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Breaking down the NFL Divisional Playoffs

My game notes from all four Divisional matchups. Matt Bowen

Print This January 15, 2012, 10:10 PM EST

Saturday Matchups

Patriots 45 Broncos 10

Tom Brady Brady produced six TD passes as the Patriots rolled the Broncos 45-10.

1. Brady pours it on: Six TD passes and complete control of the game plan. The Pats’ QB found matchups he could exploit, threw the ball inside of the numbers to the TE position, worked the vertical game on the sideline and increased the tempo at the line of scrimmage. This Broncos’ secondary didn’t have an answer for the Patriots’ multiple personnel groupings (or alignments) and it showed in Brady’s final numbers: 26-34-6 TDs-1 INT. A dominant performance that proved Denver isn’t ready to compete with the veteran QB just yet.

2. TE production: We can break this down every time the Pats take the field because of the matchup issues both Rob Gronkowski (10-145-3 TDs) and Aaron Hernandez (4-55-1 TD) create. Brady was able to target the 7 (corner) route, inside vertical seam, curl, dig and the option route. And don’t forget about what New England does from an alignment perspective with the TE position. Hernandez in the backfield (where he also got carries as a RB), Gronkowski removed from the core of the formation, 2x2 spread looks, 3x1 alignments, etc. The game plan for the Patriots causes issues before the ball is even snapped because they use their personnel to get one-on-one situations.

3. Belichick’s game plan vs. Tebow: That was the best football I have seen from the Patriots’ defense this season. This unit took away the option game of the Broncos, put pressure on the QB and limited Tebow’s ability to throw inside breaking routes. A perfect example of what a coach can do in terms of putting together a new game plan for a re-match. As for Tebow, no need to make excuses here. He didn’t produce (9-26-136) and looked shaky. What does that mean for next year? Nothing. I expect him to go into training camp as the No.1 in Denver. Plenty of time in the offseason to develop before he takes a snap in 2012.

49ers 36 Saints 32

Vernon davisThe Saints couldn't contain Vernon Davis on Saturday.

1. Vernon Davis: The Niners’ TE posted big numbers (7-180-2 TDs) and went to work on the Saints' safeties in San Francisco’s comeback win on Saturday. Davis beat Cover 1 (man-free), blitz-man (Cover 0), exposing safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. But the play that everyone is talking about is the game winner. Skinny Post vs. Cover 2. A great call that gets the TE matched up vs. a deep half safety with no help from the MLB running the middle of the field. Davis broke inside of Harper and used his size to shield the safety. Dramatic way to close this game out on a big throw from QB Alex Smith.

2. Saints’ turnovers: They hurt in the kicking game. The Saints turned the ball over twice on special teams and that is a killer when we talk field position. Plus, we have to look at Brees. Two interceptions with one coming vs. a zone blitz. The 49ers showed Cover 2 from their pre-snap alignment, rolled to a single high look and Dashon Goldson picked off Brees when he tried to force a seam route inside of the numbers. I know the Saints’ QB put up numbers (40-63-462-4 TDs- 2 INTs), but this team was sloppy with their ball security and it cost them points and a win in the playoffs.

3. Alex Smith’s TD run: The Niners’ QB threw for 299-yards and 3 TDs, but I want to focus on his 28-yard TD run in the 4th quarter. This is no different than running the “crack toss” out of the backfield (WR crack block, O-Line pull to seal the edge). The Niners put Smith in the gun and caught the Saints showing overload pressure to the opposite side of the formation. Big play call in the 4th quarter and another example of Smith showing up when this offense needed to convert. I was impressed with his ability to make key plays in the fourth quarter, lead scoring drives and answer a lot of questions about his role as the QB in this offensive scheme.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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