Lessons from the Masters
What lessons can Columbia football learn from the remaining four teams in the NFL playoffs?
I know, I know, it’s apples and oranges mostly. Even though there are some Columbia players who may be NFL caliber, there’s no comparing an Ivy League team to a pro squad.
But learning is something a good Columbia student or alum should always try to be doing. So here goes:
From the NY Jets, I think the Lions can learn the great value of a big back coming out of the backfield and acting as a safety valve for the QB when the receivers are covered downfield. LaDanian Tomlinson is no longer the kind of player who can really get 100+ yards per game or even 20 carries per game. But he’s been somewhat dangerous as a receiver. Currently, the Lions are dealing with some serious turnover in the running back corps, and Nick Gerst is very quick but not big. Rising soph Marcorus Garrett is also super fast, but on the small side. Perhaps Gerst and Garrett could share the backfield with a bigger fullback adept at catching those kinds of dump off passes? Nathan Lenz filled that role a few times for Columbia last season, but he is graduating.
From the Pittsburgh Steelers, Columbia could learn how to thrive on 3rd down. The Steelers get themselves in a lot of tough 3rd down situations because they don’t really have a strong running game. These are not the Steelers of the Jerome Bettis era! But Pittsburgh does pretty well, even when everyone in the stadium knows they’re going to pass the ball. That’s the kind of confidence you’d like to have in Ivy League play.
Obviously the Chicago Bears are pretty solid on defense and Columbia’s coaches would die for the kinds of intimidating weapons Chicago has in Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher. But there is something that I think the Lions could really use, and that’s menacing kick and punt returner like Devin Hester. When Mike Stephens went down returning a punt in week one, Nico Gutierrez filled in quite well to make sure the Lions didn’t fumble punts. But Columbia lost the chance for having an explosive return threat. They’ll need that in 2011.
Finally, I think the best lesson for the Lions comes from the Green Bay Packers, specifically Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is a very mobile QB, like Columbia’s Sean Brackett. But Rodgers doesn’t really look to run the ball from scrimmage, he primarily uses his skills to avoid pass rushers and get more time to pass the ball. He did that to perfection Saturday night when he not only coped with the Falcon rush, he THRIVED on it! Play after play, Rodgers eluded unblocked blitzers and torched Atlanta by finding the uncovered receivers downfield. It was one of the most amazing performances by a passer that I’ve ever seen in a playoff game. Brackett is a great down the field runner, but his potential as a scrambler and passer hasn’t really been tapped yet. It’s a skill he almost certainly has and will be able to destroy Ivy opponents with if he learns to use it.