2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Saints vs. 49ers
The 49ers and Saints kicked off the Divisional round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs with a wild one in ‘Frisco. Here are some quick-hit reactions from the Niners’ 36-32 upset over the Saints.
– That was easily one of the wildest finishes I’ve seen in any game, nevertheless a postseason contest. Four touchdowns in the final four minutes? There’s nothing that beats the NFL playoffs. NOTHING I TELL YOU!
– Gregg Williams is an aggressive defensive play-caller. He has always been an aggressive defensive play-caller and will always be an aggressive defensive play-caller. He’s won a Super Bowl by being aggressive so by no means should he change his spots. That said, the Niners had 67 yards to cover with 40 seconds remaining in the game. Did Williams actually think that sending six defenders and leaving Vernon Davis in one-on-one coverage was the best play-call in that situation? Davis beat Malcolm Jenkins on the play and went 47 yards to the New Orleans’ 20-yard-line. Three plays later Alex Smith drilled a bullet to Davis for the eventual game-winning touchdown. Again, Gregg Williams needs to be aggressive or he’s not Gregg Williams. But you can still be aggressive and not leave the man who had torched you all game in one-on-one coverage while you rush over half your defense. That’s a play-call that may haunt him for the next eight months.
– Back in the day I used to write profiles for the top NFL draft prospects each year. In 2006 I absolutely fell in love with tight end Vernon Davis. I would tell everyone who would listen (which included about four people, including my own mother) that Davis was going to be a monster at the next level. He was the perfect prospect: Built like a tight end but with the speed and athleticism of a wide receiver. I used to clamor about how big of a mismatch he would be either on or off the line. Then the dude stunk for three years and those four people (including my own mother) would constantly mock me. “The perfect prospect huh? Guy looks pretty average.” Davis still hasn’t had the career I expected him to have back in ’06 but he reminded me today of why I was so high on him coming out of Maryland. The Saints couldn’t stop him, especially on the Niners’ game-wining drive. He beat a cornerback in Jenkins on that long completion that put San Francisco in scoring range and then he beat a safety in Roman Harper for the game-winning score. (A play in which Davis took an absolute shot from Harper and still hung on to the ball.) When he’s involved in the offense and playing with confidence, he’s such a weapon in the middle of the field. And now he owns the single-game playoff record for tight end yards, surpassing Kellen Winslow’s mark of 166 yards in that legendary performance against the Dolphins back in 1981.
– After his outstanding performance today (24-for-42, 299 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs), I can’t help but chuckle about all of the Alex Smith critics that have emerged over the years. “He’ll never lead a team to the playoffs!” “He’ll never win a playoff game if he’s lucky enough to get there!” “He’s not a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback!” “He isn’t contributing to his retirement fund!” Smith has been one of the most polarizing quarterbacks over the past five years and finally, after all of those different coordinators and coaches, lack of talent and confidence issues, he won his first postseason game by outperforming Drew Brees. It’s amazing when you think about it. He’ll still have plenty of doubters if he stinks up the joint next week in the NFC Championship Game, and he still has plenty of doubters now, I’m sure. But at least he’ll sleep well tonight. The guy deserves it after the show he put on today.
– Speaking of Smith, that 14-yard designed run he had was a freaking great play call. And the blocks that were executed on that play were outstanding as well. I thought that was going to be one sweet game-winning play-call but who knew that 15 more points were going to be scored?
– It’s amazing to watch Justin Smith play now compared to earlier in his career with Cincinnati. It’s like watching a completely different player. It’s not as if he was bad with the Bengals but now he’s a disruptive force and easily one of the best defensive linemen in the game. He and his ‘Frisco teammates did something that so many teams tried and failed to do this season: Bring the heat against Drew Brees. The Saints’ offense still wound up scoring a ton of points in the end but the scoreboard isn’t a true representation of how well Smith and Co. played today.
– Granted, they scored 32 points and Brees did attempt 63 passes so it’s not like Sean Payton was conservative with his offense. But the Saints don’t play with the same swagger or confidence on the road as they do at home, especially on defense. When they’re inside the Superdome, the Saints are unbeatable and unstoppable. The defense flies to the football, plays with physicality and aggression, and forces turnovers. Today, the New Orleans defense allowed 36 points and nearly 300 passing yards to a team that averaged just 183.1 yards through the air during the regular season. I said it all week: The Saints are just a different team on the road than they are at home.
– Of course, when you turn the ball over five times and spot your opponent a 17-point lead on the road, you’re not going to win most games. I don’t care how explosive the Saints’ offense is: They can’t win if they kill potential scoring drives with turnovers and sloppy play.
Posted in: NFL
Tags: 2012 nfl playoffs, Alex Smith, Gregg Williams Saints, Justin Smith, Kellen Winslow, Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints, NFL Playoffs, nfl playoffs scores, nfl quick-hits divisional round, saints 49ers score, saints vs 49ers, San Francisco 49ers, Sean Payton, Vernon Davis, vernon davis playoff record
2012 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Preview
Saints @ 49ers, Saturday, 4:30PM ET
It’s no secret that the Saints have been a different team on the road this year than at home. As I pointed out in this week’s edition of “Five Questions…,” they’ve outscored opponents 329 to 143 at home this season and only 218 to 196 on the road. Sean Payton has seemingly been more conservative with his play calling as Drew Brees has thrown less touchdowns (29 to 17), more interceptions (6 to 8), has a lower average per pass attempt (8.75 to 7.99), and has been sacked more (8 to 16) on the road than at home. Gregg Williams’ defense doesn’t play with the same confidence that it does inside the Superdome either. It’s not that the Saints are a bad road team (they were 5-3 during the regular season), but they’re not the juggernaut they are at home. On the other side, there’s not much that San Francisco doesn’t do well defensively. They’re outstanding against the run, they get after the quarterback, and they’re solid in pass coverage. They also have a great special teams unit so if the Saints are sloppy on Saturday, they will fall. The question is whether or not the Niners will generate enough offense if the Saints start firing on all cylinders. San Fran doesn’t pass protect very well and if it can’t open up running lanes for Frank Gore, that’s when Alex Smith starts to get turnover-happy. It’ll be interesting to see how this matchup unfolds come Saturday.
Broncos @ Patriots, Saturday, 8:00PM ET
Tim Tebow better strap in tight because he’s not likely to see as much one-on-one coverage as Dick LeBeau showed him last week. Bill Belichick will likely keep a safety over top of Demaryius Thomas at all times and force Tebow to go through all of his reads. If he doesn’t and he starts chucking the ball up thinking he can beat New England deep like he did Pittsburgh, he could be in for a long night. On the other side, it’ll be interesting to see if Denver’s stout defense can rattle Tom Brady. One of the biggest reasons the Patriots lost in their first postseason game the last two years is because Baltimore and New York harassed Brady to know end. But New England’s pass protection has been better this season than it was last year, so if the Broncos can’t generate pressure then Brady could eat them alive. It would behoove Denver to jump out to an early lead like Miami and Buffalo did on New England the past two weeks. But with Tebow running the show, that could prove to be difficult.
Texans @ Ravens, Sunday, 1:00PM ET
This game is all about Houston’s defense. If Wade Phillips’ unit can’t slow down Ray Rice, force turnovers and create good field position for the offense, then the Texans’ season will end in Baltimore this Sunday. The Ravens’ run defense is the best in the league and they were stout in pass coverage as well. The combination of Arian Foster and T.J. Yates isn’t going to get the best of Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. The best Yates can do is not turn the ball over and take what Baltimore gives him. Otherwise, if he’s forced to make plays then the Texans are in trouble. The Ravens were unbeatable at home this season and there are mismatches that they can take advantage of this weekend. As long as they don’t get caught looking ahead, it’s hard to envision the Ravens falling on Sunday.
Giants @ Packers, Sunday, 4:30PM ET
If the Giants play with the same confidence, swagger and determination this week at Lambeau as they did last Sunday versus the Falcons, then they have a shot. In fact, they already have a shot. The Giants have always been a dangerous underdog and when they think everyone is against them, they raise the level of their play ten-fold. It’s no coincidence that the Giants have played their best football over the past three weeks. They’re healthy and the strength of their defense (i.e. their defensive line) is now fully intact. As I’ve written so many times before, the way to beat an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers is to pressure him with your front four. If Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Rocky Benard and Justin Tuck play with the same relentless attitude this week as they did the past three, the Giants will have a shot to pull off the upset. Because their offense is certainly capable of matching Green Bay score-for-score thanks to that receiving corps and the Packers’ suspect defense. That said, Green Bay will not hand the game over on a silver platter like Atlanta did last Sunday. The Falcons played not to lose. They were timid – scared even. Rodgers plays with reckless abandon and he’s not going to be afraid to take shots downfield against New York’s vulnerable secondary unlike Matt Ryan, who never once tried to throw deep. Atlanta never adjusted its opening game plan either. You can expect Mike McCarthy to change things up if the Giants are getting the better of the Packers early on. This is going to be a great matchup and a wild ride.
Posted in: NFL
Tags: 2012 nfl playoffs, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Arian Foster, Bill Belichick, broncos vs patriots, Demaryius Thomas, Dick Lebeau, Drew Brees, Frank Gore, Giants vs Packers, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, NFL Divisional Round, NFL Playoffs, nfl playoffs preview, Osi Umenyiora, Ray Lewis, rocky benard, saints vs 49ers, Sean Payton, T.J. Yates, Terrell Suggs, Texans vs ravens, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady
2012 NFL Playoffs: Five Questions for the Divisional Round
Every Tuesday throughout the NFL season I’ll discuss five of the biggest questions surrounding that week’s slate of action. This week the NFL moves into the Divisional Round, where the Saints will hit the road (where they haven’t been as explosive), the Giants will try to slay the dragon known as the Green Bay Packers, and Tim Tebow’s Broncos are still walking on water. (Dah! Get it? Do you get it? Yeah, you get it…)
1. Can the Saints overcome their issues on the road?
Thanks to their dominating play in the second half of the season, there are many people who feel as though the Saints are now the team to beat this season. But there’s no question that New Orleans is a different team on the road than at home and while that statement is true of most franchises, it really applies to the Saints when you dig into the numbers. Sean Payton’s crew outscored opponents 329 to 143 at home this year and only 218 to 196 on the road. At home the Saints were literally and figuratively unbeatable and unstoppable, scoring at least 30 points in seven of their eight games inside the Superdome. But on the road they were more conservative, more cautious, and certainly less aggressive. Two of their three losses this year came at 4-12 Tampa Bay and at 2-14 St. Louis, and they could have easily lost to Tennessee on the road had Jake Locker not inexcusably taken a sack on the final play of the game (when the Titans were at the New Orleans’ 5-yard-line, no less). When you factor in San Francisco’s stingy defense and the fact that New Orleans has to travel cross-country this week, it’s going to be interesting to see if the Saints can survive this weekend…
2. …that said, do the Niners have enough offense to take the Saints down?
The 49ers’ defense ranked fourth in yards allowed this season, first in rushing yards allowed, and second in points per game. But they’re not exactly a Rubik’s Cube on offense. They win by successfully getting Frank Gore in space, by not turning the ball over and by not beating themselves with penalties. While he isn’t the second coming of Trent Dilfer (who had a more limited skill set), Alex Smith has developed into a solid game-manager that is capable of beating defenses vertically when they stack the box hoping to slow Gore. Vernon Davis hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire this season but he’s still a mismatch on linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field and Michael Crabtree gives the Niners some semblance of a vertical threat. But while ‘Frisco did finish 11th in points per game this season, this isn’t a team built for shootouts. So if for some reason the Niners’ defense falters, Smith could be pressed into a situation where he has to match wits with Brees. And while Smith has had a good season, that’s a matchup that Jim Harbaugh and Co. don’t want to see play out this weekend.
3. Can the Giants pull off one of the classic upsets?
This is where the New York Giants are most dangerous. When they’re on the road, when the consensus believes that they’ll lose, and when their backs are up against the proverbial wall. While many people are buying into Big Blue’s revival over the past couple of weeks, there’s no question that they get to play the underdog role this Sunday in Green Bay. It’s a role that suits them just fine, as they proved in Super Bowl XLII, as well as in Philadelphia (where they were 9-point underdogs) and in New England (when they were once again 9-point dogs) earlier this season. That said, the Giants won’t be as fortunate this week as they were with their matchup last weekend. They got to face a predictable, conservative, inconsistent Falcons team that played right into their hands and weren’t intelligent enough to have a Plan B when Plan A blew up in their faces. If the Giants stop the Packers early on, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers will adjust. If the Giants want to get into a shootout (and they’re certainly capable with that offense), the Packers can match. If the Giants want to go ground and pound with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Packers will then attempt to outscore them. The bottom line is that the G-Men do have what it takes to bring down the Pack. But the Falcons didn’t do them any favors last weekend by rolling over and playing dead because now you have to wonder if Tom Coughlin’s team is a little overconfident.
4. The Broncos can’t do that again, right? I mean, right? Right?!
Okay, so the Denver Broncos took down the Pittsburgh Steelers. Big whoop. The Steelers were contending with a bunch of injuries on both sides of the ball, most notably at quarterback where Ben Roethlisberger was clearly affected by a high ankle sprain he suffered late in the year. In other words, Pittsburgh was ripe for the taking and with a lot of help from Ike Taylor, Denver was able to pull off the upset. The Broncos won’t be able to march into Foxboro this weekend and take down Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. That would be ludicrous. Preposterous, even. Notgonnahappen. Of course…the Patriots don’t have the strongest pass defense. And they don’t always rush the passer very well. It’s not inconceivable that Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas could beat Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty in pass coverage. And certainly James Ihedigbo and Patrick Chung. Sure, Denver’s running game will find it challenging to run against Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo
Andre Carter, but the Broncos could certainly overcome that hurdle with their newfound passing game. Of course, Tebow will have to go toe-to-toe with Brady and the Patriots’ offense. That could be a challenge. And it’s not like Denver will be able to sneak up on New England like it did Pittsburgh last weekend so…yeah, the Broncos won’t make it two-for-two with huge upsets. Right?
5. Can Yates step up against Baltimore’s defense?
The Texans won’t be able to win this weekend with the same formula they used last Saturday against the Bengals. Baltimore’s run defense is too good to allow Arian Foster to take over the game like he did versus Cincinnati and thus, T.J. Yates will need to step up. As expected, the rookie fifth-rounder was shaky in his first career postseason start. He took shots deep to covered receivers when he had people open in the flats and he nearly threw a game-changing pick-six in the second half that Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker dropped. Given the circumstances, Yates has done a phenomenal job stepping in for Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart over the past month. But he’s also been fortunate on numerous occasions that defenses haven’t made him pay for his mistakes. The Ravens, who are built for the postseason and who are a nasty bunch at home, won’t be as gracious as Cincinnati and other teams (Atlanta, for example) have been to Yates this season. It would behoove Houston to rely on Foster and its defense this weekend. But that doesn’t mean that Yates will be able to sit back and enjoy the ride this time around. He’ll need to make plays.
Posted in: NFL
Tags: 2012 nfl playoffs, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Arian Foster, Bill Belichick, broncos vs patriots, Demariyus Thomas, Drew Brees, Frank Gore, Giants vs Packers, Jim Harbaugh, Mike McCarthy, NFL Divisional Round Playoffs, saints vs 49ers, Sean Payton, T.J. Yates, Texans vs ravens, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady