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Shutdown Corner

Whoops! Phil Simms breaks down the wrong play in Patriots-Broncos game

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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Right now, Phil Simms is very confused. (Getty Images)

Former NFL quarterback Phil Simms has been the A-team color man on CBS' NFL broadcasts for a number of years now, and that tends to be a mystifying factoid to some. He seems to be engaging enough, though his attempts at sentence construction are sometimes comical, and there are times when I watch games Phil's calling and wonder if we're watching the same thing.

Such an instance occurred when Tom Brady threw his record-setting fifth touchdown pass in the first half of the New England Patriots' 45-10 massacre of the Denver Broncos in the Saturday night divisional round game. After Stephen Gostkowski booted the extra point to make the score 35-7, Phil thought he'd break out the telestrator and show what happened. He probably should have gone to get a cup of hot cocoa instead.

"Let me just show you … they played a defense to stop this type of play. [Gronkowski] is going to go down the middle, and here's [Broncos linebacker] D.J. Williams — he's supposed to be back here [in the deep zone] to help out. But when the play takes off — there it goes — [Williams] turns to the other side … oh, wait — that's the throw to the outside. Sorry … I was …

"Anyway, Tom Brady sees the middle wide open, and makes the throw."

Silence.

Jim Nantz: "Another tight spiral, into the mitts of Gronkowski."

Nice glove save by Nantz there. So … we're thinking that for Phil, "Tom Brady sees the middle wide open, and makes the throw" should be the extent of his expert analysis. Perhaps the funniest part of the replay is that the setups on both sides are obviously different. Someone on the tech side put up the wrong highlight, which obviously isn't Simms' fault, but a pro should have spotted it.

[Related: Tom Brady makes NFL history in blowout victory over Broncos]

On the play Phil mistakenly analyzes (an 11-yard sideline catch by receiver Julian Edelman), the Broncos are playing with three down linemen, four guys at linebacker depth, and a two-man shell with underneath coverage. This to counter New England's four-wide shotgun look with Gronk outside the left tackle and a slot man on each side. The Gronkowski score has some similar traits — the Pats have four receivers again, but the right-side wide receiver is out more to the sideline, and cornerback Champ Bailey plays a bit more off as a result. While Denver runs another three-down look up front, they clearly bring a defender up from linebacker depth to fake a blitz before dropping. Gronkowski also goes straight up the middle instead of hitting a little hitch at the numbers downfield.

On the coverage, if anyone showed up late, it was safety David Bruton, not Williams, though Bruton was the guy throwing a fake blitz look at Brady. Maybe Williams did turn the wrong way, though we'd be hard-pressed to give Phil the benefit of the doubt on that one since:

a.) You never know what the coverage is actually supposed to be unless you're there talking to the coaches as the play goes off; and
b.) Phil didn't know which play he was looking at. If Bruton had deep middle responsibility, it's entirely possible that Williams didn't turn the wrong way at all.

Granted, with the benefit of hindsight and a few more seconds to look at each play, it's easier to discern who's doing what. But Simms is a paid analyst — he's supposed to know this stuff on point — and this was far from his only mistake in the game.

We have no doubt that Phil will be back in the booth for the AFC Championship game between the Pats and whoever wins the game between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans. All we ask, Phil, is that you slow down a little and make sure you know what you're watching next time — especially when you're "breaking it down." Thanks!

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