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17 Oct 2012

Scramble for the Ball: The Unforgiven

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Tom: While we make a collective decision as to which coach to honor in any given week, I normally do the award writeups, and one of the things I like to harp on with the Mike Martz Award is the Marv Levy Seminar on the Wisdom of Voluntarily Settling for Long Field Goals. I watched Super Bowl XXV live, but it wasn't until I caught a rebroadcast a while back on NFL Network that I remembered that Levy wasn't forced into having Scott Norwood attempt a long field goal at the end of the game. Rather, with 29 seconds remaining, the Bills picked up a first down at the Giants 29. They were out of timeouts but had four downs to work with. Levy elected to let the clock tick down to eight seconds before having Jim Kelly spike the ball. Norwood, a questionable distance kicker that season, then missed the potential-game winning field goal from 47 yards. And it's been Norwood's name that has gone down in infamy. That's wrong. Marv Levy settled for what was probably no better than a 60 percent chance to win the game. That could have been better. That should have been better. That's his fault.

Jason Garrett has been featured in this spot before for his game management, and long field goals seem to be his bete noire. His ill-timed time out against the Cardinals last year took away a made field goal in a game his team would lose in overtime. On Sunday, he did something similar to what Levy did, only he had a timeout left. The Cowboys picked up one yard on first down on a play that began with 26 seconds remaining. Garrett let the clock run down to six seconds before using his final timeout and settling for a 51-yard field goal. Dan Bailey is not a bad kicker, but a 51-yard field goal is a dicey proposition for any kicker. Bailey unsurprisingly missed, and the Cowboys, like Levy's Bills, ended up with a loss for which the head coach bears responsibility. NFL coaches, please, stop voluntarily settling for long field goals.

Mike: While I appreciate your constant harping on long field goals, I think it's important to point out that there are other strategic decisions than late-game management. Jim Schwartz was confronted with a delightful and bizarre situation; an offsides followed by a dead-ball personal foul after a post-touchdown try. Both of these penalties were enforced on the ensuing kickoff, moving the kick from the Lions' 35-yard line to the Eagles' 45-yard line. Yes, the Lions had a kickoff set in their opponent's side of the field.

This is an amazing opportunity, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A short field on a kickoff makes a recovered onside kick incredibly valuable, and a failed onside kick is not particularly damaging. Additionally, the Eagles believed that it was coming, and lined up their hands team at the restraining line. A high kick past that line may have resulted in a good scrum, and even if it didn't, the kick may even had ended up behind Philadelphia's 20-yard line.

What did Schwartz do? He had his kicker boom it out of the end zone. Most kickoffs this year are touchbacks. Schwartz, despite his overwhelmingly favorable position in a three-point game, decided to basically burn 20 yards.

Tom: Dumb question: where do the Eagles get the ball if the kick goes out of bounds?

Mike: 25 yards from the spot of the kick or the out-of-bounds spot.

Tom: So what you're saying is Schwartz decided to trade maybe a 20 percent chance at the ball for 15 yards of field position?

Mike: I think it might be a higher percentage and a lower number of yards, but that is basically my argument. In a very close game.

Tom: And if he tries for a sideline kick inside the 20, the bad cases are (a) the kick goes into the end zone, in which case the Eagles get the ball at the 20, or (b) the kick goes out of bounds, in which case the Eagles get the ball at the 20 or the out of bounds spot.

Mike: It's understandable on some level for coaches to play to not lose, but teams have head coaches run the show on game day precisely because that is supposed to be the guy who knows how to take advantage of opportunities. Schwartz was handed a golden opportunity, and for no discernible or rational reason decided to simply throw it away.

Tom: It seems like he made the least cognitively-taxing decision, the selection that people whose mental resources are already stretched to the limit tend to make.

Mike: If your coach does not have the resources to figure out that kicking from your opponent's 45 has basically no downside no matter what crazy kick you have planned, he should not be calling the shots.

Tom: I think the argument I'm trying to make is that that a missed strategic decision is merely symptomatic of what may be a larger concern: that coaches are spending too much time thinking about other things on game day. The ideal hypothetical solution would be to attempt to outsource to some of that strategic decision-making to a mathematically-minded protege. The Jets, of course, tried that with Dick Curl helping out Herm Edwards, and my perception of it is that it was somewhat of a fiasco.

Mike: We always use that excuse for coaches, but I have no idea why. Most head coaches aren't calling plays, they aren't controlling defensive formations or coverages. On most teams, the head coach, on game day, is there precisely to make strategic decisions. That is his job: choosing to accept or decline a penalty, to give direction to the coordinators, to make non-package player substitutions, and so on.

Tom: Then we get back to the old Andy Reid argument. Reid has spent much of his tenure as a head coach calling plays. The Eagles have been very successful for most of his tenure. Reid is not a particularly good strategic coach.

Mike: And that is fine for Reid and the Eagles. But Reid is not the norm.

Tom: Perhaps not. But let's talk about Reid. He's in the headlines after the firing of Juan Castillo. On the face of it, it's a very odd end to Castillo's tenure as Eagles defensive coordinator. The Eagles' problem is the offense and particularly that Michael Vick keeps turning the ball over.

Mike: You mean his retroactive admission that putting Castillo in charge of the defense was completely insane?

Tom: It makes basically no sense. In that manner, it fits absolutely perfectly with the rest of the "Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator" experiment. It made no sense from the beginning. It started off as a disaster.

Mike: Perhaps Reid is engaging in some sort of bizarre performance art?

Tom: The decision I immediately mentally likened it to was Jack Del Rio's decision last year to install the woefully unprepared Blaine Gabbert as a starter in a terrible situation in an attempt to save his job. The Eagles are probably right now more Reid's team than they've been in his entire tenure, and with high expectations entering the season for the second straight year, I'm not sure he survives another year without a postseason trip.

Mike: I think that is an accurate assessment. I also agree that right now isn't the time to fire Castillo. Of course, I don't think having a "learn as you work" defensive coordinator on a talented defensive team is a great idea in general, but now the Eagles are completely adrift.

Tom: And of course Tuesday was also the day Jimmy Haslam's acquisition of the Browns was formally approved, meaning Reid's former nemesis/compadre Joe Banner is back in the NFL.

Mike: Did he do a pose as he was introduced as the next robot master?

Tom: I hope so.

Mike: Then all is right with the world. I think what we're seeing in general is a lot of poor decisions by Reid coming home to roost. The two most prominent of which are unwavering support of Vick and the Castillo hire. I think that he's gone unless they actually win the Super Bowl. This has the stink of a team that is pushing the old guy out the door before he forgets to lock the vault again. That is in some sense tremendously unfair to Reid, who is one of the premiere team-builders in the league, but on the other hand he hasn't done a very good job lately, and is being paid millions to do so. I can't empathize too much, especially since he will be a GM somewhere within two years.

Tom: It's very easy for me to see him following the same path as another of the Walrii, Mike Holmgren. He of course found some success in Seattle, though not as great as that he and general manager Ron Wolf had together in Green Bay.

Mike: Interestingly enough, it is his team-building that will ultimately get Reid fired, as opposed to his strategic ineptness. In fact, I can't recall any coach being fired for poor in-game strategy. Of course, Norv Turner still has a job, so I suppose the bar for keeping a head coach is really, really low.

Tom: Indeed. NORV!

Fantasy Football Update

Tom: So, my opponent was unfortunate enough to leave Shonn Greene on his bench this week.

Mike: I know that feeling.

Tom: Fortunately for him, he still had Andy Dalton (who outscored Autodrafted Second-Round Quarterback Matthew Stafford) and five other players who hit double-digits, including, of course, kicker Matt Bryant. Meanwhile, my team was back to their old tricks, underachieving their projection by 20. In other words, I lost again.

Mike: I think at some point you're going to have to admit the projection system is simply broken. At least for the players you are starting.

Tom: Seriously, though, how does Antonio Brown only put up two points against the freakin' Titans? They were dead last in passing defense DVOA before the game, and he has two points.

Mike: Because our genius new offensive coordinator apparently has no idea what he's doing.

Tom: Yes, my team isn't that good. Oh, Eagles fans, watch out. I drafted six running backs. Five of them, Ryan Mathews, Jonathan Stewart, Roy Helu, Ben Tate, and Rashad Jennings, have missed at least one game due to injury. LeSean McCoy is the only one who hasn't. I know it's coming. Consider yourselves warned.

Mike: I finally, finally pulled off a win in my competitive league. Honestly, it should have been better. I was shaky on Robert Griffin, so I started Ben Roethlisberger. While Roethlisberger didn't exactly disappoint, Griffin was a monster. Still, great games by Vincent Jackson and Jeremy Maclin helped ease my bye week blues, while my opponent's top performer was his kicker. Obviously, Matt Bryant had a great week, but that is still not a good sign.

Tom: Obviously.

Mike: My other league was much closer, although it was also a showdown between the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the league. Waiver wire all-star Andy Dalton put up respectable numbers, but the real stars were New York Football Giants DST (19 points), Ray Rice (23.1) and bye week binky Jermaine Gresham (14.3). I was in for a big scare with A.J. Green and Tom Brady, but Brady had a mediocre game and Dalton leeched points off Green. Nine points, and I'm ... still in third place. But a game out, now.

Tom: As is the case in the real NFL, all you really have to do is get to the postseason, and then you have a chance.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: Perhaps some of us were a bit too hasty in crowning San Francisco's offense. Alex Smith had a bad week, balancing 200 yards of passing offense with a brutal three interceptions. He ended up with nearly half the points of the next-losingest signal caller at 4 points.

Running Back: In a mailbag-relevant performance, Vick Ballard threw up a disappointing 3 points. He was joined, however, by big-ticket backs Michael Turner and Stevan Ridley; Turner simply didn't get many touches (11), and Ridley just had a really bad game (roughly two yards per carry).

Wide Receiver: Guess who didn't start Titus Young. This guy! An anemic six yards on two catches avoids the penalty but garners 0 points.

Kicker: Smith wasn't the only Niner singing the blues this week, with elite kicker David Akers making one field goal and missing two for a fittingly loserish -1 points.


KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Five completions in twelve red zone passing attempts. Only one first down on those dozen attempts, to go with one overthrow that resulted in an interception on third down. One intentional grounding penalty that cost his team a shot at a field goal at the end of the half. One other intentional grounding penalty that put his team in a third-and-20 situation when they were trying to salt the game away. One one-point loss to a lesser team. He did some things right, but it really was not Tom Brady's finest day.

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Jason Garrett and Jim Schwartz.

This Week in Announcing

One of the hallowed moments of NFL broadcasts is the pregame meetings the announcers have with various coaches and players from the teams playing, in which these great sages impart pearls of wisdom to the broadcasters, which they then relay to us. Take, for instance, Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees, whom Brian Billick informed us "puts a high priority on success in the red zone." Shocking, that. Then again, perhaps we're better off listening to coaches spout banalities than listening to announcers say things, such as Dan Fouts' idea that of Wes Welker's 100 catches a year, 70 of them must be on third down. For the record, Dan, 26 of Welker's 122 receptions last year came on third down.

Scramble Mailbag

Arjen.Robben: Highest Rest of Season value - Pierre Thomas, David Wilson, Felix Jones, Daryl Richardson, or Vick Ballard?

Tom: Thomas's team isn't using him. Wilson an unpopular member of a sort of committee. Jones's value depends on Murray being hurt. Ballard's on a team that can't run the ball.

Mike: All of these options are terrible!

Tom: He said "highest." Not good.

Mike: Can I just answer "No?"

Tom: And I left out Richardson, whose young legs seem to be in a timeshare with Steven Jackson.

Mike: Of that group, I think Thomas and Richardson are the only two worth seriously discussing. The potential upside argument is for Thomas, under the assumption that New Orleans will get its act together. I think it will at some point, and at that point the Thomas plays will be dialed up a bit more often. It's a windfall argument for Richardson, who is in a time-share with a decent running team and a back whose wheels are starting to fall off. If Jackson is injured more significantly, Richardson has a ton of potential. If not, he has middling-to-bad prospects. Personally, I have to say Thomas is the best of that lot.

Tom: We've talked about Thomas a bit. The Saints seem to want to use Mark Ingram. They only have two rushing touchdowns. Thomas has not been getting many goalline carries. I like Richardson better.

Lock of the Week

Tom: You picked the Patriots last week. Continuing the theme of this column, I picked the Eagles. Both teams were favored to win. Both teams lost. We are now both 2-3 on the season. As a reminder, all picks are made without reference to the FO Premium picks for the week. All lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Mike: As I said last week, I really do not trust any team this year. Which is actually quite refreshing, if a bit disconcerting. Especially considering the cadre of normally reliable winners used to boast my Steelers as a member.

Tom: I know.

Mike: You have no idea how much you will know by the end of this season.

Tom: Your formerly reliably good team lost to my theretofore dreadful team last week. We almost made it the whole column without really talking about that.

Mike: My only hope is that the Ravens' new "some guys plus Haloti Ngata" defense is as bad as many are predicting, and the Steelers can somehow string together a strong half-season. Otherwise, I am going to be insufferable. I have spent the entire past week not really talking about that. Anyway, the Patriots are against a really attractive option, but no. Just no.

Tom: I am also now done with the Eagles, meaning I can pick from just 30 of the 32 NFL teams.

Mike: Instead, I will rely on the depletion of the already-shaky Ravens defense against a Texans team that is much better than what we saw this past week. Houston Texans -7 vs. Baltimore Ravens.

Tom: There are a couple of lines this week that stand out as interesting in comparison to DVOA. That is one of them, as the Texans and Ravens have very similar DVOA and DAVE, yet the Texans are favored by much more than the home edge. Yes, the Lardarius Webb injury is a serious blow, but does he single-handedly swing a line by that much? The Bills come out much better than the Titans by DVOA and DAVE but at home are favored by only three. The Bears are much better than the Lions, but are only six-point favorites at home. The game I'm going to take, though, is Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3 vs. New Orleans Saints. The evidence we have this year is that the Buccaneers have played better than the Saints. They are playing at home. They are underdogs. They beat the Saints at home last year. Yes, the Bucs are missing Aqib Talib, and the Saints could finally be the juggernaut Saints we've seen in the past and win by four touchdowns. But I'll have to see it first.

Have a stable of awful players? Need to know which one will help you lose more respectably? Send in your questions to scramble-at-footballousiders.com to find out!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 17 Oct 2012

49 comments, Last at 18 Oct 2012, 6:35pm by Sancho


by Travis :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 3:31pm

Rather, with 29 seconds remaining, the Bills picked up a first down at the Giants 29.

Not quite. The Bills had 29 seconds and a clock starting on the referee's signal with the ball on the Giants 40; they didn't snap the ball for another 3 seconds. Thurman Thomas's run ended with 20 seconds left on the clock and the clock running, and the Bills didn't get set for another 10 seconds. (Video here.)

The questionable decision was to run from the 40 or Thomas's decision not to make an effort to get out of bounds, not the decision to spike the ball.

by Kurt :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:38pm

Wow, there are so many things to like about that video:

* the graphics
* the replay review resolved in less than 40 seconds (complete with the obligatory "Great job, guys!" from Dierdorf)
* Erik Howard's mullet
* the look on Parcells' face at 5:16
* Leonard Marshall's fade

by Mike B. In Va :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:00pm

...and Levy didn't make that decision. Kelly did.

None of this matters if Reed doesn't drop that TD pass, though...

by Sancho (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 11:02am

Thanks for the video. That was the first football game I have ever watched. I remembered everything. I was in my parents' room (the only one with TV). I loved the game from the beginning. I picked the Giants because of the blue colors, they won, I am a Giants fan ever since.

by jebmak :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 4:28pm

A simple swap of home and away jerseys, and you would have been rooting for the bills. Who knows if you would have stuck with them, but I think you lucked out there.

by Sancho (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 6:35pm

I usually stuck with my teams; so if the Bills were the blue team back than, I would probably be a suffering Buffalo fan today.

Luck me, indeed!

by Sancho (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 11:05am

Thanks for the video. That was the first football game I have ever watched. I remembered everything. I was in my parents' room (the only one with TV). I loved the game from the beginning. I picked the Giants because of the blue colors, they won, I am a Giants fan ever since.

by nath :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:00pm

Are our Loser League teams still going to be updated here? Where can we find those?

by CeeBee (not verified) :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:00pm

My normal starting squad in a 10-team PPR Keeper Auction league:

QB - Eli Manning
RB - Ray Rice, Matt Forte
WR - Larry Fitzgerald, Stevie Johnson
FLEX - Jeremy Maclin
TE - Owen Daniels
K - Steven Gostkowski
DEF - Atlanta

I'm currently 4-2 and in 4th place. I've been offered the following trade by an owner who is 1-5 and has a hard-on for Rice:

Ray Rice FOR Andre Johnson, Marshawn Lynch & Steven Jackson

I'm going to say no to this deal, but was thinking of countering with:

Ray Rice FOR Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris & Eric Decker
Ray Rice FOR Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris & Julio Jones

Keep in mind that this is auction keeper, so each player will cost more next year (+$5 to drafted value). Here were the drafted values for all the players:

Ray Rice - $75
Marshawn Lynch - $26
Alfred Morris - $10 (waiver pickup)
Eric Decker - $19
Julio Jones - $38


by Insancipitory :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:19pm

Are Steelers fans rejoycing in serendipitous success known for their sufferability?

by PatsFan :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:31pm

New England had a similar kickoff option in their 2007 game against Baltimore. NE scored very late in the game to take the lead (after, among other things, Baltimore stopping NE on 4th down, only to have the play negated by Rex Ryan calling timeout right at the snap) and Bart Scott went absolutely nuts, including picking up and flinging a penalty flag.

The Ravens were nailed with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, putting the ball at the Baltimore 35 (!), IIRC. I wanted to see Belichick order an onsides kick, since regaining possession would have ended the game and a touchback would only be a 15 yard gain (so a failed onsides kick would only give Baltimore 5-10 yards of extra field position vs. a touchback).

Sadly, Belichick ordered Gostkowski to blast into into the cheap seats. And the Ravens almost won on a final-gun Hail Mary that came down (admittedly after an incredibly blatant uncalled OPI) on the NE 3 yard line.

by peterplaysbass :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:40pm

Wait, the Patriots were -kicking off- from Baltimore's 35 ? Has that ever happened?

by PatsFan :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:03pm

One second thought it was the BAL40, not BAL35. There were 30 yards of penalties. If 2007 kickoffs were from the 35, that would have put the ball at the BAL35 for the kickoff. If 2007 kickoffs were from the 30 (which in retrospect I believe they were), that would put the ball at the BAL40 for the kickoff.

by nat :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 1:03pm

It was from the 35. See this play-by-play.

There were two unsportsmanlike penalties after the TD and an offsides on the extra point. It's unusual to have two enforced unsportsmanlike penalties, but it's necessary for the second to have some consequences or players would feel free to go nuts after the first one.

Belichick blew this one. If he was worried about an onsides kick being returned, he could have lined up some of the coverage team ten or more yards back. With an onsides kick he'd be giving up about 5 yards of field position and a (slight) risk of a return for the chance to end the game on one play.

This looked like a decision to avoid the coach being blamed rather than to have the best chance to win the game.

by Travis :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 1:49pm

Or he could have had Gostkowski aim for the sideline, coffin-corner-punt style, which would have had the following possible outcomes according to the rules at the time:

Out-of-bounds in the end zone: touchback, BAL ball on the 20.

Out-of-bounds between the end zone and the 5: BAL ball on the 5 (the rules at the time called for a long kickoff out of bounds to be placed 30 yards from the spot of the kick, and there is no half-the-distance provision [A.R. 6.23]).

Out-of-bounds between the 5 and the 15: BAL ball at the out-of-bounds spot.

Out-of-bounds between the 15 and the 35: BAL ball at the out-of-bounds spot, or a rekick from 5 yards further back.

Assuming Gostkowski kicks the ball out of bounds, the very worst that could have realistically happened would be the ball at the 20, and there was a very high possibility of something better.

by tuluse :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:42pm

It's pretty cliche at this point, but the reason that coaches don't get fired for in game strategic decisions is that it's a very small part of being a head coach. It just happens to be the most visible part.

Picking the right players to join the team, managing egos, putting players in positions to succeed, and teaching players how to do their jobs better are all more important and all happen during the week when no one is watching.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:47pm

Oh, I agree. If the guy is going to make really dumb decisions during the game, however, he damned well be better doing a great job elsewhere.

by tuluse :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:18pm

True, and exhibit A is Andy Reid himself.

It doesn't look like Schwartz is on the same level.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:29pm

To be fair, Schwartz isn't exactly known to for constantly making clock-management and timeout-wasting errors. In fact, his in-game management has been fairly good during his tenure.

It's also a bit hasty to judge him for the other stuff 5 games into the season, one year after a 10-win playoff season, with a roster still being rebuilt. In fact, regression years are fairly common after a franchise goes through long bouts of losing and then gets to a winning season (1997-1998 Buccaneers, 1994-1995 Patriots come to mind.

I prefer to reserve judgement until the end of 2013 as to whether Schwartz is more like Tony Dungy or more like Todd Haley.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by tuluse :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:38pm

Jim Schwartz has as many losing years in his first 3 years of coaching as Andy Reid had in his first 13. Schwartz may or may not be considered a good coach when it's all over, but I'm pretty confident he is not as good of a coach as Reid.

by Jim W. (not verified) :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:58pm

You're probably right, although I'm willing to cut Schwartz slack for more losing seasons.

Schwartz inherited Calvin Johnson and a historically bad defense.

Reid inherited Tra Thomas and Brian Dawkins, Hugh Douglas, Troy Vincent, and Jeremiah Trotter on defense.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 6:53pm

I wasn't trying to argue that Schwartz is as good of a coach as Andy Reid (hardly fair to compare 3 full seasons with 13).

And the rosters of 1998 Eagles are 2008 Lions are in totally different galaxies in degree of suckitude.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by tuluse :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 6:56pm

Fair enough, but I was trying to compare them right from the beginning. With the point being that Schwartz does need to be better at strategic decisions than Reid, because he's not going to as good at the other things.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 7:16pm

"With the point being that Schwartz does need to be better at strategic decisions than Reid, because he's not going to be as good at the other things."

Agreed, and generally he is. Lions fans criticize many things about Schwartz, but clock management and challenge/timout usage is not one of them.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 8:25pm

The Lions have one of the worst kick coverage units in the NFL this year, and he said after the Philly game that he wasn't comfortable going for the onside on the play in question because of that. You could argue the call either way, but he had good reason to be cautious in this case.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:43pm

A good in-game coach has thought through these scenarios well ahead of time, hell, during the off season, meaning that there really isn't any decision to make during the game. Schwartz's error is particularly egregious, in that the right decision is obvious, regardless of how one estimates the likelihood of your team executing well, or the likelihood of the opponent executing well. Schwartz just has never thought of the situation before. If I was paying a guy a mid 7 figure salary, it would irritate me that I wasn't getting more labor from his synapses than that.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:22pm

Kicking off from your opponent's 40 yard-line is fairly uncommon scenario, so few would plan ahead for it. That being said, I was pretty dissappointed/frustrated when they decided to kick it deep.

But of course, Schwartz has good reason to not trust his special teams (I could totally imagine an Eagle scooping up the ball and running past the scrum for a touchdown).

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:54pm

The point of thinking through these things ahead of time is that you have plenty of time from February to July to do so. Especially the uncommon occurences. That's what good strategic thinkers do, in all complex endeavors.

If Schwartz really fears that his team is in danger of yielding a td in that situation, then he has constructed his roster hideously, or he needs to fire his special teams coordinator yesterday.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 6:51pm

First of all, last time I checked, Schwartz isn't the GM. Second of all, the current GM inherited a team that had Calvin Johnson, a handful of above-average players, and about 45 players that didn't belong on an NFL roster. You don't reconstruct that in a few years.

So yes, the Lions special teams have been bad for years (all Lions fans already knew that). Firing the special teams coordinator would have less impact on how the players cover kicks than the Eagles firing Juan Castillo

"The point of thinking through these things ahead of time is that you have plenty of time from February to July to do so. Especially the uncommon occurences. That's what good strategic thinkers do, in all complex endeavors."

A poster above mentioned that in 2007 Bill Belicheck did the exact same thing Schwartz did in a similar situation. Are you trying to argue Bill Belicheck failed in his job as a strategic thinker? Like I said, you're not going to think of every crazy game situation. Most coaches are too busy installing schemes, talking to the scouts/GM in preparation for the draft, etc.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by tuluse :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 6:54pm

Honestly, I don't think it should be hard to find players who are adequate at special teams. Look at what Fisher has done with the Rams. They have something like 20 players who are 2nd year players or younger, and while their coverage units are not good, they're significantly better than the Lions.

So I think in this instance, it's clear that the Lions brass either is not prioritizing special teams or is bad and evaluating special teams players.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 7:14pm

Yes, they have prioritized trying to find 22 competent starters, and have kind of neglected special teams, although this past offseason, they finally started paying attention to it (signing Kassim Osgood to play special teams and nothing else was an example). Major changes were made to coverage units after the disasters against Tennessee and Minnesota, and they actually did a good job against the Eagles.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 9:17pm

There's not a coach in the NFL who doesn't have considerable influence as to how the roster is constructed with regard to special teams. Teaching plays a huge role. If Belichik made the identical decision, that's a crappy one as well, and proof that nobody's perfect, if that was in doubt. What isn't useful is to defend or excuse the crappiness of the decision. I have no idea if this is typical of Schwartz, but I do know that it is a bad decision.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 9:37pm

I said before that I disagreed and was frustrated with the decision, too. What I took issue with is that you seemed to be implying that this single decision reflected on the overall quality of Schwartz' coaching. If that's not what you were implying, then I may have misunderstood you. I brought up the lack of trust in the special teams, not as an excuse, but as a possible explanation.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 11:12pm

Yeah, I'm no expert in Schwartzian coaching. Sorry if I implied otherwise.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 11:20am

There's no excuse, even if you didn't plan ahead. It's the obvious decision. And yes, Bellchik blew it, too.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by sundown (not verified) :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 8:02pm

What I never get is what these guys do working 80+ hour weeks (or whatever they all claim to work...doesn't Reid sleep on the couch at his office?) if not going over every possibility that could ever come up in a game?

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 11:21am

Good question.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by theslothook :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 4:56pm

I'm not exactly saying Brady was perfect against Seattle, but how in the world is philip rivers not the KCW winner by a landslide? That performance in the second half is the sort of stuff you expect out of people like Rex Grossman or Sage Rosenfels. I don't care if Brady scored 0 pts in 15 red zone attempts, Rivers actually blew the game completely.

by Tino (not verified) :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 7:02pm

I think it's because NE was their "lock" game last week. The general consensus among the Pats faithful was that Seattle would be an easy win, even though anyone who watched both teams closely this year should've know it was actually a pretty close match up. I've never seen fans turn on their QB and coach so quickly after a 1-point loss.

by duh :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 9:50pm

The Patriots 'game management' has been pretty bad this year ... in particular the play calling on the drive late in the 4th quarter was abominable ... they had to burn a time out with 5:35 to go for no apparent reason, then after running a play after that to get to fist and 10 at the 47 they went incomplete, intentional grounding, incomplete. A run or two there would have forced the Hawks to either take timeouts or have the clock run down a whole bunch.

Greg Bedard of the Globe has a pretty biting piece regarding just how many coaching / game management issues they had on Sunday here:


After years of seeing normally good or better game management this year has been very strange to watch. (at least to me anyway ... )

by theslothook :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:01pm

I'm not entirely sure why coaches get fired/hired. Do they get hired because of their inventiveness or for their motivational abilities? For in game strategies or half time adjustments?

Or is it mainly they are hired simply because they were associated with a winning program?

Is there a real justification why Reid should be fired? His team is actually pretty talented, the juan castillo looks bad at first, but last years collapse was as much an issue with the offense as it was the defense and for a good portion of games since mid week 2011, the defense has been great. One could argue, the sole reason why the eagles are losing right now is Mike Vick. The same Mike Vick who set the world of fire in 2010.

My ultimate point is, why exactly do you fire Reid or other previously successful head coahces like Jeff Fisher? Talent ebbs, wins are hard to come by, schemes and divisions adjust. Long term successful coaches should prove that they can withstand the overall cyclical turnover much better than others, so they should be the ones teams hang on to. Idc if Belichick were to lose 6 more superbowls or miss the playoffs three years in a row, you should never fire someone like him unless the team absolutely craters.

by Nevic (not verified) :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 5:41pm

The Packers were kicking from the 50-yard line against the Texans and did a short chip shot that was caught right at the goal line, forcing the Texans returner to run it out. He got tackled somewhere around the 15, so it was better than launching it into the seats.

by BJR :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 9:10am

Only in hindsight do we know it was it better than a touchback. You are ignoring the probability prior to the kick would be returned to the 20 and beyond.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 9:42am

You are correct and knowing the probabilities is difficult. The Packers practice, and have occasionally executed, shorter kick offs from normal kicking positions. It's something they have done even before the change of the kickoff yard line. It was a way to try and neutralize Hester, Harvin, and Logan (who was 5th in 2010 and 10th in the league in 2011 for average return length when that is the 3rd most dangerous return man in the division teams have to try things to help neutralize the return games). High hang time, shorter distance kicks that might get caught at the 15 or 25, but had a lower chance for a return because the coverage team should be in better position. They would also kick some to the up men that might get caught at the 30 or 35, but generally they tried to get deeper and even allow the returners to get their hands on the ball but have the space to do something minimized. This year the results of those have tended to be positive, in that the returner generally did not get past the 20 and I think the 26 was the best return of that type of kick.

With a shorter field, and presumably an even easier time for the coverage team to get down field, the odds should be better. In this specific case with the current lead and time remaining even if the returner had gotten a touchdown I don't think the Packers would have cared, so it was "safe" to allow a return, and safe to just have them on the 20, so taking the option that can offer a higher reward (even if that reward is minimal) even with a bigger potential downside, seems to make sense.

by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 8:18pm

The best Loser League team names this year are both Simpsons references:
Financial Panthers
Hank Scorpios Denver Broncos

by Ryan D. :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 10:55am

Thank you!

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 10:08pm

I don't get the comment about Reid calling plays. Quite a few coaches call plays and that is especially true of the coaches promoted from the offense assistant coaches in the Holmgren group; Reid, Mariucci, Mornhinweg, Sherman, McCarthy. I'm not sure if Gruden did, but I'd guess he did. I've also seen several "defensive-minded" coaches call their defenses' plays.

by Joseph :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 10:17pm

Sean Payton, until partway through last year, called plays, and still made generally great strategic decisions. I think the idea is that if the HC is calling plays for the O or D, he has other responsibilities on gameday than just "do I kick the FG, punt, or go for it?"

by Drunkmonkey :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 5:11pm

I thought Holmgren had his GM duties stripped from him in Seattle because he was pretty bad at it. Or was it because he just obviously couldn't handle being both GM and HC? Anyways, I find it a little amusing that Holmgren is being used as an example in that case, for Reid, after just being fired as a bad team builder.