"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
22 Dec 2004
By Michael David Smith
Peyton Manning against the Ravens' defense. That was the matchup everyone wanted to see Sunday night, but not me. I wanted to see Dwight Freeney, the Colts' All-Pro right defensive end, take on Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens' All-Pro left tackle.
If you listened to the ESPN announcers or read the post-game analyses, you probably think it was a decisive victory for Freeney. The Baltimore Sun certainly agreed, reporting: "Ogden may have had his worst day as a pro. Colts end Dwight Freeney beat him numerous times."
I didn't see it quite that way. Freeney had two sacks, and the football media love to recite sack numbers. But by my count, Freeney and Ogden faced off on 52 plays. We know that two plays resulted with Freeney on top of Kyle Boller and Ogden hanging his head in shame, but what about the other 50? I watched every one of them so that I could file this report. Just for fun, we're going to call each drive a round, and I'll score it like the boxing judge I've always wanted to be.
The first two plays of the game were Jamal Lewis runs, and on both of them Ogden destroyed Freeney, pushing him down the line and driving him into the turf. The tale of the tape says Ogden is 6-foot-9 and 345 pounds, while Freeney is 6-foot-1 and 268. If Ogden can simply overpower Freeney, I thought, this battle could get ugly. The next two plays were passes, and on both Freeney got into the backfield but didn't get to Boller. When Freeney went low, Ogden stayed high and simply pushed Freeney face-first into the ground.
On the first play of the second drive Freeney rushed past Ogden and got to Boller. Freeney missed the tackle, and the whole play was negated because of a defensive holding penalty, but that doesn't absolve Ogden of the fact that Freeney beat him. On the next two plays the two didn't face off, and on the last play of the drive Ogden had no trouble shoving Freeney out of the way on a Lewis run.
The second play of the drive illustrated the biggest problem with Freeney's style of play, and the reason I didn't see Sunday's matchup as the dominating Freeney performance that so many others did. It was second-and-10, and Freeney rushed wide. The Ravens called a draw, and Ogden merely patted Freeney on the back as he took himself out of the play. That was the first of seven times Sunday night when Freeney took himself out of a running play with an undisciplined pass rush. This drive also featured a wide rush in which Freeney didn't even come close, and a play where Ogden forced Freeney into the ground.
Again, Ogden allowed Freeney to take himself out of two plays. Freeney also stood straight up on one play, allowing Ogden to get leverage and outmuscle him. It was a 10-play drive, and while Ogden didn't look overpowering, Freeney didn't make any plays.
A four-play drive with two clear wins by Ogden and one play in which there was no matchup. But the fourth play was devastating. Third-and-nine from the Colts' 26. Freeney sets up in a sprinter's stance outside tight end Todd Heap. Ogden looks inside momentarily (why he ever took his eyes of Freeney I can't imagine), and when he looks back outside he can't get to Freeney in time. Freeney's nine-yard sack takes Baltimore out of field goal range.
Freeney got pressure and forced Boller to throw on the run on the first play, and now Ogden appeared to be nervous. The next play was a spike to stop the clock, and following that, Ogden was called for a false start. On the play after that Freeney hit Boller as he threw.
They faced off only twice, with Ogden driving Freeney back on a run, but Freeney hurrying Boller on a pass.
Ogden won the first five plays, giving Boller plenty of time on four straight passes before suckering him to the outside as a draw blew past him. But on the final play of the series, Freeney acquitted himself by pressuring Boller into a bad throw.
On a seven-yard Lewis run, Ogden destroyed Freeney to clear a huge path. Then on two straight plays Freeney tried spin moves that didn't work. The drive ended with Freeney unable to pressure Boller, who threw a touchdown pass to Heap.
Freeney again overcharged and missed a draw, and Ogden manhandled Freeney on a third-and-one conversion. Freeney also took a couple of plays off on this drive, although he did employ a spin move that forced Boller to hurry his throw.
Ogden needed Lewis's help on the first Freeney rush of the drive, and then on the second rush, when he was matched with Freeney one-on-one, Freeney blew in for the sack. That brought up a third-and-15 and Freeney tried the same rush. This time Ogden blatantly held Freeney, but referee Terry McAulay didn't call it. On the play after that, Boller backed away from Freeney and was hit by Robert Mathis, rushing from the other side. Although Freeney did again overpursue on a six-yard Lewis run, this was his best drive. As if to signal that he had won the matchup, on the very last play of their one-on-one confrontation, Freeney bull-rushed Ogden and, though he didn't get to Boller, he did push Ogden back.
Going to the judge's scorecards, we find that Freeney wins the bout, 104-102. An important part of the Colts' 20-10 victory, but not the decisive win so many in the media called it. Ogden won 34 of the head-to-head plays; Freeney won the two sacks and another 16. But just as boxing shouldn't be judged by counting punches, football shouldn't be judged by counting blocks. When an offensive lineman beats a defensive lineman, it's routine. When a defensive lineman beats an offensive lineman, it's a big play. So Freeney gets the win on points. If they meet again in the playoffs, I'll give you my take on the rematch.
Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season. If you have a player or a unit you would like tracked in Every Play Counts, suggest it by emailing mike-at-footballoutsiders.com.
1 comment, Last at 07 Sep 2005, 6:49pm by Ted