Have you ever noticed how some situations seem to work themselves out all on their own? Some refer to it as the yin and yang theory. For every action there is a equally powerful reaction. Life is like that oftentimes. Fads come and go, but the more things change the more they stay the same.
The NFL landscape is no different. Just when it seems some offensive mastermind has developed some unstoppable scheme, a defensive genius devises a way to stymie it. That was on full display in this past weekend's slate of playoff games.
It sure was a fun ride for the Baltimore Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks as they utilized similar run heavy attacks to take the league by surprise and secure their playoff positioning. But alas even good things have to eventually come to an end.
These predominantly rushing reliant offenses run against the norm in today's pass happy NFL. The recent rules changes have all favored the down the field, high scoring passing attacks popping up all over the NFL landscape. The mid season changes in offensive philosophy made by both the Ravens and Seahawks caught their opponents by surprise at first and created mismatches that their defensive personnel were ill equipped to deal with. Or so it seemed.
Both teams made their adjustments out of necessity. The Ravens had a stagnant offense being lead by uninspiring QB Joe Flacco and a group of skill position players that was mediocre at best. However, they did have a dynamic offensive weapon in talented and elusive QB Lamar Jackson. The change in philosophy made perfect sense.
The Seahawks were also blessed with a mobile QB in Russell Wilson, himself a Super Bowl winning QB. While Wilson is an accomplished passer, the Seahawks offensive line struggled to provide him with the requisite time needed to find his receivers. However, they were excellent run blockers and since Wilson excels at play action, the switch brought out the best in the Seahawks offense.
So how did these feel good storylines play out this past Wildcard Weekend? Not so good I am afraid, if you happened to be rooting for either of these teams. The reason why is simple. The more balanced team usually wins in a one and done scenario. Many factors can affect that outcome, such as turnovers and special teams turning out to not be very special, but the rule holds true more often than not, all things being equal.
Both teams proved to be too one dimensional when confronted by a more well balanced opponent, and the end results bellied this fact.
The Chargers stayed in a vanilla base defense for the majority of their first encounter with the Ravens this season, a late season home loss against the bludgeoning Ravens squad playing at the height of their powers. The Chargers seemed to realize the high probability that they would meet again in the playoffs, and they refused to show their hand during a regular season game that meant more to the Ravens than it did to them.
Sunday's contest was a whole different ballgame. The Los Angeles Chargers went to Baltimore and was anything but vanilla on defense. They basically replaced their LBs with safeties to take away the speed advantage that Jackson had enjoyed previously against each opponent. Worked like a charm. Jackson was well on his way to a historical bad performance passing till the Chargers took their foot off the gas late and gave up a couple of quick scores. It all proved to be too little too late.
Seattle also ran into a more well balanced opponent in the Dallas Cowboys. In all fairness, Seattle's kicker was injured in the first half which affected their play calling throughout the game, but they struggled to establish the running game against the Cowboys stout defense, therefore limiting the effectiveness of their play action game.
So are we witnessing a return to old school football, where teams are built around a strong running game, the occasion big play in the passing game, and a hard nosed defense and special teams? I don't think so, and these first round playoff games provided some compelling evidence.
Success in today's NFL is dependent on creating balance, or the appearance of such. The creativity necessary to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, and the ability to disguise your shortcomings to prevent them from being exploited.
The Steelers were never able to achieve balance this season, on either side of the ball. They failed to find their identity on offense even though I thought they were pretty close on a couple of occasions. I was wrong both times.
What resulted was a pass dependent offense that never found their rhythm running the ball, some of which was caused by extenuating circumstances. That has to be remedied before next season if the Steelers are going to return to the playoffs.
Hopefully next year Steelers Nation won't have to suffer through another post season minus our Pittsburgh Steelers.
I guess I should be thankful I got to witness the Ravens suck all hope from their fans just as they finally gave them something to cheer for. It brought a smile to my face and a little pep to my step. It was much appreciated.