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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Postgame, Saturday Divisionals

After watching the Broncos (predictably) handle the Patriots, I went to bed knowing two things about how the game would be covered in the national press: (1) Writers would probably blame the loss on "luck" or the two calls (pass interference, Champ's fumble on the 100 yard return) and (2) Writers would spin it as "Patriots LOSE" rather than "Broncos WIN." The reason for this is very simple: sportswriters want to be correct. Since anyone can cover the "after" of sports - who won, who lost, what the stats were - the currency among sports writers is who can cover the before. That is, who can accurately predict games. And since writers tend to choose New York/Boston teams at an irrationally high rate, and tend overwhelmingly to not watch teams who are not already in the national spotlight, many of them blinded themselves to the obvious deficiencies in the Patriots.

Just as an aside, all of ESPN (Bill Simmons, Dan Shanoff, et al.) and all of Sports Illustrated (Peter King, Dr. Z, Mike Silver, et al.) all chose the Patriots. And none of them had a single cogent reason why.

Isn't this the year of the road team in the playoffs? The Pats have Richard Seymour and Corey Dillon back after they missed the 28-20 Denver win three months ago, and that changes everything.
- Peter King

Yes, and look at what a dynamo Corey Dillon has been. He's averaging about 2.9 yards per carry, and is injured. And none of the Broncos' big runs in the earlier game were about point-of-attack at the line of scrimmage, where Seymour would actually help. True, last night, the Patriots managed to sufficiently shut down the running game - but the result was for Plummer to just destroy the secondary. Again. None of them mention that in the previous meeting Champ Bailey was missing and Darrent Williams was hurt. Or that the only way the Patriots could muster any offense in that game was through the air - something having a top-3 cornerback healthy might prevent.

That was, honestly, the only prediction that seemed to be based on reality or analysis. The rest were more like Michael Silver's "Tom Brady off his back leg on fourth-and-goal? Vinatieri from 65 in the thin mountain air? Somehow, some way, the Pats will be Mile High." They were all mythical in nature - somehow, Belichek will magic up a win with Tom Brady. Doesn't happen that way, fellas.

There was one article this morning that still managed to suprise me, though. Gene Wojciechowski, writing for ESPN, basically busted out a "Broncos can't win against EITHER the Colts OR the Steelers" article, before the other game had even been played. There's plenty of ammunition there - especially if, as expected, the Colts win (though one of their corners might not play, becuase his wife stabbed him in the knee last night). After all, the Colts are pretty good at home, on turf, in a dome - and the Broncos haven't done great there recently. But the reasons Gene gives us are:
I'm not saying the Broncos didn't take advantage of the Patriot screw-ups. They did. Twenty-four of their 27 points came after New England turnovers. But it's not like the Broncos had to go far for those points.

First touchdown drive: One play, one yard.

First field goal drive: Four plays, seven yards.

Second touchdown drive: One play, one yard.

Third touchdown drive: Three plays, 15 yards.

That's 17 total yards for 21 points. Donovan McNabb and the Campbell's Soup flag-football team could win games with that sort of field position.

It's astonishing to me that anyone who isn't literally retarded would say something like this. Yes, it was easy for the offense to score on those drives. But it's not like they just started there out of charity - the defense actually put them there. Gene's point seems to literally be, "The Broncos managed to pressure Tom Brady, disguise coverages, and force fumbles and interceptions. So they can't possibly win." I'm just at a loss as to where the connection is. Like, he seems to be saying: sure, you can take a guy with extensive postseason experience, who is considered Captain Clutch, and pressure him into bad throws. But Ben Roethlesberger? No, he's un-fucking-flappable. Right.

If the Steelers come out of the Colts game (which will happen ONLY as a result of rust. The Steelers are a significantly worse team than the Colts, and should not win this game. Note that they still might, just that, out of 10 games, the Colts are winning 9 and the last is going to OT), bet the farm on the Broncos. Because they won't be losing.

Finally, please, Broncos, stop calling blitzes on 3rd and long. They don't work against decent quarterbacks. If you take away the senseless blitzing (which invariably led to screen passes of 10 - 20 yards), the New England offense never really got anything going. A third of their total yardage came on three big plays, none of which resulted in a touchdown. And on all of those big plays, the Broncos were blitzing.

On the Redskins losing to the Seahawks: yeah, I blew this one. I failed to adequately appreciate just how bad the Redskins offense is. For future reference, I will no longer be backing teams where the second recieving threat is nonexistant. I didn't know James Thrash would be out for Saturday, but even then, I don't think he would have taken any real pressure off Santana Moss. In fact, I'm very concerned about my Panthers pick at this point. Steve Smith is really the only offensive threat on that team. I just can't go against my feeling that the Bears are very overrated defensively, or the fact that Grossman is making like, his second start this year against a team with the best pass-rush in the league. I don't know if "chuck it to Musin" is a viable strategy, especially since Musin used to be on the Panthers.

Now, I want to say something that you will not read anywhere else on the entire internet, or in print this morning. The best thing that could have happened to the Seahawks is Shaun Alexander's injury, for the very simple reason that, if Alexander had been in the whole game, the Seahawks would have relied much more on their running game. If you take away Mack Strong's improbable 32 yard run, their backs (Alexander and Morris) were averaging 2.7 yards per carry. The Seattle ran 24 designed run plays to 32 designed pass plays. Most of their yardage and success came through the air, attacking the injured Springs (wow was that a mismatch - you think Jackson goes for 150 yards against even a decent DB?). Note to Washington: if you're constantly getting beat by a not-particularly-fast reciever, maybe you should change your coverage. But that's why Gregg Williams gets the big bucks - his inability to make even basic mid-game adjustments.

The other thing that sort of bothered me is this: why was Brunell still in after the first half? He ran when there was no pressure, he threw the ball away too much, and when the Skins were down by seven, he took a sack rather than at least trying for a throw. Twice. He was obviously running scared, and while Ramsey might not win the game, Brunell definitely wasn't. Coaches are too afriad of unconventional moves, since if they lose the conventional way, they aren't criticized as harshly. Then people blame the players, and not the coach. Why not try to win? It's not like you have much to lose with two minutes left, on the road, in the playoffs when you're down ten.

Oh well, 1-for-1 so far. Feeling uneasy about both picks today, but we'll see how they go.

cranked out at 9:39 AM | |

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