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This weekend’s divisional round games held a few surprises, starting with top seeds from both conferences being eliminated Joe Burrow being sacked nine times overcoming Ryan Tannehill’s three interceptions and consideration earlier than expected from Aaron Rodgers for his next team.
Perhaps the biggest shocker, however, is this: Jimmy Garoppolo is one plane ride and 60 minutes away from playing his second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons. Despite an offensive performance in which yardage gains were hard to come by in snowy Green Bay weather, San Francisco escaped with a 13-10 victory over the NFC’s top-seeded Packers and will face the Rams of Los Angeles on the road in the conference championship. Game.
On Saturday night, playing despite hand and shoulder injuries, Garoppolo had just 131 passing yards on 19 attempts, with no touchdowns and one interception. His performance just enough won’t dampen the excitement of 49ers fans who have been eagerly awaiting the emergence of his understudy, rookie Trey Lance, who is expected to lead the franchise into the future. But it was good enough, or as good as the Packers’ special teams, to topple Green Bay, as it did in the 49ers’ victory in the NFC Championship Game for the 2019 season.
Now, as then, the 49ers are finding success without needing much from their quarterback, a philosophy that goes against modern football orthodoxy. So much has been said about the kind of quarterback play needed to win playoff games — on the road, in particular — and Saturday only solidified Garoppolo’s legacy as a goaltender. But the 49ers season has shed light all (gesturing wildly) required of the other 52 men on the list.
The 49ers complement, but are not dependent on, Jimmy Garoppolo.
Start with the offensive line, which has two potential Hall of Famers, Trent Williams and Alex Mack. In coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, which attacks the edges of defenses with the running game, having a cross indicating what is happening up front and a human steamroller at the tackle puts the offense in a position to present the five players who are usually blamed before they are. rented.
Beside and behind the offensive line is a triumvirate of football’s most versatile players: Kyle Juszczyk, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. While the field in Saturday’s game was too slippery to utilize all of Shanahan’s playing actions, bootlegs and misdirection, each of these nearly positionless players was able to make plays.
Kittle’s four grabs and 63 yards appeared to come on game-breaking third downs, on tilts and option routes against lags. Juszczyk converted several first downs as ball carrier on “trap” plays, designed to bring him down before Green Bay’s dominant front four could react. Samuel’s versatile 142 yards led all players and, in such a close game, his 45-yard punt return to open the second half helped tip the momentum and field position in favor of San Francisco.
Garoppolo couldn’t do much to push the ball down, but screens and sweeps to Samuel created glorified kick/clearance returns, opening the field for Samuel to create whatever he wanted. could.
In fact, the players who carry the most credit for beating Aaron Rodgers were the same four who got the better of Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott in the wild card round: the 49ers’ pass rushers. Nick Bosa and his running mates crushed and twisted the pocket after Green Bay’s hot first quarter, finishing with five sacks and nearly 20 total pressures. As the weather deteriorated and the stakes rose, Rodgers had less time and space to work, and the Packers gained just 58 total yards in the second half.
Coverage of the San Francisco area protected against deep shots aimed at Davante Adams, and no Packers receiver could separate from bottom defenders when Adams was bracketed in coverage.
Special teams created more than the 3-point margin of victory. After Garoppolo’s horrific interception, Jimmy Ward blocked a field goal attempt that would have put the 49ers down two possessions before halftime. Then, with less than five minutes remaining, Jordan Willis blocked a punt which was recovered by Talanoa Hufanga for a touchdown.
That said, what the 49ers do always comes with a “don’t try this at home” warning. Difficulty winning two playoff games on the road is one thing; doing it without passing for a single touchdown is quite another. This season isn’t a countercultural statement either: San Francisco drafted Lance for a reason. For now, though, just take advantage of DeMeco Ryans’ coordinated defensive mastery and hang in there every time Garoppolo steps back.
Mike Shanahan’s students are everywhere.
The leaders of three of the four teams in the NFC Divisional Round come from Mike Shanahan’s training tree, and two, Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, will face each other in the NFC Championship Game.
Since McVay became head coach of the Rams in 2017, Los Angeles and San Francisco have won the NFC West in four of five seasons – with McVay holding a 3-1 advantage. Including the Packers’ Matt LaFleur, all three coaches have seven division titles, and the last four NFC title games have featured at least one. This coaching tree is guaranteed a spot in the next Super Bowl, and with the Bengals’ Zac Taylor in the opposite bracket, there’s a chance of an all-Shanahan game.
Each of these head coaches has been cast in the same pattern and terminology, but they all have their own attacking flavor. Kyle Shanahan, the only raised in this system, is still faithful to the two-man offense his father set up on his way to three Super Bowl titles, including two as a head coach. McVay was pretty close to the offense’s original intent, but mixed up movement and throwing sweeps to add another element of misdirection. With quarterback Matthew Stafford in tow, McVay fully embraced empty sets and the back passing game.
The Shanahan system is like a good smartphone: it can do anything you want. Need a quarterback to test your offense? Jared Goff and McVay have shown the way. Looking for a downhill game? Kyle Shanahan has you covered. For those more into the spread, Taylor’s embrace of vertical passes and running pass options is the guide.
The system provides instant offense wherever it has gone, and this postseason has confirmed that Shanny-Ball will continue to branch out in the league. When the 49ers and Rams face off, expect a big difference in style: the San Francisco run game versus the Rams air show, both executed at a clinical level.
Wheelchair offensive coordinators around the world, rejoice.
It’s a bad year to be a top seed.
The two No. 1 seeds in the playoffs, Tennessee in the AFC and Green Bay in the NFC, are on their way to the comfort of their couches after losses as home favorites. Defending champion Tampa Bay lost 30-27 to the Rams at home and looked slower, older and more hurt in the process.
Only Kansas City’s 42-36 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium prevented the weekend from becoming the first of the playoffs since the 2015 wildcard round in which all four road teams held off. qualified.
All four home teams in the Divisional Round had glaring problems. The Packers had one of the worst special teams in the NFL, and the 49ers took advantage of it. The Titans came into the playoffs hoping running back Derrick Henry would jump out of the ice bath ready to carry the charge, but the Bengals stopped him. Tampa Bay’s injuries on the offensive line and in the secondary limited Tom Brady and allowed Matthew Stafford to find Cooper Kupp on big plays.
Kansas City ranked seventh in turnover percentage, with 13.7% of its drives ending in a loose ball, but managed not to turn the ball against Buffalo’s top defense.
The NFL’s unofficial motto, “any Sunday,” a nod to parity that makes any contest a draw, may seem outdated (especially with games played roughly five days a week). , but it held true in the playoffs. The home-field advantage that teams have been fighting for all year has stabilized in these playoffs, and the top seeds will stay there, with no visitors. But that should trouble the Rams, who are hosting this year’s NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl at their stadium.
The Bengals defense is the real star of the team.
One-on-one football has been the driving force behind Cincinnati’s explosive offensive campaign. Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase made the league’s defensive backs look like the hapless corners and safeties in the Southeastern Conference they burned on their way to a national title at Louisiana State during the 2019 season. It made sense for Tennessee corners to focus on closing all vertical passes by the Bengals offense on Saturday.
The Titans couldn’t account for DJ Reader, the 6-foot-3, 330-pound Bengals defensive tackle, who was a singular force in the run defense against Derrick Henry, who averaged just 3 yards on his 20 tries. Reader’s six tackles (two for loss) allowed Cincinnati to deploy their defensive backs against play passes. When Ryan Tannehill got greedy on those throws, he was punished for forcing the ball into tight windows, throwing two of his three interceptions on such plays.
The Bengals may be seen as upstarts, but the reality is that Cincinnati has won games with explosive plays, the run game and now with its defense. It doesn’t matter if there are holes in the squad roster or if the stars lack experience. No one exposed them. Again.
What we learned in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs
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