10

January

Five Reflections from Wild Card Weekend

The strength of the Giants' defensive line is just one observation from the 2011 NFL Wild Card weekend.

With four teams out of the playoff race and the New York Giants scheduled to take on the Green Bay Packers next week, I thought it might be prudent to take a look back at the weekend and reflect on the results. The games mostly went as expected, minus the Pittsburgh Steelers getting “Tebowed” in Denver.

Let’s get right down to it, then. Here are some observations from the four Wild Card games and how they might relate to the Packers going forward:

1. Regular season records don’t mean anything. This weekend, we saw two division champions take down Wild Card teams who held a better record in the regular season. The New York Giants (9-7) practically shut out the Atlanta Falcons (10-6), and the Denver Broncos (8-8) stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) with an overtime bullseye strike.

Yes, the Packers made an impressive run this season going 15-1, but don’t let that alone give you any sense of false hope. It won’t afford Green Bay any advantage on the field, because the only thing that matters is how well they are playing right now.

2. Opportunities must be seized when they are presented. Anyone who watched the New Orleans Saints take on the Detroit Lions knows how much that game could have changed if the Lions would have simply taken advantage of their opportunities. I counted three passes by Drew Brees that could have easily been interceptions if the defender would have simply held onto the ball. Turnovers can be huge game-changers is the playoffs, mostly because the games are usually so close to begin with. Not only can they swing the scoreboard, but they can redirect the momentum and quiet a noisy crowd.

The Green Bay Packers have made turnovers their mantra this season. Not only is protecting the ball of utmost importance, but taking it away has become the keystone of their defense. The Packers lead the league this season in interceptions (31) and were second only to the San Francisco 49ers in turnover differential (+24). They will need to continue taking advantage of these opportunities, because they will get fewer and farther between against playoff-caliber opponents.

3. Nothing beats a good defensive line (except a good offensive line). We saw some great defensive line play this weekend. The Houston Texans gave Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals fits on Saturday, while the powerhouse line of the New York Giants netted two sacks on Matt Ryan and helped keep Michael Turner to just 41 yards on 15 carries. They also stuffed two quarterback sneaks attempted by the Falcons.

On the other side of the coin, though, is how well the New Orleans Saints protected Drew Brees despite the formidable rush of Ndamokung Suh and the rest of the Lions’ defensive line. Both offensive guards from the Saints were voted into the Pro Bowl this year, and it’s not hard to see why when Brees has so much time in the pocket and is able to step into his throws.

The Green Bay Packers will finally have their best five offensive linemen again going into the playoffs. This should help immensely in fending off the Giants next week. However, it is the Packers’ defensive line I am most concerned about. Having Ryan Pickett back in the line-up will help immensely in stopping the run, though it doesn’t do much for the infamous pass rush (or lack thereof).

4. Don’t let the refereeing keep you down. It’s amazing how this same tune gets played year in and year out. The refereeing in the NFL doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and between all the rule changes and shades of gray, there’s not much hope for a turnaround any time soon. This weekend only continued amplify the displeasure fans, players, and even coaches have about the inconsistencies with refereeing.

We saw two separate instances of fumbles being whistled dead at the wrong time. For the Lions, it meant the difference between a recovery and a touchdown. And for the Broncos, it meant the difference between an incompletion and a turnover. Along the same lines, a sack on Eli Manning by the Falcons was whistled painfully early and should have been ruled a fumble. I’ve also become more confused as to what constitutes holding, personal fouls, and pass interference.

The thing we all have to remember, though, is that teams usually get it about equally. Yes, some teams will be unfairly targeted based on reputation, but the great ones always find a way to rise above and play through it. If a questionable call or two go against the Packers this postseason, just remember that it is still their job to be the better team.

5. Every team has its flaws. There is no perfect team out there. The Saints, Giants, Texans, and Broncos all won their respective games, and three of them won by more than three scores. But that doesn’t mean they played flawlessly. The Giants were held to only 7 points in the first half and also had a safety against them. Drew Brees is amazingly talented, but he is also a bit of a gunslinger, forcing it when he sometimes shouldn’t. The Broncos have a do-or-die offense and couldn’t keep the hobbled Steelers offense from making a late-game comeback. And the Texans’ offense still has to rely on the running game to make up for lost talent at the quarterback position.

The Packers, as well, have their flaws. Everyone knows the defense has fallen mightily from last year, and it has been a big point of contention all season. But remember . . . each of the aforementioned teams won this weekend despite their flaws. Green Bay will need to expose the flaws in the Giants while minimizing their own if they hope to succeed next week.

These observations are nothing special. They could be made week in and week out; still, I believe them to be points that should be consciously remembered when watching next week’s Division Round games and beyond.

But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that on “any given Sunday,” any team can win despite the odds. Just ask the Steelers

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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17 Responses to “Five Reflections from Wild Card Weekend”

  1. Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

    Even though I will sound like a homer,something is telling me the Giants are breathing in a sense of false bravado with a win over a putrid team known as the Falcons.
    Reasons;
    1)Matty ICE…please
    2) Julio-where are you
    3)R White…got bitch slapped last year and learned to be quiet,on field also it seemed
    4)Gonzalez…shaking in the wait of his return…again
    5)Smith…lives in a echo chamber…4th and 1,4th and 1,4th and 1…go nogood go nogood go nogood…

    As much as the Giants won,the Falcons beat themselves out of the playoffs and out of contention next year as well.Do I believe in the “Any given Sunday”absolutely,just not this one.
    Packers 34-20 after a game securing winning INT for a TD during a Giant drive to tie gets inside our 20.

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    • Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

      P.S. Lets not forget that playoff burner AKA Turner the Burner and his 46 yds on like geez,that many touches.

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    • Ron LC says:

      Homer? Nothing wrong with that.

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    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      Very true. That Falcons team was as putrid as we thought all along. As I told Al on Twitter, my pick for them as the upset was based mostly on hopeful wishing than sound reasoning.

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  2. BrakeBad says:

    Great analysis of the games. They were interesting to watch. It took the Giants a while to get a rhythm on offense and the Falcons never did. The Broncos beat the Steelers in the first half but it seemed like the Steelers beat themselves in the second.

    I do think it’s good to face the Giants in that they’re a team that not only will the Packers not overlook but I don’t think it’ll be hard for them to get pumped up to play them. They’ve already had one of GB’s closest games this season and there will be the constant 2007 talk. There are some storylines GB can use as motivation if needed.

    It’s going to be a tough game, though. I could be wrong but I think the Giants match up best against Green Bay. Everyone is thinking it’ll be a shootout but I wouldn’t be surprised if it started like the first DET/GB game.

    **Just a point of disagreement, if the sack in the Giants game you’re talking about is the same one I’m thinking about, it sure looked like Eli’s knee was down before the ball came out. The coverage didn’t show many angles, though, so I could be wrong.

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    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      “I do think it’s good to face the Giants in that they’re a team that not only will the Packers not overlook but I don’t think it’ll be hard for them to get pumped up to play them.”

      Great comment.

      And as far as the “strip sack” goes, I’d definitely have to watch the play again. Though I did notice a couple others on Twitter groan about the early whistle and possible fumble.

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    • Steve Cheez says:

      If we needed storylines for motivation, we wouldn’t be here in the first place.

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  3. Ron LC says:

    Well done on the analysis Chad.

    The “refing” issue is indeed a point of contention. Unfortunately, it is the demon child of Goodell and the Comptetition Committee. The grey area you speak of is now covering almost every call. This will be a problem from now on. Reviews will become the routine not the exception. Games will last longer and longer as the “refs” can’t make up their mind after multiple views of the same play don’t seem to answer the result the replay “ref” is looking for. What are these idiots doing to the game I love?

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    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      Completely agree. There is just so much inconsistency around the league when it comes to refereeing… I don’t mind the “human aspect” to the game. It should be there. But when refs blow plays dead early and completely miss calls, then it just gets to be ridiculous.

      For example, the Lions had a sure TD against the Packers in Week 17 that was ruled an incompletion on the field. Rather than call it a TD and let the booth review it, they blow the call and Schwartz had no challenges left to defend the play.

      Something needs to be changed, and it starts at the top.

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  4. Chad Lundberg says:

    I’m really tired of people taking the Giants just so lightly. They can win this game regardless of anyone else’s opinion.

    If the Packers don’t play a full 60 minutes, the Giants will capitalize on every single second the Packers aren’t playing 100%.

    Yes, we should win, but that’s exactly why I smell bologna written all over this game. I just can’t shake that feeling that it is going to SUCK.

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  5. Dan says:

    Football was a game created on the premise of violent competition. The game is violent in its nature. The commissioner is trying to make a violent game safe. It’s like making a leopard change its spots.

    I understand that the macho nature of the sport can cause serious future brain disease by playing with concussions. I’m all for the new concussion protocol. I’m also for the obvious FLAGRANT helmet to helmet and spearing rule to avoid spine injuries. The players are bigger and faster as the game progresses.

    But I fully agree that they are turning the game into a soft ‘watch everything you do’ game. The players are confused, I’m confused , the coaches are confused as to what constitutes a penalty anymore. They are taking the much needed aggression out of a aggressive game.

    Even the announcers get irritated by these ticy-tac calls being made. It’s not football any more. Come on man.
    They need to change something in the off season to curb these whistle blowing ballerinas they’ve created.

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  6. packett says:

    Good thoughts there Chad.
    GB over confidence is what I worry about the most. I like your summary…anyone can overcome the flaws it has with proper study and preparation. See exhibit Denver/Tebow. The weakness (passing) was turned into a strength (deep passing). Bait those Giants into some false hope of sacks, and it can be used against em. I’m just glad the giants had the game they had…and exposed their strengths.
    I think we can assume MM might install a different 4th-inches strategy now.

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  7. Ron LC says:

    As long as MM does not treat them lighly everything is OK.

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  8. Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

    MM was seen watching his favorite Elmer Fudd cartoon and singing along.
    “A hunting we will go,A hunting we will go hehehehe,come out,come out you silly Giants”.

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  9. billy d says:

    50 spot…

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