(and by the way, OH MY GOD WE WON THE SUPERBOWL YAY. Ahem…)
Having stayed up to four in the morning eating two packets of Fingers and a sharing-sized bag of Doritos, and watched some men in white jerseys bumble around a lawn in pursuit of an inflated, or indeed under-inflated, animal skin apparently more effectively than some men in blue jerseys, the 2014 NFL season has come to a close, so-called because it ends in 2015. And with this conclusion will come an avalanche of thought pieces, reviews and reactions across the Internet, so I thought I’d [put my raindrop in the proverbial cloud of post-Superbowl analysis, a metaphor I’m using because no-one really understands the scientific reasoning behind either rain or American Football’s miraculous economic success, but both [p[rove to be annoying for people in Britain regardless.
1) Brady’s quick throws
Armed with more pass-rushers on one side of the formation than the Patriots seem to have had since 1960, the Seahawks always posed a great threat in getting after Tom Brady, a threat that became much more real when their equally-scary run defence started plugging up holes for Blount & co. to power through, forcing Brady to take more responsibility for the offence – he dropped back to throw the ball 51 times.
But he was only sacked once; he got the ball out of his hands quickly, hitting receivers like Vereen and Edelman – who had 20 catches between them, for a total of 173 yards, a much lower average yards-per-catch of 8.65 than Seattle’s breakout receiver Matthews, with 4 grabs for 109 yards – for short gains over the middle of the field and in the flats, matching them up against slower linebackers in Seattle’s zone defence, or drawing those linebackers into the flats as the cornerbacks dropped deeper when the Seahawks played their 3-deep defence. Before the game, avoiding Richard Sherman was a key talking point for the Patriots, but after Brady’s early pick to Jeremy Lane, the veteran avoided the Legion Of Boom altogether, a shorter, quicker passing game that better-suited his weaker deep throws anyway.
2) Game management
Usually, we imagine ‘controlling a game’ as having a great running game to weak down the clock and defenders, and an ex[plosive passing game to take advantage of these tired opponents, which is identically what the losing Seahawks have in Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson. But the time of possession – 33 minutes for New England, 26 for Seattle – and total play – 72 to 53 in favour of the eventual winners – stats show that, for a team than ran the ball just once on first down, the Patriots were able to control the game, with Brady’s quick throws functioning very much like an effective running game – leading receiver Vereen’s eleven catches had an average of 5.8 yards each – without any of the bone-crushing hits tight ends and running backs are exposed to in a power-run scheme.
This difference was evident in the fourth quarter when Wilson overthrew an open Lynch running a wheel route to the right sideline, where he had beaten New England’s Jamie Collins, but lacked the speed to catch up to the pass after carrying the ball into Vince Wilfork and friends 24 times; conversely Shane Vereen – admittedly a much smaller, faster back to begin with – was regularly able to find space in the flat, and turn an almost-horizontal pass from Brady into a four- or five-yard gain. These sorts of short gains against a Seattle defence perhaps reduced to a bend-don’t-break mentality in a team-wide effort to contain Rob Gronkowski – he was limited to an unusually mortal-looking 6 catches for 68 yards and a single score – kept Wilson and Lynch on the bench, and let Brady run the game.
This one works for both sides of the ball; I touched on Brady’s first pick earlier, and the quarterback’s decision to avoid the ball-hawking Seattle secondary for pretty much the rest of the game paid off, only throwing one completion of more than twenty yards, the score to Gronkowski when he was matched up in single-coverage against linebacker KJ Wright. But schematically, New England used rub routes and mesh crosses all over the field to confuse the Legion of Boom, making defenders stop and wait for an extra second here and there, which really throws off a defensive scheme that is so heavily based on getting to the ball quickly; it’s hard to deliver a fumble-inducing hit when you’re off balance after adjusting to cover a new receiver.
On defence, it was a similar story, with Chris Matthews – my winner of the as-of-yet non-existent Kurt Warner Award For Best Rags-To-Riches Superbowl Story Involving Working In A Chain Store – exploding for four catches, 109 yards and a touchdown, using his 6-3 frame to extend over New England’s smaller nickel and dimebacks in Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan. But bruising corner, and former Seahawk, Brandon Browner was assigned to him later in the game, creating a matchup based on physicality alone, rather than general skill as a player, that was much more favourable for the Patriots – it’s telling that the rookie with the second-most receiving yards for an undrafted player in a Superbowl was held without a catch in the fourth quarter, and wasn’t targeted on Seattle’s suicidal slant route in the last minute, when his size surely would have made him the favourite for the play, if he hadn’t been shut down so effectively before.
4) New England’s secondary
For all the explosive plays to Matthews, New England did a generally good job of shutting down a potentially volatile offence, holding Russell Wilson without a completion until deep in the second quarter; New England’s isn’t a particularly innovative defence, using a hybrid front and heavy substitutions to create mismatches instead of exotic blitzes or deceptive coverages, so barring the odd Xs-and-Os-defying run from Wilson, the back end of the New England defence was effective in shutting down what was, literally, thrown at them.
Even on plays like Kearse’s ridiculous falling, ball-bobbling, limb-flailing circus catch – which would have been my winner for the also as-of-yet non-existent David Tyree Award For An Insane Catch Made In A Superbowl To Screw Over New England, had Seattle won the game – rookie Malcolm Butler’s coverage was pretty good, and often player like Matthews could only get an advantage over New England’s defensive backs because of a size advantage, instead of poor play by the defenders in white. It wasn’t a lockdown performance from the Patriots defensive backfield, but it held against a big-play offence.
5) Filming opponents, deflating footballs, and intentionally throwing interceptions to injure opposing players out of the game
Because no human achievement can ever be accomplished without it immediately being implausibly questioned by everyone on the planet who’s not achieving that same thing; ignore the impending months of investigations and questions of integrity, Robert Kraft and co., you’ve earned a break.