Sitting through playoff games is awkward when the Eagles aren't involved. There is some initial bitterness. Heck, I'm sure some fans have trouble watching at all. Once the games get going, I start to leave my Eagles anger aside and just enjoy playoff football.
A magical game like Saturday's showdown between the Saints and Niners quickly made me forget any biases or emotions. That was the kind of game that is great because it simply reminds me why I love the NFL so much. Playoff football is a whole other world. Some teams rise to the challenge. Others get overwhelmed. In that game, both teams came out and made big-time plays. The fourth quarter was an epic battle as the teams traded scores. There is an old sports cliché that "We didn't lose. We just ran out of time." That is the way the Saints-Niners game felt. New Orleans just didn't have enough time for the one last comeback.
The other games didn't live up to the standard of that first game, but it might go down as one of the best playoff games in recent years, if not ever. The Texans and Ravens played a very good game on Sunday. It didn't have as many big plays, but was a lot of fun. That game featured some stifling defense. The Texans overcame a lot of injuries and had a season that they can really be proud of. The Texans are for real.
Were there any lessons to be taken from the games?
The first thing that jumps out is the importance of the tight end position. Vernon Davis had a monster game for the Niners. They don't win without his heroics. Jimmy Graham was very good for the Saints. Rob Gronkowski had a remarkable game for the Patriots. Aaron Hernandez split time as a runner and receiver (not a misprint) and posted big numbers. Jermichael Finley had a chance to have a big game for Green Bay, but he kept dropping passes or Aaron Rodgers missed him.
These guys aren't normal tight ends. They are offensive weapons. Defenses hate facing these players because they don't have defenders who match up well with them. How do the Eagles stack up here?
The Eagles don't need to address tight end in the offseason, but if the right player is available in the draft that would be hard to pass up. I'm not talking about just any tight end. The team should only add a player with special size, athleticism and/or skills.
|Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award and is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com|
Not all teams had a tight end who stood out. Some teams had to rely on wide receivers to be their playmakers in the passing game. Let me list out the guys and see if you notice a trend: Marques Colston, Demaryius Thomas, Hakeem Nicks, Andre Johnson and Anquan Boldin. All of those guys are big, physical receivers. This is an area where the Eagles need to figure some things out.
One of the key lessons is that you must be able to get pressure with your normal pass rushers. San Francisco won their game in part because they got pressure on Drew Brees. They actually sacked him three times (not a common occurrence). The Texans went on the road with their third-string quarterback (a rookie no less) and outplayed the Ravens. Houston came close to pulling off the upset because their front seven dominated the line of scrimmage and got a lot of pressure on Joe Flacco. The Saints and Packers had to blitz in order to get pressure. That left those teams vulnerable in coverage and they teams were badly burned a few times.
This is an area where the Eagles measure up pretty well. The team led the league in sacks with 50 and the defensive line accounted for 46 of them. That's what you need to win in the postseason. The only change for the Eagles is if they want to mix in more youth to the defensive line. Aside from that angle, the team is in good shape up front.
Safety play proved to be an important area this weekend. The Niners got great play from Dashon Goldson. He led the team with 11 tackles. He broke up a pair of passes and had an interception. Donte Whitner added four solo tackles and a forced fumble. The Saints safeties piled up big tackle numbers, but struggled mightily in coverage. Vernon Davis burned them for several big plays. Danieal Manning had eight solo tackles for the Texans and had a solid game. Ed Reed picked off a pass for the Ravens and got a hand on the final Hail Mary pass of the game. Deon Grant had an interception for the Giants and Kenny Phillips came up with a key forced fumble. Compare that to the Packers. Their defensive backs struggled mightily. They couldn't cover or tackle.
Discussing the Eagles situation at safety is complex. The team needs better safety play in 2012, but how should they go about getting that? I believe that the smart thing to do is focus on the young talent already on the roster.
One thing that we saw this weekend was the importance of turnovers. Nothing new here, of course. The funny thing is that Green Bay and New Orleans had been very protective of the ball in the regular season, but got super sloppy over the weekend. That killed both teams. Houston also suffered from turnovers in a big way. They played lights out for most of the game, but critical mistakes killed them. I don't know that there is a specific lesson here beyond the obvious - don't turn the ball over.
For more dead-on analysis from Tommy Lawlor, check out the Fan-Demonium archive.