Tipping Pitches: Sports: NFL Coaches Gutless, Players Heartless


Monday, January 18, 2010

Sports: NFL Coaches Gutless, Players Heartless

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Everyone remembers Bill Belichick's controversial decision to go for it on fourth down from his own 30 with the lead against the Colts. I wrote a blog entry that night supporting the move. I also wrote a follow-up a day later about why the stat heads win the argument.

It's two months later. I still support the move. But to be honest, I support it mostly because Belichick had the guts to make a move like that.

The stats say it was the right move, but there are very few stats to support that move in similar situations because no one but Bill Belichick will do it. In reality, it's probably a 50/50 proposition, which may make it a bit risky.

But I applaud the guts because no other coach has any. This is proven week in and week out.

This weekend saw three blow-outs out of four games in the second round of the playoffs. Kickers shanking field goal attempts left and right. In such a case, you'd assume that the team getting whooped would need to go for it on fourth down several times in an effort to get back in the game.

Nope. No guts. No heart.

New Orleans 45, Arizona 14
Arizona was down 21-7 after the first quarter and 35-14 after the second. While the game wasn't yet over in the first half, the Cardinals certainly could have considered taking some risks to get back in the game. In their defense, however, there really wasn't an opportunity to do so. They scored touchdowns on their two big drives, stalled early in others, and Neil Rackers missed a 50-yard field goal to end the first half.

The second half is where I have my problems with Arizona's coaching staff. Your team is quickly falling out of this game. Fast. New Orleans scored 10 points in the third quarter versus nothing for the Cards. Faced with a fourth and two from the New Orleans nine, they did go for it -- and failed.

Congrats for having guts once.

Down 31 with about eight minutes left, Arizona had a fourth and four from their own 31. You absolutely must go for it here.

What do you have to lose? Your pride? You're already down by 31. If it gets worse, big deal. But if you punt, you are conceding defeat. If you punt, it is virtually (technically?) impossible that you will score five times in five minutes.

If this were the regular season, I understand the argument. I don't agree with it, but I understand it. You are trying to avoid further embarrassment for the sake of your team's confidence. But this is the playoffs. Confidence means nothing. Either try to win or walk off the field now.

Arizona punted that ball. New Orleans punted it back with five minutes remaining. The Cardinals ran five plays and were then stuck in a similar position, fourth and four from their own 36.


Embarrassing. The Cardinals simply quit trying.

Minnesota 34, Dallas 3
Both the Vikings and Cowboys went for it on fourth down twice in this game. Which one was desperate? Or which one was simply more aggressive?

In a scoreless game in the first quarter, Dallas drove to Minnesota's 30 yard line on their second drive. It was fourth down and they had one yard to go.

Shaun Suisham, the Dallas kicker, was previously released by Washington and picked up by the Cowboys after they cut their own kicker. Suisham had already had his issues with pressure kicks this season.

So are you going to trust a wobbly kicker on what was probably a 50/50 kick in a pressure packed situation (with kickers missing easy kicks in seemingly every playoff game), or are you going to trust your offense to pick up one yard in a momentum-setting moment, on the road?

Also keep in mind that if you go for it and fail, the Vikings probably get the ball at the 30. If you kick and fail, the Vikings get the ball for the first time at their own 38.

The Cowboys attempted the field goal. They failed. Four plays later, the Vikings were up 7-0.

Down 20-3 early in the fourth quarter, Dallas had another chance to be aggressive. On fourth and 11 from their own 46, they could either be conservative (punt) or aggressive (go for it). Their offense had failed to do much of anything the entire game. Time was running out on the season.

They punted.

Of course, Minnesota then proceeded to drive the field and go up 27-3. You get conservative when your team's season is already slipping away, you lose.

[It should be noted when faced with similar fourth quarter fourth down opportunities as the Cardinals, the Cowboys twice went for it and failed on fourth down. Props to them for having the guts (or common sense) to keep trying.]

While Dallas didn't eventually give up the way that Arizona did, their players eventually quit. With three minutes left, Minnesota drove the field for yet another touchdown. Dallas' Keith Brooking complained that the Vikings were running up the score by throwing for the end zone.

Hey, Keith. Just because you quit trying doesn't mean the Vikings should, too. This is the playoffs. Show some heart.

Conservative play calling, in this day of high powered offense, makes very little sense. For the Cowboys, there is no reason to have faith in your kicking game. Offenses are strong. You can get a yard. Just go for it.

Regarding teams like the Cardinals, I cannot for the life of me think of a logical -- or even illogical -- explanation for why coaches give up in playoff games. Are you going to win the game if you go for it and are successful, down 31? Probably not. Are you going to win the game if you instead punt in that situation? Absolutely not.

So given the option, would you take A) probable loss, or B) absolute loss? I'd take the probable loss.

Instead, these coaches are quitting. And when coaches quit, players like Keith Brooking quit. And when players like Keith Brooking quit, they foolishly expect the opposition to quit.

As coaches, show your team some respect. If you expect them to give 100% at all times, don't quit on them until the clock runs out.

As a franchise, show your fans some respect. They have followed you all season long. Some paid big sums of money to see that game. Don't play three quarters and quit. They deserve to see four quarters of effort, even if it ends up being four blow-out quarters.

But no, they are forced to watch ineptitude. Lack of effort. No guts, no heart.

I found it a bit silly that the Jets' Rex Ryan was applauded for having the guts to go for it on fourth and one at the San Diego 29 yard line with a minute remaining in the game.

This isn't gutsy. It's logical. If you miss the 47-yard kick (very possible), the Chargers have one minute left to drive 30 yards to get into field goal position and tie the game. If you kick the field goal, the Chargers still have a minute to drive the field and win.

If you go for it and fail, the Chargers then have a minute to drive about 40 yards to tie it. If you succeed, the game is over. It's really not a difficult decision.

But conservative play calling has become widely accepted even though the aggressive move may even be the more logical one. As a result, when a coach like Rex Ryan goes for it in a very logical (and not aggressive) manner, he's lauded for making a gutsy move.


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