I’m no expert in NFL records, but this must be the first time in a long time that half the games in the first two rounds (wildcard and divisional) have resulted in wins to the away team. It certainly makes for an exciting post season, despite the fact that the New England Patriots are still hanging over us all as the favourites.
The big question is: can anyone beat them? and if so, how?
Before the playoffs started, everyone though the Jacksonville Jaguars, with their physical style of play, were the biggest threat. Unfortunately, they got it wrong tactically against the Patriots. What everyone finds most scary about them is their deep threat: a well protected Tom Brady throwing long passes to Randy Moss and friends all year has meant the Patriots score the most on some of the shortest drives.
The Jaguars attempted to nullify this threat by covering the deep receivers, and they did a fabulous job of it. Trouble is that having all these players deep left the defensive line itself undermanned. Other than the very first play, they brought little or no pressure on the quarterback. So Brady was able to sit back and play an underneath game all day. He took what he was given, with low-risk, short passes. Little wonder he was so accurate.
The positive result was that Moss only had one catch, and the usually prolific Pats scored at a much lower rate than usual. Indeed, if not for Jacksonville’s drives stalling and resulting in field goals instead of touchdowns, they may have been able to keep up and it might have been much closer. So if you want to beat the Pats by cutting out their deep game, you need to be able to score quickly yourself. The Jacksonville ground game is not built for this, and David Garrard did a superb job throwing on the day.
But all of this did not, and will not lead to a Patriots loss. Their deep game comes from two things: an abundance of speedy talent, and the best offensive line in the game, and therefore the best protection for Brady. The Jags took out the secondary cause (the deep talent), but not the root cause (the protection). If you want to beat the Patriots, you have to go back to the trenches – physically attack their offensive line and put pressure on Brady. If you can do that (and that’s a huge “if”), then everything flows from there: he makes mistakes, you get sacks, fumbles and interceptions, and he is not left with a low-risk option to beat you with. Can the Chargers do this? I can’t wait to see.