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What we learned from the Division Round: Dak Prescott comes small; The Bengals O-line sets up the running game

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The divisional round of the playoffs certainly disproved some of the narratives that persisted in the NFL throughout the year. Perhaps the Dallas Cowboys just aren’t the Super Bowl contender they originally thought they were over the past several months or the Cincinnati Bengals really is the best team in the AFC (despite their 2-3 start to the season).

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Where do the Buffalo Bills go from here after a huge loss to the Bengals? How about the cowboys moving forward? Both teams can’t watch their seasons in the same way as the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams who surprisingly made the divisional round after being two of the worst teams in football for several seasons. There is reason for optimism in Jacksonville and New York.

As for the teams that made it to the conference championship weekend? Can Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs finally defeat their kryptonite from Joe Borough and the Cincinnati Bengals? Can the San Francisco 49ers and No. 1 Defense continue the “Defense Wins Championships” mantra and defeat the NFC’s No. 1 offense Philadelphia Eagles?

Split weekend certainly provided plenty of answers, especially with the conference championship games next week. This is what we learned in the divisional round of the playoffs from each team.

Defense rose to the occasion with Patrick Mahomes injured: Chiefs are 54-3 when they hold opponents to fewer than 27 points, including postseason play. Taking advantage of this statistic, the defense did a very good job of holding Jacksonville to 20 points in the 27-20 win.

Was it a perfect performance? No, but it was good enough. The Jaguars had 144 rushing yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry while going 7-of-13 in the third, but the Chiefs forced a 27–20 Trevor Lawrence interception late in the fourth quarter and hit him seven times.

The defense stepped up during the second quarter when Mahomes was in the locker room, holding Jacksonville to three points in the second quarter and holding the lead at the break before Mahomes made a comeback.

Are Chiefs Defense Great? No, but this is Steve Spagnolo’s best unit since arriving in Kansas City. Less than 27 points seemed to be the magic number for victory, whether Mahomes was intact or not.

Drops that cost team chance when an upset occurs: The Jaguars managed to hang with the Chiefs throughout the game, but Jacksonville might have gone to the AFC Championship if it wasn’t for a few key drops. Trevor Lawrence found Christian Kirk on a deep pass that would have gone 55 yards in the second quarter, but Kirk dropped the pass and the Jaguars rallied for a field goal.

In a 17-7 game, Kirk needed that reception to put Jacksonville in the red and put some pressure on Kansas City. The Jaguars had another drop in the second quarter, as JaMycal Hasty was down on third and 19 forcing a Jaguars punt.

The Drippers had an impact on Lawrence in the third quarter, as he was 5 of 8 for 10 yards on two possessions as Jacksonville could gain no ground. The Jaguars offense seemed out of sync after Kirk’s fall—and it never really recovered.

Jacksonville will be back next year with the franchise quarterback in Lawrence and a roster that should get better. The Jaguars will learn from these mistakes as the young team continues to evolve.

Lynn Johnson is back in big: Johnson has spent the past three weeks rehabilitating and preparing for the opportunity to play in the postseason after delaying surgery for a torn adductor in his groin. How effective the best correct treatment will be is anyone’s guess.

Turns out, Johnson was his typical dominant self. He did not allow sacks, pressures, quarterback hits, and had a pressure rating of 0.0% on 26 pass-blocking snaps. His impact was felt against a pass by Giants rusher Kayvon Thibodeau, who had no pressure facing Johnson in the divisional round. The Eagles also ran for 268 yards, the second most in a postseason game in franchise history.

The Eagles offensive line is the best in football. With Johnson on the field, they are dominant.

The offensive line needs improvement this season: In each of the Giants’ three meetings with the Eagles, the offensive line has been no match for the front that has 70 sacks this season. The Giants allowed 60 pressures and 14 sacks in three games against the Eagles, with his 16 pressures and five sacks coming in Saturday’s loss.

New York allowed 49 sacks on the year, which was the fifth most in the NFL. Allowable pressures of 272 were second, and the compression rating of 43.4% was the highest. This is simply not good enough.

New York needs to develop Evan Neal further to give Andrew Thomas a battery mate at tackle. The inside of the line needs a rework as John Feliciano, Mark Glowinski and Nick Gates struggled against pass rushing teams. Ben Bredison didn’t fare much better either.

The Giants have plenty of room to improve their offensive line. If New York keeps Daniel Jones, the Giants need to protect him and give him a chance to throw the ball up the field.

So much for bringing out three offensive linemen: The Bengals no left tackle Jonah Williams, right tackle La’El Collins, and right guard Alex Cappa against the Bills. Three-fifths of the offensive line out? It doesn’t matter.

Jackson Karman made his first start at left tackle, Hakim Adeniji made his third start at right tackle, and Max Scharping made his second start at right guard. Inexperience didn’t matter as all three were part of dismantling Buffalo’s defensive front, leading Cincinnati to 172 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per carry. This is the same Cincinnati running offense that was 29 in rushing yards and 29 in yards per carry during the regular season.

The trio of Carman, Adeneje and Scharping did not allow a sack in the game. They only allowed two quarterback hits, but allowed 11 pressures. Regardless of the high pressure rate, they protected Joe Burrow and set up the running game for its best performance of the year.

The Bengals offensive line answered all the questions it needed.

The running game was a farce: No team has had more deceiving rushing numbers than the Bills this season, however, rushing yards per game and yards per carry didn’t rear its ugly head until Sunday. Buffalo had just 63 yards and an average of 3.3 yards per carry against Cincinnati, their lowest yards per carry average in a game all season.

Devin Singletary was passless with six carries for 24 yards. The Bills didn’t trust rookie James Cook enough to give him the ball late in the year either (he finished on five carries for 13 yards). Josh Allen was the leading rusher with 26 receiving yards, and had just 3.3 yards per carry (for a season average of 6.1).

Neither Singletary nor Cook seem to hold back, as the Bills averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in the fourth quarter of the year. Singletary averaged just 4.0 yards per carry as defensemen pinned Allen (3.2 yards per carry).

Buffalo needs to bounce back in 2023 if the Bills want to go to the Super Bowl. Of course, having a better offensive line wouldn’t hurt either. They can’t count on Allen as much to do the running game.

Brock Purdy struggled against Cowboys pressure: Purdy made his seventh consecutive start – leading the 49ers to a win. He didn’t turn the football in a game where defense played a key role and kept him out of place, which was crucial to the 49ers’ lead.

There is cause for concern, especially with whom the 49ers will face next week. Purdy was only 3 of 11 for 24 yards without a touchdown or an interception while sacking twice (39.6 rating). The Cowboys were able not to make Birdie’s life easy, something other defenses could not do in his previous six starts.

Purdy completed 51.1% of his passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns to one interception under pressure in the regular season (82.1 rating). In the playoffs, 36.8% of his passes (7 of 19) for 157 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (102.3 rating).

Are the numbers better? The Seattle game amplifies Purdy’s performance when a defense closes in on him, but the Dallas game could be an indication of how things could play out next week. Of course, the Eagles and their 75 sacks (regular season and playoffs) have to get to Purdy, too.

Duck Prescott Should Have Been Good – and Wasn’t: Dak Prescott who had appeared the majority of the season reappeared in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. Prescott was 23 of 37 for 206 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, his sixth multi-interception game of the year.

Prescott missed several open receivers and made questionable decisions, becoming the responsibility of the offense rather than the force. When pressured, Prescott had 4 of 11 fouls for 14 yards and an interception for a 7.0 rating. In the second half (the half without Tony Pollard), Prescott was 11 of 21 for 125 yards with no touchdowns and a rating of 70.5.

Those numbers simply aren’t good enough for the $40 million quarterback who needed to carry the offense into scoring drives. Prescott looked more like the player who has led the NFL in interceptions since his Week 7 return with his questionable decisions – rather than the quarterback who had huge games against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay over the past month.

Prescott is simply too inconsistent to help the Cowboys run the Super Bowl. It’s what it is at this point – and it’s up to Dallas to try and rectify his issues as he approaches the age of 30.

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