Monday, January 12, 2009

NFL Divisional Playoffs Recap

And another great weekend of NFL football is in the books. I went 3 for 4 with my picks, another solid weekend, only getting one game wrong, and that one dead wrong at that. The Cardinals absolutely took the Panthers to the woodshed in Carolina on Saturday night, something I am still shocked about. For one of the best coaches in the league in John Fox to get outcoached so brutally like that by Ken Wisenhunt of all people is utterly beyond me. I mean, I thought at least at halftime he would whip them into shape and figure out the right game plan to get them set to mount a comeback of the 20-point deficit for the second half, but nope. Just more of the same. A total and thorough ass-whooping right across the board for Arizona, which I freely admit I completely and utterly screwed up. I knew the line was bigger than I wanted it to be to be comfortable with it, but dayyyyum I never saw that coming.

Otherwise, all three games went more or less like I was expecting. The Ravens in fact stuck it to the Titans. It was a close game as I figured, but in the end I believe the better team won. That team went 13-3 this year, almost all due to coach Jeff Fisher as far as I'm concerned. It is a real testament to Fisher as a coach, but eventually you run into a defense like the Ravens in the playoffs and you know what they say -- offense can get you to the playoffs, but defense wins in the playoffs. And in the Sunday night game, the Steelers overcame a first-play touchdown by the Chargers to still end up beating down pretty good on a mistake-prone, poorly-coached San Diego Chargers team. I don't know what to say about them, other than that the Chargers fans out there have really got to want Norv Turner run out of town. How they ever signed a career loser like that to lead their team is beyond me, but this guy simply does not know how to get it up for the big games. The Chargers had a quasi-admirable season, really stepping up in December and then again in January when they needed to to advance a game in the playoffs, but overall of course this team underachieved big time in 2008-2009, and for that you have to lay the blame squarely on Coach Turner. He is simply not the man to lead this team -- or any team, for that matter -- to the promised land. He is a bad game-day coach and an even worse motivator, as can be seen from this year's Chargers' 5-8 start or whatever it was. But the Steelers looked good, really good even, and there were a couple of stretches where their offense looked downright scary, which itself should be scary for anyone left on the Steelers' schedule as that defense combined with a potent offense should spell troubles for any team in the NFL.

Which leaves us with the game of the weekend, the Eagles at the Giants on Sunday at 1pm ET. This was another great game between two of the biggest rivals in the sport who play in a division that over my lifetime has been the absolute cream of the crop in the vast majority of seasons. The Eagles and Giants faced off on Sunday for the 8th time in the past three years, so they are no stranger to each other by any means, including have played three times now in the past nine weeks, first in Philadelphia and then the last two in New York, where the Giants went undefeated this season except against the Eagles.

Overall, the story of the game can be told from one stat: third down percentage. The Eagles ended up 7 of 14 on 3rd downs in the game, while the Giants finished 3 of 13 on converting on third down. Plus the Giants were 1 of 3 on converting 4th down as well. I don't care who you are, but there's not a team in this league that can win a game being outplayed on 3rd down that badly. On the crucial drive where McNabb threw the touchdown pass to a wide open Brett Celek from the 3 yard line to go up 20-11, the Eagles converted on a 3rd down and 20 (Jason Avant) and a 3rd and 10 (Buckhalter), and that was really the theme of the game. The Eagles didn't move the ball awesomely against the formidable Giants defense, but they did what they had to do and repeatedly stepped up in the clutch on 3rd downs.

Meanwhile, Eli Manning and the Giants repeatedly stepped down on 3rd down when they needed to execute the most. In general, Eli had perhaps his worst game of the season. Now I know a lot of the credit for that has to do to the Eagles defense, which has been absolutely suffocating over the past several weeks, but in the end Manning just didn't have it right from the getgo on Sunday. His first pass was a duck that sailed about 10 yards over the head of his receiver, and his second pass was one of the worst interceptions you're ever going to see a former Sueprbowl MVP quarterback make, as Eli felt pressure from two Eagles rushers, and deep in his own territory, just sidearmed a ball off of two flat feet that went directly to Eagles off-season pickup Asante Samuel who ran it back to inside the 10-yard line. That was such a bad decision by Eli, it reminded me of specifically one player from the recent past: Eli Manning, two seasons ago. Not this year and not last year for the most part, but two seasons ago, the young, immature Eli Manning who made horrifically bad decisions with the ball every time he was under pressure. As soon as I saw that play, I knew the Giants were in trouble. And then when Eli tried to take the ball on 4th down and 1 and run the qb sneak, he did just about as bad of a job with that play as a quarterback can make. HE was just so weak about it, he basically thought he could just lean forward and get the yard and a half he needed, and instead the Eagles' line pushed the Giants backwards, and there was Manning, getting low when he should not have been getting low and basically being pushed backwards along with the rest of his team. That is not how you run a qb sneak, and if that's all your quarterback has, then perhaps you should consider going with your big, bruising runningback instead on 4th and 1.

I could make some comments about the playcalling from Tom Coughlin, on both fourth down plays the Giants tried and failed on the day, and I could surely question his decision to challenge the spot on 3rd down and 1 with just two timeouts left and 12:30 to go in the game, when the replay clearly showed the Giants if anything were given a more favorable spot than they deserved, but in the end, I don't really blame Tom Coughlin for this loss. I think Coughlin is a great coach, better than he gets credit for for the most part, and if I had to blame one person for the demise of the 2008-2009 Giants season, that person has got to be Plaxico Burress. You Giants fan wanna be mad at someone? Be mad at Plax. The team was what, 11-1 until Plax blew up and shot himself in the foot (literally) before being scratched from the rest of the season by the team, and since that day, the Giants finished up the season losing 4 of 5 games. I wrote about this already previously, but without Plax that entire team becomes a shell of its former self. It's not just the touchdown a game that the team loses directly from Plax's absence; the bigger loss is what it does to the rest of the team, as opposing defenses no longer need to fear the longball at all with the rest of the Giants' receiving corps, and then that hurts the running game as well, and in enables more blitzes which puts Manning in a tough spot and leads to plays like that interception to start the game this Sunday against the Eagles. Plaxico Burress absolutely fucked the Giants this year in the biggest way, and like I said anybody who feels the need for a scapegoat among Giants fans should look no further than Plax, even considered in light of some of the bad play calls out of Coughlin and surely one of Eli's worst games in recent memory. Put Plax out there and you've got a whole different ball game (literally), I am sure of it.

I saw some pretty sick stats on ESPN on the Eagles' defense since December. In the last 6 games, the Eagles have allowed a total of 10.8 points per game -- they had allowed 20.9 ppg in the first 12 games of the regular season -- scoring four defensive touchdowns in that span while recording 12 takeaways. Wow. And I mentioned this last week already, but Andy Reid does not get enough credit for having benched McNabb in the middle of our crushing defeat at the hands of the Ravens in Week 12. Since that benching, McNabb came back in the next game and threw four touchdowns along the way to crushing next week's opponent the Arizona Cardinals, and overall he had led the team to 6 wins in 7 games since then, including five wins by double-digits, two on the road here in the playoffs.

So on to next week, where the Eagles were quickly installed as a 3-point favorite to win in Arizona and go to their second superbowl in the last four seasons. I am very surprised by that line, given that the Cardinals finished 2008 6-2 at home, with home losses only to playoff-bound Minnesota and the Giants, and especially after watching what the Cardinals did to the Panthers and their highly-rated defense this past weekend. But people are just going to ride the hot team here, especially the one with the great defense, and dam if that isn't my Philadelphia Eagles, minus three points at Arizona next Sunday at 3:30pm ET. To think that this Eagles team -- the team that couldn't beat Cincinatti in a key spot in Week 11, the team that saw our multi-year starting qb get benched in Week 12 in favor of Kory Kolb, the team that couldn't score a touchdown against the Redskins in a cruical Week 16 game, the team that needed everybody and their mother to lose on the last week of the season to even have a chance to play the Cowboys for a playoff spot in the season's final game -- is actually a decent favorite on the road to return to the superbowl, I am still a little amazed about it. I will have more on my expectations for this weekend's playoff games at the end of this week, but for now suffice it to say that the fans of Philadelphia, myself well included of course, are really walking around on Cloud Nine these days. And I could sit and listen to New York sports radio all day long after a weekend like this -- between the fans calling in and crying about how the Giants could lose, to the even better calls comparing the sports teams of the entire city of New York to how awesome the Philadelphia teams have become, it is just pure heaven as a Philly guy transplanted to the New York area.

And I think Giants runningback Brandon Jacobs said it best after the game in the Giants locker room when he said the following:

Well, there you have it. Bring on the Cardinals, baybeeeeeee!

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Blogger DuggleBogey said...

Seriously, you don't think it was an incredible confluence of lucky events that led to the Ravens beating the Titans? You think the better team won?

You don't think it was lucky for the Ravens that Chris Johnson got hurt? You don't think that catch on the 5 yard line that led to the game winning field goal where the two Titans defenders ran into each other was lucky? You don't think the officials not calling delay-of-game on the 3rd and 9 play was lucky? You don't think the zillion personal fouls committed by the Titans was lucky for the Ravens?

You think all those things are planned in the Ravens locker room before the game?

Come on.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Gmello said...

I agree with the above poster that a lot of lucky events led to the Ravens win over the Titans - personally I thought rookie QB Flacco would throw at least one interception, that there would be at least one Ravens turnover - but I've got to give you props for going 3 for 4 with your picks. Nice job.

I like how the Cardinals look esp at home, they seem to have the more consistent, dynamic offense. And getting 3.5 points. There must be a lot of Philly fan action pushing that line.

The Steelers at -6 still look good over the Ravens, although I'm not betting that either. Sometimes it's just more fun to watch.

12:08 PM  

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