NFL Playoffs - The Morning After

The Manning Dilemma(s)

John Fox is a good football coach. I got to see him up close in Carolina where his career took a natural arc. He took over a terrible team, got them to a Super Bowl in year 2 and back to the NFC title game two years later and then was up and down until he was really down in his final year and got fired. He is a good coach. Good coaches can have bad days and yesterday John Fox had as bad of a day as you can have.

Before breaking down the two monumental mistakes Fox made, let's say none of it should have mattered. All the Broncos had to do was knock a ball Joe Flacco threw 50-something yards in the air down to Jacoby Jones and they likely win. If they intercept it, they do win. Instead Rahim Moore made the worst safety play in the history of football and Jacoby Jones caught it and ran into the end zone likely thinking "how the (bleep) did that ball make it to me" and the Broncos wound up losing in double OT. It wasn't even like Moore was in bad position. Sure he let Jones behind him, but no throw was going to make it to Jones if Moore took the right angle. He just played the ball like someone with no depth perception. Worst play ever and to his credit after the game he said "it's all my fault" however it's not. Back to Fox.

3rd and 7, 2:00 minutes left, 4th quarter, ball on the Bronco 47, 35-28 Denver

When the Ravens turned it over to Peyton and co. with 3:12 to go, they had to think the game was over. All Peyton Manning had to do was get two first downs and he'd moved the ball with relative ease all game even if it didn't always lead to points. The Broncos picked up one first down on the 2nd play and the Ravens called time. Another run. Timeout, the Ravens last. Another run and the two minute warning came with a 3rd and 7 for the game. If the Broncos get a first down, the game is over. They can kneel. No way out for the Ravens. If Baltimore gets a stop, they get the ball back with a chance.

John Fox is a defensive coach with a defensive mindset. In the past he's had mediocre or worse quarterbacks and was able to have moderate success with them and take Jake Delhomme to a Super Bowl. John Fox now has Peyton Manning which is why his decision to run the ball on 3rd and 7 is as asinine as the play Moore made. Manning's at his best in the short to intermediate game and he has guys he's thrown to for years available in Brandon Stokely and Jacob Tamme not to mention a superior possession receiver in Eric Decker. Manning could have converted it in his sleep and even if he didn't, the "risk" you give the Ravens 30 extra seconds when they HAVE to score a touchdown. If you're only up a field goal, fine. The extra time means they can get extra yards close on a field goal. It's really hard to score a touchdown without a massive defensive breakdown when you have to have one because the defense can crowd the endzone. Not going for it is playing not to lose instead of playing to win. I'm always in favor of playing to win. Be the aggressor. Especially when you have a hall of famer under center.

1st and 10, :31 seconds left, 4th quarter, ball on the Bronco 19, 35-35 tie
Again Fox's defensive mindset strikes. With two timeouts and one of the greatest hurry up quarterbacks ever only needing a field goal, Fox decides to take a knee. The cold weather meant that the ball doesn't fly quite as well as it normally does but in the altitude, Matt Prater could have been good from 60 yards. If he misses, who cares. The field goal would have come as time expired. We all know he's clutch too after witnessing him close out so many of the "Tebow time" games last year too. Instead, Fox decides to not "risk" an interception or a blocked kick or any of the horrible things that could possibly happen when you snap the football on offense and play for overtime. Justice would have been the Ravens scoring on the opening possession and Peyton never seeing the ball. Instead they drug us all through an overtime plus of horrible football and then the Broncos lost.

Late in the overtime, Peyton Manning turned into Brett Favre. Or perhaps he turned into Peyton Manning in the playoffs. I'm as big of a Peyton Manning fan as you'll find. I'm fascinated with how he plays the position and have said for a number of years he's the best to ever do it in the regular season. However his playoff failures are real and they are spectacular. He's now 0-4 in playoff games played under 40 degree weather. He entered the game throwing 1 touchdown to 7 interceptions under such conditions and tacked on two more picks in this one including a tie for the worst I've ever seen in a big spot. Brett Favre's across the body blunders are well documented and none was bigger than the one he threw in the 2009 NFC Championship game. Peyton Manning doesn't make that throw though...except he did.

For as great as Manning is - and I still maintain he's the greatest regular season quarterback ever - it's rather clear the clutch gene went to his brother. Eli's greatest attribute is his ability to stay calm under pressure. Last night Peyton tried to do to much and it cost him. He got two special teams touchdowns and still lost. Facts are facts.

It's good to have options

Had Fox been aggressive, Moore not had the depth perception of one who's legally blind or Manning not turned into Favre I would have been perfect on my game 1 pick. I said Baltimore covers and Denver wins. Instead, I'm 0-4 combined spread/outright thanks to San Francisco housing Green Bay in a game I said the underdog Packers would win outright. It's pretty simple - I guessed inhuman Aaron Rodgers would show up and inhuman Colin Kaepernick wouldn't. I guessed wrong.

There are still many who hold on to the idea that a running quarterback can't win a Super Bowl because they haven't yet. I'm really very confused as to what these people are looking at. It's likely they are looking at history instead of the present incarnation of the running qb. In the past, guys like Eric Crouch won the Heisman in college and played safety before failing out of the pros. It's pretty simple. Those guys couldn't throw. The current incarnation can.

Colin Kaepernick not only has a cannon right arm, but he knows how to use it. The current incarnation of the running quarterback is a thrower first. He can, unlike his predecessors, stand in the pocket and make all the throws. He is accurate. He is decisive. I sound like Ron Jaworski. Because he can do all these things, his ability to run becomes a major factor and defenses are screwed.

You can't play everything. Last night the Packers played man coverage, meaning all the defenders were looking at their man and when no one was open, Kaepernick scrambled including his first touchdown run. You want to play him to run? He'll happily sit back and pick you apart with his arm. Then there is the option. You have to account for Frank Gore or whoever is at running back, or Kaepernick hands it off and that guy gashes you. Pay all your attention there and Kaepernick runs it for the longest post-season QB run in NFL history. We need more guys! Okay. Bring up some safeties and as soon as you sniff option, get up there. Wait till he takes two steps, pulls back and slings it over your head for six points through the air.

I'm not smart enough to tell you what the solution is in guarding this stuff, but I am smart enough to tell you it works. Coaches have to be careful not to get their qb's killed which is the major concern in Washington with Robert Griffin III's slight frame and propensity to get nicked up, but Kaepernick is 6'5". Sure you don't want him getting blasted, but the guy can take a hit. Same with Cam Newton, who is bigger bulkwise than Kaepernick and loves running over small db's. Despite his vertical lack of size, Russell Wilson is a stocky guy who can take a hit too. These types of guys aren't going anywhere.

If you don't have a mobile qb in the future, you're not eliminated from winning however the notion that having one means you can't go all the way is just plain dumb. It's the natural evolution of the athlete. Guys know they can't just rely on running all over so they learn to throw. They're smart. They can read defenses. They can do anything the statue-like qb's that have generally dominated up to this point in football history can do, but they can also run. It's not long till one of these guys wins a ring and when they do, I hope all people stuck in "you must be a pocket passer and cannot run land" will admit they were wrong. "Can't" and "haven't yet" are two very different things. Just ask Lebron.