Tag Archives: NFL Playoffs 2013 2014

RUNNING FOR THE RING: NFL teams revert to smashmouth football in the postseason

RUNNING FOR THE RING - NFL teams revert to smashmouth football in the postseason -  NFL playoffs 2013 2014

It happens a lot in the NFL: The dazzling revolutions of September and October — the promise of a new-fangled Wildcat or read-option or run-and-shoot paradigm that will change everything — often fall by the wayside in the bitter rain and snow and cold of January, when football returns to the eternal verities of truth and reality.

RUNNING FOR THE RING - NFL teams revert to smashmouth football in the postseason -  NFL playoffs 2013 2014 - Run to Daylight - Vince Lombardi

So it is this year.

In a season during which passing and scoring records fell, all four Championship Sunday participants (including the one that set those records) relied on the timeless formula last weekend: run the ball effectively, control the clock, play solid defense and make the other team earn every point it scores.

 

You could see evidence of the back-to-basics approach in every divisional-round game:

  • Russell Wilson’s passing was mostly grounded, and the oft-injured Percy Harvin was knocked out of the action with a concussion, but the Seahawks still took down the Saints. Seattle won behind tackle-breaking machine Marshawn Lynch (in postseason Beast Mode, evidently) and a suffocating defense that rattled New Orleans’ top weapon, Jimmy Graham.
  • New England, decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball (along with, it has to be said, the murder charge against tight end Aaron Hernandez), has fewer difference-makers than it has had at any time in recent memory. But LeGarrette Blount was the blunt force that the Patriots used to pound the Colts’ defense into submission. Meanwhile, the Pats’ myriad defensive looks frustrated Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, who threw four interceptions.
  • San Francisco won its second road playoff contest in eight days, thanks in large part to a defense that stonewalled Carolina’s running game (Cam Newton was the only Panther to eclipse 20 yards rushing) and snagged two interceptions. Offensively, the 49ers employed a balanced attack: Frank Gore led the charge on the ground while Colin Kaepernick made some timely plays through the air, leaning heavily on veteran gamer Anquan Boldin.
  • Denver used San Diego’s own formula from the regular season — control the ball, shorten the game, manage the clock (35:27 of possession) — to keep the Chargers on their heels all day long. Denver’s defense missed Von Miller’s havoc-wreaking presence but stiffened enough to allow the Bolts just 65 yards rushing, less than half of what the Broncos churned out in a winning effort.

Each one of the four divisional-round winners exceeded 125 yards rushing. After setting the single-season record with an astounding 5,477 passing yards, Peyton Manning threw for just 230, with the other three winning quarterbacks failing to reach 200. Glamour QBs Tom Brady and Wilson didn’t even throw a single touchdown pass.

RUNNING FOR THE RING - NFL teams revert to smashmouth football in the postseason -  NFL playoffs 2013 2014 - Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith

There is, of course, a long tradition of returning to the run game in the postseason. Go back 45 years to the New York Jets’ memorable defeat of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. New York was led by Joe Namath, who was one season removed from becoming the first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 4,000 yards, but the Jets ran more than they passed on that day (logging 43 carries and 29 throws), to control the clock and the Colts. (A year later, the Kansas City Chiefs — another team known for offensive daring and innovation — rushed the ball 42 times for 151 yards to dominate the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.)

These things were true 45 years ago, and they still might be true 45 years from now.

In recent years, we’ve seen running backs de-emphasized on draft day. Yet, by the time the playoffs roll around, the best teams almost always have a solid run game in place.

RUNNING FOR THE RING - NFL teams revert to smashmouth football in the postseason -  NFL playoffs 2013 2014 - Dallas Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith

The star of the divisional weekend, Blount, went undrafted out of college and was pawned off by the Buccaneers this past offseason — yet he’s been unstoppable for the Patriots of late. Marshawn Lynch was a first-round draft choice, but the Bills gave up on him before the Seahawks recast him as their most reliable offensive threat. Knowshon Moreno’s demise had been rumored for years in Denver, but this season he’s been a steady all-around back who doesn’t fumble (and a strong blocker, to boot). Frank Gore is a former third-round pick — thanks in part to some injury baggage from college — who has developed a reputation as a tough inside runner, and his efficiency boosts both the passing game and Kaepernick’s devastatingly effective keepers.

So why does this happen so often? Why do the gaudy passing numbers of the regular season frequently get supplanted by the meat and potatoes of old-school football in the new year? Simple reasons, mostly:

Better defense: Playoff teams are generally more accomplished defensively, meaning each opponent has a formidable pass rush. The best way to neutralize this is to have a running game that the defense has to take seriously.

Weather: So Peyton Manning isn’t as good in cold-weather games? Guess what: He’s not alone — not by a long shot. Show me a quarterback who consistently overperforms in freezing temperatures and snow, and I’ll show you an anomaly. Cold weather leads to numb hands, making it very difficult to execute the touch throws that separate the great quarterbacks from the good ones. And while receivers enjoy a slight advantage over defensive backs in terms of footing — because they know where they’re going — it’s much harder to catch a rifled pass in sub-freezing weather than it is on a room-temperature day. (If you’ve never tried it, just trust me.)

Dangerous opposing quarterbacks: You can get away with a quick, drive-killing string of incompletions — or even a turnover — when the quarterback on the other side is an untested rookie/journeyman who lacks pocket presence. But do that in a playoff game against a Manning or Brady, and you’re going to get burned. That’s why it’s all the more important to control the football and minimize mistakes.

Throwback football will be on full display in the NFC Championship Game, as the style fits the personalities of the coaches very well. A physical running game is a large part of the DNA both Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh used to build their respective teams.

It’s a bit different on the AFC side. New England’s commitment to the run is simply Bill Belichick’s adaptation to a roster that’s currently short on difference-making receivers and tight ends. The Pats very well could go back to being a top-five passing attack and the league’s top-ranked offense next season if they can come up with the right group of receivers for Brady. On the other hand, Denver is only committed to the run as long as you stay in a loose shell defense that begs the Broncos to use it.

NFL Super Bowl xlviii - Super Bowl 48 - Super Bowl 2013 - Super Bowl 2014

In each game, though, both teams will look to assert their will by establishing a ground attack. And the ones that do so best will likely meet in New Jersey in February.

NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Road to the Super Bowl | 2013-2014 NFL Divisional Round Playoffs

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Road to the Super Bowl - Superbowl XLVIII - Super Bowl 48 - Super Bowl 2013 2014 - 8 teams NFL Playoffs

The Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop watching NFL games.

There are four games on tap this weekend:

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots on Saturday and San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos on Sunday.

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - 2013-2014 NFL Divisional Round - NFL Playoffs Schedule 2013 2014 - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs schedule

Will home-field advantage be established this weekend?

A thrilling Wild Card Weekend saw three road teams prevail in hostile environments — setting up another enticing batch of games. Noting the surprising success enjoyed by visitors this past weekend, which road team is most likely to prevail in the divisional round?

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - New Orleans Saints - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Seattle Seahawks - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Indianapolis Colts - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend GAMEDAY RESOURCES - New England Patriots - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - San Francisco 49ers - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Carolina Panthers - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - San Diego Chargers - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Denver Broncos - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round

The divisional round pits eight of the best quarterbacks in the NFL against one another.

Drew Brees versus Russell Wilson. Andrew Luck against Tom Brady. Colin Kaepernick battles Cam Newton. To top it all off, Philip Rivers will once again take on Peyton Manning in the final game of the weekend.

Whether it’s two young quarterbacks battling to prove who is the better dual-threat signal-caller, a showdown of sophomores versus veterans or two of the most experienced minds in the game facing off, this weekend packs a lot of offensive punch.

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - 2013-2014 NFL Divisional Round - NFL Playoffs Schedule 2013 2014 - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs schedule - 8 teams

Which teams will survive this hurdle in the race toward Super Bowl XLVIII 48?

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Superbowl XLVIII - Super Bowl 48 - Super Bowl 2013 2014 - 8 teams

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Road to the Super Bowl | 2013-2014 Wildcard Weekend

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Road to the Super Bowl - Superbowl XLVIII - Super Bowl 48 - Super Bowl 2013 2014 - 12 teams NFL Playoffs

The Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop watching NFL games.

There are four games on tap this weekend: Kansas City at Indianapolis and New Orleans at Philadelphia on Saturday and San Diego at Cincinnati and San Francisco at Green Bay on Sunday.

GAMDEDAY RESOURCES - 2013-2014 Wildcard Weekend - NFL Playoffs Schedule 2013 2014

Can home-field advantage can be established this year?

In the NFC, the 49ers and Saints are considered better teams than their home opponents, but both teams travel into tough weather conditions. In the AFC, the Colts were 6-2 at home in the regular season, but they’ve shown signs of being vulnerable.

And then there’s Green Bay. Since 2002, the Packers are 3-4 at Lambeau Field in the playoffs. That mark was 13-0 before ’02.


GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Kansas City Chiefs - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Indianapolis Colts - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - New Orleans Saints - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Philadephia Eagles - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - San Diego Chargers - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Cincinnati Bengals - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS CINCINNATI BENGALS
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - San Francisco 49ers - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Green Bay Packers - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS GREEN BAY PACKERS

So how wild will this weekend’s wild-card playoff games be?

 

A high-scoring game is expected Saturday night when the New Orleans Saints visit the Philadelphia Eagles. An Ice Bowl-like game is expected when the San Francisco 49ers visit the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Can the Indianapolis Colts repeat their 16-point win from Week 16 over Kansas City on Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium? Anything can happen in the San Diego-Cincinnati game Sunday.

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Which teams will survive the first hurdle in the race toward Super Bowl XLVIII?

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Superbowl XLVIII - Super Bowl 48 - Super Bowl 2013 2014 - 12 teams

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NFL PLAYOFFS: National Football League announces 2013 2014 playoff schedule

AFC WILD-CARD ROUND

NFC WILD-CARD ROUND

SATURDAY, JAN. 4, AND SUNDAY, JAN. 5, times TBA

SATURDAY, JAN. 4, AND SUNDAY, JAN. 5, times TBA

No. 5 Kansas City Chiefs at

No. 4 Indianapolis Colts

No. 5 San Francisco 49ers at

No. 4 Green Bay Packers

No. 6 San Diego Chargers at

No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals

No. 6 New Orleans Saints at

No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles

AFC DIVISIONAL ROUND

NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND

SATURDAY, JAN. 11, AND SUNDAY, JAN. 12, times TBA

SATURDAY, JAN. 11, AND SUNDAY, JAN. 12, times TBA

TBA at

No. 1 Denver Broncos

TBA at

No. 1 Seattle Seahawks

TBA at

No. 2 New England Patriots

TBD at

No. 2 Carolina Panthers

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

SUNDAY, JAN. 19, time TBA

SUNDAY, JAN. 19, time TBA

TBA at TBA

TBA at TBA

SUPER BOWL XLVIII

SUNDAY, FEB. 2, 6:30 p.m. ET

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

AROUND THE NFC EAST: 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles set up for a December to remember

NFC East - small button

The Dallas Cowboys sat alone atop the NFC East for three days, but it wasn’t meant to last.

Although it’s true the Cowboys still own the tiebreaker against Philadelphia, it’s fair to say Dallas was hoping for a little help from the Arizona Cardinals, who traveled to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon.

It didn’t happen, as the Eagles outlasted the Cardinals, 24-21, to improve to 7-5 and tie the division standings heading into the final month of the season.

You could argue that late penalties negated a crucial interception from Nick Foles, or point out that another flag allowed Philadelphia to run the clock out when they seemed poised to have to give the ball back to Arizona.

It’s immaterial at this point. Foles played another fantastic game, and the Eagles are once again breathing down the Cowboys’ necks.

The idea of a Week 17 meeting between Philadelphia and Dallas for the division championship is starting to materialize.

AROUND THE NFC EAST - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles set up for a December to remember - Dallas Cowboys schedule 2013 2014

Each team has three games remaining before that point, but it’s pretty easy to imagine both squads sitting on seven or eight wins when the Eagles come to AT&T Stadium on Dec. 29.

The interesting notion, at this point, is the improving prospects of the NFC East. The Giants and Redskins are in trouble, yes. New York rallied from a 14-0 deficit Sunday night to defeat Washington, 24-17. 

AROUND THE NFC EAST - 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles set up for a December to remember - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys news

The loss drops the Redskins from 2012 division champions to 3-9 in 2013 and a non-factor in the playoff race. The Giants are still alive with a 5-7 mark, but to say they’ll need some help is generous.

But even if it’s a two-team race after Week 13, the NFC East doesn’t seem like the laughing stock it was in September and October. Dallas wins the tiebreaker with the Eagles based on head-to-head record, but Philadelphia sits just outside the NFC’s second wildcard spot.

At this point, we’re a San Francisco loss and an Eagles win from having both Philadelphia and Dallas in the playoffs. As long as Chip Kelly’s crew keeps winning, they’ll be a factor in both the division and wild card race.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go. Philadelphia hosts NFC North leader Detroit next weekend, and the Cowboys travel to play 6-6 Chicago in the cold.

But even if it’s a two-team race, the NFC East looks much more interesting than it did just a month ago.

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