Monday, January 21, 2008

Thoughts From Championship Weekend

I figure the world is pretty bipolar when it comes to football, so some of you can rejoice that the football blogging here will soon come to an end, while the rest of you can lament the fact that we only have one football game left. Here's a few thoughts from Championship weekend.

1- I've been highly critical of Eli Manning in the past, but to give credit where credit is due, his run through the playoffs has been almost Brady-like. When it comes to quarterbacking, good things happen to those who take what comes to them and that's exactly the philosophy Eli seems to have adopted. His stat line yesterday was unimpressive, yet it was exactly what the Giants needed.

2- From the statistics don't mean much department, the Giants didn't sack Brett Favre once yesterday. The sack total didn't matter much, as Brett was under pressure all day. He never seemed comfortable and never seemed to find a rhythm. Pressuring the quarterback is important because you can take an offense out of it's game- it's not just about the sacks or even the turnovers.

3- In case you hadn't noticed, the Patriots have now gone six quarters without giving up a touchdown. Under Belichick, in the playoffs, they'd never gone six quarters without giving up a touchdown before.

4- For all the morons out there who thinks Michael Turner would be just as good as Ladanian Tomlinson, exhibit A is the Chargers rushing attack from Sunday. Turner finished with 65 yards on 17 carries- not terrible, but not all that good. More telling is the Chargers ineffectiveness in the red zone and the fact that only 2 of Turner's carries went for first downs (both 12 yard runs on first down). Maybe Ladanian would have made a difference in the game, maybe he wouldn't. Michael Turner certainly didn't.

5- It's funny that the 3 interceptions have people labeling this game Brady's worst of the year. As someone who's watched every game, I can say with certainty that Brady was better on Sunday than he was against the Jets or the Ravens and maybe even the Eagles. At times the Patriots looked out of sorts, but I think the Chargers just did a damn good job- especially early on- of blanketing the Patriot receivers. The Chargers managed two sacks, but I never had the sense that they were putting a lot of pressure on Brady. Watching the game, I never once had the sense that Brady was at all flustered. Yeah, the interceptions sucked, but they weren't game turning. Even if, say, the Chargers had scored touchdowns off of the two interceptions that led to field goals, that would have put the score at 21-20, and the Patriots would still have run the last 9 minutes off the clock.

6- I wonder what ever happened to those "the Patriots can't run the ball and can't stop the run" people?

7- For all the praise I gave Eli earlier, if that had been the Patriots that the Giants had been playing yesterday, the G-Men would not be so happy today. As a Patriot fan rooting for the Packers, the most frustrating thing about yesterday's NFC Championship game was the Packers complete and utter lack of adjustments. They gave up on the run too quickly and should have given up the screen and scat game in the first quarter. Contrast the Packers with the Patriots, who, finding their running game ineffective from their spread formation, brought in extra tight ends in the second half to run out of a tighter, more smash mouth package. If the Giants play a similar game in the Super Bowl, the Patriots will not hesitate to take advantage of the Giants inability to put the game away- and I don't just mean the missed field goals- I mean settling for field goals in general.

8- The Patriots are going to be huge favorites, which should serve to further galvinize the Giants and their "us againast the world" mentality. If I were a betting man, two touchdowns would seem awfully steep. I worry because I can think back to other Super Bowls where plucky underdogs playing good football pulled off the upset. In particular, two Super Bowls stand out, with very familiar faces. In 1991, an underdog Giant team ended the 49ers quest for a 3-peat in San Francisco before shocking the Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV. And in 2002, the Patriots came out of nowhere to beat the typically overconfident Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, before shocking the world with their 20-17 victory in Super Bowl XXXVI over the powerhouse Rams.

There are similarities- In both the historic cases and with the Patriots today, the favorite has an incredibly high powered offense, fueled by a dynamic passing attack and a well regarded, if not as dominating defensive unit. Hopefully the comparisons end there- Both those Giants and those Patriots had Bill Belichick. When it comes to the list of factors needed for an upset, the Patriots don't seem to fit the template. They're not overconfident and they don't look past anyone. They don't fail to adjust their game plan, a la the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. And they're fully capable of winning whether you speed the game up or slow it down.

In the back of my head is a 24-17 game in which the Rams beat the Patriots in week 11 of 2001. The Pats made a few mistakes, but gained confidence from the way they hung with the Rams, and didn't lose another game the rest of the way. But that doesn't sound familiar at all, does it? I should probably just be confident because the Pats have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, 18-0 this year, 14-2 in the playoffs together. I can name all the ways the Giants can ply with the Patriots, but that won't change that the Pats will have Tom Brady in the 4th quarter.


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