18 thoughts on “2019-2020 NFL: Conference Championships

  1. Titans-Chiefs

    Classic match-up of physical defensive and run-oriented team vs. team built around high powered pass offense with just an OK defense. The thing is, Titans (the former) are far from a great team. You could argue that going into the playoffs they and the Eagles were the worst teams (maybe the Seahawks could be added in there as well). They have a very good rushing offense, but they don’t have a great defense. I’d argue they have a QB that is a good game manager, but not much more than that. Based on what we know, they should have no chance against the Chiefs, who have a really good OL, good pass catchers, and arguably the best QB. Their defense a little better than last year (which was pretty bad).

    But the Titans very much have a good shot at winning, because, in my opinion, they are capable of doing the things needed to beat the Chiefs. First and foremost, they need to control the ball—and that’s going to be linked to running the ball well. This, plus a good kicking game, should limit the Chiefs possessions and force them to play on long fields. Second, the Titans defense is going to have to make some stops—either on 3rd down, or in the red zone, forcing FGs, and/or generating some turnovers. Finally, Tannehill has to make a handful of plays, in key situations, and he’s going to have to protect the football. If they can do that—and it would not surprise me if they can–I would favor them winning the game.

    On the Chiefs side, I’m curious to know if they’re going to sell out to stop the run. I don’t get the sense the Patriots or the Ravens really did this, not as an overall strategy. Maybe it’s too hard to do without leaving a defense really vulnerable to a passing attack? This is believable because the Titans have pass-catching weapons and Tannehill is good enough to connect. If this is true, we should seriously consider concluding that the Titans have a really good offense. But even if stopping Henry would mean leaving the defense really vulnerable to the passing game, letting Henry have a big game would be hard to swallow—at least if I were a coach or fan. I’d prefer Tannehill or some other player beat me.

    By the way, I don’t know if you guys agree, but this Titans team reminds me somewhat of the ‘99 Titan team—the one that played the Rams in the Super Bowl. I don’t have a vivid memory of them, but my impression is that while they were physical and had a good defense and run game, neither was exceptional. For example, neither would come up for all-time best consideration. McNair, at this point, was strictly a game manager as well. Henry may have better stats than Eddie George, but I would say they’re kinda comparable, if I were to rank them.

    Packers-49ers

    If you asked me about the keys to this game, I would mention two things:

    1. 49ers turnovers, particularly from Garoppolo.
    2. Special teams play—especially big plays like a blocked kicks or punts or big returns.

    If Garoppolo doesn’t turn over the ball and the 49ers don’t allow any big ST plays, I think the 49ers will win. I say that because I expect the following:

    • 49er front 7 will win the battle of the trenches, if not dominate. Along similar lines, I don’t think the Packers run game will be a big factor. If it is a big factor, I think this game will be close and the Packers could win.
    • The Packers will have trouble stopping the 49er run game. I will be shocked if they can do this—unless they sell out to stop the run. But if they sell out, I think the 49ers passing attack will make them pay.

    If all this happens, and the Packers win, what would be the likely scenario?
    • Aaron Rodgers would have to play out of this world, which is possible, but if the Packers run game is a non-factor, I think the Packers will have difficulty protecting Rodgers. He will face pressure, get hit, get sacked, and maybe even turn the ball over. In other words, playing out of this world, in that context, seems too much to expect, even from Aaron Rodgers.
    • The Packers would have to hold the 49ers to field goals. This could happen with timely miscues by the 49ers in the red zone (e.g., dropped pass, a penalty, etc.);
    • The Packers winning the field position game;
    • Penalties by the 49ers.

    I would also mention one other X-factor for the Packers–something that will give me pause about the 49ers winning this–namely, if the national media doesn’t give the Packers a chance, if they’re raving about the 49ers, that could take a lot of pressure off the Packers (putting more on the Niners) and provide motivation—both of which could help them beat the 49ers. The Packers have the talent to beat with the 49ers. About half way through the season, I thought they were one of the best teams, but they started to struggle. If people aren’t giving a chance, this could provide the focus and motivation to play like the team that I saw earlier (on both sides of the ball).

    But if I had to guess, I would say without major mistakes, the 49ers should win this.

    1. Unwise.

  2. Titans/Chiefs:
    So you think if the Titans do not turnover the ball, that they will win? Maybe I misread what you wrote. I’ll be super surprised if the Titans win or are able to stay in this one. I know I said that last week or didn’t even thought to mention the Titans’ chances, but I cannot see them winning. I think the Chiefs will bottle up Henry enough, and I do not think the Titan’s defense will be able to slow down the Chiefs barring turnovers. I heard, and maybe didn’t hear correctly, that the Titans are really a big play team. I think in their run to the playoffs (I’m guessing after Mariota’s benching.), the Titans led or were very high on the list of big plays, and were behind in time of possession in just about every game. That doesn’t seem like a good recipe for success against the Chiefs.

    Niners/Pack:
    Like you I would probably lean Niners, but with that said the Packers are a bit of an enigma. They seem to win games different ways, without them looking very dominate in any area. That sort of makes them look average, I think. But the other side of that coin is that they can win in different ways, which is a good thing. I don’t buy it, and like you I cannot see the Packers slowing down the Niners run game or the many misdirection things they will try to do.

    You don’t think the Packer run game will be a factor, which may be true, but I think the Packers when they do run will be okay. I’ll be surprised if the Niners just stuff the run every single time, leading the Packers to abandon the run. I think the Packers may just abandon the run despite some of their success or they may fall too far behind, though.

    I like the Niners in this one, and wouldn’t be surprised if they win by double digits.

    1. I think in their run to the playoffs (I’m guessing after Mariota’s benching.), the Titans led or were very high on the list of big plays, and were behind in time of possession in just about every game. That doesn’t seem like a good recipe for success against the Chiefs.

      My general impression:

      1. Henry is a home run hitter. He’s kinda like Riggins (although I sort of think of him as an Okoye who has the ability to bounce the run outside). And the Titans will hit on a deep play action pass. Perfect combination. But this contributes to short possessions.

      2. One possibility is that the Titans ST is so good that they force opponents to play long fields. But maybe the defense hasn’t been good enough to get off the field quickly–or the opponents are just that much better. As a result, the opposing offense may have more TOP. Against the Ravens this may have been by design, too–where the Titans gave up yards in exchange for eating up the clock.

      3. Another possibility: I wonder if the Titans TOP is significantly better in the second half.

      Overall, though, I agree–not being able to control the ball for long periods isn’t good–not against a team like the Chiefs.

  3. So you think if the Titans do not turnover the ball, that they will win?

    That seems a little too strong, but I guess I’m leaning that way. I definitely would not be surprised if the TItans win. I feel like I’ve seen this scenario so many times in the playoffs–namely, unspectacular blue collar type team surprisingly take down the snazzy, explosive pass-oriented offensive team in the playoffs.

    To me, this is a style match-up. The way the Titans are built, the way they play is a bad match-up for the Chiefs. My theory is that the best (and close to the only way) a team like the Chiefs win a Super Bowl is if they’re able to play other teams like them. I would expect a good, physical team built on the run game and defense to beat a good, high-scoring pass-oriented team 7 out of 10 times in the playoffs.

    One other thing: If the Titans are more physical, I like their chances. By the way, in other games like this, the key to slowing down the offense was to be really physical with the Chiefs pass catchers, on the line of scrimmage and when they’re catching the ball. If the Titans can keep the Chiefs pass catchers in front of them and frequently punish them, I think this will pay dividends. I wonder if the Titans will add more DBs and dare the Chiefs to run the ball as well.

    I think the Chiefs will bottle up Henry enough

    But didn’t we all think that the Patriots would do this? And if the Patriots didn’t do this, for sure the Ravens would–or so I thought. I don’t think the Chiefs defense is better than those two defenses.

    …and I do not think the Titan’s defense will be able to slow down the Chiefs barring turnovers.

    But that’s what I thought when the Titans faced the Greatest Show on Turf Rams or when the Patriots faced them a few years later; or the Giants facing the Patriots in the 2007; Seahawks facing the Broncos in 2013. These aren’t the only examples. It doesn’t seem uncommon that a super explosive, high-scoring passing offense fizzles in the playoffs–especially when facing a physical team with a good defense and run game.

    Like you I would probably lean Niners, but with that said the Packers are a bit of an enigma. They seem to win games different ways, without them looking very dominate in any area. That sort of makes them look average, I think.

    I agree with the “enigma” and “average” remarks. But I don’t know if if the issue is that they don’t look dominant in one area. Earlier in the year, their pass defense looked very, very good, close to dominant. And then they seemed far less dominant. Their run game didn’t look so good at some points as well. Overall, their defense looked like one of the best to one that was more vulnerable or at least inconsistent.

    On the other side, their offense just didn’t seem like it could find a good rhythm. I get the sense there has been a clash between LeFleur’s system and Rodgers’. But it seems like Rodgers has gotten his way for the most part. But I wonder if the offense is caught between two approaches, and that’s what hurts them. For example, if you put in another QB, I wonder if you put in another QB, one who would be willing to run the ball more, if the offense would function better. (At the same time, I don’t think LaFleur wants to run as much as Shanahan or Kubiak–he seems more like McVay. And I question how good the Packer pass catchers are, too.)

    If the Packers play like how they looked earlier, I think they could beat the 49ers. But I don’t think that Packer team has emerged. My sense is that their offense looked better because the Seahawk defense didn’t play well.

    You don’t think the Packer run game will be a factor, which may be true, but I think the Packers when they do run will be okay.

    The Vikings run game is better than the Packers. If the Packers run like the Vikings did against the 49ers, I think it will be very difficult for them to win.

    I think the Packers may just abandon the run despite some of their success…

    Yep–and I put that all on Rodgers. (It just seems like the same thing with Peyton in his prime, Romo, or Marino.)

    1. Thought that popped into my mind: Chiefs should sell out to stop the run–force Tannehill beat them by throwing a lot. Even if Tannehill has success this way, including scoring, there are two positive outcomes for the Chiefs:

      1. Titans likely won’t possess the ball a long time, giving more possessions to the Chiefs. This will put the Titans defense on the field sooner and make them play more snaps. Even if the Titans are scoring, the Chiefs will have a more opportunities to score and if the Titans defense is playing more snaps, then that should increase the Chiefs’ ability to score. In other words, turn this game into a shootout.

      2. Make Tannehill throw the ball a lot. Like Lamar, if Tannehill throws a lot, I think there’s a decent chance he make mistakes and turn the ball over. Make him throw a lot and protect the ball. If he can do that, tip your hat to him and the Titans. I’d rather go down that way then have Henry run for close to 200 yards.

      Having said all this, I don’t think I’ve seen a fastbreak team like KC force a run-based team to play a shootout–not in the playoffs. My sense is that if the Chiefs sell out to stop the run–letting the Titans pass–the Titans can pass in a way that controls the ball, too–i.e., utilize shorter passes. Maybe the Chiefs could counter by being more aggressive with their corners, taking away the short passes.

      One last thing. I think the Chiefs have a good ST. The Titans really have to contain explosive plays, blocked kicks/punts, and also not get stuck deep on their side all day.

    2. Week 10: Titans-Chiefs

      Notes:

      1st Qt

      KC dominated TOP. Why? First, they committed a lot of penalties–but converted 1st downs and scored on the first drive. Tannehill fumbled on their first possession, putting KC close to the red zone. But they committed penalties and settled for a FG.

      On TEN next possession, on first three plays they threw a bomb and got into the red zone. They scored on one or two plays after–i.e., it was a quick score, short possession.

      2nd Qt

      7:00 minutes left in the quarter–KC fumbles, and TEN returns it for a TD.

      KC was in a lot of long yardage downs, including 3rd downs. But they also had a bunch of chunk plays, making it look easy.

      Man, Tannehill threw the ball right into LB’s hands with 20 seconds left in the half. The LB dropped the ball.

      The TEN punter and coverage is really good.

      Score was 13-13 at 7:00 minutes in the 3rd.

      About 6 minutes in the 3rd, from the TEN 30, Henry takes it to the house. 20-19 TEN.

      This was kinda of a crazy game–with turnovers and a blocked kick at the end. The Chiefs had some a handful of drops, too. Was it because the Titans were physical? I’m not sure, but that’s going to be a factor.

      Looking at the game, if the Chiefs had less penalties, the Titans may not have stopped them. But field position was a factor in this. From what I recall, the Chiefs didn’t ever have great field position (i.e., starting at midfield)–except when the Titans fumbled.

      Tannehill made a handful of nice throws for the game winning drive.

  4. Titans-Chiefs

    Offensively and defensively the Chiefs were too much. I feel like one of the key was the amount of time the Chiefs offense controlled the ball–and scored, particularly in the second half. The one that comes to mind is the 6 minute drive to end the 3rd, giving the Chiefs 28. The run game helped in that drive. Also, the Titans pass rush was non-existent. And when they did get by blockers, Mahomes seemed to have easy running lanes, and gained easy yards.

    1. The game played out almost how I thought it would, in that the Titans would be able to move the ball somewhat and score, but their defense wouldn’t be able to slow down the Chiefs. And in the end, the Titans may have to abandon the run game. What I didn’t expect is sort of what Reid alluded to, in that both teams did pretty well with long drives. The Titans held the ball for good stretches in the first half, giving me pause that they wouldn’t have a chance to win. Then the Chiefs held the ball for a while in the second half, which as Reid said really hurt the Titans chances. Reid said that the Titan’s pass rush was non-existent, but there was a lot of plays they were rushing on three. That is not the Titan’s strength anyway. Based on what I saw against the Ravens, their strength is being immovable objects.

    2. The game played out almost how I thought it would, in that the Titans would be able to move the ball somewhat and score, but their defense wouldn’t be able to slow down the Chiefs.

      I think that’s the reasonable expectation–it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect otherwise, especially since the Titans don’t have a great defense. However, one wouldn’t expect the Rams to score only 3 points in last year’s Super Bowl; 2013 Seahawks dominating the 2013 Broncos; 2007 Giants slowing down the 2007 Patriots, etc.

      To me, the key was Chiefs ability to not only score, but control the ball.

      Reid said that the Titan’s pass rush was non-existent, but there was a lot of plays they were rushing on three.

      But they couldn’t get much pressure with 4 pass rushers either. And when they played man, Mahomes had easy runs. (The run for a TD before the end of the half was kinda of a backbreaker.)

      Based on what I saw against the Ravens, their strength is being immovable objects.

      I think this was predicated on their formation–I feel like they used a Bear front a lot–with 3 DTs in the middle.

      1. I want to say that a big reason the Chiefs had longer drives than normal (ie: control the ball) is the Titan’s willingness to give up “stuff” underneath, but take away the big plays. Especially when you see them rushing three and dropping a lot of guys back. I thought overall that was a good game plan (if choosing between that or being really aggressive). Plus the Titans are used to winning games losing the TOP battle. Do you think that was bad game plan defensively?

      2. I want to say that a big reason the Chiefs had longer drives than normal (ie: control the ball) is the Titan’s willingness to give up “stuff” underneath, but take away the big plays.

        In general, I think this is correct–although they didn’t always succeed in preventing explosive plays, including yards after the catch. My sense is that the Titans, in terms of game plans on defense, didn’t have many good options. Their hope was big plays on ST, turnovers, or really long drives by their offense. That didn’t happen in the second half. I think the Titans penalties kinda hurt their offense as well.

        By the way, I skimmed over some of KC’s drives, counting the plays. They had several possessions with 8-13 plays. First drive of the 3rd quarter 11 plays, the drive that ends the 3rd- and goes a little into the 4th–13 plays. Their next possession, 9 plays. Titans defense have no chance under those circumstances.

        If the Chiefs repeat this against the Niners, I think I might favor them.

  5. Packers-49ers

    Was this one of the dominant run performances in conference championship history? Yes, Henry had a string of games where he was incredible, but the shocking stat for me was Garoppolo throwing only 6 passes somewhere in the 3rd quarter–while the 49ers were dominating the Packers. (I’m questioning if this stat is accurate….Just checked–he ended up with 8 passes! That has to be a conference championship record–at least since the 80s. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if it happened in the 70s, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen, either. Elway had 9 pass attempts in the first half in the ’97 Super Bowl, but ended with 22 passes.)

    Rodgers didn’t have a great game, especially in terms of ball security. At the same time, the Packer offense looked outclassed, overall. And once the 49ers had a big lead, passing became a lot tougher. Having said that, the first INT was on him. (I wouldn’t really count the last one.)

    Bottom line for me is that the Packer defense was overwhelmed and outclassed–similar to the Titans defense against the Chiefs, and somewhat like the Seahawks defense against the Packers.

    1. This game also played out sort of how I thought it would, in the sense I felt the Niner run game would do well (I’m pretty sure the Packers were ranked either last or close to last in rushing defense earlier in the year.). I didn’t expect the miscues by the Packers which ended the game in the first half. The Packer did okay offensively, well better than I thought. I thought the Packers would be able to run the ball somewhat, I didn’t expect Rodgers to find open guys with the Niner pass rush. Rodgers minus the miscues even did okay when the game was still undecided in the first half. Of course though, when the game seem out of reach, it’s hard to say how hard the Niners defense was playing at that point.

    2. I didn’t expect the miscues by the Packers which ended the game in the first half.

      Are you mostly thinking of the turnovers? The first INT was uncharacteristic of Rodgers. I can barely remember the fumbles, but you have to give some credit to the 49er defense for those.

      Of course though, when the game seem out of reach, it’s hard to say how hard the Niners defense was playing at that point.

      Yeah, they were likely trading yards for time, and preventing a quick score.

      1. Yeah the first fumble was the strip sack of Rodgers, which you have to credit the Niners. Then Rodgers had that bad interception. Then Rodgers and the center bumbled the snap as they were marching late in the first half. The game was pretty much over at that point.

      2. Then Rodgers and the center bumbled the snap as they were marching late in the first half.

        Oh yeah, that. I’m not sure who to blame on that, but that was pretty horrid.

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