Mack Brown’s Conservative Nature Cost Texas in BCS Title Game

January 8, 2010

Immediately after Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was lost to a shoulder injury (I initially thought McCoy broke a rib), I texted a buddy and said that Texas needs to immediately start throwing the ball downfield with the freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert coming in.

The rationale is that with the freshman quarterback in the game, the big and fast Alabama defense will only look for Texas to run the ball except for obvious passing downs. After running the ball (usually unsuccesfully) against an eight man front on both first and second downs, these passing downs will be like sending the Christians to the lions.

When it was learned that McCoy was gone from the game for good, the game was over UNLESS Brown decided to open up the downfield passing game. Bama was stopping basically every run, especially those on first and second down. Many times on those early downs, the corner was playing a very strong inside position on the wideout, inching in to stop the run.

When you can’t run the ball against a defense like Alabama’s, you need to throw it, but not those short dumpy passes that bring the safeties up to massacre the receivers coming over the middle. A non running team put into the situation like Texas was demanded to throw the ball long often. Even if you throw mostly incompletions, consistently throwing deep brings the linebackers, safeties and corners away from the line of scrimmage. Then a little later you can run the ball.

If you are not moving the ball at all with the short stuff and early down runs, might as well throw it deep and if you get a completion, it will be a big gain. Or you can seek out some pass interference penalties downfield. The more you throw those types of passes, the more chances you get at getting the big gain or the penalty called. At the beginning it appeared the only way that Texas was going ot move the ball.

Do what the other teams is not expecting you to do.

As a Dallas Cowboy fan, one of the biggest moments of the Jimmy Johnson era was in their first NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers out in Candlestick Park. In that January 1993 game, the Cowboys had a 24-13 lead in the 4th quarter when Steve Young hit Jerry Rice with a 5-yard touchdown pass with about three and a half minutes remaining.

When the Cowboys received the ball after the Rice touchdown, the 49er defense and everybody else was thinking run Emmitt run, with the Cowboys trying to waste the clock. Everybody but Jimmy Johnson. San Francisco moved the ball too well that last drive and their defense was getting energized, so Johnson (who wasn’t wearing headphones) grabbed a pair and yelled into the microphone, “Norv, get me a first down!” Norv was Dallas Offensive coordinator Norv Turner – now head coach of the San Diego Chargers.

Turner called a play action pass and Troy Aikman hit Alvin Harper on a slant to which Harper galloped all the way inside the 49er 10 yard line. An Aikman TD pass three plays later to Kelvin Martin and Cowboys were NFC Champions.

I truly believe that if Johnson went conventional late in that game, then the 49ers would have won that game.

Now, I know that we are talking Troy Aikman, an NFL Hall of Famer versus Garrett Gilbert, college freshman, but the premise is to do what the other team is not expecting.

Like the key play in that NFC title game, play action passing would have been good for Texas, too, after the McCoy injury. Play action works when your team is running the ball well since it brings the linebackers and safeties up.

But play action also works when you can’t run the ball but the defense thinks you will still run it anyway with a freshman QB in the game.

The many times Texas did go deep later in the game, they were successful. It was something they should of done from the beginning with young Gilbert.

Prognosticators and arm chair quarterbacks will blame the McCoy injury (duh!), but like this SI blowhard especially the interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half as reasons why Texas lost.

But the real reason is that Mack Brown went conservative when he knew his freshman QB was not going to move the ball against the Alabama defense and decided to pull the reins in even further.

It is doubtful that Jimmy Johnson would have been conservative like that…and he does have a National Championship under his belt.

Here’s Hoping the Indianapolis Colts Lose in the First Round of the Playoffs

December 27, 2009

Today was New York Football TV watching day. It is rare that I actually watch both the New Jersey Giants and Jets on the same day, but both games were important to the decent to slim playoff chances each team had.

Also, my Dallas Cowboys team did not play until the NBC Sunday night game at 8:20.

The Giants blew their season because they can’t stop the run. The Jets, with help in three early 1:00 PM games, had destiny in their hands. They only had to beat the undefeated 14-0 Indianapolis Colts and win next week at home versus the Cincinnati Bengals.  And with 5:06 left in the 3rd quarter, losing 15-10, the Jets won the game.

That is because the Colts continue with their ridiculous premise of resting their starters late in the season so they don’t get risk injury. Never mind that all their stars, including Peyton Manning, have been unscathed the entire season.

In fact, Manning has started EVERY GAME in his 12 year career. He has NEVER suffered a major injury.

The best part of Manning’s game is his preparation and intelligence. He continually knows where all the defenders are on every play, and on passing plays seems to know where the pressure is coming from. From there, he moves well in the pocket to avoid direct hits. He has been sacked only 10 times this season and 215 times in his career.

I have not witnessed every game the Colts have played, but I have never seen Manning take a huge hit where you think he might be hurt and miss a game.

Back in 1972 (and in prior NFL seasons), the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly divisional rotation, excluding the wild card teams who would always play on the road. Therefore, in their undefeated season of 1972, the AFC Championship game was already predetermined and the Dolphins, despite their perfect record, did not host the AFC title game. That game was played in Pittsburgh.

That means while the Dolphins held the overall best record, they were not playing late in the season for playoff positioning. At the end of the regular season, they did what Herman Edwards stated so eloquently – “You play to win the game!”

And with no playoff positioning to attain, the 1972 Dolphins played the final six regular season games for an opportunity at a perfect season. (I said the last six games because the next best record in the AFC East was the New York Jets at 7-7).

In the last few weeks starting QB Earl Morrall played most of the games, as did running backs Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris plus star wide receiver Paul Warfield. The veteran Morrall was the starter the last nine weeks after Bob Griese broke his ankle in Week 5.

Morrall was only removed from the final few games after the game was well in hand. Reserve QB Jim Del Gaizo came in for mop up duty in Week 12 and Griese, back from his injury, came in late in Week 14. The Dolphins wanted to make history and they achieved their goal, a perfect 17-0 record and the franchises first Super Bowl victory.

The 1972 Dolphins players could have used the baby, sorry I mean safety time off like the 2009 Colts received, even more than the Colts needed. The Colts have home field advantage throughout the playoffs and get a first round bye. The 1972 Dolphins did not have a bye and played the first playoff game the following week.

In the 2007 and 2005 seasons with a first round playoff bye wrapped up, the Colts also rested their players (especially Manning) the final week, essentially giving him TWO consecutive weeks off. They proceeded to lose their first round games. In 2005 the Colts began the season 13-0 before losing versus San Diego. They mailed in the next game as Manning only played a half, and won the final game without Manning playing. The best and most important player in the league therefore had almost three weeks off from competitive football. Last season, Manning sat for most of their final game and lost against the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the playoffs.

I like Peyton Manning. He is a superstar player who always tries to perfect his craft. He watches an ungodly amount of film to learn all he can about his opponent, and based upon his overall 117-59 (now 60) record, he learns very well.

He stays out of the public eye off the field and appears to be the all around type guy you would want your son to emulate.

But I really am now rooting for the Indianapolis Colts to lose their first playoff game three weeks from now. You absolutely know now after today’s loss that Manning and his starters will sit most of the game next week, too. I want the Colts to lose to teach them about the shot at history then gave up on.

One of the best parts of sports is the history. While the Dolphins are the only undefeated NFL team since the Super Bowl era began, there have been other teams which have knocked on the door.

As recently as 2008, the New England Patriots played all their starters the last several games of the season and came one miracle play from an undefeated 19-0 season. Their final regular season game against the Giants was a classic game with both teams, knowing what was at stake, going all out.

The 1984 San Francisco 49ers team went 15-1 in the regular season and clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs by week 13. Starting QB Joe Montana started every game at the end and was never pulled from a game until the game was out of reach. In Week 16 he started and played the entire game in a 19-16 victory over the Los Angels Rams. They went on to go 18-1 and won the Super Bowl.

A year later, the 1985 Chicago Bears had home field wrapped up by Week 14, and their starters Jim McMahon and Walter Payton both played every game down the stretch, even a 37-17 Week 16 dismantling of the Detroit Lions. They ended up similar to the 49ers at 18-1 and Super Bowl Champions.

But unlike their predecessors the Colts mailed it in today, relinquishing their chance at history to save a few plays from one of their stars getting hurt. With almost 19 minutes left in the game and the lead, Manning would likely have thrown the ball maybe 12-15 more times. That is 12-15 drop backs and possible chances at injury. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

An injury which would never occur. As I mentioned earlier, Manning has been sacked 215 times in his career and has never missed a game. And make no mistake about it, even though other starters like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark were pulled early, this was about Manning.

Decades after they played the great football teams are looked upon on how many championships they won. The 1960’s Packers won a few NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls. The 1970’s Cowboys finally got the monkey off their back and won two Super Bowl titles themselves.

Those Cowboys beat the Dolphins once, then the Fish won their back-to-back Super Bowls. Both those teams lost AFC Championship games and Super Bowls to the great 1970’s Steelers teams, which won four Super Bowls and are considered one of the greatest NFL dynasties.

Then the 1980’s San Francisco 49ers won their run of Super Bowls, the 1990’s Cowboys won their three and this decades New England Patriots won their three.

While the Colts have amassed an amazing amount of regular season wins during the Manning era, they are only 7-8 in playoff games. They have an amazing six one and dones where they lost their first playoff game of a post season.

The Colts have constantly sat their starter, but particularly Manning the last game of the season many times and only once, in 2004, have the Colts won their first game of the playoffs. But that was with no bye in the first round, and it was against the same team (the Denver Broncos) they lost to that final week.

Manning has only reached the AFC Championship game TWICE in his storied career, losing to the Patriots in 2003 before winning the Super Bowl in 2006.

It is no coincidence that in both those seasons, Manning was forced to play that final week of the regular season, then the next week in the playoffs.

But this first year new coach Jim Caldwell (probably under the direction of President Bill Polian) went against what history has dictated to this franchise, that when Peyton plays late in the season, they win in the playoffs.

Now that Peyton was sat to avoid a non-existent injury and the Colts cheated their fans and the NFL at a shot at history, I hope that the Colts lose again.

Three weeks from now in the first round of the playoffs.

Marion Barber is NOT a NFL starting Running Back

December 15, 2009

During yesterday’s game against the San Diego Chargers, the Dallas Cowboys ran the ball all day long, including for big chunks of yardage on two different drives. The first drive was in the second quarter, when the Cowboys ran the ball 14 times on a 15 play drive, culminating in a game deciding goal line stand.

Second year tailback Felix Jones was superb on that drive (5 rushes for 37 yards), but curiously did not get the ball on any of the plays inside the four yard line when the Cowboys had a first and goal. Marion Barber got the call four straight times and was unable to penetrate the Charger defense for the score. A touchdown there and Dallas would have tied the game at 10-10 heading into halftime.

The second drive came in the 3rd quarter, when the Cowboys went 99 yards and finally reached the end zone. All season long, the Cowboys have been real good at piling up yardage, but have not turned many of those drives into scores. That long drive was helped by some nice runs by Barber and Jones.

While Barber had been effective in both of those drives, and had similar numbers to Jones. But what does not show up in the stats was Barber’s inability to consistently elude tacklers at the point of attack, and his lack of speed when he bumps runs outside. 

Most of Barber’s successful runs are up the middle, and if a running hole is there, Barber can get good yardage. But he rarely turns the corner any more, evidenced by the no gain he had in the first drive, when he turned a stalled run outside but was upended near the sidelines by the safety. A season or two ago, Barber used to be able to turn that corner and bull his way for a few more yards.That is not the case anymore.

When Barber was his most effective two and three seasons ago, Julius Jones was the starter, with Barber getting an occasional play or two, many times a screen pass which he gained chunks of yardage. Barber would then come in middle of the third to fourth quarter and with his punishing style of running (and fresh legs) would chew up the tired defenses for big gains. Whether the Cowboys were winning or losing this was the M.O., but Barber was even more effective with a Cowboy lead.Barber was the “closer” and was footballs equivalent to Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. When Barber came into the game as the lead back with the Cowboys ahead, they were almost always assured a victory.But Barber is not a lead back, especially with two seasons on those used to be fresh legs. All those instances of running over defenders getting the extra couple of yards have taken their toll.

The Cowboys have had their share of tremendous running backs. Emmitt Smith, Duane Thomas and Tony Dorsett were three of the best. Many people back in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s used to say Dorsett was “tough enough” as he usually slid out of bounds after gaining yardage, instead of taking on a hit. But because of his style of running, Dorsett was able to last 11 years and gain 12,739 yards, including eight seasons over 1,000.Barber will likely not make it another couple seasons, as those type of backs fizzle out quickly once the legs go and little injuries mount. If the Cowboys want to extend Marion’s usage and get more from him (both in terms of seasons and production), they need to start Felix Jones the next three games. Use 2009’s Jones/Barber tandem similar to how the 2006-07 Jones/Barber tandem was used. Start Jones and close with Barber.

Felix is a much more dynamic rusher and play maker and needs to be used more often. He needs to touch the ball at least 25 times from scrimmage this Saturday night against New Orleans. His speed and game breaking skills are exactly what the Cowboys need to open up a statistically successful, but stagnant scoring offense. He has three runs of 40 yards or more this season, averages 6.2 yards per carry in 2009 and 7.0 yards per carry over his first two seasons!

Mix in a little Tashard Choice also, but Jones and Choice (not Barber) should be given the majority of snaps for the first 40 minutes.

And when Jones begins to make big plays during the course of the game and the Cowboys finally have a late game lead, that is the time for Marion the Barbarian to do his thing.