BayAreaBall Musings: Finally Four!
Aaron: And then there were four. Maybe we’re not total idiots Frank, because both of our Playoffs?!?! You wanna talk playoffs?!?! are still alive. Last week saw an epic meltdown by the Denver Broncos’ secondary, Joe Flacco outplaying Peyton Manning, Brady being Brady, Matt Schaub make a strong argument that Tony Romo is actually the best QB in Texas, the Falcons dominate the Seahawks, the Seahawks dominate the Falcons, Aaron Rodgers be the 2nd best QB on the field, and Colin Kaepernick go boom. In short, it was everything the Wild Card round was not.
Three of the four teams still standing are holdovers from last year’s championship games. The Ravens, Patriots, and 49ers are joined this year by the Atlanta Falcons who will host the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. On the AFC side we have a repeat of 2012, with the Patriots hosting the Ravens. Before the playoffs started Frank, you picked the Patriots to come out of the AFC and end up in the Super Bowl. Are you sticking with them or are you riding with Ray?
Frank: I’ve had to think long and hard about still sticking with the Patriots as my AFC pick and as much as I love the last stand of the Ray Ray dance (Here is the gif just in case you need to see it one last time), I think I have to stick with my original Patriots pick and here’s why.
The Ravens versus Patriots to me seems like one of those games were in your mind you would think that both of these teams have seen each other a lot during the playoffs but in actuality they have only seen each other once in the AFC championship game, which was last years 23-20 heartbreaker. Then if we look at the head to head matchups of these 2 teams since 2001, the Pats are 5-2 versus Baltimore. When I’ve seen these two teams play against each other, it just seems like New England has never been truly rattled by the Ravens Defense. Brady seems to know exactly where to go with the ball even when the Ravens get a legitimate pass rush going and kind of just kills the Ravens slowly with a million paper cut like passes.
Sure it won’t help that Gronkowski is out again with a broken arm because he is such a great pass blocker but I think the Pats will be able to weather the storm without him. But here is one thing that might interest you Aaron, if I were to ask you who was the leading offense in the playoffs what would you say? I’m sure your answer is probably the Niners, but do you know who is second in total offense? The Baltimore Ravens which are then followed by the New England Patriots. That’s crazy right? Because when you look at total defense for both of these teams, they have both given up a lot of yards during the playoffs with the Ravens giving up 408 yd/g and the Pats giving up 425 yds/g. Neither team is close to their old storied defensive pedigree but when it comes to offense I think if you have to bet on one you have to go with the Pats.
I’ve never really trusted Flacco but thought that in the earlier rounds he would be more than up to the challenge of getting the Ravens to the AFC championship game. But now comes his biggest test where he has to go out and match Brady throw for throw and I don’t quite think he is up to the task. Compile that with the fact that Ray Lewis is probably constantly reminding Flacco that this is his last season and that he is retiring at the end of it and I’m sure Flacco is about as clenched up as Cameron from Ferris Bueller.
So I’m sticking with the Pats and will sadly have to say goodbye to the Ray Ray dance for the last time. Alright Aaron, now it’s your turn to say if you’re going to stick with your Pats pick and then start us off with your thoughts on the Falcons versus the Niners. I got some airborne and hantavirus meds to take.
AR: Never been so happy to be having this conversation digitally my friend because I definitely don’t need to be getting sick. It’s not that I don’t like you but, ummm, stay the hell away from me.
I’m also sticking with the Pats. Flacco has impressed me the last couple of games not just with the touchdowns he threw against Denver but with the way he hasn’t made any crippling mistakes yet. Unfortunately for him I think these teams are actually pretty evenly matched and when everything else is equal it’s too hard to pick against Tom Brady, especially at Gillette. Losing Gronkowski hurts, no doubt about it, but the Pats have been playing well without him up until this point and because they’ve had a few games to adjust I don’t think his absence hurts as much as it did last year. If this was a vintage Ravens defense I’d probably lean towards picking them but it’s not, so I’m not.
I have to tell you, it’s so hard to look at this 49ers and Falcons game without fan colored glasses and it’s even harder not to get overly excited after seeing what Kaepernick did to the Packers last week. There are some real reasons for concern too. The 49ers haven’t won 3 games in a row all year and have gone W-W-L throughout the season. If that pattern holds this is going to be a second consecutive loss with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Atlanta has some real weapons on the outside in Roddy White and Julio Jones, with either one capable of generating a big play at any given time. Then there’s the “wow” factor coming off of last week and the fact that the Falcons have now seen it and (probably) won’t be caught off guard the way the Packers were. I still don’t feel good about Akers and the 49ers have had some well documented problems getting plays off without burning timeouts early.
Having said all that, I keep coming back to the fact that the Falcons don’t match up well with the Niners. The Falcons were 21st in the league in rushing defense during the regular season and 28th in rushing offense, while the 49ers were 4th in both categories. That’s a pretty big mismatch on both sides of the ball and the fact that Atlanta doesn’t have a real credible ground game should help the 49ers limit big plays in the passing game, which is something they do well to begin with. I see a lot of the Packers in the Falcons, which is bad news for Atlanta fans.
The teams that give the 49ers problems, most notably the Seahawks, Rams, and Giants, have a few traits in common. First, all of them play a 4-3 defense and have quality defensive lines that can generate pressure from all over the line without bringing a 5th man and can also stop the run. That frees up the linebackers and and safeties to play deeper in pass coverage and not get sucked in by play action, which is critical for the 49ers passing game. The Falcons really have only one good pass rusher, John Abraham, and he may be severely limited by an ankle injury. Atlanta held up against the running game last week against Seattle but can they do it again this week if the 49ers don’t fall behind early and give up on it?
On the other side of the ball, all 3 of those teams are balanced. The Rams don’t have an elite passing game so the 49ers dared Bradford to beat them and he was able to do just enough. The Seahawks and Giants have great QB’s, and the balance prevented the niners from loading up on either the pass or the run.
The Falcons don’t have that type of balance either on offense or defense and I think that hurts them in this game. They’re the type of team the 49ers like to play because they have such clear strengths and weaknesses and they aren’t overly physical. That’s not to say it would be a huge upset to see the Falcons win, I just think the matchup favors the 49ers as long as they haven’t spent too much time hearing about how great they were last week.
Willis and Bowman give the 49ers the ability to cover Tony Gonzalez, the 49ers have always been able to stop the run because of their front seven, so that means the safeties can give help over the top to try and contain White and Jones.
So I’m sticking with the 49ers. Are you sticking with the Falcons or have you come over to the dark side?
FG: Hold on while I sip some scintillating green tea rife with anti-oxidants, based on how I selected the Falcons to get all the way to the Superbowl thus assuring that the Niners would lose at some point, I will have to forego my trip to the darkside and say that the Falcons will beat the Niners because of another “I can’t Believe that Just Happend” gaff.
I like everyone else saw the dismantling of the Discount Double Take Cheese Heads and was completely impressed with how Kaepernick handled himself and how he ran the offense flawlessly. But like you said, now that the Niners showed a really big portion of the Pistol Playbook, I think the Falcons will be more than prepared for Kaepernick and what he will bring to the game Sunday. Which I think plays completely into the Falcons favor and in particular Asante Samuels favor. I have a gut feeling that Kaepernick will throw 2 picks on Sunday but only 1 of those picks will cost the Niners the Game. Don’t tell me how I know these things, I just do.
Sure on Paper the Niners are overwhelming favorites and no person in their right mind should be picking against the Niners but I’m hopped up on Goofballs and sticking with the Falcons because it sounds like a great idea right about now in my Emergen-C and Coldeez’s induced haze. But I also had a premonition about a particular play possibly happening on Sunday that could swing the game in the Niners favor even though I picked the Falcons.
The play is going to be a simple “icing” the kicker time out that will take place at the end of the game with Matt Bryant attempting a game winning field goal. Now, if there was anything to take away from the Seattle game is that Bryant likes to still attempt the Field Goal even when getting iced and no I’m not talking about the crappy drinking game where you have to chug Smirnoff Ice either. I’m talking about when the coach calls a timeout right before the ball is snapped in an attempt to supposedly “Ice” the kicker into thinking a little bit more about the kick he is about to attempt. Now the actual NFL rule goes like this from Section 5 : Timeouts, Article 1
“The Referee shall suspend play while the ball is dead and declare a charged team timeout upon the request for a timeout by the head coach or any player to any official.”
Which I interpret as once the whistle is blown, all play is supposed to cease not matter what. But what Matt Bryant has become really adept at is kicking the ball once the time out has been called even though he isn’t supposed to continue with the kick. Thus allowing himself a freebie kick to make sure that all of his mechanics are on point and if he misses oh well. Which is probably why Pete Carrol was going so crazy on the side-lines, other then the fact that he was coming to the realization that he was gonna catch an L, after he missed because he was probably trying to tell the refs that he shouldn’t have been allowed to kick the ball.
So here is what I suggest, if and when this scenario comes up and the Niners are on defense they should blow through the whistle and block the FG attempt. Doing so will stop Bryant from getting his bearings on the kick and actually probably do more to rattle him then calling the actual time-out, who cares if they get a flag. The other tactic that Jim Harbaugh should try to employ would be to fake the time-out call. Make Matt Bryant think that he is going to be getting a free kick and thus relaxing while he then proceeds to shank the kick. Sounds like a sound plan right?
Now if the shoe is on the other foot and it’s Akers who is out there trying to win the game and the Falcons are going to try and ice him then he better just get his pre-loaded shank out of the way or it’s gonna be another loooooong off-season for the “Faithful”.
Alright Aaron any final thoughts on my crazy premonition and I’ll give you the last word on this weekend’s championship games because I think I’m slipping into an anti-oxidant induced coma.
AR: Well, I hadn’t really considered the whole “blocking the practice kick while icing the kicker” scenario but that’s actually not a bad idea at all. You did kind of hit on my nightmare scenario though, which is letting the Falcons hang around so that the game ends up on the foot of Akers or Bryant. I still don’t really trust Akers, and if you dosed Harbaugh or the players with truth serum they’d probably say the same thing. That’s why I think it’s critical that the 49ers take a Remember the Titans approach to this game and leave no doubt. Don’t let this game come down to 1 or 2 plays at the end. Don’t let this game come down to special teams. Don’t let the Falcons think they have a chance.
At its core football is still a game played by big, ugly, physical men, and the Niners have the better big uglies. If it is that type of game, nasty and brutal and won or lost in the trenches the 49ers should dominate. Their offensive line is better. Their defensive front 7 is better. We know what they are capable of, which has been a little bit of a problem this year because they know it too. I mentioned the W-W-L pattern that the team has had all season and a big part of that is believing their own hype. Remember all the experts and pundits who said the Packers looked poised for a Super Bowl run after they dismantled the Vikings in the first round? That’s how fast things can change in the NFL playoffs. All that matters is the next game, and if the 49ers come out with that type of focus and that type of attitude, if they really did move on from last week with humble hearts, if they have no letdowns like the they had against New England or like the Falcons had against the Seahawks, they will beat the Falcons and advance to New Orleans.
I’m equal parts stressed and excited about Sunday, and as much as I hate borrowing quotes from anybody associated with the Dallas Cowboys “let’s hang half a hundred on’em and enjoy the 2nd half.” I think that’s about the only way I’ll be able to truly enjoy it.
Assuming I don’t have a heart attack on Sunday we’ll do it again next week.
Update: As of this post, Niners Wide Receiver Michael Crabtree has been investigated for a possible sexual assault charge stemming from a hotel room incident early Sunday morning after the victory over Green Bay. Crabtree still traveled with the team and is cooperating with the Authorities. I guess after the Saturday’s win, having a humble heart wasn’t the only thing on Crabtree’s mind.
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