Monday, October 26, 2015

Doesn't Matter How Deep the Well, Eventually You Can Go There Too Often

The Patriots have won their first six games of the 2015 season. In those games, Tom Brady has averaged almost 42 pass attempts a game, 41.8 to be specific. That puts Brady fourth among NFL quarterbacks in passes thrown per game. The three QBs ahead of him are, in order, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck.

Each of those three play for losing teams, all of which have resembled circus fires more than once this season. The reason they throw so often is obvious -- they're the only chances the Chargers, Saints and Colts have to win, or even to lose in less than embarrassing fashion.

New England wouldn't be 6-0 if Brady was their only means of winning games. But it sure seems as if Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Brady himself believe he's their only reliable means of scoring points. The only other explanation is that these three smart guys have fallen in hopeless love with the idea of an invincible offensive machine, and I'd be insulting them to think that. They all know better, don't they? A team that throws over 50 passes in a game doesn't have a machine, it's got a one-man show.

One-man shows can get vinced in a hurry. Only takes one play. When a 300 pound violent maniac known to the world as a defensive end twists a quarterback's body the wrong way, all the avocado ice cream in the world can make the boo-boo go away.

Revision of Revisionist History

Not too long ago I poked fun at the stat fanciers at five-thirty-eight for posting an article claiming the 2007 Patriots were the greatest team in NFL history. But I've come to believe they didn't miss by as much as I thought.

If we grant the premise a championship is not relevant to the issue of greatness and then consider the performance of two men in the years since the 2007, we can say that five-thirty-eight only missed it by one. The 2007 Pats weren't the greatest team ever. That'd be the 2008 Pats, who went 11-5 with starting quarterback Matt Cassel.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Top Dogs Learn Old Tricks, Not New Ones

In October of 1968, the Kansas City Chiefs were preparing for a game against the Oakland Raiders, their rivals for the AFL West championship (the Raiders eventually won in a playoff). Chiefs coach Hank Stram faced about the worst problem imaginable -- all his quarterbacks were hurt.

Starter Len Dawson had an arm issue and could barely throw. Backups Jacky Lee and rookie Mike Livingston were out. There was no way the Chiefs could run their normal offense. Kansas City was screwed, or so the smart and dumb money thought.

Stram thought that while Dawson couldn't throw, he could still hand off. The Chiefs came out in the straight-T formation, which had been revolutionary when employed by the 1940 Bears, but which hadn't been seen on a pro football field for close to 20 years. It sure hadn't been seen by any members of the Raiders in their football lifetimes. The Chiefs offensive line had devastating angles on the standard 4-3 defense of that time, Kansas City ran for 294 yards and won 24-10 while throwing all of three forward passes.

That's a real football trick play for you, one hidden in plain sight. It wasn't Stram's invention, just a part of the game so old as to be unrecognizable by contemporary players. He never used the T again, either, not once, because Stram knew damn well every coach in the sport had reacted to his stratagem by going back to their dustier textbooks and boning up on the defenses that had made the T obsolete back in the no-facemask days.

Remember the Wildcat formation craze of about a decade ago? Same deal, except the Wildcat was based on the single wing, an even older offense than the T. It worked great for a few teams for a few weeks. Opponents located the appropriate reference material, and the Wildcat quickly died. It still pops up in NFL games from time to time, mostly as an indicator the team running it has serious quarterback issues, and it averages about three yards a play at best.

All this history is being cited for the benefit of Chuck Pagano. The Colts' coach's big mistake with that bizarre and comical fake punt play wasn't trying to be tricky, it was trying to be original. Surprise is a legitimate and important part of strategy. Every team has a fake punt somewhere towards the back of the playbook. But all of 'em were probably first used in 1931 or thereabouts. They'd at least had some field testing. Most of all, they don't start off looking like fakes. How Pagano expected the Pats to react with anything but cautious suspicion to his cocktail napkin doodle escapes me.

In the years I covered Bill Belichick, he employed more than a few unusual plays and formations on offense, defense and special teams. Many worked, but surely not all. However, without exception, when asked about them, he would cite their origins in football history, college and pro. The coach was building off of the work of the zillions of coaches before him, not trying to create the Pigskin Theory of Everything.

It's no accident that the topic on which Belichick is most loqacious, informative and which he clearly loves best is football history. Borrowing from the past doesn't have to be plagiarism. Done right, it's an homage.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cheap Seats With Benefits

This is by no means a prediction. Nobody with good sense bets a baseball parley, and it's more likely than not one or both of these teams will fall short in their league championship series.

BUT, if the Cubs and Blue Jays do advance to the World Series, it might be the first Fall Classic in history where bleacher seats are scalped for more than box seats. It's because of the collectibles market. Those two clubs figure to hit a LOT of souvenirs out there in a seven-game series.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Can't the Weed of Crime Bear Funny Fruit Instead?

Thinking about Sunday night's Pats-Colts game is very boring. New England should win by about as large a margin and with as little effort as they did against the Jaguars. This will be a story with no moral except that the Colts stand as a signal lesson that an offensive and defensive line are two things an NFL team kind of needs.

So I daydream instead, and there's plenty of time for sports daydreaming when Joe Maddon is changing pitchers every other pitch. What outcome on Sunday night would provide the most entertainment (for me of course, I don't care if Cris Collinsworth has a good time)? What would be the exact opposite of what's really going to happen?

The Colts would have to win, of course, since stifling the vapid triumphalism of local media hereabouts (which Bill Belichick must hold in utter scorn) for at least a week would enhance my football experience immeasurably. But to provide the maximum fun in return for a late Sunday night, Indy couldn't just win, it'd have to win the right way.

By right, I mean wrong. The Colts would have to win the game AND break any or all of the 12,435,754,999 picayune rules the NFL has created for game procedure in the process. It'd be best if they did so in a blatant manner that was really cheating, like giving Stephen Gostkowski a weighted football with a lead strip on one side for the winning field goal try, but I'll settle for much, much less.

The Patriots would detect the violation, naturally, and they'd howl. So would I, with laughter.  Next Monday would be the most magnificent clusterfuck in NFL history. American sports media would be buried under tons of hot take lava. Steven A. Smith and Skip Bayless would each die of apoplexy on the air. Roger Goodell's nervous breakdown would be the most viral video ever! Oh, it'd be swell.

Daydreams end just like night dreams do. In our sadly unimaginative real world, I figure Sunday night will find me changing the channel to see what else is on shortly after LaGarrette Blount's second touchdown.