1st. Ryan Tannehill led the NFL with five fourth-quarter comeback victories in 2020, while Lamar Jackson had only one. Now, you could argue that’s just because Lamar Jackson’s Ravens generally aren’t far behind in games, but to that I’d nod my head.
On fourteen occasions in the past two seasons, Tannehill has had a reasonable chance of winning a comeback in the fourth quarter (losing by 14 or less with more than 10 minutes to go). Seven times it has. As for Jackson, he’s only had a chance to mount a fourth-quarter comeback seven times in the past two years, and he’s been successful in three of those games. That includes Week 8 against the Steelers, when he took the lead again in the fourth quarter only for Pittsburgh to regain it. It also includes Week 10 in New England, when the weather in the fourth quarter was apocalyptic.
We media people love to hang on to narratives and run for our lives with them (because otherwise what would we do during the six days between games, talk to our families?), But is this a sample size significant enough to draw real conclusions? If you assumed, based on the rhetorical nature of that question, that it is not, then you are correct.
Nobody wants to play from behind, especially teams that depend so much on the race. If you want to argue that Tennessee has superior weapons in the passing game, and thus Tannehill is better equipped to play from behind, sure! But don’t make the mistake of thinking there is an advantage just because the Titans have dug a hole early more often.
1 B. Having Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams in the lineup for this game, after they missed an overtime loss to Tennessee in Week 11, will be huge for Baltimore.
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2. Visiting teams finished a game above .500 in the regular season (128-127-1), are 2-1 in the postseason, and by the weekend, each of the six wild card visiting teams had a record for road wins except for the Rams (4-4). Numbers.
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3. “I don’t know where we went wrong, but the feeling is gone and I can’t get it back.”
—Canadian folk legend Gordon Lightfoot, on his concern the window has closed on the Chicago Bears’ career as an elite defender
We spent three seasons hoping the Bears offense would provide a useful supplement to their tremendous defense, but as they prepare for an unexpected postseason visit to New Orleans, it appears the defense has quietly fallen from the ranks of the elite.
Chicago’s path to a deep postseason run is paved by that leading unit, a la the 2015 Broncos or the 2000 Ravens. Three years ago that might have been possible; That year, the Bears ranked third in net yards allowed (299.7), first in points allowed (17.7) and led the NFL in key points (36). Last season, they fell to eighth (324.1), fourth (18.6) and 22 (19) in those categories. And this year they sank to 11 (344.9), 14 (23.1) and 25 (18).
The news is less daunting for DVOA fans — I’m one of them! – since they went from the first to the tenth and, this season, to the eighth. But the point remains: It is difficult to build and maintain a superior defense, where the 11 parts are much more interdependent and the prime numbers of the stars are shorter than on offense. And the decline was accelerated by annoyances like:
• Going from Leonard Floyd to giving Robert Quinn a deal worth twice the money annually for twice the length (only to see Quinn give about half the production that Floyd has provided for the Rams)
• Eddie Jackson, whose main value is selling balls, had two interceptions last season and then zero this year after the Bears made him the highest-paid safety in football (although he forced three fumbles in 2020)
• Rookie second-round cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s shaky play and third-year linebacker Roquan Smith’s still up and down performance, both questionable for Sunday.
• A beaten Akiem Hicks showing his age
• Kyle Fuller backs up from high-level No. 1 corner to mid-group No. 1 corner
When you step back and evaluate, this defense is very … Khalil Mack and a bunch of guys.
Last week, we saw the coaching staff slam on the Trubisky Revival train, reducing plays in what they thought was a must-win against the Packers. It was justified, considering how Trubisky repeatedly and almost comically put the ball in danger in Jacksonville the week before. But the chances of them keeping this game as teenagers in New Orleans are pretty unlikely, and letting go of Trusibky’s reins and hoping for the best could be a necessary evil if they are to stay.
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4th. Simply put, Baker Mayfield has struggled when he’s under a lot of pressure this season, and the Steelers create a lot of pressure, which is a bad combination. That will be especially true with Joel Bitonio out and Michael Dunn or Nick Harris trying to handle Cam Heyward and / or Stephon Tuitt, who are stars in their own right but are less recognizable than TJ Watt since they and their families appear in the commercials of subway much less frequently.
But it goes beyond the fact that some of the Browns linemen can’t theoretically block some of the Steelers pass-rushers. When Mayfield plays well, it’s often because they can take him out with game-action bootlegs, which puts him in space and provides an unobstructed view of the field, which is much more preferred for a 6-foot quarterback who has had trouble playing from the pocket for stretching. Those smuggling calls are much less frequent and effective if distance and / or score drifts away from the Browns. That’s what happened the first time they visited Pittsburgh this year, in October, when the Steelers got an early pick-six and were up 24-0 midway through the second quarter.
It is not necessary to “establish the race” for the action of the game to be effective, but it must be in scenarios where running the ball is feasible. Losing by more than three possessions in the second half, or frequently facing a third and long, makes the action of the game much less effective (the Browns made two third attempts, one on penalty and both in the same series, and they were 0- of 3 in fourth downs in the Week 6 matchup).
So Mayfield was forced to play from his pocket more often in that game and the rib injury he played surely didn’t help. The team collectively morphed into a metaphorical doo-doo and lost 38-7. Pills Van Pelt, the play-call substitute, already has a lot of work ahead of him: falling behind big from the start would make his job impossible again.
4b. If you’re going to win a soccer game, scoring points always helps. One of the stories from the second half of the Steelers regular season was their disinterest in doing it.
The Steelers’ fast-attack approach to this season’s passing game seemed motivated almost exclusively by a desire to prevent Ben Roethlisberger from taking hits. Even as the rest of the NFL caught up with their new approach, they didn’t adjust their plan. Ben isn’t the Hall of Fame pitcher he once was, but his last appearance (the comeback win over the Colts in Week 16) was a reminder that he can still push the ball downfield if need be. Now it’s the postseason, and winning games is a must, surely changing the risk / reward calculus when it comes to putting Roethlisberger in danger.
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5. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Secret machines!
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.