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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Quick Thoughts On Playoff Visitors

Of course, it would be exhausting to fully detail all three opponents
(or, even moreso, all five) since statistically, at most the team will
face is one (and then the ability to face another with a win).

But, I want to rough out what's going on with the three wild card teams
Carolina could play on the 10th. Of course, since Carolina is the 2
seed, they will play the highest ranked remaining team from the wild
card - so the Eagles being the higher ranked division winner, they would
play here if they won; if the Saints win, they go to Seattle and
Carolina plays the winner of San Francisco/Green Bay.

Chip Kelly's Eagles are the most intriguing team of the trio. Starting
1-3 (with the one win beating up on the awful defense of the Redskins),
they've only lost 3 of their last 12, finishing 7-1. They're
legitimately hot.

They've done well when they have a real quarterback, and Nick Foles is
an efficient guy, rarely turning the ball over. But their wild mix of
fast play, zone read, and packaged play concepts take the path of least
resistance. Teams worry about the deep pass, so they give up a lot to
LeSean McCoy, this year's rushing champion. They're 2nd in overall
offense, 1st in run. Their OL has started to shape up better as well.

Where they suffer is on defense. While they play with big leads, and
the running game provides just enough time of possession to keep things
manageable, it's still a defense that isn't deep and doesn't get rest.
They finish 32nd, and only gets a boost to 22nd for yards/attempt (in
that they get passed on the most, so pure yards may not fully show where
they are).

The teams that have handled them have tended to have excellent DE play
and, in some cases, great fundamentals (with Dallas being an anomaly in
so many ways). Carolina, before they showed what they could do
defensively and before it looked like they had even one serviceable
defensive back, only gave up 14 points to the Eagles in preseason (but
only scored 9). Now, both teams have evolved a bit.

You would hope that a loud home crowd would aid Carolina, though the
Eagles don't make a lot of changes at the line. Packaged plays are
choices the QB makes, and often the rest of the offense doesn't know
until it's happened. On the upside, Carolina is quick off the ball and
the Eagles' OL wouldn't have an advantage.

*San Francisco - they're the same team that Carolina beat 10-9. Above
average defense (plus Aldon Smith at full ability now, compared to where
they were) and good offense (with, assumedly, more Vernon Davis than
last time). They're still a fairly conservative team passing that
relies on the intermediate to Anquan Boldin and intermediate to deep
with Davis, while pounding the football. They rate statistically very
similar to where they have the last two years, do the same things
overall. This, of the three, is the devil you know, so to speak.
They've played, and beaten, the 9ers on an away field, and they're the
one good defense of the group.

They're the least banged up, too (though Mike Tolbert and Mike Mitchell
did as much damage as anyone). One minor weakness in comparison is that,
with Bruce Miller injured and the team using more 22 personnel (2 TE/2
RB) than anyone else in the league by far, they're lacking a bit there.
Carolina seemed to match up well enough with the 22 last time.

*Green Bay - everyone knows they sqeaked into the field. Worst
division winner, and a very bizarre 3-2-1 in their last six. Of course,
that was without Aaron Rodgers for the most part, and that's what starts
to make things dangerous. Rodgers can be a game changer, and the
packaged plays just work much better with him. He adds that dangerous
component of athleticism, not often used but often dangerous. Eddy Lacy
has stepped up a good bit in the last month with 350 yards rushing, as
well. They remain a top ten offense despite the struggles over the last
two months.

But, their defense is in the mid-20s for essentially every category,
and they're without leading rusher Clay Matthews this week. If that
continued, it would be an even worse defense overall. They don't do
anything well except being fair at blitzing.

So, speaking in base generalities, you would want to work on,
-zone reads, contain and running QBs
-packaged plays
-run/pass awareness
-gap integrity issues that have haunted the team a bit the last couple
of weeks

Offensively, you'd want to work on
-base packages against the 3-4, including playaction and how to
manipulate them out of the 3-4. All three teams are 3-4 based (as is
New Orleans; Seattle's 4-3 over runs a significant amount of 3-4 type
-your own third down packages, obviously
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