Monday, September 20, 2010

Offensive Hindsight

Tom Brady threw a good many long passes aimed at Randy Moss yesterday. The Jets beat the Pats, only one of the passes worked, and several of them REALLY didn't work -- that is, they became interceptions.

As night follows day, therefore, many Patriots fans and commentators have concluded that New England's play calling and Brady's decision making on offense were fatally flawed, and that's why New England's offense collapsed in the second half. The equally impressive collapse of the Pats' defense has not been attributed to Brady and Moss. Yet. It's only Monday.

This is an inevitable and ancient fallacy in football analysis. All plays that don't work are failures. But not all failures are bad ideas. Many in fact were excellent ideas that failed for the reason most human endeavors fail: that they must be carried out by us flawed human beings.

Look, the offensive coaching staff of every NFL team spends months of man hours of work every season designing playbooks and game plans that create the POSSIBILITY of isolating their team's primary deep threat one on one with an opposition defensive back. All this work, along with the hours spent instructing the offense on these plays, is in the effort to create an opportunity that can reasonably be expected to occur once a game, tops. Once a month is more typical. The first principle of NFL defense is don't get beat deep.

That the DB who's one on one with your deep threat might also be a player you regard as a weak sister is just too much to hope for. That never happens. Such vulnerable chaps always get help, from safeties behind and linebackers in front.

Lo and behold, Darrelle Revis got hurt on Moss's deep touchdown catch in the second quarter, and Moss was thereafter covered by Antonio Cromartie, who certainly had looked like a weak sister the week before against the Ravens. Almost all the time, Cromartie was in single coverage. His safety help, even on the pass intercepted by a Jets safety, was an "oh shit" afterthought when the ball was in the air, arriving too late to be of anything but accidental assistance.

Any NFL quarterback in NFL history would have gone long to Moss more than once in those circumstances. Some of Brady's Hall of Fame peers would have done nothing else, and they wouldn't have been wrong. That was the percentage play for the Pats' offense.

Percentages are not guarantees. The plays didn't work. Cromartie played good defense, and Moss and especially Brady executed the long passes very poorly. Brady's two interceptions were essentially thrown up as balloon jump balls. Those will be picked as often as not.

I understand why fans and commentators prefer to cite decision making rather than execution for bad outcomes when the Pats' offense misfires. It's easier, for one thing, since you don't have to watch game video to offer an accurate assessment. And for fans anyway, it's much more comforting.

When Brady isn't great, the Pats aren't going to win. The idea that Brady just played badly and couldn't make throws he should have is far more unsettling than the idea he fell in love with the bomb. In fact about the only person in New England who seems to be dealing with the former possibility is Tom Brady.


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