Championship Thoughts

Hopefully everyone saw the conference championship games and noticed some traits that good football teams have. If you didn’t here’s what I noticed:

Sound Game Planning
Jim Caldwell may be dead for all we know. I’m not sure why Indy has an offensive coordinator since Manning is the only QB in football that makes his own calls. Their defensive scheme though has been terrific. Even as the Jets made some big plays in the air, the Colts knew that they still wanted to run the football (I think the Jets ran on first down something like 255 times) and never allowed them to get their running game on track. Sean Payton is a terrific game planner who finds mismatches and exploits them.

Aggressive Decision Makers
You seldom if ever see Peyton Manning or Drew Brees force a bad throw. At the same time they look down field and take chances, and they don’t hold onto the ball like a five-year-old holding himself while he’s waiting to use the bathroom. The ball is out quickly. In Cleveland we have one guy who checks off of a receiver if a defender is within 10 yards of him, fearful of a turnover, and another who thinks he’s Brett Favre. By the way, on a scale of 1-10 where did Favre’s interception at the end of regulation rank in the expected department? I rate it at 35.

Phenomenal Pass Protection
Peyton Manning has been sacked 14 times in 18 games this season, Drew Brees 21 times. How many times did you see either of them get hit this weekend? Browns QB’s were sacked 30 times while attempting 443 passes. The 35 total sacks of Manning and Brees happened while they threw an astounding 1085 passes between them. The game starts in the trenches.

Explosive and Reliable Playmakers
For all the talk about the quarterbacks, my buddy Pete brought up the most important point: When ball isn’t thrown perfectly to the receivers and backs, the still make a play on the ball and catch it. There was a ton of talk about Manning’s perfect toss to Austin Collie, while no one is talking about the adjustment Collie made on the next pass for the touchdown just before half. A big reason Manning completed 68.8% of his passes and Brees 70.6% of his is because their receivers make plays on the ball. Speaking of Collie . . .

Role Players That Make a Difference
Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark for the most part were non-factors. The Colts still had 360 yards passing and 461 total yards against a very good Jets defense. Garcon and Collie were magnificent for Indy, combining for 18 catches (out of 24 attempts) and 278 yards. Drew Brees found eight different receivers against the Vikings. The tight ends play a huge role in both offenses. Everyone on these teams is capable of making a big play, and many times they do.

Protect the Football
This is a classic cliché, but it’s one of the few that I swear by. The Saints have had one turnover in their two playoff games and zero points came off of it. The Colts have had two turnovers, leading to three points. You can’t give away the football and hand out cheap points and expect to win. While both Manning and Brees take chances, you don’t see them force things like that stupid Favre interception at the end of regulation.

Force Turnovers
The Colts are +3 in the turnover department in their two playoff games, the Saints +6. The Saints defense gave up 475 yards to the Vikings, but because of five turnovers (and could have been seven) they were in the game and eventually won. Indy clinched both games with late picks.

Defense That Make Plays
How many times did you see a safety or corner come up and make a tackle on a running back? Yet they were still in coverage and combined to make three interceptions (yes, I know one was by MLB Vilma). You don’t see too many guys running free in either secondary. Indy got caught early trying to do everything to stop the run, but once they took out the big plays, the Jets were cooked. Despite giving up the yardage, the Saints consistently made plays to keep them close. Favre took a beating from the Saints’ front four, and looked like a beaten down man in the post game interview.

Making Seemingly Every Big Play
Was anyone even remotely surprised that the Colts scored just before halftime? They make the two minute drill look like a seven on seven practice. That drive just seemed to propel them right into the second half where they shutout the Jets and scored 24 straight points. The Saints were only 3-12 on third down conversions all game long. All three led to scores that either tied the game or gave them the lead. They converted a huge fourth down in overtime that kept the winning drive alive. The recovered a fumble right after Reggie Bush’s fumble to prevent a score right before halftime. Teams that win always seem to have that knack for making every big play. They probably don’t always make them, but it seems that way.

Lady Luck
You can have all the talent in the world, but you still need to be lucky. Reggie Wayne fumbles and the ball bounces right back to him. Jay Feely misses a routine field goal. A ball bounces off of a Jets’ receiver and into the waiting arms of a Colts DB. Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson screw up an exchange they’ve made probably 1,000 times this year between games and practice. Brett Favre believes it’s OK to throw back across the middle late on a play even though you’re told from the minute you step on an NFL field that you should never do that. A controversial replay on the aforementioned fourth down conversion went the Saints’ way, even though (and I was rooting for the Saints) it probably should have been a hair short. Talent wins out when all things are equal. Luck is never equal.

Dan Boyce is the Sports Editor for TheSportsHole.com. Along with his “Lord of the Stats” blog, Dan does frequent front page columns and his podcast, “The Boyce of the People”. Anyone with any thoughts or comments can reach Dan here.

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