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Row12.com - A Community of Sports Writers and Fans!                                               ***Attention Writers***
Week 11 Observations
By Matt Horkman

Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy ate Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan for lunch. The former No. 2 overall pick dominated the Falcons’ offensive line for the tune of three first-half sacks. He set the tone for what was clearly Tampa Bay’s most impressive performance of the year.

In the first quarter of Philadelphia’s victory over Washington, head coach Chip Kelly had running back LeSean McCoy loop out of the backfield to get him isolated one-on-one with Ryan Kerrigan. It’s difficult to imagine a safety covering McCoy in space, let alone a 260-pound pass-rushing linebacker. Nick Foles delivered a perfect pass and the Eagles had an easy 49 yards. The play setup Philadelphia’s first touchdown.

Sometimes the zone blitz is your own worst enemy. Down by 10 and facing a third-and-1 situation, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford found tight end Brandon Pettigrew for a 31-yard gain. Pettigrew was wide open because Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau dialed up one of his famous zone blitzes. The problem with the zone blitz, however, is that it leaves open voids in the secondary. The Lions did an excellent job of picking up the blitz, allowing Stafford to find Pettigrew. Detroit would score two players later.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played a superb game, but he still wasn’t without errors on the day. With a chance to tie the game at 27, tight end David Paulsen was open in the end zone after a play-action fake. Roethlisberger’s throw sailed on him, though, costing the Steelers an easy touchdown.

Maybe it was the conditions, but Detroit running back Reggie Bush put the ball on the ground twice against Pittsburgh. The Steelers recovered one fumble, though they missed an opportunity to challenge the other. Regardless, Bush’s ball security landed him on the bench, as Joique Bell assumed most of the workload early in the second half. Bush didn’t become a factor in the game again until Bell left with an injury.

Halftime adjustments often decide the outcome of a game and that was on display as Pittsburgh defeated Detroit. In the first half, wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught six passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. In the second half, Johnson didn’t catch a pass. The Steelers outscored Detroit 17-0 in the second half.

San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh made two awful first-half challenges. The first was a challenge of whether New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees crossed the line of scrimmage on a short pass completion. Replays clearly showed both Brees and the ball behind the line of scrimmage, so either Harbaugh got bad information from upstairs, or he made a decision based on emotion. The second came on an incomplete pass in the end zone, when wide receiver Jon Baldwin was unable to complete the process of the catch going to the ground. Replays clearly showed this was the case. I can’t emphasis the replay element enough. Neither call was controversial. Harbaugh challenged them anyways, though, and cost his team two first-half timeouts. 

On San Francisco’s only second-half touchdown, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the entire San Francisco offensive line did a great job of selling sweep on the play. Kaepernick, however, pulled up and delivered a strike to tight end Vernon Davis in the end zone. The fake quarterback sweep was a nice play design from Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Sean Payton’s brilliant use of his timeouts attributed to New Orleans’ last-second defeat of San Francisco. Payton combined an aggressive nature with amazing clock management. Every coach should pay attention to what he did. The Saints ran a draw on third and long to setup Garrett Hartley with a field goal. Instead of letting the clock run to the two-minute warning, Payton took a timeout with 2:11 remaining. During the telecast, Joe Buck questioned the timeout. He would later presume Payton didn’t want Hartley -- who is having an inconsistent season -- to kick after a long break following the two-minute waSean Paytonrning. Buck was wrong, though. Payton was saving time in case New Orleans got the ball back. Hartley made the kick to tie the game with 2:06 remaining. As was accustom throughout the game, the kickoff was a touchback, so no time ran off the clock. San Francisco had to run a play before the two-minute warning, as a result. You could argue this was also saving time for the 49ers, but they were going to have at least two minutes and a timeout remaining. Time wasn’t much of a factor in their case. Regardless, the Saints sacked Kaepernick on first down, and Payton again called a timeout with 2:01 remaining, forcing the 49ers to run another play before the two-minute warning. Two plays later, Kaepernick inexplicably ran out of bounds on a third and long, allowing the Saints to keep their last timeout. The 49ers had to punt the ball with 1:48 remaining. Because of Payton’s clock management and Kaepernick’s mistake, the Saints got the ball back with a 1:41 remaining and one timeout. I can’t remember the last time I saw a coach use his timeouts as wisely as Payton did. He deserved the game ball.

Kansas City wide receiver Dwayne Bowe got away with pass interference on his six-yard touchdown reception. Normally, if a wide receiver extends his arms, officials will call offensive pass interference. By my judgment, Bowe extended his arms enough to warrant a penalty.

Facing the best pass rush in football, the Broncos allowed zero sacks. In fact, the Chiefs never even knocked Peyton Manning down. Denver offensive tackle Chris Clark is filling in for all-pro Ryan Clady, who is out for the season with a foot injury. Clark’s been heavily scrutinized, but the backup tackle deserves immense credit for holding Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali to three tackles. In the end, Kansas City’s inability to hit Manning (as Indianapolis did) was the difference in the game. 

On a crucial third-and-1 play in the third quarter, New England almost stopped Carolina running back Mike Tolbert behind the first-down marker twice. However, after correctly filling the hole, New England linebacker Brandon Spikes failed to tackle Tolbert. His missed tackle allowed Tolbert to bounce outside, where he stiff-armed New England safety Devin McCourty, and dragged him pass the first-down marker. Five plays later, Carolina scored their second touchdown of the game.

Both Tom Brady and Cam Newton were magnificent on Monday night. Brady even completed 13 passes in a row. The two starting quarterbacks especially rose to the occasion in the second half. In the final 30 minutes, the duo combined to complete 27-of-39 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Brady did throw an interception on the controversial last play of the game, though. Still, it was fun to watch the future (Newton) match the present (Brady) at just about every turn.

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