Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2010 Divisional Round Playoff Review of Packers/Falcons

The Green Bay Packers killed two birds with one stone by beating the Atlanta Falcons 48-21 in Atlanta to punch their ticket to the NFC Championship Game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago. For one, the Packers avenged their Week 12 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta. More importantly, the Packers finally avenged their first home playoff loss in franchise history when the Michael Vick lead Atlanta Falcons beat the Packers 27 to 7 on Saturday, January 4, 2003. I saw the miserable playoff loss with my buddies Fernando, Gaber, and Sug at a bar in Punta Gorda, Florida. The Packers (the only holdovers are Chad Clifton, Donald Driver, and Mark Tauscher) enacted sweet revenge for us and the rest of Packers Nation eight years later. It took eight years but we can officially put that loss behind us and just remember the good times had in Punta Gorda fellas. Here are the things that stood out to me from the Green Bay Packers’ 48-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons:

Aaron Rodgers:
Against the Falcons Rodgers was 31 for 36 with 366 passing yards, 3 touchdowns (1 rushing touchdown) for a 136.8 passer rating. Rodgers really spread the ball around to his receivers: Greg Jennings (8 catches for 101 yards), Donald Driver (6 catches for 79 yards), Jordy Nelson (8 catches for 79 yards), and James Jones (4 catches for 75 yards).

Statistically speaking how well did Rodgers play against the Falcons? Football Outsiders have a statistic called “DYAR” or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement*. Basically it shows the degree of difficulty on the performance over an average player. Rodgers’ performance was the 4th best DYAR playoff performance since 1993 meaning great quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, and Ben Roethlisberger never had a game as good as Rodgers did against the Falcons. Who had the best playoff performance ever? Unfortunately it was Kurt Warner’s 385 DYAR (29 for 33, 382 yards for 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and 1 sack) against the Packers last year in their 51-45 overtime thriller.

In three playoff games with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packers’ offense has averaged 38 points a game. Furthermore, Rodgers became the 1st quarterback in NFL history to throw more than 10 touchdowns in his first 3 playoff games.

Christopher Owens:
Brian Williams beat out Christopher Owns for the nickel cornerback job for the Atlanta Falcons at the start of the season. Williams was inactive for the game so the Packers picked on Owens all day. After giving up a 102-yard kickoff return to Eric Weems, the longest play in playoff history, the Packers were down 14-7. That proved to be the last time the Packers trailed for the rest of the game because they drew two penalties on Owens that helped the Packers tie the game up at 14-14. As shown above, Rodgers spread the ball around to all of his wide receivers. Rodgers went after Owens for most the game because whoever was covered by Owens looked like Rodgers’ first read on most plays. Let’s move from the worst cornerback on the day to the best cornerback on the day.

Tramon Williams:
Cornerback Tramon Williams had two interceptions against the Falcons, both coming at the end of the first half to swing the game from competitive to a beat down. Let’s set the stage. The game was tied at 14 with two minutes left in the half when the Falcons gave up a sack to cornerback Charles Woodson that set-up a 3rd and 21 for the Falcons from the Packers’ 26-yard line. Instead of attempting a safe throw, Matt Ryan went for it all and threw an interception to Tramon Williams in the end zone. The Packers capitalized on the interception to go up 21-14.

The Falcons got the ball back with less than a minute remaining in the first half down 21-14. Thanks to consecutive pass interference penalties on Sam Shields and Tramon Williams the Falcons had the ball on the Packers’ 26-yard line. Following a sack by Claymaker, the Falcons were forced to use their last timeout of the half which gave them the ball on the Packers’ 35-yard line with 10 seconds left in the half. Despite having one of the best place kickers (Matt Bryant) in the NFL, the Falcons tried to pick up a few more yards on an out route. The smart play was to attempt a field goal to only trail 21-17 at the half. Instead, Tramon Williams stepped in front of the pass and returned it 70-yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 28-14 lead heading into halftime.

The artist formerly known as Matty Ice:
Everyone used to like to call Matt Ryan "Matty Ice". Well he was Matty Ice against the cold. Ryan pushed his playoff record to 0-2 with 6 turnovers and a safety. Just to add insult to injury, Ryan lost more games in the last three weeks (2 games) in the Georgia Dome than he lost there in the previous three years (1 game). Ryan is clearly one of the best, young quarterbacks in the NFL but Rodgers catapulted ahead of Ryan in the quarterback pantheon because playoff wins are unfortunately how most quarterbacks are judged.

35 Consecutive Points Scored:
Following an NFL post season record 102-yard kickoff return by Eric Weems, the Green Bay Packers rattled off 35 unanswered points. Punter Tim Masthay's only work on the day was serving as a holder for the multitude of kicks (3 field goal attempts and 6 extra point attempts) for place kicker Mason Crosby. The Packers out-gained the Falcons 442 yards to 194 yards. Thanks in large part to Rodgers working the pocket perfectly on 3rd down, the Packers converted 8 of their 12 opportunities while the Falcons only converted 3 of their 10 opportunities.

Why the Pro Bowl is a joke:
Matt Ryan and Brent Grimes were voted into the Pro Bowl ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Tramon Williams. Don’t get me wrong, the Packers are sending an undeserved player in left tackle Chad Clifton in a “career achievement” vote but Rodgers and Williams might be two of the best three players on their team right now along with outside linebacker Clay Matthews. As a Packer fan I hope the Packer Pro Bowl representatives (Clifton, Collins, Jennings, Matthews, and Woodson) are unable to play in the Pro Bowl because they are getting ready for the Super Bowl but this game is a microcosm of how the Pro Bowl system is flawed.

Playoffs by the numbers:
In 1990 the NFL expanded the playoffs to include 12 teams. From 1990 to 2004, no 6th seed ever defeated a 1st seed. Since then, being a 6th seed is not all that bad. Starting in 2005, the 6th seed has defeated the 1st seed five times including twice this year (Packers over Falcons and Jets over Patriots).

From 1990 through 2001 teams with a bye in the first round of the playoffs went 39-9 in their first playoff game. In 2002 the NFL changed from 6 divisions to 8 divisions. Despite the number of divisions changing, the number of teams that made the playoffs stayed at 12. Something changed though. Starting in 2003, bye teams have gone 18-14 in their first playoff games and only 12-12 since 2005. Road teams only won 30% of playoff games up till 2005, since then road teams have won 45% of the time.

Finally, the Packers became the first team in post-season history to score at least 45 points in consecutive years. Check back for NFC Championship coverage on the blog this week as the Packers prepare for only their second post-season meeting with the Bears. The Packers will be looking to enact revenge for their loss to the Bears in their first post-season meeting on December 14, 1941 at Wrigley Field.

* = Gives the value of the quarterback's performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. DYAR (and its cousin, YAR, which isn't adjusted based on opponent) is further explained here. (Source)

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