Tag Archives: NFC Wild Card Playoff

Despite Bad Call, Lions Have Themselves to Blame in Loss to Cowboys

6 Jan

By Chris Murray
For The Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens collides with Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew on a controversial reversal of a pass interference call.

Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens collides with Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew on a controversial reversal of a pass interference call.

All the tumult and shouting from the Dallas Cowboys 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions in Sunday’s NFC Wildcard game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. is not coming from Tony Romo’s game-winning eight-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams.

Fans on social media and on sports talking radio have been debating the controversial pass interference call or better yet non-call that happened midway through the fourth quarter.

Ahead 20-17, the Lions had a third and one at the Dallas 46 when quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. A flag for pass interference was called against Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who appeared to be face guarding Pettigrew while also making contact with his shoulder while the ball was in the air.

Incredibly, referee Pete Morelli announced that the flag had been picked up without explanation. After the game, Morelli told pool reporter, ESPN’s Todd Archer that it was the head linesman who overruled the back judge who initially threw the flag. He also said that unlike the collegiate level, face guarding a receiver is not a penalty.

To be honest, it was bad officiating on that play in more ways than one, but it wasn’t the reason the Lions lost the game. I’ll get to that momentarily.

After that call, things began going South for the Lions. On fourth and one, the Lions intentionally took a delay of game penalty and then punted. But Sam Martin’s punt went just 10 yards. It took the Cowboys 11 plays and 59 yards to get what turned out to be the winning score.

On social media, the non-interference call was justifiably vilified by fans, especially those who hate the Cowboys. Some even pointed to a story that came out back in August that said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s Vice President of Officiating, was seen on a Cowboys-themed party bus hosted by Jerry Jones.
I guess they were implying that somehow Jones slipped Blandino a little something-something to instruct his guys to call things the Cowboys way during the season.

Enough of the conspiracy theories, let’s get down to the football end of all this.

For starters, the lack of an interference call was merely one thing the refs missed on the play involving Pettigrew and Hitchens.

As he was running his pattern, Pettigrew grabbed Hitchens face mask—a 15-yard penalty against the offense. But then Hitchens grabbed Pettigrew’s jersey, which should have been defensive holding or illegal contact.
And lest we forget the antics of Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who came off the bench without his helmet and should have gotten a 15-yard penalty. On that one play the officials definitely got it wrong.

But at the end of the day, it wasn’t the reason the Lions were eliminated from the playoffs. The Lions have themselves to blame for losing this game.

After the controversial play, the Lions still had fourth and one at the Cowboys 46. If they go for it there and make it, we’re not talking about what happened on the previous down.

I’d like to think that if you have players like wide receiver Calvin Johnson or even Reggie Bush you can get one yard against an average Cowboys defense. Johnson, who caught five passes for 85 yards, constantly burned Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr. Running back Joique Bell, who had 43 yards rushing, should be able to get one yard against that defense.

But head coach Jim Caldwell played it conservative and punted, which was not a bad thing to do to pin the Cowboys deep into their own territory. Unfortunately, Martin shanked the punt and the ball traveled a mere 10 yards and put Dallas in good field position at the Cowboys 36—bad execution on the part of the Lions.

If you go back to the play on third and one, the reason there was a collision between Pettigrew and Hitchens. It was a poorly thrown ball by Stafford. If he gets some loft on that ball and puts it out there where Pettigrew can get it, it’s a big play for the Lions.

After Dallas scored the go-ahead touchdown, the Lions had the ball with 2:32 and two timeouts left. That’s plenty of time to march down the field and win the game. The Lions drove from their own 20 to the Dallas 42 and needed three yards to convert on fourth down.
Unfortunately for the Lions, Stafford not only gets sacked, but he fumbled the football. You can’t put that on that non pass interference call. The Lions had an excellent opportunity to win the game, but did not execute when it counted.
After scoring the game’s first two touchdowns in the first quarter, Detroit scored just six points over the next three quarters. The Lions rolled up 257 yards of offense in the first half and had 13 first downs. In the second half, Detroit had just 140 yards and just six first downs.

I know the emotion of Lions fans and those who just hate the Cowboys are going to harp on the non-interference call with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter as the main cause of Detroit’s demise. Yes, the officials screwed up royally on that one play.

However, the Lions did not make enough plays to advance to the next round, something Caldwell was quick to point out during his postgame press conference.

“I’m not going to sit up here and act like that was the play that made the difference in the game. We still had our chances,” Caldwell said.

 

The Associated  Press contributed to this report.

NFC Wild Card Playoff: Can the Eagles Stop Drew Brees and the Powerful Saints Offense?

31 Dec

 

SaintsversusEagles

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Eagles have to figure out a way to stop Drew Brees and the Saints offense in Saturday's NFC Wildcard Playoff game. Photo by Neworleanssaints.com.

The Eagles have to figure out a way to stop Drew Brees and the Saints offense in Saturday’s NFC Wildcard Playoff game. Photo by Neworleanssaints.com.

PHILADELPHIA—After beating the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC East and surviving the rigors of an elimination game, the Eagles open their playoff run at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday night against Drew Brees and the potent New Orleans Saints offense.

While Eagles fans can take comfort in the fact that the Saints have never won a playoff game on the road, were 3-5 on the road in the regular season and that dome teams are 3-25 in road playoff games when the temperature dips below 35 degrees, the Birds players and coaches can’t.

The Eagles are expecting the Saints come out to come out on all cylinders and then some.

“They’re a good football and like any good team, they don’t let those outside factors get to them,” said Eagles inside linebacker Mychal Kendrick.  “They’re going to come in here, they’re going to try and play a really good game no matter what the situation is and that’s just what it is.”

On the defensive side of the football, the Eagles will be facing the league’s No. 2 passing offense, led by Brees and a host of playmakers including tight end Jimmy Graham, who has 16 touchdown passes.

“This offense is so efficient and it is run on Drew Brees and his decision-making and quick release,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “He really makes you defend the field both horizontally and vertically because all five of his eligible receivers are up and active. …they stretch you horizontally and vertically.”

For an Eagles secondary that’s had to go up against some of the league’s best receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant, it’s another monumental challenge. Eagles cornerback Cary Williams said he nor the Eagles secondary is fazed by the caliber of talent lined up against him.

“I’m going to play my game, regardless,” Williams said. “I could care less what Drew Brees does with his release. I’m going to be in the guy’s (receiver’s) face, I’m going to disrupt the timing and I’m going to try my best to play 60 minutes as tough as I possibly can.”

What makes this Saints team a difficult challenge for the Eagles is their array of weapons from Graham to wide receiver Marques Colston or even speedy running back Darren Sproles, who caught 71 passes coming out of the backfield during the regular season.

So how do you cover those guys, especially when you have a quarterback like Brees who gets the ball out to his playmakers with the blink of an eye? Do you man up one-on-one and get physical? Should you lay back and play zone?

“I think the key is to change up that type of coverage and it’s more about the quarterback than the actual coverage and what he’s looking at, what he sees and how quick he can read it,” Davis said. “He’s seen every coverage and he’s seen all kinds of different tactics and then so has Sean (Payton, Saints head coach).

“They’ve got adjustments to everything.”

The Eagles are going to have to figure out a way to disrupt Brees timing in the passing game even if they can’t get physically close to touching him. That means pass rushers are going to have to be like basketball shot-blockers and put their hands in the air.

“It’s definitely one of those things where you have to get after him and try to rattle him a little bit,” said Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham. “That’s one of the challenges we have every week is who’s going to get to the quarterback and how many times. I think it will definitely change the game if we can get there a couple of times.”

If there’s a weakness in the Saints offense is that they don’t run the football very well. They are averaging 91 yards per game running the football with backs like Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Sproles.

Considering what Brees can do in the passing game, the Eagles seemed to be more concerned about the Saints backs as receivers.

“That’s going to be our task at hand to handle them coming out of the backfield,” Kendrick said. “Those guys are quick, agile and they can get into small spaces.”