Monday, January 23, 2006

The two Jakes

Two Jakes took the field yesterday. Each was asked to lead their respective team to the Superbowl and each failed to fulfill that responsibility. One failed because he simply didn't show up, while the other failed because he did.

Jake Plummer has a reputation for being a careless gunslinger who trumps his ability to scramble out of trouble with his questionable decision making. He'll throw into tight coverage, fumble the ball and sometimes find new ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He's not a bad guy and he is a remarkable athlete, it's just Plummer lacks that ability carry a team. He wears #16 because he idolizes Joe Montana, but he plays more like Fran Tarkenton. Yes I know Frantic Fran is a hall of famer, but how many rings did he win? Like Plummer, Fran fell apart in the big games. Another QB Plummer reminds me of if Archie Manning. Three men who prove that being a great quarterback requires more than being a great athlete.

The Broncos were a great fit. Shanahan's game plan involves a powerful running game that sets up the pass. Throughout the entire season Jake Plummer was able to play within himself and count on his defense and running game to carry the team. He did a fine job passing, but that was because nobody put him in a position to have to win a game with his arm.

That changed on Sunday. The Broncos didn't run well and the defense didn't afford the offense the luxury of wearing the Steelers down up front. The Steelers jumped ahead early and the Broncos had to rely heavily on Jake Plummer. Plummer sensed the desperation and responded by trying to do too much. He threw bad passes, even a few of the passes he completed were ill-advised and dangerously close to being intercepted. It's hard to second guess a 30 yard completion, but when you step back and look at Plummer's body of work you see a comedy of errors. Even if Plummer had played a perfect game it's unlikely Denver would have prevailed. Denver made the huge mistake of underestimating Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh couldn't get much going on the ground early, so they took to the air and Big Ben looked like Dan Marino. The Steelers put on a passing clinic and The Broncos never adjusted to it. Had Denver managed to pressure the Steelers on the scoreboard you might have seen Roethlisberger double his production. Denver had no answer for him. The Steelers simply resorted to a ball control offense midway through the second quarter.

Plummer might have come unglued, but the blame for the loss falls on the brilliant one, Mike Shanahan. Denver simply looked unprepared. Teams have been daring Pittsburgh to win games with the pass all year and Pittsburgh has risen to the occasion. Shanahan seemed as though he studied last year's Steelers in preparation for the AFC title game. They simply showed no respect for Pittsburgh's passing game and the offense simply didn't block. As poorly prepared as the defense was, the offensive line played as though they'd never seen the 3-4.

Shanahan should be fired. The AFC title debacle was an example of terrible coaching. It was bad on both sides of the ball. Nobody was prepared and no adjustments were made. Shanahan's supporters will point to a fine regular season campaign, but that's old news. The Bronco's have been playoff contenders virtually every year but they come apart in the post season. Shanahan simply doesn't know how to get the most out of his players when it counts. The Superbowl rings he wears had more to do with veteran leadership than coaching and Shanahan's lack of success since Elway retired speaks volumes as to his viability as a coach. It's time to start fresh.

Jake Delhomme, on the other hand, didn't show up. Carolina looked so impressive when they dismantled the Bears and Delhomme was spectacular. Deshaun Foster's injury was a liability, but Carolina seemed capable of picking up the slack with the passing game. More than capable. Seattle doesn't have the defensive pedigree that the Bears brought to the table, but yet here we are.

Unlike the Bears, Seattle didn't ignore Steve Smith. They dedicated a third of their defense to keeping Smith out of the game and the plan worked. The Panthers could only throw Smith's way a few times and when they did the all world game breaker was immediately stuffed. With so many players dedicated to stopping Smith, one would have to assume that other players were wide open. Delhomme simply didn't find them. Maybe Steve Smith's demands for the ball played a part in the poor decision making, perhaps it was yet another coaching error. Maybe the bumps and bruises Carolina endured throughout the long second half of the season took their toll and the Panthers simply ran out of gas. Who knows?

The only thing obvious on Sunday was the fact that Carolina doesn't have enough depth to win the big game. With their number one go to guy blanketed all game long, the Panthers seemed lost. That's either poor coaching or poor personnel selection. Surely somebody had to figure that a team was going to see if Carolina was able to win with somebody other than Steve Smith, why wasn't John Fox ready? A question Fox should be forced to answer this off season.

Seattle and Pittsburgh.
There's a Superbowl nobody predicted at the start of the season. A tale of two coaches. One underrated because his team hasn't won a title under his leadership, and the other overrated because he backed into a Superbowl win when Bret Favre was at his best. Very interesting.

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