And then there were four …
In honor of the NFL’s upcoming Championship Sunday, here’s a look at Four Plays That Resonate from last weekend’s divisional round, one that’s identifiable with each team still playing and one that’s reflective of what it takes to make it this far, let alone go all the way.
In no particular order of significance, they are:
Burrow-to-Chase: Third-and-goal from the Buffalo 10-yard line, second quarter, Cincinnati ahead, 14-7. Quarterback Joe Burrow’s pass to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was ultimately further reviewed from a touchdown into an incompletion. But it was still a great throw and a great catch under duress no matter what the rule said, a strike into double-coverage that included Bills All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano. And it revealed much regarding the Bengals’ approach on offense.
Chase was covered and Burrow went to him, anyway. This wasn’t “take what the defense gives you.” This was a determination to score, not to avoid a turnover.
This was Burrow going to his best play-maker when a play needed to be made. This is what makes Burrow who he is at his core. And it’s what’s driving the Bengals toward a second consecutive appearance in the Super Bowl.
The Gold Standard: Third-and-5 for Dallas from the San Francisco 40, with the 49ers and Cowboys tied, 9-9, in the third quarter. Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb lined up in the right slot and ran down the seam. The 49ers countered by pressuring off the slot in from of Lamb and by having middle linebacker Fred Warner drop from a stand-up position along the defensive line between the center and left guard back to where Lamb’s route was headed. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Warner got there and he had the coverage.
A remarkable play by a remarkable player.
This wasn’t a defense getting stuck with a linebacker on a receiver and living with it because that’s what happens sometimes based on personnel and formation. This was by design, the 49ers opting to have that linebacker cover that receiver on purpose. And it worked. The slot pressure resulted in a free rusher and affected Dak Prescott’s throw and Warner did the rest.
You can do a lot of things defensively if you have an inside linebacker that can do that, in addition to registering nine tackles, a tackle for a loss, an interception and a pass defensed.
The Quarterback Must Go Down: The Eagles got after Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, and any one of their five sacks can stand as an example of how Philadelphia plays championship-caliber defense. The Eagles had 70 sacks during the regular season, and they had four players with at least 11 (linebacker Haason Redick 16, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave 11, defensive end Brandon Graham 11 and defensive end Josh Sweat 11). It’s the first time a team has had four players with 10-plus sacks each since 1982.
Dominating defense begins with a dominant defensive line.
Special K: Another compilation here as opposed to a specific play, but the point is made by the volume of what Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce accomplished against the Jaguars (14 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns). Kelce was targeted 17 times. The Chiefs attempted 37 passes, which means they threw it to Kelce approximately half the time (46 percent, to be exact) they threw the ball forward.
More evidence that elite offense includes an element of bravado that puts the onus on the defense to deal with what the offense is bringing, even if the defense knows it’s coming.
The Steelers need to work on that aspect of their game first and foremost.
Traditionally, they’re more than good enough at bringing pressure.
And they can look long and hard and still not find another Fred Warner (although the endeavor to be better at inside linebacker must continue).
Their next step needs to be trusting their young quarterback and their array of young play-makers.
Hopefully, they were paying particular attention to the Chiefs and the Bengals.