From the Film Room - Week 16
by Sigmund Bloom
December 19th, 2012

Every week, I'll review every play of three games to give you the underlying storylines and points from beyond the box score that you need to get an edge in your fantasy league.

Washington Redskins / Cleveland Browns

Observations on Washington

It's just one game, but what an outing for Kirk Cousins. He was off early, but not afraid to test the defense downfield, which resulted in a pick returned deep into Washington territory and a 1 for 6 start for the rookie. He immediately followed up with a bootleg deep throw into triple coverage for a long score and just got better from there. Cousins executed his play fakes and bootlegs crisply like a veteran, and the Browns defense was off balance all day. He did miss a few throws as the game went on, but mostly Cousins was quick and accurate with his throws, and never afraid to throw into small windows. His pump fake was effective and he was excellent and locating receivers quickly after turning his back to the defense on a play action fake. Cousins hung in the pocket to take a hit in the name of a completion, and he was very athletic on his scrambles when nothing was open downfield. He was comfortable and did everything with intent and conviction. It's just one game, but it sure looks like Cousins has a good future as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Alfred Morris was thwarted by the Browns front most of the day with good penetration and tackling, but his effort never diminished and he was able to score by getting yards after contact. His vision is also excellent, and he is not afraid of taking a ton of punishment. There's no rookie wall in sight, as Morris's superior stamina kept him just as strong in the fourth quarter as he was in the first. Even though he never broke out for a long run, the Browns focus on him allowed play action passing to work with ease, so Morris gets a big assist in Cousins' success, too. Were it not for a short break inside the five, Morris might have had three scores. He has fully arrived as a fantasy RB1.

Pierre Garcon was pretty well neutralized by Joe Haden, but Cousins was up to utilizing all of his secondary receivers. He threw a deep score to Leonard Hankerson in triple coverage (that Hankerson of course had to catch twice before he reeled it in). Cousins found Logan Paulsen to help ice the game in the fourth quarter. Santana Moss was excellent on crossing patterns, and he was bailed out on a fumble deep in Cleveland territory in the fourth quarter. Josh Morgan ran tough after the catch. A liability is turning into a strength with the Redskins quarterback play and game planning getting everyone involved.

Observations on Cleveland

If you only knew that one rookie quarterback in this game went in the first round, and one went in the fourth, you would swear Weeden was the fourth-round pick. He had a few good moments, like a perfect deep ball to Travis Benjamin, a nice throw with a defender hanging on him early in the game, and a few other throws downfield with a clean pocket and open receivers. Otherwise, Weeden was a mess against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. He stared down receivers, failed to patiently go through progression, often looked out of sync with his receivers, and otherwise was uncomfortable for most of the game. Most of his completions were checkdowns, and Weeden appears to be at least stagnating, if not going backwards right now.

Trent Richardson's burst and quickness are diminishing under his heavy workload, but his strength and determination are intact, and they earned him one incredible touchdown with about three Redskins hanging on him. Richardson was effective early, but the Browns went away from the running game in the second half. His vision and change of direction were valid and correct, but he's just not sudden or dangerous in the open field right now. Richardson is a boom/bust RB2 at best next week vs. the Broncos.

Greg Little had one drop late, but he did a better job getting open downfield than Josh Gordon has established himself as a solid starter for this offense. Gordon was successful on crossing routes, but not much more than that, although he was an ankle tackle away from a big gainer. Benjamin looks like a nice speed threat from the slot. His separation speed was effortless, as we've seen earlier in the season. The Browns receiving corps has been revamped, now they just need the quarterback and passing game plan to make good use of them.

Pittsburgh Steelers / Dallas Cowboys

Observations on Pittsburgh

The Steelers ran a completely Ben Roethlisberger-centric offense in this game. Most snaps, even running plays, were out of the shotgun. Roethlisberger was patient and on target for most of the game. He used his pump fake to manipulate the defense and move defenders out of position . One of his two touchdowns will go on his all-time highlight reel. Roethlisberger held the ball for at least four or five seconds, spun away from pressure, had a patented pump fake that was really an aborted attempt when s defender jumped into the air to block the pass, and then finally found Heath Miller for a score in the last minute of the first half. Roethlisberger did take a few sacks on the Steelers' last chance to win in regulation, including one that was inexplicably on a play action fake in the final two minutes on second and 18. Yes, his interception set up the game-winning overtime field goal, but the Steelers would have had no chance to win without Roethlisberger.

Isaac Redman was superior to Jonathan Dwyer with two “refuse to go down” runs, but appeared to have a foot/ankle problem at the end of one of the runs. I wonder if he has been 100% all season. He might a surprise starting running back for the Steelers in 2013 if they don't land a big name in the draft or free agency.

Emmanuel Sanders got banged up and once again could not hold the ball on a big hit over the middle. Antonio Brown was mostly used in the short passing game. Despite a couple of big punt returns, Brown was the goat on special teams with a fumble in the fourth quarter that gave the Cowboys life, and then a “no doubles” set up 60 yards from the line of scrimmage on the next punt that surrendered 20 yards of field position. Mike Wallace did get behind the Cowboys defense for a key play and had another nice catch and run on a quick hitter, but he also was outcompeted for the ball in flight on another deep shot and didn't have a major effect on the game outside of his bomb. He'll be a very interesting player to watch in free agency when someone other than the Steelers breaks the bank for him.

Heath Miller was a force in this game, finding all kinds of room in the middle of the field against the Cowboys' inexperienced inside linebackers. He and Ben Roethlisberger have uncanny chemistry, with Roethlisberger always leading him upfield in stride with a chest high throw. There's no reason to think that his numbers this year are a fluke.

Observations on Dallas

Tony Romo has his occasional meltdown game, but he is overall a very underrated quarterback. He was on target all day, keeping plays alive in unlikely ways as much as any quarterback in the league. Romo keeps his eyes downfield on the move and reloads into throwing mode instantly after eluding pressure. He was especially in sync with Miles Austin and should continue to be a solid fantasy QB1 for a while.

Demarco Murray's burst and agility improved from its level during the first two games that he was back. He was finding cutback lanes, including on his touchdown run, and mostly just running hard until someone tackled him. A few of his best runs came after he ran into blockers and kept his legs churning to find a lane to get outside. Murray did have an early fumble inside the Steelers' 10 and was mostly stacked up on his runs, but that was more on the Cowboys offensive line than a lack of ability on his part. He's back to being an RB1 this week vs New Orleans.

Miles Austin looked as good as he has in years during this game. He must be close to 100%, because his burst, strength, and ups are all in top form. Romo even successfully went to Austin on three straight throws on one drive. Their timing is impeccable and Austin is doing a terrific job getting the high passes and otherwise locating the ball quickly out of his breaks when it is in the air. Dez Bryant, on the other hand, was clearly struggling with his attack on the ball in flight, with at least three drops, even though the team went to him repeatedly in the red zone. Bryant did get open for one score and he was still very tough to bring down after the catch, but he won't be the same player until his finger is healed.

In the meantime, Dwayne Harris is a player to watch. He took short passes and ran with great elusiveness, strength, and burst after the catch, with plays that charged up the crowd and Cowboys offense. Harris is a dangerous open field runner who can break tackles and always has a strategy to defeat an opponent in a confrontation. He also had a long punt that would have set up a game-winning field goal attempt if the Cowboys had been able to convert one first down in the last minute of the game.

Green Bay Packers / Chicago Bears

Observations on Green Bay

Aaron Rodgers didn't really have the offense opened up for him as much as he nailed most of the opportunities he had in this game. The game was still put in his hands in the red zone, when he converted two short scoring passes to James Jones, and even in the shadow of his own goalposts, when most teams would run. Rodgers faced good pressure from the Bears early, but as the first half went on, he and Randall Cobb hooked up on downfield passes repeatedly, including one stunning play when Rodgers threw at least 35 yards downfield on the run to a leaping Cobb. His first scoring pass, also to Jones, was a thing a beauty, a perfect long ball to Jones, who had opened up a good gap on the Bears defensive back in coverage. He should feast on the Titans secondary this week.

Alex Green broke some tackles, but he still looks like a single-minded runner, who has no moves in the open field or feel around his feet to get through the trash at the line. Green has a good burst and he's strong, but he's a straight-linish runner who isn't special in any way. The Packers missed on this pick. Free agent pickup DuJuan Harris had an even better burst than Green and broke some tackles. He, too, has little wiggle, but he looked better than Green on limited carries.

Cobb's leaping catch from the running Rodgers was a key play and it redeemed an earlier dropped touchdown pass. The second-year receiver also masterfully worked the middle of the field and made some important catches to extend drives. Jones was the go-to guy when deep in the Bears end and scored on short back-shoulder and quick slant throws along with the semi-deep ball down the sidelines, but otherwise did not contribute much, and neither did Greg Jennings, who isn't really catching Rodgers eye, except on short routes. Jermichael Finley picked up the slack by presenting the big target and securing the ball, even when the pass was leading him into traffic or forcing him to extend and leave himself open to a big hit. He even had a good catch and run over the middle at a key juncture in the game. Finley is building some momentum just as he is likely to be cut and enter free agency this offseason.

Observations on Chicago

Jay Cutler never really seems to give the Bears offense any sense of rhythm or precision. He missed a wheel route deep shot to Forte with a slight overthrow, and his biggest pass of the day was overturned by an Alshon Jeffery pass interference call. I have no idea what Cutler was thinking on his interception (targeting Devin Hester), and it just felt like the Bears offense was going to stay bogged down for most of the game. They can still make the playoffs if the Vikings and Giants falter, but the Bears don't seem to have a playoff or defense right now.

Matt Forte is still just as good as ever between the 20s. He makes moves at speed with fluid athleticism, excellent vision, and a great burst. He initiates contact and wins collisions at the end of runs. Forte almost always breaks down a tackler when they meet one-on-one in the open field. He's a natural receiver and runner after the catch, and with Michael Bush out, he got a true feature back opportunity in this game. The team did however miss Bush when Forte (in an all too common sight for Bears fans) was stopped at the goal line on three straight runs. He's still a strong RB1, but Forte's lack of short yardage success keeps him from being elite.

Brandon Marshall was actually held down in this game with tight coverage. He still ran very hard after the catch and broke a tackle on his touchdown. Marshall isn't creating much separation, but that isn't stopping Jay Cutler from targeting him repeatedly. Marshall also had a fumble that the Bears recovered. Even on a down day, he helped fantasy teams win.

Alshon Jeffery had a down day, and the Bears' chances of tying the game up went with his play. First he got open downfield by pulling on Sam Shields' facemask - and Shields was called for the penalty. Then, Jeffery drew a long pass interference penalty. That was followed by a touchdown catch on fourth down that nullified by Jeffery's pass interference penalty. The Bears last gasp drive saw Jeffery make a terrific downfield catch on the sidelines, only to have a much more questionable offensive pass interference call on him erase the gain. The saga completed with a fourth-down incompletion where Jeffery was probably interfered with, but it was not called. The Bears are going to have to get plays from Jeffery with teams focused on Marshall, but they didn't come in this pivotal game.

As always, thanks for reading. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome to bloom@footballguys.com.

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