Three Deep(ish) Thoughts for January 10th:
The first weekend of the NFL playoffs is in the books and it’s time for arm- chair quarterbacks across the world to begin their dissection of the action. It’s too soon to tell if what we learned this weekend is a harbinger of things to come or if it was merely an apparition, worthy of the ‘any given Sunday’ moniker that’s as well-rehearsed now as Leo’s Oscars acceptance speech was before The Revenant. Regardless, let’s reflect with three deep(ish) thoughts:
The Oakland Raiders aren’t as good without Derek Carr. The playoffs for the 2016 season began with a whimper. The Oakland Stoppable Forces clashed with the Houston Moveable Objects in game that saw Connor Cook doing his best Rex Grossman impression (nailed it!) and Brock Osweiler showing us what $70m looks like – apparently, just below average. In a game that featured a whopping 19 punts, Marquette King and Shane Lechler probably had dibs on the ice bath which is typically not a good indication of a football game’s quality.
Strike that, it was a perfection indication of this game’s quality. It’s hard to cast such disparaging comments at the feet of two playoff football teams but short of watching a Thursday Night Football game, I can’t think of anything less entertaining. Did you ever get invited to a friend’s house as a kid to play video games, only to arrive and find out it was a one-player game and you’re just there to watch? I thought I’d hit a low point in my life watching Matt Diaz complete the solo gameplay of Zelda on N64 but apparently I hadn’t.
Ultimately, I couldn’t help but wonder what this game would have looked like with Derek Carr under center and JJ Watt lined up across from him. The Oakland Raiders were a force to be reckoned with in the AFC only a few weeks ago. They could boast an above-average defense and a high-octane offense. You could argue that they had the best offensive line in football (you’d be wrong, but you could argue it), Latavius Murray is a strong number one back and Derek Carr was putting together one of the best seasons by a Raiders quarterback in the last… well… ever. With all due respect to Rich Gannon, he’s Michael Buble and Derek Carr is AC/DC. Both talented and successful, but one is rock and roll and the other is piped through speakers at shopping malls where fourteen-year-old girls buy their jewelry.
The Raiders were solidly placed in the number two seed, with the Patriots in their sights. Saturday night, I watched the (allegedly) same team muddle through sixty painful minutes of football and their season end on a sloppy interception. A mercy kill if ever there was one.
Oakland has a bright future, though, Carr will be their quarterback for years to come and while their division won’t be easily won for the next five seasons or so, it’s foolish to think that we’ve seen the last of the black and silver in postseason football. We can only hope that their next visit ends, if not in victory, at least in honorable defeat.
- A good defense is a physical defense. Hey, what’s the difference between pass interference and good defense? About the same as the likelihood of a scandal-free presidency for Trump. Which is to say, right around nothing. Two weeks ago, the Detroit Lines and Zach “always-last-on-school-roll-call” Zenner march down the field on their three opening possessions in Dallas and came away with touchdowns. Last week, they hung up 24 on the Green Bay Packers. Neither defense is ‘elite’ by any stretch, but both teams won their respective divisions.So how exactly did the Seahawks declaw the kittens? Simple. Hard, dirty, fast, dirty, physical, dirty play. Please don’t take ‘dirty’ to mean ‘illegal’; only that the Seattle defensive unit plays football as it should be played: with speed and violence. It may be frustrating to opponents but if you can get away with a bump after five yards and maybe a little hand-checking when the ball’s in the air then why the hell shouldn’t you? This game is hard enough on defenses with freaks of nature running downfield and making catches they have no business making (see Paul Richardson’s TD); we should expect our teams to be playing as physically as possible to win.
Here’s a team plagued by inconsistency on offense. Due In no small part to injuries in the backfield and an O-line that offers less protection than off-brand deodorant. And yet, they’re through to the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs. Give Russell Wilson all the credit he’s due and they certainly have the weapons on offense to compete but when a single touchdown is all that’s needed to win you a playoff game, crediting the offense with the win is like giving Stephen Baldwin an Oscar for The Usual Suspects. I mean, yeah, he was there I guess; but Kevin Spacy and the Seahawks defense stole their respective shows.
And while the rest of the league is drowning in yellow flags, Seattle’s brand of defense has created a perennial contender with an effective combination of physicality and talent. It’s certainly a model that can be exported, but in the same way that Belichick keeps finding slot receivers or Joe Maddon continues to produce all-stars who bat under .250 – we may have to accept that Seattle’s success is a more a product of the system than of its individual parts.
Typically, the accolades would be bestowed on the head coach for this measure of success. But anybody who throws from the two with Lynch in the backfield has proven himself unworthy of our praise.
- It’s not a Hail Mary when Aaron Rodgers throws it. Or maybe it is, but there should be some way of differentiating who exactly is praying when the ball is in the air. Imagine being a fan of the New York football Giants (shudder). You’ve held the Packers and one of the most prolific passers of his or any generation to right around 100 yards of offense for the first 29:53 of the football game and if not for a well-executed sideline route and Aaron “pocket-Jedi” Rodgers in the red zone you would probably be pitching a shutout.
Not only that but Ty Montgomery is about as effective as seal-scented shark repellent and you’ve just cracked Jordy Nelson’s ribs. Sure, Aaron Rodgers has enough time in the pocket to finish The Winds of Winter (hurry up George!) but you’re feeling pretty good about your defensive effort so far. Well, it’s all for naught. The man rolls to his right, buys some time around midfield and floats a rainbow into the waiting arms of Randall Cobb. I promise you when Rodgers let it fly there were silent prayers muttered to higher powers but most of them were not coming from Wisconsin.You hate to say that the second half was a foregone conclusion but giving Aaron Rodgers momentum going into halftime is like giving Dick Cheney a shotgun – watch out. The New York Harry Whittington’s looked shell-shocked going into the locker room and despite making it 13-14 in the third, Aaron Rodgers never lost his rhythm and for that, like herpes, there is no cure.
For the next week or so we’ll get to hear the pundits spew banal and trite nonsense about OBJ’s trip to Miami and Eli’s year-long inability to perform consistently and maybe they’re right. Maybe the wide-outs of NY weren’t focused enough and maybe 36-year-old Eli will have to content himself with two super bowls. But none of that should take away from the incredible, intangible je ne sais quoi that is the Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary, full of grace.