Championship Sunday rewind

Now that we have the Super Bowl set in Miami, let’s take a look at my game notes from Championship Sunday to see how it all played out.

AFC Championship

Colts 30, Jets 17

The Indy passing game

After seeing what Peyton Manning can do against the best pressure defense in the NFL, how do you defend him? Manning threw for 377 yards, and he did it by using what the Jets defense gave him. They showed pressure; he went to the 3-step game of the slant, the hitch, the smash, etc. and ate them up. They showed a Cover 2 shell; he exposed the middle of the field by hitting the vertical seams. They showed a single-high safety; he threw the ball outside the numbers. That’s just it with Manning – he’s too good to game plan on days like Sunday because he exposes every coverage he sees.

The two-minute drill

Just before the half, the Jets held a 17-6 lead -- which would be huge to bring to the locker room. But where was the defense on that final Indy drive of the first half? Just like I said above, there wasn’t an answer for Manning. But the Jets advanced to the AFC title game because they played good situational football — and that includes the final two minutes of the half. You can’t let Manning go 80 yards on four plays in the final two-plus minutes of the half when you’ve controlled the game to that point. That was a killer for the Jets, and something I didn’t expect to see from Rex Ryan’s club.

Mark Sanchez’s day

I was impressed by the rookie QB. He threw the ball with velocity in the quick game and he wasn’t afraid to challenge defensive backs down the field. I said earlier in the week that the Jets needed to get two big plays down the field from Braylon Edwards, and they got one on a perfectly run double-move in the first half and a perfect throw. Even though the Jets are going home, Sanchez put up good numbers on this stage on the road: 17-30, 257 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT. I’m excited to watch his development next season.

The Indy front seven

The Indianapolis defense is fast, it can get off the ball, and Sunday its front seven was able to penetrate the line of scrimmage. But what was more impressive from my perspective was its lateral quickness and ability to get off blocks. The Colts brought an extra safety down to the box and left their Tampa 2 scheme for third-down situations, and when you add that eighth man in the box — along with the athleticism of the front seven — you can play the run game with an undersized defense. We saw it last week against Baltimore, and we saw it yesterday against what I believe is one of the top offensive lines in the league in the Jets.

Garcon and Collie produce

Yesterday was a perfect example of what you need when you play against Darrelle Revis of the Jets. We all had an idea that Revis would take Reggie Wayne out of the game, but in that case, Manning just went elsewhere with the football. And Garcon and Collie were the guys he went to. He was able to run the entire Colts passing scheme, and when he’s matched up outside of numbers in man coverage, he will make plays. The fade, the deep dig route and the deep curl were all open with Garcon. For Collie, it was the underneath game, the short crossers, the 3-step routes and the combo routes he ran out of the slot. Garcon goes for 151 and a TD on 11 catches, and Collie goes for 123 and a TD on 7 catches. Wayne wasn’t a factor, but when you have this many weapons, Manning will adjust and throw the ball elsewhere.

NFC Championship

Saints 31, Vikings 28 OT</strong>

The turnovers

The Vikings put the ball on the ground too much to win a championship game. Add Favre’s two picks and you see five total turnovers in the box score. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams teaches turnovers. There’s a production board in the meeting room that tracks turnovers. They’re taught since day one in training camp, and you could tell that his players were going for the football yesterday in New Orleans. But the Vikings were sloppy with the ball, and in a game of this magnitude, there’s really no excuse — because they did what they needed to do to win. They controlled the clock, they were very good on third downs (7 of 12), they racked up almost 500 total yards of offense and Favre threw for over 300. But turning the ball over — especially in the red zone — always loses in the NFL. That’s why stats never tell the whole story.

The Saints passing game

One thing we have to take notice off is how the Saints use creativity in their formations when they’re going to throw the ball. They will align in empty sets, in the stack looks and in bunch looks — all designed to get a free runner in the middle of the field. They are combination routes that are designed to find open holes against Tampa 2 teams like Minnesota. And when the defense does show man coverage, they’re designed to run off defenders and create open passing lanes. The spot (flat, 7, curl), the double digs, and the OVS (outside vertical stretch). Brees didn’t put up huge passing numbers, but he made big throws.

Williams’ pressure schemes

The Saints did an excellent job getting to Favre. They hit him countless times, and what made it work so well was the variety of ways they attacked the quarterback. They used five- and six-man pressure with both man and zone principles in the back end, used FS Darren Sharper off the weak side as an extra blitzer, and when they did play pure coverage in the secondary, their front four was able to do this using multiple twists and stunts up front to get a clear path to Favre. Just like we saw last week against Kurt Warner and the Cardinals, Williams’ game plan was designed around hitting the quarterback. The Saints didn’t record a sack, but you could see the effect it had on Favre. They physically punished him.

A.P.’s day

The fumbles are bad — real bad — for Adrian Peterson. He fumbled three times and lost one. But how do you manage a player like this? He’s so productive and so good when he gets his pad level square to the line of scrimmage, and when he can hit the edge of the defense and turn up field, he piles up numbers. Plus, he can run and produce in any sort of scheme -- the power game, the outside zone, the one-back mis-direction schemes, etc. There isn’t a blocking scheme that’s detrimental to his game. But he’s also a liability at times with his ball security: 122 yards, 3 TDs, 3 fumbles. A crazy stat line to look at. Something for Minnesota to think about this offseason with Chester Taylor’s future as a Viking uncertain.

The Favre pick

We know it’s going to be talked about, questioned and discussed in every way possible today and through the offseason (depending on what Favre does with his career). But what really happened on the play? The Vikings — facing a passing situation because of the penalty — ran a pretty basic route in the NFL to the front side: the “X” Spot, where the back-side receiver (or the “X” receiver) drags undern eath to front side curl, accompanied by a flat/7 combo. NFL defenses see it all the time. But Favre tried to throw back to Sidney Rice (the “Z” receiver), who was running away from the front-side action. It’s a risky throw, and in reality, it’s the fourth option on this particular route combination. Bad choice, bad result.

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