Aaron Rodgers, Adam Thielen, Andrew Sandejo, Bill Belichick, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, Chris Long, Doug Pederson, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, NFL, Pat Shurmur, Philadelphia Eagles, Sam Bradford, Stefon Diggs, Teddy Bridgewater, Tom Brady, Xavier Rhodes
So between illness and life it feels like a while since I’ve had a chance to sit down and get things written for the blog or said on the podcast.
The conference championship games from last weekend produced one blow out and once close contest, and the two losers have very different problems to face in the offseason although both have questions surrounding their quarterbacks.
In the first game the Jacksonville Jaguars fell to a seemingly inevitable Tom Brady comeback that put the New Patriots back into the Super Bowl again. I say again as this is the eighth time that Brady and Belichick have made the final game since 2001 but more on that next week. The Patriots had to stage another comeback because for a large chunk of this game the Jaguars were in the lead. In fact they took the lead at the start of the second quarter and didn’t relinquish it until 2:48 in the fourth quarter. The defence looked to control the Patriots whilst Blake Bortles looked good, throwing for nearly three hundred yards and a touchdown without turning the ball over. There has been much discussion of the decision to kneel with fifty second left in the second quarter and I agree that this was a contributing factor but the problem for me arose in the second half for the Jaguars’ offence. I’ve heard some say that the play calling was to conservative and others that the Patriots adjusted and that the Jaguars ran out of plays. It is hard for me to comment on how many passing plays the Jaguars had prepared, but the run on first down and lack of play action short throws did make it feel like the Jaguars were trying to protect their lead late in the game when I was watching this game for the first time. I’m going to go back and look at the Jaguars offence on coaching tape to see what happened this week so I might come back to this later.
The Jaguars themselves felt like they were the better roster after this game and couldn’t quite believe that they lost, but once again the Patriots proved themselves to be the masters of situational football and this is a team game. The good news is that the Jaguars have made plenty of progress and have a young foundation to build upon next year. As I watched the game I was thinking that Bortles had taken a step having come through two games of playoff pressure, but with an option that pays him nineteen million dollars next season, there still seems to be a lot of expectation that he might not be retained. I don’t really want to second guess this, but it will be the big turning point of the Jaguars’ offseason as they can either exercise the nineteen million option, sign him to a long term deal or cut him. There is nothing to say that he won’t sign a long term deal at a number that helps the Jaguars continue to build a team, after all that is what Brady has done, but I suspect regardless of what happens with the quarterback, this team will be making noise next year. The question is where the offence can live up to the standards the defence has set this season.
The second game started well for the Minnesota Vikings, with them taking a 7-0 lead and moving the ball well until Case Keenum had his throwing motion altered by the Eagle’s Chris Long on a play in the second Vikings’ drive that caused Keenum to throw an interception and then things fell spectacularly apart. The Vikings were not to score another point as the Philadelphia Eagles ran out easy 38-7 winners.
There must be a familiar sense of doom for Vikings fans given their history of tough playoff losses but following their miracle win the week before, the Vikings just couldn’t find a way to compete. On offence they simply were unable to cope with the depth of the Eagles’ defensive line and the pass rush stopped what had been a formidable offence as Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen can’t do much if Case Keenum can’t get them the ball. The Vikings quarterback only took one sack but was not comfortable and the Vikings could keep their offence balanced as they fell further behind the Eagles.
Perhaps more surprising was how much the Vikings defence struggled against the Eagles’ offence. This was a unit that had been historically good on third down this season ranked second by DVOA with a far more even split between rush and pass defence than the Jaguars ranked above them. However, Doug Pederson found a way to maximise the abilities of his backup quarterback (albeit a highly qualified one) and demonstrated a big improvement from the previous week’s narrow win over the Falcons. This was a matchup I was really looking forward to as Zimmer is one of the best defensive minds in the game but he seemed to have no answer to the Eagles in this game. The loss of Andrew Sandejo in the game had a dentrimental effect and was something I noticed when he went out against the Saints the week before, and Xavier Rhodes was also struggling with a toe injury that saw him leave the for a stretch and although he battled, the defence clearly struggled. I’ll be taking a look at the Eagles offence next week as I prep for the Super Bowl so these injuries will be worth paying attention to then.
The tough thing for the Vikings as they head into the offseason is that not only do they currently have three quarterbacks going into free agency, but they have an established defence with many players already getting paid and a pair of linebacker starters expiring at the end of next season. This means they can’t really afford to wait around on developing a quarterback but with the multiple injuries of Sam Bradford meaning you can’t rely on him to play, the fact that Teddy Bridgewater has barely played in two years thanks to his horrific knee injury, and Case Keenum only having a year of quality starting who do you sign and at what size contract is a huge question. That’s if the Vikings even stick to the quarterbacks on their roster, but with offensive co-ordinator Pat Shurmur moving on to become the head coach of the New York Giants the Vikings will have a new offensive co-ordinator who they will be picking from those still available. The impressive thing Shurmur managed this year was to build a functioning offensive line and make the most out of a starting quarterback who had not achieved to this level before. An offseason of change on offence awaits and whilst it is certainly not impossible that the Vikings will be good on offence again next season given the quality of skill players theu have, Mike Zimmer and his staff face a big challenge going into next season. I have a lot of faith in Zimmer and I’m not saying they can’t do it, but you wouldn’t necessary count on it and with Aaron Rodgers coming back from the injury for the Green Bay Packers the NFC North could be a hard division for the Vikings to win again next season.