Five Lessons Learned From the NFL’s Final Four Playoff Teams


News / World 7 Views

Getty Photographs/Ringer illustration

The Titans, Chiefs, Packers, and 49ers took very totally different routes to get to championship weekend, however these teams share some philosophies that have helped them within the common season and throughout the playoffs

The outcomes from a (decidedly wild) divisional spherical have been all over. San Francisco stomped the Vikings in a ho-hum 27-10 drubbing. The Packers knocked off Seattle in a duel between two future Corridor of Fame quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs erased a 24-Zero deficit towards the Texans like it was absolutely nothing. And the Titans pulled off one of many largest playoff upsets ever in a surprising blowout win over the Ravens. It might not look like there are various overarching takeaways available from that type of slate, however I attempted to land on five lessons that we will take away from a frenetic weekend of soccer—and the ultimate 4 teams nonetheless in the hunt for the Tremendous Bowl.

1. You often need multiple method to win within the playoffs.

Some have used the Titans’ current upsets as proof that a bruising operating recreation is a necessity come playoff time, but I don’t know—the Chiefs still dropped 51 points on the Texans on Sunday with Patrick Mahomes as their main rusher. What Derrick Henry has completed this postseason is unprecedented, and he’s by some means doing it regardless of how many defenders get thrown at him. The Ravens put eight or more defenders in the field on 63 percent of Henry’s carries on Saturday, and he completed with 124 yards on these 19 attempts. That simply shouldn’t be attainable. Henry is borderline unstoppable proper now, however Tennessee will possible nonetheless want respectable manufacturing from Ryan Tannehill and its passing recreation to upset the Chiefs at Arrowhead in the AFC championship recreation.

When the Titans beat Kansas Metropolis in a 35-32 shootout in November, Henry finished with 188 yards and two touchdowns, however Tannehill also threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 makes an attempt. Tennessee has clearly tapped into something particular with Henry, however the takeaway here shouldn’t be that each staff needs to build across the operating recreation to smash its method by way of the playoffs. It’s that building a flexible, versatile offense is a large advantage come playoff time.

The Patriots have been doing this for years. Underneath Bill Belichick, New England has been capable of rework into a special group from week to week within the postseason. In 2015, LeGarrette Blount carried the ball 3 times for one yard within the Pats’ 35-31 divisional-round win over the Ravens. The following week, he ran it 30 occasions for 148 yards and three touchdowns towards the Colts. This model of the Titans would by no means vacillate that a lot from recreation to recreation—and with Henry enjoying like this, it shouldn’t. However Tennessee has needed the large photographs off of its play-action passing recreation to get so far and it’ll want them going forward to have any probability at stealing a Super Bowl. Teams don’t have to construct their offenses round a 250-pound bulldozer at operating again to seek out success come playoff time. However as long as it’s a part of a broader offensive plan, it’s definitely a luxury to have the ability to hand it to that guy 30 occasions if needed.

2. Constructing a championship roster is a year-round job.

Late last week, the Packers added right deal with Bryan Bulaga to the damage report with an illness. Bulaga was lively for Sunday’s recreation towards Seattle, however during warm-ups, he decided there was no means he might go. Enter Jared Veldheer. The 10-year veteran went to coaching camp with the Patriots this summer time, but ultimately retired earlier than the season started. In late November, though, the Packers have been trying to bolster their deal with depth and managed to coax Veldheer out of retirement. The move paid off in an enormous means. Veldheer performed all 63 snaps towards the Seahawks on Sunday and didn’t permit a single strain on Aaron Rodgers.

That’s a stark contrast to what transpired the final time Inexperienced Bay’s starting proper deal with missed time with an damage. When Bulaga went down early within the Packers’ loss to San Francisco earlier this season, backup Alex Mild struggled to decelerate Nick Bosa. The Niners cross rush is a special beast than a Seattle entrance that featured an injured Jadeveon Clowney, however Veldheer pitching a shutout about studying he’d be beginning about 10 minutes earlier than the sport is exceptional regardless of the competitors. On the sideline in the course of the recreation, Veldheer advised Rodgers that he’d watched the Packers’ Week 1 recreation in Chicago from the stands. 4 months later, he was beginning in front of 79,000 individuals in Lambeau Area.

The Titans also obtained some key contributions from their own late-season addition. Cornerback Tramaine Brock had been with the Cardinals all yr before he was released on December 2. Tennessee claimed him the subsequent day. After dropping Malcolm Butler to a season-ending damage in early November, the Titans wanted cornerback depth, however Brock has offered them with far more than that. Brock has played at the least 45 snaps in each of his six games with Tennessee (including the regular season and playoffs), and he was on the sector for 83 plays towards the Ravens on Saturday. The 31-year-old had a superb move breakup on a second-and-10 throw to Marquise Brown early within the second quarter and made several sound plays within the open area. On Brock’s four tackles, the Ravens gained a total of zero yards after the catch. Neither Brock nor Veldheer was a splashy signing in the course of the first week in free agency, however they both got here by way of within the largest video games of the yr.

3. A dominant cross rush can still carry a protection within the playoffs.

Prime defenses like the Patriots and Ravens stifled opponents all yr with their deep, gifted secondaries, but in high-leverage moments, it still pays to have guys who can just get to the quarterback. Huge-time move rush performances have been a theme throughout the divisional spherical. Titans defensive deal with Jurrell Casey tallied two sacks towards a Ravens offensive line that had been strong in move protection for a lot of the season. Nick Bosa completed with two sacks and 7 hurries as he terrorized Vikings left deal with Riley Reiff. Packers star Za’Darius Smith was all over the place towards the Seahawks on Sunday. It didn’t matter whether or not he was on the suitable aspect, the left, or standing up over the middle—he was stepping into the backfield. Smith finished with two sacks and 11 complete pressures towards Seattle, regardless of dealing with constant double-teams. Fellow 2019 free-agent acquisition Preston Smith additionally added two sacks for Inexperienced Bay, together with an important one which pressured a Seattle punt late within the fourth quarter. The power to get after the quarterback with the entrance 4 remains an important advantage come playoff time.

four. A strong operating recreation doesn’t need to depend on brute energy.

Once I went back to observe all of Derrick Henry’s runs from Saturday’s win, I used to be curious what sort of wrinkles the Tennessee coaching employees put in place to assist propel his massive day. The reply was, “Not many.” The Titans are steamrolling defenses utilizing quite a lot of zone runs out of (principally) heavy personnel packages, and relying on Henry to make one ridiculous reduce after another. Their strategy is soccer boiled right down to its essence: Our guys are going to push your guys around.

That’s a nice method in the event you can pull it off, however the Niners are proof that there are other methods to run the ball successfully. San Francisco’s operating recreation includes a dizzying array of formations and motions which are designed to confuse defenses while making life easier for blockers. Take this Raheem Mostert run from the first quarter of Saturday’s recreation towards Minnesota. San Francisco is lined up in a reasonably commonplace three-receiver set, with Mostert off to the left. However just earlier than the snap, extensive receiver Kendrick Bourne goes in motion from left to right, then stops in his tracks and sprints back throughout the formation with a ghost motion.

Watch the impact that action has on Minnesota’s defense. Linebacker Anthony Barr follows Bourne into the flat and utterly takes himself out of the play. Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks bumps down a niche, which provides the offensive linemen a greater angle to work up to him. The suitable deal with and proper guard get great movement on the double-team, however the play design does a number of the heavy lifting for the Niners on a reasonably straightforward 10-yard achieve.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan typically makes use of deception to his advantage, however he’s also achieved a superb job of blending quite a lot of schemes into an offense that’s traditionally targeted on zone runs. The Niners have included several types of hole and energy runs over the course of the season, and it’s left defenses notably off-balance all yr.

5. Defensive blueprints don’t all the time carry over.

Patrick Mahomes has—by his standards—struggled towards man coverage this season. Each the Lions and Colts played heavy quantities of man to sluggish Mahomes down earlier within the yr, and the Texans adopted an analogous recreation plan on Sunday. Welp.

Mahomes shredded Houston’s tight man coverage, to the tune of 321 yards and five touchdowns. Armed with the information that the Texans have been enjoying principally man, Andy Reid devised a recreation plan to take advantage of that protection. The Chiefs used a ton of change and rub routes that obtained Houston’s defenders caught up in visitors, and the Texans had completely no answer for Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill one-on-one.

It’s tempting to take a look at a number of the outcomes from earlier within the yr and assume that a steady food regimen of man protection is the easiest way to include Mahomes, but the reigning MVP was banged up throughout a superb portion of those games. Mahomes was unimaginable against man coverage last season, and when Reid knows what’s coming, he will help make all of it look straightforward.