Monday, January 5, 2015

Wild Card Thoughts, Saturday Games

Today will have a few thoughts on the Saturday games. Thoughts on the Sunday games will follow tomorrow.

Panthers 27, Cardinals 16

- Seriously, Ryan Lindley was that bad. Arizona's offense was clearly no threat to do anything unless they got lots of help. Granted, it's hard to fault Arizona for not having a better 3rd/4th option at the ready at quarterback, but when you're turning over rocks in desperation looking for a quarterback solution, when you turn over Ryan Lindley, you probably shouldn't stop your search.

-  That being said, the Cardinals only lost by 11 points. Why? Because Carolina did everything possible to keep them in this game. After going up 10-0 on their 2 opening drives and forcing yet another punt from Arizona's offense, Carolina's punt returner got caught trying to field a punt as it bounced, which turned into a fumble recovered by the Cardinals (they would use the short field to score a touchdown). Then their kicker missed a 43-yard field goal. Then Cam Newton and veteran receiver Jericho Cotchery got their wires crossed, leading to a 50-yard interception return Arizona would turn into another touchdown. The Cardinals were actually winning this game at halftime! Add in some dubious decisions to let Cam Newton throw the ball in the fourth quarter (one of which resulted in a sack-fumble), and Carolina simply refused to do anything remotely approaching putting this game away.

- Teams that have made the playoffs with an 8-8 (or worse) record since 2004
First Playoff Game
Second Playoff Game
Minnesota Vikings
Win, 31-17 over GB
Loss, 27-14 to PHI
St. Louis Rams
Win, 27-20 over SEA
Loss, 47-17 to ATL
New York Giants
Loss, 23-20 to PHI
San Diego Chargers
Win, 23-17 over IND
Loss, 35-24 to PIT
Seattle Seahawks
Win, 41-36 over NO
Loss, 35-24 to CHI
Denver Broncos
Win, 29-23 over PIT
Loss, 45-15 to NE
Carolina Panthers
Win, 27-16 over ARI
vs SEA

Ravens 30, Steelers 17

- The Ravens were dominated in terms of time of possession in the first half of this game, 20:55 versus 9:05, but led 10-9. How? Splash plays, as Al and Cris described them. Baltimore took shots down the field against a suspect Pittsburgh defense. When they hit, Baltimore turned those drives into points. When they didn't, Baltimore ended up with a short drive that didn't go anywhere. To put it another way, the Steelers averaged 5.14 yards per play in the first half. Baltimore averaged 6.95. 

- I was convinced the Ravens' terrible secondary (mainly the cornerbacks) would be their undoing in this game. But they limited big plays on Pittsburgh's end, which meant Pittsburgh had to run a lot of plays to move down the field. And while the Ravens' secondary isn't good, their pass rush is. The more plays Pittsburgh ran, the more chances Suggs, Dumervil, and the rest had to get after Ben Roethlisberger. And get after him they did, to the tune of 5 sacks, 7 TFLs (tackles for a loss), 5 QB hits, and 2 interceptions. 

- No team gets a mulligan for injuries, but neither team could run the ball at all on Saturday night, and you have to think a healthy LeVeon Bell forces Baltimore to devote more players to Bell, opening things up for Ben to take a few more shots downfield. There's no guarantee the Steelers take advantage of this, and their problems were more in the red zone than moving the ball down the field, but Bell's loss was very clearly felt by the Steelers offense. 

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