Thursday, September 29, 2011

FOOTBALL INSIDE THE 20


(While driving down to a game about 12 years ago I asked my 10 year old daughter, Cody, if she had a boy friend.  She replied, “I’m like Tony Gonzales.  I’m always open.”  I couldn’t wait to hear what she’d say at 16).

The Huskie humiliation has rekindled thoughts on Tight ends, goal line offense, systems vs. athletes, and  Monday morning quarterbacking in general.  These thoughts are not likely to get my parking pass moved from the D lot back into the A lot with the other ESLers or ESPers or whatever we’re called.

                Tired of Ray Willsey clich├ęs?  Here is a beaut:  “Football is played inside the 20’s.  The rest of the field is for the statisticians.”  Ray liked blocking and tackling.  We never had much speed back in the day, but his boys could hit.  In ’68 when we ended up ranked 16th (after being as high as 7th) Ray said, “We could have gone undefeated—if only we’d played each game in a phone booth.”

                Well, the game has changed.  The players are bigger, faster, and much more “athletic” than the ones that suited up for Cosmic Ray.  No rocket science there.

                But he and all the greats knew their football. (I know lots of folks can’t understand why anyone could equate Ray with the “greats,”).  However,  he understood the game.  He knew fundamentals.  He had an amazing career coaching in the pros.

                He knew what it took to win.  He just couldn’t get parents of children in the 60’s to send their kids to a school filled with commie-pinko-radical-long haired-sybaritic-hedonistic-drugged out Berkeley-ites.  

                Sure, we kids loved Cal—but neither Midwestern conservative white parents, nor inner-city black parents who worried about their kids being far from home, were about to entrust them to anarchy inherent in the Cal experience.  But I digress.

                Football, in the era of wide open pass crazy “run and shoot”—spread—pistol—gattling gun—whatever they call these offensives,  is probably more entertaining  than it was in the grind-it-out-single wing Woody Hayes days.  

                Today, speed is king.  (If you sense a touch of penis envy here, you’re right.  I was slower than Sarah Palin on a geography quiz).

                But as one nears the goal line, speed’s effectiveness gets lessened as the field gets shorter.  Between the 20’s there can be a lot of pushing and shoving giving a QB time enough to turn it into a two-man game:  One DB isolated against one receiver.  If the throw is on target, the quicker guy wins and the other 20 players are rendered moot.

                Inside the 20’s speed begins to recede in importance to brute strength, size, technique and sheer desire.  

                Cal is not the only team faced with this challenge.  All teams, pro and college, which rely on the spread have difficulty in short yardage situations.  The tight end is key down close, and chances are he isn’t even utilized as a true tight end, on the march down the field.

                Tight ends don’t get the 10,000 hours they used to.  Though their athleticism is greater, their skills have diminished over the years.      
          
                                Modern coaches misunderstand a fundamental principle of short yardage.  Slow developing plays, though providing more blockers, allow defenses to penetrate into the backfield, thus negating the advantage of “short yardage.”  If you’re at the two, handing the ball off to a deep back at the five, defeats the purpose.  Generally, it is better to give it to the first man through on a quick hitter, than it is to wait for a play to develop.  

                “Timing passes” are everyone’s favorite because when executed properly they cannot be stopped.  The QB throws to a spot before the receiver has even turned around.  What chance does a DB have?  None.    With the new rules, even a man my age could can a perfectly timed pass against a far superior DB.

                The trouble with timing passes is that they tend to take away the natural advantage that an offensive receiver’s athletic ability might have over a defender.

                Brady rarely threw Moss timing passes when they were inside the 20.  He just put it up there and let Moss athleticism win the day.

                The timed “out” to Allen failed against the Huskies, though it succeeded against the Buffs.  Statistically, it will always succeed x number of times and fail y number of times.

                However, if a QB rolls out of the pocket while the wide out does an “out”, he can either throw it to him, run it, throw it to another receiver, or throw it to his original target after an “adjustment”—the DB comes up fearing a run leaving the wide receiver free—or the wide receiver pivots back inside the DB towards the post.

                Were you the QB, which play would you prefer? 

                If you were the defensive co-coordinator which play would you rather have run against you?

                Timing passes aren’t wrong.  They’re immensely effective.   But they should be used on first or 2nd down—never on 4th. 

                Playing the red in roulette is always 50/50 (forgetting 0/00).  But spreading the chips around gives one better odds on getting a return—albeit a smaller one.  When all one needs is two yards, which way should he go?

                None of us who were sitting in the end zone against SC when we had the ball on the 9 with 1:47 to go will forget that.  The last play was a timing pattern to a lesser receiver who got knocked off his route.  Rogers threw it to the perfect spot, but the kid wasn’t there.

                Which would you rather have.  Rogers throwing to a spot on 4th down, or Rogers rolling right with several options, including the run?

                It’s tough.  Do you go with the clever play, or the better athlete?  It’s chess—and easy to 2nd guess.  

                The question has already been asked why Sofeli was in the game instead of the much bigger and stronger Anderson in that short yardage situation.  Coach Tedford said the DB “crashed” down the line and forced the play inside (intimating someone didn’t execute his block).

                I like and respect what Tedford has done for the  program, but he needs a new PR guy.    

                  Years ago I shot a Ford commercial with Bear Bryant down in the L.A. Coliseum.  In between sips of Wild Turkey, and pinching the actresses,  he said, “Remember.  When it works, they (the players) did it.  When it doesn’t work, I did it.”

                 I thought that was a little stroke of genius.  

                How often do coaches say “we had a good plan, we just didn’t execute it well?”

                Much better to say, “We (the coaches) didn’t prepare them properly.”  Or “We didn’t spend enough time on goal line offense.”  Or “We should have given our DB more help on their receiver.”

                Remember the Buff’s coach who had the ball inside the 20 in overtime and ran four plays—only one of them to Richardson, who was having a career day?  And he threw it to the left, far side, though most of his success had been to right, near side?

                That was an example of a coach who likes his system more than his athletes.   Think Walsh used Rice as a decoy on crucial plays?

                Anyway, it’s all Monday morning quarterbacking—what we old curmudgeons do instead of drinking ourselves to death after yet another loss of a game we could have won.  Why we want to still win so badly is a mystery.  It’s habit.  One none of us seem able to kick.  

Speaking of kicking:  St. Helena High’s star soccer player, Manual Gomes, in his first football game ever last week, missed a 52 yard field goal.  Pulled it, but it had the distance.  Due to a penalty, he then made a 47 yarder.  I don’t know why that interests me, but it does.

(Stop by for a glass of Cab (or two) if you get up this way).

Go Bears,
Jeffrey Earl Warren ‘70