Houston, Baltimore, Seattle and Green Bay were all hard-nosed in defence, says Simon Veness
Simon Veness blogs on a weekend of hard-nosed defensive football - and a blunder in Washington.
By Simon Veness
Last Updated: 07/01/13 9:50am
It has been trotted out so often, we have largely tuned out the message in recent years. But, for one weekend at least, it is back as the 'en vogue' footballing parable.
The Gospel According to Dick Butkus says 'if you try to run the ball anywhere near me, you are going to pay a very high physical price. And, even if you don't run near me, I'll hit you anyway. So don't think of any of that Fancy Dan offensive stuff in the play-offs. Right?'
Minnesota, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and, to a lesser extent, Washington all succumbed to a heavy dose of Not-So-Sunny D and, while none of the teams that had the week off will likely lose any sleep at the prospect of facing the winners, the mere fact the post-season has been re-introduced to heavy doses of game-changing defence will be pause for thought.
Equally, the four winning teams of Houston, Baltimore, Seattle and even Green Bay were all heavily reliant on the basics of run first, run second and run often; carry a big stick on defence; and hit the other team HARD whenever you get the chance.
The four losing teams scored a TOTAL of 46 points and, while they were not completely blown out of the water, they were clearly second-best because they did not handle the physical nature of the game on either side of the ball (the Redskins are a slightly different story and I'll come to that in a minute).
I had all four of the winners going on to the Divisional Round but I was certainly surprised at just how stymied the four losers became - increasingly - as it dawned on them they were in a defensive slugfest.
The Bengals were the first up, and, despite the fact they had been here before exactly a year ago, were just as unprepared for the Texans' D. They actually ran the ball pretty well (16 attempts for 80 yards) but the O-line was found wanting, Andy Dalton's decision-making was found wanting and the wide receivers - both in their ability to get open and then the basics of actually catching the ball - were found wanting.
Matt Schaub won't have scared anybody left in the tournament but the likes of JJ Watt and Arian Foster both showed they can take over a game on either side of the ball and New England will now be feverishly playing the tape of this game over and over to discover ways to neutralise these two play-makers.
The Vikings were equally undone, albeit for different reasons. The 11th-hour injury loss of Christian Ponder exposed Joe Webb to a defence that teed off on him all night and, with Adrian Peterson bottled up (by his standards) for just 99 yards, the Packers were never in trouble and the only unknown was the final score.
Green Bay ran the ball just enough to allow Aaron Rodgers to find one of 10 different receivers and, if they can get Randall Cobb fully healthy for the trip to San Francisco, they will be one of the few visiting teams with a real chance of progress next weekend.
The poor Colts were never likely to prosper in the cauldron of M&T Bank Stadium once the Ray Lewis Farewell Tour was up and running and, while Lewis himself was not the biggest factor (and the interception he dropped was potentially a major red flag about his true effectiveness), the rabid nature of the Ravens defence was for real and harked back to their glory years of 1999 and 2000.
It took two (rare) Ray Rice fumbles for Indy to still be in the game in the second half but, while Joe Flacco was indebted to Anquan Boldin's record 145-yard day for making him look good, the running game (29 carries for 175 yards and the key touchdown from Vonta Leach) was again the crucial element in the victory.
If the Colts could have matched Baltimore's defensive resolve, especially when Flacco was at his least decisive in the first half, they might have given Andrew Luck the backing he and Vick Ballard needed to make more than the few dents in the Ravens rearguard that they actually managed.
Luck and Co will definitely be back next season - if they can add to their weak linebacking corps and give their young quarterback another play-maker at receiver - but Lewis and Co will have a much tougher time making progress at Denver, who are better-equipped both offensively and defensively to take advantage of Flacco's foibles.
And that brings us to the Redksins' defeat by the Seahawks and the curious case of 'What Mike Shanahan Really Knew'.
I'm talking, of course, about the clear lack of proper fitness of Robert Griffin III, leading to his total breakdown during the game, Washington's ultimate defeat - and the long-term worries about their quarterback's knee, which were massively exacerbated by the manner of his fourth-quarter exit.
Certainly SOMEONE on Washington's coaching and medical staff stands accused of a callous and deliberate mistreatment of one of their key players this morning, as the hastily-backtracking words of Doctor James Andrews, who denied that he had given RGIII the all-clear to return to action and was "holding his breath" for this game, suggest that several people within the team knew they were taking a risk.
The fact RGIII lasted as long as he did before crumbling to the FedEx Field turf in the fourth quarter was a minor miracle, but it merely disguised the fact the star rookie quarterback was NOT fit to play, should NEVER have been on the field in the first place and should have been pulled OUT as soon as it was clear he could not run, let alone run the Redskins offence.
The fact Washington scored on their first two possessions against the Seahawks was merely a smokescreen for the inevitable. The remarkable RGIII had not recovered from his knee sprain of three weeks ago and the longer he was left out there, the higher the chance of another, more serious, injury to that knee.
The fact that Seattle's Kam Chancellor took the cheapest of shots at Griffin III after his second touchdown pass was the additional catalyst to the breakdown, but it was clearly going to happen.
The fact that the TV commentary crew completely missed the obvious scenario developing right under their noses was another astonishing element in a fledgling soap opera that looks set to engulf the Redskins in the coming weeks.
If Griffin III is NOT seriously injured and does NOT require surgery on his battered right knee does NOT excuse Shanahan - or someone close to him - from putting their prize asset at a lunatic risk. For all Seattle's hard-nosed defensive play (yes, there's that D again), the Redskins lost as a direct result of their quarterback not being able to stand up properly.
And please don't give me that old guff about it was "the player's decision." A head coach is supposed to be smart enough to see what's best for his team, and the only chance Washington had once their starting quarterback limped off at 2:26 of the first quarter was to put in the back-up and hope he could survive the ears-pinned-back charge of the Seahawks defence.
It still might not have been enough to counter the ferocious Beast-mode assault of Marshawn Lynch (132 yards and the key TD on 20 carries) but at least they would have had a chance - and a quarterback who might just be ready for next season.
In the meantime, Seattle and their in-your-face style will be a major challenge for Atlanta, but it's hard to imagine Mike Smith making as many mistakes as Shanahan and Co. Let the inquisition begin...