This year’s Wild Card round features some of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL. But youth is often paired with inexperience, and several top quarterbacks will be in uncharted waters this weekend.
While the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers all made the playoffs last season; Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers were the only quarterbacks in this year’s Wild Card round to have taken part in last year’s playoff action.
Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson had prolific rookie seasons. All three are in the running for several major first-year player awards, and all three made major strides for their franchises this season.
With so much talent at the quarterback position in the first round of the playoffs, this week’s action will all come down to how well opposing defenses can quell some of the league’s top signal-callers. Only Cincinnati and Seattle finished the season in the top 10 in pass defense, so preparing a game plan to stifle some of the NFL’s top passers will be critical.
Little can be said about Rodgers’ play that hasn’t already been said. He’s arguably the best quarterback in the league, and his success in recent years should have the Minnesota Vikings pretty worried.
The Vikings defeated the Packers in Week 17, though, and this matchup won’t come down to defending the pass. It will come down to keeping Rodgers off the field altogether.
Rodgers threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns against the Vikings last week, and stopping him comes down more to chance than planning. It’s what Minnesota’s offense does that will dictate the outcome of this one.
If the Vikings can get another exceptional performance from Adrian Peterson, who torched the Packers to the tune of 409 yards in two regular-season games, Minnesota can keep Rodgers on the sidelines for much of the game and keep him from establishing momentum.
Everything will need to play out perfectly for Minnesota to steal another victory from the Packers, and Green Bay will likely walk away from this game with a Divisional round berth. But stranger things have happened, and if Peterson has another 200-yard game left in the tank, the Vikings have a shot.
Robert Griffin III
Griffin had a monumental rookie season. He led his Redskins to a 10-6 season, an NFC East championship and a playoff berth, and cemented himself as the future of the franchise.
Griffin’s ability to elude pressure and make plays with his legs was the key to his success this year, but it may be his undoing in the playoffs.
Griffin was dinged up this season—as any dual-threat quarterback experiences over the course of a season—but after 15 games of getting hit, he isn’t in early-season form.
Seattle’s defense has been terrific in the pass rush this year. Though its sack numbers fell off late in the season and finished in the middle of the league, the Seahawks’ defense gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Griffin won’t face an all-out pass rush Sunday, but he’ll see enough to be forced to stay in the pocket for much of the game.
Because of Griffin’s scrambling ability, Seattle will need to limit how often they send pass-rushers upfield off the edge. Containing Griffin in the pocket and getting pressure up the middle is Seattle’s best chance to stifle Griffin.
The Redskins have run the ball well this year, and running back Alfred Morris has done a lot of damage between the tackles. Keeping their defensive ends contained and bringing a lot of A-gap pressure should limit his effectiveness, and allow the Seahawks to collapse the pocket on Griffin.
Stopping Dalton won’t come down to how much pressure Houston can get on the second-year quarterback. The key to this matchup is how well the Texans can contain A.J. Green.
Dalton is one of the best quarterbacks in the league at getting the football out of his hands in a hurry. He doesn’t hold onto the ball long enough for the pass rush to get to him, and getting too much pressure on Dalton could be a major mistake for Houston.
The Texans have an opportunity to drop a lot of men in coverage against the Bengals, and possibly double-team Green on a high percentage of plays. Green is already an elite receiver, and his play-making ability is enough to warrant extra attention on every play.
Taking away Dalton’s top target and forcing him to go through his progressions will give extra time for Houston’s front-four pass rush to get to Dalton. When he’s forced to hold onto the ball for an extended period of time, Dalton becomes much less effective.