Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday Morning Quarterback

It's awesome to question sports decisions knowing the final outcome. But people miss the point during these monday morning debates. I'm not theorizing on the past, I'm actually talking about the future, using the past as a reference.

The current topic is the Green Bay/Seattle NFC Championship Game. With the score 19-7 at about 5 minutes left, Burnett intercepted a pass that Kearse-15, had go through his hands. 12 points is not insurmountable, but since that was the 4th interception of the day for GB they figured it was the end of the game. GB would run 2 minutes off the clock and then Seattle would throw another interception. Well, this is what happened....

(5:13) (Shotgun) 3-R.Wilson pass short middle intended for 15-J.Kearse INTERCEPTED by 42-M.Burnett at GB 39. 42-M.Burnett to GB 43 for 4 yards. WENT DOWN ON HIS OWN.

Green Bay Packers at 05:04
1-10-GB 43 (5:04) (Shotgun) 27-E.Lacy left tackle to GB 39 for -4 yards (94-K.Williams).
Timeout #1 by SEA at 04:57.
2-14-GB 39 (4:57) (Shotgun) 27-E.Lacy left tackle to GB 37 for -2 yards (72-M.Bennett).
Timeout #2 by SEA at 04:50.
3-16-GB 37 (4:50) (Shotgun) 27-E.Lacy up the middle to GB 39 for 2 yards (54-B.Wagner; 72-M.Bennett).
4-14-GB 39 (4:00) 8-T.Masthay punts 30 yards to SEA 31, Center-61-B.Goode, out of bounds

Burnett #42, about to slide to the ground after interception. You see any opponents in green?*

So, GB lost 4 yards, ran 1:04 seconds off the clock and then punted it a pathetic 30 yards. Seattle would score immediately making the score 19-14. They pulled off a miracle onside kick and went on to score again almost immediately...and then pulled off a miracle two point conversion. They scored 15 points in :55 seconds making the score 22-19. Amazingly, they left enough time on the clock for GB to score a field goal, that would've won the game for them had Seattle not converted the two point try. Time expired. Seattle won the coin toss and immediately scored in overtime and won the game.

Lots and lots of decisions by both teams decided the game. It still comes down to execution. For example, GB kicked a 20 yard field goal with the ball on the 1 yard line. Aaron Rodgers looked horrible, like this was a pre-season game. He had no enthusiasm at all and he was injured. Seattle's QB looked equally out of touch and had more interceptions than completions. It wasn't a good game. The last 5 minutes were epic, but that just means the last 5 minutes were epic. The Pats/Ravens game was a real competition for 60 minutes. This game was a mess for 55 minutes.

But of all the events that I saw, this decision by Burnett to slide with no one within ten yards of him, and a blocker next to him, and blockers in front of him...and half the field in front of I really question that. Mostly because Seattle had 3 timeouts left...and were only two possessions from winning the game. That's important. If GB had been up by, 16 points instead of 12, then I'd agree that it's basically over, because Seattle needs two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions JUST TO TIE. But in this case, the miracle comeback would put Seattle ahead by three points and GB would need a miracle comeback just to tie the game. So, I absolutely agree that there are circumstances where you could argue for a slide to secure possession. Yes. Those circumstances exist. In fact, a few hours later the Patriots were in a similar situation when their corner back intercepted a late 3rd Quarter pass...and there was absolutely no reason to return the ball...absolutely no argument in favor of risking a subsequent turnover on the return....AND HE BOLDLY TRIED TO RETURN IT FOR A TOUCHDOWN, forcing the quarterback to tackle him.

3-5-IND 40 (2:24) (Shotgun) 12-A.Luck pass short right intended for 13-T.Hilton INTERCEPTED by 24-D.Revis at IND 43. 24-D.Revis to IND 13 for 30 yards (12-A.Luck; 60-L.Louis).

The score was 31-7 in favor of New England. With 2:24 left in the 3rd Quarter it's technically over. Indy was merely trying to finish with dignity when Revis jumped a route and intercepted the ball...and in this situation, since the score is so out of reach, the smart thing to do, the wise thing to do, the conservative thing to do, the thing to do that favors probability is to slide. Revis should slide immediately after catching the ball. He should slide. He should...wait...he's running. He's trying to score more points. He ran for 30 yards...Why? BECAUSE THIS IS FUCKING FOOTBALL. GO PLAY TENNIS IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF HAVING THE BALL STRIPPED. This is football and the object is to score points. Hint: That's how you win games. Leave the big decisions to the brains on the sideline. If you are in the middle of the white lines then your whole goal is to score points. Coaches can discuss strategy, but if you are wearing a uniform then you are not a coach and you should try to score points. You need to advance the ball when you are holding the ball. It's very simple and Revis did not complicate the issue by thinking of strategy. He tried to advance the ball because he had possession of the ball. Forget the score, forget strategy; Advance the ball. If he fumbles the ball then I get to swear. But I'd rather he tries to score than slide on his ass. That's a good habit to have in football. Agreed? By the way, the Patriots scored on the next play from scrimmage giving them a 31 point lead as they entered the 4th Quarter.

1-10-IND 13 (2:14) 71-C.Fleming reported in as eligible. 29-L.Blount up the middle for 13 yards, TOUCHDOWN. NE 29-Blount 6th career postseason rush TD, new franchise record.

When the Patriots next possessed the ball, they should've played conservatively, run the ball to eat up time, etc. With a 31 point lead, did they play as conservatively as Green Bay played with a 12 point lead? Let's see:

  1. New England Patriots at 01:15
  2. 1-10-IND 40 (1:15) 29-L.Blount left guard to IND 39 for 1 yard (95-M.Hughes; 55-S.Phillips).
  3. 2-9-IND 39 (:31) 12-T.Brady pass short right to 19-B.LaFell pushed ob at IND 34 for 5 yards (28-G.Toler).
  5. IND 7    NE 45    Plays: 11    Possession: 6:10
  1. 4th Quarter
    1. New England Patriots continues ...
    2. 3-4-IND 34 (15:00) 12-T.Brady pass incomplete short right to 87-R.Gronkowski.
    3. 4-4-IND 34 (14:57) (Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass short left to 11-J.Edelman to IND 28 for 6 yards (52-D.Jackson).  
    4. 1-10-IND 28 (14:17) 71-C.Fleming reported in as eligible. 29-L.Blount right tackle to IND 21 for 7 yards (29-M.Adams; 55-S.Phillips).
    5. 2-3-IND 21 (13:34) 71-C.Fleming reported in as eligible. 29-L.Blount up the middle to IND 20 for 1 yard (93-E.Walden; 55-S.Phillips). NE 29-Blount 27th rush of game, franchise record for postseason rush attempts in agame.
    6. 3-2-IND 20 (12:53) 71-C.Fleming reported in as eligible. 29-L.Blount right end to IND 15 for 5 yards (52-D.Jackson; 90-C.Redding).
    7. 1-10-IND 15 (12:11) 12-T.Brady pass short right to 19-B.LaFell pushed ob at IND 7 for 8 yards (28-G.Toler).
    8. 2-2-IND 7 (11:35) 29-L.Blount left guard to IND 10 for -3 yards (96-J.Chapman; 30-L.Landry).
    9. 3-5-IND 10 (10:54) (Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass short left to 11-J.Edelman to IND 2 for 8 yards (21-V.Davis). NE-11-J.Edelman was injured during the play.
    10. 1-2-IND 2 (10:10) 71-C.Fleming reported in as eligible. 29-L.Blount up the middle for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN. NE 29-Blount 148 rush yds, 2nd-most in franchise postseason history.
 Take a look at #4---They went for the first down on 4th and 4. Isn't it smarter to punt and try to improve field position? Is that conservative or a team that's playing to win? Look at how many passes Brady attempts, all of them could stop the clock. 5 pass attempts. One 4th down conversion. Sure, it's easy to justify in a game that's already been decided, but I like this strategy in principle.
Burnett slides at the GB 42. I estimate he goes out of bounds at the SEA 47...except he didn't.
Lots of people defend Burnett for sliding because strategy suggests that it's a safer move. Well, the final score suggests it wasn't good strategy. So, if you are defending a strategy that ends up losing then you deserve to be a fan of a losing team. We can point to the botched onside kick, WELL AT LEAST BOSTICK TRIED TO CATCH IT. That's the big difference. Burnett slid on his ass when there were still yards to advance without contact. See? That's giving up on purpose. Bostick tried to catch the ball but failed. If Bostick decided not to field the ball because of defensive indifference then the two would be equivalent. Barnett showed offensive indifference, like a victory formation. It happens all the time in baseball when a base runner steals second base and the catcher makes no throw and the fields don't cover the bag. When that runner scores the defense looks sort of silly but it's a strategy that still irks me. Why not throw the guy out? Try to get the out. Anyway, There's a huge difference between these two Barnett and Bostick events. If I'm a coach or a fan or player all I can ask is that you do your best to get the ball and advance the ball. When you slide on your ass then you are giving up because strategy suggests it's ok to give up. Well, first of all, it's good strategy in pre-season, not the NFC Championship game. Sure. And second of all, when that strategy ends up losing then it wasn't good strategy. The only time it's ok to slide is when it doesn't really matter if you slide or not, such as in the Patriots Game. If there is any remote chance of a comeback then you must try to advance the ball, you must try to get a first down, you must play aggressively. If you are worried about getting the ball stripped then maybe there's a Flag football league that has an opening. GO tryout. Tackle football is for the bold. We've all seen conservative offensive play lose because the strategy is flawed and usually comes at a time when your defense is worn out so the opposition walks all over them when they get the ball back. It's actually an argument for more aggressive offense late in the game, but anyway. Execution of plays is still paramount.

Teams win that want to win. Revis wanted to win. He wasn't thinking about strategy. He went for more points, 30 yard return. Burnett thought about strategy and returned the ball 4 yards and slid on his ass when 10 more yards were in front of him. His team lost for a variety of reasons and the credit goes to the Seahawks, because when it came time to think about strategy, they only considered winning. Think about the two point conversion...if that ball Wilson heaved up across the field is picked off and run back for a touchdown then they lose.* But if he doesn't convert that try then a field goal will win it for GreenBay. What do you do? Wilson heaved it up in an attempt to score more points and WIN THE GAME. And yes, trying to win the game may end up losing the game, but aggressive play normally wins and there's no case to be made for players thinking of strategy. The safest thing for Wilson would be to throw the ball out of bounds. Think about it. If that is picked off and they lose because of his throw then it looks horrible. But he had the ball and was trying to win, not play the odds. Coaches coach; Players play. If you have the ball then you advance the ball; that's a good habit to get into and Green Bay will have to think about that for a few months while Revis has one more game to play in.

*For the record I can not think of another example when a player slid on his own and his team lost. This was an incredibly rare comeback made more rare because it came in the NFC Championship game. But I've seen lots of players slide like Burnett did and I can't think of any example when that team would end up losing. I can think of only one case when a player didn't slide after a late interception, had the ball stripped from him, and his team lost. It was a Chargers/Patriots game a few years back. But if anyone knows of another case where a player tackled himself when his team was winning and that team still lost please give me a link to it. It's exceedingly rare and that's why I'm looking at this slide as evidence of failed strategy. Something went wrong, obviously. I guess this is what happens when your team advances in the playoffs because of a shitty call from a ref.

*Sorry-This is totally wrong. In NFL the 2 point conversion can't be returned after an interception. Play is over when defense takes possession, so Wilson had nothing to lose by heaving it. This also includes a point after kick attempt too. Oops.

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