A look back at New England's worst games this year shows which matchups will be critical in Super Bowl XLIX.
04 Nov 2010
by Mike Tanier
Host: Good evening citizens, and welcome to 12 straight hours of whip-around election coverage from your 100 percent unbiased Walkthrough team. If you had any faith in our political system heading in to this program, we promise to grind it into a fine powder and flush it down your toilet with our non-stop analysis. With me as always are the two Georges, shaggy political has-been George Snuffleupagus and droning know-it-all George Wont.
Snuffy: Great to be here.
Wont: It's an auspicious day for the institution of enfranchisement.
Host: Whatever. Let's go to the major national election on everyone's mind. With one percent of the precincts reporting, here's how the race between Pesky Winning Teams and Overhyped Losing Teams is shaping up:
Host: Too close to call. Snuffy, are you surprised by this?
Snuffy: Absolutely. I think voters are expressing their frustration at hearing about the Chargers, Cowboys, and Vikings all the time. They are coming out in support of the Chiefs, in support of the Falcons, and in support of change.
Wont: I disagree, you mop-topped freak. Early Pesky Party success has been buoyed by support from Raiders fans who crossed the aisle. The Pesky Party has no traction in Florida, where the Jaguars beat the Cowboys and everyone just talked about the Cowboys. I think Florida is your swing state, and there's a silent majority of Overhyped supporters who will get out and vote as soon as the Heat game is over.
Host: Interesting point. We turn now to the Empire State, where there's a nip-and-tuck race for punter:
Host: An amazing early showing by Dodge just to stay in the race.
Wont: Agreed. Weatherford had this election sewn up before that fake punt on Sunday. There's always been a large bleeding heart contingent in the five boroughs, and I think Dodge is getting a lot of sympathy votes. In fact, let's check with our crazy statistician in front of the map.
Nathan Gold: Indeed, George. As you can see, Queens has come out heavily for Dodge, with 74 percent of males aged 18-49 voting Blue. Staten Island is still heavily Green. Interestingly, Weatherford is only getting 81 percent of the vote from people who claim to be Jets fans. As we close in on Manhattan, we see that Dodge is carrying Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side, while Weatherford has the Dean & Delucas on Times Square and two or three blocks of brownstones just off Central Park.
Host: Thank you Nathan. That was very ... precise. Over now to one of the big California races:
Host: This is about what we expected.
Snuffy: I agree. The special teams were really energized by Kris Brown's controversial The Goalposts are Too Damn High campaign. This really demonstrates that you can do everything right, on offense and on defense, yet still come unglued at the hands of a few very motivated, very confused individuals, especially when a puppet master like A.J. Smith has his own, sometimes counter-productive agenda. Luckily, this wisdom only applies to football.
Host: I have to interrupt because there's big news on the national front, with 5 percent of precincts reporting:
Wont: A stunning turnaround. Image is everything, and those images of Brett Favre carted off the field in the fetal position meant more to voters than anything the Chiefs could do against the Bills. Crazy Statistician, you're thoughts?
Gold: According to exit polls, 63 percent of voters who claim to "hate" Brett Favre actually voted for the Overhyped party. It fits my research, which suggests Pesky Party voters don't vote as a united front. I call it the Applebees-Arby's curve: Applebees diners have typically supported Kevin Kolb and Jon Gruden in this year's election, while Arby's diners prefer Michael Vick and Tony Siragusa. Also, according to my PECOTA rankings, people who eat Sun Chips and drive Toyota Camry's are voting in block against Proposition 91, which would require two-game suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits.
Host: PECOTA rankings? Wait, you aren't a political analyst. You are one of those baseball stat freaks.
Gold: What? I never said that! Gotta run.
Host: Over to our nation's capital for an update:
Wont: Another example of profligate spending and Beltway business-as-usual.
Host: Agreed, but there is big news on the national front. The Giants have switched affiliations! Snuffy, can you confirm?
Snuffy: It's true. The Cowboys have attracted too much attention in the NFC East. The Jets are crowding out media coverage in New York. With no quarterback controversy or high-profile prima donna receiver, the Giants just no longer fit in the "overhyped" category. They have officially crossed the aisle to Pesky.
Host: And they have taken their votes with them:
Host: This just in ... a representative of the Overhyped Losing Teams is about to make a concession speech. Let's take you there live:
Randy Moss: First of all, this hurts, OK? It hurts my feelings because, like, I kept telling people all week what they were gonna do. But no one listened. And now tonight, all of a sudden, everyone is saying, "Dag Randy, you were right about them," and it gets me down because we could have won this thing. I got nothing but respect for the pesky teams, I love them, but maybe things would have been different if we had better leadership. That's all I got. Peace.
Host: Wow. That was quite a speech. Any final thoughts?
Snuffy: This is a great day for America. The pesky little teams bring fresh ideas and a new approach. Instead of the same old articles about Favre and Jerry Jones, we'll get to read about players like Josh Freeman and coaches like Todd Haley. I am truly optimistic.
Wont: I have a funny feeling Mr. Moss just sabotaged his political career.
I saw a ghost on the Buccaneers sideline on Halloween.
It was a safety, a white guy with a square jaw. His uniform read "Lynch." I only caught a glimpse of him, but I swore he wore number 47.
It's the Ghost of Safeties Past! John Lynch is back to teach the Buccaneers an important lesson about zone coverage!
Alas, it's not John Lynch, but Corey Lynch. And he wears number 41, though he wore 47 when he played for the Bengals. Lynch was the Bengals' sixth-round pick in 2008, came to Tampa this season, and has played mostly on special teams in three seasons. He did once intercept a pass from Brett Favre. Favre probably consoled himself by believing it was John Lynch. It's an appealing mistake.
As someone who still calls Tyvon Branch "Cliff" and frequently writes "Wesley Welker" because I get mixed up with the old Jets wide receiver, I hope that Lynch either a) never starts or b) changes his name to Corey Lynch-Przyzewski, so I never get him mixed up with anyone else.
Time now for another dissection of the Jets offense. The following segment includes diagrams of Mark Sanchez making bad decisions. It is not meant to suggest that Sanchez is a terrible quarterback or human being, only to demonstrate some things that went wrong for the Jets last Sunday -- some problems they need to correct. If you are sick of Sanchez articles, scroll down and you'll find some Randy Moss jokes.
When a team gets shut out, it means that they did multiple things wrong and their opponent did multiple things right. Often, there's also a little random element involved. The Packers played very well on defense last week, particularly on run defense, where they held the Jets running backs to a maximum carry of eight yards. There were some shaky calls that went the Packers way, and Nick Folk missed a short field goal, which had major ramifications in a game that was 3-0 through three quarters.
|Figure 1: Braylon is Open|
The Jets' biggest problem on offense wasn't Sanchez. It was the amount of junk they ran. The Jets used some Brad Smith direct snap plays, a Jerricho Cotchery reverse, a LaDainian Tomlinson option pass, some six-linemen sets and unbalanced lines, and of course a fake punt eerily foreshadowed in last week's column. They even executed a weird out-of-context quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter: Sanchez took the ball and plunged forward for two yards on first-and-10, probably in an effort to catch the Packers napping. It didn't work.
The Packers are the last team I would want to run junk against -- they send too many defenders from too many odd angles to risk an end-around or halfback pass. I would want to run right at them and protect my quarterback with six or seven blockers. Some of the gimmickry had its place -- I liked the six-linemen concept against the Packers -- but their game plan was too much of a potpourri. They now have a more experienced Sanchez and several solid receivers to throw to, so they should scale back the creativity.
Sanchez had a rough game, but not a terrible one when you realize his interceptions were both borderline plays. That being said, let's look at a couple of mistakes Sanchez made that had a huge impact on the game.
Figure 1 shows the Jets on first-and-10 from their own 10-yard line early in the second quarter. Brian Schottenheimer calls a play-action bootleg. The left guard pulls, fullback Tony Richardson (49) motions into an offset-I before lead blocking, and Sanchez (6) fakes a handoff to Shonn Greene (23). The play-fake works extremely well. The defenders in red are all sucked in by the run action, including both Packers cornerbacks and the strong safety.
Sanchez rolls left, where there's a cornerback in no-man's land and Cotchery (89) is running an out-route. Sanchez has time to scan the field, and he looks to Dustin Keller (81) first before throwing to Cotchery. What Sanchez should have seen was that the deep safety, Nick Collins, raced over to cover Cotchery as soon as he saw that Cotchery's defender was fooled by the run action. That left Braylon Edwards (17) uncovered on a post route, as his defender also bit on the run-fake.
The announcer notes Sanchez's mistake on the replay, and he also comes to Sanchez's defense: The quarterback is rolling left, Edwards is well to his right, and the completion to Cotchery does net 14 yards. This isn't a bad play by Sanchez, but it's a missed opportunity, and the league's best quarterbacks find Edwards on broken coverage plays like these. If Sanchez had hit Edwards, the entire complexion of the game would have changed.
|Figure 2: Keller is Covered|
Let's fast forward to later in the quarter. Figure 2 shows the Jets on third-and-1 at their 44-yard line. It's after the two-minute warning, and the Jets are out of timeouts, which is why the defensive formation suggests that the Packers are ceding the first down. The cornerbacks are seven yards off the ball, and there are only four defenders on the line of scrimmage. A sneak or draw would easily pick up the first down, but the Packers are willing to trade a three-yard run for 20 seconds of game clock.
Two Jets receivers go deep on this play, so there are really three options for Sanchez. Edwards runs a short smash route in front of his cornerback. Keller runs a five-yard stick in the middle of the field. LaDainian Tomlinson (21) appears to have an option route; he runs up the hash mark, jukes, then heads to the flat.
It's hard to tell what the Packers coverage scheme is because the play is finished so fast. It may be quarters -- four defenders in deep zones, three underneath. At any rate, A.J. Hawk (50) is the closest defender to Tomlinson, and he makes no real effort to lock onto the running back. Edwards' cornerback also appears more interested in dropping and defending a big play (or keeping Edwards in bounds) then covering his receiver. Only Keller is covered. Linebacker Desmond Bishop (55) is sitting right on top of Keller's stick route, and he reads Sanchez the whole way. Sanchez throws to Keller without reading his other options, and Bishop nearly intercepts the pass.
This is another missed opportunity. Tomlinson could easily have gained five yards and gotten out of bounds, but Sanchez made his decision too quickly.
|Figure 3: A Strike to Cotchery|
Let's not pick on Sanchez too harshly; he made some big throws. Figure 3 shows the Jets in third-and-8 in the third quarter. The Packers are showing blitz, as usual, with Charles Woodson (21) threatening on the offensive right side. Tomlinson does an excellent job of pass protection, and Sanchez has plenty of time to throw. Keller runs a crossing route, but Sanchez has his eyes on a bigger play: Hawk is trying to run up the seam with Cotchery, which is the kind of mismatch quarterbacks dream about.
Sanchez makes the right read, but he also waits for the play to develop, pump-faking and waiting for defenders to commit. There are plenty of safeties in Cotchery's vicinity, but one has deep responsibility against Holmes, and the other (shown in red) wants to jump a pass to Keller. It's hard to tell where Sanchez is looking and pumping on this play, but he clearly keeps the defense from converging, and he waits until Cotchery gets deep separation from Hawk. Cotchery picks up 49 yards, but the scoring opportunity is squandered by a missed field goal.
Sanchez completed several long passes during Sunday's game, but he also missed several chances to get the Jets in the end zone. One of the most mysterious mistakes occurred late in the fourth quarter, with the Jets down by six and facing third-and-8 from the 35-yard line. I don't like Schottenheimer's call on this play -- four receivers releasing into deep routes, with Tomlinson staying in to block (Figure 4). This is either two-down territory or "set up the field goal" territory. Either way, having one or two receivers crossing in front of the sticks isn't a bad idea. But the Jets send everyone deep, and the Packers respond by rushing three defenders and playing a very deep variation of quarters coverage. Not surprisingly, Sanchez can't find anyone open, so he throws a prayer to Cotchery in the corner of the end zone. The pass is nearly picked off.
|Figure 4: Who Covers Braylon?|
As the diagram shows, Edwards is wide open in the back of the end zone. The replay shows him coming over from the middle of the field, just in case the pass is tipped in the air. There is no defender near him, and no defender in the zone he's running from.
I watched this replay about 20 times and counted the Packers defenders twice. On a play like this, the "wide open" receiver usually isn't wide open; his defender left him at the throw. That's not the case here. Tramon Williams breaks up the play for the Packers, and he is clearly the defender assigned to Cothchery's zone, the only one in position to make the play. Nick Collins, the deep safety, is 15 yards in front of Edwards, so there's no way he was covering Edwards through the back of the end zone before turning to defend the throw. Collins appears to have reacted to Keller, who crossed the middle and turned upfield. Woodson, covering an underneath zone, must have turned Edwards loose to Collins and Williams. At some point, Edwards had to have gotten a step on the defenders, and Sanchez wasn't rushed. But he never found the open receiver.
Sunday's shutout was an example of five or six things going simultaneously wrong for the Jets. That was bound to happen, because everything went just right for them for most of the season. Their top priority, after burning a few of the wackier pages from Schottenheimer's playbook, must be to make sure that Sanchez is willing to find and throw to deep receivers. One 50-yard bomb per game could mean the difference between a 10-6 Jets team and the Super Bowl participant they believe they are. Sanchez can't leave those opportunities on the field.
There's nothing wrong with interviewing yourself, as long as you're willing to ask the tough questions.
Randy Moss claimed that he would interview himself after Sunday's loss to the Patriots, and I was momentarily thrilled. If anyone deserved a Barbara Walters-style couch session with Moss, it was Moss. His internal dialogues are far more interesting than our external ones.
Alas, there was no real interview, just a rambling monologue, one that got him booted from the Vikings and onto the waiver wire.
A self-interview can be an important step toward self-discovery, but there has to be some give-and-take. Moss needs to bring a Mortimer Snerd puppet with him to press conferences, or do a Moss-not-Moss routine where he puts on glasses when he wants to be the interviewer but takes them off to respond.
He also needs to decide the style of the interview. The Barbara Walters method works best for misunderstood artists like Moss, but it's not the only way to poke around inside that Veg-o-matic of a psyche. If he wants to fulfill his interview obligations without pesky interference from the outside world, Moss could try some of the following interview techniques at his next stop.
It's quick, it's focused, and it gets right to the heart of the issues.
Moss: Randy, we're a corporation that's under a lot of pressure to "win now," so to speak. Your resume certainly outlines your strengths. What would you say is your biggest weakness?
Randy: I'm too driven, too hard working, and too committed to getting the job done! Plus, I hate it when, you know, a company leaves a lot of good ideas in the board room, because, like, no one listens to Randy, then they tell Randy later, "Hey, you had some good ideas back there," but they didn't listen. It kind of hurts, right?
This is also quick, but better at getting to the root of a person's feelings. It also approximates the waivers experience pretty well -- so many desperate suitors, so little time. Given five minutes to find a soul mate, could Randy Moss really find ... himself?
Randy: Oh, I love the sweater you are wearing. Such an interesting style. Is that from Hollister?
Moss: I'm a very fragile person. Be gentle with me.
Randy: Have you seen any good movies? I just saw the Swedish language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,and I loved it. I hope the American studios don't butcher it.
Moss: I am feeling suffocated. You are coming on too strong. This is like a roller coaster.
Randy: What are your hobbies? I try to go skiing at least twice every winter, I love to rollerblade, and I have a passion for knitting.
Moss: (in fetal position) Please stop! I'm damaged goods!
It's good for exposing ugly truths (left), just making yourself look like a jackass (right), or seamlessly integrating a little of both (center), making it highly Moss-ready.
Moss: Randy, Randy! What do you hate football fans? Why do you question Brad Childress' right to exist?
Randy: How did you get in here? This is my bathroom, for goodness' sake!
Moss: Randy, what did that caterer ever do to you? Their food was great! Delicious, in fact! I had a whole roast before I came here! Why do you insist on squandering your ability? Do you think you're a terrible role model, or just a lousy one?
Randy: I'm not going to answer that. I ... wait a minute, are you splicing footage of cattle getting mutilated among my dropped passes and rounded-off routes? I don't even know what that symbolizes.
It's the opposite of confrontational. We have two hours of airtime, and you have an unbearable album of folk songs to promote, so feel free to swan dive into your own navel for a while.
Moss: (In muted tones) Your work with the Vikings was a radical departure from your earlier efforts with the Patriots, and it's really a clean break from what you did a decade ago with the Vikings. That was more of an ensemble piece, but your new games have a very different vibe to them, different textures, a more nuanced ambience. Can we expect to see even more exploration in the next phase of your career?
Randy: (In even more muted tones) Yes, well ... it's been such a long journey I sometimes don't know where to start ... this new material comes from a different place for me, spiritually. I reached a dead end with the Patriots, you know, and I just ... I've been reading a lot of philosophy, you know, and contemplating the interconnectivity of things. I think my new material reflects that, it's more about -- an essence, if you will -- than it is about catching passes or winning games.
Of course, Moss isn't the only one in need of introspection. Brad Childress needs a self-interview, as does Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. They can ask themselves what they expected when they traded for Moss, ask why they would want him if their tomfoolery tolerance is so low that they can't take one rambling interview. (Plus the great Catering Debacle of 2010, which could easily have been solved by having Pat Williams sit on him for the rest of the meal.) They can look in the mirror and ask how badly Brett Favre will have to get injured before they realize that no one is benefitting from his efforts, least of all Favre. A little incisive self-query could go a long way toward calling an end to the doomed experiment that was the 2010 season. Childress might also realize that, like Moss, he may be better off elsewhere. Not that the decision is his.
Somewhere between self-delusion and self-absorption, there's a place where the Vikings may find a little truth.
The Phanatic Code is running a little behind schedule, but it is running. I will be working through November to put the finishing touches on my moody valentine to Philly sports heroes and their fans. I've had some great opportunities to add color to the book in recent weeks: I blogged a no-hitter, was in the press box when Ryan Howard struck out to end the NLCS, and of course surveyed the battlefield before and after Eagles-Redskins. This new material balances the archival stuff. I may be limited to old newspaper accounts when writing about Hal Greer, but there's plenty of eyewitness material on Howard and Chase Utley (and a certain quarterback, of course).
In other book news, I co-authored the mathematics chapter of a book called Smarter by Sunday: 52 Weekends of Essential Knowledge for the Curious Mind. a few months ago. The book includes 52 primers on everything from art history to the Industrial Revolution. There's no chapter on the 1981 Colts, but there is one on the history and branches of mathematics, and that's where I come in. Check it out if you are interested in subjects like ... everything.
36 comments, Last at 05 Nov 2010, 11:26am by Dean