Sunday, January 16, 2011

Divisional round part 2

Wow. Just...... wow. Baltimore Ravens 24 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 31: At halftime it looked like it was all over. For a while there I was thinking to myself "All the those pundits, they nailed it. The Ravens are walking this one." But you just don't count the Steelers down and out that easy. No sir. The Ravens under went a second half implosion upon which the Steelers suddenly pounced to win it. A rough and tumble game, with hits and at times punches (and even a head butt) thrown back and forth, this rivalry game lived up to his hype 10x over. The only thing that didn't stand the test of expectation was the scoreline, which soared to unknown heights for this clash. Not that the defenses didn't have good games. The Ravens D put up six sacks, 6 tackles for loss, 8 QB hits, 5 passes defended and 2 forced fumbles. Terrell Suggs alone reaped 3 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits and a forced fumble. The Steelers D were not to be out done though. 5 sacks, 7 tackles for a loss, 4 QB hits, an interception, 8 passes defended and a forced fumble. James Harrison led the way with 3 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits and 2 passes defended. Joe Flacco was held to just 16/30 for 125 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Ben Roethlisberger did only a little better, with 19/32 for 226 yards and 2 TD's. Neither teams ground game found much life, as could be expected given the respective defenses, with Ray Rice being held to 32 yards and a touchdown from 12 carries (seriously, why only 12 carries when you were leading this game comfortably at one point?) and Rashard Mendenhall leading the Steelers with 20 carries for 46 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ultimately the Ravens killed themselves. Despite leading 21 to 7 at half time Rice only carried the ball 6 times in the second half. Are the Ravens taking the Fu...reakin' piss? 6 carries? What was I saying just last week about the Chiefs not sticking with hot hand Jamaal Charles? For the sake of Matt Cassel? Now you're telling me that the Ravens rate Joe Flacco over Ray Rice? That's horseshit. Someone in Baltimore obviously has a king sized hard on for Flacco and it potentially just cost their team a place in the AFC Championship game. "Know Thyself". I'm seriously considering renaming this blog after that quote. Congratulations to the Steelers for a very strong win. They progress to the championship game that will be played either a) in New England, should they beat the Jets tomorrow, or b) in Pittsburgh, should the Jets be victorious. Green Bay Packers 48 @ Atlanta Falcons 21: When John Kuhn ran in for a TD to tie the game at 14 a piece, it was looking like a classic shoot out might be in the making. The Falcons then drove the field, but Matt Ryan sold his receiver short (who then slipped trying to come back to the ball) and Tramon Williams picked off the pass in the endzone. Then the Packers went down the field themselves and took the 21-14 lead. Then they put the game away at 28-14. The Falcons were trying to pull off a desperately needed drive to get back 3 points before half time when Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan suddenly melted in the burning sun of the Packers rising corner Tramon Williams. The Falcons called a play that required Roddy White to run an out to the left. Unfortunately he ran at an angle towards the sideline right from the start, tipping Williams off. Williams had the position on White and Ryan should have just chucked it away or gone somewhere else. Instead he forced it and Williams returned it for a touchdown. The Packers took a lead the Falcons would never touch. But the Packers weren't done. They came back in the second half and drove multiple nails into the Falcons coffin, with two more touchdowns and two field goals. Aaron Rodgers finished the game with a stunning 31/36 for 366 yards and 3 TD's. James Starks carried 25 times for 66 yards. Greg Jennings had 8 catches for 101 yards. The Falcons numbers pale in comparison. Matt Ryan; 20/29 for 186 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. Michael Turner; 10 carries for 39 yards and a TD. Mike Jenkins; 6 catches for 67 yards. On defense the Packers led a riot. 5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, 6 QB hits, 2 interceptions, 2 passes defended and a forced fumble. LB Clay Matthews alone accounted for 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss and 2 QB hits. It ended as a massacre. And this is precisely what I was talking about with Green Bay's potential. All season long they've had this capability within them, to walk onto the field and utterly dominate an opponent, which made their losses in the regular season all the more frustrating for Packers fans. Finally they seem to be getting into the swing of things just at the right moment. Next up is a guaranteed road trip to face the winner of the Seahawks/Bears game. Which reminds me... Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears: Ok Seattle, you knocked off the Saints. Now can you pull off a miracle twice and beat the Bears too? Again the Seahawks have that punchers chance of knocking the Bears out. But it will be much tougher this time around. This is a Bears D that is basically built to stop teams like Seattle; playing a mix of true cover 2 and "Tampa 2", the Seahawks might find Bears defenders dropping into all the different places where they'd otherwise like to put the ball. The Bears pass rush is vastly superior to the Saints, with out the need to bring five man pressures on most plays and finally the Bears defense will be a much tougher nut to crack on the ground. There's a risk here of talking about the Bears much like most people were talking about the Saints last week, but the simple fact of life is that this Bears team is much stronger defensively than the Saints, albeit with a little less punch on offense. Yes, the much maligned Jay Cutler has the chance to finally win his playoff stripes. All he has to do is handle the Seahawks pass rush, which is a lot easier than it sounds, and then get the ball to playmakers like Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, which is also a lot easier than it sounds. But I'm leaning towards the side that says well done to Seattle for coming this far, but you're probably not going any further. The combo of defensive ends Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers is unlike anything the Seahawks line has seen for a while, and given the pretty shoddy nature of the Seahawks O-line it might very well get ugly, quickly. But then that's what everyone was saying about the game with the Saints last week. The winner will host Green Bay in the NFC Championship game. New York Jets @ New England Patriots: Let's face it, this game is probably more hotly anticipated than even the Ravens/Steelers game was. For that we have to thank the big mouth of Rex Ryan and his Jets players who decided that rather than just leaving the Hornets nest alone, they would instead endeavour to poke it repeatedly with the biggest stick they could find until it fell off the tree and split. Probably even more entertaining was listening to Wes Welker slip as many foot references into his press conference as possible (I believe he hit eleven in just under 8 mins). But the time is at hand now to find out who has put their best foot forward and who's been putting their foot in their mouth. On paper, it looks like the Jets are about to get brutally crushed beneath Belichicks boot (and Super Bowl ring(s)) much as they did in week 13 (45-3). Just the other day I put up the pictorial proof on this very site that Darrelle Revis can be beaten. We don't need pictures to tell us that Antonio Cromartie can beaten, or that he is a little, shall we say, "tackle shy". Probably the weakest link, and Rex must know it, is quarterback Mark Sanchez. His only stroke of luck is that the Patriots haven't exactly been the masters of the blitz this year. Otherwise he could be in for a tough day. This Patriots secondary has already shown a taste for interceptions and any flutter balls from Sanchez will be in dangerous territory with the Pats lurking around every corner. Oh, and this before we get to the small matter of the Patriots offense. Tom Brady. Deion Branch. Wes Welker. Aaron Hernandez. Rob Gronkowski. Danny Woodhead. Julian Edelman. BenJarvus-Green Ellis. Brandon Tate. Should I stop now? The Patriots offense is playing as well as any in the league has this season. Drive after drive, like a methodical robotic machine, the Patriots have driven down the field time and again, with Brady firing the ball in all directions and ably supported (for a change) by the solid running game. This is genuinely a scary offensive team that gives Defensive coordinators nightmares. But are they unbeatable? No. Not by a long shot. Aside from regular season losses pre-Randy Moss trade, the Patriots were also taken to the wire by a Packers team that was missing Matt Flynn. The key was physical football on offense that kept the ball away from Brady, and a decent pass rush on offense. People forget that under constant, heavy pressure, Brady is just as susceptible to mistakes as you or eye in our daily work (well, almost). And it turns out that those things are precisely what the Jets specialise in. Their ground game is infinitely better than their passing attack and Rex Ryan is one of the acknowledged masters of the blitz in this league. He also showed his tactical prowess last week against the Colts, leaving gaping holes in his line for the Colts to run at, knowing full well that the ball out of Peyton Mannings hands was a good thing and that the Colts could not sustain any kind of successful rushing attack for the duration of the game. What will Rex Ryan come up with for the Patriots? I'm not sure, but you can bet that Bill Belichick is standing on the opposite sideline with an equally impressive game plan in hand. It's going to be fun to watch, and even more fun if the Jets lose. I'm not sure if the slice of the humble pie they'll have to eat will fit inside the state of New York. Plus, who's going to foot the bill for it?

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