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Viewing the Super Bowl from a “Mistakes” Perspective

From the Green Bay Packers’ games I’ve watched over the last two years, I’ve formulated a theory. It’s the mistakes the teams make, as much as the good plays, which determine a game’s outcome.

I’ve gotten the impression that on about one of every four plays, the Packers screw up: costly penalties, dropped passes, turnovers, preventable sacks, badly missed tackles, bad clock management, busted coverages, players not knowing the play call, players failing to go out of bounds, or stay inbounds, as called for, personal fouls after a play is over, delay-of-game penalties, too many men on the field, and on and on.

A corollary to the first theory: if a team is short on talent and ability, it can at least focus on playing “clean.” In other words, if you can’t make a lot of great plays, you can at least cut down on the stupid and careless mistakes.

Yes, I think these theories apply to the 2016 Packers, a not-so-talented team that was also entirely too prone to making dumb and costly mistakes. If you aren’t capable of playing better, you can at least play smarter!

Super Bowl LI: The Lowlights

While the rest of you were drinking and whooping it up, I was taking notes of all the mistakes that the two Super Bowl teams were making. While it was a great game to watch, it was also a mistake-filled extravaganza.

Rather than a highlights reel, below are 32 lowlights – mistakes I’ve selected from the game, which I’ve broken down into two segments.

The first portion covers the game’s first 37 minutes, when the Falcons were scoring, while the Patriots were making error after error.

The second section, covering the game’s final 23 minutes (plus one near-disaster in overtime), is when the Patriots made their comeback. The Falcons made more goofs during this segment, though the Patriots still made plenty of mistakes even in the midst of their stirring comeback. The team in bold print is the one that screwed up.

In particular, you will notice how many potential big-yardage plays failed to happen, along with a number of big yardage pass completions that happened due to defensive miscommunication or a defender tripping himself up.

First 37 Minutes – Falcons 28, Patriots 3

Patriots (1Q, 14:26): Facing a 3rd and 1, Patriots give it to 250-pound RB Legarrette Blount, who slants (like Eddy Lacy likes to do) instead of going straight ahead, then comes to a complete stop, and undersized LB Deion Jones cuts him down at the ankles. Pats open the game going three and out.

Patriots (2Q, 14:19): It’s Deion Jones again getting the best of a careless Blount, stripping him of the ball, with the Falcons recovering – very similar to fullback Aaron Ripkowski’s turnover two weeks ago.

Falcons (2Q, 8:02): On a 3rd and 10, Tom Brady throws to James White, who is tackled short of the first down, but Robert Alford commits an obvious hold of Julian Edelman’s arm (not the intended target), resulting in an automatic first down.

Falcons (2Q, 6:10): On a 3rd and 3, deep incomplete pass to Edelman, covered well by De’Vondre Campbell, but Brian Poole grabs the facemask on Danny Amendola, again away from the play – another automatic first down.

Falcons (2Q, 5:20): Dion Lewis drops Brady’s pass in the flat.

Falcons (2Q, 5:10): Déjà vu, again on 3rd and 3, Brady to Edelman is incomplete, but Brian Poole is penalized for defensive holding. It’s the third automatic first down on the drive (which ended with the pick-6 interception).

Patriots (2Q, 1:43): From the Patriots’ 43 Brady, with protection, misses a wide-open Edelman, would have gained 40+ yards.

Patriots (2Q, 0:18): From the Atlanta 15, Brady completes to White, who smartly gets out of bounds, but Martellus Bennett holds, nullifying the gain and leading to a field goal instead of being five yards from the end zone.

Falcons (3Q, 13:23): At the Atlanta 23, 3rd and 6, Taylor Gabriel doesn’t come back enough for the ball, either a drop, good breakup by Eric Rowe, or pass interference.

Patriots (3Q, 13:07): From Patriots’ 47, Brady throws a beauty to Chris Hogan. It was a difficult catch, but dropped. It would have gained 25+ yards.

Patriots (3Q, 12:57): On a 3rd and 12, Edelman drops a perfect toss on a shallow crossing route. It was probable first down.

Patriots (3Q, 11:36): Malcolm Butler trips and falls, leaving Gabriel wide open for a 35-yard completion to the Patriots’ 28-yard line, leading to Atlanta’s fourth TD.

Patriots (3Q, 8:43): On the same drive, facing a 3rd and 4 from the 9, Butler is called for pass interference on Gabriel, leading to 6-yard TD pass on the next play.

Final 23 Minutes – Patriots 31, Falcons 3

Falcons (3Q, 7:51): On 2nd and 7, Brady throws a short pass to White. Keanu Neal misses the tackle allowing a 12-yard gain and a first down.

Falcons (3Q, 7:51): On 4th and 3, Brady passes to Amendola, who breaks Poole’s tackle. It’s good for 17 yards.

Patriots (3Q, 2:06): Stephen Gostkowski misses the extra point, his fifth such miss on the season, after one miss in his first 10 seasons.

Patriots (3Q, 2:06): The Patriots try an onside kick, which is recovered by Falcons. Gostkowski touches the ball before it went 10 yards, so the added 5-yard penalty has Atlanta starting out at the Patriot’s 41-yard line.

Falcons (3Q, 1:30): Jake Matthews is called for holding on a no-gain run, moving Atlanta out of field goal range – a close call but a costly penalty.

Falcons (3Q, 0:59): On 2nd and 11, a pass to Austin Hooper is not hauled in cleanly. It’s a near fumble, but ruled incomplete.

Patriots (4Q, 13:21): From the Patriots’ 41, Brady overthrows a wide-open Edelman. The play would have gone for 35+ yards.

Patriots (4Q, 11:48): From the 7-yard line, Brady has plenty of time, but gets sacked by Grady Jarrett for a 5-yard loss.

Patriots (4Q, 11:48): It’s now 3rd and goal from the 10. Jarrett, with almost no resistance sacks Brady for a third time. The Pats fail to get a TD after having a 1st and goal from the 7.

Falcons (4Q, 8:31): From Atlanta’s 38-yard line, the Pats’ Dont’a Hightower runs right by RB Devonta Freeman, makes an uncontested sack of Ryan and forces a fumble that Patriots recover.

Patriots (4Q, 8:24): On the Pats’ first play of their drive, the Falcons’ Dwight Freeney rushes almost untouched past left tackle Nate Solder for a sack of Brady.

Patriots (4Q, 5:53): Backed up at their own 10, Ryan tosses a short pass to an unguarded Freeman, who rambles 39 yards to near mid-field. It is the longest play from scrimmage in the game.

Patriots (4Q, 3:56): From the New England 23, on a 2nd and 11 and threatening to put the game away, Ryan gets sacked and loses 12 yards, making for a longer field goal try.

Falcons (4Q, 3;50): Now it’s 3rd and 23 and Ryan completes a 9-yard pass to Mohamed Sanu, but Matthews is called for holding on Chris Long. This time Matthews applied a choke hold. Atlanta is backed out of field goal range for the second time in the half.

Falcons (4Q, 2:28): On New England’s sixth play of the drive, Alford has perfect coverage in front of Edelman, gets both hands on the pass, but pops it up and Edelman makes a phenomenal 23-yard catch – a missed interception opportunity, another hallmark of the 2015 and 2016 Packers.

Falcons (4Q, 0:57): On a two-point conversion attempt, Freeney jumps the snap and goes offside, so even if the play had failed, the Pats would have gotten another try. Dumb, plus, the Patriots get to kick from the 40-yard line, not the 35, leading to a kick being run back to only the 11-yard line – doubly costly.

Falcons (4Q, 0:32): About 40 yards from field goal range and a half minute to go, Ryan, faced with blitzers right and left, passes short right to Hooper for only four yards and the clock keeps running. Hooper would have been smarter to not catch that ball or Ryan to have thrown it at his feet.

Falcons (4Q, 0:19): On 2nd and 6, Ryan compounds the previous mistake by spiking the ball to stop the clock, leaving him with but one chance to get a first down. It’s the same mistake the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott made against the Packers two weeks earlier.

Patriots (OT, 11:13): On the 2-yard line – one play before New England won the game – Brady tried an ill-advised lob pass to Bennett. The matchup was in defender Vic Beasley’s favor – 4.53 speed vs. Bennett’s 4.68 (in 2008). Beasley got one hand on the underthrown lob, but could not haul in the interception. The play was similar to two years ago when Seattle was two yards from the game-winning score and served up an interception. Instead, Brady got lucky and dodged the bullet.

Analyzing Mistakes – the Next Big Thing?

Should Total Packers be copyrighting, or at least laying claim to, this new analytical methodology? Is this an innovative breakthrough for analyzing games, rating player performance, and better understanding how your team managed to beat a superior team or lose to an inferior one?

It’s the offseason, so there’s plenty of time for fresh or wacky ideas, and for thinking outside the box. I’m already in the process of refining this idea – watch for the creation of the DPI – Dumb Play Index. I’ll bet you can hardly wait!

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Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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2 Comments

  1. MJ February 9, 2017

    DPI, by all means, copyright that.

  2. Howard February 9, 2017

    Good job Rob. I still say as I did after the game with all the mistakes listed the biggest error that caused a Falcon loss involved game management. The Falcons should have been milking the play clock down to 2 to 5 seconds every play in at least the second half, thus taking time off the game clock. In addition as indicated by PF4L the Falcons second to last series should have been run heavy after they were in very makeable field goal range. Drain time off the clock, keep your tired defense off the field, make the Patriots use timeouts, kick a field goal, and go up by two scores.