Wrapping up the wild cards and picking next round
Posted: Monday January 7, 2008 12:55PM; Updated: Monday January 7, 2008 1:14PM
It's time for the preliminary fighters to step aside and make way for the main eventers. Favre, Romo, Brady, Manning. The Big Four. The top Pro Bowl vote getters. Time to get their playoff act together, after a wild-card weekend of exciting but erratic play.
There wasn't that much of a wonderful nature among weekend runners, either. Aside from the dash and flash supplied by the Jaguars' little Maurice Jones-Drew, I can't think of a single running back who did anything particularly memorable. Not one of the eight teams in action matched it's season's average for rushing yardage, in any game. There wasn't a back who gained anything close to 100 yards (The Titans' LenDale White was high man with 69).
But that's OK. Interesting matchups, not general excellence, are what's called for in the wild-card round, and there was certainly plenty of that. Now it's time to bring in the big boys, and if you're like me, your favorite weekend of the postseason is coming up, the Divisional Playoffs. Four games, with all the good teams represented. It's like the Elite Eight of the NCAA basketball tournament.
To sum up last weekend and the one coming up:
SEAHAWKS AT PACKERS
WHAT I SAW: John Marshall, Seattle's defensive coach, is one of those old-timers who's been around forever. He's always been sound, and always overlooked. Mike Holmgren and the offense get the ink when this team is discussed, but Marshall's an interesting guy with some fun ideas. Such as the blitzkrieg.
The Eagles' Jim Johnson, the Steelers' Dick LeBeau ... those are the coaches known as the serious blitzers, but Marshall threw the whole package at the Redskins last Saturday. He blitzed them on the pass, on the run, as they came out of the locker room, on their way to the team bus afterward. He didn't let them breathe.
The result was a running attack that got squashed, and a lot of catches by Antwaan Randle El and Santana Moss, but all shorties, except for Moss' 30-yard TD, and even that was a mid-range crossing pattern in which he ran away from people. And what finally happened was that old pro Todd Collins, who had looked so fine in the games leading up to the postseason, finally came apart and started throwing picks. The pressure of working behind a line that simply got overrun became too great for him.
Everyone likes Matt Hasselbeck better than I do. I mean, I've got nothing against him. He seems like a nice sort of bloke, and he's had lots of good moments on the field. I just have a feeling, as I've written before, that he doesn't raise the level of his game commensurate with the stakes involved. As far as the Hawks' running attack, forget it. It's gone south, with the dicky-birds.
WHAT LIES AHEAD: Holmgren facing Favre, the guy he nursed from infancy, the child into whose tiny hands he placed the first miniature football, mentor against mentee, guru against googoo... get ready for this angle, folks, because you'll be reading it all week, with anecdotes generously provided. In truth, the question is, will Marshall try to turn loose his rushers, and some of them are real big leaguers -- LE Patrick Kerney, who destroyed the Redskins, OLB Julian Peterson, who lines up in a down position in the nickel, the vastly underrated OLB Leroy Hill, DT Rocky Bernard, who can collapse the pocket when he's on a roll?
Or will he pull back and try to get Favre into one of his interception modes via a lot of coverage people downfield?
I can't get the picture out of my head about how Favre worked that multiple-wideout run 'n shoot thing against the Lions, and how natural it seemed to him, which is amazing since he was born to be a gunner, and how effective it was. If the Packers come up with it Saturday, and Marshall tries to blitz it, Favre will eat it alive. If Green Bay blunts the rush, then Favre could get something going downfield. If all of a sudden he goes into his walkabout and starts throwing picks, then Seattle has a chance -- in fact, I think that's the only chance they have.
In playoff football, though, the unexpected always can be expected. In this case, I read a heavy running game by Green Bay. Don't ask me why. I can just close my eyes and see Ryan Grant putting 150 yards on the board.
Green Bay 31, Seattle 24