Five from Sunday: Week 11 demarcation line, look backs, wondering why

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Week 11 in the NFL ends the bye weeks and also separates teams into winners and losers as it relates to the playoff races. Teams with six or more losses at this point realistically have to run the table, and I can safely say that isn't happening.

It was make-or-break week for many teams. A look back from 2009-2011 tells the story. In those three seasons combined there were 40 teams at the Week 11 mark with six or more losses and one made the playoffs, the 2009 Jets. That means there is a .025 chance of making the postseason based on the last three years.

Six teams entered this weekend with 4-5 records and their backs to the wall. All six played their hearts out knowing the consequences of a loss. The three that won I selected to win in my "Seven for Sunday" picks segment, and the three that lost I picked to lose. Cincinnati, New Orleans and Dallas got to 5-5 and stayed alive. Detroit, Arizona and San Diego recorded their sixth losses.

Arizona had the lead 19-16 in the fourth quarter and played well; Detroit also had the lead in the fourth quarter 20-14 and couldn't hold on. The Chargers got to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter but couldn't close. This is a very competitive league and the margin of victory is ever so slight, but six losses tells the story.

A look back at Seven for Sunday

A couple of things I wrote about going into the game included the Cam Newton formula, the Pittsburgh formula, a big weekend for rookie quarterbacks, projections on the presence of Aqib Talib in New England and my game predictions.

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The Cam Newton formula calls for Cam to not throw an interception. In the past, when he was interception-free, he was 8-3. He avoided a pick Sunday and lost anyway, so now he's 8-4 when interception-free. The formula called for less than 35 passes to predict winning. He was 8-5 when throwing less than 35 times and 0-11 when he threw more than 34. Again he was in the safe area with 29 throws and lost anyway. As for running the ball, his success is somewhat tied to running. He was 6-5 when he ran for 50 yards or more in a game and 2-12 when he didn't. He missed the 50-yard mark by 10 yards so the run equation held up. In this game, Cam did his part and had a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter when the defense couldn't stop the Buccaneers.

The Steelers went 3-1 without Ben Roethlisberger in 2010 by running the ball for 133 yards a game, throwing the ball 21 times a game and holding teams to 12.5 points a game. In Sunday night's loss to Baltimore they ran for 134 yards (right on target), held the Ravens to 13 points (right on target) but threw the ball 39 times. The one Roethlisberger-less loss back in 2010 was to Baltimore, and that history repeated itself. By the way, Joe Flacco's third straight win in Pittsburgh hasn't been done since 1967 when Bart Starr and the Packers did it.

New England's trade for Aqib Talib paid immediate benefits in his first game when he broke a 14-14 tie with a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown. His presence opened up the opportunities for more pressure calls and kept Reggie Wayne under his 103.4 yards a game receiving average with 72 yards and no touchdowns.

As for my game picks on Pro Football 360, I got lucky this week going 11-1 on Sunday, missing on the Jets–Rams game. Next week I could go 1-11, who knows, but it is fun for a day.

Another tight end day

Last week I pointed out that tight ends had 116 touchdowns in the first 10 weeks, the highest total for tight ends through 10 weeks in NFL history. They didn't stop there as tight ends grabbed another 15 touchdowns this week to make it back-to-back 15-touchdown weeks in the league. We still have MNF to add to this total. In 13 games this week, tight ends have been targeted 192 times and caught 125 passes. Tight ends are making a big impact on the modern game and it is only growing.

Why?

Things I wondered about during the Week 11 games that caused me to say ... why? It's not that I disagreed with all of these points but it sure made me strike up a conversation with Bill Cowher, Dan Marino, Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason when they happened.

1. Why keep DeMarcus Ware on Joe Thomas when rookie Mitchell Schwartz was on the other side?
2. Why bench John Skelton when the team was up 13-0 and put in an inexperienced rookie QB?
3. Why would the Jets even play Tim Tebow on offense after his two rushes for -5 yards and his one completion for -1 yard?
4. Why did the officials call the tackle on Joshua Cribbs a horse collar play when it was clear it was the long hair not the horse collar that was used to tackle Cribbs? It is legal to pull a guy down by his hair.
5. Why was the Dallas defense so late getting on the field when Brandon Weeden threw the touchdown pass to Ben Watson that gave the Browns a 20-17 lead with 1:07 left in the game?
6. Why wasn't the incompletion call on the Miles Austin slant pass in overtime not ruled a catch-and-strip fumble? It was clear Austin took three steps after the catch. It's hard enough to defend the passing game without that kind of call.
7. Why did the Jaguars go for it on 4th-and-10 on their own 47 in overtime instead of punting the ball?
8. Why didn't the Cardinals win after intercepting Matt Ryan five times and forcing a fumble?

Transition football

Transition football is when in the middle of a play an offensive player becomes a defensive player and vice versa. It happens when a defender intercepts a ball or picks up a fumble. Immediately the offensive players become the tacklers and the defenders become the blockers and runner. Back when there was time to really practice all aspects of the game, teams spent time on the transition game. This week was a good example of how much this aspect of the game is deteriorating.

There were six interceptions and a fumble returned for touchdowns and the offensive players turned defenders looked hopeless. To date there are 45 interception returns for touchdowns with six weeks and 97 games to go. Last year there were 49 interception returns for touchdowns all year and the last three-year average was 51 interception returns for touchdowns.

Blocked punts can also be considered transition plays when a rush unit blocks a punt and tries and pick it up and score. We had another blocked punt this weekend and now have 16 for the season. Last year there were nine all year. We have already witnessed seven blocked punts for touchdowns. In the last three seasons there were 4.3 per season. The lack of practice time is showing up here as well.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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