Lessons of Final 4 … Weekend Cup O’Championships

Until a team holds the Lombardi Trophy above its head there are lessons the 31 other teams can learn from the winner. Sometimes the lessons are subtle and not really visible to the naked football eye. Other times, it’s something more obvious that explains their rise to the top of the league.

It’s Final Four weekend in the NFL as the 32 teams have been chopped to just four – Baltimore and New England in the AFC and the New York Giants and San Francisco in the NFC.

There’s much that teams like the Chiefs can learn while they are sitting at home and watching on the telly. A lot of lessons are not groundbreaking insights, but rather re-confirmation of tried and true methods in the game.

From this year’s Final Four here are some valuable reminders for any player, coach or team owner about of how a team on the outside can get closer to that Super Bowl championship.

From the Baltimore Ravens – Defense Never Rests

Winning in life and football is about balance. Tilt too far one way, and it makes things on the opposite side just that much harder to accomplish.

Dominating in one area provides avenues for success and the Ravens have again proven that with their defense. For the last decade Baltimore has relied on the defensive side of the game to carry it to great heights. Since winning a Super Bowl after the 2000 season, the Ravens have worked over and over again to get back but they’ve come up short.

Here they are once again, and it’s largely due to their defense. The Ravens have long established their identity as a football team. They’ve drafted guys like QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice and WR Torrie Smith, and signed free agents like Anqun Boldin and Ricky Williams. Yet, the offense remains pedestrian, finishing at No. 15 in yards gained and No. 12 in points scored.

Again, it was the defense – the Ravens finished No. 3 in fewest yards allowed and fewest points allowed. Only one foe in 16 games scored more than 27 points (San Diego with 34). Since that Super Bowl title, the Baltimore defense has slipped only once, that in 2002 when they were ranked No. 22 in yards allowed. In the 11 other seasons they were among the top 10 defenses.

GM Ozzie Newsome and his talented personnel staff have been able to keep its defense ranked among the league’s best even while making changes with the personnel. Yes, MLB Ray Lewis, FS Ed Reed and OLB Terrell Suggs are still there and have been together for at least the last nine seasons. But there have been a host of other changes, not only on the field but in coaching.

The defensive coordinator has gone from Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati head coach), to Mike Nolan (new Atlanta coordinator), to Rex Ryan (NY. Jets head coach), to Greg Mattison (University of Michigan coordinator) to Chuck Pagano who currently holds the job.

On the field they’ve lost important contributors like Samari Rolle, Adaliuis Thomas, Chris McAlister, Jim Leonhard, Bart Scott, Trevor Pryce and Kelly Gregg, but it does not seem to slow them down.

If the Ravens provide a lesson of any kind it would be about establishing an identity and living up to it.

From the New England Patriots – All Draft Choices Count

No. 199 … it has become one of the most memorable numbers in the history of the National Football League. Back in the 2000 NFL Draft the Patriots used the 199th choice to select QB Tom Brady. The decision, whether it’s chalked up to luck or skill, changed the course of history for the franchise and so many others.

On the back of No. 12, the Patriots won three Super Bowls and are one victory over the Ravens on Sunday away from having a chance to win No. 4. On the back of No. 12, a host of former Patriots coaches and personnel types have gotten big dollars for their chances – Crennel, Weis, Mangini, McDaniels, Pioli, Dimitroff and O’Brien.

Since No. 12 did not join them in their new homes, that group has had very little in the way of success. But with Brady directing things, the Patriots are again in the AFC Championship Game, hosting the Baltimore Ravens.

There’s an old saying in the coaching world that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Call the Patriots lucky when the time came for selecting No. 199, but they were prepared with good reports on Brady. They identified just what and who he was, not only as a player, but a person. And when the opportunity presented itself, the Patriots took the leap.

On that day, there was no fanfare surrounding the selection of Brady. The fans and media had long lost interest in the draft that was grinding to a conclusion. But Patriots leader Bill Belichick had not, and the rest is history.

From the New York Giants – No Panic Button

Clark Hunt probably does not like to fire head coaches, but he’s prone to doing just that. In a short five-year period where he’s been the primary decision maker, he’s fired two coaches. Two years after going to the playoffs, a 2-14 record did in Herm Edwards. Less than a full year after making the playoffs, a 5-8 record was the excuse to fire Todd Haley.

That’s a classic example of reaching and punching the panic button.

One reason that the New York Giants will play in Sunday’s NFC championship game against San Francisco is the removal of the panic button from the team operation. Owned 50-50 by the Tisch and Mara families, it is largely John Mara who guides the team.

And over the last half-dozen years or so there have been many opportunities presented to Mara by the New York media and die-hard Giants fans that it was time to change his head coach. Tom Coughlin was hired in 2004 and promptly went 6-10. The next two seasons, the Giants made the playoffs but lost both times in the wildcard round. Many, many calls for Coughlin’s head came from the peanut gallery in those years.

Mara ignored the advice. The noise was still there in 2007 as well with the team going 10-6 and sliding into the NFC playoffs for a third straight year as the No. 5 seed. Four games later, they were Super Bowl champions after topping the unbeaten New England Patriots 17-14.

The glow of a championship lasted a year; in 2008 the Giants went 12-4, but lost in the divisional playoffs to Philadelphia. In the next two seasons, Coughlin’s team didn’t make the playoffs and again the cries started for his coaching hide.

Again, Mara ignored the chatter. And again, here are the Giants just a game away from making another trip to the Super Bowl.

Before he landed with the Giants, Tom Coughlin was a good coach. When there were struggles, he was a good coach. If you are an owner without a panic button, a good coach is too good to lose.

From the San Francisco 49ers – Special Teams Pay Off

All during the post-season when the San Francisco 49ers have been mentioned it was defense that got the accolades and the attention. The Niners finished the regular season as the No. 4 defense in fewest yards allowed, No. 1 against the run. Then, they were able to control the high-powered offense of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in their first post-season outing.

Without a doubt, head coach Jim Harbaugh’s defense is special. But even more “special” for the Niners this season was their special teams. When it comes to the kicking game, Harbaugh’s team led the way in the league with one of the best overall special teams performances the league has seen in some time. The kickers, the returners, and the coverage people – they all were at the top of their game, and it’s a great reminder about how that aspect of the game can’t be forgotten.

It starts with their kickers. Punter Andy Lee led the NFL not only in gross punting average (50.9 yards) but net punting average (44 yards). That’s the third highest gross average in NFL history and his net average set a new NFL record. Kicker Fred Akers led the NFL in scoring with 166 points. He attempted and made more field goals than any other kicker in the league (44 of 52). It wasn’t just putting it between the pipes where Franklin excelled it was on kickoffs as well as he finished tied for fourth in the league with 47 touchbacks on kickoffs.

But it doesn’t end there. Returner Ted Ginn Jr. was fourth in the league in punt return average (12.3 yards) and third in kickoff return average (27.6 yards). He returned both a punt (55 yards) and a kickoff (102 yards) for touchdowns.

And there’s more – they did not allow a punt or kickoff return for a score. Opponents averaged just 8.1 yards on punt returns, with a long return of 24 yards. Kickoff coverage kept opponents to an average return of 23.1 yards with a long return of 39 yards.

13 Responses to “Lessons of Final 4 … Weekend Cup O’Championships”

  • January 20, 2012  - txchief says:

    …so there is something to the “Patriots’ way?” They certainly seem to wind up in the playoffs and Superbowl(R) often.

  • January 20, 2012  - Rick says:

    Sure, “Patriots way” = Tom Brady. :)

  • January 20, 2012  - Blake says:

    David Akers, not Fred lol. I sure am glad that I picked up Akers for my fantasy team :)

    SF special teams were good, but it kinda shows how bad on offense they were, they couldn’t score when they got to the redzone.

  • January 20, 2012  - txchief says:

    That’s right Rick. When you get lucky and find a real “franchise” QB, your team is alot better for a long time. Good coaching and smart player acquisition plays a huge role too.

    I don’t want the Chiefs to try to exactly duplicate the Patriots or the Steelers organizations, but both of those teams must be doing something right.

  • January 20, 2012  - Johnfromwichita says:

    tx, you are right about drafting a franchise QB and the team will probably stay good for a long time. Maybe 13 years or even more. And head coach stays longer and consistencey and continuity thrive. The really good teams don’t have to reload evey five years; they just keep adding. What we’ve seen this year is how truly important depth can affect the season.

  • January 21, 2012  - bhive01 says:

    @Blake, “they couldn’t score when they got to the redzone”… that sounds familiar.

  • January 22, 2012  - Milkman says:

    Every year our team is trying to do whatever it takes to become a championship team. Problem is, every year there are 31 other teams trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. This is why it is so amazing to see the same teams playing in the post season year after year. The difference has to start at the top. Clark Hunt made the comment right before he introduced Scott Pioli that he would do whatever it took- including finding that ever so important “franchise quarterback”. Well, he has yet to find one. There have been a few championship teams who have won without an elite quarterback but with a great running game and great defense. But those teams don’t seem to be in the post season discussion year after year like the ones that do have that elite signal caller. It would probably take a very bold move to get one of these guys, but unless Pioli and Hunt decide to take that gamble we will never be in that small group of teams that play this time of year.

  • January 22, 2012  - Niblick says:

    Milkman-Excellent points. Without an elite QB almost everhing else has to be nearly perfect. A suffocating defense. tremendous running game, and great special teams. The 2000 Ravens were an example and they haven’t been back since. Perhaps this year, but I’m predicting the Pats will win. An elite QB will help cover up things when those facets are not perfect. By the same token a terrbible defense can keep you from winning a chammponship. IE This year’s Saints.

  • January 22, 2012  - el cid says:

    Milkman, I agree. But not this year. Has to do with how the Chiefs management views their team. Only 2 apparently cannot miss, Luck and RGIII. Although there are several who really like Weeden on this site. Pioli is not going to trade up, not his style, as in never. Maybe next year in 2013 there will be more coming out of college or a NFL backup with the right rep. There is always next year with the Chiefs.

  • January 22, 2012  - Michael says:

    Weedon is likely to be picked in RD 4-5.

  • January 22, 2012  - Michael says:

    As it gets closer to the draft people will start talking more about the quarterbacks other than the big names Luck and RGII. There are actually quite a few guys, who are not in the same category as those two right now, will be well worth drafting. Weedon is one. Others are:

    Ryan Tannehill-Texas A&M
    Nick Foles-Arizona
    Brock Osweiler-Arizona State
    Ryan Lindley-San Diego State
    Kirk Cousins-Michigan State
    BJ Coleman-Chatanooga
    Russell Wilson-Wisconsin
    Kellen Moore-Boise State
    Case Keenum-Houston
    Chandler Harnish-N. Illinois
    Darren Thomas-Oregon
    Austin Davis-Southern Miss
    Stephen Garcia-South Carolina

  • January 22, 2012  - el cid says:

    Just heard this today, have no idea as to the truth of it. Crennel has told national media he was talking to coaches for OC during the weeks between now and the superbowl. Also said he had the idea he wanted more of “manager” type QB, one who could keep the team running smoothly, not flashy. Who does that sound like to you, guys?

    If what I heard was true, no college QB this year, at least not early in the draft. Gosh, I hope I am wrong. Cassel is adequate but not a lot of bang for the buck.

  • January 22, 2012  - Michael says:

    After the big 2 in Luck and Griffen III, there are a few QB’s in this year’s draft I have a good feeling about. I would be happy to see KC land one of them, at least.

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