Monday, January 16, 2012

Odds and Ends

Alex Smith scored, but Joe Staley's block (No. 74, left, on the ground) pancaked the safety and sprung him.
What an interesting and entertaining weekend of football. Joe Porter's Pit Bulls are still frustrated by the Steelers and what could have been, so we'll overlook that for now and talk about what we saw this weekend.

Play-call of the Week:  Toss-up between San Francisco's game winning touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis or, perhaps even more astonishing ...
  • San Francisco's quarterback sweep, down 24-23 to New Orleans, on 3rd-and-seven at the Saints' 28 yard line with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter. Already in field goal range, the 49ers had been facing 3rd-and-two but were penalized five yards to set them back to the 28 yard line. The Niners worked the sweep to perfection. Alex Smith never hesitated, the wide receiver in motion from that side executed a nasty crackback block on a Saints linebacker, and left tackle Joe Staley -- pulling at warp speed 10 yards ahead of Smith downfield, absolutely pancaked a New Orleans safety with a devastating block that sprung Smith the rest of the way.
  • Who calls a quarterback sweep in that situation?  Or, these days, any situation? The safe call would have been a handoff up the middle to secure field-goal position.
  • Only a few quarterbacks have the athleticism and speed to pull it off, and Alex Smith is not a name that leaps first to mind in that category (Cam Newton, Michael Vick).  Ben Roethlisberger moves well, especially laterally in the pocket, but he doesn't have the flat-out sprint ability that Smith showed on that play. Who knew?
Joe Staley and four-legged friend.
Block of the Week:  Pancake! Joe Staley's pulling block on that play -- His flat-out speed and "Faneca-like" finish on that play made us long for the days of such play on the offensive line for the Steelers. Max Starks did a mostly fantastic job this year for the Steelers, but his mobility is limited.
  • Guys like Staley and Denver's Ryan Clady (who frustrated James Harrison the week before) don't grow on trees.  Both Staley and Clady were first-round draft choices -- and, you might recall, there was speculation that the Steelers were interested in him the year he was drafted (in April 2007).  Instead, the Steelers selected Lawrence Timmons with the 15th pick of the first round.  San Francisco took Staley with the 28th pick of the first round.  For what it's worth, Staley came out of Central Michigan -- same as Antonio Brown (three years later).
  • It is time for the Steelers to improve the offensive line. Duh.
Vernon Davis holds onto the game-winner.

Just as gutsy a call as the quarterback sweep -- maybe more so -- was the game-winning touchdown pass from Smith to Vernon Davis.  Again, the safe call would have been a hand-off up the middle to solidify position for a game-tying field goal attempt  to force overtime and hope for the best.

Instead, the Niners went for the kill-shot.  A very risky pass into double-coverage in the middle of the field? Requiring a thread-the-needle throw that could just as easily have been intercepted?  Not many coaches make that call.  

Notable Game Plan of the Week: New England vs. Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.  A small accomplishment, you say, but did the Steelers so-called "top-rated defense" contain Tebow?  No.  The Patriots got a pass rush on Tebow -- imagine that! -- and blitzed him mercilessly.  The other notable thing about New England's game plan was that (predictably) it was completely different from the first time those two teams played, when Denver gashed the Patriots for 228 yards rushing (or something like that).
At this point, all we can do is watch.
  • On Saturday, the Patriots had their big boys clog the middle while their back seven on defense spread their defensive formation wide -- much like Bill Parcells did when the Patriots stymied Kordell Stewart when New England defeated the Steelers in the playoffs way back when (1999?).  If there is one thing we've learned about Bill Belichick and the Patriots, it is that they will always change up their game plans for a second meeting between two teams.
  • Considering two of the flashiest and highest-scoring teams -- Green Bay and New Orleans -- now have been bounced from the playoffs, you could make the case that the Giants and 49ers also had great defensive game plans. They did.  They also have pretty good personnel. as do the Patriots, by the way. Oh, yeah, and the Ravens.

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