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Preseason Matchup Analysis

   by Bryan Leonard - 08/28/2007

Don’t let anyone tell you there is one method for handicapping games. There are many different ways to analyze what might happen: Trends, emotion, situational handicapping, match-ups, coaching, revenge, or home/field dichotomy. It’s even OK to use a mixture at times.

Let’s take a close look at match-up analysis, something that I prefer and have had excellent results with this NFL preseason. Match-up analysis is simply examining the players on the field and the strengths and weaknesses of each team.

Does one team have a mammoth offensive line against an opponent that struggles against the run? Is there a huge difference in QB play? Coaching? You may recall a Monday night football game last year when the Patriots visited the Vikings. Minnesota was No. 1 in rush defense with its monster front line, yet the secondary was suspect (they ended up last against the pass). So the Patriots’ game plan was match-up oriented: basically they went to a spread formation and passes all game. They also won 31-7 as a one-point favorite.

Match-ups can also work in preseason, although it’s trickier as coaches don’t always play to win or have the starters on the field the whole game. When the Bears and Colts met for the Super Bowl preseason rematch last week, I was interested in “revengeâ€쳌 and looking at the Bears, as it was an exhibition game. I also wasn’t interested in home field, as the Colts are 1-8 in preseason the last three years.

So what was interesting about that game? Let’s examine the pregame analysis: “The starters will play more, and that will only help the offenses, especially since this game is indoors on turf. The Bears QB rotation is experienced with Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, and Kyle Orton, while Indianapolis will get more time from QB Peyton Manning and veteran backup Jim Sorgi.

The Indy defense is thin, especially up front with DT Anthony McFarland out for the season after a serious knee injury. Defensive lineman Corey Simon was let go two weeks ago. With McFarland out, the Colts will move forward with Raheem Brock at one starting defensive tackle spot. The list of replacements for the other spot is long, but short on pedigree. Four of the five prospects are rookies, including third-round draft pick Quinn Pitcock and seventh-rounder Keyunta Dawson, who has been moved inside after spending most of the offseason at end. Chicago is 3-1 over the total its last 4 road preseason games, including last week at Houston. Play the Colts/Bears over the total!â€쳌

Everything I found to look at a high scoring game was based on matchups. The game was indoors, there was ample veteran quarterback play, and the Colts were decimated by injuries defensively, while throwing rookies into the defensive line to see what they could do. Or couldn’t do, as it turned out there were 34 first half points scored on the way to an easy “over.â€쳌

That same week the Saints and Chiefs battled in Kansas City. Again, the matchups stood out more than anything else: “This is the fourth game for the Saints, and the offense looks ready for the season. This is their last major tune-up before resting most players in the final preseason game. The Saints just tore up the Bengals, 27-19, and even the revamped defense played well. Safety Roman Harper brought the hammer down on Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. QB Drew Brees is as good as anybody and mobile rookie Tyler Palko has played well.

Both QBs have a ton of offensive weapons to work with, even on the bench. In this matchup it's a spread offense of New Orleans against the plodding, conservative KC offense. The Chiefs have looked awful offensively and it's not surprising with QBs Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard. The news is bad on Huard, as he has a sore thigh. And Croyle has been poor, throwing foolish interceptions in two preseason games. After facing the Browns and Dolphins, now KC has to face a deep and devastating Saints offense. Play the Saints.â€쳌

As you can see, what stood out for me had nothing to do with home field, which factors into making numbers, even in preseason. The game was all matchups, with a veteran QB running a deadly New Orleans offense (No. 1 in the NFL last season) against a Chiefs team working in practically a rookie QB who has looked awful. And we all know KC head coach Herm Edwards is no offensive guru (especially if you watched his team get beat in the first round of the playoffs in January by the Colts). It was no surprise to see the underdog Saints roll, 30-7, with an edge in total yards 479-153.

Which leads me to wonder: Why did Herm Edwards change the Chiefs offense from a devastating spread attack for years under Dick Vermeil, to a more conservative, plodding one with a kid QB? I understand he wanted to improve the defense, but does it make any sense to ruin the one thing the team did so well? Now his team can’t stop anyone OR score! But that’s for another day.

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