Thursday, November 28, 2013

4 comments Gregg Easterbrook Declares the Zone Read Dead Again

I figured TMQ for this week would be about the demise of the zone read or a reprisal of the "Peyton Paradox." It is about the decline of the read option. Gregg is great at overreacting to what happened during the past week in the NFL, so because the Redskins continue to struggle and Colin Kaepernick didn't run for 300 yards Gregg has decided teams are moving back towards wanting a more traditional quarterback. What Gregg doesn't realize is teams never went away from wanting a traditional quarterback. Teams just used the zone read as a part of the offense to throw the defense off-balance. A quarterback will always have to throw the ball well and I can't see this changing anytime soon. Gregg declared the zone read dead earlier this year and then shut up about it once the 49ers reeled off a string of victories. Now that the Redskins are struggling, and because he lacks NFL-related material for TMQ, he decides the zone read is dead again. Nevermind that Carolina runs portions of the zone read and Seattle does at times too. Ignore that and focus on Gregg stating that an NFL team will want a quarterback who can throw the ball...which seems pretty obvious.

Once upon a time, NFL scouts wanted college quarterbacks who played in a pro-style offense. The theory was no one could learn to read pass coverages after arriving in the NFL: a player needed years of practice using NFL-style tactics.

It's the first sentence of the column and Gregg is already spewing lies and insanity. We are to really believe NFL teams didn't think a college quarterback could learn to read pass coverages better after arriving in the NFL? Of course NFL quarterbacks learn to read pass coverages upon entering the NFL. They see much more diverse and difficulty coverages in the NFL than they do in college. Plus, the NFL is now using college spread tactics in the passing game, so these quarterbacks who ran the read option or spread offense in college shouldn't be at a great disadvantage upon entering the NFL.

Then about a decade ago, the spread offense arrived in Texas prep football. NFL teams of the Lone Star State may be struggling, but Texas high school football remains the sport's leading indicator.

Apparently Gregg will continue to ignore that earlier this year he stated the Pacific Northwest is the newest hotbed of football activity.

San Francisco at Washington on "Monday Night Football," the traditionalist scouts had their revenge. There's a reason they liked pro-style quarterbacks, who now may make a draft comeback.

Or they may not. Or NFL teams will draft quarterbacks who can run an NFL offense while also having the mobility to run some zone read plays. Regardless, by stating "may make a draft comeback" Gregg has himself covered either way. His ego won't have to take the blow of being wrong no matter how this plays out and that's the most important thing.

In the game, Niners zone-read quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled against one of the league's worst pass defenses, often sailing the ball where no receiver awaited.

Kaepernick was 15-24 for 235 yards, 9.79 average yards per attempt, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, a 134.6 rating, and a 90.6 QBR. Gregg Easterbrook is simply outright lying to his readers. Kaepernick may have thrown one or two passes over a receiver's head but he didn't struggle against the Redskins for most of the game. He was efficient and had one of his best games of the season.

I wonder if Gregg simply ignores what he saw during the game and the box score when writing things like this or he knows he is lying and wants to see if anyone will call him on it, because he truly doesn't care if his readers think he's a liar or not.

Mostly, Griffin and Kaepernick looked like quarterbacks who can only run a college-style offense. When the zone-read was a fresh idea last season, that was fine.

No, they look like second year quarterbacks who are having to adjust to the NFL adjusting to them. NFL defenses aren't stupid and they have adjusted to what Griffin and Kaepernick want to do on offense, so now these two quarterbacks will have to adjust to what the NFL defenses are doing. It's not like Kaepernick had even started a full season at quarterback in the NFL prior to this year. He's adjusting to NFL defenses adjusting to him.

On Sunday night, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady did vanilla, chocolate and strawberry to spectacular effect: Monday night, the flavor of the month was a bust for both teams.

Manning had a 52.8% completion percentage and 150 yards passing. Granted, he was playing in a stiff wind, but he wasn't spectacular on Sunday night. Stop making things up. Are there people who read TMQ and didn't watch a single NFL game over the past week? There must be because that's the only way I can explain why ESPN trots out TMQ every week when Gregg Easterbrook constantly misleads and lies to ESPN's readers.

The pendulum had swung toward college-style quarterbacks on draft day -- expect it to swing back the other way.

The first two quarterbacks drafted in the last two NFL drafts have both been traditional drop-back quarterbacks.

As for Washington, the club under Griffin has seen streaks of 3-6, then 7-0, now 3-9. That's not encouraging. Football is a team game. Not only did the RG III trade denude Washington of draft selections for talent and depth, the 21 coaches aren't performing well either. Shanahan is highly hyped and very highly paid. During the years Shanahan had John Elway in his prime, Shanahan was 54-18. In all other years, Shanahan is 124-121.

This is just further proof a coach's perceived talent and who he knows in the NFL can cover up for a lot of his deficiencies. Mike Shanahan has lived off his reputation as a two-time Super Bowl winning coach for a while now. My issue with Shanahan and coaches like Jeff Fisher isn't whether they are good coaches or not, but whether they are worth the amount of money they are being paid. Is paying $4 million more per year for Mike Shanahan as compared to another head coach really worth it to the organization and will it provide the organization with a better return on their investment than choosing a lesser known candidate as the head coach. I guess it depends on the other candidate.

With each successive season, there seems more evidence Shanahan was just the guy who was standing there when Elway realized his potential, and otherwise is a mediocre coach.

I don't think Shanahan is a mediocre coach necessarily, but he hasn't done a bang-up job with the Redskins quite yet. Robert Griffin doesn't seem to have the offensive talent around him that he needs to be successful in the NFL. That is partially on Shanahan and also a reflection on the salary cap penalties suffered by the Redskins organization combined with the loss of draft picks to move up and get Griffin.

Sunday, Denver faced New England in cold, strong wind, and Belichick completely outsmarted Denver Broncos' backup coach Jack del Rio in wind management. Winning the coin flip in overtime, Belichick took the wind.

How did Belichick outsmart Jack Del Rio? The Patriots won the coin toss. They had the choice of choosing their side of the field or taking the ball and Belichick took the ball. Del Rio didn't have a choice in the matter so I think it's inaccurate to say he was outsmarted by Belichick in this situation.

In another overtime game, with one second remaining in the fifth quarter, the Minnesota Vikings fair-caught a Green Bay Packers punt. The ball was on the Vikings' 34 -- try a fair-catch kick! Sure it's a 76-yard field goal, which would be the longest ever. But Blair Walsh has a strong leg, and there's no rush on a fair-catch kick. Many placekickers launch kicks that would be good from around 70 in warmups, with no rush.

Oh, many kickers do make 70 yard kicks in warmups? Do they do this outside and with a groups of rushers trying to block the kick? Don't forget the Packers could have had a man back to return this field goal attempt, which would have resulted in the Packers essentially have a free kickoff return. I would imagine if the Vikings attempted a field goal here and the Packers ran it back for a touchdown then Gregg would criticize the Vikings for trying a long field goal and allowing the Packers a chance to win the game.

Fans were deprived the pleasure of beholding a very long fair-catch kick on the final play of an overtime. It might be decades until an NFL team is in this position again.

Oh the tragedy of this situation. Whatever shall we do?

Yet trailing by only three despite the turnovers, Detroit reached third-and-12 on the City of Tampa 28 with a minute remaining. The Buccaneers blitzed. Stafford sprinted backward 10 yards, then launched a perfect lob to Calvin Johnson, who had beaten his man at the Tampa 3. Megatron, holder of receiving records uncountable, let the ball carom out of his hands for an interception. Game over.

Calvin Johnson has saved Matthew Stafford's ass so many times I think he is entitled to a drop or two. Of course Gregg focuses on the one time Calvin Johnson lets the ball carom out of his hands as opposed to mentioning all the times when Johnson goes up and grabs the football with defenders hanging all over him.

Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Kansas City leading 38-34, the San Diego Chargers, out of timeouts, faced second-and-long on the Chiefs' 26 with 31 seconds remaining. TMQ loves the tactic of, in a high-pressure situation, giving the ball to a guy who never gets the ball. Bolts receiver Seyi Ajirotutu, with two catches on the season, lined up wide left. He ran a go, and caught the touchdown pass that proved the winning points. Sweet.

TMQ is a fan of this tactic until this tactic doesn't work, at which point Gregg Easterbrook writes that the Chargers should have thrown the ball to Keenan Allen in this situation and not a rarely-used player like Ajirotutu. Gregg's criticism is always outcome-dependent. Always. His criticism is based entirely on the outcome of a play and he openly contradicts himself, such as in this situation. Over the past couple of weeks we have read where Gregg has stated a team made a mistake by getting the ball to a rarely-used player, but in this case he lauds the Chargers for throwing the ball to a rarely used player in a key situation.

Probably gamma bursts have a natural origin, but we shouldn't assume this. As TMQ has noted, what if they are the muzzle flashes of doomsday weapons?...Gamma bursts appear far more violent than nuclear explosion. If this burst happened in our Milky Way, the radiation would have killed everything on Earth, and any life similar to ours throughout this galaxy. When astronomers look into the heavens, they observe fantastically powerful explosions. We should not blithely assume all are natural in origin.

These aliens are probably shooting doomsday weapons at Earth in order to destroy the planet because humans insist on watching unrealistic television shows and brewing Winter beers when it is still Fall. 

The tactics for coaching in cold, strong wind are three: First, scheme to get the wind in the first quarter, to jump to a lead. Next, scheme to get the wind in the fourth quarter, when it's money time. 

This scheme would involve the opposing team making the mistake of taking the wind in the third quarter. Basically, this scheme requires the other team's help in making it work, so this scheme would only work if the opposing coach screwed up...which Jack Del Rio (in retrospect of course) did. 

The Patriots won the opening coin toss, so Belichick deferred.

The Patriots always defer. This is a tactic that Bill Belichick always uses, not only in this game due to the wind.

That left Denver to decide whether to start with the ball or start with the wind. Denver chose the ball, which meant New England could then take the wind. Remember, on the opening coin flip the victor has three options: If "defer" is the choice, then the flip loser takes the ball, then the flip victor can choose which goal to defend. So the game began with Belichick getting the best-case wind outcome for the first half.

Having the wind in the first quarter didn't help the Flying Elvii, who lost three fumbles, spotting the visitors a 17-0 lead. 

Gregg's tactics for coaching in a cold, strong wind is off to a rousing start.
When the referee turned to the Denver captain, inexplicably the visitors elected to take the wind in the third quarter, giving New England the wind in the fourth quarter, exactly what Belichick wanted.

Belichick is so evil. I'm not sure if this was inexplicable or not. The Broncos wanted to keep the pressure on the Patriots and wanted to make sure their Hall of Fame quarterback got the football again to put more points up on the board. It wasn't a great long-term strategy, but it had short-term tactics behind it.

Jack of the River compounded his goal-to-defend mistake by keeping his offense on the ground in the third quarter, which would turn out to be the final time Denver had the wind. As New England was outscoring Denver 21-0 in the third quarter, the Broncos ran eight rushing plays and four passing plays, never attempting a deep throw. True, rushing was attractive -- New England was playing a funky 2-4-5 alignment intended to frustrate Manning, offering Denver the run.

So basically Gregg thinks the Broncos should have tried to pass the ball, despite the fact the Patriots had set up their defense to stop the pass and allow the Broncos to run the ball. I'm not sure how forcing a throw into coverage (simply because they have the wind) is the best strategy when the Broncos could eat clock by running the football (thereby keeping Tom Brady off the field), but I'm not a tactical genius like Gregg Easterbrook either.

In the NFL format, flip-winning coaches almost always take the ball. Belichick understood that wind was more important than the ball at that juncture. Would Del Rio have taken the wind if he'd won the flip? We'll never know. We do know that in a game where the visitors seemed to have better players, the home team had better coaching.

I'm shocked that Jack Del Rio wasn't able to match wits with Bill Belichick.

Now Gregg kills space and time by referencing "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and talking about dams. Yep, this is still supposed to be a football column.

Reader Jim Clair of Louisville, Ky., reports that last week, "ABC Family had a chyron touting the beginning of the 'countdown to 25 days of Christmas.' What was in the crawl was a countdown to a countdown to a countdown."

Yes, it does sound funny, but ABC Family wants to publicize their 25 Days of Christmas Programming and do so by counting down until it begins. I'm not sure how humanity will survive such egregious "creep."

TMQ contends that coaches don't go for it on fourth down, or in other pressure situations, because they want the players to take blame for a loss. Never was this better on display than in the Navy at San Jose State pairing. During the second overtime, Navy scored and kicked a PAT, then San Jose State scored a touchdown. That meant Spartans coach Ron Caragher faced this choice: kick a PAT for a third overtime, or go for two to win. That's two yards to win a game, on a day when San Jose State averaged 6.3 yards per offense snap.

But did San Jose State average 6.3 yards per offensive snap on down-and-short situations? Gregg is incapable of understanding that the call to go for the two-point conversion here is situation specific. San Jose State may have averaged 6.3 yards per offensive snap, but this doesn't mean they would gain 6.3 yards in this situation. On fourth-and-two (which is what a two-point conversion essentially is) near the goal line the field is more compacted and the running back has smaller lanes to run through. So while Gregg's conclusion San Jose State should have gone for it may be correct, the way he comes to this conclusion is not very good at all.

Afterward he said, "I felt more comfortable kicking and letting the players play to win the game and not making a coaching decision that could've backfired." Blame the players, don't blame me!

Or it could be seen as the coach saying, "I have faith in my players to win the game. My going for the extra point was showing my faith in the defense being able to prevent Navy from scoring."

Baylor and Oregon have offenses built to jump to a quick lead and cause opponents to give up; when forced to play from behind, both looked befuddled. Even excellent football teams need to play from behind. It's part of the skill set a champion must possess.

Or both teams looked befuddled by playing teams that had a good defensive game plan, which may not have anything to do with the skill set of a champion, heart of a champion or anything intangible like that.

As TMQ has noted before, of high-scoring teams such as the 1991 Buffalo Bills, 1998 Minnesota Vikings, 2010 Oregon Ducks and 2007 and 2012 New England Patriots, they tend to peter out late, as defensive intensity cranks up and tendencies become clear. This is a restive point for the high-scoring Denver Broncos.

So it seems Gregg has gone from stating earlier in this NFL season that high-octane NFL offenses are here to say, to now falling back on what he had previously said about defenses catching up eventually with these offenses. So why didn't Gregg mention the defenses would catch up with the offenses back when he was writing glowingly about the Oregon Ducks' offense and how many points the Broncos were putting up earlier in this year? It's funny how Gregg sometimes conveniently forgets principles and ideas that he himself furthers once he sees evidence contrary to what he believes.

Receivers Are Supposed to Receive: Carolina leading 20-16 with 10 seconds remaining, Miami's Mike Wallace dropped a pass at the Panthers' goal line. It would not have been an easy catch, but Wallace's job is to catch the ball.

It wasn't that easy of a catch and Wallace had to dive to get to the ball. I guess Gregg is going to skip over how highly-paid glory boy Mike Wallace abused hard-working, seventh-round pick Captain Munnerlyn the entire game because that doesn't fit his narrative that highly-paid players underachieve by being lazy and lowly-drafted players have no ego and work hard.

Last Week's Jacksonville Item: My item on the city of Jacksonville giving a $43 million gift to the Jaguars for stadium upgrades, while billionaire Jags owner Shad Khan ponies up only $20 million, originally contained a link to school funding cuts in Jacksonville, Ill. This error made me look like a complete idiot. The link rapidly was replaced with the correct one, to school funding cuts in Jacksonville, Fla. The item also said the source of the $43 million was a "new" hotel tax. The hotel tax is not new, so I took out the word "new," leaving the rest as is because none of the underlying points changed.

So Gregg didn't read the article he linked, unless he can't read English or doesn't know "Ill." means Illinois and not Florida, but the good news is he corrected this egregious error very quickly which completely makes up for the fact he was very lazy when linking an article he didn't read. Oh, and he didn't read the article (Have I mentioned that?) so he claimed the hotel tax was new and it wasn't. Other than that, no problems to see here.

More Proof of the Decline of Western Civilization: This year the Christmas classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" airs on CBS on Nov. 26. A Christmas special airs before Thanksgiving!

But I'm sure if CBS corrected the date the special aired rapidly then all would be forgiven. Right, Gregg?

Reader Brad Prescott of San Francisco notes this Ohio State announcement about Buckeye athletes with good grades: "There are athletes taking challenging majors, such as biology, economics and electrical engineering. But 21 of the 74 athletes lauded are in some form of sports, exercise or recreation majors, including 'exercise science' and 'sport industry,' a college department that lacks a grammatically correct name. In my view, such majors should not even be offered at a four-year institution. 

Two of my best friends from college took part in a "exercise science" or "sports science" major and they are now gainfully employed with an organization where they oversee facilities, deal with personnel issues and budgets. My point is that this major should be offered because students who chose to take this major can do something with the degree. I can't speak to whether this major is more challenging than another major, but these majors do serve a purpose.

People aspiring to work in sports should major in law, medicine or statistics; subjects like exercise and 'leisure studies' should be minors, at best. The athletic factory schools know it's easier to keep players eligible if they are pushed away from challenging majors [and] toward course loads that free up more time for practice."

While the latter part may be true, Brad Prescott from San Francisco has a fundamental misunderstanding of what an exercise science major does. They don't necessarily deal with law, medicine or statistics, so those majors wouldn't get them to the point they want to be at in their life. Exercise science is part statistics and part medicine, but it's not the same thing as majoring in medicine. I think Brad should probably know more about what the major entails at four-year institutions before suggesting the major is eliminated.

Years ago when Page 2 still existed and still had a background of yellow kryptonite, your columnist claimed to have drawn up a play that was "100 percent unstoppable." The play was called Blast Gold.

Sunday, the St. Louis Rams ran Blast Gold. Tavon Austin lined up wide; came in motion left, back toward the formation; took a toss left; took one hard step left and then executed a planned reversal of field, sprinting right behind a pulling blocker for a 65-yard touchdown. Reversal-of-field runs are high-risk, high-reward. Usually they occur spontaneously on broken plays. They should be planned more often.

While plays like this should possibly be run more often, this play isn't 100% unstoppable. If the defense is blitzing from the right side of the offensive line, then Austin may not have had time to reverse field or if the defensive end and cornerback on the left side of the defense stayed at home, while the safety stayed in a Cover 1 and moved left upon seeing Austin reverse field then this play would be stoppable. It's a well-done play though. It's just not unstoppable.

The R*dsk*ns went for it on fourth-and-2 at the San Francisco 41 early in the third quarter. The formation was a jumbo set -- except the extra blocker in the backfield was 180-pound speed receiver Aldrick Robinson. What the hey? Needless to say, run stuffed.

The run was stuffed not because Aldrick Robinson was the extra blocker, but because the play call, a run up the middle with Roy Helu was uninspired. Maybe the Redskins thought the 49ers would think with Robinson in the backfield that it would be a trick play. Either way, the issue was the uninspired and ineffective play call, not the personnel on the field.

The 600 Club: Hosting Navy, San Jose State gained 600 yards, scored seven touchdowns, yet lost.

And of course San Jose State lost not because their defense wasn't very good, but because their head coach wasn't bold enough to try a two-point conversion in overtime. After all, San Jose State was averaging 6.3 yards per play on the day which is completely relevant in a situation-specific play like a two-point conversion.

After the flag for pass interference was picked up on the final down of the Carolina-New England game, football insiders were all over the map trying to figure out what happened. Your columnist thought the call should have been defensive holding, which would have given the Patriots five yards and one more try.

It seemed clear it was defensive holding.

Close reading of the rulebook caused many to realize that once the quarterback releases a pass, defensive holding is no longer called. (Gronkowski was held before the pass.) That made me wonder -- how come once the ball is away, defenders don't start grabbing anyone not in the path of the pass? Consider the hitch screen that's a football fad. Once the ball is released by the quarterback, defenders could grab offensive linemen and wide receivers blocking for the hitch, and throw them to the ground.

Because it would take an amazing amount of reflexes and strength for a defender to see a hitch being called and then react so quickly and be so strong as to pick up another the offensive player and throw him to the ground. NFL players are strong, but it doesn't seem very likely a defensive player could react so quickly on a hitch to grab an offensive player and throw him to the ground, get up and make the tackle. After all, if the defender takes the offensive player to the ground then that offensive player has done his job by taking the defender out of the play. So it doesn't make sense for the defensive player to voluntarily take himself out of the play, which is what the offensive player is trying to do anyway in blocking the defender.

Patriots trailing 24-14, third-and-goal on the Denver 6, Gronkowski ran into the end zone, slammed into his defender, then turned around to catch a touchdown pass. Offensive pass interference should have been called. This was a four-point swing in a game New England won by three points. Guess that makes Gronkowski, and the Patriots, even for the Carolina ending. Given the similar game situation, one wonders: Is this what Gronkowski was trying to do on the final snap at Carolina? Maybe he planned to slam into Kuechly, but Kuechly grabbed him first.

Yes, I'm sure that's exactly what Gronkowski was going to do, but he just didn't take the time to reach out and didn't appear to make any move at all to slam into Kuechly. But yes, Kuechly cheated before Gronkowski could cheat.

Obscure College Score: Tabor 14, Benedictine of Kansas 13 (NAIA playoffs). Located in Hillsboro, Kan., Tabor College offers a FAQs page on which the third question is, "What does liberal arts mean?" If you don't know what liberal arts means, maybe you're not ready for college.

The answer given on that page is fairly long, so I would like to see Gregg recite what liberal arts means according to Tabor College. I'm not sure he could do it, especially since there is "Kingdom of God" wording in there.

Next Week: Peyton Manning vows to spend offseason training at South Pole.

I'm surprised Gregg didn't mention the "Peyton Paradox" this week. I thought for sure that he would. I'm sure we will get a dose of the "Peyton Paradox" after/if the Broncos lose a playoff game. Even if it is the Super Bowl that the Broncos lose, Gregg will point out Peyton Manning has difficulty winning big games. 


Eric C said...

Tabor College offers a FAQs page on which the third question is, "What does liberal arts mean?" If you don't know what liberal arts means, maybe you're not ready for college.

Neither of my parents went to college, so I didn't know what liberal arts meant. I teach at a community college, and my students don't know coming in to college what liberal arts means. He assumes knowledge that many people just don't have. This is appropriate information to put on a FAQ page, and Gregg sounds like an elitist dick suggesting otherwise.

Then again, if you don't know what Ill. stands for, maybe you shouldn't be writing a national column on any topic.

Anonymous said...

Two-point conversions are from the three in college and hs, not the two.

Also, do you think espn actually leaned on Gregg to issue a formal correction in his Florida/Illinois issue bc it related to political criticism ? He's had numerous factual inaccuracies (lies) skate through in the past.

Aron said...

Good job in predicting the Auburn-Alabama final play. Let's see if Gregggg is going to criticize Saban's decision.

Bengoodfella said...

Eric, I didn't know that exact definition of liberal arts that was on the Taber College site. I'm guessing Gregg didn't either. He's such an elitist.

I think Gregg saw in the comments or somewhere else that he was just absolutely egregiously wrong. He's been wrong before, so I don't know why he apologizes now. Maybe ESPN did ask him to issue a correction. He's outright lied before. I don't know why this time was different.

Aron, I got lucky on that. But you know Gregg is going to criticize Alabama for kicking that field goal when Auburn could run the ball back. This after he criticized a team for not trying a free kick in a similar situation. On a field goal attempt, heavy linemen who aren't capable of chasing the runner down are on the field. It's completely foreseeable that if a FG fell short the opposing team could run it back. It happened and it didn't shock me. Gregg will of course criticize Alabama, because he is hypocritical in his criticism.