The NFL media are already moving on to the offseason, but I wanted to go through the coaching tape of the Super Bowl and have some things to say before I take a little break and start preparing for the next year.
It might seem an odd place to start, given that one of the things I do as a writer is create narratives around games, but the first thing I want to look at is the narrative surrounding Tom Brady and complain. To me it seems reductive and absurd to place as much emphasis on how many Super Bowls a quarterback wins when weighing his career as has been done since Brady won his fourth. There is no doubt that Brady has had an amazing career, and deserves to be in the conversation with the very best who have played the game, but his legacy should not rest quite so heavily on whether an undrafted rookie corner back makes a great interception at the end of the game or not. The game of American football is one of teams and coaches, and whilst playing quarterback is one of the most complex tasks we ask of an athlete, and there is perhaps no more important single player on the field of play, the quarterback simply cannot win games on their own even if they can possibly lose them. Just look at what happened to Aaron Rodgers this year, or Dan Marino across his career for evidence of how outstanding quarterback play doesn’t guarantee you a Super Bowl ring, Peyton Manning would have a few more if it did.
The other frustration coming out of the Super Bowl was the narrative surrounding the Seahawks play call that led to Russell Wilson throwing an interception from the Patriots’ one yard line with twenty six seconds left on the clock. Now I don’t like the call, and running the ball would seem to be the answer in this situation when you have one of the great power backs in the game, but it was Pete Carroll’s aggressive nature that got them into the position to win this game, as how many coaches would have had the conversation he did with Russell Wilson with six seconds left in the first half and agree to throw the ball to try to get the touchdown and risk not getting any points, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when he makes another aggressive call. You can’t divorce the result from the call when evaluating a play, but given the sensationalist nature of society which seems to mean that everything is either the best or worst thing to have happened, ever… then call maybe wasn’t as bad as some would have you believe. Still, you run the ball there don’t you? I would.
So what did I learn from watching the game back on film? Well everybody is saying that this was an instant classic, and I agree. We had two well coached teams that played to very high standard, and who gave us an exciting close game that went back and forth. Either team could have won, and with a few different bounces of the ball could have done so.
The first big story of the game for me was health, and specifically that of the Seattle defence. As people have be tweeting and writing, it wasn’t so much the Legion of Boom as the Legion of Wound. We already knew that Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were injured, and Kam Chancellor came into the game with a knee injury, but all three injuries were more serious than they were letting on and are facing various surgeries this offseason. In the actual game they all played very well, with perhaps a few occasions where Rob Gronkowski got away from Chancellor enough to make plays being the most obvious effect. However, it was the cumulative effect of the injuries on defence that got them in the end.
In the first quarter the Seahawks couldn’t get anything going on offence, and so their defence spent a lot of time on the field, holding true to Caroll’s bend don’t’ break philosophy and coming up with a huge end zone pick when Brady let fly with a pass vaguely intended for Julian Edleman. The pass was not a good one, but this play almost turned the game in the Patriots favour in a strange way. Jeremy Lane took a couple of steps back to drop into a zone coverage, and intercepted the ball, but on the ensuing run back he landed awkwardly, breaking both bones in his forearm and putting him out of the game.
As a result of this, Tharold Simon came into the game as the nickel corner, although it was Byron Maxwell who slid in to cover the slot receiver with Simon on the outside. This in of itself might not have been a problem, as he did well when matched up against Brandon LaFell going deep, but he did not have the lateral quickness to keep with the shifty Edleman. This being the well coached game that it was, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels were not going to miss this opportunity, and you could frequently see Edleman coming across the field with Smith trailing behind him. This use of slot receiver style quick underneath routes both attacked the weak areas of the Seahawks scheme and played to the strength of Brady.
The other injury on the Seahawks defence that helped the Patriots offensive performance was the loss of Cliff Avril in the third quarter, slowing a pass rush that was already struggling to reach Brady. The Patriots o-line did enough to keep the passing game working, but it was the quick drops and passes by Brady that won this game. The Patriots couldn’t run the ball except occasionally when it was setup by the pass, but the accumulation of these injuries to the Seahawks defence helped enable it.
So if the defence of the Seahawks couldn’t stifle the Patriots enough to win, what happened on the other side of the ball? This year’s Patriots defence was the best they’ve had for years and their secondary was more than enough to cope with the Seahawks’ starters. In fact for most of the game, the Seahawks moved the ball in bursts. Their running game was pretty effective, although I was surprised that they didn’t run Rusell Wilson more, but they struggled to maintain drives. However, for a while it did look like the MVP was going to be a receiver who had never caught a pass in the NFL before this game.
The six foot five Chris Matthews announced himself in the biggest game of his career with a forty-four yard catch over the five foot ten Kyle Arrington, and this match up was such a problem that Arrington ended up coming out of the game for Malcolm Butler, and Brandon Browner begged for the assignment of covering the tall Seattle receiver. Matthews caught the touchdown that tied up the scores at half time, and finished the game with over one hundred yards receiving and that touchdown, but he did struggle once the Patriots adjusted. That said, the Seahawks really should have won this game, even if the Patriots did have the upper hand for arguably three quarters.
It will be interesting to see how Pete Carroll picks up the pieces of the aftermath of this game, and build a team next season having lost coaches and with everyone second guessing that play call.
The Patriots will probably roll on, but they have their own offseason moves to make, and at some point Tom Brady might stop being able to do this.
I am going to ease off a bit as we head into the offseason as I want to do a self scout of what I did with the blog this year and come up with ways to improve for next season.
I will leave you with three plays that jumped out on me as I watched the tape. I’ll begin with the first Juliain Edleman catch against Simons, where he started as the outside receiver, ran a drag route across the field, caught the ball and went for twenty-three yards. Second was a screen to Shane Vereen that caught my eye as I was generally unimpressed by the Patriots o-line in the run game, but centre Bryan Stork did a really good job of getting out to the linebacker on this play so Vereen could go down the sideline.
The final play that stands out, in a year of impossible catches, was Jermaine Kearse catching that deep ball, despite Butler making a good play on the ball and it bouncing off three parts of Kearse’s body before he was able to reel it in. It may not have been better than the Odell Beckham catch, but it’s a pretty good way to leave the 2014 season.