Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Leading Miami 10-0 in the second quarter, Oakland faced second and eight on its 18. Down and distance favored the well-regarded Dolphin defense. It's a blitz! Six gentlemen rush, and a dinky safety-valve pass becomes a 32-yard gain keying the drive that allowed Oakland to pull away.
Blitzing does sometimes work, much as TMQ hates to admit it. Robert Tate's game-clinching INT late in the third at Minneapolis came on a six-man blitz. But note the next item.
Incredible Insider Tip: Weak defenses often try to cover their deficiencies by DB-blitzing, and it almost always backfires. Indy fell on its sword with DB blitzes at Miami in the wild card round. Minnesota sent DBs repeatedly against the Saints. The Vikes were never burned by their own blitzes, but the target was a novice QB playing in his eighth career start. Jersey/A is the sole NFL team that has consistently come out ahead this season by using DB blitzes. This means that if the Vikings try their DB blitzing in the Meadowlands, they will be running the ploy against a team that regularly sees it in practice. Giants coaches will be thinking along briar-patch lines—please throw those DBs at us.
Playoff Pressure Coaching Performance Watch: Losing players get outplayed, and losing coaches get outcoached. Form held this weekend.
In the Vikings-Saints matchup, Jim Haslett played seven or eight "in the box," committing his defense to stopping the Minnesota running game. That worked but allowed the Vikings to hit devastating big-play passes. As the contest got out of hand, Haslett lost his focus by engaging in pointless duels of sideline yakking with Vike Cris Carter. Ah well, any Cajun told before the season that Haslett would take the team to 11-7 and the divisional round would have praised Dieu.
In the Miami-Oakland matchup, Dave Wannstedt had a good game plan—come out throwing when everyone expected the power run—but saw it fail because of dropped passes and the dreadful Jay Fielder first-series INT that the Raiders ran back 90 yards for six.
In the Tennessee-Baltimore matchup, Jeff Fisher, a TMQ favorite, had two weeks to come up with something original on offense to counter the powerful Ravens defense and instead ran exactly what he's run all year, Eddie George plus dink-dunk short passes. The Thumbtacks had just one pass attempt of more than 20 yards until the game was out of hand, the same stat as too conservative Tampa Bay in its first-round loss. Because there was no deep threat, Ravens DBs choked up on receivers while Ravens coaches could put seven or eight in the box against Eddie George runs. Once Tennessee got behind by 14 in the fourth, its limited attack was so exposed that at one point, QB Steve McNair threw short safety-valve passes to George on six of nine snaps. One was the game's backbreaker, the ball that bounced out of George's hands and into Lewis' for the TD return that clinched the contest. Mitigating factor: The T's had so many WR injuries that during the fourth quarter, they were lining up rookie TE Erron Kinney as a wideout.
Coaching was about equal in the Eagles-Giants matchup, where Philadelphia's Andy Reid did what he could considering he had advanced to the quarterfinal round with essentially no one at the skill positions. Giants coaches neutralized Eagles QB Donovan McNabb by having a "spy" LB mirror his every move, preventing McNabb from scrambling. "Spy" defenses usually mean someone will be open downfield, but then the Eagles advanced to the quarterfinal round with essentially no one at the skill positions. Reid, who has been a gambler this year—he opened the season with an onside kick—went weak-kneed against the G-People. Trailing 10-0 and facing fourth and inches on the Giants' 39, Reid ordered a punt. Yumpin' yimminy.
Travel Agent Blunder of the Week: West Coast teams playing on the East Coast, and vice versa, are at a disadvantage owing to jet lag. The countermeasure is to arrive two days before the game, rather than the day prior. The Dolphins did not leave until late Friday morning, Miami time, for their Saturday afternoon contest in Oakland. The team landed barely 24 hours before kickoff following a six-hour flight, just shy of the longest possible within the contiguous states. The Dolphins proceeded to play as if jet-lagged.
Hardest Workin' Man in Sports Business: All NFL Web sites and tout sheets promise incredible exclusive insider dope, but usually what they print is recycled from USA Today. If you want actual fresh info, watch for anything bylined by Len Pasquarelli at the CBS Sports site. Pasquarelli is the hardest workin' man in football journalism, and all his prodigious output is available free. (I have no idea how the New Economy is supposed to work, either.) He always has correct details of contracts when others are engaged in wild speculation. In December, Pasquarelli noted on a Friday that Persons QB Jeff George had finally had his inevitable childish fit, screaming at quasiprovisional coach Terry Robiskie that he (George) could have him fired. It took until Monday for the Washington papers to notice this story, and then only with Pravda-esque wording that Robiskie had denied "published reports" of a scream-fest. Two weeks ago, Pasquarelli reported that Head Coach/Beanie Baby Wade Phillips of the Bills would be dismissed while the AP and others were reporting that Phillips was secure. Late Sunday night Pasquarelli posted the details of the firing while most sports services were still watching the Giants-Eagles game. (ESPN had it Sunday night, too.) TMQ doesn't know, but Pasquarelli appears to fit the Saturday Night Live caricature of the Internet guy who never leaves his room, just works the computer and the phone. Boy, is he good at it.
Helmet Instructions: TMQ's previous item on the true wording of NFL helmet disclaimers got enough mail that, as a public service, here are the actual instructions printed inside each helmet liner: