Not a fair fight (cont.)
Posted: Monday January 14, 2008 8:31PM; Updated: Tuesday January 15, 2008 12:04PM
Now we come to Indy-San Diego, another non-rush contest. The Colts tried switching their linemen around, moving undersized Raheem Brock from tackle to end, to get more of a potential rush. I didn't see much of 235-pound Robert Mathis, the only guy they've got, with Dwight Freeney hurt, who can come off the edge. He might have been hurt. They got zero in the way of pressure. They didn't blitz, just kept rotating their linemen and trying to work stunts, which was just spinning their wheels.
I don't want to take anything away from the Chargers' heroic performance. I mean Billy Volek, minus LaDainian Tomlinson, minus Antonio Gates, taking his team 78 yards at the end, in front of a hostile crowd, to win the game, was one for the ages. But, hey, without a rush to face, even the back-up QB can complete enough passes to win a ballgame. And I'm not just speaking out of bitterness because I had predicted an Indy blowout. It's just when you see him drop straight back and stand tall, look downfield, set his feet and come to balance perfectly, you just know it's going to be a plus-18 completion over the middle, first down Chargers.
If you can't pressure a quarterback, you've got to find a way. There are coordinators who stay up all night figuring out blitz packages, rush schemes, exotics, mixers, crazies, something, anything, to stop the march of the offense, the "slow burn," as coaches call it. Without it, all that will happen is that your D-linemen will get tired and things will get worse.
In Green Bay it was another story, a snowy one. I'm not saying that Brett Favre would have been anything less than magnificent on a dry field, but the Seahawks came in fresh from a contest in which they rushed and blitzed the Redskins into oblivion. That was their game and they'd gotten good at it. So what happened? Gathering snow and a slippery surface. Rushers can't rush when it's slippery, blitzers can't blitz. Favre completed 18 of 23 passes against the 'Hawks, but they had another thing to contend with, the cutback running of Ryan Grant.
This is a young guy, 224 pounds with great stamina and balance. He killed the Seahawks on those cutbacks. Stretch the front side, cut back weak. The defensive guys flow to the ball, and when they have to change direction for the cutback, they slip in the snow. There was a lot more to this game, of course, but this was a big part of it.
Finally we come to the Giants, whose whole operation is built upon getting to the passer. They led the league in sacks, most of which came from a trio of sleek, streamlined DEs, but if they're having trouble getting there, coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is not bashful about sending in a linebacker, notably Kawika Mitchell, or a DB.
By the fourth quarter, the Giants' rush had whipped the massive Cowboy offensive linemen and unhinged Tony Romo, and Dallas was finished. It was like a 15-round bout in which the better conditioned fighter is left standing. Left tackle Flozell Adams, for instance, a highly effective pass blocker, but not what you'd call a finely tuned athlete, was in a state of near collapse toward the end. Andre Gurode, the center, was going through some weird problem with snapping the ball. And so forth.