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NFL Debrief: Seeing clearly through the snow

A blizzard livened up the NFL on Sunday. At times it was hard to see the field, but the white stuff revealed plenty about the teams playing in it.


1. It stopped snowing in Philadelphia overnight. The mercury moved up just enough to turn the tail end of the winter storm's precipitation into a wintry mix and finally rain. Any snow left in the nooks and crannies of Lincoln Financial Field and the other pro football venues in the Mid-Atlantic should be gone.

Grounds crews are not allowed to clear the snow off the field during an NFL game. That rule didn't matter. No plow crew in the Northeast had a chance against Sunday's blizzard. Nor would you have wanted them to. As soon as we had to start squinting to see Chip Kelly standing on the sideline, we were all rooting for the snow. The same stuff that used to keep us out of school and sometimes gets us a day off of work arrived right when the NFL needed it.

For the excitement-starved NFL fan, the white stuff freed us from a week and a half of Mike Tomlin's sideline soft shoe, Washington infighting and games like the Dolphins versus Jets.

2. Nothing goes right in a blizzard. It's hard to throw the ball, catch it, or move from side to side, especially when there's eight inches of snow blanketing the field. That didn't stop the Lions from executing their game plan. Matthew Stafford kept taking shotgun snaps, and the ball kept ending up on the ground. Detroit fumbled six times in the first half, losing two of them. Naturally, Jim Schwartz took an 8-0 lead into the locker room after two chilly quarters.


3. Fumbles aside, Schwartz had to feel pretty good about how things were going. They were starting drives on their own 37-yard line. Chris Houston came up with Nick Foles' first interception of the year. The Eagles finished the opening frame with -2 yards. They had a total of 90 yards at the half, and that number still feels high, whatever the game book says.

Nothing the Eagles did in the first 15 minutes worked. Two runs to the outside, a staple of the playbook, resulted in -15 yards. Philadelphia finally put a long drive together at the end of the second quarter. It ended with an incomplete pass from the Lions' 10-yard line to Riley Cooper on fourth-and-7.

4. What happens when you can't outflank an opponent? Chip Kelly did what any offensive genius would do: run the ball up the middle. The Eagles picked up 40 yards on runs between the tackles on their last drive of the second quarter. That accounted for almost half of their first half yardage. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley spun their wheels in the snow like tractor trailers stuck in a drift on some forgotten stretch of I-80 in the Great Plains.

5. Brad Smith told LeSean McCoy to change his shoes before the game (breaking: Brad Smith finding new ways to stay relevant). I'm not sure how much credit Shady's three-quarter inch spikes deserve here. Defenders fall and slip onto the field trying to stop McCoy on sunny Sundays in September. The snow amplified it. White clouds of frozen dust marked his path through the defense.



The best way to stop LeSean McCoy is to push him out of bounds. You can't push him out of bounds when he's running through the middle of the field.

McCoy finished the game with a franchise-record 217 rushing yards; 148 of those came in the fourth quarter. A 40-yard touchdown less than a minute into the final frame tied the game at 14-14. A minute later, he broke off a 57-yard touchdown run that put the Eagles on top.

6. The Eagles were 2.5-point favorites leading up to this game, before anyone knew it would start in a whiteout. The over/under was 51.5 points, a number that looked impossible halfway through the game. Kelly's Eagles beat the spread and scored 34 points on their way past the week's biggest predicted point total.

Every shotgun snap that landed in the snow was a reminder of the Lions' tendency to shoot themselves in the foot. On the other side of the field, there was Philadelphia's knack for adapting its game plan. The coach NFL types associate with the spread offense was running the ball up the middle of the field, cruising past the projected point total. Two teams, two separate identities clarified by a snow storm.

Snow don't lie

It snowed at FedEx Field, too. Washington's defense and special teams got no help from weather. Alex Smith and Kansas City rolled up 45 points. The final score, 45-10, says a lot, but not as much as one photo did.

You couldn't even see the invisible footprints of Kirk Cousins following RGIII.

The Chiefs had 321 return yards in the first half. They had 347 total offensive yards. So to be clear, Washington is terrible on offense, defense and special teams.

Notice all the empty seats in that picture of FedEx Field too?

I wonder what it was like when Mike Shanahan unpacked his office and decided to stick around after Washington's playoff loss to Seattle last January. Was Kyle there to talk him down? Did his face turn a humbled shade of orange? It's awkward to walk back off the ledges a hot temper sends you out to.

Hopefully, Shanny at least kept the banker boxes -- since Dan Snyder would probably charge him for new ones -- to pack his things for Houston or Tampa Bay or wherever.

The rifts in that organization run deep. That was obvious in the uncomfortable postgame press conferences from Shanahan and RGIII. Cutting off one tip of the bizarre love triangle between Shanny, RGIII and owner Dan Snyder isn't going to magically fix what ails the franchise. It's going to happen though, sooner or later. When it does, it'll be up to Snyder, his wallet and some new leadership cadre to start putting some talent around the quarterback.

Snow birds

The game in Baltimore between the Ravens and Vikings followed a similar script to the one in Philadelphia. A snow-covered field facilitated some sloppy early play before an offensive outburst in the second half. Similarities stop there. The Eagles took control of the game in the second half. Six lead changes in the fourth quarter made the Ravens' tilt with the Vikings feel more like a frosty tennis match.

Take a look at the win probability chart for that game:


(via Advanced NFL Stats)

It looks like a seismograph in the middle of a terrible bipolar swing.

Both teams combined for a total of 13 points after three quarters of play. The Ravens won by a final score of 29-26. Oh, and the Vikings lost Adrian Peterson. There were five touchdowns in the last two minutes of play.

If not for the weather, there wouldn't have been 35 points compressed into 127 seconds of play. Joe Flacco and Matt Cassel exchanged futilities through the first half. Flacco was 9-for-22; Cassel was 10-for-21. Last season's Super Bowl MVP also threw three interceptions.

Taking nothing away from Flacco's game-winning pass to Marlon Brown, it's another little slice of good luck that's kept the Ravens in the playoff race. Heading into this week's game, Football Outsiders' estimated wins formula had the Ravens with five wins. This was the Ravens' eighth game of the season decided by three points or fewer. Baltimore is now 4-4 in those games.

The Ravens hang onto the sixth seed in the AFC playoff race again this week. Miami won this week too, but a Week 5 win gives Baltimore an edge in the tiebreaker. Next week, the Ravens take on a desperate Lions team in Detroit, before coming home to face the Patriots and finishing the season on the road in Cincinnati. The Dolphins' schedule is easier. After a home game in Week 15 against the Patriots, the Dolphins play the Bills in Buffalo and the Jets at home.

Flacco and Co. may need a little more luck if they intend to hold off Miami for the NFL's ugly duckling playoff invitation.

That would make Michael Phelps, who took over the Ravens' Twitter account, very pleased.

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