Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NFL: 2009: Week 10 Review

Quite a weekend of football.... again. I am just going to give my thoughts about the ending to the Colts - Patriots game and a short review of the Packers-Cowboys game here.

The most (in)famous '4th & 2' ...... ever

The biggest question coming out of last week's games: "Did Bill just do that??". Yup, I am talking about Belichik's gutsy call to try convert the 4th and 2 from their own 28 yard line with only a little over 2 minutes to go. The failed attempt that let Peyton and the Colts drive just 30 yards in for the game-winning TD.

I got to admit I asked that very question when I saw Tom Brady and the Patriots offense going back onto the field to try convert that 4th and 2. But mulling over it for a while, it is obvious that Bill was just playing the percentages. We are so used to seeing coaches punt the ball when in doubt to play it safe. If a coach goes aggressive and makes a call like Bill did, he would of course get all the praise in the world if it worked. But if he failed, the coach will take so much of blame for that one call rather than all the other reasons for the loss. What more proof than the heat Bill is facing the last couple of days for that one call. That's why coaches stray away from making such aggressive calls and we are so used to thinking a punt call is automatic in such situations.

Let's get a perspective of the actual game situation at that time. The Colts just drove 70+ yards in less than 2 minutes to score a TD. The Patriots defense, which had contained Manning, was not as effective in the 4th Quarter as it had been the first 3 quarters. Obviously, Manning had the NE defense figured out and made necessary adjustments. Belichik was smart enough to realize this. If he punted, how long was it going to take Manning to cover that 40 yards (fair assumption for nett punt distance) to get to the 30 yard line of NE, where the ball would be placed if the conversion failed? With the clock at 2:08, that was plenty of time. Meanwhile the Pats offense had gained an avg of 6+ yards per offensive snap. So the odds of them converting the 4th and 2 was pretty good. The only downside to failing to convert was that 20-30 seconds (fair estimation of time on game clock needed for Peyton to drive through the punt yardage) extra Peyton has as compared to if they had punted. In short, the odds of Peyton scoring from the NE 30 yard line was not all that more than the odds of him driving for a TD from the Colts 30-35 yard line. On the bright side, if they successfully converted the 4th down, the game was all but over with the Colts having just one time out to stop the clock. One way of looking at the decision is: what would your opponents want you to do in that situation? Simple answer, the Colts would rather have the Patriots punt than attempt a 4th and 2 that would seal the outcome of the game. The decision to go for it on 4th down was smart. But the execution or the play call to go 5 wide with an empty backfield on that play was not so smart (and a whole new debate).

Packers Outlook

The Packers Defense finally showed up against Romo and the Cowboys. This probably had more to do with Dom Capers dialing up the blitzes than improvement in the players. Of course, all the defensive players of the Packers seemed invigorated and showed a lot of emotion and energy on the field, more than in past games. The 300+ pound front D-linemen of the Packers, especially, where hustling and running around making plays in the back field. Also, how could you not mention Charles Woodson for his best performance of this season yet (1 INT and 2 forced fumbles).

Even on offense, the Packers did some new things that helped the O line. The number of running plays did not necessarily increase, but they called a few screens and hitches (which are played by the defense like running plays), that helped slow down the vaunted Dallas pass-rush. Rodgers did not have a big game in terms of stats, but he had a monster game in terms of "growing up". As good as a QB as you may be, you have to play according to your offensive groups strengths, or rahter, stay away from their weaknesses; which is exactly what Rodgers was made to do. He was not holding on to the ball too long, as he was doing in previous games, and played more of a game-manager than try be a creator of big plays. Hopefully, he realized that, more often than not, you have to slug it out and win, when you have a porous offensive line, rather than try engaging yourself in a potential shoot out. Now, will this play-calling continue? Will McCarthy stay away from his pass-wacky tendencies and build on this game? We'll know in a few days.

As far as special teams was concerned, I would like to think that we were lucky that the Cowboys never broke open a big return on any of the numerous punts that were kicked. The kick/punt return for the Packers will improve this week with Jordy Nelson returning to his kick return duties. It was encouraging to see that post-game McCarthy acknowledged that the punting and kicking could be better. Sometimes, most of your problems are solved when you identify your weaknesses and play accordingly. By that I mean, try punting instead of letting Crosby try 50 yard field goals. Punt to the sidelines or higher, when you are deep in your territory, instead of kicking deep and flat, giving an opportunity for a big run back.

With the win, and some other favorable results, the wild card picture has opened up a bit for the Packers. Fighting for the 2 wild card spots are: Packers (5-4), Eagles (5-4), Falcons (5-4), Giants (5-4), Bears (4-5), Panthers and 49ers (4-5). Moreover, based on my forecast of the remainder of the Packers' season, the Dallas game was not even supposed to be a win. Not that the Packers can afford to lose another winnable game, but even if they have one mis-step, this win against the Cowboys kind of makes up for that in advance.

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