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Joe Nelson - Blogs

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BETWEEN THE LINES - JAN. 10

By Joe Nelson
Posted 01/13/2011 at 03:46 PM

While news surrounding coaching changes dominates the weekday headlines this time of year there has to be some focus on the questionable coaching decisions made on the big playoff stage. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are two of the biggest stars in the league and generally considered two of the top players in the league. Both have Super Bowl rings and both are the clear leaders and focal points of each offense. Yet both teams, coached by Sean Payton and Jim Caldwell, took the ball out of their star QB’s hands in some of the biggest moments last weekend.

 

Payton aggressively went for a fourth and short play from the Saints own 37 with about four minutes to go in the third quarter but getting those critical inches was left to Julius Jones, who rushed just eleven times in the final five games of the regular season, averaging just two yards per carry. Late in the game on the 2-point conversion attempt the ball went to DeShawn Wynn, who was just signed a few days before the game and had six NFL carries in the past two seasons combined. The Saints incredibly are the fifth straight Super Bowl winner to fail to win a playoff game the following season.

 

With the Colts down four late in the game and driving to score, two rushing plays were ran with Dominic Rhodes on second and third down rather than taking a shot at the end zone to try to get the lead. Whether it was Caldwell or Manning making the call it was still bizarre to see the team so conservatively set-up a field goal to still trail by one, especially considering the Jets had put together a 17-play drive spanning nearly ten minutes on the previous possession. The Colts did get the ball back and took the lead but it would have been a much different finishing scenario had a touchdown been punched in to take a 3-point lead on that drive. Credit the Jets for delivering excellent coverage and backing off of normal blitz packages to force Indianapolis into far more run balance than they are comfortable with but in those key spots letting Manning dictate the results should have been the best option. Caldwell also called a bizarre timeout on the final drive for the Jets, allowing New York to regroup and set-up the key 18 yard gain to make a much easier field goal attempt and allowing the Jets to save their own final timeout, opening up the middle of the field for that key play as well as eliminating the option to ice the final kick.

 

QB play is always a focal point for the losing teams and statistically Brees and Manning both had outstanding numbers and clean stat-lines but both will be going home. In the Sunday games QB play was critical on the losing side as Matt Cassel had a disastrous game with three interceptions and just 70 yards passing. Michael Vick did not complete a high percentage of passes but he did wind up with 292 yards but his day will be remembered for the interception in the end zone at the end of the game with a chance for the win. The Eagles out-gained the Packers and had fewer turnovers but Green Bay was very effective on third downs and the missed kicks and having to settle for field goal attempts burned the Eagles.

 

Home teams failed last week with only the Seahawks winning. A very strong argument could be made for the Seahawks not deserving home field advantage, going 7-9 and hosting the Saints who were 11-5. The league has shown a willingness to make moves quickly in reaction to what happens year to year, for example the knee jerk change in the overtime playoff rules after last season, so don’t be surprised if last week’s big upset leads to some sort of loophole to account for a losing division winner or a vastly superior record from a wild card squad. The league of course will have far bigger things to worry about this off-season.

 

Both Green Bay and Baltimore will face short weeks this week, winning on Sunday and now playing the Saturday games next week. The Seahawks and the Jets catch a favorable timetable after wins on Saturday setting up Sunday games this week. Seattle and New York will be big underdogs this week while Baltimore and Green Bay will be very slight underdogs this week. On to this week’s slate…

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