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Ten Things I Liked About The Conference Championships

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I liked all of this very much. I promise.

NFL: NFC Championship-Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Hell yeah. Rip it baby.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

I despise liars. I hate deceiving. It’s for cretins who don’t stand by the decisions they make, don’t do the things they say they’ll do, or are despicable cravens who have to pick themselves up with empty words. I am sorry to say this to you loyal reader, but I am about to lie, I am going to slander all up and down these pages.

For you see, I didn’t like this weekend very much. Nothing I wanted to have happen happened. Which is the thing with sports. You watch, and cheer, and hope that maybe once an end outcome you’ll actually enjoy occurs, and most of the time that moment of happiness is only a speck, a fleeting instant that exists for a moment until the next week or game devours it all away.

Jeff Rosenstock taught me that the stuff (poop) that you hate don’t make you special. So here is what I liked about this weekend through gritted teeth.

1.) Nathaniel Hackett Game Planning

Damn did I love Nathaniel Hackkett’s game plan. The Jags threw play action on first and second. Constantly the Patriots were out of balance. They were dizzied and confused. Boxes were filled waiting for Leonard Fournette runs only to have the table cloth pulled out from out of them. It created easy pockets. Nice and open comfortable throws for Blake Bortles.

My favorite of which was the Marcedes Lewis touchdown throw. I remember throwing touchdowns to Lewis in NFL 2K5. He’s still around. He’s still here. And was rewarded for all those years with an easy play action touchdown.

They also called some perfect screens. The Jags have the fastest team in football. Part of this is a result from drafting in the top ten every season. You are going to have great athletes when you get first dibs. But the other is that they are heavily invested in analytics. Some of it leads to stupid decisions like not drafting Teddy Bridgewater because of hand size, but the rest creates a legion of hellions. Late round picks, undrafted free agents, all of them can move. The Jags are able to break open the Earth and find late round gems because of the Excel spreadsheet.

Because of their speed they were able to run these quick screens all over the Patriots. Out on the edge they would scamper around linebackers and past defensive backs with blockers ahead of them.

Additionally, Hackett crafted some ways to put the ball downfield. And when he did Bortles delivered. He put up similar numbers to Tom Brady. Yes they played against two entirely different defenses, but Bortles played perfectly in the ecosystem they placed him in. This is 2015 throw the ball up to the A-Team Bortles. This is time machine traveling.

They did get too conservative in the second half. They had New England purple and woozy and could have popped their head off with a final swing. Instead they opted to throw from the shotgun, and put the ball in Fournette’s belly. Part of it was the field position and they didn’t want Bortles to turn the ball over around their own goal line. And the other seemed like they just ran out of plays to run. It was great while it lasted, even if it didn’t last long enough.

2.) COME ON AND HIT IT

From the get go the Jaguars came out and mashed against New England. Teams say they aren’t afraid of New England while they shiver and hope not to be embarrassed. The Jaguars weren’t. They clicked their chinstraps and and pummeled New England to start the game. New England opted to take on one of the best short passing defenses in football with short passes and they rewarded them by skateboarding downhill and exploding into ball carriers to create a fireworks display of bones.

It started with Jalen Ramsey in man coverage against Chris Hogan. He came around the rub at a perfect angle to splatter Hogan. From there, with his mouth piece dangling, he heaved a bunch expletives his way. Hogan of course laughed uncomfortably. Bullying isn’t cool Jalen.

Barry Church devoured a screen play, by swallowing the receiver whole like one of those egg swallowing pythons. His celebration was cool after too. He acted like he was pounding nails into a board. I’m sure there are thousands of underage drinkers in Duval who bust this out every time they put the ball into the red cup.

It wasn’t all tackles either. James O’Shaughnessy came back across the grain and buckled Patrick Chung right under his chin to assist on this first down.

Ramsey wasn’t done either. He peeled off the sideline in zone coverage and flailed a bat across Rob Gronkowski’s chest.

And lastly, Telvin Smith took Rex Burkhead out of the game coming down in zone coverage to turn a quick and easy completion into a splatter.

The Jags lost and that’s a bummer, but you have to be proud of them. They went on the road and took on the greatest quarterback and head coaching combination of all time and gave it to them. Most teams go up there and get humiliated or sleep walk to try and make the score look better than it should be. They fail to take risks. They don’t hit. They don’t try new things. They get hung up on hooks. Instead, Jacksonville brought it, and almost pulled off the unbelievable.

3.) Three Feet In & Gilmore Getting And Giving

The Patriots made two great plays to seal their win. I liked both of these plays very much. The first had Tom Brady scan and find Danny Amendola in the back of the endzone. The receiver leaped. He came back down with the football in his hands. He plopped both feet in bounds, and then a third. There was no need for a review. There was no way New England wasn’t going to score a touchdown here.

The other saw Stephon Gilmore comeback. On the Jags’ possible game winning drive, he was beat one the sideline by Dede Westbrook. Not only did Westbook make the catch with Gilmore never looking out the ball, but he turned back through Gilmore and embarrassed him to get across the sideline and out of bounds.

On 4th down Bortles had plenty of time to throw. He put a touch pass into the universe. His receiver had a step. He was open. Gilmore just made a spectacular play. He leapt, he floated, he stayed in the air for what felt like forever, where does the time go?, and pulled his right arm across his body to slap the ball away. Turn over on downs. One first down later. Game over.

4.) Nick Foles Slanging

Nick Foles needed to make a big throw. He made five of them. Against one of the five best pass defenses in football Foles completed 26 of his 33 attempts for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns. He had a perfect quarterback rating. He averaged 10.66 yards an attempt.

Everyone is wondering where this came from. I’ll tell you where it came from. Foles was transported back from 2013 when he threw 27 touchdowns to 2 interceptions and averaged 9.1 yards an attempt for Chip Kelly’s Eagles. Because before this game Foles had completed 4 of his 18 downfield passing attempts for 84 yards and had 1 interception. In this game he completed 4 of his 7 attempts for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns, eclipsing what he had done this entire season in a hour of game time.

That’s the only explanation. These throws were other worldly. On the first he faked the screen to Alshon Jeffery then went deep down the right sideline to Torrey Smith. Trae Waynes was chasing. Foles put it right into his chest. The ball popped out however.

On the second Foles held onto the pocket. With rushers swirling around him, and Everson Griffen getting close, he remained strong and stayed there with his eyes downfield. Jeffery ran an in route. After he finished his route he saw Foles still had the ball so he said screw it and took off downfield. He lost the defensive back. Harrison Smith was too shallow. Jeffery outrun all of them and caught a pass Foles put every inch of himself into.

This was a perfect throw. Zach Ertz’s route was better than the throw itself though. Lined up in the slot, Ertz ran an out to the sideline with Smith in man coverage. Then he dug his cleats in and took off up the sideline. Wide open.

This one was the best of them all. The belle of the ball. Off the Flea Flicker Foles put the ball over the chasing Waynes, and to the left of Smith, who was coming over to help from the center of the field. Foles put the ball right on the pylon. It carried Torrey Smith out of bounds and across the endzone.

This last one was silly. Foles stepped up the pocket and tossed it on the run to the sideline. This is Russell Wilson. This is Case Keenum. This isn’t Nick Foles.

I don’t know who this man was. The Eagles did enough to win with Foles against Atlanta and won in spite of him. This week they won because of his ability to split the safeties and throw some miraculous bombs downfield. Hopefully this is the man we see come Superbowl Sunday.

5.) Myles Jack Playmaker

One of the older NCAA football games, I think it started with 2006, had impact players. WR #7, RB #23, DL #97, would have glowing white circles around them to let you know they were one of the main guys on the team. During the game, the crowd would holler, controllers would shake, and these glowing ovals would pulsate. This was the time for the impact guy to make a play. At this time you would hit a swim move, flick the stick to make a tackle, and then things would slow down, a quick montage of the play would repeat a few times, and then quickly, like picking up after an Earthquake, you’d control the imaginary man in the television to pick up the fumble.

Myles Jack maybe like an 83 overall. He’s fast, but gets chewed up in the run game against guards and centers. He’s fast, but he needs to work on his coverage skills. He head hunts a little too much for me to really enjoy watching him play. Despite all this, Jack is an impact player. Whenever the Jaguars need a turnover or a big play he delivers.

Against the Steelers he swallowed up the running back in the flat, jumped the route, and mangled two feet in bounds for the interception. The Jags would score shortly after to make the lead an insurmountable 14-0. Against New England the same thing happened. The Patriots were driving. The Jags needed a big play. Jack glowed and throbbed.

New England tossed the ball across the formation. It looked like the trick play they ran against Baltimore in the 2014 Divisional Round that put Jim Harbaugh into a furious slobbering range. Then they tossed it back across to Dion Lewis. He had three blockers in front of them. They were off.

Jack was in the middle field chasing the red dot. He cut back across the field with a perfect angle and hit Lewis from behind. When he made contact he brought his tomahawk all the way back and unleashed it right on the ball. At impact it ran out of Lewis’s hands. As they both rolled Jack kept is eyes on it, and rolled over with it.

This was a NFL Street Game Breaker pulled off the disk and out of the television and placed into reality. Just a phenomenal play. Afterwards, Jack got up with the ball and looked to run. Usually, just as they should, the refs let this play run and they will review it after. Instead they called him down, but said it was a fumble and he recovered on the field.

Some point to this as part of a grander conspiracy and that Jack would have scored. He might have, but there were still three Patriots players ahead of him on that side of the field that either could have tackled him, or slowed him down enough for someone faster to come back and bring him down. It was far from an automatic touchdown, but the Jags would have had least had better field position.

The potential top ten pick who fell to the second round has been 100% worth it for Jacksonville. He’s a rapid moving playmaker who is perfect for this defense. If he cleans up his game, and learns how to deal with offensive linemen, he will be one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in football. If he doesn’t, he will at least be a turnover creating playmaking mercenary.

6.) Tom Couldn’t Miss

Brady was incredible. He put the ball in the perfect spot. His receivers let him down and dropped passes correct to the millionth place. And he kept chugging along against the best pass defense in football until two fourth quarter touchdowns brought New England ahead for another Superbowl.

There’s this nauseating enjoyment when watching the Pats. On one hand, it’s annoying and banal to watch the same coach and same player march through the same awful division every regular season, and through the same conference that never seems to put up a worthy opponent to take down Brady and Belichick. But on the other hand, it’s a blessing to be able to watch the greatest ever be the greatest ever. So yeah, seeing Brandin Cooks run the same deep comeback routes against off man coverage and cover three, the Pats flood the zone to open up completions for Danny Amendola, long heaves that generated questionable pass interference penalties were obnoxious while concurrently being sublime

7.) Ramsey-Bouye Fan Fiction

Nerds. They lay around all day and imagine what would happen if the Sorting Hat had touched their scalp while they prayed to be a Gryffindor, what color their light saber would be, and whatever conundrums they can conjure up outside the canon. With the internet they could turn this childhood fantasies and wonderings into grotesque fan fiction and write and write and write conspiracy theories and their own epics that take place in the universes they fondle themselves over.

The offseasons in any sport are no different. We scroll through Twitter and read rumors and imagine the possibilities of player X playing with player Y and how young quarterback X would live his best career in establishment Z. Most of the time these things never happen, and often when they do, like most things, the expectations don’t meet reality. Never have expectations kids.

When A.J. Bouye joined Jacksonville, I was angry. I was sad. I wasn’t myself. And then I took off these stupid Battle Red glasses and saw the entire world. I could see the entire landscape. One with Ramsey and Bouye conjoining to become the best cornerback duo in the league. Luckily, this was one of those times when Summer optimism bared Fall expectations.

This is as close as it gets to fan fiction for me. Tom Brady taking a shot deep with Bouye and Ramsey double covering the intended receiver. In my dreams, and in my spiral, Ramsey uses his upper body strength to body the receiver out of the play, and tips it up into the air for Bouye to intercept it. He doesn’t return it. He boldly takes a knee. The Jags upset New England.

8.) Pick 6 Return

Now, I didn’t like this interception. I like Keenum. He was the most efficient passer in football this year with his heaven grazing touch passes, and overcame so much, getting cut by Houston, Jeff Fisher, and concussions to even have the opportunity for his wings to melt in front of America.

This was just a disastrous throw. Yeah, Keenum’s arm was bumped which made the throw flutter some more. But this thing was going to be intercepted no matter what. He threw into two defenders sitting in zone coverage, and his arm isn’t that great to begin with. Keenum does this. He makes inerrant throws. Sometimes he’s lucky and they fall down. And other times this happens, and last week it happened. This early interception brought the Vikings win probability down by 20.5%. They would never lead again.

What I did like was the interception return. Patrick Robertson ran vertically as far as he could. Then cut back across the swamps and the forest to freedom. With a finger he turned his teammate into a human shield, and cut around this gray body to score. This was an interception, and a vision brought to fruition.

9.) Eagles 3rd Down Offense

Keenum will take the majority of the beating for Minnesota’s loss. As a team they didn’t play well. They needed to win because of Keenum, not with him. Case had to be better than the offense he played in, and had to out throw the coverage while side stepping around a gruesome rush. He couldn’t do it. It was a task for a transcendent quarterback. Keenum isn’t this. He wasn’t this all year. He was the perfect gear to churn in unison with the Vikings’ death machine. But all on his own, without everyone else, he was back to looking like a backup quarterback.

Although this will be the narrative, the reason why Minnesota lost was because the entire team didn’t play like how they did this season. They couldn’t rush the passer. Everson Griffen even struggled in a matchup he had to win against Vaitai. They lost the line of scrimmage on defense and offense. They lost the turnover battle and had three to the Eagles zero. They couldn’t tackle. Constantly they let Philly’s ball carriers bounce around tackles into the open field, and fall through others across the first down marker. LaGarette Blount’s monster truck touchdown best exemplifies this.

The strangest of all was their third down defense. Opponents picked up a first down on third down 25.8% of the time. Their defensive DVOA on 3rd and 4th down was -43.4%. In the conference title the Eagles converted third downs into first downs 71.4% of the time. The historically great part of this defense fell apart. Their entire team fell apart.

10.) Interior Defensive Linemen

At this point of the postseason the quarterbacks are the spine of the novel. The last four left are what matters. Case Keenum, Nick Foles, Tom Brady, and Blake Bortles were scribbled about and squabbled over.

During the game they were still the focal points. The Jaguars put Bortles in a cozy situation and he delivered until he couldn’t lead the BIG drive, Tom Brady was pin pointing shots all over the field, Nick Foles crawled out of 2013, and Case Keenum’s glass slipper turned into a post-apocalyptic cannibal’s trash mangled patchwork boots.

My favorite position group were the defensive players on the inside nobody mentioned. Marcel Dareus was impossible to block in the run game. Taking on double teams, and driving single blocks into the backfield. He also had a spectacular sack where he put the very good Shaq Mason on his back. Weirdly, he rushed the passer from the interior better than both Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell. He had three other tackles to go along with his sack.

The Patriots nose tackle, Malcolm Brown corralled the Jaguars run game. They couldn’t drive him off the point of attack. Leonard Fournette had 10 carries for 24 yards up the middle, and averaged 3.55 yards a carry when you expand this to over the left and right guards, areas of the field he has to crawl over to, or has an indirect impact on. He was the best run defender the Patriots had. He made 4 tackles where the back gained two yards or less.

The Vikings couldn’t tackle at all. Linval Joseph could. He was the only one who could bash LaGarrette Blount backwards. He was the only one who didn’t allow the Eagles ball carrier to swoop forward for extra yards after contact. He came into late of plays and threw his body to extinguish life dragging forward for more. The enormous man with two hooped earrings was incredible on Sunday Night. It’s a shame he’s so under rated.

Fletcher Cox was quieter than usual. In most games he’s boisterous. Bringing interior pressure, maneuvering around individual blocks to make tackles for a loss. It’s hard to be as debilitating when the game is over, and you are just hanging around waiting for celebrations. But for the first part of the game he was awesome. He did what he always does, take on the first blocker in a double team, ignore the second one, and ruin the most important block of a run scheme—the playside double team.