Tag Archives: Playoffs

In Case You Missed It: The Couchletes on the Super Bowl

By Kevin York

The Super Bowl is over and I never wrote much in the aftermath of the game. Nothing about my thoughts on the game or my reaction to play calling. I decided to leave that to the Niner fans on staff here. I’m not going to write a recap of the game now, but as I thought about it, I realized we had some good posts leading up to the game, and also a couple following it, so I decided to compile all of them in one place. Just in case you missed any. To give you something new, I’m including a few editor’s thoughts on each post.

The Ray Lewis Double Standard – The Ray-Ray
Ok, so this one wasn’t posted directly before the Super Bowl. To be honest, I didn’t think the Ravens had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting there (past both Denver and New England) so I posted it earlier to make sure it was up before Baltimore got eliminated. I was wrong on that. But, as the Ravens went deeper into the playoffs, more of the mainstream media followed my lead and started bringing up Lewis’ shadowy past. They saw my post, obviously.

Super Bowl XLVII Prop Bets
Matt’s first post on The Couchletes was a good one. As he shared in a later follow-up post, he ended up going one for four on his prop bets. I have a feeling a lot of people lost out on those this year though given how crazy the game played out.

The Best Offensive Line Story of the Year: The Up and Down Tale of Bryant McKinnie
McKinnie had a solid game, helping keep Joe Flacco pretty clean for the duration of the Super Bowl, except for that one play where McKinnie got caught looking inside helping on a double team and Ahmed Brooks ran right outside of him and sacked Flacco for a considerable loss. Other than that, he had a pretty good game.

The Passing of the Torch?
I ended this post saying Willis isn’t performing in Ray Lewis territory at this stage of his career; but in the Super Bowl, although his Niners lost, Willis outplayed Lewis.

The Couchletes’ Super Bowl Picks
Mark and I both correctly picked the Ravens to win the game, although neither of us got the final score, but I was close  in picking a three point win. Got the margin right at least. I was dead wrong on my MPV though picking Ray Rice. Big miss. I over thought it. Mark was correct in choosing Joe Flacco though. Kind of…

Super Bowl Media Day (Next year we’ll be there)
I stand by my statement. Next year we’ll be there.

Super Regrets
Monday was a tough day for San Francisco fans and Matt pretty accurately captured the thoughts that I heard from most Niner fans the day after a rough loss.

So God made an Ad Man.
A hilarious post from Mark telling the story of him watching the Super Bowl for the commercials and providing his thoughts on the best and worst.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

Super Bowl Media Day (Next year we’ll be there)

By Kevin York

Every year during the week leading up to the Super Bowl, one day is dedicated to media coverage of the game and the two teams participating in it. This day has come to be known as Media Day. On that day, media from around the world descend on the Super Bowl’s host city. Many of the reporters attending Media Day are from outlets that haven’t covered the NFL at all during the regular season or the preceding postseason games, which can lead to a circus of crazy antics and even crazier questions. That’s bound to happen when:

1. Reporters unknowledgeable on the two Super Bowl teams, heck, unknowledgeable on football in general, are assigned to cover the Super Bowl.


2. Bench players and role players, unaccustomed to media attention, find themselves suddenly with a microphone and camera in front of their face.

Unsurprisingly, Media Day typically generates its own wave of story angles (Chris Culliver, remember that time in 2013 when you outed yourself as a bigot?). I mean, that’s what happens when uninformed reporters are given a platform for asking stupid questions and when bench players are given a platform to finally be noticed for something.

Ryan and I were talking about Media Day earlier this week, wondering how the hell some of these “reporters” get passes for Media Day. Here’s a sampling of some of the questions that have been asked at Media Day over the years. Remember, this is just a small sampling of the dumbest, weirdest and most bizarre questions asked by these professional members of the media given a press pass.

  • At Super Bowl XLIII, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was asked, “Who has the better hair, you or Steelers safety Tony (sic) Polamalu?” Yes, that’s right. The Access Hollywood reporter called Troy Polamalu by the wrong first name.
  • At Super Bowl XXIII, San Francisco 49ers quarterback was asked, “So why do they call you Boomer?” Montana’s 49ers were playing the Cincinnati Bengals, quarterbacked by Boomer Esiason. A reporter actually mixed the two up, since they look so much alike. Wait, they actually look nothing alike. If, you know, you’ve watched any of their games and have actually seen them before.
  • At Super Bowl XXXIV, St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was asked, “Do you believe in voodoo, and can I have a lock of your hair?”
  • At Super Bowl XXVII, Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith was asked, “What are you going to wear in the game Sunday?”
  • At Super Bowl XXXII, Denver Broncos fullback Detron Smith was asked, “What size panties do you think you’d wear?”
  • At Super Bowl XXXIV, St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace was asked, “After the game, in the shower, what’s your favorite bar of soap?”
  • At Super Bowl XXXIII, Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway was asked, “Are you going to listen to Stevie Wonder perform at halftime?”

Kind of astonishing, huh? Hard hitting journalism, right there. That’s what that is…

Given how much time and space these “reporters” waste on Media Day, Ryan asked, why can’t we go? Good question. Why couldn’t we? Our writing, our perspective, our football knowledge is better than at least half the people that receive passes to Media Day. It’s not just ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Fox and CBS there.

So we’ve made a goal. Next year The Couchletes will be at Media Day for Super Bowl XLVIII in New York/New Jersey. It’s going to happen.

All time dumbest Super Bowl questions sourced from Sports Illustrated.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

The Couchletes’ Super Bowl Picks

We’re just two days away from the big game, and while we’ve published some good posts earlier in the week to get ready, we think it’s time to get down to it now. Who do we think will win? We’re going to tell you, at least each of our “experts” individually will.

49ers, 31-24
“Dual threat Quarterback Colin Kapernick will have a big day through the air and on the ground but workhorse Frank Gore steals the show as the 49ers power over Ray Lewis and an Raven’s elderly defense.”
MVP: Frank “the inconvenient truth” Gore

49ers, 31-28
“Both defenses are going to limit the running game, with extra men on Kap. David Akers puts them ahead with a field goal to redeem his roller coaster of a season, but way early in the game cause I don’t think I can handle it if it’s down to the wire and we *ahem* and the Niners maintain their narrow lead to win; and buses will burn in the Mission District.”
MVP: Frank Gore. Michael Oher still known as “dude from that Sandra Bullock movie?” for one more year.

Ravens, 27-24
“Given how the Niners secondary has been exposed lately, conventional wisdom would say a Ravens win would mean Joe Flacco tore them apart a bit; however, while Flacco will get his opportunities through the air, the threat of his passing attack will open things up for the Baltimore run game, which leads to my MVP…”
MVP: Ray Rice

Ravens, 35-17
“The Ravens will have the edge due to their reliance on natural remedies. It will be close for the first half but when Ray Lewis passes out Deer Antler, Unicorn Blood, and Cat Paws during half-time it will give them the boost they need to keep the 49ers explosive offense in check.”
MVP: Blue Ivy Carter has her first nationally-televised performance. It brings down the house when she does a three way mashup of Beyonce’s “Survivior” Jay-Z’s “99 problems” and Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit.”

I also think Joe Flacco will play quite well.

49ers, 31-24
“Harbaugh the younger and his coordinators craft an offensive game plan that is too much for Flacco, the Ravens and Harbaugh the elder to overcome. 49ers defense gives up a late touchdown to make the final score closer than the game actually was.”
MVP: Kaepernick 275 yards passing, 50 yards rushing 3 total TDs. (And hopefully thanks God during the speech)

49ers, 28-24
“Look for the Smith brothers to knock Flacco out of this elite conversation.”
MVP: Colin Kaepernick

49ers, 27-17
“The Ravens will be banking on the read option being a main go-to, but Kaepernick is going to pick apart a secondary that’s cheating up with its safties. And when the Ravens are looking pass, Frank Gore is going to run well enough to open up the pass. The name of the game is keeping the Ravens honest and the Niners will do just that in a tight game at the half that they open up in the late third quarter.”
MVP: Colin Kaepernick

So the Niners fans pick the Niners to win and the two non-Niners fans pick the Ravens…

The Passing of the Torch?

By Kevin York

Photo Credit: (Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports)

Photo Credit: (Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports)

The past two weeks have been full of Super Bowl story angles on the Harbaughs, Ravens, 49ers and various members of each team. Lost amid all the hype surrounding Ray Lewis’ impending retirement and the crowning of wonderkind of the moment, Colin Kaepernick, as the league’s next great quarterback is a story that, frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t heard much about. It’s the story of the meeting of two inside linebackers, one already established as a Hall of Fame shoo in, potentially the best linebacker of all time, and the other, a promising, young player that reminds many of the former.

I’m talking about Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis.

As Lewis’ career winds to an end in the Super Bowl, Willis has put himself in a position to take over the mantle as the premier inside linebacker in the game. Over the first few years of Willis’ career, we heard this Lewis-Willis comparison many times. The way Willis approached the game, the way he played it, his body, it all reminded us of Ray Lewis. So why haven’t we heard about this passing of the torch the past two weeks?

Perhaps because the workman-like, no frills, stoic approach Willis takes isn’t something that makes a lot of waves among the other showier stories that emerge during Super Bowl week (Chris Culliver anyone?). Or maybe it’s because his 49ers have finally had some other stars emerge, stars that want the attention (looking at you Kaepernick). Or maybe it’s because Willis’ counterpart on the inside of the San Francisco linebacking corps, NaVorro Bowman, also emerged as a prime time player this year.

I don’t have the answer as to why, but in my eyes, the comparison still sticks. So I decided to take it a step further than the eyeball test. Over the first six years of each of their careers, Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis have played the exact same number of games. They each only missed four total games over that span (maybe they have the same deer antler spray guy). It sets things up perfectly to compare the two head to head. Is Willis really deserving of the comparison? How does he stack up to the future Hall of Famer? Can we say that this is a passing of the torch situation?

Total Tackles
Lewis (875) vs. Willis (812)

Solo Tackles
Lewis (698) vs. Willis (621)

Lewis (19.5) vs. Willis (17.5)

Lewis (12) vs. Willis (7)

While Willis’ numbers are good, they don’t quite stack up to those that Lewis put together over his first six seasons. Of course, we’re looking at these numbers in a vacuum, which for some reason, people tend to do a lot when they look at sports stats. One could easily argue that Lewis had much better defensive tackles lining up in front of him over his first six seasons, absorbing blockers, freeing Lewis to make more plays. In fact, this has long been an argument made against Lewis by the Ray-Ray haters. Nonetheless, the fact that Lewis’ numbers are better across the board, make quite a statement.

Given these numbers, I think we can reasonably say that although Willis is a good player, it’s unfair to compare him to Lewis. After six seasons, Lewis had already established himself as the type of player that could be called generational. Willis isn’t at that point, and at this point in his career, about halfway through, I think he’d have to increase his production a bit to reach that status by the end of his career. What could make that even harder is that over the previous two seasons, we’ve started to see his counterpart on the interior of San Francisco’s linebacking corps, NaVorro Bowman, emerge as just as good of a linebacker as Willis himself, possibly even better. In my opinion, Bowman had the better 2012 campaign.

Not quite a passing of the torch situation, but on Sunday we’re in for a treat watching two defenses anchored by stellar, Pro Bowl caliber (at least until the past two seasons in Lewis’ case) inside linebackers. These two solid defenses have been overshadowed a bit by their offenses leading up to the game, but come Sunday, I have a feeling we may be in for a defensive battle.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

The Best Offensive Line Story of the Year: The Up and Down Tale of Bryant McKinnie

By Kevin York

Photo Credit: (Jake Roth/ US Presswire)

Photo Credit: (Jake Roth/ US Presswire)

As people look forward to Sundays Super Bowl, there’s been plenty of talk about the skill position players. Joe Flacco. Colin Kaepernick. Ray Rice. Frank Gore. Michael Crabtree. And of course, Ray Lewis’ retirement. There’s a big storyline that many people are missing though, and it’s one that casual fans may not notice.

This Super Bowl matchup features two really, really good offensive lines.

The big guys in the trenches often get overlooked because they don’t score and they don’t tackle. There aren’t a lot of stats to measure them by, at least none that someone watching a game on tv instead of from the press box can keep track of easily.

San Francisco has one of the three best offensive lines in the game, maybe even the best. They’ve largely built it from the ground up through the draft, which is exactly the way I’d do it if I were running a team. I always advocate building a team from the inside out, starting with two strong lines. A good offensive line can make an average quarterback or running back good or a below average quarterback or running back average. Everything starts with the offensive line. You can’t run or pass with any effectiveness unless the big uglies up front are winning their battles.

Photo Credit: (Paul Sakuma)

Photo Credit: (Paul Sakuma)

The 49ers’ Mike Iupati is probably the best guard in the league. Joe Staley is a top five tackle and the other tackle, Anthony Davis, is a top ten tackle. They drafted all three along with Iupati’s counterpart opposite him on the right side of the line, Alex Boone. Only center, eleven year veteran Jonathan Goodwin, was not drafted by the 49ers.

Baltimore’s offensive line is not quite as good as San Francisco’s, and wasn’t as built through the draft, but is also a top ten unit. I don’t know the last time we’ve seen two lines this good in the Super Bowl. We didn’t get it last year. New England and New York deployed solid lines, but they weren’t in the same league as this year’s group. The Packers and Steelers started two injury plagued lines the year prior.

It really is a great story, but the matchup of these two great offensive lines isn’t the story I’m referring to in the title of this post. That story belongs to just one member of the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive line.

When people think about the Ravens’ offensive line, the first name that usually pops in their head is Michael Oher, the big tackle that the book and movie, The Blind Side, were based on. Next is probably guard Marshal Yanda. I mentioned earlier that San Francisco’s Iupati is probably the best guard in the league; Yanda is the other guard in that conversation. Both made my All-Pro team. Once you get past Oher and Yanda, the next name to come up is center Matt Birk, the veteran who was close to retiring last year, but came back another year for a shot to win the big one.

The name that probably doesn’t come up as often is the Ravens’ other tackle, Bryant McKinnie, and for good reason. He reported late to camp, out of shape and overweight. The team cut his salary and he sulked his way through bad practices. He wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the year; he wasn’t even a starter at the end of the year. McKinnie didn’t become a starter for this year’s Ravens team until the wild card round playoff game against the Colts.

What did he do in that game, his first start of the season? McKinnie held Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney to not only zero sacks, but no tackles at all. None.

Bryant McKinnie began his college football career at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he moved from his high school position of defensive end to offensive tackle. After two years at this junior college, he transferred to the University of Miami for his junior and senior year. As a Hurricane, he was an All-American his junior year and was unanimously selected for the honor again as a senior. He also received the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman, was selected as Sports Illustrated’s Player of the Year and finished eighth in the Heisman voting as a senior. That 2001 Miami team also won the national championship.

Photo Credit: (Doug Pensinger/Allsport)

Photo Credit: (Doug Pensinger/Allsport)

McKinnie was drafted in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft as a 6’9″ 335 pound senior by the Minnesota Vikings with the seventh overall pick. For the next eight years, the giant tackle was a mainstay on the Vikings’ offensive line, even making the Pro Bowl in 2009. From 2003-2007, McKinnie started every game and had a streak of 80 straight games started. He was a solid NFL tackle and for the most part, lived up to the hype surrounding him coming out of Miami.

In the summer of 2011, his fortunes went south, and due to his own doing. He reported to training camp weighing over 400 pounds; this coming after he finished the previous season at 360 pounds and promised coaches he would get in shape over the summer and drop some weight.

After he was cut by the Vikings, McKinnie was signed by the Baltimore Ravens, largely due to former Miami teammate Ed Reed speaking on his behalf to Baltimore management and vouching for him. He started all 16 games for Baltimore that year, but then at the beginning of 2012, McKinnie’s fortunes again changed as I described earlier with reporting to camp overweight and having his salary cut.

So how did we get to this point? How did McKinnie regain his starting job, in the playoffs no less, and dominate a great pass rusher like Dwight Freeney?

Bryant McKinnie worked his butt off, for one thing. In addition, a string of other things happened along Baltimore’s offensive line that eventually put McKinnie back in a place to step back into a starting role. Ironically, turns out Michael Oher was not as astute at protecting Joe Flacco’s blind side as the movie based on him would seem to indicate. He’s much better playing at the right tackle spot where he can run block. However, during the regular season, the Ravens played Oher at left tackle and rookie Jah Reid at right tackle since McKinnie reported to camp out of shape. When Reid suffered a toe injury, and McKinnie had put together several really good weeks of practice, it led coach John Harbaugh to move Oher back to right tackle, where he played in previous seasons, and start McKinnie at left tackle.

The lineup change ended up paying off for Harbaugh, McKinnie and Baltimore. The big tackle has played well throughout the playoffs and done his part to give Joe Flacco plenty of time to throw the ball downfield, which is exactly what he’s done.

While this matchup of offensive lines is certainly impressive, what’s more impressive is the up and down story of Bryant McKinnie and how he’s worked himself back into a job and helped lead his team to a Super Bowl appearance.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

AFC Championship Game Preview

By Kevin York

Well, this isn’t the game any of us thought it would be two weeks ago, or even one week ago. The Ravens weren’t supposed to be here. This was supposed to be another Brady-Manning classic, but Baltimore crashed the party. So instead we have a rematch of last years AFC Championship, a game which was actually a class in and of itself; however, I have a feeling this game will play out much differently than last year when many felt Baltimore outplayed the Patriots, yet Brady and company stole the game.

Photo Credit: (Matt Slocum/AP)

Photo Credit: (Matt Slocum/AP)

Baltimore Ravens
The big story with Baltimore this post season has been Ray Lewis and the going away party his teammates are throwing him, but the storyline that hasn’t received as much attention, and I think it actually the bigger one, is the change at offensive coordinator that John Harbaugh made near the end of the season. Since taking over for the fired Cam Cameron, Jim Caldwell has totally changed the dynamics of this offense. He has confidence in quarterback Joe Flacco and lets him throw the ball downfield. This isn’t the same conservative, sometimes even tentative, offense we saw most of the season. Earlier this week, Don Banks over at Sports Illustrated wrote a nice article looking statistically at just how much of a positive affect Caldwell has had on the offense. As Banks notes, “the Ravens under Caldwell have averaged 450.8 yards of offense and 28 points over their past four games, with superb balance (188.8 yards rushing and 262.0 passing).”

I expect Caldwell to open things up and show some new plays, maybe even new formations, in an attempt to confuse New England. Remember, Caldwell is very familiar with Bill Belichik and the Patriots from the many years he served as an assistant on Tony Dungy’s Colts staff. He is well aware of what he’s facing and how he’ll have to outsmart the Patriots’ mastermind.

We won’t see Baltimore try and run the ball a lot. New England has big, strong linebackers that are very good at stopping the run and crashing into gaps. I expect them to go to the air more and attack New England’s weaker secondary. That may open the run later, but I think we’ll see Flacco really air it out early.

Baltimore’s defense has played well enough to win this postseason, but make no mistake, this is not the Ravens defense we’ve seen in the past. They’re older and slower, and may be a little tired. They’ve been on the field a lot in their first two playoff games and will now be facing one of the best offenses in the NFL a week after a tiring overtime thriller in Denver.

The Ravens will likely struggle to defend the New England passing attack. The Patriots have added a few wrinkles this year that they didn’t have last year, like the faster Brandon Lloyd who really came on late in the season. The New England offensive line has also protected Brady better than last year. With Baltimore’s pass rush not being quite as good as last year, that’s a recipe for a real problem for the Ravens defensive front. With the ways New England has used their running backs lately, the Ravens front seven are certainly facing an athletic disadvantage. They don’t have a linebacker fast enough to line up opposite Shane Vereen if he slots out as a receiver.

Photo Credit: (Steven Savoia/AP)

Photo Credit: (Steven Savoia/AP)

New England Patriots
In contrast to Baltimore, New England is exactly where we all expected them to be at this moment in time. This year’s Patriots team seems like a team on a mission. That’s naturally the kind of mentality that Belichik instills in them, but it just feels even more workmanlike this year, and specifically over the second half of the season, than they have in years past. The Super Bowl loss to the Giants last year was a black eye for this team, something that deep down I think they’re a little embarrassed and ashamed of. Twice now, they’ve lost Super Bowl games to the Giants that they should’ve won. Different makeups of those two teams, yes (in fact, very few people from that 2008 team were still playing for the Pats last year ), but I’m sure last year’s team certainly felt somewhat linked to the earlier one.

New England’s offense is one of the strongest in the NFL and has been for some time. As the season went on it seemed like they continued to add new dimensions to it, even as starters went down to injuries. The latest example was last week against Houston when Shane Vereen, filling in for Danny Woodhead, emerged with a breakout performance, both in the running game and passing game. It’s really remarkable how well Belichik and his staff develop players. New England is showing that it’s the deepest team in the league.

Tom Brady will have a big game. All week people have been discussing how he got outplayed by Joe Flacco last year. Mike Greenberg said that last year he was simply average in the playoffs. That type of stuff motivates this guy and I think it’ll fuel his fire on Sunday.

The Baltimore defense opens up a lot of opportunities for the Patriots. For one, the Ravens really only have one strong, consistent pass rusher in Paul Kruger. That means lots of time for Brady to sit in the pocket and make his way through his progressions until he finds an open receiver. He will be able to pass the ball on this Ravens secondary. The other opportunity is using their running backs in unique ways – lining them up in the slot or even out wide.

Aside from Aqib Talib, the New England secondary could be exposed by Joe Flacco. The unit is solidly built to contain Ray Rice and the Raven run game, but they’re not quite as astute in pass coverage. I think Baltimore will try and attack the middle of the Patriots defense in the passing game because New England’s linebackers (Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower) aren’t particularly quick. New England will have to make up for that by playing a zone and not leaving those guys alone on an island.

The Final Word
At some point a team can’t survive on emotion anymore and talent comes into the equation. I think this week is when that happens for Baltimore. Up and down the rosters, New England is the stronger team at every position except running back. Talent wins out this week as New England punches its second straight ticket to the Super Bowl. This game won’t be as close as last year when it came down to the very end for the Patriots to win, but it also won’t be the blow out that some are expecting. I think we’ll see New England win by around ten points or so.

You can read The Couchletes’ preview of the NFC Championship game here.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

NFC Championship Game Preview

By Kevin York

I debated on if I should write game previews for the NFC and AFC Championships. After all, the last time I did this, and first time I did a preview on this blog, it didn’t work out so well, did it? Oh well, life goes on. At least after I spent Saturday night and Sunday angry, bitter and constantly muttering about how the Packers didn’t prepare the right way, how ridiculous it was that they weren’t prepared for San Francisco since even I knew how San Francisco would attack them. I mean, if I’m a sports blogger I’m supposed to make irrational statements like that, right?

So, yes, it’s time to move on and do another preview. This one may even be better because I don’t have any emotion behind it…other than hating the 49ers.

Photo Credit: (Denis Poroy/Associated Press)

Photo Credit: (Denis Poroy/Associated Press)

Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons are in an odd position of being the number one overall seed, playing at home, yet being the underdog. They’re the higher seed. And it’s not like they have Peyton Manning playing for them or anything (too soon?).

In all seriousness, Atlanta started the season on fire and were the last team in the league to take a loss. Yet, there was just something about them that didn’t seem complete. No one seemed to give them the same type of respect that another team might receive for accomplishing the same feat. Even looking back at our NFL Power Five that we did throughout the season and posted to our Facebook page on a weekly basis, I could see a clear bias against the Falcons. It’s like we found ways to rank other teams ahead of them, even teams with more losses.

So why the bias against the dirty birds?

In all honesty, I think it’s because the Falcons are a team that flies under the radar (pun intended). There’s not a lot of hype about them. They’ve really taken on the model of their head coach. They’re pretty workman-like in their style and they don’t do much to draw attention to themselves. They have an offense that can be high powered with Matt Ryan connecting with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez. On the other hand, they have an offense that can also grind it out behind the running of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers. In fact, it often seems to be one or the other. For some reason they struggle to find a balance blending the two, as head coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter sometimes appear to forget they have such a strong running game and shy away from it.

Nonetheless, the offense has the potential to be powerful. Matt Ryan improved greatly from last year to this year and I think defenses had to respect him more. The playoff win last week really got a monkey off his back so I expect him to play a bit looser this week. He showed a lot of poise by driving the Falcons into position for Matt Bryant to kick the game winning field goal – especially after the Falcons had a significant lead which they’d blown earlier.

On the defensive side of the ball, I think Atlanta’s pass rush is pretty underrated. The front four applied some nice pressure to Russell Wilson last week against a Seattle offensive line that has played very solidly all year long; however, that front four, front seven really, struggled to defend Cam Newton as a runner in two meetings this year. On Sunday, they’ll face a similar quarterback in Colin Kaepernick so he could certainly create some problems for them.

Atlanta’s secondary is a solid unit, but they raised some questions with the way they allowed Seattle back into the game last week.

I still think their defensive game plan comes down to containing Kaepernick. Green Bay wasn’t able to do it. The Falcons use a base 4-3 defense while Green Bay was using a 3-4. Is the 4-3 better suited to defend a running quarterback attacking you with a read option? I’m not totally sure. I think it’s more dependent on your total team speed. Is Atlanta a faster overall defense than Green Bay? Maybe a little, but they don’t jump out at me as blazers.

Photo Credit: (Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle

Photo Credit: (Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle)

San Francisco 49ers
I think San Francisco is the heavy favorite. Yes, they are going cross country and playing in a very, very loud indoor stadium, but they’ve been playing much better than Atlanta as of late. While Atlanta struggled with Seattle, San Francisco put on a convincing second half against Green Bay and handedly beat them.

When you look at San Francisco’s offense, it jumps out at me that this unit is now the strength of the team. I mentioned that in my initial thoughts after the divisional round games, but I really can’t get over it. When I look at the weaknesses and potential vulnerabilities of that team, I now see less with the offense than I do with the defense. The element Kaepernick brings with his running has really evolved their attack. He brings something different than a running quarterback like Robert Griffin. Kaepernick has a bigger body, so he appears to be a little more capable of sustaining hits, but more importantly, he looks to throw as he’s rolling out. Now, his field vision can use some work, but when a guy’s running like that, a defense doesn’t really have as much time to focus on where his eyes are looking as he’s going through his progressions.

On a side note, I find the increasing use of the read option by NFL teams very interesting. The option is an offensive play that was actually used for years by teams that had inferior talent, either in size or speed or both. It was a way of tricking the defense and using some sleight of hand to gain an advantage over a team that had more talent than you. That’s the reason that in college football, a team like Air Force is able to compete with teams that have much more size, speed and strength. Air Force traditionally has run not just an option, but a triple option offense (My high school football team, consistently ranked near the top of our division, played one conference team every year, the same one, who ran a triple option offense. It was always one of the hardest games to prepare for even though they were never one of the best teams we’d play. The offense is a pain in the ass to defend and speaking from experience, it really does take away a team’s speed and size advantages). They have to because they don’t have 300 pound linemen. Those guys can’t do the necessary military drills and exercises if they’re that huge. Knowing that history associated with the option offense, I find it somewhat ironic that it’s now being used by NFL offenses to further utilize the speed (and with Kaepernick, the size) of skilled offensive players as an advantage rather than using it to combat larger and faster defenders. In high school I always sort of viewed those running the option as unable to run a “real” offense.

My thoughts on San Francisco’s defense are well versed on this blog. I don’t think they’re quite as good as everyone else seems to think are. However, against Atlanta, I think they match up pretty well. The only potential difficulty they could face is the running game of Atlanta. The 49ers haven’t been quite as good against the run late this year as they were last year and at the beginning of this season. In fact, the Packers even did a decent job of running the ball on them and they don’t have a star running back. Atlanta has a nice mix of power and speed with Turner and Rodgers. That has the potential to create problems for San Francisco because it could pull one of their two safeties into the box to defend the run, opening up Atlanta’s passing game. Against Green Bay it was easier. You dare the Packers to run on you and leave two safeties back, out of the box, to make sure you can defend Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. It’s not quite as easy with Atlanta. Vic Fangio will be forced to make more decisions with his defensive schemes, probably bringing Donte Whitner in to support stopping the run.

The Final Word
So who’s going to win? That’s right, I’m actually going to predict a winner. Now that my team is out, I have no qualms about predicting a winner.

All the momentum in the world is with San Francisco right now. They’re the hotter team and probably the stronger team at this point. It would take someone out of their mind to pick Atlanta to win this game. That’s exactly why I heavily considered it. It’s just a gut feeling, one of those scenarios where you just know the game won’t play out like everyone predicts it to. I think Atlanta will actually be the looser team since all the pressure is on San Francisco. Atlanta knows no one thinks they can win this game. They’ll use it as motivation all week and I think it’ll push them to come out hot. If they get a big lead, that’s the recipe needed for beating San Francisco. Trying to come from behind takes some of Kaepernick’s abilities away from him because it doesn’t allow him to be quite as free with his decision-making. You can’t use a read option offense when you’re down two touchdowns or more. Let’s also not forget that this week Colin Kaepernick made his first appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The SI cover jinx is well documented. Seriously, look at that list. It’s long. Way longer than I realized. Let’s also not forget my past comparisons of Jim Harbaugh to Rex Ryan. It would be the ultimate validation of my comparisons for Jimmy to lose his second straight conference championship in only his second season (Rex’s Jets lost two straight AFC championships in his first two years).

All that said, as much as I’d like to pick against San Francisco, I can’t do it. There’s a simple reason that I can’t do it. I want San Francisco to lose. That, of course, means they will win. Buy your tickets and book your Super Bowl flights, Niner fans.

You can read The Couchletes’ preview of the AFC Championship game here.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

The Ray Lewis Double Standard – The Ray-Ray

By Kevin York

Photo Credit: (Nick Wass/AP)

Photo Credit: (Nick Wass/AP)

I like the Ray Lewis story that’s evolved during this NFL post season. Right before the playoffs started, he announced this is his last season. It’s served as quite the motivator for his team. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a player whose presence on the field has done more to motivate and inspire his team.

“I have to make this catch. For Ray.”

“I need to knock down this pass. For Ray.”

You see it all up and down the Ravens roster. These guys really, really want to win for Lewis. Either that or they’re scared of the wrath of Ray after a loss. Either way, they don’t want to let him down. His teammates want to give him one more run, one more Super Bowl appearance, maybe even one more ring.

Lewis is one of, if not the best, linebacker to ever play the game. He’s a definite first ballot of famer, but people tend to forget the issues he’s had with the law. Prepare yourself, this is kind of a touchy subject. Or at least I think it must be given the silence arounf it. No one ever talks about his obstruction of justice conviction and involvement in a murder charge (you like that old school SI article I just linked to?). But why don’t we talk about it? When we talk about Mike Vick, dogs come up. When we talk about Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or now Lance Armstrong, steroids come up. Pete Rose? Gambling. When we talk about Plaxico Burress…wait, do people actually talk about Plaxico Burress?…whatever…we talk about an idiot that shot himself.

What I’m saying is that in most cases, when a pro athlete has become involved in, or sometimes even just accused of, something criminal (or in the case of Rose, something millions and millions of people do legally every day in Vegas), they become tied to that incident. Not quite synonymous, but it’s definitely part of their story that’s frequently brought up. We don’t we do that with Lewis though. Seems kind of like a double standard, doesn’t it? Because of his positive affect on the Ravens franchise, the city of Baltimore and the game of football, I think the media and fans have given him a pass on bringing it up when discussing him. They give him a Ray-Ray. That’s right, I just coined a new term. Give it time, you’ll hear it in real life.

“But daaaad, Jake’s curfew was 11 when he was 16, why is mine 10? Why are you pulling a Ray-Ray?”

I’ll leave you with this Ray Lewis video. To be honest, the whole reason I wrote this post was just so I could link to this video. Enjoy. And you’re welcome. Instant classic.

Ray Lewis’ Ray of Light by TV Funhouse (sorry I didn’t embed the video…we encountered some technical difficulties with it)


By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

Thoughts on the NFL Divisional Round Playoffs

We’re now down to the last four teams in the NFL playoffs. Baltimore, San Francisco, Atlanta and New England. It was an entertaining weekend of games. The Ravens-Broncos overtime thriller was an instant classic and a game that Denver fans, and Peyton Manning, will likely want to forget quickly. The Broncos, huge favorites, really blew that game. Green Bay-San Francisco was close, at least until the fourth quarter, but nonetheless a much more competitive game than their first encounter in week one. This game didn’t turn out at all the way I wanted and I now have to live with it. I may never write another Packers preview as a result. Seattle-Atlanta looked like it would be a rout early, but the Seahawks, as they’ve done all season, refused to give up and made it quite an ending, though they ultimately blew their chance to steal a win. That game may have ended even more exciting than the Baltimore-Denver game. And finally, New England showed how strong, and deep, they really are by winning a game with Houston that never really appeared competitive after the Pats scored their first touchdown.

We’ll have previews of the AFC and NFC Championship games later this week, but here are my initial thoughts after watching the four playoff games this weekend:

— Peyton Manning could be the best regular season quarterback ever, but man, that guy has a tendency to come up short in the playoffs. It just feels like a really high number of times that he’s been the higher seed and lost. He’s such a good player and an all around good guy that I feel sorry for him.

— Speaking of him being a good guy, I appreciated hearing that Manning waited around for an hour and a half after the game to privately congratulate Ray Lewis. That’s a class act.

— The Ray Lewis story is having quite the final chapter. I can’t believe how much he’s inspired this Ravens team. It sounds ridiculous, but his presence on the field does wonders for improving Baltimore’s chances of winning a game.

— Enough criticism of Joe Flacco. He’s shown over the past two post seasons that he really is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. I’d take him in a playoff game. Last year he outplayed Tom Brady, this year he outplayed Peyton Manning. You can’t ask for much more than that.

— Baltimore still has a good defense. They don’t quite have the same pass rush they’ve had in the past, with Paul Kruger being the only really consistent pass rushing threat, but it’s still a solid unit. They may not have ranked that way this year, but remember, they had a ton of injuries and those injuries were to main contributors (Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed). Everyone’s healthy now.

— The San Francisco 49er offense may have become the team’s strong suit. With the difficult to defend new read option dimension that Colin Kaepernick has added, I really think this might the case. While the defense is still solid, I don’t feel like they shut down the Packers defense as much as they did in their week one meeting. In fact, the Pack did more to shoot themselves in the foot. Their turnovers were more a result of their own mistakes than any forcing the San Francisco defense did. And it was the Niner offense that capitalized on those Green Bay mistakes.

— Frank Gore quietly continues to be a huge contributor to the 49ers offense. He’s not the most vocal or showy player, so doesn’t command the same mainstream media attention as others on their offense, but he is the rock of that unit. Would you be surprised to know he gained 119 rushing yards against the Packers? I watched the entire game and was surprised by it. He quietly just gets his job done.

— Michael Crabtree has emerged as a top receiver in the game. Going into that game, Green Bay knew that he was one of Kaepernick’s go to guys, and they still couldn’t defend him, knowing it was coming.

— Green Bay didn’t appear to have much of a competitive game plan on either side of the ball. They apparently didn’t read my analysis post from last week because they didn’t appear prepared for many of things I called out. They ran very few screen passes (and I don’t remember any outside screens) on offense and on defense, they didn’t look prepared for Kaepernick’s outside running, which is especially odd since they put together a game plan exactly a week ago to shut down Adrian Peterson’s outside running (and were effective).

— I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new defensive coordinator in Green Bay next year. Dom Capers’ unit has not performed well for the second season in a row now. It’s the achilles heel of an otherwise pretty good team. Sure, personnel is some of it, but I think scheme is part of it too.

— Seattle had quite the year, but came up just short. That’s still a great team and one that I think over the next couple years will become the team to beat in the NFC West. They’re younger than San Francisco and won’t face some of the free agent questions that the Niners will in the offseason.

— Good for Matt Ryan. He’s a good guy and it’s nice to see him get this playoff monkey off his back. Same with Falcons head coach Mike Smith and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Those are three of the classiest guys in the league.

— Pete Carroll’s got to be wishing he had not taken the time out to try and ice Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant at the end of the game. Bryant ended up missing the attempt (which then didn’t count) and Carroll proceeded to complain to the officials about being awarded the time out. Not sure what you were complaining about Pete. FOX clearly had you on tape calling the timeout.

— The Georgia Dome is LOUD.

— Most people think the Packers (Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jermichael Finley) or Patriots (Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, and now Shane Vereen) have the best group of receivers in the league. Top to bottom, they probably do, but does anyone have a better 1-2-3 combination than the Falcons have in Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez? Throw in Harry Douglas and that’s a pretty good receiving corps. They’re vastly underrated.

— San Francisco should have a more difficult time preparing for Atlanta’s offense than they did preparing for Green Bay’s last week. In the passing game they’re similar, but Atlanta has the running game that Green Bay doesn’t with the combination of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers (as long as they don’t forget about it, which for some unknown reason they’re prone to do at times…).

— New England is the deepest team in the league. They’ve faced quite a few injuries to key contributors this year, yet their play doesn’t drop off. Danny Woodhead gets hurt on his first play of the game and New England turns to Shane Vereen to fill Woodhead’s role. He looked awesome and we’re now left wondering, where was this guy all year?

— New England’s running game has really developed this season. Ridley and Vereen looked good against a Houston defense that was supposed to be one of the best in the league.

— Speaking of Houston’s defense, what happened to them? They looked horrible. They couldn’t stop New England at all.

— Tom Brady now has the most playoff wins of any quarterback in NFL history as he surpassed Joe Montana on Sunday. In the Brady-Montana debate about who’s the best quarterback ever, I think Brady keeps doing his part to provide us with a definitive answer. The guy’s money and the case is closed in my book.

Preview and Analysis: Packers vs. 49ers, Round 2

By Kevin York

<The introduction to this preview was published on January 8, 2013. To read it, you can visit this link.>

Here it is. I said yesterday that I would break one of my own sports superstitions to write this analysis and I’ll keep my word. You’ll see that there actually isn’t much trash talk in this post, but as I mentioned, my superstition is even weirder since it includes any criticism of the opposing team as part of it. I’ve just always preferred to do my talking after the Packers win a game instead of during the lead up.

So without further discussion of my odd Packer support preferences, here’s my preview and analysis to this weekend’s Packers vs. 49ers divisional playoff game.

Packers offense
Overview: Green Bay has struggled with consistency all year on offense, partially due to injuries. They finally seem to have everyone healthy (Jordy Nelson has said he will play this weekend), which is very important for them. The offense is lethal with all its weapons and can be extremely difficult to defend.

— In week one, Green Bay seemed to go against its bread and butter, the passing game, in favor of establishing the run. In this second game, they shouldn’t even attempt to establish the run early on. This year has shown that the 49ers secondary is pretty suspect. That unit received a lot of credit last year and I said the entire year that it was overrated. People are finally listening to me now. Rodgers and company need to attack the secondary hard. Carlos Rogers isn’t capable of man coverage against speedy receivers like Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Green Bay needs to try and put him on an island. Conversely, the San Francisco corner opposite Rogers, Tarell Brown, isn’t any better. I was watching the Niners-Pats game with Ryan, a big time Niners fan. It was a Sunday Night NBC game so in introducing the defense they let the player introduce himself with the talking headshot. Ryan didn’t even know Brown, who was representing the Niners in classy fashion wearing a beanie pulled low over his eyes. “Who is that? Did they pick this guy up on the way to the game?”

Dashon Goldson, the San Francisco free safety, plays more like a hard hitting linebacker, not a guy capable of independent pass coverage against a spread look. Pure and simple, I think he’s a headhunter. The strong safety, Donte Whitner, was shunned by Buffalo before San Francisco picked him up. There’s probably a reason for that. In Buffalo you need to defend the high powered pass attack from Tom Brady and company to compete in that division. He didn’t help, so they let him walk. Last year, when Whitner got a lot of credit for his improved play, he was playing against weak quarterbacks in the NFC West. This year, he’s had to contend with Russell Wilson and a healthy Sam Bradford. What teams did San Francisco struggle with this year? That would be Seattle and St. Louis along with New England and the New York Giants (Eli Manning)… Spreading the field and forcing the Niners into man coverage against four, or even five, receivers will make for a difficult night for their secondary.

— Once the passing game is established, THEN Green Bay can use its newfound running attack. The pass will open up the run. I really like Green Bay’s new running back, DaJuan Harris. As Cris Collinsworth stated over and over and over in the playoff game against Minnesota, he likes the energy Harris brings. I do too, but more importantly, I like the decisiveness. Too many backs in the league want to dance left and right and even backwards indecisively waiting for a hole to open. It’s like watching a kid in a candy store not sure which one candy bar to pick. Harris makes a decision and proceeds with a full head of steam.

— Screen passes have worked well for Green Bay over the past few weeks and will be needed against a hard charging pass rushing team like San Francisco. Aldon Smith is a pass rushing specialist and this is a way to use that against him, especially with how well the Packer receivers have been blocking.

49ers Offense
Overview: San Francisco’s offense has evolved quite a bit this year, especially after making the move to Colin Kaepernick (a move that I think will still come back to haunt them…). He brings a different element to their offense. Everyone seems to think it’s downfield passing. [It’s not, it’s bad decisions, as he showed against Seattle. Ok, this isn’t really part of the analysis. Sorry, but I had to squeeze that in…] That’s certainly part of it, but I think the more appealing aspect (not for me, but for San Francisco fans) is his running ability, which can put a lot of stress on a defense.

— Green Bay showed against Minnesota that it can stop the run, but that was against a running back. I think they will contain Frank Gore on traditional run plays, but containing Kaepernick on read options and non-traditional run plays is another thing. A quarterback like Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III makes it difficult for a defense to contain the pocket. The read option play makes it even more difficult because you essentially need two defenders focused on containment – one on the quarterback and one on the running back. That takes away two pass rushers, so when San Francisco runs the option with a pass as one of the options, it sees success and also forces the defense to stay honest with the pass rush. Run some planned quarterback run plays so that Kaepernick can get comfortable. Don’t forget, he’s young and this is his first playoff game. Although it’s at home, it’s still a different feel and a different kind of pressure than he’s faced yet.

— San Francisco should move the pocket on Green Bay. Kaepernick has a lot of scrambling ability and Green Bay’s interior defensive lineman aren’t particularly fast. Moving the pocket away from Clay Matthews and forcing him to try and chase Kaepernick down from behind scares me.

Packers Defense
Overview: Green Bay shocked me by showing against Minnesota that defensive coordinator Dom Capers can actually develop a game plan to stop a team. He hasn’t shown it all season long. Of course it helped that Joe Webb was playing instead of Christian Ponder. I’m sure Mark never thought he’d be wishing Ponder was under center. The Packers looked good, but let’s remember that Minnesota was forced to be one dimensional on offense. Joe Webb looked astonishingly awful and the Vikings never even ran any plays that catered to his strengths after the first drive. They may have been better picking someone out of the stands to play quarterback.

— As with their defense of Peterson, they’ll need to be patient in defending Kaepernick and stick to the plan. I think using the same pocket containment they used against Peterson could work with San Francisco. Kaepernick likes to take off on outside runs, force him to stay inside and run into the beef of Green Bay’s defense – B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett. Try and move the pocket with San Francisco as it moves it (and Niners will definitely do that, they’ve done it all year). Kaepernick looked utterly confused when Seattle forced him into staying in the pocket more and he made some mistakes. Look at Seattle’s game plan and copy it. Kaepernick is young and inexperienced. He can be forced into mental mistakes.

— The Green Bay secondary is pretty good against the pass. Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward are solid in coverage, but the defensive front needs to apply enough ‘smart’ pressure to not put the secondary in situations where they’re stuck in coverage too long. I say smart pressure because Kaepernick wants to feel a pass rush because it makes it ok for him to leave the pocket and scramble. He wants a reason to run. The Packers will need to rush him differently than they do a Jay Cutler or Matt Stafford. Kaepernick has an ability to extend plays and that would put the Packers corners, good as they are, in a difficult situation.

49ers Defense
Overview: We saw some weaknesses from this defense this year. Everyone raved about them last year and I questioned their depth. This year we discovered they aren’t really that deep. They should be back to near full strength for this game, but even a healthy squad could have the deficits they’ve shown this year exploited by a powerful Green Bay offense.

— The key is Justin Smith. All the accolades went to Aldon Smith this year since he started the season hot and appeared on his way to breaking the single season sack record. He didn’t end up breaking the record, but still received plenty of talk about being a defensive player of the year candidate. I didn’t think it was warranted and he didn’t receive my vote. In fact, he didn’t even receive a second or third place vote from me. Why? Because he wasn’t even the best defender on his own team. In the last three games of the season, when Justin Smith was hurt, Aldon recorded exactly zero sacks. The key to his success is his teammate, Justin. Aldon is a pass rusher, that’s it. He’s not very astute against the run and it makes him an incomplete defensive player. Now that he has Justin back, he should be back to applying more pressure, which could give Green Bay issues. The Niners just need to hope that Justin is healthy enough to help.

Green Bay’s offensive line has gotten a lot of criticism for the sacks its given up, but I don’t think they’re as bad of a unit as people have painted them. Since benching Jeff Saturday at center in favor of Evan Dietrich-Smith, the unit has played at a much improved level. They did an adequate job against Minnesota, a solid defensive front, but the Vikings don’t have the same firepower as San Francisco. The Niners will have to test rookie tackle Don Barclay and his counterpart on the other side of the line, Marshall Newhouse. The outside rush will be key for them because it will force Green Bay to keep a running back, probably fullback John Kuhn, in the backfield to help block instead of using that position outside to line up as another receiver. The interior of the Packers line – Dietrich-Smith and guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton are pretty strong, so focus on the outside rush. The pass rush will help the Niner secondary that may struggle with Green Bay’s fast receivers.

— Given Green Bay’s passing strength, San Francisco will be forced to be timely and picky with when it blitzes inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. Those two could be forced to stay home and help in pass defense. They’re much more needed there than helping with pass rushing by blitzing. Aaron Rodgers is very good at picking apart blitzes. Leaving Bowman and Willis home will also help the Niner secondary by allowing them to play zone pass coverage instead of leaving their corners and safeties on islands defending in man coverage. I think San Francisco would be better off playing zone coverage against the Packers. They did this in week one.

— San Francisco takes a lot of pride in stopping the run. I think they need to come in with a game plan to stop the pass against Green Bay though, even if it means allowing rushing yards. The Packers won’t beat the Niners by rushing the ball, but they could take them apart by throwing the ball. San Francisco loves to play one safety up, the other back, meaning one safety in the box to stop the run, the other back in pass coverage. I don’t think they can do that against the Green Bay receivers, they’ll need to leave both back, which is exactly what they did in week one. That worked then, but keep in mind that Aaron Rodgers was playing extremely stubborn in that first meeting, insisting on trying to beat the San Francisco coverage deep. He’s proven over the season that he’s not as headstrong in his approach by checking down to receivers and letting the long ball open up itself. Nonetheless, the best way to defend him is with that two back safety approach. You don’t want to get beat deep by Rodgers and his fast receivers.

Green Bay Special Teams
Green Bay is ok with returning punts and kicks, with Randall Cobb and Jeremy Ross performing well, but it’s been an adventure with Mason Crosby kicking field goals this season. He’s been better over the past three games, but they haven’t put him in a situation where he could fail very big. It’s a very “kid gloves” approach and they’ll have to continue this tentative strategy against San Francisco.

San Francisco Special Teams
If there’s a kicker that struggled more than Mason Crosby this year, it was San Francisco’s David Akers. He’s looked atrocious at times, so much so that the 49ers signed free agent kicker Billy Cundiff last week. Of course, Cundiff was cut by the Ravens in favor of a rookie, so is he going to be better? Who knows, but at this point it can’t hurt to look. San Francisco’s returners, namely Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams, have made some mental mistakes, at times extremely large ones, in the return game over the past two years. I think their best bet is using LaMichael James to return punts and kicks. They started doing this more and more toward the end of the year and the rookie showed he can handle the responsibility.

So, that’s my analysis. I don’t think I even included too much trash talk in there, although I was sure to fit in several slights (Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, the entire San Francisco secondary). I just couldn’t help myself once I got going. I’m sure this week will include plenty of trash talk between me and San Francisco fans, especially here at The Couchletes. Poor Mark will feel all left out. Better luck next year, buddy.

Now that I’ve got this analysis published, and I broke my superstition of not trash talking or criticizing my friend’s teams before they play Green Bay, I can spend the rest of the week debating my other sports superstitions I mentioned yesterday, my ban on wearing Packer jerseys on big game days. Do I tempt fate? On Saturday night I actually didn’t even wear a Packers shirt while watching the Minnesota game. Laundry kind of piled up on us and I realized all eight of the non-jersey Packers shirts I own were dirty. So I wore a Packers ballcap and a regular, non-Packer sweater. My Packers shirts all got washed on Sunday, but so did that sweater. Maybe I just wear that and my Green Bay cap again…

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york