Game Notes: Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens, Bills

This off-season, we spent some time watching each and every NFL team again, trying to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses with players we might have missed in the rush of the regular season. The intention was to feel more confident in our analysis for what turned out to be our biggest player profiles ever.We spent more time on some teams than on others, and even the teams we spent the most time on we were only able to watch a handful of games. But we thought it might be cool to publish a series of blogs detailing what we saw from the teams we watched with our raw notes.

These notes were never intended for publication, so forgive grammatical errors or the occasional poor language. Nor were they intended to be comprehensive, or definitive takes on fringe players (especially WRs, who are difficult to watch on TV angles). We simply thought it’d be a neat way to show a little extra insight into some of the players that we might not have felt like we had a great grip on this season.

Arizona Cardinals

Week 2 – @Was

Kevin Kolb
- Really tough to watch in this game…didn’t see him set his feet and deliver a ball until his 4th attempt.
- We talk about a guy like Josh Freeman struggling to maintain consistent mechanics, but at least Freeman has the arm strength and ability to make the occasional off-balance throw. Kolb will throw off his back foot and just lob the ball into the air.
- 3rd-quarter INT just a terrible decision. Kolb rolled out and threw into four defenders. Inaccurate throw and poor decision. Kolb doesn’t have the attributes to make a dumb throw like that.
- Cards needed to use shotgun to help him get into a rhythm.
- Touchdown throw to Fitzgerald was fantastic. Kolb moved away from backside blitz and delivered accurate ball while getting blasted, 73 yards. Perfect example: Kolb CAN deliver a ball while under pressure… problem was he didn’t feel the pressure this time and didn’t panic. Can he do that when he KNOWS he’s going to get hit?

Beanie Wells
- Missed protection assignments in play action… this is a big-time gaffe with Kolb at QB because he’s so reactive to pressure.
- Poor receiver… doesn’t look natural at all, poor hands.
- Took game over as a runner in the second half. His change of direction is strong, smooth, and natural. Maintains speed when he sticks his cleat in the ground. No wasted movement, contrast between Wells and a guy like Roy Helu evident in this game. He’s just not consistent.
- Effective out of the shotgun… gains a head of steam and moves forward.

Larry Fitzgerald
- Non-factor in first half, got him going early in the second with quick passes.
- Cards love to move him around. They finally took a shot to him late in 3rd quarter for 24 yards. Just ran down seam and found void in the zone, good route.
- Hilariously burned CB DeAngelo Hall with Sluggo route on 73-yard TD. Wide open, Kolb delivered strike.

Andre Roberts
- They’ll bring him out of the slot.
- Needs to get more consistent catching the ball, let a perfect Kolb throw go right off his hands.
- Most of his work comes on quick slants, screens, and out routes.

Early Doucet
- Can take a hit and stay on his feet, a valuable asset in a slot receiver.

Jeff King
- 21-yard TD came on busted coverage, looked like MLB went wrong way, he was wide open.
- Slow, deliberate. He’s a backup TE.


Atlanta Falcons

Week 2 – Phi

Matt Ryan
- At this point in the season, Falcons still a run-first team.
- Ryan was clearly uncomfortable with pressure in this game. Did not look calm at all, DE Trent Cole was unbelievable in this game.
- Made poor reads, perfect example: INT by Asante Samuel.
- His play improved throughout the year… at this point, Falcons did not look like a playoff team. He was terrible.

Michael Turner
- Vintage Turner game… Falcons ran him at the Eagles until they wore down, then he got his holes.

Roddy White
- Didn’t notice him much in this game… function of Ryan struggling + good defense in the secondary? He was asked to win one-on-one matchups.

Julio Jones
- This game is a perfect example of why Julio struggled early in the season. He couldn’t run routes or help his QB who was clearly struggling. Didn’t “set up” the corners to help out his QB.
- Improved on these things later in the season, presumably. His emergence coincided with Ryan’s strong play in the no-huddle.
- He’s very vertical… straight-line deep speed and crossing routes. Effective on those plays that put him in a position to get YAC because he doesn’t move as well laterally… he won’t, in the open field, face up on a defender.

Tony Gonzalez
- This guy is still incredibly dangerous against a safety. Totally victimized Jarrad Page in this game.
- Falcons will utilize two TEs against teams they think they can exploit in the deep secondary.


Baltimore Ravens

Week 2 – @Ten

Joe Flacco
- Under pressure, uncomfortable the entire game.
- Threw off balance too often, missed receivers when they did gain separation.
- Rushed throws.
- Ravens tried to get Flacco comfortable by moving him out of the pocket and using him in shotgun often.
- INT in 1st quarter was a bad throw to Lee Evans. Alterraun Verner undercut out pattern, Flacco locked onto him from the start, never made another read, and underthrew ball. Had Boldin open underneath in slot for a first down.
- A lot of one-read throws for Flacco, Cam Cameron clearly simplifying things.
- Inaccurate on long and short throws, struggled to get the ball to Rice on some checkdowns.
- Anticipated pressure led to some rushed throws.
- Clearly has some pocket mobility, but you wonder if he uses it correctly. Can improvise and make plays at his best, but can put himself off balance at his worst.
- Inaccurate even when he had time, missed Evans on deep ball in 3rd quarter.
- Really poor game against a defense that played well. Missed throws and rushed others.

Ray Rice
- Titans swarmed him most of the game.
- Ravens ran up the gut with him a lot… it wasn’t effective early as the Titans collapsed the line of scrimmage, Titan D line dominated in the run game.
- Ran into contact a lot, don’t expect that of Rice… didn’t use his lateral agility as much as you might hope.
- Flacco inaccurate on checkdowns.
- Was clearly more effective when the Ravens got him to the perimeter.
- Incredible individual play on 31-yard TD. Ravens set up a basic screen, and Rice just ran through tackles. He’s typically designated as a speed guy, but he is really physical.
- Not a dominant game, but played well against a strong defense.

Anquan Boldin
- Apparent that he struggled to gain separation.
- First catch of the game came midway through 2nd quarter. Ravens motioned him from near side slot to far side slot against zone, good throw by Flacco between defenders for 16 yards.
- Only three catches came against zone coverage, all nice throws by Flacco.
- Dropped 4th quarter TD on hit by LB Barrett Ruud, probably was an uncalled hold on CB Cortland Finnegan.

Lee Evans
- Nonfactor in this game. Flacco missed him early on a 3rd down when he had to rush a throw and was off balance.
- On his second target, ball was picked off. Evans not running full speed with bum ankle, CB Verner took risk that Evans wouldn’t burn past him and undercut out pattern, poor throw by Flacco. Verner read him the entire way.
- Flacco had Evans open deep twice… overthrew him against man, hit him for 32 yards between defenders in Cover 2.

Ed Dickson
- Dropped pass when popped by Finnegan… Finnegan a physical player, plays bigger than his size. Titans will line him up anywhere, on this particular play he was lined up in the slot in zone, drilled Dickson with a perfectly timed hit
- Ravens will line him up in the backfield on passing situations, getting him into the flat.

Dennis Pitta
- When Flacco had to make a second or third read, Pitta often seemed to be the guy he was going for. Pitta will make catches when Flacco has to improvise.


Buffalo Bills

Week 2 – Oak

Ryan Fitzpatrick
- A ton of shotgun. Clearly a design by Chan Gailey to get Fitz comfortable behind rough offensive line.
- Bills a ton of 4- and 5-wide sets. Making up for lack of dynamic talent with volume of weapons. Fitzpatrick comfortable chipping away.
- Inconsistent thrower. He can zip it in there, but he also will lose the grip on a throw or two, resulting in a duck that can be picked easily. Several examples in the 1st half.
- 2nd quarter INT by Stanford Routt… no idea what Fitz was looking at. Routt came off of Johnson and undercut the post route, Fitz must have just completely ignored him.
- Effective against the blitz with quick throws.
- Really reminds you of Tony Romo, in mentality, mobility, and inconsistency.
- Game-winning 4th-quarter drive trademark Fitz. Quick, short throws, some of them perfect, others ill-advised. Got away with some potential INTs, but delivered when it counted. Mentality is ideal for a “clutch” QB… he is not afraid to mess up.

Fred Jackson
- Big 34-yard run in 1st quarter example of how Jackson is patient while still not tentative. Allowed TE Chandler to pick up blitzing LB then cut it up inside into huge hole.
- Ran a lot out of the shotgun. Very effective in this setup.
- 43-yard TD run in 3rd quarter – once again Chandler motions into backfield and makes a key block. Jackson does the rest, nothing sudden in space but he makes the right moves to get himself room. Great vision. Not a guy you’d call elusive. He kind of glides… almost reminds you of Arian Foster.
- Bills split him out wide on final drive.
- Most of his damage in this one came with a second player in the backfield… either TE Chandler or WR Nelson.

C.J. Spiller
- Spent a lot of time in the slot.
- Longest three plays (12, 18, and 26 yards) came when both he and Jackson were in the backfield in some capacity.

Steve Johnson
- Clearly Fitz’s preferred target. He forces the ball to him. And goes to him against the blitz.
- Completely owned S Jerome Boyd on 7-yard TD. Jerk route double move in red zone. Good example of how he can create space in red zone by gaining just a little separation… not elite size or speed but good understanding of routes and good feel for the field.
- Always seems to have a “halo” of space when he catches a ball. Function of strong routes in short area. Good after the catch.

Donald Jones
- Along with Stevie, almost exclusively perimeter player.
- Made key play to knock INT away from CB Chris Johnson on last drive. Bad throw from Fitz on fade pattern.

David Nelson
- The Bills’ “motion” guy at the WR position on offense. They’ll line him up everywhere and try to get him an advantage with his size.
- All his damage in the passing game came out of the slot, often as the innermost WR in trips – Gailey loves him here.
- His only play on the final drive in which he was on the perimeter was game-winning TD. He motioned inside pre-snap and found void. Wide open.
- Bills actually motioned him into the backfield in shotgun and used him as a lead blocker for Jackson multiple times.

Roscoe Parrish
- Team clearly lost something without him… big YAC potential on WR screens. Probably the big reason Spiller played WR middle of the year, Fitz didn’t have that guy after Parrish got hurt.

Scott Chandler
- Strong blocker. Bills will motion him into the backfield on run plays, and he’s an aggressive blocker – will go head on into a rushing LB. Sprung Jackson on long 1st quarter run.
- Good block on Jackson’s 43-yard TD run – once again out of the backfield.
- TD catch in 4th quarter was a bad throw by Fitz. S Branch just missed the ball. It should have led Chandler high… instead it was behind him and low. Not taking advantage of his size, Bills got lucky.
- Not a player who is going to gain separation from a S or even a LB. His advantage is entirely in his size and strength.
- Wasn’t even targeted in this game outside of the red zone. “Traditional” TE.

Week 4 – Cin

Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Fearless in the pocket.
- Accuracy is extremely erratic.
- Sometimes puts a little too much into passes, throwing his whole body into it.

Fred Jackson
- Jackson split out wide early in game.
- Moved around the field, plenty of action out of the shotgun.
- Kept his legs moving, drives forward.
- Makes sharp cuts and has exceptional vision. Just always moves forward and stays on his feet. Never quits on runs.
- Patient at the goal line, avoids traffic, bounces outside to walk into end zone.
- Incredibly versatile, good all-around player. Does everything right.

C.J. Spiller
- Bills doing nothing to get him into space in this game.

Steve Johnson
- Deceptively quick. Not a burner, but really took off after making a catch down the seam, beat Kelly Jennings to the inside and picked up 44 yards.

Brad Smith
- Bills ran a well-designed screen with him, where he cut inside from a bunch formation out of the slot… Can change directions quickly.

David Nelson
- Good downfield block on big play for Stevie Johnson
- Strong hands, nice job on hard throw by Fitzpatrick to catch the ball away from his body and bring it to his body.

Scott Chandler
- Certainly not explosive, but ran a nice route over the middle and adjusted to the ball for a diving catch.

Week 16- Den

C.J. Spiller
- Noticed in this game that the big Spiller runs came out of three-wide… he’s tough to defend when a defense is in nickel and they can’t plug holes as effectively.
- Tashard Choice came in on 3rd sometimes and red-zone… why? Trust issue?
- Effective in zone running, a lot like Jackson. Is he more similar to Jackson than we thought? Maybe why he couldn’t get on the field early in the year?
- Breakaway speed… he plays fast. Ran past LBs and safeties.
- Also capable of making guys miss. No real wasted movement in this game. For instance, I thought he looked a lot better than the version of Reggie Bush we’re used to watching.
- Even with Jackson out, occasionally lined up at WR. Makes defenses account for him at all times.
- In this game, I thought Spiller was actually tough to get to the ground, relative to his size. Kept his feet churning, ran through arm tackles.
- Bills run zone with “wham” block from TE a lot. Out of the shotgun.

Category: Joe Dolan

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