Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Run the freaking ball, part 253

1:59 to go in the first half, trailing by one, second-and-goal from the four-yard line. As a football team, you have two goals in this situation:

  • Score, and
  • Leave as little time as possible for the other team to score.

To achieve both these goals, you run the ball. Three runs and a touchdown is likely; even with the other team expecting a run, you will often gain four yards in three tries. Even if you just run twice and then settle for a field goal, you lead by two and leave only 45 seconds for the other team.

But wait, what's this? The Eagles are lining up in a spread formation, empty backfield. You can't run from that formation! Hold on, it's gotta be a QB draw with Vick...a little predictable, sure, but at least it's a run, right?
Nope, Vick drops back to pass and the ball is intercepted. The Bears score a TD of their own, and go into halftime with an eight-point lead. That's a 10-to-15-point swing in what turned out to be a 31-26 loss.

There is no logical explanation for this decision - it is beyond boneheaded. This is not a situation of 'you say toh-MAY-toh, I say toh-MAH-toh' preferences, it's indefensible buffoonery. And yet, these types of decisions happen every week, and not just in Philadelphia. I truly cannot comprehend how such a bottom-line business, where winning is the ultimate barometer, can consistently produce such inefficient decision-making.

If you want to be tricky and pass there, because you think you can fool the other team, then line up in a run formation and play-action pass. Do not come out with an empty backfield - that's not fooling anyone! It's a careless risk with almost no upside, since three runs are likely to accomplish the goal anyway, with more time off the clock and little chance of a turnover.

Yes, the defense sucked hard, and yes Vick looked shaky, but Andy Reid owns this decision and the chance it cost his team to win.

Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, Boy Wonder called blitz after blitz with man coverage behind it, on a field that was little more than painted sand. Eagles defenders slipped and fell repeatedly, leading to big plays for the offensively-challenged Bears. Chicago played zone, rushing just four linemen most of the night, and didn't give up big chunks of yardage as a result. Did the Eagles ever adjust to the field conditions? No, they just kept blitzing and playing man, falling down, missing tackles, and giving up points.

There has to be a reason that NFL coaches routinely make such bad decisions and fail to adjust to obvious problems. It just doesn't make sense.

I read an interesting article on risk-aversion, thinking I might find an explanation there. But in fact, the results are the opposite of what I expected. Stock traders were used as test subjects in this case, and the study found that under stress, traders tended to be risk-averse when ahead on a trade. But when they were losing, stress make them more likely them to take foolish risks.

Foolish optimism is even more prevalent in the sleep-deprived, and NFL coaches fall into that category. So that helps explain why they might think it's a good idea to pass at the goalline, or continue to call high-risk blitzes that are failing. But it goes directly against the hyper-conservative fourth-down calls that I've been preaching against for years.

In any business as competitive as the NFL, where there are only 30 head coaching jobs available, and success is easily measured...the most efficient decision-makers should rise to the top. But that hasn't been the case.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Time to sign Vick

Here's a quote from my review of the preseason game against the Bengals:
The Michael Vick Experiment is clearly a failure, but the Eagles remain steadfastly in character as they refuse to admit it. He's so incredibly careless with the ball, the Birds will be unable to win a game if he's forced to start. The most expensive backup QB in the NFL is also one of the worst, and he's all ours.

In that game, Vick finished 1-5 for 6yds and two interceptions. He looked slow and inaccurate, and made poor decisions.

The difference between that game and the one he played against the Redskins on Monday is unbelievable. I've never witnessed such a turnaround - from looking washed up to the NFL's best player in 10 weeks.

But there can't be any doubt now. Better mechanics have led to improved accuracy. He won't always play as well as he did Monday, but the fact that he's capable of embarrassing an opponent will change the way teams defend the Eagles. Defenses will give the running backs and receivers room to operate underneath, dropping both safeties deep to prevent the big play - both from Vick's arm and his legs. The press man coverage that Green Bay used to stifle the smaller Eagles receivers? Forget about it, because as soon as those corners turn around, Vick can take off and run for twenty yards. The Eagles will see a steady diet of two-deep and three-deep zones, which means simpler preparation, easier reads, and more consistent success. Vick doesn't have to be an All-Pro every week, if he plays great one out of every four, mediocrity will suffice for the other three. Not to mention the increased merchandise sales and prime time appearances for a team with the NFL's most exciting player.

I'd offer Vick a 5-year, $80 million contract with $40 million guaranteed. You could even twist my arm into an extra year (6/$100 million) as long as the guaranteed money remains at $40 million. I wouldn't bother with a special personal conduct clause, because he's not any more at risk of doing something self-destructive than any other 30-year-old millionaire athlete. He's more at risk for a career-ending injury than a repeat of dogfighting.

And if Vick's smart, he'll sign it immediately. He's a huge injury risk, and there might be a lockout next season...so why turn down $40 million today for (maybe) $50 million two years from now?

Which means, of course, that Kolb would get traded in the offseason. I like the way the kid has handled himself, and I've been hoping for him to succeed, but there's no denying Vick's superior performance. Kolb may be a good NFL QB, but it'll have to be somewhere else. End the speculation about the future and sign Vick now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

All-day Sucker

Is it March yet?

Too Many Rules

Austin Collie caught the ball. He took two steps forward, was in the process of taking a third, and hunched forward to protect his ribs. He was hit by Quintin Mikell on his shoulder, and bounced sideways into Kurt Coleman. Because his head was lowered, his helmet struck the helmet of the second player. He was knocked unconscious by the force of the blow and dropped the ball.

Instead of ruling it a catch and a fumble, the officials decided the pass was incomplete. (This is normally reviewable.) Because the pass was ruled incomplete, Collie was determined to be a defenseless receiver, and any contact to the helmet is illegal, which resulted in the flag. (Penalties are not reviewable, so it no longer matters if it was actually complete or not, because the 15-yard penalty and automatic first down cannot be overturned, even if the penalty is based on an assumption that replay can prove incorrect.) The penalty was initially called on Mikell, who neither contacted Collie with his helmet, nor contacted Collie's helmet. (It was later changed to Coleman.) The head referee explained his reasoning after the game, and claimed the penalty was justified, even though replays clearly showed he was wrong. The NFL reviewed the film, and supported its officials saying they had "called the play correctly", but their actions spoke louder than their words, when they refused to fine either Eagles defender.

Confused yet? You're not the only one.

The NFL created this mess because it has too many rules. The NFL has to stop trying to legislate every possibility, and instead provide broad standards that can be interpreted through the common sense filter of officials. Get rid of the endless technicalities, and allow the referee to determine which roughness is unnecessary. By attempting to make every decision black-and-white, and take all the judgment out of officiating, they've created a complex set of contradicting rules which serve no purpose well, and often make little sense. Instead of promoting safety and fair play, they add to the arbitrariness of football outcomes, while confusing everyone involved.

And fines for dangerous hits shouldn't be the province of NFL executives at all. Set up a board of players with the power to levy fines, and let them police themselves. If the players aren't willing to stand up for their own safety, it's not the NFL's business to try and legislate it.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Win Some, Lose Some

You have to wonder what was going through McNabb's head on Sunday.

After giving up two draft picks to get him, and after winning as many games in their first seven as they had all last season, the Redskins unceremoniously benched McNabb for Rex 'Turnover Machine' Grossman. Rex, of course, turned the ball over on his very first snap, and Detroit returned his fumble for the game-sealing TD.

His play had been mediocre, and (typically) frustrating in third-down, red zone, and two-minute situations, but...Rex Grossman? If he's the answer, I don't want to know the question.

Even more unbelievably, Shanahan today claimed he made the decision because McNabb is out of shape and doesn't have the cardiovascular endurance to run a two-minute drill.

I've never been a McNabb defender, but something's not right about this statement. McNabb lost 30 pounds in the offseason, and is in the best shape of his life. He was also the Redskins' leading rusher on the day (45 yards.) So to imply that he's unfit, and somehow couldn't physically handle the rigors of the last two minutes of a football game (after playing the first 58) is preposterous.

McNabb has shown nothing but prickly sensitivity to public comments during his entire career. Shanahan couldn't possibly believe that personally attacking him in the media would help the Redskins. While I've long respected him as a coach, and long mocked McNabb, this is clear evidence that Shanny's ego is out of control.

Also clear is that the Eagles made the right decision by trading him - a decision I supported, even within the division. Both Kolb and Vick have looked great by comparison.

The Eagles also announced today the benching of Ellis Hobbs at CB, with special teams gunner Dmitri Patterson again, why did the Eagles trade Sheldon Brown? With no depth on the team to replace him, and no plan in the draft to target a CB, that decision looks curiouser and curiouser.

Every time Andy makes a good move, he couples it with a boneheaded one. Some things never change.