Here are some thoughts about the divisional round playoff games this past weekend, plus some opinions about the NFL coaching carousel.
- While apparently State Farm does not offer a “Rodgers” or “Mahomes” special rate, these two artistic QBs have to rate as the most complete passers in the NFL. And don’t look now, but it appears that fast-rising Josh Allen is nipping at their heels.
- Meanwhile, it was a classic case of “small ball” in the Brees vs. Brady showdown, as both QBs weren’t able to connect on many vertical passes, in favor of throwing a flurry of check downs to TEs and RBs, leaving typically standout WRs such as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas high and dry —- they caught a combined 6 passes for 47 yards, while RB Leonard Fournette of all RBs turned in 5 catches for 44 yards, exceeding Alvin Kamara’s paltry 3 catches for 20 yards.
- As for the Saints, for all of their regular season fireworks and dominance (49-15 regular season record the past 4 years), they once again fizzled out on the cusp of their first Super Bowl berth since 2009 —- it just seems that each year they implode in the second half of their games as they did in last year’s OT loss at home to the Vikings that added further frustrations to the Minnesota Miracle and the Ram Scam at home in 2018 (in their only NFC championship game since 2009) .
- For all of Drew Bress’ greatness, he once again was turnover prone in the second half of a very winnable game —- only this time it was clear that his rib injuries (which clearly he rushed back from too soon) prohibited him from throwing the ball with requisite zing and distance —- but strangely the multiple broken ribs did not prohibit Sean Payton from running Brees on QB sneaks on 4th and 1s.
- Of course, it didn’t help Brees’ cause that TE Jared Cook fumbled on a good catch over the middle where he did not tuck the ball in his arm opposite from the chasing defender. At that point in the 3rd quarter, the Saints were trying to add to their 20-13 lead. Instead, Cook’s fumble led to the Bucs’ tying TD on a 6 yard reception from Brady to Fournette.
- Tom Brady earned a trip to his 14th conference championship game (his first in the NFC), which is twice as many as any other QB in the history of the NFL.
- But who would have believed that neither Brady nor Brees would pass for over 200 yards, registering 189 and 190 yards respectively? That and Brady’s 6 Super Bowl rings and 9 Super Bowl appearances are records which likely will never be broken.
- Most of the pundits were predicating that Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ defense would lead them to a convincing victory over the Bills, but the lake Erie eeriness somehow induced Justin “Mr. Automaic” Tucker to doink two FG attempts off the uprights, then after a 3-3 snoozer of a 1st half, the Bills took the 2nd half kickoff and turned it into a 66 yard TD drive on a pass from Josh Allen to Stefon Diggs, which induced the Raven to quoth “Nevermore” when after their 66 yard drive, on 3rd and goal from the Bills’ 9 yard line, Jackson served up a 101 yard pick six to Taron Johnson.
- Like many of you I was hoping to watch the first AFC Championship “Battle of Lake Erie” at Buffalo if somehow the Browns could win at Kansas City.
- Amazingly, the Brown had everything going for them after Patrick Mahomes was lost foe the game on a concussion while running a sprint option (can anyone explain why the Chiefs with all of their offensive firepower would ever have to put Mahomes at risk in a running sprint option play like that? Yeah, he scored a 1st half TD on the same play, but, again, is it really worth the risk?).
- At the time of Mahomes’ injury the Chiefs appeared to be in full command of the game —- but then the Browns atoned for their near TD on Rashard Higgins’ reach for the pylon where he was clearly spearheaded on a helmet to helmet hit by Daniel Sorenson (which cannot be rectified via replay, ugh, isn’t replay supposed to be about getting the calls right?), when Kareem Hunt banged in from the 3 yard line to make the score 22-17.
- With 8:00 left, when the Browns had their superb chance to take the lead while having all of the momentum on their side and the entire NFL world sitting on the edge of their seats, it was as if HC/OC Kevin Stefanski and DC Joe Woods did their best Kliff Kingsbury and Vance Joseph impersonations, especially versus a backup QB —- first with Stefanski calling plays ultra conservatively while milking the clock down —- and in the process using their 2nd timeout on a 1st and 10 play where confusion and play clock management were issues.
- At that point it seemed clear that Stefanski’s strategy was to try to milk the clock all the way down and score the game winning TD with little time left for the Chiefs to answer. With only 1 timeout left, it became apparent that this was an all-in drive (because, as it turned out, it HAD to be). Now —- the strategy may have been wise, had Patrick Mahomes remained in the lineup. But, as we know, by then Chad Henne, was the Chiefs’ QB.
- Here is what transpired after the TO at 5:17: (thanks to ESPN’ play-by-play)
1st & 10 at CLE 31
- (5:17 - 4th) (Shotgun) N.Chubb right end to CLV 30 for -1 yards (A.Hitchens).
2nd & 11 at CLE 30
- (4:35 - 4th) (Shotgun) B.Mayfield pass incomplete short left [D.Sorensen].
3rd & 11 at CLE 30
- (4:31 - 4th) (Shotgun) B.Mayfield pass short right to K.Hunt pushed ob at CLV 32 for 2 yards (C.Ward) [C.Jones].
4th & 9 at CLE 32
- (4:19 - 4th) J.Gillan punts 48 yards to KC 20, Center-C.Hughlett. M.Hardman to KC 28 for 8 yards
In summary, the Browns slowly and deliberately used a precious 3:51 of clock and their 2nd TO to mount a 7 play 12 yard drive. Only to punt the ball back to the Chiefs, who then were able to close out the game because, as was the case with the Cardinals’ defense so often, the Browns failed to cover the RB on a simple flare pass (to Darrel Williams on a critical 3rd and 4) —- and then on a 4th and 1 at midfield, failed to cover WR Tyreek Hill (of all people) on a simple out pass.
By the way, the game sealing quick sprint pass on 4th and 1 from Henne to Hill was pretty much the same play that Kliff Kingsbury called on 3rd and 1 late in the Dolphins game where Kyler threw a tad wide on a well covered Christian Kirk. That play still haunts because it led to Kingsbury’s decision to try to kick the 48 yard FG instead of going for it on 4th and 1.
What this weekend’s games proved was that teams that make a habit of frequently throwing past the sticks, particularly on 3rd and 4th downs are the ones who have the bast chance of winning big games.
Rodgers, Mahomes, Allen and Brady were the best at it in their games. They all won.
Interestingly, Rodgers, Mahomes and Brady have been Super Bowl MVPs.How often does that happen in the final 4?
Not too many people would have thought Josh Allen would be making his case for a Super Bowl bid a mere 3 years into his career with the Bills. That’s why most of America will be rooting for the Bills.
Which leads me to one of the main reasons why Josh Allen has emerged as a budding superstar —- the Bills’ OC Brian Daboll —- who , in my opinion, is the most talented play caller (other than Andy Reid) in the NFL today.
Amazingly, Daboll, despite being a former high school teammate of the Chargers’ GM Tom Telesco, and despite having recently been favored to land the Chargers’ job
while appearing to beat he perfect offensive coach for 2nd year QB Justin Herbert —- is now out of the picture in LA as the Chargers hired the Rams’ DC Brandon Staley to be their new head coach.
Before we get back to Brian Daboll, it’s absolutely remarkable that Brandon Staley, at 38 years of age, with a mere 4 years of NFL coaching experience, 3 as a LB coach under Vic Fangio (CHI & DEN) and 1 as a DC (whose only other experience as a DC was briefly stays at Hutchinson Community College, John Carroll University and James Madison University) is now an NFL head coach. The job that Staley did this year for the Rams was absolutely outstanding. It was mind-bogglingly superb.
It would seem to be a fortuitous bounce for the Cardinals to see both Robert Saleh and Brandon Staley snag head coaching positions with the Jets and Chargers —- as we saw, Saleh and Staley shut down the Cardinals’ offense in three of the Cardinals last five games.
Now —- back to Brian Daboll. If Michael Bidwill could find it in him to pull the strings on Daboll, this could be the Cardinals’ ticket to a future Super Bowl. In my opinion, the hiring of Daboll would have the best chance to succeed if it coincided with a change at GM.
The culture among the players in Arizona, particularly among the veterans, is not conducive to short-term and long-term winning. Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim have been the constants throughout the past 8 years of what has been a country club “win or lose we booze” atmosphere where star players are pampered and red carpeted to the dysfunctional point of creating deleterious, team morale crushing double standards.
There is a precious window of opportunity here.
With Kyler Murray heading into his third year, this is the time to get the GM and head coaching positions right.
If you think the current GM and head coach are the right ones to get the Cardinals to succeed in the NFC West and get our team to its 2nd ever Super Bowl, please make your case.
The Cardinals nearly got it right with HC/OC Bruce Arians with Todd Bowles as DC. The Bucs’ win yesterday over the Saints was a reminder of how good a tandem Arians and Bowles were in Arizona. Alas, it’s too bad that Arians was so persistent in promoting Bowles as a head coaching candidate, because we will never know what would have happened in 2015 at the peak of Arians’ tenure had Bowles remained the DC. It certainly would have been hard to fathom his defense giving up 49 point to the Panthers in the 2015 NFC Championship game. It’s too bad too that Arians thought he could replace Bowles with a young coach who had never been a DC at any level before —- and that Steve Keim didn’t have the perspicacity or the gravitas to steer Arians toward a more accomplished veteran DC like Wade Phillips, Jim Schwartz or Dick LeBeau (all of whom were available at the time).
To Arians’ credit, he will now be coaching in his 2nd NFC Championship game in his 7 years as a full-time head coach. Further to his credit, it appears that he has allowed Tom Brady to take command of the offense the way Ken Whisenhunt did with Kurt Warner. While Arians’ teams still appear to be a little shaky on special teams, with Bowles calling the shots and making the key adjustments on defense, the Bucs have a legitimate chance to win it all. Obviously, Arians and Bowles will have to be at their very best on Sunday in Green Bay.