Despite a couple wild finishes and crazy comebacks, Wild Card Weekend wasn’t all that interesting. Every game was terrible at some point. Indy went up 21-0 early, Seattle and Baltimore’s offense was hard to watch for most of the game, and there were times during Eagles-Bears when a Mitchell Trubisky-Nick Foles playoff matchup showed its true colors.
All of it, interesting or not, is sorted out below.
This game literally came down to six drives in the first half. Indianapolis came out and lit Houston on fire to start the game. Andrew Luck made two ridiculous throws to T.Y. Hilton, squeezing balls into windows that only prime Tom Brady could fit balls into. Then, in the red zone, the Colts took advantage of the Texans lax, bearish zone coverage schemes and attacked the flats. That left Eric Ebron wide open on a short out route which put Indy up 7-0.
The Texans came out and had one bad drive. It cost them everything.
When Indy got the ball back, they switched it up on the Texans, and instead of Luck picking them apart, the Colts ran Marlon Mack down their throats. His speed was too much. Mack broke a run of 25 yards on the first play of the drive, getting him in the rhythm early. He gained 39 yards on the drive, and ended up scoring to put Indy up 14-0.
A pair of interceptions by each team essentially offset each other, but it set the tone for what was to come for Houston. The drive that the interception came on had been Houston’s best of the day. They were at least getting yards, even though they were two-to-three yard gains.
After a turnover themselves, the Colts then used a third offensive style, and that was through big plays. Luck found Dontrelle Inman wide open for 21 yards (This Colts team is just made up of dudes who were in the wrong situation elsewhere), then Ebron again for 15 yards. Inman then caught an 18 yard touchdown, adding to the high number of Colts weapons that just torched Houston, and essentially ending the game.
It was over incredibly quickly, and it was an extremely impressive performance by Luck and the Colts. In a year and especially a playoffs where points are going to have to be scored to win games, the Colts proved they could do that, and against good defenses too. Next week they have the Chiefs, who, uh, don’t exactly have a good defense. It will be about keeping up, and the Colts are capable of doing that.
It wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. Seattle’s sudden rush of offensive competence came too late. Thanks to a complete botch of an onside kick by punter (This makes it excusable. Also, I was really hoping we were going to get a dropkick field goal. It’s a shame it never happened) Michael Dickson, Dallas wasn’t caught in a dire situation with their backs against the wall.
Despite never leading by two possessions until the mid-4th quarter, Dallas dominated the entire game. Ezekiel Elliott continued his tear, running harder than the Seahawks defensive line was trying. He looked unstoppable. Every rush had a 2nd push. Jarran Reed and Frank Clark had their way at times throughout the game, but blocks like this one by Tyron Smith went farther than Reed and Clark’s disruptions.
Dallas also did an excellent job attacking the Seattle secondary, which battled injuries but also played incredibly selfishly. Shaquill Griffin was torched for most of the night, and opposite cornerback Tre Flowers was battling an injury. They didn’t do anything to help stop Amari Cooper, since Seattle’s scheme doesn’t allow corners to shift their position on the field.
The Seahawks didn’t respond at all, and most of that was self-inflicted. While Dallas’ defense had one of its best performances of the year, the Seahawks failed to adjust their offensive scheme. Chris Carson was routinely stuffed by guys like Maliek Collins and Jaylon Smith. Brian Schoettheimer went to Rashaad Penny rarely, but when he did, Penny’s speed provided the Seahawks offense with a change of pace, and it caught Dallas off guard. Penny’s 28 yard rush was the 3rd best play of the night from Seattle. Out of his four carries on the night, three were on the drive the 28 yard rush occurred on. After the long run, the Seahawks went to Penny just once more.
The Seahawks stayed away from creativity in the air as well. Pressure from the Cowboys front made it difficult, but Seattle dinked and dunked practically the entire game aside from Tyler Lockett’s two deep balls and the jump-pass to Ed Dickson. Lockett’s found a consistent ability to get open over the past month; it’s felt like three or four times every Seahawks game he is wide open downfield, and Dickson’s catch was the best designed play Seattle ran all night. Those two plays were back-to-back, but Seattle couldn’t turn that momentum into anything but field goal attempts.
Seattle’s last drive was indicative of what they should have been doing all game. Wilson found Lockett deep again, and he was totally locked in. An aggressive, fast-moving Seattle team would have put more pressure on Dallas, speficially if more play-action was used. Bringing down linebackers like Smith and Leighton Vander Esch with the threat of the run would have isolated not only Lockett more, but Doug Baldwin, who only had three catches for 32 yards.
Dallas brought their A-game. The defense had one of its best performances of the season, and Zeke was too overpowering. But Seattle wasn’t helpless, and they only have their coaches to blame.
Similar to Seattle, it was the Ravens offense and coaching that failed them.
But like the Cowboys, those struggles didn’t come without a good defensive performance. Los Angeles adjusted very nicely after Lamar Jackson carved them up with his legs in Week 16. The Chargers locked down Ravens receivers; it was Kenneth Dixon, a running back, who led the Ravens in receiving yards with 53. Los Angeles stuffed the running game too, Lamar involved or not. Jackson led with 53 yards, but Gus Edwards only had 23 on the ground. Essentially, Jackson was the best option. But the Ravens failed to realize this. Edwards got eight carries, and Dixon got six. Imagine how much more yardage Baltimore would have gained had they called more runs for Jackson?
And imagine if Jackson didn’t throw the ball 29 times? Sure, a lot of those came late in the game, when the Chargers started Chargering and almost squandered their lead and Jackson started making throws he hadn’t not only made all game, but all season. Still, Jackson threw eight times in the first half, completing two passes for 17 yards.
As I said above, Los Angeles did a good job adjusting after their Week 16 loss. They kept Jackson more in check. But that doesn’t mean Baltimore should have shied away from Jackson. He’s your most dangerous weapon, and he’s so dangerous that, no matter how good an opposing defense is, something has to give at some point. He’s that good. The Ravens never gave Jackson that opportunity until they were down 20-3.
That’s why calls for Joe Flacco didn’t make any sense. Jackson completely revolutionized the Ravens offense due to his running ability. Putting Flacco in kills that advantage, and even though Los Angeles has minimized its impact, you’d rather take small odds of something happening than none at all.
As much praise as I have given Jackson, his fumble to seal the Chargers victory was quite representative of his day overall, and fulfilled the stereotype of a rookie quarterback in the playoffs as well. The Chargers rattled Jackson early with the two fumbles. They swarmed to him, whether it was on a drop-back or on a rush. The pressure got to him again as he attempted to take the lead on Los Angeles late.
Jackson and the Ravens have a bright future. It would be nice to see Jackson try and work on throwing the ball more and better, because if he figures that out, he’s going to be unstoppable. This year’s team was inexperienced at the helm, and it bit them in the butt. But that’s what happens. It’s growing pains. Cleveland went through the same thing.
This season is a success for the Ravens. They completely turned around the course of the franchise with Lamar, and more importantly, had the balls to make that decision. It may not have ended in the best way, but there’s a good chance the team they lost to could be playing for a ring in a little less than a month from now.
I have almost no explanation for how the Bears lost this game.
They were the better team throughout the entire game. Mitchell Trubisky made the best throw I have ever seen him make three to four times Sunday. Allen Robinson busted through the Eagles banged up secondary multiple times to catch beautiful, stunning deep balls from Trubisky. The Bears stuffed the Eagles run game, allowing just 42 total rushing yards from the whole team. Nick Foles was average, as he threw way too many 50-50 balls that looked like they were thrown in extremely tight windows, but were really just throws that almost got his receivers killed every time they caught it. Foles also threw a terrible interception just outside the red zone, squandering Philadelphia a chance to take a touchdown lead.
At the same time, Sunday was a defensive grudge-match in the first half, and Philly’s defense shut down the No.1 aspect to Chicago’s offense in the run game. That kept them in it. They weren’t down once Trubisky started firing because the defense kept them in it early. That took pressure off of Foles, who only had to command two drives to get the Eagles the win. The first drive saw huge breaks given to it; two massive Bears penalties-an unnecessary roughness and a pass interference-gave Foles a shorter field to work with. Chicago later blew a coverage on Dallas Goedert, which left him wide open in the end zone to put the Eagles up 10-6. The second was essentially the game-winner, where the Bears forgot how to tackle and succumbed to more Foles magic. The tackling didn’t help, but Foles legitimately picked apart the best defense in the league on that drive. They moved the ball incredibly methodically. Alshon Jeffrey had two huge catches (He was dominating at points during that game. Not even the Bears corners and safeties could cover him). Foles looked poised and in command. This was quarterback play we just haven’t seen from the Eagles this season (I seriously can’t believe this is happening. It’s absolutely insane that Foles is just playing better than Wentz ever was. That’s not something you can argue anymore. It’s just the way it is).
The best defense in the league had a dicey pair to rest their fate on: Trubisky and Cody Parkey. It was going to take both.
And really, both delivered. Trubisky made another excellent deep throw to Robinson, setting up Parkey nicely. Parkey’s kick would have gone in had Trayvon Hester’s finger not ever so slightly nicked the football. You can’t blame him. Not at all.
And that’s the problem with this Bears loss. There’s not really anyone to blame. Sure, you can blame Parkey, but that kick goes in if the Eagles don’t make a great play. Sure, you can blame the best defense not only in football, but the best we’ve seen since the 2015-2016 Broncos. And sure, you can blame the running game for not getting going and getting ahead early. But none feel right. None feel right at all.
Instead, we have Nick Foles winning another playoff game.
Talk about unexplainable.