Divisional Weekend 2016 Recap: Status Quo

By The Ruddy Report Staff nfl nfl playoffs

Last week, every road team won in the first round for the first time ever. This week, every home team won, which hasn't happened in eleven years. The 'best' teams got byes this year, which is nice, since in single elimination tournaments, the best teams don't always win. Everyone here at the Ruddy Report (except for Patrick1) will be happy to not see Kansas City and Andy Reid go further in the playoffs. Let's get to it!

New England 27, Kansas City 20

Patrick:

Well, I’m not as embarrassed by my pick as I thought I’d be. Andy Reid, however, should be embarrassed. His complete inability to handle clocks has been well chronicled,2 but he outdid himself this past weekend.

There have been 2,111 drives since 1998 where a team has received the ball, down two scores, with less than seven minutes remaining in the game. Andy Reid managed to cobble together a drive slower than all but one of those 2,111 drives.3 He should have just went for the gold, honestly. At least then he could be number 1 at something.

This was and my friend Dwayne watching Andy Reid’s clock management:

The Chiefs players, however hung tough despite being essentially without their two best— Justin Houston and Jeremy Maclin. Those injuries were unexpected going into the playoffs, and they had a huge influence on the outcome of the game.4

The Patriots, meanwhile, instantly reverted to their early-season form with the re-addition of Julian Edelman:5

Yeah, Edelman is kind of important.

The biggest head-scratcher for me in this game was Kansas City’s complete lack of a pass rush. The best way to slow down Tom Brady seems to be not just blitzing, but specifically bringing pressure up the middle; that is, attacking the A-gaps (the spaces between the center and the guards).

“Brady is calm and fearless, which is why crazed edge blitzers rarely give him trouble. He simply strides forward and watches them whiz by. . . . The difference is when the pressure comes up the middle. It eliminates not only Brady’s primary method of evasion, but forces him to rip his eyes away from his receivers downfield to seek an immediate escape route. He does not like throwing on the run."
-John Tomase, Some Guy6

So should the Chiefs have been up to the task of bringing this A-gap pressure? Yes, they should have been. According to Football Outsiders, the 2015 Chiefs were the fourth- best team in the NFL at generating pressure, finishing with an adjusted sack rate of 7.7%. They also fielded two of the top eight pass rushers in the entire league.7

Despite this, Tom Brady was not sacked once during the game. Not once. He is the only quarterback to play this postseason who has not yet suffered a sack.8 Part of the credit goes to the Patriots offensive line, which played incredibly well. However, it might have been a different story had Justin Houston been able to play effectively.9

Kashev:

There are a couple of stats that I think really tell the story of this game.

  1. Patriots Rushing Attack: To finish off the season, KC had the 6th ranked defense by DVOA and 7th ranked defensive line. 10 Combine that with Alex Smith's recent effectiveness (especially the 30-0 routing of the Texans last weekend), the lack of a dominant Patriots running back, and the fact that New England hadn't won since before Christmas, and KC was a trendy pick among the talking heads before the game. 11 How was the Pats offense going to handle KC's defense, especially without the running backs who played most of the season for them?

    Well, they decided not to deal with it.

    Check out this table:12 Patriots Rushing Numbers Let me break this down for you. As a team, the Patriots rushed 14 times, for 38 yards. Having watched the game, I can tell you that some of those Tom Brady attempts are kneel-downs at the end of the game for negative yards; 13 Brady didn't actually have as many carries as his team's leading running back (even though he had more yards). But assuming the yards are 'correct', actual Patriots running backs only account for about 55% of their rushing yards. And also, notice, only 38 yards rushing.

    Considering New England won, they must have been getting those yards somewhere else. More on that in a moment. What this table tells me, in addition to the fact that the play selection on their first touchdown drive was 100% pass, is that the Pats came in with a plan. Specifically, Bill Belichick, a four time Super Bowl Champion14, came in with a game plan, and his team executed it to perfection. Coaching matters in the NFL.

  2. Patriots Passing Attack: So what were the Patriots doing, if they weren't running the ball? Check out this table:
    Patriots Passing

    That's where all the yards went! Importantly, the Patriots were healthy for this game. Gronk had been dealing with knee and back issues, but was ready to go for this one, and had both receiving TDs. But here's my Hot Take: Julian Edelman was more important to the Pats offense than Gronkowski. He had over 100 yards in this game. He seemed to be there every time that the Pats needed a big third down play. And as Patrick told you above, the Pats are 10-0 with Edelman in the lineup. 15 Is he more important than Gronk and Brady? No. But is he up there? I think so.

  3. Andy Reid on the Clock: Despite all of this, the Chiefs still had a fighting chance in this game! That's important; even though the Patriots air attack ripped KC to shreds, they were still within striking distance late in the fourth quarter:

    "The Chiefs trailed 27-13 and had a first-and-goal at the New England 1-yard line with 2:33 left. They had all of their timeouts remaining." 16

    Good on Andy Reid for managing to have all of his timeouts going into the critical part of the game! Especially since it looked like it was going to be tough to do so when he used two timeouts in the first quarter. Despite this, and being within two scores of tying the game, he managed to waste a lot of the clock. They huddled, ran run plays which left the clock running, and didn't score until there was only 1:51 left on the clock. Andy Reid, what's going on?

    "'I'm not sure exactly what you're talking about,' Reid said when asked about the clock management late in the game."

    Oh Andy. You're gonna be .500 in the playoffs forever.

Arizona 26, Green Bay 20 (O/T)

Patrick:

In our game preview, I mentioned that the last time these two teams met in the playoffs, it was perhaps the best quarterback duel I've ever seen. Watching Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner combine to put up what felt like 342 (it was 96) points was a joy. This game, also, was a joy.

NFL, if you want to make money, find a way to mandate a yearly meeting of these two teams in the playoffs. Come up with some playoff seeding formula as mysterious as your QBR stat, and make it happen.

So what was the highlight of the game? This was:

That is a safety. Tackling a fullback. Who weighs almost 40 pounds more than him. I dare anyone to call forward progress on that one.

We also got to see Bruce Arians' Lesticles in this game. He allowed his quarterback, who was having a rough, turn-over prone day, to audible to a pass with less than three minutes on the clock. That was ballsy. Then he overrode his defensive coordinator and decided to blitz against Aaron Rodgers on the last play of the regulation. He certainly plays to win.

Neither play worked, but I can't fault either call. My only complaint with the decision to blitz instead of play prevent against the Hail Mary is that the opposing quarterback was Aaron Rodgers. As a Bears fan, I've seen the guy do this way too many times. Rodgers repeatedly escapes the blitz with his feet, buying his receivers time, and then rolls out of the pocket, changing the angles against the defense. Suddenly the defending team is left with 7 dudes around the line of scrimmage and yet none of them can tackle Rodgers and the receivers have one-on-one matchups for jump balls in the end zone. Blitz in general, sure. Blitz against Rodgers, never.

Arians redeemed himself, however, with a plan so dastardly that it was positively Belichickian. He had his team practice a play, over and over again, for two straight years. He never used it, but he always had it in his back pocket. He sat on it...waiting for the right moment to strike. That moment turned out to be the final play of this game.

Peter King from the MMQB put it best:

"Snap, flip to Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein and Mike Iupati pave the way, and it’s not even that hard. Larry Fitzgerald has never taken a Favrian flip from the quarterback in the middle of the line of scrimmage and run it through the line for a touchdown. It’s not just the imagination of a play like that. It’s the shock of it. The timing, the situation. Practice made perfect. It looked so natural, like they’d rehearsed it 30 to 40 times over the past two years. That’s because they had. That’s what great play-callers with great players do.
[It was]the greatest touchdown pass of Carson Palmer’s professional life, the one that won him his first playoff game of a distinguished 13-year NFL career."

Good call, Bruce.

So, the game was awesome. What did we learn from it? That Aaron Rodgers sucks, obviously. Take that, Aaron.

Oh, still smug are you? Still proud of your career 104.1 rating? Well how about this.

You're 7-6 in the playoffs, a .538 winning percentage.

"Mark Rypien has a .714 postseason winning percentage. Trent Dilfer's is .833. Jake Delhomme's is .625. Mark Sanchez's is .667."17

That's right, you're worse than Mark Sanchez. U mad, bro?

Yeah, I thought so. Need I remind you that this game was the fifth playoff game you've lost on the last play?

Aww. Now I just feel bad. Better luck next time, Aaron.

Kashev:

What a game.

Aaron Rodgers seemed to go to the magic well as many times as the football gods would allow this season. First, in the second game against the Detroit Lions, he put up a ridiculous Hail Mary, which I wanted to embed in the page, but cannot. Thanks, NFL. Watch it here, if you didn't see it live. It's worth seeing. They're calling it the Miracle in Motown, which I hate, but that's neither here nor there.

Then, in this game, he had not one, but two game-saving Hail Mary's to Jeff Janis, of all people.

But Aaron reached into his magic bag one too many times, and found it empty on the coin flip. Well, you win some, and you lose some.

To me, the Packers started to look the way the Patriots looked at the end of the regular season. Battered. Elite quarterback who knows how to win. Missing wide receivers to injury. But still somehow coming close to winning.

What is a little troubling is the dip in ANY/A that Aaron experienced after the brutal loss to the Broncos, which really seemed to put the Packers on their skid:

Finally, lest this get lost, courtesy of B/R:

Don't buy your tickets before your team is in the game. And if you do, sell 'em on SeatGeek or something.

Seattle 24, Carolina 31

Kashev:

During the first quarter of this game, I started getting texts like this:

Is this over?

And also this:

What happened?

Patrick and I started texting, and we started talking about when they should bench Cam.

Unfortunately, the Panthers coaching staff must have been thinking like that too. They took their foot off of the Seahawks' collective throat, and Russell Wilson is too good to be shut out. They did just enough to win the game, and probably got caught looking too far ahead. I don't think they'll make that mistake in the Super Bowl, though.

Patrick:

This game really should have been expected. Both teams played to their tendencies. Carolina has not been great defensively in second halves. Starting in week 8 against Indianapolis, the Carolina defense has allowed a myriad of 20+ point second halves. Indy dropped 20 points on them to force overtime. The next week, Green Bay put up 22 after being down at halftime. In week 13, New Orleans scored 22 points in a comeback attempt. The next week was the same story; New York scored 28. Seattle's 24 point second half is only the most recent edition of what has become a disturbing trend in Carolina.

Seattle, meanwhile, has a penchant for sleepwalking through the beginning of games, and then roaring back late. Sometimes I seriously think their bodies don't adjust when they're not on the West Coast and that they don't wake up until halftime.

Since Russell Wilson came to Seattle in 2012, they've made the playoffs every year. That's 4 playoff appearances. They've had 5 instances where an incredible Russell Wilson second half made the game interesting. Basically, you should expect this to happen at least once a year.

It all started during the 2012 season, when a sleepy Seattle fell behind 20-0 by halftime against Atlanta in the Divisional Playoff. A 21-3 4th quarter made the game tight, as Seattle lost 30-28. The next year, Seattle once again fell behind, this time to San Francisco. A 10-3 halftime score turned into a 23-17 win in the Conference Championship game. The next year, back in the Divisional Playoff again, Seattle secured a 31-17 win over Carolina with a 17 point fourth quarter. The very next game they beat Green Bay 28-22 after being down 16-0 at halftime.18 That win propelled Seattle into the Super Bowl. Then of course, this year happened. New year, same story, as Seattle fell behind 31-0 at halftime, only to come roaring back for an exciting 31-24 loss.19

How good could this team be if they paid Chip Kelly $5 million a year exclusively to manage their players sleep schedules?

On the other side of the ball, people who don't love Carolina are monsters. Cam Newton is great. It's nice to see a black quarterback have success, and he's fun.20 As a Bears fan, it'd be great to see fumble-creating legend Charles Tillman (among other ex-Bears) get a Super Bowl ring. For people who aren't Bears or Panthers fans, know that Tillman is a great guy.

Also, the Panthers have one of the best Twitter accounts out there:

If that's not enough for you, how about the Panthers' tradition of giving every touchdown-scoring ball to a little kid in the stands? Here's Newton chasing down a ball to give it to a fan.

And here's the best moment from the entire weekend:

Pittsburgh 16, Denver 23

Patrick:

Meh. That's what I think of Denver's victory over Pittsburgh. I'm not impressed.

The Ghost of Peyton Manning played decently, but not quite up to the level of a playoff-caliber quarterback. Admittedly, he didn't have much help from his wide receivers.

Maybe they should invest in some good gloves.

So, the quarterback is not so great, the wide receivers are not so great, the offensive line is super injured, but that Denver defense, right? How about that Denver defense?

Meh.

Sure, they held the Steelers to 16 points. But, they also gave up 339 yards to a quarterback with an amputated throwing arm.21 They also lost the total yardage battle to a team missing their first and second running back, as well as their center, and their top wide receiver. Still feeling like the Broncos earned their victory? How about this:22

"The Steelers are the first team in the modern history of the sport to play in a postseason game without its leading regular-season rusher and wide receiver. "

Yeah, the Broncos weren't super impressive overall. One of their better plays displayed just how old Manning looks when trying to stand up. All people fall, even athletes. But athletes do not fall and get up the way the Ghost of Peyton Manning did there. That was some serious old man stuff.

I love Manning, but this is the end of the road for the guy.

Kashev:

This game was really, really boring. I don't think either team was the second best team in the AFC, given their current levels of health. The Broncos are probably going to get shredded in the next round. Instead of giving you game analysis, let's talk about some of the ridiculous praise Phil Simms gave Peyton Manning.

Seriously, why can't Cris and Al do every game?

Recap

Patrick Kashev
Playoff Record 6-2 7-1
Original Playoff Bracket Super Bowl Busted on the AFC Side, Alive on the NFC Correct about who would be in the Conference Championship Round

We'll be back later this week to talk about this weekend's games.

Footnotes

  1. Seriously, why did Patrick pick KC to go to the Super Bowl? Madness.

  2. Look at this awesome and hilariously named website dedicated to getting Andy Reid fired. Reid is a rock solid NFL head coach, but he undeniably has a long history of horrible clock management; that post was from 2011. Also, do yourself a favor and check out this website dedicated to walruses that look like Andy Reid.

  3. From Pro Football Talk.

  4. It was thought that Houston would be at full strength by this game after being cleared to play in the Wild Card round. Both Maclin and Houston saw a few snaps, but were largely ineffective and were taken out early.

  5. Pro-Football-Reference.

  6. Writing on some sports radio website. An excellent film breakdown of how Rex Ryan has used A-gap pressure to fluster Brady over the years can be read here.

  7. As measured by total hurries, a more comprehensive stat than sacks. According to SportingCharts.

  8. ESPN.

  9. He’s so good that he’s the only player to win Hoss of the Week twice. He also won Hoss of the Year. There is no greater individual achievement than Hoss of the Year; take that, Presidential Medal of Freedom.

  10. Football Outsiders.

  11. I have a theory about this. I think that talking heads disproportionately pick against transcendent QBs like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I think they do this because they look insightful when they provide reasons for betting against them, and don't look that stupid when these QBs take the game into their hands and do transcendent QB things, because of course you can't account for individual players having ridiculous games, even when they have track records of having ridiculous games. It's somehow a safe pick. Someday, I'd love to have numbers to back this up.

  12. ESPN. All the stats about this game are from ESPN.

  13. C'mon, ESPN & NFL, why are kneel downs negative rush yards for the QB? That doesn't make any sense. Account for those somewhere else.

  14. Six time, if you count his years with the Giants.

  15. Edelman's ESPN Page

  16. ESPN: Andy Reid offers little explanation for Chiefs' clock woes vs. Patriots

  17. Mike Freeman.

  18. Russell Wilson has three more fourth quarter comebacks and four more game-winning drives than Aaron Rodgers. Weirdest part? Rodgers has been starting literally twice as long as Wilson.

  19. All game scores are from ESPN. Weird thing is that the Seahawks seem to like comebacks over certain teams: San Francisco, Green Bay, and Carolina. They've done it twice to Carolina in the playoffs, and once each to Green Bay and San Francisco in the playoffs, as described above. But they've also done it to both teams in the regular season as well: Green Bay and San Francisco.

  20. Kashev found this hilarious article by Rembert Browne about the absurdity of the dabbing debacle.

  21. ESPN provided the yardage stat, Kashev is my source about the amputated arm.

  22. B/R.

Cover image from Fansided