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First and foremost in the NFL world this past weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the ones who made the biggest statement in my eyes. And that statement was, when they need to win, in big game situations versus elite teams, it will be the arm of Ben Roethlisberger and the array of wide receivers that will win or lose the game for them. A truly perfect game plan was implemented versus the Patriots. Tom Brady ran three plays the entire first quarter and never got into any kind of rhythm because the Steelers offense was content dinking and dunking the Patriots to death to eat up the clock and move the chains.
The spread passing game in the NFL, ran by a hall of fame quarterback is exactly what you saw. The Patriots defense, although ranked last against the pass in the NFL, isn’t as bad as some like to claim. The fact remains, if Brady is going to make it to his 5th Super Bowl, Belichick and company will have to devise a plan to disrupt the timing of this passing game. The road to the AFC Super Bowl will go through Heinz Field after the Steelers take care of the Ravens next Sunday Night.
To add to the the problems the Patriots faced Sunday, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau was going to find out one way or the other if his defense was truly an elite group in the NFL, and they passed with flying colors. The reason I say he was going to figure it out, was because of the strategy he used to hold Brady under 200 yards passing. The Steelers, along with any other team defense that wants to be considered a legitimate top flight defense, have to be able to play press man-to-man coverage when it matters. It is the trend now in the NFL to play a lot of zone and zone blitz, and although nobody does it better than Pittsburgh; no matter who you are, when you are facing the Rodgers’ and Brady’s of the world, you will get picked apart. If you can’t play man-to-man in the NFL today, you give a free pass to offensive coordinators to throw as much of their extensive passing schematics as they want at you. If your corners can press and play man-to-man defense, like the Jaguars did versus the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7 on Monday you get performances like the one Joe Flacco put on in that game.
The timing of passing games in today’s league is truly what throwing the football is all about. Disrupting the timing and challenging receivers to get separation is the key to stopping any high flying offense. It even helps in stopping the run because with corners in man coverage, safeties can come downhill at the line of scrimmage from their first step instead of having deep coverage responsibilities as they do in zone blitz and cover 2 type schemes.
I must weigh in on a few quarterback situations around the league. Starting with, of course, everybody’s favorite player to hear about, Tim Tebow. Tebow is getting hammered right now by just about every media outlet there is to be heard, read or watched. People, including many ‘experts’ want to really take it over the top when it comes to evaluation of him. To judge any NFL player, but especially a QB after five career starts is absolutely ridiculous. Two starts this season, in an offense that was designed for Kyle Orton, and many are ready to say Tebow is a bust. Sure, he was highly inconsistent with his accuracy and anticipation Sunday, but he also made some very good throws, including a strike TD pass to Eric Decker on the opening drive that for some reason was called out of bounds even after a replay review. Tebow is playing with a bottom five offensive line, receiving corps and defense. That is very hard to overcome. The Broncos need to give this a real chance if Tebow is going to be successful and commit to creating more of an offense that resembles the one he played in at Florida. It definitely can work, as proven by the opening drive against the Lions Sunday and the last few minutes of the game in Miami.
Denver called way too many five and seven step drops against a defense that they knew was going to come after Tebow, and didn’t even allow Tim to get the ball out on plays that negate the blitz. It was more of an awful offensive game plan, than it was performance by Tim Tebow. If you are ready to call him a bust, I will remind you he is five starts into his NFL career! Would you have called these players a bust?
Eli Manning – 5th career game played: 4 of 18 passing for 27 yards and 2 interceptions.
Joe Flacco – 4th career start: 18 of 28 for 153 yards, 5.4 yards per attempt and 2 interceptions.
Matthew Stafford – 5th career start: 14 of 33 for 168 yards, 5.1 yards per attempt and 1 interception.
Josh Freeman – 5th career start: 23 of 44 passing, 5 interceptions.
Mark Sanchez – 6th career start: 10 of 29 for 119 yards and 5 interceptions.
How about Blaine Gabbert as a rookie this season? I do not hear anything labeling him a bust already despite looking extremely timid in the pocket thus far in his career; a fatal flaw that a lot of time cannot be corrected. He has MORE starts then Tim Tebow and this past weekend he went 10 of 30 passing for 97 yards and two interceptions! So before you want to jump ship and side with the rest of the media, just remember despite a very bad 5.4 yards per attempt, when used correctly as Josh McDaniels was starting to do at the end of 2010, Tebow averaged 8.0 yards per attempt and even notched a 300 yard passing game.
There is a reason the Carolina Panthers had the #1 draft selection in the 2011 NFL draft, and if John Fox doesn’t give the development of Tebow some time and effort, then I will know why the Panthers had the NFL’s worst record.