Monday, January 12, 2015

Divisional Round Thoughts, Saturday Games

Patriots 35, Ravens 31

- New England didn't even try to pretend like they were going to commit to the ground game. Tom Brady scrambled very slowly for a 4-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. The Patriots attempted to run the ball 12 other times on Saturday, for a grand total of 10 yards. We've seen this before from Bill Belichick: when his team is going against a run defense he respects combined with a pass defense he doesn't, he has no problem with ignoring the running game and putting everything on Tom Brady's shoulders. 

- It's tempting to blame big play performance for Baltimore's loss, considering Joe Flacco's talents (namely: arm strength and ball placement on deep throws) and gun-slinging ways. But if you compare passes thrown over 15 yards in the Ravens' two playoff games, they look much more similar than you would expect:

vs PIT
vs NE

If you take out the hail mary at the end of the game, Flacco is again 3/7 on deep throws for a YPA of 10.4. Very similar to his numbers against Pittsburgh...well, except for the interceptions. 

- This game was very much a tale of two halves. Baltimore was running and passing the ball almost at will in the first half. The rushing yards were especially surprising, considering the Patriots had the 8th best rush defense in the league during the regular season. But in the second half the giant holes disappeared for Justin Forsett. The Ravens still had some success on the ground, but they had to work much harder for their yards. That led to more 3rd downs, and as Baltimore only converted 1/9 3rd downs on the afternoon, more drives ending sub-optimally. 

- But it wasn't just New England's defense that improved drastically from one half to the other, the offensive line took the biggest leap during intermission. Brady was continuously sacked, hit, or moved off his spot in the pocket in the first half, not a surprise given the talents of Baltimore's front seven. But after halftime, Brady was barely bothered. Kudos to the New England coaching staff for winning the battle of halftime adjustments over a worthy adversary. 

- I was surprised at Baltimore's decision to throw deep on the Harmon interception. They were moving the ball pretty well so far on that drive (albeit with a fourth-down conversion). Even if that play is successful, it leaves Brady and the Patriots offense with 1:39 to answer. Now a team can't get too cute as the primary imperative is to score, but it seemed like an odd play call, especially given the fact that Flacco hadn't had much success on deep passes in the second half. 

- Finally, kudos to Belichick, McDaniels, et al for finding a wrinkle (the 4 linemen alignment with an eligible receiver declared as ineligible) that completely baffled the Ravens defense. It essentially helped them get an "easy" 7 points in a game decided by just 4 points. Add in the Edelman TD pass to Amendola, and that's 14 points the Patriots' coaching staff got for them. 

Seahawks 31, Panthers 17

- While I was hoping for an easy, start-to-finish comfortable win, I was fully expecting a slugfest for 3 quarters, only to see the Seahawks pull away in the fourth quarter. That's what we got, but I was not expecting the Panthers to score 10 points in this game, let alone 17.

- The Panthers played a terrific game. Yes, they turned the ball over 3 times, but other than that, they executed the "script" to beat Seattle. Run the ball effectively (4.4 ypc) , shorten the game (Seattle only had 9 drives), put together sustained drives (5 drives of 8 plays or more) and get touchdowns when you get in the red zone (50%). Despite all that, Seattle still won by 14 points. Why? Turnovers (Seattle got 3, gave up 0) and Russell Wilson.

- Wilson had perhaps his best playoff game of his young career (which is saying something, as his career playoff rating is 109.6, bettered one). Carolina dared him to beat them with his arm, and he did. 11.3 ypa on 22 attempts, including 8/8, 199 yards, and 3 touchdowns on 3rd down. Seattle hit 8 big plays (10+ yard rush or 25+ yard pass), most of any team this weekend, and at least half of those were passes.

- Seattle's defense did show some cracks, especially from backup cornerback Tharold Simon (playing in place of Byron Maxwell, out with a respiratory illness), and the run defense (they struggled dealing with Cam Newton's running and threat of running). It remains to be seen whether these are actual issues or issues stemming from having to deal with Cam Newton, the running threat.

- Kam Chancellor was a force of nature in last year's playoffs too, but the exploits of his teammates sort of overshadowed him. On Saturday, no one on the defense would overshadow Kam.

This didn't end up on the score sheet, but on Carolina's 35-yard field goal attempt just before halftime, he did this:

Somehow he missed the block, but Carolina was called for a false start and so had to try again from 40 yards out. Kam tried again (this is not a replay):

Notice how this attempt misses (badly). I told you it wasn't a replay. Unfortunately, Kam missed again and this time grazed the kicker, which brought a flag for running into the kicker, giving Carolina another try from 35 yards out. Kam refrained from trying the same trick again, the Panthers hit the field goal, and went into halftime down 4 points.

Chancellor's final stat line? 11 tackles (including one in the open field on human bowling ball Mike Tolbert), 1 pass defensed, and this:

Just a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown.

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