What a weekend of football. There wasn't a single game that didn't have drama all the way until the final whistle. I was excited to get a hold of the "All-22" tape so that I could see exactly what happened on the critical plays in each game and share what I found with you.
Keys to a Colts comeback, Chiefs collapse
So let's start this journey into the football abyss with the first NFL Wild Card game of this past weekend, the Colts coming all the way back to defeat the Chiefs at home by one point, 45-44. I'm sure that anyone who played the over before the game started hit the jackpot with that final score, especially when you factor in all the injuries the Chiefs sustained, most significant of course being the concussion of all-world running back Jamaal Charles. Watching the second half of the coaches film I found myself wondering how the Chiefs ever built such a formidable lead in the first place.
My first observation to share is that the Chiefs started off the game with Dunta Robinson as their third cornerback. T.Y. Hilton immediately went about setting Robinson on fire with a blowtorch from the slot. I mean you would have had to cut the edges off that burnt toast just a few plays into the game. That forced the Chiefs to replace Robinson the very next drive with Brandon Flowers in the slot and then have Marcus Cooper come into the game to take Flowers' normal place on the outside.
That combination worked better. Flowers didn't shut Hilton down after that but he did at least slow him down substantially. I like Flowers but I don't think I ever believed he could have that kind of an effect on a game. Then, unfortunately for the Chiefs, Flowers went down, which briefly forced the Chiefs to go back to Robinson as the slot corner. That lasted all of two more drives, one of which was a one-play drive that ended when at-that-time nickel linebacker Husain Abdullah picked Colts quarterback Andrew Luck off on the sideline. After that they used Abdullah as the slot corner. That move also forced them to use safety Eric Berry as the nickel linebacker. It's not that Berry hasn't played nickel linebacker before, he has done it a ton. I just don't think their matchup with the Colts skill guys was a good one with him in the box instead of outside somewhere in coverage or blitzing from outside.
Of course, that lineup didn't prevent Hilton from catching that 64 yard touchdown either. Here is a diagram of the route combinations. I can't be sure of the coverage, but it seems clear somebody screwed up.
So in hindsight, maybe the Flowers injury was actually more impactful than the Charles injury. Especially, yanno, with the offense still managing to put up 44 points and everything...
A guy who was called out on the Chiefs defense during the game by one of the commentators actually impressed me on film. Dontari Poe might not have had his name called a bunch, but he was definitely putting in work. Interestingly enough, the Colts chose to chip Poe with a back several times during the game rather than chip one of the Chiefs fantastic outside rushers. To me, that was a huge nod of respect from the Colts coaching staff -- that they were worried about what he might do if blocked one on one.
Yeah, his stat sheet wasn't full. But Poe pushed the pocket all day long and was also holding up well against double teams in the run game. The biggest problem is the Chiefs don't have another inside rusher to put beside him so he isn't the only one getting back to the pocket. Instead he mostly made Luck move around but there was always some space ahead of him to climb the pocket. That's not on Poe, he can only do his part.
Smith still struggles
As for Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, everyone misses a few deep throws whether they don't actually throw the pass or they throw it and it is off target. But Smith was pretty horrendous on Sunday. Yes, I do know I'm saying this after he completed 30 out of 46 of his passes for 378 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Believe me, I am not saying he played poorly. What I'm saying is that when a shootout breaks out, you are going to need your quarterback to take a few calculated chances. You don't want him to go all YOLO on you but when you see a guy streaking open down the field, you HAVE to take those shots.
Smith refused to do so many many times. And then there was the potential hero moment. Cyrus Gray breaks open down the field, all Smith had to do was put a little air under it and let Gray run under the ball in bounds and it's a gift-wrapped touchdown. Christmas would have come late for the Chiefs.
But it was not to be. Smith just threw it a hair too far and you had yet another missed opportunity in the game.
Here are a few of those plays where Smith wouldn't take a shot and the time of the game as well. Does this make sense to anybody?!
Again, every quarterback misses deep balls. Hell there's a different quarterback we will be talking about shortly, let's just call him carrot top for now, that was god awful in his game. So I am not saying the loss is on Smith, but I am saying he certainly deserves some blame. This is where I remind you that the Colts took a chance throwing the ball deep to rookie free agent Da'Rick Rodgers and it ended up kick starting their offense to go on that crazy scoring binge.
-Colts defensive tackle Cory Redding made two of the bigger plays in the game. I am betting you already remember he made a big tackle on the Colts' goal line stand. At the same time, you might not have realized that it was Redding who pressured Alex Smith at the end of the game on 4th and 11 into throwing the ball before all of the routes had broken. I'm not so sure the Chiefs wouldn't have moved the chains on that one had Redding not been there.
Speaking of big plays, let me take you through this outstanding play by Colts safety Antoine Bethea in pictures.
Just imagine if Bethea had given up and stopped running and Dwayne Bowe had scored a touchdown instead of the field goal the Chiefs eventually had to settle for. That's why I always tell young players you have to hustle whistle to whistle every single play because you never know which play will become your play to make.
Questioning KC playcalls
One question I came away with after watching the film was: Why didn't the Chiefs run more read option stuff with Charles out? When they did run it, the plays seemed to be pretty successful. It also appeared that they weren't entirely comfortable handing the ball off a ton to rookie Knile Davis and trying to ride him to victory, as I am sure they would have ridden Charles had he not gotten injured. Davis was pretty good filling in, but I think spreading them out and forcing the Colts to be disciplined against the read option would have led to more production from the running game, thus opening up the play action passing game as well.
Pats must keep the edge
For as good as both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are as pass rushers, they sure do give up contain at some inopportune times. They hurt their defense on those plays and they both should know better at this point in their careers. I bet the Patriots force Luck up into the pocket next week.
Simple recipes for Saints success
Okay, now on to the second game of the Wild Card weekend -- the Saints two-point win over the Eagles in Philly, 26-24.
First off, Sean Payton had some masters level play calling going at several points during the game. The opening drive, for instance, he was nailing the play calling even when it didn't work. You could see how he was trying to attack the Eagles' defense and guys were running wide open. The running game was getting busy as well. That first drive ended with a punt only because Drew Brees missed a couple of throws. Yes, even Brees does it.
Foles, on the other hand, was not about that throw-the-ball-more-than-20 yards-down-the-field program for most of the game. That allowed Saints defense to get comfortable and lock in on the short and intermediate routes. I didn't see much in the way of a fancy game plan for the Saints defense either. Rob Ryan sent some pressures for sure, but most of the game it was just guys playing base defense and kicking ass. I thought defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley in particular kicked more than his share of ass in the running game to help keep Shady McCoy in check.
Lane Johnson shows up
While I'm thinking about it, let me tell you who impressed the hell out of me though: Eagles right tackle rookie Lane Johnson. For much of the game All Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan was lined up across from Johnson, but Johnson more than held his own. Yeah, he did give up that sack to Jordan when he probably got a little lazy with his hands -- ironically enough, because to that point Johnson had made neutralizing Jordan look relatively easy. There was also an unfortunate running play where I'm pretty sure Johnson was supposed to block Jordan like so.
Instead, Johnson blocked this way:
Which resulted with this:
If you throw out those plays, Johnson was out there looking like a salty 10-year vet at times. I hadn't spent much time breaking Johnson down this year and maybe he just caught Jordan on a good day, but I'm telling you that the kid was balling.
High school scheme?
Back to defense for a moment. I mentioned earlier that it didn't appear the Saints did anything special to attack Philly's offensive system. The Eagles, however, were even more old school. On several plays, including the one which resulted in a Brees interception by DeMeco Ryans, it appeared to me that the Eagles played straight cover 3 with spot drops like we used to do back in high school. I guess I can't clown them since, after all, they did end up with a pick out of it. I was just a little stunned to see it employed on the NFL level and to have it work!
Foles holds on
On Foles, here are few plays where he didn't pull the trigger down field.
The red circle is who he did throw it to, while the yellow circle is who he could have thrown it to.
I also have to point out that he took one absolutely ridiculous sack on Saturday night. Look at this. Look at all these guys who are open and he didn't pull the trigger
That's before we even talk about why wouldn't he throw it away.
Simple Saints grind it out
I talked about the Saints play calling earlier, but I thought this was a nice route combination for a goal line play that the Eagles used to score a touchdown.
As I saw the Saints running the ball on that final drive that started with 4:44 on the clock and ended in the game winning field goal, I kept wondering to myself if the recent debacle at the end of the game by the Cowboys and Jason Garrett influenced Payton to stay with it on the ground -- especially the QB sneaks on 3rd and one, which they converted with twice, on that same last drive.
A Dalton disaster
Next up on the agenda is Cincy wetting the bed yet again and the Chargers taking advantage. And by Cincy I mean quarterback Andy Dalton and by wetting I actually mean number two.
I am not sure we have enough space on this post for me to show all of the pictures of missed throws by Dalton. My iPad started acting like it was running Windows 97 because I had saved so many picks on NFLRewind. Just from this game. Overwhelmingly negative plays by Dalton.
Hell, not much analysis is really needed on this one anyway if you just look at how every drive ended in the second half for the Bengals' offense.
2. Dalton fumble
3. Dalton interception
4. Dalton interception
5. Turnover on downs.
Boy would I hate to be that Dalton guy...
Here, just take a look at some of these throws he refused to make.
I just don't see how the Bengals stick with Dalton as the unquestioned No. 1 any longer.
That Ronnie Brown?
The Chargers were outstanding running the ball in the win. Ronnie Brown, Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews combined to carry the ball 36 times, gaining 183 yards and two touchdowns. I did think it curious that Mathews was out quite a bit late in the game, but what can you say after Brown rips off a 58-yard touchdown at the end when the Chargers were trying to run out the clock?
Swallowing whistles all weekend
One thing that was kind of consistent watching all of the games was that referees were in no mood to call holding on the offensive lines. I'm talking about several blatant holds that Ray Charles could have seen never leading to a flag. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is Chargers rookie right tackle Fluker's contribution to the cause.
That ended up being a huge play as the Chargers eventually scored after Rivers wasn't sacked and no flag was thrown for holding. In a game that was close for awhile, that's a pretty big deal.
I still don't like Melvin Ingram as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he must have gone to see the wizard or something before the game because he looked just as athletic as he had been before the knee injury from earlier this year. You know, the same knee injury that had him on IR scheduled to return right up until just a few weeks ago? Yeah, this dude might be FASTER now than before. I said before the game that he had gotten better every game since he came back, And now his performance in the Chargers win over the Bengals was a huge step forward. He had an interception, a bucket of tackles, looked good in coverage and was just flying around as a pass rusher.
I can't wait to see how he looks this week against Denver.
Niners escape clean, classic battle
And finally we have the last game of the weekend, the 49ers game-ending field goal to beat the Green Bay Packers in Ice Bowl part deux.
The film was good but fairly boring from my stand point. I like to solve puzzles. I like to know why something went right or conversely for the other team, why it went wrong. For the most part, this was just two really good teams and two really good coaching staffs getting after each other. I absolutely love watching those kinds of football games. Analyzing them, however, gets a little tedious. So nobody screwed up so what am I supposed to write about now?
Well, that's not entirely true. There were some mistakes made by both teams., just not nearly as many as in the previous games.
Kaep got the better of Rodgers?
We might as well start the conversation on this game off with the quarterbacks. I think, without question, Colin Kaepernick out-performed Aaron Rodgers in this game. That's not just because Kaepernick's team won, either. I got the same feeling watching Rodgers against the 49ers as I've had watching Peyton Manning after a few of his off games this season. He just didn't seem to be vintage Rodgers who takes chances down the field. There were several instances where it appears he saw the opportunity for a big play but held back from taking a shot. A few times he even made the motion to make the throw but didn't end up following through with it.
I'm making no suggestion here that something was wrong with Rodgers, I am just telling you that something was different. And him not taking at least a few of those shots did cost his team in the end.
Throwing the ball, Kaep was 16 of 30 for 277 yards with one touchdown against one interception. Not great but certainly not turrible either. To go along with his passing yards, the Niners QB also had 98 yards rushing on just seven carries, his best (in terms of yardage) day this season running the ball. No run was bigger than the one Kaepernick made at the end of the game, facing 3rd and 8 with the score tied 20-20 and the 49ers not yet in field goal range. That eleven yard run not only gave the 49ers a first down, it also put them solidly in field goal range at the Packers' 27-yard line.
If you watched the game you weren't a bit surprised because Kaepernick looked as in command as I've ever seen him for a full 60 minutes. Yeah, he made some mistakes too, but some of those weren't necessarily his fault.
For instance, the interception he threw at the end of the first quarter. Watching it on TV, it appeared to be a dumb throw into coverage. The reality of the situation is the cornerback who picked him off shouldn't have even been anywhere near that route. Anquan Bolidn was supposed to clear the area out with a go route. Boldin started off running hard but about half way through the route, he shut it down. That allowed the cornerback to look for the underneath route Boldin was obviously clearing out for and then jump it. And he did.
I love Boldin as a player, but this was just one of those times where he got away from fundamentals and it cost his team.
Crabtree's instant effect
That guy Mike Crabtree might not be all the way back, but he is showing himself to be very, very dangerous. I mean, 8 catches for 125 yards on a day like that? I kept telling people that the 49ers could be the scariest team going into the playoffs because of all of the guys coming back from injury around that time. If I was a Panthers coach or player, they would have my full attention.
How Aldon Smith's successful
Aldon Smith doesn't so much pass rush as much as he just mauls people. Don't get me wrong, the kid has some good moves. I am particularly impressed by his escape moves when he wants to get off the block and tackle the quarterback. But, in many ways like Jared Allen, Smith prefers to just run over guys. Don't much matter who it is, either tackle, either guard, a center, a running back, a tight end, somebody's grandbaby. If you step on the field to block Aldon Smith, you will probably feel like you have been in an MMA war by the time it's all said and done.
Smith started the game on a running play where he beat the tight end inside then exploded into left tackle David Bakhtiari and pushed him right into Packers' running back Eddie Lacy. Later on in the game, he hip tossed Bakhtiari after going inside of him and sacked Rodgers on the play. I say hip tossed but it was more like a clothesline across Bakhtiari's head/helmet. One of the damnedest things I've ever seen...
He has come a long way since his stint in rehab and I hope that he continues to keep his nose clean because that kid is fun to watch.
Want to see a dead body?
Yeah, me neither. However, this Packers safety might as well be six feet under because the 49ers got em with not the two, not the three, not the foe (yes, foe), but the FIVE vertical routes.
You have Vernon Davis as the inner most receiver to the three receiver side and Boldin next to him. When they both run verticals, that puts a tremendous amount of stress on the safety to that side. Of course, had the defensive back who pressed Boldin at the line, you know, turn and ran with him, then perhaps the safety could have helped over the top and stopped the carnage Davis inflicted on his boy in the endzone.
But I digress...
As I sit here right now, a guy who knows a little bit about defense, I'm wondering how do you even defend that consistently? With Davis, Boldin, Crabtree etc, I mean.
Blow the whistle
Oh hey, another potentially crucial holding call not called.
What could have been
Last thing -- I don't quite get the last few plays for the Packers on offense. Lacy and James Starks had already combined for 110 yards. So why, with a 1st and goal opportunity, do the Packers try to run the ball with Randall Cobb? And I like Cobb, but WTF dude? Then two throws?! I think maybe at that point riding Lacy or Starks to the endzone might have been the better option. I'm just saying....