Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
29 Oct 2008
by Ben Riley and Vince Verhei
When the San Diego Chargers played the New Orleans Saints at Wembley Stadium in London last week, you have to wonder how many natives were confused by the third-to-last play of the game. In case you missed it, the Saints had the ball, up by seven with the ten seconds to play, when Drew Brees sprinted backwards down the field into his own end zone before chucking the ball into the stands for a safety. One can imagine the ensuing discussion among an American and British spectator going something like this:
Sir Nigel Puddingstone-on-Tenbury: "Hold on mate, why'd the scrumhalf -- sorry, quarterback -- just pitch the ball into the hedge-and-ditch?"
Johnny Cougar: "Well, you see, he didn't want to risk throwing an interception or a fumble, which would have given the Chargers the ball."
Nigel: "Right-o old chap, sounds smashing. So what happens now then?"
Johnny: "Well, the Chargers get two points. And the Saints kick the ball to Chargers."
Nigel [choking on bangers-and-mash]: "Hold on there old boy, you say they get the ball anyway? Sounds a bit dodgy, doesn't it?"
Johnny: "Yes, well, it is a bit difficult to explain, but this way Brees could run a few seconds off the clock."
Nigel: "But the clock's not moving, is it lad?"
Nigel: "And I say, old bean, didn't you say during the first over that a throw like that is an 'incomplete pass?'"
Johnny: "Well, yes, unless it goes backwards, see, in which case it's what we call a 'live ball.'"
Nigel: "Live ball? I say, is Brees a goer? Does he 'go?' Know whatahmean, know whatahmean, nudge nudge, know whatahmean, say no more?"
Johnny: "Well, I suppose sometimes yes, if there's a pass rush and he's flushed out of the pocket, Brees will take his ball and 'go.'"
Nigel: "SAY NO MORE!"
This of course gives us this week's theme: With London calling the NFL to faraway towns, the Scramble team decided to take a look at other potential host cities for the future, including a few you might not expect.
City: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Advantages: Scientists believe that modern man originated in this area. It is only appropriate that mankind's greatest achievement -- pro football -- return.
Disadvantages: Ethiopia's most famous athletes are its long-distance runners, like Haile Gebreselassie, the current world-record holder in the marathon. As such, their fans may not appreciate a sport where men usually run about 15 feet or less before bonking into each other.
City: Cairo, Egypt
Advantages: The NFL has gone far too long without a team named the Sphinxes.
Disadvantages: Egyptian fans proud of their nation's most famous attractions may demand that human pyramids be allowed, thus ensuring that all kicks are blocked. (This is the worst joke in the history of this column.)
City: Tel Aviv, Israel
Advantages: On the City's promotional Web site, Mayor Ron Huldai states that "In the new site, can be found much, varied information on guided and independent tours of beauty spots in the city, film clips on important, recommended sites to visit, information on activities and even links to book a hotel room." Indeed, can be found much.
Disadvantages: Controversial halftime show with Bob Dylan singing his 1983 classic, "Neighborhood Bully," leads to World War III.
City: Beijing, China
Advantages: With $300 million spent on the Olympics' opening game ceremonies, the halftime show would be off the hook.
Disadvantages: Then again, a wardrobe malfunction would probably result in an execution.
City: Lahore, Pakistan
Advantages: Opportunity to attend riveting Basant kite flying festival.
Disadvantages: Possibility that the head coach of losing team will be strangled in a hotel room after the game. In a related story, roughly 76,897 Minnesota residents just e-mailed the NFL front office to request that the Vikings play their next game in Pakistan.
City: Moscow, Russia
Advantages: Potential for Al Michaels to announce game and ask John Madden, "Do you believe in miracles?" followed by Madden spending four minutes talking about the pierogi he just ate from the stadium concession stand and the bowel movement that ensued.
Disadvantages: Fusion of Commissioner Roger Goodell's disciplinary policy with "prime minister" Vladimir Putin's repressive regime could lead to a reign of terror not seen since Josef Stalin. Plus, you think staph infections are bad? Try being poisoned with polonium-210.
City: Pyongyang, North Korea
Advantages: Possibility that Mike Shanahan, Ultimate Leader of the Denver Broncos, would meet the original glorious leader Kim Jong Il.
Disadvantages: According to Wikitravel, here's a list of things to do, places to shop, and things to eat while in Pyongyang:
(You know, sort of like Jacksonville.)
City: Auckland, New Zealand
Advantages: If it was good enough to play Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, it's good enough for the NFL.
Disadvantages: When the NFL sees the All Blacks doing the Haka, they'll understand how stupid they are to ban dancing. Wait, how is this a disadvantage?
City: Athens, Greece
Advantages: Are you kidding? This is the home of sport! More violent than soccer, less violent than gladiatorial combat, the NFL is sure to find some fans.
Disadvantages: Baklava and ouzo make for a bad, bad diet.
City: Paris, France
Advantages: Although many people stereotype France as a nation full of Galois-smoking, beret-wearing, Derrida-reading surrender monkeys, the reality is that if you can pronounce "le football américain est le plus grand sport au monde" accurately, they will nod their heads knowingly and invite you to participate in a ménage a trois.
Disadvantages: Reread the advantages, and reconsider your prejudices.
City: Reykjavik, Iceland
Advantages: Despite its extreme northern location (about the same latitude as Fairbanks, Alaska), the weather here is moderate. High temperatures in October average about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The city is also home to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, named in 2006 as the best hot dog stand in all of Europe by British newspaper The Guardian.
Disadvantages: Iceland is rife with danger, including several active volcanoes. Polar bears are starting to enter the nation, crossing over from Greenland. And you never know when the Vikings (non-Minnesota version) will return. Best to leave this place be.
City: Bogota, Colombia
Advantages: Players would not have to adjust to major time swings; Bogota is virtually due south of New York City.
Disadvantages: Michael Irvin might demand a permanent transfer of ESPN's operations to the city. Bogota is also waaaaaaaaaaay up in the sky, nearly 3,500 feet higher than Denver. JaMarcus Russell could throw balls out of the stadium like Michael Vick in those old PowerAde commercials.
City: Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Advantages: More than 11.7 million potential ticket-buyers within the city. They've also got a prime facility: Estádio do Maracanã, an open-air, grass-field stadium that once hosted nearly 200,000 people for the World Cup final.
Disadvantages: There are two parts of Brazilian culture that could pose a problem for the NFL. The first is rodizio, a form of all-you-can-eat barbecue in which servers come to the table with swords loaded with steak, chicken, and sausage. The second is Carnival, in which impossibly attractive Latin women parade around practically nude. Between these two customs, any NFL team visiting the city is virtually guaranteed to lose several players who will refuse to ever return to, for example, Cleveland.
The KCW trophy was mailed to the East Bay this week and delivered to Johnnie Lee Higgins, the usually reliable return man for the Raiders. In a play that defies rational explanation, Higgins decided in the second quarter to field a kickoff at the Raiders 2-yard line. But instead of letting the ball slice out of bounds for a penalty (or bounce into the end zone for a touchback), Higgins decided to ... run straight out of bounds. After the game, Higgins said -- and with due respect to Dave Barry, we swear we are not making this up -- "I didn't realize where I was on the field." The late Admiral Stockdale would be proud.
We have two Colbert Award winners this week. (And when you think about it, there should be two.) Bill Belichick and Wade Phillips found themselves in remarkably similiar situations last Sunday: Inside the 10-yard line with six seconds to go before halftime. The safe play there is to take the gimme field goal, but Belichick and Phillips each chose to squeeze in one more try at a touchdown. Not only that, but each made the same play-call: A flag pattern to a wide receiver split left. Belichick saw a pass to Randy Moss tipped away, but was fortunate to have 0:01 remaining to take the field goal. Phillips saw Roy Williams pull in a crucial touchdown in an eventual 13-9 victory. Results aside, our hats are tipped your way, coaches Belichick and Phillips. Here's a pair who have got a pair.
QB: We knew J.T. O'Sullivan was a loser when he was pulled for Shaun Hill. Now we have concrete evidence: O'Sullivan's 2 "led" all quarterbacks this week.
RB: Now here's a name you won't see in this section too often: Maurice Jones-Drew rushed 12 times for only 29 yards against Cleveland, with a long carry of just 5. Add in 19 yards receiving, and you get a 3.
WR: Lordy, lordy, look at all the 1s! Five in all, including two pairs of teammates: Johnnie Lee Higgins and Ronald Curry of Oakland, and Josh Reed and James Hardy of Buffalo. Plaxico Burress rounds out the One-Bunch.
WR: Jason Elam and Jeff Reed are technically the losers of the week -- each scored a 2 -- but that's an indictment of their offenses. Each of them kicked a pair of extra points, but never got to attempt a field goal.
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