Winners, losers from Saturday’s wild-card games

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Playoff football is finally here

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Four teams battled it out during Saturday’s wild-card games. The Houston Texans hosted the Indianapolis Colts, then the Dallas Cowboys did the same not far away in Arlington, hosting the Seattle Seahawks.

The Indianapolis Colts took their AFC South rival behind the woodshed, going up 21-0 at the half, in part thanks to an awful call by the refs. From there, Indy went into cruise control in the second half and won 21-7.

Later in the evening, Seattle’s limited offense came back to haunt the Seahawks. Dallas played lights out defensively, leaning heavily on Ezekiel Elliott on the other side of the ball. In the end, the ‘Boys lived to fight another day, winning 24-22 over Seattle.

These were the biggest winners and losers from Saturday’s Wild Card Games.

 

Winner: Dearest mother, Andrew Luck’s arm cannon is firing well

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How sweet has it been this year to see Luck looking like pre-injuries Andrew Luck? Anyone who’s a fan of excellent quarterback play and of players who always have the right attitude has to just love it.

Luck opened up Saturday’s game in Houston on fire. He almost couldn’t miss. His deep pass to T.Y. Hilton on Indy’s first offensive possession was perfection itself.

He ended up leading three touchdown-scoring drives on his first four drives — the lone miss being an interception off a J.J. Watt tip.

Houston’s defense did a better job in the second half, but honestly the game was over at halftime. All told, Luck had 222 yards passing, 29 yards rushing and threw two touchdowns to help the Colts advance to the next round against Kansas City.

 

Loser: Bill O’Brien was brutally outcoached 

Steve Mitchell, USA Today Sports

From the start of Saturday’s AFC Wild Card Game between Houston and Indianapolis, it was immediately clear that Colts rookie head coach Frank Reich and his staff were light years ahead of Bill O’Brien and Co.

Indy’s offense absolutely owned Houston’s defense in the first half. On the other side, Houston’s problematic offensive line looked woefully unprepared for the Indianapolis blitzing attack. What’s worse is that O’Brien pretty much seemed to abandon the run game before it ever took place.

Watching this game unfold was like watching a Grand Master chess player take a toddler to school. O’Brien was helpless to counter what Reich and Co. were doing, and the game was very soon out of control.

 

Winner: Indy’s offensive line is heating up

Colts QB Andrew Luck needs all the help he can get.

Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports

Being able to protect your quarterback and run at will are two qualities that are priceless, especially when making a run at the Super Bowl. Right now, the Colts are doing both of these things with aplomb.

Houston’s defensive front is no joke. It finished the regular season ranked 11th in the league with 43 sacks and third in the NFL against the run. On Saturday, the Quenton Nelson-led Colts line dominated the Texans. Andrew Luck was not sacked once, and Indy ripped off 200 yards on the ground.

This unit is heating up at the right time. Combined with the way Indy is playing on defense, and with Luck looking like Luck, the Colts really are looking like a true contender for the Lombardi Trophy this year.

 

Loser: Deshaun Watson had a brutal day overall

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Nobody needs to be worried about Watson long term. This young quarterback is a gamer and his efforts in the second half are practically the only reason the Texans even had a pulse late in the game. It’s also important to recognize that his front office failed him even before the season began. The Houston offensive line is embarrassingly bad.

So, we’re not trying to pile on Watson here. But honestly, he had a bad day even when he did have time to throw, a few times missing wide-open receivers down the field. He failed to recognize where pressure was coming from before the snap, and his fourth-down throw at the end of the first half was just bad.

Watson finished with 311 total yards (76 coming on the ground), a touchdown and a horrendous interception he could only laugh about. A learning experience, to be sure.

 

Winner: Keke Coutee came to play

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In a game where DeAndre Hopkins was clearly laboring with an injury, Coutee showed up big. He was the main weapon for Watson in the pass game and did everything he could to maximize his opportunities.

He’s been battling a hamstring injury all year but was deemed healthy for Saturday’s game. It showed, as Coutee caught 11 passes for 110 yards and the only touchdown of the game for Houston on a pure-effort play in the fourth quarter (watch here).

Looking ahead, it’s not hard to be encouraged by Houston’s offense. If Watson can get an offensive line in front of him, the future is bright.

 

Loser: Houston’s pass rush was a no-show

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We already touched on it: Andrew Luck wasn’t sacked. Not once. That’s remarkable. Especially because Houston’s defense finished the regular season averaging 2.6 sacks per game, and J.J. Watt has been almost as dominant this year as he was before his injuries.

Besides some big plays where Watt batted down some passes, he was largely nullified by Indy’s offensive line and landed just one hit on Luck. Jadeveon Clowney didn’t get to Luck once, and as a team Houston hit the quarterback a grand total of four times.

That’s not going to get the job done against pretty much any NFL-caliber quarterback. Against a top-tier passer it’s even worse.

 

Winner: Cowboys’ championship-caliber D steps up again

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Seattle’s offensive approach wasn’t anything to shout about, and we’ll certainly dive into that a bit later. But Dallas could only handle what it faced, and the ‘Boys certainly did handle the Seahawks with another outstanding defensive effort.

Like we’ve seen all year, this defense really is championship-caliber. Russell Wilson had minus-eight yards passing in the first quarter as the Cowboys established their dominance on defense from the first snap.

All told, the Seahawks managed to gain just 11 first downs, 299 total yards and 22 points. Even better, Dallas’ defense effectively shut down what’s been the strength of Seattle’s offense all year, allowing just 73 yards on the ground.

 

Loser: Chris Carson was practically invisible

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We’re not going to pin this all on Carson (more on that later), but he had a miserable night.

The catalyst for Seattle’s offense all year long, Carson was utilized in an entirely uncreative way. Every time his number was called, it seemed to be a run up the middle right into the teeth of Dallas’ stout front seven. As a result, he managed just 20 yards on 13 carries for an average of 1.5 yards per tote.

Even worse, when he got his chances in the pass game Carson couldn’t do anything. He had a dropped pass that was a brutal lapse in concentration, and he finished with two catches for minus-one yard.

 

Winner: Doug Baldwin, you are ridiculous!

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Baldwin didn’t really get into the offensive flow much, but it’s not like his number was called very often. He finished with just three catches for 32 yards, but one play in particular will stand out in our memories for a very long time.

Seattle needed momentum in the second half, and on fourth down Baldwin provided it. Russell Wilson threw a brilliant pass toward Baldwin on the left sideline, and the receiver somehow hauled in the pass while tapping both feet in bounds for the miraculous reception.

 

Loser: Brian Schottenheimer was awful

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Barring a couple of phenomenal individual efforts, Seattle’s offense was good for one thing Saturday night: Putting babies to sleep.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s game plan was nauseatingly bad. It’s like he designed his playbook whilst taking a vacation in the Pit of Despair. Absolutely no innovation whatsoever, and he kept trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Seattle kept trying to run the ball into the middle of the best gap-control defensive front seven in the league. Shockingly, it rarely worked. Dallas’ linebackers were all over these runs, but Schottenheimer kept going right back to the well.

Joy!

 

Winner: Feed Zeke offense keeps working

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Ezekiel Elliott had 91 yards rushing…in the first half. Dallas made a commitment to the run early and it stuck throughout the game. It’s rare that the feed Zeke approach fails, and it certainly did not on Saturday night.

Elliott finished the game with 169 total yards and a touchdown on 30 touches. He’s the most dangerous offensive weapon on Dallas’ roster. Whenever the Cowboys can effectively rely on him to carry the load as they did on Saturday night, it has a significant positive impact on Dak Prescott — who balled out, by the way.

Given their championship-caliber defense and run game, the Cowboys are a formidable contender.

 

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