Dr. Z is a fabulous old football curmudgeon. Best of all, he’s a real guy, unlike most of my visitors for this past week, so his comments today should carry more authority.
Then again, I have to disagree when it comes to Marty Schottenheimer - well, not exactly disagree, but I'd go a bit further: he sissied it up against the Jets with his play-calling. They scored on that long pass to McCardell (he made a sweet toe-dragging catch at the back of the end zone), and after that, basically turned off their offense until they needed the points at the end. Then they got them by going to their Pro-Bowl tight end, Antonio Gates, and then, in overtime, they drove for more using screens and wide runs to LaDanian Tomlinson. Use your two best playmakers to score points – it’s so crazy, it just might work!
(Eric Barton helped with his idiot penalty on fourth down – but we all know it was an idiot penalty. Let’s keep moving.)
Alas, rather than go for the throat, they called three dives into the middle, where a number of Jets were already standing, instead of plays to the edge, in order to make the Jets chase them. Dr. Z thought it was just Marty reverting out of nerves. I think it was worse – he was afraid that if he called for play-action on first down at the 22 and it got picked, he’d be the one who looked bad, so he chickened out. He played for the field goal. Let it be known: (rookie kicker + 40 yards) x poor field conditions = lost playoff game. Doug Brien, a reliable veteran, missed a kick of his own from 33 earlier in the game – just totally lost his footing and smacked the kick off the tush of one of his lineman. Did Marty think that the sod had magically healed after three more quarters of trampling?
Incidentally, Mike Sherman had a similar nancy-pants moment in Green Bay, after Brett Favre tossed his illegal forward pass and cost his team a touchdown. Ryan Longwell missed the ensuing field goal try, for much the same reason as did Brien and poor Nick Kaeding.
Favre is a Hall-of-Famer, one of the most exciting players of my generation, a long-time veteran, Super Bowl winner, MVP, nice to furry things, etc. etc. That’s all the more reason to call him out on this. How can such a player not know where the first-down marker and the scrimmage line are? We’re not talking about well-known brain farters like Jake Plummer and Aaron Brooks. I saw this play, and instantly thought, “Maybe they should play Craig Nall to start the second half.”
Sherm wouldn’t have dared – bench Favre at Lambeau field? Well, yes. If he’s going to react to a possible tackle by flinging the ball away, in such a fashion that he’s lucky it wasn’t intercepted – yes. But such a move leaves the coach in the crosshairs, so he let Favre (and all the Packers) twist in the cold, cold wind. Favre threw four real interceptions, and a game which had been within reach for most of three quarters faded away. And now you are all home for Sunday, watching Randy Moss’s tush overshadow his ABA-worthy afro and magnificent play.
It appears that TMQ’s theory is correct – coaches shirk necessary risks out of the herd mentality. (He also dovetails with Dr. Z's disdain for most TV commentators.) They wound up covering the same third item this week, one that TMQ regularly calls "Kick Early, Go for It Late." Is it Zen? Serendipity? Maybe they were tailgating together? In any case, here's a concrete example:
Your team scores with about ten minutes left, and it's 15-10. Go for one, or two?
The answer is, One. You want to force the other team to reach your endzone for a win. If you go for two and fail, you let the other guys off of that hook. Two FGs will beat you, and there's enough time to get them, but not, perhaps, enough for you to get a last chance afterwards.
So go for one, make it 16-10, and then two FGs can only tie the game. In the meantime, you get a possession of your own in between, to get more points and bleed that clock dry. But say you break down and the Bad Guys do get the touchdown. Now your fiendish scheme becomes all too clear. It’s 16-16, so what will they do? Of course, make it 17-16. BUT if you'd failed earlier going for two, then it's much more likely that the other guys, now up 16-15 (instead of tied at 16), will try for two themselves, knowing you only have one more shot. If they don’t get it, well, you aren’t any worse off at 16-15 than you were at 17-16. But if they get it, you then have to get a TD to win: a FG only gets you to overtime, where anything can happen (see Chargers entries above).
In other words, one point forces the other team, even in your worst-case scenario, to leave you a last-chance try for the FG to win. You take away their opportunity to force you to play for the tie. And best of all, if you hold at 16-10 and then kick another field goal, it's now a two-score game with insufficient time for the other team to get them. You win, fans tear down your goalposts, and they name a candy bar after you.
Luckily, all of that analysis can be condensed to a handy mnemonic, simple enough for the simplest coaches: Two Possessions, One Point; One Possession, Two Points. And by One Possession, I mean ONE – theirs. They get the ball, and either they score and beat you, or you hold and run out the final few ticks.
My service to you.