Analysis: Defense still wins in the NFL playoffs

Jan 22, 2023, 12:58 PM | Updated: Jan 23, 2023, 6:23 am
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward (1) tackles Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Noah Brown duri...

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward (1) tackles Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Noah Brown during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

(AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

              Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
            
              San Francisco 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward (1) tackles Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Noah Brown during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Defense stills wins in the playoffs.

The San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals advanced to the conference championship games with excellent defensive performances on Sunday.

The Philadelphia Eagles also had a standout defensive effort Saturday night.

While high-flying offenses led by star quarterbacks get most of the attention, defense matters.

It was evident in the NFL divisional round this weekend.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s aggressive unit forced two turnovers in the fourth quarter, helping Kansas City beat Jacksonville 27-20 in the first game.

“We focused throughout the week, especially on the week we had off, focused on maybe punching the ball a little bit more or hop on the ball or just catching the ones that they give us,” Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton said. “I dropped one early, but it’s one of those things you kind of have to keep going on, and in playoffs, you understand that they count times two when you get them.”

Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ offense were unstoppable, especially dominating the Giants on the ground with 268 yards rushing. But Philadelphia’s defense, which was No. 2 in the league this season, was downright nasty in a 38-7 rout over New York.

Coming off an impressive 301-yard passing game in an upset over 13-win Minnesota, Daniel Jones had no chance against Haason Reddick and Philly’s ferocious D.

Jones was sacked five times, threw a pick, completed just 55.6% of his passes and looked lost. The Eagles held the Giants to only 227 total yards.

“Jonathan Gannon puts these guys in great positions,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said of his defensive coordinator. “Obviously, we have great players. … But this guy is an unbelievable coordinator. … He’s going to be a head football coach in the National Football League because of what he does. This guy is a stud. He’s a stud.”

Cincinnati’s defense had the most impressive all-around game of all, considering its opponent. The Bengals shut down Josh Allen and Buffalo’s dynamic offense in a 27-10 win. The Bills were only 4 for 12 on third downs, went three-and-out three times and managed just a field goal in the second half.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo put the Bengals in position to constantly pressure Allen and knock him out of rhythm. Allen had only one turnover late in the game, but he misfired on some throws and didn’t click with his receivers. Allen kept his head down and didn’t look up when wide receiver Stefon Diggs approached him on the bench and yelled a few times in his direction midway through the fourth quarter.

“He wants the ball,” Allen said of Diggs, who had just four receptions for 35 yards. “And whatever it was that we couldn’t get him the ball tonight, we’re going to have to learn from.”

The Bengals will meet the Chiefs again in a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game that was won by Cincinnati. Burrow is 3-0 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

In the final game of the weekend, the 49ers’ top-ranked defense flustered Dak Prescott throughout a 19-12 victory, forcing two interceptions and holding the Cowboys to just 282 total yards. San Francisco had a few more opportunities at turnovers but couldn’t hang on to a couple of picks.

Niners defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, a candidate for several head coaching vacancies, improved his case with another stellar game plan.

“I’m pretty sure DeMeco is gonna have a head coaching job after this year,” Niners defensive back Jimmie Ward said. “You see it with the play calling. We went out there and shut down a playoff team and one of the best teams in the league this year.”

Next up for the 49ers is a trip to Philadelphia to face one of the league’s most well-rounded offenses in the NFC championship game.

“Get ya popcorn ready, man,” Ward said. “Heavyweight fight right there. Get ready. It’s gonna be a good show.”

___

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid (21) dunks during the first half of an NBA basketball game against ...
Associated Press

Embiid, Harden double-doubles lift 76ers past Magic 105-94

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 28 points and 11 rebounds, James Harden added 26 points and 10 assists and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Orlando Magic 105-94 on Wednesday night. The Sixers split the home-and-home set this week with Orlando. The Magic stormed back from a 21-point, first-quarter deficit to beat the 76ers 119-109 […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Florida head coach Billy Napier, right, watches players warm up before an NCAA college footb...
Associated Press

Napier avoids Rashada details, doesn’t expect NCAA inquiry

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Billy Napier provided little insight Wednesday into how and why the Gators lost four-star quarterback Jaden Rashada, but said he doesn’t expect it to prompt an NCAA investigation. Napier sidestepped several questions about Rashada, who signed with Florida in December only to be granted his release a month later […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes the ball as San Francisco 49ers corne...
Associated Press

Column: Brady’s finale didn’t go as planned, but not too bad

In a perfect world — and so much of Tom Brady’s career was as close to perfection as a football player can get — the first retirement would’ve stuck. He certainly did nothing to enhance his legacy by returning for another season. And, of course, we’ll never know if that regrettable decision cost him his […]
19 hours ago
American lineman O'Cyrus Torrence of Florida (56) blocks out during practice for the Senior Bowl NC...
Associated Press

Portal to Pros: NFL teams eyeing rising number of transfers

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — The prolific pace of school-switching among college players has helped some NFL prospects have breakout seasons and demonstrate they can adapt to a new system. They’re hoping that pays off in the draft. Offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence followed his coach, Billy Napier, from Louisiana-Lafayette to Florida and proved he could thrive […]
19 hours ago
Buster Posey, left, and Aaron Rodgers watch during the putting challenge event of the AT&T Pebble B...
Associated Press

Star power at Pebble comes more from amateurs than pros

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick is one of only three players from the top 20 in the world at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. It’s lacking star power by PGA Tour standards. That’s not what Fitzpatrick saw. He played nine holes of practice Wednesday at Pebble Beach with retired Welsh […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, and quarterback Tom Brady celebrate aft...
Associated Press

Analysis: Tom Brady’s legacy goes beyond Super Bowl rings

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tom Brady had nothing left to prove. Already considered the GOAT — greatest of all time — Brady finally walked away from the NFL on Wednesday following the most difficult, emotionally draining season in his life. “I’m retiring. For good,” Brady said in a short video he posted on social media. […]
2 days ago
Analysis: Defense still wins in the NFL playoffs