Two entertaining wildcard games on Saturday. Here’s what I saw:
Bengals/Texans – Two evenly matched teams on paper with relatively predictable offences – this usually means that whoever wins the turnover battle and the battle of the offensive and defensive lines will emerge with the victory. This was certainly the case on Saturday afternoon. The Texans OL dominated the Bengals. They ran the ball at will with very vanilla play calling. The Texans DL got to Dalton a number of times (deflected passes, sacks, forcing an interception that was returned for a TD) and completely stuffed the run all game. Three Bengals turnovers sealed their fate.
One side note on the Bengals – because a member of my household has a strong rooting interest in the AFC North, I end up catching a few more Bengals games a year than I might like to. Their coach (Marvin Lewis) continued to show his ineptitude in game management (this wasn’t a one time thing on Saturday – this plagues that team every year). His two replay challenges were utterly foolish. His early challenge on the spot of the ball on a 3rd and 1 was clearly wrong (after a touch-back the runner has to get to the 30 yard line for a first down so there should’ve been no doubt on the call on the field) – you also just don’t see many spot challenges won. For a relatively insignificant first down early in the game, it’s not worth wasting that challenge. His second challenge on a catch by the Texans TE in the second quarter was just as bad. He reacted to his players reaction on the field and got caught up in the emotion of the moment. On the play, it was clearly a catch (ball never touched the ground, receiver was laying on his back so there was no way he couldn’t have been down by contact). The cost of those challenges were two timeouts which meant their two drives at the end of the first half didn’t have the extra time they could have. Although their lack of challenges the rest of the game didn’t cost them in the second half, it’s tough to overlook this lack of basic game management in a head coach.
Lions/Saints – What started out as a close back and forth game turned into a blowout as a series of missed opportunities and mistakes started to stack up for the Lions. In order to beat the Saints in New Orleans, Detroit needed to play mistake free football and capitalize on the few chances that would come their way during the game. Instead, the Lions:
a. scored no points after recovering two rare Saints fumbles
b. dropped two interceptions on bad passes by Brees (one by Berry, one by Wright)
c. couldn’t tackle Saints running backs and receivers on first contact allowing significant extra yardage to a team that needs no additional help
d. missed opportunities to force the Saints to punt on three 3rd and long situations
e. failed to cover Graham (really, he’s 6’7”, 265lbs and you forget to put anyone on him?) on 1st and goal from the 1 resulting in an easy TD toss for Brees
f. completely blew the coverage on the Meachem TD with a safety jumping an inside route that needed no extra help leaving the WR wide open 20 yards behind coverage
… after all of that, the 2 interceptions thrown by Stafford late in the 4th didn’t matter much as the Lions were in desperation mode
On the Saints side of the ledger, an exceptional offensive performance by the whole team racking up more than 620 yards of offence (a playoff record). The OL kept Brees clean all night – he only took one big hit all game with the Lions feared front 4 never getting any pressure. Under the radar of Brees’ gaudy passing numbers was more than 160 yards of rushing in the game to help keep the Lions defence off balance. I really loved the two aggressive calls by Sean Payton (going for it on 4th and inches inside their territory in the 3rd quarter and going for it on 4th and 2 from the Lions 40 with 11:00 to go in the 4th). He knew the Lions had a potent offence and that his team couldn’t sit on their small lead at the time and hope their defence would win them the game.