Thursday, January 23, 2014

NFL clears Broncos' Welker: "It was a legal hit"

The National Football League today issued it's verdict in the crunching hit put on New England Patriots' cornerback Aqib Talib by Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker - and it wasn't what Patriots' coach Bill Belichick wanted to hear.

"It was a legal hit." Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, announced during a segment of NFL Network's NFL Total Access.

Of course, in the letter of the law it was legal so no fines or suspensions will be forthcoming against the diminutive ex-Patriots' slot receiver, but that doesn't mean that the story is going to go away.

On Monday morning, a casually dressed and unusually calm looking Belichick, who had the opportunity to sleep on the subject before addressing the media, did so, and with out prompting but with direct promulgation started his customary press conference monologue by calling out Welker for purposely taking out his best cover corner with a vicious pick...

...calling Welker's hit that knocked Talib out of the game "a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open," then qualifying his statement with, "It's one of the worst plays I've seen."

Belichick also prompted the league by saying he'd let them handle the discipline, while Denver coach John Fox responded by saying  "We were not doing anything with intent.", then taking a jab at Belichick, to the laughter of beat reporters,"Our receivers always try to get open."

Just about every writer and fan in the civilized world and parts of Maine have issued their opinion, the vast majority of them favoring the receiver that Fox calls "a great player, (with) high integrity,", but those who have a dissenting opinion have been heard from as well.

"It was really uncalled for," Seattle Seahawks' cornerback Walter Thurmond said after watching the replay. "The receiver ran right into the guy. I don't know the extent of the injury Talib had, but I thought we were supposed to protect football players in this league now. I guess not. I guess that only goes one way."

Which gets to the crux of the matter.  Receivers are protected by rules that penalize a defensive player for hitting a defenseless receiver - there are fines and suspensions awaiting those who do.  Talib was concentrating on receiver Demaryius Thomas when Welker skirted by his teammate and slammed into Talib, forcing the corner from the game.

Jim Leonard of the Buffalo Bills quipped that it appeared that Welker was on a "Suicide Mission".

In a criminal law case, part of the prosecution's tasks is to prove that the accused intended to commit the crime, intended to injure - and no one can say for sure what Welker's intentions were.  But the National Football League doesn't have to prove intent, just whether the action broke one of their rules...

...and in the spirit of the rule, Welker is clean.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Teacher! Aqib Talib called me a bad name!

Being a reporter for an unabashed tabloid like the New York Post, one would think that Bart Hubbach would be used to people telling him to get out their faces, and most likely being referred to as someone who has carnal knowledge with someone's mother.

So why would Hubbuch be so butt-hurt about being addressed in that manner by an obviously distraught New England Patriots' cornerback Aqib Talib following New England's 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in Sunday's AFC Championship game?

After all, this is the same guy that called out's Jason La Canfora after the national writer posted a piece in regard to, among other things, how Jets' General manager John Izdik "has rid this building (MetLife Stadium) of many of its most willing off-the-record sources, and that Idzik has yet to endear himself to a media corps seemingly hostile to his very arrival, and you have a bona fide tabloid fight on your hands,."...

...the ensuing twitter war between the two akin to a playground shoving match between third grade sissies - but an incredibly entertaining exchange that painted ultimately Hubbuch as a wannabe that La Confora sarcastically panned should "Keep championing journalism on the back page", then following up with "I can't compete with that."

In keeping with that spirit of playground tattle tale journalism, Hubbuch shot off another tweet regarding Talib, perhaps displaying his true agenda in dealing with injured corner:

Teacher!  Aqib just called me a bad name!

Most media outlets are siding with Hubbuch's interpretation, which goes to show how much research the typical blogger will do before essentially committing plagiarism and taking a yellow journalist's word on everything - instead of taking the stance that Larry Brown of his like-named website Larry Brown Sports wrote:

"People usually don’t say “get out my face, motherf—er” unless they’re prompted in some way, so it’s possible that Hubbuch is leaving out a detail."

Given Hubbuch's history of getting in people's faces, Brown is most likely correct - and given that people who tattle to the teacher usually leave out a detail or two, like maybe he started the confrontation...

He does, after all, work for a tabloid.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Welker taking out Talib his best contribution to Broncos' title

Missed opportunities.

When New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib went down with a knee injury in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game on Sunday, hearts all over New England sank - because memories are long when it comes to bad losses.

Brady and the passing game was out of sync until it was too late
Since winning their last World Title after the 2004 season, the Patriots and their fans have endured just about every big game gut punch that there is, from David Tyree's velcro-helmet catch to Wes Welker's drops to Talib being knocked out of last season's conference title tilt, so they could be excused for being a bit fidgety.

And Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning could be excused for going right to work on the rest of the New England secondary.  But in keeping with their mode of operation for the season, the Patriots defense bent plenty, but more times than not didn't break...

...allowing just 13 points in the first half and an equal number in the second - the 26 points allowed a plenty good enough effort for the New England Patriots offense to top, right?

Not on this day, not with the Patriots' offense out of sync from the very start, not without a running game and certainly not with quarterback Tom Brady under siege and off target - and by the time they found any rhythm the Denver Broncos were all but on the plane and headed to New York.

The Broncos' 26-16 win on Sunday afternoon in Denver was more a matter of of poor execution on both sides of the ball and even worse offensive play calling - the entire game a synopsis of everything that went bad for New England during the course of the season.

Injuries, of course, were the main story line all season, and the injury to Talib on what was essentially a pick play by former Patriots' receiver Wes Welker was his greatest contribution on the day, a blindside shot to the ribs that ended the Patriots' shutdown cornerbacks' game before it really even got started.

The defense had no answer for Denver's passing game after that, but did what they had to do to give the team a chance - getting off of the field on third down just as often as not, and holding the potent Denver offense to three field goals in five red zone trips, yielding just two touchdowns overall.

The problem being not so much the amount of yardage given up to set to the red zone, and not even the amount of time they allowed Denver to eat up on those drives - rather, the offense failing to generate any momentum or points when they got their opportunities until the game had been all but decided.

It's not as if the Patriots receivers weren't open - they were - but in calling just 16 running plays, the offense had no balance and the pass rush started getting to Brady.  He was sacked just twice, but those came in the most critical of circumstances, both ending drives and taking them out of field goal range...

...but he was upright most of the game - mostly because Denver was respecting the run even if New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels didn't - but started taking a beating after releasing throws as the offensive line started to tire from hand-to-hand combat with the Broncos' pass rushers, many off-target on wide open throws down the field.

When Brady did start to connect he was razor sharp - of course, the Broncos had a three score advantage by that time and was playing off-coverage to prevent the long throws downfield - the same throws that Brady missed the opportunity on earlier in the game.

But in the end, it was loss of Talib that doomed a Patriots' team with no continuity or balance on offense - and Patriots' fans can't help but think that Wes Welker put the fork to them one last time - taking out their best pass defender away from the play.

It doesn't matter if it was an illegal pick, nor that a flag was not thrown - because breaking Talib was the beginning of the end for New England, and that's worth a five-yard penalty any day of the week.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

New England Patriots on Paper: Improved Patriots defense is Broncos' own fault

"What happens this year will be determined by what happens in the next five weeks. This is where this team and every other team will define itself."

Bill Belichick - November 25, 2013

That certainly is the way things panned out - as always, Bill Belichick constantly reminding everyone each season that he builds his teams to be at their best after Thanksgiving - though no one thought the team's identity would be that of a smashmouth, old-school entity with a circa-1970's feel to it...

...the Patriots' recipe for success nothing more than fundamentally sound execution and brutish trench play that permeates the lineup from the inside out - injuries that would have finished any other team just setting the stage for a long line of unassuming depth to become impromptu heroes.

Linebacker Jamie Collins is the latest to stand up and be counted, though it is to be remembered that he has just one great game under his belt - but what a game it was.

To be sure, the 6' 3", 250 athletic freak had one of the best performances ever by a Patriots' linebacker in last Saturday's divisional round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts - and, indeed, one of the best performances by a linebacker ever in the history of the National Football league if the folks at Pro Football Focus are to be believed.

But was his game an anomaly in that everything just went right for him, or did the Patriots just unleash him at exactly the right time?  A better question may be, have the Patriots finally discovered their true identity, and Collins is merely part of it?

As good as the rookie linebackers' game was against the Colts, it certainly isn't the first time he's shown up positively for the Patriots, demonstrating his potential and how far he had closed the gap on the learning curve in the weeks leading up to the trouncing of the Colts, with his best statistical game of the season prior to that against - you guessed it - the Denver Broncos in late November.

But Collins' recent emergence is just the latest chapter in a 2013 season that got stranger and stranger as the games wore on, until a monstrous entity slowly took shape during the month of December - a team that seemingly became stronger the more players that they lost.

Against the Broncos in week 12, the Patriots played the entire game in the 4-2-5 Nickle - and got absolutely gouged in the running game.  So some may find it curious that the Patriots will probably come with the same approach in the AFC Championship game on Sunday...

...not necessarily daring Denver to run against a soft or light front, but daring them to run against a run defense that is exponentially better than it was seven weeks ago.

And that's the way it's supposed to work, right?  Your team gets better as the season wears on - and the Patriots obviously have on defense, but for this unit to be operating at peak efficiency going into the conference title tilt after losing linebacker Jerod Mayo and nose tackle Vince Wilfork - defensive captains, both - as well as tackle Tommy Kelly, and all for the season, is crazy talk.

Yet here they are with an identity of a suddenly fast, athletic, pressure-based unit that will take away what the opposition does best, then hold their own with everything else - and the entire thing was brought together by the very team that now has to deal with the monster they helped to create on Sunday at Sports Authority Field in Denver on Sunday afternoon.

After the Broncos stomped the Patriots' run defense on November 24th, there didn't seem to be a sense of urgency to do anything different with the run defense, as the Patriots' are a game-plan specific team that had sacrificed ground acqusition in order to take away quarterback Peyton Manning's passing game...

...but on the other sideline, the defensive coaching staff were in full panic as starting defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson went down with a dislocated hip during the game, leaving rookie Sylvester Williams as the starter and no real viable depth behind him.

Word got to Patriots' coach Bill Belichick the following day that the Broncos had tangible interest in signing an under-the-radar defensive tackle from New England's practice squad named Sealver Siliga, who had been on Denver's practice squad for two years before they traded him to Seattle and eventually ended up in Foxborough...

...and since practice squad players are considered free agents and are available to be signed by anyone who was willing to keep them on their active roster for at least three games, Belichick had little recourse but to promote Siliga to the active roster to keep Denver from stealing him.

The story from that point has been well documented as Siliga has not only fortified the middle of the Patriots defensive line, but his ability to shed blocks and take on double teams - and not to discount what rookie Chris Jones brings to the field along side of the huge nose tackle - suddenly granted the linebacking corps a little autonomy to become the playmakers that they were supposed to be.

No longer did they have to wildly fire middle linebacker Brandon Spikes into an uncovered gap and hope that he guessed right, because now they had a nose that dictated which gap was to be filled - and with Spikes being a downhill run-stuffer but a liability in pass coverage considered a two-down linebacker, he would come out of the lineup in favor of Collins as the nickle linebacker.

Suddenly, Collins' other-worldy athleticism - which was evident in his special teams play and flashed a bit in his limited defensive snaps through the first ten weeks of the season - came into play more and more.  His average of nine snaps per game through the Carolina loss tripled from the win over Denver on, reaching it's zenith in the win over the Colts last weekend.

So going forward into the AFC Championship, the Patriots figure to give the Broncos the same nickle look, but expecting much better results.

The line is set with Siliga and Chris Jones manning the middle, flanked by Chandler Jones as the primary pass rusher on the blind side with Rob Ninkovich on the strong side, Collins and fellow athletic freak Dont'a Hightower covering the second level, Collins with the responsibility for Broncos' Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas and Hightower keying on the dangerous Knowshon Moreno, who caught 60 passes out of the backfield this season.

It remains to be seen how well Collins stays on Thomas in the pattern, though his work on Coby Fleener of the Colts is encouraging, but one area where Collins will have a decided advantage over Thomas is in the running game, where Thomas' skill set falls far short of blocking a talent such as Collins or Hightower - and could be a possible tip-off to the Patriots in identifying run vs. pass.

The Patriots' secondary is as healthy as they have been all season.  Their four best corners are all solid, as are their three best safeties, so defending the receivers is mostly a matter of matching up and staying dedicated to the scheme - also a departure from the first meeting when strong safety Steve Gregory was out with a broken thumb and starting corner Alfonzo Dennard exited the game early with his bum knee...

...all the while Aqib Talib dealing with a chronic hip malady - but he did an admirable job in press coverage on Denver's Demaryius Thomas in the first meeting, as did rookie Logan Ryan on Eric Decker, as did much-maligned slot corner Kyle Arrington on that Wes Welker guy.

Obviously, Belichick had built a roster that featured enough quality depth to endure the losses that the Patriots ended up suffering, which is a testament to his foresight and superior talent evaluation - and now they have put themselves in the position to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl if they can beat the Broncos on Sunday afternoon.

And when the Broncos lose, they have no one to blame but themselves - for it was their lack of foresight that set lit the fire under this Patriots' defense.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Belichick's "Due Diligence" on display with scout team

"Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things."

Sir Isaac Newton

Bill Belichick lives by the mantra of "Due Diligence".

His truths lie in causing the disheveled to become orderly, the chaotic to the systematic, the absurd into the reasonable - and to turn those truths into weapons that confuse his adversaries...

...which in coach-speak means leaving no stone unturned in preparing his New England Patriots for their weekly battles against both foe and attrition - his micro-managing style so permeating of the organization, his influence so complete, that one can not speak or think of the Patriots without having simultaneous conjuring of Belichick's nefarious glare.

Universally recognized as the best game-planning and on-the-fly tactician to ever roam an NFL sideline, he is also known as a master innovator, certainly at least one step ahead of his contemporaries - his matter-of-fact demeanor often confused for arrogance, his manipulation of everything from the injury reports to press releases causing him to be viewed with the same fear and loathing as one would the NSA.

So, should it come as little surprise that when speaking of Belichick, anyone that has had to deal with him on a personal level recants their tales with a nervous chuckle and a paranoid peripheral glance, choosing their words as carefully as a child would to avoid a stern punishment.

But all that is, is an acknowledgement that Belichick is so thorough with his preparation that on game day it appears he knows what's going to happen before it actually does, his influence on the team and their adversaries such that he is perhaps the most hated - yet most iconic - figure among fans of the other 31 NFL teams.

Jealousy?  Perhaps, and this sentiment is fostered to the point that whenever Belichick does something that makes no sense on the level of multiplicity that Newton was referring to, his detractors figure he must have finally gone over the ledge into the megalo-maniacal realm that all evil geniuses eventually fall into, and which Patriots' fans dismiss with a shrug and the axiom, "In Bill we Trust".

A perfect example is his usage of the team's practice squad, an eight-man unit comprised of what are essentially developmental-type players, a well of untested depth that a coach can dip into in the event of injury and, particularly in Belichick's case, to simulate an impending opponent's most dangerous weapon in an attempt to give his own players a real-time feel for what they will be facing in an upcoming game.

Case in point, two and a half weeks ago Belichick signed journeyman wide receiver Greg Orton to the teams' practice squad - an under-the-radar move at the time now prominently on display on the Patriots' practice field, a virtual mirror image of Denver Broncos' wide receiver Demaryius Thomas...

...a 6' 3", 205 pound pass catcher who has lined up across from shutdown corner Aqib Talib to give the second-team all pro a living, breathing avatar in which to prepare for Thomas - and though his 4.49 speed is nowhere close to the world-class speed Thomas possesses, Orton's other physical attributes and, perhaps more importantly, his ability to mimick Thomas' mannerisms come into play in Belichick's meticulous preperation.

And it doesn't hurt that Orton spent the last two seasons as a member of the Broncos' practice squad who was released in August and was worked out by the Patriots in early November.  Orton's size also translates well to that of New England's injured rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, though he is unlikely to fill Dobson's role on the playing field this Sunday - but one never knows.

"I don't know where he finds these guys," former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt told the Wall Street Journal this week "Every week, they bring in someone. Same height, same speed. It's like they practice against your twin brother."

But it's not too hard to figure out where he finds these players, as his mantra of "Due Diligence' leaves no stone unturned in player evaluation, Belichick constantly bringing in players for workouts, stocking his rolodex with all of their attributes and, of course, their phone numbers.

There are numerous examples of the ostentatious head ball coach preparing his charges for their next opponent using journeyman free agents as inexpensive "temps",  it's record of success speaking for itself - and it has to, because Belichick is less than forthcoming when it comes to discussing - well - anything, and his players are similarly instructed.

"Our big thing is taking the practice field and bringing it to the game," safety Kyle Arrington offered as indulgently as a Patriots' player dares, "The saying here is 'practice execution means game reality.'"

And with an overall record that is 110 wins over .500 for his Patriots' career, there are few in the football world that doubt his genius but many that question his tactics, for no coach in the history of the National Football League can boast such a legacy...

...and as it is true that the many that question stratagem are just in fear what they do not understand, in reality Belichick works in these ways to simplify the process, giving his team the best chance of success in the limited time between games that they have to prepare - and if that causes the bad guy to be confused, that's where Belichick's approach gives his team the upper hand.

In Bill we trust.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New England Patriots on Paper: Alley Cats

"I don't bother chasing mice around
I slink down the alley looking for a fight
Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night
Singin' the blues while the lady cats cry,
"Wild stray cat, you're a real gone guy."

Stray Cats - 1981

Indeed, slink down that alley looking for a fight - it's the survival of the fittest, a turf war that decides who becomes the overlord and who is relegated to that of a subservient fool.

Most people don't understand the stray cat mentality, and the people that do are either vicious thugs or defensive backs - both need short memories and razor sharp instincts, and the best of the best defend their turf without passion or prejudice, because neither can afford to have those things weighing on their brains.
Cool cat Talib will fight Thomas all game long

Thugs are one thing, and New England Patriots fans have had to deal with their share of them, but the play of their defensive backs - indeed, the play of entire defense - has all but rendered the Patriots' Summer of Pain a distant memory.

This is a strong secondary, the most talented and deep secondary since - well - ever, and are as healthy as they can be heading into Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos.

Despite the hype to the contrary, the Broncos offense is not a breathtaking high-flying tightrope act that moves the football at will - but just like any other team in the National Football League, they certainly are capable of being such if given the opportunity.

What makes the Broncos' offense so efficient is that they have the personnel to force a defense to defend the entire field, which opens up opportunities to exploit the opposition's weaknesses - but to level the playing field against them isn't just a matter of taking away the running game, or focusing on their top receiving threat or even getting to quarterback Peyton Manning.

No, there's not some ancient secret to slowing down the Denver Broncos' offensive juggernaut - rather, there is an approach that is so simplistic that it seems as if it couldn't possibly work - but the body of work that is the 2013 season tell us otherwise.

And it all starts at the line of scrimmage.

Not necessarily just with the bigs, not just with containment or setting the edges either, but by laying the hammer down at every spot on the line - and utilizing the five-yard cushion or alley in which defensive backs are legally permitted to make contact with a receiver.

And the Patriots just may be in a better position to do just that than they were seven weeks ago when a combination of foul weather and Patriots coverage scheme held Manning to a miserable 150 yards.

Many variables went into those season-low numbers - the gale-force winds for one, winds that Brady had no issues penetrating with his tight spirals but Manning could not with his crazy moth-in-a-porch-light wobblers - but the ones that he did let off the chain were challenged by a physical Patriots' secondary, starting in the alley.

But the Patriots were hurting in the secondary, with Alfonzo Dennard and Steve Gregory on the skids and Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington nursing lower-body injuries and trying to play through them - leaving rookies, cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon to make the starts, and rookie linebacker Jamie Collins filling in underneath with limited experience...

...yet they continuously mugged the Broncos' receivers at the line of scrimmage, disrupting their patterns and, coupled with the high winds were able to shut down Manning.

There are no such issues this week, not if Saturday's performance against the Indianapolis Colts is any indication.  Ryan is now looked upon as a rising star while Harmon's playing time is steadily increasing as a more sure-handed option to spell either Gregory or safety Devin McCourty, and Collins has been unleashed and is making plays all over the field.
Rookie Logan Ryan shut down Decker in their first meeting

Talib and Dennard appear to be as healthy as they are going to get - so it's all hands on deck for the Patriots' pass coverage, no issues being physical at the line, which is good because giving the Broncos receivers free release or allowing them to sit down in a zone is asking for trouble...

...particularly when it comes to tight end Julius Thomas, who did not play in November's instant classic - spelled by reserve Jacob Tamme, who ended up being the most productive receiver on the field - and who, in fact, was one of the main reasons why linebacker Dont'a Hightower was benched in the game, Manning using Tamme's route running to constantly pull Hightower out of position.

But the emergence of Jamie Collins and greater experience for Harmon should negate that advantage for the Broncos, though Manning is sure to test those rookies - but probably will steer clear of Ryan, as he was able to completely shut down wide receiver Eric Decker.

In fact, the entire Broncos passing game was shut down by a combination of the elements and the Patriots' secondary - banged up as they were - and perhaps the biggest reason why was their ability to manhandle Denver's receivers at the line.

One way that Manning will probably look to counter New England's physical secondary is to run bunch formations with Welker flanked on both sides by receivers Demaryius Thomas and Decker, and Julius Thomas lined up on the opposite side, running a comeback route as a safety valve - the tight alignment of the formation producing natural picks to rub out one of the defensive backs.

But the Patriots can take that advantage away from the Broncos by jamming each one of them at the line, in theory and on the field causing the receivers to pick each other - Denver will run out of this formation, which is a staple of their offense, but with the stout presence of Sealver Siliga at the nose and Hightower in the middle of the nickle, New England can take that away too.

The common theme for this defense is for them to be aggressive, disguising their coverages to a certain extent, but not doing anything fancy - hitting Manning's pass catchers in the mouth as they try to release off the line of scrimmage, taking full advantage of the five-yard cushion and taking away his ability to dictate to the defense.

"That was my first time playing him when we played them earlier in the season." cool cat corner Aqib Talib said earlier this week, "I just read my keys and play football, man. I just play regular, man. I didn’t try to do nothing extraordinary because I was playing Peyton Manning. Just read my keys and played regular.”

In the end it comes down to fundamentals, stopping the run and jamming the receivers - taking control of the line of scrimmage and turning that five-yard buffer zone into a back alley where the Patriots' defensive backs will try to turn the Broncos' passing game into a street fight...

...and given the swagger that the Patriots' secondary have gained and earned to this point in the season, these street-smart stray cats may well rule the Broncos' home turf.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Old-school numbers suggest Patriots will meet Seahawks in Super Bowl

Ah, the 1970's.

Even then we called classic rock, "Classic Rock" - because we knew.  We knew that the 70's was destined to be a decade of turmoil and change that would launch America into a new industrial revolution, and give us just enough strength to survive the absurdity of the 80's.

Bands were hardcore - no screwing around with synthesizers or lip-syncing, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin led to Bachman Turner Overdrive, Rush and AC/DC - then merged into whatever that was in the 80's, but that was ok because we had our vinyl and our 8-tracks, and the music of the 70's steadily influenced bands popping up in the 90's...
Who wouldn't want to see Brady get another crack at Sherman?

...Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine - all have their roots based in the decade that gave us Watergate, the suffix "-gate" attached to every single act of dark malfeasance since, and even the world of professional football could not escape it's icy grip, as even the new century has reduced itself to the 70's lexicon when referring to indiscretions on the part of the New England Patriots and New Orleans' Saints.

Sadly, "Spygate" and "Bountygate" have joined with the Vince Lombardi Trophy as just about the only things identifiable of the  post-merger decade.  For instance, just about every team has changed their logo, just about every one has left their old stadiums for new digs and the old-time tough players of that long-ago era are either dead, dying or writing autobiographies.

But just like with music, the old-school style of football that dominated the decade hasn't been forgotten and is in fact enjoying a renaissance of sorts - and while the high-flying passing games that put up gaudy numbers on the stat sheet and on the scoreboard will always have it's place, the power running games that defined the 70's are on the comeback trail...

...because that's what wins championships - but not all by themselves, for championship teams have balance, where the run sets up the pass, and the pass compliments the run

Powerful running teams have always won championships as part of an overall balanced offense combined with an adequate defense, and that hasn't changed since the inception of the modern-day NFL - so a quick glance at the contestants of both conference championship games paints a pretty clear picture of why they are playing for their respective titles:

Denver Broncos:         #15 Rushing offense (461 attempts for 1873 yards)
                                  # 1  Passing offense (675 attempts for 5444 yards)
                                  # 1  Scoring offense
                                  #22 Scoring defense

New England Patriots:  # 9  Rushing offense (470 attempts for 2063 yards)
                                    #10 Passing offense (628 attempts for 4087 yards)
                                    #  3 Scoring Offense
                                    #10 Scoring Defense

San Francisco 49ers:    # 3 Rushing offense (505 attempts for 2201 yards)
                                    #30 Passing offense (417 attempts for 2979 yards)
                                    #11 Scoring offense
                                    #  3 Scoring defense

Seattle Seahawks:        # 4 Rushing offense (509 attempts for 2188 yards)
                                   #26 Passing offense (420 attempts for 3236 yards)
                                   # 8  Scoring offense
                                   # 1  Scoring defense

From this quick glance, one could reasonably expect that we will see the Seahawks and the Patriots in the Super Bowl, based purely on offensive balance and the scoring numbers, setting up what would be an epic battle in the big game...

...which is all purely bullshit, of course, because numbers rarely translate to the field of battle they way we want them to - but around the time you put the kids to bed on Sunday night, we should know if these numbers have any meaning at all.

And even then, it may all be just coincidence.