In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Wild Card Weekend, if you missed it.) “What are pawns and a black swans?” you ask.
A pawn is a piece in chess that is often sacrificed to set up a bigger move. In this segment, it’s not the player who scored the touchdown, but the one who made the key block to spring the play, or the receiver who ran a brilliant route to pull coverage away from his teammates.
Literally speaking, a black swan is a bird from the Cygnus family that’s colored black; metaphorically speaking, it’s something that causes an unwanted event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost his team.
Divisional Round Pawns
Le’Veon Bell and Aaron Rodgers turned in two of the more memorable performances of the week, but don’t forget about the plays made by these guys.
Keith Butler and Danny Smith, Defensive and Special Teams Coordinators, Steelers
The Steelers offense was not able to manage a single touchdown, yet Pittsburgh still won the game. How? Their defense played a great game. More specifically, the team erased Kansas City’s big-play threat.
Tyreek Hill emerged in 2016 as one of the most explosive players in the game. The speedy receiver/return specialist had scored a touchdown in four straight games, and had eight over his last six games. Hill’s play-making abilities were the difference in more than one game this season. But Pittsburgh ensured he wouldn’t put his stamp on this one.
Every time Hill came close to the ball on offense, he had more than one Steeler in his face. In spite of seven offensive touches, Hill was only able to manage 45 yards from scrimmage. As a returner, Danny Smith schemed to keep the ball away from Hill. It helped that the Steelers only punted once, but on that play, the ball sailed well out of bounds. On four kick returns, Hill only averaged 18 yards.
Pittsburgh sacrificed yards underneath and field position to ensure Hill was not given the opportunity to break one. The strategy clearly paid-off.
Mason Crosby, Kicker, Packers
It has been my duty all season to ensure the kickers and other special teamers are receiving their well-deserved love. So how could I not include Crosby in here, who put all four of his extra-point attempts through the uprights, and then booted 56 and 51-yard field goals in the final two minutes to give his team the win? Alright, back to Rodgers now…
Divisional Round Black Swans
Brock Osweiler is a terrible quarterback. I don’t need to highlight any specific play to support that claim; you all watched on Saturday night. But you may not remember these costly plays.
Byron Jones, Corner, Cowboys
I don’t want to take away from the outstanding play made by both Aaron Rodgers and Jared Cook here, but what was Byron Jones doing?
Aaron Rodgers ➡️ Jared Cook 😲😱
Play of the season?
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) January 16, 2017
Not only does he allow Cook to slide in behind his zone, but he then makes no play on the ball. Basically, Jones was just sitting there covering nothing. Obviously, this play cost the Cowboys the game.
On a side note, that was a pretty aggressive ass-slap about 12 seconds in.
I do want to highlight Brice Butler’s blunder as well, which allowed the Packers to take a commanding lead early. Dallas trailed 7-3 and was facing a second-and-five from Green Bay’s 37-yard line with 5:55 left in the first quarter. Dak Prescott threw a strike to Terrance Williams over the middle for 22 yards, but the play was called back due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Butler. (The Cowboys wide receiver came from the sideline to enter the huddle, but then did not participate in the ensuing play.) The penalty pushed Dallas back 15 yards and they came away empty handed.
Had Dallas been able to stick with its ground game, Rodgers may not have had as many opportunities to put points on the board. Or we could all just focus on Tony Romo instead…
Travis Kelce, Tight End, Chiefs
Sure, Eric Fisher’s holding penalty on the two-point conversion, which was definitely holding, will be remembered for a long time, but keep this series of plays in mind as well.
The situation was such: Kansas City had just forced Pittsburgh into a three-and-out deep in its own territory. Punter Jordan Berry shanked his kick out of bounds and the Chiefs were set up at Pittsburgh’s 46-yard line trailing 15-7 with three minutes to play in the third quarter.
On the first play of the drive, Alex Smith threw a beautiful deep ball to Kelce down the seam, dropping it right in his bread-basket. Unfortunately, Kelce too dropped the ball. If the tight end makes the easy grab, the Chiefs would have been set up inside the five-yard line.
Making matters worse, on the very next play, Kelce took a ridiculous unnecessary roughness penalty which backed his team up 15 yards. The Chiefs would still manage a field goal out of the drive, but obviously the extra four points would have been crucial.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, Linebacker, Seahawks
This play changed the game.
— 24/7 Sports Talk (@offseasonadvice) January 14, 2017
As we know, the return was called back due to a thoughtless and unnecessary holding penalty on Pierre-Louis. The infraction occurred all the way back at the line of scrimmage, and it’s difficult to imagine that the hold made much of an impact on this play.
The penalty resulted in Seattle starting the drive from its own seven-yard line, where Russell Wilson would be sacked in the endzone two plays later for a safety. If Hester’s unbelievable return stood, Seattle could have taken a ten-point lead and seized a lot of momentum.