Postgame Spread
You guys hangin' out? I'll hang out.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Weekend Wetdown    

#1: Tony Romo's career is over
I give Romo absolutely zero chance of recovering.  The wheels were coming off his season already.  Devastating.  What's worse is that Carrie Underwood has probably packed her suitcase and left him.  I sure would if I were her.  (Though not if I were me!  Hubba hubba!)  But the catastrophic loss does raise a great many questions.

  • Did the Cowboys really expect to advance past Chicago or New Orleans?  Given that they couldn't, is the Romo play really that bad?
  • Who plays QB next season?
  • Will the Big Tuna retire?
  • Will Terrell Owens be back?
  • Why should anyone even discuss the review of the spot?  Could anyone who's worth a damn be stupid enough to think the review was unexpected, let alone mishandled?  It's unanimous: the initial spot was bad, and the review corrected it.

Of course, the question of whether the Cowboys will suck next year is easy.  Yes.  Moving on...

#2: E-A-G-L-E-S
The Giants got kicked in the nuts by Philly.  Now they have Akers!

There's not a whole lot to say about this game.  Divisional games will always be tight, because the teams know each other too well.  It'll always come down to who makes the bigger plays.  Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress acquitted themselves sufficiently in the end, despite their offensive line's attempts to sabotage the game... but Brian Westbrook trumped them all.  Amazing what happens when you can stay healthy.  Finally, absolutely ingenious handling of the clock by Andy Reid.  Saints/Eagles will be fun.

Since this is an undersized section, I'm slipping in a public service announcement: Duke sucks!  There's never a bad excuse to post this!!!

#3: Colts are back
The Chiefs are a one-man team and had no business being in this game, except for two little words: de-fault.  The outcome is not even remotely surprising.  They're not even a proper appetizer for the Colts; they're an amuse bouche at best.  (Quick aside: you'll be floored when you discover how many hits "NFL + 'amuse bouche'" turns out on Google.)

I doubt the win does much to alleviate Colts fans' concerns, but this has to make them believe again at least a little bit, right?  Given that the defense won that game, which is exactly what needs to happen against Baltimore, isn't that a reason for optimism?  It's not like Baltimore's offense is all that great.  If they force Steve McNair to pass, and keep Peyton Manning from getting cute against that nasty secondary, I think they pull it off.

Of course, there's the whole "defense wins championships" thing to deal with.  And that Baltimore is well-rested, and coming off a bye during which they knew they would be facing Indy.  Their defense will be ready to wreak havoc.  The question is whether their offense will have enough in the tank.

#4: The Pats don't suck.
Folks are already declaring this a vintage Pats performance, and they're not necessarily wrong.  But my optimism is guarded.  It's not a coup or anything... it's just enough to give me reason to think they can beat San Diego.  It's not enough to make the Pats anything more than the clear-cut AFC underdog.  (I do think the Pats would run ragged through the NFC end of the bracket right now... but that's off-topic.)

Despite all the good things about yesterday, which I will list later, the game was much closer than the score indicates.  A better team than the Jets (a team like, oh I dunno, the Chargers) would have taken advantage of the Pats' numerous mistakes:

  • The unnecessary roughness penalties.  Rarely has the "unnecessary" part been so accurate.  Two penalties called, both of which extended drives, and one or two more that weren't called.  Getting past the part about how cheap, dirty and unprofessional it is, it's utterly dumb.  Dumb teams make those hits.  Dumb teams that get shellacked in road playoff games at Denver, just to name one example.  Anyone want to spot LDT and the Chargers a few bonus first downs?
  • No success in the deep game from Brady and friends.  Three deep throws, one catchable, zero completions.  Jabar Gaffney's huge mistake in the end zone cost them seven points.  Gotta catch those.
  • The touchdown by Jerricho Crotchery is precisely the sort of thing that terrifies me about the Pats' secondary.  It's a brain fart.  They're not good enough to survive brain farts.  The whole point of "bend, but don't break" is to not break.
  • The Pats were 11 of 16 on 3rd down.  Which is great.  Wanna bet they'll do it again on Sunday?
  • The Jets were well within reach until the drive that culminated in Kevin Faulk's touchdown (on which he was totally unmarked, by the way).  That drive included two third-and-long conversions: the Faulk TD and Troy Brown's 10-yard catch in NE territory early on.  It wasn't exactly a series of goofs by the Jets, but a better team stalls that drive.
  • The Pats' run defense was shaky.  Leon Washington didn't face particularly stiff resistance.  Pass rush notwithstanding, I didn't see anything to indicate that Tomlinson is in for a rough game.
  • My gripe concerning the Pats' recent performances against superior teams remains unchanged.  They haven't won as a legitimate underdog since who knows when.  They should be a substantial underdog against San Diego.

That's not to say I'm not pleased or encouraged.  I saw enough yesterday to convince me that they can beat the Chargers.

  • The manner in which Pennington, Coles and Crotchery were controlled (not shut down) is reason for celebration, especially in light of Rodney Harrison's absence.  While the Crotchery touchdown was a major, major brain-fart, I thought Sanders played a pretty nice game.  And the corners played quite well, thanks to the constant pressure from the front seven.
  • The offensive line was a beast.  The running game looks awfully good.
  • The performance by Gaffney is a big reason for optimism... not because he'll continue to be a go-to receiver, but because it gives Marty Schottenheimer another thing to think about, on what had already been a huge to-do list.  Anything that nags at Schottenheimer counts as a distraction from what he should be doing.  Brilliant manuever by Bill Belichick.

We'll learn a lot about both teams from this game, undoubtedly the prestige game of the weekend... the winner looks awfully good going into the championship game.  If the Chargers win, they remain the heavy favorite.  If the Pats pull off an upset, the "dynasty" talk will resume in earnest, and the bandwagon takes on more travelers.

The question in my mind is whether the Pats control their own success.  Is it a matter of the Chargers shutting them down, or is it a matter of the Patriots not shooting themselves in the foot again?  Whose will is going to be imposed on whom?

By the numbers, you'd have to think that San Diego's so good that the Pats have to adjust to what they do.  They have the best player (Tomlinson) and the better offense.  And since nobody else has solved LDT this season, why assume that anything needs to change?  History shows that Schottenheimer will probably plan that way... whatever kind of coach he is, he's not the kind who adjusts to any situation.  He's a "stay the course" guy.

Belichick knows this.  He will exploit it by throwing the kitchen sink at San Diego, and more if he can help it.  He can do that because his roster affords him the luxury of deciding what his team will do on a game-to-game basis.  There's no such thing as a mismatch against the New England Patriots.  Their balanced, chameleon-like schemes on both sides of the ball emphasize flexibility and adjustments, so there's really no mismatch beyond the team's control.  Bad as their secondary is, their pass rush prevents them from being "soft" against the pass.

What that means for your weekend is that the Chargers are unlikely to come up with a good enough game plan to "handle" the Patriots.  If they emphasize the pass, in order to pick on the Pats' secondary, they choose to challenge a terrifying pass rush, all while taking touches away from Tomlinson.  If they try to ram it down the Pats' throats on the ground, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and Ty Warren aren't exactly pushovers, and that's before realizing that Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi are waiting behind them.  Whatever they choose, they're playing into the Pats' capable hands.  I'm sure there's a good plan out there (surely based on isolating Tomlinson against linebackers in the open field) but Schottenheimer's not the guy to install it.

For that reason, I think the game will come down to whether or not the Pats execute.  Whether they avoid stupid penalties, turnovers, make good throws, etc.  I know they'll have the preparation, so it's a matter of making it happen.

(I wish I had a better reason to sense a Pats victory than "Marty Schottenheimer will find a way to lose."  But the guy's just not in Belichick's league.  Not only did Belichick nail a pretty formidable opponent in Eric Mangini yesterday, but he used the game as a message to the Chargers... "study this, and this, and this."  If there's any running theme to Marty's failures in the playoffs, it's his refusal/inability to adjust properly to his opponent.  He's got a lousy record coming off bye weeks, and the Chargers were riding a ten-game winning streak prior to the break.  Maybe they needed the rest, but I think it's highly possible that this is a case where the rested team comes out flat.)

Anyway, got a little out of control with the length.  I'd like to know if anyone actually watched the Colts game and has something to contribute.  You know, like the Colts fan on the blog.  Jesse, perhaps your eyes haven't fully recovered from the hideous sight of the Chiefs?


  • I was thrilled watching the Chiefs game, but I'm still pretty nervous. I think Addai is good enough, and I think the defense is better than it's been, but I'm a little worried that the win was mostly about Herm Edwards being horribly outcoached and just going to LJ all game long even though he was too beat up to run well (he looked slow) and the Colts were stacking the line anyway. And we had trouble with Gonzalez once they finally started throwing to him.

    And those interceptions were a little worrying, even if it did seem like 2 of the 3 were miscommunications, and everything else about Manning's stat was awesome. I mean, where did all that miscommunication com from? Did Harrison botch the routs? That doesn't seem that likely? Did Manning get confused? Doesn't seem very likely either. I find it really puzzling. And did Manning yell at Harrison for them? What if it was Manning's fault AND he yelled at Harrison? That really worries me, I'm totally afraid of him pissing off his team to the point they stop playing for him, despite the fact that it seems completely unlikely.

    BTW, is there any more confusing story than the "is Marvin Harrison happy in Indy?" story? Every time something like this happens I start wondering, and then he comes back with a big 150 yd 3 TD game and Manning jokes about it on TV and I'm forced to think I was probably being silly. Probably. I don't like it though. They need to stop doing that to me.

    How sweet was Freeney's sack though? (And forced fumble, even if KC recovered). Man he's powerful when he gets through. Honestly, I was definitely loving seeing the defense break out like that; it's been a while since I felt like that watching a football game. I wonder if this was a little early for a statement game for the defense, though. Couldn't we surprise Baltimore instead?

    So I don't. I'm more excited, but in a way more nervous, because I'm definitely getting my hopes up. Football is gonna be real fun next weekend though, that's for goddamn sure.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 1:36 PM  

  • I too am pumped. This past weekend was probably the least attractive playoff weekend in league history... but the upcoming slate is about as interesting as it's ever been. None of the four matchups are far apart on paper, and the only game without much marquee value (Seahawks-Bears) is probably the game most likely to be an upset. The whole weekend is looking awesome.

    Re: Peyton... while I agree that any controversy revolving around Marvin Harrison is a little unlikely, I wouldn't say "completely unlikely." The fall of Drew Bledsoe in Foxboro is commonly attributed to that argument: Brady inspired confidence, and Bledsoe inspired lackluster play. Very few of the Pats backed up Bleddie once Belichick refused to reinstate him; I consider that to be proof.

    Also worth noting is that Peyton has had all kinds of public spats in the media before. The whole Vanderjagt thing would have never come about if there weren't SOME nugget of truth in it. And then there's the famous "we had some problems in protection" comment. Whether or not those hullabaloo-hahs are fair is irrelevant... a guy who wouldn't get thrown under the bus would never be caught CLOSE to those kinds of arguments.

    That's just a long-winded way of saying it's not entirely unlikely.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 2:17 PM  

  • Don't worry, I absolutely had that stuff in mind. If it weren't for those things, I don't think it would even cross my mind. I'm still kind of surprised in retrospect that Manning felt like he had to address Vanderjagt's comments at all. Obviously, they struck a chord, but it seems like the very things he said ("the kicker?") would make it much easier to ignore the whole thing and look better for it.

    If Manning tanks this playoffs, I could see it starting, but I don't see the point now. I mean, don't you blow up the team at that point? It's not a Bledsoe situation because Manning is still really good, so getting a different QB in there wouldn't really make anyone feel better, I don't think.

    So, it seems weird. But I do worry that either Harrison is tuning Manning out or something, because I can't figure out any other way those miscommunications are happening. They've passed more to each other anybody ever. It doesn't make any sense. Fortunately, I think Harrison is smart enough to only run those bad routes to make Manning look bad when they're going to win anyway. If we see some weird interception after the Colts have already either sealed the deal in the next game, or are clearly getting killed, I'll start getting really suspicious.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 6:05 PM  

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