Archive for the ‘The Tape Never Lies’ Category

julius thomas2

There are several X-factors in Super Bowl XLVIII, and then there’s a J-factor: Julius Thomas. How do you stop him? He’s 6’5″, weighs 250 pounds, and he’s quick and explosive. He can line up in-line like a traditional tight end or like a modern flex/slot. He may not seem like any different of a problem to the Seattle Seahawks than some of the recent tight ends they’ve faced, including Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis the last two weeks, but he is. He won’t soften like Graham did or be underused like Davis was. He’ll battle the defense until the game’s end, and he’ll get plenty of chances to beat them too.

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Patience was all he needed from others. After shredding his knee as a high school senior, Clemson was patient with him, redshirting his freshman year to give time to rehabilitate. Then he went to Seattle, a team that was patient as he stretched to touch his toes while battling through injuries before eventually beating up on foes. Now he’s the starting right cornerback for the Seahawks.

Meet Byron Maxwell, a 6’1″, 207-pound 25-year-old who All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman once wrote is the reason the Seahawks will be going to New York next week.

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sherman tap2

The ballgame always comes down to inches in the playoffs, doesn’t it? It wasn’t different this past Sunday when the Seahawks defeated the 49ers on a last-second interception. An inch and it would have gone over Richard Sherman’s head, sending the 49ers to the Super Bowl via a Michael Crabtree catch. An inch and it would have quelled the criticism of Colin Kaepernick. An inch and it would have quieted Sherman – maybe.

The Seahawks won a tough game that came down to the final 32 seconds of the fourth quarter. The game’s brutality and closeness was expected, as the two teams had met previously and were similarly structured throughout their rosters. They were built the same way, but both couldn’t win on this day. It would come down to one play, one that would send a roar from CenturyLink Field through Sherman’s mouth to New York.

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Russell Okung has his hands full this weekend. He’ll not only be facing one Smith, but two. That, of course, is a reference to Justin and Aldon Smith of the 49ers. Whenever a left tackle faces the 49ers, they have to face both because of the way the two pass-rushers line up. Justin is usually outside the left shoulder of the tackle or head up, while Aldon aligns well outside the shoulder like a typical pass-rusher. At the snap, one could go inside while the other outside, and vice versa. It’s not easy to figure out who is going where, as Okung knows from his Week 14 matchup, which he struggled in.

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Bill Belichick knows a thing or two about gameplans. He’s responsible for some of best the NFL has ever seen, so you couldn’t blame him if he was to recycle one every now and then. It’s a habit that’s worked frequently.

Against the Denver Broncos in Week 12 (his team’s AFC title game opponent), there were shades of the 1991 Super Bowl gameplan that he used to thwart the Buffalo Bills’ high-powered, fast-paced offense. If he used a similar approach again this weekend it wouldn’t surprise anyone, including former New York Giants area scout Greg Gabriel, who worked with Belichick for six seasons.

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Vernon Davis2

One can’t help but wonder if the Week 10 meeting been the 49ers and Panthers would have been any different had Vernon Davis not left midway through the second quarter when he was concussed by strong safety Mike Mitchell after running a flat route on a swap boot play-action pass. It was only his second target that game, his lowest of any game this season.

But nine weeks later, the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers are set to square off again, and Davis will be a critical factor in the game. He’s fresh off a two-catch game, but on seven targets. That high volume of targets has become the norm for him, having been targeted at least five times in all but two games since his injury, according to Pro Football Focus. We can expect to see him get a similar amount this game if he can escape the absurd athleticism and crafty coverage of linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

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As you may have heard, Jimmy Graham is a former college basketball player. In-booth commentators and outside media make sure you are aware of this each time you sit down to watch the New Orleans Saints tight end play. It’s a fun thing to bring up  because he played basketball at the University of Miami for three years before finishing his senior year playing football. But what the media doesn’t know is that reminding the audience of his basketball-playing days repeatedly is offensive to Graham — very offensive.

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