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Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Walkthrough: Milk and  Bread
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

Milk and Bread Part I

It's winter. Are your cupboards bare? Do you have enough provisions? Some teams entered the playoffs short on supplies and improperly winterized. It cost them.

The Chiefs were running low on wide receivers after the season finale, so they plucked Kevin Curtis off of waivers, suited him up against the Ravens, and even threw two passes to him. Curtis, as you may know, had a rough year. He had an orchiectomy in September, got back to playing speed quickly enough to spend a few weeks with the Dolphins in December, then was waived before the season finale. He didn't expect to play again this season, and he probably didn't expect to be thrown onto the field with just two days of preparation. Curtis knew very few plays, but Todd Haley explained that the Dolphins (Curtis' employer for about two weeks) are similar "philosophically" to the Chiefs. Forget the fact that the terminology is totally different: If you have Nicomachean ethics down, Matt Cassel will find you.

Chris Chambers would seem to be a better option than Curtis, but Chambers was a healthy scratch against the Ravens. Dwayne Bowe spent the week battling some undisclosed illness, then was held without a catch or target on Sunday. Welcome to the Haleyverse. The Chiefs never revealed Chambers' infraction, and there were few specifics of Bowe's ailment, which may have landed him in the doghouse and minimized his role in the game plan. So it follows that Curtis got two passes thrown to him, and Chambers and Bowe got zero.

Without the All-22 tape, I cannot tell if Bowe was running soft routes, was plagued by rolling coverage (as he claimed), or was simply ignored during the six minutes the Chiefs possessed the ball. But I do know that the Chiefs sometimes lined up in two-tight end, two-back, one-receiver sets on third-and-long, which is no way to attack a defense in which the cornerbacks are the biggest weakness. I thought some of the Todd Haley criticism this season was overblown, but after reconstructing what happened on Sunday, I believe that Charlie Weis is dancing around his new office right now in a grass skirt with a parasol cocktail, the happiest man on earth. Except maybe for Curtis, who beat cancer.

While Curtis cracked the binding on the Chiefs playbook, DeShawn Wynn reacquainted himself with the Saints Concordance of Unusual Formations. Wynn spent some time in Saints training camp but lost his job to Chris Ivory and was released in mid-September. The Saints kept Wynn on speed dial through their season of running back injuries. He rejoined the team briefly midseason but could not separate himself from the Julius Jones-Ladell Betts-Vaughn Dunbar morass. Wynn surfaced briefly with the 49ers, disappeared again, then came back to the Saints when both Ivory and Pierre Thomas landed on Injured Reserve.

The Saints still had Jones and Reggie Bush at their disposal, plus Drew Brees and a more-or-less full complement of receivers. Say what you will about Bush, but the Saints have learned to live with him, and he knows the system. Jones played better than anyone could expect against the Seahawks, though his 120 yards and two touchdowns were offset by a fumble, a fourth-down stuff, and other reminders of why the Seahawks soured on him.

Most coaches can get through one game without calling upon their newly-acquired third-string running back in a critical situation, assuming the other backs are healthy and the Pro Bowl quarterback has someone to throw to. But Sean Payton is different. Bless his pointy head, he decided to give Wynn a carry. On a two-point conversion. Late in the fourth quarter of a close game.

Figure 1: Wynn's run

You all saw the play, but I had to diagram it to point out the staggering inanity of Payton's call. Look at Figure 1. Who are these guys? Tory Humphrey (84)? Really? Does putting Zach Strief (64) at tight end instead of, say, Jeremy Shockey (who can really block), with Colston in Shockey's split-right position, make any sense? Heath Evans at wide receiver? Evans, you may recall, was a pretty good short-yardage runner for the Patriots. I never really thought of him as a guy to line up at wide receiver while Marques Colston watches a do-or-die play from the sidelines.

Humphrey and Strief don't even block very well on the play, and the design of the play leads all the linebackers and the strong safety right to Wynn. The most depressing thing about this play, besides the fact that a waiver wire running back got the ball, was that it allowed the Seahawks to use their base defense and put eight defenders in the box. Split Colston or Lance Moore or even Bush wide, and an extra defender goes with him, and maybe there's room for Wynn (or Evans or somebody) to run that little draw. This is a great example of a great coach outsmarting himself.

By the way, if you ever think that it's a bad idea to rest your starters in Week 17, consider the fate of Chris Ivory. The Saints were playing for seedings in the final week, so Ivory was battling for a good cause when he got hurt. Without him, Jones got stuffed on fourth-and-1, Wynn took a critical two-point conversion handoff, and a Saints drive stalled at the eight-yard line on an incomplete third-and-2 pass to Bush. (Granted, that last play might still have happened with Ivory healthy.) Ivory would have made a difference on Saturday. Imagine if he got hurt because Payton didn't want to risk "rust" or "momentum" or "swagger" or something. Intangibles may have their place, but the thought of DeShawn Wynn taking meaningful snaps is tangible enough to keep my best players off the field in meaningless games.

No discussion of rummage-bin players on losing teams would be complete without a mention of Dominic Rhodes. Rhodes probably has a special ringtone for when Bill Polian calls. It might be "Money (That's What I Want)," "I Can't Quit You, Baby," or "The Bitch is Back." Rhodes is on his third stint with the Colts, having spent autumn playing for the Florida Tuskers. Unlike Wynn and Curtis, Rhodes had a few weeks on the Colts roster to get back into the swing of things, which may be why he had such a key role on Saturday. He was the Colts' short yardage back and their kickoff returner. He even gained nine yards on one third-and-7 carry. He had a fine game.

If only the Colts could find a kickoff returner on the Tuskers roster. But then, if the Colts suddenly paid attention to their special teams, I would run out of things to write about.

Curse of the Three 70s

Do you like balance? If so, check out the Bears' pass distribution this season:

Bear's receivers
Player Targets Johnny Knox 100 Devin Hester 73 Matt Forte 70 Greg Olsen 70 Earl Bennett 70

Spooky, isn't it? We always thought Mike Martz was a little odd. It turns out that he is just like Kathy Bates in Misery. "Seventy targets. No more, no less. Or else I shatter your freakin' ankles."

The closer you look, the creepier it gets. Only Knox was targeted 10 or more times in a game. Only Olsen was targeted nine times in a game -- once. The goal of the Bears offense appears to be to get the ball to each receiver precisely six times. Forte was targeted for five-to-seven passes seven times, Hester nine times, Bennett nine times, and Olsen six times. It's a quota system.

The perfect Bears game plan would feature about six passes to Knox and 4.5 passes each to the other four primary targets. Do not worry about the half pass; Martz can find a way. No game reached that level of equity, but a few came close. In the Week 6 meeting with the Seahawks, Forte received seven targets, Bennett six, Olsen four (he was held without a catch), and Devin Aromashodu joined the party with five, filling in for Hester, who had just three. For maximum balance, Forte rushed just eight times, and Cutler was sacked six times. Knox got greedy with 11 catches, but the graph above shows that Knox is first among equals at this round table. With Martz's ledgers properly balanced, the Bears could lose to the Seahawks safe in the knowledge that they scored their points the way they were meant to: Hester punt returns and Robbie Gould field goals.

But seriously, the Bears offense has been much more effective since that Week 6 loss, and the Riddle of the 70 Targets may be part of the reason. According to Martz's pretzel logic, Knox can be both the designated deep threat and the go-to receiver. His Catch Rate is terrible, but the air length of his average pass is 14.6 yards, so it's not like he is dropping screen passes. Hester has become a middling possession receiver, a Formula One racer refitted with wood paneling for trips to the mall. Bennett is all hitches and smash routes. Forte ran more 15-plus yard routes (eight) than Bennett (seven) this season, which gave him something to do during those eight-carry afternoons and further subverted traditional roles. Olsen did tight end-y things, bucking the trend of using every player in an unusual way (he does split wide a lot, but that is common for tight ends nowadays).

All of this strangeness was carefully, deliberately spread among five players, making it hard for defenses to scheme for tendencies. Who do you double cover? Which way does the coverage roll? Do you risk a linebacker on Forte? Chance a safety on Bennett? There's no Roddy White to take away. Double cover Knox on every snap, and Cutler still knows where about 24 of his passes are going to go. For a team that gives up too many sacks and turnovers, a little diversity has to help.

By now, you probably have noticed that those target totals are a little low. The Bears finished dead last in the NFL in pass attempts. Mind boggling. They finished 21st in the league in rushes. Cutler had 51 carries (many of them scrambles), and the Bears gave up 56 sacks. If you jiggle the numbers, the Bears were more like 28th in rushes and certainly higher than teams like the Jaguars, Chiefs, and Titans in pass attempts. (I don't feel like sorting out scrambles and adding sacks and scrambles to pass attempts for all the relevant teams.) The Bears finished 29th in the NFL in total plays, a remarkably low figure for an 11-win team. The Falcons and Jets, successful teams with methodical offenses, ran 1,097 and 1,087 plays in 2010. The Patriots ran just 986 plays, so the correlation between plays and offensive success isn't that great. But we think of Martz's offense as a non-stop onslaught. In reality, the combination of sacks, interceptions, and an unreliable running game turned it into a trickle.

A trickle that dripped precisely 70 milliliters of productivity into each bucket, and was just good enough to help the defense and special teams reach the playoffs. The Bears offense never quite equals the sum of its parts, but at least with all of the 70s, Martz kept the addition easy this time.

Burn This Play: Playoff Edition

By now, I thought the Jets would be over their Brad Smith Wildcat-Pistol fascination. Mark Sanchez doesn't need training wheels anymore, Damien Woody is (somewhat) healthy again (or at least, he was near the end of the season), and the Jets have enough quality receivers and backs to beat most opponents without rummaging through playbook rarities and B-sides. Smith got a lot of snaps during the meaningless season finale, but I interpreted that as an opportunity to get everyone involved while Mark Brunell read his AARP literature. I didn't expect the Jets to get fancy in the postseason.

So naturally, Smith waltzed onto the field and into the pistol formation numerous times on Saturday, often in critical situations. On one play, the Jets ran their Pistol Counter Option, and LaDainian Tomlinson bobbled the pitch from Smith -- it's almost as if the guy hasn't taken many option pitches in the last decade. Tomlinson hauled the pitch in, but the momentary juggling cost him a step in the backfield, and the play netted just three yards. "Well, that's that," I thought. As soon as Rex Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer saw the potential for a fumbled pitch, they would pat Smith on the head and send him back to special teams.

Nope. The Jets needed to run the clock out at the end of the game, and guess what they called? The same Pistol Counter Option.

Figure 2: Pistol, Take 2

Figure 2 shows the play as the Jets ran it late in the fourth quarter. There's an unbalanced line, two running backs, a specialist quarterback, and pre-snap motion. Did you miss anything, Schottenheimer? Maybe some Cirque du Soleil contortionists in the slot? Could you get Wayne Hunter involved somehow? How about a neon sign flashing: "Watch out for the Counter Play"?

With all of the extra blockers and motion to the left, there's nothing to tip off the Colts that this play will go to the right. Except that the Jets ran it earlier in the game. And Shonn Greene(23) is in position to take a fake handoff to the left, and the Jets never really give the ball to Greene on this play. So, yes, this is a counter to the right, and the Colts know it.

It is best to run wacky stuff like this against overaggressive defenses. This play may work well in Jets practice against Ryan defenses. I can see Antonio Cromartie on the edge, charging into the backfield and ignoring Tomlinson and losing containment on Smith to the outside. But the Colts are always in fat-free vanilla mode, so when Jerricho Cotchery (89) goes in motion, Jacob Lacey (27) slides into the force position, and Antoine Bethea (41) slides behind him.

Lacey and Bethea nod and point to each other before the snap. In international sign language, their nod and point translates as: "Oh, this is that corny option. I have the quarterback. You have the pitch man. Oh, but don't worry too much about the pitch, because it is late in the fourth quarter, they are at their own 32-yard line, and only a lunatic would risk an option pitch from a special teams gunner to a veteran running back who already bobbled one pitch earlier in the game in this situation."

That's the problem with this play: There is absolutely no substance behind the window dressing. Smith is not going to risk a pitch with the game on the line in Jets' territory. He isn't going to throw, either. The Colts know that the Jets are trying to run out the clock, of course, so they are expecting the run. Why make it so easy for them? With Sanchez in the game, a bootleg or rollout pass is possible. With 2:57 to play, in fact, most of the playbook is still open, and the Colts must respect the threat of a game-killing play-action bomb or some other jugular strike. Once Smith enters the game, the Colts know they just have to stop Smith. Lacey does so easily.

I criticized the Jets for the amount of "junk" in their playbook earlier in the year. Trick plays and wrinkly formations have their place in the NFL: They can prop up a rookie or unprepared backup quarterback, and they can be very effective if they flow naturally from the design of the rest of the offense. The Raiders got away with all kinds of pistol and reverse plays this year because that was the design of their offense -- misdirection, rollouts, and creative ways to get the ball to fast players on the edge of the defense. The Jets should stop trying to graft trickery onto an otherwise conventional offense that has ample talent to attack opponents directly. While Sanchez is still up-and-down as a quarterback, he's more capable of handling the snap in a critical situation than Smith.

A Smith end-around now ... and then? Great. A little pistol package for use with the backup quarterback or midseason shock value? Maybe. Unbalanced-line, counter-option nonsense in close playoff games? Burn This Play.

No Place Like Dome

I am a huge fan of The Onion, and I can get past professional jealousy enough to enjoy the Onion Sports Dome Internet gags. Their headlines are usually laugh-out-loud funny, and I am always careful to read them after my weekly articles are written, lest I get tempted to steal a gag.

So I was disappointed by the series premiere of Onion Sports Dome on Comedy Central on Tuesday. I loved the premise: A simultaneous parody of the world of sports and the headache-inducing clichés of modern sports coverage. Unfortunately, the satire that is so sharp in written form fell flat as a 30-minute program.

Sports Dome mocks SportsCenter, complete with flashy sets, endless on-screen graphics, and catchphrase-obsessed hosts with indecent private lives. One of the running gags of the premiere had one host, just back from suspension, constantly hinting about his sex-obsessed personal life. When he Tweets back to a flirtatious fan with a screen name like PartyGirl97, the co-host warns that the "97" probably means she's 14 years old. "Maybe she's just a big Jeremy Roenick fan," the lothario replied.

The Roenick joke saved an otherwise tired (and creepy) Internet predator gag, but one problem with the horny host routine was that it was unfocused. Television sports hosts are usually in hot water for harassment of interns or coworkers, not deviant behavior. There's an order-of-magnitude difference between putting overaggressive moves on a coworker and texting innuendo to a child. By sliding from one to the other, Sportsdome sacrificed good satire for a cheap laugh.

The horny host gag was one of several missteps in the program. An opening gag about the Miami Heat had its moments, with a series of funny pictures describing the childish new rules LeBron James and friends want imposed on the NBA (if you find the treasure buried under the court, you win 20 games). But the routine ran long and felt stale. Summer was the time for Heat jokes, and the "James is immature" routine has limited shelf life in a league full of young, self-promoting superstars. A gag about Alex Rodriquez producing a Broadway musical felt lazy and amateurish. Many of the skits suffered from Saturday Night Live syndrome -- one gag, stretched to maximum length to fill space.

The two biggest missteps were a running gag about insane ex-NFL players escaping from an institution and a Pardon the Interruption parody called "Who Would You Kill?" The joke that retired football players with head injuries must be institutionalized is not very funny, and the writers made the mistake of setting the skit in Philadelphia, which reminded me immediately of Andre Waters. The show kept returning to the skit as "Breaking News," though the comic beats were just scenes of burly men acting crazy in parking lots.

"Who Would You Kill?" lapsed immediately into a back-and-forth contest to find out which of two pundits could describe the most graphic murder of an athlete. That may have been a commentary on the current state of sports pundrity -- there are lots of successful personalities whose entire game is character assassination -- but the world of talking head programming is so rife for parody, the writers should have done more than string together snuff jokes.

To be fair, some bits killed. Highlights of meth addicts battling imaginary snakes were hysterical, and they had the tone just right. The joke wasn't on the druggies, but on a sports culture willing to nonchalantly package everything with macho-snarky commentary. (A quick flash of the "Meth League" logo was a throwaway hoot.)

A profile of a UFC boxer with titanium prosthetic hands who thought he was a victim of discrimination was also spot-on: the pretentious camera work, the mindlessly simplified approach to the subject matter, and great lines like "I have a secret weapon: optimism" delivered while smashing a cinder block. One of the hosts kept trying to shorten "details" to "deets," to the chagrin of the show's straight-woman, an accurate take on the reason so many of us mute our sporting events and get our news from the Internet.

Onion Sports Dome has potential, but a show that parodies the laziness and excess of sports programming cannot afford to be lazy and excessive. The jokes need to be more layered, the targets less obvious. Whenever I write an extended joke about a player or team, I always ask one question before publishing: Where can I go from here? If I load a Walkthrough with druggie jokes, pervert jokes, and ultraviolent gags, do I drive straight into a dead end? Onion Sports Dome became repetitive in the first 30 minutes. The ARod immaturity jokes were just variations on the LeBron immaturity jokes, and the meth addict crazies made the unfunny head injury crazies redundant. Forced to expand biting-but-brief Internet jokes into a 30-minute format, the writers may have driven into a dead end. It's a pretty funny dead end, but it will get old if they don't change direction quickly.

Milk and Bread Part II

With a snowstorm forecast for Tuesday, I decided to do my grocery shopping on Monday afternoon. While waiting in the deli line, I listened to a woman whose shopping cart looked like a hoarder's basement complain about how everyone else in the store was suffering from pre-blizzard panic. "They are calling for three to six inches, and everyone around here is acting like they will be snowed in for a month." She laughed, piling batteries and MRE rations into a cart that already contained a spare generator, two freeze-dried sherpas, and a Tauntaun.

Irony is beautiful.

No one actually panics about six inches of snow in the northeast, except perhaps Roger Goodell. We just accuse everyone else of panicking. The "yokels" rush to the store for emergency provisions, but we don't. We stocked up on organic produce and artisanal cheeses from Whole Foods days ago. When it snows, we take self-congratulatory drives through town, marveling at how lovely and peaceful the world looks, especially from the vantage point of the culvert we just skidded into.

I am guilty of taking unnecessary snow joyrides, but I also join the throngs in the supermarket, and I don't assume that everyone else in the checkout line fears a six-inch Armageddon. Some always shop on Monday. Some, like senior citizens or parents of small children, really do need to move up their weekly shopping trip, because it is unsafe or inconvenient for them to be on the roads in a storm.

(Try dressing two kids for winter weather, loading them into the car, taking them to the store, undressing them enough to they don't baste under layers of coats and gloves, redressing them, reloading them, and bringing them home, all the while listening to their complaints and Pokemon soliloquies, which always get louder the moment the car in front of you fish-tails through an intersection. You will become one of the yokels pretty fast.)

A few, like me, also find working at home a little quiet at times and want to be part of the bustle. Snow and the Eagles are the only things strangers can talk about in my region, and we share a love-hate obsession with both. The Eagles were toast by Monday morning, so all we had was snow, the great equalizer, to joke about as I grabbed the last bag of chicken tenders and Marshawn Lynched my way through the aisles to the checkout line.

I should point out that there was no great run on milk and bread. The "milk and bread" joke is a staple of bad morning radio show hosts, another variation on that "everyone is silly but me" attitude toward snow. Paul Fahri of the Washington Post investigated the milk-and-bread phenomenon years ago, interviewing a supermarket manager who revealed that many other items fly off the shelves before a storm: "bacon, scrapple and eggs, along with fruit, water, soda, infant formula, Kool-Aid and boneless chicken breasts." Damn, I thought I was the only one who bought four pounds of scrapple and enjoyed a good Kool-Aid-vanilla vodka-Enfamiltini while watching the flakes fall.

Fahri speculated that there's a primal instinct behind the bread-and-milk myth. "Symbolically, they're easy to decode. Bread is the host, the staff of life, a palpable object of survival. Milk is a no-brainer, too -- it's the sustenance that a mother provides an infant, a biblical promise ('a land flowing with milk and honey'), a smooth and nutritious foodstuff (except for the lactose-intolerant)." Fascinating, if a little overanalyzed.

My theory is that there are a handful of items most consumers buy when shopping, and milk and bread are among them. We all stock up in our own way, but most of our subsets intersect at milk and bread. Factor in the snow-day lifestyle for those of us with children -- we are suddenly providing lunch and a more leisurely breakfast for hungry little crumb-crunchers -- and the desire to have extra bread and milk around has little to do with wide-eyed panic and everything to do with family fun. We aren't hoarding milk and bread for fear that we will end up like Otzi the Iceman after a dusting. We want to have toast and eggs (and scrapple) with our kids when school is closed. And we couldn't shop on Sunday, because the Eagles were losing.

It is now 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, six inches have fallen, the roads are cleaner than the floor of my office, and my whole family is off from school. It's time to finish Walkthrough and do what I always do when the fridge is stocked with goodies -- walk to Wawa for lunch.


64 comments, Last at 18 Jan 2011, 5:27pm

1 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

My local grocery store was cleared out of some odd provisions, such as scallions and pre-made hamburger patties.

3 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

The Milk and Bread thing always confused me too. Is everybody making french toast during the blizzard? If so, why no eggs in the pre-blizzard shopping spree?
Could we have some context on the total plays numbers. I know Chicago is ranked 28th, but with how many plays? Are the numbers for the Jets and Falcons high or low?

8 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Context: http://pfref.com/pi/share/XUX22
Note: I thought I told it to show them in order of total plays, but it's not, so you have to click "Ply" once to get it.

Chicago has 936 plays. The Falcons are first in the league with 1097 plays. The Jets are third in the league with 1087 plays (the Colts, 1088, are in between).

4 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

1. You should absolutely never feel any professional jealousy at anything related to The Onion. You are far, far funnier than they are.

2. I had never before heard of "scrapple." It sounds quite ghastly.

3. I think you're mostly right about the milk and bread reasoning, but also remember how important a foodstuff bread really has been throughout history. Bread was one of the first portable high carbohydrate foods humans created. Wheat-based bread allowed long journeys the like of which would have been far more dangerous before its creation.

4. The last place my parents lived before I moved for law school, people would panic every time snow was forecast (I swear the median age in that town is about 70) and Wal-Mart would become a zoo. I worked there for a few months and what people really seemed to go nuts about getting were eggs, bottled water (Though if the line got more than two people long, there was guaranteed to be someone there who would lecture the others about why they shouldn't buy bottled water. Once this person was out of earshot, s/he would be labeled a Communist.), and vegetables (especially peppers and cucumbers).

18 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

That's just a higher level and I love Dexter's version. "Scrapple from the Apple" was the opening track of "Our Man in Paris" and I was blown away the first time I played it. I was going for humor rather than inspiration which why I chose Robbie Fulks.

42 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

My dad, who grew up in Philly, *loves* scrapple. I've tried it, but it is, in fact, pretty horrifying, and I've never understood the fascination it holds. I'll stick to bacon if I want a breakfast meat, thanks.

57 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Really? I'd never heard of it either, but now I want some. I love haggis. I love white pudding. I love black pudding. Seems like it ought not to be in a completely different ballpark. Preferably à l'Écosse.

63 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Someone needs to export the Scottish Chippie to the world as the final word in post-bibulous late night fast food. If it's not deep fried in batter, they don't want to know about it. If you don't think it can be deep fried, think again.

Overheard in one such establishment in Edinburgh circa 3am at Festival time:

Pretty posh quasi-hippy gap-yah type English girl: "Don't you have anything healthy at all?"

Proprietor (after a prolonged pause for thought): "Aye. Deep fried vegetarian haggis."

6 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Is that Jets play really that bad? It's a game situation where the Colts are expecting run. Even with the trickeration not working, he play gained 3 yards, not a bad gain in that 2nd and 8 situation, where you're trying to take time off the clock and get in good position for a first down.

In fact the three other runs on the drive from conventional formations gained 3, 2, and 2 yards each. So this Wildcat/Pistol/Seminole play did no worse than conventional running plays on that drive, even though the Colts weren't fooled. The risk/reward of the trickery seems worth it.

16 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

"The risk/reward of the trickery seems worth it."

The risk of a fumbled pitch had already been demonstrated. What's the reward? So far I see some risk and no reward, which is not a good ratio.

22 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

The reward is that the Jets break a lot of moderate and long runs out of the play. I'm pretty sure their average gain out of the Wildcat is larger than on conventional runs. So that's the reward.

As for risk of a fumbled pitch, I can't recall any fumbled pitches the Jets have had this season. Maybe the risk is higher than on a regular handoff, but I don't think it's too much higher.

28 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

The Colts are a quick defense, which should be better than most at stopping an option play when they know it's coming. The one time this year I can remember them getting really beaten on an option play was a run by David Garrard -- a regular QB, taking the snap out of a standard formation -- because they were caught by surprise. As others have said, bringing in Brad Smith is the equivalent of announcing that this will be an option play. Beyond that, my recollection (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) is that the Brad Smith package hadn't been particularly effective throughout the game, and that the most effective plays out of it were just the basic handoffs to the back. In other words, what the Jets did out of that formation throughout the year is less relevant than the expected payoff under the current circumstances.

In regards to the risk of a fumbled pitch, I honestly can't say if they fumbled a pitch this season or not, because I don't know. But as was mentioned, they did BOBBLE a pitch earlier in this very game.

44 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

I agree with you, JSA- the play was not that bad. Even with all the unnecessary movement, the play boiled down to: Smith will get 3 yards if the guy makes the tackle, and if he missed, Smith probably gets the first down. Smith did get dinged with a groin/quad injury in the 1st quarter, so he didn't have his usual evasiveness (and maybe that was enough to call a different play).

Still, I've seen so many worse "burn this play" nominees over the course of the season, and can think of three other much more deserving plays from last weekend:
(a) the 2nd attempt at the 2-point conversion for the eagles, (b) the saints 2-point conversion attempt, and the Colts' 3rd down pass play before the FG that put them ahead with a minute to go.

9 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Wawa has the best lunch. That's the one thing I will miss from the Mid-Atlantic.

11 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

I don't really understand the criticism of the Jets running Brad Smith on the field from time to time and discarding it as "junk". For the most part, it's been pretty effective, as Brad Smith ranks 4th in DYAR (among 20-99 carries) and 2nd in DVOA. (THough, I don't know how much of that was weighted by the Bills game).

While I don't necessarily agree with the call in that situation. I don't see this as protect Sanchez or keeping the "training wheels" on him so much as, Brad Smith on the field is a consistently successful option for the Jets.

17 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

The thing that annoys me about the Jets bringing Smith in is they never throw out of it. Everyone knows they're going to run when he comes in. I think they had him throw twice this season. If there was the threat of a pass, they could really put defenses off balance with it.

45 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

I would place a very large bet (if indeed I bet on sports) that Smith will throw this week.

All season long, Smith never thew a pass, and then threw a key TD pass in last year's AFC championship game.

Also, I've heard several coaches interviewed saying that they spend up to most of a practice day on defending Smith "wildcat" plays. Considering the finite time teams have to practice in between games, using Smith at least frequently enough probably helps the rest of the offense.

64 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Thank you. Smith averaged 7.9 yards per carry this season on 38 attempts (a little more than 2 per game), almost all of which were out of the wildcat. Seems pretty effective to me.

12 Wynn

You wouldn't know it by the television coverage, but Julius Jones was knocked out of the game on the same hit that concussed Tatupu. With Bush already in the locker room heating up his glass leg for repair, their only option at that point of the game was Wynn.

32 Re: Wynn

In reply to by Regolator (not verified)

Thank you for pointing this out--since Tanier, for once, missed this important fact (as well as the D. Woody one). The reason Humphrey #84 is in is that Jimmy Graham didn't play. That's also why Heath Evans was in--both Bush & Jones were now injured and out of the game. As I commented in Audibles (iirc), all teams have injuries--but the Saints, by that time in the game, were down to their 7th string RB (Thomas, Bush, Ivory, Hamilton, Betts, Jones--then Wynn; it's totally possible that I forgot one). Sure, there's always a dropoff from starter to 2nd string--starter to 7th string who just rejoined the team and probably only knows a little of the playbook--never good.
I didn't like the playcall. Brees is the best player on the Saints--why not go 4 wide, with Wynn or Evans next to him, and see if they can't exploit a matchup?

40 Re: Wynn

In reply to by Joseph

I did miss the fact that Jones was out at that point. So, how about Evans in the backfield and Colston where Evans is? Shockey in Strief's spot and Lance Moore where Shockey is?

46 Re: Wynn

In reply to by Regolator (not verified)

All the more reason to throw the ball.

14 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

The Bears' number of offensive plays makes sense when you consider how good their special teams are. They're very often playing on a short field, and since both the special teams and the defense score fairly often, sometimes the offense doesn't get on the field at all.

26 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Agreed. It also makes sense when you consider how the Bears seemed to have a high number of 3 and outs (especially early in the season). Also, many of their scoring drives were quick-strike drives fueled by big plays. They had a fair number of long TD drives of 5 plays or less.

For example, look at this drive chart from the Bears game against the Eagles: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/drivechart?gameId=301128003. The Eagles had 70 plays to 53 for the Bears. The Bears had TD drives of 4 plays for 79 yards, 4 plays for 59 ysrds, 6 plays for 63 yards and 3 plays for 54 yards. (They did later have a 17 play, 83 yard drive for a field goal that I believe was their longest of the season.)

After building up a 31-13 lead, the Bears relied on their Cover 2 defense to hold the lead by refusing to give up a big play and make the Eagles go on long, time-consuming drives. Starting late in the 3rd quarter, the Eagles ran 28 plays to 11 for the Bears (the last 3 of which were kneel-downs). The Bears were in control the whole time, while the Eagles were racking up play after play after play on offense.

Similarly, in the game against the Jets, the Bears only ran 54 plays to 68 for the Jets. Yet the Bears won 38-34. The Bears' TD drives were 4 plays for 45 yards, 7 plays for 64 yards, 1 play for 40 yards, 3 plays for 32 yards and 5 plays for 49 yards. The Bears only had 2 drives longer than 7 plays (a 9 play drive thar resulted in a field goal and an 8 play drive that resulted in a missed field goal). Meanwhile, the Jets had 4 such drives: an 8 play TD drive, a 9 play FG drive, a 12 play FG drive and a 12 play drive that resulted in a punt.

Edit: This link shows that the Bears had the best average starting position in the league, which goes to the point about the impact of the Bears' special teams and defense: http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcwest/category/_/name/seattle-seahawks

62 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

All good points. Anyone who watched the Bears' games this year would also note that they simply do not throw many 5-6 yard short passes. The running game is a 0 or 10 yard affair, not a bruising one like most teams have.

Big play offenses are less reliable, but hte Bears have been able to rely on big plays this year. Bottom line.

I don't expect the writer of the column to have watched every NFL game this year, but it's obvious that he wrote a lot of this section based off of what he saw on a computer screen versus a TV.

34 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Actually, the Bears only scored 4 special teams or defensive TDs this year (3 punt returns by Devin Hester and an interception return by D.J. Moore). (I note that in the game where D.J. Moore had his pick 6 against the Redskins, he actually had another pick 6 "nullified" by a penalty for delay of game before the snap against the Redskins. I put "nullified" in quotes because the play technically was dead before the snap.) I don't know where that ranks in the league, but I'm sure some teams had more. For example, off the top of my head I know the Patriots had at least that many.

I assume the original poster is thinking about the Bears over the past several years. The Bears and media covering them frequently cite a stat showing that the Bears have scored the most defensive and special teams TDs and caused the most turnovers since Lovie Smith took over. The main point that the original poster made, that the Bears frequently have a shorter field to work with, absolutely is correct this year, as shown by the link in my earlier post about average starting position.

54 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

I agree completely with the shorter field comment. Especially in light of the evidence posted above.

I was just interested when the poster said "fairly often". I thought it was a bit of hyperbole, but was curious if I was missing something.

36 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

I assumed they'd be above average in both categories, but at the time I wrote that I didn't have time to check it out. Now that I do, I see that the Bears had only one defensive touchdown in 2010, which is well below the league average of 2.5. But their three special-teams TD are above the league average of 1.1. Combining the two categories, the Bears had four TDs from defense or special teams; the league average is 3.6.

The most shocking thing I found when I looked this up was that the Cardinals had seven fumble returns for TDs in 2010. No other team had more than one.

37 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

To follow up on Marko's point, the team with the most defensive TDs this year was the Cardinals, with 10, three from interceptions and a whopping seven from fumbles. The Bears actually tied for most special-teams TDs, with the Patriots, Raiders, Cowboys and Seahawks all also having three.

The Giants, Texans and Rams were the only teams that did not score a touchdown via defense or special teams in 2010.

EDIT: Now that I look at it, some of those Cardinals fumble-TDs may have been from recovering their own fumbles, rather than defensive scores. It's not clear exactly what's included in that category.

19 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Bread, milk and toilet paper has been the running gag for 30 years ar least -- but the only one that seems to be really true is the toilet paper.

And, really, Aaron Sorkin had already written the perfect parody of SportsCenter -- hadn't he?

25 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

ive seen the smith pistol option work a number of times this season... granted, iirc it was earlier in the season, defenses seem to have caught up with it a bit... or perhaps its just that the colts d is one of the worst possible defenses to run the option against. fast defense whose corners are staying up anyway?

29 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

As a probably biased Ravens fan, I have a question. Whenever FO discusses the Ravens D, they always mention that the secondary is its biggest weakness. Many local writers believe that despite injuries at the beginning of the season, solid play by Josh Wilson and David Carr have made the secondary a strength, rather than a weakness, of the D. In that view, perhaps linebacker coverage, a lackluster pass rush, or general aging (less spectacular plays, less stamina for lots of snaps) are the biggest weaknesses. Does FO have a statistical basis for this in 2010 or is this more of a conventional wisdom type thing?

33 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Check their numbers against various types of receivers: 7th against No. 1s, 17th against No. 2s, 2nd against all other wideouts. Then 2nd against tight ends, 12th against running backs. Kind of a mixed bag, actually. You also have to consider (and I don't have time to work up a before-and-after study right now) that Ed Reed probably covers up a lot of the cornerbacks' mistakes.

35 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

Why I didn't think to look there before I don't know... That ranking makes sense to me, given the Ravens seem to have a deep group of pretty good cornerbacks but no amazing standouts, coupled with a pass-rush that is hit or miss depending on how tired they are and the O-line they're facing...

Regardless of the root cause of a weaker defense against lots of receivers, I definitely agree that KC's play calling was not a good idea.

43 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

""six-inch Armageddon" - Heh, insert penis joke here:"

Insert insertion joke here

Speaking of the Ravens D, but totally unrelated to what other people have said, does anybody else feel like Ray Lewis is starting to drop off quite a bit? I haven't seen every ravens game, or even most of them, but I always watch all their games on national TV, and I am almost always watching Ray Lewis on defensive snaps. I'm probably biased because he's Ray freaking Lewis, but even compared to last year he doesn't seem to shed blockers and make spectacular plays in the run game like I'm used to seeing.

53 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

This is a legit question. As someone who has watched even snap of the Ravens' season multiple times, my answer would be that he is not as good as the Ray Lewis of old but that he is still better than almost every other ILB in the NFL.

He absolutely can't shed blockers like he used to, and clearly has lost a couple of steps in pursuit to the outside and in covering receiving targets in the middle. But he remains an incredibly sure tackler and is uncanny in diagnosing the play as it unfolds and putting himself in position to be a factor. The guy never talks a false step, which compensates for his lost speed. One example was the Charles stuff on fourth-and-one. Kelly Gregg had the initial penetration and blew up the play, but if you watch Lewis, you'll see that he didn't even lean toward the misdirection and got himself upfield immediately to the point where he would have had a shot at Charles (though maybe he wouldn't have been fast enough to stop him for a loss) even if Gregg hadn't gotten there. And then he subsequently forced a fumble on the pass to McCluster out of the backfield - McCluster would no doubt beat Lewis by half-a-second or more in a 40-yard dash, but Lewis's superior positioning enabled him to make the play.

It is interesting to look back and realize that most of Ray's signature plays this year - the huge hit on Keller in Week 1, the game-clinching diving INT at Pittsburgh, the forced fumble in OT that saved the Buffalo game, the INT return for a TD at Carolina, the McCluster forced fumble - were in the passing game. Wow - quite a lot of game-changing plays for a guy past his prime.

49 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

"Heath Evans at wide receiver? Evans, you may recall, was a pretty good short-yardage runner for the Patriots. I never really thought of him as a guy to line up at wide receiver while Marques Colston watches a do-or-die play from the sidelines.

Funny, the patriots actually did it quite a bit.

50 Re: Walkthrough: Milk and Bread

"Damn, I thought I was the only one who bought four pounds of scrapple and enjoyed a good Kool-Aid-vanilla vodka-Enfamiltini while watching the flakes fall."

I think I've exploded. That's even better than the casual reference to the Nicomachean Ethics.

Outstanding. Just don't dare expand it into a half hour live comedy show. :-)

51 Sports Dome

I'm surprised you found the jokes on Sports Dome overly simplistic. I thought there were a lot of extra layers to a number of the gags:

- The A-Rod musical was a dig at his percieved narcissism: Think of the picture that went along with the Judy Batista hit piece in the NYT that showed him, shirtless, kissing his image in the mirror.

- The running bit on the retired NFL players was a comment on how society at large treats them as disposable (or at least the NFL; note the logo on some of the security officers). If they were regarded as human, they'd be given treatment. Instead, they're locked up and put down if necessary.

- I thought "Who Would You Kill" was the highlight of the show. I don't think they were going after character assassination, I thought they were doing a couple of other things: 1) These shows treat failure as worse than death, and those that fail as unworthy of living, so this segment just went an extra step and just said outright "let's kill the guy"; 2) Violence is a subtext in what these shows celebrate, and this segment simply brought that to the forefront, going further and further each step.