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Every week before Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield run their preview matchup podcast. they put together rundown notes based on tape and statistical study. We hope these notes might add to your football experience, especially in the postseason!
Here’s the link to the podcast on BlogTalkRadio, Spotify, and YouTube, if you want to listen or watch while you read:
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
Mills against the Bills, how the Colts can settle Josh Allen with two-high coverage, and the relationship between Josh Allen and Brian Daboll. Mark wrote this week on all three. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/06/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-why-pin-will-be-the-plan-for-philip-rivers/ https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/05/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-how-the-colts-can-solve-the-josh-allen-riddle/ https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/07/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-in-josh-allen-the-bills-must-trust/ What do we say of the NFL's best quarterbacks? If you're going to beat them schematically, you can't show them the same thing over and over. You have to execute multiple concepts well, and it can be said of Josh Allen. That shows how far he's come in his development in the 2020 season. Not sure where Cole Beasley will be health-wise, but if he can’t go or is limited, watch out for Isaiah McKenzie. McKenzie has five touchdown catches this season. All five are from the slot, and he’s developed into the kind of receiver who works well with Allen in the red zone -- understands scramble rules when things break down, and he has a sneaky knack for getting open. Whoever is the Bills' primary slot guy, he'll face a serious matchup issue in slot cornerback Kenny Moore. Keep your eye on that. Jonathan Taylor against Buffalo’s run defense is a matchup that does NOT favor the Bills. Frank Reich might run the ball 40 times just to keep Allen off the field. Not that this will work -- given the incendiary nature of the Bills' offense, they can score 35 points in 20 minutes.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
The Rams are more interesting in their defensive front looks, especially in obvious passing situations -- they'll widen their gap responsibilities pre-snap, and stunt inside to mess with protection rules. Yet another way in which first-year defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has taken a solid defense to top of the league with scheme. The narrative is that the Seahawks can do nothing against Jalen Ramsey, and the numbers bear that out. Against Seattle in Weeks 10 and 16, Ramsey gave up just two catches on only five targets for 16 yards, 16 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, and one pass deflection. Not only did the Seahawks apparently fail to have an answer for Ramsey; they admitted as much by refusing to target him as if Ramsey were Deion Sanders in his prime. But if you watch the tape, there have been opportunities. If you motion Metcalf away from Ramsey, Ramsey isn’t going to follow a lot because if you’re playing quarter/quarter/half or combo, it screws up the coverage rules. Ramsey on Lockett is a worse matchup for Ramsey, because like most bigger cornerbacks, he struggles against smaller, more angular receivers. And Metcalf has had openings when running curls and comebacks: On curls and comebacks this season, per Sports Info Solutions, Ramsey has allowed 11 catches on 17 targets for 93 yards. About a quarter of his total yards allowed this season. If the Seahawks are smart here, they'll motion Ramsey to Darious Williams, and Tyler Lockett to Ramsey. Force the matchups that work better for your receivers. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/05/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-how-the-seahawks-can-and-must-neutralize-jalen-ramsey/ I was talking to ESPN's Dan Orlovsky about Seattle’s struggles in the passing game, and his point was that either Wilson or the receivers just aren’t in sync together. That shows up on tape. John Wolford! He made it clear that he’s more willing and able to take deep shots than Goff is. You look at the backdoor fade he completed to Cam Akers against the Cardinals, and it’s virtually the same concept Goff overthrew against the Jets. Wolford can work out of pressure as a runner in ways Goff can’t. I wrote an All-22 piece with Cam DaSilva of Rams Wire in which both Cam and I stumped for Sean McVay to start Wolford whether Goff is healthy or not. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/07/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-why-the-rams-should-stick-with-john-wolford-over-jared-goff/
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team
The Buccaneers settled into their perfect offensive archetype in the final month of the season. Heavy play-action, more motion, 12 personnel. With 12 and play-action since Week 13, Brady completed 12 of 20 passes for 239 yards, 108 air yards, five touchdowns, one interception. On attempts of 20 or more air yards in those same circumstances, Brady has five attempts, four completions, two touchdowns, one interception. If you see the Bucs in 12 personnel, the deep shot is coming. https://twitter.com/SethWalder/status/1344318854818893826 Washington has 124 pass-defense snaps in quarters, fourth-most in the league behind the Browns, 49ers, and Bills. Brady against quarters this season: 59 of 83 for 680 yards, 481 air yards, eight touchdowns, and two interceptions. The only quarterback this season with more passing touchdowns against quarters is Lamar Jackson (nine). So, side note: The Titans can’t play man against the Ravens, and they can’t play quarters. Gooooood luck. Washington can obviously give Brady his Kryptonite -- interior pressure -- whether they’re scheming it or not, but this isn’t the slam-dunk we think it is. I have to detail the preposterous on/off numbers with Bucs left guard Ali Marpet. Neither of Brady’s primary guards, Alex Cappa and Ali Marpet, have allowed a sack this season and they have just 37 total pressures between them. Center Ryan Jensen has allowed four sacks and 23 total pressures, but Jensen’s most vulnerable games came against the Panthers in Week 10 and the Rams in Week 11, when he had to fill in for Marpet, who was dealing with concussion issues. Now that Marpet is back and healthy, he’s able to continue his preposterously positive effect on Brady’s protection and production. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/05/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-how-washington-can-present-tom-brady-with-his-kryptonite/ Per Sports Info Solutions, the Buccaneers’ EPA improves from -0.11 to +0.13 when Marpet is on the field. Also with Marpet on the field: Tampa Bay’s yards per attempt goes from 6.1 to 8.1, the yards per dropback shoots up from 5.5 to 7.6, the passing touchdown rate goes from 3.7 to 7.1, and the interception rate falls from 3.7% to 1.4%, the blown block pressure rate drops from 18.4% to 8.1%, and the blown block sack rate drops from 2.8% to 1.6%. If you think that makes Marpet look like one of the team’s most valuable players regardless of position, you’re on the right track. The Buccaneers have two distinct identities on defense: One in which Todd Bowles designs multiple fronts, linebackers flowing from all gaps with weird looks, and aggressive coverage tied to pressure. The other is static fronts, spot-drop coverage, and letting Tyreek Hill catching three touchdown passes over Carlton Davis with no safety help. Not that Alex Smith is a deep threat at all, but it would be wise for Bowles to go with the former. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/07/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-buccaneers-defense-must-return-to-the-aaron-rodgers-plan/
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans
This defense is so far away from the Dean Pees-led defense that made Lamar’s head explode in the playoffs last season, it’s like the Titans are playing a different sport right now, and not in a good way. There are ways to confound Lamar Jackson into making throws he doesn't want to make, but this could be a tall task. In the second half of the 2020 season, the Ravens' offense has jumped from 22nd to sixth in passing DVOA, from sixth to fourth in rushing DVOA, and from 21st to sixth overall. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/07/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-titans-can-work-their-underwhelming-defense-against-lamar-jackson/ Mark has detailed the Ravens’ run game with Counter/Bash, and this is a good time to talk about how much Baltimore’s run game has switched from inside/outside zone to gap in the last season. Marshal Yanda retires, Ronnie Stanley is out, your linemen aren’t as athletic, so go counter/power/trap and just beat people up. Baltimore when they’re pulling at least one offensive lineman this season: 221 attempts for 1,404 yards, 6.4 yards per attempt, 634 yards after contact, 13 touchdowns, 24 broken tackles, 66 first downs. All of these numbers: By far, the best in the league. Titans against those concepts this season: 135 attempts for 663 yards, 4.9 yards per attempt, six touchdowns, eight broken tackles, 42 first downs allowed. As previously mentioned, Tennessee is the worst man coverage team in the NFL. They can’t generate any pressure. https://youtu.be/B815Btw1d7U Ravens get Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams back for this game -- neither was in for the Week 11 game, when Derrick Henry ran 28 times for 133 yards and a touchdown. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/05/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-can-the-ravens-stop-derrick-henry/
Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
Over the last five weeks, the Bears have turned Mitchell Trubisky into an above-average starter with four elements: Boot-action, no-huddle, the RPO game, and receiver bunches out of compressed formations. The Saints play more man than any other defense, so perhaps Matt Nagy and Bill Lazor will work in more designed runs for Trubisky. Nick Foles was the starter in the Week 8 game where the Saints eked out a 26-23 win, so who knows. Also, Marshon Lattimoire has been awful this season: Seven touchdowns allowed, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 103.3. He gave up eight catches on 13 targets for 96 yards, a touchdown, and an interception against the Bears in Week 8. The pick was on a throw from Nick Foles to Jimmy Graham in which Foles underthrew the ball in about five different ways. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/06/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-scheming-mitchell-trubisky-for-pseudo-greatness/ Saints worked the Bears to death in Week 8 with Alvin Kamara and the “HB Choice” concept. Add Michael Thomas into that mix, and it’s tough to see how a Bears defense that can’t cover anybody is going to deal with that. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/07/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-why-alvin-kamara-should-be-drew-brees-first-choice/
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
I mean… yikes. Browns have seven starters, their head coach, and most of their coaching staff on the COVID list. The interim head coach is the guy who, when he was on the Vikings’ staff, reportedly said that we should “nuke all the gays.” Alex Van Pelt calling plays. I would expect Van Pelt to call a crapton of passes, because this is Renewed Big Ben against what may be the worst deep safety group in the NFL. How on earth do the Browns win this? Perhaps they channel Bud Kilmer, another toxic head coach, and just stick with the basics. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/08/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-why-the-browns-need-to-watch-varsity-blues-before-sunday/ Anything to keep the Steelers from pressuring Mayfield and the Browns right out of the playoffs, because that certainly could happen. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/01/07/anatomy-of-a-wild-card-win-for-steelers-pressuring-baker-mayfield-is-the-key-to-victory/