Gregor’s Packer Analysis
Divisional Round Recap
In this issue:
The Ravens surprise the Broncos in the second overtime
The Falcons blow a 20 point lead before coming back
The Patriots cruise
The 49ers end the Packers season
It looked pretty likely that Denver would make it to the AFC Championship Game with under a minute to go until Joe Flacco found Jacoby Jones on a 70 yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 35 and send the game into overtime. Which begs the question—how do you let someone behind you when only a touchdown can hurt you? The kickoff came with 31 seconds left, Denver had 2 timeouts and elected to go to OT. Peyton Manning was picked off, and Baltimore’s Justin Tucker made a 47 yard field goal in the second overtime to win 38-35. The Ravens defense did a good job, especially in the second half. Of Denver’s 5 touchdowns, 2 were special teams touchdowns, a 90 yard punt return and a 104 yard kickoff return by Trindon Holliday.
As stated in the preview, Peyton Manning has not been good in cold weather games 40 degrees or colder. Before the game, he was 0-3 with one touchdown and 7 picks. He added to the touchdowns (3), the interceptions (2) and the losses (1). But if Denver doesn’t let Jones get behind the defense, it’s unlikely the Ravens tie it in regulation.
The Broncos managed 398 total yards, the Ravens got 479. Denver had 125 yards rushing, Baltimore had 155 rushing yards. But Flacco had more yards than Manning (mostly because of the 70, 59 and 32 yard TD passes) and no picks. The Ravens will be heading to New England to play Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship game next Sunday.
The Seahawks were down by 20 twice, took the lead with 31 seconds left, and lost 30-28. It was all Atlanta in the first half and 20-0 late in the second quarter. Seattle was driving just before halftime. They took a timeout, their second, with 30 seconds left, 3rd and 1 at the 10. They gain 2 yards to set up first and goal and took a timeout, their last, with 25 seconds left. Nobody was more than 12 yards downfield, so they easily could have lined up for a play without the timeout. After an incomplete pass on first down, a false start, and an incomplete pass on second down, they had 3rd and goal with 17 seconds left. Russell Wilson was sacked and they couldn’t run another play. Earlier in the half they had 4th and 1 inside the 15 and didn’t make it. Two lost scoring opportunities in a 2 point loss.
The logic was easy to understand. On 4th and 1 in the first quarter, show some confidence in your offensive line and running game. If you don’t make it, Atlanta has a long field and you play field position. Even if Atlanta scores (they did), you still have 3 plus quarters to come back. With the timeout just before halftime, you drop back and throw 3 times. Get rid of it quickly and it’s either a touchdown or an incompletion. An incompletion stops the clock and lets you set up for a field goal. It takes away a running play on third down so Atlanta knew it had to be a pass. And got to Wilson before he could throw it away. So with no chance to get the field goal, they tried to run a play on 4th down but couldn’t get it off. The danger of not having a timeout left.
The Falcons looked like they’d run away with it, ahead 20-0 and 27-7. But with under a minute to go, they trailed 28-27. Then Falcons coach Mike Smith called a timeout with a first and 10 at the Seattle 32 with 13 seconds left. If they weren’t going to run another play, then let the clock run down to 5 or 6 seconds. Then if the snap is bobbled, they can down it, take a timeout and try it again. If not, there is little or no time left. But the clock doesn’t go to zero if you snap it with 13 seconds left and kick a 49 yard field goal. The kickoff didn’t go very far and Seattle had a chance. The first play was a short gain, the second was a throw into the end zone that was intercepted by Julio Jones, who is normally a receiver, not a DB.
The Patriots jumped out to a 38-13 lead and Houston couldn’t get closer than 38-28 before losing 41-28. The Pats won the game but lost Gronk, who broke his forearm again. Tom Brady had a big game and the defense forced turnovers. At times they looked unstoppable, especially on the quick snap after a big gain. They had 457 total yards to 425 for Houston, although much of Houston’s offense came late when they were down 25 and New England played softer. Danny Woodhead was also hurt in the first quarter. Brady said that there were plays in the game plan for Woodhead and Rob Gronkowski. Shane Vereen and others stepped up.
Baltimore linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo got things rolling for next weekend when he said the Patriots have a “gimmick” offense and brought up “Spygate”. That didn’t go over well in New England. Not that the Pats wouldn’t have been ready, but why give them a reason to come out fired up? This should be a close game, a few plays will make the difference.
The Packers season ended Saturday Night in San Francisco as the 49ers beat Green Bay 45-31. While scoring 31 isn’t bad, one of the scores was a Sam Shields pick 6. And while the offense wasn’t bad the defense was awful. Even when San Francisco looked at 3rd and long, Colin Kaepernick had plenty of time, and when he couldn’t find an open receiver, he found plenty of room to run. On the night, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards (178 before contact). Nobody touched him on most of his runs, he either scored or slid. The 49ers had 579 total yards to 352 for the Packers.
You could say that San Francisco had a 21 point lead and the Packers scored late to make the score look better. You could say that the Packers gave the 49ers an easy touchdown with a muffed punt by Jeremy Ross inside the Green Bay 10, and an Aaron Rodgers interception at midfield. But after playing close in the first half the 49ers ran away with the game in the second half and it didn’t come down to a bad play or a bad call. It was a convincing win by the 49ers. It showed that personnel wise, the Green Bay O line isn’t as good as the San Francisco D line. That the San Francisco O line does a good job and the Packers D line has a lot of what should be NFL backups who are starting in Green Bay.
Other than BJ Raji, the D line needs to be upgraded. When they won the Super Bowl, they had Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett to go with Raji. Jenkins left after that season, and Pickett isn’t the same player two years later. But the linebackers and the secondary looked bad too. Other than Clay Matthews, there are some questions at linebacker. Will Desmond Bishop and Nick Perry come back from injury and be effective in 2013? Will AJ Hawk be back? Will the Packers look to upgrade with at least one new linebacker as a high draft pick? Will Charles Woodson come back next year? He also isn’t the player he was in 2010. The secondary might have given up yards, but that’s due in part to lack of pressure on the quarterback. Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, and Casey Hayward usually look good in coverage. Morgan Burnett has looked good and MD Jennings and Jerron McMillan are improving, but there is no Nick Collins in the group.
And the O line had a backup playing, but still could be upgraded. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed part of the regular season and the playoffs. How many are at or close to Pro Bowl players? Marshall Newhouse is considered average at best by some, a weak spot on the O line by others. Josh Sitton and TJ Lang are considered good by most, and Evan Dietrich Smith has only started a few games at center.
What about Donald Driver (age) and Greg Jennings (salary)? Unlikely that either will be back. But that still leaves Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones coming back. Jermichael Finley could be gone. DuJuan Harris played well at the end of the season, but can he be effective over 16 games? Will James Starks stay healthy and contribute or be replaced? Will Cedric Benson be back? What about Alex Green’s role? There has to be another kicker to compete with Mason Crosby. Will there be coaching or coordinator changes? Hard to blame the coaches when other than your playmakers (Cobb, Rodgers, Raji and Matthews) most units are stuck with average players, or worse.
With the salary cap there won’t be a lot of stars, but there needs to be more good players, especially on the D line. Aaron Rodgers is the best in the NFL. He keeps the Packers in games, and the win total would be down at least a few without him. But it’s hard to see the Packers taking the next step until both lines improve. Maybe that comes as rookies like Mike Daniels and Jerel Worthy take the next step. Hard to see Marshall Newhouse developing into a Pro Bowl left tackle. Maybe these guys don’t improve and different players are needed. They clearly don’t match up with the elite teams with the performance they got this year. And they can’t take the next step until they can hold their own, especially on the lines. That needs to get fixed before Rodgers gets hurt and they have another position to worry about.