive, but as in past years, we'll endeavor to get as close as possible in the weekly Quarterback Report. The vast trove of data produced by ESPN Stats & Information, much of which is used to calculate Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), will guide us. (Special thanks to analyst Jacob Nitzberg for his help in sifting through and translating the data for me.)

This season's edition will provide detailed analysis of five (or so) quarterbacks from Week 1 action. Feedback and suggestions are encouraged, either via the comments below or through my mailbag.

Quarterback: Jay Cutler
What you saw: Thirty-four completions in 49 attempts for 349 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions.
What you might have missed: All but one of Cutler's passes against the Buffalo Bills came from inside the pocket, a notable departure when you consider how good he's been when on the run in his career. Last season, his 84.7 QBR outside the pocket for the Chicago Bears ranked second in the NFL.

As it turned out, Cutler's one foray outside the pocket Sunday led to a crushing interception by defensive tackle Kyle Williams, a play that dropped the Bears' win probability from 64.3 to 43.9.

A hamstring injury limited deep receiver Alshon Jeffery to 36 snaps, and the impact on Cutler was clear. Of his 49 attempts, 33 traveled 10 yards or fewer downfield. He completed only 1 of 8 passes of at least 15 yards downfield, including none of five after halftime, and he threw his average pass 2.43 seconds after the snap. (Last season: 2.63 seconds.)

Finally, Cutler completed 41.7 percent of passes thrown to players other than Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte.

Final analysis: Cutler looked an awful lot like a West Coast system quarterback. Historically, he's been at his best when moving outside the pocket and creating chances for his downfield guys to break open.

Brady
Quarterback: Tom Brady
What you saw: He was 29-for-56 for 249 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.
What you missed: A struggle against the Miami Dolphins' standard pass rush, especially in a four-sack, two-fumble second half.

For the game, when the Dolphins sent four or fewer pass-rushers, Brady's QBR was its lowest (18.4) since 2010. He completed only 50 percent of his passes (20 of 40) and took three of his four sacks in those situations. Overall, Brady was under pressure on 16 dropbacks, his second-most in a game for the New England Patriots since ESPN Stats & Information began tracking it in 2006. His performance when under pressure in the second half: 0-for-6 with four sacks.

Not surprisingly, Brady didn't have much time to get off an accurate deep throw. He missed on 16 of 18 passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, over- or underthrowing 61 percent (11 of 18) of them. For context, in 2013 Brady missed on 41 percent of his deep passes.

Brady's performance on third down was equally weak, with three completions in 11 attempts, including none in four attempts to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Overall, eight of Brady's 12 throws to Gronkowski fell incomplete.

Final analysis: The best quarterbacks are expected to excel regardless of pass rush, but the Patriots' pass protection didn't do Brady many favors. When you're under pressure more often than you have been in years, and it's typically via a standard rush, those around the quarterback deserve significant blame.

Griffin
Quarterback: Robert Griffin III
What you saw: He was 29-for-37 for 267 yards, 0 TDs, 0 interceptions
What you might have missed: One of the most conservative games of Griffin's career with the Washington Redskins. Documenting his approach leads to some staggering numbers.

Griffin's average pass against the Houston Texans traveled 5.89 yards in the air, the third-lowest total of his career. Of his 37 attempts, 25 traveled 5 yards or fewer downfield. About 60 percent of his yardage total (160 of 267) came after the catch, and while he completed all eight of his passes targeted at receiver DeSean Jackson, six of them traveled 5 yards or fewer downfield. Of Jackson's 62 yards, 43 were after the catch.

That 267-yard total is worth further inspection. Nearly three-quarters of it (193 of 267) came in the second half, which began with the Redskins having a win probability of 17 percent and never rose above 31.6 percent. In other words, it came when the Texans were more willing to allow yards in exchange for time off the clock.

Final analysis: Robert Griffin III the pocket passer makes one yearn for Robert Griffin III the wild runner. Checking down all game only works if your team has a lockdown defense. The Redskins don't. They need more explosive plays from their quarterback, one way or the other.

Smith
Quarterback: Geno Smith
What you saw: He was 23-for-28 for 221 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
What you might have missed: A completion percentage aided by an excess of short passes, and a QBR (32.3) lowered by two significant turnovers.

More than half (12) of Smith's completions were caught either at or behind the line of scrimmage, including seven screen plays. Smith also completed 10 of 12 play-action attempts. His longest completion traveled 17 yards in the air. Meanwhile, his interception dropped the New York Jets' win probability by 11.5 points, and his fumble inside the Oakland Raiders' 5-yard line dropped it by 15.4 points.

He completed all five of his passes on third down, but only two were converted to first downs. He also took both of his sacks on third down.

One significant, positive development: Smith completed 8 of 9 passes against the Raiders' blitz after finishing 2013 as the NFL's second-lowest ranked quarterback against the blitz.

Final analysis: The Jets' use of Smith suggests he hasn't fully earned their trust. It worked at home against the Raiders, and in general is a good formula for a young quarterback in development, but it will require top-end play from the Jets' defense to support victories against teams with higher-scoring offenses.

Locker
Quarterback: Jake Locker
What you saw: He was 22-for-33 for 266 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT
What you might have missed: A notable adjustment in the way Locker was used by the Tennessee Titans' new coaching staff.

Locker didn't attempt a single pass from outside the pocket, something that never happened in 2013 and in general has been a rarity during his injury-riddled career. He acquitted himself well when asked to be a pure pocket passer, completing 7 of 11 passes on third down, converting six into first downs. His only miss? A third-and-19 in the first quarter. Overall, he converted a career-high 18 passing first downs.

Fantasy players and traditional fans alike would be interested to note that of Locker's seven passes to receiver Kendall Wright, five traveled 5 or fewer yards downfield. Receiver Justin Hunter, meanwhile, was targeted on five passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield.

Final analysis: We know Locker has the ability to scramble, but we also know he has had a tendency to get hurt. New coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense is safer for him if he can excel within its parameters. So far, so good.

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford: 'Sometimes instincts just take over'

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
12:47
AM ET
(Matthew Stafford opened the 2014 season with an exclamation point Monday night, throwing for 346 yards and accounting for three touchdowns and producing a career-high 97.5 QBR in the Detroit Lions' 35-14 victory over the New York Giants. Below are his extended thoughts, as told to ESPN's Kevin Seifert.)

DETROIT -- It's nice to put last year to bed.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMatthew Stafford scrambles and finds Calvin Johnson for the team's first touchdown.
Obviously, I didn't play as well as I could have last year. I'm not in the dark about that. I know that. I'm real with myself. I understand that there's a lot of factors that go into that, and part of that was just not playing well. It's a quarterback-driven league and you've got to play well at quarterback. I've worked extremely hard this summer to make sure I can play as well as I possibly can. Our defense set us up a couple nice times, but it was huge to get some points tonight and get our offense loose in this new scheme. On our first touchdown, I got to the line and saw the defense was in a two-shell. They rotated into single coverage, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had pretty decent coverage on Calvin Johnson. Our offensive line did a nice job pushing guys past me, and I got out to the right sideline. Their defensive end [Damontre Moore], he was scraping over the top, and I made him miss.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Calvin Johnson
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsCalvin Johnson dives for Detroit's second score.
I was trying to find Joique Bell, just to complete the ball and get the first down, but then I saw Calvin was uncovering. Everyone was kind of working toward the sideline, and he just snuck out the back. I had enough time to check back and make sure no one was over there, and nothing bad was going to happen, and then I threw it. Sometimes instincts just take over when you're on the field. That's what happened on our second touchdown. This game, if you played it on air, it would look totally different. Everyone would step in and make the perfect read and the perfect throw, and everything looks great. But stuff happens in this league and when it breaks down, you have to find ways to make plays. Calvin and I have played together for so long that he kind of knew what I was thinking. I was running away from him, but I was able to put it into a spot where only he could get it. It was tough to see from my angle, and I still haven't seen the replay, but from what I hear, he made a heck of a play to keep that ball off the ground.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsStafford's 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
I don't run a lot, and it's a fine line on when to take off. Knowing the situation in the game is a big part of it. Most of the time, I'm buying time to throw the ball down the field and get it to guys who are a lot faster than me. But sometimes, you've just got to go out and make a play, and that's what I did on the third touchdown. It just kind of happened. Pre-snap from the 5-yard line, they had a pretty good two-on-one over there with Calvin. So my first read was Golden Tate. He was there, but we had a population issue over there. If he catches it, there are too many people there. Chances are he's not getting in. Then I had Joe Fauria in the back of the end zone, but the mike 'backer [middle linebacker] was way deep in the back there. That would have been a jump ball. That's 50-50. So it's one of those things that just parted for me. I moved right, initially thinking I could find a throw somewhere. But I just kind of saw the opening and tried to run. I knew if I kept going, I was just going to get smoked. So I cut back and got in. I think a team rallies when you see a quarterback kind of stick his neck out and try to go in and get a score. It was a tough situation coming in this year, learning a new offense. It's as different as it can be compared to what we used to run. Guys have really embraced it, and I've tried to embrace it as much as I can. I want to lead these guys and it was nice to get out and put some points up.
John Parry, you're on the clock.

Parry is the referee for Thursday night's kickoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, according to ESPN's Sal Paolantonio. That puts Parry in the important position of setting a tone for the way the NFL's 2014 points of emphasis will be called in the regular season.

We all know what happened in the preseason: Calls for defensive holding and illegal contact rose by nearly five times the 2013 rate. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino predicted that those figures would regulate as coaches, players and officials adjusted, and indeed that process seemed to begin in the final week of the preseason.

It's worth noting that Parry's crew was a relatively prolific caller of defensive holding and illegal contact last season, before the points of emphasis were announced. It called a combined 26 of them in 15 regular-season weeks, tying with Clete Blakeman's crew for the most in the league.

You'll see in the chart that Parry's 2014 crew called 20 such penalties during the preseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A full penalty breakdown isn't available in the preseason, so I can't tell you where that ranked among other crews. What I can tell you is that since Parry's 2013 rate was higher than all but one referee, his increase to 2014 wasn't as severe as most.

What does that mean for Thursday night's game, which includes a Seahawks secondary that most assume is a target for the rule emphasis? To be safe, we'll put it this way: Last year, games refereed by Parry's crew averaged 1.73 calls for defensive holding or illegal contact. I'll take the over for Thursday night, but I have a hard time believing the NFL wants its signature kickoff game to be bogged down by penalties. We'll see.

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