Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wild Card Thoughts, Sunday Games

Colts 26, Bengals 10

- These are all actual players targeted by Andy Dalton in this playoff game:
Giovanni Bernard (8 catches)
Mohamed Sanu (3)
Ryan Hewitt (3)
Rex Burkhead (3)
Kevin Brock (1)
Cobi Hamilton (0)
Greg Little (0)
Brandon Tate (0)

I don't want to overstate how bad Dalton's supporting cast was, but when I looked at the box score (featuring first initial and last name), I had to look up the actual first names for half of these guys.

- That being said, after scoring their lone touchdown of the day, here is how the Bengals' next 8 drives went
3 plays, 5 yards, Punt
5 plays, 16 yards, Punt
7 plays, 20 yards, Field Goal
3 plays, 3 yards, Punt
3 plays, 5 yards, Punt
4 plays, 4 yards, Punt
3 plays, -3 yards, Punt
4 plays, 11 yards, Punt
Totals: 32 plays, 61 yards 3 points.

Looking deeper, the Bengals averaged 1.91 yards per play on these 8 drives. They totaled as many 3 and outs (4) in these 8 drives as they did total first downs (and one of the first downs came on a penalty). That's terrible. By that point it was 26-10 with 4:25 left and Cincinnati added 68 yards to their total in garbage time.

- And yet, as poorly as Cincinnati's offense played (very poorly), Indianapolis didn't go up by 2 scores until midway through the third quarter. The Colts left enough points on the table to feed a small family in the first half, mostly thanks to blatant drops from Andrew Luck's receivers. If Indy has any hope of looking like they belong in the NFL's final 8 teams (unlike last year) they will need to be much crisper in their execution this weekend.

Cowboys 24, Lions 20

- For a half, Detroit was playing the perfect game to pull the upset in Dallas: Run the ball enough to maintain some semblance of balance, attack the Cowboys secondary (not a strong point), put together sustained drives to keep Tony Romo off the field, and use your defensive line to beat up on both the Cowboys running and passing games. Everything was going swimmingly...until this play. The Lions CB falls down and Terrence Williams turns a 3rd and 12 into a 76-yard touchdown.

- Jim Caldwell went conservative late, and it didn't help his team any. Facing a 4th and 1 after the pass-interference-no-wait-just-kidding call, Detroit had 4th and 1 at the Dallas 46 yard line, up 3 points with 8:25 left. Rather than go for it, Caldwell took a delay-of-game penalty and chose to send his punter out there. The punter then unleashed one of the top shanks of the weekend, netting a cool 10 yards on his kick. Dallas drove 59 yards down the field (including a 4th and 6 conversion at the Detroit 42 with 6:00 remaining) to take the lead and Detroit couldn't mount their own game-winnng drive.

- Let's talk about the call that wasn't.
Was it pass interference? Yes. He never turned around to locate the ball, and there was contact.
Would the outcry be anywhere near as severe if it had been a no-call initially? No. The foul was ticky-tack, but the NFL has been calling ticky-tack fouls all season. It would have been explained away as the officials swallowing the whistles (to an extent) in the postseason.
Is this the result of a conspiracy by the NFL to help a marquee franchise move on? No. This is a result of two things:
1) Incompetence by the officials. This is going to happen sometimes. It would be nice if it didn't happen when the best officials are supposed to be working (read: the playoffs) but mistakes are going to be made.
2) The NFL and referee union's insistence on using all-star official crews in the postseason. Instead of grading officials as crews over the course of a season and selecting crews to work the postseason, they mix and match officials so high-grading officials work with other officials who they haven't worked with all season.

The worst part of this eventual no-call wasn't the call itself, but the mechanics of the no-call. Referee Pete Morelli announced the penalty, they marked off the yardage, and then they picked up the flag. If one official throws the flag, then they get together to discuss the play and pick up the flag? There's outrage but nothing like we're seeing this week. And as I've argued in the past, mechanics matter, because poor officiating mechanics make you look incompetent (or worse) on any borderline call.

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