Friday, October 7, 2011

6 comments TMQ: So Games Aren't Decided by Football Gods?

In one of the most shocking revelations of this calendar year, Gregg Easterbrook tells us that a comeback in the NFL is not caused by the football gods, coaches that go for it on fourth down which results in his team playing better or because a team lost the lead due to using the wrong kind of defense. This, of course, directly contradicts everything Gregg has been telling us for quite a few years now. Comebacks by NFL teams have traditionally been explained by Gregg because one team didn't go for it on fourth down, because one team played an aggressive/passive defense (whichever defense the team that lost played when the other team came back, that wasn't the right defense to play), and because the football gods are punishing a team. Today we learn that's all not true. My world is shaken.

Comebacks are sheer excitement. But please don't say they happen because the vanquished team "blew the lead."

I think the person who is most responsible for using bullshit excuses for why a team lost a game is Gregg Easterbrook himself. Naturally, he fails to see this.

A football game lasts 60 minutes. Who's ahead early, and by how much, is irrelevant to the outcome.

This doesn't explain why Gregg constantly brags about writing "game over" in his notebook before a game is actually over. In fact, Gregg does this very thing in this very TMQ. Gregg likes to contradict himself whenever possible, which is usually on a weekly basis.

Here is what Gregg wrote last week when he was not taking the advice he dispenses this week:

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Leading 22-16, Jersey/A faced third-and-11 on the Philadelphia Heat 18 with less than four minutes remaining. Philadelphia, known for being blitz-wacky, rushed seven men against a screen-pass call -- touchdown. And TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook.

And two weeks before that:

Trailing 7-0 at Detroit, Kansas City faced fourth-and-1 on the Lions' 15. The Chiefs entered the game in a tailspin, a 2010 playoff team that had lost its past three by blowout margins. Kansas City seemed to change its psychology -- it needed to go for the first down. Instead the field goal team trotted onto the field, and TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook in the first quarter! The football gods agreed.
The final: Detroit 48, Kansas City 3.

Despite this lecture about a game isn't over until the final snap, Gregg wants us to forget that on a weekly basis he announces games are over before the final snap. In the Kansas City-Detroit game he announced the game was over in the first quarter. The first quarter. I can't decide if Gregg is contradicting himself or is a huge hypocrite. Probably a little of both.

Just because you're ahead early, even if by 20 points, does not confer some kind of mystical right to victory. Being ahead by a big margin certainly doesn't mean you are the better team!

But this certainly doesn't stop Gregg from announcing the game is over in his legendary notebook. Gregg is above following his own rules and advice.

Plus bear in mind -- often when a team jumps to a big lead, the opponent has just as much time available to reply.

Actually this isn't true. If a team jumps to a big lead in the middle of the third quarter the other team doesn't have as much time to reply.

Leads are not blown: victories are earned.

Let's remember this quote for the next time (which is this column) when Gregg pronounces a game as over before the game is actually over. Apparently he is able to foretell when victory has been earned.

Ahead 27-10 late in the third quarter, facing third-and-2, Romo threw a pick-six. He should have handed off -- and that's on the coach.

It is also on Romo for throwing an interception. He didn't have to throw the ball. He could have simply thrown the ball out of bounds.

Philadelphia leading 23-3 midway through the third quarter, Eagles coaches called a seven-man blitz, including a safety. Easy 30-yard touchdown pass to a receiver in the space the safety vacated, and the 49ers' comeback was on. Less than a year ago, Philadelphia staged a monster comeback against Jersey/A, the comeback triggered when Giants' coaches began calling risky seven-man blitzes despite a big lead. Didn't Philadelphia coaches learn anything from that game

The Eagles coaches didn't learn anything from that game because they aren't stupid enough to actually believe seven-man blitzes always fail. There are not concrete rules in the NFL about which defenses always work and which do not. How did the Eagles get a 23-3 lead? I'm guessing by blitzing. In Gregg's world there are concrete rules in place until those rules are proven to be incorrect in which case Gregg ignores his concrete rule. In this situation, all seven-man blitzes are useless because the 49ers came back and won the game. Nevermind this could also the method the Eagles used to gain a 23-3 lead.

Here's the issue. The issue is if the Eagles were up 23-3 partially because they were blitzing effectively, if they had stopped blitzing and only rushed four men then Gregg would have criticized them for not blitzing. Whatever the Eagles did to lose this game, they should have done the opposite. That's always Gregg's position and he is proud to state what the Eagles should have done after the game is over.

Brown was supposed to sweep left and throw to him. Instead San Francisco "blew up" the play: Brown was hit immediately, panicked, and lost the ball. But why call a trick play pass from the 1 with a lead?

It was a 10-3 lead, which isn't exactly safe, especially since:

Plus bear in mind -- often when a team jumps to a big lead, the opponent has just as much time available to reply.

So the Eagles wanted to score again. I thought using misdirection and fooling the defense was the best way to gain short-yardage? That's what Gregg claims. Or is that only when it comes to running the ball? In passing, you don't need trickery or misdirection...until you do need this of course.

Rush, and if unsuccessful, rush again or kick for a field goal.

But wasn't Andy Reid sending a message to his team that he believes in them by running this trick play and so naturally the mere calling of this play should have inspired his team to play better?

Tuesday Morning Quarterback would be happy if every football game was a last-second comeback win, there's nothing more exciting in sports. Just don't say the loser "blew the lead."

Say, "the football gods were angered and lost the game for the team" or announce the game is over in the second quarter and then write this observation down in your notebook. Just don't say the loser "blew the lead" because we all know teams don't blow leads they just run the wrong defense and wins are mostly decided by which team goes for it on fourth down and uses the most misdirection on short yardage plays.

Sour Play of the Week: Jordan Babineaux of Tennessee ran an interception back 97 yards for a touchdown at Cleveland. Normally a very long pick-six happens when a defender cuts in front of an "out" pattern and sees nothing but open field ahead.

Normally, this is how a long pick-six happens. Statistically speaking of course.

In this case, Babineaux was 20 yards downfield of the Browns' line of scrimmage, and had to weave his way through the entire Cleveland team. He was able to do so because the Browns barely bothered to pursue him -- very sour. Linemen Jason Pinkston and Joe Thomas jogged in his general direction, then gave up and watched. Even if they are not fast enough to catch a defensive back, they could still try to cut him off and force him toward the center of the field. They didn't bother.

I'm a little confused. How is a person supposed to cut off a runner when they aren't fast enough to catch up with the runner? Doesn't the defender have to nearly catch up with the runner to cause him to change the direction in which he is running? Babineaux wouldn't move to the center of the field if he thought the person chasing him couldn't catch him.

The Carolina Panthers did not punt away from Hester, rather they kicked directly toward him. Sour. The Cats have a guy who's not just the special teams coach, his title is special teams coordinator.

That is the official title given to nearly every single special teams coach in the NFL. I checked and every randomly selected team I looked at called their special teams coach the "special teams coordinator." So there's nothing special about this title that Brian Murphy has.

Houston's Jonathan Joseph, who picked up the blocked kick and had nothing but green grass ahead of him, began waiving the ball in the air at the Pittsburgh 40, and dance-strutting at the Pittsburgh 20. The football gods punish that sort of thing -- in this case, immediately. The second low-IQ development was that the Texans' Danieal Manning shoved the Steelers' holder in the back well behind the play. The penalty nullified the touchdown, and also ended the half.

So we are to believe the football gods punished Jonathan Joseph and the Texans by having Danieal Manning commit a penalty that called the touchdown back? Of course the Texans were later punished for this transgression by winning the game.

As someone who touts undrafted, low-drafted or waived players, TMQ loved Monday Night Football's 59-yard touchdown screen pass from sixth-round choice Curtis Painter to sixth-round choice Pierre Garcon of Division III Mount Union, with undrafted tackle Jeffrey Linkenbach making the key pull block.

That was fantastic, but Gregg naturally omits the team that won the game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a quarterback who is a first round pick and they have multiple high draft picks on offense and defense.

But TMQ does not think the helmet-to-helmet crackdown accounts for increased passing yards. TMQ thinks blown coverages -- resulting from no offseason practices this year -- are the explanation.

And again, this doesn’t explain why offenses are so cohesive when they did not have a chance to practice together this offseason either.

Concussion prevention did not cause the Bears to blow the coverage. TMQ thinks that no later than Thanksgiving, secondaries will jell and NFL passing numbers will return to the norm.

Which, not so coincidentally, the weather gets nastier and colder around Thanksgiving. When the weather gets colder and worse it tends to make it more difficult to throw the ball, so I would expect somewhat of a dive in passing numbers for that reason any way.

New Orleans leading Jacksonville 23-10 with three minutes remaining, phenom tight end Jimmy Graham lined up in the backfield as an apparent extra blocker for what was expected to be a clock-killing rush. Drew Brees play-faked; Graham ran a "wheel" route as if he were a fast tailback, and his 59-yard reception allowed TMQ to write "game over."

Gregg Easterbrook earlier in the column:

A football game lasts 60 minutes. Who's ahead early, and by how much, is irrelevant to the outcome. All that matters is who's ahead on the final play.

Yet, Gregg goes ahead and ignores his own advice in order to write “game over” in his notebook. We all know Gregg wrote “game over” in his notebook for the Eagles-49ers and Lions-Cowboys game, but he neglects to mention this in a constant effort to make it seem like he is always right to do this.

In the year 2149, Earth is choked with smog-like pollution. On the plus side, everyone's really good-looking. The notion that choking pollution will destroy our world has become a Hollywood standby, central even to the cartoon movie "Wall-E." Hollywood thinks this, though all forms of air pollution except greenhouse gases -- a big exception, but unrelated to smog -- are in steady decline,

Smog has dropped dramatically in Los Angeles. Hollywood types don't seem aware of what is happening right outside their own windows.

Hollywood types aren’t unaware of what is happening right outside their window, they don’t care because they are creating a fictional television show. Gregg constantly believes television shows are based completely on reality. I’m not sure why Gregg believes this, but he does, which is why he criticizes science-fiction shows. You would think the “fiction” portion of the genre name would tip him off as to the expected realism of a television show in that genre but I guess not.

Eric Pepin of St. Louis proposes, "Instead of the NCAA imposing sanctions, penalties, scholarship rescindments on schools -- who often are akin to the last diner walking out of the bathroom to find an empty table and a bill -- the penalties should be attached personally to the coaches, ADs and school presidents. So at Ohio State, Gordon Gee personally would be sanctioned: say, barred from taking a post at any other NCAA member school. Jim Tressel personally would be sanctioned, barred from working again at an NCAA member institution. This would create incentives for presidents to clean it up and prevent head coaches from leaving a trail of destruction.

This sounds like a great idea, but what if the AD, other coaches, and school president weren’t aware the head coach was committing NCAA violations? I know it sounds weird to believe an AD, assistant coach or school president wouldn’t know of the NCAA violations, but what if they don’t? Granted, they are overseeing the program, but does it make sense to punish them for a violation they had no knowledge was being committed? I could be for this rule of punishing the AD and school president. I would be for it if it was proven the AD or school president knew about the violations being committed, but to throw them into the pile of guilty names without evidence seems unfair to me.

On the Jets' first snap against Baltimore on primetime national television, Mark Sanchez was hit from his blindside and fumbled. As five Ravens scrambled madly for the ball a few feet from Sanchez, he just laid on the ground, watching. As Baltimore ran the fumble back for a touchdown, Sanchez never got up, simply reclining, watching. And he wasn't injured, he just couldn't be bothered getting up. Glam-boy magazine-cover megabucks toast-of-New-York quarterback Mark Sanchez, you are guilty of the single worst play of the season. So far.

I guess probably Sanchez should have tried to fight five Ravens for the football in this situation, but notice how Gregg calls Mark Sanchez “megabucks.” Ed Reed sacked Sanchez and he is a megabucks player as well, which is a point Gregg conveniently leaves out. If Reed had made a bad play, instead of making a good play, you can be sure how much gets paid would have gotten mentioned by Gregg.

Next Week: Is there a link between more football and fewer boys being admitted to college?

No, but there is a link between the reading of TMQ and a person’s blood pressure rising.


Martin F. said...

Another part of the Eagles problem? Asante Samuel playing free safety for the Eagles in the Red Zone. Go back and look at Frank Gore's touchdown run from around the 20, it's a freaking cornerback trying to fill the hole and bring him down. Gore outweigh him by 30 pounds and a couple decades of playing the same position. this might be more important then running 7 man blitzes.

Also as we all know, Gregg has a tendency to exaggerate. I'm guessing the Eagles ran maybe two of those blitzes. I remember last year he made a similar statement about a game, and one of our crew here blew it out of the water. Turns out the team hadn't run a single "fill in the blank" blitz that Gregg had accussed them of.It was the whole "Zone blitzing? Too complicated. If you rushed two linebackers and play 4-3, you rushed 6. No I don't care if 2 linemen dropped back into coverage, I'm counting them" thing he had going on.

Also, Gregg is an idiot. Of course teams lose games that other teams did little to earn. Romo and interceptionalooza, Ronnie Brown and his Wonderous Half Back Pass, and there are always more each year, where the winning team did little to win the game then hold onto the ball and run the turnover into the end zone. These weren't great defensive plays being made, but ghastly turnovers like you see in Pop Warner.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin, I didn't know that. Samuel is playing FS for the Eagles in the red zone? I know they have competent safeties, so why him?

It wouldn't surprise me if Gregg is exaggerating and just assuming the Eagles ran blitzes all game so it can fit his point. I need to find that post where his idea of blitzing was blown apart. It would not surprise me if Gregg didn't see the rest of the game to judge if the Eagles ran blitzes or not. He's just mad he wrote "Game over" in a notebook and was proven wrong when the 49ers came back.

As far as your last point goes, I think I read this week that Bill Belchick believes in not turning the ball over and possessing the ball is the way to win games. It seems obvious, but in the second half of these games where there were comebacks a couple of great plays and some turnovers got these teams right back in the game. Teams have lost games for a while now they probably shouldn't have lost and the winning team didn't necessarily do anything special.

He can be frustrating.

Martin F. said...

It's more like the Eagles are playing a nickle package, and Samuels ends up in the "position" of free safety on running plays. NFL Network did a great job of showing it on their show Wed I think it was. They seem to berunning a lot of 3 corner 1 safety packages on multi receiver sets, which ends up with a small dude at the FS position.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin, I think the lesson to be learned is I need NFL Network. In theory, 3 corner 1 safety packages seem to make sense with multi-WR sets, but it does seem like it would open them up to being run on. That's good knowledge of what the defense looks like by the 49ers.

HH said...

Who's ahead early, and by how much, is irrelevant to the outcome.

Actually, it's quite relevant. It doesn't DETERMINE who wins (no one said it did) but trust, a 20, 30 point lead early is quite relevant to the final score and thus the winner.

Just because you're ahead early, even if by 20 points, does not confer some kind of mystical right to victory. Being ahead by a big margin certainly doesn't mean you are the better team!

But it's evidence that you are. Better teams win more games than worse teams. That means that on average, better teams score more points than worse teams. That means that on average, a better team is more likely to have a big lead early. No one's saying that a quarter-and-a-half is conclusive proof, but over a big enough sample, it's evidence.

Plus bear in mind -- often when a team jumps to a big lead, the opponent has just as much time available to reply.

Except for the part where the leading team can run out the clock. This isn't baseball.

Leads are not blown: victories are earned.

What follows is a list of things that teams in the lead did wrong to blow the lead.

But TMQ does not think the helmet-to-helmet crackdown accounts for increased passing yards. TMQ thinks blown coverages -- resulting from no offseason practices this year -- are the explanation.

Still think Gregg is right here. The offense controls what it does, so it can stick to plays it can run, and mistakes by individual players (like a wrong route) don't necessarily cause damage. The entire defense basically has to gel - a blown coverage isn't like a wrong route: on a wrong route, you don't pass to the receiver, but when a coverage is blown, big play time.

On the Jets' first snap against Baltimore on primetime national television, Mark Sanchez was hit from his blindside and fumbled. As five Ravens scrambled madly for the ball a few feet from Sanchez, he just laid on the ground, watching.

I'm the last person to rise to the Sanchise's defense, but Gregg did mention that he was HIT FROM HIS BLINDSIDE. Can we let the man get to the point where he's no longer seeing stars before we ask him to recover a fumble?

Bengoodfella said...

HH, I think I understood what Gregg was trying to say, but how much a team is leading by and how far into the game they are is very relevant. If a team is up 10 points with 1 minute to go then the game is over. I hope he knows the NFL has a clock and time does run out.

I see what you are saying about a defense gelling but an offense has to gel as well to an extent. Maybe it is more difficult for the defense to gel w/o training camp but on offense if a receiver goes left and the QB expects him to go right, then it can lead to a pick-6. Maybe the defense does need to gel more than the offense but I think the league is just becoming a more passing league and coordinators are getting better at designing passing plays.

Not to mention, Sanchez got sacked and should have maybe gone after the ball...maybe, but depending on how quickly the Ravens were on top of the ball did the Jets want Sanchez on the ground wrestling with 5 defensive players?