Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
Headley – I fully expected the Rams offense to be efficient against the Cowboys but I didn’t expect 273 rushing yards and I certainly didn’t expect C.J. Anderson to lead them with 23 carries for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns. This is a championship formula that a “stout” Cowboys front seven couldn’t handle. The Rams offensive line cleared big running lanes for Todd Gurley and Anderson to gain huge chunks throughout the game. Jared Goff only needed 186 passing yards to secure the victory. Even more impressive was the Rams ability to slow down All-Pro back Ezekiel Elliott. This was the one clear advantage the Cowboys had coming into this game but Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh dominated up front to help the Rams hold Elliot to a mere 47 yards on 20 carries (2.3 YPC). It was an eye opening performance by the offensive and defensive line for the Rams which put them as the favorites to win it all and hold up the Lombardi trophy.
Drew – The word out there is that the Rams knew some tells of the Cowboys defense thus giving them an upper hand. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant because watching this game one thing was evident, the Cowboys front seven didn’t want none of the Rams run game. Especially the linebackers who play after play, #50 and #55 got mushed, pushed, plowed taken out of the plays over and over by offensive linemen reaching them like it was, “a what to do drill”, in practice! Now I’d like to put #54 in the mix with the duo above but because he exacerbated the issue and he gets his own unique critique. Repeatedly failing to attack the line of scrimmage and come down hill, he looked lost and unsure at to what was taking place in front of him. Usually his first step was back or to the side not forward in run support, which allowed holes to be opened the size of a semi! You get 200 + yards ran on you, you not suppose to win, and this was one of the best defenses in the league even when playing big time offenses.
Juice – The football is shaped funny and the game can be so unpredictable but I nailed my prediction of this game on the head. Last week in the Divisional Round Preview I said the Rams would give all-out effort to stop the run and make Dallas one-dimensional. Check. Even when Dallas used “11” personnel (that’s 1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers) the Rams opted not to add an additional defensive back (nickel) and stayed in their base set. Sound gap integrity and bad intentions were the hall-mark of a run defense led by Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald completely shutting down Dallas’ rushing attack. I expected the pre-snap motion and misdirection, hallmarks of Sean McVay’s offense, to give a very aggressive Cowboys defense fits. Check. The second-level defenders’ heads were spinning and they found themselves being washed out by Rams offensive linemen snap after snap. Typically the Dallas down line has done a great job penetrating and holding up at the line of scrimmage but it was an absolute clinic on behalf of the Rams offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage from the jump, paving the way for two separate 100-yard rushers (Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson) and 3 rushing scores. I also predicted the Rams would win a one-score contest 30-22. Checkmate.
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs
Headley – The Indianapolis Colts failed to punch back when the Kansas City Chiefs punched them in their mouth. While the Chiefs offense was driving down the field for scores in the first half, the Colts offense was stuck in neutral as they went three-and-out on their first four possessions and only gained 12 yards total in the first quarter. It just seemed like every time the Colts had an opportunity to make this a game, the Chiefs defense led by Dee Ford, Justin Houston and Chris Jones made plays in the offensive backfield and forced Andrew Luck and company to fold up. That offense that had been humming for the majority of the season was a shell of itself as the offensive line struggled (particularly RT Braden Smith) and Luck was inexcusably inaccurate and played like the inexperienced quarterback in this game. The Chiefs on the other hand snapped their six game home playoff losing streak and are in prime position to get to their first Super Bowl since 1970. Patrick Mahomes isn’t committing turnovers, Damien Williams is running tough in between the tackles, they have a healthy Sammy Watkins to go along with the “Cheat Code” Tyreek Hill, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and their defense is controlling the line of scrimmage.
Drew – The Chiefs came out like a Triple Crown thoroughbred race horse in Preakness Stakes on the Colts defense. While the Andrew Luck led Colts offense came out like a horse ready to be taken to the glue factory. It was said pregame that Luck didn’t look comfortable out there in Arrowhead in the snow and this was evident. I know the Chiefs defensive line, namely Dee Ford was getting after it but so many passes of Luck’s were just bad, most dying at the feet of the would be receiver. It almost reminded me of when you have wet socks and how extremely uncomfortable that is especially when you know there is three to four more hours that you have to spend in them. That concentration starts to waiver and you are not your greatest self. I will point out that in my preview of this game I stated that the Colts defense hadn’t played anything close to something like the Mahomes lead Chiefs. That being said, the Colts defense eventually settled down but the offense just couldn’t right the ship.
Juice – Disappointing effort from the Colts, primarily Andrew Luck who looked like he was aiming the ball rather than cutting it loose. The defense got knocked down a few times but eventually picked themselves up holding Kansas City to one late, second half score when the game was virtually decided. Andy Reid scripted the Chiefs to an early lead, each of the Chiefs play-makers made their presence felt, Patrick Mahomes did a good job of simply managing the game but the STAR of this contest was the Kansas City Chiefs defense. K.C. took the fight to what I thought was the more physical Colts offense (offensive line) and challenged the Colts weapons with aggressive man-to-man coverage. Falling behind by multiple scores early, failing to convert on third-down rendering the running game untenable and eliminating the threat of play-action was too much for Colts to overcome. Tip of the cap to the Arrowhead faithful making it different on the Colts pass protection.
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
Headley – Stop me if you’ve heard this before, the New England Patriots are heading to yet another Conference Championship game. That’s 8 straight conference championship appearances and 13 overall in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. The Pats continue to re-invent themselves offensively and are always playing their best defense once the playoffs start. Whether it is ground & pound, spreading the defense out and completing short passes or going heavy two tight end sets, Brady and company are like chameleons always adapting and exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses. A week after the Chargers shutdown the elaborate run game of the Ravens by putting 7 defensive backs on the field, the Pats went 21 or 22 personnel (a running back with a full back) and ran it down the Chargers’ throat. Led by Sony Michel’s 129 yards and 3 touchdowns, the Pats were in control of this game from start to finish. At halftime the Patriots had more first downs than the Chargers had plays. Dominant performance in all phases of the game. A terrific season for Philip Rivers and the Chargers comes to an end as his arch nemesis Brady is now 8-0 lifetime against him with 3 playoff knockouts. #Owned
Drew – The Chargers predominantly employ a Gus Bradley Cover 3 scheme, with a twist and run it to perfection. With the twist being they run it through the dime (especially) and nickel sub package with mainly safety help. You’d think running it like this makes you susceptible to any team’s run game but looking back they were the 9th best giving up a total of 1,693 yards, averaging 105.8 yards a game 4.3 an attempt and 11 touchdowns. Now going into the divisional round I thought the Chargers defense would take it to the Patriots but the Patriots did what I would’ve of done and what I suggested they do in the the Divisional Round Preview. Run the ball down the the Chargers throat!!! And, what do you know, it worked. The Patriots are one of the few teams in the league who run a two back set with an actual fullback, a staple of their offense. The thing is most teams that employ that Cover 3 scheme only play that Cover 3 scheme with sprinkles of any other coverage. I can understand why teams do it, allowing your players to play fast rather then think. However, because of how the Chargers play their version of the Cover 3, not having the beef on the field to defend the Patriots’ beef they fell victim to the run game allowing the Patriots to open up the play book that much more.
As for he Chargers offense against the Patriots defense, man for man in the secondary the Patriots were better. You’d think with the talent of the Chargers receiving core they’d have no problems but the secondary of the Patriots has proven to be one of the best especially later down the stretch which at one point was not so good. The Chargers offensive line may have played their worst game of the season thus the run game being a non-factor.
Juice – Shame on me for betting against Brady, Belichick AND the fast and physical Patriots defense? I know Brady is the GOAT. I’m convinced Belichick is the best coach ever, at least of my lifetime. I even recognize that the Patriots (defense) typically improves over the course of each season but I did not expect what has been a woefully slow albeit well-coached Patriots defense to morph into the Baltimore Ravens amoeba defense. Of course that’s what happened. The Chargers completely forgot about using their backs in the passing game and couldn’t stop a nose bleed defensively. The only guys that appeared to show up for Los Angeles were Melvin Ingram, Jahleel Addae, and Philip Rivers. It wasn’t competitive even though I still maintain that the Chargers were a more talented team. I have long since grown tired of watching the New England Patriots dominate the entire league but I have immense appreciation for their ability to adjust to their opponent and their willingness to line up in the I-Formation and run an ISO. Fullbacks are people too. Long live James Develin.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
Headley – Foles Magic comes to an end with a crucial Alshon Jeffery drop which led to an interception to seal the game for the Saints. That’s how the game ended but it was definitely a different start for the Eagles as they jumped out to an early 14-0 first quarter lead before failing to score another point for the rest of the game. The game’s momentum changed when Nick Foles was picked off by Marshon Lattimore as the Eagles were trying to go up by three scores. During their ensuing drive the Saints capitalized on Taysom Hill’s 4th down conversion via fake punt and drove 79 yards for a TD scoring on a 4th and goal. No guts no glory for Sean Payton and company as he changed the complexity of the game by making two bold calls. A dominant performance by Michael Thomas (12 catches 171 yards and a TD) and a ball control, run heavy 2nd half gave the Saints just enough to escape and advance to a showdown rematch against the Los Angeles Rams whom the Saints defeated 43-35 in November. Great character win by the Saints against the Eagles but they will need to play much better to defeat the high-powered Rams offense.
Drew – The Saints came out flat and rusty. Drew Brees looked his age and the Eagles looked like the Super Bowl Team from last year. Dominating upfront and making plays in the secondary. Up 14 – 0, I thought when it rains it pours and boy was it pouring. The Foles magic was on full display! And then… Michael Thomas ate a senzu bean and went 12 for 171 and a touchdown. He was like a man possessed. Again another team who plays a Cover 3 scheme and didn’t change it up and allowed one of the best in the league in Thomas to do what he does, catch the ball, over and over and over again. For me the score wasn’t indicative of what actually took place in totality of the game. I distinctly remember the Saints having multiple penalties on two different drives and on one of those drives they racked up 112 yards of offense starting at their own 8 yard line, scoring a touchdown to cap it off. It looked like practice for the Saints at this point in the game. The Saints defense had come around, doing what they do best stopping the run which helped the secondary play better, namely second year players Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams. The Eagles had two significant injuries in Fletcher Cox who was dominating the game both in the run and pass was sidelined for most of the game and left tackle Jason Peters.
Juice – By far the most competitive game of the Divisional Round. The Eagles threw a couple hay-makers early stunning the Saints but a Marshon Lattimore interception and head coach Sean Payton sensing the fight might be slipping away from his team gambled on a fourth down deep in the Saints own territory. That roll of the dice along with another gutsy fourth down call got the Saints on the board and it was practically all Saints from there. Drew Brees eventually settled in and began looking like his future Hall of Fame self. The league’s reception leader Michael Thomas was up to his usual tricks soaking up targets and racking up yardage. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara started to get things going with Fletcher Cox sidelined for a good chunk of the game but it was a suffocating performance from the Saints’ safeties (secondary as a whole) and Demario Davis completely nullifying Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert; a truly impressive feat.