Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Nov 2005

TMQ: Is Halloween the New Thanksgiving?

In this week's Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook wonders whether offensive coordinators advance their careers only by calling passes, since clubs looking for offensive coordinators to hire are swayed by flashy passing stats. He also suggests that stores are putting up their Christmas displays about three weeks too early.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 15 Nov 2005

34 comments, Last at 16 Nov 2005, 7:41pm by Jerry


by Joe (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 3:59pm

Is this a new column? I can't tell the difference anymore.

by elhondo (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 4:05pm


It's a different cheerleader.

And frankly, that's good enough.

by JonL (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 4:17pm

To answer the headline question: of course it is. Doesn't he know we live in Rand McNally?

And kudos to Aaron for getting a mention.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 4:19pm

An all-time low. I've never complained about his columns before, but this is just gibberish, even from the opening lines: What a finish! It's New England 23, Miami 16 with the Dolphins first-and-goal on the Patriots' 5-yard line, 58 seconds remaining. Miami holds two time-outs. The time-outs mean the Marine Mammals can rush four straight times against the 23rd-ranked New England run defense, and four straight rushes are highly likely to result in a touchdown. Oh no! Pass, pass, pass, pass, defeat.

So no attention is paid to the fact that the Dolphins were getting nothing on the ground all day, the Patriots are horrible at defending the pass, and Miami had a huge size advantage with its receivers?

But for the team, a victory via rushing is a lot better than a defeat as the air rained passes. Note that Tom Moore of Indianapolis, the best offensive coordinator in today's NFL, often calls runs near the goal line.

Now I like Tom Moore, but is he the best OC because of his knowledge, is he the best OC because he has the most offensive talent than any team in football, or is he the best OC because (this week) he proved Easterbrook's theory correct?

Sour Call of the Week: Carolina led Jersey/B 7-0, the Jets facing fourth-and-1 on the Panthers' 4 in the second quarter. TMQ preaches Kick Early Go For It Late, which normally would dictate kicking here. But the Jets were desperate at 2-6. They were playing the only team in the league to score at least 20 points every game. Field goals aren't going to cut the mustard, when will you see a better chance to advance for a touchdown? Jersey/B took the field goal and never scored again. How many justifications can he come up with to satisfy his POV? It's like, Kick early, go for it late, unless you lose, at then the rule doesn't apply if one of these 73 factors is present. I mean, losing 7-0 early dictates throwing strategy out the window because you have a losing record and your opponent averages over 20 points again? Seems like a reach. And Finally:
Game scoreless, Jacksonville went for it on fourth-and-1 against Baltimore; slow-developing up-the-middle rush, Greg Jones stuffed. Jaguars leading 10-3, ball on the Ravens' 1; sweep right and Jones scores without being touched. On short-yardage downs, straight ahead runs must be fast-developing -- quarterback sneaks or tailbacks leaping the pile. A slow-developing up-the-middle action is death against an overstacked defense, while an outside run may catch the defense caught inside. I will bet everything I own 500 times that had the outcome of those two plays been opposite, Easterbrook would have switched his theory to support what happened. Hmmm. On first down from the 10, Manning threw incomplete, on second down he threw incomplete, on third down he threw a touchdown.....I've got it: When you have the ball at the opponents 10 yard line, passing on first and second down will fail because the defense is playing the pass and there is a limited amount of room to throw it into, but throwing on third down often leads to a touchdown, because the defense will usually get out of posisiton or blitz, or make an ill-advised interception attempt!

Thirty minutes of my life I'll never get back. Forty-five if you count the time it took to post a message bitching about it. And I write "Never Again Read TMQ" in my Datebook.

by michael (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 4:35pm

Stats of the Week No. 2: Atlanta is 6-3, but has not beaten a team with a winning record. Noted by Aaron Schatz of the New York Sun.

is *that* really what Aaron is best known for? :)

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 4:40pm

Seattle might be the best team in the NFC, but thier cheerleaders are far behind the former champion Eagles.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 4:46pm

re #4: Spot on comments. Also:

Washington leading City of Tampa 28-21, the Bucs faced third-and-9. Since the average NFL play yields about six yards, all the Redskins had to do --

If the average play gains 6 yards, how did they end up at 3rd and 9? Six yards on first down puts them at 2nd and 4. Six yards on second down gives them another first down. There must be something we're missing here :)

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 4:47pm

Far be it for me to defend Easterbrook, and I didn't see the Pats/Dolphins game, but having watched Linehan in Minnesota, the one criticism I would have of him (I think he is a good coach) is that he didn't run enough in his last couple years in Minny.

Also, Easterbrook's criticism of the call on the McNabb meltdown is not unwarranted.

O.K., that's enough Easterbrook compliments for one season.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 4:48pm

What is a naked screen?

by james (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 4:56pm

Andy Reid should have gone for it late yesterday from the Dallas 2 instead they kick a field goal.

james writes "Dallas will come back" in his datebook. Game over.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 5:19pm

B, that's what you call it when the Lions run it.

by Dave (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 5:20pm

"As this column documents ad infinitum, rushing at the goal line usually works better than passing." So, "Leading 7-0, the Packers had first-and-goal on the Atlanta 1," you would think that GE would want the Packers to "pound, pound." So how come a shovel pass to Samko (sic) Gado earns a "Play of the Week"? Shouldn't passing on first and goal at the opponents' one be a Sour Play?

Also, not to blame GE, but I'm having trouble with the concept of a "naked screen" . A screen pass is a play where one or more players, usually linemen who release from their pass blocks, downfield block after a short pass in the flat (or sometimes at the front of the pocket). A "naked" play refers to one where the ball carrier (usually the quarterback, on a "naked bootleg") is running with no blockers. So isn't a "naked screen" an oxymoron? Or at least, nothing more than a fancy term for a flat pass?

The Eagles "ran well" (154 yards) against the Bears in Week 4 of the 2004 season ; they had 81 yards rushing to 74 yards passing against the Rams in week 16 of the 2004 season. That was about 81 years after the Warren G. Harding administration. (Hyperbole is funny once, but not twice.)

by Chris Owen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 5:20pm

Re: 5
Well, of course Aaron is from the New York Sun. Do you think Easterbrook wants to make it easier for readers unfamiliar with FO to find this comment board?

by Vash (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 5:21pm

This column actually focuses mostly on football. Nice to know last week's pigskin-deficient column is not to become a trend.

by johonny (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 6:03pm

"So no attention is paid to the fact that the Dolphins were getting nothing on the ground all day"

I disagree. Rickey was getting stuffed all day but Brown averaged 4.6 yrds a carry on Sunday. I already posted here that I thought for the second straight week Saban has brain freezed at the end of a game. So I agree with Easterbrook on this one.

by djcolts (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 6:05pm

re #4: Tom Moore made Scott Mitchell look like a good NFL QB in the 1995 season. That is a HOF accomplishment right there. ;)

by Björn (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 6:15pm

RE: #13 - That's how lots of people, including me, came to FO.

RE: #9 - A naked anything football related refers to a play without blockers.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 6:16pm

B (#9 )--
What is a naked screen?
My understanding it that it's a pass with the same action as a screen, just with no blockers in front.

by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 6:25pm

Anyone else notice that he doesn't mention that New England kept Miami out of the end zone by:
Big Blitz
Big Blitz
Just a 5 man Blitz
Big Blitz

Stop me before I blitz again--Oh wait! It worked!

by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 6:34pm

As #12 said, the definition of a screen pass is that there are a bunch of blockers in front of the receiver. So you can't have a "naked" screen, because if there are no blockers, it is not a screen by definition.

by MET (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 7:01pm

Since Reader Animadversion started being printed on a Wednesday does anyone bother to read it I know I don't.

by Seattle Doug (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 8:17pm

I read Greg's reference and link to "The invaluable book Pro Football Prospectus 2005" as a plea for FO regulars to take it easy on him.

by David/DeadTeddy8 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/15/2005 - 8:44pm

-As I understand it, Tom Moore doesn't call the Colts' plays. He suggests general strategy, and Manning calls the plays. -As a general rule, does it matter if yards are gained via air or ground so long as they are gained? In context, of course, attempting pass after pass with the lead during the endgame is silly.
-Auctioning off the arena/stadium name on a game by game basis has been done before, at the arena in Boston. One guy tried to name it Derek Jeter Arena, as I recall. TMQ wouldn't have known that, though, because he doesn't actually follow basketball, nor does he have editors who do.
-Is it necessarily a problem that we might not have free will? I hate to bring up the specter of Nietschze, but how do you know that what you're thinking is your thought to begin with? An appropriate metaphor for how time travel works might be a billiards table with several balls on the table. A ball represents a time traveler. It goes into a pocket and comes out of another pocket in the past. As it comes out, it must necessarily CAUSE its other self to go into the pocket in the first place, either directly or indirectly.
-No mention of Kyle Orton throwing 8-13 in a gale? Kyle Orton, the fourth round draft pick who is clearly the best QB of his draft class who's actually played this year? Isn't this a lesson about drafting sustained excellence (three year starter in the Big Ten) over shining moments (Alex Smith had one good season and one excellent season against inferior competition).

by calig23 (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 12:25am

Stats of the Week No. 3: The Lions are 10-0 on coin tosses. Noted by Sami Ahmed of Macon, Ga.

How many times was Phil Luckett the referee......

As for Miami's play-calling...

A) Ronnie Brown gained over 4 yards per carry against NE

B) Miami's QB is Gus Frerotte

C) There were 58 seconds left.

D) Miami had two timeouts remaining.

Even if they didn't run it 4 straight times, it seems to me that at least one rushing attempt would have been sensible/logical/rational/not completely moronic.

In sum, that was horrible play-calling no matter how you look at it.

Oh, and one other point to consider. Even if Miami had scored on one of their passing plays, there still would have been a decent amount of time for NE to march down the field and win it with a FG. So a running play or two also would have had the added benefit of lopping off some clock-time and likely preventing a last minute drive for NE.

by Joey (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 2:39am

Re. Naked Screen
I don't think I've ever seen this play. I thought blockers were what made a screen pass a screen pass. What exactly are the blockers doing on a naked screen? Faking a screen to the other side?

Invesco Field: Loved the line from the linked story about no name change being "imminent." There's a nice ambiguous statement. So, it won't happen this week, this month, what? Like they're going to keep paying $2 million a year to keep it named after a defunct company.

"Out in California, Matt Leinart took a seat once USC led by an insurmountable 32 points and from that juncture the Trojans did attempt a pass."
I didn't watch the game but think that must be a typo and he meant to say USC did not attempt a pass from that point on.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 10:00am

The crazy thing about the Invesco Field thing is that he's COMPLETELY WRONG. It's Invesco Field AT Mile High Stadium. So the stadium never changed names, only the field inside the stadium.

Also, I read some reports where the Texans played most of the third and all of the fourth quarter with backups. Can anyone say when the starters were pulled and how many points the backups racked up?

by dryheat (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 10:45am

Well, it's easy to look at the gamebook and see Ronnie had 4.6 per carry. If you look closer, his carries went for 2,2,0,3,13,2,2,16,1,10,4,2,4, and 3. Seven of the fourteen for 2 yards or less. And those were all in the middle of the field. Move things to the goalline when there's more defenders in the box, and it's much harder for Brown to find room.

On the other hand, you have a 5'9" rookie corner in Hobbs who has barely seen the field this year. I would certainly trust the veterans Chambers and Booker to beat him.

I find it hard to fault the play calling in general. If Chambers doesn't drop four balls, the Dolphins probably win going away.

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 11:49am

I didn't see the game in question, but I think I know what TMQ is describing as a naked screen (Hey, am I answering my own question?) TE or back engages a defender as if pass-blocking, then releases that defender and slips behind him. QB then throws the ball to the now uncovered receiver behind the line of scrimmage. The rest of the O-line pass-blocks as normal, or sets up a fake screen on the other side. This is different from a dumpoff because the TE/back is the primary receiver in the play.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 1:05pm

From what I recall, the Texas starters (including Young) played all of two series in the third quarter.

If TMQ was going to criticize Texas for running up the score, last Saturday was not a good example to use for it. The week before, where Young was still on the field in the 4th quarter while up 50 and shutting out the opponent - that time, perhaps there was valid criticism.

But I have little problem with a coach leaving the starters in for a drive or two in the third, regardless of the score. You never know what might happen, and whatever you did to them in the first half, they could (with an incredible collapse) do to you in the second half. If you keep your best players in for one or two more drives, particularly if there's a score, you now make them do it to you with LESS than a half, and then you can send in the backups.

Seems reasonable to me.


by abe (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 4:59pm

I don't know much about college football, but I thought with the BCS system the way it is, you have to run up the score. The computer ranking systems aren't like FO where they disregard kneels at the 1 yard line - they look only at the final score. If Texas want to catch USC and finish the season No. 1 they will need big victories over their remaining opponents.

Re: #27, has FO done any research into the most effective way for a back to gain their yards? I think that if Ronnie Brown is generally picking up 2 yards a rush, that's not getting the job done. But is there any research that says backs that consistently get 4+ yds/carry are more useful than those that average less but break off more big runs?

by Countertorque (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 6:28pm

Re: 30

It always seemed to me that median yards/carry is a more meaningful stat than average yards/carry. Of course, it's more work to calculate it. So, Brown ran for less than 2.5 yards on 50% of his runs and over 2.5 yards the other 50%.

by MCS (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 6:54pm

I recall wondering why Miami kept running fades to the left. It forced the receiver to look into the setting sun.

Not a good call regardless of whom they are lined up against.

by Phil (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 7:02pm

Re #30: The computer rankings are not allowed to use margin of victory as a criteria. However, humans do, and since the human polls are 2/3 of the BCS rankings now, there is still encouragement to run up the score.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Wed, 11/16/2005 - 7:41pm

Re #26:

It's actually "Invesco Field at Mile High". The page whose link is on my name refers to the old stadium as Mile High Stadium.

See also http://www.invescofield.com/