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49ers and Titans Roll (Are Cards Far Behind?)

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NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

If you wanted to watch a couple of nail biters in the NFL divisional round yesterday, you certainly were disappointed. But, nonetheless, these games were entertaining.

Notes from the #1 seed 49ers’ 27-10 win over the #6 seed Vikings and the # 6 seed Titans’ 28-12 upset over the #1 seed Ravens:

  • In 6 playoff games this year, the home team has a record of 2-4 (Texans and 49ers).
  • The formula for winning in these playoffs: strong rushing attack with big gains/scores off play-action, speed and playmaking ability at the LB position, solid STs and, as always, ball security.
  • Rushing yards: TEN—210 (Derrick Henry—-195); SF—-186 (Tevin Coleman—-105); BAL—185 (Lamar Jackson—-143); MIN—-21 (Dalvin Cook—-18).
  • Hail to the 49ers’ “zone counter” runs—-three blockers to one side block down in tandem, while the FB goes opposite to kick out the DE and the RB off the handoff, starts with flow, pivots and cuts back on the counter. This is a play that goes back to the old Redskins’ “counter trey” when John Riggins was their bell cow and the “Hogs” were the best OL in football. It just goes to show, like the pick and roll in hoops, some of the best plays are the ones that pass the test of time.
  • Hail to the Titans’ play action extravaganza—-what a work of art—-Ryan Tannehill’s 45 yard play action bomb to little known speed WR Kalif Raymond. Now—-this is a perfect play for Kyler Murray and Andy Isabella—-where the WR runs a go route, fakes like he is going to break off a corner route and then sprints deep through the space between the CB and the FS.
  • Turnovers: TEN—0; SF—-2; MIN—-2; BAL—-3.
  • Total Yards: BAL—-530; SF—-308; TEN—-300; MIN—-147.
  • They say turnovers are THE KEY stat to winning games—-and these numbers verify it.
  • Maintaining Poise at QB—-obviously it’s easier when your team is ahead—-but this is the part of Lamar Jackson’s game in the playoffs that he needs to improve. This article makes the perfect case for the kind of “Neutral Thinking” that makes Russell Wilson so exceptional:
  • https://www.menshealth.com/health/a30474520/russell-wilson-trevor-moawad-book-mental-performance/
  • Kyler Murray said he was going to study these playoff games—-and learning the advantages of “Neutral Thinking” a la Wilson would be auspicious for him. There were a few times this past season where Kyler got too down on himself, where it seemed to affect his play.
  • Responding positively to setbacks can be an acquired talent—-this, imo, was one of Kurt Warners’ and Carson Palmer’s greatest strengths, as they often would respond to a turnover by engineering a scoring drive on the next series.
  • How close are the Cardinals to being a playoff contender in 2020, based on what we are seeing in these playoff games?
  • Improving the running game in 2019 and getting more physical up front are encouraging signs for next year and beyond.
  • In Kyler Murray the team has a potentially outstanding play action passer—-what he and the team need to improve the most—-improvising on plays that break down.
  • These playoff games prove that the Cardinals need a stud RB #1. Kenyon Drake looked the part in his 8 games—-but if he’s unrealistic about his salary demands—-the Cardinals need to use a high pick, and even the #8 pick, if necessary, to acquire a game changer at RB.
  • On defense, in addition to getting deeper and stronger at 34DE and DT, the Cardinals need to upgrade their speed at LB—-moving Haasan Reddick and his 4.52 speed to SOLB helps the cause—-finding a speedy WILB who can run downhill to the ball, chase from sideline to sideline and be an asset in man and zone coverage is of paramount importance. We saw Tanner Vallejo make an impact in these ways—-but can he hold up physically for 16 games—-and is he big enough?
  • Vance Jospeh has said that he wants a WILB who has a lot of experience at playing ILB. As we know, the Cardinals have failed in thinking they could covert college athletes at other positions to hop in and play well at WILB. Joseph has it correctly—-this time the Cardinals need to acquire a natural, well versed ILB.
  • Having speed at the LB positions will not help the team defend the run, it will improve the team’s man and zone defenses. You have to be able to play both man and zone in the NFL. As we know, the Cardinals’ zone defense was arguably the worst in the NFL in 2019.
  • The Cardinals have two very good run forcers at safety in Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson—-and Deionte Thompson, when he becomes more consistent, will be as well.
  • What the Cardinals need to consider is upgrading their run forcing efforts and impact from the CB position—-which has long been the Cardinals’ achilles heel on defense and the reason why teams exploit the Cardinals’ defense left and right on sweeps, bootlegs, reverses, simple flare passes and—worst of all—-screen passes.
  • The best CB on the current roster at defending these plays is Byron Murphy—-hopefully he can be s starter on the perimeter and not just a nickel back.
  • During the last couple of games this year Patrick Peterson showed a greater interest in coming up to make plays on the ball, like the time he muscled Todd Gurley out of bounds. But, Peterson was fortunate that he got to Gurley before Gurley could stick him with a stiff-arm. If Peterson keeps trying to go high on RBs to make arm tackles—-he’s going to continue to be a liability in run support.
  • The question is—-will Peterson re-adopt the proper tackling techniques and be motivated to shut down his side of the ball, both versus the run and the pass, for 16 games next season?
  • At least Peterson showed some flashes the last 2 games—-but, was this to impress his other suitors as he approaches the final year of his contract? He said he liked how his inspired play fired up his teammates. Is Peterson now thinking team over self?
  • The Peterson we saw in the last couple of games is one very much worth keeping for the next 3-4 years. But, the Peterson we saw inthe previous 7 games and over the last few years (in terms of poor tackling efforts and results) is not a player or leader to depend on.
  • The long picture and history would suggest that Peterson is not going to change his modus operandi of cover sticky and leave the tackling and dirty work to his teammates.
  • if that’s the case—-the Cardinals should go ahead and get what they can for him now.
  • We saw the last few games what the Cardinals defense looks like when all 11 players are playing hard and are up to the task physically. That’s what the Cardinals need to build on in order to catch up with the current playoff teams. The good news is—-with a key trade or two and some smart additions at 34DE, WILB and CB—-the Cardinals can turn a 2019 team weakness into a 2020 strength.