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Super Bowl LVI: Pass Rush Analysis

Normally for the two teams in the Super Bowl, I watch games in which they share a common opponent to gauge their pass rush productivity. This year, I’ll avoid watching games involving division rivals - the familiarity factor really screws things up. It’s much better watching games in which the teams are playing against a common opponent that’s not all too familiar with either team, in order to assess things as fairly as possible.

On top of that, the two teams had to have faced these common opponents in roughly the same time period. It’s not fair if both teams have faced off against the common opponent on opposite ends of the schedule, especially the way teams tend to evolve over the season.

This year, the Bengals and the Rams only share one common opponent that’s not a division rival - the Green Bay Packers. It’s not an entirely equitable comparison given both clubs faced off against Green Bay seven weeks apart. But it’s the best common point the two teams shared this season, so here we are.


Packers @ Bengals

Hurries - 6
Hits - 4
Tackles for No Gain - 4

Total Number of Plays - 56

Rams @ Packers

Hurries - 9
Hits - 5
Tackles for No Gain - 5
Penalties - 2

Total Number of Plays - 73


Rams @ 49ers

Hurries - 2
Hits - 1
Tackles for No Gain - 10
Penalties - 0

Total Number of Plays - 58


49ers @ Bengals

Hurries - 5
Hits - 10
Tackles for No Gain - 3
Penalties - 1

Total Number of Plays - 64

2021 Playoffs: Thoughts Before Conference Championships

Last weekend was full of ups and downs for me. Saturday was a remarkably bad day for me, starting with the Titans offense choking hard against a young Bengals club I clearly underestimated. The Packers losing to the 49ers wasn’t quite as shocking, but the manner in which they lost was…outrageous. In fact, the whole game was a mess with both teams producing dud performances on offense. San Francisco’s offense didn’t even find the end zone once, but the team still won thanks to an exceptionally strong performance from its defense as well as Green Bay shooting off its toes in the fourth quarter.

Sunday was beautiful though. I nailed both games, though the Chiefs game did give me some IBS towards the end. Kansas coughing up two touchdowns against a guy that hasn’t mounted a comeback in more than a year was unsettling. The worst part is that the Chiefs had multiple opportunities to close out drives on fourth down, but they let Josh Allen MacGyver his way toward conversions.

So one thing I learned - I truly undervalued offense. On top of that, I terribly overestimated Tennessee’s offensive potential. Todd Downing isn’t some ingenuous offensive mind - he’s an idiot. Forcing Derrick Henry to tote the rock for much of the game even though D’Onta Foreman was so much more productive in that same role is inadvisable. Not being able to move the ball forward one stinking yard on two successive downs is a fireable offense, period. On top of that, Tannehill just forcing balls late into tight windows ended up giving the Bengals three turnovers. Then again, when your offense isn’t adjusting to its strengths and insisting on doubling down on a losing strategy, your offense loses whatever charm and ingenuity powered it through some tough moments. Without a competent ground game and Tannehill not showing any inclination to run the ball, Tennessee’s offense was reduced to A.J. Brown (with some dash of Julio Jones). Not good. In that respect, Tennessee may have rolled into the postseason with the worst offense of the 14 playoff teams.

Anyway, let’s get to this. I feel much more confident analyzing these remaining teams now that I have two weeks worth of playoff data on them.


Bengals @ Chiefs (-7.5)

Am I the only one seriously wondering why the Chiefs are giving more than a touchdown here?

Forget the fact that the Bengals have beaten Kansas just a few weeks ago. Cincinnati is much more of a complete team than I initially thought, especially now that playoff experience isn’t much a concern any more. The Bengals actually have a more complete offense compared to Kansas City, given Burrow is an elite quarterback while Mahomes hasn’t been consistent enough to merit elite designation. Defensively, things are a bit of a wash given both teams have one truly dominant defensive lineman and another edge rusher in a sidekick role.

One can argue Kansas has a coaching advantage with the duo of Andy Reid and Steve Spagnuolo competing strategically against Zac Taylor and Lou Anarumo. But Anarumo actually impressed me last week with the way his defense was able to stunt Tennessee’s attempts to establish the ground game. Spags on the other hand has me questioning his competence given all the yards and points he let up against Josh Allen in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. I know Tyrann Matthieu being out with a concussion didn’t help him one bit, but it was still pretty shameful the way Allen marched his offense down the field on two separate lead-changing drives. So for simplicity’s sake, let’s consider coaching a wash too.

If Mahomes isn’t playing in elite form this Sunday, the Chiefs only have one definitive advantage over Cincinnati - home field advantage. Noticed I emphasized the word “definitive” in that last statement - Kansas has also proven itself capable of mounting comebacks whereas Cincinnati’s losses their season leave some reason for doubt. But given the poise they showed last week while Tennessee’s defense was bullying them relentlessly, it’s very possible the Bengals are more than capable of coming back should they fall behind drastically.

For Kansas to win decisively, Mahomes needs to be elite. I’m sure Chiefs backers are more hyped than ever on their quarterback’s potential given the way things unfolded against Buffalo, but I’m still not fully sold. His performance was too uneven early in the season - for him to really reform into a first-class passer would be damn near magical, thought not impossible. We’ve seen it done before with Nick Foles.

Still…give me the Bengals here, both against the spread and the moneyline. I’m on the underdog train here.


49ers @ Rams (-3.5)

I love the 49ers in this spot. It’s difficult for any one team to beat another team three times straight in the same season, but it’s been done several times over the past decade or so. Given the way San Francisco was able to physically dominate the Los Angeles at the line of scrimmage just a few weeks ago, I say we’ll see another one of those hat tricks this year.

How does Los Angeles adjust when the other team is just so physically dominant and maybe even more intellectually capable than them? For one thing, McVay will need to introduce concepts that hasn’t been featured much on film this year. Second, the defense will need to force some ugly turnovers from Jimmy G. Third, Matthew Stafford has to compose himself against this ferocious 49er front. His tendency to make regrettable decisions under pressure has screwed the team way too many times this season, especially against San Francisco

Can all these things be achieved? Sure, but the odds are incredibly remote. The reality is that Sean McVay isn’t known for changing things much, especially this late in the season. Perhaps a few gadget concepts will be introduced into the playbook, but these Rams prefer not to stray too far from their philosophy on both sides of the ball, even if doing so would help them tackle certain opponents better. Lacking that ability to adapt doesn’t serve them well here against objectively superior competition like the 49ers.

In the end, the Rams are a team facing an uphill battle here, despite the spread telling people otherwise. Give me the 49ers, both against the spread and the moneyline.

Division Round Insights

Bengals @ Titans

Tennessee is just depressing me. Even if they win, it’s a horrible win. I need to re-assess the continuity of the offensive line here. It’s a line that’s really struggling to get any push up front in the running game. Now they have all their starters back, but it hasn’t really amounted to much - Cincinnati is winning the battles in the trenches.

Credit to Lou Anaramo. Disguising coverages, lining up heavy along the front…it’s clear the defensive coaches behind the Bengals are fully aware Tennessee wants nothing more than to just run the ball. Even though the Bengals are giving up yards in the game, they’re not giving up much in terms of success rate, which is what ultimately matters.

So it appears Zac Taylor has adjusted in the second half by opting to run Mixon more, possibly out of heavy formation. Smart adjustment.

One yard away and Tennessee couldn’t gain that one yard to earn a new series of downs. I don’t get it. If Julio Jones or AJ Brown weren’t on the field, then Cincinnati was tipped off all so easily that both would be running plays. That would confirm to me that Tennessee has absolute shit coaching on the offensive side of the ball.

Regardless of who wins this game, one thing is evident to me - when your coaching is arguably shit and you literally shoot yourself in the foot by refusing to bench somebody who’s clearly not playing at full throttle, your offense is worthless. Tennessee has had two weapons really contributing for them the entire game - AJ Brown and Julio Jones. If D’Onta Foreman was more of a focal point in the ground game instead of Derrick Henry, then this could potentially be a blowout. But with only two vectors out there, this Tennessee offense has been ground to a halt.


49ers @ Packers

Let this game serve as further proof that even a dominant receiver can only do so much against a tough defense. I’m thinking my mistake this season was not sticking with my fibonacci style of grading when it comes to evaluating offensive weaponry. A team with limited weapons can be so easily shut down, even with an elite quarterback at the helm.

Randall Cobb isn’t contributing much returning from injury. Never count on a player returning from devastating injury in the postseason. A player needs at least a few games to fully turn up.

One thing I’m beginning to reassess is the value of a quarterback’s mobility. Don’t get me wrong, some quarterbacks build their game on top of their ability to run. But that’s exactly it - quarterbacks running with the ball by design is very different from quarterbacks scrambling with the ball. And in that sense, a quarterback able to run with the ball shouldn’t be considered an additional dimension on offense.

Rodgers is clearly irritated in the fourth quarter. Some of his throws to Davonte Adams are being forced or off-target. So uncharacteristic of Rodgers, but when a team lacks toughness, mistakes like this can happen.


Rams @ Buccaneers

One drive in and Tampa Bay hasn’t done much to pressure Matthew Stafford. The Rams were limited to a field goal due to McVay calling a few questionable plays in the end zone (double-dig and fade to Van Jefferson).

Cam Akers, Odell Beckham, Tyler Higbee….the Rams are having all these weapons emerge just at the right time.

In the second half, the Rams were all too eager to drain the clock instead of put up more points. It was a very sad strategy that almost backfired when Brady tried to mount a comeback. Los Angeles has potential on offense, but McVay can’t be hitting the brake when an entire half has yet to play out.

Bowles had a hard time finding an antidote to this Rams offense. It’s a style of offense that just doesn’t play well with his philosophy on defense.


Bills @ Chiefs

Will be worth watching the Bills defense line to see if any of their players can generate some impactful plays.

It’s a little concerning watching the Chiefs resort to Mahomes running the ball on multiple occasions in the first drive to generate any production.

It took Josh Allen quite a few plays, but the Chiefs defense ultimately gave way and afforded him not one, but two lead-changing touchdowns late in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, Buffalo failed to come back successfully, but it was pretty remarkable to see Josh Allen successfully lead two touchdown drives to try and stamp Buffalo’s ticket into the playoffs. I need to be more careful assessing these teams and their backbone. It’s clear this Buffalo organization is very different from the team that was punched hard in the mouth in their first outing against New England.

Speaking of which, this Kansas defense disappointed me. They were given more than enough opportunity to finish off Josh Allen and company and they were unable to do just that. Not sure why. Perhaps Tyrann Matthieu not being back there really hurt them down the stretch, as the honey badger is so good at organizing the defensive backfield. Still…it’s inexcusable to let them convert on three fourth downs to try and steal the game away. Let this be a reminder that the defense is better than where it was earlier in the season, but it’s still remarkably pedestrian in many ways.

2021 Playoffs: Thoughts Before Divisional Round

I decided to make this post in order to log my thoughts on these division games before they happen. After the weekend ends, I’ll be revisiting the words I wrote here to assess my estimations and understanding of all the teams involved in these games.


Bengals @ Titans

Cincinnati did well to ward off Las Vegas last week when they tried to stage a comeback. But the road for them has to end here. It just wouldn’t make sense otherwise.

Tennessee has too much raw talent and quality coaching for the Bengals to overcome. Cincinnati’s lone advantage here is at quarterback, but that alone can’t compensate for all the other cards the Titans hold over them, namely coaching and home field advantage. On top of that, Cincinnati hasn’t really proven itself a team capable of comebacks, especially on the road.

I expect the Titans to come firing out of the gates here on top of a wave of emotion. Tennessee should dominate this affair from start to finish.


49ers @ Packers

The Packers are on notice after San Francisco surprised folks last week with a decisive win over the Cowboys. And they certainly should be - San Francisco has some fierce potential here given the quality of their coaching as well as the overall talent of their roster.

The problem here is I’m not quite sure the 49ers are talented enough to upset Green Bay over on the frozen tundra in Wisconsin. I mean…San Francisco’s front only has one marquis player in Nick Bosa. If Bosa is shut down and nobody else can sustain consistent pressure against Rodgers, their defense will be picked apart - Rodgers is too damn good to not find somebody so long as his offensive line holds opposing pass rushers at bay long enough. To be fair though, San Francisco has a fair number of defensive linemen who can emerge as impact players, so it’s not as if the 49ers are hopeless defensively. Still, it won’t be easy for any of their linemen to break out against the game’s best quarterback.

What’s far more concerning is Jimmy Garoppalo. The man has a ceiling, something that was made abundantly clear last week against the Cowboys when he nearly gave the win away in the last third of the game. Garoppalo can manage a few touchdown drives here and there, but enduring success isn’t quite his forte, especially given his spotty track record this season staging comebacks. Sure, he waged a few successful road comebacks, but the key word there is “few” - he hasn’t done it enough to ward off my lingering doubts about his toughness.

In the end, San Francisco is a live dog when it comes to the spread. When it comes to winning though, give me the elite quarterback playing on his home turf.


Rams @ Buccaneers

It’s weird for me to think of the Rams as a legitimate contender here, but the reality is that Sean McVay and company have gotten the better of Tampa Bay twice now. His secret has always been invoking the hurry-up offense early and often. Tampa Bay has one of the league’s most aggressive defenses when it comes to rushing the passer, but that pass rush is neutered if a team opts to sell the pass rush short.

Although now that I’m watching the tape from their last game back in September…I notice Bowles finally wised up in the second half, electing to play the Rams much more conservatively by sending only four men to rush the passer while the rest dropped back into some sort of hybrid zone/man coverage. And it still didn’t work - Stafford was given way too much oxygen in the pocket. Shaquil Barrett in particular really failed to impact the game much. One could argue Jason Pierre-Paul not being present that day really set their pass rush back, but given his limited production this season, that argument doesn’t hold much weight.

So if we assume the Rams have proven themselves superior to the Buccaneers regardless of coaching adjustments, how can Tampa Bay win the game? I’m not sure. Los Angeles hasn’t really suffered any major setbacks between then and now. Yes, Robert Woods will no longer be there, but it seems the organization has found a suitable replacement in Odell Beckham. On top of that, the pass rush has been upgraded now that Von Miller has joined the roster. Leonard Floyd never really developed into that cornerstone piece capable of complimenting Aaron Donald inside the trenches, but Miller has that potential so long as the coaches can regulate his snap count to keep him fresh.

Now Tampa on the other hand…their roster has been suffering setback after setback for the better part of the season. Sure, a few players are expected to return just in time for this game, but it’s quite possible there’ll still be vital players absent on Sunday, namely offensive linemen. And for those men returning this week, in what shape are they in? Are they fully healthy? Bruce Arians isn’t necessarily above forcing roster personnel into action even if they haven’t fully recovered from whatever kept them inactive. If anything, throwing injured players into battle may end up being detrimental to the club’s chances of winning.

The only clear advantage Tampa has entering this contest will be home field advantage. Other than that, not much has changed, and that doesn’t bode well for the defending champs. I’m not sure the hostile vibes of enemy territory will be enough to kill Stafford and company, especially if McVay can just reuse the same concepts and plays that were so resoundingly successful in their regular season meeting.


Bills @ Chiefs

Ever since the Bills brutalized the Patriots last week, so many people have been too happy hopping on the Bills bandwagon. To be fair, it’s hard to really downplay their achievements after the way they’ve schooled Belichick and his boys over the past couple weeks. These Bills deserves serious credit for rediscovering their groove after being left for dead by those same Patriots that Monday night up in Buffalo.

That being said…this team is still lacking so many qualities that championship teams need to see their way through the postseason. They don’t have an elite quarterback. They don’t have any elite defensive linemen lining up in the trenches, let alone any players with elite potential. They’ve failed to mount a single comeback this season. Their strengths rest in all their diverse weaponry on offense as well as their overall coaching on both ends of the ball. While so many other playoff teams would love to have the coaching intellect Buffalo has in droves, it’s not enough by itself to win Super Bowls. Remember the cardinal rule underpinning my playoff model - no one thing can single-handedly carry a team to a Lombardi trophy. A team needs to be strong in a preponderance of championship aspects to be considered a legitimate contender to win the Super Bowl.

But that’s not what we’re evaluating here, is it? The question here is whether Buffalo is built to beat Kansas in the divisional round. And to be frank, it’s a possibility. The Bills have already beaten these Chiefs earlier in the season. But that was when this Kansas defense was at its lowest point of the year. It was comically inept. No longer the case anymore now that playoffs have begun. It’s pretty far from being a dominant unit, but it’s made tremendous strides towards the middle now that Chris Jones has shifted back to playing within his comfort zone from the interior of the defensive line. On top of that, Melvin Ingram has arrived as an edge rusher worthy of lining up opposite Frank Clark. The cornerbacks have been better in coverage too, something absolutely critical given how often the Chiefs love to blitz.

Furthermore, Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid have adjusted a bit on offense now that defenses are much more committed to playing deep coverage against Tyreek Hill. Mahomes is a bit more willing to throw the ball underneath. Byron Pringle’s also emerged as a possibly reliable third weapon alongside Kelce and Hill, so that should help. Will it be enough to change the outcome from that early-season outing? Quite possibly. I’m giving the edge here to Kansas City.

2021 Playoff Analysis Update

So I need to make some updates to some of the grades I gave out to some teams now that wild card weekend is over.


Cincinnati Bengals
Elite Quarterback
7 points
Joe Burrow
Premiere Offensive Weapons
2 points per player
Ja'Marr Chase
Tee Higgins
Joe Mixon / Samaje Perine
Elite Pass Rushers
4 points per player
Trey Hendrickson
Sam Hubbard
Quality Offensive Coaching
6 points
--
Quality Defensive Coaching
6 points
--
Number of Successful Comebacks
7 total points if the team successfully staged at least 3 comebacks
2
Elimination Game Experience
2 points each for offense, defense, and special teams units, provided a majority of key role players on a given unit have experience in elimination game scenarios.
Offense
Defense
Special Teams
Quarterback Elimination Game Experience
6 points if a quarterback has experience in an elimination game
Yes
Score Range
27 - 33

Now that the Bengals have a playoff game under their belt, the lack of postseason experience is no longer a major concern holding them back. Even though it’s arguable, I’ll award them full credit anyway when it comes to having the requisite postseason experience to succeed.


Los Angeles Rams
Elite Quarterback
7 points
--
Premiere Offensive Weapons
2 points per player
Cooper Kupp
Sony Michel
Odell Beckham
Tyler Higbee
Elite Pass Rushers
4 points per player
Aaron Donald
Von Miller
Quality Offensive Coaching
6 points
--
Quality Defensive Coaching
6 points
Raheem Morris
Number of Successful Comebacks
7 total points if the team successfully staged at least 3 comebacks
3
Elimination Game Experience
2 points each for offense, defense, and special teams units, provided a majority of key role players on a given unit have experience in elimination game scenarios.
Offense
Defense
Special Teams
Quarterback Elimination Game Experience
6 points if a quarterback has experience in an elimination game
Yes
Score Range
27 - 41

The Rams definitely deserve a good bit more credit on offense than I originally thought. Tyler Higbee and Odell Beckham were crucial to Los Angeles’ win over Arizona. Even though the Cardinals went out of their way to keep Cooper Kupp draped in double coverage, Stafford made some hay throwing the ball to Beckham and Higbee - in fact, their first couple touchdown drives could be attributed to those two serving as reliable outlets in the passing game.

Going into Tampa Bay, Los Angeles now has just enough weaponry to compensate for Kupp’s absence should Todd Bowles elect to snuff out the star receiver through aggressive bracket coverage. It’ll be a way more interesting game than I originally thought before the playoffs even began. An upset is very plausible.

2021 Wild Card Insights

Raiders @ Bengals

So far, the Bengals have yet to demonstrate any real nerves. Joe Burrow has been very calm and cool in his debut playoff drive.

Raiders and their cover-three are easy pickings for Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. Chase lining up along sidelines virtually guarantees him a one-vs-one match-up against Brandon Facyson.

Two Raiders drives in a row tainted by a false start that effectively killed their drives. It’s worth noting Las Vegas didn’t accrue any false start penalties in their crucial win last week against the Chargers. Who said home-field advantage didn’t matter?

Sam Hubbard has been a force in the first half. I might have made a mistake not considering him a potentially elite pass rusher.

Hmm…the Bengals actually holding up in pass protection against Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. Interesting…is that protection sustainable into the second half?

Well, simply put, this game was won in the trenches by the Bengals. The Raiders were never comfortable. Too many times Derek Carr looked lost while looking around for open players to catch his passes. Apparently, Cincinnati’s press coverage was so good. And yet it never occurred to Carr or offensive coordinator Greg Olson to run more timing routes or rub routes to take advantage of the Bengals playing such tight coverage.

Maybe Lou Anaramo deserves a bit more credit as a defensive mind than I thought, but I I can’t say for sure. Greg Olson is anything but a mastermind, so tamping down the Raider defense isn’t nearly as impressive as one might first judge.

In the end, Cincinnati won riding the game on their shoulders of their elite quarterback and home field advantage shaking these weak-minded Raiders. Odd that the Raiders mounting over four comebacks this season didn’t do them many favors in this game. Maybe what’s key is recording the exact nature of the comeback. Three of those comebacks came at home. The other comeback came against a Cleveland squad ravaged by COVID.


Patriots @ Bills

The Bills are playing contrary to the way they played in their last game against the Patriots. Instead of running crossing routes, receivers like Isaiah McKenzie are running whip routes back outside, forcing Patriot defenders to catch up from a trailing position. Some fine coaching courtesy of Brian Daboll.

Patriots are trying to catch the Bills off-guard too by having Mac Jones throw the ball from the get-go. Still, it’s not an easy ask for him to assume the mantle of production in hostile territory, especially with sub-zero wind chills.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have ignored momentum as much as I may did this year in my analysis. The Patriots were downright pathetic. It speaks volumes that the Bills were able to out-rush them, especially along the edges. New England was always a team that took pride in sealing the edge against opposing rushers, but Buffalo attacked the ends so easily. It was laughable.

It’s also possible the Patriots may have been hiding some injuries, particularly to Matthew Judon. But not once this season did Judon ever once appear on the injury report. I don’t get it. On top of that, the defense started really showing its age at times. Michael Lombardi is right - cold weather and age don’t pair well together.

It’s also possible Bill Belichick isn’t mentally all there and Steve Belichick isn’t anywhere close to fulling his father’s shoes as the team’s defensive signal caller. It’s two games in a row now that Buffalo hasn’t punted at all against this New England defense. Very sad. Their coaching will need to be called into question come next year.


Eagles @ Buccaneers

Tristan Wirfs being sent back into action after sustaining a pretty serious injury is worrisome. Speaks quite a bit to Bruce Arians’ mentality to send his players out to battle, regardless of their health.

Brady still having issues connecting with receivers not named Mike Evans or Rob Gronkowski.


49ers @ Cowboys

Good misdirection from Kyle Shanahan, running counter plays to the outside zone runs they normally run. A good example of why he’s a quality offensive coach.

Micah Parsons has damn well near impacted every single play he’s been on the field. Amazing.

Cowboys now resorting to the hurry-up offense to matriculate the ball downfield. It’s working tremendously. Credit to Kellen Moore for the adjustment here.

DeMeco Ryans throwing blitzes at Dak Prescott says all that needs to be said about what they thought about Dak Prescott. The 49ers aren’t a team taken to blitzing either, but against Dak, San Francisco wanted to turn the heat up on Dak, knowing he wouldn’t be able to respond in kind.

Neither of these teams showed much toughness down the stretch. Mistakes were abundant by both organizations.

Kellen Moore confuses me. I saw some moments of genius from him in this game (the wishbone, the sporadic use of the hurry-up offense, the wide receiver laterals), but not enough for my liking. More often than not, the Cowboys offense was too stale. It didn’t help that their offensive line lost a few too many battles in the trenches, but their bland formations didn’t help much in terms of misdirection.


Cardinals @ Rams

It’s clear Arizona is forcing Stafford to rely on receivers other than Cooper Kupp. So far though..Stafford’s adjusted by passing more to Tyler Higbee and Odell Beckham.

Andrew Whitworth possibility a liability at left tackle for the Rams.

Murray is so easily spooked. What’s the point of having Kliff Kingsbury scheme out plays on this offense if Murray is honestly too spooked to execute on his concepts?

McVay changed up his game plan a bit in the second half, specifically to incorporate more of Cooper Kupp. Either that or Vance Joseph is now invoking a more traditional style of defense since double covering Cupp has opened up major opportunities for Beckham and Higbee.

2021 Playoff Analysis: Introduction

With only a few weeks left before playoffs, it’s time to start analyzing postseason contenders.

The model I developed last season will be carried over here, with two major changes. Not only will overcoming double-digit deficits or staging late-game comebacks be considered in the model, but the reverse will be factored in as well. Any time a team blows a double-digit lead or loses the game late, it’ll be counted negatively towards them as a sign of weakness. The more I think about this, the more I think it’s fair to factor these type of losses into the model as an indication that an organization is not as mentally tough as one would expect from a team contending for a Super Bowl championship.

The second change is factoring in previous playoff or elimination game experience. It’s something I’ve wanted to neglect for the longest while now…but it’s dawning on me that playoff experience matters. Young teams in their first postseason contest are all too often committing unusually silly mistakes or not playing up to expectations. And it makes sense…of course these teams would be saddled with so much anxiety foraying into their first elimination-style game in the professional leagues. I have to be very careful not to overrate experience relative to all the other factors, as it only carries so much weight in the grand scheme of things. Once again, when it comes to winning the Super Bowl, a team must have a preponderance of qualities. No one quality is absolutely mandatory, though certain elements hold more value than others.

EDIT (1/12/22) - I decided to not count comebacks surrendered. Look at the 2019 Chiefs, a team that only managed three successful comebacks while also surrendering two. In all three of their postseason contests, Kansas had to mount comebacks, two of them from double-digit deficits and one in the fourth quarter. Honestly, it seems to me what matters is that organizations demonstrate the ability to wage successful comebacks on multiple occasions. I am thinking about setting a floor here at three comebacks. If a team fails to stage three comebacks in a given year, they can’t be given credit in this aspect. I was thinking of waiting until next year to apply this rule, but let’s not wait. Fortune favors the bold. Or the stupid. One of those things. Either way, let’s make this happen.

Anyway, let’s start with the analysis….

2021 Playoff Analysis: Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals
Elite Quarterback
7 points
--
Premiere Offensive Weapons
2 points per player
James Connor
A.J. Green
Kyler Murray (Mobile QB)
Zach Ertz
Christian Kirk
Elite Pass Rushers
4 points per player
Chandler Jones
Zach Allen
Quality Offensive Coaching
6 points
Kliff Kingsbury
Quality Defensive Coaching
6 points
--
Number of Successful Comebacks
7 total points if the team successfully staged at least 3 comebacks
1
Elimination Game Experience
2 points each for offense, defense, and special teams units, provided a majority of key role players on a given unit have experience in elimination game scenarios.
Special Teams
Quarterback Elimination Game Experience
6 points if a quarterback has experience in an elimination game
No
Score Range
18 - 26

The Cardinals are an interesting bunch, to say the least. Their offense is absolutely loaded with talent. Save for an elite quarterback, Arizona’s offense would probably be the most complete among all postseason contenders. It also helps coach Kliff has demonstrated considerable competence in his role as the team’s chief offensive guru.

The defense introduces our first real concern here. Even though the roster features some solid personnel, Vance Joseph can’t be considered a quality defensive coach given all his stumbles this season. His worst showing came recently against a Colts offense missing four starting offensive linemen. How do you lose convincingly against an Indianapolis outfit missing most of their offensive front? Carson “Ricky Fowler” Wentz arguably had his best game of the season against Vance Joseph’s unit. That being said, the fact that the defensive front is loaded with one verifiably elite pass rusher and two other players capable of premiere billing is good news.

The only other issue comes with experience. Kliff Kingsbury’s team is a solid team, but a young one. Too many key players among the offense and defense are missing experience in elimination game scenarios. It’s going to hurt them in the wild card round for sure.


Arizona could potentially win the NFC championship if
if their wild card opponent is a team clearly lacking a number of championship qualities. Their lack of postseason experience is expected to hurt them significantly in their playoff debut, so it would really help if their opponent has deficiencies on their end to keep the playing field level.

On top of that, the Cardinals need some of the names listed above as potentially impactful players to actually break out in the postseason. Either Zach Allen or Markus Golden need to step up to give this defense two dominant pass rushers if it looks to survive three straight trips on the road against the best teams. Furthermore, Arizona needs Christian Kirk, Zach Ertz, and possibly even Chase Edmonds to evolve into reliable vectors to keep this offense humming on the road, especially given the unit doesn’t have an elite quarterback at its helm.