Hey Coach! Can we talk about the playoffs now? Yep, it's playoff time folks. The time of year that NFL fans look forward to the most other than maybe the Super Bowl, the regular season, the draft, the swim suit calendar arriving... Uh, where was I? Oh yeah the playoffs. I love the playoffs. It's the time when an upset really means something - and you know some team will pull off an upset, it's inevitable. Usually I try to do a humorous blog which typically fails miserably. So this time I think I will try a serious blog - which will probably fail miserably.
For this exercise I will pretend to be a coach and try to lay out a blue print to beat each team in the playoffs. Let me qualify this by saying that I am not an analyst, not have I spent an enormous amount of time reviewing tapes or stats. I have, however, seen each playoff team play at least once and I have plenty of opinions while sitting in my comfy La-Z-Boy. So that means I am more than qualified to determine how to beat each team, right? No? Well you're going to hear it anyway.
Are you serious? You actually think there is a way to beat the Pats? Sure I do. First, you have to barricade them in their locker room. Ok seriously, this is one way I think the Pats could be beaten. Let me preface this by saying that I know this can't be done on every play because there are not enough players to go around. The DC must come up with creative blitz schemes early in the game. Brady can be sacked but you have to be creative to get to him and do it very quickly. Next, as much of a beast as Moss is, it is well known that he does not like to get hit. So, you tighten up the coverage on him and have a linebacker knock the crap out of him every play. If you knock him around early and often, he won't be the same later in the game. Third, you have to knock Welker off his routes. Do not let him come off the line clean. I know this leaves Gaffney and Stallworth on single coverage, but they are not the biggest threats on the offense. Finally, you have to play them for hard 60 minutes. No team has done that yet. The best way to attack their defense is using the good old "gnat attack" passing. Come out in 4 or 5 receiver sets and get rid of the ball quickly and don't get conservative once you have the lead. Keep your foot on the gas.
The one thing that Dungy does very well is to instill in his team the need to just do the ordinary things better than the other team. They are very well disciplined in this aspect. However, if they get behind early and are in a hard fought game, they will take chances - and that's what you have to make them do. Get them out of rhythm and make Manning take some chances. Here's something you may not know. Manning is given 4 or 5 plays to choose from when he walks up to the line. He waits until the defense shows itself then dials up the play; so the defense has to be creative in disguising itself until the last possible moment. Manning makes a lot of hand motions and barks out a lot of signals, but it is not just for show. The first thing you need to do is get them out of rhythm. To do this you need to knock Clark off his routes. Do not let him come clean. He is Manning's bread-and-butter so by taking him out of the equation and doubling up Wayne, you have significantly leveled the playing field. From the offensive side, you have to play ball control and use play action. You have to keep Manning off the field and reduce the number of possession they have. Just like the Pats, you have to play the Colts hard for 60 minutes.
Beating the Chargers is actually simpler than most people think, but not necessarily easier. You have to take LT and Turner out of the equation. You have to sell out to stop the run and put the game in Rivers' hands. Because of LT, they run the play action flawlessly. Hammer it into your defense to not bite on it. They also run screens successfully - so again, don't bite. Gates is their leading receiver so you have to knock him off his routes as well and double up on him. Rivers has shown this year that he cannot win the game for the Chargers. When you're on offense you have to run the ball and keep running it. They give up and average of 4.1 yards per carry and over 100 yards per game. By running it well, you can use the play action to eat them up over the middle because they give up almost 11 yards per pass.
With Parker out, everything is on Rothle, er, Rothelsi, uh, Big Ben's shoulders. By putting pressure on him early and knocking him around he will start to make mistakes and try to force things. While Davenport is a decent runner, he is not going to control the game the same way Parker will. Since you don't have to put 8 in the box this will free you up to double Holmes if you need to or allow your corners to blitz. Attacking their defense is tricky. They have the #1 defense and do not give up a lot on the ground or through the air - typically. You have to be patient and stick to your game plan. If you can get Poluamawuwu, Polumama, or whatever to bite on the play action or roll over to double your receiver then they can get beat deep. Patience is what will win out in the end against the Steelers
They are without a doubt the scariest team not named Patriots in the playoffs. The run the ball extremely well and Garrard is a fine bus driver. If you can find a way to take Talyor and MJD out of the picture you have a great chance. This means that your corners have to be able to play man, but you can't let their running backs control the game - because they will. Sell out early to stop the run and put them in 3rd and long situations early and often. Del Rio is a coach who will change his game plan prematurely. Once you put the game in Garrard's hands; while he is good at controlling the ball, he is not yet polished enough to put the team on his back and carry them. Your offense needs to outscore them. I know - duh. What I mean is that you have to put up a lot of points and try to turn the game into a shootout. The Jags don't win many high scoring games. They prefer ball control over run-and-shoot. They have an Ok run defense but passing is their weakness giving up nearly 12 yards per pass and 20 TDs.
It's actually a very simple game plan to beat the Titans - make Vince Young be a QB. Don't let him run on you. Put a quick linebacker on him to be his shadow and force him to make decisions in the passing game. He is superb on the run, but not so much in the pocket. They rank 27th in the pass averaging only 179 yards per game. So Young will not beat you with his arm - his legs yes, but not his arm. From the offensive side you're not going to run much on them but you can definitely beat them with the pass. They have given up some big runs so you can use the spread offense to open up some running lanes. Attack the corners deep and often and you will get them to play off the ball even more and the underneath will be wide open for slants and slip screens.
Now for the NFC.
This one's easy - bring Jessica to the game. Just kidding, kind of. The offense lives and dies with Witten and Owens. They have more 20+ yard plays than any other team. They are not afraid of going for the money ball. You have to double TO and not let him catch anything in the first half. If he gets hit at the line he will not run a clean route, he will start to improvise and it will throw his timing off with Romo. Then he will start getting upset and will take himself out of the game even more. Do not let Witten get open. Knock the crap out him coming off the line. He is a beast and will burn you short and deep - if he gets off the ball clean. If he is out of rhythm, it won't affect him like it does TO, but you will force Romo into bad throws or check-downs. Don't let Barber get past your linebackers. Finally, force Romo to make bad throws. Make sure your rushers stay in their lanes and try to pressure him to run to his left. When he runs it is always to his right - and he does it very well. Make him go left and he will throw it up for grabs across the middle. For your offense, if Newman is out pick on Reeves relentlessly. Come out with a spread offense and attack Roy Williams' side of the field - he could not cover himself. Do play action on third down and you will get it every time. I don't think I have ever seen a team bite so hard on play action, or screens for that matter.
Believe it or not, you can beat the Packers in a similar manner as you can the Cowboys. Don't let Grant get past the linebackers and double up Driver. Perhaps the best way to beat them is to blitz and hit Favre on nearly every play. He is a heck of a competitor, but if he gets hit a lot early on he tends to rush his throws. Make him run. Don't let him sit in the pocket and eat you up - get pressure on him. From the offensive side, attack the middle. They will let you get catch everything underneath, which exposes the well timed deep ball. Their secondary gives up over 12 yards per pass. Teams can also have success running the ball to the tune of over 100 yards.
Easy, make them run it. Hasselback throws it very well and effectively and doesn't make too many mistakes. Alexander is all bark and no bite this year, but don't take the running game lightly. QB is still their primary weapon, so taking away the receivers will force them to use the run more. When this happens, just load up the box and make them go back to passing where you can double the receivers again. Attacking their defense is fairly simple in its own right. They have the 15th ranked defense - the lowest of all the playoff teams. Run the slip screen to the weak side and use the "gnat attack" over the middle and you should be able to set yourself up for lots of short yardage opportunities where the receivers can do double moves to beat the corners for the long ball.
You know, it's been so long since they played their starters the full game I forgot how to beat them. They have the #2 defense over all and the #1 pass defense. They only give up 170 yards per game and the average pass against them is less than 10 yards. But, they do give up nearly 110 on the ground per game. Again, I would use the spread offense to open up running lanes. Once the running game is well established, this should allow the play action to beat them deep a couple of times, which should be just enough. As far as stopping them, they live and die with Garcia. They run it pretty good surprisingly, but it's primarily because Garcia does a great job controlling the passing game. He's not spectacular, but he won't give the game away. If you can knock him out of the game, it's over - and he has missed some time due to injuries. You have to play a solid game against this team and can't make mistakes. If you force them to turn the ball over more, then chances are very good that your team will win.
This is the most inconsistent playoff team I have seen this season. The best way to stop this team is to make Eli beat you. You can take that away by doing two things. First, you have to stop Jacobs. The man is a beast once he is the open field. The G-Men have the 4th best rushing team averaging 134 per game. You have to load up the box and contain Jacobs. While you're doing this you have to knock Eli around early in the game. Don't let him get comfortable. A few big hits and he will revert back to the old Eli that we all know and love. The one thing Eli does very well (because they have a monster running game) is play-action. Don't bite. The linebackers have to stay at home. To beat their defense you have to pass consistently because they have a very good run defense - less than 100 per game. This is another team that you can exploit using the "gnat attack". Run quick slants and crossing patterns and you can eat them up. Once caveat though, you better find a way stop Umenyiora and Strahan, even if that means leaving a back to slow them down.
They are the Jaguars of the NFC. They are coming into the playoffs with a ton of momentum and have played well beyond expectations. They have a good running game and a very effective passing attack. How many of you noticed that Portis quietly rushed for over 1200 yards and 11 TDs? Because they run it very well and because Gibbs is old school they will use play action and screens a lot. The linebackers have to stay at home and play their assignments and not try to make the big play. Collins has proven to be a very effective bus driver, but his one weakness is scrambling - he cannot run it well. Put pressure on him and force him out of the pocket and you can slow him down. Moss is their top receiver but he ranks only 35th in the league. If the linebackers stay at home, and you can force Collins out of the pocket then you stand a very good chance. However, don't let them stay in the game. Put them away early - if you can.
Well, that's it. There you have about 10 minutes of analysis of how an armchair coach would game plan against the guys who do this for a living and have forgotten more about football than I will ever know. But hey, that's what being a fan means, right? I hope you enjoyed it.