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Blog Entry

Coach Killers, Week 19: Drops, picks and sacks

Posted on: January 17, 2012 12:05 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 12:08 pm
 
Coach Killers is your postseason look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that ends Super Bowl aspirations and begins "So, where should we vacation?" discussions.

By Ryan Wilson

Jacoby Jones, T.J. Yates - Houston

Jacoby Jones is the easy choice here because in the time it took him to try to field a punt with his face, he swung the momentum in the Ravens' favor. The Texans' opening drive led to three points, and the defense had forced Baltimore to punt on their first possession. Then Jones happened. (To his credit, he fell on an Arian Foster fumble later in the game. It doesn't make up for his first-quarter punt but it's something.) But he's not the only reason the Texans lost.

Jones had a long day in Baltimore. (US PRESSWIRE)
It's probably unfair to call out Yates here; he's a rookie who played collegiately at a basketball school that had never produced a starting NFL quarterback. His 2011 destiny was to spend the season running the scout team during the week and sitting comfortably on the bench on Sundays.

Then Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart were lost for the season, the Texans' playoff hopes didn't seem far behind, and the offense was suddenly Yates'. And he played beyond everyone's expectations. Which is why we don't feel quite so bad for name-checking him now.

Against Baltimore, he was 17 of 35 for 184 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. And if Yates had found a way to complete just one of those picks to someone not wearing purple and black, the outcome of this game could've been different. In fact, midway through the final quarter we actually had this thought: What if Yates leads Houston to a win (easily the biggest in franchise history)? No matter what happens in the conference championship, he's now entered Matt Flynn airspace.

Which is to say: assuming that Schaub and Leinart are both healthy by training camp, the Texans could try to trade Yates to a QB-needy team and make a nice little profit on the transaction. (We figured they might be able to get a third-rounder out of it; not bad given that Yates was a fifth-round afterthought last April.)

But that daydream was short-lived. Ed Reed's ball-hawking abilities quickly brought us back to reality and guaranteed that come August, Yates will return to a backup role. For the time being, anyway.

Green Bay 'pass catchers'

Easily the worst-performing bunch of the weekend and it's not close. It's easy to blame rust as the culprit but it could be something much simpler than that: the Packers were off (Hey, Occam's razor). They also have terrible timing.

Bad hands and worse timing for Packers. (Getty Images)
Whatever the explanation, unless Mike McCarthy has a time machine, the fact remains that Green Bay's season is over and it's primarily because their usually sure-handed receivers dropped eight Aaron Rodgers' passes.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lori Nickel pithily recaps what happened at Lambeau Sunday.

"James Starks, Tom Crabtree, Greg Jennings, (Jordy) Nelson and (Jermichael) Finley all had drops. Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant and John Kuhn all lost fumbles."

Nelson was dumbfounded after the game.

"For everyone to do it in the same game," he said. "I don't know . . . I don't want to say it's contagious. But it sure looked like it today."

Finely was more practical. "Trying to do too much," he offered. "We were trying to look upfield, trying to get the YAC, but first you've got to catch the ball."

However you choose to explain it, it was a horrible showing for a team that won 15 games in 2011. Silver lining: Somebody's getting something really nice with the Best Buy gift cards coming their way.

Denver offensive line

Any conversation about the Broncos invariably begins with Tim Tebow. But that's no different than at any other point in his career going back to high school. Tebow is many things to many people, and for Denver, for now, he's theirs starting quarterback. Even following a forgettable performance against the Patriots, seven days after his most impressive showing in two years in the NFL.

But Tebow's final line -- 9 of 26 for 136 yards, 5 rushes for 13 yards, a lost fumble and 10 measly points -- isn't just the latest example that he's a fullback who is occasionally asked to throw the ball.

We've documented in great detail his progress this season. Has Tebow evolved into a franchise quarterback in 13 weeks? No, of course not. But the Broncos learned quickly that the best way to make this relationship work is by accentuating what Tebow does well (the college offense Tebow ran at Florida) and throwing the rest of the playbook in the incinerator (the pro-style offense the team ran with Kyle Orton).

But it's not just Tebow who has to grow into this system, it's his teammates. Specifically, the offensive line, at least based on their performance Saturday. In general, the unit performed well this season, particularly when Denver ran the ball. According to Football Outsiders' metrics, the Broncos' o-line ranked 11th in run-blocking in 2011 but 29th in pass protection.

Clearly, some of that falls on Tebow, who struggles to make correct presnap reads, or work through his progressions after the snap. But against New England, the Broncos had 15 plays that lost yards -- both running and passing (including sacks).

This doesn't mean that Denver needs to overhaul the entire unit. But if the plan is to build an offense around Tebow and the option game, they need to find players that best fit that scheme.

New Orleans secondary

Jenkins' day was much longer than Jacoby Jones'. (AP)
There's plenty of blame to go around, on both sides of the ball, but underwhelming performances by Roman Harper and especially Malcolm Jenkins gives the secondary the edge. Harper was the closest player to Vernon Davis on his game-winning touchdown grab, and afterwards, the 49ers said that they noticed on film that Harper's tendency was to drop several yards into the end zone but never step up to the goal line. Davis ran to the goal line, Alex Smith hit him with a laser, game over.

But a lot had to happen before Harper even got the opportunity to let Davis make the play. Linebacker Scott Shanle never redirected Davis as he came off the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Martez Wilson just missed tipping Smith's pass.

Jenkins, meanwhile, served as Davis' metaphorical punching bag. The poor guys at Canal Street Chronicles relive the horror to provide the play-by-play breakdowns in those fateful final three minutes. The final breakdown was Harper's; the other two are courtesy of Jenkins' inability to stop Davis.

As Brinson wrote in Sorting the Sunday Pile, "You might want to pick on Roman Harper for getting worked over by Vernon Davis in the end zone on the final touchdown, but Jenkins is the reason the Niners even had a shot. First there's the teardrop Alex Smith dropped over Jenkins into Davis' outstretched arms before his now famous touchdown run. Then there's Jenkins coverage on Davis across the middle when he picked up 47 yards on the 49ers final drive. Burnt toast anyone?"

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