Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
07 Oct 2010
by Mike Tanier
We're short on time this week, so let's go straight to the diagrams.
Steve Smith injured his ankle last week, which is bad news for the Panthers offense, because he is the Panthers offense. The Panthers must find a way to move on. After scouring some old strategy guides, I found a play that should be the focal point of their scheme while Smith is out.
Figure 1 shows the Panthers in an open set, with DeAngelo Williams (34) and Jonathan Stewart (28) on the field at the same time. In this example, the Bears respond by crowding everyone at the line and daring Jimmy Clausen (2) to throw.
At the snap, Stewart and Williams immediately recognize the futility of it all and head straight to the tunnel to get some bottled water and call their agents. Some of the other guys on the Panthers offense join them. Clausen briefly tries to rally the troops, but then he reflects on the human condition and his own mortality, shrugs his shoulders, and leaves the field sullenly.
|Figure 1: The Panthers Give Up|
Dwayne Jarrett (80) tries to join his teammates, but Jarrett is the worst decision maker in the universe, as evidenced by his second career DUI on Tuesday, giving him a 1.5-1 career starts-to-arrests ratio. Jarrett is too clueless to find the tunnel, so he runs to the opposite end of the stadium, loiters a bit, asks around, then finally figures things out. Somehow, he never gets open.
The Panthers released Jarrett a few hours after this diagram was completed, ruining the gag. C'mon, Dwayne: The least you can do is hold still and take your jokes like a man!
Next week, I will outline conditioning programs that can keep the Bills punt gunners from getting exhausted.
Jay Cutler endured nine sacks and at least one concussion against the Giants on Sunday night. It's time to take a close look at the Bears' jerry-rigged offensive line, and their protection schemes, to see if the pocket will be a safe place for Cutler and other Bears quarterbacks in the near future.
|Figure 2: Cutler Sack 1|
Figure 2 shows Cutler's first sack. The Bears are in third-and-10, and the Giants have a pass-rushing personnel package in the game. Note the wide front deployed by the Giants defensive linemen, with no one in a three-point stance in the interior gaps and Osi Umenyiora (72) on the outside shoulder of blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (86). The formation suggests a blitz or stunt, but the Giants have nothing too fancy planned: Deon Grant (34) blitzes while Justin Tuck (91) jabs and drops into coverage, but otherwise, this is a fairly standard pass rush design.
Manumaleuna has made a career of blocking against top pass rushers. He was the designated blocker against Julius Peppers for a few years when he was with the Rams. But he may be getting too old for the job. Umenyiora executes an excellent swim move, working outside-in to beat the tight end. Jason Pierre-Paul (90) runs wide of right tackle Kevin Shaffer (78), but Cutler's biggest problem is Barry Cofield (96), who beats Lance Louis (60) off the ball. Cutler scrambles away from Cofield, but Umenyiora finishes the job.
Take special note of Matt Forte, who is assigned to block any up-the-middle blitzers on this play. Considering the formation by the Giants and Tuck's quick retreat into coverage, Forte should have slid to the right to help Louis. We make fun of Mike Martz's unwillingness to protect quarterbacks at times, but here the Giants are rushing four against seven. Three guys are getting through. This is how long nights start.
|Figure 3: Cutler Sack 2|
Let's look at another example of the Giants getting pressure with four defenders against seven-man protection (Fig. 3). It's first-and-10, and the Giants are in their base personnel set and 4-3 defense. Chris Canty (99) lines up in the "2i" technique; he's over left guard Roberto Garza, but he's shaded to the blocker's outside shoulder. At the snap, he fakes an inside move, then works outside. Garza never gets his footing.
On the right side, it's Tuck's turn to pick on Shaffer. Tuck delivers a great initial blow and keeps working outside. That first punch knocks Shaffer out of position, and the right tackle completely loses discipline in his footwork. Shaffer has to turn and run to keep up with Tuck, and that's trouble for any lineman. The only reason Tuck doesn't get a sack is because Canty beats him to Cutler. Once again, Forte releases inside, looks for someone to block, and finds no one, even though there are several candidates.
Garza and Schaffer are two of the veterans on the Bears line, and Forte is an all-purpose back who is supposed to be a capable pass blocker. If these guys can't protect Cutler, then the Bears are doomed, 3-1 record or not. Players like Tuck and Umenyiora are going to get some sacks, of course, but they cannot be running free to the quarterback against seven-man protection.
Let's do this one more time. Figure 4 is a diagram of the strip-sack that starts the second quarter. It's the third time Cutler is sacked in the game. Or maybe the fourth. Anyway, the Bears put both Manumaleuna and Greg Olsen (82) in the backfield on third-and-7, while the Giants show blitz with two defensive backs. There's no blitz, but the Giants do run a little stunt on the offensive right side, with Tuck looping around Pierre-Paul, who works inside against Shaffer.
|Figure 4: Cutler Sack 3|
The Bears plan to roll the pocket to the right side, with Manumaleuna giving extra support to Shaffer for reasons that should be obvious by now. That rolling protection leaves Olsen one-on-one against a charging Umenyiora. Olsen may have a fighting chance blocking in-line against Umenyiora, but he has no hope in the open field, where Umenyiora has a head of stream and room to maneuver. By design, Cutler is supposed to slide to the right, but Umenyiora forces him to sprint instead of sliding. Cutler fumbles into the air, and Olin Kreutz (57) appears to get his first-ever reception and a few yards of YAC, but centers are ineligible, and the play is ruled a sack.
And so it went on Sunday night. Martz can put together all the seven-man protection packages he wants, but they aren't going to work when no one but Kreutz appears capable of handling his assignment. The Bears face the Panthers without Steve Smith this week, which gives them a great opportunity to try to patch some flaws in their offense: thirteen points should be enough to earn a win. Martz has to find a way to get his linemen comfortable and keep defenders from teeing off as pass rushers on every snap. That means he may have to do the one thing he hates more than anything else in the world. He may have to call a few running plays.
You can do it, coach. It's for everyone's good.
I spent last Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, covering the latest Game to End All Games for The New York Times. I had the "crazy crowd" beat, though the crowd turned out not to be very crazy, which was encouraging in the "Hope for Humanity" sense but disappointing in the "Funny Article" sense. Selfish interest aside, it was great to see my fellow fans on their best behavior. The Times article captured as much of the flavor of the day as I could cram into 800 words, but I came away with a lot of impressions that had to be omitted for brevity's sake.
Inspector Castro: I spoke to Inspector Dan Castro in the days leading up to the game, and he told me that the Philly police are instructed to "use discretion" and "be wise" when engaging unruly fans. He also told me that the police would deploy a helicopter to monitor the crowds, something they normally reserve for World Series games and other national events, like political conventions. The helicopter would be used for traffic control and later debriefings, but the appearance of a little extra surveillance goes a long way. I was disappointed that I never saw the chopper, but as fate would have it, I bumped into Castro at the corner of Broad and Pattison, and he took me for a ride in his cruiser. My first time in the front seat!
I wrote about stadium parking and traffic long ago, so I had some idea what Castro and the rest of the Philadelphia police force must go through on football Sundays. Castro pulled up behind someone who decided to park on Broad Street. In front of the Linc. In an obvious driving lane. One moron like that can make a thousand people late for a game, or more importantly, cause an accident as drivers merge around him. Castro flashed his lights and called for a tow truck. A fan looked into the cruiser window, pointed to the illegally parked car, and joked, "Is that reserved parking?" Castro laughed. "Just wait and see how reserved it is."
Later, we passed a two-car accident three blocks from the stadium. A minute earlier, we rolled through that same intersection and it was clear. Suddenly, there was a van with a smashed-up front end and a car pushed against the light pole. There were two police cars already on the scene. The quick response kept both auto and pedestrian traffic flowing. Again, flow is important not just for convenience, but for safety.
Police around the stadium are able to jack right into the traffic light system and change lights from red to green right at the source. Castro showed me two cops working in tandem, one holding a red light to get traffic through a turn, another looking down Broad Street to monitor how many cars are coming off the freeways. It's thankless work, but in the hour before kickoff, traffic was moving throughout South Philadelphia. That's an amazing feat: Anyone who has been to the Philly stadium complex knows that Interstates 95 and 76 just dump you into a confusing wasteland of warehouses. Most visitors know only one way to get to the stadiums, if they know any way at all, and GPS systems aiming for "Broad and Pattison" only make matters worse.
When we pulled up at Roosevelt Park so I could watch the radio rally, Castro stopped his cruiser behind a woman loading breast cancer awareness materials into her van. "You aren't stopping for me, are you officer?" she asked. Castro joked with her and helped her get squared away. Later, I saw an officer arrest a drunken kid; he was about 18 and staggering around next to a parking lot gate. The officer spoke with the kid, spoke with the kid's friends, put the kid in the back seat, shook hands with the other tailgaters after explaining the situation, then drove away. Nearby partiers chuckled that the kid had it coming. It was great police work, and I think that is a major contributor to the mellow atmosphere around the Linc. People can party if they don't get out of hand, they can get to the game without an hour in traffic, they can interact with the police in non-emergency situations. They just can't park right in front of the damn stadium.
Patrick Moeller: Words cannot do Moeller's RV justice. You need to see a picture of it. Luckily, I took a few.
|The Vick Van|
Moeller said that the Michael Vick mural took him two days to complete. I can't imagine what he could do if he devoted a week to it. Moeller's RV also had a shrine to deceased defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson over the back wheel, a 60-inch HDTV built into the side, and an interior décor that does for midnight green what Prince did for purple. Not a detail was missing: Before climbing the steps to enter the RV, visitors step onto a One Eagles Way doormat.
Moeller, who runs a construction and remodeling business, told me about driving home from Detroit in the middle of the night, his kids asleep in the RV's spacious bunk beds. He said that when the Eagles are on the West Coast, he splits driving duties with a friend or two while his family flies to meet them. His tailgate team might number 12-15 people in Detroit or Jacksonville, but it balloons to 30-35 people for home games.
But the mural is the big story. I asked Moeller on Sunday afternoon if he would replace Vick with Kevin Kolb if Vick got injured. He said he would "play it by ear." I suggested Trent Cole, and he thought it was a pretty good idea. I couldn't reach him for a follow up this week, but I am guessing he'll stick with Vick, who is only out for a few weeks, rather than trying to repaint the RV in the rain.
I've seen my share of Eagles buses, Eagles trailers, and Eagles RVs, including a few as tricked-out as Moeller's, except of course for the ripped-from-the-headlines artwork on the side. These mega-fan vehicles are great reminders of how important football is to so many people. It's a lifestyle-defining passion, and an integral part of some people's social and family life. Moeller had no ill-will toward any former Eagles quarterbacks, and he wanted to see a great game about as much as he wanted to see an Eagles victory. He got neither, but at least he drove home in style, and meeting folks like Moeller is a great antidote from dealing with the slobbering "Win or Else" set.
Sir Charles: Charles Barkley just happened to be walking through the crowd near the Flyers' arena. There was a reporter with him, but most of the crowd either didn't recognize him, didn't notice him, or else they simply gave him some respectful space. Pretty amazing, really: A local sports legend (in the great Philly tradition, he's a polarizing figure who left town with many crying "good riddance") walking among thousands of tipsy sports fans but only having to deal with a dozen or so politely starstuck well-wishers seeking photographs, autographs, or quotes for an article.
I only learned later that Barkley was recently on Howard Eskin's radio show, and that his Redskins No. 5 jersey was part respect for a fellow Philly icon, part publicity stunt for Eskin, about whom I have a predictable opinion. If the point of the jersey was to stir the pot, it failed. If the point was to draw parallels between Barkley and other players who endured a love-hate relationship with the local fans and media, it succeeded. Knowing the radio personality involved, it was just an attempt to stir the pot.
I walked about five miles on Sunday, in and out of parking lots and sports complexes, and rode for a few more miles in a police cruiser. I talked to dozens of fans, most of them nice, a few of them rude, one or two of them sober. Next time you are tailgating, look to your left and your right, at the car behind you and the car in front of you, and think: This same thing is happening, over and over again, over acres and acres around you, thousands upon thousands of charcoal grills and icy coolers and beanbag tosses, an amazing collective experience, joy and beauty and deliciousness among off-ramps and vacant lots. When it works, it's at once tipsy and wholesome, rowdy and peaceful. It's something to be cherished.
This week's Walkthrough is a little light for a few reasons. One is jury duty. Instead of breaking down tape or writing jokes, I'm doing my duty as a citizen this week. Hopefully, everyone will plea bargain so they can go home and watch the Phillies in the playoffs.
Speaking of the Phillies, I will be live-blogging Phillies playoff games for The New York Times. That's right: I am dusting off my old baseball chops to talk about Ryan Howard and Joey Votto, Jimmy Rollins and Orlando Cabrera, Roy Halladay and whoever the heck the Reds' ace is. Bronson Arroyo? If you say so. Halladay was nice enough to give me a no-hitter to get me started, which you can read about here. Keep an eye out for lots of Baseball Prospectus-type stat talk (I've been dying to write LOOGY for a long time), a few Strat-o-Matic references, and discussion of how the Philly fans treat Scott Rolen. (The way things are going, he'll be mayor by the third game.)
Also, keep checking Football Outsiders for links to my articles in the Times, Rotoworld, NBCSports.com, and elsewhere, not to mention the best football coverage anywhere, as written by the whole gang. Just because I'm twiddling my thumbs at the Camden courthouse doesn't mean you have to twiddle, too.
44 comments, Last at 12 Oct 2010, 9:16am by RichC