Playoffs- Wildcard Round in Review
The Five Major Story Lines
The Best Matchups to Watch in Each Game
1) Griff Whalen vs. the Chiefs cornerbacks
- The Eagles were unable to physically abuse the Saints offensive front. Terron Armstead held his own against Trent Cole and the Eagles front seven seemed to wear down late. Bennie Logan, after an impressive rookie season, was particularly poor down the stretch. The Eagles allowed the Saints to establish a physical ground game with Mark Ingram. That development was particularly helpful for Drew Brees, who was off most of the game.
- It seems the quarterback did prove to be a trump card for the Colts. The Chiefs defensive secondary was abysmal all day, but the offense stalled in the second half. Alex Smith played fantastic football for two quarters, but was unable to provide much juice after that. The Chiefs lived off of big plays in the first thirty minutes; they really could have used Jamal Charles to sustain the offense. Andrew Luck overcame some really bad play early to lead another magical fourth quarter classic. This win will do a lot to pad Luck’s career resume, as it was an instant classic.
- The 49ers once again got the better of the Packers. The game was pretty evenly matched, but ultimately Colin Kaepernick took the Niners down to kick the game winning field goal. Aaron Rodgers made some incredible plays in this game despite some horrid pass protection. Green Bay needs Brian Bulaga to come back healthy, and to bring in a few upgrades.
- The Chargers were not particularly impressive. In fact, the game was alarmingly close for how poorly the opposing quarterback played. Mike McCoy has had a fine debut season as the Chargers head coach, but his conservative tendencies are troubling. Fullback dives and taking the ball our of Phillip Rivers’ hands will get you booted out of the playoffs, Mike.
- For my money, the Colts and the 49ers are the teams from this weekend most likely to go on a run. The Colts played atrocious football in the first half, but man do they look no good when everything is on Andrew Luck’s plate. The 49ers are such a physical team; it will be hard for anyone to hang with them for sixty minutes. It would be hard to fault anyone for taking them as road upsets next week.
The Best Matchups to Watch in Each Game
1) Griff Whalen vs. the Chiefs cornerbacks
- Even in the Colts 45 point furious comeback, their slot receiver only amassed two catches for 26 yards. With the team behind 38-10, there was not a ton of room to incorporate short passes to a receiver like Griff Whalen. Andrew Luck essentially stopped playing safe, and it was a big reason he tossed three interceptions. Luckily for the Colts, T.Y. Hilton was able to shred the Chiefs secondary for over 200 yards and two scores. Perhaps in the next round, Whalen will be called upon. On this day he was not needed.
- It is amazing how the Chiefs secondary turned into such a poor unit after being so highly regarded in the first few months of the season. The truth is, this group was probably always overrated. The massive hole at free safety was glaring, and Brandon Flowers completely fell off the map this season. The Chiefs will have to fix this issue in the offseason.
- The Eagles running game was a bit of a let down in their playoff loss. The offensive line failed to get the push it normally does in the ground game. Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce were particularly disappointing in their run blocking. Usually Shady McCoy rips off long runs behind those two, but those never came on Saturday night. The lack of a consistent ground game had an adverse effect on the entire offense.
- Hopefully, Cameron Jordan and the Saints defensive front will get the credit they deserve after a stellar effort. Jordan was disruptive as both a run defender and as a pass rusher. He showed off his motor and relentlessness when he fought off Jason Peters and sacked Nick Foles after about eight seconds in the pocket. Brodrick Bunkley was another player who stood out. Not a dynamic player by any means, Bunkley was able to use his sheer size advantage over Jason Kelce several times.
- What is there to say about Andy Dalton that was not covered on Twitter today? Several times during the game football twitter cried out in unison with “Oh Andy” or “Bad Andy” tweets; this also happens at least once a week. The problem is, there is no bad Andy, and he just is what he is. Today should prove once and for all that Andy Dalton is just not good enough. He was absolutely horrendous today when the Bengals simply needed a solid performance from him. Dalton does not play within his physical limitations, and exhibits the same fatal flaws that have plagued him throughout his time in the NFL. If the Bengals go into next season with Andy Dalton as their unquestioned starter, nobody should feel sorry for them. If they cannot clearly see they can do better, they deserve him. Quarterback is their number one offseason need.
- The Packers were pretty stout against the 49ers rushing attack. Given how porous they were coming into this game, that was a surprise. For the most part, they limited Frank Gore, and really never gave up any long runs. Many presumed the 49ers would control this game on the ground, but that never really materialized.
- Unfortunately, an already beaten up Packers squad endured more injuries late in the game. It showed up on the final drive of the game. Datone Jones was forced to play out of position at outside linebacker, and really, the entire defense often looked out of position. No moment was worse than when Jarrett Bush failed to keep Colin Kaepernick inside on a third down run that essentially iced the game.
- No one will remember this a few days from now, but Kaepernick nearly threw the game away. Early in the final drive, he threw what would have been a pick six right to Micah Hyde, but the defensive back dropped it. Had Hyde made that catch, the 49ers would have probably had to endure constant questions about Kaepernick’s development all offseason. Luckily for Kap and the team, he responded with a great drive to win the game. Nevertheless, throws like that leave questions as to whether the 2013 version of Kaepernick can lead his team deep into the playoffs. He still has a ways to go in his development as a passer.
- Two teams stuck in quarterback purgatory exited the playoffs this week. The Chiefs and the Bengals have starters that are not great, and need a lot of help to be successful. The difference is, the Chiefs and their quarterback seem to know that, while the Bengals continue to deny that reality. It will be interesting to see how both teams approach the quarterback position this offseason.
- Sam Shields exited the game tonight early with an injury, and his absence was felt. Michael Crabtree, who is one of the best receivers in the league, feasted on the Packers secondary all night. Shields is a free agent after this season, and who’s retaining would have been a massive priority for Green Bay. The Packers defense looks like it is headed for a major overhaul, and perhaps would benefit from a scheme change to the 4-3. If they have to do that without their best cover man, the challenge will only become greater.
- Drew Brees and the Saints offense certainly tried silence the “road and cold narrative”, and then again, that was always a bit of a farce. The Saints struggle with physical teams that can beat them up, not cold weather. The Eagles failed to do that on Saturday, but the Seahawks are coming up next. We will probably be right back where we started with that story line in a week’s time, no matter its validity.
- Melvin Ingram is a play who really stood out today. Ever since his shocking comeback from an ACL he tore in minicamps, he has changed this Chargers defense. The former first round pick has added to the pass rush, and has made life much easier on a bad secondary. Ingram is looking like a home run draft pick. Here’s to hoping he stays healthy.
- Poor clock management ran rampant during wildcard weekend. Chip Kelly and Andy Reid (shocker) paid the price for it, while Mike McCoy and Jim Harbaugh were let off the hook. It feels like this is a constant problem with today’s head coaches. You can be as crafty a play caller as you like, but if you are just going to screw your team in the end by mismanaging the clock, it really does not matter.