NFL Divisional Round Recap

Like Wild Card Weekend, the Divisional Round was also quite underwhelming.  We essentially got one good game.  I guess that’s just setting us up for Championship Sunday, where we really did get the league’s four best teams.

Chiefs-31 Colts-13

This game felt entirely too much like last weekend’s Wild Card matchup that also featured the Colts.  The only difference was that they were on the wrong side of it this time.

This game was similar to last week in the sense that it was over in four to five drives.

Despite the weather, a Chiefs offensive clinic worried me for the Colts.  Indianapolis, whose defense has gotten better but still isn’t that great, has to play conservative because of their shortcomings That means sitting back in zone coverage and keeping everything in front of you.

But there’s a couple problems with that against the Chiefs.  One is that free yardage is a sin when trying to stop Kansas City; it gets them in a rhythm and gives them even more confidence than they already had.  Two is that the Chiefs execute better than anyone offensively in the league.  If you leave guys open, they’re going to capitalize on it.  And three is that even if you do keep everything in front of you, the Chiefs are so good after the catch that they can outrun or out-muscle you for extra yards.

All of that happened Saturday.  Kansas City’s offense was too overwhelming.  Tyreek Hill found holes in the zone and was open all game; so was Travis Kelce.  Damien Williams gashed the Colts front, thanks to amazing downfield blocking (That downfield blocking also helped receivers get yards after the catch).

It was just too much.  Like Houston last weekend, one bad drive cost Indy everything.  The Colts opening drive went well until Eric Ebron reverted to the Eric Ebron we’ve been used to the past four years and dropped a crucial ball on 3rd down.  The Chiefs went down and scored, and the next Indy drive felt all too important.  Once again, they got nothing.  The Chiefs defensive lineman were getting their hands up and knocking down passes.  Dee Ford put immense pressure on Andrew Luck.  It was perhaps the best defensive performance we had seen out of this KC defense all season.

The only hope Indy had was that a classic Andy Reid postseason performance was in store.  KC’s offense didn’t do a whole lot in the 2nd half, but Indy didn’t capitalize, essentially cancelling out the possible meltdown.

The weather didn’t help the Colts either, but that was a factor that affected them the  whole game, not just the 2nd half.  Luck threw multiple balls into the ground, and drops killed them.  The weather factor always feels like a cliche, but the weekend’s first game was a classic performance of a dome team in treacherous conditions.

In better conditions, it would have been fun to see these two engage in a shootout.  But the weather had too big of an impact on the Colts, and proved to us that the Chiefs are still, and just may be, unstoppable.

Rams-30  Cowboys-22

The score was and wasn’t a good representation of how this game turned out.

It was a good one as the Cowboys played just as well as the Rams for the first quarter, and as Dallas made a bit of comeback late to make things interesting.

But it wasn’t a good one as Los Angeles dominated the Cowboys defense for most of the game, and led 20-7 at halftime after a slow start.

Though it was pretty short-lived, the Rams dominance went far.  CJ Anderson actually ran for more yards than Todd Gurley did.  That right there sums up Dallas’ night defensively.

The two were a ridiculous one-two punch.  Anderson put up 123 yards and two touchdowns, while Gurley ran for 115 and one.

It was essentially a three drive sequence that turned the game.  Down 7-6 after the slow start, the Rams came out on fire on a drive early in the 2nd quarter.  Jared Goff made a couple nice passes, and Anderson finished them off.  It was methodical; one of those soul-gutting drives where you went “Oh man, they look unstoppable.”

And they were.  The next Cowboys drive felt like a must-score.  The momentum had swung, and LA had all of it.

Dallas did nothing with it.  Ezekiel Elliot actually had one of his better runs of the night on that drive, but Dak Prescott forced two balls to Amari Cooper (who was dominating early) and that was it.

The next Rams drive looked just like their prior one.  The running game dominated, and Goff made a couple huge throws.  It was Gurley who had the biggest play of the drive though, running in 35 yards for the score.

That all the sudden put LA up two possessions.  Dallas never recovered.  They got close to nothing out of the rest of their drives; the Rams’ run defense stuffed Zeke, ending what was an incredible month-and-a-half tear he was on, and the secondary adjusted after some early struggles.

The performance from LA was a decent one.  There’s some nits you could pick; they had an extremely hard time with Amari Cooper early, who, yes, has been on fire since being traded to the Cowboys, but should be contained given the Rams secondary talent.

At the same time, that Rams secondary talent has been torched for most of this season.  Marcus Peters was picked on again Saturday night, and even LaMarcus Joyner had a couple brutal missed assignments (Specifically the Amari Cooper TD).

It’s not exactly the performance you’d like heading into a matchup against the 2nd most explosive offense in the league, but there’s a good chance defense just doesn’t matter in that game… we could be looking at a 50-45 score next week.

That’s where LA’s performance was impressive.  The offense came out and dominated.  Goff made throws, the running backs were essentially interchangeable. Another performance like that will be needed next week.

As for Dallas, they went from a point in their season where Jason Garrett should have been absolutely canned (and maybe still should be??) to in the playoffs.  Zeke turned into a monster until he ran into the league’s best run defense (Fair that he didn’t show up) and the defense started playing above-average football, or in a more positive light the best defense it has played in years.  While it’s fun to make fun of the fact that Dallas lost early in the playoffs again, this was probably their ceiling, and that was one heck of a turnaround.

Patriots-41 Chargers-28

Yet another game where the score was not indicative whatsoever of how things actually went.

This was a classic domination by the Patriots.  Who could of possibly thought they’d have trouble with the Chargers at home?

Oh, wait, that might have been me.

This game proved to us that while this Patriots era might be on its last legs, it’s certainly not dead yet.  Watching this game was like taking your car for one last ride on your favorite road before you sell it.  Tom Brady was out there picking apart the Chargers.  James White and Julian Edelman were grinding away for yards.  Great play designs were everywhere.  Bill Belichick’s favorite term is execution, and New England did that Sunday.

The 35-7 lead came thanks to Sony Michel remaining extremely patient at the line of scrimmage and hitting holes incredibly hard, and James White doing the same thing on catches out of the backfield.  Michel ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns, while White caught 15 passes for 97 yards.  Both guys ran incredibly hard, and the Chargers couldn’t bring them down.

Edelman was also unreal.  The guy was wide open for what felt like the whole game. He racked up 151 receiving yards and torched the Chargers.

There was about ten minutes of football that was entertaining, and it was the first ten.  It was the Chargers only successful offensive football besides the garbage time at the end.  Los Angeles came out incredibly aggressive, throwing deep twice and connecting on both, once to Mike Williams and the other to Keenan Allen, who was left wide open in the end zone on a blown coverage.  That tied it at seven.  The Chargers didn’t score again until the end of the third quarter.

New England’s defense was impressive, but it felt strange that the Chargers were trying to be so aggressive, especially since it was 25 degrees out, which isn’t exactly air-it-out weather.  Phillip Rivers threw 51 times, while Melvin Gordon only got nine carries.  It would have been nice to see more of a balance; the Chargers might have had real success grinding away with Gordon.  That would have killed more clock, since LA was getting beaten in the possession battle from the start of the game.  Instead, the Chargers kept throwing and kept throwing, even when it wasn’t working.  Whether running the ball was going to work or not, keeping it on the ground would have at least given the defense a bit more rest.

Next week for the Patriots will be the real test.  I was a week early on that.  Going into KC against that Chiefs offense is daunting.  They did a good job Sunday limiting big plays, but can they do it again?

Saints-20 Eagles-14

Like the Rams against Dallas, it took New Orleans a little while to get going Sunday afternoon.  The Eagles and Nick Foles came out on fire, and for awhile, it really looked like Foles was going to cook yet another defense and get Philadelphia one step closer to the Super Bowl again.  The Saints weren’t totally dominated; they got a break to score a touchdown in the 2nd quarter when Foles got a little cocky on a deep ball that Marshon Lattimore played perfectly and picked off.  New Orleans needed Taysom Hill’s fake punt rush to extend the drive, but it resulted in a touchdown thanks to a huge catch by Michael Thomas down the field to set them up.  Still, the Eagles were in control.  New Orleans’ defense couldn’t stop Foles and Alshon Jeffrey.  The Saints struggles that some picked on in the past couple weeks had started to come to light a bit.

But Drew Brees and Thomas weren’t having it.

The Saints first drive of the 2nd half was the turning point.  It looked like drives the Saints had put together all season.  Thomas getting open and making huge catches downfield.  Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram with four yard rushes every time they touched the ball.  Some trickery with Taysom Hill (That bomb to Kamara was unfortunately called back thanks to a holding penalty on Andrus Peat).  Drives like those are what made New Orleans unstoppable all season.  They looked unstoppable in that moment, and after that, Philly finally looked stoppable.

The Eagles next drive felt critical.  After watching New Orleans go down the field so easily, no points for Philly felt like a death sentence.  Their drive went nowhere, but New Orleans couldn’t punch into the end zone on their next drive, leading to only a six point lead instead of a two possession one.

That brought it down to Foles at the end.  New Orleans missed a field goal on the drive prior, allowing Philadelphia to stay in it and win with a touchdown and extra point.

If you were going to pick anyone to lose the game for the Eagles, it probably wouldn’t have been Alshon Jeffrey.  Like Thomas in the 2nd half, Jeffrey dominated the opposition in the 1st half, and had emerged as a massive target for the Eagles since Carson Wentz went down.  Jeffrey, like Thomas and Amari Cooper, had been always open for the past month of the season.  He was killing it.

Which is why, as much as he is to blame for the Eagles loss, it’s gut-wrenching to put the blame on him.  It was a once-in-a-million play by Jeffrey, and it came at the worst time.

The Eagles loss feels a lot like Chicago’s last week.  It just doesn’t feel right to blame anyone in particular.  Jeffrey had such a good game until the last drive.  Foles was on fire and earned himself a ton of money.  The defense really did its best job against Brees for most of the game.  Philly really gave it their all.

I guess that’s just a testament to how scary the Saints really are.