Tuesday, January 11, 2011

AFC Division Round

We see that the AFC takes the whole idea of this weekend being Divisional Weekend seriously...both match-ups feature Division rivals...actually both games feature crazy/insane/intense rivalries

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

When The Pats have the ball...

Gronkowski and Hernandez

6th best D for points allowed vs #1 O for points scored...To talk about how good Tom Brady has been/should be/will be is obvious...the guy is special, truly...but Tom Terrific will not rush for many (if any) yards, and he will surely not catch any passes so let's look at other players that contribute to this 11 man unit for New England...in our Pre-Season blogs we looked at Belichick drafting two new toys for Brady in TE's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez...each had the potential to give Brady a new weapon, and each has, especially in short yardage or goal line scenarios (16 TD's from Brady to these 2 guys this season)...The Pats run more multiple TE formations than any other team in the NFL thanks to the talent and depth there...on the outside of course is the amazing Wes Welker, and the rejuvenated Deion Branch...the O-Line does their job by keeping Brady upright (sacked just 25 times...both teams have 2 O-Lineman on the Pro Bowl roster) to spread the ball throughout the roster...the once non-existent running game has had a boost with the addition of Danny Woodhead and his gaudy 5.6 yards per carry...the Pats have carved the best D's in the NFL and will get a third challenge from this Jets D (Pats looked weak in a 28-14 Week 2 loss, but looked amazing in a Week 13 45-3 beat down)...the TE's are the key for the Brady Bunch...Wes Welker is great at running the short/underneath routes, and Branch can catch too, but Brady has been killing LB's and Safeties all year that are trying to cover the talented TE's in the middle of the field...The Pats are a Top 10 running team, especially lately with Woodhead, and we recall the Colts eliminating the Jets last season when they got a surprising 101 yards from the combo of Joseph Addai/Donald Brown...that was at a 4.2 yards per carry average...compare that to this past Saturday's paltry 3.7 yards per carry that the Colts managed and we see that even teams that are prolific through the air still have to bring a rushing element to their attack if they want to eliminate this D

The Jets D has Top 5 stats in almost every category, but the feeling is that as the season progressed they regressed...it was looking like if you can avoid Darrelle Revis and just pick on the other DB's you can make hay vs this D...that was not the case in the Wild Card game...Revis was amazing holding WR Reggie Wayne to 1 yard on 1 catch, but the rest of squad was good too...Safeties Eric Smith and Brodney Pool will need to have even better games in Foxborough, especially as they will need to account for the aforementioned Patriots TE's...for me the loss a short time ago of S Jim Leonard and really the loss of DT Kris Jenkins are monster losses for this Jets D, especially in this game...Leonard because of the Pats TE and running threat, and Jenkins is a huge loss IMO as I believe to beat Tom Brady you need to be able to bring pressure up the middle to collapse his passing pocket...the Ravens and Steelers are both much better equipped for the task as the Jets lost Jenkins some time ago now...teams try to pressure Brady on the edges with blitzes, but coming from the edge takes 1 extra second and that is all the time Brady needs to find the match-up he wants to exploit and deliver the football...the last time that Brady threw an INT I still had hopes for the Dolphins season...that was a l o n g time ago...that is bad news for the Gotham Green as they only forced 12 INT's all season long

When The Jets have the ball...

Of the 4 remaining teams in the AFC the Jets with Mark Sanchez have the worst QB...I would not say Sanchez is bad, and I would not say he did not take steps forward in 2010, but we would all rank Brady/Flacco/Big Ben ahead of Sanchez...The Jets coaching staff credit Sanchez for the play call at the end of the game on Saturday where he put a good pass on Braylon Edwards...that allowed Nick Folk to kick a much closer Field Goal to win the Colts game...his maturation and his accuracy on that play are both examples of his progression...still, we have said all year if you are going to go into Foxborough to play the Brady Bunch you had better bring your A+ Offense which we said is 30+ points with zero turnovers...Dropped passes were not an issue for the Jets in the Dome, but in frigid Foxborough we could see a different story...there will be multiple times where Sanchez and the passing game will need to convert third-and-long situations leaving Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and Dustin Keller to go against a poor New England Secondary (only Washington and Houston were worse for yards allowed in 2010)...now to be fair to that Pats Secondary usually teams are forced early in a game to throw a lot vs the Pats D as Tom Terrific normally has one or two TD's on the board before smoke from the pre-game fireworks has even cleared out so we can cut them some slack...the numbers are very bad, but it does seem to be a unit that is improving...For me the Jets will have to really rely on the running game to beat the Pats...New E allows 4.2 yards per carry and Ladanian Tomlinson needs to have a similar day to the one he had on Wild Card Weekend ie 2 TD's...the guy I will say is the key on Sunday is Shonn Greene...do we see similar talent give-or-take between Ray Rice and Greene?  Well then let's remember the 83 yard TD scamper on the games first play 1 year ago from the day I write this (Jan 10, 2010) to stun the Pats, and stun the crowd...before anyone could catch their breath from that play the Ravens had added another TD and 5 minutes into that game, at New England by the way, the Ravens led 14-0 and they never looked back...If this game plan by the Jets O is standard and isn't planning to try to get Greene multiple touches then I can't see anything but a Pats blowout W...Greene ran for just 2 TD's all season...I think he needs 2 TD's this game alone to have the Jets competitive in this one

MONSTER season for Jerod Mayo
For New England their starting CB's are both young and banged up...2nd year CB Kyle Arrington and rookie CB Devin McCourty (2nd in the NFL with 7 INT's) will be hoping that inclimate weather can assist them in stifling the Jets passing game...Strong Safety Brandon Meriweather is in his 4th season and he is actually the veteran of this young Secondary...the play maker on D is ILB Jerod Mayo...Mayo's 175 tackles were 15 more than any one else in the NFL (wow)...OLB Rob Ninkovich has come on lately too...
All-in-all it seems to me like Baltimore and Pitt have legit chances to beat this Pats team...the Jets just do not seem to me like a roster that can beat Tom Terrific et al...

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

When Baltimore has the ball...

Can Joe Flacco get the passing game going?!?!
Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron (Head Coach of Miami's 1-15 2007 season) says that in practice everything is on point and the potential is obvious and real, but the O has been pedestrian for 5+ weeks at this point...the good news for the passing game was the 256 yards Joe Flacco put up @ KC, but what remains troubling to me is the lack of production throwing to the WR's...Anquan Boldin was brought in to be the guy to make the big catches for this team...he was solid with 5 catches, one for a TD vs KC, but T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Derrick Mason each had only 1 catch...Flacco did his damage with TE Todd Heap (10 catches...108 yards) and Ray Rice caught 5 passes and moved the chains through the passing game...finding that kind of success over the middle by using RB's and TE's in the passing game is very difficult vs Pitt...I am troubled by the thought that Baltimore has a struggling passing game currently, and @ Pittsburgh with that crowd and that D is hardly the cure for what ails you...as a road team in the playoffs we know you need to have a good game rushing the football, but Rice and Willis McGahee will likely have their biggest moments when they are called on to stay in the backfield to protect the QB...any whiffs by would-be blockers on any of the numerous Blittsgurgh QB pressures will result in multiple sacks of Flacco, and/or turnovers...(side note - do Bills fans notice that on Division Weekend both Willis McGahee and Marshawn Lynch will be in action for their respective teams?!?!)...for me Cam Cameron has to find a way to allow for Ray Rice to have the type of game where he gets multiple touches on the ground and through the air...

This Pittsburgh D is #1 for fewest points allowed per game (14.5) and #1 for fewest rushing yards allowed per game (this team allows an average of only 62.8 yards per game...wow)...they run a 3-4 base D (as does Baltimore, New E, and the Jets)...this team has slightly more INT's than Baltimore, and way more Forced Fumbles and Fumble Recoveries...the unit is banged up...really at this time of the year for any team that is par for the course...Troy Polamalu is on the same level as far as controlling a game with talent and intelligence as guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are known to be on the Offensive side...ILB's James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons are healthier perhaps than most on this unit and they will have to control how much of a factor Todd Heap is over the middle - and Ray Rice out of the backfield...a big game is likely needed this weekend from S Ryan Clark...we know the key guys will be Polamalu and OLB James Harrison and the havoc they wreak on a regular basis

When Pittsburgh has the ball...

This O-Line is anchored by a rookie centre in Maurkice Pouncey, an underrated story this year...Pouncey made the Pro Bowl as a rookie this season...he hands off to Big Ben Roethlisberger who put up 3,200 passing yards with 17 TD's vs just 5 INT's despite being suspended by the NFL for games 1 through 4...for years Big Ben has had a rhythm and timing with WR Hines Ward, but lately he has found a new BFF in WR Mike Wallace...Wallace will get multiple opportunities to run deep routes in any game with his 4.33 speed...Mewelde Moore will be back from injury, plus rookie WR Emanual Sanders also contributes to the passing game...of course we know how good TE Heath Miller is...Miller and Ward are both great at adding to the running game as blockers too...the man they are blocking for is Rashard Mendenhall...the 1,273 rushing yards with 13 TD's looks really good, but his 3.9 yards per carry average is down from last season when he romped for 4.6...for me 3.9 is good, not great...we mentioned how the RB's will be put in critical spots for Baltimore as far as pass protection and picking up the blitzes - same thing to be said here about Mendenhall, and from time to time Isaac Redman...the Steelers will be wary of where Ed Reed is at all times...they know if they do not allow him to get a turnover then they have a great chance for a home W

STILL on another level

Speaking of Reed there is a question as to how effective he will be on Saturday as he is with his family this week in Louisiana attending to a situation where his younger brother jumped into the Mississippi River last Friday as he was running from the police and he has not yet been found...the one thing though is that Reed knows this D, and knows this Steelers O inside and out so he shouldn't be too far behind the game plan this week as far as X's and O's go...this Ravens D is Top 5 in points allowed per game (16.9) and rushing yards allowed per game (93.9)...future Hall Of Fame LB Ray Lewis is the inspirational leader of this unit...at 35 years old his 139 tackles led the team, and were his most in the last 6 seasons...Lewis had a Sack and a Forced Fumble in their Wild Card win @ KC...the entire D surrendered just 161 yards to KC...OLB Terrell Suggs is back on the map as a bad-ass s.o.b...he had 11 Regular Season Sacks, plus 2 more @ KC...Suggs said earlier this week that the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry is "definitely Armageddon"...Strong Safety Dawan Landry had a great season, but his INT vs KC last week was his first INT of the year

NFC Divisional Weekend blog to follow soon... craig.ballard@hotmail.com